With the preseason behind us and NFL kickoff just moments away, there are still tons of questions we have about how things are going to shake down during the regular season. How is the workload of crowded backfields going to be divided? How are free agent players on new teams going to perform? Will the new coaches and coordinators be successful in implementing their new systems?
Narratives have been built and hammered home throughout the entire offseason, and now we finally get to see things play out. We’ll be able to see what was factual and what was a smoke screen of coach speak. Which rookies will live up to their expectations and which will fall short. The excitement begins now, and here’s what i’m going to be watching most closely.
The Chicago Bears new offense
The Bears have a new coach (Matt Nagy), a new number one wide receiver (Allen Robinson), a rookie slot receiver (Anthony Miller), a new number one tight end (Trey Burton), and a quarterback playing in his first season where he will begin as the starter (Mitch Trubisky). The Bears had the third fewest passing plays in the league last year, but that’s because they had zero legitimate weapons and one of the most conservative coaches in John Fox. Bears new coach Matt Nagy ran an up tempo offense last season as the coordinator in Kansas City, and under his play calling, Alex Smith attempted the second most passes of any season in his career. The Bears have all the pieces in place to make a 180 degree turnaround, and they could put on one of the most exciting shows in the league. Additionally, the Bears just traded for Khalil Mack, arguably the best defensive player in the league, so they should be firing on all cylinders.
The new look Cleveland Browns
The Cleveland Browns are another organization that went through major shakeups in the offseason. New quarterbacks (Tyrod Taylor and first overall pick Baker Mayfield), new number one running back (Carlos Hyde), second round pick back up running back (Nick Chubb), and new number one receiver (Jarvis Landry). Of course there’s also Josh Gordon, who’s been on the Browns since 2013, but has only played in 10 games over the last three seasons due to his off the field excursions. There are so many questions regarding how this offense will work. Landry is used to getting 142 targets a year in Miami, but Tyrod Taylor has never thrown more than 436 passes in any season of his career. Can we expect much more than 110 targets for Landry? And then how does the dynamic shift if/when Mayfield takes over? How many targets will Duke Johnson get now that Landry is around? And how will the carries be split between the three running backs? The only thing we know about Cleveland is that there’s more intrigue and excitement surrounding their organization than there has been in a long time.
The age of Saquon Barkley
It’s been 12 years since a running back was drafted as high as second overall, and the last guy to be drafted that high was Reggie Bush. In recent years, running backs drafted in the top five have panned out as planned, like Leonard Fournette in 2017 and Ezekiel Elliott in 2016. Before that, however, the top five saw some busts like Trent Richardson in 2012, Darren Mcfadden in 2008, Bush in 2006, and Ronnie Brown in 2005. A top five selection in no way guarantees success, but the Giants feel pretty confident about Barkley given that they passed on a quarterback in what many considered to be the best quarterback draft in quite some time. The Giants haven’t had a 1,000+ yards rusher since Ahmad Bradshaw hit 1,015 in 2012, so they’ll be able to run their offense through the ground which should take some pressure off of an aging Eli Manning. All eyes will be on the former college super star to see if he can produce at the next level (and some eyes may also be on Odell Beckham Jr.).
Mitch Trubisky, Jimmy Garoppolo, Deshaun Watson, and Patrick Mahomes
Much has been made of these four young quarterbacks, though they’ve only started a combined 26 games in their career. Trubisky will be expected to lead an offense with a whole lot more firepower than it had last year, but in order to do that he’ll need to take a large step forward. Many thing that a big leap is possible under Matt Nagy’s tutelage. Garoppolo was traded from the Patriots in the middle of the season, and then took the one-win team on a five game winning streak to end the season. He’s 7-0 in his career as a starter, how long will that streak last? Watson was the most electrifying player in the league last season once he got the starting nod after week one. He threw 19 touchdowns in his six starts, 15% of his completions were touchdowns. Can he possibly keep up the efficiency? Mahomes only started the last game of last season, but the Chiefs traded away Alex Smith and believe in Mahomes as the future. He’s got ideal weapons in Tyreek Hill, Kareem Hunt, Travis Kelce, and Sammy Watkins, but he’s essentially a rookie. Can he shoulder the workload with an extremely weak defense?