Photo courtesy of the Baltimore Sun
It goes without saying that playing in the NFL can be an extremely harsh job. The constant fatigue on the body is taxing, but for some players the mental toll can be excruciating. The media plays a massive role in modern sports, with opinions about players being constantly spewed and often shedding negative light. The players below have been called every name in the book by fans and media outlets. Bust, injury prone, noodle arm, you name it. Will they fold under the pressure, or take this season as their one last opportunity to prove everyone wrong?
8. Christian Kirk, Wide Receiver, Jacksonville Jaguars
The NFL free agency period began with a signing that had most fans scratching their heads and laughing at the Jaguars. This offseason, Christian Kirk, formerly of the Arizona Cardinals, signed a 4 year, 74 million dollar contract with the Jaguars with 37 million guaranteed. For reference, this puts Kirk firmly as a top 10 highest paid receiver in the NFL. What's the problem with that? The guy has played for 4 years, never reached 1,000 yards in a season, never scored more than 6 TD's in a season, and has 4 career 100 yard receiving games. Either the Jaguars know something we don't, or Kirk has an uphill battle towards being respected as one of the highest paid receivers in the league.
7. Miles Sanders, Running Back, Philadelphia Eagles
12 starts, 137 carries, and 0 rushing touchdowns in 2021 for Miles Sanders. While still only 25 and heading into his 4th season, his career so far is just another "What if?" story. Producing on a
per touch basis has never been a problem for Sanders, as he boasts a career 5.1 yards per carry. The problems, however, have to do with his usage and durability. Sanders has yet to play a full season since his rookie year, and as a result is seen by the Eagles coaching staff as a committee back rather than a bell cow for their offense. This offseason, Sanders has made it very public that he wants more carries and involvement. After already being written off by many, he will have to show he has what it takes to be productive, consistent, and healthy this year.
6. Daniel Jones, Quarterback, New York Giants
Mr. Danny Dimes himself. After 3 lackluster seasons for the Giants, Daniel Jones could possibly be sitting at the top of the quarterback depth chart for the last time in his career. Drafted 6th overall in the 2019 NFL Draft, it's safe to say that Jones has been nothing but a bust, consistently producing low touchdown numbers and high amounts of turnovers. Jones has been laughed at for tripping on open air during games, and is seen as a bottom 10 QB in the league by most. Obviously, his supporting cast and coaching staff have been just as deplorable over his 3 years, but this year they have finally taken a step forward. Jones has a new, offensive minded head coach in former Bills OC Brian Daboll, capable passing weapons with Golladay, Toney, and Wan'dale Robinson, and a talented RB in Saquon Barkley with a revamped offensive line. If Jones fails to produce this season, he is doomed to become a backup for the rest of his career.
5. Michael Thomas, Wide Receiver, New Orleans Saints
December 22nd, 2019. That's the last time Michael Thomas, aka "Slant Boy", scored an NFL touchdown. Thomas has seen his career spiral down the drain from one of the leagues most promising young talents to an injury prone locker room cancer. After failing to play in a single game in 2021 due to an ankle injury and 7 games played in 2020, Thomas is in desperate need of a productive bounce back season. In 2019, he signed a 5 year, 96.5 million dollar extension with the Saints and has yet to live up to a single penny of that salary. With the Saints drafting his potential replacement in Chris Olave with their first round pick this offseason, Thomas could be out the door if he does not produce and stay healthy.
4. Josh Allen, Quarterback, Buffalo Bills
After a mediocre first two years in the league Josh Allen has exploded in an unparalleled rise to stardom. His improvement in play from year 2 to 3 left analysts and experts stunned as he took the league by storm with his rocket arm, gusty running style, and will to win. After a dominant two playoff games last year vs. the Patriots and Chiefs, leading to the infamous coin toss loss, the hype behind him and the Bills is at an all time high. With the offseason addition of Von Miller, the Bills have been solidified as Super Bowl favorites in nearly every betting sports book, consistently ranked by media outlets as the number 1 roster, and Allen is seen as a consensus top 3 QB. Allen simply needs to rally his troops to make a deep playoff run and be a favorite for MVP to not have this season be considered an absolute waste. With high expectations comes extreme amounts of pressure, and Allen will have to prove that he can carry Buffalo to a title.
3. Christian McCaffrey, Running Back, Carolina Panthers
Photo courtesy of the Charlotte Observer
We are now 2 years removed from McCaffrey's sensational 2019 season which saw him become the 3rd player of all time to post 1,000 rushing and receiving yards in the same season. A truly unique weapon whenever he steps on the field, talent is something that the shifty running back has never lacked. Since playing in all 16 games in his first 3 seasons, McCaffrey has missed 22 games in the last 2 years, with each time he returned being short lived and leaving an awfully sour taste in fans mouths. We have seen a generational running back be completely derailed by injuries at a young age before, most recently with Todd Gurley and his knee injuries, and the football world would be losing one of their most gifted talented should that be the fate of McCaffrey. Finally healthy heading into training camp this offseason, CMC will need to get back to form this year and stay out of the IR spot to buck those injury prone labels.
2. Saquon Barkley, Running Back, New York Giants
Photo courtesy of The Athletic
Another spot on the list, another injury riddled running back. Eerily similar to McCaffrey, Saquon absolutely burst onto the scene right away, churning out over 2,000 all purpose yards and 15 touchdowns as a rookie on a putrid Giants team. He carried the entire offense on his shoulders his first two years as a true 3 down back, helped by his dominant blend of blazing speed, power, and shiftiness. But then, as like most star running backs, the injuries caught up to Barkley. Unlike McCaffrey, who returned right back to his usual production every time he stepped on the field post-injury, Saquon did not look like himself last year. His yards per carry this past season plummeted from 5.0 his rookie year to 3.7, and he was being outperformed in the same backfield by career journeymen Devontae Booker. This offseason, Barkley has spoken out against the injury prone claims, stating that he wants to prove to everyone, including those in his organization, that he's still the same generational player he once was. Only time will tell, but time is ticking for Saquon.
1. Tua Tagoviloa, Quarterback, Miami Dolphins
Photo courtesy of AP
This should come as no surprise to anyone. Perhaps the current most slandered player in the NFL, Tua has had a truly tumultuous relationship with the media, with credited sports news outlets even posting missed or short throws by him on their social media pages knowing it will garner tons of attention. "Noodle Arm" Tua has been mediocre at best in his first two seasons, and the spotlight will be no brighter than this year. With the acquisition of former Chiefs game breaking receiver Tyreek Hill, adding to an already impressive list of weapons including Jaylen Waddle, Mike Gesicki, Chase Edmonds and Raheem Mostert, Tua could not ask for a better supporting cast. Tyreek Hill has certainly not been quiet since his team swap, claiming that Tua is "more accurate" than his former quarterback Patrick Mahomes and talking up how good his connection is with his new signal caller. Tua has no excuses left, the pressure is on and he simply must produce with this offense. This is his last chance to change the narrative around him and silence the haters.
How do you feel about my picks? Is there anyone with a chip on their shoulder this season that I missed? Comment below or let me know on Twitter @mikedilg !