Every year, we see a handful of NFL stars go from “superstar” to either “borderline star” or “average Joe.” Very few NFL legends have ever been a superstar from start to finish throughout their career, and that will serve as a tough reminder for several players come 2023.
With that all said, here are 10 NFL stars we expect to suck in 2023.
Less than two months after his release from the Arizona Cardinals, the five-time Pro Bowler signed a two-year pact with the Tennessee Titans worth $26 million. On paper, that’s a bargain of a deal for a guy who, when healthy, has been a borderline top-five wide receiver over the past five or so years.
But the key words? “When healthy.” D-Hop missed seven games to injury in 2021 plus Arizona’s NFC Wild Card Round Game against the Los Angeles Rams. He also missed the club’s final two games in 2022 with a knee injury.
So Hopkins’ recent injury history and age — now 31 — are concerning, for starters. Secondly, we’re not really sold on the idea that he’ll regain his all-pro form with Ryan Tannehiill throwing him the football.
Hopkins was a machine in Arizona’s hot-and-cold offense, because the two-way Kyler Murray just always found ways to get the balls in his hands. Like Hopkins, however, Tannehill is an injury-prone and fading commodity on the wrong side of 30. He simply isn’t the passer Murray is, so getting the ball out to D-Hop is easier said than done.
Not to mention the Titans remain a rush-first offense as long as Derrick Henry continues to pound the rock.
Tennessee always felt like an odd fit for Hopkins. They don’t give him the best chance to put up elite stats nor win a Super Bowl. It simply shouldn’t take long for both sides to realize that this marriage isn’t meant to last very long…
In today’s edition of “Strange, but true”: Mack hasn’t had a double-digit sack season since 2018 — his first year with the Chicago Bears. At some point, you just gotta accept that a player’s prime ended much sooner than expected.
From 2014 to 2021, Mack’s Pro Football Focus grade was never lower than 86.2. It exceeded 90 on FIVE occasions, and he was graded second or first at his position four times.
But Mack’s PFF numbers has dropped into the low 70s in consecutive seasons now. The 2022 grade of 71.1 was the lowest of his career. And if you’re in the “sacks tell the story” community, consider this: Mack’s sack total of eight in 2022 was his lowest in a full season he played since 2014. So yeah.
Mack is fine as a complement to Joey Bosa, but he’s not the game-wrecker this team had hoped for when they acquired him from the Chicago Bears two years ago. Mack is clearly slowing down as he enters his age-32 season, and it’s time to accept that the 2016 Defensive Player of the Year version of the seven-time Pro Bowler is long gone.
Regarding the Titans…
The club’s decision to bring back Tannehill was a curious choice at first. But at least they snagged their “hopeful” quarterback of the future in Will Levis, who somehow fell to Mike Vrabel and company in the No. 33 spot. Remember when the Kentucky product was supposed to be a top-10 pick?
So either Tannehill stays healthy, turns back the clock and keeps Tennessee in playoff contention — or he stinks, and it forces them to turn over to Levis. Which one will it be? We confidently think it’s the latter.
Tannehill was a great story in his first three seasons with the Titans, leading them to a trio of playoff berths, two division crowns and a surprise 2019 AFC title game appearance. But it’s rather evident now that Tannehill magic has dried up.
One can chalk up Tannehill’s inconsistent play before his season-ending ankle injury to a lack of productive receivers. But as we outlined on D-Hop, you shouldn’t expect him to emerge as the savior in Music City.
The Jacksonville Jaguars are heads-and-shoulders above the other three AFC South clubs. This is no longer a laughably weak division for the Titans to exploit. And you think Tannehill will lead Tennessee to the postseason with all those other elite quarterbacks in the AFC?
Not buying it. At all.
“Hollywood” had a breakout year for the Baltimore Ravens in 2021, recording 91 receptions for 1,008 yards and six touchdowns.
Wanting to reunite Kyler Murray with his former Oklahoma teammate, the Cardinals acquired Brown and the No. 100 pick of the 2022 draft from Baltimore in exchange for the No. 23 selection.
Though he missed five games last year, Brown still had a nice stat line of 67 catches for 709 yards and three touchdowns — so he was on pace to push for a second straight 1,000-yard season.
But there’s some obvious bad news for Brown this year: Kyler Murray will miss a large chunk of the season recovering from a torn ACL he suffered last December. How can Brown expect to put up good numbers with Colt McCoy — and not Murray — throwing him the football?
Secondly, it was nice for Brown when opposing defenses were mostly focused on DeAndre Hopkins — allowing “Hollywood” to win his more favorable matchups. Now he’s going to get all the tough cornerback matchups — without a starting-caliber QB feeding him the football no less.
This isn’t to say Brown is past his prime or will go down as a draft bust. But the circumstances simply don’t line up for him to endure a season close to his 2021 breakout year. Expect one major step back for Brown, who will then hopefully regain his star-like form in 2024.
It’s easy to understand why White sought a trade from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers earlier this offseason: The team simply isn’t good anymore, and his play the last two seasons has been nothing short of disappointing.
After a stellar rookie year, White seemingly broke out in 2020 when he racked up nine sacks, four pass defenses and 140 combined tackles. He was a force in the Bucs’ run to a Super Bowl 55 championship as well, recording two picks, as many fumble recoveries and three pass defenses in three games.
But the ultra-athletic running back has inexplicably regressed since that 2020 championship season, all while teammate and veteran LB Lavonte David continues to play at a borderline elite level.
Per Pro Football Reference, White has allowed a whopping 944 receiving yards in coverage the last two seasons. In 2022, he yielded an opposing passer rating of 104.9.
Oh, it gets worse. PFF graded him at 36.2 in 2021 and at 45.5 in 2022. Think about it: He was simply a below-average player doing more harm than good.
Now what? We’re supposed to think White will regain his elite form as the Bucs continue to lose more and more pieces from that championship team — including Tom Brady? Good luck.
No more TB12 means more responsibility for the defense. And White has shown over the last two years he isn’t up for that. To us, his tenure in Tampa Bay simply can’t end soon enough — for all parties involved.
We’ll get confirmation of that when he mercilessly endures another frustrating year in 2023.
Jessie Bates III
Looking to bolster a defense that’s been awful for five years and counting, the Atlanta Falcons spent crazy money on that side of the ball this offseason. The biggest signing? Ex-Cincinnati Bengals safety Jessie Bates III — who agreed to a four-year pact worth $64.02 million.
Bates had a career year in 2020, recording three interceptions and 15 pass defenses en route to Second-Team All-Pro nods. Per Pro Football Ref, Bates also allowed just a 54.3 completion percentage and a 70.7 opponent passer rating when targeted.
PFF graded him at 90.1 on the year, too.
Inexplicably, Bates’ production has declined even though the Bengals as a whole have gotten way better with back-to-back AFC Championship appearances.
His PFF grade fell to 56.1 in 2021. He allowed an 80 percent completion percentage when targeted and a ridiculous opponent’s passer rating of 122.0. Though his advanced stats improved in 2022 — a 76.8 PFF grade and an opponent’s passer rating of 76.1. However, he allowed four TDs in coverage.
So in other words, Bates has had one great year in five seasons, the last two being mediocre at best. Now we’re supposed to think he’ll play like a star again?
Going from the Bengals’ D to the Falcons’ D is quite the downgrade. And Bates doesn’t have the same support around him that he had in Cincinnati. So Falcons fans hoping he’ll suddenly transform their secondary better not hold their breath.
After surpassing 600-yards receiving in 2019 and 2020, Renfrow had a career year for the Las Vegas Raiders in 2021 – tallying 103 catches for 1,038 yards and nine touchdowns.
Renfrow was awarded with a two-year extension worth $32 million last offseason. But his numbers dropped considerably, with Renfrow hauling in 36 catches for 330 yards and two touchdowns in 10 games.
And for those who say “but he missed seven games”. Well, Renfrow went from averaging 61.1 yards per game in 2021 to just 33 yards per game. When on the field, he simply wasn’t anything close to the star that frightened opposing defenses in 2021.
We’re skeptical that Renfrow will regain his 2023 form for several reasons. For starters, the Raiders downgraded at QB by going from Derek Carr to the injury-prone and ultra-inconsistent Jimmy Garoppolo. Good luck with that.
Secondly, the Raiders added a new slot receiver in ex-New England Patriot Jakobi Meyers, who grew into a stud under Josh McDaniels in Foxborough. Little doubt to us that Meyers will flourish with his new team here.
The Raiders also added the speedy Tre Tucker for additional slot receiver depth. Not to mention that Davante Adams is still the Raiders’ go-to receiver, and reigning rushing champ Josh Jacobs will see a plethora of touches in the offense as well.
Add it all up, and things point to another down year for Renfrow in 2023.
The New Orleans Saints brought back the 2019 Offensive Player of the Year on a reworked contract, once again hoping that he’ll finally get healthy.
It’s just tough to buy at this point, really. Thomas missed all but seven games in 2020 with an ankle injury and clearly wasn’t himself in the games he suited up for. He missed the entire 2021 season after suffering a setback in the ankle injury.
Thomas had three touchdowns in the Saints’ first two games of 2022…only to suffer a toe injury that kept him out for the final 14 games of the year.
It’s just one injury after another for the-now-30-year-old. And even if he stays healthy? Derek Carr is still giving the ball off to Chris Olave, Alvin Kamara and Jamaal Williams aplenty. Thomas isn’t the only reliable pass-catcher in this offense anymore.
Maybe a healthy Thomas can put up healthy WR2 numbers — but we’re giving up on hoping that he’ll get back to his All-Pro days. They’re long gone.
The longtime Minnesota Vikings’ mainstay at safety tied his career-high of interceptions last season with five. A deeper dive into the analytics, however, will show you that he’s nothing close to his prime anymore.
A longtime darling at PFF, Smith graded just 69.1 overall last season. That was his worst grade at the site since his 2013 sophomore season. And per Pro Football Ref, he allowed a 79.5 completion percentage when targeted.
It’s impressive that the six-time Pro Bowler is still a starter in his mid-30s. But age catches up to all of us eventually, and this current Vikings’ D might be the absolute worst squad that Smith has ever played on.
The unit stunk last year and yet got worse with the losses of Patrick Peterson, Eric Kendricks and Za’Darius Smith. And now what? Smith is just going to regain his all-star form with practically no help in the secondary? We ain’t buying it.
Smith’s decline slowly started last season. It’s going to be an even more rapid decline in 2023.
We were surprised to see the Carolina Panthers hand Thielen a three-year deal worth $25 million in free agency.
He’s been slowing down for a while now and most certainly won’t bounce back in his age-33 season…with a rookie at quarterback…with no other star-level offensive weapons around him.
Thielen hasn’t been a 1,000-yard receiver since 2018. He put up 70 receptions for 716 yards and six TDs last year as a No. 2 receiver behind Justin Jefferson. With the Panthers trading away DJ Moore to the Chicago Bears, Carolina lacks a true WR1 to make life easier for Thielen.
And as high as we are on Bryce Young, we’re expecting several growing pains in his rookie year. Again, especially given the lack of playmakers around him.
The Panthers seem to believe that Thielen will turn back the clock and be a 1K receiver again. No chance. Something in the 600-700 yard range is way more likely. It’s time to accept that his days as a star are done for.
What other NFL stars you think will suck in 2023?
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