Who's the Biggest Standout of Every NFL Team's Offseason So Far?

Russell S. Baxter@@BaxFootballGuruContributor IJune 22, 2015

Who's the Biggest Standout of Every NFL Team's Offseason So Far?

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    So we are now more than four months into the 2015 NFL offseason. We have seen plenty of player movement, 256 players selected in the draft and hundreds of rookie free agents added to rosters.

    This past week, the vast majority of teams wrapped up their three-day minicamps.

    So who's been the unofficial star for each club so far this year?

    We are talking about nothing but positives. Be it a player who has made great strides from a year ago, a veteran acquisition who has been just as good as or perhaps better than advertised or a rookie who has made a quick impression, the following 32 players bear watching over the next few months.

    In the case of every team, there was more than one choice. But these performers have opened the most eyes when it comes to their respective teams…at least for now.

Arizona Cardinals: CB Patrick Peterson

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    This past season, Pro Football Focus graded 230 cornerbacks, and in what seemed like a typo, Arizona Cardinals Pro Bowler Patrick Peterson was tied for 172nd.

    Believe it.

    While the four-year pro totaled 50 tackles and three interceptions in 2014, he knocked down only seven passes and did not look like his exceptional self. In each of his first three seasons, Peterson totaled at least 13 passes defensed.

    Look for more of the latter this upcoming season. "I feel like I'm rejuvenated," Peterson told Paola Boivin of AZCentral.com. "I feel like a rookie all over again."

    As we found out a few months ago, Peterson is diabetic. Now he appears to have that issue under control.

    "I think (his health) bothered him mentally, not knowing what was going on last year," Arizona head coach Bruce Arians told Boivin. "He's got a smile on his face (now). He looks how he's supposed to look."

    And that's a good look for the Cardinals.

Atlanta Falcons: FS Ricardo Allen

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    A little over a year ago at this time, the Atlanta Falcons were looking to bolster their secondary and used a fifth-round pick on Purdue University cornerback Ricardo Allen.

    We are still waiting to see Allen play his first regular-season game with the club.

    But that is seemingly about to change.

    Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com tells us that the 2014 disappointment is now on course to be the team's starting free safety when it opens the season in September against the Philadelphia Eagles.

    New head coach Dan Quinn and defensive coordinator Richard Smith apparently like what they see from Allen, who hopes to make a significant impact on a defensive unit that not only allowed the most passing yards in the league in 2014, but the most total yards in the NFL as well.

Baltimore Ravens: WR Breshad Perriman

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    This offseason, the Baltimore Ravens saw their second- and third-leading pass-catchers leave the club via free agency.

    Wide receiver Torrey Smith totaled 49 catches in 2014, 11 of which went for scores. Veteran tight end Owen Daniels finished with 48 receptions, including four for touchdowns.

    In this year's draft, Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome used the club's first two selections on wide receiver Breshad Perriman (Central Florida) and tight end Maxx Williams (Minnesota), respectively. And so far, the wideout has lived up to his first-round billing.

    Perriman will team with veteran Steve Smith Sr. this upcoming season, and the duo figures to make life easier for new offensive coordinator Marc Trestman and quarterback Joe Flacco and much tougher on opposing defenses.

Buffalo Bills: QB EJ Manuel

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    Weren't there murmurs not too long ago that former first-round draft choice EJ Manuel would not see a third season in Orchard Park?

    Well, so much for that assumption. Team insider Chris Brown of BuffaloBills.com reported that the 16th overall pick in the 2013 draft (who has played in just 15 games in two seasons) is back on track.

    "He has had some moments," new Buffalo Bills head coach Rex Ryan said following the team's last minicamp practice. "I thought EJ did well; he threw the touchdown pass in the two-minute [drill]. Kind of looked a little watered down there on defense, but it was good. It was great to see. He looked pretty good and he had some nice plays."

    It's still anyone's guess who will open the season against the Indianapolis Colts, but Manuel has certainly remained in the running as a contender for the spot.

Carolina Panthers: QB Cam Newton

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    It's a good sign when a two-time Pro Bowl performer is actually looking better.

    Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is doing just that these days and certainly a lot better than he was at this time a year ago. The first overall pick in 2011 had ankle surgery in the offseason after missing two starts during the regular season because of injuries suffered on and off the field, including a mid-December car accident.

    But the leader of the reigning NFC South champions is turning the corner.

    "He took some really big steps this year," Panthers head coach Ron Rivera told Mark Inabinett of AL.com last Thursday following practice. "He had some really good days. (Wednesday) was probably one of the best days I've seen him have."

    Could Newton be primed for his best season as he enters his fifth year in the NFL? That could make him an even more intriguing player to watch in 2015.

Chicago Bears: OLB Jared Allen

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    Matt Marton/Associated Press

    The positional abbreviation in front of Jared Allen's name is not a typo.

    It stands for outside linebacker, as he is no longer a defensive end. That's because Vic Fangio is now running the defense in the Windy City, and the Chicago Bears are in the midst of transitioning to the 3-4.

    Jeff Dickerson of ESPN.com recently spoke with the five-time Pro Bowler, who is coming off a disappointing first season with the Bears in which he totaled a career-low 5.5 sacks in 15 games.

    You get the feeling that the 11-year pro has something to prove as he makes the change to outside linebacker. And that alone may be the tonic to get the usually relentless defender back on track.

Cincinnati Bengals: FS Derron Smith

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    In recent years, the Cincinnati Bengals have done as good a job as any franchise in the league when it comes to the draft. And Shannon Russell of Cincinnati.com pointed out that the club may have found another gem in the later rounds.

    One year after ranking third overall in the NFL in total defense, head coach Marvin Lewis' squad slipped all the way to 22nd in yards allowed in 2014 and was ranked 20th against both the run and the pass. The Bengals brought back a lot of familiar faces in free agency (defensive end Michael Johnson, defensive tackle Pat Sims and cornerback Brandon Ghee) and used four of their nine picks in the draft on defense.

    One of those rookies has opened some eyes: sixth-round pick Derron Smith. The former Fresno State product hopes to make an impression later this year in training camp as well as the regular season.

Cleveland Browns: G Cameron Erving

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    Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

    The Cleveland Browns may have a bit of a problem. Stop us if you've heard that before.

    This time around, it may be a good one.

    Steve Doerschuk of CantonRep.com writes that it will be tough to keep first-round pick Cameron Erving off the field. Conventional wisdom has him pushing John Greco for the starting job at right guard.

    But where is the best place to play the former Florida State standout and 19th overall pick? "That's a good question," Browns offensive line coach Andy Moeller told Doerschuk. "I would say I don't know. The veterans know there's competition."

    Those veterans include perennial Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas, star center Alex Mack (who missed the final 11 games in 2014) and highly regarded left guard Joel Bitonio, who is coming off a superior rookie season.

    Could the inevitable insertion of Erving into the starting lineup make this one of the elite offensive lines in the league? Stay tuned.

Dallas Cowboys: WR Terrance Williams

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    After a strong start this past season, Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Terrance Williams just didn't look like the same player in the second half of 2014. Apparently he was just biding his time.

    In his first nine games, he was targeted 46 times and caught 27 passes for 426 yards and six scores. In his final seven contests, he saw just 19 throws and totaled 10 receptions, two for touchdowns.

    Then the playoffs arrived, and Williams totaled four grabs for 130 yards and three of quarterback Tony Romo's four touchdown passes in two games. Now he's ready to show that his third NFL season will be charming.

    "Terrance has had one of the best offseasons I've seen in a while," Romo told Charean Williams of the Star-Telegram roughly a week ago. "So I'm very excited about his approach, the way that he's played up to this point in the offseason. He's just improved, and I'm excited about that development."

    On Thursday, Charean Williams reported that the third-year wideout suffered an elbow injury but that X-rays proved to be negative, and the team is confident he'll be fine.

    He will have to be if Dallas hasn't signed Dez Bryant to some sort of contract sometime soon.

Denver Broncos: DT Sylvester Williams

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    Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

    Selected with the 28th overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft, defensive tackle Sylvester Williams has been underwhelming in his first two seasons with the Denver Broncos. A look at his numbers courtesy of Pro Football Focus backs up those notions.

    But it’s a different ballgame in the Mile High City under new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, who has been very pleased from what he has seen from the young defender.

    “I think Sly has done an exceptional job,” stated Phillips earlier this month to Ben Swanson of DenverBroncos.com. “I think we’ve got a group that can come in and play and do some good things for us and Sly has been exceptional. I think he’s really taken over the nose guard position. ... I’m really pleased with where he is."

    With Terrance Knighton moving on to the Washington Redskins via free agency, it’s a good time for the former University of North Carolina standout to step to the forefront.

Detroit Lions: RB Ameer Abdullah

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    Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press came away from the Lions’ recent minicamp with his share of observations. The first player he mentioned may wind up being a solution to one of the club’s biggest shortcomings.

    Despite a season in which they posted an 11-5 record, the Detroit Lions fielded an offensive unit that produced just 33 offensive touchdowns while the team averaged a tad over 20 points per game.

    One of the problems was a ground attack that averaged a mere 88.9 yards per game. Veteran Reggie Bush, who battled injuries most of the year, was let go this offseason, meaning more carries for Joique Bell, who led the Lions with 860 yards on the ground in 2014.

    But you can look for a bunch of those attempts to go to rookie running back Ameer Abdullah, who has made an early impression. The second-round pick from the University of Nebraska could help a team that hasn’t finished in the top 10 in the league in rushing since 1998—Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders' final season.

Green Bay Packers: WR Davante Adams

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    Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

    The Green Bay Packers scored the most points in the league in 2014, quarterback Aaron Rodgers was named the league’s Most Valuable Player and head coach Mike McCarthy’s club came up one game short of representing the NFC in Super Bowl XLIX.

    So if the head coach had to pick an MVP for the team’s recent OTAs, Tyler Dunne of the Journal Sentinel didn’t have to ask.

    “I would say Davante Adams,” said McCarthy on the improvement made by the second-year pro. “If you wanted a clear illustration of a player taking a jump in his second year, you just saw it. He's been tremendous in OTAs and he has more in front of him. He's done a great job in strength and conditioning.”

    McCarthy added, “If you picked a MVP or an All-Star, he'd be at the top of the list.”

    It's safe to say that says it all for a club that has its sights set on Super Bowl 50.

Houston Texans: ILB Brian Cushing

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    This just in: Opposed to a 4-3 or a 3-4, the Houston Texans defense doesn’t line up in a 1-0.

    All kidding aside, defensive end J.J. Watt has been magnificent the last few seasons and has been the league’s Defensive Player of the Year for two of the last three seasons.

    Terry McCormick of 247Sports reminds us that the team has another former Pro Bowler in inside linebacker Brian Cushing, who has been hampered by injuries the past three seasons and has missed a total of 22 games over that stretch.

    These days, the former first-round pick is looking better and could be ready to recapture the form that saw him capture 2009 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year honors and a Pro Bowl invitation this year.

    The Texans have a chance to field one of the more fearsome defenses in the league should Cushing regain that stellar form.

Indianapolis Colts: WR Andre Johnson

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    Flashback to 2012 and the rookie season for Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck. The first overall pick in the draft that year got an awful lot of help from wide receiver Reggie Wayne, entering his 12th season in the league.

    Now Luck suddenly has the luxury of another veteran wideout who happens to be entering his 13th NFL campaign. And former Houston Texans receiver Andre Johnson already likes what he sees from his new quarterback.

    “When (Luck) wants something done a certain way,” said Johnson to NFL Media’s Jeff Darlington earlier this month (via Conor Orr of NFL.com), “he's going to come to you to tell you how he wants it done. I think that's what makes him great."

    Speaking of great, it is apparently so far, so good for Johnson, who brings his 1,012 career receptions to Indianapolis after his impressive tenure with the Texans. He not only gives Luck a veteran safety blanket, but can only be a good thing for young wide receivers T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief and rookie Phillip Dorsett.

Jacksonville Jaguars: WR Allen Robinson

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    In each of the past two seasons, the Jacksonville Jaguars have scored the fewest points in the NFL.

    In each of their last two drafts, they have added a pair of wide receivers.

    In 2014, general manager David Caldwell used a pair of second-round picks on Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson, respectively. This spring, the Jaguars opted for Rashad Greene (Florida State) and Neal Sterling (Monmouth, New Jersey) in the fifth and seventh rounds, respectively.

    Mark Long of the Associated Press tells us that Robinson has been the player to watch this offseason. As a rookie, he finished third on the team with 48 receptions (good for 548 yards and two touchdowns) despite missing the final six games of the season.

    With both Robinson and quarterback Blake Bortles entering their second NFL seasons, this could be a young tandem to watch.

Kansas City Chiefs: TE James O’Shaughnessy

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    There’s little doubt that emerging Travis Kelce is the starting tight end for the Kansas City Chiefs.

    But this is a team that released veteran Anthony Fasano this offseason, hence the decision to use a fifth-round pick last month on Illinois State product James O’Shaughnessy.

    Terez A. Paylor of the Kansas City Star reported that during the start of OTAs, Chiefs head coach Andy Reid has liked what he has seen from the Division I-AA product and the opportunity for him to help the team in 2015.

    “Yeah, I think there’s a chance,” said Reid to Taylor earlier this month. “We’ve got to see, he’s got a long way to go...but up to this point, he has done very well and I’ll be curious to see as we keep giving him things, how he handles it, and once we put pads on, that’ll be another test.”

    Meanwhile, Adam Teicher of ESPN.com reported that O’Shaughnessy was practicing with the first team by the end of that week. Teamed with Kelce, the Chiefs could have an interesting tandem at tight end.

Miami Dolphins: QB Ryan Tannehill

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    It has already been a very successful 2015 for Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill off the field.

    The good news continues on the field as the ever-improving signal-caller (who signed a four-year, $77 million contract extension on May 18) is making progress when it comes to his craft.

    “I definitely think I am growing. I try to get better each and every day, learn from my mistakes, make good decisions, and put the ball in the right location,” Tannehill said to James Walker of ESPN.com.

    “I feel really comfortable in this offense right now,” added the three-year pro, “in the sense of knowing exactly where everyone is supposed to be and being more of a coach on the field this year as opposed to trying to learn the whole system with everyone else like I did last year.”

    By the way, Walker also said to keep an eye on outside linebacker Chris McCain, who has made some serious strides from a year ago.

Minnesota Vikings: DE Scott Crichton

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    Eight games and two tackles aren't exactly the kind of resume that inspires a lot of confidence.

    But keep an eye on Minnesota Vikings second-year defensive end Scott Crichton. The 2014 third-round pick from Oregon State hopes to make a much bigger impact in his follow-up season, and at least one veteran has taken notice of his improvement.

    “Scott has made huge leaps this year in what he’s doing,” said veteran defensive end Brian Robison to Craig Peters of Vikings.com.

    Under first-time NFL head coach and celebrated defensive mind Mike Zimmer, the Vikings ranked 14th in total defense in 2014 just one year after allowing the second most yards in the league. Crichton could aid a pass rush that totaled 41 sacks this past year but also finished a disappointing 25th in the NFL against the run.

New England Patriots: CB Logan Ryan

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    Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

    It goes without saying that the New England Patriots and their fanbase have other things on their mind this upcoming week.

    Still, we have a job to do. Here’s a quick reminder that, for various reasons, cornerbacks Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner, Kyle Arrington and Alfonzo Dennard are no longer with the team.

    But there is no reason to fret. Mark Daniels of the Providence Journal made these offseason observations last week: "In OTAs, Logan Ryan looked like the best cornerback on the field for the Patriots. The third-year player made several plays on the ball (there was one practice in which he had three deflections) and was constantly on the field with the starting defense against Brady."

    That’s good news for a Patriots secondary that still has free safety Devin McCourty and Super Bowl XLIX hero Malcolm Butler. Ryan’s progress is good news for a unit that added free agents such as Robert McClain, Bradley Fletcher and Derek Cox this offseason and used a seventh-round pick on Darryl Roberts.

    And it’s safe to say that Logan is one Ryan whom head coach Bill Belichick won’t mind seeing succeed this upcoming season.

New Orleans Saints: RB C.J. Spiller

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    Who is happier in the Crescent City these days than quarterback Drew Brees?

    Actually probably plenty of people when you consider we are talking about the city of New Orleans.

    Last offseason, the team dealt away big-play running back and punt-return artist Darren Sproles. He would do his thing for Chip Kelly’s team, and while the Philadelphia Eagles failed to reach the playoffs, Sproles earned a Pro Bowl invitation.

    Now enter free-agent pickup C.J. Spiller, a former first-round pick of the Buffalo Bills who is more of a runner than a receiver but is capable of big plays in both and also excels when it comes to returning kickoffs.

    The five-year pro has made a positive impression with his new team, and paired with Mark Ingram, the Saints may have a very interesting one-two punch in the backfield.

New York Giants: RB Shane Vereen

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    “He can be a quarterback’s best friend in a way in the passing game.”

    Odell Beckham Jr.? Victor Cruz?

    That would certainly make sense. But those were the thoughts of New York Giants offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo in regard to running back Shane Vereen when he spoke to Jordan Raanan of NJ.com last week.

    It’s safe to say that the former New England Patriots standout, signed as a free agent by the Giants this offseason, is a jack-of-all-trades and master of many of them. But Vereen’s forte, as McAdoo alluded to, has been as a pass-catcher. While he ran for 391 yards and two scores on 96 carries this past season, he finished fourth on the Pats with 52 catches for 447 yards and three touchdowns.

    In New England’s three-game postseason run in 2014, Vereen finished second on the team with 18 catches, with 11 of those receptions coming in the club’s Super Bowl XLIX win over the Seattle Seahawks.

    Beckham, Cruz, Rueben Randle, tight ends Larry Donnell and Daniel Fells and Vereen. That’s a lot of toys for a two-time Super Bowl-champion quarterback in his second year of a system he grasped pretty well in 2014.

New York Jets: QB Geno Smith

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    Last month, new offensive coordinator Chan Gailey had some old news when it came to the starting-quarterback job for the New York Jets.

    It belongs to Geno Smith…again.

    “He's very talented," said Gailey to Rich Cimini of ESPN.com in May. “I have high hopes for him.”

    With a new coordinator, a new target in former Pro Bowler Brandon Marshall and another offseason with wide receivers Eric Decker and Jeremy Kerley and tight end Jace Amaro (as well as the NFL’s third-ranked running game from 2014), it’s easy to see why Gailey is optimistic.

    But Smith has also enjoyed a solid offseason and is anxious to put the past two yearsin which his team finished with a combined 12-20 record and he was guilty of 41 of the Jets’ 53 turnovers—behind him.

Oakland Raiders: TE Clive Walford

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    Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    As expected, there’s a pass-catcher opening some eyes this offseason for the Oakland Raiders.

    While there is plenty of excitement surrounding former University of Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper—the fourth overall pick in the 2015 draft—Bill Williamson of ESPN.com feels that third-round pick and 68th overall selection Clive Walford has opened enough eyes this offseason and could give second-year quarterback Derek Carr another weapon.

    The University of Miami product could also push starter Mychal Rivera, who finished second on the team in 2014 with 58 catches and scored four touchdowns.

    No team gained fewer total yards than the Raiders in 2014, whose offensive unit scored a less than scintillating 26 touchdowns this past season.

Philadelphia Eagles: WR Nelson Agholor

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    Matt Rourke/Associated Press

    When it comes to wide receivers and the Philadelphia Eagles, it’s been an interesting couple of years.

    During the 2014 offseason, head coach Chip Kelly and the team released three-time Pro Bowler DeSean Jackson, who would move on to the Washington Redskins.

    In March, the Eagles allowed the team leader in catches, receiving yards and touchdown receptions this past season to sign elsewhere. Hence, Jeremy Maclin is now a member of the Kansas City Chiefs.

    Kelly has a plan. And so far the coach and the team have liked what they have seen in Nelson Agholor, the club’s first-round pick in April. He’ll team with Riley Cooper, Jordan Matthews, free-agent pickup Miles Austin and more to give whatever quarterback emerges from the scrum in the City of Brotherly Love another receiving threat.

Pittsburgh Steelers: DE Stephon Tuitt

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    Yes, the Pittsburgh Steelers ran the table last December and wound up capturing the team’s first AFC North title since 2010. Led by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, running back Le’Veon Bell and wide receiver Antonio Brown, Mike Tomlin’s club finished second in the league in total offense and scored a healthy 436 points.

    When it comes to the defense, let’s just say it had its issues. The pass rush produced only 33 sacks while Pittsburgh defenders surrendered 30 touchdown passes. The Steelers were a mediocre 18th in the league in total yards allowed, and only five clubs in the NFL gave up more yards through the air.

    Slowly but surely, a once-formidable three-man defensive front has undergone transition. Defensive end Cameron Heyward has been the team’s best player up front, and Neal Coolong of SteelersWire.com tells us that 2014 second-round pick Stephon Tuitt now bears watching as well.

    A late-season starter as a rookie, the former Notre Dame standout could make a major difference for new defensive coordinator Keith Butler, who takes over for legendary coach Dick LeBeau.

San Diego Chargers: RB Melvin Gordon

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    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    This is your classic no-brainer.

    The San Diego Chargers didn’t move up in the first round of the 2015 draft just to make waves. They wanted and needed University of Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon as they look to improve on the league’s 30th-ranked ground attack of a year ago.

    And it’s been so far, so good for Gordon. “Melvin also has done an outstanding job of learning our system,” said Chargers head coach Mike McCoy recently, per Ricky Henne of Chargers.com. “I think he knows he has a lot to learn at this level. He also has done a great job of picking up the protections, and we are going to involve him in the passing game...”

    A little support for veteran quarterback Philip Rivers certainly won’t hurt. The 11-year pro threw 31 touchdown passes this past season but was also guilty of 20 total turnovers.

San Francisco 49ers: WR Torrey Smith

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    Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

    Earlier this month, 49ers.com senior reporter Taylor Price gave his observations from veteran minicamp, and it was pretty clear who he felt had made the biggest impact during that short time frame:

    The team’s new downfield weapon has indeed added a new dimension to San Francisco’s pass game. With (Torrey) Smith in the fold, the 49ers were able to attack all levels of the defense. Smith’s home-run ability was most evident when he hooked up with Colin Kaepernick on a 40-yard jump ball down the left side line at the expense of second-year cornerback Dontae Johnson…Smith caught slants and intermediate routes for most of the camp, but it’s hard not to overlook his ability to stretch the defense and compete for the football at its highest point…

    The offseason addition of the former Baltimore Ravens wideout is a huge plus for a San Francisco passing attack that ranked 30th in the NFL this past season while Niners wideouts combined to total 15 touchdown receptions. Meanwhile, Smith totaled just 49 catches in 2014, but 11 went for scores.

Seattle Seahawks: OLB Eric Pinkins

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    When you are two-time NFC champions and just recently removed from winning a Super Bowl in 2013, praise from the head coach certainly bears a listen.

    Jayson Jenks of the Seattle Times said that head coach Pete Carroll recently stated that Eric Pinkins is “probably the most improved guy on the football field.”

    A sixth-round pick in 2014 from San Diego State, the second-year pro is transitioning from cornerback to outside linebacker. It’s a position for which the Seattle Seahawks could certainly use some added depth when you consider the free-agent defections of Super Bowl XLVIII MVP Malcolm Smith (Oakland Raiders) and defensive end/outside linebacker O’Brien Schofield (Atlanta Falcons).

    Carroll told Jenks that there weren’t many outside linebackers in the league as fast as Pinkins. But he also prefaced that comment with the standard “we’ll see what happens when we go to camp.”

St. Louis Rams: WR Tavon Austin

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    Some may say that it’s about time.

    Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch talked about the progress of wide receiver Tavon Austin, who enters his third NFL season but has yet to live up to his billing as the eighth overall pick by the St. Louis Rams in the 2013 NFL draft.

    “Tavon Austin’s had a great offseason,” said new offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti. “It starts in the classroom. He’s learning. He’s paying attention. He’s bringing it to the practice field."

    In two seasons, the former West Virginia star has made his share of plays on special teams. But when it comes to the art of catching the football, 28 games have resulted in 71 receptions for 660 yards (9.3 yards per catch) and only four touchdowns.

    Still, Austin has looked like a different player this offseason to date. “You just see it from his route running,” added Cignetti. “What a difference: His effort, his attention to detail. Every day out there, the guy’s made plays.”

    And it is “plays” that the Rams lacked not only this past season but other recent years as well. Perhaps the time has come for the breakaway threat to have a breakout campaign.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: QB Jameis Winston

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Could it be anyone else?

    The early reviews for 2015 first overall pick Jameis Winston are in, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers appear quite pleased. Pat Yasinskas of ESPN.com talked about how impressive the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner was in OTAs.

    Off a 2014 season in which the Bucs won two games and their quarterback tandem of Josh McCown and Mike Glennon combined for 24 of the club’s 33 turnovers, head coach Lovie Smith is counting on Winston to jump-start a team that averaged only 17.3 points per game and amassed the third-fewest total yards in the league this past season.

    All systems appear to be go for Winston, whose team opens the season against the Tennessee Titans, setting up a possible showdown with second overall pick Marcus Mariota…again.

Tennessee Titans: RB David Cobb

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Back in 2007, the Arizona Cardinals hired Ken Whisenhunt to be their head coach. In his second season at the helm, he took the team to Super Bowl XLIII after finishing his debut campaign with an 8-8 mark.

    History did not repeat itself in Nashville this past year, as the Tennessee Titans won only two games under his command and enter 2015 riding a 10-game losing streak.

    One of the many issues that the team dealt with was a disappointing running game that ranked 26th in the league and averaged a mere 90.4 yards per game.

    In 2014, the Titans made University of Washington’s Bishop Sankey the first running back taken in that draft, albeit with the 54th overall selection. He would eventually lead the team with 569 yards rushing and score a pair of touchdowns.

    Now it’s rookie David Cobb who has caught the coaches’ eyes. A fifth-round pick last month from the University of Minnesota, he could perhaps push Sankey in terms of carries. Then again, Whisenhunt may settle for him being a nice complement, something since-released running back Shonn Greene failed to do in two years with the club.

Washington Redskins: OLB Trent Murphy

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    Per Mike Jones of the Washington Post, it appears that veteran Alfred Morris, rookie Matt Jones and Trent Murphy saw their share of time in the Washington Redskins backfield during last week’s minicamp.

    That’s great news if you’re Morris and Jones, a pair of running backs. Murphy, of course, is an outside linebacker who hopes to help new defensive coordinator Joe Barry put the ‘Skins back on track on this side of the ball.

    As a rookie, the former Stanford standout played in 15 contests and started the final eight games of the season after Brian Orakpo went down. Murphy totaled 32 tackles, 2.5 sacks, a pair of forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. According to Pro Football Focus, he graded out quite well in his 595 snaps but still has some work to do in terms of pass coverage.

    It sounds like he’ll be getting his chances.

    All free-agent information and player signings/transactions are courtesy of Spotrac. Depth-chart information comes via Ourlads. Unless otherwise noted, all player and team statistics come from Pro-Football-Reference.com and ESPN.com.

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