NFL Coaching Hot Seat Tracker: Preseason Preview

It’s almost time for football! Training camp is getting underway and the NFL rumor mill is in full effect. Aaron Rodgers, Deshaun Watson and even Chandler Jones could be on the move.

There will be plenty of time to get into all of the potential scenarios for the big names looking for a change of scenery. I wanted to take a look at where every coach in the NFL stands though as we approach the preseason. Every year, we see about seven or eight head coaching openings in the league. Those openings don’t happen without a coach losing his job. Here is an early look at which coaches could be sweating it out at the end of the season. My plan is to update this list at the midway point and again after the regular season.

New York Jets – Robert Saleh
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A rookie head coach and a rookie quarterback. It’s the first time the Jets have ever had both heading into the same season in franchise history. That takes the pressure off everyone here. While seeing a massive turnaround from a 2-14 season would be great, it is not expected. As long as Saleh can show signs that he is putting the pieces in place for future success, that’s all that matters. Besides, after dealing with Adam Gase for two years, Saleh will be a breath of fresh air.

New England Patriots – Bill Belichick
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Could the Patriots really fire Bill Belichick? It feels unlikely. At this point, I think it is more likely Belichick retires or leaves on his own accord than being fired. Still, after a very rocky 2020 season, the Patriots spent a ton of money in the offseason to retool their roster. They also spent a first round pick on Mac Jones. If New England takes a step backward though and the offense flops again, maybe the team could think about making a change. Again, it feels incredibly unlikely, but the expectations are certainly higher for the Patriots in 2021.

Buffalo Bills – Sean McDermott
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The Bills are entering a clear championship window in the final two years of Josh Allen’s rookie deal. Allen took a massive step in 2020 and put together an MVP-caliber campaign. If he can come close to replicating that performance, Buffalo will be very capable of winning its first Super Bowl in franchise history. In order to get to that point, Sean McDermott needs to get the defense back to its 2019 form. With higher expectations comes increased pressure. It would take a truly miserable season for McDermott to lose his job, but he has to deliver.

Miami Dolphins – Brian Flores
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Honestly, if the Dolphins went 0-17 and Tua Tagovailoa lost his starting job to Jacoby Brissett, I think Brian Flores might still keep his job. He is a ton setter and a great culture builder. Let’s be clear, I don’t expect the above scenario to come true. Miami came up one game short of reaching the playoffs in an incredibly competitive AFC. Even if Tagovailoa falters again, I think Flores would get a chance to pick another quarterback and continue building the framework of this team.

Indianapolis Colts – Frank Reich
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Which direction are the Colts headed? The team has a championship-caliber roster in a lot of areas. Their front seven is incredible. The secondary should be even better in 2021. The offensive line is definitely among the top five units in the league. They lack a true No. 1 receiver at this point, but they have depth at the skill positions. It now all falls on Frank Reich and Carson Wentz. Indianapolis acquired Wentz this offseason for a decent amount of draft capital, reuniting him with his offensive coordinator from his early days in Philadelphia. If the Colts struggle in what looks to be a fairly weak AFC South and miss the postseason, there could be some significant turnover in Indy.

Houston Texans – David Culley
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If there was ever a team that could be accused of tanking in the NFL, it has to be the Houston Texans. After releasing franchise icon J.J. Watt amid a massive quarterback controversy on the heels of a 4-12 season, it seems like the Texans are entering a long rebuild. With limited draft capital in recent years, this roster has a massive talent deficit compared to the rest of the league. The roster building is confusing as well, as the team continues to target veteran running backs. Deshaun Watson was likely not going to play this season before his pending legal situation unfolded. Now it seems certain he will not see the field in 2021. All of this is to say, there is absolutely no pressure on David Culley to succeed this season.

Tennessee Titans – Mike Vrabel
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Mike Vrabel has the Titans playing at an extremely high level. They are tough, determined and disciplined, which is usually a product of good coaching. After making a splashy move to land Julio Jones, the pressure is on for Tennessee to make a deep postseason run. With Arthur Smith heading to Atlanta, it is going to be interesting to see if the Titans can maintain their offensive success. A major step backward could see Vrabel come under scrutiny. I think his job is safe, but stranger things have happened.

Jacksonville Jaguars – Urban Meyer
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It is very bizarre to say a first-year head coach is on the hot seat, but Urban Meyer is unlike most rookie coaches. Meyer comes with a ton of clout from his days at Ohio State and Florida. He also just drafted arguably the best quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck. The heat here mostly stems from Meyer’s checked history with team culture. The league fined the Jaguars $200,000 for OTA violations and slapped Meyer with a $100,000 fine of his own. The fines stemmed from breaking the non-contact rules of OTAs. This comes on the heels of Meyer hiring former Iowa strength coach Chris Doyle. Doyle resigned one day after his hire following a chorus of former Hawkeyes saying he discriminated against them. The Jaguars have a chance to build something special around Trevor Lawrence. There have already been red flags. Jacksonville needs to be sure it has the best possible system in place for Lawrence to succeed.

Pittsburgh Steelers – Mike Tomlin
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With Ben Roethlisberger’s tenure in Pittsburgh seemingly at its end, could the Steelers opt for a fresh start and move on from Mike Tomlin as well? It certainly feels possible. Despite winning the AFC North and reaching the playoffs, Pittsburgh struggled mightily down the stretch, including a dismal playoff loss against the rival Browns. With no clear succession plan in place and a roster coming up against the cap, the Steelers could look to rebuild with a new coach and a new quarterback.

Baltimore Ravens – John Harbaugh
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A few years ago ago, it felt very possible the Ravens were set to move on from John Harbaugh. Baltimore missed the playoffs from 2015-2017. Joe Flacco was struggling. The defense was far from its championship-winning dominance in 2012. Lamar Jackson likely saved Harbaugh’s job. Baltimore is now among the top title contenders heading into 2021. Harbaugh feels very safe, but there is always a scenario where he could not be back. There have been concerns around the Ravens offense being too one dimensional with Jackson at the helm. Finally winning a playoff game took the edge off, but if Baltimore somehow misses the postseason in 2021, the heat will be turned up on Harbaugh.

Cleveland Browns – Kevin Stefanski
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After reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2002 and winning the franchise’s first playoff game since 1994, Kevin Stefanski is among the safest coaches in the league. His run-heavy approach was incredibly successful, utilizing the two-headed attack of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt to great effect. Stefanski also put Baker Mayfield’s career back on the right path. Now, there are still questions that persist around Mayfield, but after investing heavily in the defense, he might not need to do much for the Browns to be successful again.

Cincinnati Bengals – Zac Taylor
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Through two years on the job, Zac Taylor owns an ugly 6-25-1 record as a head coach. Some of that is a product of joining a team in the midst of a rebuild, but this is the year to start seeing some progress. Joe Burrow is undoubtedly the quarterback of the future in Cincinnati. Coming off a gruesome knee injury, expectations will be tamped down some for Burrow, but another double-digit loss season could cost Taylor his job. The team needs to take advantage of Burrow being on his rookie contract and can’t afford to waste another year of his development and that salary cap window waiting to see if Taylor can put together a winning formula.

Kansas City Chiefs – Andy Reid
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Unsurprisingly, the pressure seems to be fairly low on Andy Reid. He delivered the franchise its first Super Bowl victory since 1970 in 2019. He led the team back to the big game in 2020 despite having an offensive line decimated by injuries. It cost the Chiefs a chance at repeating, but Kansas City is expected to be among the top contenders to lift the Lombardi in 2021. As long as Reid and Patrick Mahomes are still clicking, the Chiefs are going to be among the best teams in the league.

Denver Broncos – Vic Fangio
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Maybe this is a bit warmer than Vic Fangio truly deserves, but the Broncos are heading into a pivotal season. The team put a lot of faith in Drew Lock by passing on Justin Fields and Mac Jones on draft night. Courtland Sutton is back after missing 2020 due to injury. So is Von Miller. Winning the division is an incredibly tall task at this point with the Chiefs leading the way, but it feels like the Broncos need to be in the playoff conversation for Fangio to keep his job. Another five-win season with suspect quarterback play and a subpar defense is going to trigger a rebuild.

Los Angeles Chargers – Brandon Staley
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Brandon Staley walks into a fantastic situation. He has a talented defense with a number of proven playmakers. He inherits one of the most exciting quarterback prospects in the league in Justin Herbert. Los Angeles is also stocked with some reliable playmakers on offense with Keenan Allen and Austin Ekeler. The Chargers are simply looking to take a step in the right direction this year. Anthony Lynn was a good coach, but struggled with time management and maintaining leads. If Staley can show an ability to at least be average in those two areas, he will be a major improvement and the Chargers will be at least a league average team.

Las Vegas Raiders – Jon Gruden
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At what point are the Raiders going to put it all together? Heading into his fourth year of his second stint with the franchise, Jon Gruden has yet to post a winning record or reach the postseason. Las Vegas had its moments in 2020, but on the whole it was a disappointing campaign. If the Raiders don’t show signs of progress, expect a rebuild to follow. Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock have had ample opportunity to shape this team how they want it to. Now it is time for the results to follow.

New York Giants – Joe Judge
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Only entering his second year, Joe Judge might be a victim of circumstance more than anything else if he were to lose his job after this season. New York had a rocky 2020 campaign, finishing 6-10 and struggling to figure out its direction offensively. The Giants are in for a much better season in 2021. Saquon Barkley should be healthy at some point early in the year. Dave Gettleman invested draft capital at wide receiver and edge rusher, two positions of need. However, if Daniel Jones struggles and New York suffers through another 6-10 season, Gettleman will almost definitely be gone and the Giants will be looking to find a new franchise quarterback. If there is already that much turnover, Judge could be gone as well.

Philadelphia Eagles – Nick Sirianni
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It is incredibly rare that coaches are fired after just one season. However, it has also happened twice in the past three years. Steve Wilks only got a single season in Arizona and was fired after 2018. Cleveland canned Freddie Kitchen after a disappointing 2019 campaign. It’s not out of the question for the 2021 season either. I already touched on Meyer. Nick Sirianni is not facing as much pressure as his Jacksonville counterpart, but Philadelphia has never been known for being patient. Sirianni inherits a team with more questions than answers at a number of key positions, namely quarterback. If Jalen Hurts flames out and Sirianni shows no signs of building a positive culture, I could see a scenario where ownership decides to clean house.

Dallas Cowboys – Mike McCarthy
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Speaking of coaches lasting one year with a team, there was some buzz that Mike McCarthy could be done after a single season in Dallas. Even before Dak Prescott went down for the season, the Cowboys looked outmatched. It got much worse after that. McCarthy did enough to somehow earn a second year, but now the pressure is on. Dallas needs to win the NFC East for McCarthy to keep his job. It is an incredibly weak division and the Cowboys have the most talented roster, at least on paper. McCarthy might even need to win a playoff game to truly secure his place in 2022.

Washington Football Team – Ron Rivera
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Ron Rivera seems to have endeared himself well to the fans and to the locker room in D.C. After scraping together a playoff appearance despite a losing record, Washington still has not addressed the quarterback position long term. If it takes a step back in 2021, I don’t think that will be enough to force Rivera out. It would take a truly terrible season to see him lose his job. However, there will be those who feel like Washington’s defense gives them a good chance to repeat as division champions. Expectations lead to increased pressure. Given what we’ve seen in recent years, nothing is out of the question.

Atlanta Falcons – Arthur Smith
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After impressing as the offensive coordinator in Tennessee, Arthur Smith has earned the chance to lead a team of his own. The Falcons are coming off a tough season full of late-game collapses and bad injury luck. Atlanta is caught in limbo as well. They have some veteran players that would make you believe they want to contend, mainly Matt Ryan. The front office gave Ryan a vote of confidence, or realized they could not afford to move him, when it passed on Justin Fields in the 2021 draft. Instead, they grabbed an elite pass-catcher in Kyle Pitts for Ryan to work with. That feels like a move towards contending in the short term. Then, the Falcons traded Julio Jones to Smith’s former team. Like I said, the team is in limbo. I think that bodes well for Smith’s job security while Atlanta attempts to figure out its direction moving forward.

New Orleans Saints – Sean Payton
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It is the end of an era in the Bayou. Drew Brees’ retirement leaves the Saints with uncertainty at quarterback for the first time in a decade and a half. New Orleans is also in salary cap hell after loading up to contend in the future Hall of Famers’ final few years. Now, the Saints seem set for a step backward. Where does that leave Sean Payton? He has shown he can win games without Brees in recent years with Teddy Bridgewater and Taysom Hill stepping in to lead the team when Brees went down with injury. I think the pressure is likely off for Payton in 2021. It is a year for the Saints to retool their roster and identify their new franchise quarterback. If New Orleans tanks, Payton’s seat could get warmer, but I expect him to be back in 2022.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Bruce Arians
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The only way Bruce Arians is not the coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2022 is if he decides to retire after the season. Fresh off a Super Bowl victory, the Buccaneers brought back essentially their entire roster to make a run at a repeat. Even if Tampa suffers from a major Super Bowl hangover and misses the postseason, it would be a rash move to fire Arians. He has the trust of Tom Brady, which goes a really long way in securing his position on one of the best teams in the league.

Carolina Panthers – Matt Rhule
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2020 was a rebuilding year for the Panthers. Carolina rebuilt its defense in the 2020 NFL draft, gave Teddy Bridgewater a try at quarterback and lost their best player for most of the season due to injury as Christian McCaffrey played in just three games. Honestly, going 5-11 was a decent feat given how young Carolina’s starters were on both sides of the ball. Matt Rhule has earned the title of one of the best teachers in the game. His coaching skills were showcased during the Senior Bowl this past January. Given that the Panthers made a move to acquire Sam Darnold, I think the expectations will be slightly higher, but I still don’t think Rhule has anything to worry about heading into 2021.

Detroit Lions – Dan Campbell
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If Detroit goes 1-16 in 2021, that might just be mission accomplished for the Lions. Avoiding a winless season and setting the team up to find its quarterback of the future would be a solid start to what will likely be a long rebuild. Dan Campbell likely won’t let any of that happen. He is competitive as hell and I think we could see the Lions win a game or two that they probably shouldn’t simply by putting in a ton of effort. Campbell is going to have his team motivated to play every week. Unless his tough as nails persona rubs players the wrong way in the locker room, I think Campbell will be given a few more years to rebuild this team.

Chicago Bears – Matt Nagy
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Drafting Justin Fields likely takes a little bit of heat off Matt Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace. However, I don’t think it changes a tremendous amount for how this duo needs to approach the 2021 season. It needs to be clear at the end of the year that Fields is on track to be a franchise quarterback and that Nagy is the right person to help him reach his potential. Nagy was lucky to keep his job following a 2020 season where Chicago’s offense was nothing short of anemic. The combination of Nick Foles and Mitchell Trubisky was tough to watch. David Montgomery having a breakout season made up for some of those deficits, but the Bears need to show major progress offensive. It does not mean they will suddenly become the Chiefs or the Buccaneers, but fewer turnovers and sharper play will go a long way.

Green Bay Packers – Matt LaFleur
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Much of how Matt LaFleur will be judged stems from what happens with Aaron Rodgers. Will management blame him for the fractured relationship with the 2020 MVP? Unlikely, seeing as Rodgers’ issues seem to stem more from how the front office operates. There are two ways to spin LaFleur’s tenure in Green Bay. The Packers have reached back-to-back NFC Championship games and dominated the NFC North. For reference, Seattle was the last NFC team to reach back-to-back conference title games in 2012 and 2013. However, unlike the Seahawks, the Packers have been unable to get over the hump. Could another year where the team comes up short in the postseason raise enough questions about LaFleur’s ability to win the biggest games of the year to cost him his job? That seems bold, but don’t rule it out.

Minnesota Vikings – Mike Zimmer
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Mike Zimmer said after the 2020 season that Minnesota’s defense was the worst he ever coached. Enter Patrick Peterson, Mackensie Alexander, Bashaud Breeland, Dalvin Tomlinson, Chazz Surratt and Patrick Jones II. Now, it falls on Zimmer to get the most out of this new talent. Kirk Cousins is locked in through 2022, but another lackluster season from the Vikings could get the wheels turning on a rebuild. Especially if Aaron Rodgers does not play this season, this is Minnesota’s division to lose. Failing to do so would be a major letdown that would likely cost Zimmer his job.

Seattle Seahawks – Pete Carroll
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An underperforming defense, inconsistent play and a disgruntled star quarterback are a recipe for losing your job as a head coach in the NFL. Pete Carroll has the Seahawks in the mix as a playoff regular, but they have not made it past the division round since their 2014 Super Bowl loss. With Russell Wilson complaining this offseason about his offensive line, it certainly will turn up the scrutiny on Seattle’s performance this season. Another early playoff exit highlighted by a team that can’t quite put it all together could spell the end of Carroll’s tenure.

Arizona Cardinals – Kliff Kingsbury
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Entering his third year in charge of the Cardinals, Kliff Kingsbury needs to start producing some results. Arizona came close to reaching the playoffs in 2020, losing the tiebreaker to Chicago for the final spot. However, after starting 5-2, the Cardinals limped to a 3-6 finish. I mean limped literally as well because the team started to struggle right around the time Kyler Murray suffered an ankle injury. Murray still has three years left on his rookie deal, which gives Arizona a fairly lengthy Super Bowl window, but this year feels like an important one to show some progress after signing veterans like J.J. Watt, Malcolm Butler and James Conner to an already talented roster.

Los Angeles Rams – Sean McVay
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While Cam Akers certainly strikes a blow to Los Angeles’ title hopes, it should not drastically change the team’s expectations for 2021. After making the bold move to acquire Matthew Stafford, the Rams are positioning themselves as championship contenders. Taking all of that into account, I still think Sean McVay is entrenched in the organization that he can weather an underwhelming season. Long praised as one of the great offensive minds in the sport, McVay has proven himself to be valuable to this franchise. After all, the team is only three years removed from a Super Bowl appearance. Not to mention, the Rams upset the Seahawks in Seattle with an injured Jared Goff at quarterback. I think McVay is likely safe, but expectations are high for this Rams team heading into 2021.

San Francisco 49ers – Kyle Shanahan
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After slogging through a ridiculous season of injuries, the 49ers seem poised to bounce back in a big way in 2021. However, the team is also facing a changing of the guard at quarterback after selecting Trey Lance with the No. 3 pick in April. I think that actually increases the likelihood Kyle Shanahan keeps his job. He is praised as an offensive guru who has developed several quarterbacks in his coaching career. On top of that, he and general manager John Lynch signed six-year extensions following a Super Bowl appearance. Shanahan will be around for a while in San Francisco.

2021 NFL Draft: Day 2 Surprises and Best Players Available

If you thought Day 1 was wild, Day 2 went off the rails! Tampa, Minnesota and Houston all participated in a mini quarterback run. Dave Gettleman traded down, again! The Cowboys and Ravens took players that most draft fans have never even heard of. All in all, it was a lot to digest.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s piece, I will not be grading picks. I think it is premature to judge a team for selecting a player that has not taken an NFL snap yet, much less starting going through rookie OTAs.

That doesn’t mean we can’t react to all that unfolded on Day 2. Here are my biggest surprises from Friday night followed by my best players still on the board.

Houston’s first pick is a quarterback
There is a good chance we have already seen Deshaun Watson’s last game in a Texans uniform. Houston all but confirmed that by selecting Davis Mills with the 67th pick in the draft. The front office has refused to enter trade talks regarding Watson. His pending legal situation has scared off all potential suitors anyway. Mills is essentially an unknown in this draft class. He appeared in just 13 games during his college career. Injuries kept him from featuring more for the Cardinal. However, he was a five-star recruit and has some flashes of utter brilliance on his tape. With two veterans ahead of him in Tyrod Taylor and Ryan Finley, the Texans gave themselves a young quarterback to develop. It was a smart move all things considered, but definitely a bit unexpected given that it was their first selection of the draft.

Owusu-Koramoah kept on sliding
Clearly, the media was way higher on this guy than the NFL was. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah fell all the way to No. 52, where the Browns traded up to select him. At first glance, Cleveland is crushing it. In my book, it landed a pair of first-round players. Just how wrong was everyone in the media? NFL Mock Draft Database had JOK at No. 19 on its consensus big board, which pulls from hundreds of rankings. The consensus draft slot for him was to the Raiders at No. 17. I talked about it in my first-round reaction, I think he is a perfect fit in the modern NFL. He is fast enough to line up all over the formation. Maybe Isaiah Simmons’ inability to make a seamless transition to the pros hurt his stock, but this is truly a mystery to me. Falling out of the first round is one thing. Falling into the middle of the second is another.

Raiders reverse course with second-round steal
Trevon Moehrig was viewed by many as the top safety in this class, myself included. He ended up being the third player selected at the position on Friday. What is really interesting about this is that no one would have batted an eye if the Raiders had flipped these two picks. I guess all is well that ends well. I still don’t fully understand the Alex Leatherwood pick at No. 17, but Mike Mayock and Jon Gruden made up for it in a big way by landing Moehrig, a Day 1 starting-caliber player.

Top interior linemen fall
Interior linemen were a hot commodity on Day 2. Landon Dickerson got things started, which made a ton of sense for an Eagles team in need of interior line help. What transpired afterward was unexpected. Jackson Carman, who played tackle in college but will likely kick inside for the Bengals, came off the board at 46. It was a bit early for my liking, but it filled a clear position of need. Even more shocking was San Francisco taking Aaron Banks two picks later. I didn’t have him in my top 100 as he was 10th-rated interior lineman. Green Bay piled on by taking Josh Myers at the end of the second. I had him 17th among interior linemen. Meanwhile, my first and second interior linemen, Wyatt Davis and Creed Humphrey respectively, were still on the board. Kansas City ended Humphrey’s fall in what looks like a great fit for their offense. Davis slid all the way to Round 3, landing in Minnesota.

Photo courtsey of TigerNet.com

Who needs blocking?
For three picks in a row, I felt like we could have seen any number of offensive linemen come off the board. Instead, Pittsburgh selected Pat Freiermuth, Seattle tabbed D’Wayne Eskridge, Los Angeles picked Tutu Atwell. All three of those teams need offensive line help. Creed Humphrey, Jalen Mayfield and Wyatt Davis were all on the board. The Steelers offensive line crumbled down the stretch, leading to an early exit in the playoffs. Russell Wilson told the Seahawks he wanted a better offensive line this offseason. Los Angeles has less of a need, but Andrew Whitworth turns 40 in December and Austin Blythe left in free agency. For Seattle especially, who only has two more picks in the draft, it was definitely questionable to ignore the offensive line. Pittsburgh finally took an offensive lineman in the third round.

What happened to Jabril Cox?
Coming into the draft, Cox was a fixture in the second round of mock drafts. He is by far my best player available. After years of feeling like the NFL was trending towards smaller, faster linebackers, it seems like the league is pushing back on that notion, at least a little bit. It’s not like linebackers were not being selected. Seven different off-ball linebackers came off the board between rounds two and three. Perhaps it was because teams did not get a chance to see Cox run at his pro day. I’m pretty much at a loss otherwise to explain why he is still on the board. Now, I just want the Jets to take him at 107.

Who are Brandon Stephens and Nahshon Wright?
There are usually a few players in every draft class that I have never heard of. They don’t usually come off the board in the third round. The Cowboys took Nahshon Wright from Oregon State 99th overall stunning pretty much everyone. He is incredibly long, standing 6’4″ with nearly 33-inch arms. NFL Mock Draft Database has his consensus ranking as the 294th prospect in this class. Reminder: there are only 259 picks. Maybe Dallas knows something we don’t, but this feels really early for a player that was likely not going before the sixth round. Baltimore followed it up by taking Brandon Stephens out of SMU. The database had him ranked 424th overall. These two guys came from way off the radar, but in a year when the whole scouting process has been disrupted, this was bound to happen.

Best Players Available

We still have more than half of the draft to go. 105 picks down means that there are still 145 still to go. Heading into Day 3, here are my top remaining prospects:

36. Jabril Cox, LB, LSU
45. Daviyon Nixon, DL, Iowa
48. Brevin Jordan, TE, Miami
53. Quincy Roche, EDGE, Miami
54. Rashad Weaver, EDGE, Pittsburgh
63. Jay Tufele, DL, USC
66. James Hudson III, OT, Cincinnati (Second-round cut off)
72. Trey Smith, G, Tennessee
79. Shi Smith, WR, South Carolina
81. Michael Carter, RB, UNC
83. Tylan Wallace, WR, Oklahoma State
84. Dylan Moses, LB, Alabama
86. Marvin Wilson, DL, Florida State
87. Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR, USC (Third-round cut off)
92. Tyler Shelvin, DL, LSU
93. Nolan Laufenburg, G, Air Force
94. Robert Rochell, CB, Central Arkansas
97. Cameron McGrone, LB, Michigan
99. Shaun Wade, CB, Ohio State
100. Kenny Yeboah, TE, Ole Miss

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Way-too-early 2021 NFL Power Rankings

Welcome to the NFL offseason. The Buccaneers put a bow on the 2020 season by steamrolling the Chiefs 31-9 in a lopsided Super Bowl. Now, all 32 teams shift their focus to 2021. After a year like none we have ever seen before, we are heading for an offseason like none before.

There are at least a dozen teams that could make a change at quarterback. The NFL combine will not be taking place as usual either due to COVID-19 restrictions. On top of all of that, the salary cap is set to decrease by close to $15 million. This sets up one of the most interesting and pivotal offseasons in recent memory.

With tons of key players potentially switching teams, there is bound to be a lot of movement in these rankings before we get anywhere close to the start of the 2021 season. As it stands though, this is how each team stacks up following Super Bowl LV, as well as a quick look at each team’s biggest free agents.

Chiefs Logo

1. Kansas City Chiefs
2020 record: 14-2
Key free agents: WR Sammy Watkins, CB Bashaud Breeland, CB Charvarius Ward, SS Daniel Sorenson, OLB Damien Wilson
Even coming off a drubbing in the Super Bowl, no team is better positioned to make another run at the Super Bowl than the Chiefs. The core of the team is signed through at least 2021 and Kansas City’s front office has done well in recent years to find solid contributors in the draft. As long as Patrick Mahomes is healthy, it is going to be hard to pick against him and Andy Reid.

Buccaneers logo

2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2020 record: 11-5
Key free agents: WR Chris Godwin, OLB Shaquille Barrett, LB Lavonte David, TE Rob Gronkowski, DT Ndamukong Suh, DT Rakeem Nunez-Roches, RB Leonard Fournette, WR Antonio Brown, K Ryan Succop
Tampa Bay will not be going anywhere as long as they have Tom Brady. Yes, Brady will be 44 next season, but this team is built for success all across the roster. There are a number of critical free agents the team will need to lock up, but players like Gronk and AB are likely to stick around to keep chasing rings. There are probably a few other veterans around the league that would do the same thing. Call it the Brady effect, but this team is going to be a front runner to repeat.

Bills logo

3. Buffalo Bills
2020 record: 12-4
Key free agents: G Jon Feliciano, OT Darryl Williams, LB Matt Milano, CB Josh Norman, DE Trent Murphy, TE Tyler Kroft
Make no mistake, the Bills are for real. Buffalo has the offensive firepower and defensive grit to be one of the best teams in the league in 2021. Without a ton of crucial free agents, the front office could get aggressive in pursuing another corner across from Tre’Davious White or a more reliable tight end. If Josh Allen can come anywhere close to repeating his performance next year, Buffalo will be back in the postseason.

Packers logo

4. Green Bay Packers
2020 record: 13-3
Key free agents: RB Aaron Jones, C Corey Lindsley, CB Kevin King, RB Jamaal Williams, WR Allen Lazard, TE Robert Tonyan, DE Montravius Adams
Once again, the Packers found themselves on the doorstep of the Super Bowl, but could not break through. This team is still really close to putting it all together and finally getting Aaron Rodgers his second ring. Green Bay has some key offensive pieces to re-sign in Jones, Lazard, Lindsley and Tonyan, but this roster is pretty solid throughout. With the right additions at cornerback and along the offensive line, this team should be primed for another deep playoff run.

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5. Baltimore Ravens
2020 record: 11-5
Key free agents: OLB Matt Judon, DE Yannick Ngakoue, OLB Tyus Bowser, C Matt Skura, RB Gus Edwards, WR Willie Snead
It was a rocky start to the year, but what we saw from the Ravens in the second half of the season points to this team’s championship credentials. Baltimore has some clear holes to fill in the front seven on defense with Judon, Bowser and Ngakoue all out of a contract. The offensive line could use a boost and Baltimore is desperate for another receiver, but the foundation is still strong.

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6. Cleveland Browns
2020 record: 11-5
Key free agents: OLB Olivier Vernon, SS Karl Joseph, DT Larry Ogunjobi, WR Rashad Higgins
I am very bullish on the 2021 Browns. Cleveland has arguably the best offensive line in the league, a deep group of offensive playmakers and a solid front seven. The secondary should be a bit healthier this season, but the Browns also have enough cap space to make a signing or two to bolster the unit. Baker Mayfield does not need to be Superman for Cleveland to take the next step. If he can avoid turnovers, this team should be in the thick of the division title race.

7. Los Angeles Rams
2020 record: 10-6
Key free agents: C Austin Blythe, OLB Leonard Floyd, RB Malcolm Brown, CB Troy Hill, TE Gerald Everett, SS John Johnson, WR Josh Reynolds, LB Sam Ebukam
Los Angeles created themselves a two-year window to go win a championship by acquiring Matthew Stafford. The Rams’ biggest obstacle to accomplishing that goal will be finding a way to supplement the roster with limited draft capital. L.A. is projected to be $25 million over the cap as of right now. They are likely going to lose a lot of their key role players. Stafford is not a mobile quarterback, so if the Rams cannot find a way to protect him, this is going to be a really ugly collapse.

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8. Seattle Seahawks
2020 record: 12-4
Key free agents: LB K.J. Wright, RB Chris Carson, DE Bruce Irvin, G Mike Iupati, DT Poona Ford, LB Shaquem Griffin, CB Shaquill Griffin, G Ethan Pocic
Seattle played two halves of a great season. The offensive was unstoppable in the first half while the defense looked helpless. In the second half, the offense ground to a halt while the defense found its stride. It all culminated in a disheartening first-round playoff loss. The Seahawks have some critical free agents to re-sign and a number of holes left to fill. Russell Wilson will give them a chance to be great, but the supporting cast is not ideal. Mike Iupati’s retirement is just another sign that this front office needs to invest in the offensive line. If the Texans have taught us anything, it’s that you need to keep your franchise quarterback happy.

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9. Miami Dolphins
2020 record: 10-6
Key free agents: C Ted Karras, LB Elandon Roberts, DT Davon Godchaux, QB Ryan Fitzpatrick
It all falls on Tua Tagovailoa now. With a solid amount of cap space, a few premium draft picks and a great coaching staff, Miami seems to have the foundation in place to be successful this year and beyond. The theme of this offseason will be finding Tagovailoa some help. Miami knows it needs to find a No. 1 receiver and to solidify the offensive line. Expect the team to be in the running back market as well. With a strong offseason, the Dolphins could definitely push themselves into the top five.

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10. Tennessee Titans
2020 record: 11-5
Key free agents: WR Corey Davis, TE Jonnu Smith, DT Da’Quon Jones, OLB Jadeveon Clowney, LB Jayon Brown, K Stephen Gostkowski
Tennessee could not take that next step forward after an AFC Championship run in 2019, but the Titans did well to avoid falling apart as well. It is clear the Titans have a formula that works. They just need to reinvest in the front seven on defense to get back on track. Jadeveon Clowney did not work out and you can bet the front office will be looking for some pass rushing help this offseason. Some really interesting free agent decisions exist too in Corey Davis and Jayon Brown.

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11. San Francisco 49ers
2020 record: 6-10
Key free agents: OT Trent Williams, CB Richard Sherman, FB Kyle Juszczyk, DE Solomon Thomas, CB K’Waun Williams, RB Jerick McKinnon, FS Jaquiski Tartt, RB Tevin Coleman
How does a 6-10 team that lost both its offensive and defensive coordinator end up 11th? Well when pretty much your entire roster is hurt and you still find ways to win football games, that inspires a lot of confidence for when you do get Nick Bosa and company back on the field. This is going to be a crucial offseason for the 49ers, who could be a player in the Deshaun Watson sweepstakes. Cutting Jimmy Garoppolo would get this team up to roughly $45 million in cap space, so big decisions lie ahead.

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12. Arizona Cardinals
2020 record: 8-8
Key free agents: CB Patrick Peterson, WR Larry Fitzgerald, RB Kenyan Drake, G J.R. Sweezy, DT Corey Peters, OLB Markus Golden, OLB Hassan Reddick, OT Kelvin Beachum
The future still seems bright in Arizona, even after a rough finish to the season. Kyler Murray is clearly the team’s franchise quarterback. The defense had some bright spots. This team is still a few key pieces away from truly contending and the front office has some tough decisions to make regarding Patrick Peterson and Larry Fitzgerald. Finding a new running back will be on the to-do list as well. This offseason is critical for the Cardinals.

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13. Indianapolis Colts
2020 record: 11-5
Key free agents: DE Justin Houston, DE Denico Autry, WR T.Y. Hilton, S Malik Hooker, CB Xavier Rhodes, TE Trey Burton, RB Marlon Mack, WR Zach Pascal, QB Jacoby Brissett
Not included in that list of free agents are Philip Rivers and Anthony Castonzo, both of whom retired. For the third straight year since Andrew Luck retired, the Colts do not have a plan at quarterback. Perhaps Jacob Eason is the answer, but it is hard to feel too strongly about a player who has yet to attempt an NFL pass. Meanwhile, Indy has a bunch of free agents at key positions on defense and several players close to needing extensions. Thankfully, the Colts have nearly $80 million in cap space to reshape this roster.

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14. Pittsburgh Steelers
2020 record: 12-4
Key free agents: WR Juju Smith-Schuster, RB James Conner, OLB Bud Dupree, OT Alejandro Villanueva, DE Tyson Alualu, FS Sean Davis, LB Robert Spillane, CB Mike Hilton, OT Zach Banner
Pittsburgh’s offensive line is in shambles and Ben Roethlisberger is mulling retirement. Big Ben will probably be back, but the Steelers are going to need to rework his contract to avoid a $41 million cap hit. This offense has a number of critical needs and the Steelers have limited cap space to work with. Maurkice Pouncey is gone as well after announcing his retirement. All eyes will be on the draft for Pittsburgh. Don’t be surprised if a couple of big-name players walk away in free agency.

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15. New Orleans Saints
2020 record: 12-4
Key free agents: QB Jameis Winston, DT Sheldon Rankins, FS Marcus Williams, DE Trey Hendrickson, CB P.J. Williams, TE Jared Cook
When you are $70 million over the cap and your future Hall of Fame quarterback is about to retire, you are in for a pretty steep drop. There is still plenty of talent on the roster, but New Orleans has a number of major question marks. With key players on defense headed for free agency and no cap space to re-sign them, the Saints could be headed for a rebuild. I think they will be aggressive in trying to stay competitive, but it is hard to see the path forward right now.

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16. Dallas Cowboys
2020 record: 6-10
Key free agents: QB Dak Prescott, DE Tyrone Crawford, LB Sean Lee, C Joe Looney, OLB Aldon Smith, S Xavier Woods
This ranking mostly stems from the belief that the Cowboys will bring back Prescott. Before his injury, Dak Prescott was putting up MVP-type numbers. Dallas’ offensive line was decimated by injuries as well and the defense crumbled. Still, with the offensive firepower at Prescott’s disposal and a number of key players returning from injury, this Cowboys team should be in the mix to win the NFC East.

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17. Minnesota Vikings
2020 record: 7-9
Key free agents: FS Anthony Harris, DE Ifeadi Odenigbo, LB Eric Wilson, LB Todd Davis
The Vikings have very few free agents to tend to. Anthony Harris and Ifeadi Odenigbo are quality starters, but Eric Wilson and Todd Davis were rotational players this year and could easily be allowed to walk. Minnesota’s defense needs a huge turn around in 2021 after a very disappointing 2020 season. There is room for improvement on the offensive line as well. This is a make-or-break year for Kirk Cousins and potentially Mike Zimmer.

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18. Carolina Panthers
2020 record: 5-11
Key free agents: OT Russell Okung, G John Miller, RB Mike Davis, LB Tahir Whitehead, WR Curtis Samuel, OT Taylor Morton
Reports have placed the Panthers in the middle of conversations for Matthew Stafford and Deshaun Watson. It is clear the front office feels it needs to upgrade at quarterback. With a young defense, there is a lot to like in Carolina. One major area for concern is the offensive line. Three of the team’s starting linemen are headed for free agency. Don’t be surprised if the Panthers spend some draft capital to rebuild their offensive front.

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19. New England Patriots
2020 record: 7-9
Key free agents: QB Cam Newton, G Joe Thuney, CB Jason McCourty, RB James White, DT Lawrence Guy, C David Andrews, DE Adam Butler, RB Rex Burkhead, WR Damiere Byrd, CB J.C. Jackson, DE Deatrich Wise
New England is primed for a makeover this season with tons of cap space, several key free agents and, potentially, a new quarterback on the way. The Patriots will have a bit more talent, specifically on defense, with several players likely to return after opting out of the 2020 season. Bill Belichick has his work cut out for him to overhaul this roster.

20. Los Angeles Chargers
2020 record: 7-9
Key free agents: OLB Melvin Ingram, TE Hunter Henry, C Mike Pouncey, LB Denzel Perryman, G Dan Feeney
Los Angeles is headed in the right direction, but this team still has a long way to go before it is ready to compete for a title. The Chargers are breaking in a first-time head coach in Brandon Staley and have a patchwork offensive line. Mike Pouncey definitely won’t be back either after announcing his retirement. Justin Herbert gives this team a bright future, but there is still a ton of work ahead.

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21. New York Giants
2020 record: 6-10
Key free agents: DT Leonard Williams, OT Cameron Fleming, DT Dalvin Tomlinson, WR Austin Mack, RB Dion Lewis, RB Wayne Gallman
New York had some significant highs in 2020, taking the Bucs to the brink and beating the Seahawks in Seattle. Unfortunately, those were few and far between. Getting Saquon Barkley back will help this offense, but the team is still lacking playmakers. It seems like Joe Judge has reset the culture though and given the team a much brighter outlook. This defense is underrated and is capable of keeping New York in games.

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22. Chicago Bears
2020 record: 8-8
Key free agents: WR Allen Robinson, QB Mitchell Trubisky, WR Cordarrelle Patterson, FS Tashaun Gipson, G Germain Ifedi, DE Mario Edwards
Chicago has a big decision to make this offseason. Consensus seems to be that Trubisky is not the answer at quarterback, but the Bears are not well positioned to find his successor. With Robinson unlikely to return, and an uninspiring offensive line, this is not exactly a prime spot for free agents quarterbacks either. How the Bears answer their quarterback question is going to determine their outlook for 2021.

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23. Washington
2020 record: 7-9
Key free agents: G Brandon Scherff, DE Ryan Kerrigan, CB Ronald Darby, QB Kyle Allen
Washington’s defense is one of the best in the league. Now it needs to invest its resources in building an offense to match. Alex Smith is one of the league’s best comeback stories ever, but he is not the long-term answer at quarterback. He might not even be the short-term solution. With a sizable amount of cap space, Washington could get aggressive in finding some free agent additions, but everything hinges on the quarterback.

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24. Las Vegas Raiders
2020 record: 8-8
Key free agents: DE Jonathan Hankins, DE Takkarist McKinley, WR Nelson Agholor, LB Raekwon McMillan, OLB Vic Beasley
This franchise has been stuck in neutral for the past five years. Since a short-lived playoff run in 2016, the Raiders have been toiling away in obscurity and mediocrity. Derek Carr likely isn’t the answer at quarterback. Las Vegas’ defense is still one of the worst in the league. This team had it’s moment in the sun after stunning the division rival Chiefs, but it feels 8-8 is the ceiling given who the Raiders currently have on their roster.

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25. Denver Broncos
2020 record: 5-11
Key free agents: OLB Von Miller, FS Justin Simmons, SS Kareem Jackson, DT Shelby Harris, WR Tim Patrick, A.J. Johnson, RB Phillip Lindsay
Denver’ s offseason is going to be dictated largely by the decision the franchise makes at quarterback. There is some buzz about Deshaun Watson being interested in the Broncos. Drew Lock is still developing, but if the club is going to make a move like that, it would accelerate this team’s timeline significantly. They still have some key pieces on defense to lock up and a major decision looming regarding Von Miller. There is plenty of room for upward mobility.

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26. Atlanta Falcons
2020 record: 4-12
Key free agents: C Alex Mack, RB Todd Gurley, SS Keanu Neal, S Damontae Kazee, DE Charles Harris, K Younghoe Koo
Where in the world is this team headed? They still have Matt Ryan under contract through 2023 with a pretty easy out after 2021. The future of the club is going to be determined with what the Falcons decide to do with the fourth overall pick. Atlanta has a ton of options. They could find a successor to Ryan, pick their favorite non-QB prospect, or trade down and restock the roster. It is a tough call for new general manager Terry Fontenot.

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27. Philadelphia Eagles
2020 record: 4-11-1
Key free agents: OT Jason Peters, WR DeSean Jackson, DE Vinny Curry, S Jalen Mills, RB Corey Clement, WR Greg Ward
Carson Wentz is in Indianapolis. Zach Ertz is likely to follow. The Eagles are in salary cap hell and headed for something of a rebuild. Philly has an intriguing young quarterback to work with in Jalen Hurts, but there are question marks all over this roster. Not to mention, the Eagles have a first-time head coach who is a relative unknown. This team does not have the cap space to replenish this depleted roster right away. It is going to be two years before we see the Eagles competing in the NFC East again?

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28. Cincinnati Bengals
2020 record: 4-11-1
Key free agents: CB William Jackson, WR A.J. Green, WR John Ross, DE Carl Lawson, DT Mike Daniels, K Randy Bullock, P Kevin Huber
The key to this offseason will be protecting Joe Burrow. After the former Heisman winner spent much of 2020 running for his life, rebuilding the offensive line is the focal point. Expect the Bengals to be aggressive in the draft and free agency looking for ways to upgrade its current unit. Cincinnati has a few key free agents as well with William Jackson and Carl Lawson. There is a good chance that one of them departs, opening up another need on that Bengals defense. Cincy will need to stay patient, finding long-term solutions instead of short-team patches.

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29. Houston Texans
2020 record: 4-12
Key free agents: DE J.J. Watt, WR Will Fuller, CB Gareon Conley, CB Vernon Hargreaves, DT P.J. Hall, DE Carlos Watkins
Things look bleak in Houston. Franchise quarterback Deshaun Watson wants out. J.J. Watt is gone. The roster has holes at cornerback, edge rusher, running back and wide receiver, just to name a few. Under normal circumstances, the Texans could be well-positioned to land a top prospect to accelerate this rebuild. Instead, Houston does not have a pick in the first or second round. The organization maintains that it wants to keep Watson and rebuild his trust, but it is looking like this team might be headed for a long rebuild.

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30. Jacksonville Jaguars
2020 record: 1-15
Key free agents: OT Cam Robinson, CB Tre Herndon, WR Dede Westbrook, WR Keelan Cole, WR Chris Conley, CB D.J. Hayden, TE Tyler Eifert, P Dustin Colquitt
A new era is coming in Jacksonville. Urban Meyer takes over as head coach and presumptive No. 1 pick Trevor Lawrence will be the team’s new franchise quarterback. Things are definitely looking up, but the Jaguars have a lot of work to do still. Josh Allen and K’Lavon Chaisson offer exciting building blocks on defense, but the cupboard is pretty bare in the defensive playmaking department. Jacksonville’s secondary was one of the worst in the league in 2020. With a number of receivers headed for free agency, there is a clear need there as well. Lucky for the Jaguars, no one has more cap space this offseason, so Meyer and new general manager Trent Baalke will have every opportunity to reshape the roster.

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31. New York Jets
2020 record: 2-14
Key free agents: FS Marcus Maye, WR Breshad Perriman, CB Brian Poole, LB Jordan Jenkins, S Bradley McDougald, CB Arthur Maulet, LB Tarell Basham
The Adam Gase experiment ended with a resounding thud as the Jets played their way out of contention for the No. 1 pick. New York now has a huge decision to make about Sam Darnold’s future. It is very possible he is traded this offseason to make way for a new rookie quarterback selected with the second overall pick. The Jets are also still in the Deshaun Watson sweepstakes, but it is seeming less and less likely they are the winners. At least the organization landed Robert Saleh to be the team’s next coach. His arrival should bring some much needed leadership to the locker room, but also means a scheme change and a likely massive roster turnover. New York is going to be busy this offseason.

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32. Detroit Lions
2020 record: 5-11
Key free agents: WR Kenny Golladay, DE Romeo Okwara, WR Marvin Jones, DE Everson Griffin, WR Danny Amendola, LB Jarrad Davis, S Durron Harmon, K Matt Prater
Welcome to the bottom of the pile, Detroit. With Kenny Golladay headed for free agency and Matt Stafford now in SoCal, the outlook for the Lions is not very inspiring. It is hard to get excited about anyone on this roster at the moment. Jared Goff gives new coach Dan Campbell a reclamation project, albeit an expensive one. The defense needs an overhaul after some poor roster building in recent years. With a ton of future draft capital now available, the future is a bit brighter in Detroit, but 2021 is going to be a year where this team bottoms out, sheds veteran contracts and looks to rebuild the foundation of the franchise.

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2020 NFL Power Rankings: Week 3

As you are reading this, another NFL player has likely suffered a season-ending injury. Injuries were undoubtedly the focal point of the second week of play. Big names like Saquon Barkley, Christian McCaffrey and Nick Bosa all suffered season-altering setbacks for their teams. The lack of proper preparation was on full display.

When players weren’t getting hurt, the NFL actually felt very familiar. The Falcons blew a massive lead in inexplicable fashion. Most of the 49ers’ roster got hurt, but they still comfortably beat the Jets. Detroit blew a double-digit lead in their fourth straight game. While the league was mostly in shambles, those trends were comforting in a strange way. At least something was normal that we could hold on to.

There is a ton of movement in this week’s rankings. Some teams that won dropped. Some teams that lost moved up a couple spots. We now have a much better sense of where each team stands following a wild Week 2.

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1. Baltimore Ravens: 2-0 (Last Week: 2)
Won 33-16 at Houston
Welcome to the top of the heap! Baltimore took care of business on the road this week. Lamar Jackson put up pedestrian numbers by his standards, but the defense came up with a number of big plays, including a pick-six. This might be the deepest team in the NFL, which might be really important at the rate these injuries are popping up. It is basically splitting hairs between the Chiefs and Ravens for the best team in the league right now. Thankfully, we will have that question answered on Monday Night Football this week.

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2. Kansas City Chiefs: 2-0 (Last Week: 1)
Won 23-20 at Los Angeles
That was ugly. Kansas City was almost upended by a rookie quarterback in his first career start. Now there is no question the Chiefs were not prepared to face Justin Herbert. Herbert himself didn’t know he was starting until after the coin toss. However, it took a really long time for the offense to get going. Patrick Mahomes played really well when it counted and Harrison Butker came up clutch from long range, twice. Still, KC cannot not afford another slow start like that on Monday night in Baltimore.

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3. Seattle Seahawks: 2-0 (Last Week: 4)
Won 35-30 vs. New England
What a thriller on Sunday night! Russell Wilson continued to cook with five more touchdowns against the vaunted Patriots defense. If you haven’t already heard, Wilson has only one more incompletion (10) than he does touchdown (9) through two weeks. DK Metcalf played like a superstar and largely won his matchup against reigning Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore. There are still plenty of concerns on the back end of the defense. Seattle lost Marquise Blair and Bruce Irvin for the season as well. Seattle has shown it can score a lot of points. The defense needs to do just enough to hang on for the win.

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4. Green Bay Packers: 2-0 (Last Week: 5)
Won 42-21 vs. Detroit
Remember when we thought the Packers were foolish for not drafting a receiver? Or for not signing one other than Devin Funchess? Aaron Rodgers probably does. Aaron Jones likely does as well. The latter rumbled for 236 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns. Green Bay leads the league in yards and points through two weeks. The defense is no joke either. Year 2 under Matt LaFleuer is off to an incredibly fast start. The Pack host the Saints in a Sunday night showdown in Week 3.

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5. Buffalo Bills: 2-0 (Last Week: 6)
Won 31-28 at Miami
This was definitely closer than it should have been, but Buffalo was largely in control of this game throughout. Josh Allen continues to put up MVP-type numbers and the defense is making enough plays for the Bills to win. Devin Singletary and Zack Moss were also much more efficient running the ball, even if they didn’t put up gaudy numbers. After coasting past two rebuilding teams, Sean McDermott’s squad will get a much tougher test with the Rams coming to visit. Time for them to prove they are legitimate against better competition.

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6. New Orleans Saints: 1-1 (Last Week: 3)
Lost 34-24 at Las Vegas
Father Time seems to have come for Drew Brees. The 41-year-old quarterback was off the mark on Monday night against the Raiders. On a night where Alvin Kamara posts 180-plus yards from scrimmage and scores two touchdowns, a few missed throws wouldn’t matter. However, the defense had no answer for Darren Waller and Derek Carr carved New Orleans up on third down. There were just too many mistakes in big moments, as New Orleans racked up 129 penalties yards This was supposed to be the big push for a title before Brees rode into the sunset. Even though Michael Thomas was hurt, the Saints do not get a pass for a poor performance.

7. Los Angeles Rams: 2-0 (Last Week: 11)
Won 37-19 at Philadelphia
Well then. I guess the Rams mean business. Beating up on the banged up Eagles doesn’t make you a Super Bowl contender, but back-to-back impressive weeks from the defense has me believing in this team’s potential. The backfield is deep and reliable. Jared Goff looks to be back in his 2018 groove as he completed his first 13 passes of the game. That doesn’t even cover Tyler Higbee’s breakout, three-touchdown game. Both Dallas and Philadelphia have struggled out of the gate, but Los Angeles looks it belongs in the playoff conversation.

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8. Arizona Cardinals: 2-0 (Last Week: 14)
Won 30-15 vs. Washington
Arizona followed up their statement win in Week 1 with another solid outing. Kyler Murray continues to look dynamic with his arm and his legs. He accounted for three touchdowns and over 350 yards of offense. Washington did sack him three times, but Murray limited the damage by losing just eight yards on those sacks. DeAndre Hopkins has been exactly what the Cardinals hoped for when they traded for him as well. The defense also looks a lot better than last year, racking up four sacks and forcing two fumbles. It would not be a shock to see the Cardinals start 5-0 or even 6-0 with the Lions, Panthers, Jets and Cowboys coming up on the schedule.

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9. New England Patriots: 1-1 (Last Week: 12)
Lost 35-30 at Seattle
I don’t care that it was a loss. New England showed it can hang tough with the best teams in the NFL. Cam Newton truly silenced the doubters with 397 passing yards and three total touchdowns. Julian Edelman continues to defy logic with an eight-catch, 179-yard performance. The Patriots got impressive outings from N’Keal Harry and Damiere Byrd as well. Surprisingly, it was the defense that let the team down. With so many new faces on that side of the ball, it is going to take the unit a few more games to really gel. Still, I was impressed by what I saw from the Pats.

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10. Pittsburgh Steelers: 2-0 (Last Week: 8)
Won 26-21 vs. Denver
Pittsburgh was facing a Denver team playing without Drew Lock, Courtland Sutton, Phillip Lindsay or Von Miller and still almost lost this game. It was a tough reminder for Big Ben that he is still getting back into football shape. On the other hand, the defense came up when it mattered and James Conner bounced back from a disappointing start with a huge performance. The Steelers seem to have a deep group of playmakers with Diontae Johnson, Juju Smith-Schuster, Chase Claypool, Eric Ebron and James Washington all getting involved quite a bit on Sunday. There is still room for improvement, but Pittsburgh sits at 2-0 with a visit from Houston up next.

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11. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 1-1 (Last Week: 9)
Won 31-17 vs. Carolina
This team has the feel of some of those early Brady-Belichick teams. A great pass rush and a disruptive, opportunistic defense leads the way. There are a ton of options out of the backfield. The receivers on the outside are talented. Tom Brady simply needs to manage the offense. He has struggled to do that through two games as he now has four total turnovers after an interception and a fumble on Sunday. It is clear this team can win with Brady under center. They might just not win because of him. The Bucs travel to Mile High to face Jeff Driskel next.

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12. Tennessee Titans: 2-0 (Last Week: 10)
Won 33-30 vs. Jacksonville
How is it that I feel worse about this team at 2-0 than I did at the start of the season? Tennessee is finding a way to win tight games, which is important. The question that hovers over these first two weeks is why were they so close to begin with. Ryan Tannehill is playing some great football, which he will need to continue as teams zero in on stopping Derrick Henry. Where Tannehill really needs some help is on the other side of the ball. The defense came up with a late interception to seal the game, but giving up 30 points and close to 500 yards of offense to the Jaguars is not good enough. Luckily, the Titans get a hapless Vikings team up next.

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13. San Francisco 49ers: 1-1 (Last Week: 7)
Won 31-13 at New York
As they say, the 49ers won the battle, but likely lost the war. San Francisco picked up its first win of the season. However, they lost Jimmy Garoppolo, Nick Bosa, Raheem Mostert, Tevin Coleman and Solomon Thomas in the process. Bosa and Thomas are done for the year. There is some hope Garoppolo can play as early as this week. He should also get George Kittle back in the fold as well. No team has been hurt worse than the 49ers by injuries, which is why they drop so much despite the impressive performance. There is one stroke of good fortune. The Saquon Barkley-less Giants are up next.

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14. Las Vegas Raiders: 2-0 (Last Week: 20)
Won 34-24 vs. New Orleans
What a performance from the Las Vegas Raiders. It was about the best possible way the Raiders could have opened their new stadium. Derek Carr played great, as did Darren Waller. Josh Jacobs put on another gutsy performance as well, even if he was not overly efficient. After a bit of a rocky start, the defense settled in, limiting Drew Brees and coming up big on third down. There are certainly some areas I’m sure Jon Gruden would like to sure up on that side of the ball, but it a great win for the relocated franchise. Vegas does not get any time to rest though with New England on the horizon.

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15. Dallas Cowboys: 1-1 (Last Week: 13)
Won 40-39 vs. Atlanta
Mike McCarthy should send flowers to every single member of the Falcons onside kick recovery team. Without some truly astounding mistakes, there is no way the Cowboys could have come back in this game. Dallas found itself down 20-0 early on after a series of fumbles. The Cowboys coughed it up three times in total. Defensively, they had no answer for Matt Ryan or Calvin Ridley. Somehow, Dallas pulled off the comeback and avoided the embarrassment of starting 0-2. I wouldn’t count on too many more 20-point turnarounds this season though, particularly with a trip to Seattle coming up.

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16. Houston Texans: 0-2 (Last Week: 17)
Lost 33-16 vs. Baltimore
It is hard to rip the Texans anymore than I already have. We know they made a bad offseason trade to acquire David Johnson and ship out DeAndre Hopkins. We also know they faced the particularly brutal task of playing the Chiefs and Ravens to open the year. They don’t get a complete pass for starting 0-2, but even with Hopkins, they likely would have lost both of these games. There were certainly some positives to this one. The defense limited Lamar Jackson and came up with four sacks. Unfortunately, it also gave up 240 yards rushing. Houston’s schedule does not let up either with Pittsburgh on the docket.

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17. Indianapolis Colts: 1-1 (Last Week: 24)
Won 28-11 vs. Minnesota
In a battle of two struggling teams, the Colts quieted their concerns for at least one week. The defense stepped up and delivered three interceptions. Indy also kept Minnesota out of the end zone until the fourth quarter. It still wasn’t a great performance from Philip Rivers, but the offense was able to ride Jonathan Taylor to paydirt. The offense will have to truly round into form at some point, especially with Malik Hooker and Paris Campbell out for a while, but the Colts can get away with just good enough for this week.

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18. Los Angeles Chargers: 1-1 (Last Week: 22)
Lost 23-20 vs. Kansas City
There are no such thing as good losses in the NFL, but the Chargers came as close as you can to having one in Week 2. Justin Herbert got the surprise start after Tyrod Taylor was ruled out pregame with a chest injury. The rookie from Oregon played extremely well, throwing for over 300 yards and a touchdown. He added one on the ground as well. Defensively, Los Angeles limited Clyde Edwards-Helaire and did its best to slow down Patrick Mahomes. It worked really well for three quarters. This is a team in flux though, so the loss does not really feel too painful. Anthony Lynn has said Taylor will be the starter when healthy, but the offense looked much better under Hebert. That will be a situation to watch.

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19. Cleveland Browns: 1-1 (Last Week: 23)
Won 35-30 vs. Cincinnati
Beating the Bengals does not erase the memory of Week 1’s debacle against the Ravens, but it does put the Browns back on the right track. Baker Mayfield played much better. Meanwhile, Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt showed why they are the best running back duo in the sport. Defensively, Cleveland struggled to slow down Joe Burrow. However, the defense could get reinforcements soon with Mack Wilson, Greedy Williams and Kevin Johnson all returning to practice on Monday. Cleveland will still have its hands full with Washington in Week 3.

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20. Philadelphia Eagles: 0-2 (Last Week: 15)
Lost 37-19 vs. Los Angeles
If you haven’t already hit the panic button, you are probably hovering right over it as an Eagles fan. Carson Wentz looked downright terrible at home on Sunday. The offensive line actually held up decently well. The Rams did not record a sack or register a tackle for loss, but it still felt like this offense was struggling to get going. Defensively, Philly looks like a mess. It had no answer for Tyler Higbee or Darrell Henderson Jr. throughout much of the second half. The silver lining here is that Washington lost, so Philadelphia is only one game back in the division. The season is not over yet, but a Week 3 loss to the Bengals would really set off some alarms.

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21. Chicago Bears: 2-0 (Last Week 21)
Won 17-13 vs. New York
Don’t ask me to explain how the Bears are 2-0. They just are. It was another uninspiring victory over one of the teams in the NFL’s basement. Mitchell Trubisky played poorly and the defense caught a big break when Saquon Barkley tore his ACL. Chicago seems to have simply lucked its way into two wins to open the year. That luck will likely run out against the Falcons in Week 3, but Atlanta has a propensity for blowing games, so who really knows what will happen.

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22. Denver Broncos: 0-2 (Last Week: 18)
Lost 26-21 at Pittsburgh
Courtland Sutton is done for the year and Drew Lock is out for the next two-to-six weeks. That’s a major blow for the offense. And yet, the Denver was very much in the game on Sunday despite those injuries. Jeff Driskel played surprisingly well in relief of Lock, but showed his inexperience late in the game taking a sack on fourth down, failing to identify the pressure off the edge. Driskel might be able to keep the Broncos afloat until Lock can return, but this team’s playoff hopes took a huge hit.

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23. Atlanta Falcons: 0-2 (Last Week: 19)
Lost 40-39 at Dallas
I’ve gotta say it. This was the worst blown lead in a game, well since the Falcons blew a 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl. It was a staggering collapse for Atlanta, complete with dropped touchdowns, botched onside kick recoveries and bad coaching. The Falcons continue to waste incredible performances from Matt Ryan and the offense. Atlanta is fourth in total yards and sixth in points, but inexplicably finds itself at 0-2. Whatever trust Dan Quinn earned with the Falcons’ 6-2 finish to 2019 is definitely gone and the pressure is on for him to turn this around, fast.

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24. Minnesota Vikings: 0-2 (Last Week: 16)
Lost 28-11 at Indianapolis
Talk about an offseason refresh gone wrong. Minnesota made some major changes with hopes of pushing itself over the hump. Gone was the unreliable secondary and disgruntled playmaker. In came the young wave of talent and the late addition of a star pass rusher. Turns out the Vikings could have used Stefon Diggs on Sunday. Adam Thielen is back to being a one-man show as Kirk Cousins flounders in the offense. Cousins posted an abysmal 15.9 passer rating. He owns the worst passer rating and third-worst QBR through two weeks of action. If Minnesota loses to Tennessee, it might not be much longer before we start to see some changes made to the coaching staff and front office.

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25. Washington: 1-1 (Last Week: 25)
Lost 30-15 at Arizona
The euphoria of Week 1’s win wore off quickly as the offense spun its wheels in Arizona. Dwayne Haskins owns a league-worst 27.8 QBR through two weeks of play and it is starting to seem like he might be the problem. He might not have the best supporting cast, but his continued accuracy issues are a red flag. On the bright side, the defense showed flashes of brilliance again, with three more sacks and an interception. Washington is starting to get the right pieces in place, but still has a major question mark at quarterback.

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26. Jacksonville Jaguars: 1-1 (Last Week: 28)
Lost 33-30 at Tennessee
So much for being the least talented team in the NFL. Jacksonville cut Leonard Fournette and traded Yannick Ngakoue less than 10 days before the start of the season. The Jaguars were a tipped pass away from forcing overtime or possibly moving to 2-0. This offense quietly has a good number of playmakers between DJ Chark, Laviska Shenault, Keelan Cole and Chris Conley. James Robinson is proving he can be an NFL back while Chris Thompson is a nice change of pace option. The offensive line has held up fairly well. It would be nice to see the defense generate a bit more pressure, but it is hard to complain as a Jaguars fan through two weeks.

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27. Miami Dolphins: 0-2 (Last Week: 30)
Lost 31-28 vs. Buffalo
That is more like the Miami team we saw in the second half of last season. Ryan Fitzpatrick was slinging the ball all over the yard, namely to Mike Gesicki, against the Bills. Unfortunately, the revamped secondary did not do its job. Byron Jones exited with an injury and Xavien Howard could not contain Stefon Diggs. It was a clear reminder that the Dolphins are still rebuilding, but seem to be on the right path.

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28. Detroit Lions: 0-2 (Last Week: 27)
Lost 42-21 at Green Bay
If the Lions fired Matt Patricia tomorrow, I wouldn’t blame them. Detroit has somehow blown a double-digit lead in four straight games. Missing Kenny Golladay did not help matters, but after being up 14-3, losing by 21 is inexcusable. The pass rush is essentially nonexistent and the run defense had no answer for Aaron Jones. After some buzz about the Lions being a dark horse playoff team, it seems like Detroit is much closer to cleaning house than making a postseason push.

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29. Carolina Panthers: 0-2 (Last Week: 29)
Lost 31-17 at Tampa Bay
Losing to a division rival is tough. Losing Christian McCaffrey in the process is much harder for the Panthers. So much of this offense runs through him. With Teddy Bridgewater suddenly unable to take care of the football, Carolina could be a in lot of trouble if their superstar is truly out for the month he is projected to miss. McCaffrey has already said he wants to beat that timeline, but if the Panthers are 1-5, there would be little use in rushing him back. This was always a multiyear rebuild for Matt Rhule anyway. This might just accelerate the tanking process.

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30. Cincinnati Bengals: 0-2 (Last Week: 31)
Lost 35-30 at Cleveland
Close only counts in horseshoes, but the Bengals have to like what they saw out of their young quarterback on Thursday night. Joe Burrow threw for three touchdowns and, mostly, took care of the football, albeit in a losing effort. Unfortunately, the defense could not slow down the Browns running game, or Baker Mayfield for that matter. Cincinnati needs better play from its front seven going forward to stay in these games. It might be good to find a bit more balance on offense as well. Burrow threw the ball an outrageous 61 times, which does not feel like a recipe for success.

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31. New York Giants: 0-2 (Last Week: 26)
Lost 17-13 at Chicago
Welcome to worst-case scenario for the New York Giants. The talk all offseason was that Daniel Jones would finally get a chance to play with all of the talent the Giants had assembled around him. That dream came crashing down when Saquon Barkley tore his ACL. Jones still led a valiant second-half comeback bid, but ultimately came up short. Sterling Shepard also suffered a toe injury that could keep him out for a few games. Hopes of turning the corner on the rebuild are crumbling as New York seems destined for a top-five pick.

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32. New York Jets: 0-2 (Last Week: 32)
Lost 31-13 vs. San Francisco
I am hard pressed to think of a time where the Jets have had less proven talent available on their offense. Sam Darnold was mostly working with Patriots castoffs Chris Hogan and Braxton Berrios after Breshad Perriman exited with an injury. Despite San Francisco losing what felt like their entire team to injury, New York had a measly three points at halftime. No matter what the injury concerns for the Jets, Adam Gase seems as good as gone and now the focus might change to what to do at quarterback if Trevor Lawrence is available when Joe Douglas gets to pick.

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8 teams that should sign Colin Kaepernick

If the 2019 NFL season taught us anything, it’s that there are a lot of teams who have neglected the backup quarterback position. The teams that sufficiently addressed it (Kansas City, Tennessee) weathered the storm when their starter was ineffective or hurt. Meanwhile, teams that clearly had no real succession plan (Detroit, New York Jets) saw their seasons unravel with sudden, er, absences at the position. Does mononucleosis count as an injury?

 

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Kaepernick has been out of the NFL since 2016 after he began kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality in America. (Wikimedia Commons)

Finding a backup quarterback is important and there aren’t many players more qualified for the job than Colin Kaepernick. With the NFL admitting it mishandled the national anthem protests in 2016 and commissioner Roger Goodell even going as far as encouraging teams to sign Kaepernick, the door finally seems to be for the former 49ers quarterback to return to the league. Sure, he has been out of the league for a few years, but Kaepernick has the experience and talent to be a spot starter.

Don’t believe me? Let’s compare Kapernick to the league’s average backup quarterback. I compiled every backup quarterback’s stats into this Google Sheet.

On average, the NFL backup completes around 61.1 percent of his passes and averages roughly 6.95 yards per attempt. Additionally, they throw a touchdown on 3.8 percent of their throws while 2.7 percent of their attempts result in an interception. The average backup also has a career winning percentage of 46 percent in the regular season. These numbers look much worse if you remove some of the long-time former starters currently in backup roles like Andy Dalton, Joe Flacco and Matt Schaub.Β 

Kaepernick by comparison completed 59.8 percent of his passes for an average of 7.3 yards per attempt. He threw a touchdown on 4.3 percent of his passes and an interception on just 1.8 percent of them. His career regular season win percentage sits at 48 percent. Additionally, Kaepernick has playoff experience, including a Super Bowl appearance. Flacco and Nick Foles are the only current backup quarterbacks who have started a Super Bowl.

The biggest knock anyone could possibly have on Kaepernick is his ability to hold onto the ball. He averaged almost eight fumbles per season over his five years as a mostly full-time starter.

If you want to put a label on what Kaepernick represents to the NFL right now in terms of position value, it is a high-end backup. Those averages, which he mostly matches or beats, don’t factor in his running ability either. His mobility is a plus for any team evaluating him.Β 

Without a doubt, Kap could still cut it in the NFL. Let me make this clear though. I don’t think Kaepernick has what it takes to be a starter in this league anymore. He is 32 and has some mechanical flaws he is not going to fix now. However, he is still good enough to win a game if his number is called. From his workout in 2019, he clearly still has the arm strength and the zip on his throws to make plays. Kaepernick should be no team’s first option, but there are much worse plan B’s. Here are the eight teams that should consider signing Kaepernick for the 2020 season.

Denver_BroncosDenver Broncos
With Drew Lock sufficiently entrenched as the starter for the Broncos, this could be an ideal situation for Kaepernick to work his way back into the league. Denver’s current quarterback room outside of Lock includes Jeff Driskel, Brett Rypien and Neal Riley. Driskel is far from a reliable backup having struggled in stints filling in for Andy Dalton and Matthew Stafford over the past two seasons. He is 1-7 as a starter and has completed under 60 percent of his passes in his career. It helps that Denver’s current running backs coach Curtis Modkins was the 49ers offensive coordinator during Kaepernick’s final season in San Francisco.

Titans logoTennessee Titans
Few teams had a better quarterback situation last year than the Titans. When Marcus Mariota proved to be ineffective as the starter, Ryan Tannehill came in and worked wonders all the way to the AFC Championship game. With Mariota now in Las Vegas, Tennessee is left with Logan Woodside and undrafted rookie Cole McDonald on the roster. Neither one of them has attempted an NFL pass. The front office made a wise move last year to find a stable backup plan. Kaepernick would give the Titans the same assurances that Tannehill provided for them last year.

Bengals LogoCincinnati Bengals
Joe Burrow is undoubtedly the future in Cincinnati, but with Andy Dalton now in Dallas, the solution to a Burrow injury is unclear. Ryan Finley tanked in two appearances last season. Jake Dolegala is a fellow second year player who did attempt a pass last season. If Burrow were to go down, there is no one reliable to step in for the Bengals at quarterback. My biggest hang up with Kaepernick joining Cincinnati is I think they need someone who can start this season to ease Burrow into the NFL. I’m not sure Kaepernick quite fits the bill after so much time off.

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New England Patriots
The Patriots have clearly latched their wagon to the Jarrett Stidham train. I’m not sold on him as the long term answer after only four career passes, but the rest of the quarterback situation in New England is nothing to trust either. Brian Hoyer is back for another stint, but the Pats actually cut Hoyer last season after the preseason, and he struggled in relief of Jacoby Brissett after signing with the Colts. New England’s other two options at the position are Brian Lewerke and J’Mar Smith, two undrafted free agents from the 2020 class. Rumor has it the team is interested Cam Newton, but Kaepernick could also make a ton of sense.

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Arizona Cardinals
No one will be replacing Kyler Murray any time soon. However, when you have a mobile quarterback, particularly one with as slight of a build as Murray, there is always the risk of an injury arising. Arizona’s current backup plan is Brett Hundley. He has more interceptions than touchdowns in his career and a completion percentage south of 60. The only other options on the roster include Drew Anderson and Chris Streveler, both of whom have never attempted an NFL pass. Kaepernick has a similar play style to Murray, even if he cannot replicate the level of production. I could see him being a good fit in Kliff Kingsbury’s modified Air Raid system.

Los Angeles Rams logoLos Angeles Rams
Who is currently backing up Jared Goff? John Wolford, Bryce Perkins and Josh Love are all undrafted free agents L.A. signed over the past two years. None of them have taken an NFL snap. Goff might be one of the least sacked quarterbacks in the league, but the Rams certainly need a better replacement plan if he were to get hurt. Kaepernick might not be the most seamless fit in the Rams system given his struggles as a play-action passer, but I trust Sean McVay to find some creative uses for his arm and legs. Even four years removed from football, he would provide a much more reliable solution if Goff were to suffer an injury.Β 

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Seattle Seahawks
Don’t even begin to argue with me that Kaepernick would not be an upgrade over Geno Smith as a backup quarterback. As a Jets fan, I watched him struggle wildly to perform on a consistent basis and regularly commit back-breaking errors in important moments. Luckily for Seattle, Russell Wilson is one of the most durable quarterbacks in the league. Still, finding a better replacement than Smith would be smart. Pete Carroll has been open in his support of Kaepernick, admitting he regrets not signing him previously. The team met with Kap prior to the 2017 season. His ability to extend plays with his legs is not on the same level as Wilson, but he could help Seattle avoid a massive fall off if Wilson were to go down injured.Β 

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Baltimore Ravens
This last one is less about the team’s need at the position and more about the offensive scheme. Baltimore has the league’s reigning MVP in Lamar Jackson. Though Jackson has proven to be durable and smart about avoiding unnecessary hits, they have a clear backup plan in Robert Griffin III. They even have two young, dual-threat college quarterbacks on the roster behind RGIII. Trace McSorley and Tyler Huntley are definitely both project players, but this has the feel of a very sound quarterback room. However, Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman was the offensive coordinator for the 49ers while Kaepernick dazzled the football world with two deep playoff runs. I’m not saying Roman would be able rekindle that kind of magic, but given what Jackson has been able to do in this system, I think Kaepernick could find some level of success in a backup role.Β