The Top Young Solution to Each NFL Team's Biggest ProblemJune 5, 2019
The Top Young Solution to Each NFL Team's Biggest Problem
In the NFL, teams do not always draft to fill an immediate need. There are times when they draft for value or take a promising prospect they can develop over the course of a few seasons. Eventually, though, they do count on their young players to rise up and fill a void.
Here, we'll examine each squad's biggest need that can be—and is expected to be—satisfied by one of the young players on their rosters. These aren't necessarily the biggest holes on each roster but the ones that most reasonably can be filled by a first-, second- or third-year player.
We'll examine each team's problem, which young players might be capable of solving it and the top candidate to do so.
Arizona Cardinals: The Lack of a Franchise Quarterback
Top Young Solution: QB Kyler Murray
The Arizona Cardinals decided that Josh Rosen isn't their long-term answer at quarterback. They used the No. 1 pick this year to take Oklahoma's Kyler Murray and then traded Rosen to the Miami Dolphins. If Murray cannot take hold of the starting job sooner rather than later, it could be disastrous.
For one, the Cardinals don't have any other enticing options on the roster. If Murray cannot fill the need, Arizona could be starting Brett Hundley or Chad Kanoff in Week 1 against the Detroit Lions. Secondly, it would be a terrible look for Murray to stumble while Rosen becomes a franchise quarterback in South Beach.
It's going to take time for Murray, a one-year starter in college, to adjust to the nuances of the NFL.
"This is all a process, a learning experience right now," he said recently, per Darren Urban of the team's official website.
However, Arizona needs to have him on a fast track to start if they have any hope of being competitive or even relevant in 2019.
Atlanta Falcons: A Lackluster Offensive Line
Top Young Solution: OT Kaleb McGary
Injuries played a big role in derailing the Atlanta Falcons' 2018 season. Lackluster play from the offensive line was another significant issue.
The line allowed Matt Ryan to be sacked 42 times and finished the season ranked 24th in adjusted line yards by Football Outsiders. If Atlanta is going to return to playoff contention this season, it needs to get better production out of the starting five.
Fortunately, the Falcons used a pair of first-round picks on guard Chris Lindstrom and tackle Kaleb McGary. This was a case of a team drafting to fill an immediate need, and Atlanta needs at least one of the rookie selections to provide an upgrade right out of the gate.
Ideally, both Lindstrom and McGary will be reliable rookie starters who help make life easier for Ryan and running back Devonta Freeman in 2019. With veteran guards Jamon Brown and James Carpenter both joining the Falcons in the offseason, though, McGary may have the clearer path to a starting role.
Baltimore Ravens: The Lack of a No. 1 Receiver
Top Young Solution: WR Marquise Brown
The Baltimore Ravens have their new franchise quarterback in place. Lamar Jackson proved to be a capable and dynamic starter as a rookie, though he did thrive in a heavily run-based offense. For Jackson to emerge as a complete quarterback in Year 2, he needs to have a true No. 1 receiver at his disposal.
Presumably, that will be No. 25 overall pick Marquise Brown, the first receiver taken in the 2019 draft. Brown is a lethal downfield speedster, but he is also still recovering from Lisfranc surgery. If he cannot emerge as Baltimore's No. 1 pass-catcher, the team has other young options.
Third-round pick Miles Boykin has the size-speed combination (6'4", 220 lbs, 4.42 40-yard dash) to be a No. 1 if he develops quickly. Undrafted wideout Jaylen Smith is a sleeper option but shouldn't be counted out. He played with Jackson at Louisville, and that existing familiarity could allow him to be Jackson's go-to receiver in 2019.
Buffalo Bills: The Lack of a Pass-Catching Tight End
Top Young Solution: TE Dawson Knox
The Buffalo Bills took steps to improve their receiving corps this offseason. They added receivers Cole Beasley, John Brown and Andre Roberts, as well as tight end Tyler Kroft. Unfortunately, Kroft suffered a broken foot during early OTAs and is expected to miss three-to-four months, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.
This means Kroft may not be ready for the start of the regular season and likely won't be at 100 percent when he does return. Therefore, Buffalo needs a young tight end—specifically rookie third-round pick Dawson Knox—to emerge as a receiving option.
Knox has the potential to be a security blanket for second-year quarterback Josh Allen. He is a big target at 6'4" and 254 pounds, and he has enough straight-line speed to stretch the field. He averaged 18.9 yards per reception with Ole Miss in 2018.
If Knox can emerge as a weapon early, he'll add another element to Buffalo's new-look receiving corps.
Carolina Panthers: The Lack of a Premier Edge-Rusher
Top Young Solution: DE Brian Burns
The Carolina Panthers had a lackluster pass rush in 2018—they produced just 35 sacks (sixth-fewest in the league)—and that was before the retirement of Julius Peppers. They desperately need someone to emerge as a premier edge-rusher, and rookie first-round pick Brian Burns is the obvious candidate.
Burns, who had 10 sacks for Florida State in 2018, is a speedy and athletic edge defender with the quickness to beat tackles on the outside. However, he's an undeveloped prospect who needs to bulk up in order to maximize his pro potential.
"Burns' edge speed and varied rush approach should translate to the league, but his skinny frame [6'5", 249 lbs] and lack of play strength are absolutely concerns moving forward," NFL Media's Lance Zierlein wrote before April's draft.
It's critical that Burns becomes a quality pass-rusher sooner rather than later if Carolina is going to combat the likes of Drew Brees and Matt Ryan in the NFC South.
Chicago Bears: The Departure of Jordan Howard
Top Young Solution: RB David Montgomery
The Chicago Bears clearly soured on running back Jordan Howard to some degree, as they traded him to the Philadelphia Eagles this offseason. While Tarik Cohen has the potential to take on an increased role in the running game, he's a better weapon through the air.
This leaves Chicago in need of a run-oriented back to complement Cohen. While Howard wasn't as dominant as he was earlier in his career, he was still responsible for 935 yards on the ground last season.
Rookie third-round pick David Montgomery is the young back most likely to take on Howard's departed role. He's proved he can handle a significant workload—he carried the ball 257 times for 1,216 yards last season with Iowa State—and he should help maintain Cohen's role as Chicago's receiving back.
Cincinnati Bengals: Inconsistent Offensive Line Play
Top Young Solution: OT Jonah Williams
While the play of the Cincinnati Bengals offensive line wasn't a complete disaster in 2018—it was ranked 22nd in adjusted line yards by Football Outsiders—it did leave a lot to be desired. It struggled with an injury to center Billy Price and with inconsistent play from right tackle Bobby Hart.
To address the problem, the Bengals used the 11th overall pick on Alabama's Jonah Williams. If he can take over the job at right tackle and improve the play there—Cincinnati has a solid left tackle in Cordy Glenn—then it will go a long way to improving the blocking unit.
If Price can remain healthy for all 16 games while also taking the next step in his development, Cincinnati should have a greatly improved line in 2019.
Cleveland Browns: The Hole at Linebacker
Top Young Solution: LB Genard Avery
The Cleveland Browns lacked depth at the linebacker position even before releasing former Pro Bowler Jamie Collins in the offseason. With Collins gone, linebacker is one of the few problem areas on the roster.
The most promising option to fix the problem is Genard Avery. The Memphis product showed a lot of potential last season as a rookie, amassing 40 tackles, 4.5 sacks and four passes defended as a part-time player.
While Avery is the best young player for the problem, the Browns do have other options. This year, they drafted linebackers Sione Takitaki and Mack Wilson in the third and fifth rounds, respectively.
The Browns added plenty of talent on both sides of the ball this offseason, but if a linebacker like Avery cannot become a reliable starter, the team will have a big problem at the second level.
Dallas Cowboys: The Lack of a Dynamic Tight End
Top Young Solution: TE Blake Jarwin
The Dallas Cowboys finally got themselves a No. 1 receiver by trading for Amari Cooper last season. They still have a need at the tight end position, even after the surprising return of 37-year-old Jason Witten.
Witten was a plodding chain-mover at best late in his career—and that was before he spent a year away from the field and in the broadcast booth. While he's a savvy veteran, he isn't the kind of young, dynamic tight end who can create mismatches in the passing game.
This is a problem the Cowboys need to address. Their top potential solution is Blake Jarwin, who's going into his third season.
Though he only saw sporadic action in 2018, Jarwin, 24, showed a lot of promise. He was the backup to Geoff Swaim but outproduced him, finishing fifth on the team with 27 receptions and 307 receiving yards.
Either Jarwin or 2018 fourth-round pick Dalton Schultz needs to emerge as the kind of receiving tight end Witten once was if the Cowboys are going to have a complete offense in 2019.
Denver Broncos: The Lack of a Reliable Tight End
Best Young Solution: TE Noah Fant
Joe Flacco loves throwing to the tight end. The problem is that the Denver Broncos don't have a reliable veteran at the position. That's a problem they knew they needed to address once they traded with Baltimore for Flacco, which is why the Broncos drafted Iowa's Noah Fant in the first round.
It's now up to Fant to make the leap from college to the NFL and to emerge as a premier receiving option. Jeff Heuerman flashed some last season—amassing 281 yards and two touchdowns—but Fant has the potential to be an elite pass-catcher early in his career.
Fant does need to improve as a blocker in order to be an every-down tight end. However, he can be the kind of weapon Flacco loves at the position and that Denver doesn't otherwise have on its roster.
Detroit Lions: The Lack of a Bell-Cow Back
Top Young Candidate: RB Kerryon Johnson
The Detroit Lions have lacked a true workhorse running back for what seems like a generation. If they're going to have a balanced offense—and not rely so exclusively on the arm of Matthew Stafford—they need to identify a primary runner.
The good news is that Detroit does have options. The Lions signed C.J. Anderson in the offseason and have veterans Theo Riddick and Zach Zenner on the roster. However, if someone is going to solve the running back problem, it's probably going to be second-year player Kerryon Johnson.
Johnson was tremendous as a rookie, averaging 5.4 yards per carry and twice topping the 100-yard mark in games—a rare sight for younger Lions fans. However, a knee sprain in Week 11 landed him on injured reserve.
The Lions need Johnson to emerge as an every-down back in 2019. More importantly, they need him to stay healthy for the entire season.
Green Bay Packers: The Lack of a No. 2 Receiver
Top Young Solution: WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling
The Green Bay Packers are hoping that new head coach Matt LaFleur can unlock the potential of Aaron Rodgers and the passing offense. One potential problem is the lack of a reliable No. 2 receiver.
Few are going to question Rodgers' talent or his potential in a more open system. However, it's fair to question the depth after No. 1 receiver Davante Adams. The Packers need someone to be a consistent second option, especially now that Randall Cobb is in Dallas.
The most intriguing young player is Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who manned the No. 2 role for much of 2018. He finished third on the team with 38 receptions for 581 yards and two touchdowns. If he can make that coveted second-year leap, the Packers could have one of the better wideout duos in the NFC.
Other options include second-year wideout Equanimeous St. Brown and preseason darling Jake Kumerow. Rookie tight end Jace Sternberger could also emerge, depending on how LaFleur utilizes the position in his offense. Jimmy Graham was second on the team with 55 receptions last season, though he was rarely a major threat in the red zone.
Houston Texans: A Sieve of an Offensive Line
Top Young Solution: OL Max Scharping
The Houston Texans offensive line was a major problem in 2018. It allowed Deshaun Watson to be sacked an alarming 62 times (a league high) and finished the year ranked 27th in adjusted line yards by Football Outsiders. There's a real chance that if the line doesn't improve, Watson won't be able to stay on the field for all of 2019.
This is why the Texans used a first-round pick on Tytus Howard and a second-round pick on Max Scharping. While it may be difficult to start two rookies at tackle, Scharping does have the potential to play guard.
"I played mostly tackle in college, but I played a little bit my freshman year at guard," Scharping said, per Mark Lane of Texans Wire. "I've been working with O-line coaches at guard too. I'm comfortable with both."
Due to his versatility, Scharping has the better chance of getting on the field early. Regardless of where he ends up playing, though, the Texans need Sharping, Howard or both to improve the offensive line as soon as possible.
Indianapolis Colts: The Lack of a No. 2 Cornerback
Top Young Solution: CB Rock Ya-Sin
The Indianapolis Colts believe they have one starting cornerback in Pierre Desir—which is why they gave him a three-year, $22.5 million deal this offseason. What they do not have is a reliable starter at corner opposite Desir.
This is why Indianapolis used a second-round pick on Temple's Rock Ya-Sin. Though he is on the raw side, Ya-Sin does have legitimate NFL starting potential.
"Ya-Sin needs technique work across the board, but the ability to handle the duties of the position are all in place and waiting to be unlocked," NFL.com's Lance Zierlein wrote before the draft.
Ideally, Ya-Sin will emerge as a starter opposite Desir sooner rather than later. If he doesn't, however, the Colts will need a player like third-year man Quincy Wilson to up his game and take the job.
Jacksonville Jaguars: The Hole at Tight End
Top Young Option: TE Josh Oliver
The Jacksonville Jaguars have their new quarterback in Nick Foles. Their main goal this offseason should be ensuring he has enough pieces to actually be an upgrade over 2018 starter Blake Bortles.
Getting Foles a reliable tight end should be part of that. Foles thrived with Zach Ertz with the Philadelphia Eagles. While the Jaguars do not have an Ertz-type talent, they do have a promising young tight end in rookie third-round pick Josh Oliver.
Oliver is a 6'5", 249-pound target who racked up 709 yards receiving with San Jose State last season. He has a higher upside than former Cowboy Geoff Swaim—whose 242 yards last season were a career high—and he could become Foles' latest go-to target at the position. Given his NFL experience, Swaim should be the favorite to earn the starting job, though Oliver is a player to keep an eye on.
Having former Eagles quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo as offensive coordinator will help Foles get comfortable with the Jaguars offense. Having Oliver emerge as a legitimate receiving threat will help Foles be the franchise quarterback Jacksonville needs.
Kansas City Chiefs: The Uncertainty Surrounding Tyreek Hill
Top Young Solution: WR Mecole Hardman
The biggest problem the Kansas City Chiefs have right now is not knowing whether No. 1 receiver Tyreek Hill will be on the field for Week 1. The team indefinitely suspended Hill from team activities after audio was released of him and his fiancee, Crystal Espinal, discussing injuries to their son. Prosecutors have since reopened the child abuse case, and Hill potentially faces discipline from the NFL, though the league is waiting for the criminal investigation to conclude.
Rookie second-round pick Mecole Hardman can help the team by providing an insurance policy at wide receiver. Hardman might not be a true No. 1, but he does have the ability to stretch the field should that need arise.
"Hardman could develop into a lesser version of Tyreek Hill with his playmaking potential after the catch, on deep balls and as a returner," NFL.com's Lance Zierlein wrote.
If the Chiefs can feel comfortable about Hardman as their primary deep threat, they should feel at least a little better about heading into the regular season with Hill's status up in the air.
Los Angeles Chargers: Inconsistency at Right Tackle
Top Young Solution: OT Sam Tevi
The Los Angeles Chargers were one of the most complete teams last season. However, they weren't without their weaknesses. The inconsistent play of right tackle Sam Tevi—who finished 74th among tackles, according to Pro Football Focus—left a lot to be desired.
Tevi was a sixth-round draft pick in 2017, and last season was his first as a starter. He certainly has room for improvement. He'll likely face competition, though, from rookie third-round pick Trey Pipkins. The Sioux Falls product is a developmental prospect, but he has tremendous upside and should work well in L.A.'s system.
"You're looking for guys who you think fit, kind of, what you do," offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt said of Pipkins' selection, via the team on Twitter.
With Pipkins being more of a raw prospect than a finished product, it will largely be up to Tevi to improve the play on the right side this season. Whether it's through Tevi or an upgrade from Pipkins, though, the Chargers need to solidify the spot early in 2019.
Los Angeles Rams: Injury Insurance for Todd Gurley's Knee
Top Young Solution: RB Darrell Henderson
The Los Angeles Rams do not know what they're going to get from running back Todd Gurley II in 2019. A left knee injury hampered him late last season, and Jeff Howe of The Athletic reported in March that it may be arthritis. According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, Gurley's time as a workhorse back may be over.
"The days of Todd Gurley just being the straight-up, every-down bell cow are probably over, just based on his knee, his age, the position, the amount of carries he's had," Rapoport said.
The Rams drafted Memphis running back Darrell Henderson in the third round this year. While they don't need him to outright replace Gurley, they do need him to provide injury insurance and to be part of a backfield committee that includes Gurley and Malcolm Brown.
As long as Henderson proves to be a capable runner at the pro level, Los Angeles will be able to lighten Gurley's workload and extend the 24-year-old's playing career.
Miami Dolphins: The Lack of a Lead Back
Top Young Solution: RB Kalen Ballage
The Dolphins have a new potential franchise quarterback in Josh Rosen. What they don't have is a clear No. 1 running back to help support him.
Fourth-year man Kenyan Drake looks as though he'll open the season as the starter, but he's never emerged as a consistent every-down player. If a young runner like second-year back Kalen Ballage or rookie seventh-rounder Myles Gaskin can emerge as a starter, the Dolphins offense will be better for it.
Ballage already has his eye on the gig.
"It doesn't really matter who had the most playing time in the past," he said, per Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald. "I'm ready to do my thing."
Though he only got 36 carries as a rookie, Ballage averaged an impressive 5.3 yards per attempt. If he can emerge as the primary option, the Dolphins could have a dynamic and dangerous backfield.
Minnesota Vikings: An Inconsistent Offensive Line
Top Young Solution: C Garrett Bradbury
The Minnesota Vikings have two issues they need to address this season. They need a more consistent performance from Kirk Cousins, and they need improved play from their offensive line, which finished 23rd in adjusted line yards in 2018, according to Football Outsiders.
With Cousins' contract fully guaranteed, the Vikings aren't likely to have a young player take the starting quarterback job. They should hope, however, that rookie first-round pick Garrett Bradbury is able to help the line.
The 6'3", 306-pound Bradbury is a powerful center who also has the pass-blocking skills needed to help Cousins stay clean in the pocket. If he does improve the interior of Minnesota's line, both Cousins (sacked 40 times last season) and the offense as a whole will benefit.
New England Patriots: The Loss of Rob Gronkowski
Top Young Solution: WR N'Keal Harry
Tight end Rob Gronkowski has retired, which leaves the New England Patriots without their top offensive mismatch and one of their most reliable (when healthy) overall players. While there isn't a young tight end on the roster likely to pick up where Gronkowski left off, several players can help the Patriots transition to life after Gronk.
The most obvious candidate is rookie first-round pick N'Keal Harry. He has the potential to be a No. 1 NFL wideout early in his career, and he has the combination of size and speed (6'2", 228 lbs, 4.53 40) to be a receiving mismatch in his own right.
Should the Patriots lean more heavily on the run post-Gronk, second-year back Sony Michel is another young player who will need to produce. He and rookie third-round pick Damien Harris could provide the kind of physical rushing attack that wears down opposing defenses and allows Tom Brady to find easy completions down the field.
At least one of these young players will have to emerge as an elite threat if the Patriots are going to remain the biggest threat in the AFC.
New Orleans Saints: The Lack of a No. 2 Receiver
Top Young Solution: WR Tre'Quan Smith
New Orleans Saints wideout Michael Thomas is one of the most dominant receivers in the NFL. He's Drew Brees' go-to target and a nearly unstoppable force when covered one-on-one. However, the Saints do not have a reliable No. 2 option across from him, and that needs to change.
There are two primary candidates to be the Saints' No. 2 receiver—both second-year players. Former third-round pick Tre'Quan Smith, who had 427 yards and five touchdowns last year, is the top choice, but undrafted wideout Keith Kirkwood is also a viable candidate.
Kirkwood only appeared in eight games as a rookie yet produced 209 yards and two touchdowns while averaging 16.1 yards per reception. Prorated over 16 games, Kirkwood's production would be similar to Smith's.
The Saints need someone to emerge. Thomas isn't likely to see much one-on-one coverage moving forward.
New York Giants: The Lack of Defensive Playmakers
Top Young Solution: S Jabrill Peppers
The New York Giants drew plenty of criticism for trading away star wideout Odell Beckham Jr. However, Beckham is not the only standout player to leave over the past year. The Giants also parted with cornerback Eli Apple, safety Landon Collins, defensive tackle Damon Harrison and pass-rusher Olivier Vernon.
This has left New York with just one defensive playmaker: cornerback Janoris Jenkins.
To remedy the problem, the Giants need one of their young defenders to ascend. Rookies Dexter Lawrence and DeAndre Baker are expected to contribute soon—they were both first-round picks. It would also be great if rookie third-rounder Oshane Ximines emerged as a pass-rushing presence.
New York also needs to get some quality contributions from third-year safety Jabrill Peppers, who was acquired in the Beckham trade. Given his ability to defend the run and the pass—he had five batted passes and a pick last season—Peppers may be the most promising young player on the Giants defense.
New York Jets: The Lack of a Go-to Pass-Catcher
Top Young Solution: TE Chris Herndon
The New York Jets are hoping to see a second-year leap from quarterback Sam Darnold. The problem is that their receiving corps—consisting of players like Quincy Enunwa, Robby Anderson and Jamison Crowder—doesn't appear to have a go-to guy.
This is where second-year tight end Chris Herndon could emerge. The former Miami standout showed a lot of promise as a rookie, catching 39 passes for 502 yards and four touchdowns. He should become Darnold's security blanket.
Rookie fourth-round pick Trevon Wesco should be in the mix as well, though it's Herndon who has the best shot at becoming a top receiving option. If Herndon can become a focal point of the offense a la Zach Ertz or George Kittle, then having a group of complementary wideouts won't be as much of an issue.
Oakland Raiders: A Woeful Pass Rush
Top Young Solution: DE Clelin Ferrell
Plenty has been made of the Oakland Raiders pass rush—or the lack thereof—and for good reason. The Raiders were terrible at getting after opposing quarterbacks in 2018, amassing just 13 sacks.
To improve in this area, Oakland needs fourth overall pick Clelin Ferrell to become a top-tier edge-rusher sooner than later. The potential is certainly there—Ferrell notched 11.5 sacks last season—but that potential has to become production.
The Raiders cannot rely solely on Ferrell either. They need second-year man Arden Key to improve as a pass-rusher, and they need to get some contributions from rookie fourth-rounder Maxx Crosby. Even then, the pass rush may not be one of the better units in the NFL.
If Ferrell, Key and Crosby somehow combined for 30 sacks this season—an unrealistic goal—Oakland still wouldn't crack the top 10 in sacks.
Philadelphia Eagles: The Lack of a Dynamic Running Back
Top Young Solution: RB Miles Sanders
The Philadelphia Eagles traded for Jordan Howard this offseason, which gave the offense a bruising early-down runner. However, the Eagles need to identify a dynamic running back who can complement him on the ground and act as a weapon in the passing game.
Bringing back Darren Sproles is one option, but as they look to the future, the Eagles would be better served relying on a young up-and-comer.
Rookie second-round pick Miles Sanders is a prime candidate to fill this role, though he has a lower-body injury. Third-year back Corey Clement and second-year man Boston Scott are other youngsters who could become big contributors. Sanders is the most promising option, but there are others.
Establishing a strong running game and some outlet receiving options will be important. Philadelphia needs to take as much pressure as possible off oft-injured quarterback Carson Wentz—especially now that Nick Foles isn't around as insurance.
Pittsburgh Steelers: The Hole at Wide Receiver
Top Young Solution: WR James Washington
The Pittsburgh Steelers parted with star wideout Antonio Brown this offseason. While replacing him as the No. 1 wideout doesn't look like a potential problem—JuJu Smith-Schuster racked up more than 1,400 yards last season—his absence did leave a hole in the receiving corps.
With Smith-Schuster sliding into the No. 1 spot, the Steelers need a young receiver to emerge as his running mate. Pittsburgh acquired Donte Moncrief in the offseason, but he's never been more than a second-tier, complementary receiver.
There are two candidates for this role who stand out. The first is second-year man James Washington, a second-round pick out of Oklahoma State. The second is rookie third-round pick Diontae Johnson, a former Toledo standout. Given his experience and the possibility of a second-year breakout, Washington appears to be the top young option.
Pittsburgh does have other complementary options, including Ryan Switzer and Eli Rogers. However, if Washington or Johnson can emerge as the new No. 2, then overcoming the loss of Brown will be far less of a problem.
San Francisco 49ers: The Lack of a Premier Receiver
Top Young Solution: WR Dante Pettis
The San Francisco 49ers should get Jimmy Garoppolo back on the field this season. While the quarterback was out recovering from a torn ACL, tight end George Kittle established himself as one of the best pass-catching tight ends in the game. If the 49ers can identify a No. 1 wideout, Garoppolo will have plenty to work with in 2019.
San Francisco does have veterans Marquise Goodwin and Jordan Matthews on the roster. However, it's more likely that if the 49ers find a No. 1 receiver, it's going to be one of the youngsters. Second-year receiver Dante Pettis is one candidate; rookies Deebo Samuel and Jalen Hurd are others.
Pettis is probably the front-runner, as he showed tremendous potential as a rookie with 359 yards in his final five games. So long as one of the young wideouts emerges as a top option, though, San Francisco should have one of the most improved passing attacks in the league.
Seattle Seahawks: The Hole at Defensive End
Top Young Solution: DE L.J. Collier
The Seattle Seahawks traded ascending pass-rusher Frank Clark in the offseason, which left a gaping hole at defensive end. The signing of Ezekiel Ansah should help offset the loss of Clark, but the Seahawks still need a young player to emerge at the position.
Rookie first-round pick L.J. Collier is the first name that comes to mind. He wasn't widely considered a first-round talent heading into the draft, so Seattle obviously has some big plans in mind.
Collier is not the only option, though. Nazair Jones, a 2017 third-round selection, could play significant snaps. He was primarily a defensive tackle in college and early in his pro career, but the Seahawks moved him to end during the 2018 season.
"We're excited about that," head coach Pete Carroll said, per Andy Patton of Seahawks Wire. "We did that in the middle of the year to see him contribute out there."
If Collier and Jones become regular contributors, the defensive line may be an even better unit than it was a year ago.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: A Problematic Pass Defense
Top Young Solution: LB Devin White
One of the biggest issues the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had last season was their pass defense. Tampa allowed 259.4 yards per game—26th in the NFL—and produced just 38 sacks.
Rookie first-round pick Devin White has the potential to help both in coverage and in the pass rush. He's a sideline-to-sideline defender who recorded 3.0 sacks and 12.0 tackles for loss last season. He'll also be a force in coverage—he had six pass breakups—and should limit middle-of-the-field options for opposing quarterbacks.
In addition, the Buccaneers need second-year cornerback Carlton Davis to improve and would benefit if rookie third-round safety Mike Edwards makes a contribution.
Tennessee Titans: The Lack of a No. 2 Outside Receiver
Top Young Solution: WR A.J. Brown
If the Tennessee Titans are going to get the most out of Marcus Mariota in his contract year, they need to provide him with a capable receiving corps. Tennessee has a budding No. 1 receiver in Corey Davis, but it needs a dynamic pass-catcher opposite him on the outside.
Specifically, the Titans need rookie second-round pick A.J. Brown to emerge as that No. 2 receiver.
Tennessee added Adam Humphries in the offseason to man the slot, but the options aside from Brown for the outside are lacking. Tajae Sharpe had his moments in 2018—he caught 26 balls for 316 yards—but he is best served as a complementary receiver and not a full-time starter.
If Brown cannot claim the No. 2 spot as a rookie, perhaps third-year wideout Taywan Taylor (466 yards last season) can. One of the two youngsters needs to establish himself as a consistent threat opposite Davis for the passing game to thrive.
Washington Redskins: Instability at Quarterback
Top Young Solution: QB Dwayne Haskins
When the Washington Redskins traded for Alex Smith last offseason, the move was supposed to provide some much-needed stability at the quarterback position. Smith suffered a broken leg 10 games into last year that likely put an end to his Redskins career.
With Smith out, Washington relied on Josh Johnson, Colt McCoy and Mark Sanchez to finish the season. The results were not good, as the Redskins dropped five of their final six games.
This brings us to rookie first-round pick Dwayne Haskins, who is the team's next quarterback of the future. Washington needs him to take the starting job to provide stability both for this year and beyond.
The Redskins did acquire Case Keenum in the offseason, so this isn't a problem that Haskins needs to solve by Week 1. However, Keenum proved in Denver last year that he is a mediocre starter. He is not going to provide the long-term stability that Washington needs.