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Anticipating the start of the 2016 NFL season

Draft King Analysis
September 7, 2016
Lou Pickney, DraftKing.com

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With the start of the 2016 NFL season less than 24 hours away, anticipation is high for fans of all 32 teams. Even for those squads with longer odds, there is optimism to be found, no matter how unlikely.

As always, the NFL doesn't sell football -- it sells hope. And it's a business model that has worked quite well for the league.

I'll be at Nissan Stadium in Nashville on Sunday for the Vikings/Titans game. As much as I loathe hot weather due to my tendency to overheat (or end up with a sunburn if I'm not in the shade), it's great fun to be there in person to see a game.

No word yet if it will be Shaun Hill or Sam Bradford starting at QB for Minnesota. I had hoped to see Teddy Bridgewater in action, but with his severe knee injury in practice he won't be seeing the field until 2017 at the earliest.

Speaking of Bradford, it was rather stunning to me that Minnesota gave a 2017 first-round pick *and* a conditional 2017 fourth-round pick to Philadelphia to acquire him. But that's as good an indication as any of the supply-and-demand economics in effect for quality quarterbacks.

And as much as it can be tempting to dump on Bradford for having earned so much money with so little to show for it on the field, he had a decent stat line for 2015:

3,725 yards passing, 65% completion rate, 19 TDs vs. 14 interceptions, 86.4 QB rating

The TD/INT ratio is not good, but the career-best completion rate (and career high single-season yardage) was apparently alluring enough for the Vikings to give up a small fortune by NFL standards. And while it might feel like Bradford has been in the league for some time, he is only 28.

Of course, if Bradford has a huge season for Minnesota, it will create a challenge for next season with him and Bridgewater both on the same roster -- provided, of course, that Bridgewater can recover. But that's a problem for another day.

Overreacting to the first full week of I-A/FBS college football is something best avoided, but there are some thoughts to be had after a rather loaded weekend of action:

Clemson WR Mike Williams had a huge return in his first game back after suffering a neck injury one year ago that ended his 2015 season just as it began -- and which was a concern for the long-term. Williams should be a reliable target for Tigers QB Deshaun Watson all season long if he can remain healthy.

Watson is still the prohibitive favorite to be the top QB selected in 2017 should he opt to turn pro, but it's hardly a lock. Miami QB Brad Kaaya will be looking to make his case on the field under new head coach Mark Richt, and Notre Dame QB DeShone Kizer looked really good throwing for six TDs in the Fightin' Irish's 2OT loss in Austin against the University of Texas.

If you aren't familiar with Kizer, I recommend this column by Bruce Feldman with some background information. Notre Dame receives an inordinate amount of coverage in part because of its lucrative contract with NBC, not to mention the cache the name of the school carries. Kizer isn't exactly going to sneak up on anyone, and it's entirely possible he will end up being the top QB selected in 2017.

Vanderbilt OLB Zach Cunningham appeared on the initial 2017 NFL Mock Draft that I posted here last week. And in the Commodores' opener against South Carolina, Cunningham managed to justify that prognostication with a solid performance.

This is hardly breaking news, but Texas A&M DE Myles Garrett looked just as dominant out of the gate against UCLA as he has since his first game with the Aggies in 2014. As much as top of the draft is likely to be a quarterback due to the realities of modern NFL football, Garrett could very well end up being the #1 overall pick if he leaves for the NFL. He's that good.

After an exciting opening weekend of games, this week's college football offerings aren't anywhere near as strong. And that's to be expected, with the week one neutral site mega-payday games finished and many teams now facing a "jobber" opponent. In a related note, any P5 team that doesn't book a squash match for its first game and isn't being given top-level compensation for it is taking a sucker bet.

The reality is that, with so much time during the off-season for players to get in trouble, not having a buffer for guys who end up facing a one-game suspension is asking for trouble. And while television and financial considerations are obviously in play, rolling the dice on player availability for a tough opener is a poor decision as far as risk/reward goes, at least in my estimation.

But while some may point to Arkansas vs. TCU as far as this weekend's slate goes, the game that interests me the most for week two is Tennessee vs. Virginia Tech, which will break the all-time single-game NCAA attendance record when an estimated 150,000 people converge on a converted Bristol Motor Speedway, which has been modified to host a college football game in a venue normally reserved for motor sports.

Along with the obvious novelty factor in play, it will be interesting to see if Tennessee can bounce back from last week's overtime scare against Appalachian State. Not all squash matches go as planned, as Mississippi State also learned last Saturday in an inexplicable home loss to South Alabama. Meanwhile, Virginia Tech will be playing its first I-A/FBS game of the post-Frank Beamer era one week after opening its season with a win over Liberty.

No matter the result, it's an intriguing matchup in an unusual setting, and I'm looking forward to seeing how the product looks on television.

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