Jacksonville’s Promising Future

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By Jared Peterman

Two days and three rounds into the 2016 NFL Draft and the Jacksonville Jaguars look like they’re putting a red ribbon on an outstanding offseason.  Owning an offense with no glaring weakness, the Jacksonville brass focused on handing their defensive minded head coach Gus Bradley playmakers on his side of the ball, and that’s exactly what they did.  At the fifth pick overall, Jacksonville debated CB/S Jalen Ramsey from Florida State and OLB Myles Jack from UCLA, but eventually ended up with both on their roster after two rounds.  Ramsey was the fifth overall selection, but Jack would have to wait to join Ramsey in Duval County.

Thursday night’s first round ended and Jack remained on the board due to teams wary of his knee injury puncturing the possibility of an impactful, long-term career in the NFL.  Jack responded by posting a video of himself dunking a basketball off two feet to Twitter Friday morning, captioning it with a sleepy face emoji.  Though Twitter hasn’t been the friendliest to draft prospects lately (Laremy Tunsil), this was promoting the health of his knee at the moment.  Jack didn’t have to wait long into the second round of the draft as Jacksonville traded up from pick 38 to 36 with the Baltimore Ravens and selected the other half of their debate at pick five in the first round.

https://twitter.com/MylesJack/status/726113668602036224

This would have seemed impossible at the start of the draft process, let alone a week ago.  Concerns of Jack needing micro fracture surgery on his knee eventually was enough to scare teams off and allow Jacksonville to hit the “Jack Pot.”

Ramsey and Jack boost the defense immediately, but they aren’t alone as Jacksonville aggressively attacked free agency by signing possibly the biggest name on the market: DE Malik Jackson.  The 26 year old DE cashed in on his second contract in the NFL after winning a Super Bowl with Denver the previous season, by signing a six-year, $90 million deal with the Jaguars.  The spending didn’t stop, as they also signed FS Tashaun Gipson (25 years old), CB Prince Amukamara (26 years old), LT Kelvin Beachum (26 years old), and RB Chris Ivory (28 years old).  Besides Ivory, every player signed in the offseason is in their prime years as NFL players.  Jacksonville also has the additions of 2015 third overall selection, DE/OLB Dante Fowler Jr. and DL Sen’Derrick Marks coming back from injuries.

The offseason showed how committed the front office is to making this team not only be competitive, but make the playoffs in the near future.  Blake Bortles should take the offense to yet another level in his third season with outstanding weapons on the outside of Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns, and Julius Thomas while adding a power run game facet with Chris Ivory sharing carries with second year RB TJ Yeldon.  Ramsey and Jack will contribute immediately on defense along with the aforementioned additions, giving Bradley similar pieces he needs to recreate the Seattle defense he ran during their dominance a few years ago.  The Jaguars showed growth last season and should continue to get over the growing pains this season with a revamped defense helping take pressure off Bortles and the offense.  The Jags are ready to compete in the weakest division in the AFC and finally stop selecting in the top 10 every April.

Tennessee Titans: Don’t Overthink the Draft

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By Jared Peterman

            The Titans created a foundation in the 2015 NFL Draft by selecting quarterback Marcus Mariota and a potential star in the making wide receiver to throw to in Dorial Green-Beckham.  Every move in the offseason has been focused on improving the talent around Mariota to take a big step forward in his second season.  The icing on the cake would be for the new regime of General Manager Jon Robinson and Coach Mike Mularkey to knock out the 2016 draft, and that starts with the number one overall pick.  First, let’s recap some important offseason transactions.

Two free agent signings and one bold trade revamped the offense that Mariota will lead the huddle with in his second season.  The Titans signed a new possession receiver from Miami in Rishard Matthews, who the New England Patriots coveted in the offseason as well.  He adds to the already talented pass catching corps surround Mariota including: Kendall Wright, Justin Hunter, Delanie Walker and the aforementioned Green-Beckham.  Another playmaker was added via trade with the Philadelphia Eagles, acquiring running back, DeMarco Murray, after just one season with the Eagles.  This should obviously improve a Tennessee run game that relied on David Cobb and Antonio Andrews last season.  The biggest offseason addition? Signing center Ben Jones to provide a leader and the staple to an offensive line protecting the savior of the franchise.

This puts Tennessee on the clock with a player on the board to make this offseason an absolute step forward in the right direction.  That player proves to be left tackle Laremy Tunsil from the University of Mississippi.  This pick would not only protect Mariota’s blindside, but solidify the offensive line as an entire unit.  This move would have 2014 first round pick, Taylor Lewan, move to right tackle alongside 2013 first round pick, Chance Warmack, the starting right guard.  Scouts and analysts believe Tunsil is an absolute stud who will have a long, tremendous career.  If the consensus becomes true, and the Titans select Tunsil, Mariota shouldn’t have to panic in the pocket as he did in 2015.  Mariota was sacked 38 times in his 12 games as a rookie.  The offense would be complete in almost every facet, allowing Robinson to focus on the defense for the majority of draft and the rest of the offseason.  It’s not the sexiest selection, but it is the smartest.  Don’t overthink it, Tennessee.

NFC Divisional Dark Horses Through Week 3

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NFC Divisional Dark Horses Through Week 3

By Jared Peterman

NFC EAST:

The typical 8-8 Dallas Cowboys find themselves as the dark horse to win the NFC East after three weeks due to the change in the offensive philosophy and their defense actually being respectable, so far.  Yes, the pressure has been taken off Tony Romo to lead the Cowboys’ offense due to the legs of DeMarco Murray (75 attempts, 385 yards, 3TDs), but in order for the Cowboys to steal the divisional title, Romo must make the right decisions and limit the turnovers.  Dallas had one of the worst defenses in football history last season and it only got worse on paper this offseason, but through three weeks, it hasn’t been terrible.  In a terrible defensive division, the Cowboys can rise to the top behind playmakers, Murray and WR Dez Bryant.

NFC NORTH:

The Detroit Lions made their statement as a real contender to win the NFC North when they took down the Green Bay Packers in Week 3 and rising to the top of the division.  It was only the second time Matthew Stafford defeated the Packers with Aaron Rodgers at QB in his career, but he wasn’t the headline of the statement victory, instead it was the defense.  Detroit’s defense has been a focal point throughout the three weeks of the season as they held the Packers to seven points and have allowed 45 points on the season, tied for second best in the NFL.  The offense has been shaky the past two weeks, but I have no problem believing in Stafford throwing the Lions to the NFC North crown with the hands of Calvin Johnson and company.

NFC SOUTH:

Everyone’s favorite to win the NFC South resided in New Orleans or Carolina coming into the season, while Atlanta flew under the radar after an injury plagued season.  Through three weeks, Atlanta sits at 2-1, defeating divisional foes, New Orleans and Tampa Bay.  Week 1 proved why the Falcons can win the NFC South, and they proved that with pure offense from the arm of Matt Ryan, into the hands of WRs Julio Jones and Roddy White.  The Falcons have scored a league leading 103 points through Week 3 and look to build on that to win a divisional title. Atlanta’s play down the stretch will determine their standing in the NFC South as they’re faced with a grueling final five games.

NFC WEST:

The San Francisco 49ers are currently 1-2 and third in the juggernaut NFC West, but they’re my dark horse to rise atop the division.  With a banged up defense, I’m putting my trust in QB Colin Kaepernick to lead the 49ers to a divisional title with his arm and his legs.  The offense is loaded with weapons at the disposal for Kaepernick to become a superstar, but he’s been limited to shorter passing routes in the scheme.  If the weapons around Kaepernick, especially TE Vernon Davis and WR Michael Crabtree can stay healthy all season, the 49ers have the offense to score points on Arizona and Seattle’s stout defenses, as well as shutting their offensives down with a still above-average defense.  This formula puts San Francisco in a prime position to catch the NFC West title.

AFC Divisional Dark Horses Through Week 3

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AFC Divisional Dark Horses Through Week 3

By Jared Peterman

AFC NORTH:

Despite the recent injuries on the defensive side of the ball, the Pittsburgh Steelers are a real threat to win the AFC North Division.  Through Week 3, the Steelers sit 2-1, one game back of the Cincinnati Bengals, and tied with the Baltimore Ravens. Besides the horrible loss to the Ravens, the Steelers have shown flashes of dominance, especially in Week 3 vs the Carolina Panthers.  Behind the Steelers’ drive to the divisional title is the effectiveness of WR Antonio Brown and RB Le’Veon Bell, the two have helped the Steelers put up 30 point efforts in Weeks 1 and 3.  If the defense can find a way to stay healthy, Pittsburgh has a legitimate shot at winning the AFC North.

AFC EAST:

Through Week 3, the Buffalo Bills find themselves atop the AFC East division at a 2-1 record, 1-0 in the division.  Despite being in first place through three weeks, the Bills are still my dark horse candidate to win the division as everyone expects the New England Patriots to win the division as always.  The Bills shocked the Chicago Bears in a Week 1 overtime win and continued the success against the Miami Dolphins, a divisional rival.  Buffalo’s defense has been the strong suit throughout three weeks as it’s held their opponents to 52 points, 8th best among the NFL.  The defense has been strong, but their legitimacy relies on the offense and their explosive playmakers. Besides QB EJ Manuel, RB CJ Spiller is the key to keeping the Bills’ in contention with the AFC East crown as he can impact the game with a single carry. If the Bills can figure out how to productively feed Spiller, opponent’s defenses can be in trouble, as well as the rest of the AFC East.

AFC SOUTH:

After a stunning win at Arrowhead Stadium vs the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 1, the Tennessee Titans have been embarrassed the past two weeks by the Dallas Cowboys and the Cincinnati Bengals, but that isn’t scaring me to pick them as a dark horse in an Indianapolis Colts’ favored AFC South division. At the moment, Tennessee is tied with the Colts at a 1-2 record, and have a pretty manageable schedule in front of them.  Ray Horton’s defense has been much better than the points against shows as turnovers have put the defense in tough spots against the Cowboys and the Bengals.  QB Jake Locker decides whether the Titans challenge for the AFC South or have another losing season.  The run game between Shonn Greene and Bishop Sankey has been sneaky productive from the YPC standpoint and Locker is surrounded by weapons in WRs Kendall Wright and Justin Hunter, along with TE Delanie Walker. Tennessee is a little bit of a long shot to win the division, but if Locker puts it together, beware AFC South.

AFC WEST:

Flat out, the San Diego Chargers (2-1) are true contenders to win the AFC West division and made their statement clear as they defeated the Seattle Seahawks by scoring 30 points against the Super Bowl Champions.  Although I don’t view the Chargers as a true “dark horse,” most people assume the Denver Broncos will win another AFC West title behind Peyton Manning, therefore the Chargers are my dark horse pick.  The secondary seems rebuilt with the additions of CBs Brandon Flowers and Jason Verrett (Rookie).  The true reason the Chargers can win the divisional title is their offense and the resurgence of Antonio Gates through three weeks.  The injuries of RBs Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead hurt their run game, but Donald Brown gives legitimate insurance at the position.  The key to the Chargers’ AFC West crown relies on the health and production of the playmakers around QB Philip Rivers.

2014 NFL Preview: AFC West

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AFC WEST-

 

Denver Broncos:   

The Broncos are coming off a historic offensive season in 2013 that was led by QB Peyton Manning.  The Broncos finished 13-3 and won the AFC West division and Championship game before falling to the Seahawks in the Super Bowl.  The Broncos were determined to enhance their team via free agency and did just that by signing DE Demarcus Ware, S TJ Ward, CB Aqib Talib, and WR Emmanuel Sanders as the notables.  Though they were aggressive in free agency, the Broncos lost WR Eric Decker, CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, RB Knowshon Moreno to free agency while releasing CB Champ Bailey. RB Montee Ball takes over as the full time bell cow in his second season as the only question mark for the Broncos. Denver returns with a better defense in 2014 and will look to return to the Super Bowl behind Peyton Manning.  

Prediction: 12-4

Kansas City Chiefs:

Andy Reid did wonders in his first season as head coach of the Chiefs turning the worst record in football from 2012, to a 11-5 mark with a playoff appearance in 2013.  The Chiefs had a quiet offseason besides releasing CB Brandon Flowers and not signing any real impact player on either side of the ball.  Kansas City relied on their draft to produce a spark in 2014 by drafting DE Dee Ford and RB De’Anthony Thomas.  Alex Smith will have another year under Reid’s system with Jamaal Charles still in the backfield, though they will rely on WR Dwayne Bowe to play to his potential for the offense to improve.  Kansas City’s defense was the anchor for the 11-5 team in 2013 and will have to be so again if the Chiefs want to stay in the postseason picture for 2014.

Prediction: 9-7

San Diego Chargers:

The Chargers rallied in 2013 by winning their last four regular season games to punch a ticket to the postseason with a 9-7 record where they defeated the Cincinnati Bengals in the first round before losing to the Denver Broncos in the Divisional round.  San Diego spent the offseason upgrading the defense’s secondary by signing CB Brandon Flowers and drafting CB Jason Verrett with their first round selection in the draft.  Former Colts RB Donald Brown enters San Diego’s crowded backfield this season as their offense and QB Philip Rivers were revived by head coach Mike McCoy last season.  Second year WR Keenan Allen looks to build on his rookie season as he emerged as a serious WR1 talent among the NFL.  As long as the offense doesn’t experience serious regression, the new and improved secondary seems to be enough to put the Chargers back in the postseason entering the 2014 season.

Prediction: 9-7

Oakland Raiders:

Oakland enters the 2014 season with an entirely new cast on both sides of the football after a 4-12 record in 2013.  The Raiders attacked the free agency market by signing RB Maurice Jones-Drew, WR James Jones, T Austin Howard, DE Justin Tuck, LB Lamarr Woodley, CB Tarell Brown, CB Carlos Rogers, while resigning RB Darren McFadden and acquiring QB Matt Schaub.  Oakland brought many veterans in during free agency, but also made an impact by drafting LB Khalil Mack and QB Derek Carr in the first two rounds of the NFL draft.  The offense will be led by Schaub with a timeshare at RB between Jones-Drew and McFadden, while Jones, Andre Holmes, and Rod Streater will be depended on at the WR position.  The revamped defense will carry the responsibility of keeping the Raiders in games due to a high octane offensive division.  2014 success relies on Schaub’s arm and the many free agent signings, but the Raiders seem a year or two away from postseason play.

Prediction: 5-11

2014 NFL Preview: AFC South

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AFC SOUTH PREVIEW

 

Indianapolis Colts:

Thanks to a weak division and the talent of Andrew Luck, the Colts posted a 11-5 record in 2013 and won the AFC South as well as a playoff game.  The Colts return the majority of the same team entering 2014 besides signing WR Hakeem Nicks.  The key to the Colts’ offseason was resigning stud CB Vontae Davis to ensure a solid secondary behind a below average front seven.  Indianapolis will rely on it’s high powered offense again in 2014 as Andrew Luck seems to officially breakout and become a the league’s next superstar with deep threat WR T.Y. Hilton. and the return of Reggie Wayne.  The Colts’ biggest mystery is their running game as they possess struggling backs in Trent Richardson and Ahmad Bradshaw.  If the Colts can avoid regression and figure out the running game, they’re destined to a longer postseason run in 2014.

Prediction: 10-6

Tennessee Titans:

The Titans finished 2013 at a 7-9 mark after injuries to starting QB Jake Locker and WR Kenny Britt.  A total makeover of the Titans was born in the offseason as Ken Whisenhunt was hired as the head coach and the team cut ties with former superstar RB Chris Johnson.  The offense should be improved under Whisenhunt’s system and a healthy Jake Locker throwing to under the radar WR Kendall Wright.  Rookie RB Bishop Sankey will share carries with Shonn Greene to replace Chris Johnson along with Flex position Dexter McCluster.  The defense will embrace Ray Horton’s 3-4 scheme as DC where he coached Arizona last season.  The biggest impact from the defensive scheme change will result in DE Derrick Morgan who could be moved to OLB to provide more of a pass rush.  A lot rides on the growth of Jake Locker in 2014 to prove if he is the QB for the future and if the Titans will win games this season.  

Prediction: 5-11

Jacksonville Jaguars:

Jacksonville started the 2013 season 0-8, but ended 4-4 over the final eight weeks to produce a 4-12 record.  The strong finish to the season provides optimism for the future to come for Gus Bradley’s football team as they improved drastically over the offseason while laying their blueprint for the future via draft.  The Jaguars added two pieces of Seattle’s defense in the offseason in DE/LB Chris Clemons and DE Red Bryant, while also signing RB Toby Gerhart to replace the franchise’s cornerstone for many years, Maurice Jones-Drew.  Gerhart will serve as a workload back for the first time in his career after backing up Adrian Peterson in Minnesota.  The Jaguars selected QB Blake Bortles third overall in the NFL draft and immediately provided him with weapons for years to come in the second round in WRs Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson to already add to WR Cecil Shorts. Bortles may not start right away in another rebuilding year for Jacksonville, but he is their future at QB and the make or break player for the franchise for years to come.  

Prediction: 6-10

Houston Texans:

Houston’s 2014 season was an unpredictable nightmare that corresponded with Matt Schaub’s season and Arian Foster’s back injury.  The 2-14 record landed Houston the number one pick in the NFL Draft that Jadeveon Clowney was selected with under new coaching regime Tom O’Brien, former New England OC and Penn State head coach.  The Texans signed Ryan Fitzpatrick as a stopgap at the QB position for the 2014 season, but Fitzpatrick will be tooled with the right weapons for a solid season behind a healthy Arian Foster and WRs Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins.  The defense becomes majorily improved with the Clowney selection as they look to return to their stout 2012 form along with the force of J.J. Watt and company.  The Texans should experience more success than the 2013 season, but a playoff appearance in 2014 is doubtful and would require a Coach of the Year performance in O’Brien.

Prediction: 6-10

 

2014 NFL Preview: AFC North

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AFC NORTH PREVIEW

Cincinnati Bengals:

Cincinnati enters the 2014 season as reigning champions of the AFC North division, but look to ignite their postseason success as they’ve been eliminated in the first round of the playoffs the past three seasons.  The Bengals extended QB Andy Dalton’s contract to a staggering 6 years $115 million figure as he carries the franchise’s trust on his arm.  Second year running back, Giovani Bernard, is bound for a breakout season switching to a run-oriented offense behind new OC Hue Jackson.  Though the offense will be more run-oriented, WR AJ Green will try to build on another incredible season as a top five wide receiver and a security blanket for Andy Dalton.  The Bengals embrace the return of All-Pro DE Geno Atkins as his 2013 season was cut short due to a torn ACL.  The return of Atkins and the addition of Darqueze Dennard via the draft should bolster an already strong defensive unit as the Bengals look to repeat as division champs.

Prediction: 10-6

Pittsburgh Steelers:

Pittsburgh enters the 2014 season in attempt to get over the 8-8 record posted in 2012 and 2013, missing the playoffs in back to back seasons.  The Steelers’ were determined to make the defense younger this offseason and did so via the NFL Draft as their first two selections were defensive players.  Though the defense got younger, the Steelers lost LB Lamarr Woodley to free agency where they hope rookie Ryan Shazier will fill the void of Woodley.  The Steelers offense lost two WRs to free agency as well in Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery, but added WR Lance Moore and RB Legarrette Blount.  Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell will see high volume of touches this season as Ben Roethlisberger’s playmakers in an offense that seems under tooled.  The expansion of Todd Haley’s offense may lead to a more up-tempo style of play featuring no huddle in attempt to take the Steelers back to the playoffs and over the 8-8 hump.

Prediction: 9-7

Baltimore Ravens:

Baltimore comes off a Super Bowl hangover season in 2013 as they went from champions to mediocrity as an 8-8 team.  Gary Kubiak brings his explosive offense to Baltimore as new OC that seems to benefits the likes of Joe Flacco, Dennis Pitta, and Torrey Smith.  Baltimore will look to get Ray Rice back to 2012 form after his two game suspension as they establish the zone-blocking scheme.  The Ravens selected defensive players in the first three rounds of the NFL draft to add to the makings of a very talented defense led by Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata.  Baltimore made a few low-key signings to the offense by adding Steve Smith and Owen Daniels.  The Ravens hope the new offense translates to a playoff appearance as they enter 2014.

Prediction: 9-7

Cleveland Browns:

The Browns disastrous season had few bright spots in Brian Hoyer and Josh Gordon, but the 4-12 record shows the negatives outweighed the positives immensely.  The Browns were determined to improve the team this offseason as they fired coach Rob Chudzinski and hired defensive minded, Mike Pettine, as the head coach, Kyle Shanahan as OC, and hiring Ray Farmer as GM.  The offseason was an A+ effort by the Cleveland Browns as they signed LB Karlos Dansby, S Donte Whitner, RB Ben Tate and WRs Nate Burleson, Andrew Hawkins and Miles Austin.  The impressive offseason didn’t end there as they selected CB Justin Gilbert and QB Johnny Manziel in the first round of the NFL draft as well as RB Terrance West who will possibly share carries as a rookie.  The potential year long Josh Gordon suspension looms over Cleveland’s 2014 campaign as well as QB controversy between Hoyer and Manziel, but regardless, Cleveland had a stellar offseason and should be improved.

Prediction: 6-10