It's just about time to say goodbye to this season's training camp storylines and heroes, consigned to the dustbin of history alongside Matt McGloin and Blake Bortles vying for the 2014 Preseason MVP award. Before roster cuts arrive in one week, here's a look at the biggest surprises from each camp over the last month.
Baltimore Ravens: First-round pick Marquise "Hollywood" Brown isn't in line to be a starter to open the season, if he's playing at all. His recovery from a Lisfranc foot injury has been slow, while fellow rookie Miles Boykin and veteran slot receiver Willie Snead are the early-season favorites for snaps at wideout. No team figures to play with two tight ends on the field more often, with Mark Andrews, Nick Boyle and Hayden Hurst rotating.
Buffalo Bills: A battle for the No. 2 cornerback job never developed. It's been Levi Wallace locking down the spot opposite Tre'Davious White, and there are high hopes for Wallace as another defensive back find for coach Sean McDermott. Perhaps this shouldn't be a surprise, but there is little doubt LeSean McCoy will be on the Bills roster in Week 1. T.J. Yeldon hasn't played well enough to even make the team, and there's zero buzz of interest elsewhere. With center Mitch Morse out for most of the month due to a concussion, the team still hasn't settled on an offensive line. Part of the mystery: The Bills don't know whether they'll play No. 38 overall pick Cody Ford at guard or right tackle.
Cincinnati Bengals: I can't remember an NFL coach whom fewer Americans could recognize than Zac Taylor. I also can't think of a team in the NFL getting less attention. Perhaps that's why the best surprise I can come up with from Bengals camp is that "Last Chance U" alum Damion Willis appears to have a better chance to make the roster than last year's December starting quarterback, Jeff Driskel, who randomly started taking wideout and special teams snaps in mid-August.
Cleveland Browns: Fifth-round linebacker Mack Wilson played well enough to win the local media's award for best rookie in training camp over second-round cornerback Greedy Williams, who also enjoyed a solid month. Wilson has forced his way into regular-season snaps, another reminder that draft slot only matters so much when tackling starts. Along those lines, 2018 No. 33 overall pick Austin Corbett couldn't win the starting guard job left behind when the team dealt Kevin Zeitler to the Giants. It looks like the position will go to journeyman Eric Kush, with Corbett looking like a rare misfire for general manager John Dorsey.
Denver Broncos:Emmanuel Sanders' electric return to the field on Monday night was ahead of schedule. Sanders, 32, tore his Achilles last December, and that's not an easy injury to recovery from, especially for a player who relies so much on explosive quickness. His health is a boon to an otherwise-unproven Broncos receiver group. It's also a surprise how much job security Joe Flacco has. Even if the Broncos start slow, Drew Lock's rough August followed by a hand sprain means coach Vic Fangio only figures to give the rookie second-rounder a spin at the wheel if the team is far out of the playoff hunt deep into December.
Houston Texans: Why did it take three weeks of training camp for the Texans to realize they had a left tackle problem? First-round pick Tytus Howard playing guard plus Matt Kalil's struggles could force coach Bill O'Brien to trade Jadeveon Clowney to fill the hole. On the bright side, it's a pleasant surprise that the Texans added a running back in Duke Johnson who may finally displace Lamar Miller as the team's yardage leader in the backfield. Johnson is simply more talented.
Indianapolis Colts: A serious injury to stalwart defensive end Jabaal Sheard (knee) and a near-month-long absence for rookie wideout Parris Campbell (hamstring) have barely been mentioned because of all the attention on Andrew Luck. Meanwhile, it was stunning, especially with Sheard out, to read from The Athletic that the Colts' defensive line has dominated the team's vaunted O-line all month. The Coltschanged offensive line coaches, and a potential regression to the mean from the unit is a low-key concern for this team, if only because O-line success has such high variance.
Jacksonville Jaguars: I would have never expected in July that the Jaguars' top-three-receiver group would be set without including Marqise Lee or Keelan Cole. The Jaguars are going to keep free-agent pickup Chris Conley on the field, while 2018 second-round pick D.J. Chark has reportedly taken a big leap after a quiet rookie season. Add in Dede Westbrook, the favorite to lead the team in receiving, and Nick Foles has an intriguing trio to throw to.
Kansas City Chiefs: In theory, it should be a surprise that the Chiefs might burn the $800,000 signing bonus they gave to running back Carlos Hyde by potentially cutting him. But since that possibility was forecast in this space a month ago, the bigger surprise is that I'd rather draft rookie Darwin Thompson in the middle rounds of fantasy drafts than take Chiefs starting running back Damien Williams in the top 40.
Los Angeles Chargers: I'm surprised that Melvin Gordon's holdout is so low on the list of concerns for this team. With left tackle Russell Okungout indefinitely, the Bolts' blind-side starter for Week 1 appears to be Trent Scott, an undrafted free agent in 2018 who was benched last season for Sam Tevi, one of Pro Football Focus' lowest-ranked tackles of 2018. Tevi is the starter at right tackle, and the swing tackle will probably come from the waiver wire. Between Okung's uncertainty, Gordon's absence and the loss of all-world safety Derwin James for 3-4 months, no team has had a worse camp.
Miami Dolphins: Beyond Josh Rosen's tepid month, which I've written about plenty, the linebacker transition in Miami has been eye-opening. The top two players at the position are Jerome Baker and CFL standout Sam Eguavoen, raising questions about the futures of 2017 second-round pick Raekwon McMillan and veteran Kiko Alonso. Second-year running back Kalen Ballage is another potential starter most observers didn't see coming in May.
New England Patriots: After an offseason sidelined by injury, starting running back Sony Michel's standout month atop the team's depth chart has been a pleasant surprise. With James White, rookie third-round pick Damien Harris, Rex Burkhead and special teams ace Brandon Bolden, the position has never been deeper. If camp reports and one preseason game are any indication, Jamie Collins' return to New England could play out like when safety Patrick Chung came back into the fold five years ago.
New York Jets: The pleasant surprise in Jets camp is just how pleasant it's been. After a rocky start behind the microphone, coach Adam Gase has led a low-key month, with his substantial facial hair making more news than anything he said. Aside from the disappointing loss of inside linebacker Avery Williamson to a torn ACL, the biggest surprise may be that No. 3 overall pick Quinnen Williams isn't projected to start. Connor Hughes of The Athletic writes that Williams' attempts to start at nose tackle didn't take, so he'll rotate as a backup at defensive end to open the season.
Oakland Raiders: Of all the big names and personalities added to the Oakland roster, no one had a more impressive month than overlooked free-agent signee Lamarcus Joyner. His toughness and versatility are just what this secondary needed. There's no question this roster has more talent than a year ago, with a rookie class and free-agent group that will both play tons of snaps. In other words, new GM Mike Mayock has a chance to look like a hero.
Pittsburgh Steelers: It's possible I'm just buying camp puffery, but the bounceback months from homegrown cornerbacks Cameron Sutton and Artie Burns have me believing in this Steelers secondary. Second-year safety Terrell Edmunds also has a chance to come into his own, and the front seven is very strong. I've been fooled before, but this should finally be the defense that re-burnishes coach Mike Tomlin's reputation as a defensive coach.
Arizona Cardinals:Fantasy leaguers imagined rookie receivers Andy Isabella and Hakeem Butler getting big snaps in Arizona's four-wide offense. Instead, Isabella hasn't proven he's ready for a significant role, and Butler could be headed to injured reserve. The signing of Michael Crabtree on Wednesday night likely pushes Isabella to the fifth receiver job, with rookie sixth-round pick KeeSean Johnson ahead of him.
Chicago Bears: Yes, Mitch Trubisky has plenty to prove entering his third season. No, his struggles against the best defense in the league during practice shouldn't qualify as something to freak out about. It sounds like coach Matt Nagy expanded the playbook dramatically in camp to see what worked for Trubisky and what did not. I'd be more concerned if Trubisky was lighting this group up and what that would say about the defense's decline. What quarterback could consistently win in practice against the Bears' defense?
Dallas Cowboys: Safety Xavier Woods is getting a lot of love as a breakout candidate, which could be necessary to counterbalance any drop-off with cornerback Byron Jones and defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence coming off major surgeries. The Woods love is a surprise; rhetoric about Ezekiel Elliott ratcheting up before the third preseason game is not.
Detroit Lions: It may be nothing, but the consistently mixed practice reports about Matthew Stafford's effectiveness and the week off he received from heavy throwing are rare to see from such a veteran quarterback. What the new Lions offense under coordinator Darrell Bevell will look like is one of the biggest mysteries entering the season.
Los Angeles Rams: I'm amazed anyone can process live football this fast and be able to express it so clearly:
Sean McVay could follow the Jon Gruden model by becoming the "Monday Night Football" color guy around 2031, only to return to coaching the Rams in 2042 at the age of 56.
New Orleans Saints: Undrafted receiver Emmanuel Butler emerged as this year's camp sensation, while Cameron Meredith is no longer even on the roster. That's almost weirder than Saints coach Sean Payton continuing to compare electric No. 3 quarterback Taysom Hill to Steve Young.
New York Giants Rookie quarterback Daniel Jones is ahead of schedule, with his impressive preseason outings backed up by consistently positive practice reports. NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah always notes not to gloat about getting a draft evaluation right before the regular season, but GM Dave Gettleman has already begun workshopping his "I told you so" one-liners.
San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers were among the five most injured teams a year ago, according to Football Outsiders' adjusted games lost, and their luck hasn't improved. At least four key players (defensive end Nick Bosa, center Weston Richburg, cornerback K'Waun Williams, wide receiver Trent Taylor) are iffy at best for Week 1, and injury-plagued trade acquisition Dee Ford missing most of the month is on my radar. Couple the new injuries with high-profile players coming back from injury (Jimmy Garoppolo, Jerick McKinnon, Kwon Alexander) and you have a recipe for a slow September.
Seattle Seahawks: It's a strange world where the offensive line appears to be one of the strengths of the Seahawks roster, while the defensive line could be a mess, especially until defensive tackle Jarran Reed finishes his suspension. I'm also surprised that there hasn't been a young receiver to step up with the usual Seahawks camp hype, especially with so much opportunity for snaps. There's some question as to whether fourth-round wideout Gary Jennings will even make the team.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers:Jameis Winston appears to have that contract-year body. His slimmer frame has been noticeable in preseason appearances where he's looked quicker, helping his already-underrated scrambling ability. The Bucs have enjoyed a mostly injury-free, drama-free camp, which should be seen as a positive. This new staff believes publicly it can rehabilitate pass rusher Noah Spence's career.
Washington Redskins:Jordan Reed has enjoyed a healthy offseason for the first time since 2015, which was, not coincidentally, his breakout campaign. He's reportedly been the team's most explosive player in camp and could lead a receiving group that may be operating without former first-round pick Josh Doctson, who might not even make the final roster. That's two surprises for the price of one.