The NFL season is finally upon us. After months of waiting and speculation, it's finally time for the players to put their feet to the field, where we'll finally get some concrete answers regarding the many predictions surrounding the league. While much of the attention this offseason has gone to players who will be playing on new teams, or some of the breakout candidates for this season, it's worth noting that there are proven elite players who have a reasonable chance to regress in 2017. It's an inevitable part of playing in the NFL; nobody knows when they'll stop being an effective player.
The current landscape of the league is interesting right now, because we're in the middle of a pretty significant transition period. The "old guard" of elite NFL talent is getting older, and there's no guarantee that they'll be able to keep up the pace of being a great player. In fact, this season poses a great threat to their consistency. We could potentially see a ton of regression from some of the standbys that have been reliable in years past. Who will that be, and how quickly will they fall off?
Ranked below are 15 NFL studs who will stumble in 2017.
15 Eli Manning
It was somewhat of a surprise that the Giants won games through their defense in 2016, and there seems to be some consistent flaws coming to light as it relates to Manning's play. He's not exactly young anymore, and the deficiencies that have been with him for his entire career are becoming increasingly persistent as he moves into the twilight of his career. Manning could be due for a major regression, which would obviously hurt the Giants significantly.
Still, he does have Odell Beckham, and now Brandon Marshall to throw the ball to, on top of some other solid pass-catchers. The talent is there, it's just a matter of Manning being able to buck the trend of poorer quality of play from last season.
14 Jarvis Landry
Landry is one of the best possession receivers in the league, but there have been several factors working against him this offseason. A contract dispute, on top of a new quarterback in Jay Cutler has suddenly made him a question mark for the upcoming season. In the early going, Cutler has seemed to favor DeVante Parker over Landry as his top target, and Landry's game is predicated on receiving a lot of targets on a weekly basis.
Ultimately, Landry will still probably have a decent season, but he's not a lock for consistent success. What is his standing with the organization, and how much chemistry will he have with a new quarterback who has only recently learned the playbook? A lot of indicators that Landry will have a down year.
13 C.J. Anderson
Several years ago, Anderson was considered to be one of the best young running backs in the game. Injuries and so-so play since then have lowered his effectiveness, and he could be in for his worst season yet in 2017. The Broncos have other running back options, including Jamaal Charles, who was signed in the offseason, and while Anderson will get a consistent share of touches per game, exactly how much is up in the air.
He hasn't done enough in recent years to lock up a bell-cow role in the Denver backfield, so consider his leash to be relatively short. If he falters early, Anderson will be seeing an increasing amount of the bench this year. It's all downhill from there. No doubt that he'll need to play lights out to reverse the trend we've been seeing recently.
12 A.J. Green
The Bengals were adamant about making some significant changes to offensive personnel in the offseason, and it's clear that they wanted to get younger. Two draft picks expended into Joe Mixon and John Ross figure to give them a pair of future playmakers that will be able to put up big numbers. Then they have Tyler Boyd going into his second season, along with what they hope is a healthy Tyler Effect for all of 2017.
The point is, while Green is still a great player, there are more options for Andy Dalton in the passing game this year. With defenses no doubt putting several bodies on Green, it will leave one-on-one matchups for other players on the offense. If he stays healthy, Green could still have a good year, but he won't be hitting career-highs in any statistical category.
11 LeGarrette Blount
Blount is sure to come down from a career-year in New England last year, which saw him act as the lead runner, scoring a bevy of touchdowns. It wouldn't be the first time we've seen players inflate their stats just from playing in Belichick's system, and that's likely to be the case with Blount in 2017. Now on the Eagles, he likely won't get as many opportunities for touchdowns, and is a part of a more crowded backfield.
That doesn't mean he can't be useful, but as the supposedly elite player he was last season, that projects to be coming to an end. More likely, he'll be used as a short-yardage runner, and also to run out the clock at the end of some games as well. He won't be the juggernaut we saw in 2016.
10 Dak Prescott
Simply one of the most surprising rookie stories of 2016, Prescott did everything the Cowboys asked of him. Even though they were and are still decidedly a run-based team, Prescott showed flashes of brilliance often, and was superb at protecting the ball, something that many rookie quarterbacks will struggle with. Will he be able to turn in a repeat performance this year, or is he destined to take a step back?
It seems hard to believe that Prescott will be able to maintain such a low interception total this year, and may not see much of an increase in touchdown passes. Whether Ezekiel Elliott is suspended or not, Dallas is going to run the ball, so the massive jump that Prescott could potentially take in year two is going to be limited. He'll probably be good enough, but not necessarily outstanding.
9 Martavis Bryant
After missing the entirety of 2016 due to a suspension, Bryant was reinstated this offseason, and many are projecting him to give the Steelers' offense an even bigger boost. It's true that Bryant was a very good player a few years ago, but how much is he going to get a chance to stand out having to share targets with Antonio Brown, Le'Veon Bell, Eli Rogers and rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster? It's going to be a crowded passing game for sure.
So while there's for Bryant to have a true bounce-back season, it's more likely that there will be times this year where he'll get lost in the shuffle. Pittsburgh's offense has a lot of options, and if Bryant proves that he's taken a step back after his absence last year, they won't hesitate to find other more reliable targets on a regular basis.
8 Frank Gore
Gore has been one of the NFL's true ironman players over the last decade or so, and his consistency has been astounding over that time, especially for a running back. However, he's now seeing some increased competition in the Colts' backfield, which indicates that they're preparing for a potential drop-off from the 33-year-old Gore. Rookie Marlon Mack, Robert Turbin and recently-acquired Matt Jones could all get notable looks this year.
So if Gore does indeed take the step back that will have to inevitably happen eventually, it's completely understandable. Father Time catches up with every player at some point, and 2017 could be the year that Gore proves that he is indeed human. Early struggles will reduce his role significantly.
7 Carson Palmer
In what is likely going to be Palmers' last year in the NFL, he's going to have to do a lot to return the Cardinals' offense to the level it was playing at several years ago. In that time, Palmer has aged a lot in terms of playing ability, and there are clear deficiencies to his game that have only become more apparent. This is the last chance for the Palmer/Bruce Arians combination to make a deep playoff run, and it's going to be an uphill battle on the offensive side of the ball.
There are major questions. Can Larry Fitzgerald continue to be an elite target? Can John Brown stay healthy? Will J.J. Nelson finally establish himself as a consistent deep threat? What was once a dominant Cardinals passing game will have to prove a lot in 2017, and Palmer's regression may prevent it from succeeding.
6 DeMarco Murray
Murray had a great bounce-back season last year, but he's been one of the most used runners in the league going back to his days with the Cowboys. The Titans are a run-first team, and they're going to have to give former 2nd-round pick Derrick Henry a legitimate chance to be a bell-cow running back at some point. How much longer can Murray remain consistent, and continue to flourish as he hovers around the age of 30?
It's not a forgone conclusion that he'll take a major step back, but Tennessee is going to use Henry in a greater capacity this year. If Murray shows signs of regression, Henry could legitimately take over the starting role by mid-season. Murray will be an interesting case to monitor as the season goes on.
5 Kirk Cousins
The contract disputes between Cousins and the Redskins' management were one of the most intriguing storylines of the offseason. Cousins may be on his way out of Washington as soon as next season, as it's clear that there's an interpersonal problem in play here. To make matters worse, he lost his best two receivers in DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon in the offseason, which could be devastating to a team that throws the ball often.
There's a lot of reason to suspect that Cousins will have a down year. He's in a major battle with the front office, and has lost some significant weapons to throw to. This could combine to result in a disappointing 2017 campaign for Cousins, as he l0oks for a new team to go to next offseason.
4 Jordan Howard
One of the most unforeseen success stories in 2016, Howard lit up the league as a rookie running back last year, even though it came on a disastrous Bears team. What was a stellar campaign last year, could be reduced to merely a good one this time around. Defenses will have a target on Howard's back this time around, gameplanning for him in ways that they didn't last season. The Bears' offensive line is also a major question mark, which could serve as a hinderance to Howard as well.
You can expect Howard to have a fine season, but in terms of establishing himself as one of the league's truly best running backs, that is far from a guarantee. He'll be hurt by Chicago's lack of a passing game, and have to prove that he can be effective with defenses preparing for him as the Bears' best offensive player.
3 LeSean McCoy
The Bills have made no bones about the fact that they're looking to rebuild completely. They sold off Sammy Watkins and Ronald Darby, made some surprising cuts, and generally just don't seem to expect much success in 2017. McCoy is still there, however, and is definitely the best player on their offense. The problem? He's hovering around the age of 30, and having dealt with some signifiant injury problems the last few years, it could be a steep drop for him in 2017.
While McCoy has proven that he's one of the best running backs of his generation, it seems like 2017 may serve as his career downfall. He's playing on a bad team with very few weapons to compliment him. Even though he had a resurgence last season, this year doesn't figure to be quite as easy. This could be McCoy's career breaking point.
2 Matt Ryan
Last year, everything aligned perfectly for the Falcons. It saw the emergence of multiple elite players, and established Kyle Shanahan as one of the best offensive minds in the game today. Similarly, it seemed that Ryan may have gotten over the hump, and finally placed himself in the upper echelon of the league's quarterbacks, instead of being merely "good." Can he turn in a similar performance this year?
Maybe, maybe not. Ryan's game is certainly made worse by losing Shanahan, and he'll have to prove that last year's elite season wasn't just an anomaly. We saw a drop-off of Cam Newton after his Super Bowl appearance in 2015, and we may witness the same thing for Ryan as well. More likely, he falls back to his career averages, instead of being the sheer juggernaut that he and the Falcon's offense was last year.
1 Jay Cutler
In what was an utterly shocking decision, Cutler decided to return to the NFL after having stated his retirement earlier in the offseason. Call it a money-grab (which it likely is), call it the desire to reunite with former coach Adam Gase, Cutler is now a Dolphin for the 2017 season, and it will likely be his only season with the team, while Ryan Tannehill recovers from a season-ending injury.
Cutler has proven what he is at this point; a phenomenal arm talent who simply doesn't have the intangibles to consistently succeed. He can get lazy, apathetic, and cause strife between his teammates when he refuses to take the next step as a leader. His brief retirement didn't help him in any of those areas, and sooner rather than later, Cutler will bomb out in Miami, finally deciding to retire for good after the 2017 season concludes. Expect Cutler to flame out, no questions asked.