It's always more fun to put together lists of underrated players (like we did for offense and defense) than it is to decide who in the NFL is getting more money, recognition or playing time than they deserve. It's also not always as cut-and-dried as you might think. It's easy to look at a stat line -- even a line of advanced stats -- and come away with a story that isn't altogether accurate. Some players are dealing with injuries, while others are at odds with their head and position coaches over seemingly incompatible schemes.
That said, there are times when a player is in the right scheme, and is coached well, and is paid well ... and just isn't delivering the goods. Here, sadly, are a few of those players at each offensive position -- the All-Underrated defensive team can be found here.
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Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals/Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs
Our overrated quarterback battery features one player who's received the big-time contract he wanted and another who's been waiting a long, long time for that same thing. Dalton was signed to a six-year extension on Aug. 4 that's actually more a series of one-year leases, but such is the status of the modern NFL contract. And while he put up a 30-18 record (sheesh) through his first three seasons and set a franchise record for touchdown passes in a season in 2013 (that actually carries some weight), there are concerns he must address before anyone is going to seriously consider him among the league's elite at his position. Dalton struggles under pressure, struggles with long passes consistently and isn't above league average in key situations -- especially in third-and-long situations and when facing teams in his own division.
Smith has been angling for a multi-year extension for months now; he's got one more year on his current deal, and he'll make a $7.5 million base salary. While he's learned to keep his interceptions down and generally resembles a better-than-decent starter, Smith has many of the same issues as Dalton. He's not a consistent deep passer, and he doesn't generally do very well when under pressure.
The best quarterbacks are consistent when they're forced to be great. To date, Dalton and Smith have proven to be players who need specifically structured offenses before they can really take off -- and they don't tend to fly at the highest altitudes. Nothing wrong with that per se, but neither guy can be considered among the best in the game.
Audibles Podcast: Year-to-year contracts
In this clip from the SI.com Audibles Podcast, Ben Eagle, Doug Farrar and Chris Burke discuss the new contract signed by Andy Dalton and if similar deals are becoming the norm.
Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens
Generally speaking, running backs fall from favor so quickly these days, it's hard to call one truly overrated. We might include Chris Johnson here, but the Jets are probably the only ones taking his proclamation that he'll return to the days of CJ2K seriously. Rice, however ... well, his 2013 season was a disaster, and we're talking about on the field exclusively. Yes, the Ravens' offensive line plummeted in overall effectiveness last season, but Rice's limitations also showed up. He's not consistently stout between the tackles, his pass-blocking has always left quite a bit to be desired, and last year, he had real trouble breaking loose from tackles and making explosive plays. Rice had just three runs of 15 yards or more on his 214 attempts and caused just nine missed run tackles -- in comparison, Marshawn Lynch led the NFL with 75. It's certainly more important for Rice to get his off-field affairs in order, but the actual football stuff doesn't look too great, either. Here's hoping that new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak can turn things around for Rice, and for Baltimore's run game in general.
Pierre Garcon, Washington Redskins/Mike Wallace, Miami Dolphins/Dwayne Bowe, Kansas City Chiefs
This is not to demean Garcon's excellent 2013 season -- he led the NFL in targets with 181, and given the attrition among Washington's skill positions, there were indeed games where it seemed as if Garcon was RGIII's only option. But Garcon also ranked 45th in Football Outsiders' opponent-adjusted efficiency rankings for receivers -- about league average -- and there was a reason the Redskins went hard after DeSean Jackson. Garcon is a very good player, but he doesn't present much of a deep threat (he caught just four of the passes thrown over 20 yards his way) and he scored just five touchdowns in 113 receptions. In truth, what Garcon did was to finally validate the five-year, $42.5 million contract the team signed him to in 2012.
As for Wallace -- well, his first season in Miami was certainly a bummer. The former front office brought him in at a high cost (five years, $60 million, $30 million guaranteed) and watched as he posted the lowest yards per catch average (12.7) of his career. It didn't help that Ryan Tannehill was too busy getting his brains beaten in behind a terrible offensive line to make those deep throws.
Bowe hasn't been the same player since his 81-catch season in 2011. He's better suited to a team that doesn't require precise routes and has a deep passer at quarterback. Sadly for Bowe, that isn't Smith.
Brandon Pettigrew, Detroit Lions
Pettigrew has been one of the least efficient players at his position over the last few years, consistently ranking at or near the bottom of FO's positional metrics. The Lions got a surprise season out of Joseph Fauria in 2013 and selected North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron in the first round of the draft, leaving Pettigrew in more of a blocking role. He'd better block well to meet the four-year, $18 million contract the Lions gave him in March of this year.
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Michael Oher, Tennessee Titans/Jermon Bushrod, Chicago Bears
Last season, Oher tied for the league lead in blown blocks among all offensive linemen (41.5) with Cleveland's Mitchell Schwartz and Atlanta's Lamar Holmes, and his 56 total pressures allowed was the seventh-worst figure in the NFL. We're not sure why the Titans signed the former Ravens tackle to a four-year, $20 million contract with $9.5 million guaranteed, and we're really unsure why they then selected Michigan's Taylor Lewan in the first round, ostensibly to compete with Oher, unless it was to give Oher some tips on avoiding sacks.
That Bushrod was a mammoth upgrade over former Chicago left tackle J'Marcus Webb is indisputable, though Webb never stood much of a chance given the coaching he had (Hi, Mike Tice). Bushrod did protect Drew Brees' blind side long enough to get some national props. However, outside of Peyton Manning, no quarterback makes it easier on his left tackle than Brees, and even then, Bushrod was giving up more sacks than would be acceptable.
Chance Warmack, Tennessee Titans/Alex Boone, San Francisco 49ers
Warmack was thought to be the most pro-ready draft prospect at his position because of his time at Alabama, but he got a bit heavy as a rookie, and his seven sacks allowed tied him for third-worst in the league.
Boone plans to hold out until he gets a new contract -- he's set to make $2 million in base salary in 2014 -- but the 49ers may not budge, and several teams are reportedly interested in trading for the right guard. Boone gave up just two sacks last year, but his total pressures allowed (hits and hurries included) rose up from 22 in 2012 (when he was a pointman on the NFL's best offensive line) to 32 last season (when San Francisco's line regressed in several areas).
Manuel Ramirez, Denver Broncos
Most people remember Ramirez for the blown snap that started Super Bowl XLVIII, but it wasn't an outstanding season overall for the AFC champions' man in the middle. Per Football Outsiders' metrics, Ramirez blew 10 blocks in the passing game, more or less middle of the pack, but he was aided by Manning's aforementioned ability to help his line. Ramirez's 10 blown blocks in the run game, however, led the league for centers, and that's on him.
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