With OTAs underway and Training Camp right around the corner, there have been a lot of big headlines across the league. Tampa Bay’s quarterbacks not being able to hit a wide-open receiver, Sam Darnold‘s spectacular play, and Anthony Richardson looking like the best thing since sliced bread, make us question if these reports will become anything come Week 1. It’s important to remember that off-season performances can often be deceiving.
Here are some reminders that whatever happens during the off-season doesn’t always come to fruition.
NFL Offseason Overreactions Don’t Always Pan Out
Ja’Marr Chase Can’t Catch an NFL-Size Ball
In the 2021 NFL Draft, the Cincinnati Bengals had a bit of controversy when they took a wide receiver over an offensive lineman. They didn’t draft just any regular wideout, though. They drafted the 2019 Biletnikoff Award winner and former LSU teammate of Joe Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase.
Other than not drafting a lineman to help with Cincy’s horrible O-line, the pick seemed like the Bengals would be getting a perennial Pro Bowler. However, by the time training camp rolled around, it seemed all hope was lost because of one staggering issue with the rookie receiver: he had a hard time catching the bigger NFL football.
It went from what seemed like a minor rookie growing pain in OTAs to, as Bengals writer James Rapien put it, “Officially Becoming an Issue.” Ja’Marr only had five total drops during his 2019 campaign at LSU and had four drops in just three preseason games alone.
Chase knew it was a problem too, having told reporters, “It doesn’t have the white stripes on the side, so you can’t see the ball coming from the tip point, so you actually have to look for the strings on the ball at the top, which is hard to see because the whole ball is brown and you have the six strings that are white. But for the most part, I just have to get used to it and find out what I am comfortable with catching.”
Being comfortable with catching is exactly what Chase did in his rookie year, as he had 81 receptions on 128 targets for 1,455 yards, an AP Offensive Rookie of the Year trophy, and an AFC Championship trophy. Not too bad for a guy who, during the off-season, couldn’t catch the ball.
The 2015 Carolina Panthers Will Go .500 at Best
The Carolina Panthers came into the 2015-2016 NFL season unhappy with their offseason additions, or at least the fans were. Sports Illustrated gave them a C+ on their off-season report card, and for anyone who has ever brought their math report card back home with a C+, you know that’s not very good.
They had brought in Jarrett Boykin, Charles Tillman, Michael Oher, Kurt Coleman, Ted Ginn Jr., Jonathan Martin, and Jason Trusnik. While this seems to be a big free-agent haul, Coleman was the only guy who seemed to be considered for a starting role.
Carolina did have a good draft, picking up Shaq Thompson and Devin Funchess in the first two rounds, but these additions still didn’t add any excitement to the team’s fanbase. It’s worth mentioning they lost defensive end turned MMA fighter, Greg Hardy, as well. People said that Carolina’s roster was “unfit for the long haul.”
Many fans held out hope for the offense with the rising star Cam Newton at the helm, but the defense was another story. Many believed that their pass rush and secondary would be underwhelming.
Worries about the Panthers lack of a good running back came into play as well. Bleacher Report gave them a preseason prediction of 8-8, while Dan Hope agreed, stating the team would “hover around the .500 mark.”
These remarks and predictions couldn’t have been worse, as the team would go on to win 15 regular-season games and the NFC before losing to the Broncos in Super Bowl 50. The defense was sixth in the league in total yards allowed, and Carolina’s running back Jonathan Stewart was eighth in the league in rushing yards. The 2015 Panthers were also named the second-best team of the 2010s.
Russell Wilson Makes the 2022 Broncos Contenders
Just this past season, the 2022 Denver Broncos had just traded for former Seahawks quarterback, Russell Wilson. With new head coach Nathaniel Hackett behind the headset and a team that was “a quarterback away,” it seemed as if the nine-time Pro Bowler would come in and readily put the Broncos into the AFC title picture.
He was lighting up the Broncos fanbase with his offseason workout videos, showing up to preseason games rocking his own jersey, and his new catchphrase “Let’s Ride.” Everyone, from the media to fans, and even former players like Derek Wolfe, told the Broncos they got their “missing piece.”
Vegas even bought into the hype, giving Denver anywhere from the fifth to eighth-best odds to win the Lombardi based on the sportsbook. Training camp didn’t stop these claims either, as each day more and more news came out about how well Russell looked in Denver’s offense and how his deep ball was going to be lethal in the Mile High City.
Even the Week 1 homecoming loss to the Seahawks was looked at as a growing pain. However, it was a sign of more to come, as Wilson had his statistically worst season in almost every passing category. The Broncos missed the playoffs instead of winning the Super Bowl and wound up being the fifth-worst team in the league. Russell Wilson might have actually made the Broncos less of a contender.
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