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After missing out last year because of the pandemic, British NFL fans will get the chance to see some of the league’s brightest talents up close as this season’s International Series gets underway this weekend.
The Tottenham Hotspur Stadium will host two matches this month, starting with the Atlanta Falcons against the New York Jets on Sunday, with the Miami Dolphins facing the Jacksonville Jaguars the following weekend.
Here are four of the biggest stars to look out for over the next fortnight...
Atlanta Falcons, defensive end
There hasn’t been too much to shout about at a franchise for whom the Super Bowl run of only five years ago feels an increasingly distant memory, but the continued development of Jarrett into one of the league’s premier defensive ends has certainly been a bright note.
Jarrett’s NFL career got off to a dramatic start back in 2015, when his family home caught fire the night before he was drafted by Atlanta, for whom his father, five-time Pro-Bowler Jessie Tuggle, played for 14 seasons.
Ironically, it was the aforementioned Super Bowl LI defeat to the New England Patriots that acted as Jarrett’s breakout game as he sacked Tom Brady three times and the trajectories of individual and team have been at odds ever since, Jarrett earning successive Pro-Bowl selections - despite playing in a defense that has been inconsistent and largely inadequate - while the Falcons have gone three years without a postseason appearance.
Falcons head coach Arthur Smith described the 28-year-old as a “real dude”.
“He comes out here and works, competes and gets better. He doesn’t rest on anything that he has done in the past. He tries to prove it every year.”
New York Jets, wide receiver
Off the back of a career-best season with the Tennessee Titans, and with a chip on his shoulder after they opted not to extend his contract, Davis was signed by the Jets on a $37.5million three-year deal in the offseason, and has been earmarked as a key weapon for rookie quarterback Zach Wilson.
Already, the franchise’s fortunes seem tied to the productivity of their relationship; in week one Davis had 97 receiving yards as the Jets rans the Panthers close and in week four, as they picked up their first win of the season - fittingly, against Tennessee - he recovered from a costly early drop to rack up 111 yards.
In the two games in between, they combined on just seven occasions for a total of 49 yards as New York suffered back-to-back blowout losses.
On a roster lacking stars, the Jets need Davis to be one and the 26-year-old has spoken openly in the last few weeks about the challenge of stepping up as a lead receiver, having largely played second-fiddle to A.J. Brown in Tennessee.
“We’re a younger team,” he says. “I know the boys are leaning on me a little bit more than in my past. That’s something I want, that’s something I’m ready for.”
Miami Dolphins, cornerback
Howard is not only the best player on the Dolphins roster, but also just about the best player on any roster set to grace the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium over the next fortnight.
The 28-year-old was one of only three players from across the four teams headed to London to earn an All-Pro selection last year (the other two are both kickers) and was ranked 17th by his peers in the most recent edition of the NFL’s annual player-voted Top 100 poll.
Many Dolphins fans were dismayed then, when he reported for training camp this summer and requested a trade, feeling the $75.25m five-year deal he signed in 2019 undervalued his performances (which, in the lucrative world of the NFL, it did).
“I’m one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL,” he complained. “Yet I’m the second-highest paid cornerback on my own team, and it’s not even close.”
Eventually, however, a restructuring of that contract was agreed to make the man who led the league in interceptions in 2020 its best-paid corner in 2021, though the saga is likely to rear its head again at the end of this season, when Howard will have no shortage of potential suitors.
Jacksonville Jaguars, quarterback
Lawrence is by no means the Jaguars’ best player right now - that honour probably falls to Myles Jack or James Robinson - but the franchise’s future pretty much rests on his shoulders.
Drafted with the No1 overall pick earlier this year, Lawrence had been considered one of the hottest college prospects to enter the league in years but the early part of the season has provided a harsh introduction to the big time, the Jaguars slipping to an 0-4 start and their rookie quarterback suffering as many defeats in his first month as a professional as he did in his entire high school and college career.
The most recent of those reverses, against the Cincinnati Bengals and the previous year’s No1 pick Joe Burrow, might have stung the most, given Burrow also denied Lawrence the College National Championship in 2020, but it was actually Lawrence’s most encouraging display to date as he went turnover-free for the first time.
If the Jaguars are to string together anything even vaguely resembling a positive season as their rebuild gets underway in earnest - or indeed, win in London next week - they will need that performance to stand up as a turning point.