Each NFL team’s most important offensive player
Green Bay Packers — Aaron Rodgers, QB
You don’t need to look hard to see how important Rodgers is to the Packers. In a season mostly wiped out by a collarbone injury, they went 4-3 when he started and 3-6 when he didn’t. When he wasn’t on the field, the offense looked downright brutal more often than not. They’ve built so much of their team around him and his talents that they don’t really know what to do when he’s not around. Seeing him run the team without his favorite target Jordy Nelson should be intriguing.
Houston Texans — Deshaun Watson, QB
As talented as DeAndre Hopkins is, Watson’s brief, injury-shortened cameo was tantalizingly exciting for NFL fans everywhere in 2017. In just seven games, the rookie threw 19 touchdown passes and added two more with his legs. He should be healthy in 2018. One of the most exciting storylines of the season will be seeing what he can do with a full, healthy season.
Indianapolis Colts — Andrew Luck, QB
Getting Luck back on the field will be a victory in itself considering how long his shoulder has been a thorn in his side. In his last healthy season, he threw for over 4,000 yards and 31 touchdowns, so it’s easy to forget just how gifted he is. It’s still worth holding your breath over his recovery — the Colts need to get him through training camp first.
Jacksonville Jaguars — Leonard Fournette, RB
If you’re Blake Bortles, your job is to take care of the ball, make the occasional play, and otherwise let Fournette do his thing. The standout rookie only played in 13 games, but still eclipsed the thousand-yard mark and chipped in nine touchdowns. The Jaguars figure to ride him heavily again in 2018 while hoping health isn’t as big an issue this season.
Kansas City Chiefs — Patrick Mahomes, QB
No matter what you think of Alex Smith, the decision to get rid of him after he went 50-26 over five seasons with the Chiefs is a bold one. It’s arguably even bolder to turn around and hand the ball to an unproven second-year pro. Kansas City is doing just that, and Mahomes looked capable during his brief cameo in 2017. If the Chiefs expect to make the playoffs again, though, he’ll have to be composed and ready right away.
Los Angeles Chargers — Keenan Allen, WR
Philip Rivers had his usual strong season, but the Chargers became one of the NFL’s best passing offenses because of the emergence of Allen. He recovered from injury to turn in his best year to date, with 1,393 yards and six touchdowns. That will have to continue for the Los Angeles offense to remain as good as it was, especially since the depth on the offense could allow Allen to really create some mismatches.
Los Angeles Rams — Todd Gurley, RB
Gurley could have an MVP award in his future with more seasons like his 2017, when he had to settle for Offensive Player of the Year honors from the AP. He posted career-bests across the board with 2,093 yards from scrimmage and 19 total touchdowns. A dual threat both on the ground and through the air in Sean McVay’s offense, one could definitely argue that his was the best offensive season of any NFL player in 2017. Gurley’s breakout was a big part of the Rams transforming into a playoff team.
Miami Dolphins — Ryan Tannehill, QB
The Dolphins made a very big statement about Tannehill when they declined to trade up from No. 11 and pursue a quarterback early in the draft. That means Tannehill is the guy, at least for this year. In his last fully healthy 16-game season, he threw for 4,208 yards and 24 touchdowns. Miami is hoping Tannehill gets up to speed quickly and can recapture some of that form, and then some.
Minnesota Vikings — Kirk Cousins, QB
Cousins will be adapting to a new environment, but he’s a pretty safe bet for Minnesota at the quarterback position. With a better set of weapons in Minnesota than he had in Washington, 30 touchdowns should be considered within the realm of possibility. Anything less than 4,000 yards would probably count as a disappointment. There is a lot of reason to be excited about what he could do with a squad like this one.
New England Patriots — Tom Brady, QB
It couldn’t be anyone else. At 40, he managed to lead the NFL with 4,577 passing yards, and he hasn’t lost more than four games as a starter in a season since 2009. His consistency is incomparable. Expect another 30 touchdowns and 4,000 yards for a playoff Patriots team in 2018, health-permitting.
New Orleans Saints — Drew Brees, QB
The Saints have to be dreading the day that Brees walks away, because no other NFL team has been able to so consistently count on having a quarterback who won’t get hurt and will deliver 5,000 yards and 30 touchdowns. Even if his numbers were down a bit in 2017, he still led the league in pass completions. There’s no real indication that he’s about to become ineffective anytime soon.