It's getting close to the start of the 2012 NFL season once again, and that means that we're getting firmly into the season of disinformation. As the football world has little to talk about and no meaningful hitting is yet taking place, we're left to scramble to feed off the scraps coming from the teams themselves about players they are watching practice.
In essence everybody is recovering as though they are super human, running like Usain Bolt, catching as though stick-um were legal, and being either virtually unblockable or an immovable wall, depending on which side of the line of scrimmage they play.
Almost all of it is rubbish, with coaches just looking for something to say and focusing on the positive when asked.
Some of the hype will inevitably prove true over the season, with enough being thrown at the wall for some of it to stick, but the majority will look ridiculous in six months' time.
So let's take a look and peer through the haze of propaganda to the truth.
Let's identify some charlatans.
I've never been impressed by Ziggy Hood, the former first-round pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers back in 2009. He's still only 25, but he has never looked capable of stepping it up on the big stage.
Steelers fans will tell you that you just don't understand his role on the defense and that he's there to take up blockers and space and allow linebackers to make plays, but that's just a lazy way of explaining away extremely subpar play.
Hood has no anchor and may be able to occupy two blockers, but he can't prevent them from clearing him into space and making the job tougher for the linebacker who has to cover more ground. He also gets significantly less pressure than fellow defensive end Brett Kiesel, who also does a better job of anchoring when necessary.
The offseason hype machine has been in full force for Hood, with talk of his workouts re-sculpting him from the ground up, complete with a YouTube video of him jumping onto a 50" box and deadlifting 700 lbs.
Maybe the offseason of manic workouts is exactly what Hood needs to get himself in peak condition and really break out this season, but in the end I suspect we will see the same player out on the field for the Steelers, albeit one that might be slightly more shredded for the cameras.
When the season rolls around again, Hood will be the guy being driven off the line.
He may be in quick danger of losing his starting spot if he doesn't show marked improvement.
If ever a season were screaming, "It's time to retire!" it was the year Ronde Barber had last season.
That's hardly surprising when you think about it.
Barber was born in 1975, and his twin brother, Tiki, has been out of the league for years and had zero takers when he attempted a comeback after time out of the game.
Barber is an elder statesman that has had a fantastic career for the Bucs, but he is in danger of spoiling that legacy with a horrible ending.
Last season he missed 22 tackles, which would have been disastrous but for the number that Tanard Jackson was missing behind him. The entire Tampa Bay defense looked as though it were engaged in some kind of elaborate prop bet for missed tackles, but those two were the worst offenders over the season.
Jackson has been shipped off, but the answer to Barber's problems is apparently a move to safety, which will naturally prolong his career and turn him back into the Bucs legend he was in recent years.
The trouble is that Barber doesn't have the range anymore, and he's no longer a reliable tackler.
The job description of safety is in the name—those guys are supposed to be safety measures for the defense, making sure nothing goes past them and everything stops shy of real danger.
Barber doesn't have the legs anymore to influence the deep ball as a safety, and he doesn't have the reliable tackling to come down and be an in-the-box presence, either.
He certainly won't shy away from contact, and he'll make his fair share of tackles, but how many will he miss that allow ball-carriers into open space behind him with room to run?
Ronde Barber should have seen the writing on the wall by the end of last season, and a move to safety will not be the cure-all that some would have you believe.
Is Greg Little about to become the next Troy Williamson or Limas Sweed? Players who had huge talent but just couldn't catch the ball, something of an important quality for wide receivers.
Little is a little different because he is still learning the position after playing all over the place in high school and college. We can cut him a little slack for still getting to grasp with the nuances of playing wide out at the NFL level—it is not an easy job.
That being said, the thing Little struggled with the most was the most fundamental part of the gig: catching the ball.
Only Roddy White had more drops than the 14 Little notched last year, and White saw the ball thrown his way a lot more than Little did.
Many of them were simple catches, too, and certainly not ones you could put on the quarterbacks throwing him the ball. Colt McCoy may not be a viable NFL quarterback going forward, but he is not the reason Little had so many drops last year.
This offseason, though, has been like a re-run of Troy Williamson's offseasons in Minnesota, because all we're hearing is how he's been working on the drops, how he's been improving and that if he could just eliminate the drops, he could be something really special.
That may be, but it's a little like saying that if a baseball player could only learn to hit the ball, he'd be a hell of a slugger.
Maybe Little will prove me wrong, find the concentration he was lacking last season and become a legit wide receiver who doesn't drop the ball.
But it is my experience that players rarely dramatically improve their hands, and I won't be holding my breath.
Davin Joseph is regarded by some if not most as a stud on the offensive line. It's easy to see the mistake—he was a first-round pick, there are few stats to say any different, and the Bucs gave the guy a big-money contract after every announcer in the booth spent a few minutes per game telling you how great he was, in Jon Gruden's case while highlighting him actually missing a block on a play.
But it simply isn't so.
Joseph is at best an average guard and at his worst a downright disaster.
I've actually spoken to NFL players who think that the reason he is rated highly is part first-round-pick reputation hangover and partly because he has dreadlocks and thus stands out to announcers during games.
That may seem far fetched, but it's an easy thing to draw the eye and give them a starting point for their prepared speeches.
Throw on the tape and watch only Davin Joseph, however, and you see an entirely different story.
He may have the measurables and the brute strength, but he's rarely putting it to good use. He is routinely beaten, both in the run game and as a pass-protector.
Joseph is the reason that we need both a better way to analyze offensive linemen and ideally some stats we can pin on them directly rather than simple running stats, which they may or may not have had much to do with accumulating.
The addition of Carl Nicks is supposed to make Joseph even better by proxy and form one of the most intimidating offensive lines in the NFL.
Unless Joseph improves dramatically simply by basking in the aura of Nicks, I don't see it happening.
The only trouble is that announcers are going to spend all season telling you it is, regardless of the truth.
Jim Harbaugh seems to have been made for the offseason.
He was only just through telling us that Michael Crabtree has the best hands he has ever seen, and now he's telling us that Randy Moss is the best receiver on the 49ers roster despite a year away from the game and a 2010 season in which he was a disappointment for three different teams.
Randy Moss is one of the most talented wide receivers of all time and at his peak was completely unplayable.
He could run faster and jump higher than any defensive back, was 6'4" and 207 lbs, and had hands like glue. If the ball was in his area, he was coming down with it, and the best you could do was try and hit him afterwards. There is a reason his career statistics are so amazing, despite his essentially taking a year off in Oakland and then sitting out the entire 2011 season without a team.
I'm making this point because it would be foolish to underestimate the talent that Randy Moss can bring to the party if he's interested in playing.
That being said, watching any tape from his last couple of seasons playing, and you don't see Randy Moss.
You see a Moss that had slowed—but still has long speed and is capable of running deep—and a serious decline in his hands. Once so secure, Moss was dropping routine passes that are inexcusable for a player of his quality.
Maybe that was simple lack of desire, but it was a notable problem.
All of this leads me to question whether, at his age, Moss really has the ability to be the player we once saw him be.
Jim Harbaugh certainly seems to think so, but given that he also thinks Michael Crabtree, a player with nine drops to his name last season, has the best hands he's ever seen, I'm going to take that one with a pinch of salt.
Randy Moss until proven otherwise will remain on this list.
Because I'm not buying it yet.
The first thing to say is that I think Jim Schwartz is an excellent coach and has done a fantastic job in turning around a franchise that had languished at the bottom of the NFC North since Barry Sanders packed it in.
The problem is that Schwartz has begun to lose his way a bit and is looking as though he is in danger of allowing ill-discipline to take over.
It all started when he took exception to the manner in which Jim Harbaugh reacted after a win over the Lions, which sparked one of the more pathetic scenes you'll see, involving Schwartz running after Harbaugh like a schoolchild, puffing his chest out and generally making sure no actual violence took place.
Harbaugh seemed to go over the top, but Schwartz reacted as though he were in grade school, and that is not a good example to show your players.
The Lions have been on a tear of offseason arrests, with big players they are relying on being caught for stupid things they shouldn't be involved in.
Talent will always overcome character issues, but the Lions are amassing far too much ill-discipline, and Schwartz appears to be doing little of use to try to curb it.
Detroit finds itself for the first time in years in a position to contend for the division, and the Lions can't afford to have that thwarted by arrests and suspensions. They need the coach to take control of the team he has crafted and turned around and get them on the straight and narrow.
I'm not sure he has yet shown any desire to do so, and I have a sneaking feeling it could all come back to haunt them this season.
It was tough to pin down a team that I would term frauds, and in truth I'm not sure there are many that are wildly overrated.
There are, rather, several teams with key flaws that could be big in 2012.
The Ravens however are perennial contenders with a flaw at the most important position in the game: quarterback.
I'm a firm proponent of the idea that you don't need an elite quarterback to win. It's obviously the easiest way to do it, and an elite quarterback can make up for almost anything else. But you can win with lesser guys; you just have to surround them with a lot of talent and lean on other areas of the team.
The Ravens have been doing that from their inception, and Joe Flacco was supposed to change that, allowing them to lean on an elite quarterback and not on the defense and running game.
Flacco has never really stepped up to the challenge, however, and remains a question mark for the Ravens, who are unsure about committing long-term to a guy they're not certain can ever take the next step forward.
Holder of one of the strongest arms in the league, Flacco often renders it useless by how late he is to recognize things and get the ball in the air. You will often see him under-throw wide-open receivers deep, but it's not because he doesn't have the arm. It's because the ball is in the air too late.
The Ravens haven't been able to get over the hump in the past few years, and they have some key members of the roster getting up in age, even if players like Ray Lewis seem to be immune to that process.
With Suggs down for an extended period of time, if not the season, the Ravens need their quarterback more than ever. And I'm not convinced he can step up and take the team on his shoulders.
Until he can, the Ravens will always look better than they really are.