NFL’s most improved teams this offseason from free agency and the Draft

We are in the ‘quiet’ time of the NFL offseason.

With just under 100 days until the 2018 NFL season kickoff – when the Philadelphia Eagles host the Atlanta Falcons on September 6 – and over 100 since Super Bowl LII, fans are starved of action.

Over the coming months, however, as voluntary training camps and organised team activities (OTAs) become mandatory minicamps and then preseason, we will begin to find out which teams are shaping up for a successful 2018 campaign.

Who made the savvy free agency moves? Which teams made the most of their chance to pick from the college player pool in the NFL Draft? And which big-name talents are returning from injury to provide a boost to their franchise’s chances of making the playoffs?

Let’s run down some of the most improved teams this offseason.

Chicago Bears (5-11)

Chicago ditched disappointing head coach John Fox (who holds the worst winning percentage in Bears history with just 14 wins in 48 games) and moved on to Matt Nagy, an Andy Reid disciple. An experienced offensive mind, Nagy served under Reid for five years in Kansas City and will accelerate the development of the team’s 23-year-old signal-caller Mitchell Trubisky.

The Bears have given their young quarterback a strong supporting cast, kicking off free agency by signing Allen Robinson and the speedy Taylor Gabriel at receiver, and adding tight end Trey Burton as an option in the passing game. In the Draft, they grabbed Trubisky’s center of the future, James Daniels, and yet another weapon in wideout Anthony Miller, who could have an immediate impact from the slot.

Additionally, plugging eighth overall pick Roquan Smith to an already-improving Vic Fangio defense should be enough for the team to take a step forward in 2018.

Cleveland Browns (0-16)

With nothing to celebrate last year, surely the only way is up? That’s likely what Browns fans thought after their one-win 2016, and it was followed by 16 straight defeats. However, after holding all the cards in the NFL Draft, Cleveland came away with a whole bunch of reinforcements.

Through trades and free agency, they acquired Jarvis Landry (who has a whopping 400 receptions in his first four seasons – an NFL record), and veteran starters Tyrod Taylor and Carlos Hyde.

They doubled down on offense at the Draft in Dallas, selecting Baker Mayfield with the number one overall pick and star runner Nick Chubb in the second. This is suddenly an attack to be reckoned with.

Let’s not forget about the ultra-talented Josh Gordon and a defense that boasts the number one overall pick from last year, Myles Garrett. Could Cleveland make a playoff run for the first time since 2002?

Los Angeles Rams (11-5)

Sean McVay is aggressive and fast-paced on the field, and his organisation has shown the same urgency this offseason by going all out to match his ambition to win now. In acquiring Brandin Cooks, Marcus Peters, Aqib Talib and Ndamukong Suh, Los Angeles have built a team with tremendous talent – but their bold strategy came at a cost.

New York Giants (3-13)

Much of the discussion surrounding the Giants this offseason was centred on the quarterback position. What is the plan for the future? It still remains a huge question mark, but for now, new head coach Pat Shurmur has surrounded 37-year-old Eli Manning with the best set of weapons he may have ever had.

There’s the return of Odell Beckham Jr., one of the game’s brightest stars, but the addition of Saquon Barkley – perhaps the most talented player in college football – gives this offense sky-high potential. Even their third and fourth options, Evan Engram and Sterling Shepard, are stars in their own right. And by picking up offensive tackle Nate Solder in free agency and drafting instant starter at guard Will Hernandez, New York should be in a position to run and pass all over teams in 2018.

Others set to make a leap

Would it surprise anyone if the 7-9 Green Bay Packers made it back to the playoffs after losing Aaron Rodgers to injury last season? The addition of new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine and two cornerbacks in the top 50 picks of the Draft will provide a big boost, too.

It is crunch time for third-year Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter after a 5-11 season, but he focused on bolstering his defensive line this offseason – and now boasts a starting front of Jason Pierre-Paul (acquired via trade), Gerald McCoy, Vita Vea (Draft) and Vinny Curry (free agency). A ferocious pass rush could get them back in contention.

San Francisco’s Jimmy Garoppolo was the talk of the NFL towards the end of the regular season (the team rattled off five straight wins to finish 6-10 in a shocking turnaround), but he’ll be coming into 2018 with a full offseason of preparation and a strengthened roster around him. They could be instant contenders.

Finally, the Houston Texans (4-12) will warmly welcome the returns of J.J. Watt and Deshaun Watson, having won just one game out of their last 10 after losing both to injuries. Watt is a three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, and Watson threw a stunning 19 touchdowns to just eight interceptions in six starts in his rookie campaign, setting numerous records along the way. Having this pair healthy will change the team’s fortunes.

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