Tag Archives: AFC

The Heartthrob’s Mockery Draft ’18

*Disclaimer: This Mock Draft was done before the trade between the Rams and the Patriots. A second version of this mock will be out before the draft as well.

My annual “Mockery Draft” is a way to poke fun of those who take themselves to seriously and be completely bias in what I want to happen.  Sure, I watch and love college football so I may know a little something here and there just from watching the games week to week, but does any of that really matter?  Trades and the unpredictable is what makes the draft interesting.  Here is my take on all of this craziness that may or may not happen in the first round of this year’s draft. . .

1. Cleveland Browns – Sam Darnold, QB, USC: Just do something that makes sense for once, Cleveland.  I’m personally not in love with any of these quarterbacks but Darnold seems to be the one the Browns like the most.

Source: Harry How/Getty Images North America

2. New York Giants – Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA: They say Eli still has more in the tank, but they’d be foolish to not take a quarterback at this spot.  Once again, not in love with this quarterback class, BUT the guys this year have higher ceilings than those projected to come out next year.  Giants have to make this move now.

3. New York Jets – Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma:  Yeah, I know – three quarterbacks in a row, won’t happen.  Well, it should.  Jets didn’t trade up to take anything else but a quarterback, trading into the third spot and not one or two means they have more love for another candidate not named Darnold or Rosen.  Mayfield comes with the fanfare and personality the Jets have been craving to see at the QB position.

4. Cleveland Browns  – Bradley Chubb, DE, N.C. State: Last year with the first overall pick they selected the draft’s best pass rusher in Myles Garrett.  Why not do the same this year and “book-end” these boys for the road ahead?

5. Buffalo Bills (in MOCKERY TRADE WITH DENVER) – Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming: In a move of pure desperation, the Bills draft up and select the next quarterback on their big board.  Allen is said to have the ability to throw the ball 80 yards downfield. . .that’s a talent you never need to really see in game situations though, so. . .yeah.

6. Indianapolis Colts  – Saquan Barkley, RB, Penn State – Colts traded with the Jets and got themselves the sixth pick a few weeks ago, and they better start doing something to help out Andrew Luck.  Barkley is one of my favorite players in the draft – but that’s because I’m a Penn State fan.  There isn’t anything that screams “3 down back” or “franchise back” about his game.  He’s a good kid, with talent that needs to be in the right system.  Colts have no system.

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Tremaine Edmunds, OLB, Virginia Tech; Bucs struggled with their pass rush this year.  Edmunds doesn’t get the acclaim Chubbs does, but in my opinion you’re splitting hairs about who’s better.

8. Chicago Bears – Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame: This is my favorite team, this is their biggest need and this is my mock draft.  So in turn, they get the guy I want them to get.

Source: Joe Robbins/Getty Images North America

9. San Francisco 49ers – Denzel Ward,  CB, Ohio State: Some may have them nabbing wide out Calvin Ridley here but for a team that has to play against three above average quarterbacks twice a year, taking the best corner in the draft is the smart move.

10. Oakland Raiders – Roquan Smith, ILB/OLB, Georgia:  I put this here because this is what I’ve been hearing for months now. At this point if it doesn’t happen, this entire draft will be a disappointment.

11. Seattle Seawhawks (in MOCKERY TRADE with Miami) – Derwin James, DB, Florida State: In my “complete trade” Miami also gets Kam Chancellor, so the Seahawks now have two glaring holes in their secondary.  James can play both safety and corner. . .but not at the same time. . . regardless, it’s a start in the right direction.

12. Denver Broncos  (in MOCKERY TRADE with Buffalo)-  Marcus Davenport, DE, UTSA: They didn’t like that April Fools joke that Von Miller played on social media, about him being traded to the Browns. . . Elway doesn’t like people with bigger egos than his so he’ll look for Miller’s eventual replacement, who can in the meantime give them important snaps now.

13. Washington Redskins – Mike Huges, CB, Central Florida: Huges might actually be the best man to man coverage corner in this draft.

14. Green Bay Packers – Minkah Fitzpatrick, S, Alabama:  Packers have Burnett and Dix at safety but Fitzpatrick is probably better than either of them.

15. Arizona Cardinals – Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville: Cards got kinda-sorta lucky and didn’t have to give anything up to get the quarterback who is the biggest risk but comes with the biggest upside in this draft.

Source: Andy Lyons/Getty Images North America

16. Baltimore Ravens -Colton Miller, T, UCLA:  They took the wrong tackle.

17. Los Angeles Chargers – Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame: Hey, look who took the right tackle!

18. Miami Dolphins (in MOCKERY TRADE with Seattle) –  Billy Price, C/G, Ohio State:  This is a smart pick by Miami to get a guy who can play different spots on the line.  Adam Gase has got to start building this offense somewhere.

19. Dallas Cowboys – Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama:  Ridley was once projected to be a top 10 pick, but here he falls to the Cowboys and this makes keeping Dez Bryant a little bit less of a thing after 2018.

Source: Jamie Squire/Getty Images North America

20. Detroit Lions -Orlando Brown, OT, Oklahoma: In a lot of games, quarterback Matthew Stafford had to run out of the pocket a lot and just chuck it deep. . .I don’t know if that’s just how he’s played his whole career or because the o-line is bad.  I’ll guess a little bit of both.

21. Cincinnati Bengals – Vita Vea, DT, Washington:  Will he last this long in reality?  Probably not.  I just didn’t want Green Bay to get him.

22. Buffalo Bills – Joshua Jackson, CB, Iowa: This pick ends up being a better long term one than their quarterback pick of Josh Allen (woof)

23. New York Giants (in MOCKERY TRADE with L.A. Rams) Isiah Wynn , OL, Georgia:  Yeah, I’m believing in the hype.  The Giants trade Odell Beckham to the Rams, get this pick and probably a bunch more but they use it wisely and add a much needed piece to this offensive line (who can play every position).  Giants can easily take a wide out in the second and a running back in the third and have their offense set for the future.

24. Carolina Panthers – Equanimeous St. Brown, WR, Notre Dame:  The only reason they choose Brown over Sutton is because he’s bigger.

25. Tennessee Titans – Harold Landry, DE, Boston College: This ends up being a steal for this team.  They won’t make the playoffs because they have no quarterback but whatever.

Source: Leon Halip/Getty Images North America

26. Atlanta Falcons – Da’Ron Payne , DL ,Alabama: Falcons defense played better last year, no reason to stop adding to it.  Adding d-line talent against teams that like to run it like Carolina and New Orleans would help them out greatly in taking the NFC South.

27. New Orleans Saints – Hayden Hurst, TE, South Carolina: Oh lets just give one of the best offenses in football, the best tight end in the draft.  Brees can make this guy a pro-bowler in his first season.

28. Pittsburgh Steelers – Ronnie Harrison, S, Alabama: I kind of wanted to make them trade Bell in this draft and take a Sony Michel here, but I went with the boring pick. . .sorry guys.

29. Jacksonville Jaguars -Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU:  If it’s Sutton, Brown or Moore, they need to take a wide-out here.

30. Minnesota Vikings – Will Hernandez , G, UTEP: A little bit of optimism here for a team that has very little needs, except for this one.

31. New England Patriots  – Harrison Phillips, DL, Stanford: You would think after that Super Bowl debacle that they’d take a corner back here, but nah.  “The Hood” is too stubborn to admit when he was wrong, so instead goes with help on his d-line and with a player who we will be told is very intelligent and the kind of personality that will fit the New England Patriots way of blah blah blah blah. . .

32. Philadelphia Eagles – Sony Michel, RB, Georgia:  This team knows Jay Ajayi can’t be the answer and they also know that Michel is one of the best offensive threats in this draft who can be a three down back.  The offensive minded head coach, can’t resist.

 

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio

2016 AFC West Preview

  1. Kansas City Chiefs  – Yeah, something doesn’t look right in a division when a team led by Alex Smith at quarterback and the Kool-Aid-Man as head coach are the favorites to win it.  But the Kool-Aid-Man a.k.a Andy Reid has been a model of consistency in his coaching career and has made quarterbacks play above their potential.  Alex Smith is in a comfortable spot with the Chiefs and he’s a decent enough “dual-threat” quarterback that he keeps defenses honest – although they know the deep ball is a rare occurrence.  Outside of Jeremy Maclin, the only real receiving threat is tight end Travis Kelce, but the Chiefs’ offense will circle around their backfield depth.  When star running-back Jamaal Charles went down last year the Chiefs saw what they had in Charcadrick West and Spencer Ware.  Expect Andy Reid to find ways to get all of three of these backs involved in the offense often.  In the draft, the Chiefs didn’t really do much, but look out for their fourth round pick Eric Murray out of Minnesota to add some punch to a defense that allowed less than 18 points a game last season.  Chiefs have a middle of the road schedule in terms of difficulty, but this is a team that has most of the same pieces that reeled off an 11 game win streak last year and a division that is win-able with eight or nine wins this year.

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Prediction: 10-6

2. Oakland Raiders – Yeah, that’s right.  Eight or nine wins will win this division and Oakland won’t get the division crown.  Do the math.  Folks are high on the Raiders this year.  Maybe because of the young talent; or maybe because folks are tired of this once proud franchise being a laughing stock. Last season they showed promise and showed they have the centerpieces for their offense and defense: Derek Carr and Khalil Mack, respectively.   Mack will have free agent signees Bruce Irvin and (in November) Aldon Smith to help not just with the edge rush but also help to form a very athletic trio up front.  Rookie Karl Joseph has all the tools to be a starter for this franchise for the next ten years.  Joseph will be playing alongside safety Reggie Nelson who had an NFL leading eight interceptions last year.  Amari Cooper is the real deal at wide receiver; and Michael Crabtree looked the best he’s looked in years, but it may be reaching to think he’ll duplicate last year’s performance.  The pieces are there for this team to  make the next step, but because EVERYONE is saying that, it definitely won’t happen.  This is a team that looks better on paper then they will on the field.  They are still one year away, and if they can put it together, this division can be theirs for the next three to four years – easily.

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Prediction: 9-7

3. Denver Broncos – What did we expect?  A team wins a Super Bowl, and all the players who were up for new contracts – left for ridiculous pay days.  That’s the business of the sport.  The Broncos biggest attraction, Super Bowl MVP Von Miller, was set to sit out for the season if he and Broncos didn’t agree on terms – but cooler heads prevailed.  Miller will be set to lead a defense that is still formidable even after the losses of Danny Trevathan and Malik Jackson.  The defense will have to be key because that’s how they won games last year.  The Broncos re-instilled the notion that “defenses win championships” because in this “quarterback league” they basically played without one for most of last year.  Although Peyton Manning was trashy last year, his poise and leadership kept this offense motivated and focused all season long – even when times were tough.  Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas are top notch receivers but expect their numbers to plummet this season.  The Broncos signed Mark Sanchez who once upon a time was the savior to the New York Jets.  Now he’s a journey man, who’s forever haunted by the epic “butt-fumble.” The Broncos also went and drafted Paxton Lynch who has a creepy mustache and a stupid hair cut.  Also the general manager John Elway is pretty smug.  Nobody with teeth like that should be that smug.

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Prediction: 7-9

4. San Diego Chargers – The Chargers are basically, sorta, kinda. . . irrelevant?  Ugh, you hate to hear the word “irrelevant” associated with a team that has the coolest alternate jersey and a team that is led by Philip Rivers, who has been quiet as kept – this generation’s Dan Marino to some degree.  Does he have the records like Marino and is he as good – no.  BUT, Rivers has put together quite the career and done so with little to no help for the most part.  The organization makes the wrong signings, drafts the wrong people and — oh wait – who’d they draft this year?  Ha. . .  as of now (August 17th, 2016) the Chargers first round pick Joey Bosa is holding out, and it seems that both sides are not budging.  Bosa comes in with a lot of hype, too much hype if you ask me – he’s a piece that would be nice in building a defense, but he is not a piece to build around.   Free agent Travis Benjamin signed on to the Chargers from the Browns and he joins a pretty talented receiving group that include Keenan Allen and tight-end Antonio Gates who is still a top five tight end at thirty-six years of age.  The Chargers lost eight games by seven or less points and just couldn’t close the deal when they needed to.  There is just nothing flashy or exciting about the Chargers anymore.  Sick jerseys though. . .

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Prediction: 6-10

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio

Indianapolis Colts 2015 Preview

The Indianapolis Colts and their fans are thinking “Super Bowl or bust” for every single season in which Andrew Luck is the starting quarterback.  Although one can’t blame them for taking that simplistic route to elevate their expectations, there has to be a dose of reality sprinkled in here and there, just to “level the playing field” – so to speak.   The Colts play in a division that they win by default (in a worse case scenario, they split games with the Texans and sweep the Jaguars and Titans) and they have one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL in Andrew Luck.

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Luck has been money for the Colts since day one.  Last season he lit up the scoreboard with forty touchdown passes and threw for over 4,700 yards.  His sixteen interceptions may look like a high amount but if you look at his work as a whole, it’s amazing it’s only sixteen.  The Colts defense usually lets down Luck enough times that he has to throw from behind and the run attack has never complimented Luck well.  Add to the fact he threw 616 times last season – to only come out of that with sixteen interceptions is impressive.

The Colts hope to have balance this year in their offense with the additional help coming from veteran Frank Gore in the backfield.  The former 49er is working with easily the best quarterback he’s ever been on the field with and brings with him a workhorse work ethic.  Gore has kept himself healthy the last few years and it’s key that he does that again before the likes of Boom Herron and Zurlon Tipton start getting carries.  If that happens, this offense is back to square one.

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The Colts found a strong offensive linemen in the second-round of last year’s draft in Jack Mewhort.  He was impressive enough at left guard that he is being promoted to right tackle this season.  That gives the Colts a nice combo at the tackle spots where left tackle Anthony Castonzo protects Luck’s blindside.  The Colts scout team took things to new levels by signing the number-one-overall pick in the 2012 Draft. . . the 2012 Canadian Football Draft, but it’s a number-one-overall pick regardless. Ben Heenan left the CFL to join the Colts and is expected to pick things up quickly and help fill a much needed void at their guard position.

TY Hilton has proven he was steal in the third-round of the 2012 NFL Draft and was rewarded for his efforts this off-season with a five-year, $65 million deal.  TY is one of those non-prototypical number-one wide receivers, similar to a DeSean Jackson – both small in stature but speedy and aggressive.  Hilton is a competitor and along with Andrew Luck, has helped to form one of the better quarterback/receiver threats in the league.  The Colts signed veteran Andre Johnson in the off-season, which gives Johnson his opportunity to take his greatness to another level now playing with Luck.  Unfortunate thing for Johnson is that he is more on the downside than the upside of his career – but don’t tell him that.  The Texans were a mess at the quarterback position and he still had eighty-five receptions.  Donte Moncrief has the potential to be a good receiver in this league but he’ll be fighting off first-round pick Phillip Dorset to be number-three on the depth chart.

This 3-4 defense will need all the help from their linebackers while the front three get it together during the season.  Josh Chapman returns to play mediocre nose tackle and he’ll be joined by new defensive end Kendall Langford who the Colts are hoping will bring some of the intensity from the St. Louis Rams’ attack with him.

Adding Trent Cole in the off-season was a “big-get” and will help their pass rushing immediately.  Some thought the Colts paid too much for veteran D’Qwell Jackson last season, but he continued to be a tackling machine, racking up 138 last year.  Robert Mathis is expected back by mid-season which means the youngster Bjoern Werner and Johathan Newsome will get their chances to show what they got.  Werner was a former first-round selection in 2013 and Newsome was a fifth-round pick out of Ball State who surprised many and found himself out on the field a lot.

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Safety Mike Adams is more of a ball-hawking safety than an aggressor but did the job well enough to earn a trip to the Pro Bowl last season.  The star of the secondary though is Vontae Davis who had four interception and nineteen passes deflected last year.  Greg Toler hasn’t stood out as anything more than “another guy in the secondary” but he is in a contract year, so if he is ever going to make any noise, now would be the time.

The Colts added some veteran help in the two former Miami Hurricanes Frank Gore and Andre Johnson but did not do much to shore up this defense.  Head coach Chuck Pagano has to show that he is a good head coach that can rely on more than his quarterback bailing him out, week to week.  Getting into the playoffs should be relatively easy, but the playoffs will be another story.

Predicted Record: 10-6

Predicted Pro Bowlers: Andrew Luck, TY Hilton, Jack Mewhort, D’Qwell Jackson

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio

 

Cleveland Browns 2015 Preview

Some teams are cursed.  Some teams just do it to themselves.  It doesn’t matter if Cleveland’s woes are a product of black magic or self infliction – they are just a mess, from top to bottom.  Head coach Mike Pettine, opens up his second season as head coach with his best player suspended for the season and his back up quarterback as the talk of the town.

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The Browns have a quarterback battle between a journeyman veteran who looked awful last season and a sophomore quarterback who had a two month long stint in alcohol rehab in the off-season.  Fun times.  Josh McCown, pulled the okey-doke on Tampa, when he looked great in his few starts with Chicago in 2013, leading the Bucs to believe they did the right thing by giving him a contract last season.  McCown really has nothing left to give, and if he beats out Johnny Manziel for the starting job. . . eh.   Manziel, is really the team’s best option.  If not for nothing else, the Browns should start him just because they spent a first round pick on him and this isn’t a team with playoff aspirations anyhow.  The world still wants to see Manziel – fail or succeed – give the fans of the NFL what they want and just start him.

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Somebody needs to tell Manziel to not be so jumpy in the pocket.  The Browns, if they have anything, it’s an offensive line.  Left tackle Joe Thomas is probably the best at his position in the last decade.  The Browns will have some things to deal when this season is done though.  Their center Alex Mack can opt out after this season and tackle Mitchell Schwartz is in the final year of his deal.   Will anybody blame them for abandoning this ship when this season ends?

The backfield isn’t too shabby either.  There is a lot of youth there with a lot of upside.  Unfortunately, as of now two of those three have some nagging injuries that may leak into weak one of the regular season.  Rookie Duke Johnson, might be the best out of the three, but he has been wrestling with a hamstring issue in early practices.  Terrance West should be fine physically when the season starts, but the Browns are losing patience with him (on and off the field apparently).   He’s not a bad kid, just “plays around too much.”  Isiah Crowell is the bruiser back, who might be the lead rusher on this team by default.  Crowell is good, but better suited for goal line and short yardage situations.   The health of this backfield is everything to this offense.  Everyone knows they’re going to run the ball a lot this year so. . .

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Say what you will about Josh Gordon, the truth is: he’s the best receiver we’ve barely seen play.  Without Gordon, this receiver group is just awkward and lame.  Brian Hartline is a career possession guy with limited speed.  Andrew Hawkins isn’t threatening any secondary  in this lifetime; and the Browns signed Dwayne Bowe who was the number one receiver on a team in which not one receiver caught a touchdown.  That right there says it all.

This defensive unit was disappointing last year, but when you have a bad offense continuously putting you in bad spots, there is only so much you can do after a while.  The Browns are hoping for the best by putting their rookie defensive linemen right into the line of fire.  Danny Shelton of Washington and Xavier Cooper of Washington State are two defensive tackles that have the potential to explode offensive lines right up the gut.  Cooper is the more active of the two, while Shelton tries to gobble up space inside.  This is a big defensive line, that needs to get to ball carriers early – but once those ball carriers get to the outside, it’s all on the line backers and secondary to finish the job.

The linebacker group is interesting to say the least.  Barkevious Mingo was drafted in the first-round in 2013 and the Browns have seen little return on that investment.  The potential to be a complete bust looms in the clouds circling Mingo this season.  Nate Orchard out of Utah, might do what Mingo hasn’t and that’s be the pass rusher they want from the linebacker spot.  Paul Kruger is someone people can never figure out.  Sure, he had eleven sacks last season – but what does he do really?  He’s just one of those players you just assume is above average, but he doesn’t really “wow” you, when you watch him.  Karlos Dansby is the veteran of the group who last year only had forty seven tackles in twelve games. . .

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The Browns have studs in the secondary.   Donte Whitner and Tashaun Gipson make up one of the best safety combinations in the league (it’s going to be hard to dethrone that duo in Seattle. . .) and corner back Joe Haden is consistently in the discussion of “top five corners” in the league.  With Buster Skrine signing with the New York Jets, it’s time for last year’s first round pick Justin Gilbert to wake up and take control of his future.  He showed a lot of promise in college, but seemed like a fish out of water in the pros.  The Browns will surely give him his chance, but they signed veteran Tramon WIlliams just in-case Gilbert is better served as the nickel corner.

The Browns have so many interesting stories on their team, but none of it will amount to much.  There is no doubt they will stay in some games, but it’s going to a one dimensional offense and a lot of inexperience on the defense line that will ultimately hold them back.  Best case scenario is that the youth on this team gain experience in what will be a trying season, while the veterans. . . collect pay checks?

Predicted Record: 4-12

Predicted Pro Bowlers: Joe Haden, Joe Thomas, Donte Whitner

G.W. Gras

@GeeSteelio

Pittsburgh Steelers 2015 Preview

The Steelers of Pittsburgh have a lot of fantasy football nerds hyped over their offense’s potential.  They do everything right on the offensive side of the ball but for the Steelers, to enter a season and have their offense talked about more than their defense – it’s a rare occurrence – actually one might be hard pressed to see if that was ever the case for Pittsburgh.

This defense is young and is depending on their young core of linebackers to carry the weight of this unit.  Jarvis Jones was a first-round pick in 2013 who seemed to be coming into his own last year until he got hurt.  Ryan Shazier was their first-round pick out of Ohio State last season, but like Jones, had his share of injuries that slowed him down.  This season, the Steelers kept putting faith into the linebacker surplus coming out of college and they drafted Kentucky linebacker, Bud Dupree in the first-round.  Dupree is a nice athlete, but is raw when it comes to what they need: pass rushing.  His instincts in the “search and destroy” department still need help, but he’s excellent when needed to drop back into zone coverage.  With the right coaching he could develop into a nice linebacker.   Lawrence Timmons and Arthur Moats are the veterans on this squad which is coming into the season under the radar.  This has the potential to be the best linebacker rotation in the league if things pan out right.  The health of Jones and Shazier will play a huge role.

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The defensive line will look different without the intensity and the amazing beard of defensive end Brett Keisel.  Nobody on this roster can fill the void the beard left (literally, the beard) but someone needs to be the aggressor up front.  The Steelers are hoping to see more improvement from their sophomore end Stephon Tuitt.  What he lacks in intensity, he has in intellect.  He just needs to see the plays quicker as he at times is a step too late at the line.  Steve McLendon may be the starter at nose-tackle, but the world wants to see more of the 6’7″ 350-plus pounder Daniel McCullers.   McCullers is just a fun guy to watch, but it’s impossible to keep this monster on the field for too long, especially against fast paced offenses.

The secondary wasn’t too good when Ike Taylor and Troy Polamalu were a part of it last year, and now with both men retired, the situation hasn’t gotten better.   Their best player in the secondary may be a seventh-round pick from Louisville, safety Gerod Holliman.  Holliman is more of a finesse player at the position, which is far from what fans in Pittsburgh are used to.  Especially after seeing Polamalu for all those years.

Ben Roethlisberger is under center for what may be one of the more explosive offenses he’s had at his disposal.  Ben was a marvel last year throwing thirty-two touchdowns and only nine interception for over 4900 yards.  He still plays with a chip on his shoulder and is still elusive in the pocket regardless of his huge frame.   If he had any issues with offensive coordinator Todd Haley before, he’s obviously passed it all now.

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In front of Big Ben is all-pro center Maurkice Pouncey leads a steady and dependable offensive line that helped this offense finish second in time of possession, yards per game and passing yards per game.  The impressive thing about this line is how a guard like David DeCastro or Ramon Foster are able to tail out and block on the outside in the screen game.

The Steelers offense was jump-started by running back Le’Veon Bell, who is suspended the first two games of the season for a DUI arrest.  Bell had over 2200 yards last season and will continue to be the focal point of this attack.  The Steelers got some insurance this season by signing long-time Panther DeAngelo Williams to the mix.  Williams will be used mostly to spell Bell, but in those first two weeks, he will carry the load.  Williams too often has been hit or miss week to week.

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Remember when the Steelers had to decide between Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace a few years back?  Safe to say, Pittsburgh made the right choice.  For too long Brown, was going under the radar – this year, don’t expect to get him in the fourth round of your fantasy draft, especially after having a monster season with nearly 1700 receiving yards.  Brown is accompanied by speed and athleticism all along the depth chart at the receiver position.  People are expecting big things from former Clemson Tiger Martavius Bryant, who is a tall receiver with great speed; Markus Wheaton would be the number two wide-out on this team if not for the talent of Bryant – but Wheaton playing in the slot role, fits him better anyway.

The Steelers are primed for a deep playoff run, even with the lack of a secondary.   They are multifaceted on the offensive side of the ball and an MVP caliber season from Big Ben should be expected.

Predicted Record: 11-5

Predicted Pro Bowlers: Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Ryan Shazier, Martavius Bryant, Le’Veon Bell

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio

Cincinnati Bengals 2015 Preview

Marvin Lewis must know something about somebody high up in the Bengals organization.  He must.  There is no other reason for him to still be employed as head coach of the Bengals.  13 seasons with a record of 100-96-2, with zero wins in the post-season.  The Bengals have had the talent in recent years and still they manage to do barely anything with it.  They have made the playoffs the last four years; but is anybody expecting them to do much more than make the playoffs again?

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Andy Dalton gets a lot of the blame that should go to (or be shared with) head coach Marvin Lewis, but that’s just not fair.  Dalton is a decent quarterback with above average talent – that’s enough to win games in this league when things around you are going perfect.  That’s never the case in Cincy though.  In their playoff game last year Dalton was working with the offenses “B Squad” because the team was decimated by injuries.   If Dalton doesn’t start become more assertive in the pocket and doesn’t start avoiding the turnovers – he’ll be a back up for the rest of his career after this season. . .

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One would think, having A.J. Green as your number one option at wide receiver would be enough for a quarterback to stay in the Top Ten, but things don’t work that easily in the league.  A.J. Green was bothered by turf toe last season, and sidelined him for three weeks, including last year’s playoff game.  A.J. Green is in a contract year, and it’s expected of him to have a huge season, so he can get pay days similar to Dez Bryant and Demariyus Thomas.   Green is a freakish athlete who attracts a lot of double teams, meaning somebody else has to be open, ANDY!  The problem here is that Cincinnati has never really supplied a great counterpart to Green.  Mohammed Sanu and Marvin Jones are decent wide outs, that can have a nice week or two, but can’t provide enough week to week as a legitimate threat to defenses.  The only hope outside of Green in this passing game is the potential that lies in tight end Tyler Eifert.  Eifert has shown flashes of being a good receiving tight end, but he needs to separate himself from the rest, especially after missing almost all of last season from an elbow injury he suffered in week one.

With Dalton unsteady and Green the only viable force in the passing attack – it’s a good thing the running game is supplied by Jeremy Hill and Giovanni Bernard.  Bernard provides the flash and a real threat in the passing game from the backfield while Hill gives you the traditional size and skill set that can keep him on the field for all three downs.   The Bengals will have to keep these two fresh and offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, must be creative in keeping these two involved in the game plan every week.

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The offensive line is gritty one, that helped anchor the Bengals ground game which put up over 2100 yards.  The group returns but Andre Smith is in a contract year but with A.J. Green’s contract looming over this season and considering the contract extension given to offensive tackle Clint Boling – this may be Smith’s last go-round with the Bengals.

The corner backs for the Bengals are two former first round picks that the organization is banking on.  Dre Kirkpatrick has had his ups and downs in three years but this is his time to be the “guy” in the secondary who can take on the oppositions toughest match up.  Darqueze Dennard was drafted last year out of Michigan State and might still be a year away from getting his game right.  Adam Jones has been playing with his head on right lately and he can still slide into the three or two spot on the corner back depth chart if somebody slips up.

Geno Atkins wasn’t the same last year and neither was defensive end Carlos Dunlap.  The Bengals figure things just can’t stay the same and both will get back on their game this year.  If the defensive line has a second year of disappointing the fans in Cincy, expect these line backers to be all over the place.  Good thing for the Bengals is that they are well stocked in that position.

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The Bengals signed A.J. Hawk in the off-season, who isn’t as dominant as somebody with a name like “A.J. Hawk” should be – but he’s a smart player with no quit.  His work ethic is infectious will hopefully rub off on the wild man of the group Vontaze Burfict.   Burfict is coming off of a knee injury that shortened his season – Bengals took a gamble on drafting him and then later signing him to an extension.  He is an all out beast, who plays recklessly.  Sometimes too recklessly.  He is also noted as being one of the league’s “dirtier players” which is a title nobody should hold up proudly.  Rey Maualuga is the athletic version of A.J. Hawk.  Good against the run and can get to runners who hit the outside – unlike Hawk.  An interesting addition to the Bengals defense is linebacker Paul Dawson who was taken in the third-round.  Dawson, coming out of TCU, he attacks the ball carriers and tries to blow them up on every attempt.  He is a quick linebacker with great pass rushing potential but on a scale of maturity – he’s closer to Vontaze Burfict than, let’s say. . .an A.J. Hawk.

Predicted Record:  10-6

Predicted Pro Bowlers: A.J. Green, Jeremy Hill, Kevin Zeitler

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio

Baltimore Ravens 2015 Preview

The Baltimore Ravens are a team built for a playoff run, but at times during the regular season, they appear stagnant.  They can come out flat in some games and tend to grind out wins against meek competition.  Regardless of how they make the playoffs though, they usually do and they’re a tough match up for anyone they go up against.  This season the Ravens have little margin for error though, with the Steelers and Bengals being in the same division.

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Quarterback Joe Flacco is well protected up front, the only weakness for the line though – comes from Flacco’s blind side in the form of left tackle, Eugene Monroe.  Monroe wasn’t 100% last season and was recovering from knee issues, but he should be at top health when the season starts.  Flacco has proven to be a durable quarterback through his career and is coming off of a season where he was fourteen yards short of throwing for 4000 yards.  There were too many times last season though where the Ravens had to settle for field goals instead of finishing a drive off.  Flacco has a few new targets this season that he needs to gel with quickly.   He is paired up with new offensive coordinator, former Bears head coach, Marc Trestman.  Trestman had a horrendous season in Chicago where his offense was supposed to be high powered and barely sparked during 2014.  He has been humbled and will most likely keep things as they were in Baltimore with a zone running scheme.

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The wide receivers on Baltimore are a question mark, but still there is room for optimism.  Veteran Steve Smith, is a trash talking wide out, that is hard to keep quiet.  Smith is probably the NFL’s toughest receiver (after Anquan Boldin of the 49ers) and is relentless.  At times Smith can disappear for long stretches and at 36 years of age, who knows how much of his motor will be going at 100% for four quarters each week.  Marlon Brown was a nice surprise last season, but considering he was basically unheard of if it wasn’t for a few nice weeks, one can assume he is average at best or has already peaked.  The Ravens drafted UFC wide receiver Brett Perriman, who showed off a 4.27 run at the forty-yard dash in this year’s rookie combine workouts.  He has all the makings of being a big time wide out if he doesn’t lose focus.  Great speed, good route runner and aggressive when the ball is in the air – but has a tendency to drop some passes.

Justin Forsett  stepped up as the starting running back for this organization when it was called upon him to do so.  Forsett finished with over 1200 rushing yards and knocked it off at nearly five and half yards a clip.  The problem going forward with Forsett is that, he is coming into his eighth season, in a career where he was predominantly a back up.  Not saying, he can’t be a late bloomer or that his time isn’t the present, but there has to be a reason why he’s been a back up for so long.  Rookie running back Javorius Allen fits the mold of a former Ravens back Bernard Pierce in sheer size.  Allen is a big back with some pass catching abilities that will work his way to either share, or take over the load at running back.

The defense of the Ravens is a consistent within the NFL.  This year should be no different.  A lot of that depends on how second year man Timmy Jernigan works on that defensive line.  He has shown to have a motor, but it takes a while for that motor to get revved up again.  It’s tough to leave him on the field for long – hopefully he’s worked on his endurance and stamina in the off-season.  Chris Canty is the veteran defensive end who will lead the way in the rotation of pass rushers, including the sophomore end Steven Means who apparently is getting high praise in the organization according to Aaron Wilson of Lindy’s Sports.

Last year the Ravens struck gold with their first-round pick C.J. Mosley out of Alabama.  He racked up 129 total tackles last season and proved to have a “veteran’s feel” when it came to chasing down ball carriers.  Elvis Dumervil, Terrell Suggs and Courtney Upshaw are the veterans in this linebacker core that will help make Mosley’s transition to the pros even more comfortable than it already has been for him.  Dumervil is a versatile pass rusher who can line up with his hands in the dirt, or standing up-right.

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In 2011, the Ravens were said to be taking a gamble on corner back Jimmy Smith, who had an arrest and a few failed drug tests tied to his name at the time – but Smith has only improved on the field and is now part of a $48 million dollar deal over the next four years.   Smith injured his foot halfway through mid-season but will be back at full strength to start this season to lead this secondary.  Opposite of Smith is Lardarius Webb, who was playing injured most of last season, but he too will be ready to give it a go at 100% health.  The pressure is on the corner backs this season because the safeties behind them are more about hitting then covering.  Will Hill is decent in coverage, but it’s questionable if his head is ever in the game; and free agent Kendrick Lewis is more about knocking someone’s head off.

The Ravens offense will go through some growing pains this season, but they have a strong enough offensive line that they won’t put their defense in bad spots.   In true Ravens fashion, most of their games will be hard to watch but by the end of the regular season they’ll have something to play for.

Predicted Record: 9-7

Predicted Pro Bowlers: Jimmy Smith, Elvis Dumervil, C.J. Mosley, Kelechi Osemele

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio

 

 

Denver Broncos 2015 Preview

When Johny Elway brought Peyton Manning to the Denver Broncos in 2012, the goal was clear:  win a Super Bowl.   Unfortunately for Elway and the Broncos, it’s been three seasons of success-turned-heartbreak.  In 2012, the Broncos made the playoffs but lost in double over-time to the eventual Super Bowl Champions, the Baltimore Ravens.   In 2013, Peyton Manning and his offense were thoroughly embarrassed in the Super Bowl by the Seattle Seahawks, and last year, Peyton lost to his former team the Indianapolis Colts in the divisional round of the playoffs.

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For all of his accolades, Peyton Manning can’t seem to shake his post-season let downs.   Last season was scary for Manning supporters though.  It seemed by mid season, Manning could not get much power behind his throws.  He was uncharacteristically over throwing receivers and short arming out-routes.   Peyton is thirty-nine years old and Father Time has been more than generous to him for the last three years, so seeing him breakdown a bit now should be expected.  It’s doubtful he’ll be a hindrance to this offense in any way – but he shouldn’t be expected to put up astronomic numbers this year either.

A big reason Manning won’t be putting up video-game-like numbers is because the offensive philosophy is expected to change.  With new head coach Gary Kubiak, the Broncos will be focused on the run more than Peyton Manning has been used to.  Running back C.J. Anderson started as number three on the depth chart and ended up making the most of his opportunity when injuries fell on Ronnie Hillman and Montee Ball.  Ball looked pretty bad when he had his opportunities and will at most be an emergency back; Hillman though played well when he started and was a big threat in the screen-pass game.   Anderson is expected to be the starter, but in this heavy run based offense, Hillman will definitely get his touches as well, which is a good thing for Denver’s offense.

The offensive line will be leaned on heavily in Denver to establish this running attack and to preserve the health of their captain, Peyton Manning.  The problem here is that, there is a lot of youth.  Tackle Ryan Clady and right guard Louis Vasquez (last year played right tackle) are the steady part of this unit but they will be playing alongside some unexperienced  youth.  The Broncos took Florida center Max Garcia in the fourth-round of this year’s draft and in the second-round they drafted Ty Sambrailo, a tackle out of Colorado State.  Sambrailo is a quick lineman, who plays with a chip on his shoulder.  Peyton Manning is the type that will work with his young offensive linemen to the point of exhaustion, but he is also an impatient man. . . Sambrailo will have to learn quickly.

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Tight end Julius Thomas fled Denver in free agency, making way for veteran Owen Daniels.  Daniels has shown flashes of being a tight end with good hands, but not much in the “big play” department that a healthy Thomas provided for this team.  Demaryius Thomas was given the contract he wanted in the off-season; but will that decision truly be one he’ll want in the long run?   Manning’s time table is limited and with Kubiak in town, the focus will be taken off of the aerial attack, Thomas will see lesser looks this year but he’s a game-changer.  He is the best in the NFL on wide receiver screens and causes headaches for even the best corner backs in the league.  Opposing defenses will want to try to double cover Thomas, but they are handcuffed by the fact that Emmanuel Sanders had his best season last year and at times looked like the better wide out.  Sanders developed a chemistry early with Peyton Manning, who also showed confidence in the wide out.

The Broncos defensive linemen depth is questionable but now in a 3-4 defensive scheme, defensive end Derek Wolfe should feel more at home.  Nose tackle is still a question going into this season and in a 3-4 base, that should be a spot where there are no questions. . .  Luckily, the depth at linebacker should help this line out tremendously.  Brandon Marshall and Danny Trevathan are tackling machines with good lateral movement.  Demarcus Ware and Von Miller will be blitzing a lot more this year as will rookie Shane Ray.  A lot of folks were high on Shane Ray, coming out of Missouri but there were too many times that Ray showed a lack of strength when he went face to face with tackles, he also lacks patience and tries doing too much, ultimately taking him out of plays.  Ray may be better served strictly as a pass rusher in certain situations because he will need more time to be out there on three straight downs.

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The secondary is solid on Denver.  Safety T.J. Ward is given a lot of flexibility.  His versatility allows him to drop back into zone or play the role of an extra linebacker.  Corner back Aquib Talib is a big physical corner who knocks a lot of passes down.  Talib is also a corner who likes to blitz and is not shy when it comes to putting a big hit on a running back.  Chris Harris Jr. is a steady corner, but might have to watch for second-year player Bradley Roby out of Ohio State on the depth chart.  Roby gained confidence as the season went along last year and has a higher ceiling than Harris.

The Broncos enter the  2015 season knowing that this is more than likely the last chance to win with Peyton Manning.  More importantly Manning knows this is his last chance.  It will be tough though – the Broncos are not that strong in the trenches and the change in offensive philosophy needs to be accepted quickly by all parties involved.  Luckily for them, this division isn’t packed with powerhouse squads, so barely being over .500 should be expected and it should do the trick to win the division.

Predicted Record: 9-7

Predicted Pro Bowlers: T.J. Ward, Von Miller, Emmanuel Sanders, Ronnie Hillman

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio

San Diego Chargers 2015 Preview

The Chargers are one of those NFL teams, that need a boost of adrenaline to get things  going.  There seems to be a lack of excitement within the fanbase and optimism appears to be somewhat contrived off of desperate theories.  The truth of the matter is that their quarterback Philip Rivers is thirty-three years old and this is a team that seems to be in flux for the last three seasons.

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The word “optimism” has been mentioned already, but Rivers is a big part of that “optimism.”  Rivers is on the road to becoming a quarterback who has put up great stats in his career but will never win a Super Bowl.  It’s a shame, because for a while it seemed as if this Chargers organization was on the right track. . .  Last year, Rivers had a total of twenty turnovers – not all were his fault though.  Rivers tossed for over four-thousand yards but did not have a single one-thousand yard receiver by season’s end.   Seems like he was doing his part in the passing game. . .

Keenan Allen was expected to put up big numbers in his sophomore season, but totaling 783 yards and four touchdowns, doesn’t exactly scream “big numbers.”  He often seemed to not be on the same page with Rivers and was a different player half-to-half (looking better in the second half of games, usually).   Malcolm Floyd has been on the Chargers for what seems like forever and he’s a big body guy with speed – but is it just time to move passed Floyd?  He’s never really become the guy we all expected him to be and their off-season acquisition of Stevie Johnson – who is obviously better suited for the slot receiver role – can challenge the other two in getting more looks from Rivers.  When motivated and when he has his head on straight, Johnson is actually a fearless well rounded wide out.  Antonio Gates has been suspended for four games which means that the much over-hyped Ladarius Green becomes the number one tight end, at least to start the season.  Green is next in line to Gates, but hasn’t been able to out-play the veteran so he’s been kept on the sidelines for the most part.

The offensive line suffered a huge loss with the retirement of center Nick Hardwick (guard Jeromey Clary retired as well) but the Chargers seemed to have done enough to make this unit a formidable one.  The Chargers signed Orlando Franklin to man one of the guard spots and they kept King Dunlap on at left tackle.  D.J. Fluker has been a focus of the coaching staff’s to  better develop his technique against the pass rush.   Knowing the kind of quarterback Philip Rivers is, he is developing chemistry with his sophomore center Chris Watt as we speak. . .

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The running game had a spark set off by undrafted rookie Brandon Oliver, but that spark was short lived and the 5’7″ running back found himself struggling to get his legs going.   The Chargers decided to go into this year’s draft and address their running back issue, so in the first round they selected Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon.  Gordon broke Barry Sanders’ college record by rushing for 2587 yards last year, that’s enough for anyone to have huge expectations moving forward.  What’s amazing about Gordon is that Wisconsin is a run-first, run-second and run-third type of offense and opposing teams still couldn’t put a lid on him.  He did play behind a good offensive line, but his ability to cut without losing speed is remarkable.  He could be the player that the Chargers have needed for a long time and the Chargers are hoping for a quicker return on their investment then their other Melvin who they used a first round pick on three years ago. . .

Linebacker Melvin Ingram was the Chargers first round pick in the 2012 draft and things haven’t turned out as the Chargers would have liked.   His rookie season was the only time he played a full sixteen games and it was also the season in which he recorded his most tackles (41).   It is unlikely Ingram wakes up from this mediocrity, and mediocrity is what this linebacker core is dressed in.  Manti Te’o gets manhandled and Jerry Attaochu is expected to get with the program quickly this season or will find his playing time to become limited.

The lack of aggressiveness in this line-backing group will force hard hitting strong safety Jahleel Addae to play closer to the line of scrimmage instead of free safety Eric Weddle.  This is because Weddle is bit more versatile and a more natural player than Addae who really just wants to hit people.  Veteran Brandon Flowers and second year man Jason Verrett are the corner backs.  Verrett’s body gave out on him early in his rookie season which is alarming, but if his body can hold up, he can turn out to be a good man-to-man coverage guy.

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The secondary will have to work hard, because most opposing quarterbacks won’t be under much pressure when playing this defense.  Outside of defensive end Corey Liuget, there is not much heat coming from this defensive line.  Liuget will often have two sets of eyes on him because of this, limiting his impact on a game.  Somebody needs to step up on this defensive line and depending where he ultimately gets lined up it may be rookie Darius Philon.  Philon was a defensive tackle in Arkansas, but his lack of strength at that position might be a task for him at the pro level.  He does move extremely well for a man of his size though and can prove to be disruptive if used and protected correctly.

This offense will be fun to watch, especially if Keenan Allen grows into his own as a number one receiver.  For the most part their schedule isn’t packed with juggernaut offenses, but against this defense expect even an average offense to come away with some extra opportunities.

Predicted Record: 7-9

Predicted Pro Bowlers: King Dunlap, Philip Rivers, Keenan Allen

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio

Oakland Raiders 2015 Preview

General manager Reggie McKenzie has three years of work under his belt and the best thing he has to show for it was last year’s draft and working this franchise out of cap-hell.   The Raiders have been most people’s punchline in recent years, but last year they added a little punch.  Albeit a very little punch, because the team ultimately ended up winning only three games last season.

McKenzie’s job may be kept in check this season depending on one important thing: The chemistry between the quarterback he drafted last year and the receiver he drafted this year.  Derek Carr had a decent season with twenty-one touchdowns and twelve interceptions last season – while showing off his arm strength from time to time.  He’s a young quarterback who is being asked in his second year to lead a team who’s expectations aren’t very high.  That’s a tall order to ask of any quarterback, let alone one in his sophomore season.  Carr will be unfairly judged more times than not this year but as long as he keeps the turnovers to a minimal, he shouldn’t worry about losing his job.

The receiving core is being led by the Raiders’ first round selection out of Alabama, Amari Cooper.  Cooper was highly touted and came with the title of being the “most pro-ready” receiver in the draft.  He is a great route runner,  and a physical wide out at 6’1″ 200 pounds.  Cooper is the most talented wide receiver on this roster and he hasn’t even played his first game yet.  Michael Crabtree signed with the team that should’ve drafted him instead of Darius Heyward Bey in 2009 (yikes).  When it’s all said and done though, Crabtree has been more a disappointment than not in the NFL.  He is a decent wideout, but injuries and consistent play, have plagued his  career thus far.  Andre Holmes seemed to develop a good chemistry with Carr last season, averaging nearly fifteen yards a catch – so it’ll be interesting to see him having to fight for looks as a number three or even four wide out on this depth chart.

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This offensive line was a struggle last year in the running game, finishing dead last in that category.  The line is still a work in progress, and the Raiders decided to restructure the line by signing center Rodney Hudson, who according to Pro Football Focus, had the third highest center rating in the NFL in 2014.  Behind this offensive line is an interesting back field thought.  Trent Richardson was brought in to. . . be number three on the depth chart behind Latavius Murray and former Redskin Roy Helu.  Murray is still an enigma to some.  Drafted in the sixth round of the 2013 draft, Murray came out of Central Florida and finished his college career rushing at 5.4 yards a carry.  Last season he finished with an average of 5.2 yards per carry – but look deeper into that average before thinking the Raiders struck gold.  He had a four rush, 112 yard game against the Chiefs which averaged at 28 yards per carry and in the four games that followed, he did not average over five yards a carry once.  Roy Helu is an underrated acquisition for the Raiders, who at times was more dependable than Alfred Morris was last year.  Helu has good hands and instincts, and will be a big help to Carr.

Defensively the Raiders went acquired tackle Dan Williams, in the hopes that he’ll collapse the middle and give way to the edge rushers C.J. Wilson and Justin Tuck.  Tuck, looks like a shell of his New York Giants self and could probably end up being a rotational player early in the year giving the Raiders a better look at the youth playing behind him.

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Offenses will keep an eye on second year Khalil Mack, a linebacker with enough speed to get to any spot.  Mack will be challenged more this year in coverages and will need the speed of fellow linebacker Sio Moore, to help patrol middle grounds and bring additional pressure to the line of scrimmage.

The secondary is an absolute disaster.  It’s so bad, the Raiders felt the need to re-sign Charles Woodson for another year to play safety.  Woodson, now in his thirtieth year in the league (really, his nineteenth but might as well be his thirtieth. . .), has his work cut out for him as this secondary will be torched frequently this season.

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This division is at it’s weakest it’s been in recent history but the Raiders are still too much in their rebuilding stages to do much about it.  Slowly but surely seems to be the mantra in Oakland, but it would be nice to see them more in the mix right now.

Predicted Record: 6-10

Predicted Pro Bowlers: none

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio