NFL's Most Overhyped Stars
Perception and reality often differ regarding star NFL players. Reputations develop even if they're no longer representative of on-field performance and overall skill set.
Some stay hyped; others become overhyped.
Lesser-known players can be disappointments, but they're rarely placed on pedestals. Instead, it's those living on name recognition while not producing on the field who fall into the overhyped category.
The natural order takes care of itself on the field even if those on the outside are slow to adjust. Only the best maintain and exceed expectations. The majority experience ups and downs. Original impressions rarely change, though.
It's difficult to admit a once-great veteran or high draft pick isn't as good as believed. As coaches are fond of saying, "The eye in the sky doesn't lie"—and performance is the only thing that matters.
A few of the league's supposed brightest stars aren't what they seem.
QB Eli Manning, New York Giants
Eli Manning led the New York Giants to a pair of Super Bowl victories, yet he hasn't been a Super Bowl-caliber quarterback for a long time. This hasn't stopped the Giants from building around the 37-year-old signal-caller.
"We can win with him," owner John Mara said, per the New York Daily News' Eric Barrow. "Objectively, Dave [Gettleman] and Pat [Shurmur] both said he can still play."
The organization might be on the same page, but it doesn't mean it is correct in its evaluation. Manning's production decreased in each of the last two seasons. His 61.6 completion percentage, 19 touchdown passes and 80.4 passer rating were the lowest in the last four seasons.
Shurmur's hire as head coach as well as the additions of Nate Solder and Saquon Barkley are meant to maximize Manning's remaining years. The team's offensive scheme will be vastly different as well.
"I've been throwing the ball down the field a lot more," Manning said. "Every quarterback loves that."
This approach goes against the veteran's strengths. Manning ranked 38th in Pro Football Focus' deep passing metric last year.
A strong surrounding cast and improved offensive line should help Manning play better than recent history indicates, but he's still on the downside of his career.
QB Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers continue to wait for 2015 first overall pick Jameis Winston to reach his full potential. After three years of average play, maybe he is what he is: a high draft pick with exceptional arm talent who makes multiple turnover-worthy plays per game.
One number defines Winston's career: 59 combined interceptions and fumbles lost in three seasons. The 2013 Heisman Trophy winner plays fast and loose—which can be both a positive and negative.
"Turnovers are the number one thing that get you beat, so I am very concerned," head coach Dirk Koetter said after the season's end, per Bucs Wire's Bonnie Mott. "Again, Jameis knows that. ... It's definitely something that has to be corrected and that is one of the top things that would help us not be 3-7 in one-score games because they are hard to overcome when you don't win the turnover [battle]."
Winston is entering what may be considered a make-or-break season since the Buccaneers will likely make a long-term decision regarding his status next offseason.
Excuses can no longer be made for poor play, either, since the Buccaneers added center Ryan Jensen in free agency and running back Ronald Jones during the draft. With an improved offensive line and stacked skill positions, Winston's play will be the driving factor behind the team's success or disappointment.
RB Leonard Fournette, Jacksonville Jaguars
Leonard Fournette is a talented, albeit less-than-dynamic, runner.
Last year's fourth overall pick runs with authority coupled with enough speed to create chunk plays. Yet, the Jacksonville Jaguar isn't an elusive runner or a three-down back.
Nine backs ran for 1,000 or more yards last season. Fournette's 3.88 yards-per-attempt average ranked last among the group. The Jags coaching staff, meanwhile, is looking to get backfield mate Corey Grant on the field more this fall.
"He's a major change-of-pace back," offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said, per the Florida Times-Union's Phillip Heilman. "He's a guy that can catch the ball from the backfield. And even [when] we've given him the ball in the backfield, he's done really good things."
Fluidity out of the backfield is what separates Fournette from other recent top-10 running backs. Ezekiel Elliott, Todd Gurley and the incoming Saquon Barkley are significant contributors on third down. Fournette managed 36 receptions last season, but he's more of a checkdown option than a legitimate receiving threat.
Injury concerns also come into play as well. The 240-pound back suffered through an ankle sprain during his junior campaign at LSU before declaring for the draft. He again missed time as a rookie because of another ankle injury.
With injury concerns, lacking receiving skills and a low rushing average, Fournette is as overhyped as it gets for a running back.
WR Amari Cooper, Oakland Raiders
Amari Cooper got off to a great start to his career only to struggle during his third campaign.
The wide receiver supplied a pair of 1,000-yard efforts in his first two seasons after the Oakland Raiders used the fourth overall pick in the 2015 draft to acquire him. Last season, Cooper had a career-low 48 receptions and 680 yards while dealing with injuries.
New (or is it old?) head coach Jon Gruden plans to utilize last season's second-leading receiver more.
"He's going to be the main target I think in a lot of our passes," Gruden told reporters.
The idea is great in theory, but the execution may be far more difficult.
First, Cooper has never been the focal point of the offense. Michael Crabtree, who the organization released this offseason, often served as Derek Carr's security blanket. The veteran's reliability made him a crucial aspect of the Raiders' red-zone and third-down offenses. Martavis Bryant and Jordy Nelson will now take multiple targets away from the team's top option.
Cooper's inconsistency has been maddening as well. According to Pro Football Focus' Neil Reynolds, the two-time Pro Bowl receiver already has 33 career drops.
Gruden's approach can work if Cooper improves. If not, Bryant and Nelson will become bigger parts of the offense than expected.
WR Sammy Watkins, Kansas City Chiefs
Sammy Watkins is on his third team in less than a year, yet expectations continue to grow. Usually, a player who moves around so much is considered a disappointment. Watkins has walked into three different situations with more heaped upon his shoulders with each subsequent stop.
The Buffalo Bills spent the fourth overall pick in the 2014 draft to select the wide receiver and then traded him to the Los Angeles Rams in August. He was supposed to blossom into an elite No. 1 target in L.A., but he didn't re-sign with the Rams, instead choosing the Kansas City Chiefs in free agency.
The Chiefs signed Watkins to a surprising three-year, $48 million deal even though he's eclipsed 1,000 yards once in four seasons. The investment is built upon the 24-year-old's long-term potential.
"It's just a great feeling because I'm not just sitting at the X-receiver spot on the backside looking at two-man or a double," Watkins said of his transition to Kansas City's offense, per BJ Kissel of the Chiefs' official site. "I'm really playing against a slot [cornerback] and getting an advantage on the linebackers, getting an advantage on the safety, and those are the things that I didn't have access to [in the past], and now I do."
Even so, Watkins is no better than the Chiefs' third option behind Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill.
DE Robert Quinn, Miami Dolphins
Robert Quinn is arguably the NFL's most fluid and natural pass-rusher when he's healthy.
"He bends like nobody I've ever seen," Miami Dolphins defensive coordinator Matt Burke said, per the South Florida Sun-Sentinel's Omar Kelly. "He has rare bendability."
The Dolphins acquired the 28-year-old veteran from the Los Angeles Rams for a 2018 fourth-round draft pick and sixth-round pick swap.
Quinn registered 40 sacks between 2012 and '14 and earned a pair of Pro Bowl berths. But his production during the subsequent campaigns is far less impressive. The 2011 first-round pick recorded 17.5 sacks the last three seasons. The Rams found him expendable since his contract still carried a combined $24.4 million cap hit between this and next year, according to Spotrac.
Some of Quinn's effectiveness has been robbed by injuries. The defensive end needed back surgery two years ago, and he hasn't played a full season since 2014 campaign. The Rams managed his practice time, which allowed Quinn to bounce back to a degree.
The edge defender didn't fit in the Rams' defensive scheme, either, and he should be more comfortable playing in Miami's four-man front. Although, reps must be parceled between a talented group of edge-rushers that features Quinn, Cameron Wake, Andre Branch, William Hayes and last year's first-round pick, Charles Harris.
An injury history, significant price tag and limited reps blunt Quinn's overall impact.
DE Vic Beasley, Atlanta Falcons
If a baseball player gets a hit once every three tries, he's counted among the league's best. One standout campaign after three seasons isn't close to good enough for the Atlanta Falcons' Vic Beasley.
The 2015 eighth overall pick led the NFL with 15.5 sacks during the 2016 campaign. He managed nine combined sacks his other two seasons.
Injuries played a factor last year when Beasley suffered a torn hamstring, but availability is part of every individual's evaluation.
Beasley's utilization also played a part in the defender's inconsistency. The collegiate defensive end made the transition to Sam linebacker/sub-package pass-rusher upon his arrival to Atlanta. The coaching staff plans to move Beasley back to defensive end on a permanent basis.
"For a stretch there, we felt the best thing for us to do would be play him in both roles—at [linebacker] and at the nickel defensive end," head coach Dan Quinn said, per Will McFadden of the Atlanta Falcons. "We're just going to go back to what he does best. At the time, we needed to use him in that role, but we'll feature him as a defensive end all the time in 2018."
The Falcons will learn if Beasley can hold up along the defensive front on a full-time basis or whether his ceiling is as a part-time pass-rusher.
CB Joe Haden, Pittsburgh Steelers
No one is sure how good Joe Haden is anymore.
Haden has missed 19 games during the last three seasons with multiple lower-body injuries and a concussion.
"My groin's good. My knee's good. I'm feeling healthy," Haden said, per ESPN.com's Jeremy Fowler. "I was able to get a full offseason workout. My last two offseasons I haven't been able to train like I wanted to. This year, I got after training like I never have before."
The 2010 first-round pick excelled earlier in his career because of his physicality near the line of scrimmage and lower-body flexibility that allowed him to stay in phase with faster receivers. Once the injuries affected his play, the Browns decided not to retain him at an exorbitant price.
The Steelers signed the two-time Pro Bowl defender to a three-year, $27 million contract in August despite any reservations. Yet, Pittsburgh's coaching staff has yet to experience Haden at his best.
"Now, I can work on myself and my individual game and put it together," the 29-year-old defensive back said of this offseason's workout regimen. "I was happy I could do it, being able to be healthy."
Haden operating at full tilt would help solidify Pittsburgh's secondary...if he doesn't get hurt again.