Earlier today, Seth Walder of ESPN released a poll about the most analytically advanced organizations in the NFL that also included questions about the use of analytics among teams and players that analytic staffers find overrated or underrated. The survey did not favor the Pittsburgh Steelers, as Pittsburgh got a vote for being one of the least analytically advanced teams, while outside linebacker T.J. Watt and safety Minkah Fitzpatrick each got a vote for being the most overrated player, based on staffers “quantitatively informed opinion.”
While there was no reasoning given for the Steelers’ inclusion as one of the least analytically inclined teams or for Watt being included on the list of most overrated players, one staffer compared Fitzpatrick to Jamal Adams, hence why he had him on the list.
“He’s better than Adams but I feel like Fitzpatrick is just very chaotic. He has a lot of great flash plays, but I think he’s out of position and making mistakes too much. I think his grades are always … a lot lower than what the scouts are saying about him.” The grades mentioned by the staffer are their in-house quantitative grades.
Last year, Fitzpatrick had a career-high 13 missed tackles, and it was also his first year in a Steelers uniform where he wasn’t a first-team All-Pro. Granted, given how porous Pittsburgh’s run defense was last season, he was asked to do a lot more when it came to defending the run than he normally should have been. With the Steelers’ run defense currently a top-ten unit, Fitzpatrick only has four missed tackles He also only had two interceptions last season.
Given that survey responses took place between August and November, I would think that the staffer who picked Fitzpatrick probably submitted their response on the earlier side. He’s having another All-Pro caliber season, with four interceptions, eight pass deflections (one higher than his seven total from last year), a defensive touchdown and 62 total tackles. He’s one of the preeminent safeties in the game, and to list him as overrated doesn’t make much, if any, sense to me.
As far as Watt goes, there’s been a narrative that he isn’t as good against talented opposing tackles as a guy like Myles Garrett. It’s a narrative that has been proven wrong time and time again, but it exists, and that’s really the only explanation I can come up with for why Watt, who tied the NFL single-season sack record last season, would be considered overrated. While he hasn’t generated a ton of pressure in the few games since his return from a torn pec, he had an interception against the Bengals and I highly doubt anyone could consider him overrated from such a small sample size, especially given that survey results cut off at some point in November.
These surveys are more just an interesting look to see how analytic departments view players and teams across the league more than anything substantive. Obviously, Watt and Fitzpatrick are two of the best players at their position in the league. It really doesn’t mean much that two people think they might be overrated, and as long as they keep performing, they can prove the doubters wrong.