Who's Hot, Who's Not at Start of NFL Preseason?

Vincent FrankCorrespondent IAugust 5, 2013

Who's Hot, Who's Not at Start of NFL Preseason?

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    It's hard to get a gauge on where specific players stand during the earliest stages of training camp, but reports from beat writers around the league can help us diagnose who is hot and who is not as it relates to early production. 

    Is the apparent slow-growing relationship between Ryan Tannehill and his new shiny wide receiver Mike Wallace cause for concern? 

    What about the eye-popping reports that continue to pop up in Santa Clara about Anquan Boldin's training camp performance thus far? 

    Well, today's article is going to look at a few players who are hot and a few players who are not after the conclusion of the initial preseason game of the 2013 NFL calendar. 

Hot: Anquan Boldin, Wide Receiver, San Francisco 49ers

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    This shouldn't come as much of a surprise to fans in Arizona or Baltimore, but new San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Anquan Boldin has been sharp early in training camp. 

    According to Matt Maciocco of CSN Bay Area, Boldin has been Colin Kaepernick's favorite target thus far during training camp:

    Boldin is definitely Kaepernick's go-to guy in training camp. His receptions Tuesday included a deep post against cornerback Lowell Rose and safety Eric Reid, as well as a pass that traveled 35 yards in the air over the coverage of safety C.J. Spillman.

    As you can see above, Boldin hasn't exactly been going up against top-tier defenders in practice, but this still has to be good news for the veteran receiver and his new team. 

    If Kaepernick and Boldin can find some sort of fluid relationship during the preseason, it will only help a passing game that is going to be without Michael Crabtree until at least November. 

    The larger issue in San Francisco has to be its wide receiver group behind Boldin. 

    General manager Trent Baalke signed two veterans Austin Collie and Lavelle Hawkins last week, likely because the 49ers weren't too happy with the young receivers they currently have behind Boldin.

    In short, the veteran receiver will have to act the part of a true No. 1 until Crabtree returns from his Achilles injury. 

Not: Mike Wallace, Wide Receiver, Miami Dolphins

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    Mike Wallace sat out Miami's initial preseason game against the Dallas Cowboys. For a receiver looking to learn a new scheme and the tendencies of a new quarterback, this really isn't a good sign. 

    According to Jeff Darlington of NFL Network's Total Access, Wallace and young quarterback Ryan Tannehill haven't found a rhythm thus far during training camp, h/t Rotoworld. 

    On the surface, this isn't a big deal. We are now just one game into Miami's slate of five preseason outings—there is still time for the two to find chemistry. 

    Still, if Wallace is unable to go during practice or in Miami's next exhibition outing, we could see this slow-growing relationship struggle to develop into the season. 

Hot: Golden Tate, Wide Receiver, Seattle Seahawks

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    With Percy Harvin out of commission for the next three to four months after hip surgery, Golden Tate has gained the opportunity to step up in a starting role for the up-and-coming Seattle Seahawks. 

    The former Notre Dame standout did have a solid 2012, racking up nearly 700 yards and seven scores as Russell Wilson's secondary target at wideout.

    According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Tate ranked 14th among all receivers with a 69.2 percent catch rate last season, and it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that Tate is performing well in training camp. 

    According to The Seattle Times, Tate has stood out among Seattle's group of receivers this summer.

    [T]he injury does place more importance on Tate, the explosive receiver entering his fourth season and a contract year. Here’s the good news: Tate has been the most impressive player in training camp so far. He has made his usual big plays, going up and over cornerbacks to haul in passes down the sideline. But Tate has always had that big-play ability in his arsenal.

    The fourth-year receiver could step his game up a great deal this season, which would be great news for Wilson and Co. 

Not: Kevin Kolb, Quarterback, Buffalo Bills

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    Many people blamed a lackluster Arizona Cardinals offensive line over the past two seasons as a primary reason for Kevin Kolb's struggles there. 

    Various reports indicating that the veteran quarterback has struggled a great deal in Bills camp. Jay Skurski of the Buffalo News didn't exactly have the most positive of reports on Kolb during the second day of camp  late last month: 

    Kevin Kolb had a day to forget in his battle with rookie EJ Manuel. Kolb, who again got the first-team nod and more practice reps, looked at times like he was trying to complete passes to the water cooler on the sideline.

    Ouch. 

    Now, according to Sal Capaccio of WGR Sports Radio in Buffalo (via Twitter), Kolb suffered a freak injury in practice on Saturday: 

    Kevin Kolb tripped on way to main field. Trainers looked at left knee. Took off pads and headed into locker room.

    This coupled with what seems to be a solid performance from rookie EJ Manuel could signal an end to the Bills quarterback competition before it even starts. 

Hot: Geno Smith, Quarterback, New York Jets

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    Is Geno Smith now the odds-on favorite to earn the starting quarterback job for the New York Jets? If you have been paying attention to camp thus far, this seems to be the case. 

    Rich Cimini of ESPN New York filed an interesting report on Smith late last week, stating, "Smith has yet to throw an interception in team drills, covering eight practices. That's impressive for any quarterback, let alone a rookie."

    Cimini did indicate that Smith has been taking too many sacks, but that is to be expected from a rookie QB early in training camp. What isn't to be expected is said rookie playing mistake-free ball through the course of eight practices. 

    This is just one of multiple reports indicating that Smith has gained the upper hand against Mark Sanchez in the Jets quarterback competition. 

    The New York Daily News reported over the weekend that Smith's "real competition is himself":

    Smith started and looked sharp on the opening drive before it stalled at the 2-yard line thanks, in part, to a couple of penalties, including one that wiped out a touchdown. Three of Smith’s four series were with the first-team offense. 

    It shouldn't be a surprise that a rookie quarterback flashes inconsistency. The thing that really stands out is that three of Smith's four series were with the starters. The same cannot be said for the incumbent. 

Not: Jermichael Finley, Tight End, Green Bay Packers

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    It appears that the disconnect between quarterback Aaron Rodgers and enigmatic tight end Jermichael Finley that was seen in full force last year has continued into training camp. 

    Considering that Rodgers has a ton of threats in the passing game, Finley has to really shine to receive more targets. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, that hasn't exactly been the case thus far in Packers camp: 

    Catches have been few and far between for Jermichael Finley in camp. He just hasn't seen the ball much. However, Rodgers polished off a four-play, 70-yard drive in two-minute with a TD strike to his tight end.

    Though the one target that Finley did receive resulted in a score, he needs to prove to Rodgers that he can actually hang on to the ball when targeted. 

    If you remember correctly, Finley struggled with drops last season. Pro Football Focus (subscription required) has his total numbers of drops from 2012 at nine. 

    That number surely needs to decrease in order to consistently be at the end of Rodgers' passes. After all, Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Randall Cobb have all been more consistent receiving options in the past. 

     

Hot: Brandon Boykin, Cornerback, Philadelphia Eagles

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    When the Philadelphia Eagles parted ways with both Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Nnamdi Asomugha in the offseason, they needed to have someone step up internally. 

    While they did add a couple key veterans in the form of Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher, Brandon Boykin was going to be looked at as a solid rotational cornerback heading into his second season. 

    The good news here for Philadelphia is that its former fourth-round pick has been impressive in training camp thus far. Stated Reuben Frank of CSN Philly last week:

    The cornerback spot is wide open, and Boykin is having the best camp of all the corners. With Cary Williams still out with a hammy, Boykin worked with the first defense on Wednesday, not in the slot but outside.

    He looked really good.

    As anyone who has ever studied tape fully understands, playing in the slot is a completely different ballgame than playing on the outside. Boykin was mostly a nickel guy last season, which proved to be somewhat of a difficult transition. 

    Veteran Eagles receiver Jason Avant points this out in better terms than I can:

    The first year is going to be real hard when they throw you in nickel...People don’t realize this, but outside is easier than the slot, because when you’re outside, most of the time you have an extra defender -- the sideline -- then you have the safety inside, so there’s actually three people covering out there. 

    Depending on Williams' health, Boykin could end up seeing a lot more action on the outside against Philadelphia's first-team offense. That being said, his performance in its first preseason game this week will go a long way in determining just how much he has improved from his rookie season. 

    I, for one, am intrigued. 

Not: Brian Quick, Wide Receiver, St. Louis Rams

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    In what has to be disappointing news to those of us who are categorized as big-time Brian Quick fans, the second-year receiver has failed to improve a great deal in his second training camp. 

    According to Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Quick is stuck at No. 4 on the Rams depth chart. At least, that's what the beat writer viewed in practice, writing, "Quick looks like the No. 4 but unlike last year in camp, he has gotten plenty of practice reps with the starting offense."

    The interesting thing here is that Quick is actually seeing more reps with the first-team offense. If that's the case, it appears that he's being given ample opportunity to earn an important role in the passing game. 

    It's also an indication that Quick hasn't taken advantage of said opportunities. Quick's struggles as a rookie were mostly due to lackluster route-running skills coming from a small college in Appalachian State, who ran a run-heavy offense. 

    With another full offseason under his belt, Quick really doesn't have that as an excuse anymore. Instead, he needs to start performing like the high second-round pick he was. 

     

Hot: Terrelle Pryor, Quarterback, Oakland Raiders

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    The idea of a three-headed quarterback competition that includes a veteran castoff in the form of Matt Flynn, mid-round rookie in Tyler Wilson, and an extremely raw Terrell Pryor probably should inspire confidence in Oakland. 

    And the competition is producing at least one positive in Raiders camp. According to Scott Bair of CSN Bay Area, Pryor has been impressive:

    The 24-year old has had an impressive start to training camp, showing vast improvements in accuracy and decision-making. While Pryor’s still taking second-team reps behind presumptive starter Matt Flynn, sometimes unsure in his reads and sometimes late delivering the ball, his superiors have been impressed by his progress.

    For his part, Pryor has indicated that he is prepping for specific packages in camp: "It’s the same stuff. It’s just me, that and some pistol stuff. Stuff like that."

    "Pistol stuff" are the operative words there. It seems that Oakland is hell-bent on finding a new wrinkle for what has to be considered one of the most talent-stricken rosters in the entire NFL. At the very least, Pryor's athleticism will help him there. 

    Interestingly enough, it's Pryor's improvements as it relates to mechanics and accuracy that seem to be drawing the most attention in Napa. 

    If he can prove to the Raiders brass that he's capable of leading the team down the field on a consistent basis, Pryor may actually find himself with an opportunity to start once camp breaks late this month. It will be all about how he performs in preseason games and practices from here on out. 

Hot: Tyler Eifert, Tight End, Cincinnati Bengals

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    When the Cincinnati Bengals made tight end Tyler Eifert a surprise first-round pick this past April, many experts were surprised that they added to an already relatively strong position. 

    After all, tight end Jermaine Gresham was just a few years removed from being the team's first-round selection in 2010.

    Cincinnati's reasoning was simple: Add another red-zone target for quarterback Andy Dalton. Thus far in training camp, the Notre Dame product has done the Bengals proud. 

    The Cincinnati Enquirer indicates that Eifert has quickly become Dalton's favorite target in the early going:

    During the first week of camp, the rookie tight end has pulled down 10 or more catches a day from Andy Dalton in 11-on-11 drills while also showing improvement as a run blocker. With A.J. Green out for all but one practice, the first-round draft pick is definitely Dalton's favorite target.

    Entering his third season, it's hard to call Dalton a young quarterback. That being said, quarterbacks who have yet to hit their prime can find a new best friend in the form of a polished tight end. 

    With a 6'6", 251-pound frame, Eifert could at least provide that safety valve down in the red zone. He will likely also help Dalton turn away from targeting Green too much on the outside. 

    If it's all about balance, Cincinnati may have found an entirely new dimension on offense. 

Not: Jonathan Martin, Offensive Tackle, Miami Dolphins

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    This may seem like a broken record, but if Miami's first preseason game is any indication, Jonathan Martin hasn't done a single thing to dispel the notion that he isn't up to handling starting left tackle duties. 

    The second-year offensive lineman struggled in nearly every aspect of the game against Dallas Sunday night. He seemed too distracted with the possibility of the outside pass rush, which caused issues with balance against rushers coming inside.

    Jeff Darlington of NFL.com tweeted the following during the game:

    Major storyline for Miami tonight: Left tackle. Tannehill has it all to be a complete stud this year, but he needs Jonathan Martin's help.

    Our very own Matt Miller chimed in with his take on Martin's performance from a scouting perspective: 

    Better quickness by LT Jon Martin, but he's letting the RDE get a lot of depth before engaging. That won't work long-term.

    Again, most of that has to do with an inability to recognize the pass-rusher from the outside. Martin attempts to hold back in order to protect against that edge rush. 

    As Darlington said, this is bad news for Tannehill, who needs solid protection up front in order to take that next step. 

     

    Vincent Frank is an NFL featured columnist at Bleacher Report.

    Vincent is the head sports editor at eDraft, co-host of Draft Sports Radio (which airs every Monday and Wednesday from 3-6 p.m. ET) and a fantasy writer for Pro Football Focus.