Who or what is overrated or underrated is often subject to an individual’s personal preferences.
While a pastrami on rye may be someone’s idea of a dream sandwich, it might not hold a candle to a sourdough hoagie packed with pulled turkey and swiss for someone who grew up in a neighborhood packed with kosher delis.
Same with movies. Someone’s Star Wars may be another person’s Goodfellas … and so on.
But when it comes to what takes place between the white lines, most educated fans can readily spot a highly-touted player who doesn’t quite measure up to his billing.
Unlike sandwiches and movies, however, playing the overrated/underrated game doesn’t — or at least shouldn’t — involve preferences. Instead, it’s all about whether someone’s ability to ball measures up with how said athlete is publicly perceived.
The Packers have had their share of underrated performers over the years, such as John Brockington in the 70s, Paul Coffman in the 80s and fullback William Henderson, whose masterful lead blocking was the oft-overlooked secret sauce behind nine 1,000-yard seasons by Green Bay running backs from 1995-2006.
As for who are the most underrated and overrated in Titletown and throughout the NFC North in 2020, there are plenty to choose from, but here is a list of three standouts on each side who are either getting too much shine or not nearly enough respect and adoration.
At over 6’3”, with 4.43 speed and 32-inch arms, King was viewed as a manna from the heavens when then GM Ted Thompson selected the promising corner with the first pick in the second round in 2017. King’s stock had skyrocketed in the weeks prior to the draft, as the former Washington Husky recorded the fastest 3-cone drill and short shuttle times at the Indy Combine.
The cover man’s first two years were marred by shoulder and hamstring injuries, causing him to sit out 17 of his first 32 games. To date, King has yet to play a full 16-game season.
His 2019 season saw the Oakland native step up with key plays in division wins versus the Bears in Week 1 and the Vikings in Week 16. But his overall body of work consisted of many blown coverages, as evidenced by King giving up 864 passing yards to opposing receivers — third-most in the NFL — along with allowing a gaudy 17.3 yards per completion.
It seems as though scouts who deemed him “the most overrated” prospect in the 2017 draft may have been on to something. The knock on King was that his exceptional physical tools didn’t line up with his on-field production, with critics citing his general lack of physicality and an inability to process plays.
King is entering his walk year and has time to prove that he is worthy of being Green Bay’s signature pick in Thompson’s last-ever draft as the team’s primary decision maker. But at this juncture, many Packer backers would probably agree that No. 20 has been more smoke than sizzle.
Rudolph has been around long enough that many recognize him as an integral staple of Minnesota’s offense. A Jason Witten-type who won’t dazzle you with stats, but is a multi-purpose tight end who’s a quarterback’s best friend.
Upon further inspection, though, that Witten comparison doesn’t hold up. Those who don’t go back that far may not recall the former Cowboy and current Raider being a big-play pass catcher in his early years by churning out 1,000-or-more yards four times and six seasons in which he registered 40 or more first downs.
In comparison, Rudolph is averaging under 10 yards per catch in his nine NFL seasons and has only once produced 40-plus first downs, along with zero 1,000-yard seasons, as his highest yardage total remains 840.
The Notre Dame product also comes up short as a blocker. Whereas Witten has long been known as a blocking tight end who can handle a defensive end on his own, Rudolph has never developed into a dominant performer in that area. His most recent PFF scores as a pass and run blocker place him in the bottom third among 110 qualifying players at his position, with grades of 59.3 and 57.3 respectively. In fact, even teammate Irv Smith outproduced him as a blocker in his rookie campaign.
This isn’t to minimize Rudolph as a complete liability. He is, in fact, a competent part of the Vikings attack, but he hasn’t come close to meeting the lofty expectations forecasted prior to his selection in the second round in 2011.
At 6’6”, 259-pounds, with tantalizing speed and a pair of soft 10.75-inch hands, the pride of Cincinnati, Ohio had the tools — or so it appeared — to be a big-play weapon in the mold of a poor man’s Rob Gronkowski.
Entering his 10th season, those visions have yet to materialize on the heels of a 2019 season that saw Rudolph put up only 39 receptions on 48 targets. Minnesota isn’t getting a whole lot in return for a player who counts $8.825 million against the cap.
The sturdy ball carrier’s body of work placed him among the top prospects at his position entering the 2019 draft, with back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in which he hit pay dirt 11 and 13 times as a sophomore and junior. His blend of power, vision and balance had some fans anticipating a second-coming of Thomas Jones.
While Montgomery proved durable in suiting up for 16 games, he failed to dazzle, let along live up to his scouting report.
The 222-pound back totaled 889 rushing yards on what seemed like 889 carries, considering the fact that his yardage totals in 10 of those weeks came with a yards-per-carry average of under 4 yards.
His lack of speed was evident from the jump, as NFL defenders were all over him when he tried bouncing runs outside. His PFF scores confirmed his underwhelming pop, as Montgomery’s elusiveness rating and breakaway run percentage were on the low end.
And though the former third-round pick has natural hands in the passing game, his sluggishness in turning it upfield after the catch makes Tarik Cohen the far more appealing choice in that department.
Despite his shortcomings, the Bears are doubling down on their commitment to feature him as their bellcow. According to reports, GM Ryan Pace stated that Montgomery will “carry a heavier load.” But how long will it take before they tire of his three-yards-and-a-cloud of dust ways?
Entering 2019, Lazard was nothing more than an afterthought to fans and media and it took an ankle injury to Jace Sternberger for the towering 6’5” wideout to even make the active roster.
One teammate who knew what he had in Lazard was Aaron Rodgers, who campaigned the coaching staff to give No. 13 his much deserved reps.
Lazard made good on his opportunity in Green Bay’s come-from-behind Week 6 victory over the Lions on Monday Night Football and earned AR12’s trust along the way with his willingness to sell out and come back to the ball when his quarterback was under duress.
Pundits continue to cast doubt on the Packers receiving corps by often questioning who will emerge as the WR2 behind Davante Adams. Those who were tuning in on a weekly basis already recognize that Lazard is on that short list of weapons who’ll be targeted early and often, particularly when Adams is facing tight bracket coverage.
Lazard also represents great value for those doing their homework for their upcoming fantasy drafts. His ADP in PPR leagues lies somewhere in the late 13th round.
The ball-hawking strong safety has come a long way since his humble beginnings as an undrafted free agent in 2015. Last season was the culmination of the 28-year-old’s work to not only stick on the active roster, but perform as one of the team’s top defensive starters.
Harris intercepted a league-high 6 passes in 2019. The 6’1” enforcer has, in fact, distinguished himself as a true student of the game by frequently positioning himself in the right spots to make plays. The converted high school quarterback and wide receiver is especially adept at disguising his intentions pre-snap to get an accurate read of the personnel.
One of Harris’ signature plays came about in Minnesota’s late-season Monday night loss to Green Bay, when the sixth-year pro stepped in front of an Aaron Rodgers delivery to Davante Adams and secured a rare turnover committed by the future Hall of Fame signal caller.
Harris’ efforts were acknowledged by PFF, who rated him as the top overall safety in the NFL. Yet, when people mention some of Minnesota’s top defenders, they’ll more than likely bring up Erik Kendricks, Anthony Barr and Harrison Smith before they’ll even think to include Harris in the formidable mix.
An ill-timed knee injury stood in the way of his second career 1,000-yard season for the 30-year-old veteran, who wound up missing the last three games of his 2019 campaign.
Jones was put in the unenviable position of replacing Calvin Johnson, when GM Bob Quinn originally signed him to a 5-year, $40 million contract in 2016. And to his credit, the one-time Cincinnati Bengal has prospered not only as a vertical threat, but as a physical pass catcher who can outmuscle opponents.
Both Jones and fellow receiver Kenny Gollday figured prominently as PFF’s No. 6 and No. 5 wideouts respectively in contested catch rate.
Though Golladay is the recipient of much more pub, Jones has been consistently productive in his own right, as he’s scored only two fewer touchdowns (14) than No. 19 despite playing in nine fewer games over the past two years.
To boot, Jones continued to shine even after Stafford’s season-ending back injury last season with the likes of Jeff Driskel and David Blough taking snaps.——————
When ~Reverend~ Ralph Mancini is not tackling hard news in New York City, he enjoys analyzing his favorite sports team, the Green Bay Packers. You can follow him on twitter at ReverendRalph.