The Most Scrutinized Player in Every NFL Training Camp

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistJuly 28, 2015

The Most Scrutinized Player in Every NFL Training Camp

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    The NFL training-camp season is here, and you can rest assured that the sports world will be watching closely.

    Whether it's a seasoned quarterback such as Jay Cutler who is learning a new offense, a promising young rookie such as running back Melvin Gordon or a guy who is just fighting to make the team, every player is going to be under the spotlight to some degree over the next few weeks.

    Some players, however, are going to be under the microscope more than the rest.

    Over the next 32 pages, we are going to take a look at the one player from each NFL organization who is under more scrutiny than his teammates. These could be players who have previously struggled on or off the field, young players with high expectations, guys with a history of injury or players whose contract situations have recently been grabbing headlines.

    Not every player on this list will be scrutinized for negative reasons. The one thing they all have in common is that there will be no deficiency in the amount of attention they draw during training camp.

    Teams are listed in alphabetical order.

Arizona Cardinals: Andre Ellington

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    Stephen Brashear/Associated Press

    Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer would make this list, but it appears that his recovery from last season's ACL tear is practically complete.

    "I'm still rehabbing just to be on the safe side of things, but I don't need to be at rehab," Palmer recently said, via the team's official website.

    With Palmer looking to be up to speed, the attention is likely to turn to running back Andre Ellington. 

    Ellington failed miserably as the featured back last season, averaging just 3.3 yards per carry. Injuries were a factor, and he was eventually shelved with a hernia. Pro Football Focus ranked him 140th overall among running backs for the season.

    Of course, the running game in Arizona wasn't just hampered by Ellington in 2014. The team as a whole struggled, ranking 31st in rushing yards with 81.8 per game.

    The Cardinals simply have to be better on the ground in 2015, which is why there will be pressure on Ellington to improve. 

    If it doesn't look like he can be a successful every-down back this season, Arizona is likely to turn to Stepfan Taylor, Kerwynn Williams or rookie David Johnson to see if one of them can handle the job.

Atlanta Falcons: Vic Beasley

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    The Atlanta Falcons had the league's worst pass defense in 2014 (279.9 yards per game allowed) and finished the season with a paltry 22 sacks. 

    This is why rookie pass-rusher Vic Beasley is likely to be a major focus in training camp and during the preseason.

    Beasley, who had 12.0 sacks and 21.5 tackles for a loss in 2014, has the potential to spark a major defensive turnaround in Atlanta this season. Of course, a lot will depend on how quickly the Clemson product can pick up the Falcons' defense and adapt to the pro game.

    The Falcons are also going to have to figure out how to use the undersized (6'3", 246 lbs) edge-rusher.

    According to D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Atlanta has been working Beasley primarily at defensive end this offseason, and the rookie isn't likely to be an every-down player right away.

    It's going to be interesting to see how Beasley looks in coordinator Richard Smith's defense during camp, both in terms of his ability and scheme fit.

Baltimore Ravens: Breshad Perriman

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    Baltimore Ravens rookie wide receiver Breshad Perriman is going to own a lot of attention over the next few weeks for two distinct reasons.

    First, he was Baltimore's first-round pick. 

    Second, the unproven Perriman is the only wideout on the roster other than veteran Steve Smith Sr. who looks like he can be a real impact player in 2015.

    The rookie is essentially replacing speedy receiver Torrey Smith in Baltimore's offense. Torrey Smith, along with tight end Owen Daniels, departed Baltimore in free agency. Aside from the two Smiths, Daniels and running back Justin Forsett, no player caught more than 24 passes in 2014.

    Though Perriman is a relatively raw prospect, the Ravens need him to step up into the No. 2 receiver role sooner than later.

    “It’s a goal of mine, but at the same time, it’s not really on my mind," Perriman said on the prospect of starting, per Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun. "I’m just really trying to focus on getting better every day, just going out there, take it day by day and see how it plays out."

    Despite having few true playmaking targets on the roster, the Ravens still finished the 2014 season ranked 13th in passing offense (238.7 yards per game). Perriman is going to have to produce early if Baltimore hopes to maintain similar aerial efficiency in 2015.

Buffalo Bills: EJ Manuel

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    Bill Wippert/Associated Press

    Third-year quarterback EJ Manuel will easily be the most scrutinized player on the Buffalo Bills roster in training camp this year.

    The former first-round pick has been a disappointment to this point in his NFL career. He holds a career passer rating of just 78.5 and was rated 62nd among all quarterbacks last season by Pro Football Focus.

    However, he may be the best option Buffalo has in its looming quarterback competition.

    Former Ravens backup Tyrod Taylor has never started a regular-season game, and journeyman Matt Cassel was so bad earlier this offseason that Mike Rodak of wrote that he may not even survive final preseason roster cuts.

    The Bills are loaded with talent on both sides of the football, and the quarterback position is the only position that seems highly questionable heading into camp. Therefore, the whole competition is likely to remain in the spotlight until it is settled.

    Though many fans may like to see the Bills turn the page on Manuel, the former Florida State star has at least one fan in running back Fred Jackson.

    "I think having to sit back and watch and learn from a veteran last year he [Manuel] knows how to approach the playbook this year," Jackson recently told "He knows what he’s doing. A guy that’s physically gifted and can make all the throws and when he needs to he can pull the ball down and run with it."

Carolina Panthers: Michael Oher

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    Chuck Burton/Associated Press

    After giving quarterback Cam Newton a five-year, $103.8 million contract earlier this offseason, the Carolina Panthers officially have one of those high-dollar quarterbacks whom teams such as the Cleveland Browns and Tennessee Titans have only heard about. 

    The problem is that the Panthers' current plan for protecting Newton appears a little less lustrous.

    Currently penciled in at left tackle is Michael Oher, a guy so bad at actually protecting the blind side that he has blamed a certain Sandra Bullock movie for his perceived struggles.

    "People look at me, and they take things away from me because of a movie," Oher said back in June, per David Newton of "They don't really see the skills and the kind of player I am."

    Unfortunately, Oher has not been the good kind of player recently. Pro Football Focus rated him 133rd among all offensive tackles in 2014 and 105th overall the last time he started as a left tackle in 2012.

    Oher has a long way to go if he is going to redeem himself as a starting lineman in the NFL. He needs to start things off strong in training camp. 

Chicago Bears: Jay Cutler

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    There may not be a more polarizing quarterback in the NFL than Jay Cutler of the Chicago Bears.

    Cutler has a prototypical build and a strong arm. He has put up some big numbers in the past. He also holds a winning record (62-59) as a starter.

    However, Cutler has gone just 10-16 as a starter over the past two seasons and has yet to even begin justifying the monstrous seven-year, $126.7 million contract he signed in 2014. In his first year under the new contract, he committed 24 turnovers and was eventually benched for backup Jimmy Clausen.

    Though Cutler probably doesn't have to worry too much about losing the starting job in camp (Clausen does have ties to new head coach John Fox, however), he could be looking at his last chance to prove he is the long-term answer in Chicago.

    Jeff Dickerson of recently wrote the following:

    Just because Cutler won’t face much internal competition doesn’t mean the Bears are sold on him long-term. Offseason trade talks with Tennessee went nowhere due to Cutler’s contract, but the guaranteed money runs out after next season. With Cutler owed a base salary of $16 million in 2016 ($10 million is presently guaranteed); the Bears will not hesitate to move on from Cutler if he fails to live up to expectations.

    It will be interesting to see how well Cutler fits in with offensive coordinator Adam Gase's system and if he can drop the Captain Apathy act enough to help the Bears succeed in 2015. We might just learn a lot from his performance in training camp and the preseason.

Cincinnati Bengals: Dre Kirkpatrick

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    AJ Mast/Associated Press

    We could talk about Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton here, but his meltdowns don't typically occur until the postseason.

    Instead, we're going to take a look at fourth-year cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick.

    The Bengals selected him in the first round of the 2012 draft, but he has yet to solidify himself as a starter in the defense. While he has shown some promise, he has logged just five starts, 57 tackles and six interceptions in his three-year career.

    At long last, the Bengals are finally going to get a look at what Kirkpatrick can do as a full-time starter.

    Of course, he will have to beat out the likes of Adam Jones and Darqueze Dennard in camp to get that chance.

    He will also have to show he can take over for longtime veteran Terence Newman, who was rated 56th among cornerbacks by Pro Footballs Focus last season. Otherwise, Cincinnati may regret letting Newman walk in free agency.

    If Kirkpatrick struggles in camp or the preseason, the Bengals may want to start considering a backup plan. If he doesn't, he could be in store for big things.

    "If Kirkpatrick does begin the season in the starting rotation, he has every opportunity in the world to break out," Coley Harvey of recently wrote. "As long as he performs throughout this season the way he did in the spring and late last year, then he could be the Bengals' top breakout player of 2015."

Cleveland Browns: Josh McCown

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    David Richard/Associated Press

    At least some portion of the population is likely to keep its collective eye on Cleveland Browns backup quarterback Johnny Manziel in training camp. However, the player who really deserves to be scrutinized is projected starting signal-caller Josh McCown.

    The 36-year-old journeyman has a 76.1 career passer rating and a 17-32 win-loss record. Yet, Cleveland acquired him during the offseason to stabilize the quarterback position for a Browns team that went 7-9 a year ago.

    There are legitimate reasons for fans and for the Browns organization to remain skeptical of the talent at football's most important position. 

    However, McCown does look like the best option the Browns currently have. Pro Football Focus ranked Manziel just 46th overall among all quarterbacks as a rookie in 2014.

    A lot of eyes are going to be on McCown in camp to see if he is up to the challenge. If he isn't, we could see Manziel taking snaps to start the season.

    "I wouldn't say I'm guaranteeing today that Josh McCown is going to be the starter against the Jets," Browns head coach Mike Pettine recently said, via Pat McManamon of "A lot can happen in preseason."

    Unfortunately for Browns fans, if McCown loses the starting job before the season starts, it will likely be because he struggled and not because Manziel shined.

Dallas Cowboys: Joseph Randle

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    LM Otero/Associated Press

    When you're trying to replace the reigning NFL rushing leader, you're going to be scrutinized.

    This is simply the reality that Dallas Cowboys running back Joseph Randle (and Darren McFadden and Lance Dunbar, for that matter) is going to face over the next few weeks.

    Randle is going to get the first opportunity to fill in for departed running back DeMarco Murray, who rushed for 1,845 yards last year. Randle showed promise last season with a 6.7 yards-per-carry average, but he has logged just two starts in his NFL career.

    If he wants to earn the bulk of the backfield work over McFadden and Dunbar, Randle is going to have to show he can handle a heavy workload in camp and in exhibition games.

    He will also have to prove he can stay out of trouble off the field.

    Randle has been arrested twice since last October. According to Brandon George of the Dallas Morning News, Randle was also accused of domestic violence in January, but a three-month investigation resulted in no formal charges. Though he isn't facing any jail time at this point, another incident could trigger a suspension under the league's personal conduct policy.

    You can bet the Cowboys will be watching closely what Randle does both on and off the football field.

Denver Broncos: Ryan Harris

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    The Denver Broncos are going to be without starting left tackle Ryan Clady in 2015 after the seven-year veteran tore his ACL in May.

    To help replace Clady, the Broncos brought back offensive tackle Ryan Harris, who last appeared with the team during the 2012 preseason.

    Harris was ranked a respectable 38th overall among offensive tackles by Pro Football Focus for the 2014 season. He is also a seasoned seven-year veteran, so there is reason to believe Harris can step in and be serviceable in 2015.

    However, he will likely have to beat out rookie second-round pick Ty Sambrailo in training camp for the starting job. Harris will also have to prove that he can be effective at left tackle. He hasn't started a game there since the 2013 season.

    If both Harris and Sambrailo struggle, the Broncos will have to consider other options, including acquiring outside help. Peyton Manning isn't the most nimble passer in the league, and protecting his blind side is going to be an important job this season.

Detroit Lions: Haloti Ngata

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    The Detroit Lions lost two key pieces of their second-ranked defense (300.9 yards per game allowed in 2014) this offseason when defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley left in free agency.

    This is precisely why a lot of focus is going to be on veteran defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, who was acquired from Baltimore earlier this year.

    The 31-year-old veteran missed four games in 2014, so it isn't exactly fair to compare him to Suh or Fairley. Whether it is fair or not, however, Ngata is largely viewed as the guy who was brought in to replace at least one of the two players.

    The problem is that he primarily played in a 3-4 front in Baltimore and will be asked to fit into a 4-3 base defense with the Lions.

    According to Ken Haddad of WDIV-TV Detroit, Ngata has admitted to having some trouble with the adjustment.

    Ngata played both nose tackle and defensive end on the Ravens line, so he has some versatility. However, it will likely make folks in Detroit a little nervous if he continues struggling with the four-man front during training camp and in the preseason.

Green Bay Packers: Casey Hayward

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    The Green Bay Packers decided to part ways with longtime cornerback Tramon Williams this offseason, leaving a void that fourth-year pro Casey Hayward will look to fill in 2015.

    Things aren't going to be easy. Williams, who started all 16 games last season, was ranked 34th overall among cornerbacks by Pro Football Focus. In comparison, Hayward has made just nine starts in his pro career.

    Rob Demovsky of recently wrote the following about Hayward's outlook:

    First things first, Hayward must stay healthy. That's been an off-and-on problem for him over his first three NFL seasons. He missed all of the offseason practices because of a foot injury he suffered this spring. His injury history isn't great. He missed all but three games of the 2013 season because of a recurring hamstring injury. Also, Hayward has to show he can be a full-time starter after spending most of his first three years as a situational player.

    If he doesn't appear healthy in camp, cannot stay healthy or struggles with a prominent role, the Packers may be forced to turn to a rookie like Damarious Randall or Quinten Rollins.

    Throwing a rookie cornerback to the proverbial wolves doesn't typically yield desirable results. Therefore, the Packers had better hope that Hayward can solidify his position before the end of camp.

Houston Texans: Brian Hoyer

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    Bob Levey/Associated Press

    Brian Hoyer isn't going to be the only player involved in the upcoming Houston Texans' quarterback competition. However, he is likely to be the most heavily watched because he was the guy head coach Bill O'Brien brought in during the offseason to strengthen the position.

    Ryan Mallett and Tom Savage were both with the team last year.

    The problem is that Hoyer doesn't look like a promising answer at the position. He did go 7-6 as a starter with the Browns last season, but he was also rated a lowly 70th overall among quarterbacks by Pro Football Focus.

    According to ESPN Insider Mike Sando, league evaluators ranked Hoyer 30th among projected 2015 starters.

    Still, if he can provide even a minimal upgrade at the quarterback position, it could turn Houston into a playoff contender. The team went 9-7 a year ago.

    At least fans can join in on the scrutiny on this summer's edition of HBO's Hard Knocks.

Indianapolis Colts: Frank Gore

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Few free-agent signings were quite as interesting this offseason as the one that paired veteran running back Frank Gore with the Indianapolis Colts.

    By adding the 10-year San Francisco 49ers veteran, the Colts landed the bruising workhorse back who fits perfectly into coordinator Pep Hamilton's offense. Gore should be highly effective in the power-running scheme and complement quarterback Andrew Luck and the Colts' explosive passing attack.

    "If you want to try and stop him and slow him down," head coach Chuck Pagano said of Gore back in June, according to, "I'd recommend you being in an eight-man spacing."

    According to Scott Kacsmar of Football Outsiders, no running back saw more eight-man fronts in 2014 than Gore. Thanks to Luck and the league's top-rated passing attack from a year ago (305.9 yards per game on average), he is not likely to see many eight-man boxes in 2015.

    Exactly how well Gore can serve the Indianapolis offense at 32 years of age is something that fans and teammates alike will be excited to see.

    "I think we’re real anxious to see him with pads on. Once he makes that cut, it’s downhill," left tackle Anthony Castonzo said earlier this offseason, via "He plays behind his pads, even though we had no pads on. He’s running behind his shoulders. When he finds the hole, he hits it, and he finds some holes in there that you didn’t even know existed."

Jacksonville Jaguars: Blake Bortles

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles was bad as a rookie in 2014. We're talking Birdemic bad.

    He completed just 58.6 percent of his passes, had 18 turnovers to go with 11 touchdowns and posted a passer rating of just 69.5. Pro Football Focus ranked him deal-last at the position for the season.

    The good news is that Bortles did flash some real potential and is likely to improve in year two. The bad news is that he is learning a new offense, as Greg Olson replaced Jedd Fisch during the offseason.

    "To come out of camp with a clear ownership of the offense," Bortles said when asked about his camp goals, per Ryan O'Halloran of "I got a brief overview of it going through the spring and had an opportunity this month to stay on top of it by continuing to review things.”

    Bortles isn't likely to lose his job in training camp because the other veteran options are Chad Henne and Jeff Tuel. If he looks as erratic and uncertain as he did for most of last season, however, he could be putting himself or head coach Gus Bradley on a short leash in 2015.

Kansas City Chiefs: Chris Conley

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Chris Conley wasn't selected until the third round of this year's draft. However, he is still going to draw a lot of attention because he is the only notable addition to the receiving corps outside of big-money addition Jeremy Maclin.

    This is important because the wide receiver group was a bit of a mess in 2014 (you know, the unit had zero touchdowns and all). Yet, the team was still rated 16th overall in passing offense by Pro Football Focus. If the wide receiver group can significantly improve, this Kansas City passing offense could actually be dangerous. 

    This is why everyone is going to want to see just what Conley can bring to the table. He is a tad raw but has good size (6'2", 213 lbs) and tremendous straight-line speed (ran a 4.35-second 40-yard dash at the combine). 

    He's also an impressive fan-film director.

    If Conley can find a regular role in the passing attack, he has the quickness to take the top off the defense and open things up for Jamaal Charles and the running game. This is why the rookie out of Georgia will likely be scrutinized at camp. 

Miami Dolphins: Ryan Tannehill

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    Alan Diaz/Associated Press

    Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill has shown some promise (passer rating of 84.0) during his three-year NFL career, but he also holds a subpar win-loss record of just 23-25.

    Still, the Dolphins decided it was time to give him a hefty four-year, $77 million contract extension this offseason. His contract is why the quarterback is likely to be under the microscope in training camp and the preseason.

    Tannehill is looking at $21.5 million in fully guaranteed money. However, Miami can still cut ties with him following the 2016 season and avoid another $23 million in guarantees.

    This essentially means that the former Texas A&M star has two years to prove he can be more than an average quarterback and cash in on the extension. 

    The Dolphins made a serious effort to collect offensive talent for Tannehill to work with this offseason. New additions include veteran receivers Greg Jennings and Kenny Stills, tight end Jordan Cameron, rookie receiver DeVante Parker and rookie running back Jay Ajayi.

    Tannehill was ranked 11th overall among quarterbacks by Pro Football Focus last season, and there is no excuse for him to be less effective in 2015. If he falters, the Dolphins may find it difficult to emerge from the 8-8 funk they have been in the past two seasons.

    The fourth-year quarterback will face some pressure this season, and it is likely to start at training camp.

Minnesota Vikings: Adrian Peterson

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    Normally, the Minnesota Vikings head into training camp with exactly zero questions about their starting running back. However, we have seen star runner Adrian Peterson in only one game over the past year and have never seen him on the field with starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.

    These are two reasons why Peterson is going to demand attention throughout training camp. Fans and team members are also going to wonder how quickly the 30-year-old can get back into game shape after logging just 21 carries in 2014.

    We're talking football shape here. Peterson is obviously fit.

    According to Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer, Peterson can expect a heavy workload in 2015.

    "As much as he can take, and as much as he can handle in all the things that we're doing," Zimmer recently told Tom Pelissero of USA Today regarding Peterson's workload. "Obviously, we're going to have to spell him at times like you do a lot of guys. But we get down on the goal line, and we're probably not pulling him out, you know? He's our best player, and we're going to continue to use him."

    Peterson is also going to have to show that age won't prevent him from justifying that new three-year, $42 million contract he received this offseason. 

    He traditionally doesn't touch the football in the preseason, so his performance in camp is going to be important.

New England Patriots: Jimmy Garoppolo

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    Stephan Savoia/Associated Press

    On Monday, it was announced that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell decided to uphold the four-game suspension of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady for his alleged role in the deflated football scandal. According to Michael David Smith of, Brady's decision to destroy his cell phone played a part in the ruling.

    Brady appealed the suspension in front of Goodell more than a month ago.

    According to ESPN's Jim Trotter, the next step is for Brady and the NFLPA to appeal the case in federal court. This, of course, means that the deflated-football drama is still quite far from over. 

    The four-time Super Bowl champion is going to remain in the spotlight while this mess continues to unfold, but the guy who could temporarily replace Brady, backup Jimmy Garoppolo, will likely be scrutinized even more.

    Garoppolo has never made an NFL start, but he could start the first four games of the 2015 season if Brady's suspension stands. Those games will come against the Bills, Cowboys, Jaguars and the Pittsburgh Steelers. At least three of those teams should be playoff contenders in 2015.

    If Brady can't play, the Patriots will need to know Garoppolo is ready to play at a high level. Otherwise, the first month of the team's Super Bowl defense could prove most difficult.

New Orleans Saints: Nick Toon

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    Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    Earlier in the offseason, the New Orleans Saints traded away both tight end Jimmy Graham and wide receiver Kenny Stills. They were the top two receivers (148 combined receptions) on the New Orleans offense a season ago.

    This is why the Saints are going to need third-year receiver Nick Toon to improve before the start of the regular season.

    Toon, a fourth-round pick in the 2012 draft, has just 21 career receptions as a pro. However, he is likely to be the Saints' No. 3 pass-catcher this coming season behind wideouts Marques Colston and Brandin Cooks.

    He got an opportunity to be the third receiver last year when Cooks missed time because of injury.

    "I felt like he made the most of it, we saw glimpses,” quarterback Drew Brees said of Toon, per Joel A Erickson of the New Orleans Advocate. “We’ve had the ability to maneuver him around and give him more opportunities that way, and he’s been able to handle it very well. So I’m excited for Nick Toon. He’s got a great opportunity. I think there’s a great fit for him.”

    The Saints do not have a ton of depth at receiver and are definitely going to miss the receiving threat of Graham at tight end. Therefore, Toon is likely to see a much more permanent role than he did in 2014.

    New Orleans will need him to pick up a large chunk of the receiving slack left behind by Graham and Stills, which is why he is going to endure some legitimate scrutiny during camp and in the preseason.

New York Giants: Ereck Flowers

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    Thanks to the pectoral tear suffered by starting left tackle Will Beatty, the New York Giants could be relying on rookie Ereck Flowers from the beginning of the 2015 season.

    Flowers, who was selected with the ninth overall pick in this year's draft, is likely to get the first crack at protecting quarterback Eli Manning's blind side in training camp. 

    There will be a lot of eyes on the rookie during camp. If it appears that he isn't ready for left tackle, the Giants are going to have to find someone else who can fill the role. Options include free-agent addition Marshall Newhouse and veteran Justin Pugh, who started 14 games at right tackle in 2014.

    If Flowers does struggle, it won't necessarily mean he is out of a starting job. Moving a guy like Newhouse or Pugh would likely require planting Flowers at guard or right tackle. The bottom line, though, is that the Giants are only going to have a few weeks before the regular season to settle on a starting lineup along the offensive line.

    "If there's one area that would cause some concern, it would be the offensive line," former Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride said on NFL Network's Total Access. "The tragedy of that is they have made some strides over the last couple of years to address that issue."

    Since Flowers is the rookie of the group, much of the decision-making concerning the offensive line will likely be based on how he performs in camp.

New York Jets: Geno Smith

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    The quarterback situation of the New York Jets isn't 100 percent settled, but it appears that former second-round pick Geno Smith will again be the starter—unless, of course, he falls on his face in training camp.

    If Smith does, the job could easily go to backup Ryan Fitzpatrick or rookie Bryce Petty.

    "I view it as open competition. With Smith being the starter, it's his to lose and it's Ryan's to take, it's Bryce's to take," head coach Todd Bowles said, via Kevin Patra of

    It makes sense to stick with Smith for continuity's sake, but the quarterback decision is going to be heavily scrutinized between now and early September. Smith has a career passer rating of just 71.5 and was rated 71st among quarterbacks by Pro Football Focus for the 2014 season.

    He is going to have to prove he is the right man to lead this latest edition of the Jets.

    The Jets are expected to be a much-improved team in 2015. According to Bob Glauber of Newsday, some analysts even expect New York to be a playoff team. Making the right call at quarterback is going to be crucial.

Oakland Raiders: Trent Richardson

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    Eric Risberg/Associated Press

    A lot of people are going to wonder if Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr can take a step forward this season or if rookie receiver Amari Cooper is as good as advertised.

    However, we're going with running back Trent Richardson as the most-scrutinized Raider because if he flames out in Oakland, it could mean the end of his NFL career.

    A former third-overall draft pick, Richardson actually began his pro career with a lot of promise. He racked up 1,317 combined rushing and receiving yards and scored 12 total touchdowns as a rookie. He was even voted by his peers as the 71st-best player in the league that season.

    However, he was nowhere near as effective in his second season and was shipped to Indianapolis for a first-round draft pick. After averaging just 2.9 yards per carry for the Colts in 2013 and 3.3 yards per carry last season, he was released and will now be competing with Latavius Murray and Roy Helu for playing time in Oakland's backfield.

    The Raiders need Richardson to perform well because Murray is unproven (just 82 pro carries) and the team was worst in the NFL at running the ball (77.5 rushing yards per game) a season ago.

    There is some reason to believe Richardson can regain his rookie form. According to the Raiders' official website, offensive line coach Mike Tice recently spoke to SiriusXM NFL Radio about how Richardson has gotten slimmer and quicker this offseason.

    If Richardson stands out in a positive way during camp, he should get an opportunity to revive his career with the Raiders. If he not, he may find himself in the unemployment line before the 2015 season even begins.

Philadelphia Eagles: Sam Bradford

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    Matt Rourke/Associated Press

    Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly traded away Nick Foles and a pair of desirable draft picks (a second-and a fourth-rounder) in order to acquire quarterback Sam Bradford from the St. Louis Rams earlier this offseason.

    Now the heat will be on Bradford to prove he can produce in Kelly's offense immediately.

    Bradford has shown some promise during his five-year NFL career, but he has never taken the next step toward being a top-tier signal-caller. His career passer rating is just 79.3, and his record as a starter is just 18-30-1.

    He has to be better if he is really going to be the Eagles' long-term solution at quarterback.

    After missing 29 games due to injury and finishing each of the past two seasons on injured reserve with an ACL tear, he will also have to prove he is healthy and can stay that way.

    According to Tim McManus of, the Eagles believe there is only a "10-to-12 percent chance" that Bradford will suffer a third ACL tear. However, he is the one who will have to prove that 10 or 12 percent chance won't cost him another season and that he was worth the high cost of acquiring him.

    Until he does both, Bradford is going to remain the most scrutinized player on the roster.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Jarvis Jones

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    There isn't a more scrutinized player on the Pittsburgh Steelers roster than former first-round draft pick Jarvis Jones.

    The Steelers selected him with the 17th overall pick in the 2013 draft, hoping that he would be the next great pass-rusher to don the black-and-gold uniform. Unfortunately, Jones was a disappointment as a rookie (30 tackles and 1.0 sack) and missed nine games because of injury in 2014.

    As a pro, he has averaged just one sack every seven games.

    Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette recently wrote explained the pressure facing Jones:

    The spotlight shines brightly on first-round picks, and the Steelers have not had any flops in that round in this century. But as Jones enters his third season and [linebacker Ryan] Shazier his second, they have yet to back up their college resumes through no fault of their own. Jones was thrown into a starting job too early as a rookie.

    The time is now for Jones to prove that he can be a star pass-rusher for the Steelers. Pittsburgh drafted former Kentucky pass-rusher Bud Dupree in the first round of this year's draft as his competition.

    If Jones doesn't step up and claim a significant role before the start of the 2015 season, he may not get another opportunity.

San Diego Chargers: Melvin Gordon

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    The San Diego Chargers were one of the better AFC teams in 2014 (9-7 during the regular season), but their offense was wildly unbalanced.

    They were ranked sixth overall in passing offense by Pro Football Focus last season but just 28th overall in rushing offense. The offensive imbalance should be coming to an end, however, now that the Chargers have enlisted the help of first-round draft pick Melvin Gordon.

    He rushed for an astonishing 2,587 yards last season at Wisconsin. He also averaged 7.5 yards per carry and scored a total of 32 touchdowns. If he can quickly pick up the nuances of the pro game, he is likely to be one of the more dangerous rookie weapons we see this season.

    "Gordon is certainly in a plug-and-play position when it comes to rookies," Jeff Legwold of recently wrote. "He also has a quality combination of big-play potential coupled with good vision in tight spaces. That projects to early production."

    Gordon is going to draw plenty of attention in training camp because the Chargers haven't had a true workhorse running back since the days of LaDainian Tomlinson.

    Fans and teammates alike are going to want to see if Gordon is more like Tomlinson and (hopefully) less like the last back the team drafted in Round 1, Ryan Mathews.

San Francisco 49ers: Carlos Hyde

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    Veteran running back Frank Gore is no longer a member of the San Francisco 49ers, and the team appears likely to turn to second-year back Carlos Hyde as his primary replacement.

    After racking up 11,073 rushing yards and 80 touchdowns over 10 years, Gore is leaving Hyde with some lofty expectations. Expectations, of course, often lead to scrutiny. 

    Hyde did flash some potential as a rookie in 2014, rushing for 333 yards and four touchdowns on 83 carries. He also has his fair share of supporters such as Bleacher Report's Matt Miller.

    "I think Carlos Hyde is the future," Miller said after the 2014 draft. "He's a great receiver out of the backfield. Good second-gear burst. He wants to be a power back. If you had to pick one running back in this class and say, 'He's going to be the next Frank Gore,' it would have been Carlos Hyde."

    However, Hyde is relatively untested as a pro and has a long way to go before getting to Gore's level of accomplishment. If Hyde cannot get the job done as an every-down back, the 49ers are going to give work to guys such as Reggie Bush and Kendall Hunter.

    You can bet that a lot of people are going to be watching over the next several weeks to see if Hyde is up to the challenge of replacing a modern 49ers legend.

Seattle Seahawks: Russell Wilson

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    Paul A. Hebert/Associated Press

    According to ESPN's John Clayton and Jim Trotter, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson has made it clear that he is going to shut down contract talks if he doesn't receive a new deal by the start of training camp.

    Wilson is entering the final year of his rookie deal and has hinted that he would like to make something in the range of $25 million per year.

    Who wouldn't, right?

    If a deal doesn't get done by camp, Wilson is likely to face scrutiny for going against his team-first image and allowing the dreaded contract cloud to hang over his 2015 season.

    Larry Stone of the Seattle Times recently wrote the following:

    I’ve even begun to hear some comparisons with Alex Rodriguez, which in these parts is the unkindest cut of all. A-Rod also started out with a too-good-to-be-true reputation in his very early Mariners days, only to slowly be revealed as a fraud in almost every way—most dramatically, in the estimation of Seattle fans, when he took the Rangers’ money and ran. As these Wilson negotiations drag out, some people seem to be wondering if Wilson is not just a slick, well-packaged mercenary in his own right.

    Of course, if Wilson gets the kind of money he desires, people are going to want to know if he can continue playing at a level that justifies his being one of the highest-paid players in the NFL.

    Either way, Wilson is going to draw his share of attention in training camp and likely into the regular season.

St. Louis Rams: Nick Foles

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    Earlier this offseason, the St. Louis Rams traded away quarterback Sam Bradford and replaced him with Nick Foles.

    Foles, undoubtedly, will be under the biggest microscope in Rams camp.

    He has shown in the past that he can be an effective starting quarterback. He has a career passer rating of 94.2, has thrown 46 touchdowns and just 17 interceptions and holds a 15-10 record as a starter in his career. 

    On paper, Foles appears to be a major upgrade over the injury-prone and inconsistent (career passer rating of just 79.3) Bradford. If he performs well in 2015, Foles could even wind up as the Rams' new franchise quarterback.

    According to Nick Wagoner of, the Rams would like to give Foles a contract extension "sooner than later."

    Foles, however, has yet to take a meaningful snap with his new team, and there is simply no telling how efficiently he can operate in coordinator Frank Cignetti's system. Foles looked good in Philadelphia, sure, but a lot of quarterbacks have looked good in Chip Kelly's offense. 

    All eyes will be on him in training camp and in the preseason to see if he can be equally effective under center for the Rams. 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jameis Winston

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    David Richard/Associated Press

    Quarterback Jameis Winston was the No. 1 overall pick in this year's draft and could potentially be the next franchise quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Naturally, he is going to be a primary focus of Buccaneers camp.

    Of course, he is likely to be under the microscope for quite some time after coming to the NFL with a troubling off-field reputation. From pellet-gun fights to soda and crab-leg thefts and even alleged sexual assault, there have been a number of incidents in the past that should cause the Buccaneers to worry about Winston when he isn't on the field.

    Pat Yasinskas of believes that Winston needs a babysitter:

    All teams have someone on staff with a title like director of player programs. The person in that role is a combination of a social worker and big brother. But that person has 52 other players to deal with. Winston needs individual attention. His time in college showed he wasn’t very mature. The Bucs would be wise to assign one person to keep an eye on Winston.

    Winston is also going to have to show some promise on the field, even if he fails to win the starting job as a rookie.

    "He threw so many bad interceptions in college where everybody is wide open," one unnamed NFL coordinator said of Winston, per ESPN Insider Mike Sando. "That is not scientific. He was just so inconsistent in college, turned it over all the time and was on the best team in college."

    There is going to be a lot to watch with Winston over the next several weeks.

Tennessee Titans: Marcus Mariota

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    David Richard/Associated Press

    Now that Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota has finally signed his rookie contract, it's time for him to get down to the business of winning the starting job.

    As is the case with Winston over in Tampa, Mariota is going to remain in the spotlight because he represents Tennessee's best hope of finally having a true franchise quarterback. Even if he cannot win the starting job as a rookie, fans, teammates and team personnel are going to want to get a look at what he can do on an NFL playing field.

    Of course, the Titans would prefer Mariota does enough to start from day one. If he cannot, the team will likely turn back to Zach Mettenberger or Charlie Whitehurst for another season. Neither player was overly impressive in 2014, and the Titans finished the season with the fourth-worst passing offense, according to Pro Football Focus.

    Mariota is also likely to face scrutiny because plenty of pundits have questioned whether his style will allow for a quick transition into the NFL.

    "I had serious doubts about [Mariota's] ability to transition to the NFL, when they drafted him," Paul Kuharsky of recently wrote. "I can't give OTAs and minicamp too much weight, but he really did nice work."

    Mariota did indeed earn some favorable press with his on-field work earlier this offseason. Now everyone is going to want to see if he can continue making progress in the weeks leading up to the regular season.

Washington Redskins: Robert Griffin III

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    Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press

    We have an easy call here, as Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III is likely to be one of the most scrutinized players in the league this season.

    He had a stellar rookie campaign in 2012 (4,015 total yards, 27 touchdowns) but has taken a Wile E. Coyote plunge off the proverbial cliff since. Injuries have played a part, to be sure, but Griffin has also regressed on the field to the point that some believe he will never again be a productive NFL quarterback.

    "There's no coming back," one unnamed offensive coach recently told ESPN Insider Mike Sando. "He is done. The reason is, the injury slowed his legs, and his ego will not allow him to hit rock bottom and actually grind his way back up the right way."

    Griffin struggled mightily in 2014. He tossed just four touchdowns in nine appearances and was benched by head coach Jay Gruden at one point in favor of backup Colt McCoy.

    Griffin has two years remaining on his current contact, but this could well be his last opportunity to make things work with Gruden. If Washington cannot improve upon last year's 4-12 record, there's a good chance that either the quarterback or the coach will be gone in 2016.

    Everyone will be watching to see if Griffin can take the necessary steps to thrive in Gruden's offense and recapture some of his rookie magic. His performance in training camp could be a strong indication of just how the coming season is going to unfold.


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