Each team’s player with the most to prove in NFL Week 2

By Ethan Sears

The first week of NFL season brings on a mountain of overreactions. One game is too small a sample size to draw serious conclusions. But after a long offseason, hot takes become an impulse for fans and writers alike. Over the next few weeks, most of those will be proven wrong. The New England Patriots will be fine, the Jacksonville Jaguars aren’t Super Bowl contenders, ect.

There is an important caveat to that, however: all of these overreactions still have to be proven right or wrong. Numerous players on each team have been subject to the hot-take mill, both in a negative and positive light. This list merely focuses on one player with the most to prove on every NFL team (except the Houston Texans and Cincinnati Bengals, who already played Thursfay night). Let’s get right into it.

Cleveland Browns: J.C. Tretter, center

Tretter was one of Cleveland’s bigger acquisitions during free agency, signing a three-year, $16.5 million deal with the Browns. Though he had never been the full-time starter with the Green Bay Packers, Tretter always impressed in a backup role. That didn’t happen last Sunday. He struggled badly in both pass protection and run blocking, earning a 32.1 PFF grade. Things won’t get easier for him against the Baltimore Ravens, but Tretter has to turn things around this week.

Baltimore Ravens: Terrance West, running back

West didn’t play badly in Week 1 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, going for 80 yards on 19 carries. But it already looks like he’s fighting for his job. Buck Allen had 21 carries to West’s 19 in Week 1, and though Allen didn’t have as much yardage, it’s clear John Harbaugh wants a running back competition. If West isn’t up to it, he could lose the starting job before long.

Buffalo Bills: Zay Jones, wide receiver

Against the New York Jets in Week 1, the best thing you could say about Jones was that he was on the field. The second-round pick was targeted just four times and caught just one pass. Remember, one of the biggest arguments in favor of Jones during the draft process was that he caught 158 balls at East Carolina last season. This was just his first game. But if any team is in need of a target magnet from the slot, it might be the Bills. After all, that’s why they drafted him. Against Carolina this week, we have to see more from Jones.

Carolina Panthers: Cam Newton, quarterback

The Panthers easily dispatched the San Francisco 49ers in Week 1, but Newton himself was underwhelming. He seemed to be clearly affected by a shoulder injury and threw for just 171 yards. Some of that had to do with the score, which wasn’t especially close. However, this is still a concern. The Bills won’t be as easy to beat, and Carolina’s defense won’t give up just three points every week. If Newton’s shoulder is affecting him, it could cost the Panthers a playoff spot eventually.

Arizona Cardinals: Carson Palmer, quarterback

With star running back David Johnson needing surgery, the Cardinals have no choice but depend on Palmer for their offense. After the 37-year old threw three interceptions and looked his age last week, that’s a terrifying prospect. However, the Colts are the right opponent to get back on track against. If Palmer continues to struggle this week, Arizona is in for a long season.

Indianapolis Colts: Chuck Pagano, head coach

Fine, Pagano isn’t a player. But in Week 1, Pagano’s Colts lost 46-9 to the Los Angeles Rams — a team that won just four games last season. After the game, Pagano couldn’t even remember his team’s opponent. Indy has underperformed, badly, over the last couple seasons under Pagano’s tutelage. Even without quarterback Andrew Luck, it can’t be considered acceptable that the Colts couldn’t even compete against the Rams. If things look the same this week, don’t be surprised if Pagano is on the hot seat.

Tennessee Titans: DeMarco Murray

Murray didn’t look himself in Tennessee’s Week 1 matchup against the Oakland Raiders. He averaged just 3.7 yards per carry on 12 attempts, a far cry from the player who rushed for 1,287 yards during 2016. Let’s remember: Derrick Henry is looming behind Murray on the Titans’ depth chart. Without improvement, Murray could easily lose the starting job.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Blake Bortles

Bortles never had to make a play in Week 1. Running back Leonard Fournette and Jacksonville’s defense did all the work for him. However, that won’t be the case this week against the Titans. Tennessee is a tough opponent, and Bortles will have to make throws if the Jaguars are going to stay competitive. After a tumultuous preseason, this is the first test of Bortles’ mettle. A bad performance could lead to Chad Henne starting in Week 3.

Philadelphia Eagles: LeGarrette Blount

The Eagles struggled to find a running game last year, and Blount didn’t do much to help in Week 1. The newly acquired running back was given 14 carries and failed to breach the 50-yard mark. Philadelphia managed to escape FedEx Field with a victory, but they’ll need a bigger performance from Blount to win at Kansas City this week. This team won’t survive for long if they can’t figure out the run game.

Kansas City Chiefs: Alex Smith, quarterback

Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith after Week 1 win over Patriots

In Week 1, we saw an entirely different version of Alex Smith. Captain Checkdown was suddenly throwing deep — he went 28-of-35 with 368 yards and four touchdowns against the New England Patriots. Now, the question becomes whether Smith can sustain that level of performance. With rookie quarterback Patrick Mahomes looking over his shoulder, Smith will have to play like he did in Week 1 to keep people from calling for his successor.

New England Patriots: Kyle Van Noy, linebacker

With fellow linebacker Dont’a Hightower’s out Sunday, you could pencil in any Patriots linebacker at this spot. We went with Van Noy because he was the worst of the bunch last Thursday night. The 26-year-old looked slow in run defense, failing to catch up with Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt on numerous occasions. He also had a 44.3 PFF grade in coverage. With Hightower not on the field against Drew Brees and the Saints on Sunday, Van Noy becomes one of New England’s most important defensive players. The Patriots can’t afford for him to play that badly again.

New Orleans Saints: Adrian Peterson, running back

One of the most viral moments of Week 1 came when Peterson yelled at Saints head coach Sean Payton, seemingly because he wasn’t being given the ball. (Peterson later denied that interpretation). He had just six carries and looks to be the second option behind Mark Ingram, without a doubt. To boot, Peterson had just 18 yards on those six carries. It’s pretty clear that Peterson wasn’t happy with himself, or Payton — denial or not — so it’s up to him to prove that he can still be a star running back. That starts on Sunday.

Minnesota Vikings: Xavier Rhodes, cornerback 

After receiving a giant contract extension during the offseason, Rhodes was underwhelming at best on Monday night. Though he was targeted just four times, Rhodes gave up 8.0 yards per pass, according to Football Outsiders’ charting. PFF gave him an abysmal 41.6 grade and now he has to go up against Pittsburgh Steelers wide receivers Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant on Sunday. That’s as big a test as a cornerback can get, and if Rhodes doesn’t pass, he may start to hear about it.

Pittsburgh Steelers: James Harrison, edge rusher

Here’s a stat that went unnoticed on Sunday: James Harrison played just four snaps in the Steelers’ home opener. Given that he’s not dealing with an injury, at least that we know of, that’s shocking. Harrison was Pittsburgh’s best pass rusher last season. What gives? Is Harrison no longer a part of the Steelers’ rotation on the edge? We should get a clear answer this week.

Chicago Bears: Jordan Howard, running back

Jordan Howard

The endearing lesson of the Chicago Bears’ Week 1 loss against the Atlanta Falcons was this: no running back in the NFL should feel secure in his job, ever. Howard didn’t lose his job to Tarik Cohen, but Cohen certainly put himself in the conversation. On five carries, Cohen had 66 rushing yards, good enough to make highlight reels. He also caught eight of 12 targets and looked like a weapon in the passing game. Howard was fine, but he has to shift the conversation and remind everyone that he’s the star running back of the Chicago Bears on Sunday.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Cameron Brate, tight end

Brate quietly had a strong 2016, going for 660 receiving yards and catching 70 percent of his targets, including eight touchdowns. The Bucs, however, didn’t seem to notice, drafting tight end O.J. Howard in the first round. With Tampa Bay playing its opener this week, Brate will be fighting for his job from the get-go. Moreover, he’ll be fighting for a chance to stay in the league once the Buccaneers inevitably move on from him in favor of Howard.

Miami Dolphins: Jay Cutler, quarterback

Cutler didn’t just come out of retirement to try and save the Miami Dolphins’ season. He did so after an injury-plagued 2016 in which he played just five games for the Chicago Bears. He’s also 34 years old and spent the entire offseason in retirement. Cutler has to prove that he’s in shape and can still be an effective NFL quarterback, or else the Dolphins may be just as screwed as if Matt Moore had been their starter to begin with.

Los Angeles Chargers: Casey Hayward, cornerback

After a wonderful 2016 season, Hayward started this year off on the wrong foot. Against the Denver Broncos on Monday night, he gave up 10.1 yards per pass on eight targets, per Football Outsiders. That could have easily been the difference in the Chargers’ three-point loss. The secondary should be one of the better parts of this team, with Hayward and Jason Verrett at cornerback. However, cornerbacks have a tendency to be inconsistent on a year-to-year basis. If Hayward is succumbing to that inconsistency, it will be a problem for this defense.

New York Jets: Bilal Powell, running back

Surprisingly, Powell wasn’t heavily featured in the Jets’ offense last Sunday. Despite New York being in the game — they lost by just nine points — Powell had just seven carries for an abysmal 22 yards. Matt Forte, his competition in the backfield, wasn’t much better. However, it was surprising that Powell just didn’t get the ball much. Assuming the Jets limit him again on Sunday, the 28-year old needs to look more like the guy who averaged over 5.5 yards per carry last season and prove he deserves more touches.

Oakland Raiders: Bruce Irvin, edge rusher

Bruce Irvin

Irvin, normally a strong complement to Khalil Mack coming off the edge, just didn’t seem right in Week 1. He had just one tackle and failed to record a pressure, per Football Outsiders. Pro Football Focus handed him a 37.2 grade. With Irvin’s 30th birthday looming, the aging curve should be in the back of everyone’s minds over the next couple weeks if this keeps up. However, we shouldn’t jump the gun. Oakland has an easy matchup with the Jets this week. Irvin should be himself again.

Dallas Cowboys: Demarcus Lawrence, edge rusher

Lawrence posted two sacks — double his total from 2016 — in Week 1 against the New York Giants. If this is a sign that he could become an impact pass rusher, it’s hard to overstate how important that is for the Cowboys. However, the Giants feature one of the worst tackle combinations in football. We have to see Lawrence do this against better competition and with more consistency. That starts this week against the Denver Broncos.

Denver Broncos: Menelik Watson, right tackle

The Broncos’ newly acquired right tackle was terrible in his debut. Watson was given a 31.8 PFF grade and never looked quite right against the Los Angeles Chargers on Monday. He allowed a sack to Melvin Ingram and struggled all night long. The Cowboys are an easier opponent for Watson than the Chargers, but after the way they dispatched the Giants’ offensive line, it’s clear this won’t be a cake walk. Watson has to make it look like one.

Washington Redskins: Kirk Cousins, quarterback 

With two key pieces of last year’s receiving corps — Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson — gone, Cousins never got in rhythm on Sunday. He barely completed over 50 percent of his passes, threw for only 240 yards and had an interception to go along with his only touchdown. It’s time for Cousins to show that he, not his supporting cast, was responsible for his success over the last two seasons. With free agency looming, the next few weeks could end up having a monumental impact.

Los Angeles Rams: Jared Goff, quarterback

Jared Goff looked great in his 2017 debut.

Goff had his best game as a pro in last week’s opener, throwing for 306 yards and averaging 10.55 per attempt. If that improvement is real, the Rams’ entire outlook changes. They could challenge for a wild card if Goff plays like that the rest of the year. Obviously, there’s a long way to go, but Week 2 is the first step toward Goff proving that he’s for real.

San Francisco 49ers: Joe Staley, left tackle

It’s taken a while, but the 33-year old looked his age for perhaps the first time in his career on Sunday. Staley had a 49.7 PFF grade in the Niners’ opener and, to put it simply, San Francisco can’t afford for him to play that badly. Things won’t get easier for him this week the 49ers going to Seattle. Another bad game could be the beginning of the end for Staley.

Seattle Seahawks: Rees Odhiambo, left tackle

There’s a good case to be made that Odhiambo was the worst offensive lineman in the league last Sunday. Seattle’s entire offensive line played poorly, but Odhiambo was the catalyst for a lot of the trouble. He was given a horrendous 26.3 PFF grade for the game and it’s hard to find a good play of his on tape. If Odhiambo doesn’t improve, Seattle’s offensive line may sink its Super Bowl prospects yet again.

Green Bay Packers: Ty Montgomery, running back

Sure, the Seahawks are a tough opponent to run the ball against. But averaging 2.84 yards per attempt on 19 carries is hard to reconcile. As good as Montgomery looked in 2016, lingering questions about his long-term viability as a running back remain. He has to put them to rest sooner rather than later, or else the Packers may turn to rookie running back Jamaal Williams.

Atlanta Falcons: Wes Schweitzer, right guard

It’s rare that a right guard is the cause of major issues, but Schweitzer was just abhorrent on Sunday. He was the cause of a fast-shrinking pocket for quarterback Matt Ryan all day long against the Chicago Bears. It wasn’t a coincidence that the Falcons’ passing offense looked underwhelming at best. The 24-year-old has to get it under control sooner rather than later because performances like that won’t fly against better competition.

Detroit Lions: Marvin Jones, wide receiver

Just one game into the season, it looks like the Lions might have a new No. 2 receiver in Kenny Golladay. The fifth-round pick caught four balls on seven targets in Week 1, including two key touchdowns in Detroit’s victory over the Arizona Cardinals. Jones, however, was left in the lurch, seeing just two targets from Matthew Stafford. It’s hard to say he’s been supplanted this early, but Jones’ outlook certainly doesn’t look too good. A strong performance on Monday night against the New York Giants, however, could change that.

New York Giants: Eli Manning, quarterback

Manning was every fan’s worst nightmare in Week 1. He looked old, averaged just 4.61 adjusted yards per attempt, and the Giants got into the red zone just once all game. Odell Beckham or no Odell Beckham, there’s no excuse for Manning to play that badly. If this doesn’t get better against the Lions — featuring a defense ranked dead last in efficiency last season as measured by DVOA — it could be a sign that Manning is done.