It’s hard to argue that a player who picked up three 1,000-yard rushing seasons and made four consecutive Pro Bowl appearances was unlucky. However, it’s not impossible. In fact, you could make that exact argument for former Chicago Bears running back Neal Anderson.
From 1988 to 1991, Anderson rushed for 4,026 yards, scored 39 rushing touchdowns, and added 10 more receiving scores. But when the conversation is had about the best running backs in Bears history, Anderson seems to take a back seat. Thankfully, one writer has recently given Anderson the spotlight he so richly deserves.
Bleacher Report’s Mike Tanier takes us into a football time machine with his nostalgic look at the most underrated players in NFL history. Tanier’s rules for unearthing the league’s most underrated players are fair, though as he points out, “underrated” is in the eye of the beholder. For Tanier’s exercise, he leaves out Hall of Famers, Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks, running backs, and receivers, as well as players from the NFL’s most dominant dynasties – meaning no Patriots from the 2000s, Cowboys of the 1990s, 49ers from the 1980s, Steelers from the 1970s, or Packers from the 1960s.
Since Anderson doesn’t fit any of the aforementioned criteria, he comes in at No. 19 on the list. So let’s check out some highlights:
Anderson had the power game that allowed him to bulldoze through defenders, soft hands that made him a reliable receiver out of the backfield, and the element of speed that left would-be tacklers in his dust. There weren’t many running backs as well-rounded as Anderson.
Unfortunately, Chicago was the wrong place, and the years from 1986 to 1993 represented the wrong time for Anderson to play out his career. As Tanier points out, Anderson replaced a living legend in Walter Payton – and did so after the Bears peaked as a franchise.
And while it can be difficult to envision certain players transcending eras, the underappreciated Anderson would probably do just fine if he could play his prime in 2017. In fact, Tanier compares Anderson favorably to Steelers star back Le’Veon Bell – who like Anderson, checks all the boxes as a back with speed, power, and receiving ability.
Putting Anderson in a modern offense that would best utilize his skills, rather than what was run in Chicago, likely would have led to a little more fanfare and adoration. Alas, time travel doesn’t exist … yet.