The Biggest Busts of the NFL's First Month of 2020 Season
Every year, players enter the NFL season overwhelmed by expectations, only to disappoint. Last year, it was guys like Cleveland Browns wideout Odell Beckham Jr. and Chicago Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. While it's too early to call which players will be complete busts in 2020, some are making an early case.
Here, we'll examine the biggest disappointments of the season's first month. These are players who entered the season with new teams, coming off a strong season or heavily hyped as potential breakout stars. Expected to deliver right away, they've done the opposite.
Only on-field performance will be considered here, so injured players like Saquon Barkley and Michael Thomas—while disappointing in their own right—won't qualify.
Jordan Howard, RB, Miami Dolphins
When the Miami Dolphins signed running back Jordan Howard in free agency, it looked like the team had landed its new lead back. After all, while Howard had been part of a committee with the Chicago Bears and the Philadelphia Eagles, he had been a superb early-down runner.
In his first four seasons, Howard averaged roughly 974 rushing yards, 160 receiving yards and eight total touchdowns.
While Howard is again in a committee with Myles Gaskin and trade acquisition Matt Breida, he has been shockingly ineffective. He's scored three touchdowns as the team's short-yardage back, but he's rushed for a mere 12 yards on 16 carries and hasn't logged a reception.
Gaskin has taken hold of the starting job, while Breida has seen 16 touches as a change-of-pace back. Howard—who was listed as the starter on the team's initial depth chart—has become a complete afterthought except for in short-yardage situations.
Brandin Cooks, WR, Houston Texans
When the Houston Texans traded star wideout DeAndre Hopkins, most assumed it would have a significantly negative impact on the passing game. It has, and while the Texans tried to mitigate the loss of Hopkins by trading for Brandin Cooks, the move hasn't paid off.
Houston fell to 0-3 on Sunday, and inconsistency on offense has been a big part of the problem. Deshaun Watson no longer has the reliable go-to target that Hopkins was, and Cooks isn't that player. Though the speedy wideout has shown some flashes, he's been inconsistent and unproductive. He hasn't looked like the burner he is supposed to be, either.
Through three games, Cooks has caught 10 passes, but they've only amounted to a disappointing 138 yards and no touchdowns.
Carson Wentz, QB, Philadelphia Eagles
Not long ago, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz was considered a legitimate MVP candidate and a surefire franchise signal-caller.
Wentz was remarkable in 2017, passing for 33 touchdowns and just seven picks and helping the Eagles reach the Super Bowl. Injury ended that season prematurely for Wentz, however, and injuries have plagued him ever since.
The fifth-year veteran's disappointing start to the 2020 season cannot be blamed on injuries, though. He's played poorly, plain and simple. Through three games, he's completed just 59.8 percent of his passes for 737 yards with three touchdowns and six interceptions. He's looked nothing like the quarterback he was in 2017.
"I have to be better, and I know that and I will be," Wentz said after Sunday's tie with Cincinnati, per Dave Zangaro of NBC Sports Philadelphia. "I'll learn from it. That's really all I can say."
Wentz struggled again Sunday against the Bengals. He threw for a touchdown and ran for a score, but he also tossed another two interceptions while winless Philadelphia failed to win once more.
A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
Though he missed the entire 2019 season with an ankle injury, veteran wideout A.J. Green was given the franchise tag by the Cincinnati Bengals. According to NBC Sports' Peter King, this is largely because yet-to-be-drafted Joe Burrow "made it clear" he wanted Green on the roster.
Unfortunately, Green has not been the reliable No. 1 option that Burrow was hoping for. Through the first two weeks of the season, he had been targeted a whopping 22 times but only produced 80 yards on eight receptions.
Against the Eagles in Week 3, Green added another five catches for 36 yards on six targets—not the sort of production one would expect from a wideout making more than $18 million this season. We could see more from Green if he can find that missing chemistry with Burrow, but thus far, he's been a massive disappointment.
Jadeveon Clowney, EDGE, Tennessee Titans
Pass-rusher Jadeveon Clowney was one of the biggest names on the open market this offseason, though he wasn't signed until just before the start of the regular season. The Tennessee Titans inked him to a one-year, $13 million deal.
So far, Tennessee has gotten little for its high-profile investment. Coming into Week 3, Clowney had played 81 percent of the defensive snaps, However, he had just four quarterback pressures and zero sacks.
Against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, Clowney again failed to record a sack. He did, however, pick up a personal foul that negated a pick-six by cornerback Johnathan Joseph. Clowney has just seven tackles through three games.
Daniel Jones, QB, New York Giants
New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones flashed plenty of promise as a rookie last season. He threw for 3,027 yards with 24 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in 13 games and appeared poised for a potential year two breakout.
Instead of breaking out, Jones has largely broken down this season. He hasn't thrown a touchdown since Week 1 and has just two touchdown passes to go with four interceptions and a lost fumble. Jones has completed just 60.2 percent of his passes and has done little to keep the 0-3 Giants in games.
"While it may not be the time to make a definitive conclusion about whether Jones can indeed develop into the quarterback the Giants so desperately need, it is certainly appropriate to start wondering," Bob Glauber of Newsday wrote following New York's disastrous 36-9 loss Sunday to San Franciso.
Now, it's fair to point out that the Giants have lost Saquon Barkley for the season and are offering Jones little support defensively. However, while young quarterbacks like Josh Allen and Kyler Murray are making strides this season, Jones appears to be taking a step back.
Rob Gronkowski, TE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Let's be honest. Any hype surrounding tight end Rob Gronkowski was a product of the fans and the media. He is 31 years old and was out of football in 2019. However, the idea of his reunion with Tom Brady as a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was nevertheless a juicy offseason story.
Through three games, Gronkowski has just eight catches for 59 yards. Now, according to Gronk, his limited production is partially by design.
"I'm a blocking tight end. I came here to block, baby," Gronkowski said, per ESPN's Jenna Laine.
Gronkowski is indeed a tremendous blocker, and his presence as a blocking tight end is valuable to Tampa. However, the Buccaneers didn't trade a fourth-round pick and take on a $9.25 million salary to get an extra blocker.
We may see more of Gronkowski the pass-catcher moving forward—he had six catches for 48 yards on Sunday—but this still isn't the Gronk fans have grown accustomed to.
Austin Hooper, TE, Cleveland Browns
Tight end Austin Hooper was named to the Pro Bowl in each of the past two seasons with the Atlanta Falcons. When the Cleveland Browns signed him to a then-record four-year, $42 million deal, it seemed like he was primed for another all-star appearance.
Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski had a penchant for utilizing tight ends as the Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator. In 2019, tight ends Kyle Rudolph and Irv Smith Jr. combined for 75 receptions, 678 yards and eight touchdowns.
Though fellow tight end David Njoku landed on injured reserve with an MCL sprain in Week 1, Hooper has not been a significant piece of the passing puzzle. He's made the occasional clutch play—he has seven receptions for 62 yards—but he hasn't put forth the sort of production that justifies his $23 million in guarantees.
Kirk Cousins, QB, Minnesota Vikings
Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins was granted a new two-year contract extension in the offseason, putting his cap hits at $21 million, $31 million and $45 million over the next three seasons. That's a lot of money and a financial commitment that Cousins has not justified this year.
The Vikings sit at 0-3, and Cousins has been one of the team's biggest problems. Through Week 3, he has passed for 623 yards with five touchdowns, six interceptions and a passer rating of just 73.8.
While Cousins did pass for 251 yards and three scores against Tennessee on Sunday, he also completed less than 60 percent of his passes and tossed another two interceptions. The Vikings lost by one point.
Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of Cousins' 2020 campaign so far is that Minnesota doesn't have an easy out financially. Even if the Vikings wind up with a high draft pick and a shot at a promising quarterback prospect, Cousins will have $41 million in dead money remaining on his deal after this season.
Contract information via Spotrac
Advanced stats via Pro Football Reference