In order to be underrated, you have to be rated. Is the color red underrated? Maybe, but I’m not sure many people have blogs talking about the color red.[Side note: After I wrote that, I did a search to see how many blogs are about, very simply, the color red. I don't even know what to say.]
Ratings are subjective. And, typically, when we perceive someone or something as underrated, it has everything to do with our individual exposure of that someone or something. For instance, I may believe Lance Moore is an underrated fantasy receiver, but to someone who follows a multitude of Saints bloggers and analysts, they may have an entirely different perception.
So remember this as you read on. My idea of “underrated” in fantasy football is finding a player who produces, but not enough people talk about him. There are plenty of players who consistently slip through the cracks in yearly analysis, and these are those guys. These are the unsung heroes, in a sense, of the 2012 fantasy season.
Russel Wilson, Seattle Seahawks – 2012 Fantasy Stats: 11th ranked quarterback, 259 points scored (ESPN Standard)
As Denny and I talked about in our most recent podcast, it’s a little disappointing to now see Russell Wilson get so much love after declaring him a solid selection in 2012 fantasy drafts. As Denny put it, he and I were Russell Wilson hipsters. Now there’s just this unbelievable love for the Seahawks’ quarterback.
What many people don’t realize with Wilson, however, is that his overall fantasy point total this season is dramatically skewed by his sluggish start. While we were all targeting Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III in fantasy throughout the season, Russell Wilson seemed to quietly put up very respectable numbers.
Consider this: Russell Wilson had a higher points per game average from Week 8 through Week 17 than Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees. His lowest point total during this time was 8 (week 14), and 6 of his final 9 performances resulted in a game total of 19 points or more. He was Mr. Consistent from a fantasy production standpoint, and that’s why he was underrated. Too many fantasy folks were afraid of using Wilson because of the start to his rookie campaign, but if you got him off the wire and stuck with him, you struck fantasy gold.
Steven Jackson, St. Louis Rams - 2012 Fantasy Stats: 16th ranked running back, 150 points scored (ESPN Standard)
Like Russell Wilson, the beginning of the 2012 season was rather lumpish for Jackson. His first score didn’t happen until Week 7, and he failed to reach 100 yards rushing in every performance up until Week 10. But after the Rams’ bye week, Jackson rolled. From weeks 10 to 17, Jackson scored no fewer than 8 fantasy points in a given week. To put that into perspective, Steven Jackson was producing at a Doug Martin or Frank Gore level throughout the second half of 2012.
Now, I’m not saying that Jackson was underrated across the entire fantasy football season. A late-second round pick in most drafts, Jackson certainly underperformed when compared to his average draft position. But, generally, Jackson seemed to be written off in terms of fantasy. How often was he a recommendation for daily leagues? How many times did you see him mentioned on Twitter? Overall, the perception surrounding Jackson was that he was a bust. When you dig into his numbers, however, you see that he was more than usable throughout the second part of 2012.
Mike Williams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers - 2012 Fantasy Stats: 24th ranked wide receiver, 146 points scored (ESPN Standard)
Not enough people talked about the number two target in Tampa this season. While the spotlight was on Vincent Jackson, Mike Williams silently had another solid year at receiver. He hauled in 9 touchdowns (tied for 11th in the NFL including tight ends), and was just 4 yards away from a 1,000-yard season.
If there’s a knock on Williams, it’s his week-to-week consistency. In 25% of his games, Williams scored 3 or fewer fantasy points. Even at wide receiver, a generally inconsistency position, that’s not good.
But his big play ability kept him more than fantasy relevant. He scored 11 or more points in half of his 2012 campaign, which is arguably a better overall quality start rate than Aaron Rodgers.
To me, there’s no reason Mike Williams deserves his middle-of-the-road WR3 perception. The guy has been steady as can be through his first three seasons in the NFL, and he’s doing it in a system that is absurdly unreliable.
Heath Miller, Pittsburgh Steelers - 2012 Fantasy Stats: 4th ranked tight end, 125 points scored (ESPN Standard)
Heath Miller, who has perennially been a waiver wire play in fantasy, really had a fantastic season. I don’t think he was necessarily as overlooked as the three players above, but I do think people took his talents and numbers for granted.
The Steelers’ tight end scored 10 fewer points than Tony Gonzalez this season, and just 19 less than the typical second-round draft choice, Jimmy Graham. And when you get into Heath’s numbers, you find some phenomenal consistency. His 6 double-digit performances matched Jimmy Graham, and his 8 touchdowns were spread across 7 games. In other words, if you started Heath Miller every week he played in 2012, you had a 47% chance of him scoring in that game. Pretty impressive for a position with limited predictability.
Given his build, Miller isn’t the kind of player that’s going to get 100-yards in a game. In fact, he didn’t do that once in 2012. What he’s done, especially in Todd Haley’s offense, is solidified himself as Roethlisberger’s go-to third down and red zone target. When you’ve got that, you’re a great fantasy play at tight end. It’s that simple.