This morning, Nike decided to suspend relations with Houston Texans QB Deshaun Watson amidst accusations made towards him– involving numerous sexual assault charges.
So far, Watson is facing 22 allegations of sexual assault from his former female massage therapists. Many of them have come forward anonymously, but Ashley Solis and Lauren Baxley have come forward and identified themselves in attempt to encourages more of those involved to do the same.
Although the incidents are all allegations yet to be proven true, the amount of women involved (18 who claim Watson was professional and 22 who said he acted inappropriately) is alarming and the details provided in each case have been disturbing to read. Now, with outside parties like Nike feeling the need to suspend their endorsement deal, it’s starting to feel like their is a legitimate case towards Watson.
One would hope that such an influential figure in sports wouldn’t behave in the manner that Watson has allegedly behaved, but things appear to look worse each day.
For more details on specific cases, you can look here.
In the NFL draft, quarterback prospects are always under the spotlight and are seen as the most valuable position in football. This year is certainly no exception with guys like Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields, and Zach Wilson in the mix.
Fans love it when their team has a high draft pick and can grab themselves a QB early on to build around. So, with a draft loaded with throwing talent and several teams looking for someone to fill their starting QB spot, lets take a look at and rank the five guys who will likely get taken in the first round:
I think Trevor is an above average athlete for a 6ft 6 QB. He moves outside the pocket well, has the ability to run and make plays, and has a gifted arm– throwing the ball with power and precision.
In comparison to some NFL QBs and other prospects in this draft, I consider him a great athlete, but not elite. He has a strong arm and is fairly mobile, but doesn’t quite have the speed or downhill footwork that some others do.
Watching Lawrence’s game tape is a GM’s dream if he needs a QB. He consistently makes big plays at the right time, rarely makes ANY mistakes, and has minimal games where his performance is significantly worse than other games.
With a near perfect record throughout his career at Clemson (34-2) and his consistency as a big time performer (NCG Win, 3x ACC Champion, and playoff appearances all three seasons at Clemson), Lawrence gets a perfect score for the film category section easily.
To be an NFL QB you need to be consistent, intelligent, and fundamentally sound– Lawrence possesses all of that already and can only get better with NFL coaching.
As a passer, he is poised and comfortable making decisions in the pocket, and also can sometimes extend the play with his feet. He has excellent power, touch, and accuracy throwing at any level of the field. Trevor makes good reads, throws confidently, and rarely makes mistakes (only 17 interceptions over 3 seasons and 1,138 pass attempts).
A flaw in his game would involve his accuracy on the run and his ability to slide. As a top QB prospect who will likely start immediately, he needs to learn to slide and protect his body, while also being more consistent throwing on the move.
Lawrence played in the ACC, which is tough football but not as competitive as the Big10 or SEC. However, his ability to win OOC matchups, make the playoffs three years in a row, and win a national title largely makes up for that.
Trevor is my highest graded QB (next highest grades at a 79), and should be the first QB taken in the draft. I think he has an extremely high ceiling and can produce efficiently at the next level right away. He has extremely coachable flaws and should be a great NFL QB.
Prospect Comparison: Andrew Luck
(2) Zach Wilson, QB BYU
As a QB he has excellent arm talent (can make any throw he wants) and can move around well enough to escape pressure, but his footwork needs some work and it impacts his ability to make throws to the sideline.
Some scouts may question his throwing mechanics, but I think the modern NFL QB can do things their own way and get away with it (see: Patrick Mahomes). He will need some coaching to help with his mechanically related misfires, but overall I don’t mind his style.
Zach doesn’t possess exciting agility or speed, which brings his grade down due to the athleticism of other QB prospects in this draft, but his arm talent and abilities as a passer keep him in the average-great range.
Zach is one of the more talented throwers to enter the draft in a while. He hasn’t had as decorated of a career as Trevor Lawrence, but he put BYU on a national stage this season with his incredible throwing talents.
Wilson has the best touch pass and deep ball in this draft in my opinion, and I think with some coaching help, he can make every single type of throw on the football field.
As much as I love the potential of this kid, he did have some games where he made more mistakes than you’d like to see and he has some flaws he needs to work on. For example, he would often get lazy with his play action fakes. As an evaluator, you want to see a prospect (especially a QB) do all the little things right.
Zach is a very intelligent, decisive passer who gobs with potential, but I think he is still a bit raw and needs some work under a good set of coaches to be elite in the NFL.
He does possess the ability to extend plays, make throws on the run, and slide when necessary, which helps his score a bit. Plus, he is calm and very patent in the pocket– always keeping his eyes downfield to make a play. He rarely settles.
Playing at a small school in the FBS Independent Conference hurts his competition score. However, his performance against a few ranked schools this season (see stats/opponents here) and a Boca Raton Bowl Game win keeps him in the average competition level.
In terms of my prospect grading system, Wilson ranks 3rd among QBs. However, I’m ranking each prospect based on who I would personally draft.
With the right coaching and support, Wilson could be very special in the NFL. He may not play right away, but when he does he could be the next great QB in football.
Patrick Mahomes is the new “standard” for QBs and GMs will always look for prospects like him to experiment with. Zach Wilson is the closest thing we’ve seen so far.
Prospect Comparison: Patrick Mahomes
(3) Trey Lance, QB NDSU
In terms of QBs, Lance is by far the most gifted athlete in this class. On film, he looks like he could play RB in the NFL, and his strong arm and accuracy at all levels makes his athletic ability jump out even more.
Trey Lance is a true dual threat QB/athlete who could probably do anything on the football field, even at the NFL level. Speed, size, arm strength/talent all check out. This kid possesses elite athletic ability.
Now, if we based Trey’s film grade on this year alone, he would have a much lower grade. NDSU only played one game this season against Central Arkansas, but Lance performed poorly through the air (15/30 for 149 yards and 2 TDs, 1 int). He did run the ball well, but as a 2021 draft 1st-round prospect, you’d expect more.
Then again, it should be considered that this season was a little more than unordinary with COVID-19 restrictions. He played for a small FCS school who didn’t have the ability to find OOC games to play in, and instead the team opted to play in the spring (right before the draft, so Lance opted out).
If you go back and watch his 2019-2020 film, things are much more impressive. He has an occasional poor performance, but there wasn’t one that I watched that was horrific. He showed off his athletic ability on rollouts, deep throws, and RPO/Read Option plays all season long and put impressive numbers, including ZERO interceptions in nearly 300 pass attempts (see the rest here).
Lance gobs with talent and potential. He is a gifted runner, has NFL-level deep throw abilities, and is excellent. Not only is he talented, but he visibly puts out 100% effort every play. he runs out fakes on read option plays, has a great play action fake, etc.
The problem lies in his abilities as a pocket passer. Lance has a tendency to either sit in the pocket way too long and eat a sack, or he looks to run way too fast without giving time for the pass play to develop. He needs big time work with coaches in terms of pocket awareness/comfort. You can’t just scramble and panic in the NFL, you need poise and patience.
I would also want Lance to work on sliding and to not take so many hits. He’s a gifted runner and should absolutely utilize that aspect of his game, but if he wants to last in the NFL, hits need to be at a minimal.
One of his biggest knocks as a prospect is the fact that he plays in a low-tier conference (FCS) and doesn’t play bigger schools/highly touted NFL prospects. While finding players in small schools can work out (Carson Wentz came from NDSU and has shown h can perform in the NFL), it’s still something to keep in mind.
However, despite the level of competition, he was able to win the FCS Championship game over James Madison and Lance starred all throughout the playoff run.
Lance’s 2019 season was electric and near perfect on film. There are flaws however, and his sole performance in this pandemic riddled 2020-21 season leaves GMS/scouts with question marks… including me.
If Trey was able to replicate or even top his performance in 2019 this year (with more games obviously), then he would most likely be my #2 ranked prospect, but with, essentially, a year gap in between his last full season and the draft, he has to fall a bit.
Prospect Comparison: Robert Griffin III
(4) Justin Fields, QB Ohio State
Fields is an excellent athlete. He can run, extend plays, and make deep throws down the field accurately. He has prospective NFL size, weight, and has next level speed to fit the mold as what used to be called “prototypical” (now I think it’s more of the “standard”).
Although he isn’t as dazzling of an athlete as (say) Trey Lance, Fields has all the tools to make it to the NFL and perform at a high level.
Ohio State runs a very QB friendly offense. It’s simple, effective and gets the job done. Fields excelled and flashed to many scouts with his big arm, big run plays and so on– but if you really break things down and watch really him play, I think it’s extremely apparent that he doesn’t possess the ability to read a defense or improvise when the 1st/2nd option on a throw isn’t there.
With that being said, it’s tough to trust him as an evaluator. We’ve see many QBs produce stats and win games, but then go on to flop in an NFL style offense because they can’t adjust or read defenses (Dwayne Haskins, JaMarcus Russell).
At the same time, there are flashes of excellence. The flashy moves and big play ability cannot be overlooked, and I want to give credit where it’s due but the football IQ part is something that is going to be a huge leap for him coming into the pros.
There is no doubt that Justin Fields possesses NFL potential. He’s shown he can make big plays, extend plays with his legs, make accurate throws down the field, and play through big games with toughness and grit.
Fundamentally, his throwing mechanics have shown to hurt his accuracy however, and his release puts balls high and off target. He also needs work with his feet (back drop is flat footed sometimes) and his presence in the pocket (appears tense and jittery). At the same time, improving his throwing motion, speed, and feet will help him add zip to his throws, as he often floats passes too often. In the NFL a lot of those will be INTs.
As a runner, Fields excels. I think the best aspect of his game is that he can make big plays running the rock and he can throw on the run at a very high level.
Fields played in the Big 10, which is debatably one of the toughest conferences in football. Ohio State had a limited schedule with COVID, but Fields was able to lead wins over Penn State, #11 Indiana, #14 Northwestern, and then #2 Clemson in the College Football Playoffs. Fields made it to the National Championship game where he fell short to top ranked Alabama, which is a top class football team with a ton of NFL prospects on roster.
Fields has very, very raw talent and has proven he can win games against top tier competition. However, he grades as my #4 ranked QB due to his inability to make next level decisions and his awkward mechanics as a thrower. He could prove me wrong and succeed in the NFL, but as of right now, I think there are 3 QBs that are much more ready for the NFL and have higher ceilings overall.
Prospect Comparison: Cam Newton
(5) Mac Jones, QB Alabama
Jones is a very average athlete. He isn’t a great runner, but has shown ability to escape pressure and make some decent passes on the run. He also has pretty average arm strength (though the accuracy isn’t quite there on deep throws).
Especially in comparison to the other QBs in this draft, there is definitely no “wow” factor in terms of Mac’s athleticism.
Jones actually has pretty decent tape. He has shown the ability to be an efficient, intelligent passer for top ranked Bama. He can make throws on the run, throw it deep, and has good short range accuracy. However, he isn’t as talented with his arm in comparison to other prospects in this draft.
His fine play and minimal mistakes helps his draft case a lot.
In the other four QB prospects that I went through, there was obvious or flashes of excellence in their game. I never saw that or felt that with Mac Jones.
Mac is limited athletically, and although he makes good decisions, it needs to be understood that he had world class athletes all around him at Alabama. Yes he will in the NFL as well, but the competition and speed of the game is much different than college ball.
I think he has all the tools to be in the NFL, but is he worthy of a 1st round pick?
Personally, I think the SEC is the toughest football conference in the nation and Bama swept through it. They went undefeated while beating #5 Texas A&M, #9 Georgia, defending champs LSU, #7 Florida, #4 Notre Dame, and #3 Ohio State.
At the very least, Mac had the hardest overall schedule and still won a national title. That can’t be ignored.
To me, Mac Jones will be a back up QB for most teams, a starter of some. He can probably win you some games with his precise decision making, but does he push you to be a playoff or Super Bowl contender? I think not.
Jones is a decent QB with enough talent to play in the NFL, but he is nowhere near the same level of the other 4 guys on my list. Don’t buy the hype on social media or form his Pro-Day.
In this guide, I’m going to walk you through each category and mechanic that I take into account when evaluating the talent level of a college athlete looking to take the jump to the NFL.
The final prospect grade formula goes like this:
Overall Grade = (athleticism+film+talent+competition) x 10
Athleticism, Film Evaluation, the Level of Raw Talent, and the Competition Level at their program are all essential aspects to consider when looking at each player. Each category can tell you something different and may even change your mind on where to rank XYZ Prospect.
Next, I want to take a look at each individual category and explain my thinking in regards to each one.
0-1= Not NFL level 1-2= Average 2-2.5= Great Athlete 2.5-3= Elite
Athleticism is one of the easier ones to look at with the naked eye and evaluate. I like to use a mix of college film and the athlete’s pro day/combine scores to help determine these scores. Usually you can use NFL scouting events to see the basic size, speed, strength, and agility– but watching film can allow you to see their footwork, position related mechanics (release point for QBs, or tackling technique for a LB), or how they use their hands (catching, hand placement on a block, pass rush, etc.).
It’s important to keep in mind the position that the prospect plays when making this grade. A potential Pro-Bowl offensive lineman is not going to be the same type of athlete as a wide receiver, but they both can be elite athletes in their own respect. A wide receiver may run a 4.30 40 yard dash, but a good O-line prospect might hit 30 reps on the bench and test highly in the agility/footwork drills. You need to know what makes an athlete in their respective position great to do this correctly.
Film Grade: (Max Grade:3 )
0-1= Consistently bad 1-2= Bad, but some good 2-2.5= Consistently good 2.5-3= Near perfect
Big Play Ability
Pros vs Cons
Impact at their position
To me, the film analysis is the most telling part of a player’s translation to the next level. You can’t just watch highlights, you need to see how a player performs from down to down in varying situations. As an evaluator, you want to see their best and worst plays in order to see what they do well consistently and what needs work.
With watching film, you can look for their ability to make plays as an individual, see what mistakes they make most often, and how they impact their teams success from their position (how many sacks does a OT prevent/give up, does a RB make tough runs on 3rd/4th and short situations, etc.). This will help you understand the pros vs cons to this prospect and whether or not the good outweighs the bad– aka can they be fixed or perform in the NFL at a high level?
Talent (Max Grade: 3)
0-1= Bad 1-2= Average 2-2.5= Good 2.5-3= NFL Ready
Talent is a very broad term to think about as an evaluator, but really what I think of as ‘talent’ is good of a football player are they? Do they understand/have perfected the fundamentals of their position? Are they a leader of the team? Do they react well under pressure? How well do they understand the game?
As an outsider, I have no way of interviewing each athlete and determining their football IQ or their ability as a leader, but if you watch the right games/situations you can make an educated decision on a lot. Especially Bowl Games, Conference Championships, or the playoffs.
Competition (Max Grade: 1)
0-0.25= Weak conf/Poor perf, 0.25-0.5= Avg Comp/Perf, 0.5-0.75= Good comp, Bowl App. 0.75-1.0= Best comp, Playoff/Bowl App
Now, this part of the scale is ranked last on my list and has the lowest impact value, but I think it’s still important to think about when grading a prospect. If a player plays DII ball, plays in a weaker conference, or wins a championship/bowl game– it is very much worth noting. Sometimes the level of competition and their level of success is indicative of how a prospect will perform at the next level.
Minutes ago, Adam Schefter reported that the Miami Dolphins are trading the 3rd overall pick to the San Francisco 49ers in exchange for the 12th overall pick, a 2021 3rd round pick, and 1st rounders in both 2022/23.
Right off the bat, I’m worried that the Niners gave up WAY too much.
This move, to me, is a huge gamble on one of the 3 QBs likely to be available at 3rd overall (Trey Lance, Zach Wilson, or Justin Fields).
All three of these guys have talent, but I see them as big time risks that require a bit of development. I don’t think anyone other than Trevor Lawrence is “NFL ready” enough to take a team over the top as contenders immediately.
On top of this, the 49ers are said to have intentions on KEEPING Jimmy Garoppolo… So they want to keep a QB on roster that they have under contract for nearly 140 million dollars AND trade 4 valuable, early round picks for another QB?
On the other hand, Miami has now flipped the picks they received from Houston into 4 first round selections plus an extra third rounder. They will likely let 2nd year QB/2020 1st round selection Tua Tagovailoa develop and compete with freshly signed vet Jacoby Brissett, while also giving themselves valuable early round selections to continue their accelerated rebuild.
The 49ers take a leap of faith on a rookie QB, while Miami continues to stock up on assets to build a team that just missed out on the playoffs after a 10 win season in 2020.
Dolphins have taken that 12th overall pick, the 3rd rounder and a future 2022 first and traded that to Philadelphia for the 6th overall pick and Philly’s 3rd this year.
After another 12 days of free agency madness, here are some of the most notable NFL Free Agency signings:
Packers are able to retain star RB Aaron Jones to help Aaron Rogers and the offense out with a strong running game (4 years 48 million).
49ers keep their utility FB Kyle Jusczcyk(5 years 27 million).
Journeyman QB Ryan Fitzpatrick signs with the Washington Football Team to fill their starting pass thrower void as a short term answer (1 year 10 million).
Vikings look to beef up their front seven with the addition of DT Dalvin Tomlinson (2 years 20 million).
Saints are giving QB Jameis Winston a shot at filling in Drew Brees’ shoes as their starter (1 year 12 million).
Titans sign EDGE rusher Bud Dupree to try and beef up one of the poorer pass rushing defense in the league (5 year 82.5 million).
Patriots shock the football world with a total roster makeover by signing the following players all in one day (they make more moves throughout the week to reach a total of $162.5 million…which is just under 10 million shy of what owner Robert Kraft spent to buy the team in 94′):
TE Jonnu Smith (4 year 50 million)
DB Jalen Mills (4 year 24 million)
OLB/EDGE Matthew Judon (4 year 56 million)
WR Nelson Agholor (2 year 26 million)
WR Kendrick Bourne (3 year 22.5 million)
DL Henry Anderson (2 year 7 million)
Ravens sign G Kevin Zeitler to help protect Lamar Jackson (3 year 22.5 million).
Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers are able to resign star EDGE player Shaq Barrett (4 years 72 million) and TE Rob Gronkowski (1 year 10 million).
G Joe Thuney signs with Kansas City to help their quest to fix their offensive line issues (5 years 80 million).
The Chargers are able to poach All-Pro Center Corey Linsley from Green Bay to help protect Justin Herbert (5 years 62.5 million).
The Jets are able to add rising star WR Corey Davis to help out Sam Darnold or whoever they decide to draft at QB (3 year 37.5 million).
Jaguars bring in former Seahawks DB Shaquill Griffin to pair with 2020 1st round pick CJ Henderson in the secondary (3 year 45 million).
New York Giants finally pull the trigger and re-sign star DL Leonard Williams to anchor their front seven (3 year 63 million), while also adding former Washington standout and Bengals 1st round selection, WR John Ross(1 year 2.5 million).
Another move for Washington as they bolster up their already good defense by adding DB William Jackson III (3 year 42 million).
2020 1st round selection QB Tua Tagovailoa now has some competition in Miami as they sign former Colts starter Jacoby Brissett (1 year 7.5 million).
Jaguars bring in WR Marvin Jones to presumably serve as the lead veteran player to help the guy they draft first overall at QB (2 year 14.5 million).
Patriots with another HUGE offensive signing by bringing in TE Hunter Henry(3 year 37.5 million).
LBKyle Van Noy returns to the Patriots after 1 year with Miami (3 years 13.2 million).
WREmmanuel Sanders lands in Buffalo to replace John Brown (1 year 6 million).
Vikings land star DBPatrick Peterson to help step up and recharge this Vikings defense (1 year 10 million).
WRCurtis Samuel pairs up with Terry McLaurin to add to their offensive arsenal in Washington(3 year 34.5 million).
After testing the open market, OT Trent Williams signs a historic contract to stay in San Fran(6 year 138 million).
Former Cincy star, WR A.J Green, signs a deal to pair up with DeAndre Hopkins and Kyler Murray in Arizona (1 year 8.5 million) while also trading for C Rodney Hudson.
After suffering a season ending achilles injury in a contract year, RB Marlon Mack decides to stick it out on a prove it type deal with the Colts(1 year 2 million).
Kansas City’s status as a contender with a need for O-Line play has convinced G Kyle Long to come out of retirement to protect Mahomes (1 year 5 million).
Carolina continues to build up a core of young defensive talent, this time bringing in OLB/EDGE player Haason Reddick(1 year 8 million).
C Alex Mack reunites with Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco(3 year 15 million).
Bears release CB Kyle Fuller in a surprising move, and he ends up signing with Denver shortly after (1 year 9.5 million).
Raiders add RB depth to pair with Josh Jacobs by adding Kenyan Drake(2 year 11 million).
Miami adds some more speed to it’s WR group with Will Fuller(1 year 10 million).
Broncos resign star DB Justin Simmons, who has been on the field for Denver for the last 3,200 snaps (4 year 61 million).
WR Juju Smith-Schuster tested the waters for a bit, but decided to stay with Pittsburgh for the season ( 1 year 8 million).
Patriots make another move to add LB depth with Raekwon McMillan (1 year 1 million).
After being cut by the Titans, CB Adoree Jackson signs with the Giants in effort to help out their young defense (3 year 39 million).
Philadelphia, with a ton of holes to fill, brings in one of the highest graded safeties in the league with DB Anthony Harris(1 year 5 million).
Standout Safety Keanu Neal signs with the Cowboys as they try to regroup their young, struggling defensive unit (1 year 5 million).
Giants are finally able to bring in another top tier offensive weapon to group with Saquon Barkley with WR Kenny Golladay(4 year 72 million).
After a solid season under a prove deal with the Colts,CB Xavier Rhodes stays in Indy (1 year 6.5 million).
The Jets continue to find help along their front seven by bringing in DTSheldon Rankins to pair with Quinnen Williams up front (2 year 17 million).
The Rams make a move to add some WR depth with speedster DeSean Jackson (1 year deal).
As of March 17th, all NFL offseason trades and signings became official– but we all know that stuff was happening all over the NFL beforehand.
There’s been a ton of surprising moves that have made this offseason exciting and kept guys like Adam Schefter plenty busy on Twitter, but excitement doesn’t always add up to success. We’ve seen teams spend big in FA flop the following season.
With that being said, let’s take a look at the winners and losers of this offseason period so far:
New England Patriots:
Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock avoiding pro-football related news, then you probably know about the gigantic splash that the Patriots have made over the course of just a few days.
Getting some key-returning starters back and healthy for his defense wasn’t good enough. Belichick went out and signed stand out pass rusher Matthew Judon, an underrated interior defensive lineman in Davon Godchaux, and veteran DB Jalen mills. Not to mention they were able to claim LB Kyle Van Noy after he was released from Miami.
Yes, the team shelled out a good chunk of money, but all of these guys will most likely start on this defense and have a sizeable impact. Plus, I think that they were able to get impactful players at the correct value, without over-paying at all.
Offensively, the Patriots really struggled to score last season. Cam Newton came over as a free agency and showed some promise as a dual threat early in the season, but things slowed down as he lost some key pieces due to injury and COVID throughout the season (WR Julian Edelman, Sony Michel, Marcus Cannon, etc.). So, the team went out and made sure to sure up the offensive side of the ball too.
Right off the bat, New England traded for Raiders OT Trent Brown and went out and signed the former Titans TE Jonnu Smith. Then, signed WRs Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne, and another stud TE in Hunter Henry– all on top of keeping former MVP QB Cam Newton with the team. They also signed C Ted Karras.
Within just a few days, New England was able to solidify all 3 levels of their defense and provide Cam Newton some legitimate weapons to work with on offense.
A lot will say the Patriots spent too much money, but I really feel like these were big time moves to put them back on the playoff potential radar in the AFC.
The Patriots have definitely been winners so far.
Personally, I think the Titans have a very narrow window in which they can win a Super Bowl. Offense is their strong point, but how much longer can Derrick Henry run for 2,000 yards and touch the ball 400 times a season? How much longer can 32 year old Ryan Tannehill sling the ball 50 yards downfield? Well the key for longevity in the NFL in terms of championship contention is to be perfect in the off-season (trades, FA signings, and the draft).
So far, the Titans have lost key weapons in Jonnu Smith, Corey Davis, and 2020 first round selection Isaiah Wilson, which is not a good start.
In attempt to rebuild their defense, the Titans were able to bring back LB Jayon Brown and sign veteran players in DB Janoris Jenkins and DT Denico Autry.
However, they also signed ex-Steeler edge rusher Bud Dupree to a huge 5-year, 85 million dollar deal, which I think is very over priced for a guy with his production rate. In six years with Pittsburgh, he has only had double digit sacks once and had more than 40 tackles (as a LB) twice. Last season his overall player grade ranks in the “middle of the pack” at 60.2 (ProFootballFocus). It’s also important to mention that Dupree has largely been successful due to his unique athletic ability, and coming off a torn ACL last season may be harmful to his production.
In terms of his inconsistency, his recent injury, and the downgrade in relation to the talent around him on defense– paying him high-end pass rush money could prove to be harmful for the Titans if it doesn’t work out.
The Titans still need to bolster their secondary after they cut Adoree Jackson and Malcolm Butler… Janoris Jenkins will not be enough to hold up that unit.
Based on the significant players they’ve lost on both sides of the ball, and the huge risk they took on Dupree, I have to grade this as a loss so far.
Washington Football Team:
At the start of this offseason, it was very plausible to say that Washington is ready to contend for a Super Bowl. They have one of the absolute best front sevens in the NFL, an elite weapon offensively in Terry McLaurin, and an extremely intelligent HC in Ron Rivera.
Don’t forget: This team gave the defending champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers trouble in the first round of the playoffs… with Taylor Heinicke at QB.
So far, Washington found a way to improve their already dominant defense by adding William Jackson to the secondary to fill out an already solid unit featuring S Landon Collins and CB Kendall Fuller. Jackson was ranked in the top 20 by Pro Football Focus in terms of DB grades last season.
Offensively, WFT was able to sign playmaking WR Curtis Samuel and veteran RB Lamar Miller to pair with the likes of Terry McLaurin and Antonio Gibson– which ultimately expands the array of weapons they can use offensively.
Now, maybe the biggest signing they’ve made addresses the QB position. Despite bouncing around the NFL, Ryan Fitzpatrick has proven himself to be a VERY serviceable QB and can win games while being efficient. With a roster that is good enough to win now, and based on what we saw this team do with the combination of Alex Smith (coming off a severe, career threatening injury), Taylor Heinicke, Dwayne Haskins, and Kyle Allen– I think Fitzpatrick can have some success here as the starter.
So, with the upgrade in the secondary and the addition of several offensive weapons, plus the 19th pick in the 2021 draft– Washington was able to get better and solidify themselves as NFC East favorites. So far, they’re winners.
For the past few years, Chicago has had chances to be great. They have elite players all over their defense, and big time play makers in David Montgomery, Allen Robinson, and Tarik Cohen on offense. However, QB Mitchell Trubisky never really worked out and the team was never able to recover from their “double doink” playoff loss to Philly in 2019.
With an elite QB to help out a very average offense (with some play makers and a poor offensive line), this team could definitely re-open it’s window to win a championship. They’ve even been in talks for major QB trade prospects Carson Wentz and Russell Wilson, but were unable to secure a trade for either.
Instead, they settled for… Andy Dalton.
The team was able to retain a few key starters, but I think they actually downgraded from Mitch Trubisky in terms of what their offense needs in a QB to be successful. At the very least, Trubisky was mobile and could extend plays. Dalton is a pure pocket passer with limited ability to create and distribute by using his legs, which puts their offense at a severe disadvantage– especially when you see how bad their offensive line play has been.
A very conservative, lack luster off-season has to be seen as a loss for the Bears, as their SB hopes with the core of this roster dwindling fast.
Of all the teams so far, these are the 4 that stood out the most in terms of Winners and Losers.
Here are some of the other teams that have had good/bad off-season’s up to this point:
Indianapolis— Resigned standout RB Marlon Mack to pair with Johnathan Taylor, traded for QB Carson Wentz to replace Phil Rivers.
Kansas City— Rebuilt their interior offensive line with OGs Joe Thuney and Kyle Long.
Miami— Added younger defensive depth in Benardrick McKinney/Justin Coleman. Brought in starting-caliber QB Jacoby Brissett, proven RB Malcolm Brown, and fixed major depth issues with the O-Line.
Buffalo— Added depth all over their roster- including WR Emmanuel Sanders and QB Mitch Trubisky.
LA Rams— Added Matt Stafford to potentially complete their offense and add some dynamic ability to the play calling for McVay. Also resigned pass rusher/LB Leonard Floyd.
Philadelphia— With so many holes on this roster and the team being in so much cap trouble, they need to make some more moves to give themselves some flexibility moving forward with their rebuild. You can’t rely on Howie Roseman’s drafting ability to supplement talent on this roster… which would scare me as an Eagles fan. Although they haven’t done anything horrible, you can’t really call this off-season a success right?
Green Bay-– Last season the Packers lost to the eventual SB champion Buccaneers, but this off-season they lost some valuable pieces in RB Jamaal Williams, C Corey Linsley, and starting LB Christian Kirksey. In response, they haven’t done anything aside from retain Aaron Jones. If they want to extend their SB contention status, GB needs to fill these holes and add some more offensive talent around Adams, Jones, and Aaron Rogers if they want to make another deep run.
Seattle— While they have made a few decent trades/re-signings, Seattle is in trouble with discussion of Russell Wilson wanting to be traded. If they can’t figure out a way to protect their QB and provide him with an adequate enough roster to win, they will most likely have to trade him next off-season… Making your franchise QB upset is not a good way to start the new NFL year.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
Potential Fits: Indianapolis, Washington, New England
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
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
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
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
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.
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