It happens every single season around the NFL. For whatever reason, certain star players fail to live up to expectations. In some cases, the player himself is to blame for struggles. In other cases, teams fail to put said player in position to excel.
This season is going to be no different. From a running back in Buffalo being tasked with doing too much to a quarterback in the very same AFC East, there’s going to be some surprise struggles around the NFL.
Keep in mind, the term “struggle” is naturally subjective. A future Hall of Fame quarterback not performing up to his level is good enough to be the starter on all but a handful of teams. Likewise, a former All-Pro cornerback coming off a serious injury might in fact struggle out of the gate before turning it up later in the season.
It’s in this that we take a look at 12 star NFL players set to struggle this season.
LeSean McCoy, running back, Buffalo Bills
This isn’t as much about McCoy’s potential legal troubles off the field, though, that might play a role. Instead, it’s more about how the Bills are going to rely on the six-time Pro Bowl running back. Coming off a 2017 campaign in which he put up nearly 1,600 total yards, McCoy is not in the best of situations in Western New York.
No matter who wins the starting job between Josh Allen, A.J. McCarron and Nathan Peterman, no opposing team is going to respect Buffalo’s passing game. That will ultimately lead to defenses stacking the box against the now 30-year-old McCoy. We’ve seen just how that has impacted great running backs of his ilk in the past. It could come home to roost for Shady in 2018.
Jameis Winston, quarterback, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Unlike McCoy, Winston’s off-field issues could very well impact his performance in 2018. Heck, it already has. The former No. 1 pick is suspended for the first three games of the season following assault allegations that were levied against him. Even during the early stages of training camp, Ryan Fitzpatrick is receiving first-team reps over Winston.
The issue here is distraction. Once he returns from suspension, Winston will still be asked about the allegations. Proving himself to be immature in the past, we can’t be confident he’ll respond well. And coming off a 2017 campaign in which he posted a 3-10 record as a starter, we’re not entirely sure that there’s much confidence in Winston from a locker room and front office standpoint.
Landon Collins, safety, New York Giants
Much to his credit, Collins is not balking at that lack of a long-term deal as he prepares for a contract year. The former All-Pro is now out here to prove himself as among the game’s best safeties and cash in big time. Though, there’s one issue with this. Collins does not have the help in New York’s secondary to repeat his ball-hawking brilliance from two seasons ago.
Last year saw Collins’ overall numbers regress primarily due to him being tasked with doing too much. He recorded six passes defended and two interceptions one year after defending 13 passes and putting up five picks. With New York slated to start a combination of Eli Apple and William Gay at corner, Collins won’t be in position to be the ball hawk we know he can be. It’s that simple.
Andrew Luck, quarterback, Indianapolis Colts
Luck might be completely healthy for training camp, but that doesn’t mean there’s not going to be any rust on his part. Here’s a guy that has not thrown an in-game pass since the 2016 season. Since, he’s undergone shoulder surgery and suffered multiple setbacks in his return to the field. Who is to say Luck is going to be anywhere near ready to hit the ground running come Week 1?
Equally as important, he’s now playing under a completely different scheme with first-year head coach Frank Reich. Indy has capable pass-catchers in that of tight ends Jack Doyle and Eric Ebron as well as wide receiver T.Y. Hilton. It still boasts an unproven rushing attack and will be relying on youngsters along the offense line. All of this will equate to struggles for the former No. 1 overall pick.
Jason Pierre-Paul, EDGE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Pass rushers changing teams and schemes this late in their careers tend to struggle out of the gate. Now working under Buccaneers defensive coordinator Mike Smith after the Giants traded Pierre-Paul to Tampa Bay, it’s an open question just how much of an early impact the former Pro Bowler will make.
Pierre-Paul, 29, has recorded a solid 15.5 sacks over the past two seasons. Though, he’s no longer the dominant pre-injury player we saw years ago in Jersey. In fact, the former first-round pick has put up one double-digit sack campaign since his breakout 2011 performance. We don’t envision that changing in 2018.
A.J. Green, wide receiver, Cincinnati Bengals
Give Green a competent quarterback, and he’ll automatically regain form as one of the top wide receivers in the NFL. Unfortunately for Green and the Bengals, Andy Dalton has not been that guy. He tossed for just 3,320 yards last season, accumulating a sub 75 passer rating when targeting Green. That’s just not going to get it done.
For his part, 29-year-old Green is coming off the worst statistical performance of his career. He tallied 1,078 yards while catching just 52.4 percent of his targets. Add in Dalton’s disastrous performance under center and Green entering his age-30 season, and there’s every reason for skepticism on this front.
Richard Sherman, cornerback, San Francisco 49ers
Indicating a specific player is going to struggle remains an exercise in subjectivity. Tom Brady having a down season would be equal to the best performance of Blake Bortles’ career. The same could be said for Sherman, who we still envision to be a top-10 cornerback in his first season with the 49ers. The issue here is that he’s learning a new scheme in a new city while recovering from a ruptured Achilles. At 30 years old, that’s certainly not a good sign.
Surprisingly, Sherman was able to start training camp active. He’s also looked darn good in limited snaps. The issue here outside of age and injury is that Sherman is now being tasked with showing leadership on a young secondary. Sure safeties Adrian Colbert and Jaquiski Tartt are good, up-and-coming players. They’re just not yet at the level of Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor. For Sherman, the start of this season will be a learning curve. That should lead to some struggles.
Dak Prescott, quarterback, Dallas Cowboys
This is going to be a do-or-die season for the third-year quarterback. Now set to take the field without franchise stalwarts Dez Bryant and Jason Witten, Prescott will be forced to overcome a questionable sophomore campaign with an unproven slate of pass catchers. Given that he qualifies for an extension following the 2018 season, the pressure is squarely on Prescott. Just ask the Cowboys’ brass.
We know full well that he struggled connecting with Bryant over the past two years. We also know that Bryant-led drama might have played a role in Dak’s struggles. Even then, the tape doesn’t lie. Prescott struggled with confidence when it came to throwing outside last season. He doesn’t have a true No. 1 receiver to go to. And with Dallas likely focusing more on Ezekiel Elliott, there’s very little reason to believe Prescott will be able to up his game from a season ago. That’s the harsh reality of the situation.
Khalil Mack, EDGE, Oakland Raiders
Holding out for a new contract is one thing. Doing so during the first training camp under a new regime and in a new defense is a completely different thing. A former NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Mack is already behind the proverbial eight-ball in learning Paul Guenther’s defense.
He also has yet to speak with new Raiders head coach Jon Gruden. Of the old school mentality, it’s not yet known how Gruden will take to this. But he’s already had at least one contentious relationship in his short time back with the Raiders. This could all potentially lead to struggles for Mack during the 2018 campaign.
Russell Wilson, quarterback, Seattle Seahawks
Since entering the league back in 2012, Wilson has been sacked more than any other quarterback in the NFL. Last season alone, the mobile signal caller went down a whopping 43 times on just 596 drop backs. Unfortunately for Wilson, it looks like he’ll be running for his life again in 2018.
The only plus-level offensive lineman on the roster is left tackle Duane Brown. It’s not yet known how he’ll take to Seattle’s blocking scheme after being acquired midway through last season. The likes of Germain Ifedi and D.J. Fluker are walking turnstiles along the line. Meanwhile, Seattle lost tight end Jimmy Graham in free agency and has an unproven running back group behind Wilson. Facing stiff defenses in the NFC West, we’re expecting surprising struggles from Wilson this season.
Le’Veon Bell, running back, Pittsburgh Steelers
Bell may have skirted what seemed to be inevitable struggles after holding out throughout training camp last year. Most of the time skill-position players holdout until Week 1, they struggle mightily early on. In fact, injury becomes an overriding concern for teams. Could this come home to roost for Bell in 2018?
We also have to worry about whether his heart is going to be in it. The All-Pro back has been mired in one of the ugliest contract stalemates in recent league history. His agent has already gone on record saying this will likely be Bell’s final season in Pittsburgh. There’s certainly a question about whether the running back will be in position to put up the same workload we’ve seen in recent season. In the process, this could lead to some struggles on his part.
Tom Brady, quarterback, New England Patriots
This is more about the Patriots than it is Tom Brady. We’re still fully expecting Brady to put up north of 4,000 passing yards while challenging for the 30-touchdown plateau. In no way does this mean he’s going to be as good as we’ve seen in previous seasons. Why? New England’s talent on offense took a major hit this offseason.
It started with the Patriots losing left tackle Nate Solder and starting running back Dion Lewis in free agency. The offseason of change was then brought to a whole new level with the trade of Brandin Cooks to the Rams. That came mere months before No. 1 wide receiver Julian Edelman was suspended for the first four games of the 2018 season. The moral of the story? Brady needs to continue being a deity-like figure on the field for this Pats offense to avoid taking a major step back. Entering his age-41 season, that just might be too much to ask.