Football in 2018 is getting more real as the clock ticks on. In just mere days, each team will reunite for NFL training camp.
The talk of training camp of course brings many things to mind. For starters, there are a multitude of players suiting up with new teams this year, including several high-profile names.
Outside of that, this year’s rookie draft class is full of budding talent. This would include five quarterbacks selected in this year’s first round. It is going to get hot in the kitchen as rookies attempt to oust veterans from their starting jobs.
Meanwhile, we’ll see some star players hold out on their teams during these training camp practices, looking for new deals.
With all that in mind, here are 16 reasons we are looking forward to training camp.
1. The Baker Mayfield Show
Once training camp kicks off, all eyes will be on this charismatic Heisman Trophy winner, who was selected No. 1 overall by the Cleveland Browns in April. This is despite the fact that Mayfield is not expected to secure the starting role for Week 1. But, that does not mean fans cannot enjoy watching Mayfield practice with an offense that will eventually be all his.
This offense now includes wideout Jarvis Landry, who joins Josh Gordon, along with new running backs Carlos Hyde and rookie Nick Chubb. Mayfield is a fan favorite, and even taking a backseat behind Tryod Taylor the entertainment factor here is huge.
2. Star player holdouts
As training camp approaches, keep an eye on big-name players who have been holdouts due to their current contract situations. This list includes Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell, Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson, Atlanta Falcons wideout Julio Jones, Oakland Raiders defensive end Khalil Mack, Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald and Seattle Seahawks safety, Earl Thomas.
All of the players we mentioned take issue with their current contract, or lack there of. The latter is the case when it comes to Bell. He is slated to play under the franchise tag, is not likely to be seen with his team until September and is likely spending his last season in Pittsburgh.
The remainder of the aforementioned players, including a potential trade of Thomas to the Dallas Cowboys, along with any other fallout, is all worth monitoring.
3. The ruckus around the Patriots
Brushing on the topic of potential trades, the New England Patriots reportedly shopped tight end Rob Gronkowski before the NFL draft. Gronkowski is looking for a new deal, and the fact he skipped his team’s OTAs — along with quarterback Tom Brady — made for major news.
But, the two Patriots stars did attend mandatory minicamp. Gronk also hosed down the red-hot trade talks as well, calling them “fake news.” Though more recently, at least one AFC executive said he thought Gronk could still be acquired through a trade.
With Gronk’s contract situation in flux and nobody really knowing what wheels are turning in head coach Bill Belichick’s head, things in New England are worth keeping tabs on.
4. The annual Buffalo Bills quarterback competition
In a “Captain Obvious” conclusion, the Bills have the shakiest quarterback room in the league heading into training camp. This cast features A.J. McCarron, rookie Josh Allen and second-year Nathan Peterman.
The three traded off taking first-team reps during OTAs, with McCarron reportedly out-performing Peterman. Though, McCarron recently struggled during minicamp which puts Peterman back into contention for the starting job.
On top of this power struggle, it is reported that Allen still has a chance at winning the job. Each year the names change. But, the Bills have another three-headed competition on their hands — just as in seasons past.
5. All aboard the Jimmy Garoppolo hype train
Switching to perhaps a more refreshing topic, this will be Garoppolo’s first camp as a starter. Will he live up to all the preseason hype? We might mention that things were not all candy and unicorns for Garoppolo and the offense during the team’s offseason program.
There were some issues, and head coach Kyle Shanahan called the offense “sluggish.” Hopefully the wrinkles get ironed out with more extensive training camp practices. Garoppolo will open the season with a personal 7-0 record as a starter.
6. The $100 million head coach
It’s for real. Jon Gruden has taken over a Raiders team that he last coached from 1998-2001. He signed on to re-direct a franchise that was pretty messy at times last season. Starting with quarterback Derek Carr, Gruden has his work cut out.
Carr is reportedly feeling better after a back injury bugged him last year and hopes that Gruden will be “really hard” on him. Would we expect anything else from a coach that earned the nickname “Chucky” for his furious faces? Carr had better watch what he asks for.
If the team is off to a sluggish start for any reason in training camp, there will likely be some visible veins popping on his forehead as the demanding Gruden lays down the law.
7. Patrick Mahomes era
Soon enough, we will get to watch Mahomes in action as a dress rehearsal to September’s kickoff. The young quarterback, who will be the face of the franchise for years to come, inherits a very electric offense to work with.
Will Mahomes continue to feed tight end Travis Kelce targets just like Alex Smith used to? How well will he develop his chemistry with wideout Tyreek Hill and new weapon Sammy Watkins? Running back Kareem Hunt is also supposed to become more involved in the passing game.
The Chiefs practically tripped over themselves moving up to select Mahomes in 2017 after he passed for 5,052 yards and 41 touchdowns at Texas Tech. He struggled badly in minicamp. Now it’s showtime!
8. Cowboys’ revamped receiving squad
Who is quarterback Dak Prescott actually going to throw the ball to this year minus Dez Bryant and the legendary Jason Witten? To beef up a depleted roster, the Cowboys signed Allen Hurns, Deonte Thompson and Tavon Austin this past offseason. Hurns is the most prominent of the three here, having recorded 2,669 yards and 21 touchdowns during his four years in Jacksonville.
The team also drafted Michael Gallup, who notched 1,418 yards and seven touchdowns last year at Colorado State. And, penciled in at starting tight end is second-season Blake Jarwin, who Prescott “regularly targeted” in the team’s offseason activities.
Prescott will hopefully develop some new chemistry quickly with these guys, returning from what was a disappointing sophomore season.
9. The return of last season’s lost players
Last year was a cruel one when it came to top-shelf players suffering season-ending injuries. So, this summer’s training camps welcome back some popular players who have had several months to regain their health.
Starting with the quarterback position, Aaron Rodgers, Andrew Luck, Carson Wentz, and Deshaun Watson return when hopefully all stay healthy in the weeks leading up to September.
Other players fans cannot wait to see hit the field are guys such as Odell Beckham Jr., Dalvin Cook, J.J. Watt and Eric Berry.
Cheers to each and every one of these players staying healthy all season long.
10. The Jets’ quarterback is…
This is an interesting story that will play itself out as rookie Sam Darnold opens training camp as the No. 3 quarterback. Currently, he sits behind veteran Josh McCown and free agent acquisition, Teddy Bridgewater.
For obvious reasons, McCown makes the most sense to assume his starting position. He is a natural leader who actually completed a career-high 67.3 percent of his passes last year.
Bridgewater is fortunately looking great after finally receiving a clean bill of health. And, all preseason reports of Bridgewater’s practices showed him impressing his new Jets team. It is possible he emerges as a front runner in training camp.
Lastly, Darnold will have his chance to prove himself. New York’s offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates said Darnold has a legitimate chance to start in Week 1.
Stay tuned, Jets fans.
11. Fantasy Football mock drafts
This is the time of the year fantasy football buzz floods social media. It is a bit early to draft permanent fantasy teams for 2018, but it is prime time to practice mock drafting.
As training camps start rolling out, all players will be on our fantasy radar to see who shines or emerges as a possible later-round sleeper pick. The quarterback position of course is one to monitor and figure out which select guys we deem worthy of nabbing in early rounds.
Meanwhile, training camp is the perfect time to assess which rookies are draft-worthy. Soon enough, we will get a preliminary picture of who is hot and who is not when mock drafting eventually leads to the real deal.
12. Sam Bradford or Josh Rosen?
Out on the west coast, the Arizona Cardinals have two new quarterbacks to feature when camp kicks off. Sam Bradford is on course health-wise and expected to open the season as the team’s starter.
We should see him garnering the lion’s share of the first-team reps, while rookie Josh Rosen works as a second-stringer.
Could Rosen oust Bradford as top dog? This is a situation that is one to watch, especially when it comes to Bradford’s health. After all, Bradford has not played an entire 16-game slate since 2012.
13. New faces in new places
Who out there cannot wait to see some of their favorite NFL players suiting up in entirely different colors this year?
This summer will give us a peek at cornerback Richard Sherman wearing red as opposed to lime green and blue. Like it or not, several players transitioned to new teams where they hope to make a major impact.
Quarterbacks Kirk Cousins, Alex Smith and Case Keenum all inherit new offenses. Will the chemistry come naturally? Meanwhile, wideout Jarvis Landry will likely be catching passes from Tyrod Taylor as part of a major overhaul in Cleveland.
Running backs Jerrick McKinnon and Dion Lewis were also signed to new clubs with high expectations. How all of these transitions play out will be revealed soon.
14. What is going on in Miami?
A team that could rise up the ranks, or slip down some notches, is the Dolphins. A training camp preview should give us a good ideal of which direction this squad is headed. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill will make his return, having not played since December of 2016. He will now be without target hog, Landry who averaged 100 receptions per season since 2014.
Instead, veteran Danny Amendola takes his place. In addition, DeVante Parker really needs to step up and emerge as a true No. 1 receiver. On the ground, running back Frank Gore is a new addition to work with Kenyan Drake.
On the other side of the field, the Dolphins moved on from defensive tackle Ndumkong Suh. It is definitely going to be a different vibe when training camp starts.
15. Rookie running back class
Starting at the top with New York Giants second-overall pick, Saquon Barkley, football enthusiasts will get to watch this year’s rookie running back class in action.
Barkley is expected to revive his team’s terrible run offense from last year. Next is San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny, who combined for 2,383 yards and 25 touchdowns last season. We should see him practicing as Seattle’s lead back. Rounding out the first-round picks is Sony Michel, who has a shot at emerging as the Patriots No. 1 ball carrier.
Nick Chubb of Cleveland, Ronald Jones of Tampa Bay, Kerryon Johnson of Detroit, Derrius Guice of Washington, Royce Freeman of Denver and Nyheim Hines of Indianapolis are all worth watching as well.
Through training camp and into the preseason, each will have the opportunity to carve out a name for himself suiting up as a pro.
16. Getting a glance at Lamar Jackson
In an attempt to improve the Ravens offense and plan for the future, Baltimore moved up to draft the multi-talented Jackson at the end of Round 1. Inquiring minds cannot wait to see how the Ravens plan to utilize this 2016 Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, with Joe Flacco the presumed starter.
Jackson piled up a gob of yards (13,175) both passing and rushing during his three seasons at Louisville. He also scored 119 touchdowns. With that stated, it would be befuddling to see this young man simply laying low during training camp. Currently, the Ravens are trying to figure out how to utilize Jackson.
Flacco should be feeling the pulls of a short leash as training camp inches closer. He is coming from a terrible 2017 campaign that obviously prompted the selection of Jackson.