Brandon Weeden, Trent Richardson lead the Audibles All-Disappointment Team
To categorize a player’s career as a disappointment is a slippery slope. Some players come into the NFL and find themselves in the wrong circumstance for whatever reason. They catch on with second or third teams, and the light goes on. Other players maximize their value over a limited period of time, and the league catches up to them. Injuries, age and scheme changes also play a part. But when a player severely underperforms to his obvious potential, “Disappointment” is a harsh but accurate term. Here’s a team of players we’d like to see more from in 2013 and beyond:
Quarterback – Brandon Weeden, Cleveland Browns
Weeden’s fall from grace, which pretty much bottomed out when he was benched in favor of Jason Campbell in late October, was only a surprise if you thought of him as more than a one-read quarterback when he came out of Oklahoma State in 2012. The Cleveland Browns’ former front office did, selecting him with the 22nd overall pick in the draft, which is a big reason why they’re described as the former front office. Weeden currently ranks second-to-last in Football Outsiders’ opponent adjusted efficiency metrics among qualifying quarterbacks (only Blaine Gabbert is worse), and at age 30, one wonders if he’s got an NFL future. With the same offense around him against the Baltimore Ravens last Sunday, veteran journeyman Jason Campbell completed 22 of 35 passes for 262 yards, three touchdowns and no picks, winning the AFC Offensive Player of the Week award. So, in Weeden’s case, it wasn’t the supporting cast — just a guy who was unfortunately out of his element.
Running Backs – Trent Richardson, Indianapolis Colts/Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens
Sadly for that former Browns front office, you’re going to see their work more than once on this list. Richardson, selected third overall in the 2012 draft, was traded by the team’s new front office to the Indianapolis Colts in September, and the former Alabama star’s new surroundings haven’t helped him that much. In 381 carries over two seasons, Richardson has amassed just 1,303 yards and a paltry 3.4 yards per carry average. Too often, Richardson isn’t able to use his power to blast through tackles because he’s slow to accelerate to the hole, and he gets engulfed before he begins. As for Rice, it’s been a tough year for him as he’s struggled through injuries, and his blocking has been a real concern.
Receivers – Mike Wallace, Miami Dolphins/Tavon Austin, St. Louis Rams/Greg Little, Cleveland Browns
Before the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin story blew up in Miami, the most obvious issue on the Dolphins was the inability to get Wallace going in any sort of deep passing game. Signed to a five-year, $60 million free agent contract in March, the former Steelers vertical threat has been targeted 13 times on passes over 20 yards in the air, and has caught just three of those. Austin was supposed to be the Rams’ do-it-all athletic weapon, but he’s pulled a disappearing act more often than not. How much of that is the fault of Austin and how much blame can be laid at the feet of offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer is open to debate, but 31 catches for 207 yards and two touchdowns through nine games? One expects more of a player taken eighth overall in the draft. And Little, while capable of the occasional shot play, drops far too many passes to be a consistent threat.
Tight End – Brandon Pettigrew, Detroit Lions
Pettigrew’s position near the bottom of Football Outsiders’ metrics for qualifying tight ends should be a surprise — since he was selected with the 20th overall pick in the 2009 draft, he’s finished no higher than 20th in any advanced stats. His blocking makes him an asset in Detroit’s high-volume passing game, but the team has certainly expected more.
Tackles: Mitchell Schwartz, Cleveland Browns/Jonathan Martin, Miami Dolphins
Guards: Richie Incognito, Miami Dolphins/Logan Mankins, New England Patriots
Center: Rodney Hudson, Kansas City Chiefs
No offensive line has allowed more pressures than Cleveland this year with 132, and Schwartz is the primary culprit, allowing 44 total pressures including a league-leading nine sacks. Martin’s play was a known issue before any recent news came out, so we’re not piling on there. Same with Incognito, who made the Pro Bowl in 2012 but allowed six sacks this season before other events led to his suspension. Mankins actually leads all guards with seven sacks allowed, and while we’ll attribute some of that to Tom Brady taking longer in the pocket to find open receivers, it’s not a good sign.
Defensive Tackles – Cam Thomas, San Diego Chargers/Domata Peko, Cincinnati Bengals
Thomas has been the anchor of the Chargers’ defensive front for three seasons, but when looking at San Diego’s disappointing defense in 2013, it’s hard not to start here. Thomas ranks 63rd among all defensive tackles in Pro Football Focus’ metrics among defensive tackles, and no team is allowing more yards per carry up the middle than San Diego’s 5.5. Peko has been a great player for a longer period of time, which makes his 64th-place ranking in PFF’s metrics curious, but the numbers don’t lie — Cincinnati is allowing far more yardage up the middle than around the edges, and that could get worst with Geno Atkins’ season-ending ACL tear.
Defensive Ends – Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants/Ziggy Hood, Pittsburgh Steelers
Pierre-Paul has said that it may take him a full year to recover from his offseason back surgery, so the Giants’ dismal defense will just have to hope for higher returns in 2014. This season, he’s got just one sack (in the season opener against the Dallas Cowboys), six QB hits, and 20 hurries. Pierre-Paul does produce in bunches, though — he didn’t have any sacks in the last seven games of the 2012 season — so maybe he’ll turn it around as he gets healthier. As for Hood, no bueno. The Steelers’ first-round pick in 2009 has never really lived up to that call, playing fairly well against the run, but showing limitations as the kind of pass-disrupting end the Steelers prefer.
Linebackers – Chad Greenway, Minnesota Vikings/A.J. Hawk, Green Bay Packers/Curtis Lofton, New Orleans Saints
Hawk has been a relative disappointment since the Packers took him in the first round of the 2006 draft, but there were thoughts that he might step up as an inside pass-rusher this season after his three-sack performance against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 6. That hasn’t happened — he’s had no other sacks this year, and just one quarterback hurry. Hawk’s issues with awareness in space continue; he’s had nine missed tackles this year. As for Lofton, he’s been moved to different areas in Rob Ryan’s defense, and it isn’t working so far. He’s among the lowest-ranked linebackers in Pro Football Focus’ metrics in several different categories.
Cornerbacks – Antonio Cromartie, New York Jets/Tramon Williams, Green Bay Packers
Cromartie’s disappointing season has been one of the more frequently-told of the season, and the numbers back it up — he allowed a 69.7 opponent quarterback ranking on targets in 2012, and he’s seen that bulk up to 101.3 this year. Williams is another long-time quality pass defender who’s having a rough year, finding himself on the wrong side of several impact plays.
Safeties – Troy Polamalu, Pittsburgh Steelers/Thomas Decoud, Atlanta Falcons
Has Polamalu’s high-risk playing style finally caught up to him? Our own Chris Burke detailed a number of glaring flaws in Polmalu’s coverage against the New England Patriots, and those aren’t the only examples this season. Decoud’s dropoff has been just as precipitous — he’s been burned for four touchdowns this season and has no picks; he had six interceptions and just one score allowed in 2012.