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#pounditMonday, April 12, 2021

Stories by Dan Benton:

5 biggest storylines from NFL training camps

Daniel Snyder

The NFL offseason has been far from normal due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but the league has rolled full-steam ahead nonetheless. After months of facilities being shut down, things re-opened as training camps began, and there was no shortage of interesting and noteworthy storylines. Now, the regular season is nearly upon us.

Here’s a look at five of the biggest stories across the NFL since camps began opening in July.

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5 NFL teams that could surprise in 2020

Tua Tagovailoa

Seeing a team go from worst-to-first has become the norm in the NFL, and 2020 is not likely to see that change. There will be many top teams that sink to the bottom while others rise up and surprise the football world.

We’re not here to predict which team will go from worst-to-first, but we are here to examine five teams that could surprise in one form or fashion here in 2020.

Let’s take a look:

5. Atlanta Falcons

The Atlanta Falcons started off 1-7 in 2019 and things looked grim. However, they rebounded to close out the season by winning six of their final eight games to give them a 7-9 record for the second consecutive season. The turnaround was enough to save some jobs and give the current regime one more chance in 2020. They’ve since added running back Todd Gurley via free agency and selected Clemson cornerback A.J. Terrell in the 2020 NFL Draft, essentially improving on both sides of the ball. With quarterback Matt Ryan still under center and some young building blocks spread out across the roster, we’re more likely to see the Falcons team that went 6-2 to close out last season than we are to see the Falcons team that went 1-7 to open last season.

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5 undrafted rookies who are likely to land on an NFL regular season roster

Hunter Bryant

NFL training camps are coming up, which means undrafted rookies will be preparing themselves to do anything within their power to keep their dreams of playing professional football alive.

For some, that goal will be easier to obtain than others, but it certainly won’t come without some hard work.

Here’s a look at five undrafted rookies who are the most likely to land on an NFL regular season roster.

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5 NFL free agents who are likely to sign before training camp

Jadeveon Clowney

The 2020 free agency frenzy has long since passed in the NFL, with things slowing to an even more unusual crawl thanks in part to the coronavirus pandemic.

However, with the NFL set on opening training camps on schedule, we will likely see a run on remaining free agents in the coming weeks. And the good news for teams is that there are still plenty of quality — and in some cases, game-changing — players available for the picking.

Here’s a look at five current free agents who are likely to sign before training camps open.

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5 NFL players who are running out of time to prove themselves

Josh Rosen Dolphins

For most, the NFL stands for “Not For Long.” After all, perhaps more than any other professional sport in the world, the NFL is a “what have you done for me lately” league. Fortunes change quickly; today’s superstar could be tomorrow’s has-been. In some cases, talented players even become the “never was.”

Every year we see quality players simply run out of time. Sometimes it’s due to injury, other times it’s due to circumstance, but it’s always a possibility.

With that in mind, here’s a look at five NFL players who are running out of time to prove themselves.

5. John Ross, WR, Cincinnati Bengals

A first-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, John Ross was expected to join the Bengals and create the league’s most elite one-two punch alongside A.J. Green. That, of course, did not happen, as Ross has failed to live up to the hype, while Green has seen injuries derail his career a bit. After having his fifth-year option declined and being the subject of past trade rumors, Ross now enters the final year of his rookie deal and faces what could be his last opportunity to prove his worth to any onlooking general manager. He did take a step in the right direction a season ago, posting career-highs across the board, but the production was still nowhere near what many expected of the Washington product and speedster. With a new quarterback (Joe Burrow) in town and his name dropping on the depth chart, things won’t come easy for Ross in 2020, but he has to find a way to maximize whatever opportunities come his way or risk saying goodbye to the NFL for good.

4. Josh Rosen, QB, Miami Dolphins

Josh Rosen has had it rough since the first moment he entered the NFL. In Arizona, he was billed as the franchise quarterback, but that lasted only a single season before the Cardinals switched head coaches, drafted Kyler Murray, and shipped Rosen off to Miami. With the Dolphins, Rosen was thrust into a new system and eventually found himself replaced by Ryan Fitzpatrick. Now, similarly to how things played out in Arizona, Rosen enters the 2020 season in a battle with Tua Tagovailoa, on whom the Dolphins spent a high first-round pick. Several teams have reportedly called Miami to inquire about Rosen, who is very realistically running out of time — from an NFL standpoint and likely a mental standpoint. Whether he remains in Miami or ends up elsewhere, Rosen has to shake off the bad hand he’s been dealt and find a way to put it all together. Quickly.

3. DeAndre Baker, CB, New York Giants

It may be somewhat unfair to put Baker, a 2019 first-round pick, on this list, but after struggling mightily as a rookie, the Georgia product only compounded his problems by getting arrested and charged in connection with an armed robbery earlier this year. Even if Baker is proven to be innocent and has his charges dropped, he faces league discipline under the personal conduct policy. Prior to his arrest, Baker drew criticism from his teammates for unprofessional behavior and had been reported to have fallen asleep during several team meetings last season. Even after trading up for Baker and investing a first-round pick in him, the Giants won’t hesitate to make a change should these issues persist. Perhaps more than any other second-year player, Baker is on extremely thin ice.

2. O.J. Howard, TE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

A first-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, O.J. Howard was widely expected to become the next Rob Gronkowski or Tony Gonzalez. Instead, Howard has been only moderately successful despite being surrounded by a high-end cast. He has yet to play a full 16-game slate, and his best season came in 2018 when he hauled in 34 receptions for 565 yards and five touchdowns. The Buccaneers have picked up his fifth-year option, so Howard does have some wiggle room, but with both Tom Brady and the aforementioned Gronkowski coming to town, he’ll have to remain healthy and find a higher level of production if he wants to stick. Short of that, Howard might be facing the end of his time in Tampa Bay, as well as some questions about his durability and value across the league.

1. David Johnson, RB, Houston Texans

Once upon a time, David Johnson looked like the next big thing. He displayed power, elusiveness, quickness, and every other attribute an NFL running back needs to be elite. However, injury issues cropped up in 2017 and then again in 2019, and he’s never been able to regain his early-career form. Those issues made Johnson expendable, which led to a trade from Arizona to Houston earlier this offseason. Now Johnson will get a fresh start with the Texans, but with just two years remaining on his current contract and only one season until there’s a potential out, Johnson does not have much room left. The opportunity to revitalize his career is being served up on a silver platter, but if he’s unable to regain his footing, the end may be near.

5 NFL players in a contract year who need to step up

AJ Green

Most NFL players reach the point in their career where they’re seeking a long-term contract, but things simply aren’t working out. Sometimes that situation course corrects, and sometimes it doesn’t.

However, consistent quality play will often pave the way for those players — especially during a contract year. And as we head into 2020, these five players find themselves in that exact situation. Now they’ll need to step up.

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5 NFL players whose jobs are in jeopardy

Yannick Ngakoue

Every year, a new crop of NFL talent is ushered in, which means an old crop of talent gets replaced. Even though this offseason has been much different from others, the same will be the case this year.

So which NFL players are facing a decreased role, a trade or even potential retirement? Here’s a look at five players whose jobs are in jeopardy.

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5 NFL Comeback Player of the Year candidates

Rob Gronkowski

The 2020 NFL regular season will be unique for many reasons, but it will also feature a slew of players attempting to make a comeback — some in new uniforms.

Whether these players missed time due to injury, inconsistency or retirement, all should be considered strong candidates to win the 2020 NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award.

Here is a look at five strong candidates to win the

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