Ranking Every NFL QB's Supporting Cast for 2018

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistJune 19, 2018

Ranking Every NFL QB's Supporting Cast for 2018

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    Every extra-large NFL roster will change significantly between now and early September, but most of those changes will pertain to the bowels of the depth chart. With free agency and the draft out of the way, most cores are pretty much set for the fall. 

    Thus we already have an initial feel for which projected starting quarterbacks will have a high amount of support and  those who might have to do the lion's share of the heavy lifting. 

    Looking at primary skill-position players only—running backs, wide receivers and tight ends—and taking past accomplishments, accolades and to a lesser degree upside into account, here's how we rank every NFL quarterback's supporting cast ahead of the 2018 season.

32. Josh McCown, New York Jets

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    Rookie No. 3 overall pick Sam Darnold will eventually take over for veteran Josh McCown as the quarterback of the New York Jets, and when that happens, Darnold's supporting cast might face a quantity-over-quality dilemma. 

    You'd think somebody would be bound to emerge among a receiving corps that includes 2017 breakout player Robby Anderson, 2016 breakout player Quincy Enunwa, second-year third-round pick ArDarius Stewart as well as the more established Jermaine Kearse and Terrelle Pryor

    The problem there is Anderson has had a string of arrests, Enunwa is working to get back from a lost season due to a neck injury, Stewart has proved nothing after catching just six passes as a rookie last season, Kearse hasn't come close to the 1,000-yard mark in six NFL seasons, and Pryor has a lot to prove as a converted quarterback after a disappointing 2017 season in Washington. 

    They also have an experienced trio at running back in Isaiah Crowell, Bilal Powell and Elijah McGuire, but Crowell and Powell both might have already peaked. The former lacked consistency during his four years with the Browns, while the latter has never been a strong feature back as he enters his age-30 season. McGuire averaged just 3.6 yards per carry as a rookie sixth-round pick in 2017. 

    With the tight end position watered down following the loss of Austin Seferian-Jenkins, this is a supporting cast that is void of sure-things. That could be problematic.

31. AJ McCarron, Buffalo Bills

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    Regardless of who starts at quarterback this year for the Buffalo Bills—AJ McCarron probably has an edge over Nathan Peterman and Josh Allen for now—it looks as though they'll have to work with a supporting cast that leaves a lot to be desired. 

    It appears Buffalo's top two wide receivers will be Kelvin Benjamin (who hasn't been the same since tearing his ACL with Carolina in 2015 and is coming off an unproductive six-game run with the Bills in 2017) and Zay Jones (who caught an abysmal 36.5 percent of the passes thrown his way as a rookie last year). But there's nobody to challenge those two, because the Bills lack depth at that position (veteran scrubs Andre Holmes and Jeremy Kerley are probably third and fourth on the depth chart). 

    Charles Clay and Nick O'Leary are decent tight ends but certainly not Pro Bowl-caliber players. And running back LeSean McCoy is a star, but he's running out of gas as he approaches his age-30 season. McCoy can't carry an offense that ranked 29th in football last year and doesn't appear any better off this spring.

    If Shady finally hits a wall in his 10th season, McCarron/Peterman/Allen could have the worst arsenal in the league.

30. Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco 49ers

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    There's a lot of hype surrounding the San Francisco 49ers right now, mainly because it appears they've found a franchise quarterback in Jimmy Garoppolo. But does Jimmy G have enough support in the receiving and running games? 

    At wide receiver, Pierre Garcon, 31, is probably beyond his prime entering his 11th season. He was injured when Garoppolo joined the fray last year, so we don't know what kind of chemistry those two will have. Beyond that there's Marquise Goodwin (who came close to 1,000 yards but caught only 53.3 percent of the passes thrown his way in his first year as a regular starter in San Francisco last season) and unproven youngsters Trent Taylor (who at least flashed a bit as a rookie in 2017) and Kendrick Bourne (who caught 16 passes as an undrafted rookie last year). 

    At tight end they're putting all of their eggs in George Kittle's basket after the 2017 fifth-round pick caught 43 passes as a rookie. And at running back they're doing the same with well-paid free-agent addition Jerick McKinnon, even though the 26-year-old averaged just 3.6 yards per carry the last two years in Minnesota. 

    Garoppolo will have a little more stability than whoever is starting under center for the Jets, but all of his supporting cast members have pretty obvious (and low) ceilings.

29. Blake Bortles, Jacksonville Jaguars

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    With Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns gone, it looks as though the Jacksonville Jaguars will be relying on Marqise Lee and new arrival Donte Moncrief to serve as quarterback Blake Bortles' top receivers in 2018. But Lee has caught just 56.6 percent of the passes thrown his way entering his fifth season, while Moncrief had just 56 catches in his last two injury-plagued seasons with the Colts. 

    That's not ideal for Bortles, but the Jags aren't in horrendous shape elsewhere. They do have plenty of young talent on the wide receiver depth chart (second-round rookie DJ Chark, second-year fourth-rounder Dede Westbrook and 2017 receiving yardage leader Keelan Cole all could emerge), they upgraded from the aging Marcedes Lewis to Austin Seferian-Jenkins at tight end, and Leonard Fournette is one of the most promising young backs in football. 

    But there are no established stars among that group, and Fournette has a lot of work to do. He's the centerpiece of the offense, but the 2017 No. 4 overall pick averaged only 3.9 yards per carry as a rookie despite having two touchdown runs of 75-plus yards. Without those aberrational plays, his rookie season would have been a letdown. 

    The Jags are pretty jacked elsewhere, but Bortles' supporting cast continues to lack star power.

28. Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys

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    TGFEE. Without running back Ezekiel Elliott, the Dallas Cowboys would be ranked a lot closer to the bottom of this list. But Elliott led the league in rushing as a rookie two years ago and averaged a league-high 98.3 yards per game when he wasn't suspended in 2017. 

    The 22-year-old should dominate behind one of the NFL's best offensive lines in 2018. 

    But with Dez Bryant and Jason Witten gone, the Cowboys are hoping to survive without the only two players on their roster who caught five-plus touchdown passes in 2017. 

    The receiving corps is deeper now because they've given themselves several relatively talented options to replace Bryant (Tavon Austin comes over from the Rams, Deonte Thompson from the Bills, Allen Hurns from the Jaguars and Michael Gallup from the third round of the draft). But none of those guys look as though they can be lead dogs out wide, and veterans Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley are also best-suited for complementary roles. 

    Throw in that the top candidates to replace Witten are 2015 seventh-round pick Geoff Swaim (nine career catches) and 2016 sixth-round pick Rico Gathers (zero career catches) and you begin to wonder if Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott will have any pass-catchers he can rely on in 2018.

27. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals

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    Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton is lucky to have wide receiver A.J. Green, who has made the Pro Bowl in each of his seven NFL seasons. The problem is there isn't much beyond that at the offensive skill positions.

    Brandon LaFell is coming off a terrible age-31 season in which he averaged a career-low 10.5 yards per reception while catching only 58 percent of the passes thrown his way. He's still slated to start opposite Green because first-round pick John Ross was MIA as a rookie, while 2016 second-rounder Tyler Boyd experienced a sophomore slump in 2017. 

    Tight end Tyler Eifert can hardly be relied on after missing all but 10 games the last two years, and backup Tyler Kroft lacks big-play ability. 

    There is some hope for second-year second-round pick Joe Mixon in the backfield, but he has a lot of work to do after averaging a mere 3.5 yards per rush as a rookie. Mixon's partner, Giovani Bernard, is a replacement-level veteran. 

    A healthy and hot Green can make up for the lack of talent elsewhere, but even he's coming off the worst statistical complete season of his career (he averaged a career-low 67.4 yards per game and caught a career-low 52 percent of the passes thrown his way). If he doesn't get back on track in 2018, Dalton will have one of the worst supporting casts in the league.

26. Alex Smith, Washington Redskins

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    Unfortunately for Alex Smith, the league's highest-rated passer in 2017 won't have as much support at the offensive skill positions in his new home. 

    Smith, who was traded from the Kansas City Chiefs to the Washington Redskins this offseason, joins an offense that is loaded with question marks. 

    • Can 2016 first-round receiver Josh Doctson emerge in his third season? He caught only 45 percent of the passes thrown his way as a sophomore. 
    • Can big-money free-agent addition Paul Richardson live up to his contract opposite Doctson? He had a reception rate of just 56 percent the last two years in Seattle and has just 19 career starts under his belt. 
    • Did slot receiver Jamison Crowder peak when he accumulated 847 receiving yards and caught seven touchdown passes in 2016? He was less productive on more targets in 2017. 
    • Can talented tight end Jordan Reed stay healthy? He's missed 14 games the last two years, and he's never played all 16 games in a season. 
    • Can someone emerge in the backfield? Robert Kelley and Samaje Perine both failed to do so last year, and we're obviously yet to see what Derrius Guice has in him. 

    If Doctson and/or Richardson come through, Reed stays healthy and Guice delivers, Smith could have a top-10 arsenal. But that's hoping for a lot. Still, the Redskins stay out of the bottom tier here based on potential and because pass-catching back Chris Thompson could be a game-changer if he can bounce back from the leg injury that ended his breakout 2017 season prematurely. 

25. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks

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    When Paul Richardson and Jimmy Graham walked as free agents in March, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson lost two players who caught 16 of the 34 touchdown passes he threw in 2017.

    Richardson was a solid starter in support of top receiver Doug Baldwin, while Graham was one of the most dominant red-zone presences in the league. 

    And it's not as though Wilson was considered to be well-supported in the first place. Now, he'll be relying more heavily on Baldwin (a solid but often unspectacular No. 1 option), Tyler Lockett (high potential but has yet to shine), Brandon Marshall (no longer effective at the age of 34) and Jaron Brown (low catch rate the last three years in Arizona). 

    With backup tight end Luke Willson also gone, Ed Dickson will probably be the starter there. Graham had more touchdowns last season (10) than Dickson has in his last six seasons with the Ravens and Panthers (six).

    There is some hope for a running game that will get Chris Carson back from injury and will look for rookie first-round pick Rashaad Penny to play a major role, but Carson played in just four games as a rookie, and the jury is obviously still out on Penny. 

    For the Seahawks to get back to the playoffs in 2018, Wilson will probably have to do even more of the heavy lifting. 

24. Sam Bradford, Arizona Cardinals

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    Sam Bradford will be trying to hold off rookie Josh Rosen for as long as possible in Arizona, but a lack of depth and questions regarding the top guns within his supporting cast might not help Bradford's cause. 

    The Cardinals lost two of their four most productive 2017 wide receivers when John Brown and Jaron Brown walked in free agency, leaving them with just JJ Nelson (who has somehow caught just 46 percent of the passes thrown his way in his three NFL seasons), Chad Williams (three catches as a rookie third-round pick in 2017) and rookie second-round pick Christian Kirk as the primary complements to Larry Fitzgerald

    Fitzgerald has aged well and is coming off another Pro Bowl season, but Father Time has limited him to just 10.1 yards per catch the last two seasons. A decline is probably imminent as he approaches his 35th birthday. 

    Tight end Jermaine Gresham is solid, and running back David Johnson was an All-Pro in 2016, but Gresham (who isn't much of a playmaker) is recovering from a torn Achilles, while Johnson is also trying to fight his way back from a 2017 season that was lost almost entirely to a wrist injury. 

    Even if Johnson bounces back fully, there isn't much reason to believe anyone else will be a game-changer for Bradford (or Rosen) in 2018.

23. Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins

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    The Miami Dolphins didn't have a lot going for them in 2017, but they at least had plenty of talent at the offensive skill positions. Jay Cutler failed to take advantage of that while starting at quarterback in place of the injured Ryan Tannehill. 

    One year later, Tannehill is back. But he has a lot less to work with now. 

    That's because the penny-pinching (tanking?) Dolphins traded top receiver Jarvis Landry and released No. 1 tight end Julius Thomas, just months after dealing lead back Jay Ajayi to the eventual Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles. 

    Without Landry, Thomas and Ajayi, the quarterback supporting cast in Miami just isn't the same.

    The receiving corps still isn't awful with Kenny Stills, DeVante Parker and free-agent additions Danny Amendola and Albert Wilson on board, but there isn't a clear-cut top gun there. Parker has the best shot at replacing Landry, but the 2015 first-round pick has come along slowly and regressed statistically in 2017. 

    The vacant tight end job will either go to a rookie non-first-rounder (Mike Gesicki or Durham Smythe) or a journeyman (A.J. Derby, Gavin Escobar, MarQueis Gray), which at least for now leaves that group below average. 

    They're at least still in good shape in the backfield thanks to the emergence of Kenyan Drake (5.0 yards per carry two years into his career) and Frank Gore (doesn't age), but that tandem can't totally compensate for the shortcomings at receiver and tight end. 

22. Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders

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    Derek Carr and the Oakland Raiders desperately need top receiver Amari Cooper to bounce back from an ugly 2017 season, especially since Cooper's sidekick, Michael Crabtree, is gone. 

    The Raiders inexplicably decided to replace Crabtree—who scored eight-plus touchdowns in each of his three seasons in Oakland—with the older, less productive Jordy Nelson, whose numbers fell off a cliff during his age-32 season with the Packers in 2017. They also landed Martavis Bryant from the Steelers, but Bryant has lacked consistency throughout his tumultuous four-year career.

    Tight end Jared Cook had a decent maiden season with the Raiders after coming over from Green Bay a year ago, but Carr will miss Crabtree if both Cooper and Nelson can't get back on track or Bryant can't emerge.

    They also lack depth at both of those positions, which isn't a problem at running back because they have four potential starters in Doug Martin, Marshawn Lynch, Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington. But while options are nice, that also means there isn't one particularly strong member of that group. Martin and Lynch are both beyond their primes, while both Richard and Washington experienced sophomore slumps in complementary roles last season. 

    Unless Cooper explodes in his fourth year, Carr will almost certainly be working with a low-ceiling group of weapons in 2018. 

21. Marcus Mariota, Tennessee Titans

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    The good news for Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota is he has three high-quality security blankets supporting him in the Tennessee offense. The bad news is none of those three weapons are wide receivers. 

    Consistently productive tight end Delanie Walker has been a Pro Bowler in each of the last three seasons, while running back duo Derrick Henry (4.3 yards per carry in his first two seasons) and Dion Lewis (1,110 scrimmage yards and nine touchdowns last year in New England) could make up one of the best tandems in the league. 

    But Tennessee's top wide receiver last year was Rishard Matthews, who shouldn't be a No. 1 guy out wide. Matthews, 2017 third-round pick Taywan Taylor and 2016 fifth-rounder Tajae Sharpe are better suited for complementary roles, but they'll likely have to carry more of the load as the offense waits on Corey Davis. 

    Davis is the wild card here. The 2017 No. 5 overall pick caught just 34 passes and failed to score a touchdown during an injury-derailed rookie season. And while he has impressed this offseason, you can't call him a strong supporting cast member until he delivers consistently in actual games. 

    Things could change quickly if Davis emerges, but for now Mariota's arsenal is below average because of a lack of established weapons out wide. 

20. Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers

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    Christian McCaffrey might be the best receiver on the Carolina Panthers roster, which indicates that a) McCaffrey is a hell of a player and b) the Panthers receiving corps isn't good. 

    After all, McCaffrey is a running back. He led the team with 80 catches last season, and that number could increase now that quarterback Cam Newton won't have Kelvin Benjamin from the get-go in 2018. 

    Newton will still have Devin Funchess and Curtis Samuel at wide receiver and Greg Olsen at tight end, and he could benefit from the arrivals of free-agent pickup Torrey Smith and rookie first-round pick D.J. Moore, but nobody listed above looks like an elite No. 1 wideout right now. 

    It's fair to wonder if Funchess can ever be the guy considering he's caught just 50 percent of the passes thrown his way in his first three seasons. Samuel doesn't have that makeup and is still recovering from an ankle injury. Olsen might be fading as he prepares for his 12th season. Smith hasn't put together a strong season in half a decade. And Moore might need some time. 

    There's enough talent at all of the offensive skill positions to keep the Panthers out of the bottom 10 here, but Newton could still use a lot more help.

19. Case Keenum, Denver Broncos

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    Starting Denver Broncos wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders are both on the wrong side of 30 now, and it's possible they aren't the players they once were. But the statistical dip they both experienced in 2017 might be related to the fact that the team stunk across the board. 

    Can new quarterback Case Keenum get Thomas and Sanders back into the Pro Bowl mix? They both received that honor in 2016 and still should be considered one of the best 1-2 wide receiver punches in the league. 

    Beyond that, though, you run into potential problems. With Bennie Fowler and Cody Latimer gone, it looks like rookie second-round pick Courtland Sutton and unproven sophomores Carlos Henderson and Isaiah McKenzie will be fighting for reps beyond Thomas and Sanders, but they could have used a veteran presence in that mix. 

    Same goes for the battle at tight end, where Jake Butt (a second-year fifth-round pick with no NFL experience) is trying to beat out 2015 third-round pick Jeff Heuerman (just 18 catches since coming into the league).

    It's possible rookie running back Royce Freeman could pull a Kareem Hunt or Alvin Kamara, but the Broncos would prefer not to rely on something like that happening. Problem is with C.J. Anderson gone, Devontae Booker is the only veteran competing for the job, and the 2016 fourth-round pick has averaged just 3.6 yards per carry.

    Even if Thomas and Sanders re-emerge, Keenum will probably have his work cut out for him.

18. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts

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    If Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck is able to return in 2018 after losing his 2017 season to a lingering shoulder issue, he'll at least have an elite No. 1 receiver and two talented tight ends at his disposal. 

    T.Y. Hilton and Jack Doyle were Pro Bowlers despite Luck's absence in 2017, and they were even better with Luck under center in 2016. The former is one of the league's top big-play threats, while the latter is a pass-catching machine who will have added support this year with the addition of free-agent tight end Eric Ebron.

    But Luck and the Colts don't fare particularly well on this list because they don't have a lot of talent beyond Hilton, Doyle and Ebron, especially with Donte Moncrief and Frank Gore gone. 

    Chester Rogers (42 catches and one touchdown the last two years) and Ryan Grant (84 catches and six touchdowns during his first four seasons with the Redskins) will probably compete for a starting job next to Hilton. Second-year running back Marlon Mack just might be a default starter despite averaging just 3.8 yards per carry as a rookie fourth-round pick in 2017. 

    The Colts could quickly earn a higher ranking here if Rogers or Grant emerges, or if rookie back Nyheim Hines pulls a Kareem Hunt. But right now, there's not enough bulk behind their big guns. 

17. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

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    If Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is healthy and on his game, it might not matter that his supporting cast lacks depth and top-end talent. But that doesn't change the fact that his supporting cast lacks depth and top-end talent.  

    Top wide receiver Davante Adams has scored 22 touchdowns the last two years and is coming off his first Pro Bowl season, but he's yet to go over 1,000 yards four years into his career. Fellow projected starter Randall Cobb peaked in 2014, and his yards-per-game average has been sinking ever since. And with Jordy Nelson gone, they'll need Geronimo Allison to play a major role in 2018, but that's a lot to put on an undrafted third-year wideout who has played a limited role in his first two seasons. 

    No other receiver on the roster has significant NFL experience. 

    The Packers do deserve credit for bringing in tight end Jimmy Graham to help Rodgers in the red zone, but even Graham is beyond his prime entering his age-32 season. He made the Pro Bowl with 10 touchdown grabs last year in Seattle, but it wasn't a good sign that he caught fewer than 60 percent of the passes thrown his way while averaging a career-low (by a mile) 9.1 yards per reception. 

    And while there's a decent chance Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams or Ty Montgomery takes off this season in the backfield, the fact is there's still a lot up in the air at the running back position because none of those guys grabbed the reins in 2017. 

    This is by no means a terrible arsenal because Adams, Cobb, Graham and Jones are good players, but there isn't a lot beyond that, and it doesn't look like there's a 2018 superstar within this group.

16. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions

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    Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford finds himself in the opposite situation. No stars, plenty of options. 

    Golden Tate is not a top-end No. 1 receiver, but he consistently puts up strong rate-based stats and has gone over 1,000 yards in three of his four seasons with the team. No. 2 Marvin Jones has improved steadily and is coming off his best season yet (1,101 yards, 18.0 yards per catch, nine touchdowns). Second-year third-round pick Kenny Golladay has shown a ton of promise and is likely to be a solid third option at the least. And T.J. Jones is also in his prime and coming off the best season of his career. 

    It's a solid quartet. 

    At tight end, they parted ways with Eric Ebron and Darren Fells and brought in Luke Willson and Levine Toilolo in the offseason, and it's hard to consider that an upgrade when Ebron—despite not living up to expectations as a top-10 pick—has been far more productive than either of the newbies. Still, Willson, Toilolo and Michael Roberts all have fresh chances to emerge in 2018. That's something none of them have had before. 

    And while they're still searching for a linchpin running back, they have four intriguing options this summer in rookie second-round pick Kerryon Johnson, exceptional pass-catching back Theo Riddick, veteran free-agent addition LeGarrette Blount and 2017 team rushing leader Ameer Abdullah.

    The risk is the Lions are all quantity and limited quality, but the receiving corps is still above average. If one or two of those backs/tight ends has a big year, this could become a top-10 supporting cast, rather than just one we think about as the scraps from the Calvin Johnson era that ended too abruptly. 

15. Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens

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    Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco hasn't been well-supported in years, but the Ravens did at least provide him with an upgrade in the receiving corps this offseason. 

    Flacco might be a lot better off with Michael Crabtree, John Brown and Willie Snead than he was with Mike Wallace and Jeremy Maclin in 2017, especially since there's also hope for young wideouts Chris Moore and Breshad Perriman. 

    Those two should feel less pressure in 2018, especially if the Ravens' running game can continue to produce the way it did with breakout back Alex Collins last season. 

    Wallace and Maclin were not good last season, but Crabtree is in his prime with 51 career touchdowns and two 1,000-yard seasons under his belt, Snead is a year removed from back-to-back 850-plus-yard seasons with the Saints, and Brown is a 28-year-old big-play threat who went over 1,000 yards while scoring seven touchdowns with Arizona in 2015. 

    This is the deepest the Baltimore arsenal has looked in a long time. And while there's not a lot of top-end talent for Flacco to play with, a variety of options (potentially including first-round picks Hayden Hurst and Lamar Jackson at tight end and wide receiver, respectively) could give him a chance to get his career back on track in 2018. 

14. Tyrod Taylor, Cleveland Browns

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    The Cleveland Browns hope they've found a franchise quarterback in Baker Mayfield, but before Mayfield sees the field in the regular season, bridge starter Tyrod Taylor will get to work with a group that has more talent than the majority of NFL offensive supporting casts. 

    The Browns have one of the most intriguing receiver trios in the league now that Pro Bowler Jarvis Landry has been brought in to work with 2016 first-round pick Corey Coleman (finally healthy) and redemption-seeking former superstar Josh Gordon (finally eligible). 

    Beyond that, there's some talent with Ricardo Louis, Rashard Higgins and rookie Antonio Callaway lending support. 

    At tight end, there's plenty of hope for the physically marvelous David Njoku and the underrated Darren Fells, while in the backfield they have three enticing options in veteran Carlos Hyde, rookie second-round pick Nick Chubb and impressive pass-catching back Duke Johnson. 

    Put it all together and you have a handful of dudes who can become stars this year (Coleman, Gordon, Njoku, Chubb, Johnson) and several who have already done big things (Landry, Gordon, Hyde, Johnson). 

    When you look at the supporting cast in place for Taylor and Mayfield, it becomes clear the Browns are no longer a punchline. 

13. Deshaun Watson, Houston Texans

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    Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson is probably looking forward to working with one of the best young wide receiver duos in the league in 2018. While that's enough to conclude that Watson's supporting cast is better than most, there are some concerns to be considered.

    At 26, top wideout DeAndre Hopkins just might be on a Hall of Fame track. He's coming off a 96-catch, 1,378-yard, 13-touchdown first-team All-Pro season despite the fact that Watson played only seven games and the offense was terrible without the rookie quarterback. Meanwhile, 24-year-old 2016 first-round pick Will Fuller scored seven touchdowns despite playing just 10 games as a sophomore in 2017. 

    Those two should only get better, especially with Watson back. But they're not perfect (Hopkins has caught a shamefully low 54 percent of the passes thrown his way the last two years, while Fuller has missed eight games in two seasons because of injury), and they don't have a lot of support. Reserve receivers Bruce Ellington and Braxton Miller have clear ceilings, while top tight ends Stephen Anderson and Ryan Griffin are far from being game-changers. 

    The Texans offense does have a nice veteran-youngster backfield duo in Lamar Miller and D'Onta Foreman, but Miller's yards-per-attempt average has plummeted in three consecutive seasons (from 5.1 to 4.5 to 4.0 to 3.7), and Foreman is still trying to rehab a torn Achilles that ended a promising rookie season in November. 

    Hopkins and Fuller can make up for a lot of those shortcomings, but if anything happens to either of those guys, the Texans might not have enough firepower for Watson in 2018. There's a lot of potential, but it's risky being that thin. 

12. Philip Rivers, Los Angeles Chargers

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    The supporting cast for Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers would have fared better here if not for the loss of promising tight end Hunter Henry, who went down with a torn ACL this offseason. The 2016 second-round pick looked primed for a breakout third season after scoring 12 touchdowns while his roll gradually increased in 2016 and 2017, but the Chargers are now left with replacement-level veteran Virgil Green as the top option in that spot. 

    Green turns 30 this summer. He's scored just four touchdowns in seven NFL seasons. 

    But the Bolts still possess one of the strongest receiving corps in the league. And unlike most of the receiving groups we've looked at thus far, they have a superstar No. 1 option (Keenan Allen) as well as good depth (second-year first-round pick Mike Williams along with solid veterans Tyrell Williams and Travis Benjamin) at that position. 

    To boot, running back Melvin Gordon (1,581 scrimmage yards and 12 touchdowns last season) and Austin Ekeler (279 receiving yards and five more touchdowns as an emerging third-down back last season) have become a strong backfield duo. 

    Even without Hunter, this is an above-average supporting cast featuring several potential 2018 Pro Bowlers.

11. Mitchell Trubisky, Chicago Bears

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    Second-year Chicago Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky has himself some toys this season. 

    The 2017 No. 2 overall pick struggled while being babied in a feeble offense that forced him to target Kendall Wright, Josh Bellamy and Dontrelle Inman as his top receivers last season, but the Bears went out in the offseason and grabbed Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Bennie Fowler and tight end Trey Burton to work with Trubisky. 

    Robinson is a 24-year-old with a 1,400-yard Pro Bowl season on his resume, Gabriel is one of the league's fastest players and is due for a breakout season after flashing behind Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu the last few years in Atlanta, and Burton also has a chance to explode with a bigger role than the one he had with the Super Bowl champion Eagles (although he still scored five touchdowns in 2017). 

    Those three alone don't make this a top-tier supporting cast, but consider also that 2015 No. 7 overall pick Kevin White still has a chance to break out in his age-25 season, and the Bears already entered the 2018 offseason with one of the best running back duos in the league. 

    No reason to expect that to change with 23-year-old Jordan Howard coming off a second consecutive 1,100-yard season and 22-year-old Tarik Cohen coming off a 53-catch rookie campaign. 

    Howard will keep defenses honest, and Cohen, Burton and Dion Sims should serve as Trubisky's safety valves. Robinson, Gabriel and White are all potential game-changers. 

    Under new passing game-minded head coach Matt Nagy, this offense is ready to take off in 2018. 

10. Tom Brady, New England Patriots

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    The New England Patriots said goodbye to offensive playmakers Brandin Cooks, Dion Lewis and Danny Amendola this offseason, while they'll lose an extra point or two if top wide receiver Julian Edelman (who was already fighting back from a torn ACL) is indeed suspended for the first quarter of the 2018 regular season. 

    That's enough to keep Tom Brady's supporting cast only on the fringe of the top 10 at this juncture. 

    But Edelman is still Edelman, all-galaxy tight end Rob Gronkowski remains a Patriot, deep threat Chris Hogan should be a major factor if he can remain healthy after an injury-derailed 2017 season, and you just know the Patriots will get something out of talented new arrivals Jordan Matthews and Cordarrelle Patterson.

    That's just what they do. 

    And sure, they'll miss Lewis, but they used a first-round pick on tailor-made Patriot back Sony Michel, they added some experience with free agent Jeremy Hill, and there's little reason to think Mike Gillislee, Rex Burkhead and/or James White won't step up. 

    The Patriots would have been better off with Cooks, Lewis, Amendola and a fully available Edelman than with Matthews, Patterson, Michel, Hill and a potentially suspended Edelman, but those changes aren't enough to cause the reigning MVP to miss a beat under center. 

9. Eli Manning, New York Giants

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    Down the stretch last season, poor New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning had one of the worst supporting casts in the NFL. But that's because superstar wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. was injured, rookie tight end Evan Engram was still emerging, running back Saquon Barkley was still at Penn State, and complementary receivers Sterling Shepard and Brandon Marshall were both dealing with injuries. 

    Six months later, Beckham is back, Engram has come closer to emerging, Barkley is the odds-on favorite to win Offensive Rookie of the Year as the Giants' starting running back, Shepard is healthy again and Marshall has been replaced by free-agent addition Cody Latimer, who is much younger and has the potential to become a solid starter. 

    Throw in the experience you get from veteran backup running back Jonathan Stewart and the support Wayne Gallman offers after a strong rookie season in the backfield, and Manning's supporting cast is suddenly loaded. 

    In fact, we're probably not giving this unit enough credit for its potential. That's because Beckham is still coming off a significant ankle injury that derailed his 2017 season after three straight monster years to start his career, Engram could easily experience a sophomore slump, and we've yet to see Barkley actually play an NFL game. 

    But in terms of sheer talent and potential, this is one of the best skill-position groups in football. With an improved offensive line, the Giants could do a lot of damage in 2018. 

8. Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston entered the 2017 season with one of the best wide receivers in the league at his disposal. By the time that season came to an end, he had one of the league's best skill-position quartets. 

    That's because his rockstar supporting cast (Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson to begin with) added two new members in tight end O.J. Howard and wide receiver Chris Godwin.

    During his final five games as a rookie, Howard caught 70.6 percent of the passes thrown his way while averaging a ridiculous 17.1 yards per attempt. The first-round pick out of Alabama also scored three touchdowns during that stretch before a mid-December ankle injury ended his campaign prematurely.

    Meanwhile, Godwin caught 61.5 percent of the passes thrown his way while averaging an even more ridiculous 18.4 yards per catch during the final four weeks of his rookie campaign, with 209 of his 525 receiving yards coming in the final two games of the regular season. 

    If both of those guys can pick up where they left off in support of Evans (a four-year vet with four 1,000-yard seasons under his belt and the second-highest paid wideout in the NFL) and Jackson (a three-time Pro Bowler a year removed from a 1,000-yard season in Washington), Winston will be in damn good shape in 2018. 

    Of course, that's no guarantee. Sophomore slumps happen, and the Bucs also need to hope that Evans and Jackson can improve their reception rates (they combined to catch just 54 percent of the passes thrown their way in 2017). The 31-year-old Jackson is also trying to fight off Father Time, and they're holding auditions for a starting running back role.

    Early favorite Peyton Barber averaged just 3.9 yards per attempt last year, while challengers Jacquizz Rodgers (only 3.8), Charles Sims (only 3.9 for his career) and Ronald Jones (a rookie second-round pick) aren't blowing anyone away yet.

    If one of those backs can emerge, if Jackson can keep rolling, if Evans can remain healthy and if Godwin and Howard can continue on their 2017 trajectory, Winston could have one of the best supporting casts in football in 2018. Plenty of ifs there, though. 

7. Kirk Cousins, Minnesota Vikings

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    Expectations are sky-high for new Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins, who signed the most lucrative contract in NFL history in March. That could put a lot of pressure on the 29-year-old, but at least he can thank the football gods he'll be supported by a better supporting cast than the majority of the league's starting quarterbacks. 

    Top receiver Adam Thielen continues to get better and is coming off a 1,276-yard Pro Bowl season, while fellow starter Stefon Diggswho scored eight touchdowns in the 2017 regular season before playing a heroic role in the playoffsshould only continue to improve as well at the age of 24. 

    But projected No. 3 receiver Laquon Treadwell might have a higher ceiling than both of those guys. And while the 2016 first-round pick has disappointed thus far, he could be in for a breakout third season with a new quarterback throwing his way

    Unspectacular but solid tight end Kyle Rudolph is coming off an eight-touchdown Pro bowl campaign, giving Cousins four talented targets. 

    And while they'll likely miss the pass-catching ability departed running back Jerick McKinnon brought to the table, the backfield will be better off in 2018 than it was down the stretch last season. That's because 2017 second-round pick Dalvin Cook—who had 444 scrimmage yards and a 4.8 yards-per-attempt average before suffering a torn ACL four games into his rookie campaign—is back, and he'll be complemented nicely by veteran Latavius Murray. 

    The Vikings could use a little more pass-catching depth, but they have at least four potential 2018 Pro Bowlers supporting their new quarterback. 

6. Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    And now we bring you the highest-ranked superstar-free supporting cast in the NFL. 

    Obviously we won't all agree on what makes a superstar, but the teams ranked higher than the Philadelphia Eagles (and most within this range) have one or more game-changing players at the non-quarterback offensive skill positions. The Eagles do not, and that's intended as a compliment. 

    The Eagles can afford to lose top wide receiver Alshon Jeffery and still get by with veterans Nelson Agholor and Mike Wallace as well as promising second-year fourth-round pick Mack Hollins, who quietly caught 73 percent of the passes thrown his way while averaging more than 14 yards per reception as a rookie in 2017. 

    They can afford to lose No. 1 tight end Zach Ertz and turn things over to intriguing free-agent pickup Richard Rodgers and/or even-more-intriguing rookie second-round pick Dallas Goedert. 

    And they can afford to lose top back Jay Ajayi and sub in 2017 undrafted rookie sensation Corey Clement, or even Darren Sproles or Wendell Smallwood. 

    Among that group, only Ertz made the Pro Bowl last season. He's undoubtedly the most important weapon in quarterback Carson Wentz's arsenal—especially considering the loss of promising backup Trey Burton—but they've already proved they're deep enough to excel without him too. 

    In the two games they played without Ertz last season, the Eagles scored a combined 94 points against the Broncos and Rams. 

5. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    There isn't a receiver-running back duo like Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell, who in support of Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger have been first-team All-Pros a combined six times in the last four years. 

    Brown once again led the league in receiving yardage while continuing to build a Hall of Fame resume in 2017, while Bell led the AFC by a wide margin with 1,946 scrimmage yards. 

    But as good as Brown and Bell are, you need more high-quality players to qualify as an elite all-around supporting cast. And that's where the JuJu and Jesse come in.

    Despite the fact that the 21-year-old was the youngest player in professional football, JuJu Smith-Schuster led all rookie receivers with 917 yards and seven touchdown catches in 2017. He was one of just two players in the league to average more than 15 yards per reception and catch more than 70 percent of the passes thrown his way (min. 15 catches). 

    Meanwhile, tight end Jesse James caught 65 percent or more of the passes thrown his way for the third time in as many seasons. He's not a game-changing player, but the 2015 fifth-round pick has become a reliable safety valve for Roethlisberger. 

    We're looking at a top-heavy arsenal, especially with Martavis Bryant and Eli Rogers gone and the jury still naturally out on rookie second-round receiver James Washington. But Brown and Bell are often so dominant that Smith-Schuster's potential and James' reliability are enough to put Big Ben's group of weapons in the top five.

4. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints

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    Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    Drew Brees is the only quarterback in the NFC who will go to work this season with three skill-position players who were Pro Bowlers in 2017. Top receiver Michael Thomas made it after catching 104 passes for 1,245 yards and five touchdowns as a sophomore second-round pick, while running backs Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara also did so after combining for 3,094 scrimmage yards and 25 touchdowns. 

    No reason to think any of those guys will be less effective in 2018, and a four-game early-season suspension for Ingram shouldn't be enough to drastically slow down an offense that also got a 787-yard, age-32 season from speedy veteran Ted Ginn Jr. (who somehow caught 76 percent of the passes thrown his way while averaging nearly 15 yards per reception). 

    But the Saints also went out in the offseason and added receiver Cameron Meredith, who is coming off a knee injury but had 888 receiving yards and strong rate-based numbers with the Bears two years ago.

    And would anyone be surprised if rookie third-round pick Tre'Quan Smith put together a big season in that friendly offense after averaging 16.4 yards per catch at UCF?

    They don't get a lot of points at tight end, where projected starter Josh Hill doesn't move the needle, but they can make up for that elsewhere. It'll help if veteran free-agent addition Ben Watson can excel with Brees throwing his way. 

    If the big three stay hot and someone else emerges, Brees might have the best collection of weapons in football in 2018. 

3. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan continues to benefit from having one of the best receiving duos and one of the best rushing duos in the league, and this year there's a little more promise.

    While you might have thought in March that the Falcons would miss departed No. 3 receiver Taylor Gabriel, they erased those fears in April when they used a first-round pick on highly touted Alabama product Calvin Ridley. If the polished 23-year-old can make an impact from the get-go, the combination of Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu and Ridley might be the best receiving trio in the NFL. 

    Of course, it's easy to find those wideouts when you've got Devonta Freeman and/or Tevin Coleman in the backfield. And while those two weren't as effective in 2017 as they were in 2016, that probably had to do with the offense experiencing growing pains while transitioning to Steve Sarkisian's system. 

    Freeman and Coleman still combined for 2,109 scrimmage yards and 16 touchdowns while missing three games. 

    What might give Ryan's supporting cast a slight edge over Brees' is his top tight end. As a third-round rookie in 2016, Austin Hooper caught 70 percent of the passes thrown his way. He then essentially doubled his reception and yardage totals as a sophomore and still managed to pull in 75 percent of his targets. Hooper just might be in for a breakout season in 2018, which would be unfair if Ridley is also able to emerge as a rookie. 

2. Jared Goff, Los Angeles Rams

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Six skill-position supporting cast members played major roles as Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff broke out in his sophomore season. All six were 25 years old or younger. 

    That's scary, especially since they've since upgraded that group by essentially trading in their reigning receiving touchdown leader, Sammy Watkins, for Brandin Cooks. 

    Cooks also would have led the Rams in touchdown catches last year after he recorded seven with the Patriots, marking the third consecutive year in which the 24-year-old 2014 first-round pick recorded at least 65 catches for 1,000-plus yards and seven or more touchdowns. 

    But he won't even be the centerpiece of a core that features reigning Offensive Player of the Year Todd Gurley in the backfield, two other high-quality young receivers in Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods (both caught more than 65 percent of the passes thrown their way and averaged more than 13 yards per catch in 2017) and two highly drafted young tight ends in Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett. 

    Cooks, Gurley, Kupp, Woods, Higbee and Everett. Combined yards from scrimmage last season: 5,429. Average age: 24. None drafted lower than Round 3. 

    It's going to be another big year for Mr. Goff. 

1. Patrick Mahomes II, Kansas City Chiefs

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    Orlin Wagner/Associated Press

    The only other quarterback besides Brees with three 2017 Pro Bowlers in his arsenal? Kansas City Chiefs prodigy Patrick Mahomes II, who will enter his first full season as the team's starter with one Pro Bowler at all three supporting offensive skill positions. 

    It starts with running back Kareem Hunt, who led the league with 1,327 rushing yards while scoring eight times as a rookie third-round pick in 2017.

    Then there's wide receiver Tyreek Hill, who has emerged as one of the most dangerous and versatile offensive weapons in the league and is coming off a season in which he and Smith-Schuster were the only qualified players in the league to average more than 15 yards per reception and catch more than 70 percent of the passes thrown their way.

    Then there's tight end Travis Kelce, who is coming off a third straight Pro Bowl nod, a second consecutive 1,000-plus-yard campaign and the fourth straight season in which he's caught at least 68 percent of the passes thrown his way. The 28-year-old also scored eight touchdowns, bringing that trio's total to 26. 

    Hunt is just 22, Hill 24. Kelce's in his prime. And they'll be even better supported in 2018 after the front office spent big on 25-year-old former 1,000-yard receiver Sammy Watkins, who scored eight touchdowns with the Rams in 2017. 

    Throw in that the underrated Chris Conley—who's caught 65 percent of the passes thrown his way the last two years—should be good to go after missing all but five games because of an Achilles injury in 2017, and you have the best all-around supporting cast in the NFL. 

    Have fun, Pat.