Monday, June 4, 2007

Joey Porter: NFL's Most Overrated Player?

Pete Prisco, at CBS SportsLine, recently wrote an article discussing the league's most overrated and underrated players. His conclusion: new Dolphins acquisition Joey Porter is the most overrated player in the NFL. His reasoning is as follows:
  • The five-year, $32 million contract with $20 million in guaranteed money that he received from Miami is far too much for a 30-year old linebacker.
  • Porter has become a big-name player more for his notorious demeanor than for his play on the field.
  • Porter's seven sacks last year are misleading since six of them came in three games. In the eleven other games that he played in, he only recorded one sack.
So, is Prisco right in calling Porter the most overrated player in the NFL? Well, I certainly agree that he is overrated to some extent, but I wouldn't go as far as calling him the most overrated.

What is it that makes a player overrated? In most cases, it is a personality or image that exceeds the player's abilities on the field. The "overrated" label is tailor-made for guys like Joey Porter, whose rambunctious, energetic, ferocious, and fiery personality are more widely known amongst the general football-watching population than his potent pass-rushing skills and leadership qualities. When a player willingly creates an image like Porter has, they are fashioning themselves as a target for criticism if they don't play at a Hall of Fame level every game. If they are going to talk the talk, they had best walk the walk at all times, or as we see here, they will be called overrated. If Zach Thomas saw his play and production slip for a stretch of time, would people call him out as overrated? I think not, and that's because Thomas never brings attention to himself through his words. The general public hardly notices Thomas' production until the end of the year when they notice that he's compiled the most tackles in the NFL for the umpteenth time. I'm not criticizing Porter's personality - it is, after all, what makes him such an effective leader - but we must realize that any player who chooses to act like he does, accepts the reality of being under the microscope of criticism at all times.

Another aspect of the "overrated" label is a player's salary. Prisco's argument that Porter is overpaid is a valid one. The counter-argument that I would offer is that the massive increase in teams' salary caps has resulted in huge salary increases across the board. Miami had enough room to sign one top-tier free agent this offseason, and no offensive player was deemed worthy of the kind of money that Porter eventually received. They had the money to spend, so they made sure that they locked up Porter before he could visit any other teams. The total amount of money being paid out is probably too much for a 30-year old linebacker, but not by a huge amount. Even though the most important thing for a player is his production on the field, his play will always be measured against the portion of the salary cap that he consumes. Porter may come in and play very well for Miami, but $20 million in guaranteed money is going to lead to some very over-inflated expectations for his output. That too is setting Porter up to be labeled overrated.

Prisco then moves on to Porter's actual game play. The point that he makes about his seven sacks last year is a good point. Tallying six sacks in three games and only one sack in his eleven other games is the height of inconsistency. If that trend continues, Miami fans will have reason to be disappointed. But Prisco is only looking at one year of Porter's career. Last year, Porter battled hamstring issues for much of the season, and he missed two games as a result. It's understandable that his production was erratic. I also must note this completely absurd quote from Prisco's article: According to an AFC personnel director, "3-4 outside linebacker[s]...are expected to get double-digit sacks at the least(emphasis added)." Are you kidding me? Let's take a look at last year's Pro Bowl outside linebackers:
  • Adalius Thomas - in seven years has only one season with double-digit sacks. Averages only 5.5 sacks/year.
  • Shawne Merriman - in two seasons has tallied double-digit sacks both years. Some place an asterisk next to his stats since he was suspended for four games for taking steroids.
  • Terrell Suggs - in four years, has tallied double-digit sacks twice.
  • DeMarcus Ware - in two seasons, recorded double-digit sacks once.
  • Julian Peterson - in seven seasons has only one season with double-digit sacks. Averages only 4.5 sacks/year.
  • Derrick Brooks - in twelve seasons has never recorded double-digit sacks. Averages only 1.125 sacks/year.
  • Lance Briggs - in four seasons has never recorded double-digit sacks. He has only 3.5 sacks in four years.
Those are all great players, and to say that they are expected at the very least to get double-digit sacks year in and year out is absolutely stupid. During every season in which he has played at least 15 games (other than his rookie season), Joey Porter has managed to record at least seven sacks and averages 9.2 sacks. He has two seasons with more than 10 sacks. To call someone overrated because they don't reach double-digit sack totals is ridiculous. Only six linebackers (both middle and outside; seven including Jason Taylor) recorded double-digit sack totals last season. If every team has two starting outside linebackers, that means there are 64 starting outside linebackers in the NFL. If only seven linebackers total (11% of OLBs) are recording double-digit sacks, there's no way that should be an expected plateau.

A more important fact, in my opinion, is the amazing consistency of greatness that Porter has showed throughout his 8-year career. For instance:
  • Over his eight years, Porter has averaged 56 tackles, 5 passes defensed, 7.5 sacks, 2.25 forced fumbles, and 1.25 interceptions. That's a good stat sheet by itself.
  • Here's his average stats if his rookie season is taken out of the equation: 61 tackles, 6 PD, 8.25 sacks, 2.42 FF, and 1.43 INTs. That's an even better stat line.
  • Most importantly, here's his average stats for his last three seasons, a better indicator than just last season for how he'll fare this year: 55 tackles, 7 PD, 8.2 sacks, 2.3 FF, and 1.7 INTs.
The most amazing thing about all those stat lines? Their consistency. Even though Porter recently turned 30, there's absolutely no reason to think that he will suddenly hit a brick wall. Zach Thomas is three years older and hasn't showed any signs of slowing as a key member of the Dolphins defense. Jason Taylor is two years older and he seems to get better with age. I'm not saying that Joey Porter is equal to either of those two stalwarts, but the 30 year mark is not as damaging to linebackers as it is to runningbacks, for example.

Another thing that's lost in all this talk of Porter as the most overrated player in the NFL is the leadership that he brings to the team. The Dolphins have lacked a fiery leader like Porter for some time now. He's also as durable as they come, having missed only 6 games over eight years. His addition immediately gives Miami one of the top three linebacking corps in the league. Being surrounded by players like Thomas and Taylor might make Porter even better. That much remains to be seen, however.

Final Conclusion: Is Joey Porter overrated? Yes, but mostly due to his own personality rather than a significant drop-off in play. Most overrated? Not in my opinion. I'd give that label to somebody like Michael Vick, Brett Favre or Terrell Owens.

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