The Most Overrated Player at Every Position in the NFL
Certain NFL players are living off lofty reputations they simply don't deserve. This list of overrated superstars is headed by a Baltimore Ravens quarterback still yet to make the leap to the level of the elite.
It also includes a Dallas Cowboys wide receiver who performances simply don't match his contract value. There's a Pittsburgh Steelers safety whose reckless, intense style masks many of the obvious deficiencies in his game.
Here are the most overrated players at each position in the NFL.
Quarterback: Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens
Joe Flacco has failed to take full advantage of the talent around him with the Baltimore Ravens. The AFC North outfit should have been to a Super Bowl during the last four years but yet they have always found a way to self-destruct in the postseason.
Part of the problem has been the inconsistencies still present in Flacco's game. His accuracy and release are far from top-notch, despite having one of the strongest arms in the league.
Flacco has also lacked the ability to make big plays when in clutch situations, although he did register some improvement in this area with some impressive comebacks in 2011. However, the fifth-year pro still doesn't belong in a discussion regarding the NFL's elite quarterbacks.
Wide Receiver: Miles Austin, Dallas Cowboys
After exploding onto the scene in 2009, Miles Austin's numbers have decreased in almost every area. In only nine starts in 2009, he recorded 1,320 receiving yards, with a 16.3 yards per catch average and 11 touchdowns.
In 2010, with a lucrative new $54 million contract signed and sealed, Austin just barely broke the 1,000-yard mark. He had 12 fewer receptions for 1,041 yards as his average dropped to 15.1 YPC. He spent less time in the end zone—scoring a mere seven times—despite making 16 full starts.
Last season, injuries restricted him to just 10 starts but his numbers were still poor. Austin caught 43 passes for just 579 yards and seven touchdowns. His average also dropped to a career-low 13.5 YPC.
Everything about Austin is inconsistent, from his hands to his tenacity and strength after the catch. At times the 6'2", 217-pounder can appear tough for any defender to tackle, at others he is dropped easily after first contact.
Despite being paid No.1 receiver money, the Cowboys always seem to find someone to favor ahead of Austin, whether it's Dez Bryant or castoff Laurent Robinson.
Tight End: Antonio Gates, San Diego Chargers
Injuries may have finally taken their toll on Antonio Gates, but the once prolific tight end has been on the wane for some time. The 32-year-old still puts up respectable numbers but is nothing like the dynamic force he once was.
Although still effective in the red zone, Gates benefits a lot from Norv Turner's offensive system and from having next to no blocking responsibilities, making him far from the complete tight end. He always seems to be hurt for big games and it has become easier and easier for defenses to take him away.
Comparing Gates' late-career arch to that of Atlanta Falcons veteran Tony Gonzalez shows that age and fitness are poor excuses for his decline.
Running Back: Willis McGahee, Denver Broncos
Finishing just a yard shy of 1,200 rushing yards in 2011 is still not enough to convince this author that Willis McGahee is anything more than a one-dimensional, unimaginative runner.
Last season, the plodding power back benefited from the attention defenses paid to the threat of Tim Tebow and the uncertainty caused by the Denver Broncos' unorthodox offensive schemes.Yet despite carrying the ball 249 times, McGahee managed only four rushing touchdowns.
He is not a true playmaker with elite vision and breakaway skills. The 30-year-old is often content to pile into the line and hope to use his strength to run over would-be tacklers.
Offensive Tackle: D'Brickshaw Ferguson, New York Jets
D'Brickashaw Ferguson is easily the most overrated offensive tackle in the game. Despite a reputation every bit as big as his 6'6", 310-pound frame, Ferguson is routinely exposed in pass protection.
Last season's horror show in Week 10 against the archrival New England Patriots showed the worse parts of Ferguson's game. He was toyed with by aging pass-rusher Andre Carter, with the veteran collecting four sacks.
Ferguson was casual and sluggish out of his stance and frequently beaten to the edge with pure speed by a player five years his senior. Ferguson is a solid tackle but is not the elite-level player he is often described as.
Guard: Ben Grubbs, New Orleans Saints
The New Orleans Saints paid a lot of money to lure Ben Grubbs away from the Baltimore Ravens. $36 million over five years to be exact.
That's despite watching him be absolutely dominated by Vince Wilfork and the New England Patriots defensive interior in last season's AFC Championship game. Of course, Wilfork can make most players look sub-par, but a lineman of Grubbs' reputation and value shouldn't be toyed with like that by anyone.
Center: David Baas, New York Giants
David Baas signed a big contract to join the New York Giants last season and promptly failed to live up to it. A usually reliable Big Blue offensive line collapsed with Baas in the middle.
Despite coming from a San Francisco 49ers team noted for its ability to run-block, Baas anchored a Giants front five that contributed to the worst rush offense in football in 2011. Baas couldn't create a push against defensive tackles and was often beaten by quick moves inside.
Defensive End: Kyle Vanden Bosch, Detroit Lions
Kyle Vanden Bosch is a solid pass-rusher who has benefited from playing with a strong supporting cast for most of his career. Since joining the Tennessee Titans in 2005, Vanden Bosch has always been surrounded by stellar players and coaches.
That pattern continued when he jumped ship to the Detroit Lions in 2010. He plays alongside Ndamukong Suh and Cliff Avril in the Motor City after spending his time in Tennessee in tandem with Albert Haynesworth and being coached by legendary line guru Jim Washburn.
Yet despite being surrounded by that kind of talent, Vanden Bosch has registered only 19.5 sacks since 2007 and has eclipsed the 10 sack mark in a season only twice in 11 years.
Defensive Tackle: Domata Peko, Cincinnati Bengals
Just a short while ago, many, including this writer, believed Domata Peko to be one of the most underrated defensive tackles in the NFL. However, the way the middle of the Cincinnati Bengals defense was exposed by the ground games of the Houston Texans and Baltimore Ravens has to prompt a change in thinking.
Peko was a the heart of a supposedly stout defensive front that allowed Ravens' workhorse Ray Rice to rush for 295 yards in two games against them. In the AFC playoffs, Arian Foster of the Texans ran for 153 yards and two touchdowns.
It says something that despite the presence of Geno Atkins and Peko at the interior of their defensive line, the Bengals still felt the need to draft both Devon Still and Brandon Thompson.
Outside Linebacker: Brian Orakpo, Washington Redskins
Brian Orakpo hasn't truly flourished like expected since the Washington Redskins made him a 3-4 outside linebacker in 2010. He certainly has the attributes to be one of the most dangerous pass-rushers in the league, but his production remains sporadic.
He can be a streaky player, who often collects sacks in bunches, rather than putting together a consistent record of getting to quarterbacks. For example, of his nine sacks last season, five-and-a-half came in the first nine weeks.
As a rookie in 2009, Orakpo notched four of his 11 sacks during a Week 14 road win over the Oakland Raiders. His numbers are often spread to either side of several games without a sack.
Part of the problem is that Orakpo is a little one-dimensional. He tends to rely on power and when this doesn't work he is quickly lost in the shuffle up front and taken out of a play.
Yes, he gets held a lot, but this partly due to him not developing an adequate enough speed-rush to combat this problem. His run force and coverage skills are also behind the level of young counterpart Ryan Kerrigan.
Orakpo also took until Week 15 of last season to register his first sack against a quarterback in his own division. A very poor record indeed.
He has the potential to be elite, but at the moment Orakpo belongs firmly in the category of players who could and should be much better than they actually are.
Inside Linebacker: Rolando McClain, Oakland Raiders
Inside linebacker is an easy position to overrate. Gaudy tackle numbers often mask where those stops are taking place and big hits and aggressive downhill plays can make limited players look like highlight heroes.
Nobody exemplifies the second part of that description more than Oakland Raider youngster Rolando McClain. A natural downhill player, McClain will produce a lot of so-called "splash" plays.
In 2011, he registered five sacks, an impressive tally for a middle linebacker. However, the Raiders run defense was 28th in the league, indicating that McClain's 99 tackles aren't always being made in the right areas.
In coverage he is a major liability, displaying poor instincts and a sub-par range of movement out in space. That severely limits what the Raiders are able to do in both and man and zone coverage.
Cornerback: Eric Wright, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers paid a lot of money to bring Eric Wright to the NFC South, apparently not minding that the brash cornerback can often be victimized in deep coverage.
Dating back to his days with the Cleveland Browns, Wright displays an alarming tendency to give up the big play for a corner who commanded a $37.5 million contract on the open market. Wright struggled to stay with receivers deep in one-on-one coverage for the Browns and wasn't much better for the Detroit Lions last season.
Safety: Troy Polamalu, Pittsburgh Steelers
Troy Polamalu epitomizes how enough highlight plays can make people ignore the weaknesses in a player's game. Polamalu is a dynamic box-player but shouldn't be considered a truly great safety due to the many things he can't do.
The Pittsburgh Steelers and savvy defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau do a good job of hiding the flaws in Polamalu's play, and the 10-year-veteran certainly needs a lot to help him excel.
He has little range in coverage, particularly in deep areas and needs the help of Ryan Clark to fill in the gaps created by his gambling instincts. Those instincts cause Polamalu to be fooled too easily by smart quarterbacks who are able to to draw him out of a position with just a slight look.
He is excellent in run support, but his natural desire to attack the ball means he can be duped too easily by play-action fakes. Polamalu is an all-action athlete and a vital part of the Steelers' rush defense but there are more complete players at his position.
Kicker: Billy Cundiff
It's hard to call a player who has recently been waived overrated, but at the start of last season, Billy Cundiff was considered one of the best kickers in the NFL. That judgement was based on just one season of stellar production in 2010 that prompted the Baltimore Ravens to hand Cundiff a bumper new deal.
He repaid that faith by missing nine field goals, yet none were as costly as the appalling miss in the AFC Championship game against the New England Patriots. Cundiff rightfully finds himself in search of a new home.
Punter: Mat McBriar, Philadelphia Eagles
Mat McBriar twice earned Pro Bowl recognition as a member of the Dallas Cowboys. However, his form dipped dramatically last season as injuries and age have diminished his effectiveness.
The 33-year-old's average was over 40 yards just once in his nine-year career. Since placing 38 punts inside the 20 in 2009, McBriar saw that number drop to 22 in 2010 and to 21 last season.
The Philadelphia Eagles are taking a big gamble that McBriar can recapture 2009's form as they attempt to solve their issues in the kicking game.