2014 NFL Draft: Post-Draft Stock Report for All 32 Teams
Free agency is basically over, and the 2014 NFL draft is history.
Well, why not take a look at all 32 teams and see if each is headed in the right direction? We will take stock of every club and determine if it has improved, stayed the course or taken a step backward when it comes to making strides for the upcoming season.
Remember, we are not power ranking teams or giving them grades strictly based on the draft.
We are simply evaluating how they are doing so far as they prepare for the NFL's 95th season by considering factors such as arrivals and departures, coaching changes and if they have done enough to make a significant jump.
Of course, there’s still a lot of work to be done in terms of signing undrafted college players, plugging a hole or two with a veteran free agent and evaluating whether any team’s rookies are ready to contribute immediately.
So if you’re looking for playoff predictions or for reasons a team will wind up drafting high in 2015, you’ve come to the wrong place.
We will get to that in due time.
Arizona Cardinals: Stock Up
In 2013, for only the second time in 37 seasons dating back to 1977, the Arizona Cardinals won at least 10 games. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough to put Bruce Arians’ surprising team in the playoffs.
Perhaps a little new blood could be the difference in the brutal NFC West—home of the last two NFC champions in the form of the San Francisco 49ers (2012) and this past season’s Lombardi Trophy winners, the Seattle Seahawks.
The Cards were a combined 1-3 last season against those clubs, although that one win came at Seattle. Still, Arians and Co. hope to fare much better this season.
Arizona, with the league’s top-ranked run defense in 2013, will replace its top two tacklers (Karlos Dansby and Yeremiah Bell) this past season with second-year linebacker Kevin Minter and rookie safety Deone Bucannon, the club’s first-round pick this year.
Meanwhile, second-year running back Andre Ellington will be the main man in the backfield alongside veteran quarterback Carson Palmer, who hopes to build on last season’s second-half performance. The Cards’ offensive front should benefit from the presence of former first-round guard Jonathan Cooper, who missed his rookie campaign in 2013.
Atlanta Falcons: Stock Up
On their way to a stunning 4-12 finish in 2012, the Atlanta Falcons finished dead last in the league in rushing and next-to-last when it came to stopping the run.
Well, via free agency and the draft, the franchise looks like it is attempting to rectify that situation in a hurry. This offseason, the Falcons signed defensive linemen Tyson Jackson and Paul Soliai and added guard Jon Asamoah.
During the draft, general manager Thomas Dimitroff used seven of what proved to be nine selections on the defensive side of the football, choosing four linebackers in total.
The other two picks were tackle Jake Matthews and running back Devonta Freeman, selected in the first and fourth rounds, respectively.
We may be seeing a different kind of Atlanta attack on both sides of the ball in 2014.
Baltimore Ravens: Stock Even
After five straight playoff appearances and a Super Bowl title in 2012, the Baltimore Ravens finished a mere 8-8 this past season and ended the year with a two-game thud.
Lopsided losses to the New England Patriots (41-7) and Cincinnati Bengals (34-17) put a less than scintillating exclamation point on a mediocre showing by John Harbaugh’s team. Despite some positive moves via free agency as well as the draft, the Ravens saw their share of key departures as well.
The additions of veterans such as wide receiver Steve Smith and tight end Owen Daniels should help quarterback Joe Flacco, who is coming off a career-high 22 interceptions in 2013. Rookies such as inside linebacker C.J. Mosley and defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan will aid the cause as well.
However, will there be a bounce-back season for Ray Rice and a ground attack that averaged only 83.0 yards per game this past season? Stay tuned.
Buffalo Bills: Stock Up
It appears the Buffalo Bills have finally decided that enough is enough.
When you consider that they have not been to the playoffs since 1999 and finished dead last in the AFC East each of the last six seasons, you can understand their impatience.
Hence, general manager Doug Whaley has decided to speed up the rebuilding process...literally.
The recent additions of rookie wide receiver Sammy Watkins, the fourth overall pick in this year’s draft, and running back Bryce Brown—via trade from the Philadelphia Eagles, as reported by Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (h/t Marc Sessler of NFL.com)—give head coach Doug Marrone two more toys to pair with speedy running back C.J. Spiller.
Of course, the team’s first three draft choices last April—quarterback EJ Manuel, wide receiver Robert Woods and middle linebacker Kiko Alonso—all opened eyes in 2013 and are hoping for bigger and better things sooner than later.
Carolina Panthers: Stock Down
It was just a matter of who and not what when it came to the Carolina Panthers and the 2014 NFL draft.
It's safe to say that nearly every recent mock draft had Ron Rivera’s defending NFC South champions grabbing a wide receiver in the first round.
Of course, Carolina selected Florida State wideout Kelvin Benjamin with the 28th overall selection. He’ll join the likes of veterans Jason Avant, Jerricho Cotchery and Tiquan Underwood.
Then again, another area that took some blows was a secondary that lost cornerback Captain Munnerlyn and safety Mike Mitchell to free agency, while veteran Quintin Mikell was not re-signed. Will division-rival castoffs such as Thomas DeCoud and Roman Harper and free-agent pickup Antoine Cason get the job done?
There are a lot of questions surrounding a promising team, especially in a division that has yet to be won by a team in consecutive seasons.
Chicago Bears: Stock Even
To man the trenches on the defensive side of the ball in the NFL, it takes plenty of confidence and a lot of determination.
The Chicago Bears are hoping that two of their top selections in the 2014 draft live up to their names...literally.
After using a first-round pick to add some needed youth to the secondary in cornerback Kyle Fuller, general manager Phil Emery grabbed defensive tackles Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton in hopes they can aid the rebuilding efforts when it comes to stopping the run.
No team in the league gave up more rushing yards than the Bears in 2013. Add in that Marc Trestman’s team only managed 31 sacks and allowed 478 points, and you can see the reason for massive change—hence the additions of defensive ends Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston and Willie Young.
Of course, injuries did play a big hand in the team’s defensive demise, and there’s sometimes little you can do about that. That also goes for growing pains, which the Bears’ new-look and younger defensive front will undergo for a bit, at least in terms of stopping the run.
Cincinnati Bengals: Stock Up
The Cincinnati Bengals, in the playoffs each of the last three seasons but still seeking their first postseason win since 1990, continue to add youth to a solid roster that is one of the deepest in the league.
The team made eight selections in the 2014 draft at seven different positions, using its first and last picks at cornerback. If first-round selection Darqueze Dennard lives up to expectations, Marvin Lewis’ club may have gotten a super steal that figures to help the league’s third-ranked defense.
Of course, it should also be noted that the Bengals used a fifth-round selection on quarterback AJ McCarron. That's significant due to the fact that starter Andy Dalton is in the final season of his current contract. We shall see if that becomes a more important storyline as time wears on.
All told, it’s been a pretty solid offseason for the defending AFC North champions, who have seemingly absorbed their most notable losses in defensive end Michael Johnson and tackle Anthony Collins.
Cleveland Browns: Stock Even
Can you say buzzkill?
Well, you can’t say it quite yet.
The euphoria surrounding the first-round selection of quarterback Johnny Manziel in the draft has been tempered a bit by the report that Pro Bowl wide receiver Josh Gordon could be facing a yearlong suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.
That news, courtesy of ESPN’s Outside the Lines and writers T.J. Quinn and Don Van Natta Jr., would put a crimp in the Browns’ plans in 2014. Still, it was noteworthy that Cleveland did its share of wheeling and dealing in this year’s draft and did not select a wide receiver with what turned out to be six picks.
Still, that is not to say the team’s offseason is now a disappointment. The additions of veteran defenders such as linebacker Karlos Dansby and strong safety Donte Whitner, along with the pickup of first-round cornerback Justin Gilbert, bode well for a defensive unit that is on the rise.
Unfortunately, the possible loss of Gordon for the season does leave a bad taste in one’s mouth.
Dallas Cowboys: Stock Down
Here's the big question for the Dallas Cowboys this offseason: Have they done enough?
That would be enough as in an attempt to fix the league’s worst-ranked defense in 2013. Jerry Jones and Co. did use seven of nine picks in the draft on that side of the football. The club also added free-agent defensive linemen Henry Melton, Terrell McClain and Jeremy Mincey.
Meanwhile, the selection of versatile Zack Martin in the first round looks like a major coup. He figures to start at guard but could contribute all along the offensive line.
Still, this team could use an infusion of youth at the defensive tackle spots. So it was somewhat of a surprise that Dallas addressed the position just once in the draft, grabbing Northern Illinois University performer Ken Bishop in the seventh round.
And if head coach Jason Garrett can’t find a way to get his defense off the field, there won’t be much chance that quarterback Tony Romo will be exposing his healing back to any more abuse.
Denver Broncos: Stock Up
Yes, the Denver Broncos participated in the 2014 NFL draft.
All kidding aside, they did a lot of their work during free agency, adding defensive end DeMarcus Ware, strong safety T.J. Ward, cornerback Aqib Talib and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders. Selected in the first round of the draft, cornerback Bradley Roby will push for playing time in the club’s new-look secondary.
Will the defensive additions help? This past season, John Fox’s team gave up 399 points—110 more than in 2012.
However, the Broncos' stock is up because two of their better players, tackle Ryan Clady and outside linebacker Von Miller, figure to be on the field a lot more than they were in 2013.
Combine that with the fact that second-year running back Montee Ball has the ability to wear down opposing defenses, and Peyton Manning and company may be in line for a fourth straight AFC West title.
Detroit Lions: Stock Down
For years, the Detroit Lions could not get out of their own way. In recent seasons, they have developed a bad habit of failing to close the deal.
After ending a long playoff drought by reaching the postseason in 2011, the club lost its last eight games in 2012 following a 4-4 start. This past season, the Lions committed a whopping 21 turnovers in their final seven outings and dropped six of them after the team opened with six wins in the first nine games.
So here we go again with a new head coach in Jim Caldwell and a franchise that is still looking to win a playoff game for the first time since 1991.
With quarterback Matthew Stafford, wide receiver Calvin Johnson and running back Reggie Bush, among others, this isn’t a team lacking in offensive weapons. That made the decision to use the 10th overall pick in the draft on talented tight end Eric Ebron confusing. The Lions did add strong safety James Ihedigbo in free agency, but it’s the defense that could have used a little more help at the corners.
"Perplexing" is a good word here.
Green Bay Packers: Stock Down
Fans of the Green Bay Packers may be a little defensive when they discover we have given a "stock down" to the team so far this offseason.
Of course, it would help if the club opted to get a little more defensive when it came to free agency and the draft.
The team added veterans in defensive tackle Letroy Guion and defensive end/outside linebacker Julius Peppers and did spend four draft choices on this side of the ball, including first-round safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.
But will it be enough to reverse this current defensive digression, which saw the Packers finish near the bottom of the league in both rushing and passing yards allowed while giving up more points (428) than they scored (417) in 2013?
Granted, last season’s 8-7-1 finish had as much to do with using four different starting quarterbacks as it did the defense. But Dom Capers’ unit needs to rebound in a big way.
Houston Texans: Stock Up
The Houston Texans were both the first and last team on the clock in the 2014 draft. That’s what happens when you open 2-0 but lose your final 14 games.
They opened the proceedings by selecting defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and ended the league’s three-day process by grabbing free safety Lonnie Ballentine. Head coach Bill O’Brien and Co. also added a quarterback in the fourth round in the form of University of Pittsburgh product Tom Savage.
The Texans' draft certainly had a theme. The franchise used half of its 10 picks on defense and drafted four other performers, including a pair of running backs, to keep the other offense off the field.
Is it possible that for the third straight year a team that finished 2-14 will wind up in the playoffs a year later? Stay tuned.
Indianapolis Colts: Stock Down
Thanks to last year’s trade with the Cleveland Browns that brought running back Trent Richardson to town, the Indianapolis Colts were minus a first-round pick in 2014.
It’s also worth noting that they entered the draft with a league-low five selections, all of which they kept.
But for a team with defensive issues, it was surprising that general manager Ryan Grigson added three players to the offensive side of the ball, to go along with a pair of linebackers.
The Colts defense was less than mediocre in 2013 and even worse during the playoffs, surrendering a combined 87 points and 384 yards rushing in the postseason split with the Kansas City Chiefs and New England Patriots.
True, Grigson used free agency to secure the services of defensive tackle Arthur Jones and inside linebacker D’Qwell Jackson. But this team again has the look of one that will go as far as quarterback Andrew Luck can take them.
And eventually, every one-man show closes—sometimes due to repairs.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Stock Up
The Jacksonville Jaguars selected quarterback Blake Bortles with the third overall pick in the draft.
But if you are a fan of the club, don’t expect to see him (for now) in 2014.
“It’s such an important position in this league and you want to do it right,” said general manager David Caldwell to Michael DiRocco to ESPN.com. “That’s what we’re about. ... We have to make it work. We can’t just throw him out there. We’ve seen what happens when that happens.”
By doing it right, he means sitting Bortles and starting veteran Chad Henne this upcoming season, which is not a bad idea for a team that finished 4-12 this past season and owns a combined 11-37 record since 2011.
Jacksonville scored a league-low 247 points in 2013. As a result, the club used six of its nine draft choices on the offensive side of the ball.
Of course, Caldwell and head coach Gus Bradley addressed the defensive side of the ball during free agency in the form of linemen Chris Clemons, Red Bryant and Ziggy Hood.
Lately, there has been nowhere to go but up for these Jaguars. For the first time in a numbers of years, they seem to be headed in the right direction.
Kansas City Chiefs: Stock Down
When you drop five of your last seven games and then proceed to blow a 28-point, third-quarter lead in the playoffs, a 9-0 start appears meaningless.
And for good reason considering that the Kansas City Chiefs rebounded from a 2-14 finish in 2012 to grab a wild-card berth this past season. So when you actually do the math, Kansas City is a combined 13-20 in the last two seasons, which includes that 45-44 setback to the Colts in the Wild Card Round.
On the first day of free agency, the team lost performers such as tackle Branden Albert, wide receiver Dexter McCluster, defensive end Tyson Jackson and guards Jon Asamoah and Geoff Schwartz.
That’s a lot of departures for a club that lost its way down the stretch a year ago. And it remains to be seen if the replacements can fill the bill, especially against the division-rival Denver Broncos and San Diego Chargers. Andy Reid’s team was a combined 0-4 versus those two clubs this past season.
Miami Dolphins: Stock Even
As recently as the late 1990s and early 2000s, the Miami Dolphins were a regular participant in the playoffs.
Now they seem like a fish out of water when it comes to Super Bowl aspirations.
One culprit last season was the play within the division. Despite a home win in December against the New England Patriots, Miami dropped four of its six games versus its AFC East rival.
Another was the performance of the offensive line both on the field and off it. During free agency, the club added offensive tackle Branden Albert and guard Shelley Smith. In the draft, the Dolphins used two of their first three picks on tackles Ja’Wuan James and Billy Turner. Miami allowed a league-high 58 sacks in 2013.
The running game also figures to benefit from the addition of running back Knowshon Moreno, late of the Denver Broncos.
Has Miami done enough this offseason to challenge the Patriots for AFC East supremacy? The better question may be, has Joe Philbin’s club improved enough to pass the New York Jets for second place?
Minnesota Vikings: Stock Up
General manager Rick Spielman continues to make the first round of the NFL draft a major priority.
Including this year’s twin selections of outside linebacker Anthony Barr and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, the Minnesota Vikings have added seven Day 1 selections to their team in three years. In 2012, they took tackle Matt Kalil and safety Harrison Smith. A year ago, they added defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, cornerback Xavier Rhodes and wide receiver/kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson.
Now it’s time for those picks to pay off in a big way. It’s not that some of them haven’t, but it would be a good time for all of that talent to suddenly jell at the same time.
It remains to be seen if Bridgewater can challenge for the starting job immediately, but don’t bet against it. In the meantime, the free-agent additions of defensive tackle Linval Joseph and cornerback Captain Munnerlyn should also go a long way in aiding the cause of new head coach Mike Zimmer.
Minnesota allowed an NFL-high 480 points this past season.
New England Patriots: Stock Up
Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots addressed nearly every area of their football team during the draft. Combined with just enough additions in free agency, things are looking rosy for a franchise that has been blooming for more than a decade.
This offseason, the Pats added veteran cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner and recently signed defensive end Will Smith, late of the New Orleans Saints.
In the draft, Belichick and his staff added three offensive linemen, three defensive players and three skill players, including quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo in the second round.
It was interesting that the Patriots did not add a defensive tackle in the draft. New England ranked 26th in yards allowed, and only two teams in the NFL allowed more rushing yards per game in 2013. But the team has upgraded that defense significantly to date.
New Orleans Saints: Stock Even
The New Orleans Saints appeared to be a lock to win the NFC South after getting off to a 4-0 start in 2013, while the rest of the division was a combined 2-10 after four games.
Despite another stellar season by quarterback Drew Brees and a much-improved defense, Sean Payton’s club couldn’t close the deal and wound up settling for a wild-card berth behind the 12-4 Carolina Panthers. It marked the fourth time in five seasons that Payton and Co. reached the playoffs.
Despite the defensive upswing, the Saints cleaned house a bit on that side of the ball. They added free safety Jairus Byrd and veteran cornerback Champ Bailey to the secondary and used four of their six draft picks to bolster the defense.
With its first-round selection, New Orleans added wide receiver Brandin Cooks, giving Brees another target. But will the departures of running back Darren Sproles and wide receiver Lance Moore be felt more than the team realizes?
New York Giants: Stock Down
With the exception of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, no team was arguably busier during free agency than the New York Giants.
The list of additions includes Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Walter Thurmond and Zack Bowman, as well as safety Quintin Demps. Running back Rashad Jennings comes over from the Oakland Raiders, wide receiver Mario Manningham returns to the organization and defensive end Robert Ayers hopes to add to the pass rush.
As for the draft, wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. could crack the starting lineup this summer.
Is this a lot of changes? You bet.
Will it take time for all this to come together? You bet.
And what about quarterback Eli Manning, who is coming off ankle surgery and hoping to rebound from an NFL-high 27 interceptions in 2013?
New York Jets: Stock Up
The “Help Wanted” sign was out this offseason when it came to the New York Jets and their problem-plagued offense.
By all accounts, general manager John Idzik and head coach Rex Ryan brought in plenty of worthy candidates to cure the team’s woes.
The free-agent additions of running back Chris Johnson and wide receiver Eric Decker were positives. The Jets then used one-third of their dozen selections in the year’s draft for pass-catching help for young quarterback Geno Smith, who is entering his second NFL season.
Tight end Jace Amaro was the club’s second-round pick, while New York grabbed two wideouts in the fourth round (Jalen Saunders and Shaquelle Evans) and another (Quincy Enunwa) in the sixth round.
All figure to aid the cause of Smith, who committed 25 of the team’s 29 turnovers in 2013.
Oakland Raiders: Stock Even
Dating back to 2003, the Oakland Raiders have managed a mind-bending 53-123 record. The franchise hasn’t enjoyed a winning season since reaching Super Bowl XXXVII with an 11-5 mark. That’s more than a decade of disappointment by an organization that was once one of the most respected in the league.
Speaking of Super Bowls, the team’s offseason additions include defensive linemen Justin Tuck, LaMarr Woodley and Antonio Smith, as well as wide receiver James Jones and cornerbacks Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown. All of these veterans have started in at least one Super Bowl in the last six seasons.
Now add six more young defenders via the draft, including a first-rounder in the form of outside linebacker Khalil Mack, and there’s cause for some optimism.
Offensively, quarterback Matt Schaub and running back Maurice Jones-Drew hope to help. But turning around that losing culture won't be easy in one year, especially when Oakland is the only team in its division that didn’t reach the playoffs in 2013.
Philadelphia Eagles: Stock Up
Did they get DeJob done?
Excuse the play on words. More importantly, what kind of play are the Philadelphia Eagles expecting from a pair of rookie wideouts in 2014?
Head coach Chip Kelly and his staff surprised everyone on Day 1 of the draft when they selected outside linebacker Marcus Smith to replace wide receiver DeSean Jackson. The popular notion was that the Birds would soar upward to grab one of the numerous wideouts available. Instead, they wound up trading down to grab Smith with the 26th overall pick.
However, the Eagles added wide receivers Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff in the second and third rounds, respectively. Kelly and his crew used their remaining four picks to bolster a defensive unit that figures to be much better in its second season under coordinator Billy Davis.
It’s going to be a very interesting year in the City of Brotherly Love.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Stock Even
This past season, the Pittsburgh Steelers won eight of their final 12 games following a 0-4 start. Although it marked the second straight year that Mike Tomlin’s club went 8-8, keep in mind that the 2012 version of the Black and Gold lost five of the final seven games following a 6-3 start.
So what team do we figure to see in 2014? Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has never looked better, second-year running back Le’Veon Bell now has a playmate in power runner LeGarrette Blount and Markus Wheaton is the new starter opposite Pro Bowl wide receiver Antonio Brown.
Even the much-maligned offensive line has shown signs of promise.
But there are concerns about the defense, which is blasphemy in the Steel City. Unless rookies such as outside linebacker Ryan Shazier and defensive end Stephon Tuitt turn in huge performances, Dick LeBeau’s unit will have its ups and downs as youth continues to be served.
Unfortunately for Tomlin and his club, the other teams in the AFC North won’t make the transitions easy.
St. Louis Rams: Stock Up
Thanks to the addition of first-round pick Aaron Donald, the St. Louis Rams have assembled quite a foursome along the defensive line.
But what is really fearsome is the fact that Jeff Fisher and his team still have to climb above the Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals in the frightening NFC West.
Ironically, a 7-9 mark just three years ago was good enough to win this division. In 2013, it had the Rams finish three games out of third place behind the 10-6 Cardinals.
But the times could be a-changing, and not too soon for a franchise that hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2004 and hasn’t posted a winning season since 2003.
While Rams fans are basking in the glow of what could be the best defensive front in the league, the team’s initial first-round selection, tackle Greg Robinson, will help protect quarterback Sam Bradford and open some holes for second-year running back Zac Stacy. The team also hopes Tavon Austin is ready to explode after a so-so rookie season.
Now all Fisher and team have to do is learn how to beat their NFC West brethren (1-5 versus division foes in 2013) once again.
San Diego Chargers: Stock Even
Bolstered by a season-ending four-game winning streak, the San Diego Chargers grabbed a wild-card berth in 2013 and won a playoff game for the first time since 2008.
What do they do for an encore? Figure out a way to beat quarterback Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos more than once in what turned out to be three tries this past season.
Mike McCoy’s team may have the formula on offense thanks to veteran quarterback Philip Rivers, a rebuilt offensive front and a ground game that now features Ryan Mathews and free-agent pickup Donald Brown.
However, have the Bolts done enough on the other side of the ball to make a difference? San Diego ranked 23rd in the league in yards allowed and 29th versus the pass. The club added inside linebacker Kavell Conner and cornerback Brandon Ghee in free agency, as well as cornerback Jason Verrett and outside linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu in the draft.
San Francisco 49ers: Stock Up
There are reasons why the San Francisco 49ers have been to three straight NFC title games as well as a Super Bowl the past three seasons.
One is head coach Jim Harbaugh, who has won at least 11 games in each of his three years at the helm. Remember, the Niners did not post a winning season in the eight campaigns prior to his arrival.
Another reason for the recent success is general manager Trent Baalke, who drafted 11 players in 2013 and followed that up with a dozen selections this year. First-round pick Jimmie Ward will have the luxury of learning behind veteran strong safety Antoine Bethea, while rookie Marcus Martin could be San Francisco’s starting center in 2014.
And the Niners not only added to their receiving corps via the draft with the addition of fourth-round pick Bruce Ellington, but Ian Rapoport of NFL.com has the skinny on the team’s acquisition this past week of veteran wideout Stevie Johnson from the Buffalo Bills.
There’s a lot to smile about if you are a San Francisco 49ers fan these days.
Seattle Seahawks: Stock Down
Are we forecasting doom for the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks?
Not necessarily. But that doesn’t mean that this offseason was successful in terms of additions and subtractions. Yes, the recent contract extensions signed by Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman are huge. The team also turned six picks in the 2014 draft into nine selections.
But one can’t help but wonder what the departures of performers such as wide receiver Golden Tate, defensive linemen Red Bryant, Chris Clemons and Clinton McDonald, and cornerbacks Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond will have. All played key roles in the team’s success in recent seasons.
Pete Carroll’s club is still the team to beat, and everyone else in the league is playing catch-up. But can the club simply plug in new pieces and expect automatic success? It likely isn’t that simple.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Stock Up
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished 4-12 in 2013 and brought up the rear in the NFC South for the third consecutive season.
But just because there was nowhere to go but up doesn’t mean every team gets there. Still, under new general manager Jason Licht and head coach Lovie Smith, the franchise was extremely busy during free agency and remained an interesting team during the draft.
The offseason additions of quarterback Josh McCown, tight end Brandon Myers and offensive linemen Anthony Collins and Evan Dietrich-Smith will now be supplemented by all six of the team’s selections in the draft, including wide receiver Mike Evans and five other offensive performers.
A new-look defensive unit under the guidance of coordinator Leslie Frazier now features cornerback Alterraun Verner and defensive end Michael Johnson.
And for those who think the Bucs aren’t capable of going from worst to first in the NFC South, you don’t know the history of the division very well.
Tennessee Titans: Stock Even
While Ken Whisenhunt was helping San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers get his career back on track last season, the Tennessee Titans were busy losing eight of their final 12 games following a 3-1 start.
Now he has the opportunity to resurrect the Titans, who haven’t been to the playoffs since 2008. That season, the longtime coach was busy taking the Arizona Cardinals to Super Bowl XLIII.
It’s easy to see what the Titans will look like in 2014. Gone are running back Chris Johnson and wide receiver Kenny Britt. In are running back Dexter McCluster and rookie Bishop Sankey to join a backfield that includes Shonn Greene.
Also in are a bunch of new pieces for defensive coordinator Ray Horton to play with. The Titans will go to the 3-4 in 2014, and the addition of free agents such as linebackers Shaun Phillips and Wesley Woodyard and defensive end Al Woods should assist in the transition.
Despite those changes, there are still two questions that keep the Titans in neutral for now. Can quarterback Jake Locker stay on the field, and can Tennessee find a way to consistently beat its divisions rivals (3-9 since 2012)?
Washington Redskins: Stock Down
The Washington Redskins, with new head coach Jay Gruden at the helm, look to prove that 2012 was the rule and not the exception.
Huh? That season, the team won its final seven games and claimed a division title for the first time since 1999.
Meanwhile, from 2008 to 2011 and once again in 2013, the Redskins brought up the rear in the NFC East.
But has the franchise done enough this offseason to rebound from last year’s 3-13 disaster? Washington added wideouts DeSean Jackson and Andre Roberts, which is good news for quarterback Robert Griffin III as well as workhorse running back Alfred Morris.
On the other side of the ball, the ‘Skins added defensive tackle Jason Hatcher and free safety Ryan Clark. But did they do enough in the draft to inject some youth into an erratic defense? Washington used just two of its eight selections to aid defensive coordinator Jim Haslett’s unit. And can Gruden’s club improve on last season’s 0-6 record within the division?
The Redskins have a lot to overcome, as they will open 2014 on an eight-game losing streak.
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