15 NFL players with something to prove in 2018
8) Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys
Elliott played in only ten games in 2017 due to a domestic violence suspension that was the subject of a lot of legal wrangling between the Cowboys and the league. His numbers fell across the board, and not just because of fewer games. His 2017 was worse than his 2016 in virtually every department, even the averages, which dropped under 100 yards per game. Elliott is still very much a Cowboys cornerstone and running behind one of the NFL’s best offensive lines. It will be imperative for him to stay out of trouble and perform in 2018.
9) Jameis Winston, Buccaneers
Winston will be suspended for the first three games of the 2018 season as a result of yet another scandal in what has become a pattern of behavior. The Buccaneers are being gracious in giving him another chance to begin with, but the former No. 1 pick will probably get another opportunity. This has to be the end of off-field transgressions, and it has to be the start of rapid on-field improvement. His QBR was a career-worst 50.3 in 2017, and he’s still extremely mistake-prone. He needs to become a model citizen and a better quarterback, or the Buccaneers may well consider moving on. They’d be completely justified in doing so.
10) DeMarcus Lawrence, Cowboys
Lawrence is facing a risky 2018. After a breakout 2017 in which he collected 14.5 sacks, he was hit with the franchise tag by Dallas and has not agreed to a long-term deal with the team. That means Lawrence has to prove that 2017 was no fluke. If he puts up similar numbers, he should get the contract he wants and then some, but we’ve seen plenty of players take a step back after posting big sack totals in a season.
11) John Ross, Bengals
Ross’s 4.22 40-time made him an NFL Combine sensation. Then he got hurt, and his rookie year was such a loss that he’s still waiting to catch his first NFL pass. The hype is gone now, replaced with a second-year pro with a ton to prove. Ross still has the skills, but his coach wasn’t happy with his contributions last season, and he clearly has work to do to get back into Cincinnati’s good graces.
12) Eli Manning, Giants
Have we seen the end of Eli Manning as a top-tier quarterback? The Giants are betting not, given their decision to pass on all available quarterbacks with the No. 2 pick in the NFL Draft. Manning’s 2017 was miserable by pretty much all measurables, with little offensive talent around him and a lot of mistakes to boot. Manning is 37 now, and a lot of observers think he’s done. His job is to prove that there’s still some magic left.
13) Derek Carr, Raiders
Carr went from MVP candidate to afterthought in the span of a year. His interceptions went up and his passing yards and touchdowns both went down. New head coach Jon Gruden will have a lot to evaluate now that he’s taken over. Carr is still just 27 and has shown that he has the ability to be a franchise quarterback in the NFL. The Raiders need to see it, though. Being fully healthy should help, but if he can’t find his form in 2018, the questions will begin to pile up.
14) Myles Jack, Jaguars
Will Jack stick at middle linebacker in the NFL? Paul Posluszny pushed him off the position last season, but the veteran has since retired, leaving Jack to take up his mantle. The rookie wasn’t bad on the outside last year, with 66 tackles and 24 assists and some huge plays in the postseason. Given the high hopes that the Jaguars have, a lot of responsibility will be placed on his shoulders, and Posluszny leaves big shoes for him to fill.
15) Jimmy Garoppolo, 49ers
Not even the biggest optimist could have seen Garoppolo’s late-season run coming. He took over a 49ers team that looked at one point like it might go winless and promptly led them to five straight wins to close out the season, lifting expectations very high for 2018. Can he match them? He only threw seven touchdowns and five interceptions in six games, which isn’t the greatest of ratios. He also hasn’t yet quarterbacked a team over a full season. Garoppolo looks like he has the tools, but NFL defenses will adapt, and he has to adjust as well. Given how much they paid him, San Francisco have to hope that what he showed at the end of 2017 was the real thing and not a brief flash in the pan.