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.
Mike Davis, running back, Carolina Panthers
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.
Kerry Hyder, defensive end, San Francisco 49ers
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.
Michael Davis, cornerback, Los Angeles Chargers
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.
Keelan Cole, wide receiver, Jacksonville Jaguars
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.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, quarterback, Miami Dolphins
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.