Ranking NFL’s four likeliest ‘Hard Knocks’ participants by watchability
The NFL and HBO should soon reveal which team NFL Films will document for this summer's installment of the training camp series "Hard Knocks," though you might be surprised at how shallow the pool of options appears to be.
Often loathe to incur additional media obligations or — gasp — potentially provide a competitive advantage while the cameras roll sunrise to sunset, the league's 32 clubs seem to avoid a "Hard Knocks" hitch like a running back who runs a 4.7 40-yard dash.
As the struggle increased to find willing participants for the series, which debuted in 2001, the NFL implemented measures in 2013 that provided ready-made "Hard Knocks" exemptions. Teams would not have to take part if they had a first-year head coach, had reached the playoffs in either of the previous two seasons or had been on the show in the past decade. Since then, Atlanta (in 2014) is the only team to be featured despite meeting one of those conditions.
Giants QB Eli Manning (10) and Raiders QB Derek Carr appear to be among 2019's "Hard Knocks" finalists. (Photo: Cary Edmondson, USA TODAY Sports)
According to NBC Sports Bay Area, one of this year's "eligible" franchises, the 49ers, will not be on "Hard Knocks," not very surprising given previously stated objections from coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch.
So barring a voluntary wild card, that leaves four teams from which to choose, which we'll rank from least appealing to most:
4. Detroit Lions: "Hard Knocks" tends to reveal unexpected personalities every year, but this team has little in the way of star power on the surface. Coach Matt Patricia, a product of The Patriot Way and a Bill Belichick acolyte, isn't likely to serve up many insights or juicy sound bites. Detroit's outlook also seems especially bleak given every other team in the NFC North projects as a solid playoff prospect. Even if there is an intriguing subplot as quarterback Matthew Stafford's wife, Kelly, recovers from brain surgery, it's hardly fair to ask the couple to pull back the curtain during such an emotional and uncertain time.
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3. New York Giants: Yes, they just drafted QB Daniel Jones in the first round, but he seems very unlikely to unseat Eli Manning in training camp, and neither is going to be confused for a quote machine. Manning's penchant for pranks is nice but would only fill so much airtime. Saquon Barkley may be the NFL's next great back, but he's also not one to stir the drink. The guys who are gone — Odell Beckham and Landon Collins — offer the most compelling narrative, but you know how much players just love to expound on former teammates. And transparency isn't GM Dave Gettleman's forte, so hard to envision him as a value-added presence.
2. Washington Redskins: Their quarterback situation is attractive, first-rounder Dwayne Haskins likely to battle journeyman Case Keenum for the starting gig … though vets Alex Smith and Colt McCoy might provide flavor as they recover from leg injuries, Smith's apparently leaving his career in jeopardy. This team also possesses a strong draft class (led by Haskins and fellow Round 1 choice Montez Sweat), a surefire Hall of Famer (Adrian Peterson), a loquacious free agent addition (Collins), a limelight-loving defender (Josh Norman), a second-year back (Derrius Guice) who didn't play as a rookie due to a knee injury, and a coach who seems to be on the hot seat (Jay Gruden). All things considered, decent option … though we'll warn NFL Films now about the Virginia humidity given the 'Skins stage their training camp in Richmond.
1. Oakland Raiders: The only reason you wouldn't want the Silver & Black to be the choice in 2019 is that the franchise will likely provide even better "Hard Knocks" fodder a year from now in the midst of its Las Vegas relocation. (Antonio Brown on the Vegas Strip? Yes please.) But if HBO wants to pull the trigger now, we'd get to follow a revamped team — one that trains in California's wine country — following the addition of Brown and three first-rounders a year after coach Jon Gruden's disappointing return to the sideline. Gruden himself and rookie GM Mike Mayock constantly spin audio gold during interviews, though it would be interesting to compare whether Mayock's unscripted conversations could match Coach Chucky for color. Factor in good-natured quarterback Derek Carr, and this feels like a deserving clubhouse favorite.
Which ELIGIBLE NFL team would you most like to watch on #HardKnocks?
Follow Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.
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