Monday, August 19, 2013

The NFL All-Newcomer Team, Offense

By Joshua Duffy

Every year, the 32 teams of the National Football League open training camps with hundreds of new faces from the previous season. For teams with established rosters, there will be a new crop of rookies, plus some selected free agents. For teams in rebuilding mode, more than half the 90-man camp roster may not have been there last Christmas.

The churn includes coaches, too. If the head coach stays, there are still going to be one or two changes. If it's a new regime in place, we're talking 12, 15 new guys trying to figure out how to construct a team capable of competing.

In other words, the NFL is a transient business. The logos stay the same but most of the guys wearing those logos will be gone in a few years. And that puts an incredible amount of pressure on the front office to pick the right guys to replace them.

With that in mind, the list below honors the best choices to fill the various needs this past offseason. Only players and coaches in new places in 2013 are eligible, and the choices are based on their potential to make a real difference in their new team's performance over last year.

Today, we take a look at the coaches and offense. Later this week, the defense and special teams.

Head coach: Chip Kelly, Philadelphia Eagles

Much consideration was given to Andy Reid (Chiefs), Bruce Arians (Cardinals) and Doug Marrone (Bills), but Kelly doesn't just have the potential to revolutionize the Eagles, he comes with the potential to change offensive football in the NFL. He could take Mike Vick back to the Pro Bowl and make LeSean McCoy an MVP-caliber rusher. Of course that's the ceiling of his potential, and we've certainly seen hype out of Philadelphia turn out rather poorly, but this team will be a must watch every week, and that gets Kelly the spot as the most influential new head coach in 2013.

Offensive Coordinator: Norv Turner, Cleveland Browns

Put it this way: after watching Brandon Weeden carve up the Lions in their second preseason game, Browns fans took to Twitter like they had just found a time machine, travelled back to January 1987, and batted down John Elway's pass to Mark Jackson to cap off The Drive. If Turner can get Weeden to even just respectable-level QB play, there are enough other weapons on the field to make some noise in an anything-but-locked-up AFC North.

Defensive Coordinator: Mike Pettine, Buffalo Bills

Debated going with Ray Horton of the Browns, but Pettine will have the biggest influence over his new team's fortunes this season. The Bills have the talent on defense to be much better than they were under the old regime, and they need to be if they have any chance of catching the Patriots, or at least beating out Miami for second place in the AFC East. If Pettine's attacking scheme can get Mario Williams to play up to his potential, they have all the other pieces in place to become a top-10 defense.

Quarterback: Alex Smith, Kansas City Chiefs

While Carson Palmer may get killed in Arians' deep drop offense, Smith is perfectly suited to Reid's system with the Chiefs. Smith was completing 70% of his passes for an average of 7.97 per attempt before he got hurt and lost his job last season. If he had enough attempts to qualify for the leader board, that YPA would have been good for fourth overall, behind only RGIII, Peyton Manning and Cam Newton. He's not going to take you to the fantasy football championship game, but he will bring a professional approach to quarterback that will allow the offense to function. That's a lot more than the Chiefs have been able to say in a long, long time.

RB: Reggie Bush, Detroit Lions

While it seems like Bush has been around forever, he is still only 28 with fewer than 1000 career carries. He's only missed one game in the past two years, and he has the potential to be a major factor in the pass game. If ever Bush was going to achieve the potential he carried into the League as a Heisman winner out of USC, this is the offense that's going to get him there.

WR: Anquan Boldin, San Francisco 49ers

Now entering his 11th season, Boldin hasn't topped 70 catches or 1,000 yards since his last year in Arizona (2009). He's more of a guy who will kill you with the big third down catch than the guy who will dominate fantasy leagues. So why on this list? Because if he wasn't, Collin Kaepernick would be entering the season with the worst set of starting receivers in the NFL. And possibly the CFL. Maybe even the Arena League. Does NFL Europe still exist?

WR: Danny Amendola, New England Patriots

Wes Welker is better, but Amendola's performance/health this season is more important to Tom Brady and the Patriots than Welker's is to Peyton Manning and the Broncos. If Welker is a bust for whatever reason, Denver still has Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker. They'll survive. But if Amendola goes down ... Let's just say that while Brady has worked miracles in the past, this would be asking a lot.

WR: Percy Harvin, Seattle Seahawks

How can I list a guy who just had hip surgery and may not play until December? Because the season doesn't end until February, and the mix of Harvin's quickness and Russell Wilson's mobility is enough to take this team from just making the playoffs to potentially having home field advantage. They play each of their division rivals during the last four weeks, and face back-to-back trips to San Francisco and New York to face the Giants in weeks 14 and 15, respectively. Having Harvin back will be the key to locking up that one seed.

TE: Jared Cook, St. Louis Rams

This spot was going to Miami's Dustin Keller until he tore up his knee over the weekend. Cook is getting an awful lot of hype at Rams camp despite catching just 44 passes for 523 yards and 4 TD in 13 games with Tennessee last year. Granted, the Titans were terrible, but he's being talked about the next great beak out at tight end now. I'm not buying that, but I am buying the idea that Cook's arrival in St. Louis will be an integral component to improving a Rams defense that couldn't even must 19 points per game last season.

LT: Jake Long, St. Louis Rams

Another weapon for Sam Bradford. With receivers Tavon Austin and Chris Givens, and Cook at tight end, Bradford is going to have some options in the pass game. Now with Long over at left tackle, pushing Rodger Saffold over to right tackle, Bradford should finally have time to go through his progressions.

RT: Eric Fisher, Kansas City Chiefs

If I were just doing tackles in general, I'd probably take Jermon Bushrod, the new left tackle for the Bears. But since I'm going with a legit lineup, that means a right tackle and the first overall pick in April's draft (barely edging out Gosder Cherilus of the Colts). Everything Andy Reid wants this offense to be will depend on how they run the ball. With Fisher now on the right opposite LT Branden Albert, Kansas City has as good a set of tackles as there is in the league. That's going to make the run game effective, which in turn will make the play-action game effective. And that's how the Chiefs are going to make the playoffs.

LG/RG: Andy Levitre and Chance Warmack, Tennessee Titans

Levitre is a free agent signing from Buffalo and Warmack came in the draft. Both are being counted on to restore Chris Johnson to an elite runner, which is the only prayer this team has of surviving this year. If Johnson is back to his CJ2K self, things will be much easier for the accuracy-challenged Jake Locker. If not, we'll be writing about the complete makeover of the Titans front office and coaching staff come this time next year.

C: Travis Frederick, Dallas Cowboys

Eyebrows were certainly raised when the Cowboys took Frederick in the first round of the draft, but everything he's done since then has validated the decision. He's not just going to start, he's taken control of the offense in front of Tony Romo. And the less Romo has to worry about, the more he can focus on setting Dez Bryant up for a top-three MVP finish.

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