The NFL is a cutthroat league where anything can happen and anyone can win on any given Sunday. Of course those of us who participate in the fantasy variety of the game never envision our picks to be the ones that turn out to be a bust, but whether you’re an armchair quarterbacks sitting at home on Sunday afternoon watching on your big screen or an actual NFL general manager on the hot seat, the fact of the matter is that fantasy owners and real-life executives alike can watch their hopes go down the toilet when their best players happen to fall well short of expectations. That is exactly why we here at The Sportster offer you a glimmer of hope now that the playoffs are upon us giving you something to think about going into the 2015 regular season with this list of the top 10 players poised for bounce back years.
Take it with a grain of salt, not every player on this list had a bad year if you match them up against the stats of the average NFL player, but odds are they didn’t meet their own standards for excellence and disappointed their fans. Then again, in a year in which the NFL dealt with an unprecedented number of issues related to the questionable personal conduct of some of the game’s brightest stars, not every player poised for a bounce back year is coming off of a bad one statistically, they just simply weren’t on the field very much at all. The number one player on this list should come as no surprise as he is one of the best players in football and only played a single game this season, but there are definitely a few other players to consider that you might not expect. Here’s the list.
10 Victor Cruz
It wasn’t too long ago in sports that a torn ACL would mean the end of an athlete’s career. These days, one can sit out the season and come back the next year at close to full strength. That said, New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz is recovering from a torn patellar tendon suffered in Week 6 against the Philadelphia Eagles. That’s an injury that still gives players trouble in terms of coming back. If Cruz is able to make that recovery and return to the Giants however, he will have the benefit of playing alongside Odell Beckham Jr., who took the NFL by storm after missing the first few weeks of the season with a hamstring injury. Cruz is likely to take a back seat to Beckham next year even if he returns in top form, but given his circumstances, he’s one heck of a bounce back candidate for 2015.
9 Pierre Garcon
Odds are that if you are a fan of any team other than the Washington Redskins, you probably weren’t paying much attention to wide receiver Pierre Garcon this season. He hasn’t been as noticeable since joining the team at the start of the 2012 campaign, which isn’t a surprise given that he’s played on a largely dysfunctional team. All of that said, Garcon only managed to score three touchdowns this past season to go with 68 receptions. Compare that with the 113 receptions he managed in 2013 and it’s obvious his production fell off quite a bit. An improved quarterbacking situation and healthy Robert Griffin should help Garcon in 2015.
8 Rashad Jennings
After toiling away in Jacksonville as a member of the Jaguars for the first four seasons of his NFL career and spending one year with the franchise where running backs often go to die, the Oakland Raiders, Rashad Jennings was supposed to have a big breakout year with the New York Giants this past season. He was to be the workhorse running back for the team with David Wilson retiring during training camp and Ahmad Bradshaw moving on to the Indianapolis Colts, but injuries prevented Jennings from truly putting together the kind of numbers most people expected prior to the start of the season. Odell Beckham Jr. and Victor Cruz should be threatening enough in the team’s passing game to open up lanes for Jennings, so assuming he can stay healthy, 2015 could be his belated breakout campaign.
7 Ray Rice
It’s pretty easy to select a guy as a bounce back candidate for the 2015 season when you consider that he didn’t play at all in 2014. Of course we’re talking about the one player who should instantly come to mind here, none other than former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, who was suspended for the entire season by the NFL for domestic violence issues surrounding Rice and his now wife Janay.
Nobody knew it at the time but when a security camera captured footage of Rice getting into a physical altercation with his partner, the NFL was about to have a whole can of worms surrounding players and personal conduct issues opened up throughout the year. Rice won’t be back with the Ravens, but the league has a reputation for reinstating troubled players after they serve their penance, so he’ll find a home and likely get back to producing steadily for his new team.
6 Robert Griffin
It’s hard to believe how far Robert Griffin has fallen since taking the NFL by storm back in 2012, his rookie campaign. Prior to that season there was much debate about whether he or the Indianapolis Colts’ Andrew Luck would be the first pick in the NFL draft but these days that decision looks like a no brainer for the Colts as Luck has clearly separated himself. That said, Griffin’s most pressing concern is not his talent or his willingness to work hard…it's injuries. He only managed to start nine contests this season due to a dislocated ankle. While recent reports suggest that Redskins coach Jay Gruden isn’t exactly high on Griffin right now, the young man has too much talent to be counted out just yet.
5 Percy Harvin
After being acquired by the Seattle Seahawks prior to the start of the 2013 season, wide receiver Percy Harvin managed to appear in just one regular season game with the team due to injuries. Luckily for the Seahawks, he did return in time for the Super Bowl and was a big factor in the team’s victory over the Denver Broncos in the big game, delivering a backbreaking kickoff return for a touchdown that blew the contest wide open. Fast-forward to the present day and Harvin finished the 2014 season in a New York Jets uniform catching passes from sophomore quarterback Geno Smith. With the team letting go of coach Rex Ryan right after the regular season finished, Harvin could be in the middle of a whole bunch of changes that allow him to succeed in 2015 despite a 2014 season that he’d probably like to forget.
4 LeSean McCoy
After finishing the 2013 season with 11 total touchdowns, LeSean McCoy finished with just five scores in 2014. He still ran for over 1,300 yards on the ground but veteran teammate Darren Sproles was much more productive for the Eagles then most anticipated, which actually took away some of McCoy’s production value. He’s still quick on his feet, but Shady simply couldn’t find the holes at the line of scrimmage in the same way we’ve been accustomed to in past years. Few expect Sproles to repeat his 2014 campaign for a second straight season in 2015, so it’s likely that McCoy’s numbers will get back to familiar territory, at least that’s what Eagles fans are hoping.
3 Josh Gordon
It might be hard to believe that a Cleveland Browns player could be selected as a top bounce back candidate for 2015, especially if we’re talking about a receiver. That’s not because Josh Gordon isn’t talented, he is one of the best in the game. It’s because we’re considering the likelihood that Brian Hoyer or Johnny Manziel will be at quarterback for the team next season. The good news is that rumors suggest Gordon is being dangled by the team in trade talks and his days as a member of the Browns are likely over, which means he will likely end up playing for a team with a better passer. The 2015 season should see Gordon get back to his superstar ways if he’s not in Cleveland and not serving a suspension…even if he does have a bad attitude.
2 Calvin Johnson
While it’s hard to call a season a let down when a player scores eight touchdowns and manages to collect 1,077 receiving yards to go with 71 catches, Calvin Johnson is in a league all his own. While he did produce when in the lineup, the disappointing part about Johnson’s 2014 season was the fact that he missed three contests due to injury and was largely ineffective as a decoy in a few other matchups. Nobody should get it confused, posting over 1,000 receiving yards in a season is good, but when you’re the only player in the league capable of flirting with the 2,000 yard receiving mark you’ve got to be better. A healthy 2015 for Megatron and more consistency from quarterback Matthew Stafford should see Johnson get back up over 1,500 yards and 10 touchdowns next year.
1 Adrian Peterson
It would only make sense that the biggest disappointment of the 2014 season would have the most potential to bounce back in 2015 and as much as football fans around the NFL probably didn’t see it coming, this year that title goes to Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson. Peterson was suspended for the season and placed on the commissioner’s exemption list for violating the league’s personal conduct policy amid allegations of child abuse. His attempts to appeal the league’s decision and get through court proceedings quickly weren’t enough to get him back on the field this past season.
It remains to be seen whether Peterson will be wearing a Vikings jersey in 2015, but no matter what team he plays for, he will still likely be one of the best players in the NFL and be motivated to put up great numbers to help people forget about his transgressions away from the field.