Friday, June 26, 2009
The decade's 25 most overrated players
By Aaron Schatz
Football Outsiders analyzes the 25 most overrated players of the current decade, going back to 2000. Some of these comments will mention our advanced statistics, including DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) -- which takes every play during the season and compares it to the league average based on situation and opponent -- and DYAR (Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement) -- which uses a similar method to measure a player's total value compared to a "replacement-level" player. These and other advanced stats are explained here.
1. DeShaun Foster: Foster is the platonic ideal of a boom-and-bust running back, who breaks one or two highlight runs a game and then spends the rest of the time leaving his unfortunate quarterback in second-and-9 after second-and-9. Once a year he had a huge game against the Atlanta Falcons, and convince everybody he was a good NFL starter for another 12 months. According to Football Outsiders numbers, he was below replacement level in four out of six seasons. He only managed 4.3 yards per carry (average for running backs) in two seasons, and had no year with more than three rushing touchdowns. In 2007, Foster (3.5 yards per carry) had 100 more carries than DeAngelo Williams (5.0 yards per carry). Good luck explaining that one.
2. Michael Vick: Even before Vick's sordid off-field activities came to light, he was a disappointing No. 1 overall pick. Vick was a great runner, sure, but when he dropped back to pass, he turned into Tyler Thigpen or Derek Anderson, quarterbacks who are close to Vick's career averages of 6.7 yards per pass attempt, 1.4 touchdowns for every interception and 52.8 completion percentage. His upside at this point is "Best Wildcat Quarterback," not best NFL quarterback.
3. Chris Chambers: Chambers' Pro Bowl selection in 2005 and his ability to make highlight-reel catches gave him the reputation of a star wideout, but like a baseball player who needs a lot of outs to get his 100 RBIs, Chambers struggles to consistently catch the ball and run the short and medium routes that No. 1 wideouts have to do. In 2006, Chambers caught only 59 of the 153 passes thrown to him; that's two full games of incomplete passes. Our numbers scored him with -300 DYAR in 2006, the lowest figure for a wide receiver since at least 1994. In fact, no other wide receiver has had a year below -200 DYAR.
4. Jamal Lewis: Lewis is remarkably inconsistent for a guy who is supposed to be a big, bruising back. When he rushed for more than 2,000 yards in 2003, he gained a lot of that yardage on a few long runs. The Ravens led the league in rushing yardage that year, but were tied for ninth in rushing first downs. (As an added non-bonus, Lewis fumbled nine times that season.) Lewis has never finished in the top 10 in running back DVOA. Compare that to Marshall Faulk and Priest Holmes (five times) or LaDainian Tomlinson (three times).
5. Adam Vinatieri: Yes, he hit two Super Bowl-winning field goals, but the main reason Vinatieri has the most clutch field goals of any kicker in recent history is that nobody else comes close in clutch field goal attempts. Since 1995, he's had 30 chances to tie or win a game in the final two minutes or overtime. Jason Elam is the only other kicker with more than 22 chances, and by the way, Elam hit a higher percentage (89 percent vs. Vinatieri's 80 percent) from a longer average distance (38.7 yards vs. Vinatieri's 34.3). Vinatieri is perfect on clutch kicks in the playoffs, but so is the only other kicker with at least three playoff attempts (David Akers). Research has shown that the field goal percentages of kickers are virtually random from year to year, and Vinatieri is no different, going from 74 percent to 94 percent to 80 percent to 89 percent to 79 percent in five seasons (2003-2007). Kickoff ability is markedly consistent, though, and Vinatieri has never been impressive there.
6. Reggie Bush: While Bush was able to cover up his mistakes in identifying holes and lanes in college, the superior athleticism of NFL defenders often leads to plays of minimal gain. The former USC star has made little progress as a runner since entering the league -- he has averaged less than four yards per carry for three straight seasons -- and while he's an effective return man and receiver out of the backfield, the Saints didn't make him the second overall pick so he could become Dave Meggett.
7. Ty Law:The Jets signing Law last year was a far bigger story than a player of Law's level should merit. At this point, Law's a fourth corner on a good team. Although he had 10 interceptions for the Jets in 2005, Law allowed a mediocre 7.2 yards per attempt and was 80th among corners in stopping players from gaining first downs. Law was certainly not overrated during the first few years of the decade, but as a physical corner, he has been a liability since the league re-emphasized the "Polian Rules" regarding bumping at the line.
8. Stephen Alexander: Alexander was a receiving-first tight end who couldn't catch the ball. From 2001 to 2006, Alexander caught only 52 percent of intended passes (the average for tight ends is 64 percent), but teams kept putting him in the starting lineup.
9. Dante Hall: Remember when Dante Hall was "the X-Factor," and ESPN The Magazine had him on the cover as a possible MVP candidate? It turned out he was subject to the same inconsistencies as the rest of the kickoff returners in the league, and he's an average slot receiver at best. Then Devin Hester came along a few years later, and did everything 20 times better than Hall did.
10. DeAngelo Hall: There is a difference between an athlete and a football player, and Hall is a prime example. He looks amazing, thanks to his athletic skills (primarily speed), so you don't notice when guys catch 100 yards worth of hooks and slants on him. Washington gave him a huge contract based on half a season, apparently ignoring the miserable player he was for Oakland and the only slightly above-average player he was for Atlanta. (In his defense, our research has shown that there are only two players this decade whose success on turnover returns is more than just statistical noise: Hall and Ed Reed.)
11. Keith Brooking: A good outside linebacker whose skills don't fit well as a 4-3 middle linebacker, but year after year he was forced back into the middle by injuries to other Falcons linebackers. His biggest problems came in pass coverage, one reason why the Falcons ranked among the worst defenses against opposing tight ends for the entire decade.
12. Flozell Adams: The massive Cowboys left tackle is a good run-blocker, and has to go up against a steady stream of excellent pass-rushers in the NFC East, but his penalty totals are inexcusable. He's among the league leaders in false starts every year, finishing second to Kwame Harris in 2008. It's a problem you normally associate with younger tackles, who either shape up as they get older or get sent out to pasture, but Adams is still a referee's delight at 34 years old.
13. Simeon Rice: Playing defensive end requires you to be able to both rush the passer and stop the run. Rice was able to do the former, but he simply wasn't at the caliber of guys like Michael Strahan as a run defender. From 2001 to 2005, the Buccaneers were a great team stopping runs at left end (where Rice would be making wide pass moves as the right defensive end) but frequently below-average on runs at left tackle (the hole Rice would leave gaping to try and run around the opposing left tackle).
14. Terence Newman: Newman has been considered a franchise cornerback-in-waiting since he was selected fifth overall in the 2003 draft, but there's no evidence he has played at that level since then. Teams don't avoid him like they do Nnamdi Asomugha, nor does he pick up large totals of passes defended or intercepted to match players like Asante Samuel or Charles Woodson. He's a useful cornerback who's usually effective at keeping plays in front of him, sure, but he's paid like an elite guy, without having established a history of playing like one.
15. Ruben Brown: Certainly a good player but nine Pro Bowls? Playing for the Bills in the early part of the decade, Brown was basically making the Pro Bowl by default every year because the best guards were in the NFC.
16. Olin Kreutz: Like Brown, Kreutz is a fine player, who made the Pro Bowl six straight years because the only other consistently good center in the NFC was Matt Birk. It isn't like the Bears are known as one of the league's best pound-up-the-gut running teams.
17. Willis McGahee: He thinks of himself as a superstar back, but so far he's nowhere close. In five seasons, McGahee has never ranked higher than eighth in the NFL in rushing yardage or 14th in DYAR. He's also had very poor receiving numbers. Last year, for example, McGahee's 24 receptions included four that actually lost yardage and two others on third-and-eight plays that each came up six yards short of the sticks.
18. Nate Clements: Is he an above-average cornerback? Yes. Is he worth the roughly $7.25 million per year the 49ers agreed to pay him during the 2007 offseason, the largest contract ever given to a defensive player up to that point? Um, no.
19. Eric Moulds: Moulds was the best receiver in the league in 1998 and one of the best in 1999 and 2000. He then spent most of this decade riding that reputation. FO metrics score him as below-average for five straight years from 2001 to 2005, but Moulds kept insisting he was a No. 1 receiver, and the Buffalo coaches kept treating him like one. He finally accepted himself as an older, slower possession receiver when he went to Houston in 2006, and then he had his best season in years, catching 74 percent of passes.
20. Freddie Jones: Jones is the jedi master of the three-catch, eight-yard stat line. From 2000 to 2004, the Football Outsiders DYAR ratings rank him 38th, 17th (his one good year with the 2001 Chargers), 43rd, 36th and 36th again, respectively.
21. Damien Woody: Woody was the starting center when the Patriots won Super Bowl XXXVI. By 2003, he had moved to guard. He was going to go back to center when Detroit signed him to a big, free-agent contract, but he was mediocre and troubles snapping the ball forced him to go back to guard. Last year, he signed with the Jets and everyone acted like the Jets were signing a Pro Bowler instead of an average (and declining) veteran, who is playing out of position at right tackle.
22. Roy Williams (safety): Because conventional wisdom now says that Williams is overrated, he is no longer overrated, but you may be so used to thinking of him as overrated that you forget when he actually was overrated from 2003 to 2007, in which, despite his subpar pass coverage skills, he somehow made five straight Pro Bowls over players like Adrian Wilson and Mike Minter.
23. Jammal Brown: Every offensive lineman occasionally gets stuck and has to drag down a blitzer to save his quarterback's skin. It happens. But for a player who made it to the Pro Bowl, as Brown did last year, you expect better than seven holding penalties in 15 games. It could be a one-year aberration, Brown had eight holds over his first three seasons, but no way can you say an offensive lineman is superb at his craft when he's forced to employ his weapon of last resort once every other game.
24. Travis Henry: Henry had 4.1 yards per carry or less in five of his seven seasons (exceptions: 2002 and 2006), and his numbers would look even worse except that he had the advantage of playing a below-average schedule of run defenses in five of his seven seasons (exceptions: 2004 and 2005). He has never finished higher than 23rd among running backs in the Football Outsiders DVOA ratings.
(Honestly, we could have just forgotten the other positions and done a list of 25 boom-and-bust running backs whose impressive fantasy football totals were primarily the product of lots of carries instead of above-average performance. No other group of players comes close when it comes to being overrated.)
25. All Denver punters: Since 2000, Denver has finished 24th or lower in punting value seven of nine years. The other two years, they finished 14th and 16th, but Denver punters are never at the extreme bottom of the league rankings because of the effects of altitude. The average punter looks great when the thin air gives him extra yardage and extra hang time, which means that terrible punters look average. Can somebody tell the Denver front office?
Aaron Schatz is an analyst for Football Outsiders.
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