Every NFL Team's Most Promising Building Block

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystJune 28, 2017

Every NFL Team's Most Promising Building Block

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    Every NFL team has 53 players on its regular-season roster. But while each team has the same number of players, all rosters are most assuredly not created equally.

    Ask the New England Patriots and their AFC East rivals in New York.

    Still, while some rosters are certainly more talented than others, every team in the NFL has at least one thing in commona young player just entering the prime of his career who is the foundation of that team's future.

    In many cases, if teams are truly fortunate, it's a young quarterback. Maybe it's a young receiver. Or a talented edge-rusher.

    Or, if you're the Oakland Raiders, it's all three.

    Whatever the case, every team—from Seattle to Miami and in between—has at least one young building block who is the bedrock of tomorrow for NFL clubs.

    Even the Jets—believe it or not.


Arizona Cardinals

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    RB David Johnson

    It's rare to find a running back in today's NFL's who is considered a building block. The position is one of the more disposable in the league.

    Of course, it's equally rare to find a running back like David Johnson.

    Sure, Johnson's 4.2-yards-per-carry figure last season wasn't eye-popping. But when you multiply that by his 293 carries and get 1,239 rushing yards, the eyes widen. They widen a fair bit more when you realize Johnson scored 16 rushing touchdowns.

    When you add in 879 more yards and four more scores as a receiver, it's full-on gawking time.

    Only Le'Veon Bell of the Pittsburgh Steelers received a higher grade than Johnson last year among tailbacks from B/R's NFL1000 crew. Johnson's grade of 17.9 as a pass-catcher was the highest of any player at the position.

    Per Elliot Harrison of NFL.com, had the Arizona Cardinals been a bit more successful, the 25-year-old might have contended for MVP honors. In just one game all season did Johnson fail to record 100 yards from scrimmage (an NFL record), and that was a game in which he got hurt.

    Maybe the era of the workhorse tailback isn't over after all.

Atlanta Falcons

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    EDGE Vic Beasley

    Matt Ryan, the 2016 MVP, is no doubt the backbone of the defending NFC champions. Ryan's not ancient by quarterback standards, but at 32, he's not getting any younger.

    Sack king Vic Beasley, on the other hand, is only just getting started.

    Beasley, 24, piled up 15.5 sacks in his second NFL season, adding the fifth-most hurries (30, per Sporting Charts) in the league.

    As D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported, Beasley's aware that Year 3 of his NFL career brings with it the status as one of the NFL's best pass-rushers—and the extra attention from blockers that comes with that.

    "I was definitely expecting it as I progressed as a player and becoming a better player over the course of my career," Beasley said. "I knew that I was going to start getting more attention like the elite pass-rushers in this league. It comes with the success."

    The addition of first-round pick Takkarist McKinley should help draw a measure of that attention away from Beasley. And there's still room for Beasley to improve his game—especially against the run.

    But he has already become one of the cornerstones of an Atlanta Falcons defense that has loaded up on young talent over the last few years.

Baltimore Ravens

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    ILB C.J. Mosley

    Baltimore Ravens inside linebacker C.J. Mosley is not coming off the best season of his short career. In fact, it can be argued the 25-year-old's 2016 season was the worst of his three seasons in the NFL.

    Mosley's 92 tackles marked a career low. After piling up seven sacks over his first two seasons, Mosley didn't record one a year ago. He did manage a career-best four interceptions and a respectable 11th-place ranking among inside linebackers, per the NFL1000, but Mosley's third campaign still felt like a letdown.

    In the opinion of Cleveland Browns head coach Hue Jackson, however, per Mark Inabinett of AL.com, Mosley remains one of the best young linebackers in the game.

    "Why do I say that?" Jackson said. "Because he makes so many standout plays. He is always around the ball. He is making plays on backs, he is making plays on receivers, he is getting his hands on balls, and he is chasing balls down. He is just a tremendous football player."

    Mosley was nicked up much of last year, and had he not missed a pair of games, he would have topped 100 tackles for a third straight year.

    Mosley might not be Ray Lewis, but his importance is comparable for this iteration of the Ravens defense.

Buffalo Bills

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    OT Cordy Glenn

    Given that Buffalo Bills offensive tackle Cordy Glenn is entering his sixth NFL season already, it might be a bit of a stretch to call him "young." And I considered cornerback Ronald Darby, 23, in this spot. But Darby's coming off a miserable season, and Glenn's still only 27, so he got the nod.

    Of course, that nod might have just a bit to do with Glenn being one of the best blindside blockers in the NFL.

    Per the NFL1000, Glenn ranked sixth among left tackles last year with a grade of 78.9. That's better than Donald Penn of the Oakland Raiders, Taylor Lewan of the Tennessee Titans and Andrew Whitworth of the Los Angeles Rams. The 2012 second-round pick allowed just a single sack.

    In other words, Glenn earned the first season of that five-year, $60 million extension he signed last May. The Buffalo line may have struggled at times, but Glenn was a rock on the left end.

    The Bills aren't swimming in building blocks, but at least they know their best offensive lineman won't be leaving any time soon.

    Now if they can just get him healthy.

Carolina Panthers

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    ILB Luke Kuechly

    The 2012 NFL draft may forever be known for the quarterbacks who went on to NFL stardom, but the Carolina Panthers did all right for themselves that year on the other side of the ball.

    The Panthers drafted Luke Kuechly, a wildly productive "Mike" linebacker who was coming off a ridonkulous 191-tackle season at Boston College.

    Surely he couldn't post that kind of figure in the pros, the naysayers said.

    Kuechly replied by leading the NFL with 165 stops—including 103 solos. It was his way of saying, "Don't call me Shirley."

    In five seasons, Kuechly, 26, has been named to the Pro Bowl four times. In his second season, he was the youngest winner of the Defensive Player of the Year award in NFL history.

    He's been the gold standard at his position from the moment he stepped on the field.

    Yes, Kuechly's missed time in each of the last two years with concussions—including six games a season ago. But when healthy, he's one of the best defensive players in the league.

Chicago Bears

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    EDGE Leonard Floyd

    Much like Luke Kuechly, Leonard Floyd's 2016 season was cut short by a concussion.

    Floyd's two concussions last year were the bad news in his rookie season with the Chicago Bears. His seven sacks in 12 games were the good news.

    The Bears are one of the most talent-deficient teams in the league. There are few position groups they can point to that have a young difference-maker. Edge-rusher is one of them.

    Floyd's athleticism and first step are impressive, and Chicago outside linebackers coach Brandon Staley told Adam L. Jahns of the Chicago Sun-Times that the 24-year-old is confident moving forward.

    "His body now is just so much different than when he came in here," Staley said. "He was, like, 225 [pounds] when he came in here; he's almost 250 [now]. He's just a lot stronger player. He's a lot more equipped to handle the rigors of the NFL.

    "[Floyd] isn't the type of guy who thinks he's arrived. He knows that he has a lot in his game that he can improve on, and that's what we're spending a lot of time on right now."

    Given what Floyd did in limited action as a rookie, a 10- to 12-sack 2017 isn't unrealistic. That would be a rare bright spot in what's shaping up to be another down year in the Windy City.

Cincinnati Bengals

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    LB Vontaze Burfict

    The Cincinnati Bengals have experienced quite a bit of success over the last half-decade.

    OK, regular-season success.

    But something else is also happening in the Queen City. The Bengals are starting to get old. Defensive end Carlos Dunlap and tackle Geno Atkins—the foundation of the front four—are each entering their eighth season.

    The linebackers aren't getting any younger either, so Cincinnati made an effort to get younger at the position in the offseason. It succeeded in doing so, which makes something of an odd statement now true.

    Vontaze Burfict is a veteran leader.

    When Burfict is on the field and has his head on straight, the 26-year-old is as good as any linebacker in the NFL. For the third time in five years, Burfict topped 100 tackles last year, and he was a top-10 linebacker, per the NFL1000.

    Of course, there's a "but" with Burfict. A big one.

    Burfict missed five games in 2016—the third straight season in which he's missed at least that many. He has a reputation as a cheap-shot artist and a hothead, and his resume of suspensions and fines backs that up.

    He's entering a contract year, so we'll find out if the team agrees he's an important building block soon enough.

Cleveland Browns

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    EDGE Myles Garrett

    Heading into his first NFL minicamp, edge-rusher Myles Garrett of the Cleveland Browns didn't talk like the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 draft while speaking with ESPN.com's Pat McManamon.

    Garrett sounded just like any other young player.

    "I got to prove myself," Garrett said. "I haven't shown any kind of resume or what I can do on the NFL level, so they have to see. Go from level to level, from spot to spot and show that I can be successful."

    Of course, Garrett isn't just any young player. He's the first overall pick by a franchise that's been stuck in either neutral or reverse (depending on who you ask) since it re-entered the league in 1999.

    He's also a youngster who has fans of the Browns worrying a little after he injured his foot (the same foot that hampered him last year at Texas A&M) in OTAs. Cleveland has been quiet regarding the injury's severity, leading many to question whether Garrett, 21, will be ready for training camp.

    The Browns are well-served to be patient, though. It's not like they're going to be contenders in 2017. Garrett is considered by many not just a great talent but a generational one.

    Rome wasn't built in a day and all that.

Dallas Cowboys

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    QB Dak Prescott

    This one could best be filed under, "Well, duh."

    Quarterback Dak Prescott of the Dallas Cowboys did OK as a fourth-round rookie starter in 2016. That is, if you consider going 13-3 with 3,667 passing yards, 23 touchdowns and a 104.9 passer rating against only four interceptions "OK."

    According to what Dallas offensive coordinator Scott Linehan told Matt Mosley and Ed Werder of The Doomsday Podcast (via Pro Football Talk), that was the easy part.

    "You've got to build on the good things," Linehan said. "There were a lot of good things for a young player, but you know they will be gunning for him, studying him a little bit more. You're not going to sneak up on anybody. They're going to find out what it is about your game that is strong and what maybe wasn't as good, and you really dig deep and you study."

    Still, this is a young quarterback no one thought would play a snap as a rookie who was thrown into the fire on America's Team.

    His response? A Pro Bowl season.

    Does anyone think the 23-year-old won't be ready for Year 2?

Denver Broncos

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    QB Paxton Lynch

    In limited playing time as a rookie, Paxton Lynch looked like a young quarterback who wasn't close to being ready to take the reins of an NFL offense.

    Mike Klis of 9 News in Denver, however, wrote recently that if OTAs are any indication, the game is slowing down for Lynch in Year 2.

    "His switch was flipped," Klis wrote. "He started to get it. He started to play as if he was doing just that—playing. Playing and not thinking about his protections and hot reads and coverages and delivering the ball on time."

    Lynch, 23, said it's simply a matter of practice making perfect: "The more reps I'm getting with these guys, the more I get to go against the defense and see the looks live compared to just on paper. It's helping me a lot. I think each practice I've progressively got better."

    There's a reason why John Elway moved up in the first round of the 2016 draft to pick the former Memphis standout. He had the best arm of any passer in that year's class.

    If the rest of him is catching up, Trevor Siemian's days as the starter are numbered—and the number isn't all that high.

Detroit Lions

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    OT Taylor Decker

    I considered going with defensive end Ezekiel Ansah. But Ansah's entering his fifth season, and depending on who you ask, he might be even older than 28.

    I also thought about Matthew Stafford, but he's been in the NFL 37 years already, so he's out.

    So, it's a member of Stafford's line who gets the call in the Motor City—though he's a player who may well miss a good portion of the upcoming season.

    The Detroit Lions suffered a big blow when left tackle Taylor Decker required surgery to repair a torn labrum. The team traded for 2014 No. 2 overall pick Greg Robinson as a stopgap fix, but make no mistake—in the long term, the future on Stafford's blind side lies with the former Ohio State star.

    Decker, 22, wasn't necessarily elite in 2016. The NFL1000 slotted him 13th among left tackles—so slightly above average.

    The folks at Pro Football Focus assigned a similar grade—in just under 1,100 snaps, they ranked Decker 23rd at the position.

    Good. But again, not great. And his five sacks allowed isn't blowing anyone away.

    But Decker was also a Day 1 starter, and while he may not have been a star, he was reliable.

Green Bay Packers

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    S Josh Jones

    The Green Bay Packers are focused on the present—a veteran team squarely in "win now" mode.

    That doesn't mean they're completely ignoring the future, though, even if the pieces they add to help in that regard are also ones who can contribute in the present.

    Such is the case with second-round rookie Josh Jones. The 6'2", 220-pound Jones was one of the stars of OTAs, and defensive tackle Mike Daniels was impressed, per Zach Kruse of Packers Wire.

    "I like everything I see out of Jones right now," Daniels said. "He's coming. ... He's got a great demeanor. He's about his business. Doesn't talk. Not joking. He isn't here to make friends; he's here to play football. He's here to earn a job, and he's here to prove he belongs here."

    A safety out of North Carolina State who has 4.41-second 40-yard dash speed and can play all over the secondary, Jones, 22, is just the sort of back-end player NFL teams covet nowadays. He's equally comfortable stuffing the run and playing coverage in the slot—and equally adept at both.

    If early reports are any indication, Jones will be a starter sooner than later.

    And once he's in the lineup, he isn't coming out.

Houston Texans

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    QB Deshaun Watson

    I wanted to name DeAndre Hopkins, but something was clear in Houston last season: "Nuk" is only as good as the quarterback throwing him the ball.

    Enter Clemson's Deshaun Watson, 21, whom the Texans moved up to draft 12th overall in 2017.

    Head coach Bill O'Brien told Aaron WilsonJohn McClain of the Houston Chronicle that he's been impressed with Watson's ability to pick up the Texans' complex offensive scheme.

    "He's a very poised guy," O'Brien said. "I like the way he carries himself. I like the way he operates. He's a rookie, and he's not nearly where he needs to be to be a full-time starter in this league, but you can tell he's got a lot of qualities you like.

    "For being a rookie, he's wise beyond his years. He asks great questions in the morning meeting, and you can tell he's studied the night before. Every practice isn't perfect. He knows he needs to get a lot better. And he did get better every day during the spring."

    Tom Savage is still the nominal starter, but the Texans didn't give away their 2018 first-rounder to draft a backup. They did so in the hopes that Watson is their franchise quarterback.

    By midseason at the latest, we'll all get a chance to find out if they're right.

Indianapolis Colts

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    QB Andrew Luck

    This entry should be narrated by Captain Obvious.

    The Indianapolis Colts may have made improving the team around him their focus in the offseason, but it's abundantly clear who the king of the hill is in Indy.

    As goes Andrew Luck, so go the Colts.

    It's a time of great uncertainty for the sixth-year pro. After offseason shoulder surgery, Luck, 27, has yet to resume throwing. And while Indianapolis did its best to improve defensively in free agency and the draft, no one's sure if it will be enough to stem the tide of back-to-back disappointing seasons.

    In part at least, Luck's a victim of his own prowess and success. After all, he wasn't just any first-round quarterback. Or even any No. 1 overall pick. This was Andrew Luck. The sure thing from Stanford. The question wasn't if Luck would lead the Colts to a Super Bowl.

    It was how many.

    For the first three years of his career, everything went more or less according to plan. Three straight playoff trips, capped by an AFC title game berth in 2014.

    But then the injuries started to mount. And the weaknesses of a flawed team were exposed. Now there are mumbles that maybe, just maybe, Luck isn't a sure bet to win a Super Bowl after all.

Jacksonville Jaguars

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    ILB Myles Jack

    Given all the high draft picks the Jacksonville Jaguars have added over the last few years, it might seem surprising that I chose a second-rounder who didn't play much as a rookie.

    But Myles Jack is not a Round 2 talent. And the Jaguars are about to be rewarded for their patience.

    In his second NFL season, the 21-year-old Jack will move inside to the "Mike" spot, where he'll take over for long-time stalwart Paul Posluszny. Jacksonville defensive coordinator Todd Wash told Alfie Crow of SB Nation they've shoved Jack into the deep end of the pool—and he's swimming like a fish.

    "Myles has done a really nice job," Jaguars defensive coordinator Todd Wash said on Friday. "There were some learning curves early on, and you can see now that he is understanding what we're asking of him. He has become a leader in the huddle, and we're excited with the position change with Myles."

    Leading up to the 2016 draft, Jack was considered a top-10 prospect. His stock took a dive because of worries about his surgically repaired knee. Assuming the knee holds up, it isn't Jalen Ramsey who will make the biggest defensive impact among Jacksonville's youngsters in 2017. Or Dante Fowler.

    It's going to be the man in the middle.

    Some ball-carriers are fixing to get Jacked up.

Kansas City Chiefs

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    CB Marcus Peters

    Sure, I could've named young quarterback Patrick Mahomes. But the Alex Smith era isn't quite over, assuming you believe the Kansas City Chiefs fashion themselves a contender in 2017.

    Wide receiver Tyreek Hill was a contender, too. The Chiefs certainly appear to have confidence in Hill's ability—the release of veteran Jeremy Maclin left Hill as the No. 1 wide receiver.

    But there's another youngster who is even more important to the team—a player who has performed at an elite level at a premium position since the moment he entered the NFL.

    Over the last two years, no player has taken away more passes from opponents than Marcus Peters. Per Pro Football Focus (via Joel Thorman of SB Nation), over the last three years, Peters' passer rating against of 67.1 is fourth-best in the NFL.

    He's not perfect (his aggressiveness can sometimes be used against him), but there's no arguing his big-play ability can change a game in an instant.

    Kansas City turned more than a few heads in 2016 when it spent its first-round pick on the talented but troubled cornerback from Washington.

    It can only hope the Mahomes pick works out half as well.

Los Angeles Chargers

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    DE Joey Bosa

    It's rare for a rookie defensive end to excel in his first NFL season. It's rarer still for that rookie lineman to accrue double-digit sacks. And for that lineman to accomplish those goals despite a contract impasse and injury wiping out his entire first training camp and keeping him off the field for the first four games of the season?

    That just doesn't happen.

    Apparently Joey Bosa didn't get the memo. Because the 21-year-old was an absolute terror for the San Diego Chargers in 2016.

    Bosa rode 41 tackles and 10.5 sacks to the Defensive Rookie of the Year award and the highest grade of any 3-4 end in the NFL, per the NFL1000. Pro Football Focus ranked Bosa as the top rookie from 2016 and the No. 13 player in the NFL overall.

    Bosa—set to play opposite Melvin Ingram in Gus Bradley's new 4-3 scheme—told Ricky Henne of the team's website that 2016 was only the beginning.

    "Honestly, I think we were just scratching the surface of what our productivity could be last year," he said. "There were a lot more plays we left out there that we could have had."

    Wait a second. You mean he's going to get better?

Los Angeles Rams

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    DL Aaron Donald

    This might have been the easiest call. If you told me I could have any one player from the festival of sadness that is the roster of the Los Angeles Rams, that decision would take about 0.0000001 seconds.

    Aaron Donald, Aaron Donald and Aaron Donald, please.

    Donald checked in at No. 15 in the NFL Network's Top 100 in 2017, but as Sam Monson reported, his colleagues at Pro Football Focus were a little higher on Donald.

    Like, No. 1 overall higher.

    "He has tallied a ridiculous 161 total pressures over the past two seasons," Monson wrote, "and 90 defensive stops, generating both pressure, and decisive pressure, at a completely different rate to any other defensive tackle."

    Donald was also the highest-graded defensive player in the NFL, per the NFL1000, checking in at No. 5 overall.

    Frankly, any list of the NFL's best players that doesn't have Donald near the top (as in higher than 15) is ridiculous. He's more than just a great defender. He single-handedly changes a game plan with a first step and power that are the things of legend. He's constantly double-teamed, and as often as not, it doesn't really matter.

    And at 26, he's only just beginning to enter the prime of his career.

Miami Dolphins

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    QB Ryan Tannehill

    I suppose this is something of a cop-out, but if Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson are in, then I'm more or less locked in to Ryan Tannehill as the building block for the Miami Dolphins.

    Mind you, Tannehill hasn't the statistical success of Luck. Or the success on the scoreboard of Wilson. But the 28-year-old did post the highest passer rating of his career last year, and the Dolphins won 10 games and made the playoffs.

    Head coach Adam Gase told Clark Judge of Talk of Fame Sports that he expects Tannehill to continue to improve in 2017.

    "I think he's really made a lot of strides from when I got here," Gase said. "A lot of it has been his own development through experience.

    "... When you can find a guy like that, there's a lot there for us to just keep working on and find ways to get better."

    Tannehill's probably never going to be an elite NFL quarterback. He's probably closer to Alex Smith than to Aaron Rodgers in terms of ceiling.

    But don't kid yourself. If Tannehill were to hit the open market tomorrow, there would be upward of a dozen teams stampeding to throw a truck full of money at him.

Minnesota Vikings

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    DE Danielle Hunter

    You don't often hear Danielle Hunter's name listed among those of the NFL's best pass-rushers. But after a 54-tackle, 12.5-sack supernova of a second season, he ought to be.

    Hunter's 2016 was all the more impressive when you consider he came off the bench behind veteran Brian Robison. That won't be the case in 2017, and batterymate Everson Griffen (no slouch himself) told Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press that a bulked-up Hunter is ready to build on last year's success.

    "Danielle's a young monster," Griffen said. "He's 22 years old, he's physically gifted, and he works hard each and every day. He's looking good."

    Hunter said he expects that five pounds of added muscle will serve him well.

    "I feel like a few more pounds can be good," he said. "My goal was to just gain weight. I thought I was a little bit too light last year."

    The key will be whether it saps any of Hunter's explosiveness. He was an absolute dervish off the edge a year ago, getting on quarterbacks in the blink of an eye.

    He isn't flawless (like many speed rushers, Hunter sometimes flies right past the ball-carrier), but he's still a pup. If his run defense improves in 2017, he could be a contender for Defensive Player of the Year honors.

New England Patriots

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    CB Stephon Gilmore

    This may have been the hardest call on this list if only because unless your last name rhymes with Brady, there are no building blocks in New England. A year ago at this time, I might have listed Jamie Collins or Malcolm Butler.

    Collins is in Cleveland. Butler will all but surely leave after this season in free agency.

    I can at least pick a player who's being counted on as a big contributor in Beantown in 2017. And given the size of his paycheck, cornerback Stephon Gilmore won't be going anywhere anytime soon.

    The five-year, $65 million whopper of a contract the Patriots gave the 26-year-old Gilmore in free agency (a deal that all but seals Butler's exit) contained $40 million in guarantees—the most the Patriots have ever given a free-agent acquisition.

    Gilmore told NFL Total Access, per Conor Orr of NFL.com, that he's eager to go out and show that he and Butler are the league's best duo in the secondary.

    "We gotta go out there and prove to everyone in the league," Gilmore said, "that we can play the game at a high level so I think if we do that, everything else will speak for itself."

    Given the size of his payday, anything less would be a letdown.

    And you don't want to disappoint Darth Hoodie.

    That's a good way to get Force-choked.

New Orleans Saints

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    WR Michael Thomas

    I wavered here a bit. I gave pretty strong consideration to offensive tackle Terron Armstead (injury or no injury), but "injury" is a word that keeps popping up with the 25-year-old.

    That leads us to the young receiver who quickly made Brandin Cooks expendable in the Big Easy. In his first year with the Saints, Michael Thomas rewrote the rookie record books, setting franchise bests for receptions (92), yards (1,137) and touchdowns (9).

    Those 92 catches were also the second-most by a rookie in NFL history. Only Anquan Boldin had more—101 with the Arizona Cardinals in 2003.

    Thomas told reporters (via Scott Ferrell of the Shreveport Times) that he's trying to keep his goals for the future simple.

    "I want to be one of the best to ever play the game," Thomas said, "so I put a lot of pressure on myself just because coming from a family that played in the NFL (uncle is Keyshawn Johnson) and then being the guy now, I want to take advantage of my opportunity."

    At least he's keeping things reasonable.

    Wide receiver might be one of the easier positions to replace in the NFL. But replacing a wideout and replacing a great wideout are not the same thing.

    And Thomas has the makings of being a great wideout.

New York Giants

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    WR Odell Beckham Jr.

    Over his first three NFL seasons, New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. has been at least moderately productive.

    As a rookie in 2014, Beckham caught 91 passes for 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns in just 12 games. He also made a catch against the Dallas Cowboys that has been replayed approximately 37 million times since.

    He hasn't really slowed down since. In 2015, it was 96 catches and career bests in yardage (1,450) and touchdowns (13). Beckham's numbers in those categories weren't quite as good in 2016 (1,367 and 10 scores), but Beckham eclipsed 100 receptions for the first time in his career.

    Like I said, moderately productive.

    There have been some grumblings regarding Beckham skipping OTAs as he angles for a new deal, but he told ESPN.com's Jordan Raanan that when September rolls around, he'll be ready for another huge season.

    "I think this might be the most [I've been ready] in my lifetime," Beckham said. "In every which way, I just feel it there. ... Mentally, physically, spiritually, everything. I don't think I've been as ready as I am now."

    Given the consistently elite production Beckham's posted to date, I'm not about to bet against him.

    I will, however, bet that Beckham gets that fat contract he's looking for—soon.

New York Jets

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    DL Leonard Williams

    These are dark days for the New York Jets. The team has cut a fistful of veterans this offseason as they begin a ground-up rebuild. There may not be a team in the NFL with less meat on the 53-man bone.

    The cupboard isn't entirely bare, however.

    After a breakout second season in which he tallied 68 tackles and seven sacks, Leonard Williams has shown to be what many thought—one of the best 3-4 defensive ends in the National Football League.

    Williams was especially stout against the run, receiving the fifth-highest grade in that regard among interior linemen, per Pro Football Focus. But he was no slouch as a pass-rusher either, tallying 48 total pressures—fourth-most among 3-4 ends.

    Williams is only 23 and entering his third season, but he told Andy Vasquez of NorthJersey.com that he's ready to step into a leadership role in 2017.

    "I'm definitely ready to step into my leadership role and give back to the team as much as possible," Williams said. "And bring up some of the younger guys and just do more involvement with the guys as a leader."

    That has to be music to the ears of a Jets team desperate for any sort of good news in this rockiest of offseasons.

Oakland Raiders

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    QB Derek Carr

    The Oakland Raiders are the polar opposites of the New York Jets when it comes to young building blocks. Where the Jets are running as low on them as any team in the league, the Raiders' cup overfloweth.

    Oakland has one of the NFL's top young wide receivers in Amari Cooper and the best defensive player this side of J.J. Watt in edge-rusher extraordinaire Khalil Mack. It added a potential shutdown cornerback in 2017 in Ohio State cornerback Gareon Conley.

    But the modern NFL is a quarterback's world. Everyone else is just living in it.

    The Raiders believe they've found their franchise passer in fourth-year pro Derek Carr. And after he led the Silver and Black to the postseason for the first time in well over a decade, Oakland put its money where its mouth was.

    To the tune of $125 million over five seasons.

    Carr, 26, would have eclipsed 4,000 passing yards last year had a broken leg not ended his season after 15 games, but he told ESPN.com's Paul Gutierrez that stats and money aren't his primary motivation.

    "I don't care about the stats," he said. "That's not my No. 1 objective. I don't care if I throw [only] 10 touchdowns next year. If we win every game, that's all I care about."

    Of course, the $25 million a year doesn't hurt.

Philadelphia Eagles

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    Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

    QB Carson Wentz

    This article is quarterback-heavy. Perhaps annoyingly so. But that's simply a result of the facts of life in today's NFL. There are two types of teams—clubs that have franchise quarterbacks and will do anything to keep them and ones that don't and will do anything to get one.

    It isn't hard to see which group the Philadelphia Eagles were in a year ago given what they gave up to move up to No. 2 overall and take Carson Wentz.

    Wentz started his rookie year red-hot, winning his first three starts. Then the 24-year-old remembered he was a rookie and came back down to earth, finishing his first season with 3,782 passing yards and 18 touchdowns versus 14 interceptions.

    Still, Mike Mayock of the NFL Network told Chris McPherson of the team's website that he saw enough from Wentz in 2016 to have confidence in the young man's future.

    "The whole key in the NFL is, do you have a franchise quarterback? And I think what Carson Wentz represents right now is hope," Mayock said. "Hope that you can build around him. Hope you can be a playoff team in the near future."

    The Eagles added several pieces around Wentz in 2017, so while expectations still need to be tempered, there's little doubt they will be higher.

Pittsburgh Steelers

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    James Lang-USA TODAY Sports

    ILB Ryan Shazier

    From a talent perspective, there's no question that Ryan Shazier is one of the better young linebackers in the National Football League. In an era where speed at the position is more important than ever, Shazier might be the fastest player in the NFL at the position.

    He's arguably the fastest player on the team.

    However, over his first three NFL seasons, Shazier has had trouble staying on the field, missing 14 games over that span. He told Teresa Varley of the team's website that he's well aware he's no good to his teammates watching from the sidelines.

    "When I am healthy, I can bring more to the table," Shazier said. "I definitely think my involvement in pass rush and overall coverage game is getting better. In the second half of the [2016] season, and especially the playoffs, I think everyone got to see how well I can play and my capabilities."

    With Lawrence Timmons moving on in free agency this year, Shazier, 24, is more than a just a promising young linebacker in 2017. He's a defensive cornerstone. Maybe the best player a team with Super Bowl aspirations has on that side of the ball.

    In the NFL, promise brings with it pressure.

San Francisco 49ers

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    Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

    DL DeForest Buckner

    The San Francisco 49ers asked a lot of DeForest Buckner during his rookie season last year. According to Pro Football Focus, Buckner was on the field for 1,007 snaps as a rookie—the most of any interior defender in the NFL.

    Buckner had a decent season, piling up 73 tackles and six sacks. But he admitted to Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee that workload took a toll.

    "There were times out there last year where I was dead tired and they wouldn't take me out," Buckner said last week. "I feel like I'm hurting the team more staying out there not being able to, you know, live up to my full potential when I'm out there."

    New 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh pledged to dial that workload back in 2017. "When you look at a guy like (DeForest) Buckner last year having played almost 1,000 snaps—in my mind, that's criminal," Saleh said. "Ideally, all of them are working about 500, 600 snaps."

    Along with Arik Armstead (2015) and Solomon Thomas (2017), the 23-year-old Buckner is one of three straight first-round picks along the defensive front. And given his ability to play all over the line at both tackle and end, he's the most important piece to the team's transition under Saleh.

Seattle Seahawks

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    QB Russell Wilson

    At 28 years old, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is the second-oldest player included here.

    But there's no denying that he's now the backbone of a Seattle team that's been the NFC's most successful franchise since he first took the NFL by storm as a third-round pick back in 2012.

    It's been a remarkable five-year run for Wilson, who has gone from Day 2 draft pick to one of the NFL's biggest superstars. He's yet to complete less than 63 percent of his passes in a season or post a passer rating less than 90. Three times that rating has reached or topped 100, and his touchdown-to-interception ratio over that span is an impressive plus-82.

    He's also piled up 2,689 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground.

    Oh, and the Seahawks have made five straight trips to the postseason, including two Super Bowl trips and a blowout win over the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII.

    It might be stretching things a bit to call Wilson "promising." I think it's safe to say he's already fulfilled that promise.

    But Seattle's young core of talent, for better or worse, is getting older.

    And there's no question that at the center of it all lies its quarterback.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

    QB Jameis Winston

    There's more than a little buzz surrounding Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston as he prepares for the beginning of Year 3 of his NFL career. After making significant strides in his second season, Winston should benefit in 2017 from a big-time influx of passing-game talent.

    According to Jenna Laine of ESPN.com, Bucs coach Dirk Koetter believes Winston has both the capacity and drive for greatness.

    "Jameis—no one has higher expectations for his performance than he does," Koetter said. "I mean, he's aiming to be elite, not just one of 32. And because he has such high expectations, and we have high expectations, it's a never-ending process. We're hard on Jameis and he's hard on himself. Always improving, but not where it needs to be."

    The 23-year-old has topped 4,000 passing yards in each of his first two NFL seasons, and last year Winston goosed his completion percentage up over 60 and his passer rating above 85.

    Winston throws a distressing number of interceptions (33 in two years), but it's likely something the Buccaneers will just have to live with—Winston's the prototypical gunslinger, a player who never saw a throw he didn't think he could make.

    All the throws he can fit through tight windows make the picks easier to stomach, though.

Tennessee Titans

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    QB Marcus Mariota

    Given that we just talked about the player who went No. 1 overall in 2015, it stands to reason the next player up would be the signal-caller who followed him in that year's draft.

    Like Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota of the Tennessee Titans made big strides in his second NFL season. Mariota threw for 3,426 yards in 2016, completing 61.2 percent of his passes with an impressive plus-17 touchdown-to-interception ratio and a passer rating of 95.6.

    Also like Winston, Mariota has an assortment of new weapons at his disposal in the passing game in 2017, including No. 5 overall pick Corey Davis and veteran Eric Decker.

    Decker told Jim Wyatt of the team's website he's looking forward to developing a rapport with Mariota.

    "I am excited about Marcus Mariota and the young talent he is," Decker said. "... He's a big guy, and he throws a great ball. ... He's a talent, but I also like the way he carries himself. He is very stoic, and he seems very humble. I hear he's a real football junkie who wants to be great, and that's so important."

    Mariota's 2016 was cut short by a broken leg, but his recovery has by all accounts gone well. That's very good news in Nashville—because as goes their 23-year-old quarterback, so go the Titans.

Washington Redskins

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    Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

    TE Jordan Reed

    You might be wondering why Kirk Cousins isn't listed here, especially after just mentioning one of his cohorts in the Class of 2012.

    It's simple, really. I think the Washington Redskins have the sense to re-up Cousins rather than let a franchise quarterback leave in free agency. But given how badly they've mismanaged the situation to date, I wouldn't bet the mortgage on it.

    After inking a five-year, $46.75 million contract extension last year, though, 26-year-old tight end Jordan Reed isn't going anywhere.

    And that's most assuredly good news for whoever plays quarterback in the nation's capital.

    Over four NFL seasons, Reed has emerged as one of the best tight ends in the league. His best season came in 2015 when Reed hauled in 87 passes for over 952 yards and found the end zone 11 times for a Redskins team that made the playoffs.

    Durability has been an issue for Reed, but he told Jake Kring-Schreifels of the team's website that he's 100 percent healthy and ready to roll in 2017.

    "I feel great," he said. "I feel explosive. I feel conditioned. I feel really good."

    If that's the case, a 1,000-yard season is well within reach.


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