Under-the-radar X-factors for the 2017 NFL season

Anyone else tired of hearing about these guys?

Knee-deep in a swamp of hyperbole and painfully tired tropes, we find ourselves trapped inside a football news machine that clings to a handful of familiar names and narratives -- and refuses to let go.

It's not Peterson's fault that 4,200 columns have been written about his expected workload. Don't blame Kaepernick for the ponderous pontificating over his lack of a team. They aren't responsible for a 24/7 content cycle that churns relentlessly during long springtime stretches when actual games are eons away.

Still, coaching changes, draft additions and free agency all fundamentally alter the look and feel of the league -- and plenty of the game changers we'll crow over in December remain shrouded in mystery in early June.

Let's go beyond the obvious five or six names to unearth a handful of NFL figures set to have a major impact -- for better or worse -- in 2017:

Falcons offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian

It's easy to forget that Matt Ryan endured his share of struggles shifting from Dirk Koetter's system to Kyle Shanahan's scheme in 2015. The Falcons quarterback burned bright last season, but now he's moving on to his third play caller in four campaigns, with Shanahan's departure for San Francisco and the arrival of Sarkisian. Will it throw off the Falcons' high-powered offense? Word out of Atlanta suggests the attack will stay "pretty much the same," but Sarkisian -- who has never coordinated at the NFL level -- is being asked to replace one of the greatest in-game play callers of the past decade.

Cardinals wideout John Brown

Fans are no stranger to John "Smokey" Brown, but the Cardinals deep threat is coming off a mundane season sideswiped by a concussion and symptoms tied to the sickle-cell trait, which created moments of deep fatigue for the pass catcher. Coach Bruce Arians, though, recently noted: " 'Smoke' looks like John Brown. A couple of those routes he ran, he did not run one route like that last year. Knock on wood it stays that way." With Michael Floyd no longer in Arizona and Larry Fitzgerald creeping up in age, a bounceback season from Brown is critical if Carson Palmer and the offense plan to return to their heights of 2015.

Titans rookie cornerback Adoree' Jackson

It's time to take the Titans seriously in the AFC South. General manager Jon Robinson has transformed the offense into a ground-and-pound beast while using the draft to furnish marvelous young quarterback Marcus Mariota with exciting wideout Corey Davis. On defense, the Titans handed ageless master play caller Dick LeBeau a plug-and-play cover man in Jackson, who also brings instant-impact potential as a returner. Used to covering No. 1 receivers in college, the former USC star figures to start right away across from free-agent pickup Logan Ryan. If Jackson pans out, this defense is ready to shed its pushover status.

Redskins president Bruce Allen

After an ugly and awkward divorce with general manager Scot McCloughan, the unkillable Allen inherits the burden of trying to re-sign Kirk Cousins. The franchise-tagged quarterback recently described contract talks as "really positive," but will the team find a way to get this done before the July 15 deadline? Allen says Washington plans to add "at least one, two, maybe three people" upstairs, but he remains under the microscope until this drama-magnet of a front office gets out of its own way.

Jets rookie safeties Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye

Gang Green is zooming toward an ugly season, but the Jets effectively reorganized the secondary by selecting Adams and Maye with their first two picks in the draft. With former first-round pick Calvin Pryorjettisoned to Cleveland, the rookie duo is suddenly locked in to start Week 1. Adams and Maye will face instant pressure inside a Jets defense that will be asked to repeatedly bail out an offense still mired in quarterback oblivion.

Vikings wideout Laquon Treadwell

It's easy to forget about Treadwell, largely because his rookie season came and went like a whisper. With a whopping one catch last year, the 23rd pick of the 2016 NFL Draft was reportedly never healthy during his invisible debut. Working with the starters in OTAs, Treadwell has enjoyed a "great, in my opinion, five-and-a-half weeks," per offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur. Stefon Diggs, the underrated Adam Thielen and wild card Michael Floyd are also on the roster, but Treadwell's the one who drew comparisons to Michael Irvin. Minnesota can't wait another year.

Packers running back Ty Montgomery

Montgomery picked up a robust 5.94 yards per carry and 6.65 yards per touch last season, fine production for a player who opened camp as an afterthought at wide receiver. Now a full-time back, Montgomery acknowledged he spent last season running off pure "instincts," but said: "Now, I know techniques. I know rotations and linebacker positions, and fronts and understanding gap rules and what the defense is supposed to be doing." While the Packers drafted three rookie runners in Jamaal Williams, Aaron Jones and Devante Mays, Montgomery currently looms as the key to Green Bay's ground game.

Broncos rookie offensive tackle Garett Bolles

Coach Vance Joseph called Bolles a "true left tackle," and he had better be just that. Denver's season boils down to the offensive line jelling in a hurry after operating as a raging mess in 2016. You can write all you want about the quarterback tussle between Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch, but both are bound to start games and suffer if Bolles and his fellow blockers can't fend off angry pass rushers.

Lions running back Ameer Abdullah

Abdullah has the skills, but the third-year running back started just two games last season and continues to mend from a torn ligament in his foot. The Lions, though, have a major role planned for the electric runner after Detroit completely ignored the position in the draft. Theo Riddick will continue as a passing-down specialist, but the Lions' ground game -- a non-entity for years -- hinges on Abdullah authoring a major bounceback campaign.

Panthers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks

With longtime defensive play caller Sean McDermott off to coach the Bills, Wilks steps into big shoes in Carolina. In his favor: He's been with the team since 2012 and won't tinker much with McDermott's scheme. The challenge, though, comes in matching the fantastic coaching job of his predecessor, who kept star players at peak level and maximized a defensive backfield frequently stocked with castoffs and low-priced free agents. Wilks is in a great situation if he can manage the transition with grace.

Browns wideout Corey Coleman

"He's got to go do it now, because he's now seen as the 'the guy,' so he needs to go play and play well," said coach Hue Jackson. Coleman, Cleveland's first-round pick in 2016, was held to 413 yards off 33 catches during an injury-marred rookie campaign. With Terrelle Pryor having slipped away in free agency, Coleman must outplay Kenny Britt and a cast of underwhelming youngsters. It doesn't help that the second-year pass catcher is already projected to miss OTAs and mandatory minicamp due to an undisclosed practice injury suffered in late May.

Jaguars edge rusher Dante Fowler Jr.

Two years removed from knee surgery, Fowler understands the time is now for a breakthrough season. "I think it will happen," he said, per gridironnow.com, adding: "I'm seeing how strong I'm getting and the explosiveness coming from my knee." The former No. 3 overall pick tallied just four sacks last season, but he'll benefit from playing beside massive defensive tackles Calais Campbell and Malik Jackson. We're tired of falling for offseason hype in Jacksonville, but the pieces are in place on defense. The turnaround starts with Fowler.

Ravens wideout Breshad Perriman

After using their entire draft to bolster the defense and O-line, Baltimore's biggest questions hover around the skill-position groups. The backfield lacks an unquestioned workhorse, and the receiving corps is filled with underwhelming names beyond Mike Wallace and Perriman. It's the latter who must step up after two grueling seasons. The former first-rounder's rookie campaign was swept away by injury, while his sophomore outing was leveled by multiple personal tragedies. According to teammate Dennis Pitta, though, Perriman has been "making big plays everywhere, catching everything thrown his way" this offseason. That had better translate into September, or Baltimore's passing game will hold this team back.

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.

Related Content


See all the Action

Replay every game all season.