It goes without saying that to make it to the NFL level, one must have a special kind of talent.
It's also understood, though, that some players garner more positive attention from fans than others – maybe due to their on-field performance, maybe due to off-field personality, maybe simply because of the position they play.
All of the above means that some players across the league fly under the radar. CBS Sports' Patrik Walker recently looked at the NFC and named one player on each team "who is either outright overlooked by most or furiously undervalued, of which there is no shortage in the NFL."
When it came to Minnesota, he pointed to Vikings right tackle Brian O'Neill, who has been a mainstay at the position since being thrown into the fire as a starter during his rookie season. Walker wrote:
Admit it, unless you truly follow the Vikings, you probably have no clue who Brian O'Neill is or, at minimum, you don't know his exact value to this club. The team's fans definitely know, as does Kirk Cousins and Dalvin Cook, two players O'Neill routinely protects and opens lanes for.
What's strange is that despite landing a five-year deal last September and a Pro Bowl honor in 2021, if you toss his name out in a random conversation about the best offensive tackles in the game, you'll get blank, confused stares by most involved in the debate. O'Neill gets the job done, and quietly, which is just fine by him and his teammates, but let's all appreciate his contributions.
View the best photos of Vikings T Brian O'Neill from the 2021 season.
As always, it's also interesting to note what league pundits are saying about the Vikings NFC North rivals.
Walker said that defensive back Tracy Walker is the Lions most underrated player.
Could he do more? Sure, considering he had just one interception last season and three in his four years with the Lions, but he's also become a full-fledged starter who has 319 combined tackles in 34 total starts, and that's led to Detroit granting him a three-year extension through the 2024 season.
Walker opined that linebacker Robert Quinn is underappreciated by the Bears due to rumors that Chicago could potentially trade Quinn prior to the season. And in Green Bay, Walker said edge rusher Rashan Gary is undervalued.
You don't hear a lot about Gary outside of Wisconsin, and that's just weird. This is a linebacker who's proven he gets better with time, going from 2.0 sacks with no starts as a rookie in 2019 to 5.0 sacks with four starts in 2020, upping his production yet again when he earned 16 starts in 2021 – racking up 9.5 sacks and 47 combined tackles along with two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and 19 quarterback hits. His potential helped fuel the divorce from Za'Darius Smith [who signed with the Vikings], clearing the way for Gary to truly make a name for himself in one of the biggest markets in football, and then maybe more people will notice his due north trajectory.
View the best photos of Vikings WR Adam Thielen from the 2021 season.
Fantasy football aficionados: Don't forget about Adam Thielen
Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson has absolutely taken the league by storm.
He's frequently listed among the league's best, shattered records and racked up impressive plays over his first two seasons, and it's fair to expect similar results in Year 3.
But Jefferson isn't the Vikings only top-notch receiver.
ESPN Senior Writer Eric Karabell reminded fans prepping for fantasy football drafts not to forget about Adam Thielen and the threat he presents for opponents. Karabell wrote:
Thielen was cruising along as a productive fantasy option last season, averaging more than six catches and 62 receiving yards per game through 11 of them, and with a cool 10 touchdowns. He was playing at a WR1 level, on his way to 100 receptions and 1,000 yards. Then he got hurt. Hey, football players get hurt.
Karabell noted that Thielen's suddenly fallen into later rounds of fantasy drafts, which "makes little sense" in his mind.
Fantasy managers love the young, ascendant wide receivers and often forget about the older, proven and productive options who may have suffered a setback or two in recent seasons but may easily return to prior levels. […] Thielen going outside the top 40 wide receivers in early drafts hardly jibes with his value. He was a top-10 PPR wide receiver in 2018 and 2020, and well on his way to a 2021 repeat until injury intervened.
While most every player is likely to present only the most optimistic updates, Thielen recently told reporters that he feels fresh, energetic and reinvigorated, and most of all, back to complete health. Enigmatic quarterback Kirk Cousins boasts one of the better trios of offensive options at his disposal, and while Thielen may be the third choice there (after Jefferson and Dalvin Cook), he remains a productive one. Sure, we can quibble that he has been a bit touchdown-dependent for fantasy value, but he was on his way to 100 catches and 1,000 receiving yards last season, too. New [Head Coach] Kevin O'Connell seems likely to know this.
Add it up and there's a reason Thielen is quite capable of returning to WR2 status, and he sets up as one of the better bargains.