We made it! NFL training camp is here!!
For us football fiends, the dog days of summer are officially over. We're now squarely in the ramp up to the 2022 season. These are glorious times, as hope springs across the NFL landscape.
But questions remain -- serious questions, on all 32 rosters. And for certain individuals, the next month looms LARGE.
Here is my annual list of players who NEED a strong showing in training camp, Schein Nine style.
On Saturday, July 30, NFL Network will present Training Camp: Back Together Saturday. Beginning at 9 a.m. ET, more than 50 analysts, reporters and team correspondents will provide 13 hours of live coverage from training camps across the NFL -- plus, check out NFL Films-produced wired sound of players and coaches in action.
Personally, I wouldn't have taken the North Dakota State product at No. 3 overall two Aprils ago. I would've gone with Mac Jones instead. Don't believe me? Two days before the 2021 NFL Draft kicked off, I topped a Schein Nine with this take: Mac Jones to San Francisco makes perfect sense. So this isn't a "Hindsight's 20/20" situation. As expressed in that file, I thought Jones would've been a prime Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate in Kyle Shanahan's offense. But alas, San Francisco opted for the toolsy Lance. And don't get me wrong: I think Trey's upside is tremendous. I'm quite intrigued by his raw skill set. But I first-guessed that Mac would be ready to rock and roll in Year 1, poised to make the most of the superb surrounding talent and fantastic coaching in San Francisco. Instead, Lance was the pick, and he wasn't ready to take the reins as a rookie, forcing the Niners to rely on Jimmy G. In the playoffs, that just wasn't enough, with Garoppolo's fourth-quarter woes rearing their ugly head again in the NFC Championship Game loss to the Rams.
Clearly, San Francisco's upside was capped with Jimmy G under center. Consequently, it's time to throw the 22-year-old into the fire. Trey Lance must prove he's the guy. This might be an unfair standard, but the second-year pro has to show he can quarterback this team to the Super Bowl. The roster is worthy everywhere else. The Niners should be the biggest NFC threat to the Rams. Shoot, before falling to the Rams on Championship Sunday, San Francisco swept Los Angeles during the regular season last year. In fact, that was the 49ers' third straight regular-season sweep of the Rams.
With his dual-threat ability, Lance should be some type of Josh Allen Light -- especially with Shanahan calling the plays. The young QB needs to inspire this summer. He has to show it's his football team and give the Niners confidence they will still be around deep into the coming winter.
Remember when Michael Thomas was a record-setting Offensive Player of the Year? That seems like eons ago, with a balky ankle costing the wideout nine games in 2020 and the entire 2021 campaign. Starting training camp on the physically unable to perform list certainly isn't ideal. Sure, he can come off the PUP list at any point and start practicing (UPDATE: Thomas did indeed come off the PUP list and practice on Wednesday), but it's quite disconcerting that he's still dealing with this ankle issue. Especially for a team that, I believe, can be much more competitive than most people seem to think.
I'm very high on the Saints this year. While Sean Payton's gone, the coaching staff maintained great continuity. New head man Dennis Allen is gonna field a beastly defense once again. If Thomas is healthy, New Orleans can -- and will -- win the NFC South. I think he's that important. If available, Thomas will make Jameis Winston that much better, giving the quarterback a true WR1 to lean on. He'll smooth out first-round receiver Chris Olave's transition from college to the pros; same story with Jarvis Landry in his transition from Cleveland to New Orleans.
Thomas is a tone-setter, a dominant force who spreads confidence out to the rest of the roster. But he can only do that from the field, not the tub.
The Titans rolled the dice when they picked Farley at No. 22 overall two Aprils ago. The cornerback's raw talent was never in question, but his injury history was a serious concern, especially after he went under the knife for back surgery just a month before the 2021 NFL Draft. Farley suited up for the season opener as a rookie, but missed the next three games with a shoulder injury. Then he made his first NFL start in Week 6 ... only to tear his ACL in the second quarter. The man is just snake-bitten. It's brutal, especially given his potential impact in Nashville.
At 6-foot-2, Farley brings ideal size to the cornerback position. He's fluid, he's fast and, as a former wide receiver at Virginia Tech, he possesses great ball skills. I truly believe he has the makeup to be a star in this league. But he just can't stay on the field. On the plus side, Farley is not starting camp on the PUP list. This is huge -- for the cornerback and the two-time reigning AFC South champions.
I have serious questions about Tennessee this season, especially on the offensive side of the ball, where A.J. Brown's loss will be felt in a big way. But Mike Vrabel's defense has the pieces to become elite, with Jeffery Simmons, Harold Landry and Co. wreaking havoc up front while the stellar safety duo of Kevin Byard and Amani Hooker holds it down in the back end. Farley could be the kind of top-tier cover man who pushes the unit over the top. He just needs a little help on the health front. Can you toss the guy a bone, Football Gods?
Regular readers know I don't believe in Daniel Jones. Like, at all. Honestly, I think the Giants should start Tyrod Taylor, who protects the football in a way Jones couldn't even imagine. "Danny Dimes" has 49 turnovers in 38 career games! That's preposterous for a starting quarterback -- and it's why I don't see Jones being a starting quarterback much longer.
I love this new Giants regime of head coach Brian Daboll and general manager Joe Schoen. They wisely chose not to pick up Jones' fifth-year option. I don't believe he'll be a Giant in 2023. But if there's any salvaging Jones' future prospects in New York or -- most likely -- elsewhere, it begins with this training camp. While a good camp doesn't mean Jones is poised for a breakthrough season in 2022 -- something, again, I can't personally envision -- a bad camp gives Big Blue a "here we go again" feel, immediately upending the positive vibes of a productive offseason under new leadership.
The Bills are thinking Super Bowl. That's the only standard with this loaded roster. But the backfield remains a huge question mark, with an inability to consistently run the football plaguing the team at times last season.
Now, Singletary flashed down the stretch, scoring nine touchdowns in Buffalo's final six games, including the playoffs. But can we expect him to routinely carry the load and complement the dual-threat dynamo that is Josh Allen? Color me skeptical. And color the Bills skeptical, too, as they spent a second-round selection on explosive RB James Cook, a pick I loved. Now, Cook doesn't project as a three-down workhorse in the NFL; he could be most valuable in the passing game, where he brings potent playmaking ability. So, there's still plenty of room for Singletary to have a role. But he needs to show it in the coming month.
Given how loaded the AFC looks entering the 2022 season, Buffalo will need to execute week in and week out in order to snag the No. 1 seed and first-round bye. Allen has the ability to drive this pass-first offense to great heights, but he'll need a backfield mate to give him some relief every now and then.
When you are a former first-round pick and you get traded for the equivalent of a ham sandwich (a 2024 seventh-round pick, to be specific), your career obviously hasn't played out as anticipated. But Harry has a clear opportunity to get things back on track in Chicago.
Beyond Darnell Mooney, the Bears receiving corps is WIDE OPEN -- and not in the positive sense associated with an uncovered pass catcher. The depth chart includes the likes of Byron Pringle, Equanimeous St. Brown, Tajae Sharpe, Dante Pettis, Dazz Newsome and rookie Velus Jones Jr.. Not exactly a murderer's row right there. WR snaps are available for the taking! Will Harry -- whom New England took with the last pick of Round 1 in 2019, ahead of Deebo Samuel, A.J. Brown, DK Metcalf, Diontae Johnson and Terry McLaurin -- answer the bell? His career kind of relies on it. And Bears QB Justin Fields needs all the help he can get in Year 2.
Taken with the No. 11 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft -- two picks ahead of Tristan Wirfs, who just earned first-team All-Pro honors -- Becton was supposed to be New York's franchise left tackle for the foreseeable future. But two years into his NFL tenure, the enormous edge blocker is teetering on becoming an enormous bust. After a promising rookie campaign, Becton played in just one game last season due to injury. But it wasn't just that -- his conditioning and work ethic came into serious question, with head coach Robert Saleh basically challenging him to prove his worth in February.
"I think Mekhi has the skill set to do whatever he wants," Saleh said at the Senior Bowl. "He's just got to put his mind to it."
Becton skipped the Jets' voluntary offseason workouts, but returned for mandatory minicamp and said he's "definitely coming back with that chip on my shoulder." He had better be. Becton's reputation is under fire. And his role is unclear. Competing with George Fant at left tackle? Right tackle? Right out of town? Buckle up.
For a guy with a rock-solid résumé and consistent ability to get to the quarterback, Ngakoue sure has bounced around a lot. Originally drafted by the Jaguars, he split 2020 between the Vikings and Ravens before spending last season with the Raiders. Now, after being traded straight up for CB Rock Ya-Sin, Ngakoue enters Year 1 as a Colt. That's a whole lot of movement for someone who's logged at least eight sacks every season since entering the league in 2016, with 12 in his Pro Bowl campaign of 2017 and 10 this past year. But maybe he's finally found a home in Indianapolis, a team that sorely needs more pressure off the edge.
Ngakoue was drafted by Gus Bradley in Jacksonville. Bradley is now the Colts' new defensive coordinator. Having Ngakoue hit the ground running feels like a rather big need if Bradley's poised to take this Colts defense to the next level.
The old brass took Okudah with the No. 3 overall pick back in 2020. I didn't understand it -- honestly, I didn't think he was the third-best defensive player in the draft. Year 1 was an unmitigated disaster defined by injuries and poor play. The new regime had high hopes for Okudah's sophomore season in 2021 ... until he ruptured his Achilles in Week 1. That's a brutal injury for a quick-twitch position.
Will Okudah ever live up to his draft pedigree? I have serious doubts. But he avoided the PUP list entering training camp. And I love this Lions coaching staff. Defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn and DBs coach Aubrey Pleasant will get the most out of whatever Okudah has to offer. But that's the question: What does he have to offer? Okudah has a lot to prove. And the Lions have a real need at the cornerback position.
Follow Adam Schein on Twitter.
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