As we continue our countdown towards the 2022 NFL season, I thought the next batch of players to look at would be bounce-back candidates. Last year saw some impressive returns from injury, with Quarterbacks Dak Prescott and Joe Burrow picking up where they left off, throwing 37 and 34 regular season TDs respectively.
On the defensive side, Nick Bosa returned to wreak havoc in a strong San Francisco defensive line. The 2019 Defensive Rookie of the year returned from his ACL injury in style, recording 16 sacks (4th most) and helping his side to an NFC Championship match.
Derwin James is another defensive stud who returned as if he has never been away. James has been through the wars, seeing his 2019 season cut short after just 5 games (foot stress fracture), and not even making it through training camp in 2020 (season-ending meniscus injury). He was able to soften the blow a little bit by dominating all throughout last season and being recognised by PFF as their 6th best safety in the NFL.
Chargers fans will be crossing their fingers he can stay healthy this year as they try to navigate through a tough AFC and, no doubt, the toughest division in the league (AFC West).
When looking at who could be in line for a bounce-back season in 2022, I have decided to opt for the harder route and ignore players who are returning from injury. Here are a few players who have been struggling for form but could find their fortunes improving in 2022.
Allen Robinson – Wide Reciever – Los Angeles Rams
For years, people commended Robinson for his ability to put up numbers with an array of sub-par quarterbacks. His 2015 season with Jacksonville firmly put him on the map as a quality NFL receiver, bringing in 1,400 yards and 14TDs. Since then, he has only managed to get past the 1,000-yard mark twice, catching balls from Mitch Trubisky, Nick Foles, Andy Dalton and rookie Justin Fields. During these four years spent in Chicago, the Bears ranked 26th in team passing (Chicago Sun Times, 2022).
A sorry season of just 410 yards marked the end of an underwhelming spell in Chicago. The future, however, is much brighter for Alan Robinson. The wideout now finds himself on a roster, fresh off a Super Bowl win and widely considered one of the more exciting offenses in the league.
The LA Rams, having just lost free agent, Odell Beckham Jr, continue with their uncanny ability of toying with the cap and bringing in star talent. Due to Beckham’s unfortunate injury, Robinson comes in and, on the surface, appears to be an upgrade to what was already a dynamic offense.
The upgrade in situation also comes with pressure, however. No excuses now; it’s time to re-find that form and prove that he is a top NFL wide receiver.
Matt Ryan – Quarterback- Indianapolis Colts
Matt Ryan is now 37 years old and entering his 15th season in the NFL. Not your typical candidate for a ‘bounce back’. To be fair to him, his 2021 season wasn’t even that bad, but it was the first time since 2011 that he didn’t pass for over 4,000 yards.
In simple terms, a quarterback’s role is to throw the ball. It is then down to his receivers to make the most of his passes and move the team down the field.
Atlanta’s number one receiver was their highly regarded rookie Tight End, Kyle Pitts, who notched himself just over 1000 yards in his first season in the league. Next up, Russell Gage (770 yards), Cordarelle Patterson (548 yards), Olamide Zacchaeaus (406 yards) and Mike Davis (259 yards). The point I am trying to make is, he didn’t have the best tools around him.
Matt Ryan now finds himself in Indianapolis, steering an intimidating offense led by star, three-down running back, Jonathan Taylor, and exciting second-year wideout Michael Pittman Jr. The presence of a true threat on the outside should help Ryan distribute the ball better and, hopefully, give the Colts the quarterback play they have searching for since Andrew Luck’s retirement.
Juju Smith-Schuster – Wide Reciever – Kansas City Chiefs
JuJu Smith Schuster hit the ground running after being drafted to the Pittsburgh Steelers, at just 20 years old. 917 yards in his rookie season was followed up with an impressive 1,426 in his sophomore season, suggesting big things were on the horizon.
His 2019 was, unfortunately, shut down early due to a knee injury in week 12, but even by this point of the season, he had only brought in 552 yards. This disappointing trend continued into 2020 and 2021, before he suffered a shoulder injury that caused him to miss the final 12 games of the 2021 season.
This takes us to the present day. JuJu now finds himself donning the red of the Kansas City Chiefs and swapping the limp arm of an almost retired Ben Roethlisberger for the cannon arm wielded by Patrick Mahomes. The shift is going to be interesting. At his best, Smith Schuster was gaining 15.8 and 12.8 yards per reception during his first 2 years. In his last two years (which did coincide with Ben Roethlisberger making the art of throwing the ball look harder and harder), Juju only averaged 8.6 yards per reception. It will be fascinating to see how Andy Reid uses him in this completely different offense and whether he can find the version of Juju that looked set on a path to be a dominant receiver in the NFL.
I know I said I wasn’t going to feature players coming off an injury, but Juju’s performance was dipping prior to the injury, so I hope you’ll let me off!
Shaquille Griffin – Cornerback – Jacksonville Jaguars
It has all been offense so far, so I thought I would finish up on the defensive side of things. I thought I would focus on a team that could be looking for a whole squad bounce-back, the Jacksonville Jaguars. This is a team that have got a few reasons to be excited, headlined by the fact they are starting this season without a certain head coach, Urban Meyer. This, plus a few good additions on offense (Brandon Scherff, Christian Kirk and Evan Engram signed, Etienne returning from injury) should help to set their prized quarterback up to show his immense promise.
On the defensive side of the ball, it will take some time to get there, but Josh Allen and recent No.1 pick, Travon Walker, provide an exciting core to build around. In the secondary, Shaquille Griffin is entering his second year with the team. Griffin joined off the back of 4 very solid years in Seattle, where he started 57 regular season games out of a possible 64 and was selected to the pro bowl (as a replacement) in 2019. His first season with Jacksonville was underwhelming, recording only one interception, but if he and the Jaguars can turn around their fortunes, it could all start to come together quite nicely for a team that have struggled for a few years now.