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#pounditWednesday, September 23, 2020

Stories by Dan Benton:

5 NFL players who have been a letdown through two weeks

Tom Brady

The 2020 NFL regular season is now officially through two weeks and there has been a lot to absorb. The lack of fans has certainly presented its challenges for some teams, while injuries seem to be adding up across the board.

But those aren’t the only letdowns so far. Quite a few players who were expected to stand out above the rest have done anything but that and instead find themselves disappointing.

Here’s a look at five players who need to pick it up.

5. Evan Engram, TE, New York Giants

Entering the 2020 regular season, Giants tight end Evan Engram was riding one of the most robust hype trains in recent memory. Everyone from coaches to players and from pundits to fans expected this to finally be the year Engram breaks out and establishes himself as one of the best. Instead, Week 1 saw him drop several passes, stop a route short costing the team a touchdown, and commit a back-breaking offensive interference penalty while playing equally poor in pass protection. Engram did catch six balls for 65 yards in Week 2, but was kept out of the end zone in another loss. Eight receptions on 15 targets for 75 yards and two drops is not what the hype would have suggested.

4. Carson Wentz, QB, Philadelphia Eagles

Like Evan Engram, this was supposed to be the year Carson Wentz stayed healthy and put it all together. Instead, he’s looked horrendous through two weeks, completing just 58.8 percent of his passes and tossing four interceptions, which is more than half of his total from each of the previous three seasons. Add in two fumbles, and the scope of Wentz’s issues becomes apparent. In a Week 2 loss to the Los Angeles Rams — a game that wasn’t even close — Wentz managed to get booed. That’s significant because there aren’t even any fans in the stands. That’s how bad it is for Wentz and Philadelphia right now.

3. A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati Bengals

A.J. Green missed seven games in 2018 as the result of a toe injury and then missed the entire 2019 season after tearing ligaments in his ankle. Despite that, the Bengals slapped him with the franchise tag this offseason and expected a bounce-back season with rookie quarterback Joe Burrow taking snaps. So far, Cincinnati has not gotten a return on their investment. Although Burrow has played well, he and Green have not developed a strong chemistry, and it shows. Through two weeks, Green has just 8 receptions on 22 targets for 80 yards and no touchdowns.

2. Odell Beckham Jr., WR, Cleveland Browns

Odell Beckham Jr. has been effective over his first two seasons with the Browns, but has not come close to scratching the surface of his early success in New York. But entering the new league year, OBJ proclaimed he was in a better mental state and ready to take back over his throne atop the NFL. Of course, we’ve all heard that before — it’s like a broken record on repeat at the start of every season. In Week 1 against the Baltimore Ravens, Beckham was held to 3 receptions on 10 targets for 22 yards. In Week 2 against the Cincinnati Bengals, Beckham did manage to find the end zone, but his offensive snaps were limited to just 39. 7 receptions on 16 targets for 96 yards and one touchdown is not the kind of production OBJ had in mind to start the season. And his 43.8% catch rate? Yeah, it’s by far the lowest of his career (and yes, we recognize that some of this is the fault of quarterback Baker Mayfield).

1. Tom Brady, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tom Brady going to the Buccaneers was the league’s biggest offseason story. Finally, the world would see who was responsible for all of the success in New England: was it Brady or Bill Belichick? Well, early on, things are not looking too wonderful for Brady. In a Week 1 loss to the New Orleans Saints, Brady tossed two interceptions and fumbled the ball, and later found himself being chewed out by head coach Bruce Arians. In Week 2, the Bucs managed to pick up a win over the Carolina Panthers, but it wasn’t exactly because Brady lit things up. He tossed another pick and a lost a fumble while posting a QBR of just 54.1. In two games, Brady has thrown for just 456 yards and three touchdowns to go along with three interceptions and two fumbles (one lost). His QBR of 43.7 is 30th in the NFL. His 79.93 QB rating isn’t much better.

5 biggest surprises of NFL Week 1

Tom Brady

Week 1 of the 2020 NFL regular season has now come and gone, and the fact that it happened at all amid the COVID-19 pandemic is a bit of a surprise. However, it was far from the only surprise, so let’s take a look at a few others from the start of the season.

5. Aldon Smith had no rust

As a result of his long and extensive legal history, Aldon Smith has been out of football since the 2015 season. However, he was reinstated back in May and given the green light to play in Dallas. Despite having not played football in nearly five years, he returned to dominance almost instantaneously. In his first game back, Smith recorded 11 tackles (six solo, one for a loss), two quarterback hits and one sack. Pro Football Focus gave him a modest grade of 72.6, but even that is remarkable when considering how long he had been away from the field.

4. Saquon Barkley rendered useless

While no one expected the New York Giants to start hot (or even be that good) in 2020, the general consensus was that running back Saquon Barkley would be heavily featured in Jason Garrett’s offense and put up historic numbers as a result. In Week 1, that was anything but the case. The Pittsburgh Steelers sold out on shutting Barkley down and did just that, limiting him to six yards on 15 carries. He also averaged a negative 0.7 yards before contact per carry, which was dead last in the NFL. Outside of one fake reverse screen pass where he got into open space, Barkley was rendered completely useless on Monday night and showed that he’s a severe liability in pass protection. Barkley even got called out by a former Giant for that.

3. The Washington Football Team

After a horrendous offseason that featured a name change, new uniform designs, domestic abuse arrests, reports of sexual harassment and just about every other negative you can possibly imagine, the Washington Football Team, under head coach Ron Rivera, came out and whooped the Philadelphia Eagles. Yes, they did get off to a slow start, but over the final three quarters, the game wasn’t even close as Washington physically laid it on their NFC East rivals. They out-scored Philadelphia 27-7 over the final three quarters, including a 13-point fourth quarter. Washington now stands alone at the top of the division with a 1-0 record — all other teams are 0-1. Who saw that coming?

2. Mitch Trubisky, the comeback kid

The Chicago Bears trailed the Detroit Lions 23-6 entering the fourth quarter on Sunday, and then Mitch Trubisky decided it was time to play a little football. He tossed three touchdowns during the final frame, leading the Bears on a 21-0 run that eventually gave them a 27-23 road victory. It was the first time since Jay Cutler in 2014 that a Bears quarterback tossed three-or-more touchdowns with no interceptions to secure a fourth quarter comeback victory. Trubisky also finished the day with a 143.3 QB rating, which led the NFL.

1. Tom Brady the dude

Tom Brady joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this offseason and he was going to prove to everyone that he was the reason behind New England’s dynasty. At least that’s what many pundits and fans would have you believe, but it’s not how things shook out. While Bill Belichick and the Pats got off to a 1-0 start, Brady and the Bucs took an “L” and looked terrible doing it. The Brady hype train crashed hard with the future Hall of Famer tossing two bad interceptions in the 11-point loss. After the game, head coach Bruce Arians ripped Brady’s play. The realization that it’s truly “Tom vs. Time” set in.

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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