What does it mean to be an overrated player in the NFL? To answer that, you have to take a look at who is doing the overrating. A team’s rabid fanbase, football fans in general, headline-hungry sportswriters, and the teams themselves are the agents of inflating a player’s value and significance. There is, of course, another variety of overrater: the players themselves. However, we’ll deal more with popular perception here rather than athlete’s own perception.
Overrating is, at its core, a product of the gulf between perception and reality. For our purposes, we’ll assess the reality of a player’s positional value using the metrics developed by the big brains at Football Outsiders.
“Quarterbacks are ranked according to DYAR, or Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement. This gives the value of the quarterback 's performance compared to replacement level, adjusted for situation and opponent and then translated into yardage. DYAR (and its cousin, YAR, which isn't adjusted based on opponent) is further explained here.
The other statistic given is DVOA, or Defense-adjusted Value Over Average. This number represents value, per play, over an average quarterback in the same game situations. The more positive the DVOA rating, the better the player's performance. Negative DVOA represents below-average offense.
The simple version: DYAR means a quarterback with more total value. DVOA means a quarterback with more value per play.”
We’ll also only be looking at skill positions in this breakdown.
So, do any of the NFL’s overrated hold a candle to some of the all-time most overrated players—such as Joe Namath and Lynn Swann? Keep reading to find out.
15 Robert Griffin III - QB - Washington Redskins
Distorted perception: This insanity per Rotoworld: “He's going to face competition in training camp, but all signs point to RG3 remaining a Redskin in 2015.” The Redskins seem to think Griffin presents a better option that Kirk Cousins (24th in DYAR, 29th in QBR, 15th in DVOA). Another erroneous thought: With a more supportive coach, a scheme more tailored to his talents, and continued good health, RG III could be a capable and content starter in the NFL.
Reality: Griffin’s numbers last season weren’t good: DYAR 42/44; 41/44 DVOA: 30.8 QBR (40th); 1,450 yards passing; 4 touchdowns; 6 interceptions. He’s simply not a fit for Jay Gruden’s scheme and presents a tremendous distraction. Further, he’s injury prone and looked confused, and gun-shy in Gruden’s more traditional offensive framework. While there’s value in his third year of rookie salary ($3.2 million), it’s not worth the downside. There are better, more reliable, less controversial values in the FA market. RGIII is on the fast track out of the league.
More from Rotoworld: “He's not a fit for coach Jay Gruden's conservative, pass-happy offense, and Gruden doesn't appear particularly interested in making him one. It will be a disaster waiting to happen if RGIII is back as Washington's starter in 2015. A trade would be best…but clueless owner Daniel Snyder likely won't be willing to sell low on someone he believes is his franchise player.”
As Chris Wesseling of NFL.com wrote: “After playing in a gimmick offense as a rookie, Griffin still hasn't learned to read the difference between receivers who are "college open" versus "NFL open…Having devolved into a gun-shy signal-caller with a major case of the yips and a desperate need for Quarterbacking 101, Griffin will have to master the basics before he rebuilds his value.”
Contract situation: In 2015, Griffin is due a base salary of $3.2 million, as well as $3.4 million of his 2012 signing bonus. He’s entering the final year of a four-year $21.1 million contract with the ‘Skins (rookie pay scale).
14 Andy Dalton - QB - Cincinnati Bengals
Distorted perception: Even though Andy Dalton has been at the helm of the Bengals' four-straight playoff losses, he’s not the man to blame. Dalton is an above-average NFL quarterback.
Reality: DYAR: 22/44. The problem with Dalton is that he is paid as and perceived to be a quarterback capable of leading his team to a Super Bowl victory.
He isn’t. As RotoWorld indicated after Dalton’s most recent one-and-done playoff performance:
“For the fourth time in as many years with Dalton under center, the Bengals made the playoffs only to go without a fight in the Wild Card Round. Dalton was suffering from a severe lack of weapons, but that shouldn't be the takeaway. Dalton was who he always is, a weak-armed game manager who struggles to elevate the play of those around him. Today's low point was a "scramble" where Dalton actually slid for a two-yard sack.”
That is the reality of Andy Dalton.
Contract situation: Dalton is due to receive $9.6 million for his efforts in 2014. He’s presently in the midst of a six-year, $96 million contract with the Bengals.
13 Cam Newton - QB - Carolina Panthers
Distorted perception: Cam Newton is a premier quarterback in the NFL. In three years at the Carolina Panthers’ helm, he’s improved, leading his team to a playoff birth in both 2013 and 2014. He dealt with rib and ankle injuries, as well as the after-effects of a car accident and still performed.
Reality: DYAR 36/44; DVOA 33/44; 2,841 yards passing; 18 touchdowns; 11 interceptions; 58.7% completion percentage. The ultimate reality of Newton’s situation is that he’s a slightly above average quarterback. His DYAR since entering the league: 15, 14, 17 (and 36 this season). Hardly elite-level stuff. Drew Stanton, Kirk Cousins, Brian Hoyer, Kyle Orton, Charlie Whitehurst and E.J. Manuel all had superior DYAR figures in 2014.
Contract situation: In 2015, Newton is due a base salary of $14.6 million. He’ll be entering the final season of a $22 million contract with the Panthers.
12 Colin Kaepernick - QB - San Francisco 49ers
Distorted perception: Colin Kaepernick led his team to the Super Bowl in 2012. Thus, he deserved the 2014 mega-contract the 49ers offered him.
Reality: DYAR 28/44. Kaepernick is signed to the third-highest QB contract in the league. In 2015, he played like the 28th-best QB. He was 21st in QBR (55.9) and is coming off the worst season in his professional career. Kaepernick is not a top-10 quarterback at this point in his journey, as he’s perceived to be and paid as.
Writing about Kaepernick in week 14 of last season, Dan Karpuc of TradeSport said: “With playmakers like Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin, and Vernon Davis to throw the ball to, it’s surprising Kaepernick has not been able to string together any solid back-to-back games this season (or be consistently dominant whatsoever). In fact, he’s thrown multiple touchdowns in a game just 3 times in 13 games, and has not done so in back-to-back games.”
Contract situation: Colin Kaepernick is due to earn $15.2 million in 2015. He signed a six-year, $114 million contract with the 49ers in 2014; it’s the third largest QB contract in the league.
11 Jay Cutler - QB - Chicago Bears
Distorted perception: Jay Cutler is an elite quarterback capable of doing his job well enough to lead the Chicago Bears into the playoffs. As the Bears franchise QB, it was right to sign him to a seven-year contract in 2014.
Reality: DYAR 16/44; DVOA: 21; QBR: 54 (25th); 29 TD passes; 24 turnovers. Cutler has never been more than a mid-range QB. Discussion of his rocket arm is a red herring. There are plenty of rocket arms sitting on the couch watching football on Sunday.
As Greg Rosenthal of NFL.com wrote following Cutler’s late-season benching: “Cutler leads all quarterbacks with 24 turnovers this season, and has run through four different offensive coordinators since arriving in Chicago in 2009. Rapoport reported that the Bears were having "buyer's remorse" after giving Cutler a seven-year contract in January, and that his game-management skills were in question. Cutler has struggled to change plays at the line of scrimmage, especially in the running game.”
Contract situation: Jay Cutler is due to rake in $16.5 million in 2015. As mentioned, he signed a seven-year, $126.7 million contract with the Bears in 2014. Of that amount, $54 million is guaranteed. 2015: Given this, he’s probably making $5 million more per season than his talent warrants.
10 Trent Richardson - RB - Indianapolis Colts
Distorted perception: While Trent Richardson may not live up to his third-pick-of-the-first-round expectations, he can still contribute as a starter on a NFL roster.
Reality: DYAR: 41/43; DVOA: 41/43; 159 attempts, 519 yards, 3.3 yards per carry. Richardson is comically overpaid and was shipped to Indianapolis, in theory, to serve as the team’s starting running back. Instead, he’s been a minimally contributing distraction. This season, he really did a starting back’s share of the work once. With off-the-field issues as the icing on the cake, Richardson clearly has no place in the NFL, and any reward isn’t worth the risk.
Contract situation: Trent Richardson is ridiculously slated to earn $3.1 million 2015. There’s not much chance of him earning that, however, as the Colts should be prepared to release the here-to-for overrated running back. The Colts inherited the silly deal T. Rich signed with the Browns: Four years, $20.4 million.
9 C.J. Spiller - RB - Buffalo Bills
Distorted perception: C.J. Spiller is a capable talent. At 28 next year, he’s still capable of reproducing something resembling his the 2012 campaign in which he ran for 1,244 yards and averaged an incredible 6.0 yards per carry.
Reality: While C.J. Spiller was the second worst running back in the league with 20-99 rushes, he was the seventh-highest pair. In 2012, Spiller averaged 6.0 yards per carry and was third in DYAR. In 2013, he averaged 4.6 yards per attempt and was 43rd in DYAR. In the nine games he played before injury in 2014, Spiller was averaging just 3.8 yards per carry. See a pattern?
Contract situation: Entering 2015, C.J. Spiller is entering the fifth and final year of his $25.6 million contract. Bills GM Doug Whaley is reportedly trying his "darndest" to resign Spiller.
8 Reggie Bush - RB - Detroit Lions
Distorted perception: Reggie Bush can still make it as a starter in the NFL! So say Bush supporters who likely fell in love with the young running back during his time at USC. Even though he’s only topped the 1,000-yard mark twice in nine seasons, a certain contingent feels he’s abundantly capable of doing so.
Reality: While he’s occasionally fun to watch in the open field, Reggie Bush hasn’t lived up to expectations. Further, he’s a huge waste of money and will be 30 when the 2015 NFL season begins. Bush played in just 11 games in 2014, carrying the ball 76 times for just under 300 yards. The fact that he’s signed to the 12th-biggest running back contract in the league is absurd.
Contract situation: He’s due to earn a potential $5.2 million in 2015, which is ninth highest among running backs in the NFL. Bush is in the midst of a four-year, $16 million deal with the Detroit Lions and is signed through 2016.
7 Percy Harvin - WR - New York Jets
Distorted perception: If Percy Harvin can stay healthy, he can be a number one receiver in the league. As his numbers from 2011 indicate, he can be the primary target: 14 games played; 87 catches; 967 yards.
Reality: First, Percy Harvin cannot stay healthy. He’s not so much an NFL football player as he is a Ferrari whose wheels are prone to falling off whenever it’s taken out of the garage. Second, he is not a disciplined route runner or a legitimate number one (or even number two) receiver. Rather, he’s a trick play specialist with great vision and a threat in the return game. None of this is to discuss the fact that he’s not exactly an ideal teammate either.
Contract situation: Harvin was the 13th highest-paid receiver in 2014. He’s presently signed to the fourth-largest contract in the league (six years, $64.2 million), which is silly, silly stuff. There’s no way the Jets keep him on the roster and stuff $10.5 million in his pockets in 2015.
6 Larry Fitzgerald - WR - Arizona Cardinals
Distorted perception: Larry Fitzgerald still has a few good years left in him!
Reality: DYAR: 52/87; DVOA: 54/87; 63 catches; 784 yards; 2 touchdowns. Fitzgerald and agent Eugene Parker had the Cardinals over a barrel when the superstar re-signed with the team in 2011. The former Pitt standout implored his club to open up the vault and they did. Unfortunately, Fitzgerald—who did miss two games with injury—had his worst season since 2005. The bell is tolling for Mr. Fitzgerald.
Contract situation: As mentioned above, Fitzgerald signed a seven-year, $113 million extension with the Cards in 2011. The team restructured Fitzgerald’s deal in early 2014, effectively kicking the can. Now they owe the wideout in excess of $23 million in 2015. Arizona won’t have him back at that price and neither will any other team.
5 Mike Wallace - WR - Miami Dolphins
Distorted perception: Mike Wallace is an elite wide receiver. He’s worthy of being the fifth-highest-paid wide receiver in the league. He’s an elite deep threat and has improved as a route runner.
Reality: A legitimate deep threat, Wallace hasn’t been elite since 2011. Check out Wallace’s DYAR numbers from 2011 (5), 2012 (77), 2013 (77), 2014 (21). In other words, he’s gone from being one to the top-10 receivers in the league to looking much more like a number two or three option. That would be fine if he weren’t perceived to be and paid as an elite primary target.
Contract situation: The Dolphins have Wallace signed to a contract that has him laughing all the way to the bank. He has the fifth-largest wide receiver contract in the league: A five-year, $60 million contract with a staggering $50 million guaranteed. Wallace is due to earn $12.1 million in 2015.
4 Andre Johnson - WR - Houston Texans
Distorted perception: Andre Johnson still has it.
Reality: Andre Johnson is 33 years old and he does not have it anymore. There’s no disputing that Johnson is one of the best receivers of the past decade. Last season, Johnson was 86th out of 87 in DYAR and 81st in DVOA. In other words, according to the eggheads at Football Outsiders, Johnson is one of the worst receivers of the league who caught at least 50 passes.
Contract situation: The Texans have Johnson locked up through the end of 2016 at which point he’ll be 35. He’s in the midst of a seven-year, $67 million deal with the club.
3 Dwayne Bowe - WR - Kansas City Chiefs
Distorted perception: Dwayne Bowe is a capable number one receiver in the NFL. He has merely been a victim of a run-intensive scheme in Kansas City recently. If the Chiefs had a more capable receiving core overall and made more of an effort to get the ball in Bowe’s hands, things would be different.
Reality: DYAR: 60/87. In 2014, Bowe didn’t have a single touchdown reception. No matter what a team’s scheme is, it’s ridiculous to carry a guy as a number one receiver—pay him number one receiver money—and get 60 catches and no touchdowns from said guy.
Contract situation: Dwayne Bowe is presently signed to a five-year, $56 million contract with the Kansas City Chiefs. In 2015, he’s due to receive an outrageous $11.4 million. As a contributor to Rotoworld wrote: “The cap-strapped Chiefs clearly can't afford to pay $11M for a wideout who caught zero touchdowns in 2014 and three in 2013.”
2 Wes Welker - WR - Denver Broncos
Distorted perception: 33-year-old Wes Welker is still a legitimate slot threat. He caught better than 75 percent of the passes thrown his way in 2014 in a season marred by injury and a two-game suspension.
Reality: DYAR: 43/87; DVOA: 37/87. Consider this from WalterFootball.com:
“Welker is just a slot receiver. He's a really, really good slot receiver, but a slot receiver nonetheless. Because of the monstrous stats he has posted the past five years, some football fans argue that he's on the level of Larry Fitzgerald and other wideouts of that ilk.
“There's no denying that Welker is tremendous in New England's system, but I highly doubt he would be half as effective in a normal offense with an average quarterback. Welker just doesn't have the talent to be a No. 1 wideout.”
The above was written prior to Welker’s 2013 defection to Denver. The sentiments have proved to be prophetic.
Contract situation: Welker is an unrestricted free agent entering the 2015 season. He had previously been signed to a two-year, $12 million contract with the Denver Broncos.
1 Vernon Davis - TE - San Francisco 49ers
Distorted perception: Pro Bowl tight end Vernon Davis merely had an off year, which was riddled with injury and permeated by team dysfunction. He’ll be right next season and still has a few good years left in him.
Reality: DYAR: 44/50; DVOA: 46/50. In 2014, Vernon Davis had a career low in targets, receiving yards, and touchdowns. Vernon Davis was third in DYAR (Football Outsiders’ positional ranking statistic) in 2013. In 2014, he was 44th out of 50. Simply put, Davis had the worst year of his professional career in an epic fall from grace. Perhaps he’ll rebound in the season ahead. However, it looks like the tight end’s body may have betrayed him.
Contract situation: Davis is due to earn $7 million in 2015, the least year of his five-year, $36.7 million deal with the 49ers. Davis presently has the fourth largest contract among active tight ends in the NFL.