It’s Thursday and football season is finally upon us. While the talent level of some players are well-known, others have either not fulfilled their potential yet, are oft-injured or have been, by all accounts, terrible in their pro careers. Here are 32 players who have the most to prove in 2017:
Arizona Cardinals – Tyrann Mathieu
Make no mistake, Matthieu is a very good player, but he has struggled with health throughout his career. In fact, Matthieu has never played a full 16 games in his career, and had ended the season injured reserve three times in four years. His production dipped a bit last year due to a nagging shoulder injury. He’s healthy (for now), but he needs to prove he can handle a full NFL schedule.
Atlanta Falcons – Matt Ryan
Ryan won the league’s MVP award last season after having a career year that saw him lead the Falcons to their second Super Bowl appearance in franchise history, but now that Kyle Shannahan is gone, can he repeat? Last year, Ryan threw a touchdown on a career-high 7.1 percent of his passes and averaged a career-best 9.3 yards per attempt, while completed just a shade under 70 percent of his passes.
Baltimore Ravens – Breshad Perriman
Perriman missed his entire rookie year and failed to make much of an impact last season. The former first round pick is in his third NFL season, which means his play this year will heavily dictate whether or now Baltimore picks up his fifth-year option, and he is already off to a rocky start after missing the preseason. He projects as the No. 3 receiver behind Mike Wallace and Jeremy Maclin this season.
Buffalo Bills – Tyrod Taylor
With the Bills in full-tank mode, there is a good chance that Taylor will be auditioning for the other 31 NFL teams this season. His play will determine what kind of deal he will land in the open market.
Carolina Panthers – Cam Newton
Newton won the NFL’s MVP award in 2015 as he led the team to a 15-1 record and a Super Bowl appearance before falling back to earth in 2016, where he was the league’s most inaccurate quarterback. He showed how good of a player he can be in 2015, now he needs to show that season wasn’t the outlier.
Chicago Bears – Kevin White
Like Perriman, White was a top draft pick in 2015 who has been ineffective in his NFL career. In two seasons, White has played just four games and now approaches the most important year of his career as his play will dictate whether or not the Bears will exercise their fifth-year option.
Cincinnati Bengals – Vontaze Burfict
Between opponents and his own teammates, Burfict’s past-the-whistle style of play has given him a reputation as a dirty player in the league, and now the league has taken notice. When he’s on the field, Burfict is a very effective player and one of the best defenders in Cincinnati, but he needs to show that he can keep his hits clean and play to the whistle – not beyond it – to restore his reputation.
Cleveland Browns – DeShone Kizer
Kizer was named the Browns starting quarterback and Brock Osweiler was shown the door, but the Browns are loaded with draft picks in 2018. If Cleveland fails on the field again, they will likely look at next year’s draft class, which is loaded with talent at quarterback, to find a new signal caller.
Dallas Cowboys – Dak Prescott
With running back Ezekiel Elliott suspended six games and the Cowboys facing a tougher schedule in 2017, Prescott will need to show his stellar rookie season was no fluke. His first test will be against the Giants, a team he lost twice to last season.
Denver Broncos – C.J. Anderson
The Broncos offense is a bit of a mess, but with Devontae Booker out and Jamaal Charles no longer the player he once was, Anderson again has the opportunity to become the primary back in Denver.
Detroit Lions – Ameer Abdullah
Matthew Stafford got a massive extension, but he has still never had a quality rushing attack behind him in his NFL career. Abdullah missed nearly all of last year and will be splitting time with Theo Riddick on passing downs, but he should have more than enough chances to become the feature back in Detroit.
Green Bay Packers – Clay Matthews
Matthews had the worst year of his career in 2017, registering a pressure score of just 30 and .153 points per pass rush, and his play has declined a bit in recent years as the Packers have been forced to shuffle him around the defense. At age 31, can he return to form?
Houston Texans – Lamar Miller
Before signing with the Texans in 2016, Miller was hyped as a young running back who had a lot of miles on his tires due to a low workload in Miami. The narrative, however, has shifted this year after yet another disappointing season where he rushed for just 4.0 yards per carry and scored five touchdowns. With the quarterback situation again murky, Houston will need to rely on a strong running game from Miller.
Indianapolis Colts – Vontae Davis
Since arriving in Indianapolis in 2012, Davis has been a rock for the Colts until last year, when he battled groin, ankle and concussion issues, resulting in four touchdowns surrendered and a 85.1 passer rating against on 79 targets. Davis is hurt again, but when he returns the Colts will need him to play at a high level.
Jacksonville Jaguars – Blake Bortles
Bortles has had a tumultuous offseason where he nearly lost his starting gig (and even his roster spot). Bortles has been incredible in garbage time, but horrific when the game actually matters. Jacksonville has talent across their roster, but they’ll be limited if Bortles doesn’t make any progress.
Kansas City Chiefs – Reggie Ragland
Once deemed a mid-first-round prospect, Ragland slipped to the second due to concerns over his enlarged aorta. Buffalo drafted him, but he missed his entire rookie season after tearing his ACL and was shipped to Kansas City by the Bills new regime. Ragland will see meaningful snaps in Kansas City, but losing his rookie year could impact his development.
Los Angeles Chargers – Keenan Allen
Allen had an impressive rookie year in 2013 when he caught 71 passes for 1,046 yards and eight touchdowns, but he has failed to capitalize on those numbers since and he lost his 2016 season after tearing his ACL. Now healthy again, Allen needs to bounce back this year.
Los Angeles Rams – Jared Goff
Los Angeles gave up a king’s ransom to trade up to the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft and select Goff and the early returns aren’t promising. Goff looked completely lost on the field in 2016 and with a new coach and general manager in Los Angeles, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Rams find a new quarterback in 2018 if Goff doesn’t show signs of improvement.
Miami Dolphins – Kiko Alonso
Alonso is stepping up as a leader in Miami, but he still hasn’t replicated his solid rookie year and was a liability against the run last season.
Minnesota Vikings – Sam Bradford
Teddy Bridgewater isn’t healthy, which means Bradford will have another opportunity to prove himself both to the Vikings or the rest of the NFL that he is a viable option to start at quarterback since he is in his contract year. Minnesota has a great defense, but their offense sputtered last year.
New England Patriots – Brandin Cooks
Cooks was traded to New England this offseason after playing in a New Orleans offense where he had a tendency to disappear. With Julian Edelman out for the year, Cooks’ stock is higher than ever and he has been compared to Randy Moss when he first arrived in New England. That’s a lot of hype to live up to.
New Orleans Saints – Coby Fleener
One year into a five-year, $36 million contract, Fleener has looked like a dud so far. The Saints were hoping for Jimmy Graham-like production, but Fleener isn’t Graham. Regardless, he needs to produce, especially in the red zone.
New York Giants – Ereck Flowers
Flowers allowed the second most pressures in the NFL last season and has looked overmatched so far in his NFL career. He got in better shape this offseason, but still hasn’t put it all together on the field. With Eli Manning in the twilight of his NFL career, the Giants need to rely on Flowers to protect his blind side.
New York Jets – Christian Hackenberg
The Jets are a roster completely devoid of talent (aside from the defensive line), so it’s only fitting that their third string quarterback would top this list. Hackenberg was a second round pick last year, but has struggled tremendously as a pro. With the Jets struggling, Hackenberg is bound to get playing time at some point this season.
Oakland Raiders – Marshawn Lynch
Lynch is 31 and was out of football in 2016 after retiring. He has a lot of miles on his tires, but he’s playing behind the best offensive line he has faced in his career and won’t be facing significant competition for carries.
Philadelphia Eagles – Carson Wentz
Wentz had the second-lowest quarterback efficiency rating last year, but he also did not have a lot of quality targets in 2016. The Eagles have brought in a plethora of talent on offense and there is pressure on Wentz to step up this season and lead Philadelphia to the playoffs.
Pittsburgh Steelers – Joe Haden
Cut by the Browns after back-to-back poor seasons, Haden landed on his feet with division rival Pittsburgh. Still just 28, there is pressure on Haden to return to his previous All-Pro level of play.
San Francisco 49ers – Carlos Hyde
Hyde has been oft-injured in his NFL career and with Kyle Shannahan now running the show, there’s concerns that he isn’t a fit in the offense. Hyde has fended off the other running backs in San Francisco, but the battle is far from over.
Seattle Seahawks – Blair Walsh
Walsh hasn’t been the same kicker since he missed a game-winning field goal against Seattle in the 2015 playoffs while playing for the Vikings. He had the yips in 2016 and it cost him his job. Now he’s landed in Seattle, but he will need to rebound or face being cut again in the offseason.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Vernon Hargreaves
Hargreaves was the Bucs top draft pick last year and he was the only cornerback to surrender 1,000 receiving yards in 2016. He only surrendered two touchdowns all season, but he needs to improve between the 20s.
Tennessee Titans – Marcus Mariota
Mariota has struggled with his health in his brief NFL career, but when he is on the field, he has been very good. The Titans have a legitimate shot at returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2008, but those aspirations lie heavily on Mariota playing a full season.
Washington Redskins – Kirk Cousins
Another player who has gone through a tumultuous offseason, Cousins, an impending free agent, was lowballed by Washington and is yet another quarterback auditioning for the rest of the NFL.