New England Patriots
Sleeper: Cordarrelle Patterson-WR
Cordarrelle Patterson isn’t necessarily a guy who stands out on the stat sheet, but you’ve definitely seen him on the highlight reels once or twice. Patterson is a speed demon, and has some ridiculous returns and deep catches over the course of his career.
Patterson has never really been able to break out as a receiver. He’s been an incredible returner, and he’ll run some select routes, but frankly, he doesn’t have the versatility or the hands to be an every down receiver.
The thing about playing in an offense with Bill Belichick, however, is that it doesn’t matter who you are. The Patriots coaching staff has been able to pull the skills they want from certain players, and consistently use them to their advantage for many years (Hogan’s speed, Edelman’s route running, etc.)
This was a very intentful move. The Patriots just lost speedster Brandin Cooks, and it’s obvious they are going to try to use Patterson as his replacement. I don’t know exactly how they’ll do it, but I’m confident that the Pats will figure out some effective way to get Patterson out in open space, meanwhile making it easy for him to get the ball. If this can be executed, Patterson can be a huge weapon this season.
Bust: Dont’a Hightower, MLB
As Brady and Gronk have always been the face of the New England offense, Hightower has stepped up and taken the role of leading the defense for the last couple of years. However, I’ve always thought that Hightower is a little overrated.
Let me preface my reasoning with this: With some exceptions, every Patriots defender for the last 15 years has been overrated. The Patriots play the possession game, so the defense is barely ever on the field, plus the fact that over the years of New England’s dominance, teams are usually trailing, hence they are usually passing, making it very easy for a defender to predict.
Anyways, back to Hightower: After missing 11 games due to a torn pectoral last year, Hightower returns as the starting MLB. Now he’s back, with little help around him, on a team that’s just not as good as he’s used to. Assuming the Patriots slip like most people assume they will, Hightower will have to play a new breed of football, one where the defense stays on the field much longer than New England is used to, because their offense will not be as dominant.
This will all be a test to Hightower’s durability. The 28-year-old MLB is entering his 7th year, and has played just one 16-game season. Now with an expected increase in playing time, staying healthy will be his biggest concern.
Hightower has played well in his niche. But I’m pretty confident that any MLB could thrive in the position he’s been in his whole career. He could prove me wrong this season, but I really don’t think Hightower has the ability to go above and beyond and become a superstar for this defense.
Sleeper- Kenyan Drake, RB
After Jay Ajayi left mid-season last year, the backfield was up for grabs, and the candidates were some pretty unfamiliar names, including Damien Williams, and Kenyan Drake. It became pretty obvious that Drake was fit to be the “guy” in that offense. In the last 5 of his 6 starts, Drake recorded 444 rushing yards (88.8ypg), along with 150 receiving yards (30ypg).
The situation is a little different for Drake this year, with the acquisition of veteran RB Frank Gore, along with RB out of Arizona State, Kalen Ballage. I’m not too worried about either of these guys taking too many of Drake’s reps, but he will have to consistently produce if he wants RB1 playing time.
Drake is one of the most explosive and quick young backs in the NFL, and he will finally get the change to start producing week 1. The Dolphins may suck this year, but Drake is a huge breakout candidate.
Bust- Ryan Tannehill
While Kenyan Drake can really escalate the run game, an offense, especially a 2018 offense, needs a passing game as well. Ryan Tannehill, while incredibly mediocre, is still somehow viewed as an efficient and effective quarterback. Dear Dolphins fans, Ryan Tannehill is not the answer.
In his five healthy seasons as an NFL Quarterback, Ryan Tannehill as thrown 66 interceptions, and lost 17 of his 46 fumbles. The guy is a turnover machine. Now Tannehill is without his favorite target, Jarvis Landry, and will have to make do of a solid duo between Kenny Stills and DeVante Parker.
I’ve said this same thing about guys like Andy Dalton, Joe Flacco, etc.: Ryan Tannehill isn’t an awful quarterback. For the most part, he makes the throws that he needs to make, and not much past that. But quarterback is the most important position in professional sports. If the quarterback doesn’t have that sense of leadership or greatness among their teammates, than he’s just any other quarterback. As much as I hate to be cliché, every great QB has the “it” factor. There’s nothing that differentiates Ryan Tannehill from any other “eh” quarterback in the NFL.
Sleeper- Harrison Phillips, DT
If you look back on the last decade of football, there’s only a couple of guys who have survived the cut-crazy Bills front office. The first guy that comes to mind is DT Kyle Williams. The LSU Tackle has been in Buffalo for 13 years and become a centerpiece for a couple years of solid defense.
As Williams’ reign likely will come to an end sometime in the near future, his younger prototype enters the team, looking to eventually fill in the monstrous role. Harrison Phillips is a 6’3”, 307LB Defensive Tackle out of Stanford, drafted in the 3rd round of this year’s NFL Draft.
Harrison Phillips absolutely demolished his college competition. While Bryce Love led the offense, Harrison Phillips quietly dominated the front seven of the Stanford football team. Phillips ended up with 98 total tackles and 7.5 sacks, as a defensive tackle, that’s just ridiculous. The former Kansas wrestling champion also destroyed the combine, leading the nation in bench press reps with 42.
Phillips may be lacking some lateral speed, but his instincts, push and block shedding skills give him the potential to be not only an incredible run stuffer, but an effective interior pass rusher as well. His skillset seems to match perfectly with Kyle Williams’, and Williams should be an effective mentor. Don’t be surprised if “Horrible Harry” is a household name in a couple of years.
Bust- LeSean McCoy
I hate to write this. LeSean McCoy is a once in a lifetime running back, and his name will be in Canton in the years to come. However, McCoy’s surroundings are just too terrible to overcome.
McCoy finds himself in one of the worst offenses I have ever seen. The receiving core outside of Kelvin Benjamin, is absolutely nonexistent, there isn’t a single viable option at starting quarterback, and the three best lineman from last year’s team, Richie Incognito, Eric Wood and Cordy Glenn, are all gone.
The lack of the passing game will create a pretty easy game plan for opposing defenses. Stack 11 guys in the box against McCoy and shut him down. No running back, McCoy or not, would be able to thrive in this offense. On top of this, much of McCoy’s game comes from the pass (59REC, 448YDS, 2TD in 2017), without reliable quarterback play, this aspect of his game will basically be nullified.
Among this, McCoy has been rumored to have committed multiple felonies including child and animal abuse. It’s unclear whether these allegations are truthful or not, but like the Ezekiel Elliot situation, that could definitely halter his production this season.
New York Jets
Sleeper- Avery Williamson, MLB
Over his past couple seasons in Tennessee, Williamson has cemented himself as one of the best inside linebackers in the NFL, recording 376 tackles and 11.5 sacks in his 4 seasons with the Titans.
The Kentucky alum is now in New York, playing for one of the youngest and brightest teams in the NFL. Williamson will now be paired with 3rd-year ILB Darron Lee, who had a pretty promising first two seasons. Outside of these two, the linebacking core is pretty pathetic, so it will be up to Williamson to really rally the guys around him.
Williamson describes his game as “just flying around”, and this is really true. Though he starts every snap in the middle of the field, it’s pretty easy to find Williamson somewhere near the ball by the end of every play. He is incredibly versatile, and his pass coverage has improved beyond belief since his rookie season.
The Jets have a ton of potential, and not many people are recognizing that. However, if the Jets seem to be consistently producing on defense, that credit is due to Williamson.
Bust: Trumaine Johnson, CB
The Jets made a splash this offseason, signing the “top cornerback on the market”, Trumaine Johnson, to a 5yr/$75,000,000 deal. While the Jets got a lot of credit for this signing, I thought it was pretty terrible.
Johnson is not an awful cornerback. He’s a pretty solid option as a starter, but he’s worth nowhere near what he got paid. Johnson’s contract ranks as the 2nd largest among cornerbacks, ahead of elite talent like Xavier Rhodes, AJ Bouye, and Desmond Trufant. The worst part about this contract, however, is that the Jets gave a 28-year-old cornerback a 5-year deal.
It’s pretty easy to see what happened here. The Jets saw the potential they had for this season, so they targeted a player that could be a “superstar” for this New York defense. Instead of really being patient and finding the right guy, the Jets went out and signed the first big name they saw, and gave him as much money as he wanted.
Johnson is not going to be the spark for this defense. He will continue as a B-/B cornerback and probably not improve beyond that. While he won’t be a liability, he’s a bust compared to the money he was given.