Players with most to prove for all 32 NFL teams

From rebounding after a season-ending injury to getting in better shape, there are players on every team who face pivotal 2016 seasons. NFL Nation reporters take a look at one player from the teams they cover who has the most to prove.

AFC East | AFC North | AFC South | AFC West
NFC East | NFC North | NFC South | NFC West


Buffalo Bills

Quarterback Tyrod Taylor

He went from being a little-known Ravens backup to the Bills' starting quarterback last season, so it's not as if he hasn't proved something already. However, his contract was structured so that if he became the Bills' starter, he would become a free agent after the 2016 season. That means Taylor must continue to prove himself this season. Tens of millions of dollars are at stake. -- Mike Rodak

Miami Dolphins

Quarterback Ryan Tannehill

There are no more excuses for the Dolphins' starting quarterback. He is entering Year 5 and is no longer considered a young player. Miami has given him offensive line help with first-round pick Laremy Tunsil and has surrounded him with plenty of weapons, led by Jarvis Landry and 2015 first-round pick DeVante Parker. It's now or never for Tannehill to prove that his $96 million contract extension was the right decision. -- James Walker

New England Patriots

Offensive tackle Marcus Cannon

He's the team's top backup, but when Cannon was pressed into action early last season, the results were uneven. The Patriots signed him to a two-year extension worth a maximum value of $9 million in 2014, which was an indication that the club viewed him as a starting-caliber player, but is he? This is the year for him to prove it. -- Mike Reiss

New York Jets

Tight end Jace Amaro

If Ryan Fitzpatrick doesn't return and Geno Smith becomes the starting quarterback, Smith will have the most to prove. Until then, the nod goes to Amaro, a former second-round pick who missed last season because of shoulder surgery. Drafted by the previous regime, Amaro was off to a slow start last year before the injury. This could be a make-or-break season for him. -- Rich Cimini


Baltimore Ravens

Running back Justin Forsett

Forsett will turn 31 during the season and he's coming off a season-ending arm injury. If this wasn't enough pressure, coach John Harbaugh was noncommittal when asked this offseason to name his featured back, even though Forsett has led the Ravens in rushing the past two seasons. Baltimore has shown a commitment to getting younger at this position, taking a running back in the fourth round in each of the past three drafts. It's another prove-it season for Forsett, considering the Ravens can create $3 million in cap space by cutting him next offseason. -- Jamison Hensley

Cincinnati Bengals

Running back Jeremy Hill

It was a generally disappointing 2015 for Hill, who averaged just 3.6 yards per carry one year after bursting onto the scene as a rookie by picking up 5.1 yards per rush. He did have a career-high 11 rushing touchdowns, with all but one of them coming in goal-line territory. But those didn't do enough to mask his other rushing numbers, and in the end, they weren't enough to negate the crucial fumble he had in the closing minutes of Cincinnati's wild-card round playoff loss to Pittsburgh. When he spoke recently to reporters for the first time since just after the playoff game, Hill sounded determined to make 2016 a much better season and to focus more on his on-field play, rather than talk about it. He has a lot to prove. -- Coley Harvey

Cleveland Browns

Quarterback Robert Griffin III

RG III is not merely trying to revive his career in Cleveland, he's trying to save it. The Browns were the only team that looked at him as a starter after he didn't play a down in 2015. He has a golden opportunity to re-establish himself. The most positive development would be a good 2016 season -- for him and the team -- and then a new deal with the Browns. -- Pat McManamon

Pittsburgh Steelers

Pass-rusher Jarvis Jones

Jones enters a contract year and needs a productive 2016 campaign to show he belongs in the fold long term. The Steelers didn't pick up Jones' fifth-year option after the former first-round pick recorded five sacks in three years. Jones has shown glimpses of playmaking, but there's no ignoring the sack totals. That James Harrison still gets outside linebacker snaps at age 38 is probably not the best sign for Jones, who needs to separate himself. Wide receiver Markus Wheaton is also a candidate here. With Martavis Bryant out, there's an opening for the No. 2 receiver job. -- Jeremy Fowler


Houston Texans

Quarterback Brock Osweiler

Osweiler's detractors say the Texans overpaid a player who has had only seven starts. Those who believe in him, the Texans included, think he has proved he can be a capable NFL starter. Even without a steady quarterback, the Texans had winning records in 2014 and 2015 (including the playoffs last season). If Osweiler can carry them over the hump, his legacy in Houston will be a good one. -- Tania Ganguli

Indianapolis Colts

Defensive lineman Arthur Jones

Quarterback Andrew Luck needs to make sure he bounces back from the worst season of his four-year NFL career, because his play will determine the Colts' fate in the division and in the playoffs -- but the player with the most to prove is Jones. The Colts gave Jones a five-year, $33 million contract in the spring of 2014. And all Jones has done for them in return is play a total of nine games in two seasons because of injuries. He missed all of last season with an ankle injury. The clock is ticking fast for Jones, who took a pay cut earlier in the spring. He must prove he can be an effective player for Indianapolis. -- Mike Wells

Jacksonville Jaguars

Left tackle Luke Joeckel

Joeckel is in a battle for his starting job with free-agent signee Kelvin Beachum. Joeckel, who was the No. 2 overall pick in 2013, has been an average player at best, and the team declined to pick up his fifth-year option. The Jaguars say he's part of their future, but if he can't beat out Beachum it would be unlikely he'd be willing to re-sign. -- Mike DiRocco

Tennessee Titans

Left tackle Taylor Lewan

Lewan doesn't need to be a vocal tone setter. The team signed Ben Jones and drafted Jack Conklin, and they can do that. Lewan merely needs to settle in and be a solid, healthy left tackle who protects Marcus Mariota's blind side and makes room for DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry. The Titans decided Lewan was the best tackle for them. Their hope is that his shoulder isn't an issue again and he proves them right. -- Paul Kuharsky


Denver Broncos

Quarterback Mark Sanchez

Sure, Sanchez is above .500 as an NFL starter -- 37-35 in 72 career starts -- and yes, he is 4-2 as a playoff starter, having played in two AFC Championship Games along the way. But few players are defined in the public domain by one play more than Sanchez, whose notorious Thanksgiving Day fumble against the New England Patriots has, in these social media times, at times overshadowed the rest of his résumé. He makes the most sense as the Broncos' starter to give rookie Paxton Lynch the time he needs to develop. Also, Sanchez is in the final year of his contract, so a big year with the Broncos means a potential windfall. But with a top-shelf defense in place and expected improvement in the running game, a city that has seen its team win five consecutive division titles and make two Super Bowl trips over the past five seasons expects Sanchez to keep things at that level. Oh, and he follows Peyton Manning. That's more pressure than he has faced anywhere, at any time, previously in his career. -- Jeff Legwold

Kansas City Chiefs

Running back Jamaal Charles

The veteran is coming off the second torn ACL of his NFL career and will turn 30 in December. That's a lot stacked against a running back, even one with skills as elite as Charles'. The Chiefs proved last season they could thrive with backups Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware playing in Charles' absence. That cast doubt on his value to the Chiefs. -- Adam Teicher

Oakland Raiders

Cornerback D.J. Hayden

The Raiders declined to exercise the fifth-year option on Hayden for 2017, essentially making Oakland's 2013 first-round pick a lame duck for 2016, no? Well, kind of. Hayden is feeling the squeeze given David Amerson's emergence and the signing of Sean Smith this offseason. -- Paul Gutierrez

San Diego Chargers

Running back Melvin Gordon

Gordon is coming of a lackluster performance in which he did not score a touchdown his rookie season. Along with that, Gordon is rehabbing from microfracture knee surgery, with the hope that he will be ready by training camp. Staying healthy and productive in an offense geared toward his skill set is a realistic expectation for the Wisconsin product. -- Eric D. Williams


Dallas Cowboys

Quarterback Tony Romo

It's not that Romo has to prove he is among the game's best quarterbacks. He has done that. He has to prove he can stay healthy. He missed 12 games last season, one game in 2014 and one game in 2013. He turned 36 in April and is coming off collarbone surgery, but he is already doing everything in the offseason program. Because of the time missed last year, Romo is ahead of the game in terms of his strength and conditioning work, even with the surgery. The Cowboys were 1-11 without Romo in 2015, a sign of just how valuable he is. With a healthy Romo, the Cowboys are contenders not only in the NFC East but also in the conference. -- Todd Archer

New York Giants

Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul

Pierre-Paul's situation last year was unprecedented -- a franchise player who sat out the whole offseason and then suffered a catastrophic non-football injury before training camp. He returned to play the second half of the season minus the right index finger he lost in a July 4 fireworks accident, and the team liked what it saw enough to bring him back on a one-year, prove-it deal. Pierre-Paul believes the surgery he had on his hand immediately after the season will allow him to play without the heavy club wrap he used last year, and people who've been around him say he seems motivated and looks fantastic on the field. If he has a big year, he could cash in as a free agent in 2017. -- Dan Graziano

Philadelphia Eagles

Linebacker Marcus Smith

Excluding the obvious (QB Sam Bradford), Smith is the Eagle with the most to prove. The Eagles took the outside linebacker/defensive end in the first round in 2014, when they could have taken a cornerback or a QB (Teddy Bridgewater or Derek Carr). Smith barely played and had virtually no impact in his first two seasons. With new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz emphasizing the pass rush, Smith gets a fresh look in a scheme that should fit him better. It's now or never. -- Phil Sheridan

Washington Redskins

Linebacker Junior Galette

Quarterback Kirk Cousins has the most at stake because he's playing under the franchise tag, but Galette has the most to prove. He's coming off an Achilles injury, which always concerns a team (though by all accounts he has looked good this spring). Also, Galette knows one reason teams shied away from him this offseason were concerns about his character. So he has to produce (he looked great before his injury last summer) and show teams he's not an issue in the locker room. -- John Keim


Chicago Bears

Wide receiver Kevin White

The seventh overall pick of the 2015 draft, White did not play a single snap last season because of a stress fracture in his shin. That unexpected setback has not stopped Bears executives from hyping up White, who caught 109 passes for 1,447 yards and 10 touchdowns his final season at West Virginia. Receivers coach Curtis Johnson recently compared White to seven-time Pro Bowl wideout Andre Johnson. The pressure is on White to produce, especially because Alshon Jeffery's future beyond 2016 is unknown. -- Jeff Dickerson

Detroit Lions

Tight end Eric Ebron

There are others besides Ebron who could fit in this category, but as GM Bob Quinn said during the combine, by the third year you know if someone is a player or not. This will be Ebron's third season, and while he has shown improvement, the Lions need him to have a breakout third year. With Calvin Johnson retired, Ebron is going to become the team's main mismatch and more of a deep threat. He should see a lot more targets as well. If the Lions are successful in 2016, Ebron should be a big player in the offense. -- Michael Rothstein

Green Bay Packers

Running back Eddie Lacy

Mike McCarthy didn't wait long to put Lacy on notice. Only days after the season ended, the Packers coach proclaimed that Lacy "cannot play at the weight he was at [last] year." With an out-of-shape Lacy, the Packers' running game was far too inconsistent when they needed it most in the absence of receiver Jordy Nelson. Heading into a contract year, Lacy took McCarthy's words to heart and appears to have gotten himself into much better shape after working out this offseason with P90X founder Tony Horton. The Packers need Lacy to get back to being an 1,100-yard rusher, as he was in 2013 and 2014. -- Rob Demovsky

Minnesota Vikings

Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater

The Vikings got help for Bridgewater at wide receiver: first-round pick Laquon Treadwell. They made a point to shore up the offensive line. Now that Bridgewater is going into his third year, the Vikings need to see him produce. Coach Mike Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman have both talked this offseason about Bridgewater's need to "let it loose," and a more assertive quarterback would certainly help the Vikings create a more balanced offense. They were 31st in the league in passing last season -- in part because of protection issues around Bridgewater, but also because the quarterback wasn't terribly effective throwing downfield. More production from the 23-year-old could have the Vikings poised for a deep playoff run. -- Ben Goessling


Atlanta Falcons

Quarterback Matt Ryan

Ryan is coming off a disappointing 2015 season during which he had 21 turnovers (16 interceptions, five fumbles lost) and made some poor throwing decisions into traffic. The Falcons hope better protection up front in the form of three-time Pro Bowl center Alex Mack will help Ryan's cause, though Ryan will have new targets in wide receiver Mohamed Sanu and rookie tight end Austin Hooper. -- Vaughn McClure

Carolina Panthers

Defensive end Charles Johnson

I hate to keep using Johnson as an example here, but beyond being the best free-agent addition after being released and re-signed, he also has the most to prove. Defensive end was considered a glaring need for Carolina in the draft. The Panthers didn't take one in part because they believe Johnson still has something left in the tank. But Johnson signed only a one-year deal, so if he's to extend his NFL career he has to prove worthy of an extension. -- David Newton

New Orleans Saints

Safety Jairus Byrd

It seems odd to describe Byrd as an unknown commodity or a wild card eight years into his NFL career. But that's where he stands after two disappointing seasons in New Orleans that were plagued by injury. Byrd, 29, will begin this offseason fully healthy for the first time since he signed a six-year, $54 million contract in 2014. Perhaps that will allow him to return to the form that led him to three Pro Bowls and 22 interceptions in his first five seasons with the Bills. Otherwise, he could become a salary-cap casualty in 2017. -- Mike Triplett

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Pass-rusher Noah Spence

The Bucs' second-round draft pick has way more to prove off the field than he does on it. He was booted from the Big Ten because of drug problems, and that caused him to drop into the second round despite being arguably the most talented pass-rusher in the draft. Though he was clean at Eastern Kentucky, Spence has to prove he can stay clean and won't be an off-field problem. -- Mike DiRocco


Arizona Cardinals

Wide receiver Michael Floyd

Floyd is heading into the option year of his rookie contract, and all that is on the line is a megadeal as a team's top wide receiver or a big extension from the Cardinals to continue being Robin to Larry Fitzgerald's Batman. Floyd hasn't had a 1,000-yard season since 2013, although a hand injury likely prevented him from hitting the mark last season. He went on a tear during the second half of last season, finishing with five 100-yard games in his final eight. -- Josh Weinfuss

Los Angeles Rams

Left tackle Greg Robinson

There are quite a few choices for the Rams here, but Robinson heads the list. The No. 2 overall pick in 2014 has been a disappointment in his first two seasons, but the Rams were encouraged by how he finished last season. It was always expected that Robinson would need some time to adjust, but the clock is ticking. The Rams will have to make a decision on whether to pick up his fifth-year option after this coming season and, more important, figure out whether they'll need to invest in another blindside protector for prized rookie QB Jared Goff if Robinson doesn't perform better. -- Nick Wagoner

San Francisco 49ers

Quarterback Colin Kaepernick

This is easy, and his, ahem, initials are: Colin. Kaepernick. It's somewhat of a minor miracle that Kaepernick is still in a Niners uniform, given that his agents requested permission from the team to seek a trade a few months back. Heck, a few years back he was being hailed as the Next Big Thing. Now, somewhat humbled after being benched in favor of Blaine Gabbert and undergoing a trio of surgeries on his left shoulder, right thumb and left knee, Kaepernick has to prove something not only to the Niners but also to himself. -- Paul Gutierrez

Seattle Seahawks

Tight end Jimmy Graham

Graham suffered a ruptured patellar tendon in late November and is in the middle of a long road to recovery. In 11 games with the Seahawks, he caught 48 balls for 605 yards. Graham got into the end zone just twice, after averaging 11.5 touchdowns per season the previous four years with the Saints. By all accounts, Graham is doing everything he can to get healthy, but there's no guarantee he'll be the same athlete he was before the injury. And once Graham gets back on the field, the Seahawks need to figure out the best way to utilize his talents. -- Sheil Kapadia