Analysis  

 

Philip Rivers, Chris Johnson among bounce-back players in 2012

Several NFL players produced career-best performances during the 2011 season. Numerous long-held NFL records were shattered by the likes of New Orleans Saints QB Drew Brees and New England Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski.

However, while those players were performing at their peak, other guys struggled through disappointing seasons. I've identified three players who didn't perform up to their standard last season but are poised to return to form in 2012. I've even gone as far as predicting what kind of numbers we can expect from each of them in the upcoming season.

Philip Rivers, QB, San Diego Chargers

What went wrong in 2011?

Rivers didn't have a disastrous 2011 season, but his efficiency was down and he did a poor job of protecting the football. His quarterback rating (88.7) and completion percentage (62.9) were both the lowest he's posted since the 2007 season. His 20 interceptions were a career high and he also lost five fumbles.

Why will he be better in 2012?

He will be aided by an excellent run game. Ryan Mathews came on strong at the end of the 2011 season and he's poised to have a huge year. Despite the loss of Vincent Jackson, the San Diego Chargers should have a very quarterback-friendly set of weapons in 2012. Free-agent addition Eddie Royal will provide Rivers with a reliable slot target on the opposite side of future Hall of Fame TE Antonio Gates. Former New Orleans Saints receiver Robert Meachem was brought in to provide Rivers with a legitimate deep threat, while rookie tight end Ladarius Green is an exciting young talent. Aided by three top draft choices, the Chargers' defense will be improved in 2012 and that will keep Rivers from having to "chase" points late in games by making risky throws.

2011 statistics: 4,624 passing yards, 27 TDs, 20 INTs, 62.9 completion percentage.
2012 projection: 4,500 passing yards, 32 TDs, 13 INTs, 65.0 completion percentage.

Chris Johnson, RB, Tennessee Titans

What went wrong in 2011?

In 2011, Johnson fell to 14th in rushing yards after finishing no lower than eighth in his first three NFL seasons. He also posted a career-low four rushing touchdowns and his yards-per-carry average (4.0) was the worst of his career. Last summer, Johnson arrived late to training camp due to a contract dispute. He eventually landed a lucrative long-term deal, but the time he missed clearly had an effect on his first-half production. (Johnson only eclipsed 55 rushing yards in two of the Tennessee Titans' first eight games.)

Why will he be better in 2012?

Johnson is still only 26 years old and his dip in production isn't the result of a broken-down body burdened by too many carries. Unlike last year, he will have a full offseason and training camp, which should help him avoid another slow start in 2012. This is Johnson's second season in Chris Palmer's offense and he should be much more comfortable with his assignments and reads. According to recent reports, Johnson has been much more involved in the Titans' offseason program and he's been getting rave reviews for his improved work ethic. He's set to have a strong rebound season in 2012.

2011 statistics: 1,047 rushing yards, four rushing TDs, 4.0 yards per carry.
2012 projection: 1,350 rushing yards, 12 rushing TDs, 4.5 yards per carry.

Josh Freeman, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

What went wrong in 2011?

After a breakout 2010 season, Freeman's 2011 campaign was very inconsistent and sloppy. His quarterback rating fell from sixth to 25th, his touchdown total shrunk from 25 to 16 and his interception total rose from six to 22. After nearly leading the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a playoff berth in 2010 with a surpising 10-6 mark, Freeman and the Bucs collapsed in 2011 and only collected four victories. Raheem Morris and his coaching staff were let go following a disastrous 10-game losing streak to end the season.

Why will he be better in 2012?

Freeman has worked extremely hard during this offseason to get into better physical condition. According to reports, he's lost more than 20 pounds and is more focused than he has been since Tampa Bay selected him in the first round of the 2009 NFL Draft. Not to mention, he'll be assisted by several new additions to the Bucs' offense in 2012. Free agent Vincent Jackson was brought in to provide Freeman with a genuine No. 1 receiver, and the Bucs outbid several teams to land the top free-agent offensive lineman, Carl Nicks. The draft selection of Boise State running back Doug Martin will provide Freeman with an excellent weapon out of the backfield on check-down throws. With his improved focus and weaponry, Freeman is ready to regain his status as one of the NFL's brightest young signal callers.

2011 statistics: 3,592 passing yards, 16 TDs, 22 INTs, 62.8 completion percentage.
2012 projection: 3,800 passing yards, 27 TDs, 12 INTs, 64.0 completion percentage.

Follow Daniel Jeremiah on Twitter @MoveTheSticks.

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