We made it squad. The NFL is back.
Tonight will be the unveiling of many storylines for the 2018 season, even if we don’t realize that fact right away. I’ve compiled a list of some of the players I am most looking forward to seeing in action tonight, although this group is far from comprehensive. The success or failure of many of these players will play a huge role in determining the fate of their team for this season and beyond.
Josh Allen, QB, Buffalo Bills
We’ve all heard the criticisms of Allen, many of which came from this author. In fact, no one at The Draft Network had a grade higher than round three on the Bills’ top ten pick. But now, with an offense devoid of proven talent, an offensive line in rebuild mode and a fourth-time NFL offensive coordinator, Allen gets the chance to shut up all the naysayers.
He should get tons of playing time, even in Week 1 of preseason action. The Bills quarterback room is the worst in the NFL, and Allen will be given every opportunity to win the no. 1 spot. Finally, we’ll be able to put the pre-draft opinions aside and judge Allen based on what he does as an NFL quarterback. Can he finally maximize his rare set of physical tools?
Baker Mayfield, QB, Cleveland Browns
This one goes without saying, right? In the same ways that many draft pundits predicted Allen to fail, the affinity amongst the scouting community for Mayfield was strong, from media analysts to those in the NFL.
Now Mayfield, whose moxie, accuracy and toughness have shone throughout camp, gets the chance to take the next step toward becoming QB1 in Cleveland. If he excels during the preseason, it will be very hard for Hue Jackson to keep him on the bench for Tyrod Taylor.
Well, it should be hard anyway. Who knows what Hue will do. “Whatever the hell he wants”, I guess, according to his showing on Hard Knocks.
Mitch Trubisky, QB, Chicago Bears/Anthony Miller, WR, Chicago Bears
The buzz surrounding both of these players has been building throughout the offseason, as Trubisky has promised to bring Chicago back to greatness, and Miller has looked like a seasoned veteran in camp. Can the duo continue to build a chemistry that will help turn Chicago’s offense around? With Matt Nagy at the helm, I’m a believer.
Saquon Barkley, RB, New York Giants/Evan Engram, TE, New York Giants
Many have said Barkley is the best running back prospect ever. An insane statement, until you look at his physique and testing numbers and understand how people reached that conclusion, faulty though it may be.
Engram is one of the most athletic tight ends in the NFL. Last year he played like a top ten player at the position when the team desperately needed him to be great. The Giants wide receivers getting healthy will only add to Engram’s production, giving him more favorable matchups and the flexibility to move all over the field.
Oh, he’s not a great blocker? Who gives a flying one? He’s a 6-3, 240-pound tight end running 4.4s. Ben McAdoo ain’t here anymore, y’all don’t have to worry about players getting used in reticent fashion anymore.
Cordy Glenn, OT, Cincinnati Bengals/Billy Price, C, Cincinnati Bengals
One of the big reasons for the Bengals offensive struggles last year was the play of their front five. They’re counting on Glenn and Price to change those fortunes, despite the former’s struggles with injuries and the latter’s struggles in camp.
Glenn was a top ten left tackle when healthy, and he needs to prove those days are still ahead of him with his play this preseason. Price has reportedly struggled in camp, despite his billing as one of the more pro-ready prospects in the class. If Andy Dalton is going to play to even his relatively low peak, those two will need to be great this season.
Marcus Davenport, EDGE, New Orleans Saints
The Saints gave up two (2!) first round picks to acquire Davenport in the 2018 draft, a move that has been criticized heavily by all of us at TDN, especially Joe Marino and Trevor Sikkema. Davenport is a good athlete, but his inconsistent technique, lack of bend, minimal pass rush moves and sometimes questionable intensity led many to question his likelihood to find success in the NFL.
Davenport has been banged up a bit in camp and missed time, but hasn’t impressed when healthy. That’s ok, as long as the flashes come this preseason, or better yet in Week 1. Sean Payton has already said they are counting on him to contribute right away, so expect Davenport to get plenty of run in preseason games to prepare him for the real thing.
Jaguars WR Room: D.J. Chark, Dede Westbrook, Keelan Cole, Donte Moncrief
The Jaguars let Allen Robinson walk in free agency and traded away Allen Hurns, in part because they believed their young stable of receivers could carry the load. Marqise Lee is suddenly the veteran of the group, while Chark and Westbrook are both essentially rookies after the latter missed most of last season with an injury.
Cole has generated the most buzz as a potential WR1, or at least the Jaguars version of that role. Moncrief is just trying to make the roster and keep his career alive, but he might be long shot unless he stands out in the preseason.
Terrell Edmunds, S, Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers desperately need a difference maker in their secondary, but is Edmunds ready to make that kind of an impact? Pittsburgh has plenty of options at safety, but none with the athletic upside that Edmunds offers on the back end.
They also may not have a player as raw or mistake-prone as Edmunds, based on his college tape. His selection in the first round might have been the most universally criticized pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, as it was a move that very few saw coming. Edmunds has a long way to go, but a good preseason could bump him into the rotation sooner rather than later.
Derek Barnett, EDGE, Philadelphia Eagles
Rumors of Brandon Graham entering his final season in Philly or even being trade-bait have been circulating for awhile now, but the Eagles need Barnett to step up before anything can come of that. Can he play like a top 15 pick, consistently winning 1v1 off the edge? The preseason should give us some indication of how far Barnett has come since his rookie year, where he lucked into a good bit of his production.
Justin Evans, S, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Some have lauded Evans as a star-in-the-making based on a few flashes last season. Others have seen his multitude of blown coverages and remain skeptical. In other words, not much has changed since college.
Evans is still an athletic freak, but will the consistency ever come, and the mistakes ever stop? The Bucs need studs in the secondary as bad as any team in the league, and Evans is one of the few players on their roster with the potential to save a unit that desperately needs a savior.
Kenyan Drake, RB, Miami Dolphins
It’s time for Frank Gore to hang it up. Drake was outstanding in Miami last season, looking every bit the part of a feature back. The Dolphins brought in competition for the role, but I don’t see anyone with Drake’s promise and all-around ability.
Nevertheless, he’ll need to establish himself in the preseason or risk falling out of favor with Adam Gase. Also, my fantasy football team needs big production from him this season, so no pressure Drake.
Lamar Jackson, QB, Baltimore Ravens
The Hall of Fame Game performance wasn’t very good. Jackson was skittish in the pocket, inaccurate when he did throw and just didn’t look NFL-ready at all. I’m not worried. He’ll be more settled in against the Rams tonight. I’m ready for the fireworks.
Derrius Guice, RB, Washington Redskins
Guice might be the player I’m most excited to watch this preseason. We need him to stay healthy, but he’s quickly become a fan favorite in Washington, and drawn rave reviews with his play. Guice’s development as a receiver and pass protector will be perhaps the most important aspect of his play to keep an eye on tonight and throughout the preseason.
Derek Rivers, EDGE, New England Patriots
It is time. I once anointed Rivers with a first round grade, only to see him go on to tear his ACL and miss his entire rookie season. Can he return to his potential? Can he give the Patriots their first legit pass rushing threat off the edge since Chandler Jones?
Packers CB Room: Kevin King, Jaire Alexander, Joshua Jackson
This trio is the future of the Packers rebuilt secondary. All are exceptionally talented, all have things to work on before they can reach their peak. Who gets there the fastest? Who plays in the slot? Can all three really start this season? Lot of questions to be answered in the preseason.
Deshaun Watson, QB, Houston Texans
Watson was off to a torrid start before a torn ACL ended his rookie season. Can the savior of the Texans stay upright despite a horrendous offensive line? Should the Texans even be playing him more than a couple series in the preseason? Houston’s season ultimately rests in Watson’s hands. If he is great, they have a chance at the playoffs. If not, they could be picking early next year.
Patty Mahomes, QB, Kansas City Chiefs
We are all hoping Mahomes will be great. We have only scattered evidence that he will be. Consistency has always been the biggest concern with Mahomes, not ability. The only way for us to know whether he’s arrived as a quarterback will be to evaluate a large chunk of games, examining the highs and lows. That process begins tonight.
Solomon Thomas, EDGE, San Francisco 49ers
Is year two the year Thomas breaks out? The 49ers top pick was raw entering last season, but started to flash toward the end of the year. Thomas’ ability is tantalizing, but he needs to prove he can win as a pass rusher from all over the defensive line. He’s the kind of player you bet on entering the draft, recognizing years two and three are probably his window to reach his peak.
Rashaad Penny, RB, Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks rebuilt squad could have several players on this list, but when a running back is taken in the first round, he better product early and often. Penny plays behind a bad offensive line, but my guess is that Seattle could look to pound the football at times this season, much like San Diego State did. The preseason should give us a good look at whether this strategy, and Penny, can be successful or not.
Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts
Finally. Thank you @god. Andrew Luck is back. Our bodies are ready for him to be great again. Here’s hoping we never have to wonder whether he will be or not ever again. Can he save the worst roster in football?