Every NFL team has a wild-card player or two. Prior performance be damned: 2015 is a blank slate, and if these players can perform up to their potential (or outperform it), they could help turn the tide for their team and become the driving force for success. On Wednesday, we looked at five X-factor players who could really change the NFL landscape, but let's make a quick run-through of the other 27 teams.
As a quick refresher, our other five players were: Darren McFadden, Dallas; Frank Gore, Indianapolis; Jairus Byrd, New Orleans; Haloti Ngata, Detroit; and Sam Bradford, Philadelphia.
Arizona Cardinals: DB Tyrann Mathieu
Mathieu's shot at the Defensive Rookie of the Year award in 2013 was cut short by an ACL tear. He appeared in 13 games last season, but played sparingly as the team eased him back into action. The instinctive and playmaking ballhawk should find himself in a versatile role in 2015 for Arizona's new defensive coordinator, James Bettcher, and could be a big spark to what was an already dominant group. The prototypical joker piece on defense, Mathieu has an uncanny feel for where the ball is going, and in an increasingly "spread out" NFL, should play a big role matched up with slot receivers, tight ends, and running backs.
Atlanta Falcons: DT/DE Ra'Shede Hageman
Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn utilized Michael Bennett in a number of roles in 2014. He won from the weak side end spot, the three-technique under-tackle position, and from the strong side end, depending on the down and distance. Will Hageman become Quinn's version of Bennett for his new defense?
The former Minnesota standout isn't necessarily similar to Bennett in size and speed, but he's got the physical ability at 6'6, 310 pounds to dominate at the point of attack when he's really on his game. Quinn has a reputation for maximizing skill-sets among his players, and made his mark on pretty much every defensive line he's coached over the years. As has been pointed out over the past few weeks, there's a reason that his former players want to follow Quinn to Atlanta. Will Hageman live up to his physical potential and become that moveable chess piece for his new head coach? If so, it would have an enormous impact on the rest of the defense.
Baltimore Ravens: WR Steve Smith
Baltimore's going to need a steady offensive weapon to lean on with the loss of Torrey Smith in free agency. A trio of rookie draft picks -- Breshad Perriman, Maxx Williams, and Darren Waller -- have immense potential, but in the immediate future, the Ravens will need to lean on their experienced vets. Smith, the salty playmaker, caught 79 passes in 2014 but just turned 36 -- will he continue to produce the way the Ravens need him to? That's a big factor.
Buffalo Bills: QB Matt Cassel/EJ Manuel
Look, the NFL is a passing league and quarterback's the most important position, period. The Bills already had a sick defense, and they've added to Rex Ryan's offensive weaponry during the offseason. They look poised to challenge the Patriots for AFC East dominance, but there's that enormous question at the quarterback position. Will EJ Manuel take a big leap in his third season and lead the Bills to the promised land? Or, will Buffalo to lean on the steady but limited Cassel? The answers to those questions could have major implications.
Carolina Panthers: LT Michael Oher
It's a bold move by Carolina to depend on the veteran Michael Oher to protect Cam Newton's blind side. That could mean Newton's time to throw to new weapon Devin Funchess is limited. The Panthers may have the twin-towers receiving duo in Funchess and Kelvin Benjamin, but can they give the QB the time to drop back?
Chicago Bears: QB Jay Cutler
I don't even have to say it. You know.
Cincinnati Bengals: QB Andy Dalton
I ... I don't even have to say it here either, because you know.
Cleveland Browns: QB Josh McCown/Johnny Manziel
I really love what the Browns did in the draft and free agency, but at the risk of being obvious, the quarterback position is pretty important. McCown's the likely starter here. If Johnny Football can somehow skyrocket into maturity and be the player the Browns envisioned, he could really shake up an uber-competitive AFC North. Cleveland's run game should be solid; their offensive line is among the league's best.
Denver Broncos: WR Cody Latimer
The Broncos switched from a wide-open passing offense that helped Peyton Manning throw 55 touchdowns in 2013, to a more balanced, run-heavy style in 2014, which saw "only" 39 touchdowns from the future Hall of Famer. Denver may go that balanced route again next season, but if Cody Latimer can emerge as another viable touchdown maker for the Broncos offense, could we see Manning have yet another renaissance? Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders are the major go-to players in this offense, but if Latimer -- who only caught two passes last year -- can break out, this Denver offense could be scary.
Green Bay Packers: WR Davante Adams
Like Latimer in Denver, Davante Adams has the real opportunity to become a premiere touchdown maker for an already stacked offense. Adams excels in jump ball situations with his strong hands, and it just so happens that Aaron Rodgers is maybe the best quarterback in the NFL in giving his receivers a chance for those passes. Adams caught 38 throws for 446 yards and three touchdowns as a rookie, but could make a big jump in year two.
Houston Texans: OLB Jadeveon Clowney
This one's obvious -- if Clowney can get healthy and play the way that helped earn him the reputation as a generational talent, the Texans could potentially field two of the most dominant defensive players in the game when paired with J.J. Watt.
Jacksonville Jaguars: QB Blake Bortles
The Jags have made major investments into putting weapons around Bortles -- from the offensive line (Luke Joekel, Jermey Parnell, A.J. Cann, Stefen Wisneiwski), to the receiving corps (Julius Thomas, Allen Robinson, Marqise Lee, Rashad Greene), to the running backs group (T.J. Yeldon, Denard Robinson, Toby Gerhardt) -- and hope that these additions can take the pressure off of their second year signal caller. Bortles' first year was rough, but if he can make a jump in 2015 and produce at a level they believe he can, the Jags could make a run in the AFC South.
Kansas City Chiefs: WR Jeremy Maclin
The Chiefs' main goal in 2015 is to probably have a receiver score a touchdown. I'm actually pretty high on the Chiefs for next season. I think they got better in the draft, already had a pretty talented defensive group and can obviously run the ball. If they can score with more regularity in the passing game, they could really surprise some people. Maclin obviously has experience under Andy Reid, so I'm guessing Reid has a specific plan in mind for him.
Miami Dolphins: DT Ndamukong Suh
The Dolphins gave Suh quarterback money, so they are evidently hoping that he can have a quarterback-level impact on the defense. Miami's front-line is already extremely talented, and adding Suh brings a whole new dimension. That's what they're banking on, of course.
Minnesota Vikings: RB Adrian Peterson
He's still the best running back in the game. With the further development of Teddy Bridgewater, that Vikings offense could be better than people expect in 2015. It starts with Peterson, though. He'll be the catalyst.
New England Patriots: S Devin McCourty
Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner and Kyle Arrington are all gone. I don't know what Bill Belichick's plan is for the secondary, but McCourty, one of the best safeties in the game, will have a lot on his shoulders. Without most of his secondary-mates from 2014, the Patriots' defense will need him to carry the load.
New York Giants: WR Victor Cruz
His 2014 season was cut short because of a devastating patellar tendon injury, an exit that was overshadowed by Odell Beckham's freakish breakout to the NFL receiving elite. I have to think that OBJ will only get better, but if Cruz can make it back onto the field and look even remotely like his former self, Eli Manning's going to have himself a great receiving duo.
New York Jets: WR Brandon Marshall
The Jets needed a true No. 1 receiver and got one in Marshall. This pushes Eric Decker to his true niche as an outside No. 2 type of guy. Adding in Devin Smith as a take-the-top of a defense third or fourth receiver gives New York some weapons to put around their quarterback Geno Smith. Bottom line? Marshall gives the Jets a better chance at scoring touchdowns -- just what they need.
Oakland Raiders: RB Trent Richardson
Look, I'm not saying this will happen, but if Trent Richardson suddenly has the lightbulb go on for him and he starts to live up to the billing he earned coming out of Alabama, the Raiders just hit the jackpot.
Pittsburgh Steelers: RB DeAngelo Williams
The Steelers face the prospect of playing without one of their top offensive weapons in Le'Veon Bell for the first three games of the season. Much of the offense runs through the versatile runner and pass-catcher, and without a true backup, Pittsburgh went out and signed 32-year old veteran DeAngelo Williams. They will likely lean on the former Panther to carry the load as they face the Patriots, 49ers, and Rams to start the season. Those are some tough front-sevens, and in the ultra competitive AFC North, every game counts. Williams could turn into a big-time wild card for Pittsburgh's season.
San Diego Chargers: RB Melvin Gordon
The Chargers averaged 3.4 yards per carry in 2015, second-worst in the league, only better than Arizona. Trading up to grab the former Badger in Gordon is a clear signal that San Diego wants to improve their run game in 2015. With Philip Rivers still calling the shots from under center, Gordon could make a major impact for a team that's still searching for a true successor to LaDainian Tomlinson.
Seattle Seahawks: TE Jimmy Graham
The Seahawks struggled in two areas on offense last year: third downs and in the red zone. The Jimmy Graham acquisition was a clear response to this. There have only been a few more prolific touchdown makers than Graham over the past four years (in fact -- only Marshawn Lynch and Dez Bryant). Adding Graham to Seattle's already efficient offense could pay huge dividends for the Super Bowl runner-ups.
San Francisco 49ers: DT Darnell Dockett
The Niners need to replace Justin Smith in 2015. There are a few high-potential players waiting in the wings, but San Francisco needs a bridge on the defensive line that can hold things together until Arik Armstead, Tank Carradine, Quinton Dial and/or Lawrence Okoye step up as a true impact players. Dockett's a fiery leader on the field and plays with a berserker style that sets the example for players around him -- and that kind of veteran presence will be helpful for a group that will have to cope with the loss of Patrick Willis and Justin Smith.
St. Louis Rams: DT Nick Fairley
When he's on, Nick Fairley's one of the tougher dudes in the NFL to block. He'll be lining up next to Aaron Donald -- another one of the NFL's toughest dudes to block -- on nickel downs. If you thought the Rams' defensive line was fearsome before, the former Lion has a chance to make them unstoppable. It's all about potential vs. reality with Fairley -- so he's a big-time wild card for the Rams.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: QB Jameis Winston
Tennessee Titans: QB Marcus Mariota
Washington: QB Robert Griffin III
Obviously, this looks like RG3's last chance in Washington -- even with their decision to pick up his fifth-year option for 2016. If Griffin falters again this year, the team can release him with no salary cap ramifications, and that will be all she wrote in Washington for the 2012 Rookie of the Year. However, no one's forgetting what Griffin did prior to tearing up his knee that year, and new GM Scot McCloughan looked to help out his potential franchise QB by drafting college's best offensive lineman this year in Brandon Scherff. Griffin's now a few years out from his injury and should be closer to a full recovery -- and if he can put up a performance anywhere near that of his rookie year, get ready for a huge shakeup in the NFC East.