Stock Up, Stock Down Through NFL Rookie Camps
Like a musclebound Tai Chi beginners group, dozens of NFL newbies and wannabes gathered last week at training facilities across the land, moving, twisting and stretching themselves in new and difficult ways.
Meanwhile, middle-aged men with visors, clipboards and whistles stood around, trying to figure out if any of the dancing bears could help them win football games.
For the first time, the 2013 draft class put on the colors of their new employer—home, away and "do not touch" jerseys—and helmets that may have lacked logos or sported masking tape branded with their last name.
The odds are that few of those gathered will make the roster, and even fewer will make an impact on their respective team's win-loss record in 2013.
With the exception of a handful of free agents waiting for the perfect opportunity, all 32 teams now have their camp rosters set. Every head coach more or less has the 90 men from whom he'll assemble his final roster already under contract.
How far has every roster come? Which teams have gotten better, and which are hoping for a miracle? Which rebuilding teams are actually building something, and which are still shifting around rubble? Which contending teams are ready to become something more than contenders?
Here's my stock up, stock down for all 32 NFL teams through rookie camp.
After Ken Whisenhunt flew the Cardinals to new heights, he and his redbirds fell right back to their usual perch.
With a complete front office and coaching staff overhaul, everything is different. As returning free-agent linebacker Karlos Dansby attested, the entire atmosphere has changed since he left. Dansby told Kent Somers of azcentral.com that even team president Michael Bidwill is "all relaxed," rocking jeans instead of suit and tie.
Dansby can't be the only one "digging" the new groove. The Cards finally fixed the quarterback depth chart, brought in real talent at running back, restocked the offensive line with talented and versatile rookies and shored up the defensive secondary.
They have little to no shot at immediate success given the brutal NFC West, but the Cardinals are clearly heading in the right direction.
The Atlanta Falcons return most of what was one of the most balanced, talented rosters in the NFL. The Falcons convinced tight end Tony Gonzalez to return for one more run at the Super Bowl, and they landed veteran workhorse back Steven Jackson to rejuvenate their power running game.
The Falcons wisely chose to shore up the cornerback position in the draft after losing Brent Grimes to the Miami Dolphins. Respective first- and second-round picks (and rookie camp teammates) Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford should be in the playing-time picture immediately.
However, after replacing one-man pass rush John Abraham with free agent Osi Umenyiora—unlikely to be a net positive anywhere outside the team balance sheet—the Falcons did little to bolster the front seven.
This is a team that fell just short of the Super Bowl and will be better this season due to Jackson alone. Still, the Falcons could have done more to get ahead of their NFC rivals.
The Baltimore Ravens won the Super Bowl last season, and then they spent a fortune locking up the services of franchise quarterback Joe Flacco for years to come.
After that, though, the Ravens saw a massive outflow of defensive talent through retirement and free agency. Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Paul Kruger, Dannell Ellerbe and Cary Williams all walked out the door. From the pool of free-agent signings, only outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil is slotted to replace any of them.
Yet the Ravens were smart and judicial in beefing up the defensive line, and in April they received my highest draft grade.
The early reviews on safety Matt Elam and inside linebacker Arthur Brown have been good, and they apparently look exactly as advertised: step-in starters who'll shore up the defense in 2013 and for years to come.
Still, with talented-but-troubled free-agent signing Rolando McClain choosing to retire rather than rehab his career, it's a reminder that this Ravens rebirth is in its infancy. At this point, it appears they won't be Super Bowl contenders this season.
It's hard to tell whether the Buffalo Bills are digging their way up out of the cellar or digging faster toward rock bottom. After locking up star safety Jairus Byrd, they lost his backfield partner George Wilson and outstanding young guard Andy Levitre to free agency.
If you believe in new head coach Doug Marrone—as many NFL insiders do—you're salivating over what he'll be able to do with top receiver Stevie Johnson, talented and savvy second-round receiver Robert Woods and third-round burner Marquise Goodwin.
If you don't have unshakable faith in Marrone, you have grave concerns about him and the Bills front office drafting EJ Manuel in the first round, when every other quarterback prospect was still on the board.
According to ESPN's John Clayton, Marrone reports Manuel threw well in rookie camp. Of course, Marrone may have handcuffed his career to Manuel's arm, so the coach had better hope that keeps up.
The Carolina Panthers entered last season expecting quarterback Cam Newton—and the entire team—to take the next step. Instead, it seemed like they went sideways.
The Panthers were one of the least active teams in free agency, essentially "trading" free-agent receivers with the New York Giants (incoming Domenik Hixon for departing Louis Murphy).
The Panthers did good work with the five draft picks they had, though, first getting outstanding value with defensive tackle Star Lotulelei in the first round. Guard Edmund Kugbila seemed like a reach, but Nick Parker of Fox Sports Carolinas reports head coach Ron Rivera said Kugbila did a "nice job" in rookie camp.
Really, the Panthers are counting on Newton to take that next step in his progression. If he does, they're a playoff contender. If he doesn't, they're likely not.
The Chicago Bears have been trying to "win now" for years—one of the big reasons former head coach Lovie Smith was fired after a 10-6 season.
Once again, they loaded up. Free-agent left tackle Jermon Bushrod will finally stop a revolving door at that position. Free agents D.J. Williams and James Anderson will replace departed free agents Brian Urlacher and Nick Roach—but only if second-day rookies Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene don't beat them out first.
Free-agent two-way tight end Martellus Bennett and seventh-round draft pick Marquess Wilson are size/speed mismatches who could make Jay Cutler's life much easier, and lethal returner Devin Hester will finally be allowed to be just that.
The huge wild card in this is new head coach Marc Trestman, who's back in the NFL after a nine-year absence—but with this roster, 10-6 should be an easy bar to jump over.
The Cincinnati Bengals roster was ripe for the plundering in this free-agency cycle. They managed to keep many of their potential departures from leaving, though, and they replaced outgoing linebacker Manny Lawson with Aaron Maybin.
The Bengals even re-signed monster tackle Andre Smith during the draft.
Then, the Bengals had an excellent draft, snagging outstanding tight end Tyler Eifert in the first round and offensive sparkplug Giovani Bernard in the second. Per the Bengals' official team site, Eifert lined up at four positions in rookie camp, which should maximize his mismatch potential.
After a surprising playoff run, the Bengals should be much harder to stop on offense and no less stout on defense.
The Cleveland Browns are going to surprise a lot of people in 2013. Already blessed with more talent than most realize, new head coach Rob Chudzinski nabbed two of the most respected coordinator minds in the NFL: Norv Turner and Ray Horton.
The Browns were very aggressive in free agency, landing outside linebacker Paul Kruger and defensive end Desmond Bryant. Then, they drafted talented speed rusher Barkevious Mingo in the first round, giving Horton plenty of ammunition to fire at opposing quarterbacks.
The Browns didn't do a great job with the rest of their draft. They moved picks to get Miami Dolphins receiver Davone Bess and mostly reached for need with their remaining four selections, three of which were in the sixth or seventh round.
Much depends on second-year quarterback Brandon Weeden and his progression, yet new veteran backup Jason Campbell has proven he can win games when called upon.
The Browns are a team on the rise. Opposing teams (and their fans) shouldn't discount them.
At this point, it's a little unfair to jump on the pile of analysts critiquing the Dallas Cowboys' draft class of 2013. In fact, I already gave the Cowboys as bad of a draft grade as I was willing to give out.
After owner/president/general manager Jerry Jones and his staff massively reached for guard Travis Frederick in the first round, they picked up a couple of interesting players. However, they failed to replace many of the free-agency losses they suffered.
Worse yet, the Cowboys are transitioning from a 3-4, man-coverage defense to Monte Kiffin's disciplined 4-3 zone, a transition which will certainly make an already shaky defense worse in 2013 (regardless of whether it's better in the long run).
In 2012, the Denver Broncos went 13-3 and were the No. 1 seed in the AFC.
Then, they added receiver Wes Welker, cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and defensive tackle Terrance Knighton.
Then, they had monster defensive tackle Sylvester Williams fall into their lap late in the first round.
Despite the Elvis Dumervil fax machine fiasco and the strange selection of running back Montee Ball in the second round, the Broncos had a near-perfect offseason after a near-perfect regular season.
All that's left is to go out and do what they're built to do.
The Detroit Lions have gone on a dizzying ride over the past four seasons: from the deepest depths (0-16), to rather high heights (10-6 and a playoff berth) and back down to the depths (4-12).
Whether the Lions' stock is up or down depends on whether you're counting from the sparklingly talented young team that made the playoffs in 2011 or last year's immature disaster that couldn't play a complete game to save their skins.
The Lions managed to do an okay job staunching a potentially fatal hemorrhaging of talent in free agency, re-signing crucial veterans like cornerback Chris Houston. With the much-needed additions of backfield playmaker Reggie Bush and two-way safety Glover Quin, the Lions would be in pretty good shape, even without their excellent class of rookies.
However, the retirements of stalwart left tackle Jeff Backus, defensive icon Kyle Vanden Bosch and Hall of Fame-worthy kicker Jason Hanson are huge. On top of that, key veterans like right tackle Gosder Cherilus, defensive lineman Lawrence Jackson and linebacker Jason Durant have departed.
The 2013 Lions will do better than 4-12, but until the rookies prove they're better than the men they've replaced—and quarterback Matthew Stafford proves he can make sound decisions quickly and not improvise off his back foot—it's hard to brand this team a sure winner.
Green Bay Packers
In free agency, the Green Bay Packers responded to a slightly disappointing 2012 regular season (and massively disappointing postseason) by letting wide receiver Greg Jennings and outside linebacker Erik Walden walk.
Neither of those players will likely be worth the balance of the big free-agent deals they signed with other teams, but no big additions and two subtractions is not positive math—especially when longtime leader Charles Woodson moved on, having lost his last useful step.
Fortunately, the Packers had a very good draft, landing a lot of talent with their 11 draft picks.
The headliner is defensive end Datone Jones, who's a perfect fit for the Packers defense. Second- and fourth-round running backs Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin are competing to help rejuvenate the Packers running game and restore balance to the Packers offense.
In rookie camp, though, the backs became both roommates and "buddies," as Lacy told Jason J. Wilde of ESPNWisconsin.com. If they can put together a great working relationship, it'll solve one of the Packers' few problems emphatically.
The Houston Texans spent years being excruciatingly close to a playoff berth without quite making it. For two years, they've followed dominant regular seasons with disappointing playoff performances.
This season just might be the year they make the jump to the game's biggest stage.
Despite a bizarre set of decisions in free agency—like letting Glover Quin walk and signing aging Ed Reed to three-year, $15 million deal—the Texans got great prospects to address two major needs with each of their first two picks.
Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins could finally be the one who plays an effective Robin to Andre Johnson's Batman, and safety D.J. Swearinger should provide the nose-in-the-box pop that Reed no longer can.
At worst, the Texans are still one of the best teams in the AFC. At best, they might be the best.
I'm going to say two things that don't make a lot of sense together.
First: It's extremely unlikely the Colts win more than 10 games in 2013 after they rode seven game-winning Andrew Luck drives (per Pro Football Reference) to an 11-5 record in 2012.
Second: The Colts will be a much better team in 2013 than they were in 2012.
Whether the Colts spent their massive pile of free-agent money wisely is up for debate; whether they added several players who still step in as immediate upgrades is not. Offensive tackle Gosder Cherilus, safety LaRon Landry, receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, linebacker Erik Walden, cornerback Greg Toler and nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin should all make first-day impacts.
First-round draft pick Bjoern Werner exceeded expectations in rookie camp, per Mike Chappelle of the Indianapolis Star, leading a rookie class that has a lot of opportunity to contribute quickly.
There are two things about the Jacksonville Jaguars that are absolutely certain: new owner Shad Khan is committed to building a consistent winner, and fans of "Generation Jaguar" are fiercely supportive of their team, as explained by BigCatCountry.com's Alfie Crow.
Beyond that, however, the Jaguars don't have a lot to build on. New head coach Gus Bradley built last season's No. 1 scoring defense in the NFL in Seattle, but he doesn't have many raw materials in Duval County.
The Jaguars lost cornerback Derek Cox and defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, amongst others, in free agency. After taking a left tackle with the No. 2 overall pick (when they already have a very good one in young Eugene Monroe), the Jaguars spent five of their seven remaining picks on the defensive backfield.
Quarterback Blaine Gabbert has proven that, at best, he still has a long way to go, and 2012 first-round draft pick Justin Blackmon's career is not trending in the right direction, either.
The team as a whole could be heading in the right long-term direction, but it's hard to see more wins for Jacksonville in 2013.
Kansas City Chiefs
New front office, new head coach, new quarterback, new wide receiver, two new tight ends, two new cornerbacks, retained a franchise offensive tackle and drafted a new one.
That's a fraction of what the Kansas City Chiefs accomplished in a dizzying offseason that may have been the most dramatic and productive in the NFL.
With the Chiefs' announcement that Pistol offense innovator Chris Ault has been hired to teach the Chiefs how to use and defend the new offensive formation, it's hard to see what Andy Reid and the Chiefs are doing and not be impressed.
Unless, of course, you work or cheer for one of the Chiefs' AFC West rivals.
The Miami Dolphins made one of the biggest "splashes" in free agency, lavishing big-money deals on receiver Mike Wallace and linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler. The Dolphins also added cornerback Brent Grimes on the cheap, which might be one of the biggest bargains of free agency.
They also picked up three likely contributors in the draft: pass-rusher Dion Jordan, cornerback Jamar Taylor and offensive lineman Dallas Thomas.
Despite generally being impressed with the work head coach Joe Philbin has done in his career, it's difficult to presume all of these additions will work out as planned, especially considering the losses of running back Reggie Bush, cornerback Sean Smith, linebacker Kevin Burnett and left tackle Jake Long.
Most of the responsibility of jelling these new parts will be Philbin's, but the progression of second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill will truly make or break the Dolphins' 2013 season.
The Minnesota Vikings hung arguably the NFL's biggest free-agency pelt on their wall. Not only did they sign receiver Greg Jennings to be the perfect skill (and character) replacement for disgruntled, departed wideout Percy Harvin, they signed him away from rival Green Bay.
After that, the Vikings worked some serious trade magic, ending up with three spectacularly talented first-round draft picks who all fit major near-future (or immediate) needs. Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, cornerback Xavier Rhodes and receiver Cordarrelle Patterson are all high-upside players who fit what the Vikings want to do perfectly.
The Vikings' 2013 offseason—and likely, regular season—will be judged on how quickly and how well the three first-rounders play. That's not a given, as Floyd and Patterson struggled with instincts, polish and consistency in their college careers.
Further, the Vikings still have some major holes in their roster (hence the off-again, on-again pursuit of free-agent linebacker Brian Urlacher, explained by Kevin Patra of NFL.com).
New England Patriots
There's no tougher team in the NFL to grade on their offseason moves than the New England Patriots.
Bill Belichick and the Patriots make good draft picks and poor draft picks, great signings and head-scratching signings. Almost no matter what they do, however, the Patriots end up winning double-digit games and giving fellow playoff teams all they can handle.
Even when the Patriots make an odd pick—like reaching for big, slow receiver Aaron Dobson in the second round—it's hard to criticize. "Who am I," one may feel like asking, "to question the always-winning Patriots?"
This offseason, the Patriots continued to address needs with confident moves for talented players like veteran receiver Danny Amendola and second-round rookie Jamie Collins.
Regardless of whether or not it was wise to let treasured veteran Wes Welker walk for far less than Amendola signed for, it's safe to pencil the Patriots in for another double-digit-win season.
New Orleans Saints
The New Orleans Saints appeared to be testing a theory making the rounds amongst NFL types: Pass-rushers no longer come mostly from the blind side, but from everywhere, so left tackles aren't as important.
The Saints allowed left tackle Jermon Bushrod to leave for Chicago with no ready replacement, which is a daredevil stunt for a team that throws as often as the Saints. Then, they spent a third-round draft pick on tackle Terron Armstead.
Before and after drafting Armstead, the Saints added two defensive playmakers perfect for new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan's defense: first-round safety Kenny Vaccaro and third-round nose tackle John Jenkins.
The Saints also made a slew of clever free-agent pickups, including former Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Keenan Lewis, former Cleveland Browns tight end Ben Watson and former Dallas Cowboys defensive end Kenyon Coleman.
The biggest impact on the 2013 Saints season, though, won't come from the players on the roster; it'll come from the return of head coach Sean Payton. Can he and quarterback Drew Brees recapture the magic that fueled their earlier success?
That's something we can't learn from rookie minicamp.
New York Giants
Reversing the trend of recent seasons, the New York Giants were better in the regular season than their record indicated—but were nonetheless frozen out of the postseason.
The Giants had a ton of roster churn in free agency, thanks to a rich payroll and a flat salary cap.
The let go of plenty of long-time veterans with plenty left in the tank, like defensive linemen Osi Umenyiora and Chris Canty, safety Kenny Phillips and tight end Martellus Bennett. In their place step clever bargain pickups like former Philadelphia Eagles defensive linemen Cullen Jenkins and Mike Patterson, former Oakland Raiders tight end Brandon Myers and former Jaguars cornerback Aaron Ross.
The Giants followed their coupon-clipping free-agent spree with an outstanding draft class, headlined by home-state offensive lineman Justin Pugh and his Syracuse teammate, quarterback Ryan Nassib.
According to Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPNNewYork.com, Nassib did a "pretty good" job in the huddle, per offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride. Though starter Eli Manning isn't going anywhere any time soon, Nassib has the talent to push David Carr for the backup job this season and perhaps develop into a valuable asset.
New York Jets
The Jets added a whole lot to their team this offseason, especially if you believe in addition by subtraction.
Personnel-wise, the Jets turned over much of their aging defense. They will be relying heavily on recent draft picks like defensive end/outside linebacker Quinton Coples to step up in the place of departed veterans like Bart Scott.
The Jets had an excellent draft. They took top cornerback Dee Milliner to replace departed stud corner Darrelle Revis and added the consensus best-available quarterback, Geno Smith, near the top of the second round.
If the Jets can make one last crucial addition—the subtraction of quarterback Mark Sanchez—they'll have completed an effective, efficient housecleaning without losing too much production.
Even so, they're likely to lose more often than they win again in 2013.
The late, great Al Davis is gone. Top executive Amy Trask has resigned, and the team traded starting quarterback Carson Palmer.
Lost to free agency are several key players from 2012's mediocre squad, like receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, defensive tackle Desmond Bryant and linebacker Philip Wheeler.
Still, the Raiders appear to be building something under young head coach Dennis Allen. They added linebackers Kevin Burnett, Kaluka Maiava and Nick Roach, cornerback Tracy Porter and defensive tackle Pat Sims in free agency, and they followed it up with a deep, savvy draft.
First-round cornerback D.J. Hayden—assuming his heart remains healthy—has the talent to be worth his No. 12 overall pick and then some. Explosive, disruptive third-round linebacker Sio Moore is the perfect fit for Allen's preferred 3-4 alignment, and should the Raiders integrate hybrid alignments in 2013, Moore's impact could be immediate and profound.
Fourth-round quarterback Tyler Wilson's very impressive rookie camp, as described by Steve Corkran of the Contra Costa Times, could mean their long-term quarterback problem has already been solved.
Allen and the Raiders are clearly building something worthwhile. Still, there's too much upheaval to project them as gaining much ground on the AFC West in 2013.
Perhaps second only to just-departed head coach Andy Reid's renovation of the Kansas City Chiefs is new head coach Chip Kelly's transformation of the Philadelphia Eagles.
Though Kelly's feared zone-read offense is what has football fans everywhere dizzy with excitement, it's actually the defense that has gotten the most attention. The Eagles bought and sold an entire starting secondary in free agency and began the work of transitioning to a 3-4 base defense.
Typically, taking a poor defense and radically changing scheme and personnel results in worse performance in the first season, not better. The Eagles might be an exception to this, though, as their old Wide 9 scheme was already a poor fit for the personnel they had.
With offensive tackle Lane Johnson possessing the size and strength to do what Kelly loves up front—mash—and big-bodied tight end Zach Ertz helping quarterbacks Mike Vick and Nick Foles move the chains, the offense should be better and more balanced in 2013.
Late-round pickups like quarterback Matt Barkley and safety Earl Wolff will almost certainly make an impact sooner rather than later, but how much sooner?
After a poor free-agency period where they let a huge cast of formerly key starters walk, as well as young talents like cornerback Keenan Allen, it looked like the end of the line for this incarnation of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Then, they turned around and had a fantastic draft.
In snagging outside linebacker Jarvis Jones to take the place of James Harrison, running back Le'Veon Bell to replace Rashard Mendenhall, receiver Markus Wheaton to replace Mike Wallace and quarterback Landry Jones to replace Charlie Batch, the Steelers got great talent and value at "need" positions all the way down the board.
The Steelers are likely treading water in an AFC North that contains the Super Bowl champions, a very young playoff team and a young team on the rise. Still, they managed to turn what could have been a disastrous offseason into a good one.
San Diego Chargers
Another team looking up from the rock bottom of a dual GM/coach housecleaning, the San Diego Chargers have a long way to go.
They hired former Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, a man versatile and secure enough to adapt his system to the talent at hand. As evidence, consider that he won in Denver whether he had Kyle Orton, Tim Tebow or Peyton Manning at quarterback.
Having said that, rejuvenating quarterback Philip Rivers is going to be a steep challenge for McCoy, as he'll need to do it without much in the way of skill-position playmakers.
The defense has seen a lot of turnover, but free-agent cornerback Derek Cox and inside linebacker Manti Te'o should help make up for losses like Quentin Jammer and Shaun Phillips.
The best news to come out of Chargers camp was McCoy's assessment of mammoth first-round offensive tackle D.J. Fluker's leadership and work ethic. Per Michael Gehlken of The San Diego Union-Tribune, Fluker answered the bell when McCoy was looking for someone to step up.
The Chargers might be making smart, successful moves, but it will likely take another offseason before they make a difference in the win-loss column.
San Francisco 49ers
What is there to say about the San Francisco 49ers that hasn't been said? After narrowly losing the Super Bowl, the 49ers had a solid free-agency period, adding cost-effective, talented veterans in positions of great need.
Then, the 49ers took the most picks of any team in the draft and did a wonderful job converting them into players. One of the NFL's best front-seven units adds defensive end Tank Carradine and outside linebacker Corey Lemonier. Replacing departed safety Dashon Goldson is first-round pick Eric Reid, and joining forces with tight end Vernon Davis is second-round pick Vance McDonald.
How are opposing teams supposed to attack or defend against this offense or defense? 49ers head coach John Harbaugh, one of the best in the business, just might have the most talented roster in the game at his disposal.
It will shock absolutely no one if they get back to where they were and finish the job.
The Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers might each be the measuring stick for the rest of the NFL, except they're in the same division.
Both teams boast stacked, balanced rosters that can run, pass, stop the run, rush the passer and cover the pass. Both teams feature excellent coaches who know the game at every level, and both teams have exciting dual-threat quarterbacks who are truly as dangerous when throwing as they are when running.
The Seahawks were the runaway winners of free agency, following up a trade for explosive wideout Percy Harvin with an aggressive market-cornering of pass-rushers. Adding defensive end Cliff Avril and inside-outside pass-rusher Michael Bennett to a defensive end corps that already included Chris Clemons and Bruce Irvin is just unfair.
The Seahawks didn't have a first-round pick thanks to the Harvin trade, but they still drafted underrated players like running back Christine Michael and receiver Chris Harper. They also got one of my favorite late-round prospects: defensive end/outside linebacker Ty Powell.
It's really too bad that this Seahawks could easily build on their 11-5 record from last season and still place second in the division, but there's no question this team is better on paper in 2013 than 2012.
St. Louis Rams
For years, NFL analysts touted then-Tennessee Titans head coach Jeff Fisher as one of the best coaches in the game, whether or not the talent his front office supplied him was enough to generate wins consistently.
Now, at the helm of the St. Louis Rams, Fisher is in the process of proving his supporters right.
That doesn't mean the Rams didn't take a bizarre approach to free agency, though. They let stud tailback and franchise icon Steven Jackson walk and then pilfered Miami Dolphins left tackle and franchise icon Jake Long.
In what's likely a make-or-break year for young quarterback Sam Bradford, the Rams let top receiver Danny Amendola walk, along with fellow wideout Brandon Gibson and center Robert Turner. Both starting safeties, Quintin Mikell and Craig Dahl, are also gone.
However, tight end Jared Cook will be Bradford's first truly athletic tight end, and there's nothing like a big, powerful target to help a young quarterback move the chains.
Nothing—except maybe an explosive, brilliant playmaker like No. 8 overall pick Tavon Austin.
The Rams had a great draft, with Austin and fellow West Virginia Mountaineer Stedman Bailey restocking the receiver corps (and then some), touted linebacker Alec Ogletree ready to step in and start and mid-rounders T.J. McDonald and Barrett Jones filling voids at safety and center, respectively.
The Rams may be better in 2013, despite all the losses, but can they close the gap between themselves and the 49ers and Seahawks?
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Second-year head coach Greg Schiano mounted a massive free-agent spending spree as a rookie coach, with mixed results in 2012. This season, Schiano and the Bucs only reeled in one big fish: former 49ers safety Dashon Goldson.
In the draft, though, they made a few more waves. Their first pick, second-round cornerback Johnthan Banks, should immediately compete for starting time. Two of their mid-round picks, defensive linemen Akeem Spence and William Gholston, could make a quick rotational impact.
Their second pick, third-round quarterback Mike Glennon, could end up being the key pick in their 2013 rookie crop.
One of the quarterbacks who went "out of order" in the 2013 draft, Glennon wasn't just a "value pick" or a "best player available" for the Bucs; they clearly have a plan for him. Bucs general manager Mark Dominik said on an NFL.com podcast (quoted by JoeBucsFan.com) that Glennon will get "a lot of reps" in the preseason.
Dominik said the Bucs are "excited" about how much Glennon was able to handle in rookie camp. Incumbent starter Josh Freeman has to realize this pressure and perform accordingly.
Head coach Mike Munchak and the Tennessee Titans knew exactly what they wanted, and they got it: the best young offensive guard pair in the NFL.
Munchak and offensive line coach Bruce Matthews are both Hall of Fame guards. With their huge free-agent acquisition of former Buffalo Bills guard Andy Levitre and No. 10 overall pick Chance Warmack, they could actually have two future legendary guards on their roster.
Whether that will actually spring mercurial tailback Chris Johnson for another 2,000-yard season is anyone's guess.
There's no guessing what the Titans really need, though, and it's not two all-world offensive guards or a speedy receiver like second-round pick Justin Hunter.
The Titans need quarterback Jake Locker to step up and play like the No. 8 overall pick he was two seasons ago.
There's only so much coaching, coddling and supporting-cast management a team can do; eventually, the player must take the step forward and lead the team himself. Some quarterbacks have "it" the minute they step on an NFL field; others never figure out what "it" is.
If Locker doesn't have "it," he had better find "it" this season, or the Titans will be going nowhere fast.
The Washington Redskins were penny-wise in free agency this offseason. They retained every player they cared to retain, and then they judiciously added offensive tackle Jeremy Trueblood and cornerback E.J. Biggers to compete for each of those positions.
The Redskins chose to meet their immediate needs in the draft, adding cornerback David Amerson, tight end Jordan Reed and safety Phillip Thomas with their first three picks. All three should compete for time right away, if not step in and start.
The most interesting competition might be between Thomas and sixth-round pick Bacarri Rambo. Both were playmaking free safeties in college; both have the size, speed and ball skills to play the exact same role in in the pros.
According to Mike Jones of The Washington Post, Shanahan switched Rambo and Thomas back and forth between strong and free safety—or at least, switched who was deep and who was shallow—in rookie camp.
Ideally, one or the other stakes their claim to strong safety, while the other holds it down at free safety. No matter who plays which role (and in today's NFL, there's barely a difference), though, the Redskins did a good job of retaining their players and drafting new ones who'll make them better this season.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!