The 20 players who most need a rebound season in 2020, from Baker Mayfield to Xavier Rhodes


The 2019 season was undoubtedly one for the books. Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs overcame adversity at the beginning of the year to win the Super Bowl, Lamar Jackson of the Baltimore Ravens evolved into what appears to be an evolutionary talent while taking home the MVP award. Ryan Tannehill re-emerged in Tennessee and helped get the Titans all the way to the AFC Championship game.

Last year wasn’t all about the accomplishments, however; there were also some major disappointments. The Los Angeles Rams missed the postseason after making it to the Super Bowl the year prior, Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints again fell flat in the postseason and the Cleveland Browns were nowhere as good as we all thought they would be. With a new season comes new opportunity, though, and these teams and players will have another shot to change public opinion and reach new heights of success. Jimmy Garoppolo plus a couple of nice draft picks got the San Francisco 49ers to the Super Bowl after they went 4-12 in 2018. Who will be the player or team that thrusts themselves into the national spotlight at the beginning of this new decade?

Below, we will break down 20 players who need to have a bounce-back season in 2020. Will they be able to rise to the occasion? That remains to be seen, but it would bode well for their respective teams if they played up to the potential we all know they have. 

Many tabbed the Browns as their breakout team in 2019. As we all know, it didn’t go so well. After recording their best season in over a decade in 2018, the Browns went 6-10. While first-year head coach Freddie Kitchens was fired, a lot of the finger-pointing was directed towards quarterback Baker Mayfield. After throwing for 3,725 yards, 27 touchdowns and 14 interceptions in 14 games in the previous season, the former No. 1 overall pick threw for 3,827 yards, 22 touchdowns and 21 interceptions in 2019. 

We know what Mayfield is capable of. After being inserted into the starting lineup in 2018, he made a late charge for the Offensive Rookie of the Year award and got the Browns to the cusp of the playoffs. We were right to have high expectations for Mayfield entering 2019, but he threw the second-most interceptions in the league — even with better weapons around him. Hopefully Kevin Stefanski can get the most out of him this season, because with players like Jarvis Landry, Odell Beckham Jr., Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt and now Austin Hooper, this offense should be one of the best in the league. The hype surrounding the Browns last offseason was too much, but maybe this is the year you should keep an eye on them.

Jared Goff signed a four-year, $134 million extension last September with $110 million guaranteed — the most in NFL history. The Rams ended up restructuring that contract in April. In 2018, Goff put up career-high numbers all across the board, completing 64.9 percent of his passes for 4,688 yards, 32 touchdowns and 12 interceptions as the Rams fell to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LIII. The Rams felt comfortable moving forward with who they had under center, but Goff’s play took a dip in 2019. Last season, the former No. 1 overall pick passed for 4,638 yards, 22 touchdowns and a career-high 16 interceptions.

While you can say that the Rams definitely need Goff to step up his game, it’s actually more than that. There’s no more Brandin Cooks and no more Todd Gurley. Goff absolutely has to up his play if the Rams want a chance at reaching the postseason in 2020, especially considering the division they are in. The 49ers are the reigning NFC champions, the Seattle Seahawks are a constant in the postseason and now Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins have the Arizona Cardinals looking like a team on the rise. Sean McVay needs to figure out how to both get the most out of Goff and how to get the most out of his new, unproven offensive weapons this season. 

In March, I published a piece saying that the fate of the AFC South rests on the arm of Philip Rivers or the legs of Derrick Henry. The Indianapolis Colts made the decision to move on from Jacoby Brissett and pay the long-time Los Angeles Chargers signal-caller $25 million for one year this offseason. In his final year with the Chargers, it appeared Rivers was on his way out the league. While he finished fourth in the NFL in passing yards with 4,615, he finished third in the NFL with 20 interceptions and had an 88.5 passer rating. His touchdown percentage of 3.9% was his lowest since becoming the Chargers’ starting quarterback in 2006, and his adjusted net yards gained per pass attempt (7.1) was his lowest since 2012.

There’s no getting around it; last season was very bad for Rivers, but Frank Reich is trusting that he still is one of the best quarterbacks in the league. The Colts were on the precipice of the Super Bowl with Andrew Luck, but his sudden retirement as well as several big injuries forced the Colts to take a step backwards in 2019. Indy also surrounded Rivers with some potentially big-time weapons such as Michael Pittman and Jonathan Taylor in the draft. If this roster can stay healthy and Rivers can bounce back, Indy may surprise some people in 2020. 

If there’s anyone that has a chip on their shoulder heading into this season, it’s probably Cam Newton. The former MVP was released by the Carolina Panthers and is still searching for a new home. A quick glance over the NFL landscape shows that there really are no prospective starting spots open, so he will likely start the season in a backup or mentor role, but Newton should get his chance to play again very soon.

If you’re confused why Newton is still on the open market, let me explain. Newton was shut down due to a shoulder injury during the 2018 season. Details were sketchy about what exactly he was dealing with, but he did undergo an exploratory procedure last offseason and changed his throwing motion. In the two starts he did register in 2019, Newton did not exactly impress. He completed 56.2% of his passes for 572 yards, zero touchdowns and an interception as the Panthers started the season with losses to the Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Then, of course, he suffered a Lisfranc fracture which knocked him out for the year.

No team was going to trade for him with the kind of money he was due without knowing what kind of player they were getting, and teams wanted to physically get their hands on Newton to evaluate if he is healthy. The COVID-19 pandemic has obviously thrown a wrench into that plan, but legitimate questions remain about his shoulder, his throwing motion and whether he’s still the same dynamic player that helped the Panthers reach new heights as a franchise. 

So who will be proven right in this situation? Is it the NFL general managers who seem to believe that Newton is out of his prime and dealing with a bum shoulder, or is it Newton, who knows he’s still an elite player in this league? We should find out the answer in 2020. 

It’s put up or shut up this season for Mitchell Trubisky. The Chicago Bears need to figure out if he’s the quarterback who will throw for 24 touchdowns and 12 interceptions during a 12-4 season, or if he’s the signal-caller who struggles with accuracy and will throw for just 17 touchdowns and 10 interceptions while his team goes 8-8. The odds are seemingly stacked up against Trubisky, as the Bears went out and traded for Nick Foles and announced they were having an open quarterback competition.

Trubisky is not only going to have to win the quarterback competition in the preseason; he’s going to have to play up to high expectations all while a former Super Bowl MVP looks on, ready to take his place. Bears head coach Matt Nagy said that they are just trying to do what is best for the Chicago Bears, so Trubisky has to prove that he’s the future under center — and he has to do it now. 

Trubisky’s competition is looking to re-establish himself in the league as well. Foles parlayed a Super Bowl run with the Philadelphia Eagles into a lucrative contract offer in Jacksonville last offseason. The deal was worth $88 million over four years. After suffering an injury in Week 1, he essentially lost his starting job to rookie Gardner Minshew. Foles was named the starter when he returned, but he eventually lost that right in three weeks. In four games, Foles completed 77 of 117 passes for 736 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions.

At this point, Foles just appears to be a very good backup. He has a chance to win the starting job entering the regular season, however, and maybe find some stability as the new quarterback of the Bears. Even if he wins the job and has a decent season in Chicago, he’s not guaranteed to hold onto the job. The Bears could elect to draft a quarterback next offseason or try their luck in free agency. Foles will have to prove that he’s the right quarterback this season as well as the right one for the future. 

It wasn’t long ago that Gurley was considered the unquestioned best running back in the league. Fast forward to 2020 and the Rams have moved on from the running back. The Atlanta Falcons were quick to sign Gurley to a one-year deal, and general manager Thomas Dimitroff said the team did their due diligence when it came to Gurley’s knee.

Gurley was on his way to another career season in 2018 when a knee issue from college flared up. He took a back seat as the Rams went on to lose in the Super Bowl, then rushed for a career-low 857 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2019. Clearly, there was something amiss when it came to Gurley’s health, but he insists his knee is fine. The Falcons appear ready to put his theory to the test by making him their workhorse. We should learn very quickly if he’s capable of holding up to 20-plus touches per game and putting up the kind of big numbers he did in 2017 and 2018. 

The New York Jets were considered a team on the rise by many entering 2019. They appeared to have their quarterback of the future in Sam Darnold, picked up some nice defensive pieces in Quinnen Williams and C.J. Mosley and also signed star running back Le’Veon Bell. The former Pittsburgh Steelers do-it-all offensive weapon chose to take the 2018 season off and wait for a team to offer him the lucrative deal he had been asking the Steelers for. While he didn’t exactly get the figures he sought, he finally got back into the league.  

In 15 games, Bell rushed for 789 yards and a career-low three rushing touchdowns while averaging a career-low 3.2 yards per carry. While he also caught 66 passes for 461 yards and another touchdown, he certainly did not look like one of the NFL’s elite offensive weapons. Some of that can be blamed on the offensive line or the Jets’ struggles as a whole, but Bell certainly did not put up the numbers many were hoping for in his first season with the Jets. Now 28 years old, it has to be asked: Did Bell just have an off year with a struggling team? Or is he just not the offensive weapon he was with the Steelers anymore?

David Johnson took a backseat to midseason trade acquisition Kenyan Drake in 2019, and then was a part of the eye-popping trade with the Houston Texans that sent Hopkins to the Cardinals. This trade wouldn’t have looked as bad had it gone down following the 2016 season — when Johnson rushed for 1,239 yards and 16 touchdowns — but he’s now a 28-year-old running back who has dealt with several injuries and could be on his way out of the league. 

Last season, Johnson rushed for just 345 yards and two touchdowns in 13 games. He did add four touchdowns through the air but clearly was not the elite offensive weapon who was going No. 1 overall in fantasy football drafts not long ago. Now with the Texans, he will be able to prove that he’s still a legitimate starting running back that can help Houston return to the postseason. 

Some may be surprised to see Saquon Barkley make this list, but he definitely suffered somewhat of a sophomore slump in 2019. You can chalk that up to the injury he suffered in Week 3 against the Buccaneers, sure, but he recorded three less 100-yard games and five less touchdowns than he did during his rookie season. 

The former Penn State star burst onto the scene in 2018, rushing for 1,307 yards and 11 touchdowns while averaging 5.0 yards per carry. Many believed he was ready to carry the mantle as the best running back in the league after his rookie season, but clearly that did not happen in 2019. Barkley makes this list because I think he can be the best running back in the league, and he was not that last season. I hope first-year head coach Joe Judge plans on making Barkley the focal point of his offense, because Barkley’s speed, toughness and catching ability are outstanding. I think he could put up career-high numbers in 2020. 

The Broncos‘ offense could be downright scary in 2020. Drew Lock, Phillip Lindsay, Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, KJ Hamler, Noah Fant and also Melvin Gordon? Wow. The two-time Pro Bowl running back spent the first five years of his career with the Chargers and has recorded 4,420 rushing yards and 36 touchdowns on 1,059 carries. He took off the beginning portion of the 2019 season in hopes of securing a lucrative contract, but still recorded 612 rushing yards and eight touchdowns in 12 games. 

Gordon could end up being the main “running” back in Denver’s offense while Lindsay takes over more in the receiving game. Either way, he will have the opportunity to become the focal point of the Broncos’ offensive attack — and he will get to face off against his former team two times a year. Gordon could return to Pro Bowl form in 2020. 

After rushing for a career-high 973 yards and 12 touchdowns while kicking Bell out of Pittsburgh in 2018, James Conner rushed for just 464 yards and four touchdowns in 2019. Injuries were a big part of his step backwards as he played in just 10 games, but there’s a much larger reason Conner is on this list.

The Steelers have Jaylen Samuels, Benny Snell and now Anthony McFarland Jr. on roster. All of these running backs are worthy of several touches a game, so Conner is going to have to prove that he’s the best of the group and that he deserves to be the main weapon in the backfield. He saw how quickly he was able to replace Bell’s production when he got the chance. Conner needs to make sure no other player can do the same to him. He’s a great runner and also receiver out of the backfield, but he has to make the most of every touch and stay healthy so that the other talent on the depth chart does not overtake him. It’s possible this could be his last year in Pittsburgh. 

Another guy people will be expecting more from in Pittsburgh is wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster. After exploding for 1,426 yards and seven touchdowns on 111 catches in 2018, he recorded just 552 receiving yards and three touchdowns on 42 receptions last season. Much of this can be blamed on the quarterback situation, as Ben Roethlisberger was knocked out due to injury and both Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges struggled to replace him, but the Steelers still want to see more from Smith-Schuster.

We are still left wondering if the threat of Antonio Brown on the other side of the field allowed Smith-Schuster to succeed or if he really is a star that can still find ways to score despite the full attention of the opposing secondary. With everyone back healthy, we should learn fairly quickly if Smith-Schuster is the star we all assumed him to be a year or two ago. It’s possible we forget that his subpar 2019 season ever happened.

Odell Beckham was seen as someone who would take Cleveland’s offense to the next level in 2019, but the Browns went 6-10 while he struggled to establish a rapport with Mayfield. In 2019, he caught just 74 passes for 1,035 yards and four touchdowns, the lowest numbers he’s posted when playing a full 16-game season. It was also Beckham’s worst catch rate of his career. Mike Freeman of Bleacher Report reported that sources with several different teams believe it’s only a matter of time before Beckham is traded from the Browns, but general manager Andrew Berry has been adamant that the three-time Pro Bowl wideout is part of their long-term plans

Earlier this month, Beckham predicted that the 2020 season is going to be one of the best seasons of his career, saying, “This is my time.” For the Browns’ sake, I hope he’s right. Everyone wants to see the old Beckham again — the guy making absurd, acrobatic catches while putting up at least 1,300 receiving yards and double-digit touchdowns every season. We all know he’s capable, but will Mayfield be able to help him out?

A.J. Green is a huge question mark entering 2020. He was hampered by injuries during the 2018 campaign, missed the entire 2019 season due to an ankle issue and turns 32 in July. Is he still that elite receiver that can catch three touchdowns in one half, the one who recorded five straight 1,000-yard receiving seasons? I’m not sure.

Head coach Zac Taylor has been consistent in saying that Green will play a large role in his offense, and he’s finally fully healthy after going down with the ankle injury in training camp last July. This isn’t just coach speak either, as the Cincinnati Bengals made the decision to place the franchise tag on Green, which will pay him almost $18 million in 2020. He has a new quarterback in No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow, so maybe it’s possible we could see a resurgence in Green. All I know is that the Bengals are going to need to see a bounce-back season from their No. 1 wideout if they want to create some waves in 2020. 

We really could just say that all the Colts receivers need to have bounce-back seasons in 2020, but T.Y. Hilton is clearly the best of his position group and Rivers is going to need him if Indy wants to return to the postseason. Hilton dealt with injuries for the majority of the 2019 season and caught a career-low 45 passes for 501 yards and five touchdowns. It was disheartening for Colts fans, as he had recorded five 1,000-yard seasons over the last six years. 

Rivers is a fan of the deep ball, and it’s one of Hilton’s biggest strengths. The former Chargers signal-caller relied heavily on Keenan Allen as his No. 1 receiver, so Hilton is sure to get his fair share of targets in 2020. If he can remain healthy, expect him to have a bounce-back season. 

Cooks’ first season with the Rams in 2018 was pretty impressive. In 16 games, he caught 80 passes for 1,204 yards and five touchdowns as Los Angeles made it all the way to the Super Bowl. Like many players on L.A.’s roster, the 2019 season was very different for Cooks. In 14 games, he caught 42 passes for 583 yards and two touchdowns — his worst year since his rookie season back in 2014. While he technically played in 14 games, he didn’t record a catch in two of those contests.

It’s almost unreasonable for us to have Cooks as a candidate for a bounce-back season since this will be the fourth team he has played for in seven seasons, but the truth is that he has shown up on Sundays no matter what uniform he’s wearing. He recorded 1,000-yard seasons in his first years with both the Patriots and the Rams — maybe he can do it with the Texans. After all, with Hopkins gone and Will Fuller always on the injury report, Cooks may end up being Deshaun Watson’s No. 1 target. 

Xavier Rhodes was once considered one of the top cornerbacks in the league, but he had a rough couple of seasons with the Minnesota Vikings. According to Pro Football Focus, 120 cornerbacks were on the field for more than 300 snaps last season, and only six has a lower grade than Rhodes.  Even though he somehow made the Pro Bowl as an alternate, the Vikings made the decision to release him this offseason after seven years in Minnesota. 

Rhodes was scooped up by the Colts, however, where he will have a chance to start anew. He does turn 30 this offseason and didn’t record an interception last year, so it could be an uphill battle. There’s always the possibility that a change of scenery could do something good for him; we know he’s capable of much more.

The Las Vegas Raiders surprised basically everyone when they took Clelin Ferrell with the No. 4 overall pick in last year’s draft. While the two-time national champion was expected to go in the first round, no one was expecting him to be a top-five pick. His rookie season was OK at best , as he started in 15 games and recorded 38 combined tackles, 4.5 sacks and five passes defensed — but you’re not alone if you were hoping for more out of a No. 4 overall pick. 

Ferrell will enter the 2020 season as the starter opposite fellow second-year player Maxx Crosby. While he was selected in the fourth round in 2019, Crosby actually led the team in sacks with 10. The Raiders aren’t going to give up on the player they supposedly reached on, however, and Ferrell has the potential to be a part of a dynamic pass-rushing duo with Crosby. Keep your eye on this kid in 2020. 

Solomon Thomas was selected with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft out of Stanford. He actually hit the ground running in his rookie season, recording a career-high 41 combined tackles and three sacks despite starting in just 12 games. He started 13 games in his second season, but recorded just 31 combined tackles and one sack. While the 49ers went 13-3 and made it all the way to Super Bowl LIV last season, Thomas started just three games and recorded a career-low 21 combined tackles and two sacks. 

The 49ers declined Thomas’ fifth-year option, but he’s clearly a player with potential. It’s hard to predict how many games Thomas will start in this season since the 49ers like to rotate all of their defensive linemen around, but Thomas is a candidate for a big year in 2020. He knows where he stands with this franchise and will have to bust tail if he wants to stay in the Bay and be a part of arguably the most talented defensive line in the league. 





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