Every year in the NFL there are players who post big-time numbers one season, which causes fans to create unrealistic expectations heading into the next season for these players. These expectations are likely exaggerated more than ever now because of the extreme focus on fantasy football and preseason fantasy football player rankings. Just like teams that perform well one season and garner tons of offseason hype just to fall flat on their face and draw the ire of their fanbases (looking at you Cardinals and Panthers), players are not immune from failing to live up to preseason expectations.
The players compiled on this list all had a breakout career, or just plain exceptional seasons in 2015. Unfortunately for each of these players, the 2016 season has been less fortunate. Whether it be injuries, coaching changes, or just poor performance, these players have all seen a decrease in production from their 2015 seasons. While there is still half a season for these players to turn it around, all of them are currently on pace to fall victim to their expectations entering 2016.
However, don't count out any of these players to turn their season around or at least bounce back in 2017, as they clearly have the talent to dominate in the NFL. (Note: Players who have suffered major injuries in 2o16 were not included as candidates for this list).
Without further ado, here is the list of 15 NFL Stars who look a lot worse so far this season than they did in 2015.
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15 Allen Robinson, WR - Jacksonville Jaguars
After an uninspiring rookie season, Allen Robinson broke out in a big way in 2015, recording 80 receptions for 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns. Those numbers are eye-popping, yet Robinson continued to hang mostly under the radar going into the 2016 season. With another offseason to grow a rapport with quarterback Blake Bortles and fellow wideout Allen Hurd, big things were expected of the Jacksonville passing attack and Robinson in particular.
Robinson, along with the entire Jaguars offense, has taken a step backwards so far in 2016. Whether it be because of the well-documented struggles with Blake Bortles' mechanics this season or just defenses focusing more attention on Robinson, the 2015 production has not been met this season. The Jaguars are on a tipping point in their season and head coach Gus Bradley appears to be on the hot seat so it would but wise to feed the beast that is Allen Robinson and let him regain his 2015 form.
14 Olivier Vernon, DE - New York Giants
Olivier Vernon has never been an elite pass rusher but he showed several promising years while with the Miami Dolphins, including 7.5 sacks last season. That promise led to a big pay day for Vernon when he signed an $85 million contract with the New York Giants, under the assumption that he would rejuvenate the Giants pass rush attack. Many wondered at the time whether this was a sound investment for the Giants or whether they had overpaid for a player who was complemented by a good system in Miami.
The latter appears to be the case as Vernon has been dependable, albeit average, for the G-men in 2016. He currently has 2 sacks, which would project him to finish roughly in the 5-7 range by seasons end. While many fans would see that number and look at the money he was given and see a bust, it could simply be that Vernon is just an average to above-average defensive end. It would be unfair to expect much more from Vernon given his past seasons. Hopefully, he can put together a strong string of games to finish the season and allow the Giants to feel more comfortable about their investment going forward.
13 Russell Wilson, QB - Seattle Seahawks
Since taking the reigns of Seattle's offense as a rookie in 2012, Russell Wilson has been an ultimate game-changing quarterback with his dual-threat style of play. In 2015, Wilson reached another level after throwing for over 4,000 yards and 34 touchdowns. In his last seven games alone in 2015, Wilson had a nearly impossible touchdown to interception ratio of 24:1. That stretch of games was other worldly and it would have been unfair to expect Wilson to continue on that pace in 2016, but not many would have foreseen quite the drop off that has occurred thus far.
Granted, Wilson has been plagued by injuries this season, which has severely limited his mobility. Without his ability to run freely and extend plays, Wilson has seen his numbers drop, throwing only 7 touchdowns through the first half of the season. However, Wilson appears to be regaining health just in time for Seattle to make a serious push to win the NFC West. No team would want to face Seattle in the playoffs if Wilson can regain his 2015 form in the second half of this season.
12 Stephen Gostkowski, K - New England Patriots
Really? A kicker? Normally I would agree with this sentiment but 2016 appears to be a year to forget for NFL place kickers. Of all the struggling kickers this year (see Catanzaro, Walsh, and Hauschka) Gostkowski makes the list because of his dependability throughout his career, including in 2015. While he has not failed in the clutch yet in 2016, it is Gostkowski's confidence that appears to be lacking the most in comparison to seasons past.
Gostkowski has been one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history and has been all but automatic with extra points. From 2006-2015, he missed only one extra point... one! Granted that many of those seasons came before the NFL rule adjustment that pushed the extra point back to a nearly 30-yard field goal. But even in 2015, with the rule in place, Gostkowski nailed 52 of 52 extra points. In 2016, he has already missed two extra points and is clearly struggling with confidence issues to overcome those misses. Was it the yips after his crucial PAT miss in last year's AFC Championship?
The Patriots looked primed for another deep postseason run, so Gostkowski needs to overcome these issues as soon as possible.
11 Aaron Rodgers, QB - Green Bay Packers
It's difficult to out Aaron Rodgers on this list because he has been so exceptional the past few seasons that it's unfair to hold him to as high of a standard as we do. Statistically, Rodgers is still having a successful season but when watching the Packers more closely, it is evident that Rodger is struggling this season. He has missed wide open receivers with inaccurate throws that don't resemble the former MVP in any way.
The Packers offense has been decimated by injuries and the rushing attack is essentially non-existent. This puts Rodgers in a precarious position of constantly having to carry the entire offense week in and week out. If he continues to struggle, the Packers will continue to struggle; simple as that. Rodgers still has time to find his mojo and turn things around this season and given his late game actions last year (two incredible Hail Mary touchdowns), it's obvious that Rodgers will continue to fight throughout the rest of the 2016 season.
10 Reggie Nelson, S - Oakland Raiders
The Raiders went all in on their defense this season signing Reggie Nelson, Bruce Irvin, and Sean Smith to help solidify a defensive unit already led by superstar Khalil Mack. Nelson was to provide a veteran presence and toughness to the Raiders defensive backfield that would allow guys like Mack and Irvin time to harass opposing quarterbacks. Unfortunately for the black hole, the Raiders defense currently sits last in yards given up per game.
While the blame cannot be put solely on Reggie Nelson, it is important to note that his struggles have led many to question the $8 million the Raiders gave him to leave the Bengals. While Nelson was never expected to be a game-changing safety, he was at least expected to be much better than he has been so far in 2016. The Raiders have been quite the success story overall this season but much of that has been led by their offense. If things don't start improving defensively, look for changes to come in the second half of the 2016 season.
9 John Brown, WR - Arizona Cardinals
Spoiler alert: there are multiple Arizona Cardinals players on this list, which makes sense given that the team was one of the best in the league in 2015 and has been a huge disappointment thus far in 2016. It's not just a case of poor luck for the Cardinals, it's also clear that many of the guys who excelled in 2015 have taken a step back in 2016. John Brown is one of those that has failed to live up to the expectations he set in 2015.
Brown is a classic small school guy (Pittsburgh State) who has raw skills and speed that allowed him to quickly translate his game to the NFL level. In 2015, only his second season in the league, Brown caught 65 balls for 1,003 yards and 7 touchdowns. The speedster is one of Carson's Palmer's favorite downfield targets but the Arizona air attack has been virtually grounded through the first 8 games. Brown has also dealt with the discovery that he has sickle cell that affects the muscles in his legs, which has slowed him down this year. The talent is there and Brown will have every opportunity to save his 2016 season when the Cardinals return to action this week.
8 DeAndre Hopkins, WR - Houston Texans
When discussing the best receiver in the game following Calvin Johnson's retirement, DeAndre Hopkins was a popular dark horse pick after his impressive 2015 season in which he had 111 receptions for 1,521 yards and 11 touchdowns. Hopkins was able to put up those numbers despite having a carousel at quarterback of Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallet, TJ Yates, and Brandon Weeden. The Texans thought they had solved the quarterback issue when they signed Brock Osweiler to a massive free agent contract this past offseason, but that has not been the solution.
Hopkins is currently on pace to reach roughly 900 yards and 7 touchdowns in 2016. While it is likely that Hopkins puts together a string of nice games that will allow him to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark for the third straight season, it will take more than that to consider 2016 anything but a disappointment for the wideout. If Osweiler can regain form and find a rhythm with his top wideout, maybe he can regain form; but until then, Hopkins will struggle.
7 Doug Baldwin, WR - Seattle Seahawks
Doug Baldwin had a steady career trajectory through his first four seasons in the NFL but he exploded in 2015, to the tune of 78 receptions, 1,067 yards, and a remarkable 14 touchdowns. He always had a knack of making clutch receptions for the Hawks and his chemistry with Russell Wilson was always apparent, but 2015 was a special year and allowed him to cement himself as an elite NFL receiver.
Although Baldwin has remained a consistent presence for Seattle this season, he makes this list because of the fact that he has only recorded two touchdowns receptions through the first half of the 2016 season. Part of the blame can be put on the ineffectiveness of Russell Wilson, but ultimately Baldwin has fallen below the lofty expectations he faced entering this season following his exception 2015 performance. Wilson appears to be regaining form (and health), so look for Baldwin to get on a streak down the homestretch of the season.
Perhaps his recent three-touchdown performance in Week 10 against New England is a sign that Baldwin is in for a monster second half.
6 Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB - New York Jets
The journeyman quarterback appeared to finally find a home in 2015 when he had a career year with the New York Jets. Last season, Fitzpatrick put up big time numbers (31 touchdowns and almost 4,000 yards) and looked to receive a big time contract this offseason. Although Fitzpatrick and the Jets hit a stalemate in negotiations heading into the 2016 season, the quarterback ultimately signed and looked primed for another big season.
Unfortunately, Fitzpatrick has reverted to his old turnover-prone ways and lost his starting job to backup Geno Smith, who then suffered a season-ending injury in his first start. Fitzpatrick hasn't just been worse than his 2015 self, he has been absolutely dreadful. In eight starts this season, Fitzpatrick has already thrown 13 interceptions, including 6 in the Jets Week 3 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. Although he lost one of his favorite red zone targets in Eric Decker to injury, Fitzpatrick's performance has been unacceptable. This could be the beginning of the end of Fitzpatrick's journey through the NFL.
5 Michael Floyd, WR - Arizona Cardinals
Contract years are generally a safe bet for athletes to perform their best in hopes of earning a big payday in the next free agency period. For Michael Floyd, this contract year has been an absolute nightmare and will likely cost him millions in his next contract. Floyd was drafted by the Cardinals in the first round out of Notre Dame with the mindset that he would develop under the expert tutelage of the legendary Larry Fitzgerald before ultimately claiming the #1 receiver spot as Fitzgerald aged, but this has not happened.
Big things were expected of Floyd in 2016 after a successful 2015 campaign in which he was able to consistently win the 50/50 deep balls against opposing cornerbacks. Bruce Arians' big play offense has been grounded and a large part of that blame can be placed on Floyd. His lack of concentration and declining confidence has led to numerous dropped passes, none bigger than the dropped first down catch in overtime against the Seahawks in Week 7 (that ball literally hit him directly in the chest with no Seattle defenders around). Hopefully, Floyd can turn things around in the second half of the season and regain the trust of Cards fans, while also assisting his bank account as well.
4 Todd Gurley, RB - Los Angeles Rams
Todd Gurley took the NFL by storm in 2015 after a surprising return from the terrible knee injuries he suffered that ended his prolific college career. Although drafted in the first round by the Rams in the 2015 draft, nobody truly knew what the Rams were getting in Gurley. After only a few games, it was apparent that Gurley was the real deal and had returned to his punishing, yet smooth running style. Gurley was as dominant as any running back in the second half of the 2015 season.
Going into 2016, Gurley was a popular fantasy pick to become the best running back in football, only to be upstaged by other backs like David Johnson and Ezekiel Elliott. Not only has Gurley failed to live up to his lofty expectations, he has failed to even log a 100-yard rushing game through the first half of the NFL regular season. The Rams offense overall is abysmal and they absolutely need a resurgence from Gurley in the second half of the season, especially if Case Keenum's struggles force them to start rookie QB Jared Goff. Is it possible that the bright lights of Hollywood are too bright for Gurley?
3 Cam Newton, QB - Carolina Panthers
Cam Newton was the NFL MVP in 2015 and for good reason. He was the most dominant player on the field during just about every game last season (except the Super Bowl... Von Miller was clearly the alpha male in that game). During his MVP season, Newton threw for over 3,800 yards, and 35 touchdowns, while also rushing for another 636 yards and 10 touchdowns. That was always going to be a difficult season to follow-up, but expectations were high given the fact that Cam's favorite target in Kelvin Benjamin was to return from injury in 2016.
This season has been a disaster for Newton and the Panthers. Not only has Cam struggled with his accuracy, he has been the subject of big hits whenever he scrambles out of the pocket. These big shots (cheap, or not) have certainly slowed Cam's willingness to get out of the pocket and scramble for extra yards. It would be wise for Newton to learn to slide feet first instead of exposing himself to extra punishment by diving into tacklers head first. The season is only halfway through and Cam and the Panthers have shown recent signs of life. It's not going to be an MVP season in 2016, but Cam may be able to salvage the season statistically.
2 Darrelle Revis, CB - New York Jets
Darrelle Revis welcomed guests to the inhospitable "Revis Island" for most of 2015 and was named to the Pro Bowl team for the seventh time in his illustrious career. His return to New York revitalized Revis and allowed the Jets to employ elaborate blitzes with confidence that Revis would lock down his man one-on-one. A cornerback that was once considered the best in the league has now fallen on hard times in 2016, however, and has not shown promising signs that a return to form is in the mix in the second half of the season.
In 2016, Revis has been burned numerous times by lesser named receivers (insert Terrelle Pryor and Marquis Goodwin here). Quarterbacks have also shown no fear in throwing his way this year, evidenced by Andy Dalton's perfect passer rating in week one on all passes thrown towards Revis. Revis is a legend and a future Hall-of-Famer, but his days as an elite NFL cornerback appear to be numbered.
1 Carson Palmer, QB - Arizona Cardinals
In 2015, Carson Palmer was a legitimate MVP candidate, finishing only behind Cam Newton and Tom Brady in the voting. He posted career-best numbers in touchdowns (35) and passing yards (4,671) while leading the Cardinals to a franchise best (13-3) record. Palmer was the conductor for the league's most prolific offense in 2015 and all signs pointed to him to continue his dominance in 2016, given that the Cardinals retained all their offensive weapons from that record breaking 2015 team.
But Palmer hasn't been the same in 2016. Many will say that his confidence never returned following his 5 turnover performance in the NFC Championship game against the Carolina Panthers, but could it simply be that father time has finally caught Palmer? Whatever it is, the Cardinals better hope that he regains his form in the second half of the season if they want to make any run towards the playoffs. Palmer has been counted out several times in his career and resiliently battled back. Although he has been disappointing so far, don't count out the old man to carry the bird gang down the stretch and into the postseason.
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