The Biggest Risk Every NFL Team Is Taking for 2017

Sean Tomlinson@@SeanGTomlinsonNFL AnalystJune 23, 2017

The Biggest Risk Every NFL Team Is Taking for 2017

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    Every NFL team has to take on risk each year. There's no such thing as a perfect roster in an era with salary-cap restraints.

    Some concerns are more minor in nature. Like, for example, the Oakland Raiders' depth chart at quarterback should Derek Carr suffer another serious injury.

    Others are much more serious, like the Arizona Cardinals being worried about quarterback Carson Palmer fading into dust, or the uncertainty that surrounds Blake Bortles' career with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

    If general managers think about it long and hard enough, all 32 can find a way to deprive themselves of sleep. But just in case they need help, let's take a look at the most significant risk every team is facing heading into the 2017 season.

Arizona Cardinals

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    Carson Palmer.
    Carson Palmer.Associated Press

    The Cardinals are going to spend another season leaning on an aging quarterback who has the nimbleness of a concrete slab, and his arm strength can fail him at critical times.

    Carson Palmer will enter his age-37 season, and it'll likely be his last. He hasn't committed to retirement after 2017 yet, and in mid-May he told Kyle Odegard of he'll evaluate his future after the season.

    The short-term future looks uncertain for Bruce Arians' aerial attack. He'll be relying on a quarterback whose per-attempt average dropped well over a yard in 2016 (8.7 to 7.1).

    Palmer has suffered two torn ACLs in his career, and in 2016 he was sacked 40 times.

Atlanta Falcons

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    Robert Alford.
    Robert Alford.Associated Press

    The Falcons don't have many roster holes, which tends to happen when a team is fresh off a Super Bowl appearance.

    The one area of some concern, though, is with cornerback Robert Alford's consistency. He can be a shutdown presence one week and a liability the next.

    Alford is a quality cover corner opposite Desmond Trufant, but when he gives up yards, they come in chunks. He allowed 896 yards in coverage along with nine touchdowns during the 2016 season, according to Pro Football Focus. That led to a passer rating in coverage of 105.0, and he also committed 12 penalties.

    The Falcons pass defense ranked 28th in the league last season, and Trufant's season-ending shoulder injury contributed to that. A boom or bust pass rush didn't help, either. Alford was also a factor, and he'll get targeted more with Trufant healthy.

Baltimore Ravens

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    Ben Watson.
    Ben Watson.Patrick Smith/Getty Images

    The Ravens addressed their lack of wide receiver depth by signing Jeremy Maclin. It's a signing that relieves some of the pressure on Breshad Perriman, who has been either injured or unimpressive during his two-year career after being a first-round pick in 2015.

    But now tight end Dennis Pitta's season-ending hip injury—and likely career-ending, too—has left the Ravens thin at another core offensive skill position.

    Pitta led all tight ends in 2016 with 86 receptions and finished seventh with his 729 receiving yards. Taking him away from the Ravens offense leaves quarterback Joe Flacco without a target he relied on heavily.

    Benjamin Watson, 36, caught 74 passes for 825 yards in 2015, but he's been sidelined for a year while recovering from a torn Achilles. Watson recently returned to practice, but he'll have an uphill climb.

    Watson might have a better health outlook than fellow tight end Crockett Gillmore. Earlier in the offseason, Gillmore told Alex Marvez of SiriusXM NFL Radio that he suffered a "broken back" in 2016. He also needed shoulder surgeries, and he tore his hamstring in two different spots.

    Oh, and Maxx Williams spent most of 2016 on injured reserve due to a cartilage issue that required a surgery no other football player has ever undergone, according to Ravens head coach John Harbaugh. That sounds appropriate for a tight end depth chart on shaky ground.

Buffalo Bills

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    Tyrod Taylor.
    Tyrod Taylor.Associated Press

    The Bills are taking a risk by relying on wide receiver Sammy Watkins to stay healthy. But there's also risk tied to the quarterback who will be getting him the ball.

    That quarterback is Tyrod Taylor, and his career as a starter was promising at first. Then he entered tailspin mode in 2016. Taylor went from averaging 8.0 yards per attempt in 2015 to 6.9 in 2016.

    He's mobile and can create dazzling plays with his legs, which have accounted for 1,148 rushing yards over his two seasons in Buffalo. But like many athletic quarterbacks, Taylor often doesn't seem comfortable in the pocket. That shows up in the number of sacks he takes (42 in 2016).

    The Bills used a fifth-round pick on quarterback Nathan Peterman in 2017. He might be their quarterback of the future if the Bills decide to move on from Taylor after 2017. But asking a rookie midround pick to be the quarterback of the present if Taylor stumbles is risky, even if Jon Gruden thinks Peterman is NFL-ready.

Carolina Panthers

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    Matt Kalil.
    Matt Kalil.Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

    The Panthers were starving for tackle help during the worst offseason to have a need at the position. That led to throwing money at Matt Kalil, whose name and status as a former first-round pick far exceed his talent.

    The Panthers gave Kalil $31 million in guaranteed money and will now hope he can protect the blindside of a quarterback who just had shoulder surgery. Cam Newton has been sacked 35-plus times in five of his six seasons, and Kalil will be in front of him as a replacement-level lineman.

    Kalil has allowed 23 sacks and 160 pressures since 2013 while taking 28 penalties, per PFF. His career has descended to the point where he should be a fine depth piece at best. Yet sheer desperation has led to the Panthers front office signing Kalil and then getting ready to watch games through their fingers.

Chicago Bears

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    Mitchell Trubisky.
    Mitchell Trubisky.Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

    It will be a long season if looking down your quarterback depth chart induces cold sweats.

    That's where the Bears find themselves after signing one quarterback who has attempted 11 regular-season passes over the past two seasons and then swinging an ill-advised draft trade for another who made 13 starts in college.

    The former is Mike Glennon, who became the annual poster boy for supply-and-demand economics. Any contract that gives Glennon $18.5 million in guaranteed cash is a bad idea.

    It's possible to squint and see a decent quarterback. You could note his 19:9 touchdown-to-interception ratio as a third-round rookie. Then you'll remember that was four seasons ago, and Glennon has a lowly career per-attempt passing average of 6.5 yards.

    Then there's Mitchell Trubisky, the second overall pick.

    Trubisky may start at some point in 2017. For now, he's a project with the added pressure of trying to justify an absurd trade.

Cincinnati Bengals

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    Andrew Whitworth is no longer with the Bengals.
    Andrew Whitworth is no longer with the Bengals.George Gojkovich/Getty Images

    The Bengals are set to flirt with danger by making quarterback Andy Dalton play behind a patchwork offensive line. The suffering might extend beyond Dalton, as an otherwise stacked offense could be derailed if the pocket collapses regularly.

    The Bengals weren't able to re-sign tackle Andrew Whitworth or guard Kevin Zeitler. They were reliable and among the league's best at their positions, especially Whitworth.

    Even with those two in front of him, Dalton was sacked 41 times in 2016. The rest of the Bengals offensive line was weak, and it'll take a step back.

    The Bengals have assembled an abundance of downfield speed at wide receiver after inserting John Ross opposite A.J. Green, and second-round pick Joe Mixon is highly skilled as a pass-catcher too. All that talent could be wasted if Dalton is forced to inspect the dirt too often.

Cleveland Browns

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    Corey Coleman.
    Corey Coleman.Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    The Browns added a lot of talent during free agency and the draft. Even the more tortured Browns fans have reason to hope again.

    There's one area where they are still doing a dangerous dance with the injury devil: wide receiver.

    Corey Coleman and Kenny Britt lead the wide receiver depth chart. Coleman still has a high ceiling after being drafted with the 15th overall pick in 2016, but he missed time with a broken hand during his rookie year and was also bothered by a hamstring problem in training camp.

    Now he's being hampered by a hamstring issue again and will be eased into workouts, according to Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. The Browns need to him stay on the field and be a viable downfield threat.

    The Browns signed Britt to complement Coleman and provide quality depth, but Britt has his own lengthy medical history after tearing an ACL earlier in his career and missing 23 games between 2009 and 2013.

Dallas Cowboys

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    Orlando Scandrick.
    Orlando Scandrick.Associated Press

    The Cowboys' problem of annually having a leaky secondary isn't about to go anywhere. A salary-cap squeeze meant they couldn't re-sign cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne and safeties Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox.

    That's a lot of changeover in the defensive backfield, and it comes after a year when the pass defense limped by with the standard "bend but please don't break" approach.

    In 2016, Dallas generated only nine interceptions, and a secondary that included all those free-agency losses allowed an average of 260.4 passing yards per game (26th). Yet the Cowboys still managed to give up only 19.1 points per game (fifth).

    The Cowboys used second- and third-round picks on cornerbacks (Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis) and still have fellow corner Orlando Scandrick, though he's an oft-injured 30-year-old. There could be long-term promise among their defensive back group because of both those draft picks and emerging safety Byron Jones.

    But short term there's still plenty of uncertainty.

Denver Broncos

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    Domata Peko.
    Domata Peko.Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    The Broncos used to have a run defense that rearranged teeth every week. Then that unit quickly started to get steamrolled when trying to contain the run, which was a major reason the Broncos went from winning a championship to missing the playoffs.

    Their solution in 2017 is Domata Peko, an aging and slowing defensive tackle.

    The Broncos allowed 130.3 rushing yards per game in 2016, a spike from the 83.6 yards per game they gave up in 2015. The weekly gashing meant they lost control of the clock and it became difficult to mount late-game comebacks, especially with an inexperienced quarterback in Trevor Siemian.

    They're now hoping Peko plugs a hole up the middle, but he's a 32-year-old whose highest PFF grade over the past four seasons has been 46.6.

Detroit Lions

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    Ameer Abdullah.
    Ameer Abdullah.Associated Press

    It sounds like Lions running back Ameer Abdullah is healthy now and showing the neck-wrenching burst that made him a second-round pick in 2015. He's been getting the standard offseason gushing treatment, with Tim Twentyman of noting the team has a different offense when Abdullah is in the backfield.

    That's surely true, but risk still follows Abdullah. He's only recently recovered from a Lisfranc injury, which is one of the most frustrating ailments for any running back. It can linger long after the recovery was presumed over and restrict lateral mobility.

    The reports from Twentyman and others during OTAs indicate Abdullah is just fine and poised for a breakout season. There's every reason to believe that's coming, as Abdullah was part of a crowded backfield as a rookie in 2015 and then injured for most of 2016. The Lions haven't seen the running back who posted back-to-back 1,600-plus-yard seasons to end his time at Nebraska.

    But putting the fate of a struggling backfield in the hands of someone who missed 14 games in 2016 can make for some delicate ledge walking.

    The Lions didn't add any other backfield talent of significance through free agency or the draft. The same group of running backs that paced Detroit to a 30th-ranked rushing offense sits behind Abdullah.

Green Bay Packers

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    Ty Montgomery.
    Ty Montgomery.Associated Press

    The Packers have a championship-contending roster again, though there's a looming question mark in one critical area.

    They're getting prepared to spend a prime season of quarterback Aaron Rodgers' career giving him backfield support that's uncertain at best.

    Ty Montgomery was impressive in 2016 while making the transition from wide receiver to running back. He ran with power to average 5.9 yards per carry and shined in Week 15 with his 162 rushing yards and two touchdowns.

    But he's never had to endure a full season of pounding. Sitting atop any running back depth chart is football's equivalent of a single loose white sock that somehow is in the dark load. You get battered and tossed around and often are a few different colors by the end of the season.

    Montgomery topped the 15-carry mark in a game just once during the 2016 season, and three rookies are behind him on the depth chart.

Houston Texans

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    Will Fuller.
    Will Fuller.Ronald C. Modra/Sports Imagery/Getty Images

    The Texans have hopefully, and mercifully, found a solution to their eternal quarterback problem after trading up to grab Deshaun Watson in the first round of the 2017 draft.

    He'll be their starting quarterback soon; it's just a matter of how soon. But there's at least some concern over the depth of his supporting cast at wide receiver whenever that day comes. Specifically second-year wideout Will Fuller.

    Having a receiver who struggles with drops can be a shattering experience for a rookie quarterback. Just ask Carson Wentz, the Eagles quarterback who was victimized by drops far too often in 2016.

    Watson will have a premier deep threat at his disposal in DeAndre Hopkins. Fuller offers plenty of potential too, but it comes with slippery hands.

    The 23-year-old had a blazing start to his rookie season when he recorded 211 receiving yards over his first two games. Then he added just 424 yards the rest of the season, largely because of drop issues. Fuller dropped five catchable balls and managed to reel in only 51.1 percent of his targets.

    Fuller has plenty of speed, and he showed it at Notre Dame by averaging 17.4 yards per catch over three seasons. But he needs to correct his drop issues in a hurry.

Indianapolis Colts

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    Jack Mewhort.
    Jack Mewhort.George Gojkovich/Getty Images

    The Colts were given a well-rounded defensive face lift throughout the offseason, their first under general manager Chris Ballard.

    That makeover was highlighted by using a first-round pick on standout safety Malik Hooker and injecting talent into the Colts pass rush at an affordable price by signing outside linebackers John Simon and Jabaal Sheard.

    But one unit remains largely untouched, and it could be the group that once again limits all Colts optimism.

    The offensive line that subjected quarterback Andrew Luck to constant pummeling has returned. Luck was sacked 41 times in 2016, and although he's still young, we're already seeing how those repeated blows can add up. He needed labrum surgery earlier in the offseason but should still be ready for Week 1.

    The Colts are left hoping a healthy Jack Mewhort will plug the leaks in front of Luck. The guard missed six games in 2016 due to a knee issue.

Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Blake Bortles.
    Blake Bortles.Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    On paper, the Jaguars should have a playoff-contending roster. Or at least a playoff-contending defense after signing cornerback A.J. Bouye, defensive end Calais Campbell and safety Barry Church.

    And on paper their offense should keep growing after inserting running back Leonard Fournette into the backfield. Fournette, who was selected with the fourth overall pick in 2017, fought through injuries during his final year at LSU. But in 2015 he recorded 2,206 yards from scrimmage while scoring 23 times.

    On paper it also says Blake Bortles is still Jacksonville's starting quarterback, which means his poor decision-making could quickly extinguish all that rosy offseason optimism.

    The Jaguars didn't draft a quarterback, so by default Bortles gets to keep the keys to the offense. His poor vision and worse accuracy has led to 51 interceptions over three NFL seasons, and in 2016 he averaged just 6.3 yards per pass attempt.

    The 2017 season will be Bortles' last chance to establish himself as a viable starting quarterback and avoid becoming yet another Jaguars bust at the position.

Kansas City Chiefs

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    Tyreek Hill.
    Tyreek Hill.Jason Hanna/Getty Images

    The Chiefs' main concern in 2017 is the lack of quality wide receiver depth following the release of Jeremy Maclin.

    Tyreek Hill will slide up to take over for Maclin. Hill is incredibly elusive in the open field after the catch, which contributed to his 12 total touchdowns in 2016.

    The problem is what lies beyond Hill now. Or rather, what doesn't lie beyond Hill.

    Next up on the depth chart is Chris Conley, whose timer-busting speed hasn't translated to NFL production yet. Conley blasted off at the scouting combine in 2015, running the 40-yard dash in 4.35 seconds. But in two seasons he's caught only 61 balls for 729 yards.

    Then there's Albert Wilson as the No. 3 receiver, and he averaged only nine yards per reception in 2016. In the rare times when the Chiefs do air it out, they'll be leaning on Hill and tight end Travis Kelce. The sting of any injury will cut deeply.

Los Angeles Chargers

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    Keenan Allen.
    Keenan Allen.Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    The Chargers are the early leaders for turnaround team of 2017. Their roster is sneaky talented, especially on the defensive side.

    But there's one area with some uncertainty. It's an area where the Chargers knowingly took on risk, though mostly they've been victimized by dumb and bad luck.

    Much like the Chiefs, there's some questions hovering around Los Angeles' wide receiver depth chart. But unlike the Chiefs, the issues there mostly stem from injuries.

    The Chargers now have Keenan Allen back. If he's playing at peak form, he comes with high bounce-back potential. The problem, of course, is we haven't seen the best version of Allen since way back in 2013 when he finished with 1,046 receiving yards and eight touchdowns during his rookie year. He's played only nine games over the past two seasons due to a kidney issue and a torn ACL.

    Allen's football body is much older than the 25 years he's spent on this earth. And now Mike Williams, the Chargers' first-round pick in 2017 and future top wideout, has missed the entire offseason program due to a back injury.

    Dontrelle Inman sits behind those two, and he emerged in 2016 with 810 receiving yards. But it's still unnerving when two of your top three receivers have spent chunks of their offseasons recovering from injuries.

Los Angeles Rams

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    Robert Woods.
    Robert Woods.Associated Press

    Hey look, more wide receiver issues. But this time instead of depth concerns, the Rams should be worried about their whole receiver group.

    That's an especially uncomfortable way to enter a season when the Rams would like second-year quarterback Jared Goff to make significant strides. He will be throwing to a group of No. 2 receivers at best, with no dominant top option.

    The Rams signed Robert Woods during free agency. Normally he would be a quality possession receiver to complement the top speed option, just as he was with the Bills alongside Sammy Watkins. Woods himself shouldn't be the main target anywhere because he's never logged a season with even 700 receiving yards.

    He might have to take on that role with the Rams because Tavon Austin isn't up to it, either. Austin is a fine weapon in space, but he needs his touches to be manufactured. He averaged just 8.8 yards per reception in 2016.

    There's lots of giddiness surrounding third-round pick Cooper Kupp, who lit up the predraft evaluation process. As impressive as Kupp was for Eastern Washington in 2016 (117 catches for 1,700 yards), it's difficult to bank on immediate production from a small-school prospect.

Miami Dolphins

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    Julius Thomas.
    Julius Thomas.Associated Press

    Anyone who's important and employed by the Dolphins has spent the offseason talking excitedly about the potential of tight end Julius Thomas.

    Most recently, offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen said he's confident Thomas will get back to his high-scoring ways after being acquired in a trade with the Jaguars.

    "If Julius Thomas is healthy and we catch some breaks, he can be and has been a 10-touchdown guy," Christensen said, per's James Walker.

    It's easy to get all starry eyed about Thomas' ceiling when paired with quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who's a drastic improvement over the Jaguars' Blake Bortles. It's even easier to have high hopes because he's about to reunite with head coach Adam Gase, who was the Broncos offensive coordinator when Thomas first emerged as a red-zone behemoth. Over just 27 regular-season games in Denver, he caught 24 touchdown passes.

    But risk is always part of the Thomas package. His bones and muscles haven't cooperated over the past few years, and since the beginning of 2015 he's missed 11 games. Worse, Thomas has spent four years as a starting tight end in Jacksonville and Denver, and we're still waiting on his first 16-game season.

    Broadly, the Dolphins have enough options to make up for the loss of Thomas, a list highlighted by wide receivers Jarvis Landry, Kenny Stills and DeVante Parker. But his specific role of touchdown vacuum won't be easily replaced, as the depth chart behind Thomas falls off fast, sloping down to Anthony Fasano.

Minnesota Vikings

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    Trae Waynes.
    Trae Waynes.Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Vikings cornerback Terence Newman refuses to age, and his longevity has something to do with red wine. He'll turn 39 years old shortly after the 2017 seasons begins, and Newman remains one of the league's best cover corners. He's recorded four interceptions over the past two years.

    He'll be the Vikings' primary slot cornerback, which means they're going to tempt fate and give Trae Waynes a shot at the starting outside job opposite Xavier Rhodes. That experiment could end in tears and lots of deep completions.

    Waynes has shown some flashes of the talent that made him the 11th overall pick in 2015. But for the most part, opposing offenses have seen him as an easy target. He was the sixth-most targeted cornerback in 2016, per PFF.

    Waynes will keep getting that high volume of targets with Rhodes shutting down the other half of the field. He could keep getting exposed, too.

New England Patriots

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    Tom Brady.
    Tom Brady.Associated Press

    The Patriots roster is more loaded than a pizza burger.

    The only risk—and I'm using the word loosely—is tied to Tom Brady's age.

    Yes, we all know Brady is a walking monument to eternal youth, and his dedication to nutrition and fitness keeps on fighting off any age demons. As a result, he was an MVP candidate at the age of 39 in 2016 while averaging 8.2 yards per attempt and throwing a mere two interceptions. And missing four games!

    But now Brady is about to turn 40 before the 2017 season, which means he'll enter uncharted quarterback age waters. Only two post-merger quarterbacks have thrown 20-plus touchdown passes in a single season after the age of 40, according to Pro Football Reference.

    The Patriots have been uncharacteristically aggressive this offseason by throwing lots of money at cornerback Stephon Gilmore in free agency and sacrificing draft capital to acquire wide receiver Brandin Cooks. They know the clock is ticking louder for Brady.

New Orleans Saints

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    Ted Ginn Jr.
    Ted Ginn Jr.Associated Press

    When the Saints traded away wide receiver Brandin Cooks, they shipped off 117 targets and 1,173 receiving yards from 2016 that need to be replaced.

    Ted Ginn Jr. was signed to fill that void, and he can match Cooks' speed, even at 32. His hands, however, are another matter. He has been known for getting deep and beating coverage and then making easy catches look difficult.

    He can stretch out secondaries and is only one season removed from averaging 16.8 yards per reception. But he's dropped 15 catchable balls over the past two seasons, and that problem isn't about to suddenly fix itself.

New York Giants

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    Eli Manning.
    Eli Manning.Associated Press

    The Giants are taking a risk in 2017 that's out of their control to a large extent. They're hoping quarterback Eli Manning doesn't keep sprinting toward a career twilight.

    The Giants weren't in a position to select one of the top quarterbacks available in the 2017 draft while holding the No. 23 overall pick. They could have written DeShone Kizer's name on their card, but that would have been a reach.

    So they waited and then waited some more to call Davis Webb's name in the third round. Webb might be Manning's successor in a few years. Or he could flop immediately. That's the dice role with any quarterback taken beyond about the second round. For every Russell Wilson, there are several versions of Ryan Nassib.

    The Giants are left to wait, watch and hope with Manning. They're surrounding him with a lots of talent, most notably adding wide receiver Brandon Marshall and tight end Evan Engram. But Manning still has to move the offense downfield and complete passes to those targets after averaging only 6.7 yards per attempt in 2016.

New York Jets

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    Christian Hackenberg.
    Christian Hackenberg.Ed Mulholland/Getty Images

    The Jets risk alienating every fan they have.

    Fans are generally a loyal bunch, and they understand the concept of rebuilding. Ideally, the best rebuild is one that's similar to your favorite neighborhood restaurant being closed for renovations. You go somewhere else for a few Friday nights and then come back to a fresh, shiny coat of awesomeness.

    But don't kid yourself: This won't be a quick turnaround for the Jets.

    A fanbase that hasn't seen playoff football since 2010 is already preparing to endure a season with nearly every source of established offensive talent stripped from the roster. The latest departure was wide receiver Eric Decker, and that came long after Brandon Marshall was released. It's remarkable and/or depressing to think those two combined for 2,529 receiving yards and 26 touchdowns in 2015.

    There's still talent on the defensive side and plenty of it from defensive end Leonard Williams. But scoring points is important, and that will be a Herculean task if Christian Hackenberg starts games. He's been busy making media members duck for cover all spring.

    There will be many, many painful Sunday afternoons for Jets fans ahead, all in the aim of securing the highest draft pick possible. Often those watching will be asking themselves if there's something more productive they should be doing. The answer will always be yes.

Oakland Raiders

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    Derek Carr.
    Derek Carr.Associated Press

    The Raiders have an impressively solid roster. Quarterback Derek Carr draws all the attention, especially now after being made the highest-paid passer in the league. He plays behind one of the NFL's best offensive lines and will get to hand off to Marshawn Lynch.

    But what if Carr were to go down again? Sure, that's a terrifying thought for any team with a solidified franchise quarterback. It's especially scary for the Raiders, though, considering who they have lined up behind Carr with him recently mended from a broken leg.

    Beyond him on the depth chart is Connor Cook, the fourth-round pick in 2016 who completed only 40 percent of his passes during a playoff loss to the Texans while throwing three interceptions. There's also little reason to trust third-stringer EJ Manuel, the first-round bust with a career per-attempt passing average of 6.4 yards.

    Let's face it: There's no salvaging the season if Carr were to suffer another major injury and miss extended time. Ideally, if he suffered a more minor injury, the Raiders would have a backup who could come in for some spot starts and provide competent play.

Philadelphia Eagles

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    LeGarrette Blount.
    LeGarrette Blount.Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

    The Eagles signed LeGarrette Blount to be their temporary solution at running back. But at this stage in his career, the 30-year-old may only be a short-yardage and goal-line bruiser.

    Blount hammered away for the Patriots in 2016 while scoring 18 touchdowns. He also eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards for the first time since 2010. But he did it while generally inching down the field in a cloud of dust. Blount averaged only 3.9 yards per carry on his 299 attempts.

    Blount can get to the second level, but at his size (6'0", 250 lbs), he's never had the breakaway speed to reel off chunk gains consistently. If he struggles in that area again, the Eagles could have some trouble in their backfield. Behind Blount is Darren Sproles, a 34-year-old passing-down back, and rookie Donnel Pumphrey is also best suited for a pass-catching role.

    The fate of the Eagles backfield rests with a back who's on the wrong side of 30 and is coming off an outlier career year.

Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Jesse James.
    Jesse James.Associated Press

    The Steelers offense is set to ignite a magical display of aerial fireworks every week.

    With wide receivers Martavis Bryant and Juju Smith-Schuster added to an offense that already included Antonio Brown and running back Le'Veon Bell, the Steelers are about to become weekly appointment television.

    But there's still one weak spot on that offense, and it lies at the tight end position.

    Jesse James showed some flashes of what he could become late in 2016. He caught 10 balls over the Steelers' final two playoff games for 131 yards. But overall James finished the regular season with only 338 receiving yards, and now he sits atop Pittsburgh's tight end depth chart after the release of Ladarius Green.

San Francisco 49ers

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    Navarro Bowman.
    Navarro Bowman.Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    If the 49ers give middle linebacker NaVorro Bowman any sort of meaningful role, they're taking an unnecessary risk with their otherwise improving defense.

    Of course, they can avoid that risk by releasing Bowman before the season begins and replacing him with first-round pick Reuben Foster. Making that decision with a prior franchise cornerstone is difficult, though, even for a new management regime with no ties to Bowman.

    Normally, Bowman would have at least a few prime years left while getting set to enter his age-29 season. But Bowman's career and injury history escaped the realm of normal long ago. He missed the entire 2014 season while recovering from a torn ACL and MCL, and then he tore his Achilles in 2016.

    That's two severe injuries over a three-year span for a linebacker who relied on his unique blend of speed and quick-twitch reaction to record four straight years with 140-plus tackles. His ability in coverage also set him apart during his four All-Pro years.

    That speed has been zapped. Bowman was getting beat in coverage during OTAs by blocking tight end Garrett Celek, as Grant Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat noted. It's time to move on.

Seattle Seahawks

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    Russell Wilson.
    Russell Wilson.Associated Press

    Eventually, making sure Russell Wilson doesn't get torn to bits won't be the first thing that comes to mind for the Seahawks. But we're not there yet.

    Wilson has been sacked 172 times since 2013, the second most during that stretch behind only the Dolphins' Ryan Tannehill, according to Pro Football Reference. Wilson is on another tier with the punishment he's taken.

    The effects of those whacks took a toll on Wilson in 2016 when he had to play through knee and pectoral injuries early in the year and wasn't his usual mobile self.

    Now he'll play behind an offensive line set to use draft bust Luke Joeckel in a central role at either guard or (big gulp) left tackle.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Doug Martin.
    Doug Martin.Associated Press

    Around Tampa it's been an offseason of drooling and raving about Buccaneers running back Doug Martin.

    Most recently, NFL Network's Mike Garafolo spoke to Bucs general manager Jason Licht, who kept piling on the praise. Licht said that on the practice field he's seen a much different Martin.

    "He said, '[Martin] looks lean, he looks like he's finishing his runsobviously, there is no contact in the springbut it looks like he's finishing his runs. He looks like he's got that burst. He looks like the Doug Martin of 2015.'"

    The Martin of 2015 ran for 1,402 yards while averaging nearly five yards per carry. If that Martin does indeed return, the Buccaneers offense is ready to blast off after adding wide receiver DeSean Jackson and tight end O.J. Howard.

    But the problem, and risk, is that the Martin of 2015 existed two years and one injury ago. Martin missed six games in 2016 while recovering from a hamstring injury, and when healthy he averaged only 2.9 yards per carry.

    Which Martin will show up in 2017? That question will follow the Buccaneers all summer.

Tennessee Titans

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    Brian Orakpo.
    Brian Orakpo.Associated Press

    The Titans have an offense brimming with talent and set to explode, especially now after the addition of wide receiver Eric Decker. They made key defensive additions throughout the offseason too, highlighted by signing cornerback Logan Ryan and safety Johnathan Cyprien.

    They don't have one glaring weakness or risk, but there should be some concern about the advancing age of their primary pass-rusher.

    Outside linebacker Brian Orakpo is still a thrashing, bull-rushing, corner-turning presence. His strength and speed off the edge led to 10.5 sacks in 2016, his third career double-digit sack season.

    But seven of those sacks came by Week 6, and then Orakpo noticeably slowed. Now he's preparing to enter his age-31 season.

Washington Redskins

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    Chris Thompson.
    Chris Thompson.Dan Mullan/Getty Images

    The Redskins spent the offseason building what should be an offensive juggernaut by signing wide receiver Terrelle Pryor and beefing up their backfield with the fourth-round pick of running back Samaje Perine.

    They added core defensive pieces up front during the draft too, plugging in defensive end Jonathan Allen and linebacker Ryan Anderson. Safety D.J. Swearinger will help to solidify a secondary that gave up 258.1 passing yards per game in 2016.

    They are still taking one defensive risk, however, and it's the cornerback who lines up opposite Josh Norman.

    Bashaud Breeland recorded three interceptions in 2016, but he was targeted often. He became the weak link in a 25th-ranked pass defense (passer rating in coverage of 91.7, per PFF).

    If his slide continues, the Redskins will need to hope 2017 third-round pick Fabian Moreau is ready to step in immediately.


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