The 2021 free agency class figures to be one of the strongest in recent memory, with many of the best players from the loaded 2017 draft set to hit the market for the first time. But next year will be crucial for just about all of them.
These six players might be able to play themselves into some huge contracts if they can produce during the 2020 season, but they could just as easily tarnish their stock if they once again stink up the joint and underperform.
6. Titans WR Corey Davis
Davis, the all-time leading receiver in college football history, still has an intriguing blend of size and speed that will have teams interested in the former Western Michigan star. Unfortunately, Davis has struggled with consistency during his three years in the pros, as he has yet to hit 1,000 receiving yards and lost his WR1 role to AJ Brown. With Ryan Tannehill under center for a full season in Tennessee, hopefully the former No. 5 pick figures it all out right before he hits the open market.
5. 49ers DL Solomon Thomas
Another top-five pick from 2017 struggling to make a name for himself, Thomas was relegated to backup duty in 2019, as the likes of Nick Bosa, DeForest Buckner and Dee Ford took snaps and sacks away from the former Stanford star. With Buckner now in Indianapolis, Thomas might have one last chance to prove his worth in San Francisco. Given his athleticism and versatility, he might just earn himself a big new contract as a free agent.
4. Cowboys CB Chidobe Awuzie
Awuzie is now the featured member of the Dallas secondary now that Byron Jones is a Miami Dolphin. Awuzie has been rock solid at corner over his three seasons in the pros, but the former Colorado star has yet to take the leap to stardom, one that Dallas needs him to make this year. With the inevitable Dak Prescott contract ready to soak up most of Dallas' cap and the premium being placed on cornerbacks, Awuzie could leave Dallas with a huge payday just like Jones if he balls out in 2020.
3. Steelers RB James Conner
Conner might be under the most pressure to succeed of anyone on this list, as the presence of Benny Snell and Anthony McFarland has given the Steelers enough leverage to allow themselves to move off of Conner. Given his injury history and pitiful 3.9 yards per carry last season, he might not be the wisest investment as far as running backs go. He could prove all those doubters wrong, however, if he returns to full health and starts running guys over on the way to another Pro Bowl season.
2. Bengals RB Joe Mixon
Despite some solid free agent signings, Bengals owner Mike Brown is not the kind of guy who will give people blank checks in free agency. Mixon might require that, however, as Joe Burrow's new running mate is one of the best in his position in the league. Mixon has topped 1,400 yards from scrimmage in each of the last two seasons, amassing 17 touchdowns. With a young quarterback in Burrow at the helm, Mixon will undoubtedly be in for the biggest workload of his career. If Cincy wants to keep their promising offense together, Brown will need to break character and overpay for Mixon.
1. Steelers WR JuJu Smith-Schuster
JuJu was supposed to prove to the world that he could handle being the No. 1 guy in Pittsburgh and that Antonio Brown was a thing of the past. While his quarterbacks didn't help matters much, JuJu's injuries and own ineffectiveness limited him to just 552 yards and three touchdowns. We know the former USC star is a solid No. 2 receiver, but his ability to serve as a team's No. 1 is in question, which can and will mess with his free agent market. Hitting 1,000 yards again in 2020, however, should quiet those concerns.