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Monday, June 1, 2020

10 NFL rookies facing the most pressure in 2019

Kyler Murray Cardinals

There is not a single draft pick who doesn’t face enormous pressure as a rookie, but there’s no denying that some are more scrutinized than others. Much of the time, those under the most strenuous pressure are first- and second-round picks, but even that doesn’t narrow down the list completely.

Some rookies enter the league with expectations of becoming a superstar, while others are tasked with altering the trajectory of an organization entirely. And following the 2019 NFL Draft, there were more than a handful of those.

Here is a look at 10 rookies facing the most pressure in 2019.

10. Jachai Polite, EDGE, New York Jets

Polite had high expectations after declaring for the 2019 NFL Draft, but an ugly performance at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis led to a fall to the third round where he was snagged by the Jets. That led to questions about his work ethic and Polite hasn’t been quick to course-correct in camp. Thus far, he’s struggled to pick up the playbook and has taken third-team reps primarily, but head coach Adam Gase remains hopeful that Polite is just a gamer. And he had better be. If Polite struggles this preseason, he could quickly find himself on the free agent market.

9. Mack Wilson, LB, Cleveland Browns

At one point in time, Wilson was considered the third-best linebacker prospect behind Devin Bush and Devin White, but concerns about his ability to play through contact and shed blocks hurt his draft stock, leading to a fifth-round slip. That’s quite a fall for a player who was once so highly thought of, and it also means Wilson will be forced to shoulder additional pressure — he needs to prove his critics wrong. So far, Wilson has performed well in camp and there appear to be no complaints, but he’ll need to keep that up this preseason and later on in the regular season if he wants to shed labels and find himself firmly planted in Cleveland’s 4-2-5 base defense.

8. Devin Bush, LB, Pittsburgh Steelers

If you keep up with football through the national news, Bush appearing on this list will likely be chalked up to his status as a first-round pick and nothing more. And while that alone carries a tremendous amount of pressure, there’s a lot more boiling under the surface in Pittsburgh. Not only did the Steelers spend their first-round pick on Bush, they also spent a second-round pick and a 2020 third-round pick to move up 10 spots to draft him. Head coach Mike Tomlin has doubled down on that pressure, making is abundantly clear that Bush wasn’t selected to sit on the bench and learn or even to adjust on the fly — he was brought in to start and to dominate immediately.

7. Daniel Jones, QB, New York Giants

Any rookie quarterback in New York is immediately thrust into a situation where they face more pressure than they’ve experienced at any other point in their professional life, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg for Jones. Not only has he been pegged as the franchise quarterback of the future, he’ll be replacing two-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning under intense scrutiny and doubt after being selected sixth overall in the 2019 NFL Draft. The only reason Jones isn’t higher on this list is because he won’t have an opportunity to battle that pressure until mid-way through the season if at all. Odds are, his chance won’t come until 2020.

6. D.K. Metcalf, WR, Seattle Seahawks

Metcalf put on a show at the 2019 NFL Combine in Indianapolis, measuring 6-foot-3 and 229 pounds to go along with a blazing 4.33 in the 40-yard dash. But despite Metcalf’s remarkably impressive athleticism, the wide receiver fell to Day 2 because of concerns regarding his route-running and inconsistent hands, not to mention his less-than-stellar numbers at Ole Miss. With the Seahawks, Metcalf is expected to come in and play a major role offensively, but he’ll need to fix the issues that led to his draft fall and he’ll need to do it quickly. Unlike many on this list, Metcalf faces the pressure of a quick transition — the Seahawks need him at top form early in the season.

5. Greg Little, OT, Carolina Panthers

It’s a critical year in Carolina as new-ish owner David Tepper works to determine who he wants in place moving forward. Needless to say, it will be up to head coach Ron Rivera to stop the “every other year” success that has plagued the organization since their inception, and he’ll attempt to do that on the back of quarterback Cam Newton. But as the saying goes, expectations trickle downhill, and as a result, they will subsequently fall on the shoulders of second-round pick Greg Little. Fair or unfair, the offensive tackle will be considered a key piece along the team’s offensive line. He will be heavily factored in when it comes to Newton’s success and the team’s overall success. Good luck, rookie.

4. Devin White, LB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Buccaneers haven’t exactly been lacking offensively in recent years, and with Bruce Arians taking over in 2019, scoring is likely to become the least of their concerns. The same optimism has not been shared on defense however, as a lack of star power and leadership has plagued Tampa Bay. In the 2019 NFL Draft, the team used six of their eight picks on defenders, including a first-round pick spent on Devin White. As a rookie first rounder, White is not only expected to come in a play a major role, but to step into a leadership role. He is now the team’s focal point defensively and will be expected to play like a veteran on the field and lead like one off the field.

3. Clelin Ferrell, DE, Oakland Raiders

First-round picks are automatically under tremendous amount of pressure. However, when it comes to Clelin Ferrell, that’s compounded because the Raiders took him so much earlier (No. 4) than anyone expected him to go. Mind you, that’s not Ferrell’s fault, but the business side of the NFL will dictate the level of pressure based on draft position, so Ferrell is going to have to get after it in 2019. He’s also going to have to out-perform Montez Sweat, Josh Allen and Brian Burns — all of whom were widely considered more talented players entering the draft — while trying to replace the void left by a Khalil Mack, whom Oakland traded to the Chicago Bears last September.

2. Nick Bosa, DE, San Francisco 49ers

As the second overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, it’s easy to pinpoint Bosa as one of the league’s rookies facing the most pressure this season — Captain Obvious agrees. However, more than just being faced with the pressure to help lead the 49ers’ defense and improve their pass rush, Bosa will be forced to win over the entire city of San Francisco. Due to his history of questionable tweets, the people of San Francisco entered a little dismayed with their newest superstar rookie. Needless to say, Bosa will not only have to perform well on the field, but also to avoid any potential controversy or isolation off of it.

1. Kyler Murray, QB, Arizona Cardinals

Under normal circumstances, the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft enters the league with enormous expectations and the pressure of being a franchise player. But for Kyler Murray, these aren’t normal circumstances. On top of going No. 1, he has the added pressure of knowing that his presence led to the trade of quarterback Josh Rosen, on whom the team spent first-round pick a year earlier. Needless to say, no rookie in this draft class or in recent draft classes has faced more of an uphill battle than Murray does. He has to immediately step in and shine, out-perform Rosen along the way, and prove the Cardinals correct in their gamble.

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