Every NFL Team's Biggest Reason for Optimism Heading into Camps

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistJuly 22, 2019

Every NFL Team's Biggest Reason for Optimism Heading into Camps

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    Ron Schwane/Associated Press

    The NFL offseason brings fresh hope and new beginnings. Teams and their fanbases hold optimism for the 2019 season because of player development, veteran acquisitions and talent from this year's draft class. 

    Franchises can shift short-term trajectories in one offseason. The Cleveland Browns selected Baker Mayfield with the first pick in the 2018 draft, and he already looks like a franchise quarterback primed to lead his team to the playoffs. 

    The Chicago Bears rose out of the basement to claim a division title in the NFC North with a new head coach, a blockbuster trade and multiple offensive acquisitions. 

    What can each club point toward for optimism this year? We'll take a look at all 32 rosters and highlight the biggest reason for each team to be excited about the 2019 season.

Arizona Cardinals: Kliff Kingsbury's Offense Set to Push Record Pace

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    Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury
    Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff KingsburyRoss D. Franklin/Associated Press

    We don't know exactly what to expect from Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury's offense, though he may roll out a variation of the Air Raid scheme he used at Texas Tech over the last six years.

    Running back David Johnson offered some insight that should grab everyone's attention. Kingsbury's offense may operate at a record tempo, per ESPN.com's Josh Weinfuss.

    "We're going to get the ball down the field as fast as we can," Johnson said while estimating a whopping 99-95 plays per game. "We're trying to get a lot of plays in the game." 

    "That has never been done before, according to ESPN Stats & Information," Weinfuss wrote. "No team has averaged 80 offensive plays per game. In fact, it's rare for a team to run 90 plays in a game at all. There have been only 66 instances in which a team has reached that mark in a game, including overtime games, in the Super Bowl Era."

    In 2018, Arizona ran 902 plays, averaging a shade more than 56 per contest. That's a major difference between Johnson's expectations and the Cardinals offense last year, and teams will now have to figure out how to keep pace with a group consistently pushing the ball. 

    Kingsbury balked at outside talk about a pass-heavy objective going into each game. He envisions more balance, which bodes well for Johnson. 

    "It's going to be wide-open every single snap, throw it every play," Kingsbury said. "That's not what it's going to be." 

    As Johnson looks to rediscover his 2016 All-Pro form, he'll have an opportunity to do so in a potentially record-breaking offensive pace.

Atlanta Falcons: Fielding Arguably the Best Pass-Catching Group

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    Atlanta Falcons wide receivers Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley
    Atlanta Falcons wide receivers Julio Jones and Calvin RidleyKevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Overlooked in a disappointing 2018 campaign, the Atlanta Falcons fielded one of the best wide receiver groups in the league. The top three wideouts on the depth chart (Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu and Calvin Ridley) registered at least 60 catches and 800 yards. Don't forget tight end Austin Hooper, who earned his first Pro Bowl invite with 71 receptions for 660 yards and four touchdowns. 

    Tight ends coach Mike Mularkey thinks Hooper will continue to grow in the offense, per Matt Tabeek of the Falcons' official website. 

    "Mularkey said Hooper is one of those players with a 'high ceiling' and that bodes well for the young tight end," Tabeek wrote.

    He and Sanu have improved their receiving yard totals every season in Atlanta; they're the understated playmakers in the pass-catching group.

    Quarterback Matt Ryan will again be able to target a two-time All-Pro in Jones, who led the league in receiving yards (1,677) last year. Ridley is also available following an impressive rookie campaign in which he registered 821 yards through the air with a team-leading 10 touchdown grabs. 

    In 2018, the Falcons ranked fourth in passing yards, and Ryan tied quarterback Russell Wilson for third in touchdown passes (35). Because of his stable of playmakers on the perimeter, he's not a bad choice to win league MVP again.

Baltimore Ravens: Lamar Jackson's Target Options in Passing Game

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    Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Marquise Brown
    Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Marquise BrownGail Burton/Associated Press

    Quarterback Lamar Jackson will need to answer critics who question his ability to hit targets through tight NFL windows, but he'll play with a group that can make his job a bit easier when throwing from the pocket. 

    The Baltimore Ravens added two dynamic wideouts in this year's draft: Marquise Brown (first round) and Miles Boykin (third round). 

    Brown possesses big-play potential with his blazing speed and sticky hands. He registered back-to-back 1,000-yard campaigns and averaged 18.3 yards per reception with 17 touchdowns at Oklahoma. The former Sooner stands at just 5'9", 166 pounds and underwent surgery for a Lisfranc injury in January, but he's the explosive threat in this passing offense. 

    Boykin brings size to the receiving game. But at 6'4", 220 pounds with a 4.42-second 40-yard time at the NFL Scouting Combine, he's not just a big-body target. The Notre Dame product can create separation downfield and snatch targets out of the air. 

    According to the Baltimore Sun's Mike Preston, tight end Mark Andrews developed a strong rapport with Jackson during the spring: "In OTAs and in minicamp, Andrews became a favorite target of Jackson on intermediate and long passes over the middle and inside the red zone. Andrews became such a frequent target that he appeared to irritate some of his defensive teammates and had some fun by taunting them after a touchdown or two."

    Andrews led the Ravens in receiving yards (308) and averaged 23.7 yards per catch with Jackson starting under center last year. The pair could become a notable quarterback-tight end duo for the upcoming season. 

    Wide receiver Willie Snead IV, who logged 62 receptions for 651 yards and a touchdown last season, returns for a second year in Baltimore. The team presumably hopes to see tight end Hayden Hurst, a 2018 first-rounder, avoid injuries for a strong sophomore campaign.

    The Ravens must allow Jackson to throw the ball more than he did in his rookie campaign. The 22-year-old has the offensive weapons around him to quiet naysayers who question his arm talent.

Buffalo Bills: A Stacked Running Back Group

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    Buffalo Bills running back Devin Singletary
    Buffalo Bills running back Devin SingletaryJeffrey T. Barnes/Associated Press

    The Buffalo Bills should be looking for quarterback Josh Allen to take a sophomore leap and feed a revamped wide receiver corps that now includes John Brown and Cole Beasley in addition to Zay Jones and Robert Foster. But the front office also loaded the backfield, which gives this team a chance to win games with a physical, downhill approach.

    The ground attack will feature LeSean McCoy, Frank Gore, who led the Miami Dolphins in rushing last year (722), T.J. Yeldon and rookie third-rounder Devin Singletary, who was Conference USA's sixth-leading career rusher (4,287). 

    Assuming the Bills keep all four running backs, Allen shouldn't have to absorb unnecessary hits as a ball-carrier. He registered 89 carries for 631 yards last year. The young signal-caller can also boost his completion percentage with short throws to his tailbacks, who can do the heavy lifting by racking up yards after the catch. 

    If Allen's ball placement remains an issue, the Bills offense may lack some flash. But screens, high-percentage throws to the flats and a strong ground attack can compensate for the rough patches.

Carolina Panthers: Cam Newton in Year 2 Under Norv Turner

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    Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (left) and offensive coordinator Norv Turner (right)
    Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (left) and offensive coordinator Norv Turner (right)Chuck Burton/Associated Press

    On paper, quarterback Cam Newton had a decent but unimpressive 2018 term, throwing for 3,395 yards, 24 touchdowns and 13 interceptions with a 57.4 QBR. We must account for an ailing shoulder that seemed to hinder his play midway through the season and forced him to sit out the final two contests.

    Through eight games, Newton didn't post gaudy numbers, but he played with efficiency while throwing an accurate ball—a common criticism of his game. He registered 1,893 passing yards, 15 touchdowns and just four interceptions with a 67.3 completion rate through Week 9.

    Once Newton's shoulder became a concern, we saw more uneven play amid the Carolina Panthers' seven-game skid. The defense also shares the blame for those results, giving up 116-plus yards on the ground in the last three losses during that stretch. 

    Newton underwent arthroscopic shoulder surgery as a "cleanup, not a repair," per Jourdan Rodrigue, then of the Charlotte Observer, but he should be ready for the upcoming season. 

    According to Brendan Marks of the Charlotte Observer, Newton won't have any restrictions for training camp, indicating he'll be ready for the regular season. Assuming he plays throughout the year, we could see the same player from the first half of the 2018 campaign rather than the one from the second half.

    Offensive coordinator Norv Turner's offense helped Newton focus on playmakers in space who can move the ball after the catch. Running back Christian McCaffrey had a strong 2018 campaign, logging 1,965 yards from scrimmage. As a rookie, DJ Moore recorded 788 receiving yards. Curtis Samuel converted potential into production with 494 yards and five touchdowns as a potential No. 2 option at wideout. 

    If tight end Greg Olsen can avoid injury, the Panthers should field a potent offense with a healthy Newton under center.

Chicago Bears: Mitchell Trubisky's Growth Going into Year 2 Under Matt Nagy

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    Chicago Bears head coach Matt Nagy (left) and quarterback Mitchell Trubisky (right)
    Chicago Bears head coach Matt Nagy (left) and quarterback Mitchell Trubisky (right)Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky only started one year at North Carolina before the Bears selected him with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2017 draft. Because of that, many thought he needed extensive time to grow in order to become a solid starter in the pros. 

    As expected, Trubisky looked wildly inconsistent during his rookie term, but he put together a strong 2018 under head coach Matt Nagy. The Bears' lead skipper expects to see his starting signal-caller take another step in his development, per Adam Jahns of The Athletic: "Last year, I kept talking about 101. Now, without a doubt, I can say with pure conviction we're in 202 right now. And we don't need to have a live game to see mentally where he's at with calling the plays. I mean, he's doing things in the last two days that last year at this time he wasn't even close to. So that's exciting."

    If Trubisky improves on a year in which he threw for 3,223 yards, 24 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, opposing defenses will have a difficult task covering a loaded wide receiver group that features Allen Robinson II, Anthony Miller, Taylor Gabriel and rookie fourth-rounder Riley Ridley. Don't forget running back Tarik Cohen, who can catch passes out of the backfield, or tight end Trey Burton.

    Assuming Trubisky looks even more comfortable in the pocket, we cannot rule out the Bears fielding a top-10 passing attack in 2019.

Cincinnati Bengals: A Refreshed Offensive Attack

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    Cincinnati Bengals head coach Zac Taylor
    Cincinnati Bengals head coach Zac TaylorJohn Minchillo/Associated Press

    As a wide receivers and quarterbacks coach, Cincinnati Bengals lead skipper Zac Taylor spent two years on Sean McVay's staff with the Los Angeles Rams.

    Taylor may carry over some concepts from McVay, who's viewed as an innovative offensive mind in the league. But for now, wide receiver A.J. Green drew a connection to a previous play-caller in Cincinnati with an added spark to the aerial attack.

    "The sky's the limit for this offense," Green said, per Geoff Hobson of the team's official website. "I feel like this offense mirrors a lot when we had Jay [Gruden]. A lot of deep shots and a lot of stuff like that. It could be big. It could be a big year."

    Assuming quarterback Andy Dalton and Green stay healthy, we could see the tandem post big numbers throughout the upcoming season. During Gruden's last year as the Bengals offensive coordinator in 2013, the passing offense ranked eighth in yards and third in touchdowns. That was also Green's best statistical campaign (98 catches for 1,426 yards and 11 touchdowns). 

    Taylor will have Dalton and Green together for a ninth season with a rising talent at wideout in Tyler Boyd and last year's fourth-leading rusher, Joe Mixon. 

    In a wide-open AFC North, the Bengals offense could put them on the radar as a sleeper team for the playoffs.

Cleveland Browns: Baker Mayfield and Odell Beckham Jr. Joining Forces

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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

    Quarterback Baker Mayfield and wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. will bring a lot of excitement, moxie and touchdowns to a franchise that's desperately needed something to look forward to over the last decade.

    On the field, we should expect Mayfield and Beckham to become one of the top quarterback-wide receiver tandems in the NFL. 

    As a rookie, Mayfield put together an impressive year, throwing for 3,725 yards, 27 touchdowns and 14 interceptions while completing 63.8 percent of his passes in 14 outings. Wideouts Jarvis Landry and Antonio Callaway, two the quarterback's top pass-catchers, logged 54.4 percent catch rates. The latter notoriously struggled with drops.

    Now, Mayfield will throw to Beckham, a star wide receiver with a career 62.7 percent catch rate and a highlight reel of spectacular one-handed grabs. He can track the deep ball or turn a short slant into a 40-yard catch-and-run touchdown. 

    General manager John Dorsey's decision to acquire Beckham via trade may have ensured Mayfield continues to improve every year. In 2019, we'll see the beginning of what should become a strong connection filled with explosive plays.

Dallas Cowboys: Year 2 of Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper

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    Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Amari Cooper (left) and quarterback Dak Prescott (right)
    Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Amari Cooper (left) and quarterback Dak Prescott (right)Harry How/Getty Images

    The Dallas Cowboys sent a first-round pick to the Oakland Raiders for wideout Amari Cooper, and the move changed the outlook of their 2018 season. Following the trade, the club went 7-2 after a 3-4 start.

    Quarterback Dak Prescott built chemistry with the No. 1 wide receiver who can stretch the field vertically, beat defenders with speed after the catch and open up opportunities for other wideouts because of the help needed to cover him over the top. 

    Cooper recorded 180-plus receiving yards in two contests with the Cowboys, but he also failed to reach 40 yards in the final three games of the 2018 campaign. The 25-year-old had bright moments in the postseason, recording 13 catches for 171 yards and a touchdown with a 72.2 percent catch rate in two outings.

    In an interview with ProFootballTalk's Mike Florio, Cooper set a lofty goal of 2,000 receiving yards for the upcoming season. He may not reach that mark, but a full offseason to build his rapport with Prescott should yield more production during the upcoming campaign.

Denver Broncos: Vic Fangio Calling the Shots on Defense

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    Denver Broncos head coach Vic Fangio
    Denver Broncos head coach Vic FangioDavid Zalubowski/Associated Press

    The Denver Broncos fielded a top-five defense in yards and points allowed in 2015 and 2016, but the unit took steps backward under former head coach Vance Joseph and ex-defensive coordinator Joe Woods.

    In 2018, the Broncos defense didn't give up a ton of points (No. 13), but it ranked 22nd in yards allowed. The unit also tied for fifth with the New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins in takeaways. Although forcing turnovers can be a bit random, Denver has the talent to put a world-class defensive unit on the field. 

    Head coach Vic Fangio can elevate this group to another level. As a defensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers and Chicago Bears, he oversaw six top-10 groups in either yards or points allowed since 2011. Last year, Chicago surrendered the fewest points and forced the most turnovers under his tutelage.

    In addition to an impressive sack duo featuring Von Miller and Bradley Chubb, Fangio will have cornerback Bryce Callahan, who's played under him for four seasons and had his best year in 2018. The front office inked versatile defensive back Kareem Jackson.

    Based on last year's numbers, Jackson should be an upgrade over Darian Stewart at safety and a solid slot defender. The former logged 17 pass breakups and two interceptions compared to a pair of picks and just three pass breakups for the latter.

    Fangio will also have the opportunity to mold two high-upside rookies who possess pass-rushing capabilities. Third-rounder Dre'Mont Jones and fifth-rounder Justin Hollins racked up a combined 15 sacks last year at their respective programs, Ohio State and Oregon.

    If Fangio's golden touch on defense continues to turn units into top-10 groups, the Broncos won't have to lean so heavily on quarterback Joe Flacco and the ground attack to put up points. Opponents should find it extremely difficult to score on Denver. 

Detroit Lions: Darrell Bevell Adding Grit to Offensive Attack

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    Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell (left) and head coach Matt Patricia (right)
    Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell (left) and head coach Matt Patricia (right)Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    When you think about the Detroit Lions offense, quarterback Matthew Stafford likely comes to mind. Like Calvin Johnson in years past, the passing attack also features another big-body wide receiver in Kenny Golladay.

    But the Lions offense won't just showcase Stafford's arm and a 6'4", 213-pound wide receiver who towers over smaller defenders. New offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell wants to bring balance to Detroit in the form of an old-school, grind-it-out ground attack, per Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press. 

    "We'll always be about running the football," Bevell said. "We want to be a tough, hard-nosed, physical football team. We want to be able to exert our will on our opponents." 

    Stafford hasn't played with a rushing offense that's ranked higher than 17th, so Bevell's objective probably sounds like a breath of fresh air to him. We'll likely see plenty of Kerryon Johnson and C.J. Anderson—a 5'8", 225-pound bowling ball on the ground—making one cut through the defense to move the chains. 

    Last year, Johnson recorded 854 yards from scrimmage as a dual-threat rookie out of the backfield.

    Nevertheless, when Bevell speaks about a physical presence, expect Anderson to handle a good portion of the carries. He logged three consecutive performances of at least 123 rushing yards with the Los Angeles Rams between Week 16 and the NFC divisional round in 2018.

Green Bay Packers: Attempting to Keep Up with NFC North Defenses

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    Green Bay Packers defensive lineman Rashan Gary
    Green Bay Packers defensive lineman Rashan GaryMike Roemer/Associated Press

    Over the last two years, an NFC North club has fielded the league's stingiest scoring defense: the Minnesota Vikings in 2017 and the Chicago Bears last year. Under head coach Matt Patricia in 2018, the Detroit Lions also ranked among the top 10 in yards allowed for the first time since 2014.

    Typically, the Green Bay Packers' success begins and ends with quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Now, he'll have some help on the other side of the ball, specifically behind a group of talented pass-rushers that includes both veterans and rookies.

    General manager Brian Gutekunst decided not to place the entire pass-rushing onus on Kyler Fackrell, who broke out for 10.5 sacks last year. He signed Za'Darius Smith and Preston Smith in free agency, selected Rashan Gary in the draft's first round and chose Kingsley Keke in the fifth round.

    The four front-seven acquisitions combined for 23.5 sacks with their respective teams and programs last season. Packers position coach Mike Smith told reporters the team plans to use four outside linebackers in certain packages, which may bring nightmares for opposing quarterbacks. 

    Gutekunst's focus on the defense didn't stop with the pass rush; he added two safeties, four-year veteran Adrian Amos and rookie first-rounder Darnell Savage, who'll likely start as a pair in Week 1. Both have a mix of coverage skills and open-field tackling ability.

    The Packers may not have to depend on Rodgers for game-winning drives. The defense possesses enough talent to stifle its opponents.

Houston Texans: Keke Coutee's Injury Concerns Are Behind Him

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    Houston Texans wide receiver Keke Coutee
    Houston Texans wide receiver Keke CouteeJoe Robbins/Getty Images

    Aside from DeAndre Hopkins, the Houston Texans haven't had good fortune with health at wide receiver

    Will Fuller V has suffered a broken collarbone, cracked ribs, a strained hamstring, a knee strain and a torn ACL over his last two seasons with the team, costing him a total of 15 games. The Texans acquired Demaryius Thomas before last year's trade deadline, and he tore his Achilles. Keke Coutee couldn't shake a nagging hamstring ailment in 2018. 

    As for Coutee, he thinks preparation for the draft contributed to the injury woes during his rookie season, per Aaron Reiss of The Athletic.

    "If you're training for a 40-yard dash, then you're not training to just run routes against guys every day in training camp," Coutee said. "Pretty soon, you're going to realize it's a long season. Guys bump and grind so much. Just making that change to that next level is a real big transition. You have to make sure you're prepared." 

    Coutee missed 10 games, but he logged 109 receiving yards in his NFL debut, showing promise as a playmaker in the offense. If he's correct and offseason training compromised his body last year, quarterback Deshaun Watson will have a solid receiving tandem.

    With Fuller also in uniform, the Texans can make an argument they field a top-five wide receiver corps.

Indianapolis Colts: Justin Houston Has One Job

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    Indianapolis Colts pass-rusher Justin Houston
    Indianapolis Colts pass-rusher Justin HoustonUncredited/Associated Press

    The Indianapolis Colts added four-time Pro Bowler and 2014 sack leader Justin Houston to the pass rush. He's headed into his ninth season with a lot of mileage on his body but still has more left in the tank.

    The Kansas City Chiefs cut Houston after he logged nine sacks in 12 games last year. The move seemed salary-based, as the team saved $14 million in cap space and $15.5 million in cash. The Colts signed him to a two-year, $24 million deal. 

    The coaching staff will simplify Houston's duties compared to his role in Kansas City. He talked about his primary responsibility with local reporters

    "You're not thinking as much," Houston said. "You're just going forward the whole time. You're not trying to figure out if you're dropping or rushing. This time, you know you're going in one direction." 

    In a media press conference, defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus highlighted Houston's sack numbers and talked about his pass-rushing prowess. 

    "You don't just fall into 78.5 sacks or 79, wherever he is," he said. "But he knows how to rush the passer so it is important that we teach him the base fundamentals of the game and enhance his abilities with what he naturally does"

    The Colts signed Houston to do what he did best with the Chiefs: chase down quarterbacks. The 30-year-old may add very little to his total in pass breakups (32), but the defense could have a new sack leader off the edge. Indianapolis tied for 19th in the category (38) last year.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Nick Foles Has a New/Old Friend in the Passing Game

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    Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Nick Foles (left) and wide receiver Chris Conley (right)
    Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Nick Foles (left) and wide receiver Chris Conley (right)John Raoux/Associated Press

    After going through the frustrations with quarterback Blake Bortles over five seasons, the Jacksonville Jaguars will turn to Nick Foles, who has a resume with playoff experience and a Super Bowl MVP from his time on the Philadelphia Eagles.

    Before Foles led Philadelphia to its first Lombardi Trophy, he crossed paths with wideout Chris Conley. According to John Reid of the Florida Times-Union, the tandem has hooked up multiple times during the spring, providing a glimpse of what's to come going forward:

    "Two days after Foles signed his four-year, $88 million contract to join the Jaguars in March, Conley agreed to a two-year, $4.6 million contract to join him. They were teammates in Kansas City in 2016 and have remained close friends. The chemistry between the two was clearly noticeable on the field from the rate of completions."

    The Jaguars will need someone other than Dede Westbrook to challenge defenses through the air. Marqise Lee continues to recover from a torn ACL, and he'll likely open training camp on the physically unable to perform list. Last year, Keelan Cole took a step back in production, and DJ Chark Jr. only caught 14 passes for 174 yards. 

    Foles' rapport with Conley may become the go-to source for passing production—or at least second to a connection with Westbrook. If running back Leonard Fournette can stay healthy, we should see balance in the Jaguars' offensive attack.

Kansas City Chiefs: A New Safety Tandem

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    Kansas City Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu
    Kansas City Chiefs safety Tyrann MathieuCharlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Quarterback Patrick Mahomes may not throw for 50 touchdown passes, but most analysts and football enthusiasts expect him to continue playing at a high level. However, he's going to need help if this club wants to take its playoff journey further than the AFC Championship Game. 

    The Chiefs remodeled the top of the safety depth chart with a veteran and a collegiate playmaker, turning the page on Eric Berry after he played three regular-season games since 2017 because of an Achilles injury.

    Kansas City signed Tyrann Mathieu, who can play both safety spots and move over to the slot. He'll cover tight ends and supplement resistance against the ground attack. This defense struggled in both areas last year; the Chiefs allowed the third-most receiving yards to tight ends (69.1), per Football Outsiders, and ranked 27th in rushing yards allowed.

    Rookie second-rounder Juan Thornhill registered 13 interceptions and 26 pass breakups during his collegiate career at Virginia. He's going to force quarterbacks to think twice about throwing over the top of the Chiefs defense. 

    Together, Mathieu and Thornhill can form a strong safety tandem, improving last year's 31st-ranked pass defense that allowed 30 touchdowns (22nd). Both have a nose for the football, so we can expect a more aggressive group that's able to get off the field after third down. Last year, the Chiefs allowed conversions on 41.5 percent (25th) of those crucial situations.

Los Angeles Chargers: Hunter Henry's Full Return

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    Los Angeles Chargers tight end Hunter Henry
    Los Angeles Chargers tight end Hunter HenryCharles Krupa/Associated Press

    The Los Angeles Chargers lost a complementary piece to their aerial attack in wideout Tyrell Williams, who signed with the Oakland Raiders. On the flip side, quarterback Philip Rivers must be excited to see tight end Hunter Henry back on the field at full strength. 

    Last offseason, Henry tore his ACL during OTAs. He suited up for the AFC divisional game against the New England Patriots but only played 14 offensive snaps. Now, all signs point to a complete return for the 24-year-old, per Ricky Henne of the team's official website. 

    "I'm pretty much full-go," Hunter said. "Everything feels good. It still gets sore every once in a while, but it's nothing too bad. It's nothing that's crazy. It's just a workout soreness." 

    Before Hunter's knee injury, he seemed well on his way to a standout campaign. He registered 81 receptions for 1,057 yards and 12 touchdowns in his first two seasons.

    Going into his second active year under head coach Anthony Lynn and offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, Hunter should land on the radar as an under-25 tight end on the rise.

Los Angeles Rams: Darrell Henderson Brings X-Factor Element

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    Los Angeles Rams running back Darrell Henderson
    Los Angeles Rams running back Darrell HendersonJayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

    The Rams have a sleeper candidate for Offensive Rookie of the Year in their backfield. General manager Les Snead said running back Darrell Henderson provides the offense with an "[Alvin] Kamara element," per Cameron DaSilva of USA Today's Rams Wire.

    Los Angeles may need Henderson to bring a dual-threat spark to the backfield because of running back Todd Gurley's arthritic knee. The rookie third-rounder accumulated 4,303 yards from scrimmage at Memphis, showing vision, the ability to hit holes on the ground and soft hands as a pass-catcher.

    Gurley's knee will dominate Rams' offseason headlines and become a talking point throughout the regular season, but Henderson possesses the tools to grab the spotlight and redirect the conversation about the rushing offense.

    According to pass game coordinator Shane Waldron, Henderson had a good start in his introduction to the pros, per Myles Simmons of the team's official website: "For Darrell, just like any other rookie, he's got a lot to learn as far as building a foundation of the system in his own mind—not just in one particular area. And he's done a great job picking it up and he'll do nothing but grow as training camp gets here as well."

    Gurley will still factor into the Rams' game plan, but Henderson could potentially lead this team in yards from scrimmage in 2019.

Miami Dolphins: Kenyan Drake's Clear Path to More Touches

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    Miami Dolphins running back Kenyan Drake
    Miami Dolphins running back Kenyan DrakeBrett Carlsen/Getty Images

    In each of his three seasons, running back Kenyan Drake has averaged fewer than 11 touches per contests. That seems modest for a player with his dual-threat skill set out of the backfield.

    During his first two campaigns, Drake listed behind Jay Ajayi on the depth chart. The Dolphins traded the latter midway through the 2017 season, but the Alabama product didn't take over the lead role last year. Miami had signed running back Frank Gore to a one-year deal. And at 35 years old, he led the Dolphins backfield in carries (156) and yards (722) over 14 starts. 

    A 2016 third-round pick, Drake once again took a backseat, which seems a bit strange since he's averaged 4.7 yards per carry while looking solid in the receiving game with 94 catches for 762 yards and six touchdowns. 

    Going into the 2019 term, Dolphins fans may finally see Drake unleashed. He's the projected starter with Kalen Ballage and Myles Gaskin likely to take on complementary roles.

    Head coach Brian Flores and offensive coordinator Chad O'Shea came over from the New England Patriots, for whom the game plan changes based on the opponent. But Drake doesn't have a veteran in front of him. He's set to handle his biggest workload in a contract year.

Minnesota Vikings: Dalvin Cook Healthy Going into Training Camp

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    Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook
    Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin CookHannah Foslien/Getty Images

    The Vikings must jump-start the rushing offense to balance their attack. The unit ranked 27th in attempts and 30th in yards last year.

    In Week 4 of the 2017 campaign, running back Dalvin Cook tore his ACL, and rehab for the injury extended into the last offseason. In 2018, he missed five games because of a hamstring injury.

    The last time Cook went into a season healthy, he ranked third in rushing yards (354) at 4.8 yards per carry through four weeks. The Vikings hope to see that player back on the field for the upcoming season.

    Head coach Mike Zimmer kept his comments simple but provided an encouraging assessment of the running back, per Eric Smith of the team's official website: "I think Cook has had a really, really good spring. [Vikings Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Advisor] Gary [Kubiak] and I were talking about him this morning. He looks really, really good, especially the things we're trying to do in the running game."

    Offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski's confidence in the running game starts with a healthy featured ball-carrier.

    Cook could play up to his second-round draft status in a breakout year if healthy for a 16-game slate. The addition of six-year right guard Josh Kline and rookie center Garrett Bradbury, along with Pat Elflein's shift to left guard, bodes well for him. He should see plenty of open running lanes.  

New England Patriots: N'Keal Harry's Versatility

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    New England Patriots wide receiver N'Keal Harry
    New England Patriots wide receiver N'Keal HarrySteven Senne/Associated Press

    At 41 years old, quarterback Tom Brady received a present that should bring him a ton of excitement going into the 2019 season.

    The Patriots selected wideout N'Keal Harry in the first round of this year's draft. At 6'2" 228 pounds, he's a big body who can pluck passes out of the air and serve as a viable threat in the red zone, but the Arizona State product provides more to the aerial attack.

    Brady's tendency to supplement the ground game with quick-strike throws plays right into one of Harry's strengths. 

    Harry ran a 4.53-second 40-yard dash at the combine, which is a solid time for his size. But he's a playmaker on short and intermediate receptions because of his ability to extend plays after the catch. Defenders will find it difficult to jam him with press coverage at the line of scrimmage and stop him in the open field. 

    When Brady wants to target Harry deep downfield, the rookie wideout will be prepared to haul in passes with one hand and stretch out his body for a long reception. Based on his collegiate tape, he's no stranger to acrobatic catches.

    With Harry, the Patriots added highlight-reel appeal to their passing offense, but he's also a good fit for Brady as he strikes with quick, decisive throws to his pass-catchers.

New Orleans Saints: Jared Cook's Role in the Offense

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    New Orleans Saints tight end Jared Cook
    New Orleans Saints tight end Jared CookGerald Herbert/Associated Press

    The New Orleans Saints upgraded the tight end position, transitioning from 38-year-old Ben Watson to Jared Cook, who led the Oakland Raiders in receiving yards (896) and touchdowns (six) last year. Head coach Sean Payton talked to NBC Sports' Chris Simms about featuring him in the offense.

    "New tight end comes in for us this year, Cook from Oakland, man we're gonna expand the package that includes him," Payton said (h/t John Sigler of USA Today's Saints Wire). "So it kind of moves a little like a river. ... You see his route savviness and his ability to get in and out of cuts. The best thing he does is run after the catch."

    Quarterback Drew Brees didn't have a solid No. 2 pass-catching option primarily operating on the perimeter last year. Running back Alvin Kamara listed second on the team in receptions (81) and yards (709) as a threat out of the backfield. Wideout Ted Ginn Jr. battled a knee injury and missed 11 games, and Tre'Quan Smith disappeared in multiple contests throughout his rookie term.

    Cook should immediately impact the aerial attack with his ability to create separation and reel in receptions all over the field. Alongside wideout Michael Thomas, he's someone for whom defenses must account on passing downs.

New York Giants: Revamped Offensive Line

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    New York Giants right guard Kevin Zeitler
    New York Giants right guard Kevin ZeitlerUncredited/Associated Press

    Whether quarterback Eli Manning starts and finishes the 2019 season or hands the baton to Daniel Jones, the New York Giants offensive line must provide better pass protection and widen running lanes for a ground attack that's instrumental to the team's future success.

    According to Football Outsiders, Big Blue's offensive line ranked 29th in adjusted line yards (3.90) and 20th in pass protection.

    Although left tackle Nate Solder took a lot of blame for pressures he allowed early in the 2018 season, he had a decent finish in terms of keeping defenders away from Manning, per Pro Football Focus' William Moy:

    "While it wasn't the best season we've seen from him, Solder was a reliable pass-blocker; he was one of just nine players to log at least 500 snaps in pass protection at left tackle while surrendering a pressure rate no greater than 5.0%. Solder surrendered two or fewer pressures in ten different games last year, and the most pressures he allowed in a game was five." 

    General manager Dave Gettleman acquired right guard Kevin Zeitler in a trade with the Cleveland Browns and signed right tackle Mike Remmers to bolster the offensive line. 

    In 2018, Remmers allowed six sacks, per Washington Post's STATs, but he played out of position at right guard in his final year with the Minnesota Vikings. At right tackle, the seven-year veteran should have a better season. 

    Assuming left guard Will Hernandez continues to grow into his starting role, the Giants have a solid core in the trenches. The upgrades and development across the offensive line could result in additional time for Manning or Jones in the pocket and gaping holes for running back Saquon Barkley.

New York Jets: Robby Anderson's Lead Wide Receiver Potential

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    New York Jets wide receiver Robby Anderson
    New York Jets wide receiver Robby AndersonSteven Ryan/Getty Images

    On paper, the New York Jets don't have flashy names at wideout. In fact, none of the top three players on the depth chart have recorded a 1,000-yard season.  

    Wideout Robby Anderson thinks changes on the sideline will lead to increased production under head coach Adam Gase, per the New York Post's Brian Costello

    "That's what I've been waiting for. It's frustrating when you know your capabilities. You know that you should be at least a 10-targets-a-game receiver because you know the impact you have on the game and that's not given to you. You've proven that. Now, I have a coach that's going to utilize me as a player and not just make me run straight down the field."

    Under former head coach Todd Bowles and his staff, Anderson averaged just over six targets per contest through three seasons. 

    But according to MMQB's Albert Breer, he caught Joe Douglas' eye when the new general manager looked at last year's film. 

    "While he was digging through [quarterback Sam] Darnold, Douglas saw what he believes is a better-than-advertised group of skill players," Breer wrote. "Robby Anderson, in particular, impressed Douglas, especially when the new GM popped in the Denver tape from October."

    In 2017, Anderson registered 941 receiving yards and seven touchdowns with quarterbacks Josh McCown and Bryce Petty under center. If Darnold shows even marginal improvement, the third-year wideout should rack up more than 1,000 yards with an uptick in targets.

Oakland Raiders: Antonio Brown's Hunger for Greatness

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    Oakland Raiders wide receiver Antonio Brown
    Oakland Raiders wide receiver Antonio BrownEric Risberg/Associated Press

    The Raiders went into rebuild mode, trading edge-rusher Khalil Mack to the Chicago Bears and sending wideout Amari Cooper to the Cowboys. They recouped three first-round pick—two this year and one in 2020—from the deals.

    Then the process of revamping the wideout group happened seemingly overnight.

    The Raiders acquired Antonio Brown from the Pittsburgh Steelers. They also signed Tyrell Williams and selected Hunter Renfrow in the fifth round of this year's draft. The Silver and Black's star pickup will generate some explosive plays and draw double-teams, creating opportunities for his teammates. 

    Since 2014, Brown has earned four All-Pro honors and led the league in catches and receiving yards twice; he hauled in the most touchdowns (15) last year. 

    Brown will likely attempt to show the Steelers what they're missing at wideout and push for a strong early showing with his new squad. He set a lofty goal to surpass a former Raider and one of the game's best historical wide receivers, per ESPN.com's Paul Gutierrez

    "My goal really is to catch Jerry Rice," Brown said. "Playing with a guy like Coach Gruden, obviously, he knows what it takes to keep me upright and fresh. Keep me out there for a long time so it's a challenge every year to prove my love for the game. I'm just taking it one year at a time."

    Rice finished his career with 1,549 catches, 22,895 receiving yards and 197 touchdown receptions. Brown has 837 grabs for 11,207 yards and 74 scores. He'll embark on a long journey to eclipse the Hall of Famer's numbers, but he's 31 years old with many years ahead of him if he chooses to chase those aspirations. 

    Because of his route-running, ability to separate and reliable hands, Brown should account for a large portion of the Raiders' offensive production. Quarterback Derek Carr will also reap the benefits with an elite talent at wide receiver.

Philadelphia Eagles: DeSean Jackson's Return

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    Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson
    Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean JacksonMatt Rourke/Associated Press

    Let's turn the clock back for a minute. Between the 2008-13 terms, wideout DeSean Jackson led the Eagles in receptions (356), yards (6,117) and touchdowns (32) while averaging 17.2 yards per catch.

    Now, fast-forward to the current date. Jackson still possesses the explosive speed and big-play ability to beat defenders deep downfield. He's averaged at least 17.6 yards per catch in four of the last five seasons and led the league in that category three times since the end of his first stint with Philadelphia.

    Jackson logged 18.9 yards per reception with quarterbacks Ryan Fitzpatrick and Jameis Winston under center for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last year, even building strong chemistry with the former. In Philadelphia, the 32-year-old has already shown flashes with Carson Wentz, per PennLive.com's Daniel Gallen.

    "The quarterback and wide receiver seemed to be on the same page with their timing, and [head coach Doug] Pederson credited Jackson for participating in the offseason program to get up to speed with his new teammates, and it really showed with how Wentz was able to find him consistently with success." Gallen wrote. 

    Jackson isn't in his 20s anymore, but he can still provide the Eagles' passing attack with an explosive component that was missing last year.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Devin Bush's Presence at Inside Linebacker

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    Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Devin Bush
    Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Devin BushKeith Srakocic/Associated Press

    The Steelers have played with a noticeable void at inside linebacker since Ryan Shazier suffered a spinal injury in Week 13 of the 2017 campaign.

    The defense didn't have a dynamic playmaker who could play the run, drop back into coverage and bring pocket pressure. Shazier had 205 solo tackles, 25 pass breakups, seven sacks and seven interceptions in four seasons.

    The Steelers traded up for linebacker Devin Bush and have prepared him to start in his first season. He made calls for the defense during rookie minicamp. Cornerback Justin Layne saw early signs of a high-IQ player, per TribLive.com's Kevin Gorman

    "Devin, he's a great leader," Layne said. "He's very vocal. He's going to be good, for sure. You can just tell. He was calling the right defense and everything. He knows what's going on."

    General manager Kevin Colbert opted to trade up 10 spots for Bush, so the rookie should play a significant role in the upcoming campaign. Linebacker Vince Williams also sees a fast track for the Michigan product, per Mike Prisuta of the team's official website. 

    "We're gonna need him, man," Williams said. "You don't draft a guy in the top 10 unless you're ready to put him in there, plug him in and let him make plays. I'm just happy he's available to do that. H's amazing, he's smart, top tier athletically, loves football." 

    Bush registered 91 solo tackles, 18.5 tackles for loss, 11 pass breakups and an interception in three collegiate terms. Although he suits up with a 5'11", 234-pound frame, the former Wolverine uses quickness, field awareness and play recognition to sniff out the run and track the ball in coverage.

San Francisco 49ers: Jimmy Garoppolo 'Good to Go' After Tearing ACL Last Year

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    San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo
    San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy GaroppoloTony Avelar/Associated Press

    Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is heading into his sixth season, and we've yet to see him play more than six games in a single campaign. The 49ers now get to find out what they have in him as a full-time starting signal-caller.

    Garoppolo took the long road to become a starter. He spent two years backing up Tom Brady on the New England Patriots. AC joint and ACL injuries cost him playing time in the 2016 and 2018 terms, respectively.

    On a media tour for Men's Warehouse, Garoppolo said he's "good to go," referencing his ability to fully participate in practices, per ProFootballTalk's Charean Williams.

    Although Nick Mullens had a decent showing in the 2018 season, throwing for 2,277 yards, 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, the 49ers should compete for a playoff spot with Garoppolo under center. The front office signed him to a five-year, $137.5 million deal that suggests he's the franchise centerpiece. 

    Garoppolo only has 10 career starts, so we don't have a handle on his ceiling. But he can fill in the blanks with a healthy 2019. In spotty play, the 27-year-old has thrown for 2,968 yards, 17 touchdowns and just eight interceptions with a 65.4 completion percentage.

Seattle Seahawks: The Ground Attack Won't Lose a Step

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    Seattle Seahawks running back Chris Carson
    Seattle Seahawks running back Chris CarsonTed S. Warren/Associated Press

    The Seattle Seahawks' No. 1-ranked rushing offense lost running back Mike Davis to the Chicago Bears in free agency, but the coaching staff plans to close ranks in the backfield and feature a duo that can keep the ground attack on top.

    In 2018, Chris Carson listed fifth among all ball-carriers with 1,151 yards. Rashaad Penny flashed in the second half of the year, registering 419 yards and two scores on the ground, which included a 108-yard performance against the Los Angeles Rams in Week 10.

    Head coach Pete Carroll won't specify the pecking order for the top two ball-carriers, but he's excited to highlight both in the upcoming season, per John Boyle of the team's official website:

    "A one-two punch, and I don't know who's one and who's two, it doesn't matter to me. ... Chris had a fantastic season. It's the first time Chris has had the opportunity to play a whole season all the way through, and it showed what he's all about. ... Rashaad did a really good job. He got banged up a little bit and it kind of slowed his start. But once he got going, he showed the explosiveness and the speed and the dynamics." 

    The Seahawks selected Travis Homer in the sixth round of this year's draft. He could potentially become the third wheel in the ground attack.

    For now, Carroll seems content with Carson and Penny, a 2018 first-rounder, carrying the load in 2019.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Head Coach Bruce Arians Taking over the Offense

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    Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians
    Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce AriansChris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Head coach Bruce Arians may be able to put quarterback Jameis Winston on track to become a franchise signal-caller for the Buccaneers.

    Arians has consistently led top-10 passing offenses during his prior stops as an offensive coordinator and head coach. He'll now oversee a unit with a talented pass-catching group featuring Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate at wide receiver and tight end.

    Winston has shown flashes of brilliance under center through four seasons, but interceptions and inconsistency have plagued him. He's thrown the second-most picks (58), tied with Blake Bortles, since 2015. 

    During this year's draft, Arians talked to ESPN's Trey Wingo about Winston's faults and the team's plan to help him going forward (h/t Matt Matera of the Pewter Report). 

    "Just more consistency, regardless of the other team, make better decisions," he said. "The athletic ability is there, the arm is there, and hopefully with the defensive picks we won't be playing from 20 behind all the time."

    The Buccaneers added six defensive players in this year's draft class. The front office also signed interior tackle Ndamukong Suh to beef up the front line. 

    As defensive coordinator Todd Bowles attempts to mold his group into a competitive unit, Arians should field a strong passing attack with Winston's arm talent and a stable of established pass-catchers.

Tennessee Titans: Marcus Mariota's New Playmakers at Wide Receiver

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    Tennessee Titans wide receiver A.J. Brown
    Tennessee Titans wide receiver A.J. BrownMark Zaleski/Associated Press

    As quarterback Marcus Mariota goes into a crucial year, he'll have the assets to put together his best season as a passer. In addition to wideouts Corey Davis, Taywan Taylor and Tajae Sharpe, the Tennessee Titans added four-year veteran Adam Humphries and rookie second-rounder A.J. Brown.

    Humphries will fill the slot position with good hands. He has a 70.4 percent career catch rate. The 26-year-old isn't a downfield threat but moves the chains consistently. In 2018, he tied Alshon Jeffery and Chris Godwin for 21st in first-down receptions (48).

    Brown provides more versatility as an inside-outside threat with breakaway speed after the catch and the ability to track deep balls. Coming out of Ole Miss, DK Metcalf garnered the spotlight for his combine performance, but Brown led the program in receiving yards over the last two years. 

    Opposite Davis on the perimeter, Brown will serve as a solid complement because of his ability to make plays on short, intermediate and deep play designs. On critical third downs, Mariota should have a reliable target in Humphries.

Washington Redskins: Dwayne Haskins' Shot to Start as a Rookie

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    Washington Redskins quarterback Dwayne Haskins
    Washington Redskins quarterback Dwayne HaskinsManuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press

    If the Washington Redskins start a veteran under center, Case Keenum or Colt McCoy will take over the huddle while Alex Smith remains out indefinitely with a broken leg.

    The experienced options may not generate much excitement within the fanbase, but quarterback Dwayne Haskins has a legitimate chance to start Week 1. Head coach Jay Gruden confirmed the possibility during OTAs, per ESPN.com's John Keim.

    "Oh, for sure," Gruden said about Haskins' chance to start. "I'd be silly not to. He's put enough out there on tape to say he deserves a shot, without a doubt."

    Gruden called Haskins a "wild card" and went on to describe what he saw from the rookie signal-caller during spring practices:

    "You see the 'wow' plays and you're like, 'Jesus.' When he's on, there's nobody you'd rather have than Dwayne. Really. It's pretty. He stands tall; he has a cannon, and he can quicken up his release. He's got great touch. Strong, powerful arm; strong, powerful body. But sometimes when he's off, he's abnormally off. It's kind of weird."

    Haskins will need to show consistency in his performances through the preseason. But he's already grabbed the head coach's attention, which is a good start. 

    Gruden likely sits on the hot seat going into his sixth season with the club. If he's able to put Haskins in a position to flourish, the front office may consider keeping the head coach and quarterback attached for another season.

    Haskins' early flashes suggest he offers more upside than Keenum and McCoy under center this year.

    All stats, unless otherwise indicated, courtesy of Pro Football Reference


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