NFL

Highlighting Every NFL Team's 2014 Preseason MVP

Russell S. BaxterContributor IAugust 25, 2014

Highlighting Every NFL Team's 2014 Preseason MVP

1 of 33

    Oakland Raiders rookie linebacker Khalil Mack has enjoyed an excellent summer.
    Oakland Raiders rookie linebacker Khalil Mack has enjoyed an excellent summer.USA TODAY Sports

    The term “Most Valuable Player” means different things to different people.

    So we will try to appease everyone in this piece.

    Here is a look at who we feel are the 32 NFL team's MVPs this preseason. In some cases, it’s the player with the most impressive numbers. In other instances, it’s a performer who has made a surprising difference on a team looking for a little something extra. For a few other stars, it’s just business as usual.

    Yes. Make no mistake, we’re not here to scoop anyone, and some of the choices are beyond the obvious, especially when it comes to a few veteran quarterbacks.

    Also keep in mind that we’re not making any bold predictions for 2014. As we know, all of these players have seen somewhat limited action compared to what they would see in either three or four regular-season games. So while we are obviously here to inform, we’ll be sure to keep it in proper perspective.

    But that does not mean we did not pick up a little valuable information.

Arizona Cardinals: WR John Brown

2 of 33

    This past season, only five teams in the NFL gave up fewer yards than the Arizona Cardinals.

    Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles did a solid job with a unit that also allowed the fewest rushing yards in the league in 2013.

    But good luck duplicating or topping that effort this season. Gone this season for one reason or another are inside linebackers Karlos Dansby (signed with the Cleveland Browns) and Daryl Washington (suspended by NFL for 2014), as well as strong safety Yeremiah Bell (retired).

    And last week, the team lost standout defensive tackle Darnell Dockett for the season with a knee injury. Kent Somers of The Arizona Republic has the latest take on what his absence will mean to the team.

    What it could mean is more of a contribution from the offense. Under head coach Bruce Arians and veteran quarterback Carson Palmer last season, this unit made strides. Palmer shook off a slow start and threw nearly twice as many touchdown passes (16) as interceptions (nine) during the team’s 7-2 finish in 2013.

    That figures to mean more work for rookie wide receiver John Brown, who has been impressive this offseason. The third-round pick from Pittsburg State in Kansas has caught 10 passes for 165 yards and a score this preseason, the touchdown of the spectacular variety Sunday night vs. the Cincinnati Bengals.

    His value to fellow wideouts Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd may prove to be huge in 2014, especially if Arizona’s defense can’t answer the bell as often this season.

Atlanta Falcons: RB Devonta Freeman

3 of 33

    USA TODAY Sports

    We have not seen veteran running back Steven Jackson this preseason on the field…at least not yet.

    And it’s probably pretty doubtful that the Atlanta Falcons would have the 10-year pro play this Thursday night…we think.

    “We are encouraged by what he has done over on that side with athletic performance,” said head coach Mike Smith to Michael Cunningham of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Smith also stated that he wouldn’t rule out Jackson playing in that preseason finale.

    While we haven’t seen the former Pro Bowl runner, we have gotten a chance to enjoy watching Devonta Freeman, the team's fourth-round pick in May. The 5’8”, 206-pound performer has touched the ball 26 times for 193 yards from scrimmage this summer. He also had an impressive 23-yard touchdown run called back in the team’s loss to the Houston Texans.

    There’s little doubt that the rookie running back will be dishing out his share of hard knocks on opposing defenders this season.

Baltimore Ravens: WR Steve Smith

4 of 33

    How much do you think the Baltimore Ravens missed wide receiver Anquan Boldin in 2013?
    Let’s be more specific. How much did quarterback Joe Flacco miss the veteran pass-catcher this past season?

    Boldin had a way of making sure that no defender could get the ball once he got his hands on it. Call him Wes Unseld in cleats?

    That’s the kind of fight you see with veteran wide receiver Steve Smith, cast off by the Carolina Panthers this offseason. This preseason, he’s second on the team with eight receptions, good for 97 yards and a score. He got most of those catches in Saturday night’s preseason win over the Washington Redskins.

    Smith Sr. (note the back of his jersey when you can) can now pass on his wisdom to young receivers such as Torrey Smith and Marlon Brown.

    He also gives Flacco a tremendous security blanket, as was the case with Panthers quarterback Cam Newton the previous three seasons.

    Combine the presence of Smith with a much-improved offensive line and you may see your share of big plays from the Ravens' passing attack this season.

Buffalo Bills: RB C.J. Spiller

5 of 33

    USA TODAY Sports

    The case has been made that the Buffalo Bills could have the deepest running back corps in the NFL.

    There’s veteran Fred Jackson, former Philadelphia Eagle Bryce Brown, ex-San Francisco 49ers back Anthony Dixon and, of course, speedy C.J. Spiller.

    Ah, Spiller. He’s been a busy performer this summer in a variety of ways, and so has Brown, who leads the Bills in rushing this preseason with 140 yards on 26 carries.

    Meanwhile, the speedy Spiller has logged 19 attempts for 76 yards, has totaled four receptions for 26 yards and has even returned a kickoff 42 yards. The four-year pro is a threat to score every time he touches the ball.

    Doug Marrone’s team features arguably the deepest backfield in the NFL. But Spiller, who is still primed for his best season to date, is a key part of that unit. 

Carolina Panthers: CB Josh Norman

6 of 33

    Mike McCarn/Associated Press

    With so much emphasis on the fact that the Carolina Panthers overhauled their wide receiving corps this offseason, it’s worth pointing out that the team’s secondary will have more than its fair share of new faces.

    Gone are safeties Mike Mitchell and Quintin Mikell, perhaps more than adequately replaced, respectively, by veteran free agents Thomas DeCoud and Roman Harper.

    What about cornerback? Captain Munnerlyn signed with the Minnesota Vikings. Veteran journeyman Drayton Florence was among the team leaders in passes defensed in 2013 and wasn’t re-signed. The Panthers added Antoine Cason late in the summer. Safety Charles Godfrey has made the move to cornerback, and his progress was outlined by Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer earlier this month.

    Meanwhile, talented Josh Norman continues to progress. He’s enjoyed a solid summer (minus a little spat with Kansas City wide receiver Dwayne Bowe), totaling eight tackles, an interception and four passes defensed this preseason. David Newton of ESPN.com has more on Norman’s steady climb up the depth chart.

    No doubt Panthers rookie wideout Kelvin Benjamin certainly bears watching and could have a big debut season. However, Norman’s continued emergence is very important in a division with the likes of wide receivers Roddy White, Julio Jones, Marques Colston and Vincent Jackson—not to mention promising rookies such as Mike Evans and Brandin Cooks.

Chicago Bears: WR Josh Morgan

7 of 33

    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler has to be a happy man these days.

    Who wouldn’t with the likes of wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, tight end Martellus Bennett and running back Matt Forte to throw to? Perhaps this is the year the strong-armed signal-caller reaches 30 touchdown passes in a season for the first time in his career.

    Promising second-year wideout Marquess Wilson looked like he would be the third receiver with Marshall and Jeffery but he’s currently sidelined. In has stepped veteran Josh Morgan, who signed with the team in April and has worked his way into a more significant role.

    Rich Campbell of the Chicago Tribune (subscription required) talks about the talented wideout, who spent the previous two years with the Washington Redskins and has caught 199 passes in six seasons.

    Despite the recent addition of wide receiver Santonio Holmes, Morgan is apparently seizing the moment, according to Campbell. He’s totaled eight catches for 125 yards this preseason and has been a positive influence for an offensive unit that should once again be one of the best in the league.

Cincinnati Bengals: QB Andy Dalton

8 of 33

    USA TODAY Sports

    There’s usually so much conversation regarding what Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton hasn’t done.

    Here is what the three-year veteran has accomplished. He has led this franchise to three straight playoff appearances (and counting?) for the first time in team history.

    This summer, fresh off signing a new six-year, $96 million contract this offseason, per Spotrac (subscription required), Dalton has been sharp. In three appearances this preseason, he’s completed 70.6 percent of his passes (24 of 34) for 342 yards and one score, hasn’t taken a sack and hasn't fumbled.

    It’s hard to ask for much more than that.

    Except, of course, when January rolls around…

Cleveland Browns: RB Ben Tate

9 of 33

    USA TODAY Sports

    Well, we know that it’s not rookie Johnny Manziel.

    That’s because after informing the Washington Redskins bench last Monday night that he (incorrectly) was the team’s No. 1 quarterback, the NFL (via Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times) made him a little less valuable by the count of $12,000—this for his obscene gesture on Monday night at FedEx Field.

    Perhaps Manziel felt that he absolutely, positively had to do that.

    Let’s get back to the positive news. Free-agent pickup Ben Tate has been impressive out of the backfield. While rookie Terrance West has totaled more carries (25) this summer, the former Houston Texans running back has run for 81 yards on 19 carries and looks the part of a performer who will make life easier this season.

    And that's regardless of who is playing quarterback for Mike Pettine’s team.

Dallas Cowboys: LB Justin Durant

10 of 33

    Ringo H.W. Chiu/Associated Press

    “Wherever they need me is fine.”

    Now that’s music to any head coach’s ears in any sport.

    Those are the words of Dallas Cowboys linebacker Justin Durant, who enters his eighth NFL season and second with Jerry Jones’ club.

    We all know the issues regarding the Dallas defense. Dead last in the league in yards allowed in 2013 and this year, it no longer has premier defenders such as DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher on the roster. Meanwhile, middle linebacker Sean Lee is out for the season with a knee injury.

    That’s where Durant could come in—emphasis on could. As for where the veteran linebacker expects to contribute this season is anyone’s guess. Then again, it doesn’t appear to matter which of the three spots the seven-year pro will wind up at.

    Last week, speaking to Jean Jacques-Taylor of ESPN.com, Durant said:

    They’re all a little different. Strong side is the unglamorous spot because you’re playing the run and battling those tackles and tight ends. Middle linebacker is nice because you’re making the calls and you feel like it’s your defense. And weakside is fun because you just chase the ball and make plays.

    If you are head coach Jason Garrett and defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, it doesn’t get much more valuable than that these days.

Denver Broncos: QB Peyton Manning

11 of 33

    If Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning was playing Strat-O-Matic Pro Football, you can bet he would be taking the game seriously.

    The veteran signal-caller is all business when it comes to his passion. Manning has been razor-sharp this preseason as he attempts to make a fourth Super Bowl appearance and win a second NFL title.

    In three games this summer, he’s hit on nearly 80 percent of his throws for 423 yards, three scores and one interception…and one taunting penalty.

    Jeff Legwold of ESPN.com has the full story on Manning and his “conversation” with Houston Texans safety D.J. Swearinger, who leveled wide receiver Wes Welker with a hit late in the second quarter on Saturday night in Denver.

    So it appears that Manning had a swear word for Swearinger. You can bet it wasn’t “Omaha.”

Detroit Lions: QB Matthew Stafford

12 of 33

    USA TODAY Sports

    We are giving Detroit Lions starting quarterback Matthew Stafford the nod here.

    Of course, we certainly didn’t see enough of wide receiver Calvin Johnson. The prolific pass-catcher just made his preseason debut this past week vs. the Jacksonville Jaguars.

    Stafford has completed a tidy 70 percent of his passes this summer (21 of 30) for 204 yards, two touchdowns and an interception without being sacked. It should be noted that Jim Caldwell’s team has scored 52 points in three preseason games, 23 of those in the first quarter.

    Then again, it’s not this time of the year or even September or October that concerns us when it comes to Stafford. During last season’s late collapse, the young signal-caller committed 14 of the team’s 21 turnovers during a 1-6 finish.

    Perhaps that’s about to change in 2014.

Green Bay Packers: RB DuJuan Harris

13 of 33

    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Yes, we know that the Green Bay Packers can put points on the board with the best of teams.

    In fact, this past season they somehow managed to finish third in the league in total offense with four different starting quarterbacks.

    Mike McCarthy’s defense is a different story, a unit that has struggled in recent seasons and one that will be minus former Pro Bowler B.J. Raji in 2014. Bob McGinn of the Journal Sentinel talks about how the team will fill the void left by the talented defender.

    One player who will be around is running back Eddie Lacy, the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2013. He finished eighth in the league with 1,178 yards on the ground and rushed for 11 scores.

    While Lacy is thunder, DuJuan Harris is the team’s lightning. And he flashed his talents in numerous ways this summer. This preseason, he led the team with 106 yards rushing, caught five passes for another 50 yards and returned and also added five kickoff returns for 133 yards.

    In a league where your starting running back these days rarely totals 300 carries, the Packers have both Harris and James Starks sitting behind Lacy.

    And in the case of Harris, it’s also great to see him back after missing all of 2013 with a knee injury.

Houston Texans: RB Jonathan Grimes

14 of 33

    Patric Schneider/Associated Press

    With Ben Tate leaving for the Cleveland Browns this offseason via free agency, the search was on for running back Arian Foster’s backup.

    And the Houston Texans may have found their man.

    Foster missed eight games last season, hence Tate led the team with 771 yards rushing in 2013. Now it appears that Jonathan Grimes has emerged as the front-runner to spell the team’s top running back when called upon.

    In a preseason that started with a horrendous 32-0 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, Bill O’Brien’s team has settled in, and Grimes' performance has helped. He has totaled 103 yards rushing and a score, totaled four catches for 49 yards and was also Jonathan-on-the-spot, returning a deflected punt 17 yards for a touchdown in a win over the Atlanta Falcons.

    A return to form by Foster and an assist with Grimes could make life a lot easier for quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who has performed well the last two weeks after that shaky outing against the Cardinals.

Indianapolis Colts: ILB D'Qwell Jackson

15 of 33

    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    It is tempting to go with just the numbers when it comes to the Indianapolis Colts.

    That would mean that reserve running back Dan Herron gets the nod. This preseason, he leads the team with 104 yards rushing. He has caught a club-high 10 passes for 53 yards and a touchdown. For good measure, he has returned two kickoffs for 46 yards.

    But we know that even with all of their parts not in place, the Colts know how to score points. We saw that with improving quarterback Andrew Luck this past season as both wide receiver Reggie Wayne and tight end Dwayne Allen went down with injuries.

    It is defense that is the issue, but the offseason addition of inside linebacker D’Qwell Jackson looks like it is paying off. This preseason, the former Cleveland Browns defender has totaled a dozen tackles, one sack and knocked down a pass.

    A big year by Jackson could add up to big things for Luck and company.

Jacksonville Jaguars: QB Blake Bortles

16 of 33

    Leon Halip/Getty Images

    Make no mistake, Jacksonville Jaguars starting quarterback Chad Henne has completed 65.8 percent of his passes this preseason and has looked good to date.

    The fact is, rookie signal-caller Blake Bortles, the third overall pick in May’s draft, has looked pretty impressive as well. It has been strong enough to make you think that the organization’s plan of sitting him for all of 2014 may be in jeopardy.

    Frankly, it’s a nice problem to have, and of course, it’s not a problem. And one thing is for sure. You can’t put a value on the enthusiasm and promise he has brought to an organization that has won a combined 11 games the past three seasons and hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2007.

    Will we see Bortles in the regular season in 2014? It’s an almost impossible question to answer, but one way or another, there continue to be positive feelings around the team, thanks to his presence.

Kansas City Chiefs: TE Travis Kelce

17 of 33

    USA TODAY Sports

    After a strong start this past season, things did not go well for the Kansas City Chiefs.

    It hasn’t been a great 2014 to date as well.

    Andy Reid’s club lost its share of players during free agency, and it remains to be seen if their replacements can get the job done. Third-year tackle Donald Stephenson, a third-round pick in 2012 who, unfortunately for Reid, will be suspended for the first four games of the regular season for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy (via John Breech of CBSSports.com).

    Just over a week ago, per UPI (via The Daily Chronic), we learned that wide receiver Dwayne Bowe will not be around for Week 1, also suspended for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy.

    Looking for a bright spot this summer? Second-year tight end Travis Kelce led the club this summer with 10 catches for 185 yards and two touchdowns this preseason.

Miami Dolphins: DE Olivier Vernon

18 of 33

    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    He was one of the bright spots for a team that many had high hopes for in 2013.

    And defensive end Olivier Vernon has seemingly picked up where he left off this past season.

    After totaling just 3.5 sacks as a rookie, the 2012 third-round pick led Miami with 11.5 sacks in this second season. That’s quite the feat with the likes of three-time Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Wake on the field. Of course, it also helps that Vernon has the five-year pro and his 51.5 career sacks to aid his cause.

    This preseason, the former Miami Hurricane has totaled four solo stops, a pair of sacks and a forced fumble. The Dolphins defense has been solid this summer.

    Could Vernon be one of those performers who challenge for the NFL sack title in 2014? No doubt head coach Joe Philbin would be happy to see him and his teammates in a meaningful game in January.

Minnesota Vikings: QB Matt Cassel

19 of 33

    This one appears to be fairly simple.

    Huh?

    Hasn’t Minnesota Vikings rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater enjoyed a terrific preseason, completing 65 percent of his passes while throwing for four touchdowns and zero interceptions?

    Yes. But veteran quarterback Matt Cassel has looked just as sharp and could be primed for a solid season for a team that didn’t have many problems scoring points in 2013.

    This summer, Cassel has completed two-thirds of his passes (26 of 39) for 367 yards and a pair of scores, with one interception. While he’s been sacked four times, he’s also rushed for 34 yards on four attempts.

    Cassel’s performance has been made all the more valuable by the fact that Bridgewater won’t be required to hit the field anytime soon.

    And that bodes well (granted Mike Zimmer’s defense makes some strides) for a team looking to escape the NFC North basement.

New England Patriots: DE Chandler Jones

20 of 33

    USA TODAY Sports

    Mention the New England Patriots this summer and the discussion has mostly been about the quarterbacks. Tom Brady and rookie Jimmy Garoppolo have looked sharp when they have been on the field. Three-year pro Ryan Mallett has not.

    But when it comes to value for the Patriots, this team will only go as far as its defense will take it. You can dispute that, but it’s hard to argue the facts of what has held the team back when it comes to winning another Super Bowl in recent years.

    And the third year could certainly be the charm for talented defensive end Chandler Jones. This preseason, he’s totaled six solo tackles, a pair of sacks and three stops for losses. He comes off a season in which he led the team with 11.5 sacks.

    With what we have seen of him this summer, it has already started out and could become an even bigger season for the former first-round pick.

New Orleans Saints: RB Mark Ingram

21 of 33

    Stacy Revere/Getty Images

    This past Saturday, we finally saw New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees make his preseason debut.

    Ho. Hum. The prolific passer lit up the Indianapolis Colts for 128 yards and two touchdowns on nine completions (15 attempts) as Sean Payton’s club eventually prevailed, 23-17.

    But it was another strong outing by a former Heisman Trophy winner that garnered even more attention. Fourth-year running back Mark Ingram continues to impress. He’s totaled 148 yards rushing and a touchdown on just 21 carries. He’s also caught two passes for 27 yards, one for a score.

    Don’t be surprised if it all comes together for Ingram this season. His career-best 602 yards rushing in 2012 could be very much in doubt.

New York Giants: DE Damontre Moore

22 of 33

    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    So much for those who say any publicity is good publicity.

    The New York Giants' new-look offense has gotten plenty of attention this offseason. And for the most part, it hasn’t been positive.

    That's not so when it comes to other aspects of the team. The defense, which has lacked that overwhelming pass rush the last two seasons, has been looking for a little new blood with the offseason departure of 2013 team sack leader Justin Tuck.

    Following a strong preseason and then a somewhat-disappointing rookie season, defensive end Damontre Moore has enjoyed a banner summer. He’s totaled 14 tackles, four sacks and a fumble recovery. It’s safe to say he’s spent plenty of times in opposing backfields this year.

    Teamed with defensive ends Jason Pierre-Paul and Mathias Kiwanuka, along with perhaps free-agent addition Robert Ayers, the New York pass rush could be potent once again.

New York Jets: C Nick Mangold

23 of 33

    Tom Uhlman/Associated Press

    It’s hardly shocking to see New York Jets center Nick Mangold atop any list of the best players at his position.

    Via Pro Football Focus (subscription required), the eight-year pro has graded out as the league’s best pivot this preseason.

    Also not surprising is the fact that Rex Ryan’s team has averaged 138.7 yards per game on the ground this season. Already armed with Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell, the team added discarded Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson to the mix this offseason. The Jets finished sixth in the NFL in rushing in 2013 and appeared determined to improve on that.

    Having Mangold and a suddenly solid offensive line in the fold is a huge help.

Oakland Raiders: OLB Khalil Mack

24 of 33

    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    It’s been a long time since there’s been a buzz in the city of Oakland…and it was regarding the Raiders.

    While the A’s have been among baseball’s best teams in 2014, the Silver and Black have largely been getting F's for more than a decade.

    But the team has added some promising old and new faces to the lineup. While free-agent defensive end LaMarr Woodley has always looked very spry this preseason, it’s the fifth overall pick in May who has opened the most eyes and given Dennis Allen’s team some hope on defense.

    That hope has added up to nine tackles, one sack, one interception and one pass defensed in three games this summer.

    Khalil Mack could be a difference-maker on a team that hasn’t made a difference for far too long.

Philadelphia Eagles: LT Jason Peters

25 of 33

    John Konstantaras/Getty Images

    Watching the Philadelphia Eagles run their offense this summer is like, well…watching them during the second half of 2013. 

    Chip Kelly’s club had no problems moving the football on each of its three opponents this summer. Philadelphia’s various offensive units scored 11 touchdowns in those contests.

    None of it happens without the guys up front, and left tackle Jason Peters epitomized the play of the line this summer. He totaled 85 snaps in the preseason and has graded out as one of the top tackles in the league, according to Pro Football Focus.

    Armed with some of the top skill position players in the league, including 2013 NFL rushing champion LeSean McCoy and Pro Bowl quarterback Nick Foles, Peters and company could be out front for a big year in Philadelphia.

Pittsburgh Steelers: WR Antonio Brown

26 of 33

    Joe Sargent/Getty Images

    Despite a 1-2 record and some erratic play on the offensive side of the ball, the Pittsburgh Steelers have trotted out some promising rookies on both sides of the football.

    Still, it seems like every time Pro Bowl wide receiver Antonio Brown touches the ball, something big happens. He has emerged as the team’s most potent offensive weapon, and this summer did not disappoint. The talented pass-catcher has totaled seven catches for a whopping 173 yards and a score during this preseason.

    The newcomers in Pittsburgh include inside linebacker Ryan Shazier and explosive threat Dri Archer, both of whom made an impact this offseason as well as in the team’s three games this summer.

    But could it be that as goes Brown, so goes the Steelers offense in 2014?

St. Louis Rams: QB Shaun Hill

27 of 33

    David Richard/Associated Press

    Should we call them the St. Louis “Sams"?

    Apparently, there have only been two players who have made news for this franchise this offseason.

    First name: Sam. Last name: Sam.

    Both were in the spotlight on Saturday night in Cleveland for different reasons. Rookie defensive end Michael Sam had a pair of sacks in the team’s win over the Browns. Starting quarterback Sam Bradford wasn’t as fortunate.

    Citing an ESPN.com report (inclusive of information from Chris Mortensen and Rams reporter Nick Wagoner), the Rams will be without Bradford for all of 2014 as he tore the ACL in his left knee.

    That thrusts veteran quarterback Shaun Hill into the spotlight. The nine-year veteran is making his fourth NFL stop. Hill owns a 13-13 career record as a starter, throwing for 41 scores and just 23 interceptions.

    This preseason, the well-traveled quarterback, who signed with St. Louis in late March, has completed just eight of 17 attempts, but those attempts were for 143 yards and two scores.

    You can debate whether Hill has been the team’s most valuable player this preseason. Having his experience on the roster could help you make your case.

San Diego Chargers: ILB Kavell Conner

28 of 33

    Mathew Sumner/Associated Press

    Pictured above, but perhaps not recognizable, is San Diego Chargers inside linebacker Kavell Conner.

    That’s the one-time Indianapolis Colts defender wrapping up San Francisco 49ers tight end Vance McDonald on Sunday.

    Tackling is what Conner has done best this summer. He leads the Bolts with a dozen stops, including 11 solo tackles. He got the start vs. the Niners and led the club with seven solo tackles in the 21-7 setback.

    Eric D. Williams of ESPN.com talks about the Chargers adjusting their defense minus injured inside linebacker Manti Te’o, using a rotation that includes Conner and Reggie Walker.

    A seventh-round pick in 2010 and a productive starter in his first three seasons with Indianapolis, Conner played in just 10 games with the Colts this past season and did not start. He totaled 23 tackles, knocked down a pass and recovered a fumble.

    It will be interesting to see what kind of impact the four-year pro has in 2014, especially if Te’o is unable to answer the bell consistently this season.

San Francisco 49ers: RB Carlos Hyde

29 of 33

    Gail Burton/Associated Press

    It’s hard to ignore 57-3, regardless of the circumstances.

    That is why, despite more offensive issues on Sunday afternoon at Levi’s Stadium, the San Francisco 49ers will take a 21-7 win over the San Diego Chargers.

    After being outscored by a combined 54 points in losses to the Baltimore Ravens (23-3) and Denver Broncos (34-0), Jim Harbaugh’s club spotted the Bolts a 7-0 first-quarter lead before scoring the final 21 points of the game.

    The bottom line is that the Niners have scored two touchdowns in three games. The defense has been far from awe-inspiring but has not had all hands on deck.

    So is there an MVP by default? We will give the nod to rookie running back Carlos Hyde, who’s averaged 5.9 yards per carry this preseason.

    It has not been a summer of value for a team that has reached three straight NFC title games.

Seattle Seahawks: DE O’Brien Schofield

30 of 33

    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Russell Wilson has enjoyed quite the preseason, throwing for a pair of scores while running for three touchdowns this summer.

    The defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks are also back to doing what they do best, pummeling opponents whether it is the preseason, regular season or playoffs. Their latest contest resulted in a 34-6 thrashing of the visiting Chicago Bears, a game in which Pete Carroll’s club led 31-0 at halftime.

    And just when you thought the team didn’t need any more defensive help, enter O’Brien Schofield.

    Rather reenter Schofield. A member of the Seahawks this past season, he had signed a free-agent deal to join the New York Giants this offseason.

    Oops. Terry Blount of ESPN.com tells us what went wrong with the Giants and what has gone right for Schofield, who this preseason has totaled six tackles, two sacks and seven quarterback hits.

    It adds up to one more headache for opposing quarterbacks facing the league’s No. 1 defense in 2013.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: WR Mike Evans

31 of 33

    It’s not easy to finish in last place in the NFC South three consecutive years.

    That’s because the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are the first team in the division’s history to manage that feat.

    But for the third time in six years, the franchise will open the season with a new head coach. Lovie Smith takes over a club that has drafted well recently and was very busy in free agency. 

    As far as the draft, the team used the seventh overall pick to grab talented wide receiver Mike Evans. The 6’5” target has been impressive this offseason, totaling just five receptions but for 96 yards and a score. And it’s hard not to notice the ease of which the big target catches the football.

    The Bucs are loaded with imposing targets, including wideout Vincent Jackson and rookie tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who stands at 6'6". 

    This is only fair considering that moving up in the NFC South will be a tall order for this or any other club.

Tennessee Titans: QB Jake Locker

32 of 33

    Four rushes for 21 yards…sacked three times for a total of 23 yards.

    Zero injuries.

    Those may be the more relevant numbers when it comes to Tennessee Titans quarterback Jake Locker. For the record, he’s completed 21 of his 30 attempts for 268 yards and a pair of touchdown passes without an interception.

    That is some easy math. The eighth overall pick in the 2011 draft has hit on 70 percent of his throws.

    And if new head coach Ken Whisenhunt can keep his young quarterback on the field for 100 percent of the team’s 16 regular-season games, the Titans may surprise a few folks in 2014.

Washington Redskins: OLB Ryan Kerrigan

33 of 33

    Richard Lipski/Associated Press

    You get a sense that maybe…just maybe…we could be on the verge of some quarterback issues with the Washington Redskins.

    But that’s a story for another time. Besides, it’s not like the Redskins have wowed us in recent years on defense. In 2013, only the Minnesota Vikings (480) gave up more points than Washington (478). Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett’s unit allowed 52 offensive touchdowns this past season, the most in the league.

    But let’s focus on a performer who has been steady all summer and may be primed for a big 2014. Outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan has totaled five tackles and three sacks this preseason and brought a little more moxie to a ground in desperate need of some. The 2012 Pro Bowler is also in search of the first 10-plus-sack season of his brief career.

    A breakout campaign by Kerrigan could go a long way for a team that hasn’t been a defensive force in quite some time.

     

    Some statistical support for this piece was provided by Pro-Football-Reference, Pro Football Focus, NFL.com and ESPN.com. Financial information provided by Spotrac

Where can I comment?

Stay on your game

Latest news, insights, and forecasts on your teams across leagues.

Choose Teams
Get it on the App StoreGet it on Google Play

Real-time news for your teams right on your mobile device.

Download
Copyright © 2017 Bleacher Report, Inc. Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. All Rights Reserved. BleacherReport.com is part of Bleacher Report – Turner Sports Network, part of the Turner Sports and Entertainment Network. Certain photos copyright © 2017 Getty Images. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of Getty Images is strictly prohibited. AdChoices