The Raiders franchise has had some incredible wide receivers in team history, but in the history of the NFL, is Cliff Branch the most underrated?
Earlier this week, Bleacher Report Gridiron sent out a tweet with a quote from Denver Broncos safety Justin Simmons on recently retired wide receiver Demaryius Thomas. This quote created quite a buzz, as people began to interject their opinions on wide receivers who have been underrated in the league, a list that should have included Raiders star Cliff Branch.
Names, including Pro Football Hall of Fame inductees such as Sterling Sharpe, Steve Largent, Andre Reed, and Marvin Harrison were thrown around, but isn’t the whole point of being underrated not being recognized at the highest level?
After seeing names swirl around of known superstars who were awarded their bronze busts, I began to think of a player who had more Super Bowl wins, more post-season touchdowns, and a more storied career than all of the aforementioned players, Cliff Branch.
Raiders star Cliff Branch the most underrated in NFL history
Cliff Branch was drafted in the fourth round of the 1972 NFL Draft by the Oakland Raiders. Branch, who played his 14-year career in the Silver and Black was a three-time Super Bowl champion, three-time all-pro, and was selected to the Pro Bowl four times.
He recorded 67 touchdowns in his storied career during a period in time when the Raiders success was balanced through air and ground attack. During the postseason, Branch would be a clutch target for Ken Stabler and Jim Plunkett, as he amassed 1,289 yards receiving, with a 17.7 yards per catch average and five touchdowns.
Branch was a matchup nightmare, as his blend of speed and catching ability made him an elusive target. While Cliff’s counterpart, Hall of Fame receiver Fred Biletnikoff would fundamentally beat opposing secondaries, Branch would blur right past them, earning a sign in the Raiders end zone that read “Speed Kills #21”.
Branch wasn’t a flashy player, but he ran like the Flash, a small in stature player who could zoom past anyone and he became a fan favorite in Raider Nation.
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Here we are now in 2021, 36 years after Branch retired, and he still hasn’t been inducted into the Hall of Fame, a Hall of Fame that houses players that Branch outplayed, outscored, and outlasted on the field. Branch’s stats compared to many of those who have had their busts enshrined in the most prestigious of homes for professional football players pale in comparison, yet today Branch has still been an afterthought.
In the history of the NFL, he is the most underrated.