Gene J. Puskar / Associated Press
The mission was simple: Ask several executives of the NFL, who they believed to be the most underrated league players in the league Season 201
Some of your answers were really unexpected.
Niners who ran back Matt Breida were mentioned. So Colts Marlon Mack ran back. The safety of the Vikings Harrison Smith, the now out-retired cowboys Jason Witten and Panthers quarterback Cam Newton also made the cut.
However, the most mentioned name was the most surprising: Steelers, who ran James Conner back.
Maybe no one should be stunned by it. In 12 starts of the past season (and 13 games in total) he ran 973 meters and scored 12 touchdowns. He also had 55 catches for 497 yards and another score. He is obviously good.
But the most underrated player to enter the season? Really?
According to three executives – two deputy executives of the NFC and one of the AFC – are of the opinion that Conner is better than most people think. and if he stays healthy, he will do almost what Le Veon Bell did for years in Pittsburgh. Not the whole way. But close.
This seems to contradict what normally happens when a team loses first-class talent. The Steelers did just that in this offseason, swapping an angry Antonio Brown for the Raiders and watching as Bell signed on to the jets as a free agent. That's a lot of skill, intelligence, and football knowledge that's gone now.
But many executives B / R have talked to believe the Steelers can recover faster and more thoroughly than they think. If Conner can reproduce what he has done in the past season – or can improve – Pittsburgh could pose a serious threat to the AFC.
If Conner can not do that, the Steelers are in trouble. It's so easy in many ways, which makes Conner so important.
As mentioned above, Connor is not the only player who sees some in the league as underrated. And there is good reason to believe that a handful of them could turn in big seasons.
Breida could be one of them. The 49er field is extremely crowded with Tevin Coleman and Jerick McKinnon, but managers believe Breida has the most potential to flourish. Although the running back position has been reduced in recent years, Breida could become a star if he eases the work of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and loosens the coverage of George Kittle.
Michael Zagaris / Getty Images
Mack is another fascinating example case. Colt quarterback Andrew Luck is the obvious warp core of this offense, but these team officials say that since about week 7 last year, Mack has undoubtedly become one of the five most effective defenders in the league. The way he worked in perfect harmony with a mobbing offensive was great.
Smith could also have a huge impact on a Viking team trying to remain a Super Bowl contender next season. The four-time Pro Bowler has raised his game last season to the level of one of the best defenders in football in the eyes of those with whom B / R spoke. You also see no reason to expect a fall this fall.
I have to admit that the recording of Witten surprised me. The 37-year-old mumbled over his broadcasts of Monday Night Football last year. The NFL staff, however, reiterated what its former quarterback Tony Romo said this week to Dallas & # 39; 105.3 The Fan (via Jon Machota the Dallas Morning News ). :
"He will continue where he left off I do not think it will be a big challenge for Jason The reality is as long as if you know the game as he does, there are certain positions – he plays one of them at the narrow end – he will always have the nuance to become open.  " Let's say he's the same as always. For me it's just that you think in that position by your ability to leverage against someone and then do it. It's like basketball. Suddenly it gets you, and you did not even know it's coming, and this guy is wide open. "
The last time we saw Witten on a football field in 2017, he was 63 catches for 560 yards and five touchdowns – if he can do that, the cowboys would get a nice relief valve and Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott something
Then there are Newton's big stars underestimated the league, believe a few of his leaders in resistance and injury in recent years have displaced him from the best players in the league. That would be a mistake for someone with Newton's skills.
Among those who may be overlooked in the 2019 season, Conner has perhaps the best history in football. Four years ago, doctors diagnosed Hodgkin's lymphoma with him. If doctors did not get the cancer, he might have died a week later, Conner said earlier this month in Mike Seander's podcast.
Now he is expected to be the main weapon of the Steelers running game.
Even though he never wins a court, he has already exceeded expectations. And there could be more.
Mike Freeman reports on the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL .