Every NFL Team's Secret Weapon for 2017

Sean Tomlinson@@SeanGTomlinsonNFL AnalystJuly 7, 2017

Every NFL Team's Secret Weapon for 2017

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    Atlanta Falcons tight end Austin Hooper
    Atlanta Falcons tight end Austin HooperReinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

    There are nobodies on every NFL roster—players who will fade from the league fast, and your memory even faster.

    But often the extra push toward the playoffs and beyond is powered by nobodies who turn into somebodies with meaningful roles. We don't have to look far back for key examples. Both teams in Super Bowl LI received significant contributions from unexpected sources.

    For the Atlanta Falcons, it was wide receiver Taylor Gabriel. He caught six regular-season touchdown passes in 2016 after being released by the Cleveland Browns.

    And for the New England Patriots, the surprising star was wide receiver Chris Hogan, who recorded 332 receiving yards and two touchdowns in the playoffs. Prior to 2016, Hogan's single-season high over an entire year was 450 yards.

    Few match those performances, but there's a potential secret weapon on every roster for 2017. Let's meet them. 

Arizona Cardinals: Wide Receiver J.J. Nelson

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    J.J. Nelson was the breathing, sprinting, neck-turning definition of a boom-or-bust receiver in 2016. That happened mostly because the then-second-year Arizona Cardinals wideout was buried on the depth chart. But also because his home run-swinging skill led to him being a receiver who's targeted on really, really deep heaves, or not targeted at all.

    Injuries resulted in an increased role for Nelson late in the 2016 season, and he capitalized by scoring a touchdown in four straight games. That stretch was highlighted by an 80-yard reception in Week 16, when the Cardinals beat the Seattle Seahawks and Nelson finished with 132 receiving yards overall.

    That was his second career game with 130-plus yards. He's done a lot with very little over two seasons, turning 101 targets and 45 receptions into 867 yards and eight touchdowns. That's a sky-high average of 19.3 yards per reception, which shows how well Nelson can scorch opposing secondaries with his 4.28-second speed in the 40-yard dash.

    His road-runner ways should be on display more often going forward in 2017. The Cardinals' wide receiver depth chart has been shaken up with Michael Floyd long gone. And although Larry Fitzgerald is still impressively effective at almost 34 years old, he's now more of a possession target.

    Nelson will be unleashed more often in Bruce Arians' deep-passing attack. And when that happens, he might not be a secret for much longer.

Atlanta Falcons: Tight End Austin Hooper

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    Austin Hooper is ready to become yet another regular contributor in an offense filled with them.

    At a glance, the Atlanta Falcons tight end didn't have a rookie season that pops off the page in 2016. He finished with 19 receptions for 271 yards and three touchdowns.

    But Hooper did that while missing three games due to injury, and for much of the season, he was used in a blocking role. His targets in the passing game started to increase in late October. Of his 27 total targets, 21 came in Week 8 and beyond. He was also the most targeted Falcons pass-catcher during the Super Bowl, a game where Hooper saw six balls thrown in his direction and caught three of them for 32 yards and a touchdown.

    So the seeds have already been planted for his rise. And that ascent should happen in 2017 after Atlanta declined to re-sign Jacob Tamme, leaving the team with 31 targets to replace at tight end.

Baltimore Ravens: Tight End Crockett Gillmore

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    This one comes with a massive, screaming caveat.

    If Baltimore Ravens tight end Crockett Gillmore can ever stay healthy, he has a chance to finally establish himself as a viable NFL pass-catcher in 2017. The Ravens' tight end depth chart is wide open: 36-year-old Benjamin Watson is freshly recovered from an Achilles injury that kept him out for all of 2016, and Maxx Williams could start the season on the physically unable to perform list due to a knee issue.

    Then there's converted wide receiver Darren Waller, who was recently suspended for one year after violating the NFL's substance abuse policy. So if he can remain in one piece, Gillmore has a golden opportunity, and in the not-so distant past, the 25-year-old flashed intriguing potential. In 2015, he caught 33 balls for 412 yards and four touchdowns over only 10 games.

    But at this point, Gillmore's medical chart is concerning, to say the least. He's had two shoulder surgeries in addition to tearing his hamstring in two separate areas and suffering a "broken back," according to Alex Marvez of SiriusXM NFL Radio.

    If he can avoid having his body scrambled in 2017, then Gillmore could finally fulfill his potential. The Ravens will need all the help they can get while replacing the pass-catchers who were on the other end for 352 targets in 2017, with tight end Dennis Pitta and wide receiver Steve Smith the most notable losses.

Buffalo Bills: Defensive Tackle Adolphus Washington

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    The Buffalo Bills selected Adolphus Washington in the third round of the 2016 draft knowing that soon enough they would be embracing life without Kyle Williams, the 34-year-old who has anchored their defensive line for the past 11 seasons.

    That day hasn't quite come yet, as Williams is still going strong despite his advancing age. He recorded 64 tackles and five sacks in 2016.

    But whenever he does retire, the Bills seem to have a quality interior lineman in place to grab the torch. In the meantime, Washington can keep Williams fresh while making a solid contribution in a rotational role.

    He was on the field for only 330 snaps in 2016, according to Pro Football Reference, which was 30.8 percent of the Bills' total defensive snaps. That's all the time Washington needed to record 2.5 sacks and 21 tackles as a rookie.

Carolina Panthers: Wide Receiver Russell Shepard

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    Lots of digital ink has been spilled over the Carolina Panthers' retooled offense heading into 2017, and the face lift given to the unit by two multipurpose rookies: running back Christian McCaffrey and hybrid receiver/running back Curtis Samuel.

    But beyond Kelvin Benjamin, they're still pretty thin at wide receiver.

    Devin Funchess has yet to become a pass-catcher who can bully defensive backs with his size while creating consistent separation. He's recorded just 844 yards on 54 catches over two seasons. And although Charles Johnson comes with plenty of promise and speed after being signed as a free agent, he did little more than tease over three seasons with the Minnesota Vikings. His career single-year high is 475 receiving yards.

    Which is why Russell Shepard could sneak up on all of us to become one of the better bargain free-agency signings of 2017.

    The Panthers signed Shepard to a three-year contract with a mere $2.1 million in guaranteed money. That came after he spent most of his four years with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a special teams ace. However, injuries gave him an opportunity in Tampa, and Shepard responded with 341 yards on only 23 catches and 40 targets in 2016.

    Someone has to emerge for the Panthers to support both Benjamin and quarterback Cam Newton. And that someone could easily be Shepard.

Chicago Bears: Safety Quintin Demps

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    It's rare for a player to be 32 years old and still feel like a well-kept secret. But Chicago Bears safety Quintin Demps fits the mold after pinballing around the league for nine seasons.

    Demps was a fourth-round pick back in 2008, and since then he has had two stints with the Houston Texans, as well as stops with the Philadelphia Eagles, Kansas City Chiefs and New York Giants before landing with the Bears as a free agent. His adventures in the football wilderness even briefly led Demps to the UFL's Hartford Colonials.

    He's held onto a career because there's always been a strong foundation in his coverage skills that led to intrigue, though often not enough to earn him a consistent role. But that started to change around the 2013 season, and then Demps achieved late-bloomer status in 2016.

    Demps has recorded four-plus interceptions in three of the past four seasons, highlighted by six in 2016, the second-highest total in the league and first among safeties. He's also logged three straight years with 50-plus tackles.

    His sudden rise at an age when many defensive backs start fading earned Demps a three-year contract from the Bears worth $13.5 million. He'll now be a central figure in the Bears' effort to create more turnovers after generating just eight interceptions in 2017.

Cincinnati Bengals: Wide Receiver Tyler Boyd

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    The Cincinnati Bengals seem to have ended their semi-annual search for the right complementary receiver to A.J. Green when they invested a first-round pick in speedometer-busting wideout John Ross. He set a new scouting combine record with his 4.22 time in the 40-yard dash.

    But there are still slot-receiver targets up for grabs, and Tyler Boyd has the skill set to make a leap in 2017.

    Boyd had a rocky season as a rookie last year. But that just means in many ways he had a standard effort for a second-round pick adjusting to the NFL. The 22-year-old posted four games with 60-plus receiving yards, and five games with fewer than 20 yards. Overall, that ended in a decent first season with 603 yards on 54 catches.

    Ideally, Boyd's shiftiness in the open field and quality route running will help him to emerge as yet another weapon for quarterback Andy Dalton in a stacked offense. His sure hands will help, too, as Boyd dropped just 10 of 182 catchable passes over his final two years at the University of Pittsburgh, per PFF.

Cleveland Browns: Running Back Duke Johnson

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    Duke Johnson has laid the foundation for a long career by doing one thing, and doing it well.

    The Cleveland Browns running back is undersized at 5'9" and 210 pounds, which is why he doesn't get many carries. In 2016, for example, he took only 73 handoffs, though he did break free for chunk gains frequently while averaging 4.9 yards per attempt.

    Where he thrives, however, is on passing downs as a receiver either out of the backfield or in the slot.

    Isaiah Crowell rightfully gets plenty of attention as one of the NFL's fast-rising running backs after piling up 952 rushing yards during his third season. But alongside him, Johnson has quickly become one of the league's best pass-catching backs.

    Johnson needed just two seasons to record 1,048 receiving yards. He's behind only the Cardinals' David Johnson over that stretch among running backs, according to Pro Football Reference. The gap between those two isn't that wide, considering the other Johnson is an every-down back, while Cleveland's Johnson was on the field for only 44.4 percent of the Browns' snaps in 2016.

Dallas Cowboys: Cornerback Jourdan Lewis

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    Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

    The Dallas Cowboys lost four defensive backs to free agency when cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne departed along with safeties J.J. Wilcox and Barry Church.

    They faced a scary turnaround for a secondary that generated only nine interceptions in 2016. They needed an infusion of talent during the draft, which is why two of the Cowboys' first three picks in 2017 were cornerbacks. And the second of those could fix that turnover problem in a hurry.

    Jourdan Lewis was Dallas' third-round pick at 92nd overall. He'll compete for a starting job opposite Orlando Scandrick after starting 30 games for Michigan and leaving as the school's all-time leader in pass breakups with 45. Lewis also recorded six interceptions over the past three seasons, and during that time his highest passer rating allowed in coverage was 47.1, per PFF.

    He's versatile, too, and allowed only 0.35 yards per snap in coverage when lined up in the slot at Michigan, again per PFF.

    Certainty is difficult to find with any rookie cornerback, and Lewis is no exception. But he has the ball-hawking skills to be a key piece in the Cowboys secondary right away.

Denver Broncos: Wide Receiver Carlos Henderson

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    Adding a pass-catcher who can be creative after the catch is like oxygen for any team with uncertainty at quarterback. Said team can then continue to lean on its rushing offense and pile up chunk yardage when low-risk throws turn into large gains.

    That will be Carlos Henderson's job after the Denver Broncos selected him in the third round of the 2017 draft. A deep wide receiver class meant Henderson was still available at No. 82, and the Broncos pounced to add a weapon that will complement the deep-ball-catching ways of Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders.

    Henderson thrives in the open field after the catch, which is largely how he blew up in 2016 with 1,535 receiving yards for Louisiana Tech. He exceeded his combined yardage over the previous two seasons (1,343 yards), and did it while averaging 18.7 yards per catch.

    He's scary-explosive and elusive with the ball in his hands, which led to Henderson's 48 missed tackles forced in 2016, per PFF, the best total in the nation. If the 22-year-old can ascend the depth chart fast enough during training camp, that after-the-catch ability has the potential to be a cozy source of comfort for whoever wins the Broncos' quarterback battle between Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch.

Detroit Lions: Defensive Tackle A'Shawn Robinson

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    Detroit Lions defensive tackle A'Shawn Robinson needed time to develop during his rookie season in 2016 and didn't see the field much. Now that lack of playing time has given him a high ceiling for 2017.

    Robinson did more than just capitalize on his few opportunities as a rookie while playing only 39.8 percent of the Lions' defensive snaps. He led the league in a category that feels overlooked at times but is a critical measure of how often a pass-rusher gets pressure and in turn has the instincts to react to the play.

    Robinson played just 408 snaps in 2016, and yet he led all interior defenders with seven batted passes, per PFF. He swatted one more ball than the Dolphins' Ndamukong Suh, who played 973 snaps.

    His collapsing the pocket enough to bat away so many balls shows the potential for much more once Robinson's role increases. In the near future, some of those swats will turn into sacks when he gets to the quarterback a tick sooner.

Green Bay Packers: Wide Receiver Geronimo Allison

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    Geronimo Allison already has a name that belongs in the hall of great football names, which needs to exist—construction should start in Canton tomorrow.

    Saying his name often was fun late in the 2016 season. That's when a combination of injuries and ineffectiveness led to Allison's rise up the Green Bay Packers' wide receiver depth chart. He had no business looking so at ease right away while streaking deep and using his 6'3" wingspan to win jump balls. Sure, Allison had the physical tools, but he was also an undrafted, unproven rookie.

    But there he was hauling in 157 receiving yards over the Packers' final two regular-season games, and doing it at an average of 19.6 yards per catch. That amounted to a brief flash of promise, with Allison showing the potential for much more if he ever gets an expanded role.

    At the very least he can continue to provide quality depth at a position where it's needed.

Houston Texans: Linebacker Zach Cunningham

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    The Houston Texans defense already has a tooth-rattling front seven. And during the second round of the draft the team added yet another piece to that unit, and this linebacker won't be a secret for long.

    The Texans selected inside linebacker Zach Cunningham with the 57th overall pick. They did it knowing linebacker Brian Cushing's 30-year-old body is being held together by scotch tape. In addition, Cushing could be a cap casualty after 2017. That's when the dead money attached to his deal is nearly erased, plummeting from $4.2 million to $1.2 million.

    That's also when Cunningham could take over seamlessly after leading the SEC in tackles in 2016 with 125 and finishing his Vanderbilt career third in school history with 39.5 tackles for a loss. In the meantime, he'll be depth and a high-end safety net behind Cushing, who has logged only one 16-game season since 2012.

Indianapolis Colts: Tight End Erik Swoope

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    The pipeline is well-greased for former basketball players to excel as tight ends after some time and development. And Erik Swoope could be the next stud.

    The Indianapolis Colts made Swoope their project by signing him as an undrafted free agent in 2014. The former University of Miami basketball player spent most of his first two seasons on the practice squad before being elevated to the active roster late in 2015.

    His regular-season debut didn't come until 2016, and it was immediately clear Swoope was much more than just a lumbering body at 6'5", 257 pounds. Like many tight ends who have transitioned from basketball, he combines a knowledge of how to position himself with his natural athleticism.

    The result over his limited time in 2016 was 297 receiving yards on only 15 catches—an average of 19.8 yards per reception.

    Sure, Swoope can be a red-zone menace. But he also can mature into so much more as a deep-ball threat.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Wide Receiver Dede Westbrook

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    The Jacksonville Jaguars have a deep wide receiver depth chart led by Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns. Together they've combined for two 1,000-plus-receiving-yard seasons over the first three years of their careers, even with quarterback Blake Bortles' wayward crosshairs.

    But Dede Westbrook is lurking further down and ready to climb up fast if Hurns continues to stumble after averaging only 43.4 yards per game in 2016.

    Westbrook was a draft steal in the fourth round after finishing fourth in the 2016 Heisman voting following a standout season. His blazing 4.34-second speed in the 40-yard dash showed up on the field when Westbrook erupted for 1,524 yards on 80 receptions in 2016 (19.1 yards per catch). He also finished tied for third in receiving touchdowns with 17.

    The Jaguars hope Westbrook shines on the field while shedding character concerns away from it. If he does that, the 23-year-old could earn a meaningful role sooner than expected.

Kansas City Chiefs: Safety Daniel Sorensen

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    Cornerback Marcus Peters is usually the subject of conversation whenever there's chatter about the Kansas City Chiefs secondary. He's earned that status by soaring to become of the league's best young cornerbacks while recording 14 interceptions and 46 passes defensed over 31 career games.

    But a safety is blossoming beside him, and it's one the Chiefs just secured with a contract that could look like a steal fast.

    Daniel Sorensen saw his defensive snaps increase dramatically in 2016. He was on the field for 542 snaps in a hybrid safety-linebacker role after playing just 227 snaps in 2015. He responded by being a swarming, ball-swatting presence.

    Sorensen finished with three interceptions and six passes defensed. That contribution is even more impressive considering he was on the field for only 48.6 percent of the Chiefs' defensive snaps. He also finished his third NFL season with 63 tackles, up dramatically from 23 in 2015.

    Sorensen has become an integral piece of a secondary fresh off a season when it allowed only 6.9 yards per reception. The Chiefs saw more than enough to lock the 27-year-old into a four-year contract worth $16 million, a deal he could outperform quickly.

Los Angeles Chargers: Running Back Kenjon Barner

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    Running back is the most combustible position in football, with knees bruising and tendons stretching on a weekly basis. It's also an area where depth is critical, and the Los Angeles Chargers don't have much of it beyond Melvin Gordon after Danny Woodhead departed as a free agent.

    Branden Oliver is still lingering, but he missed all of 2016 and spent the offseason recovering from an Achilles injury. He's been a plodder when healthy, too, and averaged only 3.5 yards per carry in 2015.

    The Chargers need to rejuvenate their backfield and find the right complementary option alongside Gordon. And that could be Kenjon Barner.

    Barner signed a low cost one-year deal with only $75,000 guaranteed. He heads to Los Angeles after being buried on depth charts earlier in his career. First it was with the Carolina Panthers, and then more recently the Philadelphia Eagles, where Barner received only 32 touches in 2016.

    That's all the work he needed to score two touchdowns, however, and on his 27 carries Barner averaged 4.8 yards. He's still young at 27, and the former Oregon star has the open-field tackle-breaking skill to make a valuable contribution even in a modest role.

    Barner has also had success as a kick returner and averaged 30.8 yards per return in 2016.

Los Angeles Rams: Cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman

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    There are times when a low-key signing fills a roster hole perfectly. The Los Angeles Rams' move to bring in Nickell Robey-Coleman is one of those times.

    The Buffalo Bills released him in early March. The Rams saw value in him, though, after he showed the ability to be one of the NFL's best slot cornerbacks.

    Robey-Coleman recorded two interceptions and seven passes defensed in 2016. Much more impressively, he provided blanket coverage in the slot while allowing a passer rating of just 74.9, per PFF. That ranked second among all slot corners, and behind only the Broncos' Chris Harris Jr.

    Coleman should further strengthen a secondary that finished tied for fifth in 2016 while allowing 6.7 yards per attempt.

Miami Dolphins: Defensive End Andre Branch

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    Prior to the 2016 season, defensive end Andre Branch was a wasted second-round pick by the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Miami Dolphins took a flier on him with the classic one-year "prove it" deal. Branch then proved something important: He can be an important contributor.

    Branch may never live up to that second-round status. But he can be a fine rotational pass-rusher who chips in with pressure off the edge, and do it all at an affordable price. The Dolphins re-signed him to a three-year contract with only $16.8 million guaranteed after a 2016 season in which Branch recorded 5.5 sacks and 48 pressures, per PFF (via Rotoworld).

    That might not be spectacular production. But it's fine support from a pass-rusher who lines up opposite Cameron Wake.

Minnesota Vikings: Wide Receiver Laquon Treadwell

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    It may seem strange to call Laquon Treadwell a secret. There's little hidden about a wide receiver who was a first-round pick in 2016.

    But Treadwell quickly tumbled from that high perch and delivered slightly more than nothing as a rookie. He finished with one reception in 2016 and was clearly an afterthought who was unable to earn any targets or snaps of significance.

    So yes, the warp speed of the NFL can make a highly touted prospect go from first-round gem to a replacement-level nobody fast. But Treadwell still has the skill set to bounce back just as quickly.

    Of course, being broken for much of 2016 didn't help. Treadwell suffered a gruesome broken fibula during his final season at Ole Miss and never fully recovered. Andrew Krammer of the Star-Tribune noted Treadwell had to wear custom cleats during his rookie season to ease pain in his foot.

    The Vikings didn't get the true Treadwell experience then. When he's operating at full health, he can beat up defensive backs with his large frame (6'2", 215 pounds). That's how he finished his college career with 82 receptions for 1,153 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns.

    The Vikings will be gleeful if Treadwell begins to live up to his potential and gives them anything close to that production in 2017. Suddenly an offense that also added running back Dalvin Cook would be much more dynamic.

New England Patriots: Running Back Mike Gillislee

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    The New England Patriots' secret weapon always seems to come with the potential to blow up the opposition on the league's brightest stage.

    In 2016, wide receiver Chris Hogan did just that. Now, the hidden hero could be another former Bills player, because of course the knife needs to be driven just a little deeper.

    The Bills declined to match the offer given to restricted free-agent running back Mike Gillislee. So he became the latest discarded scrap-heap piece to join the Patriots, with Bill Belichick going through his annual habit of mining for gems among the free-agency rubble.

    There's already a shine to Gillislee after he was an efficient producer in 2016 for the Bills. The 26-year-old didn't get many opportunities behind LeSean McCoy, but he still turned his 110 touches into 627 yards, an average of 5.7 yards per touch.

    The Patriots backfield is now overflowing with running backs who will have to find their role. The job description waiting for Gillislee, if he can take it, is early-down and goal-line bruiser. ESPN.com's Mike Reiss thinks Belichick will tap Gillislee to fill LeGarrette Blount's shoes. He's suited for it because of both his chunk yardage in 2016 and eight rushing touchdowns.

New Orleans Saints: Running Back Alvin Kamara

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    There will always be a home in the New Orleans Saints offense for the running back who does much more in the receiving column of the box score than the rushing section.

    And Alvin Kamara is next in line to be the new Darren Sproles, or the next Reggie Bush.

    Kamara will likely have a limited, specific role while playing behind Mark Ingram and Adrian Peterson. But he still has the skill set to add a critical dimension to the Saints offense—one that's been a constant throughout head coach Sean Payton's tenure.

    The former Tennessee Volunteers standout put in plenty of work with the wide receivers during portions of minicamp and OTAs, as ESPN.com's Mike Triplett noted. That shows the Saints plan to get valuable use out of Kamara, even if Ingram and Peterson hog the carries.

    Kamara is a quick-cutting ankle-breaker in the open field and can be tough to keep up with when lining up in the slot. He forced 23 missed tackles as a receiver on 40 receptions in 2016, per PFF, and finished with 392 receiving yards.

New York Giants: Running Back Wayne Gallman

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    The New York Giants' rushing offense needed a firm punch to the gut. The Giants averaged only 3.5 yards per carry in 2016 (30th), and the emptiness in their backfield often put too much pressure on 36-year-old quarterback Eli Manning.

    General manager Jerry Reese has gone with a two-fold solution. First, he hopes Paul Perkins continues to develop after flashing at times in 2016. Those flashes were fleeting, though it was encouraging when Perkins averaged 4.8 yards per carry over the final three games.

    If Perkins stumbles, Wayne Gallman could emerge as his safety net on early downs, which is why Reese selected him in the fourth round. Gallman may not have exceptional speed after running the 40-yard dash in 4.60 seconds. But he runs with fury and powers through tackles. His 153 forced missed tackles from 2014 through 2016 were the fifth-most in the 2017 draft class, per PFF.

    Gallman accelerates fast to eliminate angles, which often makes up for any top-end speed he lacks. The 6'0" and 215-pound Clemson product piled up 3,025 yards from scrimmage over the final two years of his college career.

New York Jets: Wide Receiver ArDarius Stewart

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    The New York Jets have little interest in winning games in 2017. So having a secret weapon really isn't in their business model.

    But they probably wouldn't mind if their plan to be a zero in every way imaginable is interrupted if Stewart lives up to his billing immediately and is the ideal complement for Robby Anderson's deep speed.

    Stewart was selected in the third round of the 2017 draft after scoring eight times and averaging 16 yards per catch on 54 receptions during his final year at Alabama. Much of his 864 receiving yards in 2016 came after the catch when the jittery tackle-breaker blasted off. Stewart averaged 10.7 yards after the catch per reception, according to PFF.

    There is one significant hurdle holding Stewart back, and possibly limiting his rookie impact. He's already struggled to stay healthy, needing surgeries on both his thumb and groin. Consequently, Stewart wasn't on the field for both Jets minicamp and OTAs, which puts the rookie's development way behind heading into training camp.

Oakland Raiders: Running Back DeAndre Washington

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    There's giddiness around Marshawn Lynch for two simple reasons: Not only is everyone's favorite NFL-Skittles ambassador back, but he's returning with his hometown team, the Oakland Raiders.

    A year away from facing the standard weekly running back pummeling has surely done wonders for Lynch's 31-year-old body. And the Raiders can keep him fresh by rotating in their talented stable of running backs behind Lynch, one of whom is DeAndre Washington.

    The 2016 fifth-round selection gave the Raiders a great return on that Day 3 pick. He did a lot with a modest workload and finished with 582 yards from scrimmage on 104 touches. Washington also slashed and cut his way to frequent chunk gains on the ground, averaging 5.4 yards per carry.

    The Raiders already had an imposing running back tandem with Washington and Jalen Richard. Adding Lynch to that mix just solidifies their backfield as one of the league's deepest.

Philadelphia Eagles: Running Back Donnel Pumphrey

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    Having two versions of Darren Sproles on your roster is always better than one.

    That's the short-term future the Philadelphia Eagles laid out by selecting running back Donnel Pumphrey in the fourth round of the 2017 draft. In 2018 and beyond, the aim is for Pumphrey to become the next Sproles, and develop into a quality passing-down back who can also roast defenses with his quickness as a runner.

    The seeds for that rise were put in place when Pumphrey averaged 1,861 yards from scrimmage per season over four years at San Diego State, which included a single-season career-high 414 receiving yards in 2015.

    Pumphrey's snap count will surely be behind Sproles' and LeGarrette Blount's in 2017. But he'll still have a significant role as a slot receiver. As PhillyVoice.com's Jimmy Kempski noted, Pumphrey worked from the slot quite a bit during OTAs, a position where his route-running quickness will make knees buckle throughout the league.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Wide Receiver Eli Rogers

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    It feels like the Pittsburgh Steelers have an endless supply of quality wide receivers. They can pull up to any NFL stadium with their offensive clown car, and the athletically gifted targets for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will keep stumbling out.

    Antonio Brown leads the group, and Martavis Bryant's return from a suspension gives Roethlisberger a pass-catcher in the red zone who vacuums up anything you throw in his vicinity. Then there's Juju Smith-Schuster, the 2017 second-round pick who scored 25 touchdowns over three seasons at USC.

    But don't forget about Eli Rogers. It'll be easier for him to get lost with the likes of Brown and Bryant being target magnets, and running back Le'Veon Bell is always a major factor in the passing game. However, even if Rogers is the third or fourth option, he'll still likely make a meaningful contribution as a shifty slot receiver.

    He did that in 2016, a season when he finished with a respectable 594 receiving yards. His role increased as the season progressed, as he recorded 220 yards over Pittsburgh's final three regular-season games, and then was targeted 10 times during the Steelers' playoff loss to the New England Patriots.

    In 2017 he'll be one of the less talked-about pieces of a loaded offense, but an important one nonetheless.

San Francisco 49ers: Wide Receiver Marquise Goodwin

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    Wide receiver Marquise Goodwin was a gadget player at best throughout most of his four seasons with the Buffalo Bills, two of which were essentially erased due to injury. He played just two games in 2015, and prior to that caught only one pass in 2014 while hobbled by numerous issues.

    Then suddenly in 2016 Goodwin was healthy, and he showed what happens when Olympic speed is unleashed. Goodwin was still largely used in a deep-strike role, but his 431 receiving yards stood as easily a career high (Goodwin's previous high was 283 yards).

    He can race past anyone, and did that while hauling in deep balls for 84 and 67 yards in 2016. Goodwin has unique speed, and his long-jump background gives him the ability to break down his routes quickly to create smooth separation.

    Goodwin signed with the San Francisco 49ers as a free agent, and ideally he'll still be used in a field-stretching role. The difference now is that head coach Kyle Shanahan will maximize Goodwin's talent with his innovative offensive mind.

Seattle Seahawks: Wide Receiver Paul Richardson

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    Paul Richardson is often more acrobat than wide receiver. He makes twisting and leaping one-handed receptions seem routine.

    The 25-year-old Seattle Seahawks wide receiver did that repeatedly against the Detroit Lions during a Wild Card Round win. Richardson got an opportunity with Tyler Lockett injured, and capitalized while making NBC announcer Cris Collinsworth wonder if he was an Odell Beckham Jr. clone.

    Richardson has the raw ability and natural pass-catching talent to demand a larger role in the Seahawks offense. He showed it during that game against the Lions when all three of his catches sparkled on the highlight reel, and especially the one-handed touchdown grab he made as he dangled off safety Tavon Wilson.

    Richardson didn't receive much of an opportunity in 2016 until Lockett went down, and was on the field for only 31.9 percent of Seattle's regular-season offensive snaps. But when his chance came, the second-round pick in 2014 caught 15 passes for 213 yards and two touchdowns over the Seahawks' final four games including the playoffs.

    His production and circus catches during that stretch should earn Richardson more playing time in 2017, and possibly the No. 3 receiver role.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Defensive End Jacquies Smith

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Jacquies Smith has fallen back to secret-weapon status. We haven't seen him since Week 1 of the 2016 season when the 27-year-old tore his ACL.

    But if he's recovered and even close to full health for 2017, Smith can be a sneakily solid rotational pass-rusher and reinforce the strength of a unit that recorded 38 sacks in 2016 (tied for ninth).

    Prior to his injury, Smith finished 2015 with seven sacks, a total he reached while playing only 50 percent of the Bucs' defensive snaps. He also tallied 23 pressures that season, per PFF.

    There's a scenario in 2017 that will see the Buccaneers' pass rush take a leap forward. It goes like this: Smith is healthy, newly signed defensive tackle Chris Baker keeps playing at a high level, and young defensive end Noah Spence breaks out.

Tennessee Titans: Outside Linebacker Kevin Dodd

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    Michael Zito/Associated Press

    Kevin Dodd has gone from being a highly touted prospect and early second-round pick to nearly an afterthought on the Tennessee Titans' depth chart because of a nagging foot injury.

    Dodd had offseason surgery prior to 2016, then tried to play through the stress fracture in his right foot. That led to ineffectiveness and only one sack, and then eventually a trip to injured reserve.

    There are still concerns about Dodd's foot even now after a second procedure in January. As ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky noted, Dodd sat out OTAs and at the time he still wasn't testing his foot during rehab work. However, Titans head coach Mike Mularkey recently said Dodd will be ready for training camp, per Kuharsky, which fuels optimism about a return to his beastly days in college.

    Please recall that those days of dominance at Clemson not long ago ended with 12.5 sacks and 24 tackles for a loss in 2015. If that version of Dodd can be put in a rotation with Brian Orakpo (10.5 sacks in 2016) and Derrick Morgan (nine sacks in 2016), then the Titans' pass rush will be extra terrifying.

Washington Redskins: Wide Receiver Ryan Grant

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Ryan Grant should be hopelessly buried on the Washington Redskins' wide receiver depth chart.

    Jamison Crowder is primed for a breakout season, and newly signed Terrelle Pryor should replace the deep speed that left when DeSean Jackson departed as a free agent. Then there's Josh Doctson, whose rookie season was washed out by an Achilles injury, but the first-round pick in 2016 isn't far removed from his 1,326 receiving yards for TCU in 2015.

    Yet there's still a twinkling in head coach Jay Gruden's eye when he talks about Grant, a receiver with just 39 career receptions over three seasons.

    "He's our most consistent guy, without a doubt, as a far as being able to line up everywhere, run the routes exactly how we want them at the right depth coming out of them," Gruden told CSN Mid-Atlantic's JP Finlay in June.

    Versatility is critical at wide receiver, and Grant's ability to execute the offense from anywhere has clearly caught Gruden's attention. Grant has the skill base to succeed and the support of his coaching staff. Now he just needs more opportunities after getting a measly 19 targets in 2016.


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