Every NFL Team's Biggest X-Factor Heading into 2020 Season
Something extra is often needed to make a good team a great one or turn a squad with little to no expectations into a possible contender. Often, something unforeseen serves as a franchise's X-factor.
The Kansas City Chiefs may not be the reigning Super Bowl champions if Stefen Wisniewski, Mecole Hardman and Juan Thornhill hadn't played critical roles throughout the season.
Superstars have the most influence on contests, but football is the greatest team sport because 11 players must work in cohesion on every down to be effective. Other cogs must complete their jobs. If one of those pieces outperforms expectations, they can make the entire unit better.
As such, there are three types of X-factors: individuals who have yet to reach their full potential, rookies who could contribute at a higher level than their draft status indicates and established veterans stepping into new situations with the need to reestablish themselves.
Arizona Cardinals: OT Josh Jones
On paper, the Arizona Cardinals have one of the league's most exciting offenses with running back Kenyan Drake's return, DeAndre Hopkins' addition to an already talented wide receiver corps and quarterback Kyler Murray leading the way. Right tackle remains a question mark, though.
Nine-year veteran Marcus Gilbert chose to opt out this season, and the Cardinals responded by signing another experienced blocker, Kelvin Beachum Jr., as a potential replacement. However, third-round rookie Josh Jones could be the answer.
"It's very impressive to see a rookie come in and not have an offseason (on the field) and have the offense so down pat and be able to roll, get in there and make mistakes that you can clean up and fix," left tackle D.J. Humphries told reporters. "Making those mistakes that you can't make unless you're doing it full speed and seeing him be able to respond to those and not make the same mistake again is impressive to see as a veteran watching the young guy, especially a young tackle."
Pro Football Focus graded Jones as the best offensive tackle in April's draft class.
Atlanta Falcons: S Keanu Neal
Atlanta Falcons safety Keanu Neal isn't the same proven player today as he was three seasons ago when he earned a Pro Bowl nod and looked like one of the game's best young safeties. Tearing his ACL and Achilles in consecutive seasons changed everything.
At 25 years old, Neal could return to form and provide the Falcons with the same tone-setter they originally drafted with the 17th overall pick in the 2016 NFL draft. But the coaching staff plans to be very careful with the defensive back throughout training camp. Head coach Dan Quinn told reporters he will be "monitoring reps" for Neal and others.
Prior to the injuries, Neal was a wrecking ball as arguably the game's best tacking safety. He registered 222 total tackles through his first two seasons. Last season, the Falcons finished 15th and 22nd in run and pass defense, respectively. How Neal rebounds will help determine whether the defense drastically improves or continues to be one of the league's middling units.
Baltimore Ravens: RB J.K. Dobbins
The following thought had to go through defensive coordinators' minds when the Baltimore Ravens selected running back J.K. Dobbins in the second round of April's draft: "Great. Just what they need, another dynamic weapon in the backfield."
Quarterback Lamar Jackson is already the reigning MVP and the most productive runner the league has ever seen at the position. Meanwhile, Mark Ingram II serves as the hammer at running back. Dobbins could be something entirely different as a slashing home run hitter to complement Ingram.
The Ohio State product is an ideal fit for the Ravens' run-first scheme. According to Sports info Solutions (via CBS Sports' Will Brinson), Dobbins finished with the second-most rushing yards from shotgun last season. As such, he should be the ideal sidecar for Jackson when Baltimore wants to run variations of the zone read.
One more potential headache for opposing play-callers to worry about before they face the Ravens.
Buffalo Bills: TE Dawson Knox
So much attention has been placed on the wide receiver corps the Buffalo Bills built around Josh Allen that another position has been overlooked even though it could be just as impactful to the quarterback's development.
Yes, the trio of Stefon Diggs, John Brown and Cole Beasley should be considered among the league's better group of targets. However, the passing offense could become even more dangerous depending on Dawson Knox's maturation at tight end.
"Dawson has done a really good job," offensive coordinator Brian Daboll told reporters. "... But there's so many, it's run, it's pass, I'm not saying it's like the quarterback, but that's always the position that gets pulled in a couple different directions. ... He's a young player still, really young. Hopefully we get more out of him this year. I know he's working hard to do that."
Knox caught 28 passes for 388 yards as a rookie, but he has the athletic potential to become a consistent mismatch in the Bills offense.
Carolina Panthers: QB Teddy Bridgewater
Can Teddy Bridgewater become a true franchise quarterback?
This same question has been asked since the Minnesota Vikings selected him with the 32nd overall pick in the 2014 draft. Now with his fourth team, Bridgewater has a chance to prove himself and bring the Carolina Panthers' future plans into focus.
Bridgewater has flashed throughout his career. He was a tough and efficient starter in Minnesota before an unfortunate knee injury derailed his career. Those same glimpses of long-term potential appeared last season when he started five games for an injured Drew Brees and produced a nine-to-two touchdown-to-interception ratio. Oh, the Saints won all five games, too.
Bridgewater's contract is structured in a way that he basically has a two-year tryout with the Panthers, although it's more like one year. If he performs well, he'll expedite the team's rebuilding process. If not, the Panthers will likely be searching for a quarterback in next year's first round.
Chicago Bears: QB Nick Foles
Everything—and I mean everything—regarding the Chicago Bears' upcoming season revolves around the quarterback position. Mitchell Trubisky and Nick Foles are embroiled in a competition, though neither may prove to be the answer at the position.
The Bears feature a quality roster, especially on the defensive side of the ball. But it's not good enough without quality quarterback play.
Foles may be the more likely candidate to start after Trubisky regressed in his second season with head coach Matt Nagy, who doubles as the team's offensive play-caller. The 31-year-old Foles has a longer track record in the league and a previous working relationship with Nagy, offensive coordinator Bill Lazor and quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo.
While Trubisky is still getting a chance to win the job, the Bears seemingly gave up on him when they didn't pick up his fifth-year rookie option.
Cincinnati Bengals: LT Jonah Williams
Jonah Williams enters what boils down to his rookie campaign without actually being a rookie. The Cincinnati Bengals selected the left tackle prospect with the 11th overall pick in the 2019 draft, but he suffered a torn shoulder labrum during OTAs and didn't play a down during his first campaign.
Now a year removed from the injury, Williams has to prove himself at a premium position while protecting this year's No. 1 overall pick, quarterback Joe Burrow. No pressure.
Williams earned his designation as the top offensive lineman in last year's class through a combination of outstanding technique and steady performance against the best college football had to offer.
Normally, a recent first-round pick wouldn't be considered an X-factor since much is already expected of those selections. In this particular case, Williams' performance isn't just about him. Yes, he needs to hold up against the likes of Joey Bosa and Myles Garrett, who the tackle faces in the first two weeks of the upcoming season, but his play has the potential to create a ripple effect throughout a suspect offensive front. If Williams plays well, it'll help the rest of the Bengals offensive line.
Cleveland Browns: RB Kareem Hunt
Kareem Hunt is now three years removed from leading the NFL in rushing yards. Hunt is still working to regain his standing after being placed on the Reserve/Commissioner Exempt List and subsequently released by the Kansas City Chiefs when a video surfaced showing him shoving and kicking a woman.
The Cleveland Browns took a chance on the former Pro Bowl performer once the league reinstated him, though Hunt never quite found his footing during the '19 campaign. He took a backseat to Nick Chubb, added to certain offensive packages and even played a little fullback.
His usage should be quite different under new head coach and play-caller Kevin Stefanski. Granted, Chubb will remain the feature back once he's out of the concussion protocol, but the coaching staff will almost certainly find ways to get Hunt on the field. Wide receivers coach Chad O'Shea intimated the running back could get some work with his position group.
With Chubb and a fully realized plan for Hunt, the Browns should feature the league's best backfield.
Dallas Cowboys: DT Neville Gallimore
The Dallas Cowboys thought they were set along the defensive line after signing veteran free agents Gerald McCoy, Dontari Poe and Everson Griffen. Unfortunately, McCoy suffered a ruptured quad tendon, and the team subsequently released the six-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman Tuesday.
With McCoy gone, there's an opportunity at 3-technique for Antwaun Woods and third-round rookie Neville Gallimore. The ex-Oklahoma Sooner developed into a well-rounded defensive tackle during his final year on campus. He showed the ability to hold up at the point of attack and consistently collapsed the pocket. He's already impressed those in Cowboys camp.
"Animal. I like him a lot," defensive end Tyrone Crawford told reporters. "I think he's got everything you need. He gets off the ball, he's got power. He plays like a professional already and he acts like it as well."
Head coach Mike McCarthy added: "I'll tell you what, Gallimore is, he's doing a nice job. ... So, very hard-working. Very intuitive. Has a great look in his eye, but it's coming."
Denver Broncos: QB Drew Lock
The Denver Broncos' Drew Lock showed a lot during his five starts as a rookie, yet he has much more to prove before being anointed a franchise quarterback.
"He has come a long way," an anonymous NFL defensive coach told ESPN's Jeremy Fowler. "My whole thing was I didn't think he was an instant starter. I'm still not sure and he's gotta prove it, but we're gonna see what he does with those weapons—big-time weapons."
Lock looked like a future long-term starter in a small sample size, but the Broncos will find out who the quarterback really is in his second season since he's been handed the keys to the offense with a bunch of new and wonderful weapons.
The Broncos signed running back Melvin Gordon III and drafted wide receivers Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler to maximize Lock's chances of success. Their success is heavily reliant on the second-year signal-caller's development.
Detroit Lions: DL Da'Shawn Hand
The Detroit Lions' biggest concern area could dissipate if Da'Shawn Hand returns to form after an injury-plagued sophomore season by providing the team's defensive front with consistent pressure on passing downs.
The organization revamped its linebackers and secondary but didn't directly address the pass rush beyond third-round rookie Julian Okwara. Free-agent acquisition Danny Shelton will take over at nose tackle, but he's a two-down defender at best. Like Shelton, Nick Williams signed in free agency. He is better at stopping the run than getting after opposing quarterbacks.
Hand was exceptional during his rookie campaign. The 2018 fourth-round pick tallied 25 total QB pressures and 18 defensive stops in 13 games, including eight starts, as well as the highest grade among rookie interior defenders that year, per Pro Football Focus.
Detroit tied for the second-fewest sacks last season with 28. Hand might have only contributed three as a rookie, but his ability to disrupt backfields should create opportunities for every other defender on the roster.
Green Bay Packers: WR Allen Lazard
Everyone outside of the Green Bay Packers organization will harp on the fact that the team didn't address wide receiver until one of two things happen: Either general manager Brian Gutekunst makes a move to shore up the position, or one of the options beyond Davante Adams earns a more prominent role within the offense.
Allen Lazard has a chance to do the latter after catching 35 passes for 477 yards last season. More importantly, the 24-year-old wide receiver seemed to build a rapport with quarterback Aaron Rodgers through the final five games of the season (250 receiving yards and two touchdowns).
"I think that [chemistry], that connection that we had throughout the season, especially towards the latter half of the season going on to the playoffs, came from, one, just hard work every single day in practice, and I think he saw that," Lazard told reporters. "And then he knew that I cared. I think that was the biggest thing it is with Aaron, he needs to know that you care and he can trust you."
Houston Texans: NT Brandon Dunn
The Houston Texans didn't want to lose nose tackle D.J. Reader in free agency, but they couldn't afford to keep him at the price for which he signed with the Cincinnati Bengals (four years, $53 million).
The team prepared for the moment by signing Reader's backup, Brandon Dunn, to a new three-year, $12 million deal. Reader will be tough to replace since he developed into more than a traditional nose tackle. He consistently applied pressure along the interior, though Dunn told reporters "there's no void" at the position.
The accuracy of the previous statement is dependent on how Dunn performs. According to Pro Football Focus, the 27-year-old defensive lineman made 10 defensive stops from Week 11 on despite ranking 53rd among interior defenders in snaps during that span.
As long as Dunn continues to build on last year's late-season success, he'll anchor the Texans' defensive front and keep second-round rookie Ross Blacklock off the field.
Indianapolis Colts: EDGE Kemoko Turay
The Indianapolis Colts' Kemoko Turay looked like a breakout star last season before he suffered a broken ankle during a Week 5 contest against the Kansas City Chiefs.
According to Pro Football Focus, the edge-rusher posted a 91.0 pass-rushing grade and a 22.9 percent pressure rate before suffering the season-ending malady.
"Yeah, I mean Turay is a really good edge pass-rusher. He has a knack for getting off the ball," Colts head coach Frank Reich told reporters after Turay's injury. "He has this bending gift, right? Not everybody has it that can bend around the corner without losing speed. He really has that."
When a coach speaks of get-off and bend, he's addressing two major components to pass-rushing success. Explosion and the ability to turn the edge against bigger yet less athletic offensive tackles are critical for an edge defender to pressure opposing quarterbacks on a consistent basis. Turay has those traits. He simply needs to stay healthy and show how his natural tools translate in Indianapolis' defensive scheme.
Jacksonville Jaguars: QB Gardner Minshew II
Most NFL organizations would have a difficult time investing in a sixth-round quarterback as the future of the franchise. Tom Brady aside, the odds of a late-round draft pick turning into a long-term starter are slim. However, the Jacksonville Jaguars believe they have something in Gardner Minshew II.
"I don't know why they still doubt him, but that's OK because that means he's going to have a chip on his shoulder and he's going to come again to prove something and that's all right," center Brandon Linder told reporters when asked about Minshew's critics. "He's a heck of a kid. He's a heck of a talent."
How Minshew builds upon last year's rookie performance will determine whether he's the Jaguars quarterback of the future. Those around the league seem to like him.
"If you asked me whether I preferred to play Cam [Newton], Andy Dalton or Gardner, I'd say Gardner," an NFL assistant coach told ESPN's Jeremy Fowler. "He's younger, he can make plays when things aren't perfect and he's accurate."
Kansas City Chiefs: OG Kelechi Osemele
Stefen Wisniewski played a pivotal role when he took over left guard during the Kansas City Chiefs' Super Bowl run. Wisniewski provided experience and consistency after Andrew Wylie suffered a high ankle sprain.
Fast forward six months and the Chiefs still aren't settled at guard. Laurent Duvernay-Tardif opted out this season, and Wisniewski signed a free-agent deal with the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Chiefs, meanwhile, inked eight-year veteran Kelechi Osemele to fill the void.
At one point in his career, Osemele was the NFL's most dominant physical presence along the offensive interior. However, he's coming off season-ending shoulder surgery, and the Chiefs can't be exactly sure what to expect from the two-time Pro Bowl guard.
"He's going to make sure that he imposes his will on whoever's lined up in front of him," Chiefs running back DeAndre Washington told reporters. "He's going to finish guys."
A return to form by Osemele would solidify Kansas City's offensive front.
Las Vegas Raiders: WR Bryan Edwards
Bryan Edwards displayed the type of potential at South Carolina that could have warranted a first-round draft selection. Unfortunately, the talented wide receiver prospect suffered a broken foot during his draft preparation. As a result, Edwards fell to the third round where the Las Vegas Raiders chose him with the 81st overall pick.
He's done so well in his first training camp that those outside the organization shouldn't view him as a mid-round talent. Instead, he's going to be an integral part of the Raiders offense.
"There's things with Bryan that I see in his game where he could be special, also," quarterback Derek Carr said during an interview with SiriusXM NFL Radio. "He may have been a third-round pick, but let's not act like it, y'know? I think he's a special talent."
The Raiders lacked weapons among their wide receivers last year. Edwards and first-round pick Henry Ruggs III could completely revamp the passing game.
Los Angeles Chargers: LT Sam Tevi
Sam Tevi primarily spent the last two seasons playing right tackle for the Los Angeles Chargers. He didn't exactly thrive in that situation. Yet he's now positioned to start at left tackle after the organization's offseason acquisition of longtime right tackle Bryan Bulaga.
Head coach Anthony Lynn said Tevi is "in the driver's seat," though he'll compete with Trey Pipkins III, Trent Scott and possibly Forrest Lamp.
"[He] has very good left tackle feet," Lynn said of his projected starter, per Chris Hayre of the Chargers official team site.
Tevi did start two games at left tackle two seasons ago and wasn't overwhelmed. With that said, unless the 25-year-old blocker performs better than he previously has, he could hold back the entire offense.
Los Angeles Rams: RB Cam Akers
For all of the discussion regarding Todd Gurley's knee, the running back was still a very big part of the Los Angeles Rams offense last season. Gurley ran for 857 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Now, the Rams will turn toward a tandem of talented young backs in Darrell Henderson Jr. and this year's top draft pick, Cam Akers. Henderson should have an early advantage with a year already in the system, but the Rams are formulating ways to utilize Akers, who played quarterback in high school.
"You never know, we might have a Wildcat package coming to a theater near you," head coach Sean McVay told reporters.
The 217-pound Akers is a complete back as a slashing runner and natural receiver out of the backfield. Also, he made 76 would-be tacklers miss last season, per Pro Football Focus. As a bigger back compared to Henderson, Akers should immediately help during short-yardage and red-zone situations and possibly work his way into a bigger role as the season progresses.
Miami Dolphins: WR Preston Williams
Preston Williams was one of the most talented wide receiver prospects in the 2019 NFL draft, but he never heard his name called after he wasn't invited to the NFL Scouting Combine because of a 2017 domestic violence arrest for which he pleaded guilty to harassment in 2018. He then tested poorly at his pro day.
The Miami Dolphins signed Williams as an undrafted free agent, and his talent once again came to the forefront.
The 6'5", 218-pound target started seven games and finished third on the team with 428 receiving yards. Unfortunately, his rookie campaign ended prematurely when he suffered a torn ACL in a Week 9 contest against the New York Jets.
Williams has already been cleared without any restrictions during training camp, according to The Athletic's Josh Tolentino.
The second-year receiver's presence in the lineup is more important now than initially anticipated after Albert Wilson and Allen Hurns opted out of the upcoming season. Williams and DeVante Parker are the top two receiving threats for quarterbacks Ryan Fitzpatrick and Tua Tagovailoa.
Minnesota Vikings: CB Cameron Dantzler
The Minnesota Vikings chose three cornerbacks in this year's NFL draft, and it's not the team's first-round choice, Jeff Gladney, who has impressed most during the early portions of training camp.
Third-round rookie Cameron Dantzler has been the star so far. In fact, two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Adam Thielen made sure to tell head coach Mike Zimmer the lanky defender is going to be really good.
"He's really trying to do everything right," Zimmer told reporters. "He seems to be pretty disciplined in what he's doing and what we're asking him to do. ... I think he's been good in the pressing technique that we're trying to teach."
Cornerbacks Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander decided to sign elsewhere in free agency, while the Vikings cut Xavier Rhodes. So, Zimmer's final point about Dantzler is important. The 6'2" defensive back is an ideal fit for Minnesota's defensive scheme, and he could be starting sooner rather than later.
New England Patriots: QB Cam Newton
For those wondering which version of Cam Newton will show up for the New England Patriots this season, cornerback J.C. Jackson provided a glimpse of what he's seen so far in training camp.
"Man, I love seeing Cam, running with the ball in his hands. He's a playmaker," Jackson told reporters. "He's a hard-working kid, and he just brings a lot of value to our team."
The cornerback added, "Oh yeah, he has the juice every day. He's dancing. He's clapping guys up. I love Cam's energy. That's what we need."
It's important to note the 31-year-old former league MVP is acclimating to the Patriots system and culture while seeing where he stands after two consecutive season-ending injuries.
If the Patriots have a reinvigorated Newton in their lineup, New England's run of AFC East titles and Super Bowl contention doesn't have to stop. Instead, a new vision of the "Patriot Way" could emerge with another fantastic quarterback leading the way.
New Orleans Saints: LB Zack Baun
The New Orleans Saints really wanted Zack Baun in this year's third round and traded away a 2021 third-round pick to make sure they secured the hybrid defender.
"Linebacker, certainly, was an area that we knew coming into [the draft] that we wanted to hopefully address," head coach Sean Payton told reporters after the team acquired Baun with the 74th overall pick. "... We were able to move back up when we saw our guy fall some."
New Orleans prioritized the position because Kiko Alonso and Alex Anzalone both suffered season-ending injuries last year. Plus, Baun brings a little different skill set and plenty of scheme flexibility to provide depth all along the Saints' defensive front.
Baun was primarily used as an edge-rusher and recorded 12.5 sacks during his final season on campus. Wisconsin's coaching staff was comfortable dropping him in coverage, too. He'll likely be more of an off-ball linebacker at the professional level, but the Saints can use him in multiple spots and sub-packages depending on how healthy the team's linebacker corps is this fall.
New York Giants: CB Corey Ballentine
When the New York Giants chose cornerback Corey Ballentine in the sixth round of last year's draft, the front office and coaching staff couldn't have possibly known how important that decision would ultimately become.
In the first round, New York selected DeAndre Baker with the 30th overall pick. He started 15 games as a rookie, but his time with the organization could be over after he was formally charged with four counts of robbery with a firearm stemming from a May 13 arrest.
As a rookie, Ballentine played in 13 games but started only two. He's likely first in line opposite the team's prized free-agent addition, James Bradberry.
"The thing that I appreciate about Corey is that he wants to be coached," defensive backs coach Jerome Henderson told reporters. "... He's a guy who has some ability. He's in the mix, just like everybody else is, to play a big role for us. I'm excited to work with him."
New York Jets: DT Quinnen Williams
The third overall pick in the 2019 NFL draft shouldn't be included in this list, yet he is because of a disappointing rookie performance.
The New York Jets' Quinnen Williams went from being the most dominant force in college football to largely ineffective during his first professional campaign. His ability to be a complete interior defender with game-changing capabilities as both a wrecking ball against the run and a premier pass-rusher made him truly special.
He didn't excel in either of those phases last season, though. Interestingly, Williams, who is only 22 years old, took some time before he developed into a dominant performer at Alabama, as well. Now, he appears ready to become the player the Jets envisioned when they used a top-five pick to acquire him.
"This year, I'm feeling it, man," Williams told reporters. "... I got my body fat down. I'm rocking and rolling. I feel myself being that person that they drafted me to be. I feel like I'm coming into that person—a dominant defensive tackle in the NFL."
Philadelphia Eagles: WR J.J. Arcega-Whiteside
The Philadelphia Eagles had to address wide receiver after last year's disaster at the position.
So much is still yet to be done at the position since the team should find a way to move on from veterans Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson at some point between now and next offseason. Also, this year's 21st overall draft pick, Jalen Reagor, and fifth-round pick John Hightower will be worked into the offense.
With all these moving parts, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside can be overlooked. But he shouldn't be. Last year's second-round pick can build upon his rookie performance and provide somewhat of a stabilizing presence within the group as he continues his development.
Arcega-Whiteside has the potential to be the ideal complementary target alongside Reagor. This year's top investment is a speedster with the ability to consistently threaten every blade of grass. Arcega-Whiteside is a big-bodied target with exceptional ball skills.
Essentially, the Eagles can replace Jeffery and Jackson with younger versions of themselves.
Pittsburgh Steelers: WR Diontae Johnson
A healthy Ben Roethlisberger should inject the Pittsburgh Steelers offense with a mega-boost of adrenaline after it finished 31st in pass offense a year ago with Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges leading the way.
One might automatically assume JuJu Smith-Schuster's production will return to 2018 levels, but that's not entirely the case.
Diontae Johnson's rookie performance portends a much bigger role in the scheme with Roethlisberger's return. The 2019 third-round draft pick created separation on 70.2 percent of his single-coverage targets and forced a wide receiver-leading 18 missed tackles, per Pro Football Focus.
Smith-Schuster once benefited greatly from playing alongside Antonio Brown. The same could happen for Johnson with defenses concentrating on Smith-Schuster this fall.
As such, it will come as no surprise if the second-year receiver overtakes his teammate as the most productive target in the Steelers offense, especially with Pittsburgh possibly trending away from Smith-Schuster since he's a free agent after the upcoming season.
San Francisco 49ers: CB Emmanuel Moseley
Failure is the best teacher, and San Francisco 49ers cornerback Emmanuel Moseley is using it as such to improve his game. Moseley started nine games during his second season, and the 49ers turned to the former undrafted free agent during the postseason to serve as Richard Sherman's bookend after Ahkello Witherspoon continued to disappoint.
However, Moseley made a serious mental gaffe that allowed the Kansas City Chiefs to convert a 3rd-and-15 during the team's eventual comeback victory.
"I use it as learning and move on to the next season," Moseley told reporters. "Took it as motivation while I was training, work on my eye mechanics and just be ready for this year."
The 49ers didn't add anyone to the cornerback room, which should provide a boost of confidence. If Moseley continues on his current developmental curve without letting one mental mistake beat him, he'll play a big part in continuing the success the 49ers secondary achieved last year as the No. 1 pass defense.
Seattle Seahawks: TE Will Dissly
Will this be the year Will Dissly finally stays healthy and establishes himself as a true TE1 for the Seattle Seahawks?
Forget for a moment about the Seahawks signing Greg Olsen this offseason. Dissly's situation is more about his health and what he can provide than what anyone else on the roster does.
The 2018 fourth-round pick looked like a budding star during his rookie campaign until he suffered a torn patellar tendon in Week 4. The tight end battled back, only to suffer a torn Achilles in Week 6 of the following season.
Dissly is now healthy and ready to contribute, and he can do so differently than Olsen. The third-yard pro is a true Y-tight end capable of affecting the game as a blocker and receiver. He can create more opportunities for others and provide flexibility within the scheme.
For example, 12 personnel with both him and Olsen on the field while the defense gets a three-receiver look as the latter lines up in the slot could be extremely effective.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: WR Scotty Miller
It's easy to look at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense and forget about Scotty Miller. After all, the Bucs now feature quarterback Tom Brady, wide receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin and tight ends Rob Gronkowski, O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate.
Fifth-round rookie Tyler Johnson is an exciting prospect who could contribute in the passing game, as well.
All the while, Scotty Miller continues to do his job. Head coach Bruce Arians told reporters the 2019 sixth-round pick "added about 10 pounds in the offseason and looks great."
Miller has a legitimate shot to emerge as the Buccaneers' third target as long as he runs precise routes, creates separation and earns Brady's trust. Wes Welker, Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman built successful careers by doing the very same.
"He's worked with so many receivers that are similar to me—so many great receivers in general—so I'm just trying to learn from him," Miller told reporters of his relationship with Brady. "I think if I'm on the same page as him, I'm going to be in a good spot."
Tennessee Titans: OT Dennis Kelly
The Tennessee Titans' right tackle spot could be a revolving door this year. Jack Conklin already left in free agency to sign a three-year, $42 million deal with the Cleveland Browns. In response, the organization re-signed Dennis Kelly on a three-year, $17.25 million deal and selected Isaiah Wilson with this year's 29th overall draft pick.
Wilson's maturation and development could be a major part of how the Titans proceed.
At 6'6" and 350 pounds, the 21-year-old rookie presents an awesome physical presence. But he also brings a different skill set compared to Conklin. The team's previous starter is far more athletic and excelled in the Titans' wide-zone scheme. With Wilson in the lineup, the Titans staff may be forced to switch things up a bit and rely more on simple zone or gap principles.
Or, the team could let Kelly hold down the fort for a year or two until Wilson is entirely comfortable. The 30-year-old veteran started four games last season. He would allow the team to build upon last season's offensive improvements instead of potentially limiting what it can do on that side of the ball.
Washington Football Team: LT Geron Christian Sr.
The Trent Williams standoff finally ended with the Washington Football Team trading the seven-time Pro Bowl left tackle to the San Francisco 49ers. Now, it doesn't have an established left tackle on the roster since last year's starter, Donald Penn, remains a free agent.
Instead, a competition will continue throughout training camp, though Geron Christian Sr. appears to be the front-runner, according to one teammate.
Right tackle Morgan Moses said it's Christian's time to take over where Williams and Penn left off, per The Athletic's Rhiannon Walker. Christian made two starts last year, but he'll be pushed by a talented rookie in Saahdiq Charles.
Washington fields half of a very good offensive line. From right tackle to center, the team is set with Moses, Brandon Scherff and Chase Roullier. Left tackle will be a major issue unless Christian shows he's capable of handling those duties. If that's the case, left guard will be helped once a starter is determined there with Wes Martin and Wes Schweitzer competing for the job.