Players in the NFL understand this is a “what have you done for me lately?” type of league. It doesn’t matter what you accomplished even two or three years ago, all teams care about is what that players has done most recently.
Because of that, everyone is under pressure to perform at a high level year in and year out. However, it’s obvious that some players are under more pressure than others.
Whether it’s because of the market in which they play, or their position on the field, certain guys will also be expected to shoulder a heavier burden for their teams and to satisfy the expectations and fans and the media around the country.
While there’s far too many to count, let’s take a look at the top five players under the most pressure to come through in 2010.
5. Byron Leftwich | Quarterback, Pittsburgh Steelers
Leftwich will be filling in for Ben Roethlisberger while he serves a suspension that will last at least one month, if not even longer. During that time, he’s going to have to make sure his team goes at least .500 or it will pretty much knock them out of the playoffs.
The AFC is far too competitive for the Steelers to be losing early. It’s going to be difficult for them to compete even with Roethlisberger under center, so they can’t afford to fall behind before he gets back.
Leftwich is still young enough that he could get another shot at starting somewhere next season, but if he falters out of the gates it’s going to be tough to envision him ever doing anything but holding a clipboard.
4. Adrian Peterson | Running Back, Minnesota Vikings
If Brett Favre comes back, it will take a little bit of the pressure off Peterson. However, if it’s Sage Rosenfels or Tarvaris Jackson handing off to AP, the pressure is only going to build.
Peterson had a decent year last year by his standards with over 1,300 yards rushing, but it was an incredible seven fumbles that put him on the hot-plate in 2010. His total was the highest among non-quarterbacks, and doesn’t include a couple very costly fumbles in the playoffs.
And this isn’t a new problem, either. Peterson actually made progress from last season when he accounted for an astonishing nine fumbles. In fact, he’s never had less than four in one season.
His fumbling has been the topic of conversation this summer as something he’s got to work on, but if he continues fumbling into the season, his future as an elite player is going to start coming into question.
3. Kevin Kolb | Quarterback, Philadelphia Eagles
Trading Donovan McNabb away immediately made Kevin Kolb the most interesting unknown in the entire league as everyone waits to see how he’ll respond with a full season under his belt.
He’s essentially been a student for three years studying for this test — the test of running an NFL offense and putting a team on his back as McNabb did for 11 seasons. It’s likely that his success or failure will mean success or failure for the team as a whole as Andy Reid’s offense is focused on the passing game.
As Kolb goes, so will the entire offense. Philadelphia isn’t exactly an understanding place and will look for him to produce immediately. If he doesn’t, they will unleash a rather upon him that he has never experienced.
2. Mark Sanchez | Quarterback, New York Jets
Sanchez did a great job of leading his team as a rookie, but he’s going to have to be even better as a sophomore if his team is to get back into the playoffs and go the extra mile to the Super Bowl.
His coach is doing a good job of running his mouth and putting the pressure on himself rather than Sanchez, but the New York fanbase isn’t much more forgiving than Philadelphia and, perhaps even more so than Kolb in Philly, the national media will be all over Sanchez and the Jets because of the inflated expectations.
He’s got one of the best offensive lines in the league in front of him and certainly more than enough offensive weapons around him. Pair that with a great defense and you’ve got a quarterback who will receive a lot of the blame if the Jets falter and don’t at least repeat their successes of 2009.
1. Brett Favre | Quarterback, Minnesota Vikings
Yes, put me under the list of people who expect to see Favre back in purple and gold next year. As long as his ankle recovers the way it’s supposed to, I don’t believe there’s anything stopping him from coming back.
But because of the circus surrounding Favre and the people who have inexplicably grown to hate the man, he will always be under the most pressure to perform at a high level. There’s a large group of people sitting around waiting for him to slip up, and will be merciless if it happens.
So if and when he comes back, he had better make sure he can duplicate the heroics of his 2009 season, because that’s now where the bar has been set. Falling anywhere below that will ensure his legacy takes a hit — even if it is only temporary.
Tags: Adrian Peterson AFC AFC East AFC North Brett Favre Byron Leftwich Football Kevin Kolb Mark Sanchez Minnesota Vikings New York Jets NFC NFC East NFC North NFL Opinion Philadelphia Eagles Pittsburgh Steelers