With the conclusion of the 2017 NFL Draft, fans and analysts look ahead to the NFL season for matchups of intrigue, youthful energy and fierce rivalries.
Whether it’s a young stud at quarterback like Marcus Mariota or a defensive menace in Joey Bosa, the Miami Dolphins will face their fair share of young talent. Here’s the scoop on three young opponents the Fins face in 2017.
Week 1: vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The home opener is always a high-octane game, but an in-state rival adds intrigue. With an average age of 25.7, the Bucs were the eighth youngest team at the start of the 2016 season, according to PhillyVoice, a Philadelphia news entity.
The Same: Led by a pair of 23-year-olds in Jameis Winston and Mike Evans, this is a potent Tampa offense. Cameron Brate had a productive 2016 season with 44 yards per game, which ranked No.
14 among NFL tight ends, while Jacquizz Rogers and Doug Martin proved to be a two-headed beast at running back.
The defense is anchored by Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David up front, while 2016 first-round pick Vernon Hargreaves patrols the secondary alongside Brent Grimes.
The New: In free agency, Tampa added DeSean Jackson to the receiving unit and let go of Alterraun Verner on defense. With the 19th overall pick, the Bucs drafted Alabama tight end O.J. Howard, who was a potential top-10 selection. After putting up 106 yards in the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship, Howard showed critics why he was the No. 1 tight end recruit out of high school. His addition will create trickery in the passing game and make this one of the league’s better offensive units on paper.
The team also added depth at safety with second-round pick Justin Evans. Tampa can use some help with a defensive unit that gave up the 11th most passing yards per game in 2016.
Week 9: vs. Oakland Raiders
The Same: The Raiders looked stellar until Derek Carr went down with a broken leg and the team’s hopes of a deep run were extinguished in a first-round playoff bout with the Houston Texans. Nonetheless, this is a squad that is coming off its first double-digit win season since 2002.
Expectations are high, but so is the talent. Amari Cooper returns from consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons, and the Raiders have the fourth-best offensive line in football, according to Pro Football Focus.
The defense features a 2016 first-round pick in safety Karl Joseph, and stud linebackers in Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin.
The New: Sometimes, better doesn’t have to be younger, and that’s what the Raiders hoped when the team parted ways with Latavius Murray and brought in Marshawn Lynch. Questions surround any player who returns from retirement, but with an elite offensive line, Beast Mode could feast again. Oakland also added Jared Cook and Cordarrelle Patterson to bolster the receiving unit.
The Raiders addressed defensive needs in the draft with the team’s first two picks. In the first round, Oakland gambled on Ohio State cornerback Gareon Conley. Seen by many as a top-15 pick, Conley’s troubles with the law pose character questions, but if he can focus on the field, the Raiders will be lucky he fell to them at No. 24. In the second round, the team selected Connecticut safety Obi Melifonwu, whose 6-foot-4-inch frame gives him the size to contend with the NFL’s best receivers.
Week 10: at Carolina Panthers
The Same: After a Super Bowl loss to the Denver Broncos, Cam Newton and the Panthers look to bounce back from a disappointing 6-10 season. On offense, Carolina returns with the trio of Kelvin Benjamin, Greg Olsen and Jonathan Stewart. Although Benjamin’s 2016 numbers were a downgrade from his rookie performance, this will be just his third season played.
Despite the absence of Josh Norman, Carolina’s defense has the pieces to wreak havoc. Led by Luke Kuechly, Kawann Short and Thomas Davis, the Panthers have one of the league’s better front-seven units, but a suspect secondary gave up the fourth most passing yards in 2016.
The New: In hopes to patch the secondary, the Panthers signed two-time pro bowl safety Mike Adams and drafted the University of Miami’s Corn Elder, but the team’s real excitement comes on offense.
With the team’s first two draft choices, Carolina added offensive firepower in Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey and Ohio State’s Curtis Samuel.
McCaffrey brings a change of pace in the running game, and he’s a receiving threat in the backfield or the slot. The Stanford product can also return punts and kicks, which is an added bonus.
Carolina has height at receiver, but Samuel shakes up the slot with speed. According to ESPN, he was the only player with more than 700 yards rushing and receiving in 2016, and his 40-yard dash time at 4.31 seconds might make him the fastest player on the team.
These dangerous playmakers should alleviate pressure from Newton, who was one of the league’s 10 most-sacked QBs in 2016.
Bottom Line: These are three young teams that should contend for their respective divisions. Rookies and free agents add a fresh dynamic to game-day preparations, but new doesn’t always mean better. Fans will have to wait until Sept. 10 to find out what this Miami team is all about. Until then, it’s time to hit the weights and the film room.