Analysis  

 

NFL Training Camp Optimism All-Stars! 25 players fielding praise

Print


Training camps are in full swing. Let's take a moment to highlight a collection of players who have earned repeated acclaim from teammates, coaches and/or the media this summer. We'll call them the Training Camp Optimism All-Stars! Yeah, I like that.

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts
Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens

Training camp has been a best-case scenario thus far for Luck. Per ESPN, Luck's been a full participant in nine of the team's 11 practices through Tuesday; the two practices he did sit out were scheduled off days, as the team keeps an eye on his pitch count. All the dispatches from Colts camp have been glowing. Luck looks like Luck. And if it stays that way, the AFC South just got a lot more interesting. ... Much has been made of Flacco and the FIRE that was LIT BENEATH HIS BOD when the Ravens used a first-round draft pick on Lamar Jackson. Maybe it's true, maybe it's training camp narrative stew, but reports on the Super Bowl XLVII MVP have been overwhelmingly positive. Wrote NBC's Peter King: One longtime Ravens observer told me here Thursday that this first week of camp for Flacco has been "far and away" the best he's looked in camp in his 11 years as a Raven. Well then.

Running back

Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings
Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals
Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers
Marlon Mack, Indianapolis Colts

Cook doesn't appear to have any limitations in his return from reconstructive knee surgery. Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said the second-year RB is ready to go now. Reminder: Cook was on pace for nearly 2,000 yards from scrimmage before the ACL monster got him in Week 4. ... Mixon has dropped 12 pounds and is being positioned as The Man in the Bengals' backfield. ... McCaffrey struggled between the tackles as a rookie but was otherwise as advertised. New offensive coordinator Norv Turner said he wants to double McCaffrey's workload. ... Colts owner Jim Irsay says Mack could approach 1,500 yards from scrimmage in his second season. Consider the source, of course.

Wide receiver

John Brown, Baltimore Ravens
Marquise Goodwin, San Francisco 49ers
Jordy Nelson, Oakland Raiders
John Ross, Cincinnati Bengals
Courtland Sutton, Denver Broncos
Deon Cain, Indianapolis Colts

It feels like we're decades removed from the time when Brown was being touted as The Next Big Thing in Arizona, but his first camp in Baltimore has produced much buzz about his burst and playmaking ability. ... The Mercury News said the Jimmy G-Goodwin connection "grows stronger by the day." Everything connected to Garoppolo is gold these days. ... Nelson turned 33 in May, but the Las Vegas Review-Journal said he's moving like he's 28 in his first Raiders camp. ... Ross is finally healthy, still has that first-round skill set and gets to line up across from A.J. Green. You'd probably be a hype bunny, too. ... The Broncos could use a young playmaker on offense, and Sutton, thanks to his steady stream of highlight-reel catches, has been the "talk of camp," per NFL Network's James Palmer. The second-round rookie could be a much-needed draft hit for John Elway. ... If Andrew Luck really does get back to being himself, Cain is being positioned as a potential breakout candidate. The Indianapolis Star wrote that Cain has been "flat-out hard to ignore." (UPDATE: Cain's promising rookie campaign has come to an abrupt end, as the receiver tore his ACL during the Colts' first preseason game.)

Tight end

Mike Gesicki, Miami Dolphins
Chris Herndon, New York Jets

The Gronk comparisons connected to Gesicki are unnecessary and not especially helpful, but it gives us an idea of the second-round pick's "wow" ability. Gesicki flashed throughout the spring, and that's carried into camp. Jarvis Landry is history, so Adam Gase needs a playmaker to step up. ... Tight end has been a black hole for the Jets in recent years, but Herndon, a fourth-round pick, is the team's most compelling young prospect at the position since Dustin Keller. The New York Daily News wrote that Herndon "might just be the best kept offensive secret on the Jets."

DEFENSE

Line

J.J. Watt, Houston Texans
Solomon Thomas, San Francisco 49ers
Jason Pierre-Paul, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
D.J. Reader, Houston Texans
Bradley Chubb, Denver Broncos

Watt is now 29 and coming off back-to-back seasons mostly wiped away due to serious injuries, but Texans coach Bill O'Brien is on fire about a Watt revival in 2018. In a conversation with Peter King, O'Brien reminisced about Watt's dominant prime years in Houston, then added this: "That's what I'm seeing now, this summer. That's the kind of play I'm seeing from him. There's no reason he can't do it again." ... Thomas was drafted No. 3 overall by the 49ers last year and finished with just three sacks as a rookie. Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said a different player is in camp this year. "When you watch him on one-on-ones and pass rush, it's much improved. He's winning consistently." ... JPP has been dominant at times in his first Bucs camp. ... Watt calls Reader the best nose guard in the NFL. ... Chubb, the No. 5 overall pick in April, is already penciled in as a starter in Denver, with coach Vance Joseph praising the rookie's football IQ. I wish I had football IQ.

Linebacker

Shaquem Griffin, Seattle Seahawks
C.J. Mosley, Baltimore Ravens

Griffin is more than just a great draft story. Pete Carroll said Griffin "has made nothing but good impressions wherever we've put him." He could have a bigger role than anticipated for a Seahawks defense in transition. ... We already knew Mosley was a key part of the Ravens' defense, but Ray Lewis ramped up the expectations heading into 2018. "I would love for you to show me a better middle linebacker in the game than C.J. Mosley," Lewis said, probably while sweating excessively.

Cornerback

Malcolm Butler, Tennessee Titans
Sidney Jones, Philadelphia Eagles
Mike Hughes, Minnesota Vikings

It's hard to imagine anyone in the NFL having a bigger chip on his shoulder entering 2018 than Butler, who is still being asked why Bill Belichick benched him in the Super Bowl. Butler got paid anyway, and so far, the investment looks like a sound one for the Titans: According to the Tennessean, Butler forced at least one turnover in each of the first four practices of training camp. ... The Philadelphia Inquirer says Jones is destined to start for the defending champs. ... Hughes could challenge for a starting job in Minnesota. Vikings special teams coordinator Mike Priefer didn't mince words in describing the kid's promise: "I see potential for Mike Hughes doing anything he wants to in this game."

Safety

Marcus Williams, New Orleans Saints

You're forgiven if the breathless praise directed at Williams this summer is a tad suspicious. It can certainly be construed as an overly tidy narrative device after the Saints cornerback's historic coverage blunder in January's NFC Divisional Playoffs. (You know the one.) Then again, you're not wrong to call Williams one of the more promising young safeties in the league -- and he might be ready to make the leap. The New Orleans Advocate says Williams "is having the best training camp of anyone on the team." Drew Brees said Williams has instincts and playmaking ability reminiscent of Ed Reed. Whoa.

Follow Dan Hanzus on Twitter @danhanzus. Send him questions for his next mailbag using the hashtag #DotComMailbag.

Print

Headlines

The previous element was an advertisement.

NFL Shop