10 NFL players looking to bounce back in 2017
5. Ezekiel Ansah, DE, Detroit Lions
Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah was an ascending — and nearly dominant — pass rusher heading into the 2016 season, but then things took an unexpectedly negative turn.
The 27-year-old Ansah was riddled with injuries throughout the season, and it drastically stifled his productivity. In 13 games, he finished with only 35 tackles, two sacks and four stuffs. The two sacks were a career-low.
But even beyond the box score, it was clear Ansah wasn’t right. He finished the year ranked 29th in pressure rate and 27th in sack rate. He earned a Pro Football Focus grade of 75.5 and his pass rush productivity fell to just 8.8.
Ansah now insists he’s over the injuries that limited him in 2016 and ready to put the poor season-long performance behind him. And considering he’s entering a contract year, there’s little doubt he aims to put his best foot forward. With a massive contract potentially on the line, Ansah has to bounce back.
4. Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks
Russell Wilson may have thrown for over 4,200 yards in 2016 — a career-high — but precious few would argue he had a good season.
The Seahawks offense struggled to produce last year and that most certainly extended to Wilson. While his yardage may look good on paper, little else went his way. The three-time Pro Bowler threw only 21 touchdowns to 11 interceptions, and that ratio was made worse when considering he also had five fumbles. Toss in a career-low 92.6 quarterback rating and 7.7 yards per attempt, and it’s easy to see why he made this list.
But the good news is that Wilson has made a career out of bouncing back and there’s little reason to believe he won’t do it again in 2017.
Wilson has long prided himself on suffering from “amnesia” when it comes to poor performances, so he’ll need a hefty dose of it going into this season. But with a few key offensive additions and health leading up to training camp, a motivated Wilson has all he’ll need to turn things back around.
3. Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers
It’s almost surreal to think that Cam Newton had such a down season only a year removed from winning the league MVP award, but any way you slice it, he didn’t seem to be himself in 2016.
Not only did Newton see a 25-point drop in his passer rating, he also set career-lows in completion percentage (52.9%) and yards per completion (6.88), while tossing just 19 touchdowns to 14 interceptions.
Even on the ground, Newton wasn’t getting it done. He rushed for only 359 yards and five touchdowns, which were also career-lows.
It was an unexpected season to say the least, but there’s little reason to believe Newton’s poor play will become a pattern. Everyone is entitled to down years, and even the best of the best are not always immune to that. And it’s not as if Newton hasn’t experienced some lows before.
Consider 2016 an extended Super Bowl 50 hangover for Newton and the Panthers. Now they’re over it and ready to return to prominence.
2. J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans
J.J. Watt was limited to only three games last season as the result of a serious back injury, and it caused him to even discuss potential retirement. In his mind, if he’s not the best defensive end in the NFL, there’s no reason for him to play.
The good news? Watt is undeniably the most dominant defensive force in the NFL when healthy and right now, he’s apparently healthy.
Watt has been a full participant early on in organized team activities (OTAs). When he steps on the field in the regular season, he’ll do so with a quality counterpart — Jadeveon Clowney.
Clowney’s development has to serve as motivation for Watt, who’s won three NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards, because it will mean more opportunities for him. So not only should the football world expect Watt to bounce back, but they should anticipate him being better than ever.
1. Adrian Peterson, RB, New Orleans Saints
Adrian Peterson will be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame at some point in his lifetime, but here in 2017, the focus will be on his ability to bounce back after missing much of last season with a knee injury.
Peterson, 32, missed 13 games in 2016, finishing the season with only 72 yards on 37 carries (1.9 yards per carry). Those numbers represented career lows and seemed to signal that the veteran was beginning to break down.
The lost season wasn’t anything new, either. Peterson missed 15 games in 2014 and two games in 2013.
Despite the recent injury history, the New Orleans Saints thought enough of Peterson to give him a shot. They signed the veteran to a two-year, $7 million deal that’s rich with potential incentives. The belief is he’ll start out of the gate and be given an opportunity to prove he’s still among the league’s elite.
Given what we’ve already seen out of Peterson throughout his NFL career, there’s little reason to believe he won’t find success in The Big Easy.