Spring is here, and the new money is just about gone in NFL free agency. The 2017 NFL Draft is about to take center stage.
— NFL (@NFL) March 28, 2017
Now is the time when teams will look to fill holes on the roster using this year’s draft picks. It is also a time to look back at the previous year’s draft classes.
But there are few rookies who will even be impact players as first-round picks. And while last season’s rookies will be expected to take another step, they are still improving players who shouldn’t be written off if they don’t come through – not to mention, with a year on tape, even the best rookies from last season have to avoid the sophomore slump and show they can do it again next season.
— AP NFL (@AP_NFL) February 5, 2017
Free agency works best as a band-aid. The top spenders in free agency frequently fall short of expectations, especially when they don’t draft well. In the NFL, free agency sets up the draft. But while the focus will be on this year’s draft and last year’s draft, the key for teams’ success in 2017 will come from the emergence of players entering their third or fourth NFL seasons.
There are two kinds of “make or break” for a player: Finding out if a fringe player belongs in the league, and finding out if a serviceable player will break out and become an indispensable player. I feel like it takes multiple seasons away from college for a player to define themselves as a professional contributor.
So with the 2017 NFL Draft coming up, I want to take a look at pressing team needs, the free agency moves they may have made to fill them, and determine which players still on the roster from the 2014 and 2015 Drafts who have the opportunity to step up and make a big difference next season.
(In order of first draft appearance):
1. Cleveland (1-15 in 2016)
– Need: DB (32nd in pass TD allowed)
– Free Agency Report: The Browns terminated the contracts of QBs Robert Griffin III and Josh McCown, then traded a 2017 4th round pick to Houston for a 2017 6th round pick, a 2018 2nd round pick, and free agent bust QB Brock Osweiler. WR Terrelle Pryor bolted for Washington, but the Browns signed WR Kenny Britt from the Rams. Cleveland also signed G Kevin Zeitler from Cincinnati and C J.C. Tretter from Green Bay. ILB Jamie Collins was signed to a four-year contract extension before free agency started. The Browns also saw S Jordan Poyer (Buffalo) and DE Stephen Paea (Dallas) leave in free agency, while CB Tramon Williams’ contract was also terminated.
– Key 2014-2015 Draftee: SS Ibraheim Campbell (2015 4th round)
Ibraheim Campbell never doubted he could compete for starting role
— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) August 9, 2016
The Browns have been awful defending the pass each of the last two seasons, and 2014 1st round bust CB Justin Gilbert is already out of the league. Campbell is actually the most tenured S on the roster, which isn’t saying much, obviously. Campbell is still looking for his first pass breakup of his career after nine career starts, eight of which came in 2016. With the Browns drafting S Derrick Kindred in the 4th round last year and striking out on free agents at the position this offseason, Campbell is truly facing a make-or-break year under a front office and coaching staff that did not have an active role in his draft selection.
2. San Francisco (2-14)
– Need: DL (32nd in rushing yards allowed)
– Free Agency Report: Both of San Francisco’s starting QBs from last season, Blaine Gabbert and Colin Kaepernick, are still unsigned free agents. The 49ers replaced them with two former Bears QBs: Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley. 2016 Pro Bowl FB Kyle Juszczyk signed a four-year contract to leave Baltimore. WR Torrey Smith was released and WRs Quinton Patton and Keshawn Martin signed one-year deals elsewhere; San Francisco replaced them with WRs Pierre Garcon (Washington), Marquise Goodwin (Buffalo), and Aldrick Robinson (Atlanta). WR Jeremy Kerley also got a three-year contract extension. C Marcus Martin was waived, and the 49ers acquired C Jeremy Zuttah from Baltimore in exchange for two 2017 6th round picks. Former Dolphins DT Earl Mitchell was signed to a four-year deal. Former Raiders ILB Malcolm Smith signed a five-year deal to join the 49ers; ILB Michael Wilhoite left for Seattle. Former Texans S Don Jones, mostly a special teamer, signed a two-year deal with San Francisco. K Phil Dawson left for Arizona, so K Robbie Gould was signed to a two-year deal.
– Key 2014-2015 Draftee: DE Arik Armstead (2015 1st round)
— Kevin Jones (@Mr_KevinJones) November 15, 2016
The 49ers were ravaged on the ground in 2016, a Chip Kelly specialty. Kelly is out as head coach, and new head coach Kyle Shanahan hired former Jaguars LB coach Robert Saleh as defensive coordinator. That means that the defense is going from a 3-4 to a 4-3 for the first time since the 2004 season. It will be interesting to see where Armstead fits at 6’7″, 292 pounds. Armstead has 4.5 sacks and 4 TFL in 24 career games, and he finished the 2016 season on injured reserve due to shoulder surgery. Along with former Oregon teammate and 2016 1st round DE DeForest Buckner, Armstead will need to stay healthy and make plays in the backfield to help the worst defense in the NFL improve significantly.
3. Chicago (3-13)
– Need: QB (24th in TD pass)
– Free Agency Report: The Bears signed QB Mike Glennon from Tampa Bay to a three-year contract, releasing QB Jay Cutler on the same day. QBs Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley signed with San Francisco, and QB Mark Sanchez signed a one-year contract with the Bears to leave Dallas. SS Quintin Demps signed a three-year deal to leave Houston. WR Alshon Jeffery went to Philadelphia, and Chicago signed WR Markus Wheaton from Pittsburgh and WR Kendall Wright from Tennessee. Former Miami TE Dion Sims signed a three-year deal with the Bears. CB Prince Amukamara signed a one-year deal to leave Jacksonville, while CB Marcus Cooper signed a one-year deal with the Bears to leave Arizona.
– Key 2014-2015 Draftee: WR Kevin White (2015 1st round)
— 670 The Score (@670TheScore) January 15, 2017
The Bears would be wise to add a QB to the roster even after signing Glennon and Sanchez, but White may be the biggest X-Factor on the roster. White is 6’3, 216, but his lack of availability has been his biggest hurdle. He missed his entire rookie season due to a stress fracture in his left leg, then missed all but four games of the 2016 season due to a fractured left fibula. White was drafted to replace Brandon Marshall as the complement to Jeffery, but now with Jeffery gone, White is the biggest WR on the team. He still doesn’t have a TD on 36 career targets, and he averaged only 9.8 yards per reception before his season-ending injury in 2016.
4. Jacksonville (3-13)
– Need: RB (T-29th in run TD)
– Free Agency Report: The Jaguars got things started this offseason by releasing DE Jared Odrick and CB Davon House, then trading TE Julius Thomas to Miami. All three players were acquired in 2015 free agency. In a separate trade with Miami, the Jaguars acquired OT Branden Albert for a 2018 7th round pick. Jacksonville’s annual free agent jackpot netted them former Arizona DT Calais Campbell and former Houston CB A.J. Bouye this year; DT Sen’Derrick Marks was released. Jacksonville also signed former Dallas SS Barry Church to a four-year deal; Church replaces SS Johnathan Cyprien, who left for Tennessee. Jacksonville replaced Thomas with former Oakland TE Mychal Rivera. OT Kelvin Beachum and G Luke Joeckel also left Jacksonville this offseason, while DT Roy Miller was released. CB Prince Amukamara left for Chicago.
– Key 2014-2015 Draftee: RB T.J. Yeldon (2015 2nd round)
Not that I necessarily blame him but T.J. Yeldon has made a few business decisions this year. pic.twitter.com/eRgv3NbzGr
— Cian Fahey (@Cianaf) October 21, 2016
The Jaguars reacted to Yeldon’s rookie season of 740 total rushing yards, 4.1 yards per rush, and two rushing TD by signing RB Chris Ivory in free agency. Yeldon’s numbers in 2016 declined to 465 rushing yards, 3.6 yards per rush, and only one rushing TD. Yeldon is a decent receiving back, but he doesn’t make plays. None of his 130 rushes in 2016 went for more than 16 yards, while none of his 50 receptions went for more than 17 yards. And it’s not like Ivory did much either, as Yeldon still led the team in rushing attempts and yards. The Jaguars haven’t had a respectable rushing attack since former RB Maurice Jones-Drew’s 2012 foot injury expedited the end of his career. Yeldon averages a rushing TD every 104 career attempts, which must improve significantly in 2017 if he’s Jacksonville’s starter.
5. Tennessee (9-7)
– Need: DB (30th in pass yards allowed)
– Free Agency Report: The Titans haven’t done much in free agency as they prepare to reap the benefits of trading with the Los Angeles Rams. Former 1st round picks WR Kendall Wright and G Chance Warmack left to take one-year deals in Chicago and Philadelphia, respectively. Former Falcons WR Eric Weems, mostly a special teamer, signed a two-year deal to join the Titans. Tennessee also signed former Raiders LB Daren Bates to a three-year deal and former Raiders SS Brynden Trawick to a two-year deal to bolster the special teams unit. The Titans addressed their dreadful secondary by signing former Patriots CB Logan Ryan to a three-year contract and former Jaguars SS Johnathan Cyprien to a four-year contract. NT Al Woods was released and replaced by former Denver NT Sylvester Williams, who signed a three-year contract.
– Key 2014-2015 Draftee: ILB Avery Williamson (2014 5th round)
Titans LB Avery Williamson leads all inside linebackers in tackling efficiency. Over 576 snaps this year, he's missed just one tackle. pic.twitter.com/bDaa5jfdYl
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) November 15, 2016
Williamson is a key part of Tennessee’s run defense and led the team with 104 combined tackles in 2016, but he’s entering a contract year, and he doesn’t make a lot of big plays. Williamson’s sacks (2.0), TFL (3), QB hits (5) and passes defensed (1) were all career-lows. Plus, fellow ILB Wesley Woodyard just got a three-year extension despite the fact that Woodyard is entering his 10th season. Titans GM Jon Robinson spent his first draft with the team last year drafting three defensive backs after Tennessee drafted only one defensive back in the previous two drafts. Williamson is the one of only three defensive players still on the team from the 2014 and 2015 drafts, along with defensive linemen DaQuan Jones and Angelo Blackson.
6. New York Jets (5-11)
– Need: QB, OL (32nd in INT)
– Free Agency Report: The Jets replaced free agent QBs Ryan Fitzpatrick and Geno Smith with former Browns QB Josh McCown, who has lost 20 of his last 22 starts. New York spent most of the offseason releasing veterans: CB Darrelle Revis, C Nick Mangold, WR Brandon Marshall, LT Ryan Clady, RT Breno Giacomini, K Nick Folk, and RB Khiry Robinson were all shown the door. Former 49ers WR Quinton Patton signed a one-year deal to help replace Marshall, while former Cardinals K Chandler Catanzaro signed a one-year deal to replace Folk. Former Jaguars OT Kelvin Beachum was signed to a three-year contract. CB Morris Claiborne left Dallas to sign a one-year deal with the Jets.
– Key 2014-2015 Draftee: QB Bryce Petty (2014 4th round)
— The Jet Press (@TheJetPress) February 25, 2017
McCown appears to be the veteran option for the Jets, but he’s only started 10+ games in two seasons. The Jets burned a 2nd round pick on QB Christian Hackenberg, and they only let him on the field for one preseason game. That leaves Petty, who credited Madden for his development as a QB not even a year ago. As bad as Fitzpatrick was in 2016 (12 TD, 17 INT, 56.6% completions, 6.7 yards per attempt, 69.6 passer rating), Petty was decidedly worse (3 TD, 7 INT, 56.4% completions, 6.1 yards per attempt, 60.0 passer rating). Petty also added only 19 rushing yards and lost 3 of 4 starts. He’s also recovering from surgery to repair a torn labrum in his non-throwing shoulder. With the Jets selecting high in the draft, there’s no guarantee that Petty will get another chance in 2017.
7. Los Angeles Chargers (5-11)
– Need: K (25th in FG pct.)
– Free Agency Report: The Chargers kicked the offseason off by designating OLB Melvin Ingram with the franchise tag. 2013 1st round G D.J. Fluker was released, as was LT King Dunlap, WR Stevie Johnson, and CB Brandon Flowers. SS Jahleel Addae and LS Mike Windt were re-signed to four-year deals. Former Denver LT Russell Okung also signed a four-year contract. RB Danny Woodhead (Baltimore) and ILB Manti Te’o (New Orleans) left in free agency.
– Key 2014-2015 Draftee: CB Jason Verrett (2014 1st round)
— AM 570 LA Sports (@AM570LASports) January 13, 2017
Verrett, a Pro Bowler in 2015, has been very good when he’s been on the field. The problem has been that he hasn’t been on the field much. He missed only 2 games in 2015, but he missed 10 games as a rookie in 2014 and lasted only 4 games before being shut down due to a partially torn ACL in his left knee. The Chargers got a great year from 2016 free agent signee CB Casey Hayward, who led the NFL with 7 INTs. They could potentially have a top-five pass defense with Verrett healthy for a full season.
8. Carolina (6-10)
– Need: DB (20th in pass TD allowed)
– Free Agency Report: The Panthers chose to use the franchise tag on DT Kawann Short – unlike last season, Carolina doesn’t plan on rescinding the tag like they did with former CB Josh Norman. DE Charles Johnson was re-signed to a two-year contract while DE Julius Peppers left Green Bay to rejoin the franchise that drafted him 2nd overall in 2002. The Panthers traded DE Kony Ealy to New England with a 2017 3rd round pick in exchange for a 2017 2nd round pick. Carolina signed OT Matt Kalil from Minnesota to a five-year contract; RT Mike Remmers left the Panthers to sign with the Vikings. FB Mike Tolbert and DT Paul Soliai were both released, while DEs Wes Horton and Mario Addison were both signed to extensions. Carolina also reunited with former 2009 7th round CB Captain Munnerlyn, signing him to a four-year deal to leave Minnesota. WR Ted Ginn left for New Orleans, and he was replaced by former Tampa Bay WR Russell Shepard. Carolina also signed former Colts SS Mike Adams to a two-year contract.
– Key 2014-2015 Draftee: FS Tre Boston (2014 4th round)
.@TreBos10 is emerging as a playmaker in the secondary
— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) November 16, 2016
Boston is entering a contract year, and while he has 16 career starts, the Panthers have replaced him as the starter each of the last two seasons. Adams and FS Kurt Coleman are locked in as starters heading into 2017, which leaves Boston on the bench again. Carolina’s secondary had some big problems last season, and while youth at CB was a big part of the issue, Boston’s inconsistency didn’t help. Adams is 36, but Coleman is a better fit at FS, so it remains to be seen if Boston is part of the team’s future plans.
9. Cincinnati (6-9-1)
– Need: QB, WR, TE (26th in pass TD)
– Free Agency Report: The Bengals are starting over on the offensive line after LT Andrew Whitworth and RG Kevin Zeitler left in free agency for Los Angeles Rams and Cleveland, respectively. WR Brandon LaFell was re-signed to a two-year extension, while CB Dre Kirkpatrick was re-signed to a five-year extension. G Andre Smith, a career OT who was selected by the Bengals in the 1st round of the 2009 Draft, is back after a year in Minnesota. ILB Kevin Minter was signed to a one-year deal to leave Arizona. Minter replaces ILB Rey Maualuga (released). RB Rex Burkhead left in free agency, but RB Cedric Peerman was re-signed to a one-year deal.
– Key 2014-2015 Draftee: QB AJ McCarron (2014 5th round)
— AL.com sports (@aldotcomSports) March 13, 2017
Bengals starting QB Andy Dalton has started all 16 games in five of six NFL seasons, including 2016. That has left McCarron, who started the last three games of the 2015 season and the 2015 Wild Card, on the bench while head coach Marvin Lewis fields questions about trade rumors. Dalton threw a career-low 18 TD passes in 2016 while taking as many sacks as he did in the previous two seasons combined (41). McCarron has shown to be a safe, low-ceiling game manager in four career starts (5 TD, 1 INT, 62.1% completions, 6.2 yards per attempt, 89.6 passer rating). He’s not going to challenge Dalton for the starting job, he’s in a contract year, and his value may never be higher to the Bengals than right now as a potential trade chip.
10. Buffalo (7-9)
– Need: DL (29th in run yards allowed)
– Free Agency Report: Cooler heads prevailed as the Bills retained QB Tyrod Taylor on a restructured contract. 2013 1st round bust QB EJ Manuel left for Oakland. WR Robert Woods left for the Los Angeles Rams, while CB Stephon Gilmore signed with New England. Former Packers SS Micah Hyde signed a five-year deal to join the Bills, while former Browns FS Jordan Poyer signed a four-year deal. Former Falcons FB Patrick DiMarco signed a four-year contract and former Panthers FB Mike Tolbert signed a one-year contract. CB Nickell Robey, S Aaron Williams, S Corey Graham, K Dan Carpenter, and LS Garrison Sanborn were all released. The Bills signed former Raiders WR Andre Holmes and former Seattle K Steven Hauschka to three-year contracts. Pro Bowl OLB Lorenzo Alexander was re-signed to a two-year contract.
– Key 2014-2015 Draftee: ILB Preston Brown (2014 3rd round)
— Coach Billy Carson (@CoachCarson) November 28, 2016
Brown was featured in this space last season, and now he’s back as the Bills transition to a 4-3 defense under new head coach Sean McDermott. The Bills drafted ILB Reggie Ragland in the 2nd round last year, but he missed his rookie season due to a torn ACL. While ILB Zack Brown had a Pro Bowl season next to Preston Brown, Zack Brown is still an unrestricted free agent. The Bills were awful against the run in 2016, and while Preston Brown was second on the team behind Zack Brown in tackles, Preston Brown was only T-5th on the team with only 5 TFLs. Brown doesn’t offer much as a pass rusher (1.0 sacks, 3 QB hits in 2016) or in pass coverage (0 INT, 1 pass defensed), so there’s a real chance that his role is sharply reduced headed into a contract year.
11. New Orleans (7-9)
– Need: LB (T-28th in run TD)
– Free Agency Report: New Orleans completed a blockbuster trade with the Patriots, receiving 2017 1st and 3rd round picks in exchange for a 2017 4th round pick and 2014 1st round WR Brandin Cooks. The Saints replaced Cooks’ speed by signing former Carolina WR Ted Ginn to a three-year contract. New Orleans also signed RG Larry Warford from Detroit and ILB A.J. Klein from Carolina to four-year contracts. The Saints also re-signed DT Nick Fairley to a four-year contract, while adding former Chargers ILB Manti Te’o to a two-year contract. FS Jairus Byrd was released.
– Key 2014-2015 Draftee: ILB Stephone Anthony (2015 1st round)
— New Orleans Saints (@SaintsNOW) January 26, 2017
Anthony started all 16 games as a rookie for New Orleans’ historically bad 2015 defense. He barely saw the field in 2016 as he was moved to strongside linebacker for most of the season. Anthony will have to compete with Te’o and Klein, as well as incumbent starters Craig Robertson, Nathan Stupar and Dannell Ellerbe, for playing time. There were concerns about Anthony’s recognition and awareness last season, and now he’s in a crunch to stand out among an underwhelming, yet crowded corps.
13. Arizona (7-8-1)
– Need: P (21st in punt return avg. allowed)
– Free Agency Report: Arizona’s defense was raided in free agency, as DE Calais Campbell (Jacksonville), ILB Kevin Minter (Cincinnati), CB Marcus Cooper (Chicago), SS Tony Jefferson (Baltimore), and FS D.J. Swearinger (Washington) all signed elsewhere. Arizona designated OLB Chandler Jones with the franchise tag before signing him to a new five-year contract. Former Cincinnati ILB Karlos Dansby (a 2004 2nd round pick by Arizona) and former Pittsburgh OLB Jarvis Jones signed one-year deals with the Cardinals. TE Jermaine Gresham signed a four-year contract extension, while C A.Q. Shipley and DE Josh Mauro signed two-year extensions. G Earl Watford left for Jacksonville. Former San Francisco SS Antoine Bethea was signed to a three-year contract, while former San Francisco K Phil Dawson was signed to a two-year contract to replace K Chandler Catanzaro.
– Key 2014-2015 Draftee: OT D.J. Humphries (2015 1st round)
— Darren Urban (@Cardschatter) November 24, 2016
The Cardinals didn’t let Humphries on the field as a rookie in 2015. In 2016, Humphries was the starting RT until LT Jared Veldheer’s season came to an end due to a torn right triceps. Humphries switched over to LT, and he is set to begin his third NFL season there, with Veldheer switching over to RT. The Cardinals really struggled on the offensive line in 2016, allowing 41 sacks (T-25th in NFL) while only the Colts and Browns allowed more quarterback hits. Humphries will play perhaps the most critical role in the performance of the offensive line in 2017.
14. Philadelphia (7-9)
– Need: WR (24th in pass yards)
– Free Agency Report: The Eagles didn’t mess around with adding veteran talent at WR, signing Torrey Smith from San Francisco and Alshon Jeffery from Chicago. Philadelphia released CB Leodis McKelvin, DE Connor Barwin, and backup QB Chase Daniel. CB Nolan Carroll left for Dallas, while NT Bennie Logan signed with Kansas City. Former Indianapolis CB Patrick Robinson signed a one-year deal to join the Eagles, while former New England DE Chris Long and former Kansas City QB Nick Foles (2012 3rd round pick by Philadelphia) signed two-year deals with the Eagles.
– Key 2014-2015 Draftee: WR Nelson Agholor (2015 1st round)
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) March 10, 2017
It’s been a rough two seasons in Philadelphia for Agholor. He’s only caught 52.2% of his 113 targets, averaging only 11.0 yards on those 59 receptions and scoring only three TD. Out of 85 WRs with at least 100 targets since 2015, Agholor ranks 74th in reception percentage and 75th in yards per reception, while only three WRs scored fewer TDs. None of those 85 WRs had fewer than Agholor’s 26 receptions for 1st downs. For such an inefficient receiver, it’s hard to see Agholor’s production improving with Jeffery, Smith, and Jordan Matthews occupying the top of the depth chart in Philadelphia. Agholor will get a chance to showcase his return ability from Southern California, something he hasn’t been able to do as a starting WR.
15. Indianapolis (8-8)
– Need: DB (28th in passer rating allowed)
– Free Agency Report: The Colts have made it a priority to rebuild the front seven under new GM Chris Ballard. Former New England OLBs Jabaal Sheard and Barkevious Mingo were signed, along with former Houston OLB John Simon. Indianapolis also signed former Cincinnati DE Margus Hunt and former Tennessee NT Al Woods to two-year contracts and former Tennessee ILB Sean Spence to a one-year deal. DE Arthur Jones and ILB D’Qwell Jackson were released, while DE Zach Kerr, ILB Josh McNary, and OLB Chris Carter were allowed to leave in free agency. The Colts also released G Joe Reitz and CB Patrick Robinson, while SS Mike Adams left in free agency. Indianapolis traded TE Dwayne Allen and a 2017 6th round pick to New England for a 2017 4th round pick after re-signing TE Jack Doyle to a three-year deal. P Pat McAfee retired, so the Colts signed former Minnesota P Jeff Locke to a two-year contract. Former Baltimore WR Kamar Aiken signed a one-year contract with the Colts.
– Key 2014-2015 Draftee: SS Clayton Geathers (2015 4th round)
— Kevin Bowen (@KBowenColts) November 15, 2016
Geathers is one of only two DBs from the past three drafts still on the roster, along with 2016 2nd round FS T.J. Green. It is unclear how much longer Geathers will even be called a SS, as there was some consideration of moving him to ILB. Geathers’ 2016 season ended after nine games due to a neck injury, but he is regarded as a strong tackler, and he had more passes defensed in 2016 (5) than Adams and Green combined (4), despite Adams and Green playing 15 games each. Retired Colts OLB Robert Mathis has compared Geathers to former All-Pro Bob Sanders, and for an annually soft and porous defense, Geathers’ presence could be a difference-maker.
16. Baltimore (8-8)
– Need: RB (T-22nd in run TD)
– Free Agency Report: The Ravens released OLB Elvis Dumervil, along with FS Lardarius Webb, CB Shareece Wright and FS Kendrick Lewis. Pro Bowl FB Kyle Juszczyk left for San Francisco, WR Kamar Aiken left for Indianapolis, RT Rick Wagner left for Detroit, and DE Lawrence Guy left for New England. The Ravens also swapped 6th round picks with the 49ers in a deal that allowed San Francisco to acquire C Jeremy Zuttah. Baltimore was able to retain NT Brandon Williams, signing him to a five-year contract. Baltimore also bolstered the secondary by signing former Dallas CB Brandon Carr and former Arizona SS Tony Jefferson to four-year contracts. The Ravens also signed RB Danny Woodhead from the Chargers to a three-year contract.
– Key 2014-2015 Draftee: RB Javorius Allen (2015 4th round)
— Baltimore Sun Sports (@BaltSunSports) October 4, 2016
The last time the Ravens didn’t select a RB or FB in the NFL Draft was 2010. But over the last four seasons, the only player to rush for more than 800 yards or score 8 rushing TD in a season was Justin Forsett in 2014. That’s also the only season of the last four that saw Baltimore make the postseason or finish better than 8-8. After averaging only 3.8 yards per rush and scoring only one rushing TD on 137 rushes as a rookie in 2015, Allen was limited to nine scoreless rushes in 2016, gaining only 34 yards (3.8 yards per rush). Allen showed ability as a receiver as a rookie, but the numbers game became too much for him to overcome in his second season. Baltimore is still crowded at the position heading into 2017. But Woodhead is coming off a torn ACL, 2016 rookie Kenneth Dixon is suspended for the first four games (PEDs), and leading 2016 rusher Terrance West was average at best. That may bode well for Allen’s chances – or, it may lead to the Ravens selecting yet another RB in the draft, and possibly before Day 3.
17. Washington (8-7-1)
– Need: DL (27th in run avg. allowed)
– Free Agency Report: Everything this team did this offseason is overshadowed by the messy firing of GM Scot McCloughan. That includes placing the franchise tag on QB Kirk Cousins for the second season in a row. WRs Pierre Garcon (San Francisco) and DeSean Jackson (Tampa Bay) both left in free agency, with former Cleveland WR Terrelle Pryor and former Los Angeles Rams WR Brian Quick signed to one-year deals to replaced them. DE Chris Baker also left Washington for Tampa Bay, while DE Ricky Jean Francois was released. TE Vernon Davis signed a three-year extension. Washington signed former Oakland DE Stacy McGee to a five-year contract, former Dallas DE Terrell McClain to a four-year contract, and former Arizona FS D.J. Swearinger to a three-year contract; all three are expected to start.
– Key 2014-2015 Draftee: OLB Trent Murphy (2014 2nd round)
.@TMurphy_93 made the most of his stint at DE & transferred what he learned at the position over to OLB.
— Washington Redskins (@Redskins) January 21, 2017
Murphy was featured in this space last season, and he came through in 2016 with more sacks (9.0), QB hits (24), and TFL (10) than in his first two seasons combined. Then he got hit with a four-game suspension for PEDs in March. So that means that Murphy will not only begin next season away from the team, but he also will have to come back and show that he can reduplicate his high level of production while staying clean. In the meantime, Washington’s bad run defense needs some help for the front seven in the draft.
19. Tampa Bay (9-7)
– Need: LB (22nd in run yards allowed)
– Free Agency Report: Tampa Bay’s biggest moves involved signing a pair of former Washington players, WR DeSean Jackson and DT Chris Baker, to three-year contracts. They also gave a five-year extension to DE William Gholston. Backup QB Mike Glennon left for Chicago. RB Jacquizz Rodgers was re-signed to a two-year contract. Veteran WR Vincent Jackson remains unsigned, while WR Russell Shepard left for Carolina. At S, Chris Conte was re-signed to a two-year deal and J.J. Wilcox left Dallas to sign a two-year deal, while Bradley McDougald left for Seattle. DT Akeem Spence left for Detroit. Former New York Jets K Nick Folk was signed to a one-year contract to push 2016 2nd round K Roberto Aguayo, who was the first kicker since Gary Anderson in 2003 to attempt at least 30 field goals in a season but fail to make one beyond 43 yards. Anderson was 44 years old when he played for the 2003 Titans; Aguayo was 22 years old last season.
– Key 2014-2015 Draftee: ILB Kwon Alexander (2015 4th round)
— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@TBBuccaneers) January 8, 2017
For the first time in five seasons, someone other than OLB Lavonte David led Tampa Bay in tackles. While that was a great feat for Alexander, David still had more sacks, TFL, and forced fumbles. Alexander also had fewer passes defensed in 2016 than he had as a rookie in 2015, despite playing in four more games last season. Alexander and David play nearly every snap together, and Alexander could make a permanent star turn in 2017. But Tampa Bay could use another run stopper at LB with 250-pound OLB Daryl Smith unsigned at 35 years old.
20. Denver (9-7)
– Need: RB (28th in run avg.)
– Free Agency Report: Everyone has been trying to make the Broncos great again and connect them to QB Tony Romo, but the Broncos haven’t done anything to indicate that such a move is imminent. Denver has focused on rebuilding their offensive and defensive lines. OT Russell Okung left for San Diego, and he was replaced by former Oakland OT Menelik Watson, who signed a three-year contract. Denver did bring in a former Dallas player, signing G Ron Leary to a four-year deal. NT Sylvester Williams left for Tennessee, and the Broncos responded by signing former Cincinnati DT Domata Peko and former Indianapolis DE Zach Kerr to two-year contracts. CB Kayvon Webster signed with the Los Angeles Rams. OLB DeMarcus Ware retired.
– Key 2014-2015 Draftee: OT Ty Sambrailo (2015 2nd round)
— Jon Heath (@JonHeathNFL) November 17, 2016
Sambrailo has had a tough start to his career. He tore his labrum in his shoulder three games into his rookie season while starting at LT, then struggled at G and RT as he was in and out of the lineup in 2016. Denver’s offensive line play was poor in 2016, ranking 25th in QB hits allowed and T-24th in offensive line penalties. Denver averaged 3.6 yards per rush in 2016, their lowest average on the ground since 1994. Sambrailo is the team’s highest drafted offensive lineman over the past five drafts, but he has to show that he can stay on the field and be a positive contributor in 2017.
21. Detroit (9-7)
– Need: RB (30th in run yards)
– Free Agency Report: Detroit’s offseason movement is all about the offensive line. Gone are RG Larry Warford and RT Riley Reiff, who left for New Orleans and Minnesota, respectively. In to replace them are former Green Bay RG T.J. Lang and former Baltimore RT Rick Wagner. Former Tampa Bay DT Akeem Spence was signed to a three-year deal, as DTs Stefan Charles (Jacksonville) and Tyrunn Walker (Los Angeles Rams) left in free agency. WR Anquan Boldin remains unsigned. OLB DeAndre Levy was released. CB D.J. Hayden left Oakland to sign a one-year deal with Detroit.
– Key 2014-2015 Draftee: RB Ameer Abdullah (2015 2nd round)
— Around The NFL (@AroundTheNFL) September 21, 2016
The Lions haven’t had a player rush for 100 yards in a game since Thanksgiving of 2013. Abdullah’s biggest issue as a rookie were fumbles, as he had five of them compared to only three total TD. Abdullah looked primed for a major role in 2016, but he injured his foot in Week 2 and never saw the field again, ending the season on injured reserve. Abdullah also had shoulder surgery after his rookie season. Abdullah has a healthy 4.3 yards per rush on 161 career rushes, and he flashes dynamic receiving ability. The Lions need him to put it all together in 2017.
22. Miami (10-6)
– Need: LB (31st in run avg. allowed)
– Free Agency Report: The Dolphins made a surprise playoff run in 2016, and they have spent most of the offseason rewarding their own players. WR Kenny Stills, DE Cameron Wake, DE Andre Branch, SS Reshad Jones, and OLB Kiko Alonso all signed multi-year extensions, while G Jermon Bushrod was re-signed to a one-year deal. Miami also swung multiple trades. LT Branden Albert was traded to Jacksonville in exchange for a 2018 7th round pick. Miami lost TE Jordan Cameron to retirement and Dion Sims left for Chicago, but TE Julius Thomas was acquired from Jacksonville in a separate trade for a 2017 draft pick. Miami also acquired DE William Hayes and a 2017 7th round pick from the Los Angeles Rams in exchange for a 2017 6th round pick. Miami released DE Mario Williams and DT Earl Mitchell. OLB Jelani Jenkins signed with Oakland, and the Dolphins signed former Pittsburgh ILB Lawrence Timmons to a two-year contract. Miami signed former Chicago G Ted Larsen to a three-year contract.
– Key 2014-2015 Draftee: DT Jordan Phillips (2015 2nd round)
— Joe Schad (@schadjoe) March 16, 2017
At 6’6″, 335, Phillips is the largest player on Miami’s roster, and he lines up next to Pro Bowl DT Ndamukong Suh. Phillips’ inconsistency has left Miami unsatisfied, as he had only 0.5 sacks in 2016. Miami wants to get Phillips on the field more, and they don’t have much of a choice considering the lack of depth at the position heading into the draft. Miami has also been terrible against the run since 2015, allowing 4.4 yards per rush in that time (26th in NFL).
23. New York Giants (11-5)
– Need: RB (32nd in run TD)
– Free Agency Report: The Giants used the franchise tag on DE Jason Pierre-Paul before signing him to a four-year contract. New York released veteran WR Victor Cruz and RB Rashad Jennings, and they signed former New York Jets WR Brandon Marshall to a two-year contract. TE Rhett Ellison, formerly of Minnesota, was signed to a four-year contract to replace TE Larry Donnell. New York signed former Jets QB Geno Smith to a one-year contract to replace backup QB Ryan Nassib, and they re-signed backup QB Josh Johnson to a two-year contract. The Giants also signed former Chargers G D.J. Fluker to a one-year contract and re-signed RG John Jerry to a three-year contract. K Robbie Gould signed with San Francisco, and OT Marshall Newhouse signed with Oakland. DT Johnathan Hankins remains unsigned.
– Key 2014-2015 Draftee: OT Ereck Flowers (2015 1st round)
— Ralph Vacchiano (@RVacchianoSNY) January 10, 2017
The Giants aren’t sure what they will do with Flowers, the team’s highest draft pick (9th overall) since Eli Manning joined the team in 2004. They have not committed to him remaining at LT. Flowers tied for the most penalties by an offensive lineman this past season, and New York’s poor running game has put too much pressure on a New York passing game that was inefficient in 2016.
24. Oakland (12-4)
– Need: DB (24th in pass yards allowed)
– Free Agency Report: Oakland is gearing up to extend their 2014 draft class (DE Khalil Mack, QB Derek Carr, RG Gabe Jackson), so they haven’t been too active in free agency. QB EJ Manuel was signed from Buffalo to a one-year contract to replace QB Matthew McGloin. RB Latavius Murray signed with Minnesota, while Oakland signed former Vikings WR Cordarrelle Patterson to a two-year contract. WR Andre Holmes signed with Buffalo, and TE Mychal Rivera signed with Jacksonville. Former Green Bay TE Jared Cook signed a two-year contract with the Raiders. OT Menelik Watson left for Denver, so the Raiders signed former Giants OT Marshall Newhouse to a two-year contract. DT Stacy McGee signed with Washington, ILB Malcolm Smith signed with San Francisco, CB D.J. Hayden signed with Detroit, and FS Nate Allen signed with Miami. Oakland signed OLB Jelani Jenkins of Miami to a one-year deal.
– Key 2014-2015 Draftee: SS Keith McGill (2014 4th round)
— CSNAuthentic (@CSNAuthentic) September 14, 2016
McGill started the first two games of the 2016 season, as 2016 1st round SS Karl Joseph wasn’t quite ready yet. The Raiders were torched for over 1,000 yards combined in those two games. McGill isn’t being counted on as a starter, but Joseph has to prove his durability while FS Reggie Nelson is 33 years old. McGill is a versatile player with plus-size (6’3″, 211 pounds) on a team that is sorely lacking in depth in the secondary, but he only has two passes defensed in three seasons.
25. Houston (9-7)
– Need: QB, WR, TE (29th in pass yards)
– Free Agency Report: The Texans saw enough of QB Brock Osweiler to package him along with a 2017 6th round pick and a 2018 2nd round pick in a trade to Cleveland for a 2017 4th round pick. Houston is waiting to possibly acquire Dallas QB Tony Romo. In the meantime, they watched key members of their secondary move on, as CB A.J. Buoye left for Jacksonville and FS Quintin Demps left for Chicago. OLB John Simon also left for Indianapolis. Houston signed K Nick Novak and P Shane Lechler to one-year extensions, and TE Ryan Griffin was re-signed to a three-year contract.
– Key 2014-2015 Draftee: QB Tom Savage (2014 4th round)
— SNF on NBC (@SNFonNBC) March 27, 2017
Whether the Texans get Romo or not, Savage figures to play a role in Houston’s passing game at some point in 2017. Savage’s main problem is his own durability, though. Savage missed the end of the 2014 season due to a knee injury, missed all of the 2015 season due to a shoulder injury, and he picked up a concussion in his 2nd career start, forcing Houston to turn back to Osweiler a week before the postseason. Savage has yet to throw a TD pass, although he has only one INT in 92 career attempts. While he has completed 60.9 percent of his passes, they have gone for only 6.4 yards per attempt. Savage also offers nothing as a runner. Houston has had a different Week 1 starter at QB each of the previous four seasons, and they’re guaranteed to have a different 2017 starter with Osweiler gone. Savage is the only QB the team has drafted in the last five years.
26. Seattle (10-5-1)
– Need: OL (27th in sacks allowed)
– Free Agency Report: Seattle has spent most of the offseason signing one-year contracts. Former Green Bay RB Eddie Lacy, former Jacksonville LG Luke Joeckel, former Houston RG Oday Aboushi, former Washington ILB Terence Garvin, former San Francisco ILB Michael Wilhoite, former Tampa Bay FS Bradley McDougald, and former Minnesota K Blair Walsh all signed one-year pacts with the Seahawks. In addition to those players, TE Luke Willson and CB DeShawn Shead re-signed with Seattle for one year as well. CB Neiko Thorpe managed to re-sign with Seattle for a whole two years! K Steven Hauschka signed with Buffalo.
– Key 2014-2015 Draftee: C Justin Britt (2014 2nd round)
— The Seattle Times (@seattletimes) January 19, 2017
Britt spent his rookie season at RT, his second season at LG, and last season at C. The Seahawks might actually let him stay at the same position for once! Britt is literally the only reliable piece of an offensive line that combined their annual pass protection issues with their worst rushing season of the Russell Wilson era. Britt is entering a contract year, and given Seattle’s issues in fielding competent linemen around him, he could have a lot of leverage when it comes time to discuss a new contract if he has another strong season.
27. Kansas City (12-4)
– Need: DL (26th in run yards allowed)
– Free Agency Report: The Chiefs had tough decisions to make on defense, and the biggest move they made was signing FS Eric Berry to a six-year extension. NT Dontari Poe wound up signing with Atlanta, but the Chiefs replaced him with former Philadelphia NT Bennie Logan, who signed a one-year contract. Kansas City also released RB Jamaal Charles and replaced him with RB C.J. Spiller, who spent parts of 2016 with the Jets and Seahawks. The Chiefs reached five-year extensions with RG Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and LS James Winchester, and SS Daniel Sorensen reached a four-year contract extension with Kansas City. RB Knile Davis signed with Pittsburgh and QB Nick Foles signed with Philadelphia.
– Key 2014-2015 Draftee: DE Rakeem Nunez-Roches (2015 6th round)
That moment when you get your first career @NFL sack.
— Kansas City Chiefs (@Chiefs) December 9, 2016
Nunez-Roches was actually waived and signed to the practice squad to begin the 2016 season, but he was needed by midseason with Chiefs defensive linemen dropping like flies. Nunez-Roches gets praise from teammates for his energy, and he tied 2016 2nd round DE Chris Jones for the team lead in TFL by a defensive lineman with five. Jones played more than twice as many snaps as Nunez-Roches, making it all the more impressive that Nunez-Roches was able to make so many plays. By comparison, Poe had only one TFL in 2016 despite leading Kansas City’s defensive linemen with 821 snaps. The Chiefs were bad against the run in 2016, but they need to see what they have in Nunez-Roches in 2017, even with DEs Jaye Howard and Allen Bailey returning from injury-plagued seasons.
28. Dallas (13-3)
– Need: DB (26th in pass yards allowed)
– Free Agency Report: Backup QB Tony Romo is still on the roster, so there’s that. TE Jason Witten agreed to a four-year extension, while WR Terrance Williams is back on a four-year deal as well. Dallas also re-signed backup QB Kellen Moore, RB Darren McFadden, WR Brice Butler, G Jonathan Cooper, and DE David Irving to one-year deals. Dallas signed former Seattle DE Damontre Moore to a two-year contract and former Philadelphia CB Nolan Carroll to a three-year contract. RT Doug Free retired, and LG Ron Leary left for Denver. DT Terrell McClain signed with Washington, and DE Jack Crawford signed with Atlanta. Dallas lost several defensive backs to free agency, including CB Brandon Carr (Baltimore), CB Morris Claiborne (New York Jets), SS Barry Church (Jacksonville), and FS J.J. Wilcox (Tampa Bay).
– Key 2014-2015 Draftee: FS Byron Jones (2015 1st round)
Still don't know what Byron Jones is thinking here. There's nobody underneath. pic.twitter.com/PMt3tJK7UX
— Brad Gagnon (@Brad_Gagnon) January 16, 2017
Dallas lost a ton of experience this offseason, but Jones is entrenched at FS. While Jones is reliable, he has only one INT in 32 career games. It’s not like Jones isn’t around the ball, as he has led the Cowboys in passes defensed each of his two seasons. Dallas will need to target reinforcements for the secondary in the draft, but Jones will be the key to any improvement the Cowboys make in their pass defense. More big plays is the next step in his development, especially for a team that has fewer INTs than every team except Chicago and Jacksonville since 2015.
29. Green Bay (10-6)
– Need: DB (31st in pass yards allowed)
– Free Agency Report: The Packers actually signed veteran players that played for other teams! Former New England TE Martellus Bennett signed a three-year deal with Green Bay, and former Los Angeles Rams TE Lance Kendricks signed a two-year deal with Green Bay. The Packers also signed former Washington DE Ricky Jean Francois to a one-year deal, and CB Davon House is back in Green Bay after a two-year detour in Jacksonville. Green Bay lost RB Eddie Lacy (Seattle), TE Jared Cook (Oakland), RG T.J. Lang (Detroit), C J.C. Tretter (Cleveland), OLB Julius Peppers (Carolina), OLB Datone Jones (Minnesota), and SS Micah Hyde (Buffalo) to free agency. Green Bay’s biggest move was probably handing OLB Nick Perry a five-year contract extension. Perry had a total of 12.5 sacks in his first four NFL seasons before racking up 11.0 sacks in 2016. RB James Starks and CB Sam Shields were released.
– Key 2014-2015 Draftee: CB Damarious Randall (2015 1st round)
In 2016, Green Bay's Damarious Randall allowed the most fantasy points per snap (min. 350 snaps) of any CB in the past decade. pic.twitter.com/tTKR44urHR
— PFF Fantasy Football (@PFF_Fantasy) February 20, 2017
Green Bay allowed 32 TD passes in 2016, one off the franchise-worst 33 that the team allowed in 2004. The Packers allowed eight more TD passes in three postseason games. Randall spent his second NFL season either injured or ineffective. The Packers didn’t draft a defensive back in 2016; the last time that happened was in 1994. Green Bay won’t make it two years in a row without drafting a defensive back, but regardless of who the Packers draft, they will need Randall to bounce back in a major way.
30. Pittsburgh (11-5)
– Need: DL (19th in run avg. allowed)
– Free Agency Report: This is another team that treats veteran free agency like the plague. Their biggest moves included giving RB Le’Veon Bell the franchise tag, giving WR Antonio Brown a four-year contract extension, and signing OL James Harrison to a two-year contract extension. Backup QB Landry Jones and TE David Johnson received two-year deals as well. Pittsburgh also signed former Jacksonville DE Tyson Alualu and former New York Giants CB Coty Sensabaugh to two-year contracts. The Steelers lost ILB Lawrence Timmons (Miami), WR Markus Wheaton (Chicago), and OLB Jarvis Jones (Arizona) in free agency.
– Key 2014-2015 Draftee: DE Stephon Tuitt (2014 2nd round)
— Tribune-ReviewSports (@TribSports) November 16, 2016
Tuitt comes off a season where he led the Steelers with 14 quarterback hits and led all Steelers defensive linemen in tackles, TFL, and sacks. Pittsburgh also didn’t have DE Cameron Heyward after Week 10, and the Steelers, and they struggled against the run for the most part. Tuitt is entering a contract year, and while the Steelers need to add some depth, Tuitt is in line to help Pittsburgh’s run defense bounce back in a big way with Heyward healthy and cash in.
31. Atlanta (11-5)
– Need: DB (28th in pass TD allowed)
– Free Agency Report: The Falcons haven’t done much since leading the Patriots 28-3 in Super Bowl LI. The extended backup QB Matt Schaub and re-signed TE Levine Toilolo to a three-year contract. DE Tyson Jackson was released. DT Dontari Poe signed a one-year deal to leave Kansas City, while former Dallas DE Jack Crawford was signed to a three-year contract. FB Patrick DiMarco (Buffalo), WR Eric Weems (Tennessee), WR Aldrick Robinson (San Francisco), and ILB Paul Worrilow (Detroit) all left in free agency. RG Chris Chester retired. DT Jonathan Babineaux, TE Jacob Tamme, DE Dwight Freeney, and OLB Sean Weatherspoon remain unsigned.
– Key 2014-2015 Draftee: CB Jalen Collins (2015 2nd round)
— AJC Sports (@AJCsports) November 21, 2016
Collins had to step up late in 2016 after CB Desmond Trufant was lost for the season due to a torn pectoral. Atlanta actually improved the pass defense after their Week 11 Bye, but you all saw the Super Bowl. It remains to be seen how roles will shake out with Trufant returning to a CB corps that includes Collins, Robert Alford, and Brian Poole. Collins offers the most height at 6’1″, and only Alford and 2016 2nd round ILB Deion Jones had more passes defensed on the team last season than Collins despite Collins playing in only eight games.
37. Los Angeles Rams (4-12)
– Need: QB, WR, TE (32nd in pass TD)
– Free Agency Report: We’ve reached the part of the draft where teams threw away 1st round picks on QBs. The Rams moved up in the 2016 NFL Draft after trading with Tennessee to acquire the first overall pick, and QB Jared Goff rewarded them with five TD passes in 205 pass attempts. QB Case Keenum, the starter for the first nine games of the season, is still an unsigned free agent. Los Angeles designated CB Trumaine Johnson as the team’s franchise tag player. WR Kenny Britt left for Cleveland and WR Brian Quick left for Washington, so Los Angeles signed former Buffalo WR Robert Woods to a five-year contract. Los Angeles also signed former Cincinnati LT Andrew Whitworth to a three-year contract. Former Denver CB Kayvon Webster signed a two-year contract with the Rams. Los Angeles released TE Lance Kendricks, C Tim Barnes, and DE Eugene Sims, and they traded DE William Hayes to Miami along with a 2017 7th round pick in exchange for a 2017 6th round pick. K Greg Zuerlein was re-signed to a three-year contract.
– Key 2014-2015 Draftee: QB Sean Mannion (2015 3rd round)
— ESPNLosAngeles (@ESPNLosAngeles) March 1, 2017
Mannion has only thrown 13 passes in two seasons. This is despite the fact that 2015 Rams QB Nick Foles finished ahead of only Peyton Manning in passer rating, while Keenum ranked 27th out of 30 qualified passers in 2016 (Goff was 19 passes shy of qualifying, and he would have ranked last). Mannion is in line to be the backup QB for Los Angeles this season, and though he only has two INTs in 117 preseason attempts, he has averaged less than 5.5 yards per attempt in both preseasons. Goff didn’t show much in the way of escapability or durability as a rookie, so there’s a good chance that Mannion is going to have to see the field in 2017 at some point. Who knows, Mannion could be new head coach Sean McVay’s new Kirk Cousins – that is, a young QB who takes the job from another, higher drafted young QB – instead of Goff.
48. Minnesota (8-8)
– Need: RB, OL (32nd in run yards)
– Free Agency Report: When Drew Brees sets the NFL record for completion percentage, it’s celebrated. When Vikings QB Sam Bradford reset the record in 2016, it was shunned. Bradford can’t win! And, well, the Vikings didn’t win either after trading away their 1st round pick to Philadelphia to acquire Bradford due to QB Teddy Bridgewater’s career-threatening knee injury. There’s also the matter of Minnesota declining RB Adrian Peterson’s option, ending Peterson’s 10-year tenure with the Vikings. Former Oakland RB Latavius Murray signed a three-year deal with the Vikings, going from one of the best offensive lines in the NFL to one of the worst. Well, at least it was bad in 2016. Minnesota parted ways with several offensive linemen this offseason, including LT Matt Kalil (Carolina), RG Brandon Fusco (released), and RT Andre Smith (Cincinnati). Minnesota’s new starters are former Detroit OT Riley Reiff and former Carolina OT Mike Remmers; the Vikings signed both to five-year contracts. Minnesota lost WR Cordarrelle Patterson to Oakland and WR Charles Johnson to Carolina, and reached a four-year contract extension with WR Adam Thielen. OLB Chad Greenway retired and CB Captain Munnerlyn left for Carolina, but CB Terence Newman is back on a one-year contract. Minnesota also signed former Green Bay DE Datone Jones to a one-year contract. TE Rhett Ellison signed with the New York Giants, ILB Audie Cole signed with Jacksonville, and P Jeff Locke signed with Indianapolis.
– Key 2014-2015 Draftee: RB Jerick McKinnon (2014 3rd round)
— 1500 ESPN (@1500ESPN) March 18, 2017
Four RBs attempted at least ten rushes for the 2016 Vikings. McKinnon averaged only 3.4 yards per attempt, but that was the best of the bunch, and way better than Peterson’s 1.9 yards per rush on 37 attempts. The Vikings averaged 3.2 yards per rush as a team in 2016, the lowest rushing average since the 2013 Ravens averaged 3.2 yards per rush in RB Ray Rice’s final NFL season. McKinnon averaged 4.9 yards per rush in his first two NFL seasons, and he has value as a receiver out of the backfield, something Murray doesn’t add. McKinnon also is heading into a contract year, so expect Minnesota to add competition to the mix.
96. New England (14-2)
– Need: DE (T-16th in sacks)
– Free Agency Report: The Patriots don’t have a 1st or a 2nd round 2017 pick entering April. But unlike the silly squads that gave those picks up for QBs, the Patriots have managed to hold on to backup QB Jimmy Garoppolo, even with the GOAT reportedly suggesting that he’s not even thinking about retiring. The Patriots gave up their 2017 1st round pick and a 2017 3rd round pick to New Orleans to acquire WR Brandin Cooks and a 2017 4th round pick. The Patriots stayed in the NFC South for another trade, giving up a 2017 2nd round pick to Carolina in exchange for a 2017 3rd round pick and DE Kony Ealy. New England wasn’t done trading, as they moved a 2017 4th round pick to Indianapolis for TE Dwayne Allen and a 2017 6th round pick. The Patriots still had money to burn so they signed CB Stephon Gilmore from Buffalo to a five-year contract and DE Lawrence Guy from Baltimore to a four-year contract. New England also signed former Cincinnati RB Rex Burkhead to a one-year contract. The Patriots also retained some of their own, re-signing Pro Bowl ILB Dont’a Hightower to a four-year contract while signing a four-year extension with FS Duron Harmon and a two-year extension with DT Alan Branch. Not everyone is back with the defending champs. TE Martellus Bennett (Green Bay), CB Logan Ryan (Tennessee), OLB Barkevious Mingo (Indianapolis), DE Jabaal Sheard (Indianapolis), and DE Chris Long (Philadelphia) all signed elsewhere. RB LeGarrette Blount and WR Michael Floyd are still unsigned. And CB Malcolm Butler is a restricted free agent who was assigned a 1st round tender and has been embroiled in trade rumors.
– Key 2014-2015 Draftee: DE Geneo Grissom (2015 3rd round)
— NESN (@NESN) January 2, 2016
The Patriots actually selected Grissom four spots ahead of 4th round DE Trey Flowers in 2015. But while Flowers broke through in 2016 to lead the team with 7.0 sacks, Grissom didn’t make it through final cuts after the 2016 preseason. Grissom spent the first five weeks of the season on New England’s practice squad before getting called up to play special teams for the rest of the season. The Patriots weren’t strong in rushing the passer in 2016. Even though they were middle of the pack in sacks, only Detroit had fewer quarterback hits. New England lost quite a bit of veteran depth on the edge in free agency, and it’s not like they have a lot of draft picks to make up for it, so they would benefit greatly if Grissom figures out how to rush the passer in 2017.