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The NFL’s most disappointing players of 2017

Last week in this space, I broke down the players enjoying breakout seasons. Now it’s time to turn our attention to the opposite end of the spectrum. The following eight players went from quality starters last season to liabilities in 2017. Using PFF data, let’s examine whether this was a fluke or a sign of things to come.

Terrelle Pryor, WR, Washington Redskins

2016 grade: 79.7
2017 grade: 43.1

When taking a one-year “prove it” contract, this is every player’s nightmare. The Redskins receiver suffered an ankle injury in Week 2 and then played through it but was ultimately phased out of the offense over the next eight weeks before being placed on injured reserve. Whether the ankle injury was a convenient excuse or a serious problem is impossible to say without inside information. What isn’t debatable is how grossly ineffective Pryor was in his 378 snaps. He dropped four of his 24 catchable passes and saw his yards per route fall from 1.70 last year to 1.02 despite his upgrade at quarterback.

Amari Cooper, WR, Oakland Raiders

2016 grade: 82.2
2017 grade: 49.0

The rampant inconsistency from Cooper throughout his career is incredibly worrisome. The talent is definitely there, but now that we’re three years in, it’s worth questioning whether it will ever show up week in and week out. In all other games besides his Week 7, 210-yard bonanza against Kansas City, Cooper is averaging just 0.81 yards per route run. That figure would be by far the lowest of any starting receiver in the NFL. Even that Kansas City game showed his inconsistency: He dropped two of his 13 catchable passes. You can live with above-average drop rates by a receiver if he gets open — but not the rates Cooper has put up at times. His 19.2 percent drop rate is far and away the worst in the NFL this season, and he led the NFL as a rookie as well (at 20.0 percent). At this point, there’s little reason to expect his drop issues won’t follow him throughout his career.

Adrian Peterson, RB, New Orleans Saints/Arizona Cardinals

2015 grade: 78.6
2017 grade: 49.5

I cheated a tad on this one; Peterson managed all of 84 snaps in 2016. In 2015, though, he led the NFL with 1,485 rushing yards and was a top-10 runner in PFF’s grading. After 129 carries in 2017, it’s clear he’s not the same guy. His 2.3 yards after contact per attempt is the lowest of his career — and 0.7 yards lower than his career average. At 32, it’s likely time for Peterson to hang them up.

Jared Veldheer, T, Arizona Cardinals

2016 grade: 79.6
2017 grade: 54.3

Veldheer is the only player on this list with a real and encouraging reason for his setback: He was inexplicably flipped from left tackle to right tackle this offseason and, for the first five weeks, he looked like a left-handed basketball player asked to shoot righty. He allowed 27 pressures through five games before he finally started to figure it out. Since then, he has allowed 12 pressures in the past eight games and has even switched back to his more natural left tackle position. No cause for concern.

Shane Ray, Edge, Denver Broncos

2016 grade: 76.7
2017 grade: 50.7

The 2015 first-round pick looked like a budding star in 2016: His 23 combined sacks and hits were the 11th-most of any edge defender. After he missed the first seven weeks of 2017 with a wrist injury, his effectiveness upon return has been nonexistent. Last season, he averaged one pressure for every eight pass rushes. This year, he’s averaging one pressure for every 10.8. The wrist injury can explain some of it, but this is a player who should have been taking the next step, not a step backward.

Brandon Mebane, DT, Los Angeles Chargers

2016 grade: 83.3
2017 grade: 41.7

Historically with nose tackles, we’ve seen performance fall off quickly when it goes. (The joints of 300-plus-pound men can only take so much beating before they give out.) At 32, it appears Mebane has reached that cliff. His 3.2 run-stop percentage is the fourth-worst of any defensive tackle, and he has managed just six pressures in 253 pass rushes. Both of those are by far career lows.

Deone Bucannon, LB, Arizona Cardinals

2016 grade: 68.8
2017 grade: 34.3

Bucannon has always been somewhat of a liability against the run after converting from safety to linebacker. This season, though, his coverage has also been an issue. Through 10 games played, he has allowed 148 more yards than he did in 13 games a season ago, and he has yielded as many touchdowns (three) as he had in his entire career. It’s such a fluke compared with who he has been that I wouldn’t expect it to be a sign of things to come.

Kevin Johnson, CB, Houston Texans

2016 grade: 84.9
2017 grade: 33.6

The Texans let A.J. Bouye walk in free agency on the pretense that Johnson, a 2015 first-round pick, was more than ready to assume the starting role. In 286 snaps a season ago before injury, Johnson looked like that guy, but small sample sizes can be fickle. Johnson ranks among the worst at the position this year in most stats. His 1.58 yards per coverage snap ranks 109th out of 120 players, his 136.2 passer rating against is 117th, and his 76.7 percent catch rate against is 113th. It’s time to start thinking about offseason replacements.

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