Each team’s player with most to prove in NFL Week 3

By Ethan Sears

The NFL season is still in its embryonic stage. Just two weeks in, we’re still trying to figure out which teams are pretenders, which teams are contenders, and so on.

For players who started the year badly, there’s still time to turn it around. However, that time runs out quickly. The central question to the NFL is “What have you done for me lately?” Performances from past years only get you so far.

Here is each team’s player with the most to prove in Week 3 of the NFL.

Baltimore Ravens: Tony Bergstrom, right guard

Bergstrom has the impossible task of replacing Marshal Yanda, who went down for the year with a fractured ankle midway through the Ravens’ Week 2 matchup. Let’s just say Bergstrom did not get off to a strong start. In 32 Week 2 snaps, he had a 37.4 PFF grade, including a 28.6 run blocking grade. Given that Baltimore’s offense is already underwhelming at best, it will be hard for them to deal with that big a downgrade on the offensive line. Bergstrom has to play well against a tough Jacksonville Jaguars defensive line this week.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Allen Hurns, wide receiver

With Allen Robinson out for the year, Hurns is the Jaguars’ No. 1 wideout by default. He certainly hasn’t played badly thus far, with nine receptions on 11 targets for 124 yards. But this week presents a different kind of test. Jacksonville has to move the ball against the defense which has been the most efficient in football thus far by DVOA. If they’re going to throw on Baltimore with success, Hurns has to play his best game.

New Orleans Saints: Alex Anzalone, linebacker

The rookie linebacker from Florida had a solid Week 1, then fell apart completely in Week 2. He got beaten badly by Patriots running back Rex Burkhead and tight end Rob Gronkowski for touchdowns on the game’s first two drives, and his PFF grade dropped to 51.5. With the Saints’ defense a complete disaster, they need contributions wherever they can get it. A bounce-back game from Anzalone could go a long way.

Carolina Panthers: Daryl Williams, right tackle

Williams has the unfortunate task of going against perhaps the only capable pass rusher on the Saints: Cameron Jordan. Through two games, Jordan already has six pressures, per Football Outsiders, along with a sack. His 91.3 PFF grade is second among edge rushers. If New Orleans has any chance of getting to Cam Newton, it’s through Jordan. That makes Williams all the more important. If he can contain Jordan, the Panthers could romp to a victory.

Indianapolis Colts: Frank Gore, running back

Frank Gore

The Colts have bigger problems, but through two weeks, the 34-year old Gore has looked his age. He’s averaging just 3.7 yards per carry, bringing his average over the last three years down to 3.8. Gore hasn’t been a factor in the receiving game, with just one reception, and has just a 42 percent success rate. It’s time to see Gore look like his old self again. Cleveland is a team that you can run on and if Gore continues to struggle against them, it’s worth asking the question as to whether his career is finally reaching its end.

Cleveland Browns: Kenny Britt, wide receiver

After two games, Britt looks like Cleveland’s latest failed signing at receiver. Last week, he didn’t just play badly, catching only one ball for two yards. He also put in brazenly poor effort. If that continues, let alone his lack of production, the Browns should consider making Britt a healthy scratch or outright releasing him. At this point, forget about being an impact player. Britt has to prove he belongs on the roster.

Detroit Lions: Ziggy Ansah, defensive end

Ansah had three sacks against the Giants last week, more than his entire total in 2016. Now he has to prove that wasn’t a one-game fluke. Remember, Ansah went against Ereck Flowers, one of the worst left tackles in football, last week. He’ll get a better test with Jake Matthews of the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. His performance will be a good indicator as to whether we’re really getting the same Ansah who made the Pro Bowl in 2015 this year.

Atlanta Falcons: Devonta Freeman, running back

Freeman is coming off a strong game against the Green Bay Packers in which he went for 84 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries. Now, it’s time for him to put to bed any doubts from Week 1 for good. The Lions have played good run defense through two weeks, though that may be as much a result of their schedule as anything else. Another good game will shred any lingering doubts and remind everyone that Freeman is still a perennial 1,000-yard rusher.

Houston Texans: Deshaun Watson, quarterback

Lost in Houston’s Thursday night win last week was that Watson struggled. Despite his big touchdown run that put the Texans in front, the Clemson product averaged just 5.21 yards per attempt and threw for just 125 yards. It won’t be easy for him to go against the Patriots in Foxboro this week. However, a decent game from Watson would go a long way. That doesn’t necessarily mean pulling off the upset, but keeping the Texans in the game would be a very impressive thing for Watson to do.

New England Patriots: Malcolm Butler, cornerback

Butler hasn’t been especially bad this year, but he admitted to being unhappy with his performance leading up to Week 3. Additionally, he was benched at the start of New England’s Week 2 game at New Orleans. Given Bill Belichick’s history of shipping out popular players, consider Butler to be on notice. After a tumultuous offseason in which he was nearly traded to the Saints, it wouldn’t be especially surprising to see Butler go. A strong performance this week, however, could put an end to those doubts.

New York Jets: Bilal Powell, running back

Through two weeks, Powell has been perhaps the most disappointing player in football, both in terms of performance and in terms of how the Jets have deployed him. Not only has he taken a backseat to Matt Forte in their offense, but Powell hasn’t played well when given a chance. In fact, he’s played horribly, averaging 2.7 yards per carry on 13 attempts. It’s unlikely that will lead to him getting more carries, which means that Powell has to make the most out of the touches he gets this week.

Miami Dolphins: Laremy Tunsil, left tackle

The Dolphins have only played one game, but Tunsil struggled. The second-year player had a 44.9 PFF grade against the Los Angeles Chargers with poor splits in both pass and run blocking. Given that Tunsil is supposed to anchor this line, that’s just unacceptable. He should rebound against the Jets this week. If not, however, it will be worth worrying about for Miami fans.

Denver Broncos: Jamaal Charles, running back

Charles has taken a clear backseat to C.J. Anderson in Denver’s offense. He has just 19 carries compared to Anderson’s 45 and has been on the field for just 41 snaps to Anderson’s 104. Given how good Anderson has looked, head coach Vance Joseph probably made the right decision in giving him the majority of carries. However, if Charles looks like the star he was for so long in Kansas City, he could change that hierarchy. Unless Anderson slows down, however, this could be the last week in which Charles has that chance. He has to do something with it.

Buffalo Bills: Jordan Poyer, safety

Poyer has come out of nowhere to be one of the best safeties in football through the first two weeks of the year. He leads the position in PFF grading, has two sacks, an interception and five passes defended. All that in just two games. Now, the question becomes whether he can keep it up. If so, the Bills may have unearthed a superstar.

Minnesota Vikings: Danielle Hunter, edge rusher

Hunter was picked by many as a breakout candidate before the season. He hasn’t played badly by any means so far, with 4.5 pressures on the year according to Football Outsiders. However, Hunter has yet to record a sack, or even a tackle for that matter. Converting some of those pressures to sacks could accelerate his breakout in a big way. On the other hand, if he fails to do so, Hunter could find his role reduced.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Vernon Hargreaves, cornerback

The Bucs are the only team other than Miami to have played just one game so far, thanks to Hurricane Irma. So we have less of a sample size with them than nearly every other team. Hargreaves struggled in Tampa’s opener. He had a paltry 47.4 PFF grade against the Bears in a game the Bucs dominated thoroughly. This week poses a tougher test, as Hargreaves will have to go up against Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen of the Minnesota Vikings. Unlike Chicago’s receivers, Hargreaves will end up paying for his mistakes in this one. He best not make any.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Joe Haden, cornerback

Haden has flat-out struggled during the early part of the season. According to Football Outsiders, he’s given up 9.2 yards per pass on 11 targets. He also has a terrible 43.1 PFF grade, consistent with his play in Cleveland last year. If Haden can’t turn it around, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him out of a job soon. The Steelers signed him just before the year started as a flyer. If they don’t see return on their investment, there isn’t much reason to keep Haden around.

Chicago Bears: Mike Glennon, quarterback

Just two weeks into the year, the Bears are already resisting calls to start rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky over Glennon. This was predictable. But it doesn’t change the reality for Glennon. If the Bears continue to lose, especially in the same blowout fashion as last week, it won’t be long until Trubisky is under center no matter what head coach John Fox says. Against the Steelers, Glennon has to prove that he should still be the starter, or he may not be the starter come Week 4.

New York Giants: Ben McAdoo, head coach

McAdoo coached terribly in the Giants’ Monday night loss to the Detroit Lions. He threw short of the sticks twice on fourth down, mismanaged the clock at the end of the first half and never got the offense going. Despite being an offensive-minded coach, McAdoo’s Giants have leaned extensively on the defense since he’s had the job. If New York has any chance of competing this year, this is a must-win game. If McAdoo has any chance of keeping public opinion on his side, he can’t bungle this one in the same way he did on Monday.

Philadelphia Eagles: LeGarrette Blount, running back

Philadelphia Eagles running back LeGarrette Blount is under tremendous pressure to do something positive in NFL preseason Week 3

Blount didn’t get a single carry in the Eagles’ Week 2 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, his only touch coming on a one-yard reception. Perhaps that indicated a lack of faith from head coach Doug Pederson after Blount averaged just 3.29 yards per carry in Week 1. If Blount can bounce back with a big game against the Giants, however, the winds will shift in his favor.

Seattle Seahawks: The entire offensive line

Yup, it’s a five-way tie for the Seahawks. Here’s why: Seattle’s offensive line has been bad for a while, but not this bad. This group looks so terrible it might derail the entire season for a team that was expected to compete for the Super Bowl. The Seahawks don’t need their line to be good, they just need it to be below-average. At this point, Russell Wilson would take that in a hot second.

Tennessee Titans: DeMarco Murray, running back

Murray has been outplayed by Derrick Henry so far this year and it isn’t even close. The second-year running back is averaging 5.9 yards per carry, Murray is averaging 3.3. Henry has been football’s most efficient running back by both DVOA and DYAR, Murray has ranked 18th in both stats. Given that Henry is much younger and looks ready to bust out, it doesn’t feel like an overstatement to say Murray, who is also dealing with a hamstring issue, is playing for his job.

Kansas City Chiefs: Terrance Mitchell, cornerback

Mitchell has been aweful in the first two games of the year. On 19 targets, he’s given up 10.7 yards per pass, according to Football Outsiders. He also has a godawful 38.3 PFF grade. If the Chiefs are going to be title contenders — and it looks that way right now — Mitchell can’t be a weakness in the secondary. He has to turn it around.

Los Angeles Chargers: Younghoe Koo, kicker

This one is pretty simple: don’t miss field goals. Let’s say it again, this time in caps. DON’T MISS FIELD GOALS. Not only did Koo miss the game-winning kick against the Miami Dolphins in Week 2, not only did his game-tying attempt against the Denver Broncos get blocked in Week 1, he’s just 1-for-4 in field goal attempts on the year. If he doesn’t improve, the unfortunate reality is that Koo will be cut sooner rather than later.

Cincinnati Bengals: Andy Dalton, quarterback

Dalton’s performance last Thursday night against the Houston Texans was as bad as you could possibly imagine. He was inaccurate, couldn’t get Cincy’s offense started and played poorly enough that there were calls to bench him in favor of A.J. McCarron. If there isn’t some improvement on Dalton’s end, and fast, those calls will only amplify. With pressure on head coach Marvin Lewis to win now and offensive coordinator Ken Zampese already having been given the boot, the Bengals may heed them if Dalton doesn’t get better.

Green Bay Packers: Davante Adams, wide receiver

It’s unclear whether Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb will play at all on Sunday, but at minimum, they’ll both be playing through injuries. That puts the onus on Adams to carry the load for Green Bay’s receiving corps. Adams played well in Week 2, catching eight of 10 targets for 99 yards. A similar performance may be needed from him on Sunday. We’ll see if he’s up to the task.

Oakland Raiders: Amari Cooper, wide receiver

Cooper’s start has been one of the few things to worry about in Raiders-land so far this year. After a terrible Week 1 performance in which he caught just five of 13 targets, Cooper went for just 33 yards in Oakland’s blowout win over the Jets in Week 2. With the Raiders playing in primetime against the Washington Redskins, Cooper could put this story to rest if he plays well. However, as of now, Michael Crabtree seems to have overtaken him as the Raiders’ most reliable target. Given that Cooper is just 23 years old and supposed to be a superstar, that’s a little concerning.

Washington Redskins: Terrelle Pryor, wide receiver

Pryor’s first two games with Washington have been underwhelming to say the least. Combined, he has just eight receptions for 97 yards. After losing their two best receivers during the offseason and signing Pryor as a replacement, the Redskins need more than that out of him. Pryor has to get on the same page as Kirk Cousins and start playing like the guy who went for 1,000 yards in Cleveland last year.

Dallas Cowboys: Ezekiel Elliott, running back

It’s unclear why the Cowboys didn’t feature Elliott more in what ended up being a blowout loss to the Denver Broncos. However, on the nine carries Jason Garrett did give Elliott, the running back went for just eight yards. No, that’s not a typo. He averaged less than a yard per carry. More than that, he admittedly displayed a lack of effort. That can’t happen if the Cowboys are going to win.

Arizona Cardinals: Larry Fitzgerald, wide receiver

It’s easy to attribute much of Fitzgerald’s struggles to quarterback Carson Palmer, but that doesn’t change the fact that Fitzgerald has struggled. Through two games, he has just a 47.4 percent catch rate and less than 100 receiving yards. We’ve begun to think of Fitzgerald as an ageless wonder. But given that he’s 34, we almost have to wonder whether this is the beginning of the end. However, it’s still early in the year. There’s still time to turn it around and Monday night would be a good place to start.