Quarterbacks facing the most pressure heading into the 2018 season

By Vincent Frank

It’s possible that attempting to close out Game 7 of the World Series brings a ton of pressure. Goalies put everything on the line in the NHL Playoffs. Meanwhile, the likes of LeBron James and Kevin Durant face a ton of pressure in the NBA.

Though, there’s not one position that represents more pressure in the sports world than quarterback. More so than ever before, quarterbacks in today’s NFL are asked to do more. It’s a pass-first league, one that has placed a tremendous amount of onus on this position.

From a new quarterback in the naiton’s capital replacing a fan favorite to a young stud in San Francisco and a very rich veteran in Minnesota, here are the 10 quarterbacks facing the most pressure heading into the 2018 NFL season.

10. Alex Smith, Washington Redskins

Washington essentially traded Kirk Cousins for Smith this past spring. It started when the Skins dealt a third-round pick and young corner Kendall Fuller to Kansas City for this veteran. All the while, Cousins himself remained in limbo until free agency started. Some might call it a wash, but Smith has been highly effective much longer than Cousins. Hence, Washington handing him a four-year, $94 million extension with $55 million guaranteed at signing.

While Smith has been among the most consistently good quarterbacks over the better part of the past decade, he leaves a lot to be desired in comparison to modern-day quarterbacks. Never one to take chances, the veteran’s shortcomings are already well known.

Unlike during the latter part of his time in San Francisco and throughout his Chiefs career, Smith doesn’t have an elite-level rushing attack or that go-to receiver to rely on. Setting up shop in the nation’s capital, the pressure is squarely on Smith’s right shoulder to deliver. Given his contract, that’s taken to a whole new level.

9. Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Winston has gone from likely franchise quarterback to an embattled figure who might very well not be the long-term solution in Tampa Bay. It started with a lack of any real progression over the past two seasons, during which time Winston has led the Buccaneers to a 12-27 record in 29 starts. Last season alone, the former No. 1 pick threw just 19 touchdowns while losing 10 of his 13 starts.

Off the field, the issues are more vast. Facing yet another serious allegation, Winston has been suspended for the first three games of the season. His apology stemming from said incident continues to show a lack of maturity on the quarterback’s part.

Sure Winston seemingly took the next step during the early stages of the preseason. But that’s just the preseason and he’s going to be held back for the first three games of the regular year. One now has to wonder if Winston has a future in Tampa beyond the 2018 campaign. The team picked up his $20-plus million option for 2019, but that’s guaranteed for injury only.

8. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks

This is as much about Seattle failing to provide Wilson with anything of substance. Its offensive line remains the single worst unit in the NFL, leading to concerns about his ability to remain healthy long-term. After all, Wilson has been sacked more than any other quarterback since entering the league back in 2012.

The issue here is the reliance on the MVP-caliber quarterback. He led Seattle in rushing last season and accounted for 37 of the team’s 38 offensive touchdowns. Without anywhere near the same defense to rely on following a mass exclude this past offseason, there’s more pressure on Wilson this season than ever before. That’s the harsh reality of the situation.

7. Eli Manning, New York Giants

Manning’s starting job is not in jeopardy. Though, that has more to do with the lack of proven talent behind him on the depth chart with second-year signal caller Davis Webb struggling and rookie Kyle Lauletta not being anywhere near ready to start. Even then, the pressure is clearly on Manning to succeed this season.

Said pressure is acknowledged by the fact that New York exhausted the No. 2 overall pick in this year’s draft on running back Saquon Barkley. It’s a reminder that Manning needs help on offense to succeed. With Odell Beckham Jr. back at 100 percent, the Giants’ offense should be elite once again in 2018. It’s now all about Manning reversing a recent trend that has seen him regress a great deal. Should that not happen, this might be his last season as New York’s starter.

6. Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens

Ravens quarterbacks Joe Flacco and Lamar Jackson

Flacco might be having the best summer of his career. He also boasts a new trio of receivers ready to make an impact and what could be an underrated rushing attack. That’s fine. It doesn’t mean the former Super Bowl winner is anywhere near the quarterback we saw at the turn of the century.

Over the course of the past five seasons, Flacco is averaging under 20 touchdowns passes with 13 interceptions. Last year alone, he threw for a pedestrian 3,141 yards to go with just 18 scores. It led to Baltimore missing out on the playoffs for the third consecutive year.

Now that the Ravens traded up into the first round for Lamar Jackson to be Flacco’s heir apparent, it’s rather obvious the veteran must perform at a high level to secure his starting job beyond the 2018 season. Magnifying this further, Baltimore can save $10.5 million against the 2019 cap by releasing Flacco after this season.

5. Marcus Mariota, Tennessee Titans

Following a surprise playoff appearance, Tennessee did everything possible this past offseason to prove itself as a top-end title contender in the competitive AFC South. That included signing high-priced free agents Dion Lewis and Malcolm Butler while making left tackle Taylor Lewan the highest-paid player at his position in the NFL.

All the while, Super Mario has failed to take that next step from wide-eyed young quarterback to franchise signal caller. That was brought to an entirely new level last season when he threw for just 3,242 yards with 13 touchdowns and 15 picks.

That’s simply not going to get it done, especially when we’re looking at a team that’s doing everything possible to surround the former No. 2 overall pick with elite-level talent on offense.

4. Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys

To his credit, Prescott has looked vastly improved thus far in the preseason. That’s the good news. The bad news? It’s just the preseason, and we need to see it translate to the regular year.

The issue here is that he’s been so darn reliant on Ezekiel Elliott through the first two years of his career. In the seven games Elliott has missed over the past two seasons, Prescott boasts a 3-4 record as a starter with five touchdowns and seven interceptions. In the 25 games Elliott has teamed up with Prescott, the quarterback boasts a 19-6 record with 40 touchdowns and 10 picks.

Now that Elliott’s off-field issues are behind him and he’s 100 percent, the Cowboys should be fine on offense. But if Prescott fails to deliver, any talk of him becoming one of the game’s highest-paid quarterbacks can be thrown completely out the window.

3. Blake Bortles, Jacksonville Jaguars

Super Bowl or bust. That’s the name of the game in Jacksonville this season. And it makes perfect sense. This team almost knocked off the mighty New England Patriots in last year’s AFC Championship Game. It boasts one of the best defenses we’ve seen in a long while and what promises to be an elite-level rushing attack.

As has been the case throughout his career, there’s questions surrounding Bortles’ ability to avoid the big mistakes that have continued to plague him. That came out in droves during a recent preseason matchup against another top-end Super Bowl contender in the form of the Minnesota Vikings.

Having been extended for just one season this past spring, Bortles has one more chance to prove his worth to the Jaguars. The team can move on from him while saving $16 million against the cap following the 2018 season.

Not only is the pressure on Bortles to succeed this season, it would not be an absolute shock if Jacksonville brought in some veteran competition to compete with him. Hence, why the next couple weeks could be very telling on that front.

2. Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco 49ers

The second-coming of Joe Montana. Known in the Bay Area as Jimmy GQ. Revered for his great looks and undefeated mark as an NFL quarterback. Whatever expletive we use to define Garoppolo, he’s facing more pressure for a 49ers quarterback since Steve Young replaced the great Mr. Montana under center.

All of this comes after Garoppolo signed what we then the richest contract in NFL history this past February. It also comes with him having a grand total of seven regular season starts under his belt in four seasons.

Garoppolo’s arm talent is among the best in the game. He has a knack for leadership and will be working under offensive genius Kyle Shanahan. Even then, a player that has recently said he’s better than Tom Brady faces what has to be described as a ridiculous amount of pressure this season. It’s that simple.

1. Kirk Cousins, Minnesota VikingsĀ 

After being looked over in the nation’s capital at nearly ever turn, Cousins received the first multi-year guaranteed contract in NFL history this past March. It included $84 million over three seasons to take the helm for a Vikings team that’s among the best in the entire NFL.

Talk about pressure. Not only does Cousins enter his first season in Minnesota with Super Bowl aspirations, he does so for an organization that has never hoisted the Lombardi.

More than that, Cousins has everything he needs to be successful. That includes potentially the best wide receiver tandem in the NFL, Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, as well as the best defense the NFC has to offer. If he comes up short of expectations in a pressure-filled role this season, the house of cards will come crashing down on Cousins big time.