Football is finally back! Well, sort of; the preseason isn’t exactly an exciting time, as teams tend to rest their starters for the most part. Still, between rookies’ first impressions, position battles, and roster cuts, there is a lot happening during this time. What should you be on the lookout from each NFL team during this time? Let’s discuss, going division by division
Baltimore Ravens: Is WR Marquise Brown Ready?
When the Ravens selected receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown with the 25th overall pick in this year’s draft, they likely envisioned him be a critical point of the offense. However, he was only cleared to practice by the medical staff on July 30th, due to a foot injury, and will have to fight off the rust while illustrating to the coaching staff why he’s an immediate starter. His elite separation ability and athleticism make him probably the top playmaker on this offense, so him being healthy is critical.
Cincinnati Bengals: Can WR John Ross Proved Himself?
The Bengals pictured John Ross being a dynamic threat in their offense, similar to Brown with the Ravens, when they selected him with the 9th overall pick in the 2017 draft. Yet, he’s been a major disappointment while struggling with injuries, drops, and inconsistency through his first two years. Heck, there was a time this offseason where the team considered trading him. With a new coaching staff and AJ Green expected to miss the beginning portion of the season due to an ankle injury, now is the time for Ross to fight back against the bust label.
Cleveland Browns: Can CB Greedy Williams Win The #2 Corner Spot?
One of the draft’s biggest shocks was the fall of cornerback Greedy Williams, who didn’t get drafted until the middle of the second round. However, Williams has tremendous cover ability and athleticism, and has a chance to emerge as one of the game’s top corners immediately. If he can win the #2 cornerback spot opposite of Denzel Ward, the upside of this defense will be through the roof.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Who is the #2 Wide Reciever?
The Steelers are hoping the loss of Antonio Brown will serve as an addition by subtraction, as he oftentimes hurt their overall team chemistry. However, his presence on the perimeter will surely be missed, and although Juju Smith Schuster is one of the game’s better young receivers, he’s not the type of dominant player that can garner all of the attention. Whether it be second-year receiver James Washington, rookie Dionte Johnson, or veteran Donte Moncrief, someone needs to step up as the #2 wide receiver, and that starts in the preseason.
Buffalo Bills: Sorting Out The Offensive Line
After sporting one of the league’s worst offensive lines last season, the Bills front office made significant upgrades in the offensive trenches this offseason, adding center Mitch Morse, guard Quinton Spain, and swing tackle Ty Nsekhe in free agency, in addition to versatile offensive lineman Cody Ford in the draft. Now, the team needs to put all these pieces together. Dion Dawkins will start at left tackle, and the same can be said about Spain at left guard and Morse at center. However, the right side is unsettled; either Ford will start at right guard and Nsekhe at right tackle, or Ford will move to right tackle, leaving the right guard spot between Jon Feliciano and Wyatt Teller. The former option will help them right now, but if they want to develop Ford as the future right tackle, they may choose the latter option.
Miami Dolphins: The QB Battle
It seemed to be a certainty that Josh Rosen would be starting quarterback in Miami after the team traded a second-round pick to acquire to former top-ten pick. However, veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has somehow managed to emerge as the favorite for the job, and will likely start the preseason opener. This quarterback battle has major implications for the team’s long-term future. If they start Fitzpatrick, there’s a chance he’ll provide a short-term boost thanks to his aggressive play-style, which could hurt their chances of landing a top pick. Meanwhile, if they start Rosen, they can evaluate his status as the potential long-term quarterback, and if he falters, they’ll be in position to draft an elite quarterback prospect anyway. It’s clear which decision benefits Miami more, but it’s up to new head coach Brian Flores now.
New England Patriots: Who Steps Up As The Starting Tight End?
The Patriots, as per usual, appear to be an almost flawless team with no questions, though with Rob Gronkowski retiring, the team needs a starting tight end. Benjamin Watson may be that once he returns from his four-game suspension, but until then, Matt LaCosse, Stephen Anderson, Lance Kendricks, and Ryan Izzo all will compete for that spot. Because it’s the Patriots, it’s almost a certainty that one of those players will step up, but it’s unclear who that will be.
New York Jets: Which Rookies Will Win Starting Jobs?
It’s obvious that rookie defensive tackle Quinnen Williams, drafted third overall, will be an immediate starter up front for this team. However, there’s a chance that the Jets could have two other rookie starters on the defense. With Brandon Copeland and Jordan Jenkins slated to start as the team’s edge rushers, there’s a clear opening for third-round pick Jachai Polite, who had the overall talent to warrant a first-round pick, to make an impact in the pass rush right away. It’s unclear where fifth-round pick Blake Cashman fits, since the team has two solid middle linebackers in CJ Mosley and Avery Williamson, but he’s been earning first-team reps, so he’s a name to keep an eye on as well.
Houston Texans: Does OT Tytus Howard Win a Starting Spot?
In an attempt to patch up what was definitely the league’s worst offensive line last year -they allowed 62 sacks – the Texans drafted offensive tackle Tytus Howard in the first round in the draft. The pick was criticized heavily, however, as Howard appeared to be more of a project than a polished product, which doesn’t help them right now. Still, if Howard’s development is ahead of schedule and he can start at either left tackle, right tackle, or left guard, it’ll be a welcome development for a team that needs all the help it can get on the offensive trenches.
Indianapolis Colts: What is WR Paris Campbell’s Potential Impact To The Offense?
The Colts fielded a strong offense last season, but outside of TY Hilton, the team lacked another threat at wide receiver. The signing of Devin Funchess could potentially give the team a nice Red Zone threat, but second-round rookie Paris Campbell’s athleticism, run after catch ability, and upside as a deep-threat could seriously elevate this offense. If he is as good as advertised, this easily can be a top-five offense, and his progression starts now.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Where Do The Rookies Fit?
The Jaguars had a very strong draft this offseason, bringing in a lot of high-upside talent. For them to have any chance of success in 2019, they need their four main rookies to contribute right away. Edge rusher Josh Allen is behind stars Yannik Ngakoue and Calais Campbell on the depth chart, but if he can be a solid rotational pass rusher, that’ll add another dimension to an already elite pass rush. Furthermore, right tackle Jawaan Taylor is extremely talented and should be able to win the starting job over Cedric Ogbuehi, and whatever tight end Josh Oliver can possibly bring to the offense is a nice bonus. The main rookie to keep an eye on, however, is Quincy Williams, who was a surprise pick in the third round, but will likely be asked to be a starting linebacker, despite the fact he only recently converted to the position from safety, due to Telvin Smith stepping away from the team. There are a lot of questions regarding the Jaguars, but solid preseason performances from their rookies could help answer them.
Tennesseee Titans: The Inside Linebacker Competition
The Titans may not be a great team, but they’re a sturdy team with few glaring weaknesses and a lot of depth. Therefore, there is only one main competition, and that’s with the linebackers. The team has three starting-caliber options in Javon Brown, Wesley Woodyard, and Rashaan Evans, but will have to choose between two of them. Evans likely is a front-runner since he was a first-round pick in 2018, but Brown’s versatility and Woodyard’s consistency also make them great options to help the defense. How this linebacker competition shakes out will be fun to watch.
Denver Broncos: How Close Is QB Drew Lock To Being Pro Ready?
Quarterback Drew Lock may have struggled in the Hall of Fame game, but he’ll still have four games to prove himself for the Broncos. The second-round rookie has almost a zero percent chance to start over Joe Flacco, but he could be an option later in the season if Flacco falters or if the team falls out of contention. Still, the team needs to evaluate if he’s closer to Patrick Mahomes or Jay Cutler, so Lock’s performance in the preseason could definitely have sort of implications on the team’s future outlook.
Kansas City Chiefs: What Does The Team Have In The Secondary?
There’s no question that the Chiefs have an elite offense with a superstar quarterback in Patrick Mahomes, making them one of the Super Bowl favorites. However, the defense is the polar opposite; though the team has a fine pass rush, the secondary is a major issue. Kendall Fuller, Tyrann Mathieu, and second-round rookie Juan Thornhill are all best suited to serve as nickel defenders, but it’s likely Fuller plays there while Mathieu and Thornhill play the prototypical free safety and strong safety, respectively. Even if that’s solved, the team needs answers at outside cornerback, meaning Bashuad Breeland, Charvarius Ward, Mark Field, rookie Reshad Felton, and the recently signed (and suspended) Morris Claiborne will compete for two spots. This competition is critical to Kansas City, who really need someone to step up in order to patch up what was one of the league’s worst pass defenses last year.
Los Angeles Chargers: What To Make Of The Offensive Line
On paper, few teams compare to Chargers, who are absolutely loaded with superstars on both sides of the ball. However, the offensive line struggled in pass protection last year, and that could remain the case this year. Left tackle Russell Okung is currently on the non-football injury list, though he should be ready to start, and the right side of the offensive line is undecided. Right tackle Sam Tevi was a liability at times last year, and he’ll compete with third-round pick Trey Pipkins and Forrest Lamp for a starting spot. Depending on how that competition plays out, there’s also a battle at right guard, where Lamp and Michael Schofield. Long story short, there’s a lot of uncertainty currently regarding the formation of the offensive line, and it’s something that the team definitely hopes to address quickly.
Oakland Raiders: What Is The Impact of WR Antonio Brown’s Frostbite?
Yes, you read that right. Wide receiver Antonio Brown has frostbite in his feet after not wearing the proper footwear in a cryotherapy machine, which could play a huge role in how this season plays out. The Raiders have a lot of new faces on an offense that was already a little overrated, and now, they may be losing their best player. Brown may be on the decline, but he’s still a top 15 receiver, and the subtraction of him could cause Tyrell Williams, rookie Hunter Renfrow, and the receivers to struggle to separate with more attention on them, leading to the downfall of the passing game. Even if Brown is healthy, the overall chemistry in the offense will be limited, which could hurt their production.
Chicago Bears: What Role Will RB David Montgomery Play In This Offense?
Yes, the Bears have a very popular kicker battle that is actually garnering a lot of headlines, but either way, the difference between Elliot Fry and Eddy Piniero is marginal at best. For the most part, this is an elite roster that could possibly be Super Bowl-bound, allowing them to focus on more of a luxury position, such as running back. Drafted in the third round, rookie David Montgomery has a chance to be the immediate starter after Jordan Howard was traded to the Eagles, as he’s more of a three-down back than Howard was. Still, Mike Davis will compete with him for that spot, and scatback Tarik Cohen will also play a major role out of the backfield. The preseason will give us an idea of what head coach Matt Nagy plans to do with this loaded backfield.
Detroit Lions: Who Starts at #2 Corner and Free Safety?
For a team that doesn’t appear to be a serious playoff contender, the Lions are actually well-rounded without any main position battles. Still, the competition between Rashaan Melvin and Jalen Tabor for the outside cornerback spot opposite of Darius Slay, in addition to the battle between Miles Killebrew, Tracy Walker, Will Harris, and Tavon Wilson are critical for them as they hope to shore up their secondary.
Green Bay Packers: What Will The New Offensive Scheme Look Like?
It’s unlikely Aaron Rodgers will play much in the preseason, but when he does, fans should be on the lookout. New head coach Matt LeFleur is looking to establish a Kyle Shanahan-type scheme on offense, which is almost the polar opposite of former head coach Mike McCarthy’s offenses. LeFleur’s ability to scheme receivers open will certainly help the team’s young receivers take the next step, giving the offense a very high upside. However, Rodgers has to accept the offense, and if he can’t do it in the preseason, he certainly won’t in the regular season.
Minnesota Vikings: Who Is The #3 Wide Receiver?
There’s no doubting that the Vikings have a tremendous receiver duo of Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, which in itself is enough to give the passing offense a very high floor as a top ten unit in terms of passing efficiency. Still, the offense would elevate significantly if they can find a #3 receiver; the offense struggled at times last year since teams only had to focus on Thielen and Diggs. Former first-round pick Laquan Treadwell seems like a better bet to be cut than to be a starter on this offense, so it’s up to Chad Beebe, Jordan Taylor, Olabisi Johnson, and Dillon Mitchell to fill that hole; that competition is certainly an important one.
Dallas Cowboys: Who Steps Up At Runningback If Ezekiel Elliot Isn’t Back?
The Cowboys currently have a contract crisis, as they need to decide who of quarterback Dak Prescott, receiver Amari Cooper, running back Ezekiel Elliot, linebacker Jaylon Smith, and cornerback Bryon Jones to pay. It appears that they have chosen the right approach, which is to not invest too heavily at running back, but because of that, there’s a chance Ezekiel Elliot could holdout this season. Dallas certainly has the run-blocking offensive line to still be a prolific rushing attack without Elliot, but it would still be encouraging if either veteran Alfred Morris, Darius Jackson, or rookies Tony Pollard and Mike Weber could emerge as a quality enough running back to compensate for the potential loss and give them more leverage in negotiations.
New York Giants: What Does The Team Have In QB Daniel Jones?
The Giants have serious questions at receiver, edge rusher, and other positions, but no matter what, this isn’t a team expecting to win now. Instead, they’re looking ahead to the future, where they hope will be built around quarterback Daniel Jones. There are serious concerns with Jones, though, as his arm strength and overall upside aren’t ideal. He looks to be more of Ryan Tannehill type player than an elite quarterback, and although a good preseason won’t change that, a poor preseason will cement it. Pretty much, New York needs to find out what they have in the sixth-overall pick to decide when he’ll get his chance to be the starter for the team and how much surrounding talent he’ll need in the future to be successful.
Philadelphia Eagles: What To Make Of The New Runningback Duo
The Eagles had one of the worst rushing attacks last year, and this offseason, they completely overhauled it with the additions of Miles Sanders (second round) and Jordan Howard (trade). Sanders profiles as a three-down back who can excel immediately with his ability to run between the tackles and outside the tackles while also being a nice receiving threat, and Howard complements that as a short-down, bruising running back. There’s a lot of potential with this duo if they perform to their abilities, and the best way to make sure of that is for them to immediately become acclimated to this offseason in the preseason.
Washington Redskins: The Three-Way QB Battle
Besides the Dolphins, the Redskins are the only other team with an open quarterback battle right now. Theirs goes a step further however; it’s a three-way competition. Colt McCoy, Case Keenum, and rookie Dwayne Haskins are all vying for the starting job, with no clear favorite known. Haskins is the main one to watch, as his first-round status means he’ll start if ready, but also won’t be pushed if he isn’t. McCoy and Keenum are conservative options that’ll allow them to win 4-6 games, but if Haskins could somehow win this job, there’s a chance they could be seriously competitive if he performed to his capabilities.
Atlanta Falcons: Will They Have Two Rookie Starters On The Offensive Line?
The Falcons’ offense wasn’t as prolific as advertised last year, and a major reason for that was the regression of the offensive line. The team responded drastically; they drafted guard Chris Lindstrom and tackle Kaleb McGary in the first round. If Lindstrom and McGary prove to be ready to start on the right side of the offensive line, it’ll be huge for an already elite offense, and would allow them to get proper value for what they invested. Swing tackle Ty Sambrailo will push McGary hard for the right tackle spot, though, making Atlanta’s right tackle competition one of the main ones to keep a close watch on.
Carolina Panthers: How Healthy is QB Cam Newton?
The Panthers were at one point 6-2 last year and a true Super Bowl contender, but ended up finishing just 7-9. What changed? Cam Newton’s performance went from elite to well below average, as he dealt with a shoulder injury and evidently couldn’t throw the ball down the field. If Newton is indeed healthy, the offense will definitely be strong enough for this team to win 10+ games. However, if he isn’t, it could be another poor season for them. It’s safe to say Newton’s health has major implications on this season.
New Orleans Saints: Is C Erik McCoy Ready To Start?
The Saints offense suffered a major blow this offseason when center Max Unger retired, but by signing versatile guard Nick Easton and drafting center Erik McCoy in the second round, they definitely have made the moves necessary to address that potential issue. McCoy may actually be an upgrade over what Unger was last year, as he’s rather polished and a terrific run-blocker. Still, rookie centers usually struggle, so New Orleans has to be certain that he’s ready to start for them before ruling out starting Easton. With a high emphasis in running back screens, running between the tackles, and protecting Drew Brees, the interior of the offensive line is critical for the Saints, so getting quality production from their starting center is huge.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Who Starts In The Secondary?
The Buccaneers have a lot of talent on offense, but neglection from their front office to address the secondary has hurt them in recent years. Through the draft, they’ve added a lot of defensive backs, but now have to clutter through the depth to find quality starters. Carlton Davis, MJ Stewart, Jamel Dean, Sean Murphy-Bunting, and Ryan Smith will all fight for a cornerback spot opposite of Vernon Hargreaves, though it could be two spots if Hargraves moves into the nickel. Meanwhile, Mike Edwards, Jordan Whitehead, Justin Evans, and undrafted free agent Lukas Denis will compete for the two safety spots. If the secondary can be put in order, which is a very tall task that may be impossible, this team could be competitive in a tough division, making it the main goal for Tampa Bay’s front office.
Arizona Cardinals: What Will The Offense Look Like?
No team is a bigger uncertainty this season than the Cardinals. They’re invested in an air-raid offense under new head coach Kliff Kingsbury, will start first-overall pick Kyler Murray right away, and have a lot of rookies contributing. Therefore, how the offensive scheme looks and is executed with Murray, rookie receivers Andy Isabella, Hakeem Butler, and KeeSean Johnson, will be very fascinating to watch. The Cardinals will be one of the most fun teams to watch this season, and that starts in the preseason.
Los Angeles Rams: How Are The Injured Stars, And Their Insurance, Progressing?
The Rams should once again be one of the top teams in football in football, and that starts with their prolific offense. Still, the team has two injury questions to two of their biggest stars; receiver Cooper Kupp and running back Todd Gurley. Kupp has been practicing with the team, but will need to prove in the preseason that he’s ready to continue to be one of the top slot receivers in the NFL. His health is critical for Los Angeles, and so is the health of Gurley. The 25-year-old has arthritis in his knee and was a non-factor for the team down the stretch, but if he can still be an effective player for them, it’ll be a major bonus. If not, they’ll look for third-round rookie Darrell Henderson and Malcolm Brown to step up, and the same can be said about receivers Josh Reynolds and Austin Proehl as insurance for Kupp.
San Francisco 49ers: The Fallout From Major Injuries On Defense
How quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo fairs coming back from a torn ACL will be a key storyline for the 49ers in the preseason, but recent developments have become an even bigger topic for the team. Second overall pick Nick Bosa is expected to miss at least the entire preseason with an ankle sprain, and the same is true with cornerback Jason Verrett. These two still may play a huge role in San Francisco’s defense this season, but just in case they can’t, the team has to be ready. Soloman Thomas and Arik Armstead are both better suited on the interior of the defensive line than the edge, which means either the team would have to rely on interior pressure and the likes of Kentavius Street and Ronald Blair off the edge if Bosa isn’t ready for the season opener. Meanwhile, Verrett’s injury puts more pressure on Akhello Witherspoon to fortify his spot on the outside. How Bosa and Verrett recover from their ankle sprains, and how the team attempts to make up for the potential losses, could dictate the season for the 49ers.
Seattle Seahawks: The Pass Rush
After trading edge rusher Frank Clark during the offseason, it was always clear that Seattle’s pass rush was going to take a step back in 2019. However, with first-round pick LJ Collier down with a serious ankle sprain and defensive tackle Jarran Reed suspended for six games, the pass rush is suspect, to say the least. Seattle will be relying on free agent pickups Ziggy Ansah and Cassius Marsh to provide pressure, with Rasheem Green and Nazair Jones standing as outliers since their current pass-rushing ability is to be determined. Either way, it will be interesting to see how Seattle handles their depleted pass rush, especially since their secondary isn’t what it once was.