The Audibles All-Overrated Team: Darnell Dockett, Paul Kruger headline defense
Overrated. It’s a term that gets thrown around a lot in sports. Whether it’s used to describe a draft pick who never lives up to his potential, a high-priced free agent who ultimately disappoints, or a player who is lauded by the media when the tape doesn’t back that up … if a team has too many of the type of guys who earn the O label, that team clearly is going to struggle. Often, players wind up overrated as a result of questionable front office decisions as anything else, but there are also situations in which players have simply failed to become as good as they could or should have been. Here, then, are the defensive players who we believe are — for a variety of reasons — overvalued going into the 2013 NFL season. You can find the list of offensive players here. It’s a bit tougher to fill out a whole lineup of truly overrated defensive players — many more of them are underrated — but there are those who have us wondering about value versus performance.
• Darnell Dockett, DL, Arizona Cardinals
Dockett has talked a lot of late about how happy he is in the system new defensive coordinator Todd Bowles has installed since taking over for Ray Horton, and maybe there’s some fire behind that smoke. Dockett has been one of the better and more versatile defensive linemen in the league for a number of years, but his performance dropped in 2012 — from 3.5 sacks in 2011 to 1.5 last season, and down from 16 quarterback hits and 23 quarterback hurries in ’11 to seven and 10 last season.
Bowles has said that he plans to have Dockett disrupt on his own as opposed to throwing gaps open for linebackers, but if the change of pace doesn’t set the veteran right, the Cards will have to wonder about the $5.5 million he’s due in 2014. There are times when “overrated” players are just victims of scheme, and this is the year we find out if Dockett’s one of those guys.
• DeMeco Ryans, ILB, Philadelphia Eagles
Speaking of victims of scheme, Ryans is now undergoing his second major defensive change in the last few years. He struggled when the Texans moved from a 4-3 to a 3-4 in 2011, had a rebound year with the Eagles in ’12 (he was one of the few bright spots on a really bad defense) and now, he’s in the spotlight as Philly’s new defensive coordinator, Billy Davis, transitions to more 3-4 principles in the next couple of seasons. Ryans has insisted that he’s not going to fall the same way he did before.
“It’s a big perception that DeMeco doesn’t fit in the 3-4,” Ryans told Philly.com in April. “I played with the Texans in the 3-4 defense when we were the [No. 2] defense in the league. If I didn’t fit in there, we wouldn’t have been that highly ranked. It’s all about being versatile.”
Yes, but the problem is that Ryans is much better against the run than the pass; versatility may not be his strong suit in a more multiple defense.
• London Fletcher, ILB, Washington Redskins
As for Fletcher … well, we really hate to do this, because this guy is a freak of nature. He led the Redskins with five interceptions in 2012, and his veteran savvy allows him to take angles that few 38-year-old linebackers should be able to. Still, there have to be concerns. Last season, Fletcher racked up 10 blown tackles and ranked 108th among NFL defenders in stop rate (Football Outsiders’ metric which determines the percentage of successful plays prevented) against the run. Fletcher is still important to that defense, but as it was for the Ravens with Ray Lewis last season, the Redskins will have to weigh importance against performance.
• Paul Kruger, OLB, Cleveland Browns
The Browns gave Kruger a five-year, $40.5 million contract with $20 million guaranteed in March after his career year with the Super Bowl champion Ravens. Kruger put up nine sacks in 2012 after amassing just 6.5 total in the three seasons before. But that’s not why we’re concerned about Kruger’s overall value to the Browns’ defense — it’s because he finished near the bottom among 3-4 outside linebackers in run statistics with just 14 stops and six broken tackles in 298 run snaps, per Pro Football Focus. One expects more versatility for a player with that type of contract.
• DeAngelo Hall, CB, Washington Redskins
Hall is a sometimes-splashy player who has intercepted 39 passes in his NFL career, but 2012 was far from a triumph. He’s perhaps the NFL’s best example of the idea that interceptions are for defensive backs what sacks are for pass-rushers — far from the only barometer of real play-to-play success. Hall picked off four passes last season, but he led the league with 869 yards allowed in coverage, per Football Outsiders, and tied for third-worst in the NFL with 41 combined touchdowns and third downs allowed. The idea now seems to be to use Hall as a corner/safety hybrid, but he struggles with the more advanced reads he needs to make in that position. Hall plays well at times (his defense of Dez Bryant in Week 17 helped the Redskins win the NFC East), but there’s a fairly large divide between perception and reality in his case.
• Cary Williams, CB, Philadelphia Eagles
In 2012, Williams played for a Ravens team that won the Super Bowl, and this prompted the Eagles to sign him to a three-year, $17.5 million contract with $10 million guaranteed. Since that contract was signed in March, Williams has missed OTAs for a host of interesting reasons (daughter’s dance recital, dental work, buying sconces for his new home), made it through a low number of practices due to nagging injuries and called out his new defense after a preseason loss to the Patriots — a game in which he did not play. That made people look back to his 2012 performance, and the view was not pretty. Williams allowed six touchdowns in coverage, gave up a 98.4 quarterback rating when he was covering a primary target and his 67 catches allowed ranked fourth-worst in the NFL. Perhaps Williams will thrive in his new surroundings, but when that will happen is anyone’s guess.