NFL players are pros. Their job is to play football and how well they play determines how much they earn. Don’t think for a nanosecond that contract years don’t matter.
When a guy knows that he’ll be hitting the open market after the season, everything changes due to extra (and understandable) motivation. They start eating better, working out harder and practicing longer. It often results in increased on-field production. Let’s get to this year’s candidates to break out and get paid in 2014:
Fantasy owners have a really bad taste in their mouth over Jermichael Finley because he’s burned us so many times before. This time feels different. It’s not Finley talking about how good he is, it’s the coaches raving about his vastly improved work ethic, strength and focus. He ripped off a 4/78/0 line despite playing just three series in the second preseason game. With Greg Jennings in Minny, Donald Driver retired and Jordy Nelson (knee) banged up, Finley is going to be a featured receiver for Aaron Rodgers. We always knew that he had top-five natural talent for a tight end.
A perfect storm is brewing for Golden Tate to have his best year in the NFL. Thanks to Percy Harvin’s hip surgery and Sidney Rice’s ongoing knee woes, he’s Seattle’s No. 1 target while playing every down at split end. He has reportedly turned the corner in terms of scheme comprehension, has been the unquestioned best player at Seahawks camp and is playing with a rising young star quarterback (Russell Wilson). Tate’s raw athleticism and ball skills have never been in doubt. He’ll earn just $630,000 in the final year of his rookie deal.
We already know that Maurice Jones-Drew cares about money. A lot. Last year, he staged an extended holdout that got him nothing except a season-ending injury. Now Jones-Drew is content to play out his deal, show he has plenty of juice left and then get paid handsomely by someone else. Since the Jaguars know he won’t be with them in 2014, the coaches won’t hesitate to run him into the ground. Jones-Drew has had a very healthy preseason and is a very real candidate for 350 touches this year.
Take note of these exhibition performances:
1. Roy Helu, RB, Redskins – Has rushed for 87 yards on 14 carries through 36 snaps. Will have some standalone value as the passing-down back, but will blow up if Alfred Morris goes down.
2. Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Vikings – Perhaps it won’t take him so long to learn the playbook after all. Patterson has six catches for 73 yards already. Freaky talent.
3. Brandon Weeden, QB, Browns – This Cleveland team is going to exceed all expectations. Get on board early. Weeden is 18-of-25 for 229 yards with three touchdowns and no picks so far.
After three long months, Arian Foster was finally cleared to resume practicing Wednesday. In a vacuum, the nagging calf and back woes that have plagued him aren’t a huge concern. But given his league-leading 1,115 touches over the last three seasons and the presence of Ben Tate, there’s reason to worry. Simply put, Foster has been overworked. Adrian Peterson, Doug Martin, C.J. Spiller, Jamaal Charles, LeSean McCoy and Trent Richardson are all safer first-round picks.
The best player on the entire Raiders roster this year is LT Jared Veldheer. He’s now out indefinitely with a torn triceps. Offensive coordinator Greg Olson admits this throws a wrench into his plans, especially when it comes to the running game. Darren McFadden has averaged just 2.75 YPC so far this preseason after getting 3.33 last regular season. With the Raiders set up for an epically poor season, DMC’s arrow is pointing down.
Brandon Belt, 1B, Giants – Perhaps the light has finally flipped off for the talented youngster. Hitting .379 with five homers in his last 19 games.
Brandon Beachy, SP, Braves – Return from Tommy John is going well. Has allowed a total of five earned runs over his last 20 innings and picked up two wins.
Khris Davis, OF, Brewers – Davis is picking up some of the power slack left by Ryan Braun. He has six homers in his last 21 games.