As training camp draws nearer, we must all remember not to buy into the hype of fringe players. We know this is much easier said than done. We know there will be one training camp standout who seems to be beating the odds. But we must remember this is all fool's gold. And to remind you of this phenomenon, let us celebrate the defensive and special teams units of the All-Overhyped Team.
Reminder: Candidates for the All-Overhyped Team must meet the following requirements:
1) Player must have a wild imbalance between offseason hype and on-field production.
2) Player cannot be drafted by the Detroit Lions in the top three rounds. We are not looking to compile a list of simple draft busts.
3) Player must be from this millennium. Offseason hype is a particularly new phenomenon with the advent of the Internet, and there is no real evidence of hype prior to the year 2000.
Defensive end - Willie Young and Lawrence Jackson
Young, a seventh-round draft pick in 2010, quickly won over Lions fans with an endearing personality and a wonderful fishing sack dance. Young's rookie season was uneventful with him only appearing in two games. His sophomore year doesn't look too impressive on the stat sheet (14 total tackles, 3 sacks), but when Pro Football Focus named him the Lions' "Secret Superstar," the hype could not be stopped. He was touted as the Lions' potential breakout star for consecutive offseasons, he was the reason fans weren't worried when Cliff Avril was sent packing and he even had a wonderful series of fan fiction written about him. Unfortunately, after 2011, Young only managed 3 more sacks in two seasons and ended up defecting to the Chicago Bears this offseason.
Jackson's career followed a similar trajectory, but with different origins. Jackson was brought in via a trade from the Seattle Seahawks. Immediately, the Lions fan base was impressed. A former first-round draft pick for the price of a just a sixth rounder?? MAYHEW'D!! Of course, the rational fan would wonder why a first-round pick would come so cheap, but in the offseason, no one is rational; we're just filled with hopes and dreams and puppies and rainbows. So fans used the "he just wasn't a fit in Seattle" excuse and sat back and waited for the greatest defensive line in history to emerge. While Jackson did have 6 sacks in his first year with the Lions, he never emerged as anything more than a rotational player and never started one game with the Lions. He's no longer in the NFL after a short five-year career.
Defensive tackle - Sammie Hill and Landon Cohen
Hill is your classic case of a "long-term project" that never develops. A fourth-round pick out of the tiny Stillman College (stadium capacity: 9,000!), Hill had all the physical tools to be a dominating defensive tackle. In fact, his rookie year he managed to play relatively well and earned himself 12 starts. Unfortunately, the next year the Lions drafted a man named Ndamukong Suh and traded for Corey Williams. The Sammie Hill Project, to no fault of his own, was put on hold. He only started six more games in his following three years with the Lions, garnering only 4 total sacks.
Cohen was one of those players who didn't really make a splash during training camp, but he turned heads where the fans could see him: in the preseason. The seventh-round pick seemed like a long shot to make the team in 2008. But a dominating performance in the final preseason game earned him a spot (along with 10 other defensive linemen) on the team. He appeared in six games in his rookie season and followed it up with 14 the following season, including four starts. In 2010, however, it looked like Cohen was going to be a casualty of the Lions' new Suh-Williams defensive tackle tandem. But, again, Cohen dominated the last game of the preseason, sacking the quarterback twice and earning two additional tackles. This gave fans just enough hope for Cohen to sneak his way on to the roster, but alas, it wasn't enough.
Linebacker* - Zack Follett, Caleb Campbell and Julian Peterson
*Note: I did not differentiate linebacker positions; I just picked three players who played linebacker.
Follett was a favorite of mine and one I really wanted to see succeed. Besides having an addictive personality, Follett also brought the boom with his play. Seventh-round draft picks are the crack of offseason hype, and Follett was the new, powerful strain in town when he was drafted in 2009. Follett played with the kind of reckless abandon and self-sacrifice that fans wish upon every player. This was his first NFL tackle:
Unfortunately, it was this same disregard for safety that caused his undoing. Follett was injured on a special teams play in his second season in the NFL, and it ended his career. We were never given the opportunity to see if he could turn his talents into something beyond a special teams player. It seems unfair to place him on this list, but in a way, he is the perfect example of hype and excitement with little to show for it. The NFL is cruel.
Campbell, like Follett, was more of a story than an NFL player. In a rare instance in which people actually applauded a Matt Millen pick (ironically, it was Millen's last pick ever), Campbell was selected in the waning minutes of the NFL Draft in 2008. Coming out of Army, it was hard not to root for Campbell. He had dedicated his time to serving his country and now had a chance to make a career for himself. But it was his dedication to his country that eventually took precedence. He never signed the three-year contract he had agreed to, as he was ordered to report to duty in the Army days after agreeing to the contract. He never even made it to training camp. (Ed. note: Campbell did finally join the Lions in 2010, but he only played in three games for them.)
Peterson was dealt to the Lions in one of their biggest trades in recent memory. The cost for Peterson was young defensive tackle Cory Redding. The addition of Peterson came as a much-needed bolster to a weak linebacking crew. With Aaron Curry waiting for them in the upcoming draft, JUST THINK OF THE POSSIBILITIES:
(from the Pride Of Detroit comments section)
Peterson ultimately had a forgettable two seasons with the Lions. The Lions gave up the most yards of any team in his first season in Detroit, and while that wasn't entirely his fault, he failed to bring the spark some were hoping for.
Cornerback - The 2012 draft class and Alphonso Smith
The Lions have had their fair share of cornerback projects that never worked out. Almost 100% of them were from the 2012 draft. Jonte Green, Chris Greenwood and (to a lesser extent) Bill Bentley were all expected to come in and fix one of the worst pass defenses in the league. With the exception of Bentley (who isn't technically eligible for this team), none of them have made any significant progress despite a plethora of optimism during the offseason. Fans still clutch to the "three-year rule" with cornerbacks and believe this draft class will turn it around, but the Lions have drafted two more promising projects since then (Darius Slay and Nevin Lawson).
Alphonso Smith is perhaps the most confounding member of the All-Overhyped Team. What you probably remember about Smith is his pick-sixes (he actually only had 2) and his Carlton dance. What you may not remember is him constantly getting burned, then benched, then put back on the field because the Lions defense was that terrible. Still, the occasional interception was enough for fans to plead and beg the Lions to give him more playing time. The Lions never ceded to this pressure, and Smith was released twice in 2012.
Safety - Randy Phillips and Ricardo Silva
The Lions have struggled at the safety position for the past few decades, and as a result, the two starting safeties on their All-Overhyped Team are two of the most overrated players in Detroit Lions history.
Phillips was the camp sweetheart that had the all of the training camp buzzwords thrown at him. He was hard-working. He had no quit. He had tremendous heart. He had AWARENESS. All of that got him cut before the start of the season and a practice squad spot. He eventually saw the field briefly but was released the following season and never returned to the NFL. Over at Bleacher Report, his amazingly high hype-to-production ratio earned him the title of "Camp Stud Award."
Silva's hype mainly came from his preseason performance. In 2011, he grabbed 2 interceptions and forced a fumble during the preseason. This immediately had fans latching on to him as the Next Hope. When Sean Yuille had the GALL to predict him getting cut that season, there were 31 mentions of Silva's name in the comments section, almost all hoping he'd avoid the axe. But Silva was cut, and he sat on the practice squad for most of the season. 2012 was basically a repeat performance for Silva, excelling in the preseason only to be the last man cut. Again, he was relegated to the practice squad. Eventually, when Louis Delmas was injured, he found his way into a few starts. But he never produced anything worthwhile and was cut the following year.
Kicker - Havard "Kickalicious" Rugland
Rugland is proof that a viral YouTube video can land you an interview for nearly any job in the world. His trick-shot video caught the eyes of the interwebs, then the eyes of Jim Schwartz. After losing Jason Hanson to retirement, the Lions were looking for their replacement, and they pretty quickly chose David Akers as that man. But when Rugland entered the equation, fans saw a kicking competition where there wasn't one. Rugland barely saw any time in the preseason, and although he went 3 for 3 in field goals during that time, he was never a threat to dethrone Akers. After the Lions cut him, fans were outraged and, once again, believed the Lions were going to regret that mistake. Rugland has yet to attempt another field goal in a preseason or regular season game.
Punter - Robert Malone
I'm going to break the rules a little here. Punters don't have any real room on an "All-Hype" team because there is no hype around punters. Regardless of what Rich Eisen says, punters are hardly people. So instead of giving you an overhyped punter, let me tell you the sad, lonely story of Robert Malone: Detroit Lion for five days.
In the middle of the 2011 season, punter Ryan Donahue injured his right quad. It became apparent that he wouldn't be able to go in the upcoming game against the Chicago Bears. That Friday, the Lions signed Malone. A quick glance at Malone's performance that Sunday reveals nothing out of the ordinary: 5 punts, 49.0 yards per punt. Not bad. But he made one brutal mistake. He punted to Devin Hester. This happened. He was cut on Wednesday.
There it is, your All-Overhyped Detroit Lions Team. Only one question remains: Who will coach this team of untapped potential and endless hope? The choice is yours, Pride Of Detroit.
Previously: Lions' All-Overhyped Team: Offense