Premier Players Who Can Quickly Impact Their NFL Teams

The 2020 NFL Draft has come and gone and it was a strange old beast. Watching the premier players of college football be picked while sitting at home in their basements instead of being in the green room at the draft was a pretty surreal experience that maybe gives an inside peek into our new normal of sports for the foreseeable future.

As the only show in town – and basically the world – this draft was always going to get more attention than normal, something that isn’t easy for what is already a show-piece event on the calendar. A total of 32 premier players were plucked from the college ranks on Thursday night for Round 1, and here are five picks we at Premier Players look forward to seeing on the field:

Pick 1:  Joe Burrow, Quarterback, LSU/Cincinnati Bengals
Sometimes the key to a draft is not to over think it. That is what the Bengals did here as they took the guy who was the best player in the FBS (football bowl subdivision) last season. Burrow threw for an insane 5,671 yards and 60 touchdowns in 2019 and by not trading out of this pick the Bengals have their successor to Andy Dalton for the foreseeable future.

Pick 5:  Tua Tagovailoa, Quarterback, Alabama/Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins had a direct choice between Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert of Oregon who went one pick later. Dan Marino was the last Pro Bowl QB the Dolphins had and they swooped on Tagovailoa who was the prospective No. 1 pick in the draft before the 2019 season unfolded. If Tua can stay healthy he has all the intangible traits of a premier player to go with his football and leadership skills.

Pick 7:  Derrick Brown, Defensive Tackle, Auburn/Carolina Panthers
The Panthers sat at No. 7 and came out of the first round with the best run stopper in the entire draft. Brown is a monster of a player who routinely saw teams in college game plan against him by running all their plays in the opposite direction. His partnership with Pro Bowler – and pass rush DT specialist Kawann Short – is going to be exciting to watch.

Pick 13:  Tristan Wirfs, Offensive Tackle, Iowa/Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The least sexy pick in the first round gives the Bucs a premier player to protect their soon to be 43-year-old QB. Wirfs is a classic Big 10 offensive line prospect, a player with no flash and no question who will knuckle down to work on his first day of minicamp and occupy a spot on the Bucs line for the next decade.

Pick 17:  CeeDee Lamb, Wide Receiver, Oklahoma/Dallas Cowboys
The big question about this draft in five years may revolve around how a wide receiver with the talent of Lamb slid all the way down and into the lap of the Cowboys at No. 17? Lamb had 32 touchdowns in 41 games with the Sooners and while the Cowboys seemed set at wide receiver, the value with Lamb was just too high for Jerry Jones to pass on.

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Three Premier Players To Watch In 2020 NFL Draft

The 2020 NFL Draft will be held in a sports vacuum unlike anything we have ever seen before. The draft – which was moved from a grand Las Vegas event to a bunch of teams drafting from war rooms that we can only assume are in the owners’ basements – does at least give sports fans something to watch and look forward to at a time where there isn’t much of anything going on. This is abundantly clear by the amount of money being wagered on the draft by sports bettors with nothing else to throw their money at.

The premier players that made the 2019 college football season such a delight will find their names called over the next few days. We have already picked out some athletes who will make a difference in the NFL – the likes of Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa, and Chase Young.  However, here are three more premier players to watch out for (in our eyes) over the course of the draft.

Lynn Bowden – WR – Kentucky

Lynn Bowden was a high school quarterback that was about to break out as a wide receiver for Kentucky this season before injuries at QB forced him back to his old position. Bowden is a dynamic Swiss army knife of a premier player that – in the right system – will be a machine. He is a player that will take on any role to help his team win and even at the NFL level he will be one of the more dangerous mismatches on the field wherever he lines up.

Jordan Love – QB – Utah State

Love is a premier player who has polarized draft experts through this whole process. His best fit will be with a team where he can sit for a year and learn – maybe the New Orleans Saints? – before exploding onto the scene in his second year as a pro. Love led the entire Football Bowl Subdivision in interceptions last year, but his upside is huge and there is going to be a team that falls in love with Love and his unique skill set that features elite athleticism for the position.

Kenneth Murray – LB – Oklahoma

Watching an Oklahoma game last year when their defense was on the field was basically like watching The Kenneth Murray Show. Murray is a beast of an athlete – he has those long arms that scouts love and runs a 4.52 40-yard-dash at 6’2″ and 245 pounds – and he would be a scheme fit for any number of defenses looking for a tackling machine with unlimited range. If explosive, play-making linebackers are your thing – and they should be – then watch where Murray goes on draft day as he will be in impact player from this first snap in the league.

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Cardinals’ Deal For Hopkins A No-Brainer, Sorry Houston

DeAndre Hopkins is now an Arizona Cardinal. That is going to take some time to get used to seeing on the field on a Sunday afternoon. In this sport-free world we currently live in it is nice to have something to talk (write) about again, but you have to feel a little for fans of the Houston Texans who saw arguably the biggest icon in the history of the franchise – and a premier player who is one of the very elite at his position in the league – be traded away for what seems like pittance in return.

The Texans walk away from this trade with a combination of running back David Johnson and a second round draft pick in their pocket. That does not feel like something that Texans fans should be good with given that they gave up a premier player in the prime of his career. Johnson is a solid player – he had a monster season in 2016 and was solid in 2018 – but he is injured too often and regressed to a player with 715 total yards and six total touchdowns last season.

Hopkins – by comparison – finished third in the league last season with 104 receptions. He also had 1,165 yards – good for 11th in the league – and he caught seven touchdowns. These numbers were down from his 1,5 72 yards and 11 touchdowns from 2018 and his 1,378 yards and 13 scores in 2017, but there were mitigating factors such as the health of wide receiver partner Will Fuller and how his lack of play would often lead to Hopkins playing an entire game in double coverage. Even then, he still was third in the NFL in catches.

This is not the first time that Texans’ GM Bill O’Brien has leaned towards the unconventional with his moves. Even by his standards though, this one is shocking. It is the most lopsided trade of the 2020 offseason already and it is arguably the most lopsided deal we have seen made in more than a decade.

That the Cardinals got better immediately when Johnson was replaced by Kenyan Drake – who Arizona plucked from the Dolphins for a sixth-round pick midseason last year – should tell you everything you need to know about why this premier player and elite WR should have had more value than this.

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Jaguars Continue To Build Home Crowd In London

As the premier league in the world, the NFL is always trying to find new ways to push boundaries and become more marketable.

Super Bowl LIV, which saw the Kansas City Chiefs beat the San Francisco 49ers 31-20 after a frantic second half comeback, pulled in almost 100 million viewers in the United States.  However, the league and commissioner Roger Goodell know that the key to expansive growth – and thus more money for the franchises – is to be found overseas.

The NFL has been aggressively pursuing this angle and as the premier league of its kind in exploring international markets, the experiments have been a success. Ever since the league started staging a game in London every year – which quickly became multiple games in London featuring different teams each time – the theory has been that Goodell and the other owners want to see a full time franchise based in the city of around nine million people.

As of the 2020 season, we may just be a little closer to seeing this happen.

The Jacksonville Jaguars – a team long considered likely to be the first franchise moved if such an opportunity became available – will be playing two “home” games at Wembley Stadium in the English capital next season. It is common knowledge that the Jags don’t always draw well and that their games at Wembley actually pull in more than double the money of a game at TIAA Bank Field.

The Jags are feeling extra pressure to increase their share of the league revenue after some of the lower-earning teams in the league have recently relocated. With the Rams, Charges, and Raiders moving to Los Angeles, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas respectively from small-market cities, the league is clearly encouraging teams to look for additional revenue opportunities.

Much of the Jags future in Jacksonville is tied to a $700 million entertainment complex planned to be built around the stadium, but that has yet to receive a green light. That makes this a huge opportunity for London – and the fans in the UK – to prove they can get behind a specific team for a couple of weekends in a row and really show the NFL that relocating an actual franchise would be a great move.

Without knowing it we may be looking at the first step in a new era of international expansion for the premier league in world sport.

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Coach Reid’s Play Innovation Keeps Chiefs Competitive

The premier coach in the NFL to never win a Super Bowl no longer carries that damning caveat on his resume. As of Super Bowl LIV, Kansas City Chiefs’ Head Coach Andy Reid will always be known as a Super Bowl winner to go along with all the other accolades he has picked up throughout his Hall of Fame caliber career.

Big Red – as he is affectionately known – is one of the most well liked and most respected men in the history of the National Football League. He is such a down to earth character that Reid celebrated the AFC title game that put him within 60 minutes of the crowning achievement for a coach by eating a cheeseburger and going to bed.

It was hardly the act of someone going back to the Super Bowl 15 years since his last shot at the Lombardi Trophy.

Reid, though, never seemed to let that chase change him. Over 14 years in Philadelphia with the Eagles and then his first six years in Kansas City he has always been the same guy. He and the Eagles parted ways at the right time – both the franchise and the man now have Super Bowl wins to prove it – and this premier coach landed in an organization in Kansas City with fans who couldn’t believe their luck.

That luck only increased on draft day three years ago when Patrick Mahomes became the Chiefs’ first round pick, giving Reid a quarterback with unique and perhaps even generational levels of talent to develop. One of the greatest aspect of Reid’s coaching is that he has never been afraid to try things, he has never got stuck in his ways and refused to see how the game has changed. That a 61-year-old can run an offense as innovative as any in the NFL is a testament to his ability to lead and his ability to self-critique what he is doing as a coach.

In the year that the NFL celebrated a full century of play, there is no more fitting a first-time coaching Super Bowl champ than Andrew Walter Reid.

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Mostert’s Runs Fueled By The Agony of 7 Cuts & No Starts

Not everyone rises to be a premier player in the same way. That is especially true in the NFL, a league where the bust rate of top draft picks and the rise to the top of lower round guys happens more often than the ‘draft gurus’ would ever want you to believe.

These stories, though, remain compelling. That is why the story of San Francisco 49ers running back Raheem Mostert will get so much play as we approach Super Bowl LIV where Mostert’s 49ers will face off against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Mostert was the premier player on the field as the 49ers ran all over the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship game on January 19th.  Mostert, however, was not a highly touted college athlete who was expected to dominate an NFL defense as easily as he did in Santa Clara. This is a player who was cut by no less than six teams in the space of an 18 month span at one point in his career.

Being cut once is enough of an ego check for many to consider their future in the sport. To be cut six times in such a short space of time – Mostert was basically packing his bags every three months – has to be beyond demoralizing. To be able to suck up those cuts, to learn from them, and to come back a better and more determined player, shows everything about the undrafted free agent out of Purdue in 2015.

Players that bounce around the league in such a manner aren’t supposed to do this. Mostert has yet to actually start a game in his NFL career, but in the NFC championship match he rushed for the second most yards in a single game in NFL playoff history. He went for an insane 220 yards and four touchdowns, beating defenders in every way imaginable. It was an astonishing display of talent from a man who could have easily fallen out of the league four or five times in his career already.

This quote from Mostert shows how he uses the past to fuel his future:

“I actually still have the cut dates. And I look at that before every game. I look at the cut dates when I got cut. I’ve been on, like I said, seven different teams. The journey’s been crazy. Not even — not everybody can deal with that type of stress and pain and agony that I went through.”

Everyone can learn from this journey as they are hit with a disappointment – or a string of disappointments – in their life. Be like this premier player and rise above the noise and the negativity of other people’s perception of you to succeed.

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The Cousins No One Talks About

It is about time we start to properly appreciate Minnesota Vikings QB Kirk Cousins. This should be the thought in the head of every NFL fan who sat through one of the closest and craziest Wildcard Weekends in league history.

Cousins – he of seemingly no suitors and no fame at various points in his career – led the upstart Vikings to a stunning win over the heavily favored New Orleans Saints and QB Drew Brees, a player who spent most of 2019 breaking every passing record in the book.  Yet, despite the presence of Brees on the field – and despite a certain Tom Brady also appearing during Wildcard Weekend – it was Cousins who made the single best throw of the Saturday/Sunday quadruple header.

It is in the fourth quarter and overtime where the greats make their names. That was the case on Sunday when Cousins dropped back into the pocket and launched a rainbow of a pass downfield to WR Adam Thielen streaking inside the Saints 10-yard line. Cousins knew he couldn’t let Brees touch the ball again. He knew that one mistake would end the Vikings season despite the sterling work of RB Dalvin Cook to get them to this point. He knew his throw had to be perfect.

And it was.

The ball seemed to drop almost vertically out of the sky as Thielen made an over the shoulder catch and tumbled to the turf completing a 43-yard pass and instantly silencing the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.  One play later – a Cousins touch pass to a leaping Kyle Rudolph in the back corner of the Saints end zone – the game was complete and Cousins had led his team to a win few thought possible with a play that fewer knew he had the ability and passing range to make.

Cousins won this game despite a litany of statistics that suggested he couldn’t. He was 0-15 against teams with a .700 winning percentage. He was 0-10 with the Vikings against 10-win teams. He was 2-10 against playoff teams and just 3-11-1 against teams with winning records. The theory was that Cousins simply didn’t have what it took to win the big one – or even a minor one – against a good team.

That narrative has now changed. No matter what the Vikings do from this point forward this postseason, Cousins has that monkey off of his back. He is turning into the premier player that the Vikings hoped for when they signed him to a fully guaranteed $84 million contract in 2018.  He is now one step closer to leading the team to where they want to be and he will be playing with a renewed level of confidence and attitude thanks to his massive throw – and gutsy performance – in New Orleans.

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Premier Players of The NFL That Dominated The Decade

As we settle in to 2020 it is important to remember what came before. The 2010-19 stretch in the NFL saw some amazing players – and amazing performances – as the league became more and more about an offensive arms race.  Here are the five premier players of the NFL that excelled the most in the last decade:

5.  Aaron Donald – DT – L.A. Rams

Donald has taken on the mantle as the best defensive player in the league from a man further down this list. He is an unstoppable force on the inside, a player who requires double and triple teams on every snap just to keep him contained. He was named first-team All-Pro five times this decade and given that he was still a college player for the first three years of the 2010s that is quite the record.

4.  Rob Gronkowski – TE – New England Patriots

Gronkowski was a player good enough that announcers called him by his nickname as opposed to his given name. Gronk was the biggest matchup nightmare of the decade, a giant human with enough speed to score long touchdowns while being almost unstoppable in the red zone. He scored 79 touchdowns in 115 games and the only thing that stopped him shattering record for a tight end was his inability to keep that massive frame healthy. The Patriots simply don’t look the same without him.

3.  J.J. Watt – DE –  Houston Texans

Watt is a premier player who was voted as a first-team All-Pro at his position in half of the decade’s ten seasons. He was an absolute monster at the turn of the decade when he was named as the Defensive Player of the Year in the NFL in 2012, 2014, and 2015. He picked up 96 sacks over the course of the decade and that is a number that would have been greatly increased had the second half of the 10 year period not seen Watt battling a series of injures.

2.  Joe Thomas – OT – Cleveland Browns

Thomas is a player underappreciated even on lists like this because he played his entire career for a franchise stuck in reverse. He was voted to the Pro Bowl every year he played during the decade – 2010 to 2016 – before he retired prior to the 2017 season. He was a five-time first-team All-Pro this decade and he played a total of 10,363 consecutive snaps, a monumental achievement for an offensive lineman. One of the greatest to ever play his position, Thomas is a worthy inclusion on this list.

1.  Tom Brady – QB – New England Patriots

Love him or hate him it is hard to deny that Tom Brady was the best NFL premier player of the decade. He made nine Pro Bowls during this stretch of his career, being named First-team All-Pro twice, winning a pair of MVP awards and winning the Lombardi trophy with the Patriots on three occasions. The crazy part about this is that Brady achieved all this at an ever increasing age that was supposed to be past his prime. Brady rejuvenated himself in his 30s and he continues to play at a high level now in his 40s and entering a new decade in the league.

Fans Vote Jackson The Premier Player of Pro Football

Sports fans voted Baltimore Ravens QB Lamar Jackson the recipient of the 2019 Premier Player of Professional Football award.

Lamar Jackson took the NFL by storm in his second year as a professional football player. The 6-foot-2, 212 pound player out of Pompano Beach, Florida, was selected with the final pick in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft by the Ravens.  He was seen as a low-risk pick by a team with Joe Flacco working as the starting quarterback, but an intriguing prospect out of Louisville who had passed for over 9,000 yards and rushed for over 4,100 yards in three years with the Cardinals.

Jackson found time in 16 games in his rookie NFL season, starting seven of them as he took over from the injured Flacco.  Jackson rolled the Ravens into the playoffs and became the youngest quarterback to ever start a playoff game when they took on the Chargers in the Wild Card Round. While the Ravens would ultimately lose that game, the team had found a quarterback perfect for the changing dynamics of a modern NFL offense.

The Ravens made the decision to move on from Flacco and a new offensive system was built that would allow the athletic and improvisational Jackson to flourish.  Playing just 15 games this season – Jackson and other key starters sat for the Week 17 contest because a playoff spot was secure – the second-year pro passed for 3,127 yards and 36 touchdowns. Jackson added 1,206 yards on the ground and another seven scores. This made Jackson the first player to throw 30+ touchdowns and rush for over 1,000 yards in a single season.

Jackson’s most impressive stat on the season though might be his six interceptions thrown. While the NFL is more about passing the ball than ever, it is still almost impossible to win when the ball is turned over. Jackson was a 66.1% passer in 2019, but his misses rarely result in the ball being picked off. When he missed a pass he always seems to miss it well, with his ability to tuck the ball and run giving him an option against the pass rush that few quarterbacks can match.

That Jackson is achieving such a high level of play at his age and experience level is remarkable. He is actually younger than the 2019 Premier Player of College Football award winner Joe Burrow, yet Jackson is making these plays against the best of the best in the world.  The sky is the limit for Jackson as he marches into the new decade as the best professional football player on the planet per fans.

“Fans are such a big part of the games, so we wanted to come up with an award that they can be a big part of too,” says Carnell Moore, founder of Premier Players.  All the athletes on the ballot are Premier Players, but we let the fans decide who gets the trophy.”

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Five Premier Players of The Decade For College Football

Year 2020 is upon us. Given that we aren’t all in flying cars and living in space this is something of a letdown. What is not a letdown, however, is the level of college football played over the last decade. Many premier players have run through the sport in that time, but here are five of our picks for the top players of the 2010-2019 decade in college football:

5. Jadeveon Clowney – DE – South Carolina Gamecocks (2011-2013)

Clowney played for three seasons at South Carolina where he was the main playmaker on the Gamecocks defensive line. He totaled 129 tackles with 47.0 tackles for a loss, 24.0 sacks and nine forced fumbles in three seasons where he terrorized the SEC. While his overall play is more than worthy of a spot on this list, the future No. 1 overall draft pick of the Houston Texans has an argument for inclusion based on one single play. In the 2013 Outback Bowl against Michigan, Clowney provided one of the highlights of the decade with a hit, forced fumble, recovered fumble on Wolverines running back Vincent Smith that will be played for years to come.

4. Jonathan Taylor – RB – Wisconsin Badgers (2017-2019)

In the 2010s Wisconsin really was running back U. Melvin Gordon and Montee Ball were great, but it was their last running back of the decade in Jonathan Taylor who was legendary. Taylor became the first player to hit 6,000 rushing in just three seasons when he passed the mark in 2019. He also finished in the top nine in Heisman Trophy voting – sixth, ninth, fifth – in each of his three years in Madison. Taylor won the Doak Walker award that goes to the best running back in the nation in both 2018 and 2019, with this premier player never rushing for less than 1,900 yards in a season.

3. Corey Davis – WR – Western Michigan Broncos (2013-2016)

Davis began his career as a high school player only deemed good enough to garner one Division 1 scholarship offer. Davis took that offer from the Western Michigan Broncos and finished the 2017 season as the all-time leader in receiving yardage, a record he holds to this day. Davis was quick out of the blocks as a freshman where he caught 67 balls for 941 yards and six scores. Over the next three seasons he caught an additional 46 touchdown passes while never having less than 1,408 yards or 78 catches in a season. His record of 5,278 yards receiving is going to be tough for anyone to top.

2. Baker Mayfield – QB – Oklahoma Sooners (2015-2017)

Baker Mayfield had a strange start to college life which saw him play in eight games for Texas Tech in 2013 where he passed for 2,315 yards and 12 touchdowns. It was a solid, if totally unspectacular debut season, but one transfer to another Big 12 school later and Mayfield became a decade level star. The Lincoln Riley offense was everything it needed to be for Mayfield who led Oklahoma to three Big 12 titles and a pair of CFP appearances. Including the season in Lubbock, Mayfield threw for 131 touchdowns and 14,607 yards as a college quarterback.

1. Deshaun Watson – QB – Clemson Tigers (2014-2016)

Watson had a nice enough freshman season – 14 touchdowns, two picks, 1,466 yards in limited action – but few could have seen from that snapshot what a monster player he would become over his sophomore and junior campaigns with the Clemson Tigers. This premier player exploded onto the scene in 2015 where he passed for over 4,100 yards and 35 touchdowns, before bettering those numbers as a junior with almost 4,600 yards and 41 touchdowns to 14 picks. He was a true dual-threat too, with another 629 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground. The upshot of this was Clemson winning its first national championship in 35 years with Watson at the helm.

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