Nothing captures the excitement of the NFL than great turnaround stories. What are some that fans can look forward to in 2014?
#5 – Miami Dolphins offensive line
Ryan Tannehill took a step forward in 2013 for the Miami Dolphins. It was a painful one though. No quarterback was sacked more in the NFL last season than him. The entire Dolphins offensive line was a joke, easily claiming the league lead in sacks allowed with 58. That can’t be allowed to happen if this team hopes to win in 2014. Luckily they worked diligently in the off-season to find help, adding Branden Albert in free agency and then drafting Ja’Wuan James in the 1st round. Their additions are clear upgrade at both tackle spots and the effect will be felt early as the Dolphins line as a whole should improve.
#4 – Chicago Bears defense
Age, injuries and erratic play are usually factors that contribute to an NFL defense falling apart. Just one of them would be enough. Unfortunately for the Chicago Bears, they were hit by all of them at once. Half their starting lineup was lost to season-ending injuries and more than a couple of key reserves were as well. Combine that with a leadership vacuum following the departures of Lovie Smith and Brian Urlacher and the Chicago Bears defense inevitably sank to historic lows. Dead last in rushing defense. Dead last in quarterback sacks. It was just ugly. Yet in spite of it all, changes are coming. GM Phil Emery made sure of that right away. He brought back veterans Tim Jennings, Charles Tillman and Jeremiah Ratliff while adding Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston and Willie Young via free agency. Together with a strong draft class improving the overall depth, the Bears are in store for a swift turnaround back to respectability in 2014.
#3 – Robert Griffin III
As sophomore slumps go, Robert Griffin III took the cake for the Washington Redskins last season. Not only did his team crash and burn to a 3-13 record after making the playoffs the year before, but he finished with fewer yards, fewer touchdowns, and more interceptions than his rookie season. Toss in the fact he was “shut down” with three games left in the season and it all culminates in a forgettable year for 24-year old. Things look decidedly brighter though as a new NFL year dawns. DeSean Jackson joins the offense as a new weapon. New head coach Jay Gruden and the front office went about improving his pass protection as well. RGIII has a good chance to get back on track, provided he stays healthy.
#2 – Oakland Raiders
Reggie McKenzie and Dennis Allen know the score. It’s 8-24. That is the combined record the Oakland Raiders have over the past two seasons. Unless this GM-head coach tandem can get things going in 2014, their jobs will be handed to somebody else before too long. That is why they worked tirelessly to upgrade the roster this off-season and have done a commendable job. Free agency and trades brought in proven veterans like Justin Tuck, LaMarr Woodley and James Jones while the draft added Khalil Mack and Gabe Jackson. This team is bigger, tougher and more experienced than it was a year ago. That should translate to improvement.
#1 – Julio Jones
After a breakout 2012, expectations were high for Julio Jones in 2013. Things were off to a great start as the Atlanta Falcons star posted 580 yards in just five games. Then, unfortunately, an injury sidelined him for the rest of the season. As he’s worked to get himself ready for a new year, the Falcons have worked hard to prepare for his arrival. Most notably they have improved the protection for quarterback Matt Ryan. That extra time in the pocket will allow him to find Jones down the field. Provided Jones is healthy, he is due for a major turnaround in 2014.