5 Players to Watch in the 2016-2017 NFL Season
With the NFL season quickly approaching again, there are many questions left to ask — decidedly, however, none of those include the 5 Super Bowl Contenders or 3 Reasons Why The Broncos Won’t Repeat. Why? Well, it’s simple: nobody needs to be told that the Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots are good football teams still and most people would probably agree that starting a quarterback with exactly zero career snaps is a bad idea. So, today, we’re skipping all that and heading right for the murky gray area to discuss this year’s greatest candidates for a rise to stardom in 2016-2017. These articles are typically approached with the term breakout loosely thrown about — but what does that mean? 15 touchdowns? 1,000 yards? Less interceptions? Instead of using generally undefinable words, here’s a cut and dry list of NFL players you should keep an eye on. While some of these players are more crucial to their team’s success than others, ascending to the hype surrounding their name could be the difference between a playoff berth and a deep Super Bowl run — well, for most of the teams mentioned…
Tyler Lockett, WR, Seattle Seahawks
When Tyler Lockett was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks last year in the 3rd round, he was touted as the next Devin Hester — an incredible kick returner with the potential to stretch a defense out as a receiver. Although we saw that glimmering potential in Lockett — the only other player to return both a kickoff and punt in 2015-2016 was the New York Giants’ Dwayne Harris — he struggled to find consistency in Seattle’s run-heavy offense and next to Doug Baldwin. Still, the raw-but-talented rookie still hauled in 6 receiving touchdowns — so the excitement is still palpable. Now that Marshawn Lynch has retired, the offense is all Russell Wilson’s and the second-year professional should be the biggest beneficiary. Thomas Rawls, the new debutant at running back, is a fine athlete, but teams will no longer load the box against Seattle. Additionally, Baldwin will likely see more double coverage this season — so if Seattle isn’t running as much and Baldwin won’t reach last year’s outrageous total, then it stands that Lockett has as much to gain as anybody in this Super Bowl-contending offense.
Michael Thomas, WR, New Orleans Saints
Michael Thomas is 6’3 rookie wideout in an elite offense anchored by Drew Brees, who led the NFL in passing yards in 2011, 2012, 2014, and 2015, and will line up with the now-established Brandin Cooks in 2016-2017, what’s not to love? It’s no secret that the Saints love to throw, throw, and throw some more — New Orleans ranked second in passing attempts last season at 667 — so Thomas could ascend to one of the best WR2s in the NFL rather quickly. Cooks finished with 1,138 yards last season and as defenses look to gameplan against him more often, it’ll be Thomas — similarly to Randall Cobb and Emmanuel Sanders on other contenders — that will benefit the most. Although Thomas came out of Ohio State as an understated prospect, the rookie has dominated the preseason thus far and should be in line for an immediate role in one of the NFL’s best offenses. Honestly, Thomas will have all the opportunity in the world to compete for Offensive Rookie of the Year when all’s said and done. At OSU, Thomas racked up 56 catches for 781 yards and 9 touchdowns — numbers he could easily eclipse in New Orleans with Brees as the thrower.
Robert Griffin III, QB, Cleveland Browns
All signs point to the rebirth of Robert Griffin III in 2016-2017 — wait! Hear me out on this one. The Cleveland Browns have absolutely no expectations for RGIII, they’re likely to lose to 75% of their games this year, and the backup quarterback is Josh McCown. With some sneaky good options at wide receiver — Corey Coleman, Terrell Pryor Jr., and, after his four-game suspension is served, Josh Gordon — all the ingredients are there for a resurgence. In case you’ve forgotten, Griffin was the winner of the 2011 Heisman Trophy and 2012 Offensive Rookie of the Year and his mobile nature made him a nightmare for opposing defenses. After kicking off a stellar career in Washington before poor field conditions, injuries, and a front office that didn’t believe in him derailed all progress. Best of all, Griffin is only 26 and, if he can stay healthy, will be entering the typical prime for a quarterback in the near future. If Duke Johnson Jr. grows as a featured back, Griffin can certainly utilize the weapons around him for a bounceback season in Cleveland.
Donte Moncrief, WR, Indianapolis Colts
Now that T.Y. Hilton has established himself as an elite NFL receiver, it’s time for Donte Moncrief to take up the ever-valuable role as the fast-route-runner-that-will-benefit-from-playing-with-Andrew-Luck. In fact, we already started to see an incredible rapport between Luck and Moncrief, only broken by the former’s season-ending injury in Week 11. In 2014, Moncrief’s rookie year, he hauled in 32 catches for 444 yards and 3 touchdowns. Fast forward a year and Moncrief nearly doubled his output across the board, jumping to 64 catches for 733 yards and 6 touchdowns. Again, we repeat, much of that impressive improvement happened before Luck got injured — so it’s not outlandish to imagine what he could done with an extra five games with the elite signal caller. Andre Johnson moved on from the Colts this offseason, so look for Moncrief to explode thanks to a healthy Andrew Luck.
Devontae Booker, RB, Denver Broncos
I know what you’re thinking, Devontae Booker isn’t even a starter! Yes, but the Denver Broncos are set to have one of the strangest championship defenses of all-time. Granted, Peyton Manning was far from his best self last season, but he was still one of the greatest game managers in NFL history. With a historically dominant defense and a quarterback that has zero career passing attempts, the Broncos may rely on a healthy dose of the run game each week. Enter: C.J. Anderson, the man that collectively ruined the dreams of a third of America’s fantasy football teams in 2015. Although Anderson picked it up towards the end of the season, he’s still far from a guarantee at running back — most likely why the Broncos were willing to spend a valuable 4th round selection on Booker this spring. The former Ute star dominated the college football scene with 2,773 yards and 21 touchdowns in 2015, so there’s potential for him to not only steal some carries from Anderson but the whole job entirely.
Who would you have added to the list? Who is your sleeper of the year? Let us know!