10 NFL Players Who Need to Show More This Season
No professional sport sees more roster shuffling year in and year out like the NFL. The physical nature of the game makes players expendable, putting incredible pressure on them to perform at the highest level every week.
Guaranteed money aside, every contract is essentially a one-year deal. Sign a fat six-year contract and underperform in the first season? You're likely looking for a new address come free agency.
That being said, here are 10 players (in no particular order) who need to show more than they did in 2013 to live up to their salary. Players who spent most of the season injured weren't included.
All salary cap information provided by Spotrac.com and OverTheCap.com.
Matt Schaub, QB, Oakland Raiders
Matt Schaub needs to show more by throwing fewer touchdowns...to the other team.
An above-average starting quarterback for the Texans for five seasons, Schaub had a disastrous go of it last year. He set an NFL record by throwing an interception for a touchdown in four consecutive games. The former Virginia Cavalier lost his starting job to previously untested Case Keenum after throwing nine interceptions in the first six games.
Finishing the season on a 14-game losing streak, Houston didn't fare much differently whether Schaub was in the huddle or on the sideline. He finished with 14 total picks after getting back on the field for a couple of spot starts and some late-game work. only Eli Manning, Geno Smith and Terrelle Pryor finished with a higher interception percentage, per SportingCharts.com.
Fortunately for Texans fans, Schaub is Oakland's problem now (though the team owes him $10.5 million in dead money). Schaub, with an $8 million cap hit compared to $10.8 million a year ago, has nowhere to go but up. The 2013 season was by far his worst as a Texan based on just about every quarterback measurable. His 61.2 completion percentage, 2,310 passing yards, 10 touchdowns and 6.5 yards per attempt were all the lowest of his career as a starter, or close to it.
Raiders coach Dennis Allen has said he's "all-in" on Schaub, according to ESPN.com's Jim Trotter. Reports out of Oakland's camp suggest the 33-year-old has put 2013 behind him. Per Jerry McDonald of the Bay Area News Group, Schaub has looked sharp leading the team's offense in two-minute drills.
DeAngelo Williams/Jonathan Stewart, RB, Carolina
The Carolina Panthers surprised a lot of people last year by going 12-4 and winning the NFC South for the first time since 2008.
Most of the credit goes to a stud defensive performance and Cam Newton's heroics. Yes, the Panthers finished 11th in team rushing with 2,026 yards. But Newton accounted for nearly 30 percent of that production and was the team's high rusher in six regular-season games.
DeAngelo Williams looked a far cry from his 2008 self. Per Pete Damilatis of Pro Football Focus, "It’s been a long time since Williams led all halfbacks with 63 forced missed tackles and a +13.8 running grade in 2008; he posted 35 missed tackles and a -0.9 grade this season."
Williams, the 10th-highest paid back in 2013, finished 22nd in yards per rushing attempt (4.2) and found the end zone just four times. He and Jonathan Stewart—who combined for just one 100-yard game last year—combine for a $10.6 million cap hit this year. Only Buffalo, Kansas City, Minnesota and Philadelphia pay their running backs more. They also all had a 1,000-yard rusher, save for the Bills, who nearly had two.
Stewart managed to get on the field for only six games in 2013, his second campaign missing significant time. With running backs going out of style, paying a backup $3 million for 244 total yards and $4.6 million this season has to sting.
A resurgence in the Panthers' running game is vital to the team repeating its success of a year ago. An already bare cupboard of receivers in 2013 has undergone a complete overhaul, though not necessarily for the better. Gone are Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell and Ted Ginn, replaced by rookie Kelvin Benjamin and middling veterans Jerricho Cotchery, Jason Avant and Tiquan Underwood.
Suffice to say if Carolina doesn't get either 2008 DeAngelo Williams or 2009 Jonathan Stewart, Newton will have a long season.
DeMeco Ryans, LB, Philadelphia
The good guys over at Pro Football Focus do an incredible job evaluating performances that the average fan has trouble seeing with the naked eye.
Assessing linebackers is one of those difficult propositions, and DeMeco Ryans drastically failed PFF's measurements in 2013. A team-high 127 tackles, paired with four sacks, sounds like a busy season on the surface. Add two interceptions and eight passes defensed and you've got reporters calling 2013 the best season of his career. But it seems Ryans did little more than make the tackles he was in position for. PFF's John Breitenbach writes of Ryans:
Ultimately he finished with a Run Stop Percentage of just 7.5, good enough for only 28 out of 40 qualifying inside linebackers. It was difficult for Ryans in coverage too, allowing a 94.1 QB rating. To cap everything off he really struggled to generate anything as a pass rusher (-9.1) finishing last in that department at his position a good -5.0 below anyone else.
At a $6.7 million cap hit, Ryans was the fourth-highest paid inside linebacker last year and his number jumps to $6.9 in 2014. On the field for a league-high 1,160 defensive snaps last season, Ryans will have to become a more efficient player after turning 30 this offseason.
Carlos Rogers, CB, Oakland
When you think of the San Francisco 49ers you think defense. Patrick Willis, NaVarro Bowman, Donte Whitner...the list goes on and on.
Perhaps that's why Carlos Rogers switched Bay Area addresses this offseason. With a $7.3 million cap hit in 2013, 10th among cornerbacks, he couldn't cut it in red and gold. According to PFF, Rogers' 1.31 yards per coverage snap when lined up on the outside came close to the 1.63 cutoff for the bottom 15 cornerbacks in the league.
Mike Jenkins and Tracy Porter weren't any better for the Raiders last year, and on a one-year, $2.5 million deal Rogers can provide great value. He is still only three years removed from a Pro Bowl season of six interceptions and 19 passes defensed. And Rogers still excels in the slot. As Bryan Knowles points out on Bleacher Report, he was "tied for the league lead in cover snaps per reception in the slot—opposing players only caught a pass once for every 11.6 routes they ran against Rogers."
Except, according to Jason Leskiw of SFBay.ca, the 33-year-old has looked out of shape this summer:
His gut is, well, noticeable — and has been for some time. During organized team activities in May, it was there. And Rogers had time to turn that tea kettle into tea, and hasn’t...
Rogers was one of the first Raiders players to head back to his Napa hotel room following Thursday’s practice, while other younger players put in extra work.
That might not mean much to those who focus on past statistics alone, but for a team looking to re-establish itself as a force in the NFL, it’s not good.
With new pieces up and down the Raiders roster, Rogers will look to push the influx of young talent and keep himself on the field for at least one more season.
Chris Johnson, RB, New York Jets
This one was almost too easy.
From CJ2K in 2009 to CJBarely1K each of the last four seasons, Chris Johnson likely has one more shot at a starting job in the NFL. Johnson was one of only two backs with an eight-digit cap hit in 2013. Though he was one of only 13 backs to cross the 1,000-yard mark, he did it with a paltry 3.9 yards per rush. To be fair, this came on a torn meniscus.
With a more pedestrian $2.8 million hit, and paired with a mobile quarterback (be it Geno Smith or Michael Vick), Johnson has an opportunity to raise eyebrows once again. He still possesses the lightning speed that made him a SportsCenter sensation once upon a time.
But the run-heavy Jets will likely produce an anemic passing threat, which doesn't bode well for a back who's lost his tackle-shedding, home-run ability. He finished 47th out of 49 running backs in PFF's "elusive rating" and 45th in yards after contact.
Brandon Flowers, CB, San Diego
Another cap casualty in coverage, Brandon Flowers went from the top of the cornerback world to the bottom in 16 games.
According to PFF, Flowers surrendered a 101.6 quarterback rating when thrown to. Not great for a top-15 paid corner. Oddly, he still made the Pro Bowl for the first time in arguably his worst season.
The Virginia Tech product missed three games early with a sore knee that hobbled him throughout the season, and it showed. He got torched by Dez Bryant to the tune of nine catches, 141 yards and a touchdown in Week 2. Later in the season he surrendered scores of 41 and 37 yards to the Broncos' Eric Decker and got burned by his new team.
Ask Brandon Flowers who the best cornerback in football is and he'll tell you it's Brandon Flowers. That's why he chose to sign with San Diego after Kansas City surprisingly released him this summer. One word: revenge. He'll have that chance and much more with his 5'9" frame.
Steve Smith, WR, Baltimore Ravens
Putting a 35-year-old on a list of players who need a bounce-back year isn't exactly fair. But Steve Smith would want me to do this to him.
Entering his 14th professional season, Smith has plenty left in the tank, or so Keyshawn Johnson says. According to an article in The Baltimore Sun, Johnson doesn't believe Smith's days of backing up his talk are over:
I always call it the little man syndrome, but it's a good thing for him. I know him well. It's all about, 'I'm smaller than you, so I'm going to be feisty, and I'm still trying to prove you stupid general managers [messed] up. You guys judge talent, so you should have been able to judge me right.'
That same article suggests Smith has been making one-handed catches and already wearing down the secondary in practice.
After a Pro Bowl season in 2011, Smith's receiving numbers have declined in each of the past two seasons to the point where he caught only 64 balls for 745 yards. He has also been playing in a Carolina Panthers offense that has never provided him a legitimate No. 2 receiving threat.
He'll have that and more in Torrey Smith, who has held his own as the Ravens' top target. Steve's arrival will allow Torrey to focus more on his role as a deep threat, opening up the passing game for Joe Flacco in a way he's never had.
With an ever-deepening chip on his shoulder, Smith will give the Ravens that edge they lost when Ray Lewis retired.
Hakeem Nicks, WR, Indianapolis
Nicks had arguably his worst season since the 2009 rookie campaign. Despite playing 15 games for only the second time in his career, Nicks failed to find the end zone at all. Zilch. Eli Manning and his 27 interceptions certainly deserve some of the blame here, as Nicks had only 10 red-zone targets. Catching 56 of 101 targets for 896 yards is fine, but well short of elite.
Playing injured most of the season, Nicks' lowly 3.7 catches per game upstaged a flashy 16.0 yards per reception. A one-year contract with the Colts gives the former Tar Heel the perfect situation to re-establish himself as a 1,000-yard receiver who averaged nearly seven touchdowns in his first four seasons.
Nicks can carve himself a role alongside a healthy Reggie Wayne and the speedy T.Y. Hilton. Though Indianapolis wants to be a run-first offense, Trent Richardson's questionable track record and the loss of Vick Ballard means Pep Hamilton could be dialing up the pass quite a bit in 2014. The competition in the AFC South is significantly lower than in the NFC East. Nick's size against the secondaries in Jacksonville, Houston and Tennessee should provide him plenty of scoring opportunities.
Cortland Finnegan, CB, Miami
There's very little Cortland Finnegan could have done to live up to his outrageous $15 million cap hit last year.
Unfortunately, he did less than that. According to PFF, he graded out as the second-worst cornerback overall and the worst at playing the run. Not what you want out of the second-highest paid player at the position. Furthering the bad news, Finnegan surrendered a 136 quarterback rating and a 76.5 percent completion rate when thrown to. All of this while playing through an injury.
Though his financial damage to the St. Louis Rams has been removed, they saved only $4 million of the $10 million he was to make before being cut. He's the Miami Dolphins' problem now, but still at $4.5 million.
Eli Manning, QB, New York Giants
But none had a more disastrous 2013 than Eli Manning. OK, maybe Matt Schaub, but he's already on here.
The younger Manning brother threw the most picks in a season since Brett Favre tossed 29 in 2005, and had his lowest touchdown total (18) in a full season. His 57.5 completion rate ranked with the likes of Colin Kaepernick and Terrelle Pryor, not exactly precision passers. Slice it any way you want, Manning just didn't have the goods that earned him two Super Bowl MVPs and three Pro Bowls.
The Giants' woes weren't all on Manning's shoulders. The offensive line lost guard Chris Snee in Week 3 and got only three games out of center David Baas. Andre Brown and David Wilson combined to miss 19 games, taking away any semblance of a run game.
That doesn't change the quarterback's
Manning has a chance to hit the reset button. He's got a new offensive coordinator in Bob McAdoo and rookie receiver Odell Beckham Jr. will replace the departed Hakeem Nicks. Victor Cruz will need to return to his All-Pro form as well. With recent injury news to David Wilson hurting an already sketchy running game, Manning could be throwing 35-40 passes every week.
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