The NFL training camp cycle is upon us, and journalists and fans alike are kicking away the stool they’d propped their feet up on to get down to business. Football is back, and all will soon become right in the world, aside from the unfortunate injuries that will occur during the camp cycle. But there are a few NFL teams and players with a lot to lose with poor performances during camp.
5 Players and Teams With the Most To Lose During NFL Training Camp
There are benefits to being a former No. 1 pick, and there are certain advantages to having your organization sell the farm to acquire you at No. 3 overall in the NFL Draft. Baker Mayfield and Trey Lance couldn’t be much more dissimilar in play style or background, but each is fighting to turn around what, to this point, has been a disappointing start to their careers.
Meanwhile, the Kansas City Chiefs could be missing the beating heart of their defense if they can’t get their money right. Kyler Murray’s recovery timetable, meanwhile, could impact his not-so-distant future with the Arizona Cardinals, and Justin Fields must show significant growth as a passer to quell long-term concerns about his viability as a franchise QB.
Baker Mayfield Must Win the Buccaneers’ Starting Job
Mayfield was the first overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. And while he has certainly not proven himself a long-term franchise option, the deck has been relatively stacked against him.
Let’s not forget, he’s a huge reason the Cleveland Browns won 11 games in 2020 and won Cleveland’s first playoff game since 1994. But nothing is the same as it once was.
In Week 2 of the 2021 NFL season, Mayfield injured his shoulder, and now, he’s on his fourth team in three seasons. Playing through the shoulder injury proved the toughness Mayfield possesses, but it hindered his mechanics to a point where his bad habits became the norm, and his efficiency plummeted.
Now, the former top pick is battling for a starting job in Tampa Bay against Kyle Trask. If Mayfield is unable to secure the Buccaneers’ starting job, there’s no situation across the league that looks good for him going forward as a starter.
Kyler Murray’s Recovery Could Seal His Fate With the Cardinals
There is no denying Murray’s natural physical talents. He’s still the freeze tag champion with a weaponized right arm, but that alone will not save him from suffering the same fate as his predecessor, Josh Rosen.
Steve Keim and Kliff Kingsbury are no more. Monti Ossenfort has power-washed the roster away and acquired more 2024 NFL Draft capital than Jeff Bezos has dollars in his several bank accounts. The Arizona Cardinals organization is in the infancy of a rebuild, and if Murray can’t return sooner rather than later, Arizona could end up once again having the top pick in the NFL Draft.
In most years, even this might not change things. But given Murray’s… leadership questions… and the perceived value Caleb Williams and Drake Maye seem to have among NFL and media circles, it shouldn’t surprise anyone to see Murray in a new uniform next season if the Cardinals are in a position to unload as much of his contract as possible and build from the ground up.
The Kansas City Chiefs Need Chris Jones
Aaron Donald’s legend kept him at the top of the defensive tackle rankings, but there’s no denying that Chris Jones was the best interior defender in the NFL a season ago.
Jones’ 77 pressures were good for fifth in the NFL, and he added another 20 in just three postseason games. Additionally, only Miami’s Christian Wilkins played more regular-season snaps on the defensive interior, and when including playoff football, Jones ended up at over 1,000 defensive snaps.
It’s impossible to overstate how important it is for Steve Spagnuolo and the Chiefs to have Jones on the field. He’s their engine. The attention and production Jones brings makes the jobs of his teammates that much easier. On top of all that, he’s still somehow grossly underrated as a run defender.
Without Jones, the Chiefs put a ton of pressure on second-year rushers George Karlaftis, rookie Felix Anudike-Uzomah, and free agent addition Charles Omenihu to consistently collapse pockets.
Kansas City has enough talent to survive the regular season as AFC West champions — with or without Jones. But getting the top seed and securing the bye is more critical than ever. In a ferociously contested AFC, that would be a tall task, even with arguably the most talented QB of all time.
Trey Lance Must Outduel Sam Darnold at 49ers’ Training Camp
It was always going to take Lance time to materialize at the NFL level. He was an inexperienced college quarterback from an FCS powerhouse that ran what was once an “NFL-style offense,” but one that is from a bygone era at this point.
The North Dakota State product was ready as a rookie and tragically broke his ankle in the second week of last season. He then watched Brock Purdy steal the show as he rehabbed.
Lance has a ton to gain during training camp if he has improved his mechanics enough to be locked in as a passer. Purdy won’t return for an unknown amount of time as he continues to come back from a UCL injury, and a good showing could create a fun QB battle storyline in San Francisco.
But the San Francisco 49ers went out and added Sam Darnold in the offseason to create even more competition at the position. Darnold — like his draftmate Mayfield — has not been in a situation so conducive to success in his five years as an NFL player. The Adam Gase-led Jets were a dumpster fire, and the Carolina Panthers weren’t ready to compete either.
Lance needs to leave no doubt that, at the very least, he’s the second-best QB on the 49ers’ roster during training camp.
Justin Fields Must Look Sharp Running the Quick Game
The Chicago Bears’ roster disintegrated last season. The defense was a tattered shell of the once-vaunted unit that dominated just a few seasons ago with Mitch Trubisky playing under center. And while the Bears didn’t break the bank with the same aggression as the Jaguars had the offseason prior, the situation surrounding Fields is positively unrecognizable.
Expectations are high. Of all the quarterbacks who can run at a high level, Fields has the most natural talent as a passer. His intermediate game is ridiculous. It’s why he was so insanely productive at Ohio State playing behind a great OL with outrageously talented receivers. The situation helped, but Fields’ accuracy in the 10-20-yard range is special.
However, the NFL is a different world. Quarterbacks must either play in a system that completely insulates them with play-action and/or RPOs, or they must be outstanding in their operation of the quick passing attack.
There will almost certainly be elements of Shane Steichen’s offense that gets stolen tactically acquired by teams like the Bears. But how Chicago attacks through the air underneath will come down to how comfortable Fields has become with quick concepts versus RPOs. Although they both require instantaneous decision-making, they are very different processes.
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