Way-Too-Early 2022 NFL Mock Draft: Texans, Lions, Giants and Washington go quarterback in Round 1

Already thinking about 2022? That’s the Jets fan in me. Always getting ready for the next draft. Gives me something to talk about every December and January when New York is out of playoff contention.

Anyway, I am just starting the process of watching film of the class of 2022. A few players I am familiar with after scouting them prior to them deciding to return to school. Then of course, names like Kayvon Thibodeaux, Evan Neal and Derek Stingley Jr. are known around college football because of their five-star status coming out of high school. Mix in a few quarterbacks and a bunch of receivers and we have an intriguing class.

The 2022 draft will likely look nothing like this. This is mostly just an exercise to identify some of the top players for next year and potential team needs on the NFL side. It’s also a lot of fun if you ask me. It makes it really interesting to go back and compare to the real draft a year later. I’ve been doing that with my first 2021 mock the past few days.

I did not decide the draft order. It is based on Super Bowl odds provided by William Hill. If you don’t like where your team is picking, take it up with them.

Without further ado, let’s dive into my first mock for the 2022 NFL draft.

1. Houston Texans (200-1) – Spencer Rattler, QB, Oklahoma
Apologies to Davis Mills, but if the Texans are picking first overall, I don’t see them passing on a quarterback. Spencer Rattler is the latest Oklahoma quarterback to draw national attention. He is a front-runner for the Heisman and should have the Sooners in position to challenge for the College Football Playoff. A quick glance at his 2020 tape will show some inconsistent performances early in the season, but his arm talent is impressive. It is very early in the scouting process for 2022, but Rattler has the early lead for QB1.

2. Detroit Lions (150-1) – Sam Howell, QB, UNC
Detroit opted not to take one of the quarterbacks in the 2021 draft, passing on Justin Fields and Mac Jones. If the Lions ended up with the second pick in the 2022 draft, you can bet that Jared Goff did not transition well to the Motor City. Sam Howell is a bit undersized, but has a live arm and is not afraid to air it out. It will be interesting to see how he fares with so much of his supporting cast now in the NFL. Javonte Williams, Michael Carter, Dyami Brown and Dazz Newsome all were drafted over the weekend.

3. Cincinnati Bengals (100-1) – Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU
Possibly the best cornerback prospect to come out since Jalen Ramsey, Derek Stingley Jr. is a reliable, sticky cover corner. He locates the ball well in coverage and does an excellent job pressing off the line. There are a few instances in his play where he grabs receivers after getting beat off the line, but overall, he is a great player. For Cincinnati, who lost William Jackson III in free agency this year, he would fill a huge need.

4. Jacksonville Jaguars (100-1) – Evan Neal, OT, Alabama
When you have your franchise quarterback, it is best to invest in protecting him. Evan Neal is a mountain of a man who moves like someone 100 pounds lighter than him. He has yet to play left tackle at Alabama, but should take over the position this season with Alex Leatherwood heading to the NFL. Jacksonville can get by for a year with Cam Robinson playing on the franchise tag, but he will likely be gone next year, creating a huge opening on Trevor Lawrence’s blindside.

5. New York Jets (100-1) – Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE, Oregon
Independent of position, Kayvon Thibodeaux is the top player in this class. After dominating his freshman season, Thibodeaux had a much more modest 2020, posting three sacks in seven games. His size and speed make him one of the most coveted prospects in this class. New York has been in search of a dominant pass rusher for well over a decade. Thibodeaux has the potential to wreak havoc in Robert Saleh’s scheme.

6. New York Giants (75-1) – Kedon Slovis, QB, USC
If the Giants are picking this high, Daniel Jones’ days in New York are likely numbered. Dave Gettleman has surrounded him with a lot of offensive talent, signing Kenny Golladay and drafting Kadarius Toney. There are no more excuses. Assuming New York is searching for a new quarterback, Kedon Slovis could be a great fit. He wowed as a freshman before turning in a rockier sophomore campaign. If he can cut down on his turnovers and regain his 2019 form, he will be challenging for the top quarterback spot in this class.

7. Philadelphia Eagles (75-1) – Kaiir Elam, CB, Florida
Philly missed out on the top corners in the 2021 draft. This team has a huge need across from Darius Slay. Kaiir Elam could be the perfect player to fill it. He is long at 6’2″ and has good speed in the open field. His eye discipline is impressive from the limited film I’ve watched so far. I’ve also appreciate his willingness to make contact as a tackler. He is not afraid to hit people.

8. Las Vegas Raiders (70-1) – DeMarvin Leal, DL, Texas A&M
After cutting Maurice Hurst and ignoring the position in the draft, the Raiders have a massive need at defensive tackle. Enter DeMarvin Leal. He is built like a prototypical three-technique tackle. His first step is good and he has a nose for the football. Even if he doesn’t get home, his presence is felt as a pass rusher. Las Vegas would benefit big time from having him on the interior of its defensive line.

9. Carolina Panthers (60-1) – Zion Nelson, OT, Miami
I thought the Panthers might select an offensive tackle early in this past draft. They did grab Brady Christiansen in the third round, but that is not enough to make me think they couldn’t use more help. Zion Nelson worked his way into the starting left tackle role at Miami in 2020 and excelled. He brings all the size teams are looking for at the position and could be Carolina’s starting left tackle in 2022 in this scenario.

10. New York Giants via Chicago Bears (50-1) – Christian Harris, LB, Alabama
After selecting a quarterback, Dave Gettleman turns to the defense here. Christian Harris is a do-it-all playmaker. He can drop in coverage like a safety or make plays around the line of scrimmage like a linebacker. He already has two years of experience as a starter in Alabama’s defense under his belt. The Giants would benefit from his sideline-to-sideline range.

11. Atlanta Falcons (50-1) – Zach Harrison, EDGE, Ohio State
I like what the Falcons did in the 2021 draft, but they still have yet to address their need on the edge. Zach Harrison has been used primarily as a situational rusher up to this point, but has the length to excel in a 4-3 defensive end role. He came on strong towards the end of the year for the Buckeyes and could be poised for a true breakout season in 2021.

12. Washington Football Team (50-1) – Desmond Ridder, QB, Cincinnati
Washington crushed the 2021 draft, at least on paper. They filled some needs and built quality depth across the roster. However, they still do not have a plan for the quarterback position. Ryan Fitzpatrick and Taylor Heinicke are currently the only two options on the roster. Desmond Ridder earned some late first-round love before opting to return to school. He is big and mobile. Without question, there are some mechanics you would like to see him improve, but he has enough tools to be in the first-round conversation.

13. Minnesota Vikings (40-1) – Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame
The last time Minnesota drafted a safety from Notre Dame in the first round worked out pretty well for them. Harrison Smith is now 32 though and Anthony Harris departed in free agency. Kyle Hamilton led the Irish in tackles this season. At 6’4″, 219 pounds, he could probably fit into a hybrid linebacker roll in today’s NFL. He started all year at safety for Notre Dame, but he can move around the formation and make plays. The Vikings will sign up for that.

14. Arizona Cardinals (40-1) – Drake Jackson, EDGE, USC
Arizona is relying on a number of veteran players to produce in pass rushing situations this year. J.J. Watt is 32 and Chandler Jones is 31. The team could use some youth on the outside. Drake Jackson had a quieter 2021 season after picking up 5.5 sacks as a freshman. He is a bit of a tweener, able to line up as a 4-3 end or a 3-4 outside linebacker. His versatility could boost his draft stock as the year rolls on.

15. Pittsburgh Steelers (35-1) – Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State
Few teams need offensive line help like the Steelers. Charles Cross started all 10 games at left tackle for Mississippi State in 2020. He checks all the boxes from a physical perspective and should be set for another year of facing elite competition in the SEC.

16. Los Angeles Chargers (35-1) – Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State
Chris Olave was a borderline first-round player before returning to school. He was Justin Fields’ favorite target and will form one of the nation’s best receiver duos with Garrett Wilson in 2021. It will be interesting to see if Olave can gel as quickly with Ohio State’s new starting quarterback.

17. Tennessee Titans (30-1) – George Pickens, WR, Georgia
Tennessee built some quality depth with Senior Bowl standouts Dez Fitzpatrick and Racey McMath in the 2021 draft. Maybe one of them will develop into a quality starter, but outside of A.J. Brown, this team is lacking in proven options. George Pickens is a bit of a question mark at the moment. He had surgery on a torn ACL in April and will likely miss most, if not all of the 2021 season. His game tape from the previous two years is impressive though and at 6’5″, he will have plenty of suitors in the NFL.

18. New England Patriots (30-1) – Josh Jobe, CB, Alabama
Rumors continue to fly about the future of Stephon Gilmore. The team could be betting on the development of 2019 second-round pick Joejaun Williams, but I think corner will be one of the team’s top needs next year. Josh Jobe is a physical corner with good size. He will get a chance to be Alabama’s No. 1 option with Patrick Surtain II now in the NFL.

19. Philadelphia Eagles via Miami Dolphins (28-1) – Jordan Davis, DL, Georgia
At 6’6″, 330 pounds, Jordan Davis is a problem. Philly can continue to rebuild its defense with a high-upside space eater. Davis is quicker than most people his size should be. He is routinely double teamed and does well at not allowing offensive linemen into his body. He could be in for a monster season at Georgia.

20. Dallas Cowboys (28-1) – Sevyn Banks, CB, Ohio State
Dallas missed out on the top corners in this draft class, so I have to imagine they would target one next year if given the chance. Sevyn Banks is a long, fluid defensive back coming off a solid season at Ohio State. He needs to work on his open-field tackling. The effort and form is lacking right now. His coverage skills are well above average. I am looking forward to watching more of him.

21. New Orleans Saints (25-1) – Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State
The Saints went heavy on defense in the draft, but they still need to find a receiver to complement Michael Thomas. Why not return to his alma mater? Garrett Wilson was arguably the better Ohio State receiver this past season. His production took a dive in the second half of the year though. If Wilson can replicate his hot start and this time maintain it, he will be in the conversation to be the first receiver selected.

22. Indianapolis Colts (25-1) – Thayer Munford, OT, Ohio State
Indy essentially passed on the offensive tackle class this year. I expect Chris Ballard will find a veteran stop-gap option, but a long-term solution is still needed. Thayer Munford enters his fifth season with the Buckeyes having already played in 46 collegiate games. He has been rock solid and should be among the top linemen selected next year.

23. New York Jets via Seattle Seahawks (25-1) – Kenyon Green, G, Texas A&M
Building in the trenches is often a recipe for success. After grabbing the top edge rusher in the class, Joe Douglas grabs the top interior linemen. Kenyon Green has a mean streak and was an All-American in 2020. He certainly passes the eye test to be an NFL lineman and looks like a reliable pass blocker in the limited tape I’ve watched so far. He would continue to solidify the Jets offensive line in an effort to protect Zach Wilson.

24. Denver Broncos (20-1) – Perrion Winfrey, DL, Oklahoma
Anyone else surprised to see the Broncos picking this late? Who am I to doubt Vegas though. Denver’s biggest need is an edge rusher, but there aren’t any I think are worth going here that fits Vic Fangio’s scheme. Instead, they grab a versatile defensive lineman to prepare for the future. Perrion Winfrey picked up steam as the 2020 season rolled on. He finished the year with six tackles for loss and solidified himself in the starting lineup.

25. Cleveland Browns (18-1) – Aidan Hutchinson, EDGE, Michigan
It is hard to find many clear needs for this Browns team on paper. Jadeveon Clowney is on a one-year deal though, so finding a replacement would make sense. Aidan Hutchinson is a prototypical 4-3 end. He had his season cut short in 2020 due to injury, but should be ready to bounce back.

26. Green Bay Packers (16-1) – John Metchie, WR, Alabama
Another Alabama wide receiver goes in the first round. John Metchie will get his chance to shine after sitting behind an all-star group of receivers over the past two years. That’s not to say Metchie hasn’t made plays either. He finished 2020 with close to 1,000 yards and six touchdowns. This year, he will be “the guy” though in this offense. For Green Bay, he would be a great No. 2 option across from Davante Adams with every single receiver, other than recently-drafted Amari Rodgers, set to be a free agent next offseason.

27. Baltimore Ravens (14-1) – Cade Mays, G, Tennessee
The Ravens took big Ben Cleveland to develop along the interior of the offensive line. Kevin Zeitler is 31 and Bradley Bozeman is a free agent after the season, so this is still a potential need. Plus, building in the trenches is always smart. Cade Mays is a former five-star recruit with great size and tons of experience. He would be up for the task of keeping Lamar Jackson healthy.

28. Detroit Lions via Los Angeles Rams (14-1) – Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas
Detroit grabbed its quarterback of the future and now can find him a weapon to develop with. Treylon Burks was one of the top receivers in the SEC in 2020. He has a big frame with good run after the catch ability. He could be primed for a huge season and a rise up draft boards.

29. Miami Dolphins via San Francisco 49ers (14-1) – Devin Lloyd, LB, Utah
One of my favorite players in this draft class, I’ve been tracking Devin Lloyd since 2019. He is fast and diagnoses plays well. Utah moves him all over the formation to create confusion. He is best as an off-ball linebacker, but he has shown some ability to rush the passer as well. For Miami, I think Lloyd would challenge for a starting spot right away and that Brian Flores would get the most out of him.

30. Buffalo Bills (13-1) – Jalen Wydermyer, TE, Texas A&M
Buffalo stacked up on defense in 2021, but still has a clear need at tight end. Jalen Wydermyer is the best one in the class and has the production to back it up. He would be another receiving option for Josh Allen and could cause headaches for opposing defenses with his size and speed.

31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (13-2) – George Karlaftis, EDGE, Purdue
Even after drafting Joe Tryon, Tampa could go edge rusher again to help lessen the blow of impending free agents. George Karlaftis had a truncated 2020 season between injury and COVID-19. However, he absolutely dominated in 2019, posting 17 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks as a true freshman. If he can get back to that type of disruptor in 2021, he will not still be on the board by pick 31.

32. Kansas City Chiefs (21-4) – Andrew Booth Jr., CB, Clemson
Kansas City rebuilt its offensive line this offseason, which means it can turn its attention back to the defense. Charvarius Ward and Bashaud Breeland are both free agents after this season and the Chiefs do not have much proven depth. Andrew Booth Jr. could step in as a potential starter at one of those two corner spots. He is incredibly athletic and should have a chance to prove himself this year as Clemson’s top corner.

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Way-too-early 2021 NFL Power Rankings

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

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

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

Chiefs Logo

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

Buccaneers logo

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

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

49ers Logo

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.

Arizona_Cardnals_logo_(1994-2004)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Patriots Logo

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.

Giants Logo

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

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

Washington made up logo

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

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

Denver_Broncos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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NFL Draft Podcast – NFC Free Agency Primer and Draft Implications

In this week’s episode, Chris breaks down the key free agents for every NFC team and discusses how these crucial decisions will impact the draft strategy for each franchise. Dallas dominates the NFC East conversation with its trio of high-impact free agents, but New York, Washington and Philadelphia have a couple of notable players no longer under contract. Pretty much every team other than the Falcons has questions at quarterback in the NFC South. The Saints, Panthers and Buccaneers all could have new starters in 2020. Most of the NFC West teams have a few important players that could hit the open market. Chicago has very few notable free agents, but will likely be aggressive anyway. Green Bay, Minnesota and Detroit have several players they will be focused on bringing back. Catch up on all the major pending free agents ahead of the scouting combine! Listen to the latest episode now on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.
https://anchor.fm/theaftermath

Ranking Cities Sports Title Droughts

It has been a wild couple of years in sports in terms of ending title droughts. In 2016, Cleveland won its first championship in any sport in over half a century and the Chicago Cubs broke a 108-year curse by winning the World Series. In 2017, the Houston Astros won their first ever World Series title. 2018 has already seen the Philadelphia Eagles win a long-awaited championship and the Washington Capitals finally bring home the Stanley Cup. Some of the most historic title droughts in all of sports have ended in recent years, begging the question of which cities remain the most tortured for a title. Here is my top ten.

10. Detroit
Teams: Lions (NFL), Pistons (NBA), Red Wings (NHL), Tigers (MLB),
Last title: 2008

It has only been a decade since a Detroit team has won a title, but the history of sports success in the Motor City is not a great one. The Lions have famously (or infamously) never won a Super Bowl, or even appeared in one. They also hold the NFL record for most consecutive playoff losses. Baseball is a little more promising because the Tigers have won before, three times actually, but the last World Series victory came in 1984. The Pistons have had some great teams, but have also been one of the worst run NBA franchises in the last ten years. In the NHL, the Red Wings represent the true bright spot. Detroit has hoisted the Stanley Cup twice since the turn of the century. It hasn’t been that long for Detroit, but it might be a while before one of these four teams wins another title.

9. Indianapolis
Teams: Colts (NFL), Pacers (NBA)
Last title: 2006

Only two teams reside in Indianapolis and the Colts have won a title. The Peyton Manning era is still one fans could look back on proudly, but for a long time the Colts were one of the most tortured franchises in the NFL. They have resumed that post since then. For a city as crazy about basketball as Indy, zero NBA titles is a real bummer as well. The Pacers have only reached the NBA finals once in franchise history losing to the Shaq and Kobe Lakers. Both the Colts and Pacers have been competitive in recent years as well, but always end up faltering in the playoffs, leaving a bitter taste in fans’ mouths.

8. Charlotte
Teams: Hurricanes (NHL), Hornets (NBA), Panthers (NFL)
Last title: 2006

It has also been 12 years since Charlotte has won a title, but they get the edge for having three teams as opposed to Indy’s two. The Hornets have been one of the worst franchises in NBA history. It has been 30 years since the Hornets were founded and the team has never so much as won a division title. Football has treated fans a little better, as the Panthers did reach the Super Bowl back in 2003. They came agonizingly close to beating that Brady guy, but Adam Vinatieri kicked the game-winner as time expired to beat Carolina. The Hurricanes are the only team in Charlotte to win a title. After losing in the 2002 Stanley Cup final, Carolina broke through in 2006 to lift the cup. Still, just one title between three teams over the past 30 years is a poor return.

7. Nashville
Teams: Predators (NHL), Titans (NFL)
Last title: N/A

If you also lump in the Memphis Grizzles, the Tennessee would likely move up a few spots on this list. Seeing as Memphis and Nashville are on opposite sides of the state though, it did not seem too fair. Both teams moved to town in 1997, but the Predators came close to bringing home a title in 2017. On the other hand, the Titans made the playoffs in 2017 for the first time in nearly ten years. What holds Nashville back is how new of a sports city it is. It has only had pro teams for 20 years, so the lack of a title is not totally shocking. Only one appearance in a finals setting is more than enough to qualify for this list though.

6. Cincinnati
Teams: Bengals (NFL), Reds (MLB)
Last title: 1990

Oh, where to begin with Cincinnati. For one, the Bengals have been a punch line in the NFL for quite some time. Head coach Marvin Lewis took over in 2003 and has taken the team to the playoffs seven times in his tenure. He is also 0-7 in the postseason. It has been 27 years since Cincy has won a playoff game, the longest active streak in the league. The Bengals weren’t always this way though. In the ’80s, Cincinnati made it to two Super Bowls, both times losing by less than a touchdown to the Joe Montana led 49ers. The Reds haven’t been a whole lot better. Since winning the World Series in 1990, Cincy’s baseball team has only made the playoffs four times. With the Bengals looking like an average team and the Reds in the middle of a rebuild, it could be a while before Cincinnati celebrates another championship.

5. San Diego
Teams: Padres (MLB), Chargers (NFL)
Last title: N/A

Technically, there is only one pro team still in San Deigo, but to not include the struggles of the Chargers in evaluating the drought this city has gone through would be unfair. I actually think the fact the Chargers left makes life as a fan in this city even more torturous. Boasting one of the greatest offenses in NFL history, San Diego never managed to reach a Super Bowl. Its lone appearance was a blowout loss to the 49ers in 1994. Even during the early 2000s, it seemed like the Chargers would finally break through, but never managed to reach the Super Bowl. For the Padres, opportunities for postseason success have been few and far between. In 49 years as a franchise, the Padres have made the playoffs just five times, including two different losses in the World Series. San Diego has long awaited a title and now will have an even tougher time securing one with only the Padres left in town.

4. Phoenix
Teams: Cardinals (NFL), Coyotes (NHL), Diamondbacks (MLB), Suns (NBA)
Last title: 2001

It has been 17 years since the largest city in Arizona brought home a sports championship. The Cardinals came agonizingly close in 2009 before falling to the Pittsburgh Steelers in a wild Super Bowl. The Suns haven’t been good in years, but still remember the days of Charles Barkley and Steve Nash fondly. Neither of the ever managed to bring home a title. The Coyotes have never made it to a Stanley Cup final, much less won one. That leaves the Diamondbacks, who won the cities last championship in 2001. It is the only title in the city’s history. The Cardinals won an NFL Championship in 1947, but that was actually while the team was located in Chicago. Only one title between four teams is tough for fans to swallow and it does not seem like any of them are close to a title for a least a few more years.

3. Atlanta
Teams: Hawks (NBA), Falcons (NFL), Braves (MLB),
Last title: 1995

Between the Hawks, Falcons and Braves, Atlanta has only brought home one title in the history of sports in the city. The Braves broke through in 1995, which isn’t really that long ago, but this city definitely knows what it is like to want a title. The Hawks have never made it to the NBA Finals while in Atlanta. The 2016 Falcons made it to the Super Bowl and blew the largest lead in the history of the game. It marked the second time the Falcons lost in the championship. Looking at the Braves, they lost four other World Series during the ’90s. Had it not been for that World Series in ’95, Atlanta might very well top this list.

2. Buffalo
Teams: Bills (NFL), Sabres (NHL)
Last title: N/A

Western New York is home to one of the most passionate fan bases in all of sports. The aptly named “Bills Mafia” provides a fun home field advantage whenever the Bills are hosting. Sabres fans have suffered through many years of woeful play on the ice, but still support the team nonetheless. Between these two franchises, Buffalo has appeared in six different championships, winning none of them. The Bills came up short in four consecutive Super Bowls! Talk about torture for fans. The Sabres made two different runs to the Stanley Cup final over the years, but fell short in both. It was the NHL team who made Buffalo’s last championship appearance in 1999. Up until last year, the Bills hadn’t even been to the playoffs since 1999. What holds Buffalo back from the top spot is the fact that the city only has two teams.

1. Minneapolis
Teams: Timberwolves (NBA), Twins (MLB), Wild (NHL), Vikings (NFL)
Last title: 1991

21 years ago was the last time a team from the Twin Cities won a title. Minneapolis is home to some of the most tortured fan bases in sports. On one hand, you have the Vikings. The Purple People Eaters lost four Super Bowls from 1969 to 1976. The Vikings have never made it back to the big game since their loss in ’76. It seemed like they would in 1998, with a historically good offense, only to lose in their first playoff game that year. Then there are the Timberwolves. Minnesota finally broke the second longest playoff drought in NBA history in 2018 after 13 years of failing to qualify. In a league where more than half the teams make it to the postseason, that is quite a feat. The Wild haven’t been in town long, but like the Timberwolves, have never even reached the finals. The Twins are the only team in town with a title, but have not returned to the World Series. While Minneapolis has won a title, none of the teams in the city have even reached the championship stage in the 27 years since. This city is starved for a title and well-deserving of the top spot on our list.

Why Matthew Stafford doesn’t cut it

There is a lot of pressure when it comes to making the right choice with the first pick in the NFL draft. We have seen our fair share of Hall of Famers, (Peyton Manning, John Elway, Lee Roy Selmon, Earl Campbell) and we’ve seen some hilarious busts (JaMarcus Russell, Courtney Brown, Ricky Bell, Ki-Jana Carter). It really can be hit or miss sometimes.

Matt_Stafford_2009_croppedMatthew Stafford is one of those first overall picks, from the 2009 edition of the draft. Stafford is by no means a bust. He has put up 21,000 yards and 131 touchdowns in his career. However, Stafford really doesn’t cut it for me. He is not number one overall material in terms of what his value turned out to be. He has been an average NFL quarterback, nothing more nothing less.

There are a lot of reasons I’m not too high on Stafford as a starting NFL quarterback. It starts with his over-inflated passing stats. Stafford consistently throws for 4,500 yards in a season, including over 5,000 in 2011. Those numbers look great but Stafford also throws an enormous amount of passes. His career average yards per attempt sits at 7.01. Stafford has never ranked in the top ten for yards per attempt in a single season. He came close in 2012 finishing 11th. He has finished twice outside the top 20 though, including this past season. Among active starters, Stafford is tied with Joe Flacco and Andy Dalton for yards per attempt in their career at 15th. That is underwhelming for sure. That isn’t all on Stafford because his receivers are responsible for picking up yards after the catch as well. However, part of the explanation comes in the next fault in his game.

Matthew_Stafford_(cropped)59.6 percent. That is Stafford’s career completion percentage. His receivers cannot pick up yards for him if Stafford cannot get them the ball. That number ranks Stafford 19th among active quarterbacks. That is below what would even be considered average. Stafford has only managed to rise above 60 percent twice in his four full years as the starter. This stat can be a little misleading because drops and throwaways can play a roll in driving a quarterback’s completion percentage down. Keep in mind though that Stafford doesn’t really need to be totally accurate when throwing to Calvin Johnson due to his insane catch radius. I think that balances any other factors.

You would think too that with guys like Johnson and nowadays Golden Tate at his disposal, Stafford would have a ridiculous number of touchdowns. Over the last four years, Stafford has tossed on average 28 touchdowns per year, which is pretty darn good. Unfortunately, when you look at the last three seasons though, ignoring his 41 touchdown anomaly in 2011, that number drops to 23.7. That second number is a lot more middle of the pack. Over the past three years as well, Stafford has been all up and down, finishing t-20th, 6th and 14th in touchdown passes. That range brings us to the next point.

Matthew_Stafford_2014Stafford lacks consistency, which is something teams desperately crave in a quarterback. Looking at this past year, Stafford toss multiple touchdowns in half of his games. At the same time, he also had four games where he failed to throw a touchdown pass. He also had five games where he threw for 300+ yards. That was juxtaposed to the three games though where Stafford failed to top 185 yards. And while you should dominate bad teams, none of Stafford’s 300+ yard days where against teams that finished in the top half of the league in pass defense and three of the teams were among the bottom five.

All quarterbacks should beat up on bad teams. However, good quarterbacks need to performance against good teams as well. That is something Stafford has really struggled with. Against teams that finish the season with a winning record, Stafford is a mediocre 3-24 in the last four years. That is downright pathetic. And this has to fall mostly on Stafford’s shoulders if he really wants to be an elite quarterback. He can’t blame a sub par defense or a shoddy running game. Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers won Super Bowls with average defenses and mostly non-existent running games. It’s not easy, but it can be done.

Stafford has zero playoff wins, one Pro Bowl selection (after four other quarterbacks dropped out) and is still riding the one year where he put up Pro Bowl caliber numbers, and still failed to make it. And if all of this has failed to convince you that Stafford is simply an average quarterback, maybe this will. ESPN uses the statistic Total QBR to measure a quarterback’s overall contribution to a game and weights the performance based on the number of plays and the scenario in which certain events occur. It is measured on a scale of 1-100 with 50 being average. In his six total NFL seasons, Stafford has finished each year with a rating below 61, including this season when he posted a 53.5. That was worse than Jay Cutler rated. The same guy who was benched toward the end of the season due to his poor play.

Plain and simple, he just isn’t that good. The Lions are never winning a Super Bowl with Stafford under center. He does not step up in big games and displays incredible inconsistency. He might have a few dazzling games here or there but on the whole, he is a largely average quarterback who has a durable enough arm to throw the ball 600 times a season. On the whole, Stafford just doesn’t cut it.