In the 6th chapter of Zac’s NFL Preview, four teams building on strong 2015 performances and some key roster additions this year.
Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11)
Coach: Gus Bradley (2013, 12-36) With over 26 years coaching experience at different levels, Bradley shot to NFL fame as the defensive co-ordinator of Seattle’s “Legion of Boom” which was one of the most dominant defences of the modern era. Entering his 4th year in Jacksonville there are high expectations.
QB: Blake Bortles (2014) Third year man who had a breakout 2015, needs to work on accuracy and decision making as he makes the progression to bona fide young gun.
Jalen Ramsey (5) CB, Florida State
Myles Jack (36) LB, UCLA
Yannick Ngakoue (69) DE, Maryland
Sheldon Day (103) DT, Notre Dame
Tashaun Gipson S (FA)
Malik Jackson DT (FA)
Chris Ivory RB (FA)
Prince Amukakmara CB (FA)
Kelvin Beachum LT (FA)
Zane Beadles G (released)
Chris Clemons DE (released)
Stefen Wisniewski C (FA)
Toby Gerhart RB (released)
Jacksonville are a team on the rise, a very young team looking to build on a breakout offensive season last year from key skill players. A great duo of receivers in Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns and the backfield has received a massive upgrade with veteran Chris Ivory added. The offensive line has had an overhaul with former LT Luke Joeckel moving inside and free agent pick up Kelvin Beacham looking to man the blind side which is a double positive there.
Gus Bradley’s influence is being shown defensively with the unit improving, some key additions on the defensive line with Malik Jackson a big bodied tackle joining quality man Sen’Derrick Marks in the middle and Dante Fowler Jnr is finally healthy after missing all of his rookie season with a torn ACL. The secondary is looking much better with rookie Jalen Ramsey the best cover corner in the draft and free agent pick up Tashaun Gipson adding a quality veteran to the safety position.
Expectations are high in Jacksonville it will be a matter to see if the improvements come to fruition with results.
Buy Low – 7 wins
Buy High – 10 wins
Kansas City Chiefs (11-5)
Coach: Andy Reid (2013, 31-17 ) (161-110-1 overall) A senior coach in NFL since moving to the Chiefs has revitalised the franchise and built a superior overall roster. Throughout his career though in game decision making (particularly clock management) has always been questioned.
QB: Alex Smith (2013) Solid veteran brought in a few years ago to manage Reid’s “west coast” offense. One of the most consistent and safe QB’s in the league, highly underrated.
Chris Jones (37) DT, Mississippi State
KeiVarae Russell (74) CB, Notre Dame
Parker Ehinger (105) G, Cincinnati
The Chiefs will be almost unchanged from last season with no significant gains or losses on the roster.
The Chiefs finished the regular season with 10 straight wins on the back of the best defense in football and a solid if unspectacular offense. The Chiefs receivers could be the worst group in the league, only Jeremy Maclin is a quality starter. Where the receivers are the worst, the running backs could be one of the best, a healthy Jamaal Charles teamed with last years revelations Charcandrick West, Spencer Ware and the dynamic Knile Davis can all move the chains.
Defensively the Chiefs are in my opinion the best in the league, they have quality across the field from the ball-hawking Eric Berry and Marcus Peters to the run stuffing Dontari Poe to the one man quarterback destroyer Tamba Hali they ooze class, how long it takes for Justin Houston to get healthy is a big question though. If the offense can manage to score some points the Chiefs will challenge strongly for the conference crown.
Buy Low – 10 wins
Buy High – 13 Wins
Los Angeles Rams (7-9)
Coach: Jeff Fisher (2012, 27-36-1) (169-156-1, overall) Fisher has become the poster boy for mediocrity, a Fisher led team has not finished with a winning record since 2008 (in Tennessee). A NFL coach since 1985 (since 1995 as a head coach), Fisher is one of the most senior coaches in the league, but it is time to start delivering on promises.
QB: Case Keenum (2015) Keenum has been named the starter for week 1, but this career backup may be simply warming the chair for the future (Goff).
Jared Goff (1) QB, California – The Rams mortgaged their future to trade up to acquire Goff, with Goff being their only top 100 pick. Goff was a standout at Cal but will likely be brought along slowly in his first year, possibly not seeing action at all. Though with journeyman Case Keenum starting and the pressure that comes with being a number 1 pick Goff may see action at some point this year.
Coty Sensabaugh CB (FA)
Jared Cook TE (released)
Nick Foles QB (released)
James Laurinaitis LB (released)
Chris Long DE (released)
Janoris Jenkins CB (FA)
This is a team built around a premier defensive line and with a journeyman or rookie QB will be heavily focussed on running the ball. Last year’s rookie sensation Todd Gurley is healthy and has a full preseason under his belt so expect some growth in his performance as LA lean heavily on the run to protect a couple of inexperienced QB’s.
The defense is anchored by Pro-Bowl tackle Aaron Donald, a one man wrecking ball, with Robert Quinn a Pro Bowl end and William Hayes needing to fill the void left by Chris Long’s departure. The constant pressure created by the front four hides some deficiencies at linebacker and in the secondary. The addition of ball hawk Coty Sensabaugh in place of Janoris Jenkins will be crucial to the success of the secondary. Some young defenders are going to have to rise.
A huge price was paid for Goff, it seriously inhibited any other real additions to the team so how that pans out will determine the fate of Coach Mediocre and his GM.
Buy Low – 7 wins
Buy High – 9 wins
Oakland Raiders (7-9)
Coach: Jack Del Rio (2015, 7-9) (75-80 overall) A veteran in his second season in Oakland, Del Rio is rising through the coaching ranks in his second stint as a head coach.
QB: Derek Carr (2014) Coming off his first Pro Bowl, Carr is one of the best young QB’s coming through the ranks and moving into his third season should be even better.
Karl Joseph (14) S, West Virginia
Jihad Ward (44) DE, Illinois
Shilique Calhoun (75) DE, Michigan State
DeAndre Washington (143) RB, Texas Tech
Bruce Irvin LB (FA)
Kelechi Osemele G (FA)
Reggie Nelson S (FA)
Charles Woodson S (retired)
Taylor Mays S (FA)
This is a young side with huge upside, with the expected improvement from Derek Carr and quality in all offensive skill positions the Raiders offense should look very good this year. New signing Kelechi Osemele is a man mountain who will drive defenders backwards consistently. Rookie back DeAndre Washington has pushed incumbent Murray all preseason so expect a committee approach early on.
The Raiders lost both starting safeties from last season but rookie Karl Joseph has looked good and Reggie Nelson is a quality signing from the Bengals. The success of the defense begins and ends with Khalil Mack though, one of the most dominant pass rushers in the NFL, with the addition of Bruce Irvin from Seattle the Raiders should have a great 1-2 punch to maintain constant pressure in the backfield.
This is definitely a side on the up and I’d expect they challenge the Chiefs for the Division title.
Buy Low – 9 wins
Buy High – 11 wins