Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

01 Nov 2006

The Freeney Paradox

In this week's NFL Rundown (coming soon), I refer to Dwight Freeney as "overpriced and overrated."

In last week's Rundown, I compliment his ability to slice into the backfield and disrupt outside running play.

Wow. I'm a hypocrite. My opinion must change depending on which way the wind blows. I cannot believe both of my statements, can I?

First of all, I rarely use the term "overrated." It doesn't have a lot of meaning. Who "rated" the player in the first place? And where should he rightfully be "rated"? "Overrated" is an angry talk-radio buzzword for "he's not that good," and arguments about a supposedly overrated player usually slide down the slippery slope of incoherence:

Fan: Dwight Freeney is overrated.

Me: I agree. Television commentators are too enamored of his spin move and overstate his importance to the Colts.

Fan: So you agree with me: Dwight Freeney stinks on ice.

Me: Well, no. I think a lot of people consider him one of the five best defensive players in the NFL. He's not. There are some major holes in his game. But c'mon: 51 sacks, 23 forced fumbles in four years? He's a Pro Bowl caliber defensive end. He's one of the 25 or 30 best defensive players in the NFL.

Fan: Sacks are overrated. Freeney bites the big one. The Colts should just cut him.

You see my problem. I've had this conversation, via e-mail or in bars or on radio, about everyone from Freeney to Ben Roethlisberger to Donovan McNabb to Brian Urlacher (and let's not even touch Peyton Manning). For every great NFL player, there are naysayers who claim that he isn't that great, isn't even good, doesn't even belong in the league. I got a detailed e-mail in the summer explaining to me that Troy Aikman and Tom Brady are overrated. Apparently, you need four Super Bowl rings for full credit. Talk about grading on a curve.

Anyway, I used the term "overrated" in Rundown this week because it made a quick point, not so much about Freeney, but about the type of player the Redskins often target in trades and free agency (they are rumored to be interested in him this off-season). Freeney doesn't deserve to be the highest paid defender in the NFL, and he isn't good enough to be a cure-all for a team on the ropes, but the Redskins might hand him a money printer and ask him to save the franchise. In that respect, I feel comfortable using the term "overrated."

But overrated does not mean awful, or even bad, or even below average. Freeney does disrupt a lot of running plays. I watched him have a lousy game against the Broncos on NFL Replay last night, but I also saw him slice into the backfield several times against the Redskins and either tackle Clinton Portis or force him into the arms of another defender. The Football Outsiders database credits him with 10 "defeats" on rushing plays last year. Defeats are third-down stops or plays that resulted in no gain or a loss of yardage. That doesn't seem like a high total, but Freeney was tied for 11th among defensive ends in the category, and most of the guys ahead of him didn't have 11 sacks and six forced fumbles. The database also shows his flaws, including a very low number of overall tackles when compared to other defensive ends. The stats match the scouting report: lightning-strike plays mixed with long stretches of silence. But every defense needs a few lightning strikes.

So Freeney is flawed, but good. And he'll probably make too much money when he becomes a free agent. So much for self-contradiction.

Now, about Roethlisberger…

Posted by: Mike Tanier on 01 Nov 2006