NFL Preview Week: Players facing a make-or-break season for their NFL careers

Frank Schwab
September 4, 2013

The NFL will keep giving players chances, until there's a better option available.

The higher you're drafted, or the more money you're given in free agency, the more chances you generally receive. But patience runs out for everyone. No matter where you're picked, how much money you make or how good you used to be, at some point the team will move on.

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Former Heisman Trophy winning running back Mark Ingram is one of the many players at that career crossroads this season. The Saints drafted him in the first round in 2011, and even after two mediocre seasons the team traded Chris Ivory (who has outproduced Ingram when given the chance) to make sure Ingram knew he was the guy. Until, of course, he shows he can't handle it.

It seems unlikely that if Ingram turns in a third straight season with an average of less than 4 yards per carry, that he'd get a chance in New Orleans to do it a fourth time. At least not as the starter.

Ingram isn't the only player facing a pressure-filled season. Here are 10 players who are facing make-or-break seasons for their NFL careers:

Jake Locker, Tennessee QB
Locker was doing well last year, then he got hurt on a hit and didn’t play well when he returned. He’s now in his third season, and the Titans need to soon see signs that he can be their franchise quarterback.

Christian Ponder, Minnesota QB
Don’t credit Ponder for “leading the Vikings to the playoffs,” someone else in Minnesota’s backfield did that last year. Ponder is a conservative game manager, and needs to show more or the Vikings will look at a strong 2014 QB draft class.

Mark Ingram, New Orleans RB
The camp reports were good, but we’ve heard positive comments on Ingram before only to see him plod along in the regular season. He needs to improve his 3.9-yard per carry average or it might be time to move on.

Brandon LaFell, Carolina WR
Because of Carolina’s allergy to getting Cam Newton any new targets, LaFell gets yet another shot. LaFell, in his fourth season, had no 100-yard games last season despite starting. Newton needs some help.

Da’Quan Bowers, Tampa Bay DE
Bowers had tremendous pre-draft buzz, but a knee issue knocked him down in the 2011 draft and he has just 4.5 sacks in two seasons. The Buccaneers want him to be an impact player, and this might be his last chance.

[Click here for the slideshow on which players face a make-or-break season for their careers.]

Emmanuel Sanders, Steelers WR
The Patriots tried to sign Sanders and the Steelers matched the offer, which was quite a lot of interest in a player with 94 catches, 1,290 yards and five touchdowns in three seasons. The Steelers are expecting more this year.

Prince Amukamara, N.Y. Giants CB
The former first-round pick hasn’t done much in two seasons (just two interceptions), but the Giants are quite comfortable depending on him this year. The good news is he played well in the preseason.

Nnamdi Asomugha, San Francisco CB
Not a young player like some of the others on the list, but the one-time elite cornerback is in danger of falling off the NFL map. He created no positive buzz this offseason, and needs to revive his NFL career in a hurry.

Ryan Mathews, San Diego RB
Mathews has been a frustrating player through most of his career, but he’s still just 25 and has played well before. One more disappointing season, however, and the Chargers might run out of patience.

Desmond Bishop, Minnesota LB
Bishop is just 29. He had 100 tackles in 2010 and 2011. But he missed last year with injury, was cut by Green Bay and is trying to just win a starting job. The next few months will determine if he has more productive NFL seasons in his future.

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