Each NFL team’s most important offensive player
New York Giants — Odell Beckham Jr., WR
Beckham has much to prove. He’s been unable to stay on the field due to injury, he’s had off-field distractions, he’s had questions about his attitude, and he’s entering a contract year. He can quiet a lot of critics with a healthy, distraction-free year more like his first three seasons, when he was routinely hitting the thousand-yard mark and scoring double-digit touchdowns. If he does, the Giants’ offense will be a lot better.
New York Jets — Quincy Enunwa, WR
For all the talk about Sam Darnold, the cupboard is still pretty bare on offense for the Jets, and the No. 3 overall pick doesn’t look likely to play at any point early in the season, if at all. That leaves us looking for potential comebacks. Enunwa missed all of 2017 with a neck injury, which was a real shame for him as he’d looked like a potential breakout candidate. He still is — the 26-year-old had 857 yards and four touchdown catches in 2016, his last regular season action.
Oakland Raiders — Derek Carr, QB
Carr went from MVP candidate to mediocrity very quickly, and the hope is that Jon Gruden will be able to bring him back to his 2016 form. He’s still never thrown for 4,000 yards — he was 13 short in 2015 — and only hit 30 touchdowns once. The Raiders will have to evaluate whether Carr is still the franchise quarterback they think he is, so there’s a lot at stake for him in 2018. The hope is that he’s beyond a back injury that limited him in 2017.
Philadelphia Eagles — Carson Wentz, QB
With all due respect to Nick Foles, who did ultimately quarterback Philadelphia through their successful playoff run, this team belongs to Wentz. The Eagles earned the top spot in the NFC largely because of him. He was on his way toward potential MVP honors when he tore his ACL and LCL, with 33 touchdowns to just seven interceptions. The first step will be getting him back on the field, while the second will be hoping he can recapture the magic he had going for him before he got hurt. There is a lot of confidence that he will be ready in Week 1.
Pittsburgh Steelers — Le’Veon Bell, RB
Bell and the Steelers are in for a somewhat awkward season given the public admission that it’s almost certainly his last in Pittsburgh. He has a long track record as the NFL’s best all-purpose back, and given how his contract negotiations went, he’s certain to be extremely motivated in 2018. A return to 2,000 all-purpose yards is well within the realm of possibility.
San Francisco 49ers — Jimmy Garoppolo, QB
Garoppolo certainly looked for real during his five-start run down the stretch for San Francisco, though it remains to be seen how he’ll cope with a full season of defenses gameplanning for him. Still, the former Patriot was efficient and successful, and it’s no coincidence that the Niners turned their fortunes around after turning the offense over to him. He’s got a big payday now, and the franchise belongs to him, for better or worse.
Seattle Seahawks — Russell Wilson, QB
Even as the rest of the team seemingly fell apart around him, Wilson made the best of things with a running game that didn’t offer much help. He led the league with 34 touchdowns, tied for a career-best. The fact that this was not close to the best Seahawks teams he’s played on makes it even more impressive. The Seahawks can be confident in Wilson to have another quality season, no matter the turmoil in other parts of the organization.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Mike Evans, WR
Evans has become a bona fide No. 1 NFL receiver, even though his numbers dipped a bit last season. He has two 12-touchdown seasons to his name, and he’s never fallen short of the thousand-yard mark. He’ll be in for an interesting year with regular quarterback Jameis Winston set to be suspended for part of it. Whoever’s playing quarterback will at least have Evans to throw to.
Tennessee Titans — Marcus Mariota, QB
It’s getting to be put up or shut up time for Mariota, who remains supremely talented but inconsistent. Even though he led the Titans to a playoff win last season, he threw more interceptions than touchdowns in the regular season. The offense under new coach Mike Vrabel will be tailored to him and his dual-threat ability. If he takes a step forward, the Titans will be very much worth watching.
Washington Redskins — Alex Smith, QB
It’s somewhat remarkable that a quarterback who has won 50 games in his last five years still has to answer questions about whether he’s a capable NFL starter, but Smith’s playoff failings haven’t gone away. Washington has brought him in and given him an extension, happy to take a chance on him. For all the talk, Smith is outstandingly efficient and makes the most of what he has, hitting 4,000 yards for the first time in his career in 2018. It will be interesting to see how he handles the Washington offense.