Every NFL Team's Biggest Reason to Look Forward to 2020 Season
Following the NFL draft, every club has some level of optimism with new proven veterans and talented rookies on the roster. Ask any fan about their squad, and they’ll say, "how can my team not improve with the additions this offseason?"
Some free-agent signings and draft picks will pan out and others won't, but every player has a fair chance to live up to their potential. Even coaching hires can change the outlook of a club's short-term future.
For now, front offices seem to make logical moves to improve in the upcoming term. We'll shine a light on what should excite you most about each squad.
The reasons below provide foreseeable immediate impact or generate excitement for each team's 2020 campaign.
Arizona Cardinals: Kyler Murray-to-DeAndre Hopkins Connection
The Arizona Cardinals executed a blockbuster trade for DeAndre Hopkins on the first day of the legal tampering period. According to ESPN's Dianna Russini, the Houston Texans may have dealt the three-time All-Pro because they didn't want to give him an extension worth $18-20 million annually. One team's financial dilemma is another's gain in this scenario.
With quarterback Kyler Murray going into the second year of his rookie contract, the Cardinals can work with Hopkins on a new deal in the near future. For now, Arizona can enjoy the thought of its young signal-caller growing with a star wide receiver in his prime.
According to head coach Kliff Kingsbury, per Darren Urban of the team's official website, Murray's excitement is "through the roof."
The Cardinals have a perimeter threat who can draw double-teams and open up the field for Larry Fitzgerald, Christian Kirk and Kenyan Drake as a pass-catcher out of the backfield. Hopkins ranks third in receiving yards (8,602) and second in touchdowns (54) since his 2013 rookie campaign.
The NFL undersold the Cardinals on the 2020 schedule, giving them just two prime-time games. Murray may have a seismic sophomore surge with Hopkins on the field. Arizona could join the ranks of high-powered passing attacks in 2020.
Atlanta Falcons: Defensive Line Equipped to Battle Top Division Foes
We already know the Atlanta Falcons can move the ball on offense. The club has ranked eighth or higher in total yards every season since 2014. In order to compete with the New Orleans Saints and new-look Tampa Bay Buccaneers who acquired quarterback Tom Brady, the defense has to play its part.
The Falcons let edge-rusher Vic Beasley Jr. walk after his strong finish to the 2019 campaign but added Dante Fowler Jr. and rookie second-rounder Marlon Davidson to bolster the pass rush.
Last season, Fowler recorded career highs in tackles (58), tackles for loss (16), sacks (11.5), and pass breakups (six). The coaching staff can unleash him on opposing offensive lines and expect added pressure near the pocket.
Coming out of Auburn, Davidson lined up on the end and recorded 6.5 sacks during his senior year. Head coach Dan Quinn plans to use the 6'3", 303-pound defensive lineman on the inside, per Will McFadden of the team's official website.
"He's been a defensive end," Quinn said. "He's been stand up and down. We're going to try to feature him over the defensive tackle spots, at the guards, as often as you can. With a guy with that versatile, we're going to try to partner him up inside as often as we can."
In the best-case scenario, Davidson would pair alongside Grady Jarrett to form a fierce duo capable of busting through the interior gaps. Brady isn't a mobile quarterback, and Drew Brees is going into his age-41 term. Both signal-callers may find it difficult to escape pressure right up the middle. Even if they evade the inside rush, Fowler and Takkarist McKinley can finish plays for sacks on the outside.
The Falcons have the playmakers up front to boost their sack numbers and make opposing quarterbacks uncomfortable in the pocket. Despite all the talk about the offenses in New Orleans and Tampa Bay, Atlanta has a defensive line that can slow down those units.
Baltimore Ravens: Lamar Jackson Gets a Healthier Marquise Brown
With the 25th overall pick, the Baltimore Ravens selected the first wide receiver in the 2019 draft. Based on his college film, Marquise Brown should bring speed and over-the-top explosiveness to the offense, but we only saw spurts of both traits in 2019.
Brown may be closer to 100 percent for the upcoming season after having a screw removed from his foot, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. The 22-year-old shared a positive update with Bleacher Report's Tyler Dunne.
"I feel like I have a new foot," Brown said.
Ravens wide receiver Willie Snead IV is one of the players in the locker room who likens Lamar Jackson and Brown to San Francisco 49ers quarterback-wide receiver tandem Joe Montana and Jerry Rice.
"You can definitely compare them to Jerry Rice and Montana or some of the other crazy combinations, QB-receiver duos," Snead said. "I think these two are going to set their own mark in history."
Right now, the comparison seems extremely bold. Yet the players have confidence in the 2019 league MVP and the team's most dynamic wide receiver taking their rapport to the next level.
If Brown looks more like he did at Oklahoma between 2017 and 2018, averaging 18.3 yards per catch with 17 total touchdowns, the Ravens aerial attack will scorch defenses in 2020. Jackson would be in the conversion for another MVP award.
Buffalo Bills: Stefon Diggs Is Wide Receiver No. 1
The Buffalo Bills acquired Stefon Diggs, who could reach another plateau as the No. 1 wideout in an offense.
In two of the last three years, Adam Thielen led the Minnesota Vikings in targets, amassing 142-plus looks in those terms. Nevertheless, since 2017, Diggs has upped his receiving yard totals with back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons.
As the Bills' lead wideout, John Brown saw a team-high 115 targets last year. Diggs probably won't have to compete for quarterback Josh Allen's eyes like he did with Kirk Cousins, which means more opportunities to make plays.
Brown is a solid receiver, but he's not a two-time Pro Bowler like Thielen. Diggs could continue to see a rise in his overall production. That bodes well for a passing offense that ranked 26th in yards during the previous campaign.
General manager Brandon Beane thought the offense needed a playmaker who can finish drives, per Steve Wyche of NFL Network:
"Our goal was, 'How do we score points?' That caught up with us at the end of the season in Houston. ...
"Too many of our drives were having to be nine, 10, 11 plays. You want to control the ball, but you also want an easy score once in a while."
If Beane wants shorter drives that end with six points, Diggs could certainly help in that regard. He averaged 17.9 yards per catch last term, putting together chunk plays to advance the ball downfield.
Carolina Panthers: QB Teddy Bridgewater's Second Shot as a Starter
The Carolina Panthers moved on from Cam Newton, but they're not rebuilding from scratch at quarterback. They have a signal-caller with 34 starts and a Pro Bowl campaign on his resume.
The Minnesota Vikings selected quarterback Teddy Bridgewater with the 32nd overall pick in the 2014 draft. With him under center, the club went 17-11 and reached the playoffs in 2015 as a division leader.
Bridgewater suffered a torn ACL and dislocated kneecap in August 2016. During the 2018 offseason, he hit the free-agent market and signed with the New York Jets, who traded him to the New Orleans Saints.
In 2019, Drew Brees underwent thumb surgery, which allowed Bridgewater to start five games, and the Saints went 5-0 during his time under center.
In limited action, Bridgewater flashed his pinpoint accuracy (67.9 percent completion rate) and efficiency.
Bridgewater isn't a big-armed quarterback. However, using their speed and elusiveness, running back Christian McCaffrey along with wideouts DJ Moore and Robby Anderson can rack up yards after the catch.
Although the Panthers head into a new chapter with head coach Matt Rhule, teams shouldn't write off this squad as an easy victory on the schedule. Bridgewater is a battle-tested quarterback with enough offensive weapons to keep Carolina competitive.
Chicago Bears: Two Big Pass-Catchers for Mitchell Trubisky or Nick Foles
The Chicago Bears will have a quarterback competition between Mitchell Trubisky and Nick Foles. Whoever wins that battle could have two big safety blankets in the aerial attack.
The Bears signed tight end Jimmy Graham. He had an underwhelming two-year stay with the Green Bay Packers but still registered 93 receptions for 1,083 yards and five touchdowns in 32 games.
General manager Ryan Pace also added a rookie tight end, selecting Cole Kmet in the second round of April's draft. He caught 43 passes for 515 yards and six touchdowns during his junior term at Notre Dame.
Graham and Kmet should provide more than the combination of Trey Burton and Adam Shaheen in the passing game. Ironically, the Bears released Burton, who completed the well-known "Philly Special" play with Foles against the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII.
In 2019, Burton (groin and calf) and Shaheen (foot) battled injuries, suiting up for eight games apiece. They logged a combined 23 catches for 158 yards.
Going into a contract year, Trubisky needs help wherever he can find it on offense. As big targets, Graham (6'7", 265 lbs) and Kmet (6'6", 262 lbs) could boost the team's third-down conversion rate, which ranked 25th at 35.6 percent in 2019.
For a young quarterback like Trubisky, a reliable tight end with a wider catch radius can clean up some off-target throws. As for Foles, two of his top five pass-catchers for touchdowns are tight ends, Zach Ertz (nine) and Brent Celek (five). Both signal-callers could benefit from the offensive additions.
Cincinnati Bengals: New Beginning with QB Joe Burrow
After a rough 2019 campaign, finishing 2-14, the Cincinnati Bengals landed the No. 1 overall pick and selected Joe Burrow, who can change the short- and long-term outlook of the franchise.
Andy Dalton had a solid tenure with the Bengals. He put together three Pro Bowl seasons and led the team to the playoffs five consecutive years (2011-15). However, Burrow brings improvisational skills that will generate excitement. He can escape an oncoming pass rush and deliver strikes downfield while on the move.
Coming off a 15-0 run as a national champion at LSU, Burrow enters the league with a winning attitude, which provides the Bengals with hope and optimism.
Burrow played with this year's No. 22 overall pick, Justin Jefferson, and 2019 Fred Biletnikoff Award winner Ja'Marr Chase. Both wideouts factored into the quarterback's impressive senior campaign. He threw for 5,671 yards, 60 touchdowns and only six interceptions with a 76.3 percent completion rate. Fortunately for him, the Bengals aren't short on talent at wide receiver.
Tyler Boyd has recorded 1,028-plus yards in back-to-back seasons. The Bengals franchise-tagged seven-time Pro Bowler A.J. Green and selected Tee Higgins in the second round of April's draft. As a rookie, Burrow will have a solid group of offensive weapons on the perimeter and a running back in Joe Mixon, who eclipsed 1,423 yards from scrimmage in 2018 and 2019.
Offensively, the Bengals could shock some teams with their firepower if Burrow gets off to a quick start in his pro career.
Cleveland Browns: HC Kevin Stefanski Set to Employ Zone-Run Scheme
Going into the 2020 season, the Cleveland Browns' star players on offense will be under the microscope.
Quarterback Baker Mayfield had a disappointing 2019 campaign, throwing for 22 touchdowns and 21 interceptions with a 59.4 percent completion rate.
Odell Beckham Jr. said "this is my time" after he battled through his first campaign in Cleveland with a sports hernia. The star wideout logged 74 receptions for 1,035 yards and four touchdowns. That's a drop-off from his three Pro Bowl years with the New York Giants when he eclipsed 1,304 receiving yards in each term between 2014 and 2016.
Yet the Browns' offensive success may be rooted on the ground. Working with Gary Kubiak, Kevin Stefanski employed a zone-run scheme that propelled the Minnesota Vikings to sixth in rushing last year.
Stefanski is expected to bring the zone-run concept to Cleveland. According to former Browns guard John Greco, per Tom Reed of The Athletic, the scheme fits the team's personnel.
"It’s made for guys who are extremely athletic and can run and make blocks on the run," Greco said. "JC moves really well and Conklin moves really well and has good footwork and technique. Now, you’re adding a kid like Wills who’s so athletic."
In 2019, running back Nick Chubb ranked second in rushing yards (1,494). The Browns re-signed Kareem Hunt—the league's leading rusher in 2017. Together, they can replicate what tailbacks Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison did for the Vikings on the ground in 2019.
As an added bonus, Mayfield and Beckham shouldn't have to bail the offense out of constant 3rd-and-long situations with a ground attack that moves the ball with consistency on early downs. The Browns can lighten the pressure on their stars with an effective scheme that worked for Stefanski at his previous stop in Minnesota.
Dallas Cowboys: HC Mike McCarthy Brings New Voice, Winning Pedigree
For the most part, former Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett kept the team in the playoff hunt but failed to push this squad over the hump and deep into the playoffs.
Garrett served nine years in a full-time role. He led the Cowboys to just three double-digit-win seasons. Dallas finished with an 8-8 record or worse five times on his watch. He's won 56 percent of his games as a lead skipper.
As a head coach, Mike McCarthy has won 62 percent of his games with eight double-digit-win campaigns. Yes, he coached Hall of Famer Brett Favre and a potential future Hall of Famer in Aaron Rodgers, but the former Green Bay Packers lead skipper deserves some credit for harnessing the talent in both signal-callers.
Perhaps quarterback Dak Prescott reaches an All-Pro level with more playoff success under McCarthy.
As the Cowboys know, a roster full of playmakers doesn't necessarily equal wins. Just look at last year's team, which featured four players who made the initial 2019 Pro Bowl roster, the No. 1 offense and No. 9 defense in total yards. Dallas still went 8-8 without a playoff berth.
The Cowboys needed a new voice in the locker room. In the NFL, coaching matters. Dallas made arguably the best hire with a retread who has Super Bowl experience and worked with high-profile players like Favre and Rodgers. McCarthy is equipped to handle the spotlight with America's Team and optimize the talent on an underachieving roster.
Denver Broncos: QB Drew Lock's Offensive Weapons
The Denver Broncos set up quarterback Drew Lock for success in 2020.
General manager and president of football operations John Elway signed running back Melvin Gordon III. Although he's expected to take over the lead role, per NFL Network's James Palmer, Phillip Lindsay, who eclipsed 1,010 rushing yards in his first two seasons, will likely remain a factor on the ground.
Gordon, who's recorded 224 receptions for 1,873 yards and 11 touchdowns in his career, should serve as a high-level pass-catching target out of the backfield. He'll exploit favorable matchups against linebackers on underneath routes.
The Broncos signed guard Graham Glasgow and drafted Lloyd Cushenberry III to shore up the interior of the offensive line. They could expand holes for Gordon and Lindsay on the ground.
Elway added two more playmakers early in the draft. He selected Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler in the first and second rounds, respectively. The former earned the 2018 Fred Biletnikoff Award and racked up 145 receptions, 2,478 yards and 24 touchdowns over the last two terms at Alabama. The latter brings pure speed and big-play ability out of the slot.
Tight end Noah Fant, wideout Courtland Sutton, Jeudy and Hamler are an underrated pass-catching group. If the rookies contribute, the Broncos' aerial attack will be much improved after the offense ranked 28th in scoring and yards last season.
Detroit Lions: HC Matt Patricia Reunites with More Familiar Faces
As the defensive coordinator for the New England Patriots between 2012 and 2017, Matt Patricia fielded a top-10 scoring defense in each of those terms. Once he accepted the head coaching job in Detroit, the former assistant left several playmakers behind.
Heading into his third year with the Lions, Patricia may rely heavily on four former Patriots defenders in starting roles, including defensive end Trey Flowers, tackle Danny Shelton, linebacker Jamie Collins and safety Duron Harmon. The team signed the latter three during the offseason.
Collins, Shelton and Harmon were solid contributors to the Patriots' No. 1 scoring defense last season, combining for 107 solo tackles, 13 for loss, 10 sacks, 12 pass breakups and five interceptions. Detroit needs every bit of defensive help after giving up the second-most yards in 2019.
Patricia's familiarity with prominent starters should help the Lions tighten up against their opponents.
Detroit hasn't fielded a top-10 scoring defense since its last double-digit-win campaign in 2014. That year, the offense ranked just 22nd in points. A tighter unit could bring this club out of the NFC North cellar.
Green Bay Packers: Potential Growth of Young Wide Receivers
The Green Bay Packers had a somewhat puzzling 2020 draft haul, completely bypassing a talented group of incoming wide receivers. On the other hand, multiple in-house players at the position could develop into solid contributors.
Last season, Allen Lazard had some flashy moments. He logged three catches for 103 yards and a touchdown against the New York Giants in a 31-13 Week 13 victory. The Iowa State product finished second on the team in receiving yards (477). At 6'5", 227 pounds, Lazard has the potential to show up big in the red zone and on third down.
Marquez Valdes-Scantling has started 20 of 32 contests in two years. Despite inconsistencies, registering a 49.6 percent catch rate, he's averaging 16.1 yards per reception with three 100-yard games. Big plays are his calling card. Perhaps a third term with quarterback Aaron Rodgers will tie up loose ends, which would allow him to become a more reliable pass-catcher.
Equanimeous St. Brown seems like the forgotten wideout on the roster. During his rookie campaign, he recorded 21 receptions for 328 yards, moving the chains for 13 first downs, but missed all of 2019 because of a high ankle sprain. If he picks up where he left off his first year, the Packers would have another viable threat in the passing game.
Green Bay's offense won't have a rookie sensation at wide receiver, but Lazard, Valdes-Scantling and St. Brown could push for prominent roles.
Houston Texans: All Starters on Offensive Line Return
On paper, the Houston Texans offensive line marginally improved between the 2018 and 2019 campaigns. According to Football Outsiders, the five-man unit went from last to 27th in pass protection. After quarterback Deshaun Watson took a league-high 62 sacks, that number dropped to 44.
Going into this season, the Texans have kept their offensive line intact, which provides hope for stronger chemistry and improved blocking in the trenches.
The front office made left tackle Laremy Tunsil the highest-paid (annually) offensive lineman. Left guard Max Scharping and right tackle Tytus Howard will have opportunities to grow as second-year starters.
According to John McClain of the Houston Chronicle, the team has an interest in right guard Larry Warford, whom the New Orleans Saints released. If the two sides come to an agreement on a deal, Zach Fulton could be on the way out.
Watson will need more time to scan the field as he builds a rapport with his new receivers, Randall Cobb and Brandin Cooks. Will Fuller V and Kenny Stills are set to round out the group of speedy wideouts.
Watson won't be able to rely on DeAndre Hopkins' physicality and ability to outmuscle defenders at the catch point. Instead, his timing with a quick-twitch group will be the key to moving the ball through the air. A five-man unit that's familiar with each other can give him a couple of seconds to build those connections.
We could also see running back David Johnson eclipse 1,000 rushing yards for the first time since 2016. Carlos Hyde passed that marker with the team in 2019.
Indianapolis Colts: Two Plug-and-Play Rookies on Offense
The Indianapolis Colts made a change at quarterback, signing Philip Rivers to replace Jacoby Brissett, who's set to move into a backup role. However, the team's second-round draft picks could make a bigger difference for the offense.
The Colts may have a solid No. 2 wide receiver to complement T.Y. Hilton. Head coach Frank Reich plans to use Michael Pittman Jr. to win matchups on the perimeter, per Jim Ayello of the Indianapolis Star.
"We envision Michael as that 'X' receiver that every now and then you can just say, 'Hey, they are playing a lot of man coverage. Let's put him into the boundary and throw on-on-one and expect him to win,'" Reich said.
At 6'4", 223 pounds, Pittman runs smooth routes. Even with a cornerback draped all over him, he can haul in a reception for a big play.
Reich can lean on a two-man ground attack, featuring Marlon Mack and rookie Jonathan Taylor. The Colts should be able to take advantage of a stout offensive line. Last year, the team's ball-carriers averaged 2.5 yards per carry before initial contact, which tied for sixth leaguewide.
In 2019, Mack ran for a career-high 1,091 yards. Taylor led the Big Ten in rushing yards in each of his three terms at Wisconsin. He finished the 2018 campaign as college football's leading rusher with 2,194 yards.
Pittman and Taylor should elevate the Colts offense through the air and on the ground in 2020. Expect a boost in scoring totals.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Full Dose of Minshew Mania
The Jacksonville Jaguars possibly made a mistake when they pulled quarterback Gardner Minshew II out of the starting lineup for Nick Foles after a 26-3 loss to the Houston Texans at Wembley Stadium in 2019. The logic made sense, though. The team signed the latter to a four-year, $88 million deal and needed to see the return on its investment.
The Jaguars traded Foles to the Chicago Bears, selected Jake Luton in the sixth round of April's draft and added Mike Glennon, who hasn't started a game since 2017. Minshew is in line to open the upcoming season under center, and that's not a bad situation.
In 2019, the Jaguars went 6-6 with Minshew as the starter. He threw for 3,271 yards, 21 touchdowns and just six interceptions. In addition, the 23-year-old showed poise in the pocket, engineering three fourth-quarter comebacks and game-winning drives.
Minshew won't have to look over his shoulder going into the 2020 campaign. Without much to lose, he can play freely, and that may lead to more wins. If the Washington State product falls flat, the Jaguars could be in position for the No. 1 overall pick and a shot at top quarterback prospects Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields, pending their decisions to declare for the 2021 draft.
Nonetheless, we shouldn't overlook Minshew. He built a solid rapport with Pro Bowl wide receiver DJ Chark Jr., Chris Conley and Dede Westbrook. The Jaguars selected versatile wideout Laviska Shenault Jr. in the second round of the 2020 draft. Jacksonville's passing attack features a group with some promise and high potential.
Kansas City Chiefs: RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire Adds More Spark to Offense
Did the Kansas City Chiefs need help on offense? No, not really. Nevertheless, general manager Brett Veach picked up Clyde Edwards-Helaire with the 32nd overall pick.
Edwards-Helaire racked up 1,867 yards (1,414 rushing and 453 receiving) and 17 touchdowns from scrimmage in his last term at LSU. He displayed nuanced route-running ability, which yielded more production as a pass-catcher in 2019.
If Edwards-Helaire picks up pass-protection duties, the Chiefs coaching staff will likely use him on all three downs.
Even though the Chiefs fielded the fifth-ranked scoring offense this past campaign, the ground attack checked in 23rd. No ball-carrier on the roster reached 500 yards on the ground.
Damien Williams had a strong showing during the 2019 playoffs, racking up 290 yards and six touchdowns from scrimmage. Nonetheless, the team needs more consistency at the position through the regular season. Edwards-Helaire could add balance to the Chiefs' offensive attack as a complement to Williams.
Las Vegas Raiders: New Intriguing Offensive Weapons
The Las Vegas Raiders tried to add a spark to their offense last offseason, acquiring wideout Antonio Brown in exchange for a third and fifth-round pick. Yet the team received nothing but turmoil and eventually released the four-time All-Pro upon his request.
With the move to Vegas, general manager Mike Mayock and head coach Jon Gruden added some juice to the offense, selecting three offensive skill-position players in the 2020 draft.
In the opening round, the Raiders took the first swing at a wide receiver, picking up Henry Ruggs III with the 12th overall pick. The Alabama product is more than just a speedy threat. He has reliable hands as well, dropping just three of his 123 targets since 2018, per Pro Football Focus. The 5'11", 188-pounder also runs a full route tree.
With back-to-back third-round picks, the Silver and Black selected Lynn Bowden Jr. and Bryan Edwards. The former will start out as a running back, according to Mayock.
At 6'3", 212 pounds, Edwards could become an immediate threat in the red zone. The Raiders struggled in that area last year, converting 52.8 percent of their trips inside the 20-yard line into touchdowns, which ranked 22nd leaguewide.
Bowden registered 2,833 (1,530 rushing and 1,303 receiving) yards from scrimmage through three terms at Kentucky. Although he's expected to spell Josh Jacobs at running back, the versatile playmaker is bound to catch some passes out of the backfield.
In 2019, quarterback Derek Carr force-fed the ball to tight end Darren Waller in stretches while Tyrell Williams battled plantar fasciitis through most of the year. Hunter Renfrow recorded consecutive 100-yard games in the last two weeks of the season, but he doesn't have the speed or size to physically challenge defenders.
Now, Carr can spread the ball around. Ruggs can rack up yards after the catch with his 4.27-second 40-yard-dash speed. Edwards can win one-on-one matchups with his size. Bowden is the wild-card playmaker who will garner attention wherever he lines up.
Los Angeles Chargers: QB Tyrod Taylor with Stacked Pass-Catching Group
Tyrod Taylor's resume as a starter won't excite you. He hasn't thrown for more than 20 touchdowns or eclipsed 3,100 passing yards as a first-string signal-caller.
With a 23-21-1 record in a starting role, Taylor seems destined for another mediocre campaign, but we have to adjust our outlook on his 2020 season.
In Buffalo, Taylor worked with head coach Anthony Lynn between the 2015 and 2016 terms and served as a backup to Philip Rivers in 2019. He should be familiar with the offensive system.
Furthermore, Taylor will have a loaded pass-catching group featuring Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Hunter Henry and Austin Ekeler. He hasn't played with a set of playmakers comparable to this collection of talent.
With the Bills, Taylor had one receiver (Sammy Watkins) who eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards through three years as a full-time starter. None of the other Bills pass-catchers eclipsed 613 yards between 2015 and 2017. Last year, Allen, Williams and Ekeler all recorded at least 993 receiving yards.
Unlike Rivers, Taylor can extend plays with his legs, which gives pass-catchers more time to separate downfield. Lynn can also open up the playbook to include bootlegs and run-pass options to keep defenders off balance.
During an interview with Good Morning Football on NFL Network, Ekeler said he thinks Taylor "is the front-runner [for the starting job] as of now."
Taylor needs to keep any chatter about rookie quarterback and No. 6 overall pick Justin Herbert out of his head. With some focus, he could put together his best year with a plethora of offensive weapons around him.
Los Angeles Rams: RB Cam Akers Equipped for Big Role
The Los Angeles Rams released Todd Gurley and created a void in the backfield. General manager Les Snead selected Cam Akers with the No. 52 overall pick. The rookie has to learn the ropes before he can earn a significant role, but he has the skill set to take over the lead position.
Head coach Sean McVay believes Akers can fit right into the offense, per Joe Cook of 16 WAPT Sports.
"I think when you just look at it he's a great playmaker," McVay said. "He's got the ability to take the handoff from the dot in the offset gun, he can make plays in the pass game. Love just his demeanor and disposition too."
Through three terms at Florida State, Akers recorded 3,361 yards (2,875 rushing and 486 receiving) and 34 touchdowns from scrimmage. Clearly, he's a capable dual-threat playmaker who can handle the majority workload.
According to TeamRankings.com, Akers had nine fumbles as a collegian. If he tightens up his ball security, the Rams should have a viable ground attack, which bodes well for quarterback Jared Goff, who took a step back (22 touchdowns and 16 interceptions) along with the rushing offense (26th) in 2019.
Miami Dolphins: Starting Secondary Full of Playmakers
The Miami Dolphins made the biggest investment in free agency, signing Pro Bowl cornerback Byron Jones to a five-year, $82.5 million contract. That's a steep price to pay, though this defense features arguably the top pair of boundary defenders in football.
Jones will line up opposite Xavien Howard, who logged a league-leading seven interceptions in 2018. The latter may face discipline for a domestic violence incident, though Broward County prosecutors dropped the case, per Adam H. Beasley of the Miami Herald.
If Howard plays through most of the season, opposing quarterbacks will find it difficult to expose holes on the perimeter of the Dolphins defense. Furthermore, Miami selected Noah Igbinoghene in the first round of April's draft to shore up the slot position. In case he falters, Bobby McCain can move from safety to the inside cornerback spot.
For now, McCain will line up in center field, where he spent most of the 2019 term. He registered three pass breakups and two interceptions through nine outings but landed on injured reserve with a shoulder injury.
Alongside McCain, Eric Rowe could continue to grow in a versatile role, taking snaps in the slot, in the box and on the perimeter if Howard misses time. He logged a career-high 54 solo tackles, eight pass breakups and an interception last year.
Nik Needham, a 2019 undrafted product out of UTEP, turned heads with a strong rookie term, registering a team-leading 11 pass breakups, two interceptions, 41 solo tackles and a sack. If the Dolphins need reinforcements in the event of injuries on the back end, he's more than capable of filling in for a starter.
Overall, the Dolphins have Pro Bowlers, versatility and depth in their secondary. After giving up the most touchdowns through the air during the last campaign, this pass defense could see a significant turnaround in 2020.
Minnesota Vikings: WR Justin Jefferson's Impact on Passing Game
The Minnesota Vikings traded Stefon Diggs, but his replacement has the potential to fill the void at wide receiver. The front office selected Justin Jefferson with the 22nd overall pick in this year's draft, which indicates the rookie will have a significant role on offense.
Primarily out of the slot, Jefferson had an impressive junior campaign at LSU, accumulating 1,540 receiving yards and 18 touchdowns.
Head coach Mike Zimmer took note of Jefferson's traits that factored into his breakout year. During a segment on ESPN's NFL Live (h/t Garrett Stepien of 247Sports), he highlighted the rookie's strengths.
"[When] he was in contested catches, he was one of the best in the country," Zimmer said. "He was able to line up in all the different positions on the offense and run all kinds of different routes. So he looked like a professional right from the start, but his acceleration, the way he [moved]—even liked his touchdown dances."
Zimmer suggests Jefferson can move across the offensive formation and pointed to the wide receiver's route-running ability. The rookie first-rounder will likely take snaps in spots other than the slot. His versatility gives offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak more options in the passing attack.
While wide receiver Adam Thielen garners most of the focus on passing downs, Jefferson should be an early factor with his pro-ready skill set.
New England Patriots: 2 Key Offensive Linemen Healthy
Right now, the New England Patriots seem prepared to give quarterback Jarrett Stidham a shot to lead the huddle. He's the "leading candidate" to start, per ESPN's Mike Reiss.
As the potential successor to Tom Brady, Stidham will have all eyes fixated on him. He could have a top-notch offensive line for the upcoming term.
Last year, tackle Isaiah Wynn went into training camp recovering from a torn Achilles that cost him his entire rookie campaign. He landed on injured reserve with turf toe and missed eight contests in 2019. The Georgia product started in the final six outings but needs to stay healthy for a full 16-game slate.
Center David Andrews sat out the 2019 season because of blood clots. He expects to move forward without lingering complications, per Chris Mason of MassLive.com.
"I haven't been told that," Andrews said when asked whether he had any restrictions imposed on him. "Part of it was the medicine I was on and I'm off that medicine so I can go about living my normal life."
At full strength, Wynn and Andrews would be solid pieces for an offensive line that ranked ninth and fifth in run- and pass-blocking, respectively, per Football Outsiders.
With a stronger front line, Stidham should have a decent amount of time in a clean pocket. The Patriots may also see a boost on the ground after ranking 18th in rushing last year.
New Orleans Saints: Emmanuel Sanders Provides Solid No. 2 WR Option
- 2018: Tre'Quan Smith: 28 receptions, 427 yards and five touchdowns
- 2019: Ted Ginn Jr. 30 receptions, 421 yards and two touchdowns
The New Orleans Saints haven't had a reliable No. 2 wide receiver since 2017 when Ted Ginn Jr. recorded 53 receptions for 787 yards and four touchdowns.
Over the previous two years, the second-most productive wide receiver on the roster has posted pedestrian numbers:
The Saints' lack of production from a secondary wideout hasn't adversely affected Michael Thomas' ability to break free and make plays. He led the league in receptions over the last two seasons and also racked up the most yards (1,725) in 2019. The two-time All-Pro will have some help in the next term.
New Orleans signed Emmanuel Sanders, who's registered at least 66 receptions and 868 yards in five of the last six years. In 2019, despite battling a rib injury, he provided a spark to the San Francisco 49ers passing attack, logging two 100-yard games and three touchdowns through 10 outings.
Assuming Sanders stays healthy, he's a solid secondary option behind Thomas. The savvy veteran can beat defenders with his crisp routes.
New York Giants: QB Daniel Jones' Potential Second-Year Growth
General manager Dave Gettleman took criticism when he picked Daniel Jones with the No. 6 overall pick in 2019. Nonetheless, the Duke product showed some promising flashes as a rookie. He threw for 3,027 yards, 24 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
In Week 2 of the previous campaign, Jones took over for quarterback Eli Manning and led the New York Giants to a thrilling 32-31 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in his second game, scoring four total touchdowns. He beat the Washington Redskins in the following outing but lost nine of his last 10 starts.
Going into his second season, Jones will have a full deck of pass-catchers featuring Golden Tate, Sterling Shepard, Darius Slayton, Evan Engram and Saquon Barkley out of the backfield. Even though the group must adjust to Jason Garrett as the new play-caller, the collective talent has the ability to put up points in bunches.
If Barkley avoids significant injury, he'll take some pressure off Jones. The 23-year-old tailback has averaged 4.8 yards per carry.
The Giants selected offensive tackle Andrew Thomas to shore up their pass protection. In 2019, Nate Solder allowed 11 sacks, per Pro Football Focus. If Big Blue decides to move on from him, rookie third-rounder Matt Peart could see some action on the perimeter as well.
Now, with added talent at tackle, Jones can stay upright in the pocket and take fewer hits, which may help his ball security after fumbling a league-leading 18 times last season.
New York Jets: New-Look Offensive Line
The New York Jets should be excited about wide receiver Denzel Mims, who can burn a defense on any given play with his 4.38-second 40-yard-dash speed and the way he goes after the ball at a high point.
However, Mims nor any Jets wide receiver will see timely, accurate passes if quarterback Sam Darnold has to consistently evade relentless pocket pressure.
General manager Joe Douglas found help for Darnold in terms of protection. During free agency, the Jets signed versatile tackle George Fant, guard Greg Van Roten and center Connor McGovern. The club also re-signed Alex Lewis, who started 12 contests at left guard in 2019.
Gang Green took massive tackle Mekhi Becton in the first round of the 2020 draft. At 6'7", 364 pounds, he's going to roll some bodies in pass- and run-blocking situations.
The Jets will sort out positions for their offensive linemen throughout the preseason. Douglas took the first and necessary step toward improving arguably the weakest unit on last year's roster. According to Football Outsiders, New York's front line ranked 31st and 30th in run- and pass-blocking, respectively.
Darnold, along with running backs Le'Veon Bell and Frank Gore, should see more open space behind Becton, who can clear an area.
As for Darnold, a fortified offensive line may help his development. He needs to show improvement after throwing 36 touchdowns and 28 interceptions with a 59.9 percent completion rate through two seasons. The 22-year-old signal-caller could build some confidence with more time in a clean pocket.
Philadelphia Eagles: Returning and Added Speed at Wide Receiver
Last season, the Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver unit fell apart. After three games, DeSean Jackson landed on injured reserve with a core-muscle issue that required surgery. Alshon Jeffery suffered a Lisfranc injury in December. Nelson Agholor battled a knee ailment down the stretch.
Jeffery's recovery timetable remains uncertain. General manager Howie Roseman refused to comment on the wideout's status in late February, per Paul Domowitch of the Philadelphia Enquirer.
Jackson had an electric first outing with quarterback Carson Wentz, hauling in eight receptions for 154 yards and two touchdowns. During an interview with Thai Floyd of Bar None Media, the wideout said, "I'll be back stronger than ever."
The Eagles traded for Marquise Goodwin, who's battled several injuries since 2018. If he makes the roster, the Olympic track and field athlete is capable of hauling in a couple of deep balls in any given contest.
Roseman made a crucial decision with the No. 21 overall pick. He chose Jalen Reagor over Justin Jefferson, who was a popular match for the Eagles in mock drafts, per NFL Network's Mike Garafolo.
Reagor saw a significant drop-off in production between the 2018 and 2019 terms with true freshman Max Duggan at the helm last year. The speedy wideout went from a 1,000-plus-yard receiver to just 611 yards in his final campaign at TCU.
Still, Reagor offers an explosive component in the aerial attack—something the Eagles sorely missed in 2019. As Jackson enters his age-34 season, the receiving group needs another over-the-top threat to carry the torch in Philadelphia. The rookie pass-catcher could be a secondary spark plug this season.
Pittsburgh Steelers: QB Ben Roethlisberger's Return
Without Ben Roethlisberger, the Pittsburgh Steelers went into Week 15 in the playoff hunt at 8-5 last year. They lost the final three games. But the return of their starting signal-caller, paired with a top-five scoring defense, should give this club optimism for 2020.
The Steelers haven't finished with a losing record since they selected Roethlisberger in the 2004 draft. Based on that incredible statistic alone, Pittsburgh looks like a safe bet to be at or above .500.
Although Roethlisberger is now going into his age-38 season, he put the offense on his arm as recently as 2018, throwing for career highs in yards (5,129) and touchdowns (34).
While the two-time Super Bowl champion watched from the sideline during the 2019 campaign, the coaching staff developed a strong defense that kept the team competitive despite a subpar offense that ranked 27th in scoring.
Roethlisberger won't have to carry the team when he goes back under center in 2020.
The defense led the league in sacks for a third consecutive season. Early in the 2019 term, the front office acquired safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. He became an All-Pro, logging nine pass breakups and five interceptions. T.J. Watt also became an All-Pro for the first time. Linebacker Devin Bush had an impressive rookie campaign, recording 109 tackles, nine tackles for loss, four pass breakups, two interceptions and a sack.
Secondly, the Steelers have depth in the backfield with James Conner, Benny Snell Jr., Jaylen Samuels and rookie fourth-rounder Anthony McFarland Jr. at running back. If Conner struggles with injuries as he did during the previous term, the backups can pick up the slack.
With a balanced roster and their starting signal-caller back in action, the Steelers should give the Baltimore Ravens a tough challenge for the AFC North title.
San Francisco 49ers: New Faces in Wide Receiver Group
The San Francisco 49ers allowed 33-year-old wideout Emmanuel Sanders to walk in free agency. On the flip side, they'll welcome some youth at the position.
The 49ers selected Brandon Aiyuk in the first round of the 2020 draft. Because of the team's investment in him, expect the Arizona State product to see early opportunities across from Deebo Samuel in the starting lineup.
In 2019, Aiyuk registered 65 receptions for 1,192 yards and eight touchdowns. He underwent core-muscle surgery about two weeks before the draft, but that shouldn't prevent him from taking the field in September. The 6'0", 201-pound wideout ran a 4.5-second 40-yard dash, and he's elusive after the catch, which sounds similar to Samuel, who ran a 4.48 at his NFL Scouting Combine workout.
The 49ers may see Jalen Hurd on the field during the regular season for the first time. He missed his rookie campaign because of a broken back.
At Tennessee, Hurd played running back for three terms and then transferred to Baylor, where he transitioned to wide receiver. He finished his collegiate career with 4,282 yards (2,844 rushing and 1,438 receiving) and 33 touchdowns from scrimmage.
Hurd has the versatility that can activate head coach Kyle Shanahan's creative offensive mind and allow him to frustrate opposing defenses as a matchup nightmare.
Seattle Seahawks: Revamped Pass Rush
Defensive end Jadeveon Clowney left the door open for a return to Seattle, though the Seahawks aren't desperate for his services.
Seattle went full-throttle in an attempt to bolster its pass rush. General manager John Schneider added a pair of notable veterans and drafted two rookies to fill voids on the edges.
Bruce Irvin and Benson Mayowa will play in their second stints with the Seahawks. They combined for 15.5 sacks last year, suiting up for the Carolina Panthers and then-Oakland Raiders, respectively.
Seattle selected Darrell Taylor (second round) and Alton Robinson (fifth round) to inject youth into its pass-rushing group. The youngsters logged 19.5 and 19.0 sacks, respectively, during their collegiate careers.
Counting Rasheem Green and L.J. Collier, Seattle can roll out six different defenders to pressure the pocket. Opposing offensive lines could have trouble against that deep rotation.
Fresh pass-rushers in the fourth quarter could be the key to closing out tight games.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Tom Brady Arrives with Rob Gronkowski
"Tompa Bay" has a nice ring to it, which is why Tom Brady wants to trademark the phrase. He's brought new expectations to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Caesars Palace lists this club's odds to make the Super Bowl at +1000, and this is a franchise that hasn't made the playoffs since the 2007-08 campaign.
Brady isn't headed south alone. Tight end Rob Gronkowski came out of retirement to join his former New England Patriots teammate in Tampa Bay.
When you think about an unstoppable connection from the Patriots offense, Brady-to-Gronkowski immediately comes to mind. They're both a little older, but the Buccaneers have Pro Bowl wide receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin to do the heavy lifting in the passing game.
If Gronkowski can still pose a threat in the red zone, he'll be worth the fourth-round pick Tampa Bay surrendered in the trade with New England to acquire him.
In Brady's "down season," he threw for 4,057 yards and 24 touchdowns, which ranked seventh and 13th, respectively, among quarterbacks leaguewide. Now, he has a plethora of offensive playmakers. In addition to Evans, Godwin and Gronkowski, he has tight ends O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate.
Brady raises the bar on the team's short-term outlook. Gronkowski adds a little excitement. With a season off to recover from any nagging injuries, don't count him out as a dominant pass-catcher for stretches in 2020. He's still only 31.
Tennessee Titans: QB Ryan Tannehill's Encore
In 2019, Ryan Tannehill earned the Comeback Player of the Year honor and became a first-time Pro Bowler. He also led the league in yards gained per pass completion (13.6) and quarterback rating (117.5).
Can he one-up himself?
Tannehill exceeded expectations after he took over for Marcus Mariota last season. The Tennessee Titans acquired him and a 2019 sixth-round pick in exchange for a 2019 seventh-rounder and a 2020 fourth-rounder, and that transaction saved their campaign.
Now, with a full offseason to prepare and time to jell with his playmakers, Tannehill could continue to elevate his ceiling, which sounds odd for an eight-year veteran. However, he may have found an ideal fit in play-caller Arthur Smith's offense.
The Titans franchise-tagged running back Derrick Henry, and the two sides have been in talks to iron out a long-term deal before July 15, per ESPN's Adam Schefter. Wideout A.J. Brown emerged as an explosive pass-catcher with Tannehill under center. As they build chemistry, Tennessee should see more balance in its offensive production, taking some pressure off Henry.
Tannehill, Henry and Brown deserve a little more recognition as a viable trio going into 2020. This core group will be responsible for a lot of points scored.
Washington Redskins: Potential to Field Shutdown Defense
Since 2017, the Washington Redskins have ranked top-10 in sacks each season. The front seven shot gaps and burst through offensive lines under former defensive coordinator Greg Manusky. On the other hand, his units also ranked 27th in scoring twice in the last three years.
Ron Rivera took over the head-coaching position and hired Jack Del Rio to serve as the defensive coordinator. Between the two, they have overseen or been on 11 coaching staffs that fielded top-10 scoring defenses.
On top of the resumes of the Redskins' head coach and defensive coordinator, the team selected edge-rusher Chase Young with the No. 2 overall pick. He'll join a strong pass rush, which sounds like a nightmare for opposing offensive lines.
Young logged 30.5 sacks at Ohio State and will likely command double-teams early in his career. He should be an early favorite to win Defensive Rookie of Year.
Safety Landon Collins is the only name that jumps off the paper in the secondary, but as the San Francisco 49ers showed during the last term, a dominant front line can spearhead a top-notch unit.
With Young, Montez Sweat, Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne and Matthew Ioannidis in the front seven, the Redskins defense could make a definitive statement as one of the league's best units next season.