Say what you want about the Worldwide Leader, but it knows how to start a discussion. On its Insiders Web site, ESPN.com presents the 25 most underrated NFL players of the past decade, and also the 25 most overrated. Being Mr. Merry Sunshine, I’ll begin by accentuating the positive.
The list of the underrated (link requires registration) was compiled by Aaron Schatz of Football Insiders, and since it’s one of those pay-to-view things — and I paid my $39.95 — I’ll take the liberty of quoting liberally. The most undervalued player of the decade is wide receiver Derrick Mason. And three Falcons, present or past, are included:
11. John Abraham: Abraham ranks second in total sacks since 2000, behind Jason Taylor. He’s had five seasons with 10 or more sacks, plus a sixth season with 9½ in 12 games. He was a first-round pick and was later traded for a first-round pick, but he’s oddly under the radar. He hasn’t made the Pro Bowl since 2004, even with 16½ sacks last season.
22. Grady Jackson: Halfway through the 2003 season, the New Orleans Saints suspended Jackson for “conduct detrimental to the team” and then released him. Green Bay picked him up off waivers, and we’ll let the numbers tell the rest of the story. (The Packers’ defense averaged almost a full yard per play less with Grady in the game than with him on the bench.) He hasn’t been quite that important over the last couple years, but there’s no doubt the guy makes an impact.
24. Brian Finneran: His stats aren’t that impressive until you look at them compared to the rest of his team. Finneran was the best receiver in Atlanta until Roddy White finally developed. Year after year, the Falcons drafted or traded for younger guys, gave them the starting jobs and benched them when Finneran was clearly outplaying them. In 2005, Michael Vick completed 59 percent of his passes to Finneran, 46 percent to his other wideouts. That was nothing compared to 2004 as Vick completed 70 percent of his passes to Finneran and only 45 percent to his other wideouts.
Me, I’d agree about Abraham — pass rushers are supposed to be famous, aren’t they? — and to a lesser extent about Big Ol’ Grady. Finneran? Well, maybe.
Further reading: Mr. Schatz has thoughtfully compiled a companion list of the most overrated players of the past decade. The second name on it is an ex-Falcon. And Nos. 10 and 11 used to play here as well. All three of them made the Pro Bowl more than once.