Ranking Which NFL Stars Would Get the Biggest Legacy Boost with a 2020 Title

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistJuly 10, 2020

Ranking Which NFL Stars Would Get the Biggest Legacy Boost with a 2020 Title

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    One season can change the perception of an NFL player's career.

    Heading into last year, Mitchell Trubisky was a popular dark-horse MVP candidate. Still relatively unknown as a starter, Jimmy Garoppolo had to bounce back from a torn ACL. 

    As young players build their legacies, older veterans close to retirement have opportunities to go out in style with the Lombardi Trophy in hand.

    Here, we've ranked 10 players who could significantly change the outlook of their careers with a Super Bowl victory in 2020. The rankings are based on stars (Pro Bowlers and All-Pros) who could cement extraordinary or Hall of Fame resumes or veterans in position to turn the tide on their career narratives. 

10. CB Marcus Peters, Baltimore Ravens

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    Depending on who you ask, Marcus Peters is either one the NFL's best ball hawks or wildly inconsistent.

    Over his five NFL seasons, Peters has tallied 77 pass breakups, 27 interceptions and seven defensive touchdowns. He was also named the 2015 Defensive Rookie of the Year and has three Pro Bowl nods and two All-Pro selections on his resume. However, he has already been traded twice.

    The Kansas City Chiefs had to reprimand Peters before they traded him to the Los Angeles Rams for second- and fourth-round picks. The sticky-hand cornerback experienced some coverage issues in L.A., and the Rams eventually traded him to the Baltimore Ravens for linebacker Kenny Young and a fifth-round pick.

    After a pair of moves around the league, Peters might hit his stride in Baltimore. If the opportunistic veteran can become more consistent on his current Super Bowl-contending squad, NFL fans should view him as more than a high-risk, high-reward playmaker.

    Peters' production suggests he's a unique talent. A lead role on a championship-winning defense would send him soaring up the hierarchy of active cornerbacks with a legitimate shot at a Hall of Fame career.

9. QB Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles

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    Some Philadelphia Eagles fans appreciate Nick Foles more than Carson Wentz because of the team's Super Bowl 52 run with the former under center. The latter has yet to make it through an entire playoff game.

    Wentz must prove he's able to carry the Eagles through a season from start to finish. Philadelphia selected Jalen Hurts in the second round of April's draft, which seems like insurance for the starter who's missed eight regular-season contests and five playoff outings because of injuries. 

    With a Super Bowl victory, Wentz can quash some concerns about his durability and match Foles' top accomplishment.

    Although he's the Eagles' franchise quarterback, the North Dakota State product needs playoff validation. Perhaps Wentz will inspire a statue of himself in his biggest moment—one comparable to Foles' sculpture in the plaza at Lincoln Financial Field. 

    As the Eagles' offensive centerpiece, Wentz's role in a title run would carry more weight than Marcus Peters' contributions within the Baltimore Ravens secondary.

8. DE J.J. Watt, Houston Texans

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    Since 2016, J.J. Watt has missed 32 games. He has appeared in all 16 games only six times in his nine NFL seasons.

    With that said, the 31-year-old has been dominant in those healthy years. 

    As a two-time sack leader with three Defensive Player of the Year awards and five All-Pro selections, Watt should be inducted into the Hall of Fame regardless of whether he ever wins a ring. However, a successful title run would add an exclamation point to his impressive resume.

    Because of his extensive injury history over the past four seasons, Watt's career outlook is unpredictable, though he may stretch his career a little longer if healthy.

    Watt has accomplished so much that a ringless finish won't hurt his legacy, but a Super Bowl would complete his illustrious NFL tenure. He ranks a spot higher than Wentz because injuries may push Watt to retire early.

7. DT Ndamukong Suh, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Ndamukong Suh doesn't have the gaudy numbers to demonstrate his impact. He never matched his 10-sack rookie campaign. After his 2016 Pro Bowl nod, he's been more subtle in the trenches in recent years. 

    Suh has a decorated track record, earning five Pro Bowl nods, three All-Pro selections and a 2010 Defensive Rookie of the Year award, but he doesn't have accomplishments comparable to J.J. Watt. The 33-year-old doesn't have much more time to make a push for a gold jacket.

    Since he doesn't have flashy statistics, a dominant role on a championship club could be Suh's most notable late-career achievement. He came close to a Lombardi Trophy in 2018 with the Los Angeles Rams but fell short against the New England Patriots in Super Bowl 53.

    Suh could put a cherry on top of his distinguished career with a title on a Tampa Bay Buccaneers squad that hasn't won a playoff game since its Super Bowl run in 2002.

6. WR Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals

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    Larry Fitzgerald should be a lock to get inducted into the Hall of Fame. He's second all-time in both catches (1,378) and receiving yards (17,083).

    The 11-time Pro Bowler doesn't need a Super Bowl to book his spot for Canton, Ohio, which is why he sits outside of the top five here. However, Fitzgerald would add significant shine to his resume by winning a ring.

    During the 2008 postseason, Fitzgerald recorded at least six receptions and eclipsed 100 receiving yards in all four outings, but the Pittsburgh Steelers edged his Arizona Cardinals 27-23 in Super Bowl XLIII.

    The Cardinals haven't made their way back to the Super Bowl since, but Fitzgerald has remained consistent, leading the club in receiving yards in each of the last 11 seasons. 

    Even with a Super Bowl, Suh will likely have to wait for a spot in the Hall of Fame because of his good-but-not-great numbers. Fitzgerald would cap off an elite career as a probable first-ballot entry if he walks away as a champion. 

5. RB Frank Gore, New York Jets

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    Frank Gore's longevity has served him well. Going into his 16th season, he's third all-time in rushing yards (15,347) behind Emmitt Smith and the late Walter Payton. However, he's averaging only 67.9 rushing yards per game (39th) for his career.

    Gore has made five Pro Bowls but has yet to receive an All-Pro nod. Unlike Adrian Peterson, the 37-year-old doesn't have a rushing title, either.

    Based on his numbers, Gore should end up in Canton, but he doesn't have standout production or the accolades to suggest that's a slam-dunk decision. Neil Greenberg of the Washington Post argued he was never the best player at his position in any season, which clouds his pathway to the Hall of Fame.

    Gore's consistency makes up for his lack of eye-popping numbers and career honors. But a solid role on a Super Bowl team would add some flash to his bland resume. 

    Although Gore already seems like a strong candidate for the Hall of Fame, he's a less celebrated star than Larry Fitzgerald, who's destined for a gold jacket.

4. RB Adrian Peterson, Washington

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    While Frank Gore could cement his Hall of Fame status with a ring, Adrian Peterson would become a legend if he finishes the 2020 season as a Super Bowl champion.

    Peterson could put his resume next to Hall of Famers Emmitt Smith and the late Walter Payton as all-time top-five rushers who have multiple rushing titles, won league MVP and played for a championship squad. That's elite company among the league's immortals. 

    Few players past and present can match Peterson's individual accomplishments, but a Super Bowl win would be the icing on his career.

    Since Peterson signed with Washington in 2018, he's become the team's lead ball-carrier, rushing for 1,940 yards across 31 games. That's surreal production for a running back with 13 years of NFL mileage on his legs. 

3. QB Cam Newton, New England Patriots

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    Among the top three selections, you'll notice a common thread: They're all players over 30 who don't have a strong case for the Hall of Fame. They can pull off a substantial swing in their career outlooks with a title.

    Cam Newton is four years younger than Adrian Peterson, but a successful championship run would dramatically change his legacy, whereas the star running back already has the accolades that distinguish himself from most NFL players.

    In 2015, Newton won MVP and led the Carolina Panthers to Super Bowl 50, where they lost to the Denver Broncos. But other than that one standout season, he's performed closer to average than extraordinary. 

    Newton isn't often mentioned in the same breath as top signal-callers such as Patrick Mahomes, Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger. He doesn't have the Lombardi Trophy to match his contemporaries. 

    Newton may need more than one title to go into the Hall of Fame, but he can create an interesting conversation with a ring as Tom Brady's successor in New England. In a recent Instagram caption, the 10th-year veteran wrote, "This is not about money for me, it's about respect."

    If Newton guides the Patriots to a Super Bowl title in 2020, we'll have to look at his career in a different light. He's likely going to play a much bigger role in New England than Peterson will in Washington's crowded backfield, which may feature Derrius Guice, rookie third-rounder Antonio Gibson and Bryce Love.

2. QB Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons

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    NFL.com's Bucky Brooks recently ranked Matt Ryan as the best quarterback in the NFC South over Tom Brady and Drew Brees, two former Super Bowl champions. Meanwhile, ESPN's Bomani Jones weighed in on Ryan's career and had a strong stance against the quarterback's case as a Hall of Famer.

    Both assessments spurred debate, which means Ryan's legacy remains fluid.

    The 35-year-old has thrown for 4,095-plus yards in nine consecutive seasons and at least 26 touchdowns in eight out of 12 campaigns. The four-time Pro Bowler also had one spectacular run as league MVP in 2016. 

    Although Ryan has performed like a top-10 quarterback for much of his career, he doesn't have a Lombardi Trophy to show for it. The Atlanta Falcons' 28-3 collapse in Super Bowl 51 stings, but that missed opportunity doesn't fall solely on him.

    However, Ryan will rank a level below the top-tier quarterbacks until he's able to lead the Falcons to a title. He won't sway the Hall of Fame argument with one ring, but he would take a strong step in the right direction.

    Both Newton and Ryan had MVP seasons, but the latter's statistical consistency would give him a bigger difference in career perception with a title on his resume.

1. QB Philip Rivers, Indianapolis Colts

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    Philip Rivers will always draw comparisons to 2004 draft classmates Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger, each of whom have two titles.

    In a vacuum, Rivers' accomplishments deserve commendation. He's sixth all-time in passing yards (59,271) and touchdowns (397). The 38-year-old made eight Pro Bowls and earned the 2013 Comeback Player of the Year award. All of that is impressive, but it may not enough for a bust in Canton.

    During his 14 years as the Los Angeles Chargers' starting quarterback, Rivers played alongside top-shelf offensive playmakers such as running back LaDainian Tomlinson, tight end Antonio Gates and wideout Keenan Allen. However, the Chargers reached the AFC Championship Game only once with Rivers under center, and they never made it to the Super Bowl.

    After Rivers threw 20 interceptions last season, the Chargers moved on from him in March. He could make Los Angeles regret that decision and tighten the comparison between himself and Manning or Roethlisberger with an improbable Super Bowl run in Indianapolis. 

    Barring a career-shortening injury, Matt Ryan will have time to bolster his resume beyond 2020. Since Rivers is in the twilight of his career, this season may the difference between his retiring as a champion or leaving the game ringless.