Just Play Me, Bro: 1 Player on Every NFL Team Who Deserves More Looks

Sean Tomlinson@@SeanGTomlinsonNFL AnalystSeptember 15, 2017

Just Play Me, Bro: 1 Player on Every NFL Team Who Deserves More Looks

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    There isn't an "early" during the NFL season.

    There isn't much time for a team to sort itself out and determine what's working offensively or defensively. And there isn't an opportunity to catch your breath and be patient. This is a sprint, not a marathon, and in one blink it's the end of September and the season is at its quarter pole.

    It's never too early to take a long, hard look at player usage and snap counts and ask some tough questions.

    Are the Saints getting enough out of Adrian Peterson? Could the Chiefs be getting even more from Tyreek Hill? And how did Chargers tight end Hunter Henry disappear in Week 1?

    Those questions and more will be asked and pondered as we take a look at one player from each team who needs more snaps, carries or targets going forward.

           

    Note: The Buccaneers and Dolphins were excluded after their game was postponed in Week 1. Also, all snap-count totals come from Pro Football Reference.

Arizona Cardinals: Wide Receiver J.J. Nelson

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    The Cardinals offense was dreadful in Week 1.

    Part of that was due to quarterback Carson Palmer's mobility of an aging giant turtle. Part of it was the poor offensive line in front of him. The injury to running back David Johnson of course didn't help matters.

    Already the Cardinals need a source of energy offensively, and wide receiver J.J. Nelson could be the guy to provide it.

    During his second season in 2016, he started to show encouraging development and scored six times while averaging 16.7 yards per reception. He has blazing speed (4.28 40-yard dash).

    He used his quickness to finish Week 1 with five receptions for 43 yards and a touchdown, production that goes from fine to impressive when you realize Nelson was fourth among Cardinals wide receivers in snaps. He played only 40 percent of Arizona's total snaps.

    He's making his case to move ahead of either John Brown or Jaron Brown.

Atlanta Falcons: Tight End Austin Hooper

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    The Falcons offense runs through wide receiver Julio Jones and running back Devonta Freeman. That's not about to change anytime soon, but the touches can still be spread around a little more when an emerging talent is doing a whole lot.

    Austin Hooper was a third-round pick in 2016 and drafted to be developed as the Falcons' next reliable threat at the position after the retirement of Tony Gonzalez.

    As a rookie, Hooper didn't see many balls thrown in his direction. But he capitalized on the few that did sail his way, finishing with 271 regular-season yards on only 19 catches and 27 targets. That included four games with 40-plus yards and three touchdowns despite a limited role.

    That role still hasn't increased yet, but a swift uptick in targets should be coming as Hooper continues to establish himself.

    His latest display of efficiency came when he recorded 128 receiving yards during a Week 1 win, and he did it on just two targets. It was an afternoon highlighted by an 88-yard touchdown when Hooper's stiff arm buried Chicago Bears safety Quintin Demps at least 12 feet underground.

    He should soon become more than just an afterthought in a stacked offense.

Baltimore Ravens: Wide Receiver Mike Wallace

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    Yes, the Ravens won soundly in Week 1, defeating the Bengals 20-0. And yes, that meant for much of the game they kept the clock moving briskly while leaning on a punishing rushing offense.

    But no, that's not a sufficient reason for wide receiver Mike Wallace to be targeted only once.

    Wallace is still a frightening deep threat at the age of 31. He's fresh off a 2016 season that was his third with 1,000-plus yards. And he's also averaged 15.1 yards per catch throughout his career.

    The Ravens can be a run-oriented team, but the speed of Wallace and Breshad Perriman needs to be utilized to keep defenses honest.

    They can beat a team like the Bengals while throwing just 17 times and having their receivers do little more than wind sprints all afternoon. But going forward, more involvement from Wallace and a balanced offense will be necessary.

Buffalo Bills: Wide Receiver Jordan Matthews

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    Someday in the near future, Jordan Matthews will presumably be a key figure in the Bills offense. That day didn't come in Week 1 when the wide receiver was targeted only three times.

    In fact, the passing offense should flow through him, if only because there's no one else on the roster qualified for that job. Zay Jones his a high talent ceiling, but he's still a rookie establishing himself at a new level. Further down the depth chart, Brandon Tate and Andre Holmes combined for 22 receptions in 2016.

    Matthews is still young at the age of 25, and prior to 2017 he had recorded a solid if less-than-spectacular 2,673 receiving yards over three seasons. He has the speed to stretch secondaries downfield and also the shiftiness from the slot to become a trusted target for Tyrod Taylor.

    That should happen in time, but it's a receiver-quarterback relationship that still needs some work after the Bills traded for Matthews in mid-August. His time with Taylor has been limited, so the two haven't reached their launch point quite yet.

Carolina Panthers: Wide Receiver Russell Shepard

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    It might be time for Panthers wide receiver Russell Shepard to ditch the "special teams ace" title he's carried for much of his career.

    That's how Shepard stayed in the league for his first three years. Then injuries led to an opportunity for him with the Buccaneers in 2016, and he responded with 23 receptions for 341 yards. That doesn't sound like much until you remember the 26-year-old had logged only 91 receiving yards over the previous three seasons combined.

    He earned a three-year contract worth $10 million from the Panthers and responded immediately in Week 1 with 53 yards and a touchdown on only two catches.

    He has surprising vertical speed and could be blossoming into more than just a depth option. His 20 snaps during a win over the 49ers were well behind the 45 given to Devin Funchess.

Chicago Bears: Running Back Tarik Cohen

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    On one hand the Bears have Jordan Howard, a dynamic young running back in only his second season. He finished second in rushing during his rookie year, with Howard's 1,313 yards putting him behind only the Cowboys' Ezekiel Elliott. He averaged 5.2 yards per carry as a rookie and also showed skill as a pass-catcher with his 298 receiving yards.

    On the other hand, they have Tarik Cohen, the fourth-round pick in 2017 who erupted in his first game. The former FCS star was given a multipurpose role immediately and shined while posting 113 yards from scrimmage. His debut was highlighted by a 46-yard run, which gave him more total rushing yards than Howard on only five carries.

    He averaged 8.7 yards per touch and did that while receiving 10 fewer snaps than the 38 given to Howard. One more performance like that, and the Bears could be forced to adopt a platoon in their backfield.

    That's nightmare news for fantasy football players out there who invested heavily in Howard. But needing to find the right balance between two talented young runners is a great development for a rebuilding team.

Cincinnati Bengals: Running Back Joe Mixon

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    Joe Mixon struggled in his first game, much like the rest of his offense that landed with a thud. He finished his NFL debut with a mere nine yards on eight carries.

    In fairness, developing any sort of rhythm and flow is difficult when you're in the game for only 22 snaps.

    Sure, some of that was tied to the scoreboard, with the Bengals down 17-0 at halftime during an eventual shutout loss to the Ravens. But Mixon is a multipurpose threat, which erodes any scoreboard excuses.

    He finished his two seasons at Oklahoma with 894 receiving yards and nine touchdowns through the air.

    He's elusive in space and creative after the catch and is exactly the kind of dynamic weapon an offense needs when trying to claw back from a deficit. Especially an offense that struggles to pass-block and needs to neutralize the opposing defense's aggression through quick throws and screens.

    Mixon still didn't see the field much in Week 1. He needs to be given a larger role with the rookie shackles coming off fast. That happened a little bit in Week 2 when he led the team in carries, though the Bengals offensive line struggled again and Mixon finished with only 36 yards on nine carries.

    Even with his slow start, Mixon is the most talented member of Cincinnati's backfield. Head coach Marvin Lewis should be patient and keep going back to him.

Cleveland Browns: Running Back Duke Johnson

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    It's fine to have Isaiah Crowell as the clear lead back. It's more than fine, actually.

    Crowell makes every tackle attempt sting. At 5'11" and 225 pounds, he bullied his way to 952 rushing yards and seven touchdowns in 2016, and he did that while averaging 4.8 yards per attempt.

    But Duke Johnson's carry total still needs to be more than zero by the end of a game, even if the Browns are leaning more toward using him in a slot receiver role now.

    Johnson has always been a quality pass-catcher and has logged 1,048 receiving yards over two seasons. He did so while primarily catching passes out of the backfield. He may indeed be best suited to focus more on the pass-catching part of his game, which is a role where he can do more damage.

    However, Johnson is still a well-rounded running back capable of being a versatile threat. He's underutilized if the 23-year-old doesn't get at least a sniff of the backfield every game and a handful of carries. In 2016, for example, Johnson averaged 4.6 carries per game and turned that into 358 yards and an average of 4.9 yards per carry.

    That's quality production from a secondary running back. It's the kind of production the Browns will sorely miss if they completely abandon the thought of using Johnson in their backfield, as they did in Week 1.

Dallas Cowboys: Defensive End Taco Charlton

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    The Cowboys used the 28th overall pick in 2017 on defensive end Taco Charlton because they needed someone to make life miserable for opposing quarterbacks.

    Finding someone capable of doing that consistently has only led to frustration since DeMarcus Ware left. The character risk taken on defensive end Randy Gregory has blown up, and defensive tackle David Irving is sitting out the first four games of 2017 due to a suspension.

    They still have pass-rushing talent from the likes of defensive ends DeMarcus Lawrence and Tyrone Crawford. Lawrence already exploded in Week 1 while recording two of the Cowboys' three sacks during a win over the Giants. But steadiness and health have been issues, especially with Lawrence, who finished with eight sacks during his second season in 2015 and then only one in 2016.

    The Cowboys desperately needed an infusion of youth and have maybe found it in Charlton, who had two sacks during the preseason. We won't know if he's the solution until the 22-year-old is rotated in a little more. In Week 1, Charlton was on the field for a modest 45.6 percent of the Cowboys' defensive snaps.

    Soon enough, that usage needs to be hovering closer to 60 percent if the Cowboys want to get the most out of their first-round pick and see the pass-rusher who piled up 10 sacks for Michigan in 2016.

Denver Broncos: Tight End Virgil Green

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    Virgil Green has been a breakout candidate for, oh, about seven years now.

    To some small degree, the 29-year-old did break out in 2016, at least compared to his previous career production. The 6'5", 255-pounder hauled in 22 receptions for 237 yards, the first 200-plus-yard season of his career.

    He entered 2017 with a little more swagger than usual. Then in Week 1, Green caught caught a 44-yard pass, which is already the longest reception of his career.

    On that play, Green showed he still has the speed to get deep up the seam fast and the hands to secure tough catches amid heavy traffic. It was a glimpse of what he might be capable of with more targets.

    The Broncos should aim to spread the ball around a little more to keep defenses honest and do it while introducing a reliable third option. In 2016, wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders were on the other end for 281 of the 570 throws by Broncos quarterbacks (49.3 percent).

Detroit Lions: Wide Receiver Kenny Golladay

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    It's fine to get a little greedy with Kenny Golladay and demand he sees even more playing time. That's what should happen when a rising rookie is already producing in spectacular fashion.

    The wheels already busted off the Golladay preseason hype train because it was steaming ahead at dangerous speeds. But there was still some concern he'd need to adjust once the level of competition increased.

    Golladay skipped that step against the Cardinals. The 23-year-old out of Northern Illinois grabbed two touchdown receptions in his first game, and they both required the kind of leaping, sprawling acrobatics Golladay is becoming known for early on.

    He also averaged 17.3 yards per reception on his four catches, finishing with 69 yards total. He did all that while running as the Lions' No. 3 receiver and getting on the field for 44 snaps. His workload was significantly behind the snaps given to Marvin Jones, the inconsistent wideout who recorded 408 receiving yards over his first three games in 2016 and then just 522 throughout the rest of the season.

    Golladay will leapfrog Jones on the depth chart if he keeps this up, and it could happen soon.

Green Bay Packers: Linebacker Jake Ryan

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    The Packers weren't in their base defense often against the Seahawks in Week 1. That means a linebacker usually spends a good chunk of the game watching and waiting. That is how Jake Ryan spent most of his afternoon.

    The game plan led to Ryan on the field for only five snaps. It's a plan that worked just fine, as the Packers knocked off the Seahawks and did it while not allow a high-powered offense to score a touchdown.

    Going forward, having Ryan on the field more makes the Packers defense even stronger. He's a reliable run defender who recorded 82 tackles in 2016. More importantly, he notched a stop on 9.8 percent of his run snaps, according to Pro Football Focus.

Houston Texans: Running Back D'Onta Foreman

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    The Texans used a third-round pick on D'Onta Foreman in 2017, high draft real estate for a running back, even as the position starts to rebound in value. At the time, the assumption was Foreman would have an immediate role of some significance as the Texans looked to reduce Lamar Miller's workload.

    Then Foreman spent most of training camp buried on the depth chart, and Texans head coach Bill O'Brien said at one point late in August that he was still a "long way off," via John McClain of the Houston Chronicle.

    That may still be true, and needing time to develop isn't something a rookie at any position should have to justify. Some mature faster than others, but quickly it's becoming clear the Texans don't have time to wait on Foreman.

    They'll need to push him into the regular rotation whether he's ready or not. Foreman was nearly excluded from the game plan in Week 1, a loss when Miller and backup Tyler Ervin combined to average only 3.65 yards per carry.

    The Texans are already desperate for a spark early in the season, and it could come from Foreman. To some small degree it did in Week 2 on Thursday night when Foreman was more involved and finished with 12 carries for 40 yards.

Indianapolis Colts: Cornerback Quincy Wilson

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    Let's acknowledge something: Quincy Wilson might struggle a bit as a rookie.

    Or he might struggle a lot. That future is uncertain, but what we do know is he looked overmatched against Golladay in the preseason.

    It's not a reason to keep him on the bench in favor of a lesser talent. Yet for some reason, the Colts did that in Week 1.

    The Colts are desperate for any improvement in their secondary after getting roasted in 2016 and giving up 262.5 passing yards per game. That's why they invested heavily in their secondary during the draft by using two top-50 picks on defensive backs, which included Wilson at No. 46.

    Instead of letting a new, potentially emerging talent work through some rookie growing pains, the Colts kept trotting out T.J. Green at cornerback during a blowout loss to the Rams. Green needed to be converted from safety to cornerback after a disastrous rookie season. He showed potential at the position during the preseason and put up a 39.6 passer rating in coverage against the Steelers in Week 3, per PFF.

    However, his experience at the position is still limited, and Wilson thrived for the Florida Gators in a tough SEC environment. He allowed a passer rating of only 29.9 in 2016, again per PFF, and yet was given only 17 snaps in Week 1.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Defensive End Dante Fowler Jr.

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    The throttle is maybe about halfway down on the Dante Fowler Jr. experience. Now it's time to engage the nitro boosters.

    The 23-year-old's career went through a sputtering start after he missed his entire rookie season due to an ACL tear. Then the Jaguars defensive end recorded only four sacks in 2016. But now he's catching fire as part of an intimidating rotation with fellow defensive ends Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue.

    The Jaguars set up camp in the opposing backfield while recording an absurd 10 sacks in Week 1. Fowler chipped in and contributed with a sack, three tackles and a forced fumble. Even better, he did it all while playing only 44.3 percent of the Jaguars' defensive snaps.

    The Jaguars are suddenly deep and dangerous at defensive end, so managing the snaps will be a delicate balance. But if Fowler keeps rising, he'll earn a larger share of the playing time fast.

Kansas City Chiefs: Wide Receiver Tyreek Hill

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    Tyreek Hill is an electrifying and energizing talent. He'll provide the downfield push for the Chiefs offense all season. As he proved in 2016, the 23-year-old doesn't need many touches to set off fireworks.

    During his rookie season, Hill finished with a modest 85 touches and turned that into 860 yards with nine touchdowns. How those touches came established him as a multipurpose weapon too, as Hill caught 61 passes and received 24 carries. We saw a similar tale unfold during the Chiefs' opening-night win over the Patriots, an upset when Hill finished with 138 yards from scrimmage on nine touches.

    That's a sizable enough workload, but there's still no universe in which Hill should be out-snapped by wide receiver Chris Conley. He trotted out for 64 snaps, well ahead of Hill's 50.

    It's scary to think how much more explosive the Chiefs offense would be should that balance between Conley and Hill even out.

Los Angeles Chargers: Tight End Hunter Henry

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    Hunter Henry shined during his rookie season in 2016, finishing with 478 receiving yards and eight touchdowns. That touchdown total placed him in a tie for the lead among tight ends.

    He did all that while playing only 53.8 percent of the Chargers' offensive snaps. Henry wasn't about to see that snap count and his usage surge in 2017 with Antonio Gates still hanging around and wide receiver Keenan Allen back healthy. But surely he's done enough to see a bit of an increase in snaps and targets, right?

    Maybe not, because somehow he wasn't targeted even once in Week 1. That was stunning during a game that required a whole lot of passing by the Chargers to mount a late comeback attempt.

    Henry played only 23 snaps during the loss to the Broncos and will now enter Week 2 still looking for his first reception. That's not how the script was supposed to go in 2017 for one of the league's most promising young tight ends.

Los Angeles Rams: Wide Receiver Cooper Kupp

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    Cooper Kupp has always been much more than just a cool name that sounds like it should be part of the Mario Kart circuit.

    The rookie wide receiver played at a lower level of college football while starring for Eastern Washington. But when given the opportunity, he ripped apart top-tier competition. That included erupting for 246 receiving yards against Oregon in 2015 and 145 yards with three touchdowns against a loaded Washington Huskies defense in 2014.

    He hasn't struggled with the rise in competition. He's a prime candidate to lead all rookie receivers in receptions, even though Kupp waited until the third round to hear his name. The 24-year-old started his bid to do just that with 76 yards on four receptions during a win over the Colts, an afternoon highlighted by a 28-yard grab.

    Kupp did all that while being efficient with the opportunities he was given. He was the Rams' highest-producing wideout, but Robert Woods was still given more snaps.

    That should change fast as the budding relationship between Kupp and quarterback Jared Goff keeps growing. Goff has shown encouraging early progress in his second season, but he still needs a trusted receiver who's always open, especially when the pocket begins to break down.

    Kupp was that security option throughout his college career, and he still is now too.

Minnesota Vikings: Tight End Kyle Rudolph

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    A new-look offense flexed its muscle Monday night versus New Orleans.

    The Vikings are at their strongest when a quality rushing offense is punishing the defense. Running back Dalvin Cook took care of that with his 127 rushing yards on 22 carries. Suddenly, quarterback Sam Bradford developed an overnight ability to sling precision darts deep. The result was 90-plus-yard receiving games for wideouts Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen.

    But that meant Kyle Rudolph was nearly neglected. The tight end did score his first touchdown of the season, but he was only targeted three times. That came after a season when Rudolph saw an average of 8.3 targets per game in 2016 and 132 total. He turned those opportunities into a career-high 840 receiving yards, fourth among tight ends.

    Rudolph's targets in Week 1 should be just a blip, as he's still a cornerstone piece of the Vikings offense. However, a shift in emphasis toward Cook and the run game may hurt his 2017 production.

New England Patriots: Running Back Dion Lewis

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    Bill Belichick rotates his running backs like he's an annoying channel-surfer. Except unlike the channel-surfer, he often doesn't settle on one back and instead keeps dividing up the snaps and carries.

    That tendency will likely become even more pronounced without LeGarrette Blount around to vacuum up early-down work. But for some reason, Chris Hogan, who isn't a running back, received more carries than Dion Lewis in Week 1.

    Lewis is best suited as a passing-down specialist, a role James White now occupies. But Lewis is still capable of contributing as a pass-catcher, even if it's in a reduced role.

    He's struggled with injuries in recent seasons. However, he's still young (26) and isn't far removed from a 2015 season that saw him record 388 receiving yards over only seven games.

    He's a skilled and versatile option in the Patriots backfield who played only six snaps in the seasons opener. That explains why other teams are starting to call the Patriots about Lewis and kick the tires on a possible trade, according to Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald.

New Orleans Saints: Running Back Adrian Peterson

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    During the Sean Payton era, the Saints have always distributed touches widely throughout their offense. That includes the backfield, where they've usually had a stable of running backs, each capable of playing a specific role.

    If either the game plan or game situation dictates leaning toward passing more, one running back may find himself chained to the sideline. That running back is the one who's not much of a pass-catcher, and at this stage of his career Adrian Peterson won't be mistaken for one of those.

    But the Saints still leaned too far in one direction and away from Peterson in Week 1 by giving him just nine snaps. They called only five running plays in the second half during a game when the score didn't get out of hand until the fourth quarter. The Saints trailed the Vikings by 10 points at halftime, and yet running on early downs—and therefore also Peterson's role—was nearly abandoned.

    They'll find a comfort zone and better mix as the season moves forward. But for now that's still a work in progress.

New York Giants: Running Back Orleans Darkwa

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    League rules do not permit the Giants to field anything resembling a competent rushing offense.

    Or at least that feels like a fair assumption, because it's been some time since anyone in the Giants backfield made opposing defenses do much more than raise an eyebrow. They need a fresh look and a fresh set of legs.

    That could come from Orleans Darkwa.

    The Giants trailed early in their Week 1 loss to the Cowboys. The offensive focus quickly shifted to passing, and only passing. But of the 30 rushing yards gained by Giants running backs, nearly half (12 yards) came on one carry from Darkwa.

    He was given a mere three carries and turned that tiny workload into 14 yards. That almost matched the output of Paul Perkins, the starter who finished with 16 yards on seven carries. We get to see the true dust cloud coming from Perkins even when looking at his longest gain. It went for only three yards and came after he also plodded often as a rookie in 2016, averaging 4.1 yards per carry.

    The Giants are desperate for life in their backfield after ranking 29th in 2016. At minimum, that search for a heartbeat should lead to experimenting with Darkwa.

New York Jets: Wide Receiver ArDarius Stewart

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    The Jets traded for wide receiver Jermaine Kearse just a little over a week before their opening game of the season. Usually that's not nearly enough time to get acclimated to a new environment and playbook and have a role of any importance offensively.

    But there was Kearse anyway, getting on the field for nearly every Week 1 snap.

    That's a statement on what the Jets think about their other receivers and the apparent lack of progress made by rookies ArDarius Stewart and Chad Hansen. But at some point soon, head coach Todd Bowles will realize snaps are being wasted on Kearse, because the 2017 season for the Jets is little more than a long audition for 2018 and beyond.

    Kearse likely isn't in the long-term plans after he struggled to create separation deep for the Seahawks and caught only 46.1 percent of his targets in 2016. The Jets need to see every young player who can potentially contribute in the future...and see them as much as possible now.

    That includes giving more snaps to Stewart, a third-round pick.

Oakland Raiders: Running Backs Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington

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    It's time to do a bit of nitpicking, because there wasn't much from the Raiders' Week 1 win to be concerned about. There is one mild worry, though, and it's tied to human bowling ball Marshawn Lynch.

    The Raiders' newest running back looked like his old self against the Titans. He ran with his usual violent style while bouncing off tackles and creating yards after contact, finishing with 76 yards on 18 carries.

    That workload might be a touch too high for a 31-year-old running back whose taken plenty of body blows throughout his career. Meanwhile, Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington combined for only eight carries.

    Going forward, lightening Lynch's load a little bit more would be wise in an effort to keep him in one piece when the intensity is ratcheted up later in the season.

Philadelphia Eagles: Wide Receiver Torrey Smith

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    No. 82
    No. 82Matt Rourke/Associated Press

    Torrey Smith's long-striding speed is the perfect complement for Carson Wentz's arm cannon.

    Smith was one of two key additions to the Eagles' wide receiver corps during the offseason, and his job is simple: run really far and let Wentz's catapulted deep heave settle into his hands. He's done well in that specialized role throughout his career, averaging 17 yards per reception over 93 regular-season games.

    It's not a role that comes with buckets of targets every week, as the throws directed at Smith are mostly of the low-percentage variety. But he's still due for a swift course correction after seeing only three balls thrown his way during a Week 1 win over the Redskins.

    Smith did his deep-ball duty and caught one of those targets for a 30-yard gain. Now, Smith's opportunities need to increase and at minimum be in line with his career per-game-target average of nearly six.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Wide Receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster

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    Antonio Brown won't be giving up his perch as one of the best wide receivers in the NFL anytime soon. He's still magnetized to Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. And now that Martavis Bryant is back, he'll see an increased role as well, most notably as a towering red-zone option.

    But there's still an opportunity for a third option to emerge in an offense brimming with talent. Eventually, that should be second-round pick JuJu Smith-Schuster.

    After missing time in camp due to several injuries, Smith-Schuster is behind in his development and wasn't targeted in Week 1. That should change soon because he's too gifted to be underused so dramatically.

    He has a wide catch radius because of his size (6'1", 225 lbs) and leaping ability. That led to 20 touchdown passes over his final two seasons at USC, and in 2015 he averaged 16.3 yards per reception.

San Francisco 49ers: Running Back Carlos Hyde

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    Carlos Hyde faced whispers that the end of his time with the 49ers was coming. Now those murmurs have faded, and Hyde is back to running like a dump truck going downhill without brakes.

    That was plain for all to see when Hyde kept rumbling against the Panthers in Week 1. An offense quarterbacked by Brian Hoyer should always stick with its punishing running back if he's rolling. Even a lopsided game isn't enough of an excuse to only give Hyde the ball nine times when he was averaging five yards per carry.

    Going forward, Hyde should see plenty of touches and reaffirm his status as a workhorse running back. The 49ers won't have much of a choice if they don't improve on their 5.5 yards per pass attempt in Week 1.

Seattle Seahawks: Wide Receiver Tyler Lockett

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    Getting the ball to any Seahawks pass-catcher is going to be difficult with quarterback Russell Wilson under constant duress behind an awful offensive line. But the search for more of a downfield push should start and end with getting Tyler Lockett more involved.

    Easing Lockett back in following a broken fibula late in 2016 was expected. Now that leash needs to come off a bit after a Week 1 loss when the Seahawks averaged just 5.9 yards per pass attempt.

    During that game, Lockett was on the field for 26 snaps, well behind the workload given to fellow receivers Doug Baldwin (43 snaps) and Paul Richardson (41 snaps). The result was one reception for Lockett, a rising talent prior to his injury.

    Pete Carroll knows Lockett needs to be targeted more. He told Gregg Bell of the News Tribune it's a problem he'll aim to correct in Week 2.

Tennessee Titans: Running Back Derrick Henry

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    The Tennessean-USA TODAY Sports

    Eventually, the rumbling and bruising Derrick Henry show will get off the ground. That day should come sooner rather than later.

    The Titans had the league's third-best rushing offense in 2016 (2,187 yards) and reached that mark while primarily powered by running back DeMarco Murray. But now Murray is one year older at 29, which is approaching a rocking-chair age for running backs. He also faded down the stretch in 2016 and plodded a bit during the second half.

    Murray averaged four yards per carry over the final eight games during his first full season with the Titans. Now he started 2017 by averaging only 3.7 yards per attempt during a loss to the Raiders.

    Meanwhile, Henry was given six carries, well behind the 12 Murray received. If the veteran keeps sputtering, the Titans need to find a more even balance to breathe life back into their backfield.

Washington Redskins: Wide Receiver Ryan Grant

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    Josh Doctson may soon fall down the depth chart for good if his hamstring keeps aching. The 2016 first-round pick has just two career receptions.

    Ryan Grant is the latest to benefit from Docton's continued struggles. Grant finished 2016 with only 76 receiving yards and nearly matched that total in Week 1 with his 61 yards on four receptions.

    Grant did that while being on the field for 37 snaps, well behind Jamison Crowder (49) and Terrelle Pryor (53). If he keeps showcasing his deep speed, as he did on his 34-yard catch against the Eagles, his snaps should increase steadily.