Young NFL Players Already on the Hot Seat Heading into 2014 Season
Even the most casual NFL fan is probably used to hearing the term "hot seat" to describe that aging veteran or struggling head coach who is at risk of losing his job.
We are less accustomed to hearing about players who find themselves on the hot seat after only a couple of seasons in the league.
However, the NFL is a win-now league, and even young, promising players can be cast aside if expectations are not met. This is especially true now that the rookie salary cap has significantly lowered the amount of money that teams are forced to invest in high draft picks.
Just ask Brandon Weeden how well draft status helped his job security.
The harsh reality is that a couple of poor seasons can cost any player his job. Over the next few slides, we will examine a number of young players who are entering the 2014 season with their careers on the line.
Players considered for our list must have three years of NFL experience or less, have been a first- or second-round draft pick and must be at risk of losing their job for either under-performance or off-the-field issues. Players who have already been dismissed by their original teams (Weeden, Blaine Gabbert) will be excluded.
Though he has just one NFL season under his belt, Miami Dolphins defensive end Dion Jordan finds himself on the hot seat because of problems both on and off the field.
The third overall pick in the 2013 draft, Jordan was supposed to provide Miami with a game-breaking pass-rusher. However, he struggled to adapt to the pro game and finished his rookie season with just 26 tackles and 2.0 sacks.
Unfortunately, he will have to wait a bit before he can show the Dolphins that he is ready to rebound in 2014. According to the team's official website, the former Oregon star has been suspended for the first four games of the coming season for violating the performance-enhancing substance policy.
This means that Jordan now faces the pressure of trying to redeem himself from a poor inaugural campaign and a team-weakening suspension.
According to Bob Grotz of the Delaware County Times, the Philadelphia Eagles tried to trade for Jordan this past offseason. If Jordan continues to underachieve, Miami may wish it had cut its losses and taken the Eagles' offer.
A first-round pick in the 2012 draft, Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick has also had trouble making the expected impact on the football field.
Injuries limited him to just five appearances as a rookie, and he had trouble living up to his billing as a first-round pick in his second year.
Though he did flash some playmaking ability (three interceptions), Kirkpatrick started just three games and was ranked 97th overall among cornerbacks by Pro Football Focus (subscription required) for the season.
The real problem for Kirkpatrick is that Cincinnati used a first-round pick in this year's draft to select Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard.
This places pressure on Kirkpatrick to perform up to expectations in his third season or face the possibility of losing playing time—or perhaps even a roster spot—to newcomer Dennard.
Another cornerback from the first round of the 2012 draft, Morris Claiborne finds himself on our list after two mostly mediocre seasons with the Dallas Cowboys.
Dallas likely envisioned Claiborne as a difference-maker in the secondary when the team traded up to select him sixth overall two years ago. However, the former LSU standout has logged just 81 tackles and two interceptions despite making 22 starts since being drafted.
Claiborne was ranked 88th overall among cornerbacks by Pro Football Focus last season and eventually lost his starting job. To win it back, he will have to show serious improvement in his third year.
"Hands down, point blank, I'm ready. I feel better than I've ever felt in a long time," Claiborne recently said, via ESPN's Todd Archer.
If the Cowboys are to improve last year's 30th-ranked pass defense (286.8 yards per game allowed), Claiborne will have no choice but to get better in a hurry.
While he is only entering his fourth NFL season, Mark Ingram may be heading into his final one with the New Orleans Saints. The team did not exercise its fifth-year option on Ingram, which makes 2014 the final year of his rookie deal.
The former Heisman Trophy winner and 2011 first-round pick has failed to live up to expectations, mostly because he has not been able to claim a significant role in the offense.
Though he has managed to gain a solid 4.1 yards per carry in his NFL career, Ingram has only carried the ball 356 times for a total of 1,462 yards. He has also started just 12 games in his pro career to date.
He has the potential to be a legitimate starter. He rushed for a career-best 4.9 yards per carry in 2013 and was rated 29th overall among running backs by Pro Football Focus.
However, the former Alabama star will have to show he can consistently carry an offense if he is to stick around in New Orleans or land a starting job elsewhere beyond 2014.
Though he hasn't faced the expectations of being a first-round draft selection, Pittsburgh Steelers offensive tackle Mike Adams has still managed to be a disappointment in his two NFL seasons.
Drafted 56th overall back in 2012, the Ohio State product was supposed to help bring youth and stability to the left tackle position. He lost the starting job to former seventh-round pick Kelvin Beachum a month into last season.
Adams knows that it will take hard work to regain the starting left tackle job, but that is clearly his goal. “I didn’t come here to sit on the bench. I’m here to compete,” he said recently, via Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Considering he was ranked just 59th overall among tackles by Pro Football Focus last season, Adams may need to show improvement to earn any significant role along the offensive line this season.
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton has completed 60.9 percent of his passes, tossed 80 touchdowns and made three playoff appearances during his first three NFL seasons. Yet we're still putting him on our list.
While Dalton has helped raise the Bengals to perennial contender status, he has to shoulder a large portion of the blame for allowing them to lose in the first round of the playoffs for three consecutive years.
He has not posted a passer rating higher than 67.0 and has committed seven turnovers with just one touchdown pass in his three postseason starts.
If he cannot find a way to get the Bengals over the hump and actually deliver a playoff win in 2014, they might want to consider finding a quarterback who can.
According to a recent poll of NFL executives done by ESPN's Mike Sando (subscription required), Dalton is considered a third-tier quarterback. One anonymous general manager said of Dalton, "If he is your quarterback for 10 years, you'll go to the playoffs five times and say he's a good QB."
For the Bengals, who are still trying to find their first playoff win since the 1990 season, having a "good" quarterback shouldn't be enough.
When an NFL team uses a first-round draft pick on a player, he is going to come with high expectations.
When a player cost two different teams a first-round pick, the expectations are going to be exceptionally lofty.
This is the case with Indianapolis Colts running back Trent Richardson, who entered the league as a first-round pick of the Cleveland Browns and was traded to Indianapolis for another first-rounder partway into his sophomore season.
Now entering his third NFL season, Richardson may be facing his last chance to prove that he can become an elite playmaker at the running back position.
So far in his pro career, he has performed like a subpar back with a 3.3 yards-per-carry average. He was ranked 44th overall among running backs by Pro Football Focus in 2013.
Richardson actually lost his starting job midway through last season when the Colts decided to turn to Donald Brown. With Brown now in San Diego, Richardson should have one more crack at the starting gig.
After leading the league with 1,646 yards receiving in just his second season, Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon has already proved that he belongs on an NFL field.
The problem for Gordon is trying to stay there.
He was forced to enter the supplemental draft after drug-related issues hampered his collegiate career at Baylor and later Utah. A failed drug test led to a two-game suspension to start the 2013 season.
Now he faces an indefinite ban from the NFL for yet another drug violation.
According to Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio, an appeal hearing has been set for late July. If Gordon does not win his appeal, he will be forced to sit out for a minimum of one year before he can apply for reinstatement.
Regardless of what happens with Gordon's case, he is clearly teetering on the edge of throwing his entire NFL career away.
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