10 NFL players with most to prove in training camp
Before long, all 32 NFL teams will officially report to training camp in preparation for the 2019 regular season. It will be the beginning of a quest for Super Bowl LIV, and everyone should legitimately feel like they have a chance.
That extends to the players — both rookies and veterans — who will be trying to earn a job or secure a starting position.
It’s easy to point out highly-drafted rookies or fringe players who need to perform well in training camp, but what about players of prominence? Whether they’re coming off injury, switching positions, or just looking to rebound from a poor 2018 season, here are 10 players with the most to prove in training camp.
10. Joe Flacco, QB, Denver Broncos
The Broncos and John Elway are head-over-heels in love with Drew Lock if you listen to them tell the story, so what does that mean for veteran Joe Flacco, who came over from Baltimore after being put on the back burner in favor of a rookie quarterback last season? It must feel like the Twilight Zone for the former Super Bowl MVP. Needless to say, his starting job is anything but a given and a battle will ultimately rage in training camp. Flacco will need to prove he can still sling it at a top-end level, and he’ll have to do that with Lock breathing down his neck. Maybe the Broncos think the competition will bring out the best in Flacco. He seems to think it will.
9. Matt Kalil, OT, Houston Texans
The Texans allowed a remarkable 62 quarterbacks sacks in 2018, which isn’t going to get the job done at any level. In an effort to address that, they went out and signed veteran tackle Matt Kalil, who missed all of last season and had been underwhelming in each of the previous two seasons with the Minnesota Vikings and Carolina Panthers, respectively. However, Houston believes he still has some gas left in the tank, so they’ve set him up to battle for the starting left tackle job. That role won’t come easy though, as Kalil may have to beat out both Tytus Howard and Julie’n Davenport in training camp in order to walk away with the gig.
8. Matt LaCosse, TE, New England Patriots
The Patriots not only need to find a replacement for future Hall of Famer Rob Gronkowski, but they also need to replace his replacement, Benjamin Watson, who will start the year by serving a four-game suspension. That role initially appeared destined for Austin Seferian-Jenkins, but he’s since been released so that he can deal with personal issues. That sets the table for Matt LaCosse, who entered the league as an undrafted free agent in 2015 and took until 2018 to flash some of his talent on the field. He’ll lead the way entering training camp, but he’ll have to prove to Bill Belichick that he belongs at the head of the pack.
7. Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, San Francisco 49ers
Jimmy Garoppolo will start under center for the 49ers in 2019, but that’s not to say he has nothing to prove. He appeared in just three games last season before tearing his ACL, preventing him from building upon a remarkable 2017 campaign in which he came out hot. There are some questions beginning to build in regard to his long-term value to the 49ers, but that may be little more than fear after a lost season. Garoppolo needs to not only calm the pessimists by proving he’s recovered from knee reconstruction, but he also needs to regain his 2017 form and help steady things in San Francisco.
6. John Ross, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
Ross, a former first-round pick, is entering the third year of his rookie deal, and after two sub-par seasons highlighted by injuries, it’s make-or-break time in Cincinnati. Every practice throughout training camp and every moment on the field during the preseason will be vital for Ross, who not only needs to prove to the Bengals he’s over his injury issues, but that he has also developed enough over the past two seasons to make a much-needed impact offensively. The team needs a legitimate threat behind A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd, and now is the time for Ross to make that a reality.
5. Tavon Austin, WR, Dallas Cowboys
Expectations were high for Tavon Austin entering the 2018 season, but he fell well short of expectations, finishing the year with just 195 yards from scrimmage and becoming an afterthought following Dallas’ acquisition of Amari Cooper. Austin went on to create little to no buzz in free agency, ultimately choosing to return to the Cowboys on a one-year, prove-it deal. He’ll enter camp facing an uphill battle, landing on the depth chart behind Cooper, Michael Gallup, Randall Cobb and Allen Hurns. And while he stands no chance to unseat Cooper, Austin needs to out-perform the team’s other wide receivers or risk finding a pink slip in his locker come cut-down day.
4. Damon Harrison, DT, Detroit Lions
The notion that Damon Harrison, arguably the league’s best run defender, has anything to prove is almost laughable. However, he opened the door to criticism and higher expectations by not only skipping organized team activities, but also by remaining away from the Lions during mandatory minicamp. If he doesn’t get the contract extension he’s seeking, Harrison will need to show up for camp and prove he’s a team player or run the risk of being let go. And assuming he does reach the desired end of his power play and lands a lucrative new deal, he’ll have to live up to it and not let his dominance on the field slip. Either way, Harrison has positioned himself as a player with something to prove come training camp.
3. Ronald Jones, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Ronald Jones, Tampa Bay’s second-round pick in 2018, was expected to handle the leading role as a rookie, but ultimately lost out on that job to Peyton Barber. He then proceeded to struggle through a wildly underwhelming rookie campaign, gaining just 44 yards on the ground while averaging a meager 1.9 yards per carry in nine games. He’ll now enter training camp as the No. 2 running back, but once again be given the opportunity to take over as the lead dog. The good news? Jones drew rave reviews throughout the team’s offseason workout program and appears ready to make the next step in his development, but the true test will come once the pads are on in training camp.
2. Eli Manning, QB, New York Giants
Eli Manning’s career is obviously coming to an end, but just how soon that curtain call arrives remains to be seen. However, if he doesn’t put together a solid training camp and preseason, it will undoubtedly be sooner than later, especially with rookie Daniel Jones lighting up spring practices and all but getting his head coach to admit there is a competition at hand. For the two-time Super Bowl MVP, this will be the most important training camp of his entire career and just the first time since his own rookie campaign in 2004 that he’s faced any real competition. A new era in New York is coming.
1. Josh Rosen, QB, Miami Dolphins
Josh Rosen will lead the NFL’s most interesting and watched quarterback competition of the year when he battles it out with Ryan Fitzpatrick, the magician looking to keep his career alive in Miami. Rosen is already considered the future of the franchise, but that doesn’t mean he’ll start straight away despite being thrust into that role with Arizona a year ago. It’s an interesting and unique situation to say the very least, and how that plays out will be must-watch TV. But regardless of how the dominoes fall to start the season, Rosen must prove his 2018 struggles were situational and that the Dolphins do, in fact, have their franchise quarterback in the building.