The time is almost upon us. When that first ball is kicked at the start of the Los Angeles Rams’ home opener against the Buffalo Bills on Thursday, we’ll be on our way to another exciting season of NFL action.
And there are few better reasons to get excited at the start of a new campaign than the promise of a good old redemption story.
However, these stories don’t necessarily revolve around someone who suffered a fall from grace; in some cases, it may just be someone who took a little longer than expected to blossom.
So ahead of the thunder and lightning of a new NFL season, Stats Perform took a look at five men who might have a little more motivation to show off all they have to offer in 2022.
Baker Mayfield–Carolina Panthers
Mayfield jumps in as perhaps the most obvious choice.
Big things were expected of the quarterback as he was the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, charged with leading a choppy 0-16 Cleveland Browns.
There were some promising moments in his four years in Cleveland, throwing 27 touchdowns in 14 games in his first season, and in 2020 he played a big part in bringing the Browns to the playoffs, unthinkable when he walked through the door.
However, in 2021, Mayfield threw just 18 TD passes, the worst season of his career, as a Browns side starting to feel like they had passed him finished 8-9.
Of the quarterbacks to have over 300 pass attempts, only Sam Darnold (59.9), Trevor Lawrence (59.6) and Zach Wilson (55.6) had pass completion percentages below his 60. 5.
After much uncertainty, he finally found a new home after being traded to the Panthers, who are in desperate need of a quality QB after the failed Darnold experiment last year.
It’s a risk for both parties, and both need it to function, but you could also say it couldn’t get worse for either one.
Gabe Davis-Buffalo Bills
There had been no immediately obvious signs that Davis was going to be a star for the Bills for most of his first two seasons.
Seven touchdowns in his rookie year — and none in the playoffs on just four catches — were followed by just six in the 2021 regular season.
However, thanks to his explosive performance against the Kansas City Chiefs in last season’s playoffs, many are excited about what could come from Davis and the much-loved Bills in 2022.
His four touchdowns and 201 yards on eight receptions — averaging 25.1 yards — still wasn’t enough as the Chiefs eventually won the AFC Divisional Round game in overtime, but Davis became a new potential star.
By the end of the campaign, no player had recorded more than 1,000 yards burned—yards in situations where a receiver “wins” their game against a defender—on fewer receptions (45) than Davis.
But was it just once, or can Davis start all over again? We will know soon.
Trevor Lawrence – Jacksonville Jaguars
Lawrence could end up being a very similar story to Mayfield. He was also the number one choice for a team with few other advantages.
In his rookie year, Lawrence threw for 12 touchdowns, but his low passing percentage was described above.
He remained a busy man regardless, with just six QBs making more than his 602 pass attempts, but the Jaguars could only pick up three wins, two more than in 2020.
Whether it was sloppy throws or feeling the need to take risks with little assistance, Lawrence threw 26 selectable passes, with just four QBs who made more than 300 pass attempts, seeing a pass percentage selectables worse than his 4.59% (Jimmy Garoppolo – 4.82, Taylor Heinicke – 5.04, Zach Wilson – 5.21, Davis Mills – 5.56).
There’s undoubted talent there, hence the hype when he was snapped up by Jacksonville in 2021, and that’s surely just a case of Lawrence getting more help and gaining more experience. We may see this season.
Matthew Stafford – LA Rams
Yes, he’s another quarterback, but with a twist. This one just won the Super Bowl, after all.
It might seem odd given the ring on his finger, but the situation with Stafford’s elbow means he has to prove himself again.
In terms of numbers, the Rams QB has now established himself among the elite. Stafford ranks in the top 12 all-time in completions (11th, 4,302), passing yards (12th, 49,995), passing yards per game (sixth, 274.7), touchdown passes (12th, 323) and game-winning drives (seventh, 42).
Importantly, he also led the team to Super Bowl success last year.
But the Rams’ hopes of a repeat hinge on Stafford being fit enough to play all year, and there are worrying rumors around an elbow problem heading into the year.
If Stafford shrugged off those worries and teamed up with Cooper Kupp for another standout season — and maybe another ring — no one would doubt his legacy.
Kliff Kingsbury-Arizona Cardinals
It’s not just the players who have something to prove, but the coaches too – and you could argue that Kingsbury are doing more than most.
Although he is undoubtedly a talented manager, Kingsbury is building a reputation as someone who delivers effective games to start a season but is less able to adapt to stay ahead of the competition. once he figured it out.
After winning their first seven games, the Cardinals got off to a sensational 10-2 start last season, well ahead of expected results, only to stumble to 11-6 after losing four of their last five in the regular season, before being humiliated 34-11 by the Rams in their playoff opener.
The great start can’t be ignored, but the fact that he’s had nine consecutive seasons in which a Kingsbury-led side have had a worse second half of the season than the first can’t be ignored either.
Despite being without DeAndre Hopkins for the first six games through suspension, Kingsbury have an exciting team in Arizona and it wouldn’t be surprising to see them come back strong.
They just need to find a way to sustain it this time.