NFL Draft Daily: Each team’s biggest draft need following free agency

NFL Draft Daily looks at top stories, historical trends, player performances and more all through the lens of the NFL Draft. After all, there are only 20 days until the 2022 NFL draft. Check back in tomorrow for another entry.

The bulk of the free agency frenzy has wrapped up by this point and I think the NFL has surpassed its quota for blockbuster trades this offseason. That leaves us with a few weeks until the draft and plenty of holes still to fill on each NFL roster. Let’s take a look through each team’s biggest remaining need and how they might go about addressing it.

Arizona Cardinals
Biggest need: Edge rusher
Arizona lost one of the best players in the franchise’s history this offseason when Chandler Jones left to join the Raiders. Markus Golden did lead the team with 11 sacks this past season, but they need someone to line up across from him. There are a few veteran options available in Jason Pierre-Paul and Anthony Barr, but it would not surprise me to see the Cardinals target edge rusher in the first round of the draft.

San Francisco 49ers
Biggest need: Guard
The 49ers lost Laken Tomlinson and Tom Compton in free agency, leaving David Brunskill, Colton McKivitz, Aaron Banks and Justin Skule to compete for the two starting guard positions. There are a number of veteran guards they could sign to compete for a starting spot, but I still think they will need to address the position in the draft. Without a first-round pick, I could see San Francisco using another Day 2 pick to bolster their offensive line.

Seattle Seahawks
Biggest need: Quarterback
Russell Wilson is gone and I don’t feel overly confident that Drew Lock is going to be the long-term answer at quarterback. However, Seattle has plenty of other needs, including at offensive tackle and essentially every level of its defense. Drafting a quarterback with the ninth pick is not out of the question, but I think we will see the Seahawks focus on rebuilding their roster and use their additional draft capital over the next two years to acquire their next franchise quarterback. Baker Mayfield is also an option.

Los Angeles Rams
Biggest need: Right guard
Well, I had to rewrite this one after the Rams made a huge move to bring in Bobby Wagner. Brutal for the Seahawks seeing him stay in the division. With that move, Los Angeles can turn its attention to shoring up its offensive line. Andrew Whitworth retired and Austin Corbett left for Carolina. 2019 draft pick Bobby Evans is relatively untested and struggled in limited action. The Rams will have to wait a while to pick in the 2022 draft, but I expect one of their first picks to go towards an interior lineman.

Atlanta Falcons
Biggest need: Wide receiver
Who is the Falcons’ No. 1 receiver right now? That’s a genuine question. It might be Olamide Zaccheaus, which is not a great outlook for the offense. Atlanta is strapped for cash after trading away Matt Ryan. Marcus Mariota is clearly a stop gap, but whoever eventually succeeds him will definitely need more weapons to work with than Kyle Pitts. If Atlanta does not use the No. 8 pick on a receiver, I would be shocked if they ignore the position again in the second round.

Carolina Panthers
Biggest need: Quarterback
Sam Darnold and Cam Newton are clearly not the answer at quarterback. Carolina still needs an upgrade at left tackle and maybe some depth in the secondary, but this team will just continue to spin its wheels without an upgrade under center. If the Panthers feel strongly about one of the top prospects in this class, whether it’s Malik Willis, Kenny Pickett or Matt Corral, they could pull the trigger. Don’t rule out a move for Baker Mayfield or Jimmy Garoppolo either with the rest of this roster being close to competing.

New Orleans Saints
Biggest need: Wide receiver
You could make an argument for quarterback here, but the combination of Jameis Winston and Andy Dalton makes me believe that this team will pass on the position in 2022. It’s unlikely that either of them will really be the long-term answer at the position, but the team seems to like Winston a lot. He needs more targets to throw to. Michael Thomas will hopefully be back. Marquez Callaway and Tre’Quan Smith are solid players, but neither is really good enough to pair with Thomas, assuming the latter can even stay healthy. In a deep receiver draft, I think we will see New Orleans grab on by Day 2 at the latest.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Biggest need: Left guard
While the Buccaneers have been through a rather tumultuous offseason with Tom Brady retiring, then later returning, and Bruce Arians moving to the front office, this team is still very much a contender. Ali Marpet also retired and seems to be staying that way. Alex Cappa left for Cincinnati. One of the only needs this team still has is at left guard. Tampa traded for Shaq Mason, but he will likely slot in on the right. With a couple of potential interior lineman likely on the board late in the first round, I think the Bucs will prioritize protecting Brady.

Chicago Bears
Biggest Need: Right guard
James Daniel exited for Pittsburgh and the Bears struck out on Ryan Bates with the Bills opting to match the Bears offer. As a result, right guard is still wide open. Dakota Dozier is currently listed as the team’s right guard, but he has been a career backup to this point. Given how many times Justin Fields was sacked in 2021, the priority for Chicago has to be bolstering his offensive line. Without a first-round pick, the team could opt for a veteran there, but there are often quality, starting-caliber linemen available in the second and third round.

Detroit Lions
Biggest Need: Wide receiver
Detroit’s wide receiver situation is actually less dire than it was a year ago. Amon-Ra St. Brown looks like an impressive young option. D.J. Chark, Josh Reynolds, Khalif Raymond and Quintez Cephus create some really solid depth. However, this team definitely still lacks a true No. 1 option. Chark could theoretically be that, but he can’t seem to stay healthy. With picks No. 32 and No. 34 this year, I expect one of those selections to be a receiver.

Green Bay Packers
Biggest Need: Wide receiver
Davante Adams is gone. So is Marquez Valdez-Scantling. Aaron Rodgers desperately needs some reinforcements on offense. I expect them to pick up a veteran like Julio Jones, T.Y. Hilton or A.J. Green, but they shouldn’t stop there. Expect them to spend one of their two first round selections on a receiver. Don’t rule out a second receiver being added on Day 3 as well.

Minnesota Vikings
Biggest need: Cornerback
Even with Patrick Peterson returning to the team, this team has holes in its secondary. Peterson’s deal is also only for one season, so it is a short-term fix. Big names like Stephon Gilmore, Richard Sherman, Joe Haden are still out there, but I think Minnesota will opt for younger players. If Derek Stingley Jr. is on the board at No. 12, I don’t see the Vikings passing on him.

Dallas Cowboys
Biggest need: Safety
Edge rusher could also be in play here after Randy Gregory bolted for Denver, but I think safety is the bigger need. Damontae Kazee is still unsigned and Donovan Wilson is best suited as a backup or rotational player. It is a deep class for both safeties and edge rushers. I could see Dallas grabbing one of each along with a wide receiver or tight end in the first three rounds in the draft.

New York Giants
Biggest need: Offensive tackle
The Nate Solder experiment did not work out as planned. Andrew Thomas seems to be headed in the right direction after a much stronger second season, but Daniel Jones needs more protection. Grabbing an offensive tackle with one of their two top-10 picks feels like a certainty for New York. Either Ikem Ekwonu or Evan Neal would be great additions to this offensive line and would set Jones up to be successful in 2022.

Philadelphia Eagles
Biggest Need: Linebacker
I know, the Eagles don’t prioritize linebackers in their defense, but they need to find someone to play the position. Spending one of their three first-round picks on a linebacker such as Devin Lloyd or Nakobe Dean feels like a worthwhile investment. Don’t rule out a veteran joining on a team-friendly deal as well. Philadelphia is quietly close to making a deep run in what feels like a wide open NFC.

Washington Commanders
Biggest need: Wide receiver
Quarterback still feels like a need, but Washington made the decision to trade for Carson Wentz to give them an option for the short term. The Commanders could still spend a mid-round pick at the position, but the plan for now should be to build around Wentz. Terry McLaurin is a great receiver, but there is no one else that inspires much confidence at the position. Curtis Samuel is too injury prone. Cam Sims is a good depth option. Adam Humphries is a free agent. Spending a first-round pick on a receiver feels very likely.

Denver Broncos
Biggest need: Linebacker
Denver went all in by acquiring Russell Wilson, but the Broncos still have a few holes to fill before they earn contender status. A.J. Johnson and Kenny Young are both still unsigned. Someone needs to start next to Josey Jewell. Safety and tight end are also areas where they could use an upgrade, but I think linebacker should be the biggest focus. Without a pick until No. 64, the Broncos are going to need to hit in the middle rounds of this draft to make that jump.

Kansas City Chiefs
Biggest need: Wide receiver
Without Tyreek Hill, this receiver room looks like one of the worst in the NFL. The combination of JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdez-Scantling isn’t really scaring anyone. Travis Kelce is still the best tight end in the game, but KC needs another reliable target to work into this system. MVS and JuJu were both free agent additions. I think the Chiefs will focus heavily on the draft to build out the rest of the receiver room. A first-round pick and a Day 2 pick spent at the position feels appropriate.

Las Vegas Raiders
Biggest need: Defensive tackle
The Raiders had one of the busiest offseasons of any team in the league, which is saying something. In addition to their blockbuster trade to acquire Davante Adams, Las Vegas signed Chandler Jones and sent Yannick Ngakoue to the Colts for Rock Ya-Sin. This team is clearly gearing up for a postseason run and a bid at a title. They still need reinforcements along the defensive line. Gerald McCoy is still a free agent. Vegas could definitely opt for a veteran, but I expect them to use one of their earliest draft picks (remember, they don’t pick until the third round) on a defensive tackle.

Los Angeles Chargers
Biggest need: Right guard
I could have easily picked right tackle here as well. The whole right side of the Chargers offensive line is in flux right now. Oday Abushi and Michael Schofield are both free agents. Storm Norton was one of the worst pass blocking tackles in the league last year. Take your pick as to which you want to target first. Norton is still with the team, so they at least have someone in place for the moment. Either way, the Chargers are going to be investing significant capital along the offensive line in the draft and in free agency.

Houston Texans
Biggest need: Edge rusher
There are a lot of directions the Texans could go at this point. I think edge rusher might be the biggest need. Jonathan Greenard quietly had a really impressive rookie year. However, Houston could use someone opposite him. With two picks in the top 15, I expect the Texans to grab an edge rusher in one of those slots. Their continued rebuild is going to take a few years. Finding talent at premium positions should be the focus.

Indianapolis Colts
Biggest need: Wide receiver
Indianapolis has gone all in again at the quarterback position. They will be hoping Matt Ryan is a bit more like Philip Rivers than Carson Wentz, but the Colts still need to replenish the roster around him. That starts with wide receiver. Michael Pittman is a great player, but T.Y. Hilton still remains unsigned and the cupboard is pretty bare outside of that. Indy does have a fair amount of cap space to potentially bring in one of Ryan’s favorite former targets in Julio Jones. With twp Day 2 picks in a deep receiver class, that is certainly an option as well.

Jacksonville Jaguars
Biggest need: Center
With the recent retirement of Andrew Norwell, the Jaguars suddenly have a pretty significant need at center. Tyler Shatley is a serviceable fill in if they cannot find anyone else, but Jacksonville should be putting a premium on protecting Trevor Lawrence. Obviously, they won’t be selecting a center with the No. 1 overall pick. I would expect center to be in play on Day 2.

Tennessee Titans
Biggest need: Right tackle
Tennessee swung and missed badly with Isaiah Wilson in 2020. David Quessenberry has been solid in his place at right tackle, but he is still a free agent. The Titans need to shore up the right side of the line. Dillon Radunz or Nate Davis will likely take right guard. Tennessee is up against it when it comes to cap space, so the draft is going to be crucial to filling out the roster. Right tackle is definitely in play when the Titans pick at No. 25.

Baltimore Ravens
Biggest need: Defensive tackle
Baltimore’s defensive line is a work in progress at the moment. Justin Houston, Calais Campbell and Brandon Williams are all still on the open market. The Ravens did bring in Michael Pierce, but they will still need reinforcements. I think Odafe Oweh will step up to fill the void left by Houston, leaving defensive tackle as a logical target. There are a couple of players that could be in play in the first two rounds if they fall to Baltimore. I don’t expect them to wait long to address the defensive line.

Cincinnati Bengals
Biggest need: Cornerback
Cincinnati did a fantastic job rebuilding its offensive line this offseason, adding Ted Karas, Alex Kappa and La’el Collins. Now it needs to upgrade its secondary. Chidobe Awuzie had a career year in his first season with the Bengals and Eli Apple was serviceable. Cincinnati is going to need better than serviceable though to get over the hump and continue to compete for titles. Corner is definitely in play at the end of the first round. I also wouldn’t be shocked if Cincinnati spent another pick in the later rounds at the position to build some depth.

Cleveland Browns
Biggest need: Wide receiver
Even after trading for Amari Cooper, the Browns receiving corps is a bit underwhelming. I like Donovan Peoples-Jones and Rashard Higgins, but I don’t know that either has shown they are capable of being a No. 2 receiver to this point. There has been some buzz that Jarvis Landry could return to the team as well. Cleveland does not have a first-round pick because of the Deshaun Watson trade, so they will have to address this need starting in the second round. George Pickens, Jalen Tolbert and more should be in play when the Browns select at No. 45.

Pittsburgh Steelers
Biggest need: Left tackle
As of now, the Steelers could be placing a ton of faith into 2021 fourth-round pick Dan Moore Jr. to start at left tackle. Given how poorly he and the offensive line as a whole played last season, Pittsburgh would be wise to invest some premium picks into the unit. Left tackle is arguably the second-most important in football. If Charles Cross or Trevor Penning are on the board at that spot, that would be a smart investment.

Buffalo Bills
Biggest need: Right guard
Buffalo has a championship-caliber roster, but there are still a few holes. With Rodger Saffold likely to play left guard, the Bills need to find a right guard to bolster this offensive line. Zion Johnson, Bernhard Raimann and Kenyon Green could all be in play at the end of the first round. Cornerback and running back are spots where Buffalo could look to upgrade, but I think protecting your $258 million quarterback is the place to start.

Miami Dolphins
Biggest need: Running back
I struggled with Miami a bit. After trading for Tyreek Hill, they have a very talented receiver corps with plenty of speed. They have invested a ton of premium picks into the offensive line in recent years and signed Terron Armstead this offseason. The defense could use some upgrades, but is still poised to be a top-10 unit in the league. That leaves running back, where the Dolphins have struggled to find production in recent years. They did sign Chase Edmonds this offseason, but I think they need more of an every down back to take pressure off Tua Tagovailoa. They don’t pick until the third-round, but it is hard to see them signing another veteran back.

New England Patriots
Biggest need: Cornerback
New England could certainly use another receiver even after trading for Devante Parker, but I think his arrival takes the edge off for now. The Patriots can turn their full attention to finding a No. 1 cornerback. J.C. Jackson is gone and the Pats traded Stefon Gilmore last season. Malcolm Butler returns, but he was out of football in 2021. Picking at No. 21, New England should probably go with a corner, whether it’s Andrew Booth Jr., Trent McDuffie, Kaiir Elam or someone else they feel strongly about. There is depth at receiver, too, so the Patriots can look to bolster that group on Day 2.

New York Jets
Biggest need: Edge rusher
The Jets have needed an edge rusher since about 2013. They might have a really good one in Carl Lawson, who they signed from the Bengals last offseason. Unfortunately, Lawson suffered a torn Achilles in the preseason and missed the entire year. Even if he returns at full strength, New York needs someone to pair with him. With two picks in the top 10, and four in the top 50, the Jets will almost certainly spend one of those picks on an edge rusher.

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Draft Season Never Ends: NFC Team Needs

New episodes dropping every Friday! In case you missed last week’s episode, Chris takes a look at every NFC team’s biggest need following free agency and addresses how they could best look to fill the remaining holes on the roster. The AFC will be up next!

You can find every episode on AnchorSpotifyApple Podcasts, YouTube or wherever you find your podcasts. As always, I appreciate reviews, feedback and when you hit that subscribe button.

2022 NFL Mock Draft: Panthers, Lions find QBs of the future and six WRs go in first round

There are still two weeks left in the regular season and the entirety of the playoffs to be played, but for a number of fans, the look ahead to 2022 has already started. At this time, eight teams have already been eliminated from playoff contention. More are sure to follow in Week 17.

That means it is time for mock draft season. This is already my third mock of the season and my final one of 2021. The draft order has changed quite a bit over the course of the season as Miami and Kansas City completely turned around early-season slumps. Meanwhile, Carolina and Washington have faded down the stretch to the point where they are picking in the top 10.

This is the most up-to-date draft order according to Tankathon through the conclusion of Sunday Night Football. The outcome of Dolphins-Saints on Monday night will likely see each team slide a couple spots in either direction. So much of the NFL is grouped around that .500 mark right now.

As I continue to dissect film during bowl season, my evaluations of players have definitely changed. I know that there will likely be more quarterbacks off the board in the first round, but this is how I grade them at this stage. With no trades allowed, this is how I see the first round shaking out as of right now.

1. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-13) – Aidan Hutchinson, EDGE, Michigan
Jacksonville could head a number of directions with the first pick, but taking the dominant edge rusher out of Michigan to pair with Josh Allen feels like the best bet. Hutchinson finished as the runner up for the Heisman for a reason. He has a bit of J.J. Watt to his game, beating tackles with a combination of speed and power.

2. Detroit Lions (2-12-1) – Kayvon Thibodeaux, EGDE, Oregon
This is a pretty great consolation prize for the Lions. While not quite on the same level of Chase Young, Thibodeaux is a dynamic pass rusher with an impressive array of pass-rush moves. He has disappeared at times and can struggle when put into conflict by RPOs and read options. Overall, he would be a great pairing with Romeo Okwara and hopefully help transform a Lions’ defense lacking talent.

3. Houston Texans (3-12) – Evan Neal, OT, Alabama
This is a situation of the Texans simply going with the best player available. Laremy Tunsil remains well entrenched at left tackle, but Houston could use an upgrade on the right side. Neal would give Davis Mills a chance to prove himself at quarterback. If not Mills, then whoever replaces him would have one of the best tackle pairings in the league. Neal is a mountain disguised as an offensive tackle. He checks all the physical boxes and passes the eye test.

4. New York Jets (4-11) – Ikem Ekwonu, OT, North Carolina State
Morgan Moses is on an expiring contract and Mekhi Becton has not shown he can stay healthy. That creaks the door open for the Jets to sure up their offensive line. The offensive lineman in Joe Douglas will not be able to resist taking Ekwonu either. This guy is nasty and brings power that teams crave. He is certainly a bit raw in terms of technique. He needs a bit of polish, but keeping Zach Wilson upright has to be the biggest priority of the offseason.

5. New York Giants (4-11) – Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame
Daniel Jones is coming back in 2022. At least that is the word out of East Rutherford. That opens the door for New York to go with the best player available and continue to overhaul its roster. Kyle Hamilton is a bit of a unicorn. He has the size of a linebacker, but lines up at safety. He has the coverage skills to be a centerfielder, but can drop down into the box as well. With Jabril Peppers out of a contract this season and Logan Ryan turning 31, there is some need for another safety in New York as well.

6. New York Jets via Seattle Seahawks (5-10) – Ahmed Gardner, CB, Cincinnati
When you start all first- and second-year players in the secondary, there are bound to be some growing pains. That said, New York clearly still has a need for a true No. 1 corner. The man they call “Sauce” absolutely fits the bill. He has yet to allow a touchdown in his three years as a starter at Cincinnati. He brings the requisite length needed to play on the outside in the NFL. The only question will likely be about his speed. Gardner will be one to watch at the combine.

7. Carolina Panthers (5-10) – Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh
Let’s make this clear, this is a reach! I like Pickett as a passer, but at 23 years old, it is safe to assume he is already pretty far along in his development as a quarterback. Read that as a potentially low ceiling. However, this feels like a really good landing spot for Pickett. There is a lot of talent on the defense and a solid receiving corps. If Christian McCaffrey can get healthy, he will have one of the best offensive weapons in the entire league. Carolina would need to bolster the offensive line to make this work, but there is potential for this to be a hit.

8. New York Giants via Chicago Bears (5-10) – Tyler Linderbaum, C, Iowa
The aforementioned Daniel Jones has had his struggles, but he has rarely been protected. Tyler Linderbaum will help change that. He is an incredibly agile center with good blocking angles and great open field speed. He should be an asset in the run game as well with his ability to pull outside and set the edge. Targeting offensive line help makes a ton of sense for the Giants. Saquon Barkley would probably appreciate the move as well, assuming he can get onto the field.

9. Washington Football Team (6-9) – Drake London, WR, USC
With Pickett off the board, there are no quarterbacks that I can justify going in the top 10. Instead, Washington addresses the massive issue facing its receiving corps. There is no size. Drake London would solve that immediately. He might not be the most explosive athlete, but he plays a lot like Mike Evans. His ability to catch the ball away from his body and make contested grabs makes him an excellent security blanket for any quarterback. Perhaps Washington could trade back into the end of the first to snag a rookie quarterback. If not, load up this roster and try to find a veteran who can lead you to the playoffs.

10. Atlanta Falcons (7-8) – George Karlaftis, EDGE, Purdue
A perfect blend of need and value, Atlanta desperately needs someone with George Karlaftis’ skill set. There is definitely some cause for concern when you put on the Ohio State film and see him overmatched by a pair of quality tackles. However, Karlaftis’ upside and raw traits make him worth the gamble in this spot. The Falcons desperately need pass rushing help. They rank last in the NFL in sacks by a sizeble margin, totaling nine fewer than the Jaguars and Lions so far this season.

11. Denver Broncos (7-8) – David Ojabo, EDGE, Michigan
Denver will be disappointed to see Karlaftis off the board, but will take the next best edge rusher on the board. That has to be David Ojabo after the breakout season he had across from Aidan Hutchinson. Ojabo is not nearly as polished as his partner in crime, but his traits are incredible. With Von Miller now in Los Angeles, the Broncos definitely need someone to pitch in across from Bradley Chubb. Ojabo has a long way to go in order to replicate Miller’s production, but he will help soften the blow nonetheless.

12. Minnesota Vikings (7-8) – Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU
Another mock, another corner to the Vikings. If it’s broken, keep trying to fix it. Minnesota ranks in the bottom 10 for passing yards and passing touchdowns allowed. The Vikings will be thrilled to see Singley still available. His stock has slipped following an injury-riddled season, but the physical ability and top-end potential is all still there. If he tests at the combine, there is a good chance he will not last this long on draft day.

13. Cleveland Browns (7-8) – Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State
Baker Mayfield may well be the problem in Cleveland, but he could still definitely use an improved receivers room. Jarvis Landry is declining and Odell Beckham Jr. is gone. Rashad Higgins and Donovan Peoples-Jones are excellent depth options, but the Browns need a new go-to playmaker. Enter Garrett Wilson. He is a silky smooth route runner with solid speed, good hands and a nose for the end zone. Keeping him in state would be a great move by the front office.

14. Philadelphia Eagles via Miami Dolphins (7-7) – Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah
Philadelphia has been a pleasant surprise in the second half of the year. While there are questions about Jalen Hurts as the long-term answer at quarterback, there is no one worth replacing him with in this spot. Instead, the Eagles finally address the shortcomings of their linebacker unit. Lloyd would be an upgrade over any of Philly’s current starters. He is very athletic with some ability to rush the passer. Feels like a slam dunk pick for this defense.

15. New Orleans Saints (7-7) – Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas
While quarterback could certainly be in play, this is still much too early for QB2 on my board. Even if the Saints did take a quarterback, he would have no one to throw to. New Orleans’ group of receivers is on par with Detroit and the Jets when it comes to proven playmakers. If Michael Thomas returns, that could change things a bit, but there is still room for more additions at the position. Burks was a bit inconsistent this year, but showed flashes of elite ability. He lit up Alabama, Auburn and Texas A&M, but disappeared against LSU and Georgia. There is a lot to like about his upside.

16. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-7-1) – Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State
Yes, the Steelers need a new quarterback. No, that does not mean they should reach for one in the middle of the first round. Pittsburgh has a host of other issues it still needs to address to get back into championship contention. The biggest being a porous offensive line. Cross lacks much experience as a run blocker, but has a lot of solid tape in pass protection. He is far from perfect, with several holding calls and uneven technique, but he anchors well and has the size to excel at the next level. He would be in the mix to start at left tackle from Day 1 in Pittsburgh.

17. Los Angeles Chargers (8-7) – DeMarvin Leal, DL, Texas A&M
Same old Chargers. Los Angeles has shown signs of progress this season, but it still cannot avoid the pitfalls. The Achilles heel has been the run defense. Only three teams are allowing more rushing yards per game or yards per attempt this season. Finding some help on the interior of the defense line is the key to turning things around. Leal is a talented pass rusher who can hold his own against the run. He has the versatility to flex out to the edge as well. Brandon Staley would have a lot of fun exploring the ways he could deploy Leal against opposing offenses.

18. Las Vegas Raiders (8-7) – Jordan Davis, DL, Georgia
Las Vegas has room to improve in the trenches on both sides of the ball. It is hard to overlook Jordan Davis, both literally and figuratively. He is huge, listed at 6’6″ and 340 pounds. He definitely excels as a run stuffer, but shows flashes of pass-rush brilliances. He has a quick first step and rarely loses ground. He could help transform the Raiders defensive front. Davis, Max Crosby and Yannick Ngakoue is the beginnings of a scary unit.

19. Philadelphia Eagles (8-7) – Andrew Booth Jr., CB, Clemson
As great as Darius Slay has been this season, Philadelphia cannot continue to rely on him to do everything in their secondary. Clemson might have had a down year, but the struggles were all on the offense. Defensively, the Tigers were still stocked with future NFL players, led by Andrew Booth Jr. The rangy cornerback has good size and impeccable athleticism. He will need a bit of coaching to truly take the step in his development, but there is a lot to like about his potential fit in the NFL.

20. Baltimore Ravens (8-7) – Trevor Penning, OT, Northern Iowa
Baltimore is tied for the most sacks allowed this season. Some of that is a byproduct of having mobile quarterbacks who hang onto the ball longer than he probably should, but most of it falls on underperforming tackles and injuries. Trevor Penning may face a bit of a learning curve arriving from FCS powerhouse UNI, but his intangibles point to a seamless transition. If he can protect Lamar Jackson, this will be a pick well spent.

21. Miami Dolphins via San Francisco 49ers (8-7) – Kenyon Green, G, Texas A&M
Miami is on an incredible run right now, winning six in a row heading into Monday Night Football. However, that should not erase the deficiencies that showed up during the first half of the season when the Dolphins were 1-7. Tua Tagovailoa’s protection has room for improvement. Kenyon Green has the potential to be a Day 1 starter at either guard spot, providing some much-needed stability. He has some experience at tackle as well, which only adds to his value.

22. New England Patriots (9-6) – Nakobe Dean, LB, Georgia
This may be my worst nightmare. Letting Bill Belichick get his hands on a playmaker like Dean is dangerous for the rest of the league. He is often compared to Jonathan Vilma between his size and downhill play style. Dont’a Hightower is turning 32 in March and will be a free agent after the season. Dean could help fill the void and eventually grow into a similar defensive leader.

23. Philadelphia Eagles via Indianapolis Colts (9-6) – Jameson Williams, WR, Alabama
Might as well return to the well. Philadelphia seems to have hit big time with Devonta Smith, so it would be wise to find another Alabama receiver to play alongside him. While Smith is certainly capable of big plays, Williams excels at it. He would be what the team hoped to get in drafting Jalen Reagor. There are certainly some drops on his film, but most of them are avoidable. Coaching could solve that. It’s not something to ignore, but it is correctable. This sets up Jalen Hurts or whoever takes over at quarterback in the future for success.

24. Arizona Cardinals (10-5) – Kaiir Elam, CB, Florida
Arizona is once again fading in the second half of the season. While there are questions to ask of the offense, the secondary is getting torn to shreds. Adding a tall, long corner in Elam could change the trajectory of the unit entirely. Hopefully, that size will come into play in the red zone, where the Cardinals have been dreadful down the stretch.

25. Buffalo Bills (9-6) – Nicolas Petit-Frère, OT, Ohio State
Buffalo needs to invest along the interior of its offensive line. While Petit-Frère is not an interior lineman, he could allow the Bills to kick Spencer Brown inside. If not, the Ohio State tackle could move to guard himself. He has shown the ability to handle top speed rushers on the outside with his play against George Karlaftis. On the other hand, he struggled against Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo. Either way, he should help keep Josh Allen clean now and into the future.

26. Cincinnati Bengals (9-6) – Roger McCreary, CB, Auburn
Cincinnati’s secondary has played surprisingly well this season, but lacks staying power. For one, the Bengals can get out from under Trae Waynes’ horrible contract this offseason. They also need Chidobe Awuzie to replicate a career year for this unit to have a chance in 2022. Adding the upside of McCreary gives them someone to develop into the future. He brings an exciting blend of athleticism and size that makes it easy to project him as an NFL starter.

27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (11-4) – Drake Jackson, EDGE, USC
Tampa Bay will be disappointed to see the top corners off the board by this stage and will simply turn to a best player available approach. With a number of key defensive players on expiring contracts, adding another player in the front seven could help ease the blow. Drake Jackson is a long edge rusher with solid production from his time at USC. Much of his stock is based on the projection of what he could become if he can marry his physical tools with improved technique and pass-rush planning at the next level.

28. Detroit Lions via Los Angeles (11-4) – Malik Willis, QB, Liberty
If there was ever a team that could afford to gamble on a high-risk, high-reward quarterback, it is the Detroit Lions. With the extra pick in the 2022 draft from the Matthew Stafford trade, the Lions could attempt to find his replacement. Willis brings incredible physical traits, namely blazing speed and a very strong arm. He needs a lot of refining though. He has a tendency to hold onto the ball too long, often times misses reads and bails out of the pocket a bit too frequently. Selecting Willis does not prevent Detroit from taking a quarterback in the first round of the 2023 draft either if it ends up with a chance to take Bryce Young or C.J. Stroud. This is just one shot at the dartboard with potential to net future draft capital if he is moved. What I love about this is that Jared Goff can start for one more season before his contract expires and the Lions can make a real run at turning the roster around.

29. Tennessee Titans (10-5) – Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State
Julio Jones has not been the reliable option across from A.J. Brown that the Titans were hoping for. Injuries have derailed most of his previous two seasons and he will turn 33 in February. Tennessee needs another receiver for Ryan Tannehill to turn to. Chris Olave could be the perfect complement to Brown. He is well-rounded and can generate separation. Not to mention good size at 6’1″. He would only open things up more for Derrick Henry as defenses had to respect his speed.

30. Dallas Cowboys (11-4) – Daxton Hill, S, Michigan
The turnaround by Dallas’ defense is truly remarkable. However, it is also benefiting from an unsustainable turnover rate. 33 forced turnovers in 15 games is impressive and hard to repeat. With the top corners off the board, the Cowboys grab a versatile safety with some slot corner experience in Hill. He has tons of athletic upside and regularly ends up around the football. The offense has had its struggles, but there is more than enough talent to see things stabilize. Now it is time to build a defense to match.

31. Kansas City Chiefs (11-4) – Jahan Dotson, WR, Penn State
Kansas City has evolved over the course of the season. Its defensive renaissance does not mean help on that side of the ball is no longer needed. That being said, it is hard to resist Jahan Dotson in this spot. He is a reliable target capable of making contested catches over the middle of the field. I think he could be a perfect fit for what the Chiefs need in this offense past Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill. If Kansas City lands a defensive lineman or cornerback in the second round, this will feel like a really strong start to the draft.

32. Green Bay Packers (12-3) – Devonte Wyatt, DL, Georgia
Aaron Rodgers does not care about the wide receivers you would like to mock to Green Bay. Instead, the Packers continue to build in the trenches. Devonte Wyatt does not get the headlines of his more famous teammates like Nakobe Dean or Jordan Davis, but he should start soon. He is a violent game wrecker. He might not be quite as athletically gifted as those teammates and definitely needs to improve his gap discipline, but there is a lot to like about his tape. With a few potential cap casualties on defense this offseason, finding cost-effective defenders is a must. Don’t rule out a trade back with a quarterback needy team here. Washington, Pittsburgh, Atlanta and Denver could all move up to get a quarterback with that coveted fifth-year option.

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2021 NFL Power Rankings: Week 15

Three more teams joined the ranks of the eliminated this week as the Jets, Lions and Jaguars all saw their playoff chances officially reach zero. In truth, their hopes of reaching the playoff disappeared months ago, but now those teams can officially begin to look ahead to 2022.

Meanwhile, playoff races across the league are even more murky after the Cardinals lost to the shorthanded Rams on Monday night and a host of wildcard hopefuls swapped places. There are 14 teams in the NFL with six or seven wins so far this season. All of them will believe they can emerge from the pack to reach the postseason.

As we head into the home stretch of the regular season, here is how all 32 teams stack up.

Buccaneers logo

1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 10-3 (Last Week: 2)
Won 33-27 vs. Buffalo
Tampa Bay seemed to be strolling to a comfortable win against Buffalo, holding a 21-point lead at halftime. Then everything went sideways. The Bills outscored the Bucs 17-3 in the fourth quarter to force overtime. It seemed like Josh Allen was going to earn the walk-off win after Buffalo received to start the extra period, but Tampa’s defense found its footing and finally got a crucial stop. Tom Brady hit Breshad Perriman for the 58-yard game winner and the Bucs reached double digit wins on the season.

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2. Green Bay Packers: 10-3 (Last Week: 3)
Won 45-30 vs. Chicago
Talk about wild momentum swings: This is not how I expected this game to go. Jakeem Grant scored on a 97-yard punt return to put the Bears up 10-0. The Packers then scored twice in just over a minute to take the lead. Chicago struck back quickly to go back on top. Green Bay finally took control in the third quarter, outscoring Chicago 21-0. This game really had everything though from recovered onside kicks to defensive and special teams touchdowns. In the end, Aaron Rodgers maintains his ownership stake in the Bears and the Packers stay comfortably atop the NFC North.

Arizona_Cardnals_logo_(1994-2004)

3. Arizona Cardinals: 10-3 (Last Week: 1)
Lost 30-23 vs. Los Angeles
Divisional games are always weird, but that does not excuse the Cardinals missing a huge opportunity. The Rams were dealing with a COVID outbreak, missing Jalen Ramsey, Tyler Higbee and others, but you would never have known it on Monday. Kyler Murray forced the issue too often, tossing a pair of interceptions and Kliff Kingsbury might have gotten a bit too aggressive with his play calling at times. Now, Arizona’s lead in the NFC West is down to one game as it loses the top spot in the NFC. This one stings a lot.

Patriots Logo

4. New England Patriots: 9-4 (Last Week: 4)
Bye Week
The Patriots should probably send Tom Brady a polite thank you note after he beat the Bills this week to stretch their division lead to two games. New England got the week off in the midst of a seven-game win streak, one that shows no signs of stopping either. Its final four games feature all AFC opponents, including a trio of playoff hopefuls. The Colts are up next before a rematch with the Bills. New England will finish out the season against Jacksonville and Miami, the latter of which will be a chance to avenge a Week 1 loss.

Chiefs Logo

5. Kansas City Chiefs: 9-4 (Last Week: 5)
Won 48-9 vs. Raiders
Kansas City is currently petitioning the league to play the Raiders every week. At least, that’s what I assume is happening. In two meetings this season, the Chiefs have outscored their AFC West rival 89-23. Las Vegas has not belonged on the same field on both occasions. Patrick Mahomes was uber efficient, completing 20-of-24 passes. The run game produced some big plays with Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Darrell Williams and Derrick Gore all finding the end zone. Meanwhile, Kansas City’s defense forced five turnovers in a dominant performance. Derek Carr spent much of the game running for his life and the Chiefs run defense held strong. Another crucial divisional game awaits. This time it is the Chargers on Thursday night.

6. Los Angeles Rams: 9-4 (Last Week: 7)
Won 30-23 at Arizona
I cannot overstate how monumental a win this was for the Rams. Missing a few key contributors due to COVID-19 protocols, Los Angeles did not miss a beat. It frustrated Kyler Murray and came up with some vital stops when it mattered most. Murray threw for 383 yards, but finished without a touchdown and two interceptions. On the other side, Matt Stafford looked dialed in. He tossed three touchdowns and took care of the football. This opens the door for the Rams to win the division and compete for the No. 1 seed in the NFC.

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7. Dallas Cowboys: 9-4 (Last Week: 6)
Won 27-20 at Washington
Early on, it seemed like the Cowboys were going to run away with this one. Washington could not get anything going offensively and Dallas led 24-0 at halftime. However, the Cowboys managed just three points in the second half while Washington stormed back and nearly forced overtime. The defense did its job, forcing four turnovers, including a scoop-and-score. Despite all the talent, questions about Dallas’ offense persist following performances like this one. Dak Prescott and company have a lot of room for improvement.

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8. Indianapolis Colts: 7-6 (Last Week: )
Bye Week
Indianapolis finds itself right in the thick of the AFC wildcard race. Following an 0-3 start, the Colts have gone 7-3 since then, largely on the back of Jonathan Taylor. The second-year running back leads the league in rushing by more than 300 yards and has scored 18 touchdowns so far this season. He will obviously be the catalyst for everything this offense does going forward. A showdown with the Patriots awaits with major playoff implications on the line.

9. Los Angeles Chargers: 8-5 (Last Week: 10)
Won 37-21 vs. New York
Sure, it helped to face Mike Glennon instead of Daniel Jones, but this was still a complete performance from the Chargers. Justin Herbert aired it out for three touchdowns while the ground game picked up 152 yards. Meanwhile, the defense got after Glennon, forcing a pair of turnovers. The run defense continues to be a problem, the Chargers surrendered 135 yards on 5.2 yards per carry, but if the offense can build an early lead, this defense is capable of protecting it.

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10. Buffalo Bills: 7-6 (Last Week: 12)
Lost 33-27 at Tampa Bay
I know that the analytics community hates running backs and the value of a top back is inconsequential compared to other positions. However, the Bills could really use a top-end running back right now. Buffalo did not attempt a traditional running play in the first half, instead calling designed runs for Josh Allen. He was wildly successful, going over the century mark, but so was Devin Singletary in limited opportunities. The Bills need to find balance on offense. It will take some pressure off Allen and could be the difference in close games like this. Buffalo did well to rally, but it should never have been behind by so much in the first place.

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11. Tennessee Titans: 9-4 (Last Week: 13)
Won 20-0 vs. Jacksonville
Tennessee has struggled to find an offensive identity since Derrick Henry suffered a broken foot. Turns out, that really didn’t matter on Sunday. The Titans defense intercepted Trevor Lawrence four times and held the Jaguars to eight, yes you read that right, eight yards of rushing. Mike Vrabel will be thrilled his team pitched a shutout, but questions about his offense still remain. It was good to see Julio Jones back on the field, but the former Falcons star has yet to establish himself in this offense. Hopefully A.J. Brown is not far behind Jones for a return to the field.

49ers Logo

12. San Francisco 49ers: 7-6 (Last Week: 15)
Won 26-23 at Cincinnati
San Francisco was definitely a bit fortunate to win this one. Having missed a potential game-winning field goal in regulation, Cincinnati winning the coin toss seemed like the final blow. Instead, Nick Bosa came up with a critical sack to force a field goal and Brandon Aiyuk ultimately tight-roped the sideline for the game winner. While this was an impressive win, it is hard to feel like the 49ers are ready to get on a roll. The offense has plenty of hiccups while the defense is still a bit inconsistent. A very winnable game against the Falcons is up next.

Bengals Logo

13. Cincinnati Bengals: 7-6 (Last Week: 11)
Lost 26-23 vs. 49ers
It would be easy to say these are just the same old Bengals, but the old Bengals would not have even been in this game. Joe Burrow played well, with a pair of scoring strikes. Unfortunately, the offensive line was an issue yet again, surrendering five sacks. Joe Mixon could not get anything going either, averaging 3.2 yards per carry. Cincinnati’s defense pressured Jimmy Garoppolo all day, recording five sacks of their own. Down the stretch though, they had no answer for the passing attack, which ultimately cost them the game. This is the type of loss that could come back to haunt them come playoff time.

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14. Baltimore Ravens: 8-5 (Last Week: 9)
Lost 24-22 at Cleveland
The Ravens showed a ton of heart to battle back from down 24-3 without Lamar Jackson to nearly win this ball game. Tyler Hundley gave the team a fighting chance, leading a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown drives. Baltimore even recovered an onside kick. Unfortunately, the Browns defense came to play. Jadeveon Clowney sacked Hundley on second down for a huge loss and then Denzel Ward finished things off with a great open-field tackle to secure the win. Injuries are catching up with the Ravens right now and we see this team head into a free fall if they are not careful.

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15. Cleveland Browns 7-6 (Last Week: 16)
Won 24-22 vs. Baltimore
I can only imagine the headlines in Cleveland if the Browns had managed to blow this game with Tyler Hundley outdueling Baker Mayfield in the process. Kevin Stefanski is very lucky to avoid that media firestorm. Still, there are some concerns for the Browns following this win. Most notably, the offense ground to a halt after halftime as the Ravens pitched a shutout in the second half. That is not a winning formula in the NFL. Cleveland still has so many issues to iron out.

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16. Pittsburgh Steelers: 6-6-1 (Last Week: 14)
Lost 36-28 at Minnesota
Give Pittsburgh credit for making this score line look respectable and for nearly pulling off the largest regular season comeback in NFL history, but this was an ugly performance. The Steelers did not score until the two-minute mark in the third quarter. That almost makes their improbable fourth-quarter surge even more impressive, but there is no reason Pittsburgh should ever have been trailing 29-0 in the first place. Lucky for the Steelers, the Ravens and Bengals also lost this week, so they did not lose ground in the division.

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17. Miami Dolphins: 6-7 (Last Week: 17)
Bye Week
Miami will be disappointed to see Cleveland win as it gives the Browns a leg up in the wild card race. However, losses by the Bills and Bengals means that hope is far from lost. Tua Tagovailoa is finally hitting his stride with a string of solid performances. He is far from lighting the world on fire, but it is major progress for the young quarterback. Now, the Dolphins face a banged up Jets team they beat a month ago.

Eagles Logo

18. Philadelphia Eagles: 6-7 (Last Week: 18)
Bye Week
Eagles fans will be watching the injury report closely this week as they await the status of Jalen Hurts for Sunday’s game against Washington. The team will obviously want to get him back in the fold, but fans might be hoping for another week of Gardner Minshew II, who led Philly to a victory over the Jets in Week 13. It is going to be a long week of speculation either way.

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19. Minnesota Vikings: 6-7 (Last Week: 22)
Won 36-28 vs. Pittsburgh
We have not praised Dalvin Cook enough yet. He miraculously came back from a shoulder injury to start against the Steelers on a short week and took over the game. He finished with 205 yards on the ground along with two scores. It was arguably the best performance we’ve seen by a running back all season. Minnesota’s defense did just, and I mean just, enough to hang on for a much-needed victory.

Denver_Broncos

20. Denver Broncos: 7-6 (Last Week: 21)
Won 38-10 vs. Detroit
Nothing like a visit from the Lions to help wash away the bad memories of losing to the Chiefs. Denver’s running back tandem of Melvin Gordon and Javonte Williams both dominated the contest, combining to score four touchdowns on the afternoon. It was an emotional day at Mile High, but the Broncos did Demarius Thomas’ memory proud with a lopsided victory. This sets up a showdown between 7-6 teams on Sunday.

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21. Washington: 6-7 (Last Week: 19)
Lost 27-20 vs. Dallas
Washington’s winning streak has finally come to an end. Winners of four straight entering Sunday’s game, Washington was on the cusp of being a real problem in the NFC wildcard picture, perhaps the NFC East division race. Instead, Taylor Heinicke and the offense fell flat and it was too much to overcome in the closing stages. He exited with a knee injury and carries a questionable injury tag into the beginning of this week. Unfortunately, four turnovers and five sacks made Washington’s comeback bid ultimately obsolete.

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22. New Orleans Saints: 6-7 (Last Week: 22)
Won 30-9 at New York
They might not have faced much resistance, but it is always impressive to drop 30 points on a team while keeping them out of the end zone. New Orleans outclassed New York on both sides of the football. Suddenly, the Saints find themselves back in the playoff fun.

Falcons logo

23. Atlanta Falcons: 6-7 (Last Week: 25)
Won 29-21 at Carolina
Somehow, some way, Atlanta has put itself back in the playoff conversation following an important win over Carolina. Matt Ryan didn’t do much, but he valued the football and that was the difference in the game. The Falcons defense forced three turnovers, including a pick-six by Mykal Walker. A fumble by Quadree Ollison in the final minutes made things a bit more interesting as Carolina pulled within eight, but Atlanta was able to run out the clock. The Falcons are still outsiders in the playoff conversation, but get a chance to make up ground against San Francisco this week.

Raiders logo

24. Las Vegas Raiders: 6-7 (Last Week: 20)
Lost 48-9 at Kansas City
Once again, the Raiders are imploding in the second half of the season. They also looked like a JV team stomping on the Chiefs logo before getting rolled by 39 points. Derek Carr was far from perfect, but got very little help from his offensive skill players and offensive line. There is not much to learn from this game other than the Raiders are capable of being inordinately bad.

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25. Seattle Seahawks: 5-8 (Last Week: 27)
Won 33-13 at Houston
Given how the NFC wildcard race is going, maybe the Seahawks are not out of this just yet. Beating the lowly Texans does not make you a playoff team, but this was a well-rounded performance highlighted by Rashaad Penny’s breakout game. It has been a long time in the making, but the fourth-year back ripped off two 30-plus yard touchdown runs en route to a 137-yard day. Seattle needs to maintain this success in the ground game if it has any hope of making a run.

Panthers logo

26. Carolina Panthers: 5-8 (Last Week: 26)
Lost 29-21 vs. Atlanta
Firing Joe Brady appears to have done nothing in the short term. Carolina continues to struggle with turnovers and inefficiency. It is hard to see things getting much better this season with Christian McCaffrey on the shelf and an offensive line that desperately needs reinforcements. The Panthers defense has not been as dominant as it looked the first half of the year either, but there are only so many change of possession situations that a defense can weather. Matt Rhule’s seat seems to be getting hotter, but I think it just adds pressure to get things corrected for 2022.

Giants Logo

27. New York Giants: 4-9 (Last Week: 24)
Lost 37-21 at Los Angeles
Another week, another disappointing offensive performance for the Giants. Firing Jason Garrett has not done a ton to change the results for one of the most anemic units in the league. Mike Glennon started in place of the injured Daniel Jones this week and it did not go well. He committed two turnovers and failed to crack 200 yards passing in this game.

Bears logo

28. Chicago Bears: 4-9 (Last Week: 28)
Lost 45-30 at Green Bay
This did not feel like a two-score loss for the Bears. In fact, this was some of the best football Chicago played all year. There were wild swings in momentum. Jakeem Grant’s 97-yard punt return put them up by 10 only for Justin Fields to throw a pick-six a short while later to go down 14-10. Fields flashed all of the potential Bears fans hoped to see from him. He had some costly errors, but that’s to be expected from a rookie quarterback. At this point, questions have to be asked of a supposedly great defense that just gave up 45 points.

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29. New York Jets: 3-10 (Last Week: 29)
Lost 30-9 vs. New Orleans
One of the tough things about turning over a roster is that when you rip it down to the studs, there is very little depth available for when players suffer injuries. With Elijah Moore and Michael Carter now on injured reserve, New York’s offense is relying on Braxton Berrios and La’Mical Perine. Some of that is on Joe Douglas for not drafting better. Denzel Mims still can’t stay healthy and this defense looks wildly overmatched. Point is, it is really hard to evaluate Zach Wilson when he is throwing to guys who wouldn’t make a lot of rosters around the league.

Lions Logo

30. Detroit Lions: 1-11-1 (Last Week: 30)
Lost 38-10 at Denver
Welcome back down to Earth, Lions fans. Detroit stood absolutely no chance in Denver, as the offense never got going and the defense had no answer for the run game. Melvin Gordon and Javonte Williams combined for 194 yards of offense and four touchdowns in the blowout. On the bright side, you can stop worrying about being winless and just enjoy the hype around Michigan being in the College Football Playoff.

Texans logo

31. Houston Texans: 2-11 (Last Week: 31)
Lost 33-13 vs. Seattle
Well at least they scored this week. That’s more than the Jaguars can say. It was a tough situation for Davis Mills to return to as he had to throw the ball 49 times while the run game managed just 2.5 yards per carry. The one thing to take away from this all: Mills means the Texans do not have to reach for a quarterback in April.

Jaguars logo

32. Jacksonville Jaguars: 2-11 (Last Week: 32)
Lost 20-0 vs. Tennessee
Trevor Lawrence threw four interceptions as the Jaguars were shutout at home. That barely even made headlines because Urban Meyer is once again in the news for his treatment of players and coaches. It seems like Meyer’s grating personality is taking a toll in Jacksonville and the results on the field don’t exactly give him carte blanche here. Lawrence, the top quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck, has thrown one touchdown pass since the start of November. Getting him trending in the right direction is a must for the Jags over the final four games of the season.

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An Ode to MLS Grizzled Vets: Western Conference

There’s a lot of talk these days about the young up-in-comers in Major League Soccer (MLS), and rightly so. However, some of my favorite players in the league to watch are the elder statesmen who still got it. That’s who this article is devoted to. The 30+ year-olds who have been around the block, seen a few things, and who might just surprise you from week to week. Today we examine the Western Conference teams. Click here for the Eastern Conference piece. I set some minimums of:

  • At least 30 years old
  • Preferably 200 MLS apps
  • At least 8 seasons in MLS
  • At least 1 major club or individual accolade
  • All statistics shared are only for MLS regular season games (pre-2021) unless stated otherwise

I made some exceptions, and some honorable mentions for players who did not meet those thresholds. If a team had no worthy players, I gave a quick blurb on the player on the team with the most MLS appearances. It’s not an exact science so don’t take it too seriously. Enjoy!

Team – Player, Age (# Seasons in MLS, # MLS Appearances (Apps), Accolades)

Austin FC

Matt Besler, 34 (12 seasons, 294 apps, 2012 Defender of the year, 2012 Breakout Player of the Year, 2012 and 2013 MLS Best XI, 2014 World Cup Veteran, 1 MLS Cup, 2 US Open Cups)

Austin may be a new to MLS but Besler is not. Before signing for Austin, Matt Besler spent his entire professional career with Sporting Kansas City since 2009, back when team was known as the Kansas City Wizards! He was the 9th overall pick in the 2009 Superdraft. Besler made 47 appearances for the USMNT, mostly in the 2014 World Cup cycle. He participated in the USMNT’s 2013 and 2017 Gold Cup victories. Besler will certainly be an off-field/locker room guy for Austin. We will find out how much he has left in the tank on the field.

Honorable Mention: Hector Jimenez, 32 (10 seasons, 176 apps, 3 MLS Cups, 1 Supporter’s Shield)

Hector Jimenez has a much different story. Jimenez was drafted 34th overall by the Galaxy in 2011. He minimally contributed to all of the silverware listed above. Although he had many years with over 20 apps in Columbus under Gregg Berhalter. More of a rotational player now, Jimenez will add good depth for Austin.

Colorado Rapids

Steven Beitashour, 34 (13 seasons, 247 apps, 3 Supporters Shields, 1 MLS Cup, 3 Canadian Championships)

Beitashour has been around the league since 2010, when the Earthquakes drafted him 30th overall in the Superdraft. Despite being a highly decorated player in terms of silverware, Beitashour has bounced around the league playing for 5 different teams over the course of his 13 year career. He is perhaps one of the few (if not the only?) player to win the Supporter’s Shield with 3 different teams (2012 San Jose, 2017 Toronto, and 2019 LAFC) Beitashour was called into one USMNT camp but was an unused sub in a friendly. Later, Beitashour was called into the Iran national team, where he made 6 apps while the Iranian senior team attempted to qualify for the 2014 World Cup.

Drew Moor, 37 (16 seasons(!), 382 apps, 2 MLS Cups, 1 Supporter’s Shield, holds one of the longest streaks for consecutive starts at 68 games straight, 6th all-time in MLS minutes played).

6th overall pick in the 2006 MLS Superdraft, Moor played over 100 games for Dallas over 5 seasons, then he played over 100 games for Colorado over 4 seasons, and over 50 games for Toronto over 3 seasons, including Toronto’s treble-winning 2017 season where Moor played 25 games. It is a wonder that Moor was never voted into the MLS Best XI and never won Defender of the Year considering how reliable of a player he was. He was also an off-field presence as he captained Colorado for 3 years straight form 2013-2015

Honorable Mention: Clint Irwin, 32 (9 seasons, 194 apps, 1 MLS Cup, 1 Supporter’s Shield, and 3 Canadian Championships)

Irwin has only ever played for the Rapids and Toronto FC. He certainly saw his best years as a part of the treble winning 2017 Toronto FC, however, Irwin only made 6 league appearances that year, losing starting minutes to Alex Bono after Irwin suffered an early season hamstring injury. Irwin was brought into Colorado in 2019 as Tim Howard was making his retirement year lap of MLS. Irwin will hope to solidify himself as the No. 1 for Colorado in 2021.

Honorable mention: Collen Warner, 32 (10 seasons, 214 apps, 1 Canadian Championship)

Warner is another guy who has never settled in the league but continues to get opportunities. Warner has played for 6 different MLS teams over his 10 seasons in the league. He spent a short stint in Denmark in 2019 where he only made 5 apps for FC Helsingor. Warner will likely act as midfield depth for Colorado in 2021.

FC Dallas

Matt Hedges, 31 (9 seasons, 262 apps, 2016 MLS Defender of the Year, 2015 and 2016 MLS Best XIs, 1 Supporter’s Shield, 1 US Open Cup)

Drafted 11th overall in the 2012 MLS Superdraft, Matt Hedges is not only an MLS-lifer, but seemingly an FC Dallas-lifer as well. Excluding a truncated 2020 season, Hedges has never played less than 26 out of 34 MLS regular season games for Dallas. Hedges has been the Dallas captain since 2014, which I am guessing is the longest running team captain in the league. Hedges has more appearances for FC Dallas than any other player in team history. Hedges only has 5 caps for the USMNT, and as I remember he did not show well in those appearances, which is why he was likely never given more looks. Still, Hedges serves a vital veteran role for a youthful FC Dallas squad.

Honorable Mention: Ryan Hollingshead, 30 (7 Seasons, 163 apps, 1 MLS Humanitarian of the Year, 1 Supporter’s Shield, 1 US Open Cup)

Similar to Hedges, Hollingshead is an FC Dallas-lifer. He was drafted 20th overall in the 2013 MLS Superdraft. However, Hollingshead did not play the 2013 season as he had to fulfill a promise to his brother to build a church in Sacramento! You can’t make this stuff up. Once that mission was completed, Hollingshead joined Dallas and never looked back. A versatile player, Hollingshead can fill in at either fullback or either winger positions. Hollingshead is 7th overall in FC Dallas appearances. He too will add much needed veteran perspective to Dallas’ young roster.

Houston Dynamo

Boniek Garcia, 36 (9 seasons, 219 apps, 1 US Open Cup, 2010 World Cup veteran kinda**, 2014 World Cup veteran)

Garcia came into Houston in 2012 from his home country of Honduras and excepting his first year, and the abbreviated 2020 season, Garcia never played less than 20 games for Houston. He is 3rd overall in MLS apps for Houston. Garcia has also been around the CONCACF block with 126 caps with the Honduran national team. **While included in Honduras’ 2010 World Cup roster, he did not make an appearance in any of their games. He made up for that in 2014 when he appeared in all of Honduras’ 2014 World Cup games.

Maxi Urruti, 30 (9 seasons, 208 apps, 1 MLS Cup, 1 Supporter’s Shield, 1 US Open Cup, and 1 Canadian Championship)

Maxi Urruti may be the only player on this list to win one of each domestic trophy through his MLS career. Another player who has jumped around the league, playing on 4 teams in his first 9 seasons and now finds himself on his 5th with Houston. His best years were 2015 where he contributed 4 goals to Portland’s MLS Cup campaign, followed by 2016 where he contributed 9 goals to Dallas’ Supporter’s Shield and US Open Cup double year. Without many other options up top, Urruti will likely eat up a lot of Houston’s striker minutes in 2021.

LAFC

Jordan Harvey, 37 (15 seasons, 340 apps, 1 Supporter’s Shield, 1 Canadian Championship)

Drafted 9th overall in the 2006 MLS Superdraft, Harvey has played for 4 different MLS teams (five if you count his loan to Seattle before they joined the league). After not playing at all his first two seasons in MLS, Harvey started at least 24 games in 10 of his next 13 seasons. Despite playing a perennial position of need (left back) he was never called into the USMNT.

LA Galaxy

Sacha Kljestan, 35 (11 seasons, 279 apps, 1 Supporter’s Shield, 2008 and 2016 MLS Best XI’s. 3 Belgian League Titles and 4 Belgian Cup Titles with Anderlecht)

5th overall in 2006 MLS Superdraft, Kljestan played over 100 games for the now defunct Chivas USA. He spent his prime years playing for Belgian giants Anderlecht who dominated their domestic league while Sacha was there. With Anderlecht, Kljestan appeared in the UEFA Champions League (14 apps), Champions League Qualifying (6 apps), Europa League (14 apps) for a total of 34 appearances. Not to mention Kljestan’s 5 CONCACAF Champions League appearances with RBNY. Kljestan’s 2016 season with RBNY is tied for 2nd most assists in a single season in MLS history. Kljestan also holds the 8th spot for all-time assists in MLS. Then there was Sacha’s national team career where he earned 52 caps, barely missing the cut for the 2010 World Cup. He was also consistently overlooked by USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinsamnn. Now home in California, Sacha hopes to lead a revamped LA Galaxy.

Honorable Mention: Jorge Villafana, 31 (12 seasons, 188 apps, 1 MLS Cup, 1 MLS is Back Tournament(!))

Unlike many of his peers, Villafana was not drafted, but rather won the Sueno MLS competition where he beat out 2,000 Latino competitors to earn a spot on Chivas USA’s youth squad. Villafana gained the nickname “Sueno” from this experience. In his first season he only made 1 appearance off the bench. His fortunes increased over time, unlike his first club of Chivas who collapsed in 2014. Villafana is best known for his time in Portland where he won both his accolades: the 2015 MLS Cup and the unique 2020 MLS is Back Tournament. It was also during his time with Portland that Villafana earned 21 caps for the USMNT. Villafana will hope to claim more silverware this year with a talented LA Galaxy.

Minnesota United

Ozzie Alonso, 35 (12 seasons, 314 apps, 2012 MLS Best XI, 1 MLS Cup, 4 US Open Cups, 1 Supporter’s Shield)

Alonso started his career playing in his homeland of Cuba before he defected to the United States in 2007 while with the Cuban national team for a Gold Cup game in Texas. He was never called up again by the Cuban national team, as is their tradition to excommunicate defectors. After playing a year in USL with the Charleston Battery, the Seattle Sounders signed Alonso. Alonso became a legend with Seattle, where he won all of his silverware. Additionally, Alonso has played more MLS games for Seattle than any other player (277 games). During his time in Seattle, Alonso gained his US citizenship in 2012. He expressed interest in playing for the USMNT, which he might have been allowed to do if Cuba revoked his citizenship. However he was never called up by the US. Now in his third season in Minnesota, we will find out how much Alonso has left in the tank.

Ike Opara, 32 (11 seasons, 180 apps, 2017 and 2019 MLS Best XI’s, 2017 and 2019 MLS Defender of the Years, 1 MLS Cup, 2 US Open Cups)

Drafted 3rd overall in the 2010 MLS Superdraft, Opara only made 35 appearances for San Jose across his first 3 injury plagued seasons. Opara is best known for his time with SKC, where he won all of his above accolades excepting his 2019 Defender of the Year award. Opara is also one of only 4 players to win MLS Defender of the Year more than once. San Jose probably feel silly for trading Opara to SKC for … *checks notes*… a 2013 2nd round draft pick (who the ‘Quakes eventually used to draft Dan Delgado, who never ended up signing with San Jose). Opara’s injuries followed him after leaving San Jose, cutting short two seasons in Kansas City, and seemingly his 2021 season with Minnesota. Hopefully, Ike will see the field again soon.

Honorable Mention: Ethan Finlay, 30 (10 seasons, 215 apps)

Drafted 10th overall in the 2012 MLS Superdraft, Finlay is another player who flies under the radar. He was a member of Gregg Berhalter’s Columbus Crew teams who consistently challenged for silverware but never acquired any. He was traded to Minnesota for around $400K in allocation money ahead of Minnesota inaugural MLS season. In his career, Finlay has 46 goals and 39 assists, making the coveted 50 goals-50 assists club feasible if he has a couple of solid seasons going into his 30’s. Perhaps Finlay will help propel Minnesota back into the playoffs this season.

Portland Timbers

Diego Valeri, 35 (8 seasons, 233 apps, 2013, 2014, and 2017 MLS Best XIs, 2013 MLS Newcomer of the Year, 2015 MLS Cup MVP, 2017 League MVP, 1 MLS Cup, 1 MLS is back tournament, currently 10th in all-time assists in MLS)

Diego Valeri is, surprisingly, the first league MVP winner on this list! Valeri started his career is Argentina with Lanus, where they won the Apertura in his first season. Valeri actually made 3 appearances for the Argentina national team back in 2011. In 2012, a few years after Valeri’s daughter was born, his family was carjacked, leading to Valeri wanting to move out of Argentina. Valeri then joined the Timbers in early 2013. Since then Valeri has been the talisman for the Timbers, central to much of their success in the last decade. He has 84 goals, and 88 assists all-time in MLS. On top of all of his on field contributions, Valeri is known for having a strong relationship with the Timber’s Army, Portland’s supporters group. He also supports the Portland NWSL team, citing the team as a major inspiration for his daughter.

Diego Chara, 35 (10 seasons, 282 apps, 2020 MLS Best XI, 1 MLS Cup, 1 MLS is Back Tournament)

Chara was Portland’s first ever Designated Player as the team joined MLS in 2011. He leads Portland in career games played, games started, and minutes played. You can also tell he is a defensive midfielder as he leads Portland in career fouls committed (683, next closest is 200), yellow cards (87, next closest is 29), and red cards (5, next closest is 2). Chara exemplifies the “player that does the dirty work” for their team. Chara made two appearances for Colombia’s national team. Chara’s younger brother, Yimmi, now plays on the Timbers as well.

Real Salt Lake

Justin Meram, 32 (10 seasons, 264 apps, 1 US Open Cup)

Meram was drafted 15th overall in the 2011 MLS Superdraft. He made a name for himself on Gregg Berhalter’s Columbus Crew teams as a dangerous winger. Since his 9 seasons with the Crew, he played for three other teams (Orlando, Atlanta, and now Real Salt Lake). Meram’s above accolade came from his one seasons with Atlanta, where he made 20 appearances. Meram has also made 33 appearances for the Iraqi national team. Despite being born and raised in the United States, Meram said he always wanted to play for Iraq. Both his parents immigrated to the US from Iraq, which is how Meram is eligible for Iraqi citizenship. Meram will lead a relatively young RSL team in 2021.

San Jose Earthquakes

Chris Wondolowski, 38 (17 seasons in MLS, 381 apps, 2010 and 2012 MLS Golden Boot, 2010 2011 and 2012 MLS Best XI, 2012 MLS League MVP, 2 MLS Cups, 2 Supporter’s Shields, 2014 World Cup Veteran, All-time leader in MLS goals)

Drafted in the fourth round of on the … *checks notes* … (now defunct) 2005 Supplemental Draft, Wondo is a MLS Legend amongst legends. He continues to push his goal scoring record higher and higher. He has played more games for the San Jose Earthquakes in MLS than any other player. Many know him for his crucial missed goal for the US against Belgium at the 2014 World Cup. However, Wondo’s career should not be defined by one poor moment. Wondo made 33 appearances with the US where he score 11 goals, and helped the US win the 2013 World Cup. Wondo is also half Native American through his mother. His tribal name is “Bau Daigh” which fittingly means “the warrior coming over the hill”.

Shea Salinas, 34 (13 seasons, 335 apps, 1 Supporter’s Shield)

Drafted 15th overall in the 2008 MLS Superdraft, Shea Salinas has spent all but a few of his seasons with the ‘Quakes. He only left after being drafted by Philadelphia in the 2009 Expansion Draft. He was then selected again in the 2010 Expansion Draft by the Vancouver Whitecaps. He returned to San Jose in 2012, the same year San Jose won the Supporter’s Shield. He holds the all-time assist record for the San Jose Earthquakes and is only second in appearances for the ‘Quakes to Wondo.

Seattle Sounders

Stefan Frei, 35 (12 seasons, 302 apps, 2016 MLS Cup MVP, 2018 Save of the Year Award, 3 Canadian Championships, 2 MLS Cups, Supporter’s Shield, and 1 US Open Cup)

Stefan Frei was drafted 13th overall in the 2009 MLS Superdraft by Toronto FC. He played 5 seasons in Toronto, the first 3 of which he was the starter, losing the second two seasons to injury. Before the 2014 season, Frei was traded to the Seattle Sounders for a draft pick. Frei became a rock for Seattle as he started nearly every MLS game for the Sounders since getting traded, only missing a half dozen games since 2014. Frei is likely best known for his incredible performance in the 2016 MLS Cup against his former team Toronto. He made acrobatic save after acrobatic save in order to preserve a 0-0 draw which Seattle eventually won on penalties. Seattle did not even register a single shot on goal before the penalty shootout. Frei became an American citizen in 2017 at the age of 31. He was called into one USMNT camp but never made an appearance.

Will Bruin, 31 (10 seasons, 262 apps, 1 MLS Cup)

“The Dancing Bear” was drafted 11th overall in the 2011 MLS Superdraft. He spent 6 seasons with Houston, and 2021 will be his 5th season with Seattle. Bruin was acquired by Seattle for an undisclosed amount of allocation money. While having 71 goals across his 10 seasons, Bruin has never scored more than 12 goals in a single season. Bruin made two appearances for the USMNT in the 2013 Gold Cup, but was never called up again. Born in St. Louis, Bruin would be a great MLS veteran target for the upcoming St. Louis expansion team.

Sporting Kansas City

Graham Zusi, 34 (12 seasons, 294 apps, 2011 Breakout Player of the Year, 2012 and 2013 MLS Best XIs, 1 MLS Cup, 3 US Open Cups, 2014 World Cup Veteran)

Drafted 23rd overall in the 2009 MLS Superdraft, Zusi is a Kansas City lifer. Over his years with SKC, Zusi has accrued 29 goals and 66 assists. He started his professional careers as a winger, but as he aged Peter Vermes moved Zusi back into more of an attacking fullback position. Perhaps the greatest Graham Zusi story is when he scored a goal on the final day of 2014 World Cup qualifying which meant nothing for the US but switched the goal differential tie breaker so that Mexico made the World Cup instead of Panama. Panamanian players were visibly upset at Zusi and the rest of the Americans on the field. Mexico, however, lauded Graham as “San Zusi” in the newspapers the following day. He is still beloved by many Mexican fans to this day. Overall Zusi made 55 appearances for the national team.

Roger Espinoza, 34 (12 seasons, 254 apps, 3 US Open Cups, 2010 and 2014 World Cup Veteran, FA Cup Winner with Wigan Athletic!)

Espinoza was selected 11th overall in the 2008 MLS Superdraft. He played 5 seasons in Kansas before moving to Wigan Athletic on a free transfer. With Wigan they upset Manchester City in order to win the 2013 FA Cup. Espinoza played all 90 minutes of that final game. After another half season in Wigan, he returned to SKC. Internationally, Roger represented Honduras at the London 2012 Olympics. He also made 55 appearances for the senior team, including 2 World Cups, before retiring from international soccer in 2019.

Tim Melia, 35 (11 seasons, 175 apps, 2015 Comeback Player of the Year, 2017 GK of the Year, 2017 MLS Best XI, 2 US Open Cups)

Tim Melia moved around US lower league soccer pre-2012 (i.e. Melia played for the Long Island Rough Riders, and Rochester Rhinos) before making his MLS debut for the now defunct Chivas USA. He was technically on RSL’s roster for two seasons but he never made an appearance and just went on loan. After 3 seasons as a back up for Chivas, Melia was released becoming an “MLS pool goal keeper” meaning Melia’s contract was paid by the league, and if any team was struck with multiple GK injuries, they could call on Melia’s services. He sat on SKC, Dallas, and DC’s benches one time each in case of emergency. The next year, 2015, SKC decided to sign Melia on a permanent basis. 2015 is where Melia broke through as the clear starter for SKC, and he never looked back. His 2017 season set a new low for goals against per game at just 0.78

Vancouver Whitecaps

Most MLS Appearances: Russel Teibert, 28 (10 seasons, 184 apps, 1 Canadian Championship) Teibert has been with the Whitecaps since before they joined MLS back in 2011. He has played more MLS games for the Whitecaps than any other player and is second all-time for the club in assists. If he were a little older, he would qualify as an honorable mention here.