Posted August 20, 2013

The Audibles All-Overrated Team: The Offense

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Josh Freeman's 39 interceptions over the past two seasons tie him with Ryan Fitzpatrick for most in the NFL.

Josh Freeman’s 39 interceptions over the past two seasons tie him with Ryan Fitzpatrick for most in the NFL. (J. Meric/Getty Images)

“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.

28 comments
psychprof
psychprof

this writer doesn't understand what 'overrated' means.   some of these guys (esp bushrod) may be overpaid, but overrated is the gap between a player's actual performance and his reputation or media fanfare.  one good case for overrated?  If a guy gets lots of Pro Bowls but the tape shows he ain't all that, that's overrated, so Pouncey might be.  chris johnson is overrated.  his reputation is based on one great year and all he's done is disappoint ever since.  but most of these guys aren't well known enough to be overrated (e.g., little, pettigrew); if a fan doesn't even recognize a player (giacomini) or rarely hears about him (lang), no way he's overrated.  as for Incognito, he's not overrated because people only talk about how DIRTY he is, not how good he is. 

LeilaniHernandez
LeilaniHernandez

wrong on freeman. Overrated = Peyton Manning. The greatest choker of all time.

Annabel
Annabel

I'm not aiming this at the author of this article but I think it's about time someone started writing about overrated sportswriters and sportsbloggers.  Start keeping stats on some of these opinionated pundits and let the cream rise to the top.

TylerLavender
TylerLavender

I believe that overrated implies people actually think youre good. Everyone here sucks except CJ2k

RonReid-Taylor
RonReid-Taylor

How did a guy named Incognito get himself overrated. Damn son


Jim70
Jim70

The players know the pecking order and sports writers certainly don't. Some of these linemen stats belong in the trash bin. Define blown block? 

MinisterWilliamAaronBerryIII
MinisterWilliamAaronBerryIII

Josh Freeman is just NOT getting much love from the media. This is an opportunity for him to either improve or he will fall into a backup role!

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.

help4mac1
help4mac1

6 blown blocks in a season? That's a BS stat!

Ken31
Ken31

Who thinks these people are good?

Jim21
Jim21

"...Incognito is “overrated” in the sense that the media talks about him a lot" - If this criteria was used for his selection, the entire Jets roster should be on here. No team is talked about more than them and I'm not sure why. They are terrible. Outside of Jets nation, I don't think anyone cares who starts at QB for the Jets.... But the media makes it out to be that the entire western hemisphere is on the edge of collective seats. I could give two s**ts

Zentova
Zentova

If you drafted CJ expecting back to back to back 2k seasons then you are a fool. If you reasonably expected a top 10 back then you got exactly what you were aiming at. He is hardly a over rated back by anyone with a reasonable amount of football knowledge. Can we just stop with the riling against a back who has produced solid numbers since he joined the league? 

gary41
gary41

I guess this is pretty good as those overrated herein appear to be defined largely as they come from metric lists of different position groups.  No wonder you didn't choose to define overrated.  There are a lot of fans who appreciate the stats generally, but see players from a bigger picture----especially where QB's are concerned.   

Michael193
Michael193

Breno cleaned up his penalties the 2nd half of the season but yea he's definitely the weakest spot on the hawks roster and will not be back next season. Also surprised with Pouncey he looked awful last night as their one lone returning starting lineman.

morejunk
morejunk

These numbers would be worth more if they were a ratio.  If Jabba the Hut has 6 blown blocks out of 10 attempted blocks then Jabba needs to be sent packing.  If Jabba has 6 blown blocks out 1000 attempts I am pretty sure it's statistically irrelevant.

Turjan
Turjan

@LeilaniHernandez Wrong on Freeman, but because Matthew Stafford's record against teams with a winning record is 1-23.

DeeEmm1
DeeEmm1

@help4mac1 Not really. A blown block is a complete whiff where you don't even touch the guy you're supposed to block. That rarely happens. It happening 6 times with one player is huge. Those 6 missed blocks could lead to: 6 sacks. 4 sacks 2 forced fumbles. 6 INTs due to pressure. a series of 6 no gains by the QB. dropped passes by skill players. a disruption of rhythm throughout the game.

Basically, it's a big deal. This is why the Bears are in for a rude awakening with Bushrod. He has never been good enough to deserve the money he got. Half the price would have been worth it, but because Brees and the guards protected him, he cashed in. Good for him, but he and coach Kromer have to prove they can replicate that success. Remember, Aaron Kromer was our O-line coach for awhile, he needs to show he can make Cutler work like Brees can and protect the line.

Michael193
Michael193

CJ2K and Mike Wallace are good, just not 12mil a year good. But hey your worth what someone is willing to pay you i guess.

belindian
belindian

@Zentova He's not a top 10 back either.  He finished 13th the past two years.  He's also paid based off the 2K season and not the 1200 to 1400 yard back that he is.

BenZuckerman
BenZuckerman

@ProfessorGriff After watching the Bears win the Superbowl, the only thing that their fans have left to do is turn off the Playstation, eat a cookie, put on their jammies, and go to bed.

Zentova
Zentova

@belindian @Zentova  Stats are hard . . . Let me educate you since you find this so very difficult. Rookie year '08 - #8 RB,  '09 #1 CJ2K, '10 #4, '11 #14 ( new coaches/system ), '12 #9. So, to recap, the only year he wasn't a top ten RB was  the year a new system and coaching staff was in place. Next.