NFL Network analytics expert Cynthia Frelund has ranked Bears defensive tackle Akiem Hicks as the third most underappreciated player in the NFL.
In compiling her list, she looked only at players drafted in Round 3 or later who have been to no more than two Pro Bowls. Hicks was selected by the Saints in the third round of the 2012 draft and was voted to the Pro Bowl last season for the first time.
Frelund then utilized a data metric that measured each player’s contribution to his team’s win total for the 2018 season. Hicks helped the Bears win the NFC North title with a 12-4 record, leading the team with 12 tackles-for-loss while ranking second with 7.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and 16 quarterback hits.
“The Bears were the NFL's best scoring defense (17.7 points allowed per game) last season,” Frelund wrote. “Chicago's exceptional perimeter pressure and interior pressure and elite coverage in the back end all combined to produce the most takeaways (36) and fewest touchdowns allowed (27) along with the third-most sacks (50) in the league.
“While it's true that the sum of all of the value components is the reason for the Bears' league-leading results, Hicks' individual contribution metric ranked fourth among interior defensive linemen in my model last season. Pro Football Focus credits him with 51 pressures (tied for ninth-most among interior D-linemen) and 34 run stops (second-most among interior D-linemen) last season, which helps give context to his value.
“My favorite computer vision note from my model? Hicks' ability to get within five or fewer feet from opposing quarterbacks (a proxy for pressure) increased in the second half of games last season. Only two other interior defenders ended the season getting "faster" as games went on.
The only players that Frelund ranks above Hicks are Eagles center Jason Kelce and Titans safety Kevin Byard.