As the NFL regular season rapidly approaches, teams look at their roster and the players who will make the final roster. After all, there are only 53 men who can make the final roster of each team.
While no roster spot is safe, there are some players who are looking to do more than fight for a roster spot. These players are the ones who are looking to be day one starters. For the early draft picks, they intend to prove that they can live up to their early draft selection and hype. For the picks in the later rounds, they want to prove that they can be the next Tom Brady.
Whatever their story or draft selection, here are five NFL players whom NFL fans should have their eyes on and who have the most to prove in their rookie year.
Nicknamed “Zeke,” the Ohio State product was taken fourth overall in the 2016 NFL Draft. Instantly when he was taken, the expectations were like weights on his shoulders.
Elliott was after all coming off two straight 1,800-yard seasons. These two prolific years at Ohio State vaulted the 21-year-old back to No. 2 all-time on the Buckeyes career rushing list, ahead of Hall of Fame back Eddie George.
If the pressure to perform wasn’t enough, Elliott was also charged with a domestic abuse accusation from his girlfriend on July 22. Luckily for Elliott, he was not arrested or had any charges pressed against him.
According to USA Today, Elliott’s father, Stacy, released this statement: “The reported allegations and Internet postings regarding our son are completely false. Ezekiel has done nothing wrong,” read the statement. “The police have investigated this matter and eyewitnesses have verified the lack of any wrongdoing. The actual evidence in this matter clearly indicates what the real motivation was behind the police being called. We are confident that when the truth comes to light it will reveal the falsity of these claims. Ezekiel has been fully cooperative with the police and will continue to do so — along with cooperating with the NFL — moving forward.”
However this legal case plays out, Elliott will certainly be under the microscope once he is healthy enough to play in his first NFL game this preseason.
It was no surprise that the Rams took Goff No. 1 overall in the 2016 NFL Draft. As you can imagine, the pressure is on for the Rams to find a franchise QB; they haven’t had a Pro Bowl quarterback since Kurt Warner.
Goff has been a starter since he was a true freshman at California. As a freshman in 2013, he set single-season records for passing yards (3,508), yardage gained (3,508), total offense (3,446), passes completed (320), and passes attempted (531) for the Golden Bears.
Goff completed 2014 with 3,973 yards, 35 touchdowns, and a 62 percent completion rate and was even better in 2015 where he bettered his own records in passing yards (4,714), touchdown passes (43), and total offense (4,260) in a single season.
The question isn’t Goff’s statistics, but whether or not he can make a successful leap to the NFL. While it’s always a question of any college quarterback, the pressure is on Goff to justify the No. 1 selection that the Rams used on him.
Another question about Goff is the spread style that he was accustomed to in college and how he will grow in more a pro-style Rams’ offense. The preseason will be huge for Goff’s development and transition to the NFL.
While the Rams don’t necessarily have to start Goff from the get-go, there still is an added pressure of starting sooner rather than later, especially being drafted before everyone else. The NFL preseason is certainly the place to see what Goff is really made of and how pro-ready he is.
At Ole Miss, Laremy Tunsil was regarded as a five-star prospect and lived up to that hype. In 2015, Tunsil received All-American second team and All-SEC first team honors as well.
A draft report on Tunsil by the NFL website reads that he (Tunsil) “has the elite foot quickness of a high-end NFL tackle and his base remains balanced and uncompromised throughout his pass reps. Excellent bend and overall flexibility in his ankles, knees and hips and maintains good pad level throughout his pass sets. Plays with textbook hand usage. Possesses a boxer’s jab in his left hand with measured accuracy, timing and force. Uses length to control the rep, but is willing to slide and mirror without even punching if defender continues to linger outside his reach. “Basketball defender” who understands importance of footwork and positioning in pass protection.”
Drawing Tyron Smith comparisons, Tunsil was a projected top-five draft pick. Unfortunately for him, his draft stock took a plummet thanks to a 30-second video clip that emerged from his Twitter account just 30 minutes before the draft began. This video showed Tunsil wearing a black gas mask and inhaling a marijuana-like substance through a bong.
Seeing this, many NFL teams immediately took Tunsil off their board. The projected high pick fell from the top-10 and looked to fall even further. That is until the Miami Dolphins took a chance by taking Tunsil with the 13th pick.
If that wasn’t enough, someone also hacked Tunsil’s Instagram account and revealed that Tunsil asked an athletic administrator at Ole Miss for money to pay rent.
After the draft, Tunsil addressed both of these accusations against him.
“Man, it was a mistake. It happened years ago,” Tunsil said about the video. “I’m going to show everyone what type of person I am.”
When asked about the payments, Tunsil had this to say: “I’d have to say yeah. Those were true. I made a mistake.”
With all of these things against him, Tunsil has a lot to prove about his character and also about his ability to play in the NFL. It will be interesting to see how it plays out, and how Tunsil plays this preseason will affect his playing time going into the regular season.
[Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images]