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Saturday, September 22, 2018

15 players to watch during NFL training camp

Andrew Luck

Training camp may not be the most exciting time of the NFL season, but it’s home to a lot of storylines and things to watch. There are players looking to prove themselves and others who want to push for opportunities during the regular season, as well as the annual camp battles at several positions for a number of teams.

So who should you be watching as training camp gets underway? Here’s a list of 15 players worth paying attention to.

1) Andrew Luck, QB, Colts

All eyes will be on Luck’s health as training camp gets underway. The hope is that his shoulder problems are finally behind him, though the Colts have made clear that they’re going to watch him closely and not push him too far too soon. He’ll be worth watching in camp not just for his health, but for the quality of his passing. It’s been a long time since Luck pushed himself. How sharp will the former No. 1 pick be?

2) Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Jets

Bridgewater’s last NFL start came in January of 2016 before a devastating knee injury cost him pretty much the entirety of two NFL seasons. With a good camp and preseason, he can potentially play himself into a starting role with the Jets, though he would have to surpass Sam Darnold and Josh McCown on the depth chart. He might also be able to play himself onto the trading block where he can help another team. What does Bridgewater have in the tank, and how much will the knee injury have impacted him? He could be anywhere from a starter to a non-factor.

3) Dez Bryant, WR, free agent

Bryant has the opportunity to shake up training camp if he makes a decision on a new team. Reports have indicated that he was waiting for camp before signing with a new team, though we don’t really have any clues about a potential team. He may not be the player he once was, but he’s a big name, still an immensely physical beast, and a very talented wide receiver who certainly could have a major impact on an offense.

4) Dak Prescott, Cowboys

The Cowboys are ready to build their entire offense around Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott, but it’s the quarterback who will get so much of the attention. The team has made it clear that their future lies with Prescott. He wasn’t quite as good last season as he was as a rookie, and whether he can form a good relationship with his new wide receiver core minus Bryant will be a big camp storyline.

5) Saquon Barkley, RB, Giants

Barkley is being tipped as the rookie who can re-energize the Giants after an awful 2017. So much is being pinned on him. There’s the thought that having him around will take some pressure off the aging Eli Manning and allow the veteran QB to play more freely. Subsequently, all eyes will be on him during training camp, with the hope that the Giants have pulled off a coup and drafted the next great all-around backfield player.

6) Jordan Matthews, WR, Patriots

Julian Edelman’s four-game suspension means Tom Brady is going to have to find some new targets early in the season. The question becomes: who will step up in training camp? Matthews, a former second-round pick of the Eagles, has a great chance to do so. He should have a chance to get some first-team reps, with a lot riding on how he does in them. If Matthews succeeds, he could have a good start to the season, so the incentive is there for him to perform.

7) Tyrod Taylor, QB, Browns

Taylor doesn’t look like he’ll have to fight for his job, as all comments have indicated he is well ahead of Baker Mayfield. Subsequently, the former Bills QB will set about proving that he can still start in the NFL. He’s almost certainly not the long-term solution in Cleveland, but a solid training camp could set him on the right track for a season in which he could prove his NFL staying power.

8) Nathan Peterman, QB, Bills

Taylor’s former team has a quarterback opening of their own. Rookie Josh Allen is unlikely to see action this year, and A.J. McCarron is penciled in as the starter. Watch out for Peterman during training camp, though. The coaching staff seems to like him even if the results haven’t followed, and McCarron isn’t exactly a giant who will be impossible to dislodge. If Peterman puts together a solid camp, he could end up starting.

9) Rashaad Penny, RB, Seahawks

The Seahawks have been desperately trying to fill their hole at running back since Marshawn Lynch first retired from the team, but they haven’t found that answer. They’re hoping that it’s Penny now. Chris Carson impressed in 2017, but a broken leg hindered his development. The Seahawks probably aren’t using a first-round pick on a running back if they don’t see him starting. Penny was a powerhouse in college, and he could make a quick impact at the NFL level.

10) Doug Martin, RB, Raiders

This looks like a job that safely belongs to Marshawn Lynch, but Martin is an intriguing guy to have around. He was once one of the most consistent running backs in the NFL during his heyday in Tampa Bay, but things haven’t been the same since. The Raiders’ coaching staff singled him out for praise during OTAs, and there’s even talk of him pushing Lynch for carries. A strong training camp on Martin’s part could really shake things up.

11) D.J. Moore, WR, Panthers

Moore fell to Carolina at No. 24, but with the Panthers receiving corps in need of a boost, it was the perfect scenario for player and team alike. He was impressive at OTAs, and there’s a very real chance he could seize an opportunity and become a favorite target of Cam Newton once the season starts. A strong training camp could put him in position to get enough reps to shine as one of the NFL’s top rookies.

12) Tavon Austin, WR, Cowboys

A first-round pick who never got the job done for the Rams, Austin features here because of a lot of curiosity about his role. The Cowboys have talked about using him as some sort of unusual receiver-running back hybrid who will also be active on special teams. That’s a lot of responsibility and a lack of clarity on how it would actually work. Austin will be worth watching in camp solely to see if he can adapt to all these roles the Cowboys envision him filling, especially with questions about the team’s offense as a whole.

13) Royce Freeman, RB, Broncos

C.J. Anderson is out in Denver, and there’s a big question as to who will replace him. Devontae Booker has more experience, but the real player to watch here may be Freeman. The rookie has every chance to claim this role with a solid preseason and a good camp, and the former Oregon standout definitely showed off pro potential during his college career. Freeman had four 1,000-yard seasons in college. If he can avoid turning the ball over, he may end up being the Broncos’ lead back.

14) Kendall Fuller, CB, Chiefs

The main return in the Alex Smith deal, the Chiefs really need Fuller’s improvements to continue in 2018. After trading Marcus Peters, Fuller is pretty much their best option at the cornerback position, and he needs to continue growing up quickly. It remains to be seen whether the Chiefs will put him on top receivers, or if he can play on the outside — if Kansas City even elects to try to go that route.

15) Colin Kaepernick, QB, free agent

It’s very difficult to see anyone signing Kaepernick given how terrified NFL owners are of controversy, deserved or otherwise. Add in the fact that he’s currently engaged in a legal battle against the league and it seems even less likely. Still, injuries happen, and a number of teams have very unsettled quarterback positions. Will anyone get desperate enough to take a chance on a quarterback who started — and nearly won — a Super Bowl? It’s still unlikely, but never say never.

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