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.
The Cincinnati Bengals were hoping John Ross would emerge as one of the best wide receivers in football after they drafted him in the first round two years ago, but they are now exploring the possibility of moving on from the former Washington star.
Tony Pauline of DraftAnalyst.com reports that the Bengals are planning to shop Ross to other teams during the NFL Scouting Combine this week and are hoping to trade him.
Sources tell me the Cincinnati Bengals are hoping to trade receiver John Ross and will field offers during the combine. We'll have more tonight during our podcast.
— Tony Pauline (@TonyPauline) February 26, 2019
Ian Rapoport of NFL Network later confirmed the report, noting that both sides appear to want a “fresh start.”
Two years ago, top WR prospect John Ross set fire to the Combine with his 40 time. Now, sources say the #Bengals are shopping their former first rounder. A fresh start would be welcome by both parties, sounds like.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) February 26, 2019
Ross appeared in just three games and did not catch a pass during his rookie season because of injuries. The former No. 9 overall pick played a lot more in 2018, but he still ended up with just 21 catches for 210 yards. Ross was, however, a consistent red zone target, as seven of his 21 catches were touchdowns.
Ross lit up the Combine with his speed two years ago, but that explosiveness has not transitioned well to the NFL. Perhaps he will have more success in another offense.
Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver John Ross has not been able to stay healthy during his first two seasons in the NFL, and he is reportedly looking at another lengthy absence after his latest injury.
According to Mike Garafolo of NFL Network, Ross is expected to be out a few weeks after he aggravated a groin injury in Sunday night’s loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.
— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) October 23, 2018
The Bengals face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this weekend and then have their bye, so there’s a chance Ross could end up missing just two games. Given his history, however, it would not be a surprise if he is out longer.
Ross, the No. 9 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, came into the league with massive expectations due to his blazing speed and big play ability. He has just seven catches in five games this season, and Marvin Lewis was publicly critical of him last year. Things are not going well at the pro level for the former Washington star.
- John Ross
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.
It may be hard to believe, but training camps are just around the corner, and that means meaningful football isn’t far off. It also means that previously injured players, under-performers and sophomores have another opportunity to prove they belong in the hard-hitting NFL.
Here’s a look at 32 players — one from each team — who are ready to make the leap entering the 2018 season.
Arizona Cardinals – Budda Baker, S
With the departure of Tyrann Mathieu, the Cardinals have an obvious void to fill in their secondary. Enter second-year safety Budda Baker, who is expected to take on a much larger defensive role for Steve Wilks. In an aggressive system (Wilks blitzed on 44 percent of the defensive snaps in Carolina), Baker should find himself in a position to excel as a sophomore and potentially even improve upon his already impressive 84.5 Pro Football Focus grade from a season ago.
- Bud Dupree, Budda Baker, Chris Godwin, Corey Davis, Dalvin Cook, David Njoku, Devon Kennard, Devontae Booker, Dion Dawkins, Elijah McGuire, Evan Engram, Gareon Conley, George Kittle, Gerald Everett, John Ross, Jonathan Allen, Kenyan Drake, Kevin King, Leonard Floyd, Malcolm Mitchell, Malik Hooker, Marcus Williams, Matt Judon, Mike Williams, Myles Jack, Patrick Mahomes, Shaq Thompson, Shaquill Griffin, Sidney Jones, Takk McKinley, Xavier Woods, Zach Cunningham
Every year, we see NFL players across the league come into their own despite not having much of a track record. They can be all types; many are second- or third-year players who have matured and overcome injury or adapted to the NFL. There are others who were never highly-touted but find themselves in the right situation.
Each NFL team has breakout candidates. Here is a leading candidate from all of them.
Arizona Cardinals — Haason Reddick, LB
The 13th overall pick in last year’s draft flashed potential and appeared in all 16 games, but only started three of them. He still made an impact, with 2.5 sacks and two forced fumbles on the season. The Cardinals plan to move him to inside linebacker, where he’s been studying tape of Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis. That bodes well for a big year two breakout.
Atlanta Falcons — Austin Hooper, TE
Year three could be the one that sees Hooper mature into a big target at tight end. His numbers improved last season, as he caught 49 passes and scored three touchdowns. A more prominent role and regular playing time could await him in 2018 and make him a Matt Ryan favorite. He’ll just have to compete with Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, and Atlanta’s talented running backs for touches.
- Adam Shaheen, Alex Collins, Austin Hooper, Bud Dupree, Carlos Henderson, Chris Godwin, Corey Davis, Dalvin Cook, David Njoku, Dede Westbrook, Devin Funchess, Gareon Conley, Gerald Everett, Haason Reddick, Isaiah Crowell, Jaire Alexander, Jerick McKinnon, John Ross, Josh Doctson, Jourdan Lewis, Kenny Golladay, Kenyan Drake, Marcus Williams, Marlon Mack, Mike Williams WR, Patrick Mahomes, Rex Burkhead, Shaq Lawson, Shaquill Griffin, Sidney Jones, Sterling Shepard, Will Fuller
John Ross made waves at last year’s NFL Combine with his record 40-yard dash time, but a year later, the notoriety doesn’t mean that much to him.
The Cincinnati Bengals receiver ran a 4.22 in Indianapolis, becoming an overnight sensation. After a poor rookie season, though, that run is little more than a distant memory. Ultimately, he doesn’t dwell on it — he’s proud to have it, but he won’t be sorry if someone breaks it.
“At this point, it doesn’t matter to me,” Ross said, via Geoff Hobson of the Bengals’ official website. “It’s not like I’m getting any royalties from it. Records are meant to be broken. If it happens it happens. There’s nothing I can do about it.”
Ross wants to put up an excellent sophomore season so he’s known for more than a 40 time.
“At the end of the day, it really doesn’t mean that much to me,” Ross added. “I’d rather be playing than recognized for running.
“I try not to dwell on it. I feel like football is more important to me. I try not to think about it. My name is surfacing again because of the combine. I haven’t really thought about it too much until now.”
As great as Ross’s Combine was, his rookie season did not go well at all. That’s what he’s focused on fixing, and rightly so.