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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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.
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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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 fiancée 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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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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Welcome to the NFL offseason. The Buccaneers put a bow on the 2020 season by steamrolling the Chiefs 31-9 in a lopsided Super Bowl. Now, all 32 teams shift their focus to 2021. After a year like none we have ever seen before, we are heading for an offseason like none before.
There are at least a dozen teams that could make a change at quarterback. The NFL combine will not be taking place as usual either due to COVID-19 restrictions. On top of all of that, the salary cap is set to decrease by close to $15 million. This sets up one of the most interesting and pivotal offseasons in recent memory.
With tons of key players potentially switching teams, there is bound to be a lot of movement in these rankings before we get anywhere close to the start of the 2021 season. As it stands though, this is how each team stacks up following Super Bowl LV, as well as a quick look at each team’s biggest free agents.
1. Kansas City Chiefs 2020 record: 14-2 Key free agents: WR Sammy Watkins, CB Bashaud Breeland, CB Charvarius Ward, SS Daniel Sorenson, OLB Damien Wilson Even coming off a drubbing in the Super Bowl, no team is better positioned to make another run at the Super Bowl than the Chiefs. The core of the team is signed through at least 2021 and Kansas City’s front office has done well in recent years to find solid contributors in the draft. As long as Patrick Mahomes is healthy, it is going to be hard to pick against him and Andy Reid.
2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2020 record: 11-5 Key free agents: WR Chris Godwin, OLB Shaquille Barrett, LB Lavonte David, TE Rob Gronkowski, DT Ndamukong Suh, DT Rakeem Nunez-Roches, RB Leonard Fournette, WR Antonio Brown, K Ryan Succop Tampa Bay will not be going anywhere as long as they have Tom Brady. Yes, Brady will be 44 next season, but this team is built for success all across the roster. There are a number of critical free agents the team will need to lock up, but players like Gronk and AB are likely to stick around to keep chasing rings. There are probably a few other veterans around the league that would do the same thing. Call it the Brady effect, but this team is going to be a front runner to repeat.
3. Buffalo Bills 2020 record: 12-4 Key free agents: G Jon Feliciano, OT Darryl Williams, LB Matt Milano, CB Josh Norman, DE Trent Murphy, TE Tyler Kroft Make no mistake, the Bills are for real. Buffalo has the offensive firepower and defensive grit to be one of the best teams in the league in 2021. Without a ton of crucial free agents, the front office could get aggressive in pursuing another corner across from Tre’Davious White or a more reliable tight end. If Josh Allen can come anywhere close to repeating his performance next year, Buffalo will be back in the postseason.
4. Green Bay Packers 2020 record: 13-3 Key free agents: RB Aaron Jones, C Corey Lindsley, CB Kevin King, RB Jamaal Williams, WR Allen Lazard, TE Robert Tonyan, DE Montravius Adams Once again, the Packers found themselves on the doorstep of the Super Bowl, but could not break through. This team is still really close to putting it all together and finally getting Aaron Rodgers his second ring. Green Bay has some key offensive pieces to re-sign in Jones, Lazard, Lindsley and Tonyan, but this roster is pretty solid throughout. With the right additions at cornerback and along the offensive line, this team should be primed for another deep playoff run.
5. Baltimore Ravens 2020 record: 11-5 Key free agents: OLB Matt Judon, DE Yannick Ngakoue, OLB Tyus Bowser, C Matt Skura, RB Gus Edwards, WR Willie Snead It was a rocky start to the year, but what we saw from the Ravens in the second half of the season points to this team’s championship credentials. Baltimore has some clear holes to fill in the front seven on defense with Judon, Bowser and Ngakoue all out of a contract. The offensive line could use a boost and Baltimore is desperate for another receiver, but the foundation is still strong.
6. Cleveland Browns 2020 record: 11-5 Key free agents: OLB Olivier Vernon, SS Karl Joseph, DT Larry Ogunjobi, WR Rashad Higgins I am very bullish on the 2021 Browns. Cleveland has arguably the best offensive line in the league, a deep group of offensive playmakers and a solid front seven. The secondary should be a bit healthier this season, but the Browns also have enough cap space to make a signing or two to bolster the unit. Baker Mayfield does not need to be Superman for Cleveland to take the next step. If he can avoid turnovers, this team should be in the thick of the division title race.
7. Los Angeles Rams 2020 record: 10-6 Key free agents: C Austin Blythe, OLB Leonard Floyd, RB Malcolm Brown, CB Troy Hill, TE Gerald Everett, SS John Johnson, WR Josh Reynolds, LB Sam Ebukam Los Angeles created themselves a two-year window to go win a championship by acquiring Matthew Stafford. The Rams’ biggest obstacle to accomplishing that goal will be finding a way to supplement the roster with limited draft capital. L.A. is projected to be $25 million over the cap as of right now. They are likely going to lose a lot of their key role players. Stafford is not a mobile quarterback, so if the Rams cannot find a way to protect him, this is going to be a really ugly collapse.
8. Seattle Seahawks 2020 record: 12-4 Key free agents: LB K.J. Wright, RB Chris Carson, DE Bruce Irvin, G Mike Iupati, DT Poona Ford, LB Shaquem Griffin, CB Shaquill Griffin, G Ethan Pocic Seattle played two halves of a great season. The offensive was unstoppable in the first half while the defense looked helpless. In the second half, the offense ground to a halt while the defense found its stride. It all culminated in a disheartening first-round playoff loss. The Seahawks have some critical free agents to re-sign and a number of holes left to fill. Russell Wilson will give them a chance to be great, but the supporting cast is not ideal. Mike Iupati’s retirement is just another sign that this front office needs to invest in the offensive line. If the Texans have taught us anything, it’s that you need to keep your franchise quarterback happy.
9. Miami Dolphins 2020 record: 10-6 Key free agents: C Ted Karras, LB Elandon Roberts, DT Davon Godchaux, QB Ryan Fitzpatrick It all falls on Tua Tagovailoa now. With a solid amount of cap space, a few premium draft picks and a great coaching staff, Miami seems to have the foundation in place to be successful this year and beyond. The theme of this offseason will be finding Tagovailoa some help. Miami knows it needs to find a No. 1 receiver and to solidify the offensive line. Expect the team to be in the running back market as well. With a strong offseason, the Dolphins could definitely push themselves into the top five.
10. Tennessee Titans 2020 record: 11-5 Key free agents: WR Corey Davis, TE Jonnu Smith, DT Da’Quon Jones, OLB Jadeveon Clowney, LB Jayon Brown, K Stephen Gostkowski Tennessee could not take that next step forward after an AFC Championship run in 2019, but the Titans did well to avoid falling apart as well. It is clear the Titans have a formula that works. They just need to reinvest in the front seven on defense to get back on track. Jadeveon Clowney did not work out and you can bet the front office will be looking for some pass rushing help this offseason. Some really interesting free agent decisions exist too in Corey Davis and Jayon Brown.
11. San Francisco 49ers 2020 record: 6-10 Key free agents: OT Trent Williams, CB Richard Sherman, FB Kyle Juszczyk, DE Solomon Thomas, CB K’Waun Williams, RB Jerick McKinnon, FS Jaquiski Tartt, RB Tevin Coleman How does a 6-10 team that lost both its offensive and defensive coordinator end up 11th? Well when pretty much your entire roster is hurt and you still find ways to win football games, that inspires a lot of confidence for when you do get Nick Bosa and company back on the field. This is going to be a crucial offseason for the 49ers, who could be a player in the Deshaun Watson sweepstakes. Cutting Jimmy Garoppolo would get this team up to roughly $45 million in cap space, so big decisions lie ahead.
12. Arizona Cardinals 2020 record: 8-8 Key free agents: CB Patrick Peterson, WR Larry Fitzgerald, RB Kenyan Drake, G J.R. Sweezy, DT Corey Peters, OLB Markus Golden, OLB Hassan Reddick, OT Kelvin Beachum The future still seems bright in Arizona, even after a rough finish to the season. Kyler Murray is clearly the team’s franchise quarterback. The defense had some bright spots. This team is still a few key pieces away from truly contending and the front office has some tough decisions to make regarding Patrick Peterson and Larry Fitzgerald. Finding a new running back will be on the to-do list as well. This offseason is critical for the Cardinals.
13. Indianapolis Colts 2020 record: 11-5 Key free agents: DE Justin Houston, DE Denico Autry, WR T.Y. Hilton, S Malik Hooker, CB Xavier Rhodes, TE Trey Burton, RB Marlon Mack, WR Zach Pascal, QB Jacoby Brissett Not included in that list of free agents are Philip Rivers and Anthony Castonzo, both of whom retired. For the third straight year since Andrew Luck retired, the Colts do not have a plan at quarterback. Perhaps Jacob Eason is the answer, but it is hard to feel too strongly about a player who has yet to attempt an NFL pass. Meanwhile, Indy has a bunch of free agents at key positions on defense and several players close to needing extensions. Thankfully, the Colts have nearly $80 million in cap space to reshape this roster.
14. Pittsburgh Steelers 2020 record: 12-4 Key free agents: WR Juju Smith-Schuster, RB James Conner, OLB Bud Dupree, OT Alejandro Villanueva, DE Tyson Alualu, FS Sean Davis, LB Robert Spillane, CB Mike Hilton, OT Zach Banner Pittsburgh’s offensive line is in shambles and Ben Roethlisberger is mulling retirement. Big Ben will probably be back, but the Steelers are going to need to rework his contract to avoid a $41 million cap hit. This offense has a number of critical needs and the Steelers have limited cap space to work with. Maurkice Pouncey is gone as well after announcing his retirement. All eyes will be on the draft for Pittsburgh. Don’t be surprised if a couple of big-name players walk away in free agency.
15. New Orleans Saints 2020 record: 12-4 Key free agents: QB Jameis Winston, DT Sheldon Rankins, FS Marcus Williams, DE Trey Hendrickson, CB P.J. Williams, TE Jared Cook When you are $70 million over the cap and your future Hall of Fame quarterback is about to retire, you are in for a pretty steep drop. There is still plenty of talent on the roster, but New Orleans has a number of major question marks. With key players on defense headed for free agency and no cap space to re-sign them, the Saints could be headed for a rebuild. I think they will be aggressive in trying to stay competitive, but it is hard to see the path forward right now.
16. Dallas Cowboys 2020 record: 6-10 Key free agents: QB Dak Prescott, DE Tyrone Crawford, LB Sean Lee, C Joe Looney, OLB Aldon Smith, S Xavier Woods This ranking mostly stems from the belief that the Cowboys will bring back Prescott. Before his injury, Dak Prescott was putting up MVP-type numbers. Dallas’ offensive line was decimated by injuries as well and the defense crumbled. Still, with the offensive firepower at Prescott’s disposal and a number of key players returning from injury, this Cowboys team should be in the mix to win the NFC East.
17. Minnesota Vikings 2020 record: 7-9 Key free agents: FS Anthony Harris, DE Ifeadi Odenigbo, LB Eric Wilson, LB Todd Davis The Vikings have very few free agents to tend to. Anthony Harris and Ifeadi Odenigbo are quality starters, but Eric Wilson and Todd Davis were rotational players this year and could easily be allowed to walk. Minnesota’s defense needs a huge turn around in 2021 after a very disappointing 2020 season. There is room for improvement on the offensive line as well. This is a make-or-break year for Kirk Cousins and potentially Mike Zimmer.
18. Carolina Panthers 2020 record: 5-11 Key free agents: OT Russell Okung, G John Miller, RB Mike Davis, LB Tahir Whitehead, WR Curtis Samuel, OT Taylor Morton Reports have placed the Panthers in the middle of conversations for Matthew Stafford and Deshaun Watson. It is clear the front office feels it needs to upgrade at quarterback. With a young defense, there is a lot to like in Carolina. One major area for concern is the offensive line. Three of the team’s starting linemen are headed for free agency. Don’t be surprised if the Panthers spend some draft capital to rebuild their offensive front.
19. New England Patriots 2020 record: 7-9 Key free agents: QB Cam Newton, G Joe Thuney, CB Jason McCourty, RB James White, DT Lawrence Guy, C David Andrews, DE Adam Butler, RB Rex Burkhead, WR Damiere Byrd, CB J.C. Jackson, DE Deatrich Wise New England is primed for a makeover this season with tons of cap space, several key free agents and, potentially, a new quarterback on the way. The Patriots will have a bit more talent, specifically on defense, with several players likely to return after opting out of the 2020 season. Bill Belichick has his work cut out for him to overhaul this roster.
20. Los Angeles Chargers 2020 record: 7-9 Key free agents: OLB Melvin Ingram, TE Hunter Henry, C Mike Pouncey, LB Denzel Perryman, G Dan Feeney Los Angeles is headed in the right direction, but this team still has a long way to go before it is ready to compete for a title. The Chargers are breaking in a first-time head coach in Brandon Staley and have a patchwork offensive line. Mike Pouncey definitely won’t be back either after announcing his retirement. Justin Herbert gives this team a bright future, but there is still a ton of work ahead.
21. New York Giants 2020 record: 6-10 Key free agents: DT Leonard Williams, OT Cameron Fleming, DT Dalvin Tomlinson, WR Austin Mack, RB Dion Lewis, RB Wayne Gallman New York had some significant highs in 2020, taking the Bucs to the brink and beating the Seahawks in Seattle. Unfortunately, those were few and far between. Getting Saquon Barkley back will help this offense, but the team is still lacking playmakers. It seems like Joe Judge has reset the culture though and given the team a much brighter outlook. This defense is underrated and is capable of keeping New York in games.
22. Chicago Bears 2020 record: 8-8 Key free agents: WR Allen Robinson, QB Mitchell Trubisky, WR CordarrellePatterson, FS Tashaun Gipson, G Germain Ifedi, DE Mario Edwards Chicago has a big decision to make this offseason. Consensus seems to be that Trubisky is not the answer at quarterback, but the Bears are not well positioned to find his successor. With Robinson unlikely to return, and an uninspiring offensive line, this is not exactly a prime spot for free agents quarterbacks either. How the Bears answer their quarterback question is going to determine their outlook for 2021.
23. Washington 2020 record: 7-9 Key free agents: G Brandon Scherff, DE Ryan Kerrigan, CB Ronald Darby, QB Kyle Allen Washington’s defense is one of the best in the league. Now it needs to invest its resources in building an offense to match. Alex Smith is one of the league’s best comeback stories ever, but he is not the long-term answer at quarterback. He might not even be the short-term solution. With a sizable amount of cap space, Washington could get aggressive in finding some free agent additions, but everything hinges on the quarterback.
24. Las Vegas Raiders 2020 record: 8-8 Key free agents: DE Jonathan Hankins, DE Takkarist McKinley, WR Nelson Agholor, LB Raekwon McMillan, OLB Vic Beasley This franchise has been stuck in neutral for the past five years. Since a short-lived playoff run in 2016, the Raiders have been toiling away in obscurity and mediocrity. Derek Carr likely isn’t the answer at quarterback. Las Vegas’ defense is still one of the worst in the league. This team had it’s moment in the sun after stunning the division rival Chiefs, but it feels 8-8 is the ceiling given who the Raiders currently have on their roster.
25. Denver Broncos 2020 record: 5-11 Key free agents: OLB Von Miller, FS Justin Simmons, SS Kareem Jackson, DT Shelby Harris, WR Tim Patrick, A.J. Johnson, RB Phillip Lindsay Denver’ s offseason is going to be dictated largely by the decision the franchise makes at quarterback. There is some buzz about Deshaun Watson being interested in the Broncos. Drew Lock is still developing, but if the club is going to make a move like that, it would accelerate this team’s timeline significantly. They still have some key pieces on defense to lock up and a major decision looming regarding Von Miller. There is plenty of room for upward mobility.
26. Atlanta Falcons 2020 record: 4-12 Key free agents: C Alex Mack, RB Todd Gurley, SS Keanu Neal, S Damontae Kazee, DE Charles Harris, K Younghoe Koo Where in the world is this team headed? They still have Matt Ryan under contract through 2023 with a pretty easy out after 2021. The future of the club is going to be determined with what the Falcons decide to do with the fourth overall pick. Atlanta has a ton of options. They could find a successor to Ryan, pick their favorite non-QB prospect, or trade down and restock the roster. It is a tough call for new general manager Terry Fontenot.
27. Philadelphia Eagles 2020 record: 4-11-1 Key free agents: OT Jason Peters, WR DeSean Jackson, DE Vinny Curry, S Jalen Mills, RB Corey Clement, WR Greg Ward Carson Wentz is in Indianapolis. Zach Ertz is likely to follow. The Eagles are in salary cap hell and headed for something of a rebuild. Philly has an intriguing young quarterback to work with in Jalen Hurts, but there are question marks all over this roster. Not to mention, the Eagles have a first-time head coach who is a relative unknown. This team does not have the cap space to replenish this depleted roster right away. It is going to be two years before we see the Eagles competing in the NFC East again?
28. Cincinnati Bengals 2020 record: 4-11-1 Key free agents: CB William Jackson, WR A.J. Green, WR John Ross, DE Carl Lawson, DT Mike Daniels, K Randy Bullock, P Kevin Huber The key to this offseason will be protecting Joe Burrow. After the former Heisman winner spent much of 2020 running for his life, rebuilding the offensive line is the focal point. Expect the Bengals to be aggressive in the draft and free agency looking for ways to upgrade its current unit. Cincinnati has a few key free agents as well with William Jackson and Carl Lawson. There is a good chance that one of them departs, opening up another need on that Bengals defense. Cincy will need to stay patient, finding long-term solutions instead of short-team patches.
29. Houston Texans 2020 record: 4-12 Key free agents: DE J.J. Watt, WR Will Fuller, CB Gareon Conley,CB Vernon Hargreaves, DT P.J. Hall, DE Carlos Watkins Things look bleak in Houston. Franchise quarterback Deshaun Watson wants out. J.J. Watt is gone. The roster has holes at cornerback, edge rusher, running back and wide receiver, just to name a few. Under normal circumstances, the Texans could be well-positioned to land a top prospect to accelerate this rebuild. Instead, Houston does not have a pick in the first or second round. The organization maintains that it wants to keep Watson and rebuild his trust, but it is looking like this team might be headed for a long rebuild.
30. Jacksonville Jaguars 2020 record: 1-15 Key free agents: OT Cam Robinson, CB Tre Herndon, WR Dede Westbrook, WR Keelan Cole, WR Chris Conley, CB D.J. Hayden, TE Tyler Eifert, P Dustin Colquitt A new era is coming in Jacksonville. Urban Meyer takes over as head coach and presumptive No. 1 pick Trevor Lawrence will be the team’s new franchise quarterback. Things are definitely looking up, but the Jaguars have a lot of work to do still. Josh Allen and K’Lavon Chaisson offer exciting building blocks on defense, but the cupboard is pretty bare in the defensive playmaking department. Jacksonville’s secondary was one of the worst in the league in 2020. With a number of receivers headed for free agency, there is a clear need there as well. Lucky for the Jaguars, no one has more cap space this offseason, so Meyer and new general manager Trent Baalke will have every opportunity to reshape the roster.
31. New York Jets 2020 record: 2-14 Key free agents: FS Marcus Maye, WR Breshad Perriman, CB Brian Poole, LB Jordan Jenkins, S Bradley McDougald, CB Arthur Maulet, LB Tarell Basham The Adam Gase experiment ended with a resounding thud as the Jets played their way out of contention for the No. 1 pick. New York now has a huge decision to make about Sam Darnold’s future. It is very possible he is traded this offseason to make way for a new rookie quarterback selected with the second overall pick. The Jets are also still in the Deshaun Watson sweepstakes, but it is seeming less and less likely they are the winners. At least the organization landed Robert Saleh to be the team’s next coach. His arrival should bring some much needed leadership to the locker room, but also means a scheme change and a likely massive roster turnover. New York is going to be busy this offseason.
32. Detroit Lions 2020 record: 5-11 Key free agents: WR Kenny Golladay, DE Romeo Okwara, WR Marvin Jones, DE Everson Griffin, WR Danny Amendola, LB Jarrad Davis, S Durron Harmon, K Matt Prater Welcome to the bottom of the pile, Detroit. With Kenny Golladay headed for free agency and Matt Stafford now in SoCal, the outlook for the Lions is not very inspiring. It is hard to get excited about anyone on this roster at the moment. Jared Goff gives new coach Dan Campbell a reclamation project, albeit an expensive one. The defense needs an overhaul after some poor roster building in recent years. With a ton of future draft capital now available, the future is a bit brighter in Detroit, but 2021 is going to be a year where this team bottoms out, sheds veteran contracts and looks to rebuild the foundation of the franchise.
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