Projecting Every AFC Team's Starting Lineup
The NFL offseason is rolling right along.
The free-agent feeding frenzy is well into its second phase. The 2017 NFL draft has come and gone, with over 250 new players finding out where their professional careers will begin. Those rookies will soon gather for the first round of minicamps.
Before you know it, training camps will be in full swing, and NFL fans far and wide will be settling in to watch awful preseason games.
Soon enough, the New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs will be locking horns at Gillette Stadium on September 7, and another NFL season will be underway.
OK, maybe it's not quite that simple. A lot still has to happen between now and that Thursday evening. Like, say, the camp battles that will determine who starts where during the 2017 NFL campaign.
We're going to hit the fast-forward button here, AFC-style, by skipping through camp and the preseason for a projected look at the Week 1 starters for every team in the conference.
These predictions are absolutely guaranteed to be 100 percent, dead-on accurate...
Except in those instances where they aren't.
NOTE: You'll notice that on both offenses and defenses, 12 starters are listed, which I'm pretty sure is a penalty. However, given the preponderance of three-receiver sets and nickel defenses, not including those wideouts and corners would have been a disservice.
And if you missed the NFC edition, can check that out here.
The Baltimore Ravens were an 8-8 team in 2016, missing the playoffs for the second straight season. It marked the first time the Ravens came up short of the postseason in two straight years since 2004 and 2005.
However, despite a disappointing season borne mainly of problems on offense, it's the defense general manager Ozzie Newsome hit early and often in the 2017 draft. In fact, the Ravens could easily have as many as three rookie starters on that side of the ball in Week 1.
Among them, the player to keep an eye on is second-round pick Tyus Bowser of Houston. Bowser is viewed by many as a pass-rushing outside linebacker, but with 2016 leading tackler Zachary Orr's surprising retirement, the clearest path to early playing time for Bowser may lie inside opposite C.J. Mosley.
There are holes to fill on offense as well. Right tackle Ricky Wagner joined the Lions in free agency, and starting tailback Kenneth Dixon will spend the first four games of 2017 sitting in his room thinking about what he did after drawing a suspension.
QB: Joe Flacco
RB: Terrance West
FB: Nick Boyle
WR: Breshad Perriman, Mike Wallace, Michael Campanaro
TE: Dennis Pitta
OL: Ronnie Stanley (LT), Alex Lewis (LG), John Urschel (C), Marshal Yanda (RG), James Hurst (RT)
DL: Willie Henry (DE), Brandon Williams (NT), Brent Urban (DE)
LB: Terrell Suggs (OLB), C.J. Mosley (ILB) Tyus Bowser (ILB)[R], Tim Williams (OLB)[R]
CB: Jimmy Smith, Brandon Carr, Marlon Humphrey [R]
S: Eric Weddle (FS), Tony Jefferson (SS)
K: Justin Tucker
P: Sam Koch
LS: Morgan Cox
RET: Chris Moore, Michael Campanaro
It's back to the old drawing board for the Buffalo Bills—again.
After missing the playoffs yet again in 2016, the Bills have cleaned house once more. Head coach Rex Ryan was shown the door, replaced by first-time head man Sean McDermott. General manager Doug Whaley was also let go just after the 2017 draft.
In that draft, the Bills added a few young players who could play big roles in Week 1. First-round pick Tre'Davious White will be tasked with replacing the departed Stephon Gilmore in the secondary. Ditto for second-round wide receiver Zay Jones, who will take over the spot vacated by Robert Woods.
In addition to personnel changes, the Bills are also making the switch to a four-man defensive front. That switch should be aided by a young player who's almost like a bonus draft pick.
Inside linebacker Reggie Ragland injured his knee before playing a regular-season snap for the Bills as a rookie, but the former Alabama standout will take over in the middle of the defense in Year 2. He has big shoes to fill; before heading to Washington in free agency, Zach Brown led the AFC in tackles last year playing inside in Buffalo.
QB: Tyrod Taylor
RB: LeSean McCoy
FB: Patrick DiMarco
WR: Sammy Watkins, Zay Jones [R], Corey Brown
TE: Charles Clay
OL: Cordy Glenn (LT), Richie Incognito (LG), Eric Wood (C), John Miller (RG), Dion Dawkins (RT)[R]
DL: Jerry Hughes (DE), Marcell Dareus (DT), Kyle Williams (DT), Shaq Lawson (DE)
LB: Lorenzo Alexander (SLB), Reggie Ragland (MLB), Preston Brown (WLB)
CB: Tre'Davious White [R], Ronald Darby, Leonard Johnson
S: Micah Hyde (SS), Jordan Poyer (FS)
K: Steven Hauschka
P: Colton Schmidt
LS: Reid Ferguson
RET: Brandon Tate, Walter Powell
The Cincinnati Bengals had been a perennial playoff contender for several seasons entering 2016. But after five straight playoff appearances from 2011 to 2015, the Bengals managed only six wins a year ago.
As if that weren't bad enough, a Bengals offensive line that took a step backward last year also suffered big losses in free agency. Left guard Kevin Zeitler followed the big money up Interstate 71 to Cleveland, while long-time left tackle Andrew Whitworth inked a lucrative deal with the Los Angeles Rams.
Those losses are going to put a lot of pressure on youngsters Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher to take the next step as pros. But it appears the Bengals have faith they'll be able to do it, as outside of the addition of veteran Andre Smith, the O-line wasn't an offseason priority for the team.
No, the early rounds of the 2017 NFL draft were all about skill position talent in the Queen City. The Bengals selected Washington speedster John Ross at No. 9 overall and then added a potential workhorse running back in Oklahoma's Joe Mixon in Round 2.
Quarterback Andy Dalton has weapons galore at his disposal. The question is whether he'll have the time to make use of them.
QB: Andy Dalton
RB: Joe Mixon [R]
FB: Darrin Laufasa [R]
WR: A.J. Green, Brandon LaFell, John Ross [R]
TE: Tyler Eifert
OL: Cedric Ogbuehi (LT), Clint Boling (LG), Russell Bodine (C), Andre Smith (RG), Jake Fisher (RT)
DL: Carlos Dunlap (DE), Pat Sims (DT), Geno Atkins (DT), Michael Johnson (DE)
LB: Vontaze Burfict (WLB), Kevin Minter (MLB), Jordan Willis (SLB) [R]
CB: Dre Kirkpatrick, Adam Jones, Darqueze Dennard
S: Shawn Williams (SS), George Iloka (FS)
K: Randy Bullock
P: Kevin Huber
LS: Clark Harris
RET: Adam Jones, Alex Erickson
There isn't a team in the AFC undergoing a bigger overhaul in 2017 than the Cleveland Browns.
Of course, given that the Browns won all of one game in 2016, there isn't a team in the AFC that needs an overhaul more than the Cleveland Browns.
On offense, there are new quarterbacks in Brock Osweiler and rookie DeShone Kizer, new weapons in the passing game in Kenny Britt and first-year tight end David Njoku and a revamped offensive line that includes free-agent acquisitions Kevin Zeitler and JC Tretter.
On defense, there's a new 4-3 defense helmed by coordinator Gregg Williams and a pair of first-round picks the team hopes will be difference-makers, including No. 1 overall pick Myles Garrett.
There's much still to be decided as the Browns prepare for OTAs and training camp, but this much is certain:
The team isn't sitting on their hands.
QB: Brock Osweiler
RB: Isaiah Crowell
FB: Dan Vitale
WR: Corey Coleman, Kenny Britt, Rashard Higgins
TE: David Njoku [R]
OL: Joe Thomas (LT), Joel Bitonio (LG), JC Tretter (C), Kevin Zeitler (RG), Cameron Erving (RT)
DL: Myles Garrett (DE)[R], Desmond Bryant (DT), Danny Shelton (DT), Emmanuel Ogbah (DE)
LB: Christian Kirksey (WLB), Demario Davis (MLB), Jamie Collins (SLB)
CB: Joe Haden, Jamar Taylor, Howard Wilson [R]
S: Ibraheim Campbell (SS), Jabrill Peppers (FS)[R]
K: Zane Gonzalez [R]
P: Britton Colquitt
LS: Charley Hughlett
RET: George Atkinson, Duke Johnson Jr.
Denver's defense of its Super Bowl 50 title didn't go according to plan, and after missing the playoffs last year, changes are afoot at Mile High.
Head coach Gary Kubiak and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips are gone, replaced by Vance Joseph and Joe Woods. And while there weren't any earth-shaking player moves, there are still plenty of new faces in Denver in 2017.
With left tackle Russell Okung now in L.A., rookie Garett Bolles and oft-injured free agent Menelik Watson will be tasked with shoring up an offensive line that struggled at times a year ago. After two injury-marred seasons in Kansas City, tailback Jamaal Charles joined the Chiefs' AFC West rivals in the hopes of goosing an equally inconsistent Broncos run game.
And with edge-rusher DeMarcus Ware calling it a career, it will fall to youngster Shane Ray to keep the Broncos defense humming right along.
That defense will still be among the league's best, and the Broncos have one of the better one-two punches in the NFL at wide receiver. But Denver's playoff hopes this year will likely lie in whether Trevor Siemian or second-year pro Paxton Lynch can take the next step under center.
QB: Trevor Siemian
RB: Jamaal Charles
FB: Andy Janovich
WR: Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Carlos Henderson [R]
TE: Virgil Green
OL: Donald Stephenson (LT), Max Garcia (LG), Matt Paradis (C), Ronald Leary (RG), Garett Bolles (RT)[R]
DL: Derek Wolfe (DE), Domata Peko (DT), Jared Crick (DE)
LB: Von Miller (OLB), Brandon Marshall (ILB), Todd Davis (ILB), Shane Ray (OLB)
CB: Aqib Talib, Chris Harris, Bradley Roby
S: T.J. Ward (SS), Darian Stewart (FS)
K: Brandon McManus
P: Riley Dixon
LS: Casey Kreiter
RET: Emmanuel Sanders, Cody Latimer
The Houston Texans won a playoff game last year, but the team obviously wasn't happy with how its season ended.
Because the Texans took a buzz saw to the most important position in football this offseason.
Sure, Texans GM Rick Smith continues to insist that Tom Savage is the team's starting quarterback. He's a player they have confidence in. So much confidence they dealt their first-rounders in 2017 and 2018 to Cleveland to move up and take Clemson's Deshaun Watson at No. 12 overall.
The Texans fielded the NFL's No. 1 defense in 2016, despite star defensive end J.J. Watt missing most of the season with a back injury. If Watt comes back at anything close to 100 percent this season, that defense will be all the scarier.
But just like last year, the Texans will go as far as their offense takes them in the playoffs.
And that's going to ramp up the pressure to get that quarterback they just paid so much for on the field.
QB: Deshaun Watson [R]
RB: Lamar Miller
FB: Jay Prosch
WR: DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, Braxton Miller
TE: C.J. Fiedorowicz
OL: Duane Brown (LT), Xavier Su'a-Filo (LG), Nick Martin (C), Jeff Allen (RG), Derek Newton (RT)
DL: J.J. Watt (DE), Carlos Watkins (DT) [R], Jadeveon Clowney (DE)
LB: Whitney Mercilus (OLB), Brian Cushing (ILB), Benardrick McKinney (ILB), Brennan Scarlett (OLB)
CB: Johnathan Joseph, Kareem Jackson, Kevin Johnson
S: Andre Hal (FS), K.J. Dillon (SS)
K: Nick Novak
P: Shane Lechler
LS: Jonathan Weeks
RET: Will Fuller, Tyler Ervin
It's become a familiar refrain in Indianapolis. Quarterback Andrew Luck is one of the best in the NFL at what he does, but he can't do it all by himself.
He certainly can't be expected to play defense.
The Colts D was the team's emphasis in free agency. Aging veterans like edge-rusher Trent Cole, inside linebacker D'Qwell Jackson and safety Mike Adams were swapped out for younger players like Jabaal Sheard, John Simon and Sean Spence.
Indy looked to the draft to replace Adams, selecting Ohio State ball hawk Malik Hooker at No. 15. Hooker is one of no fewer than six new arrivals who are projected here to be defensive starters for the Colts in 2017.
No one doubts that Luck and a talent-laden Colts offense will put points on the board this season.
It's the ability of that retooled defense to stop opponents from following suit that will determine whether or not the Colts are in the hunt in the AFC South in 2017.
QB: Andrew Luck
RB: Frank Gore
WR: Donte Moncrief, T.Y. Hilton, Phillip Dorsett
TE: Jack Doyle, Erik Swoope
OL: Anthony Castonzo (LT), Jack Mewhort (LG), Ryan Kelly (C), Joe Haeg (RG), Le"Raven Clark (RT)
DL: Kendall Langford (DE), Johnathan Hankins (DT), Margus Hunt (DE)
LB: Jabaal Sheard (OLB), Sean Spence (ILB), Antonio Morrison (ILB), John Simon (OLB)
CB: Vontae Davis, Rashaan Melvin, Quincy Wilson [R]
S: Malik Hooker (FS)[R], Clayton Geathers (SS)
K: Adam Vinatieri
P: Jeff Locke
LS: Thomas Hennessy [R]
RET: Chester Rogers, Josh Ferguson
If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.
That appears to be the mantra of the Jacksonville Jaguars, who for the second consecutive year poured a fortune into the defensive side of the ball in free agency. The Jags spent well over $100 million bringing in defensive end Calais Campbell, cornerback A.J. Bouye and safety Barry Church, all of whom should start in 2017.
The Jags focused their draft capital on the offense, however. With the fourth pick in the 2017 draft the Jaguars selected LSU tailback Leonard Fournette, hopeful he can elevate a ground game that ranked 22nd in the NFL a year ago.
Jacksonville general manager Dave Caldwell also spent two of the team's next three picks on offense, adding Alabama offensive tackle Cam Robinson and Oklahoma wideout (and 2016 Biletnikoff Award winner) DeDe Westbrook.
On paper at least, the Jaguars appear to have a roster capable of competing in the AFC South.
Whether or not they actually do may well depend on which Blake Bortles we see in 2017—the young quarterback who took a significant step forward in 2015 or the signal-caller who pitched and lurched his way through an uneven and turnover-marred 2016 campaign.
QB: Blake Bortles
RB: Leonard Fournette [R]
FB: Tommy Bohanon
WR: Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns, Marqise Lee
TE: Marcedes Lewis
OL: Branden Albert (LT), Patrick Omameh (LG), Brandon Linder (C), A.J. Cann (RG), Cam Robinson (RT)[R]
DL: Dante Fowler Jr. (DE), Malik Jackson (DT), Sheldon Day (DT), Calais Campbell (DE)
LB: Telvin Smith (WLB), Myles Jack (MLB), Paul Posluszny (SLB)
CB: Jalen Ramsey, A.J. Bouye, Aaron Colvin
S: Tashaun Gipson (FS), Barry Church (SS)
K: Jason Myers
P: Brad Nortman
LS: Carson Tinker
RET: Bryan Waters, Corey Grant
Kansas City Chiefs
Given that the Kansas City Chiefs won 12 games and the AFC West in 2016, one might think there wouldn't have been a lot of draft-day drama surrounding them this year.
Well, one would be wrong.
In perhaps the biggest surprise of the first round of the 2017 NFL draft, the Chiefs dealt a package of picks to vault into the top 10 and take Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes, despite the presence of an established starter at the position in Alex Smith.
Chiefs head coach Andy Reid told Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk he knows this puts Smith in a bit of a bind.
“That’s a ‘Catch-22’ but [Smith] knows [Mahomes is] going to be right behind him," Reid said. "He sure can help and he will. That’s how he’s wired. But he’s also going to get himself ready to roll," Reid said.
The Chiefs could shave well over $15 million from their cap by moving on from Smith after this season. That could be hard to do if the Chiefs make the Super Bowl.
But that may be what it takes for Smith to save his spot with the Chiefs after 2017.
QB: Alex Smith
RB: Spencer Ware
FB: Anthony Sherman
WR: Jeremy Maclin, Chris Conley, Tyreek Hill
TE: Travis Kelce
OL: Eric Fisher (LT), Parker Ehinger (LG), Mitch Morse (C), Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (RG), Mitchell Schwartz (RT)
DL: Rakeem Nunez-Roches (DE), Bennie Logan (DT), Chris Jones (DE)
LB: Justin Houston (OLB), Derrick Johnson (ILB), Ramik Wilson (ILB), Tamba Hali (OLB)
CB: Marcus Peters, Phillip Gaines, Steven Nelson
S: Ron Parker (FS), Eric Berry (SS)
K: Cairo Santos
P: Dustin Colquitt
LS: James Winchester
RET: Tyreek Hill, De'Anthony Thomas
Los Angeles Chargers
The Kansas City Chiefs might be planning for a new era at quarterback, but the Chargers are entering their new era with the look of a team planning to make at least one more run with the old one.
After a free-agency period spent mainly keeping their own players from departing, the Chargers focused their early draft capital in their first year in Los Angeles building around veteran signal-caller Philip Rivers.
In Round 1, the Bolts added a wide receiver to complement Keenan Allen in Clemson's Mike Williams. The next two rounds were about bolstering an offensive line that was the team's Achilles' heel a season ago. Second-round pick Forrest Lamp will probably start at left guard, and it wouldn't be a huge upset if third-rounder Dan Feeney started opposite him.
Later in the draft it was all about the defense, as the Chargers added depth in the secondary and a potential slot corner in Iowa's Desmond King. That L.A. defense will sport a new look in their new home after shifting to the 4-3 under new DC Gus Bradley this season.
Combined with free-agent addition Russell Okung, the Chargers O-line appears much improved. And when you consider that improvement and examine the totality of their roster, something becomes evident:
Teams in the AFC West that underestimate the Chargers in 2017 do so at their own peril.
QB: Philip Rivers
RB: Melvin Gordon
FB: Derek Watt
WR: Keenan Allen, Mike Williams [R], Travis Benjamin
TE: Antonio Gates
OL: Russell Okung (LT), Forrest Lamp (LG)[R], Matt Slauson (C), Dan Feeney (RG)[R], Joe Barksdale (RT)
DL: Joey Bosa (DE), Corey Liuget (DT), Brandon Mebane (DT), Melvin Ingram (DE)
LB: Denzel Perryman (WLB), Jatavis Brown (MLB), Jeremiah Attaochu (SLB)
CB: Jason Verrett, Casey Hayward, Desmond King [R]
S: Dwight Lowery (FS), Jahleel Addae (SS)
K: Josh Lambo
P: Drew Kaser
LS: Mike Windt
RET: Travis Benjamin, Isaiah Burse
There's good news and bad news for the Miami Dolphins in 2017.
The good news is that coming off a surprising playoff run in 2016, the Dolphins appear in solid shape to be playoff contenders again this season.
The Dolphins have a young quarterback in Ryan Tannehill with no shortage of weapons at his disposal playing behind the makings of a solid offensive line. Miami was able to add another bullet to the chamber on the cheap earlier this offseason, swinging a trade with the Jacksonville Jaguars that netted them tight end Julius Thomas.
On defense, the Dolphins added a pair of linebackers who could start in veteran Lawrence Timmons and rookie second-rounder Raekwon McMillan. Between their additions in free agency and the 2017 draft, the Dolphins are loaded with edge-rushers they can rotate in and out of games.
And once safety T.J. McDonald serves his eight-game suspension, Miami could have arguably the NFL's best one-two punch at the position with McDonald and Reshad Jones.
In short, Miami doesn't seem to have any glaring weaknesses.
So what's the bad news?
They still play in the same division as the New England Patriots.
QB: Ryan Tannehill
RB: Jay Ajayi
WR: DeVante Parker, Kenny Stills, Jarvis Landry
TE: Julius Thomas, Anthony Fasano
OL: Laremy Tunsil (LT), Anthony Steen (LG), Mike Pouncey (C), Jermon Bushrod (RG), Ja'Wuan James (RT)
DL: Cameron Wake (DE), Ndamukong Suh (DT), Jordan Phillips (DT), William Hayes (DE)
LB: Kiko Alonso (WLB), Lawrence Timmons (MLB), Raekwon McMillan (SLB)[R]
CB: Byron Maxwell, Xavien Howard, Tony Lippett
S: Nate Allen (FS), Reshad Jones (SS)
K: Andrew Franks
P: Matt Haack [R]
LS: John Denney
RET: Jarvis Landry, Kenyan Drake
New England Patriots
The New England Patriots are so annoying.
An organization fresh off the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history spent the offseason making one of the NFL's best rosters that much better.
Prior to the draft, the Patriots signed a potential shutdown corner in Stephon Gilmore, traded for a game-breaking wide receiver in Brandin Cooks (via the New Orleans Saints), added an athletic tight end in Dwayne Allen via a deal with the Colts and acquired a talented young edge-rusher in Kony Ealy via another trade with the Carolina Panthers.
Oh, and they loaded up in the backfield with tailbacks Rex Burkhead and Mike Gillislee.
But wait, there's more!
Despite not having a pick in the first two rounds, the Patriots still managed to get value in the 2017 NFL draft. Offensive lineman Max Garcia could see substantial playing time as a rookie. And while he's going to need some polish at the professional level, Bleacher Report's Doug Farrar recently wrote Youngstown State pass-rusher Derek Rivers could prove to be the steal of the draft.
The NFL's best team didn't just better in the offseason, it got substantially better.
And that is so annoying.
QB: Tom Brady
RB: Mike Gillislee
WR: Chris Hogan, Brandin Cooks, Julian Edelman
TE: Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen
OL: Nate Solder (LT), Joe Thuney (LG), David Andrews (C), Shaquille Mason (RG), Marcus Cannon (RT)
DL: Kony Ealy (DE), Malcolm Brown (DT), Alan Branch (DT), Trey Flowers (DE)
LB: Kyle Van Noy (WLB), Dont'a Hightower (MLB), Rob Ninkovich (SLB)
CB: Stephon Gilmore, Malcolm Butler, Eric Rowe
S: Devin McCourty (FS), Patrick Chung (SS)
K: Stephen Gostkowski
P: Ryan Allen
LS: Joe Cardona
RET: Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola
New York Jets
The New England Patriots have the most loaded roster in the AFC.
The New York Jets, um, do not.
The Jets admitted as much this offseason, jettisoning a number of aging veterans and beginning a ground-up rebuild. However, despite a talent-poor roster and arguably the worst quarterback situation in the NFL, head coach Todd Bowles told Brian Costello of the New York Post he expects the Jets to compete in 2017.
"Our goal is to win regardless of whether we've got younger guys or older guys," Bowles said. "Our goal is to win. Progress for me is being a lot better than last year and getting to the playoffs and getting to the Super Bowl."
You have to admire Bowles' positive attitude, and the Jets added a star in the making in LSU safety Jamal Adams in the first round of this year's draft.
But let's be honest. The Jets are not a good football team. Not only are the playoffs not happening, but Gang Green will be lucky to win six games in 2017.
Still, you have to start somewhere.
QB: Josh McCown
RB: Matt Forte
FB: Connor Harris [R]
WR: Eric Decker, Quincy Enunwa, Quinton Patton
TE: Jordan Leggett [R]
OL: Ben Ijalana (LT), James Carpenter (LG), Wesley Johnson (C), Brian Winters (RG), Kelvin Beachum (RT)
DL: Muhammad Wilkerson (DE), Steve McClendon (DT), Leonard Williams (DE)
LB: Lorenzo Maudlin (OLB), David Harris (ILB), Darron Lee (ILB), Jordan Jenkins (OLB)
CB: Morris Claiborne, Buster Skrine, Marcus Williams
S: Marcus Maye (FS)[R], Jamal Adams (SS)[R]
K: Chandler Catanzaro
P: Lachlan Edwards
LS: Tanner Purdum
RET: ArDarius Stewart [R]
The theme of the Oakland Raiders in 2017 is probably "unfinished business."
With quarterback Derek Carr guiding the team in 2016, the Raiders had the look of a legitimate Super Bowl contender for most of the season. Then Carr broke his leg in Week 16, and just like that, the Raiders were reduced to the postseason equivalent of a tomato can.
Carr will be back in 2017 with a formidable one-two receiving duo in Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree at his disposal and one of the league's best lines keeping him clean. There's a new face at tailback, however, and it bears watching how much Marshawn Lynch has left in the tank after a year away from the game.
The defense is getting a facelift, too. The Raiders will run more 3-4 looks with assistant head coach John Pagano in town in 2017, and the team spent its early draft picks on upgrades to the back end in Ohio State cornerback Gareon Conley and versatile safety Obi Melifonwu of Connecticut.
Melifonwu may not start, but fans of the Silver and Black will see plenty of the youngster, whether it's at cornerback, safety or even as a nickel linebacker.
QB: Derek Carr
RB: Marshawn Lynch
FB: Jamize Olawale
WR: Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree, Cordarrelle Patterson
TE: Jared Cook
OL: Donald Penn (LT), Kelechi Osemele (LG), Rodney Hudson (C), Gabe Jackson (RG), Austin Howard (RT)
DL: Mario Edwards (DE), Justin Ellis (DT), Denico Autry (DE)
LB: Khalil Mack (OLB), Jelani Jenkins (ILB), Cory James (ILB), Bruce Irvin (OLB)
CB: David Amerson, Sean Smith, Gareon Conley [R]
S: Reggie Nelson (FS), Karl Joseph (SS)
K: Sebastian Janikowski
P: Marquette King
LS: Jon Condo
RET: Jalin Richard, DeAndre Washington, Cordarrelle Patterson
The Pittsburgh Steelers have been a perennial Super Bowl contender for most of the 21st century. The team came one game from playing in Super Bowl LI a year ago.
And yet, the retirement grumblings from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger hammered home an unfortunate truth this offseason: Pittsburgh's championship window is closing.
The Steelers weren't big players in free agency this year, and top draft picks T.J. Watt, JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner are more complementary pieces and depth additions than young players who will be expected to make a huge impact in Year 1.
Granted, the Steelers don't need them to. Pittsburgh remains a team headlined by the filthiest three-headed offensive monster in the NFL in Big Ben, tailback Le'Veon Bell and wideout Antonio Brown.
The team has question marks defensively at cornerback and inside linebacker, and the Steelers' pass rush could stand to get more consistent. Perhaps J.J. Watt's younger brother will help in that regard.
But as is true every year, this is a franchise with aspirations of playing football in February.
QB: Ben Roethlisberger
RB: Le'Veon Bell
FB: Roosevelt Nix
WR: Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, JuJu Smith-Schuster [R]
TE: Jesse James
OL: Alejandro Villanueva (LT), Ramon Foster (LG), Maurkice Pouncey (C), David DeCastro (RG), Marcus Gilbert (RT)
DL: Cameron Heyward (DE), Javon Hargrave (DT), Stephon Tuitt (DE)
LB: Alvin Dupree (OLB), Ryan Shazier (ILB), Vince Williams (ILB), James Harrison (OLB)
CB: Artie Burns, Ross Cockrell, William Gay
S: Mike Mitchell (FS), Sean Davis (SS)
K: Chris Boswell
P: Jordan Berry
LS: Greg Warren
RET: Antonio Brown, Sammie Coates
Every year, a team or two becomes a trendy pick as a potential dark-horse playoff contender.
After a nine-win 2016 season that saw them in the thick of the AFC South hunt until quarterback Marcus Mariota got hurt, the Tennessee Titans are that trendy pick in 2017.
The Titans spent this offseason gearing up to meet those expectations by filling out the holes on their roster. They beefed up their secondary by adding hard-hitting safety Jonathan Cyprien and first-round cornerback Adoree' Jackson from USC.
Tennessee had two picks in the top 20 this year after it traded the No. 1 pick in 2016 away. With the first of those two selections (No. 5 overall), the Titans added the young pass-catcher they hope will emerge as Mariota's go-to guy in lanky Wester Michigan star Corey Davis.
Davis is far from alone among new arrivals in the Titans' aerial attack. They doubled down on rookie receivers in Round 3 with Taywan Taylor of Western Kentucky, and they also grabbed an athletic young tight end in fellow third-rounder Jonnu Smith of Florida International.
Between those newcomers, free-agent arrival Harry Douglas and holdovers Delanie Walker, Rishard Matthews and Tajae Sharpe, Mariota suddenly has no shortage of viable targets in the passing game. And when you add that to Tennessee's potent ground game, you have the makings of an offense that could do real damage this year.
QB: Marcus Mariota
RB: DeMarco Murray
FB: Jalston Fowler
WR: Corey Davis [R], Rishard Matthews, Tajae Sharpe
TE: Delanie Walker
OL: Taylor Lewan (LT), Quinton Spain (LG), Ben Jones (C), Josh Kline (RG), Jack Conklin (RT)
DL: Jurrell Casey (DE), Sylvester Williams (DT), DaQuan Jones (DE)
LB: Derrick Morgan (OLB), Wesley Woodyard (ILB), Avery Williamson (ILB), Brian Orakpo (OLB)
CB: Logan Ryan, Adoree' Jackson [R], Brice McCain
S: Kevin Byard (FS), Jonathan Cyprien (SS)
K: Ryan Succop
P: Brett Kern
LS: Beau Brinkley
RET: Eric Weems, Kevin Byard