The Audibles All-Overrated Team: The Offense
“Overrated” is a variable concept that we throw around a lot in sports. Whether it’s a draft pick who never lives up to his potential, or a high-priced free agent who ultimately disappoints, or a player who is featured prominently by the media when the tape doesn’t back that up … if a team has too many of those types of guys, it clearly is going to struggle. Ultimately, overrated players are as much a function of front offices making questionable decisions as anything else, but there are also situations in which players have simply avoided the high side of what they could be in an athletic sense. Here, for a number of reasons, are the guys we tend to think are overrated going into the 2013 NFL season.
Quarterback: Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Freeman, selected 19th overall in the 2009 draft by the Buccaneers, is in the final year of the rookie contract that maxes out at $26 million were he to hit all incentives. He’s been good in fits and starts, especially in 2010, when he threw 25 touchdown passes against six interceptions. But far too often, as we recently broke down, Freeman’s iffy mechanics lead to inconsistent performances. That has second-year head coach Greg Schiano wondering if Freeman will be his guy long-term, and it’s a valid concern. In 2012, Freeman ranked 24th in Football Outsiders’ season-cumulative metrics, and he ranked 34th the year before. Last season, only Mark Sanchez was less efficient than Freeman against pressure up the middle, per ESPN, and when you’re in the same discussion as Sanchez in any sense, that’s a problem. Freeman has all the tools to be a legitimate franchise quarterback, but he’ll need to put it together before he can live up to that name.
Running backs: Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans/Darren McFadden, Oakland Raiders
The Titans have improved their line this offseason with guards Andy Levitre in free agency and Chance Warmack in the first round of the draft, so the thinking is that Johnson, the NFL’s best open-field runner, will excel again because when he has consistent blocking in front of him, he’s just about impossible to stop. The truth is no one should overrate his situation or his ability to match his 2,006-yard rushing season of 2009. The Titans rewarded him for that one special season with a lucrative contract extension in 2011 and picked up his $10 million option for 2013, but he hasn’t cracked the 1,400-yard mark in any of the following three years. Moreover, he’s not good in pass protection, and he hasn’t been efficient as a receiver, which is surprising given his skill set. When it comes to backs who could be overrated this season, he’s right there.
McFadden has some of the same issues — great speed talent, a wonderful straight-line runner, but someone who struggles in situations that require play-to-play consistency. In 2012. McFadden ranked dead last among qualifying backs in FO’s efficiency metrics. The Raiders have not given McFadden much to work with, to be sure, but McFadden is in the last year of a $60 million contract, and set to earn almost $6 million in 2013. No matter how you slice it, that’s not good value.
Receivers: Mike Wallace, Miami Dolphins/Greg Little, Cleveland Browns
In March, the Dolphins signed Wallace to a five-year, $60 million contract with $30 million guaranteed. They designated him as their ultimate deep receiver, but based on Wallace’s 2012 performance, it’s tough to rank him in the upper echelon in that department. Yes, he’s as speedy as anyone in the game in the open field, but he’s never been precise with his routes, and there are questions about his ability to hook up consistently with quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who doesn’t have the best deep arm. One also wonders if he can handle a high-caliber workload — Wallace was targeted more in 2012 than ever before (119) passes thrown in his direction), and his catch rate plummeted from 64% in 2011 to 54% last season. Is Wallace a system guy? We’ll find out soon enough.
As for Little, he was selected in the second round of the 2011 draft, and we haven’t heard much from him since … except when we’re talking about the passes he drops. So, he’s less “overrated” in a media sense, and more overvalued in an organizational sense. He’s made all the right noises about taking the game more seriously this year, and he did clean up the drops in the second half of the 2012 season.
Tight End: Brandon Pettigrew, Detroit Lions
Speaking of drops … in the last three seasons, no tight end has more of them than Pettigrew (22), and among receivers, only Brandon Marshall and Wes Welker have more, with far more targets. Pettigrew is an excellent blocker, but for a team that passes as often as any in the NFL, more needs to happen in a receiving sense at the tight end position. No qualifying tight end was less efficient last year than Pettigrew, per FO’s metrics, but it wasn’t just him — fellow Lions tight end Tony Scheffler was almost as bad.
Offensive Tackles: Jermon Bushrod, Chicago Bears/Breno Giacomini, Seattle Seahawks
The Bears “stole” Bushrod away from the Saints by signing him to a five-year, $35.965 million contract in March to help their historically horrid offensive line, and in that context, Bushrod will be an interstellar upgrade over J’Marcus Webb, who will now switch from left to right tackle. At least, that’s the narrative … but the stats may tell a different story. In truth, Bushrod is an average pass protector who has been made to look better than he is by Drew Brees’ pocket movement, and in 2012, he wasn’t that much better than Webb. He allowed three sacks to Webb’s five, but suffered more blown blocks in the passing game (21.5 to 18.0) and in the run game (7.0 to 2.5). He also allowed more hits and hurries than Webb, and while that’s a component of New Orleans’ high-volume passing game, it’s clear Bushrod will have to play at his very level best to be the savior the Bears are hoping he will be.
Giacomini isn’t making the same money as Bushrod — $3.5 million in 2013 in the second year of a two-year deal — but he started all of the 2012 season at right tackle for a team most think has a legit shot at a Super Bowl this year. In 2012, he ranked second in the league in blown blocks with 33, behind Indy’s Anthony Castonzo. Only Dallas’ Doug Free had more penalties than Giacomini’s 13, and no player in the NFL had more penalty yards than his 130. Pete Carroll loves tough guys, but he’s also obsessed with extending drives on a consistent basis. Giacomini would not seem to be the ideal fit in the long term.
Offensive Guards: T.J. Lang, Green Bay Packers/Richie Incognito, Miami Dolphins
No guard allowed more sacks than Lang’s 8.5 — in fact, Lang tied for fourth in the entire league in that category, regardless of position, and he did play some tackle last year, as well. Yes, Aaron Rodgers holds onto the ball too long too often, but Lang also struggled in the run game, and the Packers need more from the man they gave a contract extension before the 2012 season.
Incognito is “overrated” in the sense that the media talks about him a lot (at least, the media talks about him a lot for a guard), but his most recent fracas with Antonio Smith speaks to a history of questionable tactics and even more questionable in-line play. Last season, he allowed 3.5 sacks and tied for the league lead in blown blocks in the run game with 11.
Center: Maurkice Pouncey, Pittsburgh Steelers
I can hear the raspberries coming now — “You dolt, Pouncey’s one of the best centers in the NFL, and he’s made the Pro Bowl each of his three pro seasons!” Well … that’s all technically true. “Pouncey” is one of the best centers in the NFL if you’re referring to Mike Pouncey, who plays for the Miami Dolphins. And while brother Maurkice is a good player, it’s a struggle to rate him among the best at his position after his 2012 season. We will give him a relative pass on his four sacks allowed (only the now-retired Todd McClure of the Falcons allowed more among centers in 2012) and seven quarterback hits and hurries allowed (fourth among centers with at least 750 snaps) because Ben Roethlisberger has a tendency to run into pressure at the best of times. But power centers need to dominate in the run game, and Pouncey had six blown blocks in that department.
In addition, the Steelers ranked 31st up the middle in FO’s Adjusted Line Yards metric, which puts the focus on the center to a large degree. Pouncey struggled through injuries last year, and most of the Steelers’ offensive line was a problem, but more should be expected from a guy perceived as the best in the game at his position. Pouncey was good in 2012, but he’ll need a rebound in the new season if he’s to live up to his reputation.