As the saying goes: Pressure makes diamonds. It also bursts pipes.
Every starting quarterback in the NFL are facing pressure in some form. It comes with the territory, after all. With just 32 jobs across the league, every passer feels some level of pressure every time they suit up.
But, and here’s a big but, not all situations are created equal, and some passers have more to prove than others entering the 2021 season. Maybe 2020 was a down year for some guys. Maybe they’re playing for their next quarterback job, or next contract. Maybe they just have to replicate their success to prove they’re legit.
Ahead of the 2021 season, these guys have the most to prove for themselves, their teams and their future in the NFL:
2020 stats:16 games/16 starts (13-3 record), 4,544 yards, 37 touchdowns, 16 turnovers (10 interceptions, six fumbles lost), 107.2 passer rating
The question for Allen is simple: Can you do it again?
The big-time guaranteed money that the Bills gave Allen says they believe he can, but there have been plenty of one-year wonder QBs in NFL history. The odds for Allen to have a season similar to what he did last year are in his favor, just given the infrastructure around him — that doesn’t mean he’s reached the pinnacle and belongs there indefinitely, though.
Allen’s sensational 2020 season earned him MVP consideration, and after two very iffy and inconsistent seasons as a passer for the Bills, afair amount of the doubts about his viability as a franchise QBsubsided. Buffalo has exhibited an absolute master class on how to support, nurture and supplement a young quarterback, and with the Bills’ sights set on a Super Bowl, Allen is going to have to duplicate — if not replicate —the success he had in 2020.
That’s a tough ask.
2020 stats:10 games/nine starts (6-3 record), 1,814 yards, 11 touchdowns, six turnovers (five interceptions, one fumble lost), 87.1 passer rating
Rookie quarterbacks are quicker to pick up the NFL game than ever. To that end, NFL teams arequicker than ever to move on from young quarterbacks — Tua isn’t necessarily in immediate danger, sincethe team won with him under center in 2020.
Tagovailoa was a rookie in 2020, so struggles are to be expected. But it’s never necessarily a good look when your head coach decides to go to Ryan Fitzpatrick in key moments of games, trusting the veteran to get you wins, coming in as something as a closer for the ‘Phins. Fitzpatrick’s good performance with the same skill group that Tua had is a little telling.
Compounding issues for the Dolphins quarterbackis just how damn good Chargers quarterbackJustin Herbert was in 2020. Their careers will forever be linked for where they went in the 2020 NFL Draft (Tagovailoa and Herbert were selected by the Dolphins and Chargers at No. 5 and No. 6, respectively).
Still, rumors of the Dolphins’uncertainty of Tagovailoa’s future prospects, with trade rumors swirling with Miami’s interest in Deshaun Watson and speculation that the Dolphins were entertaining the thought that they could take a QB in 2021 persisted.
History says Tagovailoa will be OK. Just how OK, though, we’re going to find out in 2021.
2020 stats:16 games/16 starts, 7-9 record, 4,265 yards, 35 touchdowns, 18 turnovers (13 interceptions, five fumbles), 105.0 passer rating
How much longer can Cousins put his money where his mouth is?
The Vikings were reportedly interested in selecting Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields in the 2021 NFL Draft. That didn’t happen. Trade rumors indicated that maybe the Vikings were ready to move on. That didn’t happen, either. Instead, the Vikings took a flyer on Texas A&M QB Kellen Mond, a low-risk, high-reward passer.
Cousins is here because of the burden of his contract: Heis the benificiaryof the NFL’s first-ever fully guaranteed deal andhas lived up to it for the most part, with Minnesota even giving him a fully guaranteed extension prior to the 2020 season.
With 91 passing touchdowns since 2018, he ranks fifth in the NFL behind Patrick Mahomes, Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady. That’s pretty cream-of-the-crop stuff.
This year, with a revamped offensive line, a healthy Dalvin Cook, the second year of Justin Jefferson and a defense that has been performing in camp, Cousins and the Vikings have to make it to the playoffs — and Cousins has to perform in that spot to justify the money that the Vikings have pumped into him.
2020 stats:16 games/16 starts, 5-11 record, 4,084 yards, 26 touchdowns, 11 turnovers (10 interceptions, one fumble lost), 96.3 passer rating
Matthew Stafford’s next act is taking place in Hollywood, and his pairing with Sean McVay is going to reaffirm one of two things: That he’s actually really good, or he’s been a product of a pass-happy NFL.
With the Rams just edging out the 49ers for Stafford’s services this offseason, Rams head coach McVay may have found the QB he needed to bring Los Angeles’offense to the next level and continue to set the pace in the NFC West.
McVay thinks really, really highly of Stafford, and the trade price reaffirmed that: With two first-rounders and Jared Goff going to the Lions in exchange for the veteran passer, McVay had to beat out Kyle Shanahan — who also thought very highly of Stafford — to bring him out west.
Stafford was, largely, a one-man show during his time with Detroit, and his mercurial play still resulted in 45,000 yards and 282 touchdowns in his Lions career.Now, though, with arguably the best offensive scheme he’ll play within, we’re going to really find out if Stafford is sizzle or steak.
2020 stats:12 games/12 starts (2-10 record), 2,208 yards, nine touchdowns, 15 turnovers (11 interceptions, four fumbles),72.7 passer rating
Whether it was poor roster construction, Adam Gase and his weird eyes, a lack of weapons or just a bad situation in general in New York, Sam Darnold never lived up to his No. 3 overall pick hype (and the unfair label as “savior”)while with the Jets.
Regardless of all that, though, Darnold’s red-flag issues coming out of college persisted at the NFL level: Poor turnovers, mechanic and footwork problems and an over-reliance on Hero Ball all doomed his tenure in New York, leading to GM Joe Douglas to cut bait after just three years.
(No matter how you feel aboutGase or the Jets, no head coach is teaching his QB to throw into triple coverage.)
Trading his Gotham Green for Panther blue this offseason,Darnold is entering Year 4 of his NFL career, and he’s getting a brand-new, fresh start with Matt Rhule and Joe Brady.
The Panthers traded a 2022 second- and a 2021 fourth-round pick for Darnold, and they also passed on the opportunity to draft a sliding Justin Fields with the No. 8 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. That’s all not exactly a light investment for a guy who’s going to have to be paid in the coming years, if he’s any good.
The Panthers are going to have to find out very fast if Darnold is going to be their quarterback beyond 2021.Given a second lease on his football life, Darnold is going to have to go from bottom-of-the-barrel passerto serviceable starter at minimum. That’lltake a very big — and potentially historic — leap.
If he doesn’t make it, he’ll be the latest in a line of USC QB castoffs.
2020 stats:14 games/14 starts (5-9 record), 2,943 yards, 11 touchdowns, 10 interceptions (six fumbles lost), 80.4 passer rating
If the Giants don’t want to feel the big blues, Jones will have to silence the critics once and for all in the 2021 season.
To this point, Jones has exceeded expectations, scouting reports and memescoming out of Duke, going froma wide-eyed, confused looking deer at the 2019 NFL Draft to a solid starter with some promise entering Year 3.
Jones has shown flashes, but flashes aren’t enough to be an NFL starting quarterback, and his turnover issues have been at the forefront of his struggles in his first two seasons: In all, Jones has 39turnovers (22 interceptions, 17 fumbles lost) in 27 career games. That is, in a word, troubling.
This year, though, with a retooled offense featuring first-round pick Kadarius Toney, a returning Saquon Barkley and some continuity with offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, there are no more excuses for Jones.
If Jones struggles, he likely won’t get another bite of the Big Apple in 2022: The Giants are currently armed with an extra first-round pick in 2022 (via the Justin Fields trade with Chicago), and the opportunity to reset the QB position with a moldable rookie — and Joe Judge’s guy of his choosing — might be too valuable for the Giants to pass up.
2020 stats:Four games/no starts, 75 yards, no touchdowns, no turnovers, 83.5 passer rating
The Saints quarterback room is a two-headed monster. Thequestion towhether that’s the good or bad kind of monster remains.
Winston has all the physical tools needed to succeed in the NFL —it’s a matter of what’s going on between the ears to get it working.
You would think that sitting behind Drew Brees and under the tutelage of Sean Payton that Winston would figure it out, but that’s not necessarily the case: When Brees was sidelined with approximately two-dozen broken ribs last year, Payton turned to TaysomHill instead of Winston to start. That hurts.
But maybe quicker than the other QBs on this list, we should get an answer to whether or not Winston is the goods immediately. There’s no guarantee that Winston will win the starting job out of training camp, with Payton’s pet project Hill also an option to start for New Orleans come kickoff on the season.
If Winston can’t put it together and outright win the competition against Hill during camp —andput together a solid regular season to go with it — then you can likely kiss the prospects of him as a long-term starting optionin the NFL goodbye.
2020 stats:16 games/eight starts (3-1 record as starting QB), 928 yards, four touchdowns, seven turnovers (twointerceptions, five fumbles lost), 98.8 passer rating
Taysom Hill is what happens when you let a joke outlive its shelf life.
That’s not to say Hill is a joke — he’s a perfectly serviceable gadget player and he showed a small bit of something last year in Drew Brees’ absence. But Sean Payton’s ego is letting this thing ride out way too far, and Hill has turned from entertaining Swiss-army knife player to actual, potentially expected starter in New Orleans. Uh, what?
If — and it’s a gigantic if — Payton gets something consistently goodout of Hill, it’ll be a total and complete stroke of genius. The 31-year-old Hill doesn’t exactly have a track record as a starting QB in the NFL, and with more tape on him as a passer, NFL defenses will have a much better idea of what to get from him.
Still, if Hill wants to be paid like a top-end starter, then it’s going to take more than just some trick plays and a gadget role to prove it in 2021.
2020 stats:15 games/15 starts, 3,952 yards, 20 touchdowns, 17 turnovers (13 interceptions, four fumbles lost), 90.0 passer rating
Jared Goff has heard every Twitter argument a quarterback can hear in the year 2021: System QB, product of McVay, bust, overrated, and so on.
While Goff isn’t walking to a dumpster fire situation on offense, he’s going to have to make the most out of what he’s got in an entirely new regime in Detroit. The former No. 1 overall pick is going to have to prove he was worthy of that selection, and that he’s still the guy who started for the Rams on a Super Bowl squad.
The break up between the Rams and Goff wasn’t pretty and was very public. GM Brad Holmes is all in on Goff, and the team is going to have two years to decide whether Goff is a legit long-term option. That evaluation is going tostart immediately.
2020 stats:12 games/12 starts, 3-8-1 record, 2,620 yards, 16 touchdowns, 19 turnovers (15 interceptions, four fumbles lost), 72.8 passer rating
New season, new team, same issues for Carson Wentz (so far).
Wentz is currently sidelined as he rehabs from a foot injury sustained in the first week of Colts camp, kicking off a rocky start to his tenure as Indy quarterback. His unceremonious ousting from Philadelphia was a welcome breakup for everyone involved, but there’s far from a guarantee that Wentz will regain his one-time MVP form.
After all, it’s been a long time since Wentz was that guy — 2018 was a long time ago.
Truth be told, Wentz wasn’t the entire problem with the Eagles, just a decent part of it. In order for him to get back to the upper echelonand prove Chris Ballard, Frank Reich and the Colts right for sending a conditional second-rounder to the Eagles for him, then he’ll have to perform this year.
If not, Wentz could be looking at his third team in as many years.
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