Darren McFadden, Matthew Stafford and 3 Other 2013 Bounce Back Candidates

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Every year there is an Alfred Morris, a guy who comes out of nowhere to rise near the top of any given NFL statistical category. The Redskins rookie was second to only Adrian Peterson with 1613 yards on the ground, giving Washington unexpected consistency from a random source.

For every Alfred Morris, there are several players who failed to meet their lofty expectations.  The NFL inevitably produces underwhelming performances every season, but there’s always next year. Here are five guys who had a down year but who hope to bounce back in 2013.

5. Darren McFadden

In 2011, McFadden stormed out of the gates with 614 yards in his first seven games. A foot injury kept him from finishing the 2011 campaign, but his impressive start sent expectations soaring for 2012. The results were slightly disappointing. McFadden proceeded to confirm every notion of is fragility when he went down in week 9, but this time the numbers didn’t back him up. DMC averaged a pedestrian 56 YPG with an even less impressive 3.3 YPC average on the season. The Raiders are poised to be a bottom-dweller once again, but McFadden made this list because it’s hard to imagine him having an even worse year. The guy was practically unstoppable for the 18 healthy seconds he experienced in 2010-11, but if he fails to produce in 2013 question marks will begin to crop up.  

4. Matthew Stafford

If passing yards won games, the Detroit Lions would have been damn near 16-0 this season. An inconvenient reality known as the scoreboard made the Lions an easy target for most disappointing team, and the disappointment starts at QB. Stafford came just 33 yards shy of his second straight 5000-yard passing season, but there’s a reason you haven’t heard much praise for it. Detroit and Stafford showed flashes of 2008 by managing to blow fourth quarter leads at record pace, and Stafford deserves much of the blame as he continually failed to make plays when the Lions needed them. Errant throws were up and good decisions were down, but Stafford was still able to make throws that reminded the football world why he was so well-regarded heading into last season. The inexplicable interceptions and high, low, and everything-in-between-passes need to be toned down, but with Calvin Johnson lining up wide, Stafford will have no excuses for another poor year in 2013.

3. Greg Jennings

Jennings was hurt for much of the year, but he made this list for several reasons. After a heroic 2011 playoff campaign that saw his Packers win the Super Bowl, Jennings became a household name. 2012 was a contract year for the 29-year-old wideout, but he spent much of it on the sideline nursing a groin injury. All signs point to the Packers cutting ties with the wide receiver, with rumors that Jennings’ contract demands exceed what Green Bay is willing to pay. Regardless of where he ends up next fall, Jennings will be looking to put himself back in the conversation of the NFL’s better receivers. Many pundits regard him as a good-but-not-great wide receiver, and he’ll be looking to prove them wrong wherever he finds himself next year.   

2. Maurice Jones-Drew

Jones-Drew is another guy who spent the majority of the season on the injured list, but he definitely belongs on a list of bounce back candidates. Jones-Drew has been praised as one of the NFL’s best combinations of size, speed, and power at the running back position, but an offseason holdout lead to a foot injury that cost him most of the season. Like Jennings, Jones-Drew is in murky territory when it comes to his future. He is in the final year of his deal and Jacksonville may decide they aren’t interested in extending his contract, which could lead to a possible trade or release. Like Jennings, no matter where he plays next season Jones-Drew will be looking to bounce back to being one of the league’s elite rushers.

1. Philip Rivers

Everyone on this list had a disappointing year, but Rivers takes the cake. This pass alone earned him the top spot, and he had such a dreadful year that some wondered if the Chargers would cut ties with him. Rivers will get a shot to rectify himself (and that pass) in the 2013 season, and the underperforming Chargers will look to him to get them back to the top of the AFC West. San Diego’s offensive line was atrocious, and that gives Rivers somewhat of a pass for last year. If the Chargers can find a way to protect their quarterback, Rivers absolutely needs to produce. Receiver Danario Alexander established himself as a force on the outside, and if other receiving positions get shored up there just won’t be an excuse for Rivers. This pass has many concerned that Rivers just isn’t a viable NFL quarterback anymore, but he’s shown too much in his career to not get the benefit of the doubt for one more season.