There are some NFL superstars you can count on to be among the very best year in and year out. Others shock us one season and fade away the next. Then there are the veteran stalwarts who, after years of elite play, slowly fade into oblivion. For whatever reason, being a Pro Bowler one season doesn't guarantee you'll be one of the league's best the next year. Here are the 10 players that we expect to take a step back in 2016.
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QB Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals
Palmer set career highs in yards per attempt, TDs, QB rating and QBR in 2015, all at the age of 35 years old (he turned 36 in December). Most players regress at least a little bit after posting career-best seasons; for a quarterback in his mid-30s, a precipitous drop is all but guaranteed. And that's before we get to Arizona's potential offensive-line woes in 2016. Palmer should be solid for the Cardinals yet again, but he won't be a Pro Bowler.
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OLB Julius Peppers, Green Bay Packers
Let's get this out of the way before the trend becomes too depressing: I don't want to pick on old guys. They're often future Hall of Famers, like Peppers. Unfortunately, they also end up making the Pro Bowl because of reputation a lot of the time. Peppers was incredible for the Packers last year, posting 10.5 sacks and 25 tackles while forcing two fumbles. He's also entering his 15th season in the league.
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WR DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans
One might reasonably expect Hopkins to have a better season this year than he did last, since he'll have Brock Osweiler throwing him passes instead of Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett. It's not a huge upgrade, but it's definitely an upgrade. On the other hand, an actual professional QB like Osweiler will go through his reads and not stare down one receiver all year. Plus, there's a significant chance that Hopkins overachieved with mediocre QBs last season and, through no fault of his own, might not get the same results with an average signal-caller this year.
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CB Aqib Talib, Denver Broncos
Talib has off-field questions to answer, of course, and he has to recover from the gunshot wound he suffered this offseason. More than that, though, the Broncos CB brings major on-field questions to the table due to his recklessness and knack for committing questionable penalties. The Broncos will need to be fundamentally sound on defense this year to make up for the offense, which means Talib could play himself out of a job before the year is over — especially if CB Bradley Roby is the real deal.
RB Chris Ivory, Jacksonville Jaguars
Ivory had his first 1,000-yard season in 2015, his sixth year in the league, which was enough for the Jaguars to take a chance on the former Jets RB in free agency. Ivory should be a big part of Jacksonville's offense in 2016, but he's not alone in the backfield. T.J. Yeldon had a solid rookie season as a change-of-pace back last year, and he'll share carries with Ivory. It's a good idea for the Jaguars, but a bad omen for Ivory's Pro Bowl chances.
RB Devonta Freeman, Atlanta Falcons
Freeman stunned the football world when he roasted the Giants for 141 yards and 3 TDs, along with 52 yards on 5 catches, in Week 2 last season. He kept up that torrid pace through Atlanta's first nine games, and that was enough to earn him a Pro Bowl bid. Those who watched closely, however, know that Freeman fell off a cliff over the final seven games of the year. And with Tevin Coleman back to full health, Freeman will have to split carries for the Falcons this year. He won't be back in the Pro Bowl this season.
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FS Tyrann Mathieu, Arizona Cardinals
Although Mathieu looks like he'll be ready for Week 1, we don't know how soon he'll be all the way back to his old "Honey Badger" self this season after recovering from his second torn ACL in three years. More importantly, Arizona's injury woes throughout the secondary means the Cardinals are going to be awful against the pass this year. It's hard to make a Pro Bowl when your team as a whole can't stop the opposing QB.
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TE Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs
There is a very specific reason Kelce will regress in 2016: A person cannot have their own reality show and flourish as a professional athlete. Sorry, Kansas City; I don't make the laws of the universe, I just enforce them.
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RB Jonathan Stewart, Carolina Panthers
Stewart says he's healthy after battling injuries off and on for the past few seasons. If true, that's huge — especially since he made the Pro Bowl last year anyway. The catch, unfortunately, is that Carolina will probably try to preserve Stewart this season, making sure he's ready for the playoffs. That means more carries for Mike Tolbert, Fozzy Whitaker and perhaps even Cameron Artis-Payne, depending on which RBs make the final roster.
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CB Brent Grimes, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
A 33-year-old cornerback who was cut this offseason and suffered a (minor) injury in the preseason? We hate to say it, but Grimes is a prime candidate to take a step back after his Pro Bowl 2015 season — especially if his recent play against Josh Gordon is any indication of what's to come.