Scouting Report: Los Angeles Rams

Football is back in LA!  The Rams moved to the city in the off season.  The NFL was desperate for an LA team, and this is a big move.  This LA team is intriguing, but will they surprise people and thrive in a tough division?  Todd Gurley, Jared Goff, Aaron Donald and many other key players on this team could be deciding factors.  Today, we go over what areas are doing well, which areas need work, and what to expect of the 2016 Rams.

3 Players to Watch

1. Michael Brockers, DT

The Rams front seven is already loaded.  Aaron Donald, Robert Quinn and Alec Ogletree headline the position and Mark Barron and Akeem Ayers are also major contributors.  But one guy who I think has lacked attention in the past and may draw people in this season is defensive tackle Michael Brockers.  The 2012 first round pick has quietly racked up 14.5 sacks in his 4 year career, but has never reached six in one season.  Brockers has started for most of his career, but never really has broken out.  He’s in a contract year, and if he wants an extension with the Rams badly enough, he’ll break through this season.  I could see him with 8 or 9 sacks at the end of the season, and he will make a fierce Rams pass rush even better.  They already picked up the fifth year option, so it looks like he has one more year to prove himself.

2. Jared Goff, QB

Jared Goff did not look ready to start at minicamp, but he still has training camp.  He will make or break this Rams team.  His success is what will decide this team’s fate.  I think if he can get comfortable with the Rams system, he will dominate and thrive.  Will Goff perform well this season?  It will be tough to thrive without any strong receiving weapons, but I think Jared Goff, the surprise No. 1 overall pick, is capable of doing so.

3. Tavon Austin, WR

Tavon Austin did finally break through last season, but somehow Kenny Britt is ahead of him on the depth chart?  Kenny Britt is not a legitimate receiver, fantasy-wise or in real life, but Austin is a sleeper to be a legitimate weapon.  Britt should not be the WR1.  You may think the Rams now have no receiving weapons, but they have several underrated weapons, Tavon Austin, Lance Kendricks, Pharoh Cooper, Tyler Higbee, I could go on all day.  But will they break through and do well enough for Jared Goff to start strong right off the bat?

 

3 Questions That Must Be Answered

1. Will a weakness at o-lineman affect the make or break offense?

The offensive line, especially the interior offensive line, is LA’s major weakness.  If they continue to have problems, it will make it tougher for Jared Goff to adjust, making it harder for the receivers who want to rack up some surprise yards.  That offensive line better step it up, or it could ruin the Rams’ entire offensive scheme, and make defenses bull through to pressure Goff, Gurley and the receivers more easily.  The offensive line is yet another unit with a make or break season ahead.

2. Will the secondary top off a powerful defense?

The front seven is already a consistent source. But the Rams have holes in the secondary, and if they can get it together, the defense will be among the top.  Trumaine Johnson has just one more year in LA, so they need to not just find more talent for this year, but extra for the future.  T.J. McDonald could be a source, but the 2013 3rd rounder has not yet broken through.  They have some names at corner, Coty Sensabaugh got 2 picks last year with Tennessee, E.J. Gaines also got two picks in 2014 after missing the entire 2015 season.   But the Rams still have a serious hole at free safety, and that could bring down their defense, especially when they’re still trying to find guys at corner and strong safety.  This entire secondary needs to get it together, and if it can, this defense will add to an already strong defensive division.

3. Which sleepers will break through, and which will be duds?

The Rams have a lot of sleepers on offense, and with the defense already doing its thing, and well, their performance could make or break the team.  Will Tavon Austin continue to get better?  I don’t know, I can’t really see him doing much more than he did for the team last year, but you never know.  I think Kenny Britt has already proved that he can’t be much of a help, but he must currently be WR1 for a reason.  He was a 1st rounder in 2009, and he does have 25 career TDs, but is the Rams the right fit for him?  He’s not puting up the same numbers he did, and he’s either a bad fit, or is getting old.  I can’t see Brian Quick doing much either.  He’s in a downward direction as well, but Pharoh Cooper has a lot of upside and was a good draft pick, along with Mike Thomas.  But I think the Rams have the most hidden potential at tight end.  Lance Kendricks could become a big name with experience and consistency.  Tyler Higbee may pay off after being drafted.  I see several tight ends making a splash in 2016, not just in LA, but all over the league.  There are more potential Gronks out there.  It’s a tough position to be in, but there are opportunities to shine.

 

3 Bold Predictions

1. Todd Gurley will be one of four RBs that surpass 1400 yards

This may come as a surprise to you.  Most of the older running backs are on a major decline or already retired.  But the younger generation of running backs is out to dominate.  Le’ Veon Bell could be on pace for some serious numbers if he stays healthy and out of trouble.  I also like Todd Gurley to dominate again.  Ezekiel Elliott and David Johnson could stack up some big numbers as well.  A couple older RBs are also still getting into greatness.  I think Adrian Peterson and LeSean McCoy will have big years too, Peterson is still unstoppable, and McCoy should probably adjust to the Bills system this year.  He was good last year, but got hurt and was a little less dominant than usual.  I think he’ll bounce back.  Eddie Lacy could even surpass 1400 yards this year.  I think Gurley, along with Peterson, McCoy and Le’ Veon Bell will top 1400 yards this year.  The NFL does have more strong wde receivers, but they do have some explosive RBs as well, even in a receiver friendly year.

2. The Rams will lead the NFC West in sacks

The Rams do already have a strong pass rush, but in a tough defensive division, they have competition.  Even the 49ers have a better defense than offense.  But I think that the Rams have a better pass rush than you might think, and this year, Aaron Donald, Robert Quinn, Alec Ogletree, Mark Barron, Michael Brockers and Akeem Ayers, will all band. together, with full power and strength, and hoard a ton of sacks.  More than the Seahawks or Cardinals put up, and they won’t just lead the division.  They’ll lead it by far, and maybe even take a spot in the NFC’s top 3.  That’s just my opinion.  But can the offense stay consistent, and make a dependable playoff contender of the Rams?

3. Lance Kendricks will score 10 TDs in the regular season

The Rams have plenty of big sleepers, but I have the most faith in tight end Lance Kendricks.  Kendricks has shown some pretty great things, but now in a starting role, he needs to show more consistency.  I think Kendricks is capable of scoring 10 TDs if he gets reps.  Whether or not this team functions or wins games, this guy will be a breakout candidate.  I think the offensive line will make it a lot harder for this offense to thrive, but I still see a lot of potential in Kendricks.

 

Schedule Breakdown

The LA Rams are in a good spot, but holes around the offense could cause them to fall apart of inconsistency, especially with a weak offensive line, which is never good and just makes things harder for them.  They open the season in San Francisco.  I think this defense will be one of many to overwhelm the Rams, and they will drop this game on the road.  I think the Seahawks defense will also do extremely well against the Rams.  The Rams will not top them, even at home.  The tough schedule just goes on after that.

A young Buccaneers team with a revamped defense should be too strong for the Rams in Tampa Bay, the Cardinals will present another, unbeatable, tough defense, especially on the road, and don’t sleep on the Bills.  Injuries and all, with the draft they had, a revamped defense of their own should edge out the Rams.  Even with bad defense, in Detroit, this underrated Lions team will beat a Rams team who’s offense just cannot find the missing puzzle piece.  Trust me, it will happen, but the start of the season will be a rough ride.  The Giants revamped front seven should top the Rams as well, even in London, a neutral location that the Rams have had a lot of games in.  Yes, at the bye, they will be win-less.

The Panthers defense should be another tough one that pressures Jared Goff and the o-line, another loss for them.  In New York, I don’t think they can catch the Jets, who have a strong defense as well.  But then comes a game at home against the Dolphins.  By this point, Jared Goff will have gotten way more comfortable and will be fed up with losing the first 9 games.  The Rams should edge an aging and weakening Dolphins defense, overwhelm the offense, and take the easy W.  The Saints offense should then take advantage of the Rams weak secondary, especially at home.  Bill Belichick and the Pats should find the next week easy.

But then they come home to host the Falcons.  The same Falcons who have their own inconsistency on offense and defense.  The Rams will again crush them, as they look like the kind of team who will dominate when they have the right formula.  Then, in the last three weeks, Seattle and Arizona are unbeatable, but they will top the 49ers on their home turf.  The Rams are actually better than San Francisco.

 

My Prediction

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The Rams are the kind of team that typically struggles, but when they do well, they dominate.  They have the pieces on offense and defense, they just need to put them together.  I see 3, 4 maybe even 5 wins if they’re lucky, but a tough schedule makes things 2 times harder.

 

 

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Scouting Report: Atlanta Falcons

matt-ryan

The Falcons were Carolina’s closest competitor in the NFC South last year.  Most people think due to a weak division, they will be again.  But I say no.  The Falcons have some serious problems.  They have no offensive depth, and the defense has some good players, but also some holes, underachieving players and depth problems.  The Bucs are a big sleeper, and I think the Saints young receiving staff could even top what the Falcons have.  Matt Ryan is being cocky by saying this offense can score 30 points a game.  This team will have a rough ride, and Matt Ryan, Devonta Freeman and more overrated stars will fall.  What does this team have to win?

3 Players to Watch For

1. Tevin Coleman, RB

I know how much attention Devonta Freeman got last season, but with the kind of numbers he put up, and with Tevin Coleman healthy and ready to improve in his sophomore year, I think Freeman had a one and done season that will never happen again.  He is a potential bust for the Falcons in 2016.  Coleman underachieved last year, and he’s hungry to prove to defenders that he still is what he was in college.  I don’t see him doing that badly again.  I see at least 500 yards, and he could even come close to topping Devonta Freeman’s yardage this season, even with the Falcons counting on Freeman to start, at least to begin the season.

2. Mohamed Sanu, WR

Sanu may have not been as impressive in 2015 as he was in 2014 when A.J. Green and Marvin Jones were hurt, but Sanu is still a major underrated sleeper.  Having just one receiver ahead of him helps this year, even though Julio Jones is a little better than A.J. Green, so Sanu should get more targets.  Sanu knew he didn’t want to return to Cincinnati, but this was an interesting and underrated free agent pickup by Atlanta.  The Falcons clearly trust Sanu to step up this season, as they released Roddy White and return specialist Devin Hester, who’s probably the best ever at his position.   The Falcons do have some depth at the position in Justin Hardy, Devin Fuller, Eric Weems and Nick Williams, the only key names are Jones and Sanu.  Sanu is a big sleeper on the Falcons, and I think even with the offense struggling, him and Tevin Coleman will come through this season.  The question is, will guys they trust like Matt Ryan and Devonta Freeman, even Julio Jones keep doing their job, and will problems at tight end and even the o-line make a mark?

3. Courtney Upshaw, OLB/DE

Since being drafted by the Ravens with an early 2nd round pick in 2012, Upshaw has never been an explosive player, and the Ravens have plenty of other linebackers that they’ve started in his place, like Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, and 2014 1st rounder C.J. Mosley.  Suggs and Dumervil have been hurt a lot, but even in a starting role, he’s only racked up 5 sacks.  He’s played in every regular season game since his NFL career started, and still only 5 sacks?  Upshaw does have a lot of upside, but he will have to compete with the youngsters for a starting job in Atlanta after the Ravens declined his fifth year option.  However, I think he’s a sleeper to rack up more sacks than he has so far in his career.  If he finishes camp strong, he should take a starting job at outside linebacker opposite rookie Deion Jones or veteran Sean Weatherspoon, who came boomeranging his way back to Atlanta after a 1-year stint in Arizona.  Courtney Upshaw could be a strong source for the Falcons pass rush this season.  Trust me, he will show up!

 

3 Questions That Must Be Answered

 

1. Can the offense consistently be a force?

That’s very tough to say.  This offense has never been known for consistency, but when they do well, they do very, very well.  the Falcons have usually either gotten off to a terrible start, or fallen apart after a potential playoff contending run.  I don’t trust Matt Ryan and Devonta Freeman to consistently run this offense, although when Ryan finds his receivers in the games he performs in, the Falcons thrive.  I see Matt Ryan as a bust.  He usually is a dominant offensive force but it has tapered off over the last couple seasons, and since when is Devonta Freeman an elite RB based on one great year.  If Freeman struggles, and then Tevin Coleman fails to fill the starting position has well, they could have a problem at RB.  They will be missing elite Steven Jackson, who is lost in free agency, declining in condition as he ages.  I don’t think this offense can be a consistent force, and that will be one thing causing the Falcons to have the terrible season I’m projecting.

2. Will some small defensive tweaks help in 2016?

Vic Beasley Jr. is moving to defensive end, and the linebakcer corps is revamped with Courtney Upshaw and Sean Weatherspoon along with draft pick Deion Jones playing next to veteran Paul Worrilow.  Beasley should be able to find his groove at a new position, and after a rookie year disappointment, could finally be the intriguing pass rusher he was in college.  Upshaw, Weatherspoon and Jones are all getting a fresh start with a new team, even though Jones is new to the NFL, and Weatherspoon has been here before.  The secondary even looks like a minor improvement, even with Jalen Collins suspended for a quarter of the season.  Robert Alford now plays across from Desmond Trufaunt, and Ricardo Allen plays accross from Collins.  I think in the end, the moves will add up to minor improvements in 2016, but nothing major, and it won’t quite make up for the problems on offense.

3. Matt Ryan and Devonta Freeman: STUD or DUD?

I know Matt Ryan and Devonta Freeman have don some pretty good things in their past, but Ryan just doesn’t have it in him anymore, and Devonta Freeman looks to me like a one year wonder that will be overused in 2016, with Tevin Coleman being held to minimal touches, ready to break though.  Ryan lost production in 2015, and I could see that continuing to happen to him in 2016, and this year Freeman.  Both have overachieved at certain points, and really, this Falcons offense is going to have some serious problmes this year if they can’t even figure themselves out.

 

3 Bold Predictions

1. Vic Beasley Jr. or Courtney Upshaw will lead the team in sacks

I think this year is the year for some of Atlanta’s younger pass rushers to thrive.  Adrian Clayborn, Paul Worrilow, Sean Weatherspoon and Dwight Freeney aren’t as productive as they used to be, and young pass rushers Vic Beasley Jr. and Courtney Upshaw could be sleepers to rack up double digit sacks.  Personally, I see the duo will get between 8 and 12 sacks apiece, and the older guys will all be held to 5 or 6 sacks at most.  Upshaw and Beasley are major sleepers, and the guys around them are getting to the age where their prime has ended and they can’t do what they used to be able to do anymore.

2. Tevin Coleman will lead the team in rushing

Like I said earlier, I don’t think Devonta Freeman will ever be what he was last year again.  Tevin Coleman was a highly drafted RB in the 2015 draft, and like a lot of the 2015 RB class, I think he should blossom this year.  He may not get many carries to start the season, but once he gets the chance to prove he’s better than Freeman, his carries will increase, and he will thrive in the Falcons system. Tevin Coleman is a big sleeper, and I like what he’s doing, especially with my faith in Devonta Freeman pretty low right now.

3. Julio Jones will break the 1500 yard barrier, but he’ll be 1 of 5 or more to do so

Julio Jones is a dominant wide receiver, but this year’s wide receiver group is domInant as well, especially with Jordy Nelson and Dez Bryant.  I’m sure Julio Jones will break the 1500 yard barrier, but he is one of many that is highly capable.  I expect Antonio Brown, OBJ, Dez Bryant, Jordy Nelson and maybe A.J. Green or DeAndre Hopkins to match that stat.  Plenty are capable, and several will do it.  I don’t even expect Julio to make the Top 3 in receiving yards.  This wide receiver group is loaded, and lots of shocking stats will prove it.

Schedule Breakdown

The Falcons have a couple winnable games, but have a relatively tough schedule, and the way things are looking, I don’t think the Falcons will fare very well.  With revamped defense and young offense, Week 1 already boasts a tough match-up against the Bucs.  Even at home, the Bucs are a major sleeper and I like Tampa to win this.  That could be winnable though.  Then they face a similar team in Oakland, that’s another loss, especially on the road.  The Saints offense could be a little overwhelming for the Falcons secondary in New Orleans, and they will lose under road trip pressure.

Weeks 4-6 boast some very strong opponents.  They can not beat Carolina this year.  The Broncos will be tricky and tough on the offense in a road match-up, and they definitely can’t beat Seattle on their own turf.  They get a one week break at home, hosting the Chargers.  I do think they can win this one, Stevie Johnson is likely out for the year, and although I do see some improvement in San Diego, nothing major will happen.  This is an easy W for the Falcons at home.  But it’s back to the tough schedule in Week 8 against the Packers, who will blow them out.  Then they go to Tampa Bay.  If they can’t beat the Bucs at home, it definitely won’t happen on the road.  After a tough 6-week stretch where the Falcons go a horrid 1-5, they play one more game before the bye, in Philadelphia.  The Eagles will be pretty bad as well, but still have enough in them to beat a sucky Falcons team with home field advantage.  The team will enter the bye at a horrid 1-9, one of the worst first 10 weeks in the league.

Then after the bye come another two terrible match-ups, as they host the powerful Cardinals and sneaky, underrated Chiefs.  Two losses at home fresh off a bye is not good, but is bound to happen with these match-ups, much unlike what would of happened in these games a couple years back.  They get a tough break at the end of the season though.  One tough game stuffed between three easier match-ups.  The first is against the Rams in Los Angeles.  I have to give LA the win here though. At home, the Rams defense will outsmart Matt Ryan’s offense.  They host the 49ers, which I think is an easy W for Atlanta.  The Niners have it even worse then they do.  The Falcons at least have stars on offense.  That just isn’t there in San Francisco.  They get beaten by Carolina on the road, but I think they will close out the season with a third win in New Orleans.  With that weak a defense, this is one game Matt Ryan and the offense could thrive in.

My Prediction

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The Falcons will have a lot of trouble on the road, and the offense may struggle to get going.  An inconsistent Falcons team will not win on the road, even with easy match-ups against the Eagles and Rams.  I say they finish the season 3-13 instead of 2-14 or 1-15.  3-13 is pretty terrible, but at least the Falcons got those wins a little easier then the teams below them in my ranks, and hey, they won three easy home games.  They were just inconsistent and did terrible on the road.  Yes, even with a 3-5 home record.

 

 

 

Scouting Report: Cleveland Browns

The Browns are still well, the Browns.  So you can’t expect very much from this team.  RG3 may help a little bit under center, but come on Hue Jackson?!  You expect him to pass as the starting QB when he hasn’t been good for 4 years?  They had a good draft, they have some more elite wide receivers after cutting Dwayne Bowe and Brian Hartline, and losing Travis Benjamin to the Chargers, who signed him as a free agent.  They got Corey Coleman and reinstated Josh Gordon, who is still suspended four games, and will return
against Tom Brady’s Patriots.  Brady will also be hungry for revenge after a suspension of his own.  They also got Demario Davis on defense, but otherwise, this is the same old team.  How many wins can the Browns even get with the talent they have?

 

3 Players to Watch

1. Carl Nassib, DE

With Desmond Bryant out for the season, the Browns now have a hole at defensive end.  They drafted both Carl Nassib and Emmanuel Ogbah at the position, but Ogbah is set to play outside linebacker for the Browns.  That leaves Nassib with the starting job.  He does have competition, Xavier Cooper is also strong at the position, but this third round pick was a very intriguing selection, a former walk-on at Penn State who broke out senior year with 15.5 sacks.  The NFL may take some time for him to get used to, and NFL.com was concerned he could be a one year wonder, but personally, I think this rookie could be a breakout candidate, and this year is his oppurtunity with Desmond Bryant missing the season.

2. Duke Johnson, RB

I think this sophomore running back has more talent than Isaiah Crowell, at least potential talent at full development.  The running back only had 104 carries for 379 yards in his rookie season, but this passing back also has put up 61 receptions for 534 yards and 2 TDs.  If he fully develops, he could be a multi-purpose back that scores rushing and receiving touchdowns.  I expect his TD numbers to go up in 2016, along with his total yardage.

3.  Scooby Wright III, ILB

“Hey, the Browns are so bad, they signed Scooby Doo!”

“No, I think you got the wrong Scooby.”  Yeah.  Wrong Scooby.  This is Scooby Wright III.  You probably haven’t heard of him.  He’s an inside linebacker who was originally projected to be selected in Round 3 of the NFL Draft, but went to the Browns in Round 7 instead.  Personally, I think this college stud should act like a third rounder on the Browns, possibly even fight for Christian Kirksey’s current starting job.  I know, what’s with the weird names?  In 2 seasons with the Browns, Kirksey, a third round pick in 2014, has only racked up 5.5 sacks.  Wright racked up 14 sacks in the 2014 college football season, that’s more than one per game, after none in freshman year.  The question is, can Wright put up the same numbers he did in his healthy years in college, and can he be consistent?  In the three games he did play last year, he got 2 sacks.  Can he put up the same numbers in all 16 games?

 

3 Questions That Must Be Answered

 

1. Can Robert Griffin III ever match
his 2012 stats again?

In his rookie season, RG3 led the
Redskins to a division win and strong playoff run, making for an amazing rookie year. But he got hurt in a playoff game. In 2013,
Griffin never fully recovered. He was sidelined for the last three games for Kirk Cousins.  Back then, Cousins wasn’t what he is now.  He wasn’t developed yet, and at the start of 2014, RG3 earned the job back.  Somehow, his terrible 2013 numbers passed for a starting job?  The Redskins had a serious QB problem that year.  RG3 got hurt again in week 2 and Cousins started for seven games.  RG3 came back in Week 9, but he still did nothing.  RG3 was still not quite back to what he was, and with Kirk Cousins shut down for the season with his own injury, the Redskins had to rely on Colt McCoy to start for the remainder of the season.  McCoy eventually got hurt and RG3 had to start the rest of the season.  In 2015, Griffin struggled regressively in the preseason, and lost his job to Kirk Cousins permanently, falling to third on the depth chart also behind Colt McCoy. Cousins broke out, leading the Redskins back to the playoffs in an easy division, and RG3 never saw action, and eventually was released.  The Redskins must have been sick of his tactics.  Then Cleveland signs him and names him starter?  Over Josh McCown?  After last year’s disgrace. Wow, Hue Jackson.  Just, wow.  Griffin looks promising in the preseason, but it’s not a guarantee he’ll get back to business, and stay healthy.  I personally think he’ll do alright, but he still won’t be what he was, and I can’t tell you he won’t get hurt.  Good move keeping Josh McCown, Cleveland.

2. Will Josh Gordon perform well, and stay out of trouble?

Most people believe Josh Gordon’s recent reinstatement will benefit the Browns.  Personally, I’m questioning whether Gordon is in football shape.  He’s battling a preseason injury for a reason.  After a long suspension, it’s not easy to go back to what you were before the ban.  Gordon will be able to play in preseason games, but will remain suspended for regular season games until Week 5.  I don’t think Gordon will go back to being the guy who was a league leader in receiving yards right away.  It will take time for Gordon to redevelop his skill, if he ever does.  I’m starting to wonder, did the drugs affect his performance?  It’s also not a guarantee that Gordon will stay out of trouble.  If he has issues later in the season, he could receive more discipline.  Gordon shouldn’t have even been reinstated in the first place!  I think Gordon should be grateful he was reinstated, and drop the drugs so he can just play football again, but will he?

3. Will strong drafts in 2015 and 2016 pay off?

In the last two years, the Browns have drafted many key players.  Danny Shelton, Nate Orchard, Cameron Erving, Duke Johnson, Corey Coleman, Emmanuel Ogbah, Carl Nassib, Rashard Higgins, Ricardo Louis, Jordan Payton, Shon Coleman and Spencer Drango have all came from the last two years’ drafts.  Most of these guys aren’t completely developed yet, but a lot of them have potential.  Danny Shelton is a major breakout candidate, after decent numbers last year.  He was a 12th overall pick, after all.  Nate Orchard has contributed to the pass rush, as well.  Cameron Erving could emerge into a starter, and Duke Johnson is blossoming into a work horse RB.  In this year’s draft came four receivers.  Corey Coleman should be an immediate force, while Rashard Higgins, Ricardo Louis and Jordan Payton could see receptions off the bench.  Personally, I think Higgins and Payton are two underrated receivers that could fight for WR4 and WR5 jobs.  I also think both o-linemen and pass rushers should see time on the field, Nassib could even start.  I like the duo of Nassib and Ogbah to rack up 6 or 7 sacks.  Personally, I think Drango is the best option at right guard.  All these guys should eventually fan out, and some will affect the season.

 

3 Bold Predictions

1. Duke Johnson will lead in not just rushing yards, but lead Browns non-QBs in total yards

Duke Johnson is no one-trick pony, even in football.  He doesn’t just scramble well, he makes catches.  Personally, between his rushing yards and receiving yards and TDs he purs up, he’s an intriguing pick to lead Browns non-QBs in total yards and TDs.  There is Gary Barnidge, who could go for more TDs, but although Barnidge should be starting material at tight end, he won’t match last year, or even come close.  Josh Gordon will be missing 4 games, so Johnson has time to get a head start on him, and the rest of the receiving group hasn’t quite panned out yet, even Corey Coleman and Andrew Hawkins.  What about Isaiah Crowell?  Honestly, I think Duke Johnson will be started over Crowell this year.  Crowell hasn’t proven to be a quality starter, and I would give the sophomore RB, part of a legendary rookie running back class a try at the starting job.  Duke J0hnson is a major sleeper, and he will breakout in 2016.

2. Only 2 players will reach 8 sacks on Browns, but who?

The Browns pass rush can be pathetic at times.  Without Desmond Bryant, it will be even harder.  Personally, I think that only 2 players will even rack up 8 sacks.  Some of you might even be wondering who could do that?  I like Paul Kruger personally.  The veteran has had plenty of sacks in his career, 8 should be easy for him, if he can get back on track after a rough 2015.  The other guy being Danny Shelton.  Like I said, this guy is a major sleeper.  I’d expect more from the former 1st round pick in 2016.  He’s yet to earn a sack in his career.  2016 is his year, especially if he wants to keep the starting job.

3. The Browns will lead the AFC North in rushing yards

 

Hue Jackson sure likes to run the ball.  He has two powerful running backs in his backfield, but why do they top backfields with guys like Le’ Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams?  Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard?  Well, Bell will be suspended for the first four games, so his rushing totals will be cut in to, and DeAngelo Williams is an aging back.  Jeremy Hill is good, but Gio Bernard also gets some of his yards in receptions.  Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson are two underrated backs that could breakout, and it wouldn’t be bold predictions without a shocker like this.

 

Schedule Breakdown

The Browns don;t have many opportunities for wins, so they must take advantage of the opportunities they do have.  They open the season in Philadelphia against Doug Pederson’s Eagles.  I think this game is winnable, as I am disgusted by the Eagles’ off season rebuild, but home field advantage should pay off for the Eagles, who should top the just as bad Cleveland Browns.  The rebuilt Ravens should be tough as well.

Then come matches against the Dolphins and Redskins.  The Dolphins aren’t great, but they do have some mediocrity around the team.  They just don’t compare to the rest of the league.  But they are better than the Browns, especially when at home.  The Redskins still have a strong receiving group, and the defense is getting better, definitely enough to top the Browns.

They have absolutely no chance against Brady in his first game back, and a revamped Titans offense should thrive at home.  Cincinnati may be on the decline, but they still have enough weapons to blowout the Browns.  This would put Cleveland at 0-7.  Then comes a mtch-up against the Jets, in Cleveland.  I see home field advantage kicking in, and even with Ryan Fitzpatrick leading a strong Jets offense now, the defense has lost steam since last season, and the Browns offense, Josh Gordon, RG3, Corey Coleman, Duke Johnson, Isaiah Crowell and Gary Barnidge, should be enough to edge out the defense and get their first win.

The Cowboys should be tough when nearly at full strength.  DeMarcus Lawrence, maybe even Randy Gregory will be back, and I think the defense is underrated.  In addition to a stellar offense, that should be enough to down the Browns in Cleveland, and if Cleveland loses to the Ravens at home, it won’t be any easier on the road, even with Josh Gordon in his sixth week.  The Steelers’ QB/RB/WR combo is tough for the Browns as well, but in a division match-up, I could see the Browns splitting, and pulling the upset trigger in this game.  Their underrated offense will take advantage of the Pittsburgh D, and the Steelers offense won’t do enough.  They will be dealt a loss in Pittsburgh, though. The Giants’ revamped defense will compliment the offense and give them the road win.  Going into the bye, the Browns would be just 2-10.  If you count the Steelers match-up after the bye I called a loss, I have them at 2-11 so far.

After the bye, they have two winnable match-ups.  The first one is hosting the Bengals, another division match-up, but especially after how well the Bengals have done against the Browns, I don’t see the Browns beating the Bengals and Steelers and not the Ravens.  So they lose that one.  In Buffalo, the strong draft plus the developing talent they already had should be too good for the Browns.  The second winnable match-up comes against the Chargers.  Although the Philip Rivers led offense is intriguing, Hue Jackson’s underrated Browns offense should be all over a weak defense.  Then they close up the season in Pittsburgh.  They can’t win this game under any circumstances, and at 3-12, they will have given up already.  I see a loss here.

 

My Prediction

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The Browns will never be that good without some moves, and I don’t see many winnable match-ups on the schedule.  But this underrated offense could pull an upset or two, and I can at least see the Browns beat the Chargers at home and maybe the Jets.  Two, three, maybe four wins sounds pretty reasonable, but they will likely place last in the conference.

Final Projected Record: 3-13

 

Scouting Report: San Francisco 49ers

Welcome to my preseason team by team scouting report series.  Each day in August and September 1, I will be previewing one team’s season, making bold predictions, answering team questions and telling you what sleepers and rising players to focus on.  I will also give my input on the team’s schedule and remind you of my season prediction for that team.

 

The 49ers may be one of the most stuck teams in the NFL.  Even the Browns have a better shot of bouncing back from these tough times.  The Niners have minimal defense, declining offense, and overall aren’t looking great. Chip Kelly doesn’t look to be the answer.  But could there be some positives hidden between all the misery?  How do I know?  That’s one of many things I will show you today.

 

3 Players to Watch For

1. Aaron Lynch, OLB

I could say the entire linebacker corps should be monitored.  They may not have stellar defense, or many stars, or enough to win more than 4 or 5 games, but they have some decent pass rushers all around.  They actually ranked 18th in total defense last season. DeForest Buckner could make an impact as a rookie, veteran Ahmad Brooks and Michael Wilhoite could also step it up beside NaVorro Bowman, even guys like Glenn Dorsey or Arik Armstead.  But I chose Lynch because of all these linebackers, Lynch has the most breakout potential.  Lynch put up decent numbers in his first two seasons, and 2016 could finally be the year for him to pile up some sacks.  Still, this defense isn’t great otherwise.

2. Bruce Ellington, WR

Although he is more established as a special teamer, and he’s playing behind Torrey Smith and Quinton Patton, Ellington could be a deep sleeper.  The 49ers could use another weapon for whoever starts at QB.  It will make up for the problems at quarterback.  Torrey Smith can’t do what he used to do anymore, and Quinton Patton never really established himself as a quality starter.  Sure, he had 394 yards and 30 receptions in 2015, but that’s nothing for an NFL starter.  If Ellington could do what he does on special teams on offense, that would be helpful.

3. Colin Kaepernick, QB

I know, Kaepernick has done nothing to prove himself in the last two seasons, and Blaine Gabbert looks to be the favorite to start unless training camp position battles change things, but if Kaep can get it done in training camp, he could win his job back.  Then comes the big question.  Will he ever return to his 2013, even his 2014 state?  I think if he works hard enough in the preseason and regular season in the next year or two, that could eventually happen.  Honestly, I think Kaep’s the starter around here.  He’s the fan favorite, Chip Kelly’s favorite, and in the few scenarios where he does bounce back to his 2013 or 2014 form, it pays off.

 

3 Questions That Must Be Answered

1. Who will win the battle at quarterback?

Personally,  I think that this is Colin Kaepernick’s job to win.  If he can have a strong preseason and stay in shape, I think he will win the job.  It doesn’t matter how well Blaine Gabbert does, he’s not fit for a starting job.  Kaepernick was once a quality starter, he just needs to prove he still has any willpower at all.  A few years ago this wouldn’t have even been a discussion!  I think Kaepernick will have a strong preseason, and things will come close, but in the end, Kaepernick will pull ahead and prove he’s still in starting condition.

2. Will we see major defensive improvements, finally?

I think we will see some guys step it up this season.  When they were good, the Niners had a powerful offense, and not the greatest defense, but they have a decent group of pass rushers, some veterans like NaVorro Bowman and Antoine Bethea, and an overall acceptable defense.  They haven’t lost much since then, except quality plays from the same group of guys.  I could see DeForest Buckner having an awesome rookie season, maybe Aaron Lynch or Ahmad Brooks and NaVorro Bowman will each give you a half dozen sacks, but nothing major.  The 49ers are already in hot water on offense, it would sure be helpful to have an above average defense again.

3. Will the offensive line make things even tougher under center?

The quarterback holes are already an issue.  If the offensive line continues to have problems too, it wouldn’t be any help.  They do now have Joshua Garnett at guard where Alex Boone was.  Joe Staley is still in the mix at tackle.  But there are still some problems on the right side, even though Kaep’s blind side is taken care of.  Anthony Davis was reinstated after coming out of retirement, but is he still elite, and will he be in football shape?  Who do they have behind him, Trenton Brown?   Zane Beadles will be a help, but the issues surrounding him at right tackle and center will definitely make things tougher under center if they don’t take the next step.

 

3 Bold Predictions For The Season

1. Not one, but two running backs will rush for 500+ yards

When someone asks me about Shaun Draughn, I would say, big sleeper.  Carlos Hyde is already a workhorse RB when he’s healthy.  He was the next man up when Frank Gore was still here.  He’s healthy, now it’s time to shine.  You can’t expect too much from Carlos Hyde in his first full season as a starter, no more Reggie Bush, and hopefully no more injuries.  But 500 yards isn’t too much to ask from a 2014 2nd round pick.  Shaun Draughn may also get some time in the backfield, especially if Hyde is still developing or getting hurt.  This guy has been bouncing from team to team, being cut numerous times, maybe he’ll finally have a nice stay with the 49ers and work some yardage as a handcuff to who was once one of the top breakout candidates in the NFL.

2. Three of the four 49ers starting linebackers will rack up at least 8 sacks

I know I only said minor improvements but come on!  Eight sacks is nothing, at least for two of them, NaVorro Bowman and Ahmad Brooks.  The wild card here, Aaron Lynch.  I mentioned his name yet again.  This guy got 6 and 6.5 sacks in his first two seasons, it’s time for him to make the leap.  I could see 9 or 10 sacks out of him.  Bowman and Brooks could even rack up 11, 12 even 13 or 14 for Bowman.  I think the defense, especially the pass rush, could be the reason the 49ers win these games, at least the three I think they will manage to win.

3. Vance McDonald or Garrett Celek will lead the Niners in receptions

Half of you may have never even heard of one or both of these guys.  Neither of them are elite tight ends like Rob Gronkowski or Greg Olsen.  The 49ers just lack a wide receiver so badly that a low end tight end has a better shot at 750 yards than their #1 wide receiver.  I actually think the tight end two are a pair of sleepers, that could easily beat out Torrey Smith for the most receptions on the Niners.  I think which one of the guys leads in receptions has to do with who starts at QB.  It seems like Kaepernick prefers McDonald, but Blaine Gabbert threw to Celek more.  Will this happen?  I’m pretty convinced.

 

Schedule Breakdown

Any team at the Niners’ level’s schedule could be considered tough, but the 49ers do have a few winnable match-ups.  The Niners open up the season hosting the Los Angeles Rams.  The Rams have a strong pass rush but have holes scattered around the defense, especially in the puzzled secondary.  Todd Gurley leads an offense that lacks receiving weapons for rookie quarterback Jared Goff.  Tavon Austin had a decent 2015 season, but hasn’t fully proven himself yet.  With the home field advantage, the 49ers should be able to use their own pass rush and rushing game to get past the Rams.  I don’t actually see much the Rams have that the 49ers don’t, but both teams will have a tough time in 2016.

After that comes a 4-game stretch against some of the NFC’s best, Carolina, Seattle, Dallas and Arizona. They have decent match-ups against Buffalo and Tampa Bay after that, but they won’t get the W on the road, and the underrated Bucs should edge them.

Then comes another NFC South team, the Saints.  The Panthers and Bucs are out of the way, and personally, I think those two teams are the division’s only contenders.  They have both acceptable offense AND defense, so they will thrive.  Colin Kaepernick and Carlos Hyde should be all over the Saints D, and again they have home field, they’ll pick up the win.

After two more tough match-ups comes two road games, against the Dolphins and Bears.  Neither team is dominant, but both have the weapons to pick up a few wins themselves, and San Francisco will fall to them without home field advantage on their side.  The easy end of their schedule continues, but they might actually have a chance in the second part because in between two pairs of road games is a home game hosting the Jets.  Resigning Ryan Fitzpatrick will help the Jets, but the few 49ers sleepers should edge out the Jets D and win.

The Falcons and Rams are up next after that, on the road.  Neither of those teams are very good, but they should edge out the 49ers, considering they have home field advantage, and personally, I think the 49ers are the worst team in the league, despite having the ability to pick up a few wins.  In Week 17, even though the Seahawks may not need the game to make the playoffs, they’ll go for it and take down San Francisco to get past the Cardinals for the division win.

My Season Prediction

The 49ers won’t do much without a reliable QB or receiver, plus poor defense, but with a reasonable schedule, I think they pick up 3 or 4 games and make sure the worst team in the league has at least one win.  The 49ers should be able to pick up a few wins with a reasonable schedule, but you never know with this bad a team.

Projected Finish: 3-13, 4th In NFC West

 

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The 49ers are still an NFL team, but they won’t replicate one very well, and may have regressive offensive struggles throughout the season despite slight improvements on the defense, which was already close to average.