March Madness Tier List

March. Madness. Is. Back!!!

After missing out on last year’s tournament, we finally get to experience college basketball at the highest and most entertaining level with their annual national championship tournament.

The best way to show our excitement, we found, was to make a tier list video, in which we take all the very best teams in the tournament and rank them based on their potential to make some noise, be serious contenders, or to be flat out favorites to win it all.

Check it out here:

Tom Brady resigns with Bucs: Free Agent Update 3/12/21

The NFL offseason has already (unofficially) began with two huge QB trades, and now we are starting to see the first wave of re-signings and players agreeing to terms with new teams.

Here are some of the biggest ones from this past week:

3/8/21

Washington Football Team uses franchise tag on star G, Brandon Scherff

Titans trade 1st round OT Isaiah Wilson to Miami

Dallas reaches long term deal with QB Dak Prescott

3/9/21

New England trades for OT Trent Brown, NE and LV swap 2022 picks.

Bucs use franchise tag to keep Chris Godwin

Hunter Henry, Aaron Jones, and Kenny Golladay don’t get tagged. Will hit open market on March 17th.

Bucs resign LB Lavonte David for 2-years, $25M

3/10/21

Vikings release OT Riley Reiff, save $11.75 M

Kyle Van Noy cut by Miami

NYG let go of G, Kevin Zeitler to free up $14.5M

3/11/21

Kansas City releases both starting OTs, Eric Fisher, Mitchell Schwartz

Texans sign free agent RB, Mark Ingram to a 1-year, $3M deal

Buffalo extends LB Matt Milano with 4-year, $44M contract

Kickers Cairo Santos (Chicago), Younghoe Koo (Atlanta) resign with respective teams

3/12/21

New England brings back former MVP quarterback Cam Newton with a 1-year $14 million deal.

Arizona re-signs DB Robert Alford

Houston signs FA linebacker Christian Kirksey to 1-year, $4.5M deal

Tom Brady signs cap-friendly, 4 year extension with Tampa Bay

2021 NFL Draft: Kyle Pitts over Trevor Lawrence?

As we approach the 2021 NFL draft, I think it’s pretty obvious that the consensus #1 selection is Clemson QB, Trevor Lawrence.

This makes a ton of sense since Jacksonville is in need of a functional starting quarterback, which is probably the most valued position in all of football. With a star QB, you get the chance to turn a bad team into a decent one overnight.

However, being a top quarterback prospect in any given draft class doesn’t mean they’re the best player in said draft… not by any means.

(See the 2018 Draft where Baker Mayfield was picked first overall, before these high impact players: Saquon Barkley, Quenton Nelson, and Minkah Fitzpatrick…)

Drafting a QB is always a risk, and if I’m a GM with the first pick in the draft, I’m looking for the very best player to pick. Minimal risk with maximum reward. This is supposed to be the easiest pick of the whole process, and yet so many teams screw it up because they feel pressure to draft a QB, even when a player in a “less flashy” position is way more talented.

Some teams draft to build a complete, winning roster, while others draft to make the fans happy.

So lets get to the point. I think the best player in the 2021 draft, in terms of talent, instant impact, versatility, and low-risk is Kyle Pitts (Tight End, Florida).

Don’t get me wrong, Trevor Lawrence is an excellent player and one of the better looking QB talents to come out of college in a long time, but Kyle Pitts is the safer selection. Here’s why.

Athleticism:

Pitts is one of the better athletes to come out of college in the last decade. At 6 feet 6 inches, 250 pounds, with a 4.53 40 yard dash, he could be an absolute problem in the NFL right away with a rare combination of strength, speed, and massive size.

As impressive as those numbers are when evaluating a prospect’s athletic ability, the film on Pitts is even better. If you watch any game of his, especially from this past season, you’ll see that he’s more than just a big raw talent with some unique athletic ability. Kyle Pitts is a polished, gifted playmaker with elite athletic talent.

Pitts has exceptional tight end speed, great footwork, and elite level awareness when running routes and finding the open zones on the field. At several points in various games, he reminded me of a flashier Jason Witten.

I also want to point out two minor details that the average viewer doesn’t think about when watching a tight end:

1. Getting out of a 3-point stance with velocity and power and

2. Cleanly getting off of the line of scrimmage.

Pitts is exceptional at both.

Truthfully, it was rare to see him come out of stance slow, and he seldom was even touched while running a route downfield from the TE spot on the line. This wasn’t pure coincidence either, he just is that good with his footwork and using arm extensions to create space and explode from his stance. This is a big factor in terms of timing for the quarterback and can make a good tight end into an elite weapon on the field. This, seemingly, little detail to a TE’s game is actually extremely important, and most guys coming into the league have to spend a couple seasons working on technique to get to his point. Some never get quite there and don’t pan out as an NFL starter.

Also, if you watch any film from this past season, Pitts absolutely dominates teams and can take over an offense not only as a traditional TE, but he can also line up in the slot or as an outside WR. He showcases his versatility in just about every game, but his performance against #1 ranked Alabama this past season was unreal to watch.

Not only is he a force in the passing game, but he also displays his power and speed as a run blocker. He uses a strong first step, his big body, and power with his hands to handle DE’s easily (although his hand placement needs refining), and he has the speed and footwork to get to the second level and block LB’s effectively, which is extremely difficult to do since most tight ends don’t possess the same athletic ability Pitts has. Plus, a lot of modern NFL tight ends are either pure catchers or are used in run blocking situations. Only NFL greats like Rob Gronkowski or George Kittle (there are obviously more) are able to do both at a high level and, again, Pitts is already at an elite level with both skills.

Positional Impact:

In the NFL, we’ve seen versatile, elite TEs make a massive impact on their respective teams. Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz, Rob Gronkowski and George Kittle are all prominent examples of guys at this position playing at a very high level and helping carry their offense towards the Super Bowl (Kelce, Gronk, and Ertz won theirs).

With that being said, the tight end position has a much higher value than people give credit for. In fact, TE is one of the hardest positions in the NFL to play since you have to block like a lineman and run/catch like a receiver (or be extremely good at one of those skills) in order to be good enough to make a roster. Pitts has all the tools that these elite guys mentioned have, and with time and development could turn into a really special player.

What I’m saying here is that a tight end who has speed, size, and the unique skill set to play any position on the offensive side of the ball is extremely valuable in the modern NFL. The best teams have a reliable, big time level tight end who can do everything, and those teams have made deep playoff runs or won Super Bowls. If you had a chance to take a polished, well-rounded, athletic monster on offense, you’d take him right? Kyle Pitts checks all the boxes and has the skill set to be an offensive threat in the NFL from day one.

Risk:

Obviously, there is always risk when selecting any player in the draft. You never know how their game is going to translate from college to the pros, but there are sometimes guys that you can watch on tape and recognize greatness.

Earlier, I used the examples of guys like Saquon Barkley and Quenton Nelson, and that was for good reason. Back then even, I argued that Saquon was the best player in that draft class because of his athletic gift and once in a generation type talent as a playmaker. Quenton Nelson was THE best O-Line prospect I’ve ever watched and he’s quickly blossomed into an All-Pro player and one of the best linemen in the NFL, yet Baker Mayfield was taken first overall and has struggled to live up to the hype.

With that being said, having the first overall pick probably means that your team lacks talent all over the board and is in dire need of a weapon of some sort. You can’t afford to mess up the most valuable draft spot in the NFL, so why not take a sure-fire, impact player who going to make your team better right away? We’ve established that the TE spot is extremely valuable and highly utilized in today’s game, and Pitts feels like the next great.

Something else to think about when you factor in risk with a prospect is the level of competition they faced during their collegiate careers. Pitts played in the SEC, which is by far the best conference in NCAA Football and regularly faced some of the best teams in the country. Plus, he played for a program that isn’t regarded as one of the “top tier” schools at the moment, and still continued to dominate against ranked teams and SEC opponents.

Although Trevor Lawrence has played some of those great teams and has two National Titles, playing in the lackluster ACC should be a bit of a weakness on his resume. If you couple that with the fact that Clemson is probably the second best football program in the nation and he has had a team with some of the very best college athletes and talents surrounding him, then you really have to wonder if he is a definite star when moving into the NFL.

Now, I’m not arguing that Trevor has no chance in the NFL, but I think transitioning from star QB in college then to the NFL is extremely difficult, and a dominate athlete like Pitts should adjust much easier.


So, I’ve laid down my case. To me, Kyle Pitts could realistically be the best all-around player in this draft with the lowest risk factor. He could be taken #1 overall in several situations, but I know in my heart it won’t happen. Lawrence will go first and we’ll just have to wait to see how he pans out in Jacksonville.

However, don’t be surprised when a TE goes in the top 5 this year. This dude is insanely talented as a college player, and when a player like this enters the draft, there will be a plethora of teams that will want him.

Calling it now: Kyle Pitts will be a Top 3 TE in the next 5 years and will have HOF potential.

Happy NFL Draft Season!

What Would You Trade for Deshaun Watson? NFL QB Trade Value: 2021 Offseason

On March 17th, the first big splash of the NFL offseason will be official. Long time Detroit Lions QB, Matthew Stafford, will officially be traded to the LA Rams for two future 1st Round picks, a future 3rd, and QB Jared Goff.

While this move is pivotal for both franchises (Detroit gets a young QB to potentially build around & a surplus of essential draft picks and LA gets a QB they think reinforces their status as contenders in the NFC again), what most don’t realize is how important this move was for the QB market all around the league, and with so many different QBs on the market this offseason, it made me wonder what they be worth based on what the Rams gave up for Stafford.

Teddy Bridgewater

There’s a lot to factor in with Teddy. You need to remember that he had one of the more brutal, unfortunate knee injuries in recent memory and it took him a long time before he could even step back on to the football field.

Pre-injury, I thought he had potential to be a middle of the pack, top 15 starter in the league that could guide the right team into possible contention. That’s a tough call now though after he played 15 games and threw 11 interceptions to 15 touchdowns.

The upside here is he had a solid 3,700 yards passing and this was his first full season as a starter in FIVE years. There’s certainly a chance that he could shake the rust off and change that TD:INT ratio in a positive fashion. Keep in mind, he’s also only 28 and could be serviceable for another 5 years or so at least.

There are pros and cons here to making a move to get Teddy, but I could see a rebuilding team with a solid foundation take a chance to see what they could do. Most likely a team with a late 1st round selection that won’t get any of the best prospects, but needs a starter would be willing to deal a 3rd round pick to fill the gap for at least a year or two. Carolina could also package Teddy and their 8th overall pick to make a move on a veteran guy they like or to accumulate more future picks.

Face Value: 3rd round pick

Potential Fits: New England, Minnesota, Washington

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys

Carson Wentz

One of the hottest stories since the end of the regular season (and before that even) was the dispute between former Philly HC Doug Pederson and Carson Wentz. It seems as though the two had an “unrepairable” relationship and Wentz wanted out.

Even with the firing of Pederson and the hiring of Nick Sirianni, it seems like Wentz still wants to be traded. It was even discussed that he would be gone within a week or two following the Super Bowl, but we’re still waiting on that to happen. I hate to ask, but what do you even give up for a guy who showed MVP, top 5 QB potential, but has struggled ever since a knee injury that has hindered his performance greatly the past 3 years?

Let’s think about it. Wentz, as I mentioned, has had MVP potential, so the reward there can be extremely high value, but there can also be minimal value after we saw Wentz struggle throughout the entirety of 2020-2021 and eventually be benched in favor of rookie Jalen Hurts. There’s even rumor that Wentz is “uncoachable” and “stubborn”, making him very incompatible with any coach whose there to try and help him improve mechanics, decision making, etc. These, of course, are rumors and impossible to confirm as an outsider.

We also need to factor in how terrible the roster is for the Eagles since their Super Bowl victory. The offensive line has quickly digressed since their elite 2017 campaign, and so has the receiving corps. So many times, Wentz would be stuck with a handful of practice squad players and (seemingly) an unmotivated Zach Ertz to throw to, which isn’t an ideal situation for ANY quarterback. On top of the downfall from the Super Bowl winning players, GM Howie Roseman has proven to the league that he may just be the worst talent evaluator and drafting executive in the NFL. A team deep in salary trouble, no weapons outside of Miles Sanders and two tight ends, and one of the most inconsistent defenses in the NFL with a GM who fails year in and year out to fill the roster out with youthful talent…. who would want to be here?

I think Wentz has value. He’s 28, has shown flashes of being elite, and (with the right coaching and line situation) I think he can take a team to the Super Bowl. Yes, he has tons of room to prove, but if you’re a win now team and think you’re a QB away, Wentz is proven and wouldn’t cost as much as, say, Deshaun Watson (see below).

I still think Wentz would be worth a shot to spend a 1st round pick, and maybe one or two later or future picks, especially if he restructures his expensive contract and has a much less cap hit. You get a solid QB with all the right intangibles of a modern NFL quarterback with a possibility to be elite in the right situation. Is he much more of a risk than any of the prospects in the draft?

Face Value: 1st round pick + future 3rd/4th

Potential Fits: Chicago, Indianapolis, San Francisco

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Sam Darnold

Darnold was one of my absolute favorite prospects of the 2018 draft class, but has yet to live up to his potential. He has all the right tools and has significantly improved on his decision making skills since entering the league, but I believe has been held back by an incompetent coaching staff and a lack of talent around him. Since Darnold was drafted, the Jets have ranked 25th (2018), 28th (2019), 29th (2020) in offensive line grades per Pro Football Focus. You add that on top of the lack of offensive weapons and the trading of key defensive players (Jamal Adams and Leonard Williams), and you have one terrible roster.

I think Darnold is still extremely valuable as a trade target. He’s still only 23 years old ( a kid in the NFL) and can be extremely accurate and intelligent with the ball when protected. His stats are not good (only one season with more than 3k yards, career TD: INT is 45:39), but he has so much time to improve and rise to his potential stardom. If you’ve watched any Jets games, you know this kid has something to him that has yet to really be unleashed with the current state of the Jets.

Essentially, trading for Darnold isn’t much different than taking a rookie in the draft– only Sam has three seasons of NFL starter experience. I would also probably draft him over any of the prospects not named Trevor Lawrence. Give this kid a line and some decent coaching and see what he can do. The Jets will likely expect some compensation considering what they gave up to get him in the first place, but a package of 2-3 picks could help a team avoid paying a 1st rounder… WHICH IS A STEAL.

Face Value: 2nd Round pick + 3rd round pick + 6th round pick

Potential Fits: Indianapolis, Washington, New England

Russell Wilson

Now, this is one of the more interesting storylines of the offseason so far. There’s word that Wilson is extremely frustrated with Seattle’s inability to provide a stable offensive line and may ask for a trade. I don’t really think it happens this year, but if the trend continues into the 2021 season, I think there’s a big chance he leaves. If that’s the case, I thought it would be fun to throw his name in the mix for this year’s QB market value estimations.

If you watch anything from the NFL (even just the top highlights), you probably know how good Wilson is. Since entering the league, Wilson has proved to be one of the very best QBs in the NFL with excellent mobility, football intelligence, and accuracy while leading Seattle to two Super Bowl appearances. He is a proven winner and elite quarterback– there is NO debate. If this guy is hinting that he wants out, I’d give up a TON to go get him. Just think, Wilson has been in the MVP conversation almost every year despite having one of the worst line protection in the league, imagine what he can do with even just decent guys upfront…

Face Value: 3 first round picks + 2nd round pick + a player of value

Potential Fits: New England, Miami, Pittsburgh

Matt Ryan

There was a time where Atlanta had a timeframe to win a championship, but that ship has sailed. Significant injuries all over the roster and the inability to maintain leads and win games has shut that window rather fast. I see a roster overhaul coming very soon, and Matt Ryan will likely be one of the first to go.

By no means do I think Matt Ryan stinks or is washed up, but I also never really thought he was elite. He did win an MVP and has had some standout years, but I would still mark only throw him in the 12-15 range in terms if QB ranking. He’s good, but no Mahomes or Rodgers or Brady or…. you get the point.

The issue with Ryan is the fact that he’s 35 years old and has a pretty big cap hit. I’m not sure how many teams would have interest in giving up assets to get him, but IF someone would show interest, I don’t think they would have to give up too much. Ideally, he would go somewhere with a solid line and weapons. He could be a cheap trade to make for a contender without a QB. Who knows what he still has in the tank.

Face Value: 4th/5th rounder + a player

Potential Fits: San Francisco, Washington, Minnesota

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Jimmy Garoppolo

San Francisco is built to win RIGHT NOW, and Jimmy G is holding them back with his inability to perform in Kyle Shanahan’s offense. They need to make a change at QB and would likely package Jimmy and some picks to look for a replacement.

Between his time with the Patriots and 49ers, he has shown he can win, but thrives in very different system than Shanahan runs. What makes a deal very tough is his very unfavorable contract paired with his fairly average stats as a start in San Fran. He would likely need to restructure his deal, and San Fran would likely need to accept a loss with this experiment if they want to compete while they still have their SB ready roster mostly together.

Face Value: 5th round pick

Potential Fits: New England

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Deshaun Watson

The trade everyone has been waiting anxiously for. Deshaun Watson is BY FAR the best trade option available for all teams. It would be awfully hard to pass on an elite, 25 year old QB with a favorable contract (for his age and talent). I think Watson is good enough to make almost ANY team a contender right now. Aside from Mahomes, he’s the next best young stud QB in the NFL.

Watson has excellent pocket instincts and mobility, putting him in a Russell Wilson/Pat Mahomes type category when it comes down to escaping pressure and extending plays. I would even say he’s more athletic than the other two and is probably a better, natural runner with the football.

He also is super football intelligent and rarely makes mistakes (only 36 interceptions in 54 career games), and is a proven winner at all levels. With a little help on the offensive line and even just mediocre weapons on offense, and he will turn that team into an automatic playoff squad at the very least.

However, based on his no trade clause and Houston’s firm belief that they can “make it work”, it’s gonna take a lot to actually sway the Houston front office to make a deal. If Stafford was worth 2 first rounders and a 3rd plus Goff, you would need to give a TON to land a younger, better version of him.

Face Value: 3/4 first round picks + 2/3 second round picks + 2/3 late rounders

Potential Fits: San Francisco, Miami, Indianapolis

Pretender or Contender? (After Week 16)

(credit: masslive.com/AP Photo Charles Krupa)

After 16 weeks of play, the NFL post-season is really starting to take shape. Several teams in both conferences have already clinched playoffs berths, but others remain hopeful for a chance heading into week 17.

With all this on the table, we have an opportunity to predict who will snatch the last few spots and compete for a title. Have my contender picks stood strong all season? Are my pretenders still pretending? What will the 2020 NFL Playoffs look like? Let’s dive in.

For reference:

Status of a contender = having enough talent to make the playoffs and seriously compete with the best of the best in the NFL to win a championship

Status of a pretender = does NOT mean the team is bad and uncapable of winning. Instead, it is a label given to teams with talent, but without the capability of going toe to toe with contenders/secure a playoff spot.

Pretender/Contender for Teams That Have Clinched:

Of all the teams that clinched, I had previously had 5/7 listed as contenders (fairly consistently) all season long. These have been the cream of the crop all year long, but, as we know, ANYTHING can happen in the postseason. All you have to do is get into the dance, and you have a shot.

Buffalo: The Bills have shaped up to be one of my favorite picks to win the NFC. Josh Allen, to me, has been playing at an extremely high level and should be in the MVP conversation. Plus, Stefon Diggs should probably be top 3 in OPOTY votes. The Buffalo offense is extremely explosive (ranking 4th in total offense according to ESPN), and the defense has been extremely solid (top 10 or just outside of it in all major defensive stats). There are not many weaknesses on this team, but Josh Allen has been previously labeled as a QB who crumbles under pressure. We saw it last season in his wild card game against Houston. I have a feeling though that he will break that stigma and carry the Bills towards a deep playoff run. Contender.

Pittsburgh: After a dominant 11-0 stretch, the Steelers feel like they’ve fizzled out physically and mentally. The defense has suffered from some big losses due to injury. The offense has struggled to even move the ball, let alone score points. I think this team has a solid foundation, but getting cold and worn down towards the final stretch of the regular season is not a good sign– despite their heroic 2nd half performance against the Colts. They’ve looked lazy, tired, and frustrated. Barring any miraculous turn around headed into the playoffs, I really don’t see this team making a far run. I’m going to have to label them as a pretender.

Kansas City: I don’t think it comes as a surprise that Kansas City has already locked up their division and a first round bye week. They’ve been one of the most consistent offensive teams in the NFL over the past few seasons with Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes leading the way. Strangely enough, Mahomes has struggled recently. In the month of December he’s had 8TDs/4 Ints, 3 fumbles, and has recorded back to back games with 50-55% completion percentages, none of which is your typical Mahomes. Aside from this outlier month, the Chiefs have been extremely good and I expect Pat to turn things around in the divisional round of the playoffs. The Chiefs are more than likely the best team in the AFC and are surely contenders, but let’s not forget how hard it is for a team to make back to back Super Bowls…

Green Bay: The Packers have been extremely hot ever since their loss to Indianapolis 5 weeks ago, and have continued the winning streak with a blowout win over the Titans. The Green Bay offense is probably the best all around in the NFC and has shown the ability to utilize an elite rushing and passing attack where necessary. The defense is, however, just solid. They have an elite corner in Jaire Alexander with good depth in the secondary, and a talented group on the front 7 anchored by Kenny Clark. In order for the Packers to make it all the way to the championship, they need Aaron Rogers to be dominate and the defense to hold up against any of the tough offenses they’ll face in the NFC. Nonetheless, GB is an obvious contender.

New Orleans: I’m not sold on New Orleans as a winner out of the NFC. Yes, the defense has been top end in the NFL this season, but the offense has been inconsistent. Drew Brees has been banged up again this year, on top of taking on a decline in his throwing power/accuracy from last year’s thumb surgery. The line hasn’t held up either, mostly due to injury, but with a unit being so hurt all season long– is their chemistry where it should be this far into the season (let alone their conditioning and durability in a year with contactless training camp). On top of that, Michael Thomas has been extremely underwhelming (40 catches, 438 yards, ZERO touchdowns in 7 games), which is a huge hit to the Saints’ efficiency and explosiveness as an offense. Defense wins championships… so long as the offense can produce, and I’m not convinced this is the year or the window for the Saints to do it. Pretender.

Tampa Bay: Tom Brady and the Bucs were supposed to be UNBEATABLE this season remember? Mike Evans, OJ Howard, Gronk, Leonard Fournette, LeSean McCoy with TB12??? If you believed the hype back then, you were probably in for a wake up call when they lost the season series against the Saints (including a 38-3 blowout loss), got manhandled by the Chicago defense, and struggled against some very mediocre teams (NYG, LAR, LAC, ATL). Yes the Bucs are good, but all the excitement and attention they got in the offseason was uncalled for, and their play this season as an average team should have been proof enough. I respect that Brady was able to leave the Patriots and still be successful (granted he has one of the best offensive coaches in the NFL in Bruce Arians), but their inconsistency as a team this year has me worried for them going into the playoffs– especially with their defense being so inexperienced. I think they’ll win a wildcard game (depending on the matchup), but I don’t expect much more than that. Pretender.

Seattle: I love Russell Wilson and what he brings to the table as a QB in the NFL. Without a doubt he has elite instincts and abilities (especially when he’s outside the pocket) that very few possess. However, the lack of talent on the defensive end of the ball worries me headed into the playoffs, which is unusual for a Seattle team. At the start of December, Seattle ranked LAST in yards allowed, which is just unacceptable as a playoff bound team. If they come across an Aaron Rogers or even a Tom Brady in the playoffs, their run will be very short lived with such poor play on defense. For these reasons, I have to put them as pretenders. Russ’ magic might sneak them a win, but I don’t expect them to hold out for a Super Bowl run.

Pretender/Contender: In the Hunt

Now, I’m not here to say who will or won’t get into the post season (we all know how crazy these in/out situations get), but I do want to highlight whether any of these teams still have a chance at making a legitimate run.

Miami: As Miami gained some traction as a legitimate squad in the NFL, I previously labeled them as a pretender, and I still have to stick by that. Despite an impressive record for a team that was supposed to continue their rebuild, an excellent defense, and a rising star in HC Brian Flores, I don’t think Tua is good enough to lead the Dolphins on a deep playoff run. Yes, he’s a rookie and needs some more help from his weapons, but from what I’ve seen the highly coveted rookie seems like the next Alex Smith to me. He is smart with the ball, fairly athletic, and has a good enough arm to make some impressive throws– but he’s no Mahomes, Rogers, or Wilson. There is certainly room for improvement, but as it stands, he functions as a middle of the pack game manager type QB. He’ll get his big chance to prove me wrong this week with the biggest game of his young career (Fitzpatrick out with COVID) and a chance to lead Miami to their first playoff appearance since 2016. To me though, the Dolphins are pretenders.

Baltimore: The Ravens really had a huge fallout through this back half of the season. After a 6-2 start, Baltimore had a tough 3 game skid that put them at 6-5 and seemingly on track to miss the playoffs. This setback could still cost them a playoff trip, but we’re here to talk about their power to make a run IF they do get in. At times, this offense appears absolutely lethal (7 games with 30 points or more), and at other times they look fairly stagnant. The low games are what make the Ravens a tough call as a contender. When they scored under 30, they were only a 3-3 team. Granted, that’s fairly average– but 1. This tells me Baltimore struggles to win when the offense can’t carry the load all game, 2. Average isn’t enough in the NFL playoffs. You need to be totally balanced with all 3 phases of the game (offense, defense, special teams) and if the offense can’t pull their own weight in the post season– Baltimore is doomed. We’ve seen, multiple times now, that when a team comes up with a game plan to contain Lamar Jackson in the postseason the team tends to crumble. Is Jackson ready to turn that streak around? It doesn’t feel like it… Pretender

Cleveland: This is the best Cleveland Browns team I have (personally) ever seen. The 1-2 punch between Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt is lethal, the defense is playing at a superb level, and the offensive line is top 5 in the league in my book. This is a very, very solid team… BUT their weakness lies in the most crucial point of any team… the quarterback. When Baker Mayfield was drafted 1st overall in 2018, I rolled my eyes and said to myself ‘what a Browns thing to do’, and I still stand by that thought. Time and time again, Baker has proved to be shaky at best when it comes to accuracy (7th highest ‘bad throw %’ at 19% per Pro Football Reference), and inaccurate QBs will get pummeled in the post season. Let alone, we haven’t seen Mayfield play in a big game that was comparable to an NFL play off game since he was in college, making him very untested and unproven… I don’t trust that. Even with a top 5 line, elite running backs, and pro bowlers in Jarvis Landry and Austin Hooper to throw to, Baker has still be very average (if not worse at times). Pretender.

Tennessee: The Titans have been a super solid team all year and have carried that momentum they had at the end of the year last season into this one. Derrick Henry is by far the best power running back in the game, and most definitely top 3 in terms of all around talent in the NFL. Ryan Tannehill has been on fire, allowing their young wideouts AJ Brown and Corey Davis to really have productive seasons. On the other side of the ball the defense is, without a doubt, built with star talent with guys like DaQuan Jones, Rashaan Evans and Kevin Byard headlining the group. Last year, the Titans really showed the league that they deserve to be up there with the elite teams in the NFL with a trip to the AFC championship game. This year, they’ve brought the same energy and intensity, despite a crazy COVID season. Early in the year I didn’t see them as continuing the hot play, but they’ve showed signs of legitimate contention with huge wins against the Colts, Bills, Ravens, and Bears (all teams with a shot to make the playoffs). If they want to make a deep run, they do need to make sure their special teams play stays steady (can’t have a repeat of what happened against the Colts on a Thursday Night game a few weeks ago), but if they can fix that dimension of their play then they can be serious contenders.

Indianapolis: Those who know me know that the Colts are my team, and that I think this is one of the best teams Indy has had in quite awhile. When healthy, I think they have a top 3 O-Line, a top 5 defense, and one of the best sets of running backs in the league (Marlon Mack has been out with an achillies injury all year remember). Plus, the wideouts are extremely underrated. Rookie Michael Pittman has shown signs of a budding star along with the undrafted Zach Pascal… not to mention star TY Hilton has been getting hot lately. However, the issue with this team has been Philip Rivers and his inability to make plays with his feet or make deep passes consistently. At several points this season the offense has gained a huge lead and become one dimensional to the point where the opposition was able to catch up and not allow Rivers to make plays by controlling their run game and blitzing Rivers to pressure him to make inaccurate throws (because he can’t escape the pocket at all). If the Colts get in, they need to have a totally healthy offensive line and Rivers needs to be perfect every possession for them to have a chance…but I don’t have faith in either variable so far. Sadly, I don’t think Indy has the QB talent to push them for a Super Bowl run. The league has changed and a pure pocket QB like Rivers won’t get them far if they do get in. Pretender.

WAS/DAL/NYG: Well, one of these teams are going to get into the playoffs. Dallas is essentially incompetent defensively and totally unbalanced on offense without Dak Prescott. Pretender.

The Giants are young and headed in the right direction. They need some help at wideout and the offensive line, but otherwise they are a very good young squad, but there is certainly lots of room to improve. However, without star RB Saquon Barkley, they have no shot. On the right track, but pretender.

Washington is the one team in this division who can win a surprise game or two in the playoffs. They, quietly, have one of the highest rated defenses in the NFL with (maybe) the best defensive line in the league. That’s a hot take, but there’s no denying that they have elite talent there. On the other hand, the offense has grown Terry McLaurin and Antonio Gibson into young stars. With Haskins out of the picture at QB, they aren’t totally awful there anymore. Alex Smith (if healthy enough to play) could very well carry the team to a wild card win. If it happens don’t be surprised. However, they are not ready for a Super Bowl win. Don’t get it twisted though… they are extremely close to being there. For this year though, Pretender.

Chicago: The Bears dug themselves into a hole by swapping starting QBs multiple times this season. I said it early on in the year when Trubisky was originally benched at halftime after a 3-0 start to the year– you can’t keep changing QBs and expect the offense to click or the team to keep morale high. This (probably) explains the team’s struggles to stay .500 (currently 8-7). They do possess a very talented defense and if they get into the playoffs they could surprise a few with a win in the wild card round, but this just isn’t the year for them based on what I’ve seen. They have the tools, but have consistently fallen short of expectations which forces me to list them as pretenders.

LA Rams/Arizona: After a decent start to the year with some huge divisional wins, the Rams have been severely inconsistent with a 9-6 record. Losses to the Jets, a depleted San Francisco team (twice), and a devastating divisional loss to the Seahawks have really slimmed their chances towards the end of the year. A matchup for a playoff spot (essentially) with division rival Arizona should prove to be a fun game to watch. Arizona, similarly, has had an extremely up and down sort of year– but I think they have a slight edge in offensive prowess and talent to top the Rams and potentially lock up a playoff berth. Despite the outcome, both teams have been far too inconsistent to make a legitimate run. LA has holes all over their roster and a QB who has failed to perform consistently on the big stages, while Arizona is young and untested all across the board. Both squads have to be labeled as pretenders now– especially in a highly competitive NFC.

Contenders: Buffalo, Kansas City, Green Bay, Tennessee.

Pretenders: Pittsburgh, New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Seattle, Miami, Baltimore, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Washington, NYG, Dallas, Chicago, LAR, Arizona

Pretender or Contender? (After Week 10)

After realizing not much was changing every 2 weeks, I wanted to give some time for the NFL to really shape up and sort out the good and not so good teams. Now, with 6 more weeks of football played, the playoff outlook has drastically changed since I last assessed things. Let’s get back to it then:

For reference:

Status of a contender = having enough talent to make the playoffs and seriously compete with the best of the best in the NFL to win a championship

Status of a pretender = does NOT mean the team is bad and uncapable of winning. Instead, it is a label given to teams with talent, but without the capability of going toe to toe with contenders/secure a playoff spot.

Still a Contender: Of all the teams I saw as contenders after 4 weeks, here are the ones that still sit pretty on the list.

Bills: Buffalo has a very complete team and are in prime position to win the AFC East. With key wins against Seattle, NYJ, and New England– they are sitting with 7-2 record and are sitting in the 1st place throne in their division. However, a surprise team has been slowly creeping up and may just compete for the division title… Anyway, Josh Allen is still in MVP talks (to me anyway), the Buffalo defense is balanced and super solid as a unit, and they have finally acquired a superstar offensive skill guy in Stefon Diggs– so they stay on the contender list without a doubt.

Steelers: As the only undefeated team in football, can we really even make a case for Pittsburgh to NOT be on the contending list? Big Ben, despite my worries, has been rock solid all season and has proven himself once again as an elite QB in the league– despite his age and recent surgery. Plus, the Steelers boast one of the deepest receiving groups in the league. Outside Juju, both Dionate Johnson and Chase Claypool have been outstanding playmakers and have been putting up impressive stats over the past few games. Pile the explosive passing attack on to a team with a dominant, top 3 defense in the league– and you have a contender… maybe even the best team in the AFC.

Colts: Sitting at a solid 6-3, Indy has been one of the better overall teams in the league. I’d argue that the Colts have a top 3-5 defense in the league (they’ve certainly played that way thus far), but they are hindered by the offense. In their 3 losses, we have gotten the turnover heavy version of QB Phillip Rivers, where he’s had crucial, game changing miscues (talk about a Game Winning Turnover…) that have ended badly for the Colts. However, with the emergence of Jonathan Taylor and Nyheim Hines, and the steady improvement of the young receiving group (not to mention the fact that they have the best offensive line in the NFL), this team has all the makings of a contender– especially with a HUGE TNF win against division rival Tennessee to take the division lead.

Chiefs: You really can’t count out a team lead by Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs after what we saw last season– especially as they sit atop their division at 8-1, and their only loss coming from a very competitive LV Raider team. I do have concerns about the offensive line and the depth on defense– but they were also the same concerns I had last year and we all know how their post season run went… Easily a contender still.

Packers: After an explosive 4-0 start, the Packers have dropped some very winnable games and they have sort of came back down to Earth. A blowout loss to an inconsistent Tampa and a crushing divisional loss to the (2-5) Vikings raised some concern, but I think they will be just fine. The trio of Rogers, Jones, and Adams has been exciting to watch, and the defense has continued it’s solid play from last season– making them a legitimate contender and all but a lock for the divisional title.

Seahawks: After a 5-0 start, Seattle has dropped to 6-3 and has a lot less momentum than they did since I last assessed them. 2 of those losses have been to the Rams and Cardinals– two highly competitive teams who are all tied in the division. However, losing those two games is a huge setback in a tight divisional race and a very competitive NFC conference… Even at, say, 10-6– this team could miss the playoffs. I’m keeping them as contenders for now, but they are on veryyyyy thin ice here with their divisional record.

Rams: The LA Rams are so inconsistent to me. They’ll have huge wins against very good teams, but then crap the bed against a team that they should have no problem handling. The LAR defense, between stars Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey, is insanely talented and can be dominant at times– but the offense is very up and down– mostly due to the recent QB play. At this point, it is almost safe to say that Jared Goff is a bust. Not because he’s awful QB, but when you take a guy 1st overall– you expect much more dominant play, and I really believe that without an offensive genius as HC like Sean McVay, Goff would be on the bench or playing somewhere else by now. Even so, Goff has been super average– but they have gotten the job done. This past week’s win against Seattle was HUGE to keep them on my contender list. The next few weeks are pivotal however, and they need to keep earning divisional wins to keep up with the others in a tight NFC conference.

NEW Contenders:

Cardinals: I have known how sneaky talented the Cardinals have been since last year, but Kyler Murray has really surpassed my expectations and has grown steadily as an NFL QB. The team has really put Kyler in a position to grow, mature, and make big plays– especially with the addition of DeAndre Hopkins. At the moment, Arizona sits atop the NFC West with an undefeated divisional record, and a huge win against a dominant Buffalo team this past week. I love the explosiveness of their offense, and the defense is sneaky good. As we know, hot teams like this usually have opportunity to make nice playoff runs (see last year’s Titans), and I have a shaky feeling Arizona could be that team this season… look out for it.

Raiders: I love the makeup of this football team, but I thought the core pieces on both sides of the ball were just a bit too young to start producing at a high rate just yet– however, the Raiders have seriously proven me wrong. LV has huge wins against Kansas City, Denver, and the Chargers– keeping them undefeated within the division and two games behind KC for first place. Gruden has really made scrappy group of young guys into a solid overall squad and could seriously contend for a division title or at the least a wild card spot. They get to take on Mahomes and Chiefs again this week, and this game could have HUGE implications for the playoff hopes for the Raiders. If they can pull out a win and stay hot, look out for them as underdogs to steal the AFC West.

Pretenders:

The Entire NFC East: At this point, it isn’t really worth making separate writing blocks for any of these squads. All of them are just flat out bad– especially when you look at some of the other NFC squads. Washington and Dallas have tremendous QB issues, New York lacks an offensive line and offensive weapons (remember Saquon is hurt), and I guess that leaves Philly– who at this point is the division leader and will probably be the winner in the end. However, I expect whoever wins this division to get smacked in the wildcard round quite honestly.

49ers: I was really hopeful for San Fran this season, but it has been an utter disaster for them. The once dominant defense is extremely injury plagued, Jimmy G is either hurt of playing awfully, and they have fallen far, far behind the rest of their divisional opponents in the race to earn a spot in the post season. Unfortunately, I don’t see their season turning around anytime soon. At least, for San Fran sports fans,

Dolphins: Now, the Dolphins have been extremely good over the past few weeks– much better than anyone probably imagined was possible at this point in their rebuild. They decided to bench Fitzmagic for their 1st round draft choice in Tua– a move that I questioned heavily at the time due to the hip injury Tua had been recovering from. However, he has been much more mobile and confident than I imagined, but he has not put up eye popping numbers or anything. What I love about Miami is their defense– which Brian Flores has really brought to life. Despite all the good, I don’t think they can grab a playoff spot without the Bills falling apart– even if that happens I don’t see them making any sort of spectacular run in the AFC. They do have room to move up on the list though, with huge games coming up against KC, Vegas, and the Bills.

Titans: After falling apart on TNF this past week, it’s hard to say that the Titans are going to go on a magical playoff run again. Unlike many more obvious contenders, Tennessee has only 1 impressive win, which was a blowout victory against Buffalo, but other than that they’ve grinded out narrow wins or lost. I think they’re a decent team with a dominant run game and underrated air attack, but the defense is up and down. Plus, the special teams has been more than inconsistent (especially when you look at the disaster of a second half they had against the Colts)– which has cost them heavily. They will continue to compete with Indy for the division title, and will probably steal a wildcard spot– but it won’t be easy and I haven’t seen enough dominant play for me to deem them a contender.

Saints: I have seen flashes of defensive dominance and excellence, but as I’ve said before, Drew Brees does not look the same after last year’s thumb injury. Also, Michael Thomas has never been able to get going and has been sidelined with injury much of the season. The offense seems out of sync to me– yet they are still in prime position to win the division… unless Drew Brees misses significant time with his rib injury from this weekend. The reason I list them here is because the NFC is tough and I just haven’t seen enough out them to list them as a legitimate Super Bowl squad. It can always change for them.

Buccaneers: Brady and the Bucs really started to get hot after a tricky start, but now they have lost both divisional matchups with the division leading Saints which puts them at a severe disadvantage. They do have a big shot to gain some ground over the Saints with Drew Brees being sidelined with an unknown return date. If they can get some big wins and take a dominant lead in the division– they could definitely move up.

Ravens: I’ve noted before that the Ravens need Lamar to be elite and on top of his game at all times for them to have a legitimate shot as contenders– and he still has been streaky. Before, Lamar was allowed to be streaky and the defense was good enough to keep them in complete control of the division– but now with their defense a bit weaker/older and the division becoming much more competitive he has minimal room for error. The Steelers hold a dominant lead for first, and the Browns are lurking right behind them. Right now I’m not convinced they can seriously push for a Super Bowl– let alone the fact that I don’t even know whether they’ll earn a post season spot.

Browns: The Browns are finally utilizing their super talented roster. Their offensive lines is probably top 5 in the league– which allows their dominant two headed backfield duo to run up and the down the field all game long. They also boast a top 15 defense in the league and have potential to sneak up on the Ravens as a wild card team. I need to see more consistency out of Baker Mayfield and a few more key wins for me to really be convinced to take them off this list though.

So, we have our verdict for the top teams in the league. There were some tough choices to be made, but at this point in the season and with what I have seen– these are my best assessments. After a few more weeks, I Imagine we will have a much clearer version of the playoff picture– which is where things will really start to get interesting

Pretender or Contender? (After Week 4)

Another exciting 2 weeks of football has been played and now comes the time where I swap teams between lists, eliminate some teams, and attempt to predict the eventual Super Bowl matchup.

For reference:

Status of a contender = having enough talent to make the playoffs and seriously compete with the best of the best in the NFL to win a championship

Status of a pretender = does NOT mean the team is bad and uncapable of winning. Instead, it is a label given to teams with talent, but without the capability of going toe to toe with contenders/secure a playoff spot.

AFC:

Bills (4-0): I can’t say enough about this Bills squad. Josh Allen is in the MVP race, their defense is playing at a high level, and they recorded 2 impressive victories against the Rams and Raiders the past 2 weeks. In those games, Allen has put up over 500 yards, 4 TDs and only 1 interception. This team is really good, and running away with the division. Look for them to battle the Chiefs for a 1st overall seed in the AFC. Easily a contender.

Titans (3-0): Since the last edition of Contender/Pretender, the Titans have only played one game against Minnesota, where they narrowly won. Tannehill was underwhelming (23/37 321 yards, 0 TDs, 1 INT) and the defense let a struggling Vikings team score 30. The lone bright spot was Derrick Henry was dominant with *almost* 120 yards and 2 TDs (4.6 YPC). However, I haven’t seen enough to change their status just yet- they still sit on my pretender list.

Patriots (2-2): The Patriots have caught a very tough break as of recent. They started off the 2 week period with an impressive win against the Raiders, but then were struck by the virus and lost to the Chiefs without Cam Newton (COVID). New England also received word that star corner Stephon Gilmore had tested positive for COVID and are now unable to practice for the time being. A rough couple of weeks like this would be worrisome for most other teams, but we are talking about the Patriots. I’ve seen Belichick come back from similar situations (slow starts, injuries, etc.), so I have no doubt that they can only go up from here- especially considering how well the defense has been playing. I’m gonna keep the Pats on my contender list… for now.

Steelers (3-0): Another team who were only able to get in 1 game in this 2 week span (Titans COVID outbreak postponed their matchup in week 4). Pittsburgh was able to pull together a decent win against the winless Texans– where their defense was very dominant (5 sacks and 1 INT). Big Ben looks healthy, Conner has remained active and is the undisputed #1 ball carrier we all knew he could be. I really do like this Steelers team and like to think they could steal the division from the heavily favorited Ravens… with that being said, the Steelers are a pretty obvious contender in my eyes.

Ravens (3-1): Baltimore has dominated in all 3 of their wins… against subpar teams. The only legitimate squad they’ve faced has been Kansas City- and they were toyed with through most of the game (L 34-20). Obviously, the Ravens have a very good defense and one of the most exciting offenses in the NFL (Lamar Jackson is a pretty good QB), and I still don’t see them as a contender. However, I said it before and I will say it as much as I need to, Lamar needs to prove that he can face adversity and pull through against great teams (especially in the playoffs).

Browns (3-1): Cleveland is 3-1????? WOW they must be a contender! Things have changed right?!?! Uhhh, not really. They’ve won against 3 really poor teams and have allowed a TON of points (OPP PPG = 31.5). Yes, that means they have also scored a bunch of points to compete and win- but they have only faced one serious contender (Baltimore) and they were completely plowed through. Please do not fall for this trap. The Browns are still a pretender, plain and simple.

Colts (3-1): Last edition, I was on the fence about this squad. They were upset by a pretty bad Jaguars team week 1 and then finally seemed to catch their stride against the Vikings (also not that great of a team right now). However, I needed to see some more from Indy to be certain about their status going forward. How does 1st in opponent points and yards, 5th in lowest opponent completion percentage, 6th in allowed rush yards, and 4th in fourth most forced turnovers. This is the type of production you would expect out of such a talented group (Darius Leonard, DeForest Buckner, Justin Houston, Xavier Rhodes, and so on). Plus, Rivers has been a very good game manager, while rookie back Johnathan Taylor has been very impressive with his fill in for the injured Marlon Mack. Now, with a 3 game win streak and the best rated defense in the league- I can confidently say this team looks like a contender.

Chiefs (4-0): The Chiefs, since last time, have beaten the Ravens and a short handed Patriots team– regardless of the circumstances, both wins have been against legitimate contenders. With the Chargers sliding downhill with losses and the Raiders (I think) not being quite up to the task of winning this division- I think the Chiefs are primed to run away with another division title. Pat Mahomes has been electric and he has gotten help from his defense the past couple weeks. Look for KC to keep the ball rollin’ and sit on the contender list for awhile now.

Raiders (2-2): After a super promising start, the Raiders have lost their past 2 matchups (New England and Buffalo). Granted they held their own against the Bills and gave the Patriots a fight, they lost both games– which shows me they can’t hang with contenders. They have all the right pieces for the future to be great, but they aren’t quite there yet. Pretender.

Chargers (1-3): The Chargers are a really tough team that is going to compete every single matchup. Justin Herbert looks like the future of the franchise, and the defense is extremely solid. However, they just haven’t gotten the job done against the less than average Panthers and the up and down Tampa squad. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen enough in them at this point to keep them as contenders to this point… so they have to be pretenders.

NFC:

Washington (1-3): Over the course of 4 games, I think Washington has shown flashes of becoming one of the better defense in the league in the near future. That front seven is very very talented and the defensive backfield gets better every year. However, they are just no ready to compete for a title with the state of their offense. Haskins is officially benched for Kyle Allen in the upcoming week 5 and Alex Smith was listed as the #2 option if Allen gets hurt. So the young Haskins has a very uncertain future with the team. Outside of the QB issue, the line is aging, the run game has been subpar, and they have no real receiving threats outside of Terry McLaurin. They remain “in the hunt” at this point solely because of the state of the NFC East. Pretender.

Eagles (1-2-1): Philly has probably been one of the most disappointing teams to watch in football. Carson Wentz has gone from one of the most promising young QB talents to a lost cause. He’s been off target a ton (has the most missed throws in the league) and has turned the ball over at an extremely high rate. Yes, I understand that the weapons he has are not great, but he showed us previously that he can work with what’s he given. The great QBs in NFL history can turn practice squad guys into weapons with their arm– and Carson, thus far, has not shown that ability to be elite. Tack on a swiss cheese offensive line, questionable play calling, and a defense that appears lost at times– this team is simply not good. However, they sit atop the division with a (not so) staggering 1-2-1 record. Don’t be fooled though, if this team somehow manages to sneak into the wildcard round they will more than likely finish the season with another 1 and done appearance. Pretender.

Cowboys (1-3): Offensively, this team is extremely efficient. Dak Prescott seems to be thriving in HC Mike McCarthy’s new offense (#1 in Pass Yards with 1,690 through 4 games) — which makes sense considering he has Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, Mike Gallup, and Zeke Elliot to work with. However, without the disastrous mismanagement the Falcons had late in a game that was already over, the Cowboys would be 0-4. Why? The answer is simple… their defense is atrocious. The past 3 weeks (which includes their W against Atlanta) the Cowboys defense has allowed 126 points… which averages out to 42/game. You don’t have to look at any other statistic or be an NFL analyst to know that the number is insanely high and unacceptable. If you want to win a championship in the NFL, you need to play defense and Cowboys seem completely unable of doing so– making them a total pretender.

Packers (4-0): The Packers have continued to roll through the league while staying red hot offensively (averaging 38 PPG). Both Aaron Jones and Aaron Rogers have been phenomenal, despite the absences of DeVante Adams and Allen Lazard at wideout. On top of that, the defense has been excellent in supporting the offense (12 total sacks, 5 from Za’Darius Smith) and giving the team a great chance to win every week. Overall, Green Bay is extremely balanced and I really don’t see any weak points on their team. I really consider them to be the most complete team in the NFC– which obviously keeps them as contenders on my list.

Bears (3-1): The Bears have a nice record, a top 10 defense, and plenty of offensive weapons. What makes me question things is their decision to pull Mitch Trubisky, despite a very productive start, for Nick Foles. Yes, Foles came in and pulled off a comeback against the Falcons, but then came in and played very poorly against Indy (granted they are the #1 ranked defense right now). He missed several key throws and was a huge reason the Bears were unable to keep up with the Colts. An early season QB switch when the team is 2-0, playing well, and looking to keep rolling can be detrimental to the team- especially after how Foles played week 4. Unless Foles comes back the next couple of weeks and impresses me, I have to keep them as pretenders.

Buccaneers (3-1): Last edition, I looked right past the Bucs with their slow start. To be fair, a loss to the Saints and a short margin win against a rebuilding Carolina was NOT a good look. However, after dominating Denver and Brady leading the team with 5 TDs against a very good Chargers defense- I might just have to change my opinion on them. Their defense definitely needs to be more consistent, but they have shown flashes of excellent play. For now, the Bucs will be moved to the contender list, but they have a tight leash with me.

Panthers (2-2): The Panthers are very much in rebuild mode, yet they’ve stacked up two very impressive wins against the Chargers and the Cardinals in back to back weeks without CMC– which is extremely better than what I thought they’d do without their best player. Carolina also has a tough schedule coming up, so I’ll keep my eye out to see how they do (Atlanta, Chicago coming up the next 2 games). I’m going to move them up from a “no show” on my list to a Pretender.

Saints (2-2): I was impressed with how the Saints competed with the Packers in a shootout, but was very disappointed in their play against a struggling Lions squad (which they still managed to win). This Saints team, even when Michael Thomas was healthy, has just not looked the same as the past few seasons and I worry for them. The Bucs and the Panthers have been extremely competitive and if New Orleans isn’t careful they could easily slip to 3rd place and miss the playoffs in an extremely competitive NFC conference. They still haven’t shown me anything to make me take them off the pretender list… and with more disappointing play they could even end up off my list entirely.

Seahawks (4-0): Along with the Packers, Seattle is one of the more balanced teams in the league (let alone the NFC). They have an excellent defense and the probable MVP on offense with Russell Wilson, who has been electric. With the state of their division and their dominance over all teams that have come their way so far, this is an easy contender label.

Rams (3-1): The Rams have shown flashes of excellence, but their 3 wins are all against NFC East teams…. let that sink in. Plus they barely got away with a W against the Giants. Yikes. They did, however, play well against the undefeated Bills, so I’ll give credit where it’s due. 3 wins and one loss is a great start, but I need to see them pull off some wins against some better teams to feel a bit more confident. However, I’m going to keep them on the contender list due to their star power and spot within the division.

Cardinals (2-2): The Cardinals started off with 2 very impressive wins, but followed those with 2 disappointing losses to Detroit and Carolina. This team definitely has all the right pieces, but has shown some inconsistency along the way. The Murray and Hopkins duo is elite, plus a young defense, young and talented HC in Kliff Kingsbury– this team gobs potential. AT this point though, the two losses are tough, especially in a super competitive division. Pretender is my final verdict for now… and they are on watch to drop off the list entirely.

49ers (2-2): The Niners have so much talent on their roster– most of whom are injured. They are depleted on the defensive line, struggling to find a tolerable backup to replace Jimmy G, and they are coming off a very bad loss to a terrible Eagles team– which is alarming. Their division is very tough and playoff spots are going to be very hard to earn in the NFC, especially with all their injuries at key positions. I have no choice but to list them as pretenders and put them on watch to be dropped off the list.

Final Post Week 4 List:

Contenders: Bills, Chiefs, Seahawks, Colts, Ravens, Steelers, Rams, Packers, Buccaneers, Seahawks.

Pretenders: Titans, Raiders, Cardinals, Bears, Washington, Philly, Cowboys, 49ers, Saints, Browns Chargers.

Pretender or Contender? An Overview of the NFL’s Best Teams

By: Bryce Wadsworth

Week 2:

After two weeks of action (without fans for the most part), the NFL has been very interesting to watch. Despite having no pre-season and an odd offseason workout program- games have been fairly clean. There has only been an average of 12 penalties per game so far (according to the Football Database site). However, with a lack of game speed contact reps before the start of regular season play- injuries should be expected at a high rate. We definitely got a taste of that this week with stars like Christian McCaffrey, Saquon Barkley, Nick Bosa, Malik Hooker, Marlon Mack, Drew Locke, Soloman Thomas, and many more suffering significant injuries (many were season ending). Regardless, the NFL has definitely been exciting to watch, and no matter who gets hurt- there has to be a winner at the end. So without further ado, here are my “Contenders and Pretenders” so far this season.

For reference:

Status of a contender = having enough talent to make the playoffs and seriously compete with the best of the best in the NFL to win a championship

Status of a pretender = does NOT mean the team is bad and uncapable of winning. Instead, it is a label given to teams with talent, but without the capability of going toe to toe with contenders/secure a playoff spot.

AFC:

Bills (2-0): Since the drafting of Josh Allen and the assemblage of an elite defense- I always thought the Bills were one big time playmaker away from being serious contenders- despite the domination of New England in that division. Acquiring Stefon Diggs from the Vikings was HUGE for Buffalo. He has already stacked up 239 yards on just 16 receptions- plus a touchdown- in just 2 games. Granted, the Bills have played two weaker divisional opponents- they have shown explosiveness, elite defensive ability, and great discipline as a team. I really think this team can finally be considered a legitimate division winner and compete to win the Super Bowl this season. Contender.

Titans (2-0): We all remember that historic playoff run that Derrick Henry and the Titans made last season- and so far a 2-0 start is probably making football fans in Tennessee very happy. Can we call them contenders this season? I don’t know. The first two weeks ended up in very very close games against two subpar teams (Denver and Jacksonville). However, Tannehill has been surgical with 6 TDs and an impressive 71 completion percentage to go a long with a ton of yardage. Henry has been fairly productive as well in terms of yardage, but the so called “King” has a pretty average YPC (3.55). To say the least, this team isn’t the most exciting to watch- but they have gotten the job done so far. Until I see them play in some more competitive contests with better teams, I can’t quite call them a contender yet. Gonna have to go with Pretender status at this point.

Chiefs (2-0): The reigning Super Bowl champs still remain hot this season. Mahomes has been his usual MVP caliber self- while they still have talented weapons on offense like Hill, Kelce, Hardman, Watkins, and the impressive rookie RB Edwards-Helaire (not to mention an improved offensive line). My only concern is still their lack of depth on the defensive side. Outside of Chris Jones and Tyrann Mathieu- who on that defense could step up in big situations? However, this was my huge concern last year and Mahomes was able to carry them all the way to the championship win. This is an easy one. Contender.

Raiders (2-0): Now this is an interesting team. It seems as though Gruden is making things work with Derek Carr (Over 500 yards, 4 TDs/0 INTs, with a 73.5 completion %). The most intriguing thing has been watching the development of the young players the team has brought in. Josh Jacobs and Darren Waller are offensive superstars. The young, revamped defense has played pretty well- despite multiple questionable draft selections. Gruden and Mayock have done an exceptional job at building a young, hard-nosed team of ballers. I really think they’ve brought back that Raider “chip on the shoulder” old school style- which as a football fan you love. Th team certainly has promise, but the lack of depth at receiver and corner/linebacker discourage me. The Raiders are good, but probably play in the best division in the AFC- so a playoff appearance is going to be awfully hard to come by unless they win a bunch of divisional matchups. I guess we will see- but for now they sit on my Pretender list.

Ravens (2-0): This already seems to be a second straight season of Baltimore’s dominance… in the regular season at least. The Ravens have already had two blowout victories over Houston and Cleveland- but the real test comes this week against KC. The reigning MVP, Lamar Jackson, has been surgical as a passer (close to an 80% completion percentage) and is always a threat as a runner. The defense has also been the best in the league statistically (1st in the league in points allowed and forced turnovers, while also putting up 6 sacks in 2 weeks). This team is no joke… in the regular season. The past few years, the Ravens have been excellent in the regular season, but then seem to fall apart in the playoffs. I need to see Lamar Jackson perform at an MVP level in a playoff game before I really make them a legitimate contender, but at the same time they just aren’t a pretender. They have a legitimate shot to win a title, but they need their young QB to carry his load when it matters. Final Verdict: Contender.

(see my initial thoughts on Lamar from 2017 here.. SPOILER, my QB ranking was a bust, but I think still evaluated him better than most ‘notable’ NFL “analysts”. Just saying)

Steelers (2-0): Pittsburgh was a team I had doubts about. The offense was near stagnant last season with James Conner banged up and the loss of Big Ben for the year- but they did do a good job building up their defense- which is now (I think) the most versatile in the league. They have stars at all 3 levels with Stephon Tuitt, Cam Hayward, Devin Bush, TJ Watt, Joe Haden (yeah he still has it a bit), and Minkah Fitzpatrick. Not only are the names great on paper- but they are also extremely productive. Pittsburgh, after 2 weeks, has the most pressures in the NFL. This defense has been elite, but the offense has also picked up. Big Ben looks like he has looked healthy and the running game is coming back to life. With that division realistically only being open to Baltimore and the Steelers, I would put the Steelers as potential contenders. The offense needs to pick up and help out the defense- but they still stand as one of the better AFC teams.

Patriots (1-1): We are used to bad starts to the season from New England in hopes that the dynasty run is finally over, and this was our most promising looking year yet- with the departure of Brady. However, the Patriots (in Patriot fashion) nonchalantly plugged in a former MVP level QB into their offense for a cheap 1 million dollar “prove it” type of deal. Week one he looked sharp and effective both through the air and on the ground. Week two he looked good too, but the Patriots ran into a really tough Seattle team. I don’t think they’re quite as dominant on defense this season (at least not yet), but come on, let’s be real- a Bill Belichick led team is almost ALWAYS a contender. Until I see a team of his really struggle and miss the playoffs, I never count that squad out.

Colts (1-1): As a Colts fan, I had so much hope for this team. The defense last season was dominant- and then got extremely better with the additions of DeForest Buckner, Xavier Rhodes, and rookie Julian Blackmon. However, Week 1 the unit looked atrocious- allowing the Jaguars to walk all over them the entire game. On top of that Philip Rivers continued his hot streak of throwing the ball to the wrong team (several times) AND Marlon Mack tore his achillies early in the game. Week one was not a good way to start the season. Fortunately the entire team bounced back with a dominant week two over the Vikings. The defense looked stellar- holding the Vikings to 11 points, under 200 total yards, while piling up 3 interceptions and 3 sacks. Quite the difference in defensive play. At the same time, rookie RB Jonathan Taylor looks like he has the potential to be a premier bell cow in the league. If he keeps it up, the defense stays stout, and Rivers stops turning the ball over- this team should win the division. This is a team we still need to see more of to really nail down their identity. They’re on the fence for me- but after such a drastic improvement from weeks 1 to 2, I’m going to keep them leaning more towards the contender side.

Chargers (1-1): The Chargers are GOOD. An already elite defense adds an elite corner like Chris Harris and great things happen. The team also did a good job filling a Melvin Gordon sized hole with excellent depth players like Josh Kelley and Justin Jackson- while Austin Ekeler has shown he can be an every down back in the NFL with a solid (5.1 YPC rate). The team has been great, and rookie 1st round QB Justin Herbert looked exceptional in his very first NFL start against KC this past week. Although LA lost, they made things extremely tough for the Chiefs- who still managed to pull an OT victory. I think the Chargers are a legitimate team and could sneak a division title… maybe. Probably not. Either way- they are definitely contenders.

Jaguars (1-1): The Jags looked much better in the first two weeks (I’m finishing things up the Friday after they lost to Miami on a TNF showdown. BUT I’m still only evaluating based on the first 2 games) than anyone could have anticipated. They shocked the Colts week one and really came to play against a solid Titans squad the following Sunday. Minshew has looked super precise throwing the ball, James Robinson has turned out to be a steal UDFA back, and the young group of receivers have been great. Not to mention the young, new look defense has done a good job holding their own. I think Jacksonville is headed the right direction as a team, but they aren’t quite ready to be contenders. They are extremely young on both sides of the ball and are very obviously in the middle of a rebuild. Despite their hot and impressive start, I have to list them as Pretenders.

NFC:

Cardinals (2-0): The Cardinals are one of the most exciting offenses to watch. A young mobile star QB in Kyler Murray, a first ballot HOF receiver in Larry Fitzgerald, a solid RB in Kenyan Drake, and an elite WR at the peak of his prime ion DeAndre Hopkins. The young, up and coming team is ranked 6th in total offense and is even playing really solid defense- although they could get better at holding teams to less yard totals (allowing 120 rush yards per game and 220 pas yards per game). Overall, this team is much better than people give them credit for. Sadly, this team plays in the best division in football- having to compete with playoff spots with Seattle, the Rams, and San Francisco. I don’t think they win the division, but with all the injuries to the stout 49er defense- they have a chance to steal a wildcard spot. Until we see how the next couple weeks go though, I have no choice but to list them as a Pretender… for now.

Rams (2-0): After a disappointing 2019 season (9-7 after a Super Bowl appearance the season before), the Rams look really solid. Goff has been excellent with near 70% completion percentage, 285 YPG, and 3 TDs. The defense looks renewed with shutdown DB Jalen Ramsey teamed up with the best defensive lineman in the game- Aaron Donald. A 2-0 start is solid- especially with such a dominating win against Philly. The big question how they can perform within the division. The 49ers are beat up with injuries, but the Seahawks and Cardinals are both very solid teams. I think the Rams can and will hold their own against their divisional opponents- but only time and games will tell. For now, the Rams have impressed me enough to earn a spot on the Contender list. I love the talent on both sides of the ball, and I trust McVay to have a bounce back season.

Seahawks (2-0): Russel Wilson WILL win an MVP this season- or at the very least he should get a damn 1st place vote for the first time. As always, Wilson has been nothing but electric (he already over 600 total pass yards and 9 yards in just 2 games. WOW). The defense is also playing at a high level, ranking top 10 in total defensive stats and holding off two high powered offenses in Atlanta and New England. There isn’t much else to say, other than this team is elite. Despite their tough divisional matchups, I think they come out on top and earn a 1st round bye this season. They may even be my pick to make the Super Bowl this season for the NFC… we will see. Nonetheless, they are an easy pick for Contender.

Packers (2-0): The Packers offense has been red hot thus far. Aaron Jones is averaging 6.9 YPC. I’ll say it again- Aaron Jones (with Aaron Rogers at QB) is rushing the football at a rate of almost SEVEN yards per touch. That is incredible, and I give props to Matt Lafleur for how he has designed that offense. My issue with them is the defense. They have all the pieces to be successful (Jaire Alexander, Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith, Kenny Clark, etc.), yet they have let up 55 points in 2 games. In order for the Packers to be truly dominant, the defense needs to hold up their end of the bargain- relying on your offense to score 40+ plus EVERY game just to win is not a good gameplan. In the NFL, teams just do not stay red hot like this offensively all 16 games. So unless the defense starts to help out, it could be a tougher season down the stretch. However, given the status of the Vikings and Lions- the Packers will have a good chance to win the division. For now, they remain a contender– but don’t take these two explosive 40 point performances to keep happening unless the defense gets going.

Bears (2-0): This team has been very interesting to watch. Their strong point is definitely defense- with a loaded set of starters headlined by Khalil Mack (defense is ranked top 3 in total defensive). We know they are good on that side of the ball, but the big surprise has been Mitch Trubisky and the offense. People (especially one particular contributor of this website *cough* *cough*) had already written off the UNC product and were looking at ways in which the Bears could move on. However Mitch has had a nice turnaround season thus far (5 TDs, 2 picks, and almost 500 yards so far). Although the numbers are quite average- he has shown improvements as both a decision maker and a thrower. Then again, they have 2 wins against 2 struggling franchises (Giants and Lions) who have yet to win a game this year. As much as I hate to say it, Mitch, Mack, and the Bears look like Pretenders.

Washington (1-1): Washington was very impressive week one with a huge come from behind victory over Philadelphia. However, things came back down to earth for the “Football Team” (still not over that name) with a punishing 30-15 loss against a promising Cardinals squad. Not the worst start in the world right? The defense has racked up a total of 11 sacks in two weeks and young offensive weapon Terry McLaurin has been more than impressive so far this season. BUT, this team is just not ready to compete at the top of the league with the big boys. I have always had concerns with Dwayne Haskins as an NFL QB prospect and he continues to show signs of being a bust. Ownership is under tons of fire at the moment as well (we all know why). Head Coach Ron Rivera is dealing with very serious medical issues as well. So, you really can’t expect this team to do much with the 2020 season. Although they are a Pretender right now, they do show some promise in years to come.

Cowboys (1-1): Dallas lost week one to a solid Rams team and somehow managed to comeback down 9 with no timeouts and 2 minutes to go in the game (Falcons fans, I’m very sorry). Not the most conventional 1-1 start around the league, but hey- I’m sure they’ll live with it. I was never really high on this team because of their lack of depth defensively (plus the loss of Leighton Vander Esch) and the inconsistent, shaky play of Dak Prescott, and I still feel that way. Yes they scored 40 points last week, but the Falcons defense is NOT all that great and plus they were held in check against the Rams. I could be wrong, but this Dallas team just feels like a Pretender once again. They have some tough games coming up though, so maybe they could change my mind?

49ers (1-1): Man oh man things are not looking good for the 2019 NFC Champs. Star D-linemen Nick Bosa and Solomon Thomas both suffered season ending ACL tears. On top of that, offensive stars Jimmy G and George Kittle are out multiple weeks- missing crucial early season reps/games. Playing in such a tough division, with every single game being essential to their playoff hopes- it is tough to keep the Niners in my playoff picture prediction. Although they were dominant week two against a bad Jets team, they already are 0-1 in the division after a tough loss to Arizona. The 49ers have a relatively easy schedule the next 3 weeks (Giants, Eagles, Dolphins), so if they can hang around and win a 2 or 3 of those- they could stay in the race. For now, they are in my Pretender list.

Saints: (1-1): Is it just me, or do the Saints just look bad? Yes they took advantage of an inexperienced Buccaneer defense week one, but they were completely outplayed by a Raiders team they probably should have beat. One of the most accurate and consistent QBs of all time has been missing some easy throws and made some bad decisions- and you NEVER see him do that stuff. Call me crazy, but I don’t know if this team really has it this season. The window for another Drew Brees championship win seems to have closed up after two devastating playoffs losses in a row. They will more than likely win their division- but I have serious concerns for them as a contender… Until I see improvement (especially from the defense who has given up nearly 60 points in 2 weeks), this is a Pretender.

Buccaneers (1-1): Tom Brady, Gronk, Shady McCoy, Leonard Fournette, Godwin, Mike Evans, and HC Bruce Arians. This team sounds stacked and should have no issues winning ball games…right? As I did when Cleveland assembled their “dream team” offense of OBJ and Jarvis Landry with Baker Mayfield- I never bought in to the hype of this Buccaneer team. Brady looked awfully average against a pretty poor Saints defense (2 TDs, 2 picks and only 239 yards) and again in week 2 against a “full-rebuild” mode Panthers team (1 TD, 1 Pick, 219 yards). So far, I’m not sold AT ALL on this team. I’ve seen nothing that screams “Super Bowl Champion Team”- especially with a young, inexperienced defense that has been below average so far. Considering the toughness in the NFC and the fact that I think New Orleans takes the division title- Tampa is a wildcard team at best… sorry to the Brady fans, but this team seems to be a Pretender.

Now, let us all keep in mind that this only a general assessment after only 2 weeks of NFL play. Teams and players may be rusty, not 100% in game shape, recovering from off-season injury etc. So, when we come back to analyze play from weeks 3 and 4- things could look quite different. But, for now here is your Pretender vs Contender final list after week 2:

Contenders:

Bills, Chiefs, Ravens, Steelers, Patriots, Colts, Chargers, Rams, Seahawks, and Packers.

Pretenders:

Titans, Raiders, Jaguars, Cardinals, Bears, Washington, Cowboys, 49ers, Saints, and Buccaneers.

Grading Every 1st Round NFL Draft Pick (2020)

By: Bryce Wadsworth

It’s been a couple weeks since the draft itself at this point, but I really wanted to take the time to think about each selection. Amidst all the COVID-19 madness, I wasn’t able to put together my final prospect list/mock draft- so the least I can do is give my best assessment for each pick made on my favorite night of the year.

CIN: Joe Burrow, QB LSU

Obviously, we all knew that Burrow was going to go first overall a long time ago- I mean the kid had a Bengals hat in his hand like 10 minutes before they actually announced the pick for crying out loud.

Burrow is extremely talented and definitely plays with a chip on his shoulder. He flashes excellent pocket presence, good decision making, and is fairly mobile. Clearly, the Bengals needed to find a replacement for the aging Andy Dalton- and they have. Burrow will fit in greatly with Zac Taylor’s offense and should start immediately.

I will say, Burrow does has a bit of an attitude issue and is extremely/overly confident. Personally, I don’t like the way he holds himself and as a “pretend GM” I wouldn’t allow the type of behavior he has put out from the face of my franchise. He also lacks arm-strength- which could turn into an issue in the NFL. Some smell a one hit wonder from Burrow- I may have to agree, but we will see.

Grade: B+

WAS: Chase Young, DE Ohio State

Another no-brainer pick here. Chase Young adds even more power and speed off the edge to a team that has invested multiple picks into the defensive front over the past few years. With new HC Ron Rivera in town, expect him to turn this young core on defense into an elite group. I love what the Redskins have been building (aside from Dwayne Haskins, the QB who apparently can’t even read an NFL playbook) and this pick just solidifies how I feel even more.

Grade: A+

DET: Jeff Okudah, CB Ohio State

Okudah was by far the best CB prospect in this draft class. He has the size, speed, and length to be extremely productive in the NFL. He has great ball instincts, and is a fairly decent tackler as a corner.

I loved Okudah as a prospect and this is a great fit for Matt Patricia and the Lions, but I would have loved this pick even more if they were able to keep Darius Slay on board. Slay and Okudah would put this defense into position to really compete for the NFC North title. The Lions were a few close games away from having a pretty solid record- and now this pick just feels like a filler after losing Slay.

Grade: B

NYG: Andrew Thomas, OT Georgia

I was a bit confused with this pick. It is not a secret that the Giants want to build up their offensive line after taking Daniel Jones at QB last year and Saquon Barkley the year before- but I’m not sure if Thomas was the best pick (value wise) at this spot.

To me, if you are going to take an offensive lineman this early- it needs to THE guy. Andrew Thomas is a solid player and has lots of tape on record as a 3 year starter. He surely has a high ceiling, but there is question as to whether he can reach his full potential.

Grade: B-

MIA: Tua Tagovailoa, QB Alabama

When healthy, Tua is the best QB in this draft class hands down. He has excellent arm strength, pin-point accuracy, and above average mobility/pocket awareness. The only knock on him is the injury history. If he were to go to a team with a solid O-Line, then things would look a bit better for him… but that didn’t happen.

The Dolphins are amidst a giant roster overhaul and have very few pieces to work around- especially on offense. If they are smart, Tua will sit for a season to get to full health and learn behind a veteran QB- while also allowing time to build a better offensive front to protect him.

This pick is a gamble for Miami at no. 5 overall, but it has massive upside if they play their hand correctly.

Grade: B+

LAC: Justin Herbert, QB Oregon

Herbert is a very interesting prospect. He has prospective NFL size and arm-strength and has a very solid junior season at Oregon. However, he bet on himself to come back for his senior season and did not live up to standard- otherwise he could have been a higher pick in this draft.

Herbert to the Chargers makes a ton of sense- as they lost franchise QB Philip Rivers to the Colts this off-season. However, I see the Chargers giving Tyrod Taylor a shot before they force Herbert into a starting position, which is probably the best option for now.

Grade: B+

CAR: Derrick Brown, DT Auburn

I love Derrick Brown. The dude is an absolute GAME CHANGER on the defensive line. He provides excellent power, size, and mobility for a big man and should be a big time run stopper at the next level. He reminds me a lot of Fletcher Cox.

This pick (and the ones later down the line as well) proves that new HC Matt Rhule is building a defensive oriented unit- and Derrick Brown is a great building block to start with.

Grade: A+

ARI: Isaiah Simmons, LB Clemson

The Cardinals went the “best player available route” with Simmons at this pick. Simmons is a freak on defense and could play Inside or Out at LB. He is a good pass rusher, run stopper, and pass coverage guy. put him anywhere on the field and he could probably do a really good job. Versatile, physical, with high football IQ and instincts.

The Cardinals, however, desperately need offensive line help to protect franchise QB Kyler Murray. With quite a few talented prospects on the board at OT, the pick seems a bit wasted. Yes, they get better on defense- but Kyler ends up having to run for his life on almost any given play.

Grade: C+

JAX: C.J Henderson, CB Florida

Given that the Jaguars have literally nobody left at corner after moving on from both A.J Bouye and Jalen Ramsey- this pick makes a whole lot of sense. Henderson has extremely long arms and provides excellent instincts and acceleration to any secondary. Expect him to make an instant impact for the Jags.

Grade: A

CLE: Jedrick Willis, OT Alabama

Cleveland is doing everything they can to justify their controversial (especially to me) pick of Baker Mayfield first overall. They gave him Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry and Nick Chubb, but still not good enough. Now, the Browns turn to the offensive line to try and help Baker out. They signed OT Jack Conklin before the draft and then take Jedrick Willis early on in the first round.
Willis played RT in college, but has showed excellent ability to pass block- making a switch to LT seem inevitable considering Conklin plays RT. Willis has a great size and ability and has the potential to be a serviceable LT for a long time in the NFL.

Grade: A

NYJ: Mekhi Becton, OT Louisville

Becton is one of the freakiest OT prospects I have EVER seen. You won’t ever see a faster 360 lb man. The Jets get a gigantic, insanely gifted athlete to serve as franchise QB Sam Darnold’s personal bodyguard. Go watch Becton’s tape if you like watching people get man-handled on the football field. Great pick for the Jets.

Grade: A+

LVR: Henry Ruggs III, WR Alabama

This pick is such a Gruden pick. Ruggs has next level speed and is an elite RAC receiver. Gruden is going to put this guy EVERYWHERE on the field offensively and will game plan to get this guy lots of opportunities. Although not the best WR available in my opinion, Gruden got his guy and is probably celebrating with some Coronas before this virtual off-season fiasco.

TB: Tristan Wirfs, OT Iowa

The Bucs traded up and added a solid all-around OT to help out this new look team (TB might as well stand for Tom Brady rather than Tampa Bay at this point).

Wirfs has smooth feet for an O-Lineman and is a pretty decent run blocker as well. He doesn’t have explosive drive block ability and is only a decent pass protector- but he has high upside. I like this pick and I’m sure Brady does to.

Grade: B

SF: Javon Kinlaw, DT South Carolina

The Niners got a good deal trading back a slot with Tampa- as they ended up receiving an additional 4th round selection for later in the draft. They also got their cheaper version of DeForrest Buckner (who they traded to Indianapolis for the 13th overall pick). Kinlaw is a solid DT who is great at a lot of things. He is athletic, can block shed with ease at times, is a play making interior pass rusher, and can make big plays when defending the run. Great replacement for Buckner and will contribute instantly for the reigning NFC champs.

DEN: Jerry Jeudy, WR Alabama

This pick may have been the best so far by John Elway in a long time. Jerry Jeudy is a superb route runner and can make just about anyone miss when he has the ball in his hands in the open field. He is an explosive playmaker who is an excellent fit to this loaded Denver offense.

Denver now has Melvin Gordon, Phillip Lindsay, Noah Fant, Courtland Sutton, and Jeudy with (young star in the making) Drew Locke at QB. Watch out.

Grade: A+

ATL: A.J Terrell, CB Clemson

The Falcons were in desperate need of CB help, and Terrell should get the job done. He is a great press coverage/man to man defender with excellent speed and ball skills. He does need to improve his tackling however if he wants to really succeed at the next level.

Grade: B

DAL: CeeDee Lamb, WR Oklahoma

CeeDee Lamb is extremely explosive. Pair him Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup, plus Zeke Elliot out the backfield… this offense is extremely scary now.

They could have spent this pick on the defensive side of the ball, or at O-Line considering they lost their star center due to an emergency retirement- but this pick is still good for the team and their value at 17th overall.


Grade: A-

MIA: Austin Jackson, OT USC

This was a good next move by Miami after taking Tua earlier. As I mentioned, this offensive line needs a TON of work before I would even want to see the new QB on the field- but Jackson is a solid fit to start building a formidable front.

Jackson is a star pass protecting OT who will likely stand out as the new starting LT for the Dolphins for a long time.

Grade: A

LVR: Damon Arnette, CB Ohio State

I thought Arnette was a very undervalued prospect coming into this draft. Arnette is an extremely physical corner with unique athletic ability at the position. He has a tendency to get a little grabby down the field- but that’s nothing good coaching can fix.

Arnette is a typical Raiders type of corner- who I think will be a solid starter in the NFL. Physical, athletic, with high IQ.

Grade: B+

JAX: K’Lavon Chaisson, EDGE LSU

Jacksonville has fallen off the radar after their AFC championship run not so long ago and has since dumped almost the entire defense from that team. After taking a solid CB1 earlier in the draft, the Jags look to fill a spot left in the defensive line after the impending trade/release of pass rusher Yannick Ngakoue.

Chaisson is a physical edge setter who is also an exceptional pass rusher. Chaisson plus Josh Allen is a scary duo on the defensive line. Look for this tandem to wreck havoc on most opposing offenses.

Grade: A

PHI: Jalen Reagor, WR TCU

Hey Eagles fans, remember Nelson Agholor? You just drafted him again. Reagor is a speedy receiver with decent size and footwork, but has issues catching the ball. Philly was in desperate need of a WR, but when Denzel Mimms, Justin Jefferson, and Brandon Aiyuk are still on the board- this pick makes no sense to me.

Grade: D+

MIN: Justin Jefferson, WR LSU

The is a great pick for Minnesota. After dealing off the disgruntled Stefon Diggs, the Vikings find an immediate replacement.

Jefferson has great size, speed, and ball skills- and is extremely versatile on the field. He can play slot, outside- you name it. Jefferson and Thielen is a scary duo to have at wide out.

Grade: A+

LAC: Kenneth Murray, LB Oklahoma

Murray is an extremely fast, sideline to sideline defender with elite run read instincts. The Chargers now have playmakers at all levels of their defense and are looking to be extremely tough to score on this season.

Although they gave up 2 picks to come up and grab Murray, I think it was needed and necessary.

Grade: B+

NO: Cesar Ruiz, OL/C Michigan

This move seemed premeditated- as shortly after this selection, the Saints released pro bowl guard Larry Warford.

Ruiz is a strong run blocker with good size and strength. New Orleans can plug him anywhere in the interior line and would get great results.

Grade: A

SF: Brandon Aiyuk, WR Arizona State

Aiyuk is a explosive receiver with great RAC ability and fancy footwork to make defenders miss in the open field.

After letting Emmanuel Sanders walk, it made sense for the Niners to grab a receiver at some point in the draft, but they did give up 3 early picks in order to move up here- making this a big gamble.

Grade: B

GB: Jordan Love, QB Utah State

This pick was the most shocking of the entire first round. Love is a talented guy with unique ball skills, arm strength and mobility at QB- but they already have Aaron Rogers who lead them to the NFC championship game last season.

This pick was very unnecessary- as the team still sits with no formidable offensive weapons outside of Davante Adams and Aaron Jones. A receiver was a giant need at this pick, but the Packers decided otherwise.

Grade: D

SEA: Jordyn Brooks, LB Texas Tech

Brooks is the exact type of guy the Seahawks like in the LB. Fast, intelligent, and hard hitting. He is a Legion of Boom type of hitter as a matter of fact- punishing ball carriers nearly every time he makes a hit. He also excels at making plays behind the line of scrimmage- which will be a big help on defense going forward.

My only knock at this pick is that Brooks likely would have slid down into the 2nd round- meaning Seattle could have traded back and gotten more value. So I had to lower the grade some to reflect that.

Grade: C+

BAL: Patrick Queen, LB LSU

The Ravens took the money and filled out their defensive line, and now have added an elite LB to make their defense even scarier.

Queen has a high motor, never giving up on any play. He has sideline to sideline speed, plus great recognition. He should be a stud in the NFL, not to mention a great scheme fit for the Ravens.

Grade: A+

TEN: Isaiah Wilson, OT Georgia

The Titans lost Jack Conklin in free agency, so this pick was way too easy for them to make.

Similar to Conklin, Isaiah Wilson excelled as a physical run blocker and will be a solid piece on the offensive line. Not much else to it- the Titans effectively replaced Conklin with a cheaper version.

Grade: A-

MIA: Noah Igbinoghene, CB Auburn

After drafting their new franchise QB and some offensive line help, Miami wanted to look to build their defense a bit as well. However, drafting a corner after spending a lump sum on FA Byron Jones and already having Xavien Howard- using a 1st rounder on another corner was a bit strange to me.

Grade: C

MIN: Jeff Gladney, CB TCU

Gladney was one of my favorite DBs in this class. He is extremely physical- unafraid to come in to make a hit or to take on blockers one on one. He relies his physicality to take guys off their routes/timing- but I do have questions as to whether or not that will translate at the NFL level.

Nevertheless, the Vikings fill a big need at CB and get a unique prospect to do so.

Grade: B

KC: Clyde Edwards-Helaire, RB LSU

One of Kansas City’s few weaknesses on offense was the lack of talent/depth at RB. Damien Williams proved to be solid, but the addition of Edwards-Helaire is huge.

The LSU product is a well balanced runner with good feet, vision, and ball carrying. However, the real reason he fits so well for KC is his ability as a pass-catcher. Andy Reid is most definetly get creative with this guy and find multiple ways to feed him the rock in open field to make plays. Hill, Kelce, Williams, Watkins, and now Edwards-Helaire (not to mention SB MVP Pat Mahomes at QB) is a very scary combo of weapons.

Grade: A+

Predicting Landing Spots for 2020’s Top NFL Free Agents: Wide-Outs/Tight Ends

(3/10/20)

While most sports fans are getting ready for NCAA’s March Madness Tournament, I am totally locked in for my own version of madness- NFL Free Agency.

We are just 8 days away. 8 DAYS PEOPLE. So I have been doing research, reading articles, and making my best educated predictions for all that is about to consume the football world next week. We’ve talked about the QB’s and the ball carriers- but now is time to shift focus on to the top pass catchers.

Amari Cooper:

Now, it is quite obvious that Amari is the most talented, biggest game changing receiver to be a free agent this off season. However, I doubt that the Cowboys would let him walk after trading two 1st rounders away from him not too long ago. He was their most productive receiving threat BY FAR last season, and without him on the field they are severely limited outside of Zeke Elliot. So, of course it makes sense for the Cowboys to work to get a deal done ASAP.

Amari has made it known that he wants to be “a Cowboy for life”, but Dallas needs to finalize a deal with Dak Prescott first before they can turn their attention to the star receiver. The recent push back of the franchise tag deadline could prolong negotiations even longer- but look for Cooper to stay in Dallas.

A.J Green:

The Bengals are pretty much a mess in my eyes. They are probably the least talented team in the league and need to bring in a large influx of new players to reach a ‘contending’ status in my book.

With that being said, I think Green will look to move on- despite rumors of the Bengal’s plan to retain him with a franchise tag. Green is aging and just outside of his prime, but he definitely has a lot to offer to a team that is looking to make a super bowl run this season. I have read that teams like Denver and New England have expressed interest in the vet- but Philly is by far the best fit.

The Eagles have lacked a consistent receiving threat not named Zach Ertz or even Dallas Goedert. They are also essentially cleaning house at wide-out with Nelson Agholor and Alshon Jeffrey seemingly ready to move on. So, A.J Green is the best fit in Philly’s offense. He provides the same big bodied, sure-handed receiver that Jeffrey brought to the team, but offers much better route running and athleticism. If Philly can also add a field stretching weapon (Desean could still provide that if healthy), their offense would be back to championship form.

Austin Hooper:

This news came as a shock to me. Hooper was insanely productive for the Falcons and was a consistent pass catcher to take some heat off of Julio and Ridley. The Falcons have to be in a lot of financial trouble if they can’t afford to bring him back. I see Hooper as the safest FA tight end available, and with several teams in need of a solid tight end- he will easily find a home.

Of all the teams that have already expressed some sort of interest, Green Bay is the best fit. They experimented and tried to revive Jimmy Graham’s career- but that didn’t ever turn into anything. However, with Hooper’s elite stats regarding both passer rating when targeted and YAC (according to PFF), I’m sure Aaron Rogers would love to add him to his arsenal of weapons.

Hunter Henry:

Henry is an intriguing prospect in this free agency class. To me, he is probably the most talented tight end available and produced impressive numbers… when he was on the field. I listed Hooper as the safest option at tight end, solely due to the long injury history that Hunter Henry has had throughout his young career. With so much potential and the ability to provide a Kittle/Kelce presence on the field at TE, Henry will be highly sought after.

The Chargers seem to be on the decline offensively and it seems likely that they’ll want to start rebuilding on that side of the ball. Paying Henry doesn’t do them much given his injury history. Plus they are already losing key pieces in Melvin Gordon and Phillip Rivers and still hold on to Austin Ekeler and Keenan Allen. In other words, the Chargers should look to invest their money on defense and use draft picks to fill in the QB/TE gaps (especially with two high quality weapons staying).

So if not the Chargers, where does Henry end up? As young as Henry is and given his upside- the Cardinals would be a perfect match. Arizona got minimal production from the tight end position last season ( a combined 42 receptions for 439 yards and 2 touchdowns between Clay and Maxx Williams in 2019), so an elite talent as a safety blanket could help Kyler Murray feel a bit more comfortable and become a more confident passer. Outside of Fitzgerald, the Cardinals need some help in the receiving department and I really feel like Henry can have a massive impact.

Robby Anderson:

As someone from the Philly area, I’ve been following the Temple product for awhile- and I love his ability to stretch the field and provide explosive plays for any offense. I mean, he did it for the struggling Jets offense the past couple of years.

For that reason, I think he stays in New York and the Jets make an effort to keep him on roster for awhile. Given the rise of Sam Darnold and Anderson’s chemistry with the young QB, it makes sense for NY to re-sign him. As mentioned, he is an underrated deep threat that would compliment a big bodied target that the Jets need to find to provide Darnold a reliable receiving group. Not to mention they need A LOT of offensive line help… but that’s discussion for a different article.

Emmanuel Sanders:

After a championship game appearance as a mid-season addition for the 49ers, it doesn’t seem like negotiations are even on-going. So, the sure-handed, route running specialist would be an excellent addition to any potential contender.

News on any interested teams has been quiet, but I could see Philly, Indy, and New England all as potential fits. All 3 teams need desperate help at the receiving position and have money to make a short-term deal (Sanders is in his 30’s). The best and most likely landing spot is probably New England.

With Indianapolis’ tendency to not make big splashes in free agency (especially for an aging receiver as they look ahead to the future) and Philly filling this need with A.J Green (and likely looking to sign RB depth, a new left tackle, and continuing to search for an answer at corner), I could really see New England going after the vet in order to add another weapon to lure Brady back/make their new starting QB feel comfortable.

Before I conclude, I want to make it a point that I work on these articles throughout the duration of about a week (have to balance school work and side-work). So, I already know that some of these predictions are going to be wrong based on news I hear around the league- but I stick to my predictions and post them anyway because that’s what my instincts tell me.

Anyway, that wraps up the offensive skill positions predictions. Now, I will make an effort to get out a piece on the top defensive players before free agency kicks off. As we mourn the halt of the sports world around us, we can at least look forward to NFL free agency madness and the draft.