Senior Writer

Overrated-underrated: Polamalu can't cover; Pack's Williams can


They love the signature hair flying out from his helmet. They love the highlight hits that make the fools on some four-letter network swoon and yell "jacked up."

They love his name. They love his game.

Troy Polamalu is an NFL darling.

He's also the league's most-overrated player.

There, I said it.

He was selected as the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year in 2010 -- an award I couldn't figure out -- and then disappeared in the playoffs, even getting trucked by Ray Rice of the Ravens in the playoffs.

He was a spinning top in the Super Bowl, trying to cover Packers receivers and instead watched them rip off big gains and two touchdowns on his watch.

The Packers exposed the reason I think Polamalu is overrated. He isn't great in coverage and the NFL is now a cover game.

He's a good player. He's just not great.

I've always believed he was a gambler in the back end, and good teams and smart quarterbacks could take advantage of his aggressive style, which the Packers and Aaron Rodgers did. He gets away with it against bad quarterbacks, but good ones can use his aggressive style to their advantage (See Tom Brady).

They say Polamalu had a groin issue in the playoffs, but if you're on the field, you're healthy enough to take the heat. And haven't injuries been an issue for him the past five seasons? He has played 16 games only once in five years.

That has to mean something in the rating game, doesn't it?

He's good. I just don't think he's great. That makes him overrated. I bet even some Steelers fans would concur after the playoffs.

So who's the league's most underrated?

The honor goes to a former undrafted player cut by his first team named Tramon Williams. He was the best cover player for the Super Bowl champs last year, even though most would assume it was Charles Woodson.

Talk to scouts, personnel people and even members of the Packers coaching staff and they'll all say that it's Williams who is now the better cover player. Woodson is still a ball-hawking playmaker, but he isn't the cover corner Williams is at this point in his career.

Yet Williams didn't go to the Pro Bowl.

Williams isn't mentioned on many lists as one of the top 10 corners in the game.

Williams gets slighted more than he gets beat.

That makes him the NFL's most underrated player.

Coverage is key now. That's why Williams is underrated and why Polamalu is overrated.

Now here's an underrated and overrated player for each of the league's 32 teams.

Arizona Cardinals

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie needs to focus more on his game and less on his hair. (Getty Images)  
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie needs to focus more on his game and less on his hair. (Getty Images)  
Overrated: DB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. He has the tools to be a star. But he lacks the consistency. He needs to be more focused.

Underrated: S Kerry Rhodes. He came over from the Jets and played better than Adrian Wilson, the more-heralded Cardinals safety, did in 2010. Rhodes was a nice addition.

Atlanta Falcons

Overrated: TE Tony Gonzalez. He was ranked in the top 50 of NFL Network's top 100 players in 2011. What? He can't run anymore. And it shows.

Underrated: CB Brent Grimes. Yeah, he was a Pro Bowl fill-in, but he was better than that. Dunta Robinson got the big contract, but he was nearly as good as Grimes last season.

Baltimore Ravens

Overrated: WR Anquan Boldin. I've been putting him in this spot for a long time. Did you watch the playoffs? He can't run. They say he's a No. 1 receiver. Yeah, right.

Underrated: CB Josh Wilson. When the Ravens traded to get him from Seattle, the idea was he would be a backup. But he was their best cover player in the second half of the season. Now he's a free agent who could get some decent money.

Buffalo Bills

Overrated: WR Lee Evans. He was in this spot last year and gets it again after having only 37 catches last season. The Bills sure haven't received the bang for their buck after giving him a big contract.

Underrated: DT Kyle Williams. He doesn't have a ton of physical tools, but he's a fighter who makes the most of what he does have.

Carolina Panthers

Overrated: TE Jeremy Shockey. Is he better than what they had? Yes. But he isn't close to being as good as his reputation.

Underrated: OLB James Anderson. He doesn't get the attention that Jon Beason gets, nor is he in that class, but he's a good football player.

Chicago Bears

Overrated: WR Devin Hester. I hate to go back to a guy I picked last year, but let's be real. He had 40 catches last season and he isn't a real factor as a kickoff return man anymore. He can still excel as a punt returner, but that doesn't make him a star -- just a return man.

Underrated: S Danieal Manning. He is a former corner who has made a nice move to safety. His range really shows up on tape as he has the speed to get to a lot of footballs.

Cincinnati Bengals

Overrated: LB Keith Rivers. When you watch the Bengals play, you just expect more from a top-10 pick. Rivers is solid. But that's not why you draft a guy in the top 10. He was second on the team in tackles, but he disappears at times.

Underrated: T Andrew Whitworth. At times, he is a force. He is big, strong and can dominate in the run game. He has some issues with speed rushers, but played well in 2010.

Cleveland Browns

Overrated: WR-KR Josh Cribbs. I know he played with a foot injury last season, but his numbers were way down. Yet you would think he was a superstar the way they rave about the guy.

Underrated: NT Ahtyba Rubin. He started 16 games last season and emerged as one of the Browns' better defensive players last season. At 330 pounds and 24 years of age, he has a bright future.

Dallas Cowboys

Overrated: C Andre Gurode. He went to the Pro Bowl last season. How? He was really bad. Just ask Dallas' scouts and coaches.

Underrated: LT Doug Free. He was their best lineman last season after being the team's biggest question mark heading into the year.

Denver Broncos

As an underwear model, Tim Tebow's great. As a pro quarterback? Let's just say there's a reason Elway doubted him. (Getty Images)  
As an underwear model, Tim Tebow's great. As a pro quarterback? Let's just say there's a reason Elway doubted him. (Getty Images)  
Overrated: QB Tim Tebow. Can we please slow this slobber-fest down? Watch his rookie tape. He was a run-around quarterback who rarely got to the second read. There's a reason John Elway doubted him when he took over. Tebow is the anti-Elway playing the position.

Underrated: LB D.J. Williams. He's a tackling machine. He knows how to get to the football and can play inside or outside. He has some off-field problems, which have hurt his reputation some.

Detroit Lions

Overrated: DE Kyle Vanden Bosch. They paid a ton of money to sign him and he had four sacks. Oh, boy. He was bothered by injuries some, but the Lions need more than four sacks for the money they paid him.

Underrated: DE Cliff Avril. He has the speed teams love off the edge, and it started to show up in a big way last season, with Avril getting 8 1/2 sacks.

Green Bay Packers

Overrated: S Nick Collins. He is a good tackler, but he has trouble in coverage at times. There's no way he should have been All-Pro last season.

Underrated: Tramon Williams. (see above) Want to bet he goes to the Pro Bowl in 2012? He's a great story in perseverance, going from undrafted player, being cut by Houston, then to nickel corner and then to top starter.

Houston Texans

Overrated: ILB Brian Cushing. After an impressive rookie season, which earned him NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year honors, he missed four weeks in 2010 for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs. When he returned, he wasn't the same player he was as a rookie.

Underrated: G Wade Smith. The Texans got him last season as a free agent to compete for a job and he ended up being one of their best players. Smith is a big reason why Arian Foster led the league in rushing.

Indianapolis Colts

Overrated: RT Ryan Diem. He never gets blamed like the left tackle, but he's part of the problem in protection. He has real trouble with speed rushers.

Underrated: S Antoine Bethea. He was the glue of the secondary last season when injuries shelved all the players around him. He is a free agent, whom the Colts will bring back.

Jacksonville Jaguars

How did David Garrard get $60 million three years ago? That's baffling. (Getty Images)  
How did David Garrard get $60 million three years ago? That's baffling. (Getty Images)  
Overrated: QB David Garrard. Serviceable? Barely. Manages the game? So what? This guy got $60 million three years ago. Ouch.

Underrated: DT Terrance Knighton. For the first 12 games last season, he played as good as an inside player not named Suh. But he let his weight get too high and it showed up late. Even so, he's got star potential.

Kansas City Chiefs

Overrated: QB Matt Cassel. I know he did some good things last season, but I think the real Cassel showed up in the playoff loss to the Ravens.

Underrated: CB Brandon Carr. I really like Brandon Flowers, the other corner, but this kid came on strong late last season. The 2012 season might be his chance to break out.

Miami Dolphins

Overrated: T Vernon Carey. At times, he has been one of the team's underrated players. But he didn't play well in 2010. He needs to pick it up.

Underrated: NT Paul Soliai. He was expected to be a backup when the season started, but played well enough in camp to earn the starting job and was dominant by the end of the year. The Dolphins franchised him after the season.

Minnesota Vikings

Jared Allen came on at the end of last season, but he's still not as good as advertised. (Getty Images)  
Jared Allen came on at the end of last season, but he's still not as good as advertised. (Getty Images)  
Overrated: DE Jared Allen. He is good, just not as good as advertised. He played poorly early on last season, but played better late. Is age becoming an issue?

Underrated: OLB Chad Greenway. I know they tagged him, which shows his value, but he doesn't get the attention he deserves. He's a tackling machine.

New England Patriots

Overrated: S Brandon Meriweather. He is a problem when it comes to coverage, yet he goes to Pro Bowls. How does that happen? He even came out on some downs.

Underrated: RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis. He's a grinder who moves the chains. He might never be a big-play runner, but he knows how to get the tough yards.

New Orleans Saints

Overrated: RT Jon Stinchcomb. He's a decent player, but he gets Pro Bowl votes every year. That I don't see.

Underrated: S Malcolm Jenkins. He became a full-time starter last season and made Saints fans forget about Darren Sharper. A former corner, he has the range needed to play in this era of wide-open football.

New York Giants

Overrated: S Antrel Rolle. He's a solid player, but Pro Bowl player? Not quite. He got way too much hype last season.

Underrated: WR Hakeem Nicks. This kid is special. He had a huge season in 2010 and few noticed. They will in 2011.

New York Jets

Overrated: LB Bart Scott. His bite isn't as good as his bark anymore. And he certainly isn't worth the money he is being paid.

Underrated: G Brandon Moore. He gets lost on a line with Nick Mangold and D'Brickashaw Ferguson. But he's a good player who really doesn't get the due he deserves.

Oakland Raiders

Overrated: CB Stanford Routt. Yes, he had a nice season in 2010. But is he really worth the money the Raiders paid him in March? He has been hot and cold. He can look like a star one play and get beat on the next. With Nnamdi Asomugha gone, it's up to Routt to play like a No. 1 corner.

Underrated: DE Matt Shaughnessy. He had 7 1/2 sacks last season and few would even know what team he played on. Now in his third season, he could be poised for a double-digit sack season.

Philadelphia Eagles

Asante Samuel is a big-time gambler who makes a lot of plays but also gives up a bunch. (Getty Images)  
Asante Samuel is a big-time gambler who makes a lot of plays but also gives up a bunch. (Getty Images)  
Overrated: CB Asante Samuel. I say it every year here: Good player, not great. Big-time gambler. He makes plays, but he also gives up a bunch.

Underrated: RB LeSean McCoy. With all the attention given to Mike Vick and DeSean Jackson, McCoy didn't get the due he deserved last season. He averaged 5.2 per rush. He's special.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Overrated: Troy Polamalu. (see above) I know the stats that show the Steelers have a better record when he's on the field. But you can twist numbers any way you like. I call it like I see it.

Underrated: LB Lawrence Timmons. He should have been in the Pro Bowl last season. His speed is what makes him special. It's too bad Pittsburgh's outside linebackers get all the attention.

St. Louis Rams

Overrated: G Jacob Bell. They paid him a lot of money and he has been only OK. The guard play was a big reason the Rams didn't run it as well last season.

Underrated: DE James Hall. He led the team in sacks with 10 1/2 sacks and proved to be a valuable part of the defense. He is 34, and they drafted end Robert Quinn, so he might be more of a situational player moving forward.

San Diego Chargers

Overrated: DE Luis Castillo. He has been an OK player, but hasn't played as well the past couple of years as he did early in his career.

Underrated: NT Antonio Garay. He came out of nowhere to be a force in the middle of the Chargers defense. He held up against the run, but also did a nice job rushing the passer.

San Francisco 49ers

Overrated: WR Michael Crabtree. I keep hearing about all about his star power, but where is it? Blame the quarterbacks all you want, but I think Crabtree has been a disappointment as well. He had two 100-yard games last season. He's not a big-play guy.

Underrated: G Mike Iupati. He was a brutish force for the 49ers as a rookie last season. He could be on his way to Hawaii in 2011.

Seattle Seahawks

Overrated: WR Mike Williams. OK, so he was a nice story. But he doesn't run well enough to truly be a No. 1 receiver. You watch.

Underrated: DT Brandon Mebane. Playing in the Northwest, he doesn't get a lot of love. But he's a heck of a player who could become a free agent. He's about to get paid.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Overrated: G Davin Joseph. He has the look and talent to be a top-tier guard, but he didn't play to that level last season. He could become a free agent, and if the price gets too high, he could be gone.

Josh Freeman throws 25 touchdowns against six interceptions last season and hardly anyone notices. (Getty Images)  
Josh Freeman throws 25 touchdowns against six interceptions last season and hardly anyone notices. (Getty Images)  
Underrated: QB Josh Freeman. He throws 25 touchdown passes against six interceptions and barely anyone notices. Really?

Tennessee Titans

Overrated: CB Cortland Finnegan. This pains me to put his name here. I've been a huge proponent of Finnegan's as a player. But he didn't play that well last season. He needs to get back to his 2008 form.

Underrated: DT Jason Jones. Albert who? Jones did a great job stepping in for Albert Haynesworth. He is undersized at 280 pounds, but he is quick and he can hold up against the run.

Washington Redskins

Overrated: CB DeAngelo Hall. He talks a good game, and flashes at times, but he gives up a lot of yardage. He isn't close to being as good as he thinks he is, even if he went to the Pro Bowl last year.

Underrated: RB Ryan Torain. I've followed his career closely since he played at ASU, my alma mater. The kid always had a knack for putting his foot in the ground, making a cut, and piling up yards. He's perfect for the Washington scheme.

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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