Training camp is finally upon us, and the NFL season is just around the corner. With that being said, every team has to iron out the rough spots on their rosters, even the top contenders. From quarterback competitions to rookies being acclimated, it all happens now. Let’s look at one thing to watch for each NFC team.
Dallas Cowboys – Everyone points to how Ezekiel Elliott will fare in his first season, but I think he will be very good, so let’s go somewhere different: the defense. Three impact players have been suspended for a number of games, most notably stud defensive lineman DeMarcus Lawrence. With Rolando McClain and Randy Gregory also gone, the Cowboys will have to rely on fresh faces to make an impact early. Fourth round pick Charles Tapper and third round pick Maliek Collins will have shots to get first team reps, and they must make an impact up front early in the season.
New York Giants – 200 million dollars, one offseason. The Giants went on a massive spending spree, going out and getting Janoris Jenkins, Olivier Vernon, and Damon Harrison in free agency. They also added corner Eli Apple in the draft. Steve Spagnuolo has the job of putting all this talent together and creating a unit. Can the Giants come together and gel on defense that is massively upgraded? Time will tell.
Washington Redskins – Redskin fans liked that last season. Will this season bring similar results? Under the franchise tag, quarterback Kirk Cousins has a chance to go prove his worth this year. The weapons are there for him (they even grabbed WR Josh Doctson in the first round of the draft), the offensive line is getting more experience, and the defense is improved with the acquisition of Josh Norman. It is on Cousins’ shoulders to make this team win, and getting on the same page with the team is important this camp as the sure fire starter.
Philadelphia Eagles – The Eagles are one of the few teams with quarterbacks to watch going into camp. They drafted Carson Wentz second overall, but they will basically redshirt him this season. They have put a lot of money into the two quarterbacks ahead of him, and Sam Bradford seems to be the favorite to win the starting gig for this season, but you have to think he has a short leash with how last season went. Chase Daniel knows HC Doug Pederson’s offense, so will he eventually start? A successful offense starts there for Philly, and this season might be a tough one for Eagle fans.
Green Bay Packers – There are a few things to look at during camp, but what could be most important is the emergence of a third wide receiver. Nelson and Cobb will be one and two, but who is next? Janis is a fan favorite. Adams had a good rookie season and many still believe in him. Montgomery played well in his limited time last season. Even Abbrederis had good moments. All of these guys will have a chance to go win the job, and the fact that they will push each other should bring out the best in everyone. Whoever wins, it is vital for an offense that struggled at times last year to find that third guy.
Minnesota Vikings – The success of the Vikings will hinge on the development and progress of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. The defense has become elite, and Adrian Peterson is still one of the league’s best even as he enters his 30s. With all those pieces, Bridgewater must start pushing the ball down the field, and take control against better defenses that will lock down Peterson. Adding Laquon Treadwell in the draft was a nice step, but now Bridgewater must take the next step to being a top quarterback.
Chicago Bears – Who will take over after Matt Forte’s departure to the Jets? Many believe the starter for now will be Jeremy Langford, who showed some flashes last season, especially in the passing game. But, with Langford’s size, can he handle a big workload? Chicago doesn’t seem to think so, and the drafting of Jordan Howard proves that. Howard is a bigger guy who could get red zone and early down work. Right now, even with Langford as the starter, it seems a committee is imminent, but the Bears would love for someone to emerge in camp.
Detroit Lions – The Lions are another team looking for a running back. With Megatron retiring in the offseason, it’s a next man up mentality. The offense came alive late in the season, and the team would love nothing more than to pick up where they left off. That momentum would certainly like to include a solid running game. Second year back Ameer Abdullah is the player to watch. He has good speed and is important in the passing game, but I would like to see how he handles an increased workload. Abdullah has the talent, and I would like to see him take advantage of the opportunity.
Carolina Panthers – The big story is Kelvin Benjamin returning, but the biggest issue to watch is how the departure of Josh Norman affects the Panthers. The Panthers made a point to address the cornerback position in the draft, adding James Bradberry (round 2), Daryl Worley (round 3), and Zack Sanchez (round 5). Even with Norman last year, the Panthers defense got lit up against QBs like Drew Brees and Eli Manning. So, with high expectations for this Panthers team, it’ll be up to the corners to improve and grow quickly.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – The biggest thing for the Bucs this season is its young core on offense. Winston proved he can lead a team, and he does care a lot about football. The young offensive line will only get better, Doug Martin is as solid a running back as there is in the league, and Mike Evans continues to rise in the receiver rankings. The step that needs to be taken this year is consistency. I believe that Winston has the talent and intangibles to take the next step.
New Orleans Saints – Drew Brees will have more experienced weapons this season with the Saints adding Coby Fleener. But, the thing to watch at camp is the defense. The Saints have added pieces to make their defense better through the draft. Stephone Anthony was a solid player at linebacker last year, and the addition of James Laurinaitis will help him even more. Rookies Sheldon Rankins and Vonn Bell should make immediate impacts. For a team that has been pitiful on defense the past several years, it seems a young core is here to improve it.
Atlanta Falcons – A couple storylines stand out at Falcons camp, both on the offensive side of the ball. The biggest thing to look at is the Falcons’ offensive line. They signed Alex Mack in the offseason to improve a group that has struggled recently in protecting Matt Ryan. Jake Matthews and Ryan Schraeder continue to improve at the tackle spots. If anyone can whip these young guys into shape, it’s Alex Mack.
Arizona Cardinals – Arizona had many strengths last season, but a consistent pass rush was not one of those things. They often sent defensive backs on blitzes in order to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks. I expect this year to be very different. The trade for Chandler Jones was an immediate upgrade. Then, they took a chance in the first round by selecting Robert Nkemdiche, who I believe, in a good locker room, can thrive as a major disruptor on a defensive line. Those two as a pair should scare the entire NFC this season.
Seattle Seahawks – Seattle won its Super Bowl by having a strong running game with a very good offensive line. Now, over two years removed from that title, the offensive line looks very different. No starter remains. They added two linemen in the draft, and must gel in order for Seattle to return to championship form. Wilson can’t do it all. He needs help from his line, no matter how well he can escape.
Los Angeles Rams – Everyone talks about Jared Goff, and rightfully so. The Rams gave up a bunch for him to be their franchise player. But, I’m looking at who he can throw to in LA. Tavon Austin remains his best target. But who is number two? I think rookie Pharaoh Cooper has a chance to be that guy. He runs good routes and has solid hands. Even with guys there like Brian Quick and Kenny Britt, look for Cooper to stand out.
San Francisco 49ers – The Niners are another team looking for an offensive identity. That identity will revolve around who wins the QB battle. Kaepernick would fit Chip Kelly’s system well, but Gabbert was better last season. It will be interesting to see who wins the battle, because that could determine how the offense sets up.