Monday 22 January 2018 / 05:33 AM


Shining the spotlight on the intriguing individuals to keep a close eye on through the 2017-18 NFL season.

Cody Core (WR – Cincinnati Bengals)

His rookie season followed a strange trajectory — a relative afterthought, not registering a single catch until week 13, before AJ Green’s injury presented him an opportunity, reeling in 17 catches in five games. An imposing presence at 6’3 and 210 lbs, if Core is able to develop into a reliable No.2 option, he opens up all kind of match-up issues for opposing defences and becomes the perfect foil for Green in the backfield.

Frank Clark (DE – Seattle Seahawks)

Battling a wrist injury to be fit for opening week, Clark has the potential to push Seattle’s already elite defence to another level. Primarily used as a rotational backup last season, Clark begun to earn trust and play snaps at end as Michael Bennett moved inside, clocking up 47 tackles and 10 sacks on the year. If he continues his development he projects to become a defensive beast, and should immediately help boost the Seahawks’ passing defence.

Marcus Mariota (QB – Tennessee Titans)

Before breaking his leg, he was enjoying a relatively strong campaign, another career year that suggests his superstar development is well on track. At 23 and in his third season, with a revamped roster and new weapons at his disposal, 2017 could be the year Mariota takes the leap into full blown stardom and leads the Titans to a deep run. With Luck again injured and the other AFC South teams all in flux at the QB spot, at the very least Mariota should begin to challenge for the title of best in his division. Expect career numbers across the board yet again.

James Bradberry (CB – Carolina Panthers)

Letting Josh Norman walk feels better with every developmental step Bradberry takes. Probably the Panthers’ best through the pre-season, he will look to build upon an outstanding rookie season where he flashed the ability to shut down some of the league’s best receivers. Impressive awareness, anticipation and undeniable effort will help ward off a sophomore slump, whilst his increased explosiveness will help improve his individual coverage and help convert his vision into plays.

Myles Garrett (DE – Cleveland Browns)

The first overall pick obviously brings about its own enormous expectations, but Garrett is quickly gaining steam as the potential to be something else. An absolute specimen, with the speed and power to make an immediate impact, word from Browns’ camp is they’ve been just impressed with his ability to pick up the scheme and his dedication to studying the game. Of course, this is all internal and based off training camp, and how he handles the toll of his first NFL season is a major factor, but Garrett is a potential superstar and an absolute must-see this season. Don’t rule out 15+ sacks on the year.

DeShone Kizer (QB – Cleveland Browns)

We stay in Cleveland with another rookie, switching to the offensive side. Now that the much-maligned Brock Osweiler is gone, first-year QB Kizer will have first crack at the starting job. With all the intrigue around the Browns’ improved (and highly-rated) offensive line, Kizer’s pocket presence makes for a suitable pairing. Overcoming a losing culture is tough, and throwing in a rookie can be an inherent risk, but if the Browns want to start afresh, this is the right call. Fears that he may not be ready for full-time minutes will have to be addressed, but with the protection he’ll be afforded, Kizer will have every chance to get off on the right foot and hopefully improve on the Browns’ disastrous 2016/17 campaign.

Sterling Shepard (WR – New York Giants)

The freedom Shepard was provided by playing alongside a definite No.1 option in Odell Beckham Jr is invaluable. With Brandon Marshall moving across town to join from the Jets, Shepard will somehow find himself even further down the opponents’ scouting reports, and should allow him to take further steps without heavy focus. He is an interesting option in what is tipped to be the most potent receiving trio in the league — six of his eight touchdowns last season came in the red zone, making him a legitimate target, and all eight came from the slot position,(the league leader in that area) which is particularly important given his new teammate.

Also keep an eye on..

Jalen Ramsey (CB), Yannick Ngakoue (DE) and Myles Jack (LB) – (Jacksonville Jaguars): The Jags have the opportunity to break into the top 10 on the defensive end, and this young trio’s development will factor heavily into whether or not that takes place. 

Russell Wilson (QB – Seattle Seahawks): Legitimate questions over Seattle’s offensive line has seem to deflate expectations of their offence, immediately making Wilson’s upcoming campaign all the more polarising. It might just be a hunch, but I’m buying all the available Wilson stock.

Joey Bosa (DE – San Diego Chargers): 10.5 sacks and 17 tackles on a 5-11 team as a rookie is very, very impressive. The strong and mobile Bosa will look to increase those marks in a new system that should allow him the freedom to launch attacks on the QB more frequently.

Andrew Luck (QB – Indianopolis Colts): His health, as per usual, will play a massive part on the success of their season. Nobody is doubting his star label, he just needs to convert it into success. 

Ezekiel Elliott (RB – Dallas Cowboys): The wild saga will drag on (and it’s possible he will both play week one and be suspended), but there is no doubting all eyes will be on Elliott throughout the season. How he responds to the pressure, and how it impacts the Cowboy’s season, will be fascinating viewing.

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About the author

Brayden Issa

Brayden is a Sydney-based sports management student and sports fanatic, specialising in rugby league, basketball, football and cricket. He is concerned with everything related to professional sports performance and management.

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