Offensive Player Rankings, Week 17: Six players who need a fresh start in 2021

As a free agent quarterback back in 2008, I’ll never forget the meeting I had with Tom Coughlin during a visit with the New York Giants. The first thing the then-Giants head coach said to me was:

“How important is this to you?”

That question stuck with me throughout the remainder of my career because, as a quarterback in the NFL, you dedicate a lot of time and sacrifice a lot of things to pursue the greatest job in the world. There’s no doing things halfway.

With Dwayne Haskins getting released Monday by the Washington Football Team after an up-and-mostly-down, two-year stint — one that recently involved several violations of the COVID-19 protocol and demotions over the season — that’s a question he must now ask himself. It’s obvious that the talented 23-year-old passer needs (and could do well with) a fresh start, but it’s up to him to decide how much he really wants it.

Haskins’ release with one game left in the regular season — by a team with a chance to play in the postseason — didn’t happen because he threw a few interceptions. That kind of thing rarely happens to former first-round picks, who generally get more chances to prove themselves than other players. What he must evaluate is whether or not he can dedicate himself to his craft, his team, the preparation and being a leader on and off the field. Haskins’ ability is there, and he will have a future in the NFL if he learns from his mistakes. A humbling end in Washington and a change of scenery might be all it takes. I hope it is.

Here are five more offensive players in need of a fresh start this offseason (listed in alphabetical order):

The New England Patriots will be in rebuild mode this offseason with ample cap space and plenty of holes to fill (starting at quarterback). With a boatload of questions surrounding the organization, expect the front office and Edelman to have a discussion. Does he want to be part of a roster overhaul? Does New England want to keep the veteran in a room full of young guys? Financially, cutting Edelman would be just a $2.6 million cap hit, so that’s not out of the question.

Edelman’s 2020 campaign got off to a strong start, but began to fizzle before a knee injury sidelined him in Week 8. The longtime Patriots slot receiver has made a living off his playmaking ability, but I’m afraid Father Time won’t be as kind to the 34-year-old as it’s been to his old buddy, Tom Brady. Lateral quickness (needed to play slot WR well) is a young man’s trait. With only a few years left to do something productive, Edelman’s time may have run out within the confines of Josh McDaniels’ offense. Might we see the band get back together down south in Tampa? Time will tell.

The Chicago Bears would be hard-pressed to find a better wide receiver than Robinson if they don’t re-sign him. A top-five wideout in the league in my opinion, Robinson is similar to DeAndre Hopkins — though he may not be quite as dynamic catching the ball as Nuk, the Bears WR1 is a more consistent route runner and has incredible body control. Robinson, who’s eclipsed 1,100 yards receiving in each of the last two seasons, is also an asset as a blocker in the run game. 

Allen’s production has been good, so why move on? Well, the Bears might be somewhat reluctant to pay Robinson top dollar, considering the questions around the quarterback position. The Bears must decide what to do with Mitchell Trubisky, whose saga has been exhausting to track. After being benched earlier in the season for Nick Foles, Trubisky found his way back to the field after a Foles injury and has played better recently with a play-caller change. Whether the Bears keep Trubisky or roll with Foles, Robinson isn’t likely going to reach his full potential in a Chicago offense that hasn’t seen any sort of consistency of late. He needs better quarterback play — period.

The former top-10 pick requested a trade back in October so it’s obvious he wants a fresh start as a free agent this offseason. Ross’ time in Cincy hasn’t been what either party thought it’d be. He had just 21 catches, 210 receiving yards and seven TDs in 16 games over his first two seasons. It looked as though Ross might find his role in 2019, but more injuries derailed any chance of that. With the Bengals drafting Tee Higgins last April, Ross had just one offensive snap after Week 2 and was placed on IR with a foot injury in November.

The Bengals are just so deep at the position with Higgins, Tyler Boyd, Auden Tate and A.J. Green (a free agent this offseason); Ross has become the odd man out. He could thrive elsewhere as a speed receiver in the right scheme. I think it’s clear Ross won’t ever be a WR1, but there are definitely offenses in which he could be highlighted.

Stafford has said for weeks now that he and the organization will assess his future after the conclusion of the regular season, but there was one play in Week 15 that led me to believe Stafford and Detroit are headed for a divorce. The Lions had a chance to chip away at the Tennessee Titans’ 21-7 lead on a third-and-1 at the goal line with 4:19 left in the first half. D’Andre Swift fumbled the ball, Tennessee recovered and Stafford unbuckled his chin strap and simply walked off the field. He didn’t jog to the sideline or pat his teammate(s) on the helmet. It was a tell-tale sign. And I think Stafford now has one game left at Ford Field — that is, if he’s healthy enough to play. 

Stafford is as talented as quarterbacks come in the NFL. But after about Week 4, year after year, the Lions seem to drift into the abyss. He has made three playoff appearances — the most recent in 2016 under Jim Caldwell — but it’s been tough sledding ever since. A player of his caliber deserves a chance to win and compete for a championship, and this offseason is the time to do it. I’d be willing to bet a number of teams would take on Stafford’s contract this offseason, which would also allow the Lions to get a fresh start at the position under a new regime. This marriage has run its course. Now let’s let Stafford play some meaningful December and January football before it’s too late.

It just feels like Wentz is done in Philadelphia. The organization has invested a ton of money in the former No. 2 overall pick, but the production just hasn’t been there. Sure, the offensive line is banged up and a lot of his supporting cast has been in and out of the lineup over the last two seasons, but the staff has bent over backward in an effort to help Wentz, who’s dealt with a number of injuries in his career, get back to his 2017 form by trying to run more plays out of shotgun and tweaking the play-calling routine. Nothing has worked, as Wentz tries to make “the play” on every down. The stark contrast of the offense’s success when it’s led by Jalen Hurts, as opposed to Wentz, further proves that the rookie is the future. 

The best thing for Wentz would be to move on, though it’s going to be tough for him because of his lucrative contract. If something can get figured out there, Wentz has the talent and potential to revive his career somewhere new with a coaching staff that believes in him. One landing spot that comes to mind is Indianapolis, as old friend Frank Reich was the Eagles’ offensive coordinator in Wentz’s first two seasons. There is potential for a turnaround from Wentz, it’s just not in Philly.

Top 15 Offensive Players

Each week in the 2020 campaign, former No. 1 overall pick and NFL Network analyst David Carr will take a look at all offensive players and rank his top 15. Rankings are based solely on this season’s efforts. Now, let’s get to it — the Week 17 pecking order is below.

NOTE: Arrows reflect changes from Week 16’s rankings.

I thought the ground game would be more on display in Green Bay’s snow-filled Sunday Night Football clash with Tennessee, but Rodgers looked determined to pull away in the MVP race. He made everything look easy (and fun) as he threw four touchdown passes (three to Davante Adams) in a convincing victory. Playing with so much confidence, Green Bay is not a team I’d want to play in the playoffs, and Rodgers is obviously the main reason why.

Mahomes and the Chiefs have looked human over the last month, but have found ways to eke out victories to improve to 14-1. Despite a feisty Falcons defensive effort that caused Mahomes to have a subpar effort, a missed field goal in the final seconds by Pro Bowl kicker Younghoe Koo was just what the doctor ordered for Kansas City to clinch the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs.

Adams is in a league of his own. He missed two games this season and still has 109 receptions and 17 receiving touchdowns. It seems like every time the ball is in his vicinity, Adams is hauling it in. His route running continues to get better, evidenced by his third TD against Tennessee when he appeared all alone in the middle of the end zone. I’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who can slow him down.

Last week, I wrote about how Kamara got more involved with Drew Brees back on the field, but I certainly didn’t expect Kamara to be the ENTIRE offense. I mean, tying the NFL’s all-time single-game rushing touchdowns record (six) in the Saints’ blowout victory over Minnesota was quite the Christmas gift indeed.

The Buffalo Bills have won eight of their last nine games behind the excellent play of their young quarterback. Allen has given the Bills the excitement and consistency they’ve been missing at the quarterback position since Jim Kelly exited stage. Speaking of, Allen (34) broke Kelly’s franchise record for touchdown passes in a season (33 in 1993) with four passing TDs in Monday night’s BIG win over New England. It’s an impressive feat, but I sense that’s not the end goal for the season.

Henry averaged 4.3 yards per carry against Green Bay and finished with 98 rush yards, but the Titans needed a whole lot more than that to keep pace with Rodgers and Co. In the wake of that loss, I’d expect Henry and the Titans’ offense to do everything they can to get back on track in Week 17.

Remember back in 2018, when Kelce held the NFL’s single-season receiving yards record for a tight end for a few hours before George Kittle overtook him? Well, it’s Kelce’s once again, as he brought his total to 1,416 for the season on Sunday. In fact, Kelce’s still in the thick of the race to lead the league in receiving yards.

Cook’s effort kept the Vikings competitive for a while, but ultimately he and the offense couldn’t keep up with the Saints. He’s strung together one heck of a season with one game remaining, having already become the first player in franchise history with at least 1,500 rush yards and 15 rush TDs.

Sunday marked just the third game this season in which Hill didn’t have a touchdown reception, yet he finished with 65 yards on four catches. A “down” game doesn’t deter from his 15 receiving TDs (a career high) in 2020.  

J.J. Watt voiced his frustration with the Texans’ “trash” season in Sunday’s postgame interview, and I can’t blame him. When there are guys having a season like Watson’s having, four wins are a tough pill to swallow. Watson threw for 324 yards and three touchdowns in a 37-31 loss to Cincinnati, bringing his touchdown-to-interception ratio to 21-1 since Week 6 (the best of any QB in that span). An elbow injury suffered late in the game could jeopardize his status for Week 17, though the QB is adamant he’ll play — and for his sake, I hope he can finish his impressive season out in style.

Everyone (myself included) thought Brandon Beane was crazy to give Minnesota a first-round pick for Diggs, but who’s laughing now? The first-year Bill leads the league with 120 catches and 1,459 yards (both are franchise records), and he could become the first Buffalo player to ever pace the NFL in either category. With one game left in the season, Diggs leads DeAndre Hopkins by nine receptions and Kelce by 43 receiving yards.

With Cleveland’s top four wide receivers at home on the COVID-19 list, it’s curious why the Browns didn’t ride the legs of their dynamic backfield duo in Chubb and Kareem Hunt against the New York Jets. Chubb had 11 carries and Hunt had four, while Mayfield threw the ball 53(!) times. That’s never been a recipe for success.

The Seahawks’ offensive line struggled mightily against the Aaron Donald-led Rams’ defensive front, with Wilson getting sacked five times. While Jared Goff and the Rams’ offense stumbled in the second half, Wilson led a pair of touchdown drives, including his own 4-yard run in the third, to lead the Seahawks to their fifth NFC West title in the Pete Carroll era. 

It feels like it’s feast or famine for Hopkins lately. He either gets at least 130 receiving yards or fewer than 60; he had eight catches for 48 yards in Sunday’s 20-12 loss to San Francisco. With the season on the line against the Los Angeles Rams in Week 17, Arizona would be wise to lean on its top wideout because the Cards are 6-1 in games where Hopkins has at least 100 receiving yards. 

Marshon Lattimore played the Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate tough in New Orleans’ Christmas Day win, but the Vikings’ new star found ways to chip away (six catches, 85 yards) at a league record. Jefferson needs 111 receiving yards next week to beat Anquan Boldin’s top rookie mark of 1,377 receiving yards.

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