Re-Grading Every NFL Team's 2018 Offseason Moves

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistOctober 19, 2018

Re-Grading Every NFL Team's 2018 Offseason Moves

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    Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    NFL front offices spend six months between March and August strengthening, reshaping and rebuilding rosters for the regular season. Through six weeks, some moves haven't worked out as planned and others seem like smart decisions. 

    For fanbases, spring and summer are the seasons for hope. There's optimism for the veteran signings and incoming draft classes as immediate difference-makers and building blocks for the future. Once players put on pads and games count in the win-loss column, we can begin to assess the returns on offseason acquisitions.

    Did the coveted free-agent left tackle fix issues in pass protection? How many early-round picks have contributed to their team's progression?

    We'll focus on notable offseason additions, specifically their individual performances and how they've affected wins and losses.

    Where did front offices hit and miss?

Arizona Cardinals

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    Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    Grade: C

    The Arizona Cardinals' new regime faced critical issues to begin the season. How would Sam Bradford fare as the stopgap quarterback and what about the new components on the offensive line around him? Will head coach Steve Wilks' defensive background help the search for a cornerback opposite Patrick Peterson? Who's the No. 2 wideout behind Larry Fitzgerald

    The experience with Bradford didn't pan out, but the Cardinals certainly have their quarterback of the future in Josh Rosen. The rookie looked prepared to take over once he stepped on the fieldeven in a losing effort against the Chicago Bears.

    The UCLA product experienced a rough outing Thursday against the Denver Broncos. He threw three interceptions, one tipped, and took six sacks. In the long term, Rosen and wide receiver Christian Kirk project as the future of the passing game. The Texas A&M product leads the team in receptions (28) and yards (368) through seven games.

    The Cardinals' biggest offseason deal went to guard Justin Pugh, who broke his hand Sunday but will attempt to play through it. As a unit, the offensive line hasn't opened holes for running back David Johnson. He's averaging 3.2 yards per carry as part of the league's worst rushing attack in total yardage. 

    Arizona traded a 2020 sixth-round pick for cornerback Jamar Taylor. The coaching staff benched him after three games in favor of Bene Benwikere, who spent three years playing in Wilks' system with the Carolina Panthers. The 27-year-old signed a one-year, $880,000 deal. He and fellow free-agent pickup Tre Boston have a combined four interceptions, nine pass breakups and two forced fumbles.

Atlanta Falcons

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    Calvin Ridley
    Calvin RidleyScott Cunningham/Getty Images

    Grade: B-

    No one can blame the Atlanta Falcons' offseason acquisitions for a slow start. Calvin Ridley has emerged as the most productive wideout in his class with 349 receiving yards and six touchdowns. It's a positive to see his scoring production since Julio Jones continues to dominate exclusively between the 20-yard lines. He's yet to score a touchdown.

    Offensive lineman Brandon Fusco plugged a hole at right guard, providing a mix bagged of performances on the interior. Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter D. Orlando Ledbetter highlighted some of his high and low moments in a 37-36 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals:

    "There were too many breakdowns at key times by the offensive line. Two each by Brandon Fusco and Jake Matthews very extremely costly. With the ball on the 8-yard line after [a] blocked punt, the offensive line crumbled on three key plays and they had to settle for a field goal."

    Ito Smith will see more action with running back Devonta Freeman out for the season with groin and foot injuries. The rookie fourth-rounder has scored in each of the last three outings. He'll need to average more than 3.2 yards per carry alongside Tevin Coleman to balance the offense.

Baltimore Ravens

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    Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

    Grade: B

    The Baltimore Ravens attempted to go with quality over quantity in free agency. Wideouts Michael Crabtree and John Brown signed with the team as notable veteran additions. They've logged a combined 51 catches for 767 yards and five touchdowns. 

    Beyond the numbers, Crabtree has experienced drop issues. Per Garrett Downing of the team's official website, he acknowledged his subpar play following a critical drop against the Cleveland Browns before notching six receptions for 93 yards and a touchdown in Week 6.

    For the first time since the 2014 campaign, the Ravens rank in the top half of the league in offensive yards and points. Baltimore's defense comes to mind as a strength, but the overhaul at wide receiver has provided a significant boost to the aerial attack. 

    The Ravens' first-round draft picks have added minimal impact. Tight end Hayden Hurst dealt with a foot stress fracture, costing him the first four games of the season. Quarterback Lamar Jackson takes occasional snaps behind Joe Flacco, but he's a more effective rusher than passer. 

    Looking down the list of draft picks, tight end Mark Andrews flashed in spots. He has 13 catches for 155 yards and a touchdown. Linebacker Kenny Young started three games and showed the ability to develop into a playmaker with 2.5 sacks and four tackles for loss.

Buffalo Bills

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    Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

    Grade: B-

    Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen took over the starting role earlier than expected after the front office traded free-agent pickup AJ McCarron to the Oakland Raiders and the coaching staff benched Nathan Peterman after one start.

    Allen helped lead the team to two victories over the Minnesota Vikings and Tennessee Titans, but he's thrown two touchdowns passes and five interceptions while completing just 54 percent of his attempts. In fact, the Wyoming product has more scores as a ball-carrier (three) than a passer. He still remains a major work in progress as he recovers from an elbow injury suffered in Week 6.

    The Bills allowed linebacker Preston Brown to walk in free agency, but rookie first-rounder Tremaine Edmunds has filled in adequately in the middle of the defense. He leads the team in solo tackles (32) and displayed the ability to use his length in coverage with five pass breakups (tied for the team lead).

    The front office re-signed defensive tackle Kyle Williams and acquired Trent Murphy—two consistent contributors to the pass rush, combining for 6.5 sacks.

Carolina Panthers

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    D.J. Moore
    D.J. MooreAssociated Press

    Grade: D+

    Other than cornerback Donte Jackson, the Panthers can't point to much production from their newcomers. From Week 1, the LSU product has started opposite James Bradberry and snagged three interceptions in five contests.

    First-round pick D.J. Moore had a nightmarish outing in Week 6 against the Washington Redskins. He fumbled twice—the turnovers led to 10 combined points on the ensuing drives. 

    Moore has underwhelmed under the spotlight as the first wide receiver selected in April's draft. Along with his recent ball-security gaffes, he's recorded just 10 catches for 162 yards and a touchdown.

    Carolina's coaching staff doesn't seem the slightest bit interested in utilizing running back C.J. Anderson, who's coming off a 1,000-yard rushing season. He's tallied 16 carries for 84 yards on the ground.

    The Panthers inked defensive tackle Dontari Poe to a three-year, $28 million deal, but he's yet to impact the game on the interior with one solo tackle in five starts.

Chicago Bears

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    Marc Serota/Getty Images

    Grade: A

    The offseason acquisitions trophy goes to general manager Ryan Pace. Despite a humbling loss to the Miami Dolphins in overtime last week, the Bears lead the NFC North primarily because of the notable additions to the roster. 

    Wideouts Taylor Gabriel and Allen Robinson have emerged as a solid duo in the passing attack. Trey Burton serves as a reliable red-zone target with three touchdown catches. Rookie Anthony Miller caught two passes for scores in four outings. 

    Over the last two contests, quarterback Mitchell Trubisky has thrown nine touchdown passes, proof enough that Pace's offensive acquisitions made an early impact.

    The Bears sent first-round selections for the next two years, their third-round pick in 2020 and a sixth-rounder to Oakland for Khalil Mack. He should have an early lead in Defensive Player of the Year votes. The 27-year-old has five sacks, four forced fumbles, an interception and a touchdown. Next to him, rookie first-rounder Roquan Smith leads the defense in solo tackles (21) along with safety Adrian Amos. 

    Mack and Smith have improved a top-10 defense from last year—a scary sight for the NFC North.

Cincinnati Bengals

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    Gary Landers/Associated Press

    Grade: C+

    The Bengals decided to rebuild the offensive line during the offseason, trading for offensive tackle Cordy Glenn and then drafting center Billy Price. 

    Price has been sidelined after a sprained foot caused him to exit the Ravens game in Week 2. Quarterback Andy Dalton hasn't been under constant duress, but the coaching staff should consider a balanced offensive attack behind a revamped front line. The Bengals rank 30th in rushing attempts. 

    The front office decided to re-sign tight end Tyler Eifert, but he broke his ankle in his fourth outing.

    In a surprising move, the Bengals released safety George Iloka, prompting Jessie Bates' ascension into the starting role. The rookie second-rounder is the only defender on the roster with multiple interceptions.

    Sam Hubbard looks solid in small doses; he's played 40.82 percent of the team's snaps, logging a sack, three tackles for loss and a fumble return for a touchdown. The Ohio State product isn't expected to take on a major role within a talented front seven, but there's starting potential if injuries force key players to miss time.

Cleveland Browns

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    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    Grade: A

    There's nowhere to go but up after finishing 0-16. General manager John Dorsey made moves to change the culture in Cleveland; it starts with quarterback Baker Mayfield under center. 

    In Week 3, the offense instantly moved with more vigor once the top pick in the 2018 draft took over for Tyrod Taylor, who suffered a concussion. The rookie signal-caller didn't throw a touchdown pass in that outing, but he completed 17 of 23 attempts for 201 yards. His accuracy opened up lanes for the ground attack. As a result, the Browns won their first game since Week 16 of the 2016 campaign. 

    Veteran wide receiver Jarvis Landry came over in a trade with the Miami Dolphins and proved he's more than a slot receiver capable of catching short passes. He leads the team in receptions (31) and yards (392).

    Cleveland signed running back Carlos Hyde and selected Nick Chubb in the second round of April's draft. Through six weeks, the Browns boast the fifth-best rushing offense with the two aforementioned ball-carriers leading the way. 

    Overall, the secondary still needs to tighten up in passing yards allowed (20th), but rookie first-rounder Denzel Ward has provided solid coverage on the boundary with three interceptions and six pass breakups. Damarious Randall continues to show his range after a three-year stint with the Green Bay Packers. He's secured two picks and broken up six passes as a deep safety.

Dallas Cowboys

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    Michael Gallup
    Michael GallupAssociated Press

    Grade: D

    The Dallas Cowboys parted ways with wideout Dez Bryant and flooded the position with fresh talent. Allen Hurns, Deonte Thompson, Tavon Austin and rookie Michael Gallup joined the receiving corps as solutions to fill the void. 

    The Cowboys passing offense ranks 29th, and quarterback Dak Prescott has seven touchdown passes. While there's some onus on the signal-caller to optimize the talent around him, it's clear the components in the aerial attack still need time to jell as the season progresses. 

    Despite the offseason assets acquired, Cole Beasley lists as the top receiving threat with 26 catches, 294 yards and two touchdowns. 

    Rookie second-rounder Connor Williams has experienced some missteps in blocking, per Dallas Morning News analyst John Owning.

    "Williams has to be careful not to be too aggressive with his punches, as he been caught lunging, making it easy for defensive linemen to defeat his block if they are able to beat the rookie guard's hands," he wrote. 

    Keep in mind Williams is transitioning from a tackle on the collegiate level to guard in the pros.

    Leighton Vander Esch leads the defense in solo tackles (41) and has brought steadiness to the linebacker corps as Sean Lee battles a hamstring injury.

Denver Broncos

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    Bradley Chubb
    Bradley ChubbJustin Edmonds/Getty Images

    Grade: B+

    The Broncos turned the page on their 2017 offense that ranked 27th in points, but the new chapter looks very similar in terms of the bottom line. The unit ranked 25th going into Week 7. When digging deeper, individual groups have made strides, though.

    The Broncos released C.J. Anderson after his first 1,000-yard season. Denver selected running back Royce Freeman in the third round and signed undrafted free-agent Phillip Lindsay. The duo spearheads the league's 10th-ranked rushing offense and the No. 2 ground attack in yards per carry (5.1). 

    General manager and president of football operations John Elway's choice at quarterback hasn't produced at a high level. Case Keenum has thrown for eight scores and nine interceptions. He also went three consecutive games without a touchdown pass.

    The Broncos utilized a second-round pick on Courtland Sutton to form a solid wide receiver trio with Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas. With the talent on the perimeter, Keenum's production leaves much to be desired.

    The Broncos didn't exercise the fifth-year option on Shane Ray's contract, but Bradley Chubb looks the part of Von Miller's pass-rush partner. He's logged five sacks over the last two games—6.5 in total for the season. 

Detroit Lions

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    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    Grade: A-

    Remember when reports emerged about discord in the locker room following a 48-17 home loss to the New York Jets in the regular-season opener?

    Well, the Lions have pushed each other on the field for new head coach Matt Patricia and won two of the last three games. More impressively, Detroit beat the New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers—clubs typically in the playoff hunt. The new skipper has directed this squad in the right direction. 

    The Lions rank 23rd in the ground attack. However, a new commitment to the run has become evident after acquiring ball-carriers LeGarrette Blount and Kerryon Johnson and drafting offensive lineman Frank Ragnow.

    Johnson logged the franchise's first 100-yard rushing performance since Week 13 of the 2013 campaign. According to Detroit Free Press writer Dave Birkett, the rookie ball-carrier can thank Ragnow for moving bodies in the trenches during that game against New England. Blount opened the team's last outing against Green Bay with a pair of one-yard touchdown runs. He gives the backfield a physical presence that's been absent in recent years.

    The Lions went into their Week 6 bye ranked third in sacks (17), along with the Indianapolis Colts, without defensive end Ezekiel Ansah on the field in four contests.

    Free-agent pickup Devon Kennard has already reached a personal best in sacks (five), leading the pass rush. Rookie defensive lineman Da'Shawn Hand has blossomed into a versatile component who's also a contributor to the pocket pressure. Cornerback Nevin Lawson doesn't have a career interception, but he's a solid holdover on a new two-year deal with four pass breakups in five appearances (four starts).

    The Lions' 2-3 record isn't indicative of their trajectory, which is pointing upward with two quality wins and a thriving pass rush without its top talent.

Green Bay Packers

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    Dylan Buell/Getty Images

    Grade: C

    In Green Bay, offseason excitement focused on a pair of rookie cornerbacks and a trio of first-year wide receivers.

    Cornerback Jaire Alexander missed the last two contests with a groin injury, but he's shown up on game day as a playmaker. If not for a Clay Matthews' roughing the passer penalty against the Vikings, the Louisville product would have two interceptions on his resume. Josh Jackson doesn't have game-changing plays on film yet.

    Among the rookie wideouts, Marquez Valdes-Scantling emerged as the top pass-catcher. He logged his first 100-yard performance against the San Francisco 49ers on Monday. Equanimeous St. Brown secured a critical 19-yard reception on 3rd-and-2 to put the Packers in 49ers territory in that game. J'Mon Moore has been nonexistent with only one catch this season. 

    Quarterback Aaron Rodgers didn't take kindly to wide receiver Jordy Nelson's release, and tight end Jimmy Graham isn't the red-zone target many expected to see in the passing attack. Thus far, he's hauled in one touchdown pass.

Houston Texans

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    Martinas Rankin
    Martinas RankinFrederick Breedon/Getty Images

    Grade: C

    The Houston Texans made concerted efforts to address a subpar offensive line and the secondary. Yet, quarterback Deshaun Watson has been sacked 25 times (the most in the league), none of the running backs average more than 3.7 yards per carry and the pass defense has surrendered 13 touchdowns, placing 24th in the league. 

    Foot surgery sidelined rookie third-rounder Martinas Rankin through training camp. The time away from the field likely delayed his development. He made three consecutive starts but reverted to a backup role over the last two weeks. 

    In Arizona, defensive back Tyrann Mathieu constantly found his way to the ball. He continues to do so with the Texans, logging four pass breakups, an interception and a fumble recovery. Rookie safety Justin Reid started two games for a defense that needs some takeaways and snagged one in the form of an interception in Week 5 against the Cowboys. 

    The front office lured cornerback Aaron Colvin away from the Jacksonville Jaguars, but the fifth-year veteran suffered an ankle injury that's sidelined him since Week 4. His absence deals a huge blow to a thin secondary.

Indianapolis Colts

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    Darius Leonard
    Darius LeonardRob Carr/Getty Images

    Grade: B

    The Colts went in another direction with a new coaching staff. As a result, we can expect some growing pains as the new regime acclimates the roster to fresh schemes.

    Quarterback Andrew Luck immediately formed a strong rapport with ex-Lions tight end Eric Ebron, who's scored in five out of six games. He leads the Colts receiving corps in major categories as the top target in the aerial attack. His production comes at an opportune time while fellow tight end Jack Doyle deals with a hip issue. 

    Wideout T.Y. Hilton missed the last two games because of a hamstring ailment. Luck absolutely needs someone with reliable hands on the perimeter. Free-agent pickup Ryan Grant only reached paydirt once and doesn't wow spectators with big plays, but he's converted 26 out of 36 targets into receptions.

    The Colts backfield features a running back committee, but the rookie ball-carriers haven't provided much on the ground. Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins have a combined 80 carries for 288 yards and a touchdown. On the bright side, the latter carved out a role in the short passing attack with 31 catches for 185 yards and two scores. 

    The linebacker corps features a tackling machine in Darius Leonard who should be in the running for Defensive Rookie of the Year. The South Carolina State product leads the league in combined tackles (63). Don't overlook his playmaking ability; he's tied with Margus Hunt for the team lead in sacks with four through five games.

Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Donte Moncrief
    Donte MoncriefPeter Aiken/Getty Images

    Grade: D-

    Because of the depth at various positions across the roster, the Jaguars rookie class hasn't been able to put its collective stamp on game results. Defensive lineman Taven Bryan and wide receiver D.J. Chark profile as early-round assets with the future in mind. Neither has logged more than 31 percent of his respective unit's snaps. 

    The front office re-signed wideout Marqise Lee. He suffered ligament damage to his knee in a preseason game. Newly added tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins landed on injured reserve because of a core-muscle ailment, though the 26-year-old could return later in the year. Slot cornerback D.J. Hayden, the longtime Oakland Raider who spent last season with the Detroit Lions, sat out with a sprained toe over the last four weeks.

    Wide receiver Donte Moncrief signed a one-year, 9.6 million deal, but he's inefficient with a 45 percent catch rate—by far the lowest frequency of his five-year career.

    Guard Andrew Norwell, the Jaguars' biggest offseason signing, had some minor hiccups in pass protection, per's Michael DiRocco

    "Norwell has not even been close to the dominant player the Jaguars believed they were getting. He has already given up at least two sacks and has been average at best." 

    Because of his run-blocking ability, Norwell would perform closer to his worth if running back Leonard Fournette could stay healthy. Jacksonville signed arguably the top guard on the free-agent market, but the rushing offense ranks 18th in yards.

Kansas City Chiefs

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    David Eulitt/Getty Images

    Grade: B+

    The Kansas City Chiefs added two grinders in this year's draft class to the front seven in Breeland Speaks and Derrick Nnadi. The rookies have contributed to the run defense in rotational roles. The former has played 42.60 percent of snaps, while the latter took the field on 32.01 percent of defensive plays.    

    The coaching staff probably reminded Speaks to play through the whistle. He almost sacked New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady but let him go, allowing the 41-year-old to score a go-ahead touchdown on a four-yard run with under five-and-a-half minutes left. It's one play out of many; the rookie will learn as the season progresses. 

    Linebacker Anthony Hitchens, who came over in free agency after four years in Dallas, leads the team in solo tackles (34) and tackles for loss (five). He hasn't fared well in intermediate pass coverage. On film, the 26-year-old looks out of position or a step too slow in space.

    Cornerback Orlando Scandrick joined the team in August after the Redskins cut ties with him, but he's become one of the better cover defenders in the secondary. The 31-year-old has also flashed his ability to line up on the boundary, which allows Kendall Fuller—who arrived in K.C. via the Alex Smith trade—to take his natural slot position.

    The Chiefs' decision to trade quarterback Alex Smith and elevate quarterback Patrick Mahomes seems well-timed. The 23-year-old signal-caller leads the league's second-best passing attack in terms of touchdowns. There's one small issue with that new-look aerial attack.

    Wide receiver Sammy Watkins signed a three-year, $48 million deal. According to Spotrac, he's the sixth-highest paid at his position based on yearly salary. The 25-year-old is third on the team in targets (33), receptions (22) and yards (272) with only one touchdown. The deal seems a bit pricey relative to his production.


Los Angeles Chargers

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    Derwin James
    Derwin JamesHarry How/Getty Images

    Grade: A

    In 2017, the Los Angeles Chargers rushing offense ranked 24th in the league. During the offseason, the front office added center Mike Pouncey and re-signed Michael Schofield before moving him from right tackle to guard.

    It's not a coincidence that unit ranks sixth at this point in the season. Of course, running back Austin Ekeler deserves some credit, but the Chargers' tweaks to the front line made a difference in the ground attack. 

    The incoming class doesn't have significant production from top to bottom, but safety Derwin James deserves early consideration for Defensive Rookie of the Year. He leads the team in three critical categories: sacks (3.5), pass breakups (six) and solo tackles (28). 

    Defensive end Joey Bosa suffered a foot injury during training camp, and he's yet to play a snap. James helped fill the pass-rush void as an effective blitzer off the edge. As a playmaker all over the field, the Chargers have a versatile defender who can affect the game regardless of where he's lined up.

Los Angeles Rams

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    Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

    Grade: A

    When the Rams signed defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, many wondered about his interior pass-rush potential playing alongside Aaron Donald. Thus far, the duo is responsible for seven sacks and 15 quarterback hits.

    Despite pass-rushing deficiencies off the edge, Suh and Donald have compensated on the inside, wreaking havoc in the trenches. With three sacks, the 31-year-old Suh is on pace to surpass his single-season totals from all three years with the Dolphins combined. For those who thought he lost significant ability to penetrate the pocket, think again.

    General manager Les Snead acquired two All-Pro cornerbacks in Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib. The team placed the latter on injured reserve after he underwent ankle surgery. The former continues to play through a calf issue.

    Peters and Talib haven't been on the field long enough to illustrate their synergistic impact, but the pass defense surrendered just 598 yards through three outings with both healthy.

    Los Angeles acquired wideout Brandin Cooks via trade with the Patriots and extended his contract through the 2023 campaign. The 25-year-old is second on the team in receiving yards (505), moving the ball downfield at 18 yards per catch.

    Through the first four games, free-agent pickup Ramik Wilson held the starting inside linebacker job while Mark Barron recovered from an ankle injury. During that span, he racked up 17 solo tackles with three resulting in a loss, which speaks to the quality depth at the position.

Miami Dolphins

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    Minkah Fitzpatrick
    Minkah FitzpatrickMark Brown/Getty Images

    Grade: A

    The Dolphins added speed and experience on offense. Albert Wilson looks well on his way to reaching multiple single-season highs as a pass-catcher after serving as a backup with Kansas City. The fifth-year wideout has 23 receptions for 359 yards and four touchdowns with a 52-yard pass for a score in Week 3 against the Raiders. 

    As long as Danny Amendola remains healthy, which sometimes proved difficult during his five years in New England, he's an effective playmaker on the perimeter. Thus far, he's started all six games and holds the team's best catch rate (77.4) among players with at least five receptions.

    Through six weeks, running back Frank Gore has logged more rushing attempts than Kenyan Drake (62-52). The 24-year-old Drake had a costly fumble at the goal line during overtime in the last outing. The 35-year-old Gore logged his first 100-yard rushing performance of the year in the same contest.

    Gore signed a one-year, $1.1 million deal; it seems like money well-spent on a ground attack trending upward with 128-plus yards in consecutive games.

    The coaching staff trusted rookie Minkah Fitzpatrick with a significant role on the back end as a slot cornerback and safety. The Alabama product has played 80.29 percent of the team's snaps. He contributes to a pass defense that bends but doesn't break. The unit ranks 24th in yards allowed but only allowed nine touchdowns in six games.

Minnesota Vikings

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    Grade: A

    The Vikings made an unprecedented free-agent signing, handing quarterback Kirk Cousins a fully guaranteed $84 million deal. We won't know if the investment paid commensurate dividends until the end of the season. 

    Nonetheless, Cousins looks sharp in the pocket despite an imbalance in the offensive attack. The Vikings eclipsed 100 yards on the ground in two of six contests and rank 28th in rushing attempts. Through the air, the Pro Bowl quarterback formed a solid connection with Adam Thielen, who's hit the century mark in receiving yards during each game this season.

    By the way, Cousins went from yelling "You like that!" to pumping up his teammates with fiery pregame speeches. It doesn't seem like much, but it shows leadership.

    Almost routinely, rookie cornerback Mike Hughes took the field in place of Trae Waynes, who left multiple games with various injuries, including knee, ankle and concussion issues. The Central Florida product returned an interception for a touchdown in his NFL debut. 

    Hughes' versatility proved valuable for a Vikings pass defense reeling through the first five weeks. Unfortunately, his season will end after he suffered a torn ACL in the last outing, per Eric Smith of team's official website.

    Rookie second-rounder Brian O'Neill played a major role in running back Latavius Murray's 155-yard rushing performance in Week 6 against the Cardinals, as illustrated in a clip by Vikings Territory writer Nick Olson. The Pittsburgh product could develop into a quality component along the offensive line.

New England Patriots

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    Sony Michel
    Sony MichelMaddie Meyer/Getty Images

    Grade: C

    The Patriots signed defensive end Adrian Clayborn in an attempt to bolster the pass rush following his productive season with the Falcons that included a six-sack game against the Cowboys. Thus far, he's recorded just two solo tackles. 

    The front office had a layered plan to strengthen the ground attack. 2018 first-round draft pick Isaiah Wynn lined up at multiple spots across the offensive line during the offseason. The 21-year-old tore his Achilles in Week 2 of the preseason. Running back Rex Burkhead re-signed, but he landed on injured reserve because of a neck injury. Former Bengals 1,000-yard rusher Jeremy Hill suffered a torn ACL, ending his year.

    On the bright side, rookie first-rounder Sony Michel seemingly earned the coaching staff's trust. He ranked second in rushing yards in Weeks 4 through 6 with 316. The Georgia product single-handedly added another dimension to the Patriots offensive attack.

    Michel can take on a feature role as the bell-cow running back. In two of the last three outings, he's notched more than 20 carries. The Patriots lost components to the backfield, but Tom Brady can rely on the 23-year-old to move the ball as the sole contributor in the rushing offense.

New Orleans Saints

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    Marcus Davenport
    Marcus DavenportJonathan Bachman/Getty Images

    Grade: B

    Even though quarterback Drew Brees expressed a desire to continue his playing career with the New Orleans Saints, the front office can take credit for re-signing one of the best active quarterbacks in the game. He's completing an astounding 77.9 percent of his passes and broke Peyton Manning's all-time passing yards record (71,940) in a Week 5 triumph over the Washington Redskins.

    At 39 years old, Brees remains the heartbeat of the entire team with his passion and production.

    Brees also found an emerging target in the aerial attack. Rookie third-rounder Tre'Quan Smith caught three passes for 111 yards and two touchdowns in the last contest. With Ted Ginn Jr. on injured reserve with a knee injury, the Central Florida product should see more targets going forward.

    The Saints defense didn't take another step forward after finishing 10th in points allowed in 2017. Cornerback Patrick Robinson came over from the Philadelphia Eagles, but he landed on injured reserve with a broken ankle and torn ligaments after three appearances. 

    Free-agent linebacker Demario Davis has experienced lapses in pass coverage. On the positive side, he's bolstered the run defense, leading the team in solo tackles (28) with four tackles for loss. The seventh-year veteran also chased down quarterbacks, resulting in two sacks through five outings. 

    The coaching staff ramped up rookie defensive end Marcus Davenport's workload. He took the field for at least 50 percent of the team's snaps in two of the last three games. The University of Texas-San Antonio product notched two sacks in the first five contests as a reserve.

New York Giants

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    Grant Halverson/Getty Images

    Grade: C-

    For the New York Giants, the 2018 campaign feels like a rerun of the last term with new faces added to a downward-spiraling mess. 

    The Giants signed Nate Solder, Patrick Omameh and moved Ereck Flowers to right tackle. Rookie second-rounder Will Hernandez earned the starting job at left guard. 

    Yet, none of the acquisitions helped keep quarterback Eli Manning out of harm's way. He's on pace to take the most sacks of his career with 20 through six games. 

    Some of the faults in the passing attack fall on Manning for holding the ball too long. In addition, the Flowers experiment failed after two weeks. The team released him, and he signed with the Jaguars. 

    Based on yearly salaries, via Spotrac, the Giants have the second-highest-paid left tackle in Solder. As reporter Matt Lombardo noted in a film breakdown, he's not playing up to his price tag. The 30-year-old didn't look any better against the Eagles in Week 6. New York Post reporter Paul Schwartz tweeted, "First quarter mercifully over for Nate Solder. He has not fared well vs. Michael Bennett." 

    Running back Saquon Barkley stands out as one of the few positives in the Giants' offseason additions. He's recorded 100-plus yards from scrimmage in every game and put together a spectacular performance with 229 total yards in a 34-13 loss to the Eagles. Despite his efforts, the Giants rank 27th in rushing yards and scoring, but the Penn State product seems like a front-runner for Offensive Rookie of the Year.

    Rookie third-rounder B.J. Hill contributes to the defensive line as a decent run-stopper and occasional pass-rusher with eight solo tackles and two sacks.

New York Jets

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    Seth Wenig/Associated Press

    Grade: A

    The Jets went through a two-year phase with Ryan Fitzpatrick as the centerpiece of the offense between 2015 and 2016 and then transitioned to stopgap quarterback Josh McCown. 2018 No. 3 overall pick Sam Darnold's presence provides some hope for an organization that desperately needed a franchise player at the position. 

    No, Darnold isn't perfect from the pocket. He's going to throw interceptions in an effort to make plays downfield, but the rookie hasn't thrown multiple picks in a game since Week 3 against the Browns. 

    Over the last two contests, the USC product tallied five touchdowns and only two interceptions. He posted an 80 percent completion rate against the Colts in Week 6.

    The Jets shrewdly complemented Darnold with an improved ground attack. General manager Mike Maccagnan signed Isaiah Crowell to pair with Bilal Powell in the backfield. Now, Gang Green fields the seventh-best ground attack.

    Crowell ran for 219 rushing yards against the Broncos, the most in a single game this season. He's tied with 49ers running back Matt Breida for ninth in yards (430) on the ground.

    Former Titans linebacker Avery Williamson leads the defense with 32 solo tackles to go along with four pass breakups, a pick and a forced fumble. He's a solid addition to the front seven considering the Jets ranked 24th against the run in 2017.

    At the moment, the only notable disappointment traces back to cornerback Trumaine Johnson because of the amount allocated to sign him. He's the second-highest paid at his position in yearly salary, per Spotrac

    The seventh-year veteran snagged one pick in the regular-season opener and broke up two passes in four contests. Quarterbacks don't target Johnson often, but he must tone down excessive penalties. He's committed three, including an unsportsmanlike conduct foul and an unnecessary roughness infraction in a Week 3 loss to the Browns.

Oakland Raiders

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    Kolton Miller
    Kolton MillerJames Chance/Getty Images

    Grade: D-

    NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported head coach Jon Gruden used a separate draft board from general manager Reggie McKenzie and brought his own staff to navigate the selection process. 

    According to The Athletic's Jay Glazer, McKenzie didn't have his fingerprints on the trade involving Khalil Mack. "McKenzie was not the one who traded away Khalil Mack. That was not on him, that was on Gruden," he wrote.

    Those two reports alone, if true, illustrate a recipe for disaster, which describes the Raiders season through six weeks. The blockbuster trade, sending Mack to Chicago, sapped the pass rush. Oakland has seven sacks—tied with the Giants and Patriots for the least in the NFL.

    The Raiders traded a third-round pick to the Steelers for wideout Martavis Bryant, released him in the final offseason cuts and then signed the 26-year-old 11 days later. He's logged just 14 catches for 220 yards in five games. At 33 years old, wideout Jordy Nelson has been a quality addition to the aerial attack; he leads the team in receiving touchdowns (three) with 323 yards. 

    Oakland signed cornerback Rashaan Melvin to a one-year, prove-it deal. The coaching staff benched him last week against the Seahawks. After he expressed displeasure with his current situation via Twitter, Gruden spoke on the matter in a press conference (h/t NBC Sports Bay Area reporter Scott Bair via Twitter): 

    "Melvin's on his seventh team, I think. He's had several different techniques. Maybe he's confused. I don't know. He's in a competitive situation. Perhaps he's frustrated, and I can't blame him." 

    As for the draft, first-rounder Kolton Miller played the part of a starting left tackle. He suffered a Grade 2 MCL sprain in Week 5, per the Las Vegas Review-Journal's Michael Gehlken. The UCLA product has struggled ever since.

    Among the rookies, defensive tackle Maurice Hurst has been the most consistent production-wise. He's recorded 10 solo tackles, two sacks, three pass breakups and a forced fumble lining up in the trenches.

    Hurst's contributions may go unnoticed because the Raiders rank 28th in scoring defense.

Philadelphia Eagles

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    Dallas Goedert
    Dallas GoedertElsa/Getty Images

    Grade: C

    Collectively, Philadelphia's offseason moves have had minimal results. Still, individual strides deserve mention.

    Veteran wideouts Mike Wallace, Markus Wheaton and Kamar Aiken didn't fill the receiving void during Alshon Jeffery's three-week absence to recover from shoulder surgery. Wallace landed on injured reserve with a fractured fibula after two starts without a catch.

    In Week 3, rookie tight end Dallas Goedert made his presence felt against the Colts, catching all seven of his targets for 73 yards and a touchdown. He's been invisible otherwise.

    The front office re-signed linebacker Nigel Bradham, who provides solid run support, but he's giving up yards in bunches while in coverage. Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata remains a reliable run-stopper. Michael Bennett has played 61.56 percent of snaps on defense, logging two sacks and four tackles for loss in a rotational role.

    Over the last two games, rookie Avonte Maddox carved out a role as a starting safety; he's recorded six solo tackles and one interception in 147 snaps.

Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Terrell Edmunds
    Terrell EdmundsJoe Sargent/Getty Images

    Grade: B

    The Pittsburgh Steelers pass defense went through a rough stretch between Weeks 2 and 4—former longtime Packers safety Morgan Burnett only participated in one of those games because of a groin injury.

    Burnett's prolonged absence created early opportunities for first-year safety Terrell Edmunds on the back end. He's played 90.44 percent of the team's defensive snaps.

    The Virginia Tech product isn't the most polished defensive back on the field, which is expected as a rookie, but he's capable in coverage. Edmunds has an interception and two pass breakups.

    The 21-year-old whiffed on some tackles, but he'll likely learn from those mistakes as the season progresses. On the collegiate level, Edmunds logged 101 tackles as a sophomore playing all over the field.

    Jonathan Bostic spent the 2017 campaign with the Colts. The Steelers signed the 27-year-old and plugged him into the middle of the defense as a starter. He's effective going downhill as a disruptor, tallying 2.5 sacks and 24 solo tackles. 

    Wide receiver James Washington put on a show during the preseason, but he's playing behind two stars—one established and the other up-and-coming—in Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster. Barring injury, the Oklahoma State product won't see enough targets to make an impact in the passing offense this year.

San Francisco 49ers

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    Jason O. Watson/Getty Images

    Grade: B+

    The 49ers restocked the offensive line to protect their $137.5 million investment under center, but quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo suffered a torn ACL in an attempt to push for more yardage on the run in Week 3.

    The offensive line features new faces, including first-rounder Mike McGlinchey at right tackle, bargain-bin pickup Mike Person on the interior and new center Weston Richburg. The unit has kept C.J. Beathard clean in two out of three outings. The Cardinals sacked him four times in Week 5. 

    Nevertheless, it's encouraging to see the 49ers rank third in rushing offense. The offensive line physically dominated the Packers in the trenches Monday. San Francisco has 147-plus yards on the ground in four outings. Keep in mind the Niners are doing this without lead running back Jerick McKinnon, who tore his ACL September 1. 

    Dante Pettis, a second-round wide receiver out of Washington, continues to battle a knee injury. He's an afterthought in the passing attack. The 49ers potentially added an unheralded gem in the third round, though.

    Despite his drop in production over the last two games, linebacker Fred Warner leads the team in solo tackles (38). For the most part, he's been reliable when cleaning up plays in the open field. If the BYU product finds his way to the football on a consistent basis, the defense may have a special player to pair with Reuben Foster.  

    It's unfair to point to cornerback Richard Sherman's costly illegal contact penalty in the 49ers' last outing as a sign that he's losing his edge. On the contrary, the three-time All-Pro isn't seeing many passes thrown in his direction, which explains the low number of tackles and passes defensed.

Seattle Seahawks

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    D.J. Fluker
    D.J. FlukerRalph Freso/Getty Images

    Grade: A

    Perhaps the Seattle Seahawks knew when to let go of their well-known contributors on defense. The front office traded Michael Bennett and released Richard Sherman. 

    Still, the Seahawks go into their Week 7 bye with a defense ranked fifth in scoring and sixth in yards allowed. Apparently, Seattle can compete without the star power on that side of the ball. 

    After an injury-shortened 2017 season with the Giants, wideout Brandon Marshall's role continues to shrink as the weeks pass, but the Seahawks have repackaged their offense with a new game plan.

    In 2017, quarterback Russell Wilson led the league in touchdown passes with 34. Just when you thought Seattle's offensive success would hinge on his arm, the coaching staff focused on running the ball down opponents' throats. The Seahawks rank second in rushing attempts with the ninth-ranked ground attack. 

    Seattle's offensive approach explains the reasoning behind re-signing running back Mike Davis and drafting Rashaad Penny in the first round. Both ball-carriers are part of a backfield trio along with lead tailback Chris Carson. Credit also goes to guards D.J. Fluker and J.R. Sweezy (two free-agent acquisitions) for clearing lanes on the ground.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Ronald Jones
    Ronald JonesAssociated Press

    Grade: D-

    On paper, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made the right moves, but they're not seeing any results.

    Tampa Bay selected running back Ronald Jones in the second round of the draft to improve last year's 27th-ranked ground attack. He started the year with three consecutive healthy scratches. The rushing offense dropped four spots to 31st this year. 

    The front office selected defensive tackle Vita Vea in the first round of the draft. He missed three games because of a calf issue. In two outings, he's recorded one tackle. 

    The trade for Jason Pierre-Paul and addition of Vinny Curry should've considerably elevated the pass rush, right? Wrong. The Buccaneers have nine sacks for the season, but the former Giant accounts for five of them. He's a tough matchup on the end. As a unit, Tampa Bay doesn't have enough push up front.

    Rookie second-rounder M.J. Stewart generated buzz during the offseason, but he's struggled in coverage, specifically during a 48-10 loss to the Bears. The North Carolina product and fellow first-year cornerback Carlton Davis haven't been able to help the Buccaneers pass defense, which surrendered the most yards and touchdowns through six weeks. 

    Defensively, the Buccaneers have the talent to show vast improvement. Perhaps it's the reason the team fired play-caller Mike Smith.

Tennessee Titans

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    Dion Lewis
    Dion LewisWesley Hitt/Getty Images

    Grade: D-

    Rookie linebackers Rashaan Evans (hamstring) and Harold Landry (ankle) have dealt with injuries, hindering early development.

    Evans started the last two games and logged a combined nine solo tackles; he shouldn't have a problem holding down the starting spot for the remainder of the season. Landry will have to wait his turn behind Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan; both will become unrestricted free agents next offseason. 

    Even though the Titans rank fifth in pass defense, New England castoff Malcolm Butler hasn't performed well in cornerback coverage. Head coach Mike Vrabel talked about the former Patriot's struggles (h/t Luke Worsham of A to Z Sports Nashville):

    "Malcolm plays extremely hard. It's not about effort, it's about technique ... I think technique comes down to execution a lot. It's 'when am I supposed to be reading the quarterback and when am I supposed to be reading my man.'"

    It's either a poor scheme fit or Malcolm needs extended time to find his way in a new system.

    In 2017, with the Patriots, running back Dion Lewis put together his best season as a dual-threat option out of the backfield, posting 1,110 yards from scrimmage. Through six games, he's struggling to find space on the ground and as a receiver. The 28-year-old averages just 3.9 yards per touch. 

    Derrick Henry, Lewis' running mate, is experiencing difficulty moving the ball at 3.3 yards per carry. The Titans decided to re-sign guards Josh Kline and Quinton Spain during the offseason. They've struggled to open lanes for the ground attack. It's a major factor in the offensive unit's ineptitude this season.

Washington Redskins

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    Patrick Smith/Getty Images

    Grade: A

    Washington added grit and physicality to both sides of the ball. Da'Ron Payne provides bulk and a bit of an interior pass rush. He notched a sack in two of the last three games. More importantly, the defensive line isn't allowing running backs to frequently burst through for big gains, which happened last year. 

    The Redskins improved from worst to sixth in run defense over the course of an offseason and six weeks thanks in part to Payne's presence. 

    The front office acquired Alex Smith via trade with the Chiefs to replace Kirk Cousins under center. There's one aspect to his career everyone must respect—he's won at his previous stops. The three-time Pro Bowler went 38-36-1 with the 49ers and 50-26 in Kansas City.

    It's fair to argue win-loss records reflect more on the team makeup than the quarterback. However, Smith's teams didn't regress with him at the helm. Clearly, he can lead a talented roster to a winning season. 

    Rookie running back Derrius Guice tore his ACL during the exhibition period. Still, the Redskins boast the 12th-best rushing offense with a backfield featuring 33-year-old Adrian Peterson

    Teams probably weren't lining up for Peterson; Washington signed him in late August. Yet, the three-time rushing champion has produced at a high level. He logged at least 96 rushing yards in three contests.

    The unlikely pairing of Smith and Peterson with a strong defense could challenge the Eagles for a division title.


    Player contract info courtesy of Spotrac.


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