5 most underrated NFL free agents of 2021

By Vincent Frank
Dec 26, 2020; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (14) gestures in the fourth quarter against the Las Vegas Raidersat Allegiant Stadium. The Dolphins defeated the Raiders 26-25. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

We know the big-name NFL free agents leading up to the start of the new league year later in March. However, there’s a ton of underrated veterans set to hit the open market that could provide a major bargain.

Mike Davis of the Carolina Panthers showed himself to be a starter-caliber running back during the 2020 NFL season. Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Keelan Cole turned in a tremendous season, too. These are among the five most underrated NFL free agents of 2021.

Related: Top 40 remaining NFL free agents of 2021

Mike Davis, running back, Carolina Panthers

NFL free agents: Mike Davis, RB, Carolina Panthers
Oct 18, 2020; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (5) hands the ball off to running back Mike Davis (28) in the second quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Filling in for the injured Christian McCaffrey last season, this former mid-round pick was among the most underrated running backs in the NFL. Davis, 28, recorded 1,015 total yards at a clip of 4.5 yards per touch while scoring eight touchdowns. He also caught a resounding 59-of-70 targets in the process.

The NFL free agent market is littered with better-known running backs such as Aaron Jones, Todd Gurley, Leonard Fournette and James Conner. However, Davis might provide the best value of any of them. Given his lack of success prior to last season, any team picking up the veteran is unlikely looking at more than $3 million annually.

Read More: NFL trade rumors: Latest updates and information for 2021 offseason

Kerry Hyder, defensive end, San Francisco 49ers

NFL free agents: Kerry Hyder, 49ers
October 11, 2020; Santa Clara, California, USA; San Francisco 49ers defensive end Kerry Hyder (92) during the second quarter against the Miami Dolphins at Levi’s Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

With Nick Bosa missing pretty much the entire 2020 NFL season, these 49ers needed someone to pick up the slack from a pass-rush perspective. Having signed a mere one-year, $1.5 million deal last March, this veteran more than provided that.

Hyder, 29, recorded team highs in quarterback hits (18), tackles for loss (10) and sacks (8.5) while appearing in all 16 games. He also missed just six tackles throughout the season. We’re going to see the likes of J.J. Watt, Matt Judon, Shaq Barrett and Bud Dupree get paid a lot on the NFL free agent market. However, teams in less-than-stellar cap situations could get a major bargain in Hyder.

Read More: 2021 NFL mock draft: Blockbuster trades shake up 2021 NFL Draft, six teams land new QBs

Michael Davis, cornerback, Los Angeles Chargers

NFL free agents: Michael Davis, Chargers
Dec 13, 2020; Inglewood, California, USA; Los Angeles Chargers cornerback Michael Davis (43) intercepts a pass in front of Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley (18) in the fourth quarter at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

This former undrafted free agent from BYU morphed into a starter with the Chargers after initially starting his career as nothing more than a special teams player. Davis, 26, has started 26 games over the past two seasons. In the process, he’s also recorded 23 passes defended and five interceptions while being an above-average cover guy.

According to Pro Football Focus, Davis yielded a 60% completion mark when targeted while giving up a mere 72.5 quarterback rating in 2020. Despite this, the market doesn’t seem to be strong for Davis heading into NFL free agency. This leads me to believe he’s looking at less than $5 million annually. That would be an absolute steal.

Related: NFL Top 100 Players of 2021 – The GOAT is #1, Chiefs’ Kelce Top 10

Keelan Cole, wide receiver, Jacksonville Jaguars

NFL free agents: Keelan Cole
Nov 29, 2020; Jacksonville, Florida, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Keelan Cole (84) battles for a pass against Cleveland Browns cornerback Robert Jackson (34) during the second quarter at TIAA Bank Field. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Wide receiver is likely the strongest position of this year’s NFL free agent class. The likes of Chris Godwin, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Allen Robinson and Corey Davis are going to get paid big time. This could very well thin out the market for second and third-tier options heading into March.

If that’s the case, Cole could be a major steal. The 27-year-old pass catcher hauled in 55 passes for 642 yards with five touchdowns while catching 62.5% of his targets a season ago. It’s somewhat stunning given the poor quarterback play in Jacksonville. Despite this, Cole is unlikely to get more than $6 million annually on the open market.

Related: NFL QB rankings – Aaron Rodgers near the top despite contract issues

Ryan Fitzpatrick, quarterback, Miami Dolphins

NFL free agent, Ryan Fitzpatrick, New England Patriots
Dec 26, 2020; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (14) against the Las Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Speaking of underrated NFL players, Fitzpatrick continues to turn in solid season after solid season. Last year alone, the Harvard grad completed 68.5% of his passes for 2,091 yards with 13 touchdowns against eight interceptions. In fact, he replaced an ineffective Tua Tagovailoa at times.

There has not been a lot of talk about Ryan Fitzpatrick leading up to the start of NFL free agency. Obviously, that’s primarily due to bigger-name quarterbacks on the trade block. Even then, any team that signs Fitzpatrick to compete for a starting job will be getting the ultimate professional. Even at 38, he has a lot left in the tank. That’s for sure.