This week, Pro Football Focus (PFF) published an article on players on all 32 NFL teams with the most to prove in 2022.
A quartet of former Clemson stars appeared on PFF’s list, including a couple of former Tiger quarterbacks in Trevor Lawrence of the Jacksonville Jaguars and Deshaun Watson of the Cleveland Browns.
Widely regarded as a can’t-miss prospect and generational talent coming out of Clemson, Lawrence’s rookie season was largely one to forget as he struggled to the tune of throwing more interceptions (17) than touchdown passes (12) and posting a QBR of 33.5 that ranked 28th in the league.
Aside from the challenge of simply getting adjusted to the NFL as a first-year signal-caller, Lawrence had to deal with all the drama that surrounded the Jaguars’ organization during Urban Meyer’s tumultuous 13-game tenure as the team’s head coach in 2021 before he was canned in December.
Lawrence heads into the 2022 season with not only a new head coach and staff to help guide him, but also a better supporting cast on the field around him after the Jaguars pulled out their pocketbook this offseason to sign free agents such as wide receivers Christian Kirk and Zay Jones, tight end Evan Engram and offensive lineman Brandon Scherff.
“Lawrence disappointed as a rookie with a 59.6 PFF grade, but he faced an uphill battle amid the coaching staff chaos around him,” PFF’s Doug Kyed wrote.
“‘Lawrence will take a step forward,’ one source said. ‘The players around him are more talented, and the team will be better coached.'”
As for Watson, his punishment from the NFL is still up in the air, as the league is appealing the six-game suspension that he was handed Monday by Judge Sue L. Robinson, who was jointly appointed by the NFL and the NFLPA.
Multiple reports indicate that the NFL will pursue a significantly longer punishment for Watson and that the league is seeking an indefinite suspension of at least one year.
“Watson sat out of the 2021 season and inked a record-setting deal worth $230 million after being traded to the Browns,” Kyed wrote. “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.”
Former Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins, who signed a one-year deal with the Green Bay Packers in April, is also mentioned among the players with the most to prove this season according to PFF.
Watkins wasn’t ready to practice at the start of training camp, as he was placed on the non-football injury list, but has since returned to action.
Due to a slew of different injuries, Watkins hasn’t played in more than 14 games in any of his NFL seasons with the Bills (2014-16), Los Angeles Rams (2017), Kansas City Chiefs (2018-20) and Ravens (2021), and he has only one 1,000-yard receiving season, which came with the Bills in 2015 (1,047).
Still, Watkins has had a productive NFL career overall, totaling 348 receptions for 5,059 yards and 34 touchdowns in 99 games (91 starts), and he was a member of the Kansas City Chiefs’ Super Bowl LIV championship team in 2019.
“Watkins was once one of the best and brightest wide receivers in the NFL,” Kyed wrote. “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.”
Former Clemson do-it-all defender Isaiah Simmons of the Arizona Cardinals also appeared on PFF’s list.
In 17 games last season (17 starts), Simmons tallied 105 total tackles, four tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, four quarterback hits, four forced fumbles, seven passes defended and an interception.
Through his first two NFL seasons, the 2020 first-round draft pick has accounted for 159 total tackles, eight tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, seven quarterback hits, five forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, nine passes defended and two picks.
“Simmons was the eighth overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft but has just a 51.8 PFF grade through two seasons,” Kyed wrote. “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.”