The National Football League has been a powerful product that fans cannot get enough of every Thursday, Sunday, and Monday night, but an ugly aspect of this beautiful game of football are the injuries that occur during the games themselves. The game of football involves more injuries than perhaps any other major sport in America. Many promising careers have been deteriorated due to horrific injuries, and many fans are left to wonder what could have been. The year 2015 saw many big names succumb to the injury bug.
Stars all around the NFL suffered injuries that not only sat them out for the year, but also ended their team’s chances of achieving any kind of success in 2015. Stars such as Tony Romo and Dez Bryant of the Dallas Cowboys were certainly not the only stars whose season ended prematurely due to injury. Some of the stars who were injured were not as noteworthy because of the lack of coverage of their team, and others stars who were injured went unnoticed because their teams were successful even without their services. The 2016 NFL season is less than a month away and it will be intriguing to see how these stars come back from their season-ending injuries.
15 Le’Veon Bell
The 2014 NFL season saw a new emerging running back rise to the top of the rankings of running backs in football. Le’Veon Bell in just his second year in the NFL carved up opposing defenses and rushed for 1,361 rushing yards that year. Coming into 2015 a little bit of controversy was surrounding the stud running back. He and former teammate LeGarrette Blount were arrested on DUI and marijuana charges right before the start of the season. Bell was suspended for the first two games of 2015, and although he played very well in his first six games of the year he suffered a gruesome knee injury midseason to end his year.
The controversy continues to surround Bell as he may be given a four game suspension for missing a drug test. If Bell can stay healthy the Steelers will have one of the best offenses in the NFL coming into the 2016 NFL season.
14 Terrell Suggs
T-Sizzle had an extraordinarily short 2015 season, and it marked the least amount of games played in a season during his lengthy 13 year NFL career. The 2014 NFL season was a major success for Suggs. During that season the Baltimore Ravens made it to the divisional round of the playoffs, almost knocking off the eventually Super Bowl champion New England Patriots. Suggs also performed at a high level on the field racking up 12 sacks on the season. Now coming into the 2016 NFL season, Suggs needs to prove to critics that at the age of 33 he can still play up to the level that he played at in 2014.
If the Ravens offense can stay healthy and on the field for long periods of time the Raven defense should be much better than it was last year without Suggs. The less time the Ravens defense is on the field the more energy T Sizzle will have when he is on the field, and him being back in the fold should scare opposing quarterbacks.
13 Justin Forsett
Before the 2014 season Justin Forsett was known as a journey man running back that had primarily played the role of back up half back. He burst onto the scene with the Ravens in 2014 by getting 14 starts that year, and his production more than warranted those starts. Forsett went off in 2014 and rushed for a career high 1,266 yards on the ground. The Ravens were uncertain how the rushing attack would be without Ray Rice, but Forsett provided an unexpected spark to the team. In 2015 Forsett played in 10 games and was not playing quite as well as he was the previous year.
Unfortunately he broke his arm and would not return after this horrific injury during the 2015 season. The Ravens offense fell apart without Joe Flacco and Justin Forsett starting the game behind the offense line for the last portion of the season, and with Forsett now fully healthy he must prove that he still is capable of keeping the starting job in 2016.
12 Ryan Clady
The Broncos offensive line last season was good but not great. Starting quarterback Peyton Manning got hurt during the 2015 season, and the Broncos were forced to insert back up Brock Osweiler for a few games in 2015 while Manning was recovering. A huge reason as to why the Broncos offensive line was not as great as it could have been is because of the absence of Ryan Clady. Clady had been named to the Pro Bowl in the previous season, and had also been a first team all pro player in multiple years. Clady is one of the best offensive tackles in football today. Peyton Manning’s injury may have been preventable if Clady was blocking for him, and Clady is most widely known for the minimal amounts of sacks he has given up individually.
The Broncos traded away Ryan Clady to the New York Jets, and he will now make sure that Ryan Fitzpatrick is standing upright as much as possible in 2016.
11 Andrew Luck
The Indianapolis Colts were almost an afterthought during the 2015 season, and the team as a whole was not covered much. Because of this lack of coverage many forgot about just how injury riddled Andrew Luck was during the 2015 season. The Colts had to suffer through a season where nine of their 16 games were started by Matt Hasselback and even Josh Freeman. Without Andrew Luck the Colts have virtually no chance at making it to the playoffs, and Luck will be determined to will his team back into postseason play. Luck had a rough season in 2015 because of his nagging injuries where he threw 15 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
Now that Luck has a clean slate of health he should be able to put up the elite level numbers that many have come to expect from him. Andrew Luck needs to show that he can lead his team to success in order to keep his reputation as a top level signal caller.
10 Keenan Allen
The San Diego Chargers had one of the roughest seasons since Philip Rivers became the starting quarterback of the team. Rivers was without his greatest weapon for a large portion of the year with Keenan Allen suffering a season ending injury halfway through the season. Allen was on pace to accumulate over 1,400 receiving yards before suffering his injury, and would undoubtedly have been an all pro. The team really went south without Allen on the field, and the Chargers are in hopes that he can stay on the field for the entire 2016 season.
With Keenan Allen returning, Philip Rivers is in store for a big year. The team in general should be much improved after a disappointing last place finish in the AFC West, and with the defending division champ Denver Broncos in disarray at the quarterback position the Chargers have a fighting chance to make some noise in the division. Keenan Allen is looking to prove that he is the best wide receiver in the division after 2016.
9 Kevin White
Kevin White has never played a down in the NFL, but wide receivers selected high in the first round of the draft typically become big time play makers. Kevin White was largely forgotten after having a stress fracture in his shin which required season ending surgery. White was drafted out of West Virginia, where he played his last two years of college football after transferring in from junior college. His junior year was very average but he turned his game up another notch for the Mountaineers for his senior campaign. White impressed scouts with his 1,447 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns, and his big year led to him being named to the second team All-America and the first team All-BIG 12. His stats were phenomenal and coming into the NFL with a wide receiver like Alshon Jeffery on the other side of the field should give White a great mentor to learn under.
8 Tyrann Mathieu
Tyrann Mathieu played in the first 14 games of the season for the Arizona Cardinals before going down for the year. The fact that he played most of the season makes people forget he was ever out, and the Cardinals run to the NFC Championship game without him was fairly impressive. Mathieu had a rough path to the NFL. He was kicked off the LSU football team due to drug addiction, and was lucky when the Cardinals took a chance on him in in the 2013 NFL Draft. Mathieu did not disappoint the Cardinals and has become one of the best safeties in football in the past couple seasons.
The Cardinals defense imploded in the NFC Championship game last season, and the Cardinals are hoping Mathieu can help the team get over the hump and make it to the Super Bowl. Tyrann Mathieu in his 14 games last season had 89 tackles, five interceptions, and one forced fumble.
7 Victor Cruz
Victor Cruz has not played a game in the NFL since the 2014 season, where he suffered a brutal injury early in the season against the Philadelphia Eagles. Many thought Cruz would be able to come back in 2015. Cruz did not appear in any games during 2015, and this led to many forgetting about him. The theatrical catches of Odell Beckham also made many around the league forget about the All Pro wide receiver that preceded Beckham. If Cruz can regain his form from previous seasons in 2016 the Giants should have one of the best passing attacks in football.
Before his injury Cruz was best known for his reliability and his signature salsa touchdown dances, and he backed up his cocky touchdown celebrations by averaging over 1,000 receiving yards a season from 2011 through 2013. Victor Cruz has already exceeded the expectations of many after coming from a school in UMass that is not particularly highly touted for its football program.
6 Jordy Nelson
Jordy Nelson was largely forgotten about because of the greatness of Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers was still able to post fantastic numbers, and led his team to the divisional round of the playoffs before being knocked out of the postseason by the Arizona Cardinals. Nelson along with Randall Cobb made up one of the best wide receiver tandems in the NFL. Nelson was even arguably Rodgers’s number one target and his ability to beat corners to balls up in the air and by stretching the field made the Packers almost impossible to stop through the air.
During the preseason Nelson went down and was deemed out for the entire year. This caused the Packers to have to bring in an old veteran in James Jones to try and compensate for the loss of an all pro receiver. In 2014 Nelson had the best season of his career going for over 1,500 receiving yards and grabbing 13 touchdown passes. With Nelson slated to be fully ready by Week 1 of the 2016 season the Packers offense should be tough to beat in a competitive NFC.
5 Dante Fowler
The number three overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft is far from a star yet, but he certainly has the college resume that can be associated with some of the best pass rushers in the NFL. Fowler spent three years with the Florida Gators, and was led to declare for the draft because head football coach Will Muschamp was headed out the door at Florida. Every year that Fowler was at Florida he seemed to be becoming more explosive. He started every game he played in during his sophomore and junior year, and was starting to make a name for himself around the SEC. He was named to the second team all SEC in his sophomore year and made adjustments his junior year to make the first team all SEC.
This helped his draft stock and the Jaguars selected Fowler third overall in 2015. The Jags defense has greatly improved this offseason, and Fowler should be able to put up good numbers with little of the focus being placed on him by opposing offensive lines.
4 Maurkice Pouncey
Many don’t think of offensive lineman as stars, but the play of Maurkise Pouncey over the years has anchored the Steelers offensive line. The offensive line is most appreciated by the quarterback that plays behind it. Ben Roethlisberger suffered through a tougher season than usual without Pouncey’s services, and even missed a couple games himself during the 2015 NFL season. If Pouncey was able to play a single game in 2015, Big Ben’s chances of staying healthy for all 16 games would have been greatly improved.
Coming into 2016, The Steelers need their quarterback to stay healthy throughout the entire year, and a strong offensive line will diminish the chances of pass rushers laying vicious hits on the Steeler signal caller. With Maurkise Pouncey back on the line, where he has started every game he has ever played in, the Steelers should be capable of keeping Roethlisberger and star running back Le’Veon Bell upright for a longer stretch than in 2015.
3 Kelvin Benjamin
Kelvin Benjamin had a fantastic rookie year for the Carolina Panthers, even though the team as a whole did not play great during the 2014 NFL season. Coming into 2015 Benjamin looked to be the number one wide receiver option for Cam Newton. Benjamin suffered a season ending injury before the 2015 NFL season even started, and many thought the Panthers had the worst wide receiver core in the NFL after this unlucky loss. Many forgot about Benjamin and this was due in large part to the Carolina Panthers winning 15 games during the regular season. The Panthers then made it all the way to the Super Bowl, and the wide receiver core was an afterthought because of Cam Newton’s MVP campaign.
Benjamin is coming into the 2016 season as Cam Newton’s number one target once again. If he can build off his rookie stats of 1,000 receiving yards and nine touchdowns the Panthers will be much improved on offense.
2 Jamaal Charles
Jamaal Charles will once again be coming back from an injury at the beginning of the 2016 NFL season. As football fans it was hard to even tell that Charles was gone when he tore his ACL early on in the season. His departure was unrealized because of the improbable run that the Kansas City Chiefs would go on to end the season. The Chiefs ended up winning the final 10 games of their regular season, and Charcandrick West played a huge role in the back field during this string of victories. Jamaal Charles is still one of the best running backs in the NFL. Before his season ending injury Charles was on pace to gather nearly 1,000 yards rushing and 500 yards receiving.
The Chiefs will greatly benefit if Jamaal Charles can play the way he has in the past, and now know that they have a competent back up running back on the team as well.
1 Dion Lewis
Dion Lewis was an unknown talent prior to the 2015 NFL season. Lewis had spent some time as a third string running back for the Philadelphia Eagles, and was attempting to latch on with the New England Patriots. The Patriots decided to take a chance on Lewis and he would not disappoint. Lewis became a dual threat out of the back field, and could beat defenders by way of the run game and the passing game. Football fans all over the country began to take notice of Lewis. Fantasy football participants began adding Lewis to their teams, and Lewis seemed like he could be the Patriots running back of the present and future.
The Patriots rewarded Lewis with a new contract, but unfortunately he injured his knee in Week 9 of the 2015 season and was out for the year. Dion Lewis is out to prove this upcoming season that 2015 was not just a fluke.