Breakdowns

The NFL’s Most Underappreciated Players: AFC North

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. This weeks edition: AFC North.

SEE ALSO:

Most Underappreciated: AFC East

Baltimore Ravens:

Bradley Bozeman, OL

The Ravens have been one of the most impressive teams in the league over the past few years, and their offense has been nothing short of dominant. Greg Roman’s offense, led by Lamar Jackson, has taken the league by storm and caused many sleepless nights for defensive coordinators around the league. One player who has been key for their offense, but does not get much recognition, is Bradley Bozeman. Bozeman has started at left guard in every game for the team since 2019. There are a bunch of big names on both their offensive line and on their team in general, so Bozeman tends to fall under the radar. However, he has been very productive for the team since earning a spot in the starting lineup.

Pro Football Reference gave Bozeman an approximate value (AV) of 10 in 2019, which was good for sixth-best on the team (tied with All Pro Marcus Peters). Every player that was above him on that list was either a Pro Bowler or a first-team All-Pro. His 2019 AV placed him T-7th among all offensive linemen and T-4th of all guards in the NFL. In 2020, Bozeman continued to have a positive impact for the team in terms of AV, finishing T-3rd on the team with an AV of 9. His 2020 AV ranked T-7th among all offensive linemen and T-5th among all guards in the NFL. He was tied for fourth on the team (min. 100 snaps) in pressure percentage allowed, as he only allowed two sacks in 2020, which was the second-lowest on the team.

The Ravens are looking to move Bozeman into their starting center role since Matt Skura is now in Miami. Bozeman played center at the University of Alabama, so he has prior experience at the position, and he has developed the trust of the coaches due to his play these past two seasons. Look for Bozeman to adjust smoothly and help lead one of the top offenses in 2021, which should lead the way to a contract extension. He is currently entering a contract year, where he will earn a base salary of $2,183,000 and has a $2,212,602 cap hit in 2021.

Cincinnati Bengals:

Sam Hubbard, DL

The 2020 season was one to forget for the Bengals as they finished fourth in the division for the third straight season. People will look toward promising young quarterback Joe Burrow for optimism; Sam Hubbard has been another promising young player that deserves recognition. Hubbard was drafted in the third round in 2018 out of the Ohio State, and has since proved worthy of that selection. The Bengals have had some very good players on their defensive line such as Carl Lawson, Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap, so people tend to forget about how impressive Hubbard has been so far in his career.

Hubbard’s play, especially in these past two seasons, should get Bengals fans very excited. Hubbard recorded a career-high 9 sacks in 2019, an impressive number for a second-year pro. In 2019, he finished first among all edge defenders with 51 solo tackles and finished second in assisted tackles with 18. In 2020, his sack numbers took a dip, but that does not mean he got worse; in fact, he was still very impactful for the team. He still finished second on the team in multiple categories, including sacks, total pressures, pass rush win rate, pressure percentage and batted passes as well. In addition, he finished fourth on the team in TFLs. He also finished second among all edge defenders in solo tackles with 46, and T-7th in assisted tackles with 13, in 2020. His numbers were not flashy in 2020, however, he still was one of their best defenders last season.

His AV the past two seasons have been very good when compared to his teammates. His AV of 7 in 2019 was T-3rd on the team with Carlos Dunlap, who just got paid by the Seahawks, and it was way ahead of Carl Lawson (2 AV) who just got paid by the Jets. His AV of 6 was T-4th on the team, and was once again higher than Lawson.

Hubbard is entering a contract year in which he is set to make a base salary of $2,183,000, with a cap hit of $2,415,300 in 2020. A great deal, especially when you compare it to Lawson’s 3-year, $45 million dollar deal, considering they have the same amount of sacks in the past two seasons, and Hubbard has had a higher AV than Lawson in every season since 2018. Look for Hubbard to continue to make an impact for the Bengals in 2021 and earn himself a contract extension in the near future.

Cleveland Browns:

Wyatt Teller, OG

The Cleveland Browns have a surplus of star power and are coming into 2021 with high expectations. Players such as Nick Chubb, Baker Mayfield and Myles Garrett bring a lot of excitement to this team and are going to hog the headlines when it comes to talking about the Browns. However, one thing that people tend to overlook when talking about the Browns is their offensive line, and specifically the play of Wyatt Teller. Cleveland acquired Teller in 2019 through trade, giving up a 2020 fifth-round pick and 2020 sixth-round pick in return for Teller and a 2021 seventh-rounder. This trade has looked to be quite the bargain so far.

Teller sometimes can be overlooked when talking about the Browns’ offensive line, because he does not generate much buzz compared to his fellow offensive linemen. Jedrick Wills was drafted in the first round in the 2020 draft, Jack Conklin was signed to a 3-year, $42 million deal in free agency prior to the 2020 season, and Joel Bitonio was a Pro Bowler the past three seasons. Although Teller may not be as flashy as the other offensive linemen, he is just as — if not more — productive. In 2020, he received the highest offensive grade on the team with a 92.9 (min. 100 snaps) and also has been graded as the best run blocking OL on the team (93.6 run blocking grade) by Pro Football Focus. He was also given an AV of 9, the fifth-highest on the team, fourth-best on the offense.

His worth to the offense was emphasized by the time he missed in 2020. Teller missed five games, and the offense was not the same without him. The Browns averaged 29.8 points per game with him in the lineup (13 games), and just 17.2 in the five games in which he was inactive. Not only did their points decrease, but their rushing totals decreased without him. They had their five lowest rushing totals in the games he missed. The Browns went 2-3 without him and 10-3 with him. Teller is entering the final year of his contract and will earn a base salary of $2,183,000 in 2021 – a bargain considering how impactful he has been for the team. Look for Teller to help lead one of the league’s best rushing attacks in 2021 and earn a contract extension in the near future.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Stephon Tuitt, DL

The Steelers defense finished as a top three unit in points allowed and yards allowed in 2020 (according to Pro Football Reference) despite injuries to some of their star players (Devin Bush and Bud Dupree). A big reason they were able to accomplish this is due to Stephon Tuitt, who has been with the organization since 2014 and has quietly and consistently been one of their most impactful defenders. Playing alongside star players such as Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and others causes players like Tuitt to fall under the radar. Tuitt has never been selected to a Pro Bowl and he does not get much attention from the public, but he deserves recognition. Although he has struggled with inconsistency and injuries so far in his career, 2020 proved how dominant and impactful he can be for the Steelers.

Across his last two full seasons (2018 and 2020), Tuitt was very productive for the team, analytically speaking. The former second-round pick was given an AV of 9 in 2020, which was good for fourth on the team (tied with Roethlisberger). In 2018, he was given an AV of 7, T-7th on the team and T-3rd on the defense.

He started a career-high 15 games in 2020 (missing one game due to Covid-19), and had arguably his best season to date. He finished second on the team in sacks (12) and total pressures (72), behind first-team All-Pro T.J. Watt. Tuitt also finished with the most QB hurries (46) on the team. He was just as impressive when compared to the rest of the league. According to Next Gen Stats, he finished with the second-highest disruption rate among interior DL in 2020, at 14.1% (minimum 150 pass rushes). The only player ahead of him on that list is future Hall of Famer Aaron Donald. Any interior DL that can be trusted to line up anywhere along the line and still create havoc from each spot, as Tuitt does for the Steelers, deserves recognition.

 

*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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