The NFL season remains on track to kick off around its usual early September time. As always, expectations haunt teams and marquee players, most notably the captains of the ship – the quarterbacks. Here is a look at five who have a bit to prove to their teams, fans or the wider NFL public.
Sam Darnold, New York Jets
Sam Darnold entered the NFL with both the physical and intangible skills to become a star in the league, but his first two years have been far from settled. In 2018, his rookie season, the then 21-year-old went 4-9 with a sub-par Jets roster around him. In 2019 he had to battle mono early on, and when he returned to the field, he put up some pretty atrocious numbers. Things picked up as the team finished 7-9, but the year was tainted.
There have been glimpses of what Darnold can do, just not consistent enough and he has often been let down by a lack of help on the offensive end. Little success that is not fully his doing, but as time ticks over the expectations attached to Darnold continue to rise.
He has a combined passer rating of 81.1 across his first two seasons, as well as 36 touchdown passes, 28 interceptions and a 59.9 completion percentage with a record of 11-15 – far from staggering, while the likes of Lamar Jackson, Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray have been far more impressive.
But 2020 should see a lot more production, with three high-level offensive linemen signed as well as wide-out Breshad Perriman and veteran tailback Frank Gore added. They all join Le’Veon Bell who remains one of the most versatile offensive players in the league.
Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns
‘Mr Talk ‘may have his mouth wired shut by the end of 2020 if the Browns again find themselves near the bottom of the AFC, and sitting on the couch when the playoffs role around. 2019 was the year the franchise’s now 18-year playoff drought was meant to end, but everything went quiet as the team slumped to a 6-10 record.
More importantly, Mayfield’s numbers dropped and his image as a future star took a big hit and much to his critics’ pleasure – Mayfield has long been a show pony, someone with all the talk. He did offer plenty in his rookie season though, throwing 27 touchdown passes – an NFL rookie record – and only 12 interceptions.
A lot like Darnold, Mayfield has more help this year, and with that should be more success. Offensive tackles Jack Conklin (free agency) and Jedrick Wills (draft) add protection on the line, while tight end Austin Hooper joins a receiving group headlined by wide-outs Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry. Not to mention new coach Kevin Stefanski who was a long time servant for the Minnesota Vikings, most recently as offensive coordinator under Mike Zimmer.
A lot is there, which should leave little room for failure.
Mitch Trubisky, Chicago Bears
A quarterback who for some time has been trying to win over just about everyone, Mitch Trubisky was taken with the second pick in the 2017 draft by the Bears, and apart from a promising 2018 campaign where he was for the most part productive, the verdict has been a stern no.
Trubisky dropped in all key passing statistics excluding interceptions (which went from 12 to 10) in 2019, despite having arguably a better receiving core with the drafting of Riley Ridley. The team went 8-8 after an impressive 12-4 campaign the year prior.
In his defence the Bears did not, and still do not have the strongest o-line to offer protection, but that is only part of the problem. Trubisky often makes poor decisions, and does not match the athleticism of some of the game’s other bright young QB’s. To make matters worse, he now has competition. Veteran Nick Foles was traded for in the offseason, a proven winner who is still looking for a home after his Super Bowl 52 win with the Philadelphia Eagles.
The fact the Bears traded up for and spent an incredibly valuable draft pick on Trubisky makes it even more important he proves he was worth the hefty price. Now he has someone to push him along, so let’s hope he rises to the occasion.
Derek Carr, Las Vegas Raiders
In 2016 Derek Carr was an MVP-candidate after leading the then Oakland Raiders to a winning record and a playoff berth for the first time in 14 years. But since, the previously-dubbed future star of the league has failed to rediscover his touch, and the Raiders have sunk back into a hole of mediocrity.
Carr did have a promising 2019 campaign, achieving his best single-season passer rating to date with 100.8, highlighted by a league second-best 70.4 completion percentage. The Raiders also were on the cusp of a playoff spot for most of the season, finishing 7-9.
The team’s misfortunes have not been fully a result of Carr’s performances in the pocket, who has managed a passer rating of 91 or better in four of the last five seasons. But his need to perform now is heavily influenced by a new face on the roster.
Former Heisman Trophy winner and number two pick in the 2015 draft Marcus Mariota is on board, and no doubt amped-up to snag the starting job for himself. While his numbers slightly pale in comparison to Carr’s, he does have the edge in playoff experience (all of one game) and was part of four consecutive 9-7 seasons for the Titans.
The Raiders are beginning to take shape with exciting young players on both sides of the ball, and with the trend they were enjoying in 2019, Carr should find the confidence early on to put up strong numbers and hold on to the starting role.
Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles franchise quarterback does not need to prove anything to himself or the team, instead it is those on the outside looking in. Carson Wentz has constantly had to stave off injury concerns to get through a week uninterrupted. Oddly, the former All-Pro played every one of his team’s matches in 2019, and left the field in two of them due to injury, one of which he returned to finish the game.
While Philly have trucked through the last three seasons with injuries all across their roster, Wentz has posted some impressive numbers. He has thrown 81 touchdown passes and 21 interceptions in those three years, with a passer rating of 99.1 and a record of 25-15 as a starter. He also proved his worth as a leader in times of trouble, guiding a bunch of half-filled chip packets to four consecutive wins last year, and snatching the division crown off the Dallas Cowboys.
But in saying that, the last two seasons have been far from ideal. Both years the Eagles were expected to win 10 or more games, yet struggled to get into the postseason and had to rely on late-season heroics from Wentz or former back-up Nick Foles, to get just nine wins.
It seems until Wentz and Co. secure a double-digit win season and fulfill their potential, there will always be question marks scattered over the quarterback’s ability to win.
Sports writer based in Auckland, New Zealand. I have a strong passion for a range of codes, including the NBA, NFL, Soccer, Rugby and more.