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An insider who has studied film on every NFL squad lets it rip as he gives his unvarnished opinions on the players he expects to flourish (such as Joe Mixon and Baker Mayfield) and the others (like Marcus Mariota) who are in their desperate hours.
I don't think Kyler Murray's height (5' 10") will be an issue because of the nature of the offense. Kliff Kingsbury is a young coach. He grew up in one offense [the Air Raid]. This is what he knows, and Kyler fits that to a T. He'll be fine.
David Johnson is a fit in any offense, and Murray is not going to drop back 450 times. They'll do a lot of spread formations, and they'll try to create conflict and hesitation in the second level of the defense. This will theoretically give Johnson bigger holes to run through. Johnson is a very good pass catcher, just as Murray is a good thrower.
I love Andy Isabella and Hakeem Butler, the receivers they drafted in the second and the fourth rounds. Isabella, from Massachusetts, is like Julian Edelman. With a creative coach like Kingsbury, Isabella could be lined up all over. I actually thought Butler, from Iowa State, could have been a late-first-round pick. I also loved KeeSean Johnson, their sixth-round pick, from Fresno State. Chad Williams, coming into his third season, has not developed. but Christian Kirk, their second-round pick last year, is a really good player. The rookies are not going to come in and be big-time contributors right away, but they all could be good players. They've established a pretty good group going forward. We'll see what the new offense means for Larry Fitzgerald. I don't think he will put up the same kind of numbers. He's a better fit in a more conventional offense.
I like Ricky Seals-Jones. He's good, though it's hard to know how they'll use him. But the tight end was pretty important for Murray at Oklahoma.
They recognized that they want to get back to being a run-first team and have the pass game work off that. They invested two first-round picks in their offensive line. Chris Lindstrom, the 14th pick out of Boston College, was probably the most athletic guard prospect, and he fits a zone run game. Kaleb McGary, taken with the 31st pick from Washington, will start at right tackle. In college he didn't flash, but he didn't fail; he was solid snap after snap. They still have [center] Alex Mack and [left tackle] Jake Matthews. They brought back Dirk Koetter who was the coordinator in Atlanta from 2012 to '14. Matt Ryan had success under Koetter. They want to go back to what their offense was at its most efficient.
In the running game Devonta Freeman will carry the load, relatively speaking. They saw what they got out of Ito Smith last year, which is why they let Tevin Coleman walk in free agency. Smith can probably carry 100 times. They want to be able to establish a run game so they can get single-high looks and run play-action.
They feel pretty good about their receivers. Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu and Calvin Ridley are a good trio. No sign of drop-off from Julio. Sanu is a tough slot receiver. Ridley was up and down as a rookie last year. He's smooth, and he has vertical ability. In this offense, he can be a effective player. Ridley's development will determine whether he plays outside in two-receiver packages, lining up across from Julio.
Austin Hooper is a really solid piece. They designed things for him last year. He can be effective as a third or fourth option. He's a very good tight end.
They're a hard team to figure because you just don't know about Lamar Jackson. Last year they limited his throws. At some point they have to go beyond that, even though what they did was effective at times. I think they sensed that, because they drafted receivers Marquise Brown of Oklahoma in the first round and Miles Boykin of Notre Dame in the third. Much depends on Jackson's growth. I think that as a passer, he threw it much better in college than he did a year ago. You would hope for some development from him.
They're going to run the ball. They signed Mark Ingram from New Orleans, and he will be their foundation back. Although Gus Edwards was an effective player for them, he's not a highly skilled runner, which is why they got Ingram.
Brown has explosive traits. He's kind of like Tyreek Hill: You can line him up all over and try to create stress and conflict for the defense. Boykin is your quintessential X-receiver, by which I mean the single receiver to the short side of the field. Now I don't know if he will be ready to go Week 1, but they drafted him in the third round, so clearly they saw a need. Jordan Lasley, who they drafted a year ago out of UCLA, is a big receiver and can work the middle of the field, so he may get an opportunity as well. Willie Snead is your classic slot receiver.
Nick Boyle will be the blocking tight end. Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews are more receiving tight ends. Their use will vary depending on personnel packages and down-and-distance. It's unlikely that any one of them will catch a lot of balls.
This is a very intriguing team. Obviously it all starts with QB Josh Allen, who showed meaningful, incremental improvement as last season progressed. The coaches and the system are the same this year, so he should continue to get better.
They certainly upgraded their skill positions. At running back they still have LeSean McCoy, they signed Frank Gore and T.J. Yeldon, and they drafted Devin Singletary of Florida Atlantic in the third round. All four of those guys will not be there, so who goes? That will depend, I think, on OTAs and training camp. McCoy obviously did not have his best year, but the Bills had a poor offensive line, which they upgraded in the offseason. So do they feel that McCoy still has it and just needs a better line? Or do they think he is declining? Bringing in all those backs indicates something. We just don't know what.
I like what they've done at wideout, because Allen is an aggressive downfield thrower. They signed John Brown, so they now have two speed guys, with him and Robert Foster. Cole Beasley is classic slot. He's a chain-mover. He now becomes the sustainer in their passing game.
They have some interesting players at tight end. Tyler Kroft was an above-average athlete with the Bengals. Jason Croom had some snaps last year where he looked really good. And they drafted Dawson Knox in the third round. Knox was at Ole Miss with all those great receivers, so he didn't catch a lot of balls, but on tape he is T.J. Hockenson Lite. When you draft a guy in the third round, you're expecting him to maybe get meaningful snaps.
Drafting Will Grier out of West Virginia in the third round shows that the Panthers recognize Cam Newton is getting older and has had physical issues. I don't think there will be a controversy about who is starting, but when a QB is coming off a shoulder injury, as Cam is, you need a second option. They'll work with Cam to limit his running.
They want to be a running team. Christian McCaffrey is a great receiver and a good runner. The question is how many carries they will give him. He's bulked up, but it's not like he's 225 pounds. Do they see him having 280 carries? He had 219 last year. I like Jordan Scarlett, their fifth-round pick from Florida. He's a very talented guy, even though his numbers weren't phenomenal. I prefer him to Cameron Artis-Payne, but Scarlett is a rookie, so it's hard to say how much he will play.
They feel like they upgraded their receiving corps, but they need development from DJ Moore and Curtis Samuel. Moore was really solid as a rookie. He has the look of a volume receiver. If Samuel, coming into his third season, is healthy, he presents all kinds of options. You can move him all around the formation. They signed Chris Hogan from New England. He is a solid third weapon for them. If he were to catch 40 balls, it would be good. They can use Torrey Smith as a vertical piece. Jarius Wright, a solid slot guy, could fit in, but that depends on how they use Hogan.
Greg Olsen is reliable at tight end, but we don't know about his health. Ian Thomas is a player. He'll be in his second season, and they're counting on him to take snaps from Olsen.
Matt Nagy does a terrific job with scheme and design, and that helps Mitchell Trubisky. The third-year quarterback is not a great thrower, but he can make plays with his legs.
I don't believe Jordan Howard was a Nagy guy, which is why they shipped him to Philadelphia. David Montgomery, their third-round pick from Iowa State, is a better version of Howard. Montgomery and Mike Davis, their free-agent pickup from the Seahawks, will battle it out in training camp for the role of feature back. It's not going to be Tarik Cohen because he is not a feature back, he's a chess piece. He's an excellent receiver. But Cohen should be getting six or seven carries every week, not 15.
Chicago has quietly put together a good receiving corps. Allen Robinson is solid. I really like Anthony Miller. He'll improve in his second season. Taylor Gabriel has vertical ability. He was schemed for in Atlanta and he's being schemed for again in Chicago. I really like Riley Ridley, their fourth-round pick out of Georgia. He's a refined and advanced route runner. For the Bears, Cordarrelle Patterson will be a bigger Tarik Cohen. He and Cohen aren't volume players, but this offense will create big-play opportunities for them. Could he be a running back? Yeah, he did it in New England.
Tight end Trey Burton had a good first year in Chicago, and my guess is that in his second year he'll be a meaningful part of the Bears' offense. He can be split wide. Adam Shaheen, a third-year player, is a bigger guy. He's not as fluid as Burton, but he'll play because he presents a different set of traits.
Their new coach, Zac Taylor, will use the Rams' approach, and the Bengals could be fun. That system is very good for the quarterback. Andy Dalton is not as good a thrower as Jared Goff in L.A., but he's a similar style of player. He could be really effective.
They'll start their offense with the zone-run game. Joe Mixon, if he's not hurt, will have a big year. He is their No. 1 back, and this offense starts with the run game. I don't think Mixon will be carrying the ball 350 times, but he's their Todd Gurley. The Bengals drafted two running backs in the sixth round. Rodney Anderson from Oklahoma suffered a season-ending right-knee injury in the Sooners' second game, but if he had been healthy last year, I think he would have been a top 50 pick. Trayveon Williams, from Texas A&M, can do a lot of what Giovani Bernard can do.
A.J. Green is still really good. Tyler Boyd is also really good in the slot. Their receiver that I am so intrigued by is Josh Malone. In college [Tennessee] I thought that at times he looked like Julio Jones. I don't know why Malone didn't play more his first two seasons in Cincinnati, but perhaps with a new coaching staff and a clean slate, his time will come. They would like John Ross to be their Brandin Cooks-type player. But Cooks is far more than just a speed guy; Ross has not shown that yet in his first two NFL seasons.
C.J. Uzomah has had some good moments for the Bengals. But if Taylor sticks with that Rams offense, the tight ends won't necessarily catch a lot of balls. If Tyler Eifert is healthy and can stay on the field, he probably won't be a volume catcher, but he could be a major factor in the red zone.
The Browns are pretty talented. I love Baker Mayfield. He played last year much like he played in college. He's twitchy. He's accurate. He is, contrary to what many might think, a pocket passer. There's no reason to believe that Mayfield will not continue to improve in his second season. He threw 27 touchdowns last year, and he might throw 35-plus this season.
At running back they have Nick Chubb, who came on last year as a rookie and who is going to be a good feature back in this league. And they have Kareem Hunt coming back after his eight-game suspension.
They traded for Odell Beckham Jr., so their receiving corps is pretty interesting too. At his best, Beckham is a top three receiver in the league. I think you'll see Jarvis Landry line up both in the slot and outside for them, but ultimately he's better when he's in the slot. When they go with three receivers, Antonio Callaway is probably going to play more than Rashard Higgins. Higgins is solid, but Callaway is a really intriguing player. He caught 43 balls as a rookie last year. He's got great speed, and he's really explosive. He's a vertical player, but he can also take slants to the house. You put Beckham and Callaway on the field together and that creates an issue for defenses. The Browns have a lot of weapons, so the question will be distribution. Three guys are not going to each catch 85 balls.
At tight end David Njoku is just scratching the surface of what he can do as he comes into his third season. Njoku is an explosive athlete, and I would expect him to increase his numbers in receptions, yards and touchdowns this year.
After three seasons the sample size is big enough: Dak Prescott has shown that he's a limited passer. While Dak is a complementary piece, he does add two elements. One is his ability to make plays while improvising. The other is the way he enhances their run game with zone reads and RPOs.
The Cowboys are built around their ground game and their defense, and both areas are strong enough that the profile will not change. Ezekiel Elliott will carry 20 times a game, maybe more. Tony Pollard, their fourth-round pick out of Memphis, is a combo running back-receiver with an intriguing skill set. I would guess they will use him at running back. Offensive coordinator Kellen Moore is new to the job, so we may have to wait and see. He needs an expansive mind-set to make full use of Pollard.
Amari Cooper is a big wide receiver and an outstanding route runner. It's hard to say what happened toward the end of his time in Oakland, because his first two years there were very good. Michael Gallup, coming into his second season, is an emerging wideout. Randall Cobb in now in the slot. That's a good trio of receivers, with a potential star in Cooper. While I don't think they'll deviate dramatically from their run-first approach, they might take more shots at explosive plays.
Jason Witten—I just don't know. He's 37, which is old by football standards. He sat out a season doing Monday Night Football. But I'm sure he's in great shape. The one area that he will help in will be on third down. Witten could catch 50 balls and average eight yards a catch.
Joe Flacco will be the quarterback. Look, if the team is bad and it's Week 9, that's different, but it won't be a training camp battle between Flacco and Drew Lock, their second-round pick from Missouri.
The Broncos brought in Rich Scangarello from San Francisco as their offensive coordinator. He is a Kyle Shanahan guy, which means that they are going to run the football. It's going to be Phillip Lindsay, and it's going to be Royce Freeman. Lindsay will be their No. 1 back, but because Freeman is good as well, Lindsay isn't going to have 300 carries. Of the two, Lindsay is the more established pass catcher.
With their receivers, we know what Emmanuel Sanders is. The guy that they're counting on to step up is Courtland Sutton. He was a second-round pick a year ago, and he had a very up-and-down rookie season. Sutton is big [6'3", 218 pounds] and doesn't run real well; he's probably more of a short-to-intermediate guy than a vertical guy. They will also be counting on another second-year player, DaeSean Hamilton, as their slot receiver.
They drafted tight end Noah Fant from Iowa in the first round. I assume they expect him to be a starter, but I think he needs a lot of work. He can run by people, but he's going to need refinement to become a true tight end who works the middle of the field and knows how to find voids in zone defenses. The guy that they've always liked but who hasn't been healthy is Jake Butt. What Fant can't do, Butt can. If Butt is on the field for them, he will catch plenty of passes. Keep in mind that over the years, Flacco has thrown an awful lot to his tight end.
Coach Matt Patricia doesn't want everything to revolve around Matthew Stafford. The quarterback didn't have his best season in 2018, but it was a transition year with a new coach. He's still really gifted. The difference now is that Stafford will not be the singular presence on their offense.
The Lions are looking to establish a run game that's going to be consistent and the foundation of the offense, and they need two backs to do that. They expect Kerryon Johnson, after a strong rookie season, to be a significant factor. He is also coming back from a left-knee injury, and they need him to rebound fully because he is critical to what they're doing. I think they signed C.J. Anderson from the Rams because they don't feel that they have anyone else on their roster who can line up and be that kind of runner. Theo Riddick is a good receiver and can come in on third down. They could have a solid offensive line and be able to run the ball.
They have a good receiving corps. Marvin Jones has been a solid pro. They signed Danny Amendola in the slot. He was with Patricia in New England. Amendola turns 34 this season, but he can still be effective. Kenny Golladay is big [6' 4", 214 pounds], and he presents issues for defenses. He can go deep and can also work the middle.
At tight end Jesse James, the free agent they signed from Pittsburgh, has been around for a while. They drafted T.J. Hockenson out of Iowa with the eighth pick. He's a very good receiver and an outstanding run blocker. There isn't a weakness in his game. Hockenson is a Week 1 starter.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
The approach of new coach Matt LaFleur is totally different from that of former coach Mike McCarthy. LaFleur is from the Sean McVay school. He'll want to run the ball. He'll want to work play-action. He'll want to do things that Aaron Rodgers hasn't done a lot. The offense has the QB under center and uses play-action, which causes problems for the defense because the run game and the pass game look the same. This offense is very much built on a particular set of structures. Rodgers has chosen at times to not play within structure. He plays improvisationally. He's outstanding at that. How much input will LaFleur take from Rodgers? Their dynamic will be fascinating to watch.
I like Aaron Jones quite a bit. I like Jamaal Williams as a second back. They don't need to have a back carry 22 times. This offense is more about formations and personnel groupings. It's not about pounding the ball.
In this offense you don't necessarily need a No. 1 receiver. But can Davante Adams be that guy? Yes, he can. Green Bay will need one of the second-year receivers to step up. That will more than likely be Equanimeous St. Brown. He's a fluid guy, and he's big [6' 5", 214 pounds]. J'mon Moore, their fourth-round pick last year, didn't play much, but I thought he was really talented out of Mizzou.
Jimmy Graham isn't a good blocker. He can still be a factor as a receiver, but will he catch 80 balls? I doubt it. Jace Sternberger, their third-round pick from Texas A&M, I really liked on tape. He can be a solid NFL tight end.
The Texans arguably had the worst offensive line in the NFL a year ago, and they were still able to create some offense. They addressed the line this offseason by drafting two tackles, Tytus Howard of Alabama State in the first round and Max Scharping of Northern Illinois in the second. I don't know if either guy is really NFL-ready, because they're both from smaller schools, but we'll see how that plays out.
We know what Deshaun Watson is. His health is a bit of a question mark, but assuming he plays 16 games, he'll be productive because he brings that running element at well.
Before Lamar Miller got hurt last year he was on pace for 1,200 yards. There is no reason to believe that won't happen again. He's their No. 1 back. D'Onta Foreman, more than a year removed from a torn left Achilles in his rookie season of 2017, will be their No. 2 back.
When Will Fuller is healthy, he changes the whole dynamic of their offense. He can run by people, which makes it difficult for defenses to double-team DeAndre Hopkins. But I don't think Fuller is a volume receiver. If he had 60 catches and nine touchdowns, that would be awesome. Keke Coutee will be their slot guy, and he'll catch a lot of balls.
They drafted two tight ends a year ago: Jordan Akins, who is a good receiver, and Jordan Thomas, who had some moments. But then this year they drafted Kahale Warring of San Diego State in round 3. I don't know the reason for that, but it's a third-round pick, so it's not a throwaway. All will have more opportunity because the Texans released six-year veteran Ryan Griffin in May.
Frank Reich changed the offense. In his first season as coach, the ball came out a lot quicker, and they played a lot with two and even three tight ends. This is an offense that really understands how to use tight ends. Eric Ebron emerged in his first season there, after four disappointing years with the Lions. He's very athletic and very talented. Ebron would have to be considered their No. 1 tight end, but Jack Doyle, who missed 10 games last year due to injury, is really consistent and a good player too. Even Mo Alie-Cox played meaningful snaps last year.
We know what T.Y. Hilton is. He's the guy who does everything for them. But they clearly knew that they needed to upgrade their receiver group, so they drafted Parris Campbell in the second round. When you draft someone like Campbell that early, it means that you have a sense of how to use him. Campbell has speed, and at Ohio State he ran a lot of shallow crosses and screens. He's explosive—you get the ball in his hands and let him run after the catch. So he fits the way that the Colts now play offense. They want to get the ball out of Andrew Luck's hands quickly, get it into Campbell's hands and let him create. Over time he certainly has the size [six feet, 205 pounds] and speed to develop into a vertical receiver.
At running back they see Marlon Mack as their No. 1 guy. Reich comes from the Eagles, who didn't necessarily have one back who was going to get 300 carries. Mack is not going to be Ezekiel Elliott, but if he is healthy he will get more than 200 carries. I think Nyheim Hines will play, too, because he's a really good receiver.
They've got a new offensive coordinator, John DeFilippo, and new quarterback, Nick Foles, who were together in Philly in 2017. DeFillippo knows what Foles is. He's a very solid player, and you can line him up and you can win with him, but it's all system and scheme with Nick. He's not transformational.
I still think they're going to try to run the football. The big question is Leonard Fournette. He was overweight a year ago, and when I was at the combine and talked to some people on their staff, they said he was still overweight. When he's healthy and in shape, you can ride Fournette to some degree, the way they did two years ago. If Fournette understands what's at stake and comes to the party ready to go, he can be a factor. They need him to be ready because they really don't have another back—although I absolutely love Ryquell Armstead, their fifth-round pick from Temple. Their other guys are backups.
Dede Westbrook and Marqise Lee, if healthy, are their two main receivers. Lee, before injuring his left knee in preseason last year, had started to show that he could be a quality wideout. Westbrook has vertical ability. D.J. Chark, their second-round pick from last year, can get vertical as well. They also signed Chris Conley, who is good and is going to play.
You never know with rookies, but I like Josh Oliver, the tight end they drafted in the third round from San Jose State. Foles throws to the tight end a lot, and beyond Oliver, what do they have? Geoff Swaim, and also James O'Shaughnessy who has been there for a couple of years. But they obviously felt like they needed another tight end.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
I'm fascinated to see what's going to happen this year with Patrick Mahomes. He threw 50 touchdowns last year, and he made a ton of plays outside of structure. He's good at that, but you can't count on that every week. Is Mahomes a really good QB? Yes. Is he going to put up numbers? Yes. Is he going to throw 50 touchdowns again? I would be surprised.
In this offense, you could plug a lot of backs in and they would be successful. Look what Damien Williams did at the end of last year, after they released Kareem Hunt. Williams will put up numbers because he plays for the Kansas City Chiefs. They added Carlos Hyde, who I've always liked. That's going to be an interesting training camp battle because Hyde is a better runner, but Williams is a far better receiver.
We don't know what will happen with Tyreek Hill [who is facing possible suspension on a domestic-violence charge]. But I have a feeling they drafted Mecole Hardman in the second round out of Georgia because he can fill Hill's role in their offense. Sammy Watkins, when healthy, is still a very good receiver. He's a guy who can run by people. He hasn't been a volume receiver, but he scores TDs. I like Demarcus Robinson. When he came out of Florida in 2016, I thought he was one of the top five receivers in the draft, but he was suspended four times in college, so he wasn't taken until the fourth round. Hardman is a bit of a wild card here because he is a rookie, but I think their receiving corps is going to be pretty good.
With Rob Gronkowski retired, Travis Kelce is the best tight end in the league. And for the last year or so, Kelce was a better receiver than Gronk anyway.
LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
Philip Rivers is still a very good quarterback at age 37. He had a strong season in 2018, and I don't expect him to decline.
The Chargers have a good backfield. Melvin Gordon has been hurt a lot, but he's a solid back when healthy. He has actually evolved in the NFL into exactly what he was not in college. At Wisconsin, he had a lot of longer runs, but backs in the NFL just don't have a ton of those kind of breakaways—it's just the nature of the game. So Gordon has adapted and morphed into a grinder, a sustainer and a tough runner. A healthy Gordon will get 250-plus carries, and he's a decent receiver. They've got two quality backups in Austin Ekeler, who's a very good receiver, and Justin Jackson, who actually runs really, really hard. He's too small [six feet, 199 pounds] to be a feature back, but that's the way he runs.
With Tyrell Williams gone to Oakland, I would expect Mike Williams to assume a bigger role in their passing game. They have only three wideouts, really: It's Williams, Keenan Allen and Travis Benjamin. Those are their guys, so Williams, now in his third year, is going to play a lot of snaps, and he's going to be targeted more than he was a season ago.
Hunter Henry is back healthy, after tearing his right ACL last May and missing all of the 2018 season. And who knows if Antonio Gates is going to decide to come back at age 38? But at this point Henry is their starting tight end. I think Henry's going to get targeted a lot. Everyone's been high on him since he came into the league in 2016, and this year he's going to catch a lot of balls.
LOS ANGELES RAMS
The Patriots had a specific game plan for the Super Bowl to take away what the Rams want to do. So now coach Sean McVay has to make adjustments. He's a wonk. He probably knew it during the game.
Jared Goff is a system QB. In a great system like this one, he works efficiently and effectively. No one knows the answer on Todd Gurley. Even if he's healthy, Gurley is a back who's had injuries before. He has a lot of wear. I don't know if he'll get 290 carries this season. They might try to bring him down to 220. If I had to guess right now, I would say that's what will happen. Behind Gurley they have Malcolm Brown, who they like. Darrell Henderson, their third-round draft choice, was a really good pickup. As a back he also caught 63 balls in three seasons at Memphis. We know how important Gurley is as a receiver.
Losing Cooper Kupp to a left-ACL injury in Week 10 hurt the Rams a lot last year. Getting him back healthy is key. Clearly their offense was not quite as efficient without him. The third-down numbers bear that out. Brandin Cooks is a good player. And Robert Woods is absolutely terrific. He's not a true vertical threat, but he's a really solid, consistent player. Josh Reynolds is intriguing. Goff didn't have good chemistry with him last year, but with Kupp back, Reynolds is a strong four.
The Rams are usually an 11 personnel team [three WRs, one TE], but down the stretch they played more with two tight ends. Tyler Higbee is their better blocker. Gerald Everett is not really a blocker. But they're both good receivers.
I like Josh Rosen a lot. Before the Dolphins traded for him, they were talking about starting Ryan Fitzpatrick, so we'll see how that plays out. But I think that Rosen fits what they want to do offensively. He'll end up being the guy, whether it's in Week 1 or Week 3.
They have two interesting backs. One is Kenyan Drake, who is pretty explosive and a good receiver as well. They also have Kalen Ballage, whose size [6' 2", 237 pounds] and speed got people excited, and he had some good moments last year as a rookie. I think both will play meaningful snaps, but Drake is going to be their No. 1 back. He's going to carry between 180 and 200 times, and he will probably catch 35 or 40 balls.
This will be the final shot for DeVante Parker. He was a first-round pick in 2015, and a pretty high first-round pick. He hasn't shown anything in his first four seasons, but if he's healthy, he's going to be a starting wide receiver. He will get targeted—just like Kenny Stills will get targeted. Their third wideout is a question mark. Albert Wilson hurt his hip last year but is an interesting player. Brice Butler has been around the league but has shown some ability at times. They have that speedster, Jakeem Grant, who was used in multiple ways a year ago. Miami has a new coach in Brian Flores, so it's hard to know who they'll go with.
Mike Gesicki is a receiving tight end, but he's not particularly strong. They signed Dwayne Allen, who is a good blocker; Flores knows him from New England. Gesicki might not get as many snaps as he would have if Adam Gase were still the coach.
People expected Kirk Cousins to be Tom Brady. He's a piece. Cousins requires a run game. On paper, they want to play differently and have the run game be the foundation. They needed to upgrade their offensive line, so they drafted Garrett Bradbury from North Carolina State in the first round to play center, which means they'll move Pat Elflein from center to guard. I loved Bradbury on tape. That's a major upgrade. They also signed Josh Kline at right guard, who was not that good with the Titans. But you could argue that the Vikings had the two worst guards in the league last year, and they've replaced both of them.
Dalvin Cook will be the lead RB. He has said he's healthy, and that is critical. He can be a sustaining back. They took Alexander Mattison from Boise State in the third round, which some thought was high. He's an urgent runner with natural power, but he's got limitations. He's not shifty or elusive. But there's always a place for backs like Mattison.
Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs are really good receivers. They're looking for the third guy. Laquon Treadwell, their 2016 first-round pick, may not even make it through camp. I am intrigued by Dillon Mitchell of Oregon, even though he was a seventh-round pick. He could be cut tomorrow, but he has the look of a slot receiver.
Irv Smith Jr., their second-round pick from Alabama, is going to be Kyle Rudolph's complement initially. But he will give Minnesota a chance to run two-tight-end sets. He's good blocker, and he can work all three levels of the defense. He doesn't have elite explosion, but he has enough speed.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
I was fascinated last year by how the Patriots evolved as the season progressed and became a running team playing with a fullback. Sony Michel became a critical piece of what they did. But it's hard to know what will happen this year because their coach is Bill Belichick, and they are not a team that has a set identity from week to week.
We know James White. He's very good in a defined role as a receiving back, and that role won't change. They drafted Damien Harris from Alabama in the third round. Does he take snaps away from Michel? I would argue that Harris is a better runner than Michel, but we'll see how that plays out. Michel got it done for them last year.
The biggest questions they have are at tight end and wide receiver. Obviously they have Julian Edelman. But beyond Edelman the receiving corps is all questions. They drafted N'Keal Harry in the first round out of Arizona State. This is a good spot for him, because I think they'll understand what he is and what he isn't. Harry struggles to get open against man coverage, but the Patriots are as good as any team in the league at scheming receivers open. I would assume that the guy who will get more snaps, out of necessity, is Phillip Dorsett. But who knows? Belichick is not beholden to anyone. He could go through OTAs and training camp and decide he loves another player, and Dorsett could get cut. You don't know.
At tight end, is it Austin Seferian-Jenkins? Will he be the starter? You look at their roster, and they don't have anybody at the position who makes you say, "Wow! That's the guy!"
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
I don't think Drew Brees is quite the same. His arm was never great, and it's lost a little bit. Last year I saw him attempt some throws down the field that just didn't have enough.
The big question is how they will use Alvin Kamara now that Mark Ingram has left in free agency. Do the Saints see Kamara as a feature back? He carried more than people think last year, with 194 rushing attempts. Do they want to keep him around that workload, or do they see him getting about 40 more carries? They signed Latavius Murray from Minnesota, and he is a very good second back. But it's hard to know what the Saints will do.
Michael Thomas fits their scheme perfectly. This offense has a lot of short passes, and Thomas is really good in the short and intermediate areas. He's physical. Ted Ginn Jr., even coming into his 13th season, still presents a vertical threat. Tre'Quan Smith was a third-round pick last year, and he is their wild card this season. The Saints expect him to take a step forward and become much more of a factor. He could take snaps from Ginn, because Smith also has that vertical ability. Either Austin Carr or Cameron Meredith will also end up getting meaningful snaps at receiver. It took Meredith a year to come back from his knee injury, and he could be effective in the slot. Then again, so could Carr.
Coach Sean Payton prefers a tight end who can line up outside, and they didn't have that a year ago. That is why they signed Jared Cook from the Raiders. He's 32 years old, but he can still be effective when split out wide.
NEW YORK GIANTS
I don't think Eli Manning is particularly consistent. He needs the pocket to be pristine. He's a complementary piece now. GM Dave Gettleman's approach is old school. He still believes that the game is won and lost on the line of scrimmage, that running the ball is imperative and that the quarterback isn't a driving force. Daniel Jones, their first-round pick from Duke, is a theoretical fit for them. He's not a high-level talent. If Jones were to reach his ceiling, he could be a Matt Ryan-type of player. He would be a part of a run-first team that does not have to throw in order to move the ball. Gettleman does not want his quarterback dropping back 40 times a game.
This offense will run through Saquon Barkley. He'll improve this year. In his rookie season he seemed to develop an understanding of how to run in the NFL, which results in fewer one-to-two-yard runs and more four-yard runs. He can catch too, and they'll use him more in the pass game. His backup, Wayne Gallman, is very solid, but he'll only be used to give Barkley a breather.
They have two slot receivers in Sterling Shepard and Golden Tate. They're very similar players. In formations with two backs and tight ends, Shepard and Tate might both line up outside. Unless Corey Coleman, the Browns' first-round pick from 2016, develops into a player, the Giants don't have much else at wide receiver.
Tight end Evan Engram will be more of a receiver, by necessity. He has the talent to do it. You'll see a lot of two-tight-end formations, with Engram being a movable chess piece.
NEW YORK JETS
Sam Darnold is going to be a good quarterback. Some people already have him in the Hall of Fame, and I think we have to hold back a little on that. But I liked that Darnold improved as last year went on. He still is only in his second season, and he needs to continue to grow. He's also going to be in a new offense, with the Jets hiring Adam Gase as their coach. But Darnold is going to be fine.
Obviously, they made a major pickup in Le'Veon Bell, signing the former Steeler to a four-year, $52.5 million deal. He's going to get his carries, and he's going to catch the ball as well. He theoretically could have 300 carries and 70 receptions. Also, Bell missed all of last season in a contract holdout, so he won't have that fresh wear-and-tear on his body.
Among their receivers, Robby Anderson is actually pretty good. He gives them a vertical dimension, but he can do more than that. I also think Jamison Crowder, who was signed from Washington, and fifth-year man Quincy Enunwa will put up numbers in Gase's offense. They're not necessarily going to average 16 or 17 yards per reception, but my expectation is that these veterans are going to catch plenty of balls.
The player who I think is really going to emerge is Chris Herndon, their fourth-round pick last year out of Miami. I love him, and I can tell you for a fact that they love him too. He's very athletic. Gase likes to have a tight end that he can use as a chess piece. As a rookie Herndon had 39 catches and four TDs. This year I would look to him to be a really important part of their passing game.
Derek Carr is their quarterback. He's their guy. We know because they didn't draft another one.
Even though he's a rookie, I think Josh Jacobs will carry the ball 250 times, barring injury. He's an excellent pass catcher and a truly complete back. Isaiah Crowell just tore his ACL, and he's out for the year. So Jacobs is the guy. They have more experienced backs on the roster, like Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington, who can take snaps, but they drafted Jacobs in the first round out of Alabama for a reason.
They've got receivers now. They added Antonio Brown, Tyrell Williams and J.J. Nelson. They have Marcell Ateman, a 2018 seventh-round pick from Oklahoma State who played a lot of snaps for them at the end of last year. He's a really big kid [6' 4", 216 pounds]. I don't know who their slot guy will be. Nelson can line up there, and so can Hunter Renfrow, their fifth-round rookie from Clemson. They also have Ryan Grant. I don't know if he makes the team, but he's a veteran with slot experience. When you look at this group, obviously Brown's going to catch balls. He's phenomenal. The big question is Williams. Does he become more of a volume guy in Oakland? He did top 1,000 yards three years ago with the Chargers. Or will they use him as more of a big-play guy?
At tight end they lost Jared Cook, which is why they drafted Foster Moreau from LSU in the fourth round. He had really good measurables at the combine. They signed Luke Willson, who has some receiving ability. Lee Smith is a glorified tackle; he's not a receiver. Derek Carrier has had some moments. Tight end is a position they need to sort out.
He tore his left ACL in 2017 and had a back injury last season, but there's no reason Carson Wentz won't get back to the peak of his ability. He's a special talent. It's a worrisome injury history, but before he hurt his knee, he was going to be the league MVP that year. They like their backup, Nate Sudfeld, but it's hard to know what they have in him.
The Eagles needed to add running backs, and they got two. I think their usage will vary from game to game. Some weeks Jordan Howard, acquired from the Bears, will get it 20 times, and other weeks Miles Sanders, a second-round pick from Penn State, might have 14 carries. Think back to when they had Jay Ajayi and LeGarrette Blount in '17. It will be similar to that.
Andre Dillard, their first-round pick from Washington State, is a perfect left tackle prospect, and he will be a factor this season. It's hard to believe that Jason Peters, at 37, will start 16 games and play all the snaps.
DeSean Jackson is a critical addition because Wentz likes to push the ball down the field. With Jackson, acquired from Tampa Bay, they now have a true vertical dimension, and that will open things up. J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, a second-round pick from Stanford, has deceptive vertical ability. The question is, Can he get on top of NFL corners and win routes one-on-one? He's got size, but he's not as big as people thought. He's 6' 2", not 6' 5".
The Eagles can be effective lining up with either three wide receivers or two tight ends. Dallas Goedert, their second-round pick last year, is really talented. With him and Zach Ertz, they can do things formationally that cause problems for defenses.
The big issue for their offense is that they need to work in some new receivers with Antonio Brown gone. Obviously they have JuJu Smith-Schuster, and he'll line up inside and outside. I think they're really counting on James Washington, who was a second-round pick last year, to take a big step forward. The signed Donte Moncrief. They also drafted Diontae Johnson from Toledo in the third round. When you choose a receiver in the third you don't necessarily expect him to start this year, but you hope he can be a factor.
Ben Roethlisberger threw an awful lot last year. You don't want Ben dropping back 40 times a game at this point. I think they should run the ball more. But that comes down to how games go and the philosophy of the coordinator. I thought James Conner played extremely well a year ago, and after he got hurt, Jaylen Samuels came in and did a nice job. They drafted Benny Snell of Kentucky, who's a grinder. I like him. He's not explosive, and that's why he lasted until the fourth round, but he's a hard-earned-yards kind of back. Their O-line is still really solid. It's essentially the same as it was a year ago, so they have that continuity.
At tight end, they still have Vance McDonald, who isn't going to catch 70 balls. He might have 35 to 40 catches and maybe five or six touchdowns. They lost Jesse James, so now I guess Xavier Grimble steps in as the second tight end, and he's flashed as a receiver. They drafted a tight end in the fifth round from Michigan, Zach Gentry, a really big kid [6' 8", 265 pounds] who can block. That pick suggests that they may want to run the ball a little more.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
I like Jimmy Garoppolo. He's a good quarterback who fits really well with coach Kyle Shanahan. Most QBs fit well with Shanahan. No team in the NFL has a better run-pass fusion, by which I mean that the run game and play action look exactly the same.
They're going to use three running backs, Tevin Coleman, Jerick McKinnon and Matt Breida. They signed McKinnon last year expecting that he would be their version of Devonta Freeman. Then they signed Coleman from the Falcons this offseason. I would think that if McKinnon is recovered from his right-ACL injury, the pairing of him and Coleman would mirror what Shanahan did as Atlanta's coordinator with Freeman and Coleman. San Francisco uses its fullback, Kyle Juszczyk, a lot. He was on the field for 63% of the snaps last year. He's not just a blocker. He's a very good receiver.
I love Deebo Samuel, their second-round pick from South Carolina. He's explosive, he's compact, and he can get vertical. I also love Jalen Hurd, their third-round pick from Baylor. I didn't know what to expect after his college transition from running back to receiver. He's big [6'5", 226 pounds], athletic, and he played in the slot but can also line up outside. They still have Marquise Goodwin, who can run. Dante Pettis is a good receiver, more than just a kick returner. Depending on the growth of Samuel and Hurd, they have a good corps.
George Kittle is critical for them at tight end. He doesn't look smooth when he is running, but he is more explosive than you think. They've got weapons. This team could be pretty good offensively.
What's their identity? Last year they chose to be a run-first team, lining up with Russell Wilson under center and backs in the I formation. But they just signed Wilson to the biggest deal in league history, at four years and $140 million. Is he still going to be a complementary piece? A lot of people feel they should turn him loose. We'll see if they make changes now.
In 2018 they led the league in rushing yards. Chris Carson had a big year. He is a grinder. He was their Marshawn Lynch. With Rashaad Penny, you have to assume that in his second season he'll get more carries. Penny is a little more explosive. They would want to get him the ball.
In May the Seahawks cut Doug Baldwin, who had been injured, after a failed physical. He was a Pro Bowl guy for them, so they need receivers. Tyler Lockett was their big-play guy last year. I like David Moore, who had five touchdowns in 2018 and will be entering his third season. They took D.K. Metcalf from Ole Miss with the last pick of the second round because they didn't expect him to be there. In 2018 they took a lot of shots downfield, and if they stay with that, that's what Metcalf is good for. He's big [6' 3", 228 pounds] and fast, and he could be effective in this offense. He won't catch 80 balls, but he might finish with 30 catches and seven touchdowns. I love Gary Jennings, their fourth-round pick from West Virginia. He's also big [6' 1", 216 pounds] and can run. He could be a real sleeper at receiver. If Baldwin retires or gets hurt, it would not surprise me to see Jennings play as a rookie.
Nick Vannett is a combo tight end in that he can block and run routes, but he's not explosive.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Jameis Winston is a talented guy. The struggle for him has been in finding the balance between aggression and recklessness. The Buccaneers' new coach, Bruce Arians, by nature is aggressive. His favorite saying is, "No risk it, no biscuit." Now, you have to find a way to still be aggressive, but not be reckless and create turnovers. Jameis's mentality fits this system really well. The question is the execution.
Ronald Jones II is a wild card. A 2018 second-round pick out of USC, he struggled as a rookie, but he has a ton of talent. Now he has to learn a new offense. Can he take carries away from Peyton Barber? Barber is somewhat old school. You can grind him. He's tough inside, and he's physical. He's not necessarily a special runner, but in an efficient offense he can carry 225 times and gain 1,000 yards. Jones is more explosive, though, and that is why the Buccaneers would like him to be more of a factor.
They love Chris Godwin. They expect him to take over for DeSean Jackson. With Godwin [6' 1", 209 pounds] and Mike Evans [6' 5", 231], they have two big wideouts who are tough matchups on the outside. They signed Breshad Perriman, the former Ravens first-round pick who seemed to have a rebirth in Cleveland. He's another big receiver [6' 2", 215 pounds]. They have tremendous size. The key is whether Perriman can continue the ascent.
O.J. Howard has been solid at tight end. Cameron Brate is a very good player. They can line up with three wideouts or two tight ends. Howard is a very athletic guy, and Brate has been tremendous in the red zone, where he and Jameis really connect.
I think this is going to be Derrick Henry's team, after what he did in the last four games [585 yards, seven TDs] of 2018, and particularly with Marcus Mariota being a question mark at this point. I mean, Mariota's going into his fifth year, and he's had a lot of offensive coordinators, but he's been an up-and-down, inconsistent quarterback. I would expect with a good defense the Titans are going to try to be a little bit old school and run the ball. By the way, this coaching staff and general manager did not draft Mariota, and they traded for Ryan Tannehill this offseason. I'm not saying that Mariota's leash is real short or that he's going to be benched at halftime of Week 1. But I do think if he's not playing well by Week 6, say, Tannehill's going to be in there. This is a make-or-break year for Marcus.
I like Corey Davis a lot, but his numbers reflect the fact that their pass game has been inconsistent. I think that A.J. Brown, the rookie from Ole Miss, fell into their lap in the second round so they drafted him. They signed Adam Humphries from Tampa Bay to play in the slot. They've got all the dimensions they need at receiver, but they just haven't had consistent quarterback play.
Now, if Delanie Walker is there and he's healthy, Mariota throws him the ball. Walker turns 35 in August and is coming off a right ankle injury, but he could still be a productive tight end. Jonnu Smith has played two years and shown some ability. He's an athletic kid. That's the thing. Tennessee has pieces, but their pass game has been so inconsistent that it hasn't allowed these players to generate numbers.
I think Dwayne Haskins will start at quarterback. He's a very talented thrower. He's got a powerful arm. His feet are a little heavier than you would like. I'm eager to see how he does in muddied pockets. At Ohio State he struggled at times, although he clearly improved as the season progressed. Expect growing pains.
The RB situation will be really interesting. Adrian Peterson and Derrius Guice are both volume backs. You can't have two volume backs. They're going to have to pick one. Peterson, 34, is at the age where, even if he's your No. 1, you're not going to play him every series. I really liked Guice coming out of LSU last year. He needs to get into a flow. I would guess it will be Guice, Peterson—unless he drops off—and then either Samaje Perine or fourth-round pick Bryce Love from Stanford as the third back. Love is a talented, explosive runner. His size [5' 9", 200 pounds] limits him, but he has a darting style. The question is, Can he help on third downs? Perine can't.
I've always liked Josh Doctson. He hasn't lived up to his first-round status, but this is his fourth season, and they need him to be consistent. Terry McLaurin, their third-round pick from Ohio State, can run. He's a vertical guy, and he showed route-running savvy. Paul Richardson is a vertical receiver. They have the ability to stretch the field, and Doctson would be the chain mover with some vertical ability.
Jordan Reed has been injured quite a bit. When healthy, he's a solid tight end. Vernon Davis is a vertical guy. They're not bereft of weapons. They have a solid offensive line and good backs, but they need consistent quarterback play.