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.
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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.
Obviously, George was given a steady diet of carries. Sadly, he wasn’t the most efficient with those carries, averaging 3.7 yards per carry, which would rank him 23rd in the NFL. Another sign that this season and the awards that came with it was a blip in his career is that George never came close to equaling those numbers again. He had nearly 100 more rushing attempts in the 2000 season than any other year in his career.
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.
Bruce would only catch four passes a game, which led to his unimpressive catch total of 64 in the season. Many of these passes were long passes, for which he does deserve credit, but it's fair to wonder how much he benefited from being the third option in the passing game. The 2001 Rams offense is legendary, but it does seem that Bruce was an accessory to that, not the engine of it.
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.
This was the only season that Quarles would be named to the Pro Bowl, another sign that his role on the defense is what made him more well-known than he deserved. He was second on the team in tackles with 74, which is good. Sadly, that total places him 9th in total tackles for middle linebackers around the league that year. While Quarles was certainly a good player, he, without a doubt, benefitted from the talent around him.
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.
Bulger would be selected to the Pro Bowl due to his gaudy stats. He would throw the ball 532 times this season, good for 4th overall. So he had the volume but how did he do while throwing the ball? He threw 22 interceptions, tied for first in the league. It also wasn’t like he was a gunslinger; his average pass went 6.2 yards an attempt, good for a pedestrian 15th in the league.
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.
Following this season, Muhammad was released by the Carolina Panthers, another telltale sign that a player may not be the player his stats say he is. He would be signed to a lucrative contract by the Chicago Bears and never came close to the production from the previous season. It’s the classic example of a player parlaying an unsustainable career year into a big payday.
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.
The majority of Alexander’s yards came before contact, as he flourished playing behind the best offensive line in football. He would rush for more yards and touchdowns in his career by a healthy margin. The following year, as the line started to be broken up due to finances, Alexander began to flounder. While he was a good player, Alexander won the MVP on the back of his offensive linemen more than his own skill.
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.
Young ranked dead last in completion percentage, completing 51.5 percent of his passes. It wasn’t exactly like he was throwing the ball deep either, as he finished 26th in adjusted yards gained per attempt with a meager 5.2. He threw more interceptions (13) than he did touchdowns (12). While he was active with his feet, it does not make up for his struggles as a passer.
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.
He ranked 28th in completion percentage and was tied for second in interceptions thrown with 19. He had a mediocre passer rating, ranking 17th with an 82.5. Anderson also clearly punched above his weight this season, as he never came close to matching any of the numbers he posted in 2007 again.
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.
Despite the fact that the 2008 Patriots were still stacked with offensive talent, the team failed to make the playoffs. Still, people thought that Cassel had shown signs of becoming a franchise QB that would be stuck sitting behind Brady. The reputation around Cassel came full circle when the Kansas City Chiefs traded for him and watched him struggle immensely. It turned out that he was a mediocre backup QB that benefitted from Belichick pressing all of the right buttons.
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.
Austin became famous because the numbers he was putting up was with the Cowboys. Media markets often play a big role in affecting how people think of a player. Every year after this, Austin got worse and worse until his career flamed out after six more 'meh' seasons. It’s fair to wonder what kind of career Austin would’ve have had it not been for his outlier season in Dallas.
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.
Lloyd benefitted from seeing a ludicrous 153 targets, yet only posted a 50.3 percent catch rate, which ranked 170th. The Denver Broncos seemed to know that Lloyd was not the player that he seemed, as they shipped him off in the middle of the next season. Following this season, Lloyd would only play three more seasons and never came close to matching any of these numbers.
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.
Harvin struggled to stay healthy; this was one of only two seasons that Harvin started more than 10 games for a team. Just because a player is a compelling chess piece and able to do things that may seem cool, like the jet sweep, doesn’t make him a good player. Harvin would be shipped off his team quickly after this season.
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.
One of the biggest advantages that Griffin had was that defenders weren’t used to a player like him. Using a mix of the read-option, Griffin was able to leverage his speed to become a real dual-threat QB. Sadly, his running would end up hurting his career because he never bothered to protect himself when he ran. Griffin had a good season and quickly became the talk of the NFL. That was unwarranted as he struggled as more teams began to scheme to take away his legs. Griffin struggled to read the field like a traditional QB and would leave Washington in disgrace.
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.
Immediately after this season, Byrd began to fall apart as he was frequently injured the next year. He would leave the following season in free agency and would be given a massive contract by the New Orleans Saints. Many thought Byrd may be the missing piece to turn around the Saints' defense but it couldn’t be further from the truth. He has quickly become a forgotten piece of the Saints, but is still hurting the team because of his albatross contract.
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.
He led the NFL in carries, which is a great way to bolster volume stats. He would often be untouched through the line of scrimmage to gain yards. He didn’t really create the yards on his own, but he simply ran through the gaping holes his offensive line created. We can see this in future years, as that same offensive line helped Darren McFadden rush for 1,000 yards and helped a rookie running back, Ezekiel Elliott, have a legendary first season.
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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