Talent. Potential. Most NFL players have these things in abundance. But far too often players with high expectations fail to live up to the hype. Looking ahead to the 2017 season, we’re looking at boom-or-bust players who have the potential to greatly improve their team’s chances, or hurt them.
Among these players is a quarterback who’s already been deemed the answer by many. But we’re not totally convinced he’s ready to take the required next step.
We’ll also be looking at some highly skilled receivers, running backs and defenders who all have the ability to break games open. But questions remain about their ability to do so in any sort of consistent way.
These 32 players all fit the mold of boom or bust for their respective teams ahead of the 2017 season.
Arizona Cardinals: Robert Nkemdiche, defensive end
The Cardinals took a bit of a risk drafting this former Ole Miss star in the first round last year. He recorded just one tackle as a rookie and will now be tasked with taking over for Calais Campbell, now with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Those are huge shoes to fill. Whether Nkemdiche has the discipline and stamina to do it for 16 games is a huge question facing him and the Cardinals in 2017.
Atlanta Falcons: Takkarist McKinley, defensive end
This talented, speedy rookie out of UCLA could further transform Dan Quinn’s defense into a juggernaut. Though, as we covered recently, he’s being held back from fully participating in camp as he recovers from offseason surgery. General manager Thomas Dimitroff hopes he will be a “full go” by Week 3 in the preseason. But time off is often devastating for rookies. Meaning, it might be another year before McKinley is ready to be an impact player in Atlanta.
Baltimore Ravens: Breshard Perriman, wide receiver
The Ravens have been hoping Perriman would be able to become a star ever since he was selected in Round 1 back in 2015. An injury forced him to miss his entire rookie season. Then last year, Perriman played in all 16 games but only managed 33 catches for 499 yards and three touchdowns. Now he’ll be competing for targets with Jeremy Maclin. It’s put-up or shut-up time for this former UCF star.
Buffalo Bills: Tyrod Taylor, quarterback
The Bills had no small amount of internal debate about whether to keep Taylor or let him go this offseason. They cut his contract into tiny pieces after eventually letting him stay. Now he has to prove he’s capable of playing out a 16-game season while improving upon his abilities as a pocket passer. This team hasn’t made the playoffs since 1999 and is desperate for change.
Carolina Panthers: Curtis Samuel, slot receiver
One of the most electric college players last year, Samuel showed his worth as a receiver at Ohio State, catching 74 passes for 865 yards and seven touchdowns. Now that he’ll be a full-time slot receiver for Carolina, he has a chance to help transform the Panthers offense and help keep Cam Newton healthy. Though, it’s one thing to make big plays against college linebackers and quite another to do it at the NFL level where everyone is fast, not to mention, darn good.
Chicago Bears: Mike Glennon, quarterback
It won’t surprise anyone if Glennon is benched in favor of No. 2 overall pick Mitch Trubisky at some point this season — no matter what the Bears are saying publicly. Glennon had a solid rookie season in 2014 before losing his job to none other than Josh McCown in 2015. Then came Jameis Winston. Now he needs to win some games, or it’s going to be hard for John Fox to abstain from seeing what his rookie can do.
Cincinnati Bengals: John Ross, wide receiver
If Ross can stay healthy, then he should be a tremendous addition for Cincinnati’s offense. His ability to take the ball to the house on any given play — be it short pass or deep ball — makes him a dangerous complement to A.J. Green. But staying healthy has been very hard for Ross to do, and he’s not even going to be ready to practice until August after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery.
Cleveland Browns: Jabrill Peppers, safety
There wasn’t any real consensus before the draft about how effective Peppers will be in the NFL. Talent has never been an issue. And he was a dynamo for the Wolverines. But at 5-foot-11 and 211 pounds, he is too small to play linebacker, where he thrived at Michigan. He’ll be one of those hybrid safeties that have been making their way into the league recently, and it remains to be seen if his skills will translate to the NFL game.
Dallas Cowboys: Taco Charlton, defensive end
How long has it been since the Cowboys featured a dominant pass rusher? It’s been a while, that’s for sure. So it was not surprising when Jerry Jones and Co. took Charlton No. 28 overall this past April. Though, in this scribe’s estimation he’s not as much of a sure bet as another gamble for the ‘Boys. A decent all-around player, Charlton isn’t an athletic freak, and he had one big season as a collegiate player for Michigan. Was he a one-hit wonder or is it a sign of bigger things to come?
Denver Broncos: Jamaal Charles, running back
Great news, Broncos fans. Charles was cleared to participate in training camp, with no restrictions. There aren’t many running backs in the league to compare to this guy, when he’s healthy. Unfortunately, Charles has carried the ball just 83 times in the past two seasons due to knee injuries. Now that he’s over the age of 30, that could have signaled the beginning of the end. But if he’s able to stay on the field, then Charles could be the answer Denver needs to spark the offense.
Detroit Lions: Ameer Abdullah, running back
There was a time, a couple years back, that one NFL coach compared Abdullah to none other than Barry Sanders. Injuries have derailed that projection a bit, however. After carrying the ball just 143 times as a rookie out of Nebraska, Abdullah missed all but two games last season with a foot injury. Now he’s being counted on to be the team’s starter again in 2017. We’re not convinced he’s going to hold up over the long haul.
Green Bay Packers: Ty Montgomery, running back
As a converted wide receiver, Montgomery rescued a non-existent running game last year. He did so well that he’s the No. 1 running back heading into camp this year. But can he really do this full time? We’re about to find out. Green Bay does have a couple rookies who could potentially come up and take significant snaps, but Montgomery is the starter for a reason — he’s the best the Packers have.
Houston Texans: Tom Savage, quarterback
Bill O’Brien has been firm about saying Savage is his starter in 2017, even after Houston traded up to land Deshaun Watson in the first round. To a degree, it’s understandable because Savage is going into his fourth year in O’Brien’s system. But he’s got five total games and two starts under his belt to this point and has been injury prone. So while O’Brien is confident Savage will be a viable starter, we’re not.
Indianapolis Colts: Jack Doyle, tight end
Doyle, about to enter his fifth year as a pro, has a chance to emerge as one of the top tight ends in the NFL. He finally got a chance to show his stuff last year and delivered to a degree, with 584 yards and five touchdowns. It’s time for this Western Kentucky product to really step up his game in 2017, though. He’s undeniably the team’s top option at tight end, which is a position that is utilized a lot by Andrew Luck.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Blake Bortles, quarterback
Jacksonville has a playoff roster. From top to bottom, on both sides of the ball, the Jags have players who can win, except perhaps at the most important position of all. Bortles is a guy who truly is in a make-or-break year. Either he’ll finally live up to his potential or he’ll enter the ranks of those before him who’ve earned the label of first-round bust.
Kansas City Chiefs: Tyreek Hill, wide receiver
When Jeremy Maclin walked out the door, Hill was automatically bumped up to receiver No. 1 on Kansas City’s depth chart. While nobody can deny this kid’s explosive, game-breaking abilities (watch here), it remains to be seen if he has the skills to pay the bills against the NFL’s best cornerbacks. No pressure, kid.
Los Angeles Chargers: Mike Williams, wide receiver
The Chargers shocked a lot of people when they selected this former Clemson receiver No. 7 overall in April. A freakish athlete, Williams put up huge numbers for the Tigers last year, catching 98 passes for 1,361 yards and 11 touchdowns. But he’s not healthy at the start of camp with a back injury that some have reported could require surgery. Boom or bust, indeed.
Los Angeles Rams: Jared Goff, quarterback
It’s not fair to say Goff will be a bust for his career. But it’s not exactly unfair to wonder if he’ll be a bust in 2017 after he suffered through an awful rookie campaign last year. Though, based on what the quarterback himself has said about working with rookie head coach Sean McVay, maybe Rams fans can unclench just a bit. Time will tell.
Miami Dolphins: Raekwon McMillan, inside linebacker
The Dolphins may have gotten a steal landing McMillan in the middle of Round 2 this year. The Ohio State linebacker is going to compete with veteran Lawrence Timmons, the former Pittsburgh Steelers star, for the chance to start this year. Timmons isn’t the player he once was at the age of 31, and McMillan should win the job. If not, then Miami could have problems inside.
Minnesota Vikings: Latavius Murray, running back
Murray was thought to be a player who could quickly make Vikings fans forget about Adrian Peterson. But he’s still not healthy (on PUP) as camp opens. Meanwhile, Dalvin Cook has been taking first-team reps all offseason and could relegate Murray to short-yardage, goal-line scenarios this year. Even in that role, Murray could be a boon. Or, Cook could end up being so good that Murray ends up being little-used. It’s going to be an interesting development to track, especially for fantasy owners.
New England Patriots: Dwyane Allen, tight end
The Patriots have been looking to rekindle that two-tight-end magic for a bunch of years now. They thought they’d have it last year, but Rob Gronkowski was injured again. Now they have a healthy Gronk and traded for the ex-Colts tight end, Allen, who could be a huge weapon this year. On the other hand, he was supposed to be that guy in Indy but never panned out.
New Orleans Saints: Marshon Lattimore, cornerback
The Saints have featured one of the NFL’s worst defenses for a few years running. They still have some huge issues up front, which could spell trouble for the back end. This is especially true for a rookie like Lattimore, who will have his hands full as a starter right out of the gate. He was phenomenal at Ohio State, which is why the Saints were so happy to gobble him up at No. 11 overall. It’s going to be baptism by fire, and how he handles the heat will have a lot to do with the success, or failure, of New Orleans’ defense this season.
New York Giants: Evan Engram, tight end
The Giants have been looking for a consistent tight end threat since the days of Jeremy Shockey. That’s why they reached for Engram (in the eyes of many), taking him at No. 23 overall this April. But he’s more of a glorified receiver than true tight end. And Big Blue already has three very good receivers in Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard and Brandon Marshall. Engram could very well be the odd man out if he doesn’t develop better skills as an in-line tight end.
New York Jets: Christian Hackenberg, quarterback
It’s been over a year, and we still can’t get over the fact that New York traded up in the second round to land Hackenberg last year. Though it’s been reported that Josh McCown has been the team’s best passer all offseason, the Jets will absolutely be looking to get Hackenberg into the starting lineup in a season they’re so obviously tanking. Either he’ll prove he was worth the risk or that he has no business starting games at the NFL level.
Oakland Raiders: Marshawn Lynch, running back
Just how much does Lynch have left in the tank? The Raiders let their starting back from last year hit the market and signed Beast Mode, who is a year-and-a-half removed from playing this game. There’s a chance that time off gave him the energy boost he needed to return with a vengeance. Or the Raiders could find out the hard way not to bring back retired players. It’s going to be fascinating to see which side of the coin Lynch falls on this year.
Philadelphia Eagles: Alshon Jeffery, wide receiver
There’s a reason Jeffery inked a one-year deal with Philly, even though he’s one of the better receivers in the league when healthy. In his first five years in the league, Jeffery has missed four-plus games three times due to injury or suspension. He has a lot to prove. If he’s at the top of his game and can stay on the field, he’ll be a tremendous weapon for quarterback Carson Wentz. If not, he’ll struggle to ever land a big-time deal, despite his talents.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Martavis Bryant, wide receiver
Look up the word home-run threat in the dictionary, and Bryant’s picture might just pop up. He’s so dangerous on the field. His size, strength and pure talent gives him an edge over most NFL cornerbacks, which is why he’s been able to average 17.3 yards per catch and haul in 14 touchdowns in just 21 career games. Can he stay away from the weed? That’s the big question that nobody but him can answer. This is likely his last chance in the NFL after coming off a year-long suspension.
San Francisco 49ers: Joe Williams, running back
The 49ers took a chance selecting Williams in the fourth round this year. He was seen by many as a kid with character concerns, but Kyle Shanahan convinced John Lynch to draft him. Now he’s competing with Carlos Hyde for the starting job. He’s an explosive runner who can also catch the ball well and could be wildly successful in Shanahan’s system. We’re eager to see how it all plays out.
Seattle Seahawks: Eddie Lacy, running back
So far, Lacy is doing his job to keep the weight off and potentially make himself valuable to the Seahawks. This team has missed a consistent presence on the ground ever since midway through the 2015 season. But weight hasn’t been the only issue facing Lacy. He’s also struggled with lower-body injuries the past two seasons. If he’s healthy, then he could be a huge star. If not, then Seattle will likely struggle on the ground once again in 2017.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jameis Winston, quarterback
It’s Year 3 of the Winston era in Tampa Bay. He has all the arm talent you could ask for, and he’s a tremendous leader, to boot. But Winston is also one of those quarterbacks who really struggles with accuracy and turnovers at times. The Bucs are looking to take another big step forward in 2017 with a balanced, talented roster. Winston’s play will determine whether that happens, or whether they fall back into mediocrity.
Tennessee Titans: Corey Davis, wide receiver
As a small-school stud, Davis is about to face competition he’s never seen before. While at Western Michigan, Davis broke the all-time record for most receiving yards by an FBS player (5,278) and caught an eye-popping 52 touchdowns in four years. He has the size and skill to make big plays for the Titans, but he will also be competing for playing time against veterans Tajae Sharpe and Eric Decker in a run-first offense. He also missed offseason workouts with an ankle injury. It could be a slow burn for this talented rookie.
Washington Redskins: Josh Doctson, wide receiver
Washington hopes Doctson can make a big impact and is counting on him after letting veterans Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson leave via free agency. But health cost him his entire rookie season. Furthermore he’s competing with Terrelle Pryor and Jamison Crowder for targets and playing time this year. He could be a big-time player, but fantasy owners should probably steer clear until we have an idea how he’ll pan out.