After months of waiting for the new NFL season to begin, football is back, and we’re already almost to the end of training camp. Once the preseason kicks into gear, teams start reverting to their normal weekly schedules, signalling the shift.
For fans, this transition leads to the glorious arrival of the game they love. As much as we all say we hate watching preseason games, we watch them anyway. So who do we need to watch the most once the games begin? Some players have experienced nothing but positive developments ahead of the season, while others have not.
On that note, we’re taking an extensive look around the league at the winners and losers from training camp thus far.
Winner: Terrelle Pryor shows he’s not one-year wonder
After catching 77 passes for 1,007 yards and four touchdowns last year with Cleveland in his first as a full-time NFL receiver, Pryor inked a one-year deal with Washington. It was a prove-it contract worth just $6 million, which isn’t a lot for a top receiver. Early on, Pryor has done nothing but prove he is just that. Between making jaw-dropping plays while blanketed in coverage and his head coach calling him one of the best in the league, this guy is clearly not disappointing his new team.
Loser: Christian Hackenberg struggling with the simplest things
Whether it’s throwing balls at media members on the sidelines or failing to break the huddle correctly, Hackenberg’s second season isn’t going according to plan. A quarterback many analysts saw as a late-round pick at best last year, he was picked up by the New York Jets (who traded up to land him) in the second round. After keeping him from taking the field at all as a rookie, the Jets might be tempted to do the same thing this year based on what we’re hearing from many who cover the team.
Winner: Dalvin Cook taking to the NFL like a duck takes to water
Cook spent a few years as one of the best running backs in college football. Now he’s looking poised to become one of the best at the pro level. He’s listed as the starter on the first depth chart of the season, which isn’t that surprising since Latavius Murray has been on the PUP list until Monday. While it’s certainly still very early, Cook has been doing everything he needs to do in order to become the full-time starter for the Minnesota Vikings in 2017.
Loser: Andrew Luck recovering from offseason surgery at a snail’s pace
Luck underwent shoulder surgery in January for an injury he first sustained back in the early portion of the 2015 season. He’s still not active for the Indianapolis Colts, and more alarming still he’s yet to throw a football since then, either. That’s not good news for him, or for the Colts, who are going absolutely nowhere without their star quarterback. Luck could very well miss the first six games of the season, at least, because starting out on the PUP list is very much in play.
Winner: Christian McCaffrey superlatives never stop
The Carolina Panthers spent some hefty draft capital to land this Stanford product, who was selected No. 8 overall. Based on early reviews, it’s safe to say they’re feeling very good about that investment. Fellow running back Jonathan Steward said recently that there isn’t a person in the league who can guard McCaffery one-on-one. Based on what we saw the past couple of years during Cardinal games in the Pac 12, that might be an accurate statement.
This kid is as talented as they come. He can run between the tackles with the best of them and is as explosive in the open field as anyone in the game.
Loser: Paxton Lynch struggling in Year 2
The Denver Broncos traded up into the No. 26 spot overall last year to draft Lynch out of Memphis. John Lynch was practically giddy about landing him, and he made some pretty bold statements about how quickly Lynch would develop. That didn’t happen last year, and it’s not happened to this point in 2017, either. Lynch is still being given every opportunity to beat out Trevor Siemian, but so far there is still a consistency gap between the two quarterbacks that is too big to ignore.
Winner: Rico Gathers making strong case for big-time role with ‘Boys
As a former Baylor basketball star, Gathers is making a very quick transition to the pro football game. He’s been earning rave reviews during training camp. Then we all got to see what the fuss was about when he showed up huge during the Hall of Fame Game. Gathers caught three passes for 59 yards and a touchdown, looking very natural in the process. It was an enlightening display, and while we aren’t ready to crown him as the next big thing, he’s clearly a guy to keep an eye on going forward this preseason.
Loser: Ravens might not have a viable running game
Already a pretty glaring area of weakness heading into training camp, Baltimore’s running game took a huge hit when Kenneth Dixon injured his knee. He required a full repair on his meniscus, meaning he’s out for the season. This means Terrance West — a fourth-year vet with a 3.9-yard average on the ground — is the guy going forward. He’s a capable receiver, but the Ravens have Danny Woodhead for that role.
On top of all that, the offensive line is in trouble. There’s no sugarcoating the issues this team has on the ground going forward. This is even more amplified considering the potential trouble that could be on the horizon due to Joe Flacco’s back injury.
Winner: Brandin Cooks fits New England’s offense like a glove
Tell us if you’ve heard this before: The New England Patriots made a big move to acquire a game-changing playmaker who could transform the offense. Already drawing comparisons to the incredible Randy Moss, Cooks is doing big things for the Pats thus far as he builds rapport with Tom Brady. He absolutely blew reporters away on Monday during a joint practice against the Jacksonville Jaguars and appears to be destined for a monster season.
Loser: Cardinals have real problems at cornerback
Patrick Peterson is amazing. But he can only cover one guy at a time. The Arizona Cardinals are in a bad way at the cornerback position apart from No. 21. Brandon Williams was torched a few times during the Hall of Fame game, and the team’s most promising youngster, Ronald Zamort, is out for the season with an ACL injury. Things are so bad that 34-year-old Tramon Williams was recently signed, and he was awful last year as a member of the Browns.
Winner: Reuben Foster can’t stop making splash plays
The San Francisco 49ers are trying to downplay how amazing Foster has looked as a rookie this summer. It’s not working. A legitimate sideline-to-sideline defender who was the best in the nation last year at Alabama, Foster is starting to develop a part of his game we never saw in college. He’s picking off passes, and he’s doing it on a regular basis. The team’s injury to Malcolm Smith firmly entrenches Foster as the weak-side linebacker playing next to NaVorro Bowman. He will be a treat to watch this year.
Loser: Frank Clark crosses the line in a major way
We all expect training camp fights to occur. We also expect players to cross the line at times. But Clark did a bit more than that last week when he launched a flying punch into the face of offensive lineman Germain Ifedi, who did not have his helmet on at the time. Neither player has practiced since that fight, which occurred on Thursday, August 3. Clark has not practiced for disciplinary reasons, while the Seahawks hope to get Ifedi back on Wednesday the 9th. He has been held out for medical reasons.
Winner: Noah Spence looks like a star
As a second-round rookie out of Ohio State last season, Spence did some very positive things in limited action for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He tallied 22 tackles and 5.5 sacks, which isn’t half bad considering he played in about half of the team’s defensive snaps. Now the former Buckeyes star is starting to make some serious waves and looks poised to take his game to the next level. Tampa Bay desperately needs more pressure off the edge. So if Spence is up to the task, he’ll be a heavily featured player on that line in 2017.
Loser: Texans offense takes huge hit with injury to Will Fuller
Fuller was a huge playmaker for the Houston Texans last season as a rookie out of Notre Dame. His raw speed is right up there with the fastest players in the league. And he used it well, catching 47 passes for 635 yards and a couple of touchdowns. Fuller was clearly the No. 2 receiver behind DeAndre Hopkins. Now he’s gone for a while after breaking his clavicle. Fuller will be back this season, but his injury leaves a big hole in Houston’s passing offense, which is already a huge question mark until a quarterback — either Deshaun Watson or Tom Savage — establishes something concrete.
Winner: Miami’s offense won’t skip a beat with Jay Cutler behind center
Jay Cutler isn’t the right quarterback for almost every single NFL team. There’s a reason he was about to start a new career with FOX as an NFL broadcaster. But the Miami Dolphins aren’t most teams. They’re a team coached by one Adam Gase, who developed a very strong connection with Cutler during their shared tenure in Chicago back in 2015.
And it just so happens Cutler and the Dolphins shared a need for one another this summer when Ryan Tannehill went down with another ACL injury. Cutler can now step into Tannehill’s starting role with relative ease, commanding the starting role immediately due to his knowledge of Gase’s playbook and style.
Loser: Chargers can’t catch a break, lose two top rookies
After going 9-23 the past two years, it was clear the Los Angeles Chargers needed a new spark. Anthony Lynn came in as the new head coach, and the team made some very bold moves in the draft that, on paper, appeared to be just what the doctor ordered. Among them, they selected receiver Mike Williams out of Clemson No. 7 overall and offensive lineman Forrest Lamp out of Western Kentucky in the second round. Both were penciled in as starters.
Now both might be gone for the season — Lamp for sure with an ACL injury and Williams potentially out for the year with a back injury. That’s exactly what the doctor did not order, and these two injuries could prove extremely costly when it comes to wins and losses in 2017.
Winner: Jamaal Charles’ comeback bid coming along nicely
It’s far too early to sing Hallelujah when it comes to Charles’ balky right knee, which cost him most of the past two seasons. However, the veteran running back is looking fantastic so far, and Denver Broncos head coach Vance Joseph told reporters Monday that Charles will play this preseason. That’s a minor victory on its own. Both for Charles and the Broncos, who need him to be effective this year to make up for their quarterback situation (more on that in a bit).
Loser: Vontaze Burfict continues to do dumb things
This Cincinnati Bengals linebacker isn’t exactly known for his sound decision making on the football field. He’s cost the Bengals a playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers a couple years ago, has been fined many times for illegal hits and seems to have no filter when he’s playing. Apparently this extends to practices with his own teammates. On his first live action in practice since undergoing offseaon knee surgery, Giovani Bernard found this out the hard way when Burfict lunged low and hit him in the knees. Talk about a party foul. Not surprisingly his teammates were not pleased.
Winner: Jared Goff showing signs he’ll be much improved
The first overall pick of the 2016 NFL Draft didn’t have a magical rookie campaign. He didn’t start until halfway through the season, watching Case Keenum make a mess of the offense instead. Then when Goff finally did play, he was awful, too. Thankfully for him, Jeff Fisher was canned, paving the road for Sean McVay to come in and right the ship offensively. Now learning a quarterback-friendly offense, Goff has been earning rave reviews from his teammates, including veteran Andrew Whitworth, who came in via free agency after spending years in Cincinnati.
Loser: Robert Griffin III still can’t find work, and neither can Colin Kaepernick
It’s not easy being a mobile quarterback in the NFL. This is something both RG3 and Kaepernick are finding out the hard way. With Kaepernick, we understand there’s a bit more at play here, but if he were a pocket passer who had a history of completing a high percentage of passes he might still have a job, regardless of his social and political leanings. For Griffin III things are even more bleak. He worked out with the Los Angeles Chargers recently. Then they made a trade for Cardale Jones instead. That’s not good news for RG3’s future in this league.
Winner: Myles Garrett looks every bit the part of a No. 1 overall pick
The Cleveland Browns had a chance to use their top pick in April to land a quarterback. That would have been very tempting. Instead, Sashi Brown and Co. eschewed reaching for a passer and took Garrett instead. While he battled an early injury that kept him from doing much this offseason, he’s been downright beastly this training camp. Already penciled in as a starter opposite Emmanuel Ogbah, this former Texas A&M star looks to be on his way to NFL stardom, if he can avoid the injury bug.
Loser: Frank Gore not happy about being stuck in reverse
Let’s be clear here. Frank Gore is not a loser. But the situation he finds himself in stinks to high heaven. One of the all-time great running backs the NFL has ever seen, he joined the Colts a couple years back thinking they were his ticket to a Super Bowl. After all, with Luck behind center, they had reached the AFC title game the year before and were ascending still. Or so it seemed. Then the wheels fell off. Luck was injured early in 2015 and hasn’t been the same since. The Colts’ front office imploded and it’s just now getting cleaned up. Not surprisingly, Gore is not happy that things went so sour, so fast.
Winner: Packers suddenly have options at running back
Last season, before Ty Montgomery turned into a stud, the Packers were struggling to find a running game. Fast forward less than a year and they might have two very good backs to rotate in 2017. Montgomery did some solid work this offseason to gain weight and looks fabulous. He’s actually having to fight off rookie Jamaal Williams, who is coming on awfully strong right now. It’s going to be fascinating to see how they both perform this preseason, especially since Aaron Rodgers probably will barely play.
Loser: Eric Ebron still injury prone
When a player gets injured a couple years in a row, it’s annoying. When it’s a yearly occasion, it becomes a problem. That’s what is happening with Detroit Lions tight end Eric Ebron. He missed at least two games in each of the past three seasons and is now dealing with a hamstring issue. Hopefully this is an injury that doesn’t linger. The Lions have been counting on Ebron to have a big impact this year. It’s one of the reasons why they didn’t bring back Anquan Boldin. But if he’s not healthy, then they’ll be in a lurch.
Winner: T.J. Watt showing signs he’s the answer to Pittsburgh’s edge-rushing woes
The Pittsburgh Steelers cannot continue to rely on James Harrison to lead the team in sacks. He’s 39 years old, for crying out loud. Someone else has to step up. Thankfully it appears rookie T.J. Watt is ready to make it happen. He made an immediate positive impression on his teammates, and linebackers coach Joey Porter recently had some very nice things to say about his young pupil. Given the success of older brother J.J. Watt, and his own play last year at Wisconsin, this isn’t all that surprising.
Loser: Bengals rookie John Ross still limited with shoulder injury
The Cincinnati Bengals might have quite the potent combination at receiver if rookie John Ross can stay healthy. Though, it’s worth pointing out the No. 9 overall pick entered the NFL with some significant red flags in this department, and that he’s still not able to fully practice due to the shoulder surgery he had during the offseason. So, to this point, he’s yet to get a single practice in with Cincinnati’s offense. That’s not a good thing for any rookie. But most rookie receivers who miss a good portion of training camp struggle out of the gate.
Winner: Leonard Fournette as good as advertised
Being that he was selected at No. 4 overall, Fournette entered this season with some hefty expectations. So far, he’s exceeded them. Everyone knew he’s a punishing runner who can make hay between the tackles. But executive vice president Tom Coughlin recently gushed about Fournette’s excellent hands in the passing game, which is something we didn’t see much of during his days at LSU. If Fournette can stay healthy, he could be this year’s Ezekiel Elliott and a catalyst for a Jags offense that has desperately needed a strong running game.
Loser: Kevin White inching closer to bust label
Chicago Bears receiver Kevin White was the No. 7 overall pick back in 2015. Thanks to injuries, he’s only been able to play in four career games. Making matters worse, there’s been some debate about whether Bears receivers coach Zach Azzanni sat down with White to watch his old college tape and hopefully boost his confidence. The one thing that nobody debates right now is that White isn’t exactly lighting it up these days in practice. At this point, he’s dangerously close to earning the old bust label.
Winner: Tyrod Taylor’s stock rises with late addition of Anquan Boldin
The Buffalo Bills made one of the best additions this offseason by adding Boldin to their offense on Monday. It’s rare to add such a high-quality player and leader at such a late juncture. And given the recent reports about Tyrod Taylor (not positive), this addition comes just in time. Boldin is one of the best possession receivers in the game. He’ll be there not only to produce at a high level but also to mentor rookie Zay Jones and Sammy Watkins. Buffalo’s passing offense suddenly became much more intriguing.
Loser: Ryan Mallett bungling offense in Joe Flacco’s absence
Flacco’s been missing for a couple of weeks now with a back injury that came out of nowhere. While he’s been rehabbing and getting a second opinion, Mallett has been just awful running the first-team offense. Interceptions are commonplace right now, and it’s hardly surprising given Mallett’s spotty history in the NFL. Kaepernick might still be an option for the Ravens, depending on what happens with Flacco in the coming days. One thing we know for sure is that Mallett isn’t going to win many games if he’s forced to play.
Winner: Tyreek Hill looks like a legit No. 1 receiver
Many wondered just what the heck the Kansas City Chiefs were thinking when they released veteran receiver Jeremy Maclin. It was thought by most at that time that there wasn’t another receiver on the roster who could step into that No. 1 role and produce at a high level consistently. Those concerns have been wiped away by the sparkling play of Hill, who’s been wowing everyone who’s gotten a chance to see him in action this summer.
Loser: Whoever ‘wins’ Jets quarterback job
If there really is a true battle for the New York Jets’ starting quarterback spot, it’s not going to matter who’s behind center this year. It just won’t. Any hope that it might matter was quickly swept aside Monday when it was revealed the team’s best receiver, Quincy Enunwa, will miss the season with a bulging disc in his neck. It’s not a minor injury and will take at least six-to-nine months to heal.
This means Robby Anderson (42 catches last year) is the team’s best receiver unless a rookie catches fire. And with bad quarterbacks tossing the pigskin around, that’s not likely to happen.