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AFC Roster Reset: Chiefs, Chargers, Patriots sit atop conference


Still Chargin
Staff member

Our Roster Reset series takes a division-by-division look at where things stand across the league heading into the 2019 NFL Draft. Gregg Rosenthal examines the pecking order of the entire AFC below.

The best AFC organizations of the decade are having rough offseasons, at least on paper. The Patriotswatched a lot of talent leave the building, including most of the defensive coaching staff. The Steelershave been in the news for a lack of leadership from Ben Roethlisberger and the dumping of Antonio Brown, rather than any roster improvements. The Ravens are undergoing a defensive overhaul unseen by the team in over a decade, all while trying to build around Lamar Jackson. And the Chiefs lost their best players off a lousy defense.

"On paper" doesn't mean much in the NFL, but this is a recipe for even more parity than usual in the AFC, with greater hope than ever that New England's incomparable streak of nine straight playoff byes could finally end. Then again, we've heard that before. As we wrap up our Roster Reset series, let's take a quick look at the AFC hierarchy heading into the draft.

Playoffs or bust
Kansas City Chiefs, Los Angeles Chargers, New England Patriots.

Anything less than a tournament appearance for these three teams would qualify as a massive letdown. Chargers general manager Tom Telesco has been carefully building this roster for years and it's loaded with talent, if thin in spots on both lines. It's go time, with Philip Rivers set to turn 38 years old late in the coming season.

The Chiefs are putting a lot of faith in new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo's system while getting rid of talented pass rushers Dee Ford and Justin Houston. The team's defensive additions outside of star safety Tyrann Mathieu came at sneaky-good values, with Alex Okafor, Emmanuel Ogbah and Bashaud Breeland arriving able to play quality snaps. Any team with the best offensive mind in the conference (Andy Reid) and the best player (reigning MVP Patrick Mahomes) should make the tournament.

Replace Bill Belichick with, say, Jason Garrett, and the Patriots' roster looks like a seven-win outfit. That seems unlikely to happen, but Belichick and Tom Brady have earned the right to kick back and join the NFL's soft middle after stretching their dynasty far past any historical precedent. A warning: two of the four teams in last year's "playoffs or bust" category -- the Steelers and Jaguars -- did indeed go bust.

Pittsburgh Steelers, Indianapolis Colts, Cleveland Browns, Tennessee Titans, Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars, Baltimore Ravens.
Let's be real: There's not that much separating this large group from the ones above and below it. They are teams capable of making a Super Bowl in the ultimate year-to-year league, yet a playoff spot is hardly assured. The Steelers still have strong line play on both sides of the ball and finished last season going toe-to-toe with the Patriotsand Saints. The Colts were ahead of schedule in Frank Reich's first year as head coach and enjoy enviable continuity, with talented general manager Chris Ballard's 2019 draft class yet to come.

If Baker Mayfield ascends to top-five-quarterback status, which feels eminently possible, this ranking will be too low for the Browns. The team's strong-looking backfield and defensive line give Mayfield margin for error. The entire AFC South makes an appearance in the AFC's middle, with the Jaguars' signing of Nick Foles and Tennessee's smart free-agent pickups tightening an already competitive division. The Ravens are dealing with the most upheaval in this tier, with this being a year the team's organizational sturdiness will be tested. Jackson will be looking for a big second-year leap, like the rest of last season's excellent rookie-quarterback crop.

Don't sleep on us
Cincinnati Bengals, New York Jets, Buffalo Bills, Denver Broncos.
Zac Taylor has impressed in his brief time in Cincinnati and the roster is better than most inherited by first-year head coaches. The Jets' Adam Gase has all the pieces around Sam Darnold to fulfill his reputation as a quarterback guru. Bills coach Sean McDermott has proven he's a significant value as a defensive leader and the team's offseason moves mostly look heady, but Josh Allen's accuracy issues could lower Buffalo's ceiling. Joe Flacco is a boom-or-bust pickup for Denver, but it's hard not to like a coaching staff led by defensive mastermind Vic Fangio and offensive line maestro Mike Munchak. All of the teams above have enough talent to believe a wild-card game appearance is possible if everything breaks right.

Uphill battle to the playoffs
Miami Dolphins, Oakland Raiders.
Crazier things happen every season than the Dolphins scratching out a winning record in a season where Ryan Fitzpatrick is the Week 1 starting quarterback. Dolfans who believe in going "full tank" may be disappointed by eight or nine wins, but it would be a sign that new coach Brian Flores is the real deal. The team's defensive roster has a long way to go, though.

The Raiders are undoubtedly more talented after an offseason of aggressive additions, but Jon Gruden hasn't given much indication he can make all the new pieces work together.


Still Chargin
Staff member
AFC North roster reset: Browns' Beckham trade rocks landscape

Our Roster Reset series takes a division-by-division look at where things stand across the league heading into the 2019 NFL Draft. Tom Blair examines the current makeup of the AFC North below.

On March 12, the Cleveland Browns pulled off the rarest of offseason moves, the kind that genuinely justifies the accompanying headlines and hot air, acquiring receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and pass rusher Olivier Vernon from the New York Giants.

During the previous weekend, the Pittsburgh Steelers agreed to trade receiver Antonio Brown away to the Raiders after weeks of apparent maneuvering by Brown to get out of town.

In the space of a few days, a shift that had been in progress for roughly the past year was accelerated. In 2018, the Browns finally showed signs of reversing years of organizational futility, winning five of their last seven games behind sizzling rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield. Trading for Beckham only further cemented their status as certain 2019 season-preview darlings. The Steelers, meanwhile, seemed to slip further into an abyss of uncertainty after missing the playoffs for the first time since 2013.

In football, as in life, nothing is guaranteed. The Browns could be derailed by injuries and some combination of the other weird, unforeseen complications that tend to color NFL campaigns. Pittsburgh still has a likely Hall of Famer in Ben Roethlisberger driving its offense and hasn't recorded a losing season since 2003. And, you know, the team that actually won the division in 2018 has its own thrilling, young quarterback. Upon replacing veteran pocket-passer Joe Flacco last season, Lamar Jackson lit the Ravens on fire, losing just one of his seven regular-season starts and powering them to their fifth AFC North title.

The Bengals have been much quieter on the personnel-movement front, but the offseason has been nonetheless momentous for the franchise. Cincinnati slipped into fourth place in 2018 after losing quarterback Andy Dalton for five games and receiver A.J. Green for seven, and the team turned the page on the Marvin Lewis era. New coach Zac Taylor has plenty of challenges in front of him, including reviving a defense that ranked 32nd in yards, its worst finish in franchise history. That said, there is still talent on this roster.

Whatever happens, the AFC North promises to be one of the more compelling divisions in the NFL.


BIGGEST ADDITION: Odell Beckham Jr., wide receiver.
Old Team: New York Giants. New Team: Cleveland Browns.
The impact of any one person -- a non-quarterback, no less -- in football is supposed to be limited by the nature of the game, where countless interactions between dozens of players come together to shape the outcome of each contest. Beckham still is just one man. He's also one of the best receivers in the game. This offense already looked like a potential world-beating unit coming off last season. Mayfield set a record for passing touchdowns by a rookie, and the team posted the best yards-per-offensive-play figure in the NFL (6.6) in the eight games for which current coach Freddie Kitchens was offensive coordinator. Then general manager John Dorsey pulled off a trade that, honestly, still seems more like a Twitter-bound fever-dream fantasy than something you'd see in real life. With Beckham in the mix, suddenly it becomes downright reasonable to imagine the Browns playing in the Super Bowl.

If the hype is a bit much for you, consider this stat as a way to put the move in context: In his five pro seasons, Beckham has topped 1,000 receiving yards four times, or just six times fewer than all Brownsplayers combined over the past 40 years. Even if the plan goes awry -- as plans are known to do in the NFL! -- it's hard to overstate the magnitude of Cleveland having an honest-to-god talent advantage. Nothing captures this transformation better than the acquisition of a proven star like Beckham.

BIGGEST LOSS: Antonio Brown, wide receiver.
Old Team: Pittsburgh Steelers. New Team: Oakland Raiders.
While losing running back Le'Veon Bell hurts, at least everyone saw that coming after he sat out the 2018 season. Until relatively recently, it seemed like you could count on one of the most accomplished receivers of his generation spending next season where he'd spent the entirety of his career: in Pittsburgh. That situation quickly turned sour, and now Brown is in Oakland and the Steelers are suddenly facing an uphill battle just to stay competitive in the division. It's true that Pittsburgh has managed to transition successfully following the departures of previous top receivers like Mike Wallaceand Hines Ward, but neither player was operating at Brown's level -- and QB Ben Roethlisberger was much farther away from turning 40 at the time. JuJu Smith-Schuster is promising but untested as a No. 1 receiver, and the depth chart behind him -- James Washington, Donte Moncrief, Eli Rogers -- is full of what could charitably be called question marks.

SLEEPER ADDITION: Mark Ingram, running back.
Old Team: New Orleans Saints. New Team: Baltimore Ravens.
With the headlining move of the offseason setting the divisional bar extraordinarily high for notable additions, a number of players could slot in here, including new Browns defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson and new Ravenssafety Earl Thomas. Let's focus on a potential difference maker who might be flying somewhat under the radar in part because he is not named Le'Veon Bell.

Though his numbers dipped in a suspension-shortened 2018, Ingram produced at a steady clip with the Saints, especially recently. Over the past five seasons, only LeSean McCoy, Lamar Miller, Frank Gore and Todd Gurley have more rushing yards than Ingram's 4,545. He's joining a Baltimore offense that, in 2018, posted 1,607 rushing yards from Week 11 to Week 17, the most rushing yards from a team's 10th game to its 16th in any season since the NFL expanded to 16-game slates in 1978. And that was with running backs like Gus Edwards and Alex Collins (since released following an arrest) splitting most of the carries that didn't go to Lamar Jackson. Whatever John Harbaugh and new offensive coordinator Greg Roman are cooking up for Jackson's sophomore campaign, Ingram will likely play a key role. Ultimately, depending on how things shake out, this acquisition could help determine whether or not Baltimore is able to hold off the Browns and defend its AFC North title.

Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens are in an interesting spot. They have a young, promising quarterback who saved their 2018 season with his legs and provides the offense with plenty of upside going forward. Baltimore's offensive bread is obviously buttered on the ground, but it wouldn't hurt to upgrade the cast of pass catchers around Lamar Jackson, with Willie Snead currently topping the receiver depth chart following the departures of John Brown and Michael Crabtree. Meanwhile, the Ravens' defense -- a backbone of Baltimore's success basically since the team arrived in the city, and especially last season, when the Ravens ranked first in yards allowed and second in scoring defense -- will be forging ahead without C.J. Mosley, Terrell Suggs, Za'Darius Smith and Eric Weddle. Earl Thomas should pick up the slack for Weddle, but it would be prudent to add to the front seven, where fourth-year pro Matt Judonstands as the holdover with the highest sack total (7.0) from 2018.

Cincinnati Bengals: Every year, it seems, there remains the tantalizing possibility that Cincinnati will draft a quarterback to compete with and eventually replace Andy Dalton, but based on the presence of a strong enough core (A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd, Joe Mixon), it probably makes more sense for Zac Taylor to make the most of this group's remaining competitive window. After all, when Green first missed time with a toe injury (in Week 10), the Bengals were 5-3 and in second place in the division. It is completely plausible that Taylor could breathe new life into this attack. More pressing than adding to the offense would be boosting a defense that ranked 32nd overall, 30th in scoring, 32nd against the pass and 29th against the run. The unit's better grade by Pro Football Focus (22nd in the NFL) indicates there are some pieces to work with, however, including safety Jessie Bates, who stood out with an impressive rookie campaign (111 tackles, three picks). Linebacker would be a good spot to target, especially after Vontaze Burfict's release; PFF did not grade any Bengals linebacker higher than 19th on the team (Nick Vigil) last season.

Cleveland Browns: If everything holds, the Browns will not make their first pick of the 2019 NFL Draftuntil midway through Round 2 -- No. 49 overall. It'll be the lowest first pick by Cleveland in a draft since 2008, when they traded away their first three picks as part of a series of deals (that helped net them Brady Quinn in '07) and didn't draft until Round 4. Aside from '08, this franchise has picked, on average, seventh overall in the draft going back to 1999 and has owned the No. 1 overall pick four times in that span. Cleveland ranked 30th overall on defense last season, 25th against the pass and 28th against the run. Adding Olivier Vernon, Sheldon Richardson, Eric Murray and Morgan Burnett should help with that, but the secondary could use more reinforcements, with Jabrill Peppers (who earned PFF's fourth-highest defensive grade on the team) having been shipped out as part of the Beckham deal. This team appears well-stocked at multiple positions (we haven't even talked about the Kareem Hunt signing). Still, football being as capricious as it is, it would be good to bolster the roster across the board -- no team ever failed because it was too deep.

Pittsburgh Steelers: The exits of Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown mightmake the locker room calmer (eventually, anyway). They also bring Ben Roethlisberger's football mortality into sharper focus than ever before. As is true of every other quarterback in the 35-and-up age bracket, Big Ben (37) will eventually run out of time to add another ring to his finger. That said, in 2018, he did break the 5,000-yard threshold for the first time in his 15 pro seasons, leading the NFL in passing yards for the second time in his career. He clearly still has it. Will he be able to adapt to a reality in which only one pass catcher on the roster (JuJu Smith-Schuster) has ever recorded more than 64 catches in a season? It would make sense to add to that group, which also took a hit when tight end Jesse James signed with Detroit. Most of the key players from last season's 10th-ranked defense are returning, but even with the additions of LB Mark Barron and CB Steven Nelson, Pittsburgh should pay attention to linebacker and the secondary.


Still Chargin
Staff member
AFC East roster reset: Patriots gonna Patriot; Jets pick at No. 3?

Our Roster Reset series takes a division-by-division look at where things stand across the league heading into the 2019 NFL Draft. Gennaro Filice examines the current makeup of the AFC East below.

Over the past 10 NFL seasons, every single team in the NFC East and NFC West has finished in first place at least once. In the AFC North, AFC South, AFC West, NFC North and NFC South, three of four clubs have won division titles. The one outlier division? Yep, the AFC East, where one organization has administered a ceaseless reign of terror.

It has been 3,390 days since the New England Patriots didn't sit in the AFC East throne. Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and Co. have run roughshod over the division in this span, piling up a 47-13 record against the teams that are supposed to know them best. So, yeah, when asked to assess the current makeup of this NFL quartet, there's really only one thing to type ...

All Pats and no Bills/Dolphins/Jets makes the AFC East a dull division. All Pats and no Bills/Dolphins/Jets makes the AFC East a dull division. All Pats and no Bills/Dolphins/Jets makes the AFC East a dull division. All Pats and no Bills/Dolphins/Jets makes the AFC East a dull division. All Pats and no Bills/Dolphins/Jets makes the AFC East a dull division. All Pats and no Bills/Dolphins/Jets makes the AFC East a dull division. All Pats and no Bills/Dolphins/Jets makes the AFC East a dull division. All Pats and no Bills/Dolphins/Jets makes the AFC East a dull division. All Pats and no Bills/Dolphins/Jetsmakes the AFC East a dull division. All Pats and no Bills/Dolphins/Jets makes the AFC East a dull division. All Pats and no Bills/Dolphins/Jets makes the AFC East a dull division. All Pats and no Bills/Dolphins/Jets makes the AFC East a dull division. All Pats and no Bills/Dolphins/Jets makes the AFC East a dull division. All Pats and no Bills/Dolphins/Jets makes the AFC East a dull division. All Pats and no Bills/Dolphins/Jets makes the AFC East a dull division. All Pats and no Bills/Dolphins/Jets makes the AFC East a dull division. All Pats and no Bills/Dolphins/Jets makes the AFC East a dull division.

Heeeerrrreee's Tommy!!

OK, I've subjected the fine readers of Buffalo, Miami and Long Island to enough horror. And it's springtime. Spring forward! Hope springs eternal! Rumspringa!!

Actually, on the cultural-mixing front, the AFC East has experienced an interesting game of musical chairs this offseason. Brian Flores left New England to take over as head coach in Miami for Adam Gase, who's now the man in charge of the Jets. In free agency, Dwayne Allen and Eric Rowe relocated from New England to Miami, while Frank Gore left the Dolphins for the Bills. And of course, Ryan Fitzpatrickreturned to the division by signing with the Dolphins, his third AFC East team. (Clearly, the Pats are just waiting for Tom Brady to hang 'em up before completing Fitzmagic's divisional tetrad.)

Could the divisional standings see a shakeup in 2019? Well, the Patriots did lose their best pass rusher, starting nose tackle, starting left tackle and quite possibly the greatest tight end in NFL history. Is New England suddenly vulnerable? Um, the Pats lost an impactful quartet last offseason -- LT Nate Solder, RB Dion Lewis, WR Danny Amendola and CB Malcolm Butler -- and responded by winning the Super Bowl. So pump the brakes on any thoughts about a changing of the guard.

That said, the Jets might've been the splashiest team in free agency, with blockbuster additions of RB Le'Veon Bell and LB C.J. Mosley, as well as the savvy pickup of WR Jamison Crowder. And the Billssignificantly upgraded the roster with a number of signings in need areas like wide receiver (John Brownand Cole Beasley) and O-line (Mitch Morse, Ty Nsekhe and Quinton Spain). While Miami's clearly rebuilding, at least everyone appears to be in lockstep, starting at the top. "I'm looking at it now to do it the way I've built every business, and build it from the ground up," Dolphins owner Stephen Ross said at the Annual League Meeting. "I'm prepared to stay with it. I am committed." So let the (re)building begin!


BIGGEST ADDITION: Le'Veon Bell, running back.
Old team: Pittsburgh Steelers. New team: New York Jets.

In an era defined by prolific, high-flying offenses, the Jets were figuratively grounded in 2018. Only five NFL offenses failed to average at least 300 yards per game, with Gang Green ranking 29th at 299.2. One solution: Go out and get the guy who averages the most scrimmage yards per game ever. Le'Veon Bell's 129.0 figure puts him ahead of Jim Brown (125.5), Barry Sanders (118.9) and everyone else who has played a minimum of 50 games. Just how productive is Bell, compared to his modern contemporaries? Since 2014, Bell has produced 37 games of 100-plus scrimmage yards -- tied for the most with Julio Jones. One accompanying note that's kinda significant: Bell has missed 31 games during this span, including the entire 2018 season. So, yeah, when the guy plays, he generally piles up massive chunks of yardage. How will he fit in Adam Gase's scheme? That's the 52.5 Million Dollar Question. Bell has one of the most unique running styles in the NFL, exercising a degree of patience that'd be ridiculous if it weren't so effective. In 2017, the last time Bell hit the NFL gridiron, he averaged an interminable 3.09 seconds behind the line of scrimmage per rush (most in the NFL among those with a minimum 100 rushes, per Next Gen Stats). Bell's success on Broadway will depend on his new team adjusting to him more than him adjusting to his new team.

BIGGEST LOSS: Trey Flowers, defensive end.
Old team: New England Patriots. New team: Detroit Lions.

Some folks raised an eyebrow when Flowers -- a defensive end who's never logged even eight sacks in a season, much less reached double digits -- received a five-year, $90 million megadeal (with $56 million in guarantees) from the Lions. Just how valuable could the former fourth-rounder and zero-time Pro Bowler be? Well, Bill Belichick certainly appreciated his work in Foxborough. On a conference call with reporters back in November, the Patriots' head man was asked about his young DE's development. As is usually the case when Belichick discusses Flowers, effusive praise ensued:

"Trey works extremely hard, as we know. He's one of the hardest-working guys on the team -- running game, passing game, his physical development and maintenance, in terms of getting treatment and taking care of himself," said Belichick, who can be quite contemplative in these off-camera, low-wattage media arrangements. "He does a good job of -- again, week to week, physically taking care of himself, being able to hold up -- the techniques of playing inside, playing outside, playing on the open side, playing on the tight end side. He's a very versatile and valuable player for us."

And those comments came before Flowers went on a tear in the back half of last season, racking up seven sacks and 19 QB hits over the Pats' final nine games (playoffs included). So, how will Belichick and Co. replace the multi-talented Flowers? The trade for Michael Bennett helps, but the veteran defensive end turns 34 midway through the coming campaign. Flowers, who's just entering his prime at age 25, will be missed.

SLEEPER ADDITION: Ty Nsekhe, offensive tackle.
Old team: Washington Redskins. New team: Buffalo Bills.

Buffalo's offensive line finished 26th on Pro Football Focus' rankings, but you didn't need an advanced grading system to tell you the Bills' front didn't cut it in 2018 -- a pair of eyes would suffice. Buffalo's decision-makers certainly saw it, which is why they've already brought in a half-dozen OLs. Mitch Morse, who became the highest-paid center in the game with a four-year, $44.5 million deal, is the headliner, but Nsekhe's intriguing for a number of reasons. First of all, the road to Nsekhe's first substantial payday (two years, $14.5 million) was undoubtedly the one less traveled by. The 33-year-old's Wikipedia career history is a sight to behold. Undrafted out of Texas State in 2009, Nsekhe spent time with the Corpus Christi Sharks (of the Arena Football League's developmental league), Dallas Vigilantes (AFL), Philadelphia Soul (AFL), San Antonio Talons (AFL), Indianapolis Colts, St. Louis Rams, New Orleans Saints, Montreal Alouettes (CFL), Washington Redskins, Los Angeles Kiss (AFL) and Redskins again, before hitting free agency this offseason. Tell me that's not a guy worth rooting for. The other interesting aspect with Nsekhe is that, while he's logged 56 NFL games, he's only started 16, spending most of his time as a swing tackle. In Buffalo, he'll get his first opportunity to start, likely at right tackle. While he's graded out pretty well according to PFF, particularly as a run blocker, Nsekhe will have to prove himself in protecting Josh Allen's front side. With Nsekhe signing on the first day of the free agency frenzy, the addition was completely lost in the shuffle. But he could wind up being a crucial piece in Buffalo's O-line overhaul.

Buffalo Bills: One of the more active teams in free agency, Buffalo certainly got Josh Allen some help on offense. With 10 selections in this month's draft, the Bills could continue to fortify the franchise QB's supporting cast -- finding a tight end or a long-term solution at tackle wouldn't hurt -- but it's easy to see Sean McDermott adding more juice to his defense, particularly when it comes to the Bills' three top-75 picks. No. 9 overall might be too rich for any of the corners in this draft class, but there will be plenty of intriguing front-seven defenders available at that juncture. Buffalo quietly ranked second in total defense last year, but just 26th in sacks. This unit needs more firepower up front, especially given the retirement of cornerstone DT Kyle Williams.

Miami Dolphins: The Dolphins clearly signed Ryan Fitzpatrick as a bridge quarterback. But to where -- or whom -- does the bridge lead? With Miami holding the No. 13 overall pick, Kyler Murray, Dwayne Haskins and Drew Lockcould all be gone by the time the Fins come on the clock. Could they trade up? Sure, but the organization lacks extra 2019 draft currency (seven total selections) and has an abundance of need areas beyond QB (see: O-line, D-line, WR). Of course, the franchise could just put off the QB hunt until next offseason. With GM Chris Grier choosing to part ways with veterans like Ryan Tannehill, Cameron Wake, Robert Quinn, Ja'Wuan James, Danny Amendola and Andre Branch, Miami's stripped-down roster very well might produce a higher draft slot in 2020.

New England Patriots: As mentioned above, the defending Super Bowl champions have experienced substantial attrition for the second straight offseason. And they've yet to really dive into the free agency pool. But roster replenishments are coming -- in a big way -- at the end of this month. Not only do the Pats possess a whopping 12 draft picks (tied with the Giants for the most this year), but six of those selections are slotted within the first three rounds. This gives New England the opportunity to plug a bunch of holes and/or package picks to move up the board. In the wake of Rob Gronkowski's retirement and Dwayne Allen's relocation to Miami, tight end is suddenly a major position of need. The Patriotsmight have to move up from No. 31 in order to snag one of the Iowa TEs (Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson), but Alabama's Irv Smith Jr. could be a fit. One way or another, New England must come away with some pass-catching juice, considering the receiving corps is seriously lacking beyond Julian Edelman. Oh, and the quadragenarian quarterback will probably play until all fingers and toes sport rings, but just in case, it might not be a bad idea to invest some draft capital in the position again.

New York Jets: What will the Jets do at No. 3 overall? With Kyler Murray and Nick Bosa looking more like the top two picks with each passing day, New York's initial selection feels like the first real fulcrum point of this draft. Is Josh Allen the edge rusher Gang Green's been missing since they traded John Abraham back in 2006? Is Quinnen Williams just too dominant a force to pass on, even if the Jets don't have a crying need at DT? Or is trading down -- a possibility Mike Maccagnan openly discussed in February -- and gaining a gaggle of picks the best course of action? Inquiring minds want to know who'll be the subject of Jets fans' booing!


Still Chargin
Staff member
AFC South roster reset: Texans, Colts, Jaguars, Titans all viable

Our Roster Reset series takes a division-by-division look at where things stand across the league heading into the 2019 NFL Draft. Marc Sessler examines the current makeup of the AFC South below.

It wasn't so long ago when the AFC South doubled as pro football's netherworld.
We wondered if a banged-up, tucked-away Andrew Luck would ever play again for the Colts, while the up-and-down Jaguars willingly attached themselves to the hyper-underwhelming Blake Bortles. In Houston, it was fair to wonder if coach Bill O'Brien would ever survive with the likes of Brock Osweiler, Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett at the controls, while the Titans floated from autumn to autumn as a punchless mirage.

Fast-forward to now, when all four clubs can be viewed as legitimate playoff contenders. Luck is coming off a glorious comeback campaign that saw Indy finally protect its star passer behind a stellar front five pieced together by heady general manager Chris Ballard. The Texans are the reigning division champions and still house a flock of stars around versatile, do-everything signal-caller Deshaun Watson.

The Jaguars replaced Bortles with Super Bowl hero Nick Foles, theoretically patching over the team's biggest weakness to pair with a still-frisky defense. The Titans, meanwhile, embark on a make-or-break season for quarterback Marcus Mariota, but wisely added veteran Ryan Tannehill as insurance while bolstering both sides of the ball with logical free-agent fits that give Tennessee one of the South's deeper rosters.

There's no weak link inside a division that feels destined to boil down to a Week 17 showdown for the title belt. In 2019, the South -- once a dangerous snoozefest -- is primed to give fans a thrill from A to Z:

BIGGEST ADDITION: Nick Foles, quarterback.
Old team: Philadelphia Eagles. New team: Jacksonville Jaguars.

At last, the Jaguars are finished with the Bortles Experiment. Coming off a disappointing season stuffed with off-the-field in-fighting and on-the-field implosions, Jacksonville went out and did what everyone expected them to do: lasso Philly-area demigod Nick Foles to breathe new life into the quarterback position. A dash of skepticism makes sense, as Foles -- furnished with a franchise-record $50.125 million in guarantees -- lasted only nine games as a starter for the Rams in 2015 before being benched and has never started more than 11 games in a single campaign. Durability and spotty play were past issues, but the Jaguarsare banking on Foles operating closer to the magic-man levels he produced in back-to-back postseasons for the Eagles. The question is how Jacksonville's run-heavy personnel adapts to an RPO-laced, pass-happy offense under new play-caller John DeFilippo -- after all, that's the scheme Foles thrives in -- but the Jaguars had no choice but to reboot the roster where it mattered most.

BIGGEST LOSS: Malik Jackson, defensive tackle.
Old team: Jacksonville Jaguars. New team: Philadelphia Eagles.

Not much to pick from for this category. The Titans released starting guard Josh Kline, while Colts fill-in road-grader Matt Slauson retired. The Texans waved farewell to a cadre of defensive backs in Tyrann Mathieu, Kareem Jackson and Kevin Johnson, while the Jaguars trimmed the books to make room for Foles. Jacksonville did so by cutting Jackson, who would have cost the squad $13 million in his age-29 season. Jackson gives the Eagles a solid run-stuffer who can rattle the pocket, but the Jaguars still boast Calais Campbell, Yannick Ngakoue and Marcell Dareus along the line of scrimmage.

SLEEPER ADDITION: Adam Humphries, wide receiver.
Old team: Tampa Bay Buccaneers. New team: Tennessee Titans.

He didn't come cheap at $9 million per year, but Humphries gives the Titans an emerging target who served as a reliable presence in Tampa Bay. Fresh off a career-best season of 76 grabs for 816 yards and five scores for the Bucs, Humphries slides into a starting slot role betwixt Corey Davis and Taywan Taylor in Tennessee. Look for an under-the-microscope Mariota -- coming off a disappointing 13-start season that saw him post just 11 touchdown throws -- to lean on Humphries from start to finish.

Houston Texans: The Texans patched over their secondary departures by adding safety Tashaun Gipson alongside corners Bradley Roby and Briean Boddy-Calhoun. What the Texans failed to do was revitalize an offensive line that added only hot-and-cold tackle Matt Kalilafter allowing Deshaun Watson to absorb more sacks than any passer league-wide in 2018. NFL Network draft analyst Charles Davis recently mockedOklahoma offensive lineman Cody Fordto the Texans at No. 23, while colleague Lance Zierlein sees Houston grabbing Mississippi tackle Greg Little. Both prophecies make plenty of sense.

Indianapolis Colts: Colts Faithful: Sit back and trust the maneuverings of Chris Ballard, the patient general manager who warned us all along he would ignore fan-fueled temptation to chase after Antonio Brown or Le'Veon Bell. The Colts made one big move with the addition of still-productive pass rusher Justin Houston, but otherwise prioritized signing their own -- cornerback Pierre Desir and defensive lineman Margus Hunt -- before setting their sights on the draft. Armed with three of the top 59 picks and nine selections overall, Ballard will continue to develop one of the AFC's top rosters with young, homegrown talent.

Jacksonville Jaguars: With their new quarterback under lock and key, the Jaguars now turn to the draft with needs on both sides of the ball. It's telling that five of NFL.com's mock drafters see Jacksonville snatching up Florida bookend Jawaan Taylor with the seventh overall selection. Continuing to find talent along the defensive line makes sense, as does finding a playmaking tight end for Foles. Geoff Swaimand James O'Shaughnessy are a far cry from Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert, the Philly duo that helped make Foles a must-watch sensation during his last run with the Eagles.

Tennessee Titans: The Titans quietly pieced together a solid free-agency haul, led by Humphries and the addition of reliable guard Rodger Saffold. Tannehill gives Tennessee security -- and possibly an upgrade -- if Mariota again refuses to stay healthy, while the ageless Cameron Wake adds a dose of pass-rushing help after Brian Orakpo's retirement. General manager Jon Robinson has built a rugged roster, but more edge-rushing help and depth on the interior of both lines figure as draft needs. Don't be surprised if the Titans also eye tight end help with Delanie Walker entering his age-35 campaign.


Still Chargin
Staff member
AFC West roster reset: Trades put Raiders, Broncos back in mix

Our Roster Reset series takes a division-by-division look at where things stand across the league heading into the 2019 NFL Draft. Herbie Teope examines the current makeup of the AFC West below.

To say the Kansas City Chiefs have owned the AFC West in recent seasons wouldn't be a stretch.

Since head coach Andy Reid arrived in 2013, the Chiefs have made the playoffs five of the past six seasons -- and they've also won the last three division titles. Reid's mastery in the AFC West is evidenced by a 26-10 divisional record since he took over, including seven consecutive wins over the Denver Broncos. In his accomplished head-coaching career with the Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles, Reid is a combined 33-14 against the AFC West.

And until proven otherwise, the Reid-led Chiefs are the team to beat.

Still, if there's an immediate threat to the Chiefs' crown, the Los Angeles Chargerscertainly qualify. Potentially lost in the Patrick Mahomes hysteria of the past season is the fact that the Bolts were with the Chiefs virtually every step of the way in the race for the division crown. The two teams split the annual series last year, which had been dominated by the Chiefs previously, with K.C. posting an 8-0 record against the Chargers from 2014 to '17. Philip Rivers continues to play at a high level, and it's easy to forget Rivers didn't have tight end Hunter Henry (knee) during the regular season in 2018.

Meanwhile, the Broncos are in transition, with a first-year head coach in defensive-minded Vic Fangio and a new quarterback in Joe Flacco. Fangio, most recently the defensive coordinator in Chicago, is a linebacker guru and has plenty to work with in Von Miller and Bradley Chubb. Fangio is tasked with helping to turn around a Denver organization that has notched two consecutive losing seasons and hasn't been to the playoffs since the Super Bowl-winning 2015 campaign.

In Oakland, the Raiders should be set with Derek Carr as the franchise quarterback. Well, as long as head coach Jon Gruden doesn't change his mind as often as the weather. Gruden's churning of the roster since taking over in 2018 continued during the offseason with the free-agent signings of numerous players, including linebackers Vontaze Burfict and Brandon Marshall, among others. But Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock landed arguably one of the league's biggest game-changing players, who will be covered below.

BIGGEST ADDITION: Antonio Brown, wide receiver.
Old team: Pittsburgh Steelers. New team: Oakland Raiders.

Safety Tyrann Mathieu signing with the Chiefs deserves consideration, but the NFL sure loves offense. The Raiders landed one of the league's premier wide receivers in Brown, whose relationship with the Steelers experienced a well-documented deterioration toward the end of the 2018 regular season. Upon the trade, Brown took to social media to express a deep admiration for Carr, who will be tasked with getting the ball to his new wide receiver. Brown is no doubt elite, but the four-time All-Pro selection also had the benefit of playing with talented players around him in Pittsburgh, notably quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, running back Le'Veon Bell and wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster in recent seasons. Brown won't have that luxury from the start in Oakland, with the Raiders in rebuild mode, and he's easily the main guy in the offense. Of course, Gruden has been saying all the right things about Carr -- for now -- but the head coach also had glowing remarks last year for Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper, both of whom were eventually traded away for draft picks. The Raiders have plenty of ammunition to secure wide receivers in the draft to give Brown support in the receiving game, but all bets will be off for Brown if Gruden moves on from Carr sooner rather than later.

BIGGEST LOSSES: Dee Ford and Justin Houston, outside linebackers.
Old team: Kansas City Chiefs. New team: San Francisco 49ers and Indianapolis Colts.
The Chiefs ranked 31st in total defense, 31st against the pass, 27th against the run and 24th in points allowed per game in 2018 -- and then they elected to part ways with 22 combined sacks between Ford and Houston in the past season. That's a significant move when considering Kansas City tied with the Pittsburgh Steelers for first in the league in sacks (52). After slapping the franchise tag on Ford, the Chiefs traded him to San Francisco. K.C. then released Houston, who totaled 78.5 sacks in his eight-year tenure with the franchise before signing a free-agent deal with the Colts. The Chiefs are expected to transition from a 3-4 base defense to a 4-3 base under new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, so cutting ties with Ford and Houston makes sense if they were viewed as bad fits for the scheme. While the Chiefs signed Alex Okafor during free agency and recently traded for Emmanuel Ogbah to bolster the pass rush, replacing a tandem like Ford and Houston won't be easy. As part of the defensive makeover, Kansas City also parted ways with longtime safety Eric Berry, a three-time All-Pro selection.

SLEEPER ADDITION: Joe Flacco, quarterback.
Old team: Baltimore Ravens. New team: Denver Broncos.
The Broncos have gone through quarterbacks Case Keenum, Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler and Paxton Lynch since Peyton Manning retired following the 2015 season. Flacco, acquired in a trade with the Ravens, now has his turn to get Denver back on the winning track and into the postseason. But unlike the others before him, the 34-year-old Flacco brings plenty of credibility. Before losing out in Baltimore to Lamar Jackson late last season, Flacco helped the Ravens to seven postseason appearances, including an MVP performance in Super Bowl XLVII's 34-31 win over San Francisco. Flacco inherits an offense featuring very capable weapons around him, with running backs Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman, as well as wide receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Courtland Sutton. And in a league full of quick turnarounds, Flacco could very well be the reason the Broncos are heavily in the mix for division supremacy late in the regular season.

Denver Broncos: With eight picks in the upcoming draft, the Broncos should look to add depth to the offensive line, especially along the interior, with the free-agent losses of center Matt Paradis and guards Billy Turner and Max Garcia. The Broncos would be wise to also add secondary depth (given cornerback Chris Harris' current contract situation) and bolster depth on the edge behind Miller and Chubb. Inside linebackers could be on the priority list, too, given the departure of Brandon Marshall.

Kansas City Chiefs: The Chiefs have eight total draft picks, including four within the first 100 picks, to inject more talent in the roster. The offensive side is clearly set with a generational quarterback in Mahomes, tight end Travis Kelce and wide receiver Tyreek Hill (though we'll have to see what comes of the ongoing investigation involving Hill). So, Kansas City would be wise to address the clear Achilles' heel of this team in 2018 -- defense. Sure, the Chiefssecured Okafor and Ogbah, but adding another pass rusher wouldn't hurt. The Chiefs should also consider selecting a cornerback or two after the departure of Steven Nelson, who signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers. And center is suddenly an area of concern, with the loss of Mitch Morse to the Buffalo Bills. Also brewing on the horizon: taking care of defensive lineman Chris Jones with a long-term deal.

Los Angeles Chargers: The Chargers have seven draft picks to add to the roster. Addressing depth on the offensive line, securing an impact defensive lineman to replace Corey Liuget and boosting the secondary should be on the radar. Los Angeles should also consider looking at the quarterback position, either in this year's draft or in the near future. Yes, Rivers remains one of the NFL's top signal-callers, but he's 37 and won't play forever.

Oakland Raiders: Of the four teams in the AFC West, the Raiders have the most fascinating draft with three first-round picks and could go a variety of directions. Nevertheless, at the top of the shopping list should be an impact pass rusher, as the team failed to replace Khalil Mack after trading the 2016 Defensive Player of the Year before the start of the regular season. Oakland could also use some help at tight end, given the departure of Jared Cook, who signed with the New Orleans Saints in free agency. And it wouldn't hurt to strengthen the backfield.