The NFL is often about meeting expectations, and sometimes exceeding them. Every player and all 32 teams go into each season with goals and hopes for the upcoming year, and more often than not those expectations aren’t met.
These 10 players came into 2016 with lofty goals and high aspirations, yet none of them has come through. Here are the 10 most underachieving players of the season thus far, including a boatload of Pro Bowlers from 2015.
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Kony Ealy, DE, Carolina Panthers
The Panthers lost in Super Bowl 50, but it wasn’t because of Ealy. He had three sacks against the Broncos and seemed to have emerged as an elite pass rusher for the Panthers. His breakout big game came after he racked up five sacks in the regular season -- which isn’t outstanding, but it’s better his numbers this season.
In nine games, Ealy has just one sack and 20 tackles and has rarely had an impact on the game. It was probably unfair to expect him to explode for 15 sacks this year simply based on his Super Bowl performance, but he had been improving from his 2014 rookie season through the end of last year. In 2016, he simply hasn’t been a factor and is part of the reason for Carolina’s struggles defensively.
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Ronald Darby, CB, Buffalo Bills
Darby was snubbed from the Pro Bowl and Defensive Rookie of the Year honors last season after picking off two passes and knocking down 21. He was one of the best cover corners in the league, pairing with Stephon Gilmore to give the Bills a dynamic duo in the secondary. To say Darby’s play has fallen off in 2016 would be a huge understatement.
He has yet to intercept a single pass in eight games. He was benched in the first half against the Seahawks in his last game, which was partly due to the fact that he wasn’t feeling well. He also wasn’t playing well, and hasn’t all season. Darby didn’t take first-team reps on Monday but returned to that role Wednesday. That far from cements his place as a starter, and he should be weary of his job status going forward.
Allen Robinson, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars
Robinson burst onto the scene in 2015, hauling in 80 passes for 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns in his second year as a pro. He looked like he’d be the next great receiver in the NFL, putting his name into discussions reserved for Odell Beckham Jr., Julio Jones, Dez Bryant and Antonio Brown. Robinson is still a supremely talented receiver, but he doesn’t have the take-over trait that Jones and those other players do. He doesn’t dominate a game the way the best do, and most of that falls on quarterback Bortles – but it’s partly Robinson's doing, too.
He has 549 yards on 48 receptions with just five touchdowns, putting him on pace to fall well short of his 2015 totals. He doesn’t have a single 100-yard game thus far after having six a year ago. There’s still time for him to elevate his game and surpass 1,000 yards, but he’s been underwhelming this season.
Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers
The reigning league MVP isn’t having the worst season of his career, but it’s pretty close. In eight games (he's missed one due to injury), Newton has just 10 touchdown passes and seven interceptions with a mediocre 82.0 passer rating – and this is with Kelvin Benjamin back in the fold. He’s 20th in the NFL in yards per game and has made a handful of significantly poor decisions – most recently Sunday against the Chiefs when he threw a pick-six in the fourth quarter.
The Panthers are a mess as a whole, and Newton has contributed to their struggles plenty. He’s not the one-man wrecking crew that he was a year ago without Benjamin, and it’s showing in the deficiencies Carolina has on offense. His follow-up to an MVP season has not been great, to say the least.
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Blake Bortles, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars
Bortles had the best season of his young career in 2015, throwing for 4,428 yards, 35 touchdowns and 18 interceptions. He’s followed that up with hideous mechanics, terrible decision-making and poor ball placement. This season, Bortles has 2,421 passing yards, 16 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Those numbers don’t seem all that bad until you take into consideration that most of his yards have come in garbage time with the Jaguars trailing in the second half.
He was expected to take a huge step forward in his third NFL season, improving upon his relatively good 2015 performance. He’s actually regressed mechanically and statistically, which has to be concerning for the Jaguars. He’s not their only problem, but they may need to look at other options in a year or two.
DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Houston Texans
When the Texans signed Brock Osweiler to a lucrative deal, Hopkins’ eyes probably lit up. He finally had a big quarterback to throw him the ball downfield, giving him a consistent presence at the position for years to come. Instead, all Osweiler has done is hurt Hopkins’ production. He has just 45 receptions and 482 yards in nine games after catching 111 passes for 1,521 yards last season. He put up those astronomical numbers a year ago with Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett, T.J. Yates and Brandon Weeden throwing him passes – all of whom likely made less money combined than Osweiler is making this season.
Hopkins’ struggles can partly be pinned on Osweiler’s reluctance to throw the ball deep and target him in the intermediate passing game, but Hopkins has to do his part, too. His longest reception this season is just 35 yards.
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Joe Flacco, QB, Baltimore Ravens
Is Joe Flacco elite? You’ve heard it 5,000 times, and there’s still no definitive, consensus answer. If we’re going by his 2016 season, the answer is a hard “no.” Flacco has nine touchdown passes and nine interceptions and is averaging 264 passing yards per game (15th). His 78.3 passer rating is 29th in the NFL, ahead of just Ryan Fitzpatrick, Blaine Gabbert, Brock Osweiler and Case Keenum. That’s not the company an elite – or even good – quarterback keeps, regardless of whether it’s a down year.
Flacco was good in his last full season. in 2014, he threw 27 touchdown passes and just 12 interceptions, posting the second-best passer rating of his career. Last year he wasn’t good even before his knee injury, but his continued regression this season has been pretty surprising.
Darrelle Revis, CB, New York Jets
Remember when Revis was considered one of the best cover corners of all time, earning the nickname Revis Island? Those days are long gone. He’s no longer among the 10 best cornerbacks in the league, or even the 25 best. In fact, he’s probably not even the best corner on his own team, which is saying something when looking at the Jets’ secondary.
Revis admits he’s “old” and has lost a step, but that won’t make him play any better. Every player ages and regresses a bit, but Aqib Talib is only slightly younger and is still an elite corner. Revis might need to move to safety to prolong his career because he simply can’t make it as a No. 1 corner anymore – and he’d likely admit that himself.
Brock Osweiler, QB, Houston Texans
The Texans gave Osweiler a four-year, $72 million ($36 million guaranteed) contract in the offseason without meeting with the former Broncos quarterback. He was thought to be the fix for their QB woes, bringing stability to the position for years to come, but he’s been anything but a fix for Houston. He’s 29th in passing yards per game, has a 74.1 passer rating and is averaging 5.6 yards per attempt – dead last in the league.
In the past three weeks, Lamar Miller has averaged more yards per carry than Osweiler has averaged yards per attempt. That’s not supposed to happen for a quarterback, let alone one making $18 million a year. Osweiler has struggled in his first nine games of the season, and while it’s too soon to completely write him off, he hasn’t improved in the least bit. On Sunday, he threw for 99 yards on 27 attempts – and the Texans still won.
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Todd Gurley, RB, Los Angeles Rams
Gurley came into the NFL with a slight medical red flag after tearing his ACL in his final year at Georgia. The Rams took it slow with him last year as a rookie, holding him out for the first three games of the season. Once the reins were taken off, he went off on every team he faced. Gurley rushed for 1,106 yards in 13 games, scoring 10 touchdowns on the ground. He averaged 4.8 yards per carry as the Rookie of the Year and looked to be the next Adrian Peterson.
Those comparisons have slowed a bit this season due to his production, or lack thereof. Gurley has just 515 yards in nine games with three touchdowns. He’s third-to-last in yards per carry (3.1) among qualified backs and looks like a shadow of his rookie self. His struggles aren’t completely his fault given the Rams’ atrocious offensive line, but his fall from grace has been staggering.