Breakdowns

NFL’s Most Underappreciated Players: NFC West

With such a large roster size in the NFL, 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 so many incredible players, fans can sometimes get too caught up in stats and numbers when acknowledging players. Whether due to their position, a lack of flashy numbers, or because they are 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 throughout the league who are being overlooked and underappreciated. This week, we turn our focus to the NFC West.

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ARIZONA CARDINALS:

KELVIN BEACHUM, OT

The NFC West is one of the toughest divisions in all of football and will be hotly contested until the end. If the Cardinals want to win the division this season, they are going to need to keep Kyler Murray healthy. The Cardinals have three very solid defenses in their division, so this task is not as easy as it sounds. One player who they are going to have to rely on is Kelvin Beachum. The Cardinals signed Beachum last offseason, and he started all 16 games for them at right tackle. At 31 years old, and now on his fourth team in his career, he has gotten the label as a journeyman, and many view him as a replaceable piece. Although some may view him this way, Beachum has continuously shown he can and should be a starter in the NFL.

Last season was his first with the team and he played very well for them. He only allowed three sacks all year and he played the second most amount of offensive snaps out of every OT in the league. According to Sports Info Solutions’ total points earned metric, he finished fourth out of every OT in the NFL. In comparison to the rest of the Cardinals’ OL, he allowed the third lowest pressure percentage (3.9%) (min 100 snaps). He also had the third-best pass block efficiency rating according to Pro Football Focus.

Beachum finished with his highest approximate value (AV) in a season in 2020 (tied with 2014). He finished 2020 with an AV of 8, which ranked him T-4th best on the whole team, T-3rd on the offense and T-1st on the OL. The three players above were all Pro Bowlers in 2020.

Beachum was recently signed to a 2year, $4 million contract. He is only making $3,075,000 guaranteed, which is not a lot of money for a starting right tackle in the NFL. Beachum has played both LT and RT in his career, which is also something that people don’t give him enough credit for. He is also a great locker room guy, evident by his nomination for Walter Payton Man of the Year Award by the New York Jets in 2018. He was also a captain when he was with the Jets. His versatility, and his veteran leadership are two things that people don’t give him enough credit for, however, he is very deserving of some praise.

LOS ANGELES RAMS:

DARIOUS WILLIAMS, CB

The Los Angeles Rams have one of the top defenses in the NFL, and they have their fair share of star power on their defense. Both Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey get a lot of hype and praise, which is obviously very deserving, but the defense is very good because they have a bunch of great players on this defense not named Donald and Ramsey. One player who people do not give enough recognition is Darious Williams. Williams is a former UDFA, and he has been with the team since 2019. He really started to figure things out towards the second half of the 2019 season. PFF gave him the highest grade among all CBs on the team for the final 6 weeks of the 2019 season. He followed that stretch with a very strong 2020 campaign.

He was very impressive in 2020 and finished in the top two on the team in multiple categories. He had the most PBUs on the team (10), and had the most interceptions on the team as well (5). The four regular-season interceptions he had ranked him T-3rd most among all CBs in the NFL. He also dropped three interceptions, which shows he could have been even more spectacular last season. Despite being targeted the second most on the team, he allowed the lowest completion percentage (47.9%). That was better than Jalen Ramsey, yet Ramsey was the first-team All-Pro and Pro Bowler, not Williams. Williams also had the highest forced incompletion rate on the team and he had the lowest NFL passer rating allowed (51.6). He also had the lowest percentage of plays with open targets (29.6%), which shows that he was rarely letting his man get open.

Williams was just as impressive in terms of AV. He finished with an AV of 13. That was good for third best on both the defense and team. The only two players above him…Jalen Ramsey and Aaron Donald. Both of these guys were first-team All-Pros and Pro Bowlers, while Williams does not get much praise at all. His AV also ranked him T-4th (Minkah Fitzpatrick) among all defensive backs in the NFL, and third among all cornerbacks in the league. Four of the five players on the list who were either tied or higher than him, all were at least Pro Bowlers, including the two corners ahead of him. There were even a couple guys lower than him on the list that made it over him as well.

Williams will be making $4,766,000 in 2021, due to the Rams placing a first-round tender on him. Although it is nice to see the Rams show some love to him by giving him a raise, it is only a one year deal. A player that was as impressive as the other CB on the team that cost them millions of dollars and two first round picks deserves more job security than what he has currently. Especially a guy who can cover in the slot and on the outside. Williams was a stud last season and deserves a lot more recognition for how well he played. Look for Williams to continue to play well in 2021 and earn a contract extension.

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS:

DRE GREENLAW, LB

There are not many teams that had a tougher year in 2020 compared to the San Francisco 49ers. The Niners finished in fourth in their division with a 6-10 record and lost a ton of players to injuries, including star DE Nick Bosa. The Niners are a year removed from a Super Bowl appearance, and should bounce back in 2021. In order to do that, they are going to need to get healthy and get back to having a dominant defense. One player who is going to need to have another solid year in order for that to happen is Dre Greenlaw. Greenlaw was drafted by the Niners in the fifth round of the 2019 draft out of the University of Arkansas, and he has quietly been one of the better players on their defense.

Greenlaw had a very solid season for the Niners in 2020. He excels versus the run as evident by his 86 total tackles last season, which was good for second most on the team. He also was T-3rd most TFLs/no gains on the team. Although he is not the greatest cover LB, he still had the most defensive stops in coverage on the team. In order to take his game to the next level, he is going to need to be much better in coverage. He allowed the highest completion percentage on the team (min. 100 snaps), which is obviously not great.

In both 2019 and 2020, he finished with an AV of 7. In 2019, that ranked him T-8th highest on the team and fourth-highest on the defense. It also was the third-highest AV out of all the rookies on the team, only trailing Bosa and Deebo Samuel. In 2020, his AV ranked him T-4th on the team and T-3rd on the defense. It was also the highest AV out of all second year players on the team.

Greenlaw is still playing on his rookie contract, and he is set to have a cap hit of $930,429 in 2021. That is an absolute bargain and he is only going to continue to get better as he gets more experienced. The Niners are very fortunate to have picked him in the fifth round in the 2019 draft.

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS:

POONA FORD, DL

The Seahawks have a ton of weapons on offense and are led by one of the best QBs in the league, so it is no surprise that their offense gets a ton of praise. However, this causes the defense to fall under the radar, and especially a bunch of the defensive players. One player who does not get enough attention is Poona Ford — one of the most impactful front seven players on their team. He deserves more attention than he gets. Ford will line up mostly as 0/1 tech, but will also see time even wider as a 3 tech as well.

Ford had a very solid 2020 season. He does not have the flashiest of stats due to his position, however, he was still very productive. He finished top four on the team in multiple categories last season. He was very effective in the run game, finishing with the second-most number of defensive stops in the run game as well as the third-most number of TFLs/no gains. He had the most positively graded run plays according to PFF and he also had the most clean up/pursuit pressures. He also had the 3rd lowest average depth of tackle, showing that he was able to hold his ground and get off blocks quickly. He also played well against the pass, finishing third in QB hits and hurries. He also had the 4th most total pressures.

He had a pretty solid 2020 season in terms of AV. He finished with an AV of 6, which was good for T-7th on the team and T-4th on the defense. He had a very similar year in 2019 when he finished with an AV of 6 again, and that was good for T-7th on the team and T-3rd on the defense.

The Seahawks recently gave Ford a 2-year, $12,345,000 deal, which is nice to see that he got some recognition, however, he is not making a ton of money. He is still only making a base salary of $920,000 in 2021. His cap hit for 2021 is $2,670,000, which is a pretty good bargain for the Seahawks. Look for Ford to continue to be productive for the Seahawks.

 

*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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