A once highly touted NFL prospect, Nkemdiche fell in the first round of last years draft due to athletic measurements and character concerns. Nkemdiche was the #1 overall recruit in his class, and wreaked havoc on SEC offenses. However, his NFL performance has been a dissapointment. Nkemdiche rarely even saw the field last season. Now, with the Cardinals window closing, they need Nkemdiche to step up and be a leader on the D line. With Arizona yeilding a terric linebacking and secondary core, the only questions that remain on the defense is the play of the D line without Calais Campbell. The current starting line is Nkemdiche, Corey Peters, and something named Rodney Gunter.
The Falcons had a historically good offense last season, one that led them to a near Super Bowl victory. Part of what made Atlanta so good last year was their high profile passing game including the super effecient pass catching of their runningbacks. Tevin Coleman primarily handled passing downs, but Freeman was a near dominant runner on the inside. Freeman allowed the Falcons to control the ball and run out the clock in late game situations. However, running backs rarely put together strong consecutive years. With Freeman ripping off a large number of runs over 10 yards (good enough for top 5 in the NFL), we are likely to see major regression from Freeman.
Long gone are the days that the Ravens played smashmouth football. Baltimore relied on their smothering defense and a grind-it-out approach on Offense which lead them to their multiple Super Bowls. Since Ray Rice's expulsion from the NFL, the teams leading rusher has been Justin Forsett, who retired this past offseason. The Ravens are now relying on a comittee of Danny Woodhead, Kenneth Dixon, and Terrance West (shout out Towson). These names do not exactly excite fans or provide glimpses into the early 2000's dirty birds. The Ravens still maintain a strong defense, and have enjoyed solid play out of their Elite quarterback Joe Flacco. However, Flacco's receiving corps are barren and their passing game was never the nucleous of their winning seasons. If Danny Woodhead can stay healthy, and recreate the success he had in San Diego as the primary pass catching back, the Ravens have a decent shot to overtake both the Steelers and the Bengals this season.
On paper, the Bills look to be a complete team, with a strong roster makeup and depth on both sides of the ball. The Bills retained their powerful offensive line, and return Shady McCoy who will have had an entire offseason to get healthy. Tyrod Taylor played at a strong level last season, and is entering a boom-or-bust contract year. The biggest hole in the Bills roster last season was a WR2 who could take some pressure off Sammy Watkins, as well as fill in for the oft-injured Clemson wide receiver. The Bills have rotated through players like Stevie Johnson, Rod Streater, and Robert Woods to find their man. None of those players panned out, which lead to the Buffalo brass selecting ultra productive receiver Zay Jones in the second round. Will Zay Jones finally complete the Bills offense? That is a lot to ask of a rookie, especially considering he will likely face #1 cornerbacks throughout the season as Watkins has never played a full season.
The Panthers, to put it lightly, have not replaced the play of star cornerback Josh Norman (who is not normal) since he departed for Washington. As a result, the Panthers defense suffered greatly, and they finished with their worst record in over 5 years. In a division with Mike Thomas, Mike Evans, and Julio Jones, that is a dangerous precedent. The Panthers were torched all season long and were usually trailing big before the game was halfway over. With the other side of the secondary manned by veteran Captain Munnerlyn, the Panthers cornerbacks do not exactly inspire confidence. If Carolina can't get back to their way of running the ball and defending well, they are in for another long season.
Bet you expected to see Mitch Trubisky or Mike Glennon here, huh? Wrong. Chances are that both of those quarterbacks will perform average at best in the upcoming season. That is not entirely their fault! The offensive cupboard is extremely bear in Chicago (get it?). They have a strong interior O line, but terrible tackles and an average running back. Their receiving corps is the worst part of their team, by far. With Alshon Jeffrey leaving for green pastures (again, get it?), and Eddie Royal playing himself into getting cut earlier this offseason, the Bears are set to enter week 1 with former first round pick Kevin White and fantasy star Cameron Merdith as their top 2 recievers. White has yet to see the field after being selected high in the first round, and he is reportedly injured again. The Bears have the worst receivers by far if White cannot play. That would result in both of their tremendous investments at quarterback being put in an unwinnable situation.
Say what you will about Andy Dalton in the Bengals, but they know how to win in the regular season. Sans A.J. Green, Daltons top receivers both left last offseason and both of their once-talented running backs have taken a massive step backwards. Both Jeremy Hill and Gio Bernard were downright bad last season. With the Bengals losing half of their offensive line to free agency, the Bengals will likely struggle again running the ball next season. Enter Joe Mixon, a talented yet troubled RB who offers more as a RB than both Hill and Bernard combined. Dalton has shown that he can have success with sub par recievers and an oft-injured tight end. The most important thing about this team is establishing balance on offense, which will improve both the run and pass game. Cincinnati already boasts a strong defense, and if they can get back to running the ball they have a serious shot to win the always tough AFC North.
Hand picked by coach Hue Jackson, Kessler took the starting job and ran with it last season. To be fair, the players in front of him all got hurt or were just terrible. Kessler looked decent in his short time as a starter. Kessler enters the season as the starter again, and will have a full offseason prepare. The Browns also greatly improved their Oline, as well as added complimentary pieces on offense and some big talent on defense including #1 overall pick Myles Garrett. Even with all the talent that they have, Kessler still is the only thing standing in between Cleveland and another #1 pick. If the Browns do not see Kessler as the answer, it will be interesting to see how they handle quarterback play and if they begin to tank for one of the top QBs coming out next season including USC's Sam Darnold and UCLAs Josh Rosen.
Much has been made of the success of OROY Dak Prescott and fellow rookie Ezekiel Elliot. What people fail to mention, however, is the prevelance of the so-called "Sophmore Slump". Many rookies experience success in the NFL, but true NFL success is correlated with Year 3 success. Many players take tremendous steps back in their second year, as opponents now have film to analyze their games and defeat them. Rookies enter the NFL with college conditioning and offseason training for the NFL Combine and such. Entering their second year, many players don't know how to train like professionals in the offseason and thus their play suffers. Between these 2 things, I find it very likely that at least one of the 2 great rookies from last season will strongly regress.
Once considered a lock for the #1 overall pick, Lynch fell behind fellow draftees Jared Goff and Carson Wentz in the draft last season. Lynch landed in a great situation for a rookie, where he was able to ride the bench during year 1 and pick up the nuances of the game behind Trevor Siemean. The Broncos offense faltered, however, late in the season. Broncos brass are praying the Lynch shows the development needed to overtake Siemean as the starter. If Lynch cannot win the starting job this offseason, his NFL future may be in doubt. The Broncos QB play was terrible last season, and if they do not get an upgrade soon the window will close on their Super Bowl chances with many of their core defensive players getting older or entering contract years.
Much has been made about the Lions top 10 selection of Eric Ebron. With the next 2 picks being Aaron Donald and Odell Beckham Jr., the criticism is probably well deserved. Ebron has put up similar numbers to start tight ends Greg Olsen, Travis Kelce, Jimmy Graham, etc in his first 3 years. However, the Lions have not improved on offense during his tenure. In fact, when Ebron managed to stay healthy he struggled greatly with drops. The Lions desperatley need a better option in the passing game than Marvin Jones, and the team is counting on Ebron to make that next leap. Ebron is truly amazing with the football in his hands - he is humongous and way faster than most players on the field. If Ebron can keep his head on straight and make the jump this season, the Lions offense could turn into one of the top units in the entire NFL. With a general weakness at the linebacker position across the division, Ebron has the theoretical potential to dominate the Lions NFC North foes.
The Kings in the North! Just kidding. However, the packers have maintained a stronghold over the NFC North in recent memory. However, the last 2 seasons the NFC North crown has come down to a week 17 matchup against the Lions. The Packers have a very bad secondary, and even average quarterbacks can beat Green Bay through the air. In order to fend off the Lions, the Packers added Kevin King, an uber athletic, prototypical cornerback from Washington. If King can step into the #1 CB role sooner rather than later, the Packers will have continued success so long as Aaron Rodgers doesn't get hurt (again).
A quarterback, a quarterback! My kingdom for a quarterback! The Texans traded up to grab Watson at #12 overall in this draft. Watson, fresh off of a National Championship victory over the Alabama Crimson Tide and their record number of defensive draft picks, was not as highly regarded as fellow draftees Mitch Trubisky and Pat Mahomes. However, Watson has a better resume then both, and a strong winning pedigree. Houston dominated the once lowly AFC South last season while starting Brock Osweiler and something called Tom Savage last season. Houston boasts one of the scariest defenses in the NFL, led by All-World DE J.J. Watt who is finally healthy again. In order for the Texans to become more than 1-and-done, their quarterback play must improve. Tom Savage opens the season as the starter, but chances are Watson will takeover the position by week 8. Watson has all the physical tools as well as intangibles needed to succeed in the NFL. The Texans offense is a ball control one, where eliminating turnovers and running out the clock are the main priorities. If Watson can learn to be an effective game manager, Houston may be on the cusp of an AFC Championship and potential Super Bowl berth.
The Colts have been one of the teams most devoid of talent in the NFL since Andrew Luck was drafted in 2012. A series of questionable offseason signings and head scratching draft picks has left both sides of the ball without consistent playmakers. The offensive line has been horrible, which cases the running game to be bad. The one dimensional pass-only approach adopted by Indianapolis as a result of this, in addition to poor line play, has been unsuccessful and led to a multitude of injuries to once promising QB Andrew Luck. The Colts defense has been way worse than their offense, too. That being said, many quarterbacks have won with much less. Peyton Manning himself lead a team of equal horrendousness to a Super Bowl victory in 2007, for example. The fact of the matter is that Andrew Luck is too good to not at least be competing for the division crown year after year. While the media will not talk about this, Luck has actually had very poor play over the last few season. Some can be attributed to the lack of talent around him or his own injuries, but eventually Luck has to step up. Luck is slowly and discretely entering Blake Bortles territory.
Blake Bortles finds himself in a near opposite situation of division rival Andrew Luck. The Jaguars now find themselves with great team on paper, including a large core of young, talented players. Many of those players such as Jalen Ramsey have converted their huge theoretical potential into actual skill. Their defense looks terrific at every level, and in some places they seem down right dominant. Their offense has long been the thing holding the team back. However, Jacksonville star reciever Allen Robinson has had an entire offseason to get healthy, the offensive line has undergone a massive overhaul, and the team added the best running back prospect to come out of college since Adrian Peterson. Bortles is out of excuses, the this is a make-or-break season for him as it is likely his last shot to be a starter in the NFL.
Priest Holmes. Larry Johnson. Jamaal Charles. Spencer Ware. One of these things is not like the others. With Jamaal Charles not getting re-signed by the KC brass, the Chiefs All-Time Leading Rusher has found a new home with the division rival Denver Broncos. That is ok, as the Chiefs have an amazing replacement plan to step in for the long time RB. Oh wait, no they don't. The Chiefs are entrusting their running game to long-time backup Spencer Ware and recently drafted rookie Kareem Hunt. Neither of these names inspire confidence. What inspires less confidence is Spence Ware's 4.5 average yards per carry in < 300 career carries. With an offensive line that is just average, the Chiefs better hope that either Ware or Hunt can take some pressure off of Alex Smith. Smith, who was once regarded as actually good, is in fact actually bad. Smith thrived when he had one of the most dominant rushing games in the NFL, but has long since been a liability. Even with a dominant defense, the Chiefs are in trouble, and they will not be able to dig themselves out of this hole until they improve their QB and their running game.
To put it lightly, QB Jared Goff did not play the way you would expect a #1 overall pick to play last season. In fact, he was quite bad. Very bad, in fact. In a league filled with bad quarterback play, Goff might have been the most bad. The Rams invested a lot into drafting Goff #1 overall, and he has yet to repay the team. Goff is bad on deep throws, as well as short and intermediate throws. He is way too skinny to be a franchise QB for an NFL team. The Rams are no doubt praying in every religion that Goff takes a leap this season. If not, the decision to trade up for Goff will set the franchis back another 10 years. The Rams boast a terrific defense, but the defensive play is for naught if the offense can't even get a first down.
The Miami Dolphins, one of the most talented teams in the NFL, will only swim as far as Ryan Tannehill will take them. The Dolphins have ball players at every level on defense, as well as a pretty good offensive line. Their offensive skill positions including Jay Ajayi, Jarvis Landry, and DeVante Parker, are both young and uber talented. The Dolphins have talent everywhere, except at QB. Tannehill has been mediocre at best during his tenure in the NFL. Tannehill is an adequate game manager, but he will rarely if ever win the game with his arm. Tannehill has been able to stay healthy for his entire career until late last season where he tore his ACL. If Tannehill can fully recover from his injury, he should continue to improve in a quarterback friendly offense with options all around the field. The Dolphins do not have a backup quarterback capable of overtaking Tannehill, so the fate of the Miami Dolphins season rests solely on Tannehills shoulder, and a little on his left knee.
Long gone are the days of Adrian Peterson rushing for 200 yards a game and leading the Vikings to a divison crown. Minnesota has some pieces on defense, but their offense is questionable to say the least. Adrian Peterson is gone, likely because of maybe the worst offensive line in football. First round QB Teddy Bridgewater could not stand the barrage of hits taken as a result of entrusting his protection to 5 human turnstiles. The Vikings traded for oft-injured QB Sam Bradford and guess what? He got hurt too. Well folks, it only took 5 years but the Vikings have finally invested some resources into their porous offensive line. These pieces include second round pick Pat Elflein to hold down the interior o line, long time RT Mike Remmers, OG Alex Boone, and paid a ton of money for Riley Reiff to takeover at LT. Reiff played left tackle for the Detroit Lions for a couple seasons in his career. I would not go as far as saying he was bad, but he was not good. Reiff is a slightly below average left tackle, and a slightly above average right tackle. Reiff will be responsible for getting the rushing game back on track with rookie Dalvin Cook, as well as protecting Sam Bradford. Good Luck.
This team has immense talent everywhere on the roster. Their offensive line is pretty good, their recievers are excellent, and their defense as a whole is talented and deep. This team will compete for an AFC Championship each year that Tom Brady is under center. However, this team will compete for a Super Bowl as long as Brady is healthy AND Gronkowski stays healthy. Gronkowski can already be considered as one of the best tight ends of all time, statistically. He is the most unmatched redzone weapon in the league, as well as an adequate blocker. Gronkowski makes their prolific offense even better, and gives them the best shot at Bradys ring #6.
A lot has been made regarding the tremendous success that Michael Thomas found during his rookie season. In fact, the franchise was so happy with his performance that they considered former 1st round pick Brandin Cooks as expendable. The Saints flipped Cooks for a first round pick, making Thomas the de facto #1 receiver in a pass happy offense. In order for that trade to be considered a success, Thomas will need to continue his dominant stretch into next season, and former UDFA Willie Snead will have to conitnue playing at a high level. If Thomas' production slips, or if he gets injured, the Saints will all of a sudden be boasted one of the worst receiving corps in the NFL. I mean, come on, does anybody want to see Drew Brees throwing to Kake Lampman and Tommylee Lewis? Kind of.
I really wish I had a more exciting answer for you. However, this team will perform as Eli performs. If Eli is bad, the entire team is suddently a bottom 10 team roster wise. If Eli has a good season, they are Super Bowl contenders. Quite the Occams Razor. The Giants offense has a questionable o line and running game, but they live or die by their passing game. With OBJ and Sterling Shepard, as well as offseason additions Brandon Marshall and rookie Evan Engram, the passing game should continue to improve. The defense played at an extremely high level last season, and will look to continue their dominance with offseason additions Dalvin Tomlinson and Devin Taylor. For the first time since the days of Jared Lorenzen, the Giants finally have decent options behind Eli Manning, including Geno Smith and QB of the Future Davis Webb.
It is pretty amazing that Josh McCown keeps getting NFL chances considering how actually bad he is. An entire season with McCown as your starting QB equals a top 10 pick for your team. Maybe that is what the Jets are doing? However, they spent a high draft pick to draft Hackenberg way higher than he should have went. The Jets clearly believed that he could be the answer at QB. However, Hackenberg has yet to win the starting job, and he may not win it outright at all. The Jets will lose their first 5 games of the season and bench McCown for Hackenberg inevitably. Then we will all get the chance to decide of Hackenberg is actually good or actually bad. I would bet on the latter. However, being actually bad may be actually good in the long run for the J E T S Jets Jets Jets, as the crop of draft eligable quarterbacks next year is very strong. Hackenberg will either be the answer for the Jets, or the centerfold of a NYJ tank job that leads to Sam Darnold in the Big Apple.
You know why I'm here. It is to explain why Beast Mode may be the piece responsible for the Rrrrrrrrraaaaaiiiddddaas to finally win the tough AFC West. Oakland boasts a top 5 Offensive line unit, as well as a good quarterback and good receivers. Their defense has some holes, but is overall talented and matchup proof. QB Derek Carr will lead the offense and pass the ball effeciently and effectively to star reciever Amari Cooper, but the NFL almost always comes down to running the ball. Will Marshawn Lynch be able to return to his bellcow form and lead the Raiders to an AFC West title?
Through the first few weeks of the season, Carson Wentz looked like the next great young NFL QB. All of that changed when the fire nation attacked... Sorry. Actually, it all changed for Wentz when his best lineman, RT Lane Johnson got suspended for PEDs. With Wentz' protection failing him, he looked bad during the final stretch of games in his rookie season. The Eagles improved their running game with LeGarrette Blount, which should take some pressure off of Carson Wentz as well as force the defense to stay honest. The Eagles also added star WR Alshon Jeffery to a solid WR core. On paper, this should be a breakout year for Carson Wentz, and I'm sure that will enthrall the cheese-wiz eating fans of Philly.
This is a close call between Bryant and Big Ben. Ben strongly considered retirement this offseason, and likely didnt put the kind of preperation in that he normally does during the offseason as a result. He will likely be extremely limited at OTAs and even training camp as he feels like his body is starting to fail him. However, Ben has been dominant for over a decade no matter how fat he is. The real question is will he get his #2 weapon back in the passing game? Martavis Bryant is returning from a 1 year suspsension because he couldn't stay off the weeeduh. It remains to be seen if Bryant will be in football shape, or if he will retain his speed and hands after a year away from the game. Antonio Brown will get his, but teams were able to clamp down on AB this past season because the Steelers did not have a legitimate weapon next to him. Pittsburgh rolled out something called Darius Hayward-Bey at reciever, which made defensive coordinators across the league LOL. If Bryant can come back and rekindle the amazing Pittsburgh passing game, and if Le'Veon Bell can remain as effective as he has been as long as stay healthy, the Steelers will likely repeat as division champions.
Not since the days of Ladanian Tomlinson have the Chargers been relevant and good. Phillip Rivers remains a great quarterback, but a lack of both offensive and defensive talent has sunk the team over the past 5 years. However, with Joey Bosa having a breakout rookie campaign, as well as key pieces such as Melvin Ingram stepping up and being retained contractually, the Chargers D finds themselves in good shape. It has been the offense that has sputtered over the last couple seasons. This past season, Rivers' top recievers all were hurt including Keenan Allen. Two years ago, the passing game was fine yet rookie Melvin Gordon struggled mightly. Melvin Gordon caught fire last season, as he was one of the best running backs in football. The Chargers lack of wins has come down to timing and poor luck with injuries. If Melvin Gordon can retain his 2016 form rather than reverting to his 2015 self, the Chargers could make some noise in the charged up AFC West.
Rather than selecting a QB that theoretically fits Kyle Shannahans offense, the 49ers elected to select DE Solomon Thomas out of Stanford. Highly productive in college, Thomas dissapointed at the combine by being slightly undersized though he had quailty athletic scores. Many, including me, thought Solomon Thomas' fit as a LEO end was not good as he was a little too big. However as it turns out the 49ers are employing Arik Armstead, a 300 pound tackle, as their primary LEO end. This means that Thomas will likely man the SAM end. Thomas weighs less than 270, and will be undersized at a position that often faces the offenses best lineman as well as takes on double teams. The 49ers are void of talent all over the roster, and starting in the trenches is a step in the right direction. However, they 49ers may regret not taking Trubisky.
Sherman has been vocally upset with Seahawks management including Pete Carroll since the Seahawks devestating Super Bowl loss to the Patriots. Sherman has publiclly criticized QB Russell Wilson, and has made it very clear that we wants to be traded out of Seattle. Tough luck, Richard, as the Seahawks were unnable to find a suitable trade partner for the right price. Now, Sherman will be unhappy playing out his contract in Seattle. This leads to questions about his preperation and commitment, as he may be spending more time voicing conerns than training. Sherman is also getting up there in age, and won't play at such a high level forever. Those two things point to Sherman regressing sooner rather than later. Without Sherman, the Seahawks boast one of the worst cornerback groups in the NFL. Seattle desperately needs to make its star happy so that they can have continuity with the Legion of Boom.
Doug Martin is 2 years removed from a 2 year stretch where he was one of the best running backs in football. However, since then he has been ravaged by injuries and poor play from his offensive line. Martin reportedly fell out of favor in TB, and would have been replaced had O.J. Howard not magically fell to them in the draft. Martin reportedly feels like he is fully healthy and in great shape this offseason. With a slightly improved Oline, and a better passing game, Martin should find success at RB this season. If not, the Bucs become a 1 dimensional team and likely fall to the cellar of the NFC South.
I could've easily picked Adoree Jackson here, as the Titans cut both of their starting corners this offseason and failed to replace them except with Logan Ryan in the slot. However, I think Corey Davis is the more appropriate quesiton mark. The Titans have a great offensive line, and a terrific running game. QB Marcus Mariota has played better than anybody could have expected him to in his first 2 years, especially considering the lack of receiving talent around him. His tight end, 33 year old Delanie Walker, has been his primary target in the passing game for 2 years. Tajae Sharpe and whatever a Rishard Matthews is have been the top recievers on the team. Not great, especially considering that Sharpe is likely facing a suspension for assaulting a fan. Davis is easily the biggest and most talented reciever Mariota has gotten to play with. If Davis pans out, Tennessee might be the youngest, hottest team in the NFL.
The obvious question in Washington is what is going to happen with Kirk Cousins' contract? However, as Cousins is under contract, that question does not really affect the overall team heading into this season. The more important question stems from the acquisition of first round pick Jonathan Allen. Allen was Ndamukong Suh levels of dominant in college, where he was the most oustanding player and should have been considered for the Heisman. With the Redskins releasing both of their starting ends this offseason, that position had to be upgraded. Allen will be the final piece in what is an ultra talented defense, giving them a start at every level. If Allen can find success in the NFL the way he did in college, he could be the single reason the Redskins take the jump from good to great.