Overvalued players on every AFC team: Browns too high on Deshaun Watson, Titans, Colts rely heavily on RBs

The definition of overvalue, according to Merriam-Webster, is “to assign an excessive value to” or “to value too highly — place too much importance on.” In football, overvaluing a player can be determined in multiple ways. 

Quarterbacks are overvalued by their supporting cast. Just take a look at Dan Marino in his entire Miami Dolphins career, as the Hall of Famer had just one 1,000-yard rusher from 1983 through 1999 (Abdul-Karim al-Jabbar, 1996). The Dolphins relied on Marino to carry the offense for over a decade, and the end result was no Super Bowl rings for a player who deserved at least one in his legendary career. 

Who is the Dan Marino for each team in today’s NFL? Which player on the roster do teams rely on too much to win football games and advance deep in the playoffs? Not all these players are quarterbacks, as teams certainly are too dependent on players that reside on the other side of the football.

Let’s start with the AFC first. These are the players that are overvalued on each AFC team as the 2022 season approaches: 

The Ravens made the bold decision not to upgrade the wide receiver position after the trade of Marquise Brown on draft night. Right now, they’ll go into the season with Rashod Bateman, James Proche, Devin Duvernay, Tylan Wallace and Binjimen Victor as their top five receivers. None of Lamar Jackson’s top wide receiver targets have over 53 career catches (Duvernay).

That puts a lot of pressure on Bateman, who the Ravens are expecting to be the No. 1 wideout next year. Since Bateman debuted in Week 6 of last season, he was tied for fifth among rookies in receptions (46), sixth in receiving yards (515) and fourth in receiving first downs (29).

Bateman is a good player, but Baltimore is putting a lot of stock into him following Brown’s footsteps as the next breakout receiver. If he takes that leap, the Ravens will be one of the top teams in the AFC. 

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Hard to blame Buffalo for relying on Josh Allen to carry the offense, especially with how good he’s been the last two years. Allen is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, totaling 88 touchdowns over the last two seasons (trailing only Aaron Rodgers), while his 135 total touchdowns trail only Dan Marino for the most by a player after his first four seasons. 

Even with how good Allen is at throwing the football (8,951 yards and 73 touchdowns), the Bills really rely on his legs to keep the offense moving. Allen averages 105.5 carries a season for the Bills, including a career-high 122 last season (averaged an NFL-leading 6.3 yards per carry). He joined Cam Newton as the only quarterbacks to throw for 4,000 yards and rush for 700 yards in a season — but does Buffalo use him too much on the ground? 

If the Bills can scale back on Allen’s rush attempts and Devin Singletary can be more effective (with a healthy dose of James Cook), the offense will be better balanced come January. 

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There’s a lot of stock the Bengals are buying in Eli Apple, banking on a bounce-back season from one of the maligned cornerbacks in the game. Apple wasn’t expected to end up starting for the Bengals, but Trae Waynes suffered a hamstring injury at the end of the preseason — forcing Apple into the starting lineup. Apple never looked back after that, playing his best season in a career that was labeled a bust before he signed with Cincinnati. 

Targeted 78 times in 617 coverage snaps last season, Apple allowed just 52.7% of his passes targeting him to be caught for 512 yards and three touchdowns. As the primary defender, Apple allowed just a 60.8 passer rating when opposing quarterbacks have targeted him — with just four defensive pass interference penalties. Of course, all that progress seemed to be impeded after a dreadful Super Bowl LVI. 

Cincinnati has rookies Tycen Anderson and Cam Taylor-Britt behind Apple, so cornerback can be a major issue if he struggles. If Apple reverts to his pre-Cincinnati form, the Bengals will have a very hard time defending their AFC title. 

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Not only did Cleveland put a lot of value in Deshaun Watson, the Browns gave him $230 million guaranteed and he may not even play a down this season. The Browns even ostracized Baker Mayfield to make room for Watson — and now they can’t go back to him to salvage the 2022 season in the event Watson is suspended. 

Watson did settle 20 of the 24 lawsuits accusing him of sexual misconduct, but his saga is far from over. The Browns banked on acquiring Watson and hoping he played in 2022 for a Super Bowl run, one that likely won’t happen with Jacoby Brissett at quarterback (again, because they botched the Mayfield situation). 

Perhaps the Browns should just punt on 2022 and hope Watson is able to play in 2023. For a team that’s talented enough to make a deep playoff run in the AFC this year, Cleveland certainly underestimated the Watson situation over the past few months.

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After the Broncos traded Noah Fant in the Russell Wilson deal, there might have been a few Google searches for who the No. 1 tight end is in Denver. Right now it’s Albert Okwuegbunam, who has 44 catches for 451 yards and three touchdowns in two seasons as a backup to Fant. 

The 2020 fourth-round pick will get an opportunity to be the No. 1 tight end as one of the top options in the middle of the field for Wilson. Okwuegbunam doesn’t have to be a Pro Bowler, but the Broncos offense is deep outside of the tight end position. 

If Okwuegbunam can’t provide consistent production, the Broncos will put a lot of pressure on third-round rookie Greg Dulcich to be a security blanket in the middle of the field. Denver is certainly overvaluing its young tight ends, but the Broncos like what they have at the position. 

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Brandin Cooks has long been one of the underrated receivers in the game, more known for playing with four teams (and traded three times) than his consistent production of 1,000-yard seasons. He’s reached 1,000 receiving yards in six seasons since entering the league in 2014, tied for the second-most 1,000-yard seasons in the NFL during that span. His 13.8 yards per catch is fourth in the NFL over the last eight seasons (minimum 500 receptions). 

The Texans rely on Cooks to be the one playmaker in an offense that includes Nico Collins, Chris Conley, Phillip Dorsett, rookie John Metchie III, Brevin Jordan, Marlon Mack, and Rex Burkhead. There isn’t a lot of reliable options for Davis Mills to throw at. 

If Cooks misses any games, the Texans offense is in major trouble. 

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Can anyone blame the Colts for over relying on Jonathan Taylor last season after how inconsistent Carson Wentz was in the second half of the season? With Matt Ryan at quarterback, Indianapolis doesn’t have to give Taylor 332 carries and 372 touches this year — yet there’s a strong chance they will. 

Taylor only led the NFL in rushing yards (1,811), rushing touchdowns (18), rushing yards per game (106.5), and yards from scrimmage (2,171), and scrimmage touchdowns (20). He averaged 5.5 yards per carry and was second in Offensive Player of the Year voting. Even though Taylor has good backup running backs in Nyheim Hines and Phillip Lindsay, the Colts are still going to rely on him to carry the offense. 

The youngest player with 2,000 scrimmage yards and 20 touchdowns in a season, the Colts rely on Taylor to carry them while he’s on his rookie deal. Maybe they need to reduce his touches a bit in case they get in position to make a playoff run. 

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When a team pays a wide receiver who’s never had a 1,000-yard season $37 million guaranteed, that falls into the overvalue category. While Christian Kirk did have a career-high 77 catches and 982 yards last season, he’ll be relied upon to make a much bigger impact for Jacksonville this year.  

Kirk is the No. 1 wide receiver for the Jaguars, the pass catcher that is going to help Trevor Lawrence reach his potential. Playing in Doug Pederson’s offense is going to help, but Kirk will have to surpass last year’s production over the next several years for the Jaguars to justify that deal. 

Kirk is paid like a top-15 wide receiver. The Jaguars are banking on him to play like one.

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The Chiefs certainly overplayed how they utilized Chris Jones last year, moving him to the edge because they didn’t have a suitable pass rusher to line up there outside of Frank Clark. That changed once they traded for Melvin Ingram, allowing Jones to move back inside — where he’s most effective. 

Earning second-team All-Pro honors for the third time in four years, Jones had nine sacks and 17 quarterback hits despite having only 27 tackles last year. He also had 58 pressures and five passes defensed in 14 games. Injuries have been an issue for Jones over the years, yet he’s still third among all defensive tackles in sacks (32) and second in quarterback hits (94). His 49.5 sacks since 2016 trail only Donald amongst defensive tackles. 

The Chiefs would be wise to keep Jones lined up on the inside, which they should be able to do with George Karlaftis and Clark on the edge. The depth at defensive tackle isn’t great behind Jones, at the Chiefs are relying on his incredible production to get the ball back to the offense. 

If Jones stays healthy for all 17 games, the Chiefs have more than enough reasons to be overdependent on him. 

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The Raiders put a lot of faith in Kolton Miller’s development over the last few years — and were rewarded as Miller became one of the top tackles in the league. Are they too dependent on Miller to protect Derek Carr? They’ll need left guard John Simpson to improve to relieve the burden on Miller this year. 

Miller allowed just five sacks and 32 pressures in 689 pass-blocking snaps last season, playing all 17 games and earning first team All-AFC honors. He’s the only sure thing on the left side of the offensive line for the Raiders, which needs to change if the running game is to be effective and Carr wants to be upright throughout the year.

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Austin Ekeler makes the Chargers offense go just as much as Justin Herbert, an extremely valuable piece in the running and passing game. Getting over 200 carries for the first time in his career, Ekeler had a career-high 911 rushing yards and 1,558 yards from scrimmage. He led the NFL with 20 scrimmage touchdowns last year and netted a career-high 276 touches (5.6 yards per touch).

The Chargers need Ekeler to pace the running game, but have given him some help with fourth-round pick Isaiah Spiller. They may rely on Ekeler too much as a security blanket for Herbert, but who can blame them given how productive he is with the ball in his hands. 

Fewer touches for Ekeler will certainly help his production later in the year, as is the case for all running backs that are productive like him. 

Miami Dolphins

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The Dolphins are really betting it all on Tua Tagovailoa this year. A new offensive system, better offensive line, and the offseason addition of Tyreek Hill is what the Dolphins believe can help Tagovailoa reach his potential and become one of the league’s top quarterbacks. 

Tagovailoa may already be good, even with all the problems that challenged him over the past two years. Tagovailoa completed 67.8% of his passes for 2,653 yards with 16 touchdowns and 10 interceptions last season — and he’s 13-8 as a starting quarterback despite having three offensive coordinators coach him in his two seasons. His deep ball criticism is a bit of a myth, as Tagovailoa trailed only Justin Herbert in completion percentage of passes thrown 20-plus yards downfield (Herbert was at 48.4% and Tagovailoa 48.3%). 

Are the Dolphins overvaluing how good Tagovailoa is? We’ll find out this year, but the numbers suggest he could be in line for a breakout campaign. 

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Perhaps the Patriots didn’t have a “Plan B” in case J.C. Jackson left, but the answer to replacing him was a familiar face. New England turned to Malcolm Butler to play cornerback in 2022 after the former Super Bowl hero retired last August. 

Butler returning to Belichick’s defense could be a plus, but the Patriots may be asking a lot from a player who hasn’t played a snap in two years. He allowed a lot of yards in his final year with the Tennessee Titans as the primary defender (892), even if he had four interceptions as opposing quarterbacks targeting him had a 62.1 passer rating. 

This is a move that could severely backfire for New England if Butler doesn’t return to the form that made him a star for the Patriots. They’re trusting Butler has some good football left. 

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Ever since Mosley signed his five-year, $85 million contract with the Jets, the franchise hasn’t received a return of investment. Mosley has played just 18 games in his three seasons in New York, playing only two games in 2019 due to a groin injury and sitting out the entire 2020 season as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Mosley had a career-high 168 tackles in 2021 with two sacks and two forced fumbles, but allowed a 95.2 passer rating to opposing quarterbacks when he was the primary defender. Not exactly the two-way linebacker he was in Baltimore. 

The Jets are relying on Mosley to return to his Pro Bowl form. Do they really have a choice with his contract? 

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The Steelers didn’t go crazy in the quarterback carousel this offseason, deciding to sign one of the best free agent signal-callers available in Trubisky. Was he the best choice to lead the offense post-Ben Roethlisberger? 

Of the 47 quarterbacks with more than 500 pass attempts over the four years Trubisky started (2017-2020), he ranked 31st in passer rating (87.2), 26th in completion percentage (64%), 29th in touchdown percentage (4.1), and 37th in yards per attempt (6.73). Not exactly numbers beaming with confidence, but Trubisky appeared resurrected as a backup quarterback in Buffalo, learning new aspects of the game under Brian Daboll and the Bills’ offensive coaching staff.

If anything, Trubisky can’t be any worse than what Roethlisberger was last season. In fact, the Steelers were wise to sign him to a short contract and draft the best available quarterback in the draft in Kenny Pickett — as they were fortunate he fell to No. 20. 

For a team that always has playoff aspirations and exceeds expectations, are the Steelers really going to trust Trubisky to run this offense? Training camp will be very interesting if Trubisky is the No. 1 quarterback. 

Tennessee Titans

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The Titans offense goes through Henry, even if Tennessee proved it could win games without him last season. When Henry missed nine games last year (foot), the Titans did go 6-3 in his absence and earned home-field advantage in the AFC. 

There isn’t a running back with more carries than Henry over the last three years (900), and the results have been a whopping 4,504 rushing yards and 43 touchdowns. Tennessee is 26-13 in games Henry plays, including an impressive 18-3 record when he rushes for 100 yards.

Hard to blame the Titans for feeding Henry an average of 23.1 carries a game, since giving him the football translates to victories and playoff runs. The Titans offense is milking Henry’s prime (he’s 28) as they still have a championship window open with him around. 

But coming off that foot injury, they would be wise not to bank on him as frequently as in years past. 

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