15 young NFL skill-position players to pay attention to in training camp

It is that much-anticipated time of the football year that takes fans inside the activities of NFL training camps. The fight for starting jobs and roster spots will start getting real very soon.

With that said, training camp presents the prime opportunity for some of the league’s younger players to make their mark. There are some higher-round rookie draft picks who will be looking to do exactly this, while perhaps ousting a veteran from his starting position.

In other cases, players who signed with new teams will be under the spotlight. Meanwhile, some of last year’s rookie class will be trying shake off disappointing initial seasons.

Here are 15 young offensive players to keep tabs on during training camp.

Jerick McKinnon, running back, San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers are putting a lot of eggs into McKinnon’s basket, hoping for the production of a three-down back this fall. He is also expected to be very heavily used in the passing game, which is his niche. Last season in Minnesota, McKinnon recorded 51 receptions for 421 yards and two touchdowns.

Though, McKinnon arrives to the west coast having averaged only 3.8 yards per carry in 2017. Training camp will give us a sampling to see if McKinnon has that true grit to be the 49ers bell-cow back.

Martavis Bryant, wide receiver, Oakland Raiders

Bryant, who is only 26 years old, received that fresh start he was demanding when seeking a trade from the Pittsburgh Steelers. Now, it is time for him step up and contribute as a reliable slot receiver for quarterback Derek Carr.

In limited snaps with the Steelers, Bryant caught 59.5 percent of his 84 targets for a total of 603 yards and three touchdowns in 2017. The fact that he has maintained a notable 15.2 yards per catch makes him an intriguing new option for Carr.

Mitch Trubisky, quarterback, Chicago Bears

Trubisky is expected to make huge strides during  his sophomore season. Training camp will be the perfect time to see how well Trubisky is responding to his new head coach and offensive scheme.

Last season saw Trubisky complete 59.4 percent of his passes for 2,193 yards and a mere seven passing touchdowns. He also had seven picks. But, the Bears have since done Trubisky well by signing Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and tight end Trey Burton to help their poor quarterback out. Trubisky and Co. are well worth getting excited for heading to training camp.

Calvin Ridley, wide receiver, Atlanta Falcons

Caption: Jan 9, 2017; Tampa, FL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide wide receiver Calvin Ridley (3) runs the ball during the second quarter against the Clemson Tigers in the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship Game at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

The Falcons would not have invested a first-round pick on Ridley only to avoid him being heavily involved on offense. He will open up training camp as the No. 3 option at receiver behind Julio Jones and Mohammed Sanu.

Ridley was drafted after recording 967 yards at an average catch rate of 15.3 yards per at Alabama last season. How Ridley responds to a pass-happy quarterback such as Matt Ryan will be interesting to watch unfold. It is worth noting in fantasy football that Ridley’s ADP (average draft position) is 10.02 compared to Sanu’s 14.11 in current draft formats.

Malcolm Mitchell, wide receiver, New England Patriots

Here’s a guy that’s receiving a lot of preseason hype. He should be ready for training camp after missing his entire 2017 campaign with a knee injury. The upside for Mitchell to make a big impact early on is huge.

He had developed a pretty nice late-season rapport with quarterback Tom Brady during his rookie season back in 2016. Mitchell caught 66.7 percent of his targets and scored four times on just 32 receptions. Minus Brandin Cooks, Danny Amendola and Dion Lewis, Mitchell has a chance to earn a more prominent role with a strong training camp.

Kerryon Johnson, running back, Detroit Lions

The Lions’ rushing offense finished dead last in 2017 with a paltry 76.3 yards per game. In an attempt to turn this around, the Lions drafted Johnson 43rd overall back in April.

The Auburn product rushed for 1,391 yards and 18 touchdowns at a pace of 4.9 yards per attempt last season. He will get to test out his wheels soon enough, but also joins a crowded backfield consisting of LeGarrette Blount, Theo Riddick and a frustrated Ameer Abdullah.

Though, considering the cast we just mentioned, it might not take much for Johnson to pull ahead of the pack during camp.

Keelan Cole, wide receiver, Jacksonville Jaguars

Jacksonville Jaguars receiver Keelan Cole

Cole showed some splashes of electricity during his debut season in 2017. He turned 42 receptions into 748 yards and scored three touchdowns. Lightening fast, Cole averaged a healthy 17.8 yards per catch.

This is enough to be intrigued with what Cole brings to the table as a sophomore this coming season. He will have the chance in training camp to attempt to outshine starters Marqise Lee and Donte Moncrief, who both have had a hard time staying healthy. It is worth noting that Cole drew only 13 less targets than Lee last season.

Joe Mixon, running back, Cincinnati Bengals

An all-around disappointment in his rookie season, Mixon recorded only 626 rushing yards at an average of 3.5 yards per carry. Meanwhile, he found the end zone only four times. These were definitely not the numbers that were expected from a guy the Bengals reached for 48th overall in 2017.

It is time to sweep that mess under the rug and focus on Mixon evolving as the Bengals’ true work horse. He is reportedly working on his physique and looking to play at 220 pounds versus the sluggish 240 pounds he weighed in at last year. Soon enough, we will see if Mixon’s slimmed-down body makes a difference.

Josh Gordon, wide receiver, Cleveland Browns

Josh Gordon

Gordon made his long-anticipated return last season and started in five games. During this stretch, he averaged 67 yards per game and scored one touchdown. These numbers stand to be on the rise with a more competent quarterback under center in Cleveland this year.

For now, that quarterback looks to be Tyrod Taylor, who should do a heck of a better job getting Gordon the ball. The hype train is going full speed ahead in Cleveland and Gordon is talking about how he and fellow wideout Jarvis Landry are the league’s next best receiving tandem.

Mike Williams, wide receiver, Los Angeles Chargers

The Chargers got a bum rap with Williams falling victim to the injury bug during his rookie season. He played a very limited role on offense, catching just 11 of his 23 targets for 95 yards.

In April, Williams claimed to be completely healthy. But in May, he dealt with a hamstring injury. He needs to prove his value in training camp, especially without pass-catching tight end Hunter Henry in the picture. The Chargers should knock on wood that Williams stays healthy and rebounds from his disastrous rookie campaign.

Dalvin Cook, running back, Minnesota Vikings

Look for a Pro Bowl performance from Dalvin Cook as a rookie.

Cook was off to a flashy start before he tore his ACL in Week 4 last year. But he is expected to make a healthy return in Week 1 after being cleared to participate in his team’s offseason program.

In the meantime, Cook will resume his No. 1 role during training camp with veteran Latavius Murray on hand barring any setbacks. We will see soon enough if Cook picks up where he left off after averaging an impressive 88.5 yards per contest at an average of 4.8 yards per carry prior to his injury.

Hayden Hurst, tight end, Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens produced the fourth-worst passing offense in 2017, which is why the team invested the 25th overall pick on a new weapon for quarterback Joe Flacco. Hurst was selected after he recorded 44 receptions, 559 yards and two touchdowns at South Carolina last year.

Flacco has in the past leaned heavily on his tight ends as pass catchers. Training camp will give us a sneak peek of what Hurst brings to the table. If he impresses, he should start right off the bat come Week 1.

Sony Michel, running back, New England Patriots

The Patriots typically bargain shop for their running backs, so the team drafting Michel in Round 1 was a very calculated move. Michel lands in New England after tallying a total of 1,323 yards and 17 touchdowns at Georgia last season. Michel also averaged a wowing 7.9 yards per attempt.

Michel joins a very crowded Patriots backfield that also added Jeremy Hill during free agency. This summer should be an interesting one to see how the Patriots involve Michel.

Corey Clement, running back, Philadelphia Eagles

We last saw Clement perform at a rock star level when he recorded 100 receiving yards and one touchdown in last season’s Super Bowl. Fast forward some months, and Clement said he wants “more touches, more carries, more catches out of the backfield this year.”

Might Clement have to take a place in line behind pass-catching pro Darren Sproles and rusher Jay Ajayi? This makes for a tricky backfield committee. He is certainly talented and explosive enough to earn more work. This summer should shed some light into what Clement’s role will be once the regular year starts.

D.J. Moore, wide receiver, Carolina Panthers

The Panthers wasted no time nabbing Moore with the 24th pick in this year’s draft. Moore comes fresh off of an 80-catch season season at Maryland, in which he recorded 1,033 yards and eight touchdowns.

A recent observation suggests Moore is “more than ready to contribute” which could see him earning a roster spot ahead of veteran Torrey Smith in training camp. Watching how he and quarterback Cam Newton perform together will be a telling sign of Moore’s anticipated workload come September.