2021 NFL Mock Draft

Updated 4/11/21

1. Jacksonville Jaguars – QB Trevor Lawrence (Clemson)

Unless I hear otherwise, I expect Trevor Lawrence to be a Jacksonville Jaguar, as everyone else does. One of the most polished and complete draft prospects of the past few decades, Lawrence is an obvious choice for the Jaguars, even with other good quarterback prospects on the board. With as much financial flexibility and draft capital as any team in the league over the next few off-seasons, the Jaguars could get a lot better in a hurry if Lawrence is as advertised.

2. New York Jets – QB Zach Wilson (BYU)

By trading Sam Darnold, the Jets confirmed months of expectations that this pick would be a quarterback. The general consensus seems to be that Zach Wilson will be that quarterback and the 49ers’ willingness to trade three first round picks to move up to 3 suggests that it’s a bit of an open secret around the league who the Jets are planning on selecting. This is another one where I’m going with the consensus unless I hear otherwise as the Jets have no real reason to be secretive about this selection.

3. San Francisco 49ers – QB Mac Jones (Alabama)

With most expecting Lawrence and Wilson to go 1 and 2, the draft officially starts at 3, where the 49ers are expected to take a quarterback after giving up a king’s ransom to move up from 12 to 3 to put themselves in range for a top quarterback prospect. Who that quarterback prospect will be is the big question, as arguments can be made for Trey Lance, Justin Fields, and Mac Jones here. I suspect Jones would be rated the worst of the three if you polled decision makers around the league, but the 49ers have always valued players differently under Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch and have never been shy about being aggressive to get their guy, even if that means paying a price no other team would have paid. 

Shanahan values accuracy above anything and in that aspect Jones is a level ahead of both Lance and Fields and is arguably the most accurate quarterback in the draft outside of Lawrence, so it makes sense that Shanahan would feel the need to be aggressive to move up and get him. Jones doesn’t have the arm strength or the mobility of the other top quarterback prospects, but those are secondary attributes for Shanahan. He may see Jones as his next Matt Ryan, a quarterback who he led to an MVP season and a Super Bowl appearance as the offensive coordinator in Atlanta. Fields or Lance are still possibilities, but for the 49ers to give up what they did to move up, they have to be excited about someone and Jones’ accuracy is likely to be the most exciting attribute to Shanahan.

The other question here is what will happen with Jimmy Garoppolo, the 49ers’ current quarterback. Garoppolo is still a starting caliber quarterback and the 49ers decision to move up for a quarterback seems like more about a desire to get a young high upside player on a cheap rookie deal, rather than paying significant money to a quarterback in Garoppolo who is injury prone and may have reached his ceiling as a player. 

The 49ers have said publicly they plan on keeping Garoppolo and having him be their starter in 2021 while a rookie develops, but it would be unprecedented for a team to give up as much draft capital as they did to draft a quarterback only to sit him behind a quarterback who they could save 25 million if they moved on from. It’s more likely the 49ers are willing to move Garoppolo, but are unwilling to just give him away and would keep him if they didn’t get an offer to their liking. 

Reports say the 49ers are looking for a first round pick for Garoppolo, but without many obvious suitors in a trade, it’s very possible that asking price comes down before draft day. Alternatively, the 49ers could keep Garoppolo past draft day, see how Jones develops, and then potentially move Garoppolo before the season or during the season to a desperate team who loses a quarterback to a season ending injury. I’ve had versions of this mock draft where the 49ers traded him, but ultimately in this one, I couldn’t find an obvious place to send him at a reasonable price that the 49ers would accept, so he stays a 49ers for the time being.

4. Denver Broncos (TRADE) – QB Trey Lance (North Dakota State)

The Broncos are one potential team for Garoppolo’s services, but they have other ideas in this mock draft. The Falcons could stay put here and take a quarterback of the future to develop behind Matt Ryan or stud tight end Kyle Pitts to give Matt Ryan another weapon, but it sounds like they’re willing to move down for the right price, which would make sense because their biggest needs are on defense and on the interior of the offensive line and they would be reaching significantly to address either of those needs here at 4. 

The Broncos sit at 9, probably out of range for a top quarterback prospect, but close enough that they wouldn’t have to give up the farm to move up and they have the kind of roster around the quarterback that suggests they might be a quarterback away from being a real contender. Drew Lock has shown some flashes in two years in the league, but ultimately is one of the least inspiring starting quarterback options in the league and either Trey Lance or Justin Fields would represent a significant upgrade.

The Broncos wouldn’t have to give up multiple future first round picks to get this trade done like the 49ers did to move up from 12 to 3. Instead, they give up one future first round pick, as well as their 3rd round pick this year, and they throw in Drew Lock, who wouldn’t be needed in Denver with a new young franchise quarterback in town, but could be a worthwhile developmental backup for the Falcons, who do need to start planning for the future after Matt Ryan and currently only have Matt Schaub, who is even older than Ryan, as their backup quarterback. 

Which one of Lance or Fields the Broncos prefers is unknown, but I would guess that Lance’s raw physical tools would be most appealing to John Elway, who may see a lot of himself in Lance’s game. If he can be as good as advertised, this team could be a contender very quickly and they have the infrastructure around the quarterback that Lance wouldn’t have to do it all himself as a rookie. If they like Lance or Fields enough, that is worth the price to move up, for a team without many pressing needs.

5. Cincinnati Bengals – WR JaMarr Chase (LSU)

The Bengals benefit the most from the run on quarterbacks as they have last year’s #1 pick Joe Burrow under center already and can sit back and likely have their choice of the top non-quarterbacks in the draft at 5. I’ve had offensive tackle as a bigger need than pass catcher in the past, so I’ve given the Bengals Penei Sewell when available, but the addition of Riley Reiff in free agency changes my thinking here. 

Reiff is only on a one-year deal and could move inside to guard, so they still need offensive tackle help, but it’s not as pressing of a need anymore and can be addressed later in the draft. Meanwhile, the Bengals did nothing to upgrade their receiving corps this off-season and are badly hurting for pass catching options behind Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd. The tight end Kyle Pitts is an option here as well as the top-2 wide receiver prospects JaMarr Chase and Heisman winner Devonta Smith, but Chase’s familiarity with Joe Burrow, with whom he put up incredible numbers at LSU in 2019, might be the tiebreaker here.

6. Miami Dolphins – WR Devonta Smith (Alabama)

It might have been confusing to see the Dolphins trade down from 3 and then immediately move back up to 6, but I thought it made perfect sense. In fact, in my last mock draft, I had the Dolphins moving down from 3 and then moving back up to 10. My thinking was the Dolphins could get a king’s ransom for the 3rd pick because it was in range for a top quarterback prospect, which the Dolphins didn’t need after adding Tua Tagovailoa last year, but that the Dolphins already had so much draft capital over the next few drafts that they could be aggressive moving back up for a player they want in the top-10. 

The Dolphins had to give up a future first round pick to move back up to 6, but they acquired two future first round picks and more to move down from 3 to 12, so it’s essentially like they got a first round pick (plus other picks) just for moving down from 3 to 6, where they will likely take a player they would have taken at 3. In my last mock draft, the player the Dolphins moved up for was wide receiver Jaylen Waddle at 10, but at 6, the Dolphins are in position for the other Alabama wide receiver Devonta Smith, who is generally expected to go off the board before his teammate. 

The Dolphins added Will Fuller in free agency, but only on a one-year deal and even with him on board the Dolphins still need better wide receiver depth behind him and Devante Parker. The Dolphins would also be reuniting Smith with his college quarterback by drafting him, similar to the Bengals drafting JaMarr Chase. Tight end Kyle Pitts or offensive tackle Penei Sewell could also be the target, but Smith fills more of a need.

7. New England Patriots (TRADE) – QB Justin Fields (Ohio State)

The Patriots are another team that could make a move for Jimmy Garoppolo on or before draft day, but they’re unlikely to want to give up a significant draft pick to acquire a quarterback as highly paid as Garoppolo. Instead, it’s likely they’ll find a cheaper, developmental quarterback prospect through the draft. They’re unlikely to have one of the first round quarterbacks fall into their laps at 15, so they’d likely wait until day two to select their quarterback in that situation, but if one of the top quarterbacks falls out of the top-6 or so and it’s a quarterback they have a high grade on, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them move up to get him. 

After their free agency splurge, the Patriots don’t have many pressing needs and adding a quarterback on a cheap rookie deal will allow them to continue being aggressive in free agency going forward and to keep the talented players they sign for the long-term. The Patriots won’t give up the farm to move up, but they won’t have to just to move up from 15 to 7. In fact, by the trade value chart, the Patriots would only have to give up their second round pick to get this done. 

Trades up for quarterbacks tend to be much more expensive, but the Patriots could still move cornerback Stephon Gilmore in a trade to acquire another premium draft pick, with Gilmore going into the final year of his contract and wanting a top price extension, something the Patriots are unlikely to give a cornerback in his 30s, especially given that cornerback is arguably their deepest position. Gilmore was the Defensive Player of the Year in 2019 and will still have a significant trade market after a down 2020, so moving him in a trade that enables the Patriots to move up and draft a quarterback would make sense. 

The Cardinals stand out as a team with enough cap space to add Gilmore and give him a significant extension and with the need for a top flight cornerback to potentially push them over the edge as a contender. The Patriots could acquire the Cardinals’ second round pick for Gilmore and essentially double the price needed to move up from 15 and 7 and with three picks in the fourth round they could easily throw one of those in as well. 

The Patriots don’t trade up much on draft day, but they’ve done it before for guys they really like and this is a way they could do it at a reasonable price, without mortgaging the rest of this year’s draft or giving away a first round pick next year. Fields would compete immediately for the starting job with Cam Newton, who the Patriots would owe significantly less money to if he rides the pine all next season, and would likely make starts at some point as a rookie, even if not week one. For the Lions, the rationale for wanting to move down is obvious as they have pressing needs all over the field and should be looking to accumulate as many picks as possible. If a top quarterback prospect falls to them at 7, they’ll have the opportunity to do just that, with teams looking to jump the Panthers for a quarterback.

8. Carolina Panthers – TE Kyle Pitts (Florida)

The Panthers are still in the market for a quarterback, but are unlikely to be aggressive and trade up for a quarterback, after trading a second round pick next year to acquire Sam Darnold and attempt to rehabilitate the 2018 3rd overall pick’s career after his first three seasons were spent in a disastrous situation with the Jets. With all of the top quarterback prospects gone, the Panthers will focus elsewhere. 

Fortunately, with five quarterbacks going in the top-7, the Panthers have arguably the top non-quarterback in the draft in tight end Kyle Pitts fall into their laps at 8 and he happens to fill a massive need as well. Pitts could go earlier than this and it would be a surprise to see the Panthers pass on him if he’s available and the quarterbacks aren’t. Whoever their future quarterback is, he will be helped immensely by having one of the top tight end prospects in decades to throw to and it’s hard to find a team in bigger need of a team. Panthers tight ends caught 27 passes total in 2020. Pitts would have a good chance to double that total by himself as a rookie.

9. Atlanta Falcons (TRADE) – CB Patrick Surtain (Alabama)

The Falcons’ trade down works to perfection as they still have their pick of the top defensive players in the draft, with only offensive players off the board at this point. It’s not a strong defensive class at the top, but Surtain has a good case to be the first defensive player off the board, he fits the draft slot well, and he would fill a significant need for the Falcons, who need to add a third cornerback to go with Isaiah Oliver and AJ Terrell, two young highly drafted cornerbacks who have been inconsistent to this point in their career.

10. Los Angeles Chargers (TRADE) – OT Penei Sewell (Oregon)

Penei Sewell is another player who falls because of the run on quarterbacks and if that happens it would make a lot of sense for the Chargers to move up from 13 to take him. It wouldn’t be overly expensive to do that and Sewell would both fill a significant need and is significantly better than the other offensive tackle prospects in the draft class. The Chargers overpay on the trade value chart by giving up their third round pick to entice the Cowboys to move down three spots, but they have a later third round compensatory pick from losing Philip Rivers last off-season and it would be more than worth it for the Chargers to move up to get Sewell, who would give them a much needed franchise left tackle.

11. New York Giants – G Rashawn Slater (Northwestern)

The Giants get leapfrogged by the Chargers for Sewell, but they can still address their offensive line at 11 with Rashawn Slater. While Sewell is the best pure left tackle in the draft, there is an argument that Slater is going to be the best offensive lineman from this draft class. Slater’s issue is he lacks the ideal size for a left tackle, but he could move inside to guard or center and be a perennial Pro-Bowl caliber player at that position. After using a first and third round pick on an offensive tackle in last year’s draft, the interior is a bigger need for the Giants anyway and there’s an argument for taking Slater over Sewell even if Sewell is available. Slater would be an immediate upgrade at either center or right guard for a team that needs to get tougher upfront. 

12. Philadelphia Eagles – WR Jaylen Waddle (Alabama)

The Eagles have had a wild road to ending up with the 12th pick. Originally picking 6th, the Eagles reportedly had the opportunity to trade spots with the Dolphins who were picking 3rd, but opted against it when they learned that their target, Zach Wilson, would likely go one pick earlier to the Jets. With Wilson unavailable and the Eagles seemingly uninterested in any of the top quarterback prospects, the Eagles instead committed to starting Jalen Hurts at quarterback in 2021 and facilitated the 49ers’ trade up from 12th to 3rd with the Dolphins, allowing the Dolphins to only have to move down to 6 like they would have if the Eagles had moved up to 3 and acquiring a future first round pick from Miami to move down to the 49ers’ previous spot at 12. 

The Eagles could have filled a big need with one of the top pass catchers in the draft at 6, but they have pressing needs all over the field, so it was smart of them to move down and accumulate another first round pick next year, as this is more than a one-year rebuild. They also will still be able to add a pass catcher at 12 if Jaylen Waddle is still available, which he has a good chance to be. The Eagles used several draft picks on wide receivers last year, including first round pick Jalen Reagor, but anyone who watched them this season knows they still badly need help at the position, with no pass catcher topping 539 receiving yards and Reagor being the only one on the team resembling a long-term starting option.

13. Dallas Cowboys (TRADE) – DE Zaven Collins (Tulsa)

The Cowboys’ trade down works to perfection because their biggest needs are on defense and in the three picks they moved down, there wasn’t a single defensive player selected. In fact, through 12 picks, cornerback Patrick Surtain has been the only defensive player drafted. As crazy as that sounds, it’s a plausible scenario in a draft that figures to be dominated early by quarterbacks and other offensive players. 

If Surtain falls to 10, the Cowboys would likely select him because cornerback is their biggest need, but if he’s not, it would make sense to move down slightly. Now picking at 13th, the Cowboys address another pressing defensive need and add an edge defender in Zaven Collins, who could have been the pick at 10 if the Cowboys hadn’t moved down. Right now, Randy Gregory is the Cowboys’ only consistent edge defender behind DeMarcus Lawrence and Gregory has proven to be incredibly unreliable in the past.

14. Minnesota Vikings – DE Kwity Paye (Michigan)

It’s obvious the Vikings need defensive line help, as they didn’t have a player who finished the season with the team who had more than 3.5 sacks on the year and were also constantly blown away by the run. They’ll be stouter against the run with Dalvin Tomlinson coming in as a free agent and Michael Pierce coming back after an opt out and their edge rush will be better with Danielle Hunter coming back from an injury that cost him all of 2020, but they still desperately need a starting edge defender opposite Hunter. Paye can be that guy and has the size to move inside and rush the passer from the interior in sub packages as well.

15. Detroit Lions (TRADE) – MLB Micah Parsons (Penn State)

The Lions trade down from 15 to 7 and select a player that they could have easily chosen at 7. The Lions have pressing needs on both sides of the ball, but defense is definitely their weaker side of the ball. Once a likely top-10 pick, Parsons is sliding due to some off the field concerns, but the Lions may see him as less risky after trading down and accumulating multiple picks. He would fill a big need for them as an every down middle linebacker in the middle of this defense.

16. Arizona Cardinals – S Trevon Moehrig (Iowa)

I already mentioned earlier I have the Cardinals trading their 2nd round pick for Stephon Gilmore, but that isn’t the only secondary upgrade the Cardinals need as they lack a consistent safety next to Budda Baker. Trevon Moehrig is the top safety in the draft class and could make a big difference from day one. With JJ Watt added in free agency, Gilmore and Moehrig being added through the draft and draft day trades, and Chandler Jones expected back from injury, this would be a much improved Cardinals defense in 2021, to pair with an emerging offense led by Kyler Murray in his third season in the league.

17. Las Vegas Raiders – G Alijah Vera-Tucker (USC)

The Raiders inexplicably dismantled their offensive line this off-season, initially cutting center Rodney Hudson, right guard Gabe Jackson, and right tackle Trent Brown, highly paid offensive linemen who are part of a line that has been dominant when healthy, before realizing that they could get trade value for all three, sending them to the Cardinals, Seahawks, and Patriots respectively. The Raiders added some cheaper replacements, but could use help at every spot except left tackle. A versatile lineman like Alijah Vera-Tucker would make a lot of sense in the middle of the first round. Guard will probably be his best spot in the NFL, but he would fill an immediate need at right guard and profiles as an above average starter for years to come.

18. Miami Dolphins – OLB Azeez Ojulari (Georgia)

The Dolphins are thinner at edge defender after getting rid of Kyle Van Noy and Andre Branch this off-season and, after not replacing them, it’s likely they are planning on using one of their high draft picks on the position. Using their 18th overall pick on an edge defender would make a lot of sense because, though it’s a pressing need, it wouldn’t make sense to reach for an edge defender at 6 and there figure to be several options that would make sense around 18. Ojulari would fit well as a tweener type player who can play both defensive end and outside linebacker, similar to Van Noy and others who have played that role over the years on the New England Patriots’ defense, which has largely inspired the Dolphins’ defensive scheme. 

19. Washington Football Team – MLB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (Notre Dame)

Ron Rivera’s Washington defense took a big step forward in Rivera’s first season with the team, led by one of the best defensive lines in the league, but they still don’t have that Luke Kuechly type linebacker in the middle of their defense and Rivera may look towards the draft to find that player this off-season. Owusu-Koramoah probably won’t be quite as good as Kuechly, but he would still fill a big need for a defense that doesn’t have a clear every down linebacker option right now.

20. Chicago Bears – OT Christian Darrisaw (Virginia Tech)

Out of range for a top quarterback, the Bears seem committed to Andy Dalton as their starter in 2021, but they’ll need to improve their supporting cast to better support whoever their quarterback will be for years to come. The Bears had a strong offensive line a few years ago, but they haven’t been able to keep that group together and struggled upfront last season, particularly on the right side where right tackle Bobby Massie missed significant time with injury. Massie was let go ahead of his age 32 season in 2021 for salary reasons and the Bears may be targeting his replacement early in the draft.

21. Indianapolis Colts – OT Teven Jenkins (Oklahoma State)

Philip Rivers wasn’t the Colts’ only significant retirement this off-season, as long-time left tackle Anthony Castonzo retired as well, leaving a gaping hole on an offensive line that has been one of the best in the league over the past few years due to their continuity. The Colts will likely target Castonzo’s replacement in the draft. They miss out on Christian Darrisaw by one pick and he would likely be their primary target in this part of the first round, but Jenkins is a likely first round pick who wouldn’t be a big reach at 21, so they could take the second straight offensive tackle off the board.

22. Tennessee Titans – CB Jaycee Horn (South Carolina)

Despite not having much financial flexibility, the Titans addressed their biggest need in free agency by signing edge defender Bud Dupree to a significant contract, but to do so, they had to gut their depth at cornerback, which makes that now their biggest need. Adoree Jackson and Malcolm Butler were both released and Desmond King wasn’t retained, leaving 2020 2nd round pick Kristian Fulton and cheap veteran free agent additions Janoris Jenkins and Kevin Johnson as their top-3 cornerbacks. It’s a group that would definitely benefit from the addition of another high draft pick. 

23. New York Jets – OLB Jayson Oweh (Penn State)

Carl Lawson was a big addition in free agency, but the Jets still have their long standing edge defender need, as they haven’t had an edge defender with more than 8 sacks since 2013 and last season they didn’t have one with more than 3.5 sacks. Oweh can step in immediately and play significant snaps as an option opposite Lawson. Adding both Lawson and Oweh this off-season would go a long way towards improving their pass rush.

24. Pittsburgh Steelers – RB Najee Davis (Alabama)

Lead back James Conner is still a free agent and backups Benny Snell and Anthony McFarland averaged 3.32 yards per carry and 3.42 yards per carry respectively in 2020. Conner could still be brought back, but the Steelers may have their sights on an upgrade at the position long-term. Davis would be cheaper and probably better than Conner and would make sense even if the Steelers are able to bring Conner back on a cheap one-year deal to work in tandem with another back.

25. Jacksonville Jaguars – DT Christian Barmore (Alabama)

The Jaguars added Malcom Brown in a trade with the Saints, but other than that didn’t make any additions at the defensive tackle position this off-season, so they will likely turn to the draft for help. Taven Bryan and Davon Hamilton are an underwhelming starting duo and Brown is their only notable reserve. Barmore could push to be a starter as a rookie and has more long-term upside than any of the Jaguars’ other options.

26. Cleveland Browns – DE Jaelen Phillips (Miami)

The Browns need to find an upgrade opposite Myles Garrett. Olivier Vernon was solid in that role last season, but then he tore his achilles and he remains unsigned as a free agent. The Browns have had talks with Jadeveon Clowney, but he would almost certainly be a short-term signing and they would need better depth even if they added Clowney. In the absence of a free agent signing, Phillips could be a week one starter for the Browns at one of their few true positions of need.

27. Baltimore Ravens – WR Rashod Bateman (Minnesota)

The Ravens desperately tried to add a wide receiver in free agency, but ended up having to settle for Sammy Watkins on a one-year deal. He isn’t a long-term option, so I would expect them to use an early pick on a long-term option at the position. Bateman is a good value at this point and would be a good complement as a bigger bodied receiver (6-2 209) to the smaller, speedier Marquise Brown. 

28. New Orleans Saints – WR Kadarius Toney (Florida)

The Saints were thin at wide receiver even before making Emmanuel Sanders a cap casualty. With Sanders gone and no significant replacement being added, the Saints lack any consistent wide receivers behind Michael Thomas. Whoever their quarterback will be in 2021 in their first year without Drew Brees, they will need to get him more pass catchers to increase his chances of success.

29. Green Bay Packers – WR Terrace Marshall (LSU)

The Jordan Love pick didn’t make any sense at the time and looks even worse in hindsight, as the Packers were legitimately a play or two from making it back to the Super Bowl, while Love couldn’t even win the primary backup quarterback job as a rookie. The Packers easily could have taken a player instead of Love that would have put them over the top last season and Love’s lack of development makes the situation even worse. Wide receiver and middle linebacker remain obvious positions of need as they were last year, after the Packers failed to address them in free agency, so perhaps the Packers will learn from their mistake last year and address these positions in the draft. Taking a wide receiver like Terrace Marshall would be a better value than any middle linebacker available.

30. Buffalo Bills – DE Greg Rousseau (Miami)

The Bills used a 2nd round pick on defensive end AJ Epenesa in last year’s draft, but their top-3 defensive ends by snaps played in 2020 were all over the age of 30 and their overall edge rush was disappointing, so they need to add more youth and talent to this group. The Bills don’t have many pressing needs and will have their pick of a variety of different edge rush options at the end of the first round, so this seems like an area they are likely to address.

31. Kansas City Chiefs – OT Jalen Mayfield (Michigan)

The Chiefs released both Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz this off-season because they were injured and set to make significant salaries and, while they have some options to replace them, they will almost certainly have to find more help in the draft. Mayfield’s best position is probably right tackle, but he could potentially play either side for the Chiefs depending on where they need him most long-term.

32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – CB Caleb Farley (Virginia Tech)

The Buccaneers brought back all of their Super Bowl starters and don’t have any pressing needs, so they could be the one to take a chance on Caleb Farley, a top-10 talent who falls because of injury concerns. Carlton Davis and Jamel Dean are a talented young cornerback duo, but Farley would be an upgrade as the third cornerback and could give the Buccaneers one of the top cornerback trios in the league for years to come.

33. Jacksonville Jaguars – G Wyatt Davis (Ohio State)

The Jaguars could use an upgrade over right guard AJ Cann, who is owed a non-guaranteed 5 million in the final year of his contract in 2021. Davis is one of the top guard prospects in the draft and the connection to Jacksonville is obvious, with the man who recruited him to Ohio State, Urban Meyer, now the head coach of the Jaguars.

34. New York Jets – RB Travis Etienne (Clemson)

Aside from Tevin Coleman, the Jets didn’t make a running back addition in free agency this off-season, so they still have one of the thinnest running back groups in the league, with Coleman likely to be the starter if the season started today. Etienne has significantly more upside and could be a three down feature back for this team long-term. With multiple extra picks in the first three rounds of the draft, expect the Jets to be one of the first teams to draft a running back this year,

35. Atlanta Falcons – DE Ronnie Perkins (Oklahoma)

The Falcons seemingly have a perpetual need for pass rushers, somehow not topping 39 sacks in a season since 2004. Last season, the Falcons managed just 29 sacks, as free agent acquisition Dante Fowler was a massive disappointment and former first round pick bust Takkarist McKinley was cut midway through the season. The Falcons are locked into some of Fowler’s salary next season, so they’ll have to hope he rebounds, but even if he does, the Falcons will still need help opposite him. The Falcons didn’t address the position in free agency, so they’ll have to use an early draft pick or two on the position. 

36. Miami Dolphins – C Creed Humphrey (Oklahoma)

The Dolphins had three rookie starters on the offensive line last season, but they were an underwhelming bunch overall and don’t have a clear center of the future. Humphrey could step in and start immediately at a position where the Dolphins currently have mediocre veteran Matt Skura penciled in as the starter.

37. Philadelphia Eagles – CB Tyson Campbell (Georgia)

The Eagles made a big splash addition at cornerback last off-season when they added Darius Slay, but the rest of their cornerbacks struggled last season and they’re even thinner now, with players like Jalen Mills and Nickell Robey-Coleman no longer with the team. They’ll have to address this position early in the draft.

38. Cincinnati Bengals – MLB Nick Bolton (Missouri)

The Bengals definitely need more help on offense than defense, but they’ll need to address their linebacking corps at some point. Bolton projects as a three down linebacker long-term and could play a significant role even as a rookie for a Bengals team that didn’t have a true every down linebacker last season.

39. Carolina Panthers – WR Rondale Moore (Purdue)

Wide receiver was a strength for the Panthers last season, but Curtis Samuel left as a free agent this off-season and Robby Anderson could follow him out the door next off-season as a free agent, so the Panthers need to replenish depth at the position. Moore could slot in immediately as the third receiver and could either be a long-term replacement for Anderson or could give the Panthers a dominant trio long-term with Anderson and DJ Moore.

40. Denver Broncos – OLB Joseph Ossai (Texas)

Von Miller will be back from injury in 2021, but he’s highly paid and now going into his age 32 season, so he might not be around long-term. The Broncos need to add someone in the draft who could be a long-term starter at the position. Ossai would provide valuable rotational depth in the meantime.

41. Detroit Lions – CB Kelvin Joseph (Kentucky)

The Lions had arguably the worst cornerbacks in the league last season and they haven’t addressed the position aside from signing Quinton Dunbar to a one-year deal. Second year player Jeff Okudah should be better in his second season, but the Lions need to add at least one more talented young cornerback in the mix.

42. New York Giants – MLB Pete Werner (Ohio State)

Blake Martinez was a good addition for the Giants in free agency last off-season, but they need to add a better starter inside next to him. This is a position they can address on day two of the draft.

43. San Francisco 49ers – CB Eric Stokes (Georgia)

The 49ers retained most of their free agent cornerbacks and could go into next season with a trio of Emmanuel Mosley, Jason Verrett, and K’Waun Williams, but they still need help at the position because their depth is limited and none of those players were retained for longer than two years, with Verrett and Williams only being signed to one-year deals.

44. Dallas Cowboys – CB Asante Samuel (Florida State)

The Cowboys had one of the worst cornerback groups in the league last season and, with Chidobe Awuzie signing with the Bengals, things are even worse at the position now. Asante Samuel could push to start as a rookie and could potentially give them a talented cornerback duo long-term with last year’s second round pick Trevon Diggs.

45. Jacksonville Jaguars – CB Elijah Molden (Washington)

The Jaguars signed Shaq Griffin in free agency and now have a talented young cornerback duo with Griffin and last year’s first round pick CJ Henderson, but they need a better slot cornerback option between them. Molden is one of the best pure slot cornerbacks in the draft.

46. Detroit Lions (TRADE) – OT Dillon Radunz (North Dakota State)

The Lions could use some competition for right tackle Tyrell Crosby, an underwhelming starting right tackle who is going into the final year of his rookie deal.

47. Los Angeles Chargers – CB Greg Newsome (Northwestern)

Casey Hayward struggled in 2020, but his release left the Chargers thin at the cornerback position, even after Michael Davis was retained in free agency. They need another starter to go with Davis and Chris Harris, who is going into his age 32 season and the final year of his contract in 2021.

48. Las Vegas Raiders – CB Aaron Robinson (Central Florida)

The Raiders used the 19th overall pick on cornerback Damon Arnette last year, but the Raiders’ defense was still terrible this season and they need to keep building their cornerback group, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them use another high pick on a cornerback. If everything goes well, Robinson could form a talented young trio with Arnette and 2019 2nd round pick Trayvon Mullen.

49. Detroit Lions (TRADE) – DT Levi Onwuzurike (Washington)

The Lions could use upgrades all around their defense, but defensive tackle sticks out as a pressing need, even after the addition of Michael Brockers. Brockers is expected to start with Da’Shawn Hand, but he’s going into his contract year and the Lions depth behind them is very suspect.

50. Miami Dolphins – S Jevon Holland (Oregon)

Eric Rowe and Bobby McCain are a decent safety duo, but the Dolphins may want a higher upside option at the position. With so many draft picks, they can afford to use one to address the position.

51. Washington Football Team – QB Kellen Mond (Texas A&M)

Washington signed Ryan Fitzpatrick in free agency this off-season, but he’s only a short-term option in his age 39 season and was not promised the starting job. They have some internal options in Taylor Heinicke and Kyle Allen, but neither of them seems like a long-term franchise quarterback, so they’ll look to add a quarterback prospect they like on draft day. They’re not in position to add one of the top quarterback prospects in the first round, Kellen Mond is an option that could make sense after the first.

52. Chicago Bears – WR Tylan Wallace (Oklahoma State)

The Bears franchised tagged Allen Robinson, but they might not be able to sign him long-term and, even if they do, they could use another wide receiver. Darnell Mooney showed a lot of promise as a 5th round rookie in 2020, but 2018 2nd round pick Anthony Miller has yet to develop. Wallace would be a potential #1 wide receiver long-term if Robinson can’t be retained and, if Robinson is retained, he can still contribute immediately in three wide receiver sets with Robinson and Mooney as a rookie.

53. Tennessee Titans – OT Alex Leatherwood (Alabama)

After losing Jack Conklin in free agency last off-season, the Titans used a first round pick on Isaiah Wilson and expected him to start long-term at right tackle, but he wound up being one of the bigger busts in recent memory and is no longer with the team. The Titans will almost definitely use another high pick on the position. They’re in even bigger need of a right tackle now with veteran Dennis Kelly, who filled in last season, no longer on the roster.

54. Indianapolis Colts – DT Daviyon Nixon (Iowa)

The Colts have DeForest Buckner and Grover Stewart locked in long-term at defensive tackle, but they’re thin at the position now with veteran Denico Autry no longer with the team. The Colts will likely look to replenish depth in the draft.

55. Pittsburgh Steelers – QB Kyle Trask (Florida)

2021 seems like it could be Ben Roethlisberger’s final season as his new contract voids after this season and his play left something to be desired in 2020. Now in his age 39 season, the Steelers need a long-term option behind him. Mason Rudolph was a third round pick in 2018, but has yet to develop into that replacement and will also be a free agent next off-season.

56. Seattle Seahawks – CB Ifeatu Melifonwu (Syracuse)

The Seahawks lost their starting cornerbacks Shaq Griffin and Quinton Dunbar in free agency and only added the underwhelming Ahkello Witherspoon, who is currently penciled in as a starter. Melifonwu has the size the Seahawks like in a cornerback and could develop into a new long-term #1 cornerback for them. 

57. Los Angeles Rams – MLB Baron Browning (Ohio State)

The Rams don’t have many pressing needs, which is good because they’re thin on early draft picks, but their off ball linebackers are among the worst in the league. Even a late second round pick could step in and immediately play a big role for this defense at middle linebacker. Browning projects as a long-term three down linebacker.

58. Baltimore Ravens – OLB Carlos Basham (Wake Forest)

The Ravens had one of the deepest and most talented edge defender groups in the league last year, but few teams could lose both Yannick Ngakoue and Matt Judon and not need to replenish depth. Basham would have competition for snaps, but would be able to carve out a significant rotational role as a rookie at the very least.

59. Cleveland Browns – CB Shaun Wade (Ohio State)

The Browns should have better cornerback play in 2021 with Greedy Williams expected back from injury and Troy Hill signed in free agency to form a talented trio with Denzel Ward. Williams is a significant injury risk though and the Browns really lack depth at the position beyond their top-3. Without many pressing needs, expect the Browns to target cornerbacks early in the draft.

60. New Orleans Saints – DT Milton Williams (Louisiana Tech)

The Saints lost both Sheldon Rankins and Malcom Brown this off-season and because of their cap situation they weren’t able to add replacements. They’ll need to add depth through the draft. Even as a rookie, Williams could push Shy Tuttle for the starting job next to David Onyemata.

61. Buffalo Bills – TE Pat Freiermuth (Penn State)

The Bills haven’t been successful at adding competition for Dawson Knox in free agency, so, without many pressing needs, the Bills could add a tight end in the draft if the value makes sense. This isn’t a good tight end class outside of Kyle Pitts, but Freiermuth is expected to be the first tight end off the board after Pitts and would be a good option in the late second round.

62. Green Bay Packers – MLB Jabril Cox (LSU)

The Packers addressed their long standing wide receiver need in the first round and now they address their long standing middle linebacker need. Even as a late second round pick, Cox could see significant snaps as a rookie and projects as a long-term every down linebacker.

63. Kansas City Chiefs – DE Patrick Jones (Pittsburgh)

The Chiefs’ need on the offensive line is well known, but they have an equally pressing need at defensive end opposite Frank Clark, as no other edge defender had more than 3 sacks and the Chiefs had a below average 32 sacks as a team, despite playing with frequent leads. 

64. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – WR Elijah Moore (Mississippi)

The Buccaneers haven’t been able to agree on terms to bring back Antonio Brown, who is the only key part of last year’s team that is in danger of not returning. The Buccaneers still have their dominant wide receiver duo of Mike Evans and Chris Godwin and Scotty Miller could replace Brown as the third receiver, but without any other pressing needs, the Buccaneers could use a premium pick on the position to keep Tom Brady happy and to maintain depth at the wide receiver position if they can’t retain Brown.

65. Jacksonville Jaguars – TE Brevin Jordan (Miami)

The Jaguars have a good wide receiver trio in DJ Chark, Marvin Jones, and Laviska Shenault, but they don’t have a good tight end, with incumbent starter Tyler Eifert still penciled in as the starter, despite going into his age 31 season and catching just 36 passes last season. Jordan is a long-term starting option who could push Eifert as a rookie.

66. New York Jets – WR Amon-Ra St. Brown (USC)

The Jets made a big splash signing in free agency, adding Corey Davis to replace Breshad Perriman, giving them a top trio of Davis, Jamison Crowder, and 2020 2nd round pick Denzel Mims. Crowder is going into the final year of his contract though and the Jets don’t have good depth behind their top-3, so they could use a mid round pick on a developmental wide receiver.

67. Houston Texans – C Josh Myers (Ohio State)

The Texans made center Nick Martin a cap casualty, which made sense because he’s an underwhelming starter who was owed 7.5 million, but they have yet to replace him. Myers could compete to start as a rookie and has the versatility to kick to guard as well if needed.

68. Atlanta Falcons – RB Javonte Williams (North Carolina)

The Todd Gurley experiment didn’t work, as Gurley was ineffective and was forced into a timeshare with Ito Smith and Brian Hill down the stretch. Hill is no longer with the team, leaving Smith and free agent acquisition Mike Davis as their top candidates for carries. They’ll likely add another option in the draft and could be one of the first teams to take a running back, especially if they trade down and accumulate additional picks.

69. Cincinnati Bengals – OT James Hudson (Cincinnati)

The Bengals signed Riley Reiff in free agency, which is a big upgrade, but he’s going into his age 33 season and is only on a one-year deal, so the Bengals still need to add an offensive tackle in the draft. If Hudson develops as a rookie, he could push Reiff inside to guard take over at right tackle.

70. Philadelphia Eagles – DT Jaylen Twyman (Pittsburgh)

The Eagles love having a deep defensive line and are pretty thin at defensive tackle after making Malik Jackson a cap casualty, so they’ll likely replenish depth in the draft.

71. Atlanta Falcons (TRADE) – G Trey Smith (Tennessee)

The Falcons lost a pair of starters on the offensive line this off-season in James Carpenter and Alex Mack. Last year’s third round pick Matt Hennessy could take over at either of those positions, but the Falcons still would need one more starter. Smith could push to start at left guard immediately, with Hennessy then settling in as Mack’s replacement at center.

72. Detroit Lions – WR D’Wayne Eskridge (Western Kentucky)

The Lions lost their top-3 wide receivers from a year ago, so even after signing Tyrell Williams and Breshad Periman, they’ll need to add at least one more wide receiver in the draft, if not two.

73. Carolina Panthers – OT Jackson Carmen (Clemson)

The Panthers retained some of their free agent offensive line starters this off-season, but they didn’t retain Michael Schofield or Russell Okung and need to add more depth upfront. Carmen has the versatility to play either guard or tackle and could push to start at either position as a rookie.

74. Washington Football Team – OT Liam Eichenberg (Notre Dame)

Washington had a strong offensive line overall last season, but they could still use an upgrade at left tackle. Eichenberg could at least add valuable competition and depth across the line.

75. Dallas Cowboys – S Talanoa Hufanga (USC)

The Cowboys signed Keanu Neal in free agency, but he’s only on a one-year deal and he’s expected to play some linebacker, so the Cowboys still have a need at the safety position.

76. New York Giants – OLB Jordan Smith (UAB)

Leonard Williams was the only Giants player with more than 4 sacks last season and he plays a lot on the interior, so the Giants still have their long standing edge defender need. They didn’t make any significant additions in free agency, so they’ll have to add at least one player at this position early in the draft.

77. Dallas Cowboys (TRADE) – MLB Caleb McGrone (Michigan)

Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith were one of the best young linebacker duos in the league just a couple years ago, but both have regressed in the past couple years, Vander Esch in large part due to injuries. Smith is also highly paid and might not be kept long-term if he doesn’t bounce back. With long-time veteran Sean Lee no longer with the team, the Cowboys at the very least need depth at the position and McGrone could develop into a long-term starter as well.

78. Minnesota Vikings – G D’Ante Smith (East Carolina)

Ezra Cleveland was probably the Vikings’ best guard last season, but the 2020 2nd round pick could be moving to left tackle with Riley Reiff no longer with the team. That would leave the Vikings with a starting duo of Dakota Dozier and Dru Samia at guard, which would be one of the worst in the league. They could keep Cleveland at guard, but would need to draft an offensive tackle in that scenario. Either way, they need offensive line help badly and even as a third round pick Smith could push to start as a rookie.

79. Las Vegas Raiders – OT Samuel Cosmi (Texas)

The Raiders need to add multiple offensive linemen in the draft after dismantling their offensive line this off-season. Cosmi could push to start at right tackle even as a rookie, as the very underwhelming Brandon Parker is currently penciled in as the starter at that position.

80. Las Vegas Raiders – DT Tommy Togiai (Ohio State)

Defensive tackle is a position where the Raiders could add more depth and they lack a consistent #2 defensive tackle behind Maurice Hurst.

81. Miami Dolphins – RB Chuba Hubbard (Oklahoma State)

The Dolphins had one of the thinnest running back groups in the league last season and only added a depth player in Malcolm Brown, so they’ll probably address this position with a relatively early draft pick.

82. Washington Football Team – WR Tutu Atwell (Louisville)

Washington’s receiving corps is a lot better after adding Curtis Samuel and Adam Humphries, but the latter is on just a one-year deal and has a concerning concussion history. Washington could still look for depth in the draft.

83. Chicago Bears – QB Davis Mills (Stanford)

Even if the Bears are committed to veteran Andy Dalton as their starter for 2021, he’s not a long-term option and neither is Nick Foles, so the Bears will almost definitely add a young developmental quarterback in the draft.

84. Philadelphia Eagles – MLB Monty Rice (Georgia)

The Eagles are pretty thin at linebacker and have room for a rookie to play significant snaps. Rice could develop into a much needed every down middle linebacker for this team long-term.

85. Tennessee Titans – WR Ihmir Smith-Marsette (Iowa)

The Titans signed Josh Reynolds in free agency, but he’s an underwhelming replacement for free agent departure Corey Davis and they need to replace slot receiver Adam Humphries as well. They need to get Ryan Tannehill more wide receiver depth.

86. New York Jets – CB Ambry Thomas (Michigan)

Cornerback is also a major need on defense for the Jets. Brian Poole was their only above average player at the position last season and for some reason he hasn’t been brought back as a free agent.

87. Pittsburgh Steelers – OT Walker Little (Stanford)

The Steelers have a pair of unproven starting offensive tackles right now in Zach Banner and Chukwuma Okorafor and little depth behind them, so they’ll need to add depth in the draft.

88. Los Angeles Rams – OLB Joe Tyron (Washington)

The Rams managed to keep Leonard Floyd in free agency, despite their terrible cap situation, but they could still use a long-term upgrade opposite him.

89. Cleveland Browns – DT Jay Tufele (USC)

Defensive tackle isn’t a pressing need for the Browns, but they could use depth at the position and don’t have many pressing needs in general.

90. Minnesota Vikings – S Richie Grant (UCF)

The Vikings lost Anthony Harris in free agent and, while Xavier Woods is a decent replacement, he was only signed to a one-year deal, so the Vikings could look for a long-term starter in the draft.

91. Cleveland Browns – MLB Jamin Davis (Kentucky)

The Browns have an unsettled linebacking corps, so they could add another option through the draft.

92. Green Bay Packers – CB Paulson Adebo (Stanford)

The Packers brought back Kevin King, but only on a one-year deal and he’s a very inconsistent starter. The Packers could use a mid-round pick on a developmental option behind him.

93. Buffalo Bills – RB Michael Carter (North Carolina)

The Bills have used a third round pick on a running back in each of the past two drafts, but neither Devin Singletary nor Zack Moss has shown much yet, so, without many pressing needs, the Bills could add another young running back to the mix.

94. Kansas City Chiefs – WR Nico Collins (Michigan)

The Chiefs lost Sammy Watkins in free agency and, while Mecole Hardman capable of handling a larger role, the Chiefs still need to find a better third receiver behind Hardman and Tyreek Hill.

95. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – RB Kenneth Gainwell (Memphis)

The Buccaneers brought back Leonard Fournette in free agency, but only on a one-year deal, meaning both he and Ronald Jones will hit free agency next off-season. Kenneth Gainwell is a more natural receiving back than either of them anyway and could have a role in passing situations as a rookie.

96. New England Patriots – CB Camryn Bynum (California)

The Patriots will still be in good shape at cornerback even if they trade Stephon Gilmore, but Belichick loves having a lot of depth at cornerback, so if Gilmore gets traded, they will likely use a mid round pick to replenish depth.

97. Los Angeles Chargers – G Quinn Meinerz (Wisconsin-Whitewater)

The Chargers addressed their offensive tackle need in the first round, but they still need to add help at guard.

98. New Orleans Saints – CB Davis Daniel (Georgia)

Veteran starting cornerback Janoris Jenkins was one of the Saints’ cap casualties this off-season. The Saints will need to add depth through the draft.

99. Dallas Cowboys – TE Hunter Long (Boston College)

The Cowboys will get promising young tight end Blake Jarwin back from a torn ACL that cost him all of 2020, but he’s not a sure thing, so the Cowboys could add some competition in the draft.

100. Tennessee Titans – OLB Rashad Weaver (Pittsburgh)

The Titans were so thin at the edge defender position last season that they still need help even after splurging on Bud Dupree in free agency. 

101. Detroit Lions – DE Dayo Odeyingbo (Vanderbilt)

The Lions retained Romeo Okwara in free agency and will get Trey Flowers back healthy in 2021, but the Lions could still use more pass rush help on the edge.

102. San Francisco 49ers – WR Dyami Brown (North Carolina)

The 49ers have a good young wide receiver duo in Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk, but with Kendrick Bourne signing with the Patriots this off-season, they could use a better third receiver. They could add a developmental option in the middle rounds.

103. Los Angeles Rams – OT Josh Ball (Marshall)

The Rams will probably add another young offensive lineman at some point. Ball could be a long-term replacement for Andrew Whitworth, who is going into his age 40 season in 2021.

104. Baltimore Ravens – OT Brady Christensen (BYU)

Right tackle Orlando Brown is going into the final year of his rookie deal and reportedly wants to be traded somewhere where he can play left tackle, so the Ravens should add an insurance policy and a long-term solution at the position. 

105. New Orleans Saints – S Andre Cisco (Syracuse)

The Saints somehow were able to keep stud safety Marcus Williams with the franchise tag, despite their terrible cap situation, but keeping him on a long-term deal is another story and, even if they do, they still need a long-term solution at the other safety spot, where the declining Malcolm Jenkins is heading into his age 34 season. Expect them to add a young safety at some point.

106. Jacksonville Jaguars – DE Daelin Hayes (Notre Dame)

The Jaguars could use additional edge rush depth as they didn’t address this position in free agency.

107. New York Jets – TE Tommy Tremble (Notre Dame)

Chris Herndon showed a lot of promise as a rookie in 2018, but hasn’t lived up to that promise in two years since and, now going into the final year of his rookie deal, the Jets could look to find a long-term replacement through the draft.

108. Atlanta Falcons – S Hamsah Nasirildeen (Florida State)

The Falcons have had Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen as their starting safeties for several years, but both left the team this off-season, as did hybrid cornerback/safety Damontee Kazee, and in their absence the Falcons have a very unsettled safety group.

109. Houston Texans – DT Tyler Shelvin (LSU)

The Texans have a bunch of needs and not nearly enough picks to address them with, but defensive tackle is one of their biggest needs. Shelvin could see a significant role as a rookie, even as just a 4th round pick.

110. Cleveland Browns – DE Payton Turner (Houston)

Unless the Browns sign a veteran in free agency, they are thin enough at the defensive end position to justify doubling up on the position in the draft, especially given their lack of other pressing needs.

111. Cincinnati Bengals – G Kendrick Green (Illinois)

The Bengals took an offensive tackle in the third round, but they need help on the interior of their offensive line as well.

112. Detroit Lions – WR Marquez Stevenson (Houston)

The Lions are thin enough at wide receiver that it would make sense for them to double up on the position in the draft, especially if they trade down and accumulate extra picks.

113. Carolina Panthers – OT Spencer Brown (Northern Iowa)

The Panthers’ offensive line is unsettled at several spots, so they should add a couple offensive linemen in the draft. 

114. Denver Broncos – S Tyree Gillespie (Missouri)

The Broncos brought back Kareem Jackson on a one-year deal this off-season, but given the length of his contract and his age, going into his age 33 season, the Broncos should be thinking about the future at the position.

115. Dallas Cowboys – OT Adrian Ealy (Oklahoma)

The Cowboys should have better injury luck on the offensive line next season, but they may still want additional insurance at offensive tackle, where the Cowboys were in serious trouble last season when both Tyron Smith and La’El Collins got hurt.

116. New York Giants – C Trey Hill (Georgia)

The Giants continue to add to their offensive line. Trey Hill could push to make starts at center as a rookie and at the very least should be able to provide needed depth.

117. San Francisco 49ers – RB Khalil Herbert (Virginia Tech)

The 49ers are unlikely to use a premium pick on the running back position because of Kyle Shanahan’s ability to find undervalued players at the position, but they need to add depth behind Jeff Wilson and Raheem Mostert. Herbert seems like a good scheme fit.

118. Los Angeles Chargers – DE Adetokunbo Ogundeji (Notre Dame)

The Chargers haven’t brought back Melvin Ingram ahead of his age 32 season and if they move on, they’ll need to replenish depth in the draft.

119. Minnesota Vikings – OT Stone Forsythe (Florida)

The Vikings should come away from this draft with multiple offensive linemen. After adding a guard in the third round, they add a developmental offensive tackle here in the fourth.

120. New England Patriots – MLB Chazz Surratt (North Carolina)

The Patriots’ linebacking corps should be better in 2021 with the return of Dont’a Hightower, but he’s going into his age 31 season, so the Patriots should look for a long-term option behind him. Surratt could play his way into a rookie year role in an unsettled group.

121. Oakland Raiders – WR Seth Williams (Auburn)

The Raiders used a first and a third round pick on wide receivers last year, but neither did much as a rookie. Nelson Agholor, who led the Raiders’ wide receivers in receiving yards, is no longer with the team and the position group is very unsettled with him gone. I would expect them to add another developmental option through the draft at some point.

122. Detroit Lions (TRADE) – CB Kary Vincent (LSU)

This is the last pick the Lions got in their trade down with the Patriots. The Lions are thin enough at the cornerback position to justify adding multiple cornerbacks through the draft, especially if they accumulate a bunch of picks in a trade down.

123. Philadelphia Eagles – DE Quincy Roche (Florida)

The Eagles, who love having a deep defensive line, used a third round pick on a defensive tackle, but they can’t be happy with their defensive end depth either after losing Vinny Curry, so I expect them to use a mid round pick on a developmental option at the position.

124. Washington Football Team – DE Chauncey Golston (Iowa)

Chase Young and Montez Sweat are already one of the best edge rush duos in the league, but with Ryan Anderson and Ryan Kerrigan no longer with the team, Washington is now very thin at the position behind their starters. They’ll need to replenish depth in the draft.

125. Minnesota Vikings – CB Robert Rochell (Central Arkansas)

The Vikings added Patrick Peterson to stabilize a young cornerback group this off-season, but last year’s first round pick Jeff Gladney is in serious legal trouble, so the Vikings are likely to want to add insurance at the position.

126. Tennessee Titans – TE Kenny Yeboah (Mississippi)

Jonnu Smith signed with the Patriots as a free agent this off-season and, while Anthony Firkser seems capable of handling a larger role, they’ll need to add depth behind him.

127. Indianapolis Colts – WR Anthony Schwartz (Auburn)

TY Hilton was retained in free agency, but only on a one-year deal and he’ll be in his age 32 season as well. I expect the Colts to add another developmental wide receiver through the draft.

128. Pittsburgh Steelers – CB Benjamin St-Juste (Minnesota)

The Steelers overhauled their cornerback corps this season, releasing Steven Nelson for salary reasons, allowing Mike Hilton to leave in free agency, and retaining cornerback Cameron Sutton as the likely starter opposite Joe Haden, with unproven 2019 3rd round pick Justin Layne penciled in as the third cornerback. They need to continue adding to this group.

129. Seattle Seahawks – DT Osawaru Odighizuwa (UCLA)

This is just the Seahawks second pick, so they’ll need to make these picks count. They need to add depth at defensive tackle after releasing Jarran Reed, so that is an obvious position for them to address.

130. Jacksonville Jaguars – WR Shi Smith (South Carolina)

The Jaguars lost Chris Conley, Dede Westbrook, and Keelan Cole this off-season. They signed Marvin Jones, an upgrade on all three, to start opposite DJ Chark and 2020 2nd round pick Laviska Shenault is expected to be the third receiver, but Jones is only on a two-year deal and he’s going into his age 31 season. Last year’s 5th round pick Collin Johnson is a promising young receiver behind their top-3, but it would surprise me to see the Jaguars add another developmental wide receiver at some point.

131. Baltimore Ravens – TE Tre McKitty (Georgia)

The tight end position is so important to the Ravens’ offense that they could add a tight end in the draft in the middle rounds. Their offense was at their best when they had three capable tight ends in 2019, before trading Hayden Hurst, and last year it really hurt this offense when #2 tight end Nick Boyle got hurt. McKitty could provide valuable depth and a third capable tight end.

132. Cleveland Browns – WR Javon McKinley (Notre Dame)

The Browns don’t need much on offense, but I could see them adding another developmental wide receiver. Rashard Higgins was retained in free agency to be the third receiver, but only on a one-year deal.

133. New Orleans Saints – WR Jaelon Darden (North Texas)

The Saints are so thin behind Michael Thomas that I expect them to double up on the wide receiver position in the draft.

134. Minnesota Vikings – MLB Derrick Barnes (Purdue)

The Vikings’ defense couldn’t stop anyone down the stretch last season, in large part due to the absence of their talented linebackers Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr. The Vikings should add insurance at the position.

135. Green Bay Packers – WR Josh Palmer (Tennessee)

It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Packers double up on wide receivers, given their lack of proven depth behind Davante Adams.

136. Kansas City Chiefs – G Aaron Banks (Notre Dame)

The Chiefs took an offensive tackle in the first round and now add a guard as they continue rebuilding this offensive line.

137. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – OLB Chris Rumph (Duke)

The Buccaneers don’t need much, but they could use better depth at the edge defender position behind Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre Paul, especially with the latter going into his age 32 season and his contract season.

138. Dallas Cowboys – CB Trill Williams (Syracuse)

The Cowboys’ need at cornerback is dire enough that they should double up on the position in the draft.

139. New England Patriots – WR Tamorrion Terry (Florida State)

The Patriots added Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne in free agency, but there is still a lot of uncertainty in this group, which was arguably the league’s worst last season. I would expect them to keep adding to the position group in the draft, even if they don’t invest a premium pick.

140. Pittsburgh Steelers – C Michal Menet (Penn State)

The Steelers continue rebuilding their offensive line. They don’t have an obvious successor to Maurkice Pouncey, who retired this off-season after 11 seasons with the team.

141. Los Angeles Rams – CB Shakur Brown (Michigan State)

Jalen Ramsey, Troy Hill, and Darious Williams were arguably the best cornerback duo in the NFL last season, but Hill signed with the Browns this off-season. David Long, a 2019 3rd round pick, is currently penciled in as the third cornerback, but they need to add depth.

142. Green Bay Packers – G Jack Anderson (Texas Tech)

The Packers had one of the deepest offensive lines in the league last season, but they lost a couple offensive linemen this off-season, so they’ll need to replenish depth at some point.

143. Minnesota Vikings – DT Marlon Tuipulotu (USC)

The Vikings will be better at defensive tackle next season with Dalvin Tomlinson joining as a free agent and Michael Pierce coming back from an opt out, but they still need to add beter depth at the position.

144. Kansas City Chiefs – MLB Anthony Hines (Texas A&M)

Linebacker has been the weakness of the Chiefs’ defense for years, so they need to continue trying to find upgrades.

NFL Free Agency Predictions – Skill Position Players

If I have time, I will do the other position groups. Players are sorted in terms of expected market value.

Quarterbacks

Ryan Fitzpatrick: It’s not a great free agency class at the quarterback position, but Ryan Fitzpatrick has arguably played the best football of his career over the past 3 seasons, completing 64.8% of his passes for 7.87 YPA, 50 touchdowns, and 33 interceptions in 27 starts in his age 36-38 seasons, and, even in going into his age 39 season, Fitzpatrick should be able to find a situation where he’ll have a good chance to start in 2021, if he chooses to keep playing, with at least three teams entering free agency with an obvious need at the quarterback position, Denver, Washington, and Chicago. 

As the top quarterback available, Fitzpatrick could have his pick of the three teams and Chicago gives Fitzpatrick both the best chance to win and the best chance to be a full-time starter, with the Bears lacking the cap space to make a splash move for another quarterback and lacking the high draft pick needed to select a top quarterback prospect. The Bears may have pipedreams of acquiring Russell Wilson, but Fitzpatrick is a much more realistic option who could be a legitimate upgrade at the position for a team that has been an upgrade at quarterback away from making it into the post-season in each of the past two seasons. The contract is a two-year deal worth up to 20 million, but incentivized and with no guaranteed money beyond 2021. A deal like that with a contender is probably the best Fitzpatrick can hope for this off-season.

Prediction: Signs with Chicago on an incentivized 2-year, 20 million dollar deal with 6 million guaranteed

Jacoby Brissett: Brissett has youth on his side, only going into his age 29 season, and the 2016 3rd round pick isn’t inexperienced either, with 32 career starts. The problem is his experience hasn’t shown him to be more than a high end backup who can start if needed for stretches, but is overmatched as a 16-game starter. There are enough teams with uncertainty at the quarterback position that Brissett is likely to get an opportunity to compete for a starting job, but it’s very questionable whether he’s one of the top-32 quarterbacks in the league and it’s telling that the head coach who drafted him Bill Belichick traded him away from a depth wide receiver and opted to re-sign Cam Newton rather than re-acquire Brissett this off-season. 

Brissett would have a shot to start in either Washington or Denver, but he would likely have to take an incentivized deal with either one. I like Denver is likely to acquire Sam Darnold via trade, as John Elway was very high on Darnold just 3 years ago when he was coming out of USC, leaving Brissett to compete with Kyle Allen and Taylor Heinicke in Washington. I would expect him to make starts in that situation and it’s not a bad place for a quarterback to be with an elite defense supporting him, but I wouldn’t expect much of a ceiling from him.

Prediction: Signs with Washington on an incentivized 1-year, 12 million dollar deal with 5 million guaranteed

Jameis Winston: With Denver acquiring Sam Darnold, Winston doesn’t have an obvious destination for a starting job this off-season, other than staying where he is in New Orleans and competing with Taysom Hill for the starting job, with Drew Brees (allegedly) retiring. Staying with Sean Payton, a quarterback guru who clearly believes Winston’s turnover issues are fixable, would seem to be in Winston’s best interest.

Prediction: Re-signs with New Orleans on an incentivized 1-year, 10 million dollar deal with 4 million guaranteed

Mitch Trubisky: Trubisky is in a similar situation as Jameis Winston was in last year, coming off an up and down (but mostly down) stretch with the team that used a high pick to draft him and now finding that team looking for anyone and everyone to replace him. Like Winston, Trubisky’s best option this off-season is likely going to be taking a backup job somewhere with an established offensive coaching staff. 

The 49ers, who are known to be seeking a higher end backup for injury prone starter Jimmy Garoppolo, would certainly count, led by head coach Kyle Shanahan. Backing up Garoppolo would also likely mean that Trubisky would be likely to see action at some point, given Garoppolo’s injury history. Putting up a few games of good tape in a good quarterback situation in San Francisco could lead to him getting another starting job somewhere else down the road.

Prediction: Signs with San Francisco on a 2-year, 14 million dollar deal with 5 million guaranteed

Alex Smith: Smith is really tough to evaluate given his injury history. Washington understandably moved on from him rather than pay him 19 million for 2021, even though he was their best quarterback last season. He showed enough on tape that purely on ability he deserves to compete for a starting job somewhere, but that was a limited sample size and it’s concerning that he got hurt again just a few games into it. It’s unlikely any team is going to want to go into 2021 with Smith as a presumptive 16-game starter and it’s probably in his best interest long-term to take a backup job anyway and diminish his risk of a serious re-injury. 

I’ve seen Smith linked Urban Meyer, who was Smith’s college coach, and the Jaguars, where he would be a backup and mentor to #1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence, which would make some sense, but Smith may want to chase a ring more than anything if he’s going to be a backup and arguably the best place for him do that in 2021 is back with another former coach of his, Andy Reid and the Kansas City Chiefs, where he would give the Chiefs a high end insurance policy in case Pat Mahomes misses time with injury. Smith still has a good relationship with Reid and Mahomes and, having made over 190 million in his career, is unlikely to demand much money as a backup, which is important for the cap strapped Chiefs.

Prediction: Signs with Kansas City on a 1-year, 3 million dollar deal with 1 million guaranteed

Andy Dalton: We’re firmly in the high end veteran backup part of the quarterback market, but there are still teams that have a big need for an experienced insurance option. The Giants, who had to turn to Colt McCoy last season when Daniel Jones got hurt, are a team that comes to mind, especially when you take into account that Jones has been inconsistent and injury prone through the first two years of his career. Having a mentor like Dalton around could be helpful for Jones’ long-term development as well.

Prediction: Signs with NY Giants on 1-year, 5 million dollar deal with 2 million guaranteed

Tyrod Taylor: Here is another experienced veteran backup option. In two of the past three seasons, Taylor has (barely) kept the seat warm for highly drafted rookies in Baker Mayfield and Justin Herbert, unfortunately getting hurt and losing his job early in both seasons. He’s unlikely to start week 1 anywhere in 2021 barring injury, but he could be a valuable backup for the Eagles, who have the inexperienced Jalen Hurts under center and little else behind him on the depth chart. Similar to Dalton in New York, Taylor would provide a valuable insurance policy and mentor for the Eagles’ young quarterback. 

Prediction: Signs with Philadelphia on 1-year, 4 million dollar deal with 2 million guaranteed

Running Backs

Aaron Jones: Jones has been a valuable running back over the past 4 seasons for the Packers, rushing for 5.17 yards per carry and scoring 43 total touchdowns, with 30 of those touchdowns coming just in the past two seasons, but it seems unlikely he’ll be back in Green Bay. The Packers don’t have much financial flexibility and like the running backs they have behind him on the depth chart, while Jones seems likely to break the bank as one of the top offensive playmakers available this off-season. He might not reach the 15-16 million annually that running backs like Christian McCaffrey, Ezekiel Elliott, and Alvin Kamara received on their new contracts, but he figures to come close. The Dolphins have the perfect combination of cap space, need at the position, and an opportunity to win that should entice Jones to join them, if they’re willing to meet his asking price.

Prediction: Signs with Miami on 3-year, 39 million dollar deal with 27 million guaranteed

Chris Carson: The Jets are my runner ups for Aaron Jones, as they would be able to offer the money and playing time Jones would want, but wouldn’t necessarily give him a chance to win right away. With Jones off the market, they turn to Chris Carson, the #2 running back available. He’s not as good as Jones, but he could end up being a better value and would be a big upgrade for a Jets team that badly needs one at the running back position.

Prediction: Signs with NY Jets on a 3-year, 27 million dollar deal with 19 million guaranteed

Kenyan Drake: The Cardinals acquired the underutilized Kenyan Drake from the Dolphins at the trade deadline in 2019 and he showed enough in a half season as their feature back to be franchise tagged as a free agent last off-season. His first full season in Arizona in 2020 wasn’t as good as his finish to 2019, but if his market doesn’t develop this off-season, the Cardinals could still welcome him back on a one-year deal. He would still cede some carries to promising backup Chase Edmonds, perhaps more in 2021 than in 2020, but the Cardinals would still give him one of his best chances at playing time.

Prediction: Re-signs with Arizona on a 1-year, 6 million dollar deal with 4 million guaranteed

Le’Veon Bell: Bell was seen as one of the top players at his position a few years ago, but he held out of the 2018 season, chased the money with the Jets in 2019, and played so badly that he got cut midway into the 2020 season, while still in the guaranteed portion of his deal. He then went to Kansas City where he hardly played as primarily an insurance policy. The Falcons took a chance on a once elite running back last season with Todd Gurley. That didn’t work out, but still in desperate need at the position and without much cap flexibility, they could take another shot on a player like Bell on a one-year prove it deal. Bell’s addition wouldn’t preclude them from using a draft pick on the position, but he would prevent them from having to rely on a rookie at the position.

Prediction: Signs with Atlanta on a 1-year, 5 million dollar deal with 3 million guaranteed

James Conner: Conner has had some impressive stretches as the Steelers’ lead back over the past few seasons, but he’s also been plagued with injuries and has been very inconsistent as a result. If his market doesn’t develop in a lowered cap off-season, his best move is probably going to be to go back to Pittsburgh on a one-year deal and try to re-establish his value. The Steelers would have a desperate need at the position without Conner and Conner is unlikely to find more money and playing time elsewhere.

Prediction: Re-signs with Steelers on a 1-year, 5 million dollar deal with 3 million guaranteed

Jamaal Williams: While Jones is unlikely to return to Green Bay, Williams seems likely to. The Packers have used him more as a 1b to Jones’ 1a over the past two seasons, rather than as a true backup (290 touches to Jones’ 535), showing they clearly value their former 4th round pick. He won’t break the bank for the cap strapped Packers and working in tandem with 2020 2nd round pick AJ Dillon would give Williams his best opportunity to both see significant playing time and play on a winning team with a productive offense. It’s hard to see Williams wanting to leave Green Bay unless Jones returns.

Prediction: Re-signs with Green Bay on a 3-year, 14 million dollar deal with 5 million guaranteed

James White: The Buccaneers used Ronald Jones and Leonard Fournette in tandem last season and both fared pretty well on the ground, but neither of them are the kind of pass catching back Tom Brady was used to playing with in New England. With Fournette hitting free agency this off-season, why not take this opportunity to replace him with Brady’s former teammate James White, who is also a free agent this off-season. White won’t break the bank for the Buccaneers and would probably be more valuable to them than anyone. He’d be a great complement as a passing down back to early down back Ronald Jones.

Prediction: Signs with Tampa Bay on a 2-year, 8 million dollar deal with 4 million guaranteed

Mike Davis: Mike Davis impressed as an injury replacement for Christian McCaffrey last season and, while the Panthers would like to have him back as an insurance policy, he can probably find more money and definitely more playing time elsewhere. His former team, the Seattle Seahawks, are reportedly interested and would make a lot of sense because they are a run heavy team whose top-2 running backs are hitting the open market this off-season, most notably lead back Chris Carson, who is probably going to be cost-prohibitive for the Seahawks this off-season. Davis is a cheaper replacement.

Prediction: Signs with Seattle on a 2-year, 9 million dollar deal with 5 million guaranteed

Leonard Fournette: With the Buccaneers replacing him with James White, Fournette finds another contender to latch on with. The Bills could use more talent at the running back position, but don’t have the financial flexibility to add a significant contract at the position. Fournette would only have to compete with unproven young running backs Devin Singletary and Zack Moss in Buffalo and would be joining an offense that was one of the league’s best last season.

Prediction: Signs with Buffalo on 1-year, 4 million dollar deal with 2 million guaranteed

Marlon Mack: Mack was the Colts’ lead back in 2018 and 2019 and totalled 17 rushing touchdowns and a 4.52 YPC average on 442 carries, but he tore his achilles in week 1 last season and was replaced with rookie Jonathan Taylor, who is now entrenched as the Colts’ lead back. The Colts are highly unlikely to bring him back, but he could still find work as an early down back in a tandem. The Chargers have a great passing down/speed back in Austin Ekeler, but need a better early down complement for him. Mack would give them one without breaking the bank and the Chargers would give Mack his best opportunity to earn playing time and rehab his value for next off-season.

Prediction: Signs with LA Chargers on a 1-year, 4 million dollar deal with 2 million guaranteed

Duke Johnson: The Patriots lost James White to the Buccaneers, so they’ll need a replacement passing down back to complement early down backs Damien Harris and Sony Michel. Duke Johnson is a similar player who could catch a lot of passes in New England’s system.

Prediction: Signs with New England on a 3-year, 12 million dollar deal with 5 million guaranteed

Todd Gurley: After flopping in his opportunity in Atlanta last season, the former MVP candidate Todd Gurley will once again have to take a one-year prove it deal this off-season and likely for less than the 5 million he made in 2021. If they are interested, the 49ers would present an interesting opportunity for Gurley. Gurley thrived in a similar offense with the Rams and Kyle Shanahan is known for getting the most out of his running backs. The 49ers are not going to shell out big bucks for a free agent running back and Gurley wouldn’t be the lead back in San Francisco, but with Tevin Coleman and Jerrick McKinnon set to hit free agency, Gurley would add needed depth for the 49ers behind Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson and he would have his best chance to rehab his value for next off-season.

Prediction: Signs with San Francisco on a 1-year, 3 million dollar deal with 1 million guaranteed

Carlos Hyde: Hyde is the Seahawks’ other free agent running back this off-season and he seems a lot more likely to return as he’s unlikely to be greeted with a robust market. The Seahawks can offer him familiarity, a winning team and playing time, competing with Mike Davis and Rashaad Penny for carries.

Prediction: Re-signs with Seattle on a 2-year, 7 million dollar deal with 4 million guaranteed

Wide Receivers

Kenny Golladay: Similar to Aaron Jones, Golladay is one of the top offensive playmakers available this off-season and could be attracted to the Dolphins for the same reasons, the money they can afford to pay him, the opportunity to play a big role, and the opportunity to play for a winner. Other teams will definitely be interested as he’s arguably the best unrestricted free agent available overall, after the Lions declined to franchise tag him, but the Dolphins can win a bidding war and give a very enticing opportunity to play opposite Devante Parker for an up and coming young team.

Prediction: Signs with Miami on a 4-year, 74 million dollar deal with 44 million guaranteed

JuJu Smith-Schuster: The Colts could also be in on Golladay and have everything the Dolphins have to offer, including significant cap space, but they’ve been reluctant to get in bidding wars for players in recent off-seasons. Instead, they could turn their attention to a slightly cheaper option and make Juju Smith-Schuster their long-term #1 wide receiver. He’s not as proven as Golladay, but he’s about 3 years younger and could be the better player in the long run.

Prediction: Signs with Indianapolis on a 3-year, 45 million dollar deal with 32 million guaranteed

Will Fuller: The Jaguars have a trio of wide receiver free agents in Dede Westbrook, Chris Conley, and Keelan Cole and, with the most cap space in the league, they can afford to be aggressive in finding a replacement to play with DJ Chark and Laviska Shenault long-term. Will Fuller is one of the top wide receivers available this off-season and the Jaguars would be taking him from their divisional rival, where he was Deshaun Watson’s #1 wide receiver last season in DeAndre Hopkins’ absence. His addition would give Trevor Lawrence a talented wide receiver trio from day one.

Prediction: Signs with Jacksonville on a 3-year, 45 million dollar deal with 30 million guaranteed

Corey Davis: The Ravens don’t have a ton of needs, but they badly need another wide receiver for Lamar Jackson and, with Jackson still on a cheap rookie deal, they have the cap space to spend at the top of the money and be aggressive while Jackson still has a low cap hit. The big bodied Davis would be a perfect complement for emerging speedster Marquise Brown. The former 5th overall pick finally played like it in his 4th season in the league last season, averaging 2.58 yards per route run (5th among wide receivers), and is dripping with upside on his second contract.

Prediction: Signs with Baltimore on a 4-year, 56 million dollar deal with 31 million guaranteed

Curtis Samuel: Samuel was the Panthers’ #3 receiver last season, but he’ll likely be valued much more than that in free agency, especially since the former 2nd round pick still has the upside to keep getting better, only going into his age 25 season. He’d be a perfect fit in Arizona because of his ability to make plays with the ball in space and line up in multiple spots and the Cardinals have both the need and the cap space to go after someone like Samuel. He won’t get top wide receiver money, but still figures to cost a significant amount, after finishing with 1,051 yards from scrimmage in 2020.

Prediction: Signs with Arizona on a 3-year, 36 million dollar deal with 25 million guaranteed

Antonio Brown: Brown would be a tough case if not for the fact that he’ll almost definitely be back with Tom Brady and the Buccaneers. Brown has #1 wide receiver talent but obvious baggage and is going into his age 33 season, so it’ll be interesting to see how the Buccaneers value him, especially since they may be the only team willing to take a chance on Brown.

Prediction: Re-signs with Tampa Bay on a 2-year, 20 million dollar deal with 6 million guaranteed

TY Hilton: The Patriots have a top of cap space and a massive need at the wide receiver position, but I expect them to exploit this deep wide receiver class rather than splurging for one guy at the top of the market. They’ve never paid top dollar for free agents unless they’re All-Pro caliber and none of the wide receivers available are and they need more than one wide receiver anyway. Belichick and the Patriots have faced off with TY Hilton on several occasions and Belichick may take advantage of the opportunity to get the aging, but still effective former Colts #1 wide receiver on a relatively inexpensive short-term deal.

Prediction: Signs with New England on a 2-year, 20 million dollar deal with 12 million guaranteed

Marvin Jones: The Packers don’t have much cap space, but they could restructure some contracts to take advantage of a deep wide receiver class and get a much needed veteran #2 receiver to play opposite Davante Adams. Jones fits the bill, ahead of his age 31 season, and has the added benefit of further weakening division rival Detroit, where Jones has spent the past 5 seasons.

Prediction: Signs with Green Bay on a 3-year, 30 million dollar deal with 17 million guaranteed

John Brown: Brown was released by the Bills ahead of a non-guaranteed 8 million dollar salary, but that had more to do with the Bills having limited cap space and having great depth at the wide receiver position. Brown is going into his age 31 season, but has shown he’s still a capable #2 receiver when healthy and is just a season removed from a 72/1060/6 slash line in 2019, so he’ll draw interest this off-season. The Jets have a need at the position and the money to spend more than this, but probably won’t be seen as a prime destination for top free agent destinations. Someone like Brown could be enticed by the money on a short-term deal in a depressed market. He would join Jamison Crowder and Denzel Mims as the Jets top wide receivers.

Prediction: Signs with NY Jets on 1-year, 8 million dollar deal with 6 million guaranteed

Nelson Agholor: Agholor was a bit of a laughing stock when he left the Eagles because of his tendency to commit drops and his limited production in his final season in 2019. That allowed the Raiders to get him cheap on a 1-year, 1.1 million dollar deal and the former first round pick responded with the best year of his career, with a 48/896/8 slash line on just 82 targets. Agholor comes with plenty of downside, but he’s topped 700 yards in 3 of 6 seasons in the league and has shown for stretches why he was a first round pick. The Raiders seem likely to value him more than most teams and have indicated a desire to sign him to a long-term deal.

Prediction: Re-signs with Las Vegas on a 3-year, 30 million dollar deal with 14 million guaranteed

Sammy Watkins: Watkins is somehow only going into his age 28 season and still has theoretical upside, but the former 4th overall pick hasn’t topped 673 yards in a season since his dominant 2015 season, despite spending the past 3 seasons on the most explosive passing offense in the league. He has still shown flashes, but he hasn’t played a full 16 game season since 2014, he’s missed 23 games in the past 5 seasons, and most importantly, his injuries seem to have sapped his athleticism. He’s still a worthwhile flier on a one-year deal because he can at least be a #2 wide receiver if healthy, he has the upside to be more than that, and he’s unlikely to even command the 9 million he made last season because of his continuing injury issues. The wide receiver needy Patriots could take a shot as they need to add multiple options to one of the thinnest wide receiver groups in the league.

Prediction: Signs with New England on a 1-year, 6 million dollar deal with 3 million guaranteed

AJ Green: The Titans don’t have much financial flexibility this off-season, but they’ll need to find help at the wide receiver position behind AJ Brown, with Adam Humphries being a cap casualty and Corey Davis likely to sign elsewhere this off-season. AJ Green could be a fit as a low cost flyer. Green missed 23 of 32 games from 2018-2019 and was not the same in his return in his age 32 season in 2020, posting a 47/523/2 slash line, but he’s not totally over the hill and may have just not been motivated last season in Cincinnati, where he had no desire to be without a long-term deal. He may have a tough time finding a long-term deal this off-season, but the Titans would give him an opportunity for significant playing time on a contender and he would fit in their limited budget if his market predictably doesn’t develop.

Prediction: Signs with Tennessee on a 1-year, 5 million dollar deal with 3 million guaranteed

Rashard Higgins: Higgins showed a good rapport with Baker Mayfield down the stretch in 2018, with a 18/255/2 slash line in his final 5 games, but was inexplicably not utilized by inept head coach Freddie Kitchens in 2019, before a more capable coaching staff decided to utilize him again in 2020, even starting him as the #2 wide receiver in the absence of the injured Odell Beckham, a 11-game stretch (including playoffs) in which Higgins had a 39/662/2 slash line. He says he’d like to be back in Cleveland, but the Browns already have big money committed to two wide receivers and a tight end and are unlikely to outbid teams for a player who would be their #3 wide receiver with Beckham back next season. A team like Washington, who needs a #2 wide receiver and has cap space to spend, will be able to offer more playing time and money.

Prediction: Signs with Washington on a 3-year, 21 million dollar deal with 15 million guaranteed

Emmanuel Sanders: The Panthers have DJ Moore and Robby Anderson and paid up for tight end Jonnu Smith, so they’re unlikely to spend much on a #3 receiver to replace Curtis Samuel. Emmanuel Sanders, released by the Saints to save 6.5 million, could have a tough time finding significant guarantees this off-season, ahead of his age 34 season. The Panthers could take a shot on someone like him.

Prediction: Signs with Carolina on a 1-year, 5 million dollar deal with 3 million guaranteed

Josh Reynolds: Reynolds has never been much more than a #3/#4 receiver with the Rams, but the Rams have always had a deep receiving corps and Reynolds is likely to be valued as more on the open market. The Bengals have ties to him through head coach Zac Taylor, who also comes from the Rams, and they have a need at the wide receiver position, with AJ Green likely leaving this off-season. The Bengals have been hesitant to spend money in free agency historically, but they showed a willingness to spend more last off-season and they have among the most cap space in the league again this off-season. Reynolds would add another young (age 26) wide receiver to a trio of Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd. The Bengals could easily value him more than anyone else.

Prediction: Signs with Cincinnati on a 4-year, 28 million dollar deal with 14 million guaranteed

Kendrick Bourne: Bourne is probably best as a #3 wide receiver, but he showed himself to be a little more than that last season with the 49ers with Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel both intermittently dealing with injuries, leading to Bourne getting 74 targets, which he turned into a 49/667/2 slash line. He says he wants to return to the 49ers, but is likely to get more playing time and money elsewhere. The Lions don’t have more financial flexibility, but still need wide receiver help even after signing Tyrell Williams, as they’re set to lose their top-3 wide receivers this off-season. They can sign someone like Bourne to a multi-year deal and keep his first year cap hit low.

Prediction: Signs with Detroit on a 3-year, 19 million dollar deal with 9 million guaranteed

Tight Ends

Hunter Henry: The Patriots didn’t make a huge splash in the wide receiver market despite having a ton of cap space, but they could make one at the tight end position. Given how valuable the tight end position has been to this offense historically, I think it’s more likely the Patriots spent 12-13 million annually at the top of the tight end market than 18-20 million annually at the top of the wide receiver market, especially given how much deeper the wide receiver market is. Henry might not quite be an elite tight end, but he’s one of the few tight ends in the league who is an above average pass catcher and an above average run blocker, which is badly needed in this offense.

Prediction: Signs with New England on a 4-year, 52 million dollar deal with 20 million guaranteed

Jonnu Smith: The Panthers are another team with a desperate need at the tight end position and, while they don’t have the cap space or the coaching staff that New England has, they do have a good enough situation to appeal to Jonnu Smith, the 2nd best tight end available. A quick look at his stats don’t show him to be much, but the former 3rd round pick has always split time on a run heavy team. His efficiency stats, particularly over the past two seasons (1.64 yards per route run), his athleticism, and his youth (26 in August) all suggest he is someone whose production could explode in the right situation. He won’t be cheap, but he’s a much needed piece for a Panthers team that can afford to spend at the top of the market.

Prediction: Signs with Carolina on a 3-year, 30 million dollar deal with 17 million guaranteed 

Gerald Everett: Everett is another player whose production looks a lot better when you consider he split time with Tyler Higbee throughout his tenure with the Rams. It’s likely he’ll be valued as a starter this off-season, particularly by a team that had a high grade on the former 44th overall pick when he came out in 2017. I don’t know how the Chargers’ decision makers will view Everett, but they have a big need for a pass catcher at the position with Hunter Henry gone and they have the financial flexibility to spend a decent amount to replace him. Everett’s production could explode with an increased target share in a Justin Herbert led offense.

Prediction: Signs with LA Chargers on a 2-year, 15 million dollar deal with 10 million guaranteed

Rob Gronkowski: There is no doubt that Rob Gronkowski will be back with Tom Brady and the Buccaneers, even if he could command more money elsewhere. The Buccaneers don’t have a ton of financial flexibility, but will find a way to fit Gronk in on a team friendly short-term deal.

Prediction: Re-signs with Tampa Bay on a 2-year, 10 million dollar deal with 6 million guaranteed

Jared Cook: This is a shallow tight end class and there are a bunch of teams in need of upgrades at the position. One team that could be more convincing than most are the Bills, who are one of the top Super Bowl contenders heading into next season and are reportedly looking for an upgrade at the position. Cook isn’t an every down player anymore, but the Bills have Dawson Knox as well and wouldn’t have to pay much for Cook, important given their cap situation. For Cook, Buffalo would give the 34-year-old a chance at a late career Super Bowl run.

Prediction: Signs with Buffalo on a 2-year, 10 million dollar deal with 5 million guaranteed

Kyle Rudolph: Released by the Vikings last month ahead of a 8 million dollar non-guaranteed salary, Rudolph has been linked to the Patriots, but they shoot higher here, leaving Rudolph to go elsewhere. He won’t command much money in his age 32 season with declining production, but the Seahawks can offer him a good mix of playing time and playoff contention and would like to find a replacement for the retired Greg Olsen without breaking the bank.

Prediction: Signs with Seattle on a 2-year, 10 million dollar deal with 5 million guaranteed

NFL Pick Results

2020

Total Against the Spread: 138-127-4 (52.08%)

Pick of the Week: 10-6-1 (62.50%)

High Confidence Picks: 20-14 (58.82%)

Medium Confidence Picks: 40-36-1 (52.63%)

Money Picks (Medium Confidence and higher): 70-56-2 (55.66%)

Low Confidence Picks: 49-39 (55.68%)

No Confidence Picks: 19-32-2 (37.25%)

Moneyline Upset Picks: 19-18 (51.35%)

2019

Total Against the Spread: 134-125-8 (51.74%)

Pick of the Week: 12-3-2 (80.00%)

High Confidence Picks: 20-11-1 (64.52%)

Medium Confidence Picks: 35-36-2 (49.30%)

Money Picks (Medium Confidence and higher): 67-50-5 (57.26%)

Low Confidence Picks: 35-40-1 (46.67%)

No Confidence Picks: 32-35-2 (47.76%)

Moneyline Upset Picks: 22-21 (51.16%)

2018

Total Against the Spread: 154-102-11 (60.16%)

Pick of the Week: 10-6-1 (62.50%)

High Confidence Picks: 21-13-2 (61.76%)

Medium Confidence Picks: 41-27-1 (60.29%)

Money Picks (Medium Confidence and higher): 72-46-4 (61.02%)

Low Confidence Picks: 35-28-1 (55.56%)

No Confidence Picks: 47-28-6 (62.67%)

Moneyline Upset Picks: 25-17-1 (59.52%)

2017

Total Against the Spread: 139-120-8 (53.67%)

Pick of the Week: 11-6 (64.71%)

High Confidence Picks: 21-11-3 (65.63%)

Medium Confidence Picks: 33-34-1 (49.25%)

Money Picks (Medium Confidence and higher): 65-51-4 (56.03%)

Low Confidence Picks: 44-38-4 (53.66%)

No Confidence Picks: 30-31 (49.18%)

Moneyline Upset Picks: 19-25 (43.18%)

2016

Total Against the Spread: 130-127-10 (50.58%)

Pick of the Week: 11-6-0 (64.71%)

High Confidence Picks: 12-17-2 (41.38%)

Medium Confidence Picks: 42-26-4 (61.76%)

Money Picks (Medium confidence and higher): 65-49-6 (57.02%)

Low Confidence Picks: 34-40-2 (45.95%)

No Confidence Picks: 31-38-2 (44.93%)

Moneyline Upset Picks: 26-25 (50.98%)

2015

Total Against the Spread: 124-138-5 (47.33%)

Pick of the Week: 9-8 (52.94%)

High Confidence Picks: 14-11 (56.00%)

Medium Confidence Picks: 35-36-1 (49.30%)

Money Picks (Medium confidence and higher): 58-55-1 (51.33%)

Low Confidence Picks: 36-45-2 (44.44%)

No Confidence Picks: 30-38-2 (44.12%)

Moneyline Upset Picks: 16-30 (34.78%)

2014

Total Against the Spread: 150-113-4 (57.03%)

Pick of the Week: 9-7-1 (56.25%)

High Confidence Picks: 9-11 (45.00%)

Medium Confidence Picks: 57-31 (64.77%)

Money Picks (Medium confidence and higher): 75-49-1 (60.48%)

Low Confidence Picks: 36-32-2 (52.94%)

No Confidence Picks: 39-32-1 (54.93%)

Moneyline Upset Picks: 19-25 (43.18%)

2013

Total Against the Spread: 148-110-9 (57.36%)

Pick of the Week: 10-6-1 (62.50%)

High Confidence Picks: 25-10-1 (71.43%)

Medium Confidence Picks: 32-26 (55.17%)

Money Picks (Medium confidence and higher): 67-42-2 (61.47%)

Low Confidence Picks: 39-28-3 (58.21%)

No Confidence Picks: 42-40-4 (51.22%)

Moneyline Upset Picks: 27-31 (46.55%)

All-Time (Since 2013)

Total Against the Spread: 1117-962-59 (53.73%)

Pick of the Week: 82-48-6 (63.08%)

High Confidence Picks: 142-98-9 (59.17%)

Medium Confidence Picks: 315-252-10 (55.56%)

Money Picks (Medium Confidence and higher): 539-398-25 (57.52%)

Low Confidence Picks: 308-290-15 (51.51%)

No Confidence Picks: 270-274-19 (49.63%)

Moneyline Upset Picks: 173-192-1 (47.40%)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Kansas City Chiefs: Super Bowl LV Pick

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (14-5) vs. Kansas City Chiefs (16-2) in Super Bowl LV

Tom Brady will be appearing in his 10th ever Super Bowl in Super Bowl 55, an incredible number that is double the next highest total and that is more than all of Brady’s Hall-of-Fame contemporaries combined. This one will be unique from all the others because he’ll be doing it with a new team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, in his first season with the team after two record breaking decades in New England. Brady is being given most of the credit, understandable if you just pay attention to team’s records, as the Buccaneers improved from 7 wins to 11 wins and a Super Bowl appearance, while New England fell from 12 wins to out of the playoffs with 7 wins, after Brady had made the post-season in 16 straight healthy seasons in New England. 

However, that is far from the whole story and ignores the reasons why Brady headed south in the first place. The Patriots won 12 games last year, but Brady and the offense weren’t the primary reason they won those games, as the Patriots had a dominant defense, but an offensive supporting cast that left a lot to be desired, especially in the receiving corps and especially down the stretch as injuries mounted. The Patriots’ defense led the league in first down rate allowed by a mile, but their offense ranked just 21st in first down rate, their lowest finish since before Brady arrived.

The Patriots didn’t make any major upgrades to their receiving corps last off-season, so it’s likely the Patriots’ 2020 offense would have resembled their 2019 offense if they had kept Brady, rather than the 2020 Buccaneers’ offense, which has a much better receiving corps. That still would have been enough for the Patriots to make the post-season had their defense continued playing at a high level like in 2019, but the Patriots’ defense is where they had by far their biggest dropoff from 2019 to 2020, finishing the 2020 season ranked 23rd in first down rate allowed. 

Given how much their defense fell off, it’s very likely the Patriots would not have made the playoffs even if they had kept Brady and, by some metrics, the Patriots were better offensively in 2020 with Cam Newton leading a run based attack than they were in 2019 when they relied primarily on an ineffective aerial attack with Brady throwing to arguably the worst receiving corps in the league. The 2019 Patriots ran a league leading 1,126 plays because their defense kept getting them the ball back so often, 115 more plays than they ran in 2020, but the 2019 Patriots only managed 6 more first downs than the 2020 Patriots and they averaged fewer yards per play as well, 5.3 vs. 5.2. 

The Patriots have gotten a lot of criticism for not bringing back Brady, but that would have required at least matching a fully guaranteed 2-year, 50 million dollar contract for a 43-44 year old quarterback who might not have even gotten them back to the post-season in the first year of the deal. For a team that needs to rebuild and reload, that kind of contract could have set them back a year or two. The contract obviously has worked out for the Buccaneers, but it’s kind of comparing apples to oranges, because the Buccaneers are built to win now much more than the Patriots and were right to be aggressive to try to capitalize on that.

Brady, of course, likely recognized the two teams were heading into opposite directions, which is why he made the decision he did. For all the talk about how Tom Brady is back in the Super Bowl because of what he did as a player this season, what Brady did this off-season as a scout probably has more to do with him being back here than anything. The Buccaneers were not widely discussed as a potential destination for Brady last off-season, but I put them at the top of my list for Brady last February and, while I wasn’t expecting Brady to actually leave New England, it was easy for me to see why he picked the Buccaneers when he picked them. 

The Buccaneers won just 7 games in 2019, but they finished 9th in first down rate differential, suggesting they were better than their record. They also had a massive need at quarterback after years of subpar play from Jameis Winston, they were well coached, going into the second season of the Bruce Arians regime, and they got a lot better down the stretch in 2019, particularly on defense, leading to the Buccaneers winning 6 of their last 9 games, with the exceptions being a loss to the division leading Saints and two losses by less than a score in games in which Winston threw at least one pick six. Tampa Bay’s loaded receiving corps was the main draw, but this was a talented roster overall, beyond their pass catchers and, after Brady brought his friends Antonio Brown and Rob Gronkowski along for the ride, Tampa Bay suddenly became legitimate contenders.

Brady, for his part, played at an above average level and was obviously a massive upgrade over the backup caliber Jameis Winston, but Brady is not the same player he was in his prime or even a few years ago when he could single handedly elevate a team with an underwhelming supporting cast to the league’s highest stage, likely part of the reason why Brady looked for a better football situation to spend the twilight of his career last off-season. Focusing too much on Brady overlooks the talented players and coaches (including defensive coordinator Todd Bowles) that the Buccaneers have throughout their roster and throughout their staff, which is a huge part of the reason why the Buccaneers are where they are.

For Brady, being in the Super Bowl is nothing new, but what is relatively new is that he won’t be favored, with the Buccaneers listed as 3.5 point underdogs. Brady led the historic upset as massive underdogs in his first Super Bowl appearance back in Super Bowl 36, but he’s been favored in each of the past 8, covering in just 3 of them. Brady and the Buccaneers being underdogs has everything to do with the team on the other side, as Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs are defending Super Bowl Champions and have been presumptive Super Bowl favorites all season, having lost just one meaningful game. 

For Mahomes, this is his second straight Super Bowl appearance and, in 3 seasons as the starter, he’s lost just once in the post-season, in 8 appearances. His one loss was to Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in the 2018 AFC Championship, one of four matchups between these two quarterbacks in just the 3 seasons that Mahomes has been the starter. The 4th matchup was earlier this season when the Chiefs won by a field goal in Tampa Bay in a matchup that previewed the Super Bowl, both in matchup and in location, with the Buccaneers being fortunate enough to be the first team ever to play the Super Bowl in their home stadium. 

The common narrative is that the Chiefs dominated that game and the Buccaneers came back in garbage time, but the Buccaneers’ score to cut it to a field goal came with over four minutes left on the clock and two timeouts left for Tampa Bay, so those were hardly meaningless possessions. A better way to think of that game is that both teams dominated a single quarter (the Chiefs in the 1st jumping out to a 17-0 lead and the Buccaneers in the 4th cutting it from 27-10 to 27-24), but that the Chiefs played slightly better overall. How much better overall may be very slight though, as the Chiefs only won the first down rate battle by just 0.66% and actually had slightly fewer yards per play (7.6 vs. 7.5). 

Winning close games was a big part of the story of the Chiefs’ season this year, as they snuck out 8 of their 14 wins by 6 points or fewer, including several against teams much worse than the Buccaneers. Overall, the Buccaneers actually had the edge in point differential (+137 vs. +111), DVOA (33.7% vs. 25.2%), and schedule adjusted first down rate differential (4.25% vs. 3.36%) on the season and, even though they won 3 fewer games, they had significantly more double digit wins (8 vs. 5). Wins by larger totals tend to be predictive of future winning at a much higher rate than close victories. 

Some ignore that most of the Chiefs wins have been close because the Chiefs have Mahomes and they assume that quarterbacks of his caliber can consistently win close games. Even ignoring the obvious fact that even the most elite quarterbacks couldn’t consistently win 88.9% of their one score games like Mahomes did this season, there isn’t much evidence of elite quarterbacks even consistently winning close games at a significantly higher than average rate. Entering this season, Mahomes was just 9-8 in one score games in his career, as dominant as he was in his first two seasons in the league. In fact, the only quarterback who has seemed to be able to consistently win close games is the quarterback on the other sideline, who is a remarkable 94-44 in his career in one score games. 

In addition to his dominance in one score games, Brady has somehow been even more dominant in tough games like this. Not only is Brady 33-11 in the post-season, but Brady almost always plays his best in these big games against tough opponents, particularly when his team is doubted and not expected to win. Overall in his career, Brady is 56-26 ATS as an underdog or a favorite of less than 2.5 and he’s 44-11 ATS against teams with a better record than his, including an incredible 42-13 straight up record in those games. 

As an underdog, Brady is 28-6 ATS in games against teams with a better record than his, pulling the straight up upset in 21 of 30 games. Most of that was with Bill Belichick and the Patriots, but the Buccaneers went 4-1 ATS as underdogs and against teams with a better record than theirs this season, including their 3-point loss as 3.5-point underdogs against the Chiefs earlier this season and their wins over the Saints and Packers in their past two games. 

It will take a lot more than just Tom Brady to win this game, but the Buccaneers have it, with arguably the most well-rounded roster in the league and a better overall team than the Chiefs, who may have the passing game stars, but have questions on defense and on the offensive line, particularly with the Chiefs now being without both of their starting offensive tackles, Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz, who are one of the best duos in the league when healthy. This offensive line was already not the same since losing Schwartz in week 8, a 11-game stretch in which they’ve won by more than 6 points just twice and Fisher going down in the Chiefs’ last game in the AFC Championship makes things much worse. 

The Chiefs have done a good job of rebuilding their offensive line on the fly this season, but they figure to be overmatched against a tough Tampa Bay front. I like the Buccaneers to pull the upset straight up and, even if they can’t, they should be able to keep it close, especially in what will be something of a home game for the Buccaneers. About 1 in 4 games are decided by 3 points or fewer and the Chiefs haven’t blown out most of their opponents this season. The Buccaneers seem like a relatively safe bet against the spread and a great value on the money line.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 30 Kansas City Chiefs 27 Upset Pick +150

Pick against the spread: Tampa Bay +3.5

Confidence: High

Matt Stafford/Jared Goff Trade Analysis

Trades can’t officially be accepted until the start of the NFL’s new league year in March, but the Detroit Lions have agreed to a deal sending quarterback Matt Stafford, who has made 165 starts in 12 seasons with the team, to the Los Angeles Rams, less than two weeks after Stafford made his request to be traded known to the Lions organization. I was expecting the Lions to maybe get a late first round pick, or a high second round pick and another pick, but instead they get back two first round picks and a third round pick in draft compensation. At first glance, that seems like a clear win, but this deal is much more complicated. 

With the Rams already not having their own 2021 first round pick from the Jalen Ramsey trade they made in 2019, the Rams are sending 2022 and 2023 first round picks to the Lions in this deal, so the Lions will have to wait for their premium draft picks, although the Lions do get the third round pick this year. This deal also doesn’t just involve Stafford going to the Rams, but a swap of these two teams’ starting quarterbacks, as now-former Rams Jared Goff’s inclusion in this trade was necessary for salary reasons. 

In evaluating this trade, it makes more sense to view it as a trade of starting quarterbacks with draft compensation included, rather than the other way around, even if the draft picks are the most important assets in this deal. I will get to a comparison of the two quarterbacks on the field in a little bit, but these two quarterbacks’ contracts also need to be taken into account. Signed to a 4-year, 134 million dollar extension in September 2019 by the Rams, Goff got a big chunk of his contract in a signing bonus (25 million), but is still effectively guaranteed about 53 million over the next 2 seasons. The Lions could cut him after this season and save some money, but they’d still be paying him 43 million for just 1 season, so that’s unlikely unless he really struggles.

Stafford, meanwhile, makes just 43 million over the next 2 seasons and none of it is guaranteed, though it’s obviously highly unlikely the Rams would cut Stafford at any point, given the overall compensation they’re giving up for him. The Rams could extend Stafford next off-season ahead of the final year of his deal and Stafford would likely command a pay increase on an extension, but that extension would kick in after the two years remaining on Stafford’s deal, so we can effectively compare these two quarterbacks on their pay over the next 2 seasons, with Goff being the higher priced quarterback by about 10 million. 

The Browns got a 2nd round pick from the Texans to take on the remaining 16 million guaranteed that was owed to Brock Osweiler, so it’s reasonable to expect 10 million to get you about a third round pick. Let’s assume the 2021 third round pick in this deal is compensation for the salary difference between the two quarterbacks and that the two future first round picks are compensation for the talent difference between the two quarterbacks. 

Pushing a year out a pick usually gets you the equivalent of an extra round in the draft the next year (2020 3rd round picks being traded for 2021 2nd round picks for example) and by that standard the Lions are only getting a second and a third round pick for Stafford, but it’s not quite that simple, as the Lions seem to be headed into a much needed multi-year rebuild and might not mind waiting a year or two for these picks as much as another team would, while the Rams are putting themselves into a situation where they will have traded away in pre-draft trades their first round pick in 6 in 7 seasons from 2017-2023, with the exception being a first round pick they traded down from on draft day in 2019 and their last actual first round selection being Goff, back in 2016. 

Is Stafford enough of an upgrade from Goff to justify that? The answer comes down to how much do you believe Goff benefits from playing in Sean McVay’s system with consistently good talent around him. Goff’s quarterback rating over the past four seasons is less than 3 points lower than Stafford’s and he’s 6 years younger with less of a recent injury history, but he’s played in a much better situation, while Stafford has consistently been held back by subpar supporting casts and coaching. 

Perhaps most telling is the fact that McVay, who is widely considered to have had a huge hand in Goff’s development from a raw rookie to a quarterback who can at least be effective with the right pieces around him, seems to think this team would be a lot better off with another quarterback. Despite that, this is still a very interesting return for the Lions. With a roster that was going nowhere, a quarterback who wanted out, and no financial flexibility ahead of free agency, the Lions rightfully seem to be taking the long-term view with this team. First they hired 44-year-old Dan Campbell on a 6-year contract to be their head coach and now they pull the trigger on this move. 

This deal doesn’t give the Lions more financial flexibility, but it resolves the quarterback issue in the short-term without the use of their 7th overall pick and it gives them much needed draft capital in 2022 and 2023, either to move up for a long-term quarterback option or to build out the rest of this roster. It’s highly unlikely Goff is going to find some untapped potential in Detroit that he didn’t have in Los Angeles with McVay, but he’s still only going into his age 27 season and could be a serviceable starter for a rebuilding team that likely isn’t going to win a lot of games over the next couple seasons regardless.

For the Rams, this is a continued bet on their ability to draft and develop players outside of the first round. Despite their recent lack of first round picks, half of the 26 players who played at least 450 snaps on either side of the ball last season are home grown, from the 2015-2019 drafts, outside of the first round. That doesn’t include the 2020 draft, which saw 6th round pick Jordan Fuller make 12 starts as a rookie and 2nd round pick Cam Akers emerge as a feature back down the stretch.

History suggests the draft is more of a crap shoot than anything. The Pete Carroll/John Schneider Seahawks were known for finding late round gems in the early 2010s, but a look at their recent drafts clearly shows their hit rate has regressed to the mean and then some. Bill Belichick’s Patriots found arguably the greatest quarterback and tight end of all-time, both outside of the first round, along with a #1 receiver and Super Bowl MVP in the 7th round and several other draft steals, but even his record has some clear misses on it.

To the Rams’ credit, they seem to understand the value of trading back on draft day as much as any team, including New England, treating the draft as the likely unpredictable event that it is and going with a quantity over quality approach in terms of draft picks, maximizing their chances of finding a steal. The Rams might not have selected in the first round since 2016, but they have still selected 36 times overall over their past 4 drafts. Ultimately, this is a deal that makes sense for both teams, though there are obvious risks with both sides as both teams take to make the most of imperfect situations.

2016 NFL Draft Redo

1. Los Angeles Rams – QB Dak Prescott (Mississippi State)

The Rams made a Super Bowl just three years after their original pick of Jared Goff, but Goff wasn’t the main driver of their offensive success that season, he struggled in the Super Bowl, and he hasn’t been as good since, with his offensive supporting cast declining around him. There has even been some talk that the Rams could try to move on from Goff this off-season, although the 4-year, 134 million dollar extension he signed will make him very tough to move. In this re-draft, the Rams shoot higher with Dak Prescott, who has been the best of the quarterbacks from this draft and, even with other very talented players available at other positions, Dak would likely go first if everything were done over again.

2. Philadelphia Eagles – WR Michael Thomas (Ohio State)

I think there’s a pretty significant drop off between Prescott and the other quarterbacks in this draft, so, rather than selecting Carson Wentz again or taking a shot with Jared Goff, the Eagles take one of the highly talented players at another position. The Eagles have other good options, but their desperate need for wide receiver help dates back years and when Michael Thomas is healthy he’s arguably the best in the league.

3. San Diego Chargers – DE Joey Bosa (Ohio State)

The Chargers keep their original pick Joey Bosa, who they clearly are happy with, giving him a record breaking 5-year, 135 million dollar extension last off-season. In 63 career games, Bosa has 47.5 sacks, 66 hits, and a ridiculous 15.2% pressure rate, while playing at a high level against the run, and he’s not even 26 until July. Aside from some small durability concerns (17 games missed in 5 seasons), Bosa is one of the top defensive linemen in the league.

4. Dallas Cowboys – QB Jared Goff (California)

The Cowboys originally used this pick on Ezekiel Elliott and then stole Dak Prescott in the 4th round to give them a much needed young quarterback behind Tony Romo, who never started another meaningful game for the Cowboys after 2015. Prescott goes #1 in this re-draft though, so the Cowboys will need to find a quarterback elsewhere. Goff over Elliott might be controversial, but Elliott, as good as he is, has proven why running backs are rarely worth top-5 picks and big money contracts. The Cowboys need a quarterback and need to take one here if they’re going to get one in this draft.

5. Jacksonville Jaguars – QB Carson Wentz (North Dakota State)

Wentz was a tough player to slot because he’s played at everything from an MVP level to a backup level in his short career. He won’t be nearly as sought after as he would have been a year ago, when he could have gone #1 in this re-draft, but he had always been a capable or better starter prior to 2020 and there’s plenty of time for him to bounce back. The Jaguars will certainly take that compared to their recent quarterback situation, which has seen them start quarterbacks like Blake Bortles, Nick Foles, Gardner Minshew, and Mike Glennon in recent years. Jalen Ramsey was a good pick here originally, but he lasted just three and a half seasons in Jacksonville and made just one playoff appearance. Quarterbacks usually get the benefit of the doubt early in the draft. There doesn’t change in this re-draft.

6. Baltimore Ravens – OT Ronnie Stanley (Notre Dame)

Ronnie Stanley went down for the season with a broken ankle this season, but the Ravens will still have no concerns about drafting Stanley 6th overall again if given the chance. A starter since his rookie season, Stanley has developed into one of the best left tackles in the league. Outside of Lamar Jackson, Stanley was arguably the Ravens’ offensive MVP in their dominant 2019 season and he was sorely missed in a comparatively disappointing 2020 season.

7. San Francisco 49ers – WR Tyreek Hill (West Alabama)

The 49ers’ original pick DeForest Buckner was not a bad pick, but the 49ers can shoot higher and fill a bigger need, as Tyreek Hill is one of the top wide receivers in the league and would have added a much needed playmaker to an offense that was devoid of them at the time of this draft. The 2016 49ers were one of the worst offenses in the league and were led in receiving yards by veteran journeyman Jeremy Kerley, who was out of the league within two seasons.

8. Tennessee Titans – RB Derrick Henry (Alabama)

I mentioned earlier that running backs are rarely worth top-5 picks and big money contracts. Derrick Henry is one exception, but he falls out of the top-5 in a talented draft class with multiple quarterback options. The Titans don’t mind, as it allows them to keep their most important offensive player, albeit with a first rounder instead of a second rounder. Henry didn’t become a feature back until his 4th season in the league, but he averaged an impressive 4.58 yards per carry on 501 carries as a rotational back in his first 3 seasons in the league and has broken out since being unleashed as a feature back, leading the league with 3,567 rushing yards for 33 touchdowns on 681 carries (5.24 YPC) over the past two seasons.

9. Chicago Bears – CB Jalen Ramsey (Florida State)

Leonard Floyd was originally the Bears’ pick here, but he never really panned out with the Bears, leading to his 5th year option being declined for 2020. In a do-over, the Bears would shoot higher and, picking in the top-10 of a talented draft class, have the opportunity to add an All-Pro caliber player. The Bears have had one of the best defenses in the league in recent years, but had a need at the cornerback position in 2016 and would have been even better in recent years with a shutdown cornerback like Ramsey opposite Kyle Fuller.

10. New York Giants – DT Chris Jones (Mississippi State)

The 2016 Giants had one of the best defenses in the league, but this team wasn’t able to sustain that long-term, in large part due to roster turnover. Johnathan Hankins left as a free agent after 2016, so Chris Jones, who has developed into one of the top interior defenders in the league since being drafted by the Chiefs in the 3rd round, is a needed addition to this team and arguably the best player available. Jones leaves something to be desired against the run, but has totalled 40.5 sacks, 62 hits, and a 12.4% pressure rate in his career, as a primarily interior defender, leading to the Chiefs giving him a 4-year, 80 million dollar extension last off-season.

11. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – CB Xavien Howard (Baylor)

The Buccaneers originally used this pick on cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, the first of six cornerbacks drafted by this team in the first 4 rounds in 4 drafts from 2016-2019, in an attempt to fix a longstanding need at cornerback. The Buccaneers have eventually figured the position out in 2020, but they were right to address the position in 2016 and, in a redo, have the option to take a much better cornerback option than Hargreaves, who proved to be a bust. Xavien Howard has played better than his draft classmate Jalen Ramsey at times, including the 2020 season when Howard was arguably the best cornerback in the league, but his history of inconsistency and injury drop him out of the top-10 behind Ramsey.

12. New Orleans Saints – DT DeForest Buckner (Oregon)

The Saints had the worst defense in the league from 2014-2016, wasting three prime seasons from Drew Brees, and they were right to focus on that side of the ball in this draft. Sheldon Rankins, their original pick here, and 4th round pick David Onyemata both developed into talented defensive tackles for a defense that has been significantly improved in recent seasons. The Saints can’t keep both of them in this re-draft, but they can aim higher with this pick, taking DeForest Buckner, who is better than both Rankins and Onyemata and would have been a much needed difference maker for this team. Originally the 7th pick in this draft, Buckner falls out of circumstance, as he’s totaled 38 sacks, 69 hits, and a 10.0% pressure rate in 78 career games, primarily as an interior rusher, and he is equally good against the run. PFF’s 4th ranked interior defender in 2020, Buckner was a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidate.

13. Miami Dolphins – OT Laremy Tunsil (Mississippi)

Laremy Tunsil hasn’t quite developed into a consistently top flight left tackle, but he’s good enough to be drafted again by the Dolphins with the 13th pick, who were lucky enough to be able to turn him into two first round picks, including the 3rd overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, in a trade with the Texans last off-season. Tunsil has never finished higher than 18th among offensive tackles on PFF and is not worth what the Texans gave up to get him, let alone the 3-year, 66 million dollar extension he was signed to, but he’s been a consistent starter in 72 career starts, so the Dolphins could do a lot worse than taking him again.

14. Oakland Raiders – S Justin Simmons (Boston College)

The Raiders took safety Karl Joseph here originally, but he was never more than a solid starter, was benched several times, was limited to 15 games in 4 seasons, and had his 5th year option declined, leading to him settling for a one-year prove it deal with the Browns last off-season in free agency. The Raiders were right to focus on their defense, which didn’t have much besides Khalil Mack, but they definitely could have done better with the pick. In this redo, the Raiders take the same position, with Justin Simmons probably being the best available defensive player. Originally a third round pick by the Broncos, Simmons has developed into one of the best safeties in the league, finishing in the top-9 among safeties on PFF in back-to-back seasons in 2019 and 2020, setting him up to cash in as a free agent this off-season. If he had been better earlier in his career, he would have gone in the top-10 in a redo, but the Raiders will happily take him, not only upgrading their defense, but taking away a key player from a divisional rival.

15. Cleveland Browns – MLB Deion Jones (LSU)

The Browns originally drafted Corey Coleman here after trading down out of picks that became Carson Wentz and Jack Conklin, yet another of the Browns’ early round draft blunders. The Browns won 1 game between 2016 and 2017, so they really can’t go wrong with any position and Deion Jones is arguably the best player remaining on the board. The Browns used a 4th round pick in this draft on Joe Schobert, who developed into a solid starting every down linebacker and one of the bright spots on the Browns’ winless 2017 team, but they can do better with Jones, who has three top-9 finishes on PFF in the past four seasons.

16. Detroit Lions – OT Taylor Decker (Michigan)

The Lions originally took Decker here at 16 and don’t seem to have too many complaints, keeping him with a 4-year, 60 million dollar extension. Decker has made 71 starts for the Lions in 5 seasons (all on the left side) and has consistently been an average or better starter, topping out as PFF’s 12th ranked offensive tackle in 2020. He’s stabilized one of the most important positions in the game for the Lions.

17. Atlanta Falcons – DE Yannick Ngakoue (Maryland)

The Falcons seemingly have a perpetual need for pass rushers, somehow not topping 39 sacks in a season since 2004. They were especially bad in 2015, ranking dead last in the NFL with just 19 sacks, after just 22 sacks in 2014, so it’s surprising they didn’t address the position early in the 2016 draft. In this redo, they get Ngakoue who is underwhelming against the run, but has totalled 45.5 sacks, 61 hits, and a 11.6% pressure rate, while playing 78 of 80 games since the Jaguars took him in the 3rd round. He was traded a couple times this season after being franchise tagged by the Jaguars last off-season, but he could still cash in as a free agent this off-season, as an accomplished pass rusher who doesn’t even turn 26 until March.

18. Indianapolis Colts – C Ryan Kelly (Alabama)

Here is another team satisfied with their original pick, re-signing Kelly to a 4-year, 50 million dollar extension that makes him one of the highest paid centers in the league and rightfully so. As part of one of the top offensive lines in the league, Kelly has developed into one of the top centers in the league, after some injury and inconsistency earlier in his career. He’s one of the few centers worth a first round pick. 

19. Buffalo Bills – WR Tyler Boyd (Pittsburgh)

Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods led the Bills in receiving in 2015, with Watkins going over 1000 yards in his 2nd season in the league, but Woods didn’t break out until leaving for the Rams, Watkins was never the same after the injuries that limited him to 8 games in 2016, and both Woods and Watkins were gone by the 2017 season, when the Bills were led by receiving by tight end Charles Clay and running back LeSean McCoy, with their top wide receiver being Deonte Thompson and his 430 receiving yards. Tyler Boyd took a couple years to develop, but he has topped 1000 yards twice in his career and would be a welcome addition to what was once a very thin Bills receiving corps.

20. New York Jets – OT Jack Conklin (Michigan State)

Right tackle was a weakness for the Jets in 2015 and then in 2016 they started 5 different tackles throughout the season. They used a 2016 3rd round pick on Brandon Shell, who developed into a capable starter after a couple seasons, but Conklin is a much more talented option and would fill a hole for the Jets immediately at right tackle. Conklin, originally drafted 8th by the Titans, has been one of the better right tackles in the league since his rookie season in 2016, earning him a 3-year, 42 million dollar deal from the Browns in free agency last off-season.

21. Houston Texans – RB Ezekiel Elliott (Ohio State)

The Texans signed Lamar Miller to be their starting running back in the 2016 off-season, after ranking 28th in the league in yards per carry in 2015, but Miller was never more than a capable starter and was overmatched as a feature back with the Texans. Instead, they grab a legitimate feature back like Ezekiel Elliott, who falls because of positional value, but is still one of the top few running backs in the NFL, even after a down 2020 season. Using a top-5 pick on a running back and paying them at the top of the running back market usually isn’t a good idea, but a player like Elliott is definitely worth it in this range.

22. Washington Redskins – S Kevin Byard (Middle Tennessee State)

Back when their name was allowed, Washington had a need at safety, which they attempted to address in the 2nd round with Su’a Cravens, who never panned out. Kevin Byard, meanwhile, has developed into one of the better safeties in the league since the Titans took him in the 3rd round. Byard had a down year in 2020, but finished in the top-14 among safeties on PFF in 3 straight seasons from 2017-2019 and is a true ballhawk, with 18 interceptions over the past 4 seasons.

23. Minnesota Vikings – G Joe Thuney (NC State)

The Vikings have had concerns on their offensive line for years, particularly on the interior. Joe Thuney can legitimately play all five positions on the offensive line, but has primarily played at left guard in his career with the Patriots, where he has developed into one of the league’s best. After being franchise tagged by New England last off-season, Thuney, originally a 3rd round choice, figures to cash in somewhere this off-season, whether New England or elsewhere.

24. Cincinnati Bengals – CB William Jackson (Houston)

Injuries have been a problem for Jackson throughout his career, including a completely lost rookie season, but he’s been the Bengals’ top cornerback since he returned in his second season and has had flashes of dominance in the backend for Cincinnati. He’s one of the few bright spots for this Bengals organization and, without a clear better option, the Bengals would likely take him again in this scenario. We’ll see if they keep him, or if he wants to return, as a free agent this off-season. Regardless of where he lands, he figures to get paid near the top of the free agent cornerback market. 

25. Pittsburgh Steelers – OLB Matt Judon (Grand Valley State)

The Steelers kill two birds with one stone with this pick, keeping a key defender away from divisional rival Baltimore, who franchise tagged Judon last off-season, and filling a big need of their own. Before TJ Watt was added in 2017, the Steelers had a big need at the edge defender position, with James Harrison leading the position in sacks with 5 each in 2015 and 2016, despite being in his age 37 and age 38 seasons respectively. Judon’s play against the run leaves something to be desired, but his 34.5 career sacks, 69 hits, and 12.3% pressure rate have him positioned to cash in as a free agent this off-season, after being franchise tagged by the Ravens last off-season.

26. Denver Broncos – DT Kenny Clark (UCLA)

Anything would be better than the Broncos’ original pick Paxton Lynch. Quarterback was an obvious need for the Broncos then and remains one today, but there isn’t a good quarterback option. Instead, they get an upgrade over their second round pick Adam Gotsis, who was a serviceable rotational defensive lineman for this team for four seasons. Clark, meanwhile, has been an above average run stopper and pass rusher for the Packers for five seasons and has the ability to play every down in any scheme. 

27. Green Bay Packers – DT DJ Reader (Georgia Tech)

The Packers miss out on their original pick Kenny Clark by one pick and they would have happily selected him again given the choice, after signing him to a 4-year, 70 million dollar extension. Instead, they replace him with DJ Reader, who is a different kind of player, but a capable replacement, albeit one who missed 11 games in 2020 due to injury. Prior to that injury, he ascended in all 4 seasons in the league, culminating with a 2019 season in which he finished as PFF’s 7th ranked interior defender, dominating against the run and adding 11 hits and a 9.9% pressure rate to his 2.5 sacks, leading to Reader getting a 4-year, 53 million dollar deal from the Bengals in free agency last off-season. A natural 3-4 nose tackle at 6-3 350 pounds, Reader would fit well with the Packers, who have run a 3-4 defense for years. 

28. San Francisco 49ers – G Cody Whitehair (Kansas State)

Joshua Garnett, the 49ers’ original pick here, didn’t pan out at all, so let’s give the 49ers a better offensive lineman. Whitehair was a college tackle and has shown the versatility to play all three interior offensive line spots in the pros, so he could help the 49ers in a variety of different spots. Guard is probably his best position and it’s where the 49ers needed the most help in 2016, but Whitehair’s versatility would have allowed the 49ers to play him where they’ve needed to over the years, probably center in 2020, as that spot was the 49ers’ biggest weakness upfront this past season.

29. New England Patriots – TE Hunter Henry (Arkansas)

The Patriots lost this first round pick for Deflategate, but for the sake of this redo, they’re getting their first round pick back. Henry is a player they could have taken if they hadn’t lost the pick, as Henry ended up going just 6 picks later to the Chargers and the Patriots needed another tight end to go with Rob Gronkowski. Henry hasn’t been the most durable player in his career, missing 25 of 80 games, but he’s averaged a 57/675/6 slash line per 16 games and is a strong run blocker as well. After being franchise tagged by the Chargers last off-season, Henry figures to be paid as one of the top tight ends in the league this off-season and has been linked to the cap rich Patriots as a free agent, who have struggled to replace Gronkowski over the past two seasons.

30. Arizona Cardinals – CB James Bradberry (Samford)

The Cardinals have been searching for an upgrade opposite Patrick Peterson for years. In the 2016 draft, the Cardinals used a 3rd round pick on cornerback Brandon Williams and were hoping he would develop into an upgrade over players like Jerraud Powers and Justin Bethel, who saw significant action in 2015. Instead, Williams played just 330 career snaps and the Cardinals were forced to turn to Marcus Cooper as their primary #2 cornerback opposite Peterson in 2016. Bradberry would give them the complement to Peterson that they still lack today. He’s not a top flight cornerback, but he held his own one-on-one against some of the best wide receivers in the league in the NFC South in the first 4 seasons of his career with the Panthers, after being selected in the second round, and then had arguably the best season of his career in 2020, finishing 7th among cornerbacks on PFF in his first season with the Giants, after signing a 3-year, 43.5 million dollar deal in free agency last off-season.

31. Carolina Panthers – WR Robby Anderson (Temple)

The 2015 Panthers made the Super Bowl with tight end Greg Olsen as their leading pass catcher and Ted Ginn and Jerricho Cotchery as their leading wide receivers. They got Kelvin Benjamin back from injury in 2016, but he wasn’t with the team much longer after that and the Panthers’ receiving corps remained an issue really throughout Cam Newton’s tenure in Carolina. Things are better in 2020, in part because of the addition of Anderson as a free agent on a 2-year, 20 million dollar deal last off-season. Anderson averaged a solid 52/765/5 slash line in 4 seasons as a #2/#3 receiver with the Jets, despite consistently suspect quarterback play, before breaking out as a borderline #1 option with a 95/1096/3 slash line in his first season in Carolina. In this scenario, the Panthers add him earlier and give Newton a much needed downfield weapon.

32. Seattle Seahawks – DT David Onyemata (Manitoba)

The Seahawks still had the Legion of Boom at this time, but they needed to reload their defensive line, particularly the defensive tackle position. After using this pick on a bust Germain Ifedi, the Seahawks addressed the defensive tackle spot in the second round with Jarran Reed, who has been capable, but unspectacular and has had off-the-field issues. Onyemata isn’t a household name, despite playing for the Saints, but the former 4th round pick has developed into one of the best interior rushers in the league. In total, Onyemata has 16 sacks, 30 hits, and a 8.6% pressure rate over the past 4 seasons as a starter and he’s arguably coming off of his best season in 2020, finishing as PFF’s 9th ranked interior defender on a Saints defense that was one of the best in the league. He’s well-worth the 3-year, 26 million dollar extension he signed with the Saints and could easily sneak into the first round if this was all done over.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Green Bay Packers: 2020 NFC Championship Pick

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (13-5) at Green Bay Packers (14-3)

The Packers led the NFL in points per game this season, but in terms of first down rate over expected, the Packers ranked “just” 4th at +2.48%. The reason I prefer first down rate as a stat is because it treats all snaps the same and minimizes the impact of outlier plays and of teams being good in unsustainable ways. With the Packers, the difference is their ridiculous 78.46% red zone conversion percentage, which not only led the league, but set a record. 

The Packers are always going to be good in the red zone with Aaron Rodgers under center, but the Packers were 10%+ better in the red zone this season than any season in the Aaron Rodgers era and teams that overperform in the red zone tend not to keep that up long-term. Even with their ridiculous red zone conversion percentage, the Packers still scored just 8 more points than the Buffalo Bills, even though the Bills ranked just 12th with a 62.50% red zone conversion percentage, so it’s not as if this was some all-time great offense overall.

The Packers still have a better offense than the Buccaneers, who rank 6th in first down rate over expected at +1.90% and are missing talented wide receiver Antonio Brown with injury, but the Buccaneers have the edge on defense, where they rank 6th in first down rate allowed over expected at -2.48% and, with stud defensive lineman Vita Vea back from injury for the first time since week 5, the Buccaneers’ defense is healthier than it’s been since the beginning of the season, when they were a dominant unit. 

The Packers aren’t bad on defense and are overall the most complete and talented team left in the playoffs, but there isn’t much separating the final four teams this season and the Buccaneers are my second ranked remaining team, so we’re getting good line value with the Buccaneers as 3.5 point underdogs in Green Bay. The Packers will have the benefit of some fans in the stands in this game at home and, in a playoff atmosphere, the Packers could have something resembling normal home field advantage, but they still shouldn’t be any higher than field goal favorites over the Buccaneers in this game. The difference between 3 and 3.5 might not seem like much, but 1 in 6 games are decided by exactly a field goal, so it’s a very significant half point.

This is also the kind of spot where Tom Brady has done well historically. Not only is Brady 32-11 in the post-season (as opposed to 11-8 for Aaron Rodgers), but Brady almost always plays his best in these big games against tough opponents, particularly when his team is doubted and not expected to win. Overall in his career, Brady is 55-26 ATS as an underdog or a favorite of less than 2.5 and he’s 43-11 ATS against teams with a better record than his, including an incredible 41-13 straight up record in those games. As an underdog, Brady is 27-6 ATS in games against teams with a better record than his, pulling the straight up upset in 20 of 29 games. 

Most of that was with Bill Belichick and the Patriots, but the Buccaneers went 3-1 ATS as underdogs and against teams with a better record than theirs this season, including last week’s win in New Orleans and the Buccaneers’ blowout win over the Packers earlier this season. That lopsided result is an outlier and, like the Buccaneers’ blowout loss to the Saints earlier this season, it’s not a guarantee that the Buccaneers will win this game again, but they should at least keep this game close, so I love getting more than a field goal with them. 

I was hesitant to bet the Buccaneers last week in a similar situation in New Orleans last week, but that was primarily because of the Buccaneers’ struggles against the Saints in two games this season and, even still, I would have bet the Buccaneers had they been 3.5-point underdogs like they are this week, rather than the 3-point underdogs they were last season. At +3.5 in Green Bay, I am much more confident in the Buccaneers this week.

Green Bay Packers 24 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 23

Pick against the spread: Tampa Bay +3.5

Confidence: High

Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs: 2020 AFC Championship Pick

Buffalo Bills (15-3) at Kansas City Chiefs (15-2)

The long awaited news has come that Patrick Mahomes will be able to play in this game and be 100%, despite being knocked out of last week’s win with a concussion. The betting public obviously likes that, shooting this line up to Kansas City -3.5, but Mahomes doesn’t solve all of the Chiefs’ problems and the Chiefs are still overpriced for a team that hasn’t covered a spread since week 8, despite winning their last 11 games started by Mahomes. 

Of those 11 wins, their last 8 have all come by 6 points or fewer, including a 5-point win over the Browns last week. The Chiefs were obviously doing better in that game before Mahomes got hurt, but they were up just 9 points as 10-point favorites when Mahomes left and that was despite a missed personal foul penalty that would have nullified a goal line fumble that became a touchback and a turnover rather than a likely Browns touchdown.

The Chiefs still have a great offense, but they haven’t been quite as dominant this season, particularly in the second half of the season, with key right tackle Mitchell Schwartz out due to injury from week 7 on, a big part of the reason why they have been failing to blow teams out in recent weeks. Overall, the Chiefs actually finished 2nd in first down rate expected this year, behind their opponents this week the Buffalo Bills, who also have the edge on the Chiefs in points per game. That is true even if you exclude the Chiefs’ meaningless week 17 loss. 

The Chiefs also have concerns on defense, where they rank 20th in first down rate over expected at +0.88%. The Bills haven’t fared well on that side of the ball either, ranking 22nd at +0.91%, but even with that they’re still ahead of the Chiefs in first down rate differential, ranking 4th at +3.39%, while the Chiefs rank 6th at +2.75%. The Bills also have played a lot better in recent weeks defensively, primarily due to improved health in their linebacking corps, leading to them winning their last 8 games straight by 17 points per game. In fact, excluding a week 10 loss in Arizona on a Hail Mary, the Bills have won 11 straight games and have won by fewer than 6 points just twice, a more impressive streak than the Chiefs’ recent streak because the Bills have blown out most of their opponents. 

The Chiefs will have the benefit of some fans in the stands in this game at home and, in a playoff atmosphere, the Chiefs could have something resembling normal home field advantage, but I have the Bills as the slightly better team and have them calculated as just 1.5-point underdogs, so we’re getting great line value, passing the key number of a field goal at Buffalo +3.5. Even if the Bills can’t pull off the road upset, I like their chances of keeping it close, as 1 in 4 of games are decided by 3 points or fewer (including 1 in 6 by exactly 3) and the Chiefs have won only half of their last 8 games by more than a field goal, with their other margins of victory being 4, 5, 6, and 6. This should be a close game either way, so I love getting more than a field goal with the Bills.

Kansas City Chiefs 34 Buffalo Bills 33

Pick against the spread: Buffalo +3.5

Confidence: High