Valuing a player in the NFL can be tricky these days, as a single flashy season can sometimes lead a team to give an average baller a big time contract, while the more important pieces of a team's success can waste away in impoverished anonymity. It now seems routine to over- and under-value a player (I blame the Internet), both close to and far away from a team's base of operations, resulting in annually frustrated fans and fantasy footballers around the country.
It's no different in Buffalo and though it remains to be seen if Mario Williams will be worth his $50 million, or which late Buffalo draft pick will surprise beyond their pay rate, there are some players already on the team who have proven to be not quite what they're billed as. So, below we have two of the popular choices for these titles, one over-rated and one under-rated player for the Bills who have largely defied the expectations laid on them, both good and bad.
Over-rated: Steve Johnson... No, Ryan Fitzpatrick... No, Stevie... Yep, Steve
Yeah, it could be either one of these guy, but if you have to pick one player as the most over-rated on the Bills roster, then the scales tip slightly towards Johnson. Not that he hasn't put up solid numbers in Western New York, as he is the first receiver in Bills history to post back-to-back 1000 yard seasons, but for a player who's supposed to be Buffalo's big time play maker, his record is a little... spotty.
In each of the last two seasons, Johnson has been solely responsible for blowing Buffalo's chance to win a close game. First in 2010, when Stevie dropped the game winning TD in the endzone against the eventual AFC Champion Pittsburgh Steelers, resulting in a 16-19 heartbreaker that would have been Buffalo's third straight win after starting that season 0-8. Then, in 2011, Johnson dropped not one, but two potential 4th quarter TD balls against the Jets week 12, resulting in yet another key AFC East loss for the Bills 24-28 (the tailspin of their season was already on by then, but they were at .500 entering that game and may have still pulled out a winning season for the first time since 2004 had they gotten this boost).
In his four seasons with the Bills, Stevie's had only one double-digit touchdown year (10 in 2010), has just three 100+ yard receiving days, and has only scored multiple TDs twice in his career (both in 2010). Sure, he hasn't really been truly healthy any season (he was nursing a groin injury all of 2011, missed most of 2009 with a rib injury), but for the guy who Buffalo is supposed to depend on late in games, 2011 saw him get fewer receptions in the 4th quarter (17) than in any of the other three.
Though there's no doubt Johnson can get hot when he and Fitz get in a groove and the chemistry between them (which is uber-imporante for any QB/WR tandem) is evident both on the field and off (Ryan shaved "He's Back" into his head to celebrate Stevie's extension), many question if he was worth the 5 year, $36.25 million Buffalo gave him (especially since TJ Graham seems to be doing his job admirably so far in OTAs). He's been fined four times in the last two seasons for excessive celebrations ranging from writing on his undershirt to shooting himself ala Plaxico Burress (in the same game he dropped two game winners). His last stunt ("Happy New Year") got him benched the last game of 2011 (first of 2012?) and while he might have been the best value receiver the past two seasons (a seventh round pick making next to nothing), he'll have to work hard and mature (both personally and in his game) to achieve the expectations Buffalo has for him on the field.
The talent is there, so is the swagger, but Johnson's been to zero Pro Bowls, hasn't really made that splash that would put him in the upper echelon of NFL receivers yet, and is becoming known more for his antics than for his football skills. Hey, two years ago, he'd have been a leading choice for under-rated, but now that he's got his big payday and the expectations to perform are falling squarely on his shoulders, 2012 will become a "put up or shut up" year and he has to put up better numbers than he did in 2011 or else the deep Buffalo receiving corps may start to pass their "leader" by.
Under-rated: Brian Moorman
Don't know him? That's because he's the punter for the Bills (a position routinely ignored by everyone) and may, in fact, be one of the best players Buffalo has fielded in the last decade. Really and truly. If you live outside of Buffalo, though, there's no doubt that you are under-appreciating what Moorman was done for the team since joining the Bills in 2001. In that time, there have been a lot of bad football(only 2004 posted a winning record, although they were 8-8 in 2002), as well as some of the worst offenses ever to wear a Bills' uniform, but the punting game was always strong, always solid off the sure foot of Moorman.
I know, it's a kicker, and a no-scoring punter to boot (HA!), but he's also a two-time Pro Bowl selection, is on the NFL's All-Decade team for 2000 (not surprisingly, the only Bills player ... besides Terrell Owens), and just might see the Hall of Fame someday (he betters inductee Ray Guy in several punting stats... the Raiders do know how to pick their punters, if not their QBs). Look, when you're in a rough decade-long slump, you have to look pretty hard to find your diamonds and Moorman is definitely that for Buffalo. In his 11 seasons (he's 36 this year), Moorman has punted 847 balls for 37,177 yards and netted 31,930, with a career average of 43.9 per punt. He's put 241 balls inside the opponents 20 yard line, has an 84-yard punt to his name (against the Packers in 2002), and became the second highest paid punter in the NFL (behind Oakland's Shane Lechler) when Buffalo extended him in 2007 for $10 million through 2012.
Again, though, he's only under-rated outside of Western New York, because there is a rabid Moorman fanbase that extends in all directions from the Queen City. Maybe it's because he's thrown seven passes for three completions in his career and has a pair of TDs to show for it. Or, maybe it's because, unlike other punters, Moorman actually has an athletic background, as he was not only a four time football All-American at Pittsburgh State (where he still holds the record with 43.37 yard per punt), but also a 10 time track&field All-American, with three Division II championships in the 400 meter hurdles and a school record for the 110 meter hurdles that still stands (13.81 seconds). Or, maybe it's because he has nine tackles in his career, actually pursuing and initiating solid contact with a returner while other kickers flail about weakly on the field and end up being embarrassed (he also takes a hit like a real football players). Whatever it is, there's just something about Brian gets the people of Buffalo all fired up.
There's even an yearly swell of support by fans to get Moorman in the Pro Bowl (seriously, it happens every year) and it's not surprising to spot a #8 jersey in the stands in Orchard Park (yes, the NFL does make the occasional punter jersey available to fans, not just the players themselves). He's a member of the Bills' All-Time 50 and though he has kicked some great balls in his time in Bills red and blue, he will perhaps best be remembered for getting plastered by Washington's Sean Taylor in the 2007 Pro Bowl. Not only did Taylor knock the ball out, but he sent Brian flying horizontal to the field a good three yards (in the Pro Bowl...). However, unlike most of the fragile legs in the NFL, Moorman simply got up, dusted himself off, and then ran over to Taylor and gave him respect for the hit. He is one of the most under-valued players in the NFL and will stand as not only one of the best punters to play the game, but one of the best football players to put on a Bills uniform.
Of course there are arguments to be made for others in both categories as, again, Fitzpatrick could just have easily have been listed over Johnson and DE Chris Kelsay could have gotten the under-valued label as well. There's no doubting , though, that Johnson could produce more than just fines on the field and is playing below expectations for his role, while Moorman should be what every team looks for in a punter and could use a little more recognition from the NFL for what he's done in Buffalo.NFL