There are some players in the NFL that we simply love to hate.
Sometimes there’s not much rhyme or reason to all of the hate—it’s just a part of the game for the fans to scapegoat players on opposing teams.
In other cases, though, the player in question is deserving of the fans’ ire. These are the guys who are overrated and overhyped. They’re the ones who talk the talk but don’t walk the walk or who have made careers of underperforming.
Over the next 15 slides we’ll take a look at some of the players in the NFL who have proved this season that they are better than the haters want them to be.
Jeremy Shockey is the consummate bad boy. He doesn’t do anything illegal (that he’s been caught for), but he’s not the role model that some athletes try to be either. He looks for trouble off the field. He’s a known womanizer. He’s not afraid to trash talk. Plenty of fans hate him for that.
Couple that with his injuries that have followed him throughout his career, a stigma no NFL player wants. Fans hate him for his attitude, and teammates and coaches can’t trust him to stay healthy enough to play.
Although he was great at the beginning of his career, he went through long slump during which he changed teams twice. Now, with Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers, it appears that Shockey might still have enough left in the tank to be a legitimate threat on the field.
When word started to circulate that the Green Bay Packers had settled a $14.75 million contract with Mason Crosby, their incredibly unreliable kicker, fans were left scratching their heads. Why spend all of that money on Crosby?
Through nine games, Crosby has managed to make Ted Thompson look like a genius for re-signing him. He has made every field goal he has tried this season, including a 58-yard bomb in Atlanta that shattered a franchise record.
Sometimes it’s a bit confusing why there’s so much hate directed at a certain player. Other times, it’s painfully obvious.
James Harrison is the later type of guy.
Harrison has done little to endear himself to America in his conduct off the field, and he has made a career of generating fear on the field.
In 2010, his reputation for dirty hits has earned him numerous fines from the NFL, garnering speculation that he would face increased fines and possible suspension from game time if he didn’t rein himself in.
Fast forward to 2011, and Harrison’s hits are much less of a story. Sure he’s had some time out for injury, but it seems as though the uncontrollable James Harrison has gotten better at walking the fine line between a hard hit and a dirty one.
It seems like pretty much everybody has some reason to hate Hines Ward.
Maybe it’s his amazing (and occasionally dirty) play on the field. Maybe it’s because of that snakelike smile that comes out whenever he’s “gotten” someone.
Maybe it’s because he is the league’s leading advocate against protecting players against head injuries.
There is no denying that Ward is slowing down this year, as he’s on pace to gain just over half of his yardage from last year. He’s not quite the player he used to be.
Regarding his stance against protecting players with head trauma, though, Ward has managed to prove the haters wrong. The man has gone above and beyond to get back onto the field despite numerous probable concussions. He’s bragged later about going as far as lying to team doctors.
This week represents yet another test for Ward to see whether he can make it into the game despite displaying “concussion-like symptoms.”
It’s old news that Michael Vick is one of the most hated players in the NFL.
After doing time in a federal prison for dog fighting and animal cruelty, Vick waltzed back onto the playing field and immediately started making waves. He was the Comeback Player of the Year in 2010 and was seriously considered for the league MVP award—much to the disgust of most of the fanbase.
This year, most expected to see Vick drop back to his mediocre ways in spite of his excellent 2010 season.
While he has indeed regressed in some ways, he has actually managed to put together a pretty good run. His 2011 statistics won’t match his 2010 numbers, but believing that they would was a foolish move on the part of the Philadelphia Eagles’ coaching staff.
The fact is, Vick’s team is falling apart around him. It seems that no matter how many points he manages to put on the board, his defense is happy to give up more than that. There’s no denying, though, that if there’s one guy on the Eagles who goes out and give his all each week it is Michael Vick.
Tim Tebow has been a controversy from the moment he entered the NFL. Some people love him to the point where he’s perceived as the savior of the Denver Broncos. Other people hate him and all of the media hype surrounding him.
Since he became the starter in Denver, the team has taken a turn for the better. Maybe it’s a result of the team rallying around him in ways that they wouldn’t for Kyle Orton and maybe there’s something special about his play. Maybe it’s just a giant coincidence.
Say what you will about Tebow—and there’s a lot to say about his poor passing numbers in his five games as a starter—but he’s doing what Orton couldn’t do: He’s putting wins on the board.
Eli Manning has had his share of doubters. Since his NFL debut, he’s always played second fiddle to his brother Peyton. Even when he took his team to the Super Bowl and brought down the undefeated Patriots, many still felt that Eli lacked the skills necessary to be considered an elite quarterback.
Many scoffed about Eli’s high opinion of himself at the time, but thus far Eli has put together the type of season that might help him back up his preseason bragging.
I’ll admit that I was one of them.
Ten weeks into the season, his team is sitting happily atop their division with an 8-1 record, a single game behind the undefeated Green Bay Packers.
Smith has had a lot of help from his defense in getting there, but he’s made plenty of his own contributions to the tune of an average quarterback rating of 95.8 and a career-high 64 percent pass completion rate. He has also improved his ball security, throwing 11 touchdowns to just three interceptions.
Cedric Benson has had a lot of hate from the moment he became part of the NFL.
Drafted by the Chicago Bears in 2005, Benson became a contract holdout who missed most of training camp. A contract was eventually agreed upon, but the locker room animosity was so great that teammates allegedly went out of their way to intentionally hurt him during practice drills.
Fast-forward through three years of drama with the Bears to find Benson eventually picked up by the Cincinnati Bengals. Despite his attitude problems and trouble with the law, he has found a good amount of success with the Bengals, including back-to-back 1,000 yard rushing seasons.
Thanks to Benson’s lockout behavior, he came into the season facing a three-game NFL suspension that was later reduced to just one game. His inconsistent performance through the first part of the season seemed like it might be the nail in the coffin for his status as a starter.
In the past few weeks, though, Benson has started to turn things around. In fact, he’s (barely) on pace for a third 1,000 yard season in a row despite the missed game.
Perhaps the best thing that could be said about Carson Palmer coming into the season was that he was a prima donna and a distraction to the rest of his team. He certainly earned both of those titles by refusing to show up to training camp and putting his second-round draft pick backup Andy Dalton on the spot to become the Bengals’ starter.
Now that he’s traded and playing for the Oakland Raiders, though, it seems as though he might be able to turn his career around.
He hasn’t been spectacular on the field thus far, but he’s only had three starts in a brand new offensive system. To give credit where it’s due, Palmer has put up decent numbers in the past two games after stumbling out of the gate in his first game with the Raiders.
There have been a lot of ups and downs in Tony Romo’s time in the NFL. He’s flipped between media darling and media whipping boy more times in a single season than more players do in their entire NFL career.
He’s done his fair share to earn the hate.
There might not be another quarterback in the league who has managed to be as good as Romo without ever being quite good enough.
He’s struggled in the postseason, and he’s had his share of antics that demonstrate that he’s perhaps more focused on building his celebrity image than he is on the game.
This year, though, he seems to be moving back to the top of his game—mostly. He has compensated for every terrible game with a great performance on the field. Three out of the past four weeks he has had a touch of magic about him.
If he could just find some consistency, he might be able to permanently silence some of his biggest critics.
On the one hand, it’s easy to write off Plaxico Burress as an idiot who literally shot himself in the foot. He’s done his time in prison, and all he seems to want is to get back onto the field and play his game again.
The hate is still there, though.
Fortunately for Burress, he’s been performing well for the New York Jets. He’s not seeing as many targets as he did during his days as a number one receiver, but he’s making good plays with whatever is thrown his way to the tune of an average of 14.2 yards per catch and six touchdowns so far this season.
If he keeps on staying quiet and doing his thing, it’s entirely possible that the Burress hate will die down relatively quickly.
A lot of the Chad Ochocinco hate today is a throwback to his time with the Cincinnati Bengals, when his wild on- and off-the-field antics were known all over the NFL.
When he signed with the New England Patriots, many wondered whether he would be compatible with the more disciplined group out east.
As it turns out, Ochocinco has done a good job of being on his very best behavior. He’s still not getting the playing time he’d like, but from a personality standpoint he seems to have done a lot of growing up in a very short amount of time.
It’s possibly only a matter of time before that grown-up attitude translates to increased time on the field and a better opportunity to make the spectacular plays he is known for.
There’s been an awful lot of hate for Mark Sanchez over the years. Some of it has been earned on the field—he may have lead his team to back-to-back AFC Championship games, but he didn’t do much to help the Jets advance to the Super Bowl.
Some of the hate has been earned off of the field. I mean, come on, modeling for GQ in the offseason?
Some of the hate has been earned simply because he is a New York Jet, a franchise people love to hate on principle.
Regardless of why we hate Sanchez, it’s hard to deny that he’s put together a pretty good 2011 season. He’s racked up 14 touchdowns to 10 interceptions, and an average quarterback rating of 79.9 through 10 games.
Jay Cutler’s major attitude problem has always frustrated fans. Cutler’s desire to live a private life has frustrated the media.
On top of that, he’s been disruptive in the locker room and has made himself hard for teammates to count on. All you have to do is think back to the controversy that arose from last year’s NFC Championship game when Cutler sullenly sat on the sidelines and watched his team lose.
Worse, Cutler has had several years of inconsistency, which has spelled constant disappointment for Bears fans. Some of that is the fault of his offensive line, but the rest can be blamed squarely on the poor-decision making he does in the pocket.
Over the last several games this year, though, he seems to have found his stride. His quarterback rating hasn’t been great, but he’s getting it done on the field to guide his team to victory. If Jay Cutler can help the Bears keep winning despite their slow start to the season, they will be legitimate playoff contenders.