There are a good chunk of NFL players who are on the verge of stardom. There are also a number of guys who are dangerously close of falling from the spotlight. On both ends of the spectrum we see guys who are young and old. There are young guys who are about to finally be recognized as stars in the NFL, but there are also guys in their early-twenties who will be fading out of the spotlight for the first time in their careers. Then there are also some aged vets who have lost a step or two and will no longer hold their respected spot at the top of the league. But there are also a couple of those aged athletes who will shine in the spotlight for the first time.
With this list, we look at eight players who will become the center of attention at some point over the course of the next season. This list also looks at seven guys who are in the spotlight, but won’t be able to maintain their previously seen levels of success throughout the season. This list will be the toughest for those seven guys and their fans. This season will be uplifting for some, and terribly tragic for others. But that’s life in the NFL. Guys at the top often fall to the bottom, and vice versa. It’s a never ending teeter totter that athletes must face until retirement. Here, we’ll predict who swings to the opposite side of the pendulum in the next season off our beloved NFL.
15 STAR: CARSON WENTZ
Carson Wentz is poised for a great season due to the Eagles front office. Because of this, Wentz will finally be a star. Last season, the team placed way too much weight on the rookie quarterback and should be ashamed for the workload placed on such a young guy. But that will help Wentz this season, especially given the talent that will be surrounding him.
Wentz might not have a true No. 1 rusher surrounding him in the backfield. But he’ll always have someone fresh. With Darren Sproles and Ryan Matthews, there will never be a lack of an explosive threat with the ability to create some interesting offensive scenarios. More importantly is the Eagles addition of Alshon Jeffery. Jeffery combined with Jordan Matthews is a scarily good 1-2 punch, and Nelson Agholor and Zach Ertz are just icing on the cake for Wentz. With all of these tools, it’s tough to see a future where Wentz won’t succeed.
14 BUST: RYAN TANNEHILL
The Dolphins are going to see a sharp decline from the success the saw last season, and that’s going to be largely because of their overrated quarterback. While on the field, Ryan Tannehill led the Dolphins to an 8-5 record. Expect those numbers to flip by the end of next season. Tannehill will lead the Dolphins to just five wins and will wonder whether or not he has a starting job lined up for the start 2019 regular season.
But Tannehill will be able to take solace in his 77 games started with 106 touchdowns against just 66 interceptions. After next season though, his losing record will no longer be tolerated. Tannehill has gone 37-40 during his time as the Dolphins starter, and that’s just going to get worse next year. Luckily for Tannehill, he’s put in enough successes to start somewhere, just not in Miami anymore.
13 STAR: VERNON HARGREAVES
Although Vernon Hargreaves won’t be the only second-year player with a greats season, he’ll have the greatest impact on a team that will be shocking the league with how good they are. And that’s going to be great for Hargreaves, who was named to the All-Rookie Team by the Pro Football Writers Association, and it was deserving after 16 starts with 68 tackles, 10 pass deflections and one forced fumble. The cornerback will soon be one of the dominant pass defenders shutting down any teams top receiver.
Hargreaves, the Buccaneers 11th pick from the 2016 draft, had an amazing career in Florida that was good enough to forgo his senior season. Those are star-like characteristics, but as he leads the defensive attack that elevates Tampa Bay to a playoff-bound team, everyone following the league will know his name.
12 BUST: JASON WITTEN
Although the cowboys deemed written worthy of a contract extension, this year will be the year he fades from relevance. Jason Witten just seems to have lost a step in his game. Plus the 34 year old looks a bit older every time he takes off his helmet. Witten is still playing in every game, and starting those games too. He’s done that just about his entire career.
Witten has been selected to the Pro Bowl an astonishing 10 times. But he’s seemed to lost a step or two in his game over the past couple of seasons. Especially last year. Sure, he’s still posting pretty good numbers for a tight end. But with how good we’ve seen Witten play, we would want to see more production out of him. Witten still had explosive games this past year, but they’re seemingly getting farther spread apart these days.
11 STAR: DAVID JOHNSON
Sure, David Johnson put up league leading numbers last year, but this new-to-the-NFL running back hasn’t quite broken out as a star just yet. That’s like that for two reasons. First is because he’s seen just two seasons in the NFL. And second, that’s mostly because he’s hidden away in Arizona behind Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald. That’s all going to change after he leads the league in running categories next season.
To be fair, Johnson hasn’t reached star status yet because his rookie campaign wasn’t all that great. But when he followed it up with more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage last season, he suddenly showed up on everyone’s radar. Now, people are waiting to see if he will boom or bust. Will he be great or will he fade into the darkness of a failing career? Judging by how he looked last year, expect everyone to fear the name David Johnson when the Cardinals come to town.
10 BUST: J.J. WATT
It sucked watching J.J. Watt on the sidelines last season, and it’s almost going to be as bad watching him on the field this season (during the time his body allows him to play on the field … get the hint? He’ll be dealing with injuries for most of next season, too.) The three-time Defensive Player of the Year and two-time sacks leader has the ability to change the outcomes of games. But now we’ll always be wondering which hit will be the one that takes him out of the game forever. It may never happen, but after undergoing two back surgeries last season, Watt will be on an injury watch list for the remainder of his career.
Watt is cleared to play next season, but he should step down from the NFL. He’s currently thought of as one of the best defensive players of his time, but that is going to be in real jeopardy once Watt struggles through the 2017 season. He’ll probably have a good game or two, but don’t expect much more than that out of the injury-riddled defensive end.
9 STAR: DAK PRESCOTT
Sure, it’s early in Dak Prescott’s career, but another successful season will vault him to star status. A playoff run with a rookie running back is rare. Back-to-back playoff runs to start a career is just mind blowing. But that’s what’s in store for us with Prescott leading the Cowboys. Zeke took most of the spotlight last season. This year, Dak will truly shine. You better get ready for round two of Dak Prescott in the NFL because it’s going to be better to watch than his awesome rookie season.
Prescott may not outmatch his 13-win rookie season, but he’ll likely exceed his 23 touchdown first season (though he might throw a few more than four interceptions). Prescott, though, has been through an entire regular season and has seen more success than most quarterbacks see in an entire career. But that’s not what makes a star. But this season of work will solidify him as one of the NFL’s great young quarterbacks.
8 BUST: BEN ROTHLESBERGER
Most people don’t know it yet, but this will be his last season in the NFL as the often-injured quarterback just can’t take any more beatings in the NFL. To Ben Roethlisberger’s credit, he doesn’t miss much time for how often he is banged up. But it’s tough for him to play every game in the regular season, and that won’t change next season. The aged quarterback just won’t be able to play for all 16 games, effectively ruining his final season in the league.
By the end of next season, Roethlisberger will have had enough on-field abuse and decide to hang his jersey up for good. It may come as a shock to some, but deep down, we’ve all been noticing the everyday grind wearing on Roethlisberger’s gameplay and it’ll be best for him to get out before he begins to hurt his reputation with poor play. But next season will be one of Roethlisberger’s best in the league. Maybe it’ll be because he too, knows that it’s his last time in the spotlight before he’s eventually inducted into the Hall of Fame.
7 STAR: TED GINN
The Saints were in desperate need of that deep ball threat and Ted Ginn slid into that role perfectly. Sure, the “Ted Ginn” name is known pretty well because of his time in college and his decade-long stay in the NFL. But he hasn’t truly been a star since taking his skill to the professional level. This season is going to change that as Ginn will be compared to some of the NFL’s biggest names after working with Drew Brees for the entire season.
Let’s be honest, Ginn had big-play potential with Cam Newton, but last year’s struggles in Carolina ruined anyone’s chances at a successful season. Now that Ginn’s 32, his chances of becoming a star a scarily low. But that doesn’t matter. His veteran presence matched with Brees’ prowess will fuel this combo to greatness and Ginn will finally be labeled as a star.
6 BUST: PHILIP RIVERS
There’s no way around this one. Without a doubt, Philip Rivers will be a bust next season. Even though Rivers had a good individual season last year and was selected to the Pro Bowl, he had to be fed up with the Chargers five-win record. Making matters worse, the Chargers recorded just four wins the year before. Those are the two worst records Rivers has seen since he began starting for the team back in 2006 (that year they had their best record, 14-2).
Rivers will be 36 next season and he knows there’s not going to be many more seasons left. It will be important for him to return with a winning record next season. But he won’t be able to make that happen. Rivers has led the NFL in interceptions for two of the last three seasons, and he’ll nearly top the league again next year. Rivers will continue to turn the ball over just way too much, and next year he’ll struggle scoring, which will be a bit of a change compared to what he’s used to. Sure, Rivers will still have his starting job if he wants it, but whispers of retirement will start surrounding the used-to-be star.
5 STAR: BRANDIN COOKS
It’s surprising that after three years in the league, Brandin Cooks first national spotlight came when it was announced he’d be joining the Patriots for the upcoming season. But that’s how it seems to go with Tom Brady and New England. No matter who you are, your biggest accomplishment is going to be playing for the team up north rather than anything you’ve done in your career previously. Cooks went from having a quiet rookie season, to playing two great seasons in New Orleans.
But those great seasons didn’t get him much national cred. That’s all going to change this season. No matter what happens, Cooks is likely to be Brady’s favorite target … which in turn means that he’s due for a statistically loaded season. And when that happens in New England, you become a star whether you want it or not.
4 BUST: MATT RYAN
What a shocker … another year where the quarterback from the losing Super Bowl team struggles. Unfortunately for Falcons nation, Matt Ryan will fall victim to the Super Bowl slump and he will not see anything near the MVP season he recorded last season. In fact, Ryan won’t even be a Pro Bowl selection after he plays a mediocre season next year. Ryan has missed just two starts in his entire career, so we don’t expect injuries to plague his season. But that chemistry between Ryan and Julio Jones will begin to fade and the Falcons chances of winning will suffer.
Each week the Falcons will be pushed around by whatever lucky opponent is on the opposite side of the field. Ryan may rebound to the Super Bowl in the future, but it definitely won’t be next year. Next year will be considered a slump year from Ryan. But that’s what happens when you don’t play like an MVP for two years straight. Especially when your production falls to the point where your team struggles to come close to an 8-8 record.
3 STAR: TODD GURLEY
Los Angeles is still holding out hope for its young running back, as they should since this young running back was stumped by playing with a failing rookie quarterback last season. But Todd Gurley is good. Part of this ranking is based on projecting Gurley’s future with a young quarterback poised to turn it all around this season. Although Gurley is part of a Rams team that just couldn’t seem to put it all together last season, this season will be much more successful. And that will be largely in part because Gurley will return to his Pro Bowl form.
Gurley had a pretty good college career at Georgia (though his final season lacked production as he was suspended and then injured and played just six games).
Gurley was the 10th overall pick in 2015, and it seemed to pay off as he was named to the Pro Bowl that season after rushing 1,106 yards and 10 touchdowns while averaging 4.8 yards per carry. Last year, Gurley rushed the ball 49 more times, but had a significant drop in yards (885) and rushed for just six touchdowns while averaging 3.2 yards per carry. That’s really scary for a guy who most thought would be the league’s next leading running back. But he’ll manage all those fears when he comes out and performs how we all expected him to last season.
2 BUST: TOM BRADY
His body just can’t take the demands of playing in the NFL anymore … nor should it at 40 years old. With nothing left to prove, this five-time Super Bowl champion should have announced his retirement after receiving his most recent trophy. Tom Brady is one of the best NFL players of all time, and he played that way last season. Now, he’s just risking that legacy by continuing for another season, and he’ll continue to risk his legacy each time he signs on for another season. The 12-time Pro Bowl selection and two-time MVP has absolutely nothing left to prove.
You have to look at the risk-to-reward ratio when considering Brady’s career in the NFL. Why risk another season? Sure, he can return and play like he’s been for the past decade. But that won’t add much to his legacy unless he wins another ring, which is unlikely given the strength of his opposition. And what’s the negatives in retiring? Sure, some New England fans will be furious but they’ll come around once the initial sting wears off. Plus, that would ensure his legacy remains intact.
1 STAR: SAM BRADFORD
This will drive a lot of people crazy, but this has been a long time coming. Sam Bradford will finally be playing like everyone expected when he was the first overall pick. To be fair, though, Bradford has been a sneakily good quarterback for the past couple of seasons (that was after a two-year stretch that was plagued with injuries). Bradford will rightfully be named to a Pro Bowl and he’ll lead the way for a winning record for the first time in his career.
It’s all about the completions and accuracy. Bradford completed the highest percentage of passes among quarterbacks last season and has always had a very accurate arm. It didn’t lead the Vikings to a postseason performance last year, but he has a chance to make that run this year. Bradford’s stat line was just crazy last season as he completed 71.6 percent of his passes for nearly 4,000 yards and 20 touchdowns with just five interceptions. Expect all of that to get better this season.