The bulk of free agency is done. Teams just recently conducted the 2018 NFL Draft. Now that the calendar is about to turn to the summer, league-wide focus switches to offseason activities and ultimately training camp.
It’s in this that rosters are seemingly near set and the performance of front offices during the offseason can be analyzed. In doing just that, we check in on the most-exciting offseason addition for each NFL. This takes into account free agency, trades and the draft itself.
Kansas City Chiefs: Sammy Watkins
Kansas City needed to go out there and add a talented receiver to team up with young signal caller Patrick Mahomes. That’s exactly what the team did by signing the injury-plagued Sammy Watkins to a pretty ridiculous three-year, $48 million deal. Watkins is coming off a 2017 season with the Rams that saw him catch just 39 passes. Despite this, he’s still only 24 years old and provides a solid amount of upside for Kansas City. Look for Watkins to put up a career-best performance with the rocket-armed Mahomes tossing him the pill.
Los Angeles Chargers: Derwin James
When James fell to Los Angeles with 17th pick in April’s draft, it seemed to be a logical fit for both sides. The former Florida State All-American can completely lay the wood in every possible way. He’s a dynamic player in the defensive backfield and can even inch up to the line of scrimmage as a linebacker with the likes of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram rushing the passer. That’s all sorts of scary for opposing AFC West squads. Teaming up with fellow defensive back Casey Hayward, we’re expecting James to have a huge impact as a rookie in Southern California next season.
Oakland Raiders: Rashaan Melvin
Under first-year head coach and de facto general manager Jon Gruden, the Raiders set forth to add a whole plethora of aging veterans to a under-performing roster. Up to this point, that includes 18 players from other teams. Most of the moves have a “meh” feeling to them. But not the addition of a corner in Melvin who was considered among the game’s top playmakers at his position last season. He’ll immediately take over as the Raiders’ top cover guy, and likely excel in that role as a ball-hawk. Also, don’t be surprised if wide receiver Martavis Bryant excites Raiders fans now that he’s catching passes from Derek Carr.
Denver Broncos: Royce Freeman
We could have easily gone with either Case Keenum or rookie top-five pick Bradley Chubb. Instead, we project fellow first-year player Royce Freeman to have a Kareem Hunt-like rookie campaign in Mile High. This is to say, 1,500-plus total yards in a featured back role for a Broncos team that doesn’t return one player who recorded as much as 300 rushing yards last season. Freeman put up north of 1,500 total yards in three of his four seasons with Oregon. Don’t expect that to change in Denver.
New England Patriots: Sony Michel
For just the second time of the Bill Belichick era, the Patriots selected a running back in the first round. It came in the form of a player in Sony Michel who actually performed better than the well known Nick Chubb with Georgia last season. The 5-foot-11, 215-pound back put up 1,227 rushing yards to go with 16 touchdowns and an average of nearly eight yards per rush against SEC defenses that are nearly as talented as what he’ll see in the AFC East. Now that Dion Lewis has moved on in free agency, we’re fully expecting Michel to be the Pats’ three-down back. If so, he’s a top candidate for Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.
Buffalo Bills: Tremaine Edmunds
No. Josh Allen doesn’t even come close to belonging in this conversation. With his accuracy issues and the Bills’ receivers inability to actually catch a football, Buffalo’s passing game is going to be among the worst in recent NFL history. Instead, it’s going to be all about the team’s second first-round pick. A fast riser during the pre-draft process, Edmunds received play within the top 10. He’s a physical freak and a sideline-to-sideline backer who should make an immediate impact for a Bills squad that lacks true playmakers in the defensive front seven.
Miami Dolphins: Minkah Fitzpatrick
There’s absolutely nothing to not like abut this kid. Seen by many as a single-high free safety, Fitzpatrick acted as Alabama’s best player during a national championship 2017 season. He has the ability to move around the defensive backfield, including outside to cornerback. A prospect of the Jalen Ramsey variety, we’re expecting absolutely huge things from Minkah as a rookie. It’s going to be a whole lot of fun to see how defensive coordinator Matt Burke and Co. use this exceptional athlete.
New York Jets: Sam Darnold
There’s a darn good chance Darnold will see some action for the Jets as a rookie. After legitimately falling on to their laps with the No. 3 pick, he’s seen as the future face of the franchise. In fact, it seems that the Jets themselves were head over heels with Darnold leading up to the draft. He’s not quite pro-ready, but boasts the skill-set to make some wow plays out of the gate. Should New York find itself out of contention through the first half of Darnold’s rookie season, there’s no reason to believe he won’t ultimately replace Josh McCown under center. If so, watch the heck out.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Donte Moncrief
As sexy as their draft looks on paper, the defending AFC South champs picked up a huge upside figure in the form of a 24-year-old Moncrief. Sure the former Indianapolis Colts receiver struggled without Andrew Luck under center last season (391 yards), but he’s going to be given an opportunity to earn a starting role in Jacksonville after the team lost both Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns in free agency. At 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds Moncrief will provide the recently extended Blake Bortles with a huge target on the outside. Giving him a fully guaranteed one-year, $9.6 million deal is also a clear indication that Jacksonville is expecting a lot from the pass catcher.
Tennessee Titans: Dion Lewis
Lewis comes in to replace DeMarco Murray as the other half of a backfield tandem that includes Derrick Henry. And it couldn’t be a better fit. The former New England Patriots lead back is coming off a 2017 campaign that saw him record 1,110 total yards while averaging 5.0 yards per rush. He also caught an absurd 32-of-35 targets from Tom Brady last season. That type of multi-faceted ability is going to be huge for Marcus Mariota and the Titans’ offense. It’s going to act as an absolute boon for the squad.
Houston Texans: Tyrann Mathieu
Honey Badger on the same defense with J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney is going to be all sorts of sexy. A surprise release of the Arizona Cardinals, the former Pro Bowler will now look to earn a long-term deal on a prove-it contract with Houston. Two years removed from putting up 89 tackles, 17 passes defended and five interceptions, Mathieu immediately becomes the Texans’ best defensive back. With an already elite-level pass rush, we fully expect Badger’s ball-hawking skills to be taken to a whole new level in 2018. Look for an All-Pro caliber performance from this still young 25-year-old defensive back.
Indianapolis Colts: Quenton Nelson
A guard in this list? That really has to mean Nelson is completely on his own level heading into the Notre Dame product’s rookie season. Picked No. 6 overall in April’s draft, he’s about as dominant of an offensive lineman we’ll see enter the league. Pancake block after pancake block. Sometimes, we simply feel bad for opposing players attempting to shed Nelson’s blocks. He’ll now be tasked with protecting Andrew Luck under center and opening up holes for rookie mid-round pick Nyheim Hines. It’s really going to be something to behold.
Pittsburgh Steelers: James Washington
We could have gone with Oklahoma State product Mason Rudolph here. He’s seen as the heir apparent to Ben Roethlisberger. But short of disaster striking Pittsburgh this coming season, Rudolph will be relegated to clipboard duty. That’s where his former teammate with the Cowboys comes into play. Now that Pittsburgh has traded malcontent Martavis Bryant, there’s room for Washington to make an immediate impact. Coming off a final year in Stillwater that saw him average nearly 21 yards per reception on 74 catches, Washington could very well act as an exciting deep threat for Big Ben as a rookie in 2018.
Baltimore Ravens: Lamar Jackson
We’re not willing to concede that Jackson will sit his entire rookie season behind Joe Flacco. Baltimore traded up in the first round for this former Heisman winner to be Flacco’s heir apparent. That’s likely to happen sooner rather than later, especially given that the Ravens can get out from under Flacco’s ridiculous contract following the 2019 season. The most-talented dual-threat quarterback to enter the league since Colin Kaepernick, we’re expecting big things from Jackson. That could come as early as his rookie season.
Cincinnati Bengals: Mark Walton
If it weren’t for a season-ending ankle injury in Miami last year, this former Hurricane standout likely would have been a second-round pick. Instead, he lasted to Cincinnati in Day 3. At 5-foot-9 and 205 pounds, Walton has the frame to hold up at the next level. He’s also coming off a shortened 2017 campaign that saw the running back average north of 7.5 yards per rush. We fully expect him to be in the mix for part-time duties behind Joe Mixon as a rookie. If so, expect some long runs from the talented ball carrier.
Cleveland Browns: Baker Mayfield
Mayfield might be the most exciting addition to this Browns organization since it re-entered the league back in 1999. That’s not hyperbole. The talent is there. The drama and off-field intrigue is there. And in reality, there’s a chance the former Heisman winner will see substantial action as a rookie this coming season. Having put up nearly 5,000 total yards with 48 touchdowns in Norman last season, the awe factor is certainly in play. Add in the presence of fellow rookie Nick Chubb as well as Pro Bowl receiver Jarvis Landry, and Cleveland has the weapons for Mayfield to succeed out of the gate should he be given the opportunity.
Los Angeles Rams: Marcus Peters
When the Kansas City Chiefs traded this Pro Bowl corner for pennies on the dollar back in March, it caught a lot of people by surprise. After all, Peters is just 25 years old and coming off a three-year stretch with Kansas City that saw him start his career with 24 forced turnovers. Now working under coordinator Wade Phillips on a talented Rams defense, we can fully expect Peters’ play-making ability to be taken to a whole new level. Look for him to lead the league in interceptions this coming season.
Seattle Seahawks: Shaquem Griffin
It’s not just a great story. Seattle didn’t do Griffin a favor by teaming him up with his brother. No. This linebacker is truly about as talented of a defensive player that you’ll ever see drafted outside of the first round. In his final season with Central Florida, Griffin recorded 74 tackles (13.5 for loss), seven sacks and an interception. We fully expect him to challenge Barkevious Mingo for one of Seattle’s outside linebacker jobs this coming summer. Should he win the starting role, it would not be a surprise to see Griffin make an immediate impact.
Arizona Cardinals: Christian Kirk
Speaking of expectations, look for Kirk to challenge for the Cardinals’ No. 2 wide receiver job behind Larry Fitzgerald this coming season. There’s no real depth at wide receiver behind the two, and Kirk has more than proven himself capable of making an immediate impact. The 5-foot-11 receiver recorded 70-plus receptions for 900-plus yards in each of his three seasons with Texas A&M. He did this against elite-level SEC competition. Heading to the NFL with that type of consistent track record, Kirk is primed to have a breakout rookie season.
San Francisco 49ers: Jerick McKinnon
We flirted with the idea of adding rookie second-round pick Dante Pettis to this list. Alas, we couldn’t do that with the depth San Francisco has at wide receiver for Jimmy Garoppolo. Instead, we go with a running back in Jerick McKinnon who the 49ers signed to a shocking four-year, $30 million deal in free agency. A perfect fit in Kyle Shanahan’s offense, McKinnon is an upgrade over Carlos Hyde in nearly every area. He’s an elite-level receiving back and remains one of the best players at his position in forcing missed tackles. With San Francisco’s offense being all about spacing, look for that to come up big time. We’re expecting 1,500-plus total yards for McKinnon in 2018.
Philadelphia Eagles: Michael Bennett
Bennett’s importance to Philadelphia extends far beyond the football field. And should his legal issues be resolved, he’ll be among the most intriguing players to watch on the football field this coming season. The veteran earned three consecutive Pro Bowl appearances to conclude his Seahawks career, racking up a combined 23.5 sacks during the span. Now playing along an Eagles defensive line that already includes Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham, it’s entirely possible that Bennett will rack up double-digit sacks in his initial season with the defending champs.
Dallas Cowboys: Allen Hurns
Now that the Cowboys have released longtime No. 1 receiver Dez Bryant, someone else is going to have to step up into that role. It won’t be slot receiver Cole Beasley or the long underperforming Terrance Williams. Dallas also added Michael Gallup in the mid rounds of the 2018 NFL Draft, but he’s not expected to challenge for a starting spot. Instead, we fully expect Dak Prescott and Co. to rely on a receiver in Allen Hurns who is just two years removed from putting up north of 1,000 yards and 10 scores for a lesser quarterback in Blake Bortles. Look for Hurns to have a breakout initial season with Dallas after struggling through two injury-plagued campaigns in Jacksonville.
Washington Redskins: Derrius Guice
As we saw with Frank Gore in San Francisco as well as both Jamaal Charles and Kareem Hunt in Kansas City, new Redskins quarterback Alex Smith has always been reliant on a strong rushing attack. That’s not going to change as he heads to the nation’s capital for the twilight of his career. With three returning running backs incapable of shouldering the load, Washington exhausted a second-round pick on this talented LSU product. A lot has been made about Guice off the field in recent moths, but he’s right up there with the likes of Saquon Barkley, Leonard Fournette and Ezekiel Elliott in terms of recent drafts picks and on-field talent. Over his final two seasons in Baton Rouge, Guice tallied nearly 2,900 total yards to go with 29 touchdowns. At 218 pounds, he’s of the three-down variety. Look for the talented young back to hit the ground running big time as a rookie.
New York Giants: Saquon Barkley
Barkley might be the most talked about running back to enter the league since Reggie Bush back in 2006. Let’s just hope for the Giants’ sake he has a more productive career than Bush. After all, New York made Barkley the No. 2 overall pick in this year’s draft. That’s the highest a running back has gone since Bush. Already a tremendously popular figure within New Jersey, Barkley’s talents are second to none in comparison to recent running backs who have found themselves as high picks. Yes, that includes both Ezekiel Elliott and Todd Gurley. Over the course of his final two seasons with Penn State, the 230-pound Barkley racked up 3,810 total yards and 43 touchdowns. He also averaged an absurd 6.7 yards per touch. Now teaming up with Odell Beckham Jr., the expectation is that Barkley will have one of the best rookie seasons for a running back in recent history.
New Orleans Saints: Cameron Meredith
Marcus Davenport could very well be the pick here. Unfortunately for New Orleans, the small-school product is still a bit of a project. We’re not expecting an awe-inspiring rookie campaign from the physical freak. Instead, the Saints’ decision to replace Willie Snead with Meredith should be cause for excitement in Nola. Working with a less-than-stellar cast of quarterbacks in Chicago two seasons ago, Meredith caught 66 passes for 888 yards. After suffering a torn ACL this past summer, the former undrafted free agent missed the entire 2017 campaign. Now back at full health, we’re expecting him to pick up where he left off in 2016. In fact, Drew Brees tossing Meredith the rock should enhance the receiver’s production even more.
Carolina Panthers: D.J. Moore
Cam Newton made no bones about it earlier in the offseason. He wanted the Panthers to add some legitimate wide receivers to the mix. Trading for Torrey Smith and signing Jarius Wright might have been the start. But neither can be seen as a difference maker in the true sense of the word. This Maryland product is a completely different story. At 5-foot-11 and 215, Moore might be have a slight frame. But he is much more physical than said frame suggests. Equally as important, the former Terp high points the football and boasts a tremendous set of hands. This was magnified in 2017, when Moore put up 80 receptions for north of 1,000 yards on a Maryland team that threw for less than 2,000 yards. That’s insane. And it should lead to Moore being an immediate producer in Carolina.
Atlanta Falcons: Calvin Ridley
It surprised a ton of people that Atlanta went receiver in Round 1 with Julio Jones still in the mix. Said people just don’t realize how good of a fit Ridley is with the NFL’s new highest-paid player, quarterback Matt Ryan. About as fluid of a route runner we’ll ever see come from the college ranks, Ridley’s numbers at Alabama don’t do him justice. He was the product of a run-heavy offense and lackluster quarterback play. Ridley’s tape shows us someone who will slot in as a top-end No. 2 receiver behind Jones with 1,300-plus yard potential. It’s going to be exciting to see his relationship with both Ryan and Jones grow moving forward.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Ronald Jones
A second-round pick from USC, we can already pretty much slot Jones in as Tampa Bay’s starter next season. Not a single returning running back from last year’s team put up as much as 450 yards last season. Playing against over-matched competition in the Pac 12 last season, Jones tallied that many yards in a two-game span. He’s a dynamic and explosive back with a solid set of hands and an ability to hit the home run every time he touches the ball. Even at just 200 pounds, he displayed the necessary strength both on tape and in the weight room to be considered a three-down back. Look for big and exciting things from Jones in 2018.
Minnesota Vikings: Kirk Cousins
You don’t hand a player what was then the richest contract in NFL history and the only multi-year deal that’s fully guaranteed without expecting big things from the man. You certainly don’t do that when your incumbent starter led the squad to the NFC Championship Game the previous season. But here we are. Cousins is now the face of a Super Bowl contender in Minnesota. He also has a much better supporting cast than what we saw in D.C. That includes potentially the best wide receiver tandem in the league in that of Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. After averaging nearly 4,400 yards with 27 touchdown and just 12 picks over the past three seasons, there’s excitement in the Twin Cities that Cousins will take his performance to that elite level.
Green Bay Packers: Jimmy Graham
It could very well be noted that Graham was signed to specifically replace Jordy Nelson as Aaron Rodgers’ top red-zone threat. Given that the tight end has put up 10-plus touchdowns in four of his eight NFL seasons, there’s no reason to believe that won’t be the case. Rodgers has not had a receiving threat like this at tight end since before Jermichael Finley bombed out. It’s going to be extremely exciting to see how the two Pro Bowlers mesh in Graham’s initial season with the Packers.
Detroit Lions: Kerryon Johnson
We weren’t necessarily a fan of Detroit selecting No. 43 overall in this year’s draft. After all, Derrius Guice was still on the board. In no way does this mean the Auburn product won’t be a good running back for a Lions squad that has not had a 100-yard single game rusher since Reggie Bush all the way back in 2013. At 6-foot and 212 pounds, Johnson has the frame to be a three-down back at the next level. He’s also coming of a 2017 campaign with the Tigers that saw him put up nearly 1,600 total yards and 20 scores against elite-level SEC competition.
Chicago Bears: Allen Robinson
Assuming that Robinson returns 100 percent after tearing his ACL early last season with Jacksonville, he’ll immediately take over as quarterback Mitchell Trubisky’s favorite target in Chicago. With new head coach Matt Nagy being an offensive mind, there’s also no reason to believe that Robinson won’t be put in a tremendous position to succeed. Two years removed from tallying 1,400 yards and a league-leading 14 touchdowns with a mediocre Blake Bortles tossing him the rock, the expectation has to be that Robinson will be a perennial 1,000-yard receiver in the Windy City.