1. Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams
As the only former first overall pick on this list who isn’t proven (I’d say Eli Manning is proven), Bradford clearly has the most to prove. His job seems secure, but Bradford’s been right around average after his rookie year, which was arguably his best season. Bradford faces a different challenge than everyone else here, as he’s coming off a torn ACL, which complicates things. He should be ready to go week one, but Bradford must not only successfully recover from injury, but also have his best season as a pro to prove his worth as a franchise quarterback.
2. Geno Smith, New York Jets
The Jets’ starting quarterback job is in Smith’s hands for now. But the second-year pro will have to play much better than he did last year to keep his job — Michael Vick is waiting right behind him, and a lot of experts are projecting Vick to start at some point this year (I normally take experts’ opinions lightly, but if Smith plays like he did last year, I also could see Vick starting). Smith was one of the worst starting quarterbacks in the league in 2013 — he didn’t get much help from his offense, but Smith could’ve done a lot more.
3. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals
While Dalton didn’t have a bad 2013 — his team made the playoffs — he was simply average. A.J. Green can’t bail him out on every play, and the Bengals’ defense often gave the offense chances to do something with the ball. After the playoff game against the Chargers, many started to question Dalton’s ability as the Bengals’ starter, but the truth is that these doubts should’ve been brought about much earlier. Dalton doesn’t exactly have to worry about his job being taken — A.J. McCarron will not take his job. But Dalton will have to play much better year, otherwise his job status will be in doubt for 2015. If Dalton plays well, he may be rewarded with a lucrative contract next offseason, and if he doesn’t, Cincinnati could be staring down Marcus Mariota or another future rookie signal-caller.
4. E.J. Manuel, Buffalo Bills
Like Geno Smith, Manuel struggled in 2013 and must play much better to secure his job. While there isn’t someone like Vick behind Manuel to push him, Manuel must play better to keep his job. He must do a better job staying healthy, and that starts with protecting himself when running.
5. Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears
Cutler comes with an expensive price tag for Chicago, but it doesn’t exactly seem like he has much to show for it. He missed a significant amount of games last year, and I actually though that Josh McCown played better than he did in Cutler’s place. Nevertheless, Cutler landed himself a $126 million contract, and now he must prove he’s worth it. When he came back at the end of last season, the offense wasn’t as effective as it was with McCown, even though the Bears have weapons on offense like Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffrey, and Matt Forte. Cutler has proved that he’s a quality starting quarterback; now, he must prove he’s a true franchise guy worth all that money.