The first-ever Pro Bowl draft is looming, and a whole host of lists will seek to honor the league's best and brightest stars based on their 2013 accomplishments. But the NFL is the ultimate zero-sum game, and for every shining performance and pleasant surprise, there's a bitter disappointment on the other side of the field.
The 2013 NFL All-Disappointment Team shines a light on some guys who would probably rather remain in the shadows by calling out the most disappointing players at each position on both sides of the ball. These weren't the worst of the worst -- at least, not all of them were -- but by virtue of their status or cap figures or prior achievements, their 2013 seasons were found to be singularly lacking. Rookies and guys who missed major portions of the season with injuries were largely spared, but everyone else was fair game.
Robert Griffin III, Redskins - Expectations were probably unfairly buoyed by Adrian Peterson's superhuman return, but just about everyone thought that RGIII would log a stronger sophomore campaign than the head-shaking show he managed in 2013. He sailed at least five throws a game simply by refusing to step into them, and while he used his legs more frequently in the second half of the season, he was often hauled down by guys wearing 90 numbers when he tried. The Redskins' whole offense was built around Griffin doing spectacular things, and he was rarely up to the challenge in 2013. Injury gives him a pretty big pass, but a 2014 campaign under a new coach leaves him with a lot to prove.
Dishonorable Mentions: Eli Manning, Giants (for proving that you can't spell Giants without INTs)
Trent Richardson, Colts and Ray Rice (Ravens) - Some players just stand out thanks to the Corner of the Eye Test -- when you're half-distracted by something in your living room and a partial glimpse of a player is enough to make a big impression. This usually happens when a Calvin Johnson/Jamaal Charles type does things that other dudes can't do, but in Colts games it happened when a back just showed league-average burst and agility. That back was invariably Donald Brown. Richardson descended from "disappointment" to "possible double agent" with his fumble against the Chiefs in the Wild Card round, and it's entirely unclear that he'll even be an above-average back in the league.
Ray Rice was victimized by a disastrous performance from the Ravens' offensive front, but he compounded matters by running slow to the hole and displaying next to zero lateral burst or agility. He was battling a hip problem for at least part of the season, but it's easy to wonder whether Rice's heavy usage during the first several years of his career has burned him out early.
Dishonorable Mentions: Arian Foster (now sporting a creaky back, a creakier team and the most ill-fated IPO since Pets.com); Doug Martin (went down early but showed very little of his rookie-year pop in the early season); C.J. Spiller, Bills (perhaps 2013's premier fantasy team assassin -- at least Doug Martin let owners move on by midseason)
Mike Wallace, Dolphins and Hakeem Nicks, Giants - This kind of list can be unfair to wide receivers, whose performance can be uniquely dependent on factors outside of their control. Mike Wallace's usage under fired OC Mike Sherman was weird to say the least, and Ryan Tannehill is a step down from Ben Roethlisberger. But Tannehill is still a step up from the QBs that many of the league's receivers had to contend with, and Wallace's frequent failures to separate or do much with the ball in his hands on shorter throws didn't bode well for the Dolphins ultimately realizing a solid return on their big-time free agent investment.
Nicks saw many of his own opportunities curtailed by Eli Manning's cornucopia of turnovers, but he bore plenty of responsibility for his own subpar production. Routinely trudging through routes, failing to generate a scintilla of separation and getting outfought on 50/50 balls, Nicks' free agent audition bottomed out as badly as anything you'll see on the first week of American Idol.
Dishonorable Mentions: Greg Jennings, Vikings (another victim of frequently dire quarterback play who still looked little like a $50 million man); Kenny Britt, Titans (as Charles de Gaulle once said about Brazil, he has great potential and always will); Miles Austin, Cowboys (only three things are certain in life -- death, taxes and Miles Austin hamstring injuries)
Jared Cook, Rams - We should have been warned when he got hyped by the connections-rich and acumen-poor Peter King in the offseason. Cook came out of the gates strong with 141 yards and two touchdowns in Week 1, but in the season's remaining 15 games, he notched a pedestrian 44/530/3 line with an anemic 7.1 yards per attempt. Factor in his substandard blocking and this probably wasn't the return the Rams were looking for in the first year of a $35 million deal.
Dishonorable Mentions: Brandon Myers, Giants (Jared Cook without the one huge game and with even worse blocking -- fortunately at a much lower cap hit)
Charles Brown, Saints and Lamar Holmes, Falcons - Drew Brees has made a living with stout interior line play and questionable tackles, but he never had to endure anything like some of the shows Charles Brown trotted out on the left side. The former second-round selection failed to live up to his pedigree and surrendered a ton of pressure, culminating in an outright beating from Robert Quinn in Week 15. Raw rookie Terron Armstead had to be thrown into the fire once Brown got benched, and proceeded to outshine him in short order.
Lamar Holmes was the Falcons' third-round selection in 2012 and got the chance to step into the spotlight on the left side when Atlanta's Sam Baker went down. Holmes was wildly unequal to the task, offering no push in the run game while giving up a ton of heat on Matty Ice. It was an all-around snakebitten season in Atlanta, but few guys did less to help the cause than Holmes.
Dishonorable Mentions: Michael Oher, Ravens (The Blind Side star got his running backs blindsided in paving the way for the league's most wretched run game); Eric Winston, Cardinals (his tepid free-agent market made sense as he continually threw gasoline on the Cards' tire fire of an OL)
Davin Joseph, Bucs and Lucas Nix, Raiders - Davin Joseph isn't as overrated as he used to be since no one is really rating him highly anymore, but he remains vastly overpaid. His lunge-and-miss style torpedoed plenty of run plays, and he allowed enough pressure to keep rookie QB Mike Glennon uncomfortable in the pocket.
Expectations may not have been that high for Oakland's Lucas Nix, but he tunneled so far underneath them that he almost reached the Earth's core. Nix almost single-handedly ruined Oakland's attempts to run to its left during the first half of the season while surrendering an insane amount of pressure for an interior lineman. And get this -- he did it all in exactly 666 snaps. Somewhere, Al Davis is smiling.
Dishonorable Mentions: Shawn Lauvao, Browns (Cleveland's worst run blocker helped keep the run game grounded no matter who took the handoffs); David Diehl, Giants (the ability to get your running backs and QB blown up from multiple positions on the line is not the same as versatility)
Gino Gradkowski, Ravens - Gradkowski was going to be an athletic upgrade on retired center Matt Birk, but his skills generated little push in the run game as the Ravens sputtered to a dreadful 3.1 yards per carry. His pass protection was even worse, giving up far more runs on the QB than a center ever should.
Dishonorable Mentions: Peter Konz, Falcons (the former Wisconsin Badger failed to live up to his school's OL pedigree, struggling badly in both run and pass blocking)
Interior Defensive Linemen
Peria Jerry, Falcons and Ziggy Hood, Steelers - Jerry has battled injuries since his star-crossed first-round selection in 2009, but starter's snaps in 2013 failed to reveal anything resembling first-round talent. Jerry got shoved around in the run game, and while his 3.5 sacks were a reasonable total, he generated nearly no additional pressure while the Falcons' young secondary was getting barbecued.
Another lackluster campaign from Ziggy Hood failed to elevate a Steelers defense that's aging badly in other spots. He does little more than lean on an O-lineman during most of his snaps, serving as little impediment to opposing ground games and frequently failing the Jersey Test* as a pass rusher. He's solidifying his rep as a rare first-round miss for Pittsburgh's defensive drafting operation.
Dishonorable Mentions: B.J. Raji, Packers (Raji saved his best moves for the State Farm commercials in a lackluster contract year); Akeem Spence, Buccaneers (saved from the full list only by his rookie status)
Shea McClellin, Bears and Mathias Kiwanuka, Giants - The Bears' proud defense hit the skids in 2013, and 2012 first-rounder Shea McClellin did little to stop the slide. His run defense was terrible, helping to account for the Bears' league-worst 4.75 adjusted line yards per carry (the yardage attributed to offensive/defensive line play by FootballOutsiders.com) on runs behind behind opposing right tackles. Those tackles frequently got the best of McClellin in pass protection as well, and his total of 6.5 sacks across two seasons of play raises big questions about his viability as a big-time rusher. The Bears are reportedly considering a move to outside linebacker in 2014 to try to light McClellin's fire.
A move in the other direction did little to spark much production for Mathias Kiwanuka, as his return to the defensive line after a season at outside 'backer largely flopped. His pass rush productivity (ProFootballFocus.com's measure of total QB sacks/hits/pressures divided by pass rushing opportunities) ranked 36th out of 38 qualifying 4-3 ends, and he seldom made his presence felt in the run game.
Dishonorable Mentions: Julius Peppers, Bears (age caught up with Peppers in a big hurry in 2013, casting his 2014 future with the team into doubt); Tyson Alualu, Jaguars (kicking out from defensive tackle to DE did nothing to kick up Alualu's snooze-worthy production); Whitney Mercilus, Texans (another former first-rounder who is turning in far too many pedestrian pass-rushing snaps)
Dannell Ellerbe, Dolphins; DeMeco Ryans, Eagles and Bruce Carter, Cowboys - Ellerbe was one of recently fired GM Jeff Ireland's big-ticket free agent acquisitions this past offseason, and along with fellow LB Philip Wheeler and receiver Mike Wallace, he helped usher his benefactor to the unemployment line. Ellerbe was one of the league's worst middle linebackers against the run, contributing to surprising softness up the middle for Miami's run defense despite fairly strong play from its DT rotation.
Ryans handled the switch to a 4-3 defense reasonably well when he arrived in Philly in 2012, but his struggles in the Eagles' 3-4 this season did little to conjure memories of his glory days with the Texans. Ryans looked slow to the hole on run defense, was unproductive as a blitzer and often victimized in pass coverage.
The Cowboys' shift to a Cover-2 heavy 4-3 defense was primarily made with linebackers Sean Lee and Bruce Carter in mind. Carter did little to hold up his end of the bargain, constantly getting wired to blockers on the second level against the run and getting memorably roasted while attempting to cover the Chargers' Danny Woodhead.
Dishonorable Mentions: Philip Wheeler, Dolphins (another high-dollar flameout for Jeff Ireland); Chad Greenway, Vikings (a terrible season from a typical stalwart, including some absolutely atrocious moments in coverage)
Antonio Cromartie, Jets and Ike Taylor, Steelers - Cromartie was a lockdown corner for much of the 2012 season, but in 2013 his coverage problems in the bedroom followed him onto the field. Cromartie was frequently torched, giving up seven TDs and a 100.7 passer rating on throws to his man as Rex Ryan's D suffered uncharacteristic coverage breakdowns.
The shadow of age looks to have fallen over the Steelers' shadow corner, as Ike Taylor was no longer up to the task of shutting down an opponent's top wideout. Memorable whippings from Josh Gordon and Calvin Johnson among others served as strong signals that Taylor may be on the downside.
Dishonorable Mentions: Cortland Finnegan, Rams (a disaster from the get-go who helped the Rams' secondary get ripped despite a ferocious pass rush); Dre Kirkpatrick, Bengals (the former Alabama corner was victimized just about every time that injuries pressed him into service)
Thomas DeCoud, Falcons and Dashon Goldson, Bucs - The immolation of the Falcons' secondary made some folks wonder if General Sherman was back in town, and DeCoud spent plenty of time spraying gasoline and tossing matches. DeCoud's passing-downs work was atrocious, allowing six TDs against zero turnovers while allowing a hideous 147.0 QB rating on throws into his coverage.
Goldson's numbers (four TDs allowed, one INT, 121.4 passer rating allowed) weren't as bad as DeCoud's, but expectations were a good bit higher after he inked a five-year, $41 million deal. His suspension for an illegal hit didn't help matters, and it will be interesting to see if Lovie Smith's arrival can get this ostensibly super-talented secondary playing at a higher level in 2014.
Dishonorable Mentions: Major Wright, Bears (frequently transformed a Cover 2 into a Cover Nobody); Jonathan Cyprien, Jags (saved from the main list by rookie status, Cyprien gave few glimpses as to why draftniks thought so highly of him)
*The Jersey Test is conducted by approaching a defender right after the game and asking him what jersey number the opposing quarterback was wearing. If he never got close enough to be able to tell you, he fails.