When you actually take a look at the Pittsburgh Steelers starting offense, it is quite amazing. The talent they have gathered on that side of the ball is ridiculous, in a good way. With that said, it makes finding a player who could be deemed as ‘underrated’ a bit of a challenge.
Starting with the skill players, good luck finding someone who could be an integral part of the group, but doesn’t get the credit they deserve. Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell are all household names and considered to be at the top, or near the top, of the NFL in their respective positions.
Analyze the offensive line and you see a slew of first and second round draft picks who all have had their rightful credit, whether it be All-Pro selections or Pro Bowl trips. Even the secondary players like Martavis Bryant and Ladarius Green are considered to be major weapons among the offense.
So, who would be considered the most underrated player on the offensive side of the ball? I narrowed it down to several players.
OT Alejandro Villanueva
G Ramon Foster
OT Marcus Gilbert
WR Eli Rogers
WR Darrius Heyward-Bey
For as much as Heyward-Bey does for the Steelers, he doesn’t impact the offense enough to be worthy of the most underrated player tag. Same could be said for Rogers. Although he started to blossom in 2016, his current body of work didn’t impact the team enough, in my opinion, to have him named most underrated.
Which leaves me with three offensive linemen. The grinders who rarely get the credit they deserve, unless your name is Maurkice Pouncey or David DeCastro. Foster, who was an undrafted free agent out of Tennessee, has been a solid, and versatile, part of the Steelers front 5 for many years now, but I feel even Foster has been given his props for his play, or maybe it is just the crushing block he had on Zachary Orr of the Baltimore Ravens on Christmas night last year.
Now is when the tough decision comes. Gilbert or Villanueva. Gilbert has kept his position on lock down for the past three seasons since he decided to drop weight and get into better shape. He has given the likes of Terrell Suggs, Von Miller and other premiere pass rushers in the league nothing but a goose egg when it comes to sacks on Ben Roethlisberger. However, Gilbert was paid handsomely for his work, while the man they call ‘Big Al’ is still waiting for his pay day.
Gilbert might have the pedigree and background on Villanueva, but the left tackle position is a different beast, one which Gilbert failed at before moving to right tackle. Villanueva has quietly come onto the scene, worked his butt off, and is now protecting Roethlisberger’s blind side on a weekly basis. While he hasn’t signed his Restricted Free Agent (RFA) tender, Villanueva could force Pittsburgh’s hand into giving him a new contract, one he deserves.
For all of this, and most likely much more which goes on behind the scenes, Villanueva is by far the most underrated player on the Steelers’ offense. When you don’t hear about your left tackle, protecting the quarterback’s blind side, that is a good thing, and you haven’t heard anyone talking about Villanueva in a while. Most, including myself, expect Villanueva to show up to work when OTAs start and go about business as usual. It is what he does, and is why although he might be underrated, he is a very important part of the Steelers’ offensive success.