Football is the ultimate team sport. It takes more than a star player to elevate a team to a championship. The NFL is the biggest pro sports league in North America, and it is also the most difficult in which to win. Because there are so many players on a team, there are great players on bad NFL teams every year, and the team will be the constant underdog on the NFL betting odds.
We will look at the current landscape of the NFL and showcase the five best players who are stuck on bad teams. Some of these teams may be on the cusp of turning things around, while others are a complete dumpster fire.
5. Terry McLaurin
The Washington Football Team might have made it to the playoffs last year, but they were still under .500 and won the worst division in football, the NFC East. Wide receiver Terry McLaurin is a fantastic player. He might be the most under-appreciated receiver because he plays in Washington. What’s even more incredible is that he has succeeded and put up great numbers despite having a carousel of quarterbacks in his first two NFL seasons.
Drafted in the third round of the 2019 NFL draft, McLaurin was a great receiver at Ohio State but was not highly touted on the big board of NFL experts. With Case Keenum, Dwayne Haskins, and Colt McCoy as his quarterbacks, McLaurin had a solid rookie season with 58 catches for 919 yards with seven touchdowns. Washington went 3-13 in 2019, and McLaurin was the only passing option they had. He led the team in receiving yards. The next closest was running back Chris Thompson. McLaurin had 541 more receiving yards than the scat back.
McLaurin still did not have QB stability in 2020, but he still balled out and racked up receptions. Averaging 5.8 catches a game, McLaurin totaled 1,118 but could only find the endzone four times. With veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick under center for Washington in 2021, McLaurin should still see a lot of action, but this time with a competent quarterback for 16 games.
Washington had a bad record last year, but they have a great young core, and McLaurin is at the center of it. Don’t be surprised if Washington gets above .500 in 2021 and McLaurin can take the next step and firmly establish himself as one of the best receivers in the game.
4. Joey Bosa
The Los Angeles Chargers are such a talented young team, with QB Justin Herbert, RB Austin Ekeler, and WR Keenan Allen. Still, DE Joey Bosa has to be top of the list of the team’s best players, and the Chargers recognized this by giving him a lucrative contract extension. In the 2020 offseason, Los Angeles signed Bosa to a five-year, $135 million extension, $102 million of it guaranteed. Bosa’s contract makes him the highest-paid defensive player per season, and the former Buckeye only trails Chicago Bears Khalil Mack’s deal of $141 million.
Bosa earned his mega-deal with his 2019 performance. Playing all 16 games, he combined for 67 tackles and 11.5 sacks, just shy of his career-highs from 2017. Bosa continued to play well in 2020, but he did get injured, which limited him to 12 games. He still managed to record 7.5 sacks, 39 tackles and made his second-straight Pro Bowl and First-team All-Pro.
Although 2020 was a bit of a down year for Bosa, he is still one of the most talented defensive players in the NFL. With the Chargers hiring Brandon Staley, a defensive-minded head coach, Bosa could thrive in the new regime in Los Angeles. If the Chargers’ defense drastically improves and Herbert continues the success he had his rookie season, Los Angeles could surprise some people and challenge for an AFC Division Championship.
3. Dalvin Cook
The Minnesota Vikings had reasonably high expectations in 2020. They were looking to build off a playoff season in 2019, but, like it was for most of us, 2020 was a disaster for the Vikings. Minnesota might have struggled to win football games, but it was no fault of Dalvin Cook. In fact, in many cases, Cook was the reason the Vikings won their games.
Coming out of Florida State in 2017, Cook was a disappointment in his first two seasons in Minnesota. Unable to stay healthy, the Vikings running back only played 15 games in his first two seasons and averaged 64 yards a game with four touchdowns. But Cook began to prove himself in 2019. He made the Pro Bowl with 1,135 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns.
2020 was a phenomenal year for Cook, and it is just a shame that it happened with the lackluster Vikings. Minnesota is talented offensively with Cook and rookie sensation Justin Jefferson, but the defense, the team’s strength in 2019, was non-existent. Cook was injured in NFL Week six, and with his history of getting hurt, there was concern throughout the franchise as to how long he would be out.
Cook returned in NFL Week eight against the rival Green Bay Packers and had the game of his career. He became the first Viking to score four touchdowns since Ahmad Rashad did it in 1979. Cook rushed for 163 yards on 30 carries and scored three touchdowns on the ground. His only receiving touchdown for 2020 came in the game as well. He might have one-upped himself the following week against the Detroit Lions when he rushed for 206 yards with two touchdowns. After returning from injury, Cook rushed for over 100 yards in six of his final nine games.
Cook has had back-to-back great seasons, and he is a top-three running back with Derrick Henry and Christain McCaffrey. 2021 might be a make-or-break season for the Vikings. If they do not make a playoff run, there is a legitimate chance the team will get blown up, and Cook will have wasted his prime years on a bad team in a rebuilding process.
2. Deshaun Watson
Houston Texans’ QB Deshawn Watson has had a troubling offseason, he is facing 22 cases of sexual misconduct, and his future in the NFL is definitely in question. Before the allegations, Watson demanded a trade from Houston, despite signing a four-year, $156 million
contract extension before the 2020 season. It is difficult to discuss the player when they are being accused of such horrendous actions, but Watson is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, and the Texans’ 2020 season was a complete mess.
After blowing a 24-0 lead in the 2019 wild card game against the Kansas City Chiefs, the Texans traded their star receiver, DeAndre Hopkins, to the Arizona Cardinals during the offseason and proceeded to start 0-4 in 2020. That led to the firing of head coach/general manager Bill O’Brien. Besides the on-field struggles, it seemed like O’Brien had lost the locker room, and the team needed to move in a different direction. Romeo Crennel did the best he could, but the Texans finished the 2020-2021 NFL Season with a 4-12 record.
Watson still had a Pro Bowl season despite being on one of the worst teams in the NFL. He led the league in passing yards with 4,823, even without his top option in Hopkins. Watson was called upon to be the entire Houston offense, and he did a pretty good job. Every major passing category was a career-high for Watson in 2020, and the young QB completed 70.2 percent of his passes for 33 touchdowns and a career-low seven interceptions. All those incredible numbers, despite throwing the ball a whopping 544 times.
Unfortunately, his off-the-field issues have overshadowed how great of a player he was in 2020. There is no word yet on when, or if, a suspension will be handed down to Watson. NFL experts and commentators suspect Watson will most likely miss the entire 2021 season and possibly some games into the 2022 season.
1. Dak Prescott
In one of the best quarterback draft steals in NFL history, the Dallas Cowboys were able to get Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott in the fourth round of the 2016 NFL draft, and he has become one of the best young quarterbacks in the National Football League. Taking over for an injured Tony Romo, Prescott won the 2016 Rookie of the Year Award and made the Pro Bowl. Although he looked to only be getting better as time progressed, the Cowboys looked to be getting worse.
Prescott threw for a career-high 4,902 yards and 30 touchdowns in 2019, but the Cowboys finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs.
2020 was looking like an MVP season for Prescott, and he was leading the league in passing yards through the first five games. Unfortunately, his season was cut short against the New York Giants when he suffered a gruesome ankle injury. What made the injury even more heart-wrenching for Prescott was that the young QB was expected to sign a massive contract in the offseason, and the fear was that the injury would cost him millions of dollars, if not his career.
Through five games, Prescott had thrown for 1,856 yards and nine touchdowns. If he had continued on that path, he would have annihilated Peyton Manning’s single-season passing record of 5,477, as he was on pace to throw for nearly 6,000 yards. Even with Prescott putting up eye-popping numbers, the Cowboys were 1-3 before the NFL Week five injury. They finished the season 6-10.
Despite the setback, Prescott signed a new four-year $160 million contract to stay with the Cowboys and is expected to be healthy to start the 2021 season. With that distraction eliminated, Dallas looks to have the team’s quarterback of the future in place. The defense is still a big question mark for Dallas in 2021, but luckily the NFC East is the worst division in the league, and a 9-7 record should be enough to punch a ticket to the NFL playoffs.
Winning in the NFL is extremely hard. Even if a team has one of the best players at their respective position, that talent might not be enough to improve on the team’s NFL playoff odds. The shelf life of an NFL player is short, and a lengthy career should not be expected.
All of these players are in their mid-20s and the prime of their athletic careers. Unfortunately, they are being wasted on subpar teams. If these players were on a contender, they would instantly boost their odds to win the Super Bowl. Personal success in the NFL does not always lead to team success, and these five players are the embodiment of that fact.