The Most Scrutinized Player in Every 2019 NFL Training Camp
NFL training camp season is finally here, which means real, meaningful football action is unfolding. Over the next few weeks, teams will lay the foundation for the coming season, which kicks off in just over a month.
For many veterans, training camp will be business as usual. Guys like Tom Brady, Julio Jones and Aaron Donald don't need training camp for much other than to finish getting into game shape—and Donald has proved in the past he doesn't even need that. They'll largely fly under the radar over the next month.
For other players, however, training camp is a critical period during which there is a lot to prove.
Players coming off injuries, guys attempting to rebound from down years, incoming rookies and pricey offseason acquisitions must prove their worth and earn positions on the 53-man roster. That means they'll be firmly under the microscope over the next few weeks.
Here's a look at the players on each team who will be most heavily scrutinized during training camp and the preseason.
Which teams could sign Mike Daniels? What would Mike Vrabel do to win the Super Bowl and how would he di in a coaches Royal Rumble? Plus Kyle Fuller opens up about how it feels to play defense for the Chicago Bears under the shadow of the 85' team. All that and more on the latest edition of The Lefkoe Show.
Arizona Cardinals: QB Kyler Murray
When it comes to rookies, there probably isn't one who will be more heavily scrutinized than Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray. Equally gifted as a runner and passer, Murray is a unique player who has the potential to take the NFL by storm.
The question is whether the Cardinals and new head coach Kliff Kingsbury can figure out how to best utilize Murray's skill set before Week 1. In a way, this places the organization and its head coach under the microscope just as much as it does Murray.
All eyes will be on the reigning Heisman winner throughout the preseason, and not just those of Arizona fans and decision-makers. If the Cardinals can forge a wacky, wonderful marriage between Murray and Kingsbury's wide-open offense sooner rather than later, it could change the way teams evaluate the quarterback position moving forward.
Atlanta Falcons: G Chris Lindstrom and T Kaleb McGary
For the Atlanta Falcons, we have two players who will both be watched carefully during training camp and the preseason: rookie guard Chris Lindstrom and rookie tackle Kaleb McGary. Why? Because the two first-round picks are widely viewed as the solution to Atlanta's offensive line woes.
The line was one of Atlanta's biggest weaknesses in 2018, as it allowed quarterback Matt Ryan to be sacked a disheartening 42 times. Atlanta's line was also ranked just 24th in adjusted line yards by Football Outsiders.
While injuries, particularly on the defensive side of the ball, helped derail the Falcons' season, poor offensive line play cost them early and often.
It's difficult to pick one rookie over the other here, as the hope is that at least one will make an immediate and significant impact on the line's performance beginning in Week 1.
Baltimore Ravens: QB Lamar Jackson
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson will be under the microscope during training camp for two big reasons.
First, he's the new franchise quarterback and face of the organization, and he'll be looking to build off an impressive rookie campaign. Second, he's learning a new offense under coordinator Greg Roman, and his ability to absorb it will have a large impact on the coming season.
"When I got here, coach was like, 'Yeah, we have a totally new system. You're going to have to go through this and that.' It's been getting to me a little bit," Jackson said back in May.
Will Jackson be completely up to speed by the start of the regular season? That's Baltimore's biggest question right now.
Buffalo Bills: QB Josh Allen
While Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen didn't take his team to the playoffs like Lamar Jackson did, his rookie season had some equally impressive moments. A capable runner with arm strength to spare, the Wyoming product flashed Pro Bowl potential—particularly late in the season—and brought a sense of excitement to the Bills offense.
But what kind of steps can he take heading into Year 2?
While Allen oozes potential, he isn't yet polished as a passer and struggled with accuracy and pocket awareness as a rookie. These are the areas on which he needs to focus during camp and in the preseason.
If Allen puts everything together, he could become one of the most dangerous quarterbacks in the league. Bills fans will be watching and waiting to see if a more refined passer emerges before September.
Carolina Panthers: QB Cam Newton
While quarterbacks like Kyler Murray, Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen are still looking to prove themselves in the NFL, Carolina Panthers signal-caller Cam Newton is already an established star. He's a Super Bowl quarterback and a former league MVP, so it's not his playing ability that will be questioned.
Instead, it's Newton's health that will be under the microscope during training camp. He dealt with a shoulder injury during the 2018 season that held back the Panthers offense and eventually landed Newton on the sideline.
Newton underwent shoulder surgery shortly after his season ended. How quickly can he get back to 100 percent? Will he ever be the same quarterback he was during his MVP season in 2015? These are the questions Carolina hopes to answer during training camp.
Head coach Ron Rivera recently told reporters Newton's reps "will be monitored" in camp, which could indicate his recovery is still a work in progress.
Chicago Bears: RB David Montgomery
Rookie running back David Montgomery will be heavily scrutinized for the remainder of the offseason, and not just because he was the Chicago Bears' first draft selection. The Iowa State product is that, but he's also the replacement for former Pro Bowler Jordan Howard.
Howard was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles early in the offseason, and while he appeared to no longer fit in with Chicago's offensive philosophy, he was a proven and productive runner. Even with a reduced role in 2018, Howard managed to rack up 935 yards rushing, 145 yards receiving and nine touchdowns.
Montgomery has plenty of potential—he rushed for 1,216 yards last season—but there's no guarantee he'll be the same physical complement to Tarik Cohen that Howard was. If he isn't, Chicago may have to tweak its offense a bit to feature Montgomery less and Mitchell Trubisky and the passing game more.
Cincinnati Bengals: WR John Ross
With a new head coach in front of him and a lot of disappointment behind him, this could be the last opportunity for Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver John Ross.
The ninth overall pick in the 2017 draft, Ross hasn't translated his 4.22 speed into real NFL production. While he has scored seven touchdowns in two pro seasons, he's also caught a mere 21 passes. Inconsistent and unrefined, Ross simply hasn't emerged as the playmaker the Bengals hoped he could be.
Cincinnati will be looking for Ross to finally put everything together and become a consistent piece of the offensive puzzle, and perhaps first-year head coach Zac Taylor will find a way to make it happen. If not, the new regime could look to pull the plug on the experiment and try dealing him before or during the regular season.
Cleveland Browns: WR Odell Beckham Jr.
John Ross has yet to become a consistent NFL playmaker. New Cleveland Browns wideout Odell Beckham Jr. has been exactly that throughout his professional career. The question is whether he can be the same offensive centerpiece in Cleveland that he was with the New York Giants.
The Browns gave up quite a bit to acquire Beckham, including a first-round pick and standout guard Kevin Zeitler. It will be important for Cleveland to get an immediate and significant return on its investment.
The addition of Beckham has certainly generated some buzz around the Browns organization, and the receiver is enjoying it.
"I'm excited to be part of the excitement," he said, per Matthew Florjancic of WKYC.
The Browns expect more than excitement, though. They expect results.
Dallas Cowboys: RB Ezekiel Elliott
Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott will be monitored in camp not for his on-field work, but for his contract situation.
"Per a league source, Elliott has privately said that he will hold out of training camp unless he gets a new contract," Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio wrote.
The Cowboys will be anxious to see just how committed Elliott is to the team during camp, if he participates fully and what kind of effort he gives.
Even if the running back doesn't hold out for a new deal during the season, he could potentially send a message to Dallas by putting forth less than 100 percent—especially in exhibition games that don't ultimately matter.
Denver Broncos: QB Joe Flacco
Which version of quarterback Joe Flacco are the Denver Broncos going to have in 2019? That's perhaps the biggest question surrounding the organization as it heads into training camp.
Early in his career, Flacco appeared to be a surefire future Hall of Famer. He was tremendous in the postseason for the Baltimore Ravens during their championship season in 2012, and he has a Super Bowl MVP on his resume. However, he's been less impressive in recent seasons and hasn't posted a passer rating above 90 since 2014.
Denver can provide Flacco with an opportunity for a career resurgence, but the 34-year-old signal-caller could also continue to decline. The Broncos need to figure out how he's trending because rookie second-round pick Drew Lock is waiting in the wings.
Detroit Lions: DE Trey Flowers
The Detroit Lions are likely hoping defensive end Trey Flowers can help make their defense a playoff-caliber unit. Flowers has familiarity with head coach Matt Patricia's defensive scheme from their time together with the New England Patriots, and he's coming off an impressive 57-tackle, 7.5-sack campaign.
However, Flowers is also joining a new supporting cast and is costing Detroit $90 million over the next five years.
The Lions need him to make a significant impact right out of the gate, which is why he'll be under the microscope during training camp—once he actually makes his debut, that is. Detroit is opening camp with Flowers on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list.
Green Bay Packers: DE Rashan Gary
The Green Bay Packers used the 12th overall pick in the draft on Michigan pass-rusher Rashan Gary. Will the rookie warrant a selection that high, and will he make an impact early in his rookie campaign? Those are legitimate questions the Packers hope to answer in camp.
The issue is that Gary could begin his career buried on the depth chart.
The Packers signed pass-rushers Za'Darius Smith and Preston Smith in free agency, which doesn't leave a wide-open window for Gary to earn early playing time. The release of defensive lineman Mike Daniels shows the team already views the situation in the front seven as a bit crowded.
With a strong training camp and preseason, however, Gary could force his way onto the field and into the pass-rushing rotation before the start of the regular season. A less-than-impressive camp could have him spending his rookie season as more of a role player.
Houston Texans: T Max Scharping and T Tytus Howard
Just like the Atlanta Falcons, the Houston Texans are likely to rely heavily on rookie offensive linemen this season. For Houston, the rookies are tackles Max Scharping and Tytus Howard. As is also the case in Atlanta, it's hard to pick one player over the other because one or both desperately needs to make an impact.
The Texans offensive line was one of the worst in the entire NFL last season, which is precisely why Houston drafted two offensive tackles.
The line ranked 27th in adjusted line yards by Football Outsiders, and quarterback Deshaun Watson was sacked an alarming 62 times during the regular season. That cannot happen again if the Texans hope to push for a playoff run.
Veteran offensive tackle Matt Kalil will also be under the microscope a fair amount, as he was signed after a 2018 season lost to injury.
Indianapolis Colts: WR Devin Funchess
Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Devin Funchess will be scrutinized during training camp for a couple of reasons.
One is his price tag. The Colts signed Funchess to just a one-year deal, but they will be paying him $10 million for the 2019 season.
The other is that the Colts simply don't know what they're getting in Funchess. He showed a lot of promise as a possession receiver two years ago, catching 63 passes for 840 yards and eight touchdowns. However, his production dipped last year as he had just 549 yards and four scores.
Will Funchess be a capable complement to the speedy T.Y. Hilton on the outside, or will he be a redundant possession guy Indianapolis doesn't need with both Eric Ebron and Jack Doyle on the roster?
Jacksonville Jaguars: QB Nick Foles
Heading into 2019, no player is more important to the Jacksonville Jaguars than new starting quarterback Nick Foles. He replaces former first-round pick Blake Bortles as the face of the offense, and he does so on a four-year, $88 million deal.
The question for Jacksonville is this: Which version of Foles are the Jaguars getting?
He is a former Super Bowl MVP who has shined in his opportunities with the Philadelphia Eagles over the past couple of years. However, he was also a disappointment with the St. Louis Rams when he was given a chance to lead their franchise back in 2015.
That season, Foles passed for just 2,052 yards with seven touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 11 starts. If he looks like that kind of quarterback in camp, the Jaguars may want to implement the same run-first approach they had with Bortles.
Kansas City Chiefs: WR Tyreek Hill
The NFL has decided not to discipline Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill after the conclusion of its investigation into allegations of child abuse. The Chiefs also appear unlikely to do so despite the fact that Hill has a history of abuse allegations after pleading guilty to domestic assault in college (later removed from his record upon completion of probation).
"We're comfortable with Tyreek coming back here," head coach Andy Reid said, per Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk. "We look forward to bringing him back here and having an opportunity to get back doing what he loves to do."
The Chiefs have faith that Hill will stay out of trouble moving forward, and that's their prerogative.
On the field, Hill needs to help keep the Kansas City offense humming by continuing to play at a Pro Bowl level—or perhaps by upping his game even further. Plenty of eyes will be on him in camp to see how he approaches the coming season and to what extent his return is embraced by teammates.
Los Angeles Chargers: RB Melvin Gordon III
As is the case with Ezekiel Elliott, Los Angeles Chargers running back Melvin Gordon III will be under the microscope because of his contract situation. He is seeking a new deal and did not report to training camp when it opened Wednesday.
The Chargers do not plan on caving to Gordon's contract demands, according to Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports.
"Barring a change in his camp's expectations, an extension isn't coming soon," he said via Twitter.
All eyes will be on Gordon throughout camp as fans and the Chargers organization wonder when and if he'll report. If he does, they'll then be watching closely to assess his playing shape and commitment to the coming season.
The problem for Gordon is the fact that he has little leverage here. Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson helped carry the running game effectively when Gordon missed time last season. If L.A. doesn't like what it sees from Gordon in camp—whether he's there or not—it could turn things over to the backup duo on a more permanent basis.
Los Angeles Rams: RB Todd Gurley
Unlike Melvin Gordon III, Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley has already gotten his payday. However, his future with the Rams is still in question to some degree, as uncertainty surrounds the health of his knee, which has an "arthritic component," per CBS Sports' Dave Richard.
Gurley missed time with the knee issue late last season and didn't appear to be the same player even after he returned. It's fair to wonder if he'll ever be a dominant running back again. According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, it's "understood" that Gurley will no longer be the bell-cow back in L.A.
The Rams re-signed backup Malcolm Brown and drafted Darrell Henderson to help carry the ground game, but they're obviously a more dangerous team if Gurley is at 100 percent. Los Angeles will have to evaluate where he is health-wise in training camp and prepare its offensive game plan for the regular season accordingly.
Miami Dolphins: QB Josh Rosen
The Cardinals decided to move on from 2018 first-round pick Josh Rosen after just one season, replacing him with Kyler Murray and dealing Rosen to the Miami Dolphins. The UCLA product will now have his second opportunity to become a franchise quarterback. But first, he must seize the starting job away from journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Can Rosen do so before the start of the regular season? That's the biggest question facing the Dolphins entering camp.
"There must be a sense of urgency to every Rosen rep," Joe Schad of the Palm Beach Post wrote. "He's a laid-back, California cool guy. But we hope to see fire. His teammates and coaches and the fans in the stands will want to see and feel how badly Rosen wants this."
Plenty of eyes in Miami and around the league will be watching Rosen closely over the next month.
Minnesota Vikings: C Garrett Bradbury
The Minnesota Vikings used a first-round pick on former N.C. State center Garrett Bradbury in this year's draft, and they'll be hoping for early returns from the rookie. He's the most significant addition Minnesota made to its line this offseason, and it was a line that desperately needed improvement.
The Vikings ranked just 23rd in adjusted line yards by Football Outsiders for 2018.
Ideally, Bradbury will earn the starting job during training camp and will improve the play on the interior of the line. This, in turn, should help running back Dalvin Cook and quarterback Kirk Cousins—two other players who will be under the microscope in 2019—improve their play, as well.
That's why Minnesota and its fans will be watching Bradbury every step of camp.
New England Patriots: WR N'Keal Harry
The New England Patriots lost star tight end Rob Gronkowski to retirement early in the offseason. While quarterback Tom Brady still has one favorite target left in Julian Edelman, the slot specialist doesn't create the same kind of mismatches down the field that Gronk once did.
Do you know who might be able to? Rookie first-round pick N'Keal Harry.
The 6'2", 228-pound wideout is blessed with a combination of size and speed (4.53-second 40) and has proved himself a dangerous downfield threat. In 2018, Harry averaged 14.9 yards per reception while catching 73 passes and nine touchdowns.
Of course, for Harry to be a mismatch for the Patriots, he must first get acclimated to the New England offense and earn a significant role. He must prove himself in training camp because head coach Bill Belichick has shown in the past that draft status alone won't get a player onto the field. For example, 2013 second-round pick Aaron Dobson played sparingly, even when healthy, during his three seasons in New England.
New Orleans Saints: TE Jared Cook
The New Orleans Saints signed tight end Jared Cook to a two-year, $15 million deal in free agency this offseason. Fans should be excited about the addition because New Orleans hasn't had a top-tier receiving tight end since trading away Jimmy Graham.
While veteran Ben Watson was serviceable last season—he had 400 yards and two scores—he wasn't a Pro Bowler like Cook, who racked up 896 yards and six touchdowns. Adding Cook potentially gives quarterback Drew Brees a third dominant target to pair with wideout Michael Thomas and catch-happy running back Alvin Kamara.
Of course, Cook will have to acclimate himself to head coach Sean Payton's offense while also proving his 2018 season wasn't a fluke. Before last year, he had never topped 800 yards or five scores in a single season.
It all starts in training camp, and Cook is going to draw plenty of attention.
New York Giants: QB Eli Manning
The New York Giants used the sixth overall pick on former Duke quarterback Daniel Jones this offseason. Unlike other rookie quarterbacks, however, Jones isn't the player the Giants need to scrutinize in training camp. That's because New York might plan to let him sit behind veteran Eli Manning for most or all of the 2019 season.
The timing of the Giants' quarterback transition will largely hinge on Manning's performance during the regular season. If he struggles and New York falls out of contention early, the keys could be handed to Jones sooner than later.
The Giants will likely get an inkling of what to expect from Manning during camp. How does he perform behind the rebuilt offensive line? How efficiently does he move the ball in the now Odell Beckham Jr.-less passing attack?
If they aren't satisfied with the answers to these questions, they may start preparing to give Jones his shot before Week 1 arrives.
New York Jets: RB Le'Veon Bell
For two big reasons, running back Le'Veon Bell will be the most scrutinized player in New York Jets camp this summer.
The first is the fact New York dished out a massive four-year, $52.5 million deal to land him.
The second is that after holding out for all of 2018, Bell has spent more than a year away from the playing field. While this saved a year of wear and tear on his body, it's likely going to take him time to mentally and physically get back into playing shape.
Plenty of folks will rightfully wonder just how quickly Bell can regain his Pro Bowl form—and not just those invested in the Jets. If he picks up where he left off in 2017—a year in which he had over 1,900 combined rushing and receiving yards—other players at his position might start viewing a year off as a viable option.
Oakland Raiders: DE Clelin Ferrell
The Oakland Raiders used the fourth overall pick in April's draft on former Clemson pass-rusher Clelin Ferrell. This came as a bit of a surprise, as they passed on highly touted defensive prospects such as Josh Allen, Ed Oliver and Devin White to select him.
That's the main reason Ferrell will be carefully analyzed throughout training camp and the preseason. Oakland obviously got the guy it wanted, but was he the right choice? Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock, the front-office duo that targeted him, certainly hope so.
The other reason is that Ferrell is the only significant addition to an Oakland pass rush that generated a paltry 13 sacks in 2018.
The Raiders do have second-year man Arden Key and fourth-round pick Maxx Crosby, but the responsibility of improving the pass rush is largely going to fall on Ferrell's shoulders, particularly in the eyes of those who scrutinized the selection to begin with.
Philadelphia Eagles: QB Carson Wentz
No player is more important to the Philadelphia Eagles than quarterback Carson Wentz. They made that apparent when they gave him a four-year, $128 million contract extension this offseason.
Now it's time for Wentz to go out and prove his promising 2017 season—he had 3,296 yards and 33 touchdowns in 13 games before tearing his ACL—wasn't a fluke. First, though, he has to show that he is healthy and can stay that way.
Wentz is now more than a year removed from the torn ACL, but he also dealt with a back injury at the end of the 2018 season. That's why the Eagles were once again forced to lean on Nick Foles heading into the playoffs. The problem is that Foles is now in Jacksonville, and the Eagles cannot possibly feel as good about their backup plan as they did a year ago.
If Wentz is back to 100 percent, then the Eagles are likely headed toward a successful season. If he isn't or cannot stay healthy, they could be trotting out the likes of Nate Sudfeld, Cody Kessler or Clayton Thorson at some point in 2019.
Pittsburgh Steelers: K Chris Boswell
Mark Madden of TribLive.com recently called kicker Chris Boswell "the biggest reason" the Pittsburgh Steelers missed the playoffs in 2018.
Madden may have stretched things just a bit, but definitely not completely. Boswell dropped hard from the Pro Bowl form he showed in 2017, missing seven field goals and five extra points over the course of the season. He cost the Steelers at least one win—missing in overtime against the Cleveland Browns in Week 1—and may have cost them another against the Oakland Raiders.
That's why Boswell's training camp is so important.
Pittsburgh cannot afford to have a repeat performance at kicker and still hope to make the postseason in 2019. If Boswell struggles in camp or in the preseason, the Steelers will have to start considering other options.
San Francisco 49ers: QB Jimmy Garoppolo
Garoppolo has shown flashes of being a franchise quarterback, and the 49ers are certainly paying him like one. However, flashes are all we've really seen from the former New England Patriots backup, as he started just five games in 2017 and made only three starts before tearing his ACL last season.
The 49ers need Garoppolo to prove he is a legitimate franchise signal-caller this season. To do that, he needs to play a full 16-game schedule, but he must first show he's at 100 percent in training camp.
Seattle Seahawks: RB Rashaad Penny
The Seattle Seahawks used a first-round pick on former San Diego State running back Rashaad Penny in last year's draft, and fans may still be wondering if that was a bit of a wasted pick. While Penny did show sporadic flashes of potential—he had a 108-yard game against the Los Angeles Rams—he struggled to get onto the field and earn a significant role in the offense.
In total, Penny carried the ball just 85 times for 419 yards and two touchdowns while catching a mere nine passes out of the backfield.
Penny stayed behind Chris Carson and Mike Davis on the depth chart for most of the season. Now that Davis is in Chicago, the second-year man may have an opportunity to challenge for the starting job—or at least for some significant playing time. He'll have to show growth and progress in camp, though, as Carson is coming off a 1,151-yard season and could be hard to pull off the playing field.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: RB Ronald Jones II
What, if anything, do the Tampa Bay Buccaneers truly have in running back Ronald Jones II?
That's the big question after what we saw from him as a rookie. While Rashaad Penny did finally get onto the field and make an impact later in the season for the Seattle Seahawks, Jones was mostly a complete afterthought. Taken in the second round of last year's draft, he averaged a mere 1.9 yards per carry with one touchdown and seven receptions.
For his part, at least, Jones is staying positive.
"Definitely, for me, it's about getting on the right track," he said, per Eduardo A. Encina of the Tampa Bay Times. "We have a new system, a new staff, we're trying to make our mark in here."
Jones has to show progress in camp and in the preseason if he's going make any kind of mark during the regular season.
Tennessee Titans: WR A.J. Brown
The Tennessee Titans used a second-round pick on former Mississippi receiver A.J. Brown in April's draft, but draft status isn't the only reason he will be scrutinized in training camp. The fact that Brown appears to have legitimate No. 1 receiver potential—he racked up 1,320 receiving yards last season—should have plenty of eyes on him during camp.
How quickly will Brown adapt to the speed and the nuances of the pro game?
The answer to that important question could help determine Tennessee's offensive approach during the regular season. The Titans were largely a run-first team in 2018, but a receiver group of Brown, Corey Davis and Adam Humphries could allow them to air things out a bit more moving forward.
If Brown is able to emerge quickly, it could also allow the Titans to better evaluate quarterback Marcus Mariota, who is entering the final year of his rookie contract.
Washington Redskins: QB Dwayne Haskins
Like several other teams this season, the Washington Redskins are hoping a rookie quarterback can take over and become their new offensive leader and face of the franchise. In Washington's case, that rookie is Ohio State product Dwayne Haskins, a Heisman finalist and the 15th overall pick in this year's draft.
For Washington, Haskins represents hope.
"They have had nothing like Dwayne," ESPN's Louis Riddick said of the rookie, per ESPN's John Keim. "They need to realize he's something special here and make sure they set the table for him in every way they can."
The question, of course, is whether Haskins will be ready to start in Week 1 or if he'll be better served sitting for part or all of his rookie campaign. Fans will certainly be watching closely because the alternative at quarterback will be either journeyman Case Keenum or backup Colt McCoy.
All contract information via Spotrac.