Every year, the NFL season produces standout performances and miracle seasons. Thanks to a variety of reasons, professional football also provides the year with unpredictable outcomes. It's one of the main reasons why fans love the NFL so much. They never know what "Any Given Sunday," Monday or Thursday will present.
For example, the 2015 Dallas Cowboys were the odds on favorite to represent the NFC in Super Bowl 50. However, injuries to their two most explosive offensive playmakers caused the Cowboys look like a shell of the 2014 team. Basically, the season was over before it got started.
As for the individual players, they all believe it's time to have a breakout season. Some players are coming off of career years, and feel they are ready recreate the prior season. Unfortunately, the NFL doesn't work that way. Between injuries, suspensions, system changes and a lack of commitment to excellence, players won't have the same impact. Sometimes, playing for a new contract is a motivating factor, while receiving that new contract is the reason for a down year. Although stats hardly tell the whole story of a players' season, lack of production will jump off the page at season's end.
Here are 15 star players that most certainly will have down years in the NFL.
14 Martellus Bennett
After a slow start to his career, Martellus Bennett has taken the NFL by storm the past four seasons. In 2014, Bennett caught a career high 90 passes for the Chicago Bears. He only caught 53 passes last season. However, the decreased production was due to the 11 games Bennett played. Otherwise, he would have been a bigger part of the offense. With a change of scenery, comes a change in philosophy.
Bennett joined the New England Patriots via trade. The possibilities with Rob Gronkowski are endless, but there may be some pitfalls during the "Bennett experiment." Since joining the New York Giants in 2012, Bennett has been targeted at least 80 times in each season. His 53 receptions were the lowest total. Unfortunately, the Patriots haven't always utilized both tight ends to the fullest extent.
13 Doug Martin
How great was Doug Martin in 2015? Well, the former Boise State standout had his best season in his four-year career. Martin, affectionately known as the "Muscle Hamster," rushed for 1,402 yards and six touchdowns. He was second in the NFL behind Adrian Peterson. His ability to back up his stellar season will be the key to the rest of his career.
12 Brandon Marshall
When you mention the top receivers in the NFL, players like Julio Jones, Antonio Brown and DeAndre Hopkins come to mind. However, Brandon Marshall is well within is right to be named as one of the best receivers in the NFL. During his first season with the New York Jets, Marshall caught 109 passes for 1,502 yards. He averaged 13.8 yards per reception just like Jones. Despite not being known as a deep threat, Marshall's 69 yard catch was longer than Hopkins' and Brown's season high. He also tied for the NFL lead with 14 touchdowns receptions.
11 Matt Ryan
Matt Ryan was in line to be the next great quarterback in the NFL. From 2008-12, Ryan grew into greatness. He finished that 2012 season with 32 touchdowns as 14 interceptions. Ryan also led the Atlanta Falcons to a 13-3 season, and they seemed like NFC contenders for years to come. Since then, Ryan and the Falcons have regressed. On the surface, it looks like the franchise hit rock bottom in 2013 with a 4-8 record. However, last season's 8-8 record is demoralizing. The Falcons started the season with five straight wins. They only won two more games after Halloween.
10 Chandler Jones
Chandler Jones had a career season with the New England Patriots in 2015. He posted 12.5 sacks and an interception, while helping lead the Patriots to the AFC East title. However, the Patriots traded the standout linebacker to the Arizona Cardinals in the offseason. Jones is a much needed addition to the Cardinals' front seven. In 2015, the Cardinals were the no. 5 defense, giving up 321 yards per game. They were also in the top 10 of scoring defense at 19.6 points per game. However, they lacked some explosive plays from the outside pass rush last season. For example, Dwight Freeney led the defense with eight sacks in only 11 appearances. As a team, the Cardinals only created 35 sacks. Yet, they were in position to make plays most of the season.
9 Darren McFadden
In eight NFL seasons, Darren McFadden has reached double digit touchdowns once. Despite only scoring three touchdowns last season, McFadden resurrected his career with the Dallas Cowboys. He ran for 1,089 yards in 10 starts. More importantly, McFadden averaged 4.6 yards per carry in 2015. Yet, the veteran running back could become the odd man out in the Cowboys' backfield. McFadden suffered an injured elbow over Memorial Day Weekend, leaving the start of his season in jeopardy.
8 Josh Norman
The super hero junkie has talked a great game over the last two seasons. Although many people didn't notice Josh Norman's performance in 2014, he made sure to let the NFL know of his continued emergence in 2015. The fifth year cornerback signed a huge deal with the Washington Redskins after a stellar tenure in Carolina. Norman amassed a career high four interceptions last season and ran two back for touchdowns. He also forced three fumbles during the Panthers Super Bowl losing season. Yet, Norman wasn't part of the Panthers' plans going forward. It could be a move that backfires for both parties. Norman signed a five-year $75 million deal.
7 Le'Veon Bell
First of all, players need to be on the field to make a difference. Between injuries and suspensions, Le'Veon Bell has missed the most critical moments for the Pittsburgh Steelers. The last two seasons, the Steelers seemed like Super Bowl contenders, yet Bell was missed the postseason with knee injuries. Otherwise, he's been the best running back in the world.
6 Ryan Tannehill
Ryan Tannehill looks the part. His mobility and arm strength look the part. Even his durability looks the part. He hasn't missed a start in four NFL seasons. So, why is it so difficult for Tannehill to lead the Miami Dolphins to a postseason berth? Maybe it's because Tannehill is still a young quarterback mentally. Remember, Tannehill started his college career at Texas A&M as a wide receiver. During his first two seasons with the Aggies, Tannehill threw nine passes. Meanwhile, he caught 99 passes for 1,449 yards and nine touchdowns.
5 Carson Palmer
For the past three seasons, Carson Palmer has been playing the best football of his career. He's posted a 29-9 record with the Cardinals, while winning 19 of his last 22 regular season starts. However, Palmer and the Cardinals imploded during the 2016 NFC Championship game. He threw four interceptions, leaving the Cardinals stunned in a 49-15 loss to the Carolina Panthers. Now Palmer is looking to get the Cardinals back to the top of the NFC West, but it won't be easy.
4 Kirk Cousins
Kirk Cousins' three touchdown performance in Week 3 of the 2016 NFL preseason has me rethinking this position. However, opponents of the Washington Redskins might be screaming "you like that" more often this season. Is Cousins going to complete a high percentage? Certainly. Last year, Cousins led all starting quarterbacks, completing 69.8 percent of his passes. He added 29 touchdowns passes and only 11 interceptions. But the schedule is unrelenting in 2016.
3 Tom Brady
Conventional wisdom states that Tom Brady and the New England Patriots are going to decimate the NFL in 2016. First of all, Brady is upset about his four-game suspension. Second, the Patriots play in the historically weak AFC East, so winning the division hasn't been tough at all. However, the season won't be easy this year. Since 2009, the Patriots have lost three or more games in six of the last seven seasons. In fact, Brady has finished with a 12-4 record over the last four years. If people are expecting Brady to take a month off at the beginning of the season and win the final 12 games of the regular season, good luck.
2 Sam Bradford
The Philadelphia Eagles selected their future quarterback with the second pick of the 2016 NFL draft. As soon as the move was made, Sam Bradford was already looking elsewhere to play. After every NFL franchise passed on trading for Bradford, he was stuck in Philadelphia for his second his. However, Bradford still has a chance to win the starting quarterback job. Due to Carson Wentz' inability to remain healthy, Bradford has a chance to solidify the quarterback position in the preseason. Depending on how he plays, Bradford can become the hottest commodity. However, injuries have always been the main culprit. Bradford has not been able to play full 16 game seasons in consecutive years.
There's only one reason why J.J. Watt is on this list. The injury concerns are the real deal. Watt had back surgery in July, and hasn't returned to the practice field yet. With only two preseason games left on the schedule, the Houston Texans plan to have Watt on the field next week. However, there's a chance he still doesn't see game action until Week 2. If that's the case, Watt will have to work into game shape on the fly.
1 Tony Romo
Tony Romo's career might be over with the Dallas Cowboys. After missing the majority of the 2015 season, Romo was eager to get back to action this season. He lasted three plays in the preseason. Romo broke a bone in his back and will miss the next 6-10 weeks to start the season. The Cowboys were already excited about Dak Prescott's progress as a rookie, but they didn't have him starting the season opener. If Prescott flourishes in the first month of the season, it may be time to move on from the Romo era. Keep in mind, Romo is 15-4 in his last 19 starts. Unfortunately, only four of those starts came last season. Has America's Team become Dak Prescott's team? At least Romo is scheduled to come back by mid-season at the latest. However, his return to the lineup in 2015, didn't pan out. If you were wondering, Romo was on this list prior to the back injury.
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