NFL

NFL 2021: Darnold, Wentz and Nagy among players and coaches facing make-or-break years

By Sports Desk September 08, 2021

There will be plenty of nerves around NFL locker rooms this week, with career-altering seasons lying ahead.

Many players will get second chances if the coming year does not go as planned, but some will not.

In a league where there are only 32 starting berths for quarterbacks and a further 32 openings for head coaches, the competition is brutal.

Coming off testing campaigns, Stats Perform picks out the QBs and coaches who cannot afford another slip-up in a make-or-break 2021.

Sam Darnold

New Carolina Panthers QB Darnold is still just 24, but so poor were the former third overall pick's performances across three years in New York that the Jets moved him on to take Zach Wilson with the second selection in 2021.

In Darnold's third and final miserable season with the Jets, he threw just nine touchdowns to 11 interceptions – numbers that could have been even worse as he threw 22 pickable passes, his pickable pass percentage of 6.51 the fifth-worst among QBs with 100 or more attempts.

Only the run-heavy Baltimore Ravens averaged fewer net passing yards than the Jets last year (174.8 per game), a metric in which the Panthers ranked a mediocre 18th led by Teddy Bridgewater.

If Darnold cannot even reach those standards, his career as a leading man could be over already. Of course, Carolina start against Wilson and the Jets.

Daniel Jones

Playing in the same city as Darnold, Jones might have got off a little lightly. He is after all eight days older than Darnold, albeit he came into the league a year later.

There were signs of promise for the New York Giants in 2019, but Jones has not progressed as hoped. The clock is ticking, with opportunities elsewhere likely to be scarce given he was a surprise pick at number six two years ago.

Sacked 45 times in 2020, Jones might argue he has lacked protection from a poor Giants offensive line.

Sadly, the QB has looked best running for his life, averaging a league-leading 9.70 yards when the designated ball-carrier – and a slightly above average 4.62 when scrambling – but still scoring only a single rushing TD last year.

Kliff Kingsbury

Appointed in 2019 and handed first overall pick Kyler Murray, Kingsbury's first task in Arizona was to make the Cardinals more effective and exciting on offense – something he achieved by delivering the second-highest season-to-season improvement in total net yards in franchise history (+1,602).

But the Cards still finished last in the NFC West with only five wins, missing the playoffs for the fourth successive season. A further year down the line, that drought is ongoing thanks to a desperate 2020 collapse from 6-3 to finish 8-8.

With the talent on this team, 2021 needs to bring tangible results. Failure to deliver again could spell trouble for Kingsbury or general manager Steve Keim – an unenviable position to be in at the helm of still the worst team in football's best division.

Carson Wentz

Wentz is slightly different to the other names on this list in that he has enjoyed success in the NFL already. A Week 14 ACL tear in 2017 meant he watched the Philadelphia Eagles' Super Bowl win from the sidelines, but his 33 passing TDs had already set a franchise record.

Those performances felt a long way away in an awful 2020 campaign, though. Statistically, he could hardly have been worse.

Wentz threw a joint-high 15 picks and led the way with 28 pickable passes, making up 6.78 per cent of his attempts while just 68.8 per cent were accurate, well-thrown balls – a league low among QBs with 100 or more passes. Given he also lost 326 yards to his NFL-leading 50 sacks, there was very little that went well when Wentz had the ball in his hands.

The 28-year-old is now on the Indianapolis Colts, reunited with the man who helped inspire his superb 2017 campaign in Frank Reich, but has already suffered with a foot injury and a COVID bout. With Reich as his head coach, Wentz has to return a better player or his days as a starter in this league are done.

Matt Nagy

The mood music around Chicago is not great heading into the new season. The arrival of Justin Fields in the 2021 draft should provide cause for optimism, but it appears unlikely the rookie will play right away to the frustration of fans.

Mitchell Trubisky is at least gone after a dismal run as the Bears' QB – last year comparable to Wentz by a number of advanced metrics but also averaging a below-par 7.94 air yards – but coach Nagy is starting with Andy Dalton, rather than Fields.

Nagy is also calling plays again, having given up that duty as the offense failed last year.

There has been plenty wrong on that side of the ball for the Bears in recent years, but Nagy is running out of excuses. Either his approach has to work or he must adapt fast.

Jameis Winston

Nobody on this list can be as motivated as Winston, who must have feared he had already used up his NFL lives as he watched the versatile Taysom Hill fill in for Drew Brees last season. Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Winston's former team, won the Super Bowl.

But the erratic deep passer has won the New Orleans Saints' starting job ahead of Hill this year. His haphazard style might have to change if he is to keep the role, however.

Winston threw 33 TD passes in 2019, but he also had 30 interceptions – that combination a league first. His 10.70 air yards ranked second, yet 46 pickable passes led the NFL by some distance.

His play is at complete odds to the safer approach from the retired Brees, who last year threw to an open target with 81.8 per cent of his attempts and dispatched an accurate, well-thrown ball 81.0 per cent of the time but only averaged 6.41 air yards.

As in Tampa, Winston should be fun to watch. As in Tampa, he will do well to stick around... and a third chance feels unlikely.

Related items

  • McVay rues 'self-inflicted wounds' as Rams fall to 49ers McVay rues 'self-inflicted wounds' as Rams fall to 49ers

    Sean McVay accepted he made "some bad play calls" and declared the Los Angeles Rams brought defeat upon themselves as they fell to the San Francisco 49ers.

    Monday night's 24-9 loss saw the Rams fail to capitalise on several touchdown opportunities, with McVay pointing to "self-inflicted wounds".

    San Francisco's Deebo Manuel caught six passes for 115 yards and a highlight-reel touchdown, and when the Rams were still in the game, at 17-9 in arrears, quarterback Matthew Stafford was intercepted by Talanoa Hufanga. That pick-six summed up the Rams' night.

    "I liked the way our guys battled, they competed and got it to a one-possession game," said McVay.

    "But the story of the night from an offensive perspective was self-inflicted wounds, above-the-neck errors where we're not doing things we're capable of, and I expect us to be better than that.

    "Defensively, I know we continue to battle, we gave ourselves a chance. We can tackle better, you credit them for making the plays, and I thought special teams hung tough, but overall we didn't do enough to win the football game.

    "I'm not going to make any excuses. We've got to play better. A lot of it was just things where guys we were counting on didn't do what they were supposed to do."

    McVay took his share of the blame, saying: "I put us in some bad spots.

    "However you want to cut it, we have to be better collectively, coaches and players.  There's no other way around it and no way I know how to fix it other than go back to work."

    The Rams will face the Dallas Cowboys, who are on a three-game winning streak, in Week 5.

    "Everybody needs to be able to look inward," said McVay. "In the red area, to have three good drives and only come away with nine points in a game that was a back-and-forth battle like that, that ended up being the difference.

    "And when you do make it a one-possession game and you've got some momentum, a couple of game first downs and we throw an interception for a touchdown on a screen, those are the things that don't help you win games."

  • Lionesses captain Williamson to miss United States clash Lionesses captain Williamson to miss United States clash

    England captain Leah Williamson will miss Friday's friendly against the United States at Wembley after sustaining an injury in training.

    Williamson, who led Sarina Wiegman's team to a remarkable European Championship triumph in July, requires further assessment on the unspecified injury.

    Fellow Euro 2022 winners Lotte Wubben-Moy and Nikita Parris have been added to England's squad, the Football Association said, with West Ham defender Lucy Parker withdrawing through injury. Former skipper Steph Houghton remains out of the picture for now, but Wiegman has said the door remains open to her.

    The sell-out clash with the reigning world champions will represent a stern test of England's credentials ahead of next year's World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.

    England have picked up just two victories in their last 16 meetings with the USA in all competitions (D2 L12), failing to win any of their last four such games since a 2017 victory in the SheBelieves Cup.

    However, England are still yet to lose under Wiegman, winning 20 of their 22 matches since she took charge last year, scoring a total of 118 goals.

    England will head to Brighton and Hove Albion's AMEX Stadium to host the Czech Republic next Tuesday after facing the USA.

  • 'We've got a lot of people who care' – Wilkins confident in Dolphins' protocols after Tagovailoa concussion 'We've got a lot of people who care' – Wilkins confident in Dolphins' protocols after Tagovailoa concussion

    Christian Wilkins is content with the level of care shown by the Miami Dolphins' staff after the team was heavily criticised following Tua Tagovailoa's head injury.

    Tagovailoa has been ruled out of the Dolphins' game against the New York Jets in Week 5 after sustaining a concussion in last Thursday's loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.

    The Dolphins have come under scrutiny for allowing the quarterback to feature in that game after he suffered a head injury in week three against the Buffalo Bills.

    In that game, Tagovailoa missed just three snaps after his helmet slammed into the turf following a tackle from Matt Milano, despite appearing groggy and losing his balance in the aftermath of the incident.

    While Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel has insisted concussion protocols were followed correctly, the NFL and National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) conducted a joint review of how the decision was made to allow Tagovailoa to return against the Bengals.

    Asked whether he felt the Dolphins demonstrated a duty of care towards their players, defensive tackle Wilkins said: "Oh, absolutely, yeah. We've got a great training staff. 

    "We've got great coaches, people who care about the players on this team, and our health and safety, our personal lives, all that stuff. 

    "This is our home away from home, so we've got a lot of people who care and it's bigger than just football around here and winning games.

    "There's a process to how things need to be handled and need to be done, and there's protocols in place for a reason – to protect the players."

    With Teddy Bridgewater set to replace Tagovailoa against the Jets, Wilkins said the Dolphins' "next man up mentality" will help them cope without their starting QB.

    "That's obviously tough to see and tough to deal with, but we all had each other's backs. We all had Tua's back and just wishing him well," he added.

    "A lot of guys were praying for him and things like that, obviously. He's better now, so we're all happy for that and that he’s feeling better and that he's himself and he's around here. 

    "He's being himself and Tua and bringing great energy. So that's obviously the most important thing.

    "Tua is a heck of a player. He's a big part of our team and obviously a great leader and a great team-mate. But fortunately for us, we have a lot of great players, a lot of good team-mates. 

    "Other guys have just got to step up, other guys got to do their job, and we'll be just fine from that standpoint. 

    "We're definitely going to have to come together as a team and just do our jobs, do what we do. It's the next man up mentality and we'll just handle our business."

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.