Making this list of the 20 most overrated NFL players of all time doesn’t mean these guys were bad football players and/or didn’t have good careers. In fact, far from it. They were all good or great players, but they’re simply here because many fans, broadcasters and media types generally overrated them. These players were generally made out to be much better than they actually were. Some of them are Hall of Famers and deservedly so, but they were also overrated at the same time.
These players were nowhere near the worst in the league and we mustn’t confuse overrated with being bad. The list consists of Hall of Famers, Super Bowl champions, Pro Bowl players, and record holders. They all had fine careers, but for one reason or another didn’t really live up to all of the adulation and praise that was heaped upon them. Some of the players just happened to be in the right place at the right time and were surrounded by better-than-average teammates.
In some instances, the players benefited from being on great teams and would probably have been less than stellar if they played for weaker sides. This isn’t their fault though. They played the hands that were dealt to them and took advantage of their situations. There’s nothing wrong with being an overrated NFL player as it means you’re doing something to make fans notice you. You can’t really complain when you’ve been ranked a 10 at your profession, but you may actually only be an 8 or 9.
20 Chris "Beanie" Wells
Running back Chris Wells of the Arizona Cardinals was a first-round draft pick, 31st overall, in 2009 who always seemed to be on the injured list year after year. His best year came in 2011 when he ran for 10 touchdowns and 1,047 yards, but other than that he didn’t do much else. However, he sure was given a lot of attention by the media. Wells managed to play 51 games from 2009 to 2012 and retired with 2,474 rushing yards, 24 touchdowns and 10 fumbles.
19 Tim Brown
Tim Brown was a very good NFL receiver for a long time, but should that mean he should be considered a Hall of Famer and elite? Brown played 17 years and was routinely over 1,000 yards in a season. However looking back on Brown's career, he was never a dominant player one would expect from a Hall of Famer. It seems longevity won people over but the Hall of Fame should be reserved for those who were dominant players.
18 Shaun Alexander
Shaun Alexander was a running back with the Seahawks from 2000 to 2007 before ending his career a year later in Washington. He broke the league’s single-season mark for touchdowns and set the franchise record for most yards. However, he was fortunate to have Walter Jones and Steve Hutchinson blocking for him on the offensive line’s left side. When Hutchinson left for the Minnesota Vikings, Alexander's average yards per game fell by 27.9 while his attempts went up two per game.
Alexander didn’t run as well with just one great player blocking for him and only seemed to live up to his potential with Jones and Hutchinson clearing the way for him. Alexander holds numerous records, but wasn’t the running machine many believed he was.
17 Jim Everett
Quarterback Jim Everett was depended upon to be the answer for the Los Angeles Rams when he came out of Purdue. He had the size and a rocket for an arm, but things went slightly downhill when running back Eric Dickerson was traded in 1987. Everett played with the Rams from 1986 to 1993 and then had stints with New Orleans and San Diego before retiring in 1997. He had some excellent seasons and fine stats, but after the 1989 NFC Championship game he never lived up to his potential again.
16 Bill Romanowski
Bill Romanowski was an intimidating linebacker and for that he received plenty of hype. He won a couple of Super Bowls but there were plenty of holes in his game. Romanowski was beatable in pass coverage and could be beaten on the ground as well. Throw in all the extra drama Romanowksi brought with him and it was sometimes a question of whether his production on the field was worth the headaches he was off of it. Looking at the Super Bowl teams he played on, Romanowski wasn't as key a figure as he was made out to be.
15 Matt Cassel
Matt Cassel looked good when he relieved Tom Brady back in 2008 when he was with the New England Patriots and he appeared to be the face of the Chiefs when he joined them for the 2009 season. He also helped the club get back into the postseason in 2010 with 27 touchdowns and just seven interceptions, but he was never able to live up to those performances again. He ended up as a backup in Minnesota to Christian Ponder in 2013 and is now with the Buffalo Bills competing for a job. Whenever Cassel is hyped up, people keep pointing back to his 2008 season, but should that keep getting him starting opportunities?
14 William "The Refrigerator" Perry
Defensive tackle William ‘The Refrigerator’ Perry became a household name during his years with the Chicago Bears. However, he was more of a folk hero than a star football player. He had his good moments for sure, but not enough of them to live up to the reputation he was labeled with. He looked better than he was while playing next to Dan Hampton, Steve McMichael and Richard Dent. Without them, he would have been exposed as an average player, which is what he was. He spent the 1994 season with the Eagles and ended up in London with the WLAF (NFL Europe) for a year in 1996.
13 Herschel Walker
Running back Herschel Walker was traded from the Dallas Cowboys to the Minnesota Vikings and it would end up being quite a lopsided deal in favor of the Cowboys as they received five players and half a dozen draft choices. Walker looked great early on with the Vikings, but as time wore on his production went downhill. He had made a name for himself as a rookie with the New Jersey Generals of the USFL from 1983 to 1985 before joining Dallas for a few years. He then bounced around with the Eagles and Giants after leaving Minnesota and ended up back with the Cowboys from 1996-97.
12 Ray Lewis
Linebacker Ray Lewis was always in the spotlight during his career with the Baltimore Ravens, but it wasn’t really earned through his play on the field. Lewis somehow conned the public into believing the Ravens' success depended upon him. Lewis was credited with more than he should have been during his career and had a lot of praise heaped upon him for winning the 2012-13 Super Bowl when the win was mainly due to quarterback Joe Flacco’s performance. His implication in a 2000 murder case doesn’t really make him a very likeable off-field person either.
11 Michael Vick
Quarterback Michael Vick may be a fantastic quarterback down at the local park, but when he was playing for the Atlanta Falcons during the early 2000s, he had problems throwing the ball and his completion percentage ranked in the mid-50s. There’s no doubt he has talent, but he couldn’t really put it all together. His prosecution for being involved in a dog fighting ring didn’t help his cause either, but he was a more mature player and person when he returned to action. Still, he never lived up to his billing. The same can be said when he was with the Eagles from 2009 to 2014 and the Jets in the 2014 campaign.
10 Lynn Swann
If you were told that a receiver never surpassed 1,000 yards in a season, would you ever think of him as a Hall of Famer? No, but that's where Lynn Swann finds himself. The former Steeler's career highs were 11 touchdowns, but only 880 receiving yards. That screams no.2 receiver numbers even for his era. Swann got into Canton more on his epic catches in the Steelers' Super Bowl wins, but he never sustained dominant numbers and was a benefactor of playing on the Steel Curtain teams of the 70s.
9 Reggie Bush
Reggie Bush gave New Orleans Saints fans a lot of hope, thrills, and excitement in his rookie season after being taken with the second overall draft pick. The running back racked up 1,307 yards in total as a rookie and added nine touchdowns. However, due to injuries and his playing style, his production dropped off and he never reached the 1,000 yard plateau from scrimmage again in New Orleans.
Also, his average per carry was four yards with the Saints after posting 7.3 a carry when he was at USC. Bush was traded to Miami in the summer of 2011, signed with Detroit in March of 2013 and then inked a deal with San Francisco this March. He picked up his game a bit after leaving the Saints, but still hasn’t lived up to the potential he had coming out of college.
8 Keyshawn Johnson
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers acquired former no.1 overall pick Keyshawn Johnson back in 2000 and gave up a pair of first round draft picks to the New York Jets for him. Tampa’s passing attack was weak at the time and the club believed the league’s highest-paid receiver would help them turn things around. Things improved just slightly as Tampa’s scoring offense raked 15th in the league with Johnson in town. He had a decent year in 2001 when he was seventh in the NFL in yards and fourth in receptions, but he managed just a single touchdown. Johnson didn’t get along with head coach Jon Gruden and was traded to Dallas for a couple of seasons in 2004. He then spent his final campaign with the Carolina Panthers before they released him.
7 Hines Ward
Hines Ward did a lot of things very well, including blocking, route running and coming up with big plays in the clutch. However he's been talked up as one of the elite receivers of his generation. That's a bit of a stretch. While he was a great teammate to have, and a great Steeler, he didn't sustain great numbers over a long period. Pittsburgh's success hinged more on their defense and a power running game in Ward's prime.
6 Troy Aikman
We can get away with putting Troy Aikman on this list, because he himself has said that he benefited from a ridiculously good supporting cast in Dallas. A dominant o-line? Check. The NFL's all-time leading rusher? Check. An elite receiver? Check. A stout defense? Check. Aikman did his part well, winning the MVP award in Super Bowl XXVII, but these Cowboys were so talented that several quarterbacks around the NFL at that time could have won with that supporting cast. Aikman's a deserving Hall of Famer. It's not his fault he was dealt a good hand, but he has to be on this list.
5 Brett Favre
Brett Favre was an exciting player to watch and anybody can appreciate that part of his game. However despite setting many passing records, Favre also leads in the interceptions category and he would often make his worst mistakes in the biggest games. Some examples of this are in his last two NFC Championships, in which he threw an interception in overtime in Green Bay and on the Vikings' last drive in their epic clash with the Saints. Favre was great for the media and as a result was constantly hyped up. Some argue he's the greatest ever, some argue he's top five, but he's further down on the totem pole than that. In fact when all is said and done, he may even be surpassed by his successor at Lambeau, Aaron Rodgers.
4 Drew Bledsoe
Quarterback Drew Bledsoe was acquired by the Buffalo Bills from the New England Patriots in 2002 for a first round draft pick. Bledsoe had been in New England since 1993 and Bills fans celebrated the trade and had high expectations for him. He had a decent first season with the team, but he missed the boat the next year with 11 touchdown passes to go along with a dozen interceptions. He made some bad plays at times and many fans felt he was responsible for Buffalo missing the postseason in 2004 with a miscue in the season finale. Bills fans’ perhaps thought Bledsoe would be the second coming of Jim Kelly, but he didn’t live up to those expectations. He was released after the 2004 campaign and joined Dallas. Bledsoe was benched early in the 2006 season and released when it was over. He then announced his retirement as he didn’t want to be a backup.
3 Mike Singletary
Linebacker Mike Singletary suited up for the Chicago Bears from 1981 to 1992. He had good leadership abilities, but his overall talent on the field wasn’t really as good as legend would suggest. He was undoubtedly a good player who was lucky enough to play for a great team. Dan Hampton was in front of him and that made Singletary appear better than he actually was. Singletary actually admitted as much after he retired. To a lot of critics, Singletary was basically more hype than he was substance and benefited from those around him.
2 Tim Tebow
Quarterback Tim Tebow gained cult status as an NFL player and seemed to have a lot of charisma. However, when it came to football skills, he didn’t deserve the accolades. In fact, he’d probably have been more successful and enjoyed a longer career as a running back instead. Tebow entertained the fans, but was another overhyped player who couldn’t keep up his play for a long period of time. He was a shooting star who came and went pretty quickly and simply didn’t have the skills to become a great player. And this is why he’s bounced around from the Broncos to the Jets, to the Patriots and to the Eagles since 2010 and hasn’t played a game since 2012.
1 Joe Namath
Broadway Joe was great for the game, but the Super Bowl winner was also a player who didn’t live up to his reputation at times. In 143 career games, including the postseason, Namath’s record was 68-71-4 and was 64-64-4 in the regular season. His pass completion percentage was just 50.1 and he actually threw 220 interceptions compared to 173 touchdowns. Namath was a football hero to many and perhaps even more popular off the field than he was on it due to his reputation of being a bit of a playboy.
Namath achieved many great things during his career with the New York Jets from 1965 to 1976 and with the Los Angeles Rams in 1977, but the closer you look at his numbers, there’s a lot of holes that can be poked into his superstar status. Yes, he changed the culture of the quarterback position and was a great player, but still comes out as the most overrated player in NFL history.