Whether we’re talking about an incoming rookie or a veteran in the league, few players have proven themselves to the point of being explicitly trusted. Tom Brady? Absolutely. Derek Henry? Yes, of course. But if you are not the cream of the crop, I want to see you perform at a high level for more than one season. Or, in some cases, after up-and-down performances over the last couple of seasons, it’s time to show who you really are.
Here are a few players at each position who need to show me more before trusting them. Are they a star in the making, or will they fall flat like so many other promising players?
Jalen Hurts, Philadelphia Eagles
We saw good from Jalen Hurts in his first games as a starter. But, unfortunately, we also saw bad in those games. With Carson Wentz out the door and the team firmly in Hurts' grasps, it will be imperative for him to take a significant step forward if the Eagles hope to return to Super Bowl form any time soon.
The supposedly accurate Hurts only managed 52% completions with six touchdowns to four interceptions in four games. These numbers are not good. More encouraging was his 265.8 yards per game average through the air. Although, this too was misleading. His stats were inflated by 338 yards and three touchdowns in one game against the Arizona Cardinals. He put up those numbers despite only completing 24 of 44 pass attempts. He will need to improve his accuracy and consistency to become the quality player that many project him to be this season.
The Eagles have given him a new weapon in former Alabama teammate DeVonta Smith. After an incredible Heisman Trophy-winning season in 2020, Smith will have to bring all of those skills to the field to help Hurts have the season fans want him to.
Miles Sanders has yet to break out truly, and it is unclear if the Eagles can depend on him to keep defenses honest. So it is entirely on Hurts at this point. Will he excel, or will the Eagles be forced to use their two, possibly three, 2022 first-round draft picks to move up and take a new franchise quarterback?
Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens
After a 2019 season of 36 passing touchdowns, more than 1,000 yards rushing, and a league MVP award, Jackson took a significant step backward in 2020.
With 26 touchdowns to nine interceptions, Jackson showed that his progress in the passing game in 2019 might have been more a fluke than a new chapter. With Marquise Brown and Mark Andrews there, the offense still did not take a step forward in year two.
COVID played a significant part in the landscape the past year, so 2021 will be the year we find out if Jackson is an actual elite quarterback in the NFL or a running quarterback who will go only as far as his legs take him. See Cam Newton.
Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings,
We did not know what to think of Dalvin Cook coming into the league. Much like Cam Akers after him, he was being judged by his college team in Florida State. A team that has seen better days and did not have an offensive line worthy of blocking for the talent behind them. We knew Cook had talent, hence why he went in the second round of the NFL draft and was eventually given a huge second contract by the Minnesota Vikings.
His first season started strong. He looked like the next rookie to break into the Top 10 at the fantasy running back position. Unfortunately, after an ACL injury, that season ended abruptly. Year two was a shadow of what it could have been. His ACL did not fully heal, and his tentativeness showed in his play on the field. After getting marginally better in 2019, he broke out in a massive 2020.
Like many running backs in the NFL, he is not a sure bet to play in all 16 games. Even in his remarkable 2020 season, he only played in 14 games. But his statistics in those weeks were undoubtedly great. He finished with 312 rushes for 1,557 yards and 16 touchdowns. Despite Kirk Cousins throwing for 35 touchdowns, he was able to put up these numbers. Those stats on a team that failed to make the playoffs is an excellent season.
Cook has come back with two excellent years after starting his career strong before the injury and a depressed second season. After 1,137 rush yards in 2019, he raised this number to 1,557 in 2020. The team has lost coaches in the last few years, but they have been replaced internally. This continuity probably means a new offensive scheme will not be incoming. Cook is very close to absolute trustworthy, but another good season in this new situation will put him over the top. Of course, no injuries would help too.
Josh Jacobs, Las Vegas Raiders
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