Notable NFL Players to Keep an Eye on in 2019 OTAs
Every NFL franchise will hold organized team activities in the coming days, with many doing so for the first time this offseason. In many cases, we'll get an initial feel for how certain players look as they come back from injuries, adjust to new systems, acclimate to new coaching staffs or all of the above.
With that in mind, this seems like an appropriate time to take stock of notable NFL players who will find themselves in situations like those as OTAs take place over the next four weeks.
Here are a dozen from nine different teams to monitor.
Philadelphia Eagles QB Carson Wentz
For the second consecutive offseason, Carson Wentz isn't healthy.
The Philadelphia Eagles quarterback missed his team's historic Super Bowl run at the end of the 2017 season as well as most of the ensuing offseason as a result of a torn ACL, and a balky back ended his 2018 campaign prematurely as well.
The Eagles no longer have magical backup Nick Foles, so to get back into the Super Bowl picture, they'll need their 26-year-old franchise quarterback to get through the full 2019 campaign.
When asked at the team's mid-April conditioning workout about his progress in recovery from his stress fracture, Wentz told Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer that "it's still getting there." He also said suiting up for OTAs was "the goal," so if he's not a full go at Philly's first practice Tuesday, mild panic could begin to creep in for Eagles fans.
Carolina Panthers QB Cam Newton
Will we see much of anything from Cam Newton when the Carolina Panthers kick off their OTAs on Tuesday? Considering that the three-time Pro Bowl quarterback is a few months removed from arthroscopic surgery on his throwing shoulder, even a few passes during team drills would be an encouraging sight for the fanbase.
Soon after that procedure, NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported Newton hoped to be cleared to throw at OTAs. There haven't been any negative reports about his recovery, for what it's worth.
But while Newton recently told ESPN.com's David Newton that he's "feeling great now," the 30-year-old has yet to be cleared to throw while rehabbing.
If that doesn't change between now and the end of Carolina's offseason program on June 13, there'll be a lot of tension surrounding Newton's status as training camp approaches in July.
Miami Dolphins QB Josh Rosen and TE Mike Gesicki
Miami Dolphins fans might not have much to be excited about right now, but at least they may have a viable franchise quarterback candidate in new trade acquisition Josh Rosen.
The 2018 No. 10 overall pick lasted only one year in Arizona before the Cardinals gave up on him and used another the No. 1 overall pick on quarterback Kyler Murray. We're now getting our first glimpses of the former UCLA star in a new environment, with a new offense and a new coaching staff.
We'll need to see Rosen under pressure in live action to get a better feel for his progress in his first full NFL offseason, but it wouldn't hurt for him to make a strong first impression on the practice field as Miami's OTAs enter their second phase next week.
And it bears watching whether Rosen established early chemistry with any pass-catchers, particularly tight end Mike Gesicki.
Gesicki was hardly a factor as a rookie in 2018, but the intriguing second-round pick out of Penn State has added some bulk and should have a blank slate with Rosen and new Miami offensive coordinator Chad O'Shea.
Dolphins fans hope to hear "Rosen" and "Gesicki" used in the same sentence often this summer.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB Jameis Winston and RB Ronald Jones
As an offensive mastermind and a "quarterback whisperer," two-time Coach of the Year Bruce Arians got the best out of an aging Carson Palmer, helped groom Andrew Luck and Peyton Manning and oversaw some of the best years of Ben Roethlisberger's career.
Can he fix Jameis Winston? The new Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach appears to believe it's feasible.
In February, Arians said he felt "so much" of Winston's turnover problems were "mechanical," according to Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times.
Perhaps Arians and his coaching staff have already helped Winston turn a corner. And as the Bucs continue OTAs next week, we'll get more of a feel for how the apparently bulked-up fifth-year quarterback looks within a new system and under a new mentor.
While he's at it, Arians might want to work with second-year running back Ronald Jones, who fell on his face as a rookie second-round pick under the former regime in 2018.
Since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, 270 running backs selected in the first or second round have carried the ball at least 20 times as rookies. Jones is the only member of that group to average fewer than 2.0 yards per carry.
The Bucs didn't make any major changes to their running back corps this offseason, so Jones has a chance to bounce back beginning this month with a new staff in place.
San Francisco 49ers RB Jerick McKinnon
Jerick McKinnon, the NFL's seventh-highest-paid running back, has rushed for only seven touchdowns since coming into the league in 2014 and missed the entire 2018 season with a torn ACL. That's why it's no wonder the San Francisco 49ers bought backfield insurance this offseason.
Knowing McKinnon may not become the player they hoped for when they signed him last offseason, the 49ers made free agent Tevin Coleman the NFL's 15th-highest-paid back in terms of average salary.
With Matt Breida and the freshly re-signed Raheem Mostert also on the San Francisco roster, McKinnon needs to make an impression as soon as possible.
In February, 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan said the 27-year-old's recovery was on pace and added he was expected to be the lead guy in the San Francisco backfield, per NFL.com's Kevin Patra. But that came before the Coleman signing, and there hasn't been much chatter about McKinnon's health since.
If McKinnon is on the field when the 49ers kick off their first full batch of OTAs Monday, all eyes will be on his right knee.
Cincinnati Bengals WR John Ross
John Ross might be impossibly fast, but that hasn't done him much good as an NFL wide receiver.
Sure, the 2017 No. 9 overall pick managed to score seven touchdowns in his sophomore season with the Cincinnati Bengals, but he caught only 36.2 percent of the passes thrown his way, which ranked last among 202 qualified NFL pass-catchers.
Ross has only 21 total catches in two injury-impacted seasons, which could explain why his name was tossed around in early-offseason trade rumors (which the organization dismissed as "fake news"). But he appears to be healthy now, and he has a shot at a fresh start in a new offense under incoming head coach Zac Taylor, as he said at the Bengals' voluntary minicamp in April, per Geoff Hobson of the team's official website.
"I think it's a good chance for me. I know it's a good chance for me. I'm going to go out there and continue to be myself. I already know I'm going to love it. I love it now. How exciting it looks, the amount of big plays for everybody. The amount of opportunity everyone is going to get is amazing."
It was still early then, and more has likely been installed since. Now we'll see if Ross and his cohorts are making headway under Taylor.
New England Patriots OT Isaiah Wynn
It's tough to assess offensive linemen in noncontact practices, but Isaiah Wynn still deserves plenty of attention when the New England Patriots hold their first OTA practices this month in Foxborough.
That's because the 2018 first-round pick missed his entire rookie season due to a torn Achilles but is now projected to start on Tom Brady's blind side for the defending Super Bowl champions.
That comes following the departure of Trent Brown, who signed the most lucrative contract for an offensive lineman in NFL history with the Oakland Raiders in March. That put more pressure on a 22-year-old who many figured would be better off as a guard in the pros.
"That's where we have him penciled in to play," legendary Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia said of Wynn's left tackle spot last week, per Henry McKenna of Patriots Wire. "He's in the middle of trying to get his Achilles right, so he'll be out there when he's ready and we'll take it there."
According to Paul Perillo of the team's official website, Wynn hadn't been "cleared for any on-field activities" as of early this week. That might not change in time for the start of New England's OTAs Monday and Tuesday, but his progress will be worth monitoring as the team's mandatory minicamp approaches in the first week of June.
New Orleans Saints DE Marcus Davenport
After the New Orleans Saints traded two first-round picks to land defensive end Marcus Davenport during the 2018 draft, the UTSA product had only 4.5 sacks and 22 tackles in a peripheral role as a rookie.
But injuries were a factor for Davenport, who played only 40.4 percent of the Saints' defensive snaps. He dealt with hip, thumb and toe issues at various points in the season, and after early-offseason surgery, he suggested on Twitter that he played through an injury that should have ended his season prematurely.
Will Davenport be ready to roll when the Saints hold their first OTA session Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday? And if not, how close is he? Those'll be big questions entering the heart of the offseason program for a Saints team that has invested heavily in—and has high expectations for—the 22-year-old pass-rusher.
If Davenport has developed and can get/stay healthy, he could be walking into a major opportunity opposite four-time Pro Bowler Cameron Jordan after veteran 2018 starter Alex Okafor left to sign with the Kansas City Chiefs in free agency.
Arizona Cardinals DT Robert Nkemdiche and LB Haason Reddick
As the Arizona Cardinals kick off their first batch of OTAs Monday, the main focus will be on No. 1 overall pick Kyler Murray, who will be on the field with the entire team for the first time. But we might not see much from Murray as he slowly gets acclimated to new head coach Kliff Kingsbury's offense.
Instead, pay attention to what new defensive coordinator Vance Joseph gets out of a young and talented but ineffective defense.
Under former head coach Steve Wilks and former defensive coordinator Al Holcomb, that unit ranked 26th in terms of points allowed. Part of that had to do with the continued underachievement from recent first-round picks Robert Nkemdiche and Haason Reddick in the front seven.
Nkemdiche has been a huge disappointment, so much so that nobody was surprised when Arizona declined to pick up his fifth-year option this offseason. The 2016 first-rounder is still only 24 years old and made some progress with 4.5 sacks last year after being held sack-less in his first two seasons, but he's also working his way back from a season-ending knee injury.
Meanwhile, Reddick is much further along after an 80-tackle sophomore season in which he recorded four sacks as a regular starter. But the 2017 No. 13 overall pick out of Temple, who is also 24, has yet to stand out as a playmaker.
Cardinals fans hoping for a quick rebuild can only dream of reading positive reports regarding both players as they take the practice field this month under their third defensive coordinator in as many seasons.