Future preseason headlines: Cam Newton sits; Kaepernick signs

The NFL preseason is full of hope and optimism for fans and teams alike, but it's also a sorting-out period rife with prediction and reckless speculation.

Green rookies need to secure their roles on the final roster. Promoted coordinators have to implement their systems. New coaches are in a hurry to earn the respect and trust of their players.

With the preseason kicking off in earnest Thursday night, it seems like either everyone knows everything or no one knows anything. We're here to tell you that, unlike those other pompous prognosticators, we've got it all figured out: We know exactly who will win the Browns' QB battle, which 49ers linebacker will rise to the occasion this season and when Colin Kaepernick will be signed.

Here are 15 headlines you can count on reading during the 2017 NFL preseason:


1) Reuben Foster a shoo-in for DROY? Niners linebacker all over the field

Injuries and off-field questions sank Foster's hopes of being a top-10 selection in the draft, but the 49ers linebacker quickly proved 26 teams wrong for passing on him. Foster stood out early in a crowded San Francisco linebacker room, intercepting three passes in his first four practices. After showing off in the Niners' preseason opener, he had pundits pegging San Francisco's defense as the league's most improved unit -- and forced veteran LBs, namely NaVorro Bowman and Ahmad Brooks, to fight for their jobs.

Forget Myles Garrett's progress and the three-headed QB race in Berea; the DeValve-Njoku duel has been the competition worth watching. Njoku, a first-round selection, entered his first camp with high expectations but had trouble holding onto the ball early on. DeValve, a second-year player out of Princeton, earned rave reviews from everybody on the Browns' staff. There's no such thing as having too many receiving options at tight end, especially when your quarterback room is as inexperienced as Cleveland's. DeValve and Njoku have provided just what the Browns needed through one preseason game.

3) Joe Mixon cements place as Bengals' lead back

The rookie running back, who entered the league with a troubling off-field history, lit up camp in Cincinnati and ran away with the starting job, leaving Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard to pick up the pieces. One preseason game was enough to convince the coaching staff to cede control of the rock to Mixon.


4) Mike Gillislee, Rex Burkhead pull away in crowded Patriots RB room

The biggest question on a New England roster full of answers: Who would fill LeGarrette Blount's 18-touchdown shoes? James White was the Super Bowl LI hero, Dion Lewis was an elusive third-down option and Brandon Bolden was a Patriots fixture. But it was the new acquisitions, Gillislee and Burkhead, who ran away with the starting snaps. Bill Belichick fawned over the versatile Gillislee and Burkhead this preseason and worked them heavily into New England's first two preseason games.

5) Colin Kaepernick signs -- finally -- with Baltimore Ravens

The writing was on the wall in Charm City. Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti and coach John Harbaugh publicly spokeabout the possibility of signing Kaepernick in July. While Baltimore brought Joe Flacco back slowly from his back injury, Ryan Mallett proved to be an unreliable backup; right around when news of the Ravens' interestin Kaepernickbroke, Mallett reportedly threw five picks in practice and, as Gregg Rosenthal artfully described it, "literally" threw up a white flag. After the Dolphins passed on Kap in favor of Jay Cutler to replace the injured Ryan Tannehill, it was only a matter of time before the Ravens came to their senses.

6) Dalvin Cook *Wally Pipps* an absent Latavius Murray

The Vikings rookie runner won this position battle by default. With Murray sidelined by an ankle injury to start camp, Cook immediately turned heads in Mankato and soon earned the right to start the season as Minnesota's every-down back. Murray returned in time to secure his backup spot, but he could ultimately only watch from the bench as he lost a job he barely had a chance to win.


7) Le'Veon Bell reports to Steelers camp

A long-term deal had to wait for Bell. The running back finally reported to the team facility after the Steelers returned to Pittsburgh following the second preseason game. Bell immediately signed his franchise tender, telling reporters he still wants to be "a Steeler for life." Hindsight is 20/20, but Bell, a sure-fire starter with an injury history, was arguably better off skipping the grueling portion of training camp in Latrobe and only showing up for the "home" stretch.

8) Chuck Pagano confirms the inevitable: Andrew Luck won't see a preseason snap

The Colts were extra careful with their franchise quarterback this offseason. Wouldn't you be, if you were managing a three-time Pro Bowler and former first-overall selection plagued by a lingering shoulder issue that required surgery in January? Luck was placed on PUP to start training camp, and the Indy brass acted rather coy when talking about the QB's return date, insisting with more confidence that he'd be ready for the Colts' Week 1 opener against the Rams. But it wasn't until Indy's third preseason contest that the team admitted the franchise gunslinger wouldn't see the field in a single exhibition game. Letting Luck roll into the regular season raw and rusty was a risk, but one the Colts were willing to take.

9) Panthers sit Cam Newton for remainder of preseason

Speaking of former first overall picks with bum shoulders ... A lot was made this offseason of Carolina's intentions to change how Newton plays, so as to preserve the quarterback's body going forward. Newton wasn't sold on the idea, telling reporters early on that asking him not to utilize his mobility and physicality is like asking "a lion not to roar." The Panthers were being careful with Cam in camp, limiting his snaps and resting his shoulder, but when the QB took the field briefly in the preseason, Carolina couldn't protect him any longer. After Cam suffered a slight injury scare in the Panthers' second exhibition test, Ron Rivera and Co. shuttered their MVP quarterback for the last half of August.


10) Deshaun Watson named Texans' opening day starter

Most of us pegged Tom Savage, the anti-Osweiler waiting patiently in the wings, as the quarterback who would secure the starting position in Houston. After all, the Texans' defense was dominant enough, in spite of its QB play in 2016, that Houston hosted a playoff game. Why take a risk on a rookie? But after a second straight solid preseason start from Watson in Game 3, O'Brien decided instead to roll with the newbie, who, the coach said at the start of camp, was "ahead of any rookie quarterback I've ever been around."

11) Jets' turbulent QB race ends back where it started

The early marks from Florham Park had second-year enigma Christian Hackenberg leading a trio of hopefuls by a glove, with veteran Josh McCown and third-year option Bryce Petty lagging behind. Had Hackenberg kept up the pace through the summer, the Jets would have been overjoyed to hand him the starting QB job; it would have justified Mike Maccagnan's second-round evaluation of him. But New York brought in McCown for a reason. Two inconsistent preseason games from Hackenberg gave Jets coaches the out to start the season with McCown, the steadier option who should ultimately give way to Hack in October.

12) Cutdown carnage: Veterans play roster roulette during unprecedented cut day

The NFL abandoned the 75-man cutdown day this season. On one hand, the change was a good thing for 480 rookies and fringe players gunning for roster spots, with coaches given one week more to assess their viability on the team. On the other hand, pushing back the cut deadline essentially delayed the inevitable for 80 percent of those unsure if they'd make the 53-man. In total, 1,184 players (!) lost their jobs in one day, in what was one chaotic mass layoff. The delayed cutdown also surprised a helping of veterans with unexpected releases and trades (sorry, Carlos Hyde and Matt Forte) and sent position-needy teams into a transaction frenzy.

13) Paxton Lynch given the reins in Denver

We saw this coming: As long as neither Broncos quarterback spontaneously combusted during their six-week competition, Lynch would beat out Trevor Siemian, simply because the former was hand-picked by John Elway, the executive vice president of football operations who just earned a five-year vote of confidence from ownership. Lynch and Siemian were neck-and-neck during the bulk of August, with the incumbent seemingly the more consistent option. But as the weeks wore on, Elway's voice grew louder in roster evaluation meetings, and unsurprisingly, first-year head coach Vance Joseph gave the nod to Lynch.

14) Cody Kessler earns Browns' starting gig -- with a short leash

No QB managed to separate from the pack by camp's end. So while DeShone Kizer impressed early and Brock Osweiler boasted the most starts on the roster, Cleveland eventually settled on Kessler, an accurate presence who was betrayed by a Swiss-cheese-like offensive line in his first pro go-around last season. Earning the Week 1 start doesn't necessarily make Kessler Cleveland's QB of the future -- or even Week 2 -- but it sets the tone for the season. Kessler is the low-risk option, and one that the Browns can use to evaluate the team's strengths in the short term.

15) Buccaneers' kicker duel extends into regular season

In certain NFL circles, Roberto Aguayo v. Nick Folk was billed as training camp's marquee position battle: a former second-round booter trying to rebound from an embarrassing rookie season against an 11-year veteran fighting to feed his family. The competition had all the making of a pay-per-view bout, down to the fact that it was broadcast and fleshed out weekly on HBO. The competition was so close -- and the action was so closely monitored by fans -- that Tampa Bay decided to keep both kickers on the roster for Week 1, just in case the staff's final evaluation missed the uprights.

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