It’s the most loaded word in the lexicon of sports, and it’s not “steroids.” It’s “overrated.” Use it and you’ll start an argument. Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders, writing for ESPN.com’s Insiders Web site, starts 25 arguments in one fell swoop, listing the most overrated NFL players of the past decade. (Link requires registration.)
DeShaun Foster holds the unenviable No. 1 spot, and I wouldn’t object: I’ve never seen him as anything more than an average tailback. But DeShaun Foster isn’t why we’re here. We’re here to identify the three former Falcons who cracked Schatz’s top 11, presented here — with Schatz’s full commentary — in descending order:
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.
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.
My take: I always though D-Hall yielded as many big plays as he made, and his excesses — the three penalties on one Carolina drive in 2007 being the most egregious example — undercut his obvious talent. I never thought Brooking was as overblown as you bloggers insisted, but neither did I believe he was nearly as good a linebacker as Jessie Tuggle, either. As for the other guy:
I’ll have to disagree. On Dec. 23, 2004, Arthur Blank — who had just bestowed that $130 million contract on Vick — said: “Michael wins the way he wins.” And that winning, at least from 2002 through 2004, wasn’t really a function of his passing numbers. He terrified defenses in a way no other quarterback ever has. And if you say, “Well, he wasn’t really a quarterback,” I’ll disagree with that, too.
I say again: Vick was miscast as administrator of the West Coast Offense, but he still managed to keep his team vibrant until the end of the Mora/Knapp reign of error. And we’ll always wonder what Vick coulda/woulda done under Bobby Petrino, who was so enthused by his new student he told a Falcon bigwig he believed the team would average — average — 30 points a game.
Some of you, I realize, might see it differently. And while you’re mounting your rebuttal …
According to Jason Cole of Yahoo! Sports, Vick might not be playing in the NFL again anytime soon. Quoting unnamed sources, Cole reports that commissioner Roger Goodell is leaning toward extending Vick’s suspension through the 2009 season. Which could mean: Hello, UFL.
And it would be a shame if Vick couldn’t play in the NFL this season if for no other reason than USA Today’s Nate Davis just went to the trouble of breaking down all 32 league options.
(Oh, in case you missed it: Three Falcons also made Aaron Schatz’s rankings of the most underrated players of the past decade. Find out which three here.)