Week four of the NFL is complete and with that, there are a few players that will be re-joining their teams. Here are the players coming back this week from suspension: San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates, Dallas Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy, Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Martavis Bryant, New York Jets defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, Dallas Cowboys linebacker Rolando McClain and Denver Broncos defensive end Derek Wolfe. All of these players will definitely have an impact on their teams, but which one will have the biggest impact? Let’s take a look and see.
The veteran tight end has been out the first four games due to him violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances. The Chargers without him have gone 2-2 so far this season without him and they have been outscored by 15 points this year so far. In adding Gates, it brings back a familiar weapon to San Diego while also adding another player defenses have to worry about. With the extra attention he will receive, he will help open up things for guys like wide receivers Keenan Allen and Stevie Johnson. Ultimately, he will have an effect on this team, but without him they have been where they would normally about be on offense. This addition will have some effect, but not enough to change their record in a huge way.
The physically-gifted defensive end is coming back to a Dallas Cowboys team that is losing players left and right. After serving a four-game suspension for his off-field issues, he is back to wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks. And with the state of the Cowboys, they need him desperately. The Cowboys are without Tony Romo and Dez Bryant offensively and they have no one that can create consistent pressure defensively. He instantly adds someone that teams have to gameplan for and, when motivated, can make some big noise for the Cowboys up front. Look for him to be a huge gamechanger for the Cowboys defense. If he can stabilize the Cowboys front line, then they can potentially steal some games while missing some bigtime players.
The second-year wide receiver out of Clemson was suspended the first four games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. What some thought would be a breakout year for him has started with the disappointment of his suspension. But with his return, there are some positive things that come. Outside of Antonio Brown, the Steelers have had one consistent wide receiver when his number has been called: Darius Heyward-Bey. It’s scary that the guy who formerly was criticized for having no hands is their second most-consistent wide receiver. With Bryant back in the fold, now the Steelers have all their weapons to help backup quarterback Michael Vick lead this team while Ben Roethlisberger is out. Bryant, who has been in rehab himself during his four-game ban, will have a huge impact on this team and will give Brown some relief that he can count on.
Richardson has been out serving a suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Without him, the Jets have gone 3-1 and have looked better than they have in a couple of years. And defensively, they are making some big plays and intimidating opposing offenses with their aggressive style. One thing that may have happened with Richardson’s absence is the thought that they can move on without him because of 2015 1st round draft pick Leonard Williams. Although Richardson will add more bulk and pass rush to this team, he may not be a huge difference-maker because he will have to work his way back into the rotation. Richardson may be on thin ice with the Jets after this suspension and the other offseason stunt involving him driving a car like he is Mario Andretti with a kid in there.
McClain was someone the Cowboys took a flyer on last season. After trading for him from next to nothing from the Ravens, the Cowboys ended up getting the best part of the deal. McClain ended up being one of the Cowboys best players last season as they surged into the playoffs. With his return coupled with Hardy coming back, the Cowboys now have some pieces in play to make some things happen. And what makes this pickup even more important is that Sean Lee suffered a concussion against the New Orleans Saints. With his injury history, the Cowboys could not be happier to get McClain back. Looking at the Cowboys linebacker corps without McClain and maybe down Lee, they would be in trouble. His return is huge for this team.
The Denver Broncos are 4-0 after dispatching of the Minnesota Vikings Sunday and there are still some questions about this team. But for the Broncos, there are definitely no questions about the defense at all. They have been relentless under the leadership of defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller have been great coming off the edges. And with the addition of Wolfe to this team, the Broncos just got that much more dangerous. But the thing that most have to wonder is how he will fit in. The Broncos are already four deep up front at the defensive end position and it’s almost like he is the odd man out. But what could be dangerous is if Phillips comes up with a scheme that could utilize all four of them or maybe three at a time on the field together. Now that would be something there. But unfortunately, that may be something that happens in Fantasyland. Wolfe may not have much impact at all since the defense has been rolling without him.
All of these players will have some effect one way or the other with their teams once they return, but there are some that will have more of an impact than others. Hardy and McClain are the most needed for Dallas while Gates and Bryant are a sight for sore eyes for their team’s offenses. And as far as Wolfe and Richardson, they could find themselves as the odd men out or potential trade bait. We will see what happens, but with these guys back, things just got a little more interesting.