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The Grueling Truth - Where Legends Speak / Ten NFL players entering make or break seasons in 2019

Ten NFL players entering make or break seasons in 2019

Make or break season?
Publish Date: 07/27/2019
Fact checked by: Mike Goodpaster

The NFL is full of star players that we constantly celebrate. It’s gotten to the point where players are voted as perennial Pro Bowlers by the fans because of their popularity and success with their teams.

Not every player can be successful though and many fail to live up to the expectations set for them when they enter the NFL. We’ve waited for these ten players to live up to their college and draft hype, but they just keep letting us down. Consequently, the following players are facing free agency, trades, and, severe decreases in income. Time is running out for them to impress coaches and executives, and 2019 might be their final shots to make it big.

1. Jameis Winston, QB Tampa Bay Buccaneers

What happened to Winston? The former Heisman Trophy winner broke into the NFL with a Pro Bowl rookie season, throwing for 40,42 yards and 22 touchdowns. He also ran for six touchdowns.

In his second season, Winston threw for 4,090 yards and 28 touchdowns. He threw 33 interceptions in those first two years though. In his third and fourth seasons, Winston’s passing yards per game average has increased. That progress has been marred by continuous interception issues and losses. Many, many losses.

In 2018, Winston played in 11 games but only made nine starts as he was suspended for three weeks, and Ryan Fitzpatrick stole his starting spot for a portion of the year. Winston is in the final year of his rookie deal. If he can’t play well enough to at least grind out some wins or hold his starting job, no one knows where he’ll end up next season.

2. Marcus Mariota, QB Tennessee Titans

Another Heisman Trophy winner, Mariota was taken with the 2nd pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, one spot behind Winston. Now, they’re one and two again. One of Mariota’s best traits, when he entered the league, was his efficiency. In his first two seasons, especially in year two, he had a decent touchdown to interception ratio and rarely turned the ball over while in the red zone.

However, his third season was a statistical nightmare. Despite the Titans going 9-7 and making the playoffs, Mariota was terrible. He threw for 215. 5 yards per game and finished the year with 13 passing touchdowns and 15 interceptions. His quarterback rating was 79.3.

In 2018, Mariota’s completion percentage jumped to 68.9%, but his passing yards per game hit a career-low at 180.6. He also threw a measly 11 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Mariota is in the final year of his current deal.

3. John Ross, WR Cincinnati Bengals

It might seem a little early to include Ross on this list, especially since he’s only been in the league for two seasons. However, the 2017 9th Overall pick has been absent or atrocious during his time with the Bengals. Ross has continuously battled injuries. He appeared in just three games as a rookie but made no catches. In his second season, Ross started ten of his 13 appearances but averaged a dismal 16.2 yards per game on a low catching percentage.

The only redeeming part of 2018 for Ross was his seven touchdown catches. He only caught 21 passes the whole year, which means a third of his receptions went for touchdowns. That doesn’t gloss over his shortcomings though. With A.J. Green returning from injury and Tyler Boyd coming off of a 1,000-yard season that led to a four-year, $43 million contract extension, Ross has to prove he’s still worthy of targets and snaps in 2019.

4. Artie Burns, CB Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers picked Burns with the 25th pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. The Miami product was supposed to be a central piece in the rebuilding secondary, but he’s flopped in the NFL. After a promising rookie season with three interceptions and 13 passes defensed, Burns became a full-time starter in 2017. Quarterbacks and opposing offenses then proceeded to pick on him for the entire season. As a result, Burns started just six games last season. Pittsburgh has already declined Burns’ fifth-year option, meaning 2019 is likely his last season with the team.

5. Terrelle Pryor, WR Jacksonville Jaguars

The switch from quarterback to wide receiver was a long process for Pryor, but it probably extended his NFL career to this point. He had a breakout 2016 season with the Cleveland Browns, catching 77 passes for 1,007 yards and four touchdowns.

He signed with the Washington Redskins in the summer of 2017 and floundered with the team. He made just two starts and recorded a measly 26.7 receiving yards per game. Pryor spent time with both the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets in 2018, making eight appearances and finishing with 31.5 yards per game.

He signed a one-year, $930,000 deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars this offseason and will compete for snaps with a crowded group of mediocre receivers. This is Pryor’s fifth team in four years. The time to save his NFL dream is running out.

6. Chris Boswell, K Pittsburgh Steelers

Boswell was an automatic kicking machine in 2017. He went four for four on kicks of 50 or more yards and won or kept the Steelers in several games. 2018 was a disaster for the kicker though. He converted on 65% of his field goal attempts and less than 90% of his extra-point tries. It got to the point where the Steelers were better off going for it on fourth down than calling on their kicker.

Boswell’s rise and fall from grace were swift. Unfortunately for the Steelers, he’s entering the first year of a four-year $16.8 million extension he signed after 2017. Pittsburgh has brought in rookie kicker, Matthew Wright to compete with Boswell, but the kicking situation looks bleak for the Steelers either way. Boswell might hang around because of his contract, but his time in the NFL will end shortly if he doesn’t get out of his own head and make some field goals. 

7. Andy Dalton, QB Cincinnati Bengals

To be fair to Dalton, he has three Pro Bowl appearances with the Bengals. That’s it. He’s got no playoff wins in four postseason trips, no All-Pro selections, and no great distinctions or honors of any kind. He is truly a middle of the pack quarterback.

The biggest issues with Dalton’s game stem from a low completion percentage, consistent double-digit interceptions, and consistently average passing yards per game averages. You can see all of this by looking at his 88.8 career quarterback rating.

Things seem to be coming to a head as Dalton only played in 11 games last season because of an injury that landed him on IR. The Bengals finished with a 6-10 record, the worst of the Dalton-Marvin Lewis era. Lewis was fired and replaced by Zac Taylor. If Dalton can’t get his career on track under Taylor in 2019, he might end up on a new squad in 2020. Dalton is in the second to last year of his current contract.

8. DeVante Parker, WR Miami Dolphins

Parker is about to play under his third head coach since arriving in Miami via the 14th pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. Unlike Sammy Watkins, who flashed early in his career, Parker has been the picture of mediocrity during his four-year run in Miami. He only started four games as a rookie, then eight as a sophomore, before finally becoming a full-time starter in 2017. Despite starting 12 of his 13 appearances, Parker averaged just 51.5 yards per game and caught only one touchdown.

This past season, Parker started seven of his 11 appearances, but only averaged 28.1 yards per game and again finished with one touchdown. Because Miami’s whole team is a mess, the organization signed Parker to a two-year, ten million dollar extension this offseason. Parker still has a chance to see plenty of action in 2019. He needs to finally make a lasting impression.

9. Solomon Thomas, DE San Francisco 49ers

Thomas was John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan’s first selection as the leaders of the 49ers organization. Despite only being two years into his career, it’s crunch time for Thomas. San Francisco drafted Nick Bosa with the 2nd pick in this year’s draft, and he looks like a much better prospect than Thomas ever did. Bosa will likely start alongside newly signed free agent, Dee Ford. That means Thomas has already been pushed into a backup role.

Thomas has just four sacks in 25 starts and 30 appearances with the 49ers. He needs to up his production dramatically is he wants his fifth-year option to eventually be picked up.

10. Sammy Watkins, WR Kansas City Chiefs

The 2014 draft gave us a lot of great, memorable wide receivers. Unfortunately, it looks like Watkins will be remembered for all of the wrong reasons. The former Clemson standout was taken with the 4th pick by the Buffalo Bills, but the team traded him after just three seasons. In those three years, Watkins dealt with continuous injuries and, after two promising seasons, his stats suffered a severe decline in his third year.

Watkins spent 2017 with the Los Angeles Rams where he finished fourth in receiving on the team. He inked a massive three-year, $48 million contract with the Kansas City Chiefs last year. Watkins posted subpar numbers despite playing with Patrick Mahomes. When he hits free agency again, he won’t command nearly as much money as he’s making right now.

Honorable Mentions

1. Kevin White, WR Arizona Cardinals

This one doesn’t need much explaining. The Chicago Bears selected White with the 7th pick in 2015, but he played just 14 games over four seasons with the team because of injuries. When he did play, he was largely ineffective. White signed a one-year, $1.5 million contract with the Cardinals this offseason. Arizona has drafted four wide receivers in the last two years, including two second-round selections. White might be out of the league after this season. He’s only an honorable mention because his make or break year may have already come, and he missed it.

2. Robert Nkemdiche, DT Arizona Cardinals

Arizona drafted Nkemdiche with the 29th pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. He was supposed to be a rare, athletic freak with major potential. Three years later and the Cardinals are still searching for that potential. Nkemdiche has appeared in 27 games, but he didn’t make his first start or record his first sack until this past season. In six starts and ten games, Nkemdiche recorded 4.5 sacks in 2018.

Arizona has already decline Nkemdiche’s fifth-year option, making him a free agent after this season. He needs to get healthy and put on a good show. Otherwise, he’ll be a cheap signing with a lot of baggage next offseason.

3. Josh Rosen, QB Miami Dolphins

This is a bit early, but Rosen was awful with the Arizona Cardinals as a rookie. It was the worst year by a rookie quarterback since Jared Goff’s meltdown in 2016. Maybe Rosen will follow Goff and flourish under a new head coach, or he could be replaced by another rookie quarterback again, next season.

4. Devin Funchess, WR Indianapolis Colts

Funchess was a second-round pick by the Carolina Panthers in 2015. He was the team’s leading receiver in 2017 before being promptly unseated by rookie D.J. Moore and running back Christian McCaffrey. In his four seasons, Funchess has averaged 36.6 yards per game. He signed a one-year, ten million dollar deal with the Colts this offseason, and looks like he will be the team’s second wide receiver. However, he could be unseated by a rookie again (Parris Campbell). Frankly, Funchess has failed to produce despite ample opportunities and a massive size advantage.

5. Derek Carr, QB Oakland Raiders

The NFL community unfairly turned on Carr too quickly. In 2018, the Raiders quarterback posted the best completion percentage of his career along with the second-lowest interception percentage, the most yards per attempt, the second-most yards per game, and the second-highest quarterback rating. Keep in mind, he’d been to three consecutive Pro Bowls before 2018.

Maybe Carr struggled so much was because he was constantly on his back. He was sacked 51 times, or 8.4% of the times he dropped back to pass, in 2018. The most he’d been sacked previously was 31 times (2015). Carr is in jeopardy though because Jon Gruden has no gripes with getting rid of a pillar of the franchise. Just ask Khalil Mack.

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