GREEN BAY, Wis. – One of the great and simple chants in sports is “Overrated!”
Our NFC North insiders – Bill Huber of Packer Central, Will Ragatz of Inside the Vikings, Gene Chamberlain of Bear Digest and John Maakaron of All Lions – get you ready for the 2022 NFL season with a 12-piece roundtable discussion. In Part 3 of this series, we focus on each team’s most overrated player.
As you will see below, four really good players were chosen for this segment. Don’t lose your mind at the selections. A player can be really good and can be a major reason for his team’s success and still be a bit overrated.
Green Bay Packers: RB Aaron Jones
It’s not that Jones isn’t a good player. Heck, he’s a very good player and will be a big factor most weeks as a runner and receiver. But, notably, the 2020 Pro Bowler wasn’t quite as good last season. Running backs have a limited shelf life and perhaps the 27-year-old is getting close to the end of his prime time.
At this time last year, Jones ranked sixth in NFL history with a career mark of 5.17 yards per carry (minimum 600 carries). In three of his first four seasons, he averaged at least 5.47. Last year, however, his average slipped to 4.67.
After back-to-back seasons of 1,084 rushing yards in 2019 and 1,104 rushing yards in 2020, Jones slipped to 799 rushing yards last season. Compared to 2020, his yards after contact dropped from 3.54 per rush to 3.18, according to Pro Football Focus. Notably, for an explosive, shifty runner, his 10-yard runs plunged from an average of 24.3 the previous three seasons to only 16 last year. According to Sports Info Solutions, Jones forced a missed or broken tackle on 8.2 percent of his carries; the previous four seasons, that mark was 14.9 percent.
With a revamped receiver corps, Packers coach Matt LaFleur might have to rely more on the running game. Fortunately for him, he’s got Jones and AJ Dillon providing an excellent one-two punch. But the ascending Dillon could emerge as the lead back and Jones, whose cap number explodes to $20 million in 2023, could be entering his final season with the team.
Chicago Bears: S Eddie Jackson
The Eddie Jackson who has played the last two seasons is much different than the one who was selected for Pro Bowls in 2018 and 2019 or made 10 interceptions and scored five touchdowns in 2017 through 2019.
After signing his four-year, $58.4 million deal, Jackson's statistics fell off sharply. It occurred at the same time the rest of the Bears’ secondary declined, so laying it all on Jackson is unfair, but the numbers reflect his part in it. Sportradar credits Jackson with eight TD passes allowed the last two seasons and passer ratings against of 110.1 and 143.6 when targeted. This after he had ratings against of 40.5 and 57.6 in 2018 and 2019. Jackson hasn't made an interception in 30 games, although he had a few overturned by defensive penalties.
Jackson has really not been the same since the Bears lost safety Adrian Amos to Green Bay in free agency, and there is hope rookie Jaquan Brisker can be more of a force closer to the line of scrimmage as Amos had been. It could free Jackson up to do what he had done best, and that was go for the football. Also, the new defensive scheme is one favoring players who read the quarterback and go after the ball, and that has always been a strength of Jackson's. Or, at least it was. It seems he must prove himself all over again after struggling for two years.
Minnesota Vikings: QB Kirk Cousins
Cousins is one of the most polarizing players in recent memory. Some people have a proper idea of who he is as a quarterback, and some probably even underrate him a bit. Still, it seems like the majority of people — including the Vikings' own front office and coaching staff — overrate his abilities.
With a career record of 59-59-2 as a starter, Cousins has made it abundantly clear that he is a .500 quarterback. No, wins aren't exclusively a QB stat but, at some point, your record is who you are. Cousins is paid like a top-five quarterback and viewed by many Vikings fans as a top-10 player at the position, despite the reality that he's somewhere in the 13-to-16 range.
Cousins' impressive accuracy is overshadowed by his conservative decision-making, inconsistent pocket presence, and struggles to create outside of structure. Adding to that, his refusal to get vaccinated against COVID-19 caused him to miss a must-win game for the Vikings' playoff hopes last year. After one postseason berth in four seasons, it's apparent the Vikings made the wrong call when they signed Cousins to a huge deal in 2018.
And yet, the team's new brass decided to double down this offseason with another extension. Maybe Cousins escapes this label in 2022 under new coach Kevin O'Connell, but it's difficult to feel confident in that happening.
Detroit Lions: DE Charles Harris
Prior to landing with the Lions in 2021, Harris spent time with both the Miami Dolphins and Atlanta Falcons.
A 2017 first-round NFL draft pick, Harris benefitted greatly from playing in defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn's scheme, which took advantage of his strengths as a pass-rusher.
In 2021, Harris recorded career highs in tackles (65), quarterback hits (16), tackles for losses (10) and pressures (34). Unfortunately, his performance was sporadic, as he went six consecutive weeks without a sack after having a four-game sack streak from Week 2 through Week 5. Of 67 edge defenders with at least 300 pass-rushing snaps, Harris ranked 26th in PFF’s pass-rushing productivity, which measures sacks, hits and hurries per pass-rushing snap.
Among the question marks heading into the 2022 season is whether Harris' performance was simply an anomaly or a sign of things to come for the foreseeable future.
Even Harris acknowledged to reporters he left a lot of plays out on the field, something he is looking to correct this season.
“Mentality-wise, I've been able to go back and watch a lot of film from last year and see the plays that could have been made, but didn't get made,” Harris said. “I think that's kind of where I am this year. If I added every play I could have made, numbers would be crazy.”
Detroit now has added additional defensive linemen via this year's draft, which should bode well for a competitive training camp.
More NFC North Insiders
This 12-part preview will take you up until just before the start of training camp.
Part 1: Team MVPs for each team on both sides of the ball. For the Packers, one of those is obvious: Four-time NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers.
Part 2: The biggest addition and loss for each team. For the Packers, the addition is actually plural, with Sammy Watkins and three draft picks at receiver.
Coming Sunday: Every team’s most underrated player.