2019 NFL Free Agency Predictions: Part 1: Offensive Skill Positions

Welcome to the first article of my 2019 NFL free agency prediction series!  Today, I’ll be sharing my predictions for where offensive skill position players (QBs, RBs, WRs, TEs) end up signing.  Where will Le’Veon Bell be headed after a year away from football?  Where will Nick Foles find himself a starting job?  Keep reading to find out what I think, and you check out my tentative schedule for the entire series below.  In later articles, I will include links to the previously posted articles:

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2019 NFL Free Agency Predictions

Series Schedule

Monday, March 4: NFL Free Agency Predictions: Part 1: Offensive Skill Positions

Wednesday, March 6: NFL Free Agency Predictions: Part 2: Linemen

Saturday, March 9: NFL Free Agency Predictions: Part 3: Linebackers and Defensive Backs

 

QB

In my eyes, Foles is the only viable starter that’s currently on the free agent market. Blake Bortles or Ryan Tannehill could eventually be released/traded, but for now, the choice is targeting Foles or waiting for the draft. Unlike other QB needy teams, the Jags could easily return to the playoffs with the right QB leading them. That being said, a veteran QB makes sense. The Giants, Redskins, and others will go for a combo of a rookie and a veteran mentor.

For Washington, Alex Smith will not be able to serve as a veteran mentor considering his severe knee injury in 2018. Colt McCoy isn’t a viable starter in my eyes either. However, Teddy Bridgewater is a free agent who has experience starting, so he could serve as Washington’s bridge starter (no pun intended) until their young QB, whether it be Kyler Murray, Dwayne Haskins, or someone else, has time to develop.

The Bucs and Dolphins will also be on the lookout for veteran backups. Look for them to resign their 2018 backup QBs, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brock Osweiler. The Bills could also use some depth at QB behind Josh Allen, so bringing back their former QB, Tyrod Taylor, could be smart.

That would leave Josh McCown as the best free agent QB left. I have him going to LA to backup Philip Rivers until they draft Rivers’ successor.

RB

Viable Starters

Bell might be the best player on the open market in a long time. The Steelers refused to pay him what he wanted. But who will be up to pay him? He reportedly wants $25 million annually. I don’t think anyone will give him that, but I think he’d settle for $20 million/year if he ever wants to play again. If the Eagles free up enough cap between Foles’ departure and a release or two, they will be willing to pay for him for some answers at RB. Right now, they have a surplus of RBs, but no clear cut starter.

I see Ajayi, Philly’s last starting RB, leading a refined RB committee in Tampa. Expect an aging Adrian Peterson to do the same in Indianapolis. On the contrary, Ingram and Coleman will leave RB committees to become full time starters on RB needy teams. Coleman will replace Kareem Hunt, while Ingram will replace Marshawn Lynch (I see him retiring). The Ravens’ backfield is getting pretty crowded after the emergence of Gus Edwards, but I think Alex Collins will wind up back in Baltimore.

RB2 Options

The 49ers may have Jerick McKinnon and Matt Breida at RB, but a veteran mentor like 3-time Super Bowl champion LeGarrette Blount could be helpful if they resort to an RB committee.  Yeldon will serve a similar role in Green Bay, playing alongside young RBs Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams.  The Steelers could also use a veteran in their backfield behind new starter James Conner, and I think Martin could be a good fit.  Despite leading the Rams in the playoffs, Anderson may have to settle for a backup/committee role as well.  He could be a good replacement for Coleman in Atlanta.  Murray was successful in Minnesota, and there’s room for him in the backfield, so I see him coming back.  With Coleman headed to Kansas City, the Chiefs will move on from Spencer Ware as he heads to Dallas to backup Ezekiel Elliott.

WR/TE

Top Tier WRs

Sam Darnold showed flashes of talent in his rookie year.  I think a better RB and a #1 receiver could make all the difference for him.  They should chase after Tate aggressively if they cannot land Antonio Brown (I have him going to San Fran).  Bryant barely played last year, but he still could serve as a WR1.  The Bills could be a fit, but if they pass up on Bryant, they could also take D.K. Metcalf in Round 1 of the draft.

Cobb looks to be leaving Green Bay, and the Steelers may seek depth options at receiver after Antonio Brown leaves.  Cobb could be a fit to play across from JuJu Smith-Schuster.  The Lions have no clear cut WR1 after Tate’s departure, but if they sign a lower tier option like John Brown, Matthew Stafford could look evenly split targets among Brown, Marvin Jones, and Kenny Golladay.

Moncrief and Wallace aren’t viable #1 receivers at this point, but they could still be a big help for WR needy teams.  Moncrief could be a good option for the Pats, rather than overspending for Golden Tate.  I have Wallace returning to the Eagles to play alongside Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor.  This trio never played together despite being lined up as Philly’s top 3 receivers on the depth chart in 2018 training camp.

WR Depth Options

The Bills need more than just Bryant or Metcalf – maybe they can pair up Bryant with Beasley, his former teammate.  The Ravens could also use some more depth at WR.  Funchess isn’t a top tier option, but if they cannot land or draft someone top tier, he will have to do.  Maybe they can pair Funchess with a rookie WR1.  The Chiefs may not bring in anyone new, but they could bring back Conley to play behind Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins.

The Colts could use some more experienced options across from T.Y. Hilton – Matthews could be a good choice.  They could always draft someone to split time as the #2 receiver with him.  Williams upped his value this season, but I still cannot see many teams paying him WR1 money.  The Jets could use another depth option behind Tate, especially if Robby Anderson leaves.  The Patriots need all the quality WRs they can afford, so Dorsett could be a good option to bring back considering his developing chemistry with Tom Brady.

Top Tier TEs

Eifert has a concerning injury history, and I think it’s time for Cincinnati to move on.  But Detroit could pair him with a drafted TE to ensure security at the position.  Kroft will return to Cincy with Eifert on his way out.  Kroft will return to Cincy with Eifert on his way out.  The Saints could also use a veteran TE alongside the young Dan Arnold, and Cook might be the most consistent veteran on the market.  It would be smart for the Texans to target Noah Fant or T.J. Hockenson in the draft, but signing a veteran in the meantime couldn’t hurt, and James could be a good mentor for their new TE.

Lewis and Rodgers are not cut out to be a team’s #1 tight end at this point.  But they can provide depth as a TE2, with Lewis backing up Vance McDonald and Rodgers backing up Chris Herndon IV.

WR/TE Depth Options

Darnold needs more consistent receivers, so I could see the Jets moving on from Robby Anderson.  Anderson could be a good depth piece in Cleveland, serving as the WR2 over Antonio Callaway.  Humphries is also going into free agency expecting WR2 money.  But I think he will have to settle for a little less, and if his price drops, the Pats may be willing to pay for him for additional depth.  He is a good fit in New England.  Despite a disappointing 2018, I could still see Benjamin contributing behind Davante Adams in Green Bay.  They’ll need to draft a younger receiver to play alongside them though.

If the Lions sign anyone else at TE besides Eifert, I don’t think it will be their 2018 tight end Luke Willson.  Josh Hill has a slightly better track record and could be a good bargain for the Lions.  I see Willson returning to Seattle to compete for playing time with Will Dissly, Ed Dickson, and others.  Kendricks was the most consistent of Green Bay’s tight ends this year, so look for them to retain him alongside Jimmy Graham.

 

Wow, that’s a lot of quality free agents.  The madness will begin in a little over a week.  Stay tuned for more predictions later in the week.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.