O-Ver-Ra-Ted!  Fans are never slow to show their displeasure with a player on the field, but do they really know at whom their unified verbal daggers should be aimed?

To be overrated, a player must simultaneously be good – but also – their level of play cannot live up to the hype that surrounds them, the accolades they receive or the amount of publicity which comes their way.

In the case of the Carolina Panthers, the most overrated and underrated player on their team may surprise you.

Most Overrated Player

QB Cam Newton: Cam Newton is a good player. He had a great rookie season and has made Carolina Panthers fans stand up and take notice of football again, but that doesn’t mean he is not one of the most overrated players in football right now.

Cam Newton’s overrated status comes from the fact people only seem to judge him based on his highlights – sort of like looking at him through Michael Vick glasses. The problem with doing that is people do not get a very accurate picture of Cam Newton the quarterback.

In 2011, Newton threw for 21 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. A nice season by most standards, but when those numbers garner him a Pro Bowl invitation, then things start to drift into the overrated side of the equation. Newton beat out Matthew Stafford, who threw 20 more touchdowns, nearly 1,000 more passing yards, had a higher completion percentage, a high QB rating and threw fewer interceptions.

With just an 84.5 QB rating, Newton ranked in the middle of the pack as a quarterback last season. His 4,051 yards passing are also quite deceiving when broken down game-by-game. Newton started the 2011 season red-hot.

He threw for 854 yards in his first two games, yet after Week 4, Newton never even made it back over the 300-yard mark at any point during the season. The last three games of the year saw Newton toss for 149 yards, 171 yards and 158 yards, respectively. So while he deserved to grab headlines early in the season, his play fizzled greatly throughout the year, which subsequently earned the Panthers a 6-10 record.

Here are two stat lines from the 2011 season. One line is from Cam Newton’s Pro Bowl, super-hyped season, and the other is from Ben Roethlisberger’s average, much maligned season. See if you can find the difference.

                                              YDS         PCT     TD        INT      RATE
Cam Newton                     4,051        60        21        17        84.5

Ben Roethlisberger        4,077        63.2     21        14         90.1

No one is trying to tell me Ben Roethlisberger had a great year or should be considered a top quarterback, so why is Cam Newton?

Cam Newton had a good year, and he deserved the Rookie of the Year award he received, but am I really supposed to buy that he is one of the top 4 quarterbacks in football? O-Ver-Ra-Ted!

Most Underrated Player

WR Steve Smith: I have to start Steve Smith’s underrated debate by pointing out the names he has had passing him the ball: Chris Weinke, Rodney Peete, Jake Delhomme, Vinny Testaverde, Jimmy Clausen and now Cam Newton. I should really be able to end the argument right there, those names are all Steve Smith should have to say when validating his playing career – but I’ll make his case a little stronger.

At only 5-9, Steve Smith is built like a slot receiver, but he plays like one who is 6-5. He also holds every single Carolina all-time receiving record they can calculate. But something funny happened  in the 2010 season. The Panthers brought in Jimmy Clausen to play quarterback and suddenly Steve Smith was left for dead.

Rumors of the Panthers trading or releasing Smith ran ramped after Clausen’s inability to throw the ball left him with only 554 yards and two touchdowns, after the previous five seasons, during which he averaged 1,227 yards and 8 touchdowns.

With Clausen relegated to the scrap heap of NFL “could-of-beens”, Steve Smith returned to dominant form by catching 79 balls for 1,394 yards and 7 touchdowns. He then returned to his familiar stomping grounds of Hawaii where he led the NFC Pro Bowl team in receiving with 118 yards and a TD dance.

It was Smith’s 5th trip to the Aloha State, yet Smith is rarely considered one of the top wide receivers in the game nor is his name ever mentioned as a serious Hall of Fame candidate.

With 699 receptions, 10,278 yards and 59 touchdowns for his career so far, Steve Smith is only a short distance away from eclipsing some rather lofty names on the NFL all-time leader board. If Smith has another season like 2011, he will be only shouting distance away from players like Hall of Famer, Michael Irvin. After playing two less seasons than Irvin, Steve Smith’s numbers are already pretty comparable.

                             REC           YDS         TDS
Steve Smith       699        10,278        59

Michael Irvin      750        11,904        65

He should be able to pass him in receptions and touchdowns this season, and another 1,000-yard campaign would tie him with Irvin for seven seasons of breaking that mark.

At just 32, Steve Smith’s career is far from over. A couple more years of this kind of productivity and he will be sniffing names like Cris Carter and James Lofton, who both have their names etched in the Top 10 of all-time – for now.