Breakdowns

The NFL’s Most Underappreciated Players: AFC West

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 have been showing some love to players around the league who are being overlooked and underappreciated. This week’s edition: AFC West.

SEE ALSO:

Most Underappreciated: AFC East

Most Underappreciated: AFC North

Most Underappreciated: AFC South

Denver Broncos:

Malik Reed, OLB

Malik Reed showed in 2020 that he did not deserve to go undrafted in 2019. The Nevada product joined the Broncos as an undrafted free agent and quickly proved that he deserved to make their roster. In 2019, he appeared in 15 games and started 8. He played a ton on special teams and gave productive snaps on defense as well. Reed saw a huge jump in playing time in 2020, appearing in 16 games and starting 13. His snap count went from 468 (44% of defensive snaps) in 2019 to 785 snaps (72%) in 2020, and Reed proved his increase in snaps was a good decision for the Broncos.

Reed exceeded expectations in 2020, as he was able to be one of the most productive players on their defense. People tend to focus on Bradley Chubb and Von Miller since they are bigger names; however, Reed finished with the same amount of sacks as Chubb in 2020 (8), which led the team. In addition, Reed finished second in multiple categories, including QB hits, hurries, and total pressures. He was also effective for them in the run game, having an impressive 2.09 yards average depth of tackle, which was good for second on the team (min. 100 snaps).

When looking at Reed’s Approximate Value (AV), it is evident that he was very valuable for the team in 2020. He finished the year with an AV of 7, which was the third-highest AV on the team. It was the highest AV for players on the team with one year or less experience. His AV put him above players such as Melvin Gordon and Jerry Jeudy. He may not grab the headlines as much as these other players, but his production and AV show that he is just as valuable if not moreso. His 2019 AV was a 5, which was T-7th on the team, and it was the second-highest among all rookies on the team. This put him ahead of 2019 first-rounder Noah Fant. His 2019 AV ranked him T-3rd in the league out of all rookies with 8 starts or less, and T-1st out of all UDFAs.

Reed is currently entering a contract year in which he is set to earn a base salary of $850,000. This is the first season where he will be making over $700,000. His cap hit in 2021 is almost $8 million less than Chubb’s. Reed has been a true diamond in the rough for the Broncos. Look for him to build on his strong 2020 campaign and push for a contract extension in the future.

Kansas City Chiefs:

Derrick Nnadi, DL

The Kansas City Chiefs have been nothing short of dominant in the past five years, finishing first in their division since 2016. They went 14-2 last season and they will continue to be Super Bowl contenders with that high-powered offense and solid defense. The Chiefs have a surplus of star power, including the best QB in the league, Patrick Mahomes. When a team has as much talent as they do, it is easy for players to fall under the radar. A prime example is Derrick Nnadi. Nnadi has quietly become one of the better players on their defense.

Nnadi does not produce very impressive numbers but that doesn’t mean he’s not doing good things for their defense. He finished 2020 with 34 solo tackles (T-14th out of all DL in the league), 14 assisted tackles (T-12th out of all DL in the league), and only 1 sack. In the 2020 postseason, he finished with 6 solo tackles (T-3rd out of all DL in the playoffs), and 4 assisted tackles (T-1st out of all DL in the playoffs). The public tends to focus on sacks too often when trying to grade a DL, but there is much more to the position than sacks. Nnadi does a lot of the little things for this defense. He finished the season with the second-highest Pro Football Focus grade on the defense. He also had the highest run defense grade on the team according to Pro Football Focus.

Nnadi has had two solid years in terms of AV. In 2019, he finished the season with an AV of 7. That was T-6th highest on the team and T-2nd highest on the defense. In 2020, he finished again with an AV of 7, which was T-7th on the team and T-3rd highest on the defense. His 2018 season was also productive in terms of AV, even though he finished with an AV of 5. This was the second-highest AV of all the rookies on the team, and highest AV of all defensive rookies on the team.

The former third-round pick is entering a contract year in which he is set to earn a base salary of $2,133,000. At just 25 years old, Nnadi is setting himself up to earn a contract extension in the future. He has been one of the better players on their defense and it would be a surprise if they let him hit the market.

Las Vegas Raiders:

Nicholas Morrow, LB

Facing the Chiefs’ explosive offense twice a year is a tall task, so it is important for the other teams in their division to build strong defenses to slow them down. That is what the Raiders have been trying to accomplish, and players like Nicholas Morrow are helping them try to achieve that goal. Morrow was an undrafted free agent in 2017 out of Greenville University and he has been very productive for them on both special teams and defense. This was his first year playing less than 42% of special teams snaps due to his increase in playing time on defense. He started a career-high 11 games in 2020 (active for 14 games) and is a player on an upward trajectory, as he is continuing to improve as he plays more.

He had a career year in 2020. He finished second on the team in tackles and second in multiple other categories as well, including sacks, passses broken up and tackles for loss/no gain. He also finished with third in first contact on tackles, showing that he was flying around the field getting to the ball carrier quickly. He also did not miss many tackles, finishing with an impressive 8.2 missed-tackle percentage. One thing that makes him very valuable is his ability to cover. He finished with the third-highest coverage grade on the team according to Pro Football Focus.

With an increase in playing time, his 2020 AV of 5 was a career high, T-6th on the team and T-2nd on the defense. His 2019 AV also was T-6th highest on the team and T-4th highest on the defense.

The Raiders recently signed Morrow to a 1-year, $4.5 million deal, so he will need to have another productive season if he wants a new contract after this season. Morrow deserves a lot more recognition due to his production through the years on both special teams and defense, and his ability to play Mike, Sam and Will. He also can be trusted to play on all three downs due to his ability in coverage, which is something he does not get enough credit for. Look for Morrow to continue his upward trajectory in 2021.

Los Angeles Chargers:

Mike Williams, WR

The headliner for the Chargers’ offense is 2020 Offensive Rookie of the Year Justin Herbert, and deservedly so. The second-year QB is the real deal. Mike Williams, one of Herbert’s top receivers, doesn’t get nearly the credit he deserves. A big part of this is due to the fact he lines up opposite star wide receiver Keenan Allen. Williams deserves more recognition. The former first-rounder is a good athlete and has good size to go along with it.

Williams struggled mightily as a rookie in 2017, only catching 11 balls all year. In 2018, however, he reminded people why he was highly touted coming out of college, catching 10 touchdown passes, which was T-5th in the league. In 2019, his touchdowns took a big dip, but he was able to eclipse 1,000 yards for the first time in his career. He continued to be productive for the Chargers in 2020, catching 48 passes for 756 yards and 5 touchdowns. His yards and TD totals were both second on the team. In addition, he was T-1st in explosive plays (15-plus yards), he had the second-most contested catches on the team in 2020. He also had the highest contested catch percentage (min. 120 receiving snaps).

When looking at it in terms of AV, Williams has been one of the more valuable players on the roster since his arrival. Since 2017, he has a combined AV of 21, which is T-9th on the team. That is fourth among players still with the Chargers, and third among offensive players still with the team. His AV (6) took a slight dip in 2020, but it was still good for T-5th on the team. In 2019, his AV (8) was good for T-5th as well.

Williams is entering a contract year. Look for the Chargers to try to keep one of Herbert’s top targets for years to come.

 

*All stats from Pro Football Focus unless marked otherwise

*Approximate Values from Pro Football Reference

*All contract information received from Spotrac.com

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