For most, the NFL stands for “Not For Long.” After all, perhaps more than any other professional sport in the world, the NFL is a “what have you done for me lately” league. Fortunes change quickly; today’s superstar could be tomorrow’s has-been. In some cases, talented players even become the “never was.”
Every year we see quality players simply run out of time. Sometimes it’s due to injury, other times it’s due to circumstance, but it’s always a possibility.
With that in mind, here’s a look at five NFL players who are running out of time to prove themselves.
5. John Ross, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
A first-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, John Ross was expected to join the Bengals and create the league’s most elite one-two punch alongside A.J. Green. That, of course, did not happen, as Ross has failed to live up to the hype, while Green has seen injuries derail his career a bit. After having his fifth-year option declined and being the subject of past trade rumors, Ross now enters the final year of his rookie deal and faces what could be his last opportunity to prove his worth to any onlooking general manager. He did take a step in the right direction a season ago, posting career-highs across the board, but the production was still nowhere near what many expected of the Washington product and speedster. With a new quarterback (Joe Burrow) in town and his name dropping on the depth chart, things won’t come easy for Ross in 2020, but he has to find a way to maximize whatever opportunities come his way or risk saying goodbye to the NFL for good.
4. Josh Rosen, QB, Miami Dolphins
Josh Rosen has had it rough since the first moment he entered the NFL. In Arizona, he was billed as the franchise quarterback, but that lasted only a single season before the Cardinals switched head coaches, drafted Kyler Murray, and shipped Rosen off to Miami. With the Dolphins, Rosen was thrust into a new system and eventually found himself replaced by Ryan Fitzpatrick. Now, similarly to how things played out in Arizona, Rosen enters the 2020 season in a battle with Tua Tagovailoa, on whom the Dolphins spent a high first-round pick. Several teams have reportedly called Miami to inquire about Rosen, who is very realistically running out of time — from an NFL standpoint and likely a mental standpoint. Whether he remains in Miami or ends up elsewhere, Rosen has to shake off the bad hand he’s been dealt and find a way to put it all together. Quickly.
3. DeAndre Baker, CB, New York Giants
It may be somewhat unfair to put Baker, a 2019 first-round pick, on this list, but after struggling mightily as a rookie, the Georgia product only compounded his problems by getting arrested and charged in connection with an armed robbery earlier this year. Even if Baker is proven to be innocent and has his charges dropped, he faces league discipline under the personal conduct policy. Prior to his arrest, Baker drew criticism from his teammates for unprofessional behavior and had been reported to have fallen asleep during several team meetings last season. Even after trading up for Baker and investing a first-round pick in him, the Giants won’t hesitate to make a change should these issues persist. Perhaps more than any other second-year player, Baker is on extremely thin ice.
2. O.J. Howard, TE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
A first-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, O.J. Howard was widely expected to become the next Rob Gronkowski or Tony Gonzalez. Instead, Howard has been only moderately successful despite being surrounded by a high-end cast. He has yet to play a full 16-game slate, and his best season came in 2018 when he hauled in 34 receptions for 565 yards and five touchdowns. The Buccaneers have picked up his fifth-year option, so Howard does have some wiggle room, but with both Tom Brady and the aforementioned Gronkowski coming to town, he’ll have to remain healthy and find a higher level of production if he wants to stick. Short of that, Howard might be facing the end of his time in Tampa Bay, as well as some questions about his durability and value across the league.
1. David Johnson, RB, Houston Texans
Once upon a time, David Johnson looked like the next big thing. He displayed power, elusiveness, quickness, and every other attribute an NFL running back needs to be elite. However, injury issues cropped up in 2017 and then again in 2019, and he’s never been able to regain his early-career form. Those issues made Johnson expendable, which led to a trade from Arizona to Houston earlier this offseason. Now Johnson will get a fresh start with the Texans, but with just two years remaining on his current contract and only one season until there’s a potential out, Johnson does not have much room left. The opportunity to revitalize his career is being served up on a silver platter, but if he’s unable to regain his footing, the end may be near.