Every NFL Team's Biggest X-Factor Heading into 2021 Season

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystAugust 17, 2021

Every NFL Team's Biggest X-Factor Heading into 2021 Season

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    An NFL team's X-factor can take many shapes and sizes. 

    Merriam-Webster defines the term as "A circumstance, quality or person that has a strong but unpredictable future." 

    Unpredictability is the key. Organizations generally know who their core players are. Those individuals serve as tentpoles for the entire roster, while others, who don't yet carry that same weight, can become the difference in a season. 

    Last year, the Buffalo Bills' Josh Allen went from a middling and inconsistent quarterback that flashed his immense potential to an MVP candidate. Former New Orleans Saints defensive end Trey Hendrickson tied with Aaron Donald with the league's second-most sacks at 13.5. Fourth-round rookie L'Jarius Sneed converted from safety to corner and developed into a Super Bowl starter for the Kansas City Chiefs. These are but three examples across the entire league. So many more can be found. 

    Not every player named as an X-factor needs to be an All-Pro or even a Pro Bowl-caliber player, either. The goal is simple: Those named have a real chance to make their team better relative to their current standing. 

    Some may be obvious. Others certainly won't be. But each has the potential to exceed expectations. 

Arizona Cardinals: CB Marco Wilson

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    The Arizona Cardinals knew they had a problem at cornerback when the team couldn't re-sign eight-time Pro Bowl selection Patrick Peterson. 

    The team responded on two fronts. First, general manager Steve Keim signed Malcolm Butler in free agency. The organization also drafted Marco Wilson and Tay Gowan in the fourth and sixth rounds, respectively. 

    Wilson could create an instant impact despite being a middle-round selection. In his first preseason contest, the Dallas Cowboys targeted the rookie six times, per Pro Football Focus, with Wilson breaking up three of those passes. 

    "When you look at the big picture, the guy has got such a high ceiling and yet has a pretty high floor as well,” Keim told reporters in May. "I think he's going to be a really good player, and for him to fail with those athletic traits and his passion for the game, I think when you look at the risk to reward, I think it’s pretty high."

Atlanta Falcons: DL Marlon Davidson

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    Marlon Davidson, last year's second-round pick for the Falcons, disappointed as a rookie. Injuries took their toll, and the adjustment to NFL life did not come easy. Davidson played in eight games and managed only eight total tackles. 

    However, improved health, a new coaching staff and mentorship from teammate Grady Jarrett have Davidson primed for a bounceback campaign.

    "[Jarrett] was just telling me to play fast," the second-year defender told Scott Bair of the Falcons official site after the team's first preseason game against the Tennessee Titans. "He knew I had some jitters. He said, 'Don't worry about that,' be the player that I want to be. After that, for the game, it just changed me. I told him during the game, 'I appreciate you, bro.' I needed it.

    Davidson's combination of size (6'3", 303 pounds), power and versatility will help the Falcons' defensive line control the line of scrimmage, as long as he remains engaged. 

Baltimore Ravens: G Ben Cleveland

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    The Baltimore Ravens offensive line is officially a concern. The group performed poorly in the team's preseason opener against the New Orleans Saints. 

    To be fair, the Ravens didn't have their complete starting front intact for the contest, which leads to another problem—the projected starting five has yet to practice together. Left tackle Ronnie Stanley continues to recover from last season's ankle injury. Right guard Kevin Zeitler has a sprained foot. Right tackle Alejandro Villanueva missed some practice time. Center Bradley Bozeman suffered an ankle injury during Saturday's contest. Left guard, though, remains the biggest question mark of them all. 

    According to The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec, projected rookie starter Ben Cleveland missed multiple practices last week and the first preseason contest. He's currently in the NFL's concussion protocol. This year's 94th overall draft pick impressed throughout the entire offseason, though he had yet to officially secure a starting spot. 

    Cleveland is a massive and physical blocker who should fit right into Baltimore's offense, but he needs to show he's prepared for a starting role. 

Buffalo Bills: WR Gabriel Davis

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    The Buffalo Bills passing offense ranked second overall last season behind only the explosive Kansas City Chiefs. It can be even better this fall, particularly if second-year wide receiver Gabriel Davis continues to improve. 

    Davis' seven touchdown receptions as a rookie finished second on the team and only one behind the league's leading receiver, Stefon Diggs. Diggs believes the former fourth-round draft pick can continue to evolve, though. 

    "I tell him all the time now—'let me see it,'" Diggs told reporters. "'Last year, you did play pretty well. You did have some success, but there's a lot more football for you, and there's a lot more you can obtain, a lot more things you can do better. So let me see that this next year, making that second-year jump.'" 

    The Bills' top three receivers are set with Diggs and veterans Cole Beasley and Emmanuel Sanders. Davis can show he's more than a deep threat and transform Buffalo's outstanding trio into a fearsome foursome. 

Carolina Panthers: TE Dan Arnold

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    Sam Darnold's development is the most important aspect of the 2021 Carolina Panthers' campaign. 

    The organization chose to pass on Justin Fields to see if it can develop the former third overall draft pick. As such, the proper surrounding cast must be placed around Darnold to see if he can truly become a franchise quarterback. 

    Tight end is a particular sore spot, though veteran free-agent acquisition Dan Arnold could very well turn out to be the security blanket Darnold needs. 

    "Dan Arnold had a great (offseason)," general manager Scott Fitterer told reporters before training camp started. "He showed a lot of ability to get down the field and catch the ball. It looks like he'll be a threat in the passing game."

    Arnold posted career highs in catches (31) and receiving yards (438) with the Arizona Cardinals last season. He could easily eclipse both numbers as an emerging focal point of the Panthers offense. 

Chicago Bears: QB Justin Fields

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    How could the choice for the Chicago Bears' X-factor be anyone other than first-round quarterback Justin Fields? 

    Sure, the organization made him this year's 11th overall pick, and the excitement about his potential is bubbling over after his initial preseason appearance. Nevertheless, the Chicago Bears continue to place a roadblock by the name of Andy Dalton in front of the future starter. 

    Despite being the most talented signal-caller on the roster, head coach Matt Nagy wants Fields to continue stacking days in practice and throughout the preseason. 

    "Just worry about tomorrow. And just create competition and be the best quarterback you can be," Nagy told reporters when asked what his first-year signal-caller can do to earn the job.

    Eventually, Fields will force Nagy and Co. to play him, and when they do, he'll change the team's entire offensive dynamic thanks to his impressive skill set as a passer and athlete. 

Cincinnati Bengals: G Jackson Carman

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    The Cincinnati Bengals placed undue pressure on second-round offensive lineman Jackson Carman just by drafting him where they did. 

    The organization chose to pass on Oregon's Penei Sewell with this year's fifth overall pick and instead selected wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase. The Bengals believed they could address their biggest need with a quality prospect in the second frame. The rationalization became flawed when the team traded down from the 38th overall slot and watched guys like Teven Jenkins, Liam Eichenberg and Walker Little fly off the board. 

    The team eventually chose Carman with the 46th overall pick. 

    While Carman played left tackle for Clemson, the Bengals drafted him to start as their left guard. However, he's yet to run away with the job.

    "He's gotta get himself in peak shape, which I think he's working his way into that. What we see are the traits that we like in him," general manager Duke Tobin said, per ESPN's Ben Baby

    Carman can solidify an improved front five, but he must first show he's capable of making the transition. 

Cleveland Browns: S Grant Delpit

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    The Cleveland Browns chose safety Grant Delpit in the second round of the 2020 NFL draft, but the Jim Thorpe Award winner didn't play as a rookie after tearing his Achilles tendon during his first training camp. 

    Unfortunately, injuries continue to nag Delpit, particularly a balky hamstring. 

    "He hasn't really had a whole lot of snaps for us, but he was around in minicamp and he's been around," Browns defensive backs coach Jeff Howard told reporters. "But unfortunately I think he's had like nine team reps up to this point, so it's been very few and far between for Grant."

    When healthy, Delpit has the skill set to change the Browns' defensive approach. The team can implement a big nickel package with him, Ronnie Harrison and John Johnson III. Considering how different the unit already looks after this offseason's acquisitions, Delpit could push it over the top when he's finally ready to play. 

Dallas Cowboys: LB Keanu Neal

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    As the NFL leans more and more into positionless defensive play with each passing season, it favors individuals who can play multiple roles and stay on the field regardless of down or scheme.

    The Dallas Cowboys are going through an interesting transition at linebacker. Both Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch should experience drastically different roles and decreased usage this fall. They'll do so to make way for this year's 12th overall draft pick, Micah Parsons, and safety-convert Keanu Neal. 

    "I don't categorize myself. I feel I can play safety, linebacker," Neal told reporters in June. "... Growing up I played linebacker in middle school and high school, then we changed the defense and I switched to safety, so I went to college as a safety. But in my heart, I have been a linebacker for a while." 

    Neal is a tackling machine when healthy. He's made 100 or more tackles in his three full seasons. His comfort level working in space and understanding of Dan Quinn's system only helps his and the defense's cause.  

Denver Broncos: QB Drew Lock

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    The Denver Broncos' quarterback battle remains ongoing, though Drew Lock may have a slight edge despite head coach Vic Fangio's comments to the contrary. 

    "I think they both played very well," Fangio told reporters when asked to assess Lock's and Teddy Bridgewater's preseason performance against the Minnesota Vikings. "I don't think any separation happened today." 

    To the coach's point, the duo combined to complete 12-of-15 passes for 225 yards and three touchdowns. However, a significant difference did appear in their respective performances. 

    Whereas Lock's natural arm strength and penchant to push the ball downfield brought a different level of explosivity to the unit, Bridgewater took a more conservative approach. He almost always made the correct read and took what the defense gave him, though.

    Bridgewater would be the safe pick, but Lock has the potential to be so much more. As long as the third-year quarterback's decision-making and overall consistency improve, the Broncos can significantly improve upon last year's last-place finish in the AFC West.

Detroit Lions: WR Amon-Ra St. Brown

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    The Detroit Lions aren't blessed with much talent at the wide receiver position. However, they have a promising rookie in Amon-Ra St. Brown, who could emerge as the group's top threat. 

    According to MLive's Kyle Meinke, this year's 112th overall pick has been working almost exclusively as the first-team slot receiver and already become quarterback Jared Goff's second-favorite target after Pro Bowl tight end T.J. Hockenson. 

    The organization signed Breshad Perriman and Tyrell Williams this offseason to serve as the offense's outside receivers, but neither has been a true No. 1 target at any of their previous stops, as they're complementary pieces at best. St. Brown may not be a true WR1 either, but his emergence throughout camp should give Goff a reliable option in the passing attack. 

    Considering Lions owner Sheila Ford Hamp mentioned the team's need at wide receiver during the draft, St. Brown's rapid development is the best possible outcome for Detroit's roster. 

Green Bay Packers: WR Amari Rodgers

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    The Green Bay Packers finally invested in a wide receiver prospect when general manager Brian Gutekunst traded up in this year's third round to select Clemson's Amari Rodgers with the 85th overall pick. 

    Now, head coach Matt LaFleur must utilize Rodgers properly. The rookie can be an exciting gadget player in the Packers' already impressive offense. 

    Aaron Rodgers' demand to bring back Randall Cobb could limit what his first-year target will do this fall. But the Packers can implement Amari Rodgers in a variety of manners. The rookie can line up at wide receiver, in the backfield, be used on fly sweeps, be fed the ball on screens and even play special teams.

    Special teams coordinator Maurice Drayton told reporters last week that he's "leaning toward" Rodgers serving as the punt returner. Rodgers, the son of former Tennessee quarterback Tee Martin, is very creative working in space with the potential to consistently create yardage after the catch. 

    The more weapons Aaron Rodgers has, the better the Packers can be. Maybe they even get over the NFC Championship Game hump this season.

Houston Texans: QB Davis Mills

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    The Houston Texans' 2021 campaign is all about evaluation.

    The team is clearly rebuilding with one of the league's worst rosters. As a result, expectations are low. As in, the only disappointment might be the team not "earning" next year's No. 1 overall draft pick.

    With that in mind, the evaluation of the quarterback position is vital to the franchise's progression. Eventually, Deshaun Watson won't be on the team. He's likely to be traded or released at some point.

    As of now, Tyrod Taylor will orchestrate the offense. But eventually, the team needs to take a hard look at this year's top draft pick, Davis Mills. Granted, Mills didn't come off the board until the 67th pick. Still, Houston saw enough potential to make him its initial selection as the organization tries to figure out what to do at the game's most important position.

    Mills has the traits to be a starting NFL quarterback, and by giving him some playing time this season, the Texans can discover whether they can build around the Stanford product or look elsewhere near the top of the 2022 NFL draft.

Indianapolis Colts: LT Eric Fisher

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    Eric Fisher's return to the field can't come soon enough for the Indianapolis Colts. The team's current left tackle situation is a disaster. 

    Julie'n Davenport and Will Holden certainly aren't the answer. Sam Tevi has been at right tackle and hasn't faired particularly well. 

    Basically, the Colts must hold their collective breath until Fisher shows he's ready to play after suffering a torn Achilles tendon less than eight months ago. However, the veteran's rehab work sounds promising. 

    "Yeah, I've seen him—just watching a couple of his workouts with our trainers working him out, I think he looks really good," head coach Frank Reich told reporters last week. "In fact, I saw him doing something the other day and I yelled over, 'Put some pads on him!' I thought he looked that good."

    Fisher's eventual debut in a Colts' uniform—whether it occurs in Week 1 or later in the season—has the potential to change the entire complexion of Indianapolis' season.

Jacksonville Jaguars: WR Laviska Shenault Jr.

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    Travis Etienne, whom the Jacksonville Jaguars drafted with this year's 25th overall pick, didn't open his first preseason game as a starter at running back or H-back. 

    Instead, Laviska Shenault Jr. worked with the first-team offense and snagged two catches for 14 yards. His performance doesn't necessarily matter, but his usage does. 

    The second-year wide receiver had the Jaguars' staff buzzing prior to the start of training camp, as his skill set translates well to Urban Meyer's vital H-back spot. Shenault is a capable wide receiver who runs with authority after the catch. Etienne may be a running back with receiver capabilities, but Shenault is a receiver with a running back's attitude. 

    The progression of last year's second-round pick is important on two levels. First, the Jaguars need all the playmakers they can find to help rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence. Secondly, Shenault's capability of playing H-back will allow Etienne to concentrate on running back while still helping some in the passing game. 

Kansas City Chiefs: Edge Mike Danna

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    The Kansas City Chiefs don't know if they'll be able to generate any consistent pressure off the edge this season.

    Frank Clark's arrest in June on a concealed firearm charge and uncertain future left the Chiefs in a bind, as Kansas City doesn't have another proven edge-rusher on the roster. 

    Chris Jones as a full-time edge defender isn't the answer, either, since he's far more effective working along the interior.

    This vacancy provides an opportunity for defensive end Mike Danna to step up. Last year's fifth-round draft pick managed 2.5 sacks as a rookie, is quick off the edge and has the minimum capability of being a pass-rush specialist this fall. In a best-case scenario, though, he develops into a full-time starter.  

    "Mike Danna is one of my favorite guys and was from the beginning; because of the way I look at it, he's a young guy who came in his rookie season, and after a month, you’d have thought he was a 10-year veteran," defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo told reporters

Las Vegas Raiders: CB Nate Hobbs

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    The Las Vegas Raiders' recent draft history under head coach Jon Gruden has been a mixed bag. They've hit on a couple of middle-round draft picks in Maxx Crosby and Hunter Renfrow. Fifth-round cornerback Nate Hobbs could be another.

    "There's certain guys that bring juice," Gruden said, per Tashan Reed of The Athletic. "They bring something to the game that you can't explain it. He's one of these guys. He's into it all the time in walk-throughs and meetings. He's at nickel corner, and he might be our opening-day starter. It's never too big for him."

    Hobbs could make up for the fact that last year's No. 19 pick, Damon Arnette, has been a disappointment. As long as the rookie continues to perform well in the slot, the Raiders will be set with Casey Hayward Jr. and Trayvon Mullen Jr. working the outside spots.

    Nevin Lawson's return from a two-game performance-enhancing drug suspension and Arnette's possibly establishing himself would give the Raiders excellent cornerback depth.

Los Angeles Chargers: WR Joshua Palmer

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    The Los Angeles Chargers have two outstanding wide receivers in Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. They're looking for a third, and third-round rookie Joshua Palmer appears to have worked his way into a prominent role during training camp.

    As quarterback Justin Herbert said, per 247 Sports' Grant Ramey: "[Palmer] picked it up pretty quickly and knows what he's doing. Physical, fast and able to make some pretty nice plays."

    Palmer is the ideal vertical threat to complement the Chargers' veteran targets. According to Pro Football Focus, he was targeted 17.3 yards downfield on average during his four-year collegiate career.

    Los Angeles' wide receiver corps already had Jalen Guyton and Tyron Johnson to serve as deep options. Palmer is different in that he has the potential to become a complete receiver, as Herbert mentioned. His options may be limited with Allen's and Williams' target shares, but he can open up the field and create chunk plays to make coordinator Joe Lombardi's offense even more dangerous.

Los Angeles Rams: RB Darrell Henderson Jr.

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    Cam Akers' Achilles tendon injury was disappointing. But the Los Angeles Rams still have a quality running back in Darrell Henderson Jr.

    The Rams drafted Henderson in the third round just two years ago. Last season, he ran for 624 yards and five touchdowns in 15 games, including 11 starts.

    "I'm a big Darrell Henderson fan," head coach Sean McVay said on The Doug Gottlieb Show. "We drafted him ... for a reason. He's got ability. He's got burst."

    "... When Darrell was healthy—you really look at it through the first eight games of the season, he was playing really good football, showing versatility in the run game and the pass game. He's explosive."

    Essentially, the Rams feel they had two starting backs. Now, they're down to one. As long as Henderson can shoulder an expanded workload, McVay's offense should excel with Matthew Stafford behind center.

Miami Dolphins: S Jevon Holland

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    Two years ago, Jevon Holland could have made the claim he was college football's best safety and nickel defender. Then, he opted out of the 2020 campaign.

    His draft stock never recovered. Holland fell into this year's second round, where the Miami Dolphins awaited.

    The Dolphins emphasized investing in their secondary. And Holland is the latest example who shows teams can never have too many quality defensive backs.

    "He's doing a lot of good things from a communication standpoint, from a fundamentals and technique standpoint," Dolphins head coach Brian Flores told reporters. "He's a hard-working kid. It's showing up a little bit on the practice field."

    Holland can play both safety spots, participate in multiple sub-packages and cover the slot. His versatility and playmaking ability will make it difficult to keep him off the field, even with the quality veterans the Dolphins have in the defensive backfield.

Minnesota Vikings: G Oli Udoh

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    Oli Udoh wasn't originally part of the Minnesota Vikings' right guard conversation. Dakota Dozier and third-round rookie Wyatt Davis were expected to compete for the spot. Center Mason Cole was supposed to get some reps there as well.

    Instead, Udoh emerged as the favorite to claim the job.

    The 2019 sixth-round pick has played tackle throughout his career, but the coaching staff saw potential.

    "Oli is so athletic; he has a lot of God-given ability," offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak told reporters during training camp. "He's extremely smart and a hard worker. He's entering Year 3 heresame scheme, and it's just coming together for him at the right time."

    Udoh's progression is exactly what the Vikings need. If he settles the interior, the staff can then concentrate on getting first-round rookie Christian Darrisaw up to speed at left tackle.

New England Patriots: QB Mac Jones

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    Cam Newton is the New England Patriots' starting quarterback. Maybe. No. 15 pick Mac Jones could make things interesting in the coming weeks.

    The three-time Pro Bowler has the edge. Newton is a veteran with a year of experience in the system. He now has a much better surrounding cast, too. But the Patriots won't shut the door on the possibility of starting Jones this season.

    "Everybody learns different, but he's just going to keep getting better, and we're going to be here for each other along this whole process," Newton said, per ESPN's Mike Reiss.

    If Newton falters, Jones will be ready to take his spot. He is an ideal fit in the system Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Josh McDaniels previously built around Tom Brady. Jones can be an efficient distributor and maximize New England's offensive capabilities over time.

New Orleans Saints: CB Paulson Adebo

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    The unexpected retirement of Patrick Robinson shed more light on the New Orleans Saints' lack of quality depth at cornerback.

    Granted, Robinson was better over the slot than working outside the numbers during the last phase of his career, but reliable corners aren't easy to come by.

    Third-round rookie Paulson Adebo could make the situation more tenable because he has enough potential to become a starter opposite Marshon Lattimore.

    The Baltimore Ravens tested Adebo in his first NFL action and didn't manage much.

    "They went after Paulson a few times, and I thought he handled it well," head coach Sean Payton told reporters. "He also played well in the kicking game. By and large, I was encouraged with the defensive performance last night."

    A string of strong performances by the collegiate ballhawk—who had eight interceptions and 27 pass breakups in two seasons with Stanford—should put Ken Crawley on notice.

New York Giants: LB Carter Coughlin

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    Carter Coughlin transitioned from outside to inside linebacker this year, and the early results are promising.

    "The inside is new to him, so there's a lot of things that he's experiencing for the first time, but I'd say he's flashed positively throughout camp," head coach Joe Judge told reporters. "He's one of the guys that we wanted to see how he responded to some different game situations—both on defense and the kicking game—and he was a positive for us."

    The move will give the Giants more athleticism along their second line of defense, plus Coughlin presents enough versatility to be used in different packages on or off the ball.

    With a chess piece such as Coughlin, New York has depth behind projected starters Blake Martinez and Tae Crowder. And a strong second line can make the defense even better than it was last season, when it finished ninth in scoring defense.

New York Jets: WR Elijah Moore

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    Real recognizes real.

    The Tennessee Titans' A.J. Brown led all rookie wide receivers in 2019 with 1,051 yards. The Ole Miss product foresees a similar splash by former collegiate teammate and current New York Jet Elijah Moore.

    "Real talk, he's a real sleeper," Brown said on Raw Room. "I'll put my money on himOffensive Rookie of the Year. Without a doubt. Over anybody. And I ain't even discrediting the guys that went ahead of him. Ain't nobody messing with him."

    To back up Brown's assertion, Moore has been a standout throughout camp. But the second-rounder suffered a quad injury last week. There's hope he'll be back next week, according to The Athletic's Connor Hughes.

    A healthy Moore could easily be the top target in the offense, even with Corey Davis and Jamison Crowder on the roster.

Philadelphia Eagles: DL Milton Williams

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    The Philadelphia Eagles coaching staff already envision rookie defensive lineman Milton Williams as a matchup nightmare for opponents.

    The 6'3", 290-pounder has the size and athleticism to play end or tackle. He made a splash Thursday against the Pittsburgh Steelers while playing predominantly at end. The rookie created pressure and consistently reset the line of scrimmage. 

    "The advantages are we get to accentuate his skill set a little bit," defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon said recently. "And it's a little bit matchup-driven. We want to see him play on the center, on the guards, on the tackles."

    Williams is an athlete on par with Aaron Donald. No, that's not hyperbole. Obviously, the comparison should go no further than their physical traits. However, the 22-year-old has the potential to be a significant disruptive force.

    The Eagles seem to have something in their third-rounder and plan to take full advantage.

Pittsburgh Steelers: CB James Pierre

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    The Pittsburgh Steelers secondary is in turmoil after Mike Hilton signed with the Cincinnati Bengals and Steven Nelson was released.

    Cornerback Cameron Sutton is slated to start opposite Joe Haden with the rest of the group undecided. Antoine Brooks Jr. and Arthur Maulet are working the slot. However, Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler has options. He can slide Sutton over the slot again and move James Pierre to outside corner opposite Haden.

    "Pierre is a good player. [He's been] amazing this whole camp and even last year," the 12-year veteran told The Athletic's Mark Kaboly. "He is long, fast and listens. He gets it, and he is making plays on the ball all the time."

    The Steelers' cornerback room still isn't settled, but the group could be stronger than expected—especially if Pierre continues to blossom.

San Francisco 49ers: QB Trey Lance

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    Trey Lance doesn't need to start at quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers to make an impact.

    According to head coach Kyle Shanahan, the staff will put together a package of plays for the No. 3 pick and use him in specific situations.

    "Trey's going to play this year," Shanahan told reporters. "I know everyone's now gonna rush to Twitter, but situationally he's going to play. Doesn't mean he's going to start, but he'll get plays. ... He will get reps with the ones."

    A sprinkling of Lance will bring a significant change of pace to the offense. His combination of athleticism and arm strength adds a different element compared to Jimmy Garoppolo's approach.

    Lance could work his way into a starting role and create an even bigger impact. Until then, the 49ers will utilize his elite talent in some manner.

Seattle Seahawks: TE Gerald Everett

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    Gerald Everett isn't like anyone quarterback Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks have had in the offense since they joined forces.

    "This is a guy with an excellent range of ability, and probably the thing we like best is how competitive he is," head coach Pete Carroll told reporters at the start of training camp.

    "He's really tough. Runs with the ball as hard as anybody we've had here in the receiver position."

    Carroll made an interesting point indirectly. Everett isn't a traditional tight end. The 240-pounder can play in line, flexed, on the wing or even at fullback.

    Everett followed Shane Waldron to Seattle after the two spent the last four seasons together with the Los Angeles Rams. The new Seahawks offensive coordinator should know how to fully utilize the flexible target alongside DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: WR Antonio Brown

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    Antonio Brown, a seven-time Pro Bowler, didn't sign with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers until late October. He also had a balky knee that required offseason surgery.

    "A.B. is in great shape, and obviously the knee is fine," head coach Bruce Arians told reporters last week. "Having heard it all again, having been out of the system for a while and getting back in, getting all the practice time and the meeting time—he's still a great, great football player.

    "He's playing at a speed I saw four or five years ago."

    A healthy Brown playing at his previous level would make the reigning Super Bowl champions even more dangerous offensively than they were down the stretch last season. Mike Evans is already a mismatch nightmare, while Chris Godwin is the squad's franchise player this year. A return to form by Brown would make Tom Brady and Co. impossible to stop.

Tennessee Titans: RT Dillon Radunz

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    The Tennessee Titans could recover quickly from the Isaiah Wilson first-round disaster—as long as this year's second-round pick, Dillon Radunz, shows competency at right tackle.

    Radunz struggled during training camp. After all, he's making a big leap.

    "The guys are definitely a little quicker in the NFL compared to FCS, so just learning and getting my feet in the ground a little bit quicker, using my hands a little bit quicker than usual—that's normally what I'm going to have to get used to," Radunz said.

    The Titans are cross-training Radunz at right guard and tackle. He acquitted himself well in Tennessee's first preseason contest against the Atlanta Falcons. According to Pro Football Focus, Randunz was one of three rookie tackles to play 10 or more pass-blocking snaps and not surrender a pressure.

    Tennessee has veterans Kendall Lamm and Ty Sambrailo to hold things down until Radunz is ready to start. He must earn his keep to complete the front five.

Washington Football Team: WR Dyami Brown

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    The Washington Football Team trotted one of the league's worst wide receiver corps onto the field last season—aside from the top target, Terry McLaurin.

    The organization should be excited about what it has at the position now after signing Curtis Samuel and Adam Humphries and drafting Dyami Brown in this year's third round. The foursome brings a varied skill set with the rookie being a fantastic deep threat.

    "His explosiveness, his ability to get vertical, his ability to get open, especially on those crossers," head coach Ron Rivera said, per The Athletic's Ben Standig.

    Brown's speed will give him a role in the offense. Coming out of college, he led all receivers since the start of the 2019 campaign with 15 receptions, 606 yards and eight touchdowns on go routes, per Pro Football Focus. With the potential to pull a safety over the top, Brown should create more space for McLaurin, Samuel and Humphries.


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