NFL News & Analysis

Players with the most to prove in 2022 on all 32 NFL teams: Sources weigh in on Tua Tagovailoa, Michael Thomas and more

Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (1) heads onto the field at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, November 15, 2020. (ALLEN EYESTONE / THE PALM BEACH POST) Photos Of The Year 2020 31

We asked sources around the NFL about players with the most to prove this season, whether that’s based on draft position, contract, impending free agency or something else.

Here’s what we learned about each NFL team's player with the most to prove in 2022:

JUMP TO A TEAM:

ARZ | ATL | BLT | BUF | CAR | CIN | CHI | CLE | DEN | DAL | DET | GB | HOU | IND | JAX | KC | LVR | LAC | LAR | MIA | MIN | NE | NO | NYG | NYJ | PHI | PIT | SF | SEA | TB | TEN | WSH

ARIZONA CARDINALS: LB Isaiah Simmons

2021 PFF Grade: 49.7

Simmons was the eighth overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft but has just a 51.8 PFF grade through two seasons. He’s played 789 snaps in the box, where he’s earned a 61.9 grade, 326 snaps on the defensive line (51.4 grade), 236 snaps in the slot (40.2 grade), 39 snaps at cornerback (68.7 grade) and 10 snaps at free safety (32.6 grade). Early in camp, Simmons has been playing the “star” or nickel role in the Cardinals’ defense.

ATLANTA FALCONS: LB Deion Jones

2021 PFF Grade: 34.6

Jones had a rough 2021 campaign in Dean Pees’ defense, earning just a 34.6 grade. The Falcons reportedly couldn’t find a trade partner for him, and a release would save Atlanta only $1 million in cap space. Jones would be much easier to move on from next offseason, so he must convince the Falcons to want him around in 2023 this season.

BALTIMORE RAVENS: WR Rashod Bateman

2021 PFF Grade: 64.9

Bateman has a chance to be wildly productive without much in the way of competition for targets at wide receiver in Baltimore’s offense. Still, he must prove he can be a No. 1 wide receiver in the NFL this season.

BUFFALO BILLS: WR Gabe Davis

2021 PFF Grade: 81.5

The hype around Gabe Davis has reached astronomical levels this offseason after he torched the Kansas City Chiefs in January during a playoff loss for 201 yards and four receiving touchdowns. One source predicted that Davis will be among the NFL’s league leaders in receiving yards and touchdowns this year. Davis actually graded out better than Stefon Diggs on limited snaps last season and will certainly receive a ton of work with Emmanuel Sanders and Cole Beasley no longer on the roster.

CAROLINA PANTHERS: QB Baker Mayfield

2021 PFF Grade: 63.6

This must have been a humbling offseason for Mayfield, who was replaced as the Browns' starting quarterback, had to take a pay cut and was dealt for a conditional future fifth-round pick. A source close to the Panthers said they eventually made the trade because it was too good of a deal to pass up. Mayfield, who’s legitimately competing with Sam Darnold in training camp,  must now show he’s still a starting-caliber quarterback.

CHICAGO BEARS: WR N'Keal Harry

2021 PFF Grade: 68.7

Harry finally got his wish to be traded out of New England. This is his chance to earn a starting role and show why he was a first-round pick in 2019. The Bears have one of the weakest wide receiver corps in the NFL and were looking for a big target to fill out their offense before trading for Harry.

CINCINNATI BENGALS: TE Drew Sample

2021 PFF Grade: 56.1

The former Washington Husky is entering the final year of his rookie contract and, with C.J. Uzomah joining the New York Jets in free agency, has a chance to carve out a bigger role in 2022. The 2019 second-round pick has 56 catches for 460 yards and just one touchdown in three seasons. Sample had a strong offseason and continues to impress in camp, according to a league source.

CLEVELAND BROWNS: QB Deshaun Watson

2021 PFF Grade: N/A

Watson sat out of the 2021 season and inked a record-setting deal worth $230 million after being traded to the Browns. He better be one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks when he does finally see the field, which could be a while if the NFL gets its way following the appeal of his six-game suspension. The NFL is seeking a full-season suspension.

DALLAS COWBOYS: TE Dalton Schultz

2021 PFF Grade: 78.2

The Cowboys and Schultz didn’t reach a long-term contract this offseason, meaning the veteran tight end could be headed for free agency next offseason. He was great in 2021 with a 78.2 PFF grade, but he has to prove it wasn’t just a fluke. The Cowboys have been impressed with Schultz so far in camp.

DENVER BRONCOS: WR Jerry Jeudy

2021 PFF Grade: 68.7

Jeudy missed half of last season with an ankle injury and has just three career touchdown catches since being selected in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft. He’s guaranteed to see a ton of targets after Tim Patrick went down with a torn ACL in practice Tuesday. Now he must prove he can be the No. 1 or No. 2 option in Denver’s offense with Russell Wilson at quarterback. He’s impressed the Broncos so far in camp.

DETROIT LIONS: TE T.J. Hockenson

2021 PFF Grade: 68.1

If Hockenson doesn’t sign a contract extension before the 2022 season, he has a chance to reset the tight end market with a breakout year.

GREEN BAY PACKERS: WR Sammy Watkins

2021 PFF Grade: 66.3

Watkins was once one of the best and brightest wide receivers in the NFL. He tweaked a hamstring training before camp and briefly started the summer on the non-football injury list, but he's been back on the field in recent days. If he can stay healthy, he can be Aaron Rodgers’ No. 1 target and turn around his career.

HOUSTON TEXANS: QB Davis Mills

2021 PFF Grade: 58.5

Mills’ performance this season will dictate whether the Texans need to use an early draft pick on a quarterback next April and whether they’ll be in position to do so. Houston clearly likes Mills, and he has fans around the league, as well, based on how he played as a rookie.

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS: T Matt Pryor

2021 PFF Grade: 76.5

Pryor primarily played right tackle last season but is the favorite to protect quarterback Matt Ryan’s blindside this season within what could be one of the NFL’s best offensive lines — dependent largely on his performance. It’s a limited sample size, but Pryor has a 75.7 PFF grade at left tackle through 172 career snaps. He could be rewarded with a massive contract if 2022 is a fruitful year. A source said he’s been impressing so far in training camp.

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS: QB Trevor Lawrence

2021 PFF Grade: 59.6

Lawrence disappointed as a rookie with a 59.6 PFF grade, but he faced an uphill battle amid the coaching staff chaos around him.

“Lawrence will take a step forward,” one source said. “The players around him are more talented, and the team will be better coached.”

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: WR Mecole Hardman

2021 PFF Grade: 70.2

Hardman hasn’t lived up to the hype that accompanied him when he was selected in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft, posting a 72.0 PFF grade since entering the NFL. He’s competing with Marquez Valdes-Scantling, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Skyy Moore to be the top wide receiver in Kansas City’s offense. Can he slot into Tyreek Hill’s old role? Time will tell, but he’s had a strong training camp and has been working in wildcat packages.

LAS VEGAS RAIDERS: T Alex Leatherwood

2021 PFF Grade: 45.5

Leatherwood was selected 17th overall in the 2021 NFL Draft but now isn’t guaranteed a starting spot in Las Vegas’ offense. He must earn that role and prove he was worth the first-round pick. The new regime in Las Vegas isn’t tied to Leatherwood, a Jon Gruden/Mike Mayock pick, but one person within the organization was encouraged by his progress this offseason.

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS: LB Kenneth Murray

2021 PFF Grade: 34.0

Murray wasn’t drafted for head coach Brandon Staley’s defense and is starting training camp on the PUP list. He's earned just a 45.9 PFF grade across his first two seasons.

LOS ANGELES RAMS: WR Allen Robinson II

2021 PFF Grade: 66.9

Robinson has never played with one of the NFL’s top quarterbacks but has still managed three 1,000-yard seasons. For 2022 and beyond, he’s set to play with the best quarterback of his entire life in Rams signal-caller Matthew Stafford. Robinson disappointed with 38 catches for 410 yards and just one touchdown in 12 games last season while catching passes from Andy Dalton and Justin Fields. Now he must bounce back with LA.

MIAMI DOLPHINS: QB Tua Tagovailoa

2021 PFF Grade: 68.3

The pressure is on Tua to perform this season in new head coach Mike McDaniel’s offense. The Dolphins still own the 49ers’ 2023 first-round pick but now forfeit their own after the NFL found Miami tampered with quarterback Tom Brady and former New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton from 2019 to this year.

That means if Tagovailoa doesn’t perform well, it will become more difficult to find a quarterback in the draft. Of course, it is worth noting Brady will be a free agent after the year. We’ve spoken to people who believe that the offensive pieces put around Tagovailoa and McDaniel's quarterback-friendly system will raise the Alabama product’s game in 2022. Tagovailoa has impressed the Dolphins early in training camp.

MINNESOTA VIKINGS: C Garrett Bradbury

2021 PFF Grade: 60.2

Bradbury was a top-20 pick in 2019 and now enters the final year of his rookie contract with a 59.7 career PFF grade.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: WR Nelson Agholor

2021 PFF Grade: 64.8

Agholor carries a $14.9 million cap figure in 2022 and isn’t necessarily guaranteed a starting role considering the pieces around him in the offense. He’s currently competing with Jakobi Meyers, Kendrick Bourne and DeVante Parker — among others — for snaps, and rookie Tyquan Thornton has come on strong in recent practices. Agholor needs to prove he deserves a roster spot at that figure.

The good news for Agholor: The Patriots are encouraged by his progress this offseason and feel he’s taken a leap in Year 2, facilitated by some schematic changes to the offense that have allowed him to play faster.

On a similar note, tight end Jonnu Smith, another high-priced free-agent signing last year, has also caught the staff's eye in training camp.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: WR Michael Thomas

2021 PFF Grade: N/A

Thomas has played just 441 snaps since his record-setting 2019 season. He missed all of 2021 and is out to prove he’s still the same player he was three years ago.

NEW YORK GIANTS: QB Daniel Jones

2021 PFF Grade: 71.1

Jones is now on his third head coach as the Giants' quarterback. New York didn’t pick up his fifth-year option, so he’s playing for an extension or free-agent deal this season.

NEW YORK JETS: QB Zach Wilson

2021 PFF Grade: 59.3

Wilson really struggled as a rookie, but the Jets built up their offense around him this offseason, and another year under offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur will, as one source put it, “make life easier” for the signal-caller. Ultimately, he has to prove he was not a one-year wonder in 2020 at BYU.

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: QB Jalen Hurts

2021 PFF Grade: 77.1

The Eagles were smart to stick with Hurts after he showed dramatic improvement from his rookie season to 2021. But if he can’t make another leap this season, Philadelphia could be looking for a new quarterback next offseason. The third-year pro has impressed in camp so far.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS: WR Diontae Johnson

2021 PFF Grade: 73.2

Johnson very well could enter the 2022 season without the new contract extension he seeks. One source believes he might wind up cashing in as a free agent next March. If he performs well, he’ll likely exceed $20 million per year on the open market.

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS: QB Trey Lance

2021 PFF Grade: 59.9

The 49ers are cautiously optimistic about Lance’s chances of being one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL. They believe he has the upside to be one of the league’s better signal-callers but also understand his floor is low based on his lack of recent playing time.

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: S Jamal Adams

2021 PFF Grade: 60.1

Adams is currently the second-highest paid safety in the NFL behind the Steelers’ Minkah Fitzpatrick (though he’ll likely soon be the third-highest paid behind the Chargers’ Derwin James). He hasn’t graded out up to his contract, however, earning just a 60.1 PFF defensive mark in 2021. Adams is already dealing with a finger injury, is practicing in a cast and says he won’t undergo surgery to fix it. Not a great start to the 2022 campaign.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS: RB Leonard Fournette

2021 PFF Grade: 75.1

Fournette was roundly mocked after reportedly weighing in at 260 pounds earlier this summer. He dropped down to 245 pounds quickly before camp. If he struggles in 2022, people will undoubtedly blame his showing up out of shape.

TENNESSEE TITANS: QB Ryan Tannehill

2021 PFF Grade: 83.7

The Titans could fairly easily move on from Tannehill and save cap space next offseason. He’s been a quality starting quarterback but is 0-2 in the postseason over the past two years. They also drafted Malik Willis in the third round of the 2022 NFL Draft.

WASHINGTON COMMANDERS: LB Jamin Davis

2021 PFF Grade: 46.8

The Commanders had high hopes for Davis last season, but he mustered just a 46.8 defensive grade. The 2021 first-round pick must step up if Washington’s defense is going to play to its full potential this season.

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