NFL's Most Overhyped Stars
The hype train often careens out of control once it gets moving. Professional athletes can get by on their reputation even if they're overrated.
How each NFL star fits into this sliding scale of subjectivity depends on their situation.
No one is safe. Arguments can and have been made about some of the game's all-time greats and how good they really were.
For example, Barry Sanders vs. Emmitt Smith is still a hotly contested subject for those who enjoyed professional football during the early 1990s. Some consider Smith the greatest running back of all time. Others believe he benefited from one of the most dominant offensive lines in NFL history, while Sanders' uncanny ability to create yardage despite an inferior front five made him the better back.
In order to determine today's most overhyped performers, their production could not meet their outsize expectations. Everyone on the list is a talented individual, yet their reputations precede them.
The NFL is a "What have you done for me lately?" league, and an individual's play should speak for itself—without their hype overshadowing achievements.
Maybe this should be Dishonorable Mentions, because players surely don't want to be included among the most overhyped.
The following are on the cusp. Either they haven't quite performed to expected levels or they've done just enough to not be counted with those who receive far more attention.
Eight just missed the cut...
- Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts: Being considered the best quarterback prospect since John Elway or Peyton Manning makes it hard to live up to the hype. Luck has been spectacular at points. He's also been injured multiple times and holds the ball far too long.
- Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals: The Bengals are still waiting for Dalton to perform well in the postseason. Until he does, he won't be considered a top quarterback.
- Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams: The 2015 Offensive Rookie of the Year experienced a dramatic downturn in play during his sophomore campaign. Gurley mustered just 885 rushing yards and 3.2 yards per carry last season.
- Amari Cooper, Oakland Raiders: The Oakland Raiders' top receiver led all players with 22 drops during the last two seasons, per Pro Football Focus' Nathan Jahnke.
- Marcell Dareus, Buffalo Bills: The defensive lineman can be a dominant force when he's motivated. But he's been suspended twice for violations of the league's substance abuse policy.
- Jadeveon Clowney, Houston Texans: The 2014 No. 1 overall pick is developing into a special defender, but he's yet to become the elite pass-rusher many expected when he was coming out of South Carolina.
QB Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
Superman isn't perfect. Nor should he be viewed as such. Even the mightiest heroes have certain weaknesses.
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is a larger-than-life figure, a truly gifted athlete and the 2015 MVP. He's a unique and special talent. But there's a give and take to his game.
At 6'5" and 245 pounds, the 2011 No. 1 overall pick is an intimidating figure behind center. The raw power in his throwing arm is second to none. Newton is also an exceptional athlete capable of running over, around or past defenders.
Newton's kryptonite is his lack of attention to detail. His ability to thread the needle or drop passes into the bucket is amazing. The Panthers signal-caller makes throws other quarterbacks can't. Yet he'll never be considered a precision passer because of poor mechanics.
The 2010 Heisman Trophy winner has gotten away with poor footwork and technique for so long that it's hard to imagine him ever developing into a fundamentally sound passer. That's an advantage when everything breaks down and he must work off platform. But it's a hindrance when he's asked to play from the pocket.
Oftentimes, passes sail on Newton, because of his footwork.
His accuracy is poor when compared to the rest of the league's quarterbacks. Last season, he finished last among qualifiers with a 52.9 completion percentage. Even during his MVP campaign, Newton finished 28th overall, completing 59.8 percent of his throws. For his career, he's a 58.4 percent passer.
Many will blame Newton's supporting cast and poor protection, but his failure to become a better technical passer is what most limits his effectiveness.
QB Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles
Too many are eager to anoint the next big thing before it's warranted.
The rise of the Philadelphia Eagles' Carson Wentz early in the 2016 campaign was an example of a young quarterback being viewed as a star before he showed the requisite competence needed to play the game's most important position consistently.
Last September, Wentz couldn't do anything wrong. In his first three games as a professional, the North Dakota State product completed 64.7 percent of his passes for 769 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions.
The Eagles, however, lost nine of their next 11 contests, and the No. 2 overall pick threw 13 of his 14 interceptions during that stretch.
Wentz flashed during his rookie campaign. He had the size (6'5", 237 lbs) and natural passing ability to warrant a high first-round pick. But the next step is refining his game. Wentz made a concerted effort to tighten up his mechanics during the offseason. His footwork and release were of particular interest.
"So the great ones—and we think [Wentz] is going to be that way—the guys that want to be good are constantly working on their mechanics to make it better," quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo said, per ESPN.com's Tim McManus.
Unlike Cam Newton, Wentz is entering his second season, not his seventh. The likelihood a young signal-caller breaks bad habits is far greater than an entrenched veteran doing so. Wentz still has to show he can when placed in game situations; quarterbacks tend to revert to what made them successful in the first place. Last season, Newton proved to be prime example of said reversion when playing behind a porous offensive line with little help from the Panthers' skill positions.
While the Eagles are excited about their quarterback's potential, he's still a work in progress. Patience is needed. Wentz has the ability to be develop into a franchise quarterback, but he's not one yet and shouldn't be considered as such until his game evolves.
RB Eddie Lacy, Seattle Seahawks
When the Seattle Seahawks signed 26-year-old running back Eddie Lacy to a one-year, $4.25 million contract in March, they included weight clauses. Last week, Lacy earned $55,000 for weighing 250 pounds or less, according to ESPN.com's Jeremy Fowler.
If Lacy continues to struggle with his weight, he may not regain the explosiveness he showed in his first two seasons. The Seahawks prefer a physical back who can take a pounding behind their porous offensive line and gain extra yards. Lacy fits the mold created by Marshawn Lynch.
Lacy's frame, however, wasn't his only issue in four seasons with the Green Bay Packers. Over the last two campaigns, Lacy started only 17 games and had ankle, groin and rib injuries.
While dealing with weight, injury and other issues—he missed curfew once during his third season—Lacy's production suffered. After providing a pair of 1,100-yard campaigns to open his career, he ran for 1,118 combined yards in 2015 and '16.
Since he's playing under a prove-it deal, this is Lacy's time to resurrect his career in a new city and system. If he doesn't return to form, the Seahawks will allow Thomas Rawls, C.J. Prosise or Alex Collins to take over as the lead back.
WR Randall Cobb, Green Bay Packers
After two seasons of subpar production, the Green Bay Packers' Randall Cobb must prove he belongs among the NFL's premier slot receivers.
A healthy Cobb caught 91 passes and ranked 11th in the league with 1,287 receiving yards in 2014. Since then, he's dealt with shoulder, ankle and hamstring issues. His production dropped in each of the past two seasons, and sank to only 610 yards last year.
While Cobb struggled, others took his place in Aaron Rodgers' progressions. Jordy Nelson remains the top target, while Davante Adams emerged last season with 75 receptions for 997 yards. Cobb will also have to contend with Martellus Bennett in 2017.
"I don't think anybody on this football team is as dynamic as that guy is with the football," wide receivers coach Luke Getsy said of Cobb, per Rob Reischel for Packer Plus. "So yeah, he's an important part to our process and us having success for sure. We've got to get him the ball."
The Packers staff values Cobb's skill set, but his options may be limited this fall. Nelson continues to work more out of the slot, plus former wide receiver Ty Montgomery will start at running back and take away some targets as a receiver out of the backfield.
With the amount of weapons Green Bay features, Cobb is arguably the team's fourth or fifth choice. He's also vastly overpaid, having signed a four-year, $40 million contract in March 2015.
WR Sammy Watkins, Buffalo Bills
Predraft hype can plague a player well into his NFL career. Certain expectations are placed upon those who are considered elite talents when they enter the league.
Sammy Watkins was one of the most explosive college receivers in recent memory. His ability to take the top off any defense translated to the NFL, too. When the 2014 No. 4 overall pick recorded 1,047 receiving yards in 2015, he ranked second in the league in deep receiving yards, according to Pro Football Focus.
The 24-year-old might not be the most polished route-runner, yet he's capable of exploding for massive games and has seven career contests with more than 120 receiving yards. Even so, the Buffalo Bills decided against picking up the fifth-year option on his rookie contract.
Any time a former first-round pick's fifth-year option isn't utilized, he's viewed as a disappointment. Watkins has certainly showed signs of promise, but he hasn't been a reliable option.
Availability is an integral skill for professional athletes. Watkins' injuries have limited what he can do. Over the last two seasons, he missed 11 games. He continues to recuperate from a surgically repaired foot that forced him onto injured reserve last season and prevented him from being a full offseason participant.
"We always have to do things in certain ways so that way we put ourselves into position to succeed, and rehab is no different when you have a player in this situation—and this situation we want to make sure we've dotted the 'Is' and crossed the 'Ts'—and in this case he's worked, he just hasn't been here," head coach Sean McDermott said, per WKBW Buffalo's Joe Buscaglia.
A healthy Watkins is still considered the Bills' WR1, but he may never fulfill the expectations heaped upon him.
OT Jack Conklin, Tennessee Titans
In 2016, Jack Conklin became the first Tennessee Titans rookie named first-team All-Pro since Jevon Kearse in 1999. According to Pro Football Focus, Conklin received the highest grade of any rookie offensive tackle since it began evaluating players in 2006.
One can argue these facts alone should keep him off any overhyped list.
Last year's No. 8 overall pick excelled in his first season and deserves credit for doing so. There's no denying his natural ability or how he performed based on what he was asked to do.
But the Titans coaching staff provided the Michigan State product with plenty of help.
A team can hide deficiencies through certain protections and schemes. In Conklin's case, the Titans' running backs or tight ends regularly chipped his assignment. When those players didn't address the edge, the protection usually slid in Conklin's direction.
He was rarely placed in a position to handle top pass-rushers by himself. His continued development will tell if he's worthy of the recognition he received after his rookie campaign. Right now, he's not a dominant one-on-one blocker or an elite right tackle.
Others, such as Bryan Bulaga and Mitchell Schwartz, had far more responsibilities.
DL Sheldon Richardson, New York Jets
Sheldon Richardson took the NFL by storm after the New York Jets selected him with the 13th overall pick in the 2013 draft. He was named Defensive Rookie of the Year and made the Pro Bowl in 2014.
This interior wrecking ball hasn't been as destructive in recent seasons.
"This guy—I shouldn't say [he has] a chip on his shoulder—I think he kind of has something to prove," defensive coordinator Kacy Rodgers said, per ESPN.com's Rich Cimini.
Richardson is a tailor-made 3-technique, and that's where he excelled early in his career. But he's been moved around, which has neutralized his effectiveness.
Last season, the defensive lineman had just 1.5 sacks. The Jets attempted to trade the Missouri product before the trade deadline and this year's draft, per the New York Daily News' Manish Mehta.
"There's a whole offseason ahead of us here," general manager Mike Maccagnan said. "We'll see how it unfolds going forward."
Maccagnan's words weren't encouraging, even though Richardson said he wanted to remain with the organization, per Mehta.
Considering Richardson's history with suspensions, the franchise's willingness to trade him and the fact New York is heavily invested in fellow defensive linemen Muhammad Wilkerson and Leonard Williams, the Jets don't view the 26-year-old as a difference-maker anymore. It's unlikely he'll even remain in New York beyond this season.
NT Dontari Poe, Atlanta Falcons
Dontari Poe isn't the same player or athlete today as the one who wowed NFL teams with his freakish athleticism at 346 pounds. This is due to the wear and tear his body underwent after playing an inordinate amount of snaps during his career as the Kansas City Chiefs' starting nose tackle.
Prior to the 2015 campaign, the former first-round pick required surgery on a herniated disc. The Chiefs eased him into the lineup at the start of that year, only to have him lead all of the team's defensive linemen in snaps played for the fourth straight season, per B.J. Kissel of the team's official site.
In fact, the massive nose tackle played at least 806 snaps during every season he's been in the NFL, per Spectrum Sports' Nick Jacobs.
Poe's effectiveness lessened with each passing season. The defensive lineman made the Pro Bowl twice in his first three campaigns, but his production has dropped off the last two years. In 2016, the former second-team All-Pro registered a career-low 27 total tackles. He has only managed 2.5 sacks since the start of the 2015 campaign.
Overall interest in free agency was a direct reflection of his waning play. While the Baltimore Ravens signed 28-year-old nose tackle Brandon Williams to a five-year, $52.5 million contract, the 26-year-old Poe agreed to a one-year, $8 million prove-it deal with the Atlanta Falcons.
The Falcons organization is also wary of Poe's recent history and included weight clauses, according to ESPN's Field Yates.
Poe no longer sets the tone in the middle of a defense. He's now a complementary piece among an up-and-coming Falcons squad.
LB Vontaze Burfict, Cincinnati Bengals
Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict is counted among the NFL's most intense individuals. Others will argue he's among the league's dirtiest. Either way, his appearance on this list is dictated by three factors: availability, lack of athleticism and poor coverage skills.
The only time Burfict started a full 16-game slate was in 2013. Whether because of injury or suspension, the undrafted free agent out of Arizona State hasn't been a reliable presence.
While Burfict is productive when he's on the field—the 2013 Pro Bowler finished second on the team with 101 tackles last season despite missing five games—he's not the most athletic linebacker.
Prior to his NFL arrival, the then-248-pounder ran a 5.09-second 40-yard dash at the combine. Last year, veteran Karlos Dansby proved to be far superior working in space. The team replaced Dansby with Kevin Minter in free agency.
Burfict's lack of athleticism shows up in coverage. The Bengals are prone to mismatches over the middle of the field when the 26-year-old is asked to play in sub-packages. As a result, his conditioning came into focus this offseason.
"He's come back in tremendous shape," defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said, per the Cincinnati Enquirer's Jim Owczarski. "I have a picture of him walking out of the tunnel at the Pro Bowl and he looked lean and like he should, and I said to him the other day ... I pulled that picture out there and I said, 'Man, you look just like that guy again.'"
If Burfict develops into a leader, doesn't miss games and maintains his conditioning, he can change the negative perceptions. But he has a lot to prove.
CB Josh Norman, Washington Redskins
Josh Norman's feud with New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. made him a household name.
Last season, Eli Manning targeted Beckham 12 times when covered by Norman. Beckham caught eight of those passes for 116 yards, according to Pro Football Focus.
The Washington Redskins signed Norman to the league's most lucrative cornerback contract once the Carolina Panthers allowed him to enter free agency. A five-year, $75 million deal placed considerable expectations on Norman to be a true shutdown corner.
Prior to signing with Washington, Norman was considered a product of the Panthers' defensive scheme. He gained a reputation as a pure zone corner, even though he earned Pro Bowl and first-team All-Pro honors after the 2015 campaign.
His first season in the nation's capital was Norman's best, according to the man himself.
"By far for me that was the best season I had," the 29-year-old defensive back said, per ESPN.com's Josh Keim.
How well he performed in 2016 is relative. It may have been his best season, but he still didn't grade as the league's top cornerback. According to PFF, Norman finished eighth in coverage snaps per reception. He also allowed more yards per coverage snap than he did during the 2014 and '15 campaigns.
When an individual is the highest-paid player at his respective position and constantly highlighted due to self-promotion, certain expectations are established. Norman is a very good cornerback. After all, he still ranks second in fewest yards per coverage snap since 2012 and second in opposing passer rating over the last three seasons, per PFF.
But he's not viewed as the league's best corner—Patrick Peterson, Richard Sherman or Chris Harris Jr. make stronger claims to that title—and he's had his struggles against his nemesis.