In the latest round of his NFL Preview, Zac examines four teams who could be ready to take a giant leap.
Cleveland Browns (3-13)
Coach: Hue Jackson (2016) Second stint as a head coach. High quality offensive mind so the Browns offense should look much better this year.
QB: Robert Griffin III (2016) Looked like a superstar as a rookie but injuries and destructive coaching have derailed his career. Could be in line for a resurgent 2016 in Cleveland.
Corey Coleman (15) WR, Baylor 2015 (Consensus All-American, Fred Biletnikoff Award).
Emmaneul Ogbah (32) DE, Oklahoma State
Carl Nassib (65) DE, Penn state
Shon Coleman (76) T, Auburn
Scooby Wright III (250) LB, Arizona (2014 Unanimous All-American, PAC-12 DPY, Nagurski, Bednarik and Lambert Awards)
Robert Griffin III (FA)
Rahim Moore S (FA)
Josh Gordon WR (League reinstatment) will serve a 4 game suspension.
Alvin Bailey G (FA)
Terrelle Pryor WR (FA)
Travis Benjamin WR (FA)
Alex Mack C (FA)
Tashaun Gipson S (FA)
Donte Whitner SS (Released)
Brian Hartline WR (Released)
Dwayne Bowe WR (Released)
Karlos Dansby LB (Released)
Johnny Manziel QB (released)
Paul Kruger LB (released)
A new broom sweeps clean….. The Browns have undergone a complete makeover in the offseason (again). A new coach, new system, new QB, new WR’s if the preseason showing of RGIII kicks on into the regular season we may see a career resurgence, I’d say this is the best QB the Browns have had since Bernie Kosar. Josh Gordon is a huge in and has looked dynamic in the preseason and rookie Corey Coleman looks super talented, throw in QB convert Terrelle Pryor and TE Gary Barnidge and this is the makings of a high scoring offense.
But how much impact will the loss of Alex Mack have on the offensive line? Also it should be noted that RGIII is LEFT-handed so his blindside will be the right side of the line, I wonder the best left tackle in football Joe Thomas will move over to right or will RGIII’s back be covered by last years waiver wire addition Austin Pasztor or rookie tackle Shon Coleman? Will Cameron Erving convert successfully from guard to centre? These are the burning questions for the Browns faithful.
The Browns should be better defensively also, Danny Shelton is a powerhouse NT constantly clogging the running lanes and if rookies Nassib and Ogbah can contribute Cleveland will look much better this year. There are still holes at linebacker and in the secondary though so I’d expect teams will still move the chains regularly against the Browns.
Buy Low – 5 wins
Buy High – 9 wins
Houston Texans (9-7)
Coach: Bill O’Brien (2014, 18-14)
QB: Brock Osweiler (2016) Big money free agent signing after showing quality in Denver last season. Huge arm, huge upside, huge expectations.
Will Fuller (21) WR, Notre Dame (2015 2nd team All- American)
Braxton Miller (85) WR, Ohio State
Brock Osweiler QB (FA)
Lamar Miller RB (FA)
Jeff Allen G (FA)
Nate Washington WR (released)
Ben Jones C (FA)
Rahim Moore FS (FA)
T.J. Yates QB (released)
Brian Hoyer QB (released)
The Texans needed to find some offense to complement the top 5 defense during the offseason and opened the chequebook to sign Lamar Miller and Brock Osweiler in doing so changing the whole offensive outlook. Osweiler is a big armed gunslinger and a massive upgrade on last years trio of starters. DeAndre Hopkins should be even better this year with a quality QB and Houston also brought in two rookie WR’s in Fuller and Braxton Miller, the latter showing huge strides during the preseason and will be pressing for a starting job soon. The run game just got big againwith top 5 runner Lamar Miller added. This offense has some huge expectations.
Defensively well it starts with JJ Watt, the single most destructive force in football right now and a man robbed of League MVP honours last year by a QB centric league. As good as he is it doesn’t stop there, the Texans are beast mode, Jadeveon Clowney is finally healthy, Vince Wilfork is still clogging the middle, Brian Cushing, Benardrick McKinney and Whitney Mercilus round out a high quality linebacking group. While the secondary would be the weakest part of the defense, that is no mock, they are young and talented.
This side is better than last years outfit, amazingly though the AFC South has become a very strong division over the offseason so competition will be tough.
Buy Low – 9 wins
Buy High – 14 wins
New York Jets (10-6)
Coach: Todd Bowles (2015, 10-6)
QB: Ryan Fitzpatrick (2015) Talk about striking gold, after the Sanchez / Smith years the Jets found a veteran journeyman whose solid decision making have allowed a run first team to control the ball and win games.
Darron Lee (20) LB, Ohio State
Christian Hackenberg (51) QB, Penn State
Jordan Jenkins (83) LB, Georgia
Ryan Clady LT (trade)
Matt Forte RB (FA)
Khiry Robinson RB (FA)
Bruce Carter LB (FA)
Jarvis Jenkins DE (FA)
Antonio Cromartie CB (released)
Chris Ivory RB (FA)
Calvin Pace LB (not resigned)
Overall the Jets could have the most balancedside in football, across the board they are solid in all key positions. The additions of Matt Forte and Khiry Robinson give the Jets an instant upgrade at RB and should allow the offense to continue to control the football. The pairing of Eric Decker and Brandon Marshall are both high quality receivers with sure hands, crisp routes and good separation, with Ryan Fitzpatrick again controlling the ship the offense looks better than last year.
The core of this team though is still its defense, the defensive line is top class with Muhammed Wilkerson and Leonard Williams creating havoc with offensive lines, David Harris is as sure as they come at ILB probably seriously underated and it looks like rookie Jordan Jenkins will start the season on the weakside. Then there is Revis Island, still one of the premier corners in the game. This is a super aggressive defense who will create constant pressure week in week out.
The Jets should be challenging for the division title after being the only team with a winning record to miss the play offs last year.
Buy Low – 10 Wins
Buy High – 13 wins
Tennessee Titans (3-13)
Coach: Mike Mularkey (2015, 2-7)
QB: Marcus Mariota (2015) Displayed star qualities in his first season, sure to have come on from that and looks like the next generation of QB.
Jack Conklin (8) OT, Michigan State (2015 First team All-american, Sporting News, USA Today)
Kevin Dodd (33) DE, Clemson
Austin Johnson (43) DT, Penn State
Derrick Henry (45) RB, Alabama (2015 Heisman Trophy, Doak Walker, Maxwell, Walter Camp. All-American)
Kevin Byard (64) S, Middle Tennessee State
Tajae Sharpe (140) WR, UMass
Rishard Matthews WR (FA)
DeMarco Murray RB (Trade)
Ben Jones C (FA)
Andre Johnson WR (FA)
Rashard Johnson FS (FA)
Andy Levitre G (Traded)
Dorial Green Beckham WR (Traded)
Craig Stevens TE (Retired)
Coty Sensabaugh CB (FA)
Michael Griffin FS (Released)
Welcome back Smash Mouth Football!! Mike Mularkey and GM Jon Robinson have spent the offseason retooling the offense into a run first run often team. The offensive line is big and mobile. Andy Levitre was moved on to allow second year man Quinton Spain to start, Jack Conklin was drafted to fill the right tackle and Ben Jones was signed in free agency to upgrade Centre. A trade for DeMarco Murray and the drafting of Derrick Henry puts the best backfield in Tennessee since the CJ2K days.
This offense is designed to control the ball and with second year QB Mariota leading the way, Tennessee are going to be very competitive each week. Receiving corps will have a completely new look led by former pro bowler Andre Johnson and Rishard Matthews, reports Tajae Sharpe has been climbing the depth chart through the preseason may spell the end for underachievers Kendall Wright and Justin Hunter (DGB already traded away).
The Titans defense was already one of the most dynamic young D’s in the NFL, have added some quality in Rashard Johnson at Free Safety and a couple of big bodied rookies in run stuffer Austin Johnson who should climb the depth chart and Kevin Dodd who will likely spend his first year in situational pass rushing as he transitions from a 4-3 end to a 3-4 linebacker.
The Titans will have some high expectations even coming off a 3 win season and anything less than 8 wins would be a disappointment.
Buy Low – 8 wins
Buy High – 11 Wins