NFL Players Who Won't Live Up to the Hype in 2021
It isn't as easy as it might seem for NFL players to match the hype.
Some might make it look easy. Tom Brady joined a new team for the first time in his career last year and went on to win a Super Bowl.
But that sort of hype-matching isn't common. The ones who can't match the hype tend to not get the headlines, though. The hype machine that is the draft, for example, tends to hit new pros with unrealistic amounts of it and often leaves them struggling to match.
Same story for free agents in new places. No matter what the resume says, the name recognition and dollar signs attached to the new arrival make it hard for those players to get fans who invested in jerseys and tickets to feel it was all worth it.
Browsing the list of the most-hyped offseason items relating to new players in new places, the following guys won't be able to match the expectations chasing them into the 2021 season.
Bud Dupree, LB, Tennessee Titans
Onboarding a pass-rusher and paying him $82.5 million over five years has a way of generating hype, right?
That's a bit of a scary proposition, considering Dupree was a late-bloomer of a producer who got his big numbers (19.5 sacks over the last two seasons) while playing alongside Cameron Heyward and T.J. Watt. All that, before tearing his ACL last year.
The Titans haven't had a ton of success fixing the lack of pressure the defense generates in past years, which would seem to add even more in the way of expectations for Dupree. Last year, the unit managed just 19 sacks, with Harold Landry III leading the way at 5.5.
If Dupree can't lead the sacks list in Tennesse while being asked to do more with less around him, the contract is going to look pretty rough, quickly.
Trey Hendrickson, DE, Cincinnati Bengals
The Cincinnati Bengals turned some heads this offseason by throwing $60 million and four years on an offer sheet for former New Orleans Saints edge defender Trey Hendrickson.
Non-New Orleans area onlookers were right to have some confusion about that one as Hendrickson was far from a household name. He broke out last year to the tune of 13.5 sacks, but it was the first time in his career that number had crept above the 4.5 mark.
Cincinnati will gamble a huge bundle of cash on Hendrickson continuing to trend in the right direction, asking him to play a career-high snap count after last year's high of 53 percent. But he'll be the primary guy on his lonesome now surrounded by a peppering of rookies and unproven names on a rebuilding unit, not working with guys like Cameron Jordan.
There's a chance Hendrickson keeps ascending and takes the Bengals with him, of course. But that expectation and the fact he landed the sixth-highest dollar amount in free agency means it's almost impossible he'll match the hype.
Matt Judon, Edge, New England Patriots
To New England Patriots fans, sniping a franchise player from an AFC rival like the Baltimore Ravens sounds like a sweet deal.
Tack on the fact that along with making this happen, the Patriots gave Matt Judon a four-year deal worth $54.5 million—and the hype levels are probably at an unreasonable state.
Judon, after all, has had more than seven sacks in a season just once in his career, totaling 34.5 over 76 games. In 2020, he had just six in 14 appearances, and he didn't fare much better from an all-around perspective, earning a 59.4 Pro Football Focus grade.
There's potentially a perception that the Patriots will ask Judon to perfectly fit their scheme, and he won't necessarily stuff the stat sheet. But based on his career numbers so far, plus the expectations that come along with earning one of the 10 richest contracts in free agency outright, the former Ravens defender could have fans feeling buyer's remorse.
Hunter Henry, TE, New England Patriots
Hunter Henry still feels like one of the biggest names at his position in the league.
The combination of that and the fact the Patriots made a big splash signing him in an effort to find weapons for Cam Newton created a tidal wave of hype. Plus, it sure doesn't hurt that the contract checked in at three years and $37.5 million.
But the reality is a bit akin to deflating a balloon. While Henry looked like the next big thing at tight end at one point, he hasn't produced the same since injury held him out of the 2018 season. Last year, despite an explosive offense with Justin Herbert, he managed just 613 yards and four scores.
Now Henry joins an offense that hardly used tight ends last year while Newton threw just eight touchdowns all season. Even worse, he'll have to spar with fellow free-agent add Jonnu Smith for targets at his position in the offense.
In short, it's a great recipe for underwhelming numbers, quelling the hype.
Zach Wilson, QB, New York Jets
Zach Wilson has some massive expectations chasing him into his rookie year.
Simply being a quarterback in the Big Apple creates hype. So too does slotting as the second overall pick after posting dizzying stats in college, where he completed 67.6 percent of his attempts with 56 touchdowns and 15 interceptions.
It also doesn't hurt that the Jets have done a superb job of fleshing out the on-paper roster, drafting Alijah Vera-Tucker in the first round to pair with 2020 first-round pick Mekhi Becton. Second-round pick Elijah Moore pairs nicely with 2020 second-round pick Denzel Mims and free-agent add Corey Davis.
But there are some red flags. Wilson wasn't even the most pro-ready passer in this year's class and his small frame (6'2", 214 pounds) leaves questions about how his body might hold up under 17 games of pro hits.
After a class in which Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert were downright stunning after coming off the board in the first round, Wilson will be compared to not only them, but Trevor Lawrence. Typical rookie struggles, although not a guaranteed sign of bad things to come, will probably have some Jets suddenly biting fingernails.
Kyle Pitts, TE, Atlanta Falcons
Kyle Pitts would have always had some superb hype while entering the pros because he scored 12 times in eight games last year and displayed immense pro-ready skill as a receiver.
Then the Atlanta Falcons made him the highest-drafted tight end ever.
There's an almost unrivaled set of non-quarterback expectations that come with such a designation. This is especially so when realizing Pitts joins a high-flying attack led by Matt Ryan and already featuring Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley.
The expectation of massive rookie numbers and a humming offense only gets greater if the Falcons end up trading Jones too. As if being the highest-drafted player ever at his position wasn't enough, he'd then have to fill the void left by a likely future Hall of Famer and franchise legend.
Pitts could be good as a rookie, maybe even great. But it's clear the hype will reach unobtainable levels if they haven't already.
Joe Thuney, OG, Kansas City Chiefs
After a complete collapse of the unit in the Super Bowl, the Kansas City Chiefs made Joe Thuney the face of the offensive line rebuild this offseason.
Thuney, formerly the franchise player in New England, received a gargantuan five-year deal worth $80 million, slotting him third among all free agents in dollar amount when the proverbial dust settled.
There's zero debate that Thuney will upgrade the line in Kansas City. But whether it's $80 million-worthy is hard to say. Last year as a franchise player, Thuney managed a solid 74.2 PFF grade over 980 snaps. While he's been consistent, that was his lowest grade since 2017.
Thuney probably isn't the player who will make a big enough splash to change the entire complexion of the line. Orlando Brown Jr. at tackle probably has that honor, which is likely to leave Thuney underwhelming next year.
Jaylen Waddle, WR, Miami Dolphins
Massive expectations chase Jaylen Waddle to Miami.
The Dolphins made him the sixth overall pick in the hopes he can be a key cog that helps the upward trajectory of Tua Tagovailoa. He's expected to not only produce big numbers, but downright feast while defenses worry about DeVante Parker and Will Fuller.
But it's never that cut and dry. Waddle put on a show while Alabama out-recruited everyone in college, but the NFL presents a more even playing field. The presence of Parker and Fuller could prevent him from obtaining those big numbers early, not enable them, too.
There's also the matter of Tagovailoa, who one could effectively classify as a rookie going into next season. While he attempted 290 passes last year, Tagovailoa ultimately got in just 10 games, averaged 6.3 yards per attempt and had his coaching staff yank him late in games.
While reuniting Tagovailoa and Waddle is just another way to add a layer of hype, the fact they will both have to learn on the fly means the wideout could come up short in his debut season compared to expectations.