Who's Hot, Who's Not Heading into NFL Week 1

Andrew GardaFeatured ColumnistSeptember 2, 2013

Who's Hot, Who's Not Heading into NFL Week 1

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    As we finally start talking actual football, not preseason, not practice, but real games, some teams and players have momentum heading into Week 1

    Others...well not so much.

    Who has that momentum, and who doesn't?

    We'll take a stab at figuring that out over the course of this article—some you'll agree with and some you won't.

    Make sure you add your own thoughts down in the comments.

HOT: David Wilson, Running Back, New York Giants

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    Even before Andre Brown was lost for at least part of the season with a broken leg, you had to like what you saw in second-year running back David Wilson.

    Wilson's 24 carries for 179 yards and a touchdown are an impressive total—the sixth most in the preseason according to NFL.com and the highest among running backs who will actually be starters.

    That's good for a 7.5 yards-per-carry average behind a shaky offensive line along with seven receptions for 31 yards.

    Wilson ran hard and most importantly, held onto the ball—a problem which got him into trouble with head coach Tom Coughlin early last year.

    He's got the momentum heading into Week 1 and the Giants will need it, because there are a lot of other question marks on that team.

NOT: The New York Jets Offense

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    We don't know who the quarterback is. The guy who might have been the starter in Week 1, Mark Sanchez, was sent into a meaningless game in the fourth quarter behind a third-string line and injured his shoulder. Their main running back, Chris Ivory, has already been hurt and the team limited what few preseason reps he had because they thought he'd end up hurt again.

    Meanwhile, the Jets receivers aren't exactly exciting right now—though it's almost irrelevant because there is nobody you can trust to pass the ball.

    The Jets defense is actually pretty good and the offensive line has its moments, but it's about to be squandered on a weekly basis by the rest of the mess on the offensive side of the ball.

    Although there was one bright spot coming out of the preseason...

HOT: Ryan Spadola, Wide Receiver, New York Jets

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    It's not just because Ryan Spadola has an inspiring story.

    Spadola has almost been the only bright spot on this offense.

    While they often came against bench players and soon-to-be-released guys, Spadola did an excellent job this preseason with 13 catches for 216 yards and a touchdown.

    It's hard to be too enthusiastic for a receiver in this offense because the quarterback is an unknown factor—although even if we knew, would we be less worried?

    Still, Spadola is red-hot coming out of the preseason, and it should be fun to watch him going forward.


NOT: Mikel Leshoure, Running Back, Detroit Lions

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    Training camp and preseason were not awesome to Mikel Leshoure.

    With Reggie Bush coming to town, a lot of people expected Leshoure to take over as the heavy-lifting No. 2 back.

    Instead, two things happened.

    First, Joique Bell had a heck of a preseason with 15 carries for 103 yards as well as seven catches for another 91.

    Bell just looked like a multidimensional threat who could run the ball, catch it and also protect Matt Stafford.

    Leshoure's 20 carries for 83 yards were good, but not that good, and while he had a serviceable receiving three catches for 15 yards, he won't scare anyone like Bell will.

    The second issue was how Leshoure runs.

    As Tim Twentyman of DetroitLions.com puts it, he's just not the same player he was pre-injury. The Lions seemed willing to wait a while, but after last season they took steps to protect themselves by grabbing Bush in free agency and giving Bell a chance to shine.

    They've had plenty of misses on running backs they drafted—Leshoure may end up being another.

HOT: Peyton Manning, Quarterback, Denver Broncos

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    Peyton Manning surprised a lot of us last year (many of which did not live in Colorado, let's be honest).

    After that we figured we had the line on him, but he's actually managed to surprise us again.

    Manning had an outstanding preseason, throwing 38 completions on 54 passes (a 70.4 percent completion rate), two touchdowns and an interception.

    The interception was not awesome, clearly, but other than that blemish he looked as if he hasn't lost any chemistry with Eric Decker or Demaryius Thomas and has already created some with Wes Welker.

    On top of all that, Manning threw four passes longer than 20 yards, so we can stop talking about his arm strength as well.

    He did this behind an offensive line which had some bad luck this offseason and is a bit more patchwork than the team had hoped for.

    The Broncos are one of the favorites for the AFC title and a Super Bowl appearance. This is despite losing Elvis Dumervil to an errant fax and Von Miller to a six-game suspension.

    That's because of faith in Manning. He rewarded that faith with an excellent preseason. Now he needs to keep going in the regular season.

NOT: Greg Jennings, Wide Receiver, Minnesota Vikings

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    The Minnesota Vikings did not sign Greg Jennings to a five-year, $45 million contract so that he could sit and watch other receivers catch balls.

    That's what he did this preseason though.

    While it's hard to get a real feel for a player when he only ends up with a trio of catches for 29 yards, the fact that the few quarterback Christian Ponder threw his way were not long ones is a concern.

    The question, since the moment they signed Jennings, was can Ponder take advantage of a vertical threat.

    I've felt for a while that Ponder's lack of long passes is more of a mental than schematic or physical thing. He feels pressure (real or imagined) and tends to dump the ball off.

    I watched every pass Ponder threw last year and 75 percent of his passes were shorter than 10 yards. Now, perhaps some of that was due to a lack of a vertical threat, but watching the games again you get the impression that he was always checking down.

    So not only did Jennings not get much in the way of quality time with his new quarterback, but he gets a guy who may be ill-suited to take advantage of Jennings' particular skill set.

HOT: Chris Johnson, Running Back, Tennessee Titans

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    The last few years, Chris Johnson seemed to be running in mud. Yes, the offensive line had issues, but Johnson himself just never looked right.

    Not so much coming into this season.

    The line got a heck of a lot better by drafting right guard Chance Warmack and signing left guard Andy Levitre away from the Buffalo Bills.

    Meanwhile, Johnson appears to have a fire lit under him as he carried the ball 20 times for 155 yards. That's a staggering 7.5 yards-per-carry average.

    On top of that, he broke off a 58-yard touchdown run against the Washington Redskins which was "old school" Chris Johnson.

    On the play he took the ball and, seeing the running lanes clogged, cut back to the left side, made a defender miss, threw a hip wiggle at a second defender and then turned on the afterburners.

    It feels like it's been a long time since we saw Johnson break off a run like that.

    The Titans have some question marks offensively—it looks like Johnson is no longer one of them.

NOT: Ronnie Hillman, Running Back, Denver Broncos

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    Ronnie Hillman actually had a good preseason if you discount the three fumbles.

    He didn't see much use in the first preseason game against the San Francisco 49ers and then coughed up the ball twice against the Seattle Seahawks (where he also struggled overall, garnering just 34 yards on 13 carries).

    Hillman was on his way to a very solid day when he coughed up the ball against the St. Louis Rams—but that was about as much as head coach John Fox could take.

    Hillman was benched in that game, and while he ran the ball well on two carries against the Arizona Cardinals, it was clear he was in the dog house.

    There's a good chance Hillman just punted his chance for significant time and unless there are injuries ahead of him, it might be the last chance he sees.

HOT: Kenbrell Thompkins, Wide Receiver, New England Patriots

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    On the one hand, the expectation being set that Kenbrell Thompkins will step on the field for an actual NFL game and instantly be great and frequently targeted is misplaced.

    The Patriots don't normally lean on young wide receiver prospects, nor does Tom Brady. In fact, even Rob Gronkowski wasn't an instant success his rookie season.

    The other half of the debate is talent though, and we saw that Thompkins is absolutely got bucketfuls of that.

    You don't get 166 yards on 15 catches by accident, and it was clear that Brady looked for him in games.

    Will he continue that success in the regular season? Perhaps one day, though I expect some struggles this year.

    But he had an incredibly good preseason and is very hot coming into Week 1.

NOT: Matt Flynn, Quarterback, Oakland Raiders

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    The Oakland Raiders haven't even named a starting quarterback, but Matt Flynn has already lost.



    UPDATE: Tuesday Sept. 3 at 10 a.m. ET by Paul Mueller

    The Raiders have reportedly named their starting QB, according to Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle, and it will be Terrelle Pryor. This marks the second straight year Flynn was brought in to compete for a starting job only to lose the job in the preseason.

    You can't get less hot than that.

    -- End of Update --


    He might win the competition, but it won't be for anything he's done—it would be a result of Terrelle Pryor looking awful in two preseason games in a row.

    Flynn was out last week with a sore arm, via the San Francisco Chronicle's Vic Tafur, and if that sounds familiar, that's because it happened last year too, via ESPN's Liz Matthews, when he was losing the job to Russell Wilson.

    Tafur even said he believes Flynn's confidence is completely shot as well.

    Pryor may get the start or Flynn might, but either way this has not been a good preseason for Flynn. In the end, he's ice cold going into Week 1.

    Whether he's starting or not.


    Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at Footballguys.com and the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.