NFL experts debate: Which offseason addition will make the biggest impact?

Updated: May 15, 2019

With the NFL draft and rookie minicamps in the rearview mirror, the frenzy of offseason moves is mostly over. Next up this offseason? The spring owners meetings, which kick off next week, and mandatory team minicamps, which begin June 4.

Our panel of ESPN NFL experts takes a look back at the past few months and looks ahead to the 2019 season, answering questions to recap the offseason action. Check back every day this week to see more questions and answers.

The offseason acquisitions that will make an immediate impact

  • The teams that declined most this offseason

  • The teams that improved most this offseason

  • Which offseason addition will make the biggest impact in 2019?

    Matt Bowen, NFL analyst: S Tyrann Mathieu to the Kansas City Chiefs. Along with the trade that brought edge rusher Frank Clark to Kansas City, the Chiefs targeted impact defenders who can make plays in critical situations under new coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. And I love the fit here for Mathieu. He’s that versatile defender for Spags in the secondary, a safety who can roll down as a rover or rotate post-snap to find the ball.

    Mike Clay, fantasy writer: LB C.J. Mosley to the New York Jets. Off-ball linebacker certainly isn’t the most impactful position, but Mosley is one of the league’s best and an every-down contributor for a defense on the rise. Mosley, who registered 579 tackles during five seasons in Baltimore, joins a strong, young Jets core that also includes Leonard Williams, Henry Anderson, Avery Williamson, Trumaine Johnson, Jamal Adams, Marcus Maye, along with rookies Quinnen Williams and Jachai Polite. Mosley can push this unit over the top.

    Dan Graziano, national NFL writer: RB Le’Veon Bell to the New York Jets. A year away from the game seems to have made many forget how good a player he is. (I almost picked Earl Thomas to the Ravens for a similar reason.) Bell is the all-around playmaker the Jets’ offense needs to help Sam Darnold through the next phase of his development. Darnold should be able to lean on Bell to carry the offense when he can’t, to pick up blitzes on third down and be a top receiving option when needed. He’ll kick-start the growth of the Jets’ offense under Adam Gase and Darnold.

    KC Joyner, fantasy writer: WR Odell Beckham Jr. to the Cleveland Browns. Cleveland made vast improvements in many areas last season, but the lack of a true vertical threat led Baker Mayfield to rank 21st in vertical Total QBR. The addition of Beckham, who ranked sixth in vertical receiving yards per game over the past two seasons (54.4) despite having the noodle-armed Eli Manning as his quarterback, should vault Mayfield into the top 10 in that category and push the Browns’ offense into overdrive.

    Clay: Baltimore Ravens. This defense has been one of the league’s best for a while, but that might change in 2019 after the unit lost its Nos. 1, 2, 5 and 7 snap-getters from last season. Adding Earl Thomas helps but doesn’t come close to offsetting the losses of C.J. Mosley, Eric Weddle, Terrell Suggs, Za’Darius Smith and Brent Urban, not to mention the team’s overhaul of offensive skill position players.

    Graziano: New York Giants. They’ve made themselves an easy target, but it’s all justified. You can’t tell me they’re better for trading Odell Beckham Jr., for letting Landon Collins leave and sign with a division rival instead of holding him in place with an affordable $11.15 million franchise tag, for trading pass-rusher Olivier Vernon then passing up on outside linebacker Josh Allen at pick No. 6 so they could take a quarterback who had a 59.9 completion percentage in the ACC. When your team has missed the playoffs six of the past seven seasons, what you want to know is that it at least has a plan and a vision for how to pull out of the malaise. There’s little evidence that the Giants have that.

    Joyner: Denver Broncos. The Broncos lost three offensive line starters and two of their top three cornerbacks to free agency, but their biggest downgrade came from signing 34-year old Joe Flacco as starting quarterback. Flacco ranked 26th in Total QBR on vertical passes last season and could be a huge drop-off from the solid vertical passing numbers Case Keenum posted in Denver last season.

    Reid: Miami Dolphins. General manager Chris Grier and first-year coach Brian Flores are leading a rebuild. This will be a heavy lift. Let’s check back in a couple of years.

    Sando: Miami Dolphins. They are starting over, which means they are willing to take a step backward now in hopes of taking two forward in the future.

    Seifert: New York Giants. Their moves were confounding, from dispatching two of their best young players in OBJ (26 years old) and Collins (25) to reaching for quarterback Daniel Jones. But from a bigger picture, their contradictory vision and an old-school approach suggest this franchise is headed toward an extended down cycle.

    Yates: Miami Dolphins. But this is by design, and wisely so. It’s not hard to be middle in the NFL, but it’s unproductive. The Dolphins will sacrifice likely short-term pain after trading away or cutting several key veterans in exchange for a plan of patience and development of young talent.

    Which team improved most this offseason?

    Bowen: Indianapolis Colts. General manager Chris Ballard took a smart approach to boost a squad that went to the playoffs in 2018. During free agency, the Colts re-signed key defensive contributors, while adding veteran pass-rusher Justin Houston and wide receiver Devin Funchess. Now, flip to the draft, where Ballard targeted productive college players with high-end athletic traits. Look for rookies Rock Ya-Sin, Parris Campbell, Ben Banogu and Bobby Okereke to carve out roles in 2019.

    Clay: Detroit Lions. General manager Bob Quinn has quietly done a nice job filling voids on Detroit’s roster over the past few months. Those moves included revamping the tight end position with Jesse James and first-round pick T.J. Hockenson, upgrading with Trey Flowers on the edge of the front seven, overhauling cornerback behind Darius Slay by signing Rashaan Melvin and Justin Coleman, and adding Day 2 talent at linebacker (Jahlani Tavai) and safety (Will Harris). Every year there is a team that goes from last to first in its division, and the Lions have a shot to be that team in a wide-open NFC North.

    Graziano: Oakland Raiders. I count as many as eight potential Raiders starters who weren’t on their roster when the 2018 season ended. They traded for Antonio Brown, hit free agency hard and picked four players in the first two rounds of the draft who have a chance to play a lot of snaps this year. Last year was a tough tear-down, but this year’s Raiders roster looks more like what Jon Gruden is trying to build.

    Joyner: Cleveland Browns. The perception of the Browns as cellar dwellers has disappeared, but this year’s offseason haul of Odell Beckham Jr., Kareem Hunt, Sheldon Richardson, Greedy Williams and Morgan Burnett could give the Cleveland as many as five more impact starters on their roster.

    Reid: Cleveland Browns. There’s no disputing that general manager John Dorsey is a top-notch talent evaluator, and he again displayed his chops in significantly bolstering the Browns’ roster. The additions of Beckham and Hunt will only accelerate quarterback Baker Mayfield‘s ascent to Tier 1 status.

    Sando: Oakland Raiders. They had so much room for improvement and tons of draft ammo to address needs. Antonio Brown, Tyrell Williams, Trent Brown, Lamarcus Joyner and three first-round draft picks made the Raiders much better on paper. Now we’ll see how that translates against a potentially difficult schedule.

    Buffalo Bills. I love the depth and variety of players the Bills have assembled on both sides of the ball. They’ve put some really productive receivers around quarterback Josh Allen, most notably Cole Beasley and John Brown, and made a big move to add center Mitch Morse. Rookie defensive tackle Ed Oliver will enhance an already nasty defense. It all comes down to Allen. If he can make the kind of progress we normally expect from the first to second year, the Bills are a playoff team.

    Yates: Buffalo Bills. They’ve been the team I’ve most focused in on this offseason throughout our variety of roundtables. General manager Brandon Beane and his staff have a clear pattern on how they want to build this roster, and I thought this offseason was productive in not just adding starters but also building competition across the roster. Between at least two new offensive line starters, two new starting wide receivers, their likely two top tight ends, backfield depth, an elite defensive line talent in Oliver and more, Buffalo made major strides.

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