Pressure is something every single player in the NFL feels to some degree. Entering the 2017 season, however, there are some NFL quarterbacks facing more pressure than most.
For various reasons, it’s do-or-die time for these guys.
Some of them are entering a situation where they have a chance to prove they’re the face of the franchise. Others are in situations with rookies breathing down their necks, and their careers might just be defined by what they accomplish this season. Then there are the veterans who’ve proven themselves in the past but who haven’t had a lot of sunshine and roses come their way of late.
Without further ado, the following 10 NFL quarterbacks are facing the most pressure to succeed in 2017.
Mike Glennon, Chicago Bears
We’ll start with an easy mark. Glennon had an impressive rookie season after being selected by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the third round of the 2013 NFL Draft. He threw 19 touchdowns and just nine interceptions (great marks for a rookie) in 13 starts. Then Lovie Smith came on board in 2014 as the head coach and immediately decided he wasn’t interested in running with a young quarterback.
Though he did land some playing time in 2014, Glennon started the season behind Josh McCown. Then the Bucs drafted Jameis Winston in 2015, and the rest, as they say, is history.
As the clipboard holder in 2015-16, Glennon managed very little playing time. In two games, he completed 10-of-11 passes for 75 yards and a touchdown. That was all she wrote for his final two years in Tampa Bay.
Fast forward to now and Glennon is almost in the same exact situation as he was in 2015. After being signed by Chicago, Glennon was blindsided (cheated on, were the words used to describe how he reportedly felt) when the Bears drafted Mitch Trubisky No. 2 overall, trading up a spot to do it.
Chicago has made it clear Glennon is the guy this year. But there’s a big emphasis on “this year.” Everyone knows Trubisky will get the keys to the car soon enough. Now Glennon has to not only play with a rookie breathing down his neck but prove to the rest of the 31 NFL teams he’s starting caliber.
It’s going to be fascinating to see how this all unfolds in Chicago. If Glennon struggles, his days as a starter are probably over. No pressure, kid.
Jared Goff, Los Angeles Rams
The Rams got absolutely fleeced by the Tennessee Titans last spring before the 2016 NFL Draft. Los Angeles, needing to make a big splash as it moved to Southern California from St. Louis, shoved every chip to the center of the table in order to land Goff.
And the early returns weren’t promising.
Goff was protected by bubble wrap for the first half of the season. But Case Keenum was so awful Jeff Fisher and Co. finally had to throw the rookie into the mix. It was ugly. Goff finished the 2016 campaign with 1,089 yards, completing just 54.6 percent of his passes while throwing five touchdowns and seven interceptions in seven starts.
First looks can be deceiving, however. The Rams featured an atrocious offensive line and couldn’t run the ball. So it was easy pickings for opposing defenses to attack Goff at will.
Teammate Todd Gurley threw his full support behind Goff after seeing him assimilate Sean McVay’s offense this spring and believes he’s going to be much better this year.
The Rams also brought in some support up front. They purchased the services of left tackle Andrew Whitworth and center John Sullivan, who should significantly improve the protection for Goff. If ever there was a chance for the second-year quarterback to prove he’s the real deal, it’s right now. Another poor season and the whispers of potential bust will start to bubble up into a murmur before exploding into a full-throated roar.
Is it fair? Nope. But that’s the reality of today’s NFL, where young quarterbacks don’t get as much time to develop. Just ask Glennon.
Brock Osweiler, Cleveland Browns
After flaming out in epic fashion during his only season in Houston, Osweiler got a second chance at life as an NFL starter.
Being traded to Cleveland was probably the best possible thing that could have happened to him. Not only does he have a chance to learn from one of the NFL’s quarterback whisperers in Hue Jackson, but his competition for the starting job isn’t insurmountable. He only has to beat out Cody Kessler and rookie DeShone Kizer this summer to land the gig.
And early reports out of OTAs and minicamp indicated Osweiler actually has a legitimate chance.
But what happens if Osweiler can’t beat out an average (at best) quarterback in Kessler or a rookie this summer? Quite honestly, he’s probably going to head down the same path as Matt Cassel or Rex Grossman — guys who can play but who are only used in emergency situations.
So, it’s pretty darn important that Osweiler takes full advantage of the situation he’s landed in. It could be his last chance at redemption.
Kirk Cousins, Washington Redskins
Cousins is facing a different type of pressure. He’s already proved the past couple of years that he’s capable of playing at an extremely high level. Starting in all 32 games, Cousins has displayed top-notch accuracy while passing for 9,083 yards with 54 touchdowns and 23 interceptions.
That’s the kind of play that usually leads to massive contracts.
However, the brass in Washington hasn’t been able to work out an amenable deal with Cousins the past two years running, which is why he’s playing on the franchise tag for the second straight year. Now, there are rumors he could potentially work out a long-term deal before the July 17 deadline, but we’re not holding our breath.
More likely, Cousins will enter the 2017 season with a one-year deal, which could either earn him a ton of cash in 2018 or potentially hurt his cause. Another stellar campaign obviously will lead to the pile of money every player wants to land. But a mediocre (or worse) season would be devastating financially.
So, for reasons that are much different than many others on this list, Cousins has plenty of pressure facing him right now.
Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
It’s Year 3 for Winston as the lead dog in Tampa Bay. And he’s got a very nice tool kit at his disposal.
The connection he already has with Mike Evans and Cameron Brate propelled him to a 4,090-yard, 28-touchdown campaign last year. Along the way, the Bucs went 9-7 and just missed out on a playoff appearance.
This offseason, Winston welcomed two new offensive weapons — free agent prize DeSean Jackson and rookie tight end O.J. Howard. With four potential star targets, he has no reason not to have a huge campaign in 2017, which really should result in a playoff appearance for the Buccaneers.
The NFC South is up for grabs to a certain degree. The Atlanta Falcons lost a ton of their top coaches and lost the Super Bowl, so a hangover effect could absolutely take place. The Carolina Panthers are strong but have some question marks up front on offense. The New Orleans Saints feature the most prolific pure passer in the game but have no defense to back Drew Brees up.
It’s time for Winston and Co. to take ownership of this division. Along with these big expectations comes a ton of pressure. Winston has laughed at pressure his entire college and pro career, so it’s probably not going to eat him up. Still, he and the Bucs now have a pretty big target on their back.
Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens
Flacco made the playoffs in each of his first six seasons and won a Super Bowl in the process. His tremendous play during the 2012 playoffs earned him a mammoth contract. A contract he has since failed to live up to.
The past three seasons, Flacco has done nothing remarkable at all. He’s engineered a 21-21 record, endured an injury plagued 2015 campaign and has thrown 39 interceptions along the way.
Granted, some of this had to do with a distinct lack of talent at receiver. And the fact Dennis Pitta was out of commission half the time due to hip injuries surely contributed as well.
But this year, Flacco enters training camp with some promising talent. The much ballyhooed Breshad Perriman is healthy and making noise, Mike Wallace fits Flacco’s deep ball to a T and now Jeremy Maclin is on board, thanks to a head-scratching decision that may or may not have gotten John Dorsey fired in Kansas City.
Additionally, Baltimore’s defense appears to be as loaded as it’s been in years. All this adds up to a team that absolutely should make the playoffs. And Flacco needs to lead the charge.
Paxton Lynch, Denver Broncos
Paxton Lynch was a prized draft pick last year by John Elway and Co., who just to happened to be competing with Jerry Jones and Co. when they traded up to land him with the No. 26 overall pick.
It wasn’t that big a deal that Lynch couldn’t beat out Northwestern product Trevor Siemian last year. After all, it was understood by all who studied his college tape that Lynch is a kid who needed to be trained up a bit before he’d be ready. His raw tools were very compelling, but he wasn’t mentally prepared for the speed of the NFL game.
That was last year. Now it’s do-or-die time for Lynch.
And before you jump to the comments section to blast me for hyperbole, just check out this compelling argument laid out by Scott Kacsmar of Football Outsiders.
— Scott Kacsmar (@FO_ScottKacsmar) July 6, 2017
That’s not a good look.
Reports out of Denver this spring have been somewhat encouraging. Lynch is receiving praise for his deep ball and has a chance to earn the starting job. But right now he’s probably still behind Siemian, who has been described as a better leader.
Broncos training camp practices and preseason games are going to be very interesting.
Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts
The career trajectory of Luck during his first three seasons was phenomenal. He improved his own game every year from 2012-14 while helping the Colts advance further and further into the playoffs each year. Even though Indy got blasted by the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game following the 2014 season, it was assumed by many that the Colts were on the cusp of greatness.
Then the entire operation came crashing down to earth.
Luck was absolutely abused during the 2015 and 2016 seasons. He suffered a shoulder injury early in 2015 that he didn’t get treated properly until after last season when he finally underwent shoulder surgery.
He’s still not ready to resume throwing at this time, and it’s not a given he’ll be ready at the start of training camp. So when does make his return it’s going to be imperative that Luck get on the same page with his receivers, tight ends and offensive line.
If the Colts miss the playoffs and/or finish at or below the .500 mark for a third straight year, then many who have quietly wondered if Luck isn’t actually the savior the Colts thought he was will begin to speak up a bit louder.
Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles
Through one season, it appears the Eagles may have landed the better of the two top quarterbacks selected one and two in overall in 2016. Wentz had his ups and downs, but overall he did fairly well for himself. Especially when you consider he wasn’t even supposed to start at all and that he didn’t have many reliable receivers on his team.
Completing 62.4 percent of his passes, Wentz totaled 3,782 yards through the air with 16 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Not outstanding, but not bad, either.
The Eagles invested in Wentz this offseason. They brought in veteran receivers Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith while adding veteran running back LeGarrette Blount in free agency. They also drafted the very uniquely talented Donnel Pumphrey, who is crazy good in the open field.
Not to put too much pressure on Wentz, but he’s got no excuse not to get better in 2017. If he plays with the same confidence and fire we saw much of last year, then Wentz will be fine. But there’s this thing called the sophomore slump that has its name for a reason. Overcoming it is going to be Wentz’s challenge.
Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs
Alex Smith has taken the Chiefs to the playoffs three of the last four years since being traded by the San Francisco 49ers. He was traded because the 49ers had a hot new gunslinger they decided to roll with instead of the steady game manager in Smith.
Fast forward a handful of years and suddenly Smith is starring in the exact same movie. The only real difference is that this time, instead of Colin Kaepernick it’s Patrick Mahomes II breathing down his neck.
After the Chiefs made an aggressive play for Mahomes in the draft, Smith acknowledged the fact he might not be starting next year. And while he said he’s not bitter it’s hard to imagine he’s not at least fighting some feelings of frustration about being stuck in this same scenario once again.
We all understand Smith has limitations as a passer. He’s not going to push the ball downfield with much regularity. He’s a guy who has averaged a pretty mediocre 6.8 yards per attempt throughout his career.
But he’s also a guy who’s won 60 games the past six seasons. And now he’s fighting to keep his job. Again.