A look at all 32: part 2 “potential surprises” of the NFL

After last week’s look at the teams that will undoubtedly struggle, it’s now time to look at the teams that could surprise a few people. All these teams have a decent core ready to take the next step. However we’ve seen this before and this is generally the point where we are met with impending disappointment. Anyway let’s look at what they can do to avoid that.


Oakland Raiders

Needs: Wide receiver, running back, guard, defensive end, defensive tackle, middle line-backer, safety.

The fact that the Raiders are on this list rather than last week’s list of “uh-ohs”, should speak volumes as to how much they’ve improved. So how exactly did they improve, whilst finishing with a poor record? Well they set themselves up for the future with an unreal draft. 1st round pick Khalil Mack can feel legitimately annoyed that he wasn’t voted ‘Defensive Rookie of the Year’. Mack pretty much single-handedly raised the Raiders defence’s play. On the other side the Raiders managed to pick up a franchise quarterback, something they’ve been struggling to find for a very long time. In these 2 players the Raiders have a core to build a team around, something once again they haven’t had for over a decade. So now this team just needs to fill in the gaps, something they can do with the ample cap space they have once again managed to find themselves with.

Potential Fixes: The Raiders could be in the market for some of the ‘high rollers’, such as Suh, Julius Thomas & maybe Randall Cobb, as long as they can convince them to join the team this time. Kevin White or Amari Cooper would be good pickups for the Raiders, a team that has no stand out weapons for their fresh new franchise QB.


Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Needs: Running back, quarterback? (maybe), all offensive line positions, defensive end, defensive tackle, middle line-backer, safety, cornerback

It does appear that the Buccaneers have a lot of needs, but I do believe with a couple of moves they could contend in a weak division. Last year however we were saying the same thing, yet they seemed to struggle in pretty much every area, not least the Offensive Line, which had been seen to be vastly upgraded. Despite losing Donald Penn to the Raiders, Tampa brought in Nick Mangold who was meant to upgrade the line. But the loss of Carl Nicks meant hurt the lines depth & the Bucs were working with mostly backups. Tampa’s Defence didn’t live up to expectation either, with a secondary that cost a lot of money, not living up to its price tag. Like the Raiders though there are some core players they can build a team around. On Offence the talented receiver group of Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson, as well as young tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, in the right hands could be 1 of the league’s best receiver corps. On defence Gerald McCoy has proved to be 1 of the league’s top defensive tackles, whilst Lavonte David has proven to be one of the most underrated line-backers in the league. The Bucs have upgraded in 1 area already that has been overlooked. Jeff Tedford was forced out of his job due to illness last year, leaving inexperienced QB coach Marcus Arroyo massively out of his depth as back up coordinator. Now the Bucs have put ex-Falcons coordinator, Dirk Koetter in charge of their offence, making me think we’re going to see the Bucs come out throwing. I wonder who they could draft to run this system…

Potential fixes: The Bucs have a chance to pick up a legitimate franchise QB with the no. 1 pick in the draft, which should make them a lot better. However improving the offensive line is a huge must if they’re to give Winston (if they pick him up), a fighting chance. The Bucs have just under $30m to spend in free agency which could help them pick up some of the older value players available in free agency, although this really is slim pickings. A running back is another fairly desperate need for this team, something that can be solved in the later rounds of the draft. Whilst there is little doubt Winston will improve this team, the Bucs will live or die by how much they improve the offensive line.


Jacksonville Jaguars

Needs: Tackle, center, guard, running back, tight end, defensive tackle, outside line-backer, cornerback, safety.

It seems the Jags have a lot of needs for a team that has been a long term rebuild, but I still have a lot of faith in them. The main areas of concern from last year were centred on 1 issue. keeping Bortles up right. in 2014 the Jags allowed a team record of 71 sacks, 10 of which in 1 game. Meester’s retirement didn’t help the line’s issues, but more of an issue has to be how many of these players were free agent or early round draft busts, biggest of which being Luke Joeckel who has failed to impress at both right & left tackle. my biggest gripe with this team last year though, was with the secondary, who looked ready to be one of the best in the league (see my gushing post last year, about how I believed they’d rival the Seahawks). The fact is they were flat out disappointing. The Jags themselves finished the Season with just 6 interceptions, with the starting 4 in the Secondary having no picks until week 16. The 1st month saw teams beat Jacksonville’s secondary for an average of 320 yards and an average passer rating of 115.00. Luckily however the Jags have a QB in Blake Bortles, which is more than can be said for a lot of teams who will be fighting for backups in a quarterback starved off-season. The Jags have some pieces, but the hour is late & the Gus Bradley experiment needs to start paying out soon.

Potential Fixes: The Jags are actually in pretty good shape going into the off-season. They’ve got a decent draft pick and the largest amount of cap space in the league. Now they need to add some superstars. From the no. 3 position, Jacksonville can finally add some star power to their defence, pretty much having their choice of outside line-backers, with the front runner being Dante Fowler Jr. In free agency they can afford to overpay a little on a superstar such as Adrian Peterson (not a free agent yet), or Julius Thomas, who would be a perfect fit for this team, giving Bortles the big target he needs. If the Jags want to improve the offensive line they might end up out of luck, or overpaying for a dud.


Cleveland Browns

Needs: Quarterback (yup, still), wide receiver, guard, tight end, nose tackle, slot corner.

The Browns over the space of a year have taken a long way round to pretty much get to exactly the same spot they were at this time last year. Quarterback issues follow this team like a bad smell. Hoyer beat out 1st rd. pick Manziel in a lack lustre display that saw him take the job more on the poor play of Manziel than his own play. That being said Hoyer lead the Browns to decent record, but 2/3rds of the way through the Season it seemed as though something changed, that left him being the sole reason that team was losing games, forcing head coach Pettine, with little choice but to put Manziel in, who promptly laid a giant unprepared egg before finishing the game on IR. Josh Gordon came back after a revised 10 game suspension to do very little, except guarantee that he won’t be suiting up next season, due another suspension. If it wasn’t enough for GM to squander an unreal amount of draft picks, including 2 1st rounders, he then proceeded to get in trouble for texting the bench during a game, one of the least rock n roll misdemeanours the league has seen & the latest in a ridiculously long line of poor luck. Despite the Browns having a ridiculous run of poor judgement, bad QBs & general poor luck, there is the makings of a playoff calibre team here, if they just for once do the right thing. A lack of a start calibre QB will almost certainly cost this team however.

Potential Fixes: The Browns have made what I see to be a smart move already, picking up Josh McCown, who seems to be the top QB available in free agency, even with his poor play last year. McCown will be a stop gap, as they train up Manziel to take over. Okay, this might be a little hopeful, but they need to at least try and get something from their 1st rd. QB. Will it work? Who knows, but they can’t just drop Manziel, after paying such a high price to put him on this team. Where the Browns seemed to have excelled over the last couple of years is freeing up cap space & creating draft picks, but them doing nothing with them. This year has to change, or Farmer will certainly be out of a job. With 2 1st rd. picks (again), they can bolster the trenches or pick up a legitimate no. 1 receiver like Cooper or White, if they drop that low. In free agency they have an epic $50m to spend weapons & maybe a new nose tackle, though that could prove a hard piece to find. The fact is the Browns are on the verge of being a decent team; we’re just waiting to see them make the right moves.

That was longer than I planned, for that I apologise. Next group will be up Saturday.