Every year, the draft injects new life into the NFL and gives young men chances to attain new levels of success and fame. However, the draft also contributes to waves of cuts and retirements. New crops of players send veterans to the chopping block. If the following ten players don’t perform at high levels this coming season, they could find themselves unemployed or drifting in free agency next year.
For the sake of this article, make or break seasons don’t necessarily mean a player could end up out of the NFL if they perform poorly. In this case, a make or break season heavily impacts a player’s starting role, contract, or reputations within NFL circles. All eleven players in the article are household names who could find themselves in hot water after the 2020 season.
11. Odell Beckham, WR Cleveland Browns
Even if he performs poorly in 2020, Beckham is probably untouchable and still viewed as a star receiver by some within the NFL. However, the former Pro Bowler’s time in Cleveland could end after this coming season. According to Spotrac, the Browns face no dead cap if they release Beckham during the 2021 league year. The move would prevent Cleveland from paying Beckham $45.75 million over the final three years of his current deal.
Again, if the Browns did part ways with Beckham, some team would give him another big deal. However, the LSU product hasn’t played at an elite level since 2016. He’s not performing like a true top option, and it should start affecting his bottom line.
10. Leonard Fournette, RB Jacksonville Jaguars
Fournette ran for 1,152 yards last season, but he only scored three times on 341 touches. That’s a horrendous scoring rate, but it also reveals some of Fournette’s limitations as a running back. There’s a chance Fournette could deliver on his incredible potential with another team, but he’s been disappointing early in his NFL career.
The Jaguars declined Fournette’s fifth-year option, meaning he’ll hit free agency next spring with a wave of incredibly talented backs.
9. Todd Gurley, RB Atlanta Falcons
By most standards, Gurley didn’t have a horrible season in 2019. However, by the former All-Pro’s standards, it was a terrible year. The condition of Gurley’s knees remains mostly unknown, but the Los Angeles Rams felt worried enough to cut the Georgia product.
Gurley signed a one-year, $5.5 million deal with the Atlanta Falcons in free agency. He gets a fresh start and one more chance to prove he can recapture his elite status. If Gurley performs poorly in 2020, finding a starting job and long-term NFL landing spot next offseason could prove problematic.
8. JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR Pittsburgh Steelers
Smith-Schuster made the Pro Bowl in 2018, making 111 receptions for 1,426 yards and seven touchdowns. However, injuries, quarterback issues, and inconsistent play ruined the USC product’s third NFL season. Smith-Schuster only recorded 552 receiving yards.
With limited cap space, the Pittsburgh Steelers won’t extend Smith-Schuster past his rookie deal, which ends after the 2020 season, if they don’t believe he’s a true top receiving option.
7. Kerryon Johnson, RB Detroit Lions
Drafting Johnson with the 43rd overall pick in 2018 was a brilliant move by Detroit. Unfortunately, the Auburn product’s injury issues continue setting his career back. After a promising rookie season, Johnson flopped in 2019 and found himself on injured reserve (IR) for the second consecutive year.
Two years remain on Johnson’s rookie deal, but the Lions recently invested a second-round pick in Georgia’s D’Andre Swift. The top running back prospect on my big board this past draft, Swift could steal Johnson’s starting job immediately.
6. Leonard Floyd, OLB Los Angeles Rams
The Chicago Bears jumped on Floyd with the ninth overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. After posting seven sacks as a rookie, the Georgia product never produced more than 4.5 in a single season. Chicago declined his fifth-year option, and the 27-year-old recently signed a one-year deal with the Rams. Another underperforming season could send Floyd to the bench, permanently.
5. Olivier Vernon, DE Cleveland Browns
Vernon turned heads during the first seven years of his career, but the former Pro Bowl defensive end only disappointed Cleveland Browns fans last year. He appeared in ten games, only registering 3.5 sacks and 11 quarterback hits. Vernon is in the final year of a five-year deal, but Cleveland could release the Miami product before his season begins.
4. Sheldon Rankins, DT New Orleans Saints
The New Orleans Saints exercised the fifth-year option on Rankins’ rookie deal last spring. However, Rankins performed poorly last season and could find himself riding the bench for a new team in 2021. Rankins posted career numbers in 2018, but he didn’t even earn a start last season. The 26-year-old made ten appearances before landing on IR. He had two sacks and ten tackles.
3. Tyrod Taylor, QB Los Angeles Chargers
This season is Taylor’s last chance to prove he’s worthy of a starting job in the NFL. The former Pro Bowler is in the final year of a two-year deal with the Los Angeles Chargers, who recently drafted Justin Herbert with the sixth overall pick. Taylor started three games for the Browns in 2018 before Baker Mayfield replaced him.
2. Mitchell Trubisky, QB Chicago Bears
The Bears declined the fifth-year on Trubisky’s rookie option. That makes the UNC product a free agent in 2021. After making the Pro Bowl and leading Chicago to an 11-3 record as a starter in 2018, Trubisky crumbled under pressure in 2019. The young quarterback’s accuracy routinely failed him.
Chicago brought in Nick Foles to compete with Trubisky for the starting job. If the fourth-year quarterback loses his spot or performs poorly in 2019, he’ll likely never receive another starting opportunity.
1. Cam Newton, QB New England Patriots
Per ESPN’s Adam Schefter and NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, Newton signed a one-year deal, incentive heavy deal worth up to $7.5 million with the Patriots. Carolina placed the former MVP on IR after only two games last season. Newton battled injuries over the past several years. Now, he’s got a chance to prove he still possesses the athleticism the play his brand of football.