Predicting the Biggest Flops of the 2022 NFL Season

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxCorrespondent IAugust 25, 2022

Predicting the Biggest Flops of the 2022 NFL Season

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    Expectations are everything in the NFL. When an unheralded player comes out of nowhere to perform well, he becomes a breakout star. When a player carries high expectations and merely performs at a serviceable level, he's viewed as a flop.

    Lofty expectations come in many forms, of course. Top draft picks, big-name additions and players returning from injury or slated for a new situation frequently carry them. Things don't always go as planned.

    While we'll never root for a player to struggle, we do recognize that some expectations are unrealistic. With this in mind, let's examine seven players who we believe will fall short in 2022.

    Players are listed in alphabetical order.

Cam Akers, RB, Los Angeles Rams

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    Los Angeles Rams running back Cam Akers flashed promise as a rookie in 2020. He tallied 625 rushing yards, 123 receiving yards and three touchdowns despite making only five starts.

    Akers was expected to be the lead back in 2021, but he suffered a torn Achilles in training camp and didn't return until the end of the season.

    Expectations are high for Akers now that he's a year removed from the injury. Los Angeles has backup Darrell Henderson Jr. but didn't add to its backfield before using a fifth-round pick on Kyren Williams.

    Akers also has high expectations in fantasy, where he has an average draft position (ADP) of 28, according to FantasyPros. However, it's hard to envision Akers living up to the hype.

    The reality is the 23-year-old was severely limited upon his return last season. During the postseason, he averaged just 2.6 yards per carry in four games.

    And, if we're being truthful, Akers wasn't that impressive as a rookie apart from his 171-yard day on the ground against the New England Patriots. He caught only 11 passes on the year, and outside that game, he averaged a modest 3.9 yards per carry.

    It doesn't help that Akers has recently been sidelined by a soft-tissue injury and may not actually be back to 100 percent to start the season.

Justin Fields, QB, Chicago Bears

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    Quarterback Justin Fields entered the NFL with high expectations. The Chicago Bears traded up to secure the Ohio State product 11th overall in the 2021 draft. However, with a poor supporting cast and some questionable game-planning by former coach Matt Nagy, Fields struggled as a rookie.

    He finished with seven touchdowns, 10 interceptions and a woeful 73.2 passer rating. The good news is that he'll get a fresh start under new head coach Matt Eberflus and new offensive coordinator Luke Getsy.

    The Bears expect to see growth in Fields' second season.

    "I see more progress in practice," Eberflus told reporters after Chicago's second preseason game. "His footwork's getting better, his delivery when he's feeling pressure, how he slides in the pocket and delivers the ball, that's getting a lot better too. He's improving every single day."

    The problem is that Chicago did little to support Fields from a roster standpoint this offseason. The team added wideouts Velus Jones Jr., Byron Pringle and N'Keal Harry but lost former No. 1 receiver Allen Robinson II. Harry is expected to miss eight weeks after undergoing ankle surgery, according to NFL Network's Mike Garafolo.

    The Bears also did little to improve last year's disaster of an offensive line. Fields was sacked 36 times and was under pressure on 27.3 percent of his dropbacks.

    Chicago fans should be patient with Fields. While the second-year signal-caller may show some progress this season, he's likely to flop on the field. The Bears simply haven't set him up for success.

Randy Gregory, Edge, Denver Broncos

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    High-profile, big-money free agents generally come with lofty expectations. New Denver Broncos pass-rusher Randy Gregory is no exception.

    Gregory joined Denver on a five-year, $70 million deal that includes $28 million guaranteed. He did so after first agreeing to rejoin the Dallas Cowboys.

    We're not so sure that Denver will get its money's worth.

    The problem with Gregory isn't a lack of talent. He showcased his upside last season by racking up six sacks, 29 quarterback pressures, three forced fumbles, a fumble recovery and an interception in 12 games.

    But he has struggled to stay on the field. He missed the entire 2017 and 2019 seasons—along with most of 2016—for violations of the league's substance-abuse policy. He appeared in 10 games in 2020 and then missed five games last season because of a calf injury.

    Gregory also underwent offseason shoulder surgery and was only recently activated from the physically unable to perform (PUP) list.

    We've never seen him play more than 14 games in a season, and he's started only 12 contests since being a second-round pick in 2015.

    Clearly, Denver is betting on Gregory's upside. However, the Broncos are betting on a 29-year-old with just one season of starting experience and health concerns. According to ESPN's Jeff Legwold, Gergory's "plan" is to be ready for Week 1.

    With a new team, a missed offseason and a lack of starting experience, Gregory won't pay tangible dividends until 2023 at the earliest.

Daniel Jones, QB, New York Giants

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    New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones hasn't been particularly good (or at all good) over the past two seasons. However, he did flash a ton of potential as a rookie in 2019. That season, the Duke product threw for 3,027 yards and 24 touchdowns while posting a respectable 87.7 passer rating.

    Over the last two years, Jones finished with passer ratings of 80.4 and 84.8. In all, he's gone 12-25 as a starter.

    This is likely Jones' last chance as a Giant, as New York declined the fifth-year option on his rookie contract. There is reason for optimism, though, as the Giants hired former Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll to be the head coach. He, as many fans will point out, helped transform Josh Allen from a talented but raw passer into an elite quarterback.

    "He’s gonna be able to get the most out of them," Allen said of Daboll and the Giants, per Steve Serby of the New York Post.

    Just don't expect Daboll to turn Jones into a star. The Giants, who haven't been above .500 since 2016, aren't as talented as the Bills were in 2020 and 2021. Daboll doesn't have the best track record of coaxing greatness out of subpar offenses either.

    When he was the offensive coordinator of the Cleveland Browns in 2010, Daboll's unit finished 29th in yards and 31st in scoring. With the Miami Dolphins the next season, his offense finished 22nd and 20th in yards and points, respectively. It was 24th and 32nd in yards and points with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2012.

    Has Daboll grown as a coach since then? Sure. Will a healthy Saquon Barkley aid the offense? Undoubtedly. However, Daboll won't turn New York into an offensive powerhouse in a single year, and fans will likely be disappointed in the marginal growth that Jones shows in 2022.

Za'Darius Smith, Edge, Minnesota Vikings

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    Za'Darius Smith is another pass-rusher who got big money on the open market this offseason. He signed a three-year, $42 million deal with the Minnesota Vikings that includes $11.5 million in guarantees.

    On a positive note, Smith has a more proven, consistent resume than Gregory. However, he too carries health concerns heading into the 2022 season.

    The two-time Pro Bowler appeared in only one regular-season game last year before undergoing back surgery. He did return for the playoffs, appearing in one game and notching a sack against the San Francisco 49ers.

    Still, it's hard to envision Smith returning to his double-digit-sack form after appearing in only two games since the end of the 2020 season. He'll turn 30 in September, and back surgeries aren't exactly minor procedures.

    He also hasn't gotten off to a fast start in Vikings camp.

    "While [Danielle] Hunter continues to look like an elite pass-rusher, Smith has been less steady in his production," Arif Hasan of The Athletic wrote.

    The other factor to consider is that Smith wasn't a Pro Bowl talent before arriving in Green Bay. He had an 8.5-sack season with the Baltimore Ravens in 2018 but had only 10 sacks in the three seasons prior.

    This isn't to say that Smith won't be a defensive asset in Minnesota. However, fans expecting him to log 12-plus sacks per season, as he did in 2019 and 2020, will be disappointed.

Christian Watson, WR, Green Bay Packers

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    The Green Bay Packers traded star wide receiver Davante Adams this offseason, and the question of who will be Aaron Rodgers' new top target is one of the biggest remaining with Week 1 looming.

    Many may expect rookie second-round pick Christian Watson to be that new No. 1 receiver. He's big (6'5", 208 lbs), fast (4.36-second 40-yard dash) and was highly coveted by Green Bay—which took him with the 34th overall selection.

    However, Watson isn't poised to be "the guy" as a rookie.

    For one, drops were an issue for him early in the offseason program. An MVP quarterback such as Rodgers isn't going to make a receiver his go-to option if he can't count on him to catch the ball.

    "His hands have definitely been questionable," Andy Herman of Packer Report tweeted in late May. "I don't think there's been a practice yet where he hasn't dropped at least one pass."

    More recently, Watson has missed time following knee surgery and is only getting back to team drills this week. Meanwhile, fellow rookie Romeo Doubs—who has had his own issues with drops—has managed to impress on the preseason field with six catches for 69 yards and two touchdowns.

    Watson is likely to be part of a receiving committee that includes Doubs, Allen Lazard, Randall Cobb, Sammy Watkins and second-year receiver Amari Rodgers.

    After waiting years for the Packers to draft a receiver highly, fans finally got Watson. But while the North Dakota State product may be a valuable contributor, he's not going to be the star rookie fans have been hungry to see.

Javonte Williams, RB, Denver Broncos

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    This is supposed to be a breakout year for sophomore running back Javonte Williams, right? That's likely the expectation of many Denver Broncos fans, and it's certainly the expectation of fantasy managers.

    According to FantasyPros, Williams has an ADP of 17. That's the draft position of a true lead back. However, we just don't see it for Williams in 2022. As a rookie, he split time pretty evenly with Melvin Gordon III.

    Last season, Williams and Gordon each carried the ball 203 times. Williams finished with 903 rushing yards, 43 receptions, 316 receiving yards and seven combined touchdowns. Gordon finished with 918 rushing yards, 28 receptions, 213 receiving yards and 10 combined touchdowns.

    Guess what? Gordon is back for 2022 as well, and new offensive coordinator Justin Outten is likely to use a committee approach once again—his Packers did exactly that with Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon in 2021.

    It doesn't sound like Outten plans to make Williams his every-down runner.

    "It's going to be a pitch count throughout the season and making sure we are very smart with those guys," Outten said, per Aric DiLalla of the team's official website.

    This is before even getting into the reality that Denver may feature more of a pass-first offense now that Russell Wilson is under center. If the offense runs through Wilson instead of the ground game, it's hard to imagine Williams becoming a legitimate second-year star.

    Yes, he may have better numbers than he did as a rookie, but for those expecting him to become a truly elite running back in 2022, he's going to flop.

    Contract information via Spotrac. Statistics via Pro Football Reference unless otherwise noted.


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