Neil Reynolds' Countdown to 2020… 10 facing a make or break season

As training camps prepare to open across America for what could be a very unique 2020 NFL season, every single player and coach will be working hard and planning for a productive campaign.

But, of course, there are some who simply MUST have a good 2020 season. For a variety of reasons, all eyes are on this group. These big names have their doubters and will be keen to ease some pressure on themselves and their team by knocking it out of the park in 2020.

1.     Adam Gase - Head Coach - New York Jets

When he was in charge in Miami, Gase was accused of being unable to get along with strong-willed star players and he shipped many out of town. Since arriving in New York in 2019, Gase has publicly questioned the signing of running back Le'Veon Bell and star safety Jamal Adams has been traded away. Gase is also supposed to be a renowned offensive coach but the Jets ranked dead last in the NFL last season.

2.      Bill O'Brien - Head Coach - Houston Texans

O'Brien is another who has heaped pressure on himself and it came through his moves as a general manager. In the summer of 2019, many questioned O'Brien's chasing of veterans such as Laremy Tunsil and Kenny Stills at the expense of future draft picks. But he went and topped that in 2020 by trading receiver DeAndre Hopkins, pulling the rug from underneath franchise quarterback Deshaun Watson.

3.      Mitchell Trubisky - Quarterback - Chicago Bears

After regressing across the board in 2019, Trubisky enters a training camp fight to save his career in Chicago. Nick Foles will provide a real threat to Trubisky's status as top quarterback dog in the Windy City. Everything Trubisky does comes against the backdrop of this fact that cannot be ignored - the Bears traded up to get him in the 2017 draft and picked him ahead of Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson.

4.      Sam Darnold - Quarterback - New York Jets

Darnold looked lost far too often during the 2019 season and faces a career crossroads of sorts in just his third year in the NFL. The young passer who admitted to "seeing ghosts" in a loss to New England is not in a great situation. Is Adam Gase really a quarterback whisperer who can help this young passer? There are also genuine questions about the skill-position talent – or lack of it – and the offensive line.

5.      JuJu Smith-Schuster - Wide Receiver - Pittsburgh Steelers

There is no doubt that Smith-Schuster is a real talent, catching 111 passes in 2018. But that was with Antonio Brown catching 104 balls at the other receiver spot. As the main man in 2019, Smith-Schuster caught just 42 passes for 552 yards. He had a few injury issues and some spotty play at quarterback by way of mitigation, but Smith-Schuster needs a bounce-back season to show he can be a true number one.

6.      Matt Patricia - Head Coach - Detroit Lions

What is Patricia's plan in Detroit, outside of signing as many former Patriots as he possibly can? The Lions have been in the doldrums for decades and Patricia's nine wins in two seasons hardly inspire confidence. At the end of 2019, ownership laid down a mandate for 2020 – the Lions must be in the mix and playing competitive games in December. Patricia's seat is already pretty warm before a game has been played.

7.      Derek Carr - Quarterback -  Las Vegas Raiders

It feels like Carr will have to fight a year-to-year battle to prove his worth to the Raiders' key decision makers and their fans. Despite back-to-back 4,000-yard seasons, Carr is on shaky ground due to the wandering eye of head coach Jon Gruden. The Raiders investigated rookie passers last year, threw their hat into the Tom Brady ring in 2020 and signed Marcus Mariota. Each move heaps more pressure on Carr.

8.      Olivier Vernon - Defensive End - Cleveland Browns

Vernon has much to prove opposite Myles Garrett in 2020. In his first season with the Browns, Vernon missed six of the final eight games of the year and recorded just three and a half sacks on the season. When you consider he will eat up $11 million of salary cap room in 2020 – fourth-highest on the team, Vernon needs to up his production on the field or he could be offloaded at the end of this coming season.

9.      Jimmy Garoppolo - Quarterback - San Francisco 49ers

Can the 49ers win a Super Bowl with Jimmy G at the helm? That is the question on everyone's lips heading into 2020 after Garoppolo missed the title-winning throw to Emmanuel Sanders in Miami in February. That miss came at the end of a playoff series in which the Niners took the ball out of his hands. In the offseason, San Francisco made no secret of their interest in Tom Brady. Jimmy G has much to prove.

10.  A.J. Green - Wide Receiver - Cincinnati Bengals

The 32-year-old Green will be paid a team-leading $17.8 million in 2020. At that price, the Bengals will be hoping for a big return to health and form. Green has faced considerable adversity over the past two years – he missed seven games through injury in 2018 and all of 2019 due to a foot problem. Playing under the franchise tag in 2020, Green's long-term future in Cincinnati remains in doubt.

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