Tomorrow is never promised today for players in the National Football League, no matter how big of a star a player is. One day a player can be on top of the world and the next he can be completely in the dumps. NFL starters have a huge amount of pressure on their shoulders to stay healthy and perform at a high level so they can keep their jobs and make a boatload of money.
But where there are starters there are backups who are hungry and willing to take whatever opportunity comes their way in order to get more playing time. It's what drives every single player in the NFL, day in and day out, making it a rat race to the top of the depth chart.
Injuries have always proven the biggest obstacle players face in keeping their respective jobs. Major injuries happen all the time and when a starting player is on the shelf for an extended period, the show must go on and the team is forced to find a replacement. Sometimes in those replacements there are quality players—or in more extreme cases, stars—that cost less to do the same job as well as the injured player can.
Whether it's a result of injuries, age or simply a lack of production, NFL players have multiple ways for their respective careers to take a nosedive as they walk the extremely thin line between being a star and a reserve. Let's take a look at some of the big names in the league today whose careers are on a downward trajectory.
15 Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas City Chiefs
Charles has been the Chiefs' best offensive weapon for years now, but that has already begun to change. Charles suffered a torn ACL in 2015 and only played in five games, allowing running back Spencer Ware to emerge as a top back for KC.
In Charles' absence last season, Ware did a fantastic job filling the void with 403 yards rushing, six touchdowns and 5.6 yards per carry. Ware's great play has continued to start the 2016 campaign while Charles was unable to get healthy in time for the start of the season.
14 Josh Norman, CB, Washington Redskins
Norman's elite play with the Panthers earned him the title as one of the league's best shutdown corners, but that still wasn't enough for Carolina to keep him after he hit free agency. Instead the Redskins signed Norman to bolster their ailing secondary and help make them a more well-rounded team. On the surface it looked like a good move; but Norman's success with Carolina was more a result of the system he was in.
While with the Panthers, Norman played with two of the better cover linebackers in Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis, and a sensational defensive front as a whole. A combination like that would make any cornerback better, let alone one like Norman who had been a near non-factor in the league before 2015.
13 Darrelle Revis, CB, New York Jets
All the talk at the start of the 2016 season was about the downfall of Revis, who was routinely getting burnt by faster receiver for big plays. His former head coach, now Buffalo Bills head coach Rex Ryan, even suggested Revis was coming down from the top of the Mount Everest of cornerbacks in the league.
It's a far cry from the Revis Island we know and love. For years now we've seen Revis completely eliminating some of the leagues best receivers and he has certainly gotten his due credit for that ability from the football world.
12 Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, New York Jets
Fitzpatrick and the Jets barely came to a contract agreement before the start of the 2016 season after the quarterback had a career year in 2015. Fitzpatrick took full advantage of all the offensive weapons around him after throwing for 3,905 yards and 31 touchdowns en route to a 10-win season.
Thanks to expectations running high following a 2015 campaign that saw Fitzpatrick post career-highs and a brutal schedule the first six weeks of 2016, Fitzpatrick and the Jets have nowhere to go but down from here. After all, the 33-year-old isn't getting any younger or better at this stage in his career. It's bad enough for the Jets to have the Patriots in their division and a tough schedule, but it's even worse if Fitzpatrick continues to play poorly like he has to start the season.
11 Martavis Bryant, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
There's no question Bryant is a talented young player who can make big plays with the best of them in the NFL. The only question is, can he stay out of trouble?
Bryant was suspended four games in 2015 for multiple violations of the league's substance abuse policy; however he was still able to record 765 yards and six touchdowns in 11 games. It's quite conceivable he could have broken 1,000 yards had he played a full season, and that's with one of the NFL's best receivers in Antonio Brown playing on the same offense.
10 Antonio Gates, TE, San Diego Chargers
Gates has always been an elite tight end during the course of his career as one of Philip Rivers' favorite targets. After drafting fellow tight end Hunter Henry in the second round in 2016, the Chargers may be on the verge of moving on from Gates.
That's not entirely surprising, of course. Gates is 36 years old and in the twilight years of his career, but 2016 will be the year he becomes completely irrelevant. That's quite a drop from 2015, when Gates still played like an elite tight end when he was healthy for 11 games.
The Jags drafted Yeldon in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft to be their featured back to go along with a raw but talented passing attack.
Yeldon had a solid rookie season for the Jags with over 1,000 total yards and three touchdowns in 12 games, but that wasn't enough to stop the Jaguars from signing another running back in Chris Ivory. It kind of made you wonder what concerns the Jags had with Yeldon.
While Ivory was sidelined to start the 2016 season, Yeldon failed miserably at establishing himself as a lead back and it became clear why Jacksonville signed Ivory: Yeldon isn't very good and the team didn't trust him to handle any kind of workhorse role.
9 Ameer Abdullah, RB, Detroit Lions
Abdullah's first season in the NFL wasn't particularly impressive as the team's early-down back. The Lions' 2015 second-round pick averaged 4.2 yards per carry and had 780 yards of total offense with three touchdowns. After having a strong outing in Week 1 of the 2016 season, Abdullah suffered a foot injury that required surgery and could land on the shelf for the rest of this season.
In order to mend the fence, the Lions will deploy their normal pass-catching back Theo Riddick—who recently signed a new three-year deal in September—and rookie running back Dwayne Washington, who will handle the majority of the early-down work. These are two backs who aren't going anywhere anytime soon.
8 Alshon Jeffery, WR, Chicago Bears
Jeffery is as good as they come at the receiver position, but his supporting cast leaves a ton to be desired on a Bears team going nowhere. The Bears have been ravaged by injuries on the defensive side of the ball in 2016 and have the most inconsistent quarterback in the NFL at the helm of their offense in Jay Cutler.
Granted, Jeffery has had success with Cutler before; however the Bears have an awful offensive line, no Matt Forte and no Martellus Bennett. Sophomore receiver Kevin White has failed to establish himself in 2016 after missing all of 2015 due to injury, thus leaving Jeffery as the one target opposing defenses focus in on.
7 Todd Gurley, RB, Los Angeles Rams
Gurley burst onto the NFL scene in 2015 after missing the first three games of the season due to injury. Gurley quickly made up for lost time by rushing for 128 yards or more in four of his first five games, with three touchdowns.
Despite Gurley finishing with nearly 1,300 total yards and 10 touchdowns in what was an eye-popping rookie season, his production fell off a cliff the rest of the way. Gurley would only break the 100-yard mark once more as teams continually stacked the box against him.
That’s due in large part to an often stagnant Rams offense that has a mediocre offensive line and hasn’t had a solution at quarterback in years. The 2016 opening week starter, Case Keenum, is no better than a low-end backup quarterback, and 2016 no. 1 overall pick Jared Goff couldn't beat Keenum out for the starting job. Until the Rams can move the ball through the air via a quarterback with talent, Gurley won't have much room to run.
If that wasn't enough, there's more bad news. A change in leadership for the franchise isn't coming with head coach Jeff Fisher reportedly set to sign a contract extension. Hard to figure considering Fisher has a losing record with the Rams, without a single playoff appearance.
5 Blake Bortles, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars
Bortles' sophomore campaign led many to believe he was on the cusp of being a top quarterback in the NFL for years to come. The former no. 3 overall pick threw for 4,428 yards and 35 touchdowns as the head of a dynamic passing attack on the verge of being elite.
Fast forward to 2016 and Bortles looks like a different player despite having a very talented receiving corps made up of receivers Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns, as well as tight end Julius Thomas. The Jags, a team pegged to be a playoff squad in the AFC by some this season, have come out of the gates incredibly sluggish and Bortles has been a turnover machine.
4 Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings
Peterson is a first-ballot Hall of Fame player and one of the best running backs to ever play in the NFL; however his time as an elite player is quickly coming to an end.
Peterson has now suffered multiple major knee injuries during his career, with his latest coming in Week 2 of the 2016 season that will sideline him for a minimum of eight weeks and likely longer than that. Now that Peterson is no longer a spring chicken at the age of 31, it’s very likely this will be his most difficult rehab yet and very difficult to come back from.
3 Tony Romo, QB, Dallas Cowboys
Romo’s brittle frame is enough to put him on this list, but that isn’t his only problem at this late stage in his career. For once, Romo actually has some competition to worry about.
The 36-year-old signal-caller suffered another serious back injury during the 2016 preseason, leaving him on the shelf for at least the first six weeks. This comes one season after Romo played in just four games in 2015, also because of a back injury.
2 Carlos Hyde, RB, San Francisco 49ers
Head coach Chip Kelly’s offense wasn’t very friendly to running back DeMarco Murray during his time in Philadelphia. Murray went from a guy who led the league in rushing for the Cowboys in 2014 to an afterthought in Philly in 2015, even though the Eagles paid him good money to be a starting back.
Hyde may be on the same path as Murray. Both backs have a similar style in running downhill, which is a less ideal style in Kelly’s offense than a back who is more agile and can make people miss.
1 Jeremy Langford, RB, Chicago Bears
In the wake of an injury to former starting running back Matt Forte last year, the Bears promoted Langford to starter and he proved to be a fairly productive player. Langford compiled 816 total yards and seven touchdowns as both a backup and starter on a lackluster Bears team that finished 6-10.
It looked like Langford was the running back of the future with Forte departing in free agency and he was named the starter for the 2016 season. It quickly became evident that Langford wasn’t the man for the job.
His inability to make people miss is a huge problem, and that’s especially true considering Chicago’s horrid offensive line. Langford has been an ineffective runner to start the season, making him a question mark moving forward.
Now that Langford will miss a large chunk of the season due to an ankle injury, rookie running back Jordan Howard has a golden opportunity to snag Langford’s job from him. Howard looks like the more talented back already in every facet, making Langford’s days as the Bears’ starter numbered.
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