The NFL is the dream destination for every college football player and football fan alike. However, this dream can turn into a nightmare for many elite athletes for a variety of reasons. Injuries take their toll, they enter a period of terrible form, or their new head coach might just not rate them.
Then they have to endure the media dissecting everything that they do. From veteran quarterbacks who suffer a rapid decline, to young guns who experience sophomore syndrome, the possibilities for disaster are huge. Today we’ll take a look at 25 NFL stars who experienced a nightmare year. This article focuses on the 2019 and 2020 seasons. Check out the list below via Yardbreaker.com.
25. Julian Edelman
With the loss of Tom Brady and several other stars, the Patriots entered a period of transition in 2020. However, Bill Belichick probably expected more from star wide receiver Edelman. The three-time Super Bowl winner is an excellent player and a Patriots legend but the season turned into a nightmare for him. After just six games, he suffered an injury that put him on the sidelines for weeks.
Unfortunately, Edelman performed at a standard much lower than expected of him up to that point. He only caught 60% of targets and demonstrated a capacity for slippery fingers. This significant drop-off and his time out with injury led to lack of valuable. The Patriots look set to miss the playoffs for only the second time since 2002. The team has failed as a whole, but Edelman needs to take some responsibility as a leader.
Vinatieri is sure of a place in the Hall of Fame in the future. But there comes a time where a franchise has to stop being sentimental. A four-time Super Bowl winner, Vinatieri deteriorated dramatically in 2019. At the age of 46, this shouldn’t have come as surprise. Vinatieri looked like a ghost of his former self with more missed kicks than any other time in his career.
The legendary kicker hit just 68 percent of his kicks in 2019 and cost his team a place in the playoffs. That’s not an overstatement because his missed kicks were the difference in three games. The Colts finished 7-9, and if not for Vinatieri had a chance to win the AFC South Division title. It was a nightmare way for his career in Indianapolis to end, but time catches up with everybody.
It’s been a wild and eventful ride for Flacco, but not exactly a fun one. After a drop in performance, the Ravens offloaded the quarterback to the Denver Broncos. They hoped that by obtaining a veteran Super Bowl winner, they could repeat history. However, Flacco couldn’t come close to replicating Peyton Manning’s impact for Denver and missed half of the season an injury. That’s not what he or the Broncos hoped for at all.
The horrible season ended in a nightmare result for Flacco. The Broncos decided to go with Drew Lock as their starter and released the Super Bowl MVP. Flacco then joined the Jets, where he was Sam Darnold’s back-up. Flacco deserves some sympathy here because this edition of the Jets was one of the most depressing teams in NFL history. However, he was a shell of his former shelf for a team that had much higher aspirations in the Broncos.
2019 was an appalling year for the quarterback, who disappointed everybody with his performance. After he helped the L.A. Rams to a Super Bowl appearance, the franchise rewarded him with a blockbuster contract extension. However, he failed to justify that mega-deal with a series of nightmare displays. 22 touchdown passes against 16 picks simply isn’t acceptable for a so-called franchise quarterback.
To be fair, Goff has stabilized his career in 2020, but when an athlete delivers a succession of poor performances following a huge contract extension, they have to be prepared for an eternity of criticism. Goff still throws too many interceptions but at least the Rams’ offense is stronger as an entity. However, Goff is set to remain in the City of Angels thanks to his lucrative deal.
First, Burrow played very well in 2020. Few of the athletes on this list can say that, but the rookie can hold his head up high. Unfortunately for the former LSU standout, his reward for arguably the greatest season in college history was to join the Cincinnati Bengals as their new franchise quarterback. The Heisman winner was game and gave his new team an instant injection of talent and tenacity.
However, he was still a rookie learning his trade in the NFL so it was unfair to place this massive responsibility on him. Second, the Bengals offered him arguably the worst offensive line in the NFl, which resulted in lackluster protection to say the least. Burrow endured a record 72 hits before his season ended early in Week 11 against Washington. He tore his ACL, MCL, and damaged his knee, meaning he could face a nightmare year on the sidelines.
Now with the New York Giants where he spent most of his time on the injury list, Freeman spent six seasons with the Atlanta Falcons. He played just twice in 2018 because of injury but the Falcons had high hopes for him the following season. However, that didn’t turn out to be a great decision because Freeman simply didn’t deliver enough on the field.
Freeman’s output was nowhere near an elite level as he averaged just 41 rushing yards per game. Just six touchdowns and less than 700 total rushing yards contributed to the Falcons’ losing season. Now into a one-year deal with the Giants, he hurt his ankle in week five and could be looking at the end of his career. In sum, the two-time Pro Bowler has failed to deliver upon his rich potential.
It’s been a grim few years for the Green Gang who have shown no direction and no ambition. It looked like they might have actually done something right when they added Bell as a free agent after he departed the Pittsburgh Steelers. If Bell could turn back time he may think twice before joining the Jets, because it was a nightmare ordeal for him.
He rushed for just 789 yards in 2019 with an average of just 3.2 yards per carry. For comparison, he averaged 3.5 yards per carry as a rookie, his previous lowest averaged. Then his relationship with the franchise deteriorated before they released him and he was traded to the Kansas City Chiefs in 2020. The well-stocked Super Bowl champions can’t guarantee him a starting spot because they are so stacked on offense.
In 2020, the Arizona Cardinals mugged the Houston Texans when they traded Johnson along with a couple of draft picks for DeAndre Hopkins and a draft pick. In fact, it’s possibly the most shocking deal in recent NFL history. Hopkins is arguably the best wide receiver in the league, while Johnson is nowhere near the top running back. He didn’t even have much of a good 2019.
The Cardinals laughed all the way back to Arizona because they definitely got the better side of this trade. Johnson rushed for just 345 yards in 2019 alongside 370 receiving yards. He scored six touchdowns throughout the season but was by no means consistent. This disproportionate trade infuriated the Texans’ fans and delighted Arizona supporters. Meanwhile, his 2020 hasn’t been all that great either.
Fowler signed with the Falcons on a lucrative three-year deal worth $45 million in 2019. But since then, he has been unable to play enough games to show what he’s all about. This is the nightmare outcome for any team that invests a substantial amount of money in a single player. At the moment, Fowler looks like a free agent bust, but he does have time to turn his time in Atlanta around and become an important figure for the Falcons.
First, he took time to settle, recording just two quarterback hits and a single sack in four games. Then a combination of injury and illness robbed him of the chance to improve and get a run of consistent form going. The Falcons as a team endured a very tough year with a change of coach. But this definitely wasn’t the introduction to life in Georgia Fowler wanted.
To be fair, Trubisky has bounced back for that he deserves much credit. But it definitely must have hurt him to watch Nick Foles play from Weeks four to 12 for the Chicago Bears. That was the end result of his terrible early-season form after a patchy 2019. Head coach Matt Nagy saw enough to bench him in the third quarter of their third game of the season. But it was the necessary step after an atrocious start to the season.
Trubisky played well in Week 14 against the Houston Texans, throwing three touchdown passes. However, the Bears’ signal-caller still faces an uncertain season because the franchise can’t keep chopping and changing. They just may be in the market for a new quarterback in the 2021 draft but whether or not Trubisky remains in Chicago remains to be seen.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers hoped that Howard would have made much more of an impact than he has managed to do so far, but injuries have curtailed his NFL career so far. The tight end has endured a never-ending nightmare and played just four games in 2020. The previous year saw him bounce back from another serious ankle problem and he didn’t play as well as he wanted.
Howard was starting to come good in 2020 before he suffered a torn Achilles. He was building a good relationship with Tom Brady before the curse struck him again. It’s a shame for the young man because he undoubtedly has talent. Unfortunately, he hasn’t managed to demonstrate his full potential because of a continuous run of bad luck. Football is a cruel sport at times.
Rivers spent 18 seasons with the Los Angeles Chargers before departing for the Indianapolis Colts on a one-year, $25 million contract. However, his final season with the Chargers was not great at all. In fact, it was arguably a nightmare way for him to end his tenure as the franchise’s long-serving quarterback. A loyal servant, Rivers deserved love instead of relief when he walked away.
The veteran even considered retirement after such a disappointing season. His quarterback rating was its lowest since 2016 and his passing accuracy went way down. His diminished standing became even starker with the arrival of Justin Herbert, who lit up the NFL in his debut season. The Oregon Ducks standout put in some sensational performances to ensure Chargers’ fans forget all about Rivers.
In his sophomore year with the New York Giants, Jones has been a turnover machine. His interception rate is higher than any of the other quarterbacks in his class, including Dwayne Haskins and Kyler Murray. Despite this, Jones has not received the same criticism as the likes of Sam Darnold or Carson Wentz. He is no longer a rookie and needs to start showing why the Giants chose so high in the draft.
Meanwhile, Jones has a reputation for being an athletic rushing QB, but even this isn’t enough. He memorably rushed for 80 yards before falling short of the endzone against the Eagles. Luckily, the Giants scored on the drive to save his embarrassment. But overall, he’s largely been ineffective. New York is lucky because they play in a dreadful conference, but Jones is enduring somewhat of a personal nightmare. The main reason New York is contending at all in the laughinstock NFC East is because of their stout defense.
In Week 10 of 2019, against the New York Jets, Barkley carried the ball 13 times for just a single yard. That was one of the worst individual games by a running back in NFL history, but emblematic of his sophomore season. Fans expected great things from Barkley after a superb rookie season, however, he failed to deliver on his promise. It was one of the most disappointing declines of the year.
The signs were there that a more mature Barkley would turn up in 2020 but this was an even bigger nightmare. He tore his ACL in the second game of the season and then, doctors ruled him out for the rest of the year. They also refused to guarantee his return for game one of 2021. It’s been a tough couple of years for the former Offensive Rookie of the Year award winner but hopefully, he will rebound.
Mariota probably didn’t expect his career to go like this. After a superb college career, the Heisman Trophy winner led the Titans to successive playoff appearances. But the former second-overall pick lost his place in 2019 to Ryan Tannehill and had to watch his former backup immediately improved the team. Against the odds, Tannehill earned his place and a new lucrative contract extension.
But for Mariota this was a disaster. A string of poor performances led to Titans coach Mike Vrabel making the tough decision to take the Hawaiian out of the limelight. After completing less than 60 percent of his passes, Mariota wasn’t in a position to complain. At the end of the season, the Las Vegas Raiders signed him to be him the backup to Derek Carr. To sum up, it’s quite the fall from grace.
Darnold is not solely to blame for the Jets’ desperate plight. First and foremost, Adam Gase should pack his bag and take a taxi to La Guardia Airport because it’s just down the road. However, Darnold is producing at an historically low output. He was very poor in his sophomore year but things got even worse in 2020 because he looked totally out of his depth and enjoys little to no support.
But Darnold hasn’t been put in the right environment to succeed at all. He’s like a rabbit in the headlights of a Ford Bronco but the Jets are just so bad that he can’t do anything for them. Even if they tank and draft Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence with the first pick of the draft, the franchise could end just ruining another exciting young star. What a nightmar this is, for Darnold and for Jets fans.
Few players have looked so out of their depth as a starting quarterback than Haskins. He endured a very shaky rookie season before a nightmare start to his sophomore year in 2020. The Washington Football Team enjoyed a rare boost when Alex Smith returned to action after two years out with a life-threatening injury. While it was a blow to Haskins, it may have felt like a relief for the teeam overall because he needed to leave the spotlight.
It’s clear that Ron Rivera never rated Haskins before taking the job as Washington head coach. That’s why he took Haskins out for Kyle Allen before the latter’s horrible week nine ankle injury. Smith is a favorite for Comeback Player of the Year because he literally almost died but came back. Haskins has lost any of the goodwill he ever had.
Whisper it, but Ryan is no longer the force that he once was. There’s no shame in decline at his age, but it does put the Falcons in an awkward position. Do they stick or twist? CBS Sports predicts they’ll take BYU’s Zach Taylor in the draft. Ryan is enduring a rough 2020 after many years of loyal service to the franchise. It’s sad to see but his decision making isn’t the same.
Three costly interceptions against the Chargers are a good example of where Ryan was all season. The problem for the Falcons is that Ryan’s contract is watertight until 2024. They may choose to draft a franchise quarterback for the future and redshirt him, but if Ryan’s decline continues it will turn into a severe nightmare. Nobody enjoys watching their heroes grow old but it happens to every quarterback.
It’s not entirely his fault, but Elliot has experienced a sharp decline in 2020. The Dallas Cowboys superstar was one of the key reasons why the team had Super Bowl ambitions. However, with Dak Prescott’s injury and a spate of other big problems, Elliot has failed to establish any consistency in what has become a nightmare season for Mike McCarthy’s beleaguered outfit.
Because of the saturated market at the position, most running backs are underpaid relative to other positions. However, Elliot enjoys one of the most lucrative RB contracts in the NFL. Derrick Henry has demonstrated what an elite runner can do for a team, but Elliot has provided none of the same impetus for his team in 2020. It’s a shocking decline by a powerhouse player who really should be playing at a much higher level.
The Bengals were horrendous in 2019, going 2-14 with few redeeming qualities. At a first glance, Mixon’s numbers appear surprisingly solid for a running back on such an awful team. However, the reality is that numbers don’t always translate into what actually happens in the game. In truth, Mixon was one of the least efficient players in the entire league that season and was on occasion a detriment to his team.
His performance against the Jacksonville Jaguars in week seven was more than a nightmare. It was statistically one of the four worst in the entire NFL since 2015. Mixon has the ability to turn it on, but he jumps from highs to alarming lows. To be fair, Mixon did improve in 2020 and became more consistent until he got hurt. But that isn’t saying much, because he wasn’t fantastic before that.
One of the biggest disappointments of 2019, Mayfield showed so much promise the season before but failed to live up to it. He had a nightmare season with the Cleveland Browns after failing to lead the franchise anywhere near the postseason as fans hoped. Meanwhile, supreme self-confidence rubbed a lot of people up the wrong way. In fact, many of them considered him arrogant and overrated.
However, a season later, Mayfield and the Browns bounced back to show a lot more than their recent turgid displays. The team is playing a lot better under new coach Kevin Stefanski. Even when they lose, they do so with more heart than before. Browns fans have endured a lot of pain and suffering over the past few decades. Even if they fall short of the playoffs, the team and Mayfield made progress.
In the final year of his contract with the Dallas Cowboys, Prescott sustained a gruesome, season-ending compound fracture only four games into the 2020 season. Furthermore, it looked like he was answering all of his critics. Before his injury, he was on a pace to finish with an unprecedented 6,750 yards. Of course, it’s unlikely he would have got that number, but it shows how blistering his start to the season truly was.
This is also a nightmare for Prescott because it will undoubtedly affect his contract negotiations with the franchise. Will he even be in Dallas next season? The Cowboys endured a terrible season after losing Prescott so surely will understand their star QB’s importance to the franchise. But Carson Wentz has also shown the danger of tying up a signal-caller to a long-term contract.
Newton knows all about a nightmare season. 2019 was an atrocious year for him while 2020 has been extremely strange. Bill Belichick decided to bring the former Carolina Panthers star to New England on a one-year, incentive-based deal as a stop-gap replacement for Tom Brady. First it looked like a great move because Newton started the year with a spring in his step.
However, he then fell victim to the global health crisis. After his return from illness, he was a shadow of his former self. It also appeared that the coaches ordered him to play more of a passing game. This is at odds with Newton’s style as a rushing quarterback. The former NFL MVP said that his season with the Patriots was make-or-break for his career. Unfortunately, the latter looks to be the case as his body appears to be broken.
In 2019, McCaffrey became the highest-paid running back in NFL history. Fans expected a huge output from the most exciting running back in the league, but the Carolina star simply hasn’t been able to show it in 2020. Injuries devastated his season and McCaffrey hasn’t had enough game time to make a sustainable impact for the Panthers. There’s little doubt that his contract will prove to be money well spent, but it’s been a nightmare year.
It’s unfair to say that McCaffrey has disappointed because it’s not his fault that he has suffered so many health problems. But it definitely is a shame that he hasn’t been able to show the skills and flair that make him one of the most exciting skill players in the NFL. Furthermore, the Panthers would have hoped to get more from their star after awarding him such a massive contract.
In one of the startling, rapid transformations in modern NFL history, it’s all turned into a nightmare for Wentz. The Philadelphia Eagles quarterback endured a horrendous 2020 season with some awful performances. After a strong 2019, his deteriorated dramatically the next year. Wentz signed a $128 million extension before his awful year, to make it even more difficult for Eagles’ fans to swallow.
In Week 14, Doug Pederson benched Wentz and sent in rookie second-round pick Jalen Hurts as the team’s starting QB. It was a damning indictment of Wentz’s problems, but the correct decision. The one-time Pro Bowler led the league with 15 interceptions and 19 total turnovers before Pederson’s intervention. Meanwhile, he also took a league-high 50 sacks. Who knows where Wentz will be in 2021, but money will have a massive say for the Eagles, who are in a strange position.