Notable NFL Players to Keep an Eye on in 2021 Offseason Workouts

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistMay 21, 2021

Notable NFL Players to Keep an Eye on in 2021 Offseason Workouts

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    LM Otero/Associated Press

    NFL OTAs won't look the same for every team in 2021.

    The Philadelphia Eagles won't have team or 7-on-7 drills at OTAs and won't hold a mandatory minicamp, which means fans will have to wait a while before seeing second-year quarterback Jalen Hurts in action. Other teams have been all systems go at their respective offseason activities. 

    Among the teams that are going through a somewhat typical offseason, many have key players to watch. 

    Some big names are coming back from injury. Others are embroiled in huge battles for starting jobs. And some are just star players in new places expected to change cultures and performances on the field. 

    These are some of the most notable players to watch early on in 2021 OTAs.

Shaquill Griffin, CB, Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    Under the guidance of new head coach Urban Meyer, the Jacksonville Jaguars made cornerback Shaquill Griffin one of free agency's highest-paid players with a three-year, $40 million contract.

    Since Griffin was one of only 11 players this offseason to breach that $40 million threshold, massive expectations chase him to Florida. He's a star at a premium position coming over from Seattle, the former home of the Legion of Boom.

    However, Griffin didn't necessarily match the hype last season while appearing in 12 games. He picked off three passes but allowed 45 catches on 73 targets, earning a 64.1 Pro Football Focus grade.

    If Griffin can be a dramatic upgrade across from 2020 No. 9 overall pick C.J. Henderson, he'd provide a dramatic boon to one of the league's bigger rebuilds. How he fits into Meyer's defense is something to watch as he adjusts to a new team for the first time in his career. 

Carl Lawson, DE, New York Jets

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    Matt Patterson/Associated Press

    Like Griffin, Carl Lawson was one of the highest-paid players in free agency, signing a three-year, $45 million contract with the New York Jets. 

    The Jets seemingly expect Lawson to be a cornerstone of their rebuild under the supervision of defensive-minded new head coach Robert Saleh. 

    Lawson should be up to task after posting 20 sacks over 51 games in Cincinnati despite bad surroundings and erratic usage. Last year, he racked up 5.5 sacks and 44 pressures on a career-high 68 percent of the defensive snaps. 

    Lawson will take on an even bigger role in OTAs since star defensive lineman Quinnen Williams suffered a foot injury that will hold him out 8-10 weeks, according to NFL Network's Tom Pelissero

Saquon Barkley, RB, New York Giants

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley is one of the biggest injury question marks to watch in OTAs.

    Barkley had only 19 carries across two games before he tore his ACL and missed the rest of the season. That derailed a promising start to his career, which includes 2,344 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns on a 4.7 yards-per-carry average along with 149 catches for 1,219 yards and six touchdowns.

    The Giants continued to go all-in around Daniel Jones under center this offseason, spending big on wideout Kenny Golladay. But Jones will need one of the league's best backs behind him, too.

    The Giants came under fire for selecting Barkley with the second overall pick in 2018, as the value of runnings backs has been in decline across the league. They can't afford to not get value out of such a gamble, which makes Barkley one of the top players to watch at OTAs as he returns from his ACL tear.

Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, San Francisco 49ers

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo figures to be in one of the most high-profile position battles across the league this offseason.

    The Niners traded up to No. 3 to select North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance, which doesn't seem to bode well for Garoppolo's long-term future in San Francisco. After playing all 16 games and leading the Niners to the Super Bowl in 2019, injuries limited him to only six games last season, which has become a trend for him throughout his career.

    San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan hasn't indicated which way he's leaning in the quarterback competition, but he expects Garoppolo to remain on the roster, per ESPN's Nick Wagoner:

    "It'd be very hard for me to picture a situation where Jimmy's not here. Because that would be, I think, very stressful for us, because Jimmy's a very good player and I think we can win with him. So we'll play that [quarterback competition] by ear, but I expect Jimmy to be here and I'd be surprised if he wasn't."

    However, cutting or trading Garoppolo would only leave the Niners with a $2.8 million dead-cap hit this season.

    Between Garoppolo's injury history and how much the Niners gave up to acquire Lance, the 29-year-old will be under a glaring microscope in OTAs.

Andy Dalton, QB, Chicago Bears

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    When the Chicago Bears signed Andy Dalton to a one-year, $10 million contract in free agency, they quickly declared him to be their "QB1."

    One month later, they traded up during the draft to snag Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields at No. 11. 

    According to Adam Maya of NFL.com, Fields made "a great first impression at rookie minicamp," but head coach Matt Nagy is still sticking with Dalton as his starter for now.

    "Andy is the starter," Nagy said, per Maya. "Andy's going to get the one reps."

    Dalton filled in for the Dallas Cowboys last season after Dak Prescott suffered his season-ending ankle injury, but he finished with only 2,170 yards, 14 touchdowns and eight interceptions in 11 games. He went 2-11 as a starter the year before, his final season with the Cincinnati Bengals. 

    Dalton will now suit up for his third team in as many years, and his grip on the Bears' starting job should be tenuous at best. Recent first-round passers like Justin Herbert and Joe Burrow have done just fine when thrown into the fire right away, and Fields represents the future of the position in Chicago.

    This noteworthy quarterback battle may hinge on how Dalton comes out of the gates in OTAs.

Dak Prescott, QB, Cowboys

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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott is back from the ankle injury that ruined his 2020 campaign. He's also out of franchise-tag purgatory with a long-term deal in hand. 

    Before getting hurt last year, Prescott was on an astounding pace. Over his first four games, he completed 68.2 percent of his 201 passing attempts for 1,690 yards, nine touchdowns and three interceptions to help compensate for the Cowboys' miserable defense. 

    The year prior, he set new careers highs with 4,902 passing yards and 30 touchdowns.

    Prescott returns to a Cowboys team with a new defensive coordinator in Dan Quinn and first-round linebacker Micah Parsons. His normally strong offensive line should be healthier than last year, and he's still flanked by a star-studded supporting cast of Ezekiel Elliott, Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup. 

    The question with Prescott isn't whether he can fit well or play at a high level again. It's more about just how high one of the league's ascending passers can keep climbing.

    That journey starts with Prescott's return in OTAs. 

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