1 Player on Every NFL Team Who Could Disappoint in 2021
The NFL is a results-oriented league. Teams can find success, winning the majority of their games, and still disappoint by failing to claim a Super Bowl title.
The same is true for players. They can perform well yet still fall short of expectations.
Take Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott. He produced 1,317 yards and eight touchdowns from scrimmage in 15 games last season. After three Pro Bowl campaigns and two league rushing titles, however, that was viewed as a disappointment.
Here, we'll examine one player from each NFL franchise who is likely to disappoint in 2021, either because he faces lofty expectations or is likely to underperform. Some of these players appear to be on the decline. Others aren't in situations conducive to success or have regularly disappointed in the past and may continue that trend.
We at Bleacher Report never want to see anyone struggle—and hopefully, we'll be proven wrong here—but these 32 players are nevertheless poised to disappoint in 2021.
Arizona Cardinals: WR A.J. Green
Wide receiver A.J. Green signed a relatively modest one-year, $6 million deal with the Arizona Cardinals in March. He isn't being paid like the superstar receiver he once was. However, Green believes that he can help make the Arizona offense special.
"What K1 (quarterback Kyler Murray) can do back there and C-Kirk (receiver Christian Kirk), you're going to have to pick your poison on game days," Green told On the Fly with Lisa Matthews (h/t Jess Root of Cards Wire).
Both Green and the Cardinals could be disappointed with the 32-year-old's contributions.
Green hasn't had a 1,000-yard season since 2017. He missed the entire 2019 campaign with an ankle injury. And despite being healthy for all 16 games in 2020, he wasn't particularly effective even with Joe Burrow under center.
He finished with just 523 receiving yards and two touchdowns. Bengals quarterbacks had a collective passer rating of 55.1 when targeting Green.
If Green performs like he did last season, he's more likely to be a detriment to quarterback Kyler Murray than an asset.
Atlanta Falcons: Edge Dante Fowler Jr.
Atlanta Falcons pass-rusher Dante Fowler Jr. agreed to a pay reduction earlier this offseason. However, he's still set to carry a cap hit of $10.7 million, which is a lot for a player who had just three sacks a season ago.
The Falcons are hopeful that Fowler can rebound this season.
"He's a talented, tough and rugged man," outside linebackers coach Ted Monachino said last month, per D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "I think once we apply those things to his game on all three downs, I think it's going to help our defense and help our team."
The problem is that aside from a strong 2019 season with the Los Angeles Rams, Fowler has been mediocre at best as an edge-rusher. He had 11.5 sacks while playing alongside Aaron Donald that year and just 19 sacks over his other four pro seasons.
Expecting Fowler to make a massive jump in 2021 could be a mistake.
Baltimore Ravens: WR Marquise Brown
Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Marquise Brown has been a bit of a disappointment since being drafted 25th overall in 2019. While he does possess game-breaking speed and has shown flashes of being a dynamic deep threat, he hasn't lived up to the expectations of being the first receiver off the board.
Through two seasons, Brown has amassed 1,353 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns. He's also been credited with eight drops in two seasons.
Brown has been a quality role player, but he hasn't developed into the No. 1 option that Lamar Jackson has lacked thus far in his career. Brown isn't likely to secure that role in 2021 either with Sammy Watkins and first-round rookie Rashod Bateman joining the receiving corps.
In fact, Brown could see a diminished role with Watkins and Bateman both on the roster—along with rookie fourth-round pick Tylan Wallace. Brown may again show flashes, but he isn't likely to be the centerpiece of the Ravens' passing attack.
Should Brown underwhelm for the third straight year, Baltimore may be inclined to decline his fifth-year option next offseason. That's always a disappointing development for a player who was supposed to be a long-term building block.
Buffalo Bills: TE Dawson Knox
When the Buffalo Bills used a third-round pick on former Mississippi tight end Dawson Knox in the 2019 draft, they likely envisioned getting a reliable pass-catcher out of the selection. Unfortunately, while Knox has shown some playmaking ability, reliability has not been his greatest strength.
Knox has just 676 receiving yards and five touchdowns through two seasons, despite playing with one of last year's most prolific quarterbacks in Josh Allen. While it would be easy to blame his target share for the lack of production—the Bills are loaded at wide receiver—Knox has to bear much of the blame.
Knox had 14 drops over the past two seasons and helped produce a passer rating of just 88.1 when targeted last year.
Barring an unexpected leap in development, Knox is likely to remain a merely serviceable tight end in 2021. That's disappointing because the Bills might only be a high-level tight end away from having one of the most complete offenses in the league.
Carolina Panthers: OT Cameron Erving
The Carolina Panthers signed offensive lineman Cameron Erving to a two-year, $10 million deal this offseason. That's not a massive amount of money for a player who might be the front-runner at left tackle. However, Erving is facing a huge responsibility.
If he wins the left tackle job, he'll be tasked with protecting new quarterback Sam Darnold. Keeping Darnold healthy will be vital to Carolina's success this season, and giving him a clean pocket could be just as important.
Darnold was recently named the worst quarterback outside the pocket by Touchdown Wire's Doug Farrar.
Banking on Erving is likely to yield disappointing results. While he appeared in just six games last season because of injuries, he played 13 in 2019. In 589 snaps that season, he was responsible for seven penalties and five sacks allowed, according to Pro Football Focus.
Chicago Bears: Edge Robert Quinn
An NFL team should expect results when it signs a pass-rusher to a lucrative free-agent contract. Unfortunately, results aren't what the Chicago Bears have gotten out of 2020 addition Robert Quinn.
Last offseason, Chicago inked Quinn to a five-year, $70 million deal. Quinn was supposed to be the book-end complement to sack artist Khalil Mack, but he finished his inaugural Bears campaign with only two sacks and 16 quarterback pressures.
There's little to suggest Quinn will take a major step forward in 2021. He had a fantastic 11.5-sack season with the Dallas Cowboys in 2019—which led to his hefty deal with Chicago—but hadn't previously produced double-digit sacks since 2014. Quinn is 31 years old and potentially already past his playing prime.
In fact, Quinn might be even less effective this season, now that former No. 1 cornerback Kyle Fuller is playing for the Denver Broncos. Good coverage generally leads to more time for pass-rushers to find their target. With Fuller out, the opposite could be true for Chicago and for Quinn.
Cincinnati Bengals: OT Jonah Williams
Two offseason ago, the Cincinnati Bengals used the 11th overall pick on former Alabama offensive tackle Jonah Williams. Williams, the first tackle taken in the 2019 draft, was expected to be Cincinnati's long-term answer on the quarterback's blind side. Instead, he's been an oft-injured and unreliable afterthought.
Williams has only been healthy for 10 games in two seasons. He missed his entire rookie campaign with a shoulder injury. He suffered a neck injury early in 2020, then landed on injured reserve with a knee injury.
In all, Williams played just 634 offensive snaps last season and allowed three sacks, according to Pro Football Focus.
Perhaps Williams will finally stay healthy and turn his career around. However, his injury history is undeniable, and he lacks experience. That's a major problem because quarterback Joe Burrow is coming off of a torn ACL and MCL in his left knee. If Williams does struggle, it will be extra disappointing because Cincinnati passed on elite tackle prospects like Penei Sewell and Rashawn Slater at the top of this year's draft.
Cleveland Browns: TE Austin Hooper
When the Cleveland Browns inked tight end Austin Hooper to a four-year, $42 million contract last offseason, it was easy to assume that he would become a prolific piece of the offense. He was coming off back-to-back Pro Bowl campaigns with the Falcons, and tight end is an important position in coach Kevin Stefanski's offense.
The problem was that Cleveland also had David Njoku and 2020 fourth-round pick Harrison Bryant at the position. Hooper ended up finishing with 435 receiving yards and four touchdowns—underwhelming numbers for a guy who is still the league's fifth-highest-paid tight end in annual salary.
Hooper isn't likely to start living up to his contract this season either because Njoku and Bryant are still on the roster. If anything, Hooper could decline statistically as Bryant continues to develop in Stefanski's offense.
Bryant had 238 receiving yards and three touchdowns while playing just 56 percent of the offensive snaps as a rookie.
Dallas Cowboys: RB Ezekiel Elliott
As mentioned in the intro, Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott was both productive and disappointing in 2020. He failed to top the 1,000-yard mark for only the second time in his career—a first for a full campaign—and he averaged a career-low 4.0 yards per carry.
The good news is that the return of quarterback Dak Prescott should open up some running room for Elliott in 2021. Prescott is also happy with what he's seen from Elliott this offseason.
"Zeke looks great," Prescott said, per Nick Eatman of the team's official website. "He's in the best shape of his life."
The bad news is that Elliot has endured a lot of wear and tear as a pro. He has carried the ball 1,413 times in five seasons while catching 241 passes. He's also led the league in rushing attempts twice. The reality is that Elliott's 2020 performance—with and without Prescott—is likely an accurate indication of where he is in his career.
Elliott can still be an above-average running back. However, above-average doesn't quite justify the $13.7 million cap hit he's scheduled to carry in 2021.
Denver Broncos: WR Jerry Jeudy
The Denver Broncos made Jerry Jeudy the second receiver taken in the 2020 NFL draft. While the Alabama product did showcase legitimate playmaking ability as a rookie—he had 856 receiving yards and a long of 92 yards—he wasn't the reliable No. 1 target that Denver had hoped for.
Jeudy was credited with 10 drops as a rookie, and Broncos quarterbacks had a collective passer rating of only 58.7 when targeting him.
Without a significant upgrade at quarterback, Jeudy may not take the next step as a pro. The Broncos traded for Teddy Bridgewater to bring in competition for Drew Lock, but that doesn't guarantee a significant upgrade—or even guarantee that Lock won't again be the starter.
Lock threw for 2,933 yards with 16 touchdowns, 15 interceptions and a passer rating of 75.4 last season. Bridgewater was better with the Panthers—he delivered a rating of 92.1—but he also went 4-11 as a starter.
While fixing his drop issues should make Jeudy a better wideout in 2021, he may still play below the level expected of a 15th overall pick.
Detroit Lions: QB Jared Goff
This offseason marked the end of an era for the Detroit Lions. Longtime starting quarterback Matthew Stafford was traded to the Los Angeles Rams in exchange for a trade package that included two first-round picks and quarterback Jared Goff.
The disappointing piece of the trade for Lions fans is that Detroit probably didn't get their next franchise quarterback out of the deal—at least not directly.
While Goff is an experienced starter who has played in a Super Bowl, he isn't the sort of high-level talent who can transcend a bad situation. Rams coach Sean McVay helped Goff become a two-time Pro Bowler after a sluggish NFL start, but Goff was mediocre again in 2019 and 2020—he finished with passer ratings of 86.5 and 90.0.
Goff is unlikely to suddenly get better away from McVay and a loaded Rams receiving corps. On the contrary, he's more likely to be below-average with an underwhelming Lions receiving corps headlined by the likes of Tyrell Williams and Breshad Perriman.
Green Bay Packers: QB Jordan Love
The caveat here is that Jordan Love won't have an opportunity to disappoint if Aaron Rodgers decides to play for the Green Bay Packers this season. There's a very real chance, though, that Rodgers won't play for Green Bay and the Packers will have to lean on the second-year quarterback.
"I know he still wants out," Fox Sports NFL Insider Jay Glazer told the Pat McAfee Show. "Without a doubt."
Unfortunately for Love, he'll face the challenge of playing in Rodgers' shadow. He's not likely to play up to the reigning MVP's level—few quarterbacks can—and that's going to lead to a fair bit of disappointment in Green Bay.
Even if Love—who has never taken an NFL snap—can be an above-average starter, the Packers bar at quarterback is much higher than that.
Of course, it's fair to wonder who will be viewed as the bigger disappointment in this scenario—Love for his play or Rodgers for refusing to play.
Houston Texans: QB Tyrod Taylor
The Houston Texans are in a situation similar to that of Green Bay. They are unlikely to have former franchise quarterback Deshaun Watson under center in 2021. In fact, they may never have him there again.
Watson is currently being sued by 22 women alleging sexual assault and misconduct and has requested a trade from Houston. According to NFL Network's Tom Pelissero, Watson still wishes to be dealt.
This will likely leave Houston leaning on journeyman Tyrod Taylor at quarterback—barring a surprise surge by rookie third-round pick Davis Mills. Unlike Jordan Love, Taylor at least has a fair bit of starting experience. He spent three years as the starter in Buffalo and served as a bridge quarterback for both the Browns and the Los Angeles Chargers.
However, Taylor didn't last long in his last two stints, quickly giving way to rookies Baker Mayfield and Justin Herbert. Taylor, who has a 24-21-1 starting record, may hold off the rookie this time around, but he's not going to make fans forget about the Pro Bowl-level play of Watson.
Indianapolis Colts: OT Eric Fisher
New Indianapolis Colts quarterback Carson Wentz may not quite revitalize his career this season. However, with Wentz coming off the worst season of his career, the expectations in Indianapolis shouldn't be terribly high for the former Philadelphia Eagles signal-caller.
A bigger disappointment could be Eric Fisher's inability to protect Wentz.
The Colts brought in Fisher to help replace the recently retired Anthony Castonzo at left tackle. The problem is that Fisher's 2020 campaign with the Kansas City Chiefs was cut short by a torn Achilles. Fisher suffered the injury during the playoffs and could miss a large chunk of the coming season.
Achilles injuries are tricky, and there's no telling if or when Fisher will be back to 100 percent this year. That's no fault of Fisher's, of course, but if he can't get onto the field or struggles, it will be a discouraging development for the Colts and for Wentz.
Poor pass protection hampered Wentz last season, as he was sacked 50 times in 12 games. He shouldn't be pressured as much with standouts like Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith on the line, but Fisher's recovery—or lack thereof—could still leave a significant hole at left tackle.
Jacksonville Jaguars: CB Shaquill Griffin
The Jacksonville Jaguars have their new quarterback of the future in No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence. However, Lawrence is going to do little to help improve a defense that ranked 27th against the pass, 31st overall and 31st in points allowed last season.
Jacksonville spent big on former Seattle Seahawks cornerback Shaquill Griffin to help improve the defense, but they probably won't get their money's worth.
Griffin landed a lucrative three-year, $40 million deal from the Jaguars in free agency this offseason. That's a lot of money for a player who has been merely average in his pro career.
While Griffin does bring plenty of experience to the proverbial table—53 games in four seasons—and has one Pro Bowl on his resume, he hasn't been an elite cover man. Over the past three seasons, he has allowed 15 touchdown receptions and has an opposing quarterback rating of 93.3 or higher in all three campaigns.
Griffin also had 24 missed tackles over the past three years, which isn't going to help a run defense that ranked 30th in rushing yards allowed last season.
Kansas City Chiefs: Edge Frank Clark
Kansas City Chiefs pass-rusher Frank Clark is entering the third season of a massive five-year, $104 million deal. It's fairly safe to say Clark hasn't lived up to that price point just yet.
Clark has been a Pro Bowler in each of his two seasons as a Chief. However, he has not been an elite-level pass rusher. Over the past two years, he has delivered 14 sacks and 52 quarterback pressures. Those certainly aren't bad numbers, but they don't justify the $25.8 million cap hit he's scheduled to carry in 2021.
Clark was also arrested and charged with possession of a concealed firearm in a vehicle in Los Angeles on Sunday, the second time he has been arrested on a gun charge in the last three months. The Chiefs have yet to issue a formal statement, but the NFL said it will review the case under its personal conduct policy, so Clark's availability could be in question.
This could be a make-or-break season for Clark, who will have just $12.9 million in dead money remaining on his deal next offseason. The possibility of losing out on $41.2 million in salary over the next two years might motivate Clark to be better this season.
Of course, motivation may not be enough for Clark to live up to his hefty price tag. Clark hasn't had double-digit sacks since 2018, and he's only achieved that feat twice in his career.
Las Vegas Raiders: WR Henry Ruggs III
Las Vegas Raiders wide receiver Henry Ruggs III was a major disappointment as a rookie last season. The first receiver taken in the 2020 draft only finished with 452 receiving yards and two touchdowns and never really emerged as a significant piece of the passing attack.
The two positives of Ruggs' inaugural campaign were that he did flash his breakaway ability and was fairly impactful when actually targeted. While he only caught 60.5 percent of the balls thrown his way, Ruggs did deliver a passer rating of 102.1 when targeted.
Unfortunately, Ruggs may not see an increased role in 2021.
Las Vegas signed the speedy John Brown in free agency, and he could cut into Ruggs' workload as Derek Carr's deep threat. Brown had a 1,000-yard campaign with the Bills just two years ago—before Stefon Diggs' arrival—and provided a quarterback rating of 110.9 when targeted this past season.
With reliable pass-catchers Hunter Renfrow and Darren Waller also on the roster—along with Bryan Edwards, Zay Jones and Willie Snead IV—Ruggs may continue to be a bit player in the Las Vegas offense. Obviously, that's not what a team should be looking to land with the 12th overall pick in the draft.
Los Angeles Chargers: TE Jared Cook
The Los Angeles Chargers lost tight end Hunter Henry in free agency, which could negatively impact second-year quarterback Justin Herbert. While Henry has a long history of injury issues and has never been a truly elite tight end, he was mostly healthy and dependable during Herbert's rookie season.
Henry finished 2020 with 613 receiving yards and four touchdowns in 14 games. He provided a passer rating of 93.2 when targeted.
To help replace Henry, Los Angeles added veteran tight end Jared Cook, and they may be disappointed with the results.
While Cook is still a reliable receiving tight end—he provided a rating of 120.4 when targeted last year—he's also 34 years old and likely nearing the end of his career. He's also likely to see competition from rookie third-round pick Tre McKitty.
This isn't to say that Cook will be a flat-out free-agent bust, but he isn't a long-term answer, and the Chargers may miss the connection Herbert and Henry developed in 2020.
Los Angeles Rams: QB Matthew Stafford
The addition of quarterback Matthew Stafford can significantly improve the Rams' quarterback situation in 2021. However, anything short of a Super Bowl appearance may be viewed as a disappointment, given Stafford's price tag.
Los Angeles gave up a 2021 third-round pick and first-round selections in 2022 and 2023. L.A. also dealt quarterback Jared Goff as part of the deal.
While Stafford has been more consistent than Goff—he has eight seasons with at least 4,000 passing yards and 20 touchdowns—he has just one Pro Bowl and zero playoff wins on his resume. Matthew has an elite level of arm talent and experience but a lack of playoff success.
It's not like the Rams traded for Tom Brady here.
Again, the isn't to say that the Rams won't be better with Stafford under center. They should be. Expecting Stafford to deliver a championship in his inaugural L.A. season, however, could lead to disappointment.
Miami Dolphins: Edge Jaelan Phillips
When a team drafts a pass-rusher in the first round, it should expect early results. This may not be how things play out for the Miami Dolphins and 18th overall pick Jaelan Phillips.
The Miami product doesn't possess elite athleticism and may have to refine his skill set before becoming a consistent sack artist.
"His overall athleticism is not average for an NFL starting pass-rusher in 2021, though, meaning Phillips must constantly develop his game as a technician," Justis Mosqueda of the B/R Scouting Department wrote.
It's likely to take time for Phillips to emerge as a real difference-maker in Miami's defense. That's fine for the long-term outlook, but those expecting Phillips to be a day-one difference-maker could be sorely disappointed.
Minnesota Vikings: CB Patrick Peterson
New Minnesota Vikings cornerback Patrick Peterson has had a Hall of Fame-caliber career to this point, and he should help improve the team's 27th-ranked pass defense. Minnesota was wise to sign him in the offseason.
At the same time, though, Peterson could struggle to live up to his profile and his price tag in 2021.
The Vikings inked the eight-time Pro Bowler to a one-year, $8 million deal that includes $5.9 million in guarantees. What they're getting is a 30-year-old defender who has been merely average over the past couple of seasons.
In 2019 and 2020, Peterson allowed an opposing passer rating of 99.2 and 98.2, respectively. His best days as a cover corner appear to be behind Peterson, and that should be disappointing to anyone hoping to see the Pro Bowl version of Peterson in Purple and Gold this season.
New England Patriots: WR Nelson Agholor
The New England Patriots had arguably the league's worst receiving corps in 2020. The offense lacked big-play receiving threats, and quarterback Cam Newton finished with 2,657 passing yards in 15 games.
While the addition of free-agent wideout Nelson Agholor may help generate more explosive plays, the Patriots will have a hard time getting their money's worth out of him. New England signed Agholor to a two-year, $22 million deal with $16 million guaranteed.
Agholor is coming off a promising 896-yard, eight-touchdown season with the Raiders. The problem is that one strong season doesn't make Agholor the answer at the No. 1 wideout spot. The USC product has never topped 900 receiving yards in a season and has failed to reach even 500 yards in three of his six campaigns.
Can Agholor help make New England's receiving corps better? Absolutely, but anyone expecting him to be the top perimeter target that the Patriots have been missing will likely be let down.
New Orleans Saints: WR Michael Thomas
After being arguably the best wideout in the NFL for four seasons, New Orleans Saints receiver Michael Thomas had a disaster of a 2020 campaign. Injuries and friction with the coaching staff limited Thomas to just seven games. He finished with just 438 receiving yards and zero touchdowns.
While Thomas should be healthy and more productive in 2021, he may not be the same dominant receiver we've seen in years past. Thomas isn't an athletic marvel, but he's been nearly impossible to cover because of his polished route-running and his connection with quarterback Drew Brees.
Thomas' skill set isn't going anywhere, but Brees has departed.
This will leave Thomas working with either Taysom Hill or Jameis Winston this season—or both—which could lead to diminished returns. Thomas was far from terrible in four games with Hill last year—he had 30 catches and 343 receiving yards—but that's only a small sample size.
The New Orleans offense is going to look much different without Brees. While Thomas should still be a big part of it, he may not experience the 2021 bounce-back campaign that the Saints are hoping to see.
New York Giants: WR Kadarius Toney
There was a time when rookie receivers—even those taken in the first round—weren't expected to contribute significantly right away. However, the recent surge in quality rookie receiver talent has changed the narrative there.
Players like DK Metcalf, A.J. Brown, Terry McLaurin and Justin Jefferson have raised the expectation level for rookie wideouts.
Those expecting New York Giants first-round pick Kadarius Toney to be an instant difference-maker in the level of Metcalf or Jefferson could be disappointed. The Florida product has undeniable speed, but he's extremely raw as a route-runner.
"His routes can look like one-on-one isolation basketball moves at times, but he has the ability to make instant cuts and break his routes off sharply. He could become a much more creative and consistent route runner in due time," NFL Media's Lance Zierlein wrote.
Toney may primarily be a gadget player early in his career, and while there's value in that, many New York fans may be disappointed that he isn't an instant 1,000-yard pass-catcher.
New York Jets: WR Corey Davis
When the New York Jets inked wideout Corey Davis to a three-year, $37.5 million deal this offseason, they likely envisioned him as the No. 1 target for their next franchise quarterback—they ended up settling on BYU's Zach Wilson.
However, David could struggle to meet those expectations and his price tag.
In the second round of the draft, the Jets drafted wideout Elijah Moore. They also have 2020 second-round pick Denzel Mims, third-year man Braxton Berrios and Jamison Crowder on the roster. This could lead to Davis being just one of Wilson's options instead of his go-to guy.
Davis was essentially part of a two-man show with the Tennessee Titans along with A.J. Brown. Yet, he was never overwhelmingly good in Tennessee. He did have 984 receiving yards last season, but Davis averaged just 713 yards and three touchdowns with the Titans.
It won't help that the Jets are already getting standout offseason performances from Moore and from Berrios. Wilson is already developing chemistry with other receivers, and while Davis does make the Jets receiving corps better, he isn't likely to be the No. 1 receiver that New York is paying him to be.
Philadelphia Eagles: OT Andre Dillard
The Philadelphia Eagles traded up in the 2019 draft to select former Washington State offensive tackle Andre Dillard 22nd overall. Two years later, Dillard has just four starts on his resume and has left the Eagles with many questions at left tackle.
Dillard missed the entire 2020 campaign with a torn biceps and will now enter a competition with Jordan Mailata for the starting job.
"Oh, there's definitely one," offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland said of the left tackle competition, per Dave Zangaro of NBC Sports Philadelphia.
Dillard now finds himself in a relatively no-win situation. He'll be a disappointment if he loses the competition and doesn't start in 2021. He'll be a disappointment if he wins the job and doesn't make Eagles fans forget about nine-time Pro Bowler Jason Peters. Dillard could surprise and be an anchor at left tackle, of course, but nothing in his pro career to this point suggests that this will be the case.
Pittsburgh Steelers: OT Chukwuma Okorafor
The 2021 season may represent the last run for the Pittsburgh Steelers with Ben Roethlisberger under center. While Pittsburgh has the overall talent to make it a successful one, there are plenty of obstacles standing in Roethlisberger's way. The most notable is the departure of left tackle Alejandro Villanueva and center Maurkice Pouncey.
The loss of Villanueva leaves a hole at the most important position on the offensive line—one likely to be filled by 2018 third-round pick Chukwuma Okorafor.
Okorafor saw his first season as a starter last year and performed admirably. He was responsible for five penalties and three sacks allowed while playing at right tackle, according to Pro Football Focus. Playing on the left side will be a tougher challenge, though, particularly with a progressively less-mobile Roethlisberger under center.
This isn't to say that Okorafor will be a disaster in his new role. However, Okorafor isn't likely to provide the same reliable presence that Villanueva did for the past six seasons. Any drop-off in line play will be disappointing because if Roethlisberger cannot stay protected, he's likely to struggle to bounce back from last year's disappointing finish.
San Francisco 49ers: Edge Dee Ford
San Francisco 49ers pass-rusher Dee Ford is entering the third season of a monster five-year, $85.5 million contract. Before giving Ford the deal, San Francisco sent a second-round pick to Kansas City to acquire him.
To this point, the 49ers probably aren't thrilled with that decision. Ford has played in just 13 regular-season games in two years and has a mere 6.5 sacks on his 49ers resume.
Neck and back injuries limited Ford to just one game in 2020. San Francisco is hopeful that he'll be able to contribute in 2021.
"I'm just keeping my fingers crossed and hoping he can come ready to go in training camp, and, hopefully, he can help us out this year," head coach Kyle Shanahan told reporters (h/t Mark Inabinett of AL.com).
The 49ers may be happy to get what they can out of Ford this season. However, his health and lack of production suggest that he will again fail to meet the expectations that his price tag has set.
Seattle Seahawks: RB Rashaad Penny
The Seattle Seahawks used the 27th overall pick in the 2018 draft on former San Diego State running back Rashaad Penny. To say that Penny has been a disappointment thus far would be an understatement.
Injuries have played a part, as Penny missed all but three games in 2020 and has missed 20 in total. However, Penny has struggled to be effective even when on the field. In 27 career games, he has just 823 rushing yards, 158 receiving yards and six total touchdowns.
Penny isn't likely to suddenly start shining in 2021. Seattle has already declined his fifth-year option and brought back starting back Chris Carson in free agency. With Travis Homer and DeeJay Dallas also on the roster, Penny will be a role-player at best this season.
Penny also recently underwent cleanup knee surgery, which could hinder his preseason preparation.
While many Seahawks fans have probably already moved past hoping to see Penny emerge, his continued irrelevance in the Seattle offense is disappointing.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: WR Antonio Brown
Wide receiver Antonio Brown helped the Tampa Bay Buccaneers win the Super Bowl last season, and bringing him back was an offseason priority—bringing everyone back was apparently a priority, as all 22 offensive and defensive starters return.
However, Brown may not be the same significant piece of the offensive puzzle he was late in 2020. He's 32 years old and three years removed from his last 1,000-yard season. He's also coming off of a knee surgery that delayed his signing with Tampa.
If Brown continues to decline—he averaged just 10.7 yards per catch in 2020, the second-lowest of his career—Tampa could turn to younger receivers like Scotty Miller and rookie fourth-round pick Jaelon Darden for the No. 3 receiver role.
Brown's one-year, $3.08 million deal is fully guaranteed, so he isn't a candidate to be cut. However, the seven-time Pro Bowler may become just one of Tom Brady's targets instead of being one of the biggest stars in the NFL as he once was.
Tennessee Titans: Edge Bud Dupree
The Titans desperately needed to address their pass rush after posting just 19 sacks as a team in 2020. However, they may be disappointed with what free-agent addition Bud Dupree adds to the pass rush this season.
Dupree is coming off an ACL tear that he suffered in December. There's no guarantee Dupree will be 100 percent in 2021 or that he'll be the same player he was before the injury. The other issue is that the player Dupree was pre-injury was largely boosted by the presence of Defensive-Player-of-the-Year candidate T.J. Watt.
Dupree had just one double-digit-sack season in Pittsburgh despite playing alongside Watt, and averaged just five sacks per season before his breakout campaign of 2019.
The Titans gave him a five-year, $82.5 million deal that includes $35 million in guarantees. That's the sort of money a team gives to a top pass-rushing option, which Dupree has never been.
Dupree may eventually become a good pass-rusher for the Titans, but he may never be worth the money he received this offseason. More disappointing is the fact that his recovery may prevent Dupree from even being "good" in 2021.
Washington Football Team: OT Charles Leno Jr.
This offseason, the Washington Football Team signed left tackle Charles Leno Jr. to a one-year, $4 million deal. While Washington doesn't appear to view Leno as a long-term replacement for Trent Williams—who was traded in 2020—it is high on the former Bears starter.
"They're both very good players, they were good players for us and they'll continue to be good players in the league," coach Ron Rivera said of Leno and rookie Samuel Cosmi, per Ryan Homler of NBC Sports Washington.
Good may be the absolute best the Football Team can hope for from Leno. While he was a Pro Bowler back in 2018, he was below-average in 2020. According to Pro Football Focus, Leno was responsible for six penalties and five sacks surrendered.
Offensive-line play will be critical for Washington this season, as it will rely on 38-year-old journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback. Relying on Leno to protect Fitzpatrick's blind side could end in disappointment.