Football season is here, folks. After a long wait through the spring and summer months, the 2012 NFL preseason kicked off with the Arizona Cardinals taking on the New Orleans Saints in Canton, Ohio at the annual NFL Hall of Fame Game. 

Preseason games can be a glorified scrimmage at times, but with most of the depth chart seeing live duty on the field, preseason games are a great chance to evaluate the entire roster. What did we learn from the first game?


10. The Saints Offense Looks Different

The New Orleans Saints' first-team offense came out and rolled to an opening-drive touchdown, but they did it on the strength of a strong run game. Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles were featured heavily in the first drive, with Mark Ingram cleaning things up in the red zone with two big runs. The Saints of years past threw the ball to set up the run, but without Sean Payton calling the shots, we may see an offense that relies more on the run with the strength of their talented stable of running backs.

Kyle Rivas/Getty Images

St. Joseph, Missouri—The 2012 Kansas City Chiefs have been picked by many to win the AFC West after missing out on the playoffs following the 2011 season. If what we saw at training camp is any indication, the Chiefs will be contenders for the West and more.


New Faces

After a lackluster campaign in 2011, general manager Scott Pioli got aggressive, and it led to one of the best offseasons of any NFL team. Pioli added free agents Eric Winston (RT), Peyton Hillis (RB), Kevin Boss (TE), Stanford Routt (CB) and drafted defensive tackle Dontari Poe in the first round to anchor the defensive line. No team brought in a crop of free agents with as much proven talent as the Chiefs did, and the on-field performance is noteworthy thus far.

Winston is as solid as they come on the right side—in fact he was our top-ranked right tackle in our B/R NFL 1,000 rankings. Winston is a perfect fit for the zone-blocking scheme being implemented under offensive coordinator Brian Daboll and offensive line coach Jack Bicknell. The scheme not only benefits Winston, but the entire offense looks faster with the linemen moving through the defense as opposed to sitting and waiting. With top-level athletes like Branden Albert (LT) and Rodney Hudson (OC) in place, a transition to an agile blocking system was smart by Pioli and head coach Romeo Crennel.

Having Winston on the edge, where he can seal the strong side in run situations, is key. He's able to get upfield to block for speedy Jamaal Charles—something we saw in camp.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Interior defensive linemen get caught up in the anonymity of the trenches and they don't even have the profile of offensive left tackles protecting their quarterback's blind side. The NFL still recognizes the deep value of an elite defensive tackle, and it has shown in recent drafts that saw Marcell Dareus, Ndamukong Suh, and Gerald McCoy all go in the top three.

Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei could be the next top three overall defensive tackle. Here's why:



Lotulelei is consistently the first defensive (and offensive) lineman up and out of his stance. His snap count anticipation and first-step explosion are exceptional for a defensive tackle. He gets the drop on his opponent and is heady and aggressive enough to often land the first blow and get the offensive lineman staggering backwards. His motor runs hot and he'll get pressure by endurance. Lotulelei is a major disruption in the run game, almost always pushing his opponent into the backfield, if not shedding him and making a tackle for a loss.



Yes, that's Lotulelei covering a running back as a receiver out of the backfield at the bottom the screen. He forced an incompletion on the play. Lotulelei runs and moves amazingly well for a 6'4" 320 lb. man. Think Haloti Ngata.


A lot is going to change between now and next April, but as we head into the 2012 college football season, we can still rank the draft-eligible quarterbacks based on where they stand going into the season.

Any of these quarterbacks could skyrocket into the No. 1 spot with a strong campaign, and many quarterbacks touted as first-round picks going into their last year in college football end up waiting until the later rounds of the draft to hear their name called, if they hear it at all.

Here are the top 10 2013 NFL draft-eligible quarterbacks...until they start playing the games.


If Jaguars fans thought Blaine Gabbert was the worst pick general manager Gene Smith could make, they should survey the damage the fifth pick overall, Justin Blackmon, is already causing before he has even shown up to his first training camp. Consider these developments:

1. Trading up from the seventh pick to the fifth pick cost the Jaguars their fourth-rounder, which then forced Smith's hand in the third. He wanted punter Bryan Anger bad enough to take him in the early third round, which is like going in the first round in punter terms.

2. ESPN Florida beat writer Charlie Bernstein told us Blackmon was not creating great separation in OTAs. While the Jaguars have some quality cornerbacks, this is not what you expect to hear about a player selected in the top five overall.

3. Blackmon dragged the organization's name through the mud with an aggravated DUI arrested, including a literally staggering blood alcohol level of .24. Bernstein told us the word "alcoholic" was being thrown around in connection to Blackmon's name.

Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

Ryan Tannehill started out ahead of Matt Moore and David Garrard this spring because of his familiarity with offensive coordinator Mike Sherman's scheme from their time together at Texas A&M. But his trajectory basically went downhill from there.

At the team's minicamp, Omar Kelly of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported that Tannehill was having trouble adjusting to the speed of the game. And Brian Biggane of the Palm Beach Post reported that he was "not in the running" to start at quarterback heading into training camp.

Just a few days into camp, though, Tannehill has reversed that course. And when I talked to Kelly today, he told me to not rule Tannehill completely out of the starting quarterback battle.

Tannehill got a late start to his first NFL training camp after a very short holdout, but according to the Associated Press (via Yahoo! Sports), he was impressive in his first practice.


Tennessee Titans first-round pick Kendall Wright's patience in negotiations paid off. He signed his first NFL contract on Tuesday with terms that indicate a clear win for the rookie.

Adam Caplan of the Sideline View reports that Wright signed a four-year, $8.218 million deal:

Brian McIntyre of believes the deal is "fairly slotted," including the signing bonus of $4,471,056. What is more than fair to Wright is a guarantee of 92 percent of his fourth year, according to Caplan. This is significantly more than the guarantees given to Chandler Jones, the 21st pick, and Brandon Weeden, the 22nd pick. And it's almost more than 19th overall pick Shea McClellin had guaranteed in his rookie deal.

McIntyre points out that last year's 20th pick, Adrian Clayborn, had his deal fully guaranteed, which was probably a strong point in negotiations for Wright's camp.


LeGarrette Blount was giving nothing to the Buccaneers' first-round pick and fellow running back Doug Martin during the spring, and for good reason. Tampa was still giving Blount most of the first-team reps, sending a clear message to Martin that everything he got would be earned. Less than a week into camp, Martin has earned the starting job and some lofty comparisons.

On Sunday, July 29, Stephen Holder of the Tampa Bay Times reported that Martin was off to a "fast start," taking the "large majority" of first-team snaps and a bigger share of pass-protection reps . Holder also shared that Martin's burst, decisiveness and speed was giving them the ability to put more perimeter runs and tosses to the outside. 

On Monday, July 30, Scott Reynolds of the Pewter Report gushed about Martin, calling him "one of the stars of camp." Reynolds went on to say that the star rookie "has done virtually everything right," and that Blount was now sharing snaps with backups Mossis Madu and Michael Smith instead of Martin, who had been running with the second team more often in the spring.

Today, Rick Stroud of Tampa Bay Times reported that Buccaneers starring guard Davin Joseph said Martin reminds him of Maurice Jones-Drew or Ray Rice. Stroud also reported that head coach Greg Schiano, who had Rice at Rutgers, "sees similarities" between Rice and Martin. Joseph did say that Blount is his favorite back on the Tampa roster, but that is likely because offensive linemen love the downhill power backs.


A hard-charging back out of Mississippi catches on with the New England Patriots despite going undrafted. No, this isn't the story of BenJarvus Green-Ellis in 2008; it's a current picture of the bottom of the Patriots' depth chart at running back after the release of Joseph Addai. 

Brandon Bolden wasn't quite as successful as Green-Ellis in college because he was in a committee backfield for the Rebels. He is built like Green-Ellis at 5'11", 220 lbs, and like Green-Ellis, he has an excellent burst for a compact, bigger back. There are differences between the two. Bolden is a better receiver but is fumble-prone, where Green-Ellis is well-known for never coughing the ball up. 

Still, the comparison is impossible to avoid. Boston Globe beat writer Greg Bedard said Bolden reminds him of Green-Ellis "more and more each day" while praising his body control and vision. Bedard also said Bolden "continued to open eyes with his all-around play," including the biggest run in the July 28 practice. 

Bedard might be the most trusted voice covering the Patriots. If it's not him, then it's Mike Reiss of ESPN Boston. Reiss summed up his takes on the first four days of practice, saying Bolden "has been a surprise and appears to have a real chance to earn a roster spot; he's caught the ball fairly well and at 5-foot-11, 220 pounds has a nice combination of size, speed and power." 

Brian Kersey/Getty Images

The focal point of many NFL training camps will be the first-round picks on each roster, and for good reason. But as is often the case in the league, impact players must come from the remaining six rounds too.

Great general managers are able to identify talented players after the first round who, with a little work, could be impact players in the right scheme and position. The job of a general manager is more than hitting on first-rounders; it's about building a team through all seven rounds of the draft.

With training camps kicking off across the NFL, here is a look at 10 rookies drafted outside of Round 1 who will make some considerable noise this upcoming season.


10. Josh Gordon, WR, Cleveland Browns (Round 2, Supplemental Draft)