The NFL is brutal and unforgiving and demands that players deliver results year in, year out. If not, you’ll get replaced by someone younger and hungrier or perhaps an inexpensive but reliable veteran.
There are a load of players who didn’t enjoy the type of 2016 they wanted, but these nine players stand out as letdowns and guys who will (or should) be out for redemption come kickoff in the fall.
Blake Bortles, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars
The final numbers don’t look terrible, but Bortles’ ‘16 campaign, his third season as the Jags’ starter, the was a major step backward. At one point in mid-December, Bortles threw yet another interception that got returned by the opposition for a touchdown, giving him 11 career pick sixes, more than his 10 career wins. The Jaguars didn’t draft a QB this year or acquire a veteran, but even though the team picked up his fifth-year option for 2018, this season feels like a last chance for him to prove he's a long-term starter.
Ereck Flowers, OT, New York Giants
The second-year left tackle and former first-round pick (ninth overall) struggled mightily in 2016, as did Big Blue’s right tackle Bobby Hart. The collapsing pocket gave Eli Manning happy feet and the whole offense suffered as a result. Flowers is a bruiser in the running game, but he gets worked over by pass rushers, and if doesn’t improve one of these days Eli Manning's streak of consecutive starts (199) is going to be in jeopardy.
Adrian Peterson, RB, New Orleans Saints
History has not been kind to Hall of Fame running backs who’ve switched jerseys later in their careers. That said, Peterson has consistently proved superhuman, bouncing back to lead the league in rushing in 2015 at age 30, the year after tearing an ACL. So after 10 years in Minnesota, will he have the gas to regain his form after another injury-shortened season? At least the Saints’ offensive line will be better than Minnesota’s, so the path to redemption won’t be quite as daunting.
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Nelson Agholor, WR, Philadelphia Eagles
The 2015 first-round pick’s sophomore season was brutal. Dropped passes, a benching and mental lapses boiled over into deep frustration for Agholor. Now that Carson Wentz has labored through some growing pains and Agholor will have Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith occupying more attention from defenses (and Jordan Matthews still in town), he won’t be counted on as much. Perhaps that will help him refocus and reclaim starter-like snaps.
Donald Stephenson, OT, Denver Broncos
Like Flowers, Stephenson got brutalized in pass protection, which impeded the growth of young Broncos quarterbacks Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch. Signed for three years and $14 million after a respectable five-year run in Kansas City, Stephenson played well below expectations. He earned a dismal 28.0 grade from ProFootballFocus, better than only Seattle’s George Fant among qualified tackles. It doesn’t help that the AFC West is stacked with top pass rushers, but Stephenson can do better.
Coby Fleener, TE, New Orleans Saints
Fleener ended up becoming an afterthought in the passing game, catching just 50 passes and averaging 39 receiving yards per game. Rookie wideout Michael Thomas became Drew Brees’ favorite target, and Fleener fell down the pecking order in what was supposed to be his breakout season. By virtue of his contract and sheer size (6-foot-6, 250 pounds) he’ll get an opportunity for redemption, so stay tuned.
Muhammad Wilkerson, DE, New York Jets
This spot could go to fellow Jets lineman Sheldon Richardson, but Wilkerson has much more ground to make up after a poor showing in ‘16, which followed a Pro Bowl bid in ‘15 and a major payday (five years, $86M with $37M guaranteed). At times last season the defensive was a complete non-factor, registering just 4.5 sacks and getting pushed around in run defense. Happy and fat after a contract year? The Jets won’t compete for the division title in ‘17, but their defensive line ought to be a major strength and Wilkerson ought to help then reaffirm their stature.
Getty ImagesLeon Halip
Anthony Barr, LB, Minnesota Vikings
After a stellar performance in ‘15, Barr looked primed to become one of the league’s top linebackers for a long time. But he was far less effective in ‘16 than in the year prior in pass coverage and run defense. Perhaps it was fatigue from playing more than 1,000 snaps (99 percent of the Vikings' plays), in part due to the offense’s many shortcomings. He’s got the talent get back on top, certainly much higher than the 79th overall linebacker, per PFF figures.
USA TODAY SportsBrace Hemmelgarn
Darrelle Revis, DB, free agent
Does Revis want redemption or just to be appreciated more for his reign of supremacy as the league’s undisputed top corner from roughly ‘08 to ‘11? At times last season -- when he was getting shredded for deep gains and offered an explanation “I’m old,” -- it seemed he his heart was no longer in the game. He’s a free agent, and some team will surely kick the tires on him. We’ll see if he wants redemption or just another paycheck.