The Dallas Cowboys as a team have been overrated for quite a few years, probably because what they offer in name power they lack in depth. The Cowboys have historically been a top-heavy team, filled with stars but possessing just enough weak links to ruin their chances of sustained success.
The culture in Dallas has changed a bit over the past few years; although Jason Garrett, the head coach, leaves a lot to be desired, Jason Garrett, the personnel man—yes, he has a say in that department—isn’t nearly as bad. He’s probably only average in that area, for what it’s worth—just better than he is as a head coach. One of the main switches has been promoting competition and fielding a more balanced roster.
Nonetheless, there will inevitably be overrated players on every team. Here are my top four on the Cowboys.
TE Jason Witten
If you read my stuff, this isn’t going to come as a surprise. Let’s just put aside the name for a second. We’re not assessing tight end Jason Witten’s historic accomplishments—and there have been many—but rather how his current ability matches up with public perception.
Regardless of whether or not Witten is still an above-average tight end, it’s pretty clear that perception doesn’t match reality. Witten has been declining as both a pass-catcher and blocker for years.
No one wants to admit it, in the same way that no one wanted to admit that defensive end DeMarcus Ware wasn’t a great player in 2013, but Witten is now an average NFL tight end. He’s not efficient in the passing game, racking up decent-looking numbers because he gets targeted way too often.
Nonetheless, he was still ranked in the NFL’s Top 100—No. 98—and most NFL fans would probably still list Witten as a top-five NFL tight end. In reality, Witten probably isn’t even the best tight end on his team anymore.
CB Orlando Scandrick
Scandrick is the perfect example of why public perception is a critical component of assessing whether a player is "overrated." He’s a really good cornerback, but now the general public has been caught up to speed on Scandrick’s ability.
Scandrick is the equivalent of a player like Vikings running back Adrian Peterson in fantasy football. Is A.P. an incredible talent? Obviously. Does he offer value in fantasy football drafts? No, because he gets drafted so high that there’s really no meat left on the bone, so to speak. He’s an elite player, but he doesn’t offer elite value.
In the same way, Scandrick is a really good cornerback, but now it seems fans (at least those in Dallas) view him as a near elite cornerback when he’s probably not at that level. In 2013, he allowed 1.03 yards per snap—good for 22nd in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). That’s a good number, especially for a cornerback who didn’t get much help from his defensive line.
If the expectation is that Scandrick has shutdown ability and will generate a ton of big plays for the Cowboys defense, though, then he’s overrated just because he’s not that type of player.
RT Doug Free
The right tackle started the 2013 season by allowing four total pressures in the first five games, according to Pro Football Focus. He proceeded to allow a pressure at nearly 3.5 times that rate over the final 11 games, averaging 2.7 pressures allowed per game.
No one thinks that Free is an elite offensive tackle, but there seems to be a general perception that Free is a solid NFL starter. He’s really a player who overachieved for a season, which has masked the fact that he’s been below-average the majority of his career.
Free isn’t dominant in the running game, but he’s also not long enough to consistently fend off top edge-rushers in pass protection. The Cowboys would probably be best off starting rookie Zack Martin on the outside.
WR Cole Beasley
In his two-year career, wide receiver Cole Beasley has compiled 6.69 yards per target and a 2.5 percent touchdown rate. I looked at every throw from 2013, and the league average was 7.12 yards per target and a 4.4 percent touchdown rate.
When thinking about what you want in a wide receiver, what are the most important traits? The first should be that he can be a useful player even when he isn’t “open,” which has the most positive impact in the red zone. Receivers like Dez Bryant don’t need to be open to be effective. Those players are typically heavy and score at an elite rate. Somewhere along the lines, we’ve forgotten that the point of the game isn’t to rack up first downs. Beasley is small, needs to be wide open to be effective and will never score touchdowns with consistency.
If a receiver isn’t big and can’t score, he should be able to stretch the field. If you aren’t big, you better be fast, and if you aren’t fast, you better be big. Beasley is not only small, but he also can’t get up the field. He runs horizontally, “flashing” on film but rarely providing anything of substance. Plus, as has been proven on multiple occasions, what he does moderately well—move the chains—is a highly replaceable skill. Scoring touchdowns is not.
I really think that most people believe Beasley is better than he is because, since his targets are so short, he’ll always catch a pretty high percentage of passes thrown his way; his 68.3 percent career catch rate is higher than the typical receiver (although by no means elite for a slot player). When quarterback Tony Romo throws the ball to Beasley, we don’t experience the negative feelings of an incompletion as often as when he throws even to Dez Bryant, for example.
We need to be concerned not only with how often good things happen, though, but also (1) how good they are and (2) how replaceable they are. Beasley’s bread and butter—running across the field and catching short passes—isn’t that impactful and can be replaced by just about anyone.