NFL Watch List: Keep an eye on these 5 players during Week 1
The 2020 NFL season is officially underway, as the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs defeated the Houston Texans and covered as 9.5-point favorites in front of a reduced crowd at Arrowhead Stadium on Thursday.
That was just the appetizer.
The first NFL Sunday of the year is upon us, with a full slate of games and some spicy matchups to whet the appetites of sports bettors.
In the midst of a global pandemic, there was no shortage of big-name players on the move this spring and summer. Here are the five players to keep an eye on in Week 1.
Joe Burrow (Cincinnati Bengals)
The Cincinnati Bengals did as expected and selected LSU Tigers quarterback Joe Burrow with the first overall pick of the NFL Draft in April.
Almost five months later, Burrow is tasked with being the cornerstone of a rebuilding Bengals franchise that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2015. He will make his first career NFL start against the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday.
The expectations for Burrow couldn’t be any higher. He had a historic 2019 season at LSU, throwing for 5,671 yards on 402 completions. He had 60 touchdowns and only six interceptions. It culminated in a national championship in January.
The NFL is a different beast, however. Every young quarterback goes through hiccups early in their professional career, no matter how talented or how high up they went in the draft. It’s fair to temper expectations for his first start on Sunday.
Tom Brady (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
After 20 years and six Super Bowl titles as quarterback for the New England Patriots, Tom Brady went south in the offseason, signing with the upstart Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
At the age of 43, Brady will make his first start for the Buccaneers on Sunday, as they visit the New Orleans Saints in an NFC South showdown that suddenly got a lot more interesting with two future Hall-of-Fame quarterbacks set to square off.
At his best, Brady could systematically pick apart opposing defenses when the Patriots built their dynasty. He’s not getting any younger, but the Buccaneers are stacked with talent on the offensive side of the ball.
Brady will have his choice of throwing to Mike Evans or Chris Godwin, who both recorded 1,000-plus yard receiving seasons in 2019. He has been reunited with tight end Rob Gronkowski, who comes out of retirement for another potential shot at the Lombardi Trophy. And Tampa Bay added former first-round pick Leonard Fournette to its backfield last week.
Leonard Fournette is headed to the Tampa Bay Bucs.— Shea Dixon (@Sheadixon) September 3, 2020
He is now on the same offense as QB Tom Brady, WR Mike Evans, WR Chris Godwin + TE's Rob Gronkowski and O.J. Howard.
He's also w/ former #LSU players like Devin White, Kevin Minter and Michael Divinity.https://t.co/jZ41gZMaph pic.twitter.com/4iv5SLH5Zd
There should be no shortage of options for Brady to choose from in this offense. Will it pay immediate dividends on Sunday?
Cam Newton (New England Patriots)
It’s difficult to comprehend at first, but Cam Newton is now 31 years old and is entering his 10th season in the NFL. After nine years in Carolina that started with him getting selected first overall in 2011, Newton has undergone a change of scenery.
Newton is now the starting quarterback for the Patriots. He will attempt to fill the big shoes of the aforementioned Brady.
For the Patriots, that should give them a more competitive advantage over starting Brian Hoyer or Jarrett Stidham. For Newton, there’s a chance at redemption. Carolina released him early in the offseason after injuries marred his final years with the Panthers.
The Patriots open the season against the Miami Dolphins. New England is the favorite, and Newton should have plenty of motivation playing on a one-year deal, as he looks to recapture that dynamic element that made him the NFL MVP in 2015.
Todd Gurley (Atlanta Falcons)
Todd Gurley seemed like an unstoppable force as running back for the Los Angeles Rams in 2017 and 2018. He rushed for a combined 2,556 yards and 30 touchdowns in those seasons. He also had more than 1,200 yards receiving in that time, with 10 touchdowns through the air.
He is reportedly dealing with arthritis in his knee, which makes an already physically demanding position all the more difficult to play at the absolute highest level.
The Rams released Gurley from a four-year, $60 million contract in March. He signed with the Atlanta Falcons this offseason.
The Falcons host the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday. It’s a team that Gurley feasted on in 2017 and 2018 in the NFC West, and perhaps Gurley is primed for a big day against the Seahawks defense.
CeeDee Lamb (Dallas Cowboys)
CeeDee Lamb was a contender to be the first receiver off the board in this year’s NFL Draft, but ultimately the chips didn’t fall that way.
He went in the first round, 17th overall, to the Dallas Cowboys after an outstanding three-year career at Oklahoma. He posted 1,327 yards receiving and 14 touchdowns last season, and has the potential to make a major impact as a rookie this season.
Rookie receivers sometimes don’t match the lofty expectations set for them at the beginning of their first year, so patience is a key for their development. The good news is the Cowboys boast a solid receiver corps with Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup. Not to mention, running back Ezekiel Elliott is a dual threat.
Lamb has loads of talent, and playing in such a talented offense makes him an intriguing player to watch on Sunday. If the L.A. Rams focus their attention on trying to shut down Elliott, Cooper and Gallup, it may leave an opportunity open for Lamb to make an impact.