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Bounce-back candidates for all 32 NFL teams in 2024

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• Daniel Jones has a big opportunity to right his wrongs: Jones’ 63.0 overall grade in 2023 was the lowest in his NFL tenure, and he was very hot or cold throughout the season. His games at Arizona and Miami were outstanding, but he struggled mightily against Las Vegas, Dallas and Seattle.

• Patrick Surtain II remains stellar but still needs to bounce back: Surtain is widely considered one of the NFL’s premier defensive backs, but the former first-round pick wasn’t as lockdown in coverage a season ago. He was targeted 20 more times in 2023 than in 2022, giving up 15 more catches and 284 additional yards.

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After a down year, there’s nothing more gratifying for an NFL player to have a fresh slate. That’s exactly what OTAs, the first real stage of team activity, offer.

With real action having begun on teams’ practice fields, below is one player per squad who is in good shape to rebound in a big way — whether due to better health, individual performance or scheme fit.

JUMP TO A TEAM:

ARZ | ATL | BLT | BUF | CAR | CIN | CHI | CLE | DEN | DAL | DET | GB | HOU | IND | JAX | KC | LVR | LAC | LAR | MIA | MIN | NE | NO | NYG | NYJ | PHI | PIT | SF | SEA | TB | TEN | WSH

Arizona Cardinals: WR Zay Jones

It was difficult to find a Cardinals player who was good in prior years and struggled in 2023, largely because of the team’s youth. But Jones is probably as good a bet as any.

With Jacksonville in 2022, he posted a career-best 82 catches for 823 yards, not to mention 1.47 yards per route run. However, 2023 proved more challenging, with Jones playing just 474 snaps and accruing 62 targets.

Even though the Cardinals now boast superstar Marvin Harrison Jr., Jones could easily become the team’s WR2 and help work underneath to complement the rookie, especially as he gets acclimated early on.


Atlanta Falcons: CB A.J. Terrell

The Falcons field several blue-chip youngsters who could dominate in 2024, and Terrell headlines those looking to regain traction. Terrell was one of the NFL’s best cornerbacks in 2021, but his past two seasons haven’t met that mark. He finished with overall grades below 75.0 and passer ratings allowed of at least 95.0 in 2022 and 2023.

With defensive-oriented head coach Raheem Morris in place, Terrell should benefit from one of the game’s better minds on that side of the ball. It’s no coincidence that Morris had success with Jalen Ramsey and helped develop players like Darious Williams with the Rams. With his contract set to expire at the end of the year, Terrell has an extra incentive to play like the superstar he showcased he once was.


Baltimore Ravens: TE Mark Andrews

Andrews has been one of the NFL’s best tight ends year in and year out, but a fractured fibula caused him to play in just 10 games last year. The result? His fewest receiving yards in a season in his career.

Other tight ends like Sam LaPorta gained traction with Andrews out. But with the 28-year-old getting a clean bill of health, expect Andrews to reclaim his post as maybe the NFL’s best at his position with a monster 2024.


Buffalo Bills: Dl DaQuan Jones

Jones was terrific in 2023, with his 82.9 overall grade slotting 12th among defensive tackles to play 200 or more snaps. The issue, though, was that Jones tore his pec, preventing him from exceeding that playing time.

A healthy Jones could showcase his long-term talent, truly creating a name for himself amid a Buffalo defensive line with no shortage of skill.

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Carolina Panthers: LB Shaq Thompson

It’s a feat in and of itself that Thompson is still with the Panthers, but he’s more than just a Super Bowl holdover: he can play well, too. Thompson fractured his ankle in Week 2 of 2023, playing just 68 snaps after exceeding 1,000 in two of the three prior seasons.

Speaking of which, Thompson has generally been good when on the field. The 30-year-old posted overall grades of 72.3 and 72.7 in 2022 and 2023, respectively, and has reached the 40-stop mark in each of the past four seasons. Carolina will need much better overall defensive production if it wants to make a jump in Dave Canales’ first year, and Thompson’s return could provide a boost.


Chicago Bears: G Nate Davis

The first year of Davis’ three-year, $30 million deal with the Bears didn’t go as planned. He posted a measly 52.9 overall grade and a career-low 95.9 pass-blocking efficiency rating. A major reason for his poor play was a nagging ankle injury. Meanwhile, from 2020 to 2022, Davis never amassed an overall grade below 69.2.

Nobody needs more of a fresh start than Davis, and that’s exactly what 2024 should offer. On an upstart team with new talent in Caleb Williams, Keenan Allen, Rome Odunze and D’Andre Swift, Davis will likely slot in as Chicago’s primary right guard, needing to protect his rookie quarterback immediately.


Cincinnati Bengals: WR Tee Higgins

Higgins wasn’t bad by any means last year, except maybe for his own gaudy standards. The Clemson product notched career lows in catches (42), yards (656) and touchdowns (five), primarily because he was far from 100%. Higgins suffered both a chest rib fracture as well as a hamstring sprain.

Whether he stays in Cincinnati or is dealt, Higgins has a strong incentive to bounce back this year: a line of Brink’s trucks are prepared to reward him for previously excellent play. He’s never played a full season and collected a receiving grade lower than 78.8, and if Higgins looks again like a WR1, he should cash in.


Cleveland Browns: T Jack Conklin

The Browns reached the AFC wild-card game despite one of their better offensive players leaving the season opener with a knee injury and never returning. In Conklin’s stead, Cleveland rotated between Dawand Jones and James Hudson III, with neither matching the pedigree of the starter.

Admittedly, Conklin wasn’t amazing in 2022, but he was arguably the NFL’s best right tackle from 2019 to 2021, when he allowed just nine sacks on 2,549 snaps — a ridiculous .35% sack rate. If the 29-year-old can stay healthy and look more like his prior form, the Browns’ offense could find an even better rhythm, a scary proposition for defenses.


Dallas Cowboys: WR Brandin Cooks

The cash-strapped Cowboys didn’t add many supplemental playmakers next to All-Pro CeeDee Lamb this offseason, leaving Cooks as the team’s second receiving option. The veteran’s first season in Dallas was decent in terms of counting stats — 54 catches for 657 yards and eight scores — but the deeper metrics were not on par. Cooks’ 2.3 yards after the catch per reception was the worst mark of his career, as was his 1.19 yards per route run figure.

From 2020 to 2022, Cooks never had a campaign of earning a sub-71.9 receiving grade or going below 1.64 yards per route run. Even though he’s already 30, there’s a solid chance Cooks looks a bit more like that player than the one we saw last season.


Denver Broncos: CB Patrick Surtain II

Surtain is widely considered one of the NFL’s premier defensive backs, but the former first-round pick wasn’t as lockdown in coverage a season ago. The 24-year-old was targeted 20 more times in 2023 than in 2022, giving up 15 more catches and 284 additional yards. Another issue was that Surtain committed six penalties, more than his first two years combined.

The good news is that Surtain actually bettered his tackling for the second straight season, reducing his missed tackle rate to a microscopic 3.9%. If that figure remains steady in 2024, it’s hard not to bet on Surtain returning to All-Pro status.

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Detroit Lions: Edge Marcus Davenport

Davenport’s time in Minnesota last year almost feels like a fever dream. The former Saints pass-rusher played just 114 snaps because of a high ankle sprain, and even when he was active, he disappointed. Davenport collected only seven pressures on 77 pass-rushing snaps, and he missed 40% of his tackles.

In New Orleans, though, Davenport proved to be a regularly disruptive defensive lineman. He generated 30 or more pressures in each of his first five seasons and especially peaked toward the end of his first contract, with an 88.8 overall grade in 2021.

The Lions’ defensive line should be formidable this year with Aidan Hutchinson, D.J. Reader and Alim McNeill, but don’t discount Davenport looking more like himself and also wreaking havoc.


Green Bay Packers: CB Jaire Alexander

Alexander talks a lot of smack, and he regularly backs it up. The issue in 2023 was that compound back and shoulder ailments limited Alexander to only 560 snaps, the fewest in a year of his career.

Alexander’s track record has been stellar, grading above 80.0 in 2022 and 2020 and not surrendering more than two touchdowns in any season since 2019. With a clean bill of health, the 27-year-old should instantly boost a revamped Packers defense looking to return to its fierce ways.


Houston Texans: RB Joe Mixon

Mixon is almost 28 and approaching the point of no return in running back age and production, but I’m willing to expect better play from him in 2024. Mixon’s yards after contact per carry number dropped marginally from 2022 to 2023, and his elusiveness rating was actually 7.7 points higher. Beyond that, he should face more light boxes than before, given the Texans’ deadly aerial attack with C.J. Stroud, Nico Collins, Stefon Diggs and Tank Dell.

Likewise, offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik maintained a run-first identity last year despite Stroud’s exceptional play. Given those roots in the Shanahan tree and the desire to establish the run to set up play action, Mixon’s carry share could look more like 2021 than the past two years.


Indianapolis Colts: RB Jonathan Taylor

Taylor was one of the NFL’s better running backs in his first two years, but injuries halted his production in the latter two. In 2023, he dealt with the effects of ankle surgery, not playing until Week 5, plus tore a ligament in his thumb.

In addition to potentially better health, Taylor is trending up for at least two other big reasons. For one, with Zack Moss heading to Cincinnati, Taylor should earn even more carries amid unproven depth behind him. Oh, and Taylor finally doesn’t have a contract dispute serving as the elephant in the room. The point is, don’t be shocked if Taylor has a huge 2024.


Jacksonville Jaguars: WR Christian Kirk

From 2021 to 2022, Kirk racked up 161 catches and 2,090 yards, both of which ranked 18th in that span. But his production dipped last year because of an abdominal tear and subsequent further core injury.

Through two years of playing in Jacksonville, it’s clear Kirk has Trevor Lawrence’s trust. Kirk’s 218 targets are the second most on the team over the past two years. Even with the additions of Brian Thomas Jr. and Gabe Davis, it seems likely that Kirk could have a big 2024, especially given uncertainties about the rookie and the newly signed veteran.


Kansas City Chiefs: TE Travis Kelce

Kelce’s regular-season numbers from a season ago look mediocre for his standards, but he turned it up a notch in the playoffs. The star amassed 32 catches for 355 yards and three touchdowns in the Chiefs’ four playoff games, catalyzing the team’s second straight Super Bowl run.

Just knowing Kelce’s pedigree, there’s almost no chance he finishes below 1,000 yards for a second consecutive season, even if he’s over 34. Plus, with major questions about the Chiefs’ receiver room — potentially without Rashee Rice to start the year and ushering in a rookie in Xavier WorthyPatrick Mahomes could default to relying on his security net that much more.


Las Vegas Raiders: CB Nate Hobbs

The Raiders got a lot of good production from several returning offensive players, and with limited defensive talent beyond the defensive line, they’re a tough pick for this exercise. But Hobbs is a viable candidate.

Hobbs was phenomenal in 2021, with an 80.1 overall grade and a 78.0 coverage mark after allowing under 400 yards all season. But he didn’t match that level of play the past two years, never exceeding a 69.0 overall grade in 2022 or 2023. A big reason why could be that Hobbs played on the outside much more in that span than his first year.

Las Vegas has big questions in its secondary, but a full season of Jack Jones — who was a ballhawk late last year — could enable Hobbs to stay more in the slot, where he excelled before.

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Los Angeles Chargers: RB J.K. Dobbins

Dobbins was great in his two healthy seasons with the Ravens, earning rushing grades of at least 75.6 and averaging over 3.00 yards after contact per carry. However, he tore his Achilles just 12 snaps into last year and tore his ACL before even lacing up his cleats in a game in 2021.

Jim Harbaugh’s philosophy in Ann Arbor was to run the damn ball, and with the Chargers’ receiving room still lacking any proven alpha presences, that should continue in Los Angeles. Dobbins might split carries initially with his former Baltimore teammate Gus Edwards, but his better explosiveness could lend itself to a strong year for the 25-year-old in a new home.


Los Angeles Rams: CB Tre’Davious White

White was regarded as a burgeoning cornerback until the injury bug bit — and it hasn’t released its jaws much in the past few years. White has played just 631 snaps across the past two seasons and tore his Achilles in Week 4 of 2023.

However, White was off to a strong bounce back a year ago. He allowed just nine catches for 60 yards on 116 coverage snaps, also racking up an interception in that span. In fact, his 79.0 coverage grade (albeit in a very limited sample) was his highest since 2017.

The Rams could let White start promptly, especially because of Derion Kendrick‘s struggles through two seasons. What could also benefit White is having veteran Darious Williams beside him, as he could regain confidence and ability while Williams handles the more difficult assignments.


Miami Dolphins: LB Jordyn Brooks

Brooks hasn’t matched his first-round pedigree so far, never even reaching a 60.0 overall grade in his first four seasons. In effect, there hasn’t been a ton of “bounce” in this possible “bounce back.”

But Brooks should gain from being on a new team and with a new defensive coordinator in Anthony Weaver, who helped mold two elite inside linebackers in Baltimore. Weaver leveraged linebacker blitzes a good amount, with Patrick Queen and Roquan Smith each eclipsing 15 pressures this past year. That was actually a strong suit for Brooks last year: his 85.0 pass-rushing grade ranked fourth among all inside linebackers. If the 26-year-old Brooks mugs more gaps in Miami, it could open up other parts of his game.


Minnesota Vikings: RB Aaron Jones

Jones mustered 889 scrimmage yards and three touchdowns last year, primarily because he missed six games with hamstring and knee injuries. At the same time, his numbers after contact and in receiving efficiency were largely on par with the past few years, where he was one of the top backfield weapons in football. Plus, Jones earned four straight games with a grade above 80.0 as the season wound down, presumably as he got healthier.

If he can avoid more injuries, Jones could shoulder an even higher carry proportion in his first year in Minnesota, particularly because there aren’t exactly running backs equivalent to A.J. Dillon (especially a few years ago) behind him. Jones should prove key in helping either Sam Darnold or J.J. McCarthy, given Kevin O’Connell’s affinity for play action.


New England Patriots: RB Rhamondre Stevenson

Stevenson was elite in his first two years, notching offensive grades of 81.1 or better and forcing 32 or more tackles in both seasons. Yet, his 2023 didn’t follow that pattern, possibly because a high ankle sprain ended his year after just 13 weeks.

Amid a very thin receiver room and a potential rookie starting quarterback, the Patriots should lean on Stevenson much more heavily as he seeks a better year. Plus, new offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt showed a proclivity for running in Cleveland.


New Orleans Saints: LB Willie Gay Jr.

Gay earned a career-worst 55.9 overall grade in 2023, mainly due to his 41.1 coverage grade — the third-worst mark among inside linebackers to play 650 or more snaps. Regardless, Gay had plenty of high moments, with five games of notching an overall grade of 76.0 or better. Overall, Gay has proven a solid linebacker throughout his NFL career, racking up 25 or more stops in each of the past three seasons.

As was the case in Kansas City, Gay probably won’t be asked to be the primary force over the middle, joining Demario Davis. But if New Orleans can put less pressure on Gay in coverage and allow him to pin his ears back a bit more, the 26-year-old could flourish.


New York Giants: QB Daniel Jones

There might not be a more polarizing player in the league than Jones and his four-year, $160 million contract. Suffering a neck injury and an ACL tear before Week 9 last year didn’t help his case.

Jones’ 63.0 overall grade in 2023 was the lowest in his NFL tenure, and he was very hot or cold throughout the season. His games at Arizona and Miami were outstanding, but he struggled mightily against Las Vegas, Dallas and Seattle. Nonetheless, Jones was still a strong runner all around, putting forth a second straight year with a running grade of 82.2 or better.

The former No. 6 overall might not be a world-beater this year, but expect more consistency than he exhibited a year ago. If nothing else, his 4.1% turnover-worthy play rate will probably look more like it did from 2020-22. Adding Malik Nabers to the fray is a reason to project upward trends.

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New York Jets: S Chuck Clark

Clark’s debut will come a year late because of a torn ACL last June. Without Clark, Jordan Whitehead and Tony Adams were solid, but the former Raven should have an inside track to start after Whitehead’s departure.

Clark was fabulous the last time we saw him: his 88.8 overall grade in his final four games of 2022 ranked third among safeties. Maybe most impressive was that he posted an 87.7 tackling grade and an 87.6 coverage grade in that span. If the Jets get the same well-rounded version of Clark after a season away, their defense becomes that much scarier.


Philadelphia Eagles: S C.J. Gardner-Johnson

With the Eagles adding two cornerbacks with their top two draft picks, it’s probably not a great omen for their thoughts on Darius Slay and James Bradberry, both of whom are over 30 years old and declined last year. Quietly, though, Philly reunited with Gardner-Johnson, which should provide a boost to a secondary that was torn apart last year.

Gardner-Johnson played only 291 snaps in 2023 because of a torn pec, and his late-season return was a mixed bag. The safety was a weak link in the Lions’ conference championship loss to the 49ers, with a 33.9 overall grade.

Part of why Gardner-Johnson wasn’t as good last year was his diminished pass rush, with his 50.7 grade in that department a career low by a landslide. Then again, it’s encouraging that his coverage grade remained consistent based on years past. If Vic Fangio deploys CGJ more as a blitzer, he should have a better 2024.


Pittsburgh Steelers: S Minkah Fitzpatrick

Following a spectacular 2022, Fitzpatrick wasn’t as good in 2023, accumulating a 73.3 overall grade and just a 67.9 coverage mark. The safety might not have looked like himself because of hamstring and knee problems.

When healthy, it’s hard to contest that Fitzpatrick is one of the best defensive backs in the entire league. This season gives Fitzpatrick a clean slate, and with it should follow another season of elite tackling and ball productivity in the Steelers’ back seven.


San Francisco 49ers: Edge Leonard Floyd

Floyd’s pressure data was almost identical to the year before, but his overall grade came out to just 58.7. The primary reason was tackling, as he missed a whopping 36.7% of tackle attempts, easily the highest rate among any defensive player with 400 or more snaps.

It’s hard to think that Floyd would whiff on such a preposterous number of tackles for another straight year, and if his pressure rates stay level, that should automatically translate to a better season. Plus, with San Francisco losing Chase Young, the nine-year veteran should be in the driver’s seat to start next to Nick Bosa.


Seattle Seahawks: Edge Uchenna Nwosu

Nwosu was a monster in 2022, totaling 62 pressures — tied for the 16th most in the NFL. However, Nwosu only got to 14 in 2023 because of a torn pec.

The flashes of dominance were there yet again for him in a shortened 2023, as he earned a 75.0-plus PFF grade in half of his six games. But, Nwosu will have to clean up his tackling, because his 28.7 tackling grade was easily a career low.

Seattle bolstered its interior pass rush with Byron Murphy II in the first round, but Mike Macdonald will assuredly be counting on Nwosu to be the team’s primary edge rusher and to excel as he did two years ago.


Tampa Bay Buccaneers: C Robert Hainsey

Hainsey’s play took a dive in 2023 due to his allowing 13 more pressures and five more sacks than the year before. On top of that, his run-blocking grade dropped a full 10.6 points. Before that, Hainsey was at least solid in his second year, to the tune of a 66.7 overall grade.

The major X-factor for Hainsey is what position Tampa’s first-round pick, Graham Barton, will play. If it’s center, then Hainsey would probably have a limited path to seeing the field. But if Barton gets more reps at center — something very feasible with little depth inside for the Buccaneers — then Hainsey could get another crack at things in the middle.


Tennessee Titans: RB Tony Pollard

Pollard was exceptional in 2021 and 2022 but didn’t look nearly as potent in 2023. His breakaway percentage fell by 21.4 percentage points from 2022 to 2023, his yards per attempt decreased from over 5.2 to 4.0, and he also had three fumbles.

Tennessee didn’t seem too bothered by Pollard’s weakened production last year, rewarding him with a three-year, $21.75 million deal this offseason. A new atmosphere and a head coach who has lots of experience feeding a bell cow in Brian Callahan could pay dividends toward Pollard looking more like a home-run hitter.


Washington Commanders: Dl Daron Payne

Payne has established himself as one of the more solid interior defenders across the NFL, but his past season wasn’t his finest. He tallied 14 fewer pressures despite having 32 additional opportunities to rush the passer.

With Washington drafting Illinois’ Jer’Zhan Newton in the second round, new head coach Dan Quinn could turn to more of a rotation along the Commanders’ defensive line, which might reduce Payne’s pressure numbers even further. Then again, as Payne enters the second year of his $90 million extension, he’s unlikely to go anywhere. A more motivated Payne — who also happens to clean up his tackling — could return to being an amazing pass rusher in 2024.

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