For most players, the NFL stands for “Not For Long.” After all, perhaps more than any other professional sport in the world, the NFL is all about recent performance. Fortunes change quickly; today’s superstar could be tomorrow’s has-been. In some cases, talented players even become the “never was.”
Every year we see quality players simply run out of time. Sometimes it’s due to injury, other times it’s due to circumstance, but it’s always a possibility.
With that in mind, here is a look at five NFL players who are running out of time to prove themselves.
5. Evan Engram, TE, New York Giants
Evan Engram may have been named to the Pro Bowl in 2020, but do not let that fool you. The 2017 first-round pick arguably had the worst season of his professional career. Even he admits he’d like to discard it. The reasons why are both evident and abundant; Engram was marred by inconsistency that almost bordered on the absurd. Case in point: a Week 6 drop against the Philadelphia Eagles in the final moments that not only cost the Giants a win, but potentially cost them the NFC East down the line. Now entering the final (option) year of his career, it’s time for Engram to prove he can be the dynamic and consistent mismatch so many believe he can be. If not, his time in East Rutherford will likely be over.
4. Rock Ya-Sin, CB, Indianapolis Colts
Rock Ya-Sin has a ton of potential. There’s no other way to put it, and few would argue with that fact. But potential and production are two different things. Over the first two seasons of his NFL career, the 2019 second-round pick has not at all lived up to his billing. As a rookie, Ya-Sin allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 69.7 percent of their passes when throwing in his direction. He did better in Year 2 but still not great, allowing a completion percentage of 67.2. He’s also recorded just two interceptions while allowing five touchdown passes. Oh, and did we mention his propensity for game-changing penalties? Perhaps more than anything else, that’s been a serious concern for the Colts. Now entering Year 3, the clock is ticking on Ya-Sin, who will have to earn a spot on the roster as part of a battle for the CB3 spot.
3. Sam Darnold, QB, Carolina Panthers
Sam Darnold is an interesting name for this list. His trade from the New York Jets to the Carolina Panthers added slightly more time to his clock. That is, of course, if he shows some level of improvement this coming season. If he doesn’t, and he continues to play as poorly as he did in East Rutherford at times, Matt Rhule may not risk hitching his wagon to the 24-year-old, when the coach’s job potentially would be on the line. The good news for Darnold is that Carolina’s offensive roster is much more talent-rich than the Jets’ had been. That should provide Darnold with the opportunity to improve. The bad news is that if he doesn’t show progress with a much better stable of players around him, there are no more excuses, and time would have essentially run out.
2. N’Keal Harry, WR, New England Patriots
N’Keal Harry was going to be on this list even prior to his recent trade demands, which don’t exactly take any of the pressure off. If anything, Harry has only added to the level of pressure he faces in 2021 because of the trade demands. If he isn’t moved and remains in New England, Harry’s uphill battle becomes even steeper. If he is moved, he will face the added pressure of having to make the investment worth it for whomever the acquiring team may be. That’s what comes along with being an underperforming first-round pick who now, indirectly, is blaming the poor performance on an organization and system that has produced countless Pro Bowlers, All-Pros and Super Bowl champions. 414 yards and four touchdowns over two seasons of work simply isn’t going to get it done.
1. Daniel Jones, QB, New York Giants
That’s right, we’re going with two members of the Giants on this list. Very few would argue that they don’t belong here. If you didn’t think Evan Engram belonged on this list, you most certainly think Daniel Jones does. After an impressive rookie campaign — one that was still hindered by turnovers — Jones took a statistical step back in 2020. He did improve upon his turnover numbers in more games, but he struggled to get the ball into the end zone, tossing just 11 touchdowns for one of the league’s worst offenses. How much of that was the fault of offensive coordinator Jason Garrett or due to the loss of running back Saquon Barkley? Or the severe injury Jones sustained and then played through? It doesn’t really matter, because if Jones does not put it all together in Year 3, the Giants will likely use one of their two first-round picks in 2022 on a new rookie quarterback.