NFL Predictions: One Underachiever for Every NFL Team in 2011
What makes an underachiever?
It doesn't seem so difficult to define. In the NFL, it should be a player with a high degree of talent who does not produce up to their potential.
It seems that this type of player is often confused with the player who simply can't play, a "bust" if you will.
The purpose of this article is to identify one true underachiever for each NFL team for 2011.
There are some conditions to this list. There will be no rookies included because it would be ridiculously unfair to project someone as an underachiever based on no NFL experience.
This list will also shy away from free agents, although not exclude them entirely, because there is no guarantee that they will remain with their current team. The only way a free agent will be included on this list is if he is likely to re-sign with his existing team.
These are predictions, but the history of the player is crucial in identifying which ones are most likely to be underachievers. Put another way, a player will make this list only if they have some history of underachieving.
After reading, let's hear your thoughts and opinions in the comments section. Agree? Disagree? Why or why not?
1. Darius Butler, CB, New England Patriots
When Butler was drafted in the second round in 2009, he was supposed to lock down one of the cornerback spots for the Pats.
Instead, even when starter Leigh Bodden went down with a season-ending injury in 2010, Butler couldn't fill the void.
In this past April's draft, Ras-I Dowling was drafted at the top of the second round and could force Butler out of the lineup completely.
Butler has plenty of skill but doesn't seem comfortable in New England. Expect him to be targeted in nickel situations. One thing to keep in mind about Butler is that he looks a lot smaller than his listed size of 5'10", 190 pounds and will likely be pushed around by bigger wide receivers.
2. Anthony Spencer, OLB, Dallas Cowboys
At 6'3", 260 pounds with ample speed and power, Dallas Cowboys outside linebacker Anthony Spencer should dominate.
Spencer shows flashes of brilliance, but he has 11 total sacks in the last two years.
Now, factor in he has All-Pro outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware on the other side.
Spencer is far from a bust, but he is also far from the great player he should be.
3. Tyson Jackson, DE, Kansas City Chiefs
Jackson is a 6'4", 300-pounder who should bookend a nice three-man front with Glenn Dorsey and Ron Edwards (although Edwards is scheduled to be a free agent).
Instead, the third overall pick in the 2009 draft, who received over $30 million guaranteed in his rookie deal has 69 total tackles and one sack in two years. Expect rookie Allen Bailey to push Jackson out of the starting lineup.
4. Donnie Avery, WR, St. Louis Rams
Avery lost all of 2010 with a torn ACL and now is in an uphill fight just to make the roster.
The Rams' receiving corps were awful last year so they added tight end/wide receiver Lance Kendricks in the second round and wide receiver Austin Pettis in the third round to a very crowded group of over 15 players.
Prior to his injury, Avery appeared to be on the cusp of breaking through (he had 100 catches in his first two seasons) and it's possible he'll thrive with Bradford at the helm.
The problem is that players don't usually get their speed back until the second year after an ACL tear and speed is Avery's game.
5. Calvin Pace, DE, New York Jets
Pace has had 13.5 sacks over the last two years which doesn't sound so bad, until you consider he was given a six-year, $42 million dollar contract with $22 million guaranteed by the team in 2008 to be a relentless pass-rusher.
Pace was suspended for four games for violating the league's substance abuse policy in 2009 and battled some injuries in 2010.
He's been solid, but far from spectacular which is what the Jets thought they were getting from the former Arizona Cardinal and first-round pick out of Wake Forest.
6. Winston Justice, OT, Philadelphia Eagles
Quite honestly I am not sure how "Justice" is being served by Winston still being on the Birds roster, but assuming he is for 2011, you can bet he will underachieve.
Rarely does an offensive lineman get forever traumatized by one bad performance, but in his debut in 2008, that's exactly what happened.
He gave up four sacks to the Giants and he has never fully recovered. At 6'6", 320 pounds with real athleticism, Justice has the tools to be a more than adequate offensive tackle, yet he has given no indication in the pros that he ever will be.
7. Philip Merling, DE, Miami Dolphins
Taken with the first pick of the second round in 2008, Merling was supposed to be a consistent and stout anchor against the run from the Dolphins 3-4 defensive end spot.
Merling has been anything but consistent and missed most of 2010 due to a torn Achilles tendon.
Merling was charged with aggravated battery of a pregnant woman in May of 2010. The charges were later dropped.
The biggest thing holding him back on the football field is that he doesn't appear to give the same effort play in and play out. There is no reason to expect that to change in 2011.
8. Adam Carriker, DE, Washington Redskins
Drafted in the first round by the St. Louis Rams in 2007, Carriker played a full 16-game season for the first time in 2010.
Even when he was healthy, Carriker was simply adequate or even a tick below adequate.
Now, it's hard for 3-4 ends to stand out, but former first-round draft choices need to play better than this former Cornhusker.
9. Knowshon Moreno, RB, Denver Broncos
Moreno wasn't drafted with the 12th pick overall to be a slightly above-average, pedestrian-type running back but that is exactly what he has been for Denver.
He has 1,726 yards in two seasons and 12 touchdowns, but Moreno rarely breaks the big run nor does he force the other team to put eight or nine defenders in the box.
Maybe a coaching change in Denver and a return to a zone-blocking scheme will rejuvenate Moreno's career, but I wouldn't bet on it. There are also whispers that the Broncos may try to acquire a true feature back in free agency, putting Moreno on the outside looking in.
10. Jay Cutler, QB, Chicago Bears
The inclusion of Cutler on this list might anger some people, but Cutler absolutely should be mentioned as an underachiever.
There isn't a pass Cutler can't throw and when things are going well in Mike Martz's scheme, he will be successful.
However, his exit from the NFC Championship Game with an injury of debatable severity—along with his cocky, detached demeanor—gives you the feeling that he won't ever cash the check his arm could write in clutch situations.
From a decision-making, on-field perspective, he showed marked improvement in 2010 in throwing 23 touchdowns against 16 interceptions. In 2009, Cutler threw 27 touchdowns but 26 interceptions. Still, 16 interceptions is far from elite and Cutler has thrown a whopping 74 in the last four seasons.
11. Amobi Okoye, DE, Houston Texans
Truthfully I don't have much of an argument with people that label Amobi Okoye as a bust, but I still can't forget the physical skills he flashed at Louisville. He also just turned 24, which is still young for a player who has been in the league five years.
Okoye is not a run stopper but with the proper motivation and willingness on his part he could be effective getting to the quarterback.
Right now, the Texans' move to a 3-4 makes one hesitant to believe Okoye will shed the underachiever label.
12. Kevin Boss, TE, New York Giants
I don't typically want to include free agents on this list, but I am going to make an assumption that tight end Kevin Boss re-signs with the Giants and include him here.
Because even if it isn't for the Giants, I think he will underachieve for his new team.
According to Lindy's Sports Pro Football 2011 Preview magazine, Boss had 11 drops last season. Boss did have 35 catches but he is also considered to be an extremely poor run blocker, which is somewhat confusing given that Boss is a healthy 6'6", 253 pounds and the offensive linemen and running backs on the Giants squad do such a good job.
A final indicator that Boss will continue to underachieve in 2011 is that players often fail to respond to a brand-new contract by outplaying it. In fact, they often tend to underperform.
13. Eric Wright, CB, Cleveland Browns
Wright showed promise in 2008-2009 when he hauled in seven interceptions, but never completely turned the corner (cliche not intended) as one of the elite defensive backs in the game.
Then in 2010, he truly had a year to forget. He was beaten repeatedly for big plays early in the season and then received death threats from fans.
The problem is that there was no definitive reason for Wright's decline in performance in 2010. He did have some nagging injuries, which he was quick to point out, but Wright did play in 10 games. The bottom line is that he didn't get his job done.
The key question is not whether he'll rebound somewhat. I think he will.
Will he ever be the player he should be with good size and speed?
I doubt it, but we'll find out in a hurry, especially since he will be targeted quite frequently with a future perennial All-Pro on the other side in Joe Haden.
14. Matthew Stafford, QB, Detroit Lions
I debated whether it's fair to put a player on the list simply because of a significant injury history.
In Matthew Stafford's case, he has missed more games (19) then he has played (13).
There are a couple of reasons Stafford has to go on this list. One, his injuries have clearly prevented him from achieving what he should. Second, Stafford was the first overall pick in the draft and there are certain expectations that come with that selection.
Stafford has had brief flashes of brilliance and holds rookie records for most passing yards (422) and touchdowns (five) in a game. But, in all fairness, he has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns (21 to 19) and only has a 67.1 career quarterback rating.
Repeated injuries to his shoulder have one wondering whether Stafford will ever achieve what he is supposed to.
15. Bryant McFadden, CB, Pittsburgh Steelers
Pittsburgh has a lot of overachievers but not a ton of players who don't play up to their ability. One exception is cornerback Bryant McFadden.
At 6'0", 190 pounds, the former Florida State Seminole has all the physical attributes to play the position, but he is caught out of position and picked on a lot. Don't be surprised if 2011 third-round draft choice Curtis Brown supplants McFadden in the starting lineup.
16. A.J. Hawk, LB, Green Bay Packers
It's not easy finding too many underachievers on the defending Super Bowl champions, but if you had to go with one, A.J. Hawk fits the bill.
Hawk is a solid, every-down linebacker who calls the defense. But Hawk was the fifth overall pick in 2006 and a former Lombardi winner.
So much more was rightfully expected out of him after his storybook career at Ohio State.
If the Packers were completely sold on Hawk, they wouldn't have released him on March 2nd of this year only to sign him to a much more cap-friendly deal the next day.
Expect him to record around 100 tackles in 2011, but not make the game-changing plays he probably could. He'll leave that to Clay Matthews and his other teammates.
17. Anthony Gonzalez, WR, Indianapolis Colts
It's probably not fair to the former Ohio State Buckeye to put him on this list with ankle and knee injuries that have limited him to just five catches in the last two seasons.
Unfortunately, when you have 94 catches and seven touchdowns in your first two seasons like Gonzalez did, the expectations for you to perform with a quarterback like Peyton Manning are higher.
In 2009, Gonzalez was injured in the season opener and was supposed to miss up to eight weeks. He wound up missing the rest of the season. In 2010, he would up injuring the posterior cruciate ligament in Week 8 and once again was placed on injured reserve ending his season.
Some might say Gonzalez is a slow healer. Others might suggest Gonzalez is too brittle for the game.
Whatever your opinion, he hasn't lived up to expectations and might struggle to make the team in 2011.
18. Bernard Berrian, WR, Minnesota Vikings
When Sidney Rice had to have hip surgery in 2010, Minnesota assumed that wide receiver Bernard Berrian could step up and pick up some of the slack.
Berrian finished with just 28 catches for 252 yards (just nine yards per catch) and no touchdowns.
It was the second year in a row that Berrian's statistics dropped dramatically and it calls into question the six-year, $42 million contract that the Vikings dished out to the former Fresno State Bulldog in 2008.
Berrian's last two years are all the more sign of underachievement when you consider that in 2008 he caught 48 passes for 964 yards, (a gaudy 20.1 yard per catch average) and seven touchdowns. Berrian's only 30, so he shouldn't be slowing down this dramatically.
Rice may leave in free agency, but Berrian likely isn't the answer to replace the superstar's production.
19. Kenny Britt, WR, Tennessee Titans
Britt had a relatively nice year last season with 42 catches for 775 yards and nine touchdowns. The league got a true glimpse of how good the young man can be when he caught seven passes for 225 yards and three touchdowns in a Titans victory over the Philadelphia Eagles.
Britt's season was hampered by a significant hamstring injury, but what has seemingly destined for underperforming status is his off-the-field behavior.
According to The Tennessean, Britt has been involved in at least seven incidents with police since he was drafted by the Titans in 2009.
While it's unclear whether any of these charges will prevent Britt from playing, there are legitimate concerns about Britt's character and the company he is keeping. Until he clears these concerns up and matures off the field, he won't reach his potential on it.
20. Kellen Winslow, TE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Winslow had 66 catches for 730 yards and five touchdowns in 2010 and would hardly seem like a candidate to underachieve in 2011.
But Winslow hasn't developed into the deep threat that was envisioned when he was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in 2004. He has bad knees that will limit his production in 2011 and so will Luke Stocker, the rookie tight end who Tampa drafted in the fourth round of this year's draft.
21. Larry English, OLB, San Diego Chargers
First, Larry English was going to be the guy that made the Chargers forget about Shawne Merriman.
Now, he is known as the guy who the Chargers selected in the first round instead of "all-planet" Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews.
Neither tag is fair, but neither has been English's lack of production.
Another player who has been hampered by injuries, English can't stay in the starting lineup (four games started in two years).
Perhaps, English is not able to make the giant leap from the MAC to the NFL or the Chargers were infatuated by his college production and great combine numbers.
2011 is make or break for English. Right now it looks like break.
22. Early Doucet, WR, Arizona Cardinals
When Early Doucet debuted on the NFL scene for the Arizona Cardinals during the teams' 2008 Super Bowl run, his statistics weren't anything special but big things were expected of the talented wideout.
In the 2009 season, overtime NFC Wild Card Playoff Game against the Green Bay Packers, Doucet seemed to officially arrive as he scored two touchdowns in the shootout.
Unfortunately, that's about as good as it has gotten for Doucet, who has struggled with injuries and finding his niche in an offense with Larry Fitzgerald and Steve Breaston.
23. Lee Evans, WR, Buffalo Bills
Lee Evans might be the very definition of an enigma.
He has only averaged less than 15 yards per catch once in his career (2009, when he had an average of 13.9), but he caught over 50 balls in only three of his eight seasons.
In his best season of 2006, he caught 82 passes for 1,292 yards and eight touchdowns. During that campaign, he looked every bit an elite NFL receiver.
Since that time, he hasn't come close to duplicating that kind of success and there isn't one reason why. For a few years, the argument was that the Bills didn't have a worthy receiver to pair with Evans.
But Stevie Johnson caught 82 passes for 1,073 yards and 10 touchdowns last year. Evans caught just 37 for 578 in his worst statistical effort.
Evans is again only 30 and you can only blame diminishing skills so much at this point. What is clear is that he hasn't turned into the game-changing receiver the Bills and much of the league assumed that they had.
24. Everette Brown, DE, Carolina Panthers
The Panthers traded a first-round pick just to pick up Brown in the second round of the 2009 draft when he inexplicably slipped.
So far, it's pretty apparent why he slipped. He had a paltry 3.5 sacks last season and doesn't show that explosive first step he had as a Florida State Seminole.
25. Ben Grubbs, G, Baltimore Ravens
Mind you, I really considered putting this distinction on Grubbs' current teammate, Jared Gaither.
Any man who is 6'9", 340 and has Gaither's combination of athleticism and power should be able to dominate. But Gaither, a free agent, is likely to leave Baltimore because of injuries and questions of whether he is really committed to football.
Grubbs is a former first-round pick and while not the physical specimen that Gaither is, he hasn't been anything special at guard despite having outstanding physical gifts in his own right.
26. Michael Jenkins, WR, Atlanta Falcons
When the team Jenkins plays for trades five draft picks, including two No. 1's for his replacement, you kind of get the idea that they aren't too happy with the incumbent eight-year veteran.
Jenkins' 41 catches for 505 yards and two touchdowns aren't enough from a first-round pick who plays across from an overworked Pro Bowler Roddy White.
Enter Julio Jones (the replacement taken with sixth overall pick in the 2011 draft) into the starting lineup.
Exit Michael Jenkins stage right to the slot position.
27. Keith Rivers, LB, Cincinnati Bengals
There are a lot of candidates on the Bengals for this underachiever list. Offensive lineman Andre Smith, who was the sixth pick overall in 2009, has seen his career totally derailed by injury.
But, the selection here is linebacker Keith Rivers. The ninth overall selection in 2008, Rivers is considered soft. In 2010, he finished second on the team in tackles but had just 46 solo stops.
28. Michael Crabtree, WR, San Francisco 49ers
Hauling in 55 receptions for 741 yards and six touchdowns doesn't sound too bad.
Missing your first two preseasons due to a contract holdout and a neck injury of questionable severity, getting into a verbal confrontation with your All-Pro teammate Vernon Davis and being in a different book—forget on the same page—as quarterback Alex Smith sounds pretty bad.
Michael Crabtree has to learn that he can't just show up and dominate on the NFL level. He's talented but he's not Randy Moss in his prime. His willingness to even learn that is in question.
29. Kamerion Wimbley, OLB, Oakland Raiders
As much as the temptation would be to pick Darrius Heyward-Bey as the Raiders underachiever in 2011, the truth is Heyward-Bey is a bust—a big, track guy who doesn't have any idea how to play professional football.
After being traded from Cleveland, Kamerion Wimbley had nine sacks last season and somewhat surprisingly received the Raiders' franchise designation.
The reality is that in three of Wimbley's five seasons in the league he has underproduced. With money in hand, he reverts to his underachieving form in 2011.
30. Shaun Rogers, DT, New Orleans Saints
Rogers isn't a perennial Pro Bowler and given his 6'4", 335-pound (at least that is what is listed) frame, he probably should have been over his 10-year career with all the talent he possesses.
Unfortunately, the player know as "Big Baby" has always battled his weight.
He also has an inconsistent motor and has had one productive season (2008, when he 76 tackles and 4.5 sacks) in the last five years.
31. David Garrard, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars
After looking at the Jaguars roster, it's pretty amazing that the team finished 8-8 with the lack of talent on the squad, especially on defense. There is some talent on offense which makes David Garrard's inability to get to elite status a little harder to understand.
Garrard passed for a career high in touchdowns (23) and has always had a strong accurate arm.
However, he has only led the Jags to one playoff run in his first year as an unconditional starter in 2007. Garrard is entering his 11th season in the league and this is probably his last chance to reach his potential.
32. Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seattle Seahawks
Everyone seems to remember Marshawn Lynch's tackle-breaking, 67-yard, game-winning touchdown masterpiece to lead Seattle over New Orleans in last year's NFC Wild Card Playoff Game.
Most people tend to forget that Lynch only ran for 573 yards for a 3.5-yard per carry average last season. He hasn't rushed for over 1,000 yards since 2008 and at a chiseled 5'11", 215 pounds he should be better than that.
Multiple run-ins with law enforcement ranging from the serious (involvement in a hit-and-run, accusations of sexual assault, weapons charges) to the stupid (allegedly stealing $20 from the wife of a police officer at a restaurant) haven't helped his focus on the football field either.