One of the most exciting things about the NFL is watching the emergence of young talent. Every year it seems as if a new rookie is tearing it up in just their first season in the league, or a sophomore quarterback is making that huge leap (*cough MAHOMES cough*). One of the perks of college football is that players can only declare after their sophomore year, making them more pro-ready when they finally reach the NFL. This results in young players looking good, and getting good very fast. Look no further than Kareem Hunt, a rookie who led the league in rushing last year. And while he didn’t crack this list, he’s a perfect example of a young, exciting star in today’s game.
Of course, every coin has two sides, and as fast as a star is born, they can flame out, be it because of injuries, mental health, drug problems, or any number of other things. The NFL is a brutal business, and most players don’t last any longer than 4 years. So, all too often we can see once-great players fall unceremoniously to the way side, replaced by newer, better versions of themselves. It can be tough to watch, but at the end of the day, it is what it is. We as fans even had to watch Peyton Manning suffer through his final season. Even the best eventually fall off. So with that in mind, here is dichotomy of the NFLs past and its future: 10 Rising NFL Stars, And 10 That Are Falling Fast.
20 Rising: Patrick Mahomes
Sophomore Quarterback Patrick Mahomes has been scorching to start off the 2018 season. The Texas Tech product has accounted for 16 touchdowns in 5 games while only tossing 2 interceptions (both of which game against the daunting Jacksonville secondary). But even more impressively, he has led Kansas City to a red-hot 5-0 start heading into their SNF matchup with New England in Week 6. And he’s doing this while his star running back and reigning rushing champ Kareem Hunt has been (for the most part) relatively limited. Time will tell if Mahomes can keep it up, but so far, he’s not only looked like a rising star – he looks like an MVP.
19 Falling: Sam Bradford
After piloting the worst offense in the NFL through 3 weeks, Sam Bradford was unceremoniously demoted to third string, continuing the once promising quarterback’s tailspin. Injuries and inconsistency have been the story of Bradford’s career, and after a stellar campaign in 2016 for Minnesota, he followed it up by throwing for just 400 yards and 4 interceptions in three games this season as a starter coming off an injury. History repeats itself, and this might be the straw that broke the camel’s back, to say the least. At age 31, this looks like it might be the end for Bradford.
18 Rising: Tyreek Hill
We can’t mention Mahomes without mentioning his partner in crime. In a match made in football heaven, Tyreek Hill and his electrifying speed make him the perfect complement to Mahomes’ cannon of an arm. The two have already connected on 3 long touchdown passes this season to go along with 425 yards, with Hill running back a punt as well. Hills speed, playmaking ability and speed off the top make him one of the most lethal weapons in all of football. In fact, since entering the league in 2013, no player in the NFL has more touchdowns of 50+ yards. Make no mistake about it, this is the start of a meteoric rise from one of the NFL’s most special young players.
17 Falling: Lamar Miller
Lamar Miller was your prototypical shifty, every down, all-around back. He was an incredible force during his prime years in Miami and Houston. But a string of injuries has left him a depleted shell of his former self, and you can see it on the field. Failing to exceed 4.0 YPC since 2015 and failing to record a touchdown this season, Miller’s numbers have been less than impressive and when young prospect D’Onta Foreman returns from his Achilles injury, they will most likely drop ever further. As Miller continues to age and this Houston offense continues to underperform, a return to his elite level of play seems far-fetched for Lamar.
16 Rising: James Conner
James Conner is not Le'Veon Bell. Everyone knows this. But what most people don’t know? He doesn’t have to be – because he’s really good in his own right. As the Steelers lead back sans Bell, Conner has made his impact felt in both the rushing and passing game, finding the end zone 5 times and racking up 581 all-purpose yards in just five games. While there are times he struggles against good defenses, that is to be expected for young players, the second year back has looked impressive in nearly every outing this season. Still on his rookie contract, and with the decision of Bell’s contract still looming over the organization, sustain play like this from Conner could make the decision to cut Bell loose that much easier for Pittsburgh.
15 Falling: Martavis Bryant
The talent is there, no doubt about it. But attitude, work ethic, and a recurring drug problem may knock Martavis Bryant out of the league far sooner than he anticipated. After getting traded to Oakland before being subsequently cut and resigned in a bizarre turn of events, Bryant has been mediocre at best, grabbing only 12 catches for 202 yards and no touchdowns. One more failed drug test could knock Bryant out for a long period of time, and if that becomes the case, I doubt teams will be lining up to sign him. Hopefully I am wrong here, and Bryant will go on to have the successful career we all thought he would.
14 Rising: Saquon Barkley
In college, Saquon Barkley racked up yards. In the NFL it has been no different. The first rookie running back in history to go for 100 scrimmage yards in each of his first 5 games, Barkley has been electric in spite of an offensive line that is truly offensive to watch. Amassing 308 yards on the ground and 274 through the air, Barkley is truly the definition of an all-purpose back. Oh, and he’s taken it to the house five times too. With the decline of Eli Manning, the struggles of OBJ, and the aforementioned offensive line, Barkley has been a shining star in the black hole that is New York’s offense.
13 Falling: Allen Hurns
Another one-hit wonder receiver, Allen Hurns fooled everyone. After a breakout 1000-yard season during his sophomore year in Jacksonville, Hurns has now failed to break even 500 yards in any season since. Looking for redemption and another breakout year in Dallas, he has yet to find it. With only 8 catches this season through 5 games for just 84 yards, he hasn’t even had a breakout game, and the downward spiral looks to continue for the latest addition to Dallas’ depleted wideout corps. It doesn’t look like it’s going to get better anytime soon either, with the regression of Prescott and the general decline of the Dallas offense. The outlook is not good for Hurns moving forward.
12 Rising: Alvin Kamara
Alvin Kamara might be the most fun back to watch in the NFL right now. Few things are more enjoyable than watching an elite QB like Drew Brees paired with an absolute playmaker like Kamara. After 5 games, Kamara has racked up 611 yards from scrimmage in just 4 games at a scorching 6.7 yards per touch – which is actually a downgrade by a full yard from his production last season. Still, New Orleans shifty lead back has been nothing short of remarkable. In Week 4 he had 134 rushing yards with 3 touchdowns. Week 3? He hauled in a whopping 15 receptions for 124 yards. Kamara can do it in every part of the game, and looks to be a staple of New Orleans’ offense for years to come.
11 Falling: Terrelle Pryor
The Redskins had a ton of hope for Terrelle Pryor. The former QB turned WR had a breakout season in Cleveland to the tune of 1000 yards and 4 touchdowns. After turning down a multi-year deal from the Browns, Pryor signed a one year, “prove it” deal with Washington. Let’s just say that was the wrong decision, as Pryor ended up posting just 20 catches for Washington last year. This season has been no different, as Pryor has only 9 catches so far in 2018. Now on his 4th team in 5 years, it’s looking more and more likely like that Cleveland season was a one-hit wonder of year and not the other way around.
10 Rising: Calvin Ridley
Calvin Ridley is the youngest player on this list, but don’t let that fool you. Ridley has been a monster in his first season in the league. Save for a dud in his very first game in which he received a mere two targets, Ridley has impressed in every game thereafter. He leads the league in touchdowns with 6, all of them coming in the last 4 weeks. With his 308 receiving yards, Ridley has already proven to be a reliable target for Matt Ryan opposite Julio Jones. It is very early in what looks to be a long career, but so far all Ridley has done is given an already potent Atlanta offense yet another weapon.
9 Falling: Tavon Austin
The Dallas Cowboys traded for Tavon Austin out of Los Angeles this off-season hoping he would play a “Tyreek Hill” for their offense. He has been anything but. With just 6 catches in 5 games, he has been practically invisible for the Cowboys, nowhere near the replacement for another player on this list in Dez Bryant. While he does have two touchdowns, it simply isn’t enough to justify his contract. The former dual threat weapon has been reduced to a decoy at best, and unless something changes in a big way, and soon, Austin will be going job hunting sooner than we all expected.
8 Rising: Jared Goff
Has any player made a bigger jump this season than Jared Goff? In his second season under offensive genius Sean McVay, Goff has posted the highest passer rating and most passing yards in the NFL through 5 weeks. He’s also completing a blistering 72.3 percent of his passes. His most impressive outing came in Week 4, where he threw 5 touchdowns, 465 yards and broke the record for most attempts with a perfect passer rating in NFL history. A stark difference from the rookie who threw for just 5 touchdowns and went winless in 7 starts. Now the face of the best Rams team since The Greatest Show On Turf, it will be fun to watch his career unfold.
7 Falling: Tyrod Taylor
Tyrod Taylor is one of my favorite quarterbacks to play with in Madden. But the NFL is not Madden, and Tyrod Taylor has lost his starting job in Cleveland. The much-maligned former Buffalo quarterback is now backing up the 1st overall pick, Baker Mayfield, just 5 games into the season. And after seeing Tyrod play this year, you can’t blame Hue for making the switch. Two touchdowns and two interceptions while only completing 48.8% of your passes just won’t cut it in the NFL. It will be interesting to see how Tyrod handles the transition, and if he will ever start for a team again.
6 Rising: Marshon Lattimore
How good do you have to be to turn around the poor Saints defense? Well 5 interceptions and 18 passes defensed as a rookie might do it. Marshon Lattimore has been making his presence known since his first start in the league, at times playing like a true lockdown corner and one of the best in the league at the position. And while he has had a slower start to this season than last, with just a single pass defense and no picks, part of that can be accounted for by quarterbacks just not wanting to test him. The talent and athleticism is obvious to see, and I believe Lattimore will close out the season much stronger than he started it. A star is in the making down in the Superdome, mark my words.
5 Falling: Dez Bryant
We’re now 5 weeks into the season and Dez Bryant still hasn’t signed with a team. His last few seasons in Dallas were less than outstanding, and he hasn’t gone over 1000 yards receiving since 2014. Still, he should be a serviceable No. 2 WR at the bare minimum for some contender like New England, but it seems as if his lack of production and his diva-ish attitude is scaring teams away. It’s a long fall for someone who was considered one of the best wide receivers in all of football a mere 4 years ago. Time will tell if he can return to form, but the longer he goes unsigned, the slimmer that chance becomes.
4 Rising: T.J. Watt
If it’s tough to live in the shadow of J.J. Watt, but T.J. Watt isn't showing it. The breakout Steelers defender is leading the league in sacks with 6 (tied with his brother) and has racked up 7 tackles for loss to go with it. In a season dominated by dramatic storylines and underwhelming play, Watt has continued to be a shining light for Steelers fans. Watching T.J. and J.J. compete for the title of best Watt brother in the NFL is going to be a fun and exciting battle, especially as T.J. matures and begins to enter the prime of his career in a few seasons. Who knows? Maybe a few DPOYs aren’t out of the question for him either.
3 Falling: Eli Manning
The Giants have been struggling on offense for almost two full seasons now, and much of the blame has been placed on the shoulders of Eli Manning. In a system that boasts the likes of Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shephard and Saquon Barkley, scoring points have been the least of New York’s worries. And yet, the Giants are just 1-4, scoring over 18 points just twice. Manning hasn’t had a good season since 2015, and his tendency to check down, avoid the deep ball, and throw costly interceptions has been a death sentence for the Giants offense. If this play continues, look for New York to go quarterback searching in the next draft.
2 Rising: Jalen Ramsey
Jalen Ramsey is a loud, aggressive, physical corner. The good news? He can back it up. The young corner in Jacksonville has transformed himself into one of the best quarterbacks in the league – even if he insulted every player in the league on his way there. Coming off a season in which he had 4 interceptions and 16 passes defensed, Ramsey has been stellar again, although the numbers may not show it at first glance. Ramsey dominated the majority of his matchup against speedster Tyreek Hill, who might be the fastest player in the NFL, and by all accounts looks to be an All-Pro staple for years to come.
1 Falling: Joe Flacco
Is Joe Flacco elite? (This joke will never get old). Lately, the answer has been leaning towards a definitive no. Since his stellar 2014 campaign where he tossed 27 touchdowns and nearly 4000 yards, Flacco has been nothing short of mediocre. In fact, he has yet to go over 20 touchdowns or under 12 interceptions since that season. So far this year has been more of the same. One week Flacco looks solid, but will almost immediately follow it up with a clunker. The Flacco we see today is a far cry from the one we saw during his electric Super Bowl run, and with a young Lamar Jackson waiting in the ranks, it will be interesting to see how the end of his career pans out.