It’s August! NFL training camps are under way, media predictions are flying out fast, fantasy football leagues are launching left and right, and football is back! As the 100th NFL season is preparing to kickoff with the Green Bay Packers at the Chicago Bears, there is a lot to look in preparation for the upcoming season. As everyone knows, the quarterback position is the most important position on the field: the leader, the messenger, the coach on the field, the unbreakable will. In the 2018 season we saw great quarterback play across the NFL: Patrick Mahomes throwing for 5097 yards and 50 touchdowns, Drew Brees and Tom Brady fending off Father Time for another season, Deshaun Watson leading the Texans to the playoffs after starting 0-3, Baker Mayfield giving Cleveland what it hasn’t had in decades, and the return of Andrew Luck and his offensive dominance in Indy. While we know who some of the top level quarterbacks are going into the season, who has a must prove season coming for them? With this series, I want to look at my opinion of who has the most to prove in 2019. Whether it is a player with a proven track record who needs to reestablish themselves, to prove the detractors wrong, save their career, or take the next step we will look and see which quarterbacks have more to prove than others.
Cleveland has seemingly found their quarterback that they’ve searched for since the Jim Brown era. That’s been awhile. After leading the Oklahoma Sooners to the College Football Playoffs and winning the Heisman Trophy with some of the best quarterback play in College Football history, the Cleveland Browns FINALLY pulled the trigger on a quarterback with their number one overall pick. After trading out of what could have been Carson Wentz, taking Myles Garrett number one overall in 2017 and then trading the pick that became Deshaun Watson to the Texans, the Browns took Mayfield with the number one overall pick in the 2018 NFL draft. With a few questionable college actions aside, Mayfield looked like he should have come in and started out of the gate. After former starter Tyrod Taylor went down with an injury against the New York Jets, it was Baker time. Leading Cleveland to their first win in over a calendar year, I believe the lightbulb came on over the entire city and franchise: We finally have our guy. An overall okay season, which could be considered great by Browns standards after going 1-31 in the two seasons prior, 7-8-1 looks like a new era. Now why do I put Baker on this list? Expectations rise with success. Breaking Peyton Manning and Russell Wilson’s rookie passing touchdown record, 6-7 as a starter, number one overall pick. Third place in the AFC North will not cut it. He has one of the best groups of offensive weapons with Odell Beckham Jr, Jarvis Landry, David Njoku, Nick Chubb, and eventually Kareem Hunt. He’s heralded as a great leader from his Cleveland and Oklahoma teammates, so with a new offense, new head coach, new players, and new expectations for the season and future of the Cleveland Browns Baker Mayfield will have to take the next step in his growth and prove himself right and his detractors wrong.
This might be a stretch but here we are. After trading up and drafting Josh Rosen 10th overall, firing rookie head coach Steve Wilks, and an overall 2018 record of 3-13, and winning the top pick in the 2019 NFL the Arizona Cardinals hit the reset button very quickly. After hiring recently fired Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury, a clip of him before Tech played Oklahoma saying if he could he would draft Kyler number one overall if he could. Oh. Well. A lot of speculation came that the Cardinals would move off of Josh Rosen in favor of Kyler Murray, Kingsbury saying Josh was learning his offense very well and being a leader… And finally on draft night, Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray was indeed the top pick. Back to back Heisman winning quarterbacks from Oklahoma went number one overall, following Baker Mayfield from the year prior. Now this is the pressure that is here to come: The NFC West is loaded with defending NFC champion Los Angeles Rams, always fighting Seattle Seahawks, and the resurging San Francisco 49ers, a new head coach that, yes, has worked with great college quarterbacks with some being great pros, didn’t win a whole lot at Texas Tech, and replacing Josh Rosen who was the 10th pick in 2018. A lot will be on this young man to raise the level of play around this young and messy Arizona team. Let’s see if he was truly worth jettisoning Josh Rosen after one season.
Speaking of… Josh Rosen has definitely had a rough start to his NFL career for a top-10 pick. After being taken behind Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, and Josh Allen he had a massive chip on his shoulder. And as excited as the Arizona Cardinals fanbase probably was for the fire and attitude, the Cardinals didn’t do him any favors. After being given the backup role to Sam Bradford to start the season, he was thrown into the fire after Bradford went down with injuries like Baker Mayfield did in Cleveland. But unlike Baker, Josh didn’t see the success in starting like the Browns did with their top pick. Going 3-10 in his starts, it was rough to watch the Cardinals at times with a weak receiving group who lost promising rookie wide receiver Christian Kirk and one of the worst offensive lines in football last season. On top of firing his offensive coordinator and head coach in the middle of the season, Rosen wasn’t even close to being given the tools to succeed. But instead of seeing what he could do under new head coach Kliff Kingsbury, the franchise moved off of him after they selected Kyler Murray with the top pick of 2019 and traded Josh to the Miami Dolphins. Now. The Dolphins have been a mess for the greater part of a long time. With minor success with former 2012 1st rounder Ryan Tannehill and former head coach Adam Gase, the Dolphins moved on from both. With new head coach Brian Flores, depending on when Ryan Fitzpatrick hits his eventual wall, Josh Rosen might be given a new breath of life for his career. If nothing can be generated with the Miami Dolphins, Rosen might soon garner the infamous ‘Bust” label.
Another franchise mired in quarterback purgatory has their guy. Deshaun Watson has been everything the Houston Texans have wanted and then some with his athleticism, leadership and toughness. After a terrific start to his rookie season that ended prematurely to a non-contact ACL year in 2017, all eyes were on how well his recovery would go and if he’d even be the same quarterback. With RGIII’s injury and subsequent derailment of his promising career, fear of Watson following suit was in the minds of Texans staff and fans alike. But like JJ Watt did for the team a few years ago, in 2018 Deshaun Watson put the team on his shoulders and led them to an AFC South title after a 0-3 start to the season. Watson proved his toughness behind seemingly the worst offensive line in the NFL by a wide margin, playing all 16 games and even having to be bused to Jacksonville dealing with a partially collapsed lung and rib injury because the team was worried about how flying him would have effected the injury. Leading the Texans to the playoffs and losing to the Indianapolis Colts wasn’t how the Houston Texans wanted to end the season. But seeing all 3 2017 first round quarterbacks lead their teams to the playoffs and one, Patrick Mahomes, making the conference championship, the next step for Deshaun and the Texans would be beyond a first round exit. He has proven to be tough as nails and with his growth, a deeper playoff run would have to be next for the 3rd year quarterback.
Ah the 2015 NFL draft. Jameis Winston vs Marcus Maritoa for who would be number 1 and 2 overall, which was actually the first time two Heisman winners were selected consecutively. Would former Eagles coach Chip Kelly make a move to trade up for his former college quarterback Mariota? Well. No that didn’t happen. And after Jameis Winston went number one to Tampa Bay, the Tennessee Titans were all over Mariota. Another team mired in horrendous quarterback play got their guy after searching for a valuable starter since Vince Young. And Mariota’s career entering year five has left a lot of people wondering: Is this it? This is all we got? Injuries, coaching changes, and inefficient role players around Mariota has left a rather lackluster taste in the mouths of Titans fans though going 9-7 the last three seasons isn’t terrible but in a AFC South with Andrew Luck and Deshaun Watson, you have to be better than 9-7 to win the division and see the playoffs. Entering his 5th year option season on his rookie contract, Mariota is going to have a lot to prove: Can he stay healthy, can he pick up the team and will them to tough wins? With a second with with head coach Mike Vrabel, we hope to see growth in the systems in place otherwise we could see the 2015 number two pick packing his bags out of Nashville and the Titans hitting the reset button again.
As it has been stated multiple times since the allegations from his time at Florida State, Jameis Winston is a very talented individual who cannot seem to stay out of his own way. Two straight 4000 yard seasons to start his career was impressive, earning him a Pro Bowl nod his rookie year. But since then, he has had a shoulder injury that kept him out 3 games in 2017 and a 3 game suspension for violating the NFL personal conduct policy to start the 2018 season. Like Marcus Mariota, Winston is entering a major year in his career. With only one winning season to his name, he and new head coach Bruce Arians have a lot of work to do to save the career of the 2015 number one pick and to compete in a very competitive NFC South that features Drew Brees going no where for the New Orleans Saints and Matt Ryan’s Falcons looking healthier and ready to rebound. Also like Mariota, Winston’s career has been underwhelming after his first two seasons and time will be ticking to see if he can prove to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that he truly is the long term answer to their quarterback position or like Tennessee they will be hitting the reset button again. The talent has been there for Jameis, the pieces, maybe outside of running back, have been drafted and given to him and the defense is getting better, but he has to prove he is a leader and take this team to the next level and get them back to the playoffs for the first time since 2007. Being the number one pick and deemed a franchise savior, the pressure to deliver will be on his shoulders.