The NFL is back! Before the season gets underway in full on Sunday, I wanted to go on record with my predictions for who will win the major awards handed out at the end of the regular season. I am so glad that football finally here again!
Offensive Rookie of the Year
Winner: Najee Harris, RB, Steelers I am incredibly way of the Steelers’ offensive line, but this is going to be about volume. No one else in Pittsburgh’s running back room has proven themselves in the NFL. Harris is going to be in line for a 350-touch season. The team seems committed to running the ball and relying on its defense to win games. That sets up a great situation for the former Alabama star to shine and take home the award.
Runner Up: Mac Jones, QB, Patriots Some of this is about Jones’ situation and some of it is due to his talent. He might have been the most pro-ready quarterback in the 2021 draft class. Now, he will play with a revamped Patriots offense behind a good offensive line. He also feels like a great fit for Josh McDaniels’ offense. His ability to make plays from the pocket and take care of the football bodes well for him having an impressive 2021 season. I think there might be too many hiccups for him to win the award. Quarterbacks tend to be dissected more intensely than any other position. I think it is too much to expect him to match Justin Herbert’s numbers from a year ago. He will be in the conversation, but I believe he will ultimately come up short.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
Winner: Patrick Surtain II, CB, Broncos It only took one preseason game for Surtain to flash the potential that made him the No. 9 pick in the 2021 draft. He raced back a 30-yard pick-six against the Vikings in the Broncos’ preseason opener. Now, it was just the preseason, but that is the type of playmaking ability that will win Rookie of the Year. Without an elite edge rusher in this draft class, at least right out of the gate, there is a good chance we see either a corner or linebacker take home the award this year. I’m backing Surtain, who was my top corner prospect in 2021.
Runner Up: Jamin Davis, LB, Washington Davis flew up draft boards with his speed and instinctive playmaking style. He has the intangibles to become a sideline-to-sideline linebacker at the next level. Washington also has arguably the best defensive line in the NFL, which means Davis should have plenty of clear sight lines to the quarterback and ballcarriers. That front four eating up blocks will free up Davis to diagnose and go make plays. There will be a decent amount of competition for the award this year with Jaelan Phillips and Zaven Collins poised for big roles early in their careers, but I like Davis to stand out.
Offensive Player of the Year
Winner: Aaron Jones, RB, Packers Jamal Williams and his 70 receptions over the past two season are in Detroit. A.J. Dillon might still be there, but he is definitely a change of pace back. He will get carries, but I think Jones is in for a monster season. This offensive line will get better when David Bahktiari returns. Until then, Jones can run behind Elgton Jenkins. He will also continue to be involved in the passing game, where he has seen 131 targets over the past two years. This is going to be one of the best offenses in the league again and I expect Jones to be a huge part of that.
Runner Up: Tyreek Hill, WR, Chiefs It helps to play with Patrick Mahomes, but Hill is a special talent. After a 1,400-yards-from-scrimmage, 17-total-touchdown season, Hill had a legitimate claim to win the award in 2020. Sammy Watkins is now in Baltimore, so there is potential for Hill’s target share to even increase in 2021. With an improved offensive line, Mahomes will have even more time to drop dimes to Hill deep downfield.
Defensive Player of the Year
Winner: T.J. Watt, LB, Steelers Well part of this was an assumption that Watt would ball out in a contract year, but I still think he is in line for a special season. He has had at least 13 sacks in each of the past three seasons, including his league-leading 15 a season ago. He plays in a dynamic defense with tons of talent around him. Opposing teams will not be able to zero in on him in pass protection, at least not on every down. In addition to leading the league in sacks, Watt also tallied a league-high 23 tackles for loss. He is a disruptive force on a team that will be led by its defense.
Runner Up: Aaron Donald, DL, Rams Six straight First-Team All-Pros, seven straight Pro Bowls, four straight seasons with at least 11 sacks. It would unwise to predict anything but another stellar season by Donald. He is the best interior pass rusher in the NFL and one of the best ever. He is going to have plenty of pass rushing opportunities as well with the Rams seemingly poised to score a decent number of points on offense. Opposing teams will definitely need to be playing catch up. I think he will come close to securing another Defensive Player of the Year award.
Coach of the Year
Winner: Sean McDermott, Bills Expectations are understandably high for the Bills. Following a return to the AFC Championship Game for the first time since 1993. Josh Allen led a high-powered Buffalo offense that won the AFC East, however, the defense took a major step back. The front office invested in some young defensive players over the past few drafts. If the Bills can become a more complete team and McDermott gets this defense back to its 2019 form en route to a 13- or 14-win season, I think he will be more than deserving of the award.
Runner Up: Brandon Staley, Chargers A rookie head coach winning Coach of the Year? I think it could happen. The Chargers retooled their offensive line, get back some major contributors from injury on defense and have a talented, young quarterback to lead the way. Los Angeles likely won’t win the AFC West, that’s the downside to playing in the same division as the Chiefs, but the Chargers are definitely in contention for a wild card spot. I think if L.A. gets to 11 wins this season, which feels attainable given their talent and schedule, Staley should be in consideration for the award.
Comeback Player of the Year
Winner: Dak Prescott, QB, Cowboys I had Prescott picked well before I saw his season-opening performance against the Buccaneers. He plays in an offense loaded with weapons and was on a legitimate MVP pace in 2020 prior to his injury. I expect we will see a 5,000-yard season from him, especially with the extra regular season game. After coming off a serious ankle injury, it will be great to see Prescott get back to full strength.
Runner Up: Christian McCaffrey, RB, Panthers| If his brief appearances in 2020 were any indication, McCaffrey is still the best running back in the NFL. He is such a difference-maker in Carolina’s offense with his ability as a runner and as a pass catcher. It will be interesting to see how he gels with new Panthers quarterback, but I think his usage and productivity sets him up well to be in the mix for Comeback Player of the Year.
Patrick Mahomes, QB, Chiefs What if I told you the most talented quarterback in the NFL is going to play behind the best offensive line he has ever had in 2021? Well that is exactly what is going to happen in Kansas City. Mahomes was in the mix for MVP in 2020, but his production slowed a little bit down the stretch. With more time to pick apart opposing defenses a bevy of talented weapons to throw to, I think 50 touchdowns is within reach for Mahomes again. If he plays in all 17 games, I could definitely see him averaging three scores per game.
Runner Up: Russell Wilson, QB, Seahawks I’m not totally sold on the Seahawks in 2021, but I still believe in Wilson. He has two reliable receivers on the outside in D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. I think new offensive coordinator Shane Waldron will help this offense avoid the second-half fallout it had in 2020. Through the first half of the year, no one could touch Wilson. He was tearing apart secondaries and toss touchdowns like it was no one’s business. Despite a major slowdown in his final eight games, Wilson still tossed 40 touchdowns. I think he can match that total while cutting down on the 13 interceptions he threw to truly challenge for MVP.
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While the focus in the days leading up to the NFL draft is undoubtedly that year’s picks and prospects, it is both fun and somewhat freeing to look back at an older draft class. It provides a nice break from prospect debates and allows you to wonder what would happen if the teams were given a chance to do the draft over again. It is also a good reminder of how past drafts could impact the decisions being made now based on the lessons we have learned over the years.
I’ve long said that you need five years to properly evaluate a draft class. Players can of course continue to develop and grow in the years that follow, but there is a large enough sample size to draw some conclusions. Any sooner, and you could end up with some player evaluations that are incomplete. Now that several of these prospects are in their late 20s and on (at least) their second contract, the picture becomes much clearer.
What a wild five years it has been for this 2016 group. This is one of the most interesting draft classes to re-examine because there are a pair of controversial quarterbacks amid a ton of talented players. Looking back, there is no question Dak Prescott should have been the first player selected, but where does that leave Carson Wentz and Jared Goff? Plus, how early should running backs like Ezekiel Elliott or Derrick Henry go given the shifting NFL landscape? These are the questions that make this exercise so fun and worthwhile.
A few housekeeping things here to help make sense of how I run this redraft. I undid any draft day trades that took place. The Rams and Eagles both moved up prior to the draft, so those deals will stay in place, but I have a feeling most teams would be uninterested in trading down if they knew how a player was going to perform and develop over the next five years. Additionally, I still heavily weighed positional value when making these selections. While Derrick Henry has been a much better player than Carson Wentz, Wentz’ positional value is astronomically higher than Henry’s. This is still about drafting the best players to build your roster, not playing fantasy football.
With all of that in mind, let’s dive into this 2016 NFL redraft.
1.St. Louis Rams Original pick: Jared Goff, QB, Cal Redraft selection: Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State This is one that I’m sure the Rams wish they could do over. After trading Jared Goff away to acquire Matt Stafford in a deal that involved the Rams also having to part with two first-round picks, it is safe to say Goff’s time with the organization did not end well. There were some highs, as Los Angeles reached the Super Bowl in 2019. Goff can still be successful in the NFL, but Dak Prescott has become one of the premier passers in the league. He was off to an unbelievable start in 2020 before suffering a season-ending injury. Both have played in 69 career games, and while Goff actually has more passing yards, Prescott has been the better quarterback overall.
2. Philadelphia Eagles Original pick: Carson Wentz, QB, North Dakota State Redraft selection: Carson Wentz, QB, North Dakota State I really struggled with this pick. On one hand, Carson Wentz got his career off to a blistering start. He was on track to win MVP in 2017 before tearing his ACL. He has never been the same since and the Eagles have done a terrible job protecting him. The problem is, Philly’s other options at quarterback were Sam Bradford and Chase Daniel. Maybe Bradford could have gotten the Eagles back to the playoffs, but Philadelphia likely never wins a Super Bowl without Wentz. In the end, the Eagles still moved him for some solid draft capital and wound up trading Bradford for a first-round pick as well. I think it’s worth it to win the Lombardi even if you have to spend some time rebuilding in the years that follow.
3. San Diego Chargers Original pick: Joey Bosa, EDGE, Ohio State Redraft selection: Jalen Ramsey, CB, Florida State There is nothing that Joey Bosa has done that makes him unworthy of going here again, but the list of corners that you trade two first-round picks for is very short. The Chargers already had Casey Hayward, but pairing him with Jalen Ramsey would have given them one of the best tandems in the NFL. He might not be a ballhawk, but Ramsey is a true lockdown corner and that provides so much value for a defense. This really comes down to preference, but if I get to choose between two top corners (Ramsey and Hayward) or two top edge rushers (Bosa and Melvin Ingram), I’m picking the corners every time. I mocked Ramsey to the Chargers back in 2016 and I am standing by that five years later.
4. Dallas Cowboys Original pick: Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State Redraft selection: Joey Bosa, EDGE, Ohio State Joey Bosa’s fall is a short one. I think this would have been the pick for Dallas back in 2016 had Bosa still been on the board. He has been one of the best pass rushers in the league since the moment he was drafted. He posted 10.5 sacks as a rookie and leads the entire class with 47.5 in his career despite playing 15 fewer games than Yannick Ngakoue, who is second among 2016 draftees. Ezekiel Elliott has obviously had some great moments in his Cowboys career, but the value of a top-five running back simply does not compare to that of a top-five pass rusher.
5. Jacksonville Jaguars Original pick: Jalen Ramsey, CB, Florida State Redraft selection: Ronnie Stanley, OT, Notre Dame. The Ravens really like Ronnie Stanley. So much so that they recently traded Orlando Brown Jr. to the Chiefs after he made the Pro Bowl while filling in for an injured Stanley. I can’t say I blame Baltimore one bit. When healthy, Stanley has been a top-five left tackle over the past few seasons. For Jacksonville to snag him before he even gets to Baltimore is tough for Ravens fans to see, but it is the right move for the Jaguars. The team started Kelvin Beachum at left tackle in 2016. Stanley is a massive upgrade for a team that has seen its offensive line deteriorate in recent years.
6. Baltimore Ravens Original pick: Ronnie Stanley, OT, Notre Dame Redraft selection: Michael Thomas, WR, Ohio State As I already mentioned, the Ravens will be incredibly disappointed to see Stanley taken one pick before they were up, but Michael Thomas is an excellent consolation prize. While Lamar Jackson was not on the scene yet, Thomas is exactly the type of receiver the team has been looking to pair their MVP quarterback with. He has good hands, an impressive catch radius and a knack for making big plays. 37-year-old Steve Smith and 30-year-old Mike Wallace were Baltimore’s top two receivers in 2016. Thomas would have provided some much needed youth at the position while setting the Ravens up for future success.
7. San Francisco 49ers Original pick: DeForest Buckner, DL, Oregon Redraft selection: Tyreek Hill, WR, West Alabama There is a real argument to be made for the 49ers to stick with their original pick from 2016. DeForest Buckner is a dominant interior defender with 38 career sacks and an All-Pro selection to his name. However, few players change how a defense lines up on every play like Tyreek Hill does. His speed and playmaking ability are truly in a class of their own. The opportunity for him to (eventually) play in Kyle Shannahan’s offense would be unfair. Even Chip Kelly, who ran San Francisco into the ground in 2016, might have been able to utilize him semi-effectively. Considering that this team had Jeremy Kerley, Torrey Smith and Quinton Patton as its starting wideouts that year, Hill would be a welcome addition to the Niners’ offense.
8. Cleveland Browns Original pick: Corey Coleman, WR, Baylor Redraft selection: Jared Goff, QB, Cal On draft day in 2016, the Browns traded down from No. 8 to No. 15 and selected Corey Coleman. He turned out to be a bust and Cleveland finished the year 1-15 with Cody Kessler, Robert Griffin III, Kevin Hogan and Josh McCown playing quarterback. That is an awful quarterback room. While Jared Goff has his fair share of critics, he would be an improvement over any of those other players, then and now. There are physical limitations to Goff’s game, but when put in the right system, he is an above average starter. I actually think that Goff would be a good fit to run the 2021 Browns, but that framework was a long ways off in 2016. It is easy to point to the Browns eventually drafting Baker Mayfield in 2018 as a reason not to take Goff in 2016, but those 2016 and 2017 Browns would have greatly benefited from having even league average quarterback play. If Goff failed quickly in Cleveland, the Browns still would have had a chance to grab Mayfield by the time 2018 rolled around.
9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Original pick: Vernon Hargreaves, CB, Florida Redraft selection: Xavien Howard, CB, Baylor Tampa desperately needed a No. 1 corner capable of generating turnovers back in 2016. It turns out, they drafted the wrong player to fill that roll. Vernon Hargreaves has bounced around the league. The Bucs actually traded down two spots with the Bears on draft night and watched as the Giants took another corner who ultimately did not pan out. Meanwhile, Xavien Howard has developed into an All-Pro caliber corner. Since 2017, he has the most interceptions in the NFL with 22. Miami got one of the steals of the draft by landing him in the second round. There is no way he last that long this time around.
10. New York Giants Original pick: Eli Apple, CB, Ohio State Redraft selection: Jack Conklin, OT, Michigan State Back in 2016, Tennessee moved up to grab Jack Conklin ahead of New York. It turned out to be a really smart move as Conklin has grown into one of the best right tackles in the NFL. The Giants struck out, reaching for Eli Apple after seeing their preferred player come off the board. With no trades in this redraft, New York gets Conklin to solidify Eli Manning’s protection. He would have been a welcome upgrade over Bobby Hart on the right side of that Giants offensive line.
11. Chicago Bears Original pick: Leonard Floyd, EDGE, Georgia Redraft selection: Yannick Ngakoue, EDGE, Maryland Leonard Floyd has turned into a solid pass rusher, racking up 29 sacks in his career. However, he also has three years with fewer than 4.5 sacks in his five NFL seasons. It’s hard to justify taking that sort of player again at this point in the draft, especially with Yannick Ngakoue on the board. Only Joey Bosa has more sacks than Ngakoue in this draft class. Unlike Floyd, he has been consistently productive as well. In each of his five seasons, Ngakoue has recorded at least eight sacks. Swapping out Floyd for Ngakoue probably means the Bears never trade two acquiring Khalil Mack, which definitely limited the front office’s ability to build out the rest of the roster.
12. New Orleans Saints Original pick: Sheldon Rankins, DL, Louisville Redraft selection: Chris Jones, DL, Mississippi State Outside of Aaron Donald, there might not be a better interior pass rusher in the NFL than Chris Jones. He has 40.5 career sacks, including 33 over the past three seasons. His presence has fundamentally changed how the Chiefs defense has operated in recent years. Jones would offer a massive upgrade over Sheldon Rankins, who has not been able to replicate his eight-sack season from 2018. Jones playing alongside Cameron Jordan would be a nightmare for opposing offensive lines.
13. Miami Dolphins Original pick: Laremy Tunsil, OT, Ole Miss Redraft selection: Laremy Tunsil, OT, Ole Miss How do you evaluate Laremy Tunsil’s time in Miami? He was a solid starting left tackle in 2017 and 2018 after spending his rookie season at left guard. Then, he was sent to Houston in a mega trade that netted the Dolphins two first-round picks and a second-round selection in 2021. That’s a pretty incredible haul. Tunsil has continued to excel in Houston, reaching back-to-back Pro Bowls in 2019 and 2020, but he probably still wasn’t worth multiple first rounders. Either way, it put the Dolphins in a great position and I don’t think Miami would mind doing that all over again given the current status of the team following that move.
14. Oakland Raiders Original pick:Karl Joseph, S, West Virginia Redraft selection: DeForest Buckner, DL, Oregon While Oakland certainly had a need at safety, it is clear Karl Joseph was not worth a first-round pick. Plus, with DeForest Buckner still on the board, this pick should be a no-brainer. The Raiders were trotting out Dan Williams and Stacy McGee as their starting tackles in 2016. Buckner’s slide in this redraft is not indicative of how he has performed in the NFL. He has become one of the NFL’s premier interior lineman, especially as a pass rusher. Only Aaron Donald and Chris Jones have more sacks among interior lineman over the past three seasons. Buckner is strong against the run as well. There is no question he would have elevated the front four for the Raiders. Not to mention that pairing him with Khalil Mack would have been incredible to watch.
15. Tennessee Titans Original pick: Jack Conklin, OT, Michigan State Redraft selection: Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama Looking back, Tennessee crushed the 2016 draft. They traded up to draft Jack Conklin, then grabbed Derrick Henry and Kevin Byard in the second and third rounds. With Conklin off the board, I think Henry is the logical pick here. His career got off to a bit of a slow start, but no running back has become more essential to a team’s offensive identity than Henry in Tennessee. He has led the NFL in rushing each of the past two seasons and has seven more rushing touchdowns than any other player since 2018. He might not offer much as a pass catcher, but his value as a runner is so high, it almost doesn’t matter. You could argue Ezekiel Elliott is the better player, but I don’t think anyone fits the Titans’ power run scheme better than Henry.
16. Detroit Lions Original pick: Taylor Decker, OT, Ohio State Redraft selection: Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State Time for a mini run on running backs. Taylor Decker has been a good, but not great offensive tackle for Detroit since he entered the league in 2016. That certainly carries a lot of value, but Ezekiel Elliott is a game-changing running back with his ability to make plays between the tackles and in the passing game. Zeke has roughly 1,800 more yards from scrimmage than Derrick Henry as well. Elliott’s biggest issue has been fumbling with 21 in his career. Still, he would undoubtedly be the best running back the Lions have had since Barry Sanders. An offense featuring Matt Stafford, Calvin Johnson and Ezekiel Elliott would be really exciting and difficult to stop.
17. Atlanta Falcons Original pick: Keanu Neal, S, Florida Redraft selection: Kevin Byard, S, Middle Tennessee State Keanu Neal is far from a bust, but the best ability is availability and that is something Neal has struggled with quite a bit. He played in just four games across the 2018 and 2019 seasons. He returned in 2020 and looked like a quality starter again. However, healthy or not, Neal is not at the same level as Kevin Byard. One of the most overlooked players year in and year out, Byard burst onto the scene with a league-leading eight interceptions in 2017. It earned him Pro Bowl and All-Pro nods. He has not slowed down either. Only Xavien Howard has more interceptions from this draft class. Slotting him into this Falcons secondary would be a huge stabilizing factor.
18. Indianapolis Colts Original pick: Ryan Kelly, C, Alabama Redraft selection: Ryan Kelly, C, Alabama Another pick that stays the same five years later, Ryan Kelly has been a rock in the center of the Colts defense. You might not hear about him much, but for interior offensive linemen, that’s a good thing. He was the first of the building blocks Indianapolis put into place to rebuild their offensive line. He might not be the most crucial piece of the puzzle, but the Colts would be much worse off without him.
19. Buffalo Bills Original pick: Shaq Lawson, EDGE, Clemson Redraft selection: Leonard Floyd, EDGE, Georgia Buffalo was searching for a lean outside linebacker to rush the passer with this pick, but Shaq Lawson never really caught on in the NFL. His production and playtime makes him a situational rusher. Not what you are looking for in a first-round selection. Meanwhile, Leonard Floyd has turned into a three-down option at the position with better sack production. He took a big step in 2020, reaching double-digit sack numbers for the first time in his career. He might not be an elite edge rusher, but certainly a good addition to this Bills defense.
20. New York Jets Original pick: Darron Lee, LB, Ohio State Redraft selection: Joe Thuney, G, North Carolina State Darron Lee only lasted three years in New York before being traded to Kansas City for a mid-round pick. Despite all his athleticism, he never really developed into a reliable starter. If given a second chance, the Jets would likely bolster their offensive line. Joe Thuney is a player I think the Jets should have signed this offseason after an impressive five-year run with the Patriots. Building a solid offensive line for Ryan Fitzpatrick and eventually Sam Darnold likely would have changed the outlook of this franchise.
21. Washington Original pick: Josh Doctson, WR, TCU Redraft selection: Justin Simmons, S, Boston College This turned out to be a very disappointing wide receiver class. Josh Doctson was one of several first-round receivers to flop at the next level. At least Washington moved down a spot to draft him? Yeah, that doesn’t make anyone feel much better about it. While the need is still high for Washington, there just is not a player worth selecting here. Justin Simmons on the other hand has developed into a top safety. He has a ton of interceptions, including a career-high five in 2020. Washington was working with the duo of Donte Whitner and Duke Ihenacho in 2016 at safety. Simmons would offer a healthy dose of stability that neither of those guys could bring to the table.
22. Houston Texans Original pick: Will Fuller, WR, Notre Dame Redraft selection: Matt Judon, EDGE, Grand Valley State This was a tough decision. There are plenty who will argue that Will Fuller should be the pick again. He has explosive field-stretching ability and is coming off an exciting 2020 season. However, he has missed 27 games already in his career. He is actually fifth among receivers from this draft class alone, trailing Michael Thomas, Tyreek Hill, Tyler Boyd and Sterling Shepard. Fuller is third in receiving touchdowns, but there is a big gap between him and Thomas, who is second. In the end, I think Houston would benefit from tabbing Matt Judon instead. He is a versatile pass rusher who would slot in nicely across from Whitney Mercilus. A front seven featuring those two, J.J. Watt (when healthy) and Jadeveon Clowney would be a scary one for the rest of the AFC South.
23. Minnesota Vikings Original pick: Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss Redraft selection: Taylor Decker, OT, Ohio State For years, the Vikings have been attempting to build a good offensive line. In recent years, they have spent premium picks on Garrett Bradberry and Brian O’Neill. They could very well select another offensive lineman in the 2021 draft. Taking Taylor Decker back in 2016 was not an option, but in this scenario, he falls to them and gives them a quality left tackle to build around. He has never been flashy or in the All-Pro conversation, but Decker has done a good job protecting Matt Stafford’s blindside. On the other hand, Laquon Treadwell was a bust and Minnesota already had Adam Theilen and Stefon Diggs on the roster. This just makes way more sense.
24. Cincinnati Bengals Original pick: William Jackson III, CB, Houston Redraft selection: James Bradberry, CB, Samford William Jackson turned out to be a solid selection for the Bengals, but it took him a few years to really get up to speed in the NFL. He missed his entire rookie season with a torn pectoral muscle and did not become the full-time starter until 2018. Conversely, James Bradberry was a Day 1 starter in Carolina and continued to progress throughout his career, earning a Pro Bowl nod in 2020. He is disruptive and consistent on the outside and fills a huge need for the Bengals.
25. Pittsburgh Steelers Original pick: Artie Burns, CB, Miami Redraft selection: William Jackson, CB, Houston William Jackson weathers a very short drop and stays in the division. I just finished knocking him for taking a few years to get up to speed, but he has been a very reliable starter over the past three years. He might not be a lockdown, elite corner, but quality cover players are hard to come by. Even if he wouldn’t end up being an impact starter out of the gate, he would be a better option than Artie Burns. Burns got off to a decent start, but lost his job in 2018 and left Pittsburgh after the 2019 season.
26. Seattle Seahawks Original pick: Germain Ifedi, OT, Texas A&M Redraft selection: Kenny Clark, DL, UCLA Germain Ifedi has carved out a solid career for himself as a guard in the NFL. That was not quite what the Seahawks were looking for when they selected him after trading back to No. 32 in the 2016 draft. There are not many offensive tackles worth taking in this spot, so Seattle turns to the defensive side of the line and grabs Kenny Clark. Defensive tackle was definitely a need for the team as well as they went on to take Jarran Reed in the second round. Clark fills a huge role as a run stuffer on the Packers defense. He earned the starting job in 2017 and really came into his own in 2019, making his first Pro Bowl appearance. Clark is a solid pass rusher as well, with 18.5 sacks in his career, but he makes his money stopping the run. Seattle was anywhere from middle of the pack to mediocre in run defense from 2017 to 2019. Clark would’ve helped them prevent that lull.
27. Green Bay Packers Original pick: Kenny Clark, DL, UCLA Redraft selection: Myles Jack, LB, UCLA Green Bay misses out on Clark by one pick here, but instead grabs one of his college teammates. The word on Myles Jack coming out of school was that he had first-round potential, but knee injuries were going to cause him to drop. He went early in the second round on draft day back in 2016, but the Packers will not let him reach the end of round one here. While the Packers have found success mostly ignoring the position in recent years, I still stand by the idea that Clay Matthews would have been much more productive during his final seasons with the Packers if Green Bay had a true middle linebacker. Jack has the range to make plays from sideline to sideline and the instincts to make big plays in crucial moments.
28. Kansas City Chiefs Original pick: Chris Jones, DL, Mississippi State Redraft selection: Deion Jones, LB, LSU Kansas City made out like bandits in 2016, trading down into the early second round and stealing Chris Jones. Jones has been off the board for a while in this redraft, but there are still players worthy of consideration here. Deion Jones feels like a great fit for the Chiefs. He could operate in space and thrive as a coverage linebacker on a team that desperately needed one next to an aging Derrick Johnson. Jones would fit even better come 2019 when Steve Spagnuolo came to town. His 11 career interceptions are the most by any linebacker and tied with Jalen Ramsey and James Bradberry for fourth most in this class.
29. Arizona Cardinals Original pick: Robert Nkemdichie, DL, Ole Miss Redraft selection: Jaylon Smith, LB, Notre Dame Robert Nkemdichie did not work out in Arizona, or anywhere in the NFL for that matter. He only appeared in 29 career games, four more than the 49ers bust Joshua Garnett, who went the pick before Nkemdichie in 2016. Neither belonged in the first round. Jaylon Smith probably did. He, like Myles Jack, fell because of a knee injury. Smith missed the entire pre-draft process while rehabbing a torn ACL suffered in January at the Fiesta Bowl. He has struggled at times in the NFl, but his physical ability shines through sometimes. He has the speed and quickness to run sideline to sideline with mobile quarterbacks. He had a rocky 2021 season, but he has shown enough since his debut in 2017 to warrant a late-selection here.
30. Carolina Panthers Original pick: Vernon Butler, DL, Louisiana Tech Redraft selection: Matthew Ioannidis, DL, Temple This might come as a bit of a surprise, but Matt Ioannidis is quietly one of the better interior pass rushers in the NFL. He has 22 sacks in his NFL career despite missing 13 games in 2020 due to injury. When healthy, he plays an important role on Washington’s defensive line. He would not fill exactly the same role the Panthers were looking for when they drafted Vernon Butler. Butler was about 20 pounds heavier and much more athletic. However, he only lasted three seasons in Carolina before leaving for Buffalo in free agency.
31. Denver Broncos Original pick: Paxton Lynch, QB, Memphis Redraft selection: Cody Whitehair, OL, Kansas State Spoiler alert: Paxton Lynch was not a good NFL quarterback. The former Memphis star struggled to adapt to the speed on defenses and ultimately finished with four career touchdowns and less than 800 total passing yards. In other words, he was a bust. While Denver needed to find its quarterback of the future, it also needed an offensive line. Peyton Manning limped to the Super Bowl after being battered all year behind the Broncos’ leaky pass protection. Cody Whitehair would not have solved every issue, but he would have been a really good start. He has been a starter since Day 1 in Chicago, missing just two games in his NFL career. He earned Pro Bowl recognition in 2018. Either he or Matt Paradis could kick to guard and give the Broncos a really strong interior of its offensive line.
32. Cleveland Browns Original pick: Emmanuel Ogbah, EDGE, Oklahoma State Redraft selection: Will Fuller, WR, Notre Dame The Patriots had to forfeit their first-round pick because of one of their many scandals, so we will add the Browns first pick of the second round as a bonus here. Emmanuel Ogbah has actually developed into a solid situational pass rusher, tallying 27 career sacks, including nine in 2020. Cleveland misused him though, as they did many players in the Hue Jackson era, and he found much more success playing elsewhere. Will Fuller could give the Browns the type of receiver they were looking for when they took Corey Coleman. Fuller entered the league as a straight line burner, but has developed into a solid No. 2 option. His injury history and recent suspension definitely hurt his value, but he would still be a good target for Jared Goff, whom the Browns took in the first round in this scenario.
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I’m back with some fantasy content this week. I had to pass on writing my waiver wire column last week because life just got a bit too busy. I guess that’s what happens though when you are buying a house.
Now that I’ve got a bit more free time on my hands, I am able to dive deep into that available players tab and help you find the best players to add to your roster for this week.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, MIA For the fourth straight week, Ryan Fitzpatrick put up 20-plus fantasy points. He trailed only Patrick Mahomes in Week 5 among fantasy quarterbacks. Somehow, he is available in 80% (!!!!!) of ESPN leagues. If you are refusing to pick him up because Tua Tagovailoa could take over, you are missing out. He continues to put up huge numbers and heads into a Week 6 matchup with the Jets of all teams. While New York has had some success against Philip Rivers, Nick Mullens and Brett Rypien, that defense has given up 27.2 points per game when facing Josh Allen and Kyler Murray. Expect Fitzmagic to be closer to those two.
Ryan Tannehill, QB, TEN There are a lot of streaming options/potential Dak Prescott replacements for your lineup this week. Tannehill dazzled on Tuesday Night Football with three passing touchdowns and one more on the ground. It was against a Bills defense missing it’s best defensive player in Stephon Gilmore, but a good sign nonetheless. He faces a middle of the road Texans defense in Week 6 as well. I wouldn’t expect him to replicate his 29-point outing again, but should fill in nicely for the week if you are desperate for a new quarterback.
Justin Herbert, QB, LAC This rookie came to play. Herbert put up big numbers again against the Saints, topping 22 points for the third time in his four career starts. Now his upside is capped a little bit by the Chargers tendency to run the ball a lot, but he also tends to take a few shots downfield every game. He is heading into a bye in Week 6, but has a ton of value when he returns to action. Herbert’s next five games after the break are against the Jaguars, Broncos, Raiders, Dolphins and Jets. That is about as favorable of a fantasy stretch as you can ask for. He is still available in about 65% of ESPN leagues, but after his showing on Monday Night, he won’t stick around long.
Andy Dalton, QB, DAL There are a lot of quarterback options this week. Dalton stepped in for the injured Dak Prescott. He will be Dallas’ starter going forward. Even if he is not as talented as Prescott, Dalton has arguably the best receiving corps in the league to work with and a workhorse running back. Given that the Cowboys’ defense can’t stop anyone either, he is going to be throwing the ball a lot. He faces a tough Washington front seven behind a battered offensive line, but I still think Dalton will point up points right away.
Jared Goff, QB, LAR Turns out I recommended Goff a week too early. After a lackluster performance against the Giants, he tuned up Washington’s defense with 309 yards passing and three total touchdowns. It is hard to know which version of the Rams offense is going to show up at this point, but Goff faces a favorable matchup in Week 6 against the 49ers. Hard to imagine the 49ers being a team you want your fantasy quarterback to face, but their defense is ravaged by injuries. Ryan Fitzpatrick carved up the Niners’ secondary for the second-most points in fantasy this past week. If you are looking for a streaming option at quarterback, you could do much worse than Goff.
Alexander Mattison, RB, MIN For those of you who drafted Mattison and hung onto him this long, your patience might be rewarded. Dalvin Cook went down with a groin injury early in the second half against Seattle. Mattison finished with a staggering 20 carries, most of which came in the second half. Minnesota ranks fourth in rushing yards and third in attempts under Gary Kubiak. If Cook misses any time at all, Mattison is a borderline RB1 for every week he does. He is probably best in standard scoring leagues, but he can catch a few passes out of the backfield as well. He faces the Falcons in Week 6, who are giving up the second-most points in the NFL. If he is available, go get him.
Damien Harris, RB, NE Didn’t pick up Harris last week? It’s not too late, but you are running out of time. He had an expected bye week after his game against the Broncos was postponed, which means he will be playing the rest of the season. He has a chance to be the feature back, or as close as the Patriots will ever come to having one. He will now face the Broncos in Week 6. With Cam Newton likely to return, he could lose out on some carries, but Harris will still see enough attention to be fantasy relevant.
Chase Edmonds, RB, ARI If you are in PPR leagues, Edmonds might already be off the waiver wire. If he is still there though, he could have some spot flex value for your team. He picked on a weak Jets defense in Week 5 and faces a below average Dolphins one in Week 6. Only earning eight total touches is a bit concerning, but he was definitely the more effective running back in the Cardinals’ backfield. I will be curious to see if his role continues to increase with Kenyan Drake struggling. He is worth stashing on your roster, just in case he claims lead back responsibilities.
Chase Claypool, WR, PIT Where in the world did that come from? Destroyer of defenses Chase Claypool put up 11 more points than the next-highest scoring PPR receiver in Week 5. When Dionte Johnson went down with an injury, which has been a frequent occurrence this season, Claypool stepped up. Ben Roethlisberger seems to trust him already. While it is unlikely he will score four touchdowns again at any point this year, or maybe ever, Claypool carries value in fantasy. Even if Johnson does return for Week 6, Claypool is a big-play and red zone threat. He looks like a matchup-specific flex play at the very least.
Travis Fulgham, WR, PHI Speaking of the next highest-scoring receiver in fantasy… Proceed with caution on this one. Travis Fulgham was on exactly 0.2 percent of rosters heading into Week 5. He had a monster week though against the Steelers. With 10 catches for 152 yard and a touchdown on 13 targets, Fulgham put up WR1 type production. But was it just a flash in the pan? Desean Jackson, Jalen Reagor and Alshon Jeffrey should eventually return to action. Until they do though, Fulgham should hold flex value, especially in PPR leagues. You might have to sit him against the Ravens, but you could consider starting him against the Giants and Cowboys after that.
Laviska Shenault Jr., WR, Jacksonville It might be time to get to know Laviska Shenault Jr. The rookie from Colorado has earned at least six targets in three straight games. He racked up seven catches for 79 yards in Week 5 while facing the Texans. What makes Shenault appealing is his consistency. He has scored at least eight points in every contest under PPR scoring. D.J. Chark is battling an ankle injury, which should open up even more targets heading Shenault’s way. If he can start finding his way into the end zone, this will be a guy you want starting in your lineup every week.
Mecole Hardman, WR, KC With Sammy Watkins set to miss some time due to injury, Hardman has an opportunity to step up. He is best-suited for standard leagues given his big-play nature. Few teams can take the top off a defense like the Chiefs can. However, he is definitely a boom-or-bust type play. He has not had more four targets in four of his five games this season. If you are willing to roll the dice on him in Week 6, he should have a slightly higher floor given that his targets should increase with less competition for Patrick Mahomes’ attention.
Mike Williams, WR, LAC Williams got healthy and put up a huge statline against the Saints. He became the focus of the passing game when Keenan Allen exited with back spasms. Williams is always intriguing at his size from a fantasy perspective. He tends to draw a solid number of targets in the red zone, which creates a good floor for him. However, if Allen misses time, Williams becomes hugely valuable. However, with Los Angeles heading into a bye, Williams is nothing more than a roster stash that could help you when your other receivers are on a bye.
Eric Ebron, TE, PIT If you are in a PPR league, Ebron does carry some solid value as a high-floor tight end. For the the third straight game, he earned at least five targets. Unfortunately, he has not picked up too many yards and only managed one touchdown. Ebron does get a favorable matchup with a Browns defense allowing the sixth most points to tight ends in PPR. What would really help Ebron’s fantasy prospects would be holding onto the football. He has fumbled twice in his past three games. As far as spot starters go, Ebron is a decent option.
Irv Smith Jr., TE, MIN If you are in deeper league or look for a deep sleeper at tight end this week, Irv Smith Jr. could be a sneaky play. After back-to-back games without a catch, Smith had four for 64 yards on five targets against the Seahawks. Given how little he has produced up to this point, counting on him replicating those numbers is foolish, but he gets a great matchup with a Falcons defense allowing the second most points in fantasy to opposing tight ends. They are still 8.7 points worse than the average after allowing zero points to Panthers tight ends in Week 5 (because the Panthers don’t have a pass catching tight end they feature in this offense). He is my favorite boom-or-bust candidate of the week at the position.
If you are a fan of drama, you got lots of it in Week 5. After the Cowboys failed to reach a long-term deal with Dak Prescott during offseason, Prescott suffered a compound ankle fracture, ending his season. Conversely, Alex Smith suited up in his first NFL game since suffering a horrific leg injury of his own in November 2018. The league schedule got reorganized, undefeated teams, including the defending champs, lost and we even got Tuesday Night Football. Week 5 had a little bit of everything.
Given that it was such an unpredictable and wild week, the rankings underwent a massive overhaul, starting with a new team at the top. With injuries and uncertainty continuing to hang over this 2020 season, there is a good chance this order will change dramatically again as soon as next week.
1. Green Bay Packers: 4-0 (Last Week: 3) Bye Week This is a nice setup for the Packers. Take the week off an move atop the Power Rankings. Green Bay has been dominant through its four games and it is not at full strength yet. Davante Adams has been banged up, but should be back at 100% starting in Week 6. Eventually, Allen Lazard will be back as well. The Packers defense still could use some improvement against the run, but this secondary is quietly one of the better units in the league.
2. Seattle Seahawks: 5-0 (Last Week: 2) Won 27-26 vs. Minnesota Seattle got hot in the third quarter and scored three touchdowns in under two minutes. Outside of that stretch, the Seahawks looked outmatched against the Vikings. Russell Wilson worked a bit of late magic just to pull off a one-point win against a one-win team. The defense has been an issue all year long. However, the run defense was a strong point, up until Minnesota racked up 200 yards, even with Dalvin Cook missing the second half. Seattle was a bit lucky to stay unbeaten, but there is something to be said for showing ability to win close games.
3. Kansas City Chiefs: 4-1 (Last Week: 1) Lost 40-32 vs. Las Vegas The streak is over. Kansas City lost its first game since November as the defense fell apart. Derek Carr racked up 346 yards and three touchdowns, including two of over 50 yards. The Chiefs are still top in the AFC West though despite the loss. Sometimes a loss like this can help refocus a team. After all, it has been almost a year since Andy Reid’s team came out on the losing end. They will get a Bills team that is out to prove it is for real after dropping its first game of 2020.
4. Baltimore Ravens: 4-1 (Last Week: 4) Won 27-3 vs. Cincinnati Baltimore reminded everyone that while Joe Burrow might be the first overall pick and the Bengals are headed in the right direction, it is going to be a few years before they can really compete in the AFC North. The Ravens sacked Burrow an outrageous seven times and held the Bengals to just 2.5 yards per carry. Add in three forced turnovers, and this looked like the defense we saw down the stretch last year. Now if only the offense could get back to it’s 2019 form.
5. Pittsburgh Steelers: 4-0 (Last Week: 7) Won 38-29 vs. Philadelphia For the first time in 41 years, the Steelers are 4-0. For a franchise that has been so consistently in the top half of the league, it is hard to believe 1979 was really the last time Pittsburgh won four straight to open the season. Winning the battle of Pennsylvania was a bit ugly at times, Miles Sanders did rip off a 74-yard TD run after all, but Chase Claypool came to the rescue. He put on a performance for the ages, complete with four touchdowns. I don’t know how this front office continue to find incredible talent at receiver in seemingly every NFL draft.
6. Los Angeles Rams: 4-1 (Last Week: 10) Won 30-10 at Washington That looked a lot better than the week before. Los Angeles blew the doors of Washington in a really impressive showing. Jared Goff had a stellar day as the offense bounced back and the defense continued its dominant start to the season. Only the Steelers have more sacks per game so far than the Rams. This is shaping up to be one hell of a fight in the NFC West.
7. Tennessee Titans: 4-0 (Last Week: 11) Won 42-16vs. Buffalo Well that was a statement win if I’ve ever seen one. Tennessee dismantled Buffalo in a rare Tuesday night game to put the league on notice. While the Titans did struggle a little bit earlier this season, this was the same team that reached the AFC Championship game and had an early lead against the Chiefs in said game. They sure looked like that against a previously undefeated Bills team. With A.J. Brown back, it is time to start respecting the Titans.
8. Buffalo Bills: 4-1 (Last Week: 5) Lost 42-16at Tennessee Missing Tre’Davious White, John Brown and Zack Moss certainly hurts, but losing by 26 is inexcusable. This was a beatdown for Buffalo and a reminder that this team still is still building. The Bills have not had a playoff win since 1995. Hopefully, a loss like this will allow them to refocus. One game hardly ever defines a season. This might just be a speed bump on the Bills’ path to postseason success. They will get a chance to bounce back in a huge way as soon as this week. Buffalo hosts Kansas City in Week 6.
9. New England Patriots: 2-2 (Last Week: 7) Bye Week New England got a very unexpected bye week, which probably threw off some preparations and planning, but will hopefully allow the team get back to full strength. It was clear the offense was not the same without Cam Newton. Stephon Gilmore hit the reserve/COVID list as well. Another week to prepare for the Broncos likely isn’t really what Bill Belichick needs, but getting his two best players back is.
10. Las Vegas Raiders: 3-2 (Last Week: 15) Won 40-32 at Kansas City Welcome to the top 10 Las Vegas. Knocking off the defending champs was a great way to prove that the Raiders truly belong in the playoff conversation. It was one of the best games Derek Carr has ever played. Now the defense didn’t do a ton to help, but they did just enough. If Las Vegas can somehow find a way to produce like this offensively on a more consistent basis, this team could be scary. It is almost unfortunate the Raiders are heading into a bye week with all of the momentum they gained from this win.
11. New Orleans Saints: 3-2 (Last Week: 8) Won 30-27 vs. Los Angeles This was nearly a major set back, but Drew Brees and the offense did just enough to squeak by the Chargers. However, it is hard to completely ignore the Saints’ first half struggles. Los Angeles led 20-3 late in the second quarter. Justin Herbert, in just his fourth career start, threw for four touchdowns against the defense. That should be a red flag for this team going forward. The Saints seem to be hanging on right now, hoping that the return of Michael Thomas is going to save them. I am starting to worry this team might not really be a contender after all.
12. Cleveland Browns: 4-1 (Last Week: 16) Won 32-23 vs. Indianapolis It is hard to believe that this is the same team that got walloped by the Ravens in Week 1. Cleveland is capitalizing on an opportunistic defense and scoring at a really impressive rate. The Browns currently rank fourth in the league in scoring. What makes this win even more impressive is that they did it without Nick Chubb. I don’t think Cleveland is ready for contender status yet, but this team is one that no one should want to face right now. This style of play is hard to beat, but it is equally as hard to sustain.
13. Arizona Cardinals: 3-2 (Last Week: 14) Won 30-10 at New York Nothing like a good old pick-me-up to wash away a two-game losing streak. Kyler Murray wasn’t perfect, but Arizona did more than enough to batter New York. Then again, everyone has crushed the Jets this year. Still, the defense played well enough. Now it is time for the Cardinals to prove they are really a playoff-caliber team. Facing a Cowboys team without Dak Prescott might not seem like a huge test, but Dallas has a ton to play for and Arizona better not sleepwalk through that game.
14. Indianapolis Colts: 3-2 (Last Week: 14) Lost 32-23 at Cleveland What on Earth should we make of the Colts at this point? At first glance, it is easy to say the defense should have played better when you see it gave up 32 points. However, it is hard to ask more of a unit that had two interceptions and held the NFL’s top rushing team to just 3.8 yards per carry. Instead, it was Philip Rivers who once again proved not to be up to the task. With two interceptions, including a pick-six, a safety given up and no touchdown passes, Rivers cost the Colts an important game in the AFC wildcard race. I have said it before and I will say it again. Indianapolis has a roster ready to contend, they just don’t have a quarterback who can lead them to a championship.
15. Chicago Bears: 4-1 (Last Week 17) Won 20-19 vs. Tampa Bay Perhaps I am still sleeping on the Bears, but this proved to me that this team is definitely better than I initially thought. This defense means business and Nick Foles might be able to do just enough to help it grind out some wins. It will be interesting to see what Chicago decides to do next. They are a likely suitor for Le’Veon Bell given David Montgomery’s struggles and the injury to Tarik Cohen. Will the front office swing for the fences on a player who comes with an oversized personality? If the Bears are serious about competing, they might have to.
16. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 3-2 (Last Week: 9) Lost 20-19 at Chicago This week, Tom Brady took care of the football, but the offense still could not finish drives. You aren’t going to win too many games when you have to settle for four field goals and manage only one touchdown. It is important to cut the Buccaneers a little bit of slack. Chris Godwin and Justin Watson were both out, although, Tyler Johnson stepped up well in their absence. Ronald Jones also had arugably the best game of his professional career. Still, the team stalling in the red zone that many times is concerning, no matter how good the defense was on the other side of the ball.
17. Miami Dolphins: 2-3 (Last Week: 22) Won 43-17 at San Francisco Miami came out swinging and boy did it land a haymaker. The team benefited a bit from facing a rusty Jimmy Garoppolo, but that should not take away from how thoroughly the Dolphins dominated this game. Ryan Fitzpatrick looked unstoppable, posting an unbelievable 99.1 QBR. Defensively, Miami forced three turnovers and registered five sacks. This is the type of win that can build momentum, which means the Jets are in a world of trouble come Week 6.
18. Carolina Panthers: 3-2 (Last Week: 20) Won 23-16 at Atlanta I would have likely laughed at you five weeks ago if you told me the Panthers would have won three straight to take a share of the NFC South lead. I would have laughed harder still if you told me all three wins would have come without Christian McCaffrey. Yet, here we are. Carolina is finding its groove. This young defense is learning on the job and seems to be improving from week to week. Teddy Bridgewater looks like a franchise quarterback, smartly and efficiently leading the offense. It is too early to crown anyone yet, but the Panthers have to feel really good about their offseason remodel.
19. Minnesota Vikings: 1-4 (Last Week: 18) Lost 27-26 at Seattle Minnesota might be the best 1-4 team I have seen in a while. In their past three games, the Vikings have lost by a single point twice and picked up their first win of the year. Believe it or not, Minnesota largely dominated this game. They had a 13-0 at halftime. Then the wheels fell off for about two minutes and the Vikings were down 21-13. That cannot happen, nor can it be overlooked in evaluating this team. Mike Zimmer has this team competing with some of the best of the league, but he needs to see the results start going his way soon, or he will be out of a job.
20. Los Angeles Chargers: 1-4 (Last Week: 20) Lost 30-27 at New Orleans Here is a quick peek inside my process. Every week, I copy the entirety of last week’s rankings and paste it into a new document to start editing. It usually works really well, but it almost caused an issue this week. That’s because the Chargers blew a close game in which they had a huge first-half lead against an NFC South team. It is hard to know which aspect of this game to focus on. Despite another disappointing result, which mostly boils down to two missed kicks, Justin Herbert was sensational. If Los Angeles finishes 1-15, but knows it has it franchise quarterback, this season will be a success.
21. Philadelphia Eagles: 1-3-1 (Last Week: 24) Lost 38-29 at Pittsburgh Philly needs help in its secondary. Ben Roethlisberger threw for three touchdowns and the Eagles surrendered 38 points. It is time to pick up the phone and call Earl Thomas, Eric Reid or some other free agent for assistance. It is costing them their ability to run the ball too because they are going down early in games. Granted, outside of a 74-yard run from Miles Sanders, the second-year back managed just six yards on 10 additional carries. The Eagles look like they are in a lot of trouble.
22. Dallas Cowboys: 2-3 (Last Week: 24) Won 37-34 vs. New York There is really no positive way to spin this. What happened to Dak Prescott flat out sucks. However, Dallas is about as well positioned as it could be for an injury at quarterback. Andy Dalton is experienced and a solid spot starter. Given how bad the rest of the NFC East looks and the skill position players he has available to him, the Cowboys are still likely the favorite in the division. It is going to be interesting to watch this team going forward.
23. San Francisco 49ers: 2-3 (Last Week: 13) Lost 43-17 vs. Miami Oh boy. This is bad. In addition to the mounting injuries, San Francisco now has a quarterback controversy on its hands. Jimmy Garoppolo might have been rusty, but he looked terrible in his return from injury. For the second straight week, C.J. Beathard looked better in relief of the game’s original starter. Granted, he didn’t play a whole lot better. Additionally, the defense is a mess, the offensive line is struggling and I don’t know where the 49ers are going to get reinforcements from. Things are only going to get harder with the Rams up next.
24. Houston Texans: 1-4 (Last Week: 25) Won 30-14 vs. Jacksonville The post-Bill O’Brien era got off to a good start. Shoutout to Romeo Crennel for picking up his first win as a head coach since 2012. Even David Johnson looked pretty good, topping 100 yards in the win. There were still some troubling signs. Deshaun Watson took a lot of risks in this game, resulting in a pair of interceptions. Thankfully, the defense stepped up and Watson threw three touchdowns to help make up for the mistakes. Houston gets a fresh start, but I still don’t think the pressure is totally off. This team has no incentive to lose this year without a first- or second-round pick in the upcoming draft. I expect the Texans to keep fighting to get better with the part they currently have.
25. Atlanta Falcons: 0-5 (Last Week: 23) Lost 23-16 vs. Carolina It was only a matter of time, but another disheartening loss cost Dan Quinn his job. General manager Thomas Dimitroff went with him. Arthur Blank even went as far as to cast doubt on Matt Ryan’s future with the franchise following this loss. Atlanta’s famed offense of first-round picks once again failed to put up points and the defense can’t stop a nosebleed. While one loss rarely defines a season, this has the potential to be a pretty memorable one if the Falcons decide to move on from Ryan in the offseason.
26. Detroit Lions: 1-3 (Last Week: 27) Bye Week We have seen Bill O’Brien and Dan Quinn kicked to the curb in successive weeks. Will Matt Patricia be next? A loss to the Jaguars might just seal his fate. Patricia was brought in from New England to instill a winning culture and build a championship-caliber defense. With a 10-25-1 record in two-plus seasons and the Lions ranking last in rushing yards allowed per game and 29th in points allowed per game, I think it is safe to say he has failed to do both those things. Keep in mind, Detroit fired Jim Caldwell after a 9-7 season to hire Patricia.
27. Cincinnati Bengals: 1-3-1 (Last Week: 26) Lost 27-3 at Baltimore The high of the first win of the season and the first win of Joe Burrow’s career faded very quickly on Sunday. Burrow spent much of the game running for this life, taking seven sacks and getting absolutely no help from his ground game in the process. Defensively, it was a different story. Cincy held Lamar Jackson in check all afternoon. The reigning MVP finished with 4.9 yards per attempt passing and an interception. That doesn’t really make losing 27-3 to your division rival feel any better, but it is nice to have a silver lining.
28. Denver Broncos: 1-3 (Last Week: 28) Bye Week Few teams benefit as much from a week off as the Broncos. Denver gets a chance to allow KJ Hamler, Noah Fant, Jeremiah Attaochu, Mike Purcell and maybe even Drew Lock a chance to get back on the field in Week 6. Lock would obviously be the most significant development. While the defense was able to overcome Brett Rypien’s three interceptions against the Jets, that is a much tougher task against the Patriots. Denver still has an outside shot at a playoff run. Dropping to 1-4 makes that outlook a whole more bleak.
29. Washington: 1-4 (Last Week: 29) Lost 30-10 vs. Los Angeles As just about everyone did this week, let me take a moment to acknowledge the incredible feat that Alex Smith accomplished in returning football. He took it a step further by weathering an onslaught from the Rams defense. Aaron Donald along had four sacks. Los Angeles’ defense racked up eight in total, with Smith taking six of them. The offensive line has deteriorated quickly in Washington and no matter who is at quarterback, I don’t see things getting better before it is stabilized.
30. Jacksonville Jaguars: 1-4 (Last Week: 30) Lost 30-14 at Houston That Week 1 win over that Colts feels awfully long ago right about now. Jacksonville has a pedestrian defense with no pass rush. Offensively, the team moves the ball up and down the field, but does not score anywhere near enough points. It is hard to pinpoint exactly where the main issue lies with this team. It is much easier to see now why everyone expected the Jaguars to end up with the first overall pick.
31. New York Giants: 0-5 (Last Week: 31) Lost 37-34 at Dallas While it was a bitterly close against a division rival, it was good to see the Giants’ offense show signs of life. Granted, it might have been against the worst defense in the NFL, but beggars can’t be choosers. On the flip side, Daniel Jones continues to struggle with ball control. He was strip sacked and the fumble was returned for a touchdown. Miraculously, Jones did not throw a touchdown pass, despite New York finishing with 34 points. Ultimately, this team cannot find a way to win, even with the Cowboys rolling out their backup quarterback.
32. New York Jets: 0-5 (Last Week: 32) Lost 30-10 vs. Arizona Adam Gase Watch enters what feels like a sixth year. The Jets lost by double digits yet again and barely looked competitive against a reeling Cardinals team. To top that off, New York released Le’Veon Bell on Tuesday night after failing to find a trade partner for him. The franchise knows it is destined for a top-five pick and a potential reset on its rebuild. The sooner the team decides to move on from Gase so it can start evaluating players like Sam Darnold and Lamical Perine, the better.
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Every year, there a number of players in contract years who make themselves a ton of money. Players like Josh Norman, Nick Foles and Olivier Vernon showed out in their final year before hitting free agency and cashed in. Raheem Mostert would have been a great candidate to be on this list, but he signed a nice deal just before the Super Bowl.
To be clear here, these are players who have yet to earn that big payday in the pro football. Obviously, Tom Brady, Phillip Rivers and Jadeveon Clowney will land huge contracts, but they have already raked in a ton of cash. With NFL free agency just three weeks away from opening, let’s take a look at players looking to earn a big pay raise.
Dak Prescott, QB, Cowboys
It has been a long time coming, but Dak Prescott is going to get a massive pay increase this offseason. The former 4th-round pick made just over $2 million in 2019. He could very well be in line to land a deal that pays him close to $40 million per season. Even if Dallas decides to use the franchise tag on him, he would likely earn over $25 million in 2020.
Chris Jones, DL, Kansas City Chiefs Meet the top defensive player not named Jadeveon Clowney in this free agent class. Jones has been nothing short of a game-wrecker in Kansas City and was an integral part of that defensive resurgence in 2019. There is some buzz about him being an option for the franchise tag. The Chiefs may also look to trade him after that, which they did last year with Dee Ford. He made roughly $1.3 million during his Super Bowl run. On the open market, he could command close to $20 million per year on his next deal.
Matt Judon, EDGE There has already been some buzz about the Ravens franchise tagging Judon and looking to trade him. He has not been as prolific as Ngakoue, but he does have 29 sacks in four seasons. As a fifth-round pick, he made right around $2 million this year. The franchise tag would see him make around $16 million in 2020, but he could also sign a long-term deal for at least $14.5 million per year.
Shaquille Barrett, EDGE, Buccaneers Nobody made more money for themselves in 2019 than Barrett. The 27-year-old signed an incentive-laden deal with the Buccaneers, maxing out at $4 million. He went on to lead the NFL in sacks and now seems poised to land a contract somewhere in the range of $17 to $20 million per year. That type of leap is nothing short of incredible.
Derrick Henry, RB, Titans
Heading into the season, I was very pessimistic about Henry’s chances of landing a long-term deal in Tennessee. After he led the NFL in rushing this season and almost carried the Titans to a Super Bowl. He made about $1.1 million this season. He will almost definitely 10 times that in 2020.
Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Saints Many thought Bridgewater would attempt to land a big payday in the 2019 offseason. Instead, he signed a one-year, $7.25-million deal to stay as Drew Brees’ backup. His 5-0 stint as the starter when Brees got hurt earned him a ton of money. Expect him to sign a deal north of $20 million per year in New Orleans or elsewhere.
Yannick Ngakoue, DE, Jaguars If somehow Jacksonville lets Ngakoue walk, some team is going to hand him a monster deal in free agency. He has 38 career sacks in four seasons. As a former third-round pick, Ngakoue has well outplayed his contract. He made around $2 million in 2019. He should make upwards of $17 million per year going forward.
Austin Ekeler, RB, Chargers As a former undrafted running back out of West Colorado State, Ekeler flew under the radar for a while. He is not a bellcow back, but came just shy of 1,000 yards receiving in 2019. He earned a meager $645 thousand this past season, but he should probably earn himself around 10 times that on average, in the $7 million range. At 24 years old, he is hitting free agent at a prime point for running backs.
Austin Hooper, TE, Falcons He has flown under the radar a bit, but Hooper has turned into one of the top 10 tight ends in the NFL. As a 2016 3rd-round pick, he played at the final season of his rookie deal. The 25-year-old should have plenty of suitors and should more than quadruple the $2 million he made in 2019.
Anthony Harris, S, Vikings People have started to learn his name, especially after he finished tied for the NFL lead in interceptions this season. As a former undrafted free agent in 2015, Harris is in line for a massive pay bump. He earned roughly $3 million this year on a one-year deal. The 28-year-old will likely land a deal four times that.
Tre Boston, S, Panthers Working as a mercenary the past three seasons, Boston is in line for a longer deal with some more financial guarantees. He has 11 interceptions in that time frame. He turns 28 this summer and should be looking to cash in after another good season. After earning $2.275 million last year, he should be looking into the $9 million per year range at least on his next deal.
James Bradberry, CB, Panthers Another member of the Panthers secondary in line for a big jump, Bradberry is one of the better cover corners in the NFL. Carolina will likely keep him in house and hand him a handsome raise. He made just under $1 million this season. He should be making upwards of $13 million per year by next season.
D.J. Reader, DL, Texans As a former 5th rounder, Reader has flown under the radar. He made just over $2 million in 2019 but he outplayed that paycheck by a wide margin. He won’t reset the market by any means as mostly a run stuffing option. I think we will likely see him land a deal worth around $10 or $11 million per year. He is due for a nice payday.
Graham Glasgow, G, Lions Interior linemen don’t often move the needle, but finding a player capable of keeping your quarterback upright is invaluable. Glasgow has started 58 games out of a possible 64 over the past four seasons. He is 27 years old and should find himself making about $10 million per year after earning just $2 million in 2019.