2023 NFL Mock Draft: Buccaneers, Vikings select QBs while two running backs go in Round 1

Merry Christmas! I mean, Happy Draft Day! For those of us that love the NFL draft, this does feel a bit like Christmas morning. With the anticipation of waiting to find out where all of these prospects will land and which one will end up holding up our favorite team’s jersey, it’s hard not to feel like you are just waiting to open your presents.

To celebrate, I had to put together my final mock draft of the year. Unlike the mock I dropped on Monday, this is what I would do if I were the general manager for each team, not what I anticipate will happen tonight.

Reminder, the first round is only 31 picks this year because the Dolphins were penalized their first-round selection for tampering. With all of that in mind, let’s dive into my final mock for the 2023 draft!

1. Carolina Panthers via Chicago Bears – Bryce Young, QB, Alabama
I know Young does not have the size of a prototypical quarterback, but he plays the position as a point guard. He describes it that way himself. You can see it in the way he approaches the position. He is a distributor with excellent leadership skills, great arm strength and impressive ball placement. He is exactly what the Panthers need to kickstart their rebuild.

2. Houston Texans – C.J. Stroud, QB, Ohio State
For all the waffling about what the Texans will or won’t do tonight, I think this should be a no-brainer. Stroud is an excellent passer with the athleticism to play the position in a modern NFL offense. He has excellent touch on his passes and more than enough zip to reach every part of the field. There is no doubt he will need to improve the mental side of his game, most notably reading defenses and post-snap progression, but I think he has the tools to be a franchise quarterback.

3. Arizona Cardinals – Will Anderson Jr., EDGE, Alabama
There has been a lot of buzz about the Cardinals trading out of this spot. That would probably be the best move, but I wanted to avoid projecting trades in this mock. Plus, as I wrote in my final player rankings, Anderson is the player in this draft I feel most confident in reaching the Hall of Fame from this draft class. He is a great athlete with incredible collegiate production. He will need to introduce some more varied pass-rush moves to truly thrive in the NFL, but I really like his upside. He would be a great building block for Arizona’s defense.

4. Indianapolis Colts – Anthony Richardson, QB, Florida
Let’s make this clear, Richardson is one of the least pro-ready quarterbacks in this class. He is inconsistent and inaccurate, two traits no NFL quarterback should have. That being said, he also has the highest ceiling of arguably any player in this class. He has elite arm strength, good anticipation and unbelievable mobility. His ability as a runner will make him one of the most dangerous quarterbacks in the league. However, he needs a coaching staff that will be patient with him. I think a first-year coach like Shane Steichen gives Richardson the best chance to be successful long-term.

5. Seattle Seahawks via Denver Broncos – Jalen Carter, DL, Georgia
The Seahawks have been burned by players with character concerns before, but I think Carter is worth the gamble. He is a dominant force on the interior and exactly the type of impact player the Seahawks need in their defense. His play strength is impressive and he is very capable of collapsing the pocket. The production has not quite been there to this point in college.

6. Detroit Lions via Los Angeles Rams – Devon Weatherspoon, CB, Illinois
The Lions have invested in their secondary this offseason, but there is still room to add. Especially, after trading away Jeff Okudah, taking Weatherspoon would give Detroit a true No. 1 corner to lead this group. He is an aggressive corner with decent size and length. I think Dan Campbell will really like what he brings to that table.

7. Las Vegas Raiders – Tyree Wilson, EDGE, Texas Tech
Corner could definitely be an option, but I think Wilson is the best defensive player on the board. He is long and dynamic off the edge. He will be an asset in the run game from Day 1 and has the skill set to develop into a really strong pass rusher. The Raiders would love to pair him with Maxx Crosby after the Chandler Jones experiment failed so miserably.

8. Atlanta Falcons – Nolan Smith, EDGE, Georgia
Atlanta has been searching for an edge rusher for years now. In this scenario, they wouldn’t have to look too far from their own backyard to find Smith. He absolutely flies off the edge, posting an absurd 4.39 40 time at the combine. He is coming off a torn pectoral muscle that ended his season, but should be ready to contribute right away in the NFL.

9. Chicago Bears via Carolina Panthers – Paris Johnson Jr., OT, Ohio State
If I am the Bears, I am doing everything I can to protect Justin Fields. That means taking the best offensive tackle on the board. Johnson is a former teammate of Fields as well. He is a smooth mover with good power and above average athleticism. I think he will be a Day 1 starter in Chicago.

10. Philadelphia Eagles via New Orleans Saints – Joey Porter Jr., CB, Penn State
Yes, the Eagles brought back Darius Slay and James Bradberry for another run. However, they don’t really have the future at the position figured out. As we saw last year, Howie Roseman likes to plan ahead. Porter has incredibly long arms and a good awareness for the position. I think he could be a lockdown corner in a couple of years.

11. Tennessee Titans – Broderick Jones, OT, Georgia
I toyed with the idea of taking a quarterback here, but I think Tennessee needs to rebuild this roster in a big way. How much better would adding Hendon Hooker make them? I don’t think he would be in a position to impact much with a lackluster offensive line and few reliable playmakers on the offense. Adding Jones would give the Titans a long-term solution at left tackle with great length and athleticism.

12. Houston Texans via Cleveland – Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State
If you want to make your rookie quarterback comfortable, adding one of his college receivers seems like a good place to start. Smith-Njigba is coming off an injury-plagued season, but he is an incredible route runner with good quickness and versatility. He can line up outside or in the slot. With Houston trading away Brandin Cooks this offseason, adding more pass catcher should be high on the to-do list.

13. Green Bay Packers via New York Jets – Michael Mayer, TE, Notre Dame
The Packers are suddenly flush with draft capital. Good thing too, because they need to put weapons around Jordan Love. With Robert Tonyan gone, Mayer would be the top tight end on the roster from the moment he arrives in the facility. He is a proven receiver who should have no problem contributing to a running game that features two of the better backs in the league.

14. New England Patriots – Deonte Banks, CB, Maryland
As a Jets fan, I never want the Patriots to get better. This is especially hard here because I am a big fan of Banks. He is a sticky corner with great speed. His technique needs a bit of refining, but I believe he has all the tools to be a No. 1 corner. New England could use a boost in their secondary. Banks would pair nicely with Jack Jones and give this defense an exciting young cornerback tandem.

15. New York Jets via Green Bay Packers – Peter Skoronski, G, Northwestern
I would have preferred Paris Johnson Jr. or Broderick Jones be on the board in this spot. The Jets have a clear need at left tackle and I worry about Skoronski’s ability to handle long edge rushers given his short arms. That being said, I think he is going to be an All-Pro guard at the next level. New York’s offensive line was decimated by injuries last year. There are much worse things than adding a player capable of lining up at truly any position on the line. Skoronski was a high school center before moving to tackle at Northwestern.

16. Washington Commanders – Christian Gonzalez, CB, Oregon
Kendall Fuller is in the final year of his contract and Benjamin St-Juste has still yet to truly prove himself as a starting corner. Gonzalez would be a Day 1 starter with good size, speed and positional awareness. His biggest knock is that he needs to get stronger. Too often, he was bullied by bigger receivers in college. If he can find a way to increase his play strength without compromising his movement skills too much, I think Gonzalez is going to be a hell of a player.

17. Pittsburgh Steelers – Darnell Wright, OT, Tennessee
With the top four corners off the board, offensive tackle makes so much sense for the Steelers. Wright has experience at both tackle positions, but seems best-suited to start on the right side. He is powerful and experienced. He will need some technical fine-tuning, specifically with hand placement and pad level, but he should wind up being a huge upgrade Pittsburgh.

18. Detroit Lions – Myles Murphy, EDGE, Clemson
In my opinion, the Lions should continue to invest in their defense. Adding Murphy opposite Aidan Hutchinson would give Detroit another athletic edge rusher capable of terrorizing opposing quarterbacks. Murphy is still a bit raw, but had good production at Clemson. His physical traits are fantastic and I fully expect him to be a three-down player in the future.

19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Hendon Hooker, QB, Tennessee
Tampa seems to lack a true succession plan to Tom Brady. Baker Mayfield and Kyle Trask don’t inspire a ton of confidence. Bringing in Hooker would give them a potential long-term solution. He is coming off a torn ACL, but has told teams he will be ready for Week 1. Ironically, he is the same age as Trask, so the Bucs would not be getting younger at the position, but Hooker should be a much better pro than the former Florida quarterback. He has a great deep ball and is a better athlete than people give him credit for. He will need to show he can consistently hit the target every week to be a successful starter, but I like the idea of him competing with Mayfield for the starting job.

20. Seattle Seahawks – Lukas Van Ness, EDGE, Iowa
Seattle has shown they have no problem doubling down when they have a position that needs addressing. In 2022, they invested two top 50 selections at offensive tackle. This year, it should be on the defensive line. Adding Carter solves some problems on the interior. Van Ness can play on the edge and give the Seahawks a nightmarish front to deal with. I think he has the size and strength to play the LEO position in this defense. Van Ness is still a little bit green, but his power and drive are clear when you put on his tape. I think Pete Carroll will love getting him in the building.

21. Los Angeles Chargers – Bijan Robinson, RB, Texas
At long last, Robinson comes off the board. With Austin Ekeler rumored to be on the move, Robinson could be his successor and a potential upgrade. That is saying something when the player he would be replacing scored 38 touchdowns over the past two seasons. Robinson is an impressive runner with great elusiveness and power. He is a receiving threat out of the backfield as well. I don’t think Justin Herbert would mind having Robinson to shoulder some of the load on offense.

22. Baltimore Ravens – Zay Flowers, WR, Boston College
Baltimore needs to find more playmakers. Flowers is about as reliable as they come. He produced solid numbers at BC despite mediocre quarterback play. His size will be a concern for some teams and could pose some problems, but I trust in his ability to separate and find space against zone defenses. If the Ravens are going to sell Lamar Jackson on returning to the team, finding him a new safety blanket would probably help the pitch.

23. Minnesota Vikings – Will Levis, QB, Kentucky
Should the Vikings be in the market for a quarterback? It seems like this new front office is laying the groundwork to find Kirk Cousins’ successor. The more I think about it too, the more I like the idea of Levis going to a situation where he would not have to start right away. He has a rocket for an arm, but lacks a lot of the refining that an NFL passer needs to be successful. He will also need to learn how to better protect his body because he is one of the most reckless runners I have ever seen at the quarterback position. I could see him having long-term success though playing in Kevin O’Connell’s offense.

24. Jacksonville Jaguars – Julius Brents, CB, Kansas State
One of my favorite players in this draft, Brents is a long corner with great fluidity. He dominated the combine and has some solid tape to back it up. I think he has the tools to develop into a high-level starter within his first few years in the league. For the Jaguars, finding another big body to start opposite Tyson Campbell would only make the talented front seven of this defense more lethal.

25. New York Giants – Jordan Addison, WR, USC
With many of the top corners off the board, I think the Giants have to pivot to receiver here. Addison is a polished route runner with elite college production. It helped that he played with Kenny Pickett and Caleb Williams, but there is a reason he was their go-to target. That is exactly what Daniel Jones needs. A player he can look to when it is third down and New York needs to convert. With his ability to line up inside or outside, I like Addison’s fit in Brian Daboll’s offense.

26. Dallas Cowboys – Dalton Kincaid, TE, Utah
With Dalton Schultz leaving in free agency, the Cowboys have a pretty big hole at tight end. Kincaid is not a true like-for-like replacement, but he would be another receiving option in a Dallas offense that seemed to lack them at times in 2022. Kincaid is best-suited to be a slot or hybrid-type player, who is not asked to block much. I’m not quite sure that fits Mike McCarthy’s vision for the position, but Kincaid would definitely help Dak Prescott get back on track this season.

27. Buffalo Bills – Quentin Johnston, WR, TCU
Buffalo has some good playmakers already in this offense. However, they don’t have a player with the size and speed of Johnston. He is a big play threat any time he touches the football and he has a great catch radius. With Stefon Diggs getting older and Gabe Davis in a contract year, adding Johnston gives the Bills a short-term boost with long-term value.

28. Cincinnati Bengals – Steve Avila, G, TCU
Back-to-back TCU players off the board is not something you see very often, especially in the first round. I am in the camp that believes Joe Burrow still needs more protection. Jonah Williams demanded a trade and seems to have no interest in playing guard. Avila could slot in at left guard from Day 1 and immediately improve this offensive line. He is a great pass blocker and would be playing in one of the best passing offenses in the league.

29. New Orleans Saints via San Francisco 49ers, Miami Dolphins and Denver Broncos – Will McDonald IV, EDGE, Iowa State
Marcus Davenport is gone. Cam Jordan turns 34 in July. The Saints need some help along the front seven. McDonald turned a lot of heads at the combine, but I feel like the buzz around him has cooled down a bit. He had great production at Iowa State, with 34 career sacks and 40.5 tackles for loss. He is also a great athlete. I think he would be a great fit as a defensive end for New Orleans.

30. Philadelphia Eagles – Jahmyr Gibbs, RB, Alabama
Two running backs in the first round??? I know the Eagles typically don’t invest first-round picks at the position, but there is a ton of value in being able to exercise that fifth-year option. Plus, this is their second selection of the round. Gibbs is a home run hitter with great receiving skills. He would be a nightmare to deal with a zone-read scheme. If there is any hesitation from the defense about who to carry, Jalen Hurts or Gibbs, the latter can turn the corner and you will never catch him.

31. Kansas City Chiefs – Bryan Bresee, DL, Clemson
I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Chiefs trade out of this spot if the board falls this way. With a run on receivers, corners and edge rushers, Kansas City can look to the future. Chris Jones is in the final year of his contract and Derrick Nnadi has yet to make much of an impact. The future at defensive tackle is murky at best. Adding Bresee would give the Chiefs an athletic prospect to develop.

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Draft Season Never Ends: NFL Quarterback Carousel

There are at least a dozen NFL teams who have questions to answer about the future of the quarterback position this offseason. With so many teams needing new QBs, who might get left out and how will it impact this year’s NFL draft?

You can find every episode on Anchor, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, YouTube or wherever you find your podcasts. As always, I appreciate reviews, feedback and when you hit that subscribe button.

How the Raiders can replace Derek Carr and where Carr could land in 2023

Carr’s completion percentage dipped to 60.8 percent this year, down from 68.4 percent a year ago. (Wikimedia Commons)

The Raiders are not officially eliminated from playoff contention, but they are already preparing for 2023. To be fair, their playoff odds are long, needing wins over the 49ers and Chiefs to close the season along with a litany of other results to go their way. However, Las Vegas essentially waved the white flag on Wednesday, announcing that Jarrett Stidham will start the final two regular season games with Chase Garbers set to be his backup. This means Derek Carr’s season is done and along with it, potentially his career with the Raiders.

How did we get to this point? Well, it started with the contract extension Carr signed last offseason. It looked as though the Raiders had locked up their franchise quarterback for years to come. Instead, it was actually a one-year pact with the framework to keep him in house if the team desired. Carr can be released or traded this offseason for a dead cap hit of just $5.625 million while saving Las Vegas $29.25 million in cap space.

The door was cracked open to Carr’s exit this offseason at that point. It was blown wide open as the year rolled on and the Raiders continued to struggle. The team that thrived in close games a year ago suddenly could not close out contests. A pair of losses would send the Raiders to 6-11 on the season, nowhere near the lofty expectations that were set after acquiring Devante Adams this offseason.

So what’s next for Carr? It seems like he will be searching for a new team this offseason. He won’t be shopping long. There are so many QB needy teams in the league right now, he will have his fair share of suitors. Before we get to where he might land, we need to figure out what the Raiders’ plan might be.

There certainly seems to be a shortage of quality NFL quarterbacks at the moment. There are something like a dozen teams who could be in the market for a new signal caller this offseason. It is a bit surprising to see the Raiders opt to get into the mix despite having at least an average starting option. It begs the question: how can they upgrade at the position? Is it even possible to upgrade this offseason?

Brady reportedly nearly joined the Raiders in 2020 before signing with the Buccaneers. (Wikimedia Commons)

Well, let’s look at some veteran options first. The first name that comes to mind is Tom Brady. Yes, the GOAT could very well leave Tampa Bay this offseason and head for a new team with a familiar face. He and Raiders coach Josh McDaniels worked together for a long time in New England, so this seems like a logical reunion. Las Vegas would unquestionably need to upgrade his protection either through the draft or in free agency. However, I imagine the prospect of throwing to Adams, Hunter Renfroe and Darren Waller would be an appealing one.

Otherwise, Jimmy Garoppolo feels like the only other seasoned signal caller that would be a viable option. He, like Brady, has history with McDaniels and will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason. Outside of Garoppolo, there aren’t too many realistic targets. I don’t expect Lamar Jackson to leave the Ravens. Baker Mayfield, Jameis Winston, Sam Darnold and Teddy Bridgewater don’t feel like upgrades. Perhaps the Raiders would hope to ride the Geno Smith wave, but that also feels unlikely.

If not a veteran, the draft is always an option. The Raiders are on track to land a top-10 pick in the draft. However, they find themselves behind as many as six different teams that could draft a quarterback this year. The Texans, Seahawks, Colts, Falcons, Lions and Panthers will all at least consider selecting a rookie QB. Some of that could be impacted by the offseason carousel, but I doubt that all six of those clubs will pass on a quarterback. At best, the Raiders would likely be taking the third or fourth choice passer from this class. Sometimes, that works out really well. Just ask the Bills. However, taking that would be a bold risk to take.

While the Raiders work on finding his replacement, Carr will be looking to refresh his career. Let’s take a look at where he might land.

Indianapolis Colts
Indy has been searching for a long-term solution at quarterback since Andrew Luck retired. After one-year rentals of Philip Rivers, Carson Wentz and Matt Ryan, Carr could end the search, at least for a few years. Calling Carr a bridge quarterback feels disrespectful given his success in the league and the fact he is only 31 years old. He would likely offer a lot more stability at the position than the Colts have had in years. If Indianapolis is able to land one of its top targets on the draft board, it currently holds the 5th overall pick, this likely won’t make sense, but if they want a veteran option to compete a bit faster and use that premium pick to bolster the roster elsewhere, Carr would be a logical choice.

New York Jets
Zach Wilson does not feel long for New York and Mike White has yet to really earn enough trust to be considered a long-term solution. Jimmy Garoppolo has been heavily linked to Gang Green given his connection to Robert Saleh and Mike LaFleur, but Carr could be another viable option for a team that feels like it is a quarterback away from at least being in the Super Bowl conversation. Joe Douglas will need to revamp the offensive line in order for Carr to succeed, but that is likely true of any quarterback New York brings in.

New Orleans Saints
This probably would not be a huge upgrade over the contingent of Andy Dalton and Jameis Winston, but progress is progress. New Orleans’ cap situation seems horrible, but they find ways to get around that pretty much annually. With a number of talented players already on the roster (think Alvin Kamara, Chris Olave, Tyrann Mathieu, Cameron Jordan, Demario Davis, etc.), finding some stability at quarterback could go a long way to getting the Saints back on track in a weak division. New Orleans is technically still in the playoff hunt right now despite a 6-9 record. Without a first-round pick, there aren’t a ton of other options, so Carr could be a target.

Washington Commanders
This feels like a sneaky good option for Carr. Terry McLaurin, Jahan Dotson, Brian Robinson and Antonio Gibson would give him a solid supporting cast. This team has a good defense and could use a boost at quarterback. Carson Wentz is very expendable and would actually save the Commanders roughly $26.2 million in cap space with zero dead cap. I don’t know if this move would make Washington a real contender, but if this team can compete for a playoff spot with below average quarterback play, even getting average quarterback play could go a long way.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers
I did say that Brady’s exit from Tampa Bay felt likely, didn’t I? Maybe, he and Carr could just trade places. The Buccaneers do not have a true succession plan on the roster right now and with them in line to win the NFC South, it is unlikely they will be in position to draft a quarterback in the first round. Carr could help this team stay in contention in the division. A healthy offensive line plus receivers like Chris Godwin and Mike Evans could lead to a very successful offense. Carr is still young enough to be considered the present and the short-term future at the position.

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Where will Baker Mayfield land?

It is hard to believe that one year after Baker Mayfield led the Browns to their first playoff win since 1994 he will now be searching for a new home. Tom Pelissero reported Thursday that Mayfield has requested a trade following Cleveland’s pursuit of Deshaun Watson.

An injury-riddled, disappointing 2021 season soured the relationship between the team and the former No. 1 pick. Cleveland had already opted against offering Mayfield an extension, instead allowing him to play out the final year of his rookie contract.

Mayfield posted a goodbye to Browns fans on social media earlier this week following the team’s interest in Texans quarterback Watson. The writing was on the wall then, but it is still a shocking development considering the Browns entered the season with legitimate title aspirations.

So what happens now for Mayfield? There is no shortage of suitors for the 26-year-old quarterback this offseason. Carolina, Atlanta and New Orleans are all in on landing Watson, but two of those teams will still need a long-term answer at quarterback after a deal goes down. Beyond those three, the Colts, Giants and Seahawks are all kicking the tires on prospective quarterbacks. New York did just sign Tyrod Taylor to backup Daniel Jones, but if there is interest in Mayfield, I don’t think that will stop them from making a move. What makes this complicated is that the Browns do not seem inclined to trade Mayfield. Jake Trotter tweeted shortly after the news broke that Cleveland denied his request.

The teams that stand out to me are Indianapolis, Carolina and Seattle. The latter two allow the Browns to move Mayfield out of the conference and both teams have major question marks at quarterback with hopes of being much more competitive in 2022. However, Cleveland might receive the best offer from Indy. After trading away Carson Wentz and without a first-round pick in 2022, it is hard to figure out who the Colts will start at quarterback this season. Let’s go team by team.

Carolina Panthers

The Panthers have several starting quarterback options, which is to say they have no idea who will start for them this season. Sam Darnold, who was selected two picks after Mayfield in 2018, is still under contract for 2022. He had an up-and-down year that ended prematurely due to an injury. Then there is Cam Newton. Super Cam arrived halfway through the 2021 season and immediately breathed some new life into the Panthers offense. The spark was short-lived though as Carolina went 0-5 in games Newton started. The former MVP also threw just four touchdowns and five interceptions in eight appearances. There is no question the Panthers need a long-term solution at quarterback.

Should they make the call?: Absolutely not. What is the point in adding a second quarterback from the 2018 draft coming off an injury. Mayfield would be an upgrade over both Darnold and Newton, but this does not provide the stability the Panthers need.

Seattle Seahawks

Now that Russell Wilson is donning Broncos orange, Seattle desperately needs to find its next quarterback. The combination of Drew Lock and Geno Smith does not inspire much confidence for long-term success. Lock is heading into his fourth season, but has struggled with consistency and health. Smith is a career backup who can step in for an injured starter. Neither is going to be the starting quarterback by the time 2023 rolls around. In fact, both could not be on the roster by that point. The question is not if Seattle needs help, it is if this is the right move.

Should they make the call?: I personally would love to see Colin Kaepernick get a second chance by landing with the Seahawks. Pete Carroll revealed this week that he has been in touch with the former 49ers quarterback. Kap is also working out with Seahawks wide receiver Tyler Lockett after he posted a video lamenting his lack of throwing partners. That being said, Mayfield is a much safer bet than Kaepernick, who has not taken a snap in the NFL since 2016. If Cleveland is willing to move Mayfield for a Day 2 and a Day 3 pick, I would strongly consider it.

Indianapolis Colts

Once again, the Colts find themselves in desperate need of a quarterback. Last year, that led Indianapolis acquiring Carson Wentz from the Eagles. Colts general manager Chris Ballard already flipped Wentz to Washington for pennies on the dollar, so this team is short on draft capital and high on needing a solution. With the right quarterback, this team has the talent to make a real run at winning the AFC South and maybe winning a playoff game or two. Sam Ehlinger and James Morgan are the only quarterbacks on the Colts roster at the moment. Maybe Indy will give Ehlinger a chance to compete for the job, but it also needs to find a veteran to be in the mix.

Should they make the call?: I don’t think so. To be honest, I think the Colts have missed their Super Bowl window. They have holes at wide receiver, left tackle, left guard, cornerback and safety. They have big contracts on board already for players like DeForest Buckner, Darius Leonard, Braden Smith and now Yannick Ngakoue. They still need to pay Quenton Nelson as well. I just think Indianapolis has too many holes and not enough resources to fill them all and become a true contender with this current roster. This core could still win a title, but it looks like it will be a year or two before they are ready to compete. If I’m Ballard, I pass on Mayfield and go sign Jameis Winston while I retool the rest of my roster.

New Orleans Saints

The Saints are clearly banking on landing Watson. After rolling with the combination of Winston, Taysom Hill, Trevor Siemian and Ian Book in 2022, the Texans quarterback could offer some much needed stability. You know, as soon as he is done serving the suspension that is likely coming for his off-the-field behavior. Still, if Watson winds up in Carolina or Atlanta, New Orleans will still need a quarterback. Winston and Siemian are free agents, Hill is a gadget player and Book looks like an overmatched backup quarterback. With Michael Thomas hopefully coming back from injury and Alvin Kamara facing legal trouble himself, there are still a lot of question marks surrounding this Saints offense.

Should they make the call?: Assuming they don’t land Watson, I say yes. Contingent on the asking price of course. If the Saints can land Mayfield for a mid-round selection and a future Day 3 pick, I think that is worth doing in this case. Mayfield is still 26 and has shown the potential to be a solid starter in the NFL. He won’t be a superstar, but the Saints can work to build more around him. They already have some great playmakers and a solid offensive line in place. That sounds like a recipe for success for Mayfield.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

How about a wild card to throw into the mix? Tom Brady is returning for another season, but his contract is up following 2022. Not to mention that he could always retire again. Rumors put Brady in San Francisco for 2023 with a chance to finish his career in his hometown. Speculation about Brady aside, it feels like Tampa has one more year with the seven-time Super Bowl champion. What remains behind Brady is far from reassuring as Blaine Gabbert and Kyle Trask will compete to be his backup.

Should they make the call?: I say yes. I just don’t think Cleveland would do the deal. Tampa could probably offer some more draft capital if the Browns would be willing to eat at least part of Mayfield’s cap hit for 2022. It would give Bruce Arians a year to evaluate Mayfield and let him learn from the greatest to ever play the position. Mayfield will certainly have opportunities to start elsewhere, but that does not mean he should take them right away. If he has another tumultuous year, it is hard to envision him landing a starting job anywhere beyond 2022. He has to pick his next destination carefully.

2021 NFL Power Rankings: Week 15

Three more teams joined the ranks of the eliminated this week as the Jets, Lions and Jaguars all saw their playoff chances officially reach zero. In truth, their hopes of reaching the playoff disappeared months ago, but now those teams can officially begin to look ahead to 2022.

Meanwhile, playoff races across the league are even more murky after the Cardinals lost to the shorthanded Rams on Monday night and a host of wildcard hopefuls swapped places. There are 14 teams in the NFL with six or seven wins so far this season. All of them will believe they can emerge from the pack to reach the postseason.

As we head into the home stretch of the regular season, here is how all 32 teams stack up.

Buccaneers logo

1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 10-3 (Last Week: 2)
Won 33-27 vs. Buffalo
Tampa Bay seemed to be strolling to a comfortable win against Buffalo, holding a 21-point lead at halftime. Then everything went sideways. The Bills outscored the Bucs 17-3 in the fourth quarter to force overtime. It seemed like Josh Allen was going to earn the walk-off win after Buffalo received to start the extra period, but Tampa’s defense found its footing and finally got a crucial stop. Tom Brady hit Breshad Perriman for the 58-yard game winner and the Bucs reached double digit wins on the season.

Packers logo

2. Green Bay Packers: 10-3 (Last Week: 3)
Won 45-30 vs. Chicago
Talk about wild momentum swings: This is not how I expected this game to go. Jakeem Grant scored on a 97-yard punt return to put the Bears up 10-0. The Packers then scored twice in just over a minute to take the lead. Chicago struck back quickly to go back on top. Green Bay finally took control in the third quarter, outscoring Chicago 21-0. This game really had everything though from recovered onside kicks to defensive and special teams touchdowns. In the end, Aaron Rodgers maintains his ownership stake in the Bears and the Packers stay comfortably atop the NFC North.


3. Arizona Cardinals: 10-3 (Last Week: 1)
Lost 30-23 vs. Los Angeles
Divisional games are always weird, but that does not excuse the Cardinals missing a huge opportunity. The Rams were dealing with a COVID outbreak, missing Jalen Ramsey, Tyler Higbee and others, but you would never have known it on Monday. Kyler Murray forced the issue too often, tossing a pair of interceptions and Kliff Kingsbury might have gotten a bit too aggressive with his play calling at times. Now, Arizona’s lead in the NFC West is down to one game as it loses the top spot in the NFC. This one stings a lot.

Patriots Logo

4. New England Patriots: 9-4 (Last Week: 4)
Bye Week
The Patriots should probably send Tom Brady a polite thank you note after he beat the Bills this week to stretch their division lead to two games. New England got the week off in the midst of a seven-game win streak, one that shows no signs of stopping either. Its final four games feature all AFC opponents, including a trio of playoff hopefuls. The Colts are up next before a rematch with the Bills. New England will finish out the season against Jacksonville and Miami, the latter of which will be a chance to avenge a Week 1 loss.

Chiefs Logo

5. Kansas City Chiefs: 9-4 (Last Week: 5)
Won 48-9 vs. Raiders
Kansas City is currently petitioning the league to play the Raiders every week. At least, that’s what I assume is happening. In two meetings this season, the Chiefs have outscored their AFC West rival 89-23. Las Vegas has not belonged on the same field on both occasions. Patrick Mahomes was uber efficient, completing 20-of-24 passes. The run game produced some big plays with Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Darrell Williams and Derrick Gore all finding the end zone. Meanwhile, Kansas City’s defense forced five turnovers in a dominant performance. Derek Carr spent much of the game running for his life and the Chiefs run defense held strong. Another crucial divisional game awaits. This time it is the Chargers on Thursday night.

6. Los Angeles Rams: 9-4 (Last Week: 7)
Won 30-23 at Arizona
I cannot overstate how monumental a win this was for the Rams. Missing a few key contributors due to COVID-19 protocols, Los Angeles did not miss a beat. It frustrated Kyler Murray and came up with some vital stops when it mattered most. Murray threw for 383 yards, but finished without a touchdown and two interceptions. On the other side, Matt Stafford looked dialed in. He tossed three touchdowns and took care of the football. This opens the door for the Rams to win the division and compete for the No. 1 seed in the NFC.

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7. Dallas Cowboys: 9-4 (Last Week: 6)
Won 27-20 at Washington
Early on, it seemed like the Cowboys were going to run away with this one. Washington could not get anything going offensively and Dallas led 24-0 at halftime. However, the Cowboys managed just three points in the second half while Washington stormed back and nearly forced overtime. The defense did its job, forcing four turnovers, including a scoop-and-score. Despite all the talent, questions about Dallas’ offense persist following performances like this one. Dak Prescott and company have a lot of room for improvement.

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8. Indianapolis Colts: 7-6 (Last Week: )
Bye Week
Indianapolis finds itself right in the thick of the AFC wildcard race. Following an 0-3 start, the Colts have gone 7-3 since then, largely on the back of Jonathan Taylor. The second-year running back leads the league in rushing by more than 300 yards and has scored 18 touchdowns so far this season. He will obviously be the catalyst for everything this offense does going forward. A showdown with the Patriots awaits with major playoff implications on the line.

9. Los Angeles Chargers: 8-5 (Last Week: 10)
Won 37-21 vs. New York
Sure, it helped to face Mike Glennon instead of Daniel Jones, but this was still a complete performance from the Chargers. Justin Herbert aired it out for three touchdowns while the ground game picked up 152 yards. Meanwhile, the defense got after Glennon, forcing a pair of turnovers. The run defense continues to be a problem, the Chargers surrendered 135 yards on 5.2 yards per carry, but if the offense can build an early lead, this defense is capable of protecting it.

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10. Buffalo Bills: 7-6 (Last Week: 12)
Lost 33-27 at Tampa Bay
I know that the analytics community hates running backs and the value of a top back is inconsequential compared to other positions. However, the Bills could really use a top-end running back right now. Buffalo did not attempt a traditional running play in the first half, instead calling designed runs for Josh Allen. He was wildly successful, going over the century mark, but so was Devin Singletary in limited opportunities. The Bills need to find balance on offense. It will take some pressure off Allen and could be the difference in close games like this. Buffalo did well to rally, but it should never have been behind by so much in the first place.

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11. Tennessee Titans: 9-4 (Last Week: 13)
Won 20-0 vs. Jacksonville
Tennessee has struggled to find an offensive identity since Derrick Henry suffered a broken foot. Turns out, that really didn’t matter on Sunday. The Titans defense intercepted Trevor Lawrence four times and held the Jaguars to eight, yes you read that right, eight yards of rushing. Mike Vrabel will be thrilled his team pitched a shutout, but questions about his offense still remain. It was good to see Julio Jones back on the field, but the former Falcons star has yet to establish himself in this offense. Hopefully A.J. Brown is not far behind Jones for a return to the field.

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12. San Francisco 49ers: 7-6 (Last Week: 15)
Won 26-23 at Cincinnati
San Francisco was definitely a bit fortunate to win this one. Having missed a potential game-winning field goal in regulation, Cincinnati winning the coin toss seemed like the final blow. Instead, Nick Bosa came up with a critical sack to force a field goal and Brandon Aiyuk ultimately tight-roped the sideline for the game winner. While this was an impressive win, it is hard to feel like the 49ers are ready to get on a roll. The offense has plenty of hiccups while the defense is still a bit inconsistent. A very winnable game against the Falcons is up next.

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13. Cincinnati Bengals: 7-6 (Last Week: 11)
Lost 26-23 vs. 49ers
It would be easy to say these are just the same old Bengals, but the old Bengals would not have even been in this game. Joe Burrow played well, with a pair of scoring strikes. Unfortunately, the offensive line was an issue yet again, surrendering five sacks. Joe Mixon could not get anything going either, averaging 3.2 yards per carry. Cincinnati’s defense pressured Jimmy Garoppolo all day, recording five sacks of their own. Down the stretch though, they had no answer for the passing attack, which ultimately cost them the game. This is the type of loss that could come back to haunt them come playoff time.

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14. Baltimore Ravens: 8-5 (Last Week: 9)
Lost 24-22 at Cleveland
The Ravens showed a ton of heart to battle back from down 24-3 without Lamar Jackson to nearly win this ball game. Tyler Hundley gave the team a fighting chance, leading a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown drives. Baltimore even recovered an onside kick. Unfortunately, the Browns defense came to play. Jadeveon Clowney sacked Hundley on second down for a huge loss and then Denzel Ward finished things off with a great open-field tackle to secure the win. Injuries are catching up with the Ravens right now and we see this team head into a free fall if they are not careful.

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15. Cleveland Browns 7-6 (Last Week: 16)
Won 24-22 vs. Baltimore
I can only imagine the headlines in Cleveland if the Browns had managed to blow this game with Tyler Hundley outdueling Baker Mayfield in the process. Kevin Stefanski is very lucky to avoid that media firestorm. Still, there are some concerns for the Browns following this win. Most notably, the offense ground to a halt after halftime as the Ravens pitched a shutout in the second half. That is not a winning formula in the NFL. Cleveland still has so many issues to iron out.

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16. Pittsburgh Steelers: 6-6-1 (Last Week: 14)
Lost 36-28 at Minnesota
Give Pittsburgh credit for making this score line look respectable and for nearly pulling off the largest regular season comeback in NFL history, but this was an ugly performance. The Steelers did not score until the two-minute mark in the third quarter. That almost makes their improbable fourth-quarter surge even more impressive, but there is no reason Pittsburgh should ever have been trailing 29-0 in the first place. Lucky for the Steelers, the Ravens and Bengals also lost this week, so they did not lose ground in the division.

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17. Miami Dolphins: 6-7 (Last Week: 17)
Bye Week
Miami will be disappointed to see Cleveland win as it gives the Browns a leg up in the wild card race. However, losses by the Bills and Bengals means that hope is far from lost. Tua Tagovailoa is finally hitting his stride with a string of solid performances. He is far from lighting the world on fire, but it is major progress for the young quarterback. Now, the Dolphins face a banged up Jets team they beat a month ago.

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18. Philadelphia Eagles: 6-7 (Last Week: 18)
Bye Week
Eagles fans will be watching the injury report closely this week as they await the status of Jalen Hurts for Sunday’s game against Washington. The team will obviously want to get him back in the fold, but fans might be hoping for another week of Gardner Minshew II, who led Philly to a victory over the Jets in Week 13. It is going to be a long week of speculation either way.

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19. Minnesota Vikings: 6-7 (Last Week: 22)
Won 36-28 vs. Pittsburgh
We have not praised Dalvin Cook enough yet. He miraculously came back from a shoulder injury to start against the Steelers on a short week and took over the game. He finished with 205 yards on the ground along with two scores. It was arguably the best performance we’ve seen by a running back all season. Minnesota’s defense did just, and I mean just, enough to hang on for a much-needed victory.


20. Denver Broncos: 7-6 (Last Week: 21)
Won 38-10 vs. Detroit
Nothing like a visit from the Lions to help wash away the bad memories of losing to the Chiefs. Denver’s running back tandem of Melvin Gordon and Javonte Williams both dominated the contest, combining to score four touchdowns on the afternoon. It was an emotional day at Mile High, but the Broncos did Demarius Thomas’ memory proud with a lopsided victory. This sets up a showdown between 7-6 teams on Sunday.

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21. Washington: 6-7 (Last Week: 19)
Lost 27-20 vs. Dallas
Washington’s winning streak has finally come to an end. Winners of four straight entering Sunday’s game, Washington was on the cusp of being a real problem in the NFC wildcard picture, perhaps the NFC East division race. Instead, Taylor Heinicke and the offense fell flat and it was too much to overcome in the closing stages. He exited with a knee injury and carries a questionable injury tag into the beginning of this week. Unfortunately, four turnovers and five sacks made Washington’s comeback bid ultimately obsolete.

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22. New Orleans Saints: 6-7 (Last Week: 22)
Won 30-9 at New York
They might not have faced much resistance, but it is always impressive to drop 30 points on a team while keeping them out of the end zone. New Orleans outclassed New York on both sides of the football. Suddenly, the Saints find themselves back in the playoff fun.

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23. Atlanta Falcons: 6-7 (Last Week: 25)
Won 29-21 at Carolina
Somehow, some way, Atlanta has put itself back in the playoff conversation following an important win over Carolina. Matt Ryan didn’t do much, but he valued the football and that was the difference in the game. The Falcons defense forced three turnovers, including a pick-six by Mykal Walker. A fumble by Quadree Ollison in the final minutes made things a bit more interesting as Carolina pulled within eight, but Atlanta was able to run out the clock. The Falcons are still outsiders in the playoff conversation, but get a chance to make up ground against San Francisco this week.

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24. Las Vegas Raiders: 6-7 (Last Week: 20)
Lost 48-9 at Kansas City
Once again, the Raiders are imploding in the second half of the season. They also looked like a JV team stomping on the Chiefs logo before getting rolled by 39 points. Derek Carr was far from perfect, but got very little help from his offensive skill players and offensive line. There is not much to learn from this game other than the Raiders are capable of being inordinately bad.

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25. Seattle Seahawks: 5-8 (Last Week: 27)
Won 33-13 at Houston
Given how the NFC wildcard race is going, maybe the Seahawks are not out of this just yet. Beating the lowly Texans does not make you a playoff team, but this was a well-rounded performance highlighted by Rashaad Penny’s breakout game. It has been a long time in the making, but the fourth-year back ripped off two 30-plus yard touchdown runs en route to a 137-yard day. Seattle needs to maintain this success in the ground game if it has any hope of making a run.

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26. Carolina Panthers: 5-8 (Last Week: 26)
Lost 29-21 vs. Atlanta
Firing Joe Brady appears to have done nothing in the short term. Carolina continues to struggle with turnovers and inefficiency. It is hard to see things getting much better this season with Christian McCaffrey on the shelf and an offensive line that desperately needs reinforcements. The Panthers defense has not been as dominant as it looked the first half of the year either, but there are only so many change of possession situations that a defense can weather. Matt Rhule’s seat seems to be getting hotter, but I think it just adds pressure to get things corrected for 2022.

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27. New York Giants: 4-9 (Last Week: 24)
Lost 37-21 at Los Angeles
Another week, another disappointing offensive performance for the Giants. Firing Jason Garrett has not done a ton to change the results for one of the most anemic units in the league. Mike Glennon started in place of the injured Daniel Jones this week and it did not go well. He committed two turnovers and failed to crack 200 yards passing in this game.

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28. Chicago Bears: 4-9 (Last Week: 28)
Lost 45-30 at Green Bay
This did not feel like a two-score loss for the Bears. In fact, this was some of the best football Chicago played all year. There were wild swings in momentum. Jakeem Grant’s 97-yard punt return put them up by 10 only for Justin Fields to throw a pick-six a short while later to go down 14-10. Fields flashed all of the potential Bears fans hoped to see from him. He had some costly errors, but that’s to be expected from a rookie quarterback. At this point, questions have to be asked of a supposedly great defense that just gave up 45 points.

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29. New York Jets: 3-10 (Last Week: 29)
Lost 30-9 vs. New Orleans
One of the tough things about turning over a roster is that when you rip it down to the studs, there is very little depth available for when players suffer injuries. With Elijah Moore and Michael Carter now on injured reserve, New York’s offense is relying on Braxton Berrios and La’Mical Perine. Some of that is on Joe Douglas for not drafting better. Denzel Mims still can’t stay healthy and this defense looks wildly overmatched. Point is, it is really hard to evaluate Zach Wilson when he is throwing to guys who wouldn’t make a lot of rosters around the league.

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30. Detroit Lions: 1-11-1 (Last Week: 30)
Lost 38-10 at Denver
Welcome back down to Earth, Lions fans. Detroit stood absolutely no chance in Denver, as the offense never got going and the defense had no answer for the run game. Melvin Gordon and Javonte Williams combined for 194 yards of offense and four touchdowns in the blowout. On the bright side, you can stop worrying about being winless and just enjoy the hype around Michigan being in the College Football Playoff.

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31. Houston Texans: 2-11 (Last Week: 31)
Lost 33-13 vs. Seattle
Well at least they scored this week. That’s more than the Jaguars can say. It was a tough situation for Davis Mills to return to as he had to throw the ball 49 times while the run game managed just 2.5 yards per carry. The one thing to take away from this all: Mills means the Texans do not have to reach for a quarterback in April.

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32. Jacksonville Jaguars: 2-11 (Last Week: 32)
Lost 20-0 vs. Tennessee
Trevor Lawrence threw four interceptions as the Jaguars were shutout at home. That barely even made headlines because Urban Meyer is once again in the news for his treatment of players and coaches. It seems like Meyer’s grating personality is taking a toll in Jacksonville and the results on the field don’t exactly give him carte blanche here. Lawrence, the top quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck, has thrown one touchdown pass since the start of November. Getting him trending in the right direction is a must for the Jags over the final four games of the season.

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