10 NFL veterans with something to prove in 2017

After an uncharacteristically bad season for cornerback Darrelle Revis, the New York Jets released the veteran All-Pro. Al Pereira/Getty Images

The mantra of the NFL is “what have you done for me lately?” Players are reassessed wildly on a week-to-week basis during the regular season. Have a full season of disappointing play and you might as well have rewritten your epitaph. 

Here are 10 players with a lot at stake in the 2017, most of whom have shown promise in the past but were derailed in 2016.

Nelson Agholor: The Eagles came into the offseason under great pressure from fans to upgrade at receiver. By the end of the 2016 season, Agholor had become a scapegoat for an initially exciting but ultimately dour year due to a spate of drops. Philly added Torrey Smith and Alshon Jeffery in free agency. With Jordan Matthews and, at least for now, Dorial Green-Beckham still on the roster, the 20th pick in the 2015 draft could severely struggle for targets unless he makes an impression in the preseason and early in the regular season. Perhaps that’s why he’s charting his own drops in OTAs.

Brock Osweiler: You’d figure with the Browns willing to eat the remainder of his guaranteed money in exchange for a second-round pick there wouldn’t be much pressure on Osweiler. Apparently, however, he has this nagging desire to excel in the NFL and now merely collect tons and tons of money. Of course, the huge contract he signed with the Texans is exactly why so many are so hard on him. Osweiler did have a rough 2016 season, and few will expect better of him in 2017. Even with the benefit of low expectations, making the leap in Cleveland is no easy task. If he doesn’t, there’s little reason to think even the Browns, as many nice things as they’ve had to say about him so far, would keep him around.

Danny Woodhead: He turned 32 back in January and has missed nearly all of two of the last three seasons. Woodhead might be the butt of a lot of jokes for being a shaggy, undersized white running back, but he has been a versatile weapon that opens up an offense when he’s available. He’s now moved on to Baltimore, an offense that has suddenly found itself depleted. It’s a good chance for Woodhead to re-establish himself as a contributor and possibly hang on for a few more years.

Jared Goff: The 2016 no. 1 pick played poorly in a poor offense run by a poor coach in his rookie year. Now that he’s had a full year to mature in the pros and has a boy genius head coach known for offensive innovation, one would presume to see considerable growth into his second season. Goff’s career may not exactly be in peril if he’s not suddenly good, but there has to be enough of an upward trajectory to satisfy the many who were ready to call him a bust months after he was drafted.

Blake Bortles: The Jags' quarterback seemed to be making strides in 2015, then suddenly fell off a cliff the following year, just when observers were just starting to believe in his team. Bortles made inexplicable throws on a weekly basis in 2016. Jacksonville’s draft and offseason moves are hypes every year, and fans are learning to take those words with a grain of salt. However unlikely it is for the Jags to finally be a playoff team in 2017, Bortles has to improve dramatically or he’ll just be the latest in a line of failed projects for the franchise. 

Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles seemed to regress last season. Reinhold Matay/USA TODAY Sports

Rob Gronkowski: Gronk gave himself monetary motivation to return from injury in 2017 by adding several performance incentives to his contract with the Patriots for this upcoming season. After undergoing his third back surgery, there are creeping doubts that Gronk can be relied on to stay consistently healthy, and that the Pats will soon tire of waiting if 2017 isn’t a year where he remains in the lineup.

Darrelle Revis: The All-Pro is not presently on a roster. Unless his asking price remains astronomically high, it’s hard to see Revis not being picked up on a flier sometime before the start of the regular season. Revis struggled in man coverage in 2016. Perhaps the late career shift to safety is just what the doctor ordered. Either way, Revis will be battling the perception that he is done, if in fact he plays again.

Eddie Lacy: Conditioning has long been the facile narrative attached to Lacy, though he’s taking his weight loss seriously this year. Given the success the team had pounding Marshawn Lynch at defenses, Lacy’s arrival in Seattle made complete sense and seemed to fill a void in the offense. The Seahawks' window is finally showing signs of closing, so this is likely to be Lacy’s last chance to establish himself as a star and help a team to a championship.

Kelvin Benjamin: Carolina’s offense somehow thrived in 2015 when Benjamin missed the entire year, and Ted Ginn inexplicably served as the top receiver on a Super Bowl team. Benjamin returned in 2016 and had a so-so year, and was often dogged about conditioning questions. Those have persisted early in the 2017 offseason. Carolina is finally committed to adding other weapons to its offense, and that means Benjamin could quickly fade from prominence unless he sets himself apart.

Vernon Hargreaves: The Bucs corner had an up-and-down rookie campaign in 2016. While he made significant highlight plays, he was the only corner in the NFL to surrender more than 1,000 yards. He was also targeted the most, gave up the most yards and was tied for the sixth most surrendered touchdowns. The Tampa offense is expected to take off in 2017. The defense has its strong points, but it can’t afford such a glaring weakness if the team is really going to make noise this coming season.

Mike Tunison is a freelance writer based in Alexandria, Va. and the former editor of Kissing Suzy Kolber. You can follow him at @xmasape on Twitter.

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