The San Diego Chargers seem to enter each season as Super Bowl contenders, only to prove predictions false by October despite their talent. The San Diego Chargers are counted out nearly every winter, only to pleasantly shock the league with late December runs in the lowly AFC West. If there is any franchise in the NFL that epitomizes a yin-and-yang quality of "overrated versus underrated", it is the San Diego Chargers.
2011 was no different, as 4-1 bookends were overshadowed by a six-game losing streak, and Philip Rivers was both excused and scapegoated. The quarterback shouldered a heavy portion of the blame for his league-leading 27 turnovers, even though an inconsistent running game, offensive line, and defensive proficiency all factored into the mess.
So is the 2004 classmate of Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger (who combine for four Lombardi Trophies) the most overrated player in a Chargers uniform, or do Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers still unrightfully abandon Rivers under the radar...or does he manage to be both?
Actually, Rivers' classification is appropriate at this point in his career: a regular season statistical juggernaut who is on the brink of elite status pending postseason fulfillment in the very near future. If the San Diego Chargers and their franchise quarterback wish to reach the playoffs and the promise land as an underestimated dark horse, then the surrounding cast must live up to individual Madden ratings. That being said, who is inexplicably holding team efforts back, and who garners an opportunity to advance in the depth chart?
Overrated - Shaun Phillips, LB
Once the injury-plagued Shawne Merriman was finally sent packing in 2010, Phillips took over in the public's eye as the quintessential leader of the linebacking corps. Taking into consideration that the 2011 Pro Bowler missed four games of his own due to a foot injury, he still failed to light up the box score, totaling just 42 combined tackles and 3.5 sacks. An aging Phillips appears to be following the wrong footsteps that superstar Merriman left behind.
Meanwhile, the younger players in the middle of San Diego's 3-4 defense exemplified bright potential going forward. Antwan Barnes, who was groomed in Baltimore, led a porous unit when it came to pressuring the opposing quarterback with 11 sacks. Donald Butler tallied 96 tackles and 16 games of stability in his first season as a starter. Accompany that with the additions of Jarret Johnson (another former Ravens linebacker) and rookie Melvin Ingram, and the new linebacker-happy schemes of promoted Defensive Coordinator John Pagano, and Shaun Phillips is more of a blip on the crowded radar.
Underrated - Vincent Brown. WR
An unnecessary fuss was made when Vincent Jackson departed to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a free agent. His numbers not only overshadowed his diva tendencies, but the reality of this offense is that Philip Rivers can turn any wide receiver into a fantasy fourth round pick or midseason waiver steal. Of course, when San Diego frantically filled the "void" by signing Robert Meachem, Eddie Royal, and Roscoe Parrish, they neglected to realize that suitable replacement Vincent Brown was already on the roster.
Through minimal chances to make an impact as a rookie in 2011, Brown recorded 19 receptions, 329 yards, and 2 touchdowns - posting 13/234/1 in a four-game span in which he started. The third-round selection out of San Diego State that can stretch the field or execute slants from the slot hopes to establish an elevated role for himself this upcoming campaign.
Philip Rivers' multiple reputations depend on it.