One of the best things about football is that it is truly a team sport. While some players may shine brighter than others, no player is truly capable of carrying a team on their own regardless of what pundits say. When you have 22 athletic freaks on a field that is only 100 yards long and 53 and 1/3 yards wide, there is only so much a talented player can do on his own. Still, people often decide to overlook this aspect of the sport and assign success to specific players, even if they don’t deserve the praise they are being given. This, along with other factors, is how we see a player become overrated.
Like every sport, narratives matter and affect how the public thinks of a player. So when a defensive or offensive player seems to be the one carrying the load, people are quick to heap praise on that player and fail to look at the bigger picture. The rise of fantasy football has also played a major role in this, as people look only at superficial stats and make conclusions about which players are great and which players are bums. It’s easy to see how in today’s environment, a player could quickly become overhyped.
This column aims to look at some players that may have been viewed as more superior players than they actually were. One player from each season will be highlighted and will be labeled as the most overrated player of that year for a variety of reasons -- whether they were playing with extremely talented players that helped mask their own struggles or benefited from gaudy numbers that were inflated due to opportunity, or maybe the player simply developed an unearned reputation. Each player is different in stardom or career longevity, but each one is overrated for a glaring reason.
Each player is different in stardom or career longevity, but each one is overrated for a glaring reason.
17 2000 Season: Eddie George
During what many believed was a fantastic season for the Tennessee Titans, Eddie George would be named to the Pro Bowl and the All-Pro team. Sadly, George’s awards came from one of the most common pitfalls of being overrated, which is overuse. George led the NFL in rushing attempts with 403 carries, but would finish 200 yards behind the NFL rushing leader.
16 2001 Season: Isaac Bruce
One of the keys to becoming overrated is to be a player on a legendary team, which elevates you to a higher status than you deserve. That is what happened to Isaac Bruce in 2001 when he was named to the Pro Bowl despite being the 4th best skill position player on his own team, let alone in the NFL. Bruce took the field with peak Kurt Warner, peak Torry Holt, and the football equivalent of the Death Star, Marshall Faulk.
15 2002 Season: Shelton Quarles
As a member of the legendary 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Shelton Quarles would be named to the Pro Bowl and be remembered fondly. He was one of five players on the defense that was selected to the game. This multitude of players being selected is actually the basis for why Quarles is being named to this list. Quarles played for a future Hall of Fame coach and with a handful of future Hall of Famers. His play was elevated, not the other way around.
14 2003 Season: Marc Bulger
Stepping in to lead the remnants of the Greatest Show on Turf, Marc Bulger was credited with keeping the ship steady and helping the St. Louis Rams win 12 games in 2003. Bulger quickly was billed as the future of the Rams and the heir apparent to Kurt Warner. Like many of the players on this list, Bulger benefited more from the talent around him more than the other way around.
13 2004 Season: Muhsin Muhammad
Another common trait of an overrated player comes from the crazy year that turns out to be an outlier and there is no better example of this than Muhsin Muhammad and his All-Pro Season. Muhammad would have his career-high in touchdowns and yards this season, catching nearly 300 more yards and eight more touchdowns than his previous career-highs.
12 2005 Season: Shaun Alexander
Shaun Alexander was a good football player but the hype around him often overlooked how important the offensive line was for him. Alexander played behind future Hall of Famer Walter Jones, one of the greatest left tackles in football history. Next to Jones was Steve Hutchinson, an All-Pro player. Flanking him was Pro Bowl center Robbie Tobeck and above-average starters Chris Gray and Sean Locklear.
11 2006 Season: Vince Young
Maybe it was because of the aura of celebrity around Vince Young during his rookie season after his stellar performance in the NCAA National Championship Game, but the hype around Young in 2006 was totally unwarranted. Selected with the third pick in the 2006 NFL draft, Young would immediately take over as the starter for the Tennessee Titans. He would be selected to the Pro Bowl despite having terrible numbers.
10 2007 Season: Derek Anderson
It’s more of an indictment on the Browns' struggles to find a signal caller that allowed people to hype up Derek Anderson. He helped lead the Browns to 10 wins, the first time they’d reached double-digit wins since 1994. Due to helping the most downtrodden franchise in NFL history, Anderson would be named to the Pro Bowl. He threw a good amount of touchdowns and helped a team win an abnormal amount of games. While this is all admirable, it covered up the fact that Anderson wasn’t really that great.
9 2008 Season: Matt Cassel
Following a nearly perfect season, the New England Patriots' season started in shambles when their Hall of Fame QB went down with an injury in their season opener. In came his backup, Matt Cassel, who quickly became a well-known player in the NFL. As the backup to Tom Brady, Cassel became overhyped as he did his best Brady impersonation. His coach, Bill Belichick, a football mastermind, helped gloss over Cassel’s flaws and helped him produce a respectable season.
8 2009 Season: Miles Austin
One of the best ways to become overrated is to have a slightly above-average season for the Dallas Cowboys. This is what Miles Austin did in 2009 when he would be named to the Pro Bowl. On the surface, Austin had good numbers but much of that can be attributed to Tony Romo playing some of the best football of his career.
7 2010 Season: Brandon Lloyd
Speaking of wide receivers that vastly overachieved, look no farther than the 2010 receiving yards leader Brandon Lloyd. He was named to the Pro Bowl this season, the only time he ever made the game. Lloyd finished the season with 1,448 yards on 77 catches. That is undeniably good, but even with that year, Lloyd’s career average in receiving yards was 544 a season.
6 2011 Season: Percy Harvin
When a player possesses a quirky set of skills like Percy Harvin, it’s easy to become infatuated with him and think he is better than he is. People seemed to really think Harvin was a special player because of his ability to make plays as a runner, pass catcher, and kick returner. Harvin would average a high amount of all-purpose yards a season which seemed to make people think he was a better player than he was.
5 2012 Season: Robert Griffin III
Robert Griffin entered the NFL with an almost unfair amount of hype after his stellar career at Baylor. He came into the league with a Heisman Trophy and the draft pedigree of a franchise QB. Washington must have felt strongly about him because they sold the farm to have the right to draft him. While Griffin may have had a strong statistical season, he was vastly overrated as we began to see over the rest of his career.
4 2013 Season: Jairus Byrd
Often thought of as one of the game's premier safeties, Jairus Byrd was never the player that the people thought he was. Some compared him to Earl Thomas, which is laughable now. Byrd benefited from generating turnovers, with four interceptions and one forced fumble. He would be named to the Pro Bowl this season.
3 2014 Season: DeMarco Murray
This isn’t so much a knock on DeMarco Murray as much as it is pointing out that he was viewed as a much better player than he was. Murray was good but he wasn’t the best running back in the NFL that season, even if the stats say so. Murray had the benefit of running behind one of the greatest offensive lines in recent memory, which helped prop up his numbers.
2 2015 Season: Allen Robinson
Another example of fantasy value playing into unnecessary attention, Allen Robinson had an overrated 2015 season. He led the league in touchdowns catches, which is a good thing. Still, the majority of the value of his catches came on long touchdowns while trailing and the game was out of reach. Much of the Jacksonville offense was actually predicated on scoring in garbage time and Robinson was one of the main benefactors.
Robinson sprouted a 53 percent catch rate, which isn’t very good. He also horribly flopped the following season after teams began to pay more attention to him. Robinson became a well-known name for people and was one of the drivers of the Jacksonville-hyped train that followed the 2015 season. That train ran horribly off the rails and killed all the fans involved.
1 2016 Season: Todd Gurley
It might have been a mix of the big move to Los Angeles and an above average rookie season, but Todd Gurley came in with giant expectations. Many figured the first full season of Gurley would show the nation how special of a talent he was. He, like most of the Rams, received a lot of unneeded attention.
Gurley was undeniably bad this season, as he sported an abysmal 3.2 yards per carry. He was force fed the ball, rushing 278 times, good for fifth in the NFL. He became the bane of fantasy football players around the country as they watched their first round pick melt into mediocrity. Still, people often tried to make excuses for Gurley. While his offense was inept, he is a major factor in that.
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