What is underrated?
A lot that goes into a player being “overrated” or “underrated” is the public and media perception of their skill level. In some cases, this can bleed into the NFL’s opinion on the player, as some will seemingly be perpetually undervalued over time.
The players who are usually valued at or near the top of the position, in my opinion, can’t really be underrated. By now, we mostly know the quality of wide receiver that T.Y. Hilton, Keenan Allen, Stefon Diggs and some others are, even if they’re not usually accepted as top five at the position. Underrated, to me, is a player who is undervalued that isn’t seen as near the top of their position. Players who could thrive if they were tasked with taking on a bigger role, either on their own team or for a different franchise. Not all wide receiver depth charts are built the same, and these players go a long way in strengthening their respective teams' unit.
As somebody who refuses to ever log off of Twitter - shoutout to Trevor Sikkema - I decided to alert the braintrust last night.
I asked Twitter who they thought the most underrated wide receiver in the NFL was, and the responses were overwhelming. There were over 400 replies in the first hour, and hundreds more poured in over time.
There were some exceedingly popular answers that stood out, including the following players: Marvin Jones, Tyler Lockett, Emmanuel Sanders, Tyler Boyd, Rashard Higgins, Mohammed Sanu, Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods, Kenny Golladay, Cooper Kupp, Robby Anderson, Chris Godwin and Golden Tate.
If so many people agree that a player is underrated, it’s likely that they’ve actually begun to get their proper due. You won’t see any of those players on the following list of underrated wide receivers.
Without any further ado, here are my top 5 underrated wide receivers in the NFL.
5. Adam Humphries
Adam Humphries, or as I call him “The O.G. Renfrow,” has been producing in the NFL since he came on to the scene. During his age 23-25 seasons, he’s been over 600 receiving yards in all three. Humphries is talented in the slot because of his crisp breaks and understanding of space and zone coverage. With safe, strong hands, Humphries operates as a consistent possession option and chain mover.
Humphries somehow had a quiet 2018 season despite 800 receiving yards and 5 touchdowns while catching over 70% of his targets for the second consecutive year. The Titans rewarded Humphries with a $36 million contract this offseason, but reports surfaced that New England was willing to pay him $10 million per year for the rest of his 20’s. That deal would’ve put Humphries as the third highest average annual value on the Patriots roster. The Super Bowl winning team willing to bring Humphries in, at that cost, should tell you everything you need to know.
4. Kenny Stills
Since entering the league as a freshly 21-year old in 2013, Kenny Stills is 26th in the NFL in total receiving yards. Stills has been a primary deep threat for the majority of his career, stretching defenses with speed and consistent finishes down the field. Over the past three seasons in Miami, despite sub-par quarterback play, Stills has turned over 8% of his targets into touchdowns. Stills is a big play machine, but has developed the rest of his game over the course of his career, which has mostly gone unnoticed. That is the direct cause for him landing on the underrated list.
3. Robert Foster
It almost feels like cheating to put a second-year, former undrafted rookie on this list, especially one that came on late in the season. There could be a lot of second-year receivers to make an underrated list, as many of them have yet to get proper respect because they’re still viewed as unproven. However, what I saw out of Robert Foster over the second-half of last season was no fluke, he’s as proven as a veteran.
Over the final seven games of 2018, Foster posted 25 receptions, 511 receiving yards and 3 touchdowns on just 35 targets. He did that while having the furthest average depth of target in the NFL and catching passes from a quarterback who struggled a bit with accuracy and ball placement. Foster’s intermediate and deep route running, ball tracking and strength through contact could translate into any offense.
2. Willie Snead
Let’s chalk up that 2017 season as a lost year for Willie Snead, as he struggled to get healthy and play at the level we had grown accustomed to. Take out that season from Snead’s résumé, and his career numbers are noticeably strong. In his other three seasons in the NFL, Snead has combined for over 200 receptions and over 2,500 receiving yards on exactly 300 passing targets.
Looking past his production, Snead is a technician as a route runner who creates throwing windows because of his understanding of leverage. If it’s close to his frame, Snead is able to haul it in, with just 3 drops on 70 receptions since 2016. Snead might be a career possession receiver with middling physical and athletic traits, but his strong hands and route running aren’t going away any time soon.
Snead was the best wide receiver in the Ravens veteran group last season. He led the team in receptions, bringing in over 65% of his targets while the rest of the combined team failed to reach the 60% completion mark. With John Brown and Michael Crabtree gone from Baltimore and assumed added chemistry with second-year quarterback Lamar Jackson, Snead should return to flirting with 1,000 receiving yards this season.
1. Kendrick Bourne
For a player who took a massive step forward last season, Kendrick Bourne has failed to get his deserved recognition this offseason. Part of that is because he was an undrafted rookie from an FCS school who didn't run well at the NFL Combine, but make no mistake, Bourne is a force to be reckoned with.
Bourne's improvement from his rookie year came with how often he won in tight spaces, recording 9 redzone receptions and turning 4 of those into touchdowns. On the season, he converted 6 of 11 contested opportunities for a rate that outperformed Julio Jones and nearly mirrored Deandre Hopkins (via Player Profiler). Bourne might have average size, but his strength and body control expands his catch radius in tight coverage.
Bourne had potential as a route runner coming out of college with proper flexibility and defined cuts, and he's developed in that regard during his time in the NFL. With a mix of boundary and slot reps, Bourne's ability to separate has led to him being one of the best intermediate route runners in the league. While Bourne will be apart of a balanced receiving committee this season, the newly 24-year old has the potential to assert himself as one of Jimmy Garoppolo's main targets. That puts him in position to have a true breakout season in 2019, which could bump him off of the underrated list for good.