10 NFL Stars Whose Production Will Drop off in 2012

Matt Madsen@mmadsen5Correspondent IIJune 1, 2012

10 NFL Stars Whose Production Will Drop off in 2012

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    There are a number of NFL players whose production is destined to drop off in 2012.

    For various reasons, the league sees superstars each year come seemingly out of nowhere. There are guys who are finally coming into their own and are here to stay. Then there are guys who are just plopped into the perfect situation and depend on that situation to produce at a high level.

    Of course, there are guys in the middle, as well. You've also got guys with extenuating, unpredictable circumstances.

    This list is about guys who killed it in 2011, but aren't going to reach the same level of success in the upcoming season. There's something for everyone and players range from established superstars to 2011 breakout players.

    One last disclaimer: Just because a player is on this list does not mean I have deemed them a bad player. There is more that goes into a season than talent. It's more complicated than that.

    So enjoy the list and let me hear your reactions in the comments. Which players do you disagree with? Who would you have put on the list?

Drew Brees, Quarterback, New Orleans Saints

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    After all the trouble New Orleans Saints fans have had to put up with this season, they really need Drew Brees to make it all better.

    Sadly, it's not going to happen.

    After Bounty-Gate, the strange Mickey Loomis allegations and all the ensuing punishments handed down by the NFL, Saints fans are still waiting on one development: Brees' contract.

    While his ongoing contract dispute is one reason he could regress next season, that's hardly his biggest worry.

    As part of the punishments doled out by Roger Goodell, Saints head coach Sean Payton has been suspended for the entire 2012 season.

    The loss of Payton means the loss of not only their head coach, but their offensive coordinator and the brains behind the operation.

    While Brees has starred in the legendary resurrection of the Saints organization, Payton has played an equally vital role, albeit a less glamorous one.

    Finally, Brees set the bar so high (5,476 yards, 46/14 TD/Int) in 2011 that it's impossible to expect him to duplicate it.

Matthew Stafford, Quarterback, Detroit Lions

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    The list of 5,000-yard passers in NFL history doubled in 2011. We already had Dan Marino and Drew Brees. Last season saw Tom Brady and Matthew Stafford join the club.

    Eli Manning fell an agonizing 67 yards short of the milestone.

    Between Marino, Brees and Brady, we have three first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterbacks. Two of them are legitimate arguments for greatest quarterback of all time.

    Even Manning is a likely HoF candidate after his second Super Bowl victory in five seasons.

    The odd man out is clearly Stafford, who has only 29 career starts and has appeared extremely injury prone prior to and even during the 2011 season.

    It helps that he plays with arguably the most difficult receiver to cover in the whole league in Calvin Johnson, but that's not enough to repeat 5,000 yards.

    You expect the Detroit Lions running game to be a bit better in 2012, too. After all, they will have Mikel Leshoure back, as well as Javhid Best.

    Even if Stafford stays healthy for 16 games once again, it's hard to see him throwing for another 5,000.

Rob Gronkowski, Tight End, New England Patriots

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    In 2011, Rob Gronkowski set tight end single-season records with 1,327 receiving yards and 17 receiving touchdowns. He did so on 90 receptions.

    Wes Welker caught 122 passes for an AFC-leading 1,569 receiving yards and nine touchdowns.

    Something's got to give.

    While I can't see a specific reason for Gronkowski's numbers to regress, it would be also be foolish to predict him matching numbers that have never been produced prior to last season.

    Gronk is a beast, and he will probably approach the same number of catches and yards as he did in 2011. However, I doubt he catches anywhere near 17 touchdowns.

    After all, nobody has ever recorded consecutive 17-touchdown seasons.

Willis McGahee, Running Back, Denver Broncos

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    Willis McGahee was last seen taking handoffs from Tim Tebow in a playoff shellacking granted by the New England Patriots.

    McGahee was easily the Denver Broncos' best offensive player in the game, carrying the ball for 76 yards and a touchdown on only 17 carries.

    Tebow completed only nine of 26 passes for 136 yards and no touchdowns.

    With Peyton Manning at the helm, there's no more spread-option offense. There's no more quarterback-keepers.

    The Sheriff has come to town.

    McGahee is going to take a back seat to Manning, as the former Indianapolis Colt gunslinger puts the Broncos on his back and takes them right back into the playoffs.

    However, you can be sure that this time, McGahee won't win any player of the game honors. Not that he couldn't—he just won't have the chance.

Nate Washington, Wide Receiver, Tennessee Titans

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    Nate Washington's career has been a fairly average one.

    Prior to 2011, he averaged 38.6 catches for 592 yards and 4.8 touchdowns per season.

    Last season he flipped the script, recording 74 catches for 1,023 yards and seven touchdowns, all career highs.

    I'm not saying a player can't improve, but generally guys don't have breakout years in their sixth season in the league.

    Couple that with the impending quarterback controversy of the Tennessee Titans, the assumed resurgence of Chris Johnson and the return of Kenny Britt, and you have a whirlwind of reasons for Washington to return to old form.

    Don't forget about the Titans' first-round draft pick, Kendall Wright, either. The highly-regarded receiver could easily take snaps away from Washington.

Jordy Nelson, Wide Receiver, Green Bay Packers

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    Jordy Nelson's inclusion on the list may be slightly misleading.

    His 68 catches and 1,263 receiving yards could conceivably go up in 2012. His talent, along with the continued development of an already terror-inducing offense, could make for increased success in those departments.

    But I don't think he will ever catch 15 touchdowns in a season again.

    After three seasons of averaging roughly 13 yards per catch, it's strange that he shot up to 18.6 YPC in 2011. He was in the same offense and the same role, albeit with increased opportunities. But that large of an increase would seem to be an anomaly unlikely to repeat itself.

    It would be a surprise to see him outdo the Green Bay Packers No. 1 wideout Greg Jennings again.

Jason Babin, Defensive End, Philadelphia Eagles

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    It's perfectly normal for players to have breakout seasons that lead to productive and even superstar careers. That's how Hall of Fame careers go. They have to break into the elite at some point.

    Usually that point is not in their ninth season in the league.

    After an eight-year career spanning five different teams, Jason Babin decided to sack opposing quarterbacks 18 times in 2011.

    That's 5.5 sacks more than his previous career mark and 37.5 percent of his total career sacks.

    That would be normal if it were his third or fourth season, but his ninth?

    While he did have some injury-filled seasons that could've gone better, it seems a bit of a fluke for him to suddenly explode for 18 sacks.

    I expect him to come back to Earth in 2012.

Cam Newton, Quarterback, Carolina Panthers

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    I don't foresee a massive sophomore slump for Cam Newton in 2012.

    Instead, I see an evolving player, who regresses in some areas, while advancing in others.

    For instance, I would bet the farm Newton doesn't rush for 14 touchdowns again in 2012. He is clearly a physically dominant player, especially for the quarterback position, but he's simply too valuable to be risking that many times. He's bound to get hurt at that rate.

    He has plenty of room to improve as a passer, however. Unfortunately, that may take more time than he's had. While he did throw for a rookie-record 4,051 passing yards in 2011, he threw only 21 touchdowns and racked up 17 interceptions.

    Adapting to NFL defenses is a process, and I don't expect Newton to be a polished passer or an elite decision-maker this season. But if he is the long-term solution for the Carolina Panthers––and he is––then they need to cultivate him as a passer.

    Newton may be in for some growing pains this season.

LeSean McCoy, Running Back, Philadelphia Eagles

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    LeSean McCoy is a versatile, talented tailback with a ton of upside and plenty of room to grow as a player.

    That being said, he won't score 20 touchdowns in 2012.

    This isn't a running-back league anymore. It's a quarterback league. The second-most rushing touchdowns last season belonged to a quarterback.

    That's unheard of.

    McCoy led the league with 17 rushing scores, but no other halfback had more than 12. Only nine guys had double digits.

    The NFL is going away from featured backs like McCoy, and very few guys like him are left. The Philadelphia Eagles don't want to pound the rock, far from it.

    Andy Reid is a West Coast offense guy and always has been. He wants the Eagles to throw the ball all over the yard.

    If Michael Vick can figure out how to channel his inner 2010 self, McCoy's stats are going to suffer the most.

    LeSean scored 20 total touchdowns in 2011, while Vick scored only 19 total touchdowns. You will not see that again next season.

Laurent Robinson, Wide Receiver, Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Last season, the Dallas Cowboys suffered a variety of injuries at wide receiver.

    Whether it was Miles Austin or Dez Bryant, it seemed like at least one of them was sidelined every week. That was the perfect situation for Laurent Robinson.

    With no expectations on him and a prolific quarterback throwing him the ball, Robinson was able to snag 54 passes for 858 yards and 11 scores, all career highs.

    By far.

    With either Bryant, Austin or both drawing excess coverage on the outside, and Jason Witten distracting defenders in the middle, Robinson operated against second-rate defenders all season.

    And he reaped the benefits.

    He turned his first good season (out of five) into a big new contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Robinson now has all the expectations that weren't on him in Dallas, and a massive downgrade at quarterback to deal with.

    The Jaguars are also a run-first team that hands the ball to Maurice Jones-Drew many times every game. The Cowboys were a much more pass-oriented team last season.

    His inadequate skill set will be revealed in short order, and Justin Blackmon will likely beat him out for the No. 1 wide receiver spot.