Every NFL Team's Potential Secret Weapon for the 2015 Season

Ian Wharton@NFLFilmStudyContributor IJune 10, 2015

Every NFL Team's Potential Secret Weapon for the 2015 Season

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    As the NFL offseason nears training camp, standout young players will seemingly appear out of nowhere to make an impact. Surprise players might not be an immediate upgrade at a position, but they can produce even in limited opportunities. These potential secret weapons can be on offense or defense.

    You never know when a player on the bottom of the 53-man roster will get his chance. But that doesn’t mean those individuals aren’t talented football players. Just ask New England Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler, who forced the game-winning interception in the Super Bowl last season.

    We’re going to identify every team’s potential secret weapon for the 2015 season. Some of these players still have to climb the depth chart, while others are veterans who are looking to re-establish their careers. Either way, don’t be surprised if there’s a breakout player this season from this list.

Arizona Cardinals: Jaron Brown

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    It’s quite impressive how deep the Arizona Cardinals are at wide receiver. Not only do they have two stellar starters in Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd, but their third and fourth options could start for other teams as well. Third-year receiver Jaron Brown hasn’t played much thus far in his career, but his talent is obvious when he’s on the field.

    At 6’2”, 205 pounds, he is a difficult player to guard. He is powerful and has excellent hands at the catch point. His ability to play inside at slot or as an outside receiver gives great value to Arizona.

    The key for Brown in 2015 is for quarterback Carson Palmer to be healthy. If Palmer is able to play most of the season, expect Brown’s production to spike this season. He had 22 receptions for 229 yards and two touchdowns last year.

Atlanta Falcons: Grady Jarrett

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    The Atlanta Falcons’ 2015 draft class defied what we thought was possible. Their haul was impressive and exemplified why it remains an unpredictable event every year. Defensive tackle Grady Jarrett was a notable late-round steal.

    Atlanta’s pass rush was abysmal last season, but the addition of Jarrett and former teammate Vic Beasley will greatly help. Jarrett wins with excellent quickness and a great swim move from the 3-technique position.

    Jarrett should fight his way into the rotation on obvious passing plays. He’s behind veteran Jonathan Babineaux right now, but as the season progresses, the Falcons will benefit from the rookie's fresh legs.

Baltimore Ravens: Cam Worthy

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    The Baltimore Ravens added multiple offensive weapons for quarterback Joe Flacco to utilize in 2015. The receiving corps was one of the NFL's worst prior to the draft, but three rookies are looking to change that. The most noteworthy undrafted free agent the Ravens signed was former ECU receiver Cam Worthy.

    At 6’2”, 211 pounds, Worthy played just one season for ECU. He was impressive, though, making circus catches seem routine. He averaged 18.5 yards per catch in 2014, helping illustrate his potential as a downfield playmaker.

    Worthy may not make the final 53-man roster initially, but the team could call him up from the practice squad later on. His skill set is worth developing as the Ravens look for more dynamic receivers.

Buffalo Bills: Justin Hamilton

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    The Buffalo Bills have one of the most talented rosters in the NFL. One position with a backup opening is defensive tackle, and Justin Hamilton is talented enough to claim the backup role.

    Hamilton was a force at Louisiana-Lafayette. His 6’2”, 311-pound frame is NFL-ready, making him a handful for opponents. He had an impressive 28 tackles for loss and 13 sacks in his collegiate career.

    He won’t get many opportunities to stand out in Buffalo because of the presence of other standout players. But he has a chance early with Marcell Dareus facing suspension for one game. That might be all Hamilton needs to make his name known.

Carolina Panthers: Kony Ealy

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    The Carolina Panthers’ 2014 second-round pick couldn’t impact the team last season in a deep positional group. But that sets defensive end Kony Ealy up for a potential breakout season. Incumbent Wes Horton shouldn’t be able to stop him from claiming the starting job this year.

    Ealy is a power rusher who can man the strong-side end position. His strength at the point of attack should pay off against the run and allow the Panthers’ stellar linebackers to thrive.

    At Missouri, Ealy was a standout pass-rusher, totaling 14 sacks in three seasons. His game isn’t best suited as a pure pass-rusher, though, so his secret-weapon talent will be doing more of the dirty work.

Chicago Bears: Bryce Callahan

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    The Chicago Bears secondary was a disaster last season, which forced the team to overhaul the available talent. Through the draft and free agency, the secondary is now much more formidable for the short term. Veterans Tim Jennings, Tracy Porter and Antrel Rolle can be big contributors this year.

    Chicago should have an eye on the long term too. Rookie Bryce Callahan figures to force his way into the discussion as a late-season bloomer. He has the athleticism and talent to develop into a good nickel cornerback.

    Callahan is short but athletic. His speed (4.47 40-yard dash), vertical leaping ability (43”) and broad jump (11'0") all point to elite lower-body explosion. He has the tools to become a stud as a nickel cornerback.

Cincinnati Bengals: Marcus Hardison

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    Of all rosters across the league, the Cincinnati Bengals have one of the deepest and most impressive. Their depth chart is two or three deep at many positions, which makes it hard for young players to break into the rotation.

    Rookie defensive end Marcus Hardison has the raw talent needed to overtake one of the backup spots on the defensive line. Veteran Wallace Gilberry was among the worst starters in the NFL last year at defensive end, grading as Pro Football Focus’ No. 46 defensive end.

    Hardison is explosive but raw with his technique. He played just one season at Arizona State, so he will require some time. But his natural  talent can create plays quickly.

Cleveland Browns: E.J. Bibbs

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    One thing was clear from the way the Cleveland Browns attacked free agency and the draft: They wanted to add a versatile tight end/H-back playmaker. After missing out on free agent Charles Clay, Cleveland added several players in a similar mold in the draft and beyond.

    The best of the bunch was Iowa State tight end E.J. Bibbs. He has a thick 6’2”, 264-pound build, which allows him to line up all over the field. Most importantly, he can be productive in limited receiver snaps.

    Bibbs accounted for eight touchdowns on 45 receptions in 2014. Whether in-line or as a slot receiver, he can be an impact player if he gets the chance.

Dallas Cowboys: Devin Street

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    Not only have the Dallas Cowboys built one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, but their receiving corps is deep and talented as well. This effort to help quarterback Tony Romo has been a major success. Dallas deserves a lot of credit for its team-building prowess in the last few seasons.

    Second-year receiver Devin Street can be the next breakout player on offense. He has the height and speed to be a mismatch in the slot or across from receiver Dez Bryant. He’s 6’3” and plays even faster than his 4.55 40-yard dash time.

    The biggest hurdle for Street is the quality ahead of him on the depth chart. Veterans Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley have established themselves in the rotation, and obviously Bryant isn’t going anywhere. Street must make the most out of his targets.

Denver Broncos: Antonio Smith

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    In an effort to compete for the Super Bowl, the Denver Broncos have loaded up again with veterans who can play right now. One of their best backups on the roster is defensive end Antonio Smith. At 33 years old, he is a situational pass-rusher and nothing else.

    Per Pro Football Focus, Smith was the third-best pass rusher at defensive tackle last season. His run blocking was atrocious, but that hasn’t changed from when Smith was in his prime with the Houston Texans. His job is to get after the quarterback.

    Denver will be able to bring serious heat on third downs with Smith, Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware. Smith’s career may be winding down, but he is a secret weapon who will star in sub-packages.

Detroit Lions: Zach Zenner

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    The Detroit Lions have quantity in their backfield, but the quality leaves room for desire. Veterans Joique Bell and Theo Riddick haven’t been consistently good to this point in their careers; however, the Lions desperately need help creating yards rushing the ball.

    After adding two rookies in the draft process in Ameer Abdullah and Zach Zenner, there is more reason for optimism that the Lions will be more effective running the ball. Each could end up atop the depth chart before the season is over.

    Zenner was a great undrafted free-agent pickup. He had more than 2,000 yards rushing three times in college and proved to be a good athlete at the NFL combine. He can make an early impact for the Lions.

Green Bay Packers: John Crockett

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    For an offense that features quarterback Aaron Rodgers to be effective running the ball, all that is necessary is a decisive and efficient running back. The Green Bay Packers had a need for a backup to Eddie Lacy after James Starks took a sharp decline in 2014.

    Undrafted free agent John Crockett could be the Packers’ secret weapon in 2015. He is patient yet athletic enough to act when he finds a running lane. He’s not starter material at this point, but he was highly productive at North Dakota State because he takes what he is given.

    Lacy needs to have a quality backup to keep him fresh for the playoffs. Giving Crockett what Starks handled in 2014, which was 85 carries, is a good way to give Lacy that rest.

Houston Texans: Tony Washington

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    The Houston Texans have had their fair share of issues creating pressure on the quarterback (sans J.J. Watt) in the past few seasons. 2014 first-round pick Jadeveon Clowney will certainly help if he’s healthy. But adding Tony Washington to the active roster can also be beneficial.

    Washington isn’t much of a creator for teammates. Instead, he cleans up when others create pressure. This is valuable on third downs. For an undrafted free agent, his third-down value is worth a roster spot on the final 53-man list.

Indianapolis Colts: Zack Hodges

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    The Indianapolis Colts mostly ignored their defensive needs in the draft, but they may have hit gold in undrafted free agency. Harvard outside linebacker Zack Hodges fits a 3-4 defense and also has the heart needed to make the team.

    At the Senior Bowl, he fought through injury to participate. His size (6'2", 250 lbs), toughness and production all point to his making the team as an undrafted rookie.

    Right now he is behind veterans Robert Mathis and Trent Cole on the depth chart. Mathis’ status is unknown while he rehabilitates his Achilles’ tear, though, which makes Hodges the primary rotational rusher.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Michael Bennett

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    The third day of the NFL draft is often filled with long shots with little hope of paying off. Sometimes, however, a great talent falls due to injury concerns or just being overlooked. Ohio State defensive tackle Michael Bennett was gift-wrapped to the Jacksonville Jaguars in the sixth round because of injury concerns.

    Now recovered from his nagging hamstring issues, Bennett is going to rise up the Jaguars’ depth chart. He’s already earning rave reviews. As star defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks recovers from an ACL tear, Bennett can be a secret weapon as an interior pass-rusher.

Kansas City Chiefs: Albert Wilson

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    Toward the end of the 2014 season, Kansas City Chiefs receiver Albert Wilson received an opportunity to play several offensive snaps per game. With his quick feet, he proved to be tough to cover, and his roster spot for 2015 will be secure in OTAs.

    Wilson was a surprise contributor down the stretch. He has a thick 5’9”, 203-pound frame and 4.43 speed. The Chiefs have done well to revamp their receiving corps, and Albert will prove that he deserves to be a part of the team in the future.

Miami Dolphins: Chris McCain

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    Miami Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle did a good job of mitigating the workload of Philip Wheeler in 2014. Wheeler struggled at the strong-side linebacker position in 2013, so Coyle cut his snaps to 384, per Pro Football Focus.

    The position is still in flux, as the team likely figured it could replicate that strategy. Second-year linebacker Chris McCain is a talented pass-rusher but needs seasoning and experience. If he’s able to drop back into coverage and be effective, then he’ll be a major secret weapon for Miami.

    Training camp will be crucial for McCain’s development. Local beat reporters hyped him last summer, and then he played just 46 snaps in the regular season, so his time is now.

Minnesota Vikings: Antone Exum

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    More than one full year removed from a devastating knee injury that caused Antone Exum to fall to the sixth round of the NFL draft, the Minnesota Vikings could reap big rewards in 2015. He is a physical specimen on defense, which will allow him to be a defensive weapon for coach Mike Zimmer.

    Exum’s ability to move between safety and linebacker can create a hectic scene for offenses. He’s a big hitter with coverage skills. His ability to read and react to the ball quickly is what can force coaches to play him.

    Minnesota’s talented secondary could hamper Exum’s efforts, but his skill set is unique. Zimmer has shown the ability to adjust to his talent before in Cincinnati. He’ll see the potential brilliance in Exum.

New England Patriots: Darryl Roberts

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    The drastic changes made to the New England Patriots’ secondary this offseason are going to test head coach Bill Belichick’s genius. He well may scheme a way to overcome the loss of his three top cornerbacks, but he’s facing a tough test.

    New England’s depth chart is less-than-inspiring. That can change somewhat if rookie Darryl Roberts is ready to grasp the opportunity in front of him. He started three seasons at Marshall and had a fantastic pro-day workout. His upside is as high as he’s willing to make it.

    The race for the second cornerback position is far from settled in New England. With a strong preseason, Roberts can make his way to the top of the depth chart.

New Orleans Saints: Josh Hill

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    After trading All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham to the Seattle Seahawks, the New Orleans Saints are putting a lot of stock into Josh Hill. The third-year tight end has yet to make a large impact in the league, although he had five touchdowns last year. Now his task is to play the same role Graham dominated in for years.

    Hill is a great athlete, but he has yet to fill out the rest of his resume. Coming from Idaho State, he wasn’t drafted or ever considered a great prospect. But there is clear hope that his talent in shorts will stick when the pads go on.

    If Hill can be even half as good as Graham was in his first season, the Saints offense should be good enough to put the team into the playoff race. He could be the next “nobody” to become a star.

New York Giants: Geremy Davis

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    The New York Giants took the ideal late-round prospect in UConn receiver Geremy Davis. He is experienced, playing three seasons and totaling 2,292 yards in a conservative offense. Then he broke out with a solid NFL combine performance.

    Davis has the physical stature that quarterback Eli Manning needs on short and intermediate routes. His 6’2”, 215-pound frame can withstand hits well and offers a large catch radius.

    The Giants’ depth at receiver is suspect past Victor Cruz, Odell Beckham Jr. and Rueben Randle. Davis should easily make his mark and become the fourth receiver. Given Cruz’s lengthy injury history, Davis could be starting at some point this season.

New York Jets: Taiwan Jones

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    Roster mirroring is nothing new, and the New York Jets are trying to find a similar player to linebacker David Harris in Taiwan Jones. Jones, once a weak-side linebacker, showed coverage skills before adding weight to move inside for Michigan State.

    At his 245-pound playing weight, he is more of a downhill thumper than cover 'backer. His two-down value is there in the run game, but he must become more fluid in coverage if he’s going to stay at that weight.

    Whether backing up Harris or competing for a starting spot alongside him, Jones is a potential difference-maker. He’s a hammer who punishes opposing guards on run plays.

Oakland Raiders: Ben Heeney

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    Just in terms of pure production from the middle linebacker spot, the Oakland Raiders may have drafted a solid player in Ben Heeney. He is a good athlete who needs to improve his instincts before he is ready to start. But he’s not far behind Raiders’ starter Curtis Lofton.

    Lofton was a highly paid veteran in New Orleans, but the Saints cut him after a terrible 2014 campaign. He’s a stopgap for the short term.

    Heeney will likely get onto the field at some point in 2015 so he can develop. His ability to drop into coverage and defend from sideline to sideline is what can make him an impact linebacker.

Philadelphia Eagles: Jaylen Watkins

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    Potentially lost in the Philadelphia Eagles’ suddenly deep secondary is second-year defensive back Jaylen Watkins. He was a stud cornerback at Florida before moving to safety his senior season. Last year, he played just 31 snaps, per Pro Football Focus.

    The Eagles would be foolish to give up on Watkins, though. He’s fluid, fast and smart. If he’s moving back to safety, he can challenge Earl Wolff for the starting job.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Anthony Chickillo

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    The Pittsburgh Steelers have made a major philosophical change in their roster-building in the last few seasons. After drafting Jarvis Jones in the first round of the 2013 draft, the Steelers realized that drafting bad athletes to play pass-rusher doesn’t work.

    Both of their edge players drafted in 2015 fit the athletic mold of past successful pass-rushers. First-rounder Bud Dupree and sixth-rounder Anthony Chickillo are great athletes capable of developing into playmakers.

    Chickillo is moving from 5-technique in a 3-4 front to an outside linebacker role, so he might take some time to adjust. Pittsburgh lacks depth at the left outside linebacker position, though, so Chickillo could earn playing time on third down if he can show improvement.

San Diego Chargers: Stevie Johnson

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    One of the older players on this list is San Diego Chargers’ receiver Stevie Johnson. The 28-year-old has had a quiet past two seasons in large part because of bad quarterback play. He’s upgrading to Philip Rivers this season, which will help tremendously.

    Johnson is the clear slot receiver for the Chargers in 2015. His route running and quickness help him create separation quickly, and Rivers’ ability to unload the ball will benefit Johnson.

    Along with the addition of Melvin Gordon at running back, the Chargers offense should be dangerous in 2015. Johnson is an underrated playmaker at receiver, and teams could overlook him in the game plan.

San Francisco 49ers: Jaquiski Tartt

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    The San Francisco 49ers once had the deepest, most impressive roster in the NFL, but an offseason from hell has quickly destroyed the depth built over the last five years. Still, it’s a solid roster capable of winning if quarterback Colin Kaepernick can play better than he did in 2014.

    The 49ers' most intriguing draft pick in the 2015 class was safety Jaquiski Tartt. He has ideal size at 6’1”, 223 pounds but also good speed to be a difference-maker in the run game. His instincts in the passing game are suspect, but the Samford defender must adjust to the speed of the NFL.

    Early in his career, the team can use Tartt as another in-box defender. The 49ers have good depth at safety, so getting him on the field early will be difficult. But his ability to work downhill and hit ball-carriers can be beneficial right away.

Seattle Seahawks: Tyler Lockett

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    Although Tyler Lockett is just a rookie, he’s arguably the Seattle Seahawks’ best playmaker at the receiver position. His ability to create separation has everything to do with his excellent foot speed and subtly movements throughout his routes. He sells the defender hard on cuts and then goes the opposite way.

    The negative on Lockett is his size. At just 5’10” and 187 pounds, he is one of the smallest receivers in the NFL. He’s a dynamic return man, though, and instantly upgrades that spot for Seattle.

    Lockett should get a chance at playing outside receiver for the Seahawks at some point. Starters Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse are average at best. Lockett can be a bit more dynamic than them right away.

St. Louis Rams: Louis Trinca-Pasat

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    For defensive linemen, there might not be a more attractive place to play than with the St. Louis Rams. With Aaron Donald, Nick Fairley, Michael Brockers, Robert Quinn and Chris Long, the Rams create a ton of pass-rush pressure.

    The defensive tackle spot needs a backup, though. Iowa’s Louis Trinca-Pasat fits well with this group, as he is quick and shifty as a pass-rusher. He will often be single-blocked, which will open up stunt opportunities. He thrived in such situations as a senior at Iowa.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Kenny Bell

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    The benefit of drafting a quarterback early is he can develop with young receivers. Rookie quarterback Jameis Winston will enjoy having talented receivers in Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans. But rookie Kenny Bell can easily make his mark on the Tampa Bay roster as well.

    Bell was a productive four-year starter at Nebraska. His speed and quickness make him difficult to contain one-on-one, which makes him an ideal option to play in the slot.

    His biggest issue is drops. He struggled to hold onto the ball in college at times, which could be due to an offense that rarely threw the ball. More involvement in the offense could be big for Bell’s effectiveness.

Tennessee Titans: David Cobb

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    The Tennessee Titans nabbed running back David Cobb in the fifth round of the draft, adding a major talent to their backfield. As rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota adjusts to the NFL, he’ll need a consistent running game to help relieve the pressure on his plate. Cobb not only helps with depth but also could be the top player there.

    Cobb is not a dynamic runner who will create big gains. Rather, he is punishing and efficient. His role at Minnesota was as the workhorse back who keeps the chains moving. Expect that to continue in Tennessee.

Washington Redskins: Matt Jones

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    For the Washington Redskins to help quarterback Robert Griffin III to return to stardom, they must run the ball consistently. Griffin thrives working off play-action fakes, but that must be a legitimate threat to work. Starting running back Alfred Morris is tremendous, but more than one back is necessary.

    Enter third-round pick Matt Jones. He is a big back with nimble feet. He was a surprising pick for Washington, but he will make an impact as a change-of-pace player. At 230 pounds, he’s going to punish defenses across the NFC East.

    All stats used are from Sports-Reference.com.

    Ian Wharton is an NFL Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. 


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