NFL training camp marks the start of the 2021 season and it’s right around the corner. This is the first time in NFL history we’ll see a 17-game season. There’s so much at stake across the league as all 32 teams prepare for the grueling schedule.

Some franchises and players are facing more pressure than others, though. We saw an unprecedented number of big names swapping teams this offseason as desperation for change rises.

Bold moves will either pay off or create a trickle-down effect that can last for years. We’ve identified the 10 NFL players facing the most pressure of any this season. Each has much to prove as their team relies on them to be the catalyst for change. Failing to live up to the expectations can lead to jobs lost or a diminished reputation. 

 

10. Sam Darnold - Carolina Panthers

The Carolina Panthers boldly decided to make a move at quarterback before the 2021 NFL Draft when they traded two picks for Sam Darnold. The fourth-year quarterback has been a massive disappointment thanks to stalled development since his USC days. Carolina’s decision to jettison Teddy Bridgewater and pass on Justin Fields may prove as big as trading for Darnold.

Darnold has never had as many weapons around him as what Carolina provides. Offensive coordinator Joe Brady is a star, and there’s a plethora of playmakers at their disposal. Christian McCaffrey, D.J. Moore, Robby Anderson, and Terrace Mitchell make up one of the best surrounding casts in the NFL.

I’m skeptical about Darnold’s scheme fit with Brady’s timing-based attack. Darnold’s issues identifying pre-snap reads and quickly pulling the trigger as his receiver creates leverage can be crippling to an offense. This experiment may be a one-year excursion if Darnold was part of the problem with the Jets and not just a victim like many around the league seem to believe. 

 

9. JJ Watt - Arizona Cardinals

One of the most surprising free-agent situations of this past offseason was J.J. Watt ended up in Arizona for a whopping $14 million per-year. Contenders offered less money for a clearer chance at a Super Bowl run, but Watt ended up choosing money over opportunity despite his declarations. He immediately has pressure to take this defense to the next-level.

The Cardinals are facing an immensely stressful season. The front office and staff could be wiped clean if they miss the playoffs once again. And it’s debatable as to whether a team lacking a solid offensive line and cornerback position can survive a deep NFC West division en route to the postseason.