National Football League
Five players facing most pressure in 2024: Can Bryce Young bounce back?
National Football League

Five players facing most pressure in 2024: Can Bryce Young bounce back?

Published Jul. 2, 2024 1:12 p.m. ET

We are a few weeks from NFL training camps kicking off, but several players enter 2024 facing immense pressure to perform at a high level. Despite securing big contracts or earning Pro Bowl honors in the past, a handful of players need to play at an elite level to quiet the noise from a growing crowd of naysayers picking apart their games. 

From skeptical scouts and executives wondering where these players fit on the open market to rabid fan bases expecting Hall of Fame-caliber production from designated star players, the football world is paying close attention to how these five standouts perform this season. Here are five players facing the most pressure in 2024: 

Deshaun Watson, QB, Cleveland Browns

It is time for the three-time Pro Bowler to prove to the "Dawg Pound" that he is a difference-maker for a team with Super Bowl aspirations. Since inking a blockbuster deal that revolutionized the quarterback market with $230 million in full guarantees on a five-year contract, Watson has compiled an 8-4 record while missing significant parts of each season due to suspensions or injuries. His dismal performance and production (59.8% completion rate, 14:9 touchdown-to-interception ratio, 81.7 passer rating, and 181.8 pass yards per game) throughout his term has led to concerns about his ability to compete at an elite level. Considering Joe Flacco's success running the offense after spending most of 2023 on his couch, the pressure is on Watson to regain his Pro Bowl form to validate the hefty deal the Browns handed him a few seasons ago. 


Brian Burns, EDGE, New York Giants

Whenever a player signs a top-of-the-market deal that nearly eclipses the No. 1 player at the position, all eyes are on the "new" money maker to see if he can play up to expectations as a franchise player. As a sack artist with 46 career sacks in 80 games, including just one season with 10-plus sacks (12.5 in 2022), Burns will see his game compared to Nick Bosa and others after joining the "$30 Million Club" as the premier pass rusher on the open market. Moreover, the one-time Pro Bowler will step into the house that Lawrence Taylor and Michael Strahan built and is expected to produce like a future gold jacket player. With a stellar supporting cast around him that includes an All-Pro interior defender (Dexter Lawrence) and young, dynamic edge rusher (Kayvon Thibodeaux), Burns must dominate from Day 1 as the Giants' designated pass rusher facing a steady diet of one-on-one opportunities on the edge.

Stefon Diggs, WR, Houston Texans 

The ultra-productive pass catcher is on his third team despite earning numerous honors and accolades as an accomplished WR1 with a polished game. Diggs has posted six 1,000-yard seasons in his nine-year career, but he joins a team with a pair of emerging pass catchers with big play potential. The crowded WR room thrived under the previous pecking order, with Nico Collins leading the way and Tank Dell and Dalton Schultz making their mark as key role players. With the veteran accustomed to playing the lead role in the passing game, Diggs must prove to the football world that he can adapt and adjust to a different role in an offense not explicitly designed for him. Given his productive run as a WR1, including five seasons with 100-plus catches over since 2018, observers are paying close attention to how Diggs handles a different role on an offense that is expected to light up scoreboards around the league. 

Bryce Young, QB, Carolina Panthers 

After a disappointing rookie campaign, the former No. 1 overall pick has been dismissed as an elite talent. Despite playing in a dysfunctional environment, critics have taken Young to task for failing to flash "franchise" potential by single-handedly making his squad competitive against all odds. With his classmate, CJ Stroud, looking like a potential superstar, the pressure is on the second-year pro to show up and show out under new head coach Dave Canales. Considering the quarterback guru helped resurrect the careers of Geno Smith and Baker Mayfield before landing the gig in Charlotte, Young needs to step up his game to alleviate some of the concerns regarding the team's hefty investment in the young quarterback. 

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Devin White, LB, Philadelphia Eagles 

The former Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champion is betting on himself to parlay a one-year deal into a blockbuster contract that rewards him for his disruptive potential as a playmaker. White arrives in Philly with 500-plus tackles, 64 quarterback hits, and 23 sacks on his resume, but he failed to surpass the 100-tackle mark for the first time in his career in 2023. With the veteran also dropped from the Buccaneers' starting lineup during his sub-par campaign, White needs to shine in Vic Fangio's defense to change the narrative regarding his game and leadership skills. As a rare "MIKE" linebacker with elite pass-rushing skill, the sixth-year pro could quickly remind the football world that he is a game changer as a "see ball, get ball" defender. 

Bucky Brooks is an NFL analyst for FOX Sports. He also breaks down the game for NFL Network and as a cohost of the "Moving the Sticks" podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.


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