Every NFL organization enters the offseason with a plan. A plan to tear down and rebuild, preserve a championship window, execute the jump toward the postseason, etc. However, behind all of these varying lists of priorities, there is an emphasis to restore what went awry last season, particularly in the realm of position groupings that didn’t perform up to standard, be it health, lack of appropriate personnel, scheme, etc. Let’s take a look at a few specific positional groupings that are bound to improve off of last year’s downfalls amidst offseason additions.
Jets Cornerbacks- Additions- CB Darrelle Revis, CB Antonio Cromartie, CB Buster Skrine
It’s easier for a player to excel under the tutelage of a poor coach, than for a coach to excel with a group of untalented and unskilled players. That was the case last year with the Jets cornerbacks, with Rex Ryan only summoning so much from the collection of mediocre cover men that littered the depth chart. The Jets managed to finish just above average in pass defense last season allowing 234.1 YPG, which ranked 14th in the league, but by the advanced metrics of DVOA, the Jets finished just 24th in pass defense per Football Outsiders, while the team intercepted six measly passes all season, tied for 30th in the league.
Entering the 2015 season, Ryan has relocated to the shores of Lake Erie and Todd Bowles has ventured from the heated deserts of Arizona as the team’s new head coach. His blitz-heavy scheme will be reminiscent at times of Ryan’s, but it requires a secondary with upgraded pedigree from the likes of corners Kyle Wilson, Phillip Adams and Darrin Walls.
Enter the homecoming of Darrelle Revis, who as a member of the world-champion New England Patriots, resurrected the “Best corner in the NFL” debate, much to the previous chagrin of the Jets faithful. Revis is the top man-to-man corner in the NFL, flaunting his smooth hips, balance and agility with great effectiveness. Accompanying Revis is his former New York teammate, Antonio Cromartie, who rekindled his previous success under Bowles in Arizona last season. The Revis and Cromartie duo may have aged a bit since their previous union in the Big Apple, but each projects to have a few good years left, while heading the discussion of the best cornerback tandem in the league in the short term.
The Jets also signed former Browns cornerback, Buster Skrine, in the offseason to act as the team’s slot corner. Skrine’s tenure in Cleveland was marred by the yellow laundry that consistently flooded the field with his name assigned, but he did start 31 of 32 games the last two years, and was tasked with responsibilities that likely supersede his capabilities. Skrine will fill the role of nickel back nicely in New York, and will rarely be required to fend against opponents’ top targets as he did in Cleveland.
Former 1st-rounder, Dee Milliner, will also be back after suffering a torn Achilles early on last season. Milliner finally displayed a bit of the promise that provoked the Jets to select him so highly in 2013 before he went down. Even if he reverts to back to his disappointing play, the experience players such as Walls and second-year man Marcus Williams gained last season will be valuable as fourth or fifth cornerback options.
Titans Secondary- Additions- CB Perrish Cox, S Da’Norris Searcy
Much like the Jets, the Titans slightly above average 15th-ranked pass defense was hardly the most catastrophic aspect of the team, but also like the Jets, the Titans pass defense plummets to 26th in DVOA, while the team’s total defense finished 29th.
Tennessee invested some dollars in free agency to more appropriately counteract opponents’ plans to constantly veer away from cornerback, Jason McCourty, choosing to attack his less-heralded teammates instead. Consider, the Titans finished with the league’s 10th best DVOA against opponents’ number one wide receivers who were often shadowed by McCourty, however, no team was worse defending number two wideouts, where Tennessee’s 53.9 percent DVOA was canyons below the Rams’ second-worst mark of 33.8 percent.
Needless to say the organization desperately desired an upgrade from Coty Sensabaugh and Blidi Wreh-Wilson as its number two corner. GM Ruston Webster managed to reel in Perrish Cox from San Francisco who presents defensive coordinator Ray Horton with an immediate improvement after Cox snagged five interceptions last season.
Webster also shelled out some cash for the stellar play of Da’Norris Searcy who came into his own the last two seasons in Buffalo. Searcy was partially responsible for the Bills top ranking in pass DVOA, a mark bolstered by the Bills defending tight ends at the second best rate in the league, a primary responsibility of Searcy at strong safety. Searcy will surely be an upgrade over the aging combination of George Wilson and Bernard Pollard who both departed during the offseason. Michael Griffin rounds out the group at free safety as the longest tenured player on the roster.
Raiders Receiving Core- Additions- WR Amari Cooper, WR Michael Crabtree, TE Clive Walford, RB Roy Helu
To put the shortcomings of Oakland’s receiving core from last season into context, the team’s leading receiver, James Jones, is still floating about the free agent waters with no more presence than a piece of stray driftwood hoping to wash upon an organization’s shore. This was the state of the sorry group of playmaking options Raiders rookie quarterback, Derek Carr, attempted to navigate in a quest to manufacture offense.
Carr impressed overall as a rookie, but the offense as a whole relented to its now-annual pedestrian-level effectiveness, ranking last in total offense, 26th in passing and next to last in scoring. A formal request to advance from the ciphers that made up last year’s receivers was not required as it was understood GM Reggie McKenzie had to add talents via free agency and the draft.
The team signed Michael Crabtree, who fell out of favor in San Francisco following the tumult of his rehab from an Achilles injury in coordination with questions about his focus at times. Crabtree likely reached the summit of his career in 2012, but he is still capable of solid production if he remains committed. Also in free agency the team brought in Roy Helu from Washington who discovered a role as a threat out of the backfield with 42 catches, 477 yards and two touchdowns a year ago.
The Raiders selected Amari Cooper fourth overall in the draft, allowing Carr to sleep more soundly at night, able to do away with the nightmares depicting Andre Holmes as his go-to guy. Cooper, like all rookies will undergo a learning curve, but throughout his collegiate career, he displayed a keen understanding of route running and the subtle quirks and techniques to set up his cuts and breaks to maximize his separation. His hands are as equally gifted, fueling expectations that Cooper has the tools to contribute on a speedier time table than most rookie wideouts. In the third round of the draft, the Raiders selected Miami’s Clive Walford, a physical specimen who can thrive as an in-line blocker and use his frame to make plays through the air, but still has a ways to go before he can supplant Mychal Rivera and possibly even Lee Smith on the tight end depth chart.
Rod Streater, who led the team in receiving in 2013, will be back as well after missing the final 13 games of last season due to a broken foot. Streater isn’t a gamebreaker, but he’s a solid possession receiver and provides Carr with a reliable week-to-week target.
Falcons Pass Rush- Additions- OLB Vic Beasley, DE Adrian Clayborn, LB Brooks Reed
Jamaal Anderson…Ray Edwards…Osi Umenyiora. Aside from John Abraham, the Falcons pass rush has been in an overwhelming dark abyss in which sacks are recondite in the unknown. In the last two seasons since Abraham’s departure, Atlanta has ranked 30th in sacks in consecutive seasons. In fact, in the past five seasons, the Falcons have never fared better than 20th in sacks.
The organization spent another offseason indefatigably probing through potential pass rush improvements. The team signed defensive end Adrian Clayborn to a 1-year deal, envisioning him as a versatile component, resembling Michael Bennett in Seattle during freshly hired head coach Dan Quinn’s time there as the defensive coordinator. Clayborn never lived up to his first-round billing as a pass rusher in Tampa Bay, but Quinn will likely move him inside in obvious passing situations hoping to maximize his impact.
Meanwhile, the Falcons invested another lofty draft pick in a pass rush specialist with the drafting of Clemson product Vic Beasley eighth overall. Beasley will be expected to contribute quickly as a speed rusher with the athleticism to push offensive tackles to the limits of their physical litheness. He’s not an every down player at this point, but Atlanta isn’t expecting him to be, as his role will be defined as getting to the quarterback at whatever cost for the majority of his rookie season. Incoming free agent, Brooks Reed, was rendered an ineffective edge rusher in Houston before eventually moving inside. The Falcons, however, out of desperation, will flex Reed back to his past destination on the outside hoping to unlock any pass rushing abilities that lie within.
The new pieces will complement an underwhelming group of incumbents. Tackles Jonathan Babineaux, Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson are run defenders first and foremost with pressuring the quarterback a task proving too great. Kroy Bierman, who’s been in Atlanta since 2008, has shown flashes throughout his career, but is a spot pass rusher at best preferably reserved for his efforts on special teams. The linebacking core is littered with complex project players the organization is attempting to mend into pass rushing talents, but it’s a skill that isn’t found in their natural inner fibers.
The one glimmering light comes with second-year end Ra’Shede Hageman. Hageman at 315 plus pounds, doesn’t adhere to the usual dimensions of a pass rusher, but his imposing overall physical frame suggests he could develop into a dominant force of power and strength if he can keep his head on straight.