With the 20th season of Champions Football League approaching, let’s look at the five best players in the league and what makes them so elite.
QB Matthew Stafford
Stafford was just signed to the largest contract in football history this offseason and with those contract talks no longer looming over his head, look for him to be the clear and concise passer that is expected of him. With an incredible arm and several weapons at the helm, Stafford is my number one player. Marvin Jones Jr. and Golden Tate are a great 1-2 punch at wideout, with a very reliable option in TE Eric Ebron, and capped off with the uber-athletic HB Ameer Abdullah to keep defenses guessing in the run game. In the draft this year, Detroit selected wide receiver Kenny Golladay out of Northern Illinois, who brings a large frame (6-foot-4, 218 pounds) to the position with speed that can make a him even more of a threat in the passing game. Also selected, was TE Michael Roberts, out of Toledo University. Roberts brings blocking ability and a legitimate red-zone presence to the game. Stafford has all the tools and pieces to take this Lions team to the Super Bowl year in and year out as long as he stays healthy and his offensive line protects him.
WR TY Hilton
Hilton has been one of the most consistent wide receivers in the league, with a rather minimal supporting cast. Donte Moncrief was hit or miss in his second season, missing seven games yet reeling in seven touchdowns in his thirty receptions. 2016 undrafted free agent Chester Rodgers looks to take another step towards solidifying himself into the #3 spot at WR for the Colts for some added depth. The Colts added TE Jack Doyle after a sudden breakout season in Tennessee, to alleviate some of the pressure off Hilton and Moncrief. The Colts used most of their draft picks in the 2017 draft on offensive linemen to help protect their franchise quarterback, which is going to be key in their success in the AFC South. Andrew Luck will miss the first game of the season, and if he can stay healthy this season there’s no reason Hilton can’t hit 1,400 yards again and top his 6-touchdown mark from last season.
DE JJ Watt
One of the greatest players to play the game, this one was a no-doubter for me. Watt brings athleticism, versatility, and an unmatched desire to the game. I know he’s coming back from a big injury, but Watt not only has the determination to come back better than ever, he also has the entire city of Houston behind him and the Texans going into this season following Hurricane Harvey. Watt is a part of a fantastic front seven, which will probably help him in shake off some of that rust a bit quicker and get him back on his HoF career track. Look for him to possibly hit the 15-20 sack mark this season.
TE Rob Gronkowski
Another player who, when not injured, is a complete game changer. Gronk is just as good at catching passes and touchdowns as he is at partying and dancing. After an injury filled 2016, Gronkowski is looking to bounce back and make the profound impact we know he’s capable of. The G.O.A.T. Tom Brady is still taking the snaps and playing at an MVP level. Unfortunately, Edelman is out for the season with that ACL injury, but they have a plethora of talent at WR with newly acquired Brandin Cooks, the vet Danny Amendola, and wildcard speedster Chris Hogan. They also added former Colts TE Dwayne Allen to play alongside Gronk as well as traded for Colts WR Phillip Dorsett. To alleviate the pressure off the pass game, the Pats have Dion Lewis running the football. It’s safe to say Gronk, barring injuries to his knees, will once again be a top tier player in the CFL. If that happens, Gronk could break 1,000 yards for the fourth time and possibly hit the 10-touchdown mark this season (look out for number 69 as he is on 68 right now).
WR Julio Jones
Jones is one of the best wide receivers off this generation of football that I’ve seen, that’s almost an understatement when you see him pull down those athletic catches. Julio is surrounded but a very well-rounded offense, spear-headed by quarterback Matt Ryan. Jones has it all when it comes to his ability and when you throw in players like Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel helping spread out the field, it makes his job that much easier. What also makes this Falcons team dangerous is their 1-2 punch of a run game with Freeman and Coleman. They’re also a threat as a check down option so defenses stay on their toes while Jones takes advantage. There’s no reason Jones can’t break the 1,500-yard mark and top his 6-touchdown mark from last season.