Either due to injury or just a lackluster 2020 season, there are some big names looking to return to form in 2021. Although there are plenty of elite players to look at, here are just ten looking to get back to the top of their game in 2021.
Cam Newton– Quarterback, New England Patriots
If you split up Newton’s stat lines from before he contracted COVID-19 to after, it was like he was replaced with a stunt double. In his excellent start with the Patriots, Newton threw for 714 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Along with 147 rushing yards and four scores on the ground to boot. After he missed week four vs, Kansas City, his production went into an absolute freefall. Newton threw for only 1943 yards in his final 12 outings and had just six touchdown passes to eight interceptions.
In Newton’s defense, it is awfully hard to say getting COVID-19 was not at least a moderate factor in his performance drop-off. But Newton seems poised for a solid 2021 year if he can return to that early season form from last year. First, due to the major offensive acquisitions of Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith, and Kendrick Bourne, along with a phenomenal offensive line and running back room. Secondly, being that he has had a full offseason program to get truly acclimated to Josh McDaniel’s offense.
Julio Jones– Wide Receiver, Atlanta Falcons
Even with his superhuman talent as a wideout, you can make the argument that Jones’ best ability has been his availability over the course of his career. However, that was not the case in 2020, with him missing the final eight games of the season last year with a hamstring issue. Despite that, Jones was able to snag 51 passes for 577 yards and a trio of touchdowns in nine games. Regardless of where he ends up beginning the 2021 campaign, expect Jones to be a key contributor. He is still without question, one of the best wide receivers the NFL has to offer.
Chandler Jones and J.J. Watt– EDGE, Arizona Cardinals
In his Hall of Fame-worthy career to this point, Jones has failed to hit the double-digit sack plateau only three times. Last year was one of those occasions. Unfortunately for Jones, his 2020 was cut short due to a torn bicep in mid-October. However, the big reason for Cardinal fans to get excited about Jones for this upcoming year has nothing to do with him.
This is where Watt comes into play, it is entirely plausible that you have heard of this gentleman. He is coming off his worst season as a pro from a sack production standpoint with the lowly Houston Texans. Only tallying five sacks in 16 games. Watt’s addition to the Arizona front seven will do wonders for his production as well as Jones’. NFL offensive line’s having to dedicate themselves to stopping two elite edge rushers is a big ask. Both future Hall of Famers should reap major rewards due to each other’s presence in 2021.
Sam Darnold– Quarterback, Carolina Panthers
Darnold, who was attached to a three-ton anchor named Adam Gase to begin his career is finally free of offensive ineptitude. But now after being traded to the greener pastures of Charlotte, North Carolina, Darnold has a new lease on his NFL life. To be fair, Darnold showed flashes of being a good NFL quarterback with the Jets, just never for a full season’s worth of games. The Jets were never able to give him the best chance to succeed, and that is almost entirely on them. But now being aligned with offensive guru Joe Brady and the upstart Matt Rhule, Darnold should be in a good spot to show his worth in 2021. He is now with former teammate Robby Anderson too.
Courtland Sutton– Wide Receiver, Denver Broncos
The Broncos, who have done a great job at drafting skill players lately, were set to tout a phenomenal skill group last year. That took a notable hit with Sutton not even completing a single outing, tearing his ACL against the Steelers in week two. Sutton was also coming off a tremendous sophomore campaign, his production was expected to increase further in 2020. He has 77 catches for 1112 yards and six touchdowns his last full season. It is hard to see Sutton not eclipsing that season with Jerry Jeudy, Noah Fant, and KJ Hamler taking pressure away from him.
Khalil Mack– EDGE, Chicago Bears
After four consecutive seasons with double-digit sacks, Mack has not hit those numbers in back-to-back seasons. He has also had near career-low seasons in quarterback hits and tackles for loss as well. Now being 30 years old, Mack very well may have one of the worst contracts in the NFL.
Chicago can cut ties with him after this season with guaranteed money no longer appearing to be on the table. Doing so would create a near $30,000,000 dead cap hit if done before next June. Any time after that it would be about a $12,000,000 hit. Would like to believe all involved parties would like to see a good 2021 from Mack. It was not too long ago he was considered in the same breath as Aaron Donald.
Raheem Mostert– Running Back, San Francisco 49ers
Mostert in his third year in San Francisco, fifth in the NFL, was able to make himself a household name. He broke out for the 49ers and became a major cog in a 49ers Super Bowl run two years ago. That success would not be duplicated in 2020, spending two stints on injured reserve and missing eight games. Even with the Draft addition of Trey Sermon, Mostert should be a key piece in Kyle Shanahan’s ground attack. Mostert has averaged 5.3 yards a carry over his last two seasons where he rushed 141 times. More of the same is likely for the savvy veteran from Purdue.
Dont’a Hightower– Linebacker, New England Patriots
The heart and soul of New England’s defense opted to skip last season due to COVID-19 concerns. Now back and ready to go for 2021, Hightower looks to lead the Patriot’s defensive unit back to where they were in 2019. Last year the Patriots dropped from the NFL’s consensus number one defense to fifteenth in yards, and seventh in points. The missing presence of Hightower in the front seven had a lot to do with that. Now coming back into a loaded linebacker/EDGE room, Hightower should be back to form, wreaking havoc up front.
Dak Prescott– Quarterback, Dallas Cowboys
Prescott was only scratching the surface of the new-look Dallas offenses’ potential to begin the 2020 season. That all changed when he went down for the season in week five. Although it is unlikely these marks would have been hit, this is what he was on pace to do. Throw for 5939 yards, throwing 28 touchdowns to 12 interceptions, and run for about 10 touchdowns. Prescott would have likely had career highs in QBR and completion percentage as well. 2021 should be good for Prescott if Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, and Ezekiel Elliott are all where they should be. Not to mention if the Cowboy’s offensive line is up to snuff.
Follow Jack Gaffney on Twitter @JackGaffneyPTST
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