Every year there are dozens of players who are story lines in their own right.
2014 for example was a season spent focused heavily on whether New England’s Rob Gronkowski could stay healthy, whether Cleveland draft pick Johnny Manziel would perform at the next level and whether DeMarco Murray could run for 2,000 yards behind that powerful Dallas offensive line.
This season will be no different – certain players will carry a truck-load of attention and pressure on them as they take the field each Sunday.
Here are the ten I believe are the most intruiging to follow for 2015;
TOM BRADY (New England) – Brady and the Patriots are the reigning champions and the former Michigan play-caller has three other rings to bump up his credentials.
But no matter the outcome, the never-ending ‘DeflateGate’ saga has tarnished Brady’s usually glamorous reputation, at least for the short-term.
Irrespective of whether Brady misses all four games, no games at all or something in between, expect him to come out with a vengeance.
He feels disrespected by Roger Goodell and the NFL and he is likely to take it out on the rest of the league.
Added to the DeflateGate situation are the numerous critics – myself included – who question whether this New England team can compete in an improved AFC East with so many losses on the defence.
Be assured, Brady can hear all that noise and once he is allowed to strap up his helmet, we all better look out.
ADRIAN PETERSON (Minnesota) – All Day has not taken a pre-season handoff since 2011, extremely surprising considering the All-Pro running back sat out all but one match in 2014.
After months of public persecution and time served on the sideline, Peterson returns with a talented quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater and an honest defence led by defensive-minded head coach, Mike Zimmer.
Peterson said recently he is setting his rushing expectation at 2,500 – a number he is highly unlikely to get near but anything even close to 2,000 is both sensational and highly capable from the league’s fiercest runner.
LeSEAN McCOY (Buffalo) – McCoy was once a decorated fan favourite in the city of Brotherly love.
His All-Pro level play endeared him to fans and team mates in Philly before system coach Chip Kelly came to town.
McCoy’s play dipped with Kelly at the helm and this past off-season he was shockingly sent to the Bills in a trade for linebacker Kiko Alonso who is returning from a torn ACL.
The scene is perfectly set for ‘Shady’ to breakout and have a monster season.
His coach – Rex Ryan – is a ground and pound coach, the team has quarterback issues and the defence can keep opposing team’s to low scores, allowing Ryan to run the clock with McCoy picking up chunk yardage.
PEYTON MANNING (Denver) – Such has been the shining star of the eldest Manning that following him each year has been a must-do.
2015 presents an entirely different theme however, as Manning shows signs of reaching father-time.
A thigh injury curtailed his run to the playoffs and he was clearly not the Peyton we have all seen across almost two decades.
Red zone weapon Julius Thomas is gone and favoured slot receiver Wes Welker is unlikely to be in Denver so even more weight falls on Manning as he begins a new offensive scheme.
He should still perform as a top-five (fantasy) QB but CJ Anderson and that defence will need to shoulder some of the load so Manning is healthy for one last playoff push.
JUSTIN JAMES WATT (Houston) – The most damaging defensive force we have seen in some time is must-watch football.
Away from the arena Watt is humble, giving and unbelievably ‘normal.’
Once he crosses that white line, all bets are off and he transforms into a game-wrecking freak of nature.
Another 20+ sacks in 2014 highlighted his consistency but it was his 3 touchdown receptions on the goal line that captured even more attention from NFL fans.
Watt is likely the most popular figure in the game today, despite the fact he is playing on a team always struggling to make the playoffs.
AMARI COOPER (Oakland) – Finally something to cheer about in Oakland.
Through a buddy who is an Alabama football tragic, Cooper comes promised as the offensive rookie of the year.
His standing as the draft’s premier receiver will be likely unquestioned as Chicago’s young stud pass-catcher Kevin White sits out much of the season with a shin injury.
Cooper is the most complete receiver to come out of ‘Bama since Julio Jones and in many Crimson Tide fans’ eyes, he is going to be even better than advertised.
Partnered with promising QB Derrick Carr, Cooper should be a 1,000-yard receiver from the outset.
DeMARCO MURRAY (Philadelphia) – Murray shocked the NFL as he went on an absolute tear for much of the 2014 season.
His offensive line was unstoppable and created hole after hole for Murray to burst through.
Coach Jason Garrett was committed to the run and Chip Kelly’s uptempo system seems set to also allow Murray to get downhill for big gains, regularly.
Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles may steal some carries, particularly near the goal line, but Murray’s skills in Kelly’s unorthodox offence will make for unmissable viewing.
JIMMY GRAHAM (Seattle) – Once a hate foe of the Seahawks defence, Graham joined the team after a shock trade involving centre Max Unger and pick 31.
Graham provides the ‘Hawks with a formidable receiving weapon and his presence in the red zone will allow Russell Wilson to throw to him with confidence as well as spread the defence for Marshawn Lynch to get in the end zone – if they give him the ball…
JAMEIS WINSTON (Tampa Bay) & MARCUS MARIOTA (Tennessee) – These two players are likely to be linked for the entirety of their professional careers.
Pick one and two in the draft, both Winston and Mariota are likely to start from week one.
Both are on lowly teams hoping to improve with the drafting of a franchise quarterback.
Winston’s job will be slightly easier with two 1,000-yard receivers in veteran Vincent Jackson and up-and-coming superstar Mike Evans.
Winston’s off-field antics will be policed and monitored like never before so here’s hoping football is the only thing ‘Famous Jameis’ is spoken about for.
Mariota – the former Oregon Duck and Heisman winner – is a calm but chilling competitor and his transformation from the Ducks spread, no-huddle offence to being under centre will be intriguing.
JARRYD HAYNE (San Francisco) – Australian Hayne is no guarantee to even make the roster but his pre-season work thus far suggests he is a moral.
His first NFL touch was a 53-yard burst against Houston and he was also impressive in the punt and kick return game.
The 49ers are in need of some feel-good news in their locker room after numerous defensive retirements and star Aldon Smith’s release so the investment the team has made in Hayne will likely be a highlight of an otherwise lowly season.