By Court Zierk @courtzierk on July 10, 2014
Training camp is three weeks away and storylines are starting to pick up steam. This is shaping up to be one of the most entertaining seasons in recent memory, as hard as that is to believe. Here are the most intriguing players for each team, and their associated storylines heading into training camp.
Mosley was a man amongst other men in the vaunted SEC, and now he has iconic shoes to fill in Baltimore (Ray Lewis). It will be no easy task, but if anyone is up to it, it is Mosley. He should immediately challenge Arthur Brown for the starting spot.
Bernard had a surprising rookie season as the starting RB for the Bengals. He showed flashes of brilliance, but appeared to slow down as the season wore on. With another offseason under his belt, look for him to have a breakout season in 2014, and become mentioned amongst the NFL’s elite running backs.
Is there any question about this one? Johnny Football comes into the league as the most talked about rookie in years since Tim Tebow. He will continue to be under intense scrutiny, on and and off the field, and will be given every opportunity to be the Browns’ starting QB this year. It is his job to lose, regardless of what the Brown’s are telling the public.
Blount really began to find his place in the Patriots offense towards the end of last season. So much so, that I was dumbfounded when they traded him to the Steelers. Blount should fit in perfectly with the Steeler way. He is three yards and a cloud of dust epitomized. He and Le’Veon Bell should be one of the best 1-2 combos in the league next year.
The Bills essentially mortgaged their future on Watkins by trading up to draft him with the fourth overall pick. That’s how good they think he can be, and I agree. He is a truly special and dynamic athlete, and might just be able to break the mold in terms of what a game-changing receiver is supposed to look like.
Moreno had a career redefining year with the Broncos last season, and rushed his way into the top 15 in terms of overall yardage, and into the top five for rushing touchdowns. The Broncos have their back of the future in Montee Ball, and decided to let Moreno walk. Now we will see what Knowshon is really made of without the constant threat of the downfield pass opening up lanes for him to gallop through.
Revis headlines a list of big-name free agents the Patriots brought in this offseason to bolster their chances for a final Super Bowl push with Tom Brady at the helm. Presumably, he was brought on to strengthen a defense that was gashed in the AFC Championship game. It will be interesting to see if he can reinvigorate his career under Bill Belichick.
Decker was given the big contract he was seeking by the Jets, and now we will be able to see if he can be as productive with passes not thrown directly into his hands by Peyton Manning. Last I checked, neither Geno Smith nor Michael Vick were the most accurate of passers, and rely on their receivers getting separation from the defense, something Decker hasn’t been great at doing in the past.
Clowney gets drafted with the number one overall pick, and somehow gets the chance to play on the same defensive line as the best defensive player in football in J.J. Watt. It almost doesn’t seem fair. Assuming Clowney turns into the player we all think he could be, they should be the best pass-rushing tandem in the league. Don’t be surprised if they drastically turn things around in a hurry.
The Colts became a different team when Reggie Wayne went down for the season last season. T.Y. Hilton turned out a good year, but with no true threat on the other side of the field, opposing defenses were able to key in on Hilton. Nicks adds another true threat for Andrew Luck on the outside, and makes the Colts one of the favorites to contend for the AFC title.
The Jaguars took Bortles with the third overall pick in this year’s draft with the hopes of seeing him become entrenched at the QB position for the next decade. He certainly looks the part, but we have all seen examples of those types of players flame out when they get into the league. The Jaguars say they don’t plan to start him, but the immense pressure coming from the 20 Jaguar fans might be enough to sway them.
Two years ago, Woodyard was one of the Broncos best players, leading a defense that allowed the second fewest yards on the ground. Last year, for unknown reasons, he fell out of favor with the Broncos coaching staff and found himself riding the pine during the Broncos most critical stretch of the season and into the playoffs. If he can return to form, the Titans have found themselves a very good player who may actually excel in the 3-4 defense.
Ware comes to the Broncos after nearly a decade with the Cowboys, where he established himself as one of the best defensive lineman the NFL has ever seen. Ware will be 32 by the time the season starts, and he gets an opportunity to be paired with arguably the best outside pass rusher in the game, Von Miller. The Broncos felt the absence of Elvis Dumervil last year more than they anticipated, and now Ware will get the chance to fill that role.
During the first half of last season, the Chiefs appeared extremely hesitant to pass the ball, not yet trusting that Smith could get the job done. In the second half, they appeared to loosen their grip and often allowed him to take the game into his hands. It will be interesting to see if Smith can take his game to another level this season, inserting his name into the conversation of the best quarterbacks in the league.
Mack has been touted as the type of player that can turn around the fortunes of a franchise, something the Raiders are sorely in need of. He has an explosive first step and can wreak havoc in the backfield. He will be a day one starter, and has already made public the list of quarterbacks he intends to sack next season. Now let’s see if he can put his money where his mouth is.
The Chargers may have reached a bit on Verrett, but drastic measures may be needed to stop the powerhouse offenses in the AFC. He may get an immediate shot to start opposite of newly acquired Brandon Flowers, and they have the potential to form an outstanding secondary. All eyes will be on Verrett and the pressure is always increased when teams use a first-round pick on a player.
Allen has been a top-tier DE in the NFL for a long, long time. He was one of the prize free agents this offseason and lands with a Bears team looking to re-establish their defensive prowess. It will be fascinating to see what he still has left in the tank.
Ebron was the first TE taken in the draft, and he was taken 10th overall. He adds another weapon to a potent Lions offense, and should be able to take some pressure off of Calvin Johnson by running routes in the slot to the opposite side of the field. He has the potential to be the next great tight end.
Besides having the coolest name of anyone in the league, Clinton-Dix can also play a little football. He is yet another Alabama product, and one of the anchors of that overwhelming defense the past two seasons. The Packers had the only safeties in the NFL with no interceptions last season, and Clinton-Dix looks to help them get better on the defensive side of the ball, hopefully putting the ball into Aaron Rodgers hands more often.
At one point last year, Bridgewater was considered to be the best quarterback coming out in the draft. Had he come out in 2013, he probably would have been the first QB taken. However, as often happens, teams become fascinated with the “prototypical” looking QBs, and he slipped to the Vikings at 32 years old, who traded up to land him. The QB position has been a mess in Minnesota and the Vikings are hopeful Bridgewater can become a fixture.
The Cowboys let one DE named Demarcus walk only to draft another Demarcus with their second-round pick. He will almost immediately be expected to replace some of the productivity they lost when they cut Demarcus Ware loose. No pressure.
Manning, by all accounts, had an awful season, throwing 27 interceptions to only 18 touchdowns. It is not surprising then that the Giants shared equal struggles as a team. He will need to turn it around this season, or else he will start to hear the discontented rumblings of New York fans. True, he has brought the city two Super Bowls rings, but this is a “what have you done for me lately” league.
Sproles and Drew Brees became one of the more dynamic duos in the league during his tenure with the Saints, but he was traded this offseason to the Eagles after having a down year in 2013. He will be paired with LeSean McCoy in the backfield to form one of the more dynamic 1-2 punches in the league. Nick Foles certainly hopes he can return to form.
Jackson had a tumultuous offseason, which ultimately led to him being released by the Eagles, despite just completing his statistically best season. He looks to turn things around in Washington on the receiving end of RGIII’s passes, who is also looking to rebound from a bad season.
The Falcons certainly needed to address a defense that finished 23rd overall last season, and they did just that when they selected Hageman in the second round. He was widely considered to be one of the best DE prospects in the draft and he will immediately be given the opportunity to start. The Falcons will need him to be someone who stands out, something that really nobody did last season.
Cam Newton had a career season in 2013 and the Panthers realized they need to surround him with more weapons, and Benjamin fits the bill. He has rare size for a WR, and will potentially give Newton what he has been lacking, an elite receiver. With Steve Smith now off the team, all eyes will be on Benjamin.
Graham is coming off of an unfavorable ruling that classified him as a TE for the purposes of determining salary tier for the franchise tag. It is highly likely that he is infuriated by this ruling and the Saints lack of goodwill shown towards him after what he has meant for that franchise. Expect some controversy as training camp begins.
McCown stepped in for an injured Jay Cutler last season and nearly created a QB controversy in Chicago. He will finally be given his opportunity to become a starting QB for the Buccaneers, who are looking to re-establish themselves among the NFC contenders. The job is his to lose.
Tyrann Mathieu had a tumultuous end to his collegiate career, after being dismissed by LSU for repeated drug test failures. The Cardinals took a chance on the uber talented safety in the third round, and he was well on his way to having a truly noteworthy rookie season when he tore two of the ligaments in his knee. He will look to rebound this year and become a key part of a potent Cardinals defense.
One of the only weaknesses of a stout 49ers team over the last few years is their lack of ability to stretch the field. The Bills made room for Sammy Watkins by trading him to the 49ers shortly after the draft. After three 1,000 receiving yard seasons in a row, Johnson struggled last season. Look for him to become a key part of this 49ers offense and provide Colin Kaepernick with another downfield weapon.
Much like the 49ers, the Seahawks have few weaknesses. If any, they too lack multiple weapons in their receiving core. With Percy Harvin returning in the Super Bowl, showing why they paid so much for him, and now drafting Richardson, the Seahawks are a scary, scary team. Richardson was one of the most underrated WRs in the draft and the Seahawks capitalized.
Almost as obvious as the Johnny Football selection, Michael Sam is going to be under intense scrutiny his rookie season. No need to rehash the reasons for the scrutiny, but needless to say, he is going to have a lot to prove. This will be a historical season for Sam, and for the NFL. Look for Sam to handle it with class, and to make an impact on the Rams.
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