Acquainted faces in new locations: Matthew Stafford, JJ Watt, Julio Jones among the many influential gamers on new groups
Tom Brady led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a Super Bowl victory in his first season with the franchise. It is unrealistic to expect such levels of return on an annual basis, but several newbies should help their respective teams include in the playoff picture.
Here are the familiar faces in new places that should make an impact:
The QBs: Carson Wentz (Colts), Matthew Stafford (LA Rams) and Ryan Fitzpatrick (Washington)
For now, the quarterback carousel has stopped spinning and a handful are expected to be launched for new teams in week 1. Instead of highlighting them all, let’s focus on those who are most likely to feed into the playoff chase this season.
Wentz struggled to stay sane in Philadelphia, and his early tenure in Indianapolis certainly did nothing to quell those murmurs. It sounds like the former # 2 overall squad is heading to the Colts this weekend, but the season as a whole can have a bigger impact. General Manager Chris Ballard created a playoff-sized roster and put the fate of these players at Wentz’s feet. Wentz has followers that stretch back to his near MVP season, but his career is like a banana; terrible during its first and final seasons (unless you’re a psychopath) but appealing from the inside. Fortunately, he had the greatest success with Frank Reich.
In Los Angeles, Sean McVay turned from a crime aimed at causing death by a thousand paper cuts to a powerful Stafford-led airstrike involving Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, Van Jefferson and DeSean Jackson. Reports from Los Angeles suggest the Rams are pushing the ball down, and that will open the rest of the field for Tyler Higbee and Kupp.
Stafford has averaged just 6.6 wins a season since joining Detroit, and it has been five years since he appeared in the playoffs. The expectations that come with his arrival in Los Angeles should be welcomed.
People overlook the 38-year-old quarterbacks’ historic failure in the NFL. Recent history has tarnished judgment, with Tom Brady being the outlier, no example. Washington has a strong squad that should fight for a playoff spot, but it relies heavily on Fitzpatrick’s health and success. It could be a huge impact and lead Washington to an NFC East Crown, but it is more at risk.
Sam Darnold (Panthers), Teddy Bridgewater (Broncos), Jared Goff (Lions) and Andy Dalton (Bears) are some of the other quarterbacks starting for a new team this season.
Patriots TEs Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith
Every year there are examples of teams that have no identity, but a Bill Belichick team is easy to identify. He wants big bodies that beat up opponents in advance. He wants a quarterback to take care of the football and a strong ground game to score a win. It is clear that he is chasing after the success he had with Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski. Belichick had done his shopping at thrift stores but decided to go this off-season and visit Rodeo Drive.
With a shortage of wide receivers, the team will rely on what is believed to be a formidable rushing attack, as well as its two tight-end sets. Henry and Smith are huge safety nets for rookie quarterback Mac Jones. A year ago Cleveland was ridiculed for making Austin Hooper the highest paid tight end in the league in terms of average annual value. Since then, five tight ends have surpassed that number, and two will be catching passes in Foxboro this fall.
Patrick Mahomes’ OL: Joe Thuney and Orlando Brown
Kansas City had an accomplished duo of Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz, but the paved interior underperformed. Fisher and Schwartz were released that offseason, and that ushered in a new age for the Chiefs offensive. Brown (left tackle) was brought in via trade, and Thuney (Guard) was signed to a market-setting deal in the free agency. The team also added center Creed Humphrey and right guard Trey Smith over the draft as he greeted injured right tackle Lucas Niang. It’s a whole new group, and moderate health would be an improvement over what they saw last season.
Over the past three seasons, the Chiefs have asked Mahomes to do a lot of hard work. The current version of the offensive line should be improved if time is allowed to develop together.
Cardinals DE JJ Watt
Watt has missed 32 games in the last five seasons and it is because of this that many perceive that he lost a step. The decline, while true, is exaggerated. Watt is still an impact player when he’s healthy. It’s lost a bit of juice at the edge but can still lean on its overall strength and offers mismatch opportunities if it condenses inside. The 32-year-old is just three years away from a season of 16 sacks. The key is that the success of Arizona’s Pass Rush doesn’t fall entirely on Watt’s shoulders. You also have Chandler Jones and a selection of other skilled players.
Justin Herberts OL: Corey Linsley, Matt Feiler and Oday Aboushi
The Los Angeles offensive line was completely remodeled over a period of two years. It started with Bryan Bulaga a year ago and resulted in the addition of Rashawn Slater, Feiler, Linsley and Aboushi. The average NFL fan knows Linsley, but Feiler and Aboushi are a bit more unknown. In Pittsburgh, Feiler showed his versatility in six seasons. Aboushi is a solid fellow. General Manager Tom Telesco has turned a poor unit into a potential top 10 group. The biggest beneficiaries are Herbert and running back Austin Ekeler.
It is reasonable to expect Herbert’s stats to be down from last season, but the offensive improvements are working in his favor.
Jets WR Corey Davis
Davis was a reliable outlet for rookie quarterback Zach Wilson. It was important for Wilson to build trust with at least one receiving option, and injuries to Elijah Moore and Jamison Crowder made this a challenge. Davis isn’t the role model for an alpha receiver in the NFL, but he doesn’t have to be this season either. New York’s expectations are modest, and his contributions to Wilson are invaluable. Fantasy owners should reap the rewards of General Manager Joe Douglas’ free agent trip.
Titans WR Julio Jones
Corey Davis, who carried on, created a void in the Titans’ vast reception room. Davis will cost the Jets less than Jones the Titans for the next two seasons. Also, Tennessee gave up a second-round pick for the right to acquire the veteran. All in all, it was a strange decision. Nonetheless, both players are ready to have big seasons in their new digs. Jones is an athletic specimen that could possibly have been developed in a laboratory. If he can stay healthy, the combination of AJ Brown and Jones could be special.
Browns S John Johnson
Johnson comes from a successful defense with a respected coach in Los Angeles. He brings that experience to Cleveland, where a lack of health in secondary education was exposed by the Chiefs in the playoffs. The Browns have dramatically upgraded secondary school with Troy Hill, Greg Newsome II, and Johnson. A real test comes quickly with a rematch against the Chiefs scheduled for Week 1. Johnson has also been a vocal leader since joining AFC North.
49ers C Alex Mack
Mack probably wouldn’t have made it on this list had he moved on to a different team, but his partnership with Kyle Shanahan is well documented. Cleveland had established a league-leading rushing attack until Mack broke his leg in 2014. Atlanta had a lot of success on site too. The Californian product will step into a familiar situation alongside a few other highly regarded linemen. Mack is savvy and should improve the game of those around him.
Broncos CB Kyle Fuller
Chicago’s poor financial decisions resulted in Denver winning that off-season. Fuller was a cap victim because the team couldn’t afford to pay him. His surprise departure from the Windy City offered the chance to reunite with former defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. The Broncos are blatantly infatuated with their defensive talent, and along with Bradley Chubb, Justin Simmons, a hopefully sane Von Miller, and others, Denver should have a top defensive unit.
Colts LT Eric Fisher
The door is open for the former number 1 overall selection to start Week 1 against the Seahawks after sustaining an Achilles tendon injury that ended her season prematurely in January. Indianapolis has a very talented squad so the loss of Anthony Castonzo could have been devastating to their ultimate goal of fighting for a Super Bowl. Fisher’s availability was a godsend, especially given Wentz’s health. Fisher did well last season when he was healthy and he was supposed to serve as a cog in this machine.
Washington CB William Jackson
You know by now that Washington will have one of the best defensive fronts in football this season. They are equipped to rush the passer-by from the edge and the interior. The investment in Jackson was a bit steep, but it paid off. Rash decisions by the opposing quarterback naturally mean more opportunities for secondary level players to play games. The former first-round pick has never seen more than one interception in a single season, but his best opportunity awaits.
Others worth mentioning: OT Charles Leno (Washington), CB Steven Nelson (Eagles), OT Riley Reiff (Bengals), WR Curtis Samuel (Washington), DS Anthony Harris (Eagles), QB Jared Goff (Lions), QB Teddy Bridgewater (Broncos), LB Joe Schobert (Steelers), TE Chris Herndon (Vikings), OT Riley Reiff (Bengals), DE Jadeveon Clowney (Browns), WR Marvin Jones (Jaguar), WR Emmanuel Sanders (Bills), WR Sammy Watkins (Ravens), OG Gabe Jackson (Seahawks), TE Gerald Everett (Seahawks), DE Bud Dupree (Titans), DE Yannick Ngakoue, CB Adoree Jackson (Giants), OT Trent Brown (Patriots), OG Rodney Hudson (Seahawks)