The NFL can be a cruel, cruel league. One day you're a budding superstar, the next day you're a "has been."
Kurt Warner rose to prominence with the St. Louis Rams and led them to two Super Bowls before suffering injuries and being released to make room for Marc Bulger. Warner was then signed by the New York Giants and was unable to repeat the magic he displayed with the Rams, resulting in his release in favor of another younger quarterback (this time Eli Manning). Many assumed that Warner was finished but the Arizona Cardinals provided him another opportunity and he was able to completely revive his career. Warner hit the precipice of his revival when he led the Cardinals to Super Bowl XLIII; a heart-breaking loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The point is that fans, reporters, and even NFL executives are often quick to give up on a player after a poor season or two. However, every season there are players that bounce back and completely redeem themselves. The NFL is a "what have you done for me lately?" league and it's important to bounce back if a player desires to remain in the league.
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15 Reggie Bush - RB, Buffalo Bills
This former USC Trojan standout was once the most exciting college football player in the nation. Many believed that his rare combination of speed and elusiveness would be game changing for the running back position. Although Bush never became the featured back that many envisioned, he was a player that opposing teams always had to game plan for in fear of his big-play ability.
Now entering his tenth year, Bush has become a journeyman. The Buffalo Bills will be his fourth team in the last five years. Bush was a 1,000 yard rusher for the Detroit Lions in 2013, but injuries and a failure to produce on the field have derailed his once promising career. At 31 years old, this may be Bush's last chance to revive and extend his NFL career.
The Bills have Karlos Williams and LeSean McCoy on the roster but McCoy is still recovering from an injury and Williams has been reprimanded for his weight issues. This creates an opportunity for Bush to gain some early season carries and he must be productive in his limited use if he expects to be pursued by other teams next offseason. Fight on Reggie, Fight on!
14 Mike Wallace - WR, Baltimore Ravens
Mike Wallace has been the source of fantasy football owners' frustrations for years now. Wallace busted onto the scene in 2009 with Pittsburgh Steelers, instantly becoming a serious deep ball threat for Ben Roethlisberger. During his time with the Steelers, Wallace amassed impressive stats with his best season coming in 2010 (60 receptions, 1,257 yards, and 10 touchdowns). Wallace was selected to the Pro Bowl roster in 2011 after putting up similar numbers.
After his rookie contract expired, Wallace became a marquee free agent target and cashed in with a five year, $60 million contract with the Miami Dolphins. Although he was still productive, he was never able to fill the hype that came with his early career success. His stats have continued to decline each year, bottoming out last season with only 423 yards and two touchdowns for the Minnesota Vikings.
Although he may have lost a step, Wallace still has the type of speed that makes defensive coordinators cringe. Now in Baltimore, Wallace will look to utilize Joe Flacco's big arm and take the top off the defense. Flacco has lacked a true deep threat since losing Torrey Smith in free agency two years ago. If Flacco and Wallace can quickly develop chemistry, it will be a big bounce back year for the speedy wideout.
13 Dwight Freeney - DE/OLB, Atlanta Falcons
"Y'all wanna win? Put [Freeney] in... let him spin." This paraphrased quote from the fictional character Boobie Miles in the movie "Friday Night Lights" is far too fitting for Freeney to not use it here. Freeney has been one of the most dominating pass rushers since entering the league with the Indianapolis Colts in 2002. Freeney, a seven time Pro-Bowler, currently sits at fourth on the list of active sack leaders in the NFL. But Freeney's career appeared to be over after registering only four sacks in his two seasons with the San Diego Chargers.
Freeney was weeks away from retiring before he decided to sign with the Arizona Cardinals in 2015. It was immediately apparent that the sack legend still had plenty left in the tank and his patented spin move looked as unstoppable as ever, gaining eight sacks in only 11 games with the Cardinals. Offensive tackles can know the spin move is coming and still be unable to prevent Freeney from unleashing his aggression on the helpless quarterback.
The Atlanta Falcons lack any serious pass rushing threats and hope that Freeney will be able continue his assault of NFL quarterbacks. He's no longer an every down player, but quarterbacks better remain aware of where Freeney is on third down, pass rushing situations. Plus, who doesn't want to see that beautiful spin move for a few more seasons?
12 Eddie Lacy - RB, Green Bay Packers
Lacy showed flashes of brilliance in 2014 but has never been the dominant running back that many envisioned he would become. In 2014, Lacy was a 1,000 yard back and appeared to have a bright future as the bell-cow for an Aaron Rodgers led attack. However, in 2015 Lacy took the term "bell-COW" to literally. Lacy reported to camp at a healthy 235 pounds, but quickly shot up to 260 pounds. His struggle to control his weight clearly affected his on-field production and had many questioning his work ethic and long term potential.
His weight issues and lack of production was a serious concern for the Packers coaching staff and drew much ire from the Packers loyal fanbase. If Lacy wants to remain a feature back for years to come, he must show self-control in the kitchen and weight room.
It has been reported that Lacy enrolled in an extensive conditioning program this offseason and has slimmed down to a more ideal playing weight. Given his extremely disappointing 2015 campaign, this is a make or break year for Lacy. If he is able to regain his explosiveness, it could result in a huge season statistically. A motivated Lacy will have a big 2016, resulting in a hefty payday this coming off-season.
11 Terrelle Pryor - WR, Cleveland Browns
Only a few years removed from being appointed the Raiders potential quarterback of the future, Pryor has since changed positions and looks to revive his career in the NFL as a wide receiver. Pryor was always seen as an elite physical specimen and matched many of the attributes of the "new-era" NFL quarterback (see Cam Newton), but failed to prove that he could lead an NFL offense.
Now in Cleveland, Pryor has been turning heads this offseason with his improved hands and route-running abilities. He is currently listed as the Browns number two wide receiver in preseason depth charts. If Pryor can continue to improve his receiving skills, his physical attributes should allow him to be a formidable receiver for a team in need of offensive threats.
While Pryor's dreams of being an NFL starting quarterback have dissipated, a productive 2016 season should extend his career for years to come. At 27 years old and in a brand new position, look for Pryor to take advantage of the opportunity presented to him this season.
10 Jared Cook - TE, Green Bay Packers
Jared Cook has had a successful career in the NFL with stints with the Tennessee Titans and the St. Louis Rams, but he has never fully lived up to his potential. After several mediocre seasons and a dreadful 2015 campaign with the Rams, Cook's career is at a crossroads. A change of scenery and quarterback could be the catalyst for his career revival in 2016.
Cook is big, fast, and has tremendous hands. The Packers have lacked a true tight end ever since Jermichael Finley suffered a career ending neck injury. With Aaron Rodgers at the helm, Cook finally has a legitimate quarterback for the first time in his career. This could equate to a massive statistical season and a true breakout season for the veteran.
Rodgers knows how to utilize his weapons as well as any quarterback in the league and he has to be salivating at Cook's potential. If Cook can finally live up to his expectations, he can expect a long term extension and another big payday this coming offseason.
9 Chris Long - DE, New England Patriots
After trading stud pass rusher Chandler Jones to the Arizona Cardinals this offseason, the Patriots had a need for a pass rushing threat and took a flyer on Chris Long. Long was a consistent leader for the
St. Louis Los Angeles Rams for many years and was a very effective pass rusher from 2010 to 2013, amassing 41.5 sacks over that period.
Injuries and a lack of production made Long a second class free agent this offseason and his signing with the Patriots largely flew under the radar. It would be unfair to expect Long to replace Chandler Jones statistically, but given the talent surrounding him on the Patriots roster it should not surprise anybody to see Long reach double digit sacks this year if he stays healthy.
A change of scenery could be exactly what Long needs to jump-start his career and there's no better place to do so than New England. They will put him in a position to excel... can he capitalize?
8 Tim Hightower - RB, New Orleans Saints
I know what you're thinking, "Tim Hightower? Really? Don't you need a career in the first place to actually be able to 'revive a career?'" But Hightower is too interesting of a story to not discuss going into the 2016 season. Hightower made a name for himself as a rookie during the Arizona Cardinals surprise run to the 2008 Super Bowl, replacing the injured Edgerrin James and finishing the season with 10 touchdowns. He followed that up with two additional solid seasons, averaging 4.8 yards per carry in 2010.
Hightower then suffered a brutal knee injury and continued to suffer complications for over four years. Hightower's persistence and determination led him back to the NFL as a camp tryout with the Saints in 2015. Due to injuries to Mark Ingram and C.J. Spiller, Hightower was elevated to the starting running back in week 14 and averaged an impressive 4.0 yard per carry over the final four weeks.
Miraculously, Hightower enters 2016 as the front-runner to backup starter Mark Ingram. While never a big name, this season is another chance for Hightower to revive a once promising career. Whether he excels or not, Hightower's story is an inspiring one and everybody loves cheering for a tenacious underdog.
7 Jason Pierre-Paul - DE, New York Giants
Jason Pierre-Paul is a freak athlete who is always a cause for concern for opposing quarterbacks. Pierre-Paul was dominant in 2011 with 16.5 sacks and again in 2014 with 12.5 sacks. However, in the 2015 offseason Pierre-Paul suffered a well-documented and extremely gruesome firework incident that blew off several fingers from his right hand. He was finally able to return for the final five games of 2016 and performed adequately but failed to return to his dominant form.
With a full offseason of conditioning and a better understanding of how to compensate for his injury, Pierre-Paul will be ready to unleash his fury on NFC East offenses again. To add incentive, Pierre-Paul signed a one year deal this offseason and will be seeking another mega deal next offseason.
Look for Pierre-Paul to show off his super human explosiveness and blow up opposing quarterbacks all 2016... pun intended.
6 Jimmy Graham - TE, Seattle Seahawks
Just a few seasons ago, Jimmy Graham was the most dominant tight end in the NFL. Graham put up eye-popping numbers with the Saints including a 16 touchdown performance in 2013. Graham was traded to the Seahawks before the 2015 season and failed to create much chemistry with Russell Wilson before suffering a brutal knee injury. Even before the injury, there were questions regarding Graham's fit with the Seahawks so 2016 will be big for Graham to reestablish his dominance.
The injury that Graham suffered (torn patellar tendon) is considered to be one of the more difficult to return from and has ended several once promising careers. Carnell "Cadillac" Williams never could return from the torn patellar tendon injury he suffered and Victor Cruz has shown tremendous difficulty in overcoming this injury as well (more on this below).
If Graham can put his injury behind him and return to the field, there is no question that he will be a valuable asset for the Seahawks offense. This will be a major season on getting Graham's career back on the right path. Any true NFL fan should be hoping Graham returns to form because his style of play, at his size, makes him a red zone monster.
5 5. Victor Cruz - WR, New York Giants
The salsa dancing king is finally expected to return to the field in 2016 after missing the majority of the past two seasons with a torn patellar injury. Cruz broke out in 2010, when he caught 82 passes for 1,536 yards and 9 touchdowns. Cruz suffered a torn patellar injury in the sixth game in 2014 and his Cruz's career has been in jeopardy ever since.
Finally healthy again (reportedly), Cruz looks to bounce back in 2016 and create a formidable receiving tandem with Odell Beckham Jr. Now that teams will have to focus the majority of their game plan on stopping Beckham, it should create many opportunities for Victor Cruz to work his magic. He appears to be chomping at the bit to return and with Eli Manning still at the helm for the G-men, Cruz should be able to put up big numbers.
Let's just hope that his surgically repaired knee will be strong enough to withhold all the salsa dancing that Cruz will be doing in the endzone this season.
4 Mark Sanchez - QB, Denver Broncos
The Sanchize remarkably has yet another shot at being a starting quarterback this season. The former USC Trojan started his career off impressively with the New York Jets but has since shown an inability to carry an NFL offense. Plagued by the unforgettable and always hilarious "butt fumble," Sanchez will look to overcome his past misfortunes and hold the starting quarterback position in Denver.
It will not be easy, as the Broncos also have Trevor Simian and first round selection Paxton Lynch competing for the starting job this preseason. The quarterback position for the Broncos is highly coveted because their dominant defense takes much of the pressure off their offense to produce big numbers.
This is the most talented team that Sanchez has ever been apart of and this will likely be his final opportunity to show he can be a starting quarterback for a playoff caliber team. Will he rise to the occasion or fumble it away?
3 Josh Gordon - WR, Cleveland Browns
Drugs or football? Josh Gordon claims to have finally turned a corner in his personal life and is focused on returning to the field in 2016 after a two year hiatus. Many forget just how good Josh Gordon really was. In 2013, Gordon led the NFL in receiving yards (1,646 yards) despite missing the first two games of that season.
Gordon had one of the brightest futures at that point but fell into a miserable spiral of failed drug tests that completely derailed his career. These failed drug test led to Gordon being suspended for all of 2015. Gordon was recently reinstated by the NFL, although he must still serve another four game suspension at the start of this season.
As mentioned, Gordon led the league in receiving in 2013 after missing the first two games and it's not out of the question for him to finish 2016 in the top 10 despite missing the first four games. The guy can flat out ball... when he's sober. Drugs or football Mr. Gordon? For the sake of our fantasy teams, please choose football.
2 Colin Kaepernick - QB, San Francisco 49ers
In his second season, Colin Kaepernick replaced an injured Alex Smith and led the 49ers to Super Bowl XLVII. He followed that up with an impressive run to the NFC Championship game the next season. Kaepernick has a unique skill set and his ability to scramble and extend plays is flat out fun to watch. For example, in a 2012 playoff game Kaepernick rushed for 181 yards, breaking the quarterback record for rushing yards in a game formerly held by Michael Vick.
Scrambling quarterbacks tend to have shorter careers than pure pocket quarterbacks and it certainly appears that Kaepernick has hit a ceiling in his development. After signing a massive contract extension, he has failed to live up to expectations. An injury last year led the 49ers to replace him with Blaine Gabbert and has created a seemingly open quarterback competition going into 2016.
Can Kaepernick ever regain his Super Bowl caliber form? One would think that he would be a perfect fit to lead a Chip Kelly spread offense and 2016 will be a vital season to prove he's capable of being a starting NFL quarterback.
1 1. Robert Griffin III - QB, Cleveland Browns
RGIII took the league by storm as a rookie in 2012, throwing for 3,200 yards and 20 touchdowns, while also adding another 815 yards and 7 touchdowns on the ground. Those are incredibly impressive stats and it created an aura around Griffin that made him a fantasy football sensation. But things haven't been as easy for Griffin since his rookie year and between injuries and inconsistent play, Griffin lost his starting job to Kirk Cousins.
This made Griffin expendable and the Redskins chose to part ways with Griffin this offseason. The Cleveland Browns have been searching for an answer at the quarterback position for over a decade and decided to take a flyer on Griffin. He now enters the season as the starter and immediately becomes the most intriguing player to watch in the early part of 2016.
There are many doubters that Griffin will be able to remain healthy given his reckless disregard for his body when he scrambles out of the pocket, but that is also what makes Griffin so exciting to watch. He will eventually have Josh Gordon as a new target to throw to and the two of them will be dependent on each other as they both attempt to revive their careers. Can Griffin stay healthy and return to his rookie year form? If so, he may have found a long-term home as the franchise quarterback for the Browns.
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