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AFC Team-by-Team Notes

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AFC Team-by-Team Notes
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Evan Silva provides notes on every AFC club, and opines on each team's offensive outlook for the …

Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens are transitioning out of Jim Caldwell's pass-centric offense and into new OC Gary Kubiak's run-first scheme, an offshoot of Mike Shanahan's highly successful zone-run attacks in Denver, where Kubiak spent a decade as coordinator. Baltimore upgraded on liability C Gino Gradkowski by trading for Jeremy Zuttah, and will count on internal improvement from LT Eugene Monroe, LG Kelechi Osemele, and RG Marshal Yanda. Ray Rice has shed 15 pounds in an effort to regain lateral quickness. Rice, however, has carried the rock an otherworldly 2,531 times over his last nine football seasons, including NFL playoffs and college. That's 198 more combined college and pro carries than Maurice Jones-Drew, who is two years older than Rice and currently on the street. I'm not sure Rice is a great bet for a rebound year, and his aggravated assault indictment serves as yet another roadblock. With Bernard Pierce rehabbing a surgically repaired shoulder following a down sophomore season, the Ravens are a sleeper team to draft a running back on day two.

Kubiak teaches a play-action offense that will define reads and throws for quarterback Joe Flacco, but passing volume will be scaled back. I think Flacco could be headed for his most efficient NFL season -- Kubiak's offense is among the most quarterback-friendly in football -- but don't expect monster box-score stats.

Shortly after signing with Baltimore, Steve Smith made one of the humblest remarks you'll ever hear from a five-time Pro Bowl player nearing the end of his career. “I don’t see myself in coach Kubiak’s system like Andre Johnson,” Smitty acknowledged. “I see the complementary dude of Kevin Walter." Steve Smith, comparing himself to Kevin Walter. Walter spent five years as blocking-possession receiver under Kubiak in Houston, never topping 60 receptions or reaching 900 yards. The focus of Kubiak's passing game will be Torrey Smith in the Johnson role and Dennis Pitta as his new Owen Daniels.

Buffalo Bills

The Bills were relatively quiet in free agency for the second straight offseason, notably landing only left guard Chris Williams (four years, $13.5 million), middle linebacker Brandon Spikes (one year, $3 million), versatile defensive back Corey Graham (four years, $16 million), and strong-side 'backer Keith Rivers (two years, $4.05 million). GM Doug Whaley, who hails from Pittsburgh's front office, has treated free agency as a means of patching holes rather than building a roster.

This may surprise you, it may not. I definitely believe it: The Bills' roster is ready to win right now, with the exception of sophomore quarterback E.J. Manuel, who struggled mightily on the field last season. Manuel is a plus-sized athlete with outstanding character and work ethic, but coach Doug Marrone and OC Nathaniel Hackett tacitly acknowledged he wasn't ready to play as a rookie by running the football a league-high 546 times despite a 6-10 record. The only other NFL teams to top 500 rushing attempts were Seattle, San Francisco, and Philadelphia. And they all had double-digit wins. Had Kevin Kolb not suffered a preseason concussion, I think Manuel would have spent most or all of 2013 on the bench.

Put simply, Buffalo's offense will remain a question mark until Manuel makes noticeable strides on the field. I'm personally not optimistic about his future. Manuel is a highly erratic, almost unnatural thrower with shaky pocket command. Marrone stated shortly after last season that he hopes to expand the Bills' passing game. He'll need major improvements from Manuel to pull it off.

Cincinnati Bengals

All signs point toward a potentially exponential increase in 2014 touches for second-year halfback Giovani Bernard, who scored eight touchdowns and totaled 1,209 yards with 56 catches as a rookie. "I witnessed in Ray Rice since his rookie year in Baltimore and then from (2008 to 2009) and the difference in him," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said at the NFL meetings. "We're hoping that Gio can take those same steps." Rice's sophomore workload ballooned to 332 touches, finishing as the No. 4 overall fantasy back. As new OC Hue Jackson installs a more balanced offense, that caliber of statistical finish is within reach for Gio.

Meantime, expect Jackson to scale back Andy Dalton's passing-game volume. Dalton finished 2013 eighth in the NFL in attempts (586) but fifth in interceptions (20). Due to talent limitations, Dalton has held back Cincinnati's offense for three years. He'll be more of a game manager under Jackson, with a prioritized running attack complemented by what should still be a strong defense.

I'm also betting on an increased role for high-scoring Marvin Jones, as Jackson is a superior talent evaluator to outgoing OC Jay Gruden, who head-scratchingly insisted on rotating Jones with plodding Mohamed Sanu. Jones is a better route runner, with more playmaking ability, and even a stronger blocker than Sanu. With Andrew Hawkins gone to Cleveland, Jones' 50.0% snap rate should soar. Even if he doesn't replicate last year's ten touchdowns, Jones should experience hikes in catches and yards.

Cleveland Browns

Quietly but steadily, the Browns are building. New feature back Ben Tate (two years, $6.2 million) adds credibility to a backfield that forgettably committed significant 2013 snaps to Willis McGahee, Chris Ogbonnaya, and Edwin Baker. Andrew Hawkins (four years, $13.6 million) will be the Welker to Josh Gordon's Moss. Hawkins is the elder statesman of the offense at 28 years old. Gordon will be 23 when the season starts, Tate and Jordan Cameron 26. I don't think they'll invest the No. 4 overall draft pick on a quarterback. Would the Browns consider Sammy Watkins?

Kyle Shanahan was previously an offensive coordinator in Houston and Washington, and a common theme of his units is a run-based attack heavy on zone-blocking concepts with a tendency to pepper "No. 1" receivers like Andre Johnson, Pierre Garcon, and now Gordon with targets. Owen Daniels, and last year Jordan Reed, were fed the football at tight end. I still think the biggest candidate for a statistical surge is Tate, a perfect fit for the younger Shanahan's one-cut, downhill run game. Can Tate's body hold up for 16 games? Probably not. Do I think he has a chance to deliver low-end RB1 stats in the weeks he's active? Yes. Across 421 career carries, Tate has rushed for 1,992 yards (4.73 YPC) and ten touchdowns with 58 receptions. I don't think Tate is a special running talent, but I also don't think you need to be a special talent to excel in Shanahan's scheme.

I believe the Browns will soon sign longtime Shanahan pal Rex Grossman to help install the offense, with Brian Hoyer as the markered-in favorite to start Week 1. Cleveland will draft a rookie with either its second first-round pick (No. 26) or second-rounder (No. 35), and he will be groomed for the future. Shanahan will attempt to manage and manipulate Hoyer, surrounding him with a foundation rushing attack, explosive weapons, and a formidable defense. And barring faster-than-expected development, I think the rookie signal caller will be honed for 2015. That's just my take.

Denver Broncos

"Splash" defensive signings DeMarcus Ware (three years, $30 million), Aqib Talib (six years, $57 million), and T.J. Ward (four years, $22.5 million) generated more headlines in Denver, but the Broncos' most fantasy-relevant addition was new No. 2 receiver Emmanuel Sanders, landed on a three-year, $15 million deal. Sanders stands 5-foot-11 and 186 pounds, so asking him to match predecessor Eric Decker's touchdown production would be too bold. I do think Sanders has a chance to be a great fit for Denver's offense.

A twitchy 4.4-flat speedster, Sanders has experience playing both slot receiver and out wide. He'll be a dynamite crossing-route runner in the Broncos' quick-hitting, timing-based attack, combining with slot man Wes Welker to give safeties and linebackers fits. At age 27, Sanders is a shoo-in for career-best stats across the board. He won't put up Decker-type low-end WR1 numbers, but WR2 production is within reach. On the other hand, removing 6-foot-3, 217-pound Decker from the Broncos' red-zone packages could buoy and even bolster the TD totals of Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas.

With Knowshon Moreno removed from the equation, Montee Ball's fantasy arrow is pointing skyward in Denver. The Broncos were unwilling to meet Moreno's free agent asking price in large part due to their confidence in last year's second-round pick. Ball is fantasy's top breakout running back candidate, but continue to keep an eye on second-year UDFA C.J. Anderson. Anderson shined during 2013 camp and preseason, forcing GM John Elway to keep him on the active 53 despite a 4-6 week MCL injury suffered last August that sidelined the rookie deep into the season. The Broncos are very clearly high on Anderson's potential. Still only 22, third-stringer Ronnie Hillman will get another look, but has a steep hill to climb after last year losing virtually all of Peyton Manning's trust.

Houston Texans

We're in a holding pattern when attempting to forecast the design of Houston's 2014 offense because Bill O'Brien is a first-time head coach and has yet to choose his franchise quarterback. I do think the signing of Ryan Fitzpatrick provides a clue for O'Brien's plans. Fitzpatrick obviously isn't a starting-caliber NFL passer, but has flirted with effectiveness in spread-style offenses under Chan Gailey and in 2013 under Dowell Loggains. In all likelihood, O'Brien's offense will be wide open. Gone is Gary Kubiak's tight-formation, run-personnel attack. The Patriots played lots of spread with O'Brien as offensive coordinator (2007-2011), and he didn't shy from it at Penn State.

Although the spread offense generally carries pass-first connotations, I expect O'Brien to make heavy use of Arian Foster, particularly as the Texans break in a young signal caller or work to mask stopgap Fitzpatrick's weaknesses. Foster's all-purpose skill set is very much a fit for what O'Brien has historically done. I think O'Brien will scheme Foster into space, utilizing him frequently in the passing game. I was very wary of Foster entering the 2013 fantasy season. I intend to support him as a bounce-back target in 2014.

I'll also be keeping close tabs on the Texans' draft-day decision making. O'Brien's offense in his final year with New England featured two-tight end "12 personnel" as Rob Gronkowski (90-1,327-17) and Aaron Hernandez (79-910-7) both registered career-best stats. Although neither is as talented as those Patriots tight ends, it's conceivable O'Brien will fancy Garrett Graham in the Hernandez "move" role while impressive sophomore Ryan Griffin functions as a poor man's Gronk.

Indianapolis Colts

The Colts' offense was mind-numbing in Pep Hamilton's debut year as playcaller. Hamilton insisted on emphasizing a theoretical power run game. Indianapolis' line play and tailbacks performed at a significantly sub-optimal level, which combined with a below-average defense resulted in routine early-game deficits. Games would fall entirely on the shoulders of Andrew Luck, who more often than not brought Indianapolis back. But Luck was never the true centerpiece of Pep the Playcaller's plan of attack entering games. There are indications that may change in 2014.

The Colts first hired Rob Chudzinski, who coaxed a Pro Bowl berth out of Derek Anderson in Cleveland and oversaw Cam Newton's record-setting rookie year in Carolina. Indy flirted with Eric Decker before signing Hakeem Nicks. Running back Donald Brown walked in free agency. Tight end Dwayne Allen got healthy. The stars seem to be aligning for a more pass-oriented Indianapolis offense. That, of course, would be outstanding news for Luck's fantasy value.

As for whether Trent Richardson is capable of a bounce-back year, I'm holding off on substantive predictions until OTAs at soonest. I have no doubt Richardson lost his confidence following last year's in-season trade from the Browns to Colts. I also think he played overweight. I think he didn't know the offense. A full offseason in the Hamilton/Chud system should help T-Rich, but I think his career path is mostly up to him. He needs to shed pounds and regain his quick-twitch explosion. Richardson will turn 24 this offseason. He's been a big disappointment, but he's not yet a bust.


Jacksonville Jaguars

I re-watched all of Toby Gerhart's 2012-2013 touches this week in order to re-familiarize myself with the Jaguars' new bellcow. Gerhart lacks top-notch initial burst and giddy-up, but is a hard-charging, north-south, downhill runner with outstanding passing-game chops. We'll hear plenty about Denard Robinson and Jordan Todman during OTAs and training camp, but I think the Jaguars signed Gerhart to be a heavy-volume workhorse. GM Dave Caldwell has in no way hidden the fact that he's building his team in Seattle's likeness. The Jags want to run the football and play tough defense. I think they have a chance to be competitive every week in 2014, and expect them to relentlessly put the ball in Gerhart's belly.

Although the Jaguars possess a top-three overall pick, I expect them to bypass quarterbacks and select Buffalo edge rusher Khalil Mack or an offensive lineman. It's become more and more clear that the media overrated this year's QB class at the outset of the draft process. And I don't believe any of the quarterbacks will be top-five picks.

If the Jaguars indeed play better football going forward, Cecil Shorts' garbage-time opportunities will dwindle. Justin Blackmon is serving an indefinite suspension with no timetable for return. At this moment in time, there isn't reason to get excited about Jacksonville's pass-catching corps. Perhaps that will change after the draft.

Kansas City Chiefs

Andy Reid would've been my pick for 2013 NFL Coach of the Year -- over winner Ron Rivera -- because of his work with Alex Smith. Almost treating Smith like a rookie, Reid expanded him over the course of last year, transitioning Smith from a high-percentage game manager early on into a passer willing to take intermediate and vertical shots late in the season. It's still worth wondering just how much further Smith can "expand." His skill set is limited, and his weapons are not elite.

Of more immediate concern for Kansas City is the offensive line. Gone are young guards Geoff Schwartz and Jon Asamoah, as well as left tackle Branden Albert. After a dismal rookie year at right tackle, the Chiefs will turn to Eric Fisher on Smith's blind side. Donald Stephenson is penned in at right tackle, with Rishaw Johnson and Jeff Allen at guard. There is significant turnover in Kansas City's front five, with less-than-proven commodities being counted on to fill major roles.

Because the Chiefs had limited cap flexibility during the free agency period, we'll have to wait until after the draft to get a solid grasp on their 2014 offensive outlook. It's possible not much will change. It's also possible Kansas City uses an early-round pick at wide receiver, and intriguing sophomore tight end Travis Kelce gets healthy after rookie-year microfracture surgery. And then we'd have a little more to discuss.

Miami Dolphins

New Fins offensive coordinator Bill Lazor has an expansive coaching background. He worked on the Redskins' staff from 2004-2007 under Joe Gibbs before overseeing quarterbacks for the younger Jim Mora in Seattle 2008-2009. Lazor coordinated the offense at the University of Virginia 2010-2012. He spent last season tutoring Nick Foles as Chip Kelly's QBs coach in Philadelphia. Forecasting his offense is difficult, but I suspect that recent success with Kelly's scheme will influence Lazor's approach in Miami.

Lazor's offense figures to differ dramatically from outgoing Dolphins OC Mike Sherman's, in which quarterback Ryan Tannehill was permitted to absorb a league-high 58 sacks as Sherman insisted on a pass-centric system despite the NFL's most porous offensive line. Lazor's history, conversely, has deep run-centric roots. Gibbs' Redskins teams with Lazor on staff ranked 12th, fourth, eighth, and fifth in the NFL in rushing attempts. Kelly's 2013 offense came in fourth.

Hopefully we'll get a better handle on Lazor's offensive design during OTA season. My opinion of Tannehill for a few years now has been that he's best suited to run a play- and boot-action style of offense, like a rich man's Matt Schaub. In Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline, and Charles Clay, the Fins have pass catchers in place capable of stretching the field. What they lack is a quality run-game unit. Even after signing LT Branden Albert (five years, $46 million) and LG Shelley Smith (two years, $5.5 million) to play next to incumbent C Mike Pouncey, Miami needs a starting right guard and tackle. Is Lamar Miller the answer at tailback? The Dolphins' addition of Knowshon Moreno hints Lazor believes he's not. An early- to mid-round draft pick could further muddy this backfield picture. Stay tuned.

New England Patriots

Genuinely throwing wide receivers against a wall to see which stick, free agency brought Brandon LaFell (three years, $9 million) to Foxboro as Julian Edelman (four years, $17 million) re-signed and Aaron Dobson underwent March 10 foot surgery. The Patriots guaranteed $2 million of Danny Amendola's salary by keeping him on the roster through March 11. Sophomores Kenbrell Thompkins, Josh Boyce, and Mark Harrison return to compete for snaps. In an effort to keep as many healthy as possible, my guess is the Pats will select the best four or five camp performers and play them in a rotation. OC Josh McDaniels is going to learn his lesson from last season. Edelman isn't catching 100 balls again. And don't be surprised if New England drafts a tight end early.

New England's running back snaps are similarly up in the air. While LeGarrette Blount continues to wallow in free agency, Shane Vereen is backed up by fumbling Stevan Ridley, middling Brandon Bolden, and ex-Dolphins practice squadder Jonas Gray. If Blount doesn't re-up, I'm going to support Ridley as a 2014 middle-round value pick. Regardless of free agency or draft pickups, Vereen's role is secure as New England's passing-down back. Across 10 games last season, including playoffs, Vereen rushed 53 times for 259 yards (4.89 YPC) and a touchdown. He added 54 receptions for 502 yards and three more scores. That's a 1,218-total yard, seven-score pace, with 87 catches.

New York Jets

Tony Pauline reported in early March that the Jets planned to "lessen the load" on shaky second-year quarterback Geno Smith, restricting him to "under 20 passes per game." That number was never realistic, but the story is an indication Rex Ryan has every intention of restoring the Ground 'N Pound offense. The Jets have been connected to Maurice Jones-Drew in free agency. If it can't land MJD, Gang Green figures to seriously explore mid- to late-round running backs.

Chris Ivory possesses BeastModian running talent, but has and very likely always will be injury prone. Bilal Powell and Alex Green can pass protect, but are just guys. Mike Goodson is a very gifted back, but tore his left ACL last October and a month later was indicted by a grand jury on weapons charges. The Jets need more backfield reliability.

Even with Michael Vick's superior playmaking under center, the Jets' passing game will be hard to trust. Vick's performance was wildly inconsistent in his first go-round with OC Marty Mornhinweg, so much so that Mornhinweg was rumored to have no interest in Vick when he came available last offseason. Eric Decker will be stretched as New York's No. 1 receiver -- facing Darrelle Revis, Brent Grimes, and Stephon Gilmore in the AFC East -- while Jeff Cumberland and Jeremy Kerley return as underwhelming complements. Vick could flirt with lower-end QB1 numbers for as long as his body cooperates, but in all likelihood the Jets are headed for another quarterback carousel. A borderline WR1 with Peyton Manning at the controls, Eric Decker would do well to reach 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns in his new digs. He'll be a Hartlinian WR3 with a few more TDs.

Oakland Raiders

The Raiders are all in for 2014 as beleaguered GM Reggie McKenzie tries to save his job. Littering an otherwise young, talent-deficient roster with late-career veterans, McKenzie executed a whopping 12 signings during the free-agent period, not including his March 21 trade for quarterback Matt Schaub. The average age of Oakland's nine newcomers will be 30.8 years old when the season starts. This is textbook hot-seat GM maneuvering.

In fairness to McKenzie, his offensive line finally looks halfway formidable on paper -- and will be coached up by Tony Sparano -- while Oakland's rebuilt defensive front now sports LaMarr Woodley (two years, $12 million) and Justin Tuck (two years, $11 million) to the exterior of tackles Antonio Smith (two years, $9 million) and sophomore Stacy McGee. With Sio Moore at Sam 'backer, the Raiders have a chance to field a legitimate pass rush. Teams that pressure enemy quarterbacks have a shot to win every single week.

From a fantasy perspective, Oakland remains a Black Hole. Over 33-year-old (in June) Schaub's last 16 games, he's completed 366-of-578 passes for 3,861 yards (6.68 YPA) and a 13:19 TD-to-INT ratio. Schaub has tossed a mind-boggling five pick-sixes during that 16-game stretch. Even in his absolute prime, Schaub was a quarterback who required a top-notch run game and defense to pull off being an effective starter. Now far removed from his best seasons, I think it's more likelier than not Schaub stays the quarterback he's been for the last 1 1/2 years than before, surrounded by a rag-tagish receiver corps and built-on-the-fly offensive line and defense. This passing game is destined to struggle.

In the backfield, 2013 fifth-round pick Latavius Murray should have every opportunity to unseat surprise returnee Darren McFadden (one year, $1.75 million), who clearly isn't the Raiders' tailback of the future. It'll be a camp battle to watch.

Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers are a "kick the can" salary cap team, but remained active in 2014 free agency. They transition tagged outside linebacker Jason Worilds (one year, $9.754 million) before releasing LaMarr Woodley, and made a splash by signing free safety Mike Mitchell to a five-year, $25 million deal. Retained were third safety Will Allen (one year, $955,000) and reserve center Cody Wallace (three years, $3.5 million). Brought in were defensive end Cam Thomas (two years, $4 million), slot receiver Lance Moore (two years, $3 million), and linebacker Arthur Moats (one year, $795,000). Pittsburgh has also flirted with free agent running backs, hosting LeGarrette Blount and Maurice Jones-Drew for team-facility visits.

The Steelers maintain continuity from a 2013 offense that finished 20th in yards and 16th in points. Under returning OC Todd Haley, the philosophy won't change. Ben Roethlisberger is the field general of a high-percentage, quick-hitting passing attack that will continue to make heavy use of every-down back Le'Veon Bell in order to limit Big Ben's exposure to hits. The Steelers are very concerned with preserving 32-year-old Roethlisberger's body. Their veteran tailback flirtations stem from a desire to add depth behind Bell, where practice squad type Alvester Alexander currently sits No. 2 on the depth chart. Pittsburgh isn't targeting a true backfield committee.

I'm interesting to see whether the Steelers pursue a "big receiver" in the first round of May's draft. They selected burner Markus Wheaton in the third round last year, return No. 1 wideout Antonio Brown, and signed Moore to replace Jerricho Cotchery in the slot. Texas A&M's Mike Evans isn't lasting until No. 15, but Florida State's Kelvin Benjamin should be available, and this class has a number of first-round-caliber tight ends. If Pittsburgh bypasses top-end "big" pass catcher talent, I could envision Heath Miller as a sneaky double-digit touchdown bet for 2014. Brown is 5-foot-10 1/8. Moore is 5-foot-9 1/4. Wheaton would be the Steelers' biggest three-wide receiver at 5-foot-11 and 189 pounds.

San Diego Chargers

Second-year GM Tom Telesco remains hindered by the A.J. Smith era in terms of cap room, and was consequently limited during the 2014 period. The Bolts did re-up inside linebacker Donald Butler (seven years, $51.8 million), left guard Chad Rinehart (two years, $6 million), special teamers Darrell Stuckey (four years, $7.6 million) and Seyi Ajirotutu (one year, $795,000), linebacker Reggie Walker (two years, $1.8 million), and cornerback Richard Marshall (one year, $855,000). Added were committee running back Donald Brown (three years, $10.5 million), backup quarterback Kellen Clemens (two years, $3 million), inside linebacker Kavell Conner (three years, $2.7 million), blocking tight end David Johnson (two years, $1.7 million), and cornerback Brandon Ghee (two years, $1.65 million).

While Keenan Allen's role is secure as Philip Rivers' go-to guy, the Brown signing is a reminder that San Diego transitioned into a run-heavy team down the 2013 stretch and will continue that approach. Leaning on two-tight end sets featuring Antonio Gates and Ladarius Green to force defenses into sub-package alignments, the Chargers created "numbers" advantages and played smash-mouth football. They piled up a combined 215 rushing attempts compared to 153 passes across their final six games, winning five. Ryan Mathews wore down on the workload and was a non-factor in San Diego's playoff loss to Denver. The addition of Brown indicates coach Mike McCoy will slice up the backfield pie more in 2014, in an effort to keep his backs healthy over 16 games. It's worth noting Telesco is a former Colts executive and has obvious familiarity with Brown. Mathews will remain the lead runner, but won't necessarily be utilized as a workhorse.

You're going to hear a lot about Green as 2014 breakout candidate this summer, and for good reason. At 6-foot-6, 240, Green is built like a basketball wing player and runs like one, clocking a 4.45 forty at the 2012 Combine. Perhaps the biggest obstacle to Green's stat-leap candidacy is McCoy's run-first philosophy. Green was regularly employed as a blocker last season, and the 2014 Chargers are shaping up as a team that could push for the league lead in rushing attempts. Increasing San Diego's chances of maintaining a run-dominated offense will be an improved defense keyed by the healthy return of outside linebackers Melvin Ingram and Dwight Freeney.

Tennessee Titans

Cap constraints prevented GM Ruston Webster from making the same high-dollar free agent moves he did last offseason, but Webster still found room for right tackle Michael Oher (four years, $20 million), inside linebacker Wesley Woodyard (four years, $15.75 million), nose tackle Al Woods (two years, $5 million), gadget back Dexter McCluster (three years, $9 million), outside linebacker Shaun Phillips (two years, $6 million), and backup quarterback Charlie Whitehurst (two years, $4 million). Left end Ropati Pitoitua (three years, $9.6 million), safety Bernard Pollard (two years, $6.3 million), defensive lineman Antonio Johnson (two years, $2.35 million), tailback Jackie Battle (one year, $855,000), and return men Marc Mariani (one year, minimum) and Leon Washington (one year, minimum) were retained.

It's only a matter of time before the Titans cut or trade Chris Johnson, paving the way for an early-round draft pick at running back. As Tennessee boasts a talented offensive line highlighted by second-year RG Chance Warmack and $47 million LG Andy Levitre, this will be an ideal landing spot for a rookie. Only aging plodder Shonn Greene and role player McCluster are serious contenders for backfield snaps on Tennessee's current roster. New coach Ken Whisenhunt twice used top-40 selections (Beanie Wells, Ryan Williams) on running backs in Arizona. If a power runner like Ohio State's Carlos Hyde lands in Nashville, his fantasy stock could skyrocket.

In 2013 breakout star Kendall Wright (94-1,079-2), explosive sophomore Justin Hunter, and tight end Delanie Walker, the Titans return formidable pass-catching talent. Whether Wright can improve on last year's numbers and Hunter is ready for a second-year leap will likely depend on quarterback play and Whisenhunt's offensive system. Jake Locker remains atop the depth chart, while gone is former OC Dowell Loggains' spread attack, which he installed to complement ex-backup QB Ryan Fitzpatrick's strengths and resulted in heavy doses of box-score production. A run-foundation offense seems far more likely in Whisenhunt's first year as Titans head coach.

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