We have talked a lot about breakout NFL players, most improved position groups and all that kind of stuff. Now I want to shift the focus more towards players, who aren’t in a position where they are locked in as long-time contributors for their respective teams and will be entering a crucial season in their careers.
Those can be young players not living up to their draft status, guys in a contract year wanting to earn another lucrative deal or long-time veterans trying to stick around. I called this a make-or-break season for these players because they aren’t at a point, where people recognize them as some of the best players at their position. So you won’t see necessarily see players on the franchise tag, trying to earn that long-term contract for big money, but rather guys who could also be labelled as draft busts or washed up veterans.
Here is the list:
I think this really is the most obvious pick here. The 49ers tricked the Bears to give up two third-round picks and a fourth-rounder to move up that one spot at number two overall back in the 2017 draft, where they made Mitch Trubisky the first quarterback selected. Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson were famously picked later on in the first round and he will forever be linked to those guys. However, unlike those two stars, who to me are both already top five QBs in the league, Trubisky recently had his fifth-year option declined and is now in competition with Nick Foles for the starting job, who might know the Matt Nagy offense better than any of the other quarterbacks that have been there in Chicago recently, from their time in Kansas City together. So this might be over before the season even starts for Chicago, since Foles might grab that starting gig and never look back. However, even if he doesn’t, Mitch will see him every single time he looks over his shoulder. At the same time, if Trubisky doesn’t win the competition, with Foles’ injury history and the fact he hasn’t started double-digit games since 2015, there is still a chance to win Bears fans back if he comes in late and takes this team to the playoffs, more in the role of what Foles has done a few times in his career. Mitch’s accuracy and decision-making are still way up and down, but he has plenty of arm talent and is one of the better runners in the league off scrambles. I think the pieces are pretty much all there now to support him on offense. David Montgomery I expect to become close to a workhorse back in his second season – you can read up on my analysis on him – Allen Robinson is one of the best receivers nobody ever talks about, Anthony Miller should take another step as I guy you can get the ball to quickly and let him go to work and with like a hundred tight-ends on the roster – most notably second-round pick Cole Kmet (Notre Dame) as a solid all-around prospect and Jimmy Graham, who should at least be a weapon in the red-zone – that group should finally produce as well. With Nagy trying to manipulate the defense with certain personnel sets and moving those pieces around, that can be a big plus. If Chicago’s defense can return to their 2018 form, when they led the league in takeaways and had Khalil Mack wrecking opposing gameplans, and Trubisky gets a chance to just do his thing, which is taking advantage of easy opportunities and converting on some drives – his career could still go a completely different way.
Linebacker is always a tough position to projection to the NFL, simply because in some conferences the run fits can be all over the map and their respective coaches rarely give them any difficult tasks in coverage, mostly just controlling the shallow zones. However, this guy gave a lot of people Ray Lewis vibes coming out of Florida, with his ability to run sideline-to-sideline and the thump he brought as a hitter. After a promising rookie campaign, Davis has simply been banged up and just not playing well. He recently saw his fifth-year option declined and this Detroit front office has invested a lot into the linebacker position, with a second-round pick being spent on Jahlani Tavai out of Hawaii last year, then signing Jamie Collins to a big deal in free agency this offseason and later on bringing in former Chief Reggie Ragland as well. Devon Kennard easily led the Lions LBs in snaps last season as their starting JACK, which is what I believe they signed Collins for as a hybrid player. Christian Jones played every spot for them last season after being mostly limited to WILL before that. That penciled Davis in as the MIKE, but with the presence of Tavai, he was moved to the weak-side or subbed out altogether at times. Jalen Reeves-Maybin is another guy you can throw in there as a sub-package player due to the range he presents. It’ll be very interesting to see how all those pieces are put together, but I just know there is plenty of bodies to take away snaps from Davis. Especially as a run-plugging two-down MIKE, considering Davis hasn’t intercepted a pass since his rookie season and only broke up one pass last year – Ragland can absolutely replace that and he has played much better in that role these last couple of seasons. Even if the Lions decide to move on from Davis next offseason, if he can play well this year and get signed to be in a starter role, he can stick around for a while, but this is one of those things, where you have a disappointing high draft pick, who is a familiar candidate on the injury report weekly, that might be forgotten about and out of the league soon. I’ve seen it happen too many times before to think this is out of the realm of possibility. So he needs to prove he can be a difference-maker in the middle of a defense and stay on the field.
Originally a seventh-round pick for the Eagles back in 2016, Mills became a real contributor for this team and someone that fans rallied behind. Since his rookie year, he has played at least 90 percent of the defensive snaps when available at corner, but now he signed another one-year, prove-it deal for four million dollars, while also being asked to make the switch to safety. After watching the All or Nothing series on the Eagles, the “Green Goblin” clearly brings a certain energy to this defense and team overall and the coaches seem to be big fans of his. He has plenty of ball production, with 34 plays on the ball (including four picks) over the 32 games he has played in these last three seasons and he was fairly dependable tackler for a corner, missing just 11 of those since 2018. However, he was out for 15 games over the last two years combined and still allowed almost 1200 yards and five touchdowns over that stretch, whilst surrendering a passer rating North of 100 in both of them. I never thought he was even average on the outside at any point of his career and the numbers back me up here. With Darius Slay being thrown into the mix with Avonte Maddox, Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas to go along with Nickell Robey-Coleman and fourth-round pick K’Von Wallace (Clemson) to compete for snaps in the slot, there just wasn’t any room for Mills, but Philadelphia all of a sudden had a hole at strong safety once Malcolm Jenkins decided to leave in free agency. I certainly don’t believe he can replace all of the things Jenkins did for this team in recent years, covering deep, dropping down into the slot, playing some dime linebacker and basically doing everything other than bring home milk, but I think he can fill some role. Pairing him up with Rodney McLeod and allowing him to roam around more underneath, dropping down into the flats or acting as a robber with as much man-coverage Jim Schwartz will now run that he has an actual number one corner, could enhance his strengths as a physical player, who doesn’t mind sticking his face in the fan and taking ball-carriers to the ground, rather than seeing him get toasted Amari Cooper and others. With that being said, Mills has some competition on the roster, after the Eagles signed a starter-level player in Will Parks and drafted Wallace, who could succeed in that role as well if you don’t give him too much deep coverage responsibilities. So Mills could earn another contract if he successfully makes the transition, but he could also easily be expendable next offseason.
Let me start like this – Teddy B is a guy you just have to root for, after working his way back up from a horrific injury with the Vikings and now finally earning a starting job again for the first time since 2015. He filled in admirably for Drew Brees in New Orleans last season, going 5-0 as a starter and earning a 63-million dollar deal over three years with the division-rival Panthers. However, when you look at that contract, Carolina could easily get out of it after the ’21 season, making him a prime candidate to help them groom a rookie quarterback that season, if they end up picking early in next year’s draft. I actually think Teddy is a great fit for that Joe Brady offense, that doesn’t need that big-armed gunslinger, but rather a guy who can deliver the ball accurately as they spread defenses out and attack certain matchups. With a trio of playmakers at the receiver position in D.J. Moore, Curtis Samuel and recently signed Robby Anderson to go with the ultimate receiving weapon at the running back position in Christian McCaffrey, who will be used as a coverage indicator off motions and be heavily involved as a route-runner, the skill-position group features everything they would need to succeed. With that being said, it sickens me a little when people think it’s all about the quarterback and talk about how great Teddy was – and like I said, he did well to steer the ship – rather than acknowledging how easy Sean Payton makes things for his quarterbacks by creating favorable matchups and killing defenses by how he sets up screen plays, to go with how much the Saints dominated up front on both sides of the ball. Bridgewater completing 68 percent of his passes for almost 1400 yards, nine TDs and two picks looks great, but he also easily finished dead-last in yards to the sticks, throwing the ball 3.3 yards short of the marker on average, and also averaging the lowest number of intended air yards. Being in a very similar offense under Joe Brady will definitely help, but he will go from an elite O-line to one that might be bottom five and I need to see how they’ll utilize those vertical targets with Anderson primarily being a deep threat. I think the numbers won’t look bad at the end of the season and new head coach Matt Rhule went all-in on strengthening his defense in the draft, but if they end up picking in the top five, I think Teddy could be a place-warmer the following season.
A former 13th overall pick, Reddick created a major hype train leading up to the 2017 draft and I was one of many to jump on it. After primarily being an edge rusher at Temple, wearing one of those highly touted single-digit numbers and increasing his production every single season, highlighted by a mind-boggling 22.5 tackles for loss his senior year, Reddick went down to the Senior Bowl in Mobile known as an undersized edge player. Throughout the week, he wowed scouts and coaches with his ability to play off the ball and how well he fared in coverage as a former safety coming out of high school, as well as still winning as a pass rusher. With a combine to match that versatile athletic skill-set he showcased and being regarded as a guy who can be an off-ball backer on base downs and then line up on the edge on third downs, he shot all the way up to the middle of the first round, after being projected to go somewhere in the middle of the draft originally. Through his first three years, he has played in every single game at multiple positions and had a few flashes, but overall he has been a big disappointment so far. After failing to stick at inside backer, Reddick has been demoted to solely an edge rusher in nickel packages and now with eight overall pick Isaiah Simmons coming in as a more freakish and versatile player to pair up with Jordan Hicks, who didn’t miss a single snap last season and played at a near-Pro Bowl level for them, that may not change any time soon. While Reddick obviously didn’t see his fifth-year option picked up and will decide a lot of his future with his play in 2020, the silver lining might be this – the Cardinals have now added a ton of space eaters in the middle of the defense in these last two drafts. While they will be in base quite a bit because of the heavy amount of 12 and/or 21 personnel the teams in their division will run, having those guys clogging up lanes on the inside could allow Reddick to attack upfield more aggressive with Simmons quickly flowing laterally behind him, plus since I expect the run defense on early downs to take a big step and the team not trailing as much in general, it will lead to more obvious passing situations. The only edge defender Arizona brought in is Devon Kennard, who will be used more at SAM anyway, which Reddick lacks the frame for. If Vance Joseph uses Simmons’ versatility and deploys him as a big nickel on sub-packages and allows Reddick to an off-ball blitzer on sub sets at times, plus he can rush from a wide alignment more, he could have a much more productive 2020 season.
Once a standout at Coastal Carolina and diamond in the rough as a fifth-round pick for the Carolina Panthers, Norman’s rise and fall has been kind of unique. In his first year in the league he ended up starting 12 games before missing all of his second season with injury, In 2014 he made a lot of plays on the ball, but he took his game to another level in the final year of his rookie, when he defensed 22 passes and was involved in nine total takeaways, including scoring two touchdowns. The following offseason something very uncommon happened, as the Panthers decided to rescind the franchise tag they had put on him and he soon signed a five-year, 75-million contract with Washington (the highest of any corner at that point). In his first year in the nation’s capital he repeated those 22 plays on the ball, even if the turnovers went down a little, but since then he has been in steep decline. So much so that the Redskins decided to bench him late last season and then released him a few weeks later, which led to the Bills giving him that one-year, six-million dollar deal to re-establish himself in the league. So the challenges as a declining player with some athletic limitations at this point of his career are obvious, but he is “only” entering his ninth season as a pro and has some things going for himself. First and foremost, Norman will be back in that Panthers-style zone-heavy defensive scheme under Sean McDermott, who was the corner’s defensive coordinator through his entire time in Carolina, and Buffalo has two rangy linebackers, one of the most well-rounded safety tandem’s in the league and an improving pass rush, to not allow opposing quarterbacks to hold onto the ball. Maybe even more important, when the Bills do need to match up in man-coverage, they have Tre’Davious White to put on the opposing’s best receiver and maybe a new starting nickel in seventh-round pick Dane Jackson from Pitt. So the 32-year old won’t be asked to really travel with anybody, his experience in zone coverage will help him out and he will see favorable matchups when asked to play man. With that being said, he will have to step up his game to earn and/or keep that starting gig as the CB2, because Levi Wallace played 75 percent of the snaps for them last season, when last seen in Buffalo, E.J. Gaines was a starter for them in 2017 and even the late-round draft selection I just mentioned has plenty of experience on the outside in college.
His rookie year, James Conner barely saw the field behind Le’Veon Bell, but when the star back decided to hold out over contract disputes in 2018, the second-year player took advantage of his opportunity, amassing almost 1500 yards and 13 touchdowns from scrimmage despite missing three games. Last season, with Bell moving on to the Jets, Conner was in line for another big season, but the offense was stale without Big Ben under center and the running back was banged up all year, missing another six games. Now he is entering the final year of his rookie deal after being a third-round pick out of nearby Pitt in 2017. First and foremost, Conner needs to stay healthy if he wants to earn a lucrative second contract with Pittsburgh, who are known for building up homegrown player. The offense should be much more wide open this upcoming season, with Ben Roethlisberger coming back to give them a legitimate passing game, to go along with Juju Smith-Schuster being back health. Diontae Johnson is one of my breakout candidates for 2020, James Washington showed signs last year and Eric Ebron was brought in as more of a big flex receiver. As far as the Steelers O-line goes, they did lose Ramon Foster to retirement, but they retain the four other starters and have a seasoned veteran in Steven Wisniewski jumping in at that left guard spot. So I believe Conner should have more room inside or catching the ball underneath, but there are two challenges for him to stay in Pittsburgh. First, they drafted another banger in a similar mold in Benny Snell out of Kentucky in the fourth round last year and then in the same round this April they brought in Maryland’s Anthony McFarland, who is more of a homerun threat at the position. Plus, while he is more of a change-of-pace, third-down back, Jaylen Samuels played very well last season too. So there is a lot of competition for touches already and then you look at the Steelers’ cap situation next offseason. Cam Heyward, Bud Dupree, their two starting offensive tackles and Juju will all become free agents and even if Ben decides to retire and they will have that money to spend, they likely won’t be in a position to draft a quarterback high next year and certainly don’t have a long-term answer at the position on the roster already. If Pittsburgh needs to pay a QB in free agency next offseason and have to decide between a starting tackle or a young star receiver and what could be labelled an injury-prone running back, I don’t see the latter one getting paid, unless he decides to come back on a hometown discount or doesn’t have a good enough season to demand any long-term money. There are too many guys at that position already, who can combine to fill that role going forward for peanuts.
I actually had Witherspoon listed as one of my sleepers ahead of the 2017 NFL draft because of the length and athleticism he presented coming out of Colorado alongside now-Cowboy Chidobe Awuzie, but the 49ers decided to spend a third-round pick on him and he showed a lot of promise as a rookie, starting the final eight games that year and making nine plays on the ball, including two picks. After seeing that, I listed him as a potential breakout candidate in year two because of how well he fit that single-high, cover-three scheme they still run in San Francisco. Unfortunately things have gone downhill for the now-fourth-year corner since then. These last two years he has allowed a combined 11 touchdowns in 22 games played, meaning he gives up one every second game in this very easy equation, and he has intercepted just one pass over that stretch. While I wouldn’t necessarily call it an unwillingness anymore, he still has his issues as a tackler and when teams know the Niners’ tendency, they take advantage of Witherspoon, such as going to press-man in third-and-medium situations. A couple of plays that really stick out to me came in the Divisional Round against the Vikings, when the corner got completely off balance trying to stay with Adam Thielen on a stutter-release to the inside and then a couple of plays later Kirk Cousins went after him again on a deep ball to Stefon Diggs. After that he was replaced by Emmanuel Moseley, which happened several times in 2019, as the latter was a much more consistent player. The athletic capability and measurables are still very intriguing with Witherspoon, but his technique and physicality need a lot of work. The 49ers can’t put him in off-coverage too much if they want him to succeed and he needs to learn to stay more balanced, as he guards receivers one-on-one or reads certain patterns. With Richard Sherman still playing very well in that system that mostly protects him from his deficiencies coming with age – until Sammy Watkins blows by him in the Super Bowl – and K’Waun Williams establishing himself as a very dependable option at nickel, there is really only spot up for competition. Depending on how much confidence defensive coordinator Robert Salah has in a pretty young player, he could still be in position to defend his starting job, but Moseley is right there with him, Dontae Johnson is looking re-stablish himself in the Bay and the X-factor in this whole discussion is Jason Verrett, who was a rising player just a couple of years ago, but has not been able to get back onto the field since the 2017 season-opener with the Chargers. For Witherspoon, he will have to prove a lot to this organization coming into the final year of his rookie deal, but the bright spot here for him is the fact the Niners won’t have a single corner of note under contract after this upcoming season.
Unlike a lot of other players on this list – who actually aren’t part of my cover photo – Carr has at least been playing on an average level for several years now. Originally selected early in the second round of the 2014 draft, the former Fresno State QB has started all but two regular season games in his six-year career and despite the Raiders going 3-13 his rookie campaign, I thought he showed a lot of great signs and I can remember former Packer James Jones calling the young signal-caller a “Baby Aaron Rodgers”. Carr took that next step in his second season, when in four of the seven wins he had to bring them back in the fourth quarter, and then in year three is when the QB really put his stamp on the NFL. He completed 64 percent of his passes for almost 4000 yards, 28 touchdowns compared to only six interceptions and led seven(!) game-winning drives. He had he Raiders at 12-3 in position for a first-round bye until he broke his fibula late in week 15, which cost them their final game and forced them to travel to Houston for a Wildcard game with their third-string quarterback. The following season the Silver & Black only won half as many games and Carr’s numbers dropped pretty dramatically. In their first year under Jon Gruden, the team went 4-12 and then last season they started out 6-4 before losing all but one of their final six games, even though their QB completed a career-high 70.4 percent of his passes. So considering all of that, you could argue he hasn’t played bad and there have certainly been other factors for the lack of success as a team, including trading away their best player in Khalil Mack, not always surrounding the passer with a lot of great weapons once they sent Amari Cooper to Dallas in 2018 and the transition to a fairly young roster overall due to the draft capital they had collected. However, I have never gotten the feeling that Gruden is all-in on his current signal-caller and there are no excuses for him this season with what I think is a top-five O-line, a star sophomore RB and three new receivers brought in via the draft. Last season, Carr averaged only 6.3 air yards per attempt and threw the ball 2.3 yards short of the sticks (both bottom-three in the NFL), despite being in the top half of the league in terms of times in the pocket. And that certainly has a lot to do with the Gruden offense built on short passes to force defenses to come upfield and then hitting throws over the top, but I saw Carr have somebody open downfield and being hesitant to pull the trigger or throw the ball short of the marker on third downs routinely. The organization isn’t paying Marcus Mariota 17.6 million over two seasons if they weren’t comfortable with actually playing him potentially and their head coach has made it clear in years prior how much he likes Mariota, who I actually don’t believe has improved in terms of pocket presence or ability to come off his primary receivers since coming into the league. I would not be shocked that if the Raiders start out slow, they make the switch mid-season. Carr is still only 29 years old, but that 17-31 record signing his big extension just hasn’t been good enough.
If you followed this guy’s journey since he became a starter at Clemson and asked anybody after his second season in the league, I don’t think one person would have thought he would be on this list three years later. Beasley came out of college with 30 career sacks and 48 tackles for loss and blew everybody away at the 2015 combine. That led to the Falcons drafting him eight overall and while he didn’t just go off as a rookie, he did start all 16 games right away. The following season he led the league with 15.5 sacks and six forced fumbles, while also scoring a touchdown. Unfortunately, he hasn’t resembled that type of player these last three years with five, five and eight sacks respectively to go with three combined fumbles forced over that stretch. His exit from Atlanta was kind of ugly as well, when they announced on their official Twitter account that they wouldn’t pursue negotiations with the former top ten pick. However, he is only turning 28 this week and should get a chance to prove the doubters wrong in Tennessee this upcoming season. The Titans decided to sign Beasley for 9.5 million dollars and pair him up with another young edge rusher in Harold Landry, who doubled his sack output (nine) from that rookie year and is a rising player. Unlike some other guys on this list, who are kind of afterthoughts because of the stage of their career they are in or they were added to a position group, where they still have to earn those opportunities, to give Beasley that kind of money and not sign anybody else at that spot, indicates he will be given all the chances to make plays for this team. Now that Dean Pees seems to finally actually be retired, the defensive coordinator position in Tennessee is vacant and they don’t plan on bringing anybody in either. Mike Vrabel did add Jim Haslett as their inside linebacker coach, who has plenty of coordinator experience, so maybe he will call plays once September rolls around, but according to the head coach, they are “going to do pretty much what we have done”. That means running a hybrid defense with a 3-4 base front, but a lot of personnel rotation, multitude of coverages and creative pressure looks. A lot of Beasley’s struggles with consistency in Atlanta came due to constantly switching between D-end and SAM linebacker. I expect the Titans to run a lot of nickel, with Jeffery Simmons and one of those space-eaters on the interior to go with Landry & Beasley on the edges. With as much as they cover up the A-gaps with their linebackers pre-snap, it will create a lot of one-on-ones in pass-rush situations and then those guys get dropped out sometimes, where they just have to cover the hook areas.
Evaluating the rosters of all 32 NFL teams this offseason, I have been raving about this Denver squad over and over again, whether it’s about the weapons they have added for their second-year quarterback Drew Lock or making key under-the-radar signings on defense. That also includes the offensive line, where I think they will take a big step forward with the additions of Graham Glasgow in free agency and third-round pick Lloyd Cushenberry from LSU to strengthen the interior and getting back last year’s big signing Ja’Wuan James at right tackle. The one spot I’m not really sold on and neither are the Broncos long-term is left tackle. Garett Bolles is a former top-20 pick, who saw his fifth-year option declined despite playing a premium position and nobody else really on that roster, who I would expect to develop into that future starter. Coming out of Utah with just one year of experience playing college ball, what stood out about Bolles was the nasty streak he displayed as a run-blocker and the athleticism to put hands on people in space or recovering against pass-rushers. Unfortunately he has not been able to clean up his technique in protection yet, showing balance issues, being off with some hand-placement stuff and just keeping well-coordinated footwork. Bolles has been responsible for 15.5 sacks over his three years in Denver and he was flagged 17(!) times last season, which ranked second among all NFL players, and that includes 13 holding calls alone (including declined penalties). The good news is that “only” two of them came in the final six weeks and I thought he played a lot better once the Broncos didn’t have a statue back there in the pocket in Drew Lock, but people within the organization have made it clear that isn’t acceptable. For all the pieces Denver has put together, having that reliable presence on the blindside will be a huge factor as this team is looking to make a big jump in 2020. For Bolles in particular, it’s not necessarily about having somebody threatening for his starting job, with Jake Rodgers being a primary backup and only taking over any time soon if the flags continue to fly most likely, but about proving to the front office and coaching staff that he can man that spot beyond this season. Having the premiere offensive line coach in the NFL in Mike Munchak, now that Dante Scarnecchia has finally retired, will be a big help for this young group, but if Bolles doesn’t make some strides, no other teams will probably give him a serious starter contract next offseason.
It is kind of crazy to have this guy on the list and how he is regarded at this point, after he was signed to a five-year, 70-million dollar contract and was named a first-team All-Pro in 2017 only. The cliff comes quickly for cornerbacks in general as everybody knows, but this is an extreme case, where a player is referred as a shutdown corner just two years ago and then now there were over a hundred guys at his position that ranked ahead of him in Pro Football Focus’ metrics. Among 87 corners that saw at least 50 targets last season, Rhoades allowed the highest completion percentage (around 80 according to multiple sources) and he surrendered a passer rating North of 120. I’m not a hundred percent sure he wasn’t hurt and we just didn’t know about it, but his athleticism seemed to have dropped off in a crazy way and he looked like he couldn’t run sub-five seconds in a 40-yard dash to me. The good thing is Rhoades won’t be looked at as Indy’s CB1, since they have Rock Ya-Sin entering his second year as a pro and I expect to take that next step, which I recently discussed in my breakdown of the biggest defensive breakout candidates for 2020, and the coaching staff may look at him as a veteran presence to help the young guy out. The Colts also have a very good nickel in Kenny Moore and a young trio of safeties that could play major snaps, but in the end they want Rhoades to contribute on the field as well and if he wants to stick around in the league, he needs to step his game back up. There aren’t a bunch of talented corners on that roster otherwise, who will be given the benefit of the doubt just to gain experience, but T.J. Carrie is still there, who as a six-year veteran himself, and outside of a couple of games, was at least not bad for the Browns last season. In that zone-heavy scheme for Indy, where they give a lot of two-high safety looks and don’t really put their corners on an island, Rhoades’ resume will probably give him the nod for week one and he might not be exposed to where he needs to be put on the bench. From what I saw last year, there is little to be excited about, but considering this looked like one of the biggest drop-offs for any player I have seen in some time, maybe we’ll see him come closer to that form from a couple of years ago once again.
Similar to Derek Carr, I feel like I need to refresh people’s minds here on the journey of Tyrod Taylor. Despite being the reigning ACC Player of the Year, he was only a sixth-round coming out of Virginia Tech and had to back up Joe Flacco in Baltimore for four seasons. In 2015 then-Bills head coach Rex Ryan brought Taylor and after beating out former first-round pick E.J. Manuel and Matt Cassel, he was an above-average starter in Buffalo for three years. In his final season there, Sean McDermott decided to make the switch to then-rookie Nathan Peterman, which obviously was a huge mistake, illustrated by five first-half turnovers against the Chargers. Taylor was put back under center and led the team to their first playoff appearance in almost 20 years, nearly beating the Jaguars in the Wildcard Round. A couple of months later, the Bills decided to trade Taylor to Cleveland for a third-round pick and he started the year ahead of first overall pick Baker Mayfield originally, who would replace the veteran in the middle of a week three Thursday Night game against the Jets and never looked back. Last offseason he signed a two-year deal with the Chargers to back up Philip Rivers, but now that the organization has cut ties with the 16-year veteran, he has been talked up as their starting QB for 2020. The pieces seem to all be there – plenty of receiving weapons with shifty slot receiver in Keenan Allen, a big-bodied jump-ball specialist in Mike Williams, one of the more talented tight-ends in the league in Hunter Henry if he can finally stay healthy and one of the premiere receiving backs in the league in Austin Ekeler, who made Rivers’ numbers look much better last season because of what he did after catching simple checkdowns. Then they have what I believe will be an elite defense and outside of left tackle, the best offensive line they have had in years. However, after selecting Oregon QB Justin Herbert with the sixth pick in the draft, Taylor will have to take advantage of this great roster if he doesn’t want to just be a place-holder until the rookie is ready. In my evaluations of Herbert, I came to the conclusion that despite being pretty much a four-year starter, he still has a lot of work to do when it comes to being an anticipatory thrower, adjusting to what defenses do post-snap and he was kind of a deer in the headlights in a lot of the big games for the Ducks. With that being said, he has certainly more arm talent and is a more dangerous runner than Tyrod, who has to show me he can keep his eyes downfield while negotiating the rush from within the pocket and be willing to push the ball down the field. Even if Herbert is the long-term solution for the Bolts, Taylor could keep his job for all of 2020 and earn a starting gig elsewhere in ’21 if he plays well.
Ronald Jones II
John Ross III
Vernon Hargreaves III
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