Pigskin Podcast's Will Pendleton discovers the winners and losers in the afterglow of the 2017 NFL draft.
With the draft and free agency fully in the rear-view mirror we can finally garner some understanding of what Day-1 rosters will look like. Although training camps and preseason games will confirm starting line-ups, we can now begin to estimate the general role players will take in 2017. Here are three players who have seen their stock rise and three who have seen their stock fall over the offseason.
While his off-the-field affairs are well documented, there is no denying the on-the-field talent of new Bengals running-back Joe Mixon. Although he was taken in the second round, he may just be the best running-back in this draft class over Fournette, Cook and McCaffrey. This spells bad news for one Jeremy Hill, another second round running-back on the Bengals roster. The former LSU tiger has endured a rocky start to his NFL career, bursting out of the gates early yet spluttering out recently with a fumble epidemic still fresh in the mind.
Heading into his third NFL season, Hill will be looking to re-establish himself as an NFL starter, especially with free agency looming potentially at the end of this season for him. However, the draft pick of Mixon clearly demonstrates the lack of trust the Bengals have in Hill and there is a high percentage he is either cut from the team or traded away by the end of the season. Mixon is likely to take rushing opportunities away from Hill and with Giovani Bernard, fellow Bengals receiving running-back, as a lock for the running-back role in the passing game, Hill’s value as a receiver will be even further diminished.
With a new, more talented face ahead of him on the depth chart in Mixon and Bernard reducing his chance at expanding his role as a receiver, Hill is stuck between a rock and a hard place who could see his role diminished to a glorified goal-line back in 2017.
From one running-back in trouble from a rookie to another, Stewart, who has been the Panthers bell-cow running-back for years now, could sadly be seeing the end of his time as the main man in Carolina. With the Panthers selecting Christian McCaffrey with the 8th overall pick in the draft, it seems their offense is poised to take a philosophical turn.
A previous smash-mouth, power offense, the ground-and-pound approach of the Panthers appears likely to change to one more of precision and creativity. With Cam Newton taking a historic beating by defences last season, it is likely the Panthers watched the damage Tom Brady and James White did in the Superbowl and are attempting to recreate the same success in Charlotte. A dynamic running and receiving threat like McCaffrey will allow Newton to dump off passes quickly and avoid taking unnecessary contact, limiting his injuries. Stewart, an accomplished power back, has never excelled in the passing game and so it is likely McCaffrey has a stranglehold on that role and will also eat into Stewart’s carry total.
At age 30 and with an injury history as long as any, the Panthers are realising that J-Stew’s time as the lead back in Carolina is over. Stewart, a player who got his own start in the NFL through replacing a veteran running-back in DeAngelo Williams, also is likely to see this coming.
It certainly is a bad time to be a veteran running-back. With the deepest running-back class in recent memory entering the NFL, countless veterans who would have previously been viewed as starters are seeing their role lessen and lessen. One such player is Ryan Mathews.
Mathews has undergone a storied chapter of his career with the Eagles and has time and time again come out on the wrong side of the fall-out. In 2015 when Mathews signed with the Eagles he was assured to be their No.1 RB. Days after he signed the Eagles then also signed DeMarco Murray and a disastrous season for both players began. Since Murray’s trade to the Titans, Mathews was once again a lock to be the bell-cow back in Philly until he was struck by injuries. To cut a long story short, Mathews has not rushed or had the opportunity to rush for 1000+ yards since 2013.
Now, to add insult to injury, the Eagles added another running-back to their roster in the draft, this time the all-time NCAA career rushing yardage leader, Donnel Pumphrey. The Eagles currently have Mathews, Pumphrey, Wendell Smallwood and stud receiving RB Darren Sproles all on their roster. The Eagles have never been afraid to use a running-back committee approach and it seems as if in 2017 they will turn to this tactic once again. The only solace for Mathews is that he is the only big running-back on the team and so will likely receive all goal-line work, rushing for 8 touchdowns last season.
Even though he may still be reeling from the team’s move from San Diego to Los Angeles, when Rivers looks over his roster sheet a smile is sure to cross his face. Rivers has always loved to throw the ball a lot and now he may just be surrounded by the best pass-catching corps in the NFL. Wide receivers Keenan Allen and Tyrell Williams are both capable of 1000+ receiving yard seasons and with rookie WR and jump-ball specialist in Mike Williams locked in for redzone targets and speedster Travis Benjamin capable of blasting off 100+ yard games with ease, Rivers will be licking his lips, as should fantasy owners. And as if that wasn’t enough, Los Angeles is now home to two stellar tight ends in Antonio Gates and Hunter Henry, both players who had great redzone success in 2016.
The Chargers have been hit by injuries more than any team in the league for the last 3 seasons and surely it is time for that to end. If the offensive line can stay healthy than nothing should be holding back Rivers and the Chargers this season, especially with a revamped, potentially top-10 defence too. The emergence of Melvin Gordon as a top-5 running-back also will relieve pressure from Rivers and prevent opposing defences dropping extra men into coverage. With one of the most talented teams in the league on paper, Rivers will be hoping to kick off the Chargers reign in L.A. with a bang.
With not much else going right this offseason in San Francisco, one man who is sure to be happy is Carlos Hyde. While the 49ers may not have the future answer at QB on their roster, they certainly do at the running-back position.
Hyde is a perfect fit for new head coach Kyle Shanahan’s zone blocking run scheme, a scheme also run by Jim Harbaugh during the last era of 49ers success. With a running style similar to Frank Gore’s in his prime, 49ers fans will be pleased to see another power back pounding down Levi’s Stadium. With the absence of any real threat in the passing game, either at quarterback or wide receiver, Hyde will likely be the focal-point of the 49ers offense and with very little on the depth chart behind him, only an injury could stop him this season.
Hyde has a similar skill-set to that of Devonta Freeman in Atlanta and there is plenty of evidence for what Shanahan could do with a back like Freeman during his time with the Falcons. Hyde is poised for a huge year and the 49ers and Shanahan would be wise to ride him all the way.
Remember before when we talked about how stacked the Bengals backfield was? That’s only going to make life easier for Dalton, a fact that is important as the Bengals have recently allowed one of the best offensive lines in the NFL to dilapidate. A committee of stud running-backs will alleviate the pressure on Dalton and also provide dump-off options for him. However, the reason Dalton has seen his stock rise is because of the Bengals offseason additions in the passing game.
A.J. Green is without question a top-5 wide receiver in the NFL and the Bengals have never had a losing season when Green has 1000+ receiving yards. Tyler Eifert has showed when healthy he can rival Rob Gronkowski as the best redzone threat in the league and with speedy first round WR John Ross playing opposite Green, Dalton will not be short of passing options. The Bengals offense has always worked best when they play with two solid receivers, a feat they now have, and so the Bengals could be ready to return to the playoffs once again.
Don’t forget that only a season ago Andy Dalton was garnering MVP consideration before his thumb injury. With an offense that’s ready to rock and a seasoned coaching staff, Dalton and the Bengals could be facing a similar season to that of Rivers and the Chargers.