10 things that will be different in 2015 after the NFL Draft
After months of hoopla, the 2015 NFL Draft has finally come and gone.
So, what’s next?
Here’s a look at 10 things that should be different for the coming season now that the selection process is over.
1. It’s now established that Dallas has truly committed to a running back-by-committee in 2015.
Letting the NFL’s reigning rushing leader leave to the NFC East-rival Philadelphia Eagles in free agency was a questionable enough decision. Declining to add a potential DeMarco Murray replacement early in the draft is even more dubious.
Maybe the Adrian Peterson-to-Dallas trade speculation isn’t completely dead after all. But barring such an unlikely deal or another notable roster move, the Cowboys seem prepared to enter training camp with a running back-by-committee approach that features three players from last season’s squad (Joseph Randle, Lance Dunbar and Ryan Williams) and the oft-injured Darren McFadden, whose seven previous NFL seasons in Oakland were a major disappointment.
The Cowboys should still be able to move the football on the ground behind what is arguably the league’s best offensive line. But a major part of Dallas’ success last season was the rushing threat along with the production Murray provided in helping to create opportunities for quarterback Tony Romo in the passing game. Defenses won’t have the same fear of the Cowboys’ current backfield.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said the front office did not feel "hostage" to having to take a running back and that addressing the secondary in the first round with UConn’s Byron Jones and pass rush in the second with Nebraska’s Randy Gregory were higher priorities. "We’re drafting players that are more important to us than running back," Jones told Cowboys media on Friday night.
Such wisdom will be tested soon enough.
2. Seattle’s Tom Cable and Miami’s Jim Benton have their work cut out for them as offensive line coaches.
The NFC West and AFC East field the league’s fiercest defensive fronts. Yet the Seahawks and Dolphins didn’t make bolstering their offensive lines a high priority in the draft or free agency.
Seattle traded Pro Bowl center Max Unger to New Orleans as part of the deal to acquire tight end Jimmy Graham and also lost left guard Bobby Carpenter to the New York Jets. The Seahawks then used their first two draft picks on other positions before selecting two o-linemen (San Diego State’s Terry Poole and West Virginia’s Mark Glowinski) in the fourth round.
As Cable told Seahawks media following Glowinski’s selection, "We’ve got a little mixing and matching to do."
The Dolphins also are counting on Benton to make something out of the team’s young talent as Miami searches for answers at both guard spots. Like the Seahawks, Miami used its first two picks elsewhere before taking Arizona State’s Jamil Douglas in Round 4. He will be competing for snaps with two of Miami’s previous third-round picks (Billy Turner and Dallas Thomas) as well as journeymen J.D. Walton, Jeff Linkenbach and Jacques McClendon.
3. Oakland may actually be able to field a credible offense.
Derek Carr’s rookie growing pains at quarterback last season weren’t helped by a lack of quality receiving targets. The 2014 Raiders didn’t have a single player who even hit the 700-yard mark.
This shouldn’t be a problem in 2015 with Oakland using the No. 4 overall pick on Alabama’s Amari Cooper.
As evidenced by his stellar production last season in a pro-style offense (104 catches for 1,736 yards and 15 touchdowns), Cooper should be ready to excel immediately. Along with the free-agent signing of ex-49ers wideout Michael Crabtree, the Raiders have given Carr some of the weapons needed for Oakland’s offense to improve from its last-in-the-league ranking.
4. St. Louis head coach Jeff Fisher has finally returned to his roots.
In each of the six seasons Tennessee made the playoffs under Fisher’s watch, the Titans fielded a 1,000-yard rusher in Eddie George, Chris Johnson or LenDale White. The Rams have sorely missed a bell-cow back – and the playoffs — while ranking 20th and 19th, respectively, in rushing the past two seasons.
Such futility should change if first-round pick Todd Gurley makes a full recovery from knee surgery as expected.
The biggest concern now is whether the Rams have a good enough offensive line to clear the way for Gurley and complementary backup Tre Mason. The hope is that second- and third-round picks Rob Havenstein and Jamon Brown can push to start immediately.
5. Jacksonville can finally make a push toward .500.
I’m not ready to use the "P" word yet because Blake Bortles has a ways to go before being considered a legitimate playoff-caliber quarterback in his second NFL season. But after free agency and the draft, general manager David Caldwell has assembled Jacksonville’s most talented squad since inheriting a barren roster in 2013.
Jacksonville’s pass rush received a much-needed boost with the first-round selection of Dante Fowler Jr. combined with the free-agent signing of Dan Skuta from San Francisco. Bortles now has more complementary talent around him as well with Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon (second round) and guard A.J. Cann (third) joining three veteran additions in tight end Julius Thomas, center Stefen Wisniewski and right tackle Jeremy Parnell.
At this point, a fifth straight season with five or fewer wins isn’t expected. It shouldn’t be acceptable to patient Jags owner Shad Khan either.
6. Philadelphia’s passing offense will be better even without Marcus Mariota at quarterback.
That’s because the Eagles used their first-round pick on Southern Cal wide receiver Nelson Agholor after being unable to swing a trade for Mariota.
Nick Foles and Mark Sanchez deserve their fair share of criticism, but a major reason Philadelphia’s quarterback play slumped in 2014 was head coach Chip Kelly’s inability to find another deep threat after his controversial decision to release wideout DeSean Jackson.
Agholor fits the bill.
Asked during his post-draft news conference Thursday whether he sees Agholar as being able to stretch a defense in the same fashion as Jackson, Kelly said: "He’s got good linear speed that can get down the field. I think people will have to be leery about that."
It now falls upon Sam Bradford, Sanchez or even Tim Tebow to get the football there.
7. Detroit is finally ready to commit more to its running game.
As evidenced by the team’s failing to crack 400 carries in any of the past four seasons, offensive balance hasn’t proven a strong suit for the Lions. Detroit finished 25th in attempts last season and 28th in overall production at a meager 88.9 yards per game.
The draft’s first two days showed that Detroit’s front office considered improving this deficiency an even bigger priority than addressing a defensive line that lost Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley and George Johnson during the off-season. The Lions chose guard Laken Thompson in the first round, acquired center/guard Manny Ramirez in a trade with Denver and added Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah in Round 2.
"We have to get better running it and need good balance," Lions general manager Martin Mayhew said at his post-draft news conference. "We have needed that for some time."
That time is now.
8. Atlanta should finally be able to sack the quarterback.
No team took the quarterback down less the past two seasons than Atlanta, a weakness that helped lead to Mike Smith’s demise as head coach. New coach Dan Quinn shouldn’t have the same problem after the Falcons chose Clemson edge-rusher Vic Beasley with the No. 8 overall pick. The bromance between Quinn and Dante Fowler Jr. from their time together at the University of Florida was no secret. The Jaguars, though, selected Fowler five picks ahead of Atlanta. Getting the chance to add Beasley — who registered 12 sacks and 21.5 tackles for losses last season — is a great consolation prize.
9. Cincinnati is the dark-horse candidate to lead the NFL in rushing.
Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher aren’t just Cincinnati’s starting tackles of the future. Both of the Bengals’ first two picks could receive ample playing time as part of "jumbo" packages featuring extra offensive linemen aligned as tight ends. Cincinnati’s talented running back tandem of Jeremy Hill and Gio Bernard along with offensive coordinator Hue Jackson should be thrilled.
10. There is hope once again in Tampa Bay and Tennessee.
This is what happens when a downtrodden franchise selects a first-round quarterback. Nobody knows if Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota will truly become franchise passers. But both clubs and their fans have something positive to look forward to after the Buccaneers and Titans posted the NFL’s worst records in 2014.