2021 NFL Mock Draft

Updated: 2/18/21 

For first time readers of this website, the primary feature of this website is my against the spread NFL picks. Mock drafts are just something I do for fun in the off-season and I am not nearly as confident in these mock draft picks as my against the spread picks. My main focus is using my knowledge of pro teams to discuss how players would best fit with teams that are drafting in the range they are currently projected to be drafted in. I also threw in some trades. Teams’ needs will change pretty drastically before draft day due to free agency and trades, so I will make continue to make updates between now and the draft, based on changing prospect rankings and changing team needs, and I will likely expand to multiple rounds at some point. This is version 3.0.

1. Jacksonville Jaguars – QB Trevor Lawrence (Clemson)

Until I hear otherwise, I expect Trevor Lawrence to be a Jacksonville Jaguar. The Jaguars earned this pick by being the worst team in the league last season, losing each of their last 15 games after somehow pulling the week one upset over the playoff qualifying Indianapolis Colts. Trevor Lawrence won’t fix all of the Jaguars’ issues, but they have a stockpile of draft picks and significant cap space to build quickly around Lawrence, who is legitimately one of the safest #1 draft picks in the past three decades. In a division where two of the other three teams have quarterback concerns, the Jaguars could make a big jump in 2021 if they manage their off-season well.

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

The Jets lost the Trevor Lawrence sweepstakes by winning a couple games late in the season and now have a difficult decision to make. They could trade down from this spot and continue trying to build around Sam Darnold, the 2018 3rd overall pick, who is now heading into his 4th season in the league. Or they could trade Darnold and use this pick on his replacement. There is some speculation that the Jets could use this pick to acquire Deshaun Watson, but Watson reportedly is not as interested in going to New York as once thought and could veto a trade to the Jets. 

That leaves the Jets choosing between a new quarterback or keeping Darnold and using this pick to build around him, likely by moving down with a quarterback-needy team. Ultimately, I think the former is more likely. The front office and coaching staff who drafted Darnold are gone and Darnold’s contract situation is much less favorable than a rookie, who would have four remaining cost controlled years, as opposed to one for Darnold. It was close between Zach Wilson and Justin Fields here, but Wilson seems to have pulled ahead according to most sources.

3. Houston Texans (TRADE) – QB Justin Fields (Ohio State)

This is where things get complicated. The Texans are adamantly against moving Deshaun Watson, but may not have a choice in the matter if Watson chooses to really play hardball. On top of that, Watson’s no trade clause allows him to ensure that he has final say in his destination. If the Texans move Watson, they will likely want to make sure they get either a talented young quarterback in exchange or a high draft pick they can use to acquire one, which likely means moving into the top-3 of the draft. 

The Jaguars are unlikely to trade the #1 pick and the Texans wouldn’t want to move Watson within the division either, which leaves the Jets and Dolphins as trade partners. The Jets would make sense if Watson was willing to waive his no trade clause to go there, but recent reports suggest that might not happen. The Dolphins would make some sense, but they seem to be committed to last year’s #5 overall pick Tua Tagovailoa, so, as enticing of a package as the Dolphins could put together for Watson, including two first round picks and either Tagovailoa or the compensation they can get for moving him elsewhere, a trade sending Watson to the Dolphins seems unlikely. 

However, the Dolphins could still be involved in a trade that moves Watson elsewhere. In this scenario, I have Watson going to Las Vegas, with Vegas sending Derek Carr to Chicago, their first round pick (#17) to Miami, and tight end Darren Waller back to Houston. Houston would also get a 2022 first round pick from the Bears, who would also send their 2021 first round pick (#20) to Miami. Miami would also get a 2022 2nd round pick from Houston to make the trade roughly work on the trade value chart, with the Dolphins getting a trio of picks total for the 3rd overall pick.

Waller’s contract is one of the most team friendly veteran deals in the league, the top-3 pick would get the Texans a replacement for Watson, and Houston gets to move up from the 2nd round to the 1st round in 2022 as well. The Bears would be giving up a pair of first round picks to acquire a quarterback they believe will put them over the top. The Raiders are trading a first round pick and a valuable tight end to upgrade at quarterback, but 2019 4th round pick Foster Moreau has shown a lot of promise in two seasons in the league and could take over a bigger role in 2021, and Watson is the kind of quarterback where the price tag may be worth it. For the Dolphins, this trade allows them to move down out of the top-3 in a year when they don’t need a quarterback and can get good value later in the draft and in next year’s draft with the three picks they acquired. If this crazy trade somehow happened, the Texans would target whichever of Justin Fields or Zach Wilson that the Jets don’t take.

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

Here is another trade that I think makes a lot of sense. The Chargers have a massive need at left tackle and need to protect Justin Herbert better long-term and the left tackle class drops off significantly after Sewell. They won’t be able to get him with their current pick at 13 and any left tackle they took there would probably be a reach, so they move up with the Falcons, who would have to reach to address any of their significant needs if they stayed put at 4. The move up would likely cost the Chargers a 2022 1st round pick, but Sewell is so much better than the other left tackle prospects in this draft that it would probably be worth it.

5. Cincinnati Bengals – WR JaMarr Chase (LSU)

The Bengals will be happy if at least 3 quarterbacks go off the board in the top-4 because that will ensure the Bengals will be able to draft either Sewell or their choice of the top wide receiver prospects. Sewell is off the board, but the Bengals won’t mind too much because adding a top flight wide receiver prospect would give Joe Burrow a very impressive young wide receiver trio going forward, along with Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins, with the aging AJ Green likely on his way out as a free agent this off-season. It’s close between JaMarr Chase and DeVonta Smith, but the opportunity to reunite Chase with his college quarterback Joe Burrow would likely be a tiebreaker in this scenario.

6. Philadelphia Eagles – WR DeVonta Smith (Alabama)

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. Veterans Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson can’t be counted on to return and, other than Reagor, none of the wide receivers drafted last season look like potential long-term starters. Either Ja’Marr Chase or DeVonta Smith are too good for the Eagles to pass on if available and it’s likely one of the two will fall to them.

7. Detroit Lions – MLB Micah Parsons (Penn State)

I’ve had a quarterback here in the past, but that seems unlikely with Jared Goff coming to town in the Matt Stafford trade. The Lions reportedly chose Goff over a package that includes the Panthers’ 8th overall pick, so they seem to think more highly of Goff than the quarterbacks that would be available early in this draft, and Goff’s salary basically locks him in as the starter over the next two seasons anyway. Instead, the Lions will likely focus on defense, after being arguably the worst defensive team in the league last season. This isn’t a great defensive draft at the top, but the Lions will have their pick of defensive players in this scenario, with the first six picks all being offensive players. Parsons is likely to be the first defender off the board and would fill a big need as an every down middle linebacker in this 4-3 defense. 

8. Carolina Panthers – QB Trey Lance (North Dakota State)

The Panthers are another team that could address the quarterback position early in the draft, after failing to trade this pick for Matt Stafford. Teddy Bridgewater is owed 39 million over the next two seasons and in his first season as the Panthers’ starter he didn’t prove he was worth that kind of money. Bridgewater has 10 million guaranteed to him for 2021, but the Panthers could restructure a cheaper deal with him and keep him as a bridge quarterback while a rookie develops. A raw, high upside option like Trey Lance would make a lot of sense.

9. Denver Broncos – CB Patrick Surtain (Alabama)

The Broncos’ defense played well in 2020 despite a lot of injuries, but their cornerback group was depleted by the end of the season. Even if AJ Bouye and Bryce Callahan come back healthy, the Broncos need a third cornerback, another outside cornerback to play opposite Bouye, with Callahan on the slot, and it sounds like Bouye is going to end up being a cap casualty anyway. The Broncos are speculated to be interested in drafting a quarterback, but the top-4 are all off the board at this point and, even if they weren’t, I’m not sure they would take one, with Drew Lock still around as a developmental quarterback prospect. They could still take another quarterback with a high pick if they’ve given up on Lock, but I think it’s more likely they pursue veteran competition rather than giving up on Lock. 

10. Miami Dolphins (TRADE) – WR Jaylen Waddle (Alabama)

The Dolphins have had as much draft capital as any team in the league over the past two drafts and they acquired another three draft picks by moving down from the 3rd pick, so now they use some of that draft capital to move back up into the top-10 and address a big need with a premium prospect. The Dolphins really lack a consistent 2nd wide receiver behind DeVante Parker and, by taking Waddle, would be reuniting him with his collegiate quarterback the same way the Bengals did with JaMarr Chase. Waddle would be a prime candidate for the Giants if he was available, so moving up to 10 would make sense for the Dolphins, while the Cowboys, the original owners of this pick, have significant needs on both sides of the ball and would benefit from moving down and accumulating more picks, in this scenario picks 17 and 50, which roughly equals the 10th pick on the trade value chart.

11. New York Giants – TE Kyle Pitts (Florida)

The Giants miss out on Jaylen Waddle, but they still can add to their receiving corps with Kyle Pitts, a tight end who plays like a wide receiver. He may sound similar to Evan Engram, but, despite his ludicrous Pro-Bowl nomination, Engram has been frustratingly inconsistent and, going into the final year of his rookie deal, the Giants could be looking to replace him long-term. In the short-term, the Giants can figure out ways to get both Pitts and Engram on the field at the same time and mask their lack of wide receiver depth.

12. San Francisco 49ers – DE Greg Rousseau (Miami)

The 49ers will be healthier at the edge rusher position in 2021, as at least Nick Bosa should return, but Dee Ford could easily not return, owed a non-guaranteed 16.9 million in 2021 after two injury plagued seasons in San Francisco. Solomon Thomas should also be healthy again, but he’s a free agent this off-season hasn’t shown much in four seasons in the league. The 49ers need a long-term edge rusher opposite Bosa. Arik Armstead played outside out of necessity last season, but the 49ers would like to be able to use him inside more next season. Rousseau would give the 49ers a quartet of first round picks upfront, with Bosa, Armstead, and last year’s first round pick defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw.

13. Atlanta Falcons (TRADE) – C Rashawn Slater (Northwestern)

The Falcons have plenty of needs on defense, but they have offensive needs as well and will likely take the best available player. Slater, who can play all 5 positions upfront, is a potential top-10 pick and would fill a big need on the interior of the Falcons’ offensive line. Center Alex Mack is about to be a free agent and left guard James Carpenter will likely be a cap casualty, owed a non-guaranteed 5.55 million for his age 32 season in 2021, after a dismal 2020. Matt Hennessy, a 2020 3rd round pick, can take over as the starter at one of those two spots, but they’ll need a second starter. Slater can step in immediately at either spot.

14. Minnesota Vikings – DT Christian Barmore (Alabama)

The Vikings’ defense was absolutely horrible down the stretch in 2020 and, while a lot of that was due to injuries, especially linebackers Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks, the Vikings still have obvious needs on that side of the ball, especially on the defensive line. Barmore is probably a better value at this point than any edge rusher and he’d fill a massive need at defensive tackle, where the Vikings had one of the league’s worst groups last season after off-season acquisition Michael Pierce opted out. If Pierce returns, he and Barmore would improve this group significantly.

15. New England Patriots – QB Mac Jones (Alabama)

I’ve expected the Patriots to get a veteran quarterback in the past, with an aging Bill Belichick wanting to win now, but with Matt Stafford and Jared Goff off the market and the Patriots seemingly not interested in the asking price for Carson Wentz and Deshaun Watson, their veteran options are dwindling. Jimmy Garropolo would still make a lot of sense, but with other teams needing quarterbacks, he is not a guarantee to return to Foxborough, nor is he a guarantee to even be moved, with the 49ers not guaranteed to find an upgrade. That would leave the Patriots in the Marcus Mariota/Ryan Fitzpatrick/Jacoby Brissett/Andy Dalton/Cam Newton tier of quarterback options, in which case the Patriots would likely also draft a quarterback as a long-term option. Mac Jones would make a lot of sense at 15. 

16. Arizona Cardinals – G Wyatt Davis (Ohio State)

The Cardinals have improved their offensive line a lot in the past two seasons since hiring Kliff Kingsbury, but they could still use an upgrade at right guard, where underwhelming starter JR Sweezy is set to hit free agency this off-season, ahead of his age 32 season. The Cardinals could upgrade on him in a big way with the draft class’ top guard prospect, which would have a big impact on this running game and this offense as a whole. 

17. Dallas Cowboys (TRADE) – CB Caleb Farley (Virginia Tech)

After trading down, the Cowboys take the best available defensive player and address a big need at cornerback. Byron Jones left as a free agent last off-season and Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis could follow him as free agents this off-season. Both players regressed in 2020 anyway, so the Cowboys may want to move on. If they do, they’ll likely have to address this position in the draft because they don’t have the financial flexibility to make a big addition in free agency.

18. Miami Dolphins – OT Christian Darrisaw (Virginia Tech)

The Dolphins used a first round pick on Austin Jackson last year and had several rookie starters on the offensive line, but overall this group was part of the problem for this underwhelming Dolphins offense. Darrisaw can play either left tackle or right tackle for the Dolphins, allowing them to either move Jackson or 2020 2nd round pick Robert Hunt inside to guard long-term. The Dolphins need to continue investing in protecting Tua Tagovailoa long-term.

19. Washington Football Team – WR Rashod Bateman (Minnesota)

Washington misses out on the first round quarterbacks, but they can still find an upgrade for their offense, which was clearly Washington’s worst unit last season. They really lack a consistent #2 option behind Terry McLaurin and could use this pick to get an upgrade for whoever their quarterback ends up being. If Bateman pans out, he and McLaurin could be a dominant duo for years to come.

20. Miami Dolphins (TRADE) – MLB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (Notre Dame)

The Dolphins lack a good three down linebacker, so they could address this position with their second pick in the first round. Jerome Baker, Elandon Roberts, and Kamu Grugier-Hill saw the majority of the linebacker snaps in 2020 with hybrid player Kyle Van Noy also in the mix, but Van Noy plays a lot of edge defender snaps as well and Baker, Roberts, and Grugier-Hill could all be upgraded. Owusu-Koramoah is one of the best every down linebacker prospects in this draft and could play close to 100% of the snaps even as a rookie.

21. Philadelphia Eagles (TRADE) – CB Jaycee Horn (South Carolina)

The Eagles are reportedly trying to trade Carson Wentz, to acquire another high draft pick and to clear space for 2020 2nd round pick Jalen Hurts to be the starter long-term. The two teams most interested in Wentz are reportedly the Bears, who have Wentz’ former quarterbacks coach and a big need at the position, and the Colts, who have Wentz’ former offensive coordinator and a big need at the position as well. Right now, neither team is willing to give the Eagles the first round pick they’re asking for, but it’s still likely something gets worked out before draft day.

I have the Bears shooting higher and acquiring Derek Carr, so the Colts would then be the most likely suitor for Wentz. The Colts’ reportedly currently have the best offer on the table, a pair of second round picks, but the Eagles are insistent on receiving a first round pick. Perhaps the Colts and Eagles could come to a more creative agreement that gets the Eagles a first round pick without the Colts having to drastically increase their current offer. 

The Colts don’t have two second round picks this year, so we can assume the two second round picks they offered were this year’s (#54) and next year’s. A future pick typically is worth a round less than a current pick, so for comparison sake let’s say the Colts’ 2022 2nd round pick is worth the equivalent of the 80th overall pick this year. Combining that with pick #54, the Colts current offer is worth the equivalent of the 35th overall pick.

A comparable offer would send the Eagles the 21st overall pick for Wentz and the Eagles’ 3rd round pick, 70th overall. The difference between picks 21 and 70 is also equivalent to the 35th overall pick, so this is comparable value to the Colts’ current offer and gets the Eagles back into the first round, where they take a much needed complement to Darius Slay at the cornerback position. (Note: Of course, the day I publish this Wentz gets sent to Indianapolis, but this pick isn’t involved). 

22. Tennessee Titans – OLB Zaven Collins (Tulsa)

Edge defender (outside linebacker in the Titans 3-4 scheme) was a huge position of need for the Titans last off-season. They thought they solved the issue in the short-term with Vic Beasley and Jadeveon Clowney being added on one-year deals, but neither amounted to anything and the Titans’ pass rush was an obvious weakness on a team that was Super Bowl caliber on offense. The Titans could address the need with a long-term option early in the draft this year, giving them a long-term complement on the edge opposite Harold Landry.

23. New York Jets – RB Travis Eitienne (Clemson)

Teams that use a first round pick on a quarterback typically use their next pick on another offensive player and I wouldn’t expect anything different from the Jets, who are much worse on the offensive side of the ball than the defensive side. The Jets really could address any position group on offense, but Eitienne is arguably the best available player and would fill a big need for the Jets, after the Le’Veon Bell signing went about as badly as it could have. With Bell getting cut early in the year, the Jets were led in carries by Frank Gore, who is not a long-term option even if he does return for his age 38 season in 2021. Assuming the Jets move on and go in a younger direction, they’ll have options early in the draft. Eitienne could step into a feature back role immediately as a rookie.

24. Pittsburgh Steelers – G Alijah Vera-Tucker (USC)

The Steelers’ offensive line was a big part of the problem for this offense in 2020. They didn’t give up many sacks, but that was more of a feature of the Steelers throwing so many quick short passes, and their run blocking was terrible. This team is used to having a strong offensive line and have had arguably the most consistent offensive line in the league over the past half decade, but left guard Ramon Foster retired last off-season ahead of what would have been his age 34 season in 2020, which was a big part of the problem last season, and now center Maurkice Pouncey is following him, ahead of what would have been his age 32 season in 2021. Left tackle Alejandro Villanueva and right guard David DeCastro are still around, but they aren’t getting any younger either, going into their age 33 season and age 31 season respectively and Villanueva is a free agent this off-season. Vera-Tucker is a versatile offensive lineman who could start at tackle or guard for this team. 

25. Jacksonville Jaguars – S Trevon Moehrig (TCU)

Normally teams that draft a quarterback with a first round pick use their next pick on a complementary offensive player, but the Jaguars could buck the trend because they have more needs on defense than offense. The Jaguars’ defense should be better by default in 2021 because they should be healthier, but they still need to add a playmaker at the safety position. Jarrod Wilson is a capable if unspectacular starter, but they could use a higher upside option next to him. 

26. Cleveland Browns – DE Kwity Paye (Michigan)

Olivier Vernon tore his achilles, which was a huge blow to the Browns’ chances in the post-season. Vernon was a free agent anyway, but his injury makes it even more likely the Browns go elsewhere at the defensive end position opposite Myles Garrett this off-season. Using a high draft pick on an edge rusher would make a lot of sense for a team that lacked depth at the position even before the Vernon injury.

27. Baltimore Ravens – G Alex Leatherwood (Alabama)

The Ravens’ offense was not the same this season as they were in their dominant 2019 season, in part because they didn’t catch teams off guard as much with their unique offense, but also in part because they were missing key offensive linemen. Left tackle Ronnie Stanley should be back healthy next season, but they still need a replacement for right guard Marshal Yanda, who retired after the 2019 season, when he was one of the best guards in the NFL. Leatherwood has questions about his ability to play outside at the next level, but could easily move inside and be an above average guard.

28. New Orleans Saints – S Jevon Holland (Oregon)

Along with losing quarterback Drew Brees, the Saints figure to also part ways with several other veterans, as they simply don’t have the cap space to keep all their high priced players, let alone retain their free agents. The Saints will likely look to the draft for replacements. Safety Marcus Williams is one of the top players in the league at his position, but he figures to get paid as such as a free agent this off-season, pricing him out of the Saints budget. The Saints could use their first round pick on a long-term replacement. Holland could start on day one and would be a big addition for a team whose top safety would be an aging and declining Malcolm Jenkins (age 34 in 2021) if Williams isn’t brought back.

29. Green Bay Packers – WR Kadarius Toney (Florida)

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 this 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, so perhaps the Packers will learn from their mistake. I have given the Packers a middle linebacker here in the past, but it might be more likely that the Packers finally get Rodgers a first round wide receiver to keep him happy, after yet another dominant season ended with an NFC Championship loss.

30. Buffalo Bills – DE Carlos Basham (Wake Forest)

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 – DE Jaelan Phillips (Miami)

The Chiefs’ biggest weakness is probably their edge rush opposite Frank Clark, as no other edge rusher had more than 3 sacks and the Chiefs had a below average 32 sacks as a team, despite playing with frequent leads. They could address this position in the draft at the end of the first round. Basham could easily be an immediate upgrade over players like Alex Okafor, Tanoh Kpsaagnon, and Michael Danna.

32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – RB Najee Davis (Alabama)

Leonard Fournette was added as a complement for Ronald Jones, but he’s only on a one-year deal and could be upgraded. Ronald Jones is a capable lead back, but the Buccaneers are all in for a Super Bowl repeat with an age 44 Tom Brady in the final year of his contract in 2021 and adding a feature back prospect like Davis is the most impactful short-term move the Buccaneers can make at this point. Similar to Clyde Edwards-Helaire with Le’Veon Bell on the Chiefs this season, Etienne could be the lead back, with Ronald Jones rotating in as a strong 2nd option.

33. Jacksonville Jaguars – DT Levi Onwuzurike (Washington)

You can really pick any position on the Jaguars’ defense and they need help there, but, after adding safety in the first round, defensive tackle stands out as their biggest need. Veterans Abry Jones and Adam Gotsis are both free agents, while 2018 1st round pick Taven Bryan and 2020 3rd round pick Davon Hamilton have yet to show much. There is opportunity for a rookie to play a lot at the defensive tackle position.

34. New York Jets – WR Rondale Moore (Purdue)

The Jets continue to add to their offense. Injuries were part of the problem for the Jets in the receiving corps last season as their top-3 wide receivers all missed significant time at one point or another. Jamison Crowder and Denzel Mims are expected back healthy in 2021, but the Breshad Perriman experiment seems to be over after one year, so the Jets need a third receiver, preferably one with a lot of upside long-term. If they don’t address this position in free agency, expect them to do so in the draft.

35. Atlanta Falcons – OLB Azeez Ojulari (Georgia)

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 and they don’t have the financial flexibility for another big free agent signing at the position. If they don’t address this need in the first round, they’ll have to do it very soon after.

36. Miami Dolphins – RB Javonte Williams (North Carolina)

I expected the Dolphins to address the running back position in last year’s draft, but they opted to add a pair of veterans in Jordan Howard and Matt Breida instead. That didn’t work out and the Dolphins were down to starting backup caliber running backs by the end of the season. It’s likely they’ll use a high pick on the position early in this year’s draft, especially if they trade down and accumulate additional draft picks. Myles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed aren’t terrible running backs, but Williams would have a big role in this backfield immediately.

37. Philadelphia Eagles – MLB Dylan Moses (Alabama)

The Eagles have had problems in their linebacking corps for years and would really benefit from adding a three down linebacker prospect early in the draft. Duke Riley and Nathan Gerry are underwhelming players who are free agents this off-season, so Moses can step in and have a big role right away.

38. Cincinnati Bengals – OT Jalen Mayfield (Michigan)

The Bengals’ addressed their need in the receiving corps in the first round and now need to find upgrades on their offensive line. Outside of left tackle Jonah Williams, every spot on this offensive line needs an upgrade and, unless they find multiple upgrades in free agency, their offensive line will have to be a draft day priority for the Bengals. Jalen Mayfield could be a plug and play starter at right tackle right away for this team. 

39. Carolina Panthers – G Trey Smith (Tennessee)

The Panthers had a solid offensive line last season, but four of their five starters are free agents this off-season, so they will likely have to address this group early in the draft. Trey Smith is arguably the best offensive lineman available and could easily be a plug and play starter for this team at either guard spot, where veterans Michael Schofield and John Miller are both free agents.

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

The Jets get this pick in a trade with the Broncos that sends Sam Darnold to Denver. Darnold won’t be needed in New York anymore with Zach Wilson being added with the 2nd overall pick and the Broncos, who were known to have Darnold atop their draft board in 2018 and still have a massive need at the position, seem like an obvious fit as a trade partner. Darnold’s career has not gotten off to a good start, but he’s still not even 24 years old and has not been in a good situation with the Jets. He could definitely still develop into a franchise quarterback in the right situation.

There figure to be several teams that were high on Darnold in 2018 that are willing to pay a decently high price to try to take their shot at developing him, so the Jets are expected to be able to get close to a first round pick’s worth of value for him, in this case Denver’s 40th overall pick. In Denver, he would be competition for and hopefully an upgrade over Drew Lock. The Jets, meanwhile, get much needed help at the edge rush position, their biggest defensive weakness, after using their first three picks addressing big needs on offense. 

41. Detroit Lions – WR Terrance Marshall (LSU)

Defense is obviously a bigger priority, but the Lions’ top-3 wide receivers Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones, and Danny Amendola are all free agents this off-season, so it’s likely that they’ll have to find new weapons for Jared Goff on draft day. Depending on what happens in free agency, Marshall could be the Lions’ long-term #1 wide receiver.

42. New York Giants – OLB Joe Tryon (Washington)

Leonard Williams was the only Giants player with more than 4 sacks last season and he’s a free agent this off-season. Even if he’s retained, he rushes the passer from the interior more often than not, so the Giants would still have their long standing need for an edge rusher regardless of what happens with Williams. Barring a big free agent signing, the Giants will have to address this need early on draft day.

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

The 49ers’ top four cornerbacks from 2020, Richard Sherman, Jason Verrett, Ahkello Witherspoon, and K’Waun Williams, are all free agents this off-season, so the 49ers will likely be addressing this position at some point on draft day. Depending on what happens in free agency, Stokes could end up as a starter for the 49ers as a rookie.

44. Dallas Cowboys – DE Patrick Jones (Pittsburgh)

The Cowboys continue to add to their defense. Aldon Smith and Randy Gregory stayed out of trouble in 2020 and performed well in rotation with DeMarcus Lawrence, but Smith is a free agent going into his age 32 season and neither player is particularly reliable, so the Cowboys could easily add to the position through the draft.

45. Jacksonville Jaguars – CB Asante Samuel (Florida State)

More defensive help for the Jaguars. DJ Hayden is a free agent this off-season, after a disappointing injury plagued 2020 season, and the Jaguars need at least one more, probably two more young cornerbacks to go with last year’s first round pick CJ Henderson.

46. New England Patriots – TE Pat Freiermuth (Penn State)

The Patriots will almost definitely address their receiving corps in free agency because they have among the most cap space in the league and among the worst receiving corps in the league. Still, they could need to add more talent in the draft, especially if they aren’t able to find a good tight end in free agency. Freiermuth is one of the top tight ends in this draft class and could play a big role as a rookie.

47. Los Angeles Chargers – C Creed Humphrey (Oklahoma)

The Chargers added a left tackle in the first round, but they need to keep improving Justin Herbert’s protection. The interior of the Chargers’ offensive line is a problem as well, especially with center Mike Pouncey retiring. Humphrey could be his replacement and has the size and versatility to play guard as well.

48. Las Vegas Raiders – CB Shaun Wade (Ohio State)

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. The Raiders have the need for another long-term starter and if everything goes well Wade and Arnette could form a talented duo for years to come.

49. Arizona Cardinals – CB Aaron Robinson (UCF)

Byron Murphy, a second round pick in 2019, looks like a long-term starter for the Cardinals, but long-time Cardinal Patrick Peterson is a declining player who is a free agent ahead of his age 31 season this off-season and, even if he’s retained, they’ll still need a long-term replacement for him and a third cornerback to play with Murphy and Peterson in the meantime.

50. Dallas Cowboys (TRADE) – OLB Nick Bolton (Missouri)

Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith were once one of the top linebacker duos in the NFL, but they’ve struggled in recent years. Veteran Sean Lee is also a free agent ahead of his age 35 season and looked done last year, so depth is needed at the position even if Smith and Vander Esch bounce back long-term.

51. Washington Football Team – QB Kyle Trask (Florida)

The Alex Smith comeback story has been amazing, but he’ll need to make a decision on continuing his career in his age 37 season in 2021 and, even if he wants to return, Washington will have to make a decision on bringing him back at his currently scheduled 19 million salary, none of which is guaranteed. Even if he is brought back, he’s not a long-term option, so Washington will likely add another quarterback to the mix to compete with Kyle Allen, Taylor Heinicke, and possibly Smith.

52. Chicago Bears – WR Amon-Ra St. Brown (USC)

The Bears hope to bring back Allen Robinson as a free agent this off-season, but, 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. St. Brown 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 – DE Daviyon Nixon (Iowa)

The Titans addressed their edge rush in the first round, but the interior is a concern for the Titans as well. Aside from Jeffrey Simmons, the cupboard is pretty bare on this 3-man defensive line in the Titans 3-4 defense, especially with DaQuan Jones and Jack Crawford set to hit free agency. Nixon could have a big role as a rookie, depending on how free agency goes.

54. Indianapolis Colts – OT Samuel Cosmi (Texas)

The Colts have had the best offensive line in the league in recent years and it’s the result of having the same five above average starters together for the past three seasons. However, left tackle Anthony Castonzo has retired, leaving a big hole at left tackle. Unless they address this position in free agency, the Colts will have to find a replacement for Castonzo early in the draft. 

55. Pittsburgh Steelers – RB Chubba Hubbard (Oklahoma State)

Lead back James Conner is a free agent for the Steelers this off-season and backups Benny Snell and Anthony McFarland averaged 3.32 yards per carry and 3.42 yards per carry respectively in 2020. Conner could be brought back, but the Steelers may have their sights on an upgrade at the position long-term. Hubbard would be cheaper and likely 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.

56. Seattle Seahawks – CB Tyson Campbell (Georgia)

Shaq Griffin and Quinton Dunbar were the Seahawks’ starting cornerbacks when healthy last season, but both missed significant time with injury and now they’re free agents. If the Seahawks have to replace them, Tyson Campbell is a day two prospect with the size they look for at the position.

57. Los Angeles Rams – MLB Jabril Cox (LSU)

The Rams don’t have a first round pick and aren’t scheduled to have one until 2024, so they’ll have to make all their picks count and they will likely try to move down and accumulate more picks like they normally do. If they stay put, addressing a big need at inside linebacker would make sense.

58. Baltimore Ravens – WR Elijah Moore (Mississippi)

The Ravens need reliable wide receivers behind Marquise Brown, especially with Willie Snead set to hit free agency. Moore would give them more upside long-term than Snead and a long-term #2 behind Brown.

59. Cleveland Browns – CB Greg Newsome (Northwestern)

The Browns used a second round pick on cornerback Greedy Williams in 2019, but he’s missed 20 of 32 career games, including all of 2020, which forced the Browns to rely on underwhelming veterans Terrance Mitchell and Kevin Johnson, who are both free agents. Even if Williams is able to return healthy in 2021, the Browns need a third cornerback long-term with him and Denzel Ward.

60. New Orleans Saints – WR Tutu Atwell (Louisville)

The Saints were without Michael Thomas for most of 2020 and didn’t have a young wide receiver step up in his absence, instead relying on Emmanuel Sanders, who will be in an age 34 contract season in 2021. The Saints could use a high draft pick and a long-term complement for Thomas, something they really lack right now. In the short-term, Atwell would be an upgrade as the #3 receiver behind Thomas and Sanders.

61. Buffalo Bills – OT Teven Jenkins (Oklahoma State)

The Bills got great play out of reclamation project Daryl Williams at right tackle, but he’s a free agent this off-season and could easily go elsewhere, as could swing tackle Ty Nsekhe, who would be in his age 36 season if he returned. The Bills could use a high pick on a right tackle who would allow Cody Ford to remain at guard long-term. 

62. Green Bay Packers – MLB Chazz Surratt (North Carolina)

I mentioned in the first round that wide receiver and middle linebacker are glaring needs for the Packers. They added a wide receiver in the first round and now are lucky enough to have a good three down linebacker prospect available at the end of the second round. Surratt could play a big role, even as a rookie, in this thin position group.

63. Kansas City Chiefs – G Landon Dickerson (Alabama)

In case you didn’t watch the Super Bowl, the Chiefs’ offensive line is their offense’s achilles heel. They’ll be healthier next season, but tackles Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz are both long-term question marks because of their injuries and guard Kelechi Osemele is a free agent this off-season and might not be back even if he is healthy. Dickerson is a versatile lineman who will likely settle in as a starting guard for this team.

64. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – OLB Quincy Roche (Miami)

Shaq Barrett is one of several free agents the Buccaneers have hitting the market this off-season and, if he’s not retained, the Bucs are pretty thin at the position behind him, so they could look to the draft for a replacement. 

65. Jacksonville Jaguars – WR Tylan Wallace (Oklahoma State)

After focusing on defense with their last few picks, the Jaguars get Trevor Lawrence a new wide receiver here in the third round. DJ Chark and Laviska Shenault are both locked in as starters for 2021, but Chris Conley, Keelan Cole, and Dede Westbrook are all free agents this off-season and the Jaguars could add more depth through the draft if they don’t make additions in free agency.

66. New York Jets – MLB Jamin Davis (Kentucky)

The Jets have a bunch of free agent middle linebackers this off-season and they could use an upgrade anyway. CJ Mosley is expected back after opting out this season, but the Jets will need at least one more player at the position.

67. Houston Texans – DT Jay Tufele (USC)

Beyond the Deshaun Watson problem that the Texans have, they also lack their own first and second round pick and could use help basically at every position on defense. In this mock draft, I have the Texans acquiring the 3rd pick in the Deshaun Watson trade, but they’ll have to use that on his replacement and leave defense for later. Tufele could have an immediate impact on a thin defensive line that will be even thinner next season without JJ Watt.

68. Atlanta Falcons – RB Trey Sermon (Ohio State)

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. With Gurley now a free agent again, the Falcons will need to find another back to go with Smith and Hill. Even with as many defensive needs as they have, expect the Falcons to focus on the running back position early in the draft.

69. Cincinnati Bengals – G Josh Myers (Ohio State)

Unless they add multiple upgrades in free agency on the offensive line, the Bengals will need to find multiple starters in the draft. Even as a third round rookie, Myers could still compete for a starting job upfront for the Bengals.

70. Indianapolis Colts (TRADE) – DT Jaylen Twyman (Pittsburgh)

Denico Autry and Justin Houston were starters at defensive tackle and defensive end respectively last season, but they’re both free agents this off-season, ahead of their age 31 and age 32 seasons respectively. Twyman could be a replacement for Autry.

71. Denver Broncos – S Andre Cisco (Syracuse)

Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson are one of the best safety duos in the league, but the former is a free agent and the latter is going into his age 33 season, so, even if Simmons returns on a long-term deal, adding a safety in the draft would still make sense.

72. Detroit Lions – OT Liam Eichenberg (Notre Dame)

Right tackle Tyrell Crosby wasn’t terrible last season in the first extended starting action of his career, but the Lions could still add competition for him and need depth across the line as well. Eichenberg is a good value at this point in the draft.

73. Carolina Panthers – TE Brevin Jordan (Miami)

The Panthers had a talented trio of receivers last season with DJ Moore, Robby Anderson, and Curtis Samuel, but they didn’t get much from the tight end spot. That wasn’t a huge deal because of their top-3 receivers, but Samuel is a free agent this off-season, which would put more emphasis on their tight end group.

74. Washington Football Team – OT Walker Little (Stanford)

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

75. Dallas Cowboys – S Hamsah Nasirildeen (Florida State)

The Cowboys have been looking for an upgrade at safety for years and the position was a big problem last season, with Darian Thompson and Donovan Wilson both struggling as starters opposite Xavier Woods. Woods is a good safety, but he’s a free agent this off-season, so the Cowboys could need not just one, but two upgrades at safety this off-season.

76. New York Giants – CB Elijah Molden (Washington)

The Giants seem to have found a keeper with free agent signing James Bradberry, but they need to find consistent options behind him on the depth chart.

77. Los Angeles Chargers – WR Nico Collins (Michigan)

The Chargers could use more depth at the wide receiver position behind Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, the latter of whom is going into the final year of his contract in 2021.

78. Minnesota Vikings – DE Dayo Odeyingbo (Vanderbilt)

The Vikings added a defensive tackle in the first round, but they need to add a defensive end as well, as they had one of the thinnest defensive lines in the league last season. Their edge rush should be better with Danielle Hunter back healthy next season, but they’ll need help opposite him.

79. Arizona Cardinals – WR Seth Williams (Auburn)

The Cardinals run a lot of 3 and 4 wide receiver sets so head coach Kliff Kingsbury can’t be satisfied with his wide receiver depth, especially if Larry Fitzgerald retires this off-season. Andy Isabella, a 2nd round pick in 2019, hasn’t developed at all, so the Cardinals need a long-term #3 receiver behind DeAndre Hopkins and Christian Kirk.

80. Las Vegas Raiders – OT Jackson Carman (Clemson)

Trent Brown has had a lot of trouble staying healthy in two seasons since signing with the Raiders and even if the Raiders don’t move on from him this off-season to save 14 million in cash and cap space, the Raiders still should add depth at the position.

81. Miami Dolphins – WR Tamorrion Terry (Florida State)

The Dolphins are so thin at wide receiver that they could double up at the position in the draft, especially if they trade down and accumulate extra picks.

82. Washington Football Team – DE Rashad Weaver (Pittsburgh)

Chase Young and Montez Sweat are obviously a dominant edge rush duo and, given how young they are, they figure to be one for a long time if they can stay healthy and if Washington can keep them together. However, backups Ryan Anderson and Ryan Kerrigan are free agents and are likely to leave in search of more playing time, so Washington will need to replenish depth.

83. Chicago Bears – OT James Hudson (Cincinnati)

The Bears have free agent backups at the offensive tackle position and could use a young development player, with left tackle Charles Leno and right tackle Bobby Massie heading into their age 30 and age 32 seasons respectively.

84. Indianapolis Colts – MLB Baron Browning (Ohio State)

The Colts don’t have a consistent linebacker behind Darius Leonard, whose absence is very noticeable when he misses time. Inside linebacker Anthony Walker is a free agent this off-season, so the Colts should be looking for a replacement and potential upgrade.

85. Tennessee Titans – WR Marquez Stevenson (Houston)

The Titans are unlikely to pay up to keep Corey Davis as their #2 wide receiver and slot receiver Adam Humphries’ future is in doubt due to concussions, so the Titans need to add depth behind top wide receiver AJ Brown.

86. New York Jets – CB Paulson Adebo (Stanford)

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 he’ll be a free agent this off-season.

87. Pittsburgh Steelers – TE Hunter Long (Boston College)

Vance McDonald is retiring, leaving the Steelers thin at the tight end position behind Eric Ebron, a possible could be a cap casualty for the cap strapped Steelers, who would save 6 million on the cap by moving on from him.

88. Detroit Lions – DE Hamilcar Rashed (Oregon State)

The Lions need to add talent pretty much at every position on defense, but defensive end is especially a need. The Lions’ 24 sacks were the 7th fewest in the league last season and Romeo Okwara, who led the team by far with 10, is set to hit free agency this off-season. Trey Flowers should be back healthy next season, but they need help opposite him.

89. Cleveland Browns – WR Ihmir Smith-Marsette (Iowa)

The Browns may not pay to keep Rashard Higgins as the third receiver behind Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry, so he could easily sign elsewhere this off-season. If that happens, it would make sense for the Browns look to the mid rounds of the draft to replenish depth at the position.

90. Minnesota Vikings – OT Dillon Radunz (North Dakota State)

The Vikings need to continue adding to their offensive line. Radunz could develop into a long-term replacement for Riley Reiff, who will be in his age 33 contract year in 2021.

91. Cleveland Browns – DT Marlon Tuipulotu (USC)

The Browns may not retain Larry Ogunjobi in free agency, so they could use a mid round pick to replenish depth at the position.

92. Green Bay Packers – CB Kary Vincent (LSU)

Kevin King was last seen getting torched in the NFC Championship game and, while he hasn’t always been that bad, he’s a free agent who could be upgraded this off-season. The Packers have some internal options, but at least need to depth at the position.

93. Buffalo Bills – CB Israel Mukuamu (South Carolina)

Josh Norman is a free agent going into his age 34 season this off-season, so the Bills could use some young depth at the position.

94. Kansas City Chiefs – MLB Monty Rice (Georgia)

The Chiefs’ linebacking corps have been their biggest weakness in recent years. They’ll likely use another draft pick to try to upgrade this group this off-season.

95. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – DT Marvin Wilson (Florida State)

The Buccaneers have two free agents on the interior of their defensive line, Ndamukong Suh and Steve McLendon, and, even if they’re retained, they are going into their age 34 and age 35 seasons respectively, so the Buccaneers could use young depth at the position.

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

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints: 2020 NFC Divisional Round Pick

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (12-5) at New Orleans Saints (13-4)

This was the toughest call of the week for me and the only one of the four games I didn’t lock in with a bet earlier this week. There is a lot of history that suggests Tom Brady and the Buccaneers should have the edge over Drew Brees and the Saints. Not only does Brady have the obvious edge in post-season success, 31-11 with 9 Super Bowl appearances vs. 9-8 with 1 appearance, 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 54-26 ATS as an underdog or a favorite of less than 2.5 and he’s 42-11 ATS against teams with a better record than his, including an incredible 40-13 straight up record in those games. As an underdog, Brady is 22-6 ATS in games against teams with a better record than his, pulling the straight up upset in 19 of 28 games. Most of that was with Bill Belichick and the Patriots, but the Buccaneers did go 2-1 ATS as underdogs this year.

That one loss was week 1 against the Saints in New Orleans, when the Saints won 34-23 as 3.5-point favorites, but that was the Buccaneers’ first game of the season and they actually won the first down rate battle by +6.31%, with the Saints largely winning because of a +3 turnover margin and a return touchdown, which is not predictive week-to-week. The Saints beat the Buccaneers more convincingly week 9, winning the game 38-3 and the first down rate battle by +9.96%, but that game looks like an outlier for two teams that were largely equal this season overall, with the Saints ranking 2nd in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at +4.59% and the Buccaneers ranking 3rd at +4.45%. 

All that being said, we’re not getting the line value needed to bet the Buccaneers confidently, especially with Tom Brady now being 43 and away from New England, facing off with a team that has played him well this season. The Buccaneers are only field goal underdogs, which is exactly where I have them calculated, with the Saints having slight homefield advantage with some fans in the stands and having a slight edge on the field as well. Even though these two teams were about even this season, the Saints did that at much less than 100% throughout due to injury. 

Brees (4 games missed), feature back Alvin Kamara (1 game), top wide receiver Michael Thomas (9 games), stud left tackle Terron Armstead (2 games), talented defensive linemen Marcus Davenport (5 games), Trey Hendrickson (1 game), and David Onyemata (1 game), stud safety Marcus Williams (2 games), and starting cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins (3 games) and Marshon Lattimore (2 games), among other minor players, all missed time with injury this season and are expected to play this week. 

The Saints entered the season atop my roster rankings and are only slightly behind the Packers right now, ahead about 1.5 points ahead of the Buccaneers. I’m taking the Buccaneers for pick ‘em purposes purely because of Brady’s history in these kinds of games, but I wouldn’t bet them at this number. If the line moves off of 3, I would reconsider, as a field goal Saints win is probably the most likely outcome of this game, but this is a low confidence pick for now.

New Orleans Saints 27 Tampa Bay Buccaneers 26

Pick against the spread: Tampa Bay +3

Confidence: Low