Got a hot topic? Our NFL panel has opinions. The panel includes NFL editor Craig Battle, Sportsnet deputy editor Jordan Heath-Rawlings, staff writers Mike Johnston and Jeff Simmons, and associate editor Geoff Lowe.
Stars are made in the playoffs. Who’s one player who could make a bigger name for himself this weekend?
SIMMONS: Tyler Lockett has gotten plenty of attention, making the Pro Bowl as a returner and winning NFC special teams player of the week twice in his rookie season, but no one would qualify him as a star.
Yet, he could have a monster impact against the Minnesota Vikings. Lockett has played a key role in Seattle’s resurgence on offnece, getting open down the field on a frequent basis while averaging close to seven targets per game over the past month.
The explosive Seahawks’ weapon can also have a Devin Hester-like impact in the return game. The third-round pick was unstoppable on punt returns against Arizona, which shortened the field for Seattle’s offence and that will be crucial with the weather factor in Minnesota.
Lockett was the first rookie since Gale Sayers (!!!) to score at least five receiving touchdowns and touchdowns on both kick and punt returns.
JOHNSTON: Kirk Cousins. You like that?! That’s right, the Redskins QB, although not flashy on or off the field will be one of the most important players on any team this week. He has performed out of his mind at home this season. A 74.71 completion percentage, 117 QB rating and 16 touchdown passes compared to just two interceptions? That’s crazy. He also had four rushing touchdowns at FedEx Field this season. With a healthy Jordan Reed, Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson to work with, plus a respectable offensive line and decent run game, Cousins can go short, intermediate or deep with ease. The Packers don’t look like the same Super Bowl threat they’ve been in the past and this could be Cousins’s coming-out party. Another great performance at home this week will also increase his value when he hits free agency.
HEATH-RAWLINGS: Tyler Lockett is probably the natural choice here—but since Simmons scooped him we’ll go for a player who should already be a star, but hasn’t put it all together. Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce opened the season with a two-touchdown game and the man they used to call Baby Gronk looked absolutely dominant. Since then? Three total touchdowns in 15 games, and no 100-yard receiving days. (That’s why they stopped calling him Baby Gronk.) Granted, the Chiefs like to play it safe and don’t pass with the frequency of other teams, but if they’re planning on a playoff run, they’re going to need to unleash some aerial weapons beyond Jeremy Maclin. Kelce is physically dominant and has shown flashes of great hands and route running. This weekend he puts the whole package on display and the Chiefs gameplan takes the Texans by surprise.
LOWE: Jordan Reed. After a pair of disappointing seasons to kick off his NFL career, the 25-year-old tight end broke out in a big way with Kirk Cousins under centre for a full year. Reed played a crucial role in Washington’s late-season run to the NFC East title, racking up 29 receptions, 378 yards and five touchdowns over the course of his team’s four-game win streak to close out the season. But despite finishing the season second among all tight ends in catches (87) and touchdowns (11), Reed has remained off the radars of many, overshadowed by Washington’s other playmakers in DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon. That changes this weekend. Reed will continue to feature prominently in Washington’s offensive gameplan versus the Packers, and has the potential to be the difference-maker against a young Green Bay secondary that lacks experience.
BATTLE: Tyler Eifert. Yes, this is probably cheating a bit: He was already a breakout star in the league this year, but he missed a couple games late to slow his march to celebrity status and has the chance to turn himself into a household name this weekend. My reasoning: He had 13 TDs in as many games this season, and, what’s more, the Steelers’ pass defence… has holes. They gave up the third-most pass yards overall and the seventh-most fantasy points to tight ends in 2015. It’s the Eifert Tower’s time to shine.