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As the 2019 pre-season is upon us, let's take a look at how some of these rookies will impact their teams this coming season.

AFC East

New England Patriots

New England Patriots

Key Draftees: N’Keal Harry, Yodny Cajuste, Chase Winovich

Many would argue New England had the best draft of any other team in the league, especially after how much the Patriots lost in free agency. They replaced offensive linemen Trent Brown with West Virginia product Yodny Cajuste and replaced star D-lineman Trey Flowers with Michigan prospect Chase Winovich. As All BIG 12 and 10 players respectively both Cajuste and Winovich are proven producers at the collegiate level, so you can imagine what will happen once the best coaching staff in football (SIX RINGS!!!!!) gets their hands on them. But the Patriots best pick was their first pick. With the selection of wide receiver N’Keal Harry, the Patriots will once again have a major deep threat (15 yards per catch at Arizona State) to complement Julian Edelman in the slot.

Verdict: Contenders

Miami Dolphins

Key Draftees: Christian Wilkins, Michael Deiter, Andrew Van Ginkel

The Miami Dolphins were very safe with their draft picks, opting to take a proven defensive tackle from Clemson, Christian, Wilkins, instead of taking quarterback Dwayne Haskins. It seems they decided to punt on next year and wait for the 2020 draft, which will have better quarterback prospects (guys like Jake Fromm from Georgia and Tua Tagovailoa from Alabama) then this year’s draft. Guard Michael Deiter and linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel should both compete for starting jobs due to the lack of talent on the rest of the roster because of the inept front office. Now, they did just trade for Quarterback Josh Rosen from Arizona, so maybe they won’t be forced to draft a QB.

Verdict: Tanking

Buffalo Bills

Key Draftees: Ed Oliver, Cody Ford, Devin Singletary

It’s common analysis that the Bills had the steal of the draft when University of Houston star Ed Oliver fell to them at number 9 overall. Oliver still dramatically helps a front 7 that lost one of the better defensive tackles of the last decade, Kyle Williams (103 career tackles for loss), to retirement. Oklahoma tackle Cody Ford was brought in to immediately shore up a shaky offensive line that Buffalo really focused on in the free agency. Another area of need was running back, where the Bills have the three oldest players in the league at that position (LeSean McCoy-30, Frank Gore-36, and Chris Ivory-31). That’s where FAU product Devin Singletary comes in. He will inject youth into the backfield that the Bills haven’t experienced since the mid-2000s when Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson manned the backfield. Despite these solid additions, Buffalo still doesn’t have enough talent in their receiving core to really be an offense that threatens anybody, and they will likely be relegated to another playoff season watching at home.

Verdict: Rebuilding

New York Jets

Key Draftees: Quinnen Williams, Jachai Polite, Chuma Edoga

The Jets addressed most of their needs this off season in free agency with the signings of Le’Veon Bell and CJ Mosely. But there’s a case to be made that Quinnen Williams is the biggest addition New York made this year. Williams recalls a young Ndamukong Suh, and he’s even been quoted describing how he models his game after the 4-time Pro-Bowler. I believe we can expect big things out of the defensive tackle from Alabama. As well as Quinnen Williams tested in the pre-draft process, Jachai Polite tested that poorly. Draft gurus criticized his lack of dedication to the workouts at the combine, and scouts were none too happy in one-on-one interviews. But in terms of production, there were very few pass rushers that matched Polite’s sack numbers, so the Jets felt the value was too good to let him slide any further down the draft. Offensive tackle Chuma Edoga out of USC is a developmental prospect that they can groom to help an O-line that struggled to protect Quarterback Sam Darnold all season long.

Verdict: Almost There

AFC North

Cleveland Browns

Key Draftees: Greedy Williams, Sione Takitaki, Mack Wilson

The Browns did most of their damage this off season in free agency and through trades. Odell Beckham, Jr. and Olivier Vernon have come over from the Giants via trade, while defensive end Sheldon Richardson was signed from the Minnesota Vikings. But even though Cleveland impressed in the free agency part of the off season, they also got great value in the draft. They managed to pick up one of the better corners in the draft in the second round in Greedy Williams. Williams, out of LSU, has been tested against some of the best receivers in college football and graded out as the fastest corner at the combine (4.37 40-yard dash). So, he’ll be a great compliment to Denzel Ward at cornerback. Linebackers Sione Takitaki and Mack Wilson will compete for playing time with Christian Kirksey and Joe Schubert. Overall the Cleveland Browns have reinvented their roster and should be the clear favorites to win the AFC North.

Verdict: Contender

Pittsburgh Steelers

Key Draftees: Devin Bush, Diontae Johnson, Justin Layne

The Steelers could not have had a worse free agency period. When you lose arguably the 2 best players in the league (Leveon Bell and Antonio Brown) at their respective positions, it doesn’t get much worse. But Pittsburgh seemed to bounce back in the draft and address some other issues with the team. It seems they’ve found their Ryan Shazier replacement in undersized Michigan product Devin Bush. At 5”11” Bush is much smaller than your traditional middle linebacker, but because of this, his speed is off the charts (4.44 40 yd dash). They attempted to address their receiver problems by adding depth with Toledo wideout Diontae Johnson, and it seems the Steelers are content with Juju Smith-Schuster and James Washington as their go-to guys. Also, they failed to address running backs in the draft, but as well as James Connor played last season (over 1500 total yards) the position doesn’t seem to be a pressing need. A sneaky good addition Pittsburgh made on draft night was that of Justin Layne, a corner back out of Michigan State. He graded out averagely at the combine overall, which contributed to his slide in the draft. But as a four-year player, his experience should help a Steelers team that finished in the bottom 10 in pass defense a year ago.

Verdict: Rebuilding

Cincinnati Bengals

Key Draftees: Jonah Williams, Drew Sample, Germaine Pratt

It’s the end of an era in Cincinnati. Former Head Coach Marvin Lewis has been ousted and former Rams offensive coordinator Zac Taylor will be taking over. And in the draft, Taylor got off to a great start by addressing Cincy’s biggest problem: The Offensive Line. Selecting the best O-lineman in the draft while not even having to trade up is one of the luckier circumstances that’s happened to this franchise over the last 10 years. Alabama lineman Jonah Williams will immediately start at left tackle, and if his production in college is what Cincy will get, they could have a Pro-Bowler on their hands. In the second round, they took tight end Drew Sample out of Washington to hopefully take over for oft-injured incumbent Tyler Eifert. Eifert is still on the roster, but with his injury history (only one full season), there’s no telling when he’ll go on the PUP (Physically Unable to Perform list). In the 3rdround the Bengal’s selected versatile linebacker Germaine Pratt out of NC State to replace the production left behind by Vontaze Burfict’s departure.

Verdict: Tanking

Baltimore Ravens

Key Draftees: Marquise Brown, Jaylon Ferguson, Miles Boykin

Baltimore is starting a new era of its own as well. Second year quarterback Lamar Jackson will pull the reins for all 16 games this season, after a mid-season change from incumbent Joe Flacco last year. Despite this changing of the guard at QB, the Ravens lost a lot on both sides of the ball in free agency, particularly at receiver. So, it’s a good thing they really focused on adding legitimate talent at that position in the draft. After losing John Brown to Buffalo in FA and cutting Michael Crabtree this off season, they added speedster Marquise Brown and possession receiver, Miles Boykin. Marquise Brown, out of Oklahoma, should be a surefire fill-in for John Brown, as they have nearly identical body types and 40 yd dash times. Boykin should see time early in his career as a red zone target just as Crabtree was. The Ravens are certain to put that 6’4” body and massive hands to good use. Another amazing player they lost in FA was a middle linebacker, C. J. Mosely, to the New York Jets. Mosely is the NFL leader in tackles since he came into the league back in 2012, and his production will not be easy to replace. But second round outside linebacker Jaylon Ferguson, out of Louisiana Tech, will try to fill the void that Mosely left.

Verdict: Rebuilding

AFC South

Indianapolis Colts

Key Draftees: Rock Ya-sin, Ben Banogu, Parris Campbell

The Colts were the hottest team in the NFL down the stretch of last season, and Andrew Luck is healthy as ever. The first year of the Chris Ballard era couldn’t have started any better, and year 2 started off great as well in the draft. Last year Ballard selected Pro-Bowl rookies, Quenton Nelson, and Darius Leonard. With Indy having 3 second-round picks, management is hoping they can strike gold again. Temple defensive back Rock Ya-sin was the most versatile DB in the country last season. His ability to play any position in the defensive backfield will be vital to a team that lacks a lot of depth in that area. Linebacker Ben Banogu will compete with incumbent Anthony Walker for the starting spot opposite Darius Leonard. Walker is a side to side LB just like Leonard, but Banogu is a stronger, slower LB who specializes in stuffing the run, so they may lean towards him as a cleaner fit. With their second-round pick, Indy took wideout Parris Campbell from Ohio State. The Colts struggled with receiver depth after star T. Y. Hilton’s injury, and maybe the fastest receiver in the draft (Campbell) can help in that department.

Verdict: Contending

Houston Texans

Key Draftees: Tytus Howard, Lonnie Johnson, Max Scharping

The Houston Texans attempted to add competition to the offensive line, and for the most part, I have no idea how to feel about their efforts. Tytus Howard and Max Scharping are very imposing (6’5” and over 300 lbs.) specimens and their tapes looked great. But there’s just one problem. Howard and Scharping are from Non-Power 5 schools. Now, normally I wouldn’t get too worked up about that. If these were day 3 selections. But no, these are days 1 and 2 selections. The Texans are hinging the franchise on the backs of guys from Alabama St. and Northern Illinois. And the idea that Houston is built for the future is ludicrous. The Texans window is now while a lot of defenses in the AFC are not so good, but it won’t matter if said defenses are given a free pass to Deshaun Watson. At least Houston made one good pick in Kentucky corner Lonnie Johnson. Johnson is an extremely physical cornerback, just like the person he’ll be aiming to replace in Kareem Jackson (who is now a Denver Bronco). And with the lack of depth in that area of the defense, he will have a great shot at earning a starting position.

Verdict: Contending

Jacksonville Jaguars

Key Draftees: Josh Allen, Jawaan Taylor, Quincy Williams

Value, Value, Value. Nobody got a better value of the draft than the Jaguars. Credit to them for capitalizing on the Raiders and Giants mistakes. With the 7thoverall pick, Jacksonville selected outside linebacker out of Kentucky, Josh Allen. In my opinion, Josh Allen was the best player in the entire draft. He is almost a carbon copy of what Von Miller was coming out of Texas A&M. His ability to rush the passer will only help Jacksonville retain its “Sacksonville” status. Another steal happened in the second round when the Houston Texans passed on elite tackle prospect Jawaan Taylor. The only team that might have been a better fit than Houston would have been Jacksonville as they had no right tackle replacement for ousted incumbent Jermey Parnell. The Florida product has unbelievably huge hands and projects as an elite pass protector right out of the gate. Though Jacksonville added Nick Foles this off season they also lost both of their safeties in Barry Church and Tashaun Gipson. Luckily last year’s first round pick Ronnie Harrison blossomed into a stud and here’s to hoping 3rdround pick and Murray State product Quincy Williams can do the same.

Verdict: Rebuilding

Tennessee Titans

Key Draftees: Jeffrey Simmons, AJ Brown, Nate Davis

Nashville was where the draft was located and overall the home team did a pretty good job. One of the issues the Titans needed to address was lack of consistent pressure in the backfield. When superstar defensive end Jurrell Casey got hurt (knee) half way through the season, Tennessee had a rough time applying pressure on the quarterback. That’s where Jeffrey Simmons comes in. The Mississippi State product was a top 10 talent up until he tore his ACL right before the combine. If he puts up the same production that he did in Starkville he’ll be an amazing compliment to Casey. Wide receiver was another issue with Corey Davis emerging as the only reliable option on the club. Wideout from Ole Miss, A.J. Brown, will give quarterback Marcus Mariota another big red zone target aside from Delanie Walker and Davis. And with the loss of Pro-Bowl guard Quinten Spain, O-lineman Nate Davis will have big shoes to fill on the right side.

Verdict: Rebuilding

AFC West

Kansas City Chiefs

Key Draftees: Mecole Hardman, Juan Thornhill, Khalen Saunders

The Chiefs had about as up and down a regular season as possible. They lost some really good players during the free agency period in Justin Houston and Dee Ford. They also added stud talent in Tyrann Mathieu. But to end their tumultuous offseason was the Tyreek Hill domestic violence case. And because of that, it makes the addition of Georgian wideout Mecole Hardman that much more important. His ability to stretch the field deep make Tyreek Hill not expendable but replaceable. Safety Juan Thornhill out of Virginia will attempt to replace the production left behind by Eric Berry. His ball-hawking skills in the backfield will be sorely needed for a defense that finished dead last in pass defense in the entire league last season. They also had issues on the offensive line, particularly protecting Pat Mahomes in the pocket against New England in the AFC title game. Hopefully Western Illinois product Khalen Saunders can help them in that department.

Verdict: Contending

Los Angeles Chargers

Jet Draftees: Jerry Tillery, Nasir Adderley, Trey Pipkins

The Chargers were branded last season as true contenders until they ran into the buzz saw that was the New England Patriots. Building off last year’s 12-4 record will be key to contending this year as nearly everyone from last season’s team has returned. They also added extreme quality talent in the draft starting with Notre Dame defensive lineman Jerry Tillery. Tillery finished his senior year at Notre Dame with a career high in sacks with 12. He will be called upon to replace former Defensive Tackle Corey Liuget as a 3-technique. In the 2ndround, nobody was a better fit for LA than Nasir Adderley, out of Delaware. Next, to Derwin James, a very physical DB, Adderley’s ball hawking skills will be put to much use in the Chargers secondary. Trey Pipkins out of Sioux Falls will provide much needed depth along an offensive line that’s struggled with injuries the past couple of years.

Verdict: Contending

Oakland Raiders

Key Draftees: Clelin Ferrell, Josh Jacobs, Johnathan Abram

The Raiders were very busy this off season, sometimes for better and sometimes for worse. They did good by acquiring Antonio Brown from a dysfunctional situation in Pittsburgh and Derek Carr couldn’t have been happier. They also did great by signing wideout Tyrell Williams away from San Diego and drafting power running back Joshua Jacobs out of Alabama. Williams will be a great deep compliment with Antonio Brown and Josh Jacobs’ ground and pound style will be helpful to an O-line that specializes in run blocking. On the down side, Oakland completely botched their first pick of the draft. Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure Clelin Ferrell, a defensive end from Clemson, will be a really good player in this league. But the fact that a super star prospect in Josh Allen was still on the board and they reached for a guy that was supposed to go near the end of the first round is unacceptable. I will give them credit for addressing their lack of pass rush last year by selecting Ferrell and Mississippi State safety Johnathan Abram, who is a brilliant tackler in the backfield. It’s just upsetting to see a franchise screw up (Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper) big decisions time and time again.

Verdict: Rebuilding

Denver Broncos

Key Draftees: Noah Fant, Drew Lock, Dalton Risner

Denver is in a world of hurt now. John Elway seems he still can’t get the quarterback position right and insists that Joe Flacco still has a lot left in the tank. Outside of these delusions the Broncos have a lot more wrong with them than you may realize. For starters, outside of incumbent Emmanuel Sanders there is not much receiving talent on the roster. They attempted to give Flacco a security blanket in Iowa tight end Noah Fant, but as bad as the O-line was last year that might not even matter. Hopefully Dalton Risner out of Kansas State can help alleviate some of the pain, as he was an elite pass protector last season. In the second round Elway decided to select Missouri QB Drew Lock. It’ll be very interesting to see if/when Flacco struggles if the calls for Lock will be prevalent. Lock is a QB built very much in the mold of Flacco with a lean, tall body and a huge arm. But just like Joe he struggles for accuracy. I think the smartest course of action would be to play Flacco until he becomes unbearable and see what you have in Lock. There’s a good chance they finish with a top 10 pick, so they should try for a QB again next year.

Verdict: Tanking

NFC East

Dallas Cowboys

Key Draftees: Trysten Hill, Connor McGovern, Tony Pollard

The Dallas Cowboys are coming off a successful season in which they went 10-6 in the regular season and won a home playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks. Although a strength of the Cowboys last season was their vastly improved defense, their interior run defense could stand to improve. That’s where defensive tackle Trysten Hill comes in. Hill is a little undersized for the position, but his outright strength should offset his size. Another struggle Dallas faced last season was depth along the offensive line, with injuries to Travis Frederick (Guillain-Barre Syndrome) and La’el Collins (Knee). Penn State guard Connor McGovern should help as a backup to Frederick, Connor Williams and Zack Martin. As well as lack of O-line depth, a problem that was apparent in their playoff loss to the Rams was the lack of big plays from guys not named Amari Cooper. Memphis running back Tony Pollard is a former kick returner and 3rddown back. That should really boost the explosiveness of the Dallas offense.

Verdict: Contending

Philadelphia Eagles

Key Draftees: Andre Dillard, Miles Sanders, JJ Arcega-Whiteside

The Eagles very quietly had one of the best drafts in the NFL. For starters, they addressed many future needs. Although current left tackle Jason Peters continues to produce, his age (37) is most definitely a concern. Washington State tackle Andre Dillard was highlighted as the premier pass blocker in 2019 and should learn a ton from the 15-year veteran Peters. Secondly, the loss of running back Jay Ajayi left the Eagles without a reliable every down back. Miles Sanders out of Penn State will more than help fill the void and is my dark horse candidate for Offensive Rookie of the Year due to his speed and shifty nature. Lastly, a big issue Philly had last season was red-zone options outside of tight end Zach Ertz. When Alshon Jefferey was hurt for half the season, the Eagles struggled mightily with scoring touchdowns in the red area. So, when the Eagles drafted 6’5” Stanford wide receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside I’m sure their fans were ecstatic. Whiteside will be a wonderful compliment to Jefferey on the outside, while Nelson Agholor continues to burn nickel corners (corners that line up in the slot in a 4-2 formation) across the league.

Verdict: Contending

Washington Redskins

Key Draftees: Dwayne Haskins, Montez Sweat, Terry McLaurin

Washington was well on its way to a division title and playoff berth last year. Then Quarterback Alex Smith’s knee exploded and thus their season was over. With Smith still on the mend, Washington will have to choose between journeyman Case Keenum and highly touted rookie out of Ohio State Dwayne Haskins at the quarterback position. Haskins is clearly the upside play here, but Keenum may provide stability to an organization that has been anything but stable. Also, with Ryan Kerrigan aging (30), the defense could stand to improve its pass rush. In comes Mississippi state product Montez Sweat to provide speed pressure outside the tackles. Montez Sweat set the record for fastest 40 ever by a defensive end at the combine, so we know he’s got the speed. Washington also selected another speedster at the wide receiver position in former Ohio State Buckeye Terry McLaurin. McLaurin rated as the fastest receiver at the entire combine, so hopefully he can replace slot man Jamison Crowder.

Verdict: Rebuilding

New York Giants

Key Draftees: Daniel Jones, Dexter Lawrence, Deandre Baker

Words cannot describe what a travesty the New York Giants are right now. As far as their first pick, Duke QB Daniel Jones, is concerned the Giants could not have gotten it more wrong. Not only was there a much better QB prospect in Dwayne Haskins, but they passed on my #1 overall prospect Kentucky pass rusher Josh Allen. Now you never know what quarterbacks will become so I’ll withhold judgement for now. But besides the QB position the Giants had a decent draft. Defensive tackle out of Clemson Dexter Lawrence should help shore up a run defense that ranked near the bottom in the NFL. The 340-pound DT is just as quick as he is big and always finds his way into the backfield. Even though the Giants pass defense last season was decent they need more help on the corners aside from Janoris Jenkins. Former Georgia corner Deandre Baker is a big physical corner who is built in the mold of Richard Sherman and should start opposite Jenkins from the get-go.

Verdict: Tanking

NFC North

Chicago Bears

Key Draftees: David Montgomery, Riley Ridley, Duke Shelley

Chicago is in a great spot now. They have arguably the best defensive player in the NFL in Khalil Mack, a young ascending quarterback in Mitch Trubisky, and a roster loaded from top to bottom with nearly no holes. Even the smallest of deficiencies with the roster were shored up in the draft. Chicago decided to trade running back Jordan Howard to promote 3rddown back Tarik Cohen as the starter. But I have concerned that Cohen’s size (5’6”) may result in him not being able to handle consistent carries between the tackles. That’s why it made sense when in the 3rdround the Bears selected an all-purpose back in David Montgomery, formerly of Iowa State, to give Cohen a breather so he isn’t being pounded the entire game. Secondly many have questioned Chicago’s receiving corps due to its lack of depth. But Riley Ridley out of Georgia will help Allen Robinson and co. in that department with his combination of hands and size.

Verdict: Contending

Minnesota Vikings

Key Draftees: Garrett Bradbury, Irv Smith, Jr., Alexander Mattison

Ever since the Minneapolis Miracle in 2018, it’s been all downhill for the Minnesota faithful. After their NFC championship game loss to the eventual champion Eagles they decided to shell out a record contract to former Washington QB Kirk Cousins. Since then he’s done nothing but come up short in big games against teams over .500. Some of this can be attributed to the offensive line reverting to its old ways of Ole’ Style blocking. Some of this may be alleviated by the selection of NC State center Garrett Bradbury. Another issue with Minnesota was their lack of explosiveness outside of their core receivers Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. They drafted the 2ndfastest tight end in the draft (Irv Smith Jr.) to hopefully take the top off the defense and make short passes to starting TE Kyle Rudolph much easier. Finally, the injury history of starting running back Dalvin Cook must be concerning to everyone involved with the franchise. Alexander Mattison out of Boise State will provide depth to a position where injury seems imminent.

Verdict: Rebuilding

Green Bay Packers

Key Draftees: Roshan Gary, Darnell Savage, Jr., Elgton Jenkins

The Pack is coming off another lost season in the Aaron Rodgers era, and this one cost long-time coach Mike McCarthy his job. New Head Coach Matt LaFleur was uber aggressive during free agency and plugged up the holes he couldn’t get to in FA during the draft. D-end Roshan Gary out of Michigan was at one point the #1 recruit in the entire country. He will be a massive edition to a Green Bay pass rush that really struggled to create consistent pressure. Maryland safety Darnell Savage, Jr. can only help a secondary that has been consistently poor (ranked in the bottom 10 in pass defense for the last 5 seasons) for many years now. Offensive lineman Elgton Jenkins will provide depth to an offensive line that has been hit by the injury bug in recent years. But obviously the Packers season hinges on the health of Aaron Rodgers. If Rodgers is healthy you can never count the Pack out.

Verdict: Rebuilding

Detroit Lions

Key Draftees: T.J. Hockenson, Jahlani Tavai, Will Harris

It’s quite unbelievable that as bad as the Lions are, they’re still the best team the city of Detroit has to offer compared to the Tigers and the Pistons. Once again Detroit will only go as far as their star QB Matt Stafford will take them. The front office helped him out by taking the best tight end in the draft in Iowa product T.J. Hockenson. Hockenson’s elite hand and blocking ability transcend any tight end we’ve seen since Rob Gronkowski. Hawaii linebacker Jahlani Tavai and Boston College defensive back Will Harris will provide much needed depth for a Detroit defense that struggled to get stops of any kind last season. Overall though this Detroit roster is really lacking in talent, and I’d be shocked if this team gets more than 5 wins.

Verdict: Tanking

New Orleans Saints

Key Draftees: Erik McCoy, Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, Saquan Hampton

The Saints were not super aggressive in the draft this year, unlike years past. O-lineman Eric McCoy out of Texas A&M will provide depth to a position that struggled with injuries most of last season. Another solid selection was that of Chauncey Gardner-Johnson from Florida. The 5”11” defensive back can play any position in the secondary and should eventually take over for aging corners Patrick Robinson and Ken Crawley. But the biggest addition the Saints made was most definitely their signing of tight end Jared Cook. Cook is the best tight end Drew Brees has had since they traded Jimmy Graham to Seattle. Brees, wideout Michael Thomas, running back Alvin Kamara and Cook will form one of the most potent offenses in recent memory, and New Orleans will be right back in the mix for another Super Bowl appearance.

Verdict: Contending

Atlanta Falcons

Key Draftees: Chris Lindstrom, Kaleb McGary, Kendall Sheffield

Atlanta went heavy on the offensive line in the draft due to Matt Ryan being sacked the most times in his career last season. Boston College and Washington products Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary will start from the get-go and be expected to contribute. Defensive back Kendall Sheffield out of Ohio State will be thrust into an incredibly deep secondary with stars like Keanu Neal and Desmond Trufant. But just like New Orleans, Atlanta’s season will be decided by their incumbent superstars. Matt Ryan and Julio Jones will have to continue their elite connection through the air. Devon Freeman, Deion Jones and Neal all need to remain healthy if the Falcons want to challenge New Orleans for the division crown. But there is no doubt that this team has the talent to compete for the division and the NFC crown.

Verdict: Contending

Caroline Panthers

Key Draftees: Brian Burns, Greg Little, Will Grier

Yet another team whose success will be predicated on how healthy their quarterback will be. Cam Newton recently had surgery to fix his throwing shoulder, and it will be interesting to see if his health can hold up this season. In terms of the draft, Carolina quietly did a very good job. Florida State defensive end Brian Burns led the entire ACC in sacks and should help boost the Panthers’ pass rush following the retirement of Julius Peppers. Greg Little, offensive tackle out of Ole Miss, was selected to replace left tackle Matt Kalil, who signed with the Houston Texans. Will Grier, a quarterback from West Virginia, is a dual-threat quarterback that will give the Panthers some insurance at the position should Newton go down with injuries again. Overall though I’m not sure this roster is deep enough to compete with New Orleans or Atlanta.

Verdict: Rebuilding

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Key Draftees: Devin White, Sean Murphy-Bunting, Jamel Dean

Tampa is looking to start anew with a brand-new head coach in Bruce Arians. Arians has a proven track record in Arizona and is tabbed “the QB whisperer.” Hopefully he can help Jameis Winston cut down on his turnover woes that have plagued his early career. As far as the draft is concerned, the Bucs did a wonderful job addressing some of their top needs. Kwon Alexander was consistently one of the league’s top middle linebackers, but he packed his bags and left for San Francisco. That’s why the selection of LSU linebacker Devin White could not have been timed more perfectly. White is a side to side LB just like Alexander, except White is even faster and should be a perfect fit for Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles’ scheme. It was also very smart drafting defensive backs Sean Murphy-Bunting and Jamel Dean to shore up a pass defense that ranked dead last in yards given up last season. Now if only the rest of the roster was this talented.

Verdict: Tanking

NFC West

Los Angeles Rams

Key Draftees: Taylor Rupp, Darrell Henderson, David Long

Los Angeles won’t be as concerned with how their rookies perform as they will be with avoiding a Super Bowl hangover. Regardless though the Rams had a solid draft in which they mostly addressed their losses in the secondary. Safety Taylor Rapp out of Washington and corner David Long out of Michigan should more than suffice to make up for the loss of safety Lamarcus Joyner in the off season. They also selected the leading rusher in college football, Memphis running back Darrell Henderson to hopefully spell superstar back Todd Gurley for a couple more plays a game. The rookies will end up playing a big role for LA this season, but LA’s priority will be to keep their superstars as healthy as possible.

Verdict: Contending

San Francisco 49ers

Key Draftees: Nick Bosa, Deebo Samuel, Jalen Hurd

Early on last season it seemed as if the 49ers could challenge for a wild card spot. But then their star quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo went down with a torn ACL in week 3 and their season was over. With Jimmy G back in the fold this season, San Fran really stressed getting him some help in the receiving corps in the draft. South Carolina wideout Deebo Samuel and Baylor wideout Jalen Hurd will add supreme depth to a receiving core that is short on a surefire star. That’s to say nothing about the fact that with the #2 overall pick they selected Nick Bosa, defensive end out of Ohio State, who many believed was the best player in the entire draft. Bosa joins a pass rush that added Dee Ford in the off season and should be a force to be reckoned with for years to come. If all this talent on the roster can stay healthy, we may be talking about a wild card appearance in the Bay Area.

Verdict: Rebuilding …but not for long

Seattle Seahawks

Key Draftees: LT Collier, Marquise Blair, DK Metcalf

Seattle very much has a large hill to climb if they want to become the contending team, they were a couple of years ago. They did a great job in the draft trying to replace what they’ve lost the last 2 off seasons. Defensive end LT Collier out of TCU will be called upon to replace star DE Frank Clerk, who was traded to the Chiefs in the off season. Marquise Blair, a corner out of Utah, will assist in the rebuild of the Legion of the Boom that has been thoroughly destroyed due to injuries and age. And DK Metcalf will be the replacement for receiver Doug Baldwin who retired this off season as the Seahawks all-time leading receiver. Throughout all this turmoil it’s good to know that Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson are still in town, so you know Seattle won’t be an easy win by any stretch. But it’s fair to wonder if the rest of the roster can reach Carroll’s standards.

Verdict: Rebuilding

Arizona Cardinals

Key Draftees: Kyler Murray, Byron Murphy, Andy Isabella

It seemed like there was a theme in the Arizona Cardinals draft room. New Head Coach Kliff Kingsbury must really like undersized guys. It’s quite unbelievable that Arizona gave up on No. 10 overall pick Josh Rosen after one year. But in trading him to Miami it freed them up to select Heisman winning QB out of Oklahoma Kyler Murray. Murray’s dominant dual-threat style (run and pass) should pair perfectly with star running back David Johnson. Corner out of Washington Byron Murphy should turn into the running mate Patrick Peterson has been waiting for since Antonio Cromartie. Wide receiver Andy Isabella out of UMASS is a perfect slot receiver build in the mold of Danny Amendola and should really compliment all-time Cardinal great Larry Fitzgerald seamlessly. Arizona has some very interesting talent, but they are very short on depth, so it’s hard to calculate how well they’ll do.

Verdict: Rebuilding

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