With most free agents signed and the NFL Draft complete, the league’s 2020 rosters are mostly complete. Luke Inman takes a look at which offenses improved the most this offseason.
* Denotes Rookies
Best Passing Game Improvement
NFC: Arizona Cardinals
Summary: Things are about to get real down in the desert as Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray take the next step in development and progression with another offseason under their belt. Last year Murray showed major flashes doing what he excels at in creating plays with his feet and making chunk plays deep downfield. With another year under Kingsbury’s tutelage and what Murray has already proven he can do, the potential in 2020 is starting to get awfully exciting.
We haven’t even talked about bringing in DeAndre Hopkins to the mix in what was one of the biggest swindles of the entire NFL offseason. As a legitimate top-three wideout in the league, Hopkins immediately gives Murray a safety blanket like he’s never had and a new layer of confidence to stay aggressive and trust his playmaker no matter the coverage.
Stealing Houston tackle Josh Jones in the third round was the icing on the cake as Jones started four years in college and was one of PFF’s highest graded pass blockers.
After ranking in the bottom-10 last year with just 217 passing yards per game this new and improved Cardinals offense has all the makings of an explosive and high octane unit that should make one of the biggest leaps of any passing team in the NFL.
AFC: Jacksonville Jaguars
Summary: I’m awfully excited to see what new offensive coordinator Jay Gruden is going to be able to do with young hot shot Gardner Minshew in his second season. A former head coach, Gruden has made a living on being one of the best quarterback proteges and creative offensive minds in the game, which could do wonders for Minshew right out of the gate.
While the team did lose a starting wide receiver in free agency, adding Laviska Shenault and Collin Johnson gave the passing game a fresh shot of high ceiling talent that balanced their skill sets out perfectly. Shenault will look to make a mark on short and intermediate passes with his strong run after the catch and explosive home run ability, while Johnson will be the go-to red zone and jump ball guru by season’s end.
A strong offensive line, a young and budding signal caller, two high-end wideouts and most importantly, a coordinator that knows how to put all the pieces of this puzzle together and maximize each player’s specific skillsets. In a wide open AFC South I think the Jaguars are going to be a fun team to watch, if nothing else for their ability to put up points and production through the air.
Runner Up: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Summary: The only reason this squad falls to the “runner up” category is because it’s tough to improve when you’re already the No. 1 passing team in the league last year with 301 passing yards per game, in large part to passing game genius Bruce Arians.
That genius just hit the lottery when he stole the greatest quarterback to play the game for his final run, and boy is Tom Brady hungry to prove the world that Bill Belicheck is not the reason why he has six rings on his throwing hand.
With a coach who thrives in the passing game concepts and a future Hall of Famer that’s playing angry and with a chip on his shoulder, this No. 1 passing game could somehow get better. Bringing back his old Patriots go-to weapon Rob Gronkowski makes you wonder how long until we get a “30 For 30” documentary about just how dramatic it was to watch all these offseason moves unfold in such entertaining fashion.
As if that wasn’t enough, Tristan Wirfs was my No. 1 rated offensive tackle that will help clear pocket space for Brady like he had in his prime in New England, and rookie wideout Tyler Johnson should thrive as a third weapon with Mike Evans and Chris Godwin soaking up all the extra attention.
Devil’s advocates will tell us bringing in a new quarterback and skill position players never works out as smoothly as you think it will in season one. However, look me in the eyes and tell me you’d feel good betting against this Arians, Brady, Gronk, Evans, Godwin collection. Sometimes the stories write themselves.
Best Offensive Line Improvement
NFC: New York Giants
Summary: Sure they’re all rookies, but damn, that’s a serious haul of talent Dave Gettleman just brought in from the barn. Thomas was one of the cleanest prospects you could find after three straight seasons of dominance and will instantly improve the stability of protection for Daniel Jones and the offense. Matt Peart and Shane Lemieux could turn into major contributors early on, too.
Peart has great measurables and the makings of a future starter down the road after some fine seasoning. Lemieux is more of the wild card of the bunch but is another big-time upside trench warrior from his combine to his collegiate tape.
Round them all up and the Giants quickly have turned a weakness into a strength with three starting-caliber blockers including one in Thomas who we could be calling a Pro Bowler in the not so distant future.
My biggest pet peeve is if you’re going to invest a top-10 pick on a quarterback then, for God’s sake, surround him with the proper protection he will need to develop into the player you saw when you drafted him. Gettleman and the Giants did that, and Jones’ progression is going to benefit from it after this great draft haul.
AFC: Miami Dolphins
Summary: Not many teams crushed every stage of the offseason quite like this franchise. And after drafting what they hope will be the future franchise quarterback in Tua Tagovailoa they immediately surrounded him with talent to succeed.
While they are both rookies, Austin Jackson and Robert Hunt both flash off the tape and offer some of the biggest upside of any of their peers at the position. Add in Ereck Flowers, who had one of the biggest bounce-back seasons in the NFL, and the Dolphins just scored a hat trick in the trenches to bolster their offensive line blocking in a big way.
They possess an outstandingly rich, deep and young core to slowly build upon now that the AFC East is wide open for the first time in literally two decades. What a time to be alive if you’re a Dolphins fan.
Runner Up: Detroit Lions
Summary: I, for one, like what this front office has tried to do, getting Matt Stafford the proper talent around him to take some pressure off his shoulders for once.
While none of the three names are locks to be studs or even starting caliber, I respect the mix of one big free agency signing plus two solid mid-round interior guards who both offer some strong upside in Jackson and Stenberg.
With Frank Ragnow and Taylor Decker already in the fold, the Lions have some serious potential as a top-10 offensive line unit if any of those new additions can live up to the billing. Getting an aging and banged up Stafford as much protection as possible should’ve been the focal point this offseason, and it clearly was from the front office’s biggest moves.
Best Running Game Improvement
NFC: Los Angeles Rams
Additions: Kevin O’Connell (OC), Redskins; *Cam Akers, RB, Second-Round Pick
Summary: It’s easy for people to forget the pressure Sean McVay put on himself playing head coach while also calling the shots and acting as offensive coordinator for the past two seasons.
Now, McVay will have his trusty sidekick O’Connell at his side, helping take off a significant amount of pressure and allowing both to maximize their best skillsets as outstanding offensive innovators and play callers.
Trying to get production out of Todd Gurley last season was like watching someone try to fit a square peg through a round hole. Wasn’t happening, for a variety of reasons, including lingering injuries and a lack of consistent passing game around him.
With fresh and explosive legs jumping into the scene with Darrell Henderson and in rookie Cam Akers, who stole the show at the combine with his freaky physical prowess, and continuity along the offensive line, there’s no chance the McVay and O’Connell combo let the seventh-worst rushing unit fall into the bottom 10 once again.
AFC: Cleveland Browns
Summary: It’s not like the Browns were bad last season, rushing the ball ranking 12th in the league in yards per game. However, after the additions of two high end lineman in Jack Conklin and top-10 pick Jedrick Wills, it’s hard not to assume the Browns front line is only going to get better.
Remember, Conklin has always been a solid run blocker and played with a unit in the Titans that have been in the top-10 in moving the ball on the ground for multiple years in a row. The catalyst, though, showed up when Kevin Stefanski walked in the door. A long time assistant coach and offensive coordinator, Stefanski shined when giving full reins last season, catapulting the Vikings to one of the best rushing teams in the NFL.
While Nick Chubb may not have the home run ability of Dalvin Cook, he’s no slouch by any means and is a tailback that is built to tote the rock over 20 times per game and produce some dominating results.
While ranking 12th in rushing last year seems good, with Stefanski and a highly improved offensive line, I wouldn’t be shocked to see Chubb vault this team into the top five in 2020.
Runner Up: Atlanta Falcons
Summary: If we’re talking about most improved it’s hard not to put the Falcons here when you realize they were one of the bottom three teams in the league at running the ball. Think about that for a second. With a passing game consisting of Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley and Matt Ryan it’s amazing the rushing attack did not have more breathing room.
The front office hit the reset button and let go of the long-time tandem of Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman and cashed them in for Todd Gurley, a move I personally love. While Gurley has dealt with injuries of his own as of late, he’s still just an astounding 25 years young. Incredible when you think about just how impactful and productive he’s been since coming into the league.
Gurley will not only have the benefit of a lethal passing game and veteran signal caller, but also the fact the Falcons have invested early picks and cap money into their offensive line for three straight years with Pro Bowler Alex Mack and first round selections Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary.
If Gurley is even half of his old self, then the Falcons should catapult to the middle of the pack in 2020, which would be a huge improvement from 30th in the league.