When it comes to pressure, there’s plenty of it in the NFL. Whether it’s pressure to keep your starting job or roster spot or pressure to perform.
But there are some players who face more pressure than others given different circumstances, be it a contract situation or players who have failed to meet expectations.
Whether it’s quarterbacks facing a make-or-break season, veterans entering the final year of their rookie deal or players looking to prove their worth on a new team, there are a slew of players who need to step up their game.
From Russell Wilson to Mac Jones, our NFL Wire editors identified one player from their respective teams facing pressure heading into the 2023 season.
Some might say QB Kyler Murray is the player under the most pressure because the Cardinals could be in a position to draft a top quarterback in 2024. However, the player with more immediate pressure is Simmons. The 2020 first-round draft pick did not have his fifth-year option picked up, meaning 2023 is a contract year. He has been moved from linebacker to safety. Will he take the next step and become a big-time defensive playmaker, a defensive back worth a big payday or just a player without a true position for him. – Jess Root, Cards Wire
The Falcons released veteran cornerback Casey Hayward and replaced him with former No. 3 overall pick Jeff Okudah back in April. Atlanta gave up just a fifth-round pick for Okudah, who is likely to start opposite A.J. Terrell this season. The Lions paid $1.5 million of Okudah’s salary to facilitate the trade, nullifying his fifth-year option in the process. Therefore, 2023 is a contract year for the 24-year-old. If Okudah can produce, it’s likely he earns a long-term deal in Atlanta. If he fails, people will continue to label him a “bust.” – Matt Urben, Falcons Wire
Oweh showed plenty of flashes during his rookie season after being selected as the 31st overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft. However, his production and efficiency plummeted during the 2022 season, raising concern about whether he can be a consistent force at the professional level. Oweh will be tasked with a massive role after the Ravens have elected to not bring in veteran help at the position up to this point, making this year bigger than ever for the third-year pass rusher. – Kevin Oestreicher, Ravens Wire
Kaiir Elam and Davis both have important seasons awaiting them. Thanks to the NFL being a business, we’re going to take the latter. Davis is entering the final year of his rookie contract. He’s done enough to stick around in the NFL and earn another deal, whether it be from the Bills or elsewhere. However, Davis underwhelmed in his first season as a full-time starter across from Stefon Diggs. Davis had career-highs, but in that role, some (especially fantasy football players) thought he should have put up more than 48 catches for 836 yards in a high-flying offense with Josh Allen at the helm. If Davis leaves something to be desired in 2023, it could be his final season in Buffalo and his next contract won’t be what he once hoped for. – Nick Wojton, Bills Wire
While talented, by Thielen’s own admission, the Panthers’ receiving corps is anything but certain. Can DJ Chark stay healthy coming off of ankle surgery? Will Terrace Marshall Jr. finally break out? And what can the offense get out of rookie Jonathan Mingo? The most known commodity of the group is the former two-time Pro Bowler from Minnesota. Although he’ll be 33 years old by the time his 10th NFL campaign officially begins, Thielen is going to be counted on as a safety blanket in an average (on a very good day) supporting cast for No. 1 overall pick Bryce Young. After all, they didn’t sign him to a three-year, $25 million deal for kicks. – Anthony Rizzuti, Panthers Wire
It’s been difficult to evaluate Fields in his first two seasons given the circumstances, including a lack of a supporting cast and a porous offensive line. But you can’t say the Bears didn’t spend this offseason building around Fields, whether it was shoring up pass protection or adding some new playmakers. The biggest acquisition was DJ Moore, who gives Fields the No. 1 wide receiver he’s lacked. When you look at how the addition of a top wideout has helped young quarterbacks develop, the expectation is Fields will take a significant leap in the passing game to complement his elite rushing ability and make him a true dual threat QB. Chicago traded the top pick rather than draft a rookie quarterback, so Fields needs to prove them right this season. I wouldn’t say it’s a make-or-break season for the third year QB, but the pressure is on. Gone are the excuses. Fields needs to prove he can be the franchise quarterback this team hasn’t had in decades. – Alyssa Barbieri, Bears Wire
Williams had offseason knee surgery and his trade request after the arrival of La’el Collins in free agency didn’t see him shipped to another team. The former first-round pick will play the fifth and final year of his deal at right tackle, where he’s projected to start by the season opener. While learning a new position at the pro level, he’ll have to fend off Collins, last year’s starter on the right edge who is coming along faster than expected after the mid-December season-ending injury. He’s fighting to keep the job all season, while also showing either the Bengals he deserves a long-term contract for the right side, or other teams he deserves a shot at either side as a free agent. Either way, he’s suddenly the biggest question mark on the formerly embattled Bengals offensive line. – Chris Roling, Bengals Wire
Now a year removed from the drama of his court hearings, suspension hearings, and the actual suspension, the Browns need their $230 million quarterback to play like a $230 million quarterback. There are no excuses moving forward. Watson and head coach Kevin Stefanski have had all offseason to work together to formulate an offense that fits his skillset with the intent of making the unit more explosive. While the Browns have loaded up with an aggressive offseason, their season solely depends on how well Watson plays. And if he doesn’t return to form? It could get ugly for Stefanski and his coaching staff. – Cory Kinnan, Browns Wire
This shouldn’t be the case. Prescott has proven himself as a bona fide top-10 QB in the NFL. He’s had some immaculate performances, including under high-pressure situations, such as January’s scintillating 305 passing yard, four-touchdown performance in a road wild-card victory. Unfortunately, it was followed up by a lackluster showing the following week, and that dismal display is what people remember thanks to a high-interception regular season. Prescott is one of the best, but right or wrong, QBs are measured by playoff success of their teams and Dallas doesn’t have that. Yet. – K.D. Drummond, Cowboys Wire
Wilson is facing a make-or-break season with Denver in 2023. If the 34-year-old quarterback does not show significant improvement under new head coach Sean Payton, the Broncos won’t hesitate to part ways with Wilson and move on in 2024. Wilson might even be in danger of getting benched during the season following Payton’s remarks about backup QB Jarett Stidham projecting as a future starter in the NFL. Wilson will be under more pressure than any other player in Denver this fall. – Jon Heath, Broncos Wire
It’s not been easy for fans to embrace Williams. The No. 12 overall pick in the 2022 NFL draft caught exactly one pass as a rookie, missing more than half the season recovering from knee surgery. This offseason, he’s already been suspended for the first six games for violating the NFL’s gambling policy. Williams clearly has talent and could make a big impact as soon as he gets back on the field. However, if he doesn’t, expect Williams to join the wrong side of the “Detroit vs. Everybody” equation for both the fan base and perhaps some teammates, too. – Jeff Risdon, Lions Wire
Love is the easy pick. In fact, he’s probably under as much pressure in 2023 as any player in the NFL. A first-round pick who sat behind Aaron Rodgers for three seasons, Love is now the man in Green Bay, but he’ll need a strong first season as a starter to prove to the Packers he’s the answer long term. His current contract makes this a two-year audition, but the first season will be vital to the evaluation. Remember, the Packers are likely to have multiple first-round picks come the 2024 draft, and selecting a quarterback is a real possibility if the 2023 season goes sideways. Wins and losses won’t be the only barometer, but the Packers traded up for Love and have now developed him in the same offense over multiple seasons. The team needs to see real growth and the potential for him to be or become a highly capable starter during the 2023 season. While Aaron Rodgers made following Brett Favre look easy, here’s the reality: Following Rodgers will be extremely challenging in a place that expects nothing but greatness at the quarterback position. – Zach Kruse, Packers Wire
The Texans used a 2021 third-round pick on the former Michigan wideout to replenish their receiving corps. Yearly growth is evident as Collins’ 37 catches for 481 yards and two touchdowns were increases compared to his rookie season. However, the 6-4, 215-pound target missed seven games in 2022 compared to three the year prior. Availability has been the one aspect to Collins’ game that has held question marks over the rest of his traits. Collins may not have had the best quarterback situation during his first two years, but there are higher expectations for the 24-year-old to elevate his game to help out rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud. – Mark Lane, Texans Wire
The longest-tenured player on the Colts roster is also the one facing plenty of question marks entering the 2023 season. Kelly hasn’t played up to expectations in either of the last two seasons. In 2021, he allowed the second-most pressures and fifth-most sacks among centers. In 2022, he allowed the sixth-most pressures and third-most sacks among centers. As he enters a contract year, Kelly must bounce back for his sake and the sake of the Colts offense. – Kevin Hickey, Colts Wire
After double-digit sacks and a Pro Bowl nod in his rookie season, the former top 10 pick hasn’t been able to recreate his early success in recent seasons. Allen is a defensive leader and team captain, and he has consistently racked up pressures. But if he finishes a fourth straight year with fewer than eight sacks, the Jaguars will have a tough decision to make with his contract set to expire next offseason. – Adam Stites, Jaguars Wire
Entering a contract year, no player has more pressure to succeed in Kansas City. Not only did the Chiefs invest a high draft choice in Leo Chenal a season ago, but they added Drue Tranquill in free agency this offseason. Gay Jr. has consistently been a force for the team during training camp, but for whatever reason he’s fizzled a bit during the regular season. Just last season, the defensive coaching staff took him off the field for Darius Harris in sub-packages where many believed his skillset should have prospered. Whether his future is in Kansas City or elsewhere, Gay Jr. must hit the ground running this year. – Charles Goldman, Chiefs Wire
After being bench in favor of Trey Lance and then inserted back into the lineup, Garoppolo found his way back on the field for the 49ers. But he once again failed to stay healthy and was eventually replaced by Brock Purdy. However, Garoppolo received a massive contract from the Raiders this offseason as they are banking on him to be their franchise quarterback. Garoppolo had offseason foot surgery, but there is a lot of pressure for him to come and be successful right away. This might be his last chance to be a starting quarterback in the NFL. – Marcus Mosher, Raiders Wire
The Chargers went all in on Jackson last offseason, signing him to a five-year deal worth $85 million. However, they did not quite get their money’s worth in his first year in the blue and gold. Jackson struggled to find his footing in Brandon Staley’s defense, leading to him getting benched. Once he did start to find his stride, Jackson tore the patellar tendon in his right knee in Week 7. Jackson, who has steadily been rehabbing, seemed confident that he would be ready for the start of training camp. Once he returns to the field, Los Angeles will be banking on him to stay healthy and hopefully return to his All-Pro form when he was with the Patriots and give the Bolts’ defense a huge boost after being an up-and-down group in 2022. – Gavino Borquez, Chargers Wire
Noteboom is entering the second year of his three-year contract and has to prove he’s deserving of a spot in the starting lineup. Coming off a torn Achilles, Noteboom is under pressure to reclaim his place as the left tackle over Alaric Jackson. If he loses that battle, he could be moved inside to guard, but it will be a sign that Noteboom may not have a place on this roster in 2024, given his sizable contract paying him $13.3 million per year. After a year of constant shuffling on the offensive line, the Rams could use some stability, especially at the most important position (left tackle). Noteboom’s play will be a big factor in the offense’s success or failure in 2023. – Cameron DaSilva, Rams Wire
It’s an obvious answer, but Tua Tagovailoa is clearly the Dolphin with the most pressure on him in 2023. The former first-round selection balled out in his first season under Mike McDaniel, setting career highs in yards and touchdowns while leading the NFL in passer rating. However, he was also unable to remain on the field due to multiple concussions, which led the team to starting seventh-round pick Skylar Thompson down the stretch and into the playoffs.
Entering his fourth season, Tagovailoa has to prove that he can remain on the field and continue improving after a strong first year in McDaniel’s offense. With the Dolphins already picking up his fifth-year option, he’s essentially guaranteed the starting job beyond 2023, but he has to earn that next contract. – Mike Masala, Dolphins Wire
When you look at the Minnesota Vikings defense, there aren’t many veteran faces on the team anymore. One that has been in the news is Hunter, who is eligible for a new contract with only $5.5 million in cash due to him this year. In the last three seasons, Hunter has only played in 24 games while getting 16.5 sacks in the process. At only 28 years old, he is still one of the best edge rushers in football. However, in wanting a new contract, there is a lot of pressure on him to produce at the level before his neck injury in 2020. – Tyler Forness, Vikings Wire
The pressure is on Patriots quarterback Mac Jones to make people forget about last season. He literally went from being the accepted successor of Tom Brady as a rookie Pro Bowler to people calling for him to be replaced by Bailey Zappe in his second year. It’s time for Jones to show the world who he really is in 2023. Whether he’s the future face of the franchise or simply a backup remains to be seen. But one thing is certain: Jones is all out of excuses.
Bill O’Brien has been brought in as the new offensive coordinator, along with Adrian Klemm to coach up the struggling offensive line. The Patriots are also one of the frontrunners in the DeAndre Hopkins sweepstakes. Everything could fall into place for a massive bounce-back year for Jones. – Jordy McElroy, Patriots Wire
New Orleans’ first-round pick in 2021 has not lived up to billing, with the draft-day skepticism turning to frustration as each of the pass rushers picked immediately after him have gone on to play more games and create more sacks and turnovers. Turner ended his second season with the Saints as a healthy scratch and he must show the team anything he can to prove he belongs in their plans moving forwards. Cameron Jordan isn’t getting any younger and the team struck out on another former first rounder in Marcus Davenport, but a breakout year from Turner could build confidence in the future of the Saints defense. – John Sigler, Saints Wire
No player is more important to the Giants in 2023 than second-year right tackle Evan Neal. He struggled mightily as a rookie due to a change of position and injury, but the team is relying heavily on him to turn things around in an Andrew Thomas-like style. They’re thin at tackle and in order to take advantage of their new influx of receivers, the Giants need quarterback Daniel Jones to remain upright and be given some time in the pocket. If Neal continues to struggle it could potentially stunt the team’s growth and even lead to some regression this season. – Dan Benton, Giants Wire
The Jets brought in Aaron Rodgers to help revitalize the offense, so it would seem natural to go with him in this scenario. But we’ll go with Mekhi Becton here as the former first-round pick that has played one game in two seasons due to injuries. As a result, the Jets declined to pick up his fifth-year option for 2024. So if there is ever a time for Becton to prove he is still a worthwhile investment for the Jets, it’s now. That starts with him winning one of the tackle spots in training camp. – Billy Riccette, Jets Wire
With more money comes more problems, and Jalen Hurts is now the third highest paid quarterback in NFL history after inking a five-year, $255 million deal. He’s the face of the franchise, and with that honor bestowed upon you, the pressure and expectations increase. Hurts was the MVP runner up in 2022 and like Lane Johnson, the Eagles are nearly unbeatable with the former Alabama/Oklahoma signal-caller in the starting lineup. After some initial debate about whether he’d be an elite NFL signal caller, Hurts has amassed a 22-8 record as a starter in the regular season since the 2021 campaign (second behind Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes) and has won 17 of his last 18 regular-season starts. – Glenn Erby, Eagles Wire
Expectations are unreasonably high for Najee Harris as he heads into his third season. Despite amassing 2,930 yards of offense and scoring 20 touchdowns in his first two seasons, his critics see he’s underachieved. The team has made it clear they play to be physical and run the football in 2023 and despite having Jaylen Warren and a young quarterback in Kenny Pickett on the roster, the offense is going to run through Harris. – Curt Popejoy, Steelers Wire
Jackson is getting a lot heaved onto his plate this season. The 2022 second-round pick had a couple of flashes last season, but hit the skids late in the year. Jackson was a healthy scratch for two of the final three regular season games and all three playoff contests. Now he’s added weight to try and adapt his body to the rigors of an 18-week NFL slate. The 49ers didn’t make any major investments on the edge despite losing DEs Samson Ebukam and Charles Omenihu in free agency. They’re banking big on Jackson righting the ship and becoming a three-down player for them. If he takes off, it could turn the 49ers’ pass rush into the NFL’s best. If he struggles, his time in San Francisco could be cut short. – Kyle Madson, Niners Wire
Now three years removed from the trade that brought him over from the Jets, the Jamal Adams deal is easily the worst in franchise history. The two first-round picks they gave up was bad enough, to say nothing of the market-setting contract he signed not long after. Adams had a promising first season in Seattle but injuries have become an albatross for him. He’s missed as many games as he has played for the Seahawks so far. Adams has to prove he can stay healthy, but to justify his contract he’ll need a Comeback Player of the Year type of campaign. – Tim Weaver, Seahawks Wire
Tryon-Shoyinka’s backup, Anthony Nelson, had 1.5 more sacks than he did last year, which is already a bad sign heading into 2023. He was drafted in 2021 because of his raw physical talent, but he has so far underwhelmed in the passing game and has been nothing short of dreadful in the run game. The Bucs drafted two new EDGE players in the 2023 NFL draft, so if he doesn’t get better quickly, he’ll have players behind him on the depth chart more than willing to pounce. – River Wells, Bucs Wire
When on the field, Kristian Fulton has been a difference-maker for the Titans’ defense. The problem is, he hasn’t been able to stay healthy, with the LSU product missing 20 games over his first three seasons, including seven in 2022. At the end of last season, Fulton was called out by head coach Mike Vrabel as one of the repeat offenders when it comes to soft-tissue injuries, along with linebacker David Long, who was allowed to walk in free agency. Much to the seeming chagrin of his head coach, Fulton decided to take a different approach this year and didn’t participate in the team’s offseason program, instead opting to train in Miami.
He was also a non-participant during mandatory minicamp and only showed his face to stretch and talk with the media. It isn’t clear if Fulton’s lack of participation was his decision or the team’s, though. Entering the final year of his deal, Fulton has to play at a high level and stay healthy if he wants any shot at a lucrative, long-term deal. If he struggles with injuries once again, a one-year “prove-it” deal will be the best he can hope for in 2024. – Mike Moraitis, Titans Wire
There could be two choices here: Howell or defensive end Chase Young. However, Howell’s success, or lack thereof, will play the biggest role in the team’s success. Washington has a strong defense without Young, although he can make it an outstanding defense. But the Commanders need to improve offensively to make the playoffs and that starts under center. Washington has had QB issues for years. If Howell can be an improvement over the previous 10-15 Washington QBs, this is a playoff team. That’s not necessarily a high bar. If he doesn’t play well, the Commanders will turn to Jacoby Brissett and the team will be looking at the 2024 NFL draft for their next QB. – Bryan Manning, Commanders Wire