The NFL offseason was anything but boring. With an exciting free agency free-for-all boosted by an extraordinary onslaught of trades, dozens of talented big-name players have changed teams over the last few months. Each and every one of these moves brings with it the potential for chaos and upheaval, but the internet demands superlatives. Here’s this year’s All-New-Team Team: The guy at each position who looks poised to make the biggest impact in 2018.
Quarterback: Kirk Cousins, Vikings
Cousins headlined an extraordinary offseason for quarterback movement, securing himself a three-year, fully guaranteed deal worth $84 million with the Vikings—and in the process, potentially changed the quarterback-contract paradigm forever.
The 29-year-old earned that new-found security: In his three seasons as the Redskins’ full-time starter, the former fourth-rounder proved to be an efficient, aggressive, and accurate downfield passer. He started all 48 games in that stretch, posting a 97.5 rating (sixth among all QBs) while throwing for 13,176 yards (fourth) at 7.80 yards per attempt (fourth) with 81 touchdowns (eighth). Cousins’s numbers dropped off slightly in 2017 as he played on the franchise tag for the second straight year (27 touchdowns to 13 picks with a 93.9 passer rating), but the veteran now looks primed for a big year in Minnesota under rising star coordinator John DeFilippo.
Cousins should benefit from a strong run game and will be throwing to one of the best, most dynamic receiver duos in the league in Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen—both de facto no. 1s who excel as route runners and contested-ball catchers. He’ll have one of the NFL’s most reliable tight ends in Kyle Rudolph running up the seam. And, perhaps most importantly, he’ll be backed by one of the league’s best defenses—which should give him better field position and the opportunity to play with the lead far more often (last year, Minnesota’s average lead at the start of its offensive drives was 3.56 points, fourth best, while Washington, on average, started its drives 1.10 points behind—14th). I’m expecting a big year—and I’m guessing Cousins won’t have to worry about his boss calling him “Kurt” anymore.
Runners-up: Alex Smith, Redskins; Case Keenum, Broncos; Tyrod Taylor, Browns
Running Back: Dion Lewis, Titans
The Patriots’ run game never gets quite as much hype as the Tom Brady–led passing attack, but Lewis quietly emerged as a game-changer out of the backfield after earning the team’s lead role midway through last season. He proved hard to tackle (of all backs who played at least 50 percent of their team’s snaps, he finished first in Pro Football Focus’s elusive rating and third in yards after contact per carry), was just about perfect as a pass-blocker (giving up zero pressures or sacks on 35 pass-blocking snaps), and was as reliable as they come as a pass-catcher and ball-carrier (zero drops on 32 catchable targets; zero fumbles on 235 touches). While the photos circulating of Lewis (who is short) standing next to new backfieldmate Derrick Henry (who is very tall) are hilarious, don’t let the height discrepancy fool you: Lewis is a strong between-the-tackles runner.
Dion Lewis from Tackle-to-Tackle:— Michael Kist (@MichaelKistNFL) July 26, 2018
4.9ypc, 912 yards (88%), 24 explosive runs (89%)
Derrick Henry from Tackle-to-Tackle:
3.3ypc, 521 yards (56%), 12 explosive runs (50%)
Don't make the mistake of typecasting Lewis.. foot quickness, vision, burst & surprising play strength - pic.twitter.com/AH00iy1w6J
Lewis is slated to split reps with Henry, but I expect offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur to utilize him heavily on both the ground and in the passing game. Oh, and he just barely edged out the runner-up …
Runner-up: Jerick McKinnon, 49ers
Receiver: Brandin Cooks, Rams
This was a deep field, but the combination of Cooks’s elite speed and route-running skill give the former Saint and Patriot the slight edge over a few of the other highly talented receivers in this category.
Cooks does join an offense that already features a pair of established Jared Goff-favorites in Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp—and he must avoid being pigeonholed as a defense-stressing deep decoy. But the five-year, $80 million extension the Rams gave their new receiver last month comes with the clear message: McVay and Co. see Cooks as a focal point and go-to guy in the team’s passing offense—and as a player who can elevate Goff’s game. The jump down from Drew Brees and Brady to Goff is a big one, and Cooks’s volume numbers may decline slightly this year, but he’s going to be a crucial piece to L.A.’s offense. He should get a chance to line up in multiple spots and see targets all over the field, making that unit even more dynamic and explosive in 2018.
Runners-up: Allen Robinson, Bears; Sammy Watkins, Chiefs; Jarvis Landry, Browns
Tight End: Jimmy Graham, Packers
The Aaron Rodgers–Graham connection is a match made in heaven. Graham boasts elite size, soft hands, and the ability to box out just about any defender he sees, while Rodgers brings pinpoint accuracy and top-tier anticipation as a thrower. Graham came down with 10 touchdowns for the Seahawks last year, and after demonstrating plenty of chemistry with his new quarterback in OTAs and the early part of training camp, could be good for double-digit scores again in 2018.
Runners-up: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Jaguars; Eric Ebron, Colts; Trey Burton, Bears
Tackle: Cordy Glenn, Bengals
Health’s a big factor here—Glenn has appeared in just six games last year because of a foot injury, and hasn’t played a full season since 2015—but if he can stay on the field, the big left tackle would represent a massive upgrade for the Bengals at one of the most crucial spots on the field. Acquired from the Bills via trade, Glenn could be a difference-maker in both the run game and as Andy Dalton’s blind-side protector, helping to give the veteran signal-caller an extra beat to get into his drop and let routes develop downfield. For a team that features A.J. Green and breakout candidate (and X factor) John Ross running deep, that half-second or two of added protection could end up being key.
Runners-up: Nate Solder, Giants; Trent Brown, Patriots; Jared Veldheer, Broncos
Guard: Andrew Norwell, Jaguars
The Jags made Norwell the highest-paid guard in football, handing a five-year, $66.5 million deal to the former Panther lineman. Norwell’s a physical blocker in the ground game, and that deal demonstrates the team’s dedication to their identity as a smashmouth run team. Norwell could provide a big boost for Blake Bortles and the team’s passing game, too, though. In a league where interior defensive linemen provide more to pass rushes than ever before, Norwell gives the team an effective counter.
Runner-up: Josh Sitton, Dolphins
Center: Mike Pouncey, Chargers
The Chargers upgraded their interior line this offseason, signing Pouncey to a two-year, $15 million deal after he asked for his release in Miami. The three-time Pro Bowler is one of the best pass-blocking centers in the game—he finished 2017 fourth at the position with only 12 total pressures allowed (including just one sack), per Pro Football Focus—and if he can stay healthy (he’s battled a lingering hip injury the past few years) he could be a major boon for quarterback Philip Rivers.
Runners-up: Weston Richburg, 49ers; Ryan Jensen, Bucs
Interior Defensive Lineman: Ndamukong Suh, Rams
Suh presents an impossible combination of strength, quickness, instincts, and motor as a pass rusher, and he grabbed 4.5 sacks and two forced fumbles last year while racking up 30 pressures per PFF, good for fifth most among interior linemen. He’s disruptive in all aspects of the game—Suh notched 48 tackles and two passes defended last year and finished ranked sixth in defeats, per Football Outsiders. And perhaps most impressively, he hasn’t missed a game since 2011.
Dropping the 31-year-old five-time Pro Bowler onto the Rams line next to Aaron Donald just doesn’t seem fair.
Runners-up: Sheldon Richardson, Vikings; Muhammed Wilkerson, Packers; Dontari Poe, Panthers
Edge Rusher: Michael Bennett, Eagles
Bennett isn’t a pure edge rusher, per se—he frequently lines up and rushes from the inside, too—but at 32 years old, he’s still a force off the edge. The former Seahawk, acquired in a trade for receiver Marcus Johnson and a fifth-round pick, notched 8.5 sacks in 2017 and finished the year tied for seventh among 4-3 ends in total quarterback pressures (70), per PFF. Bennett’s not the fastest guy in the world, but he knows how to use his hands to get off blocks, and utilizes a quick first step to slice through opposing lines. He finished tied for 14th among all edge players last year in defeats (21—same as Khalil Mack, by the way), and he’s going to be an integral part of the Eagles’ Super Bowl title defense.
Runners-up: Robert Quinn, Dolphins; Adrian Clayborn, Patriots; Jason Pierre-Paul, Vinny Curry, Buccaneers
Off-ball Linebacker: Demario Davis, Saints
There wasn’t a clear star in this linebackers group, but Davis gets the nod here thanks to a combination of experience and versatility. The former Jet notched 65 defensive stops in 2017, per PFF, second among off-ball linebackers, and flashed as a situational blitzer, grabbing five sacks and a position-best 27 pressures on the year. He’ll likely make the move from the middle linebacker spot to the weak side for New Orleans after signing a three-year, $24 million deal in free agency, and that transition puts him in a crucial role as a run-and-chase defender who will often be asked to defend tight ends and running backs in space. The Saints added an impact player to the middle of their already-strong defense.
Runners-up: Mychal Kendricks, Browns; Avery Williamson, Jets; Alec Ogletree, Giants
Safety: Tyrann Mathieu, Texans
Mathieu’s as versatile as they come, capable of operating as a safety in the deep middle, up in the slot as a nickel corner, or as a blitzer from anywhere on the field. Early in his career, the former All-Pro was one of the league’s premier playmakers for the Cardinals, but a pair of ACL tears and a subsequent shoulder injury hindered his performance and development over the past few seasons. Now healthy, the Honey Badger has a chance for a renaissance in Houston, where he’ll be tasked with homing in on the safety spot—a role that Mathieu says convinced him to sign with the Texans. If he can get back to his ball-hawking ways, the Texans’ defense could see a huge jump.
Runners-up: Morgan Burnett, Steelers, Damarious Randall, Browns
Corner: Marcus Peters, Rams
Yes, the Rams have three players on this list. What a ridiculous offseason.
We saw a lot of really good corners change teams over the past few months, but none with more upside than Peters. The two-time All-Pro and former Chief has already racked up 19 interceptions, 55 pass deflections, and five forced fumbles in just three seasons in the league. He plays with passion—at times, a little too much, and Andy Reid suspended him for one game late last year after he threw a penalty flag into the stands—but from the off-coverage position, there’s no one in the league better at reading the eyes of opposing quarterback and jumping his pass. Peters must keep his emotions in check in L.A., but he’s a playmaker who can change the complexion of the Rams’ defense.
Runners-up: Richard Sherman, 49ers; Aqib Talib, Rams; Trumaine Johnson, Jets; Jason McCourty, Patriots; Malcolm Butler, Titans; Kendall Fuller, Chiefs