Everyone is getting giddy with excitement due to the NFL being back with the regular season finally here. We now have months of NFL action to watch until a new Super Bowl champion is crowned.
While we love to see positive developments in the league, there are always going to be negative occurrences as well, especially when it comes to players declining in their production.
The downturn for players can sometimes happen due to father time, which is undefeated, besides when it comes to Tom Brady. At the same time, a player could see a dip in his performance due to injuries or other reasons that are somewhat out of their control.
With the regular season set to begin, let’s take a look at five players that could show regression on the field during the 2021 season.
Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers
Last season, it seemed as if the Pittsburgh Steelers were going to cruise to a remarkable finish in the regular season. The Steelers began the year with an 11-0 record as they narrowly defeated a shorthanded Baltimore Ravens team in Week 12. Following the win over the Ravens, Pittsburgh would lose five of their next six games, including a lopsided defeat to the Cleveland Browns in the playoffs.
The drop-off in their play was due to the atrocious play from the offensive line, the lack of a running game, and the diminished play from Ben Roethlisberger. Similar to most older quarterbacks, Roethlisberger’s arm appears to be rapidly deteriorating, making the offense of the Steelers a predictable group. Even with an assortment of weapons like Diontae Johnson, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Chase Claypool, and rookie Najee Harris, I expect Roethlisberger to show signs of wear-and-tear in 2021.
There’s no reason to believe that the upcoming season isn’t the final year for No. 7.
Raheem Mostert, RB, San Francisco 49ers
Raheem Mostert played a key role in helping the San Francisco 49ers advance to the Super Bowl in the 2019 season. Over the past couple of seasons, Mostert has operated as the starting running back in Kyle Shanahan’s offense. However, injuries caused him to miss eight games last season, allowing other guys to shine in his absence.
While Jeff Wilson Jr. is expected to miss the start of the season, rookie Trey Sermon and Wayne Gallman are sitting behind Mostert, waiting for their chances to contribute to the offense. As he nears 30 years old, Mostert could continue to have injury woes that hamper his play on the field. In a league that you can be replaced with a snap of the finger, it doesn’t seem like it will be long before Mostert isn’t the starter in San Francisco.
David Johnson, RB, Houston Texans
Ahead of the 2020 season, the Houston Texans conducted a blockbuster trade with the Arizona Cardinals, sending DeAndre Hopkins in exchange for David Johnson. Johnson would immediately slide into the starting spot for the Texans as he tried to prove he still had something left in the tank. Johnson would have a modest debut season with the Texans, totaling 1,005 yards from scrimmage and eight total touchdowns.
But with Johnson turning 30 years old in December, it’s hard to have confidence in him improving his game much further at this point in his career. Plus, Houston has a new coaching staff in place, and Johnson will need to compete for touches with Mark Ingram, Phillip Lindsay, and Rex Burkhead. On top of that, with Deshaun Watson not expected to play for the Texans again, Johnson won’t have a stable quarterback situation in 2021.
Adam Thielen, WR, Minnesota Vikings
For quite some time, Adam Thielen has operated as one of the most underrated wide receivers in the NFL. Thielen has recorded 900+ receiving yards in four out of the past five years and he’s coming off of a 2020 season in which he corraled a career-high 14 receiving touchdowns. It was impressive to see Thielen be such a scoring threat for the Minnesota Vikings, especially with rookie Justin Jefferson emerging as a potential superstar at the wide receiver position.
Despite Thielen being a favorite target for Kirk Cousins, and the lack of pass-catching options outside of Thielen and Jefferson, Thielen could be in for major regression. The Vikings want to run the ball often with Dalvin Cook and play stout defense. And seeing that Cook is healthy and Minnesota bolstered their defense some this offseason, Thielen may not have as many opportunities to be as productive as he has in previous years.
Odell Beckham Jr., WR, Cleveland Browns
There was once a time where Odell Beckham Jr. looked poised to evolve into one of the best wide receivers we’ve ever seen take the field in the NFL. Besides his notorious one-handed grab against the Dallas Cowboys, Beckham was posting insane numbers with the New York Giants. However, injuries would become a concern with the Giants, and New York would elect to trade him to the Cleveland Browns.
After a decent first year with the Browns, Beckham suffered a torn ACL in his left knee in 2020, causing him to miss the majority of the season. It would be awesome to see Beckham return to the form we once saw from him in his time with the Giants. But with the Browns being a run-heavy team, plus Beckham’s injury concerns, I don’t know if we’ll ever see him be one of the top wideouts in the NFL again.
Maybe the strides that Baker Mayfield took under center last season can help Beckham find his groove again, which would be a positive development for the NFL.