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While trades, free-agent signings, and draft picks generated NFL headlines over the past several weeks, those moves produced ripple effects. Beneficiaries emerged as a result of teams’ big-ticket transactions. Here are the key holdovers who stand to see their roles expand due to their teams’ offseason decisions.
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The 49ers put their 2021 first- and second-round picks on developmental tracks, but Trey Lance saw far more time than Banks, who managed just five offensive snaps as a rookie. Both are en route to starting jobs as NFL sophomores. While Banks will need to solidify that status after needing a redshirt season, the 49ers cleared a path for the Notre Dame alum by letting Laken Tomlinson depart in free agency. Tomlinson started five seasons for the 49ers, turning his career around. A Bay Area native, Banks not claiming San Francisco’s first-string left guard job out of camp means something has gone wrong.
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After cutting the best linebacker in team history, the Seahawks are set to give his job to Barton. A five-game career starter, the former third-round pick has played behind Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright, and Jordyn Brooks. After not re-signing Wright last year and releasing Wagner in March, the Seahawks are poised to see if Barton can cut it in his contract year. The Utah alum does not have to fend off any 2022 linebacker draftees, either, with Seattle not selecting anyone at this position last month. Although Pete Carroll said a Wright return could happen, Barton has a good chance of lining up alongside Brooks as a three-down ‘backer.
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With Richard Sherman’s 2014 extension as the exception, the Seahawks’ current regime has not valued cornerbacks. The latest such example came when the team let improving cover man D.J. Reed leave in free agency. Seattle waited until Day 3 to address the position in the draft, leaving Brown as a clear beneficiary. The 2021 fourth-round pick only played in five games (three starts) before a season-ending knee injury, but he is the frontrunner to open the season opposite Sidney Jones as an outside corner in Seattle. A veteran would help here, but with the depth chart as is, Brown possesses a big opportunity.
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Performing a less extreme version of the Seahawks’ strategy, the Cardinals cleared a linebacker spot for a higher-profile youngster. Arizona cut every-down inside linebacker Jordan Hicks in March, opening the door to their 2020 and 2021 first-rounders — Collins and Isaiah Simmons — to be full-time players. Hicks played in front of Collins last season, with the Cards using the latter on just 20% of their defensive plays. It will be interesting to see if a 260-pound linebacker can stick as a full-timer, but Collins does provide a different skillset alongside hybrid performer Simmons.
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The quarterback the Panthers have tried to replace is still standing. Yes, Matt Corral will attempt to push the incumbent, but he fell to the latter half of the third round for a reason. Absent a Russell Wilson-esque preseason rise, Corral will likely spend extensive time backing up Darnold this season. Well, unless the Panthers can say with a straight face Baker Mayfield is not a better option to win games (and potentially save jobs) this season. That realization has not come. Despite a brutal Carolina debut, Darnold is positioned to start again and do so behind a much better offensive line.
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January’s Bills-Chiefs classic will be better remembered as the game that introduced another new overtime format. Davis did his part to move the Bills to the AFC championship game, setting a playoff record with four touchdown catches. Somehow denied his fourth TD being a game-winner, Davis nevertheless locked down a Buffalo starting job for 2022. Emmanuel Sanders is a free agent, moving Davis into position to be a full-timer alongside Stefon Diggs and new slot Jamison Crowder. A big target who has flashed consistently when called upon, Davis stands to upgrade Buffalo’s receiving corps.
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Sammy Watkins’ Green Bay relocation already opened a door for Duvernay; the Marquise Brown trade gave the All-Pro return man an unexpected spotlight. The Rashod Bateman-dependent Ravens probably need to add a veteran here, but veterans (evergreen assessment) are not exactly lining up to play in this offense. If the Ravens want notable receiving talent for Lamar Jackson’s run-heavy offense, they need to draft it. A 2020 third-round pick, Duvernay also outlasted 2019 third-round wideout Miles Boykin, who is now a Steeler. The 5-foot-11 target has a lot to prove, however, having 473 career receiving yards in 32 games.
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Underappreciated with the Giants, Hill played well in the playoffs after Larry Ogunjobi suffered a season-ending injury in the Bengals’ wild-card win. Ogunjobi remains a free agent. Hill re-signed on a clear-cut starter’s deal — three years, $30 million, with $15M being paid in 2022 — and will work alongside D.J. Reader. This is overdue for Hill, whom the Giants did not value properly. Consistently given solid Pro Football Focus marks, Hill recorded 5.5 sacks and a career-high 12 QB hits despite making just two starts. He punctuated his Bengal debut with one of the biggest INTs in team history . It is safe to say Cincinnati won the Hill-Billy Price trade.
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The Dolphins won the Terron Armstead sweepstakes and added Connor Williams to play either left guard or center. Whichever position Williams does not play becomes one a free agent could commandeer. Hunt might end up the only Dolphin O-lineman to play the same position he did last season. Moved from right tackle to right guard in 2021, the 2020 second-round pick finished with a middling PFF grade, but it was the best given to a Miami blocker last year. While Hunt is better remembered for his ineligible-receiver mad dash, the Louisiana alum — unlike his linemates — has a clear lane to keep his job under a new coaching staff.
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Sutton and Patrick have been in Denver since 2018. They played with most of the passers the team trotted out since Peyton Manning’s 2016 exit. A 2020 first-rounder, Jeudy only witnessed part of those efforts. It is tough to overstate the upgrade this trio and, if healthy, K.J. Hamler will see when Russell Wilson debuts. Wilson’s arrival will not be quite what Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker experienced in going from Tim Tebow to Manning, but the future Hall of Famer will do wonders for a deep receiving corps that has spent years restricted by bad QB play. The Broncos did well to extend Sutton and Patrick last year, as Wilson stands to boost their value.
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In the wake of Davante Adams and Marquez Valdes-Scantling’s Wisconsin exits, the Packers signed Sammy Watkins and drafted Christian Watson. Watkins is notoriously injury-prone; Watson hails from North Dakota State and will need seasoning. The Packers need a big season from Lazard, a big-bodied receiver well-versed in Matt LaFleur’s system. Often overlooked, Lazard caught a career-high eight TD passes in 2021. The 6-foot-5 former undrafted player can adjust his earning potential this season, a contract year. That said, the Packers have moved beyond brazen in rolling the dice at receiver like this in such a pivotal season.
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Going into last season, the Giants were deep at safety. They rostered Logan Ryan, Jabrill Peppers, and Xavier McKinney. With Ryan a cap casualty and Peppers a Patriot after a season-ending injury, the Giants stood pat on their backline in the draft. This opens the door for Love, a 2019 fourth-rounder who has been a backup for most of his career. The Notre Dame alum looks set to join McKinney, barring a late-offseason addition. If nothing else, Love has the first crack at the gig under new defensive coordinator Don Martindale.
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The Texans started their rebuild in earnest this offseason, making first-round picks for the first time since 2019. They still have a number of roster holes; quarterback could be considered one of them. But the team’s actions point to Mills having a true opportunity to prove himself. The Texans promoted his position coach (Pep Hamilton) to offensive coordinator and stood down at QB in free agency, the trade market, and in the draft. Houston also extended Brandin Cooks and drafted Alabama wideout John Metchie in Round 2. Barring a late Jimmy Garoppolo- Nick Caserio reunion, Mills should have a chance to build on his strong rookie-year finish.
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Cleveland cut bait on its Austin Hooper overpay but did not save too much at the position. The Browns slapped the franchise tag on Njoku, giving an inconsistent tight end a fully guaranteed $10.8 million for 2022. Njoku has battled injuries, was in trade rumors last year and has topped 500 receiving yards in a season just once in five years. But the Browns may use this season to find out the former first-rounder’s true value. Njoku’s pay raise comes at a good time, with Deshaun Watson set to (at some point) lead the offense — one currently featuring questions regarding wide receiver depth.
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Noteboom’s last full-time run as a starter came as a guard for a 2019 Rams team that missed the playoffs. That season ended early for Noteboom as well, with ACL and MCL tears throwing the 2018 third-rounder’s career off track. With Andrew Whitworth retiring, the Rams retained Noteboom and have a much bigger role planned this time around. Whitworth’s sub over the past two seasons, Noteboom will be the starting left tackle for a defending Super Bowl champion. The Rams have a habit of letting role players walk in free agency, as they did Austin Corbett upfront this year. But they determined Noteboom was too important.
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Okwuegbunam’s presence represented the reason the Broncos could include Noah Fant in March’s Russell Wilson trade. Denver did draft Greg Dulcich in Round 3 and has seen new head coach Nathaniel Hackett gush over the rookie’s potential and his hair, but Okwuegbunam supplies experience and athleticism. The ex-Mizzou pass-catcher blazed to a 4.49-second 40-yard dash at the 2020 combine. Dulcich clocked a 4.69 time this year. That is a substantial gap. Rookie tight ends also take considerable time to develop, putting “Albert O” in a position to get first dibs on working with the prized new QB come September.
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After a quality rookie season featured 16 starts, Onwenu drifted into a swingman role in 2021. The Patriots’ decisions at guard — letting Ted Karras walk in free agency and trading Shaq Mason to the Buccaneers — point directly to Onwenu reclaiming a full-time starting spot. Although the Pats’ Cole Strange pick overshadows their plan for the other guard spot, Onwenu is the favorite to lock down one of those jobs. The former sixth-round pick fared stunningly well as a rookie; he should provide New England with security after it cut costs at the position this offseason.
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Although Anthony Castonzo’s retirement forced the Colts into a left tackle change last year, they trotted out the same players at the other four spots from 2018-21. That will change this year, with right guard Mark Glowinski now a Giant. Indianapolis looks set to see if Pinter can take over. A 2020 fifth-round pick, Pinter subbed in for Ryan Kelly during the Pro Bowl center’s three-game absence late last season. Pinter has made just four career starts, but paying Glowinski would have been a luxury. Both Kelly and right tackle Braden Smith are signed to big-ticket deals, and Quenton Nelson’s impending extension will eclipse both.
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It is time for the Titans to see what they have in Radunz, their 2021 second-round pick. Tennessee gave the Division I-FCS product a redshirt year last season, slotting him behind veteran David Quessenberry at right tackle. Quessenberry made 17 starts but is now in Buffalo. The Titans used a third-round pick on a tackle this year (Ohio State’s Nicholas Petit-Frere), but Radunz will be the frontrunner to start opposite Taylor Lewan. Radunz was an All-American left tackle at North Dakota State. Since Division I-FCS mostly skipped the pandemic season, Radunz will attempt to return to starter work for the first time since 2019.
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Dallas used a first-round pick on a tackle for the first time in 11 years, taking Tyler Smith 24th overall. But the Tulsa product is not viewed as a player who will replace La’el Collins at right tackle, instead, he’s being penciled in to vie for the Cowboys’ starting left guard spot while Tyron Smith remains on the team. The Cowboys are instead looking at Steele, Collins’ primary replacement during his injury-erased 2020 season and amid the PED ban that sidelined him last year. Despite his undrafted pedigree, Steele has already made 27 starts in two seasons. Dallas views him as a potential long-term option on the right side.
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What a turn of events for Tua, who went from being engulfed in the Deshaun Watson circus to seeing his team acquire Tyreek Hill. Since Watson was ready to waive his no-trade clause for Miami (and only Miami) last year, the Dolphins may regret not pulling the trigger when they had the market cornered. But Tagovailoa — via the trade buzz, injuries, and a bad supporting cast — has not been given a fair shot. He now has an offensive-minded head coach, Hill, new running backs, and an upgraded O-line featuring Pro Bowl left tackle Terron Armstead. It is sink-or-swim time here, but Tua is finally being accommodated accordingly.
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With Jason Pierre-Paul not yet part of Tampa Bay’s run-it-back (again) effort, it appears Shaq Barrett will have a much younger sidekick. Tryon-Shoyinka is ticketed to move into the Buccaneers’ starting lineup on the edge. This will be a high-profile task for the 2021 first-rounder, with the Barrett-JPP tandem being a three-year partnership and the main reason the Bucs won Super Bowl LV. But the ex-Washington Husky totaled four sacks and 10 QB hits as a rookie. More will be expected of him in his second season.
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The Patriots’ actions here speak loudly. They released Kyle Van Noy, who had been a versatile contributor for years, and traded Chase Winovich to the Browns. New England also did not draft a linebacker or a defensive end. Uche has now had two years to acclimate to Bill Belichick’s defense, and the 2020 second-round pick has a good chance to start opposite Matt Judon on the edge. Uche played 30% of the Pats’ defensive snaps last season and tallied three sacks in 12 games. The Pats will need more from the Michigan alum this year, given their actions at this spot.
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The Vikings made some changes on defense this offseason. They hired Ed Donatell as defensive coordinator and are set to deploy a 3-4 base look for the first time since the 1980s. Minnesota also cut defensive tackle Michael Pierce and will not re-sign D-end Everson Griffen. While Dalvin Tomlinson and ex-Bills cog Harrison Phillips are set to start up front, Watts will likely be asked to join them as one of the team’s D-ends after being Pierce’s fill-in last season. A former sixth-round pick, Watts recorded five sacks as a part-timer last year. His starter chance will come in a contract year, raising the stakes.
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A year ago, the prospect of a Julio Jones-Calvin Ridley-Kyle Pitts trio loomed. The Falcons have retooled, by choice and an NFL mandate. Ridley’s gambling suspension left a glaring void for Atlanta at receiver. While first-rounder Drake London will be the team’s new centerpiece here, his support staff may well funnel through Zaccheaus. The Falcons also let top 2021 wideout, Russell Gage, sign with the Buccaneers. Though a former UDFA, Zaccheaus did catch 31 passes for 406 yards and three TDs last year. He may well be Marcus Mariota’s third option behind Pitts and London.