Heading into the season, all 16 NFC teams had expectations. Some were higher than others, but every team had a goal. This extends to the player level, and each player sets goals for themselves. Some have gone above and beyond, blasting past even the loftiest expectations. However, several have underwhelmed.
Let’s look at five colossal disappointments in the NFC. These players had sky-high expectations entering the 2021 season, and they have been thoroughly disappointing.
The players are listed in alphabetical order by last name.
No.1: Brandon Aiyuk, Wide Receiver, San Francisco 49ers
As a rookie, Brandon Aiyuk posted a strong season. He did miss four games, but he racked up a healthy 748 yards and five receiving touchdowns. He tacked on 77 rushing yards and a pair of rushing touchdowns. Entering Year Two, Aiyuk was a popular breakout candidate. Even the likes of Brett Kollmann were predicting a top-10 (or better) caliber season from the Arizona State product.
Instead, Aiyuk has replied with 96 yards in six games. To match his 748 receiving yards from last season, he would have to maintain his 2021 average for 46.75 games, almost three full seasons. As of writing, Brandon Aiyuk has as many games with single-digit yards as double-digits. The former Sun Devil alum seems to be at odds with Kyle Shanahan in some way, and it is affecting his opportunities. He is still playing the majority of snaps, but he has just 16 targets this season. Last year, he averaged eight per game.
No.2: William Jackson, Cornerback, Washington Football Team
William Jackson was among the best free-agent signings until the season began. The 2016 first-rounder had an up-and-down tenure with the Cincinnati Bengals, and he was looking for greener pastures in Landover. While the Bengals are currently the No.1 seed in the AFC, Jackson and the Washington Football Team are wallowing at 2-5. Jackson is a large reason why.
While the entire defense (outside of the interior) could be here, Jackson has been one of the worst corners in the NFL, not just a disappointment. He is having the worst season of his career in just about any manner one can analyze a corner. He has already allowed three touchdowns, the same total as his 2019 and 2020 seasons. Jackson has a sub-60.0 PFF grade in five of six games, earning four coverage grades below 60. He has been a colossal disappointment in every sense of the word.
No.3: Ronald Jones, Running Back, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Ronald Jones was quietly one of the best running backs in the NFL last season. While he missed two games, he finished just shy of 1,000 yards. He was 10th in yards per game, and he was eighth in yards per rush. 2020 was Jones’ second consecutive 1,000-scrimmage yard season, and he was looking to build upon the season. He hasn’t.
Jones lost a fumble in the season opener, and he has seemingly been in the Tampa Bay doghouse for the last few weeks. He has received more than six carries in just one game, Tampa’s exploitation of the Chicago Bears in Week 7. Moreover, Jones is only averaging 25.9 yards per game, a mere 37% of his 2020 average. Leonard Fournette has turned Ronald Jones from a hot commodity into an afterthought. Jones, to his credit, has not been inefficient as a runner (4.4 yards per rush), but he has more fumbles than touchdowns so far.
No.4: Calvin Ridley, Wide Receiver, Atlanta Falcons
Calvin Ridley had a tremendous breakout season in 2020. He compiled 1,374 yards and nine touchdowns in 15 games, both figures finishing in the top 10. Ridley was scattered on top-10 wide receiver lists all offseason. He even made the second Associated Press All-Pro team. He was a star, and he was about to become a WR1 in a pass-heavy team. Atlanta even drafted Kyle Pitts to take some double teams off Ridley. How did Ridley respond?
Poorly. He is on pace for a rather unimpressive 899 yards and six touchdowns. It would be the worst season of Ridley’s career. He is averaging the second-lowest yardage tally of his career, but even in that season, Ridley found the end zone 10 times. The former Alabama prospect has yet to have a show-out game, maxing out with 80 yards in a game this season. Of the 21 receivers to have 50 targets in 2021, Ridley ranks 20th in catch percentage, last in yardage, and last in receiving grade.
No.5: Robert Tonyan, Tight End, Green Bay Packers
Robert Tonyan had a breakout 2020 season. He caught 11 touchdowns and posted career-highs in catches and yards. He was a legitimate Pro Bowl snub, and he was beginning to infiltrate top-10 lists at the tight end position. What was next for the unheralded tight end from Indiana State?
Nothing. The season got off to a bad start as Tonyan had a Week 1 drop after having none across the last two seasons (81 targets). Among the 24 tight ends to average three targets per game, Robert Tonyan ranks 22nd in receiving grade. He is the only one to have under one yard per route run. In a game-by-game account, Tonyan has just two games with more than 15 receiving yards, and he has just 155 in seven weeks. He is on a 17-game pace of a measly 376 yards and five touchdowns. For context, that would rank 27th among 2020 tight ends in yards and 13th in yards (in 16 games). At this point, he is barely the top tight end on his team.
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