With 53 players each spread across 32 teams — that’s 1696 total, folks! — it’s pretty easy to overlook some talented guys when evaluating who’s who around the NFL. While superstars can pave the way to glory, Super Bowl titles are just as often built on the sacrifices of unsung heroes. Here, in no particular order, are five NFC players who get it done for their teams on the offensive side of the ball without always basking in the glow of the spotlight.
It’s somewhat cliche to say that offensive linemen are underrated, but is it really cliche if it’s true? Because it definitely is a fact, particularly in the minds of the casual fan. Everyone knows big-name stars tend to be quarterbacks and skill players, but the Dallas Cowboys’ Travis Frederick has solidified his place as arguably the best center in the NFL. He was insultingly left off this year’s NFL’s Top 100 list, but he’s not going to let that stop him from being a major asset to Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott.
Okay, okay, I do like offensive linemen. I tend to think of this as giving them their proper due. Andrew Whitworth has been one of the best tackles of his generation, defending his QB’s blind side with his enormous 6-7, 330-pound frame. Whitworth was a consistent bright spot on the Bengals during his 11 seasons there, but was kicked to the curb and allowed to leave in free agency last year. The Rams gave him a chance, and he rewarded them with his best season yet, supporting star QB Jared Goff brilliantly. Whitworth made no. 87 on the NFL’s top 100, but that might not be high enough. He just gets the job done.
How are more fans not talking about this guy? Jordan Howard is just 23 years old, but as he prepares to enter his third season with Chicago, he has already established himself as one of the top 10 running backs in the game. He’s racked up over 2,400 yards and 15 touchdowns on the ground in his first two years, and not only that, but he also has 423 yards and a touchdown through the air. Perhaps most impressive of all: he puts up 4.6 yards per carry and has fumbled the rock just three times. For a Chicago team still waiting on the development of QB Mitchell Trubisky, Howard is a true go-to guy.
Like Howard, New Orleans wideout Michael Thomas has put up some insane numbers in his first two seasons in th NFL. Unlike Howard, however, Thomas actually made this year’s top 100, checking in at No. 81. Listen to these numbers for his first two seasons and tell me if this guy should only be ranked 81st: 196 catches, 2,382 yards, 14 touchdowns, 77 percent catch rate on balls thrown to him. Yeah, this dude has put up top-tier numbers on every level. Yes, he plays alongside Drew Brees, and yes, the Saints love to pitch it around the park. But come on, this guy is explosive, efficient, and ever-improving. He’s still only 25!
Here is another young player that gets constantly overlooked. Despite his small stature (5-9, 177 pounds), Washington’s Jamison Crowder has established himself as the most consistent receiver the Redskins have. He is 25 and about to enter his fourth year in the league, and every single year has been a productive one. Through three seasons he has 192 catches for 2,240 yards and 12 touchdowns. Crowder should thrive under new quarterback Alex Smith, who is known for his conservative short passes and putting his receivers in position to run with the ball after the catch. Crowder, who already catches 70 percent of balls thrown his way, is sure to keep breaking out.