20 worst players in the NFL halfway through the season

By Vincent Frank
David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

Big name players who have been absolutely horrible…

David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

While the likes of James Conner and Michael Thomas continue to surprise the football world, there’s other bigger-name players who have been absolutely horrible thus far this season.

Whether it’s a former No. 1 pick in Florida that’s proven to be a turnover machine or a couple high-priced cornerbacks, we’re seeing some really bad football take place around the NFL.

Just how bad has Buffalo Bills quarterback Nathan Peterman been this season? Is new Los Angeles Rams cornerback Marcus Peters among the worst players at his position in the NFL?

It’s in this that we check in on the 20 worst players in the league through the midway point of the season.

 

Vic Beasley, EDGE, Atlanta Falcons

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We’re not really too sure what’s happened to Beasley since leading the league with 15.5 sacks back in 2016. The former No. 8 overall pick recorded just five sacks in part-time action last season. And he’s pretty much been a non-factor through the first seven games of the 2018 campaign.

How bad is it? Beasley has recorded a grand total of three quarterback hits and one sack. It’s been a major fall from grace for a player that was seemingly set to become one of the best pass rushers in the game. And it’s likely going to cost Beasley some major cash moving forward.

 

Nathan Peterman, quarterback, Buffalo Bills

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With both Josh Allen and Derek Anderson injured, Buffalo is forced to start Peterman against the Chicago Bears’ elite-level defense this coming Sunday. It’s not like head coach Sean McDermott and Co. want to do this. They really have no other choice outside of moving recently signed wide receiver Terrelle Pryor to quarterback. Heck, that seems to be a possibility at this point.

For his part, Peterman has been historically bad since entering the NFL last season. In three appearances (one start) this year, he’s completing a hair over 40 percent of his passes with one touchdown and four interceptions. He’s also averaging a laughable 3.4 yards per attempt. It’s almost like Buffalo would be better off kneeling three times rather than give Peterman an opportunity to stink it up.

 

Marcus Peters, cornerback, Los Angeles Rams

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Here’s one move the undefeated Rams made during the spring that has not panned out thus far. Having dealt with a minor injury earlier in the season, Peters just has not responded in a way the team had hoped.

Peters allowed four receptions for 113 yards to Davante Adams in last week’s win over the Packers. He’s now one of five cornerbacks to have yielded five-plus touchdown passes this season. It’s been pretty darn ugly. And he needs to get this figured out in short order for the Super Bowl contenders.

 

Alec Ogletree, linebacker, New York Giants

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We’re really not too sure what the Giants expected from this former Rams first-round pick when they dealt two draft picks for him during the spring. Pro Football Focus graded him No. 840 out of 856 defensive players last season. And it has not gotten much better in his first season with the Giants.

He’s yielded a 125-plus quarterback rating when targeted this season and has been among the worst starting linebackers in the NFL. Unfortunately for the downtrodden Giants, he’s also owed $35 million over the next three seasons. Ouch.

 

Josh Norman, cornerback, Washington Redskins

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It’s quite astonishing to see how much a still young 30-year-old Norman has regressed since signing a lucrative contract with Washington back in 2016. He has only four interceptions to his name in 36 games and has been among the worst defensive players in the NFL this season.

Heading into Week 9’s action, Norman ranks among the bottom 15 cornerbacks in the NFL. In fact, opposing quarterbacks have put up a 156.3 passer rating when targeting Norman through six games. Given that the best mark a quarterback can post is 158.3, this is pretty darn sad. It also led to him getting benched earlier in the season.

 

Clay Matthews, linebacker, Green Bay Packers

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It’s been a while since Matthews has been seen as a top-end pass rusher in the NFL. In fact, he has not put up double-digit sacks since the 2014 season. This year alone, Matthews has recorded 2.5 sacks in seven games and boasts a grand total of six quarterback hits.

As someone who the Packers rely on to get to the quarterback on a consistent basis, Matthews has failed at every turn. Given that he’s primarily been in the news due to questionable personal foul calls this season, it readily apparent that the former USC stud is on his last legs. Let’s just hope he doesn’t hold on to this career too long.

 

Case Keenum, quarterback, Denver Broncos

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It’s hard to believe that just a few months ago there was a bidding war for Keenum’s services. He’s been just atrocious for the Broncos after they signed him to a two-year, $36 million deal back in March. Keenum is tied for the NFL lead with 10 interceptions and ranks 26th among qualified quarterbacks with an 83.0 passer rating on the season.

Consistently bad. That would be the best term to define Keenum’s first eight starts. He’s thrown at least one interception in each game and has taken 22 sacks. It got to the point that people were calling for Chad Kelly prior to his run in with the law and subsequent release.

 

Ahkello Witherspoon, cornerback, San Francisco 49ers

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Expectations were extremely high for Witherspoon entering his sophomore campaign. The former Colorado star performed well as a rookie last season and was expected to improve even more opposite future Hall of Famer Richard Sherman. Almost immediately out of the gate, it just wasn’t to be for Witherspoon.

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One of the main culprits for San Francisco’s struggles against the pass, Witherspoon allowed nine receptions and three touchdowns for a 126-plus passser rating over the first three games of the season. It led to him being benched multiple times. Given San Francisco’s lack of depth and talent behind Sherman at cornerback, his performance and subsequent benching isn’t a good thing. Sure he’s improved somewhat in recent weeks, but these early-season struggles are hard to look past.

 

Reggie Nelson, safety, Oakland Raiders

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Seeing how much Nelson has regressed in recent seasons is simply amazing. A Pro Bowler in 2015 and 2016, the former Cincinnati Bengals’ first-round pick was among the worst starting safeties in the NFL last season. That’s magnified by the fact that Oakland’s defense yielded an opposing 101.8 passer rating on the year.

It has not gotten much better for Nelson this season. He’s recorded just 18 tackles and one pass defended. He’s also been burnt multiple times in coverage, and simply seems to be a shell of his former self.

 

Blake Bortles, quarterback, Jacksonville Jaguars

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We’re going to blame the Jaguars more than Bortles for his struggles this season. What did the team expect from a quarterback that had not proven himself to be a starter-caliber quarterback in four seasons with the NFL? It’s proven to be a fatal flaw for a Jaguars team that heads into the second half of the season having lost four consecutive games.

He’s led to the team to 14 points or less in four of the past six games and has turned the ball over a whopping 11 times. Yeah, that’s pretty darn bad.

 

Kelvin Benjamin, wide receiver, Buffalo Bills

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Sure Benjamin has not been helped out by poor quarterback play in Buffalo. In no way does that mean he hasn’t failed to live up to the expectations that came with being a former first-round pick. The big-bodied 27-year-old receiver has caught a grand total of 16 passes for 242 yards on 44 targets. Yes, that’s a ridiculously low 36.4 percent catch rate.

Given that Buffalo yielded a third and seventh-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft to acquire Benjamin midway through last season, his struggles are magnified even further. Think of it this way. The Bills could have simply drafted rookie Keke Coutee and gotten pretty much the same production. That’s just insane.

 

Julie’n Davenport, offensive tackle, Houston Texans

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Pass protection in front of Deshaun Watson has been a season-long issue for the Texans. He’s been hit a whopping 73 times in eight games and has found himself sacked 26 times during that span. Davenport has been the main culprit.

Prior to a solid outing for the entire Texans offensive line in last week’s win over the Miami Dolphins, the second-year player had allowed an NFL-high 36 quarterback pressures. Teammate Martinas Rankin ranked second in the league at 27. This is an absurd difference, and it tells us a story of a young man that’s in way over his head at left tackle.

 

Marcus Mariota, quarterback, Tennessee Titans

Geno Atkins sacks Marcus Mariota

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It certainly is looking like the top two picks in the 2015 NFL Draft are not going to be franchise quarterbacks moving forward. After having shown himself well in his first two seasons, Mariota’s regression since the start of the 2017 campaign has been something to behold.

Despite leading Tennessee to a playoff appearance last season, he threw just 13 touchdowns compared to 15 interceptions. And while injuries have factored into his 2018 performance, Mariota has three passing touchdowns in six games this year. He’s also averaging just north of 170 passing yards. That’s not good. And it could force Tenneseee to look in another direction at quarterback moving forward.

 

J.J. Nelson, wide receiver, Arizona Cardinals

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After having put up north of 500 receiving yards in each of the past two seasons, the Cardinals were expecting this young pass catcher to take the next step in 2018. Sure Sam Bradford’s struggles out of the gate and having a rookie in Josh Rosen start hasn’t helped. Even then, Nelson has just been a complete disaster on the field.

He continues to struggle with the most basic elements of playing receiver in the NFL. And it’s led to first-year head coach Steve Wilks relegating Nelson to nothing more than a special teams guy. He’s caught 4-of-10 targets for 21 yards on the season. Ouch.

 

Malcolm Butler, cornerback, Tennessee Titans

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Tennessee seemingly overpaid for Butler in free agency this past March, signing him to a five-year, $61.25 million after he was benched by the Patriots for the Super Bowl one month earlier. Apparently, the brass in Nashville didn’t get the memo. Outside of a couple big games, Butler had proven to be inconsistent with the Patriots.

Unfortunately, he’s been less than that in his first half season in Tennessee. The 28-year-old cornerback has recorded just five passes defended and one interception in seven games. He’s also given up a 127.5 passer rating when targeted and has yielded five passing touchdowns. That’s just gross.

 

Allen Hurns, wide receiver, Dallas Cowboys

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Owner Jerry Jones and Co. figured they had an adequate replacement for Dez Bryant when they signed Hurns this past spring. We didn’t see that possibility during an injury-plagued two-year span to end his career with the Jaguars. In fact, Hurns tallied a combined 961 yards in 21 games.

It’s been an even bigger struggle for Hurns in his first season with the Cowboys. He’s caught just 13-of-28 passes for 158 yards in seven games. It’s now at the point where Cowboys fans are pushing for rookie Michael Gallup to pass Hurns on the depth chart. With the addition of Amari Cooper, we’re not expecting anywhere near an increase in production from the veteran moving forward on the season.

 

Robert Quinn, defensive end, Miami Dolphins

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The idea behind trading for Robert Quinn this past offseason was to provide pass rush help for Cam Wake. On the surface, it made a ton of sense. The veteran had put up 8.5 sacks for the Rams last season and is a two-time former Pro Bowler. Still just 28 years old, the hope was that Quinn would be able to return to earlier-career form in a scheme that fits his talents better than we saw under Wade Phillips in Los Angeles.

It has not happened. Through the first eight games of the season, he’s recorded just six quarterback hits and one sack. It’s an unfortunate situation given that Quinn’s regression in terms of production coincided with back surgery. He’s also set to count nearly $13 million against the cap next season.

 

Solomon Thomas, defensive end, San Francisco 49ers

49ers defensive lineman Solomon Thomas

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This is looking like a major bust for general manager John Lynch and Co. Potentially playing him out of position, San Francisco has not seen anything of substance from the former No. 3 overall pick in his second NFL season. In fact, Thomas has recorded three total quarterback hits and zero sacks in eight games.

It’s even gotten to the point where the 49ers have given Patriots castoff Cassius Marsh playing time ahead of Thomas in recent weeks. Given he was a high draft pick, it’s not a rush to judgment to conclude Thomas is already a bust.

 

Janoris Jenkins, cornerback, New York Giants

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There’s a reason New York was looking trade Jenkins prior to the Oct. 30 deadline. He’s now a shell of his former self and is playing under a contract that suggests he should be an elite-level cornerback. Both the tape and the stats tell us a vastly different story.

Jenkins has allowed 37 completions on 50 targets for 513 yards on the season. He’s also given up a league-high six touchdowns and opposing quarterbacks boast a 129.4 passer rating when targeting him. Set to count $14.75 million against the cap in each of the next two seasons, he’s been a major bust in New Jersey.

 

Jameis Winston, quarterback, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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It’s quite remarkable to realize just how bad Winston has been thus far this season. Despite missing his first three games to suspension, the fourth-year quarterback leads the NFL with 10 interceptions. He’s also fumbled the ball four times in four games (three starts). To put this into perspective, Winston has either fumbled the ball or thrown an interception on nearly 10 percent of his dropbacks this season.

There’s a reason Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter decided to bench the former No. 1 overall pick in favor of Ryan Fitzpatrick. Add in Winston’s off-field issues, and we wouldn’t be surprised if Tampa Bay moved on from him altogether this coming offseason. He now has bust written all over him.