Last month Pete Prisco of cbssports.com put out an article in which he labeled the Detroit Lions' Ndamukong Suh the most overrated player in the NFL. We can argue the accuracy of that statement until the cow comes home, but the truth is that Suh might not be the most overrated player on his own team.
At least he put up legitimate Pro Bowl numbers once in his young career. Louis Delmas on the other hand has not, nor has he been able to stay healthy. Yet, in Detroit he shares the same amount of hype that Suh does. In some ways he gets more.
The hype surrounding Delmas has been unprecedented. It all started in his rookie year of 2009 when Chad Johnson, then with the Bengals, tweeted that he guaranteed Delmas would become one of the top safeties in the league.
Since then the Delmas love has been deafening.
Perhaps hailing from Western Michigan University has earned him "hometown hero" status. Perhaps that fact allows fans to overlook his limitations. Namely, his lack of durability. We heard the criticism about Matthew Stafford and we hear it about Jahvid Best as well.
Yet, rarely do you hear anyone criticize Delmas' fragility.
In three years, he's been on the injury report 28 out of 48 weeks suffering from a wide array of ailments. Here's a sample of them: tooth, ankle, groin/biceps/calf, abdomen, concussion, hip and knee (kffl.com).
In his first two years those injuries only resulted in two missed games. However, his play was undoubtedly affected in most, if not all, of those games.
In 2011 he missed five games during the most important stretch of the season. The Lions were still able to clinch a playoff berth during his absence, but what would they have accomplished with him on the field? A win at Green Bay in the season finale? A win against New Orleans in the Wild Card game?
Those scenarios would have certainly been more achievable with Delmas than without him.
The point is not to say that Delmas is not a good player. He most certainly is. When at full strength—and on the field—he's the heart and soul of the Lions' defense. His leadership and all-out style sets the tone and his tackling ability is invaluable.
Thus far, he can't be counted on to consistently play at that level though. Therefore he can't be considered an elite safety in the NFL.
This offseason Martin Mayhew has done an impressive job of retaining the Lions' core talent while adding pieces around them as needed. He'll need to do the same in 2013. That's because there will be even more key players to resign if he intends on keeping that core intact.
Delmas is a big name on that list. Besides Cliff Avril, who'll no doubt seek another long-term deal, signing Delmas could be the most important decision Mayhew will have to make. But should it be?
Like Avril, Delmas will certainly try and seek a long term deal worth big bucks. At this point his risk certainly outweighs his reward though. Much of his value is based on potential: his potential to be injury free.
That's why this is an important season for Delmas and the Lions. They drafted him and they certainly want to keep him. But if he has another injury-riddled season, the Lions couldn't possibly rationalize signing him to a long-term contract.
For Delmas, to have any chance of getting paid, he must stay on the field.
Maybe he will follow a Stafford-like progression in his career. Instead of his third year being injury free, Delmas will finally demonstrate his durability in 2012—his fourth year. If that happens it would go a long way in helping the Lions make a decision on signing him.
Both sides want the same thing. It's simply a matter of if Delmas' body can hold up.
In the end, it may not matter what he does. The Lions could use the franchise tag on him to keep him around for another year, essentially delaying their decision until 2014 as they just did with Avril.
Delmas is a valuable piece in the Lions quest for the Super Bowl, but his injury history has to make the Lions question how much to invest in him. Until he changes that history he doesn't deserve a place in the Lions long-term plans.
2012 will clarify where he stands and ultimately determine how he stacks up against the NFL's best safeties.