While Adrian Peterson and Calvin Johnson were setting career highs and approaching/smashing records, other highly-regarded players had disappointing 2012 campaigns. Many of 2011’s studliest stars didn’t enjoy similar success the following year, but some of these underperformers shouldn’t be counted out going forward. Here are three receivers poised for a bounce-back season.

1. Larry Fitzgerald

Season                 Receptions         Yards/Rank         YPR        Touchdowns
2011                       80                           1411/4TH               17.6        8
2012                       71                           798/41st                 11.2        4

Those who strapped themselves down, self-medicated using their preferred and available substance, and watched the 2012 Arizona Cardinals should not hold their franchise player responsible for the 4-0 beginning gone horribly wrong. Not only does Fitzgerald have no need to hold himself accountable; he deserves an award of the highest honor for maintaining his composure throughout some of the most atrocious, unwatchable “quarterback play” the NFL has ever seen.

Just how bad were the 2012 Cardinals “quarterbacks,” you ask? The following sequence actually happened during the November 18th contest in Atlanta:
1. Cardinals’ Touchdown (7-0 ARI)
2. Cardinals’ Field Goal (10-0 ARI)
3. Cardinals’ Field Goal (13-0 ARI)
4.  Coach Whisenhunt Looks At Stats Sheet And Sees That John Skelton Is Leading The Cardinals To Victory With A This-Must-Be-A-Misprint 2/7, 6 Yards Statline
5. Rookie Ryan Lindley Replaces John Skelton
6. Cardinals Lose (Despite 5—Count It—5  Matt Ryan Gifterceptions)

The remarkable composure and self-control exhibited by Fitz throughout the 2012 season is something to marvel at. Every grateful NFL fan owes Larry Fitzgerald a thank-you card for not pulling a Barry Sanders and retiring solely because his team single-handedly destroyed his passion for the game of football.

Fitzgerald only hauled in nine fewer passes than his 2011 total, but the 613-yard discrepancy did more than enough to solidify his 2012 season as a bust. The start wideout’s 798 yards marked the only time since his rookie season that he played 16 games and failed to surpass the 1000-yard mark. With the addition of Bruce Arians’ downfield passing attack and real-quarterback Carson Palmer, Fitzgerald is a virtual lock to make up for his lackluster 2011 performance.

2. Dwayne Bowe

Season                 Receptions         Yards/Rank         YPR        Touchdowns
2011                       81                           1159/13th             14.3        5
2012                       59                           801/40th              13.6        3                                             

Dwayne Bowe is no Fitzgerald, but the supremely-talented Kansas City receiver enjoyed an indisputably-disappointing season as his Chiefs sputtered to an NFL-worst 2-14 record. His yardage totals in 2011-2012 may not display the discrepancy immediately visible from Fitzgerald’s statline, but his on-field impact diminished in more ways than the numbers state.

The Chiefs’ “offense” routinely found itself in holes thanks to routine deficits, and “quarterback” Matt Cassel consistently proved incapable of leading a come-from-behind passing attack. Kansas City was a run-first team without any discernible weapons outside of Bowe and Jamaal Charles, and thanks to said deficits, the “offense” was doomed. The lack of a balanced attack hindered Bowe’s ability to warrant defensive attention and stun opposing defenses with big plays downfield, but with a revamped surrounding cast led by Coach Andy Reid and QB Alex Smith, Bowe should return to top-15 receiver status with ease. 

3. Jordy Nelson

Season                 Receptions         Yards/Rank         YPR        Touchdowns
2011                       68                           1263/9th                18.6        15
2012                       49                           745/50th                15.2        7             

Unlike Bowe and Fitzgerald, Nelson had the luxury of catching balls from an honest-to-God quarterback. Although his Packers finished the season on a 9-2 run, Nelson suffered hamstring and ankle injuries in the second half of the season that he was never able to fully recover from. The fifth-year pro began the year on pace to notch a 91/1216/11 statline, but missed four games and never returned to early-season form upon his return.

Prior to 2012, Nelson only missed 3 games in 4 seasons, signifying an avoidance of the dreaded “injury-prone” tag to this point in his career. If he can stay off the injury report, Nelson has every reason to match his career-high numbers from 2011. Greg Jennings is gone, Aaron Rodgers is better than ever, and Coach Mike McCarthy has vowed to improve  Green Bay’s 25th ranked rushing “attack.” With a surrounding cast of proven weapons including Randall Cobb and James Jones, defenses are unlikely to zero-in on Nelson. Pending a healthy season, Jordy will be a regular on the Monday morning SportsCenter highlight reel.