NFL Teams with the Biggest Question Marks at Start of Training Camps
It's a quarterback-driven league, so it should come as no surprise that the teams with the biggest question marks at the start of training camps have quarterback issues. However, a question at quarterback can't be the only problem teams are facing. Average quarterbacks win all the time with great supporting casts on offense or defense.
With that said, some of the following teams also have issues involving the talent around them on offense and, in many cases, major questions on defense. For some teams, the sheer volume of obstacles is staggering, while others just have one or two big ones.
The good news for these teams is that preseason dilemmas don't always mean something. Just two seasons ago Peyton Manning's neck could have been considered a problem, and his Denver Broncos broke the NFL's scoring record in 2013.
There might even be a couple of playoff teams in this bunch.
The Oakland Raiders don’t just have one question mark, they have a roster full. Despite this, the Raiders have undoubtedly improved in 2014.
The Raiders finished the season by losing their final six games, and there were complaints about fatigue in December because of the team’s lack of depth.
General manager Reggie McKenzie is wise enough to know that not every obstacle results in disaster. McKenzie took chances on veteran players this offseason, hoping to improve the team’s overall talent level and knowing that he won’t hit on every move.
Trading for quarterback Matt Schaub was a risk worth taking, but his bad 2013 season in Houston could be a sign of things to come. There’s a reason the Raiders drafted Derek Carr in the second round of the draft. If it turns out it wasn’t just one bad year for Schaub, the Raiders could be headed toward their 12th consecutive non-winning season unless Carr can hit the ground running.
McKenzie also took his chances on a 29-year-old running back with a lot of miles: Maurice Jones-Drew. Not only is Jones-Drew nearing the expiration date for running backs, but he also had a foot injury last year that limited him.
The Raiders doubled down on safety Charles Woodson, hoping to coax one more solid season out of the future Hall of Famer. Woodson will play next to Tyvon Branch, who missed 14 games last year with a broken ankle.
McKenzie revamped the defensive line with Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley at defensive end, and Antonio Smith at defensive tackle. The Raiders are hopeful that signing three veteran defensive linemen will help them compete in the AFC West.
Unfortunately, even these vets come with some question marks. Woodley hasn’t played more than 13 games in each of the last three years, and although Tuck had 11 sacks last season, he combined for just nine in 2011 and 2012. Antonio Smith will turn 33 in October and missed most of the offseason program due to an injury suffered in a weightlifting mishap.
Then there’s 2013 first-round draft pick D.J. Hayden, who will start training camp on the physically unable to perform list with a stress fracture in his foot, according to Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle.
Hayden missed eight games last season with a sports hernia and almost all of training camp while recovering from surgery to remove scar tissue that was the result of a life-saving operation his senior year in college. Hayden nearly lost his life after tearing the vein that carries blood to the heart, but it’s been other injuries slowing down the talented young cornerback.
With Hayden out, Oakland’s depth at corner is dangerously thin. Veteran cornerback Carlos Rogers will likely see an expanded role. Rogers was originally signed only as a nickelback, so Hayden’s absence will put significant stress on an already thin group.
The Raiders should be better in 2014, but you would be hard-pressed to find a team with more question marks. Not mentioned above is the team’s lack of a No. 1 wide receiver or an offensive line that will probably have four new starters.
Last year’s worst team by virtue of its 2-14 record should rebound in 2014, but that doesn’t mean it doesn't have its fair share of problems. As is typically the case with teams on this list, the Texans have an issue at quarterback.
When Ryan Fitzpatrick is the unquestioned starting quarterback headed into training camp, it’s clear the team has a problem at the position. Fitzpatrick is a journeyman quarterback who has never been much better than average and isn’t going to be pushed by rookie Tom Savage immediately.
Aside from the quarterback situation, the Texans lost running back Ben Tate in free agency and will need Arian Foster to carry almost the entire load after missing eight games in 2013. The Texans may not want to rely as heavily on the zone-blocking scheme as former head coach Gary Kubiak did, even though that’s Foster’s strength.
On defense, the Texans will pair J.J. Watt with No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney, but Romeo Crennel will coordinate the defense. When Crennel was head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, he was one of the last to deploy a two-gap 3-4 defense, which doesn’t suit the strengths of Watt or Clowney.
Then there’s the unresolved situation with star wide receiver Andre Johnson. The Texans report to training camp Friday, but no one is quite sure if Johnson will show up. Johnson is 33, skipped offseason workouts and has a $15.6 million cap hit in 2014, according to Spotrac.
Johnson would be very hard to trade, and even if they could, things would not go well without him, as the Texans have a questionable group of wide receivers for Fitzpatrick. DeAndre Hopkins was good as a rookie, but asking him to fill Johnson’s shoes would be a tall order.
The Jacksonville Jaguars surprised some by selecting quarterback Blake Bortles No. 3 overall in the 2014 NFL draft. It’s obvious to everyone that the Jaguars needed a franchise quarterback, so when they had the opportunity to get the top quarterback on their board, they seized it.
Until Bortles is ready, Chad Henne is the starter. In 13 starts last season, Henne threw for 3,241 yards, 13 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Needless to say, the Jaguars are hoping Bortles is ready sooner than later, but his lower-body mechanics need correction and a redshirt year will likely help, according to Albert Breer of NFL Network.
Jacksonville talented wide receiver Justin Blackmon is already on an indefinite suspension for violations of the substance abuse policy, so him being arrested Wednesday, per Gary Mihoces of USA Today, on suspected possession of marijuana isn’t too much of a factor.
Since the Jaguars weren’t anticipating anything from Blackmon, they used two high draft picks on wide receivers Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson, but it’s rare for wide receivers to have productive rookie campaigns.
The Jaguars will need to run the ball with some authority and hope to do it on the back of Toby Gerhart, who spent the last four years behind Adrian Peterson and has averaged 4.7 yards per carry over 276 attempts. If Gerhart is going to be successful, Jacksonville’s offensive line must improve.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), the 2013 Jaguars had the worst offensive line in the league in terms of run blocking and pass blocking. The Jaguars finished with a minus-80.8 run-block grade and a minus-17.4 pass-block grade.
The Jaguars tried to fix their offensive line woes by signing offensive guard Zane Beadles, who became expendable in Denver after posting a minus-4.1 grade, according to PFF. The rest of the improvement of the offensive line will hinge on the play of last year’s No. 2 overall pick, Luke Joeckel, who is coming off a broken ankle that cost him 11 games in 2013.
Defensively, the Jaguars have improved and should be even more competitive in 2014 with the addition of defensive ends Chris Clemons and Red Bryant. The Jaguars are headed in the right direction under head coach Gus Bradley, but it’s going to take some time before he and general manager David Caldwell can work through all of their question marks.
Robert Griffin III was one of the best quarterbacks in the league as a rookie in 2012, but the bottom dropped out his sophomore season and the Washington Redskins went 3-13. Griffin played 13 games and completed just 60.1 percent of his passes with a touchdown rate of 3.5 percent and an interception rate of 2.6 percent.
A poor season and a rift between Mike Shanahan and Griffin sent the former packing, and Jay Gruden was hired to guide the Redskins going forward. Gruden’s main job is to fix whatever ailed Griffin in 2013 and turn him into the world-beater he was just over a season ago.
The addition of wide receiver DeSean Jackson should help, but it’s also possible Griffin’s rookie year was the best he had to offer. If that’s the case, Gruden’s biggest job is actually improving a defense that allowed the second-most points in 2013.
The Redskins didn’t make any significant moves on defense, which is a giant problem even if Griffin regains his rookie form. Pro Football Focus gave just three Washington defenders a positive grade in 2013, with Brian Orakpo leading the way, but the second-best defender was nose tackle Barry Cofield with a 2.7 grade.
If Washington’s defense doesn’t improve, the offense will have to carry the team. It’s never a good sign when there are question marks on both sides of the ball, and they supposedly have their franchise quarterback.
A few weeks into the season the Raiders released Flynn and elevated undrafted rookie Matt McGloin to the No. 2 spot, and he eventually started six games. Maybe Teddy Bridgewater will beat out Cassel in training camp and history will repeat itself.
The Vikings are just hoping that if Bridgewater beats Cassel, then it'll mean he's the answer to their problem at quarterback. With running back Adrian Peterson and wide receiver Greg Jennings in tow, whoever wins the job will have more weapons than the Raiders did last year by a wide margin.
Like many of the other teams on this list, quarterback isn't the only dilemma. In this case the Vikings would likely have not made the list if not for their defense. Somehow the Vikings allowed the most points in the league last year, but they did take steps to address the problem this offseason.
The Vikings are banking on big things from Everson Griffen after signing him to a five-year, $42.5 million deal with $19.8 million guaranteed, per Spotrac. Griffen has 17.5 sacks in four seasons for the Vikings and just 5.5 last year.
Defensive tackle Linval Joseph was brought in to help the run defense up the middle and get after the quarterback when possible, but the team's biggest addition was defensive end Anthony Barr in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft.
The Vikings allowed a league-high 37 touchdowns through the air last year and the second-most passing yards, 4,595. If Barr, Griffen and Joseph can collectively put more pressure on quarterbacks, the Vikings have a young cornerback in Xavier Rhodes, 24, who can be productive.
There is a lot riding on head coach Mike Zimmer's defensive background to maximize the talent the Vikings now have on that side of the ball. Likewise, there is pressure on offensive coordinator Norv Turner to get production out of a quarterback position that has plenty of talent around it, regardless of which quarterback would be in charge.