The 2020 offseason was unlike any other we’ve seen in a long time, and for reasons other than the coronavirus pandemic throwing more than a few monkey wrenches into the equation.
Cam Newton, Teddy Bridgewater, Tom Brady, Nick Foles, Philip Rivers, Joe Flacco, Jameis Winston all will be donning new colors heading into the 2020 season, and so, so many more are dealing with heightened expectations as the power in the AFC and NFC both shift.
Every quarterback in the NFL is dealing with pressure, and every quarterback is dealing with different expectations given their production, standing with the franchise and ownership’s future plans, but so many are dealing with heightened expectations and have something to prove: whether that’s to their organizations for new contract or putting hopes on the future, or silencing critics once and for all.
Every QB has something to prove, but here are the 10 with the most to prove heading into 2020:
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10. Dak Prescott, Cowboys
2019 stats: 16 games/16 starts, 8-8 record, 4,902 yards (227 rushing yards), 30 TDs, 11 INTs, 65.1 percent completion rate, 99.7 passer rating
As far as talent goes, we pretty much know who Dak Prescott is now. With the addition of wideout CeeDee Lamb, Mike McCarthy calling plays and a still top-tier offensive line, then there’s little expectation that Prescott should regress in 2020.
That said, Dallas clearly didn’t believe that Prescott was worth meeting his asking price on, and that’s something of a rarity among teams who believe they have a franchise quarterback. Franchise quarterbacks get paid, and there’s usually moderate levels of haggling, but never a franchise standoff like we saw between Dallas and Prescott.
Prescott, who’s going to play 2020 on the franchise tag, is still looking for a long-term extension from Jerry Jones and he’s going to have to wait until after the 2020 season to get it. If Prescott wants to be the next $200 million man in the NFL, then he’s going to have to prove he’s the real deal in McCarthy’s system.
MORE: NFL quarterback rankings for 2020
9. Lamar Jackson, Ravens
2019 stats: 15 games/15 starts, 13-2 record, 3,127 yards (1,206 rushing yards), 36 TDs (7 rushing TDs), 6 INTs, 66.1 percent completion rate, 113.3 passer rating
It’s hard to knock a guy who just won the league MVP, but the biggest question for Jackson is: Can you do it again?
Jackson has vocal critics for his seeming inability to carry a game with his arm over his legs, and with his poor playoff passing stats — 31-for-59 passing for 365 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions in the Ravens’ 2019 matchup against the Titans — then there’s cause to believe he might not be able to.
While Jackson is certainly efficient when throwing the ball (66.1 completion percentage and 36 touchdowns in 2019) and will continue to win games running before passing, in a pass-happy league, it’s worth bearing out to see how long Jackson can continue to rush his way to dominance. Franchises also shouldn’t be hinging all of their hopes by letting their QBs take more hits than they should be. In fact, Jackson has set the record for most rushing attempts by a QB in each of the last two seasons.
While Jackson could be the exception to letting QBs run wild, Jackson is going to need to continue to evolve as a passer, simply because Greg Roman’s offense likely won’t work forever — offenses in the NFL never do.
If he can build on his MVP campaign while demonstrating he can continue to improve as a passer, then there’s no doubt that Jackson and Patrick Mahomes will continue to ruin the NFL and meet in January at the AFC championship game for years to come.
8. Dwayne Haskins, Washington
2019 stats: 9 games/7 starts, 2-5 record, 1,365 yards (101 rushing yards), 7 TDs, 7 INTs, 58.6 percent completion rate, 76.1 passer rating
Haskins is in a situation that’s not a whole lot better than what Josh Rosen walked into with Arizona a few years ago, and while there were moments of potential flashed in 2020, Haskins had a largely eh rookie year in Washington.
The Washington Football Team likely doesn’t want to hit reset on the QB position again after their troubles since 2013: drafted Robert Griffin III in 2012, turned the keys over to Kirk Cousins in 2015, traded for Alex Smith who suffered a gruesome leg injury, then drafted Dwayne Haskins, who looked overmatched at different points throughout the 2019 season.
With a more stable coaching situation around him and Smith back on the sideline to challenge or mentor him, Haskins’ situation is at least slightly improved from 2019. His skill position group is still questionable, but he should be afforded context when evaluating him this year.
7. Sam Darnold, Jets
2019 stats: 13 games/13 starts, 7-6 record, 3,024 yards (62 rushing yards), 19 TDs (2 rushing TDs), 13 INTs, 61.4 percent completion rate, 84.3 passer rating
Darnold is still dealing with a questionable supporting cast and coaching staff, but with an (on-paper) improved offensive line and skill position group, then there should be enough there for the third-year Trojan to silence some critics heading into his junior year in the NFL.
While his passing numbers aren’t nearly as poorly skewed as the going narrative would have you believe, there needs to be a better level of health and consistency for Darnold in Year 3. Some context: Of Darnold’s 13 interceptions, eight of them came over a hellacious three-game stretch vs. New England, Jacksonville and Miami early in the year, and he finished strong, throwing 12 touchdowns to just four interceptions over his last seven games.
While Darnold is still just 23 — even younger than this year’s No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow — age and potential can’t be leaned on forever in the NFL, especially with a team that is going to have to start sinking more money into other areas of the roster in coming years. The team also is going to need to know what he is before striking a deal on a potential contract extension in the coming years.
6. Josh Allen, Bills
2019 stats: 16 games/16 starts, 10-6 record, 3,089 yards (510 rushing yards), 20 TDs (9 rushing TDs), 9 INTs, 58.8 percent completion rate, 85.3 passer rating
Josh Allen’s physical traits are arguably second to none in the NFL, but as a pure passer, there’s still a lot of work to be done. With a wonky, sub-60 percent career completion rate and accuracy questions aplenty, Allen needs to continue to improve on his passing ability like he did in 2019.
While Buffalo will certainly give Allen every opportunity to succeed — they traded for Stefon Diggs to give him a true No. 1 receiving target — being an inaccurate deep thrower won’t get you much or far in today’s pass-happy NFL. Though his rushing abilities certainly add a dynamic element to his game, he’s going to have to show the franchise-altering passer that teams need to compete for Super Bowls in 2020.
With Diggs, Devin Singletary and John Brown flanking Allen, he has the weapons to improve, and 2020 is going to be a big year for him to show he can continue to grow.
5. Cam Newton, Patriots
2019 stats: 2 games/2 starts, 0-2 record, 572 yards (-2 rushing yards), 0 TDs, 1 INT, 56.2 percent completion rate, 71.0 passer rating
The curiosity of Cam Newton’s signing remains shrouded in mystery: when healthy, Newton is a legitimate offensive talent, but teams didn’t exactly breaking down Newton’s door or blow up his agent’s phone trying to sign him this offseason. Unfortunately for Newton, that “when healthy” bit is the question.
While Newton’s long-term future likely isn’t in New England, there’s no doubt that he’s going to have the opportunity to start somewhere again come the 2021 season, be it with the Patriots or elsewhere, if he stays healthy and plays well. He has a good chance of doing both behind a good offensive line and under the tutelage of OC Josh McDaniels, who will find creative ways to use Newton’s skillset. While starting quarterback jobs in the NFL aren’t always up for grabs, there’s also little doubt that the former league MVP is one of the best 32 starters in the league. He’s got a chance to prove that this year.
So much of what Newton’s 2020 season will be: what can he do while healthy and if he can still play to a Pro-Bowl level? If he can answer in the affirmative to both of those questions, then he’ll be in for one last, big payday before riding off into the sunset. If not, then he’ll be waiting much longer for a job next time around.
4. Aaron Rodgers, Packers
2019 stats: 16 games/16 starts, 13-3 record, 4,002 yards (183 rushing yards), 26 TDs (1 rushing TD), 4 INTs, 62.0 percent completion rate, 95.4 passer rating
The NFL world was rocked when the Packers selected Aaron Rodgers’ heir apparent in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft, proving once again that time is a flat circle.
Jordan Love’s on-field debut might come in relief or select packages in 2020, but his starting QB debut definitely isn’t coming this year, barring injury to Rodgers.
But when will it come? Will it be next year? The year after that?
So much of the timetable of when Love will take the reins from Rodgers is dictated by how good Rodgers is this year, period. Still one of the most physically gifted and accurate QBs in the league, Rodgers is one of the handful of legitimate franchise quarterbacks who can carry a team on his back and will his team to victory. There’s not much room for debate there. What is up for argument is how soon the Packers want to part from the former league MVP and Super Bowl champ.
The Packers would be silly to give up on Rodgers before he starts showing cracks in the armor — but Rodgers still has to prove he can play well enough to hold off Love’s arrival in Green Bay. Don’t bet against him.
3. Derek Carr, Raiders
2019 stats: 16 games/16 starts, 7-9 record, 4,054 yards (82 rushing yards), 21 TDs (2 rushing TDs), 8 INTs, 70.4 percent completion rate, 100.8 passer rating
While some expected Carr to be gone after the first year of the Jon Gruden-Carr pairing, it didn’t happen. Then some waited Carr to hit the market after the second year of the Gruden-Carr marriage. Still nothing. Now, in the third year between the two, it feels like the sands are winding down on the Carr era in silver and black.
It certainly feels like Derek Carr is a dead QB walking in Las Vegas, and it’s time for him to put all the chips in the middle of the table and prove he can take the Raiders to the promised land. Or at least more than another 7-9.
Who can blame the Las Vegas front office for wanting to look toward the future? With a 2020 draft class loaded in potential QB talent, Gruden — who loves almost every QB he ever comes across — is going to have plenty to choose from should Carr continue to be good but not franchise-elevating.
The Raiders have done a good job of surrounding Carr with offensive talent and we’ll see if Carr can develop quick chemistry with first-round pick Henry Ruggs III. If not, then Marcus Mariota might be taking snaps for the Raiders by the time Week 17 rolls around.
2. Tom Brady, Buccaneers
2019 stats: 16 games/16 starts, 12-4 record, 4,057 yards (26 rushing yards), 24 TDs (3 rushing TDs), 8 INTs, 60.8 percent completion rate, 88.0 passer rating
It’s not easy to make a case for a six-time Super Bowl champion as someone who has something left to prove, but this goes beyond stats and rings.
The debate has already raged for years: was the New England dynasty’s success a product of Brady, coach Bill Belichick or something symbiotic? We’re going to get the answer to that in 2020, as long as Brady stays on the field.
The 43-year-old is playing in a totally loaded offense that features Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Rob Gronkowski and is headed up by offensive mastermind Bruce Arians. While a lot of Brady’s last few years in new England can be attributed to a lack of weapons, how much has age played into Brady’s production, too? After all, football is a young man’s game and Brady is anything but at this point.
Father Time remains undefeated, and Brady has a massive two-year contract with Tampa Bay, and the clock for winning another Lombardi Trophy started ticking the second pen met paper on that deal. So much of Brady’s legacy is going to be written by what happens while he’s under center for the Bucs — fair or not. Can he prove he wasn’t a Belichick product, or is he truly more than that?
1. Baker Mayfield, Browns
2019 stats: 16 games/16 starts, 6-10 record, 3,827 yards (141 yards), 22 TDs (3 rushing TDs), 21 INTs, 59.4 percent completion rate, 78.8 passer rating
With a new head coach, a still-loaded skill position pool and an upgraded offensive line, there are minimal excuses baked in for Mayfield in 2020.
The promotion of Freddie Kitchens heading into 2020 felt like a move to appease Mayfield, who had developed a rapport with him following the firing of Hue Jackson his rookie year. Mayfield is entering his third year — and his third head coach — in the league, and after a 22 TD/21 INT campaign, the jury is very much out on whether or not he’s the QB of the future in Cleveland.
He’s certainly got a lot of things working out in his favor heading into the season: Kevin Stefanski has a proven track record (albeit in a short resume as OC) of getting the most out of both quarterback and wide receiver in Minnesota, where both Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen were big-play, big-production receivers for Kirk Cousins.
That production should translate to Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry and Baker Mayfield, should they stay healthy and Mayfield reach his at list a bit more of his potential under center.
Still, a new head coach might want his own guy, a GM could feel the same way, and Mayfield is a holdover from the previous regime. In order to put those doubts to sleep and cement himself as Cleveland’s savior as many thought he was Year 1 in Cleveland, then Mayfield has to have a not good, not great but a monster year in 2020.