By Hayden Bonine
The 2017 NFL season will kick off Thursday night with the New England Patriots hosting the Kansas City Chiefs. Last year, the NFL MVP was Matt Ryan. Nine of the past 10 MVP awards have been awarded to quarterbacks. The frontrunners to start this season features a pair of signal callers.
Derek Carr, quarterback, Oakland Raiders
Derek Carr shined in the two preseason games he played in. He completed 20-of-26 passing attempts, throwing for 244 yards and four touchdowns. The addition of running back Marshawn Lynch will require defenses to focus more on the run game, often leaving single coverage on the outside. The young wide receiver, Amari Cooper, 23, and burgeoning star Carr, 26, have tremendous work ethic. Look for them to become the league’s most dangerous tandem.
Tom Brady, quarterback, New England Patriots
Tom Brady has been a name defenses have feared for more than a decade now, and this preseason was no different. Fresh off his fifth Super Bowl win, Brady, 40, showed he hasn’t lost a step in the offseason. In two games, he completed 18-of-24 passes for 241 yards and two touchdowns. The 2017 season should be another classic year for one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game. Despite losing Julian Edelman for the season with a torn ACL, the ageless Brady still has plenty of weapons at his disposal. The Patriots acquired down-field target Brandin Cooks in an offseason trade, red-zone monster Rob Gronkowski is returning from injury and Chris Hogan is making strides to become a big receiving threat in Brady’s offense. Following one of the best seasons in his illustrious career, Brady could be in for another big year.
Jay Ajayi, running back, Miami Dolphins
Jay Ajayi is entering his third NFL season. He had a strong showing in the preseason. In the two games he played, Ajayi rushed 11 times for 51 yards and two touchdowns. To review his stellar 2016 campaign, the London, England, born running back had three games with more than 200 rushing yards, joining only three rushers in NFL history to accomplish this feat: OJ Simpson, Earl Campbell and Ricky Williams. Ajayi was the first rusher in 14 years to run for 200 yards or more in back-to-back games. Again, three rushers in history have done this: Simpson, Campbell and Tiki Barber. With an improved offensive line and easier schedule, Ajayi is poised to make more history this season.
Mike Evans, wide receiver, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans turned in a consistent preseason. He played two of four games, having four receptions for 58 yards in the first game, followed by five receptions for 57 yards in the second. The 6-foot-5 Texas A&M product has become a force in Tampa Bay’s passing attack. Evans, 24, is beginning his fourth year in the NFL. He’s looking to add to his receiving portfolio, which includes 1,000 receiving yards in each of his three NFL seasons and a pair of 12-touchdown seasons. The Buccaneers signed DeSean Jackson in the offseason. Jackson will require attention from defenses, giving Evans some breathing room after being the lone playmaker defenses keyed on. Evans will be a lot to handle this season with all signs pointing toward a huge season.