Ranking the NFL's Current Rebuilding Jobs

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistJuly 12, 2019

Ranking the NFL's Current Rebuilding Jobs

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    Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

    NFL executives often try to avoid using the term "rebuild" to describe the direction of a franchise going through major changes. Instead, they use "retool," "reconstruct" or "reinvent" to place a positive spin on a significant transition.

    For the following rankings, we've defined a rebuilding squad as a team with a new head coach or teams with +400 or worse odds to make the postseason, per Ceasar's playoff odds

    When a front office decides to bring in a new voice to lead the locker room after a losing season, the decision-makers have signaled the need to embrace a new coaching staff, different systems and fresh philosophies for better results. 

    Typically, teams with a long shot to make the postseason have a lot of work to do before stirring some postseason buzz.

    Looking at each team from a front-office point of view, we've ranked the following rebuilding jobs based on roster makeup, offseason acquisitions, the head coach tasked with shifting the team's direction and proximity to playoff contention or a winning season.

    Every team listed has a head coach in his first or second year with the team. As a result, the Washington Redskins have been excluded with Jay Gruden going into his sixth season in the Nation's Capital.

             

Honorable Mention

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    Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield (left) and wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. (right)
    Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield (left) and wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. (right)Ron Schwane/Associated Press

    Cleveland Browns

    The Cleveland Browns earn a mention because the franchise hired a new head coach—an in-house promotion for Freddie Kitchens from offensive coordinator to lead skipper. The franchise hasn't reached the playoffs since the 2002-03 campaign, but Caesar's lists the club with -120 odds of making the playoffs, which differentiates it from the 10 ranked rebuilding squads.

    The Browns have already gotten a head start on their rebuild, as quarterback Baker Mayfield and Kitchens worked together closely through the second half of last season.

    After Cleveland dismissed former head coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley from their respective positions, Kitchens took over play-calling duties and Mayfield threw for 2,254 yards, 19 touchdowns and eight interceptions across his final eight contests. That was a marked improvement from his 1,471 yards, eight touchdowns and six interceptions in the first half of the year. 

    The Browns promoted Kitchens to head coach, maintaining continuity with his quarterback. He also may have a major role in play-calling because of offensive coordinator Todd Monken's rocky start at the position, per NFL Network's Mike Silver.

    Cleveland's decision to trade for wideout Odell Beckham Jr. should elevate the entire passing attack, too. When healthy, he's a top-five player at his position.

    Kareem Hunt will serve an eight-game suspension for violating the league's personal-conduct policy for shoving and kicking a woman at a Cleveland hotel. Once he returns, the Pro Bowl ball-carrier and Nick Chubb could become the best running back tandem in the NFL. 

    The Browns ground attack would complete an electric offense and offset questionable starting talent on the right side of the offensive line. Austin Corbett, Kyle Kalis and Drew Forbes will compete to replace guard Kevin Zeitler, who Cleveland traded for defensive end Olivier Vernon. Chris Hubbard allowed 8.5 sacks last year, per the Washington Post's STATS. 

    Vernon is an established veteran who's set to play opposite rising star pass-rusher Myles Garrett. With Larry Ogunjobi and Sheldon Richardson in the middle, Cleveland's defensive line will have success pressuring quarterbacks.

    The Browns secondary isn't devoid of talent. We don't know how cornerback Greedy Williams will pan out, but Denzel Ward had a solid rookie term, logging 11 pass breakups and three interceptions. Damarious Randall continued to show his ball-tracking skills with nine pass breakups and four picks last year.

    The Browns play in an AFC North division that may be up for grabs.

    The Pittsburgh Steelers lost Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell this offseason, while the Baltimore Ravens lost key defenders such as Terrell Suggs and C.J. Mosley. Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson also must prove he can throw downfield. Meanwhile, Bengals have registered three consecutive losing seasons. 

    After finishing 7-8-1 last year, the Browns have a legitimate shot at a division title.

            

    Green Bay Packers

    The Green Bay Packers fall into the honorable mention category, as well. They're only three years removed from a division title but failed to reach the playoffs over the last two seasons. The club will also transition at head coach from Mike McCarthy to Matt LaFleur with a remodeled defense.

    Two-time All-Pro quarterback Aaron Rodgers' presence makes this an unordinary rebuilding job, which puts the Packers in a separate category.

    In a down season, Rodgers threw for 4,442 yards, 25 touchdowns and two interceptions in an offense that looked stale, leading to McCarthy's dismissal in December.

    Although LaFleur has an all-time talent under center, he can also utilize the young playmakers in the backfield. Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams combined for 1,192 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground last year. The former led the league in yards per carry (5.5). 

    The Packers defense may take some pressure off Rodgers and the offense. General manager Brian Gutekunst loaded the front seven with pass-rushers, signing Za'Darius Smith and Preston Smith.

    Gutekunst also selected Rashan Gary and Kingsley Keke in the first and fifth rounds, respectively. The former provides athleticism and the body type (6'4", 277 lbs) to break through offensive lines into the backfield. The latter registered 7.5 sacks as a senior at Texas A&M.

    The Packers also signed Adrian Amos to a four year, $36 million deal and spent a first-round pick on safety Darnell Savage, a quick-striker with ball skills, to pair alongside Amos. Cornerback Jaire Alexander seems ready to take another step forward after leading the team in pass breakups (11) last year. 

    The Packers defense can take a major leap in the coming seasons. Rodgers has only had two top-10 defenses in yards or scoring, and one of those units helped lead the franchise to a Lombardi Trophy.

    Gutekunst's offseason focus on the defense now gives the Packers a chance to close out opponents and win gritty low-scoring games. 

    In 2019, Rodgers will play alongside a group equipped to dominate games with a relentless pass rush.

10. Miami Dolphins

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    Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick
    Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan FitzpatrickMark Brown/Getty Images

    New head coach Brian Flores should have an extended period to turn the Miami Dolphins around. 

    The Dolphins don't have a clear-cut starter at quarterback, but Ryan Fitzpatrick and Josh Rosen are set to compete for the starting job. Even if the former wins that battle, he isn't the future at the position heading into his age-37 campaign. Rosen eventually might take over at some point during the season, but another poor finish would put Miami in position to select a quarterback with a top draft pick. 

    The Dolphins may also have issues protecting whoever starts under center with at least three new primary starters on the offensive line. During the spring, Jesse Davis moved from right guard to tackle on the same side. The five men up front need time to jell together. 

    Danny Amendola, Miami's top wide receiver from last season, signed with the Detroit Lions. Albert Wilson, who got off to a strong start in 2018, may miss training camp while he recovers from a hip injury, according to the Miami Herald's Barry Jackson

    Wilson may start the season playing catch-up in a new offensive system under first-time play-caller Chad O'Shea.

    Flores must find a creative way to generate pocket pressure without proven pass-rushers. Miami decided not to re-sign Cameron Wake and traded Robert Quinn to the Dallas Cowboys. The two defensive ends combined for 12.5 sacks last year.

    Overall, Flores has the toughest job of any coach overseeing a rebuilding squad because the Dolphins lack obvious starters at premium positions. He'll need to mold several young talents into contributors.

    The Dolphins figure to take a step back from their 7-9 record before they move forward.

9. Arizona Cardinals

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    Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray
    Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler MurrayRoss D. Franklin/Associated Press

    The Arizona Cardinals pulled the plug on their last head coach-quarterback pairing after going an NFL-worst 3-13 last year. For the sake of stability, the front office now must go all-in on No. 1 overall pick Kyler Murray and new head coach Kliff Kingsbury.

    The Cardinals rolled the dice on a pair of unknowns, though. Kingsbury comes from the collegiate ranks and has never held a prominent NFL coaching position. The 39-year-old will learn the pro game alongside his rookie quarterback, which may cause this team to go through several rough patches over the coming years.

    Fortunately, Murray will walk into the huddle with established playmakers. The rookie quarterback can lean on future Hall of Fame wideout Larry Fitzgerald and All-Pro running back David Johnson.

    In addition to Christian Kirk, who flashed during his rookie campaign, the Cardinals bolstered their wide receiver corps during the draft, selecting Andy Isabella (second round), Hakeem Butler (fourth round) and KeeSean Johnson (sixth round).

    Arizona also signed Terrell Suggs, a proven edge-rusher who still moves the needle at 36 years old. He'll pair with Chandler Jones to give quarterbacks nightmares off the edge. If Jordan Hicks remains healthy, the 27-year-old projects to be a solid starter at middle linebacker.

    Cornerback Patrick Peterson will serve a six-game suspension for violating the league's performance-enhancing drug policy, but he's still a quality talent with two years left on his deal.

    Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph has a group of productive veteran talent mixed with upstart players like linebacker Haason Reddick, safety Budda Baker and defensive tackle Rodney Gunter, who's coming off his best season with 4.5 sacks.

    Kingsbury must adjust to the pro level, but the Cardinals have supporting pieces around their quarterback. They head into the 2019 season with a better overall roster than the Dolphins, although they trail the league's other rebuilding teams.

8. New York Giants

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    New York Giants quarterbacks Daniel Jones (left) and Eli Manning (right)
    New York Giants quarterbacks Daniel Jones (left) and Eli Manning (right)Adam Hunger/Associated Press

    The New York Giants haven't fully activated their rebuild, but the franchise is certainly headed in a new direction.

    Quarterback Eli Manning, going into his age-38 term, will play out the final year of his deal. Daniel Jones, the No. 6 overall pick in this year's draft, lists as the starter-in-waiting. Once Big Blue initiates the transition between the veteran and rookie, we'll have a full-on reconstruction job.

    For now, the Giants made significant changes around Manning, trading Beckham to Cleveland and revamping the offensive line. 

    General manager Dave Gettleman signed wideout Golden Tate to fill Beckham's void. He traded Vernon to the Browns for Zeitler and signed right tackle Mike Remmers to bolster the offensive line.

    On paper, the Giants have a five-man group that should open lanes for running back Saquon Barkley, who won Offensive Player of the Year honors and logged the most yards from scrimmage (2,028) in 2018.

    Manning has two young pass-catchers who can challenge defenses vertically in wideout Sterling Shepard and tight end Evan Engram. If the offensive line keeps the quarterback clean, the Giants should field a decent passing attack even without Beckham. 

    Defensive coordinator James Bettcher has the tough task of developing a young group. Fortunately, Gettleman selected two first-rounders who can start right away: defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence and cornerback Deandre Baker.

    The front office also signed edge-rusher Markus Golden, interior tackle Pierre Olsen and safety Antoine Bethea. They're all familiar with Bettcher's system from their shared time in Arizona.

    The Giants have more set roster pieces than the Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills. But Jones, who's the team's future, isn't likely to see the field until late in the season or next year. His delayed ascension could translate to a slow rise toward playoff contention.

7. Buffalo Bills

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    Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen
    Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh AllenJeffrey T. Barnes/Associated Press

    In 2018, the Buffalo Bills finished with one of the stingiest defenses in yards allowed, ranking second. On the flip side, the offense still needed work, listing 30th in points scored and total yardage.

    As a rookie, quarterback Josh Allen showed flashes with his legs and arm, but he only completed 52.8 percent of his passes. The Bills will hope their offseason acquisitions boost his production through the air. General manager Brandon Beane signed wideouts John Brown and Cole Beasley along with tight end Tyler Kroft.

    Kroft broke his foot during the first OTA practice, but rookie third-rounder Dawson Knox could play a major role in the passing game this year.

    If Allen experiences sophomore struggles, he can hand off to one of four running backs to move the chains: LeSean McCoy, Frank Gore, T.J. Yeldon or rookie third-rounder Devin Singletary.

    The Bills offensive line remains in flux; only one primary starter from last season projects to hold onto his spot for the upcoming term: left tackle Dion Dawkins. In consecutive seasons, the five-man group will need time to mesh in order to provide solid pass protection for Allen. 

    Head coach Sean McDermott must develop the pass rush. In 2018, Buffalo registered 36 sacks, which ranked 26th in the league. Defensive end Shaq Lawson hasn't played up to his first-round pedigree since coming out of Clemson for the 2016 draft. He's logged 10 sacks in three terms.

    Defensive end Jerry Hughes and linebacker Lorenzo Alexander combined for 13.5 sacks last year. They should have some help with rookie first-rounder Ed Oliver's quickness and tendency to reach the backfield from the interior. Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier thinks Trent Murphy could also provide more impact off the edge, per Nick Veronica of the Buffalo News.

    "I’ve told him a few different times as we’ve gone through some drills here in OTAs how different he looks. Of course, last year at this time he was coming off the injury and the surgery and really kind of feeling his way. The confidence, the movement, everything looks so much better. We’re hoping that continues as we get farther along, but he’s a different player."

    The Bills have two linebackers capable of covering in space. Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano combined for five interceptions and 19 pass breakups last season. If the pass rush improves, Buffalo should field one of the top defenses in the league.

    Safeties Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde have disrupted passing attacks, registering a combined six interceptions and 11 pass breakups last season. Tre'Davious White has shutdown cornerback potential. Quarterbacks opted to avoid him in coverage, per NFL Next Gen Stats (h/t Bills Wire's Nick Wojton). 

    "The 24-year-old defender was one of the NFL's least-targeted cornerbacks in the NFL at 12.9 percent of coverage the Bills defended this season," Wojton wrote.

    The Bills rank higher than the Giants among rebuilding jobs because they've already turned the reins over to their quarterback of the future. Secondly, McDermott put together a solid defense in his first year. Lastly, Buffalo plays in a division with two other rebuilding squads.

    Big Blue must compete with the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles coming off playoff runs with quarterbacks in their primes. The Bills could finish second in the AFC East and squeak into the postseason as a wild-card team in the near future.

6. Detroit Lions

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    Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford
    Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew StaffordDylan Buell/Getty Images

    Last year, Detroit Lions head coach Matt Patricia rubbed some veterans the wrong way, per NFL Network's Mike Garafolo, but he'll have another season to prove his coaching style yields positive results.

    Under Patricia, the Lions ranked among the top 10 in yards allowed for the first time since 2014. Detroit fielded a stout run defense that only gave up 11 touchdowns. The team's decision to acquire interior tackle Damon Harrison before last season's trade deadline solidified the front against ground attacks.

    In the offseason, the Lions signed defensive end Trey Flowers, who listed as one of the top defenders on the free-agent market. He'll add more strength to the run defense and provide pocket pressure in various spots across the front. 

    The Lions must identify key starters at cornerback, specifically on the perimeter, and safety. 

    Cornerback Teez Tabor still has room to grow, but he may have a small window to display starting potential going into his third season. Tracy Walker, rookie third-rounder Will Harris, Tavon Wilson and Andrew Adams will vie for the safety position next to Quandre Diggs.

    The Lions made shrewd decisions on offense that suggest this unit could have a bright and balanced future. Darrell Bevell replaces Jim Bob Cooter, taking over play-calling duties. He's led six top-five ground attacks featuring the likes of Adrian Peterson in Minnesota and Marshawn Lynch in Seattle. 

    Detroit doesn't have a transcendent talent in the backfield, but Kerryon Johnson, C.J. Anderson and Theo Riddick should develop into a solid group capable of complementing quarterback Matthew Stafford's arm.

    Detroit traded Golden Tate before last year's deadline, but wideout Kenny Golladay could emerge as a star in this league. He's a 6'4", 213-pound playmaker who led the team in receiving yards (1,063) last year. 

    Unlike the teams ranked below them, the Lions have a long-term starter at quarterback who's proven and in his prime. 

    Detroit has a solid quarterback-wide receiver tandem on the rise, a revamped ground attack and a head coach who immediately improved the defense. The Lions play in a tough division, which dings their rank among rebuilding jobs, but this squad has the makings of a surprise contender. 

5. Cincinnati Bengals

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    Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton (left) and wide receiver A.J. Green (right)
    Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton (left) and wide receiver A.J. Green (right)John Minchillo/Associated Press

    Similar to the Cardinals, the Cincinnati Bengals hired a first-time head coach in Zac Taylor who will take over a roster with established veterans in key positions. 

    Cincinnati has a steady veteran quarterback in Andy Dalton. He's going into his ninth season with seven-time Pro Bowler A.J. Green, who ranks fourth in receiving yards (8,907) and sixth in touchdown receptions (63) among all pass-catchers since 2011. In 2018, wideout Tyler Boyd had his best campaign, registering 76 catches for 1,028 yards and seven touchdowns. 

    Dalton will hand off to running back Joe Mixon, last year's fourth-leading rusher (1,168). Mixon is also a threat in the passing game, as he showed while catching 43 passes for 296 yards and a touchdown in 2018. 

    Taylor must develop the offensive line, which ranked 22nd in adjusted line yards (4.10) and 19th in pass protection, per Football Outsiders. Rookie first-rounder Jonah Williams is likely to miss the entire 2019 campaign after undergoing shoulder surgery, according to Geoff Hobson of the team's website.

    Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo has the toughest task, as he'll have to turn an underachieving defense with quality parts into a solid unit. 

    Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap have provided consistent pocket pressure, combining for 143.5 sacks since they came into the league in 2010. Neither has shown signs of slowing down, totaling 18 sacks as the team's top pass-rushers in 2018. However, the Bengals gave up the third-most points (455) in franchise history last season.

    The Bengals list one spot above the Lions because of their established offensive talent in Green and Mixon at skill positions. Secondly, the AFC North doesn't have a heavy favorite. Detroit must compete with three potential playoff teams in its division for the foreseeable future.

4. Denver Broncos

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    Denver Broncos quarterback Joe Flacco
    Denver Broncos quarterback Joe FlaccoDavid Zalubowski/Associated Press

    In recent years, a number of teams have hired head coaches with an offensive background to develop the offense, specifically the starting quarterback. The Denver Broncos instead chose Vic Fangio, who's led five top-10 scoring defenses with the San Francisco 49ers and the Chicago Bears since 2011.

    Despite Fangio's impressive resume as a defensive coordinator, he's a risky hire because of the need to score points against the top two teams in the division, the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers. Those squads ranked first and sixth in scoring, respectively, last year. 

    Fangio may have to lean on first-time pro offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello to develop rookie second-rounder Drew Lock into a starting quarterback if Joe Flacco isn't a good fit in Denver.  

    The Broncos may rely on the ground attack with Phillip Lindsay, who ranked ninth in yards (1,037) last year, and Royce Freeman. They bolstered their offensive line this offseason by signing right tackle Ja'Wuan James and spending a second-round pick on versatile offensive lineman Dalton Risner, who will play right guard. Both should help the rushing offense.

    In a league with an increasing number of three-wide receiver sets and throws downfield, Flacco may become a complementary piece to the ground game. While the Broncos' formula may work, high-scoring opponents could have an advantage in fast-paced outings with more possessions.  

    Although Denver's defense has slipped in recent seasons, edge-rushers Von Miller and Bradley Chubb provide a solid foundation for the front seven. They combined for 26.5 sacks last year.

    In the offseason, Denver signed defensive backs Kareem Jackson and Bryce Callahan, the latter of whom played four seasons under Fangio in Chicago. The additions round out a solid secondary with All-Pro cover man Chris Harris Jr. and safety Justin Simmons, a developing playmaker with seven interceptions in three seasons. 

    The Broncos defense should finish among the top 10 in scoring and yards allowed for the foreseeable future, but their conservative offense with Flacco under center may fall short against high-scoring contenders. 

    Fangio has a top-notch resume on one side of the ball, and his expertise should yield immediate results. We can't say the same for the Bengals' new head coach. A top-10 defense should also keep the Broncos competitive in most games.

3. New York Jets

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    New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold
    New York Jets quarterback Sam DarnoldMark Brown/Getty Images

    After going 23-25 with the Dolphins, Adam Gase will have another shot to lead a team as a head coach.

    New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold showed flashes during his rookie campaign, throwing for 2,865 yards, 17 touchdown passes and 15 interceptions. His mobility and tendency to find his targets on the move should expand Gase's offensive playbook.

    New Jets running back Le'Veon Bell could emerge as one of the NFL's top playmakers. Darnold may rely on his sure hands (78.6 percent catch rate) in the short passing game and elusive run style on the ground.

    New general manager Joe Douglas also thinks Darnold has an upstart perimeter weapon in wideout Robby Anderson, per The MMQB's Albert Breer.

    "He's a tough weapon for defenses to match up with, he can get behind you and he can challenge the defense vertically," Douglas said. "That was a very pleasant surprise." 

    Gase served as an offensive coordinator for the Broncos with Peyton Manning under center. In 2013 and 2014, those units ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in scoring, respectively. Darnold isn't on Manning's level, but Gase knows how to optimize high-end talent. Perhaps Ryan Tannehill's limited ceiling hindered Gase's results in Miami.

    In 20 years as a head coach and defensive coordinator, Gregg Williams' defenses have ranked among the top 10 in scoring five times. That isn't a flattering ratio, but he's going to work with a talented group full of potential in New York. 

    Leonard Williams and rookie first-rounder Quinnen Williams should pose a strong threat on the interior up front. The latter logged eight sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss as a sophomore at Alabama. The Jets re-signed Henry Anderson, who broke out for seven sacks last season. In 2018, safety Jamal Adams had a Pro Bowl year, recording 115 total tackles, nine for loss, 3.5 sacks, 12 pass breakups and an interception.

    According to Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News, Gase didn't like the idea of former general manager Mike Maccagnan giving Bell a four-year, $52.5 million contract. Linebacker C.J. Mosley also answered to reports about a disconnect concerning his five-year, $85 million contract.

    Gase may look for an early out on both pacts, which may affect the Jets' long-term outlook. But for now, Bell and Mosley should have major roles on their respective sides of the ball.

    If Gase's tenure doesn't run off the rails early, the Jets could challenge for a division title once Tom Brady begins to decline. That makes their rebuild slightly more intriguing than Denver's, who will likely see Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes for the next decade.

2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston
    Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis WinstonRonald Martinez/Getty Images

    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense will undergo significant changes in 2019.

    The front office drafted six players on that side of the ball. Pass-rusher Jason Pierre-Paul could miss several weeks with a cervical fracture and return in October at the earliest, per the Tampa Bay Times' Rick Stroud.

    The Buccaneers have two things working in their favor.

    First, new head coach Bruce Arians believes quarterback Jameis Winston can elevate his game. He's the unquestioned starter under center and has shown glimpses of solid play across his first four seasons. 

    In addition, Arians boasts the best resume among the new head-coaching hires. He's 49-30-1 during the regular season and notched a playoff win with the Cardinals. The 66-year-old's offensive coaching acumen he's led three top-10 scoring unitsshould bode well for Winston.

    Through the air, Winston will continue to connect with wideout Mike Evans, who's fifth leaguewide in receiving yards (6,103) and fourth in receiving touchdowns (40) since 2014. Chris Godwin should serve as a solid No. 2 option, and tight ends O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate give Winston big-bodied targets in the red zone.

    Based on his collegiate tape and his top-notch run-stopping ability, Devin White seems primed to lead the defense in tackles. However, the group will give up points on the back end with question marks across the secondary.

    Arians' track record suggests we should give Winston the benefit of the doubt. Tampa Bay could field a top-10 passing offense with a plethora of reliable pass-catchers on the field. The Buccaneers also have a significant coaching edge over the Jets, which solidifies their spot here at No. 3.

1. Oakland Raiders

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    Oakland Raiders wide receiver Antonio Brown (left) and quarterback Derek Carr (right)
    Oakland Raiders wide receiver Antonio Brown (left) and quarterback Derek Carr (right)Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    Head coach Jon Gruden has to prove he's able to compete with today's bright NFL minds after spending a decade away from the sidelines, but the Raiders made offseason moves that will help this team improve on a dreadful 4-12 campaign.

    General manager Mike Mayock executed a trade with the Pittsburgh Steelers for wideout Antonio Brown, giving up a third- and fifth-round pick.

    Quarterback Derek Carr put together solid years with the likes of Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree leading the wide receiver corps. Now, he'll throw to arguably the best wide receiver in the game, who seemingly trains 24/7. The AC-DC connection between Carr and Cooper won't compare to the AB-DC hookups we're set to see in the years to come.

    Brown will open up space for Tyrell Williams, who's an underrated wideout. He spent four seasons with the Chargers and logged a 1,000-yard campaign in 2016. Last year, he competed for targets with Keenan Allen and Mike Williams among the wide receivers. Now, the 27-year-old moves into the No. 2 spot on the depth chart in Oakland. 

    According to Football Outsiders, the Raiders offensive line ranked 25th in pass protection last year; Carr took 51 sacks.

    In response to the subpar play across the front line, team brass signed offensive tackle Trent Brown to the highest salary at his position; he's coming off a solid year in New England, allowing 3.5 sacks, per Washington Post's STATs. Mayock also acquired offensive guard Richie Incognito—a four-time Pro Bowler.

    The two additions for the front five, coupled with two-time Pro Bowl center Rodney Hudson and five-year veteran guard Gabe Jackson, make for a solid unit capable of giving Carr enough time to throw strikes to Brown and Williams downfield.

    The Raiders flipped their three first-round picks into defensive end Clelin Ferrell (fourth overall), running back Josh Jacobs (24th overall) and safety Johnathan Abram (27th overall), all of whom address talent-needy positions. Keep in mind, Oakland has two 2020 first-round picks.

    The Raiders shocked the masses taking Ferrell with the fourth overall pick. He doesn't show a lot of bend off the edge, but we can't argue with his production. The Clemson product used his long arms (34"), active hands and power to record 21 sacks and 38 tackles for loss between his junior and senior terms.

    Jacobs caught 48 passes for 571 yards and five touchdowns through three years at Alabama. In addition to leading the backfield in carries, he should become a reliable receiver in the short passing game.

    The Raiders will hope to see Abram hit the ground running faster than safety Karl Joseph did coming into the league. The rookie could lead the team in tackles with his sideline-to-sideline activity and tendency to look for contact while delivering a noticeable pop with his takedowns.

    Tampa Bay and Oakland have young defensive units in early rebuilding stages, but the Raiders also have two more upstart defenders to keep an eye on: cornerback Gareon Conley and defensive tackle Maurice Hurst. The former led the team in pass breakups (15), and the latter recorded four sacks as a pass-rushing presence on the interior. 

    Like the Buccaneers at No. 2 on this list, the Raiders have an established head coach. We cannot discount Gruden's Super Bowl victory and winning (5-4) playoff record. Despite all of Arians' offensive successes, his teams are 1-2 in the postseason.

    Assuming Carr and Brown work out, the Raiders could have a top-five quarterback-wide receiver tandem. On paper, the offensive line looks good enough to compare to the team's solid units of previous years. Oakland will give up a lot of points with a young group, but defensive coordinator Paul Guenther's units have ranked top-12 in scoring in three of five seasons. 

    As Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers goes into his age-38 campaign, inching closer to the sunset on his career, we could see the Chiefs and Raiders engage in a more balanced rivalry for the AFC West crown in the near future.