10 NFL players with the most to prove this season

By Vincent Frank
Oct 31, 2019; Glendale, AZ, USA; San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (10) with head coach Kyle Shanahan against the Arizona Cardinals at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Super Bowl contenders heading into the 2020 NFL season will rely heavily on their quarterbacks to perform at a high level. Will the likes of Jimmy Garoppolo and Josh Allen be up for the task?

On the other side of the ball, some teams will be relying on young players to take that next step. This includes a third-year cornerback in Minneapolis.

Focusing solely on teams who earned a playoff spot last season, here’s a look at 10 players with the most to prove heading into the 2020 campaign.

Carson Wentz, quarterback, Philadelphia Eagles

Philadelphia fancies itself as a legitimate Super Bowl contender heading into the 2020 season. It finished last year with a mediocre 9-7 record, only to win the NFC East because of the Dallas Cowboys struggles. While general manager Howie Roseman has built up a talented roster, the onus is going to be on Wentz to step up. He’s been unable to finish each of the past three seasons due to injury. This has people questioning whether the former No. 2 overall pick is a reliable long-term option for the Eagles. Playing under a four-year, $128 million contract, the 27-year-old Wentz must prove himself once again. After all, the Eagles did select a fellow quarterback in Jalen Hurts in the second round of April’s draft.

Corey Davis, wide receiver, Tennessee Titans

There’s a reason Tennessee declined the fifth-year option on Davis’ rookie contract. The team is in no way sold on the former No. 5 overall pick. Davis, 25, is coming off a horrendous 2019 season that saw him record 43 receptions for 601 yards and two touchdowns. He’s averaging just 622 yards throughout his three-year career. Now that A.J. Brown has taken over as the Titans’ top receiving option, Davis must prove himself heading into free agency. Even if it’s not with the Titans moving forward, shedding that bust label would loom large. 

L.J. Collier, EDGE, Seattle Seahawks

Seattle surprised the masses by selecting this Texas Christian product No. 29 overall last year. It did not pan out for general manager John Schneider and Co. Collier recorded three tackles without a single sack as a rookie. Now that it’s questionable whether free agent Jadeveon Clowney will return to the Seahawks and with the team needing more production out on the edge, the pressure is going to be on Collier to step up big time in 2020. If not, Seattle will fall further behind the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC West.

Josh Allen, quarterback, Buffalo Bills

The 2019 campaign was a highly successful one for Allen and his Bills. They surprised the masses by posting a 10-6 record and earning a playoff spot. For Allen in particular, his sophomore campaign was one of transition. Seen as a project coming out of Wyoming, Allen tallied nearly 3,600 total yards with 29 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Though, he showed inconsistency throughout the season. That must change now that Allen has gone from young player to a veteran and with his Bills looking to take that next step from surprise team to legitimate Super Bowl contender.

Mike Hughes, cornerback, Minnesota Vikings

Head coach Mike Zimmer and Co. made it clear during the spring that the Vikings wanted to get younger on defense. This comes on the heels of an NFC Divisional Playoff loss to the conference champion San Francisco 49ers. It apparently started at cornerback with former first-round picks Trae Waynes and Xavier Rhodes moving on from the Vikings. They are now set to rely on this third-year defensive back, a player who has struggled with consistency throughout his young career. Hughes, 23, has started all of five games throughout his first two seasons. He’s recorded 12 passes defended and two interceptions during that span. It’s now time for the Central Florida product to step up in a starting role.

Brandin Cooks, wide receiver, Houston Texans

The decision by head coach and general manager Bill O’Brien to trade star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins for pennies on the dollar back in March was met with widespread criticism. Hopkins remains one of the most-productive receivers in the game. Houston then turned around and was bamboozled by the Los Angeles Rams in the Cooks trade. It’s not that Cooks has failed to perform at a high level. Rather, it’s all about his hefty contract and struggles a season ago. Playing under a five-year, $81 million contract, Cooks recorded just 42 receptions for less than 600 yards in 2019. He must up his game big time if the Texans have any hope of being legit title contenders. 

Alvin Kamara, running back, New Orleans Saints

Following last season’s premature playoff departure in the wild card round, New Orleans finds itself right up there with the San Francisco 49ers as favorites to come out of the NFC in 2020. A lot of this will depend on how Kamara performs and whether Sean Payton and Co. will use him more moving forward. Heading into his contract year, Kamara is said to want a lucrative extension. It doesn’t look like that’s going to happen for the former NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. Kamara, 24, averaged a mere 12 rush attempts last season. He must display an ability to shoulder the load if the back is to earn a long-term deal and help the Saints reach the Super Bowl. It’s that simple

Jarrett Stidham, quarterback, New England Patriots

It’s crazy how just one calendar year can change the career of a young football player. At this time in 2019, Stidham was learning behind six-time Super Bowl champ Tom Brady and was a relative unknown after New England made the Auburn product a fourth-round pick. Now, one year later, and the young signal caller is slated to replace Brady under center for Bill Belichick and Co. The onus is on him to play at a high level out of the gate. Should that not happen, the near two-decade reign of the Patriots as an NFL dynasty will come to an end. No pressure here, buddy.

Jimmy Garoppolo, quarterback, San Francisco 49ers

After putting up one of the better statistical regular seasons for a quarterback in franchise history, Garoppolo was not asked to do a whole lot en route to San Francisco earning a trip to the Super Bowl. When he was tasked with upping his game, the former New England Patriots second-round pick struggled big time in the 49ers’ Super Bowl loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. It’s been a major narrative in the months since that disastrous performance. Garoppolo now has one more season to prove his worth to San Francisco’s brass. The team has a wide open championship window. If Garoppolo is unable to capitalize on that by bringing a Lombardi to Northern California, he could very well be out of a job following the 2020 season.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire, running back, Kansas City Chiefs

It was shocking to see this former LSU running back go in the first round. He was the first player off the board at that position, finding himself selected ahead of better-known running backs Jonathan Taylor and J.K. Dobbins. Now likely to be the lead back for the defending champs, the pressure is squarely on Edwards-Helaire to perform at a Pro Bowl level as a rookie. Running backs selected in the first round normally face a ton of pressure. That’s magnified here given Kansas City’s repeat aspirations.