Just what Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III need: more dynamic receivers.
Six NFL teams have made significant alterations in their passing games. Denver, Indianapolis, Washington and Baltimore did so with proven wideouts. Tampa Bay and Houston chose new quarterbacks to combine with an established target.
A Pick Six of new passing combinations:
Denver: Eric Decker left Manning for Geno Smith and the Jets. In his place is Emmanuel Sanders, who has more speed than Decker and also can return kicks. He’s not as big a target as Decker, but Sanders is more dangerous, especially with Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker and Julius Thomas on hand.
“I wanted to go to a team that would sling the ball around the field,” Sanders said.
He sure found one.
Indianapolis: Just about any free-agent receiver would be enticed by joining Luck, perhaps the best pure passer among the young NFL quarterbacks. Hakeem Nicks got the opportunity, though it meant leaving two-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning.
Nicks had a strong start to his career with the Giants, then was plagued by injuries and indifferent play the last two seasons.
Now, he says he’s healthy and should be able to team with T.Y. Hilton and Reggie Wayne to spread the field for Luck.
Washington: Most eyes in the nation’s capital will be on RG3’s mobility after a lost season. Many ears will be on his conversations with new coach Jay Gruden after the discord between Griffin and Mike Shanahan.
Griffin certainly has a stronger chance of recapturing his 2012 Offensive Rookie of the Year form now that DeSean Jackson is on his side. Jackson’s game-breaking skills, along with his desire to show the Eagles they erred in getting rid of him, should enhance a potentially powerful offense.
“We’re going to be tough, because whatever (an opponent) decides to stop, we’ve got other options,” Jackson said.
Watch for him to be a main option.
Baltimore: When Anquan Boldin left the Ravens after their 2012 championship season, so did much of the edge in Baltimore’s passing game.
That feistiness and physicality is back with Steve Smith joining Joe Flacco.
This is a juicy pairing because Flacco desperately needed a wideout who could intimidate, and Smith needed a seasoned quarterback with a formidable arm and the freedom to use it.
“I like the way he throws,” Smith said. “He makes it easy to catch the ball.”
Watch for Smith to do so about 80 times this season.
Tampa Bay: Somehow, despite the turmoil in Tampa last season, Vincent Jackson caught 78 passes for 1,224 yards and seven TDs. Now, he has a somewhat-accomplished veteran throwing to him in Josh McCown.
All McCown did last year in Chicago was take over for injured Jay Cutler and look like a top-level passer. He’s intelligent, experienced, and the best thing Jackson has had on the other end of passes since he left Philip Rivers and the Chargers.
“I think a lot of it just has to do with his savviness on the field,” VJax said of McCown. “He’s a very smart guy. He understands space and location and separation on routes and the way the dimensions of a defense work.”
Houston: Andre Johnson has been one of the NFL’s top receivers for a decade, having the most success with Matt Schaub. But Schaub now is in Oakland, and journeyman QB Ryan Fitzpatrick gets the call.
Fitzpatrick has plenty of starting experience, and he’s never had a pass-catch partner as skilled as Johnson. But he’s also maddeningly inconsistent, and Houston has no proven wideout to complement Johnson.
“Anytime you have somebody like that on your team it’s a great thing,” Fitzpatrick says of Johnson, “and he’ll be a great player like he always has (been) and a great leader for us this year.”
But maybe not nearly as productive.