Cincinnati Bengals fighting for playoff success
2:14 | NFL
Cincinnati Bengals fighting for playoff success
Wednesday August 12th, 2015

To classify a sports figure as overrated is an interesting exercise. A player can be overvalued by his own team when either the front office and coaching staff don't seem to understand the player's limitations or can't accept a bad decision. He could also be overrated by the media, a fate that befalls many linebackers with loads of easy tackles and quarterbacks with an outsized number of wins to their name.

No matter the origin of the hype, there is always enough material to fill an entire starting lineup with players whose actual current value pales in comparison to the way they're regarded. Here's our All-Overrated Team for the 2015 season:

Quarterback: Andy Dalton, Bengals

Every year, the Bengals find themselves in the same position regarding their quarterback: The word around Bengals camp is that Andy Dalton is asserting himself more, and grasping more of the offense. In each of the last two years, offensive coordinator Hue Jackson has said that he's about to unleash more of his game plan, because Dalton is ready to ascend.

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“I'm not concerned with Andy as much as everybody else is,” Jackson told the team's official site in July. “I understand that we haven't won a playoff game and that falls at his feet, and mine, too, and the rest of the offensive staff and players, as well. But he's done everything—and I mean this—he's invested everything that he can into preparing himself to be the best he can be for this season. And I'm totally behind him 100%, and I think he's going to have a great year—not a good year, a great year.”

The Bengals have already invested pretty heavily in Dalton, to the tune of a seven-year, $97.09 million contract extension with $17 million guaranteed in 2014. The deal is basically year-to-year, which says as much about the franchise's real hesitation regarding a quarterback who still struggles under pressure, is still average on third down, and still has major issues in the playoffs.

“Overrated” is a relative term, and perhaps the Bengals have over-managed their expectations of Dalton, but in the end, the result is the same: average play and the same old talk about Dalton ascending to the next level.

Perhaps one day, that will come true.

Running back: Jonathan Stewart, Panthers

Stewart is more overpaid than overrated. He signed a six-year, $37.811 million deal in 2012 and has been dogged by injuries ever since. He's rushed for over 1,000 yards exactly once in his career (1,133 yards in 2009), and his 809-yard total in 2014 marked the best season he's had since then. The Panthers want him to be their workhorse, but it hasn't worked out that way. There's no question that Stewart has the power, speed and agility to be a franchise back, but health is a skill, as well. Stewart has an $8.3 million cap charge this season, and the Panthers can't cut bait until 2017 without running into major dead money problems. If Stewart is going to live up to his contract, now would be a very good time.

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Browns' Terrelle Pryor attempting the near-impossible: Switching positions

Receivers: Mike Wallace, VikingsDwayne Bowe, Cleveland Browns

Wallace may be the easiest type of receiver to overvalue: the speed merchant who tantalizes with his ability to beat deep coverage and dominate on long passes. Wallace caught 10 touchdown passes for the Dolphins last year as part of his best season since 2009. The Vikings were interested enough in what Wallace might be able to do for their receiver corps to trade for him and his bulky salary in March. Wallace signed a five-year, $60 million deal with $30 million guaranteed in 2013, and he's got a $9.9 million cap hit this season. It's a bit of a prove-it season for Wallace, as the Vikings can release him with no cap penalty at all in either 2016 or 2017. Wallace himself has admitted that his inconsistency on the field and difficulties with teammates and coaches in previous seasons fall on him.

“[I'm trying] my best to be a leader this year and do a much better job in that department than I have been before,” he said in July. “[I've got] to be a better person and a better player and lead more.”

As for Bowe, he was part of a Chiefs receiver corps that set a post-merger record by failing to catch a single touchdown pass in an entire season, and he's now part of a Browns team that doesn't appear to have a league-average quarterback on its roster. In his last two seasons, Bowe has caught 117 passes—but five touchdowns in 2013, and none last season.

Tight end: Eric Ebron, Lions

The Lions took Ebron with the 10th pick in the 2014 draft out of North Carolina because they believed he had the kind of talent that could take their high-volume passing game over the top. Safe to say, it didn't happen. Ebron, who caught 62 passes for 973 yards and three touchdowns for the Tar Heels in 2013, bottomed out in his rookie season. He suffered through various injuries and developed a pretty severe case of the drops, finishing 2014 with just 25 catches for 248 yards and one touchdown. A fairly major disappointment, given the draft capital involved.

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“I came out of college with a bunch of nicks and bruises and it stuck with me throughout the season,” Ebron recently said. “I could never get healthy. My rookie year to me was not a disappointment. To everyone else it might have been, but to me it was a learning experience. I’ve learned what I learned and now I'm here for what they say your sophomore year or second season to be 20 times better than I was my rookie season.”

The Lions need that to happen.

Offensive line: Tackles—Jermon Bushrod, BearsD'Brickashaw Ferguson, Jets. Guards—Jahri Evans, SaintsMike Iupati, Cardinals. Center—Max Unger, Saints

Bushrod was once a great small-school story for the Saints, drafted out of Towson to protect Drew Brees's blind side. The Bears gave him a five-year, $35.965 million contract with $22.465 million guaranteed in 2013, and the results have been mixed ever since. In '14, Bushrod ranked 10th-lowest among starting tackles with 45 total pressures allowed, including five sacks. He's set to cost the Bears more than $8 million in cap space this season. Ferguson was a legit All-Pro earlier in his career, but the 31-year-old veteran, who hasn't missed a start in his NFL career, was clearly on the downslope in 2014. He allowed 37 total pressures in a low-volume passing game.

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Evans's decline has been even more alarming. It wasn't long ago that he could be considered among the best at his position in the league, but last year the Saints' passing game suffered from a relative lack of protection, and Evans was one of the primary culprits, allowing 47 total pressures to lead the league's guards. The Saints alleviated Evans's cap hit by extending him through '17, but this is a prove-it year. Iupati signed a five-year, $40 million contract with the Cardinals this off-season, and he's worth it as a powerful run-blocker. But his pass protection has always been an issue, and he allowed an NFL-high seven sacks last year, tied with the Dolphins' Darryn Colledge.

The Seahawks sent Unger to the Saints in the Jimmy Graham deal, and New Orleans expects him to be a big part of its offensive line. That's fine if Unger is healthy, but staying on the field has been a problem for the veteran of late. Seattle found him expendable in spite of his talent because he's missed 13 games total in the last two seasons, and he may have been a salary-cap casualty anyway, with $4.5 million cap charges coming in each of the next two seasons.

Defensive line: Ends—Tyson Jackson, FalconsMichael Johnson, Bengals. Tackles—Domata Peko, Bengals, Sammie Lee Hill, Titans

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We'll classify Jackson as an end here, as new head coach Dan Quinn will likely use the six-year veteran as an enormous run-stopping strong-side end. Wherever he lines up, Jackson has been a relative disappointment since the Chiefs took him with the third overall pick in 2009. He did see a slight uptick in production in Bob Sutton's Chiefs defense in 2013, leading the Falcons to give him a five-year, $25 million deal in March 2014. He was moved inside to tackle last year and amassed one sack, two quarterback hits and 10 stops in 525 snaps. Johnson was released from Tampa Bay after just one season, and he's back with a Bengals defensive line that put up the NFL's fewest sacks in 2014. He's been more of a pressure player over the last two years than a true sack artist. His 11.5-sack season in 2012 was an outlier, and one wonders what he's got left in the tank at age 28. The MCL sprain that will keep him out of the preseason doesn't help.

Peko was one of the NFL's most underrated defensive tackles for a long time, but the tide has sadly turned for the veteran. He had just one sack in 2014, and his run defense has been declining pretty steadily over the last few seasons. Perhaps the addition of a healthier Geno Atkins to that line can take some of the pressure away. The Titans signed Hill to a three-year, $11.4 million contract in 2013, hoping that he could be more than the rotational player he was in Detroit. It hasn't happened, and Hill remains a bit of a one-trick pony as a gap-shooting tackle who tends to be weaker against the run.

Linebackers: Outside linebackers Ahmad Brooks, 49ersBjoern Werner, Colts. Inside linebacker James Laurinaitis, Rams

The 49ers need Brooks on the field for veteran leadership, if nothing else, given the enormous number of departures on the defensive side of the ball. But it's worth wondering how much he'll bring to the team as a player at this point. He posted six sacks last season, but he was a liability against the run, and with so much talent drained from the defensive line, he may be asked to do more than he can manage. Werner has been a mystery since the Colts took him with the first pick in the 2013 draft. At Florida State, Werner was always a better run defender than anything else. He struggled with quickness off the ball, and he wasn't really a coverage guy in zone blitzes. The Colts seem to expect him to become a true sack artist, and when they dropped him into zone blitzes last season, it didn't look good. They have since moved him from pure rush end to strong-side run-stopping linebacker, which is a more appropriate place for his skill set.

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Laurinaitis is a strange case. He was one of the league's best linebackers for a time, and you'd think the Rams' amazing front four would allow him more opportunities to flow to the ball and make plays. He has never missed a game, but injuries have sapped his formerly top-tier athleticism.

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Cornerbacks: Brandon Carr, CowboysByron Maxwell, Eagles

These are two more cases of being more overpaid than overrated. It's fair to say that most of the league has grasped the fact that Carr has become a liability in coverage. Dallas signed him to a five-year, $50.1 million deal in 2012, which seemed like smart money at the time, but in the third year of that deal, Carr bottomed out with his worst season yet . He allowed a 116.6 opponent passer rating and yielded six touchdown passes with no interceptions. That's a lot of holes in the coverage of a guy who had a cap hit of over $12 million in 2014, and has the same in 2015.

The Eagles signed Maxwell to a six-year, $63 million contract in March after Maxwell showed up very well in Seattle's secondary. However, that's top cornerback money, and though Maxwell presses pretty well and can track deep receivers in bail coverage, he has not shown that he can stay in the hip pockets of the league's best receivers. Philly may have overpaid to alleviate its mammoth coverage issues in 2014. Note to Chip Kelly: Earl Thomas is not walking through that door.

Safeties: Dashon Goldson, RedskinsMark Barron, Rams

The Redskins traded for Goldson in April, trying to upgrade their secondary by taking on some of the salary weight Goldson brings as part of the five-year, $41.25 million deal he signed with the Buccaneers in 2013. The Bucs were eager enough to cut bait that they prepaid $4 million of Goldson's $7.5 million base salary. He was Pro Football Focus's second worst-ranked starting safety last season and recently noted that he eased off his aggressive style of play in 2014 after he was peppered with unnecessary roughness penalties. Barron is another former Buccaneer, selected with the seventh overall pick in the 2012 draft. He had a couple decent seasons on a dysfunctional defense, and is now essentially a sub-package linebacker. The Rams, who traded for him last October, declined to pick up his fifth-year option.

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