With how rapid and widespread NFL roster are turned over every year, it feels like everyone's in a make-or-break season, doesn't it? That could be true, but there are some players more under the microscope than others, for a variety of different reasons.
Let's break down those in serious make-or-break scenarios by situation before their critical 2023 seasons begin.
Former early picks in danger of being busts
I legitimately cannot tell if Moore can be an NFL star or if that is a completely ridiculous suggestion. I loved him coming out of Ole Miss; thought he should've been a first-round pick. He wasn't. The Jets snagged him with the second selection in Round 2, just ahead of Javonte Williams, Jevon Holland, and Landon Dickerson. Goodness gracious.
As a rookie, playing with rookie quarterback Zach Wilson and some Mike White sprinkled in, Moore caught 43 passes for 538 yards with five scores. He had an encouraging 1.75 yards-per-route-run average on just 43.8% of New York's offensive snaps that season before an injury ended his year after 11 games.
Last year was ghastly for Moore: Intermittent rumors about his displeasure with the team and offense, league-worst quarterback play, and minimal production. His reception total, receiving yards, and touchdowns all dropped, and his yards-per-route run average sunk to 0.91. The Jets traded him to the Browns this offseason, and with Deshaun Watson, Moore should have drastically more dynamic play from his quarterback. With Amari Cooper in the mix, Moore will not be asked to save Cleveland's offense. If the light doesn't come on this year, though, Moore will be dangerously close to being considered a bust of a former top 35 pick.
When you make a surprise selection in Round 1, you better not miss. That's precisely what the Saints did in 2021 by calling Turner's name into the league office when they went on the clock at No. 28 overall, and the early returns on the former Houston star have been minimal through two seasons. A mid-November rookie year injury prematurely ended what was an otherwise bland debut season in the NFL.
Last year had a similar theme. Turner hardly played early then missed action due to a litany of injuries, including a Week 11 ankle issue that sidelined him all the way until the penultimate game of the regular season. Altogether, Turner has mustered 23 quarterback pressures on 209 pass-rushing snaps and three sacks in 23 contests. Sure, dealing with injuries has made the start of Turner's NFL career challenging. But the NFL is a harsh business, and if a first-round pick is not producing -- for whatever reason -- in Year 3, the bust label is soon to follow that player.
Veterans on their last legs
Hughes won't stop generating heat on the quarterback, even if he isn't a huge sack accumulator. After a long, illustrious career with the Bills, the former first-round pick from TCU signed a deal with his hometown Texans before the 2022 season and was a pass-rushing spark on one of the most lackluster rosters in football. He registered 58 pressures on 381 pass-rushing snaps, good for a pressure-creation rate of 15.2%, better than the likes of Khalil Mack, DeMarcus Lawrence, Carl Lawson, Bradley Chubb, and Yannick Ngakoue.
The soon-to-be 35-year-old pass rusher has aged like fine wine, as many athletic, strong, and polished outside rushers do. He can still win with hand work and occasionally, bend and speed around the corner. Now on an improved Texans teams, it'll be interesting to see if Hughes can be a steady pressure-generator in some important outings in 2023.
Cobb was seemingly a must-add for the Jets after they acquired Aaron Rodgers. The close-to-33-year-old wideout is arguably Rodgers' most trusted confidant, yet because of his addition to Gang Green's roster, there's a fair amount of pressure on him to produce at his age.
Last season in Green Bay wasn't horrific for Cobb. He clearly wasn't the same springy, do-everything pass catcher he had been in the earlier stages of his career. Without Moore and Braxton Berrios, the Jets do have a need for an underneath, possession, extension-of-the-run-game slot option, and that's where Cobb fits into this offense. While Garrett Wilson is clearly the No. 1 receiver, the diversity of Rodgers' aerial attack with occasionally hinge on Cobb's presence and how productive he can be at the twilight of his long career.
Players who dipped after playing well early and are now in a prove-it year
Harris has yet to average 4.0 yards per carry throughout the course of an NFL season. We all applauded his rookie campaign though, when he was the heart-and-soul an otherwise stagnant, predictable Steelers offense with a shoddy offensive line. In 2022, strides were made up front, but Harris' yards-per-carry average actually dipped from 3.9 to 3.8 and his yards-after-contact rate reduced from 2.98 as a rookie to 2.74 in Year 2. He did force miss tackles at a higher rate and scored more touchdowns in his sophomore season as a pro -- good signs.
Regardless of those fluctuating stats, the Steelers continued to build the offensive line entering the 2023 campaign, and as a former first-round pick at the running back spot, Harris will either become another example as to why teams should not use a Round 1 pick on a back or be an integral, multi-faceted component of a young and fun upstart Steelers offense this season.
We all thought the Falcons had selected a unicorn tight end in Pitts at No. 4 overall in the 2021 draft, especially after his 1,000-yard plus rookie season. No qualms about his selection over Ja'Marr Chase, who went immediately after him.
At this point in time, Atlanta's decision looks silly. His second NFL season was riddled with a hamstring injury and then a season-ending knee injury. Pitts' productivity outside of those ailments paled in comparison to what he did as a rookie. Two touchdowns on a mere 28 receptions for 356 yards. And he clearly was not a focal point of Arthur Smith's run-heavy offense that toted the rock more than any other team in football last year. Pitts only won on three of 12 contested-catch situations last year, which seems impossible at his size and gargantuan catch radius. Which Pitts are we going to see in his third season? Especially with fellow top 10 picks Drake London and running back Bijan Robinson in the mix on offense?
Fifth-year option players who could sign a huge extension or play on a different team next year
As a rookie, Wills looked the part of the second offensive tackle selected in a loaded class -- that featured Andrew Thomas and Tristan Wirfs -- at that position in 2020. Only 18 pressures allowed all season? That was budding star stuff from a then 21-year-old rookie.
Since then, Wills hasn't taken that ever-elusive next step from budding star to legitimate superstar. Rushers beat him for 28 pressures in 2022 and that number ballooned to 41 last season. Injuries haven't been an issue either? DeShaun Watson should be significantly more settled into the Browns, Kevin Stefanski-run offense in 2023, which should help Wills and his cohorts up front. However, Watson's improvisational tendencies don't exactly make it easy on his offensive linemen when they have to block for more than three seconds and don't know where he is behind the line. If Wills plays more like fresh out of Alabama Wills in 2023, the Browns will most certainly extend him. He'd be too valuable a piece to lose early Cleveland's Watson era. If his downward trend continues, do not be surprised if the Browns opt for either an early 2024 draft pick or Dawand Jones and Jack Conklin at tackle next season.
Jeudy was drifting near Bust Island, and, ironically, had his best season as a pro during the abysmal 2022 season for Russell Wilson and the Broncos offense. After not scoring a touchdown in an irritating 2021, Jeudy scored six times last year, three coming in a wild, narrow defeat at the hands of the Chiefs in December. His yards-per-route run figure eclipsed the prestigious 2.0 mark (2.18) and his 6.1 yards-after-the-catch average was a career high.
One would think that with Sean Payton now in Denver, the offense will hum at a much more efficient rate than it did during some dismal outings with Nathaniel Hackett a season ago. And Wilson can't be worse, right? RIGHT?! Jeudy falls into this very specific category because he could continue to build momentum toward a monster extension in his fourth season, or has he already reached his peak performance capability in the NFL? If the latter is ultimately the case, there's a strong chance he inks a deal elsewhere next March.