The stars of the NFL have always had immense pressure to continually play at an elite level, and they must keep up this high level of play in multiple seasons to be enshrined into the Hall of Fame at the end of their playing days. Some players have shorter life spans as stars in football as others. Running backs typically have a short time in the spotlight, but the almighty quarterback position can be thrust into the spotlight for long periods of time if they are playing at a Pro Bowl level. Some years stars play well below the standards of the fans that cheer them on.
These tough seasons from NFL stars are sometimes just off years, but in other instances it is a star whose career is trending downward. These rough years can be attributed to numerous different factors. Some of these star players have to deal with nagging injuries, and sometimes these injuries are so serious that they directly affect how effective a player can be. Stars also struggle if the personnel surrounding them are ineffective. There were a select number of stars last season that did not play as well as many are familiar with, but was it because of them just having one bad year or is there career simply coming to a close?
15 Eddie Lacy
Eddie Lacy struggled so mightily in 2015 that he was essentially relegated to the backup role behind James Starks. Before 2015 many thought Lacy was poised to have a breakout year and become one of the elite running backs in football, but 2015 was a major struggle for Lacy. In his first two seasons Lacy ran for over 1,000 yards. In 2015 Lacy disappointingly only ran for 758 yards, and many questioned his physical appearance. Critics noticed that he appeared overweight and coach Mike McCarthy was not pleased with Lacy’s body weight.
Over the offseason Lacy has teamed up with Tony Horton, the creator of P90X, to sculpt his physique. He has lost a considerable amount of weight and coach McCarthy is very satisfied with his starter's new physical look. If Eddie Lacy wants to keep his starting job and become one of the best running backs in football he needs to perform at a high level in 2016.
14 Jason Pierre Paul
Jason Pierre Paul had been a dominant pass rusher in the NFL since being drafted by the New York Giants in 2010, but an off the field blunder led to him having a tough 2015 season. Pierre Paul blew off a few of his fingers on the 4th of July in a fireworks accident. This caused his production to drastically slip from 12.5 sacks in 2014 to just one sack in 2015, and now many wonder if the once dominant edge rusher can ever regain his form. The Giants are in hopes that he can play at the same level he did in 2014 in this upcoming season. Pierre Paul has gotten more comfortable playing with less fingers now on his hand, and with all the defensive help that the Giants brought in not as much of the focus will be put on Pierre Paul by offensive blocking schemes.
13 Andrew Luck
Andrew Luck’s 2015 season was deteriorated by injury. The 2014 NFL season saw the Colts make it all the way to the AFC Championship, and coming into the 2015 year many thought the Colts would be one of the elite teams in football. Andrew Luck going down ended any chance of the Colts making it far in 2015. Luck has been labeled as a future hall of famer already in his young career, but his numbers have not entirely backed up the sports media’s claims. In seven games last season Luck did not put up elite level numbers.
His 15 touchdowns and 12 interceptions were average at best, and he is going to actually have to perform up to the standards that many have held him too. If Luck can cut down on his turnovers he should have no problem in getting the Colts back into postseason.
12 Mario Williams
Everyone was shocked when Mario Williams ended up being drafted over Reggie Bush by the Houston Texans, but Williams has greatly outplayed Bush during his time in the NFL. After leaving the Texans for the Bills in 2012 Williams found his game and played some of the best football of his career. The 2012, 2013, and 2014 seasons saw him put up double digit sacks, and he had become a feared defensive end who could seemingly get to the quarterback whenever he wanted too. Last year his play on the field dipped and it caused the Bills defense to struggle putting pressure on the quarterback. After Williams' sub par season which saw him get 19 tackles and only five sacks the Bills moved on from him, and during the offseason he joined the Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins have revamped their defense and are hoping Williams can regain double digit sack numbers in 2016.
11 Justin Forsett
Justin Forsett came out of nowhere in 2014, after being a journeyman running back throughout his first six NFL seasons with the Colts, Seahawks and Jaguars. The Baltimore Ravens had major concerns for the running back position after the Ray Rice episode, but Forsett ended up out producing what Ray Rice had done the previous season. Forsett ran for 1,266 yards in 2014. Many assumed that 2015 would be another great year for Forsett and the Ravens, but Forsett broke his arm and the team was one of the most injured teams in football. Forsett now needs to prove that his 2014 production was not a mirage. He is now 100% healthy and ready to lead the Ravens running attack, and if he can stay on the field and rush for over 1,000 yards again he will still be recognized as a first string worthy halfback in the league.
10 Ndamukong Suh
Ndamukong Suh was one of the most highly sought free agents on the market during the 2015 offseason, and the Miami Dolphins made him one of the highest paid players in the NFL. Suh was thought to be able to anchor the defense and give the Dolphins a chance at getting back to the playoffs. The playoffs did not include the Miami Dolphins in 2015, and Suh failed to live up to the big money he was given in free agency. He was able to contribute 63 tackles for the Miami defense last season. His tackle numbers were high due to the defense's inability to get off the field, and Suh played a part in giving big yard plays to opposing offenses.
His six sacks were down from his last year with the Detroit Lions. Suh with his enormous contract is locked in with the Dolphins, but if he does not live up to the contract he will be in the same boat as disappointments such as Albert Haynesworth.
9 Vincent Jackson
Vincent Jackson has had a long and prosperous career in the NFL. He has been a number one receiver throughout the majority of his career, and his size gives him the ability to catch almost anything thrown his way. The 2015 season saw a steep decline in his otherwise excellent career. A rookie quarterback in Jameis Winston may have played a role in this disappointing season, but the past quarterbacks for the Buccaneers were awful and Jackson still was able to be the star player on the offensive side of the ball. Jackson was limited to 10 games due to injury, but failed to be productive in the end zone. His three touchdowns were extraordinarily low for such a tall receiver. The 543 receiving yards he had were the least that Jackson has produced since the 2010 season when he only participated in five games. Vincent Jackson’s career may be going downward and if he cannot play like his old self in 2016 his time in the NFL could be in jeopardy.
8 Tony Romo
Tony Romo had an incredible 2014 NFL season when he led the Dallas Cowboys to the divisional round of the playoffs, but 2015 was a complete nightmare for the veteran quarterback. Romo was plagued by injuries and missed significant time in 2015. The Cowboys looked like one of the worst teams in football without Romo due to their poor backup quarterback situation. The Cowboys addressed their poor back up situation by drafting Dak Prescott, and with Romo getting up there in age he may be the heir of the Cowboys quarterback position in the near future.
The 2016 season will be a year in which Romo will need to prove that his career is not trending down and that he is still a top flight quarterback in the NFL. He will also need to be more durable, and if he goes down for the year again it could be another season down the drain for the Dallas Cowboys.
7 Byron Maxwell
Byron Maxwell had been the top free agent cornerback on the market during the 2015 offseason, and after being a member of the feared Seattle Seahawks secondary, it was a forgone conclusion that a team was going to throw a ton of money at him to attain his services. The Philadelphia Eagles decided to sign Maxwell to a six year deal worth $63 million. The expectations were through the roof for Maxwell, and he failed to live up to the big money that he was signed for. Maxwell recorded 64 tackles and two interceptions in his lone season with the Eagles.
The Miami Dolphins are hoping Maxwell just had a down year, and are relying on him to be the shutdown corner back that he has been paid to be. If Maxwell cannot bounce back he may not be on the Dolphins roster for too long.
6 Demaryius Thomas
The best wide receivers in football are usually still able to flourish even if the quarterback that is throwing to them is not all that good. That was not the case in 2015 for Demaryius Thomas, and he had a really down year without Peyton Manning playing at the high level he used to. His 1,304 receiving yards were almost 300 yards less yards than the previous year, and his six touchdowns were way down from previous years. His six touchdowns were the least amount he has had since the 2011 NFL season.
With Mark Sanchez now under center for the Denver Broncos, Thomas is going to have to find more ways to get open when the team gets into the red zone. The Broncos have depended on Thomas to be an integral part of their high powered offense in the past and if he can’t turn it around in 2016, the Broncos offense could be very stagnant.
5 Colin Kaepernick
Colin Kaepernick at one point and time was the most exciting player in the NFL. He took control of the San Francisco 49ers starting quarterback job back in 2012, and ended up leading the team to three straight NFC championship game appearances. Kaepernick was not only capable of threading the needle. His passing skills were alright, but his ability to make plays with his feet are what kept the sticks moving and led to highlight reels being made. There were not as many highlights being created by the young quarterback during the 2015 NFL season.
Kaepernick had trouble adapting to new head coach Jim Tomsula's offense only throwing six touchdown passes in eight games, and eventually was benched in favor of Blaine Gabbert. With new head coach Chip Kelly and his fast paced offense Colin Kaepernick needs to prove that he can be a starter now and in the future for the 49ers.
4 Andre Johnson
Andre Johnson has had a long career that was mostly spent as a star wide receiver for the Houston Texans. Last year Johnson ventured to the Indianapolis Colts and did not fit in well with the team, and had his worst year as a pro in 2015. Johnson had 41 receptions last year which was less than half of the receptions that he had in 2014. Andrew Luck’s inability to stay healthy played a factor in Johnson's poor year, and he will be looking to get more than 503 receiving yards in 2016.
The Tennessee Titans think that this once top receiver in the league can still be a big playmaker for them, and Johnson should be a top receiver on the team. Johnson has been one of the best wide receivers in the NFL in the past 10 years and if he has another rough season his career may be over.
3 Jairus Byrd
Jairus Byrd has had a very successful NFL career since he entered the league in 2009, but his career has taken a turn for the worse since he switched teams. He spent the first five years of his career with the Buffalo Bills where he made it to multiple pro bowls during his time with the team. On March 11, 2014, Byrd agreed to a six year 56 million dollar contract including 28 million dollars guaranteed with the New Orleans Saints, and since receiving this big money he has not lived up to the expectations placed on him. He only played in four games in 2014 due to injury but 2015 was not a great year by the standards of what Byrd has done when he was with the Bills. Byrd had 53 tackles and only 1 interception in 2015, and the Saints collectively had one of the worst defenses in NFL history.
2 Dez Bryant
Dez Bryant has been one of the most recognized receivers in the NFL for the past few years, and there is no doubting that he is one of the better players at his position in football. Last season was a disastrous season overall for the Dallas Cowboys. The defense was average to below average, and a vaunted offense from 2014 played way below the levels it has reached in their playoff run the previous season. Bryant struggled to stay on the field alongside his fellow teammate quarterback Tony Romo.
After a 2014 that saw Bryant get 16 touchdowns on the year, last season Bryant was only able to produce three. Injuries surely played a part in this lack of production but that cannot be entirely to blame for him only having 401 receiving yards on the year. Dez Bryant does not have any of his body parts hurting now, and Bryant will look to play at the All Pro level he knows he is capable of playing at.
1 Arian Foster
Arian Foster has been a great story after being an undrafted free agent from Tennessee, and after the Texans gave him a chance he blossomed into a star NFL running back. The one thing that has hindered Foster throughout his career has been injuries. In 2014 Foster rushed for over 1,200 yards and did not seem to be slowing down at all despite having an injury history. The next year did not start off well only averaging 2.6 yards a carry in his four games on the season, and he suffered another injury which kept him out for the remainder of the year.
The Miami Dolphins have decided to give Foster a chance at continuing his NFL life. It is tough to gauge how he will perform, but if Foster fails to rush for more than 2.6 yards per carry his opportunity in Miami will end early and his stock among other teams will be poor.