Rarely is an NFL player’s career just a straight line of success. Even the best player endure some ups and downs.
Every year, we see a bunch of players regress mightly, whether it be because of injuries, a change in their role, or some other factor.
At the same time, there will always be those superstars who endure a down season or two, only to bounce back the following year—kinda like what we saw from Christian McCaffrey, Saquon Barkley, and Jared Goff in 2022.
So who will be 2023’s risers and fallers? Here are five NFL players who are poised to bounce back in 2023, and five who will decline.
Bounce Back: Russell Wilson
The first year of the Wilson era in Denver was a disaster, no doubt about it. But let’s not forget “Murphy’s Law” here, because everything that could go wrong practically went wrong for the Broncos in 2022.
Nathaniel Hackett wasn’t cut out for the head coaching job. Standout receiver Tim Patrick missed the entire year recovering from a torn ACL. And rising star running back Javonte Williams played four games before suffering a season-ending knee injury.
Oh, and the offensive line was an absolute trainwreck, allowing a league-high 63 sacks. Wilson was on the receiving end of 55 of them.
Well, there’s just no chance Wilson and the Denver offense will be that bad again. Getting Patrick back to help Jerry Jeudy and Courtland Sutton should make the passing-game that much better.
The o-line picked up two new starters in Ben Powers and Mike McGlinchey, both of whom should be upgrades over the men they’re replacing. And then of course there’s new head coach Sean Payton, an offensive wizard and future Hall of Famer who will unquestionably restore confidence in this once-proud franchise.
Maybe the Broncos won’t make the jump to Super Bowl contender. But Wilson is going to at least play much more like the Pro Bowl version of himself, as opposed to the guy we saw in 2022. That much is obvious.
Decline: Kirk Cousins
In terms of actual stats, 2022 wasn’t Cousins’ best season. But considering his Minnesota Vikings won 13 games and the NFC North division crown, we’d chalk 2022 up as the most successful year of his career up to this point.
Cousins completed 65.9 percent of pass attempts for 4,547 yards and 29 touchdowns against 14 picks. His main to-go-guy, Justin Jefferson, led the NFL with 1,809 receiving yards.
Put simply, however, the law of averages tell us that Cousins and the Vikings as a whole stand to regress in 2023. Did you know Cousins had EIGHT game-winning drives in 2022 alone? Yeah, he’s not doing that again.
Oh, and the Vikings went 11-and-0 in one-score games during the regular season. Those 11 wins in one possession games marked an NFL record.
So there’s just no way Cousins and the Vikings get that lucky again. Also, No. 2 wideout Adam Thielen was let go in a cap-saving move, taking away one valuable weapon from Cousins. Minny’s NFC North division foes, the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions, should be more competitive after proactive offseasons.
Cousins should put up solid stats once again. Having Jefferson, Dalvin Cook and TJ Hockenson will do that for you. But based on what we’ve seen through the first 11 seasons of his career, it’s safe to assume that regression is coming Kirk’s way in 2023.
Bounce Back: Aaron Rodgers
Rodgers is going to join a Jets team loaded with weapons, including 2022 Offensive Rookie of the Year Garrett Wilson, star running back Breece Hall, old friend Allen Lazard, plus Corey Davis and speedster Mecole Hardman.
If the Jets could win seven games with Zach Wilson, Mike White and Joe Flacco…well there’s no telling how much Rodgers will move the needle. Green Bay didn’t give him enough pass-catching help to succeed in 2022, and the defense once again let A-Rod down far too often.
He won’t have to worry about that anymore, though. The Jets had the No. 4 ranked defense in terms of both yards and points allowed last year. More stops and forced punts = more drives for Rodgers…
So… no, it’s not a stretch to say that 2023 could be another MVP-caliber year for the future Hall of Famer.
Decline: Jessie Bates III
What can we say? It’s a whole lot of dough for a safety with only one GREAT season on his resume. But the Falcons, loaded with cap space, decided that the potential rewards on the Wake Forest product outweigh the risks.
Bates’ best season came in 2020, when he racked up three interceptions and 12 pass defenses. Pro Football Focus graded him at an impressive 90.1 on the year, but Bates really hasn’t been the same ever since.
His 2021 PFF grade dropped all the way down to 56.1. And per Pro Football Reference, Bates allowed an 80 percent completion percentage and yielded a 122.0 passer rating when targeted in 2021.
Bates was slightly better in 2022, grading at 76.8. But he also allowed four touchdowns in coverage, per PFR. Yes, he makes plays on the ball, but Bates isn’t really that shutdown guy in coverage that you saw for much of 2020.
He fit well in Lou Anarumo’s defensive scheme in Cincy. Now Bates joins an Atlanta defense that has, quite frankly, been one of football’s worst for the better part of the last decade. Who’s to think Bates will suddenly regain his 2020 superstar-like form on a new team…with a worse defense…with far less talent around him?
Not buying it. We’re quite confident the Falcons will feel buyer’s remorse with Bates after just one year.
Bounce Back: Marshon Lattimore
The New Orleans’ Saints star cornerback missed 10 games last season dealing with an abdomen injury. It’s not a stretch to say that if he were healthy all year long, the Saints would have won the NFC South division title.
But even in the seven games he suited up for, Lattimore rarely looked like the lockdown Pro Bowl corner we’ve watched since 2017. His 2022 PFF grade was a mere 64.7, which placed him in their “above average” grading key.
Well, the Saints as a whole were hit hard by injuries last season. But if Lattimore stays healthy, go ahead and watch him take off again in 2023.
The Saints have the second-easiest strength of schedule for 2023. They play in football’s worst division and don’t need to worry about Tom Brady anymore. With weaker competition, Lattimore could be in for a monster season.
Decline: Khalil Mack
He’s a household name, but Mack truly hasn’t been an all-world pass-rusher for a few years now. Given his age and recent production, we’re inclined to believe that he’s, well, on the decline.
Mack had eight sacks in 17 games for the Los Angeles Chargers last season. Not awful numbers, but we’re talking about a former Defensive Player of the Year with four seasons of double-digit sacks on his resume.
Pro Football Reference had Mack down for a mere 18 quarterback pressures in 2022. For context, he had nine pressures in just seven games the year prior. Considering the presence of Joey Bosa, Mack should be winning his more favorable matchups.
And for those who don’t think stats tell the story? Consider that PFF consistently had Mack graded in the mid-80s to the early 90s from 2014 to 2020. His number has been 73.0 or lower in each of the last two years, however.
So yes, the trend shows that Mack is on the decline and no longer a superstar. That notion should only be reinforced in 2023.
Bounce Back: Kyle Pitts
The No. 4 selection of the 2021 NFL Draft more than lived up to expectations as a rookie — recording 68 receptions for 1,026 yards and a touchdown.
But Pitts became a victim of the well-documented sophomore slump in the first half of 2022. And then an unfortunate season-ending MCL tear kept him on the sidelines for the final six games.
In 10 contests, Pitts recorded only 28 catches for 356 yards and two touchdowns. He went from averaging 60.4 yards per game in 2021 to a mere 35.6 in 2022.
Well, there’s just no way a man of his talents can disappoint that much again. And given Drake London’s superb rookie year, opposing defenses may want to pay more attention to him next season. That should open the door for Pitts to draw more winnable one-on-one matchups down the field.
We’d be shocked if Pitts didn’t re-emerge as a 1,000-yard Pro Bowl tight end. There’s just too much talent for him to have another down year.
Decline: Mike Evans
It’s admittedly risky placing Evans on here. Nine straight 1,000-yard seasons to open a career is no joke, after all.
But let’s not forget that even with Tom Brady, Evans BARELY cracked the 1,000-yard mark in 2020 and 2021. And the renowned red zone artist, who racked up 27 touchdowns from 2020 to 2021, had just six last year.
And now with Brady retired, who’s going to consistently feed Evans the football? Baker Mayfield? Kyle Trask? No offense, but both are major downgrades from the GOAT. Just sayin’.
Right now, the Bucs look like they could very well be the worst team in the NFC South. Evans will be drawing some tough cornerback matchups against guys like Marshon Lattimore, Jaycee Horn and AJ Terrell…
It just feels like everything’s adding up to a letdown year for Evans.
Bounce Back: Derek Carr
Carr’s final season with the Las Vegas Raiders can only be chalked up as a disappointment. Even the arrival of Davante Adams couldn’t help Carr build off a stellar 2021 season that saw the Raiders reach the postseason for just the second time since 2003.
The Raiders benched Carr for their final two games of 2022 and worked on a potential trade. Unable to find a team in which Carr would waive his no-trade clause for, the four-time Pro Bowler was released.
The QB-needy Saints signed Carr to a four-year deal worth $150 million, reuniting him with Dennis Allen. And in so many ways, this deal feels like a huge win for both sides.
In 15 games, Carr completed just 60.8 percent of pass attempts for 3,522 yards and 24 touchdowns against 14 picks — which tied a career high. That wasn’t typical Derek Carr, and his career production suggests it was an off year instead of a sign of what’s to come.
Also, Carr is absolutely loaded with weaponry in New Orleans. Chris Olave was a star in year one. Michael Thomas could be a difference-maker if he just stays healthy. Alvin Kamara and newcomer Jamaal Williams might be the league’s best backfield duo, and tight end Juwan Johnson is a potential breakout candidate after recording seven touchdowns last season.
Not to mention the Saints have long had one of football’s best offensive lines. Meanwhile, the Raiders’ o-line was among the league’s worst last year.
The Raiders consistently fielded a bottom-10 defense during Carr’s career. New Orleans, on the other hand, had the fifth-best yardage defense and the No. 9 scoring D in 2022.
And as previously mentioned, New Orleans has the second-weakest strength of schedule. They should pile up the W’s in a laughable NFC South. Indeed, it’s all adding up to an epic comeback year for Carr.
Decline: Josh Jacobs
The Raiders surely regret not picking up the fifth-year option on Jacobs’ rookie deal. All the Alabama product did was lead the NFL in rushing with 1,653 yards to go along with 12 rushing touchdowns.
Jacobs also hauled in 53 receptions for a career-high 400 receiving yards.
But with all due respect to Jacobs, there’s just no way he’ll put together that kind of stat line again. Before last year, his career-high in rushing yards was 1,150.
And no offense to Jimmy Garoppolo, but he simply isn’t as good a pocket passer as Carr is. Opposing defenses had to mostly account for the Carr-led passing game last year, but with Garoppolo, they’ll prioritize stacking the box and daring Jimmy G to beat them.
Jacobs should still be a 1,000-yard rusher, but he’s not going to come close to 1,600 yards again. And he’s not going to surpass 2,000 yards from scrimmage, either. Regression seems like a foregone conclusion for the Raiders’ workhorse back in 2023.
Which other NFL players are poised to bounce back in 2023, and which ones will decline?
WANT MORE FROM TOTALPROSPORTS? FOLLOW US ON GOOGLE NEWS.