2017 NFL Season: 10 Players who need a big year

There could be different reasons like entering a contract year, or replacing a star — no matter what the cause, here are 10 players who need a big 2017 NFL Season

Each and every year there is a certain group of players who need to step up for either their own personal gain, or the growth of their team. The upcoming 2017 NFL season is no different as players all over the league are once again needing to make their mark this season.

Some may be starting to underperform when compared to the money owed on their contract, or some may be needing a new deal following the season.

There are also players all around the league trying to take over as a starter in a new city, or perhaps some who are trying to keep a young rookie from the recent draft from taking their job. Another possibility can be a player that a club has placed all their faith in as the future face of their franchise.

Whatever the reason may be, here we look at ten guys who could very well be on some sort of hot seat this season as they try and push their NFL career forward rather than being a flash in the pan, bust or forgotten veteran.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Dec 11, 2016; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Doug Martin (22) runs with he ball against the New Orleans Saints during the first quarter at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

10. Doug Martin, RB — Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Doug Martin is a hard player to figure out. He was a first-round pick in 2012 out of Boise State and took the league by storm. Martin averaged 4.6 yards per rush and ended up with 1,454 yards and 11 touchdowns. The following two seasons, he wasn’t nearly as effective.

Injuries played some part in his struggles as Martin missed 10 games in 2013 and another five in 2014. When healthy those two seasons though, he was less than impressive. Martin finished with less than four-yards per carry during the stretch while going for 456 and 494 yards.

He returned to form in 2015 after the Bucs declined to exercise the fifth-year option on his rookie deal. Martin had 1,402 yards and six touchdowns while nearly hitting five yards per rush. He then inked a big five-year deal worth $42.5 million — $35.75 of which is fully guaranteed.

The “Dougernat” then proceeded to stink it up. He again finished the season in the 400-yard range while averaging a career low 2.9 yards per attempt. To top it off, Martin was suspended four games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy and, after sitting the final game of last year, Martin will miss the first three games of the 2017 NFL season.

In his absence, the Bucs could turn to their fifth-round rookie, Jeremy McNichols, who is also a product of the Boise State Broncos. To hold him off, Martin will need to have a monster season for Tampa or he may not see year three of his deal.

Nov 26, 2015; Green Bay, WI, USA; Chicago Bears wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (17) during the NFL game against the Green Bay Packers on Thanksgiving at Lambeau Field. Chicago won 17-13. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

9. Alshon Jeffery, WR — Philadelphia Eagles

Another player who has bouts with inconsistency and needs a big year is Alshon Jeffery, the former Chicago Bears wide receiver who signed a one-year deal with the Philadelphia Eagles this offseason. A second-round pick out of South Carolina, Jeffery had back-to-back seasons with over 80 receptions and 1,000 yards receiving in 2013 and 2014. Since then he’s battled injuries and had less impact than expected when healthy in 2016.

That may be the reason the talented receiver was unable to secure a long-term deal while looking for a new home in free agency. Instead, he wound up taking a one-year, $14 million deal with the Eagles in which he will have to prove he can stay healthy and be a factor every week to get himself some long-term security.

For the team, they too need a great season from the big pass catcher. In 2016 the Eagles moved up in the draft to select quarterback Carson Wentz and the returns after one year weren’t what they hoped for. Wentz and the team struggled, but a lot of the blame fell on their porous receiving corps.

If Jeffery can stay on the field, he can transform the entire offense while also helping Wentz take the next step in his development.

Nov 13, 2016; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Mike Glennon (8) against the Chicago Bears at Raymond James Stadium. The Buccaneers won 36-10. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

8. Mike Glennon, QB — Chicago Bears

Things change in a hurry in the NFL. In March the Chicago Bears were giving former Tampa Bay quarterback Mike Glennon a contract worth $18 million in guaranteed money, but that could net him as much as $45 million over the next three seasons.

In April they were trading three mid-round picks to move up just one spot to secure rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky with the second-overall pick. The trade has been widely criticized since the Bears not only paid Glennon starter money, but also because many believed the San Francisco 49ers would not have taken Trubisky with the pick. This, of course, means the Bears would have not only had their guy but all their selections as well.

As it stands they made the move and suddenly things got awkward for Glennon. After becoming the starter for Tampa Bay, Glennon was relegated to the bench when the team picked up Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston with the first overall pick. Now he finds himself in a familiar role as an ACC prospect is coming in as the top rookie quarterback looking for his job.

Even though all signs point to Trubisky taking over, Glennon needs to improve upon his career 59.4 completion percentage and prove that he belongs as a starter in the NFL — even if it isn’t with the team that just paid him so handsomely.

Jan 7, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Texans defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (90) is tackled by Oakland Raiders running back Latavius Murray (28) during the first quarter of the AFC Wild Card playoff football game at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

7. Jadeveon Clowney, DE — Houston Texans

After being selected first overall in 2014 out of South Carolina, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney struggled with his health. The athletic freak played in just four games that season and had only seven tackles. His year ended thanks to the need for microfracture knee surgery.

The invasive surgery affected Clowney during his second season as well as he struggled to show the burst that made him such a highly sought after prospect. In 13 games — nine starts at outside linebacker — Clowney had 40 tackles and 4.5 sacks. He improved as a pass rusher as the season went on, but held up well against the run while working on reviving the skill set that made him a star as a Gamecock.

In 2016 Clowney finally seemed to break out. After a slow start, he was moved from linebacker to defensive end out of necessity when three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt went down with a back injury. Replacing Watt on Houston’s three-man line helped Clowney become a menace to opposing offenses and he finished with six sacks and even had a great game as the Texans defeated the Oakland Raiders in the first round of the playoffs which included his first career interception.

Recently the team picked up the fifth-year option on his rookie deal, which keeps him in Houston for at least the next two seasons. However, if he wants to cash in and get some long-term security he needs to continue his great play and not allow himself to be overshadowed by the return of Watt.

Jan 1, 2017; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles (5) throws a pass against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium. Indianapolis defeats Jacksonville 24-20. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

6. Blake Bortles, QB — Jacksonville Jaguars

We stay in the AFC South for the next player who needs a big year. This time we go from the first place team in Houston to the bottom of the standings and look at the quarterback of the Jacksonville Jaguars, Blake Bortles.

Selected third overall in the same draft as Clowney, Bortles has yet to prove he deserved to be the first quarterback off the board that year. In 45 career starts, the 6-5 signal-caller has won just 11 games. The most wins Jacksonville has ever had in one season with him as the starter was in 2015, when they went 5-11.

Part of the problem was believed to be the talent around him, but as that has been changing in recent years Bortles has not improved. In fact, he’s been consistently average as he has completed just under 59 percent of his passes in each of his three seasons. He also has thrown an unbelievable 51 interceptions while never having less than the 16 he threw this past year.

Like Clowney with Houston, Bortles had his fifth-year option picked up by Jacksonville. With him, though, there still needs to be significant change — especially now that there’s been a coaching regime change after Doug Marrone replaced Gus Bradley. Should the Jags find themselves picking in the top five yet again, they may very well decide it’s time to get a replacement.

Nov 5, 2016; Berkeley, CA, USA; Retired NFL running back Marshawn Lynch (R) drives the injury cart with his mom, Delisa Lynch (L), before the game against the Washington Huskies for the 10 year anniversary of driving the cart after a win as a California Golden Bears player at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

5. Marshawn Lynch, RB — Oakland Raiders

This next one is much more important to the team than the player. Former Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch decided he wanted to play for his hometown team after spending 2016 out of the NFL. He was able to finagle his way out of Seattle — who still held his rights — and ended up with the Oakland Raiders. They now are hoping he can replace Latavius Murray, who recently opted to sign with the Minnesota Vikings.

“Beast Mode” already has himself a Super Bowl ring and several endorsement deals, so if the union doesn’t work out it most likely won’t hurt him too bad. For Oakland, they’re hoping his addition will help them take the next step.

The flaw in that theory though is that Lynch is now 31 years old and plays a position that doesn’t bode well for guys past the age of 30. On top of that, the 215-pound running back played an even more bruising style than most and, despite being relatively healthy throughout his career, the hits took their toll in 2015.

During his last season in the league Lynch played in only seven games and had just 3.8 yards per rush. It’s not usually a safe bet that growing another year older will help a player with such a smash mouth style get healthier. In order to avoid some scrutiny for the move, the Raiders need a big year from the veteran running back.

Dec 15, 2016; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman (25) talks with a referee following the end of the first quarter at CenturyLink Field. Seattle defeated Los Angeles, 24-3. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

4. Richard Sherman, CB — Seattle Seahawks

2016 was an up and down season for the Seattle Seahawks. They wound up winning the NFC West but struggled at times en route to a 10-5-1 record. They also had some issues during the season. Running back Thomas Rawls was injured for much of the year and quarterback Russell Wilson was sacked 41 times — second most in the league.

There were also a couple of highly publicized sideline arguments, both of which centered around the highly volatile cornerback Richard Sherman. While Sherman has always been outspoken, this past year was different. At one point he was shown on camera yelling at defensive coordinator Kris Richard — who of course took the mature route and blamed himself, according to Sheil Kapadia of ESPN.com.

A couple months later, Sherman again went off, this time on head coach Pete Carroll and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. Sherman claimed this time the staff erred in passing from the 1-yard line and his antics obviously wore thin since the ‘Hawks tried to trade him this offseason.

With no one trying to gain his services Sherman needs to put together a big year to justify keeping him despite his emotional outbursts. Seeing how no one was willing to take on his deal, making good in Seattle is probably his best bet.

Jan 1, 2017; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton (14) against the Baltimore Ravens at Paul Brown Stadium. The Bengals won 27-10. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

3. Andy Dalton, QB — Cincinnati Bengals

If the seat wasn’t hot for Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton following three-straight one-and-done playoff appearances, then it sure is following a 6-9-1 campaign in 2016. Making it even warmer for the Red Rocket is the Bengals saw life without him may not be awful.

After a hand injury forced Dalton to the bench for the final three games of 2015, backup A.J. McCarron led them to a 2-1 finish. The Alabama product completed 66.4 percent of his passes for 854 yards with six touchdowns and two interceptions. They were unable to win in the playoffs with McCarron, but he showed enough promise that many believe he can be a starter one day.

The Bengals though were reportedly unwilling to trade him unless an offer was given that would blow them away. As long as he’s on the roster, Dalton needs to do all he can to keep him at bay. While his numbers weren’t bad in 2016, Dalton just wasn’t incredibly effective.

After spending their first round pick on receiver John Ross, that needs to change. Armed with two top-ten picks now at receiver in Ross and A.J. Green — as well as first-round tight end Tyler Eifert — Dalton needs to produce to keep from feeling too much heat.

Apr 10, 2017; Thousand Oaks, CA, USA; Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff addresses the media at press conference at Cal Lutheran University. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

2. Jared Goff, QB — Los Angeles Rams

When a team makes a bold move to trade up to the No. 1 pick in the draft, they expect the player they get to alter their franchise. So far after seven starts, there may be some worry for the Los Angeles Rams about the player they made such a move for in quarterback Jared Goff.

Los Angeles traded a first, two seconds and a third round pick in 2016 as well as a first and third in 2017 to Tennessee in exchange for the number one overall pick along with a fourth and sixth rounder in 2016. They then took Goff out of Cal with the hopes he could be the face of their return to L.A.

Instead he struggled to beat out Case Keenum, a former undrafted free agent out of Houston. Eventually Goff got on the field, but it wasn’t pretty. The Rams went 0-7 with him under center and the rookie threw more picks (7) than touchdowns (5) during that time.

While a bad rookie season doesn’t always spell disaster for a career, a second season of similar struggles would have to scare the team. Goff needs to show major improvement in his mechanics and decision making in 2017 or else the Rams may wind up really regretting this move.

Jan 15, 2017; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) scrambles against the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Divisional playoff game at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

1. Dak Prescott, QB — Dallas Cowboys

The final player on this list that needs to have a big season is Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott. After unexpectedly becoming a starter last year, the fourth-round compensatory selection won the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award for his part in leading his team to a 13-3 record.

All season long Prescott defied the odds and kept winning, but people were still questioning aloud if veteran Tony Romo gave the team the better chance of winning. Head coach Jason Garrett stuck with the hot hand and after the season Romo decided to head to CBS to be an in-game analyst. That doesn’t mean the chatter around Dak will stop.

Fans in the NFL can be funny. Romo was often a punchline and blamed for any loss Dallas suffered during his tenure. With him gone now, people will most likely remember the good times they once ignored and will freely throw them out whenever Prescott struggles. The only way to ever truly quiet any such nonsense would be to simply keep winning. Step No. 1 in that process will be having a good season in 2017.

After the Cowboys re-stocked their defense in the draft and kept all the main weapons on offense for Prescott, he really won’t have any excuses not to succeed. Which means he needs to have a really good season, or else he will be criticized worse than Romo ever was.

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