New beginnings

Things to watch for in the upcoming NFL season


Photo by Tribune News Service

Philadelphia Eagles defensive lineman Fletcher Cox sacks Pittsburgh Steelers’ backup quarterback Landry Jones during a preseason game.

Story by TJ Wall, Sports Editor

Are you tired of sitting on the couch with nothing to watch but golf and a 30-for-30 about some washed up athlete reminiscing on the good ‘ole days? Good news for you, football is back and here are some things to look out for this season!

Big-Name Players Returning from Injury:


  • Aaron Rodgers/QB/Green Bay Packers: We remember how Aaron Rodgers, arguably the current best quarterback in the league, went down on that sad day of week six. Green Bay fans all around were devastated because their whole season went down the drain due to a broken collarbone. Thankfully for you cheeseheads, Rodgers is back and is looking to have a memorable season. Offense shouldn’t be a problem for Green Bay despite the loss of long-time Green Bay receiver Jordy Nelson. The Packers’ receiving corp which consists of Davante Adams (a good receiver to get in fantasy football by the way) and Randall Cobb will still be a very productive corp. Also, Green Bay’s depth chart is full of young receivers with potential such as Geronimo Allison, J’Mon Moore, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown. Did you think I forgot about the acquisition of Jimmy Graham? Well I didn’t. We’ll discuss that a little bit later.
  • J.J. Watt/DE/Houston Texans: Watt is a premier pass rusher in the league and is guaranteed to make an impact on that Houston defense. However, Watt has been plagued with injury for the last two seasons and is definitely a concern in the aspect of health. On the other hand, when Watt is on the field, his production is among the most elite in the NFL. So as long as he’s out there, you’ll be hearing Watt’s name quite a bit.
  • Andrew Luck/QB/Indianapolis Colts: When was the last time Luck was healthy and playing at his peak? I don’t think anyone really knows without Googling it because it has actually been that long ago. Early in his career, Luck was seen as a future top-five quarterback in the NFL and his play backed it up. Unfortunately, Luck has been injured year after year. The situation with Luck is very similar to the situation with J.J. Watt; when he’s on the field, he’s among the best. Now that Luck will be back, Colts fans actually have something to look forward to. This also boosts T.Y. Hilton’s stock in fantasy football so if you haven’t drafted yet, Hilton would be a solid choice in about the third or fourth round (depending on your draft strategy). While the Colts definitely won’t be in contention for the Super Bowl, and maybe not even the playoffs, they’ll at least have something positive to look forward to.
  • Richard Sherman/DB/San Francisco 49ers: Many remember Sherman from when he played on the Seattle Seahawks. He was a dominant force on Seattle’s “Legion of Boom” and he has been for several years now. This season will be Sherman’s first with his new team and Seattle Seahawks’ rival, the San Francisco 49ers. Sherman has just come off of a torn Achilles and he’s been reportedly getting shown-up by San Francisco’s wide receivers in training camp. Is this a sign of decline from the former All-Pro? We won’t really know until the season actually starts, but it will be something to keep an eye on for sure.

Rising Stars:

  • Carson Wentz/QB/Philadelphia Eagles: Wentz is coming off of a torn ACL and will not start week one because he is not yet cleared by doctors for physical contact. So, yet again, the glorified backup quarterback Nick Foles will take his place for now. Wentz had a promising first two seasons despite the second season being cut short due to injury. In his first two seasons, Wentz threw for 7,078 yards, 49 touchdowns and 21 interceptions. He threw 14 interceptions during his rookie season and drastically improved in his second season by only throwing seven. As long as Wentz returns to his pre-injury form, he should continue to put up good numbers. Wentz has the ability to be the MVP in the next couple of seasons and I fully expect him to just as long as he can stay healthy.
  • Deshaun Watson/QB/Houston Texans: Deshaun Watson took the NFL by storm until he too suffered from a torn ACL. Before he went down for the season, Watson, in only seven games, threw for 1,699 yards, 19 touchdowns and eight interceptions. While the number of interceptions could be seen as a concern by some considering Watson only played for less than half of the season, it should not cause one to overlook his upside. He is a phenomenal athlete and he too should make big waves in the years to come.
  • David Johnson/RB/Arizona Cardinals: David Johnson has been seen as a top-tier back in the league for the last 3 or so seasons. However, just like the other players in this section, he too has suffered an injury in the past couple of years. Johnson has been Arizona’s work horse and is likely the reason why he has been injured as much as he has. Arizona has not done too well at building the best offensive line either which definitely doesn’t help Johnson. Johnson is a talented back to have on your team however until the Cardinals get a better offensive line, I don’t see him having the ability to put up the same numbers that he used to.
  • Dalvin Cook/RB/Minnesota Vikings: Dalvin Cook was a rookie from Florida State who looked very promising in his first four games of the season. He too suffered from (you guessed it) a torn ACL. Cook is expected to be the future at the running back position for the Minnesota Vikings. When Cook went down, former Raiders running back Latavius Murray took over and produced some solid performances. This season, both Cook and Murray will be splitting carries. I believe this duo will be one of the most potent backfields in the league this year. They may not put up Ingram and Kamara numbers, but they’ll be a force to be reckoned with. Then again, it all depends on if Cook can come back strong from his injury.

Most Exciting Free-Agent Acquisitions:

  • Kirk Cousins/QB/Minnesota Vikings: Kirk Cousins is the talented former Washington Redskins quarterback. How talented is he? Well it depends on who you ask. Some believe he’s just a slightly better version of Alex Smith. Some believe he’s a top 10 quarterback in the league. I believe he’s right in the middle. To me, Cousins’ upside is a top 10 quarterback, but whether or not he plays that way week-in and week-out is a different story. This past offseason, Cousins was signed by the Minnesota Vikings on a three-year $84 million deal. The Vikings are going out on a limb by giving him that much money, but they must believe that his potential upside is worth it. Either way, he’ll be surrounded by a boatload of talent which includes receivers Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen and running backs Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray. So whether or not he performs to his maximum potential, it shouldn’t be too hard for Cousins to have success in Minnesota.
  • Jimmy Graham/TE/Green Bay Packers: Jimmy Graham has been a dominant tight end since his glory days with Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints. This offseason, Graham signed a three-year $30 million deal with the Green Bay Packers. Now that he’s one of Aaron Rodgers’ weapons, everyone in the NFL world knows that this duo will be a threat to any opposing defense. When Graham was with Brees, he racked up 4,752 receiving yards on 386 receptions. With Rodgers now delivering Graham the ball, similar numbers are expected. Both Graham and Rodgers will be extremely productive on the gridiron and in fantasy football so don’t forget about the two.
  • Tyrann Mathieu/DB/Houston Texans: Tyrann Mathieu is a premier talent at the free safety position. He was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals and for the next five seasons, he and another former LSU Tiger, Patrick Peterson, shut down opposing quarterbacks week after week. This season will be different. Mathieu left Arizona in free agency and was signed by the Houston Texans on a one-year, $7 million deal (if you couldn’t already tell, the Texans are going to be exciting to watch this year). The Texans’ offense without a doubt will be dangerous and efficient. Their defense seems to be pretty solid and in the past few years, they’ve been among the top defenses in the league. However, there are some questions surrounding the cornerback position primarily. In the end, Houston should be fine but there’s not much we can say about them until after their first game.

Trash to Way-Less Trash:

The Cleveland Browns, A.K.A the laughingstock of the NFL, might not have such a negative connotation to their name after this season. I know I dogged on the Browns last year because of how awful they were, but after this offseason, Cleveland is looking like they’ll have the most improved team in the NFL. I believe that with the addition of Baker Mayfield, the Browns have found their quarterback of the future (that is if he stays out of trouble). The Browns will also have one of the most underrated receivers, Jarvis Landry, catching passes along with Josh Gordon who is making his comeback after being in and out of trouble for the past few seasons. Along with their revamped offense, the Browns’ defense, featuring Myles Garrett and rookie Denzel Ward, doesn’t look too shabby. I may be making a bold statement in saying this, but I believe the Browns will go 8-8 despite not winning a game last season.

Jon Gruden Returns to the Raiders:

Jon Gruden is back to coach the Oakland Raiders and already he’s made significant moves such as cutting one of the better punters in the game in Marquette King and trading away a top-of-the-line defensive player in Khalil Mack. The Raiders signed Gruden to a 10-year/$100 million deal. The last time Gruden coached the Raiders was from 1998 to 2001. He then coached the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 2002 to 2008. In his 11 years of coaching, Gruden totaled 95 wins and 81 losses. He won one Super Bowl with the Buccaneers during the 2002-2003 season. Some, including myself, wonder why the Raiders inked Gruden to such a long-term contract when he really hadn’t done too much to earn it. However, I believe Gruden, despite his recent questionable moves, is very knowledgeable of the game and I believe he will have some success. How much success I don’t know, but he’ll definitely be interesting to watch.

New QB In Kansas City:

“We’re not in Kansas anymore,” said former Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith (no, he didn’t actually say that). The new leader of the Kansas City offense, Patrick Mahomes II, is a 22-year-old quarterback who only has one true NFL game under his belt. He’s a strong-armed quarterback from Texas Tech who was drafted early in the 2017 NFL draft to be the eventual successor of Alex Smith. However, this new role came earlier than expected when the Chiefs traded away Alex Smith to the Washington Redskins this past offseason. In his last year at Texas Tech, Mahomes threw for 5,052 yards, 41 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions all while completing 65.7 percent of his passes on 591 attempts. Mahomes’ offense in college was a heavy pass-first offense, nonetheless, he still played phenomenally. Mahomes has promise and the coaches and fans alike expect big things out of him.

MVP Watch:

  • Aaron Rodgers/QB/Green Bay Packers
  • Drew Brees/QB/New Orleans Saints
  • Ezekiel Elliott/RB/Dallas Cowboys
  • Tom Brady/QB/New England Patriots
  • Aaron Donald/DE/Los Angeles Rams

Honorable Mentions:

  • Carson Wentz/QB/Philadelphia Eagles (If he is back early enough in the season)
  • Deshaun Watson/QB/Houston Texans (Not yet. Just wait a couple more seasons)