Players To Watch In NFL Training Camp: AFC West
The Father chooses one player from each team to keep an eye this summer
Training camps will be opening up later this month, and roster battles will begin, new players will find a role, injured players will seek a return to form, old players will try to show they still have it, and young players will try to show they have improved. Every team has their own storylines and players to watch, and I am going to take a little time over the next couple weeks to highlight some of these players. I will pick one player from each team to highlight to keep an eye on in training camp. If they can fulfill their destiny, they can make a big difference in what happens with their team this year.
We now move on to the AFC West.
Kansas City Chiefs: Clyde Edwards-Helaire
Edwards-Helaire was the Chiefs number one pick last year and the immediate starter at running back for the Chiefs thanks to the opt-out of Damien Williams. Edwards-Helaire had a very up and down season in 2020. He struggled at times at the goal line, suffered an ankle injury in week 15 that hampered him the rest of the year, and he didn’t impact the passing game the way many forecast. His yards per carry was mediocre in an offense that should have allowed him to put up big numbers. With that said, there were some strong performances, including a huge game against their top competition in the AFC, the Bills. Damien Williams is permanently gone now after being released, and Le’Veon Bell is gone after being mostly ineffective for the last 4 years. That means the team hasn’t lost faith in Clyde. Keep an eye on his burst and pass catching opportunities this preseason. With their re-tooled offensive line, he should have a lot of chances to stand out. Also, keep an eye on any last second additions to challenge his status.
San Diego Chargers: Derwin James
I don’t feel like the Chargers offense has much to prove this preseason. Herbert, Ekler, Allen and company had a huge year last year, and I don’t see this group taking a step back. On the other side of the ball, however, a defense full of star level talent disappointed throughout last year, and, mixed with their atrocious special teams, are the reason they managed to be a losing team despite having an excellent offense. One major reason for this is the preseason injury to James which knocked him out for the entire season. This continued an unfortunate run for James, including missing most of 2019 with a preseason foot injury. James is one of the top safeties in the NFL when healthy, and his ability to cover tight ends is critical for a team that faces Travis Kelce and Darren Waller twice a year. In camp, the main thing we are watching for is something that won’t happen, hopefully: another camp injury. If he looks explosive, healthy, and strong, he could be a difference maker for a new coach with a defensive mind.
Oakland Raiders: Clelin Ferrell
Ferrell comes into this season in a make or break situation for the Raiders. When the Raiders made the decision to trade superstar pass rusher Khalil Mack to the Bears, it was understood that they would use the talents of newly hired Mike Mayock to remake the team in the draft in the image of Jon Gruden. Ferrell is the biggest piece of these picks, having been taken number four overall. Ferrell was expected to come in, and, while being Mack was a little too much expectation, double digit sack totals were expected for a pick taken there. Instead, they have gotten 6.5 in two seasons. That’s simply not enough. While he has held up well against the run, and shown flashes, this team is banking on him providing a regular rush, to keep pressure off of the developing secondary. He needs to show consistent disruptive ability, starting in camp and throughout the season, or it will be time to start considering this pick (and that trade) a legitimate bust.
Denver Broncos: Drew Lock
This is probably the final chance for Lock to be a starting QB in the NFL. That probably feels extreme given his young age, but the lack of draft pedigree, two years of mediocre tape, and the fact that no other GM is linked to his success, means that if he doesn’t make it work here, he is probably headed toward a career as a backup if this season doesn’t pan out. This is also very important for the Broncos, who opted to pass on several possible replacements in the draft for Teddy Bridgewater, who is also a career backup at this point. If Bridgewater beats him out, we know what the cap is for this Broncos season. If Lock steps up, however, reduces his turnover and makes better use of his weapons, the Broncos could have playoff level chops. They have great pieces on defense, and at every skill position. The only reason this team has been bad is under center. In camp, look to see if he is still struggling to identify defenses and avoid mistakes. Otherwise, the Broncos’ mistake will be passing on players like Justin Fields and Mac Jones.