Grizzled veterans returning to previous star form -- it doesn't happen often, but when it does, it's a huge boost for any team. Which players who labored through tough, relatively unproductive seasons in 2021 are primed to rebound in a big way this upcoming season?
Before I begin, I did not include players who simply were injured for all or most of 2021. That'd have been somewhat of a cop out.
Robinson played in 12 contests a season ago. Three were missed due to a hamstring injury, two due to COVID-19, but the time off for Robinson might as well been on account of fatigue from the painstaking years spent with bad quarterbacks. ARob went over 100 catches and 1,200 yards with Mitchell Trubisky in 2020 -- a minor miracle -- but the combination of Andy Dalton, Nick Foles, and rookie Justin Fields was too much weight to bear.
Now, like his new quarterback, Robinson migrates from the NFC North to the bright lights of Los Angeles to pair with Matthew Stafford and alpha wideout Cooper Kupp in Sean McVay's meticulously mapped-out offense, a scheme that's only finished outside of Football Outsiders' offensive DVOA once in the past five seasons.
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On the talent spectrum, Robinson is legitimately near the top in the NFL. At right around 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, he's a flexible route-runner, exudes confidence in contested-catch scenarios, and is a deceptive weapon after the catch. Without all the attention on him, and most importantly, with undoubtedly the best quarterback he's ever played with at the collegiate or professional level, the stars have finally aligned for Robinson to be accentuated to the nth degree in 2022.
I almost didn't include Landry in this piece, because I do think he's lost a step or two, and he entered the league a lower-level athlete for the receiver position. However, the first-round pick of Chris Olave could actual prolong Landry's career and make him a more viable weapon in his first season back in Louisiana since college.
At his best, Landry is the ultimate underneath possession receiver. Not the quickest, not the fastest, but possibly the grittiest with unexpectedly strong skills after the catch and, of course, a gigantic catch radius -- the dude has over 10-inch hands. Now, Jameis Winston is one of the game's most aggressive, downfield throwers but did demonstrate slightly more conservative play before tearing a knee ligament last season. And, with Landry, Michael Thomas and Deonte Harris, the Saints will have to mainly live underneath, methodically moving the ball down the field before eventually taking the lid off the defense with an Olave go ball.
Despite it feeling like Cox has drastically faded from the borderline superstar pedestal, he can still bring it. Rather quietly, Cox registered a respectable 44 pressures in 2021. Now, beyond the loose-hipped, explosive Javon Hargrave and the lengthy athleticism specimen Josh Sweat, Cox will play next to 6-7 and 340 pounds of grown man in first-round pick Jordan Davis. During the duration of the Howie Roseman era, the Eagles have had a formidable defensive front. With this group, pick your poison. Can't game plan to stop everybody.
And it's not like Cox is deep into his mid-30s. He'll only turn 32 in December. Resurgent season incoming for the longtime stud on the inside for the Eagles.
Given the rapid advancements in medication and rehabilitation treatments, we all assume all players can rebound, without a hiccup, from an ACL tear. That's not always the case. Sutton was injured all the way back in Week 2 of 2020 and was not fully himself for parts of 2021. Given his slower rehab coupled and inconsistent quarterback play, Sutton's 58-grab, 776-yard season was actually encouraging.
The nearly 6-4, 220-pounder with deceptive quicks, a giant catch radius, and thundering YAC talent should be back to 100% in 2022 to regain his 2019 form, when he hauled in 72 passes for 1,112 yards with six scores. And now he has Russell Wilson throwing him moon balls down the field. With Jerry Jeudy entering Year 3 and what will be a well-balanced attack thanks to the compact one-two punch of Melvin Gordon and Javonte Williams, Sutton will be in more favorable situations more frequently than ever before in his NFL career. He'll set career highs this season.
Waller was injured in 2021 -- knee and back injuries plus COVID-19 -- but managed to get on the field for 11 contests. In those games, he averaged five receptions and nearly 61 yards per, not far from his per-game averages during his breakout 2019 season with the Raiders.
But it was in 2020 when Waller inserted himself into the elite tight end conversation with 107 grabs for a hefty 1,196 yards and nine touchdowns. Now fully healthy and suddenly with a brand, spanking new alpha wideout on the roster, Waller is in line for his most efficient season yet. He'll see more advantageous one-on-one matchups than ever given Davante Adams' presence. And Hunter Renfrow will attract plenty of attention underneath. The soon-to-be 30-year-old Waller will reemerge as one of the game's most dangerous receiving weapons at the tight end position in 2022.