Nate Davis USA TODAY
Published 1:34 AM EDT Sep 8, 2019
Even the most casual NFL fans know plenty about Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, Aaron Rodgers and, at this point, perhaps more than they wanted about Antonio Brown, Ezekiel Elliott and others. If you enjoy fantasy football, many of the players are familiar, but their identities beyond the numbers might not be. And then there are just those good ol’ training camp stories you might have missed.
So, heading into the league’s 100th season, here are 100 names (mostly less obvious) you should know, including maybe a few you’d simply lost track of …
1. Patriots P Jake Bailey: Belichick is going with a right-footed punter — stop the presses. Not a surprise given Bailey was a fifth-round pick in April, but it speaks to his ability given how stellar predecessor Ryan Allen was in New England’s Super Bowl LIII win.
2. Colts GM Chris Ballard: What does he do — if anything — after QB Andrew Luck’s stunning retirement left a presumed contender reeling? Ballard is sitting on a ton of salary cap money but has focused on rebuilding the Colts through the draft. His subsequent moves should be fascinating, and maybe targeting a guy like Josh Rosen makes sense if the team flounders, especially since Indianapolis will likely be too good to fall into position for a top quarterback next spring.
3. Eagles DE Derek Barnett: He recovered the Brady fumble that helped put Super Bowl LII on ice for Philly but missed most of his sophomore year with a shoulder injury. Now the 2017 first rounder needs to step up for a team that lost Chris Long to retirement.
4. Jets RB Le’Veon Bell: Is he worth the money? Will the year off prove beneficial or detrimental? Answers loom for an enigmatic (and highly) talented player who generates so many questions.
5. Colts QB Jacoby Brissett: You’re up … for a franchise with a quarterbacking lineage that includes Johnny Unitas, Peyton Manning and Luck. Indy was built to win with Luck at the controls, so Brissett won’t get a better opportunity to prove he’s a franchise passer.
6. Rams RB Malcolm Brown: If Todd Gurley’s knee issues resurface, Brown and rookie Darrell Henderson will be asked to step into the (gaping) void.
7. WR Dez Bryant: Remember him? Will he get another shot to play in 2019 after an Achilles injury aborted his stint with the Saints last year?
8. 49ers DT DeForest Buckner: Consistently one of the most underrated and underappreciated big men in the game, Buckner should truly come into his own with trade acquisition Dee Ford and rookie Nick Bosa flying around the corners.
9. Steelers ILB Devin Bush: The long-awaited replacement for Ryan Shazier? Pittsburgh sure hopes so.
10. Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio: Apparently the man Houston wants to fill its GM vacancy. Apparently New England brass didn’t let it happen … for the time being. But will Caserio, one of the unsung heroes of the Patriots dynasty, jump ship next year?
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11. Broncos OLB Bradley Chubb: Could he blossom into a bigger defensive game wrecker than Von Miller in Vic Fangio’s defense? Just maybe …
12. Browns RB Nick Chubb: He ran for 996 yards as a rookie despite starting only half the season. The Cleveland weapon no one seems to be talking about.
13. Seahawks DE Jadeveon Clowney: If you want to credit him for forcing his way out of Houston, fine — but it didn’t earn him more money. Now, if the highly talented but not outrageously productive edge rusher can finally add a double-digit sack total to his run-stopping skills, maybe he can lure the money he feels he deserves in 2020.
14. Vikings RB Dalvin Cook: His 85-yard TD run in preseason suggests he’s back to full health and ready to fuel the ground assault coach Mike Zimmer prefers to seeing Kirk Cousins throw 50 times a week.
15. Saints TE Jared Cook: He could give QB Drew Brees an element he hasn’t had since Jimmy Graham thrived in this offense and could be a difference maker for a club that’s been stuck on the cusp.
16. Bears C James Daniels: Though he was a 2018 first rounder and played center at Iowa, based on Thursday’s loss to Green Bay, Daniels should go back to guard and Cody Whitehair should resume snapping.
17. Jets QB Sam Darnold: Widely viewed as the premier passing prospect entering the 2018 draft, his uneven play as a rookie validated Cleveland’s decision to take Baker Mayfield No. 1. However the Darnold buzz is back after a stellar preseason operating new coach Adam Gase’s offense.
18. Saints DE Marcus Davenport: He produced 4½ sacks as a rookie after New Orleans sacrificed a first-round pick to move up the board for him. Davenport needs to generate far more heat in his second season if he is indeed going to be a player who helps put this talented squad over the top.
19. Jaguars WR Keelan Doss: The Hard Knocks star has landed on Jacksonville’s practice squad, but for how long? The Jags certainly have room for a play-making receiver, and so do many other teams that might be willing to promote Doss to a 53-man roster. You wonder about Raider remorse.
20. Jets GM Joe Douglas: On the job only three months, he’s already making his mark with a franchise where leadership has too often been lacking. Douglas lured Pro Bowl C Ryan Kalil out of a brief retirement and jettisoned this year’s third rounder, pass rusher Jachai Polite, who was selected by predecessor Mike Maccagnan.
21. Chargers RB Austin Ekeler: The Bolts offense might just be more explosive with him getting the bulk of the touches instead of holdout Melvin Gordon.
22. Broncos coach Vic Fangio: How much better will he make Denver’s defense? How much will Chicago’s suffer without the former coordinator? How will the salty, rookie head man, 61, cope if the Broncos again fail to keep pace in the AFC West?
23. Broncos QB Joe Flacco: The most impressive win of his career arguably occurred in Denver seven years ago when he was marching the Ravens to the Super Bowl. Flacco will need a Mile High resurgence if he’s to become the first quarterback to take the Broncos to the playoffs since Peyton Manning retired.
24. Jaguars RB Leonard Fournette: Nick Foles, blah, blah. After a hugely disappointing sophomore season, Jacksonville needs Fournette to be its bellcow.
25. Cowboys C Travis Frederick: Dallas should get quite a lift from the return of the four-time Pro Bowler, who missed last season while battling Guillain-Barre Syndrome.
26. Falcons RB Devonta Freeman: One of the league’s most punishing runners, he was limited to two games last year. But given the lack of proven depth behind him, Freeman could be one of the league’s top workhorses in 2019.
27. Cowboys WR Michael Gallup: After catching 33 balls as a rookie, he’s expected to take a major leap in Year 2 working opposite No. 1 target Amari Cooper.
28. 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo: His team was a chic playoff pick a year ago. Now, with Jimmy G. coming back from major knee surgery, the Niners are generating little hype — something the relatively inexperienced but handsomely paid passer was acquired to change.
29. Cowboys coach Jason Garrett: “Jason Who?” That may ultimately be the result if the longtime Dallas coach doesn’t win enough in 2019 now that owner Jerry Jones has allowed him to enter his contractual walk year.
30. Jets coach Adam Gase: Could he be Belichick 2.0, a bright football mind poised to figure it all out during his second stop, where he’s already wielding more influence? Or is this a classic case of a middling coach getting rehashed by the league?
31. Browns P Jamie Gillan: Known as “The Scottish Hammer,” the undrafted rookie free agent won Cleveland’s punting job. The brogue doubtless helped.
32. Buccaneers WR Chris Godwin: Widely expected to flourish in his third season. Head coach Bruce Arians only fueled that narrative in training camp, saying Godwin will “never come off the field.”
33. Bills RB Frank Gore: ICYMI, he’s still in the league. He’s 36. He’s likely to be Buffalo’s lead back early on now that Shady McCoy is gone. And with 522 more rushing yards, Gore will trail only Emmitt Smith and Walter Payton on the league’s all-time list. Amazing.
34. Dolphins GM Chris Grier: He extracted two first-round picks and a second rounder from Houston in the Laremy Tunsil deal. Miami will stink in 2019, but Grier is showing he can amass the requisite draft ammo to spark a quick turnaround.
35. Vikings DE Everson Griffen: Here’s hoping his head is clear and he’s ready to regain the form that made him such a disruptive player prior to 2018.
36. Lions TE T.J. Hockenson: The eighth overall pick of the draft, the Iowa product became the highest-selected player at his position since Vernon Davis was taken at No. 6 in 2006. Time to see what he can do.
37. Browns RB Kareem Hunt: He’s getting another NFL shot even though the Chiefs got rid of the 2017 league rushing champion last year following the emergence of a video showing Hunt in an altercation with a woman in a Cleveland hotel. However in addition to continuing to work on his personal life, Hunt must first serve an eight-game suspension and recover from sports-hernia surgery before he’s cleared to play.
38. Ravens QB Lamar Jackson: He’s perfectly capable of smashing Michael Vick’s single-season record for rushing yards by a quarterback (1,039 in 2006). But if Baltimore is going to ascend, Jackson must make serious strides as a passer in 2019.
39. Jay-Z: Now partnered with the NFL, it will be fascinating to see what flair the music and entertainment mogul brings to the halftime show of Super Bowl LIV as it caps this centennial season. More importantly, can he advance the league’s social injustice initiatives despite some skepticism given his new linkage to the NFL?
40. Texans RB Duke Johnson: He was unhappy being a role player for a Browns squad poised to be special. Now, Johnson gets to carry the load for a Houston team that will likely struggle to get back to the playoffs. Hope you’re happy, Duke.
41. Giants QB Daniel Jones: GM Dave Gettleman was widely panned for taking the relatively unknown Duke product with the sixth pick of the draft. But Jones impressed in August, and now most Giants fans are eager to get a look at the man who will replace Eli Manning — maybe sooner than initially expected.
42. Ravens OLB Matt Judon: Baltimore’s pre-eminent pass rusher after last year’s top-ranked defense was purged of familiar faces like Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith.
43. Patriots C Ted Karras: He’s started five games in three seasons but is now thrust into the lineup after David Andrews was waylaid by blood clots in his lungs. A crucial position in New England that’s been so capably handled by unheralded Andrews since 2015.
44. Redskins QB Case Keenum: Now on his fourth team in four years, he’s challenging Ryan Fitzpatrick and Josh McCown for ultimate journeyman status. Once Keenum gives way to first rounder Dwayne Haskins, which could be any time, it will doubtless be fives teams in five seasons in 2020.
45. Titans LT Dennis Kelly: He’s filling in for suspended Pro Bowler Taylor Lewan and gets to start the season against Browns DE Myles Garrett. Sweet. Dates against three more formidable defenses (Colts, Jags, Falcons) follow.
46. Cardinals Kliff Kingsbury: Did Chip Kelly succeed or fail in the NFL? Probably depends on whom you ask, but the answer is probably … “yes.” Even though he didn’t have nearly the kind of bona fides Kelly accrued at the college level, Kingsbury is getting his pro shot, likely with the perfect rookie (Kyler Murray) to run his system. If the Cards can’t get off the ground, it will be interesting to see how much leeway Kingsbury gets after Steve Wilks went one-and-done as the head coach in 2018.
47. Browns coach Freddie Kitchens: Tremendous expectations on a guy wearing the big headset for the first time. All he needs to do is become the first guy since Bill Belichick to win a playoff game in Cleveland … while melding a bunch of outsized personalities … while trying to serve a highly impatient ownership group. Oy.
48. Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter: Atlanta’s new (and previous) play caller must get more than empty-calorie yards out of this group if it’s to revert to something close to the form that powered this club’s 2016 Super Bowl push.
49. Patriots owner Robert Kraft: He’s largely been off the grid since getting ensnared in that sordid mess in Florida. Will he be suspended eventually, and when will we hear from the man who runs the league’s model franchise?
50. Rams WR Cooper Kupp: One of the league’s top young slot men, he had six TD catches in half a season last year before his ACL gave out.
51. Patriots TE Matt LaCosse: He gets first crack at replacing retired Rob Gronkowski. Good luck with that. LaCosse has 27 catches in four NFL seasons, about what Gronk typically produced over a half-dozen games.
52. Packers coach Matt LaFleur: A 39-year-old protégé of 33-year-old Rams coach Sean McVay, LaFleur’s offense floundered in Tennessee last year and spent much of Thursday night in reverse during his Green Bay debut. He gets a pass given few teams make hay against the Bears, but things better improve quickly if Rodgers’ obvious frustration is going to abate.
53. Seahawks WR Tyler Lockett: The return man extraordinaire finally came into his own as a pass catcher in 2018, leading the ground-bound ‘Hawks with 57 grabs for 965 yards and 10 TDs. With Doug Baldwin retired, David Moore hurt and rookie DK Metcalf still getting acclimated, it’s largely up to Lockett to force teams not to pack the box.
54. Buccaneers assistant DL coach Lori Locust: Credit Arians for continuing to give women coaching opportunities at football’s highest level. Credit Locust, who worked with the defunct AAF’s Birmingham Iron in the spring and interned for the Ravens last summer, for earning the shot to coach the likes of Ndamukong Suh, Jason Pierre-Paul (eventually) and others.
55. Titans QB Marcus Mariota: Entering the final year of his contract, likely the last chance for second overall pick of the 2015 draft to assert himself as the face of a franchise.
56. Rams OLB Clay Matthews: After 10 years in Green Bay, he’s back in Southern California, trying to add some sizzle to L.A.’s defense even if he’s unlikely to reclaim his double-digit sack form.
57. Raiders GM Mike Mayock: He’s a rookie with no previous NFL executive experience. The former NFL Network draft guru has an eye for talent, but will his straight-shooting persona meld with younger players? Hard to fault Mayock, though, for the Antonio Brown debacle, which may actually wind up galvanizing this young roster.
58. Eagles QB Josh McCown: The man who’s had more than 1,000 NFL teammates put his new career at ESPN on hold to return for a 17th season, this time as Carson Wentz’s backup — a significant job given Wentz’s propensity to get hurt and the departure of Foles. McCown, 40, is quite capable of getting Philadelphia through, say, a month without Wentz, but hard to see Philly building a statue of him given he’s never played in postseason.
59. Saints C Erik McCoy: Since New Orleans traded up to get him in Round 2 of the draft, he’s appeared ticketed for the vacancy created by Max Unger’s offseason retirement. Big shoes to fill.
60. Panthers DL Gerald McCoy: Apparently not a scheme fit in Tampa Bay’s new 3-4 defensive alignment, he winds up at the unfamiliar five-technique in Carolina’s new 3-4 defensive alignment.
61. ESPN’s Anthony McFarland: He’s left the “Booger Mobile” behind to replace Jason Witten as Monday Night Football‘s primary analyst.
62. Raiders LT Kolton Miller: Last year’s first rounder better quickly prove he can handle blind side duties in a division with so many superior pass rushers, or free agent addition Trent Brown will quickly be thrust into the job.
63. Bears RB David Montgomery: Here’s hoping coach Matt Nagy scraps the committee approach that produced next to nothing in Thursday’s loss and rides the rookie, who thrived while carrying the load at Iowa State.
64. Cardinals CB Byron Murphy: Get ready, rook. With Patrick Peterson suspended six games, Robert Alford out with a broken leg and Arizona’s defense likely to be on the field quite a bit given the pace of its counterpart Air Raid offense, Murphy’s a guy who could find himself in the crosshairs quite a bit week after week.
65. Cardinals QB Kyler Murray: Can the top pick of the 2019 draft be the next Russell Wilson? Can his diminutive frame withstand NFL punishment? Can he legally execute a snap in Kingsbury’s offense? Will he rue the decision to walk away from the Oakland A’s? So much to ponder.
66. Texans coach Bill O’Brien: It’s always dicey to let your coach dictate personnel decisions, and it sure appears O’Brien — Houston currently has no GM — mismanaged the Clowney situation and drastically overpaid in the Tunsil deal, even as badly as he needed someone to protect QB Deshaun Watson. If the Texans faceplant, O’Brien might deservedly find himself on the chopping block.
67. Bills DT Ed Oliver: It’s typically hard for interior defensive linemen not named Aaron Donald — rookies especially — to distinguish themselves. But Oliver, Buffalo’s first rounder and a man who’s already drawn comparisons to a young Donald, might have a shot.
68. Bears defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano: Even with Fangio gone, Chicago’s defense looked plenty formidable in its first game on Pagano’s watch. Still, stifling as the unit was, Pagano’s charges didn’t produce a strip sack or pick six in Thursday’s loss to Green Bay, the kind of plays the Bears’ still spotty offense might need for this team to contend.
69. Panthers C Matt Paradis: The league’s second-ranked pivot, according to Pro Football Focus, while with Denver in 2018, he could be one of the steals of free agency if he can solidify a line that must better protect QB Cam Newton.
70. Lions coach Matt Patricia: The latest apple to apparently fall far from the Belichick tree, Patricia better make significant improvements in Detroit in 2019 if doesn’t want to be bobbing for a new job in 2020.
71. Redskins RB Adrian Peterson: Almost surely a first-ballot Hall of Famer, it appears he’s relegated to backup duty — and maybe even street clothes — in favor of youngster Derrius Guice. Peterson flashed in preseason, showing there’s still juice in those 34-year-old legs. Will Washington simply preserve that in hopes of dealing him to a team like the Chargers, who might crave a short-term boost?
72. Chargers S Adrian Phillips: Can he hold the fort until star Derwin James (foot surgery) returns … if he does so in 2019?
73. Bears K Eddy Pineiro: The 38-yard field goal in his debut was nice. The kickoff out of bounds? Not so much. But single doinks are better than double doinks …
74. Redskins WR Trey Quinn: He caught nine passes as a rookie but could be Washington’s most productive receiver after claiming the slot role in an offense largely devoid of play makers.
75. NFL senior vice president of officiating Al Riveron: The league’s oft-maligned head referee better hope he and his crews are up to snuff after last season’s NFC Championship Game debacle in New Orleans and the resultant (and much-debated) ability for coaches to challenge pass interference.
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76. Dolphins QB Josh Rosen: He may now be Miami’s most high-profile player — Google “Dolphins roster” — yet the 10th overall pick (for Arizona) of the 2018 draft isn’t starting yet and may find himself seeking an opportunity with a third team in 2020 if Miami successfully “Tanks for Tua.”
77. Eagles RB Miles Sanders: Lots of intrigue around the second rounder who emerged from Saquon Barkley’s shadow at Penn State in 2018 to rush for 1,274 yards — more than Barkley ever had for the Nittany Lions. Given Philly’s inability to move the ball on the ground last year, Sanders could be a game changer.
78. Packers S Darnell Savage: NBC’s Cris Collinsworth said Thursday that Savage could be the next Earl Thomas. Sounded borderline sacrilegious, but it speaks to the impact Green Bay expects of Savage, who showed up a lot more than fellow first rounder Rashan Gary in their NFL debut.
79. Chargers LT Trent Scott: The second-year Grambling State product is charged with watching immobile QB Philip Rivers’ back until Russell Okung is ready to return … which may not be any time soon.
80. Steelers interim WR coach Ray Sherman: What a tough assignment, being asked to replace Darryl Drake, who died during training camp. But with 28 years of experience, Sherman is definitely up to the task and could provide a nice tribute to Drake if Pittsburgh’s young receiving corps continues to develop.
81. 49ers CB Richard Sherman: Now nearly two years removed from an Achilles injury during his final season with Seattle, he appears back to Pro Bowl form physically and verbally. Sherman’s involvement with the NFLPA also makes him someone worth listening to as the expiration of the league’s collective bargaining agreement draws ever closer.
82. Packers OLB Za’Darius Smith: He had a sack in his Green Bay debut and could infuse some Ravens fire into a defense that might have to carry the Pack for a while.
83. Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo: If he can upgrade his unit to mere adequacy, Kansas City might just end its 50-year Super Bowl drought.
84. Texans WR Kenny Stills: Coincidentally or not, he was shipped out of Miami after challenging owner Stephen Ross’ politics (not to mention Jay-Z’s politics). Be interesting to see how Stills, probably no better than fourth on Houston’s depth chart, fares with a franchise that wasn’t very tolerant of protesting players prior to owner Bob McNair’s death last year.
85. Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa: He’s off to another flying start for the Crimson Tide, but expect his name to be consistently bandied about NFL circles this fall — especially with Miami constantly linked to him. But the Bucs, Titans and, now, Colts could all be among teams looking for a boost under center — and at the ticket office.
86. Bengals coach Zac Taylor: A 36-year-old protégé of McVay, Taylor is largely an unknown but steps into the breach after Cincinnati finally moved on after 16 years under Marvin Lewis’ leadership.
87. Bears QB Mitchell Trubisky: He took a significant step forward in 2018, but he was also the primary beneficiary of the tsunami of takeaways amassed by Chicago’s defense. Trubisky didn’t get that kind of help Thursday night and didn’t look like a quarterback ready to put the offense on his shoulders.
88. Texans LT Laremy Tunsil: Not only must he justify the forfeiture of two first-round picks, he’ll probably get (unfairly) skewered if Houston’s still suspect O-line doesn’t cut Watson’s sack total — a league-high 62 in 2018 — by at least half.
89. Packers WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling: The team’s leading receiver (4 catches for 52 yards) in Week 1, he might be ready to become Rodgers’ home run hitter.
90. Steelers WR James Washington: Can he produce at a JuJu level as the offense’s potential No. 2 receiver (Donte Moncrief is currently listed as the other starter) in the post-AB era? After a scalding preseason, Washington showed he might be up to the task.
91. Buccaneers LB Devin White: Pretty quiet preseason for the fifth pick of the draft, a sideline-to-sideline tackling machine who should be on the short list of defensive rookie of the year candidates.
92. Chiefs RB Damien Williams: He capably took over for Hunt late last season and earned a two-year deal for his efforts. However Kansas City now has McCoy and rookie Darwin Thompson waiting in the wings — both likely to get touches no matter how well Williams does.
93. Browns CB Greedy Williams: It’s fine to look like Chris Rock as long as you don’t play like him. Williams slid to the second round of the draft, perhaps due to concerns about his willingness to be physical, questions that will quickly get answered in the rough and tumble AFC North.
94. Bengals LT Jonah Williams: This year’s first-round pick, it would be a virtual miracle if he plays in 2019 after undergoing shoulder surgery.
95. Chargers WR Mike Williams: After a lost rookie season, the 2017 first rounder showed last year why the Bolts took him seventh overall. Stardom could be around the corner.
96. Redskins LT Trent Williams: By all accounts, he wants nothing to do with the organization save, perhaps, collecting its paychecks. But the perennial Pro Bowler could be far more valuable as a trade chip for Washington, which doesn’t appear anywhere close to contending. Your move, Bruce Allen.
97. Raiders WR Tyrell Williams: The other wideout Oakland acquired this offseason. You’re forgiven if you’ve never heard of Williams, but better get used to the idea of him serving as QB Derek Carr’s primary target.
98. Buccaneers QB Jameis Winston: Entering the final year of his contract, likely the last chance for first overall pick of the 2015 draft to assert himself as the face of a franchise.
99. Cowboys TE Jason Witten: After a disastrous season in the MNF booth, are there any rabbits he can pull out of his head in his return to the field for a 16th season? Dallas’ tight ends were beyond underwhelming in 2018, so it’s reasonable to expect the plodding Witten can still reliably pick up first downs, operate effectively in the red zone and maybe give an ever-younger team some locker room ballast.
100. Patriots LT Isaiah Wynn: A first-round pick in 2018, he didn’t play as a rookie due to an Achilles tear. Now he’s being asked to watch Tom Brady’s blind side. No pressure, kid.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis
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