Let's face it – even good players have down years. It's nearly impossible to play that the astronomical level some in the NFL play at year in and year out without hitting a bump in the road or two. It happens to all of them at one point or another. Last year, some players who are considered elite struggled mightily. Eli Manning had a down season that culminated with the Giants missing the postseason. Tony Romo led his Dallas Cowboys to a third consecutive 8-8 season and a 4th season out of the playoffs. Bad seasons even happen to good players.
But the good thing about football – or any sport really – is that you may find yourself in the NFL gutter one year, but you may find yourself on top of the mountain the very next season. It may be that the team shores up a weak link on the line that gives a QB that extra second or two of protection that means the difference between a sack and throwing a touchdown. Perhaps it's bringing in a second running back to share the workload which keeps both players fresh and healthy. Or maybe it's changing out a head coach that a player could never connect with that allows them to finally realize their potential.
The point is that a down year for a player isn't necessarily the harbinger of doom and despair some make it out to be. Every player in the NFL, at one point or another, is going to struggle and have a down season. But many of them are able to bounce back the following year and post a solid season.
The 25 players outlined here all struggled in 2013. Some because of injuries, some because of personnel problems on their team, and others – well – just because guys struggle sometimes. But every single one of the players on this list are looking to, and very likely will, have a rebound year in 2014 and be forces on their respective teams.
25 Roddy White - Atlanta Falcons
There's no question that White is one of the league's premier receivers. But he – along with the Falcons as a whole – had a tough 2013 season. Slowed by injuries, White wasn't much of a factor for Atlanta last year. Healthy again though, he looks to lead a renewed Falcons passing attack. Luckily for him, he'll have his running mate Julio Jones to take some of the pressure off.
24 Donald Penn - Oakland Raiders
Penn had a brutal 2013 season for Tampa Bay. He was inconsistent in pass protection and gave up a pile of sacks – not that he was the only problems the Bucs had last year. Given another chance by the Raiders, Penn is looking to prove his critics wrong and return to his former Pro Bowl form. Matt Schaub is he hoping her can too.
23 C.J. Spiller - Buffalo Bills
As electrifying a running back as the Bills have had in quite some time, a nagging ankle injury robbed him of the explosiveness that made him so effective in 2012. Heading into the 2014 season though, Spiller says he's feeling as good as he did two years ago – which is bad news for opposing defenses. With Fred Jackson another year older, odds are Spiller will get a chance to become Buffalo's top rusher.
22 Joe Flacco - Baltimore Ravens
Fresh off signing a mammoth $120 million dollar contract, Flacco went out and laid an egg in 2013 – an egg that included 22 picks. Of course, an offensive line that gave up 48 sacks didn't help the cause any. But with a revamped line, as well as new weapons in Steve Smith and Owen Daniels, along with the return of Dennis Pitta, Flacco looks poised to rebound in 2014.
21 Doug Martin - Tampa Bay Buccaneers
A torn labrum cut his 2013 season short, but he hadn't been as effective as he had in his rookie year to that point. With new HC Lovie Smith and OC Jeff Tedford looking to emphasize their rushing attack, Martin – who ranked 3rd in total yards from scrimmage as a rookie – will get more touches as the Bucs hope he rebounds to his rookie season form.
20 Darren Sproles - Philadelphia Eagles
Sproles is a tantalizing blend of speed and elusiveness. He's a cat quick back who's hard to hit. But he was never able to find his groove in New Orleans last year and had a down season as a result. With so many offensive weapons, Sproles didn't get many touches. But now installed in Chip Kelly's high tempo, high octane Eagles offense, Sproles is going to get the touches and looks to have a rebound year.
19 Darrelle Revis - New England Patriots
Despite proclaiming himself to be the best cornerback in football, Revise had an entirely forgettable 2013 season down in Tampa Bay. He bore little resemblance to the shutdown corner he'd been with the Jets just a season earlier. Now with the Patriots though, Revis is feeling good and looks poised for a bounce back year.
18 Julio Jones - Atlanta Falcons
Little went right for Atlanta in 2013. They have two of the league's premier wideouts in Jones and Roddy White, but injuries ravaged the team and stripped them of their offense. Jones was limited to just 5 games in 2013 because of an injury to his foot that required surgery to correct. Now that he's healthy and paired up with Roddy White again, the Falcons should have a lethal 1-2 punch in their offense.
17 Antonio Gates - San Diego Chargers
Not that long ago, Antonio Gates was utterly dominant. With his combination of size, speed, and strength, he presented big mismatches for other teams. But his performance has steadily declined leaving some saying that he's nothing more than a shell of his former self. Gates says that he's healthy again after battling some nagging injuries and is ready to dominate once again. Time will tell if he's able to.
16 Hakeem Nicks - Indianapolis Colts
Just a couple of seasons ago, Nicks was widely considered one of the best receivers in the game. But a decline in performance – capped by his collecting exactly zero TD's in 2013 – led the Giants to release him. Now, paired up with Andrew Luck and the Colts, Hicks his looking to prove that he can still be a dominant receiver in the NFL. He's already digned up, but the Colts maintain that it isn't too serious.
15 DJ Hayden - Oakland Raiders
After overcoming a life threatening injury, the Raiders 2013 1st round pick never quite lived up to expectations. His rookie season was inconsistent at best before an injury ended his campaign. Another injury has limited his work this offseason – further hindering his development. Hayden has a lot to prove, that he can stay healthy being the biggest thing, but Oakland believes he has the skills to be a dominant corner in the league. Assuming he can ever get back on the field.
14 Darren McFadden - Oakland Raiders
Like Hayden, McFadden must prove that he can stay healthy and produce consistently – two things he has yet to do in his six year NFL career. It's all the more maddening for the flashes of brilliance he shows when he is healthy. With a rebuilt offensive line, backfield help in the form of Maurice Jones-Drew, and a return to the power blocking scheme he found success in, all of the pieces are there for McFadden to fulfill the promise Oakland believed he had when they took him in the first round.
13 Mike Wallace - Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins signed Wallace to a lucrative deal to be their dominant number one receiver. It didn't work out too well and he had a forgettable first season in Miami – though it also may have had something to do with the chaos and turmoil surrounding the team. Things are more settled in South Beach now and Wallace is looking to live up to the contract he signed this season.
12 Trent Richardson - Indianapolis Colts
Richardson has been awful since he hit the NFL. He's been so awful that the Browns of all people shipped him out of Cleveland for a song and a dance. He didn't fare much better in Indianapolis though. But he and the team say that a full offseason of learning the Colts' complex offensive schemes is paying dividends and that Richardson will be a dominant back in 2014.
Yeah, good luck with that.
11 LaMarr Woodley - Oakland Raiders
A fierce and dominant linebacker in Pittsburgh for a lot of years, Woodley found himself being cut after injuries limited his effectiveness in 2013 – though he did have 5 sacks in his first 6 games. Now with the Raiders, Woodley will be used as an end in their base 4-3 defense – as opposed to being an ouside backer in Pittsburgh's base 3-4 – which plays into his strengths. But Woodley is healthy again, playing with a chip on his shoulder, and has a lot to prove to his critics.
10 Robert Griffin III - Washington Redskins
RG3 lit up the NFL in his rookie season – until an injury derailed his year. And his sophomore season was an unmitigated disaster as he underperformed in leading Washington to a 3-13 record. Now, free from the Shanahan regime – whom RG3 cites as the main reason for his personal and the team's struggles – Griffin says he's feeling good again. And armed with one of the scariest receiving corps in the game, he's ready to bounce back.
9 Da'Quan Bowers - Tampa Bay Buccaneers
To this point, Da'Quan Bowers' entire career has been a big bust. He simply hasn't developed into the powerful defensive force Tampa Bay had envisioned when they drafted him. Bowers recently said that former coach Greg Schiano had perhaps gotten into his head and helped keep him from blossoming into that force. But he's feeling invigorated by new coach Lovie Smith and is expecting to excel in 2014.
8 Matt Ryan - Atlanta Falcons
Ryan and the Falcons had a dismal 2013 season. Of course, losing his top two receiving threats and having a severely underperforming Steven Jackson did nothing to help Ryan or Atlanta as they went a horrible 4-12. With Jones and White healthy again, and Jackson with a better grasp on his role, look for Ryan and the Falcons to rebound in 2014. He's also for an improved run game with a decently healthy Steven Jackson and rookie Davonta Freeman.
7 Maurice Jones-Drew - Oakland Raiders
Jones-Drew was one of the NFL's most durable and electric backs for a number of years. But an injury in 2012 cut his season short, and it continued to nag him through 2013 – a season that saw him rush for just over 800 yards on a dismal 3.1 yards per carry. Now in Oakland, Jones-Drew says he's healthy again and according to reports out of camp, is as explosive as he's ever been, leading to the belief that he will have a strong showing in 2014.
6 Eli Manning – New York Giants
Even two-time Super Bowl winning QB's can have a bad season. In Manning's case, his bad season led to 27 interceptions and the Giants missing the playoffs. But with a new offensive system in place, as well as a few new weapons, Manning is confident that he will be able to right the ship in 2014. Hopefully he'll get his new toy Odell Beckhan Jr. back from injury as soon as possible, so they can gear up for the regular season.
5 Arian Foster – Houston Texans
Running back Arian Foster – when healthy – is absolutely electric. He's an exciting player who can dominate a game. Unfortunately, injuries wiped out most of his 2013 – a complete disaster of a year for Houston. But Fosters says he's healthy again and is ready to be the dominating back he'd been before his injury. Without Ben Tate to steal carries, Foster has the opportunity to have a huge year.
4 Peyton Manning – Denver Broncos
It seems strange to see Manning's name on this list, isn't it? After all, he led one of the most prolific offenses in NFL history last season, and broke several records along the way. But on football's biggest stage, Manning crumbled, throwing two costly picks in the Super Bowl. He will be looking to rebound from that disastrous finish to the season and lead his team all the way to the top of the football world in 2014.
3 Steven Jackson – Atlanta Falcons
Many felt that Jackson was the missing piece the Falcons needed to put them over the top – including Jackson himself. As the injuries piled up though, the weight of the team fell onto his shoulders and he wasn't able to carry the load on his own. Jackson says he understands the system – as well as his role in it – better now, and is looking to break out in Atlanta. If he's even 75% of the player he was in St. Louis, the Falcons will be better for it.
2 Chris Johnson – New York Jets
The running back formerly known as CJ2K has landed in the Big Apple after being released by the Titans amid a bloated contract, injuries, and declining productivity. A series of nagging injuries hastened his decline in Tennessee and to many, left him a pale shadow of the back who ran for 2,000 yards in 2009. Healthy again though, and platooned with Bilal Powell and Chris Ivory in the Jets' backfield, Johnson is looking to back to being consistent, productive, and to hear him tell it, running for 2,000 yards again.
1 Matt Schaub - Oakland Raiders
If ever there was a player in need of a bounce back and redemption, it would be Schaub. After enduring a train wreck of a season in 2013 – a train wreck that included 4 straight games with a pick-6, and 14 overall before his benching – the Raiders brought him in to lead the team. And many still consider them crazy for doing it. But early reports out of camp have been glowing, saying that Schaub looks more like the QB who posted 5 straight seasons with a 90+ QB rating and less like last year's dumpster fire. With a rebuilt line and plenty of weapons at his disposal, Schaub looks well position to bounce back in 2014.