Repeating career years next challenge for some NFL players


By TERESA M. WALKER - AP Pro Football Writer



FILE - In this Jan. 19, 2020, file photo, Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) looks to hand the ball off during the first half of the AFC championship NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs in Kansas City, Mo. The Tennessee Titans are confident enough Ryan Tannehill can repeat the best season of his career, or close enough, that they gave him a four-year, $118 million contract. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)

FILE - In this Jan. 19, 2020, file photo, Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) looks to hand the ball off during the first half of the AFC championship NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs in Kansas City, Mo. The Tennessee Titans are confident enough Ryan Tannehill can repeat the best season of his career, or close enough, that they gave him a four-year, $118 million contract. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)


FILE - In this Dec. 1, 2019, file photo, Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Shaquil Barrett forces a fumble on a sack of Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Nick Foles (7) during the first half of an NFL football game in Jacksonville, Fla. The Tampa Bay linebacker has to prove he’s not a one-year wonder after leading the NFL with 19 1/2 sacks. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack, File)


FILE - In this Jan. 19, 2020, file photo, San Francisco 49ers running back Raheem Mostert (31) scores in front of Green Bay Packers free safety Darnell Savage during the first half of the NFC championship football game in Santa Clara, Calif. The running back who turned in an NFC championship game performance for the ages capitalized on his play with a new contract.(AP Photo/Tony Avelar)


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Titans are confident enough Ryan Tannehill can repeat the best season of his career, or close enough, that they gave him a four-year, $118 million contract.

The rest of the NFL needs to see Tannehill do it again to believe he really is the quarterback who led the league in passer rating.

Tannehill has heard he has his doubters.

“My process doesn’t change,” Tannehill said. “How I go about getting ready for a season, getting ready for a football game, how I work in practice and prepare, that process doesn’t change. So, I’m doing everything I can to play the best football I can and whatever happens after that happens.”

Tannehill has plenty of company among NFL players trying to prove a career season wasn’t a one-hit wonder but a preview of coming attractions.

He posted a 117.5 passer rating, averaged 9.6 yards per pass and ranked third in the NFL by completing 70.3% of his passes. The Titans went 9-4 and reached their first AFC championship game in 17 years after Tannehill took over as the starter. He also was voted the AP NFL Comeback Player of the Year.

His play in Miami actually indicates Tannehill might be able to follow up his amazing season. Tannehill had a passer rating of 92.7 or higher in three seasons with the Dolphins, and he had three seasons completing at least 64.2% of his passes. When Miami traded him to Tennessee in March, Tannehill joined a franchise that had gone 9-7 the previous three seasons.

He only got more comfortable with the Titans’ offense as the season progressed. He had a 124.6 passer rating in December, when he threw 12 touchdowns and only two interceptions — best in the AFC.

Being with the Titans gives Tannehill a chance to replicate his success. Derrick Henry is back after leading the NFL in rushing behind an offensive line that returns four of five starters, and the right tackle is the only offensive starter who must be replaced.

And Henry is another player who faces the challenge of proving he didn’t have just one great year with his 1,540 yards rushing.

The first-time Pro Bowl back carried 303 times, followed by another 83 carries in the playoffs for the kind of load that can take a toll. Henry spent his offseason training to become stronger and better, and he even found a steep hill in Dallas to test himself.

Henry has simple goals for his follow-up.

“Continue to try to elevate my game each time I step on the field …,” Henry said. “That will always be my focus.”

JAMEIS WINSTON

Perhaps an odd choice given that he lost his job with the Buccaneers. But the quarterback led the NFL with 5,109 yards passing last season for Tampa Bay. Now he’s in New Orleans backing up Drew Brees, and the only way he can lead the league again in 2020 would be if Brees gets hurt and misses most of the season. On the plus side, that also should keep Winston from leading the league again in interceptions after having 30 last season.

Brees’ backup in 2019, Teddy Bridgewater, won all five of his starts, so the personnel is on hand should Winston need to step in.

RAHEEM MOSTERT

The running back who turned in an NFC championship game performance for the ages capitalized on his play with a new contract. Now Mostert, who ran for only 303 yards in his first four seasons combined with five different teams — he mostly was a special teamer — must show he’s the guy who ran for 220 yards and four TDs in the 49ers’ win over Green Bay.

Mostert averaged 6.34 yards per carry in the playoffs, an increase from the 5.64 yards he averaged over 16 games during the regular season. But he’s had only one 100-yard rushing game in his career to go with his NFC championship production.

SHAQ BARRETT

The Tampa Bay linebacker has to prove he’s not a one-year phenom after leading the NFL with 19 1/2 sacks. Barrett never had more than 5 1/2 sacks in a single season before, making the way he took down quarterbacks so surprising in 2019.

Barrett might benefit from simply being a full-time starter after making only 15 starts combined in his previous five seasons in Denver. The Bucs sure didn’t want to risk losing Barrett, using the franchise tag to keep him around.

MINKAH FITZPATRICK

The safety made an impressive debut with Pittsburgh with a career-high five interceptions after Miami traded him away after Week 2 last season. The Dolphins used the No. 11 draft pick overall on Fitzpatrick out of Alabama, and he had two picks as a rookie.

ANTHONY HARRIS

The safety went without an interception through his first three seasons with Minnesota, but Harris did pick off three passes in 2018 before he had a career season with six interceptions in 2019. It helped that he started 14 games, the most of any season in his career. The Vikings bet merely a franchise tag that Harris can do that again.

___

Follow Teresa M. Walker at https://twitter.com/TeresaMWalker

___

More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

FILE – In this Jan. 19, 2020, file photo, Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) looks to hand the ball off during the first half of the AFC championship NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs in Kansas City, Mo. The Tennessee Titans are confident enough Ryan Tannehill can repeat the best season of his career, or close enough, that they gave him a four-year, $118 million contract. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)
https://www.wnewsj.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2020/08/web1_125324430-e123fcf493ff4447ab36eb3a28198cc6.jpgFILE – In this Jan. 19, 2020, file photo, Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) looks to hand the ball off during the first half of the AFC championship NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs in Kansas City, Mo. The Tennessee Titans are confident enough Ryan Tannehill can repeat the best season of his career, or close enough, that they gave him a four-year, $118 million contract. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)

FILE – In this Dec. 1, 2019, file photo, Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Shaquil Barrett forces a fumble on a sack of Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Nick Foles (7) during the first half of an NFL football game in Jacksonville, Fla. The Tampa Bay linebacker has to prove he’s not a one-year wonder after leading the NFL with 19 1/2 sacks. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack, File)
https://www.wnewsj.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2020/08/web1_125324430-efe7304bfbfb4136a2b8fed8df49f697.jpgFILE – In this Dec. 1, 2019, file photo, Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Shaquil Barrett forces a fumble on a sack of Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Nick Foles (7) during the first half of an NFL football game in Jacksonville, Fla. The Tampa Bay linebacker has to prove he’s not a one-year wonder after leading the NFL with 19 1/2 sacks. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack, File)

FILE – In this Jan. 19, 2020, file photo, San Francisco 49ers running back Raheem Mostert (31) scores in front of Green Bay Packers free safety Darnell Savage during the first half of the NFC championship football game in Santa Clara, Calif. The running back who turned in an NFC championship game performance for the ages capitalized on his play with a new contract.(AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
https://www.wnewsj.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2020/08/web1_125324430-2ff6b52b7cb944be8cfa4b5782a5070b.jpgFILE – In this Jan. 19, 2020, file photo, San Francisco 49ers running back Raheem Mostert (31) scores in front of Green Bay Packers free safety Darnell Savage during the first half of the NFC championship football game in Santa Clara, Calif. The running back who turned in an NFC championship game performance for the ages capitalized on his play with a new contract.(AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

By TERESA M. WALKER

AP Pro Football Writer