Every NFL Team's To-Do List Heading into 2016 Training Camps
Are you ready for the summer?
We’re basically one month away from all 32 NFL teams opening training camp.
Enclosed is a to-do list of three items for each club. The teams have done their best to address these various issues in the offseason. While some squads have added the necessary talent, it does not mean these are no longer problem areas.
Solidify offensive front.
Find right pass-rushing combination.
Rebuild depth in secondary.
The Arizona Cardinals finished eighth in the NFL in rushing and allowed just 27 sacks. Interesting enough, Pro Football Focus gave the team high grades for run blocking and just the opposite in terms of pass protection. Three-fifths of the offensive line will be different, although center A.Q. Shipley did make one start last season. The new right side includes veteran guard Evan Mathis and 2015 first-round pick D.J. Humphries, who didn’t play in his rookie season.
In 2015, Dwight Freeney joined the team for the final 11 games and led the club with eight sacks. But the Cards dropped opposing quarterbacks 36 times in 16 games, with nine of those coming in one contest. General manager Steve Keim traded for Pro Bowl defensive end Chandler Jones and added highly regarded rookie Robert Nkemdiche up front. A return to pass-rushing form by outside linebacker Alex Okafor would be excellent news.
The secondary remains loaded with standouts such as Patrick Peterson, Tyrann Mathieu and Justin Bethel. Free agency robbed the team of safety Rashad Johnson and cornerback Jerraud Powers, and Mathieu is coming off a second torn ACL suffered in December. Free-agent pickup Tyvon Branch and rookie Marqui Christian are among the new faces here.
Evaluate Vic Beasley’s conversion to outside linebacker.
Get QB Matt Ryan back on track.
Solve persistent pass-rushing issues.
The eighth overall pick in the 2015 draft led the Atlanta Falcons with four sacks in his rookie campaign. But the former Clemson standout will move from defensive end to outside linebacker this season. It will enable the soon-to-be 24-year-old pro to take even more advantage of his quickness.
A strong start by the Falcons and their 31-year-old signal-caller a year ago was tempered by a 3-8 finish. In the team’s final seven games, Ryan threw just nine touchdown passes and an equal amount of interceptions. By season’s end, the eight-year pro had fumbled a career-high 12 times—losing five of those drops.
Atlanta finished with a league-low 19 sacks in 2015 and has gotten to opposing quarterback just 41 times in its last 32 games. That’s fewer sacks than 10 teams managed last season alone. Beasley will be a big factor from his new spot, according to Falcons linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich (via Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com). Keep an eye on defensive lineman Derrick Shelby, who can line up both inside and outside.
Re-establish running game.
Rapport between QB Joe Flacco and WR Mike Wallace.
Develop cohesion in secondary.
Back in 2013, the Ravens finished 30th in the league in rushing. One year later, thanks to Gary Kubiak and the addition of free agent Justin Forsett, the club improved to eighth in the NFL—averaging 126.2 yards per contest. But the team tumbled backward this past season (92.4 yards per game), and Forsett missed the final six games. Offensive coordinator Marc Trestman must re-emphasize the ground attack after a disappointing first year with the club.
Flacco has a new deep threat at his disposal in Wallace, now with his third team in as many years. With 37-year-old Steve Smith still on the mend from last year’s season-ending Achilles injury and uncertain about when he will return, this will give the quarterback and his newest weapon some extra time to get acquainted.
While the Ravens finished 10th in the league in fewest passing yards per game allowed, the club allowed 30 scores through the air—the most in a season in franchise history. The club added three-time Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle to a unit that includes cornerbacks Jimmy Smith, Shareece Wright and newcomer Jerraud Powers. Meanwhile, look for Lardarius Webb to continue his work at safety, which was a transition that began during 2015.
Find a reliable right tackle.
Fortify run defense.
Develop backup quarterback.
The team that led the NFL in rushing in 2015 is all set at four spots on the offensive line. But the Bills went through four right tackles last year—including three different starters—with Jordan Mills the regular the final five weeks of the season. This is a position still in need of a big-time upgrade.
Last season, Buffalo’s defense tumbled to 19th in the league in total yards allowed one year after ranking fourth in the NFL. The Bills were also a mediocre 16th against the run despite defensive tackle Marcell Dareus' best efforts. Inside linebacker Reggie Ragland should solve some of these issues, along with a healthy Kyle Williams up front.
General manager Doug Whaley used a fourth-round pick this year on 23-year-old Cardale Jones, who hopes to supplant EJ Manuel sooner than later.
Coach up the young cornerbacks.
Find running back to spell Jonathan Stewart.
Avoid Super Bowl hangover.
The Carolina Panthers opted to pull the franchise tag on All-Pro Josh Norman, and he signed for big bucks with the Washington Redskins. The defending NFC champions used three (James Bradberry, Daryl Worley and Zack Sanchez) of their five draft choices on the cornerback position.
General manager Dave Gettleman used a fifth-round pick a year ago on Cameron Artis-Payne, who totaled 45 carries for 183 yards and one touchdown as a rookie. Fozzy Whittaker remains a part of the backfield as well. But look for the 2015 rookie to not only spell the 29-year-old Stewart much more frequently this season, but also take some carries off the plate of quarterback Cam Newton.
Getting over February’s 24-10 loss to the Denver Broncos will be easier said than done. The critics will be out in full force if the Panthers stub their paws. The odds of the club improving on a 15-1 regular season is pretty far-fetched. And keep in mind that the 1972 Miami Dolphins are the last team to lose the Super Bowl and follow that up one season later hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.
Settle backfield rotation.
Make QB Jay Cutler comfortable.
Answer questions at wide receiver.
Matt Forte was not re-signed after eight productive seasons in the Windy City. Despite missing three games last year, he still led the team in rushing. Jeremy Langford ran for 537 yards and six scores as a rookie, and his seven total touchdowns tied for the club lead. Third-year pro Ka’Deem Carey and 2015 free-agent addition Jacquizz Rodgers could figure as well, and it may take all three and more to replace the versatile Forte, now a member of the New York Jets.
Cutler made big strides last season, especially as a leader, and cut back on his turnovers. Former quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains is the new offensive coordinator with Adam Gase leaving for Miami. That continuity should help; no doubt the new play-caller will put his own spin on the attack. The 33-year-old quarterback will be minus steady targets such as Forte and tight end Martellus Bennett, who was dealt to the New England Patriots this offseason.
Wideout Alshon Jeffery missed seven games a year ago, while 2015 first-round pick Kevin White did not see the field as a rookie. Last week, Rich Campbell of the Chicago Tribune reported that receiver Marquess Wilson had re-fractured his foot and may miss the start of the regular season. Veteran Eddie Royal returns after a subpar year, and Bears wide receivers accounted for only eight touchdown receptions last season. Stay tuned.
Find starting right tackle.
Groom young wide receivers.
Adjust to changes in secondary.
Inconsistent Andre Smith left via free agency after seven seasons with the club. A year ago, the Cincinnati Bengals used their first two picks in the draft on tackles Cedric Ogbuehi (first round) and Jake Fisher (second). The former figures to be the new starter on the right side, assuming he beats out crafty veteran Eric Winston.
Marvin Jones (Detroit Lions) and Mohamed Sanu (Atlanta Falcons) are no longer around to team with perennial Pro Bowler A.J. Green. The team made a rare trip into free agency by snagging New England Patriots castoff Brandon LaFell. Draft choices Tyler Boyd and Cody Core must make immediate contributions, and Boyd could be a real asset as the club’s third wideout.
Cincinnati once again used a first-round pick on a cornerback (William Jackson III), and the team is deep at the position, even without the club re-signing Leon Hall. The loss of Pro Bowl free safety Reggie Nelson may be tougher to overcome. He led the NFL with 10 takeaways in 2015, including eight interceptions—tied for the most in the league.
Find their latest starting quarterback (again).
Develop young wide receiving corps.
Fortify rushing defense.
Josh McCown is back, and the Cleveland Browns added 2012 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Robert Griffin III after he was cut loose by the Redskins. He or 2016 third-round draft choice Cody Kessler would be the franchise’s 25th different starting quarterback since the team was reborn in 1999. Of course, one or the other could also easily be No. 26 as well.
The Browns tied an NFL record by making 14 selections in a seven-round draft, and five of those were used on college wideouts (although Princeton’s Seth DeValve will convert to tight end). Holdovers Marlon Moore, Andrew Hawkins and Taylor Gabriel will try to school the youngsters—including first-round pick Corey Coleman. Losing big-play receiver Travis Benjamin to free agency was a big blow.
A year ago, Cleveland used a first-round choice on nose tackle Danny Shelton to improve the league’s worst run defense. The team “improved” to 30th in the NFL in 2015 in the same category and need the former University of Washington to pick up where he left off late last season. Pro Football Focus gave him a plus-4.7 grade for his play against the run. The supporting cast, now minus inside linebacker Karlos Dansby and strong safety Donte Whitner, must elevate its game.
Find starting defensive ends for first four games.
Keep QB Tony Romo out of harm’s way.
Prepare RB Ezekiel Elliott for heavy workload.
Who will step up while Demarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory are serving four-game suspensions to start the season? Rookie defensive end Charles Tapper may see a lot of action early, and Tyrone Crawford could move from tackle to the outside if called upon.
The talented Romo went down twice last season with a broken collarbone. The team’s other three starting quarterbacks combined for 11 touchdown passes and 16 turnovers. The 36-year-old may have one or two more good seasons ahead of him, and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan must stress that running attack that made the four-time Pro Bowl signal-caller so successful two years ago.
In 2014, then-Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray totaled 392 carries for 1,845 yards rushing for the eventual NFC East champions. You can look for somewhat similar numbers when it comes to the fourth overall pick in this year’s draft. While Elliott may not approach 1,800-plus yards on the ground, don’t be surprised if he averages close to 20 attempts per contest.
Determine the starter at quarterback.
Find the correct offensive line combination.
Get OLB Von Miller under contract.
The Denver Broncos moved up in the first round to snare Paxton Lynch. But for the moment, the starting job is a battle between Mark Sanchez and 2015 seventh-round pick Trevor Siemian. It would be far from surprising if all three men took at least one turn this season.
There will be a lot of new faces up front. Tackles Ryan Harris and Ryan Clady (who missed all of 2015) and guards Evan Mathis and Louis Vasquez are all long gone. The Broncos added tackles Russell Okung and Donald Stephenson via free agency and used a fifth-round pick on guard Connor McGovern. The continued development of younger players such as 26-year-old center Matt Paradis and second-year guard Max Garcia are crucial.
The latest on the team’s negotiations between the defending champions and the Super Bowl 50 MVP has Miller wanting more guaranteed money on the six-year, $114.5 million offer made by the club. The second overall pick in 2011 has totaled 60 sacks in five seasons. During Denver’s three-game postseason run last year, the Broncos offense scored four touchdowns, while Miller amassed five sacks.
Find a ground game.
Sort out tackle situation.
Sort out middle linebacker spot.
No team gained fewer yards on the ground this past year than the Lions, who finished 28th in the league in the same category the previous season. Joique Bell was cut loose this offseason, so it will be up to second-year pro Ameer Abdullah to get more carries this season. But there’s little depth behind the 23-year-old running back, as Theo Riddick’s primary role is that of a receiver. Free-agent pickup Stevan Ridley will have to pick up the slack.
The Lions used a first-round pick on Ohio State’s Taylor Decker. He figures to move into the lineup on the left side sooner than later, pushing Riley Reiff to the right side. Upgrading pass protection was a major priority this offseason, as quarterback Matthew Stafford was sacked 44 times in 2015.
By all indications, Stephen Tulloch doesn’t appear to be in the team’s plans this fall. But the 31-year-old defender is still on the roster, even though NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported that he was excused from the club’s recent mandatory minicamp. Tahir Whitehead is the favorite to take over in the middle, but the Lions did trade for former Bears and Patriots middle linebacker Jon Bostic this spring.
Green Bay Packers
Confirm health of WR Jordy Nelson.
Check conditioning of RB Eddie Lacy.
Fortify rushing defense.
The 2014 Pro Bowler missed all of last season with a torn ACL. Nelson is also entering his ninth season and recently turned 31 years old. Fortunately, the Green Bay Packers are deep at wide receiver. But there’s no doubt quarterback Aaron Rodgers missed the productive wideout. While he threw for 31 scores and was picked off just eight times, he completed only 60.7 of his throws—easily his worst showing since becoming the starter in 2008.
There have been reports this offseason of a slimmed Lacy, whom head coach Mike McCarthy had plenty to say about last season after some unnecessary pounds hampered his 2015 performance. Fortunately, running back James Starks came to play last year and put up career numbers. But the head coach and the quarterback need Lacy to return to his once-consistent form.
Green Bay’s inability to stifle opposing running attacks in recent years has cost it dearly. It’s really been an issue in the playoffs. The Packers have played eight postseason games since 2011 and allowed an average of 151.9 yards per game on the ground in those contests. The addition of rookie defensive tackle Kenny Clark should help, but this has been a shortcoming for coordinator Dom Capers for too many years.
Development of quarterback Brock Osweiler.
Find starter opposite wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins.
Tighten up secondary.
A seven-game starter in his four seasons with the Denver Broncos—all of those coming last season—the 25-year-old Osweiler has a golden opportunity to learn under head coach Bill O’Brien, who specializes in the position. Consider that the Houston Texans have used eight different signal-callers in his two seasons with the club (including six starts), and those quarterbacks have combined to throw nearly twice as many touchdown passes (49) as interceptions (25) in 32 regular-season contests. Of course, there was also Brian Hoyer’s five-turnover implosion in last year’s playoff loss to the Chiefs.
The Texans used a first- and third-round draft choice in April on wideouts Will Fuller and Braxton Miller, respectively. Veteran Cecil Shorts is back, and it will be interesting to see where 2015 rookie Jaelen Strong fits in. Hopkins enjoyed a monster year via 111 catches for 1,521 yards and 11 scores. But no other wide receiver on the team managed at last 50 receptions a year ago.
Houston allowed the third-fewest passing yards in the league last season. But of its 34 offensive touchdowns the club surrendered, 24 came through the air. J.J. Watt and Co. piled up 45 sacks, but Romeo Crennel's unit needs a bit more consistency in the defensive backfield.
Develop team’s rookie offensive linemen.
Improve QB Andrew Luck’s ball security.
Fortify all aspects of defense.
One of numerous reasons Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck missed nine games in 2015 has been the team’s inability to protect their 26-year-old signal-caller over the course of his career. The team used four draft choices this spring on offensive linemen, including first-round center Ryan Kelly. Jack Mewhort is easily the Colts’ best returning player on this unit.
Of course, a lack of balance and suspect play up front doesn’t explain Luck’s penchant for miscues. In 55 regular-season contests, he’s thrown an equal amount of interceptions (101 touchdown passes) and lost 14 of his 32 fumbles. He’s also turned over the football 13 times in six postseason games, compared to throwing for nine scores. Luck is an amazing talent, but he often makes things difficult for his own team.
General manager Ryan Grigson used his other four picks in April’s draft on defensive help. Losing productive inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman was a major blow. One year after finishing 11th in the league in fewest yards allowed per game, the Colts fell to 26th in total defense and surrendered 43 offensive touchdowns. This despite a team that forced a respectable 25 turnovers.
Configure revamped secondary.
Name a starting running back.
Solidify left tackle position.
The newcomers in the defensive backfield include one-time Pro Bowl free safety Tashaun Gipson, cornerback Prince Amukamara and rookie Jalen Ramsey—the fifth overall pick in April’s draft. The Jaguars will be missing talented corner Aaron Colvin for the first four games due to a league suspension (via Spotrac). Only three teams gave up more passing yards than the Jacksonville Jaguars a year ago. The club also allowed 29 touchdown passes and totaled only nine interceptions.
By all indications, former New York Jets running back Chris Ivory will be the main cog in the backfield. The 2015 AFC rushing leader totaled 1,070 yards last season. Second-year pro T.J. Yeldon led the club with 740 yards on the ground as a rookie, But Ryan O'Halloran of the Florida Times-Union said that he will take on a different role in 2016.
Quarterback Blake Bortles has been sacked 106 times in 30 career games, with 51 of those coming in 2015. Once healthy, which according to general manager David Caldwell means the start of training camp, free agent Kelvin Beachum will supplant disappointing 2013 first-rounder Luke Joeckel at left tackle.
Kansas City Chiefs
Find replacement for OLB Justin Houston.
Improve offensive line performance.
Get FS Eric Berry under contract.
Adam Teicher of ESPN.com has the latest on the team’s best pass-rusher, still recovering from knee surgery. Common sense says 2014 first-rounder Dee Ford (four sacks last season) will fill his spot for now, but keep in mind that this was a club that totaled 47 sacks in 2015, with nine players totaling at least three-plus quarterback traps.
Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith was sacked 45 times this past season. He also finished as the team’s second-leading rusher with 498 yards on a surprising 84 carries. Kansas City snagged one of the big fish in free agency by adding right tackle Mitchell Schwartz. But guards Ben Grubbs and Paul Fanaika were released, and Jeff Allen left via free agency. Training camp will play a big role in the rebuilding of the team’s inside presence up front.
Berry, the 2015 NFL Comeback Player of the Year, finished with 61 tackles, two interceptions and 10 passes defensed. However, he was given the franchise tag this offseason and has yet to sign his tender.
Los Angeles Rams
Find quarterback to start season.
Fill holes on defense.
Continued development of wide receiving corps.
The Rams traded in the city of St. Louis for Los Angeles and traded up to the top spot in the first round to grab quarterback Jared Goff. For now, head coach Jeff Fisher says Case Keenum is the starter and Nick Foles is on the outside looking in. How long can Keenum hold off the 21-year-old Goff?
This offseason, the team jettisoned defensive end Chris Long and linebacker James Laurinaitis. Cornerback Janoris Jenkins, free safety Rodney McLeod and reserve defensive tackle Nick Fairley left via free agency. General manager Les Snead added former first-round defensive linemen Quinton Coples and Dominique Easley via free agency. Alec Ogletree moves inside to middle linebacker, but there could be some growing pains in the secondary.
A team once stacked with high draft choices at wideout now features 2013 first-round pick Tavon Austin, former second-round choice Brian Quick and talented Kenny Britt. Pharoh Cooper and Mike Thomas were added during the draft, but Austin continues to disappoint as a wide receiver. He totaled team highs in receptions (52) and touchdown grabs (five), but the speedster averaged a paltry 9.1 yards per catch.
Get QB Ryan Tannehill back in positive direction.
Find run-stopping combination on defensive front.
Settle on starting running back.
In 2015, Tannehill took a step backward statistically for the first time in his four-year career. Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald says the 27-year-old quarterback has struggled with his accuracy this offseason. New head coach Adam Gase did a superb job with Jay Cutler in Chicago a year ago, and look for a revival from the Dolphins signal-caller.
Pro Football Focus gave high grades to defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh for his play in 2015. But that wasn’t the case for interior mate Earl Mitchell. Only four teams in the league gave up more rushing yards in the league last season.
With Lamar Miller now in Houston, it’s the Dolphins that have the problem. Gase has to get plenty of carries from Jay Ajayi, Damien Williams and rookie Kenyan Drake. Drake may very well wind up the starter by year’s end. No team in the league totaled fewer rushing attempts than the Dolphins in 2015.
Improvement from QB Teddy Bridgewater.
Upgrade offensive line play.
Shore up erratic run defense.
In two seasons, the 23-year-old signal-caller has completed 64.9 percent of his throws. But he’s totaled 28 scores through the air and committed 24 turnovers—including 21 interceptions. Stefon Diggs led the team in catches as a rookie, and 2016 first-round pick Laquon Treadwell may do the same this year. In any case, Bridgewater must cut down on the mistakes and increase his production in his third season in the league.
The Vikings dipped into the free-agent pool to add guard Alex Boone and tackle Andre Smith. The former figures on the left side, while Smith provides support for right tackle Phil Loadholt. Bridgewater was sacked 44 times in 2015, and this unit must perform far better.
Head coach Mike Zimmer is one of the best defensive minds in the game, and the Vikings have a ton of talent along the front seven. But Minnesota allowed a so-so 109.3 yards per contest on the ground—a mediocre 17th in the NFL last year.
New England Patriots
Establish revamped defensive line.
Find depth at wide receiver.
Fortify offensive front.
Gone are Chandler Jones, Dominique Easley, Akiem Hicks, Sealver Siliga and Chris Jones. In are Chris Long, Terrance Knighton, Markus Kuhn and Frank Kearse. Jones was a Pro Bowler who totaled 12.5 of the team’s 49 sacks a year ago, so his departure leaves a noticeable void.
When healthy, Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola are highly effective. The Pats added former Buffalo Bills wideout Chris Hogan as well as Nate Washington via free agency, while the club used a fourth-round pick on Malcolm Mitchell. The biggest question is how long will it take for the newcomers to adjust to Josh McDaniels’ system.
The offensive front was a source of angst in 2015, be it due to injuries or ineffective play. Quarterback Tom Brady was sacked 38 times during the regular season and was under constant siege at times, most notably in the AFC title game loss at Denver.
New Orleans Saints
Fix the defense.
Find replacement for WR Marques Colston.
Renew emphasis on ground game.
Where to begin. The Saints allowed a league-high 476 points and also surrendered 45 touchdown passes—the most in a season in NFL history. Now, there’s been some early bad news. Mike Garafolo of FS1 reported earlier in June that second-year pro Hau'oli Kikaha, making the switch from outside linebacker to defensive end, will miss the season with a torn ACL.
The Saints have big-play wideouts in Brandin Cooks and Willie Snead, but quarterback Drew Brees will miss Colston, the franchise’s all-time leader in receptions and total touchdowns. But 2016 second-round pick Michael Thomas has opened some eyes this offseason.
While New Orleans finished second in the league in total yards per game and led the NFL in passing, the club fell from 13th in rushing yards per game in 2014 to 24th last year. The Saints ran for 1,491 yards as a team, just six more yards than Vikings running back Adrian Peterson this past year.
New York Giants
Bolster inconsistent running attack.
Find right pass-rushing combination.
Solidify starting offensive line.
New head coach Ben McAdoo must get much more from Rashad Jennings, Andre Williams and Shane Vereen, as the Giants averaged just over 100 yards per game rushing last season. Amazingly, the club ran for only five scores in 2015.
New York gave free-agent defensive end Olivier Vernon $85 million over five years. He hopes to revive a pass rush that went from 47 sacks in 2014 to less than half that total (23) a year ago. A bounce-back year from Jason Pierre-Paul is essential as well.
Jordan Raanan of NJ.com has the latest on Justin Pugh’s move to left guard permanently. In 2015, he started 12 games at the position but also took a turn at both left tackle and right tackle. It can only help the cause of second-year left tackle Ereck Flowers, who was the league’s bottom-ranked tackle in the league this past season. Quarterback Eli Manning was sacked only 27 times, but better blocking would also improve the ground attack.
New York Jets
Establish the quarterback depth chart.
Answer questions at tight end.
Re-sign DE Muhammad Wilkerson.
Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick remains a no-show, so the team will go with Geno Smith, Bryce Petty and rookie Christian Hackenberg, in that order. Smith has shown flashes of steady play at times, but his issues with ball security (42 turnovers in 31 games) has been distressing.
The Jets got a total of eight receptions from the tight end position this past year, and the team is hoping Jace Amaro can rebound from a lost season. Kellen Davis is in the mix as well, but the addition of another veteran this summer would not be a surprise.
As for the latest on Wilkerson, Brian Costello of the New York Post pointed out that 2015 first-round pick Leonard Williams has made great strides from a year ago. It will be interesting to see how the organization deals with Wilkerson, another franchise player who has yet to come to terms.
New-look defense must jell immediately.
Re-establish tight end in offense.
Improve ground attack.
The new faces for Ken Norton Jr.’s defense include outside linebacker Bruce Irvin, cornerback Sean Smith, free safety Reggie Smith and rookie strong safety Karl Joseph. Oakland ranked 26th in the league in pass defense and allowed 25 scores through the air in 2015. These new faces, most notably in the secondary, must step up immediately.
Quarterback Derek Carr and wideouts Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper were huge, but the offense could use more from Clive Walford and Mychal Rivera.
Running back Latavius Murray was one of seven players in the league to rush for 1,000-plus yards in 2015. But only four clubs gained fewer yards on the ground than the Raiders last year, and the team needs more balance to keep defenses honest and its own defenders off the field.
Have a game plan at quarterback.
Adapt personnel to Jim Schwartz’s defense.
Work on improving ball security.
Incumbent quarterback Sam Bradford will open the season. But given his history (he hasn’t started all 16 games since 2012), it would be imperative that new backup Chase Daniel get plenty of reps this summer. Second overall pick Carson Wentz has shown well this offseason, but the Birds must be prepared should Bradford go down.
The last time we saw Schwartz (2014), the Buffalo Bills were leading the NFL in sacks and gave up the fourth-fewest yards in the league. He inherits a Philadelphia defense that ranked 30th in total defense, allowed the most rushing yards in the league and surrendered 36 scores through the air last year.
When the Eagles were winning the NFC East in 2013, they coughed up the football just 19 times in the regular season. They have followed that up the past two seasons with 36 and 31 turnovers, respectively. Averaging more than two giveaways per game is about as counterproductive as a team could be.
Determine RB Le’Veon Bell's workload.
Find answer at nose tackle.
Develop young defensive backs.
In 2014, only Dallas’ DeMarco Murray totaled more yards rushing and from scrimmage than Bell, who saw last season shortened first by suspension and later a knee injury. The Steelers offense needs him in a lot of ways, perhaps more significantly as a receiver as well as pass protection.
Steve McLendon left for free agency this offseason, signing with the New York Jets. The team used a third-round pick this year on defensive tackle Javon Hargrave, who could emerge as a Week 1 starter if he beats out Daniel McCullers. Count on that.
The Steelers used their first two picks in April on cornerback Artie Burns and safety Sean Davis. They have second-year cornerbacks Senquez Golson and Doran Grant—the former missing his rookie season and Grant playing in just three games. This group must step up immediately. Last season, Pittsburgh totaled 48 sacks in 2015 and still allowed 29 touchdown passes.
San Diego Chargers
Fix the running game.
Bolster rushing defense.
Develop more consistent pass rush.
Melvin Gordon comes off a disappointing rookie season in which he totaled zero touchdowns and six fumbles—losing four. But the return of former offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt should mean a lot of carries for the 2015 first-round pick.
The free-agent signing of former Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle Brandon Mebane should be a huge upgrade for a team ranked 27th in the league against the run in 2015. He should also make things much easier for Corey Liuget and rookie defensive end Joey Bosa.
Speaking of the third overall pick in the draft, the former Ohio State Buckeyes defender has received lukewarm reviews to date. But it’s only June, and don’t bet against the relentless defender. In 2015, outside linebacker Melvin Ingram totaled 10.5 of the team’s 32 sacks. But this is a club that hasn’t reached at least 40 quarterback traps in a season since 2010.
San Francisco 49ers
Name a starting quarterback.
Revamp once-formidable offensive line.
Better play from pass-catching corps.
Colin Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert both started eight games last season. But the latter has seized the moment this offseason while Kaepernick has been on the road of recovery from his various offseason surgeries. 2016 sixth-round pick Jeff Driskel and Thaddeus Lewis are on the depth chart, but this has become Gabbert’s job to lose.
It wasn’t long ago that the San Francisco 49ers boasted one of the top offensive lines in the league. Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Staley enters his 10th season and will pair with rookie guard Josh Garnett this fall. Overall, this unit fell off dramatically in one year, grading out 30th in the league in run blocking after finishing fifth in the same category in 2014.
There’s been no Anquan Boldin sighting in the Bay Area. The 35-year-old pro led the Niners in receptions each of the past three seasons. Speedy Torrey Smith averaged an imposing 20.1 yards per reception and totaled four scores but caught only 33 passes in 16 games. It’s time for Quinton Patton and Bruce Ellington to step to the forefront and become much bigger factors.
Rebuild the offensive line.
Establish new running back depth chart.
Find more ways to get WR/KR Tyler Lockett the football.
Former starters such as left tackle Russell Okung (Denver Broncos) and right guard J.R. Sweezy (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) left via free agency. The new center is Justin Britt after stints at right tackle and left guard. The team used a first-round pick in April on Germain Ifedi, who figures at right guard. Quarterback Russell Wilson was sacked a combined 52 times in 18 total outings last year. Ouch.
Thomas Rawls expects to be ready this season after breaking his ankle last December. As insurance, Seattle Seahawks general manager John Schneider drafted three running back this year. If Rawls falters, don’t be surprised if fifth-round pick Alex Collins gets the nod over fellow rookie C.J. Prosise, the third-rounder from Notre Dame.
The 23-year-old Lockett gained 1,915 total combined yards and scored eight touchdowns (six on receptions). The 2015 rookie also returned both a punt and a kickoff for a score. Don’t be shocked when his total of five carries for 20 yards rushing rises dramatically.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Better play at cornerback.
Build depth at wide receiver.
More progress by QB Jameis Winston.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers addressed the cornerback position in both free agency (Brent Grimes and Josh Robinson) and in the first round of the draft (Vernon Hargreaves). They are counting on these players and new defensive coordinator Mike Smith to solve the issues of a unit that has allowed 30-plus scores through the air in four of the past five years.
In two seasons, Mike Evans has totaled a combined 142 receptions for 2,257 yards and 15 scores. He also saw that touchdown number drop from 12 as a rookie to three in 2015. Elsewhere, 33-year-old Vincent Jackson played in only 10 games—the first time he’s missed action since 2010 while in San Diego. He averaged 16.5 yards on 33 catches and scored three touchdowns, but the Bucs are screaming for more help at the position.
Winston, the first overall pick in last year’s draft, threw for 4,042 yards and 22 scores (15 interceptions), totaling twice as many touchdown passes (16) as interceptions in his final 12 outings. Winston grew as the season wore on, and another year under Dirk Koetter (now the head coach) bodes well for the 22-year-old quarterback.
Establish go-to wide receiver.
Defense must take another step forward.
Improve offensive line play.
At times, Dorial Green-Beckham looked like the club’s best wideout in 2015. He caught just 32 passes but averaged 17.2 yards per reception and scored four touchdowns. Justin Hunter and Kendall Wright have been somewhat underwhelming to date, while Harry Douglas led the team’s wideouts with only 36 catches. The addition of former Dolphins receiver Rishard Matthews is a big plus, but it’s Green-Beckham who will emerge as quarterback Marcus Mariota’s favorite option at wideout.
With Ray Horton off to Cleveland, 78-year-old Dick LeBeau inherits the title of defensive coordinator. His influence was felt last season as the Titans improved from 27th overall to 12th in the league in yards allowed per game. But Tennessee still allowed 45 offensive touchdowns and also surrendered 30-plus points in each of its final five games.
The addition of rookie tackle Jack Conklin gives the Titans three first-round picks (Taylor Lewan, Chance Warmack) on their offensive line. That’s something new running back DeMarco Murray is familiar with dating back to the 2014 season with the Cowboys. What Murray is not accustomed to is an offensive line close to the bottom of the league in both run blocking and pass protection, as was the case in Nashville this past season.
Build on QB Kirk Cousins' strong 2015 finish.
Find position for rookie Su’a Cravens.
Answer questions at running back.
In his final 10 regular-season contests a year ago, the 27-year-old quarterback threw 23 touchdown passes and was picked off just three times. Cousins also led the NFL in completion percentage (69.8) and emerged as the team’s offensive leader as the season unfolded, overcoming a six-game start in which he threw for six scores and eight interceptions.
Cravens was a second-round pick from USC. And defensive coordinator Joe Barry has already admitted that he’s a talented jack-of-all-trades.
“I have to be careful with that because a guy like that you can do so many things with,” Barry said to Mike Jones of the Washington Post. “You can play him at inside ‘backer, you can play him at outside ‘backer and rush him off the edge or drop him into coverage. You can play him in the slot in a nickel position and do a bunch of things with him."
Alfred Morris started every game he played for the Redskins in four seasons with the club. But he started to show some wear and tear and wasn’t re-signed. Second-year pro Matt Jones totaled 794 yards from scrimmage and scored four touchdowns. He also put the ball on the ground five times and lost four of those fumbles—an issue that must be addressed.
Unless otherwise noted, all player and team statistics come from Pro-Football-Reference.com and ESPN.com. All player ratings courtesy of Pro Football Focus. All 2016 free-agent and salary-cap information, contract terms and 2016 transactions are courtesy of Spotrac. Depth charts via Ourlads.