Ten NFL players under the most pressure in 2010

Every year, every NFL player faces a certain degree of pressure. Every year, some face more than others. Ten players will begin the 2010 season with more pressure than the average guy who earns a living playing football. Here’s the list:

Titans running back Chris Johnson rushed for 2,006 yards during last year's regular season.
Titans running back Chris Johnson rushed for 2,006 yards during last year’s regular season.

Chris Johnson, Titans RB

Ordinarily, a guy who has rushed for more than 2,000 yards doesn’t face much pressure the next year, primarily because no one expects him to meet or exceed his accomplishments. Johnson, however, has pulled no punches; he repeatedly has said he plans to rush for 2,500 yards in the coming season, which would shatter the single-season record by nearly 400 yards.

And so Johnson has welcomed the pressure of averaging more than 156 yards per game. One bad showing would upend his quest, thereby making him look like just another athlete who can run his mouth and not back it up.

Tom Brady, Patriots QB

A year removed from a major knee injury, Brady presided over an up-and-down campaign that resulted in a division title, followed by a prompt exit from the playoffs via a thumping from the Ravens.

In 2010, Brady enters the final year of his contract. To cash in come 2011, he needs to continue to play at a high level despite a somewhat diminished depth chart on offense.

More importantly, he needs to stay healthy.

If he fails on either front, that huge-dollar deal everyone assumes he’ll be getting may not happen.

Mark Sanchez, Jets QB

With the Jets already laying claim to the Super Bowl 45 trophy, everyone faces crippling pressure to deliver.

And arguably the weakest link in the chain plays the most important position.

Sanchez struggled through long stretches of his rookie year, and he missed much of the offseason practices as he continued to rehab a knee injury. Still, many assume he’ll simply step up his game and become good enough to lead the Jets to a championship.

Maybe he will, but that assumption places a ton of pressure on Sanchez.

Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers QB

For the first time in recent memory, extended memory, and perhaps ever, a starting NFL quarterback will be prevented from playing despite being completely healthy. And so when Roethlisberger returns from his suspension, the pressure will land squarely on his shoulders to immediately play at a high level again.

The fact that the Steelers are giving him extended reps during training camp means Byron Leftwich and/or Dennis Dixon won’t be as prepared as they could be to replace Roethlisberger, which means the Steelers will be more likely to lose one or more of the four (or six) games Roethlisberger misses. And there will be even more pressure on Roethlisberger to win games once he returns.

Kevin Kolb, Eagles QB

With Donovan McNabb out of Philly, the job falls to Kolb. Though he became the first quarterback in league history to start his career with consecutive 300-yard games, Kolb now will have to face the challenge of defensive coordinators game-planning for him, a process that tends to catch up with first-time starting quarterbacks after five or six games, when enough film has been generated to allow weaknesses to be identified and exploited.

And he’ll have to do it with one of the most vocal and demanding fan bases in all of sport watching his every move.

If Kolb performs well, he will have managed to shrug off some incredibly significant pressure.

Adrian Peterson, Vikings RB

But for multiple untimely fumbles last season from Peterson, the Vikings arguably would have been the team visiting the White House instead of the Saints. Regardless of the reason — and it currently appears to be a combination of recklessness in holding the ball while fighting for an extra yard or two and knowledge on the part of opposing defenses that there’s merit in trying to punch it out — Peterson’s inability to secure the ball has compromised the team’s interest, dramatically.

In 2010, he must find a way to balance his desire to score on every play with the importance of keeping the ball in his team’s possession.

Meanwhile, he needs to have the kind of season that will reconfirm his status as one of the top running backs in the game.

Antonio Cromartie, Jets CB

Perhaps Cromartie was destined to join the Jets. What else would explain his chronic refusal to attempt to tackle any member of the team’s offense while playing against the Jets in the 2009 playoffs?

In 2010, Cromartie needs to prove that 2008 and 2009 were aberrations, and that his Pro Bowl performance in 2007 reflects his true abilities.

And he may have to do so as the No. 1 corner in New York, assuming Darrelle Revis continues to hold out.

Alex Smith, 49ers QB

Five years after becoming the first overall pick in the draft and earning the starting job in San Francisco and losing it and getting it back, Smith finally is down to his last chance.

In his sixth year, Smith needs to lead the 49ers through a mediocre NFC West and push a team with a stout defense and a potent running game to the postseason.

If he fails, it’ll be time for Smith to start scouting depth charts in the UFL.

Matt Leinart, Cardinals QB

Quietly, the Cardinals’ starter-turned-backup-turned-starter is entering his fifth NFL season. He threw 377 passes as a rookie and has attempted only 218 since then.

With Kurt Warner, who bounced Leinart to the bench for the past two seasons, now gone, Leinart gets his last chance to show he can lead an NFL team.

So for the same reasons that Alex Smith is facing his final chance, Leinart is chewing on the last straw of his career.

Drew Brees, Saints QB

The Saints’ starting quarterback has become a great passer and an even better leader. This year, he’ll have to recapture the attention of a band of brothers who have been partying through an extended victory lap, which finally culminated earlier this week in a trip to the White House, more than a week into training camp.

It won’t be easy. With 31 other franchises wanting to do what the Saints have just accomplished and more than a few of the Saints surely feeling a little complacent and/or disinterested when it comes to achieving the ultimate team goal, Brees needs to get them to forget about 2009 and focus on 2010.

Riding on his ability to do it is the question of whether he can parlay a Super Bowl win in his ninth NFL season into a Hall of Fame resume.

Mike Florio writes and edits ProFootballTalk.com and is a regular contributor to Sporting News. Check out PFT for up-to-the minute NFL news.

Every year, every NFL player faces a certain degree of pressure. Every year, some face more than others. Ten players will begin the 2010 season with more pressure than the average guy who earns a living playing football. Here’s the list:

Titans running back Chris Johnson rushed for 2,006 yards during last year's regular season.
Titans running back Chris Johnson rushed for 2,006 yards during last year’s regular season.

Chris Johnson, Titans RB

Ordinarily, a guy who has rushed for more than 2,000 yards doesn’t face much pressure the next year, primarily because no one expects him to meet or exceed his accomplishments. Johnson, however, has pulled no punches; he repeatedly has said he plans to rush for 2,500 yards in the coming season, which would shatter the single-season record by nearly 400 yards.

And so Johnson has welcomed the pressure of averaging more than 156 yards per game. One bad showing would upend his quest, thereby making him look like just another athlete who can run his mouth and not back it up.

Tom Brady, Patriots QB

A year removed from a major knee injury, Brady presided over an up-and-down campaign that resulted in a division title, followed by a prompt exit from the playoffs via a thumping from the Ravens.

In 2010, Brady enters the final year of his contract. To cash in come 2011, he needs to continue to play at a high level despite a somewhat diminished depth chart on offense.

More importantly, he needs to stay healthy.

If he fails on either front, that huge-dollar deal everyone assumes he’ll be getting may not happen.

Mark Sanchez, Jets QB

With the Jets already laying claim to the Super Bowl 45 trophy, everyone faces crippling pressure to deliver.

And arguably the weakest link in the chain plays the most important position.

Sanchez struggled through long stretches of his rookie year, and he missed much of the offseason practices as he continued to rehab a knee injury. Still, many assume he’ll simply step up his game and become good enough to lead the Jets to a championship.

Maybe he will, but that assumption places a ton of pressure on Sanchez.

Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers QB

For the first time in recent memory, extended memory, and perhaps ever, a starting NFL quarterback will be prevented from playing despite being completely healthy. And so when Roethlisberger returns from his suspension, the pressure will land squarely on his shoulders to immediately play at a high level again.

The fact that the Steelers are giving him extended reps during training camp means Byron Leftwich and/or Dennis Dixon won’t be as prepared as they could be to replace Roethlisberger, which means the Steelers will be more likely to lose one or more of the four (or six) games Roethlisberger misses. And there will be even more pressure on Roethlisberger to win games once he returns.

Kevin Kolb, Eagles QB

With Donovan McNabb out of Philly, the job falls to Kolb. Though he became the first quarterback in league history to start his career with consecutive 300-yard games, Kolb now will have to face the challenge of defensive coordinators game-planning for him, a process that tends to catch up with first-time starting quarterbacks after five or six games, when enough film has been generated to allow weaknesses to be identified and exploited.

And he’ll have to do it with one of the most vocal and demanding fan bases in all of sport watching his every move.

If Kolb performs well, he will have managed to shrug off some incredibly significant pressure.

Adrian Peterson, Vikings RB

But for multiple untimely fumbles last season from Peterson, the Vikings arguably would have been the team visiting the White House instead of the Saints. Regardless of the reason — and it currently appears to be a combination of recklessness in holding the ball while fighting for an extra yard or two and knowledge on the part of opposing defenses that there’s merit in trying to punch it out — Peterson’s inability to secure the ball has compromised the team’s interest, dramatically.

In 2010, he must find a way to balance his desire to score on every play with the importance of keeping the ball in his team’s possession.

Meanwhile, he needs to have the kind of season that will reconfirm his status as one of the top running backs in the game.

Antonio Cromartie, Jets CB

Perhaps Cromartie was destined to join the Jets. What else would explain his chronic refusal to attempt to tackle any member of the team’s offense while playing against the Jets in the 2009 playoffs?

In 2010, Cromartie needs to prove that 2008 and 2009 were aberrations, and that his Pro Bowl performance in 2007 reflects his true abilities.

And he may have to do so as the No. 1 corner in New York, assuming Darrelle Revis continues to hold out.

Alex Smith, 49ers QB

Five years after becoming the first overall pick in the draft and earning the starting job in San Francisco and losing it and getting it back, Smith finally is down to his last chance.

In his sixth year, Smith needs to lead the 49ers through a mediocre NFC West and push a team with a stout defense and a potent running game to the postseason.

If he fails, it’ll be time for Smith to start scouting depth charts in the UFL.

Matt Leinart, Cardinals QB

Quietly, the Cardinals’ starter-turned-backup-turned-starter is entering his fifth NFL season. He threw 377 passes as a rookie and has attempted only 218 since then.

With Kurt Warner, who bounced Leinart to the bench for the past two seasons, now gone, Leinart gets his last chance to show he can lead an NFL team.

So for the same reasons that Alex Smith is facing his final chance, Leinart is chewing on the last straw of his career.

Drew Brees, Saints QB

The Saints’ starting quarterback has become a great passer and an even better leader. This year, he’ll have to recapture the attention of a band of brothers who have been partying through an extended victory lap, which finally culminated earlier this week in a trip to the White House, more than a week into training camp.

It won’t be easy. With 31 other franchises wanting to do what the Saints have just accomplished and more than a few of the Saints surely feeling a little complacent and/or disinterested when it comes to achieving the ultimate team goal, Brees needs to get them to forget about 2009 and focus on 2010.

Riding on his ability to do it is the question of whether he can parlay a Super Bowl win in his ninth NFL season into a Hall of Fame resume.

Mike Florio writes and edits ProFootballTalk.com and is a regular contributor to Sporting News. Check out PFT for up-to-the minute NFL news.

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