2018 NFL Off-Season: Which Teams Have Improved and Which Have Declined?

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Baker Mayfield

The 2018 NFL Draft has come and gone and rookie minicamps have already started. This signals the ending point for most teams off-seasons. Sure, some teams might add or drop players before the season to make their final 53-man roster limits. However, most teams aren’t adding any more players any time soon. This opens the door for us to be able to look how teams have fared in the 2018 NFL Off-season.

Which Teams Have Improved and Declined During the 2018 NFL Off-Season?

Most Improved Teams

Chicago Bears

Wow, what an offseason. The Bears entered free agency with one goal in mind, to give Mitch Trubisky all the weapons he needs. They end up with a brand-new look on offense with some nice pieces on defense. In free agency, they go out and grab Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel. Then in the draft, they took wide receivers Anthony Miller and Javon Wims. After finishing 32nd in receiving yards last year, these key additions put them in a good position going forward.

The Bears also hired Matt Nagy to be their new head coach. He’s an offensive minded coach, being the Chiefs offensive coordinator a season ago, who should help Trubisky take gigantic steps forward with his development.

The team also went out and got some new faces on the defensive side of the ball. First-round pick Roquan Smith, being the biggest one. Smith immediately steps in at linebacker and takes control of the defense. He is a good cover linebacker, with the range of a safety to make plays anywhere on the field. He should put up great tackle numbers in his first year and is an early defensive rookie of the year candidate for me.

Overall, this team improved drastically since the end of last season and their record this upcoming season should show it. Don’t be surprised if the Bears make the playoffs as a wildcard team or come close to it.

San Fransisco 49ers

The 49ers are a very popular team right now. Ever since Jimmy Garoppolo was traded to the team and won the last five games of their season, some people have already anointed the team as division champs. Others have even gone far enough to say they will most definitely be in the Super Bowl this upcoming season. Now that’s some high praise for a team that finished last in the division just last season ago. Especially when you must play the even more dangerous LA Rams twice a year.

Still, the 49ers were able to improve as a team this offseason and help Garoppolo out. They signed Jerick McKinnon to a four-year $30 million deal. Pairing him and Matt Breida together will make for a good backfield (or maybe that’s just the Georgia Southern bias in me talking) that could look familiar to what Kyle Shanahan ran in Atlanta with Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman.

The team also drafted two wide receivers to help Garoppolo in Dante Pettis (second round) and Richie James (seventh round). Pettis is expected to be an instant starter and could turn out to be a good compliment to Marquise Goodwin. James won’t see any playing time soon, as he is still very raw and needs to learn. He provides good upside and might be a guy who could see the field as a rotational guy in late years. The 49ers first round pick Mike McGlinchey will start instantly at right tackle for the team. He has Jack Conklin type upside at right tackle and could move to the left side when Joe Staley retires. The team also signed center Weston Richburg this off-season, shoring up the offensive line and giving their franchise quarterback some protection.

On defense, the team added depth at linebacker in Fred Warner. Warner is a good linebacker who is a safety plan depending on what happens to star linebacker Reuben Foster. No matter the outcome don’t be surprised if you see Warner on the field in certain packages as he offers good upside with his instincts and cover skills.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Going into the draft the Bucs knew they needed to improve at a few positions: running back and cornerback being the biggest. They did just that. In the second round, they were able to grab running back Ronald Jones II. He should be the starter coming out of training camp and can take a lot of pressure off Jameis Winston. They then doubled up on corners drafting Carlton Davis and MJ Stewart both in the second round. Both corners will challenge for the number one spot.

The team also drafted offensive lineman Alex Cappa in the third round. Cappa is a versatile player who has a chance to be a long-term starter for the team. He probably won’t start instantly but don’t be surprised to see him on the field down the home stretch of the season depending on offensive line play.

 

Teams Getting there

Cleveland Browns

Josh Gordon, Jarvis Landry, Corey Coleman, Antonio Callaway, and David Njoku. What a receiving core. If you can get Gordon and Callaway to stay clean off the field, then this could be one of the best receiving corps in the league. Then you add in first overall pick Baker Mayfield throwing them the ball. Not to mention the likes of Nick Chubb and Carlos Hyde carrying the ball. This Browns offense has a lot of potentials to be an upper tier offense in the league, it is just going to come down to coaching, which is very worrisome.

On paper, this team has a lot of good pieces. They have a good running back and receiving corps, a good quarterback, two linebackers in Joe Schobert and Christian Kirksey who finished tied for first and tied for fourth in the league in tackles respectively, a good defensive line with depth throughout it, and a true number one corner. That’s a lot of pieces for a team that has only won one game in the past two seasons.

The Browns also drafted Genard Avery in the fifth round who could end up being a starter and outplaying Schobert. He probably won’t beat him out year one, but he could be the answer long-term at middle linebacker for the team and a name to watch out for.

It is going to be interesting going forward watching the quarterback battle of Tyrod Taylor and Baker Mayfield during the preseason and in training camp. My prediction is that even if Mayfield doesn’t come out week one as the starter it is only going to take a game or two of below average quarterback play from Taylor for fans to be calling for Mayfield.

This could be the year that the Browns win more than a game but ultimately comes down to coaching and how long Hue Jackson lasts as head coach before he’s fired.

Indianapolis Colts

Chris Ballard is one of the best GMs in the league and has already brought in some great talent to a roster that is lacking outside of Andrew Luck, who is even a big question mark at this point in his career.

Coming into the offseason the team had a handful of key pieces to build around, half of which were drafted by Ballard his first year. They came into the off-season with Quincey Wilson at cornerback, Malik Hooker at safety, TY Hilton at wide receiver, and Andrew Luck at quarterback.

The Colts come out the offseason with a lot more starters and pieces that improve a very bad roster. They grab tight end Eric Ebron in free agency to help give Luck that security blanket over the middle, they grab Jordan Wilkins and Nyheim Hines in the draft to pair with Marlon Mack and make a potentially good running back trio. The most important pieces they grabbed were offensive guards Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith. Both with be immediate starters at left and right guard respectively and make a good interior offensive line with center Ryan Kelly already there.

The Colts still have holes on their roster, but Ballard took the job knowing it was a multiple year rebuild. Next year, if Luck can play again, we should see the emergence of the team and see them win games.

New York Jets

After doubling down on safety in the 2017 draft the Jets finish the secondary in the 2018 offseason. They add cornerbacks Trumaine Johnson and Parry Nickerson to the group of Morris Claiborne, Jamal Adams, and Marcus Maye.  They also traded for edge Henry Anderson who will be a starter for the team. Their third-round pick Nathan Shepard could end up starting early for the team as well.

On offense, they add their quarterback of the future in Sam Darnold. Darnold was my number one overall quarterback in this year’s draft and him falling was a blessing for the Jets. Darnold might not start this year but has the chance to learn behind veteran quarterback Josh McCown. The team also signed Teddy Bridgewater this off-season. It is currently a crowded quarterback room but that could be beneficial to the team and Darnold. Right now, the Jets aren’t a win now team and Darnold might take some time before he’s ready to start. The team could start McCown or Bridgewater and have them work through the rough patches on offense while Darnold sits and learns. Then next year surround Darnold with weapons and give him the reins of your franchise.

Overall, the Jets aren’t going to be competing for division leaders this year but are closer than many people think. I think the team just needs one more good off-season before they are competing for second in the division. Let’s be honest, they aren’t beating Tom Brady any time soon.

Total Rebuild (& they might not even know it)

Seattle Seahawks

Seattle addressed the draft like a team without many holes, and that’s just the problem. This is a team that would surprise many if you say they are going through a rebuild. Then you look at their depth chart it is apparent they need help at some major spots.

This offseason the Seahawks lost star corner Richard Sherman, pass rusher Michael Bennett, defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, which was just a one-year experiment gone terribly wrong. They also lost tight end Jimmy Graham and wide receiver Paul Richardson on the offensive side of the ball this off-season. That’s a lot to replace in an off-season, while also trying to fill the other holes on this roster.

I am a Rashaad Penny fan but taking him in the first round just doesn’t make any sense. He is a running back who can not catch or pass block to save his life. This will make him struggle to stay on the field for all three downs. You also have so many other holes on the team that need to be addressed. The team has done well with Russell Wilson carrying them, but you can’t continue to put it all on him.

On the flip side, the team did make some good decisions this off-season. Being able to snag Jamarco Jones in the fifth round was an absolute steal. He needs to learn better body control but makes up for it with his long arms and upper body strength. He has potential to be an NFL starter for the team. The Seahawks also drafted tight end Will Dissly in the fourth round. Dissly was one of the best blocking tight ends in the draft and fits the mold of what Seattle looks for.

Overall, this is a team who may struggle more than anyone expects them too. After making the playoffs six of the past seven years they may find themselves facing their first losing season since Wilson was drafted.

Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals entered the offseason with their quarterback and head coach retiring. That put them a little behind where they wanted to be as an organization. However, they now have a new head coach in Steve Wilks and a new and crowded quarterback room with Sam Bradford, Josh Rosen, and Mike Glennon.

The team had a solid draft, giving up for virtually nothing for Rosen. Then turning around in round two and grabbing Christian Kirk to learn under Larry Fitzgerald for a few years. In round three coming around and grabbing Mason Cole to help solidify a bad offensive line. Still, the team is lacking at many positions and aren’t looking to finish high in a competitive division.

While Rosen will be their quarterback of the future, he won’t play right away. He may be the most “pro ready” quarterback but is injury prone and would play behind a bad offensive line. Even though Rosen may be ready for Arizona, Arizona may not be ready for Rosen.

Overall, the Cardinals have many core pieces needed, but it might take them another off-season before they’re ready to compete.

 

 

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Why on earth would you say Rashaad Penny can’t catch? Your statement would suggest that you never watched him in a game. He can learn to pass block, it was rarely asked of him. Coach Long said maybe 15 times in his years at State, saying, “Why would you have him in there and not get the ball to him?” A bit more research needed before pontificating please.

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