There are very few NFL players who can go into a season without feeling the need to prove to the world that they are great. One bad year from most NFL players can completely sink their careers and significantly alter their future salaries. The players who aren’t fighting for roster spots or massive contracts anymore are competing for legacy, trying to carve out their spot in NFL history. However, some players are under particularly enormous pressure to make a positive statement for themselves heading into the 2019 season. These players are…
5. Aaron Rodgers
While even early last season it was routine to hear Rodgers in the GOAT conversation (although I don’t think he should have been), it is now not uncommon to hear the opinion that he doesn’t even crack that top 10, and is one of the most overrated QBs ever. Following a very disappointing season, almost all of the blame was placed on McCarthy, with a little being spread to the front office. Rodgers got out relatively clean, but if this season results in another playoffs on the couch don’t be surprised to many start turning on him. Reports have surfaced in recent years (largely from Greg Jennings) about how Rodgers is a bad teammate and bad leader. His historically great team is two years removed from the postseason. A great season by Rodgers is the difference between reentering the GOAT conversation and forever banishing himself from it. I’d certainly say Rodgers has a lot to prove.
4. Marcus Mariota
Mariota showed so much promise his sophomore season, but really hasn’t given much hope since then. He has thrown for only one more touchdown than interceptions over the last two seasons and has spent much of those two seasons watching games from the sidelines, injured. Approaching the final year of his contract, Mariota needs to show the Titans and the rest of the NFL that he is worth franchise QB money. This year will be absolutely pivotal for the career of Marcus Mariota. A good seasons allows people to dismiss the poor numbers over the last two seasons to injuries and see that he is a franchise quarterback. In that scenario, the Titans would likely resign him for big money. Alternatively, a bad season could perhaps lead to Tennessee looking to the draft for the franchise guy (or maybe even rolling the dice on Tannehill!). It’s the top or the bottom for Mariota, so he is under huge pressure to prove himself.
3. Le’Veon Bell
The need for Bell to prove himself is quite evident. After sitting out an entire season because he felt as is he was underpaid, Bell got the contract he wanted with the Jets. While Bell is not under financial strain to prove himself (due to the massive amount of guaranteed money the Jets gave him), it will certainly be vital in establishing his legacy. A great season, and he is clearly one of the best in the league and with a long career could put himself in the conversation as one of the best to ever do it. However, a whole lot changes with a bad season. A poor year from Bell will bring more attention to the (presumably) good season by James Conner. Bell suddenly jumps from being one of the best in the game to being a product of a favorable system and dominant offensive line. Like Mariota, Bell can reach the highest of highs and lowest of lows depending on his performance this season.
2. Todd Gurley
With the greenest pastures in front of him, Gurley stumbled in a major way at the end of last season and in the postseason, getting severely outperformed by backup CJ Anderson. It turns out the Gurley has arthritis in his knees, which creates massive amounts of uncertainty regarding his future. If it means that he is going to continue to play like he did at the end of last season, then he will quickly be out of the league, a tragic end to what could have been a great career. The Rams have already decided to reduce his workload next season, and there is little reason to believe we will ever see that workload go up unless Gurley really shines. Gurley must have a great season to prove that he can still be one of the elite backs in the league and to show that the Rams backfield shouldn’t become a committee.
1. Jameis Winston
No one shoulders a bigger burden in the 2019-20 season the Jameis Winston. He’s like Mariota but with less public goodwill. The dire situation facing Winston should be demonstrated by the fact that in his 4th season after being taken number 1 overall, he was competing for a starting job (and twice losing) against Ryan Fitzpatrick. With new head coach Bruce Arians, expectations will be high for Winston. He is surrounded by deadly weapons, such as Mike Evans and OJ Howard, so he certainly has the opportunity to turn his career around and become “the guy” for the Bucs. However, even another mediocre season from Winston and Tampa Bay will almost surely look towards the draft to start over at the position. Winston has to be great to stay on the team (and likely to stay a starter in the NFL).