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Overrated-underrated: Extending a Branch to a Raider and Jacobs no Giant

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Overrated.

The word isn't very nice, but let's face it: There are a lot of things overrated.

There's sushi, the first snow, New Year's Eve, Bruce Springsteen, Julia Roberts and dark beers.

Oh, and plenty of NFL football players.

Brandon Jacobs slipped under 1,000 yards last season and averaged 3.7 ypc. (US Presswire)  
Brandon Jacobs slipped under 1,000 yards last season and averaged 3.7 ypc. (US Presswire)  
By contrast, there are also a lot of underrated things. Some of them are: The first bite of pizza, a hot shower, a cold beer after a round of golf and tree-ripe peaches.

Oh, and plenty of NFL football players.

You guessed it. It's time again for my annual list of the NFL's overrated and underrated players.

I've picked one player in each category from each team. And there's a league-wide winner -- or loser, I guess, if you're the overrated player -- from each category.

The league's most underrated player is Oakland Raiders safety Tyvon Branch. Haven't seen him? Many haven't. But he's the real thing.

Branch had 124 tackles last season in his second year, his first as a starter. That was more than any other safety. He finished 10th in the league in tackles. He didn't have an interception, but he did have eight passes defensed and had eight tackles behind the line, a sack and two forced fumbles.

Branch recently turned 23, so he has a lot of good years in front of him. I like finding young safeties with Pro Bowl potential. When I first started this, Arizona's Adrian Wilson was one of my underrated guys. He has been a Pro Bowl player the past couple of seasons.

My most overrated player is New York Giants running back Brandon Jacobs. Even after 1,000-yard seasons in 2007 and 2008, I thought he was a bit overrated. People became enamored with his size since he is huge for a back at 6-feet-4 and 265 pounds.

But I think his size hurts him. He doesn't make tacklers miss. If there is no hole, he isn't cutting to find one. He runs straight ahead and upright, not my style of back.

Jacobs gained 3.7 yards per rush last season and wound up with 835 yards. He seemed to tiptoe into the line. His touchdown total dropped from 15 to six. Some of it might have been the result of a knee issue that required scoping after the season, but I think the Giants offense is significantly better when Ahmad Bradshaw, all 5-9 of him, is in the backfield.

Bradshaw gained 4.8 yards per carry last season. He is much more explosive and can make people miss.

Running over people the way Jacobs does sometimes will get you on highlight shows. But it's not the way to run.

It's the way to earn an overrated label. He's this year's overall winner.

Welcome to the club. Brangelina, Avatar and Ben Stiller welcome you.

Here's the rest of the list:

Arizona Cardinals

Overrated: G Alan Faneca. He didn't play very well in 2009 for the Jets and his reputation is a lot bigger than his ability at this point in his career. There's a reason New York didn't want him.

Underrated: DE Calais Campbell. In his first season as a starter after taking over for Antonio Smith, Campbell proved to be just as good as the high-priced free agent who left for Houston. Campbell should be even better in 2010.

Jonathan Babineaux has been outplaying linemate John Abraham in Atlanta. (Getty Images)  
Jonathan Babineaux has been outplaying linemate John Abraham in Atlanta. (Getty Images)  
Atlanta Falcons

Overrated: DE John Abraham. He was in this spot last year, and he lived up to it with a disappointing season. He isn't a premier pass rusher anymore.

Underrated: DT Jonathan Babineaux. He was one of their best defensive players in 2009. When first-round pick Peria Jerry went down early in the season, Babineaux played even better.

Baltimore Ravens

Overrated: WR Anquan Boldin. He's a good player, but not a great one. The Ravens will find out he isn't a No. 1 receiver. He can't beat corners deep.

Underrated: G Marshal Yanda. On one of the best lines in the NFL, he had the best season in 2009. He is a mauler who keys the run game. It might be Pro Bowl time for him in 2010.

Buffalo Bills

Overrated: WR Lee Evans. Yes, he plays with bad quarterbacks. But they paid him a ton of money and he doesn't produce like a No. 1 receiver. He's more like a No. 2 with speed. He's good, just not as good as expected.

Underrated: S George Wilson. He had four picks, two sacks and was a good tackler. This former receiver plays with great ball instincts. He will battle former first-round pick Donte Whitner for the starting job.

Carolina Panthers

Overrated: OT Jordan Gross. This is nitpicking because it's tough to find an overrated player on the roster. But Gross is a good tackle, not a great one. Some consider him great. He is coming off a broken ankle.

Underrated: C Ryan Kalil. He should have been in the Pro Bowl last season. After missing out last season, he should be there a lot in the coming years.

Chicago Bears

Overrated: WR Devin Hester. It would be easy to say Jay Cutler, but I don't buy it. So I went with Hester. He was a great return man, but hasn't given them any touchdowns in that area in two seasons. As a receiver, he has been merely OK.

Underrated: CB Zack Bowman. He took over as a starter when Nathan Vasher went down early and led the team with six interceptions. He is a big corner at 6-1 and has a knack for finding the football.

Former guard Andrew Whitworth is a vital cog at left tackle for the Bengals. (Getty Images)  
Former guard Andrew Whitworth is a vital cog at left tackle for the Bengals. (Getty Images)  
Cincinnati Bengals

Overrated: RB Cedric Benson. I know he had a nice season in 2009, but I just don't think he has the real pop backs need. Bernard Scott might take some carries from him this season.

Underrated: LT Andrew Whitworth. He has made a smooth transition from guard to left tackle. He is a brawler who has improved in pass protection. He played well against some top pass rushers last season.

Cleveland Browns

Overrated: TE Benjamin Watson. They signed him away from New England, where he was a major underachiever. Is he better than Kellen Winslow, the tight end they traded away last season? No chance.

Underrated: NT Ahtyba Rubin. When Shaun Rogers was hurt, he played well, especially against the run. His play could mean Rogers moves outside to defensive end sometimes in the 3-4 scheme.

Dallas Cowboys

Overrated: C Andre Gurode. He went to the Pro Bowl last season, but didn't play to that level. He struggled at times, in fact.

Underrated: G Kyle Kosier. He was the Cowboys' best lineman in 2009, outshining Leonard Davis, the team's other guard who went to the Pro Bowl.

Denver Broncos

Overrated: S Brian Dawkins. He's a good player, but he's not nearly as good as his reputation. No way should he have been in the Pro Bowl.

Underrated: CB Andre Goodman. Playing opposite Champ Bailey can be tough because you see a lot of action, but Goodman handled it well. He isn't a premier corner, but he's a nice complement to Bailey.

Detroit Lions

Overrated: DE Kyle Vanden Bosch. Yes, he plays hard. But he wasn't productive the past two seasons in Tennessee. Detroit paid a lot to sign him as a free agent, which is a risk.

Underrated: MLB DeAndre Levy. He was a pleasant surprise as a rookie last season, starting at two different positions. He is expected to take over for Larry Foote in the middle of the Lions' defense.

Green Bay's Greg Jennings hasn't been playing up to his elite-receiver pay grade. (Getty Images)  
Green Bay's Greg Jennings hasn't been playing up to his elite-receiver pay grade. (Getty Images)  
Green Bay Packers

Overrated: WR Greg Jennings. He signed a huge deal that made him one of the highest-paid receivers last spring, but he didn't live up to the hype. His numbers went down. He's good, but he's not in the elite of the league.

Underrated: G Josh Sitton. The Packers' offensive line had issues at times last season, but they found a keeper in this player. He is a tough guy who fits their offense perfectly.

Houston Texans

Overrated: T Duane Brown. This second-year player, who was a first-round pick, didn't live up to expectations last season. He has work to do to be a top-tier tackle.

Underrated: LB Zac Diles. Playing with DeMeco Ryans and Brian Cushing, he doesn't get the attention he deserves. But he's a good player.

Indianapolis Colts

Overrated: C Jeff Saturday. He is good at making the line calls, but he has trouble with big people inside. He isn't an elite center anymore.

Underrated: LB Clint Session. He's chubby and short, but he makes a ton of plays. He's perfect in the Colts' run-and-chase scheme.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Overrated: CB Rashean Mathis. The thinking inside the Jaguars building is he's a good player who gambles too much. He gets beat way too much to be an elite corner. It's probably why he's not going to get the new deal he wants.

Underrated: LB Daryl Smith. The coaching staff loves him. He always seems to be around the football. He isn't flashy, which might hurt his visibility.

Kansas City Chiefs

Overrated: QB Matt Cassel. I know he didn't have much help from his teammates last season, but I see an average passer who struggles to get the ball down field.

Underrated: CB Brandon Flowers. The Chiefs had a lot of issues on defense last season, but Flowers wasn't one of them. He's a good cover corner who is also a willing tackler.

Miami Dolphins

Overrated: C Jake Grove. Miami paid him a lot of money, but he wasn't their best center last season. Joe Berger was when he took over when Grove went down. They will have a camp battle this summer.

Underrated: DE Randy Starks. He was their best defensive player last season and one of the best 3-4 ends in the league. Somehow he didn't make the Pro Bowl. He should have.

Minnesota Vikings

Overrated: T Bryant McKinnie. He was named to the Pro Bowl but didn't play because he was such an ass during the week leading up to the game. He isn't nearly as good as his reputation.

Underrated: LB Ben Leber. Playing in a group that includes E.J. Henderson and Chad Greenway, Leber doesn't get a lot of acclaim. He just goes about his business and gets the job done with little attention.

Veteran Leigh Bodden earned another year in New England with his play last season. (Getty Images)  
Veteran Leigh Bodden earned another year in New England with his play last season. (Getty Images)  
New England Patriots

Overrated: LT Matt Light. He isn't nearly as good as he was a few years ago, and he was a little overrated then.

Underrated: CB Leigh Bodden. They signed him to a one-year deal last season and he responded with five picks and a good season. They re-signed him to another one-year deal.

New Orleans Saints

Overrated: RT Jonathan Stinchcomb. He went to the Pro Bowl last season, but he isn't that good. He's a solid player, but not a Pro Bowl talent.

Underrated: G Carl Nicks. He plays opposite Pro Bowl guard Jahri Evans, who was on this list last years. Nicks is a mauler in the run game who has improved in pass protection.

New York Giants

Overrated: Jacobs. He talks a big game, but he was a disappointment.

Underrated: CB Terrell Thomas. The Giants had injuries at the position and Thomas stepped in and played really well. He should keep his job this season, even with Corey Webster and Aaron Ross healthy again.

New York Jets

Overrated: QB Mark Sanchez. I really think he will be a good player. But let's hold off on putting him as a top-tier quarterback. He wasn't even the best rookie passer during the 2009 regular season.

Underrated: LB David Harris. I loved him coming out of Michigan and he has lived up to the billing. How he hasn't been to the Pro Bowl is a mystery.

Oakland Raiders

Overrated: RB Darren McFadden. We keep hearing about how he's the next great back. So where is it?

Underrated: Branch. It's too bad he plays for the Raiders. More people should know him.

Philadelphia Eagles

Overrated: CB Asante Samuel. He is a gambler who can make a big play, but give up some as well. And he doesn't tackle at all.

Underrated: WR Jason Avant. He is a steady No. 3 receiver who knows how to make plays on third down. He has great hands, rarely dropping a pass.

Even when healthy, Troy Polamalu didn't produce results in 2009. (Getty Images)  
Even when healthy, Troy Polamalu didn't produce results in 2009. (Getty Images)  
Pittsburgh Steelers

Overrated: S Troy Polamalu. Yes, he has been hurt. But that helps bring down his rating. Even when he has been on the field, he hasn't been as good as his reputation.

Underrated: RT Willie Colon. He had his best season in 2009. Some actually think he could have been a Pro Bowl player -- if right tackles were picked.

St. Louis Rams

Overrated: T Jason Smith. Yes, he was a rookie. But we've seen rookie tackles come in and dominate in their first season. He also had concussion issues. He might be better now that he has moved to his more natural left tackle spot after playing on the right side.

Underrated: DT Clifton Ryan. He is the key player in the middle of their defense against the run. He had nine tackles for loss.

San Diego Chargers

Overrated: OLB Shawne Merriman. This one is easy. He hasn't come close to his expected level of play in recent years. The Chargers couldn't even trade him. Injuries have hurt.

Underrated: CB Quentin Jammer. While Antonio Cromartie got all the attention, Jammer was the best corner on the roster. He consistently grades out well.

San Francisco 49ers

Overrated: CB Nate Clements. He signed a huge free-agent contract a few years ago and hasn't come close to living up to it.

Underrated: NT Aubrayo Franklin. He is starting to get noticed now, so this will be his last chance on this list. He is a force in the middle of their defense.

Seattle Seahawks

Overrated: CB Marcus Trufant. He battled through injuries last season, but his play isn't close to the level expected. He isn't a top-tier corner right now.

Underrated: DT Brandon Mebane. He was the choice last year and he stays here. He is a disruptive player.

Three-year vet Aqib Talib is the new No. 1 cornerback for the Buccaneers. (Getty Images)  
Three-year vet Aqib Talib is the new No. 1 cornerback for the Buccaneers. (Getty Images)  
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Overrated: CB Ronde Barber. His name still holds clout, but he isn't an elite player anymore -- if he ever was.

Underrated: CB Aqib Talib. Forget the off-field issues of the past. He's a good cover player. Matt Ryan raved about him when I spent time with him watching tape.

Tennessee Titans

Overrated: S Michael Griffin. He went to the Pro Bowl in 2008, but wasn't close to being that good last season.

Underrated: DT Tony Brown. They let Albert Haynesworth go, and Brown played well without him. He is a smaller tackle, but he plays hard.

Washington Redskins

Overrated: S LaRon Landry. He really struggled last season as a tackler. He missed a ton of them. He also isn't great in coverage. They missed on this high first-round pick.

Underrated: S Reed Doughty. He played really well last season, and the new coaching staff is said to be high on him. He played better than Landry, that's for sure.


Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. He hosted his own radio show for seven years, and is the self-anointed star of CBS Sports' show, Eye on Football. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an Arizona State national title in football.
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