2019 NFL Season: Top names under pressure

    With less than 100 days until the 2019 NFL season kicks off, Patrick Mahomes, Le'Veon Bell, Jameis Winston, and Marcus Mariota headline the list of players, coaches and executives under the most pressure this year.

    They say that pressure is a good thing. Someone once said that if you want to see what a person can do, put them in a situation and watch them sink or swim. Sure, that might be a bit tough. But the saying rings true when talking about the world the sports – especially in the NFL.

    The NFL offseason is over. Free agents have found new homes, draft picks have signed and rosters are coming into fruition. Fans could not be more excited for another year of America’s most popular game.

    Don’t kid yourself NBA fans. Just stop, you’re not there yet.

    Looking forward to the 2019 campaign, the heat is starting to simmer under not just players, but also executives to come out of the gate and compete. Who could be heading out the door and who could on the verge of superstardom? Can a former MVP keep up the magic once again? Will a new contract lead to promising things for perhaps a struggling star?

    Sure, all this is speculation. No one can look into Roger Goodell’s crystal ball, see through the future fines, and identify who’s going to succeed. With that in mind, here’s Pro Football Network’s picks for names under the most pressure this season.

    Editor’s note: Jacksonville Jaguars’ Nick Foles was to be on this list but in light of his tragic news, we have elected to leave him off. We wish the Foles family all the best during this difficult time. 

    Kansas City Chiefs Quarterback Patrick Mahomes

    Let’s start with the one player who will be under pressure even though there’s little reason for him to be. Mahomes shocked the NFL world with his impressive first season under center. The second-year gunslinger led the NFL with 50 touchdowns last season, throwing for over 5,000 yards and leading Kansas City to a 14-2 record. He rightfully cleaned up the awards ceremony, taking home both Offensive Player of the Year and Most Valuable Player honors.

    But it’s a new year for the 23-year-old ketchup loving quarterback. Plenty around the organization has changed this offseason that could put Mahomes under pressure. Mitch Morse bolted for free agency while weapons Chris Conley and Kareem Hunt are on different rosters. There’s also the Tyreek Hill situation that could be coming to a close soon with the speedy receiver never playing another down.

    There shouldn’t be pressure on Mahomes to duplicate last season’s heroics, but here we are. The 2018 campaign should be highly regarded as a historic moment in the NFL. Instead, fans are going to want to see numbers like that consistently. With a new offense and new weapons in his arsenal, it’ll be interesting to see how Mahomes handles the change. There’s no reason to doubt the 2017 Top 10 pick can’t duplicate similar results this year.

    Then again, people will always bring up last season when he throws for 47 touchdowns instead of 50.

    New York Jets Running Back Le’Veon Bell 

    Pick a Jet, any Jet, and you’d probably be right. New York’s offseason has been a roller coaster of emotions for both players and fans all around. From firing their coach to then firing their GM in favor of their under qualified new head coach, the Jets are a mess. If there’s one name that should be under the most pressure, however, it’s Bell without question.

    The former Pittsburgh Steelers star sat out the 2018 season after the team could not come to terms with his contract. Naturally, Pittsburgh struggled, missed the playoffs while Bell was out in Miami prepping for free agency. Hoping to become one of the highest-paid players in the NFL, Bell settled on a four-year, $52.5 million dollar deal with New York.

    The 27-year-old runner has yet to take a snap in the Big Apple and problems have already risen. Following the firing of Mike Maccaganan, it was reported that head coach Adam Gase did not want to pay for the offensive weapon. Not only that, but Bell has already skipped voluntary workouts and OTA’s. Although things have calmed between Bell and his new coach, there are some questions that come to mind. Is Bell actually wanting to play for the Jets or did he just take the deal to get paid?

    Come September, it’ll be the first time we’ve seen Bell take a handoff in roughly 18 months. Pressure is on him to return to his All-Pro status and help Sam Darnold take that next step on his way to becoming the team’s franchise quarterback. New York paid a substantial amount of money for a running back who, when in the mood, is the league’s best. Let’s hope he’s just always ready this season.

    Oakland Raiders Wide Receiver Antonio Brown 

    Oh look, another former Steeler under pressure. While Bell might have a tad more to prove, Brown certainly comes with his fair share of criticism as he starts his career in Oakland.

    Brown outstayed his welcome in Pittsburgh after sitting out in a must-win Week 17 game against the Cincinnati Bengals. He then demanded a trade, began taking to social media to let out his anger and trashed his teammates just to help speed things along. Oh, and we’re not even going to bring up the tie-dye hair and blonde mustache.

    Brown got his wish and now is out west with Jon Gruden and company. One thing that hasn’t changed is Brown’s love-hate relationship with Twitter. Saying one thing and doing another, the 30-year-old wideout has plagued his own offseason, adding the title of drama-king to his resume. Although he’s averaged 114 catches for 1,524 yards and 11 touchdowns over the past six seasons, was the deal worth it?

    The obvious answer is yes just based on production alone. Still, Brown has shown in recent years he will quit on his team when they need him most. The league’s top receiver got the trade he wanted. Now it’s time for him to show he was worth every penny.

    Arizona Cardinals General Manager Steve Keim 

    Players might feel the most pressure, but don’t think executives aren’t sitting under a hot seat. The Arizona Cardinals finished with a league-worst 3-13 record last year, leading Steve Keim to make some tough decisions. While the team isn’t expected to compete this season, Keim certainly needs to win for their future if he wants to be a part of it.

    Electing to part way with first-year head coach Steve Wilks, Keim went for the flashy offensive trend with the hiring of Kliff Kingsbury. Sure, Kingsbury would make any team happy as an offensive coordinator. But becoming an NFL head coach just weeks after being let go from his alma mater for struggling? Who knows, maybe he touched Sean McVay’s pinky this offseason and learned a new trick.

    But it was Keim’s decision to move on from former top 10 pick Josh Rosen that places him here. The second-year quarterback was demonstrating all the characteristics that teams want in a franchise quarterback during offseason workouts. But hey, why have a good quarterback when you can have a Heisman-caliber one instead? After selecting Kyler Murray with the first overall pick in April’s draft, Keim wanted a first-rounder for Rosen’s rights. He settled for a late second to not walk away empty handed.

    Love or hate the Murray selection, you can’t blame the former Oklahoma quarterback for struggling this season. Still, Murray and Kingsbury need to take steps in the positive direction for Keim’s plan to be positive. Even if Rosen finds success out in Miami, the Cardinals still can be winners thanks to these two moves.

    But if Murray struggles and Kingsbury is lost on the gridiron, Keim better start updating his resume. He might need it come January.

    Minnesota Vikings Quarterback Kirk Cousins

    Who else thought the signing of Cousins last season made absolutely zero sense for the Vikings? Wait, literally everyone? Everyone thought that. Congratulations, heading into 2019 you’d still be correct.

    Cousins proved his ability to be a mid-level starting quarterback in the NFL during his tenure in Washington. After receiving an $84 million contract from Minnesota, Cousins was expected to be the final piece to send his new franchise to a Super Bowl in the coming year. Unfortunately, he failed to shine up North — both in prime time games and crucial moments — sending the once 13-3 NFC Championship participant to an 8-7-1 record. Heading into year 2 of his new deal, it’s playoff or bust for Cousins under center.

    However, not all the struggles by Minnesota’s offense fall on Cousins’ shoulders. The offensive line was underwhelming last season, allowing 40 total sacks and consistent pressure. Rick Spielman, however, might have fixed that issue with the selections of Garrett Bradbury and Dru Samia. The Vikings also signed veteran offensive guard Josh Kline to help stabilize the interior unit for years to come.

    With a revamped offensive line and some of the league’s best weapons, Cousins has zero excuses not to succeed. His arm is adequate enough to complete tough passes and has shown in the past the ability to extend plays and take shots deep down the field. If Cousins wants to live up to that contract, he’ll have to limit the turnovers and shine in crucial moments. Minnesota has a playoff caliber roster. But it all starts with the man under center figuring it out.

    It’s make or break time for Cousins come 2019. For Vikings fans, let’s hope it’s made.

    2015 Quarterback Class 

    One could just say their names but why waste space when we can knock out two struggling signal callers with one section. Since entering the league, both Tampa Bay’s Jameis Winston and Tennessee’s Marcus Mariota have seen their shares of success and failure. With both entering contract years, there is no room for error after a lackluster 2018 campaign.

    Winston showed promise with a strong 2016 campaign, throwing for over 4000 yards and 28 touchdowns. Then, like crab legs, his play started to look fishy. Winston struggled to shine on offense, created multiple turnovers and was on the side of defeat more often than not. In the past two seasons, the former Heisman winner has yet to throw over 3600 yards and more than 20 touchdowns.

    Mariota has dealt with health issues since entering the NFL. In four seasons, the former Oregon star has yet to play in a full season. While flashing the ability to be a quality quarterback, the former No.2 has shown inconsistencies with his accuracy and arm strength. We keep waiting for Mariota to take that jump but it’s looking more like it may never happen.

    The Buccaneers brought in Bruce Arians, a.k.a. the “Quarterback Whisper,” to help change Winston’s career. If Arians is unable to correct his mistakes, the team could be drafting a new quarterback come April of 2020. The same could be said about Mariota in Tennessee, as the team brought in Ryan Tannehill as insurance. If he can’t remain healthy or loses reps to the former Dolphins quarterback, the clock might strike midnight on Mariota’s career in Nashville.

    Washington Redskins Safety Landon Collins

    When the 2019 free agent market began, safeties knew they were in for a payday. With top players such as Tyrann Mathieu, LaMarcus Joyner and Earl Thomas all available, it was only going to take one signing to set the tone. Lo and behold, it started day one in our nation’s capital.

    Washington signed former New York Giants safety Landon Collins to a six-year, $84 million deal back in March. While the former Alabama standout is one of the league’s top strong safety, that’s an insane amount of cash. Collins is a playmaker and a great tackler but also is limited in coverage. He’s still trying to recreate his 2016 campaign where he finished with five interceptions and 13 pass deflections.

    The 25-year-old safety was paid after the mishandling of his contract in New York. Now, it’s up to him to show why he was worth becoming the league’s highest-paid player at his position. If Collins can recreate his Pro Bowl year for just half of his time in Ashburn, it’ll be a win for both parties. If he’s limited in his role, Washington just made a grave mistake in free agency. On the bright side, at least this won’t be as bad as the Albert Haynesworth signing, right?

    Houston Texans Head Coach Bill O’Brien  

    Last season, many speculated that the Texans could be looking for a change in command after beginning their season off 0-3. Thankfully, the Texans would win 11 of their next 13 games and clinch the AFC South for the third time under Bill O’Brien.

    Heading into 2019, that shouldn’t make the former Penn State head coach’s seat any less sizzling. This past offseason was far from kind to the Texans and their fan base. Both Kareem Jackson and Tyrann Mathieu bolted in free agency for big deals. Meanwhile, Brian Gaine did nothing to help protect Deshaun Watson for the immediate future. Sure, the offensive line was addressed but Tytus Howard and Max Scharping are not day 1 players.

    Houston might be the only team in their division to take a step back this offseason. With Watson now going to have to up his skills, the Texans could be in for a rude awakening. If the team struggles, O’Brien shouldn’t feel confident about sticking around much longer.

    The team has a top-level quarterback, solid offensive weapons and a young defensive core. They need to find a leader as their coach before that window is blown in the future.

    Philadelphia Eagles Quarterback Carson Wentz

    There are legitimate reasons for pressure to be on Wentz, who is just two years removed from his MVP caliber season in 2017. If not for a torn ACL, Wentz likely would have cleaned up with awards and carried the Eagles through the postseason. Instead, Wentz went down, Nick Foles came in and delivered one of the greatest runs in playoff history, finally giving Philadelphia a Super Bowl victory.

    Foles is now in Jacksonville, adding the pressure onto Wentz to find success for the future. Back to back years, the former No.2 pick has seen his season end due to injury. Back to back years, Foles has been the guy to take the Eagles deep into the postseason. Now, Wentz will be under pressure to deliver just like his backup did in key moments.

    Talent alone, Wentz is by far the superior quarterback, making the decision for Howie Roseman quite easy. But then again, name another career backup with a statue of his iconic call made after him? The problem for Wentz has never been his on the field play but his health.

    When healthy, Wentz is one — if not the top up and coming quarterback in the NFL. There is reason to believe that he can return to MVP form this season without skipping a beat. The Eagles are loaded with offensive weapons to make another run for a Lombardi trophy. The big question is how healthy their 26-year-old gunslinger is going to be.

    Cincinnati Bengals Wide Receiver John Ross 

    Unlike virtually everyone else on this list, John Ross is not among one of the biggest names in the NFL. He’s not the team’s top target and frankly, he’s not even their No.2 guy after his second season. That alone should raise red flags on the former top 10 pick.

    Ross is perhaps best known in his short NFL career for his record-setting 4.22 40 yard dash time. While the Bengals had needs at linebacker and on the offensive line, that vertical speed was just too hard to pass up. In his first season, Ross had one play in Week 2 against the Texans. He’d rush the ball for 12 yards before fumbling and sitting out the remainder of the season. Year 2 provided better numbers as the Washington product finished with 210 yards and 7 touchdowns.

    Ross has been limited as a receiver in Marvin Lewis‘ schemes since arriving in Cincinnati. Known as a vertical threat, all but two of Ross’ touchdowns have come from under 10 yards. Perhaps in a new scheme, we can finally see what all the hype was about for the speedy receiver. If not, we have a Darius Heyward-Bey clone in the making.

    Los Angeles Rams Running Back Todd Gurley

    This one hurts to write.

    It’s no secret that even before entering the league, Todd Gurley had dealt with lower leg issues. During his final season at Georgia, Gurley was limited to six games due to a torn ACL. Since entering the league, the former top 10 pick has also only played one full season, which was a career worst in yards, per-carry average and touchdowns.

    With reports that Gurley’s knee issues could be worse than one thought, the pressure for Gurley to remain healthy is officially on. There’s reason for concern since the team just extended him to a $57.5 million deal last season. It also doesn’t help that the Rams traded up to select Memphis running back Darrell Henderson in the third round of last April’s draft.

    Gurley is a weapon for the Rams offense and has the ability to succeed on the ground and as a pass catcher. The problem, however, is how much of the reports are real and what is being exaggerated. Gurley can put the rumors to rest with a strong start to the 2019 season. But if he struggles to gain yards and sees limited carries, there could be legitimate concern on Gurley’s long-term status in the league.

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