If the Jaguars hope to turn their long-suffering defense around, they need Jack and first-round pick Jalen Ramsey to emerge in a hurry. If they pay off, this unit has the players in place to make waves in the AFC.
Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders
Carr is an athlete who is also very football smart, and he can make all the throws you need to win. I watched Carr during my visit to the Raiders this week, and as I told him after practice, I saw him doing a better job looking off defenders and making great sight adjustments. He is reminiscent, in terms of style and the way he moves and the quickness of his release, of Drew Brees. Oakland has assembled a good team around Carr, and there is no doubt in my mind he’ll be a factor in the very near future. That said, I think people might be getting on board with the Raiders a year early, as they tend to do with teams like this. Oakland will be good, and the Raiders might make a decent playoff push, but 2017 will be their year.
Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers
Unrivaled at his position in terms of competitiveness, Rivers put up good numbers in 2015 (4,792 passing yards and 29 passing touchdowns) despite being stuck on a poor team. He’s racked up 60 touchdown passes over the past two seasons combined, while his 145 passing touchdowns over the past five seasons ranks as the fourth-most in the NFL. Over the last 10 years, he’s passed for 41,299 yards — second only to Drew Brees in that span. He’s 14th overall in passing yards in NFL history and 11th in passing touchdowns. Rivers is extremely underrated, but if you put good players around him, he will win. Of course, the question marks on San Diego’s roster leave him stuck in this portion of the list.
A day after Tyrann Mathieu and the Arizona Cardinals agreed to terms on a five-year, $62.5 million contract extension, LSU coach Les Miles described the versatile defensive back’s 2012 dismissal from the Tigers program as one of his worst decisions.
“That’s one of the worst things I’ve ever done,” Miles said Wednesday.
Mathieu starred in the secondary and as a punt returner for LSU in 2011. He earned SEC Championship Game MVP honors and was even a Heisman Trophy finalist. He was dismissed from the program in August 2012, and his substance-abuse issues were well-documented. That marked the end of his college career after just two seasons at LSU, but the Cardinals still made him a third-round draft choice in 2013 as the No. 69 overall pick.
His new contract makes him the highest-paid safety in the NFL.
“He’s so passionate about playing the game, playing football, it’s allowed the best of Tyrann Mathieu to come forward,” said Miles, whose comments Wednesday were captured via Periscope by TigerBlitz.com. “… This summer, we went up to New Orleans and had a free youth camp. Well he happened to have a youth camp at the exact same time. We went over to his camp and watched him interact with those kids and just how wonderful that was. To my way of thinking, he’s eclipsed whatever history that somebody would hold against him. Who he is, who he’s been, has been really consistent. I’m a Tyrann Mathieu fan.”