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Tuesday, November 13, 2018

15 NFL players with something to prove in 2018

Joe Flacco

The NFL can be notoriously fickle. The risk of injury, the lack of guaranteed money, and the ever-changing game can alter the trajectory of a career very quickly. For some players, it leaves them in a position where they have to prove themselves again in order to re-establish themselves as top-tier stars.

Here are 15 players who are looking to do just that in 2018. They may have had off-field issues, a lot of injuries, are entering a contract year, or any combination thereof. Either way, all eyes will be on them this coming season, and it’s up to them to respond.

1) Odell Beckham Jr., Giants

There’s so much good about Beckham, but we haven’t seen enough of it in the last year or so. He hasn’t stayed healthy. He’s gotten involved in off-field distractions. He hasn’t produced to the standards he’s capable of even when healthy. Now entering a contract year, he needs to prove to the Giants and everyone else that he can let his football do the talking. So far, he’s reportedly off to a good start.

2) Marcus Williams, Saints

The last time we saw Williams in an NFL game, he was committing one of the costliest blunders in NFL playoff history. It overshadowed a very good rookie season and now presents a massive test of his mentality. Can Williams put the play behind him and continue his progress toward being a very good NFL defensive back? A lot of eyes are going to be on him in 2018, fairly or not, to see whether he can overcome that mistake.

3) Andrew Luck, Colts

Luck first needs to finally play in a game. He hasn’t played since 2016 due to shoulder problems, and it’s going to be slow going in the preseason for him. Once he does that, he’ll need to prove that he’s still a franchise quarterback. The Colts are 10-12 in his last 22 starts after three straight 11-win seasons to start his career. Not all of that is down to Luck, but after so long away from the game, he has to show that the Colts can still rely on him. Luckily it sounds like he’ll be ready for the start of training camp.

4) Joe Flacco, Ravens

If Flacco wasn’t already worrying about his future in Baltimore, the team’s decision to trade into the first round to select Lamar Jackson as a quarterback probably gave him reason to. He likely has a year to prove himself before the Ravens can make the decision to cut him and save a lot of money heading into 2019. Flacco hasn’t been very good for several years now, and he dropped under 200 yards per game last season while dealing with back problems. He needs to deliver the goods or his Ravens career is probably over.

5) J.J. Watt, Texans

Health is the key issue for Watt. He’s played a total of eight games over the last two seasons, with both ending prematurely due to significant injury. The last one was a broken leg, which could very easily have long-term effects on a career even after returning to action. A lot of people will be wondering if we’ll see the same Watt in 2018. He’ll have to be out to prove that the answer is yes — and that he can stay on the field while doing it.

6) Eli Apple, Giants

It’s a surprise that Apple is still on the Giants considering what happened last season. His second NFL season ended with a veteran teammate publicly singling him out as a team cancer amid widespread reports that he’d worn out his welcome throughout the organization. Now, he’s been welcomed back and given a second chance that he can’t afford not to take. Apple has talent, but he needs to make the best of it, because it’s unlikely the Giants will tolerate more missteps.

7) Carlos Dunlap, Bengals

Dunlap looked like a breakout star after a 2015 season that saw him collect 13.5 sacks for the Bengals. His numbers since then haven’t been bad, but after seasons of eight and 7.5 sacks, he enters his contract year with his reputation slightly damaged. He’s skipped OTAs as he enters a pivotal year, but at age 29, this might be his last chance to get a big long-term payday. A huge season would go a long way toward making that happen.

See Nos. 8-15 on Page 2

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