The first full week of football in 2018 is upon us. We got a small taste last Thursday with the Hall of Fame game. Now we get the whole dose that we’ve all desperately been waiting for. Let’s check out some players and games to pay close attention to this week.
SEC Player to Watch
My player to watch for this season is former Crimson Tide standout Calvin Ridley who was drafted by the Falcons with the 26th pick in the draft.
Ridley electrified college football fans during his tenure at Alabama. He has the rare blend of speed, hands, and route running ability. Ridley is smooth in and out of his breaks. He has high football IQ and always knows where to be on the field. The Falcons are sure to be excited with their new offensive weapon. They already have all-world wideout Julio Jones, who is also an Alabama alum. The two Alabama receivers will wreak havoc on the league.
They both received their coaching under the Saban philosophy. Ridley was recently quoted as saying that after playing at Alabama the NFL hasn’t been much of a stretch, “I feel like it’s pretty much the same,” Ridley said. “I’m up here trying to get better. It’s not too different to me”. The work ethic and approach that they both bring will only sharpen each other in their respective games.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Calvin is in the running for Offensive Rookie of the Year at the end of the season. Fantasy folks should keep an eye on him in the middle rounds as he could be a solid WR3 or bench option.
Saints vs. Jaguars
This game features a high-powered offense versus a shutdown defense making it an exciting preseason matchup. Former Vol Alvin Kamara exploded onto the scene last year as the tandem back to Mark Ingram. But with Ingram serving a four-game suspension, Kamara should get the primary action. The Saints are also glad to have Georgia Bulldog Benjamin Watson back in New Orleans. The veteran tight end will be trying to duplicate his 2015 season with the Saints when he finished with over 800 receiving yards.
On offense for the Jags LSU legend, Leonard Fournette is primed to make a year two jump. One of the main areas he needed to work over the offseason was in the passing game. With his build, he can be a one on one nightmare out of the backfield. If he has improved in that area, he could quickly cement himself as one of the five best backs in the league. An intriguing player to keep an eye on is wide receiver DJ Chark. He went under the radar at LSU but exploded onto the scene after his senior bowl performance of 5 catches for 160 yards. He’s been impressive so far in practice which is a good indication of his skill set considering he’s going against corners Jalen Ramsey and A.J Bouye. Unfortunately, Florida defensive lineman, Taven Bryan, may be out due to an abdominal injury. The Jags 1st round pick in 2018 has been getting a lot of reps in practice at both defensive end and tackle. He is looking to carve out some playtime on the league’s best defensive line.
Titans vs. Packers
The Titans are looking to leap forward under first-year head coach Mike Vrabel. The Packers are looking to rebound from a tough season with a healthy Aaron Rodgers. A handful of SEC players will try and make those wishes come true for both of their teams. For the Titans, Alabama guys like Derrick Henry and Rashaan Evans are convenient places to look for help. Derrick Henry is a hot name right now among analysts. With the signing of Dion Lewis, Henry has a perfect counterpart. Combine that with a brand new play caller in Matt LaFluer, and we have a recipe for potentially the best running back duo in football save for Kamara and Ingram. On the defensive side of the ball, 1st round pick Rashaan Evans will be eyeing to transform the middle of the defense. Regrettably, it seems he’ll have to wait as he hasn’t practiced since July 28th with an apparent heat-related illness.
For Mike McCarthy and the Packers its Ha-Ha Clinton Dix and Oren Burks on defense. Ha-Ha is the best player in the Packer’s secondary so expect good things from him. Burks is a rookie out of Vanderbilt. He is one of the more underrated players from the 2018 draft. He has outstanding sideline to sideline tackling ability. We also have Randall Cobb and J’Mon Moore on offense. Cobb has been declining in production over the past couple of seasons, so he is undoubtedly hoping for a bounce-back season. J’Mon Moore could be the next great Packer receiver, or he could be yet another failed talent. The Missouri alum has the skill set to be a #1 receiver he just has to put it all together.
Steelers vs. Eagles
Reigning Super Bowl champs Philadelphia will be trying to build off their success from last season and cement themselves as one of the league’s best. The Steelers are attempting to squeeze the last juice out of Roethlisberger before he calls it quits. For the Eagles, they’re touting SEC alums Alshon Jeffrey, Derek Barnett, Michael Bennett, Fletcher Cox, and Mike Wallace among others. The Eagles defensive line is like many NFL teams in that it is full of SEC talent. One of those linemen worth watching is Tennessee all-time sack leader Derek Barnett. He had a productive rookie season last year, but more will be expected of him in his sophomore campaign. Wide receiver Mike Wallace is a newcomer, but he’s been around the league awhile. He will be a reliable weapon for quarterback Carson Wentz and the explosive Eagle’s offense.
The Steelers have a handful of Tennessee guys, the best and most consistent among them being guard Ramon Foster. Look out for defensive back Cam Sutton though. The versatile Volunteer has been everywhere in practice and appears likely to be a vital piece of the defense. Being able to play multiple positions in the secondary is becoming a highly sought-after skill and one that has helped Sutton carve out a role on the Steelers. They also have Joe Haden and Mike Hilton at cornerback. So, their secondary is solidly SEC which is never a bad thing.
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