NFL players experience careers that are often unmethodical. Athletes - not just in football - have fluctuations in their successes and failures. I can give countless examples - like how Robert Griffin was a beast his rookie year and stinks now - but on a broader level, it is almost impossible for players to have the same success every year. Players experience setbacks, such as injuries, contract disputes etc. Now lets analyze how NFL players end up becoming more dominant, or just more relevant. Sometimes, players struggle early on due to immaturity, or maybe they just have not reached their full potential yet. Anyway, the point is, players experience periods where they are not consistent, which if normal.
Professional sports is a constant fluctuation: a lifestyle that requires patience for many athletes. When athletes lack patience and maturity, they often leave the pros or end up in rehab. Unfortunately, it is possible that these athletes had not reached their prime yet; while this prime may not be insane or the player may not EVER be a great player, many immature players don't have the patience to see how their career will end up. The NFL is a battle between player, contract, organization, and coach, and often, the organization wins.
15 Slump: Alex Smith
Alex Smith has been playing subpar for a couple of years now. While he has been a fairly one dimensional QB for his entire career, he rarely launches the long ball. When he does, he has a low percentage of completing the pass. I find him underwhelming and not much of a weapon. In retrospect, he reminds me of a better version of Sam Bradford. For those who have heard me reference Bradford before, I find him useless and arguably the most boring athlete in professional football history.
Smith threw 15 touchdowns and 8 interceptions last season. The year before that, he threw 20 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. I feel he could be on a decline now, especially considering that the Chiefs have hit a sort of plateau. There's a reason they traded up to draft Patrick Mahomes.
14 Bounce Back: Marcell Dareus
Marcell played only eight games in 2016. Before that, from 2011 to 2015, he only missed two games. Dareus had 24 sacks in 2016. In 2015, he had 38. After losing time due to NFL policy, Dareus seemed to lose ground. He lost his balance and appeared out of his element. Marcell was a hot prospect out of college and should look to bounce back this season. With a slightly different Bills coaching staff and different assortment of players, Dareus should be surrounded with a dissimilar team that could help him get back to where he was previously in his career.
Look for Marcell to be just as dominant next season as he was earlier in his career. Sean McDermott's system will prove to be just what Dareus needs to find his old game, before Rex Ryan came to town.
13 Slump: Larry Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald played out of his mind last season. He appears to have become similar to his old self. From 2005-2011, Larry Fitzgerald constantly had insane games and scored big time in Arizona. From 2012-2014, Fitzgerald had a downturn. He appeared lethargic and didn't play up to his par. From 2015 - present, Fitzgerald emerged, once more, as a productive and big time receiver.
After a few awesome seasons, I feel he is due for a down season. Carson Palmer appears to have, possibly, run his course in the NFL, and the Cardinals will rely heavily on David Johnson this season. Fitzgerald played out of his mind, once again, last season, but he may have hit his peak in 2015. There just has to come a time when a star's play declines.
12 Bounce Back: Jeremy Hill
Jeremy Hill has never rebounded from his insane rookie season of 2014. In 2014, he ran for 1,124 yards and had 9 touchdowns. Last season, Hill ran for a shy 839 yards. While he had a big rookie season, this was really due to the injury of veteran running back Giovani Bernard. With Bernard back in the mix with the Bengals, Hill has been splitting carries with him. Personally, I feel it would be better for the Bengals to strictly rely on Jeremy Hill. I feel he has more potential and still has an opportunity to be a perennial 1,000 yard rusher.
The Bengals should deal Bernard out somewhere and make Hill the starter. With the team adding Joe Mixon in the draft, that makes Bernard expendable, so expect Hill to re-emerge as the focal point of the Bengals' offense.
11 Slump: Demaryius Thomas
Thomas hasn't been the same since Peyton Manning left Denver recently. I feel this is indicative of any things. Thomas was never as dominant of a receiver as it seemed that he was with Manning. Sanders and Thomas have suffered with a less talented QB. Thomas had 5 touchdowns last season; the year before, he had 6; in 2015, he had 11 touchdowns. In 2014, he had 14. See the trend? Thomas is not as capable of posting big numbers without Manning and seems to have lost some speed and explosiveness the last couple of year.
His yardage total has suffered significantly. Two years ago, he had over 1500 yards. Last year, he had just over 1,000 yards. There is a trend and it is very real.
10 Bounce Back: Ezekiel Ansah
Ansah struggled to stay healthy last season. Ziggy had way less sacks and also supposedly played less aggressive. The Lions need him to be on the top of game, as he is truly one of the most elite defensive ends in the National Football League. With The Lions facing contract issues all around from different positions, they need him to focus and stay healthy. Ansah needs to play like he did in 2015, and the Lions should be able to get maximum value out of him. If he can play similar to past years, the Lions will be able to get to offensive lines quicker and get the ball back to Matthew Stafford much more efficiently. With all this in mind, I think he will bounce back.
9 Slump: David Johnson
Considering that I had David Johnson on my fantasy team this past season, I truly understand just how good he was. Regardless of this, he had 16 touchdowns and rushed for over 1,200 yards. Johnson was unstoppable and a threat against every single defense in the NFL. After an insane season, it is time for Johnson to come back to earth. He emerged as a top 3 back last year, and I think this is true for future years. But after such a crazy and successful year, it will difficult for him to match this success next year. The Cardinals will continue to rely on him, but the loss of a couple key offensive line players will hurt his chances of continuous success. If anything, he will score a couple touchdowns less and rush for less yards, but I still consider him elite.
8 Bounce Back: Randall Cobb
Cobb is exemplary of another receiver who has lost his touch that he had earlier in his career. Due to the fact that Rodgers is so mobile and has a multitude of options, Cobb has struggled to maintain consistency. Last season, he had 610 receiving yards and four touchdowns. The year before, he had 829 yards and 6 touchdowns. In 2014, Robb had 12 touchdowns. I feel Cobb is due for a bounce back year.
He hasn't been treated as a top receiver in Green Bay, and I think Rodgers recognizes that. With Jordy Nelson always having injury problems and other guys also getting injured, Cobb should look to become the #1 guy. Rodgers found him very reliable in the past and if he can find himself healthy, he should be a reliable option.
7 Slump: Brandon Marshall
Marshall appeared very excited in the media to escape the horrible Jets circumstance and play with Peyton's younger brother, Eli. Marshall has historically been a great receiver and a big body option for quarterbacks, but I am not confident that he will experience success in East Rutherford. While one should probably attribute his 2016 let down year of three touchdowns because of a poor QB situation, he may have lost some of his touch.
Marshall may need time to adjust to the Giants complicated offense, but I am not confident that he still has juice left in the tank. He has been on somewhat of a yardage decline and this could continue. I would like to say that he could succeed for a couple more years, but I do not feel that way.
6 Bounce Back: Dwayne Allen
Dwayne Allen may have had five more touchdowns this past season, compared to the year before, but injury has hurt his chances of advancing his career. I feel Allen will build on his minor success in 2016. He had 406 receiving yards last year, but he could top that easily. He's hit the jackpot by being traded to the Patriots. With Tom Brady loving to use all his tight ends and teams being so focused on Gronk, Allen will get plenty of open looks. Dwayne Allen is a veteran, at this point, and should be able to top 600 receiving yards.
With a better coaching staff and more improved offensive line, Allen has the potential to catch more balls and become a safety blanket for Andrew Luck. He has been a nice breadbasket and red zone blocker, but he needs to do more for the team.
5 Slump: Dak Prescott
Prescott, and the entire Cowboys offense for that matter, had a killer 2016 season. Prescott threw for 23 touchdowns, 3,667 yards, and had a QBR of 82.6. He was arguably the most successful rookie QB i have ever seen, as he demonstrated extreme competency in the pocket. He wasn't a mere pocket passer either; Dak was mobile and executed shovel passes too. Unfortunately, I envision a minor sophomore slump for him. It will be difficult for him to match his unbelievable first year and it will be tough for Prescott to get his team as far in the playoffs.
Frankly, I could see the entire team, except Dez Bryant, experiencing somewhat of a slump. We shall see, but just remember what I said when he throws more interceptions in a year.
4 Bounce Back: Todd Gurley
Gurley experienced a horrible sophomore slump. After an insane rookie season, in which he rushed for 1,106 yards and 10 touchdowns, Todd took a step back. In 2016, Gurley rushed for just 885 yards and 6 touchdowns. To his credit, the Rams offensive line is horrible and Jared Goff's play allowed defenses to stuff the box and dare the Rams to throw. Luckily, I feel he will rebound this season. Gurley showed immense potential and 2015 and also demonstrated his ability to take a game over offensively.
The Rams may not have all the pieces together, but he shows extreme skill that I would be shocked to see go to waste. I predict that he rushes for 9 touchdowns and over 1,000 yards next season. The Rams offensive line will be better after a pretty solid and successful draft.
3 Slump: Philip Rivers
Philip Rivers had a rough passing season last year. He may have thrown 33 touchdowns, a milestone indeed, but he also had 21 interceptions compared to his 13 interceptions the year before. Rivers has little help with the Chargers.
They now have a new coaching staff and will probably elect to rely more so on Melvin Gordon. The Chargers struggle to keep players healthy, notably Keenan Allen, which is why they felt the need to draft Mike Williams seventh overall. But it might be too little, too late. Rivers, I feel, has already played his best games. His best days in the NFL are behind him and the chance of him leading the Chargers far may be over.
2 Bounce Back: Alshon Jeffery
Alshon Jeffery has been receiving a lot of heat, but I believe a lot of his failure is not his fault. He may have made a mistake by taking a controlled substance, but he simply did not have a QB in Chicago. Luckily, he has escaped his poor situation and gotten a contract with the Philadelphia Eagles. I am usually pretty negative on the Eagles, but they seem like they are appealing this season.
Jeffery had two touchdowns and 52 receptions in 2016, but he could have a lot of potential with Carson Wentz. Along with a whole new coaching staff and QB, I could see Jeffery being a huge steal in Fantasy Football. He played 12 games last season and 9 before that, but I imagine he could play upwards of 13 games in 2017.
1 Slump: Ezekiel Elliott
In his rookie season, Elliott was the best running back in the NFL. Frankly, I may have never seen a better runner and more efficient halfback in all of football. While his success was significantly aided by an insanely talented offensive line, Elliott proved himself to be a very productive runner. Frankly, I do not think his success will be limited to his rookie season. While I believe this, I think he is due for a sophomore slump. After having the year of his life, I consider the likelihood of him repeating that year to be slim. Elliott may have found a home in Dallas, but I strongly believe he will NOT succeed as much as he did last year. Additionally, I feel Dallas could struggle to remodel their surprise season in general.