Ahead the new NFL season, we look at some of the league’s biggest superstars who are set to thrill us once again in 2017…
While the NFL is crammed full of talent, and there are many more who could lay claim to being included on this list, we’ve tried to narrow it down to a superstar top six.
Arguably the game’s GOAT, Tom Brady can perhaps feel most aggrieved at missing out but, with five Super Bowl rings already to his name, his story is pretty well known.
In no particular order….
Odell Beckham Jr, WR, New York Giants
Arguably the biggest name in the game right now, Beckham is known as much for his explosive antics off the field as his impressive displays on it, oh and also for that ‘unique’ hairstyle of his. He can be easily distracted – Twitter tussles with Josh Norman, a long-running love affair with a kicking net last year and an ill-advised boat trip during the play-offs being prime examples.
But, Beckham has also dazzled during his early years in the NFL, displaying an utterly unique skillset, pulling off one-handed catches on a weekly basis with effortless ease. He is second only to Julio Jones in NFL history in receiving yards per game (95.9) and tied with former LSU teammate Jarvis Landry for most catches through the first three years of a career (288). He will once again be a fascinating watch in 2017.
Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons
Talking of Jones, the Falcons receiver is perhaps the biggest threat to Beckham as the game’s best ball-catcher. Sorry, Antonio Brown. Jones followed up a career year of 1,871 yards in 2015 with another immensely impressive 1,409 campaign as Atlanta went all the way to the Super Bowl.
While there is a slight drop off year-to-year in those stats – Jones’ touchdown tally also slipping from eight to six – the yardage was gained in two fewer games (14) than when he was an ever-present the year before, plus it came off only 83 receptions as Matt Ryan and the explosive Atlanta offence shared the ball around, Jones earning an incredible 17 yards with every catch.
Even more impressive was his postseason form, as Jones torched the Green Bay Packers for 180 yards and two touchdowns in the NFC Championship game and while the Super Bowl ultimately ended in disappointment, it wasn’t the fault of Jones – included in his 87 yards was a stunning sideline grab to extend a crucial drive that was seemingly icing the game for the Falcons. Not so, but another stellar 2017 for Jones and Atlanta will find themselves in the Super Bowl shake-up again.
Le’Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers
As mentioned, Bell’s fellow Steeler, Brown, could lay claim to being included on this list but, it’s Bell who, having just signed his franchise tender with the team, will be the one to watch out for of the dynamic duo in Pittsburgh with him looking to prove he’s worth a substantial new deal.
Last year, Bell played in only 12 games, missing game time at the start of the season after being suspended by the NFL for violating their substance abuse policy. Despite that, Bell was just a mere 94 runs shy of surpassing his career-best 1,361 yards he set in 2014 when playing in all 16 games for the Steelers.
Bell is a unique runner in comparison to his rock-pounding contemporaries, as he often pauses at the beginning of a run, waiting for gaps to unravel in the opposition’s defensive front. Normally, it’s not a tactic to be encouraged, but Bell is no ‘normal’ back.
David Johnson, RB, Arizona Cardinals
Another running back who is far from ‘normal’ is Arizona’s David Johnson, a threat with his hands as much as with his feet. Johnson was a fantasy football owner’s dream in 2016 as he rushed for 16 scores and four receiving as he tallied a sensational 2,118 from scrimmage, though he has set himself an even more daring target for 2017.
Johnson wants to register a 1,000-yard year in both rushing and receiving, to become the first player ever to do so in the history of the NFL. And, if his form from last year is anything to go by, he’s not far away either, having fallen only 121 yards shy of the thousand through the air in 2016. Watch this space…
Vonn Miller, LB, Denver Broncos
While Denver had a somewhat down year in 2016, following up their Super Bowl 50 win with a not-good-enough-for-the-postseason 9-7 record, Miller’s play actually improved, tallying a career-high 62 tackles and increasing his total of sacks from 11 to 13.5.
Encouraging stuff considering that after his Super Bowl MVP-winning performance against the Carolina Panthers 18 months ago, Miller signed a six-year $114.5m contract to stay in Denver, with $70m of that guaranteed, to become the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history. If there were any worries that motivation would be a worry after such a payday, they were swiftly dispelled with his dominant displays in 2016.
Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers
Hail Mary! Rodgers is the most compelling watch at quarterback in the NFL. Sure, Tom Brady has five Super Bowl rings, and can quite rightly lay claim to being the GOAT, but Rodgers has the ‘wow’ factor, week on week pulling off some remarkable plays from inside and (mostly) out of the pocket, something Brady and the Bill Belichick ‘do your job’ approach doesn’t quite allow for.
There is no greater example of Rodgers’ ability to wow than his uncanny ability to complete Hail Mary touchdowns. A fluke? One, maybe yes. Two? Perhaps still a little fortunate. But, three? That can’t just be labelled as pure luck. Rodgers’ hat-trick of Hail Marys have occurred over just a 13-month span, starting in Week 13 of the 2015 season against the Detroit Lions, swiftly followed up by a Divisional Round play-off effort against the Cardinals that same season before waiting till Wild Card weekend of last year to dazzle once again, this time the Giants the ‘unlucky’ party.
Watch the first game of the new NFL season as reigning Super Bowl champions New England Patriots host Kansas City Chiefs in Thursday Night Football, live on Sky Sports Action from 1.20am.
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