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What each No. 1 pick still in the NFL has to prove in 2020

From Joe Burrow to Cam Newton, there are 10 former No. 1 picks currently in the league — and all have plenty to play for this season.

An art collage of NFL No. 1 picks Jadeveon Clowney, Baker Mayfield, Joe Burrow, superimposed on a black background with blue stars
Jadeveon Clowney, Baker Mayfield, and Joe Burrow are all members of the No. 1 pick club.

A wide range of players can call themselves No. 1 overall picks. That includes Hall of Famers like John Elway and Terry Bradshaw, and high-profile busts like JaMarcus Russell and Tim Couch. Not every draft pick pans out, but players selected first overall are greeted with higher expectations than most.

When the 2020 NFL Draft arrived, the Cincinnati Bengals made Joe Burrow the newest No. 1 pick. Like those before him, Burrow is expected to be a big part of his team’s turnaround. He also has a lot to learn as he transitions to the NFL.

But what about the other 10 No. 1 picks who are still playing in the league? Let’s see what Burrow and his fellow top picks need to prove this season.

2020: QB Joe Burrow, Bengals

What he has to prove: His magical 2019 season wasn’t a fluke

No, I am not saying it was a fluke. But Burrow wasn’t on many people’s radars before last season. Then the quarterback had one of the greatest seasons in college football history, leading LSU to an undefeated and a national championship. He did so after an OK season for the Tigers in 2018 after transferring from Ohio State, where he completed just 29 passes in three years.

Now, the Bengals are banking on him being their next franchise QB. He doesn’t need to replicate the monster numbers from his Heisman season (5,761 yards and 60 touchdowns), but he needs to show the Bengals they put their future in the right hands.

2019: QB Kyler Murray, Cardinals

What he has to prove: The Cardinals should no longer be taken lightly

Murray had one hell of a rookie season in 2019. He threw for 3,722 yards and 20 touchdowns, earning him the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award.

The good news is the Cardinals have acquired some major weapons around their second-year QB to help him grow even more. It started with acquiring receiver DeAndre Hopkins from the Texans, then drafting offensive tackle Josh Jones out of Houston to beef up Arizona’s offensive line. Murray was sacked 48 times last season, but the future is already looking bright for the Cardinals in Year 2 under Kliff Kingsbury.

2018: QB Baker Mayfield, Browns

What he has to prove: His sophomore slump isn’t who he really is

Mayfield entered 2019 with high hopes after a strong finish to his rookie season. He played his best football in 2018 under interim OC Freddie Kitchens, which is likely a big reason the Browns chose Kitchens as their head coach. But things didn’t go well for Mayfield (or Kitchens) last season, to say the least.

Despite playing in more games, Mayfield regressed in literally every major statistical category in his second year. He threw five fewer touchdowns, seven more interceptions, completed 4.4 percent less of his passes, and his passer rating dropped from 93.7 to 78.8. The Browns finished 6-10, and what was once the most hyped team at the start of the year ended with another disappointing season in Cleveland.

But let’s not forget Mayfield has yet to spend two seasons under the same coaching staff. There’s reason to believe he can rebound in 2020 with QB guru Kevin Stefanski as his new coach.

2017: DE Myles Garrett, Browns

What he has to prove: He’s more than the guy who fought Mason Rudolph

Garrett’s 2019 season was over after he hit the Steelers’ QB in the head with his helmet at the end of the Week 10 Steelers-Browns game. Garrett was suspended for the rest of the season, ending his 2019 on a not-so-pleasant note.

Garrett still alleges as recently as February that Rudolph used a racial slur during the fight, which Rudolph denied and of which the NFL found no evidence. Regardless, Garrett has accepted blame for his own actions and has apologized.

Before the nasty brawl, Garrett was known as more than a football player. He’s displayed his love for poetry and charming personality, and he’s been doing charity work in the city of Cleveland both before and after his suspension. Off the field, he has a chance to redeem himself and show that he’s bigger than one mistake.

On the field, Garrett was on his way to his best season yet before the suspension. He had 10 sacks through 10 weeks last season, just 3.5 away from his career-high mark. If he can pick up where he left off in 2019, he can easily be a Defensive Player of the Year candidate.

2016: QB Jared Goff, Rams

What he has to prove: He can play like he did when he led the Rams to the Super Bowl

Goff had the most productive season of his career in 2018 with 4,688 yards and 32 touchdowns. He led the Rams to a Super Bowl that year, and then was given a four-year, $134 million extension before the 2019 season.

Last season didn’t go the same way for Goff. He had just 22 touchdowns and a career-worst 16 interceptions. The Rams finished 9-7 and missed the playoffs for the first time under Sean McVay.

Unfortunately for Goff, he lost some weapons from that 2018 Super Bowl team, including running back Todd Gurley and receiver Brandin Cooks. But Goff still has McVay as his coach and weapons like Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods around him. That means he has a chance to bounce back to his 2018 form once again.

2015: QB Jameis Winston, drafted by Bucs and now with Saints

What he has to prove: That he’s still a valuable QB, even if he has to be a backup

Winston signed a one-year deal with the Saints, where he’ll likely be the No. 2 quarterback behind Drew Brees. It’s an interesting move for the 26-year-old Winston, who will be taking on a backup role for the first time in his career and has a surprisingly low $1.1 million contract.

However, it’s a win-win for both sides. New Orleans needed a reliable backup after Teddy Bridgewater left for the Carolina Panthers in free agency. Winston needed to restore his value as a starter. If he does, he could have the inside track to the Saints’ starting job after Brees retires, or he could become a starter elsewhere like Bridgewater did.

2014: DE Jadeveon Clowney, drafted by Texans and now a free agent

What he has to prove: He can be an elite edge rusher with more consistency

Clowney was drafted out of South Carolina with the expectation to be an elite pass rusher. But over his six-year career, he’s accounted for just 32 sacks. Still, he’s emerged as a good defender against the run, which was part of the advantage he gave to Seattle’s defense last season.

Even though Clowney had just three sacks in Seattle, he still had a good season in 2019 and showed up when it mattered most in the Seahawks’ biggest games. Among all defensive players last season, he was ranked 13th in hurries (17), 21st in knockdowns (10), and 27th in total pressures (30).

Clowney has missed seven games over the last two years due to various injuries. If he can stay healthy for whichever team he signs with and play more consistently, he can be a valuable asset on defense even if he’s not racking up sacks.

2013: LT Eric Fisher, Chiefs

What he has to prove: He’s still worth his $11.5 million salary

Fisher has been a starter in Kansas City since he was drafted. Although his rookie season wasn’t great, he’s been a solid offensive lineman each year since then. But Fisher missed half of last season due to a groin injury, then returned in November in time for the Chiefs’ Super Bowl run.

Fisher might be looking over his shoulder a bit next season, though. In the 2020 NFL Draft, the Chiefs selected TCU OT Lucas Niang in the third round, which might give KC the opportunity to move on from Fisher after this season.

I’ll let Arrowhead Pride explain:

Although the expectation is for Niang to be kicked inside this season, the Chiefs may decide to move him back outside to tackle in 2021. If he is capable, the team gives itself the option of moving on from Fisher. If they do decide to release the No. 1 pick of the 2013 NFL Draft, the Chiefs would free up $11.5 million in cap room.

Fisher has been a fixture in Kansas City and will still be tasked with protecting Patrick Mahomes this season. As long as he stays healthy, he can remind the Chiefs why they drafted him so high in the first place.

2011: QB Cam Newton drafted by Panthers, now a free agent

What he has to prove: He can be a franchise QB again

Newton has yet to be signed to a team since the Carolina Panthers released him in March. But now that teams for the most part have their QB situations figured out post-draft, he might have to join a team which just drafted a QB to add some veteran experience to the locker room.

One reason why Newton hasn’t been signed yet is his health. He played in just two games last season due to a broken foot, and missed two games in 2018 due to a shoulder injury. Newton had a physical and was cleared before being released. But until team doctors can examine Newton’s health — which currently can’t happen because of coronavirus — there will still be doubts about his foot and shoulder.

When Newton is healthy, he’s one of the most dangerous dual-threat quarterbacks in the league. He won the NFL’s MVP Award while leading Carolina to a Super Bowl in 2015, and he’s the Panthers’ winningest QB in franchise history. If he gets a chance to start, he can prove he can be that same QB for another team in 2020.

2010: QB Matthew Stafford, Lions

What he has to prove: He can get Detroit that elusive playoff win

Since his rookie season in Detroit in 2009, the Lions have made it to the playoffs a total of three times. Stafford has gone 0-3 in each of those playoff appearances. Still, Stafford has been one of the most prolific passers in the league for the last 11 seasons. In 2019, he reached 40,000 career passing yards in his 147th game, which was the fastest in NFL history.

But franchises need a lot more than just a QB to reach the playoffs. In 2020, it looks like the Lions might be on the cusp of winning in the postseason for the first time since 1992. Stafford has the likes of Danny Amendola, Kenny Golladay, and T.J. Hockenson to throw to, and his running back corps was just boosted by second-round pick D’Andre Swift. On defense, the Lions took Ohio State corner Jeff Okudah in the first round, and he’s expected to start right away. He’ll join guys like Trey Flowers, Romeo Okwara, and Reggie Ragland on what looks like the Lions best defense in years.

No one is denying Stafford’s success as a franchise QB numbers-wise, but getting a playoff win would be a much appreciated accolade to his career.

Author’s note: QB Alex Smith, drafted No. 1 overall in 2005 by the 49ers, was left off this list since he’s still rehabbing his broken leg injury from 2018.