NFL1000: 1 Free Agent Each Team Should Already Be Thinking About

NFL1000 ScoutsFeatured ColumnistNovember 3, 2017

NFL1000: 1 Free Agent Each Team Should Already Be Thinking About

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    Tony Avelar/Associated Press

    Long-term success in the NFL is built on consistently drafting the right players for your schemes. If free agency is used as more of a roster-filler than a panacea for bad drafts, it can put a team over the top.

    The Los Angeles Rams were ready to redefine their offense under new head coach Sean McVay, but that would have been much tougher without the addition of left tackle Andrew Whitworth.

    The Jacksonville Jaguars have built an estimable defense primarily through the draft, but adding cornerback A.J. Bouye to their secondary gave them the NFL's best cornerback duo in Bouye and Jalen Ramsey. Not coincidentally, it's the NFL's best defense in 2017. Adding former Arizona Cardinals defensive lineman Calais Campbell and turning him into a full-time supersized defensive end didn't hurt, either.

    No matter their level of success in any season, every NFL team has holes to fill that may not be addressed in the draft. And given these potential franchise liabilities on every roster, the scouts at B/R's NFL1000 project have come up with one potential free agent who every team should be thinking about now…and targeting as soon as the new league year gets underway next March.

    Our team of scouts: Lead Scout: Doug Farrar, Quarterbacks: Mark Schofield, Running backs/Fullbacks: Mark Bullock, Receivers/Tight Ends: Marcus Mosher, Offensive Line: Ethan Young, Defensive Line: Justis Mosqueda, Linebackers: Derrik Klassen, Secondary: Ian Wharton.

    From quarterbacks to cornerbacks, here's one player we believe every NFL team should have on its roster when the 2018 season begins, if the deals can be made.

Arizona Cardinals: QB Drew Brees

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    The Arizona Cardinals have a quarterback problem.

    Carson Palmer is on injured reserve with a broken left arm. He wasn't playing well when he was healthy this season because he was getting beaten to death behind a porous offensive line, and at age 37, he may be ready to hang it up.

    Drew Stanton is the starter in Palmer's place, and he does not resemble a franchise quarterback. To run the passing game Bruce Arians wants, the Cardinals will need a quarterback with a dynamic arm for all those vertical routes. They'll need a player with the experience to digest his playbook.

    Arians isn't going to find that guy in the draft.

    If the New Orleans Saints decide to move on from Drew Brees after the 2017 season, landing in the Valley of the Sun would be a perfect fit. Brees is far more mobile on his worst day than Palmer has ever been; he's shown that even at age 38, he still has the arm to make any throw; and there are similarities between Arians' system and what Brees has run under Sean Payton over the last decade.

    The only real question is the cap space. Palmer has a $20.6 million cap hit in 2018, which diminishes the likelihood of his return. Brees' 2017 cap hit is $19 million, and he has three voidable years in 2018, 2019 and 2020.

    The Saints can't franchise Brees per the terms of his current contract, so there would have to be an extension. If that doesn't happen, few landing places would make more sense for the future Hall of Famer than Arians' offense.

    — NFL1000 Lead Scout, Doug Farrar

Atlanta Falcons: OG Justin Pugh

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    While many are hitting the panic button on the Steve Sarkisian-led Atlanta Falcons offense, I see a team that ranks second in the league in yards per drive and has seen some tough luck this season.

    If the narrative around this unit doesn't change, and general manager Thomas Dimitroff wants to make a splash this spring to try to return the team to its record-breaking ways, it would not surprise me if the Falcons acquired a top-tier guard.

    It makes sense to invest in protection when you think about this team. Not only should keeping Matt Ryan clean as he ages be a priority, but the one area Atlanta's offense has noticeably struggled this year is in the red zone. Getting a premium player up front could help the team convert in short yardage more often.

    From a team-building standpoint, this makes sense too.

    Andy Levitre is still performing well on the left side, but he's getting up there in age (31), and his contract comes off the books after next season. The long-term assets are available if that's the lens you view it through.

    Wes Schweitzer is possibly the worst starter on the Falcons offense at right guard, and sliding a guy like Justin Pugh in there in place of him would be the biggest upgrade the Falcons could make. Given how important agility and ability to play in space are for this blocking scheme, Pugh would fit right in stylistically as well.

    — NFL1000 OL Scout, Ethan Young

Baltimore Ravens: WR Alshon Jeffery

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    To say the Baltimore Ravens lack receiving weapons would be an understatement.

    Through eight games, the Ravens don't have a single player with 250 or more receiving yards. Their top two weapons (Mike Wallace and Jeremy Maclin) are both past their primes and are second options at best.

    The Ravens need a true No. 1 receiver who can command double coverage and win consistently everywhere on the field. For years, the Ravens have opted to only grab receivers who can make plays downfield. Alshon Jeffery is scheduled to hit free agency again this spring and should be the top option for the Ravens.

    As the Philadelphia Eagles' No. 1 receiver this season, he has been solid. He hasn't topped 100 yards in a game yet, but he's occupied teams' best cornerbacks, and that has allowed Nelson Agholor and Zach Ertz to thrive.

    Jeffrey thrives on the outside as an X receiver. Not only can he win in the short-to-intermediate parts of the field, but he can also win downfield. He is one of the better receivers in the league at catching 50-50 balls. With Jeffery on the outside demanding coverage, it would greatly improve the unit.

    Maclin would become the team's second receiver, and Wallace and Breshad Perriman would compete for the third receiver job. Jeffery is one of the only true No. 1 receivers scheduled to hit free agency and should be coveted. And with Carson Wentz's success in Philadelphia, expect the Eagles to be players as well.

    — NFL1000 WR Scout, Marcus Mosher

Buffalo Bills: DT Sheldon Richardson

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    In their first year back in a 4-3, the Buffalo Bills defense has improved.

    At defensive end, the rotation of Jerry Hughes, Shaq Lawson and Eddie Yarbrough has played above average by NFL standards. At nose tackle, Kyle Williams has done his part. If the team can add a top-tier under tackle, it can break into the elite class of defensive line units.

    Sheldon Richardson was traded from the New York Jets to the Seattle Seahawks this offseason, but he still hasn't signed a long-term deal. And he's having a down year for his standards. Here are the number of tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage Richardson has recorded by year, per Pro Football Reference:

    2013: 25
    2014: 20
    2015: 13.5
    2016: 26.5
    2017: 3.5

    Still, there's only one scenario where the Seahawks don't try to re-sign him next year: They don't like his fit and want to avoid another Jimmy Graham-like situation, where they trade picks and pay for a player underperforming.

    If Richardson does walk, he's a high-upside, low-floor type of player. Buffalo has had some success turning those athletes around recently with the likes of Richie Incognito and LeSean McCoy.

    Richardson may not be the most open to signing a short-term or below-market deal. On the other hand, Buffalo has been making moves for months to free up cap space.

     — NFL1000 DL Scout, Justis Mosqueda

Carolina Panthers: DE Demarcus Lawrence

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    The Dallas Cowboys have tried their hardest since DeMarcus Ware left in 2014 to replace him.

    That has led to bombing out on the likes of Greg Hardy and Randy Gregory. After spending a 2017 first-round pick on Michigan's Taco Charlton, the team's top defensive end is still a 2014 second-rounder, Demarcus Lawrence.

    Lawrence, also known as Tank, has had a big bounce-back season after his 2016 campaign was marked by an early-season suspension. Currently leading the NFL in sacks, he's going to be quite expensive this offseason.

    Should Lawrence walk, the Carolina Panthers would be a great fit.

    Carolina is a 4-3 team that could play Lawrence at left end, where 37-year-old Julius Peppers is currently slated. The Panthers always seem to get more sacks than their defensive end talent would suggest they'd generate, and pairing an end like Lawrence with a defensive tackle like Kawann Short would be deadly.

    The Panthers might as well go for broke on building around an incredible defense.

    — NFL1000 DL Scout, Justis Mosqueda

Chicago Bears: CB Johnathan Joseph

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    The Chicago Bears spent a combined $23 million on free-agent signings Prince Amukamara and Marcus Cooper this past offseason in hopes of fixing a problematic cornerback position.

    The positive is that 2014 first-round pick Kyle Fuller has become one of the better off-ball corners this year. Unfortunately, their two biggest investments from free agency haven't made a big enough impact to justify bringing either back in 2018.

    Since the Bears have had so much trouble finding consistency at the position, longtime Houston Texans corner Johnathan Joseph must be on their radar. The 33-year-old has aged gracefully, seeing little drop-off in the last few years. Along with Fuller, the Bears could have two of the better off-ball corners in their scheme.

    In man coverage, Joseph has allowed just seven of 19 targets to be complete for 163 yards and a touchdown. Considering Joseph has only missed more than four games just once in the last nine years, Chicago should be watering at the mouth to add such a consistent presence to its leaky secondary.

    Joseph is a candidate to sign a short-term deal with a contender this offseason, but the Bears are flush with cap space and opportunity to sell him on.

    — NFL1000 DB Scout, Ian Wharton

Cincinnati Bengals: DT Bennie Logan

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    After years of Domata Peko, the Cincinnati Bengals finally moved off their long-term nose tackle to give under tackle Geno Atkins a fresh face to play next to. However, nose tackle is still the Bengals' weakness on their defensive line this season.

    Atkins is a world-class defensive tackle, Carlos Dunlap is one of the better 4-3 defensive ends in the AFC, and the rookie duo of Carl Lawson and Jordan Willis are both top-10 pass-rushers in this rookie class. Even Michael Johnson, who has rebranded himself into a decent interior rusher, has made strides.

    One more piece, at nose tackle specifically, could be the difference for the Bengals in 2018, when an AFC North title could be up for grabs with Joe Flacco, DeShone Kizer and Landry Jones potentially playing quarterback in the division.

    Last year's free-agency class of nose tackles collectively found less money on the market than they had previously assumed would be there. That led to short-term deals for Bennie Logan and Dontari Poe and the period between hitting the open market and signing a deal for Johnathan Hankins.

    As it stands, Logan, 27, has been a starter and a significant defender in two different spots in his short NFL career. He signed a one-year, $8 million deal last offseason, so he could try to theoretically test a better market in 2018, which could play right into the Bengals' favor.

    Cincinnati has been known as a "cheap" team for a long time, particularly in free agency, but a vulnerable AFC North in 2018 could push owner Mike Brown to loosening his greenbacks restriction.

    — NFL1000 DL Scout, Justis Mosqueda

Cleveland Browns: QB Kirk Cousins

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    The Factory of Sadness needs...well, it needs a lot right now.

    From frustration over a botched potential trade for AJ McCarron to the handling of rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer to the disgruntled voices coming out of the organization, Cleveland needs to fix a lot.

    The Browns can start with finally getting some stability under center. Since they last appeared in the playoffs in 2002, here are the quarterbacks who have started games for the Browns: Kelly Holcomb, Tim Couch, Jeff Garcia, Luke McCown, Trent Dilfer, Charlie Frye, Derek Anderson, Brady Quinn, Ken Dorsey, Bruce Gradkowski, Colt McCoy, Jake Delhomme, Seneca Wallace, Brandon Weeden, Thad Lewis, Jason Campbell, Brian Hoyer, Johnny Manziel, Connor Shaw, Josh McCown, Austin Davis, Robert Griffin III, Cody Kessler, Kevin Hogan and Kizer.

    Not exactly Murderers' Row.

    Cleveland can start shoring up its organization by adding stability at the quarterback spot. Trying to do that via the draft seems to be the wrong approach, given how the Browns have handled rookie quarterbacks to date and given the talent in place on offense.

    Adding a veteran such as Kirk Cousins would give the organization and the offense a stable, steady option. He is quietly putting together a strong season, and an addition such as Cousins allows Cleveland to use draft capital at other spots to give the offense a much-needed talent infusion.

    Signing Cousins makes a great deal of sense and might finally put an end to the endless string of names taking snaps in Cleveland.

    — NFL1000 QB Scout, Mark Schofield

Dallas Cowboys: CB Vontae Davis

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    When the Dallas Cowboys decided to replace both outside starting cornerbacks (Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne) after 2016, it was a clear cost-cutting move motivated by Claiborne's injury history and Carr's age.

    Dallas invested back into the position with third-round pick Jourdan Lewis, and now the Cowboys have the ninth-least expensive cornerback depth chart in the league. That decision has backfired on the field; Carr and Claiborne are having excellent seasons elsewhere.

    Now Dallas has a roster full of corners who look best in the slot, sans maybe Lewis, who has been up and down on the outside in the first half of his rookie year. The Cowboys need a legitimate boundary corner to anchor this young unit, and Vontae Davis would be a great addition.

    In Davis, the Cowboys would be betting on his health like they weren't willing to do with Claiborne, but the upside is there for Davis to regain his form as a solid starter.

    In five games this year, he's allowed 12 of 21 targets in man coverage to be completed for 174 yards. That's not great, but the Cowboys also boast a much better defensive line to help Davis.

    A depth chart with Davis, Lewis, Chidobe Awuzie and potentially Orlando Scandrick back has the look of a more dangerous and formidable secondary unit.

    — NFL1000 DB Scout, Ian Wharton

Denver Broncos: RB Le'Veon Bell

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    The Denver Broncos are wasting their elite defense because of their quarterback play.

    Sorting that out is obviously a priority for Denver, but that's easier said than done. That's why they should consider making a move for Le'Veon Bell, should the Pittsburgh Steelers opt against paying their star back.

    Bell has the most patience of any back in the league and will almost come to a stop as he allows his blocks to develop. Not many backs can get away with doing what Bell does, but he can because of his ability to accelerate and burst out of a cut.

    He's also a big threat out of the backfield as a receiver. He is terrific on screens and can be split outside and run routes with great effectiveness.

    Bell is elite and can carry an offense. He's proved he can handle a heavy workload, which would take the pressure off whomever the Broncos play under center.

    Even if they go with Paxton Lynch, Bell is capable of being an effective runner out of the shotgun. That would enable Lynch or any rookie quarterback not used to taking snaps under center to make a more comfortable transition.

    — NFL1000 RB Scout, Mark Bullock

Detroit Lions: RB Frank Gore

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    The Detroit Lions have a pair of talented young running backs in Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick. However, both are smaller backs, shiftier backs and have had trouble with injuries.

    With those two as the primary backs, the Lions have averaged 82.1 rushing yards per game (28th). While those stats aren't great, the potential of those two backs, particularly Abdullah as a runner, is still high. The Lions shouldn't give up on that.

    Adding a veteran like Frank Gore would be a smart move. Gore is playing in his 13th season, and while he's a similar size, he's managed to stay healthy for the majority of his career.

    He's not necessarily the prolific runner who would demand 20 carries a game, but he's a reliable back who can step in and pick up tough yards on 3rd-and-short. He can also be trusted in other aspects of the position like pass protection, which is a must in a pass-happy Lions offense.

    Having Gore in the running back meeting room every day would prove beneficial for the two younger backs. Gore has been there and done it all. He has over 13,000 rushing yards in his career. That's a great deal of experience to pass on.

    — NFL1000 RB Scout, Mark Bullock

Green Bay Packers: TE Jimmy Graham

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    With Martellus Bennett suggesting on Instagram that 2017 may be his last season (the post has since been deleted), the Green Bay Packers could be in the market for a new tight end next spring. The best tight end scheduled to hit free agency is none other than Jimmy Graham.

    In the Seattle Seahawks offense, Graham hasn't been the player we saw earlier in his career. He's averaging under 10 yards per reception in 2017, and his targets per game have significantly dropped since joining the Seahawks. While Graham is playing with an elite quarterback in Russell Wilson, the two have never fully meshed as well as he did with Drew Brees.  

    In the Packers offense, Graham could revert back to the player we saw in New Orleans. No quarterback in the league is better at getting the ball to his playmakers accurately within the structure of the offense than Aaron Rodgers. With wide receiver Davante Adams scheduled to hit free agency and Jordy Nelson turning 33 before next season, the Packers need to add a dynamic weapon.

    Graham will likely sign with a team that has a proven quarterback, and he will want to be with an offense that knows how to use his skill set. If the Packers are able to snag Graham, he could quickly remind people why he was once considered one of the best tight ends in football.

    Graham will turn 31 later this season, but he still can be a valuable piece to an offense that values having an athletic tight end who can win down the seams. He would be an ideal option in the Packers offense.

    — NFL1000 TE Scout, Marcus Mosher

Houston Texans: S Kenny Vaccaro

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    Just as the New Orleans Saints defense has become a more formidable unit to support their explosive offense, the team is facing tough decisions with free agents this coming offseason. One of those is safety Kenny Vaccaro, who is on pace for another solid season and the best in terms of forcing turnovers.

    He will be a hot commodity if he hits the market.

    Should the Houston Texans get the chance to make an offer, their pitch must be aggressive considering their weak safety play next to Andre Hal over the last few seasons.

    The duo of Corey Moore and Eddie Pleasant lacks the impactful potential that Vaccaro has shown. Not only is Vaccaro more effective in the box as a tight end coverage option, but he's more instinctive filling run lanes in comparison.

    Vaccaro would also be working behind the best linebacking corps he's ever had. The Saints lack the range and depth the Texans boast at the position, and it's forced the Saints' safeties to overextend beyond their strengths far too often.

    Vaccaro is not a fast safety, making him a poor single-high option and often limited against speedier receivers. Yet the Saints have been stuck with him in those matchups in years past due to personnel limitations.

    The Texans can make sure that won't be the case.

    — NFL1000 DB Scout, Ian Wharton

Indianapolis Colts: RB Alex Collins

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    The Indianapolis Colts are fully rebuilding under GM Chris Ballard. The roster he inherited from Ryan Grigson needed a lot of work, and he's done well in his first year in charge. Yet there's more work ahead.

    With all the questions surrounding Andrew Luck's throwing shoulder set to drag into the offseason, Ballard and the Colts would be wise to improve their running game to help whoever is playing quarterback.

    Baltimore Ravens running back Alex Collins, 23, would be a nice fit. Frank Gore is a terrific professional, but at 34, he's unlikely to want to stay with a team that might be a few years away from competing.

    Collins has also proved he can run various schemes effectively. The Ravens have been a zone team in previous years, but they've incorporated more power and gap scheme plays recently. Collins is averaging six yards per carry while executing every scheme the Ravens call.

    The Colts did spend a fourth-round pick on Marlon Mack back in April, and while Mack has shown flashes, he's still more of a change-of-pace or third-down back. Taking up that role would balance out well with Collins as the workhorse back.

    It would give the Colts a two-headed rushing attack that could be the foundation of their offense while they wait for Luck's return.

    — NFL1000 RB Scout, Mark Bullock

Jacksonville Jaguars: QB Colin Kaepernick

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    Let's go ahead and assume Colin Kaepernick will be a free agent at the start of the 2018 league year. And let's set aside any political constraints for now. We're talking about scheme, and in Jacksonville's run-heavy offense, Kaepernick would be a natural fit.

    The Jaguars stand at 4-3 because of that run game, defined by rookie Leonard Fournette, and the best defense in the NFL. They're doing everything they possibly can to hide quarterback Blake Bortles, which makes sense, because Bortles has failed throughout his four NFL seasons to display the accuracy, anticipation and field vision required at the position.

    Still, the team inexplicably picked up the fifth-year option on Bortles' contract, which means that if he's on the roster at the start of the 2018 league year, the team owes him a fully guaranteed $19 million. That's not likely going to happen.

    So, why Kaepernick? Head coach Doug Marrone likes to lead with the run game, though he has valuable receivers in Allen Hurns and Marqise Lee...when they're thrown to. The Jags will also have the services of top receiver Allen Robinson in 2018; Robinson is currently on injured reserve with a torn ACL.

    The addition of Kaepernick would immediately give Fournette an advantage in that defenders would also have to key on Kaepernick in the run game. In addition, Kaepernick's ability to run limits the percentage of man coverage opposing defenses can play, because man coverage requires a cornerback to turn his back to the quarterback and leaves outside rushing lanes open.  

    Kaepernick isn't a highly evolved passer—he struggles with anticipation at times—but if he's deployed in a system that plays to his strengths, he can be far above average. By my own charting, he threw 13 touchdowns from the pocket for a 2016 San Francisco 49ers team that had little talent at receiver.

    A return to the NFL with the Jaguars could be a smashing success for all involved.

    — NFL1000 Lead Scout, Doug Farrar

Kansas City Chiefs: S Morgan Burnett

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    Although the Kansas City Chiefs may be the best overall team in the NFL through the first half of the season, the absence of All-Pro safety Eric Berry has been seen in recent weeks. Replacements Eric Murray and Daniel Sorensen have been exposed as limited starters.

    The Chiefs expect Berry to be back next season, but considering how they've also had issues at slot cornerback, adding a versatile safety as insurance would be wise. Enter Green Bay Packers defensive back Morgan Burnett.

    The 28-year-old has been a career Packer and a valuable member of their secondary, making him a priority to re-sign. As he looks for what may be his last multiyear deal in free agency, the Chiefs can offer a competitive roster and a more veteran secondary for him to play with. A veteran coaching staff should also ease any concerns he may have about maximizing his talents in a different situation.

    Burnett is best served closer to the line of scrimmage and facing tight ends than he is as a single-high threat, meaning he wouldn't enter the Chiefs' unit as a new archetype compared to what they currently have. But he's a much better version of Sorensen in particular and capable of stepping into the slot if Steven Nelson and Phillip Gaines continue to struggle there.

    He's not likely a headline-worthy signing on a national scale, but Burnett can move the needle for the Chiefs.

    — NFL1000 DB Scout, Ian Wharton

Los Angeles Chargers: WR Jarvis Landry

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    As Philip Rivers enters the final years of his career, the Los Angeles Chargers would be wise to surround him with playmakers to make one final run at a Super Bowl.

    Rivers needs another receiver who can create separation quickly and make plays after the catch to make up for his weak offensive line. With Keenan Allen and Mike Williams playing mostly on the outside, the Chargers have a void open in the slot that Jarvis Landry would fill nicely.

    Landry isn't a true No. 1 receiver in today's NFL, but that doesn't mean he doesn't have value. For veteran quarterbacks who don't have a ton of mobility outside of the pocket, having a dynamic slot receiver is a must.

    With Allen and Williams demanding coverage from top cornerbacks, it would allow Landry to operate in the middle of the field without any problems. In the Chargers offense, he would thrive against linebackers and safeties in zone coverage.

    With Landry, the Chargers would become one of the most dangerous teams in the AFC. Their still-talented quarterback would be surrounded with weapons all over the field and in the backfield.

    That would pair nicely with a talented front seven that includes potentially the most fearsome bookend pass-rushers in the league in Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. With just a few free-agent additions next spring, the Chargers could become contenders.

    — NFL1000 WR Scout, Marcus Mosher

Los Angeles Rams: WR Davante Adams

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    The Sammy Watkins fit in Los Angeles hasn't worked as well as the Rams envisioned it would. They likely won't franchise him, and that will leave the Rams with a void on the outside.

    One player the Rams could target is Davante Adams.

    Before the injury to Aaron Rodgers, Adams was on pace to put up elite numbers. Through the first four games of the season, Adams was on pace to catch 92 passes for 876 yards and 16 touchdowns. But after the Rodgers injury, Adams has seen his numbers drop slightly.

    He will be looking for a big payday this spring and a chance to be a team's No. 1 receiver. And with the Rams desperately needing someone who can dominate in the red zone, Adams makes sense.

    Expect the Rams to show interest in the Fresno State product.

    — NFL1000 WR Scout, Marcus Mosher

Miami Dolphins: QB Josh McCown

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    Ryan Tannehill is the starting quarterback for the Miami Dolphins.

    However, he has missed significant time the past two seasons with an ACL injury, missing the final three weeks in 2016 and then missing the entire 2017 season. What we are seeing now is the failure of an organization to properly put in place a Plan B.

    The Dolphins need to address that failure this offseason.

    A few seasons ago, the Dallas Cowboys had a talented roster with playoff potential, but when Tony Romo went down, they were left without a Plan B. They limped to a top-five draft spot; the Miami Dolphins are on the verge of a similar fate.

    Jay Cutler and Matt Moore are not the best options. Josh McCown is.

    Look, we all love the story about how Ted Marchibroda told a reporter once they don't practice with the backup quarterback because if Peyton Manning went down they were...out of luck, shall we say. That is not the reality in the NFL. Failure to properly address the backup QB spot can doom a team and front office.

    McCown is putting together a solid campaign for the Jets in John Morton's West Coast-based system, and he could run Miami's offense if called upon.

    — NFL1000 QB Scout, Mark Schofield

Minnesota Vikings: C Weston Richburg

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    Over the last few years, head coach Mike Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman have turned the Minnesota Vikings into one of the NFL's best and most loaded teams.

    Injuries have hampered the team's efforts this season at several skill positions, but even with a patchwork running back group replacing the injured Dalvin Cook—and backup quarterback Case Keenum holding down the fort until the Sam Bradford/Teddy Bridgewater injury situation clarifies itself—Minnesota is 6-2.

    One of the major improvements for the Vikings in 2017 is along the formerly porous offensive line. Acquiring tackles Mike Remmers and Riley Reiff has helped, and the team has put rookie center Pat Elflein in as the starter, moving 35-year-old former center Joe Berger to right guard.

    That last transition has had mixed results; Elflein has allowed two sacks, five quarterback hits and nine quarterback hurries. He hasn't always looked great as a run-blocker, and while these issues could be transitional, it's also possible that an upgrade will be needed.

    Weston Richburg has missed time in the 2017 season with concussion issues, but when he's healthy, he's one of the best centers in the NFL. It's a status made all the more obvious by the generally poor play of the linemen around him.

    Richburg can hold the point of attack with great strength and balance, and when he fires out to the second level on zone and combo blocks, he's agile and accurate in hitting his targets.

    Adding a center of Richburg's caliber would allow the Vikings to take one more step in having the league's best roster. They're already close to that if everyone can just stay healthy.

    — NFL1000 Lead Scout, Doug Farrar

New England Patriots: WR Larry Fitzgerald

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    When Julian Edelman was lost for 2017 to a torn ACL, most of New England's intermediate passing game was lost with him. There is no better option receiver than Edelman, and there is no team that relies more on option routes than the Patriots.

    Edelman had developed an uncanny rapport with Tom Brady; the receiver would alter his route depending on the coverage, and the quarterback would know where the receiver was going before the defense did.

    While the Pats have a corps of gifted receivers, nobody can replace what Edelman does, and this version of Brady relies heavily on short and intermediate passes to keep drives going and to mitigate issues with pass protection.

    That worked well in 2016, but as Brady has thrown more deep passes to better fit the skill sets of targets like Brandin Cooks and Chris Hogan, he's also facing more pressure and taking more sacks. He was sacked 24 times last year including the postseason; he's already been taken down 21 times this season.

    The addition of Larry Fitzgerald to New England's offense wouldn't be an outright replacement for Edelman. Brady can still throw the ball deep when he has the protection, but more and more it's about receiver distribution and location based on the coverage.

    In his 14th season with the Cardinals, Fitzgerald is still a volume receiver capable of big numbers; he led the league with 107 catches in 2016 and has 45 catches this season. But he's become as much a slot receiver as an outside guy, and that versatility, combined with his own awareness of how to get open against any coverage, would make him a perfect fit in New England's offense.

    Perhaps the future Hall of Famer could pick up his first Super Bowl ring as well.

    — NFL1000 Lead Scout, Doug Farrar

New Orleans Saints: WR Paul Richardson

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    While Ted Ginn Jr. has been a pleasant surprise for the New Orleans Saints, he is likely not in their long-term plans. Ginn turns 33 this offseason, and while he's been a solid addition for the Saints, he's not a true No. 2 option.

    The Saints need a player who can dominate second and third cornerbacks and play off Michael Thomas. They are always looking for playmakers on offense, and Paul Richardson would make a lot of sense.

    In a lot of ways, Richardson is a similar type of player to Ginn, but his ceiling is much higher. This is the first year Richardson has been fully healthy, and it's showing. He's already crushed his career-high totals in yards and touchdowns.

    Richardson would make for the perfect complement to Thomas, as he has the speed and explosive playmaking ability to force teams to keep their safeties deep.

    Richardson is one of the fastest receivers in the league, and putting him inside a dome for more than half of the season with one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time would unlock his skill set.

    — NFL1000 WR Scout, Marcus Mosher

New York Giants: RB Carlos Hyde

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    There is a big decision to be made from the front office of the New York Giants.

    They sit last in the NFC East with a hugely disappointing 1-6 record after an offseason of building up expectations. They lost their top two receivers, Brandon Marshall and Odell Beckham Jr., for the season due to injury, and their offense hasn't been able to recover. With an aging quarterback and a head coach on the hot seat, the Giants could decide to blow it all up.

    However, if they opt against that, getting a reliable running back to help take the pressure off Eli Manning and balance the offense would be a good idea. Carlos Hyde is a productive back who can run the outside zone concepts the Giants like as well as some power plays in short-yardage situations.

    At 235 pounds, Hyde has more power than any of the Giants' current group of backs, which would be useful given their offensive line struggles. Hyde understands how to press the hole to set up blocks and will run through arm tackles, all of which greatly helps the offensive line.

    Hyde could provide the Giants with some semblance of balance on offense and help keep them ahead of the chains. They have converted less than a third of their third-down attempts this year, partly due to facing too many 3rd-and-long situations.

    Adding Hyde could give their run game enough to keep them in 3rd-and-manageable to make things easier for Manning when he drops back to pass.

    — NFL1000 RB Scout, Mark Bullock

New York Jets: RB Isaiah Crowell

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    Tim Ireland/Associated Press

    The Jets will once again enter the offseason desperately searching for their quarterback of the future. Current starter Josh McCown is 38, while Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg haven't been able to unseat him.

    They'll likely look to the draft to find their next signal-caller, but whoever lines up under center for the Jets next year is going to need a strong running game to carry the offense.

    While Crowell has had a disappointing season thus far for the Browns, that has largely been a result of the Browns offense than Crowell himself. Cleveland has had a revolving door at quarterback, leaving teams to load up the box to stop the run.

    Crowell has only had an average of 12.8 carries per game, which isn't enough for a powerful back like him to find a rhythm and wear down the defense. In the six games where he had 15 or more carries in 2016, Crowell averaged 97 yards rushing.

    Having a down season in the last year of his contract could allow the Jets to pick him up relatively cheaply. He's still only 24 with room to grow, and the Jets could allow him to carry the ball far more often than the Browns have, giving him the opportunity to find a rhythm and impose himself on opposing defenses.

    His power running style suits the Jets' current scheme, and he has the frame to withstand the rigors of a high volume of carries. Crowell could prove to be an under-the-radar pickup who could be the foundation of the offense while a young quarterback learns the ropes.

    — NFL1000 RB Scout, Mark Bullock

Oakland Raiders: OLB Tahir Whitehead

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    The Oakland Raiders desperately need help at linebacker. They brought in NaVorro Bowman this season after the San Francisco 49ers cut him, but his health concerns make it difficult to count on him moving forward. Aside from Bowman, there is not a single legitimate starter on the squad. Cory James, Nicholas Morrow and Marquel Lee have shown decent promise, but they should not be Week 1 starters.

    Tahir Whitehead could be a worthwhile investment for the Raiders. Though never a star with the Lions, Whitehead has long been a decent starter who can avoid being the weakest link. He does his best work rummaging between the tackles in the run game. Linebacking often comes down to mentality, and Whitehead possesses the aggression and strength to win when it is time to clash.

    In coverage, Whitehead shows the know-how to stay in position to make plays. He does a fine job playing underneath zones and walling off crossers. However, he will lose some plays due to athleticism.

    Whitehead has a powerful lower body to fight through blockers, but his speed and agility in space leave more to be desired. Though he may be working his way toward a ball carrier correctly, superior athletes will take advantage of him in one-on-one situations and when Whitehead is trying to close gaps.

    Whitehead would not be a long-term solution, but he could be a solid placeholder while the Raiders figure out the rest of their defense. Whitehead can be the humble, scrappy veteran to hold down the fort.

    — NFL1000 LB Scout, Derrik Klassen

Philadelphia Eagles: OG Andrew Norwell

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    The Eagles didn't have many clear roster holes coming into 2017. Their thorough team construction, in particular their ability to add complementary pieces through free agency, has been a big part of their success. If the Eagles left one position a little vulnerable on offense, though, it was left guard.

    Philadelphia clearly had high hopes for the development of Isaac Seumalo there, as seen by the decision to trade away Allen Barbre to Denver, but he hasn't been able to progress much in his second year in the league. His play strength and relentless effort are easy to fall in love with, but he has some technical deficiencies that hurt his snap in/snap out performance, and those may be hard for him to get over with how stiffly he plays at times.

    If Seumalo continues to spin his wheels in fixing those things, Howie Roseman may seek out a more proven left guard on the free-agent market. Specifically, a guard who wins with physicality and can play the tone-setter role Seumalo was intended to fill on the interior—someone like Panthers guard Andrew Norwell. 

    A restricted free agent this season, Norwell will cash in somewhere in 2018, and deservedly so. He's been a strong and highly consistent player over the last couple of seasons—a power run-blocker who hasn't allowed a single quarterback sack or quarterback hit in the 2017 season, per Pro Football Focus. Given Carolina's other offensive line issues, Norwell's play stands out.

    Trying to predict the Eagles' needs this offseason is tough as there will be some big changes to the team this winter. Alshon Jeffery, Timmy Jernigan and Nigel Bradham all come off the books this year with only $4.6 million of projected cap space to fill those holes (although about $8 million more can be created by cutting Mychal Kendricks and Brent Celek, but still not enough to bring back all three players). It may be tough to bring in outside help next year.

    — NFL1000 OL Scout, Ethan Young

Pittsburgh Steelers: TE Cameron Brate

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    If you have watched the Pittsburgh Steelers offense the past two seasons, one thing is clear: They miss Heath Miller. Since Miller's retirement after the 2015 season, the Steelers haven't been able to find a reliable option in the middle of the field. They have cycled through many different names, but none have been as impactful as Miller.

    From Jesse James to Ladarius Green to Vance McDonald, the Steelers have struggled to come up with even an adequate option at the tight end position. James doesn't have the toughness to play in the middle of the field, and McDonald's hands are too inconsistent. Neither is a starting-caliber player.

    A player they could target in free agency is Cameron Brate of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. With the team's selection of O.J. Howard in the first round in 2017, it's unlikely the Bucs will be able to keep Brate. But he has been highly productive for the Buccaneers over the past two seasons, catching 12 touchdowns in his last 20 games. Brate isn't a dominating blocker by any means, but he's a good enough player in the passing game to make up for that weakness.

    For the Steelers, Brate makes perfect sense in their offense as he's a reliable pass catcher who isn't afraid of catching the ball in traffic. He is as tough as nails and is one of the better red-zone tight ends in all of football.

    As Ben Roethlisberger enters the twilight of his career, he needs a tight end in the middle of the field who can produce in the red zone. Once the Steelers find a productive tight end, their offense will finally start to click again.

    — NFL1000 TE Scout, Marcus Mosher

San Francisco 49ers: OG Jack Mewhort

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    The 49ers' interior OL has been a joke this year. Given their massive amount of cap space, it would be shocking to see San Francisco not make a couple of moves to upgrade the group.

    Last year's first-round pick, Joshua Garnett, is currently on IR, and he will probably be penciled into one of the guard spots to start next year and compete with the current healthy starters (Laken Tomlinson, Daniel Kilgore and Brandon Fusco).

    None of that current trio deserves to be handed a spot as the 49ers try to take a step forward next season. With Kilgore on an expiring contract, it's possible he won’t be around anyway, so at least one guard and a center are needed.

    Bringing in a stable guy like Jack Mewhort, drafting a center in the early rounds (or maybe signing a Weston Richburg type instead if the class looks weak), and letting Garnett fight with the incumbents would likely be a much better protection situation for Jimmy Garoppolo or whoever is behind for San Francisco than what the 49ers have now.

    Signing a Colts lineman to fix your OL may sound like a bad idea in theory, but don't pin the Colts' blocking woes the last few years on Mewhort. The upper-body strength and hand placement on his tape are impressive, and his consistency from a technical standpoint stands out as well, Mewhort has battled some injuries and admittedly not looked quite his best this year, but his body of work and level of play when he's right are unlike anything on the 49ers roster.

    That makes him a good buy-low candidate for them this spring as they splurge elsewhere on upgrades.

    — NFL1000 OL Scout, Ethan Young

Seattle Seahawks: DE Ezekiel Ansah

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    The Seattle Seahawks love defensive end rotations.

    They signed both Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett in the 2013 offseason and selected Michigan's Frank Clark in the second round of the 2015 draft when Avril and Bennett were still at their best. Now, Avril's neck injury has put him on IR, and he may have to retire. Bennett is still playing at a very high level, but he'll turn 32 this month.

    Adding Ansah to this rotation might be spendy, but the Seahawks aren't shy about spending on defense—they currently have about $94 million set on the defensive side of the ball and $65.4 million on the offensive side. Ansah will turn 29 next May, and while he has been limited over the last two seasons by ankle and knee injuries, he can still bring it when he's healthy.

    Ansah's combination of raw speed and power would make him a perfect fit in Seattle's four-man fronts, especially if his injury situation lowers his free-agent price. He could play with Clark as his bookend over the next few seasons, and the Seahawks would still be able to use Bennett as a tackle in their sub-packages with a series of talented young tackles as the fourth lineman.

    Good luck figuring out who to block in that scenario.

    — NFL1000 Lead Scout, Doug Farrar

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: CB Trumaine Johnson

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    When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers invested in veteran cornerback Brent Grimes and then drafted Vernon Hargreaves in the first round in 2016, they made a gamble that small, off-ball cornerbacks could still anchor a successful secondary.

    While Grimes has been solid, Hargreaves hasn't and looks more like a slot corner moving forward than an outside one. With Grimes set to enter free agency again after the year, the Buccaneers have a chance to hit reset on their 30th-ranked pass defense and overhaul their identity.

    The ideal corner to add to this unit, whether Grimes is in tow or not, is Trumaine Johnson. The current Los Angeles Rams playmaker broke out in 2015 with seven interceptions but struggled to play in off-man and zone in 2016. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips' arrival in 2017 has brought a more aggressive, press-man-oriented scheme, and Johnson has been a high-end cover threat even if his interception total is down.

    Opposing offenses have had some success targeting Johnson, as he's allowed 294 yards on 16 receptions in man coverage, but he's yet to allow a touchdown in 29 targets, per my charting. A cornerback trio of Johnson, Grimes and Hargreaves would be a much more balanced unit that would allow defensive coordinator Mike Smith to be less predictable with his personnel and pre-snap alignments.

    Even if the team loses Grimes, Johnson and Hargreaves have the talent to help boost the unit if they're used in their proper roles.

    — NFL1000 DB Scout, Ian Wharton

Tennessee Titans: EDGE Alex Okafor

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    The Tennessee Titans have an effective and interesting blitz package under assistant head coach and defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, in which linebackers Wesley Woodyard and Brian Orakpo charge the A-gaps. Derrick Morgan has also been an excellent outside pass-rusher, but if there's one thing you know about LeBeau, he's always interested in more versatile pass-rushers.

    Alex Okafor, who has worked his way into the Saints' starting defensive end spot opposite Cameron Jordan, is one of the more underrated pass-rushers and run-stoppers in the NFL this year. The former Arizona Cardinal signed a one-year, $3 million deal with New Orleans this offseason, and he's already made that look like a relative bargain with three sacks and 14 quarterback hurries in just 206 pass-rushing snaps.

    Okafor can play the end position or flare out to outside linebacker in a three-man front, and he's great at closing in on opposing running backs from any outside gap. He can play straight-up over the tackle, and he's just as good getting pressure when moving through the guard and center gaps.

    With his talent, and in a system that demands as much of linebackers as LeBeau's does, the 26-year-old Okafor could be a standout for a long time to come.

    — NFL1000 Lead Scout, Doug Farrar

Washington Redskins: WR Sammy Watkins

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    The Sammy Watkins experiment in Los Angeles has not worked out well so far. Through seven games, Watkins has just 18 receptions for 264 yards and two touchdowns. To make matters worse, he has been in a major slump in the past month. In his last four games, he has totaled five catches for 70 yards and zero scores.

    It's clear Watkins is struggling with the transition of playing in the Rams offense. Part of that could be due to his fit with quarterback Jared Goff. If Watkins doesn't get out of this slump and can't find a way to get on the same page as Goff, it's hard to imagine he will want to re-sign with Los Angeles.

    Watkins is scheduled to hit free agency in 2018 and would be one of the most coveted players on the market, as he just turned 24 years old in June. He has proved in the past that he can be a true No. 1 receiver in the NFL, and those are awfully hard to find. A team that could use a dynamic receiver such as Watkins is the Washington Redskins.

    With quarterback Kirk Cousins likely to stick around in Washington for the foreseeable future, the Redskins need to find him a true outside receiver who can dominate week in and week out. Pairing Watkins with Cousins would be an ideal match for both parties this spring considering how much Washington's new-look receiver group has disappointed this season.

    With Cousins, Watkins would be able to flourish again as a true outside receiver in an offense that isn't afraid to take shots down the field. Cousins is far more likely to challenge defenses on the sidelines than Goff, which could help Watkins get his career back on track.

    Look for the Redskins to have a lot of interest in free-agent receivers this spring with Watkins at the top of the list.

    — NFL1000 WR Scout, Marcus Mosher


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