Despite outright chaos outside the sport, 2020 promises to be another exciting year for the NFL. After the Kansas City Chiefs won their first Super Bowl title in 50 years, all eyes will be on them as they look to prove they can win two in a row. They also have a target on their backs and other teams have improved.
And there are many other high-profile individuals in the NFL who have something to prove. Some of these players were outstanding in 2019 but need to show they can do it again. Meanwhile, there are veterans who are desperate to show they still have what it takes to compete at the top levels. All of these players are in fascinating positions. Let’s take a look at 25 NFL players with much to prove in 2020.
25. DeShaun Watson
This offseason Watson lost his best weapon in receiver DeAndre Hopkins. This was a bizarre decision that left most everyone scratching their heads. When you lose a player as good as Hopkins, it can be difficult for a franchise – and quarterback – to recover. However, this could potentially help Watson to develop into an even better player.
Without Hopkins, Watson will have to learn to read the field even better than before. If Watson is as good as expected, then he will raise the game of the receivers around him. He’ll also want to prove that the Texans didn’t begin and end with Hopkins. It’s a big burden to shoulder.tua
How often will Tua Tagovailoa play in 2020? The recently drafted franchise quarterback tag comes with a lot of injury issues, however, and the Dolphins might be smart to manage his game time very carefully. Many analysts believe a young quarterback benefits from being the backup for their first season before stepping into the bright lights.
We saw how that turned out for Patrick Mahomes, so it’s definitely not a bad template to follow. They may redshirt the Hawaiian and start Fitzpatrick instead. It’s not very exciting for fans, but it would be sensible because Tagovaila is recovering from injury. Fitzpatrick will get the chance to stake his claim, but the pressure will be on him to perform early.
Henry had an insane 2019 season where he ran the ball a crazy 303 times. That saw him win the rushing title and average over five yards a carry, racking up 1,540 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns. Those are outstanding numbers, but the question remains: are they sustainable?
It’s likely that the coaching staff will manage Henry’s game time more efficiently. Ryan Tannehill must step up his game at quarterback and pass more to take the pressure off of Henry’s legs. Meanwhile, they also drafted exciting running back Darrynton Evans to potentially take some of the load off of Henry.
The Redskins will definitely start Kendall Fuller. However, questions remain about who will fill the second slot. It’s between Darby and Fabian Moreau to get the nod. Both men are 26 and coming off of the back of disappointing, injury-affected years.
But Darby should have an advantage over his rival because he has produced at a much higher level. During his time with the Eagles, he was a very effective corner. In sum, he needs to stay fit if he wants to prove himself worthy of a starting spot on this Redskins team.
Before swinging his helmet at Mason Rudolph like a wildman, Garrett was establishing himself as one of the finest defensive players in the league. Cleveland will hand him a mega-extension that will set a new standard for players on that side of the field. However, Garrett has a few things to prove.
First of all, you can be a great individual but that’s not enough to bring home glory. At the end of the day, his team needs to up their game and get into contention. It’s down to the Browns’ leaders to prove they’re mentally strong enough to take on the best and win.
Fowler joined the Falcons, but the question remains whether or not this is really the right franchise for him. He’s still just 25 and has the chance to prove that he can be a consistently dominant pass rusher. However, both Fowler and the Falcons have much to prove.
Only time will tell just how important Aaron Donald was to Fowler. As the league’s best defensive player, the short answer is that he definitely was a key part of the younger man’s game. Expect Fowler’s sack numbers to go down this season as he adapts to a new team and system.
One of the big questions that the Titans must answer does Tannehill really deserve his four-year extension worth $118 million? The problem is that he has Derrick Henry beside him so his level is clearly going to improve. But if Henry leaves next season and Tannehill regresses then that’s a very expensive mistake.
Last season’s record of 70.3% completed passes in 10 games is an anomaly. Across a full 16 games, he averages just 64%. That is a substantial difference so he needs to prove to all of his doubters that he has genuinely improved and not only had a one-off season.
King had a breakout season for the Packers in 2019. The Green Bay corner overcame a history of injuries to finally use his unusual physical gifts to great effect. He produced career-highs in interceptions (five) and pass breakups (15). Overall, King’s future looks very bright.
But he isn’t the finished article yet. He needs to be much more consistent and carry his form in 2020 if the Packers are going to fully trust him. King especially struggles against the quickest wide receivers. When you’re a man as big as King, that shouldn’t be too surprising. That said he can prove his worth with another big season.
New Orleans Saints star Jenkins left the Eagles with a bad taste in his mouth. The Eagles failed to take up their option on him. Jenkins didn’t feel valued in the City of Brotherly Love. Now he’s back in the “Big Easy,” where he will hope to make the same impact he did there before.
However, in the offseason, he clashed with Drew Brees over the latter’s comments on kneeling during the national anthem. In short, the locker room is going to be very interesting. This is a team that has serious ambitions of winning the Super Bowl. He needs to make a difference.
Gore is 37 but seems ageless. This offseason he joined the New York Jets in pursuit of a new challenge. The five-time Pro Bowl selection has never won a Super Bowl but doesn’t let that get him down. He’s also the oldest running back in the entire NFL today. But what does he have to gain by playing with the Jets?
The answer is satisfaction. First of all, he wants to prove that age doesn’t define you. A tremendous athlete, he still wants to learn and improve despite losing a yard of pace. Finally, his new coaches love him because he’s a consummate professional.
2018 was a great year for Goff as he demonstrated the qualities of a franchise quarterback. He had particularly good games against the Vikings and the Chiefs that year. However, last season Goff regressed substantially. He only managed 22 touchdown passes and 16 interceptions.
Of course, you can also point the finger at some of the players around him. But things are not going to get easier for Goff with the loss of star running back Todd Gurley. He needs to drastically improve his ball security and decision making to prove he deserves to be QB1.
The Eagles didn’t replace Malcolm Jenkins the way you might expect. Instead of drafting a new safety, they’re moving Mills from corner. It’s an ambitious show of faith in the former LSU man, but he believes in himself as he looks to prove his worth.
Mills has endured a host of injuries during his time in Philidelphia but has been a class act on the field. He can also expect a fair crack at this new position because his competition isn’t amazing. This is a true prove yourself one-year deal. Let’s see if it pays off.
Carter is in a battle for the outside linebacker spot with the New York Giants. A third-year professional, he should be a guaranteed starter, but after a tepid 2019, this isn’t the case. He appeared in 15 games with 12 starts, finishing the season with 45 total tackles, six tackles for loss, and 4.5 sacks.
This simply isn’t good enough. The Giants are in a period of transition so he will get the chance to prove himself. Furthermore, they brought in two new linebackers to increase the competition. His stay in New York all depends on how he responds to this.
Several national writers project Vander Esch to be the Cowboys’ MVP this year. 2019 was extremely frustrating for the homegrown star, but he has the ability to step it up and prove his qualities. In nine games, Vander Esch had 72 combined tackles, three passes defended, a forced fumble and a quarterback hit.
However, his 14 missed tackles stand out as something that he needs to improve. But after recovering from a neck injury, Vander Esch insists that he is sharper than ever. He will need to be because the linebacker can be a mainstay in the Cowboys’ defense.
Pro Bowl defensive end Ngakoue is playing a dangerous game right now. He says that he doesn’t want to sign a new contract with the Jaguars. However, the problem is that nobody has shown any firm interest in him. That leaves him and the Jaguars in a very strange position.
He says that he won’t play for them this year, but only time will tell if that’s true. One thing is for sure; he needs to prove that he’s worth the effort. It’s a big risk to take a year off when you’re only 25. This one looks like it’s going to rumble on and on. The downtrodden Jaguars need him too much.
It might seem a little bit harsh to put Burrow on this list, but we don’t mean it in a bad way. If you’re the number one overall pick, then you have a target on your back. It’s up to Burrow to rise up and prove exactly why he was the main man of the 2020 draft.
After an outstanding college career, Burrow looks like he has it all. But we’ve seen before that college success does not always translate to NFL glory. Baker Mayfield’s 2019 should serve as a warning to Burrow that perceptions can go change very quickly.
After signing a massive contract with the Carolina Panthers, it’s up to McCaffrey to prove that he’s worth every dime. If he continues his tremendous form in 2020, then he’ll be a steal. That’s not something you would say about a man on a $64 million contract, but it’s true.
His 2,392 yards from scrimmage and 19 touchdowns in 2019 show just how explosive he is. With blistering pace and outstanding game intelligence, McCaffrey has what it takes to be an all-time great. However, he also needs to drag the Panthers into playoff contention.
Mayfield has a lot of pressure on his shoulders right now. The Cleveland Browns’ quarterback knows he is walking on thin ice. If he starts this season as he finished the last, he may as well give up the starting spot night. It might be less painful for everybody.
The former Heisman Trophy winner and number one overall draft pick has the ability to be something special. However, last year was awful. He set the rookie touchdown pass record in 2018 but struggled with turnovers in 2019. This year he needs to prove himself quickly.
Everybody thinks the Houston Texans made a massive mistake by trading Hopkins to Atlanta. However, now he has to prove we were all correct. There are great expectations for the wide receiver who thinks he is number one in the entire NFL. That’s a bold claim and he has to back it up.
He definitely has the grounds to make that statement but he’s also inviting more pressure upon himself. We respect his guts, but in his first full season in Arizona, he will need to make an immediate impact. A four-time Pro Bowler, he will want the Cardinals to win their first NFC West title since 2015.
At the time of writing, the Detroit Lions had 12 wide receivers on their roster. Yes, you read that correctly. Obviously, they’ll whittle down those numbers, but the question remains who will be their starters? Golladay remains the best of the group by a wide margin.
However, he has a lot of players breathing down his neck, so Golladay will want to prove that he’s a level above them all. PFF projects that the Pro Bowler will have a stellar year and could be a top-five receiver in the league. Things are looking up for the 26-year-old.
It’s clear that his future is in Williams’ hands. The most talented of Kansas City’s running backs, Williams needs to prove his fitness. After scoring the winning touchdown in their epic Super Bowl win, he’ll want to carry on where they left off.
He recorded 355 rushing yards, 185 receiving yards and 10 total touchdowns in just five postseason games appearances in a Chiefs’ uniform. However, he fell behind LeSean McCoy early in the season when injuries took their toll. The team also drafted former LSU back Clyde Edwards-Helaire in the first round, not exactly a ringing endorsement of Williams’ future with the team. Williams needs to persuade the Chiefs that he’s their main man.
The first of two veteran quarterbacks who have given a lot to the sport, Rodgers is not in a happy place right now. First of all, the Packers threw a massive curveball into the works when they drafted Jordan Love. They traded up in the first round despite having pressing needs elsewhere on the offensive side of the ball. Now, Rodgers has an exciting but unproven youngster breathing down his neck.
This also means that there won’t be a new contract. Rodgers always expected to leave Green Bay on his terms but the writing is on the wall. They’re looking towards the future with no sentiment in place. Meanwhile, the Packers’ attack looks quite limited. It could be a frustrating year in Wisconsin.
You could argue that Brady has nothing left to prove after a stellar career in which he has won everything. However, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers star definitely won’t feel that way because of two words: Bill Belichick. They won’t want to admit it, but Brady and Belichick want to prove they can win without the other.
Brady’s first season in Florida is going to be fascinating. First of all, the team will have to adapt to his style of play because they play a vertical passing game. It’s questionable if Brady still has plenty left in his arm. There’s more on the line because he would love to win a Super Bowl in their home stadium. That’s possible this year for Brady.
Last year Bell averaged a career-low 3.2 yards per carry and racked up a disappointing 789 yards on the ground. Those are his worst numbers since an injury-plagued season with the Steelers back in 2015. Last year though, there was no good excuse. Bell really needs to improve for the sake of the New York Jets and his own career.
However, the Jets have reinforced their offensive line around Bell QB Sam Darnold. In short, this should create opportunities for Bell to improve after his disappointing first season in New York. He will want to prove that he is still a dynamic and powerful running back with a lot left in the tank.
In the end, it was a no-brainer for the Patriots. Newton joins the post-Brady revolution on an initial one-year deal because former fourth-round pick Jarret Stidham was never convincing as Brady’s successor. If Newton becomes the starter, he’ll be the first starting quarterback in 27 years who the Patriots didn’t draft.
However, for Newton, there is a lot on the line. He has a unique opportunity at one of the most powerful franchises in the nation to prove that he still has what it takes to be a Pro Bowl quarterback. The 2015 NFL MVP is back, but does he still have the ability and the drive?