One Move Each NFL Team Should Make Before the Regular Season Begins

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Gary Davenport Twitter Logo NFL Analyst

    Players will start reporting to training camps around the NFL this week. Before you know it, we’ll be hip-deep in bad preseason football.

    That means it’s decision time for coaching staffs and front offices around the league.

    It’s mostly a matter of lineup decisions at this point. Should a team start the dependable veteran or the talented but mercurial youngster? Never mind the fistful of unsettled quarterback situations in places like Chicago, Cleveland, Houston and New York.

    Other times, it’s the matter of one more signing-a veteran addition to shore up a weakness exposed in camp or an ill-timed injury.

    Here’s a one-item to-do list for every NFL team from Arizona to Washington before the games start to count in September.

    This one might be taken care of out of necessity. Deone Bucannon underwent ankle surgery back in May, putting his availability for the early part of the regular season in doubt.

    Even once Bucannon returns, the Arizona Cardinals need to keep first-round pick Haason Reddick on the field.

    Reddick was an edge-rusher at Temple, but he’s kicking inside in the desert. During a June appearance on 98.7 FM in Phoenix (via Vince Marotta of Arizona Sports), defensive coordinator James Bettcher said that transition has been relatively seamless.

    “He’s very instinctive-much more instinctive, maybe, than any other player I’ve been around in my going on 15 years of coaching,” Bettcher said. “As a guy who played a different position and is now learning a new position, [he] plays instinctively at a new position he’s really never played before.”

    Reddick was one of the stars of OTAs, flashing the athleticism that spurred the Cardinals to take him at No. 13 and an inherent understanding of his new position. While the Cardinals signed Karlos Dansby in the offseason to replace the departed Kevin Minter, he’s turning 36 in November-and his age showed last year.

    Whether it’s as a stand-in for Bucannon or beside him, Reddick should be in the starting lineup from the get-go.

    At the beginning of June, veteran edge-rusher Dwight Freeney told SiriusXM Radio (via Alex Marvez of Sporting News) that he’s been in contact with the Atlanta Falcons about re-joining them in 2017.

    “I’ve already been talking to the coaches and going back and forth here and there with the draft picks and free agents,” Freeney said. “That line of communication is still very open. They say they’re still very interested. I’m planning to reach out to them here soon and hopefully we both believe they want me back and playing for them.”

    Over a month later, the 37-year-old is still out on the free-agent market. And it still makes sense for Atlanta to bring him back.

    Freeney isn’t the player he used to be during his Pro Bowl heyday with the Indianapolis Colts. He had just three sacks in limited duty last year-the second-lowest total of his long career.

    But as he showed in Super Bowl LI, Freeney can still be a force in spurts. And the Falcons could do much worse as a mentor for youngsters Vic Beasley and Takkarist McKinley than one of the most prolific sack-masters of the 21st century.

    Don’t be surprised if this one happens before camp kicks off.

    Right after veteran tight end Dennis Pitta went down with another dislocated hip, there’s been buzz connecting Gary Barnidge and the Ravens.

    Baltimore badly needs tight end help. Barnidge is a proven veteran who topped 1,000 receiving yards in 2015.

    In early July, however, Barnidge told Glenn Clark Radio (via Tyler Horka of NFL.com) that he has yet to hear from Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome.

    “They have to call my agent. They know who to call and who to contact and all of that stuff,” Barnidge said. “I just know we haven’t heard anything yet, which is fine.”

    Playing it cool is also fine, seeing as the Ravens have one of the worst cap situations in the NFL. Newsome may be waiting to see how Ben Watson looks after losing the 2016 season to a torn Achilles.

    But the Ravens aren’t the only team that has been linked to the 31-year-old. If Newsome drags his feet too much, he’ll risk missing out on a player who could be a lifesaver if Watson can’t rebound.

    Wide receiver Anquan Boldin remaining unsigned for this long may have been by design. With him set to turn 37 in October, he said during a mid-June appearance on 98.7 FM in Phoenix that he hoped to sign right before the start of training camp.

    While Boldin may be old, his career is far from dead. He hauled in 67 passes last year with the Detroit Lions, second on the team to Golden Tate, while his eight touchdowns led the team.

    Boldin might not be running past opposing cornerbacks anymore, but he remains a capable, hard-nosed pass-catcher who was a reliable underneath target last year.

    The Buffalo Bills could use one of those.

    Yes, we’re in that annual time of hope in western New York when folks dream about the great year Sammy Watkins is going to have. The Bills also spent a second-round pick on another young receiver, Zay Jones, in the 2017 NFL draft.

    But more often than not, those dreams have gone unfulfilled with Watkins, as injuries continue to derail his otherwise promising career. Jones, meanwhile, remain an unproven commodity.

    When one of your team’s big storylines from OTAs is the emergence of Andre Holmes as a potential starter at wideout, your depth could use some work.

    Over his first two NFL seasons, Carolina Panthers linebacker Shaq Thompson has played relatively sparingly. He’s amassed 106 total tackles in 28 games with the team, 22 of which were starts.

    Thompson’s part-time status is no indictment of his play. He ranked 13th among linebackers at Pro Football Focus last season while playing just over 500 snaps. It’s simply a matter of being stuck on the same depth chart as Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly, two of the best in the business.

    However, Davis turned 34 in March. That age started to show a year ago, as his coverage grade free-fell out of the top 40.

    It’s time for a changing of the guard in subpackages. Thompson needs to take over every-down duties.

    According to Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer, that’s exactly what’s happening. During OTAs, Carolina’s coaching staff said they planned to get Thompson on the field more in 2017.

    However, it’s a lot easier to say things in June than follow through on them in August. Davis has been a rock on the Carolina defense for years, while Thompson, though talented, remains largely unproven.

    Thompson has done nothing to indicate he won’t be up to the task, though. While it’s sometimes hard to say goodbye to the past, smart NFL teams are always eager to embrace the future.

    Prior to the 2016 season, the Chicago Bears added a pair of veteran inside linebackers in Jerrell Freeman and Danny Trevathan. No matter what other problems the Bears had, the team theoretically didn’t have to worry about that position.

    But in Chicago, everything that could go wrong pretty much has. Freeman drew a four-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, while Trevathan tore his patellar tendon. The Bears went on to have an awful 2016 season.

    Trevathan’s injury was especially brutal. Torn patellar tendons were a career-ender not long ago, and for every Jimmy Graham who recovers even now, there’s a Victor Cruz who doesn’t.

    The Bears at least have a measure of insurance, as fellow inside linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski performed relatively well in Trevathan’s stead last year. Freeman told Chris Boden of CSN Chicago that Kwiatkoski made the most of his extra first-team reps.

    “He’s trying to absorb a lot of things,” Freeman said, “trying to get his footwork better, his pass rush better, just like all of us strive to every day.”

    Trevathan, who is under contract through 2019, is only 27. With the Bears diving straight into a rebuild, they have no reason to rush him back.

    Stash Trevathan on the physically unable to perform list, see what you have in Kwiatkoski and revisit the situation in October.

    The Cincinnati Bengals likely fashion themselves a contender in the AFC North. They’ve advanced to the postseason six of the last eight years, winning three division titles over that span.

    But the Bengals came up short of the playoffs a year ago, largely because the team’s offensive line struggled. That line proceeded to lose its two best players in free agency.

    This year, the Bengals are banking on young tackles Jake Fisher and Cedric Ogbuehi being ready to start in their third season. They’d better be, as the team doesn’t have much on its depth chart behind them.

    That’s where veteran tackle Ryan Clady comes in.

    Injuries have been a theme with the 30-year-old over the past two seasons. During his lone year with the New York Jets in 2016, Clady missed seven games due to a torn rotator cuff. A torn ACL wiped out his entire 2015 campaign.

    But Clady was a Pro Bowler in 2014 in Denver-one of four trips to Honolulu he’s made in nine years.

    Cap space isn’t an issue for the Bengals, as they have over $18 million available, according to Over the Cap. The offensive line easily could become one, though.

    As such, the team should hedge that bet it made with its young tackles.

    If rookie DeShone Kizer clearly is the best quarterback for the Cleveland Browns in training camp and the preseason, then head coach Hue Jackson should start him in Week 1.

    The problems would begin if the Browns want to see him as their best option before he’s ready.

    Quarterbacks coach David Lee told Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com that Kizer needs a lot of work, saying, “He’s just a long way from being ready.” Granted, he then proceeded to gush about the 6’4″, 233-pounder.

    “What I see in him is a big, strong, guy which is defined in this division by Ben [Roethlisberger] and by Joe Flacco, and this kid’s in that mold,” Lee said.

    Statements like that build hope in a fanbase that hasn’t had a franchise quarterback in two decades. That hope will build hype, and with that hype will come expectations.

    If Cody Kessler starts, fans will want to see improvement over 2016. If it’s Brock Osweiler, they’ll want to see some nominal return on their $16 million salary dump.

    But if it’s Kizer, fans will want to see the future. They’ll want to see success.

    That’s a lot to put on a youngster who was benched for a time at Notre Dame last year.

    With outside linebacker Jaylon Smith reportedly healthy entering his second NFL season, Dallas Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones told Laken Litman of the Indianapolis Star he has big hopes for the former All-American in 2017.

    “You know, I think the sky’s the limit,” Jones said. “I think he’s got a great opportunity, if he keeps on his current path, to be a dominant player for us. Now to say I expect that when he’s not there yet? That’s tough to have that expectation. But I think we do expect him to contribute and be a big part of our defense this year.”

    It’s been a long road back for Smith, whose playing career was jeopardized by a devastating knee injury in his final game at Notre Dame. Given the severity of that injury, ESPN.com’s Todd Archer suggested Dallas should ease Smith into the lineup gradually.

    It’s an understandable sentiment. Not that long ago, we didn’t know whether Smith would ever play again.

    But if Smith canplay without undue risk of reinjury, the Cowboys should let him. Full time.

    There’s been nothing (as of yet) to indicate any setbacks in Smith’s recovery. As long as that trend continues, the Cowboys will be well-served to keep bumping his workload.

    Dallas won 13 games last year with a defense that was more “bend but don’t break” than “break the opponent’s will.” Adding a top-10 draft talent to it would be a big boost.

    We know who the Denver Broncos are with Trevor Siemian: a low-ceiling playoff contender. They’re a team that could win 11 games and make the postseason, but not one capable of challenging the New England Patriots for AFC supremacy.

    Many of the pieces to do so are there. The top-flight defense. The one-two punch at receiver. But a so-so signal-caller caps their ceiling.

    We don’t know whether the Broncos will be any better with Paxton Lynch under center. In limited duty last year, he looked like someone who wasn’t close to being ready to start in the NFL.

    We do know when John Elway moved back into the first round of the 2016 draft to select the Memphis product, it was all about Lynch’s ceiling. Many draftniks believed Lynch had the best pure arm of any quarterback in the class, as Eric Galko of Sporting News noted at the time.

    Lynch has reportedly looked much more comfortable this offseason as a sophomore. Mike Klis of KUSA recently wrote Lynch “made a move” to narrow the gap between him and Siemian in OTAs.

    If that improvement continues into training camp and the preseason, the future is now. Not because of what the Broncos are with Siemian, but because of what they might be with a more dynamic quarterback.

    Miles Killebrew played fewer than 15 percent of the Lions’ defensive snaps in 2016, but the second-year pro told Nate Atkins of MLive.com he’s ready for a much larger role in 2017.

    “I’m comfortable, so I’m quicker. My reads are faster. I feel like I’ve improved my coverage, and my run fits have gotten a little better,” Killebrew said. “It’s fun playing fast, and I feel like I’m playing faster than last year for sure.”

    Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin told Atkins he’s impressed both with Killebrew’s growth and versatility.

    “He has a lot of places he can play,” Austin said. “I see him as a strong safety for us who can play in the dime, who can play in the back because when you watch him, he has really good athletic ability and he can run and he has really good ball skills.”

    That versatility is why the Lions need to get Killebrew on the field.

    In addition to being a capable safety, the 222-pound Killebrew could also theoretically play some nickel linebacker, which is an area where the Lions could use help. Jarrad Davis is unproven, Paul Worrilow is mediocre and coverage isnot Tahir Whitehead’s strong suit.

    Every team wants a “rover” nowadays. Killebrew has the potential to be just that for the Lions.

    The Green Bay Packers aren’t the type of team to make wholesale changes just before the season starts. They won’t make a late free-agent splash. (Or an early one, for that matter.)

    The one area where the Packers needed major help-the secondary-was their focus early in the 2017 draft. As we move from OTAs into training camp and the preseason, everyone’s going to see what the Packers already know: They landed a steal with safety Josh Jones in the second round.

    As ESPN’s Rob Demovsky reported, the 6’2″, 220-pound Jones caught Mike McCarthy’s eye early as someone capable of playing both safety spots, corner and even some nickel linebacker.

    The key is going to be figuring out how best to use him. The Packers have a pair of talented starters at safety in Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Morgan Burnett, but third safety Micah Hyde left in free agency. Green Bay also struggled at both corner and inside linebacker at times in 2016.

    It’s asking a lot of a rookie to task him with learning multiple positions, but the Packers should try. If they put as much on the youngster’s plate as he can handle, it could mean a trip to Minnesota next February.

    How can one be opposed to starting DeShone Kizer and yet in favor of the Houston Texans rolling out Deshaun Watson as their starting quarterback in Week 1? It’s equal parts player and situation.

    Regardless of who the Browns roll out there, they aren’t going anywhere in 2017. But the Texans are the defending champions of the AFC South, a division which has gotten better (on paper) this offseason. Nine wins likely won’t be good enough this year.

    But with Tom Savage at quarterback, that’s what Houston is: a 9-7 almost-contender not unlike the Broncos. Savage is 1-1 as a starter and has never thrown a touchdown pass in an NFL game that counted.

    Just about the only edge Savage has on Watson is that he knows head coach Bill O’Brien’s offense. He doesn’t have a demonstrably better arm or more athleticism. He certainly doesn’t have Watson’s resume of making plays in big games.

    Even if it means paring back O’Brien’s playbook a bit (gasp!), the Texans will be a better team with their best quarterback on the field.

    After all, it worked out fine for the Dallas Cowboys with Dak Prescott in 2016.

    The Indianapolis Colts overhauled their defense this offseason. Seeing as said defense was abysmal in 2016, that decision should have come as no surprise.

    Part of that overhaul is a wide-open competition at inside linebacker featuring holdovers Edwin Jackson and Antonio Morrison, free-agent signees Sean Spence and Jon Bostic and rookie fifth-rounder Anthony Walker Jr.

    The easiest call of the bunch is Spence, who signed a one-year, $2.5 million deal with the Colts in March after a career year in Tennessee. According to Pro Football Focus, his tackling efficiency (number of attempted tackles per miss) was the NFL’s third-best mark last season. Spence was one of only three linebackers not to miss a tackle in the run game, per PFF.

    After that, things get muddy quickly. Bostic is a former second-round pick on his fourth team in five years. Both Jackson and Morrison showed flashes as rookies but were hit-and-miss at times. And Walker’s next NFL game will be his first one.

    In a perfect world, Spence and Jackson would start. The latter was steady more often than not last year and has more range than Morrison. But in OTAs, they lined up at the same spot.

    If head coach Chuck Pagano doesn’t want to mix-and-match, he should give Walker a long look. The rookie’s toughness would be a nice complement to Spence’s athleticism, and similar to Jackson, he’s likely a rangier player than Morrison.

    Branden Albert, who joined the Jacksonville Jaguars in a trade with the Miami Dolphins this spring, believes he’s among the cream of the crop at his position. In mid-June, he told reporters he’s “one of the best experts at playing left tackle in the universe right now.”

    Pro Football Focus disagrees, at least where 2016 is concerned. At PFF, Albert ranked 65th among tackles in his final season with the Dolphins. Considering he was also late to OTAs as the result of an aborted holdout, Albert’s tenure with the Jaguars isn’t off to the best of starts.

    Rookie second-rounder Cam Robinson, on the other hand, has been busy impressing his new teammates, according to Mark Inabinett of AL.com.

    “Cam’s learning every single day, and he’s getting better every single day,” guard A.J. Cann told Inabinett. “I see things that are impressive for a young dude.”

    This isn’t to say Jacksonville should automatically hand the starting spot at left tackle to Robinson. That’s the problem with Albert-he’s acting like a player who believes he already won the job.

    But if Robinson continues to perform well, head coach Doug Marrone needs to be ready to put his five best linemen on the field, regardless of their relative salaries.

    While Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff bears plenty of responsibility for his struggles as a rookie, having a below-average receiving corps didn’t help last year’s No. 1 overall pick.

    With 1,000-yard receiver Kenny Britt now in Cleveland, it’s even worse this year.

    Robert Woods is better known as a blocker than a pass-catcher. Tavon Austin has thoroughly disappointed in his four seasons. The rest of the depth chart is a lot of “who?”

    However, rookie wideout Cooper Kupp provides a measure of hope this season. As Myles Simmons reported for the team’s website, the third-round pick impressed offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur in OTAs.

    “I think the first thing you know about Cooper is he’s a pro and you can see that,” LaFleur said. “He came in here not like most rookies do. He’s an extremely polished route runner, got great hands, is a precise route-runner. You can tell he works at his craft each and every day. He does a great job.”

    Goff desperately needs a reliable target. Kupp spent most of his career at Eastern Washington being just that.

    Inside linebacker Kiko Alonso hasn’t been shy about his preference to stay at “Mike” in Miami’s 4-3 defense. But in January, defensive coordinator Matt Burke told Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald that he may move Alonso elsewhere.

    “We’ll see what other type of players we bring in through free agency and the draft and where Kiko fits in,” he said. “Obviously we see him as an important piece of the future.”

    After the Dolphins signed veteran inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons and drafted Ohio State’s Raekwon McMillan, moving Alonso went from a possibility to a necessity.

    Alonso has decent range, instincts and coverage skills, but he’s soft at the point of attack. Alonso was 48th of 60 qualifiers in run stop percentage last year, per PFF, and 60th among all linebackers in run defense.

    Timmons was even worse in run defense, but that’s neither here nor there. Someone has to play the weak side, and Alonso’s skill set is easily the best fit among the bunch.

    A team source told Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald that the “best option” is putting Timmons in the middle and Alonso on the weak side. It’ll be a surprise if that isn’t how the team lines up when camp opens.

    The Minnesota Vikings got a gift in the third round of the 2017 NFL draft in the form of Ohio State center Pat Elflein. When they traded up to select him, Mike Mayock of NFL Network hailed the pick.

    “One of the most technically advanced offensive lineman in this draft,” Mayock said. “He’s not the best athlete in the world, but he’s technically proficient. He’s one of those guys that will play 10 years in the NFL. I love the fact that he can play center and both guards. Really solid pick by the Vikings.”

    However, Minnesota head coach Mike Zimmer isn’t one to just hand starting spots to rookies. In that respect, it wasn’t surprising that Nick Easton spent the majority of OTAs as the team’s starter in the middle of the offensive line, per Matt Vensel of the Star Tribune.

    The same Nick Easton who ranked 36th at the position ( per PFF) in 400 snaps and change a year ago.

    According to Football Outsiders, the Vikings had the third-worst run-blocking line in the NFL last season. Elflein happens to be an excellent run-blocker with starting experience at both center and guard.

    This shouldn’t be rocket science.

    Signing Nick Mangold would be the type of “surprise” veteran acquisition that isn’t all that surprising for the New England Patriots anymore.

    It would be a gut-punch for New York Jets fans to have to watch the 11-year veteran (and seven-time Pro Bowler) take the field for their most hated rivals. That’s gravy for Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, who gets his evil powers by drinking the tears of his vanquished foes.

    Back in May, Mangold told SiriusXM NFL Radio (via ESPN.com’s Rich Cimini) it would be difficult to imagine taking the field for the Patriots.

    “That would be awfully difficult,” he said. “I’ve got to assume that after years of all the battles that I’ve had with New England, I don’t think Bill’s all that fond of me.”

    Belichick is fond of anyone who can help him win. Darrelle Revis’ lengthy tenure with the Jets didn’t stop Belichick from signing him a few years ago.

    The Patriots don’t have a glaring hole at center, but David Andrews ranked 27th at the position last year, per PFF. The interior of that line is its nominal Achilles’ heel.

    Adding Mangold could be a significant (and inexpensive) upgrade.

    Assuming the positive reports flowing out about Adrian Peterson are more than summer fluff and wishful thinking, the New Orleans Saints must unleash him, Mark Ingram be damned.

    Trainer James Cooper has worked with Peterson for years, so he’s not exactly impartial. But he recently told Bleacher Report’s Dan Pompei that the 32-year-old tailback remains among the best runners in the game.

    “There are the NFL players, there are the NFL starters, and then there is the upper-echelon 1 percent,” Cooper says. “He is still going to be in that upper 1 percent.”

    Peterson, meanwhile, doesn’t believe he needs 25 carries a game to have a big impact.

    “I don’t think I became a great player by having to have 20 or 30 carries to get 200 yards,” he told Pompei. “If they feed it to me, hey, I’m going to eat. Whenever I get opportunities, I’ll take advantage of them.”

    If Peterson looks like anything like his old self in camp, the Saints must make him the focus of their ground game. While Ingram averaged more than five yards a carry and gained 1,000-plus rushing yards last year, Peterson is the best running back of his generation. He’s topped 1,000 yards seven times, 2,000 yards once, won the NFL’s MVP award and has averaged nearly five yards a pop over his career.

    The better Peterson looks, the more he has to get the ball. It’s as simple as that.

    The New York Giants don’t have much in the way of position battles, save for the annual competition to be this year’s anonymous middle linebacker. However, with regard to their ground game-or lack thereof-a strategic move could potentially benefit them.

    The Giants ranked 29th in the NFL in rushing last year, averaging under 90 yards a game. After only addressing that weakness with fourth-round pick Wayne Gallman in this year’s draft, there’s little reason to think they’ll be substantially better this season.

    That may be by design.

    After signing veteran wideout Brandon Marshall and drafting rookie tight end Evan Engram, the Giants have the makings of a formidable aerial attack. While the team will use second-year tailback Paul Perkins as its nominal starter, a three-wide lineup featuring Shane Vereen in the backfield could mean a lot of headaches for opposing defenses.

    If the Giants spread teams out and ramp up the tempo, they could open up defenses by wearing them out.

    Pass to set up the run. Welcome to 2017.

    How can you tell a team is tanking? When said team jettisons nearly every high-priced veteran it can, all while signing a veteran stopgap at quarterback who is 2-20 over his last 22 starts.

    Seriously. That’s Josh McCown’s record since 2014.

    Even if this is a conscious effort to be as bad as humanly possible-and if it is, bravo-it still doesn’t make sense to trot out a washed-up 38-year-old under center. Not when there’s a perfectly good 22-year-old bust-in-the-making on the roster.

    We don’t yet know for sure that Christian Hackenberg is a bust. Sure, he’s completed a higher percentage of passes to reporters than he did in preseason action last year, but hey-rookie jitters, amiright?

    In any event, the Jets are going nowhere, and starting McCown accomplishes nothing. At least if the team starts Hackenberg-or to a lesser extent, Bryce Petty-it can determine whether it squandered a Day 2 pick on the former Penn State star.

    In a lost season, the Jets might as well figure out what they have under center moving forward.

    The sudden retirement of Baltimore Ravens inside linebacker Zachary Orr in January due to a spinal condition was one of the bigger shocks of the offseason. His recent announcement that he was considering continuing his career after receiving additional medical opinions was equally surprising.

    If the 24-year-old isn’t at more risk of a serious injury than anyone else, just about every team would like to add him after his 132-tackle breakout last year. But one team would benefit most from the addition.

    The Oakland Raiders are a legitimate Super Bowl contender with a loaded offense. On the other hand, their defense has a few holes, most notably at inside linebacker.

    Jelani Jenkins showed flashes in four years in Miami but has had trouble staying on the field. Youngsters Cory James and Ben Heeney have been up and down to this point in their careers.

    Orr would provide an immediate, massive upgrade at Oakland’s biggest position of need. Better yet, it’s one the Raiders can afford.

    The Philadelphia Eagles do not have a great cadre of cornerbacks. They ranked 13th in pass defense last year, but the team’s highest-ranking remaining corner-newcomer Patrick Robinson-checked in 91st at the position, per PFF.

    When you almost miss Nolan Carroll, things aren’t going well.

    The Eagles didn’t have the salary-cap space to address the position in free agency, but they did select a young cornerback in this year’s draft, spending a third-round pick on Rasul Douglas of West Virginia.

    Eagles wideout Alshon Jeffery told Martin Frank of the News Journal that he expects Douglas to waste no time making a dent.

    “I look for him to have, my prediction, is probably to say about three to five picks this year,” Jeffery said. “I believe he can do that. Maybe more, we’ll see. The sky’s the limit for him. He’s already pretty good. He’s going to be a good corner in this league. He’s just got to keep working, keep learning from what his coaches tell him.”

    The learning curve at cornerback can be steep in the NFL. Even the best young prospects often struggle.

    However, Douglas tied for the FBS lead in interceptions last year with eight. That ability to change games would be worth the occasional slip-up.

    Why shouldn’t the Pittsburgh Steelers take a flyer on veteran cornerback Darrelle Revis?

    Yes, Revis is coming off a disastrous 2016 season. But the year before that, he was a quality starter for the New York Jets. Not long before that, he was the NFL’s best shutdown corner.

    Yes, Revis is 32. But plenty of NFL cornerbacks in their 30s are playing at a high level. Besides, he’s not getting a megadeal at this point in free agency. If Revis wants to play, it’s going to be on a prove-it deal.

    Yes, Bob Labriola of the team website already called the idea a “pipe dream,” noting Pittsburgh wants to get younger on defense. That’s all well and good. But the Steelers are also in win-now mode, so getting better on defense isn’t such a bad idea.

    Assuming Revis has something left in the tank, he’d be an upgrade for a secondary that isn’t scaring anyone. Pittsburgh was 16th in the NFL in pass defense last year.

    The Steelers have around $15 million in cap space, which would enable them to gamble on Revis helping them win one more game in 2017 than they did last year.

    OK, maybe two.

    There’s been chatter about rookie running back Joe Williams from the moment the San Francisco 49ers traded up to select the 5’11”, 205-pounder. After all, new head coach Kyle Shanahan went to bat for him with general manager John Lynch specifically because of how he fits with the offense.

    “Somewhere in the process, Kyle threw on the tape and started seeing some big-time ability with Joe Williams after he came back from his hiatus from the Utah team,” Lynch told KNBR (via Daniel Mano of the Bay Area News Group). “Kyle started showing me that film, and I agreed. I agreed wholeheartedly on the talent.”

    Incumbent Carlos Hyde, while a talented back in his own right, has a history of getting nicked up and is entering a contract year.

    If the 49ers have their eyes cast toward the future, that future might as well be now.

    San Francisco isn’t going anywhere in 2017. Hyde isn’t likely to be a member of the team after this season. As such, the easiest way to find out whether Williams can carry the mail for the 49ers is to let him carry it.

    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers apparently weren’t satisfied with the play of their safeties in 2016. In fact, they did so well addressing the position that the team now must confront a quandary as training camp looms.

    In additions to holdovers Chris Conte and Keith Tandy-who ranked a respectable 15th among safeties last year at PFF -the Bucs also added free agent J.J. Wilcox (who started 38 games over four seasons with the Dallas Cowboys) and selected Texas A&M safety Justin Evans in the second round of the 2017 draft.

    The rookie has already made a positive impression on head coach Dirk Koetter, according to Joe Kania of the Team’s website.

    “He brings range,” Koetter said. “He moves like a corner. We’re just in shorts and helmets but he shows up quick at the line of scrimmage on his run fits. He’s going to have to be a little more vocal-we need our safeties to communicate more-but his athleticism and his range definitely, in a passing-like camp, are going to show up.”

    Strong safety toughness. Free safety range. Cornerback quickness. What more could you ask for?

    One of the most talked-about position battles in the nation’s capital this year will be at running back, where second-year pro Rob Kelley and rookie Samaje Perine will vie to be the team’s lead runner.

    Kelley showed up to OTAs in excellent shape after a rookie season in which he came out on fire but faded badly down the stretch.

    Over his first three starts in 2016, Kelley averaged just under 4.8 yards per carry. But over his last six, that number fell by over a yard-and-a-half. And wouldn’t you know it, the Redskins lost four of those six duds and missed the playoffs.

    Given their relative talent levels and experience, a hot-hand approach might seem best in 2017 to avoid overloading either youngster. But Perine thrives on overload. The 5’11”, 233-pound bruiser is a throwback runner who’s at his best late in games after he’s in the groove and asserting his will against an opponent.

    Perine showed what he’s capable of in that role at Oklahoma two years ago, topping 1,700 rushing yards at Oklahoma while Joe Mixon served a one-year suspension.

    He’s a bell-cow back. So ring the bell.

    All statistics via NFL.com or Pro Football Reference, unless otherwise noted. All contract details and salary-cap figures via Spotrac.