Welcome back to the continuation of the Top NFL Players Heading into 2016. In part I, we saw Richard Sherman, Tyrann Mathieu, Carson Palmer, and Luke Kuechly. Below we pick up where we left off at number 10…
Top NFL Players Heading into 2016 (Part II)
10. Josh Norman, Washington Redskins
Somehow the Carolina Panthers managed to mess up the contract negotiations with Josh Norman after removing the all-pro defensive back’s franchise tag midway through the off-season. Just days after the news that his tag had been revoked Norman moved on and signed with the Washington Redskins. Norman led the Panther’s secondary last year with four interceptions, three forced fumbles, and quite a few headlines for the media to chew on. The Norman-Odell Beckham Jr. rivalry lit up everyone’s Twitter timeline and the NFL’s front office and each player received sizable fines. With Norman joining the same conference as Beckham Jr. we have the opportunity to witness this rivalry twice a year with each match-up hopefully living up to expectations.
9. Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giants
At the age of 23 it is crazy to imagine that we have yet to see the best of Odell Beckham Jr. The young New York Giants receiver put the idea of a “sophomore slump” to bed last season when he recorded 96 receptions, 1,450 yards, and 13 touchdowns. Beckham has successfully taken over the league with his touchdown celebrations, hair style, playing style, and antics. OBJ won all of our hearts with that beautiful one handed grab against the Dallas Cowboys in his rookie season, but he is much more than just a flash in the pan highlight. With Beckham Jr. going into his third season he will once again show fans that he can be one of the most explosive players in the game and 25 receiving touchdowns and 187 receptions could actually be a possibility in 2016.
8. Khalil Mack, Oakland Raiders
The Oakland Raiders lucked out in 2013 when the Houston Texans decided to take Jadeveon Clowney instead of Khalil Mack in the NFL Draft. Mack may have made only a small impact his rookie year with only 4.0 sacks, 59 tackles, and one forced fumble. But in his second season Mack made a huge impact by upping his sack total to 15.0 and terrifying each and every quarterback that had the misfortune to step on the turf against the Raiders. The number 30 has been thrown around when talking about how many sacks Mack could have this season, and while that number is quite realistic, the talented linebacker could realistically have about 22-24 sacks, which would break Michael Strahan‘s record. With as many opportunities as pass rushers get to sack quarterbacks in the NFL Strahan’s record will probably not stand much longer. Regardless if Mack breaks the record in his third season he will no doubt have a big year for the young Raiders.
7. Von Miller, Denver Broncos
Super Bowl MVP Von Miller had a playoff run like no other this past season. Miller’s regular season numbers were Pro Bowl worthy but nowhere near the top of the league. After his playoff stint Miller looks to take that momentum into the new season and further prove he deserves a new, long term contract (Miller signed a one-year, $14,129,000 contract this off-season). The former Texas A&M Aggie is one of the best hybrid pass rushers in the league who is just now hitting his stride as a professional as part of a dangerous orange crush defense in Denver. Expect Miller to have a 2016 season similar to his playoff run, which will put him in a position to earn a pretty paycheck from the Broncos after next season.
6. Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
The reigning MVP, Cam Newton, had an above average year numbers wise last season but was not the best in the league. It could be argued that Newton did not deserve the MVP in 2015 as there were a couple of quarterbacks who had better numbers, but may have lacked his flare. The former Auburn signal caller took over the NFL last season with his dances and headlines which may have earned him his crown atop the league. Newton was definitely the most interesting player last season, and he played well, but his season was not the best among quarterbacks, statistically, with 35 touchdowns to 10 interceptions. Newton certainly has talent though, but expect to see him and his Carolina Panthers settle back into their role as a middle of the pack NFC squad in 2016.
5. Tom Brady, New England Patriots
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is widely considered one of the best of all time. Brady seems to somehow be getting better with age after a season with 402 completions, 4,770 yards, 36 touchdowns, and only seven interceptions, despite Deflategate hanging over his head, and being 38 years old last season. Whether or not Brady’s four game suspension holds up he will no doubt return with a vengeance for his 17th season after losing to Denver in last season’s AFC Championship game. Expect to see yet another Tom Brady season that ends with him in the MVP conversation.
4. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
The absence of Jordy Nelson was devastating to the Green Bay Packers last season and it led to Aaron Rodgers having an “off” year in 2015. Rodger’s “rough” season was highlighted with 3,821 yards, 31 TD, and only eight interceptions and he is the highest ranked signal caller on this list. The former Cal quarterback has been one of the smartest and most accurate quarterbacks of the last decade having thrown 10+ interceptions in only two of his 11 seasons. With receivers Nelson and Randall Cobb, and running back Eddie Lacy returning in 2016, Rodgers and his Packers look ready to take over the NFC and be in Houston for Super Bowl LI next year.
3. Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots
This year’s Madden cover will be graced by the ball spiking, touchdown catching, party throwing young superstar, Rob Gronkowski. The New England Patriots tight end essentially holds the Patriots future in his hands. Since hitting his stride in his second season Gronk has been the key to his team’s success since they seem to struggle offensively when the big man is not in the starting lineup. The former University of Arizona Wildcat finished with 72 receptions last year in 15 games for the Pats and was the go to receiver for America’s favorite team to hate. Gronk will come into the 2016 season with hopes of playing a full season and leading his team to the Super Bowl they believe they should have won last year.
2. J.J. Watt, Houston Texans
J.J. Watt is, without a doubt, one of the most popular and noticeable guys in in the NFL, a sport where the players are consistently wearing helmets, . Watt has caught some flak over some Instagram posts in the past week, but he will put those haters to bed this season with his play. The former Wisconsin Badger finished last season with 17.5 sacks which has brought his total up to 74.5 sacks in just five seasons. Watt has developed into the Swiss army knife of the Houston Texans with his snaps taken at tight end and even a questionable play call with Watt under center in the Texans Wild Card game last season. Expect Watt to do what he does each and every season, hurt quarterbacks and love America.
1. Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers
The best receiver in the game, Antonio Brown, has taken the league by storm in his six seasons. Brown was left to fend for himself with a backup quarterback for four games last season but that didn’t slow down the star. The talented wideout finished the season with 136 receptions, 1,834 yards, and 10 receiving touchdowns. Brown made headlines with his touchdown celebrations but didn’t catch much criticism for them as he was just so good fans forgave him for his antics. Tuning in to see the 5-foot-10, 181 pound receiver play each and every week is must see TV, not just for NFL fans but for anyone interested in seeing a freak of nature in his prime. Brown somehow managed to be the focal point of an offense that had three Pro Bowlers on it. Brown should live up to his expectations he has set and maybe even have a record breaking season for the Pittsburgh Steelers with Martavis Bryant being sidelined by his suspension.
The season can’t get here quick enough and it will be fun to see just who makes it big from this list.