NFL stars carry a lot of pressure into every game because they’re always playing for their future. Some of these athletes deliver on their promise and change the fortunes of a franchise through their performances. They’ve been brilliant and helped their team to win in big spots that the teams’ fans were previously accustomed to them losing in.
However, sometimes franchises pin their hopes on specific players who fail miserably. In this guide, we’ll look at 30 NFL athletes who had a massive influence on the fortunes of their franchises. Check out the list below via Bleacher Report.
30. Evan McPherson
Placekickers aren’t the most obvious candidates to change the fortunes of a franchise. However, McPherson’s displays for the Bengals have been nothing short of outstanding. He’s proven that he’s one of the most clutch players in the league. First, he’s the only player in NFL history to enter the Super Bowl with 40 points on the board (via SBNation).
Meanwhile, the rookie maintained a perfect record throughout the 2021 postseason. This was crucial because the Bengals won their three games by just a single score. This included a game-winning field goal over the Chiefs to win the AFC Conference title. He kicked the team into their first Super Bowl since 1989. The pressure on his shoulders was astounding but he didn’t wilt.
Jones simply hasn’t done enough for the New York Giants. They drafted the quarterback in the first round in 2019. He took over Eli Manning’s mantle in name but hasn’t lived up to his predecessor’s achievements. Several factors have changed the fortunes of the franchise but he’s one of them. His role has coincided with the Giants’ recent decline.
It’s not entirely fair to blame it on him because the front office is a mess. Meanwhile, the Giants run through coaches like a hot knife through butter. His weapons are also unreliable and constantly suffer injuries. However, Jones hasn’t enjoyed a winning record since arriving in New York. It’s disappointing because nobody has faith in him now (via NJ.com).
The Steelers went unbeaten for the first 11 games of the 2020 season. However, they lacked offensive potency and there were questions about Ben Roethlisberger’s declining ability. But their defense was phenomenal because of players like T.J. Watt and Fitzpatrick. The safety arrived from the Miami Dolphins and quickly established himself as one of the team’s leaders.
There won’t be many headlines about Fitzpatrick because of the role he plays. But he’s a crucial piece in the Steelers’ ranks and makes key contributions. He’d walk into almost any team in the league because he’s exceptional. The two-time All-Pro changed the fortunes of his franchise simply by stepping onto the field (via Fansided).
The Niners exceeded expectations in 2021 when they made the NFC Championship Game. They lacked certainty in the quarterback position and were relatively lucky to make the postseason. But their shining light was Samuel because of his remarkable dual threat. The wide receiver also had the qualities of a running back. He became one of the franchise’s most potent attacking weapons (via The Guardian).
Kyle Shanahan deserves credit because he enabled Samuel to play a hybrid role. This was very effective throughout the season and a potential game-changer. Occasionally, an athlete comes along who revolutionizes a style of play. We’ve seen it with rushing quarterbacks and other positions. But Samuel brought something new that fans have never seen before.
Luck was one of the best quarterbacks of his generation. The Colts lucked out when Peyton Manning left and Luck fell into their laps. It was a seamless transition because he was ready to start from the beginning. However, the team never won a Super Bowl with the three-time Pro Bowler but they did make an AFC Championship game (via New York Times).
In the end, Luck changed the fortunes of the franchise with his shocking retirement. He quit the NFL after just seven seasons because he sustained a lot of injuries. Indianapolis failed to protect their star and his body took a lot of hits. Finally, he decided it was too much and walked away. The Colts lost out because they didn’t take care of him and didn’t have a viable starter.
The Raiders bet the house on Russell when they drafted him first overall in 2007. They changed the game when they made him the first overall pick. However, they didn’t do so in a good way. That’s because they offered him a rookie record contract. But Russell completely failed to live up to his potential and went down as one of the biggest busts of all time (via Republic World).
He changed the fortunes of the franchise but not in a positive manner. When a team intends to start their new rookie quarterback they’re making a massive gamble. In the best-case scenario, they’ll transform the team into a winner over a few seasons. But when it doesn’t work the consequences are dire. That was the case for the Raiders because they paid the price.
The Panthers won the lottery in 2011 when they drafted Newton. He changed the fortunes of the franchise with his superb performances. Newton won the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award but he wasn’t a one-season wonder. He blossomed in his sophomore year as he won the overall league MVP award. This was the same season that Carolina made the Super Bowl.
Unfortunately, he didn’t win his ring but his brilliance helped transform the Panthers into a contender. For a few seasons, they had the most exciting dual-threat quarterback in the league. Eventually, injuries took their toll on his body and he went into decline. But they were a serious player in the NFC during his prime. It’s a shame that they failed to maximize this (via Washington Post).
The Jets hunted for another star quarterback in 2018 and settled on Darnold. They made the USC Trojans star the third overall draft pick. Darnold was also extremely young. To put it into perspective, the rookie Joe Burrow was older than third-year Darnold. However, he suffered from a lack of direction in New York. He wasn’t up to the job of a starter (via Yahoo).
Darnold infamously ‘saw ghosts’ in a game against the Patriots. His inability to cope with the NFL wasn’t entirely his fault because the Jets were dysfunctional. However, he lost the faith of the fans and left the franchise in 2021. It was a shame that things didn’t work out because he has talent. But he changed the fortunes of the franchise because they had to rebuild over yet again.
Watt’s best years are behind him but he was brilliant for Houston. There’s a reason his fans even cried after he went to Arizona. He enjoyed 10 years in Texas before he left for the Cardinals (via The42). During this period he helped change the fortunes of the franchise with his never-say-die attitude. He was a three-time Defensive Player of the Year.
The Defensive End inspired his younger brother T.J. because he’s brilliant too. Watt’s ability to sack opponents is remarkable. He remains the only player with over 20 sacks in more than one season. He’s also a great leader and an inspiration off the field. Fans love him because of his total commitment to the community as well as the team.
People always talk about the quarterbacks in winning teams but other players also deserve a mention. It’s even more pronounced when the team in question is the Kansas City Chiefs. After all, Patrick Mahomes is arguably the biggest star in the sport. But other players have contributed significantly in their recent rise to prominence (via Fansided).
Fans have a love-hate relationship with Mathieu. Firstly, the safety is a controversial figure on social media. On the other hand, he’s also a brilliant player. Mathieu played a key role in their successful Super Bowl campaign in 2020. He helped change the fortunes of the franchise alongside more glamorous players like Mahomes. Teams need athletes like Mathieu to be their backbone.
Henry may be the most influential player in the NFL today. The Titans depend heavily on their battering ram of a running back. He’s a true marauder and a defensive line’s worst nightmare. His workload is ridiculous but the Titans can’t afford to rest him. That’s because they lose more games when he isn’t on the field. Their 2021 dip occurred because Henry suffered an injury.
The Titans’ offense runs through Henry. He had over 100 rushing yards more than the second-best runner in the NFL in Week 8 before his injury. The NFL is an ever-evolving league and certain roles fluctuate in terms of relevance. There’s a theory that running backs are less important in the modern game but Henry belies this trend. He’s a force to be reckoned with (via Sportscasting).
The Seattle Seahawks didn’t select Wilson quite as late as the Patriots did with Tom Brady. Nonetheless, not many people expected the third-round pick to evolve into one of his generation’s best quarterbacks. However, Wilson changed the fortunes and mentality of Seattle with his elite QB play. He has a single ring to his name but should have even more (via CBS Sports).
Wilson is an elusive presence on the field with a powerful arm and great accuracy. Some question his ability in the pocket but his accolades speak for themselves. There’s a reason he’s a nine-time Pro Bowler. Some believe that he’s unlucky not to have already won an MVP award. Wilson is quietly consistent and a true franchise quarterback.
The Atlanta Falcons were on course to become one of the strongest franchises in the league. Their franchise quarterback Vick was changing the game with his dual-threat skills. However, their world transformed overnight after the FBI arrested Vick. He was the leader of a dog-fighting ring and went to jail for several years. This was a massive blow to the franchise and changed their fortunes.
In short, it led to a lost season. The Falcons had a lot of problems on and off the field. Bobby Petrino abandoned his post as head coach to take on the Arkansas job. Meanwhile, the team missed Vick’s talent and found him irreplaceable that year. Soon after, they drafted Matt Ryan and all was well again. But this was a massive blow at the time (via Bleacher Report).
Everybody talks about Cam Newton but they forget about this man. Kuechly was a massive factor behind the Panthers’ mid-2010s rise to prominence. The linebacker was a ferocious competitor and one of the best in his position in the league. He was a Pro Bowl selection for seven straight seasons. Kuechly also won the Defensive Player of the Year Award in 2014 (via Sports Illustrated).
His performances also changed the fortunes of his team. Carolina wasn’t competitive for a few years before his arrival. However, he helped them to a Super Bowl appearance as they drastically improved. Yes, Newton’s mesmerizing talent was crucial. But Kuechly was just as important on the other side. He was a key building block for this exciting young team.
Aaron Rodgers earns most of the plaudits as a multiple NFL MVP winner. However, he wouldn’t be where he is today without the talent of Adams. There’s a strong case that the electrifying receiver is the best in his position in the league. He’s certainly up there because he constantly breaks records for the Packers. In 2021, he set a franchise record of 1,553 receiving yards.
He’s also a touchdown machine. Adams earned back-to-back All-Pro selections after a pair of stunning seasons from 2020-21. Green Bay fans dread his potential loss because he’s such an exciting talent. Adams would potentially change the fortunes of any franchise. That’s because he makes quarterbacks’ lives easier (via PFF.com).
Nobody pretends that Stafford is the best quarterback in the NFL, nor claims he is even the Rams’ most exciting player. That honor goes to the electrifying Cooper Kupp. However, the former Lions’ star provided a steady hand in the franchise’s push for a home Super Bowl win in 2021. They traded Jared Goff to Detroit in return for Stafford and it was a wise move (via USA Today).
Stafford is much more aggressive than Goff with his throws downfield. He’s more willing to try risky passes and the likes of Kupp have been beneficiaries. It’s fair to say he changed the fortunes of the franchise by stepping up. Sure, he throws a lot of interceptions too but there’s no denying that his style is paying off. After years of treading water in Detroit, Stafford deserved this move.
Klingler and Akili Smith are two of the worst draft busts in NFL history. They also both played for the Cincinnati Bengals. The franchise has a terrible record when it comes to choosing quarterbacks. Perhaps that’s why they stuck with the average Andy Dalton for so long. They were happy to play it safe because it’s so difficult to find somebody better.
A Heisman contender, Klingler carried a lot of expectations. However, he couldn’t match them as he only played for two seasons with the Bengals. It didn’t help that he replaced the legendary Boomer Esiason. They went into a steep decline just a few years after competing for the Super Bowl. Now Klingler teaches bible study in Texas (via Texas Monthly).
Beckham is a controversial figure because his career hasn’t matched his potential. But he was electric for the Giants in his first three seasons. There’s an argument that he changed the fortunes of the franchise. Beckham was the perfect ambassador for the NFL’s biggest market because he was a true star. His celebrity transcended football but this was also problematic.
It meant that there were a lot of distractions off the field. Meanwhile, the three-time Pro Bowler suffered a lot of injuries. However, he was great when he broke out with the Giants before it went downhill. He failed to ignite Cleveland in the same way but L.A. looks like a good fit for him. Beckham is a phenomenal talent if he can keep it together (via N.Y. Post).
The Browns failed to make the postseason in 2021 but there’s no question that they’ve improved. Fans felt disappointment after the heroics of the previous year. While quarterback Baker Mayfield splits opinions, one athlete unites the Cleveland faithful. Their defensive end Garrett is one of the best in the entire NFL (via The Athletic).
Garrett as well as the likes of Nick Chubb helped to change the fortunes of this franchise. Garrett is a perennial contender for the Defensive Player of the Year award because he’s so consistent. Only four players have more sacks than Garrett in their first 41 games. He’s an exceptional athlete who keeps himself in spectacular condition.
The Chargers changed the fortunes of the franchise with this awful pick. It’s still wild to think that many people believed Leaf had a higher ceiling than Peyton Manning. However, this proved not to be the case and the Chargers suffered the consequences. He was poor on the field and behaved erratically off of it. It’s a shame because he had the potential to be a superstar (via Sportscasting).
Leaf struggled with addictions and only lasted for four seasons in the NFL. Meanwhile, Manning blossomed into one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. Leaf couldn’t match his rival’s achievements and went to jail on multiple occasions after retirement. Fortunately, he turned his life around in recent years and he now works in media as well as with addiction programs.
First, it wasn’t Williams’ fault that Mike Ditka was a lunatic. Ditka was a Super Bowl winner with the Bears but had a short and ill-fated spell in charge of New Orleans. He quickly became infatuated with Williams. The running back had a great season with Texas and Ditka wanted him. However, jaws hit the floor when he traded the Saints’ entire draft for the player (via NBC Sports).
These included the entire 1999 selection as well as the first couple of picks for the following season. This was a massive gamble that failed to pay off. Williams wasn’t the superstar they thought they had. Meanwhile, he changed the fortunes of the franchise because it took them years to restructure. It remains one of the most bemusing pieces of business ever.
Brees was statistically one of the best passers in NFL history. The former Chargers quarterback had a tumultuous time in San Diego. But when he arrived in New Orleans in 2006, he changed the fortunes of the Saints. They were a mediocre franchise before his time but evolved into perennial contenders. Brees raised their standards and became synonymous with the city.
He spent so long in New Orleans that many people forget that he started with the Chargers. Brees won a Super Bowl with the franchise and the acclaim of the nation. He also played a crucial role off the field in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The Big Easy loves Brees and made him one of their own because of his dedication (via 4WWL).
Watt is currently the Pittsburgh Steelers’ most important player. The team acknowledges this because they’ve elected him their MVP for three straight years. They also made him the highest-paid defensive player ever. But Watt’s influence on this franchise is massive. When he doesn’t play, Pittsburgh’s chances of winning shrink dramatically (via Sport Journal).
In 2022, he tied Michael Strahan’s record for most sacks in a season. Sometimes numbers inflate a player’s significance but not in Watt’s case. The outside linebacker is unlucky because he plays in the same era as Aaron Donald. He continues to run his Rams’ rival close in the Defensive Player of the Year votes. But Watt is a brilliant athlete and the Steelers need him.
When a team wastes a first-round draft pick on a quarterback that doesn’t work out, the effects can rumble on for years. Cleveland discovered this after they drafted Manziel. They were already bad but he made them even worse. His attitude was deplorable because he loved partying, never watched tape, and didn’t care about winning. It was remarkable because he was a Heisman Trophy winner. But this didn’t translate into an NFL career.
Manziel only started 14 games for the Browns. He had a 57.0 percent completion rate with only seven touchdowns. However, he had many personal issues and legal problems. In the end, the Browns cut him in 2016 as they admitted defeat. Two years later, they picked Baker Mayfield and finally had a decent starter. But the damage was done (via The Spun).
Brady changed the fortunes of two franchises. First, he helped make the Patriots the biggest powerhouse in NFL history. Then, his departure signaled the end of their iconic dynasty. They immediately went into a transitional period because they lost one of the greatest ever. However, their loss was Tampa Bay’s gain. That’s because he replaced the error-prone Jameis Winston (via Boston Herald).
Suddenly, the Buccaneers were bonafide contenders. Many believed that Brady was too old but he proved them wrong. He had a vintage season in 2020 as he made a mockery of the years. Then, he helped the Buccaneers to a Super Bowl victory over the hyped Kansas City Chiefs. Also, his performance overshadowed Patrick Mahomes in an inspirational display (via Boston Herald).
Every year, teams scramble for the best quarterbacks in the draft. However, most of them fail to deliver and critics question the futility of the search for a franchise QB. But now and then, somebody like Joe Burrow comes along. The LSU star won the Heisman Trophy after one of the best college seasons ever. But this was a poisoned chalice because the Bengals immediately selected him.
Burrow’s rookie season came to an abrupt end after an ACL tear. He was on course to receive a record number of sacks. There were doubts over his ability to return but he responded brilliantly. Burrow’s relationship with wideout Ja’Marr Chase was clinical. In his sophomore year, he inspired the Bengals to their first Super Bowl appearance since 1989 (via Clutchpoints).
Jim Kelly’s shadow hung over the Bills for a long time after he left in 1997. 19 quarterbacks started for Buffalo in the ensuing years before Josh Allen’s arrival. He received a lot of criticism in his first couple of seasons before evolving into a bonafide elite QB in 2020. Allen followed this up with some brilliant displays the next season as his team made the postseason again.
His ability to rush is one of his most notable traits because he’s so explosive. Meanwhile, Allen is ice-cold in the clutch. One clear example came against the Chiefs in the 2021 Divisional Round. Yes, the Bills lost that game but Allen was magnificent throughout. He also had an almost perfect game against the Patriots the previous week. Finally, after two rough decades, Allen changed the fortunes of his franchise.
Linebacker isn’t the most glamorous position on the field but it’s crucial. Lewis proved the significance of it during his 17-year stay with the Baltimore Ravens. That’s because he was one of the best in the business and helped the franchise to a pair of Super Bowl wins. Furthermore, he was a two-time Defensive Player of the Year (via First Post).
Some players are building blocks that help their team take the next step. Many franchises have great offensive units but struggle when the ball comes the other way. Just ask Dan Marino because that’s why he never won a Super Bowl. However, Lewis changed the fortunes of the franchise with his dedication and brilliance.
A three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Donald is a force of nature. He’s one of the best defensive tackles that the NFL has ever seen. Meanwhile, he has a winning mentality to complement his ability. After the Rams won the NFC Championship game, his teammates credited him with a motivational speech to win the game (via L.A. Times).
He changed the fortunes of the franchise by upping the standards of their defensive play. Donald’s statistics are incredible as he continues to produce tackles and sacks like they’re going out of fashion. Furthermore, he improves this team as soon as he steps onto the field. He’s as influential for the Rams as Derrick Henry is for the Titans but in a different capacity.
Mahomes has completely changed the fortunes of the Kansas City Chiefs. Since he became the franchise’s starting quarterback, they’ve been Super Bowl contenders every season. The former Texas Tech star has one ring to his name so far. But his influence in Missouri goes beyond their first win in 50 years.
They made him the highest-paid player in NFL history because of his star power. Meanwhile, Whataburger proved his clout by agreeing to open a franchise in the city after he tweeted them. Mahomes is more than just a generational talent. He’s also a cultural force and is transcending the boundaries of his sport (via Kansas City Magazine).