With the NFL draft over, as well as the majority of significant free agent signings, it’s time to dig into which NFL teams have improved the most over the offseason and can be expected to do much better in the upcoming season.
While there may be trades and signings that inch these teams more in one direction, NFL fans do have a fairly clear picture of what a team's 2016 roster will resemble. For the most part, it appears as if the league has evened out a bit, with several standings cellar-dwellers making moves that could propel them forward, and certain winning teams taking a more conservative "if it ain't broke don't fix it" approach. Some of the NFL’s most improved teams include:
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After a deflating 2015 campaign that featured star WR Steve Smith encountering a season-ending injury and the offense never truly recovering, savvy GM Ozzie Newsome, whose picks are often considered the model for homegrown development, made his mark on the draft by strengthening the offensive line. He selected elite talent Ronnie Stanley, who should immediately give QB Joe Flacco some more time to breathe in protecting his blind side.
Newsome especially found value on the third day of the draft, where he took WR Chris Moore, RB Kenneth Dixon, DT Willie Henry and OT Alex Lewis, all underrated players who can contribute fairly quickly. Look for the Ravens and coach John Harbaugh to regain their status as a respectable team.
The Titans already have a very promising young franchise QB in Marcus Mariota, so the addition of bruising RB DeMarco Murray and, in the draft, RB Derrick Henry give Mariota some added versatility. In addition to throwing to targets such as TE Delanie Walker and using the read option to run, Mariota now has two very capable running backs to give him some room and versatility.
First-round pick OT Jack Conklin is a physical beast who will provide the offensive line and the talented Mariota the time needed to truly excel. The Titans did very well in adding Murray and Henry, though their defensive-centric offseason approach speaks volumes.
Many experts have lauded the Jaguars’ 2016 NFL draft performance as the one packed with the most value. Their first two picks, Jalen Ramsey and Myles Jack, were widely considered top-8 players around the industry. Jack dropped to the 36th pick due to medical concerns, but the outside linebacker has enormous talent that should pay off immediately. Ramsey, a cornerback, will give the team a much-needed defensive presence on the back end.
In addition to the ongoing development of talented offensive tools such as QB Blake Bortles and WR Allen Robinson, the Jaguars are now a formidable threat on both sides of the ball, in a comfortable new high-tech facility no less. Coach Gus Bradley seems poised to improve the team’s record for the third year in a row.
New York Giants
Well, after spending over $200 million on defensive free agents, the Giants better hope they improve on their disappointing 6-10 2015 campaign. They likely will, as the pair of Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr. should continue to haunt opposing defenses, while the Giants' defensive adjustments — especially the addition of Oliver Vernon and full return of Jason Pierre-Paul — should do very well.
The team's cornerbacks — Janoris Jenkins, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and first-round pick Eli Apple — are as talented as any cornerback trio in the league, providing Manning and company with less pressure, knowing opposing teams won't consistently go off for ample points, like last year. Even beyond Odell, new WR Sterling Shepard and the hopefully healthy return of Victor Cruz will give Manning plenty of toys to play with.
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These four teams seem poised for better campaigns in the fall. Of course, what we see on paper and what happens on the field aren’t always the same. It will be interesting to see if each squad can translate a good draft into a good season.