Less than two weeks away from the NCAA season opener with the ACC’s Miami and SEC’s Florida making early cases for who is the top team in the Sunshine State, I wanted to give a little preview of the upcoming five months or so. To do that, I came up with my top ten storylines ahead of the upcoming college football season. While a lot of people may think this could be a two- or three-team race once again, several things are completely unpredictable and these are the themes that I will be following closely as the year goes along.
With training camp in full swing for all 32 teams and just a week away from the Hall of Fame game between the Falcons and Broncos, I wanted to take a look at the biggest position battles going on for every team throughout practice and a lot of times most of the preseason. Some of these may be very close two-man races for a specific spot, others include several candidates looking to crack the starting lineup. Some of them may be sexier when it comes to quarterbacks, while others are about offensive guards putting in the work up front. However you want to turn it, these are what I think the toughest battles going on right now and only competition will determine the winners.
With most teams a little more than a week away from starting training camps, I wanted to look at the second- or third-year players, who I think will make the biggest jumps in 2019. Obviously I did not want to name Pro Bowlers or guys with All-Pro nominations and no Rookie of the Year candidates on either side of the ball. I also didn’t include players, who already recorded 1000 yards rushing or receiving, double-digit touchdowns, sacks or similar statistics. Moreover, to avoid repeating myself, you won’t find the names of any players that made my list already last year – such as Dalvin Cook, Chris Godwin and Malik Hooker – and neither did I put down anybody that I think already pretty much broke out, even if they numbers don’t quite show that – guys like Corey Davis, O.J. Howard, Carl Lawson, Jayon Brown and Jaire Alexander come to mind. My final criteria was that the players needed to have seen the field already, which ruled out guys like Derrius Guice and Isaiah Wynn, who I had rated as first-round prospects but missed their rookie years. So with the criteria set and making clear what is necessary for a player to actually break out, here is my list:
So usually I wait for the NFL Network to finish their countdown and then I can look at some of the comparisons, but for some reason they won’t start releasing episodes until two-and-a-half weeks from now. Since training camps are in full swing at that point and I want to look at position battles or maybe even look forward to specific games and such as, I decided to reveal my list now already – which is where I usually do anyway.
Like I do every year, I want to clear up the criteria first. This is a list for the top players in 2019 – therefore players who will miss several games due to suspension (Patrick Peterson for example) or injury (Sheldon Rankins to a lesser degree) won’t be included and I also put together a couple of names that I am just not sure yet about what their status for the upcoming year is. Please understand that I am looking at these players as individual talents and will not reward them fully for what they have around them in terms of teammates or coaches.
As I am starting to project how teams might do in 2019, where they improved and which areas are still question marks for me, I came up with a few squads, who I think are tough to judge and could go a few different ways. I chose three teams from each conference that I think have the biggest volatility, meaning the differential I could see in terms of their win-loss ratio. Some of these might be due to uncertainty at specific positions, while others are about explosive personalities or injury concerns. Therefore, I did not include up-and-coming teams like the Browns and 49ers, who I think very highly of, and no teams that I expect to bounce back after bad 2018 seasons – like the Jaguars and Falcons.
A few weeks into the black hole of the offseason, which is filled with overblown reports from OTAs and media analysts coming up with crazy ideas for discussions, I had the time to go back and analyze which moves teams have made to improve a specific area of their football team. However, this is not about the most improved team overall, such as the Browns who added on several fronts, and I won’t name any teams that only added one superstar at a position and nothing else. This list is more about how these front offices made it a priority to invest into a unit that either needed to get better anyway or might have been solid to this point, but could be a true strength for them in 2019. These are the ten position groups I came up with and I added a few units at the bottom, who didn’t quite make the cut.
After putting out the biggest areas of need for the 16 teams in the NFC, we switch over to the AFC side of things. Once again, this list is about improving all teams as much as possible for this upcoming season by addressing one area of the roster, not building for the future necessarily. That may be just a distinct role player, adding depth at a rather thin position group or even the need for an actual premium at some spot. Like I said when talking about the other conference last week, I am happy that none of these teams are in desperate need for an actual starting quarterback for now and we can focus on other areas.