Think back to early August, when the preseason picks were just coming out and 32 teams in 31 NFL cities were overflowing with optimism. Almost every team in the league had playoff, if not Super Bowl aspirations. Everyone’s expectations were sky high.
And the higher the expectations, in some cases, the farther the fall.
So before the NFL begins its postseason and before it hands out all it’s awards, here’s a look at 10 players who should’ve been contenders for elite status during the 2013 season. At least that’s what we all seemed to expect.
So while there were other disappointments around the NFL, it’s hard to find players who disappointed all of us more than these:
1. Giants QB Eli Manning – The Giants began the season with a Super Bowl countdown clock in their locker room and nobody laughed, in large part because they had a franchise quarterback. But then Manning threw 15 interceptions in the first five game, on his way to a franchise record-tying 25 so far. A few years ago he called himself “elite,” then went out and played like it and won a Super Bowl. This year he’s suffering through arguably his worst NFL season and the Giants are one of the biggest disappointments in the league.
2. Redskins QB Robert Griffin III – Maybe expectations should’ve been tempered because he was coming off major knee surgery, but he declared himself healthy and the Redskins were the defending NFC East champs. But Griffin has hardly looked anything like RGIII this season and opponents don’t fear him the way they did when he was a rookie. His numbers aren’t terrible, but they’re down across the board and he’s not as effective as a runner. There’s also been controversy swirling around him and his coach as the Redskins continue to lose.
3. Texans QB Matt Schaub – He’s one of the forgotten members of the QB Class of 2004, mostly because he was a third-rounder who needed to be traded to find a job to call his own. And he had, with a Texan team that was perennially underachieving, but seemed to be on the verge of a breakthrough this year. Instead, Schaub has been booed out of his own stadium and (despite playing this Sunday in place of an injured Case Keenum) replaced by his now-fired coach. His numbers are so miserable he likely will have a hard time finding a starting job anywhere next year.
4. Falcons WR Roddy White – It’s hard to believe that the Falcons were just a few feet away from winning the NFC championship last season. Now they’re in contention for the first pick in the draft. And a big reason is the surprise ankle injury that White has been suffering through since opening day. He has played in 11 games, but he’s been mostly ineffective with just 43 catches for 479 yards and a touchdown. And, at 32, there’s a chance that in the future those numbers will only get worse.
5. Ravens RB Ray Rice – He was a huge part of the Ravens’ championship run last year and he was coming off of four straight seasons with 1,000 yards rushing and over 1,500 total. There was no reason to expect a major decline at age 26. Whether or not it was his injured hip, the decline has been steep. He’s already missed three games and he’ll be lucky to get to 800 rushing yards and 400 yards receiving. His totals will be his worst since his rookie year.
6. Dolphins WR Mike Wallace – He was one of the top free agents on the market last offseason and landed a $60 million contract because the Dolphins thought he’d be the missing piece that would elevate QB Ryan Tannehill and put them over the top. Instead, for most of the season everyone wondered what they bought and why, as Wallace struggled to find any chemistry with his quarterback. He does have 64 catches for 867 yards and four touchdowns with two games to go and statistically it’ll be one of his finest seasons. But seven times in 14 games he’s had less than 50 yards receiving, which isn’t good for a guy paid to be one of the top receivers in the league.
7. Bills RB CJ Spiller – His 1,200 rushing yards and 1,700 total yards last season was supposed to be just the start, but an ankle injury spoiled most of his season and he likely won’t even get to 1,000 yards rushing. He’s had just three 100-yard rushing games to go along with two games where his total was in the single digits. And he’s only reached the end zone twice.
8. Texans DE JJ Watt – How is it possible that a guy who’ll likely finish with double-digit sacks is a disappointment? Because his 9 ½ pales in comparison with the 20 ½ he had last season and there was a lot of talk about him challenging the NFL single-season sack record – shattering it, too. Much like the Texans defense he was supposed to anchor, he didn’t come close to living up to the hype.
9. Vikings DE Jared Allen – Much like Watt, Allen’s disappointment is about the hype. Despite the fact that he’s 31 he said in the offseason that Michael Strahan’s sack record (22 ½) was “reachable” – which he knew because he had 22 two years ago. Last year he dropped all the way down to 12, though, and that proved to be a trend, not an aberration. Now he’s only at nine with just two games to go.
10. Chiefs WR Dwayne Bowe – In 2010 and 2011, Bowe was one of the NFL’s best receivers and certainly one of the most unheralded. And this year with the Chiefs on an 11-3 tear and new QB Alex Smith playing terrific football, shouldn’t Bowe’s numbers be even better? But in the Andy Reid West Coast offense, he hasn’t been the big play threat everyone hoped. He has caught 52 passes for 627 yards and five touchdowns, but given how good the Chiefs are and the amount of points they’re scoring, he really should be so much more.
— By Ralph Vacchiano, @RVacchianoNYDN