By Kevin Patra, Around the NFL writer
» Houston spent the offseason getting worlds faster on offense. Brock Osweiler is the linchpin to offensive success, and the Houston Texans paid handsomely for the chance to take Peyton Manning’s understudy for a spin. Osweiler has few excuses after Rick Smith added speed at wideout and a home-run threat in Lamar Miller in the backfield to prop up the quarterback. After winning the South with a smoke-and-mirror offense in 2015, Houston could be legitimately explosive in Bill O’Brien’s third season.
|QB: Brock Osweiler||DE: J.J. Watt|
|RB: Lamar Miller||NT: Vince Wilfork|
|WR1: DeAndre Hopkins||OLB: Jadeveon Clowney|
|WR2: Will Fuller||ILB: Brian Cushing|
|WR3: Cecil Shorts||ILB: Benardrick McKinney|
|TE: C.J. Fiedorowicz||OLB: Whitney Mercilus|
|LT: Duane Brown||CB1: Johnathan Joseph|
|LG: Xavier Su’a-Filo||CB2: Kevin Johnson|
|C: Nick Martin||CB3: Kareem Jackson|
|RG: Jeff Allen||S: Quinten Demps|
|RT: Derek Newton||S: Andre Hall|
» Adding Will Fuller and Braxton Miller provide speed to a receiver unit that too often relied on DeAndre Hopkins making poppycock plays on the regular. If Miller leaps up the depth chart, this group could be dangerous down the stretch.
» The offensive line got shuffled after center Ben Jones and right guard Brandon Brooks left in free agency. Second-round rookie Nick Martin, out of Notre Dame, should win the starting job at center. Duane Brown‘s health also needs to be monitored this summer after he tore his quad in January.
» Houston hardly touched the defense. J.J. Watt remains the most dominant threat in the NFL, but losing Jared Crick leaves a hole on defensive line. Rookie D.J. Reader should spell aging veteran Vince Wilfork at nose tackle, but the defensive end position opposite Watt remains a question mark. Brandon Dunn and Devon Still are the leading candidates at this stage — not an ideal battle. The eventual starter is likely not even on the roster yet. This is a shallow group of hogs behind Watt.
» Houston owns great starting depth at corner with Johnathan Joseph, Kevin Johnson and Kareem Jackson. I’m anticipating the Texans frequently employing three CBs, given their depth and the explosive passing offensives they’ll face.
|QB: Andrew Luck||DT: Arthur Jones|
|RB: Frank Gore||NT: David Parry|
|WR1: T.Y. Hilton||DE: Kendall Langford|
|WR2: Donte Moncrief||OLB: Eric Walden|
|WR3: Phillip Dorsett||ILB: D’Qwell Jackson|
|TE: Dwayne Allen||ILB: Nate Irving|
|LT: Anthony Castanzo||OLB: Robert Mathis|
|LG: Jack Mewhort||CB1: Vontae Davis|
|C: Ryan Kelly||CB2: Patrick Robinson|
|RG: Hugh Thornton||S: Mike Adams|
|RT: Joe Reitz||S: Clayton Geathers|
» The lack of depth behind Frank Gore is disturbing. The 33-year-old running back is a workhorse, toting the rock more than 200 times each season for the past decade. The Colts are relying on Gore not to nosedive off a cliff in 2016, with shaky Robert Turbin and Jordan Todman as the primary backups.
» Indy went draft heavy on the offensive line, in an effort to finally protect Andrew Luck. Yet question marks remain. Three starters are locked in: left tackle Anthony Castonzo, guard Jack Mewhort and rookie center Ryan Kelly. That’s a solid foundation for a heretofore leaky unit. The right side will see training camp battles for starting spots. For the time being I’m leaving veteran Joe Reitz at right tackle and a slimmed down Hugh Thornton at guard. It wouldn’t surprise if Denzelle Good pushed for the RT spot.
» I’m not fretting about Coby Fleener leaving. This receiving corps, including tight end Dwayne Allen, has potential to be explosive — even if it lacks depth. The Colts are counting on Phillip Dorsett staying healthy and making a leap in Year 2, which is always a tricky proposition — he’s already tweaked his hamstring in OTAs (woof).
» Indy’s pass rush remains a mystery. The three primary pressure men, Robert Mathis, Trent Cole and Erik Walden are all 30-plus years old. Henry Anderson and Arthur Jones are both also coming off injuries and could start training camp on PUP. The Colts‘ front seven could be a pitfall in 2016, especially getting after the improved quarterbacks in this division.
|QB: Blake Bortles||DE: Dante Fowler Jr.|
|RB: T.J. Yeldon||DT: Malik Jackson|
|WR1: Allen Robinson||NT: Roy Miller|
|WR2: Allen Hurns||DE: Jared Odrick|
|WR3: Marqise Lee||OLB: Myles Jack|
|TE: Julius Thomas||MLB: Paul Posluszny|
|LT: Kelvin Beachum||OLB: Telvin Smith|
|LG: Mackenzy Bernadeau||CB1: Davon House|
|C: Brandon Linder||CB2: Jalen Ramsey|
|RG: A.J. Cann||S: Tashaun Gipson|
|RT: Jermey Parnell||S: Jonathan Cyprien|
» No defense found better upgrades this offseason than Jacksonville‘s, adding Malik Jackson, Myles Jack, Jalen Ramsey, Prince Amukamara and Tashaun Gipson. Getting 2015 first-round pick Dante Fowler back should finally provide a player who can win one-on-one pass rush battles. Gipson was an under-the-radar signing who could free Jonathan Cyprien to morph into a hybrid/linebacker role in certain packages. If Gus Bradley’s defense falters in 2016, it’s on the coaches, not talent.
» The Jags believe Jack will be ready for the start of the season. The rookie will provide Jacksonville with one of the fastest linebacker units in the NFL.
» I’m slating Ramsey as a starter from the jump, with Amukamara as the third corner. If Ramsey is as good as all the scouts boasted during the draft process, he’ll make an immediate impact on the back end of a once porous group.
» Luke Joeckel is out of my starting lineup and hopefully the Jags’ too — for Blake Bortles‘ sake. Assuming Kelvin Beachum bounces back from injury, left tackle is his job. Joeckel, the former No. 2 overall pick, should be relegated to swing tackle in case of injury and in heavy sets.
» The Jags boast depth on the defensive interior. Roy Miller is expected to start at nose tackle as a run stuffer — similar to Brandon Mebane‘s role when Bradley coached in Seattle. Sen’Derrick Marks — once the only bright spot on this defense — will rotate in as a pocket pusher. However, there remain questions at edge rusher behind Fowler.
» It feels like a make-or-break season for Marqise Lee, healthy or not. The Albino Tiger already has been passed by Allen Hurns and could lose time to pass-catching tight end Marcedes Lewis. The Jags’ offense is primed to be one of the most explosive units in the NFL, with or without Lee.
|QB: Marcus Mariota||DE: Jurrell Casey|
|RB: DeMarco Murray||NT: Al Woods|
|WR1: Dorial Green-Beckham||DE: DeQuan Jones|
|WR2: Kendall Wright||OLB: Brian Orakpo|
|WR3: Rishard Matthews||ILB: Avery Williamson|
|TE: Delanie Walker||ILB: Wesley Woodyard|
|LT: Taylor Lewan||OLB: Derrick Morgan|
|LG: Byron Bell||CB1: Jason McCourty|
|C: Ben Jones||CB2: Perrish Cox|
|RG: Chance Warmack||S: Rashad Johnson|
|RT: Jack Conklin||S: Da’Norris Searcy|
» Protecting Marcus Mariota was the Titans‘ No. 1 goal this offseason. In that regard, Tennessee bolstered the offensive line with first-round right tackle Jack Conklin and center Ben Jones in free agency. Left guard remains a question mark, with former tackles Byron Bell and Jeremiah Poutasi, among others, set to battle for a starting spot.
» The running back depth chart is stacked with overlapping traits. DeMarco Murray, rookie Derrick Henry and Antonio Andrews are all between-the-tackle plows. Dexter McCluster is the passing down back and could see increased playing time if the Titans fall behind early in games. Bishop Sankey is on his way out of town. This group doesn’t scream make-you-miss potential, so the offensive line upgrades better create some running lanes.
» Mike Mularkey has already called out his wide receivers group, noting the unit needed to improve, vastly. Rishard Matthews offers an intriguing option as a second-fiddle, but explosiveness in the passing game sits with Dorial Green-Beckham improving leaps and bounds. Already tweaking his hamstring in workouts is not a good start to offseason development.
» While focusing on their “exotic smashmouth” offense, the Titans‘ defense didn’t improve this offseason. The defensive front was better than most outside of Nashville realized last year, but still lacks depth. Jurrell Casey continues to fly under the radar as a dominant defensive lineman, but when will Tennessee find him a consistent running mate to take some of the pressure off? Rookie Kevin Dodd will be asked to step in and produce immediately.
» Rashad Johnson is an upgrade over an aging Michael Griffin at safety, but the Titans remain shaky at corner. Perrish Cox and Brice McCain will battle for the starting gig across from Jason McCourty. From there the backups are even more underwhelming. Antwon Blake was terrible in Pittsburgh last year, B.W. Webb got burned last season and Blidi Wreh-Wilson is an afterthought. Dick LeBeau will rely on scheme to overcome talent deficiencies if he needs to dip into his shallow well of corners.
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