Ladies and gentlemen the NFL is officially back, and now is the time to speculate which players will perform great this season that many may have forgot about. Every year in the NFL it seems as though a new star is born. We saw last year the emergence of Dak Prescott, and many thought he would be a slow developing project type quarterback. Two years ago we saw Josh Norman come out of nowhere to become one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL as a member of the Carolina Panthers.
There are always surprises throughout an NFL season, and sometimes these surprises are players who many thought were good but end up struggling throughout the course of the year. These struggles sometimes are due to a player aging. Peyton Manning is one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play football, but his last season with the Broncos he did not play anywhere near the level that he played at earlier in his career. Some players also tend to struggle due to injuries or being replaced in the starting lineup due to a teammate out playing them during training camp.
Here are 8 under the radar players who will have great seasons and 7 stars who will struggle:
15 Surprise: Ty Montgomery
Ty Montgomery before last season was a bottom of the depth chart wide receiver for the Green Bay Packers, but due to injuries he was forced to play the role of running back. He played a big role in the Packers NFC Championship run that fell just short of making it to the Super Bowl. With Eddy Lacy now gone Montgomery is the full time running back for the Packers now, and is a dual threat in the Packers offensive scheme. He proved he was decent at running in between the tackles last season when he averaged nearly six yards per carry. Montgomery’s background as a wide receiver makes him one of the best running backs in the NFL in the pass game, and this could mean a breakout season for the converted rusher.
14 Crashing Down: Mark Ingram
Mark Ingram has been a focal point of the Saints offense since he came into the NFL with New Orleans, but with the depth that Drew Brees now has in the backfield Ingram’s role could be greatly diminished. The Saints big name signing of Adrian Peterson will jeopardize the amount of touches he gets per game. Peterson has been one of the most dominant backs in the league the past decade, and it would be a head scratcher if he did not receive a bulk of the workload in the Saints offense. Ingram has been used well in the pass game in the past. The drafting of Alvin Kamara who is a dual threat as a running back could also threaten to take snaps away from Ingram, and despite his consistent play over the years the Saints may want to give more looks to Peterson to win now and Kamara to know what they have for the future.
13 Surprise: C.J. Anderson
It seemed as though C.J. Anderson was going to have a breakout year last year after many thought the Broncos would be more of a running back by committee type of team. A season ending injury spurred Anderson’s superb early season success and the Broncos as a team also faltered by missing the playoffs. Anderson was on pace last year for his first career 1,000 yard season, and he has always posed a threat to opposing defenses in the passing game as well. The Broncos do have depth at the running back position after signing former pro bowler Jamal Charles and drafting a back in the third round. Anderson, despite these additions, should be in line for most of the carries, and he should be able to rush for over 1,000 yards barring injury.
12 Fail: Latavius Murray
Latavius Murray assumed he was signing with the Minnesota Vikings to serve as the team's feature back and replace Adrian Peterson, but the Vikings surprisingly drafted Dalvin Cook in the second round of the 2017 NFL draft. After Cook debuted with an outstanding performance in the Vikings game against the Saints in week one of the NFL season Murray should be nervous about how much work load he will get for the remainder of the season. Murray has spent the first three seasons of his career with the Oakland Raiders, and set a career high with 12 rushing touchdowns last season. Despite this production it was obvious the Raiders were infatuated with bringing in Marshawn Lynch. Murray is now in a situation where he is a backup barring any injuries for the Vikings.
11 Surprise: Martavis Bryant
Many have forgotten about just how productive of a player Martavis Bryant was during the 2015 NFL season, and that is because he was suspended for the entire 2016 NFL season due to his failure of multiple drug tests. The Steelers liked what they saw from Bryant in the preseason. They opted to trade wide receiver Sammy Coates to the Cleveland Browns, and this is directly linked to the amount of confidence they have in Bryant’s ability to be a contributor once again in the Steelers offense. In 2014, Bryant averaged 21 yards per reception which was ranked first in the entire NFL. Antonio Brown is one of the most dynamic receivers in the game, and with much of the attention focused on Brown by opposing defenses Bryant should be able to have a great year.
10 Fail: LeSean McCoy
This may come as a big time surprise considering he had a strong start to the season, but let’s not forget that LeSean McCoy was facing a New York Jets team in Week 1 that will struggle to win a single game this year. The Bills like the Jets also seem to be in somewhat of a rebuild after firing Rex Ryan and hiring Sean McDermott. With the Bills lack of talent they might find themselves losing in a lot of games, and the best way to come back when you are down is to throw the football. This tactic will likely mean less carries for McCoy. McCoy may still be productive, but he won’t be able to amass the 1,267 yards and 13 touchdowns he rushed for last season.
9 Surprise: Kareem Hunt
Many people did not know who Kareem Hunt was prior to the season beginning, but with the incredible running and receiving show that he put on against the New England Patriots he has now made somewhat of a name for himself. Hunt was selected in the third round of the 2017 NFL draft. Spencer Ware was slated to be the starter for the Chiefs, but after sustaining a season ending injury Hunt was given an opportunity to be a starter in his first professional game. Things started out bleak as he fumbled the ball on his first touch of the game. After his rookie mistake he managed to put up over 200 all-purpose yards, and the Chiefs in years past have been known to have an excellent rushing attack which should allow Hunt to continue progressing throughout the season.
8 Fail: Dak Prescott
Everyone has heard of the sophomore slump, and the name that comes to mind the most when thinking of the outstanding rookies of 2016 that won’t play as well as they did in year one is Dak Prescott. A year in the books means that every team now has game tape on Prescott. The Cowboys also may be without Ezekiel Elliot for six games at some point this year, and if the suspension does go into effect this season the Cowboys running game won’t be able to help the passing game be successful the way it did in 2016. The Cowboys on paper do not look as good a team as they did last season. The past three seasons have been up then down and then back up again in 2016, and with that trend in mind it may be time for the Cowboys to struggle.
7 Surprise: Jamison Crowder
Jamison Crowder has been well used in the Washington Redskin offense since the team drafted him in the fourth round of the 2015 NFL draft. The Redskins this offseason were able to acquire Terrelle Pryor, but they lost their two leading wide receivers last season in Desean Jackson and Pierre Garcon. The absence of Jackson and Garcon should open the door for Crowder to become a focal point of the Redskin offense. In 2016, Crowder made a big leap forward when he had over 800 receiving yards and seven touchdowns, but Jackson and Garcon overshadowed Crowder by each having over 1,000 receiving yards on the season. Crowder now could have his first 1,000 yard receiving year of his career. The Redskins could find themselves down in a lot of games this year, and that would also help increase Crowder’s workload.
6 Fail: Matt Forte
Before the 2016 season, Matt Forte was seen as the piece that could get the New York Jets over the hump, but a disappointing 2016 season has now landed the former pro bowler on the trade block. To make matters worse Forte is not even listed as the starting running back anymore. Bilal Powell has assumed the starting spot, and he will probably keep it because the Jets are rebuilding and want to see which young players on the team will be able to help the team moving forward. Forte rushed for a career low in 2016 by only accumulating 813 yards on the ground and averaging an abysmal sub 4 yard per carry total. It looks as if these numbers will not get any better in 2017.
5 Surprise: Dalvin Cook
There was a lot of worry going into the draft concerning Dalvin Cook and his off the field issues, but after much thought the Minnesota Vikings decided to scrap the idea of starting newly signed Latavius Murray formerly of the Oakland Raiders and give the young kid a place where he can succeed. On Monday Night Football in Week 1, Cook put on a show against the Saints for the whole country to see. The Saints did have one of the worst defenses in football last season, but it was still impressive that in Cooks first game that he was able to rush for over 100 yards on the ground. If the Vikings can continue to have a decent passing game Cook will be able to be an integral part of the offense in the running and passing game.
4 Fail: Jordan Matthews
Jordan Matthews was going into a contract year, and it was assumed that he would command big money on the open market so the Eagles wisely traded him away to the Buffalo Bills in exchange for Ronald Darby. Matthews has been without a doubt the Eagles top receiver the past few seasons. This was based more off of the dreadful options that the Eagles had at wide receiver after releasing DeSean Jackson and not re-signing Jeremy Maclin, and now Matthews is going to a team that will more than likely finish towards the bottom of the league standings this season. Matthews in his three years in the NFL has never had a 1,000 yard receiving year. Another alarming stat is that he had just three touchdowns last year, and that’s particularly worrisome because he had eight touchdowns during his rookie and sophomore years.
3 Surprise: Chris Hogan
Chris Hogan out of nowhere became a focal point of the Patriots offense during their run to a Super Bowl title last season, and his numbers should go up in 2017. The Patriots as a team suffered a big time blow to their offensive firepower when stud receiver Julian Edelman injured himself in the preseason and was ruled out for the entire regular season. Tom Brady has lost one of his favorite targets, and Chris Hogan is the prime candidate to replace Edelman’s production in the lineup. Hogan now holds the Patriots record for receiving yards in a playoff game when he gained 180 yards through the air in the 2016 AFC Championship game.
Hogan also had his best year as a pro with the Patriots last season, and this is a sign that his play is trending in the direction of a possible breakout year. Without Edelman and Malcolm Mitchell, Brady will have to throw to someone on the outside... Enter, Hogan.
2 Struggle: Andrew Luck
Andrew Luck has had anything but Luck the last few seasons, and his health and the Indianapolis Colts have taken a turn for the worst ever since they reached the AFC Championship game in 2014. Many labeled Luck as a future Hall of Famer before he even played in an NFL game. He has been labeled as one of the most overrated players in football by some, and he has also had one of the worst offensive lines in football the past few years which has led to numerous injuries.
Luck is missing the early portion of the 2017 NFL season due to injury. He was sacked 41 times in 2016, which was tied for the most times being sacked in his career, and with the Colts not bolstering their offensive line much in the offseason it could be another long season for Luck and the Colts.
1 Surprise: Adam Thielen
Adam Thielen was a mystery to most before the 2016 season, but he managed to quietly put together over 900 receiving yards in his third year in the NFL after accumulating a combined 281 yards in his first two seasons. The Vikings have put their trust in Thielen by signing him to a three year contract extension. The Vikings suddenly after week one of the NFL season may have themselves an explosive offense that many did not expect out of this team, and Thielen should be in line for his first 1,000 yard receiving year of his career. Thielen isn’t even the first option in the passing game for the Vikings. Most defenses will likely focus more on containing Stephon Diggs, and this will allow Thielen to get lots of open looks.
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