The Most Overlooked Additions of the 2018 NFL Offseason
As we grow closer to NFL training camps, it's a time for renewed hope for most fans. The majority of the news out of minicamps and OTAs has carried positive spin, and new additions—especially the notable ones—tend to make teams look better on paper.
Of course, it's often the under-the-radar acquisitions who emerge as training camp standouts and who go on to star in the regular season. Last offseason, for example, the Minnesota Vikings' acquisition of Case Keenum failed to generate buzz. However, he proved to be exactly the kind of backup quarterback the team could depend on.
While it's impossible to accurately predict future injuries, it isn't impossible to see the value that backups and role players can provide. With this in mind, let's take a look at the most overlooked additions of the 2018 offseason and why they could prove to pay huge dividends.
Pittsburgh Steelers Sign Morgan Burnett
The Pittsburgh Steelers were scrambling to replace linebacker Ryan Shazier late last season after he suffered a serious spinal injury against the Cincinnati Bengals. They couldn't replicate his sideline-to-sideline playmaking or sure tackling during the season, and they have focused on doing so this offseason.
This is a big reason Pittsburgh was willing to gamble on the athletically gifted, raw safety prospect Terrell Edmunds in the first round.
In a move that didn't garner quite as much attention, the Steelers also added former Green Bay Packers safety Morgan Burnett on a modest three-year, $14.4 million deal.
Edmunds has the athletic potential to eventually be a star, but Burnett has the experience to pay immediate dividends. He's a versatile linebacker-safety hybrid who will make solid tackles in the middle of the field. According to Pro Football Focus, Burnett led all safeties in combined tackling efficiency last season.
Burnett won't replace Shazier by himself, but he can be part of the equation, and that's huge.
Cleveland Browns Add Drew Stanton
New Cleveland Browns general manager John Dorsey revamped much of the roster this offseason, including adding three notable signal-callers. The third, journeyman Drew Stanton, has been largely overshadowed by Tyrod Taylor and Baker Mayfield.
This is understandable, of course. Taylor is coming off a campaign that saw him take the Buffalo Bills to the postseason. Mayfield was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 draft. However, Stanton shouldn't be forgotten.
As mentioned, backups such as Keenum can become big additions. While Stanton isn't likely to lead a deep playoff run the way Keenum did last season in Minnesota, he could easily become the starter.
If Taylor suffers an injury or struggles and Cleveland doesn't feel Mayfield is ready, Stanton will be the guy. He has shown he's good enough to net a few wins, having gone 11-6 as a starter.
With 10 years of NFL experience, Stanton also has the knowledge and seasoning to serve as a mentor to both Mayfield and Taylor.
Few batted an eye when the Browns added Stanton, but he can play well when on the field and strengthen the quarterback room without setting foot on it.
Arizona Cardinals Trade for Jamar Taylor
The Browns added a number of quality players this offseason, but they've jettisoned a couple as well. Cornerback Jamar Taylor is one such player, and he could immediately walk into a starting role for the Arizona Cardinals opposite Patrick Peterson.
Taylor was a starter each of the past two seasons in Cleveland, and in most instances, he performed well. Last season, he amassed 62 tackles, 10 passes defended and a forced fumble. Taylor knows how to make plays on the ball, and he isn't afraid to get rough.
"He's physical, and I love the way he tackles," Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks said, per Bob Baum of the Associated Press. "We take a lot of pride in that, of course I do, in making sure our cornerbacks tackle."
Taylor's also inexpensive. He agreed to a pay cut and will carry a cap hit of $1.8 million this season. Considering the Cardinals gave up just a 2020 sixth-round pick to get him, he could prove to be one of the biggest steals—and most underrated additions—of the offseason.
Indianapolis Colts Draft Deon Cain and Nyheim Hines
Most of the buzz surrounding the Indianapolis Colts this offseason has involved the health and recovery of quarterback Andrew Luck's throwing shoulder. The Colts have also attempted provide Luck support upon his return, which is of equal importance.
The first-round selection of former Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson was a much-needed move to help protect the quarterback. Two other draft picks, however, also appear poised to provide Luck with a boost—though neither was as heralded as Nelson.
Indianapolis used a fourth-round pick on former NC State running back Nyheim Hines and a sixth-round pick on former Clemson wideout Deon Cain. Zak Keefer of the Indianapolis Star recently reported that both are turning heads in offseason workouts.
"He's just hard to understand defensively, in my mind, how you're going to play him. He kind of reminds me a little bit of a Dexter McCluster type," Colts offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni said, describing Hines' ability to create mismatches, per Keefer.
Head coach Frank Reich has been impressed with Cain's ability to be an impact receiver.
"I've seen playmaking ability; I've seen really good body control," he said, per Keefer. "Good speed. Good route-runner. With a lot of young guys, you just need to fight for the consistency to do it every play. I really commend Deon."
Cain and Hines may have exited draft weekend as afterthoughts, but both have the potential to be big pieces of the Colts offense this season.
New York Jets Sign Terrelle Pryor
The New York Jets tabbed USC product Sam Darnold to be their quarterback of the future in this year's draft. If they hope to see early success from the rookie, however, they need to surround him with playmaking talent.
The Jets bolstered their running game by bringing in Isaiah Crowell. In a move that didn't draw as much attention, they also brought in a former Cleveland teammate of Crowell's in quarterback-turned-receiver Terrelle Pryor.
Injuries and a lack of chemistry with quarterback Kirk Cousins caused Pryor to have a disappointing campaign with the Washington Redskins last season (just 240 receiving yards and one touchdown). Hence the lack of excitement. We shouldn't forget, however, that Pryor racked up 1,007 yards and four scores in 2016.
We also shouldn't forget that Pryor put up these numbers with a rotating group of subpar Browns quarterbacks—including Cody Kessler, Robert Griffin III and Kevin Hogan—throwing him the ball.
Regardless of how Pryor may have played last season, he's still a 6'4", 228-pound pass-catcher with elite speed. He can provide a major mismatch advantage and be a reliable weapon early in Darnold's career.
New England Patriots Trade for Cordarrelle Patterson
Versatility is a New England Patriots focal point, which is why they often get the most out of players who haven't shined as brightly elsewhere. This is exactly why the addition of receiver/runner/returner Cordarrelle Patterson could pay huge dividends in 2018.
Patterson has the ability to impact the offense as both a ball-carrier and a pass-catcher. While he has never lived up to his status as a 2013 first-round pick, Patterson has forged major mismatches when given the chance. He averaged 10.0 yards per reception and 9.3 yards per carry with the Oakland Raiders last season.
Patterson can also make opposing teams pay in the return game.
"I mean, if they kick it to me, I get more yards," Patterson said, per the Patriots' official website. "That's the game. You know, every year they stop trying to kick it to me."
Patterson has amassed 4,613 return yards during his career. As you may know, special teams is another point of emphasis for New England and head coach Bill Belichick.
The Patriots gave up a mere fifth-round pick for Patterson and a sixth-rounder, but his addition could prove to be a big one.
Oakland Raiders Sign Tahir Whitehead
Bolstering the defense had to be an offseason goal for the Oakland Raiders, who allowed an average of 350.1 yards per game last season (23rd in the NFL). They took a big step toward accomplishing that goal by adding former Detroit Lions linebacker Tahir Whitehead.
Whitehead may not be one of the league's star linebackers, but he is an extremely productive player who will improve the second level of Oakland's defense. The 2012 fifth-round pick racked up 110 tackles, two passed defended, an interception and a sack last season. He has amassed more than 100 tackles in each of the last two years.
With six years of experience under his belt, Whitehead is also poised to be a leader on Oakland's new-look defense.
"Whitehead is a guy that is very vocal. Very vocal," fellow linebacker Derrick Johnson said, per the Raiders' official website.
Johnson, who joined Oakland after playing 13 seasons with the rival Kansas City Chiefs, was an addition that generated a lot more buzz this offseason. Don't be surprised, however, if Whitehead is the new linebacker who has the biggest impact.
Detroit Lions Sign LeGarrette Blount
You may have heard this before, but the Detroit Lions haven't had a player rush for at least 100 yards in a game since 2013 (Reggie Bush). This is a fact that loomed large behind the team's decision to use a second-round pick on former Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson.
Johnson isn't the only running back the Lions added this offseason, however. They also brought in LeGarrette Blount, and he shouldn't be overlooked.
While Johnson is likely to be Detroit's workhorse back of the future, Blount is a strong between-the-tackles runner who can add punch to the running game. He proved as much with the Philadelphia Eagles last season, rushing for 766 yards and 4.4 yards per carry.
"When I think about how I can contribute to this team, the first thing that jumps out is my physicality," Blount explained on his official website (via Lions Wire). "It's extremely important for any team to get good at short yardage and converting on third down."
Blount is also familiar with new Lions head coach Matt Patricia from their time together in New England. Expect him to have a big role in both the team's development and its success this season.
All contract information via Spotrac.