Well, y’all, that was the last weekend without football until February. Just FYI. In honor of the fact that pre-season ball kicks-off this week, today’s list is going to focus on the top ten players you ought to have your eye on before September. You’ll remember some of these names from top tens wayyy back in the spring before the draft, but others are veteran players to watch for one reason or another.
1. Sammy Watkins, WR for the Buffalo Bills, has the potential to be absolutely explosive during the 2014 season. After a brief concussion scare last week, Watkins made one of the most incredible catches we’ve seen at any training camp so far. Watkins could be just what the Bills need to make the play-offs for the first time since ’99.
2. Teddy Bridgewater, the former Louisville QB who is currently battling Matt Cassel for the starting job at the Minnesota Vikings, was once considered the top prospect of 2014. Bridgewater ended-up being taken with the final pick of the first round, though (when Cleveland could’ve gotten a wideout…just sayin’.) It’ll be interesting to see if Bridgewater can prove himself worthy of being QB1 in the Twin Cities.
3. You knew the man of the hour was going to be on here. Cleveland Browns’ QB Johnny Manziel is definitely one to watch during the 2014 pre-season. Johnny is Johnny, so reports have been running rampant about his partying, traveling, and general carousing (and the negative impact it’s supposedly having on the rest of the team.) I think the entirety of northeast Ohio thought Manziel would be their starter come Week 1, but Brian Hoyer might actually give him a run for his money.
4. I know I’ve mentioned before that TE Colt Lyerla was one of my personal favorite players in the 2014 draft and I remain excited to see what he’ll do during the pre-season. The Green Bay Packers took a chance on the troubled player, giving Lyerla a shot to prove he deserves to start over both Andrew Quarless and Brandon Bostick. Time will tell.
5. Steve Smith, WR for the Baltimore Ravens (it still feels weird to write that), is one to watch for a few reasons. For one thing, it’s the first time in well over a decade that we’ve seen him out of a Carolina Panthers uniform. For another, Baltimore’s offense tends to rely heavily on the running game. It’ll be interesting to see if Smith gets the number of receptions I’m sure he’s looking for, especially with talented younger receivers, like Jacoby Jones and Torrey Smith, on the roster as well.
6. RB Chris Johnson, formerly of the Tennessee Titans, currently of the New York Jets, is worth keeping an eye on this pre-season. Johnson, who most feel is at the tail end of his career, hasn’t had top numbers recently, but he was also playing for a team that barely had a QB half the time. Let’s bear that in mind. The Jets, at the very least, have a fairly solid starter in Geno Smith, so we’ll see if Johnson can redeem himself for one more run (literally.)
7. Seattle Seahawks’ RB Marshawn Lynch, the linchpin (or perhaps lynchpin is more apropos) of the team’s offense, is currently holding out on attending training camp due to contract issues. Lynch believes he’s outplayed the money he’s due to receive and negotiations are currently at a stalemate, it would appear. In the meantime, the team’s back-up RBs Christine Michael and Robert Turbin are stepping-up to the plate during camp. There’s nothing to do but wait to see how long it takes for Lynch to get back on the gridiron. This situation is definitely one to watch.
8. Hakeem Nicks, WR for the Indianapolis Colts, is either going to be a boom or a bust this season. I really don’t see a grey area with this one. Nicks, who was once one of the league’s premier receivers (remember the helmet catch?), didn’t have a single TD for the New York Giants in 2013. Nicks’ll likely be the No. 3 receiver on the Colts roster, with a chance to prove that he’s still got what it takes to play in the pros.
9. I’m going to be keeping my eye on Carolina Panthers’ WR Kelvin Benjamin this pre-season. With both Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell lost to free agency during the off-season, Benjamin has a huge chance to make his mark on the NFL this year. The former BCS National Champion has the natural athleticism to become a top pro wideout, but we’ll have to see what kind of chemistry he has with Cam Newton during training camp and pre-season games.
10. Rounding-out today’s list is Washington Redskins’ QB Robert Griffin III. RGIII, whose swagger matched his rookie season in 2012, had a somewhat disastrous 2013 due to a cocktail of issues, including injuries and coaching problems. With a new coaching staff in-place (hello, Jay Gruden) in DC, it’ll be intriguing to see if Griffin can up his game and finally become the player everyone was hoping he would be.