Each NFL season, a crop of players outperform expectations by a remarkable measure. On the flip side, there's also a crop of players who underperform dramatically. This can be for any sort of reason, whether it be a nagging injury or a poor scheme. Sometimes they just have a bad season.
But not all is lost when that happens. The upcoming season presents an opportunity to bounce back and remind the football-loving population why they were so good in the first place. There's even an award for it! Here are three NFL players who are primed for bounceback seasons in 2022.
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The New York Giants' No. 3 overall pick in 2018, Saquon Barkley struggled mightily last season, his first back on the field after tearing his ACL in 2020. It was clear he lacked some of his marquee explosiveness in the early stages of the year, but even after he got back into playing shape Barkley never found a rhythm. He finished the year with 593 yards rushing and 263 yards receiving while totaling only four touchdowns and averaging all of 3.7 yards per carry. All those marks are significantly down from his last fully healthy season in 2019.
The primary reason to feel good about a bounceback season for Barkley is the New York Giants' changes off the field. Joe Judge is gone, and he was replaced by Brian Daboll, an offensive guru who developed Josh Allen into one of the league's best quarterbacks. Daboll's schemes should open up more space for Barkley to work. If Barkley rounds back into form after a full offseason of rest, he has the capacity to put up big stats in Daboll's offense, especially given the Giants' offensive line is looking to be one of the better units the NFC has to offer.
New Orleans Saints wideout Michael Thomas hasn't been seen on the field for quite some time, battling a lingering ankle injury that limited him to seven games in 2020 and completely knocked him out of the 2021 season. Now that he's presumably fully recovered and ready to play again, he's an easy candidate for a bounceback year.
When healthy, Thomas was a receptions machine, and that's understating the matter. He broke Calvin Johnson's record for most catches in a season in 2019 with 149 while leading the NFL in receiving yards. That, of course, was with Drew Brees under center and Sean Payton on the sideline. The Saints now have Jameis Winston and Dennis Allen running the show. There will be an understandable dip in quality without two Hall of Famers scheming up the offense, but Thomas' physical talents will shine and Winston's big arm will unlock a new aspect of Thomas' game that was underutilized while Brees was fighting against the deterioration of his throwing strength. Thomas won't get back to record-breaking levels of play, but he's ready to re-enter the conversation of who the best receiver in the NFL is.
The new quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts, Matt Ryan posted his lowest numbers in years in 2021 at the helm of an atrocious Atlanta Falcons team. Injuries and Calvin Ridley's absence gave Ryan very few quality receiving options, and it showed. His 3,968 yards through the air was his lowest mark since 2010, and his 20 touchdowns were his fewest since 2017.
Ryan's new teammates in Indy are not miles better than his Atlanta crew, but they're definitely an upgrade. Head coach Frank Reich coaxed a good season out of the ever-inconsistent Carson Wentz last year. There's a lot of reason to be optimistic that Ryan will be much better in a new environment and on a competitive team. He should be a leader in the offseason clubhouse for Comeback Player of the Year.