1 Thing We've Learned About Every NFL Team During Training Camp
Patrick Mahomes is good at throwing a football, Michael Thomas is good at catching one and Bill Belichick is probably going to grumble at the interview podium. Certain things are simply a given heading into the NFL season.
However, there are far more unknowns than certainties, and while training camps don't always supply definitive answers to the biggest questions, they can at least give some insight. With no preseason in 2020, it's more important than ever to glean as much information as possible from each team's training camp.
With full-on practices underway around the league, there's plenty of valuable information out there if you know where to look. Well, here you'll find one key training-camp takeaway for each NFL team—based on local and national reports—and what it could mean for the 2020 season.
Arizona Cardinals: DeAndre Hopkins and Kyler Murray Are Building Chemistry
The trade that sent star wideout DeAndre Hopkins to the Arizona Cardinals was one of the biggest stories of the early offseason. While plenty of hype surrounds the move, last year's trade that sent Odell Beckham Jr. to the Cleveland Browns shows that pairing an elite receiver with a second-year quarterback isn't a guaranteed recipe for success.
Baker Mayfield and Beckham—and the entire Browns offense, for that matter—failed to find a rhythm in 2019, so the results were mixed at best. Well, Hopkins and Kyler Murray are eager to put in the work required to ensure that chemistry is not an issue.
"It starts off the field, communicating with each other, calling each other, texting each other," Hopkins said, per Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic. "And just building a camaraderie—something that's going to last for a long time, not just while we're playing football. But after football."
The lack of a preseason could impact the duo's rapport early, but that might not be a major issue on Hopkins' part. He racked up nearly 1,400 receiving yards in 2017 while playing nine of his games with Tom Savage and T.J. Yates at quarterback.
Atlanta Falcons: Team Will Be Cautious with Todd Gurley
The offseason addition of running back Todd Gurley has the potential to add a power-rushing complement to the Atlanta Falcons' potent passing attack. However, Gurley will have to be on the field for this to happen, and there are legitimate concerns about the 26-year-old's health.
Gurley has dealt with knee issues in recent years and is coming off a season in which he averaged just 3.8 yards per carry.
Therefore, the Falcons are taking a careful approach with Gurley and players like safety Keanu Neal—who suffered a torn Achilles last season—and 34-year-old center Alex Mack.
"Sometimes it might be a day off where it's not back-to-back-to-back," head coach Dan Quinn said, per ESPN's Vaughn McClure. "So for sure, we've gone through that process with a number of the players as we get into the training camp portion. There will be some players that will have limited reps or an off day occasionally just to make sure, man, just keep hitting the markers of where we're at."
Ensuring that Gurley gets to the regular season healthy should be a clear goal for Atlanta. It will be interesting to see if the Falcons continue limiting his workload once the games begin.
Baltimore Ravens: Ravens Could Have a Better Jaylon Ferguson in Year 2
Much of the NFL world is waiting to see what quarterback Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens offense do for an encore in 2020. However, the Ravens may be more interested in making strides on the defensive side of the ball. While Baltimore ranked third in points allowed, it had some difficulty getting to opposing quarterbacks, totaling just 37 sacks despite playing much of the time with a sizable lead.
A second-year leap from pass-rusher Jaylon Ferguson could certainly help improve the Ravens rush, and according to defensive coordinator Don Martindale, Ferguson is physically ready for that leap.
"His body has changed," Martindale said, per Matthews Stevens of Ravens Wire. "He's a year older. All those second-year and third-year players start to get that old man dad strength—you know what I'm talking about there. They've had a year away from college football and they can really train and just focus on themselves and not the combine."
The Ravens traded for veteran defensive end Calais Campbell this offseason, which should also help bolster the pass rush. But getting more out of Ferguson, who had 2.5 sacks as a rookie, would be tremendous for the defense's long-term outlook.
Buffalo Bills: The Defense Should Have a Motivated Josh Norman in 2020
After signing a big-money deal with the Washington Football Team in 2016, Josh Norman was never able to recapture the Pro Bowl form he had with the Carolina Panthers the year before. Now that he's with the Buffalo Bills, though, Norman is eager to prove that he is still one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL.
"He's coming in with a chip on his shoulder. Things didn't end the way he wanted them to end in Washington, so hopefully that'll bode well for us," defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said, per Maddy Glab of the team's official site.
Norman is fighting for a starting role opposite Pro Bowler Tre'Davious White. If he wins the job and can return to his 2015 form, it might just give Buffalo the top cornerback tandem in the league.
White was arguably just as good or perhaps even better than Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore last season. Both players had six interceptions, while Gilmore had three more passes defended and White had five more tackles and two more forced fumbles.
Carolina Panthers: Defensive Players Are Taking to Phil Snow
While new Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator Joe Brady has commanded plenty of attention, recently installed defensive coordinator Phil Snow is an equally important addition. Carolina desperately needs to improve a defense that ranked 29th against the run in 2019 and 31st in points allowed.
Therefore, fans should be thrilled to learn that the Panthers defensive personnel is building chemistry with Snow early in camp. Cornerback Donte Jackson recently raved about his new coach.
"I love Coach Snow. He's very energetic, very enthusiastic and he just wants all of us to play great football," Jackson said, per Alaina Getzenberg of the Charlotte Observer. "He's very detail-oriented and he loves the game, so he's good with me. I love Coach Snow."
It's going to be a lot of fun to see what wonders Brady can work with the likes of Christian McCaffrey, Teddy Bridgewater and D.J. Moore. However, the Panthers can't be truly competitive if they can't start slowing opposing offenses.
Chicago Bears: Anthony Miller Is Poised for a Third-Year Leap
The Chicago Bears ranked just 25th in passing offense last season. This was partially due to the struggles of quarterback Mitchell Trubisky and partially due to the lack of a reliable No. 2 target behind wideout Allen Robinson.
2018 second-round pick Anthony Miller showed promise but not consistency last year. He finished with 656 yards and two touchdowns, but he had seven games with fewer than 15 receiving yards.
Fortunately, it's looking like Miller is ready to be a more polished pro in Year 3.
"He's definitely finding his niche with everything and growing and continuing to develop and mature and see different things within the game," Robinson said, per Colleen Kane of the Chicago Tribune.
Whether Trubisky returns as the starter or loses the job to trade acquisition Nick Foles, Chicago's quarterback should have an improved receiving corps in 2020 with tight ends Jimmy Graham and Cole Kmet joining Robinson and a more mature Miller.
Cincinnati Bengals: Confidence Won't Be an Issue for Joe Burrow
The Cincinnati Bengals didn't use the No. 1 pick in April's draft on quarterback Joe Burrow just because of his gaudy 2019 statistics—numbers that included 60 touchdowns passes and just six interceptions. They also drafted him early because they saw a future leader of the franchise with the confidence needed to lift a 2-14 squad from the basement.
That confidence has arrived at training camp intact, according to wideout Tyler Boyd.
"One thing on the field, man, he's very vocal," Boyd said, per Geoff Hobson of the team's official website. "So that's a great start. He's not shying away from none of the competitiveness and shying away from the position that we want him to be in. I feel like he's handling everything pretty well."
This is an important factor as the Bengals prepare for Week 1. Cincinnati's 26th-ranked offense lacked both energy and an identity last season, which is something Burrow can change with his attitude, even if he makes his fair share of rookie mistakes along the way.
Cleveland Browns: This Will Be a Run-First, Run-Heavy Offense
New Cleveland Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski is bringing his run-first philosophy with him from Minnesota.
The addition of tight end Austin Hooper to a receiving core that already featured Jarvis Landry, David Njoku and Odell Beckham Jr. might convince other coaches—like the departed Freddie Kitchens, perhaps—to focus on the pass, but the early indication is that Cleveland's offense will go through running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt.
According to Ellis L. Williams of Cleveland.com, the Browns have featured a lot of running, play-action and plenty of fullback Andy Janovich in early camp.
This shouldn't come as a surprise, given the identity of Stefanski's offense with the Vikings and the presence of the NFL's best backfield duo. Ideally, it will make life easier for quarterback Baker Mayfield, who showed a lot of promise as a rookie but then declined under the pass-focused Kitchens in 2019.
Dallas Cowboys: CeeDee Lamb Might Make Early Impact as a Returner
When the Dallas Cowboys used a first-round pick on former Oklahoma receiver CeeDee Lamb, it seemed like a case of the rich getting richer; Dallas already had two 1,000-yard receivers in Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup.
However, the addition of Lamb also raised the question of how the Cowboys could possibly get all of their weapons—Cooper, Gallup, Lamb, Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard—involved. Well, training camp has provided a glimpse at one possibility.
According to Michael Gehlken of the Dallas Morning News, Lamb has been taking reps as a punt returner. As Gehlken pointed out, Lamb returned 54 punts for 475 yards while playing for the Sooners.
Utilizing Lamb as a return specialist makes a ton of sense because it gets him on the field more often and helps make Dallas dangerous in all three phases. That third phase may be where Lamb has the most initial impact, at least as long as the Cowboys plan on running their offense through Elliott and the ground game.
Denver Broncos: Jerry Jeudy Could Be a Handful for Defenders
Heading into the 2020 draft, Alabama wide receiver Jerry Jeudy was lauded for his keen route-running ability in college.
"In 20 years of evaluating receivers, he's the best route-runner I've ever seen," ESPN's Todd McShay said.
The Denver Broncos' first-round draft choice could soon be considered one of the best route-runners at the pro level too. Ten-year veteran defensive back Kareem Jackson has certainly been impressed by Jeudy's ability to create separation with his precision in camp.
"I think it'll be very difficult [for opposing secondaries to defend Jeudy] because he has this unorthodox way of running routes," Jackson said, per CBS Sports' Tyler Sullivan. "We were kind of talking about it today. He can get in and out of his breaks better than anyone I've ever seen before."
While touting a rookie as "better than anyone I've ever seen before" may seem like mere hyperbole from a supportive teammate, it's not the first time this sort of thing has been said about Jeudy.
Detroit Lions: Jeff Okudah Is Ready to Take on the NFL
The Detroit Lions traded Pro Bowl cornerback Darius Slay this offseason and then used the third overall pick in April's draft on Ohio State product Jeff Okudah to replace him. This creates lofty expectations for Okudah, who, at the very least, will probably be expected to start in Week 1.
Offseason acquisition and veteran cornerback Desmond Trufant—once a first-round pick himself—believes Okudah has what it takes to be a successful early starter.
"I can just tell he's fundamentally sound," Trufant said, per Erik Schlitt of Lions Wire. "... I can already tell he's a technician. He works hard too, and he's always asking questions. I'm excited to play with him and see how this thing goes."
Ideally, Okudah won't just be a rookie starter; he'll also have a significant and positive impact on the Lions secondary. Detroit ranked dead last in passing yards allowed last season.
Green Bay Packers: The Offensive Line Is a Work in Progress
The Green Bay Packers lost a significant piece of their offensive line when longtime starting right tackle Bryan Bulaga departed in free agency. Though Green Bay did sign veteran Rick Wagner to help replace Bulaga, it's becoming clear the Packers haven't settled on a new starting lineup.
In the team's first full practice on Saturday, there was shuffling at both right tackle and right guard. According to Rob Demovsky of ESPN, Billy Turner opened as the starting right tackle while Lane Taylor started at right guard. Wagner then came in at tackle, while Turner moved to guard.
It's worth noting that Turner started 16 games last season, while Taylor was an established starting guard before missing 14 games with a biceps injury last season.
As Ryan Wood of the Green Bay Press-Gazette put it, "There are a lot of moving parts on that right side."
This doesn't mean the Packers don't have a plan in place for replacing Bulaga; it's just that the plan seems to be allowing competition to sort out the best starting five up front.
Houston Texans: Coaches Like What They Have in David Johnson
While the Houston Texans' trading of DeAndre Hopkins got plenty of attention this offseason, the acquisition of running back David Johnson as part of the deal has received far less. However, the Texans are high on Johnson and like what they've seen from him thus far in camp.
"He's got good vision," head coach Bill O'Brien said, per Deepi Sidhu of the team's official website. "He's got good feet in the hole, especially for a guy his size, a big guy. He can run the ball downhill. He can run it to the edge and he's really good in the passing game."
Johnson is expected to take over for the departed Carlos Hyde as the team's primary ball-carrier, though he will share time with receiving back Duke Johnson. David Johnson has struggled to regain his Pro Bowl form since suffering a wrist injury in 2017, but he brings more explosiveness and versatility—at least, if healthy—to the position than Hyde did.
If Johnson can be the sort of back he was in 2016, when he racked up more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage, the Texans offense will be tough to stop even without Hopkins.
Indianapolis Colts: Parris Campbell Looks Ready to Contribute
The Indianapolis Colts used a second-round pick in last year's draft on former Ohio State wide receiver Parris Campbell, but they got little in return for their investment during his inaugural season. Injuries, including a sports hernia and a broken hand, limited Campbell to just seven games, 18 receptions and 127 receiving yards.
Indianapolis, which lacks an established No. 2 receiver after T.Y. Hilton, could desperately use a big jump from Campbell this season. From a physical standpoint, he's looked ready to make that leap during camp.
According to Andrew Walker of the team's official website, Campbell had the most impressive play of one recent practice when he got past safety Khari Willis to haul in a would-be touchdown from new quarterback Philip Rivers.
"Campbell gave so many flashes of being a big-play threat in his injury-plagued rookie season last year, and with full health, watch out going into Year 2," Walker added.
If Campbell can unleash that big-play potential, he could be in for a strong season. Last year, Rivers' No. 2 target, Mike Williams, hauled in 49 passes for 1,001 yards.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Gardner Minshew II Eager to Build on Rookie Season
Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew II was impressive as a rookie, especially for one drafted in the sixth round. He finished last season with 3,271 passing yards, 21 touchdowns and just six interceptions, and one could argue that he had a better season than No. 1 overall pick and Offensive Rookie of the Year Kyler Murray.
Now, Minshew is getting a shot a being Jacksonville's starter for the long term, and he's ready for it.
"I actually haven't had a camp like this, going into it, since I guess my senior of high school; it's awesome," Minshew said, per John Oehser of the team's official website.
Minshew hasn't wasted any time impressing new offensive coordinator Jay Gruden either.
"It starts with being able to call the play in the huddle and he's been great," Gruden said, per Oehser. "You've got to be able to spit the play out in the huddle. There are a lot of words, formations, motions, shifts—and then the concept of protection. He's done a great job of spitting that out."
Minshew has also impressed on the practice field, showcasing chemistry with pass-catchers like DJ Chark Jr. early on.
Kansas City Chiefs: Clyde Edwards-Helaire Is a Work in Progress
With Damien Williams opting out of the 2020 season, rookie first-round pick Clyde Edwards-Helaire should be the Kansas City Chiefs' starting tailback. He handled a sizable workload at LSU this past season—he racked up more than 1,800 combined rushing and receiving yards to go with 17 touchdowns—and could do the same in his first pro season.
However, Edwards-Helaire isn't ready to take the NFL by storm just yet.
"Clyde, he's been doing a lot of work with the first group," head coach Andy Reid said, per Charles Goldman of Chiefs Wire. "That's valuable work for him. Is everything perfect? No, not right now, but he's working like crazy to get it there and he's got a good attitude about it."
The Chiefs are clearly pumped about what Edwards-Helaire can bring to an already potent offense, but as Reid pointed out, expecting early perfection from any rookie would be foolhardy.
Edwards-Helaire is still a work in progress, but he has the potential to be a tremendous offensive asset in 2020.
Las Vegas Raiders: Marcus Mariota Is Impressing
While the Las Vegas Raiders have publicly backed starting quarterback Derek Carr all offseason, they're not trying to hide their excitement over offseason addition Marcus Mariota now.
"He took off a couple times today and it really fired me up," head coach Jon Gruden said, per ESPN's Paul Gutierrez. "He's been hurt, but looks like the ankle really turned a corner. He's a dazzling playmaker with his feet, and that's the key to his game."
This doesn't necessarily mean Mariota has a legitimate shot of unseating Carr. Gruden frequently praises his players and could be doing so with extra zest in this case in order to motivate his starting signal-caller.
However, it is worth noting that general manager Mike Mayock was extremely high on Mariota before the 2015 draft, when Mayock was an analyst for NFL Network. If Mariota continues to dazzle in camp, Carr could wind up on a short leash ahead of Week 1.
Los Angeles Chargers: There Might Be a Contract Issue with Melvin Ingram
Due to their presence on HBO's Hard Knocks, the Los Angeles Chargers have been in the spotlight just a little more than most during training camp. However, there is one potential issue that remains shrouded in mystery.
Are the Chargers and edge-rusher Melvin Ingram working on a contract extension? If so, is he staying away from the practice field until it's complete? It's just speculation at this point, but it's a theory The Athletic's Daniel Popper brought up when Ingram did not participate in an open practice.
"He's all in. He's in every meeting, and he's out there coaching and helping the young guys," head coach Anthony Lynn said when asked about Ingram, per Popper. "But ... I mean, just company business."
Ingram is in the final year of his current contract, and none of his $14 million base salary is guaranteed. If Ingram believes a new deal is on the immediate horizon, it makes perfect sense for him to do everything possible to avoid injury until the ink is dry—and that would include sitting out early training camp practices.
Los Angeles Rams: Rookie Defensive Backs Are Ready to Go
After finishing the 2019 season ranked a respectable 12th in pass defense, the Los Angeles Rams didn't focus too much on upgrading the secondary. They did, however, draft safety Terrell Burgess in the third round and safety Jordan Fuller in the sixth.
While the young safety duo might not be expected to start in the regular season, they're making quick work of the leap from virtual offseason to first NFL training camp.
"They must have come from good college programs or high school, whatever it is, but they came in ready to go," veteran safety John Johnson said, per Cameron DaSilva of Rams Wire. "Great athletes, you can move them around, so I'm excited for their future."
With running back Todd Gurley and wideout Brandin Cooks no longer on the roster, the Rams may be forced to lean a little more heavily on their defense this season. Fortunately, Burgess and Fuller may be in a position to contribute early.
Miami Dolphins: Tagovailoa and Fitzpatrick Have a Wonderful Working Relationship
Journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick and rookie Tua Tagovailoa are each trying to earn the starting job for the Miami Dolphins this season. While competition might breed animosity for some players, it's clear Tagovailoa and Fitzpatrick have each other's backs.
"I'm his biggest cheerleader right now, but I also want to be out there playing," Fitzpatrick said on the What's Next podcast with Eric Wood (h/t Field Yates of ESPN).
During a recent training camp interview, Tagovailoa spoke about how much Fitzpatrick's support means to him.
"That saying goes true. It says if you want to get somewhere fast, you go alone, and if you want to go somewhere with purpose, you bring people with you," Tagovailoa said, per ESPN's Cameron Wolfe. "I think Fitz has done a tremendous job of trying to shape and mold me, and Josh [Rosen] as well. It's been pretty cool to go through that process with him."
Fitzpatrick and Tagovailoa have forged a mentor-protege bond in the truest sense, which should only aid the understudy's quest to be the long-term answer under center.
Minnesota Vikings: Justin Jefferson Could Be Something Special
The Minnesota Vikings traded a tremendous receiver in Stefon Diggs this offseason, but rookie first-round pick Justin Jefferson is showing he has the goods to replace him—at least, he's doing so in camp and without pads.
Precise cuts, great hands, a penchant for the tough catch, Jefferson flashed all of these things in just the 26 seconds of highlight film that Jordan Reid of The Draft Network tweeted.
"Said it at the time, but after watching all of the WRs who performed at the Combine, there wasn't one that impressed me more in person than Justin Jefferson," Reid tweeted. "Smooth as silk as a route runner, terrific hands and makes playing the position look easy."
Based on early camp drills, Jefferson looks the part of Minnesota's next big-time target. Of course, there's a huge difference between looking good in shorts and shells and making an impact on Sundays.
New England Patriots: Cam Newton Is Meshing with the 'Patriot Way' Just Fine
When the New England Patriots scooped up quarterback Cam Newton earlier in the offseason, it was fair to wonder how the outgoing former MVP might mesh with the all-business Bill Belichick and the Patriot Way.
Newton has never been one to hide his individuality, and the Patriots are all about working hard and putting the team first. Based on Belichick's early impressions, though, Newton will be just fine.
"He's worked very hard, I'd say, as all of our players have," Belichick said, per ESPN's Mike Reiss. "I'd say that certainly for all the quarterbacks, at that position, those guys have been locked in, focused and confident in what they're able to do and the information they have to give to the team."
While Belichick rarely criticizes his players publicly, he doesn't toss out verbal bouquets voluntarily. If he says that Newton is a hard worker, he probably believes it—and a hardworking mentality seems to be the defining characteristic of the Patriot Way.
New Orleans Saints: Payton Is Pleased with Progress of 1st-Year Players
The New Orleans Saints, who had one of the league's most complete rosters in 2019, aren't expected to rely too heavily on their rookie class, with perhaps one notable exception. There's a good chance interior lineman Cesar Ruiz, the first of only four draft picks this year, is asked to replace departed starting guard Larry Warford.
It's worth noting that head coach Sean Payton has been impressed with how first-year players like Ruiz and third-round linebacker Zack Baun have handled the unusual 2020 offseason.
"I feel like that this young group is doing good, especially in light of not really having to do the minicamp that you normally would have in the spring," Payton said, via the team's website. "At some point here, when we go to pads, we'll start back at the beginning and truly go through a training camp install, but I feel like overall ... it's gone well."
Of course, these rookies still face the daunting challenge of seeing their first NFL action in a regular-season game. So far, though, they look to be adapting as well as one could expect without a preseason.
New York Giants: Daniel Jones Is Preparing Like a Pro
It was fairly obvious last season that then-rookie Daniel Jones had more physical upside than aging quarterback Eli Manning—which is why Manning yielded the starting job to Jones after just four games. However, when New York moved on from Manning, who retired in January, it lost a wealth of veteran experience.
Fortunately, Jones is attacking his second season like the seasoned vet his predecessor was. What Jones lacks in experience, he might make up for with preparation.
"The thing you just like so much about Daniel is just his approach," offensive coordinator Jason Garrett said, via the team's website. "... He's someone who's big, he's strong, he's athletic, he has a really good arm. He has all the tools you're looking for. But the thing that really jumps out is the approach that he takes every day."
We've seen gifted quarterbacks try to lean solely on their physical tools before with disastrous results—JaMarcus Russell and Johnny Manziel are perhaps the best examples—but it appears this won't be an issue for the Giants and Jones.
New York Jets: Mekhi Becton Is Working Hard to Earn Starting Role
The New York Jets used the No. 11 pick on Louisville's Mekhi Becton, hoping he can quickly become their anchor at left tackle. However, while Becton has tremendous physical upside, he's a relatively raw pass-blocking prospect.
"Among PFF's top five tackles, Becton's 73 true pass sets were 40 fewer than anyone else. On the flip side, his eight pressures allowed though on those true pass sets were the most," Pro Football Focus' Michael Renner wrote before the draft.
If Becton is asked to start before he is ready, it could have disastrous consequences for third-year quarterback Sam Darnold.
The good news for Jets fans, though, is Becton is busting his tail to get up to speed and in position to be a reliable starter.
"[Veteran center Connor] McGovern noted Becton has been eager to learn throughout the start of training camp, consistently asking questions and staying out on the field with lineman George Fant for extra work after practices," per Chris Ryan of NJ.com.
Becton still faces a sizable learning curve, but at least he's not expecting to be handed a starting job without working for it.
Philadelphia Eagles: DeSean Jackson Is Good to Go
With fellow wideout Alshon Jeffery on the physically unable to perform list because of a foot injury, the Philadelphia Eagles need a healthy DeSean Jackson in the lineup for Week 1. The veteran deep threat would provide a necessary element to the passing attack even with Jeffery healthy, as he did briefly in 2019.
Jackson caught eight passes for 154 yards and two touchdowns in last year's season opener, though he suffered a core muscle injury and was placed on injured reserve after just three games.
The good news is Jackson appears physically ready to pick up where he left off nearly a year ago, at least according to former NFL wideout Chad Johnson.
"Man @DeSeanJackson10 just sent me some 1 on 1 clips from camp, i am pulled over on the side of the highway with excitement watching," Johnson tweeted.
Johnson also tweeted a clip of Jackson burning cornerback Darius Slay, who happens to be a three-time Pro Bowler. Jackson appears on track to be a factor in Week 1.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Diontae Johnson Is Ready for a 2nd-Year Jump
Despite playing the majority of the season with the underwhelming quarterback tandem of Devlin Hodges and Mason Rudolph, Pittsburgh Steelers wideout Diontae Johnson had a strong rookie campaign in 2019. He finished with 680 yards and five touchdowns on 59 receptions.
With future Hall of Famer Ben Roethlisberger recovered from an elbow injury and back under center this season, Johnson could be in store for a big second-year jump. According to head coach Mike Tomlin, Johnson is ready for it, at least physically.
The coach said the following, per Allison Koehler of Steelers Wire:
"I believe you guys will see a significant physical difference in Diontae Johnson. I think you could look at any position and see growth and development in terms of understanding between Year 1 and Year 2 in terms of appropriate actions taken because of it, whether it's guys adding bulk and strength for the long term fight or whether it's guys getting lean and fighting professional tendencies, professional rhythms in terms of diets and nutrition."
In January, Johnson talked about bulking up to improve his play strength, and it appears he has done exactly that. As long as he hasn't sacrificed speed to do so, it's easy to think that will make him a more dangerous wideout.
San Francisco 49ers: Javon Kinlaw Is Impressing Early
The San Francisco 49ers traded a big piece of their defensive puzzle when they dealt defensive tackle DeForest Buckner to the Colts in March. They took Javon Kinlaw in the first round to help replace Buckner, but as any longtime NFL fan will tell you, draft status doesn't guarantee results.
Based on teammate Dee Ford's early impression, though, Kinlaw will be ready to make an early impact.
"He reminds me of Nick Bosa when he came in," Ford said, via the team's official website. "He didn't say too much. When you're a first-round draft pick, you can come in and… be a little entitled. That's not him. That's not in his DNA. (Javon's) everything that you want to see in a rookie."
Bosa, of course, was the 2019 Defensive Rookie of the Year. It's realistic to believe that with the talent surrounding him in San Francisco, Kinlaw could make a run at the award as well.
Seattle Seahawks: Darrell Taylor May Not Have an Early Impact
The Seattle Seahawks produced just 28 sacks in 2019. Unfortunately, rookie second-round pick Darrell Taylor might not be able to add a significant boost. Taylor is still recovering from surgery to repair a stress fracture in his leg, and there's not a clear time frame for his return.
"[Taylor] was present Wednesday but not practicing, and Pete Carroll was unsure how long it'll take him to get on the field," The Athletic's Michael-Shawn Dugar wrote. "Carroll said there's 'no damage' to Taylor's leg, 'he just has to get back from the work that he's been doing.'"
Dugar also reported that it will be "a couple of weeks" before Seattle has a clear picture of Taylor's recovery timeline. The fact that he isn't practicing with less than a month to go before the season opener does not bode well for his chances to make an early difference.
Hopefully, Taylor will eventually get onto the field and have more of a rookie impact than 2019 first-rounder L.J. Collier (three tackles) did.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Tom Brady's Arm Shouldn't Be an Issue
There were points during the 2019 season when Tom Brady finally started to look like a quarterback in his early 40s. He uncharacteristically missed throws and seemed to lose pop on his passes late in the season. It's fair for Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans to wonder if this over-the-hill version of Brady is the quarterback they added this offseason.
According to NBC Sports' Peter King, it is not: "One of the things about late last season is that Tom Brady's arm was not great. In this practice, after an offseason of really working to strengthen his arm, he looked very, very good. He threw very hard, he threw fastballs to Rob Gronkowski and his tight ends. I thought he looked really good and crisp throwing the ball."
There are still concerns about Brady's having to learn a new offense after switching teams for the first time in his career. A most unusual offseason combined with no preseason could make it difficult for Brady and head coach Bruce Arians to mesh offensively before Week 1. However, from a physical standpoint, Tampa should feel confident that it isn't getting a lesser version of the six-time champion.
Tennessee Titans: Derrick Henry Isn't the Only Weapon in Tennessee's Backfield
Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry is the reigning NFL rushing champion and the centerpiece of the Titans offense. After signing a four-year, $50 million extension this offseason, he's likely to remain the offensive focal point for the foreseeable future.
However, this doesn't mean Henry is the only weapon in the Titans backfield. Rookie third-round pick Darrynton Evans is also looking like he could be a regular contributor this year.
"The Titans are excited about third-round pick Darrynton Evans' potential as an explosive playmaker, a reputation the running back developed with Appalachian State," Erik Bacharach of the Tennessean wrote. "He showed it during one-on-ones early in practice."
Evans rushed for 1,484 yards and 5.8 yards per carry last season at Appalachian State.
The Titans previously used Dion Lewis as a change-of-pace complement to Henry, but he largely fell out of the offensive game plan last season. Evans could stay in the role for some time, and his elusiveness and burst could be a nightmare for opponents gearing up to take on the more powerful Henry.
Washington Football Team: Dwayne Haskins Is Showing Growth
Ideally, Dwayne Haskins will beat out Kyle Allen to be Washington's starting quarterback this year. The 2019 first-round draft pick was selected to be the team's new franchise signal-caller, and he did flash some potential near the end of last season.
However, Haskins also struggled early and finished his inaugural campaign with a completion rate of just 58.6 percent and a passer rating of 76.1. The good news is Haskins is showing growth, at least according to former Ohio State teammate and 2020's No. 2 pick, Chase Young.
"[Fans] are getting a guy who works hard, is a crazy competitor. As you've seen this offseason, Dwayne has been preparing like a pro," Young said on NFL Network's Good Morning Football last week. "Coming out on the field at practice, you can just tell it's a different type of Dwayne."
Young was with the Buckeyes two years ago when Haskins tossed 50 touchdown passes and just eight interceptions. If he's seeing an improved version of Haskins, then there's plenty of reasons for Washington fans to be excited about their 23-year-old quarterback's potential.
Contract information via Spotrac.