Ranking the 25 Best Moves of the 2015 NFL Offseason

Sean Tomlinson@@SeanGTomlinsonNFL AnalystJune 11, 2015

Ranking the 25 Best Moves of the 2015 NFL Offseason

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    The sleepy NFL days of June are a fine time to reflect on the annual carousel of trading, signing, shuffling and reshuffling.

    Player movement has long fizzled now, and new pieces are in the process of adapting to new places. Receivers have new quarterbacks, running backs have new offensive lines and, most of all, fans across the NFL have been given the glorious gift of hope.

    In June, everything is wonderful, and everyone looks faster or lighter. The sunny optimism seems endless, especially as it relates to new acquisitions and prized top draft picks. They're all immediate solutions to what ails an offense or defense.

    Upon further review, there were 25 offseason moves that stood out as actual answers. Surely you'll agree with all of the inclusions and omissions that follow...

1. Ndamukong Suh, DT Miami Dolphins

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    Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

    Think of the Christmas gift you were most excited to receive as a child. Maybe it was the Hot Wheels cars you still play with daily, only as an adult you don’t mess around and have a 175-foot in-house track/maze.

    Now imagine that whatever the toy was, only one existed in the whole world. This was a real problem during the NFL's default Christmas period in 2015, because everyone wanted an Ndamukong Suh.

    Sadly, only one model was made, driving the price up to an eventually historic level for a 28-year-old defensive tackle still very much in his prime.

    The Miami Dolphins finalized that history with a six-year contract worth $114 million, $60 million of which is guaranteed. That was about the expected rate for a dual-threat interior defensive line force who has recorded at least eight sacks in three of his five NFL seasons.

    Why there’s an immediate fit: Suh is a fit anywhere and on any team because of his power and impressive speed for someone of his girth. The 305-pounder finished among the top five at his position during the 2014 season in both run stops (26) and quarterback pressures (57, which led all defensive tackles), according to Pro Football Focus.

    But we know Suh is nearly all alone on his own tier. The real significance of this signing lies in the lethal force he forms while alongside Dolphins defensive ends Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon, who combined for 18 of Miami’s 39 sacks in 2014.

    Risks: The only risk with Suh is that he’s repeatedly become unhinged after momentary lapses in judgement throughout his career, most recently stomping on Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ foot (the resulting one-game suspension was later overturned).

    The other obvious risk with Suh is that, just like any mega-contract, it could become increasingly difficult to justify his dollars over time. His fully guaranteed money runs out after the 2017 season, according to Spotrac. In 2018, a then-31-year-old Suh will account for a cap hit of $22.1 million, which rises to $28.6 million in 2019.

    The Dolphins have heavily restricted their ability to address other short-term needs elsewhere in 2016 when Suh’s cap hit is sky-high at $28.6 million again. The salary-cap anchor he drops repeatedly is an accepted risk but also a burden that could become hard to manage as he ages and potentially declines.

    Long-term projection: Suh’s contract will likely be restructured multiple times, with the first possibly coming in 2016. The salary cap will have risen by then, as it does every year. However, if Suh had a $28.6 million value in 2015, he’d be sitting on nearly 20 percent of the Dolphins’ cap room. Yikes.

    The Dolphins had to throw a whole lot of money at Suh’s feet to bring him aboard, and to keep him they’ll have to proceed delicately.

2. Jimmy Graham, TE Seattle Seahawks

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    The Seattle Seahawks probably shouldn’t have called a slant at the 1-yard line in Super Bowl XLIX.

    But they did make that call, and the result was spectacularly awful. The next time they’re at the goal line and passing is deemed necessary, the intended receiver to save a season won’t be wide receiver Ricardo Lockette—the same Ricardo Lockette who entered that game with only 15 career receptions.

    No, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson will instead direct his attention to tight end Jimmy Graham. The red-zone behemoth was acquired in a shocking trade that sent center Max Unger and a first-round pick to the New Orleans Saints. The Seahawks also received a fourth-round pick.

    The price to acquire Graham was steep, but also a necessary investment for a passing offense that desperately needed a massive target.

    Why there’s an immediate fit: During the 2014 regular season, Seahawks running backs and fullbacks were on the other end for seven of quarterback Russell Wilson’s 20 touchdown passes. That includes running back Marshawn Lynch, who led the team with four.

    Seattle also had three tight ends combine for six touchdowns. Graham scored 10 on his own during the same season and is only a year removed from 16 touchdowns. Since he entered the league in 2010, Graham’s 51 receiving touchdowns are behind only the Patriots' Rob Gronkowski's among tight ends.

    The Seahawks’ passing offense consisted of mildly organized chaos in 2014, with Wilson buying enough time and working his wizardry long enough for someone to get open. Now Graham provides a large, sure-handed option.

    Risks: The only real risk here—and I use the word so very loosely—is Graham’s blocking ability, or lack thereof.

    In New Orleans, he was the centerpiece of a passing-mad offense that was among the top five in pass attempts over each of the past three seasons. Now in Seattle, the knob is cranked in a completely different direction. Graham will be asked to contribute more and improve as a blocker.

    Long-term projection: The Seahawks inherited Graham’s four-year contract worth $40 million. That puts him under team control through the end of his age-30 season. Graham’s prime years will be spent in Seattle then, where he’ll reignite dynasty discussions once Wilson gets his inevitable contract extension.

3. Darrelle Revis, CB New York Jets

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    Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

    Darrelle Revis is really, really good at cornerback. He also has another important skill in the NFL: getting paid.

    Revis has earned just over $85 million through eight NFL seasons, according to Spotrac. That overflowing money mountain is a product of both the league’s unquenchable thirst for shutdown cornerbacks in a passing era and Revis’ ability to continually put himself atop the market every offseason.

    For three straight years he’s become the best cornerback available, and this time he returned home after taking another Scrooge McDuck gold dive, signing a five-year deal worth $70 million with the New York Jets.

    Why there’s an immediate fit: The Jets pass defense was leaky in 2014after cornerbacks Dexter McDougle and Dee Milliner both suffered torn ACLs. As a result, the Jets allowed 31 passing touchdowns—the league’s third-highest total—while intercepting only six passes.

    That sort of slanted defensive gushing results in the death of a season and jobs lost (just ask Rex Ryan). But now Revis returns to erect his barrier on one side of the field. A dire need will be addressed, as throwing windows will become tiny, especially when Revis is paired with Antonio Cromartie again.

    After hobbling through 2013 while recovering from an ACL tear of his own, Revis allowed a reception only once every 14.8 snaps in coverage during the 2014 regular season, according to PFF. That was the league’s third-highest rate among cornerbacks who played at least 50 percent of their team’s snaps.

    When Revis and Cromartie were last together for a full season in 2011, the Jets allowed only 201.0 passing yards per game (fifth).

    Risks: The only concern is how gracefully Revis will age, especially with one ripped ACL already on his medical report. Thankfully for the Jets, those worries are mitigated by Revis’ contract structure. He doesn’t have any guaranteed money after his age-32 season in 2017.

    Long-term projection: Revis is the ideal man-coverage cornerback for the system run by new Jets head coach Todd Bowles. It’s the perfect marriage, and if he stays healthy the four-time All Pro will continue playing at that level throughout most of this new contract while collecting his riches.

4. DeMarco Murray, RB Philadelphia Eagles

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    Matt Rourke/Associated Press

    Philadelphia Eagles head coach and lead nutritionist Chip Kelly knows what he wants in a running back.

    For a description of that running back, we can turn to the 2008 version of Kelly.

    “If the line can get up two yards on the defense, the back can, too,” he said during a lecture at USC, via Matt Lombardo of NJ Advance Media. “We want him to jam the ball into the hole and be a tough runner. We do not want a jingle-footed back trying to hit a home run.”

    Being jingle-footed sounds cheery and pleasant, and it makes me crave eggnog. But it’s the reason why LeSean McCoy is playing for the Buffalo Bills now.

    It's also why the Eagles replaced him with DeMarco Murray, signing the former Dallas Cowboy to a five-year contract worth $40 million.

    Why there’s an immediate fit: Kelly’s spread offense requires the presence of a one-cut power runner, and Murray more than fits that description. He defines it with the decisive running and keen instincts that led to a league high 1,845 rushing yards in 2014.

    For a time, Murray was flirting with Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record when he reached 100-plus yards in eight straight games to start the season. He settled for a Cowboys single-season rushing record instead.

    Risks: Acres of farm fields could be filled with Murray's injury red flags. He hadn’t played a full season prior to 2014, missing 11 games over three years. Then, a historically brittle running back was hammered into the ground with 497 touches (including the playoffs).

    Long-term projection: Murray’s durability concerns and workload are nightmare fuel, especially with history as a mighty enemy. As noted by NFL.com’s Michael Fabiano, 17 running backs in league history have eclipsed the 425-touch mark during a single season. The following year, nine failed to repeat even 70 percent of the previous season's production.

    But despite Murray’s history of breaking, there’s still hope for long-term effectiveness. His odometer only reads 1,153 touches (again including the playoffs). A noticeable decline often doesn’t come until the 1,600-touch mark, as League Safe’s Ryan Boser noted in his 2012 study.

5. LeSean McCoy, RB Buffalo Bills

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    Gary Wiepert/Associated Press

    The Buffalo Bills are about to begin a daring experiment that goes against everything we know—or rather, knew?—about how points are scored in the NFL.

    And newly acquired running back LeSean McCoy is the mad scientist at the center of it all, hoping for a better fate than one of history’s greatest monsters after being acquired from the Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for linebacker Kiko Alonso.

    The Bills were and still are aware of two simple truths regarding their quarterback situation: The stench emanating from EJ Manuel is real; and without a first-round pick, finding youthful competence at the position is exceedingly difficult.

    General manager Doug Whaley plunged into a deep wide receiver pool during the 2014 draft, sacrificing his 2015 first-round pick as part of a trade to land Sammy Watkins. The flaw in that approach comes back to the men tasked with delivering somewhat accurate balls to Watkins.

    Which returns us to McCoy and his secondary title: the leader of men who will try to make merely adequate quarterback play matter less, or not at all.

    Why there’s an immediate fit: There are reportedly “several people” within the Bills organization who think Tyrod Taylor—he of the 35 career pass attempts over four NFL seasons—could be the team’s Week 1 starting quarterback, according to Sal Maiorana of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.

    That’s pretty much all you need to know about the Bills’ quarterbacks and the team's likely intention to survive on a suffocating defense along with offensive weapons who can create chunk gains.

    McCoy leads that group and comes to the Bills only a season removed from 2,146 total yards. Since 2013, he ranks third in yards from scrimmage. Just as impressively, his 2,926 rushing yards are second during that same timespan.

    But his ability as a receiver is even more vital for the Bills and an offense likely quarterbacked by Matt Cassel, one that will focus on creating opportunities in space.

    McCoy has averaged 50 receptions per year throughout his six NFL seasons, topping out with a single-season high of 592 receiving yards (2010).

    Risks: The concern here is common to the point of cliche. With 626 carries, no running back has seen more work as a runner since 2013 than McCoy. That’s how he’s earned a reputation as a ball-carrying workhorse, and it’s why he’ll likely be leaned on for 300-plus carries in 2014.

    But how long until he finally breaks?

    Long-term projection: During his age-30 season in 2018, McCoy is set to account for a cap hit of $8.95 million, according to Spotrac. It takes a pretty optimistic soul to imagine that actually happening, especially if he's ridden hard over the next few years.

    His dead money becomes manageable in 2018 ($5.25 million), so the Bills will face a decision: restructure McCoy’s contract significantly or, if that’s not agreeable, cut him.

6. Haloti Ngata, DT Detroit Lions

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    The Detroit Lions were preparing to lose both Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley as free agency approached. And indeed, two critical pocket-collapsing defensive tackles soon left, leaving questions and plenty of empty space.

    But before those departures an answer was found, or at least a temporary one. It came in the form of a five-time All-Pro.

    The Lions traded fourth- and fifth-round picks to the Baltimore Ravens and landed defensive tackle Haloti Ngata. Immediately, a crumbling defensive line was addressed with a highly versatile pass-rusher who can do pretty much whatever is asked of him.

    Ngata has played defensive end in a 3-4 scheme and has slid inside to play defensive tackle. His bulked-up 340-pound frame comes with more than enough muscle for nose tackle, too.

    Why there’s an immediate fit: Sure, Ngata can be moved around while doing a bit of everything. But if he can do one thing really, really well in Detroit, that will be just fine, thanks.

    When the Lions lost both Suh and Fairley, a lot of interior push evaporated. Fairley missed eight games in 2014 due to injury, but when healthy the previous season he combined with Suh to record 11.5 sacks.

    Ngata can’t replace the full thrust of that push himself, but he could account for at least half of it.

    The first-round pick in 2006 doesn’t have nearly the same pass-rushing prowess as Suh, because few defensive tackles can match him. But Ngata still isn’t far removed from three straight seasons with five-plus sacks (2010 to 2012). And he’s effective against the run, finishing 10th among all 3-4 defensive ends in 2013 with 26 defensive stops, according to PFF.

    Risks: Ngata’s current contract is set to expire after the 2015 season. But let’s go ahead and assume the Lions agree to an extension before then, which seems likely. Risk will then hover around the longevity of their purchase.

    Ngata is 31 years old, and therefore his time as a solution to what ails Detroit's defensive line could be short. Just ask him: After his introductory press conference Ngata projected he has about three good years left, via M Live’s Justin Rogers.

    If that fade comes quicker than Ngata expects, the Lions’ defensive void up front will loom large again.

    Long-term projection: Over time, the Lions will lean more heavily on defensive end Ezekiel Ansah as the true motor driving Detroit’s pass rush after Ngata holds that title for just a few seasons.

7. Leonard Williams, DE New York Jets

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    Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

    The 2015 NFL draft greeted us with a first round that was, to put it generously, a little boring. After rumors of pretty much entire rosters being traded for quarterback Marcus Mariota fizzled, we were left with clockwork proceedings: Bad/awful teams made entirely sensible selections, picking great players who can make an immediate impact.

    But the most intriguing slight fall-and-fit comes from the New York Jets with Leonard Williams. They did something strange by their standards: The Jets made a wise decision by pouncing on an opportunity to turn an existing strength into an overpowering source of mismatches.

    With Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson and now Williams on their defensive end depth chart, the Jets have used three first-round picks at the position since 2011. Richardson was the Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2013, and Wilkerson is among the league’s premier 3-4 defensive ends with his 24.5 sacks over 61 career games.

    And Williams? Oh, he’s fresh off 21 sacks and 36.5 tackles for loss during his three years at USC. A position of strength is now the strongest strength possible.

    Why there’s an immediate fit: As any tape study session will quickly tell you, Williams has little trouble kicking inside and playing defensive tackle. He has impressive lateral mobility for a man who occupies 304 pounds worth of physical space.

    He’s scheme-versatile, then, with the skill set to fit in any system. So picture this from left to right when the Jets line up in their 4-3 sub-package on passing downs: Richardson, Damon Harrison, Williams and Wilkerson.

    Um, maybe just take a knee?

    Risks: William’s slight fall out of the top five was likely caused by a shoulder issue. After the draft, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported there’s little long-term concern, though in the short term Williams’ development could be slowed.

    Inherently there’s always risk with any injury suffered before playing a single NFL snap, as damage accumulates every time a player’s body is carved up on the operating table.

    Long-term projection: Wilkerson is entering a contract year and is unhappy with his paycheck, as he should be after the Saints’ Cameron Jordan—another defensive line first-round pick in 2011—just signed a contract extension worth $60 million.

    Wilkerson is set to be paid $6,969,000 in 2015. He sat out voluntary workouts and also thought about skipping mandatory minicamp before showing up.

    Although the Jets won’t say it publicly, Wilkerson's contract kerfuffle is directly tied to Williams. The salary-cap realities in today’s NFL dictate that leverage is critical, and the Jets have little motivation to go beyond their price point with Wilkerson, as a first-round pick sits behind him on the depth chart.

    It’s not difficult to see a near future when Wilkerson is shipped off and draft picks are accumulated, with Williams sliding up to replace him.

8. Brandon Marshall, WR New York Jets

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    Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

    New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith is mostly frustrating with a sprinkle of confusion and is facing a season when his career will either flop or finally fly. Hope of doing the latter rested partly with getting better support during the offseason, and a receiver whose spider arms can help compensate for Smith’s spraying.

    Enter Brandon Marshall.

    Marshall was acquired from the Chicago Bears in exchange for a fifth-round pick and brings a wide, often leaping catch radius that will be used to vacuum up wayward throws.

    Consider Marshall the Inspector Gadget to Smith’s unmanned hot dog cannon.

    Why there’s an immediate fit: Smith has completed only 57.5 percent of his passes over two NFL seasons. Yet amid that rubble of a career, he’s shown flashes of potential, especially when he became the only quarterback to post a perfect passer rating in 2014 (Week 17 against the Miami Dolphins).

    Over time Smith has shown glimpses of a quarterback who can properly scan the field and not become magnetized to one receiver. Now his accuracy needs to improve, and specifically on deep balls: Smith completed only 31.1 percent of his passes that traveled 20-plus yards in 2014, according to PFF.

    Which is where Marshall slides in nicely. He was slowed and then sidelined by injuries in 2014 but is only a year removed from a catch rate of 41.9 percent on his targets 20-plus yards downfield, according to PFF. That placed him fifth among all wide receivers who were on the other end for at least 50 percent of their teams' deep targets.

    Risks: Wide receivers are often halted by the age wall just as they approach 35 years old. Marshall is entering his age-31 season and is now learning a brand-new offense under coordinator Chan Gailey. That’s coming after his receiving yards per game absolutely plummeted in 2014 (from 80.9 the previous year to 55.5).

    Long-term projection: If the Smith-Marshall combination doesn’t change the Jets’ offensive competence level fast, their marriage (and living arrangements) could be over quickly. The guaranteed money in Marshall’s newly restructured contract runs out after 2015, and in 2016 his cap hit rises to $9.5 million, according to Spotrac.

9. Julius Thomas, TE Jacksonville Jaguars

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    The Jacksonville Jaguars overpaid for tight end Julius Thomas. Let’s just get that out of the way, because an offensively challenged team was always going to overpay for the best tight end on the market.

    The thing about demand is that it drives up prices when supply is low (there’s your high school economics lesson for today). And with 24 touchdowns over his last 27 games, Thomas could easily sit on a throne while watching teams throw gold at his feet.

    Jacksonville did just that with a five-year contract worth $46 million, making him the league’s second-highest-paid tight end in terms of both overall and guaranteed money (Thomas received $24 million guaranteed).

    Overpaying can be viewed as a necessary evil if the player purchased arrives to address a core need. And yes, Thomas does just that.

    Why there’s an immediate fit: All you really need here is to consult the combined output of all Jaguars tight ends in 2014: Four tight ends combined to finish the regular season with 519 receiving yards.

    Meanwhile, even in an injury-shortened season when Thomas missed three games and played hurt in others, he still finished with 489 yards.

    Risks: The Jaguars will find out exactly how much of Thomas’ sudden rise was a product of having Peyton Manning as his quarterback with the Denver Broncos.

    His touchdown total will tumble with a lesser quarterback and offense. That’s expected, but the Jaguars need him to show the same basketball-inherited body control and athleticism after the catch to help quarterback Blake Bortles take a leap forward in his second season.

    Long-term projection: If Thomas either fails to shed his injury-prone history or his production consistently spikes downward, he’ll be released before the 2018 season. By then, all of his guaranteed money will have been paid, according to Spotrac, and his cap hit will rise to $9.8 million.

10. Greg Hardy, DE Dallas Cowboys

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    Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

    Including Dallas Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy on this list caused me great mental and physical pain. He’s accused of some disgusting acts and is now an example of a discouraging NFL paradox.

    The league claims to care deeply about off-field character incidents, specifically domestic violence. But only if the player in question has nothing to contribute on the field.

    But that NFL reality isn’t about to change anytime soon, and a list evaluating the offseason moves set to improve teams substantially isn’t complete without Hardy.

    He’ll miss 10 games due to a suspension, but having Hardy for even six weeks will still vastly improve a Cowboys pass rush that barely existed for long stretches in 2014. They were one of only five teams to finish with less than 30 sacks, and in each of the past two seasons Dallas has ranked 25th or worse in that category.

    Why there’s an immediate fit: Hardy will provide an instant jolt when he returns. He’s gone nearly a full season without facing weekly football punishment (Hardy appeared in only one game during the 2014 season), and in 2013 he recorded a career single-season high 15 sacks.

    That output compares rather favorably with defensive end Jeremy Mincey, the Cowboys’ 2014 sacks leader who finished with six.

    Risks: The risks associated with Hardy are blindingly obvious, which is why he was given only a one-year contract and no guaranteed money. The Cowboys are paying for the football player, not the person.

    Long-term projection: Hardy has appealed his suspension, and Sports Illustrated’s Peter King made an educated guess that it will be reduced by two-to-four games.

    Whenever he returns, Hardy will inevitably erupt, propelling the Cowboys pass rush forward. Then when he’s a free agent again in March 2016, a talented football player and questionable person will be given a much larger cash reward.

    Get your cringe reflexes ready.

11. Percy Harvin, WR Buffalo Bills

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    Bill Wippert/Associated Press

    Wide receiver Percy Harvin is about to play for his third team in three years. That’s his entry point with the Buffalo Bills, and on the surface it can be a baffling one.

    Sure, he has an established history of breaking and has played all 16 games in a season only once during a six-year career. But injuries alone haven’t led to Harvin’s nomadic NFL lifestyle. Instead, a failure to consistently cash in on his immense athletic skill has resulted in the worst kind of confusion.

    Offensive coordinators have struggled to put Harvin in situations where his open-field speed and elusiveness can be optimized. He’s best suited to be in space, of course, which is when the 27-year-old instinctively leans on his punt return skills.

    But there was a disconnect when he was with the Seattle Seahawks. Harvin averaged all of 6.5 yards per reception during his six games in Seattle, bottoming out at a particularly embarrassing minus-1 yards on six touches during a Week 5 loss in 2014.

    Then suddenly, during his brief time with the New York Jets, there were flashes of life, with Harvin’s speed used more creatively and in intermediate-to-deep areas of the field. He had two 120-plus-yard games and nearly doubled has per-catch production (12.1 yards with the Jets).

    Now there’s hope that with the motivation of a one-year contract, the latter Harvin will return.

    Why there’s an immediate fit: As you’ll recall in the LeSean McCoy discussion, the Bills' main offensive objective will be to make their quarterback matter as little as possible. With that goal in mind, they’ve assembled an arsenal of athletically gifted skill players who can do the heavy lifting instead, and Harvin is at the forefront.

    New Bills offensive coordinator Greg Roman has shown in the past he can plug slippery receivers into space consistently, as he did that with the San Francisco 49ers when Michael Crabtree was healthy. The hope and aim now are to rediscover the 2011 version of Harvin, who finished behind only the Patriots’ Wes Welker with 616 yards after the catch, according to PFF.

    Risks: Harvin’s history of breaking is well-documented, along with his numerous locker room disagreements. Both risks are minimized by a one-year contract and what will likely be a short stay in Buffalo.

    Long-term projection: Harvin is technically playing under a three-year contract. But two of those years are filled with fake fluffiness and are for cap-managing purposes only. Harvin’s contract has voidable years in 2016 and 2017. While in theory the Bills could still keep him beyond 2015, right now that seems about as likely as winning an argument on the Internet.

    Harvin’s cap number catapults from $4 million in 2015 to $10 million in 2016 and 2017. A brittle and wildly inconsistent receiver has earned his status as a one-year experiment.

12. Marcus Mariota, QB Tennessee Titans

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    Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

    At this point I have only a well-researched guess about quarterback Marcus Mariota’s NFL future and how it will start with the Tennessee Titans. That’s all any of us can have, because attempts at being an NFL draft Nostradamus have failed many times, especially with quarterbacks.

    That’s why Mariota’s place on this list is less about expected future results and more about the decision.

    The Titans were tempted by several potential trade opportunities as they sat with the second overall pick. That included the Philadelphia Eagles' reported offer to sacrifice half their roster, which feels like only a slight exaggeration. The Eagles tabled an offer that included two first-round picks, a third-round pick, defensive end Fletcher Cox, cornerback Brandon Boykin, linebacker Mychal Kendricks and more, according to a report from NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.

    In a different time and under different circumstances, pulling the trigger on a trade would have gone further in the effort to fix multiple holes.

    But at some point a franchise needs stability at the top, which starts with the head coach and quarterback.

    Why there’s an immediate fit: The spiraling plummet at quarterback during the 2015 draft after Mariota was clear. And if the Titans accepted a trade bounty and let Mariota go elsewhere, they would have been chained to Zach Mettenberger for another season.

    As a general manager, that’s an easy way to lose your job and have the head coach follow you out the door. The Titans need structure and continuity as their rebuild progresses. Firing the head coach for the third time in five seasons is a step in the opposite direction.

    So they wisely paired Mariota with current (and hopefully future) head coach Ken Whisenhunt, who has previously resurrected Philip Rivers’ career with the Chargers and worked with Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger during his first three NFL seasons.

    Risks: Mariota’s time with the Oregon Ducks, which included a Heisman Trophy in 2014, showed us he’s brimming with athleticism (2,237 rushing yards). But the question with him is a familiar one for college quarterbacks who thrived in a spread offense.

    Can he adjust to a pro-style system without his footwork and accuracy suffering? So far during OTAs his progress report from the Tennessean’s Jim Wyatt is filled with checks.

    Long-term projection: Mariota has the physical tools to be an effective dual-threat quarterback. His next step now is to become more Russell Wilson than Colin Kaepernick and prioritize being a calm passer from the pocket who can also scorch a defense on the run when needed.

    He has the arm strength to accomplish that, as well as the field vision. Now it’s just a matter of developing the complete package.

13. Mike Iupati, G Arizona Cardinals

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    For the 2014 Arizona Cardinals, a running lane was often a foreign concept. Forget a lane, window or space: They struggled to create even a running doggie door.

    The Cardinals averaged a league-low 3.3 yards per carry, which is a truly remarkable rushing stench from a team that won 11 regular-season games and went 9-1 to start the year.

    Sure, the fact that Andre Ellington’s season ended early after the pint-sized running back was given 20.1 touches per game didn’t exactly help matters. But he still had little room when healthy, and over 12 games in 2014 the third-year RB logged only three with more than 4.0 yards per carry.

    Which is why guard Mike Iupati cashed in with a five-year contract worth $40 million.

    Why there’s an immediate fit: If we make several assumptions about the Cardinals offense that range from safe to kind-of-safe—quarterback Carson Palmer will return to full health, and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald won’t suddenly careen down a cliff—then their offseason priority was pretty much smacking you in the face.

    In Iupati, the Cardinals addressed that gushing hole with one of the league’s best run-blocking guards. Iupati has produced generally shining Pro Football Focus grades as a run-blocker over the past several seasons, ranking second in 2014 (18.0), 16th in 2013 (9.4), second in 2012 (22.6), and fourth in 2011 (13.1).

    Risks: The true risk here lies elsewhere on Cardinals offensive line. While he’ll bring vast improvement, Iupati is but one man, and signing him means the Cardinals are still in a position to rely on fellow guard Jonathan Cooper. He found himself viewed as little more than a spare part in 2014 and was beaten out for both starting guard jobs.

    Now a third-year player who’s started only two career games could in part undo Iupati’s fine work on the other side.

    Long-term projection: Iupati’s contract included $22.5 million in guaranteed money, according to Spotrac. Arizona will face the first checkpoint in that deal early in the 2017 league year when $4.5 million of a then-soon-to-be 30-year-old’s contract will become guaranteed.

    They’ll likely pick up that bill, but then the real decision follows in 2018. That’s when the Cardinals can save $6.8 million against the cap by cutting Iupati. The Iupati we’re watching now will have to still be mauling and overpowering at the same level to earn a dime of that money.

14. Torrey Smith, WR San Francisco 49ers

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    George Nikitin/Associated Press

    San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has some sizzle on his fastball. We know that because he threw an actual fastball 87 MPH, and because his quarterback version can travel 51 yards to the far-opposite side of the field.

    But the thing about cannonballing throws deep into the night is that someone has to be on the other end and be able to get separation consistently. That receiver didn’t exist for the 49ers in 2014 when they finished with 49 completions for 20-plus yards (20th) and overall only 191.4 passing yards per game (30th).

    They needed an injection of speed and a threatening presence on the outside to complement Anquan Boldin’s effectiveness as a quality possession receiver.

    They needed Torrey Smith.

    Why there’s an immediate fit: The 49ers signed Smith to a five-year contract worth $40 million, and he immediately becomes the deep weapon who will finally put Kaepernick’s booming arm to proper use.

    Smith has averaged 16.9 yards per reception over his four NFL seasons, topping out at 17.4 during a season twice. He also brings a long-distance red-zone threat when his speed is combined with leaping ability to win contested balls. In 2012, he finished tied for second in touchdowns on 20-plus yard throws, according to PFF.

    Risks: Over time, Smith has often become too attached to his one vertical trick, leading to games in which he disappears. In 2014, for example, he had six games with less than 50 receiving yards (including the playoffs). He also didn’t record a single 100-plus yard game, yet was still one of only nine wide receivers league-wide to finish with double-digit touchdowns.

    Long-term projection: The longevity of Smith’s stay in San Francisco will rest with his development as a more well-rounded receiver and his battle with drops. Smith’s 11 drops in 2014 tied him for the second-worst case of banana-peel hands, according to PFF.

    The latter problem is a much greater concern, as the 49ers already have fine short-to-intermediate options in Boldin and tight end Vernon Davis. If Smith becomes more sure-handed, the still-growing, 26-year-old receiver will have a long and fruitful connection with Kaepernick.

15. Todd Gurley, RB St. Louis Rams

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    Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

    Strictly sticking with a best-player-available approach during the draft can end in confusion and duplicity. Like, say, selecting a T.Y. Hilton clone when your team already has the real T.Y. Hilton.

    But it can also benefit the overthinking general manager who constantly fears a career derailment. In the case of running back Todd Gurley and the St. Louis Rams, it allowed general manager Les Snead to abandon conventional thinking while pouncing on a player who could solidify his offense for many years.

    Why there’s an immediate fit: The Rams called Gurley’s name with their 10th overall pick, and warmly embraced a power runner who averaged a whopping 130 yards from scrimmage over his three collegiate seasons at Georgia.

    But the true fit with Gurley lies in the Rams’ overall depth chart at the position.

    Once he’s healthy, Gurley will become a workhorse running back capable of churning out yards as both a runner and receiver. Then directly behind him is Tre Mason, who’s the ideal complementary option with his sudden burst. Mason didn’t see a single snap until Week 6 in 2014 and yet still finished with six carries for 20-plus yards.

    Risks: The obvious source of caution here comes from Gurley’s surgically repaired knee. Running back is already a position where age concerns start to creep up as early as 28. Now, before playing a meaningful NFL snap, Gurley has already torn his ACL.

    Long-term projection: The Rams will surely be cautious with a first-round pick who’s already shredded the source of his lateral mobility. It won't be remotely surprising to see Gurley on the PUP list and out for the first six weeks of his rookie season.

    Beyond that, he should quickly justify becoming the first running back selected in the opening round since 2012.

16. Jeremy Maclin, WR Kansas City Chiefs

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    Tim Sharp/Associated Press

    The Kansas City Chiefs did something bizarre during the 2014 season. Something that seems so statistically absurd it simply doesn’t compute.

    They attempted 493 passes, and 18 of them resulted in touchdowns. Yet none went to a wide receiver.

    The Chiefs became only the third team in league history to make every wide receiver on the roster a complete end-zone zero, and the first since 1964. Then they threw a lot of zeros at one of the top receivers on the open market, giving Jeremy Maclin a five-year contract worth $55 million.

    Why there’s an immediate fit: Maclin routinely demonstrated his ability to find open space deep during his final year with the Eagles, setting career single-season highs nearly across the board with 1,318 receiving yards, 15.5 yards per reception and 82.4 yards per game. He was efficient, too, averaging 2.12 yards per route run, which ranked 15th among the 50 receivers who played at least 50 percent of their team’s snaps, according to PFF.

    So just how much of a bounding leap up is Maclin compared to Kansas City’s previous wide receiver depth chart of doom? In 2014, the Chiefs' top two receivers combined for 910 receiving yards. And they’re only a season removed from seeing Jamaal Charles—who plays running back, it should be noted—lead the team in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns.

    Risks: The Chiefs now need to go about the business of making sure their dollars spent on Maclin aren’t wasted. That will prove difficult for a team led by Andy Reid and his West Coast offense.

    The Chiefs will certainly benefit from employing Maclin. But justifying his contract will in part mean changing the very nature of how Kansas City attempts to advance the ball.

    Mainly that’s through Charles and a deep catalogue of screens or quick passes to get receivers in space. Only 42.3 percent of quarterback Alex Smith’s passing yards in 2014 came through the air, a low among passers who took at last 50 percent of their teams dropbacks, according to PFF.

    Long-term projection: Maclin will provide a short-term jolt and another reliable offensive option not named Charles. But long-term, his salary cap hit, which rises to $13.4 million in 2018, might become a heavy burden for a receiver who could be underused.

17. Frank Gore, RB Indianapolis Colts

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    Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

    Frank Gore is supposed to be done. He should be disintegrating into dust, then swept aside into the running back waste bin.

    The newly signed Indianapolis Colts running back just turned 32 years old, which means Gore has already lasted two years past the usual running back expiration date. But the more important and damning number concerns his career touches, which sit at 2,942 (including playoffs).

    But Gore remains the exception as he rumbles while demanding a significant workload. Over his final two games with the San Francisco 49ers he totaled 302 rushing yards, hitting that mark while hammering away at an average of 5.9 yards per carry.

    He is still fading slightly, however, which is allowed.

    Why there’s an immediate fit: Finding work for Gore in Indianapolis won’t be a problem. Head coach Chuck Pagano told CSN Bay Area's Matt Maiocco that he still sees Gore as a running back who can handle a heavy load, which is exactly what his offense needs.

    The Colts thirsted for stability in their backfield during a 2014 season that fell just short of the Super Bowl. The Trent Richardson experiment died in flames, and Ahmad Bradshaw was allowed to walk after breaking too often. Dan Herron was productive with limited work, but his fumble problems are a concern (four fumbles over only 123 carries).

    Gore is a throwback: He can be trusted in multiple roles on all three downs, and has been for a long time.

    Risks: Gore is fading, but just not as fast as merely normal running backs. There were eight games in 2014 when his per-carry average was at or below 3.5, though that fall was partly due to lack of use.

    Gore’s challenge, then, is the one he’s faced annually for, oh, about the past three years. He has to absorb the punishment of at least 300 touches while somehow still slowing his body clock.

    Long-term projection: There isn’t much long-term thinking left with Gore. He signed a three-year contract worth $12 million, but realistically that’s a year-to-year deal after 2015.

    He’s in Indianapolis for one last shot at a championship.

18. Breshad Perriman, WR Baltimore Ravens

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    Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

    There are blessed times when a general manager can both address a core need during the draft and grab the best player available. That's what wide receiver Breshad Perriman did for Baltimore Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome.

    Perriman was still ready and waiting late in the opening round when Newsome gazed upon the land and saw an opportunity.

    He could replace the departed Torrey Smith with, well, a faster version of Torrey Smith.

    Why there’s an immediate fit: Newsome set his price point on Smith leading up to free agency and was prepared to lose his secondary-stretching wideout. Filling that role is critical to ensure quarterback Joe Flacco’s strong arm isn’t wasted. Also, a vertical threat opens up underneath routes for Steve Smith, who’s suddenly looking like a younger version of himself.

    So selecting Perriman was an easy decision, and at No. 26 overall he could eventually become one of the best value picks from Round 1 in 2015.

    Perriman has blistering speed, showcasing that lightning-like quality during his Central Florida pro day. NFL Network’s Mike Mayock clocked him at 4.25 seconds, which would have been only one tick shy of breaking Chris Johnson’s record had Perriman posted that time at the NFL Scouting Combine.

    If grass-scorching sat atop your draft shopping list, then Perriman did, too. He averaged 20.8 yards per catch over his final two collegiate seasons.

    Risks: Usually concerns about size follow after plenty of drooling over a wide receiver’s speed. Not so with Perriman, who can both separate with ease and grapple for contest catches with his 6’2”, 212-pound frame.

    No, the worry with Perriman is the catching part of being a pass-catcher. He had seven drops on 54 catchable passes during the 2014 season. As noted by PFF’s Steve Palazzolo, that drop rate of 12.96 percent ranked 81st out of 91 college qualifiers.

    Long-term projection: For what it’s worth (something, but not much) Perriman hasn’t dropped a ball yet during OTAs, according to Sarah Ellison of Ravens.com. If he even cuts his drops in half when it matters, Perriman will become a dynamic receiver, adding “reliable possession option” to his list of skills and attributes.

19. C.J. Spiller, RB New Orleans Saints

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    Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    Remember when C.J. Spiller was one of the most exciting players to watch at any position? You’ll have to think hard, and if it helps, do that memory-searching thing when you look skyward to your left.

    That time in our lives was real. In 2012, Spiller finished with 1,703 total yards from scrimmage. It was the first season he was given a heavy workload by the Buffalo Bills, and it translated to an average of 6.0 yards per carry with 1,244 yards on the ground overall.

    Then he began to vanish. Over the next two seasons in Buffalo, the 27-year-old accumulated only 1,543 yards from scrimmage, partly due to injuries, and mostly because of poor usage. When the Bills fired Chan Gailey after 2012, suddenly Spiller found himself ramming into massive linemen up the middle more often.

    That ends now, or so says New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton.

    Why there’s an immediate fit: When the Saints traded Graham to Seattle, brought center Max Unger aboard in return and re-signed running back Mark Ingram, their offensive direction was clear.

    Then when they also drafted tackle/guard Andrus Peat in the first round, their offensive direction was screaming at us. This is a team about to make a pronounced shift toward the run, and as part of that there will also be a deliberate attempt to get Spiller the ball where he thrives: in space.

    “I think there’s a real good fit for him with what we’re going to do offensively,” Payton said during a press conference following an OTA workout, via the Saints' official site. “We’ll put him in a role, whether he’s in the backfield or flexed out. The key I think for him is finding ways to get him the ball in space and let him utilize his skill set and speed.”

    About Spiller’s skill set: During that breakout 2012 season he forced 66 missed tackles as a runner and receiver, according to PFF.

    Risks: The worry here with Spiller is a standard one for running backs, especially as they get deeper into their late 20s (Spiller will turn 28 in August). He has a smaller build at 200 pounds, which has resulted in frequent gimping. He missed two games in 2014, and although Spiller didn’t sit out in 2013, he was severely limited due to an ankle injury.

    Long-term projection: Spiller signed a four-year contract worth $16 million, and as you would expect with a running back, there’s little guaranteed money after 2016. In fact, the 2016 season itself isn’t fully guaranteed, with Spiller’s base salary becoming concrete three days into the new league year.

    Spiller’s time with the Saints can be looked at as a two-year deal, and his health will be weighed significantly in the decision to absorb a $4.85 million cap hit in 2017, followed by a $4.65 million one in 2018.

20. Andre Johnson, WR Indianapolis Colts

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    Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

    The Indianapolis Colts have speed in buckets at wide receiver, especially after drafting Phillip Dorsett; he’s basically a second T.Y. Hilton. Then there’s Donte Moncrief, who had two 100-plus-yard receiving games during his rookie season despite playing only 39.1 percent of the Colts’ offensive snaps.

    Hilton’s 40-yard dash time at his combine appearance in 2012 was 4.34 seconds, while Dorsett blazed to a time of 4.25 seconds at his Miami pro day.

    So no, speed isn’t a problem here, and instead Colts quarterback Andrew Luck needed a set of reliable veteran hands to offer comfort. Said hands will now be supplied by veteran wide receiver Andre Johnson.

    Where there’s an immediate fit: The Colts signed Johnson to a three-year deal worth $21 million after he was released by the Houston Texans. He’s declining somewhat, but that matters little here. The Colts know they didn’t purchase Johnson in his prime and instead are getting the soon-to-be 34-year-old model.

    What they need is someone to capitalize on all that inviting open space freed up by Hilton, Moncrief and Dorsett, as well as someone to play with magnet hands on third down. Johnson can be that guy and still add a little extra sizzle, despite his age.

    He’s only a season removed from a drop rate of 8.40 even with his mountainous 176 targets, according to PFF. He turned those looks into 1,407 yards during the 2013 season, even while receiving passes from Matt Schaub and Case Keenum.

    Risks: Age remains the greatest risk with Johnson. At any point he could slam head-first into the always deadly wide receiver age wall. But the number shown on Johnson’s birth certificate is only a passing concern because of the Colts’ roster construction.

    A receiver’s speed typically fades first, and Johnson won’t be asked to separate deep downfield purely with what’s left of his top-end burst. The Colts want him to create space physically, just as a then-34-year-old Reggie Wayne did in 2012 to the tune of 1,355 receiving yards.

    Long-term projection: There isn’t one, as at this point Johnson’s career will get an annual revaluation. Of his $10 million in guaranteed money from the Colts, $2.5 million kicks in on the fifth day of the 2016 league year, according to Joel Corry of the National Football Post.

    That’s not enough to make the Colts hesitate if they feel Johnson has fallen too far in 2015. He could be released after one season, though that feels highly unlikely after a seven-time Pro Bowler experiences life with much better quarterback play.

21. Charles Clay, TE Buffalo Bills

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    Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

    Something strange happens when you look up the top 10 most productive tight ends since 2013. It’s a list led by the expected and familiar names: first Jimmy Graham, then the Panthers’ Greg Olsen and the Patriots’ Rob Gronkowski.

    Then Charles Clay’s name isn’t much further down at No. 9.

    But he’s not a true tight end, or at least not one in the traditional sense. He entered the league as a fullback, developed into an H-back and is used in a dual role. He’s a multipurpose tool and has a heavy, athletic body to create mismatches when shifted throughout the offensive formation.

    Which is exactly what appealed to the Buffalo Bills.

    The Miami Dolphins dusted off the seldom-used transition tag, slapping it on Clay prior to free agency. They then had a chance to match any offer he received, and the gargantuan five-year contract worth $38 million tabled by the Bills far exceeded budget limitations.

    Why there’s an immediate fit: During his breakout 2013 season Clay finished fifth among all tight ends with 373 yards after the catch, according to PFF. His average of 5.4 YAC per reception that season and the elusiveness used to create 16 missed tackles fueled the Bills’ boldness.

    They dramatically overpaid for Clay by making him the league’s fourth-highest-valued tight end based on average annual salary. But their aggression had a purpose, and Clay’s ballooned pay will be ignored if it works and Buffalo returns to the playoffs for the first time since 1999.

    The Bills have structured an offense that can, in theory, mask a deep quarterback deficiency with multiple options who can break free after the catch—and more importantly, do it after an easy, high-percentage short-yardage completion. Clay is a key piece in that respect, along with Harvin and McCoy.

    Risks: Financially, the Bills took a gamble. Clay’s annual salary puts him directly behind Gronkowski, even though he has 2,570 fewer career receiving yards and 40 fewer receiving touchdowns.

    It gets worse when we look at the guaranteed money, which is what really matters. If Clay is still on the Bills roster three days after the 2016 league year begins, he will have accumulated $24.5 million in guaranteed money. For perspective, Julius Thomas was the most coveted tight end on the open market, and he received $24 million guaranteed.

    Long-term projection: Clay will be given plenty of opportunities to justify his contract and produce in the Bills offense. His future will be determined by exactly how much he’s produced in Year 1, and whether the Bills can manage his massive $13.5 million cap hit in 2016.

    The answer there will likely be a reluctant nod, as Clay’s cap value declines to an affordable $6.5 million during the final three years of his contract, according to Spotrac.

22. Kevin White, WR Chicago Bears

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    The Chicago Bears have become an example of how to survive in an NFL landscape ruled by quarterbacks, even when the supply of top-tier talent at the position doesn’t come close to meeting the demand.

    On a basic level, the formula is this: Surround the quarterback you have with as much talent as possible, and keep praying to whatever football god you trust most.

    The Bears have done that with Jay Cutler, their grossly overpaid quarterback. He’s chained to a boulder of a contract that pays him an average of $18.1 million annually, far too much for even the most quarterback-desperate team to inherit thorugh a trade.

    So the Bears have pursued the only other avenue: making the rest of the offense better for less. This year they did that by shipping off wide receiver Brandon Marshall and replacing him with the similarly physically imposing Kevin White.

    Why there’s an immediate fit: White was selected with the Bears’ seventh overall pick, and although he may not quite match Marshall’s size, he’s damn close at 6’3” and 215 pounds.

    But his main selling point is the speed he combines with that size. The West Virginia product ran the 40-yard dash in 4.35 seconds, meaning he can easily match the downfield push of fellow wideout Alshon Jeffery while also muscling out defensive backs for catches in traffic.

    Those characteristics are key for an offense quarterbacked by Cutler, whose single redeeming quality is a deep arm. White was second among receivers in the 2015 draft class with seven touchdowns on balls traveling 20-plus yards, according to College Football Focus.

    Risks: The only true worry with White is sadly out of his control, and tied to this scary question: How long will Cutler limit his breakout potential?

    Long-term projection: Or maybe we shouldn’t be too concerned about Cutler. White looks like a receiver who can excel even with mediocre quarterback play. This is when I remind you about Tampa Bay Buccaneers receiver Mike Evans and his 1,051 receiving yards as a rookie while catching passes from Mike Glennon and Josh McCown.

    White’s blend of size and speed sets his ceiling high. By extension, the Bears’ offensive future is bright with him lining up opposite the fast and towering Jeffery.

23. Nick Foles, QB St. Louis Rams

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    There was an argument to be made that the St. Louis Rams were missing only one piece to become a playoff-contending team in 2014. I know because I made that argument, and the hesitation lay in the nature of that one piece: a quarterback.

    The Rams have a defensive line that turns opposing quarterbacks into pudding. They now have a solid backfield tandem with running backs Todd Gurley and Tre Mason, and if he’s healthy for Week 1 wide receiver Brian Quick is poised to resume what could have been a breakout third season prior to his shoulder injury.

    There are more pieces, too, like fellow receiver Kenny Britt and his suddenly realigned career. The Rams don’t need sparkling quarterback play to make all those pieces finally click. They don’t need Pro Bowl play, either.

    They just need competence, and Nick Foles can do competence.

    Foles was acquired from the Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for quarterback Sam Bradford. The Rams also received a 2015 fourth-round pick and a 2016 second-round pick while giving the Eagles a 2015 fifth-rounder.

    Why there’s an immediate fit: Well, it depends which Foles the Rams are getting. Let’s assume for a moment that 2015 Nick Foles will be something between 2014 Nick Foles (10 interceptions on 311 pass attempts) and 2013 Nick Foles (two interceptions on 317 attempts). If Foles can indeed land somewhere in that cushy middle ground, the goal of competence is easily within reach.

    Risks: Foles has the arm to connect with Quick and Britt while stretching the field, as he demonstrated with 9.1 yards per attempt in 2013. The concern, however, is the Chip Kelly influence.

    How much of Foles’ nearly mistake-free 2013 season was the result of being plugged into the Kelly machine? Foles saw plenty of isolated downfield opportunities, but his connection rate on those throws provides encouragement now.

    Foles completed 45.5 percent of his pass attempts that traveled 20-plus yards downfield in 2013, according to PFF.

    Long-term projection: Foles’ main flaw is his lack of mobility, which is a concern while playing behind an offensive line that gave up 47 sacks in 2014. Plenty of quarterbacks have succeeded with something far less than sonic speed (let me tell you about Peyton Manning...). For Foles to join them one day, he'll need to make quicker and better reads and develop more consistent accuracy.

    For now, he’ll be a one-year experiment on a contract that expires after the 2015 season. But if he can provide even average play, Foles will be a dramatic improvement over Shaun Hill and Austin Davis.

24. Nick Fairley, DT St. Louis Rams

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Let’s stay in St. Louis, because why would you ever leave a place where pizza is cut into rectangles?

    At some point during this offseason, Snead may have had a eureka moment. He observed that his defensive line is a freakish strength and somehow managed to finish 2014 with 40 sacks. That total sounds modest until you remember the Rams recorded a record-low one sack over the first five weeks.

    Snead realized that turning a strength into a source of juggernaut power is never a foolish blueprint. So he signed defensive tackle Nick Fairley and then prepared to watch the chaos by ordering crates of popcorn.

    Why there’s an immediate fit: The Rams were already progressing toward being a team driven by a defensive line and its ability to make opposing offenses nearly one-dimensional. It’s a unit anchored by Defensive Rookie of the Year Aaron Donald (tied for second among defensive tackles in 2014 with nine sacks), and defensive end Robert Quinn (29.5 sacks over the past two seasons).

    Adding Fairley means the pressure becomes that much more relentless, and running lanes will open up even more fleetingly. He’ll be kept fresh in a rotational role at defensive tackle behind Donald and Michael Brockers, which means a pocket penetrator who had 41 pressures during his last healthy season in 2013 (tied for eighth among all defensive tackles, according to PFF) will be third on the depth chart.

    Risks: Fairley’s lack of effort led to a brief demotion to the second-team defense during his final season with the Detroit Lions. But the Rams have made that only a passing worry by signing him to a one-year contract which includes $3 million in incentives.

    Fairley should be motivated to perform and raise his value before truly cashing in when he becomes a free agent again at the ripe age of 28.

    Long-term projection: This falls under the “not applicable” label given the short-term nature of Fairley’s contract. However, the Rams will eagerly re-sign him if he produces and convinces them that he’ll remain motivated.

25. Mike Wallace, WR Minnesota Vikings

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    Mike Wallace does one thing, and he does it well: He runs fast.

    He runs really fast. Then he looks up and hopes a football is there to complete its long journey into his waiting hands. He's the perfect receiver to dream up for a Minnesota Vikings offense coordinated by Norv Turner.

    Wallace was acquired by the Vikings in a trade with the Miami Dolphins. Two draft picks were also exchanged, with a 2015 seventh-round pick shifted to Minnesota and a 2015 fifth-rounder going to the Dolphins.

    Wallace wasn’t exactly overjoyed about the move initially, saying as much to Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald. Now the tune he’s singing has changed.

    Why there’s an immediate fit: Pure speed receivers are like candy to Turner (see: Cleveland Browns receiver Josh Gordon). And earlier in his career, Wallace showed why he can be a fine treat when used properly.

    “I think it’s more like my first four years,” Wallace told ESPN.com’s Ben Goessling when asked about the Vikings offense early in offseason workouts. “It’s a vertical offense rather than a short West Coast offense. You go down the field a lot more here, which is what I’m accustomed to.”

    The first four years Wallace spoke of came with the Pittsburgh Steelers under the also-vertically-obsessed eye of then-coordinator Bruce Arians. Wallace flourished almost immediately and averaged 17.2 yards per reception with the Steelers.

    Then his per-catch average over two seasons with the Dolphins cratered to 12.8.

    Risks: It’s fair to question Wallace’s ability to connect with a young quarterback. His attempts in that regard were a colossal failure with Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

    But that was mostly a result of Tannehill’s poor deep throwing, as he connected on only 37.7 percent of his 20-plus yard throws in 2014. Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, meanwhile, was much better during his rookie season at 46.3 percent, according to PFF.

    Long-term projection: Looking deeper at the contract Minnesota inherited, a then-30-year-old Wallace will account for an $11.5 million cap hit in 2016 and 2017, according to Spotrac. That will place him just outside of the top five cap hits in his position group.

    If Wallace doesn’t click fast with both Turner and Bridgewater, his salary will become difficult to carry and he’ll be seeking employment elsewhere again.


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