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 takeaways: Which teams nailed it and which teams would like a do-over

The 2021 NFL draft is in the books! While I don’t believe in giving out draft grades as soon as the draft ends and none of these players have played even a down in the NFL, I do think it is interesting to look at how the draft unfolded. There were a few teams that found great value at positions of need while others were left reaching or neglected to fill large holes on their roster. Here are my initial reactions to what went down in Cleveland.

Talk about nailing the draft

At first glance, there were a few teams that I think had really strong drafts. They navigated the board well, found great value and filled out their roster for 2021 and beyond. If your team is not here, that does not mean I hated their draft. There are only so many clubs that can impress in a weekend.

Washington Football Team
Biggest impact: Dyami Brown, WR, UNC (82nd overall)
Best value: Shaka Toney, EDGE, Penn State (246th overall)
This is by far my favorite draft class. It is way too early to start handing out grades, but Jamin Davis, Samuel Cosmi, Benjamin St-Juste and Dyami Brown could all be starters this year. Washington filled a number of positions of need and found some great value throughout the draft. Darrick Forest, Dax Milne and Toney are all solid depth pieces who could contribute in situational roles as early as this year. I think there is tons of upside with both Cosmi and Toney. I couldn’t believe they were both still available when they were finally selected. The only knock you could have would be not finding a quarterback to develop. Perhaps Washington really views Taylor Heinicke as a developmental option, but Ryan Fitzpatrick is obviously a stop-gap solution.

Atlanta Falcons
Biggest impact: Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida (4th overall)
Best value: Jalen Mayfield, OT, Michigan (68th overall)
Atlanta quietly had a great draft. They grabbed one of the best receivers in the draft in Pitts. Richie Grant, Jalen Mayfield and Drew Dalman will all push for playing time this year. Avery Williamson will be a special teams standout. Ade Ogundeji has outrageous length to work with and Frank Darby could be a steal in the sixth round. The Falcons also grabbed Jaret Patterson as an undrafted free agent. Not drafting a running back was one my biggest negatives here, so getting him helps soften that blow.

Carolina Panthers
Biggest impact: Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina (8th overall)
Best value: Daviyon Nixon, DL, Iowa (158th overall)
There was a lot to like in what the Panthers did in this draft. Carolina found some gems in the later rounds. Tommy Tremble could be the team’s No. 2 tight end this year and his blocking is a huge asset. Daviyon Nixon had a second-round grade from me and Shi Smith earned a late third-round mark. Landing them in the fifth and sixth respectively is great value. Terrace Marshall gives Sam Darnold another reliable receiver to work with as well. Chuba Hubbard will be a great change-of-pace back behind Christian McCaffrey. Oh, and Jaycee Horn fills a huge need and is pro ready. Carolina has put all the pieces in place for Sam Darnold to be successful.

Cleveland Browns
Biggest impact: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB/S, Notre Dame
Best value: Owusu-Koramoah
Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah was a top-20 player on my board and the Browns got him at 52. That alone might be enough to make them winners. However, they also grabbed Greg Newsome, one of my favorite corners in this draft, and Anthony Schwartz, a field-stretching receiver with untapped potential. James Hudson is a great value in the fourth round with a lot of upside. Having depth on the offensive line is never a bad thing either. I really like all of the Browns picks across the board. Tommy Togiai could compete for a role this season, maybe in goal line and short yardage situations. Tony Field is a great depth linebacker with a nose for the football. Richard LeCounte is talented but has to clean up his off-the-field issues. Demetric Felton is a fun gadget player for Kevin Stefanski to deploy as well. Well-rounded draft for Cleveland that filled a lot of team needs.

Minnesota Vikings
Biggest impact: Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech (23rd overall)
Best value: Wyatt Davis, G, Ohio State (97rd overall)
When you trade down and take a player everyone expected you to take before the trade, you are doing well. Minnesota landed two new starting offensive linemen in Darrisaw and Davis. I had both ranked in my top 32 players. The Vikings landed some other key contributors in Chazz Surratt and Patrick Jones II. Janarius Robinson, Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Jalen Twyman are all good value picks in the later rounds. I think Minnesota did an excellent job of planning for the present and the future. Kellen Mond gives the Vikings a development quarterback as well, who could potentially take over for Kirk Cousins down the line. Bottom line, Minnesota addressed some big needs without reaching. That’s a recipe for success.

Even the best laid plans go to waste

We all go into the draft expecting to go one way. Very quickly, it ends up going another way. The best front offices can pivot and recover when the unexpected occurs. With the benefit of hindsight, here a few teams that might want a do-over.

Seattle Seahawks
Biggest surprise: D’Wayne Eskridge, WR, Western Michigan (56th overall)
Biggest reach: None
Let’s make something clear, this has nothing to do with who the Seahawks decided to draft. It is much more about who Seattle didn’t decide to draft. Russell Wilson made it clear he wanted offensive line help. The front office ignored that entirely, waiting until the sixth round to select Stone Forsyth. D’Wayne Eskridge is an exciting player, but the Seahawks absolutely could have filled the role of a third receiver later in the draft, especially when your top two options are D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. I touched on it in my Day 2 surprises, but there were a number of good linemen on the board at that spot. I was also stunned that Seattle did not trade down. With only three picks in the whole draft, moving down to pick up one or two more selections would’ve been a wise move. The three players they took were good ones, but it feels like the Seahawks could have done more.

Dallas Cowboys
Biggest surprise: Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State (12th overall)
Biggest reach: Nahshon Wright, CB, Oregon State (99th overall)
It feels weird to put the Cowboys in this category. On one hand, I love Micah Parsons and Jabril Cox. I think both are great players and Cox was an absolute steal in the fourth round. However, this is a team that already has Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith at linebacker. While Dallas was smart to address its defense, linebacker was the one spot that didn’t feel like a huge need. Rashawn Slater was still on the board with both Tyron Smith and La’el Collins coming off major injuries. Then there was the Cowboys’ third round. Osa Odighizuwa went a bit earlier than expected, but filled a need. Chauncey Golston did too, but I liked him in the fifth round. NahShon Wright is long, but I was shocked to see him go this early. I don’t think this was an awful draft for Dallas by any means, but it was a weird one. I think they could’ve done better with the picks they had and the players still on the board.

Indianapolis Colts
Biggest Surprise: Dayo Odeyingbo, EDGE, Vanderbilt (54th overall)
Biggest Reach: Kylen Granson, TE, SMU (127th overall)

Indianapolis got off to a great start to the draft with Kwity Paye in the first round. Things went downhill from there. Dayo Odeyingbo is an intriguing talent, but he is coming off a torn Achilles suffered in January, so he likely won’t contribute this year. It was also a bit early for him and they had already drafted Paye. With a huge need at left tackle and other needs at receiver and corner, doubling up at defensive end was an odd choice. Kylen Granson was one of my least favorite picks. He went way too early and there were better players on the board, both in general and at the position. Waiting until the seventh round to draft an offensive lineman is questionable given the team has no real plan at left tackle. Carson Wentz proved last year that he does not thrive under pressure. I thought the Colts would prioritize protecting him. Still don’t understand the Sam Ehlinger selection either. Indy just took Jacob Eason last year. Definitely not my favorite draft on paper.

Dylan Moses and Mavin Wilson
Heading into the 2020 NFL draft, I had a late first-round grade on Dylan Moses. Even with the ACL injury and him missing his entire junior season, I figured a team would take a flier on him by the end of the second round at the latest. When he returned to school, he became one of the top prospects for 2021. I mocked Moses No. 10 to the Dolphins in my way-too-early mock draft. Moses had a rough 2021 season. He looked nowhere close to the explosive athlete we saw in 2019. His change of direction speed was gone and he reportedly dealt with a meniscus injury. I thought he would slide into the middle rounds of this draft. For him to go undrafted is wild. It was likely due to the lack of medicals for teams this year. Still, Moses missed out in a big way by returning to school. I will be rooting for him to prove people wrong in Jacksonville. Much of the same can be applied to Marvin Wilson. He was a fringe first-round pick in 2020 mocks, but decided to return to school. He debuted at No. 17 to the Jaguars in my way-too-early mock for 2021. Wilson had a checkered season that started with a public dispute with new Florida State coach Mike Norvell. He only recorded one sack, which came against Jacksonville State, in a disappointing season. Wilson ended up going undrafted as well, signing with Cleveland as an undrafted free agent. He signed a deal worth $192,000 guaranteed. For reference, Joe Tryon, who went to Tampa with the final pick of the first round, is expected to sign a deal worth $11.1 million with a $5.4 million signing bonus, per Spotrac.

While I have you here, a few more thoughts on this draft

These next two teams didn’t really fall into either category, but I felt like they were worth talking about because of the moves they made.

Houston Texas
Biggest impact: Nico Collins, WR, Michigan (89th overall)
Best value: Brevin Jordan, TE, Miami (147th overall)
Houston has now signed Tyrod Taylor, traded for Ryan Finley and drafted Davis Mills. Deshaun Watson’s future looks murkier than that of even Aaron Rodgers right now. Adam Schefter was reporting on Saturday that there are people in NFL circles who believe Watson won’t play in 2021. Credit the Texans for being aggressive in trying to find his successor. Well, as aggressive as a team who traded away a ton of premium draft picks to acquire Laremy Tunsil can be. Houston is still undoubtedly one of the worst-run franchises in football, but this is a positive start for Nick Caserio and company. Instead of feeling like this team is headed for a tear down, they suddenly have an exciting, raw quarterback to develop with an on rebuilding. Nico Collins and Brevin Jordan could both be involved in the offense this year. The Texans are still bad, but I like what they did with limited resources.

Buffalo Bills
Biggest impact: Carlos Basham, DL, Wake Forest (61st overall)
Best value: Basham
For the third year in a row, Buffalo invested significant draft capital into its defensive line. In 2019, it was Ed Oliver with the ninth overall pick. A.J. Epenesa landed with the Bills in the second round in 2020. This draft saw Buffalo grab defensive linemen with its first two picks, selecting Gregory Rousseau and Carlos Basham. Only San Francisco is able to rival the amount of young talent the Bills currently boast up front. What makes this group particularly scary is the versatility. You could really start any of them anywhere along the defensive line and feel pretty good about that decision. That doesn’t even take into account that Buffalo still has veterans like Jerry Hughes, Mario Addison and Vernon Butler. This undoubtedly sets the Bills up to have one of the best defensive lines in the league going forward. Also love the addition of Spencer Brown in the third round.

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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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2021 NFL Draft: First-Round Surprises and Best Players Available

We hyped it up for months. The NFL draft delivered. After the first two picks went off as expected, San Francisco pulled the first surprise of the draft and we were off and running. Three receivers went in the top 10. Four if you count Kyle Pitts. The Raiders ruined everyone’s mock draft, as we have come to expect by now. In short, it was a wild and exciting night.

I will continue to say, it is too early to hand out draft grades. At some point in the near future, I will go back and regrade the 2016 NFL draft. You need about five years to evaluate a draft class, and even then, that might not be enough.

Still, there is plenty of room for initial reactions to everything that just went down in Cleveland. Let’s review the biggest surprises from Thursday and take a look at the best players still available.

San Francisco fooled (almost) everyone
Shortly after the 49ers traded up to the No. 3 pick, it came out that Kyle Shanahan loved Mac Jones as a prospect. For weeks, speculation ran wild that Jones was going to be the pick. He fit the mold of what Shanahan loved in a quarterback and would give San Francisco a chance to win now with a healthier roster. Jones is pro ready and brought a lot of similar traits to Kirk Cousins, whom Shanahan found success with in Washington. It just made sense. Then, the narrative started to change. Rumors started to circulate that the 49ers were undecided on the pick, weighing Trey Lance and Justin Fields as well. As it turns out, they were not set on Jones. My initial reaction is that John Lynch and the front office got this absolutely right. After a few years of feeling like they were leaking information, we all knew the 49ers liked Javon Kinlaw and Brandon Aiyuk last year, San Francisco kept a lid on their draft plans for this year.

Philly and Dallas made a trade with … each other?
What in the world just happened? Apparently, the Cowboys hate the Giants more than they hate the Eagles. Philadelphia sent a third-round pick to Dallas to jump New York, taking the Heisman trophy winner, DeVonta Smith. The move reunites Smith with his college quarterback back at Alabama in 2017 and part of 2018. Jalen Hurts was replaced by Tua Tagovailoa before Smith was really part of the starting lineup, but there is at least some familiarity there. It is an interesting move by Jerry Jones. I guess he decided that he would rather take the extra third round pick if he was going to play against Smith twice a year regardless. Overall, savvy move by both sides that forced Dave Gettleman to trade down for the first time ever as a general manager.

Why do we even bother mocking picks to the Raiders anymore?
Speculation about what Las Vegas could do with the 17th pick was all over the place. I thought Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah was a great fit. My co-host on the Draft Season Never Ends podcast James Schiano predicted the Raiders would tab Teven Jenkins. He was closer, but Mike Mayock and Jon Gruden shocked everyone again by taking Alex Leatherwood. I had a late second-round grade on Leatherwood, ranking him 59th overall. ESPN showed a graphic that said its draft prediction algorithm gave the Alabama tackle a 60 percent chance of still being available when Las Vegas picked in the second round at 46. It was another head-scratching move, but this is what Mayock and Gruden do. In 2019, they stunned everyone by selecting Clelin Ferrell fourth overall. Last year, Las Vegas reached to draft Damon Arnette in the first round. This organization clearly has a very different outlook on the scouting process than everyone else in football.

Clemson backfield reunited in Jacksonville
Everyone and their fiancΓ©e had the Jaguars selecting Trevor Lawrence first overall in their mock drafts. It was a done deal. What we didn’t expect was for Jacksonville to take a running back with its second pick of the first round. Travis Etienne is an electric player in the open field and there was some speculation the team could look to add a complementary running back to support James Robinson. Taking Etienne in round one is a stunner though. As the league as a whole continues to devalue the position, Jacksonville suddenly has two starting-caliber options. Urban Meyer said he was going to take the best player available, but this is puzzling. Especially when you consider that Meyer told reporters that Etienne was going to be used as a third-down back. Excuse me? Very bizarre roster-building strategy indeed. Love the player, just wonder if maybe the Jaguars could have used the pick to fill a more pressing need on a roster with a lot of holes.

Payton Turner sneaks into the first round
I did not see this one coming. I had heard some buzz earlier in the day that Payton Turner could be a potential first-round pick, but I chalked that up to draft day noise. Turns out, it was spot on. He had been trending up recently, according to NFL Mock Draft Database. Only The Score had him ranked in the first round from what I can find, with his average ranking topping out at 68 overall. Turner was the second-to-last player to earn a third-round grade from me. He is long and agile though, so I can see the appeal for New Orleans, especially after losing Trey Hendrickson in free agency. Turner is also a really good fit in the Saints’ 4-3 system. However, considering that the team has Cameron Jordan and former first-round pick Marcus Davenport already on the roster, this has to go down as a bit of a surprise given the team’s other needs at corner, linebacker and receiver.

No JOK on Day 1
Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah was viewed as a lock by many in the media to go in the first round. He was a rangy coverage linebacker who could line up at safety and nickel corner. He is my top-rated player still available heading into Day 2. Did Isaiah Simmons’ struggles as a rookie sour the whole league on Owusu-Koramoah? It seems unlikely, but I am unsure how else to explain why one of the fastest linebackers in this class fell out of the first round. As the NFL has trended more and more toward linebackers who are lighter and quicker, JOK felt like a perfect fit for the modern NFL defense. He could easily go No. 33 overall to the Jaguars, who could use someone with his coverage ability in their defense. Much as I said about Josh Jones last year though, it is unclear when exactly his slide will stop.

Best Players Available

That is what stood out to me from the first night of the NFL draft. There are still 227 more picks to be made though, so the draft is really only getting started. With that in mind, here are my top remaining prospects:

16. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB/S, Notre Dame
24. Christian Barmore, DL, Alabama
27. Trevon Moehrig, S, TCU (first-round cut off)
29. Samuel Cosmi, OT, Texas
30. Creed Humphrey, C, Oklahoma
31. Pat Freiermuth, TE, Penn State
32. Wyatt Davis, G, Ohio State
33. Liam Eichenburg, OT, Notre Dame
35. Carlos Basham, DL, Wake Forest
36. Jabril Cox, LB, LSU
38. Jalen Mayfield, OT, Michigan
42. Terrace Marshall, WR, LSU
43. Javonte Williams, RB, UNC
44. Azeez Ojulari, EDGE, Georgia
45. Daviyon Nixon, DL, Iowa
46. Tyson Campbell, CB, Georgia
47. Joseph Ossai, EDGE, Texas
48. Brevin Jordan, TE, Miami
49. Nico Collins, WR, Michigan
50. Dillon Radunz, OT, North Dakota State
51. Jevon Holland, S, Oregon
52. Paulson Adebo, CB, Stanford
53. Quincy Roche, EDGE, Miami
54. Rashad Weaver, EDGE, Pittsburgh
55. Teven Jenkins, OT, Oklahoma State
56. Patrick Jones II, EDGE, Pittsburgh
57. Andre Cisco, S, Syracuse
58. Ifeatu Melifonwu, CB, Syracuse
60. Kelvin Joseph, CB, Kentucky
61. Baron Browning, LB, Ohio State
62. Landon Dickerson, C, Alabama
63. Jay Tufele, DL, USC
64. Elijah Moore, WR, Ole Miss
65. Peter Werner, LB, Ohio State
66. James Hudson III, OT, Cincinnati (Second-round cut off)
67. Rondale Moore, WR, Purdue
68. Nick Bolton, LB, Missouri
69. Chazz Surratt, LB, UNC
70. Amari Rodgers, WR, Clemson
71. Richie Grant, S, UCF
72. Trey Smith, G, Tennessee
73. Ronnie Perkins, EDGE, Oklahoma
74. Asante Samuel Jr., CB, Florida State
75. Levi Onwuzurike, DL, Washington
76. Davis Mills, QB, Stanford
77. Benjamin St-Juste, CB, Minnesota
78. Walker Little, OT, Stanford
79. Shi Smith, WR, South Carolina
80. Spencer Brown, OT, Northern Iowa
81. Michael Carter, RB, UNC
82. Aaron Robinson, CB, UCF
83. Tylan Wallace, WR, Oklahoma State
84. Dylan Moses, LB, Alabama
85. Kyle Trask, QB, Florida
86. Marvin Wilson, DL, Florida State
87. Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR, USC
88. D’Wayne Eskridge, WR, Western Michigan
89. Dyami Brown, WR, UNC
91. Tommy Tremble, Notre Dame (Third-round cut off)
92. Tyler Shelvin, DL, LSU
93. Nolan Laufenburg, G, Air Force
94. Robert Rochell, CB, Central Arkansas
95. Monty Rice, LB, Georgia
96. Quinn Meinerz, C, Wisconsin-Whitewater
97. Cameron McGrone, LB, Michigan
98. Jackson Carmen, G, Clemson
99. Shaun Wade, CB, Ohio State
100. Kenny Yeboah, TE, Ole Miss

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2016 NFL Redraft: Dak Prescott goes No. 1 while Jared Goff slides

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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