There are a variety of reasons why a player may need to have a strong training camp and preseason. It could be due to a contract year, or it could be to elevate exposure to other programs and alter preexisting narratives, among other reasons. Some of those situations are laid out below.
Earlier this month, I wrote aboutduring training camp. Those players obviously need to have strong training camps as well. Here are eight players who need a strong camp.
Jeudy had a statistically pleasing season in 2020 despite some drops along the way. The most recent campaign was a bit of a setback as he missed six games. Most assume that an upgrade at quarterback will benefit the Alabama product, but he has to live up to his end of the bargain as well. Jeudy was highly thought of in the 2020 NFL Draft but ended up being the third wide receiver selected. Expectations are high but if he is not ready, then Russell Wilson is not going to have any problem spreading the ball around to wide receivers Courtland Sutton and Tim Patrick, as well as tight end Albert Okwuegbunam.
Okudah has played in a total of 10 games during his first two NFL seasons. He had a different coaching staff for each season. The former No. 3 overall selection was held in a similar regard as former Buckeyes Denzel Ward and Marshon Lattimore entering the draft. His interest in playing downhill and making plays in the backfield is one reason I was high on the Texas native.
The Ohio State export seems to be in a good place with his recovery from a torn Achilles tendon to ensure this is his best season yet. A high-level defender still lies within somewhere.
Carolina is collecting quarterbacks from the 2018 NFL Draft. Darnold, the No. 3 overall selection, entered the equation last offseason but did not play as well as the franchise had hoped. The light has not gone off on an opportunity to start in this league but it is flickering. The trade for Mayfield, the No. 1 overall selection, has made his path even more complicated. Realistically, the upcoming season will be the last for one or both with the Panthers. They are each playing out fifth-year options.
If Carolina had felt comfortable going into the year with Darnold and rookie Matt Corral as the two main options at quarterback, they would not have traded for Mayfield, whose presence would indicate that he is the odds-on favorite to start Week 1. Mayfield has more confidence and is eager to not only prove to the Browns that they were wrong to cast him aside, but to the entire NFL that he deserves a new contract and a starting job. Head coach Matt Rhule very well could be on the hot seat, which supported interest in Mayfield, who has achieved individual and team success in his career.
Few players have faced the level of scrutiny as Becton over the past two years. There were moments of brilliance during his rookie season but it was disrupted by injury. After missing two games his rookie year, the Louisville lineman played in just one game in an encore performance. Offseasons have been littered with rumors regarding his physical shape and conditioning which, in turn, led to pre-draft buzz suggesting New York could use one of its two top 10 selections on an offensive tackle. Instead, they drafted Cincinnati cornerback Ahmad 'Sauce' Gardner and Ohio State wide receiver Garrett Wilson, which put an end to the discussion for now. Becton needs to stack some positive days and curry some favor with media.
Jacksonville and Kirk were hot topics this offseason as the Jaguars extended a very lucrative contract offer to the ex-Cardinal. The deal makes Kirk the 16th highest paid wide receiver in terms of average annual salary, which places him ahead of Mike Evans and Tyler Lockett to name a few. The contract was agreed upon by both parties, but it immediately placed a lot of pressure on Kirk to live up lofty expectations. The Texas A&M output is coming off his best season to date but has not delivered a 1,000 receiving yard season in his four NFL seasons.
Wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. would also be a candidate for this list. The previous coaching staff did not seem to know how to use him so if he remains a misfit for new head coach Doug Pederson, then he could be a trade candidate as teams look to fill out their regular season rosters.
As a rookie in 2019, Williams flashed his potential by recording 32 receptions for 428 yards and three touchdowns despite playing in just eight games. In fact, he has played in just eight games each of his three seasons in the NFL. The Colorado State product's production has decreased each year and that led to the franchise hitting the reset button this offseason, trading for Tyreek Hill and signing free agent Cedrick Wilson. Combined with last year's first round selection Jaylen Waddle and tight end Mike Gesicki, it is difficult to imagine that there are many, if any, targets to go around for Williams in South Beach this season.
A strong training camp could bring exposure back to the 25-year-old opening a door for a larger role or a trade elsewhere. There is an obvious amount of talent in that 6-foot-5 frame but time is running out.
Hardman is the longest-tenured wide receiver on Kansas City's roster following the decision to trade Tyreek Hill. In three years combined, Hardman has just 15 more receptions than Hill had last season alone. An opportunity has been placed at his feet, but the franchise has added Skyy Moore, Juju Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling this offseason to compete. Hardman needs to capitalize on his pre-existing relationship with quarterback Patrick Mahomes and assert himself as a primary outlet in the Chiefs offense. To strengthen his position on the list, the 2022 season is the final year of his rookie contract.