Sleeper: Morgan Burnett, S
After the departures of safeties JJ Wilcox and Mike Mitchell, the Pittsburgh Steelers made safety a priority and signed former Green Bay safety Morgan Burnett to a 3 year/ $14.5 million dollar deal. Burnett is coming off of his 8th season in Green Bay and has really been a human Swiss Army Knife for the Packers throughout his whole career.
Now Burnett isn’t necessarily a major sleeper. Most people would agree that he’s a very solid safety, but he hasn’t been anything incredibly special. Burnett hasn’t played a full season since 2012, and while he’s had a couple elite seasons, he hasn’t quite built himself a legacy yet.
The new environment for Burnett should be a great one. Nobody has really paid attention to the Green Bay defense since Clay Matthew’s prime, and even when they do, the praise goes towards fellow Safety HaHa Clinton-Dix. Burnett will finally get the spotlight at the safety position and should be the run stopper in the secondary that Pittsburgh needs.
Burnett obviously has a low floor for this next season. He played three positions in Green Bay, and I think he could bring that versatility to the Steel City as well. He’s been incredibly consistent when healthy, but I think this is the year that he finally blossoms and becomes one of the elite defenders in the NFL.
Honorable Mention: Vance McDonald, James Conner
Bust: Le’Veon Bell, RB
I don’t exactly think Bell will be a “bust” per say, but given his current contract situation and his recent behavior, I think his production could really decline, especially if he isn’t on the field.
Just like last year, Bell has been holding out in hopes for a long-term contract. However, instead of doing it respectfully like many other superstars, Bell spends the time boasting about his talents and subtly throwing jabs at Pittsburgh’s front office and coaching staff.
Bell is a generational player, don’t get me wrong, however, he wants money that he doesn’t deserve. Bell has played all 16 games just once in his 5-year career and has been suspended for Marijuana twice. No matter the talent, I find it hard to believe that the Steelers will pay an injury and suspension prone back as much as Bell thinks he deserves.
Again, Bell is 26, and an incredible running back. I think he’ll do just fine when he’s on the field, but it’s a bigger question whether or not he will be in a Steelers uniform.
Honorable Mention: None
Sleeper- Willie Snead, WR
The Ravens have a ton of guys that could be considered sleepers. Guys like NT Brandon Williams and LB Matt Judon are especially talented and don’t get the recognition they deserve, however, the Ravens defense gets enough love, so I figured it would be the offense that would be slept on the most.
Only two years ago, there was a great receiving duo in New Orleans. Brandin Cooks and Michael Thomas tore up the league, posting 2,310 combined receiving yards. However, all great things come in threes, the third, being WR Willie Snead
Snead, the receiver out of Ball St., posted 895 yards and 4 touchdowns in the 2016 season with New Orleans. Unfortunately, a short suspension at the beginning of last year took Snead off the grid. He finished 9th on the saints with a mere 92 yards.
This wasn’t the fault of Snead. He was in an unfortunate position on an offense that frankly, had too many weapons to make Snead a primary guy. His measurables aren’t all that exciting, but the 5’11”, 195-pound receiver has great hands, runs great routes and is incredibly quick. While he may not be in a high-octane offense this year, he’ll get the playing time to show he’s capable of being a big piece of a great team.
Bust- Joe Flacco, QB
I shouldn’t be having to write this in 2018. Flacco has been a bust every year since his super bowl ring, but he is amazingly still considered a solid NFL QB by some fans. You could make many arguments for the guy. He hasn’t had anyone to throw to, he’s been in a tough decision, blah blah blah, the fact is, Flacco shouldn’t have a starting job.
Flacco has thrown single-digit interceptions zero times in his entire career, and he’s had just one season where he’s thrown for over 25 touchdowns. With a career completion percentage of 61.7%, Flacco is the definition of a C+ quarterback.
Joe Flacco is not the answer. The Ravens drafted QB Lamar Jackson with the 32nd pick this year, and I would love to see someone under center other than Flacco this season. While I’m not a huge fan of Jackson either, any switch from the 33-year-old QB will be productive and realistic. I don’t expect Flacco to have the starting job by the end of the year.
Honorable Mention: Jimmy Smith, CB
Sleeper- David Njoku, TE
Recently, Browns receiver Josh Gordon delivered a hot take, claiming that Cleveland had the best receiving core in the NFL. Obviously, when he said this, most people shifted their attention to Gordon, Jarvis Landry, and maybe Corey Coleman, but there is a 4th weapon that could take this young Browns core to the next stage.
David Njoku, a first-round pick out of Miami last year, is the definition of a 20th-century tight end. He’s basically a wideout with a tight end’s body: fast, quick and has solid hands. In fact, coming out of high school Njoku was not only a wideout but a national champion in high jump. Njoku is an absolute freak, with a 4.64 40-yd dash, the 6’4”, 246 lb tight end has all the potential in the world. A good way to put it, as Chris Burke from Sports Illustrated said, “Imagine if Cam Newton played tight end.”
Obviously, this athleticism comes with some blocking deficiencies, and that will take some time, but in an offense with this many weapons, Njoku might be overlooked by some defenses. Tyrod Taylor proved in Buffalo he loves tight ends, and I think this season Njoku can really take that next step from his solid 2016 campaign.
Honorable Mention: Tyrod Taylor, Carlos Hyde, EJ Gaines, Emmanuel Ogbah
Bust- Damarious Randall, CB/S
Truthfully, I don’t really think there are that many big busts for the Browns this year, I’m not saying they’ll be an incredible team, but there are few Browns players with high expectations.
Damarious Randall arrived in Cleveland at the end of the 2017 season in a trade that sent now sophomore QB Deshone Kizer to Green Bay. Cornerback was always a huge need for the Packers, and while nobody ever really filled that role well, Randall was the best they had.
Randall will most likely be moving to safety in Cleveland, which he formerly played at Arizona St, however, I think Randall was a much better fit at corner. Damarious Randall is a ridiculous athlete, he’s fast, he’s aggressive, and he loves to make big plays, but I’m not sure if Randall has the instincts to be an effective free safety for a Browns defense that needs leadership. Randall is often faked out by the play action and misses tackles while going for the big hit.
Honorable Mention: None
Sleeper- Carl Lawson, DE
Lawson showed glimpses of his potential with an impressive rookie campaign. The 4th round pick went under the radar but finished the season with 8.5 sacks. As the Bengals look like they are at the brink of an utter collapse, Lawson is one bright young talent.
While Carl Lawson’s pass rush is effective, I do see a bit of Vic Beasley Jr in him: a guy who makes big plays and can get to the QB, but doesn’t seem to do much else. Lawson finished with just 16 combined tackles in the 2017 season, showing that he was basically non-existent in the run game.
Carl Lawson has everything he needs to become an all-around defensive player. He’s incredibly athletic and works great with his hands. All he needs to add to his game to become a run stopper, along with some lateral quickness, is just the drive to tackle the ball carrier. On many occasions, Lawson would spend so much time trying to get outside to make an amazing play, he’d miss out on opportunities to tackle the ball carrier running right up the middle.
Lawson has some good mentors on the Cincy D-Line, and he showed what he could do in the passing game. All he needs is just a little bit of work on the run, and he could become an elite defensive player.
Honorable Mention: Tyler Eifert, Tyler Boyd
Bust- Andy Dalton, QB
It took Andy Dalton 5 years to finally seem like he had it figured out in the NFL. However, a 2015 hand injury cut the potential MVP’s season short, and he hasn’t been the same since. I don’t think Dalton is a terrible quarterback, but in this league, you need a great QB to win a championship, and I think it’s time to recognize that Dalton just isn’t “the guy.”
Dalton has had the weapons, in fact, at one point Cincinnati was home to AJ Green, Marvin Jones Jr, Mohamed Sanu, and a productive Eifert, Bernard and Jeremy Hill. Sanu and Jones have both improved since leaving the Bengals, and it’s clear to see that Andy Dalton just doesn’t have the it factor.
Mechanically, Dalton is fine. Despite his high interception totals, he makes the right throws, he’s decently accurate and he won’t miss the open guy. What Dalton doesn’t have is the fire to really command a team. All Great QB’s have it. In order to win, a quarterback needs to be respected and feared, and have the fire to propel their teammates that one extra step. I just don’t think Andy Dalton has any of that.
Dalton isn’t horrible, he’s just not the guy.
Honorable Mention: Any RB