9 NFL Players Set to Make a Significant Impact on Their New Teams in 2020
NFL general managers strike deals with top free agents or other clubs via trade with the hope that their acquisitions make immediate impacts. At times, a playoff contender or a middling team just needs an extra push to get over the hump.
Typically, changes at quarterback can affect a team's outlook for the season, though we can't forget about star wide receivers, pass-rushers and other high-performance playmakers.
This offseason, veteran signal-callers flooded the open market. Multiple NFL teams executed blockbuster trades for star players. Former first-rounders found new homes.
With those team additions in mind, along with other notable signings, we'll take a look at which players will make the biggest contributions to their new teams for the 2020 campaign.
QB Tom Brady, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Even at 42 years old, going on 43 in August, Tom Brady moves the needle.
Despite a down campaign in 2019, he posted decent numbers, throwing for 4,057 yards, 24 touchdowns and eight interceptions with a depleted receiver group. Julian Edelman was the only New England Patriots wideout to eclipse 400 yards.
This year, Brady will be throwing to Mike Evans and Chris Godwin—both wide receivers eclipsed 1,150 yards last season. He'll also reunite with former Patriots teammate Rob Gronkowski. Their chemistry should lead to big-time third-down conversions and touchdowns within the red zone.
While some critics think Father Time will lead Brady toward decline, Tampa Bay Buccaneers edge-rusher Shaquil Barrett talked about his raised expectations for the team on ESPN's Get Up!.
"I think with Brady it just makes us an automatic contender for the Super Bowl," Barrett said at the end of last month. "With Jameis [Winston], I think we would have been a playoff contender."
Barrett isn't alone with his thoughts. According to Caesars Casino and Sportsbook, the Buccaneers have the best odds within the NFC South to win Super Bowl LV (+1200, $100 bet wins $1,200) following a 7-9 campaign.
WR DeAndre Hopkins, Arizona Cardinals
Opposing defenses must prepare for a quarterback-wide receiver tandem that could rapidly develop into one of the best in the league.
In March, the Arizona Cardinals pulled off a trade for DeAndre Hopkins, who earned first-team All-Pro honors in each of the previous three terms. Between the 2017 and 2019 campaigns, he recorded the most touchdown receptions (31) and the third-most receiving yards (4,115).
With the Houston Texans, Hopkins immediately clicked with quarterback Deshaun Watson. The 27-year-old wideout now has another dynamic signal-caller in Kyler Murray and expects to up his production within head coach Kliff Kingsbury's scheme.
"Obviously, I've played with a lot of quarterbacks and put up great numbers, being in offenses that necessarily weren't a pass-first offense," Hopkins said, per ESPN's Josh Weinfuss. "So, myself, being a receiver, of course I see my stats going up."
The Texans didn't rank higher than 20th in pass attempts with Watson and Hopkins on the roster. In 2019, the Cardinals were 18th.
Murray will go into his second year with an elite wide receiver, so Arizona should finish with an uptick in passing plays. If that's the case, Hopkins could put up career numbers in 2020.
WR Stefon Diggs, Buffalo Bills
Quarterback Josh Allen's passing numbers don't look good. He's thrown for 5,163 yards, 30 touchdowns and 21 interceptions with a 56.3 percent completion rate over his first two seasons, but the Wyoming product hasn't played alongside a top-notch wide receiver. Stefon Diggs changes that.
Somehow, Diggs hasn't achieved Pro Bowl honors, though he's topped 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons and put together a strong 2019 campaign, logging 1,130 receiving yards and six touchdowns while averaging 17.9 yards per catch.
Diggs should elevate the Buffalo Bills' 26th-ranked passing offense. Furthermore, as the team's new lead wideout, he could help Allen put up more impressive numbers, which would encourage the front office to pick up the quarterback's fifth-year option next offseason.
The Bills have employed a heavy run-first offense with Allen under center, recording the sixth-most total carries while ranking 28th and 24th in passing attempts for the 2018 and 2019 campaigns, respectively.
If offensive coordinator Brian Daboll opens up the playbook, Allen can use his strong arm to connect with Diggs for big plays downfield.
TE Hayden Hurst, Atlanta Falcons
Up until this point, Hayden Hurst has seemed like a huge bust. The No. 25 overall pick from the 2018 draft has started just four of his 28 games, registering 43 receptions for 512 yards and three touchdowns. He's going to flip the script with the Atlanta Falcons.
In 2019, Hurst and Mark Andrews played the same number of offensive snaps (457) for the Baltimore Ravens, but the latter saw more targets from quarterback Lamar Jackson (98-39).
The Falcons traded a second-round selection and a fifth-rounder to the Ravens for Hurst and a fourth-rounder. He'll likely move into a starting spot as a replacement for Austin Hooper, who signed with the Cleveland Browns in free agency.
Quarterback Matt Ryan has developed a knack for finding his lead tight ends in the aerial attack. Between Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez and the arrival of Hooper (a two-time Pro Bowler), Jacob Tamme—who retired three years ago—posted a career-high 657 receiving yards in 2015.
As a starter with a high-end quarterback who's tight-end friendly, Hurst can shed the bust label and become the Falcons' third solid pass-catcher behind wideouts Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley. The former Raven has a solid 69.4 percent catch rate.
OT Jack Conklin, Cleveland Browns
With or without a new regime, the Cleveland Browns needed an upgrade at right tackle. Chris Hubbard has struggled as a pass protector, giving up six sacks last season, per Pro Football Focus.
Jack Conklin had some missteps against pass-rushers during the previous campaign, allowing four sacks, according to PFF. Yet offensive line coach Bill Callahan sees the offensive tackle as an ideal pickup for the Browns offense.
"You talk about a system fit—you couldn't get a more perfect tackle in free agency than Jack," Callahan said, per Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal. "He fits the mode for the wide zone game and his pass protection sets, how he short sets and he jumps at the line of scrimmage, which is a tough skill to acquire."
Under head coach Kevin Stefanski, the Browns' zone run scheme will allow Conklin to use his athleticism in space. He's capable of blocking through the second-level defenses to create alleys for running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. Both ball-carriers could gash opponents on the strong side of the formation for big gains, which would propel Cleveland's rushing offense into top-10 territory.
We may see Conklin back in All-Pro form within a run-heavy attack.
DE Dante Fowler Jr., Atlanta Falcons
The Atlanta Falcons made a slightly under-the-radar signing of a pass-rusher coming off his best season. Dante Fowler Jr. recorded career highs in sacks (11.5) and tackles for loss (16) with the Los Angeles Rams in 2019.
Fowler has only started 21 of his 63 contests and doesn't have a Pro Bowl on his resume, which explains the low buzz for this acquisition. However, he's provided a pass rush for the Jacksonville Jaguars and Rams, notching at least eight sacks during a term for both clubs.
Last season, for the first time in Fowler's career, he played more than 53 percent of a team's defensive snaps. Perhaps the Florida product just needed a bigger role to reach his potential. The Falcons allowed Vic Beasley Jr. to walk during free agency, which opens up opportunities for the talented edge-rusher.
Fowler can put pressure on two elite quarterbacks within the division, Tom Brady and Drew Brees, which gives the Falcons' a fighting chance to combat two potential top-10 passing attacks.
DE Mario Addison, Buffalo Bills
The Buffalo Bills haven't fielded a 10-sack defender under head coach Sean McDermott. In 2019, the defense ranked 12th in sacks, and then it lost its top two pass-rushers, Jordan Phillips (9.5) and Shaq Lawson (6.5), during free agency.
As a late bloomer, Mario Addison has been overlooked among pass-rushers. Since his breakout 2016 term for the Carolina Panthers, he ranks 11th in sacks (39).
Addison raised his level of productivity in McDermott's final year in Carolina before he accepted the Bills' head-coaching job. He will reunite with his former defensive coordinator as Buffalo looks to bolster its front seven, specifically on the edge.
Defensive end Jerry Hughes is going into his age-32 term following a 4.5-sack campaign. According to The Athletic's Joe Buscaglia, Trent Murphy may have to accept a demotion after starting in 16 contests this past season.
"The Bills' selection of [A.J.] Epenesa officially put Trent Murphy on alert," Buscaglia wrote. "Murphy, on the final year of his contract, was looking at a backup job anyway."
Last season, Buffalo allowed the second-fewest touchdowns through the air and had a solid—not dominant—front line. If Addison continues to push the pocket with consistency, the Bills may field the most complete defense in 2020.
LB Cory Littleton, Las Vegas Raiders
The Las Vegas Raiders have shuffled through several Band-Aid and bargain-bin plug-in linebackers. Since 2015, Curtis Lofton, Perry Riley Jr., NaVorro Bowman and Vontaze Burfict came and went.
Finally, the Raiders invested in a top linebacker who should stick around for a while. With one of its first free-agent moves, the Silver and Black signed Cory Littleton. Unlike the team's former linebackers listed above, the 26-year-old is in his prime, two terms removed from a Pro Bowl campaign.
Littleton profiles as a complete second-level defender who can supplement the run defense, rush the quarterback and cover a receiver in space. He's recorded 315 tackles, 20 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks, 26 pass breakups and six interceptions over his career.
The Raiders must cover tight ends Travis Kelce, Hunter Henry and Noah Fant twice a year within the AFC West. We can also toss in running backs Austin Ekeler and Melvin Gordon III, who are exceptional pass-catchers out of the backfield. Littleton can neutralize or at least limit those playmakers in the short passing game.
CB Darius Slay, Philadelphia Eagles
The Philadelphia Eagles have struggled to patch their holes in pass defense on the perimeter, so their trade with the Detroit Lions for Darius Slay makes sense.
Sidney Jones, a 2017 second-rounder, battled injuries through three seasons, which hindered his early development. He's going into a crucial fourth year after logging eight pass breakups and two interceptions in 2019.
Ronald Darby played well when healthy, but he missed 20 games because of ankle, knee, hamstring and hip injuries over the past three terms. The oft-injured cornerback signed with the Washington Redskins during the offseason.
According to Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio, the Eagles shopped Rasul Douglas in March.
The Eagles acquired Slay for a third- and fifth-round picks. They also signed him to a three-year, $50 million extension. He could solve the coverage issues on one side of the field and match up against the opposing team's lead wideout. The All-Pro cornerback is able to make plays on contested targets and has logged 19 interceptions and 104 pass breakups for his career.
Jones has missed at least four games in each of his campaigns. Avonte Maddox offers inside-out versatility, but the Eagles needed a top-notch cornerback to battle wideouts Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup, as the Dallas Cowboys pose the biggest threat to take the NFC East crown.