As we enter summer, NFL franchises are exiting the most active stages of offseason reconstruction. Free agency’s mostly in the rearview, while the draft’s completely in the books.
So, which rosters improved the most over the past few months? These half-dozen teams stand out:
New coach Josh McDaniels is set up to win now after Vegas sealed the deal on a shockwave-inducing swap for All-Pro wideout Davante Adams. It cost the Raiders the top of their draft, but acquiring Adams for a first- and second-rounder will prove to be a raging bargain if Derek Carr’s BFF hits the ground running. The entire attack is imbued with a sense of new power and possibility when one pictures defenses puzzling how to handle Adams, gritty Hunter Renfrow and star tight end Darren Waller. Keelan Cole and Demarcus Robinson will compete for snaps across from Adams, but it’s fair to wonder if the Raiders might ponder courting the still-available Odell Beckham Jr.
The signing of quarterback nuisance Chandler Jones prompted the departure of pass rusher Yannick Ngakoue, whose trade to the Colts brought talented young corner Rock Ya-Sin in reverse. Jones and Maxx Crosby give the Raiders a horror-inducing tandem at edge, but this defense otherwise has potential issues at every level.
There are questions along the offensive line, too. Kolton Miller’s locked in on the blind side, but the other four spots are set for summertime competition. Still, the Silver and Black — under pressure to keep up with the rest of a rough-and-tumble AFC West — zeroed in on one of the game’s premier pass catchers and got their man. It’s the type of derring-do Al Davis would appreciate.
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Viewed as a rebuilding operation a year ago, the Eagles arguably hopscotched the Cowboys as the most promising roster in the NFC East. Jalen Hurts is one of the offseason’s grand winners after Philadelphia stayed put at quarterback while pulling the trigger on a mouthwatering trade for big-bodied wideout A.J. Brown. The former Titans game-wrecker is destined to baffle secondaries across from DeVonta Smith. It’s bound to nudge Philly off last season’s run-centric attack, but only because the offense has the personnel to do things that seemed impossible a year ago. Unlike the Raiders above, the Eagles are a fortress up front with a trio of linemen (6-foot-8 behemoth Jordan Mailata at left tackle, center Jason Kelce and right tackle Lane Johnson) who graded out as top-10 performers at their respective positions in 2021, via Pro Football Focus.
Second-year coordinator Jonathan Gannon oversees a defense better prepared to maximize his scheme after inking pass rusher Haason Reddick, re-signing Derek Barnett and adding capable coverage ‘backer Kyzir White. General manager Howie Roseman then turned a disaster for the rival Giants into a delicious victory for Philly by signing top-shelf corner James Bradberry off the street after New York was essentially forced to dump his salary in order to pay the incoming draft class. The pairing of Bradberry with shutdown ace Darius Slay is liquid gold in today’s pass-drunk NFL.
Roseman also grabbed humongous human Jordan Davis with the No. 13 overall pick in the draft. Having just won the Chuck Bednarik Award as college football’s top defensive player, the 6-6, 341-pound Georgia product is a lock to swallow blockers and stir trouble along the Eagles’ interior D-line. Nakobe Dean, another decorated Dawg who collected the Butkus Award as college football’s best linebacker, looks like a third-round steal if past pectoral and knee injuries don’t cloud his start in the NFL.
A return trip to January play is quite realistic for Hurts and friends after a brilliantly choreographed offseason.
While fans were appropriately mesmerized by Justin Herbert’s second pro campaign, Brandon Staley’s defense — the head coach’s calling card — finished a disappointing 26th overall in Football Outsiders’ defensive DVOA. Longtime general manager Tom Telesco went to work to ensure brighter days ahead. The Bolts fleeced the rebuilding Bears by handing them a 2022 second-round pick and 2023 sixth-rounder in exchange for Khalil Mack. The still-starry edge knows Staley well and spent years in the Vic Fangio-dipped scheme employed by Los Angeles. The concept of Mack paired with Joey Bosa should make AFC West quarterbacks unsettled, at best. The Chargers also added ball-hawking corner J.C. Jackson — PFF’s seventh-ranked cover man in 2021 — to a secondary already aglow with the presence of safety Derwin James. The interior defensive line has become a strength, with high-ceiling Sebastian Joseph-Day also thrown into the mix.
As for the attack, L.A. wisely hammered out an extension for 1,100-yard wideout Mike Williams and helped out a mostly reliable front five by drafting Boston College’s Zion Johnson, penciled in to start at right guard. We expect the offense to shine with Mr. Herbert flinging darts to and fro. If Staley’s defense flips the switch, this is a 12-win rocket ship in the making.
When the Dolphins win the offseason, they typically crumble into darkness come actual games. Up north, the Jets routinely flounder into oblivion no matter what they accomplish pre-September.
I’ll likely pay for these words, but this time around feels different for these two longtime AFC East punching bags.
The Jets crushed the draft with a smile. Picks flop all the time, but general manager Joe Douglas handled the entire event with a quiet calm. Adding rookie corner Sauce Gardner to a secondary that imported CB D.J. Reed and S Jordan Whitehead in free agency allows second-year head coach Robert Saleh the chance to mimic the heroics he pulled off in San Francisco. Trading back into the first round to snatch pass rusher Jermaine Johnson at No. 26 was a bank heist after many viewed the Florida State product as a top-10 prospect.
Second-year quarterback Zach Wilson finds himself in a much better position than Sam Darnold ever experienced. Stud wideout Garrett Wilson, taken 10th overall, has the goods to immediately shake up Gang Green’s passing game alongside Elijah Moore, Corey Davis and Braxton Berrios. I adore the addition of ex-Bengals tight end C.J. Uzomah to furnish Wilson with a trusty playmaker (assuming Uzomah stays healthy). Second-rounder Breece Hall was widely seen as the best back in the draft and fills out a deep position group — Michael Carter, Tevin Coleman, Ty Johnson and La’Mical Perine — that Kyle Shanahan disciple Mike LaFleur can creatively unleash behind a rebuilt O-line. None of this promises Wilson can play, but the Jets currently boast their tastiest roster since the days of Rex Ryan.
The Dolphins have put their trust in another Shanahan offshoot, Mike McDaniel. They’re on this list after swinging for the fences in March’s trade for Tyreek Hill, the ex-Chiefs burner set to freak out defensive coordinators beside uber-productive 23-year-old Jaylen Waddle. It’s less flashy, but the signing of left tackle Terron Armstead might be the move that pays off first. With guard Connor Williams also airdropped in, Miami’s disastrous line from a season ago is a vastly improved contingent. Like LaFleur in Florham Park, McDaniel has a cadre of different backs to unfurl with new faces Raheem Mostert, Chase Edmonds and Sony Michel joining Myles Gaskin. Someone’s not making the team.
Teddy Bridgewater joined the crew, too, and sits out there as a compelling figure heading into camp. Tua Tagovailoa is the unquestioned starter under center today, but Miami’s rugged early slate — vs. Patriots, at Ravens, vs. Bills, at Bengals — makes you wonder if McDaniel might try out Teddy if Tua tumbles.
This one’s simple. The Broncos have resembled a playoff hopeful on paper for years, save for one endless misadventure: the quarterback position.
That all changed when general manager George Paton and first-time coach Nathaniel Hackett engineered a blockbuster deal for Russell Wilson. Now it’s the Seahawks trying to pitch Drew Lock to a suspicious public, while Hackett happily fawns over Ciara and draws up a dreamy new scheme revolving around Wilson’s powerful gifts.
It all seems perfect — maybe a tad too ideal — but Russ can fly with Denver’s ready-to-rock lineup of weapons. Adding Randy Gregory and K’Waun Williams to the defense helps, too, but football’s wildest offseason scenery-shifter is all about the Broncos finally getting their dude at the most important position in sports.
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