As the 2022 season approaches, who is the most underrated player on each of the Detroit Lions NFC North rivals?
Until further notice, as long as Aaron Rodgers is under center, the Green Bay Packers will be the team to beat in the NFC North. But even within the context of them resting players in Week 18, the Detroit Lions were competitive with the Packers for six of eight quarters last season.
The Lions have a better talent base than they did a year ago, so a run toward eight or nine wins and a challenge of the Minnesota Vikings for a projected second place finish in the division is on the table. The Chicago Bears are changing things, and hoping they can get second-year quarterback Justin Fields on track this year almost at the expense of raw wins.
There is talent on all four rosters in the NFC North, and some that is certainly overlooked.
But who is the most underrated player on each of the Detroit Lions’ division rivals?
The most underrated player on each Detroit Lions NFC North rival
Minnesota Vikings: LB Eric Kendricks
Kendricks has topped 100 tackles in six straight seasons, with a career-high 143 stops (81 solo) in 2021. He also picked off two passes, and had a career-high five sacks. He is legitimately one of the best all-around off-the-ball linebackers in the league, yet he has just one Pro Bowl selection on his resume (2019).
Minnesota’s move to a 3-4 base under new defensive coordinator Ed Donatell may unleash a different version of Kendricks. Not that team radio sideline analyst Ben Leber thinks that’s a good thing, based on what he said back in February.
You are (as an inside LB in a 3-4 defense) taking on a fair amount of more blockers. We’re not talking fullbacks and tight ends. We’re talking guards and tackles. That is not his strong point. He does not have long arms. He’s not a thumper when it comes to getting off blocks. It doesn’t come natural for him to play off blocks and you do have to two-gap a lot as an inside linebacker (in a 3-4 scheme).
Donatell will surely have a plan for using Kendricks, who is one of the best players on the Vikings’ defense, in a way that will accentuate his strengths. He played in a 3-4 scheme in college at UCLA, under a head coach with NFL experience in Jim Mora Jr.
So short story long, Kendricks will be fine in a 3-4 defensive scheme while remaining one of the most productive off-ball linebackers around. And he may remain among the most underrated players in the league too, regardless of position.
Honorable Mention: RT Brian O’Neill