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Predicting the best newcomer in all eight NFL divisions

This summer, NFL Nation reporters are answering the biggest questions for every team in divisional roundtables.

Monday's question: Who will be the best newcomer?

AFC East | AFC North | AFC South | AFC West
NFC East | NFC North | NFC South | NFC West


AFC East

Mike Rodak, Buffalo Bills reporter: That's not an easy question. I'm hesitant to give this to any rookie, so I'll choose between the Jets' Matt Forte and Ryan Clady, as well as the Patriots' Martellus Bennett. Each veteran is coming off a down season shortened by injuries, but when these players are healthy, they are among the best at their positions. I'll go with Bennett because of the Tom Brady factor.

James Walker, Miami Dolphins reporter: It's always risky to pick a 30-year-old running back, but the free-agent signing of Forte is going to pay quality dividends for the Jets. New York's quarterback position is in flux. The only sure thing about the Jets offensively is that they will run the football. They were in the top 10 last season in rushing yards (1,868) and rushing attempts (448). Forte will play a major role in the running and passing game. This is a player who rushed for 1,038 yards and had an astounding 102 receptions for the Bears in 2014. He isn't far removed from being that type of player. Forte will be one of this year's underrated free-agent pickups.

Rich Cimini, New York Jets reporter: There are some intriguing rookies in the AFC East, beginning with Dolphins guard Laremy Tunsil, but the best newcomer is Forte. Since his rookie season in 2008, Forte has more yards from scrimmage (12,718) than any other player in the NFL. I bet that'll surprise some folks. He'll be the Jets' No. 1 back, so there will be no shortage of opportunities. The concern is his age, 30, which is taboo in the running back world. But I have a feeling he'll deliver another Forte-like season.

Mike Reiss, New England Patriots reporter: Forte is a good choice as the best proven newcomer, and so is Bennett, but let's think outside the box here. If you picked Bills cornerback Ronald Darby as the answer to this question last season, you would be feeling pretty good right now. But few probably picked him because what indication was there that the second-round pick from Florida State would be that guy? That gives the Bills credibility in this category, and that's why I'll put my chips down on linebacker Reggie Ragland, the second-round pick from Alabama. When I think of Rex Ryan's Jets teams, David Harris was a stalwart at linebacker. Ragland could be the Bills' version of Harris.


AFC North

Jeremy Fowler, Pittsburgh Steelers reporter: Ronnie Stanley, the Ravens' No. 6 overall pick, will play right away and play well. Not sure yet whether he'll be a star, but he will be solid. He was a bit erratic at Notre Dame, picking his spots for when he wanted to dominate. All the tools are there. It's tempting to place receiver Corey Coleman in this spot because the Browns so desperately need receiving help, but he needs time to develop. Two playmakers to watch: Cincinnati's Tyler Boyd and Pittsburgh's big free-agent signing, tight end Ladarius Green. Both can become reliable options fairly early, Boyd behind A.J. Green/Tyler Eifert and Green behind Antonio Brown. Both the Bengals and Steelers invested in secondary help high in the draft, but that position requires patience and nuance, so first-year impact could be spotty.

Coley Harvey, Cincinnati Bengals reporter: With the likes of Corey Coleman, William Jackson III, Tyler Boyd and Kamalei Correa among those added to the division through the draft, the AFC North will have several newcomers to watch in 2016. But that said, there's always uncertainty about whether a rookie's game will translate quickly to the NFL and exactly how they'll be used their first year in pro football. For that reason, for now, it's best to consider the division's top newcomer to be a proven veteran added during free agency. No newcomer should have the immediate impact on his team's success as new Steelers tight end Ladarius Green. A year after setting career highs in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns in San Diego, Green comes to Pittsburgh to replace the retired Heath Miller. Because Miller was such a valued piece of Pittsburgh's explosive offense, Green comes into a ready-made situation that caters to the use of pass-catching tight ends. There will be others to watch too. Robert Griffin III will have an obvious influence on Cleveland's offense, and former Browns linebacker Karlos Dansby could significantly help Cincinnati's defense.

Jamison Hensley, Baltimore Ravens reporter: Ravens safety Eric Weddle. This is an easy call because Weddle was the only top-20 free agent signed by any of the AFC North teams. Few safeties have been better than Weddle over the past five years. He is the disruptive safety and field general the Ravens have desperately needed since the departure of Ed Reed. This is a major step in turning around a Ravens defense that finished last in the NFL with six interceptions and allowed a franchise-worst 30 touchdown passes. This is also a major coup for Baltimore considering it had to beat out the Cowboys, Raiders and AFC North rival Steelers to get him. You can argue that the second-best newcomer in the division is on the Ravens. Offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley, the No. 6 overall pick in the draft, will start immediately and protect Joe Flacco's blind side.

Pat McManamon, Cleveland Browns reporter: A division whose prominent newcomers include Weddle, Griffin and Green doesn't exactly have marquee choices. Hue Jackson is an important newcomer in a new job, but he was in the division last season. Stanley was a sound first-round pick, but exciting? Not really. The best newcomer to his division isn't on the field but in the front office. The Browns' hire of longtime baseball guy Paul DePodesta drew snickers and raised eyebrows and wonder around the NFL when it was announced. However, he is an exceptionally intelligent thinker who challenges those around him to look at different ways to get the same job done. He brings new ideas, and has the chance to alter the landscape about how teams structure and utilize their front offices. DePodesta's hire may sound crazy to some, but it also may work.


AFC South

Tania Ganguli, Houston Texans reporter: The AFC South raided the Super Bowl-champion Denver Broncos of the high-profile players they couldn't tag. While Von Miller is under the franchise tag and can't go anywhere, quarterback Brock Osweiler wound up in Houston and defensive tackle Malik Jackson wound up in Jacksonville. Jackson got a big deal worth $90 million over six years, and that kind of move hasn't always worked out for the Jaguars. But he's a talented defensive lineman and should help the Jaguars, who ranked 14th in disrupted dropbacks last season and 20th in sacks.

Paul Kuharsky, Tennessee Titans reporter: Jaguars defensive lineman Malik Jackson is a way better pass-rusher than anyone Jacksonville has sent after the quarterback in recent years. Working opposite last year's first-round pick, Dante Fowler Jr., who missed his rookie season injured, Jackson will help boost a pass rush that ranked 23rd in sacks per pass attempt, getting the quarterback down just 6 percent of the time. The secondary should be much improved, so quarterbacks may have to hold the ball longer, creating more chances for crushing the passer. To make the sort of jump the Jags expect after a big offseason, hitting Andrew Luck, Marcus Mariota and Osweiler frequently is necessary.

Michael DiRocco, Jacksonville Jaguars reporter: The Jaguars have had one of the best offseasons in the league, highlighted by the signing of defensive tackle Malik Jackson and the drafting of defensive back Jalen Ramsey and linebacker Myles Jack. However, free safety Tashaun Gipson is my pick for best newcomer because he's going to make the most significant difference on the field. The Jaguars haven't had a free safety capable of playing the position the way it's designed in coach Gus Bradley's defense the past three seasons, but Gipson is a perfect fit. He thrived as a single-high safety with the Cleveland Browns, where he made the Pro Bowl in 2014, and has 14 interceptions in four seasons. His presence allows the Jaguars to keep strong safety Johnathan Cyprien closer to the line of scrimmage the way Seattle uses Kam Chancellor. Because of that, he's the most important addition the Jaguars made in the offseason and will make the biggest impact of any newcomer in the division.

Mike Wells, Indianapolis Colts reporter: The Texans showed that they believe Brock Osweiler can stop their revolving door at quarterback when they signed him to a four-year, $72 million contract in the offseason. Osweiler only has seven starts under his belt, but he's still stepping into a situation where he has J.J. Watt and a solid defense on one side of the ball. The Texans also have given Osweiler plenty of speed to work with on the outside at receiver in DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller and Braxton Miller and running backs Tyler Ervin and Lamar Miller. Those players will be responsible for making Osweiler look good, but the quarterback will get the credit because he's the one responsible for making the right decision with the ball. Osweiler doesn't have to be Tom Brady or Ben Roethlisberger for the Texans to be successful. He has to avoid being careless with the football and take advantage of the opportunities given.


AFC West

Jeff Legwold, Denver Broncos reporter: It could be a draft pick, free agent or simply the most accomplished player. Among the draft picks, Chargers first-rounder Joey Bosa, Raiders safety Karl Joseph and Broncos rookies Adam Gotsis and/or Devontae Booker will be in position to make an impact. And Broncos rookie quarterback Paxton Lynch might be the division's best "newcomer" in 2017 no matter who else arrives. But the convergence of need, ability and opportunity presents itself in Raiders guard Kelechi Osemele, a powerful presence in the run game and an efficient pass protector. He started for the Ravens at left guard and left tackle last season. He also started at right tackle in the Ravens' most recent Super Bowl win. He won't appear on anybody's fantasy team, but in terms of what the Raiders needed -- they ponied up $58 million to sign him -- he just might be the best "fit" signing in a year when the Raiders were the most active team in free agency in the AFC West.

Adam Teicher, Kansas City Chiefs reporter: Technically, Raiders cornerback Sean Smith isn't new to the AFC West. He played for the Chiefs the past three seasons. But he's new to Oakland, and the Raiders will be pleased he's on their side. At 6-foot-3, 218 pounds, Smith is big enough to match up with the division's taller, physical receivers. He has survived in what is usually a smaller man's world by being a solid technician. Smith isn't often caught out of position. Plus, it's a bonus for the Raiders that they stole Smith from a division rival. The Chiefs will miss Smith, whose solid, if not spectacular, play was a nice complement to the presence of Marcus Peters as their other cornerback.

Paul Gutierrez, Oakland Raiders reporter: Courtesy of what, on the surface at least, appears to be a mass exodus from the Pacific Northwest, the region had provided an interesting subplot with three former Seattle Seahawks moving to the AFC West. Outside linebacker Bruce Irvin, left tackle Russell Okung and nose tackle Brandon Mebane all won a Super Bowl with Seattle but will now play for the Raiders, Broncos and Chargers, respectively. While Okung is part of a Super Bowl-winning offense breaking in a new quarterback and Mebane is part of a last-place team's rebuilding effort, Irvin is joining a team on the rise to play opposite Khalil Mack, an All-Pro at two positions. And with a rebuilt secondary that should give the pass-rushers more time to get to the quarterbacks, Irvin should thrive. The vote here is for Irvin, who should eclipse his career average of 5.5 sacks.

Eric Williams, San Diego Chargers reporter: I like the additions of free agents Travis Benjamin and Mebane, along with Bosa for the Chargers. And the Raiders did a nice job of grabbing speedy edge rusher Irvin in free agency. But my pick is Osemele, the Raiders' biggest offseason addition in free agency. An Iowa State product and former Raven, Osemele is one of the best run blockers in the NFL and joins a dominant Oakland offensive line that could emerge as the best in the NFL. Osemele has missed 13 games over the past three seasons, so staying healthy will be critical for him. But he offers versatility, with the ability to play both tackle and guard spots. Osemele moves back to his more natural left guard position next to Oakland left tackle Donald Penn. And with a road-grading left side of the line, the Raiders should be a force running the football with Pro Bowler Latavius Murray, along with the addition of change-of-pace back DeAndre Washington.


NFC East

Dan Graziano, New York Giants reporter: Josh Norman. He's a star in his prime coming off a brilliant season. The cornerback is more confident and precise than he has ever been, and he addresses a position that has been a major need for Washington for what seems like forever. If the Washington defensive front can play the way it did last year, Norman's impact on the back end should be significant in a division that's crying out for ANYONE to play some defense.

Todd Archer, Dallas Cowboys reporter: Josh Norman. Olivier Vernon signed the biggest deal with the New York Giants, but he had fewer sacks last season than DeMarcus Lawrence. The Philadelphia Eagles seemed to do more shedding than adding in the offseason. The Cowboys' biggest addition came in the draft with Ezekiel Elliott, but I can't go with a rookie. In a division with Dez Bryant, Odell Beckham Jr. and Jordan Matthews, Washington has a cornerback who can match up with those receivers and hold his own in one-on-one matchups. The question is whether Norman is a system cornerback or a true No. 1 cornerback. He was relatively quiet his first three years in the league, coming in as a fifth-round pick, but was one of the best -- if not the best -- cornerbacks in the game last season. He plays with an attitude, which we saw last year against Beckham, even if it went too far. Norman is unafraid, which is a must for any cornerback. Can Washington's pass rush be as productive as Carolina's? That helps any cornerback.

Phil Sheridan, Philadelphia Eagles reporter: Ezekiel Elliott. I could make a case for Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, but for right now, I'm leaning toward the Dallas rookie running back. In three years, if we're talking about Carson Wentz as the potential MVP of the division, the Eagles will be thrilled with their pick. But for this year, with Dallas' offensive line and with Tony Romo at quarterback, I think Elliott has every chance to have the biggest impact in the NFC East. The combination of talent and situation is pretty tough to match.

John Keim, Washington Redskins reporter: I want to say Elliott because I know the Redskins are worried about his potential overall impact, giving Dallas a situation like it had two years ago. But I'm going to go with Norman, whom Washington quickly signed in late April after Carolina removed the franchise tag. The Redskins upgraded their secondary, swapping injured Chris Culliver for Norman. He was in the conversation for defensive player of the year last season and gives the Redskins' defense a playmaker with attitude. The defense lacks high-profile players, but he's certainly one of them.


NFC North

Rob Demovsky, Green Bay Packers reporter: Danny Trevathan: Not only did signing the former Broncos inside linebacker give the Bears an immediate upgrade in the middle of their defense, it took away perhaps an option that Packers general manager Ted Thompson might have explored in free agency at a position of need in Green Bay. Trevathan is young -- he's only 26 -- and already has Super Bowl experience. Plus, he's familiar with Bears coach John Fox's system, having played for three years under Fox in Denver.

Jeff Dickerson, Chicago Bears reporter: Kevin White: White is technically entering his second year, but the wide receiver missed all of 2015 because of a stress fracture that required surgery. White looks like the real deal. At 6-foot-3, he is a muscular 217 pounds. Known for his blazing speed at West Virginia, White, on paper, is the perfect complement to Chicago's franchise-tagged Alshon Jeffery. White has even befriended mercurial Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, which is a good move. Unless White suffers another injury, he has the potential to catch 70-plus passes. That would arguably give Chicago the best receiver tandem in the NFC North.

Ben Goessling, Minnesota Vikings reporter: All four teams in the NFC North were judicious in their approach to free agency, but I like the addition of Trevathan to the Bears' defense. The Bears badly needed to upgrade the middle of their defense after getting gashed on the ground last season, and Trevathan is a capable linebacker who will reunite with Fox and fit nicely in his defense. With Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman, the Bears addressed one of their biggest problems, and a defense that allowed 4.5 yards per carry last season should be tougher to run on in 2016.

Michael Rothstein, Detroit Lions reporter: Probably Trevathan going to the Bears. He has the chance to be an instant impact player on a defense that needs some major help after last season. He brings the attitude of a winner, having come from the Super Bowl champion Broncos. He has had more than 100 tackles two of the past three seasons and can cover, with five career interceptions. He also finds himself around the ball a lot, and in a division with Adrian Peterson, Eddie Lacy, Theo Riddick and Golden Tate, that could make a huge difference in Chicago.


NFC South

Jenna Laine, Tampa Bay Buccaneers reporter: I've got two, and they both hail from the same defensive backfield at the University of Florida -- Keanu Neal with the Falcons and Vernon Hargreaves III with the Bucs. I think Neal can be a real enforcer on the back end of Dan Quinn's defense. He'll throttle guys, and he's got strong coverage skills on third down. Then with Hargreaves, whether he's lining up on the outside or in nickel -- he's done both in practice -- he's always flying to the ball and will instantly upgrade a secondary that allowed a 70 percent completion percentage last season. I came away really impressed with him after rookie camp and minicamp, where he consistently made one or two impact plays every practice.

Vaughn McClure, Atlanta Falcons reporter: I firmly believe you can't discount what the addition of three-time Pro Bowl center Alex Mack means to the Falcons. Just from observing him during the offseason, Mack seems to do all the little things right, including setting an example of leadership by running sprints after practice. The Falcons had issues snapping the ball last season, a problem that should be resolved immediately thanks to Mack's expertise. He has good feet to get out and block in Kyle Shanahan's outside-zone blocking scheme. And Mack should help alleviate some of the pressure that Matt Ryan gets thrown in his face up the middle. The only issue I've heard about Mack is that he can get overpowered against big, top-caliber defensive tackles; he'll have to face a few of those in the NFC South. My second pick for top newcomer would be Saints rookie defensive lineman Sheldon Rankins, a guy Mack better be aware of.

David Newton, Carolina Panthers reporter: Torn here between a veteran newcomer in Atlanta center Alex Mack and a rookie newcomer in Carolina cornerback James Bradberry. The Falcons desperately needed help in the middle of their horrid line, and they appear to have gotten it with the three-time Pro Bowler. Quarterback Matt Ryan is only as good as his protection, and the pressure he got up the middle last season left him helpless at times. If Mack can adequately handle the inside rush of tackles such as Carolina's Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei, look for Ryan and Julio Jones to become an even bigger scare -- as hard as that is to believe. I throw Bradberry into the equation here because on paper he looks like Josh Norman, the Pro Bowl corner he's being asked to replace -- he's even wearing Norman's number (24). If the second-round pick out of Samford adequately fills Norman's shoes, particularly against big receivers such as Jones, the Carolina defense easily should rank among the top five in the NFL.

Mike Triplett, New Orleans Saints reporter: Alex Mack, Falcons. It's a bit cliché to say that a veteran free agent will bring "stability" to a team, but that's exactly what the Falcons need in the middle of an unstable line. I watched them lose a game to the Saints in the Superdome last season when Matt Ryan was sacked five times and the center fumbled a snap off his leg. The Falcons have been searching for that stability at center for the last few years. And now they're adding not just a solid veteran but a three-time Pro Bowler who is arguably the best player to join the division regardless of need. The Saints didn't add anyone with quite the same pedigree this offseason, but they're hoping veteran middle linebacker James Laurinaitis will have a similar effect as the new "quarterback" of a defense that has been plenty unstable itself.


NFC West

Josh Weinfuss, Arizona Cardinals reporter: One of the best pass-rushers in all the land now calls the NFC West home. When the Cardinals traded for Chandler Jones in March, they filled a need that could be the difference between playing in the NFC Championship Game and the Super Bowl. No other newcomer compares to his 12.5 sacks last season. There will be a lot of attention paid to two rookies in the West, Rams quarterback Jared Goff and Cardinals defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche, but neither is proven. Jones established himself as one of the elite pass-rushers in the league in 2015, despite a run-in with police that didn't result in an arrest. Though Jones might be making a one-season stop in the West, there weren't any better additions to the division.

Nick Wagoner, Los Angeles Rams reporter: Undoubtedly, the Rams hope the answer to this question at the end of the season is Goff. But that seems to be asking too much of a rookie quarterback transitioning from a spread offense to a pro-style scheme without much in the way of receiver help around him. So in an offseason in which most of the NFC West teams were pretty quiet with free-agent additions, the answer here is the one that made the defending division champions better: Jones. The Cardinals paid a high price to bring Jones over from New England, but this is a team that played in the NFC Championship Game a year ago. Though that game wasn't close enough that one player could have made the difference, the Cardinals believes Jones is the type of player who could help get them over the top and into the Super Bowl. I'm not sure Jones is that player, but there's no question he will help the Cardinals rush the passer without having to lead the league in blitzes again in 2016.

Michael Wagaman, San Francisco 49ers reporter: The return of Brandon Browner to the Seahawks' secondary was a big move, as was the addition of guard Evan Mathis to the Cardinals, but the newcomer who stands out the most is Goff. The No. 1 overall pick in the draft was an incredible talent in college who should have no problem stepping in and running an NFL offense. If the memory of Sam Bradford still causes sleepless nights for Rams fans, they should rest easy with Goff at the controls. He should be worth 3-4 more wins for Los Angeles just by being on the field.

Sheil Kapadia, Seattle Seahawks reporter: This is an easy choice: Jones. The Cardinals struggled to generate a consistent pass rush last season. According to ESPN Stats & Information, their defense produced sacks on 5.7 percent of their opponents' dropbacks. That ranked 20th in the NFL. And the Cardinals blitzed 45.1 percent of the time, more than any defense in the league, putting pressure on the players in the back end. In Jones, they get a player who had 12.5 sacks last season with the New England Patriots and has 30 sacks in his past 41 games. He will give the Cardinals' defense, which was already among the best in the league in 2015, a boost.