5 NFL stars ready to shimmer again after down 2019 seasons

Dec 15, 2019; Glendale, AZ, USA; Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) against the Arizona Cardinals at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The 2019 season saw multiple high-end NFL stars take a step back in production with disappointing campaigns. But some are poised to bounce back in a big way with monster 2020 NFL seasons.

Taking a look at players who have both the talent and support to succeed, these five stand out. Here’s a look at NFL stars who are ready to rebound and start shimmering once more during the 2020 NFL campaign.

JuJu Smith-Schuster, wide receiver, Pittsburgh Steelers

Playing without Antonio Brown for the first time in his career, Smith-Schuster was expected to take a huge leap last year. Unfortunately for him, Ben Roethlisberger was injured and missed all but one game due to season-ending elbow surgery. Pittsburgh didn’t have a solid backup plan, and the offense suffered. As a result, Smith-Schuster’s stats took a sizable hit.

Smith-Schuster caught half as many balls per game (3.5 compared to 6.9) last year compared to his huge 2018 season. All told, he tallied just 552 yards on 42 receptions with three touchdowns — all career-low marks. With Big Ben coming back this season and getting rave reviews about his arm strength, Smith-Schuster should reap the rewards.

DeMarcus Lawrence, defensive end, Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys made Lawrence one of the richest players in the NFL last year. They did so to reward him for his incredible pass-rushing production — a premium asset in the NFL these days.

Unfortunately, Lawrence had his worst year since breaking out as a star in 2017. In terms of sack production, Lawrence took a nosedive. He went from racking up 25 sacks from 2017-18 to just five in 2019. While he did register 56 total pressures, all his pass-rushing productivity went down in 2019 compared to the previous two years, per Pro Football Focus.

Adding the likes of Gerald McCoy and Dontari Poe inside were smart moves by Dallas. Both players should help Lawrence get back to double-digit sacks (and then some) in 2020.

Philip Rivers, quarterback, Indianapolis Colts

Rivers was so frustrating to watch last season. He’d make an impossible throw deep downfield, then throw a back-breaking interception (like this). With 23 touchdowns and 20 interceptions, it was arguably his worst season as a pro.

Now with the Colts, Rivers has a chance to have a huge rebound season. Indy has a rock-solid offensive line, loves to pound the rock (and has two talented backs in Jonathan Taylor and Marlon Mack), and elite skill-position players to catch passes from Rivers. Even better, he’s rejoining head coach Frank Reich, who knows how to set him up for success.

Von Miller, outside linebacker, Denver Broncos

For the better part of a decade, Von Miller has been the most lethal speed rusher in the NFL. He racked up at least 10 sacks in every full season he played, his only non-double-digit season came in his suspension-shortened 2013 campaign. Last year, Miller “only” had eight sacks. But beyond the lower sack totals, he also just wasn’t the same impact player we’ve enjoyed watching throughout his career.

This caused Pro Football Focus to wonder if Miller’s time as an elite player is coming to an end.

For the record, this scribe isn’t subscribing to that notion. Instead, I expect Miller, and the entire Broncos defense, to rise again in 2020. Bradley Chubb will be back and healthy. The additions of defensive backs A.J. Bouye and Kareem Jackson will be huge. And Justin Simmons is returning to patrol the back end. Miller should feast.

Baker Mayfield, quarterback, Cleveland Browns

Mayfield’s sophomore slump was pretty significant and well documented. The young quarterback struggled, and he looked miserable doing it. In practically every way, Mayfield saw his production dip, completing 59.4% of his passes for 3,827 yards with 22 touchdowns and 21 interceptions.

There are a few reasons to be optimistic Mayfield will turn it around in 2020.

  • The offensive line will be better.
  • Odell Beckham Jr. will be (presumably) healthy after an injury-plagued 2019 season.
  • Kevin Stefanski has Mayfield working on footwork and technique.

Let’s be honest. The Browns erred badly last year hiring Freddie Kitchens. It was a mess from the start. Now with a more established coach at the helm, perhaps there is a real chance to live up to the hype in 2020.