6-Pack Thursday: Most Improved Units This Offseason

Photo: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

At this point in the offseason, the most noteworthy transactions have already been made and we can start reflecting on how each team attempted to improve its roster for the coming season. I took some time recently to study each team’s resume of moves and couldn’t help but notice some franchises that made considerable investments to improve certain aspects of their team. This week’s 6-Pack highlights those instances.

I hope that this column has become a staple for you each week, but just in case you are new, 6-Pack Thursday is my weekly brain dump on six football-related things that involve the NFL, College Football or NFL Draft.

Let’s crack this thing open.

Buffalo Bills Offensive Line

Welcome to the NFL, Josh Allen! We understand that you’re a raw prospect from Wyoming that struggled against Power Five competition during your college career, so there’s some things we should warn you about for your rookie season. Your top-3 wide receivers are Jeremy Kerley, Kelvin Benjamin and Andre Holmes who will all be released by Week 13. You are in a 3-way competition for the starting quarterback job with Nathan Peterman and AJ McCarron, but will primarily take third-team reps until you replace Peterman in Week 1 as the starter. Your quarterback coach David Culley has never been an NFL quarterback coach and hasn’t specifically coached the position since his days at UTEP in 1990. Oh, and your offensive line is losing Cory Glenn, Eric Wood and Richie Incognito from the previous year and the front office is replacing them with the perpetually struggling Rusell Bodine and a fifth-round pick in Wyatt Teller. Good luck!

So that wasn’t ideal, but general manager Brandon Beane got very serious about improving the infrastructure around Allen as he enters Year Two. With over $50 million in dead cap now off the books, Beane aggressively prioritized making sure his franchise quarterback was protected. Buffalo inked six unrestricted free agent offensive linemen, including making Mitch Morse the highest-paid center in NFL history. Veterans Spencer Long, Ty Nsekhe, Jon Feliciano, Quinton Spain and LaAdria Waddle were also signed, in addition to investing a high second-round selection on Oklahoma offensive tackle Cody Ford.

In addition to the personnel upgrades, Buffalo also welcomed Bobby Johnson to the coaching staff who replaced Juan Castillo as the offensive line coach. In every way imaginable, Buffalo invested in its offensive line this offseason. The challenge now is determining who the starting five should be and developing chemistry. Regardless of who wins the battles, Buffalo’s starters and depth should be vastly improved in 2019.  

Carolina Panthers Pass Rush

As pointed on by Evan Silva, Carolina was 27th in the league in sacks last season and 31st in quarterback hits despite being among the five most frequent blitzing teams in the NFL. Not great, but general manager Marty Hurney didn’t sit on his hands this offseason when it came to bolstering the pass rushing options on the roster.

A modest signing to add Bruce Irvin was made before investing the No. 16 overall pick on Brian Burns and then selecting Alabama pass rusher Christian Miller in the fourth round. Dominating Power Five competition, Burns racked up 14 sacks across his final 17 college games while Miller finished second on the Crimson Tide for sacks in 2018. Tying a bow on the pass rush overhaul, Carolina signed six-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy earlier this week.

The new additions combined with Mario Addison and Kawaan Short should lead to a far more impactful pass rushing situation in Carolina this season.

Green Bay Packers Defense

In a highly-competitive NFC, the 22nd scoring defense and 18th overall defense isn’t going to cut it, even if Aaron Rodgers is your quarterback. After eight consecutive playoff seasons, Green Bay missed the postseason in each of the last two years so heavy investments were made get better defensively.

Investing over $150 million to acquire the services of OLB Za’Darius Smith, OLB Preston Smith and S Adrian Amos, Green Bay utilized both of its 2019 first-round selections on defensive prospects in DL Rashan Gary and DB Darnell Savage.

Talk about using premium resources to fix a problem, that’s exactly what general manager Brian Gutekunst did this offseason. Methinks a much-improved defensive unit will complement Aaron Rodgers and the offense in 2019. It better.

Oakland Raiders Wide Receivers

Jordy Nelson = released. Seth Roberts = released. Amari Cooper = traded. Martavis Bryant = suspended again.

Derek Carr’s top-four leading wide receivers from 2018 won’t be part of the mix any more. The trade for Antonio Brown kicked-off the receiver overhaul before general manager Mike Mayock inked free agent wide receiver Tyrell Williams to a four-year, $44.3 million deal. With the outside weapons clearly upgraded, Mayock snagged Clemson’s Hunter Renfrow to be the slot receiver in the Draft.

There are still question marks with the Raiders roster but you can cross wide receiver off the list now that Brown, Williams and Renfrow are all signed through at least 2021.

San Francisco 49ers Edge Rush

In DeForest Bucker and Arik Armstead, San Francisco had the interior defensive line thing figured out but its defense severely lacked outside pass rush. A difficult need to fix in one offseason, general manager John Lynch pulled it off.

Six weeks prior to the NFL Draft, Lynch parted with a 2020 second-round draft pick to the Kansas City Chiefs in exchange for edge rusher Dee Ford who racked up 13 sacks last season and 10 in 2016. Armed with the No. 2 overall selection in the 2019 Draft, Arizona selecting quarterback Kyler Murray No. 1 overall was a dream come true for the Niners because it pushed Ohio State DE Nick Bosa right into their lap. Bosa is a refined technician with his hand usage, explosive mover and features exceptional play strength. He has the upside to become that next Myles Garrett, Von Miller or Khalil Mack caliber edge rusher in the NFL.

You won’t find many examples - if any - of a team bolstering its edge rushing situation to the degree San Francisco did this offseason. A crippling weakness, I now view the edge rushers in San Francisco as a strength on the roster.

Arizona Cardinals Defense

The buzz around the Cardinals is what the offense is going to look like under head coach Kliff Kingsbury and No. 1 overall pick quarterback Kyler Murray. As exciting as that sounds, don’t sleep on the improvements general manager Steve Keimm made to his defense.

Added to the mix defensively in free agency was Terrell Suggs, Jordan Hicks, Darius Philon, Robert Alford, Brooks Reed and DJ Swearinger who are all veteran, reputable defenders. Arizona drafted talented rookies Byron Murphy, Zach Allen and Deionte Thompson to a unit that already featured the likes of Budda Baker, Patrick Peterson and Chandler Jones.

The NFL’s seventh-worst scoring defense in 2018 should be a whole lot better this season.

Written By:

Joe Marino

Director of Administration

Director of Administration & Senior NFL Draft Analyst for The Draft Network. Co-host of the Draft Dudes podcast. Member of the FWAA.