A new NFL season is upon us and that means in addition to rooting for your team, you’re going to want to know who else to watch out for. What teams are up and down on a weekly basis can be a bit of a guessing game, still, here are ten NFL players who will be making major contributions to their team every week and who we think are going to be absolutely fascinating to watch throughout the 2016 regular season and playoffs. Don’t forget, you can catch every NFL game on SiriusXM NFL Radio (Ch. 88).
Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers: The reigning MVP’s stat line from Super Bowl 50? 18 of 41 for 265 yards, 0 touchdowns, one interception and oh yes, he was sacked six times. Does anyone not think that poor performance left a terrible taste in Newton’s mouth? That he’s focused on reminding every doubter and hater that he’s a bad, bad man? Cam Newton does not lack for motivation and neither does the rest of this very good Carolina Panthers squad. If Cam stays healthy he should be on track for another MVP-caliber season.
Trevor Siemian, Denver Broncos: From one Super Bowl quarterback to the one replacing Peyton Manning. Siemian enters the 2016 NFL season in one of the strangest positions imaginable: attempting to fill the shoes of Peyton Manning, arguably the greatest NFL quarterback of all time. Success or no, Siemian’s progress on a weekly basis will make for a fascinating watch. Denver’s defense is rugged enough to keep the team in most games and if Siemian can deliver on a Brock Osweiler level, the Broncos should be in good shape.
Tyrann Mathieu, Arizona Cardinals: The Cardinals are primed to make another deep playoff run and a healthy “Honey Badger” will make their fearsome defense all the more intense. Matthieu plays an integral and wholly unique role for the Desert Swarm’s (part-time linebacker, part-time safety) highly adaptable scheme. When he’s on the field, Mathieu is a perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate, it’s just a matter of him staying healthy for a full season.
Ezekiel Elliot/Alfred Morris: With Tony Romo’s injury putting him on the shelf until at least Week 6, Dallas’ offense is a much different beast than it was projecting to be. But they’ve still got that impressive offensive line and those explosive running backs in rookie Ezekiel Elliot and Alfred Morris, newly imported from Washington. If Morris and Elliot can carry the load offensively while Dak Prescott gets his sea legs, the Cowboys should be in good shape for Romo’s return and a legitimate push toward the playoffs.
Marvin Jones, Detroit Lions: After working across from A.J. Green in Cincinnati for the past few seasons, Jones got a nice payday when he signed with Detroit. Will Jones be able to live up to his paycheck? Detroit’s offense is in a state of flux with the departure of Calvin Johnson and while no single player can fill that void; Jones will have to prove to his teammates and the Detroit faithful that he can deliver while lining up across from Golden Tate.
Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams: The marvelous human battering ram that is Todd Gurley returns for another season of leaving would-be defenders in his wake, but LA’s offensive line (and Jeff Fisher’s strong tendency to overuse his running backs) leaves Todd Gurley in a precarious position. Can the reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year stay healthy and keep his YPC average up while also carrying the team’s offense on his massive shoulders? Either way, Gurley’s sophomore campaign will be appointment television as he remains one of the most electric players out there every single Sunday.
Kam Chancellor, Seattle Seahawks: Richard Sherman and Michael Bennett understandably get most of the credit for Seattle’s perennially excellent defense. Kam Chancellor’s flexibility and punishing gameplay, however, are the secret sauce that fuels this elite unit. Chancellor’s range, size, and capabilities make him an indispensable asset to the ‘Hawks. Take the time to watch #31 when Seattle’s on and study his impact. His roving presence anywhere in the front seven to anywhere in the secondary is immeasurable and fascinating.
Blake Bortles, Jacksonville Jaguars: Bortles is the conductor of Jacksonville’s young, explosive offense and a year after making some major strides this season should be his big breakout. With target magnets Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns and Julius Thomas all healthy and all in step with Bortles, Jacksonville fans should be ready for plenty of fireworks.
Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Winston’s another year wiser and with Dirk Koetter taking on the head coaching responsibilities the second-year signal caller should have an even better year after making some waves in 2015 as a rookie. Tampa Bay, despite their struggles the past few seasons, has the personnel on offense (Mike Evans, Austin Seferian-Jenkins and the ageless Vincent Jackson) to allow Winston to flourish. Getting the NFC West as their non-divisional opponents means that Winston is going to be severely tested by both Seattle and Arizona’s defenses, but aside from those two likely losses the Bucs and Winston should get theirs on a routine basis.
Olivier Vernon, New York Giants: After breaking into the league with Dolphins (and having several up and down seasons), Olivier Vernon signed a pricey new contract with the New York Giants. It’s far too early to tell if this signing will pay dividends for either party, but the move certainly passes the smell test for now. A change of venue can only help Vernon after the tumult and turmoil that Miami has gone through coaching-wise and personnel-wise. With Tom Coughlin no longer running things in NYC, it’s clear with this move that the Giants are still as dedicated as ever to a fearsome pass rush. Whether Vernon can deliver that pass rush consistently remains to be seen, but we are talking about a young and aggressive defensive end who should pair very well in New York’s defensive line.