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

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistJuly 20, 2020

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

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    Brian Blanco/Associated Press

    As fans anticipate immediate impact from notable acquisitions and player development, their optimistic perspectives for the 2020 campaign remain intact despite an abnormal offseason.

    The rookies may start slowly because of restrictions on practices due to COVID-19, but top talents with short learning curves could shine once teams take the field. Stars won't need as many reps to snap back into game shape. Players with years in the same system should grasp scheme nuances within an abbreviated period.

    Each team has something positive to look toward for the upcoming term, whether it's a rookie's upside, upgrades at a position or steady progress from roster holdovers. 

    Heading into training camp, we'll highlight every club's biggest reason to feel enthusiastic about the 2020 season. The highlighted positives shed light on why each team should improve overall (in the standings) or in a specific area on offense or defense.

Arizona Cardinals: WR DeAndre Hopkins' Impact on Passing Attack

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    Arizona Cardinals wide receivers Larry Fitzgerald (left) and DeAndre Hopkins (right)
    Arizona Cardinals wide receivers Larry Fitzgerald (left) and DeAndre Hopkins (right)Tim Warner/Getty Images

    The Arizona Cardinals didn't draft quarterback Kyler Murray's former Oklahoma teammate CeeDee Lamb, but the front office upgraded the wide receiver position via trade, acquiring DeAndre Hopkins from the Houston Texans.

    Executives, coaches, players and scouts pooled together to rank wide receivers going into 2020. ESPN's Jeremy Fowler compiled the results, and Hopkins listed third.

    "Not the fastest or quickest, but no one can guard him," an offensive coach said. "All the coaches I've talked to say he's got the best hands they've ever seen."

    Hopkins will immediately change the Cardinals' aerial attack. He's physical while running his routes, which allows him to separate when the ball goes in the air. In one-on-one matchups, the three-time All-Pro can win with his strong hands and body control on contested targets.

    With wideout Larry Fitzgerald at the end of his career and Christian Kirk still developing, Hopkins arrives as a prime-time player who's going to demand double-teams and open up the field for his teammates.

Atlanta Falcons: Revamped Pass Rush

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    Atlanta Falcons edge-rusher Dante Fowler Jr.
    Atlanta Falcons edge-rusher Dante Fowler Jr.Meg Oliphant/Getty Images

    The Atlanta Falcons must find ways to slow down their division rivals. Drew Brees and Tom Brady can still play at a high level. Both quarterbacks have quality supporting casts with Pro Bowl and All-Pro receivers.

    Fortunately, Atlanta added a couple of pass-rushers to its defensive line.

    The Falcons allowed edge-rusher Vic Beasley Jr. to walk and replaced him with Dante Fowler Jr., who's coming off his best season. He logged a career-high 11.5 sacks to go along with 35 quarterback pressures, which ranked 14th leaguewide in 2019.

    Fowler should step into the forefront as the Falcons' lead pass-rusher, and he's an ascending talent with 27.5 sacks over the last four seasons.

    ESPN's Vaughn McClure expects rookie second-rounder Marlon Davidson to line up inside, though he played defensive end at Auburn. The Falcons can experiment with him in different spots. Most importantly, his ability to reach the quarterback should pay dividends, as the 6'3", 303-pounder registered 6.5 sacks last year.

Baltimore Ravens: WR Marquise Brown Goes to Camp Healthy

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    Patrick Smith/Getty Images

    As a rookie, Marquise Brown went into training camp on the mend, recovering from Lisfranc surgery. Last offseason, he missed multiple practices and only played 51 percent of the offensive snaps in 2019.

    Baltimore Ravens fullback Pat Ricard posted a short video of Brown during a workout, and the second-year wideout looked healthy and strong.

    In May, Bleacher Report's Tyler Dunne heard a lot of buzz from the Ravens about the budding connection between quarterback Lamar Jackson and Brown, drawing comparisons to Hall of Famers Joe Montana and Jerry Rice during their shared time with the San Francisco 49ers.

    "If jamming these four names together sounds blasphemous to you, it sure doesn't to anyone in Baltimore," Dunne wrote. "This is the expectation for Jackson and Brown, to become the next duo that changes the game."

    In 2019, Jackson led the league in touchdown passes (36) and won MVP. With Brown healthy, the sky's the limit for Baltimore's aerial attack.

    Brown showed limited explosiveness on the field during the previous term, averaging 12.7 yards per reception. Now, at full strength, he could take the top off defenses more frequently in 2020.

Buffalo Bills: WR Stefon Diggs' Impact on Passing Attack

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    Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

    Under head coach Sean McDermott, the Buffalo Bills offense hasn't ranked higher than 22nd in yards or points. That may change in 2020.

    In March, the Bills acquired Stefon Diggs from the Minnesota Vikings, and he'll add some spice to the passing attack.

    During a segment with Adam Schein of Mad Dog Sports Radio, McDermott said he wants to see quarterback Josh Allen "round out his game on the field" in the upcoming season.

    In 2019, John Brown and Cole Beasley served as a decent pair of starting wide receivers, but Diggs' arrival gives Allen an even better trio. The former Vikings wideout reached career highs in receiving yards (1,130) and yards per reception (17.9) last year.

    As an ascending talent, Diggs can force opponents to give a little more respect to the Bills' offensive explosiveness. Running backs Devin Singletary and Zack Moss may not see many eight-man boxes because the safety will have to play the deep ball. Allen has the arm strength to challenge defenses vertically, and he just needs to build a rapport with his new weapon.

Carolina Panthers: Fresh Start with HC Matt Rhule

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    Getty Images/Getty Images

    On the collegiate level, head coach Matt Rhule successfully rebuilt two programs from the ground up. Within three terms, he flipped Temple and Baylor into double-digit win programs. The 45-year-old will now take on his biggest reclamation project as a lead skipper.

    This offseason, the Carolina Panthers wiped the slate clean at quarterback, signing Teddy Bridgewater and releasing Cam Newton. Linebacker Luke Kuechly retired and accepted a position with the team as a pro scout. The club also lost Mario Addison, Bruce Irvin, Gerald McCoy, Dontari Poe, Vernon Butler, Eric Reid and James Bradberry from last year's starting defense.

    On a positive note, Rhule has already earned respect in the locker room, which is pivotal for his transition into the pros. On the RapSheet and Friends podcast with NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, safety Tre Boston shared his thoughts about Rhule.

    "I think this guy has an edge to him. I think he has a certain 'it' that coaches have to have…So, I think Rhule has set himself up for success with his men. We trust him. We believe in him. And when we get together, it's all about building chemistry and knowing that we are the Carolina Panthers and we're gonna do what it takes to win ballgames around here.” 

    Although Bridgewater has starting experience and running back Christian McCaffrey has become a star, Rhule doesn't have an easy fix in Carolina with widespread roster turnover. First, the players must buy into his system. Thus far, he's on the right track.

Chicago Bears: Khalil Mack's New Pass-Rush Partner

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    Chicago Bears edge-rusher Robert Quinn
    Chicago Bears edge-rusher Robert QuinnWinslow Townson/Associated Press

    In Chicago, Khalil Mack hasn't paired with a viable pass-rusher on the opposite end of the defense. Akiem Hicks has made his presence felt on the interior, but 2016 first-rounder Leonard Floyd didn't show much progress after his seven-sack rookie campaign.

    General manager Ryan Pace signed edge-rusher Robert Quinn, who led the Dallas Cowboys in sacks (11.5) last season. He plans to bring his relentless pursuit of the quarterback to Chicago, as the 10th-year veteran described himself as the "icing on the cake" on Terrell Owens' Getcha Popcorn Ready podcast. 

    In 2019, the Bears ranked seventh in quarterback pressures (157), but the defense struggled to close the deal in sacks, tying for 24th with the Las Vegas Raiders.

    As an elite talent, Mack will continue to draw double- and triple-teams. Now, the Bears have a defender who can take advantage of one-on-one matchups on passing downs and seal the edge against the run.

Cincinnati Bengals: QB Joe Burrow Brings in New Era

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    The Cincinnati Bengals went through a brutal 2-14 season, but they landed the No. 1 overall pick, which gave them the opportunity to change the franchise's outlook for the next decade or so.

    Joe Burrow hasn't taken a live snap at practice because of COVID-19 restrictions. Yet, offensive coordinator Bill Callahan likes the quarterback's mental approach, per Geoff Hobson of the team's official website.

    "The guys see his preparation and work ethic. His knowledge of an offense that he's new to, that always grabs people's attention. When they come in and know what to say and how to do it and all the things that are required of a quarterback in an NFL offense, he's exemplified all these things and that gets everyone's attention first." 

    Burrow has shown the physical capabilities to succeed on the professional level, but his preparation habits could make the difference between a successful and disappointing career. The 2019 Heisman Trophy winner has the mobility, anticipation in the pocket and accuracy (68.8 percent as a collegian) to develop into a high-end starter.

    Burrow had quality talent around him at LSU, throwing passes to 2019 Fred Biletnikoff Award winner Ja'Marr Chase and rookie first-rounder Justin Jefferson at wideout. He'll have seven-time Pro Bowler A.J. Green, two-time 1,000-yard receiver Tyler Boyd and rookie second-rounder Tee Higgins this season. The dynamic signal-caller walks into an offense equipped to put up points right away.

Cleveland Browns: A New System for QB Baker Mayfield

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Typically, a quarterback set to learn a third offensive system in three years comes with modest expectations. Yet, Baker Mayfield could take big steps in development under new head coach Kevin Stefanski.

    Stefanski hasn't decided who will call the plays—that decision may become final in August, per Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com.

    "Stefanski will stick with his plan to let the play-calling decision reveal itself during the preseason, whether it's him or offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt handling the chore," Cabot wrote.

    Regardless of who Mayfield hears in his headset, Stefanski will have a major influence on the game plans. Last season, he called the Minnesota Vikings offense, which finished eighth in scoring. 

    In Minnesota, alongside Gary Kubiak, Stefanski employed a run-heavy scheme, featuring running backs Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison. He also utilized tight ends Kyle Rudolph and Irv Smith Jr. in the passing game, and they combined for 75 catches, 678 yards and eight touchdowns.

    David Njoku has requested a trade, per ESPN's Adam Schefter, but fellow tight end Austin Hooper can handle a major role in the passing attack. He's gone to consecutive Pro Bowls, recording at least 71 receptions in each of the last two campaigns.

    With Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt at running back, Mayfield can lean on an effective, high-volume ground attack.

    Mayfield won't have to force throws to wideouts Odell Beckham Jr. or Jarvis Landry to move the ball with consistency, as Stefanski's system should make great use of both running backs and Hooper at tight end.

Dallas Cowboys: QB Dak Prescott's New Wide Receiver

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    Tom Pennington/Getty Images

    Dak Prescott didn't get a new multiyear deal. Instead, the Dallas Cowboys added to his riches in offensive weapons.

    The Cowboys used their first-round pick on who they thought stood out as the best player available as opposed to addressing their biggest position need. 

    At No. 17, CeeDee Lamb went to Dallas. He'll join a wide receiver corps featuring four-time Pro Bowler Amari Cooper and promising third-year pro Michael Gallup, who logged 66 receptions for 1,107 yards and six touchdowns in 2019.

    Lamb had been a key component to Oklahoma's offense for three terms between 2017 and 2019, averaging at least 17.5 yards per reception with 807 yards or more in each campaign.

    Although Lamb lacks top-gear speed, the dynamic wide receiver brings another dimension to the aerial attack. He can haul in a deep pass over the top or shrug off defenders on shorter receptions to extend plays. As a collegian, the 6'2", 198-pounder forced 43 missed tackles, per Pro Football Focus.

    Prescott has a three-wide receiver set that could help him accumulate 5,000-plus passing yards and 30-plus touchdowns in 2020. If that's the case, Dallas may finally lock him into a long-term deal.

Denver Broncos: QB Drew Lock's Supporting Cast

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    Denver Broncos wide receiver Jerry Jeudy
    Denver Broncos wide receiver Jerry JeudyMichael Conroy/Associated Press

    Along with Kyler Murray in Arizona, Drew Lock could experience the most growth among second-year quarterbacks.

    Between veteran and rookie additions on offense, the Denver Broncos put high-quality puzzle pieces around Lock. At training camp, he'll have a chance to formally jell with his new teammates in a structured environment. 

    Lock will work with rookies Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler at wide receiver. They'll join Courtland Sutton, who led the team in all major receiving categories (receptions, yards and touchdowns) last season.

    Graham Glasgow will help solidify the interior of the offensive line for a ground attack that features two capable lead running backs in Melvin Gordon III and Phillip Lindsay. 

    Gordon talked to NFL Network's LaDainian Tomlinson about how he meshes with Lindsay. He described the pairing as "electric" and explained why. 

    "Like I said, he's a Pro Bowl back, himself," Gordon said. "First year, 1,000-yard rusher, like you said. I think we can be a great one-two punch. I'm excited to get with him." 

    If Lock doesn't click with his new wide receivers right away, he can hand off to Gordon and Lindsay until the passing game catches up to speed. The second-year signal-caller has an appealing situation in Denver.

Detroit Lions: A Healthy, Dynamic Backfield

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    Detroit Lions running back D'Andre Swift
    Detroit Lions running back D'Andre SwiftCharlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    Since the Detroit Lions selected Matthew Stafford in 2009, the ground attack hasn't ranked higher than 17th in yards (2013). He's had to take on a major responsibility in moving the ball without consistent help from the running game. 

    The Lions could finally field a balanced offensive attack with two young tailbacks able to threaten defenses as ball-carriers and pass-catchers.

    We saw glimpses of running back Kerryon Johnson, who accumulated 1,384 yards from scrimmage over the last two terms, but he's battled knee injuries, which cost him 14 contests.

    The Lions selected D'Andre Swift in the second round of April's draft. He's arguably the best pass-catching back in this year's class, hauling in 73 passes for 666 yards and five touchdowns through three terms at Georgia.

    According to Evan Petzold of the Detroit Free Press, Swift expects to battle Johnson for snaps.

    "I've been competing all my life," Swift said. "Kerryon is a great back, great player. I remember when he was at Auburn, and he was killing us. He's still doing great in the league."

    Because of Johnson's injury history, Swift could take on a significant role and handle close to half the touches out of the backfield. A competition between the two could lead to a strong collective showing on the ground in 2020.

Green Bay Packers: Development of the Defense

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    Green Bay Packers edge-rusher Za'Darius Smith
    Green Bay Packers edge-rusher Za'Darius SmithRick Osentoski/Associated Press

    The Green Bay Packers defense made significant strides between the 2018 and 2019 seasons thanks in part to an overhaul on that side of the ball.

    Last offseason, general manager Brian Gutekunst added a pair of edge-rushers and safeties who changed the complexion of the defense. Za'Darius Smith and Preston Smith combined for 25.5 sacks and 18 tackles for loss. Nose tackle Kenny Clark earned his first Pro Bowl invite. 

    On the back end, Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage logged a total of four interceptions and 13 pass breakups. Those additions meshed with cornerbacks Jaire Alexander and Kevin King, who had a breakout 2019 campaign, registering five interceptions and 15 pass breakups. 

    The Packers didn't retain their leading tackler, linebacker Blake Martinez. Still, key playmakers up front and in the secondary should keep this unit strong in 2020. 

    Green Bay's defense finished ninth in scoring last season. Assuming training camp starts at the end of July, this group will have another offseason to jell under play-caller Mike Pettine's tutelage. The Packers should further last year's progress on defense with their collective talent.

Houston Texans: More Speed, Experience at Wide Receiver

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    Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Brandin Cooks
    Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Brandin CooksLachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

    Although the Houston Texans lost a star wideout in DeAndre Hopkins, head coach and general manager Bill O'Brien acquired Brandin Cooks from the Los Angeles Rams and signed Randall Cobb. Perhaps the cumulative impact of both acquisitions compensates for the loss of an elite playmaker.

    Cooks has been traded three times, but he's recorded at least 65 receptions and 1,082 yards for each of his teams. The 5'10", 183-pound receiver can threaten defenses with his speed after the catch or vertically. 

    Despite Cooks' history of concussions, O'Brien doesn't seem concerned with the wideout's physical condition, per ESPN's Sarah Barshop

    "Without getting too much into who did the physical on Brandin, but it was a doctor that we felt really good about, that [Texans team physician Walter] Lowe had a personal friendship with…We also spoke with other doctors relative to Brandin and his injuries. Not to get into the details, but we feel really good at where Brandin's at, relative to his health."

    Cobb has nine years of experience, and he's become one the most consistent slot receivers in the league, registering at least 55 receptions and 610 yards in three of the last four campaigns. Coming off a productive term in Dallas (55 catches, 828 yards and three touchdowns), the savvy veteran turns 30 in August with seemingly a lot left in the tank.

Indianapolis Colts: The "One-One Punch" at Running Back

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    Indianapolis Colts running back Jonathan Taylor
    Indianapolis Colts running back Jonathan TaylorMichael Conroy/Associated Press

    Most teams have a featured running back with a change-of-pace ball-carrier who handles a smaller percentage of the workload.

    Indianapolis Colts play-by-play announcer Matt Taylor thinks head coach Frank Reich will split carries between Marlon Mack and Jonathan Taylor, with both running backs able to handle the lead role (h/t Jaylon Thompson of 247 Sports):

    "They call it a one-one punch, not a one-two punch. It's a one-one punch between Mack and Jonathan Taylor … We know Mack was maybe the most underrated bell-cow back in the NFL a year ago, over 1,000 yards. He's a patient, explosive-type runner. Jonathan Taylor is kind of the entire package, which you would want for a running back. Over 6,000 yards in three seasons playing in the Big Ten kind of speaks for itself." 

    Taylor has a track record of eating up yards behind Wisconsin's stout offensive lines between 2017 and 2019. In Indianapolis, he has a five-man unit that remains intact in consecutive terms. The former Badger shouldn't take long to find a clear pathway behind two-time All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson.

    Although quarterback Philip Rivers will garner the focus as he suits up for a new team after 16 seasons with the Los Angeles Chargers, the 38-year-old may become a complement to a top-five ground attack.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Edge Josh Allen's Rapid Growth

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    Perry Knotts/Associated Press

    In 2019, the Jacksonville Jaguars' passing-rushing group stood out as one of the team's bright spots through a lackluster 6-10 term. The defense tied for seventh in sacks. 

    The front line lost some of its manpower as the front office traded Calais Campbell to the Baltimore Ravens. Yannick Ngakoue hasn't signed his franchise tender and wants a trade. He could eventually force his way out of Jacksonville this summer. 

    The Jaguars selected edge-rusher K'Lavon Chaisson with the No. 20 overall pick in April's draft, but he has a lot of ground to cover after a spring of virtual practices. In his second campaign, Josh Allen could become the face of the pass rush. Last year, he led the team in sacks (10.5) and registered 11 tackles for loss.

    Although the Jaguars may lose two Pro Bowlers within their front four on defense, Allen's development could maintain the team's pass-rushing strength. He'll probably demand double-team action, which will allow Chaisson and even defensive tackles Taven Bryan and Rodney Gunter opportunities to shoot gaps at the point of attack.

Kansas City Chiefs: Super Bowl Core Still Intact with Key Addition

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    Kansas City Chiefs running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire
    Kansas City Chiefs running back Clyde Edwards-HelaireCharlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    The Kansas City Chiefs kept several key contributors from last year's Super Bowl squad on the books.

    General manager Brett Veach restructured wide receiver Sammy Watkins' contract, re-signed Demarcus Robinson and extended defensive tackle Chris Jones' contract. The Chiefs retained 20 of their 22 starters from 2019. 

    At times, success can break up Super Bowl teams. Some players want more money while others seek bigger roles or both. Kansas City will run it back with much of the same roster that won all the glory.

    The Chiefs did lose running back LeSean McCoy, but he only played 28 percent of the offensive snaps during the 2019 term. One can make a claim the front office upgraded the position with rookie first-rounder Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who's a high-end dual-threat out of the backfield. He racked up 1,867 yards from scrimmage last year at LSU. 

    With another playmaker in the backfield, the Chiefs' 2020 offense could outdo last year's group that finished fifth in scoring.

Las Vegas Raiders: Potential for Dynamic Passing Attack

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    Las Vegas Raiders wide receiver Henry Ruggs III
    Las Vegas Raiders wide receiver Henry Ruggs IIIJohn Amis/Associated Press

    In order to compete with the Kansas City Chiefs, the Las Vegas Raiders will have to pressure quarterback Patrick Mahomes in the pocket, compete with him on the scoreboard or a combination of both.

    The Raiders don't have a star pass-rusher yet, though Maxx Crosby could build upon a 10-sack rookie term. On the other side of the ball, quarterback Derek Carr may have his best pass-catching group since Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper recorded 1,000-plus receiving yards apiece in 2016. 

    Tight end Darren Waller goes into year three with the Raiders after logging 1,145 yards and three touchdowns in a breakout 2019 campaign. Wideout Tyrell Williams can stretch the field. He averages 16.1 yards per catch for his career. Hunter Renfrow capped his rookie term with back-to-back 100-yard performances in the last two weeks. 

    The Raiders drafted arguably the most dynamic pass-catcher in Henry Ruggs III, who recorded a 15-plus-yard gain on 38.2 percent of his receptions in 2019, per Pro Football Focus.

    Carr showed improvement in his second season under head coach Jon Gruden, recording career highs in passing yards (4,054) and quarterback rating (100.8).

    The Silver and Black could field a top-10 passing attack if Gruden and Carr can optimize their primary offensive weapons.

Los Angeles Chargers: New Faces for Stingy Defense

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    Los Angeles Chargers cornerback Chris Harris Jr.
    Los Angeles Chargers cornerback Chris Harris Jr.Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    The Los Angeles Chargers had a strong defense before the 2020 offseason, and the front office further strengthened that side of the ball, adding a player to each level of the unit.

    The Chargers signed Chris Harris Jr., who will reunite with his former defensive backs coach Ron Milus. They worked together for two seasons in Denver.

    "I made a lot of plays when he was coaching me," Harris said about Milus during a conference call with reporters. 

    Defensive tackle Linval Joseph could become an interior glue guy to shore up a run defense that ranked 18th and gave up 15 touchdowns in 2019.

    General manager Tom Telesco traded back into the first round to select linebacker Kenneth Murray with the No. 23 overall pick in April's draft. The Oklahoma product will provide some athleticism to the middle of the defense. If he can convert his physical tools into production as a coverage defender, the Chargers' front seven should remain stout on all three downs.

    When you factor in a healthy Derwin James, who missed 11 games with a stress fracture in his foot last season, the Chargers could field a top-three defense in 2020.

Los Angeles Rams: RB Cam Akers' Potential Impact

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    Los Angeles Rams running back Cam Akers
    Los Angeles Rams running back Cam AkersGary McCullough/Associated Press

    In 2019, the Los Angeles Rams fared a lot better when they didn't rely on quarterback Jared Goff to carry the offense. The team went 2-5 when he threw 40-plus passes and 7-2 when the young signal-caller made fewer than 40 attempts. 

    Head coach Sean McVay limited running back Todd Gurley's rush attempts throughout the previous term after an offseason of speculation about his knee issue. The two-time All-Pro registered a career-low 223 carries. As a team, Los Angeles ranked 18th in the category. 

    Now, with rookie second-rounder Cam Akers in the backfield, the Rams can revert to what worked between 2017 and 2018. McVay can feature a run-heavy offensive attack that ranks within the top 10 in rush attempts with a dual-threat lead running back. 

    At Florida State, Akers racked up 3,361 yards (2,875 rushing and 486 receiving) and 34 touchdowns from scrimmage.

    According to Team Rankings, Akers fumbled nine times through three terms. If he tightens up on his ball security, the Rams have a tailback who can handle 15 rush attempts per game (240 for the season) and complement the passing attack.

Miami Dolphins: Tua Tagovailoa Could Play in 2020

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    In November of last year, Tua Tagovailoa went down with a hip injury that required surgery. He had an unclear timetable for recovery. After the draft, ESPN's Cameron Wolfe suggested the Alabama product should sit out his rookie campaign while on the mend.

    According to Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald, the Miami Dolphins will keep an open mind about Tagovailoa's 2020 outlook.

    "One person who spoke to the Dolphins' front office came away with the impression that while it's likely [Ryan] Fitzpatrick will begin the season as the starter, Miami isn't opposed to playing Tagovailoa as a rookie if he earns the opportunity at some point this season," Jackson wrote. 

    Tagovailoa represents hope for the Dolphins franchise. Once he takes the field, the team can move past the stopgap stage with 37-year-old Ryan Fitzpatrick and look toward its future. 

    Because of an abbreviated offseason with virtual OTAs and only two preseason games, Tagovailoa doesn't have much opportunity to win the job outright. However, if he flashes here and there, the coaching staff may insert him into the lineup early in the season. 

    Perhaps Tagovailoa just needs to show he's healthy enough to handle the physical aspect of the game to expedite his ascension to the starting position.

Minnesota Vikings: New Faces at Cornerback

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    Minnesota Vikings cornerback Jeff Gladney
    Minnesota Vikings cornerback Jeff GladneyMichael Conroy/Associated Press

    The Minnesota Vikings will field a new-look secondary. Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander signed with the Cincinnati Bengals this offseason. The front office released Xavier Rhodes. Rookies Jeff Gladney and Cameron Dantzler will join Mike Hughes and Holton Hill at cornerback.

    Despite their inexperience, Gladney and Dantzler could take on prominent roles, which isn't necessarily a disadvantageous scenario for the Vikings. They're very different in stature—the former stands 5'10", 191 pounds, while the latter is 6'2", 188 pounds—but both can provide sticky coverage. 

    Gladney has the feisty nature to contest targets and make plays on the ball. Even at his size, he's still physical with great awareness to disrupt opposing aerial attacks. The TCU product recorded 26 pass breakups over the last two years. 

    According to Pro Football Focus, quarterbacks logged a 43.6 passer rating when they targeted Dantzler in coverage over the past two terms. He uses his length to close passing windows, so signal-callers must think twice before they try to thread the needle in his area. 

    At cornerback, Minnesota lost experience but gained tremendous upside and versatility.

New England Patriots: A Motivated Cam Newton

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    Associated Press

    For a player with a competitive spirit, motivation can enhance performance. The Carolina Panthers dumped Cam Newton for Teddy Bridgewater at the beginning of free agency. Now, the 2015 league MVP has a big chip on his shoulder. 

    Newton signed a one-year deal with a $1.05 million base salary, but don't talk to him about the cash. He's out to prove something in his next chapter.

    "This is not about money for me," Newton wrote in an Instagram post. "It's about respect."

    In another Instagram video, Newton said he was "left to die" and "they haven't seen this Cam."

    Carolina selected Newton with the No. 1 overall pick in 2011. After nine years as the face of the Panthers' franchise, he remained a free agent for three months without a clear pathway to a roster spot. 

    Newton ventures into new territory while in a prove-it phase for the first time in his pro career. Assuming he's recovered from offseason Lisfranc surgery, the dynamic 6'5", 245-pound signal-caller who can also run and break tackles could breathe new life into a team that will rebrand its offense following Tom Brady's departure.

New Orleans Saints: Well-Rounded Secondary

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    New Orleans Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore
    New Orleans Saints cornerback Marshon LattimoreButch Dill/Associated Press

    With quarterback Drew Brees under center for another season, the New Orleans Saints can put up points with Michael Thomas, Alvin Kamara, Jared Cook and now Emmanuel Sanders in the fold.

    However, New Orleans must do something to slow down Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady and his plethora of playmakers at wideout and tight end. These two teams may battle for the NFC South title. 

    The Saints have a quality mix of experience, players in their primes and budding talent in the secondary.

    Coming over from Philadelphia, 12th-year veteran Malcolm Jenkins comes back to New Orleans to pair alongside Marcus Williams, who has 23 pass breakups and 10 interceptions in his first three seasons.

    In his eighth campaign, cornerback Janoris Jenkins recorded a career-high five interceptions, suiting up for just two outings with the Saints after the New York Giants released him. He'll likely man the boundary opposite two-time Pro Bowler Marshon Lattimore, who allowed a 50 percent completion rate in 2019. 

    Versatile second-year defensive back Chauncey Gardner-Johnson will likely handle big-nickel duties, per The Athletic's Katherine Terrell.

    Stacked with talent on the back end, the Saints defense can shut down prolific passing attacks.

New York Giants: A Healthy Saquon Barkley

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    New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley
    New York Giants running back Saquon BarkleyMark Tenally/Associated Press

    Running back Saquon Barkley only missed three games because of a high-ankle sprain, but he dealt with lingering effects from the injury throughout the 2019 season.

    While Barkley watched tape, he noticed something about his run style, per The Athletic's Dan Duggan.

    "Even though physically you feel like you're back, mentally you might be telling yourself that you're back, but you watch yourself on film and see that you're running and you're protecting yourself," Barkley said. "You just don't really think you're doing it, but naturally it's just happening."

    Almost a year from the injury, Barkley will likely play with less caution for his ankle. He's also going to run behind an offensive line with a potential upgrade at tackle. Rookie first-rounder Andrew Thomas should start opposite Nate Solder in Week 1. Kevin Zeitler and Will Hernandez are quality guards.

    Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett knows how to use a high-end running back. Under his tutelage, Dallas Cowboys ball-carrier Ezekiel Elliott won two rushing titles. Big Blue's front line must hold up its end of the bargain in blocking, but regardless, Barkley could overcome some of the unit's shortcomings.

New York Jets: New Faces on Offensive Line

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    New York Jets left tackle Mekhi Becton
    New York Jets left tackle Mekhi BectonTimothy D. Easley/Associated Press

    General manager Joe Douglas overhauled the offensive line. The front five could feature new primary starters at both tackle positions, center and on the interior. The Athletic's Connor Hughes listed guard Brian Winters as a potential surprise training camp cut.

    Mekhi Becton will likely take over a starting tackle spot. The New York Jets also signed George Fant to a three-year, $27.3 million deal, which suggests he's a good bet to win the first-string job on the opposite side.

    Connor McGovern started 36 out of 47 games for the Denver Broncos, and he'll likely supplant Jonotthan Harrison at the pivot. 

    Gang Green's offensive line will need time to jell with multiple newcomers in contention for starting positions. Nevertheless, the unit should perform better than last year's group, which nearly hit rock bottom in run and pass blocking, ranking 31st and 30th, respectively, per Football Outsiders

    Quarterback Sam Darnold and running back Le'Veon Bell should benefit from potential upgrades in the trenches, giving the Jets a shot to field an improved offensive attack. In 2019, Gang Green ranked 31st in scoring and accumulated the fewest yards.

Philadelphia Eagles: More Speed at Wide Receiver

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    Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Jalen Reagor
    Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Jalen ReagorAJ Mast/Associated Press

    On the surface, the Philadelphia Eagles fielded a decent passing attack last season. The unit ranked 11th in total yards. However, the pass-catchers struggled to extend plays.

    The Eagles averaged just 4.1 yards after the catch per completion, which tied for 24th leaguewide. Tight ends Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert did a good job filling in the gaps for a passing attack that lost wideouts DeSean Jackson (core muscle) and Alshon Jeffery (Lisfranc) to season-ending injuries. 

    Quarterback Carson Wentz should pick up yards in bigger chunks through the upcoming term.

    Jackson will return to action, and Philadelphia signed former track-and-field athlete Marquise Goodwin. If he stays healthy, the 5'9", 185-pound speedster can make plays downfield or on catch-and-run sequences for big gains. 

    Rookie first-rounder Jalen Reagor didn't run an impressive 40-yard dash (4.47 seconds), but you can see his game speed on tape.

    Chris Trapasso of CBS Sports cited analytics from Slants—a technology company that uses artificial intelligence and vision algorithms to calculate game speed. Reagor clocked in at 20.80 mph, which lists second to Henry Ruggs III among rookie wide receivers. 

    Even if Goodwin doesn't make the roster, the Eagles should have enough explosiveness between Jackson and Reagor for a more dynamic aerial attack.

Pittsburgh Steelers: QB Ben Roethlisberger Back Under Center

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    After Pittsburgh Steelers fans watched the passing offense struggle with Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges at the helm, they're probably clamoring for Ben Roethlisberger's return from an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery.

    On the bright side, without Roethlisberger on the field, wide receiver James Washington made significant strides in his second term, leading the Steelers in receiving yards (735). Diontae Johnson had a solid rookie campaign, logging 59 catches for 680 yards and five touchdowns. 

    Roethlisberger has an established rapport with wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster, who recorded 169 receptions for 2,343 yards and 14 touchdowns in his first two seasons. With Washington and Johnson accustomed to Randy Fichtner's offense, Pittsburgh has a solid three-wide receiver set.

    Smith-Schuster said "he's back" in reference to Roethlisberger during an offseason throwing session. Head coach Mike Tomlin seemed pleased with the quarterback's progress in recovery as well.

    "He's comfortable and pleased where he is. Some people who had the opportunity to work with him are impressed and pleased where he is. The medical experts are comfortable where he is and his readiness for 2020," Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette tweeted.

San Francisco 49ers: QB Jimmy Garoppolo's Steady Growth

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    Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    Aside from an overthrow beyond wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders' grasp, Jimmy Garoppolo's first full season as a starter had few glaring gaffes. He proved worthy of his five-year, $137.5 million contract.

    Head coach Kyle Shanahan garners praise because of his creative play-calling, but he found a quarterback who can execute the game plan. When the San Francisco 49ers didn't run the ball all over their opponents, Garoppolo picked his spots and built a solid rapport with George Kittle, Deebo Samuel and Sanders. 

    Samuel will start the season on the mend, recovering from a broken foot. The 49ers still have Kittle with high-potential talents such as first-rounder Brandon Aiyuk and 2019 third-rounder Jalen Hurd at wideout. 

    Like Samuel, Aiyuk can extend plays after the catch. He averaged 17 yards per reception at Arizona State. Coming off back surgery, Hurd can serve as a safety blanket in the passing game, using his 6'4", 227-pound frame to beat defenders in one-on-one situations. 

    Assuming Garoppolo continues to grow in Shanahan's system, he'll optimize the pass-catching talent around him. As an accurate passer, completing 67.5 percent of his attempts, the 28-year-old can keep the offense steady without Samuel.

Seattle Seahawks: Layers of Depth on the Edge

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    Seattle Seahawks defensive end Darrell Taylor
    Seattle Seahawks defensive end Darrell TaylorWade Payne/Associated Press

    The Seattle Seahawks haven't re-signed Jadeveon Clowney, but general manager John Schneider made sure to compensate with depth at defensive end. The coaching staff can roll with a committee of pass-rushers this season.

    Bruce Irvin and Benson Mayowa have experience, as they recorded a combined 15.5 sacks last year. Rasheem Green goes into his third campaign after he logged four sacks and 15 quarterback pressures while playing just 51 percent of the defensive snaps in 2019. With a bigger role, the USC product could have a breakout season.

    The Seahawks added youth to their defensive line as well, selecting Darrell Taylor and Alton Robinson in the second and fifth rounds of April's draft. The former led Tennessee in sacks for each of the previous two collegiate terms, while the latter logged 10 sacks at Syracuse in 2018. 

    The Seahawks don't have a star edge-rusher. However, they can threaten the pocket with fresh bodies for 60 minutes or more if necessary.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: QB Tom Brady in an Aggressive Offense

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    If turnover-prone Jameis Winston with poor vision can throw for 5,109 yards and 33 touchdowns, what will Tom Brady do with the same offense plus another big-bodied pass-catcher added to the mix? 

    Despite Brady's average numbers from the previous season (24 touchdowns and eight interceptions), he has a good chance to bounce back with much stronger performances in the upcoming term.

    Head coach Bruce Arians and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich fielded a pass-heavy offense in 2019. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers ranked fourth in pass attempts and racked up the most yards through the air. 

    The Buccaneers think Brady has "plenty of arm," and according to The Athletic's Bob Kravitz, Arians wants to carry over last year's scheme.

    Brady will have Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, O.J. Howard, Cameron Brate and former Patriots teammate Rob Gronkowski, who sat out the 2019 campaign in retirement. Although the Buccaneers will trot out a 43-year-old starting quarterback, they seem confident in his abilities with this supporting cast. 

    If Brady has just an average arm, he can put up points with a bevy of playmakers around him in Tampa Bay.

Tennessee Titans: Key Offensive Playmakers Together for Year 2

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    Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry
    Tennessee Titans running back Derrick HenrySteven Senne/Associated Press

    In 2019, the Tennessee Titans fielded their highest-scoring offense since the 2003 squad that featured quarterback Steve McNair, running back Eddie George and wideout Derrick Mason.

    The Titans kept last year's trio intact, re-signing quarterback Ryan Tannehill and running back Derrick Henry. Both players, along with wide receiver A.J. Brown, injected life into the offense midway through the previous campaign.

    Henry's downhill run style personifies Tennessee's physical play, but Tannehill's connection with Brown forces defenses to respect the passing game, too. Starting from Week 11 through Week 17, the Titans wideout ranked fourth in receiving yards (605) and tied for second in touchdowns (five). 

    Brown took a backseat to Henry's extraordinary run through the postseason (446 yards and two touchdowns), but his second-year growth could lead to a more balanced attack. The Titans may have the best offense in their division.

Washington: Rotation of Pass-Rushers

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    Washington edge-rusher Montez Sweat
    Washington edge-rusher Montez SweatMark Tenally/Associated Press

    Thus far, Washington hasn't traded Ryan Kerrigan, who may have to accept a reduced role with No. 2 overall pick Chase Young in the fold.

    Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio coached premier pass-rushers such as Julius Peppers, Von Miller and Khalil Mack in previous stints as a play-caller and head coach. He knows how to develop and utilize elite talent on the edge.

    Even if Young doesn't run away with the Defensive Player of the Year honor as a sack machine, Kerrigan, Montez Sweat, Matthew Ioannidis, Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne can fill in the gaps.

    Last season, Washington ranked 10th in sacks and recorded the fifth-most quarterback pressures (174). Ioannidis led the squad in both categories with 8.5 and 35, respectively. Sweat had a solid rookie campaign with seven sacks and eight tackles for loss. With Allen and Payne on the inside, this defense should wreak havoc in the trenches. 

    Del Rio will have to figure out how to divvy up the snaps among his pass-rushers. Fortunately, that's a good problem to have in a division with two Pro Bowl-caliber quarterbacks.


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