Over the past couple of weeks, the discussions on my SportsCastr show (Second and Goal Sports Talk) have centered around game-changers on each NFL team. My co-host - Chris - and I have given analysis of game-changers from every team in the entire NFC, the AFC East, and the AFC North. This article analyzes game-changing players from the other two divisions. To watch our streams discussing the other divisions, click the links below.
In today's pass-happy NFL, teams don't often have a running back as the main star of their team. That philosophy goes away, however, when you have a player like Derrick Henry. The former Heisman Trophy winner is probably the most dominant power runner in the league, and he is surprisingly quick for his size (he ran a 4.54 40 yard dash at the combine, and he currently weighs 238 pounds). Obviously, Henry had a huge workload last year, and he was one of the main factors in the Titans's AFC Championship run.
Interestingly enough, the Jaguars also have a great power runner who drives their offense. Leonard Fournette, like Derrick Henry, is one of the best physical backs that we've seen in a long time. Fournette's brutal style of play wears on him, as shown by his injury history, but it also wears down defenses. The Jaguars aren't really that explosive in the passing game, and as such, Fournette got a big workload. Fournette is definitely less durable than Henry, but he makes up for it with his superior ability in the passing game, where he flourished for the first time last year.
Last year, the Colts's defense was about average. Average defenses tend to have potential, but they often lack the star who can push them to the next level. DeForest Buckner is that star. Added by the Colts this offseason in exchange for a first round pick, Buckner should pay off for the Colts in a big way. He can match up one-on-one against any offensive lineman, and he will undoubtedly be double-teamed a lot this year. His ability to get to the quarterback will cause QBs to make bad decisions, which in turn elevates the rest of the defense's ability to make plays. Buckner will be worth the first round pick that Indianapolis gave up for him, and he could push this defense into a top-eight unit in the NFL.
Even with many questionable moves from Texans coach/GM Bill O'Brien, the Texans have routinely been a tough team to beat. The main reason for this is Deshaun Watson. Even with a less-than-stellar supporting cast, Watson has been able to win games for his team, and he has single-handedly driven many fourth-quarter-comebacks over his career. His ability to run the ball and make throws on the run can make him incredibly hard to handle, and he is one of the successful examples of the dual-threat-quarterback evolution in the NFL. Even without DeAndre Hopkins, Watson should still make the Texans a contender, and without him, Houston would be helpless.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs have their own Deshaun Watson in Kansas City, except that he might somehow be even more talented. Patrick Mahomes is one of the most dominant quarterbacks that we've seen in a long time. Mahomes doesn't run the ball as much as Watson, but his arm strength and accuracy is ridiculous, as he routinely makes 50 yard accurate throws while on the run look easy. Mahomes already has an MVP award and a Super Bowl win, and he will almost certainly get more of those in his still-young career.
Raiders TE Darren Waller was a solid player last year, but he was routinely plagued by double-coverage, as defenses had no one else to focus on. Rookie WR Henry Ruggs III will change that. Last year, Ruggs might have been the most effective deep threat in all of college football. He should make an immediate impact on the Raiders with his big plays and his ability to get some open space for Waller, who should catch more touchdowns this year as a result. Ruggs is one of the most talented WRs in the year's rookie class, and he should provide many exciting plays for Raiders fans in his rookie year.
Los Angeles Chargers
As many defensive coordinators have said, a good pass rush elevates a good secondary, and Joey Bosa is as good of a pass rusher as you can have. He made an immediate difference to LA's defense in his rookie year, as he accomplished the rare feat of being double-teamed basically from Day One. The only way defenses can shut down Bosa is by getting two guys on him, and when they do that, other linemen can step up with the holes he creates. Bosa causes QBs to make bad decisions to avoid sacks, and his pass-rushing abilities have the ripple effect to the linebackers and secondary, who can in turn force more turnovers than they otherwise would. A player like Bosa is all that defenses have left in a higher-scoring NFL, and the impact Bosa has is huge.
In terms of talent, precision, footwork, and basically everything else, Jerry Jeudy is the best WR in this year's rookie class, and he should make an immediate impact in Denver. Courtland Sutton got a huge amount of targets last year in Denver's offense, as the quarterbacks didn't really have anyone else to throw to. Jeudy will change that. Even if he doesn't put up huge numbers in his rookie year, he will help keep defenses from double-teaming Sutton on every snap. Jeudy should also open up space for Melvin Gordon and Philip Lindsay in the running game. Obviously, Jeudy will contribute on the stat sheet too, and we will see no shortage of big plays from him during his rookie year.