With the conclusion of the NFL draft in April and the subsequent free agent signings like Andy Dalton and Joe Flacco, most NFL team’s rosters for preseason are set. While there are certainly a few more questions left like where Jadaveon Clowney and Cam Newton will sign, most teams are looking to prep their players for the season and get them up to snuff on the playbook. Yet, more than any other offseason, this offseason has seen many teams completely change their rosters for better or worse. Some teams have no doubt drastically improved their offense or defense. Other teams have looked towards free agency or trades to attempt to improve their outlook. Yet, there are also a few teams that still have much uncertainty about their future due to contract talks and trade rumors. Given the crazy amounts of change NFL teams have undergone this offseason, it’s important to take a step back and examine what teams made the most changes as well as those who might undergo significant change this summer.
Changes around the League
Denver Broncos: Chasing the Chiefs
While the Broncos have boasted a strong defense for the past few years under the tutelage of Ric Fangio, they have often neglected the offensive side of the ball. Yet, this offseason has been different for them. The Broncos have realized that to win the AFC West, you need to be able to outscore the Chiefs. And in order to do that, you need an abundance of offensive weapons as well as an offensive coordinator that can rival Andy Reid’s intricate playcalling.
Before I talk about the moves the Broncos made this offseason, it is important to address the young talent on their roster that will certainly take a step forward in 2020. Their quarterback Drew Lock showed dramatic improvement during his 2019 rookie season and has a cannon of an arm. Alongside him, TE Noah Fant displayed impressive skills in pass catching and blocking, especially considering that rookie tight ends are known for not having a high impact. With both of these players showing that they belong in the league as well as exhibited strong signs of improvement, the Broncos offense was sure to change for the better during the 2020 season.
But this wasn’t enough for the Broncos. In January, the Broncos announced that Pat Shurmur would be their offensive coordinator. While many might dismiss him from his unsuccessful tenure as Giants head coach in the 2018 and 2019 season, I advise not to. Being a head coach is much different than being an offensive coordinator. Some people are better suited for the coordinator role than head coach and I think Shurmur is one. The teams that Shurmur has coached have never had poor offenses, rather only poor defenses. Thus, I think Shurmur has the chops to be an elite offensive coordinator for the Broncos.
Alongside this, the Broncos managed to snag two amazing wideouts for Drew Lock in the NFL draft. With the 15th pick, the Broncos drafted Jerry Jeudy (pictured above) out of Alabama. During his three years at Alabama, Jeudy caughts 159 catches for 2,742 yards, putting him fifth and fourth on their all time receptions and yards lists respectively. Jeudy is an elite route-runner and possesses a high football IQ. Alongside Jeudy, the Broncos also drafted KJ Hamler out of Penn State with the 46th pick in the second round. Though he is only 5’9” and 176lbs, Hamler can run a 4.27s 40-yard dash, making him able to stretch defenses out much like Tyreek Hill or Marquise Brown.
With all these weapons to choose from, Drew Lock must be one of the happiest quarterbacks this offseason. WR Courtland Sutton, who has established himself as one of the premier young wideouts in the NFL, will be able to catch jump balls. Jerry Jeudy will use his route-running to carve up the slot alongside Noah Fant’s fantastic run-blocking. And KJ Hamler will be able to burn cornerbacks and is able to make big plays when the time comes. With so many weapons as well as a top-tier offensive coordinator, the Broncos offense could put up Kansas City-like numbers in 2020.
Indianapolis Colts: Charging Head First
The Colts made headlines when they signed former Chargers QB Philip Rivers (pictured above) to a 1 year $25 million deal. Yet, the Colts have made some other moves on both the offense and the defense to reshape their team. All these moves suggest that this team has to win now.
On offense, the Colts not only signed Rivers, but also drafted WR Michael Pittman Jr. and RB Jonathan Taylor. Rivers is 38 years old and more likely than not will retire after the 2020 season. And while Rivers will be in the Hall of Fame at some point, his play in 2019 was certainly not Hall of Fame worthy. Rivers lacked the accuracy to perform at an NFL level. It was infuriating watching him miss countless balls to his receivers. And it wasn’t like Rivers didn’t have talent around him. Rivers had Keenan Allen and Mike Williams as wideouts alongside tight end Hunter Henry. He even had Austin Ekeler and Melvin Gordon, both being elite pass catching running backs.
Yet, I would point out that the Colts offensive line is much superior to that of the Chargers. In fact, the Colts offensive line is probably the best in the NFL, led by the young Quentin Nelson. Rivers was sacked 34 times and often had to throw the ball away in a collapsing pocket, leading to many incompletions and missed passes. With a better offensive line, Rivers might see improvement from a terrible 2019.
And with two new weapons: Pittman Jr. and Taylor, Rivers should be pretty happy. Pittman Jr. is a wide receiver from USC and is known for his elite route-running ability. He and T.Y. Hilton should make a great one two combo with him in the slot and Hilton out wide. And Taylor should fit perfectly into the Colts scheme. He is a great pass catcher and we all know how much Rivers likes to target running backs (24.7% of his passes in 2018 were to RBs). I expect the Colts to do many screen passes and because of this, I expect Taylor to be the most successful rookie running back this season.
The Colts also went big on the defensive side of the ball, trading their 2020 first round pick to the 49ers for DT DeForest Buckner. Buckner is an incredible talent and should be able to improve an already formidable Colts defense. I think both the Colts and the 49ers won this trade as the 49ers got cap space and the Colts got a stud on the defensive line.
With these moves, the one question I have for the Colts is their QB situation. Rivers has had an amazing career, but showed strong signs of regression last year. And unlike some older quarterbacks like Drew Brees or Tom Brady, Rivers had issues with accuracy. Thus, much of the Colts success relies on Philip Rivers figuring out his problems from last year and being able to make accurate throws
Miami Dolphins: Stellar Secondary
It may be a surprise to some that I have the Dolphins as a team with a rising defense, looking at their acquisitions this offseason, it makes a lot of sense. While many point to them drafting Tua Tagovailoa, they also nabbed some pretty awesome talent for their secondary in free agency and the draft.
Brian Flores, the head coach of the Dolphins, had been with the Patriots since 2004. This means much of his ideology for how the team should be built is mirrored by the Patriots. And like the Patriots defense that possesses the likes of Stephon Gilmore and the McCourty twins, Flores wants to build a defense back to front. Thus, this year, he has decided to load up on talent at the safety, cornerback, and linebacker positions.
While Flores already has talents at the safety position with the former Patriot Eric Rowe, it is the cornerback position which received massive upgrades this offseason. In free agency, the Dolphins sign star cornerback Byron Jones (pictured above) from Dallas on a 5 year $82.5 million contract. Jones is an incredible outside cornerback and is super fast. His partner in crime will be Xavien Howard, who has been on the Dolphins all his career. Like Jones, Howard is quick and also pretty physical too. Together, they might be one of the best cornerback duos in the league. But if this wasn’t enough, the Dolphins also drafted CB Noah Igbinoghene out of Auburn with the 30th pick of the 2020 draft. Igbinoghene is another physical corner who should be able to fill multiple different roles while Jones and Howard take on the top opposing wideouts.
Lastly, it is important to note that the Dolphins also signed Kyle Van Noy, the former Patriot linebacker. Van Noy was one of New England’s stalwarts on their defense and is particularly good at getting to the quarterback. Alongside this, he’s also an incredible leader and should be able to create a culture of winning in Miami.
This offseason, the Dolphins have certainly turned their secondary around. I don’t expect teams like the 2-14 Bengals to be able to cut through the Dolphins pass defense anymore. Instead, I expect Jones, Howard, Igbinoghene, and Van Noy to be able to thwart even the best receiving corps. In fact, considering that the AFC East has very few elite receivers, Stefon Diggs being basically the only one, the Dolphins secondary should feast.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Brady and Gronk Down South
By now, everyone has heard about Tampa Bay’s acquisition of both Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski (pictured above). But it’s important to talk about how these moves will affect an already strong Buccaneers offense.
Prior to these acquisitions, Tampa Bay’s offense was loaded with top tier receiving talent. The headhuncho for the past few years has been Mike Evans. Evans is an elite threat on the outside and is probably the best receiver at catching jump balls in the league. He’s never had a below 1000 yard season during his entire tenure in the NFL so it’s likely he’ll be extremely productive in 2020. Yet, if Evans wasn’t enough, the Bucs also have Chris Godwin, a third round pick in 2017 from Penn State. While Godwin is only 24 years old, he has established himself as one of the best receivers in the league, with 1,333 yards in only 14 games in 2019. This would put him on pace for over 1,500 receiving yards, placing him only behind Michael Thomas. Godwin does most of his damage in the slot, and given this, I expect him to be Brady’s top target. Godwin is basically Julian Edelman on steroids, and we all know how much Brady loves throwing to Edelman.
Alongside those two receivers, the Bucs also already have two impressive tight ends: O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate. Both Brate and Howard weren’t targeted much by Jameis Winston in 2019, but Brady should utilize them a bit more. Howard is incredibly strong and posted phenomenal receiving numbers at Alabama. Alongside Howard, Brate is also a physical specimen, but excels more in blocking than receiving. But with the acquisition of Rob Gronkowski, it makes no sense to have three elite tight ends. Thus, I expect either Brate or Howard to be out of Tampa before the start of the season, most likely Howard as there have been many trade rumors circulating about him, even before Gronk came to the Bucs.
As for Gronkowski himself, I think he will be fairly successful in Tampa Bay. Gronk has accumulated his fair share of injuries over the years and is also 31 years old. Yet, the NFC South is not a conference that is known for having elite strong safety talent. In fact, the strong safeties in the NFC South are for the most part terrible. Thus, I expect Gronk to do well considering that his matchups will often favor him.
Last but not least, Tom Brady will certainly have a great impact on the offense. While Brady may not score as many touchdowns as Jameis Winston in 2019, he also won’t throw nearly as many interceptions. This will not only help the offense as a whole, but also give the defense better field position. With Brady at the helm of the offense, the Bucs should be able to have longer drives that give the team better field position, allowing them to be more in control than last year.
Baltimore Ravens: Return of the Grit
Many might ask how the Ravens defense could improve over last season as it was one of the best in the league. But the Ravens made a few moves this offseason that have somehow strengthened their already strong defense.
Most notably, the Ravens traded a fifth round pick to the Jaguars for DE Calais Campbell (pictured above). Soon afterwards, the Ravens and Campbell finalized a two year contract worth $27 million. This was a steal of a trade as the Jaguars are very much in a rebuild and desperate to sell their assets. Campbell, being 33 years old, was probably too old to wait for the Jaguars to rebuild. Yet, a fifth round pick for a five time pro bowler is too low. And while Campbell’s stats have been pretty mediocre for the past two years, he is playing on an anemic Jaguars defense. Playing in a more structured and well-run defense like the Ravens, Campbell should excel.
Alongside committing highway robbery on the Jaguars for Campbell, the Ravens also had a great draft. Most importantly, they drafted LB Patrick Queen from LSU with the 28th overall pick. While back in the day, the Ravens were known for their fierce linebackers like Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs, those days are long gone. In fact, much to many fans’ surprise, linebacker is the weak point on the Ravens offense. See RB Derrick Henry ripping them to shreds in the playoffs last year as an example of this. Drafting Patrick Queen, who somehow fell to them, is a big step in the right direction. This acquisition should solidify the Ravens defense as almost unstoppable.
With Campbell and Queen joining a strong Ravens defense, this defense will now basically have no weak points. Their secondary is absurdly good, with CB Marcus Peters, FS Earl Thomas III, SS Chuck Clark, and CB Marlon Humpries. With Queen bolstering the linebacker corp and Campbell anchoring the trenches, the Ravens defense might be borderline unstoppable.
Houston Texans: Wide Receiver Frenzy
On March 20th, the Houston Texans traded DeAndre Hopkins and a 4th round pick for RB David Johnson, a 2nd round pick, and a 4th round pick. Fans were in shock as Hopkins is considered to be a top three wideout in the league. Many questioned what Texans GM Bill O’Brien was thinking, especially considering they have the super athletic Deshaun Watson as their quarterback, who needs good receivers. And while this is an obvious win for the Cardinals as they will now have one of the best wide receiver corps in the league, for Houston, it is a much more complicated.
Many have failed to acknowledge the new look of the Texans wide receiver corp. Houston actually brought in a bunch of talent at the position in an attempt to replace Hopkins. But before this, it’s important to review two receivers who were on the Texans last season: Will Fuller V and Kenny Stills.
Being drafted 21st overall in the 2016 draft, Fuller had high expectations entering the league. But Fuller’s career thus far has been hampered by a variety of injuries, missing 20 games in the past three regular seasons. And in the games he plays, he is wildly inconsistent. Oftentimes, he’ll post duds, but sometimes he’ll play like the best receiver in the league. For instance, against the Falcons in 2019, he had 217 receiving yards and 3 touchdowns. But again, this was against a weak Falcons secondary, which I talk about in my 5 Bold NFL Predictions article. Fuller, while talented, is so volatile and has a high risk of injury, making me question his ability to fill the void Hopkins left.
Alongside Fuller, Kenny Stills also remains on the Texans. Stills, like Fuller, is extremely speedy, posting a 4.38s 40yard dash time. Also like Fuller, Stills is pretty inconsistent, but this is due more to his lack of targets than his ability. But Stills is less skillful than Fuller, and certainly less skillful than Hopkins.
For the Texans, Fuller and Stills weren’t enough so they signed Randall Cobb from the Cowboys to a 3 year $27 million contract. Cobb is not a flashy receiver and puts up decent numbers. Though his contract might be a year too long, I think Cobb will be a reliable option for Watson.
Lastly, to add even more wide receiver depth to his squad, Bill O’Brien traded for Brandin Cooks (pictured above) in early April. Many know Cooks from his stint in New England in 2017. Back then, Cooks was a pretty reliable receiver, posting 4 seasons in a row with over 1,000 receiving yards. Yet, in recent years, Cooks has been anything but that, only accumulating 583 yards last season. Though Cooks has only missed 2 games in the past 5 seasons, recently he has been plagued with a variety of injuries. And though he pulls through and plays, he remains inefficient on the field.
Many forget to acknowledge that the Texans have brought a variety of decent receivers in to fill the void that DeAndre Hopkins left. While none of these receivers on their own can compare to Hopkins, together, they are a pretty decent receiving corp. Even RB David Johnson is a good receiving option for Deshaun Watson. While the Texans have many concerns in other areas such as the offensive line and secondary, I think when added together, the Texans receivers are nothing to be ashamed about and not nearly as awful as some angry fans make them out to be.
Changes to Come
While most teams have their rosters finalized, there are a few teams I expect to make some changes before the season starts. And surprising no one as both these teams have had plenty of drama these past few years, I picked the Steelers and Cowboys as having high likelihoods of making moves before the season starts.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Snubbing Smith-Schuster?
While the Steelers have a stellar defense, their offense was nothing pretty last year. Thus, there have been plenty of rumors about which players might be moved. Much to fans’ surprise, the players that are likely to move are their star players, not their depth guys.
One player who is likely to be moved is Juju Smith-Schuster (pictured above) as many rumors have been circulating about the Steelers dealing him. This is possible due to the fact that he will demand a big contract soon that the Steelers couldn’t afford. Alongside this, the Steelers also have a young wide receiver named Dionte Johnson. Many overlooked Johnson in his rookie year in 2019, but his stats are pretty good at second glance. He caught 59 passes for 680 yards and 5 touchdowns. While that doesn’t seem incredible, one must remember that he was catching passes from Mason Rudolph and Duck Hodges, two backup QBs. While Johnson’s rookie year was overshadowed by other rookie WRs like A.J. Brown or D.K. Metcalf, Johnson is a star in the making and could be a cheaper option to Smith-Schuster.
Word has also come out that the Steelers are looking to make someone other than RB James Conner their lead back and that they have no confidence in him bouncing back. While the Steelers don’t really have any other good running backs as of right now, I wouldn’t be surprised if they trade for a running back or maybe sign a free agent such as Devonta Freeman. With rumors about changes at the wide receiver and running back positions, I expect some change to occur to the Steelers offense before the season starts.
Dallas Cowboys: Contract Concern
Another team to watch out for is the Dallas Cowboys. Much of their offseason has been dealing with signing Amari Cooper and Dak Prescott (pictured above). Cooper was signed for a massive 5 year $100 million deal. Later on, Prescott was franchised tagged and will make $31.4 million.
But there have been many talks about a new contract for Dak. reportedly, the Cowboys offered Prescott a 5 year $175 million contract which he refused. This refusal has massive implications because while Prescott is good, there are better quarterbacks in the league. In particular, Patrick Mahomes is due for a raise next year and Prescott’s refusal of such an expensive contract will most certainly help Mahomes raise his bargaining price. As for the Cowboys, I expect to see a lot of drama coming from Dallas this summer as contract negotiations become more and more stressed. Prescott might even decide to sit out during the 2020 season.
Alongside the Cowboys handing out massive contracts, there are also rumors that they might trade for strong safety Jamal Adams. Recently, contract negotiations between Adams and the Jets stalled, leading to rumors that the Jets might trade him. Furthermore, Adams went on to like this tweet:
Thus, many speculate that Adams could be a trade target for many teams, including the Cowboys. He would be a great asset as they just lost CB Byron Jones to the Dolphins in free agency. Yet, I would argue that if the Cowboys are handing out such big contracts to Cooper, Prescott, and Ezeikiel Elliot, they probably won’t have much to spend on Adams. Nonetheless, something is going to happen in Dallas this summer, be it a trade, Dak signing a massive contract, or even him holding out during the 2020 season.
What Quibbl Wants to Know:
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