By Steve Silverman
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The 2017 NFL season is beginning to take shape, as teams have gone through their OTAs with their draft picks and free agents, and coaching staffs are able to identify the way they will go after opponents this year.
At this point in the year, it’s all about identifying potential strengths and figuring out who can best handle the game plan and carry it forward.
As the season progresses, there’s plenty of time to figure out opponents and determine what they do best. During any given week of a season, coaches earn their money by taking away what the opponent does best.
However, it only works when a team’s own strengths are known and there are certain aspects of their game plan that coaches know are dependable.
As we look forward to the 2017 season, there are several players who were signed as free agents who have an opportunity to help their new teams make significant improvements. Today, we look at four key offensive players who have a chance to make a dramatic impact.
LEGARRETTE BLOUNT, RB, EAGLES
It’s difficult to question Bill Belichick because he is the preeminent head coach in the game and his teams have won five Super Bowls. However, he had a wonderful weapon in Blount, who is coming off the best season of his career.
Blount ran for 1,161 yards and pounded the ball into the end zone a league-leading 18 times last season, and he now has the opportunity to play the role of the hammer for the Eagles. Blount is the best short-yardage runner in the game, and he gives the Eagles a powerful, muscular and nasty runner who can convert third-and-short or fourth-and-short better than any other back in the game.
The Eagles did not have this kind of back last year, and it put too much pressure on rookie quarterback Carson Wentz. Giving Wentz a power-running option should make him a more effective leader who doesn’t have to do everything himself.
The NFC East is perhaps the most competitive division in the league, and the Eagles have upgraded significantly with this move and should have an excellent chance to fight for a playoff spot.
ROBERT WOODS, WR, RAMS
While Blount may be one of the most obvious standout moves, the Rams have done themselves a great favor by signing Woods away from the Buffalo Bills.
Through four seasons in the league, Woods has caught 203 passes for 2,451 yards and scored 12 touchdowns. While none of those figures are eye-opening, Woods has never been better than the third or fourth option in the Buffalo offense.
However, he has the strength and size at 6-foot-1 and 201 pounds to hold his own against most defensive backs in the league, and he also has the quickness and route-running ability to get open on a consistent basis.
Don’t expect Woods to become a superstar with the Rams, but when it comes to making the tough catch in traffic and coming through when the game is on the line in the second half, Woods is going to help the Rams win games they lost in the past.
DESEAN JACKSON, WR, BUCCANEERS
Jackson is not the ideal team player, and the Bucs know that after observing him the last nine years with the Eagles and Redskins.
Jackson is motivated by money, and the Bucs have acquired his services to help quarterback Jameis Winston reach his enormous potential. Jackson’s best attribute has always been his speed and acceleration, and if he can stretch the defense the way he has in his best seasons, the Bucs have a chance to build a formidable and explosive offense.
The downside is that Jackson has his money – $33.5 million over three years, with $20 million guaranteed — and he will play when he wants to play. However, the chances of him going on a walkabout in his first season with Tampa Bay is small, and this signing should have a dramatic impact.
RILEY REIFF, OT, VIKINGS
The Vikings know that Adrian Peterson slowed down quite a bit and that Sam Bradford is a good, but not great quarterback. However, they didn’t give their running game or passing attack a good opportunity to succeed in 2016 because their offensive line was woeful.
Reiff was one of the key blockers on the Detroit Lions’ offensive line, and he will now get to protect Bradford’s back side from the left tackle position and open holes for rookie running back Dalvin Cook and former Raider Latavius Murray.
Reiff will give the Vikings a dramatic upgrade, and he just may help put them over the top in the NFC North.
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