12 NFL Players Set for Bounce-Back Seasons
The 2012 season was great for some, and not so great for others. That leaves a long list of NFL players looking to hit the rebound during the 2013 campaign. Who tops the list?
Be it through injury, poor schemes or just bad fits on the depth chart, these 12 players found themselves on the outside looking in on elite 2012 seasons.
If you're Larry Fitzgerald, this next season brings a chance for a rebirth thanks to a new quarterback. If you're Darrelle Revis, this is your chance to show the football world that you're still elite post-injury and in a new scheme.
No matter the reason, these 12 players are primed for big seasons in 2013.
12. Nnamdi Asomugha, San Francisco 49ers
A change from Philadelphia to San Francisco means a different scheme and a different philosophy for cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. That means a big improvement.
The Eagles never got the elite production from Asomugha that was promised when they signed him from the Oakland Raiders, partially due to his own abilities and partially due to being a poor fit in the team's schemes.
Asomugha struggled without safety help and when the opposing offense could stop the team's pass rush. In San Francisco, he'll have much more support.
Thanks to the Smith Bros. pass rush—courtesy of Aldon and Justin—the 49ers have the pressure up front to disrupt offenses. And thanks to the safety play of Donte Whitner and incoming rookie Eric Reid, they have the range in the defensive backfield to help Asomugha over the top.
11. Troy Polamalu, Pittsburgh Steelers
Troy Polamalu struggled through a rough 2012 season, but now healthy and with a rejuvenated front seven heading into 2013, this could be his signature season.
The key to Polamalu having a bounce-back season is his health. That's something he wasn't able to do in 2012, as he missed nine games.
Coming back from the calf injury that kept him out for the majority of the season will be tough, but it's not an ACL injury or complex rehabilitation. In Week 16, he did show his old skill set in picking off the Cleveland Browns.
With the Steelers now having more talent up front—thanks to Jarvis Jones and the team's developing young players on the defensive line—Polamalu should have a threatening pass rush in front of him forcing quarterbacks into mistakes.
That leads to big plays for the veteran safety and a bounce-back season.
10. Jason Peters, Philadelphia Eagles
Injury ended Jason Peters' 2012 season after we ranked him the top left tackle in the NFL based on the 2011 campaign. Now he's back and ready to prove his worth.
An Achilles injury will make things interesting for Peters as he comes back in 2013—as will the team's addition of first-round pick Lane Johnson with the No. 4 overall pick in the draft—but all expectations are for the former All-Pro and top-ranked left tackle to return to his old form. If so, the rest of the NFC East will have a big problem on their hands.
Coming off an Achilles injury isn't easy, but Peters will have had a full year to recover, and the team can safely assume that he'll be protecting Michael Vick again in 2013.
9. Jake Long, St. Louis Rams
Injuries kept Jake Long from living up to his All-Pro status the last two seasons, but a healthy frame and a new location should lead to the premier left tackle finding his way back to elite status.
Sometimes all it takes is a new home for a player to find his old status, and if Long can get back to where he was previously, the Rams will have one of the game's premier players at left tackle.
Before injuries started to take their toll on his play, Long was an example of how elite left tackles should look and play. Les Snead and Co. are betting on him getting back to that level in 2013.
All Long needs to do, theoretically, is buck the numerous injuries that have held him back. If he can do that, and that "if" may be large, he has the technique to once again be elite on the left side.
8. Eric Berry, Kansas City Chiefs
Injuries kept Eric Berry from becoming the elite safety many expected him to be in 2012, but now that he's completely recovered from an ACL injury, the expectations are back. And they're big.
Berry was a top-10 pick for the Chiefs in the 2011 NFL draft, and he's been a Pro Bowler in each of his two seasons that he's been healthy, so we know the talent is there.
However, there are those—myself included—who feel the Pro Bowl is more popularity contest than reward for the best players each season. Berry has never been an All-Pro, and those who studied his play would agree that his performance in 2012 wasn't at a high level.
That said, Berry certainly has the talent to earn a Pro Bowl invite based on merit and not popularity. Now that he is a full year removed from the ACL injury, expect a nice bounce-back in his coverage and range.
7. LaMarr Woodley, Pittsburgh Steelers
LaMarr Woodley wasn't at his best in 2012, and the gauntlet was thrown down by anonymous teammates through the media this offseason to make sure he knew it. Now he'll be motivated as a team leader to produce at the level we are used to seeing.
Being called out by nameless teammates should be enough to motivate Woodley, but if that isn't enough, there's the issue of replacing James Harrison as the team's best linebacker.
Woodley must step up if the Steelers are to make it back to the playoffs in 2013. That means more than the career-low four sacks he turned in during the 2012 season.
Talent isn't an issue, but if you believe anonymous teammates, his work ethic in the weight room was. That's an easily correctable problem for Woodley and the Steelers.
6. Terrell Suggs, Baltimore Ravens
Take a look at the playoffs from the 2012 season, and you see Terrell Suggs making plays and having a big impact in the Baltimore Ravens defense. Go back to the regular season, and instead you see a player shaking off the rust of a torn Achilles tendon and then a triceps injury.
It wouldn't be fair to Suggs to look at his 2012 film and think that's the type of player he will be once fully healthy in 2013. Instead, expect him to once again be the dominant hybrid defender the defense relied on for so much in previous seasons.
If Suggs' 13 tackles and two sacks in the playoffs are a preview of what we can expect to see moving forward, the Ravens could have the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year.
5. Michael Oher, Baltimore Ravens
Michael Oher has played both right and left tackle during his career with the Baltimore Ravens with varying degrees of success. Now that the team has committed to keeping him on the right side, expect to see Oher back to his dominant self.
The team's use of Oher during the regular season as a left tackle produced solid results, but when moved to the right side during the playoffs, both he and the offense were at their best.
Oher is a right tackle by trade, and his strength and heavier feet are much better suited to the strong side. Now that the Ravens have recognized this and made moves to keep him there, Oher will once again be at an elite level.
4. Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals
No one in Arizona should be happier to see Carson Palmer at quarterback than Larry Fitzgerald.
Reminiscent of Barry Sanders in Detroit, Fitzgerald has been wasting away in Arizona with quarterbacks like Max Hall, John Skelton, Kevin Kolb and Ryan Lindley.
Now that he has a legitimate NFL starting quarterback tasked with getting the ball his way, Fitzgerald should once again be putting up the kind of numbers that make players All-Pros.
With Bruce Arians bringing his downfield passing attack to Arizona, and with Palmer's big arm and an improved offensive line in front of him, the Cardinals passing game should be much different this time around.
Fitzgerald is the player who stands to gain the most from that.
3. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars
It's amazing what a healthy body, a first-round pick at offensive tackle and a new offensive scheme can do for a running back. Maurice Jones-Drew is about to find out.
The Jacksonville Jaguars made many changes in the offseason, but two stand out as major benefits for the running back.
The first was the hiring of Jedd Fisch as offensive coordinator. His work as the offensive coordinator at the University of Miami didn't produce national championships, but you saw an up-tempo offense with nice creativity under his reign. That's what the Jaguars need.
The second big move was the drafting of offensive tackle Luke Joeckel with the No. 2 overall pick. With Joeckel and Eugene Monroe at the tackle spots, the run game will be a major aspect of the Jacksonville offense.
As long as Jones-Drew can hold up after an injury-plagued 2012 season, he'll be the man to reap the benefits.
2. Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers
Anyone who has watched Philip Rivers over the last two seasons has seen him dodging ghosts and playing frustrated football. That should change in 2013.
The additions of Mike McCoy (head coach), Ken Whisenhunt (offensive coordinator) and Joe D'Alessandris (offensive line) will make Rivers' life easier and should help him regain the comfort he felt in the Chargers backfield during the 2010 season.
The coaching changes will help immensely, but so will the addition of first-rounder D.J. Fluker at tackle. While Fluker alone can't plug all the holes in the San Diego line, he'll at least give Rivers a bit of comfort.
Any small changes will help, as Rivers will benefit from having more time in the pocket.
1. Darrelle Revis, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The NFL's best cornerback—and maybe one of its best players—will be back in 2013 with a new location and a newly repaired knee. But will he be back back?
Darrelle Revis is now a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and their all-star secondary. There he'll join Dashon Goldson, Mark Barron and Eric Wright in a defensive backfield loaded with Pro Bowl players and former first-round draft picks.
The pressure will be on Revis, not his teammates.
When you refer to your coverage as "Revis Island," there will be expectations, and no player in the NFL will be facing higher expectations in 2013 than Revis. That pressure may be what he needs to motivate him to get back to his high level of play.
If so, and if the Buccaneers pass rush can help out their talented secondary, he could be in for his best season yet.
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