The Baltimore Ravens became a virtual “aerial circus” en route to victory in Super Bowl XLVII. Joe Flacco, along with receivers Anquan Boldin, Torrey Smith, Dennis Pitta and Jacoby Jones, embraced the change in offensive philosophy and were rewarded with the Lombardi Trophy. With the off-season trade of Boldin, and a training camp injury to Pitta, Smith is expected to be the new No. 1 wideout, with Jones as No. 2. No one doubts Jones’ physical ability, but he’s never been counted upon as much as now. The prediction is that his postseason brilliance will turn out to be merely a hint of what he’s capable of.
For more than a decade, Steve Smith has been pretty much the entirety of Carolina’s deep passing game. Brandon LaFell is a solid No. 2, and if early preseason performances are a barometer, David Gettis seems to have an edge for No. 3. Gettis turned in a sparkling rookie season in 2010, but has scarcely seen action since due to a torn ACL and hamstring problems. He’s been one of the leading receivers league-wide after two exhibition games in 2013 however, and provides QB Cam Newton with a big (6’3 220-lb) target.
Probably no team was more proactive during the offseason than the Dolphins, especially in the passing game. The big acquisition was speedy Mike Wallace from Pittsburgh, who has established himself as one of the NFL’s top long-ball threats. Former Jets TE Dustin Keller was also brought aboard, but he suffered a season-ending knee injury against Houston. Keller’s absence will definitely be felt, but that shouldn’t diminish the improvement expected from second-year QB Ryan Tannehill. Johnny Manziel’s predecessor at Texas A&M demonstrated exceptional maturity in his rookie season, and coaches rave about his off-season work ethic and dedication to excellence. Things are looking up in Miami, and Tannehill, now with a legitimate home-run target in Wallace, is expected to take a monumental leap in 2013.
After getting off to a great start, Bears WR Alshon Jeffrey virtually disappeared from mid-season on, plagued by shoddy route-running and nagging injuries. Although it’s a given that Brandon Marshall will almost always be Jay Cutler’s preferred target, Jeffrey is in an enviable position to benefit from the double coverage Marshall commands. If he can sharpen up his footwork and stay healthy, Jeffrey could easily become one of the NFC’s top breakout candidates of 2013.
In New England, Wes Welker developed into Tom Brady’s favorite target. Now that Welker is in Denver, look for Danny Amendola to try and replace him. Amendola’s style is very similar to Welker’s, but he had few opportunities to excel with the Rams. Look for that to change this season as Bill Belichick reworks the Patriot offense with new personnel.