Various circumstances caused certain NFL teams to remain at the bottom of the ranks last season. This offseason provided the perfect opportunity to make some much-needed enhancements.
It’s been ages since four of the five teams have managed a winning record. The other team featured on this list was hammered with some key injuries that doomed the 2015 season.
Due to brilliant draft picks, free agent scores and star players returning to health, here are the NFL teams that will be making big leaps in 2016.
It’s early, but the Raiders are already talking about upstaging the Denver Broncos in AFC West. There is always bad blood between the two teams, highlighted by a recent Twitter tiff between the two teams.
Stock is up for the Raiders across the board, after making some awesome preseason improvements both in free agency and in the draft.
To help quarterback Derek Carr have a productive third season, the team wisely re-signed tackle Donald Penn and inked Ravens guard Kelechi Osemele to a massive contract.
On defense, Oakland acquired linebacker Bruce Irvin, cornerback Sean Smith and safety Reggie Nelson, who recorded a league-high eight interceptions last season with Cincinnati. Productive in the draft as well, the team added several defenders, including safety Karl Joseph in the first round.
We must mention this crew will be joining breakout star, third-year linebacker Khalil Mack, responsible for an incredible 15 sacks last season.
Mark Sanchez, you have been warned.
Coupled with a up-and-coming offense led by Carr, Michael Crabtree, Amari Cooper and Latavius Murray, the Raiders should be solid in nearly all aspects of their team. If they don’t top their seven wins from last year, then something horrible will have gone wrong with their plan. Raise your hand if a postseason appearance doesn’t seem too far-fetched.
News that first-round draft pick, cornerback Jalen Ramsey, sustained a minor meniscus tear during rookie minicamp wasn’t exactly what fans wanted to hear.
This shouldn’t have a tremendous impact on the exciting direction that the Jaguars are headed in 2016.
Ramsey could be ready by training camp, and the Jaguars are getting second-year pass rusher Dante Fowler back. Fowler missed his entire rookie season after tearing his ACL in rookie minicamp last year. Rookie linebacker Myles Jack will also be an exciting addition if he remains healthy.
Noteworthy as well were the free agency signings of defensive end Malik Jackson and cornerback Prince Amukamara.
On offense, the Jaguars were a force to be reckoned with through the air when quarterback Blake Bortles passed for 4,428 yards and 35 touchdowns in 2015. The addition of running back Chris Ivory should help Bortles develop his passing game and reduce his interceptions.
Jacksonville led the 10th-best receiving offense in 2015, and breakout stars Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns combined for a total of 24 touchdowns. There is no reason to believe their momentum will slow down.
A ground threat in Ivory and beefed up defense should have Jacksonville turning up the heat against the competition.
Los Angeles Rams
Lots of new and less to boo this season will undoubtedly see the Rams on an uptick in 2016.
For starters, rejoining the west coast will have the Rams less jet-lagged when they face their NFC West competitors in the same time zone this year.
An exhilarating Los Angeles location, along with a fresh new rookie quarterback Jared Goff also helps the Rams’ recipe for success moving forward.
Second-year running back and the 2015 Offensive Rookie of the Year Todd Gurley will look to turn heads again while he attempts to top his 1,106 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns from last season. The team certainly struck gold in this department last year.
The biggest asset the Rams are banking their future success on is obviously Goff. Perhaps just starting anew at the quarterback position after so many past seasons of disarray will have the Rams making big leaps moving forward.
After giving up quite the ransom in multiple draft picks to move up to No. 1 to select Goff, regression is not an option for Jeff Fishers’s Rams.
Due to some snazzy offseason activity and promising second-year quarterback Marcus Mariota, the Titans will be looking to improve from their basement-level status in the AFC South.
One of the keenest additions yet is the duo of running backs DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry, who will bolster last year’s 25-ranked rushing offense. They’ll also make life a whole lot easier for Mariota as reliable backs to receive hand-offs.
Veteran tight end Delanie Walker commented on how Mariota is making strides entering his second season, per Jim Wyatt of the team’s official website.
“You can tell he is starting to be more vocal. I think he is starting to get more comfortable with the system, and the guys are knowing that he is a leader on this team. So his throwing is always going to be good. But he looks faster, and he seems like he is grasping the offense really well.”
The Titans acquired Mariota another weapon in receiver Rishard Matthews through free agency and bolstered the offensive line with rookie tackle Jack Conklin.
Key free agents and multiple other rookies selected in the draft will only make Tennessee’s 12th-ranked defense from last year more daunting.
The rise of the Titans, as well as the outlook for their fellow AFC South teams, will make this division one of the NFL’s most competitive in 2016.
The Cowboys really have nowhere to go but up.
Unless another infestation of unforeseen injuries hits the team, quarterback Tony Romo and the gang will rebound this year.
Romo appears to be in fine health and progressing well after offseason surgery to his collarbone.
Jason Garrett and Jerry Jones agree that they've seen no physical issues for QB Tony Romo as he rehabs from surgery. https://t.co/PD0d9xqyza
— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) May 12, 2016
The other member of the Cowboys’ one-two punch is Dez Bryant, who is working on being in better shape after a down, injury-riddled 2015 campaign.
Joining Romo and Bryant as a third musketeer is stud rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott, selected by the Cowboys at No. 4. The team is obviously expecting elite results considering the fully-guaranteed nearly $25 million deal Zek just signed. Coming off 1,821 rushing yards and 23 touchdowns at Ohio State last year, Elliott should be prepared for the task.
If health prevails, Dallas’ offense will naturally float up from its 22nd ranking of 2015.
Regarding the Cowboys’ defense, it wasn’t horrible last year but certainly has room to improve. When DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory return from suspension, they’ll rejoin a healthy Tyrone Crawford. The Cowboys also drafted in the third and fourth rounds, defensive linemen Maliek Collins and Charles Tapper.
Playing in a crap shoot of a division when it is anyone’s guess as to who will rise to the top, the Cowboys won’t make things as easy as they did last year when they unwillingly fell to the bottom.