By Dalton Del Don
Ryan Grant - Lost in the Brett Favre circus was the fact Grant had yet to sign a contract and was holding out of camp. A four-year deal worth potentially $30 million ended that, and Grant still has plenty of time to prepare for the regular season. Brandon Jackson has shown great improvement, but there's no doubt Green Bay's backfield belongs to Grant. The Packers' quarterback situation is no longer up in the air, and they have a solid defense, wide receiving corps and blocking scheme, so Grant is in a fine situation to succeed. He might even catch more passes now that he's finally fully comfortable with the playbook.
Ronald Curry - After opening last season with a 10-catch, 133-yard performance, Curry was mostly a disappointment in 2007. However, he was forced to play through a painful bone spur for much of the year, which likely factored into the mediocrity. Offseason surgery took care of that problem, and Curry also hit the weight room hard, resulting in him arriving to training camp with a newly shaped physique. He's looked terrific so far in camp, possesses sure hands and is a reliable route-runner. At 6-2, 210, Curry is also an option in the red zone. With Javon Walker looking sluggish and even contemplating retirement, Curry enters 2008 as the team's No. 1 option in the passing game and with the skills to take advantage of it.
Chris Johnson - He's not just a workout wonder. Johnson possesses sprinter speed, but he's also proving to be a football player, and in a system like Tennessee's, there will be plenty of carries to go around. LenDale White is the starter, but he's an unexciting option who's been injury prone, so there's upside here. Johnson has impressed in camp with his pass-catching and blocking ability, and he's making it tough on the coaches to take him off the field. At a minimum, he's going to be a major weapon as a receiver out of the backfield.
Vincent Jackson - A sleeper who failed to live up to expectations for most of last year, Jackson finished strong, catching 18 balls for 300 yards and two scores in three playoff games. He's followed that up with what quarterback Philip Rivers has called "his best offseason yet" and is catching everything in sight so far in camp. At 6-4, 241, he's got ideal size with excellent downfield speed. With Antonio Gates' (foot) status questionable, Jackson could easily emerge as a legitimate option in his fourth season as a pro.
Tim Hightower - Although unheralded coming out of college, Hightower is a bruising back whom the Cardinals have compared to Marion Barber. He put up 1,924 yards with 20 touchdowns during his senior year at Richmond and is already being used as Arizona's goal-line back. With the release of Marcel Shipp, he's also entrenched as the team's No. 2 back. Edgerrin James, now 30 years old and approaching 3,000 career carries, is in decline and is an injury risk, giving Hightower significant upside.
Mike Hart - Hart doesn't possess great speed or size, but his decisiveness is a good fit for the Colts' one-cut scheme. After impressing coaches and teammates alike during the early parts of training camp, Hart totaled 81 yards on just seven touches during Indy's first preseason game against Washington. Dominic Rhodes may be familiar with the Colts' system, but he averaged just 3.3 YPC over his final two seasons in Indianapolis. Since the Colts have such a fantastic offense and Joseph Addai is perpetually banged up, if Hart can win the backup job, he's someone to watch.
Darrell Jackson - Jackson was dreadful last year in San Francisco but so was the team's entire passing attack. Denver is a much better situation to be in, as Jay Cutler is emerging as one of the league's best quarterbacks. Moreover, Brandon Marshall has been suspended for the first three games of the season, leaving plenty of opportunities available for Jackson, who figures to be starting for his new team by then.
Kyle Boller - Not that he's taken a true step forward, but it looks like Boller has the early edge on the Baltimore quarterback competition, having already been named the starter for the team's preseason opener. Troy Smith and rookie Joe Flacco have struggled, so while the team is likely playing with an eye toward the future, 27-year-old Boller could conceivably begin the season in the same role. There isn't much upside here, but Flacco is extremely raw and may need a significant amount of time before he's ready for NFL football.
Steve Smith - The Panthers suspended Smith two games for fighting teammate Ken Lucas, the latest incident in a string of them from Smith. It'd be unwise to drop Smith too far down your draft boards based on the two game absence, but he gets the downgrade regardless. Smith appeared truly contrite and is someone who will be motivated to prove his critics wrong, but losing 13 percent of the season right off the bat is a downer.
Jeff Garcia - Garcia had a surprisingly effective 2007 season, but coach Jon Gruden can never have enough quarterbacks, and with Brett Favre rumors swirling, it's not inconceivable that Garcia finds himself in a backup role this year. He's also dealing with a calf injury, and while it's not considered serious, he's already missed nearly a week with the malady.
Anquan Boldin - First, Boldin was unhappy with his contract situation. Now, he's dealing with yet another leg injury after suffering a hamstring pull. An MRI didn't reveal any major damage, but he's missed an average of three games the past four seasons, and hamstring injuries can linger. It's not a big concern yet, but it is a situation worth watching closely.
Todd Heap - Coming off a season in which Heap missed 10 games last year, he recently limped off the practice field with a calf injury. Since he's missed an average of five games per season the past four years, any injury is a concern when it comes to Heap. He's still an extremely effective receiver when on the field, but with an unsettled and shaky quarterback situation, Heap is fighting an uphill battle to return to top-10 tight end status.
Rudi Johnson - After leading the NFL with an average of 346 carries during 2004-2006, a hamstring injury effectively ruined Johnson's season last year, so when a similar injury is already costing him practice time during training camp, there's cause for concern. The good news is that last year it was his left hamstring, while this injury is to his right and isn't considered serious. However, he has a lot to prove after last year's disaster, isn't very active in the passing game and has averaged just 3.5 YPC over the past two seasons, so there's plenty of risk here.
Kellen Clemens - Clemens was nothing short of terrible last year (6.1 YPA, 52-percent completion rate, 5:10 TD:INT ratio), but with just eight career starts, there's still plenty of time for improvement. However, that hasn't occurred so far during training camp this year, where Clemens is losing the battle for quarterback duties to weak-armed Chad Pennington. There's still enough time for Clemens to change that, but he really needs to cut back on the turnovers for it to happen.
Reggie Williams - Williams will miss two-to-three weeks after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his sprained right knee, but the good news is that he should be ready for the regular season. Because he knows the offense, he shouldn't be too far behind. However, since the injury was severe enough to require surgery, it's something that needs to be monitored.
Malcom Kelly - Kelly underwent arthroscopic surgery Monday to remove loose particles in his left knee and is expected to be sidelined at least two weeks. Both Kelly and fellow rookie wideout Devin Thomas have (at least temporarily) seen injuries derail their quest to carve out a significant early season role in the Redskins' offense. Neither injury is considered particularly serious, but when it comes to rookie wide receivers, any time missed in camp puts them that much further behind the eight ball for a position that's not an easy transition from college.
Article first appeared 8/6/08