At long last the NFL season is near! We are merely a few weeks away from some of the best drama and excitement that is offered in the world of sports. One big component that makes the NFL so appealing is the number of storylines that come out before and during the season. We spend a lot of time analyzing, perhaps overanalyzing players trying to predict how they’ll play in the upcoming season. There’s always a handful of players who have to bring it upon themselves to shine under vast scrutiny. Here are some of the most intriguing players to watch in 2016.
Josh Norman, Washington Redskins
Cornerback Josh Norman took the NFL by storm last year in Carolina, becoming a total nightmare for wideouts last year, he was a vital part of the best defense in the NFC. With a contract year coming, the Panthers decided to apply the franchise tag on Norman, guaranteeing another season with Carolina. GM Dave Gettleman decided later to drop the tag on Norman, not wanting to pay him a ton of money after only one season of dominance. Norman ended up signing a lucrative contract with the Redskins, which places him in the same division as star wideout Odell Beckham Jr, who he famously feuded with on the field last year. The rivalry between the two has only escalated in the offseason, and now he’ll get to see him twice this year along with Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant. Norman will have to prove he was worth the money, especially in those two games against the Giants. If Odell gets the best of him, he’ll never hear the end of it from pundits and players alike.
Brock Osweiler, Houston Texans
Brock Osweiler was the heir apparent to Peyton Manning until he felt undervalued by John Elway and skipped town to Houston. Again in a contract year, the Broncos decided to use the tag on star linebacker Von Miller instead of securing a future with Osweiler. Osweiler then went on to sign a contract in Houston that Denver wasn’t willing to match. Osweiler is now the face of a different franchise. J.J. Watt can have 26 sacks, but that won’t take Houston to the playoffs. The pressure is turned up a notch when it’s all in your hands, and we’ll have to see if the speculation about Osweiler’s ability was worth $72 Million.
Golden Tate, Detroit Lions
With the great Calvin Johnson retiring, there’s going to be more attention put on Golden Tate, who’s now the number one receiver in Detroit. Tate has had two very successful seasons in Detroit, but the main question posed is if he can match the productivity that a true number one receiver. The Lions love to sling the ball, so he’ll have plenty of opportunities to shine.
Melvin Gordon, San Diego Chargers
2015 first-round draft pick Melvin Gordon struggled to shine in his rookie season, while his rookie contemporaries Todd Gurley and David Johnson absolutely dazzled. If running backs don’t produce early in the NFL, they tend to fade into obscurity. There will be a lot of pressure on Gordon to take the reigns this year, and if he doesn’t put up the production that is expected of a first round pick, he may find himself on the bottom of the depth chart. Perhaps with a year under his belt and a healthy offensive line around him, Gordon can make it happen.
Jared Goff, Los Angeles Rams
The LA Rams have all eyes on them now that they’re back in the biggest market in sports. The stakes go far past location for rookie QB Jared Goff. The Rams mortgaged their short-term future in order to acquire him with the first overall pick in this past year’s draft. Goff has a tall task ahead of him, he has to shine in one of the most competitive divisions in football with two contenders to win the NFC (Seattle and Arizona). If Goff can produce in the offense, the Rams have a chance to be a wildcard team. Todd Gurley and that stellar defense makes things a lot easier for Goff, he just has to play smart. He may have to wait for his chance to his start, as Case Keenum looks to be the week 1 starter. If any of us watched the first episode of Hard Knocks, it seems as if Goff has a lot to learn.
Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
It appears with the (a tad unfair) flack he gets on the field, current NFL MVP Cam Newton has built himself up to be torn down unless he sets the NFL on fire again. The rest of the league knows how good the Panthers are now, and Cam Newton has turned himself into an icon like he wanted, albeit a polarizing one. Cam will get his best wideout Kelvin Benjamin back, which will make the offense far more versatile than last year. With his unique skill set, we’ll wonder if Cam Newton can definitively become the best quarterback in the league, not just for one season.
Jordy Nelson, Green Bay Packers
The combination of Jordy Nelson and Aaron Rodgers was a nightmare for opposing defenses, but will it be the same as it used to be with Nelson getting up in age and coming back from an ACL injury? ACL injuries can ruin a player’s career, but Nelson has proved that he’s one of the best wideouts in the NFL. We’ll have to see how he fares after suffering such a devastating injury. Rodgers certainly will be glad to have him back, seeing as his stats suffered last year, often struggling to find the open receiver.
In case you didn’t know what to look for in the NFL season, you now have a good idea of some players to keep an eye on. These questions will be answered very soon, as football that counts is less than a month away. Rest easy, fans, we’re almost there!