As the NFL embarks on the annual draft and prepares for off-season programs, there are some veterans around the league looking for a new lease on life. Whether due to injury or other issues, some of the following players are coming off disastrous seasons.
One player in particular — Clay Matthews of the Green Bay Packers — is looking to rebound from a down season that saw him play out of position.
From Matthews to fellow linebacker NaVorro Bowman and wide receiver Dez Bryant, here are eight NFL veterans set to rebound in a big way this upcoming season.
Dez Bryant, wide receiver, Dallas Cowboys
Bryant didn’t necessarily mesh well with first-year quarterback Dak Prescott last season. After years of dominating on the gridiron with Tony Romo tossing him the rock, it was a difficult transition for Bryant. It also didn’t help that Bryant missed three games early in the season to injury. That surely played a role in his inability to create a relationship with the young quarterback.
In the end, Bryant would finish with 50 receptions for less than 800 yards and eight touchdowns. Definitely not No. 1 receiver numbers right there.
Now, with a full offseason to create a relationship, look for Prescott and Bryant to dominate the NFC East this upcoming season. Bryant looks to be 100 percent. He’s still the Cowboys’ top receiver. And he will be catching passes from a young signal caller that tallied 29 total touchdowns compared to four interceptions as a rookie. The writing is on the wall here, and it seems to indicate that Bryant will return to form in 2017.
Teddy Bridgewater, quarterback, Minnesota Vikings
Teddy almost died on the practice field last summer. This isn’t an exaggeration. Doctors had to work fast to save his life after the former first-round pick suffered serious injuries to his knee and leg.
Needless to say, Bridgewater would go on to miss the entire 2016 season with some concern that the former Vikings starter would never return to the gridiron. This led to Minnesota trading a first-round pick and change to Philadelphia for Sam Bradford.
Now heading into the 2017 off-season program, Bridgewater’s future in the NFL remains up in the air. Though, there’s surely some signs of progress and hope that he will be able to take to the field this upcoming season.
Despite Bradford being under contract for the 2017 season and performing well last year, Bridgewater remains the best long-term option for the Vikings. Of course, that’s dependent on him actually returning to the field healthy. We’re here to project that Bridgewater will shine again this season.
Remember, here’s a guy that led his Vikings to a 17-11 record in his first two years as a starter. This came after an extremely successful career at Louisville. Despite some physical limitations on the field, he’s a proven winner. Based on what we saw from Minnesota to conclude last season, it surely needs that type of individual under center when the 2017 campaign comes calling.
Earl Thomas, safety, Seattle Seahawks
Thomas’ injury may not have been as serious as what Bridgewater went through, but the All Pro safety did miss the final five games of last season after suffering a broken leg. It was so bad that Thomas initially indicated he was considering retirement (more on that here).
Now fully prepared to rejoin the Legion of Boom next season, Thomas may be the only constant in what is an ever-evolving roster in Seattle. With rumors that Richard Sherman may be traded, the presence of this all-time great in Seattle’s defensive backfield is all that much more important.
Prior to suffering said injury last season, Thomas had played in 107 consecutive games (all starts) to begin his career. In the process, the former Texas standout earned five consecutive trips to the Pro Bowl. He’s the best safety in the game. And if Thomas returns healthy, he will surely rise again this upcoming season. That’s not really in question.
Rob Gronkowski, tight end, New England Patriots
Despite his elite-level physicality and pure domination on the football field, Gronkowski has missed 25 games over the past five seasons. That came after the All Pro tight end played full 16-game slates in his first two years with New England.
Now seen as injury plagued, one has to wonder if Gronk will ever be the same again. If it’s not his back, it’s his hamstring. And in between those two, other injuries continue to pop up.
We are here to show faith in the tight end’s ability to return fully healthy this upcoming season while playing in all 16 games for the defending champs. Should that happen, New England will be in a great position to succeed.
Over the course of his career, Gronkowksi is averaging nearly 70 receiving yards per game and catching about a touchdown per outing. In just six games last season, the four-time Pro Bowler averaged an absurd 21.6 yards per catch. He’s a dynamic receiving option for future Hall of Famer Tom Brady and will continue to act as the quarterback’s top target when on the field.
Clay Matthews, linebacker, Green Bay Packers
Green Bay has continually been forced to play Matthews out of position over the past couple seasons. The reasoning is rather simple. General manager Ted Thompson and Co. have failed to find any real starter-caliber talent at inside linebacker. That has led the team to play Matthews inside, where he can’t utilize what are Hall of Fame-worthy pass-rush moves.
The six-time Pro Bowler recorded just 25 tackles and five sacks in 12 games last season. And while he was dealing with injuries throughout the year, the primary reason for his lack of production can be attributed to playing out of position.
For the love of everything right in the world, Green Bay needs to hit the upcoming draft hard at inside linebacker. It needs to do so in order for the team to stop wasting the elite-level pass-rushing talent Matthews can still bring to the table. Remember, he is averaging nearly 10 sacks per game during his eight-year NFL career.
On a personal note, we know Matthews will want to return to his previous level of play in order to honor his grandfather, who passed away at the age of 88 earlier this year. Helping the long and heralded football family regain its name on the gridiron will surely be a motivation for Matthews to rise from the ashes of two substandard seasons. Never count a Matthews family football player out, Clay III included.
NaVorro Bowman, linebacker, San Francisco 49ers
There’s no questioning the heart and dedication of this giant. One of the best defensive players in the NFL when healthy, Bowman is once again tasked with returning from a devastating lower-body injury. A three-time All Pro, Bowman missed all but four games of last season with a torn Achilles.
This came following the former mid-round pick returning from a devastating leg injury he suffered in the 2013 NFC Championship game to earn an All Pro nod in 2015. That season saw Bowman rack up 154 tackles and 2.5 sacks en route to grading out as the best inside linebacker in the NFL.
Now set to learn a new scheme under first-year defensive coordinator Robert Saleh for the rebuilding 49ers, Bowman will be tasked with being the experience on an otherwise young unit.
Whether he plays outside or inside in this new scheme remains to be seen. But with what Bowman has gone through in his career and how he has rebounded following multiple serious injuries, there’s no reason to discount him here.
Martavis Bryant, wide receiver, Pittsburgh Steelers
Redemption. Overcoming your personal demons to become a better person. It’s a story that has been written and re-written throughout the history of mankind. Some are able to pull through and move on with their lives. Others fall to the struggles that impacted them in the first place. But at every turn, it is human nature to hope for the best in others.
The same can be said for Bryant, who has not suited up since January of 2016 after being suspended by the NFL for violating its substance abuse policy. With reinstatement seemingly imminent, Bryant has one last opportunity to prove to the Steelers that he’s worth the headache.
A dynamic pass catcher, the 25-year-old Bryant recorded 50 receptions for 765 yards and six touchdowns in a suspension-shortened 2015 campaign. With Markus Wheaton now in Chicago and the Steelers looking to fill that void, a motivated (and sober) Bryant could very well be that guy.
Look for big things as Bryant rises from his personal demons to make amends on the gridiron this upcoming season.
Marshawn Lynch, running back, Seattle Seahawks
Lynch is all about that action, boss. It’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that this former Pro Bowler will suit up for the Oakland Raiders in 2017, ending his one-year retirement.
Lynch will be 31 years old when the 2017 campaign kicks off. He struggled through an injury-plagued 2015 season, one that ultimately led to him hanging up his cleats (literally). This will lead some to believe that Lynch won’t be able to return to form in 2017.
That would be a foolish conclusion to draw. First off, Oakland boasts the second-best offensive line in the NFL behind Dallas. It has a passing offense with Derek Carr, Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree, that makes Seattle’s version of an air attack look stuck in the mud.
More than that, Lynch will be motivated to perform at a high clip in front of his hometown crowd in what will be one of the Raiders’ final seasons in Oakland before moving to Las Vegas.
That’s enough for us to believe Lynch will grant the city of Oakland one last parting gift as it prepares for life without Raiders football. Heck, wouldn’t it be magical if Lynch were to lead Oakland to a Super Bowl title?