Breakdowns

The NFL’s Most Underappreciated Players: AFC East

With so many players on each NFL roster, it can be easy for the public to overlook some contributing players throughout the league. Not everybody can be Patrick Mahomes or Aaron Donald. In a league filled with incredible players, fans can sometimes get too caught up in stats and records. Whether due to their position, a lack of flashy numbers or being overshadowed by a star player on their team, there are several valuable NFL players who don’t get their deserved share of the limelight.

In this series, we will be showing some love to players around the league who are being overlooked and underappreciated. To kick off this series, we turn our focus to the AFC East:

Buffalo Bills:

Taron Johnson, CB

The Bills proved in 2020 that they are ready to take over this division. They were dominant all season due to their high-powered offense and rock-solid defense. Taron Johnson was one of the most significant players on their defense in 2020, to little fanfare. Johnson was the Bills’ nickel cornerback last season, and he helped out a lot against both the run and pass. Some may recognize his name from his 101-yard pick six in the AFC Divisional Round vs. the Ravens, but he deserves to be recognized for more than just that one play.

In 2020, he played a career-high 19 games, including playoffs, starting 13 while proving to be an important factor on defense. His approximate value (AV) of 10 was tied for fourth on the team and second on defense, behind star cornerback Tre’Davious White. He also had the third-highest AV in the NFL for players who started 11 games or more.

Johnson struggled at times in pass coverage last season, but he has shown flashes in the past that suggest he can be much more successful in both man and zone coverage. According to Pro Football Focus, in his 2018 rookie season he allowed an impressive 0.74 yards per coverage snap, which ranked him tied for ninth out of all CBs in the league who played a minimum of 20 percent of their team’s snaps.

Johnson is also a versatile piece for the Bills. In 2020, he was called to blitz 41 times, the fourth most on the team, per Pro Football Reference. He finished third on the team in total tackles (81) and third on the team in TFL/no gains (7). He is currently playing on his rookie contract, which ends after this upcoming season, carrying a cap hit of $2,344,517 in 2021, proving to be a bargain so far.

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Miami Dolphins:

Andrew Van Ginkel, OLB

The Miami Dolphins were one of the surprise teams of 2020, winning 10 games after a 5-win campaign in 2019. The Dolphins relied on a top-10 defense that forced a league-high 29 turnovers last season to win games. One under-appreciated player on their team is Andrew Van Ginkel, who plays their OLB position while lining up as a 5-, 7- or 9-tech.

Van Ginkel started 11 of 16 games in 2020, including the last seven games of the season. This was his second season in the league, and he only played in six games in 2019. His increase in snaps proved successful for the Dolphins, as he showed he could be a consistent pass rusher for them, evident by him finishing top 6 in many categories. His impressive 14.1% pass rush win rate ranked second on the team with a minimum of 100 snaps. He also had 6.5 sacks, which was third on the team. His pressures, QB hits and knockdowns show that he was more productive than his sack numbers suggest, finishing with 6 QB hits (fourth on the team), 25 pressures (T-4th on the team) and 12 hurries (T-6th on the team).

Van Ginkel’s AV in 2020 was impressive as well. He was given an AV of 7, which was T-3rd highest on the team. Something that he does not get enough credit for is his impact on special teams. He is all over the place on special teams, and he played the most special teams snaps on the team last season. The former fifth-rounder is still on his rookie contract, so he is one of the cheapest players on the team, yet is one of the most productive. A player who can affect the game positively in two phases of the game like this deserves more recognition.

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New England Patriots:

Lawrence Guy, DL

The Patriots have been nothing short of dominant the last two decades, and they have had their fair share of superstars. Players like Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski and others have hogged the spotlight for years. This has caused some players in the organization to fall under the radar. A prime example of this is Lawrence Guy, a player who does not get enough love for what he brings to the table.

He is a two-gapping DL who can be trusted to line up anywhere from a 0-tech to a 5-tech, and is arguably the team’s best run defender. He has been a member of the organization since 2017, and has been a key member on their defense throughout his tenure. All he does is produce for New England at a high level consistently. He has missed only two games due to injury since he has been with the Patriots, an impressive statistic for a player who lives in the trenches.

Guy does not get many sacks, so fans tend to overlook him, but he does a ton for the team and plays his role well. In 2020, he finished with 50 tackles, which was second among the team’s DLs. He was T-4th on the team in TFLs/no gains (3), T-4th on the team in sacks (2), fourth on the team in hurries (10) and fourth on the team in pressures (16). In addition, he had a 9 percent missed tackle rate, which was the fifth lowest on the team of any player with greater than 10 total tackles. His averaged depth of tackle was 2.44 yards, which was third on the team for players with a minimum of 25 snaps.

In the two games for which Guy was inactive in 2020, the Patriots allowed 38 points (most allowed all season) and then gave up 27 points to the league’s 32nd-ranked offense. From an AV standpoint, he has been just as impressive. He had an AV of 8 in 2020, which was T-2nd on the team. In 2019, his AV of 14 was T-3rd on the team. In 2018, his AV of 7 was T-4th on defense, and T-6th on the team. In 2017, his AV of 8 ranked T-6th on the team and T-2nd on the defense. His impact for the team goes beyond the field as well. He brings experience and leadership to the locker room, and was named captain last season. While Guy may not be the flashiest player on the Patriots, he deserves as much recognition as any player on that defense.

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New York Jets:

John Franklin-Myers, DL

The 2020 season was one to forget for the New York Jets. However, the play of John Franklin-Myers was one of the main bright spots that Jets fans should be excited about. The Jets picked him up off waivers in 2019, but he missed the entirety of 2019 due to injury. The former fourth-round pick showed flashes of brilliance in his first year of game action with the team. Despite only playing 43.9 percent of defensive snaps in 2020, he was one of the more impactful players on their defense and one of their best pass rushers.

Franklin-Myers led the team in multiple categories, including total pressures (55), hurries (41), QB hits (10) and pass rush win rate (18.7%), while finishing second in sacks (4). These numbers are very impressive for an interior DL, especially when compared to the other members of the defense. Almost all of the categories he led in had a significant gap between him and the person in second. Quinnen Williams, the former third overall pick, finished in second in pressures with (42), 13 fewer than Franklin-Myers. The next closest pass rush win rate was 14.6%, and Franklin-Myers had 14 more hurries than the player who finished second. In addition, he finished second among defenders ages 25 and under in total pressures in 2020.

The FCS product was given an approximate value of 3 by Pro Football Reference, which was T-3rd among all DL in the NFL with fewer than four starts last year, and T-7th among all defenders in the NFL with fewer than four starts. Franklin-Myers is currently playing on a 4-year, $2,912,359 deal, with only $452,359 guaranteed, which he signed in 2018 with the Rams (Jets took over his contract when they picked him up off the waiver wire). Franklin-Myers may not be a household name yet, but he is a player who deserves more recognition and should see an expanded role in 2021.

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*All stats from Pro Football Focus unless marked otherwise

*Approximate Values from Pro Football Reference