Observations from the Rear View Mirror – Denver Broncos

Broncos

The Season that was….

The Sheriff’s last stand, Peyton Manning gets his second Super Bowl ring. This is how some people will remember the Denver Broncos season.  It should be remembered as a strong defense carrying the Broncos through the playoffs.  Von Miller’s play-off performance must rank up with the best defensive efforts all-time for an individual across a play-off series.  Although Manning ended up on the bench for part of the season, the emergence of young talent was on show week in and week out of the Broncos season.

D ware

The bright spots

Von Miller – Although the play-offs was a show case of his abilities on a national stage, Miller led the team in sacks in the regular season, and wrecked havoc from the edge.  He formed a tandem with Demarcus Ware which gave offensive lines fits in passing situations.

Derek Wolfe – Another talent on the defensive line that may not be known. Not only had a great season, the Broncos smartly locked him up with a contract extension.

Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders – Both wide receivers had 1,000 yard seasons (Thomas – 1304, Sanders -1135) and continued to make plays against opposition secondaries.  Whoever the quarterback is next year in Denver, he will have two legitimate weapons at wide receiver.

Non first round draft pick that was a hit

The most recent draft class is a difficult one to identify a player as most of the selections out of the first round either went on IR or did not really contribute.  This is on potential and a small sample size.

Ty Sambrailo – Only started three games and had rookie struggles (as most rookie offensive lineman do). He will be valuable as the broncos line is influx and will most likely be an area they look to upgrade through the draft or free agency.

Second year player who has taken the next step

Bradley Roby – Fell in the draft last year and the Broncos nabbed themselves a football player.  He was considered by some experts as the best corner in the draft.  He developed into a great nickel cornerback who could limit slot corners to very little production.

Tough decisions to make

The QB – With Manning riding off into the sunset and Osweiler signing a free agent contract with the Texans, who starts at quarterback?  Do they go with Mark Sanchez who has led teams to the playoffs but struggled to live up to his draft hype (maybe Pete Carroll was right and he should have stayed at USC)? Do they throw Paxton Lynch to the wolves (he still needs to develop)?

Peyton manning

Von Miller – Can they get a contract done?  It is great to put a deadline on things but Miller has all the leverage in this situation.  Would they really risk a one year deal where he could walk?  Is Shane Ray already shown them enough to warrant playing chicken in this contract negotiation?

Shane ray

Observations from the Rear View Mirror – Carolina Panthers

Panthers

The Season that was….

Written off at the start of the year, the Panthers just kept winning games.  Sadly they fell short of winning it all but it was refreshing to see a team come together and have fun playing for each other.  Although they missed Kelvin Benjamin on the field, other players took the opportunity to showcase their talents.  Panthers fans will be left wondering what the season may have been had Newton had both of his big receivers to throw to in the Superbowl. 

J stewart

The bright spots

Cam Newton – Newton continues to be an offensive machine (45 combined TDs and 4,473 yards of offense) .  Whether you like him or not, he can rack up both the passing and rushing yards.  It will be interesting to see how Defensive Coordinators adjust to Newton as a player (with an entire offseason to game plan).

Cam newton

Luke Kuechly – Easily one of the best middle linebackers in the NFL (If not the best), Kuechly continued to make big plays week in, week out.

Greg Olsen – Led the team in receptions (77) and receiving yards (1,104), Olsen was easily Cam’s favourite target.  While he did not have the long touchdown receptions like Ted Ginn (well when Ginn caught them), he always managed to find a way to get open.

Greg olsen

Kawann Short – Led the team in sacks with 11.  Short was a disruptive force in the middle of the defensive line for the Panthers, constantly living in the oppositions backfield.

Josh Norman – Although he is now gone, Josh Norman was in the discussion as one of the best cornerbacks in the league (well more so in terms of the 2015 season).

Non first round draft pick that was a hit

Devin Funchess – This is based on potential more than anything.  Considering in his College career at Michigan he converted from a light tight end to a big wide receiver, he is still learning the position.  He proved that he offers Newton another big target and could potentially cause teams difficulty trying to cover him and Benjamin given their height and catch radius.

Second year player who has taken the next step

Kony Ealy – forget the Superbowl coming out party, Ealy managed to work himself into the rotation and make plays for the Panthers.  He will have to continue to develop but should see more of prominent role with the retirement of Jared Allen.

Trai Turner – The third round pick started all 16 games and appears to have settled in as part of the interior offensive line.  With the reliance on the running game, the Panthers appear to have found themselves a handy road grader.

Tough decisions to make

The secondary – Can they keep winning by not addressing it as a need?  GM David Gettleman has already shown a habit of overlooking this position.  The coaches or the scheme seem to get the best out of the players.  It will be interesting to see if Josh Norman produces in a different scheme.

Kawann Short – They drafted Vernon Butler in the first round of the draft.  If Short has another outstanding season, what kind of contract offer will he get?  The Fletcher Cox deal surely will have Gettleman worried about the price of a new contract.

Observations from the Rear View Mirror – New England Patriots

Pats

The Season that was….

The common theme in most Patriots seasons seems to be “controversial drama” followed by them pounding teams into the ground on the way to the post season.  While injuries will always be a reason why they lost in the play offs, it does make a NFL fan wonder when will they not be able to just plug and play random players (well players with a very specific skill set) into their system? Adjustments will be made, the roster will be tinkered with, and the Patriots will continue to be competing for the AFC East title.

The bright spots

Dion Lewis – A player that bounced around the league, Lewis became an early season hit in the passing game for the Patriots before suffering a knee injury.  He is part of the reason the Patriots were able to successfully utilise a “nickel and dime” passing game instead of a rushing attack.

Tom Brady – Somehow he keeps putting up numbers with offensive parts that appear inferior on paper.  Showed once again he knows and understands the offensive system that is in place.  It has become expected he performs year in, year out.

Tom Brady

Rob Gronkowski – The man (well is he really just a mere mortal?) is a match up nightmare and unstoppable at times.  Gronk picked up where he left off and led the teams in receptions (72), receiving yards (1176 yards), touch downs (11) and off season headlines.

Gronk

Non first round draft pick that was a hit

Shaquille Mason – Mason have found himself a spot on the interior of the offensive line.  Even with the addition of Jonathan Cooper, it appears that Mason will be a starter.

Second year player who has taken the next step

James White – When Dion Lewis went down injured, the little known running back stepped in and picked up where Lewis had left off.  White became a force in the short passing attack until he also got injured.

Tough decisions to make

How do they replace Jerod Mayo? – The surprise retirement caught the team off guard, and it must be assumed that they believe they can replace his production “in house”.  The big question is can they replace his experience and ability to line the team up correctly.

How long can they keep ignoring the run game? The answer to this might be until they stop winning.  LeGarrette Blount seems to be signed every off season to a new 1 year contract to become the bell cow back for them.

Legarette blount

Can they replace Chandler Jones’ production? The trade with the Cardinals had mixed reactions from fans.  It will be interesting to see how they replace his sack production. It must be noted that they do have some very talented young defensive lineman on the roster.

Observations from the Rear View Mirror – Arizona Cardinals

Cardinals

The Season that was….

The Arizona Cardinals were the feel good team that many NFL fans got behind.  The team has slowly been building as a potential force in the NFC West but always fell short.  This season they troubled most teams they played and are potentially in a position to have another playoff run this season as the roster is loaded with talent.

The bright spots

Carson Palmer – Palmer returned to the form we saw when he was in a Bengal uniform (before the knee injury) and torched multiple pass defenses.  He benefitted from the David Johnson running game and could put up similar numbers next year with all the offensive pieces returning or gaining experience.

Carson palmer

Larry Fitzgerald – While all the wide receivers could be mentioned here, Fitzgerald appeared to find the fountain of youth and led the team in receptions (109), receiving yards (1215 yards) and touchdowns (9). 

Larry fitz

Deone Buccannon – The second year player transitioned to a hybrid linebacker-safety position and experienced great success.  He led the team in tackles (112) and ensured the Cardinals had a big body to match up against opposition tight ends.

Non first round draft pick that was a hit

David Johnson – Started with touches on kick off returns and found his way on to field when injuries hit, and showed that he belongs in the NFL.  Johnson will continue to get a big chunk of the touches, and even in a committee, will make plenty of plays in both the running and passing attack.

David Johnson

Second year player who has taken the next step

John Brown – The small school prospect with speed to burn continued to develop his craft as a route runner.  With the early season injury to Michael Floyd, Brown got to start early and show off his deep threat ability.  When Floyd returned, it was evident that Brown offers the Cardinals a different threat in the passing attack.  Brown should continue to see receptions in the passing game.

Tough decisions to make

The secondary – Although they added some draft picks to the cornerback group, it is really Patrick Peterson and no one.  They will need to either hit gold with their draft picks or identify some free agents that will help them.  If they go into the season as is, the opposition will just torch the side that Patrick Peterson is not on.

Patrick peterson

The defensive line – The addition of the talented, yet troubled Robert Nkemdiche means that they may need to make roster moves as it is a numbers game at this position.

Running back – the emergence of David Johnson means that the Cardinals will have to seriously look at cutting some players at this position.  Andre Ellington, Stefon Taylor and company may be on the streets looking for a new team.

Daryl Washington – Super talented kid with substance problems.  Can they keep him and rehabilitate him or is he a lost cause?

Observations from the Rear View Mirror – Kansas City Chiefs

Chiefs

The Season that was….

The season began looking like a nightmare; a 1-5 record as well as the loss of Jamaal Charles, the season looked over.  The team rallied and delivered an impressive run which saw them return to the post season.  A roster that was seen as “lacking talent” showed that the roster was not devoid of talent at all. The Chiefs now seem to own the deepest running back stable in the league.

The bright spots

Jeremy Maclin – Maclin returns to a Andy Reid offense and picks up where he left off in Philly.  Maclin led the team in receptions (87), receiving yards (1088 yards), and touchdowns (8).  Hopefully the Chiefs can develop a running mate or two for Maclin with the young receivers on the roster to stop opposition defenses from double covering him.

Jeremy maclin

Charcandrick West – When Jamaal Charles went down, the season was written off by many.  West stepped in and showcased a skill set similar to Charles.  He was a solid contributor throughout the season and gives the Chiefs a interchangeable piece that allows the Chiefs to not have to alter the offensive system if Charles continues to be injury ridden.

Eric Berry – The return of the play-making safety was one of the best stories of the season.  All NFL fans were glad to see Berry back making plays.  He gives the Chiefs a leader in the secondary and a safety that opposition quarterbacks need to respect.

Marcus Peters- Considered a massive draft risk given his off field baggage at the University of Washington, Peters stepped in day one and was a playmaker straight away.  The Defensive Rookie of the year snagged 8 INTs (2 returned for TDs) and appears to be a shutdown corner for the Chiefs.

Marcus peters

Non first round draft pick that was a hit

Mitch Morse – Morse has been a vital cog in the middle of the offensive line. He stepped in and replaced Rodney Hudson, and the offensive line has not skipped a beat.

Second year player who has taken the next step

Carlos Santos – A kicker taking the next step? He showcased his ability to hit field goals from most places on the field.  His kicking contributed to a number of Chiefs wins, and will continue to give them confidence that every trip into the other teams half (20-36 yards out) will result in three points.

Tough decisions to make

Fixing up the secondary – They let Sean Smith walk and have used a couple of mid-round picks on rookies to add some talent.  Marcus Peters looks like a legit shutdown cornerback, but teams will just throw the other way if their is no one teams will fear on the other side of the field.

The running backs – With Jamaal Charles’ injury history, do we see a running back committee? Both Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware were able to produce in this offensive scheme of Andy Reid’s.

Jamaal Charles

The Andy Reid “developmental QB – Andy Reid has a history of drafting QBs, developing them in his system and then turning them into draft picks down the road.  What are his plans with Aaron Murray and Kevin Hogan?  Is either a Alex Smith replacement in the near future?

Observations from the Rear View Mirror – Green Bay Packers

Packers

The Season that was….

The Packers once again wrapped up the NFC North but the season probably did not quite go as planned. They loss Jordy Nelson before the season began, Davante Adams suffered the sophomore slump, and the running backs were up and down.  Aaron Rodgers again flashed why he is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL but Packers fans can only be left wondering how the Rodgers/Nelson combo could have done.

The bright spots

James Jones – In amidst the madness of the Jordy Nelson injury, the Packers re-signed Jones (After he was cut) and he slotted into his old role of catching touchdown passes from Aaron Rodgers. Himself and Randall Cobb formed a handy duo of pass catchers for the Packers.

Richard Rogers – The second year tight end continued to get the quarterback’s attention in the red zone.  He had a team-leading (tied with Jones) 8 receiving touchdowns.  The return of Nelson will open up more soft spots in opposition defenses for him to take advantage of next season,

Julius Peppers – He continues to defy father time.  Peppers had a team leading 10.5 sacks and will hopefully get Clay Matthews opposite him next year as a pass rusher.

Julius Peppers

Non first round draft pick that was a hit

Both players will have spots on the defense next year (Randall would be included if he was not a first round pick).

Quinton Rollins – Rollins worked his way onto the field in sub packages and showcased his talent and versatility.  He will be a good defensive back for the Packers for many years to come.  It will be interesting how they utilise both Rollins and Randall with the versatility they offer.

Jake Ryan – Showcased some ability as an inside linebacker before injury struck.  The Packers need quality inside linebacker so that Clay Matthews can return to Outside linebacker.

Second year player who has taken the next step

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix – The safety out of Alabama was drafted to make plays and he delivered.  The Packers appear to have themselves one of the best young safeties in the game.  He will only continue to get better.

Tough decisions to make

Eddie Lacy – Are his weight troubles worth the headache?  They have resigned James Starks who has shown he can produce in this offense, and has often out produced Lacy.  The signing of Matt Forte will really shake things up (but it is only a short term deal).  Long term wise, will they draft a replacement in the next couple of drafts?

Eddie Lacy

The linebackers – How long will Julius Peppers continue producing? This is an area that the Packers need to address as they want to get Clay Matthews back to the outside.

Clay Matthews

The Draft class – The Packers loaded up with some defensive talent; is this infusion of youth enough to ensure the Packers continue to see post season appearances?

Observations from the Rear View Mirror – Seattle Seahawks

Seahawks

The Season that was….

The Seahawks were painted as a dynasty before the season, a team that was built through the draft and had hit on multiple mid-to-late draft picks. While they didn’t win the NFC West, they continued to impart their will on opposition through a combination of running the ball and their imposing defense.  The season will also be remembered for how poorly Jimmy Graham was used.  Seen as the missing weapon Seattle needed, the pairing of Wilson and Graham seemed more like giving a child a toy that they were too young to know how to use properly.

Richard ShermanKam ChancellorEarl Thomas

The bright spots

Thomas Rawls –  When Marshawn Lynch went down injured, many wondered how the offense would function.  Up until he suffered an injury himself, Rawls excelled as a runner in the Seattle system and should prove to be more than an adequate replacement for Beast Mode.

Doug Baldwin – Every year Baldwin is written off by many as a NFL wide receiver, and every year he seems to go out and play lights out.  The Wilson-to-Baldwin connection resulted in 1069 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns.  Baldwin is Wilson’s favourite target in the passing game and seemed to always have a multi-touchdown game when it mattered.

Doug Baldwin

Michael Bennett/Cliff Avril – This pair have produced ever since they both signed as free agents and give the Seahawks a talented set of pass rushers (19 sacks between them for the 2015 season).  Bennett is easily one of the most underrated defensive lineman in the game.

Non first round draft pick that was a hit

Given that Thomas Rawls was an undrafted free agent, he was not considered.

Tyler Lockett – The diminutive wide receiver out of Kansas State took the league by storm as a returner and as a wide receiver.  He will continue to develop into a big play receiver and will give Wilson a weapon who can take any catch to the end zone.

Tyler Lockett

Second year player who has taken the next step

Justin Britt – Taken in the second round, Britt started as a rookie at right tackle and has moved inside to guard.  He appears to made that position his, which is a good thing given the movements that have occurred on the offensive line in the last 12 months.

Tough decisions to make

Does the offense evolve?

With the retirement of Marshawn Lynch, do we finally see Russell Wilson unleash his arm? While he is still feeling out Jimmy Graham as a receiver, he  is developing a great relationship with Baldwin and Lockett.

The offensive line – This is an area that needs to be fixed and will most likely get targeted in the draft.  Russell Okung leaving town could be a massive loss for the team.

Observations from the Rear View Mirror – Pittsburgh Steelers

Steelers

The Season that was….

The Steelers season is a strange season to look upon; on one hand they won the division title and were a chance to win every single week.  On the other hand, they never had all their offensive weapons on the field at the same time to enjoy the “perceived” explosive offense.  DeAngelo Williams was a pleasant surprise, and the offense evolved into a scary, sometimes un-defendable juggernaut. Replacing Big Ben was a more of an interesting story as both replacements struggled to get the offense to function.

Leveon Bell

The bright spots

DeAngelo Williams – When Le’Veon Bell went down, the free agent signing stepped in and produced in all aspects of the offense.  Williams contributed 1200 combined yards and 11 touchdowns and made sure the Steelers didn’t miss Bell.

Antonio Brown – Arguably the best wide receiver in the league, Brown once again put up numbers.  He led the team in receptions (136), receiving yards (1834) and receiving touchdowns (10).  Brown found himself a running mate in the “freak” Martavis Bryant, and has shown the Steelers got it right in choosing to resign him.

Antonio Brown

The front seven – While the Steelers offense is what everyone was talking about, defense is historical what the Steelers are known for.  While this side of the ball has been undergoing a transition of recent years, the front seven finally looks like it is back to being strong.

Non first round draft pick that was a hit

Given current circumstances with the Martavis Bryant suspension.

Sammie Coates –  While he did nothing as a rookie, he has had a year to work on his craft.  With the Bryant suspension, snaps will be available and he has an opportunity to see regular playing time.  It just depends whether he seizes the opportunity.

Second year player who has taken the next step

Ryan Shazier – The second year Buckeye continues the lineage of great Pittsburgh Steeler linebackers.  He is an athletic playmaker who has the potential to change a game.  His combination with Lawrence Timmons in the Steelers defensive scheme allows them to do so many different things.

Tough decisions to make

How will the offense look? – The suspension of Martavis Bryant and retirement of Heath Miller means changes will need to be made.  The signing of Ladarius Green gives the Steelers a different kind of tight end as he is a better athlete than Miller.  The Bryant suspension is interesting as it appears the Steelers have ready made replacements already on the roster, but none of them are freakish athletes like Bryant is.

Martavis Bryant

Fixing the secondary – The secondary is the perceived weakness on the Steelers defense.  They will most likely address this through the draft, the question is do they “reach” on players.  Hopefully the Steelers target a couple of players at both safety and cornerback that can begin to learn the complex defensive scheme.

Did the Browns just sign an older Johnny football?

RG3vsJohnny

With the Browns signing Robert Griffin (RG3) to a free agent contract, a wave of excitement was seen across social media platforms. It signalled the end of the Johnny Football era and also that the Hue Jackson had found a project quarterback to work with. The Cleveland Browns may very well still draft a quarterback second overall (it is probably highly recommended that they do) but the thought of RG3 returning to the rookie that dominated the NFL is quite enticing.

On closer look though, have the Browns just resigned an older version of Johnny Manziel?

  • Both QBs were seen as game changing superstars who would rack up tons of offense in college spread offenses tailored to their skill set.
  • Both could beat a team with their arm or legs.
  • Both are seen as egotistical prima donnas with off field baggage (while different, RG3 and his return from his knee surgery was annoying as hell).
  • Not a lot of teammates have come out and defended their ability to lead a team.

 

It is also similar story when it comes to how they exited their respective teams with the Redskins benching RG3 for the entire season (and paving the way for new “franchise quarterback” Kirk Cousins to lead them to the playoffs), and Manziel pretty much not even bothering to turn up when benched by the Browns.

Using stats from their final seasons (even though a small sample size, RG3’s rookie season was in pretty much the Baylor offense as Kyle Shanahan had to create an offense to fit him) the numbers are similar

Manziel – 6 starts (2-4 record) 7TDs 5 INTs 1500 yards (23 years)
RG3 – 7 starts (2-5 record) 4TDs 6 INTs 1694 yards (26 years)

While statistics can be presented in different ways to make an argument, it would be hard to find many Browns fans who see RG3 (as he currently is) as an automatic upgrade over Johnny Manziel.

Observations from the Rear View Mirror – Cincinnati Bengals

Bengals

The Season that was….

The Bengals continue to make the play-offs, and then exit quickly. The Andy Dalton injury may have affected their results for the season, but it did allow for fans to see what they have in A.J McCarron.  Bengals fans should be excited with the roster that they have put together over the few years but have they got the elite players that can take over a game? 

The bright spots

A.J Green – Green continued to show he is one of the best young wide receivers in the league.  The offense runs through him.  Green led the team with receptions (86) and receiving yards (1297).

A.J Green

Tyler Eifert – Eifert had massive draft hype when he entered the league in 2013.  While his career was slowed with injuries, he appears to have finally begun to show case his talents in the NFL.  His ability to move around the formation allowed the Bengals to take advantage of the mismatch he creates and resulted in a team-leading 13 receiving touchdowns.

Carlos Dunlap – Dunlap continues to be a force off the edge for the Bengals defense and led the team in sacks (13.5).  A character risk when the Bengals drafted him out of Florida, Dunlap has turned into a hit for the front office.

Reggie Nelson – An after thought when it comes to talking about the Bengals defense. Nelson led the team with 8 interceptions.

Non first round draft pick that was a hit

This is a difficult choice as the Bengals rookie draft selections didn’t have to see much of the field.  This will be on potential to contribute.

Tyler Kroft – The rookie tight end saw limited snaps and while his stats won’t scare defenses (11 recptions, 129 yards, 1 TD) it gives Bengals the option to consider more two tight end sets within their playbook.

Second year player who has taken the next step

A.J McCarron – With Jeremy Hill’s struggles, The next logical focus is McCarron.  The Bengals grabbed McCarron late as insurance for Andy Dalton (or to push him, we will never know).  McCarron showed that he can operate in the Bengals offense and offers them a developmental project that could become a trade chip (or starting quarterback) in the future. 

Tough decisions to make

Replacing the wide receivers – Both Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu have left for greener pastures.  How will the Bengals go about replacing these guys.  While both have been serviceable complements to A.J Green, the Bengals will be questioned if they blow up.  Finding replacements will be an interesting process – free agency or the draft?

Mohamed Sanu

Do they have elite talent?- Do the Bengals have game changers on either side of the ball?  Green is considered “elite” at his position but there isn’t too many other names that would scare opposition coordinators.  Do they need to make a huge splash in free agency or continue to hit in the draft?

Andy Dalton

Can they continue to lose coaches? – Hue Jackson has moved on to a head coaching opportunity which means another Marvin Lewis assistant has left the building.  Can the Bengals sustain the coaching turnover as every hiring potentially means losing multiple coaches as a new head coach wants to bring some familiar faces with him.