10 offensive rookies in need of reboot for 2016 season
10 defensive players in need of reboots for 2016 season
By all accounts, wide receiver was supposed to be the position that defined the 2015 NFL draft. That group that was deemed to be so talented, some believed it could rival the 2014 class, which produced stars like Odell Beckham, Mike Evans, Jarvis Landry, Kelvin Benjamin and Martavis Bryant.
Looking back a year later, the 2015 wideouts were a flop. Either through injury, lack of performance or fumbled opportunity, no position group on offense is in more need of a sophomore reboot.
To be fair, not all of last season's receivers will make the list of offensive players in need of a reboot. Players like the Chicago Bears Kevin White and Baltimore Ravens Breshad Perriman will be given a hall pass since their seasons ended with injury before they ever really began. A few of the other big names avoided the list, too – largely because they made late-season pushes to find a groove that made them worthwhile down the stretch. Guys like the Miami Dolphins' DeVante Parker, Tennessee Titans' Dorial Green-Beckham and Carolina Panthers' Devin Funchess had tough starts but flashed in the second half of the season.
As for the other wideouts, several others never came around despite opportunity, and that landed five of them on the list of 10 offensive players in need of a sophomore reboot in 2016.
Among the coveted rookies who are looking for a reset …
There may not have been a bigger disappointment as a rookie last season. The Chargers traded fourth- and fifth-round picks to move up from No. 17 to 15 with the intent of making Gordon an immediate offensive cornerstone. He responded by never looking right as a rookie, averaging 3.5 yards per carry and often lacking burst and decisiveness. He had some troubling ball security issues, too. But nothing has been more stunning than this month's revelation that Gordon's January knee surgery was of the microfracture variety. Until he's back on the field taking hits, it's impossible to know what he'll look like going forward. That will be one of the biggest storylines in San Diego's training camp.
Dorsett was tabbed to be a rotational stretch-the-field guy, someone who could do significant downfield damage in measured opportunities. Unfortunately, the knock on Dorsett was that he had issues adjusting to the physical nature of handsy NFL cornerbacks (in practice and games), and the Colts' offense wasn't imaginative enough to get the ball to him in different ways. A leg fracture in October didn't help his development, either. He worked this offseason to get stronger, which is a positive reaction to his rookie issues. But he also suffered a relatively minor hamstring injury in team activities this month, too. Given Dorsett's finer-tuned physique, it's worth noting that speed players who attempt to add bulk sometimes fall prey to repeated hamstring tweaks. That's the last thing Dorsett needs. For now, the Colts would like to lock him in to all of their three-wideout looks. If that happens, he'll have plenty of chances to bounce back if he's healthy.
Cardinals coach Bruce Arians wasn't exactly impressed with Humphries' effort last season, and it started in training camp. That's when Arians dubbed Humphries "Knee-Deep." What did that mean? Here's how Arians described it last August: “A knee in his ass every day. A foot wasn't going to do it, so I nicknamed him ‘Knee Deep.'" Yeeeeeah. That summed up Humphries' season. Despite being a first-round pick and the Cardinals having offensive line injuries, Humphries was a healthy scratch the entire season. That's about as awful as it can get for a highly drafted rookie tackle. The free-agent departure of Bobby Massie will open the door for a starting spot for Humphries this year, but he'll have to earn it. Arians doesn't mince words, so it should be clear in training camp whether Humphries is still lagging in the motivation department.
Abdullah wasn't awful as a rookie. He had some nice flashes. But he was inconsistent, despite a stronger showing in late-season opportunities. He also fumbled enough that it was a point of necessary improvement this offseason. He could have been used far more as a rookie, but early struggles limited his looks. Some of that could be blamed on less-than-stellar offensive line play, and a scheme that never looked right until a change was made to insert Jim Bob Cooter at coordinator. It's still fair to question whether Abdullah can be a high-volume running back in the NFL. He'll get that chance from the start this year. He should be the No. 1 back, even if free agent Joique Bell eventually returns on a reduced deal (which isn't certain).
Despite the hope that he'd be an immediate cog in the Eagles' offense last season, Agholor had physical and mental hurdles that hampered his adjustment to the NFL. In some ways, the difficulties were fairly garden variety for wide receivers – adjusting to the tougher nature and speed of the NFL and absorbing a new offense. Confidence was a factor, too. All in all, the NFL was a much bigger stage and adjustment than Agholor anticipated. Ultimately, he had to go back to the drawing board this offseason when it came to aspects like diet, study and workout habits. That sounds like a lot, but the Eagles feel like it was the more typical shock/adjustment issues that face NFL rookie receivers. There won't be a lot of patience in Year 2. The Eagles have a significant need for a consistent playmaker next to Jordan Matthews, and they'll be looking at Agholor to take the biggest stride in the wide receiver group.
Erving looked bad as a rookie, splitting time between the two guard spots. He often looked lost, and there was an ugly lowlight when he got pancaked by Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Cam Heyward. That summed up Erving's rookie season, as he got knocked completely over en route to Heyward tackling running back Isaiah Crowell for a 5-yard loss. He also struggled blocking on the field-goal unit, too. In fairness to Erving, he was playing out of position. He is making the move back to center and changed his offseason training facility, heading out to San Diego to work with well-regarded former offensive line coach Hudson Houck. Part of that effort involved reshaping his body to gain more muscle mass while trimming fat. He's expected to report for training camp bigger and stronger, and with a fresh start at center. The Browns are hoping for an entirely different start for Erving in 2016.
At least part of the concern about Smith when he was drafted was how he'd hold up against the physical rigors of the NFL. Not just how his body would respond, but also how he'd handle it mentally when his game needed to expand beyond speed. Well, Smith never got to the point of developing. He missed vital preseason time with an injury to his ribs and then suffered a season-ending ACL tear. In the 10 games he appeared in, he never had a catch longer than 22 yards. So even in limited opportunities, there was no downfield payoff from the most obvious speed component to his game. Now with the ACL recovery, he'll miss more vital time in the offseason program. That's a concerning start for a wideout who needs development in almost every aspect of his game beyond running fast. There's still hope that Smith will become a staple in three-wideout packages once the season starts, but his opportunity to grow has been significantly curbed by his injuries.
There was some excitement in Houston over Strong when he surprisingly dropped into the third round of the NFL draft. With the departure of Andre Johnson, he seemed a natural fit to receive plenty of opportunities to move up the depth chart. Unfortunately, Strong reported to the offseason program woefully out of shape and never got out of coach Bill O'Brien's doghouse. Effort and dedication were problems. He had two notable on-field moments: a 42-yard Hail Mary touchdown catch early in the season and a six-catch performance in the season finale against a Jacksonville Jaguars team that was crumbling into the offseason. He got arrested for marijuana possession in February, and the Texans drafted two more wideouts (Will Fuller and Braxton Miller) to fill out the depth chart next to DeAndre Hopkins. Strong's opportunity is already shrinking before he heads into Season 2.
Williams was a solid short-area guy, but he had a hard time getting opportunities when Crockett Gillmore was healthy and Nick Boyle wasn't suspended. At times, he looks like he can be a special tight end. But he didn't stretch many catches as a rookie, taking only two of his 32 receptions beyond 15 yards. The Ravens feel like he has a much higher level in him, particularly considering his already solid ability to run routes. But Williams still has gains to make in strength and speed, and Baltimore is expecting to see a big jump forward in Year 2. The opportunities will be there. Williams has to show a better ability to take the conservative plays and turn them into something bigger.
The Steelers drafted Coates last year specifically because they feared Martavis Bryant was likely going to be suspended the first four games of the 2015 season. Unfortunately, Coates had problems with the complexities of defensive coverages and also wasn't in top-flight shape for his position. He was basically getting fatigued physically and mentally early in the season and it took him time to adjust. That led to him getting buried at the bottom of offensive coordinator Todd Haley's depth chart. By the time he was turning a corner, Bryant had returned and the wide receivers ahead of him had solidified their roles. The window of opportunity for an impact had passed. With Bryant potentially facing a one-year suspension, the Steelers are looking at Coates to make a big jump forward. They have already been talking him up to raise his confidence level, too. At the very least, Coates is going to get his chances to play, which is a big progression from his rookie season.