It’s an understatement to say that the NFL is chock-full of talent right now, even by the standards of the premier football league in the world. At every single position there are generational-type talents, and players who can produce like few we’ve seen before. This naturally means that plenty of players get pushed to the side, and are fighting for a prominent role, even if their talent level says they should be a consistent starter. Simply put, there are a lot of players who need to produce in the 2017 season to keep their job, even if they have done so in the past.
The names in this category include some of the better players in the league at their position. But a combination of coaching regime changes, and personnel upgrades at the same position have left them without a guaranteed starting role for the long-term. There’s no doubt that the teams who employ these players are all high on their ability, but not to the degree that they’re going to be married to the idea of keeping them for years to come. This means that the individual players are going to have to prove that they belong. Let’s take a look at some NFL players who need to have a standout season this year.
Ranked below are 15 NFL players who NEED to perform in 2017…0r else.
15. C.J. Anderson
Just a few years ago, most people assumed that Anderson would the Broncos’ running back of the future, and he looked like one of the most promising young players in the league. Recently, injuries have hit him hard, and the presence of second-year runner Devontae Booker has made Anderson’s long-term situation in Denver a murky one to say the least.
Can Anderson beat out Booker for the job, or at least decrease the number of carries he sees? That remains to be seen. He’ll also have to take into account the presence of acquisition Jamaal Charles. If he can stay healthy, then he figures to play a somewhat prominent role in the Denver backfield. Anderson has his work cut out for him, and will have to figure out a way to stay on the field.
14. Terrelle Pryor
One of the most intriguing stories of last year’s season was the emergence of Pryor as a wide receiver after making the switch from quarterback. He proved himself to be a 1,000 yard receiver, albeit on a Browns team that had nobody else to throw the ball too, and getting 140 targets to do so. Still, there’s reason to be optimistic about Pryor’s chances with the Redskins.
On a one-year deal currently, he’s looking at the definition of a “prove-it” season. The advantage is that he’ll now have a quality, accurate quarterback in Kirk Cousins throwing him the ball. The downside is that he’ll have to beat out fellow receivers Jamison Crowder, and Josh Doctson for targets. Pryor has a chance to succeed and earn a long-term deal from Washington, but if he struggles early he’ll fall out of favor quickly.
13. Allen Robinson
It’s been Jekyll & Hyde-type career for Robinson who is now entering the final year of his rookie contract with the Jaguars. We saw how dominant he could be in 2015, when he racked up an All-Pro caliber year with monstrous numbers. However, his other two seasons have been underwhelming to say the least, for a former 2nd-round draft pick.
There’s a lot of quality personnel on the Jacksonville offense right now, and targets won’t just be an automatic for Robinson in 2017, especially if he continues to show signs of stagnation. We know that he has the capability to be a top-10 receiver, but he needs to show that on a regular basis. If he turns in a subpar effort for the 2nd year in a row, expect the Jaguars to move on from him after the season is over, letting him walk in free agency.
12. Mike Glennon
The Bears did more moving and shaking at the quarterback position than any other team in the league this offseason. Glennon had been a backup on the Buccaneers roster for the past few seasons, sitting at 2nd on the depth chart behind Jameis Winston. Now, he’s getting an opportunity to start again, but it may not last as young as he would like.
Chicago also made the surprise moving of moving up in the draft to take Mitch Trubisky at the 2nd-overall pick. This means that Glennon likely has just this one season to make an impact. Even if he isn’t in the long-term plans for the Bears, he could land on another team as a starter if he has a productive 2017 campaign. If he doesn’t, he’s likely looking at backup duty at best for the rest of his career. This is definitely the most important season in Glennon’s career.
11. Carlos Hyde
Hyde had a better season last year than most people recognize, but he’s still looking for that one breakout campaign to put him in the discussion for the best running backs in the league. He’s right on the brink of it, but there remains questions as to whether the 49ers are the team the gives him the best chance of doing so.
He’s going into the last year of his rookie contract, and all things considered, he has a great opportunity to earn some big money next year. The two things Hyde will have to prove are staying healthy (as he’s dealt with some injury issues in the past), and being able to put up consistent numbers for 2 seasons in a row. He has a good chance of doing both, but it has to happen in 2017.
10. Trevor Siemian
We don’t even know conclusively if Siemian is going to be the Week 1 starting quarterback for the Broncos this season, but all signs point to that being the case. He had a solid, if unremarkable season last year, and with former 1st-round pick Paxton Lynch waiting in the wings to eventually take over the starting job, it’s all or nothing for Siemian this season.
A good 2017 campaign proves that he’s capable of starting in the NFL for any number of teams, and makes him a known commodity. A poor effort this year means that he’s just following the trajectory that a 7th-round pick normally takes after a few years in the league, and teams won’t be interested. Well see which version of Siemian we get, all the while knowing that he has a short leash because of Lynch’s presence in the QB room.
9. Derrick Henry
Maybe it’s too early in his career for Henry to be forced into a make-or-break situation, but it seems to be pointing in that direction for the 2015 Heisman Trophy winner. When he was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2016 draft, most people assumed that he would take over the bulk of the carries on the Titans’ offense, and replace DeMarco Murray. That didn’t turn out to be the case.
Henry needs to prove that he can be a featured running back at the NFL level. Any former Alabama running back is going to be compared to the failure that was Trent Richardson, and while Henry hasn’t shown he’s anywhere near that level of incompetence, it will be in the back of everyone’s mind until he takes the starting job away from Murray. Luckily, he gets to run behind one of the best offensive lines in the league, so at least he has that going for him.
8. Philip Rivers
Like so many other quarterbacks in the league, Rivers is a veteran who is getting older, and running out of time for a title run. The Chargers great has definitely been an upper-tier player in the league for most of his career, but a Super Bowl victory has still eluded him for his entire career. Next year may be his best chance, while he still has most of his skills intact.
The Chargers have stocked up on offense for the past few seasons, adding Melvin Gordon and Mike Williams to the fray as talented young players. This is the year that it needs to come together for Rivers, who while a durable player, is still nearing the age of 40 and won’t be able to play forever. He has a solid crop of young skill players and a good defense, in order to make a deep playoff run soon. It may end up being his last chance.
7. Blake Bortles
There have been so many ups and downs with Bortles, that it’s hard to even fairly evaluate his career thus far. His play could have been affected by a poor offensive coach in Gus Bradley, but at the same time there has been too many mental mistakes for Bortles to not take any of the blame. His three NFL seasons have been inconsistent to say the least.
With only a couple more seasons until he’s off of his rookie deal entirely, Bortles needs to make a statement now, and prove that he can be the long-term franchise quarterback without any reservations. With plenty of weapons around him on the Jaguars’ offense, and now more Gus Bradley to deal with,there should be no more excuses as to why he isn’t getting it done. No other young quarterback in the league has as much to prove as Bortles does this season.
6. Cam Newton
Other than the 2015 Super Bowl-appearing seas0n, it’s been a series of underwhelming seasons for the Cam-led Panthers. There’s no questioning his overall ability, and he remains one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the league, but he’s going to have to prove that he has the ability to be more consistent as the Carolina franchise player.
Cam’s job is definitely safe for now, but it’s a slippery slope. If he falters again in 2017, the team is going to be questioned as to how long his timetable for success is going to be. The Panthers have made some notable upgrades to their backfield, but drafting Curtis Samuel and Christian McCaffrey. Will this be enough to have Cam elevate the offense as a whole? Only time will tell.
5. Eddie Lacy
After a couple of seasons that seemed to signify Lacy as one of the young, premier running backs in the league, he’s really fallen off the map for a variety of reasons. He’s struggled with his weight and injuries alike, proving that he isn’t a guarantee to be healthy and on the field. Now, he’s looking for a new start in Seattle, but he’s not in the most ideal situation.
The Seahawks have a loaded backfield that includes the likes of Thomas Rawls, C.J. Procise and Alex Collins, all of whom stand a decent chance of beating out Lacy for playing time. Lacy is on a prove-it deal to begin with, and his leash could very well end up being a short one. He needs to prove that he can still be a reliable NFL running back, but the 2017 season is going to be an uphill battle for him with such a contested running back corps.
4. DeAndre Hopkins
Hopkins has shown his elite talent before in multiple different seasons, so there’s not a concern that he definitely has the ability to be great. The main problem with him right now is that he’s entering a contract year, and has little in the way of a consistent quarterback to work with over his four years in the league.
The acquisition of 1st-round quarterback DeShaun Watson should help him in this regard, but it doesn’t change the fact that he needs to have a consistent body of work in order for the Texans to pay him in several years. It shouldn’t be a problem, but if Hopkins has another sub-par season (by his standards), questions will be raised about his future with the team.
3. Alshon Jeffery
The Eagles did Carson Wentz a massive favor in the passing game by signing Jeffery this offseason, who was far and away the most talented receiver available on the free agent market. That doesn’t mean that he doesn’t come with his fair share of question marks however.
He’s coming off a partially PED-suspended season last year, and an injury-riddled one from 2 years ago. Jeffery’s deal is only a 1-year contract with Philadelphia, and he’ll need to prove that he can be on the field, as a reliable go-to target in just about every game this season. If Jeffery fails to live up to the high expectations, he’s not going to get the premium contract for the 2018 season. A big payday hinges on a successful 2017 campaign, and he needs to deliver.
2. Matthew Stafford
Stafford racks up some impressive statistics, but he’s been nonexistent in the playoffs, never able to get the Lions over the hump. Detroit has had more playoff woes than almost any other team in the league over the past 50 years, and their franchise is starved for any kind of a run they can put together. Is Stafford the franchise quarterback that can make that happen?
He’s certainly talented enough, but questions have arisen as to whether he has the intangibles to make it so. Now hovering around the age of 30, Stafford is going to need to show the Lions that he can take this team to the next level. His play on the field is very good from a statistical perspective, but that only tells part of the story. This is the most important season for Stafford yet, and he’ll be one of the more interesting players to watch in 2017.
1. Carson Palmer
Almost no player over the past 15 years has been knocked down as much as Palmer has, only to subsequently get back on his feet. After a falling out with the Bengals early in his career, he had to attempt to overcome a disorganized situation with the Raiders. When everyone thought he was finally done for as a starting quarterback, he went to the Cardinals, where he got a previously failing team into the playoffs yet again.
It’s been an impressive run for sure, even if it doesn’t match the accolades of some of his peers under center. This is likely Palmer’s last season where he feasibly has a chance to make a deep playoff run with the Cardinals. Over the years, injuries have piled up, and he’s inching closer to the age of 40.
Despite this, he can still play. The Cardinals have a ton of talent all over the team, especially on offense, and Palmer will look to take advantage of it as he looks to make one more push at a goal that has eluded him for his entire career; a Super Bowl victory.
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