The NFL preseason resumes Wednesday with an intriguing matchup between the Houston Texans and Carolina Panthers.
The contest will serve as the first real test for some of the game’s brightest young stars, with an array of talent transitioning to the professional ranks.
Here are three players to watch Wednesday:
Christian McCaffrey, RB, Panthers
McCaffrey finished a dominant collegiate career at Stanford and was billed as the prototypical modern running back, equally adept at power running and as a slot receiver. The 21-year-old is tasked with reinvigorating an offense that stalled badly in 2016, after leading the NFL in scoring the year before and will get every opportunity to put his versatile skill set on display Wednesday. McCaffrey has earned numerous rave reviews this summer from players and coaches alike, and now it’s time to live up to the hype.
Deshaun Watson, QB, Texans
One of the most decorated collegiate players of the past decade, Watson is fresh off leading Clemson to a national title over Alabama, and is now expected to become the franchise quarterback the Texans have sorely lacked. Head coach Bill O’Brien said Watson is further ahead in his progress than any rookie quarterback he’s coached, and it’s entirely possible the No. 12 overall pick wins the starting job ahead of the upcoming season. Wednesday marks the first pivotal date in his campaign for the role, and a standout performance could see him separate from Tom Savage on the depth chart.
Shaq Thompson, LB, Panthers
Thompson is entering his third year with the Panthers and is expected to take on a larger role, giving Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly a slightly reduced workload. The 2015 first-round pick is an excellent athlete and lost 12 pounds this summer in order to improve his coverage skills against tight ends and running backs coming out of the backfield. Thompson has plenty to gain from a strong preseason and Wednesday could be his coming out party as he looks to make his imprint on the Panthers’ defense.
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