Kirk Cousisn reacts after throwing interception
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Even making it to the NFL is an unbelievable accomplishment for an athlete. Only a select few can reach the highest level and only a handful of players ever reach stardom. Sadly, as more players will learn during the 2020 NFL season, the title of a superstar only lasts for so long.

The crash from NFL stardom can happen just as quickly as the ascent. Often, age catches up to a player as more than a decade of hits leads to declining physical talent. Other times, players who could once still shine despite a weak supporting cast around them suddenly can no longer achieve that level of greatness.

A new wave of superstars is coming this year, but it will mark the end for several of the NFL’s greats. Here are five superstars who will fade this upcoming season.

Kirk Cousins, quarterback, Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings made another huge commitment to Kirk Cousins this offseason with a massive extension. The good news is that the deal created cap space for the cash-strapped Vikings and it only keeps him in Minnesota through 2022. On the other hand, the Vikings just took away a go-to target by trading Stefon Diggs and now things are getting even worse for this offense.

Cousins is simply not going to keep playing at a high level with a shaky offensive line and an iffy supporting cast. Losing Diggs is one thing and the impact of his big-play ability, especially on play-action passes, will significantly hurt Cousins. Plus, Dalvin Cook is planning to hold out this season unless he gets a massive extension. Given everything that is going on with the Vikings’ offense we expect Cousins’ stats to take a significant hit this upcoming season.

Zach Ertz, tight end, Philadelphia Eagles

Zach Ertz’s ability to play through pain is incredible. When the Eagles need him the most and Philadelphia’s fans are screaming for the big play, the 29-year-old always delivers. He’ll likely be with the organization for years to come, assuming they get an extension done, which should make everyone happy. All that said, Ertz’s run as one of the game’s elites might end this season.

Simply put, the presence of Dallas Goedert is what will lead to Ertz starting to fade in 2020. The 25-year-old proved he can be one of the NFL’s best weapons at tight end this past season and he should have an even bigger role this season. As a result, Ertz will see fewer targets and his contributions will slowly be diminished.

Leonard Fournette, running back, Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars desperately tried to trade Leonard Fournette before every NFL team made it clear no one wanted him. It’s an unfortunate fall for a player who came into the NFL as the No. 4 overall pick with incredible hype. The 25-year-old is coming off a 2019 season that saw him set a career-high in rushing yards (1,152) and receiving yards (522), but it’s time to forget about Fournette.

It’s not entirely his fault. The Jaguars will be one of the worst NFL teams next season and might even be tanking for Trevor Lawrence. The circumstances around him aren’t a recipe for success, but it’s not exactly like Fournette is that great either. He is averaging just four yards per carry in his career and the explosive plays seem to be few and far between. We expect a mediocre season from Fournette in 2020 followed by an extended wait in free agency next offseason.

A.J. Green, wide receiver, Cincinnati Bengals

At his peak, A.J. Green performed at Julio Jones’ level and he did it under less than ideal circumstances. A seven-time Pro Bowl selection and three-time All-Pro receiver, few secondaries could ever contain him. Sadly, injuries are taking their toll on him, as we have seen in recent years.

Over the past two seasons, Green missed 23 games with lower-body injuries keeping him sidelined. At 31, Green could be near the end of his prime if he stayed healthy for the majority of his career. Sadly, that is far from the case and he can’t be trusted to suddenly be durable this season. He will benefit from having Joe Burrow at quarterback, but Green’s days of being an elite receiver are gone.

Ben Roethlisberger, quarterback, Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers will be a better team this season with Ben Roethlisberger under center. Of course, after what we saw from their backup quarterbacks in 2019, Big Ben doesn’t have a very high bar to be called an upgrade. The reviews on his arm strength from teammates and the organization are positive, which is important after undergoing a significant surgery on his elbow.

It’s also important to note, though, that Roethlisberger is entering his age-38 season. Outside of exceptions to the rule, like Tom Brady, quarterbacks show evident signs of decline this late in their career.. It’s not like Big Ben has avoided a lot of crushing hits across more than 218 starts, either. He’ll be playing with a young supporting cast and we fully expect the absence of Antonio Brown’s talent to hurt his production. The Steelers can still be a great team in 2020, but don’t expect Roethlisberger to be the one carrying them to the playoffs.

Matt Johnson
NFL, MLB & college football writer for Sportsnaut. Graduated from San Diego State University with BA in Journalism, 2019. Grew up in Sacramento, now based in Indianapolis. Seen on MSN. Previously: eDraft, The Connection, With the First Pick