Seattle Seahawks (Projected Record: 9-7)
Key Additions: Germain Ifedi (1st-Round Pick, 31st Overall), Jarran Reed (2nd-Round Pick, 49th Overall), C.J. Prosise (3rd-Round Pick, 90th Overall), J’Marcus Webb (Raiders)
Key Losses: Russell Okung (Broncos), Bruce Irvin (Raiders), Brandon Mebane (Chargers) RB Marshawn Lynch (Retirement), Jahri Evans (Released – Saints)
Two out of the past three years the Seattle Seahawks played in the Super Bowl. This year, I believe that this team takes its first step back. Sure, you can say that Thomas Rawls can replace Marshawn Lynch. He actually filled in well last year (883 rushing yards and 4 tds). Yet, I don’t think Rawls even starts in 2016. C.J. Prosise is a running back drafted out of Notre Dame in the third round. He is a former receiver and a dynamic threat that many teams are going to wish they didn’t pass up. He could be the X-factor for this offense in my opinion. Seattle has Russell Wilson, who can keep drives going with his feet, as well as his arm, but the offensive line is very unproven. They lost stout blindside protector Russell Okung to the Broncos (5 years, $53M). Okung’s spot is currently a camp battle between Gary Gilliam and Bradley Sowell. Former Raider J’Marcus Webb (signed on two-year, $5.75M deal), will be taking over at right tackle, even though he played guard last year in Oakland. They drafted Germaine Ifedi in the first round with the intention of starting him at right guard.
Jimmy Graham comes back for his second season in Seattle, but after suffering a torn patella tendon, it’s going to be interesting to see if he can return as the dominant force he was with Drew Brees and the Saints. The team drafted tight end Nick Vannett (Ohio State University) to learn from the veteran . Always a camp question, but never a regular season problem, Seattle’s wide receivers have not changed. Doug Baldwin, fresh off a 14 touchdown season, leads the corps. Following Baldwin is Jermaine Kearse and burner Tyler Lockett (51 catches, 664 yards, 6 TDs). Don’t sleep on Paul Richardson either. The 2014 second-round draft pick dealt with a hamstring injury all of last year, but he’s next man up.
We all know about Seattle’s defense. They bring back maybe the best safety tandem in the league in Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor. The losses of nose tackle Brandon Mebane and outside linebacker Bruce Irvin are going to be tough holes to fill. Jarran Reed, a second-round pick out of Alabama, seems to be the right guy to plug up the interior line. The team also returns Pro-Bowl cornerback Richard Sherman, and welcomes back the most penalized player of 2015 in Brandon Browner. The defense in Seattle has been elite for the last half decade. The question this year is: Can this year’s offense, particularly the line, hold up their end of the bargain?
Arizona Cardinals (Projected Record: 12-4)
Key Additions: Robert Nkemdiche (1st-Round Pick, 29th Overall), Chandler Jones (Trade with Patriots), Tyvon Branch (Chiefs), Evan Mathis (Broncos),
Key Losses: Jonathan Cooper (Trade with Patriots), Rashad Johnson (Titans), Bradley Sowell (Seahawks), Ted Larson (Bears), Bobby Massie (Bears), Jerraud Powers (Ravens)
Many have this team going to the Super Bowl this season, and I’ve been on that hype train since last season! They don’t have many holes. Their offense is explosive. Their defense is stout. Let’s start at quarterback. Carson Palmer very well could have been last year’s MVP (4,671 yards and 35 touchdowns). They found what looks to be an emerging star in David Johnson, a 2015 third-round pick out of Northern Iowa. The first time Johnson touched the ball last year, you knew he was special, catching a short pass from Palmer and taking it 55 yards to the house against the New Orleans Saints. After Chris Johnson went down, David Johnson took the reigns and never let go, becoming only the fourth player in NFL history to accumulate 500 rushing yards, 400 receiving yards, 500 return yards, and an impressive 13 touchdowns. The man has a nose for the endzone. I personally watched him run through the entire Philadelphia Eagles defense on one play, which can be found here, courtesy of NFL.com.
David Johnson isn’t the only weapon the Cardinals feature. No, there’s more. Larry Fitgerald, once thought to be finished, grabbed 109 passes for 1215 yards and 9 TDs. Behind Fitzgerald you will find 2014 third-round draft pick John Brown (65 catches, 1,003 yards, 7 TDs) and Michael Floyd (52 catches, 849 yards, 6 TDs). This offense is one of the most potent threats you will find in the NFL. Looking at offensive line, the team traded oft-injured former second-round pick Jonathan Cooper, and added former Pro-Bowl and Super Bowl Champion Evan Mathis. Jared Veldheer is going to be asked to step his game up even higher than he did last season. A.Q. Shipley will be handing the ball off to Palmer, with Mike Lupati on his left. Rounding out the line is 2015 first-round pick D.J. Humphries. The biggest question for this offense: Can the third-oldest offensive line stay healthy enough to protect Palmer in 2016?
On to the defense. Newly acquired outside linebacker Chandler Jones (acquired from New England) looks like a freak of nature in training camp. Rodney Gunter looks to be plugging the gap in the center of the defense. Giant defensive end Calais Campbell looks to bounce back after an off-year in which he recorded only 5 sacks. On the other side of the defensive line, first-round draft pick Robert Nkemdiche (Univeristy of Mississippi) looks to be the starter. Aside from Chandler Jones, the linebacking corps in Arizona features a 6-foot, 210 pound inside linebacker in converted safety Deone Bucannon. Bucannon is a matchup nightmare for tight ends and running backs because he hits like a linebacker, while running like a defensive back. Kevin Minter lines up next to him, with last year’s rookie standout Markus Golden handling the outside duties. I don’t even need to speak about Patrick Peterson – arguably the best cornerback in the league – or newly re-extended defensive back Tyrann Matheiu, because everybody knows the Honey Badger. This may be the deepest secondary in the entire league. After those two, you will see one of the most underrated safeties in the game in Tony Richardson, and former Chiefs safety Tyvon Branch. Rounding out the starting secondary is cornerback Justin Bethel. I don’t really see question marks on this team outside of health. They are lethal, and a legitimate, Super Bowl contender.
Los Angelos Rams (Projected Record: 6-10)
Key Additions: Jared Goff (1st-Round Pick, 1st Overall), Pharoh Cooper (4th-Round Pick, 117th Overall), Dominque Easley (Patriots)
Key Losses: Jared Cook (Packers), James Laurinaitis (Saints), Janoris Jenkins (Giants), Nick Fairly (Saints), Rodney McLeod (Eagles)
The football team formerly known as St. Louis Rams moves to Los Angeles for the first time since 1994. This, to me, is going to be another Sam Bradford-like scenario if Rams ownership doesn’t figure it out. Case Keenum is the starting quarterback this year behind an awful offensive line, and throwing to very below average receivers. I’m sorry, Rams fans, but here come the facts. Todd Gurley started off on fire last year, four of his first five games he ran for over 125 yards – an NFL record. Then teams started to gameplan against him, and you’ll see that only 1 of his next 11 games he surpassed 100 yards rushing. Here’s another fact on Gurley – of his 1,106 yards, 508 came on his runs of 16 carries of 15+ yards. That’s 45.9% of his rushing yards on big plays (courtesy of PFF), by far the highest rate in the NFL. Gurley can be an elite back, but he needs help up front, and I’ll get to that soon. Behind Gurley, you have a legitimate receiving threat in Benny Cunningham. The wide receivers on this team may compete for the worst in the league as of right now. Tavon Austin is a threat, but not at wide receiver. He’s a gadget player, proven by his less than 500 yards receiving in 2015. Aside from a 225-yard receiving day vs. Kevin Kolb and the Eagles in 2011, Kenny Britt is as mediocre as they come. This team is going to rely on rookie slot receiver from South Carolina Pharoh Cooper to make big plays. A huge steal for the Rams (if he can stay out of handcuffs) is Duke Williams. Just put on the Auburn highlight tape on YouTube and you’ll see what I mean. The kid can flat out play. If he makes this team, and stays out of trouble, he’ll be their number one receiver by mid-season. The Rams let go of long-time disappointment, Jared Cook, whom will probably leave the bland offense and thrive with Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay, because who doesn’t? They still have ho-hum tight end Lance Kendricks. But, what fans should really be excited for is Western Kentucky tight end Tyler Higbee. Higbee is a former wide receiver who made the transition to tight end, and should see a good number of balls thrown his way. Protecting Keenum, and blocking for Gurley is one of the worst lines in the NFL right now. Former second-round pick Greg Robinson hasn’t amounted to much in his career. Guard Roger Saffold, who looked to be a positive note when coming over last year, had a rough year which ended with season-ending injury. In fact, the only good offensive lineman last year would be Rob Havenstein. Havenstein, not known to most, was the only NFL tackle to have 200 pass blocks and not allow a sack.
The Rams defense has arguably the best lineman in the game in Aaron Donald, posting an impressive 11 sacks from the defensive tackle position. Next to Donald is another unknown star in William Hayes, who notched 5.5 sacks but is also known as a tough run defender. Pro-Bowler Robert Quinn saw his season cut short last year. With the two studs on this line with him, if Quinn is healthy, look for a huge bounce-back year. At the other tackle position, the Rams signed major pass rusher Dominique Easley from the Patriots. The Rams were without outside linebacker Alec Ogltree for most of the season last year, so they moved safety Mark Baron to the linebacking position ala their rivals in the West. Akeem Ayers is an average NFL linebacker playing on the outside. A strong squad last year, the Rams secondary is weak in 2016. They lost Pro-Bowler Janoris Jenkins to the Giants. They lost hard-hitting safety Rodney McLeod to the Eagles. They did manage to re-sign Trumaine Johnson to a one-year, $13.9M deal. Next to him will be E.J. Gaines, hoping for a year similar to his impressive rookie season in 2014.
Jared Goff needs direction, a steady coach, and the way this team is heading, it’s not Jeff Fisher. Don’t spoil another QB, Rams management.
San Francisco 49ers (Projected Record: 2-14)
Key Additions: DeForest Buckner (1st-Round Pick, 7th Overall), Joshua Garnett (1st-Round Pick, 28th Overall), Zane Beadles (Jacksonville),
Key Losses: Anquan Boldin (Lions), Vernon Davis (Redskins), Alex Boone (Vikings)
Just a few years ago, San Francisco boasted a tough defense and an explosive offense. Now? This team is a legitimate threat not to win a single game. Welcome to San Francisco, Chip Kelly. Here, choose between Blaine Gabbert and Colin Kaepernick to run your offense.They can throw to receivers like Torrey Smith, Quinton Patton, and Aaron Burbridge. No? Okay, throw to tight ends Vance McDonald, and Garrett Celek. No, Chip, that’s not Brent, it’s his younger brother.
It’s not all dark though. When healthy, Carlos Hyde is a serious running back, who forces missed tackles to a career average of 2.8 yards after contact. The line in San Fran features perennial Pro-Bowler Joe Thomas, and rookie guard from Stanford Joshua Garnett. They also signed guard Zane Beadles from Jacksonville.
On the defensive side of the ball, DeForest Buckner looks to start from day one, being the 7th Overall selection in this year’s draft. Next to him is Ian Williams, a legitimate run-stuffer. The other end is manned by second-year player Arik Armstead. Former Penn State standout NaVorro Bowman commands this defense, and if he can get back to his 2014 pre-injury form, the 49ers front will benefit tremendously. Once promising, Ahmad Brooks seems to have fallen from grace, and Gerald Hodges struggled mightily in 2015. The 49ers, already having Antoine Bethea, Jimmy Ward, Tramaine Brock, and Eric Reid, somehow decided that drafting three more defensive backs would be necessary. Highlighting those DBs is rookie Will Redmond from Mississippi State, whom will serve as a backup to Brock and Ward at the corner position. The 49ers biggest question this year, can they win a single game?