The amazing thing about the NFL is just how quickly teams can turn things around if they are smart. Judicious use of free agency and draft picks-plus a little luck-has been how many teams have made a quick turnaround from sad, bottom-feeding team to contender-or at least a team which don't force their fans to make sad videos. Although, even they know how quick things can improve.
NFL teams turnaround 2015
Which NFL bottom feeders are primed for a turnaround?
2014 record: 2-14
1st 2015 NFL Draft pick: No. 2 overall
Key Free Agency Acquisitions: Brian Orakpo, Perrish Cox, Da’Norris Searcy
Turnaround in 2015? No
It’s hard to see where the Tennessee Titans are going right now and the entire outlook for 2015 could hinge on the NFL Draft, which could be risky. Getting Brian Orakpo should help a mediocre defense which only had 39 sacks and 12 interceptions last season while allowing just over 27 points a game. He’ll bookend the linebackers nicely with Derrick Morgan as well.
They also needed some help in the secondary so getting Perrish Cox and Da’Norris Searcy was good as well, and neither one broke the bank. Or course, neither player is a top tier guy either, but they are both improvements.
So why no on a quick turnaround for the Titans?
Well, while the linebackers are improved by the presence of Orakpo, there’s no depth behind him and Morgan. Also, while Morgan was great against the pass, he—along with virtually the entire linebacker corps—was not very good against the run. The defensive line is also a problem, as Ropati Pitoitua was the only edge rusher worth mentioning (Mike Martin was just OK). The Titans don’t need a lot of depth with a 3-4 setup—especially with (technically) only one end and two tackles—but you still need more out of it and they haven’t acquired enough help.
Even if they go with USC’s Leonard Williams (the best defensive end in the draft), it might not be enough, though he would be a great fit for the hybrid scheme they run.
More critical is the offense.
The offensive line was a travesty last season as Michael Oher was a bust of a free agency signing and Andy Levitre underwhelmed. At least their tackles—Michael Roos and rookie Taylor Lewan—performed well. But the interior has been disappointing.
Which makes it hard to know what they have in the backfield—is Bishop Sankey good? Can Shonn Greene contribute anything? And what about quarterback?
Earlier this offseason, this team seemed ‘all-in’ on Zach Mettenberger but now they don’t sound so sure according to reporters like USA Today’s Jim Corbett.
Smokescreen for a trade back? Perhaps. But let’s be honest—even if you like Mettenberger, he’s far from perfect. The problem is, so is Marcus Mariota, who the Titans seem to like. Don’t get me wrong, I like Mariota. But he’s raw and I’m not sure how quickly he would be able to get this offense moving.
Depending on the outcome of the draft, this looks like a longer-term rebuild. That’s not a bad thing at all, as down the road this team could be very good. You’re just going to have to be patient a while longer before they get there.
(Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2014 record: 2-14
1st 2015 NFL Draft pick: No. 1 overall
Key Free Agency Acquisitions: Henry Melton, Bruce Carter, Chris Conte
Turnaround in 2015? No
Remember at the front of this thing, when I said sometimes it’s the moves you don’t make which are the best? Along with that is the idea that sometimes you make moves you didn’t need to.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense struggled a lot with new head coach Lovie Smith’s defensive scheme to begin the season, but by December they had become one of the most improved in the league according to BucsNation.com’s Sander Philipse.
That’s not to say they couldn’t be improved with some additions—you have to like their pursuit of Trent Cole and Derrick Morgan even if neither panned out—but Chris Conte isn’t much of a compliment to Dashon Goldson (who is still grossly overpaid for what he does) and the defense lacks a premiere pass rusher.
That said, this defense should be better—much better—than it was last season. Smith is a very good defensive coach and with a year in his scheme, the Bucs should be more comfortable.
The offense was just as baffling as the defense. Of course, many suspected going into the season with Josh McCown as the starter was courting disaster, even if the coaching staff didn’t like Mike Glennon either.
McCown was just as awful as expected, and Glennon wasn’t much better when McCown was hurt and out of action. Hopefully this team drafts Jameis Winston, as he could step right in and play. With weapons like Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans at his disposal, this could be a potent passing offense.
For that to happen though, the Buccaneers also need improved offensive line play. As they made zero moves in free agency to address this, and will probably not see a top tackle or guard sitting there at the start of the second round, this is a huge concern and it’s going to have a huge impact on the play of the quarterback, as well as hamper the chances that Doug Martin and company of getting this offense up and running.
There’s a part of me that feels like the Bucs should be much better this year and back on track. There is talent on both sides of the ball, so it shouldn’t really be a stretch. The problem is that where there are holes—especially on offense—that make it hard to buy in completely.
If Winston is their guy and if he plays very well and if the line can be much better than last year and if the run game gets back on track and if the defense can carry them, sure this team can top 8-8.
But that’s a lot of ‘ifs' and if any of them go wrong, you’re looking at potential disaster.
(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
2014 record: 4-12
1st 2015 NFL Draft pick: No. 5 overall
Key Free Agency Acquisitions: Terrance Knighton, Chris Culliver, Stephen Paea
Turnaround in 2015? Yes
While adding Terrance Knighton was a nice move to shore up the middle along with Stephen Paea, this team still needs a pass-rusher now that Brian Orakpo has left. That will probably be settled in the upcoming draft, but it’s a huge problem. So is the secondary.
The problem is, it’s hard to tell if it’s merely a matter of quarterbacks having too long because Washington lacks a pass-rush or if the corners aren’t holding at all so the pass-rush has no chance to get to the quarterback. It’s really a combination of both, but the secondary has really stood out as being less-than-excellent.
Adding Chris Culliver should help and we’ll see if DeAngelo Hall can recapture even a little of his former play as well. Hopefully that will improve the overall defensive effort and put the offense in a better position to succeed.
Of course, this all hinges on what we see out of the quarterback position. And notice I didn’t say ‘out of Robert Griffin III” as while head coach Jay Gruden finally put Griffin down as the starter at the Combine (per Yahoo.com’s Frank Schwab), Washington has made enough odd choices to make us wonder what his shelf life will be.
He has the weapons—DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon, Andre Roberts, Jordan Reed and Alfred Morris—to succeed but the turnaround is largely in his hands.
I think Washington does it. I’m not calling Super Bowl but in a wide-open NFC East where nobody is perfect, I can see Washington coming out on top. It all comes down to Griffin, sure, but I believe we see him much closer to his rookie season again this year and that will make a huge difference.
(Photo by Jonathan Newton / The Washington Post via Getty Images)
2014 record: 3-13
1st 2015 NFL Draft pick: No. 4 overall
Key Free Agency Acquisitions: Rodney Hudson, Dan Williams, Curtis Lofton
Turnaround in 2015? No
The Oakland Raiders went a little nuts in free agency, signing ten free agents. That’s a lot and while I don’t want to get too down on them for it, you sometimes worry when you see teams throwing money around.
Then again, they didn’t exactly overspend and they still have the sixth most cap spacein the NFL per OvertheCap.com. That’s not for lack of trying, mind you—they pursued some big names, they just couldn’t close the deal.
That’s no help, though and it’s likely a lot of the players they added won’t have a tremendous impact either. The most intriguing name on the list is Trent Richardson, and there’s a reason he’s not listed above in the ‘key acquisitions’ section.
Richardson may think he’s a starter-in-the-making but he hasn’t shown that in several years.
That said, just because the Raiders didn’t hit a grand slam doesn’t mean they didn’t score some runs on a single. The upside of Richardson is there and the cost is low. That’s pretty much how the Raiders planned things since they didn’t land the big guys they wanted.
I think the Raiders get better this year overall, but not quite to where you’d see a huge turnaround. They have their quarterback of the future in Derek Carr but he’s limited in the weapons he has to throw to. They’ve got a decent defense with some young pieces but also some veteran leadership in guys like Justin Tuck.
However they still need some help in the pass rush, and needed an upgrade at defensive end which they failed to get. They still need a No. 1 wide receiver and still need some more depth behind Curtis Lofton, who is replacing Nick Roach. They should also be looking for a long-term replacement for the 33-year-old Donald Penn at left tackle and some depth behind everyone else.
And there is no one player in the draft that will improve things instantly either. This continues to be a rebuild in a tough division.
So I think we’re a year or so away from a significant leap.
(Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
2014 record: 3-13
1st 2015 NFL Draft pick: No. 3 overall
Key Free Agency Acquisitions: Julius Thomas, Jared Odrick
Turnaround in 2015? No
Getting Blake Bortles under center and settled was a big deal and while he has some work to do in order to become a top-shelf starting NFL quarterback, Jaguars fans should be happy about having him as their franchise quarterback.
Maybe it’s the post-Blanie Gabbert vibe talking, but while Bortles was a little uneven last season, he also showed some promise and that was with a banged up receiving corps and an at times middling run game. Allen Robinson had a very nice rookie year, Ace Sanders has shown promise and if Marquise Lee can stay on the field there is some talent here for Bortles to work with.
Adding former Denver Broncos tight end Julius Thomas is a big plus for Bortles as well. It remains to be seen how effective PM (Post Manning) but he’s a very athletic move tight end who can stretch the field. He won’t be as effective as he was in Denver but he should do a lot of good things for Jacksonville.
Bortles also has Greg Olson, who did good things with Derek Carr in Oakland last year.
Overall the offense is looking up and they could still add a veteran receiver like Greg Jennings in the slot or Michael Crabtree.
Defensively overall, Jacksonville was 26th in the NFL and they never seemed to find the right combination of players on defense, struggling against both the run and the pass. They are desperate for a dynamic pass-rusher and need to upgrade at cornerback. Jacksonville was another team which tried to tempt some big-name defensive players and failed, but they might be better for it down the road as they weren’t one player away from the Super Bowl and could use the money they might have sunk into Ndamukong Suh to get multiple players who can have a wider impact overall.
I think the Jaguars are on the right track—but the journey is going to take a little bit longer to get to its destination. I’d love for the Jaguars to magically turn things around, especially in a weak AFC South, but it doesn’t look like it’s in the cards yet.
(Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
New York Jets
2014 record: 4-12
1st 2015 NFL Draft pick: No. 2 overall
Key Free Agency Acquisitions: Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie, Buster Skrine, James Carpenter
Turnaround in 2015? Yes
The New York Jets did a ton in free agency, but the changes with the biggest impact might have taken place before that. Out with the old—Rex Ryan and John Idzik—and in with the new—head coach Todd Bowles and general manager Mike Maccagnan, a move which has resulted in addressing possibly the biggest issue which surfaced last season—an atrocious secondary.
Yes, you thought ‘quarterback’ but the secondary was actually worse and probably cost the Jets more games than Geno Smith did.
Defensively, this could be one of the better teams in the NFL for the 2015 season.
Offensively, well, there’s that quarterback issue.
Along with a new GM and a new coach, the Jets also traded for wide receiver Brandon Marshall who, along with Eric Decker, should be a huge help to the offense. Between those two, second-year tight end Jace Amaro and running back Chris Ivory, Smith has no excuses and if he can’t hack it, Ryan Fitzpatrick will take over.
Long-term, Fitzpatrick isn’t the answer for the Jets but he can do enough to get them through the season and not lose games for them.
If the defense plays the way it looks on paper, this team can lean on it and the run game to win. IF they can do that, it’s not insane to think they could end up doubling their win total at least.
Of course aside from the quarterback, the biggest hurdle the Jets face is their division. The New England Patriots are still the ones to beat and while they have some issues—losing both Revis and Brandon Browner is a bit of a concern—they remain ‘the Patriots’ and the best team in the East.
Both the Buffalo Bills and the Miami Dolphins have improved as well. Ryan ended up in Buffalo and has added LeSean McCoy, Percy Harvin and Charles Clay while the Miami Dolphins secured Ndamukong Suh and Jordan Cameron (though the latter’s concussion issues are a concern).
It’s not getting any easier for anyone in the AFC East, but the Jets looked poised to get back to where they were just a few short years ago.
(Photo by Ronald C. Modra/Sports Imagery/ Getty Images)
The biggest issue I have with the Chicago Bears—once they finish re-tooling their defense—is whether or not Alshon Jeffery can carry the passing game. Trading Brandon Marshall seems on the surface to be a bad idea but if they can replace him with someone who can work off Jeffery, it will work out.
That’s the problem though—it’s a big if.
The division is also an issue as the Green Bay Packers continue to be in charge and aren’t slipping, while the Detroit Lions have improved a ton and the Minnesota Vikings appear to be ascendant again.
And yet, adding Pernell McPhee will give the defense a huge boost, while Jarvis Jenkins will be good rotating in with Jay Ratliff on the left side of the line. Jared Allen played well enough to expect him to have at least a decent season, opposite McPhee and Antrel Rolle should be a nice upgrade at strong safety. I also expect strong seasons from Willie Young and Lamarr Houston as the entire defense bounces back.
The offensive line continues to improve and while it’s fashionable to hate on Jay Cutler, some of his problems were that offensive line. That’s not to say he isn’t responsible for some bad decisions and worse throws, just that blaming him is to ignore part of the story here.
Of course, that brings us back to losing Brandon Marshall, who was coming off just the second sub-1,000 yard season of his career in part due to injury. Again, Jeffery is one of the best young receivers in the NFL, but I’m not sure Eddie Royal, Marquess Wilson, Josh Bellamy, Marc Mariani, Rashad Lawrence or John Chiles is pulling coverage off him anytime soon.
All that being said, I believe the Bears find another option to pair with Jeffery and improve the defense enough to have a big turnaround. They have the core talent on the roster—they just need to get someone to execute with it and I think John Fox is that guy.
(Photo by Tom Dahlin/Getty Images)
St. Louis Rams
2014 record: 6-10
1st 2015 NFL Draft pick: No. 10 overall
Key Free Agency Acquisitions: Akeem Ayers, Nick Fairley
Turnaround in 2015? No
After one too many Sam Bradford injuries, the St. Louis (maybe Los Angeles?) Rams made a move, trading Bradford to the Philadelphia Eagles for Nick Foles and a draft pick. While Foles isn’t as good as his two-interception-season was, he’s also not as bad as he looked at times last year.
Unfortunately for Foles, his new offensive line is far worse than his old one and his receivers are not as good as they were last year (although to be honest, aside from Jordan Matthews, the Eagles don’t have much to sing about either).
His running game is shakier in theory, though LeSean McCoy was bad (and expensive) enough that the Eagles traded him as well, but on the plus side, his defense is a lot better especially against the pass. If the Rams defense can keep the game close, Foles will be much more successful.
Especially if they can get a top-shelf receiver in the draft. At the end of the day that might be the second biggest thing for them—get Foles a No. 1 receiver.
Of course, then they need the offensive line to step up. They cannot play as badly as they did last season if they expect Foles to stay healthy, forget about having him successful.
The key could be second-year lineman Greg Robinson, who the Rams will have at left tackle. Can he improve upon his rookie season? Was he dragged down by the poor play and injuries around him which left him without any reliable help?
I liked Robinson coming out of college, but felt he needed at least a year to improve his pass blocking and it showed in 2014. I believe he will play much better in 2015, and overall this line played well below what it is capable of.
In an NFC West which seems to be in some transition—we could do the flip-side of this piece and talk about the San Francisco 49ers’ impending doom—and there is room for the Rams to bounce back. The Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks are both going to be tough again this season and the schedule won’t be easy with the NFC North and AFC North on the docket. So they could make some noise.
Despite a better (healthier) quarterback and some improved line play, the overall offensive line issues and the schedule make me think this isn’t the year for a big turnaround. Sorry Rams fans.
I covered a lot of New York Giants games for outlets last year and it was a tough season to watch in person. Injuries to the offensive line, the receiver corps and running back killed the offense while multiple injuries across the defense did that unit in as well.
It was a bad season, but we saw the team improve during its first season in offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo’s offense. Victor Cruz will be back and even if he’s not 100 percent what he was before, he and second-year player Odell Beckham Jr will be deadly this coming season as Eli Manning becomes more and more comfortable in this offense. On top of that Rashad Jennings will be back and healthy, and the team added Shane Vereen, an upgrade over any of the other backups these last season.
The biggest snag is that offensive line. They let J.D. Walton walk, which is fine, and Weston Richburg is a much more natural fit at center in my opinion so I think we’ll see an improvement from him.
Geoff Schwartz being healthy cannot be understated either, and of course Will Beatty was outstanding last season despite all hell breaking loose.
If the Giants can add some offensive line depth (or see a worthwhile starter with their first round pick), this line should be in much better shape.
The defense has to hope Jon Beason can stay healthy as it’s a much different unit when he is there and Jameel McClain can kick over to weakside and Devon Kennard—a delightful surprise as a rookie—can hang on the strongside.
The biggest concern might be the secondary though as they have no free safety on the roster right now. Prince Amukamara and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie both had some good moments last season, but there is little talent in the depth behind them. That said, overall the starting lineup for the defense should be pretty good—it’s the injury threat which is a concern.
I expect the Giants to rebound from last season’s disaster though, and gain more than the two games which would have brought them to .500 last season. And as we talked about with Washington, the NFC East is wide open—the Giants have an excellent chance of winning it.
I’ve very bullish on this offense and expect a big rebound from the defense. This is a team which should be in the thick of the playoff hunt this coming season.
(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
2014 record: 6-10
1st 2015 NFL Draft pick: No. 8 overall
Key Free Agency Acquisitions: Adrian Clayborn, Brooks Reed, O’Brien Schofeld
Turnaround in 2015? Yes
A year after shifting to a 3-4 Base defense, I think we’re going to see the Atlanta Falcons head the other way back to the 4-3 they ran for most of Mike Smith’s tenure. Mind you. They really play a ‘multiple’ defense, or a ‘hybrid’ so expect to see all sorts of nonsense.
But the base will be four linemen and three linebackers.
Ra’Shede Hageman will be a key piece to the front seven and will have to step up in a big way his second season, but he needs more help. Tyson Jackson and Paul Soliai were supposed to be impact players last season, but fell a bit flat. Adding Adrian Clayborn should help the line overall, and he should be 100 percent after missing almost the entire 2014 season with a torn bicep. He had 5.5 sacks the year before, so there should be some production, though Clayborn has never put up monster sack numbers. The linebackers were all OK last season, but not great.
In other words, this front seven is adequate and I expect them to add to it in the draft, likely with a high-end pass rusher with that No. 9 pick.
The offense is largely set. Roddy White is aging but still can produce a little and the offense added Leonard Hankerson who, while not exactly a beast in Washington, should be solid as a No. 2/3 type receiver. Of course, you have Julio Jones and Matt Ryan, which means you’ll always be OK overall.
Add in some decent running backs and an offensive line which should be improving with Jake Matthews full time on the left and Sam Baker relegated to backup.
Much like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Falcons face a division which is not in great shape. The Carolina Panthers won by default last season, and without Greg Hardy their defense may struggle. You also have to wonder how they address the offensive line issues they have.
The New Orleans Saints had a fire sale this offseason and something about the way that team looks makes me wonder if they are about to collapse. If Rob Ryan has another terrible year as defensive coordinator this team will struggle as they cannot merely rely on Drew Brees and company, especially minus Jimmy Graham.
Atlanta has talent—it just needs to show up on Sundays. This is a team which can very likely hammer the rest of its division and look far better than they have in the last two years in short order.
(Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
Discover More Like This
BACK TO SLIDE
As we head towards the 2015 NFL draft, OTAs and then training camp, teams are already well on their way to forming the basis for their 2015 campaigns. For some-like the Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots or the runner-up Seattle Seahawks-it's a matter of reloading.
For teams who are lower on the food chain, there is usually a lot more work to do, but it's not beyond the realm of possibility that these teams are able to get back on track quickly. The Kansas City Chiefs,Indianapolis Colts and Detroit Lions are just a few of the teams who, after a bad season, were able to get their act in gear and improve.
That's not to say it's easy-clearly it isn't as Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars and Buffalo Billsfans can attest to. And it can all fall apart quickly as well, something Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New York Jets fans can tell you about.
This year's offseason has seen some strong moves by many of the teams at the bottom of last year's barrel and there are a few who appear to be well on their way to a competitive season. Do we believe what we see though?
Meanwhile some teams didn't do much of anything. That doesn't necessarily spell doom though because occasionally the moves you don't make are the best ones.
So which of the sub-.500 teams do we see turning things around this season and which ones will fall short?
All the rosters and depth charts used for this piece were from OurLads.com and the free agency notes were per NFL.com.