Pro sports are a fickle beast. One minute you can be on top of the world and the next, you’re a has been, forgotten by fans who have moved onto the next hot thing. No sport epitomizes that fact more than the NFL where the average number of years a player lasts in the league can be counted on one hand. Hell, according to the latest data, you only need a few fingers to count the number of years most players make it in the NFL.
Pro football is an assortment of ups and downs where players can lead the league one year and be on the bench the next. You never know what will happen be it injuries, age, coaching changes, etc… No sport has the volatility of the NFL and only a few play show the consistency that makes them stand out.
But each year there are those players that open our eyes, looking as though they’ll be the league’s next big star. For many, it doesn’t last more than that one season. Others see breaks in their consistency, but bounce back to reclaim their seat among the greats. The 2016 season saw both as we witnessed players fail to reach their potential and others who caught us off guard with flashes of brilliance. This is a look at some of those players who may not be as good next year and others who are likely to prove their dip in production was a minor stumble.
15. Bounce Back – Tyler Eifert
The Bengals suffered a ton of injuries in 2016 and were never able to get on track after making the playoffs the previous five seasons. TE Tyler Eifert was one of the team’s biggest disappointments, missing eight games due to a variety of injuries. It also didn’t help that when he was healthy the team’s top wide receiver, A.J. Green, was out of the lineup suffering injuries of his own. In 2015, Eifert only caught 52 passes for 615 yards in 13 contests, but he hauled in 13 TDs, second-most in the NFL. In eight games this season, Eifert caught 29 passes for just under 400 yards and five TDs. You have to believe that if the team returns to full strength in 2017 that Eifert will get back to being one of the top TEs in the NFL.
14. Crashing Down – DeMarco Murray
The Titans reaped the rewards from a trade with the Eagles last offseason that brought them RB DeMarco Murray. The former All-Pro rushed for just under 1,300 yards, caught 53 passes for another 400 and scored 12 total TDs. Murray proved that his down year in Philly was just a fluke and that he can still get it done. But come 2017, Murray may not be as heavily involved in the offense considering Tennessee used a second-round pick to select Alabama stud Derrick Henry in 2016. Does that mean the Titans will forget Murray and lean more on Henry next season? No, but it is likely that there could be more of a timeshare between the two than we saw in 2016.
13. Bounce Back – Demaryius Thomas
If there’s one thing the Broncos need, it’s better quarterback play and if they got that, Denver could once again be in the conversation when it comes to the NFL’s best teams. Uninspiring play from that position certainly led to WR Demaryius Thomas’ dip in production this season. Sure, he caught 90 passes for 1,083 yards and five TDs, but those stats are his lowest since 2011 when he wasn’t even a full-time starter. QBs Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch will be entering their third and second years in the league respectively and it’s possible both could take a step forward with more experience under their belts.
However, there’s a lot of talk that Cowboys QB Tony Romo could be the man under center in Denver come 2017 and that could mean big things for a stacked offense, especially Thomas.
12. Crashing Down – Davante Adams
I’m more than just a little skeptical of Packers wide receiver Davante Adams. In his first two seasons, Adams tallied a total of 929 yards receiving to go along with four TDs and it’s not as if he wasn’t playing. Adams started 23 of 29 games over that span. But in 2016, Adams gained 997 yards and scored 12 times, starting in 15 of 16 games. Yes, quarterback Aaron Rodgers is one of the league’s best and Adams should be able to continue playing well in 2017, but when you see numbers jump like that, there’s good reason to wonder if it will last. And Rodgers is the kind of guy who likes to take advantage of all of his offensive weapons. That’s not to say that Adams can’t have another solid season, but I wouldn’t expect him to catch another 12 TDs which was tied for second-most in the NFL.
11. Bounce Back – Russell Wilson
QB Russell Wilson didn’t have a terrible season in 2016, but it wasn’t up to the standards that we’re used to seeing from the Seahawks’ signal caller. Sure Wilson passed for a career-high 4,200 yards, but he also threw 11 INTs, the most for any season in his five-year career. His yards per attempt, QB rating and TD percentage were all career lows in 2016. It didn’t help that Seattle had a revolving door at RB where three different players got starts over the course of the season. Wilson has the weapons, with standout pass catchers WR Doug Baldwin and TE Jimmy Graham available at his disposal, but the offensive line needs to be fixed for Wilson to get back to the Pro Bowl level we’ve become accustomed to seeing him at.
10. Crashing Down – Melvin Gordon
As a rookie in 2015, Chargers running back Melvin Gordon failed to score a touchdown and tallied just 833 yards of total offense. In 2016, Gordon exploded for 1,416 total yards and 12 TDs. I’m guessing next year he’ll be somewhere in between. In his final three games of 2016, before he went down with a couple of injuries, Gordon tallied 359 yards of total offense and scored just one TD. In the three games before that, he gained 537 yards in the ground & through the air and scored four times. To me it looked like his play was leveling off.
Consider as well that the team will have a new head coach who may employ a more pass-happy system with QB Philip Rivers and WRs Keenan Allen, Travis Benjamin, Tyrell Williams and Dontrelle Inman all under contract next season.
9. Bounce Back – Kelvin Benjamin
What the hell happened to WR Kelvin Benjamin in 2016? As a rookie in 2014, Benjamin caught 73 passes for just over 1,000 yards to go along with 9 TDs. He blew out his knee before the 2015 season, but he came into this year with the reigning NFL MVP as his quarterback on a team that made the Super Bowl after going 15-1 during the regular season. In his first game back, Benjamin caught six passes for 91 yards and a TD. In Week 2 he went over 100 yards on seven catches and added two TDs. And then he fell off a cliff, never going over 90 yards in a game again until Week 17. He caught only three TDs over that span as well. After a hugely disappointing 6-10 campaign, you have to think the Panthers, and Benjamin, will bounce-back in a big way come 2017.
8. Crashing Down – Michael Thomas
TE Jimmy Graham was the last Saints player to lead the team in receptions in back-to-back seasons. As for wide receivers, this year it was rookie Michael Thomas, but don’t get your hopes up that he’ll do it again next year. The team’s leading WR in 2015 was Brandin Cooks. In 2014 it was Kenny Stills. In 2013 it was Marques Colston. You get the idea. QB Drew Brees is the king of spreading the ball around and there’s no reason to believe that will change next season and when you consider Thomas will be entering his sophomore campaign, he’ll likely get a little more attention than he may have in 2016. I don’t doubt that he’ll be a solid contributor for the Saints, but another season with nearly 100 receptions, 1,100+ yards and nine TDs may be tough to attain.
7. Bounce Back – DeAndre Hopkins
Blame the terrible quarterback play of Brock Osweiler for the struggles of Houston WR DeAndre Hopkins who looked like one of the best pass catchers in the league in 2015. That season, Hopkins caught 111 passes for 1,521 yards and 11 TDs, but in 2016 Hopkins struggled grabbing just 78 balls for 954 yards and four TDs. Osweiler was a complete flop after signing a huge contract before the 2016 season, and what the Texans do at QB going forward is up in the air, but you have to think that Hopkins will get back on track in 2017 no matter who is throwing him the ball. And if it ends up being Osweiler, I have to believe that another offseason together would get the two on the same page.
6. Crashing Down – LeGarrette Blount
Patriots RB LeGarrette Blount rushed for a career-high 1,161 yards and a whopping 18 TDs in 2016 and those numbers ridiculously outpaced anything he’s ever done. In his six previous seasons, Blount only once crossed the 800-yard mark (his rookie year with TB he rushed for 1,007 yards) and never had more than seven total TDs on offense. Also consider that Blount is now 30 years of age which is almost always when RBs begin to decline. Who even knows where Blount will play in 2017 as he becomes an unrestricted free agent after the 2016 season wraps up. The last time he signed as a free agent, he didn’t even last a full season with the Steelers. Even if Blount stays in New England, it’s looking more and more like Dion Lewis will be the lead back for the team in 2017.
5. Bounce Back – Todd Gurley
The Rams were a mess of inconsistency in 2016 and bringing in rookie QB Jared Goff didn’t help things. Entering the season, many looked at RB Todd Gurley to be the breakout star in the team’s move back to Los Angeles. Gurley was the 2015 Offensive Rookie of the Year after rushing for just over 1,100 yards and 10 TDs but struggled big time in his second NFL season. While starting all 16 games for the Rams, Gurley only rushed for more than 75 yards in a game twice while scoring just six TDs. All this while carrying the ball 50 more times than he did as a rookie. He did catch 22 more passes than he did in 2015, but his yards per reception went down and he’s failed to score a receiving TD over his first two seasons. The team is searching for a new head coach but you have to think a full offseason working with Goff in a new system will get Gurley back on track.
4. Crashing Down – Tyreek Hill
All-around weapon Tyreek Hill burst onto the scene in 2016, electrifying on offense and special teams, but let’s be honest, nothing the guy did this season screams consistency. Yes, Hill caught six TD passes, rushed for three more and added three as a return man, but not once this season did he rush, catch or return for 100 yards or more in a single game. In 2017 don’t expect things to change as he won’t be the number one option in the backfield (RB Spencer Ware is signed through 2018) or through the air (TE Travis Kelce is signed through 2021). Yes, Hill can dazzle on special teams, but outside of Devin Hester and maybe Dante Hall, there’s never been a player who could do the things Hill did this season on a regular basis.
3. Bounce Back – Cam Newton
The reigning league MVP sure didn’t play like one in 2016. Of course, you can’t expect a player to throw for over 3,800 yards with 45 total TDs every season. Cam Newton’s passing yards & TDs, rushing yards & TDs, completion percentage and QB rating all regressed this season as the Carolina Panthers struggled to a 6-10 record. All of this with WR Kelvin Benjamin returning and the steady hands of TE Greg Olsen available to Newton as well. But this is how the Panthers have played with Newton under center. Their record over the past five seasons: 2012 (7-9), 2013 (12-4), 2014 (5-8-1), 2015 (15-1), 2016 (6-8). If that’s any indication of how they’ll do in 2017, a bounce-back year for Newton looks to be in the cards.
2. Crashing Down – Dak Prescott
Don’t get me wrong, I think the Cowboys found their QB of the future and behind that offensive line, it’s hard not to succeed, but the trajectory of a player can go either way in year two. How many guys in the past looked like can’t miss players and then floundered under the pressure? Consider QBs like Robert Griffin III, Sam Bradford, and Vince Young, RB Eddie Lacy or WR Percy Harvin who all won Offensive Rookie of the Year over the past 10 years and went on to have lackluster careers. Now I’m not saying that Prescott will struggle like those players did, but I don’t expect him to score 29 total TDs to go along with just four INTs in his sophomore campaign.
1. Bounce Back – Adrian Peterson
Until he calls it a career, I’ll never bet against the bounce-back ability of RB Adrian Peterson. Many think he’s played his last game for the Minnesota Vikings which could be even more reason to believe that Peterson will be back to his old ways in 2017. He seems like the kind of guy who likes to prove people wrong and whatever team signs him could have a player looking to show the Vikings that letting him go was a huge mistake. Yes, in three 2016 games Peterson averaged a career-low 1.9 yards per attempt and by the start of next season he’ll be 32 years of age, but put him behind a solid offensive line and he could shine. Walter Payton rushed for 1,333 yards at age 32. Curtis Martin rushed for nearly 1,700 yards at age 31 with nearly 900 more carries over his career than Peterson has now. When Barry Sanders rushed for over 2,000 yards in 1997, he had amassed 2,719 carries over his career. Peterson only has 2,418. There’s still plenty of tread on those tires.
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