10 NFL players looking to bounce back in 2017
Every year, some NFL superstars unexpectedly experience a down season. For some, the lack of production is due to injuries. For others, the disappointing year could be attributed to anything from a new coach to a new system or a new team.
Most players bounces back, though a handful don’t. And in 2017, there’s little reason to believe that either end of that spectrum will change.
While it’s nearly impossible to tell which player will drop off, it’s much easier to predict who has the potential to rebound. With that in mind, here are 10 NFL players looking to bounce back in 2017.
10. Joe Haden, CB, Cleveland Browns
Joe Haden is dominant when he’s on the field. Unfortunately, staying healthy has become a bit troublesome for the 2010 first-round pick.
Haden has missed 14 games over the last two seasons. Had he not played through a series of groin injuries last year, there’s a strong chance he’d not only have lost his job, but quite possibly be out of work. And that’s not hyperbole; that comes directly from Browns defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.
“When I first got here, I went to his office and we talked for a while,” Haden told Cleveland.com in April. “He told me, ‘If you didn’t play through your injury, I would tell them to get you out of here.'”
Although Haden managed to play through his injuries for the most part, his performance on the field clearly suffered. He was named a Pro Bowl alternate based on his resume alone, but was a shell of his former dominant self.
On the bright side, in the rare moments Haden has been healthy, he’s displayed the same elite athleticism that’s sent him to two Pro Bowls and earned him second-team All-Pro honors in 2013. And if he can overcome his recent issues and stay on the field for all 16 games in 2017, there’s little reason to believe he won’t return to the same sort of dominance we’re all accustomed to.
9. DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Houston Texans
Two years ago, DeAndre Hopkins was considered among the most elite wide receivers in football. He was coming off of his second consecutive season of 1,200-plus yards and had improved his touchdown numbers by crossing the goal line 11 times.
Unfortunately for Hopkins, some very legitimate issues at quarterback killed the offensive chemistry and his production dropped like a rock.
Hopkins finished the 2016 season with 78 receptions for only 954 yards and four touchdowns. Those are solid numbers, but nowhere near representative of his remarkable athleticism and talent.
In 2017, things are poised to change.
Tom Savage is expected to be the starting quarterback, but he will receive some competition courtesy of Brandon Weeden and first-round pick Deshaun Watson. And however it shakes out, Hopkins will likely benefit.
If the Texans can find some consistency at the quarterback position, it’s realistic to think Hopkins will retake his throne as one of the premiere wide receivers in the NFL.
8. Todd Gurley, RB, Los Angeles Rams
Todd Gurley impressed throughout his rookie campaign in 2015, gaining 1,106 yards and scoring 10 touchdowns in 13 games. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to duplicate that production in 2016, gaining only 885 yards and scoring six touchdowns in 16 games.
The most concerning number? Gurley saw his yards per carry average drop from 4.8 in 2015 to 3.2 in 2016.
It may have been your typical sophomore slump or it could have possibly been more. What led to the dip in production is up for debate, but Rams rookie head coach Sean McVay expects the talented Gurley to bounce-back this coming season.
“A lot of times you have a tendency to just look at the stats instead of the actual tape,” McVay said via ESPN. “I think you still see a natural runner who’s got a great body lean; he has a natural feel for how to work edges on people. And I think that showed up in spurts last year. Clearly, what he did in his rookie year, I think it sets the expectations where this guy is going to be a great back year-in and year-out. And that’s what we feel, too. I think Todd’s motivated, challenged in the right way to respond, and can have a bounce-back year. But it’s going to take everybody, and Todd is going to be a big part of it.”
In an effort to help Gurley and their ground game, the Rams hired Aaron Kromer as their new offensive line coach, and later added left tackle Andrew Whitworth and Robert Woods, who is one of the best blocking receivers in the NFL, via free agency. With some experience under his belt, Jared Goff should be improved next season, which could help open things up for Gurley.
7. Tyrann Mathieu, safety, Arizona Cardinals
When Tyrann Mathieu is healthy, he’s arguably the best safety in all of football. Unfortunately, the Honey Badger has struggled at staying on the field, and such was the case in 2016.
Coming off an All-Pro season in 2015, Mathieu was expected to take the next step in his development and help solidify Arizona’s secondary. Instead, a shoulder injury cost him six games and eventually landed him on season-ending injured reserve (IR) in December.
Returning in 2017, Mathieu has a different outlook on things. Having gotten down on himself previously due to injuries, he’s chosen a new path ahead of the 2017 season. No goals, no prediction and no stress. He’s simply returning in hopes of playing well, having fun and winning.
“I’m more confident,” Mathieu told the Cardinals’ official website. “When you are injured, have injuries, have an up-and-down year, you tend to lose confidence. You’re not really having that much fun. It’s important for me to have fun this year. Not think about expectations or goals.”
So long as he can finally remain healthy, there’s no reason to believe Mathieu won’t bounce back in a major way.
6. Eddie Lacy, RB, Seattle Seahawks
Unlike many others on this list who are aiming to bounce back after one down season, Eddie Lacy is looking to do it after two sub-par seasons. He’s also mixing in a complete change of scenery.
Lacy’s battles with weight are well documented, but his recent struggles extend beyond that. The 2013 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year has been battling injuries in each of the past two seasons and has not played a full 16 games since 2014.
After the Green Bay Packers opted to go in a different direction, Lacy found a new home with the Seattle Seahawks. But that came with some strings attached.
Lacy’s deal with the Seahawks was relatively minimal, but he can earn quite a bit more in incentives — many of which are tied to his weight and playing shape. So with money serving as a partial motivator, the expectation is that Lacy will remain in good health both on and off the field and, ideally, return to form in 2017.