Now that NFL training camps are about to get going around the country, there’s a ton of stories to focus on.
There’s also a number of players with a lot to prove. Can second-year Patriots quarterback Jarrett Stidham hold off Cam Newton for the starting job?
The defending NFC champion San Francisco 49ers need a certain young receiver to step up. Will he be up for the task?
These are among the six NFL players with the most to prove as training camps get started around the league.
Jarrett Stidham, quarterback, New England Patriots
A fourth-round pick of the Patriots last year, Stidham seemed to have the inside track for the starting job once Tom Brady shockingly departed in free agency. Internally, New England is high on the Auburn product despite an extremely small sample size.
Now that Bill Belichick and Co. have signed former NFL MVP Cam Newton, there’s no telling what’s going to happen this summer. And with only two preseason games this year (at most), Stidham is going to be under a lot of pressure to prove himself during training camp.
Brandon Aiyuk, wide receiver, San Francisco 49ers
Not only did the defending NFC champs exhaust one of their few 2020 draft picks on this former Arizona State star, they traded up to nab him. This is a clear indication that San Francisco is expecting big things from the 6-foot Aiyuk as a rookie.
There’s a lot more that goes into this, too. Stud receiver Deebo Samuel suffered a Jones Fracture in his foot during workouts last month. San Francisco lost Emmanuel Sanders in free agency. Needless to say, Aiyuk is going to be under a ton of pressure to succeed as a rookie. It starts during camp.
Jedrick Wills, offensive tackle, Cleveland Browns
Left tackle. It’s one of the positions with the biggest learning curves from college football to the professional ranks. Coincidentally, it’s also the single-most important non skill position in the entire NFL world. That’s not hyperbole.
Cleveland signed All-Pro tackle Jack Conklin in free agency. But he’s limited to the right side of the line. It’s in this that Wills is expected to protect Baker Mayfield’s blindside. No pressure there. How the Alabama product performs in camp will likely dictate whether the Browns have to look in another direction for the 2020 season. A trade or free-agent signing could be in the cards. Wills has a lot riding on camp. That’s for sure.
Ronald Jones III, running back, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
This former USC standout performed extremely well in Byron Leftwich’s offense last season. After putting up only 77 total yards in his first year, Jones tallied 1,033 yards at a clip of five yards per touch as a sophomore.
Though, things have changed big time in Tampa. Primarily, the signing of six-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady will have a major impact. How will Jones look with Brady in the backfield? It takes a special type of back to coexist with the all-time great. Struggles during camp could potentially lead to the Buccaneers hitting the free-agent market for a starter.
Brandin Cooks, wide receiver, Houston Texans
Cooks will be under enormous pressure throughout the 2020 season simply because he’s indirectly replacing All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. This isn’t Cooks’ fault. Rather, it’s a direct condemnation of Texans head coach and general manager Bill O’Brien trading Hopkins for pennies on the dollar while overpaying for Cooks in a separate deal with the Rams.
What we do know is that the high-priced Cooks is coming off a 2019 season that saw him record less than 600 receiving yards. He must show an immediate connection with Deshaun Watson if the Texans are going to have any chance of competing for a conference title in 2020. No pressure here, Mr. Cooks.
Mitchell Trubisky, quarterback, Chicago Bears
Despite backing this former No. 2 overall pick during the spring, the Bears and general manager Ryan Pace made it clear that he’s walking a tight rope. The acquisition if former Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles puts into question both Trubisky’s long-term and short-term future in Chicago. That’s hard to ignore at this point.
Recent suggestions are that Foles has the upper-hand in the starting competition. That’s no small thing given that Pace’s entire reputation and his future in Chicago could potentially be tied to Trubisky. Coming off a 2019 campaign that saw him throw for less than 3,200 yards with just 17 touchdowns in 15 starts, Trubisky must be at the top of his game during training camp.