Offensive Player Rankings, Week 8: Matt Ryan, Ryan Tannehill among NFL's most underrated right now

There’s no denying Matt Ryan is on a hot streak. Atlanta’s quarterback just led a 57-yard, game-winning drive in Miami to lift the Falcons to .500 on the season.

If we dig a little deeper, the 2016 NFL MVP has been pretty exceptional over his past four games. Since Week 3, Ryan has thrown for 301.0 yards per game with a 10:1 TD-to-INT ratio and 107.0 passer rating while leading the Falcons to a 3-1 record. His recent play has undoubtedly impressed his first-year head coach Arthur Smith, who praised his QB after Sunday’s win, calling him “criminally underrated.” And I have to agree.

Ryan came into the 2021 season with a new head coach, new offensive coordinator and no Julio Jones for the first time in a decade. And yes, there were some growing pains early on. But as rookie Kyle Pitts has developed into a reliable second option alongside Calvin Ridley, Ryan has returned to vintage form.

Beyond Ryan, here are five other offensive players who are underrated heading into Week 8.

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McLaurin is a fine example of a Swiss Army Knife-type wideout. When the play caller and quarterback sit down to discuss the game plan, he’s the guy they’re trying to get the ball to. McLaurin lines up all over the field and is used in so many different ways, which is why I think he’s sometimes overlooked despite a stellar start to his NFL career. McLaurin isn’t regularly put in marquee matchups vs. top cornerbacks for the entirety of a game — like DeAndre Hopkins vs. Jalen Ramsey, for example — so his play isn’t dissected based on his ability as a WR1 on the perimeter. And while McLaurin might not have the press clippings of some other stud receivers, the third-year pro comes through every time he steps on the field for Washington — regardless of who’s throwing him the ball.

Moore is a former first-round pick boasting back-to-back 1,100-yard receiving seasons, yet somehow, he’s still flying under the radar. As Carolina’s leader in targets (73), receptions (46), receiving yards (586) and receiving TDs (three), Moore is a player who can do all things in an offense. He is physical and consistently produces in the passing game while also playing a critical role in the run game as a blocker for Christian McCaffrey and Chuba Hubbard. Moore, who needs just two more receiving TDs to set a new career high for a season, isn’t always going to have the highlight-reel plays, but he’s often the best player in Joe Brady’s offense, especially when CMC is out.

Robinson walked into the 2020 season as an undrafted free agent and proceeded to be the motor of Jacksonville’s offense with 240 carries for 1,070 yards (4.5 yards per carry) and seven touchdowns, as well as 49 catches for 344 yards and three more scores. He was undoubtedly one of the best surprises of last year. But then the Jags drafted running back Travis Etienne in the first round. Even though the rookie suffered a season-ending foot injury before the 2021 campaign began, the Jags continued to do Robinson a disservice in the early goings by not highlighting him in an offense with a new coordinator and rookie quarterback. Look, I love Trevor Lawrence as much as the next guy, but having him throw the ball 51 times in his debut isn’t a winning formula. Urban Meyer has since realized Robinson’s value, though, showcasing the second-year running back over the last three games, in which Robinson has averaged 5.7 yards per carry on 53 attempts. Robinson has proven he can carry the load and should continue to be a focal point of this offense.

Tannehill’s on a team with the most dominant non-quarterback we’ve seen in a long time. And as much credit as Derrick Henry deserves for helping the Titans earn back-to-back wins over the Bills and Chiefs, Tennessee’s quarterback has been equally valuable. Looking back at Sunday’s win over the two-time reigning AFC champion Chiefs, Henry was limited to 86 yards on 29 carries (3.0 yards per tote) — the first game since Week 1 in which he’s been held to fewer than 100 rush yards. It was Tannehill who made crucial throws when the defense took Henry away, and he’s only going to get better with A.J. Brown looking healthier — and as he gets more reps in with Julio Jones. 

Woods is so crucial to the Rams’ offense, as a player Sean McVay can rely on in so many ways, from catching passes to taking jet sweeps to run-blocking. Cooper Kupp is getting more attention during his spectacular start to this season, but don’t get it twisted: Woods is vital to this team. As a polished all-around receiver, Woods can have a field day whenever his number is called, which, quite frankly, hasn’t happened enough this season. Woods has been targeted just 50 times in seven games, catching 35 of those balls for 423 yards and three TDs. Meanwhile, Kupp leads the league in targets (81), catches (56), receiving yards (809) and receiving touchdowns (9). Don’t be surprised if the numbers balance out a bit more between Woods and Kupp going forward.

One quick side note about Woods: I love the way he runs “bad routes” on purpose to set up big plays later in games. Amani Toomer used to do that with the New York Giants and it was great to see the defense eventually get burned.

Top 15 Offensive Players

Each week in the 2021 campaign, former No. 1 overall pick and NFL Network analyst David Carr will take a look at all offensive players and rank his top 15. Rankings are based solely on this season’s efforts. The Week 8 pecking order is below.

NOTE: Arrows reflect changes from last week’s rankings.

Murray got everyone involved in the Cardinals’ Week 7 win over Houston, as A.J. Green, Zach Ertz, DeAndre Hopkins and Christian Kirk each had at least 50 receiving yards (the last three also added a TD). He continues to make his MVP case, registering a fourth game with a 120.0-plus passer rating (most in the NFL). Murray and the Cardinals face a big test Thursday against the 6-1 Packers, but Arizona can hit the weekend at 8-0 if the young quarterback keeps firing on all cylinders.

Rodgers makes playing the quarterback position look easy. (FYI: It’s not.) He’s helped the Packers win six straight games since laying an egg in the season opener, and he continues to improve in some way, shape or form with each passing week. Against Washington on Sunday, Rodgers excelled for the first time throwing deep this season. According to Next Gen Stats, on throws of 20-plus air yards, the Packers QB connected on two of his three attempts for 46 yards, with a touchdown to Robert Tonyan. On deep passes in Weeks 1-6, he threw two interceptions against zero TDs with a 47.0 passer rating.

Allen leads a Bills offense that ranks second in the league in scoring with an average of 33.8 points per game. Coming out of the bye, the division-leading Bills (4-2) should feel good with where they’re at with a favorable schedule over the next three weeks: vs. Dolphins, at Jaguars and at Jets, three teams that have a combined record of 3-16.

Sunday’s Bears-Bucs game was extremely one-sided, with Brady leading the charge by racking up four touchdown passes in the first half. His second — a 9-yard strike to Mike Evans — marked his 600th career TD pass, making him the first quarterback in NFL history to reach that threshold. Through seven weeks, only five quarterbacks have thrown for more than 2,000 yards, and Brady sits at the top with 2,275.

Dak’s currently leading one of the best statistical offenses in Cowboys history, with Dallas averaging a franchise-high 34.2 points and 460.8 total yards per game (both tops in the NFL this season). He’s been extremely efficient (73.1 completion percentage) and has led the Cowboys on a five-game win streak. You hope last week’s bye — and a calf injury — don’t mess up his flow.

The Chiefs were able to keep Henry in check by loading the box with at least seven defenders, limiting Henry to 64 yards on 26 rushes (2.5 ypc) against those unfavorable box counts, per NGS. Yet the Titans still demolished the Chiefs thanks to a big day from Ryan Tannhill and the defense. Even after logging a relatively modest (at least by his standards) 102 scrimmage yards on Sunday, Henry still leads the NFL with 1,023 scrimmage yards and 10 scrimmage TDs this season.

Despite not having his top target (Darren Waller) and seeing his RB1 (Josh Jacobs) exit in the second quarter, Derek stepped up in a BIG way for the Raiders by throwing for 323 yards and two TDs against the Eagles. He was able to bounce back from a pick in the red zone on the Raiders’ first possession, leading the team to five straight drives ending in points (four TDs, one field goal). Even more impressive: Derek had a career-best 91.2 completion percentage (31-34) and set several Next Gen Stats records. He went 7-for-7 for 169 yards and one TD on passes of 10-plus air yards (his first game in NGS era with 100 comp. percentage and 150-plus pass yards on downfield passes); he had a 93.8 comp. percentage on passes thrown from inside the pocket (NGS era single-game record, min. 30 such att.); and finally, he had a 96.2 comp. percentage on passes without pressure (NGS record, min. 25 such att.). 

Kupp is on fire and on pace to break several single-season receiving records in 2021, including Calvin Johnson’s mark of 1,964 receiving yards set in 2012. Kupp’s numbers by the end of a 17-game season currently project to be 136 catches, 1,965 receiving yards and 22 receiving TDs — which would all rank in the top three in NFL history.

The rookie looked like a seasoned veteran vs. the Ravens as he hauled in eight receptions for 201 yards, highlighted by an 82-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown in the third quarter. Chase’s 201 receiving yards are the second-most by any player in a game this season. (Davante Adams had 206 at Cincinnati in Week 5.) If you aren’t paying attention to the Joe Burrow-Ja’Marr Chase connection, you should be. Through the first seven weeks, Chase has more receptions of 30-plus yards (eight) than 17 teams.

Adams continues to prove he’s one of the best at creating separation. Against Washington, six of Adams’ seven targets came with 3-plus yards of separation, per Next Gen Stats, and he had five catches for 50 yards, including his 17-yard TD reception on fourth-and-3. The Cardinals catch a break ahead of their Thursday Night Football clash with Green Bay: Adams, who has accounted for one-third of the team’s receptions and 43.5 percent of its passing yards, landed on the COVID-19 list Monday.

Sometimes it’s just not your day, and Sunday wasn’t Lamar’s. He had a completion percentage under 50 and suffered his first career defeat in October (9-1 after losing to the Bengals). Jackson struggled against a Bengals defense that generated pressure on 12 of his 31 pass attempts, as he completed just a third of those passes for 67 yards. It’s a sour note to take into the bye.

The Chargers go as Herbert goes. In the team’s four victories this season, the second-year quarterback has a 12:1 TD-to-INT ratio and 109.0 passer rating. In its two losses, however, Herbert has thrown two TDs against three INTs while posting a 77.8 passer rating. This team can go far, but there’s a lot riding on the young QB’s play.

Hopkins soaked in the victory over his former team by adding seven catches for 53 yards, including a 1-yard touchdown reception to get Arizona on the board and settle the entire team. With seven touchdown grabs on the season, Hopkins accounts for over 40 percent of Kyler Murray‘s scoring strikes, and you get the sense this pair is just heating up.

Evans enters the top 15 for the first time this season after a three-TD performance in Tampa Bay’s blowout win over Chicago. All three of his receiving touchdowns came in the first half, with his first — a 9-yarder at the end of the first quarter — being Tom Brady’s 600th career TD pass. Brady’s favorite target now has seven TD catches on the season.

With a blowout loss to Tennessee, Kelce didn’t exactly enjoy National Tight Ends Day, though he did catch seven balls for 65 yards. He leads all TEs in targets (65), receptions (45) and receiving yards (533).

DROPPED OUT: Tyreek Hill, WR, Chiefs (Previously No. 14).

Follow David Carr on Twitter.

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