The Most Overrated & Underrated NFL Free Agents Still Available

Russell S. BaxterContributor IMarch 28, 2014

The Most Overrated & Underrated NFL Free Agents Still Available

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    While former Arizona Cardinals safety Yeremiah Bell's phone ring anytime soon?
    While former Arizona Cardinals safety Yeremiah Bell's phone ring anytime soon?Phil Sears-USA TODAY Sports

    This is one of those topics which is seemingly over-analyzed. And that’s an understatement.

    What constitutes a player in any sport being underrated or overrated?

    We will take our best shot in terms of eight NFL free agents that have yet to find homes this offseason. And with the market starting to run thin, as are team’s budgets, it remains to be seen if any of these performers will be with a club anytime soon.

    There are many definitions when it comes to overrated. Here, it could be a player that hasn’t lived up to his lofty draft status or his career has tailed off considerably after some early promise.

    Of course, there’s also the underrated side. It may be a performer who does his job on a consistent basis without much fanfare and either rare or no recognition when it comes to Pro Bowl or All-Pro accolades.

    As usual, thanks to Pro Football Focus (subscription required) for their statistical support and Ourlads for their consistently-updated depth charts.

    Now that the introductions are over, we hope you have a better understanding of these rankings.

Overrated: WR Kenny Britt (UFA: Tennessee Titans)

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    “Performance is everything, potential is nothing.”

    Those are the prophetic words (as I recall them) of Pro Football Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells. And those sentiments perhaps epitomize what we have seen from former first-round pick Kenny Britt to date.

    The 30th overall selection in the 2009 NFL draft and former Rutgers University product played in all 16 games as a rookie, making six starts. Britt totaled 42 receptions for 701 yards and three scores.

    He was even better a season later despite missing four games. Britt totaled 43 catches but totaled 775 yards and nine touchdowns, both career highs to this day.

    However, the talented wideout missed the vast majority of 2011 with a knee injury. Britt has played in just 29 games the past three seasons. In 2013, he played in only 12 games and caught 11 passes.

    According to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, the five-year pro has been making the rounds and a reunion with Jeff Fisher (Britt’s first coach with the Titans) is a possibility.

    But is it possible for Britt to show any semblance of his once-promising play?

Underrated: FS Chris Clemons (UFA: Miami Dolphins)

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    Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

    As productive as free safety Chris Clemons has been the last two seasons, perhaps the biggest surprise is that he’s on any kind of list that includes the word “available.”

    In 2013, his fifth year in the league, Clemons finished as the Miami Dolphins’ fourth-leading tackler with 92 stops. He also knocked down eight passes and recorded an interception. In 2012, the former Clemson Tiger ranked third at the club with 98 tackles and also picked off two passes.

    As has been noted in the past, Clemons’ biggest strength lies in pass coverage, as evidenced by Pro Football Focus.

    Meanwhile, stopping the run has not been his forte.

    In a league where safety play seems to have become more important, it seems like just a matter of time before the five-year defender signs on the dotted line with some club.

     **UPDATE** 

    On March 28, Chris Clemons agreed to a deal with the Houston Texans.

Overrated: DT Terrence Cody (UFA: Baltimore Ravens)

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    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    You would think the free-agent market for a former second-round pick would be a little more brisk.

    Of course, when the performer has yet to live up to that lofty billing, it is easy to see why interest in that performer has been somewhat non-existent.

    Such is the case of four-year defensive tackle Terrence Cody, who looked like a beast at the University of Alabama but has been far from a thing of beauty in his tenure with the Baltimore Ravens.

    In four NFL campaigns, Cody has started just 22 games and 16 of those came in 2011. This past season, the 6’4”, 370-pound defender played in a dozen games, making only two starts and totaled a mere 15 tackles. Pro Football Focus ranked 151 interior defensive linemen this past season and the massive lineman ranked No. 131.

    In 56 career regular-season games, Cody has yet to record a sack. Now it appears that the Ravens are sacking him in terms of his future with their club…at least for now.

Underrated: G Travelle Wharton (UFA: Carolina Panthers)

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    Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sport

    Talk about your ups and downs?

    Veteran blocker Travelle Wharton has enjoyed a very solid career in the National Football League. In his first eight seasons, the former third-round pick started 99 out of a possible 128 games both at tackle and at guard.

    In 2012, Wharton opted for free agency and signed with the Cincinnati Bengals. But he was injured during the summer and never suited up during the regular season.

    This past year, the one-time University of South Carolina product returned to the Panthers, started a dozen games and looked like his old steady self. Now he looks to start a second decade in the league and if he has his choice, it would be with the Miami Dolphins. Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald mentioned the possibility in a recent piece.

    Wharton, who turns 33 in May, apparently has plenty of savvy that just about any team in the NFL could use.

Overrated: DE Robert Ayers (UFA: Denver Broncos)

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    Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

    Five NFL seasons and it seems like we are still waiting for defensive end Robert Ayers to come into his own.

    Perhaps it’s not all his fault. But the fact remains that the 18th overall pick in the 2009 NFL draft has just 12 career sacks in 72 regular-season games.

    To be fair, Ayers has played both outside linebacker and defensive end in Denver’s various schemes in recent seasons. However, the former University of Tennessee standout has yet to carve out a niche on the pro level.

    Granted, Ayers does come off a season in which he totaled a career-high 5.5 sacks. The five-year pro totaled 35 tackles and forced one fumble for the eventual AFC champions.

    Perhaps a change of scenery will jump start a career that has yet to display either any leaps or bounds.

Underrated: SS Yeremiah Bell (UFA: Arizona Cardinals)

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    Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

    Is it inaccurate to call strong safety Yeremiah Bell underrated?

    How about somewhat overlooked?

    The 10-year veteran and one-time Pro Bowler used to make a habit out of leading the Miami Dolphins in tackles on an annual basis. Now he may be headed to his fourth NFL team in as many seasons.

    In 2013, the former sixth-round draft choice finished second on the Arizona Cardinals with 76 tackles. Bell also rang up a pair of interceptions and knocked down 10 passes for Bruce Arians’ surprising 10-6 team. A year earlier, the veteran defender totaled 100 tackles, picked off two passes and forced four fumbles in his lone season with the New York Jets.

    While you will find Bell closer to the bottom of Pro Football Focus’ rankings in terms of safety performance in 2013, a closer look at those numbers show he remains on the plus side when it comes to stopping the run and pass coverage.

Overrated: G Davin Joseph (Released by Tampa Bay Buccaneers)

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    Bob Leverone/Associated Press

    Injuries, decline or a little bit of both?

    Regardless of the reason, guard Davin Joseph remains on the open market after being released by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers earlier this month.

    “It's a business at the end of the day," stated Joseph to Fox Sports Florida's Andrew Astleford. “It’s their house and their rules. I'll search the market and see if I can go somewhere else and bring the same attitude—just playing as hard as I can on Sundays.”

    “Their” as in general manager Jason Licht and head coach Lovie Smith, are now in charge of the team that has finished dead last in the NFC South each of the past three seasons.

    A two-time Pro Bowler in his first six NFL campaigns, Joseph missed all of 2012 due to injury. He returned to start all 16 games this past season but as Pro Football Focus indicates, he suffered through a miserable year.

    Is the former standout ready for a bounce back season in 2014? The jury is still out for sure.

Underrated: WR Jason Avant (Released by Philadelphia Eagles)

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    Phil Sears-USA TODAY Sports

    There are still a few big-name wide receivers available on the free-agent market. We already mentioned Kenny Britt earlier in this slideshow. Santonio Holmes (New York Jets), Miles Austin (Dallas Cowboys), Earl Bennett (Chicago Bears) and Nate Burleson (Detroit Lions), all released by their teams this offseason, all come to mind.

    There’s also Jason Avant, who was let go by the Philadelphia Eagles earlier this month. While his career numbers are far from mind-boggling, he has been a good player throughout his eight-year career. Avant has amassed 297 catches over that span, although only a dozen have resulted in scores.

    In other words, that’s four fewer touchdowns than New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham managed in 2013.

    This past season, with wideout Jeremy Maclin sidelined for the entire year, Avant totaled 38 receptions for 447 yards and a pair of scores. Now he’s on the outside looking in when it comes to the Eagles, who re-signed potential unrestricted free agents Maclin and Riley Cooper this offseason.

    Many have guessed that Avant would eventually wind up with the Kansas City Chiefs and his former head coach in Andy Reid.

    We are all still waiting…for now.