The NFL offseason’s most improved position groups

An all-action NFL offseason has led to reshaped position groups across the league, through blockbuster trades, the usual free agency waves, and the draft. Several teams used the spring to bolster key position groups. Here are the most improved areas across the league. 

 

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30. Minnesota Vikings, secondary

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Minnesota’s new GM-head coach tandem is treating 2022 with more urgency than Chicago’s, keeping most of its offensive personnel and reloading on defense. The Vikings used first- and second-round picks on their secondary, drafting Georgia safety Lewis Cine and Clemson cornerback Andrew Booth. After previously swapping out Mackensie Alexander for ex-Packer Chandon Sullivan in the slot, the Vikings will put Cine and Booth alongside two of this era’s best DBs — Harrison Smith and the re-signed Patrick Peterson — aid a defense that plummeted to 30th last year. 

 

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29. Miami Dolphins, running back

Miami Dolphins, running back

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A fantasy wasteland in 2021 — other than Duke Johnson’s late re-emergence — the Miami backfield produced a 30th-ranked rushing attack. Veterans headed east to address this. Chase Edmonds averaged 5.1 yards per tote in 2021 and has been one of the NFL’s top change-of-pace backs over the past two seasons. He will be pivotal in Miami, which must limit Raheem Mostert’s work to keep the injury-riddled blazer healthy-ish. But Mostert’s experience with Mike McDaniel deserves attention. Mid-offseason addition Sony Michel may be poised to play ahead of both, depending on Mostert’s health. The injury-plagued Patriot quietly led the Rams in rushing and played 21 games last season.

 

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28. Pittsburgh Steelers, linebacker

Pittsburgh Steelers, linebacker

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Amid a flurry of unrestricted free agent signings, the Steelers added a cap casualty who immediately becomes their top off-ball linebacker. Jack was the last man standing from the Jaguars’ No. 1-ranked 2017 defense, and despite the ex-second-round pick being a six-year veteran, he is just 26. The Steelers, who have seen a few linebackers excel during Mike Tomlin’s run, added a potential impact piece to a front seven that struggled against the run last season. The Jack addition minimizes the pressure on former top-10 pick Devin Bush to rebound post-injury. Though, that would help, too.

 

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27. Jacksonville Jaguars, offensive line

Jacksonville Jaguars, offensive line

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The Jaguars had money and needed to throw it around to bolster a talent-starved roster. Brandon Scherff was one of the biggest fish. Although availability has been an issue for the longtime Washington blocker, few guards can match Scherff when he is healthy. The five-time Pro Bowler, at 30, should have good years left. The Jags are taking a risk returning three starters from last year’s iffy O-line, and they lost their longest-tenured blocker. Center Brandon Linder retired and will be missed, though he constantly battled injuries. Third-round pick Luke Fortner will be tasked with developing quickly to take over. 

 

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26. Washington Commanders, quarterback

Washington Commanders, quarterback

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Jim Irsay will disagree, but Carson Wentz provides an upgrade for a team. A potentially substantial one. Irsay backed his bus over Wentz this offseason, ridiculing Wentz’s Colts season at every turn. Wentz finished with a 27-7 TD-INT ratio, despite being saddled with a thin receiving corps, but his hero-ball penchant irked the Colts. Wentz’s final two Colts games, as you may have heard, upset certain people. But the ex-Eagle (ninth in QBR last season) will take over for Taylor Heinicke (23rd). Wentz, 29, should have plenty of motivation, and the Commanders have a better pass-catching crew than the Colts did last season.

 

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25. Indianapolis Colts, defensive line

Indianapolis Colts, defensive line

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As the Raiders struck a deal with Chandler Jones, the Colts benefited by being the team on standby. Trading for Yannick Ngakoue barely a minute after Jones committed to taking his spot in Las Vegas, Indianapolis landed a proven edge rusher who will not need system acclimation time due to Gus Bradley being hired as Colts DC. Ngakoue, 27, was with Bradley in Jacksonville and Vegas and is coming off a 10-sack season. The pass-rushing specialist will provide the Colts’ pair of highly drafted second-year D-ends (Kwity Paye and Dayo Odeyingbo) with an edge anchor.

 

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24. Jacksonville Jaguars, linebacker

Jacksonville Jaguars, linebacker

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By the time the Jaguars took Chad Muma in Round 3, their commitment to this declining-in-importance area felt like overkill. They had already given a three-year, $45 million deal to two-year Falcons starter Foye Oluokun and used a first-round pick on Utah’s Devin Lloyd. The latter presents interesting possibilities, given his backfield disruption (seven sacks, 22 tackles for loss) last season while primarily playing an off-ball role. It is too early for Micah Parsons comparisons, but Lloyd is the new anchor for the Jags at linebacker, replacing cap casualty Myles Jack. These additions give new DC Mike Caldwell considerable ammo.

 

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23. Cleveland Browns, wide receiver

Cleveland Browns, wide receiver

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Baker Mayfield’s shoulder injury contributed heavily to the Browns’ passing attack cratering last season, but Odell Beckham Jr.’s poor fit and Jarvis Landry’s limited impact hurt as well. Amari Cooper, now on a nonguaranteed contract, helped CeeDee Lamb break out in Dallas. And the ex-Raider top-five pick remains an elite route runner. Cutting Landry and adding Purdue’s David Bell in Round 3, the Browns are banking on Cooper and Deshaun Watson aiding their young receiver talent. Electric return man/gadget playmaker Jakeem Grant doubled as one of the top under-the-radar additions, too.

 

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22. Jacksonville Jaguars, pass catcher

Jacksonville Jaguars, pass catcher

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The Urban Meyer-to-Doug Pederson upgrade dwarfs everything else the Jaguars have done this offseason. But Trevor Lawrence will have more help in his second year. Jacksonville might still need one more piece, after skipping these spots in the draft, and it is debatable how much better Christian Kirk, Evan Engram, and Zay Jones make a team that lost D.J. Chark. But Kirk’s salary reached its stunning place because other teams also believe the versatile ex-Cardinal’s best work is coming. Engram knows this will be his last shot at a long-term contract; the former first-round tight end still represents a matchup problem if used properly. Jones…has a good agent.

 

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21. New York Jets, tight end

New York Jets, tight end

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Only one Jets tight end has surpassed 400 receiving yards in the past 10 seasons (Chris Herndon, in what turned out to be an outlier in 2018). The team could not convince Tyreek Hill to join Zach Wilson and Co., but it did add C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Conklin to reshape its tight end corps. Both are coming off their best seasons, though Uzomah popped up on the radar before Joe Burrow’s arrival. Conklin became Kirk Cousins’ No. 3 option, in a similar offense to Mike LaFleur’s Jets setup, and totaled 593 receiving yards as Irv Smith Jr.’s fill-in. The 29- and 26-year-old cogs should aid Wilson, who ran out of weapons last season.

 

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20. Minnesota Vikings, defensive line

Minnesota Vikings, defensive line

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Minnesota’s Danielle Hunter-Everson Griffen reunion did not see either party finish the season, but Hunter has a younger edge partner now. The Vikings are pinning their sack hopes to Hunter, who has become injury-prone, and Za’Darius Smith, who is coming off a two-game season. If Smith is past his back injury, the Vikings are getting a player who excelled as a Packer in 2019 and ’20, when he combined for 26 sacks. The Bills tried to make Harrison Phillips a part of their reloaded D-line, but the inside cog signed a three-year Vikings deal and will team with Hunter and Smith. The two newcomers will shape the Vikes’ first 3-4 scheme since the 1980s.

 

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19. New York Giants, offensive line

New York Giants, offensive line

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Entering the offseason with left tackle Andrew Thomas the only sure thing upfront, the new Giants regime inherited an O-line that had crumbled. At least three new starters arrived, fronted by No. 7 overall pick Evan Neal. The ex-Alabama O-line anchor will slot opposite Thomas at right tackle, plugging a persistent hole for the Giants. Part of the Colts’ top-tier O-line for four years, Mark Glowinski is set to start at guard. Ex-Bills starter Jon Feliciano represents an interior flier. This reconfiguration should give Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley a bit more hope ahead of pivotal years for both.

 

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18. Los Angeles Rams, linebacker

Los Angeles Rams, linebacker

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The defending champs again let role players walk in order to add a star, swapping out cornerback Darious Williams and D-tackle Sebastian Joseph-Day for Bobby Wagner. The longtime Seahawk will return home to Los Angeles, after 10 Seattle seasons in which he became one of this era’s best players, and give the Rams All-Pros on all three levels. Wagner and Aaron Donald have combined for 13 first-team All-Pro honors. Since the Rams extended Donald in 2018, they had not devoted much money to the off-ball linebacker spots. Wagner’s deal changed that. Although Wagner is 31, he is durable and coming off a career-best 170-tackle season. 

 

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17. New York Jets, cornerback

New York Jets, cornerback

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Teams razed an understaffed cornerback cadre in Robert Saleh’s debut. Saleh will have more firepower in Year 2, chiefly because this regime deviated from the draft strategy the 49ers and Seahawks — users of Saleh’s scheme — deploy at corner (middling investments). Sauce Gardner, vital to Cincinnati breaking the Group of Five wall into the College Football Playoff, will be asked to step in as the Jets’ No. 1 corner. But ex-San Francisco and Seattle corner D.J. Reed provides a scheme fit and an ascending talent opposite him. Here is betting the Jets do not rank last defensively again in 2022.

 

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16. Detroit Lions, wide receiver

Detroit Lions, wide receiver

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Jameson Williams could become the receiving star the Lions have not had since Calvin Johnson, though the ex-Alabama speedster’s skillset differs from Megatron’s. Once healthy, Williams may be this deep receiver class’ top talent. Playing the long game with the rehabbing Williams makes sense for Detroit, which gave D.J. Chark a lucrative prove-it deal after he sustained a broken ankle last year. These two out wide alongside promising slot Amon-Ra St. Brown changes the equation for the Lions. This might not benefit Jared Goff enough to push the Lions to the playoffs, but they are not a complete write-off like last season. 

 

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15. Los Angeles Chargers, cornerback

Los Angeles Chargers, cornerback

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Bill Belichick has let many corners walk in free agency — from Darrelle Revis to Malcolm Butler to Logan Ryan — or traded them (Stephon Gilmore) to avoid a long-term deal in recent years. J.C. Jackson is the latest New England corner export, and the NFL’s INT leader over the past four seasons joins a Charger defense oozing potential. Jackson will team with Asante Samuel Jr., whose father Belichick once let walk, on a defense housing Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack. That duo will ensure Jackson INT chances; he has picked off 17 passes over the past two years. Adding Bryce Callahan as a flier makes sense, but the talented slot corner is among the NFL’s most injury-prone players.

 

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14. Philadelphia Eagles, linebacker

Philadelphia Eagles, linebacker

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Haason Reddick plunged toward the bust cliff as a traditional Cardinals linebacker. That makes the Eagles’ plan for their well-paid edge rusher worth monitoring. Philadelphia plans to make Reddick a 4-3 outside linebacker who moves into rush roles, a la Von Miller under John Fox or Bruce Irvin in Seattle. Hopefully, Philly rushes Reddick often; he rejuvenated his career as an edge player over the past two seasons. Traditional ‘backer Kyzir White will flank Reddick, and third-round pick Nakobe Dean joins the ex-Charger. If Dean’s injury-induced draft fall proved overblown, Philly could have a steal in the Georgia All-American.

 

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13. Miami Dolphins, offensive line

Miami Dolphins, offensive line

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Restrained for a bit at the start of Chris Grier’s GM tenure, the Dolphins went back to their freewheeling free agency ways. But Pro Bowl left tackles near their prime are rarely available. The Dolphins splurged for Terron Armstead, an eight-year Saints starter, and added ex-Cowboys starter Connor Williams to play either left guard or center. Pro Football Focus slotted the 2021 Dolphins O-line 32nd; needs existed just about everywhere. Armstead’s play helped key the Saints’ late-2010s resurgence, but they opted to pay right tackle Ryan Ramczyk. Loading up around Tua Tagovailoa’s rookie deal, the Dolphins aim to capitalize. 

 

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12. Carolina Panthers, offensive line

Carolina Panthers, offensive line

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Here is a list of the Panthers’ primary post-Jordan Gross left tackles: Byron Bell (2014), Michael Oher (’15), Mike Remmers (’16), Matt Kalil (’17), Chris Clark (’18), Dennis Daley (’19), Russell Okung (’20) and Cam Erving (’21). As Taylor Moton mans the right side, the Panthers are have a 10th Week 1 left tackle in 10 years. Ikem Ekwonu is by far the highest-ceiling option, and the No. 6 overall pick should stop this revolving door. Ekwonu, ex-Rams guard Austin Corbett, and ex-Ravens center Bradley Bozeman reshape an O-line that contributed to Sam Darnold’s disastrous Carolina debut. The embattled QB will have a better chance in 2022.

 

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11. Denver Broncos, defensive line

Denver Broncos, defensive line

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Yes, Randy Gregory will technically play linebacker in Denver’s 3-4 scheme. But sub-packages rule the NFL. The Broncos adding Gregory and ascending ex-49ers run-stopper D.J. Jones to team with Bradley Chubb and unsung 3-4 end Dre’Mont Jones could mean a formidable front, even if its Q rating is lower than the Von Miller-led units. Gregory is 29, but due to his suspension past, the Cowboy has little tread on his tires. Before a mid-year injury, he flashed All-Pro ability last season. Gregory at $14 million a year may be a bargain soon. Quick-twitch edge Nik Bonitto (Round 2) adds to this group’s capabilities, though the undersized rusher is a wild card for 2022.

 

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10. Philadelphia Eagles, wide receiver

Philadelphia Eagles, wide receiver

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All about trades involving first-round picks in recent years, the Eagles turned one of their two 2022 firsts into A.J. Brown, giving the team a locked-in No. 1 target. Although this also meant giving the ex-Titan game-breaker a receiver-record-setting $56 million fully guaranteed — $4M more than Tyreek Hill’s new deal — the trade protects against the Eagles misevaluating another highly drafted wideout, as they did with Jalen Reagor and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside. Giving Jalen Hurts a player of Brown’s caliber will streamline the Eagles’ evaluation of their unproven quarterback. 

 

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9. Cincinnati Bengals, offensive line

Cincinnati Bengals, offensive line

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The second half of Super Bowl LVI spotlighted the Bengals’ most obvious problem, creating a globally visible need for a team that usually spends offseasons off the grid. That was not an option for Cincinnati this year, and the AFC champs responded. The Bengals added three starting offensive linemen in free agency — guard Alex Cappa, center/guard Ted Karras, and right tackle La’el Collins — and did not spend wildly to do so. Constantly dinged for thriftiness, the Bengals delivered and outbid other teams for this trio. Each new blocker is in his 20s, creating potential multiyear protectors for Joe Burrow and keeping Cincy on the Super Bowl radar.

 

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8. New Orleans Saints, wide receiver

New Orleans Saints, wide receiver

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Michael Thomas’ poor surgery-timeline communication with the Saints preceded a freefall for his position group, which doubled as the NFL’s worst 2021 receiver array. If Thomas is indeed back to form, this could be one of the best positional overhauls in recent memory. Thomas, Jarvis Landry, and No. 12 overall pick Chris Olave represent Jameis Winston’s top targets. None played for the Saints last season, leading to the team’s top receiver (Marquez Callaway) totaling less than 700 yards. Landry as a No. 2 or No. 3 option suits him better at this point, but the 29-year-old Pro Bowler should have juice (no pun intended) left.

 

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7. Las Vegas Raiders, wide receiver

Las Vegas Raiders, wide receiver

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The Raiders’ last big-ticket receiver addition combusted spectacularly, but Davante Adams has no Antonio Brown-level baggage and was eager to head to Las Vegas to play with his college quarterback. The Raiders’ new regime paid up for Adams, causing a chain reaction that sent the AFC West’s previous top receiver (Tyreek Hill) to Miami. An ancillary bonus of a trade that will pair Adams and Derek Carr for the first time since 2013. Las Vegas will count on Adams, who will turn 30 later this year, not being a product of Aaron Rodgers’ brilliance. It took a monster contract and the team’s top two draft picks to make this happen; a vital chess move in the AFC West.

 

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6. Baltimore Ravens, safety

Baltimore Ravens, safety

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The Ravens are big safety investors. Since 2016, they have signed Eric Weddle, Tony Jefferson, Earl Thomas, and now Marcus Williams. The ex-Saint’s five-year, $70 million contract looks friendlier than Thomas’ $14M-AAV 2019 deal did, due to the salary cap’s growth. The former third-round pick shook off his Minnesota playoff gaffe and was essential to New Orleans’ defensive success in recent years. A month later, the Ravens doubled down by drafting Kyle Hamilton. While this leaves starter Chuck Clark in limbo, a Williams-Hamilton-Marlon Humphrey-Marcus Peters quartet represents a major secondary upgrade.

 

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5. Cleveland Browns, quarterback

Cleveland Browns, quarterback

Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

It is tough to look past Deshaun Watson’s ridiculous contract and the 22 allegations of sexual assault or sexual misconduct levied against him. His likely suspension will hinder the 2022 Browns’ hopes in a stacked AFC. But Cleveland has its best quarterback in at least 30 years. Watson has the potential to surpass Bernie Kosar (not in terms of Cleveland popularity, but in performance) and reside behind only Otto Graham in Browns QB lore. The three-time Pro Bowler will be 27 when he takes the field for his new team and offers passing and rushing capabilities beyond Baker Mayfield’s. 

 

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4. Los Angeles Chargers, defensive line

Los Angeles Chargers, defensive line

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Set to coach a duo similar in experience and capabilities to the Broncos’ iconic Von Miller-DeMarcus Ware tandem, Brandon Staley will reunite with Khalil Mack, who could be unfair as a sidekick pass rusher. Formerly the Defensive Player of the Year as a Raider, Mack will face friendlier paths to QBs opposite Joey Bosa, who lacked much help during a 2021 season in which he forced seven fumbles. Ex-Rams run-stuffing D-tackle Sebastian Joseph-Day will be tasked with steadying the Chargers’ abysmal run defense, while inside rotational presence Austin Johnson will be asked to address that issue as well. 

 

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3. Miami Dolphins, wide receiver

Miami Dolphins, wide receiver

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Tua Tagovailoa’s receiver trio fell apart last season, with Will Fuller playing just three games and DeVante Parker also battling injuries during an unremarkable year. Enter Tyreek Hill, the NFL’s fastest player who did more to affect defenses’ game plans than any wide receiver over the past several seasons. The six-time Pro Bowler may be an iffier fit with Tagovailoa than he was with Patrick Mahomes, and giving a player with Hill’s past receiver-record money is a risk. But Miami’s Hill-Jaylen Waddle tandem will be must-see. Defenses will not exactly be devoting many resources to new WR3 Cedrick Wilson. 

 

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2. Buffalo Bills, defensive line

Buffalo Bills, defensive line

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

If the Bills were not the AFC favorites previously, they rose to that perch after Von Miller’s Instagram video confirmed he will be the rare Los Angeles-to-Buffalo mover (the reverse Valerie Malone trek). This era’s premier edge rusher, Miller showed in the playoffs he can still dominate. It will be needed for a defense that has lacked an edge ace for years. The Bills also brought back their 2019 pass rush anchors — ex-first-rounder Shaq Lawson and D-tackle Jordan Phillips — and signed ex-Washington backup Tim Settle, who flashed off the bench on a deep D-line. The Bills deployed a No. 1-ranked defense in 2021; their 2022 unit is more talented.

 

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1. Denver Broncos, quarterback

Denver Broncos, quarterback

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Miller’s endorsements for the Broncos’ brigade of post-Peyton Manning QBs sounded less and less convincing as the years passed. The ex-Bronco great will not have the pleasure of touting Russell Wilson, who fills one of the NFL’s most glaring needs. Denver started 11 quarterbacks since Manning’s 2016 retirement; its 12th will be a nine-time Pro Bowler poised to unshackle the team’s promising receiving corps. The 33-year-old passer will leave a run-oriented Seattle team for an offense built around him, creating the potential for a transformative upgrade — basically a necessity in the current AFC West — in Denver. 



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