Predicting the NFL's Biggest 2014 Disappointments at Every Position
The NFL season will soon be upon us. This time of year marks something very important for NFL fans: It’s the point of eternal hope and optimism. Every team has dedicated significant time and resources to aligning their rosters to win. Because let’s be honest, when it comes right down to it, the Super Bowl is what it's all about.
However, for many teams things never quite work out. As the old saying goes, the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.
And, in many cases, things go wrong because of players. Yes, coaches get fired every season when their teams fall short. But that's because you just can’t fire every player who underperforms.
Every year there are players who enter the season with high hopes only to end as disappointments. But what types of players are most likely to make this list?
There are the guys who have a trend of underperforming, but remain propped up by the media. Players who find their way to new teams. Young players who were drafted too high.
Oh, and those players who are good, but aren’t playing well enough to justify their extravagant contracts. And finally, there are always those players who just can’t stay out of trouble long enough to be great.
So with that, let’s take a look at one guy per position who enters preseason with lots of hype, but promises to disappoint in 2014.
Team and player statistics courtesy of NFL.com
Salary cap numbers courtesy of OverTheCap.com
Quarterback: Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys
It seems like this conversation happens every season. Just how good is Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo? The answer to this question depends greatly on whom you ask.
After putting together three straight 8-8 seasons, it is a make-or-break campaign for the 34-year-old quarterback. Many Cowboys fans want him gone now, while others are convinced that the woes of this franchise fall everywhere else. The truth likely falls somewhere in between.
Nevertheless, looking at Romo’s numbers, there are a few that stand out. And, unfortunately, they are the types of stats that indicate he is simply going to continue to regress in crucial areas. If you believe that, then you must understand that this Cowboys team is never going to make any real progress.
Here are a couple of fascinating 2013 stats that stand out in Romo’s game:
Romo’s quarterback rating on third down was 76.7. By contrast, his ratings on first and second down were 102.1 each. The drop-off is staggering. As a point of comparison, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had a third-down rating of 91.0, which is nearly identical to his first-down rating, and actually higher than his second-down rating by just over two points.
A second area of Romo’s game that is concerning is playing with a lead. When Romo had a lead of between nine and 16 points, his quarterback rating was 76.5. That was a full 14.0 points lower than his rating when the lead was eight points or less.
2014 looks to be the year when Romo’s lack of success is going to finally catch up to him. Even Romo understands that the Cowboys' success hinges on his performance. NFL Media's Desmond Purnell talked to Romo about this pressure:
If I don't get better, it doesn't help our football team. We weren't good enough before and it just means that I have to be a better player to help this team get to where we are trying to go and that's my ultimate goal each year.
However, can anyone really expect Romo to suddenly elevate his game, at this point in his career, coming off back surgery? Not likely. No, Cowboys fans everywhere who are holding hope for Romo are going to end up with a feeling similar to the after effects of eating a bad plate of Tex-Mex.
Running Back: Chris Johnson, New York Jets
The New York Jets are hoping that a change of zip code will solve what ails running back Chris Johnson. They are counting on somehow capturing a little magic from 2009, when Johnson rushed for 2,006 yards.
Unfortunately, when you hit your career peek in year two, there’s really no going back. Johnson milked that 2009 season as long as he could with the Titans, and when they finally realized his production was never going to come close to his 2009 performance, they let him walk.
So now the Jets are rolling the dice on a 28-year-old running back with a surgically-repaired knee and dwindling stats. Will Johnson add a dimension to the Jets running game with that speed? Erik Frenz of Bleacher Report cites a stat that suggests maybe not.
In 2013, Bilal Powell and Chris Ivory combined for 33 runs of 10 yards or more on 358 carries (9.2%). Chris Johnson had 23 on 276 (8.3%).— Erik Frenz (@ErikFrenz) June 13, 2014
No, the Jets are more likely to get the running back from 2012-13 who averaged two yards or less per carry 44.7 percent of the time, according to Mike Tanier of SportsOnEarth.com. Disappointment might not be a strong enough word for how Jets fans are going to feel.
Wide Receiver: Josh Gordon, Cleveland Browns
Sometimes trying to sort out the reasons for predicting a player’s failure is a challenge. It requires statistics and analysis. It requires one to really delve into the “whys” of a player’s successes and failures to determine future success.
However, that’s not the case for Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon. No, to predict his downfall in 2014, all you have to do is understand that he can’t stay out of his own way long enough to succeed.
ESPN.com’s T.J. Quinn and Don Van Natta Jr. reported that sources divulged to "Outside the Lines" that Gordon faces the possibility of a season-long suspension for his latest violation of the league drug policy.
Two sources told "Outside the Lines" on Friday that Gordon's latest violation is the result of marijuana being found during a drug test. One source said Gordon received a letter in early winter from a league physician stating he had failed a test. A second letter, informing Gordon that he faced a 16-game suspension but had the right to appeal, was sent in late April.
It seems there’s little doubt Gordon will be suspended for a portion of this season. That alone earns him a gold star for this list. However, if he’s suspended for the entirety of the year, it will be crushing for the Browns. All the talent in the world can’t fix poor choices.
Offensive Tackle: D’Brickashaw Ferguson, New York Jets
When the New York Jets drafted D’Brickashaw Ferguson with the No. 4 pick in the 2006 NFL draft, he was going to revolutionize the position. His mix of size and athleticism was going to force defenses to change in order to account for him.
Unfortunately, as we enter 2014, what we see is something very different. Ferguson’s game has slipped at a career point when most tackles are coming into their own. According to ProFootballFocus.com (subscription required), Ferguson allowed eight sacks and 43 hurries in 2013. Both of these numbers place Ferguson squarely in the middle of the pack among NFL tackles.
Can Ferguson turn things around in 2014? It doesn’t seem likely. Ferguson has never played up to his draft status and if trends continue, he will again end up as a serious disappointment in 2014.
With a cap number of $11.70 million in both 2014 and 2015, it will take a monumental turnaround to be anything but a disappointment.
Tight End: Vernon Davis, San Francisco 49ers
There is nothing that can mess up a player’s mojo faster than contract concerns. This is what puts San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis on this list. According to Comcast SportsNet's Matt Maiocco, Davis has so far opted out of voluntary workouts this offseason. This is likely a statement of his dissatisfaction for his new contract.
For all the talk about Davis as an elite tight end, it is surprising that he has never had 80 receptions in a season, or cracked the 1,000 yards receiving mark either. At 30, it's hard to look at him as a long-term sort of player, so his demand for a new contract is a little puzzling.
There’s really no good ending to this situation for the 49ers. If the 49ers cave and give Davis a contract extension, he’s going to play like a guy with less incentive. If they choose not to pay him now and he goes on to play very well, he drives up his price.
The 49ers are in a position where they could be forced to give big money to an aging tight end. Either way, this is going to end up a disappointment on some level.
Defensive Line: Dion Jordan, Miami Dolphins
Along with the quarterback position, pass rushers were among some of the most hotly debated players of the 2013 NFL draft. One in particular who was rather polarizing was defensive end Dion Jordan. Jordan was selected by the Miami Dolphins with the No. 3 overall pick.
Being drafted that high alone makes expectations unfairly high. When you figure in that Jordan hit the league as a full-blown "tweener" at 6’6” and 248 pounds, it's acceptable to give him something of a pass for his lack of impact in 2013.
However, looking ahead to 2014, the hype train is running full steam ahead. According to Anthony Chiang of the Palm Beach Post, Jordan gained 15-plus pounds of beef this offseason. The Dolphins certainly hope the added weight will help Jordan suddenly become a dominant pass-rushing defensive end.
One potential hiccup in this grand plan could be the fault of the Dolphins coaches. Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald reported in his blog that Jason Taylor thinks Jordan isn’t being used properly by the coaching staff.
Joe Philbin likes the idea of having Dion Jordan play special teams because “he’s a big guy that can run and is hard to block.” But Jason Taylor, a guest coach during the offseason program, told the Dolphins-owned radio show that there is “not a whole lot of time” to work with Jordan on pass rush moves because a lot of his practice time is being spent on special teams. That’s not ideal, obviously.
"Dion is bigger than me, more athletic than I am," Taylor said. "He's going to be stronger. He's so willing to learn. Anything I tell him or suggest, he's like a sponge."
High praise coming from Taylor, but the coaches seem to be seeing something different. Jordan’s lack of polish and technique as a pass-rusher was an area of concern. This doesn’t bode well for his near future as a pass-rusher. He should be a major disappointment for Dolphins fans.
Linebacker: Tamba Hali, Kansas City Chiefs
It is never too soon to start putting nails in the metaphorical coffin of a player. The second that the Kansas City Chiefs drafted defensive end Dee Ford in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft, the clock on Tamba Hali started ticking.
Make no mistake, Ford is a special player. And Hali is 30 years old, with a cap hit approaching $12 million in each of the next two seasons. As great as Hali has been the past several seasons, his relative value is going to dip with Ford on the roster.
It doesn’t help Hali that fellow pass-rushing outside linebacker Justin Houston is working for a big new contract and is five years younger than Hali. The future of this group is Houston and Ford, and Hali is going to need to accept that sooner rather than later.
When you have a player who draws the kind of praise that Ford has early on, it’s hard to think Hali will have a season like 2013. Here’s what Chiefs beat writer Herbie Teope tweeted regarding some early reaction to Hali's new competition at linebacker:
Chiefs LB Joe Mays on OLB Dee Ford: “That guy is explosive. He’s quick off the ball. He kind of reminds me of Von Miller.”— Herbie Teope (@HerbieTeope) June 10, 2014
Defensive Back: Troy Polamalu, Pittsburgh Steelers
Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu had something of a resurgence in 2013. After a horrid 2012 season, Polamalu returned to get a full 16 starts the following year. His 69 total tackles, two sacks and two interceptions were all among the tops on the team.
Nevertheless, much of Polamalu’s success was based on scheme rather than skill. In many cases, Polamalu was lined up as a nickel linebacker, just hovering around the line of scrimmage. This was good for the stat line, but really hurt the defense overall.
This season the Steelers are going to have to find ways to stay in base defense as much as possible, and that could mean relegating Polamalu to the bench late in his career. With players like Mike Mitchell, Shamarko Thomas and Robert Golden all itching for reps, the Steelers have to get the best athletes on the field. Unfortunately, that means less Polamalu.
2014 might be the last season Steelers fans get to see Polamalu in the black and gold, and a reduced role would be far from an ideal way to end his career. Pittsburgh fans got a taste of something approaching the old Polamalu last season, but the team understands there are now better options on the roster.
Punter: Britton Colquitt, Denver Broncos
Kicker: Sebastian Janikowski, Oakland Raiders
It is hard to pinpoint a punter and kicker to be a disappointment before the season begins. It seems that every year kicking and punting in the league is a total crapshoot.
Denver punter Britton Colquitt has always been somewhat underwhelming. For a punter who does half of his damage in an atmosphere similar to the moon's, you’d expect his punting average to be much better.
Colquitt has been able to get away with his lackluster performance because any team with Peyton Manning is going to score plenty. When you figure in that Colquitt is the highest paid punter in the league, odds are good that he’s going to underwhelm in 2014.
It's easier to put a kicker on this list. Recently Oakland Raiders kicker Sebastian Janikowski has become more of a novelty in the league than anything else. 2013 was brutal for Janikowski: A 70.0 percent on field goal tries is nearly 10 percent lower than his career average. With 14 years in the league, the Polish Cannon is on his way out. Look for another abysmal season in 2014.