Which stats are most predictable and predictive?

Throughout my season previews and my picks during the season, I refer to certain statistics as being either predictive, predictable, or not. I wanted to discuss what I mean by that and put all my supporting statistical evidence in one place. First, let’s define some terms.

Predictability is probably the easiest term to understand. A statistic is predictable if it can be easily predicted from one year to the next. This is measured by calculating the correlation between a team’s performance in a specific statistic in a specific season with its performance in that same statistic the following season.

Essentially, the higher the correlation the easier it is to predict how a team will perform in a certain statistic based solely on how they performed the season before. This is important because if a statistic can’t be reasonably predicted on a year-to-year basis, it doesn’t provide us much predictive value.

That leads into the second term, predictiveness. A statistic is predictive if it can be used to predict a team’s likelihood for winning. I am going to measure two types of winning percentage predictiveness, one measuring same-season win predictiveness and one measuring next season’s win predictiveness. 

Same-season win predictiveness is measuring the correlation between a certain statistic and a team’s winning percentage in the same season. For example, as a team averages more yards per play, their likelihood of winning goes up, but not at a perfect 1:1 rate and likely not at the exact same rate as other statistics, which have their own statistical relationship with winning percentage. Measuring correlation allows us to see which statistics most closely vary with winning percentage. 

That being said, while same-season win predictiveness is definitely worth taking into account, it’s not a particularly useful stat for handicapping purposes because it only works with data from games that have already happened. Once I know how many yards a team gained in a game, I can give you a pretty good guess as to whether or not they won the game, but that isn’t all that useful.

Next season’s win predictiveness is really what we want because we want to be able to take last year’s statistics and use them to most effectively predict future winning. Rather than just measuring the correlation between a statistic and the same season’s winning percentage, we also want to measure the correlation between a statistic and the next season’s winning percentage to see how closely those variables relate.

If this isn’t making sense yet, hopefully it will when I get into some examples. Let’s start with a common one, turnover margin. All statistics included in this post are over a sample size of the past 10 seasons (2011-2020).

StatisticYear to YearWinning %Next Year Winning %
TO Margin11.26%69.67%23.73%

We all know intuitively that winning the turnover margin has a significant impact on winning, but this puts it into context. A team’s turnover margin correlates with same-season winning at close to a 70% rate. However, while it is predictive of same-season winning, it is highly unpredictable year-to-year, with a correlation of just about 11% year-to-year, meaning from a statistical standpoint, a team’s turnover margin almost might as well be random year-to-year. 

As a result, while turnover margin is predictive of same-season winning, it really isn’t predictive of next year’s winning percentage. I will break this down further later, but I wanted to use this as an example right off the bat.

Another good example is winning percentage itself.

StatisticYear to YearWinning %Next Year Winning %
Win %25.31%100.00%25.31%

Winning percentage correlation is obviously going to be 100% because we are correlating a statistic with itself within the same season, but on a year-to-year basis, winning percentage only correlates with itself at about a 25% rate, meaning winning percentage can’t be used to accurately predict itself on a year-to-year basis. 

It’s well-known the NFL is a parity league that is highly unpredictable every season, but this just puts into context how unpredictable and how tough it is to handicap a team’s future success. Fortunately, there are statistics that are significantly more predictive of future winning percentage than winning percentage itself.

Let’s start with one I’ve already mentioned, yards per play. The below chart breaks out yards per play, yards per play allowed, and yards per play differential. Note: any “allowed” statistics will have a negative correlation with winning percentage because the less a team allows, the more they win.

StatisticsYear to YearWinning %Next Year Winning %
YPP36.08%50.46%23.40%
YPPA42.74%-31.16%-15.76%
YPPD36.10%67.06%31.97%

All three statistics are reasonably predictable on a year-to-year basis, with yards per play allowed actually being the most predictable of the three by a slight amount, although offense correlates with winning at a much higher rate and is much more predictive of future winning than defense. This is a theme we’ll see throughout this analysis, offense being more predictive than defense.

In terms of overall differential, this statistic correlates with same season winning slightly less than turnover margin does, but because it is significantly more predictable, it’s significantly more predictive of future winning, correlating with future winning at about a 32% rate, already a significant increase from the 25% predictiveness we get just from looking at winning percentage.

We can do better than that though. Let’s look at another obvious one that would correlate heavily with winning, points, more specifically points per play, points per play allowed, and points per play differential.

StatisticYear to YearWinning %Next Year Winning %
PPP31.57%75.24%34.46%
PPPA31.41%-67.81%-26.27%
PPPD35.25%89.95%38.39%

Right off the bat, we see this correlates with same season winning at a very high rate, which is to be expected, considering points are what decides games. It’s not a perfect 1:1 correlation as teams can win a high percentage of close games in a single season sample size, and, as a result, would have a better record than their point differential would suggest, but point differential is the most predictive statistic of same season winning that we’re going to find. 

It’s also a good predictor of next season’s winning percentage, as this is the best predictor of future winning that we’ve seen yet by far.  However, there are a couple big problems with points per play differential as a statistic. For one, while it is relatively predictive, it’s not all that predictable, predicting itself at just a 35% rate, which gets even worse when you look at points per play and points per play against, which only correlates with itself on a year-to-year basis at about 31.5%. 

That leads into my second big problem with this statistic, that it does a relatively poor job of breaking out offense versus defense, which is likely why points per play and points per play allowed are relatively unpredictable statistics. Return touchdowns by special teams or defense count towards points per play and against opponents’ points per play allowed and field position skews this statistic even more, as good defenses can easily look bad in this statistic if their offense constantly gives them terrible field position to start, and vice versa. 

At first glance, it might seem like a good thing that the gap in predictiveness between points per play and points per play allowed is less than other offensive/defensive statistics, but I think that is a result of neither stat accurately representing the side of the field it is supposed to represent. As we’ll see more going forward, if offense and defense are broken out from each other properly, offense always is significantly more predictive.

The next statistic is a personal favorite of mine, first down rate differential, which includes first down rate and first down rate allowed.

Year to YearWinning %Next Year Winning %
FDR48.42%54.65%29.01%
FDRA41.08%-28.13%-10.27%
FDRD43.20%71.75%33.78%

Right away what stands out is that, across the board, first down rate and its associated statistics are significantly more predictable than anything we’ve seen thus far and, in fact, it is the most predictable statistic year-to-year. It also does a great job separating offensive and defensive performance and, unsurprisingly, there is a significant gap between the predictiveness of offense and defense performance, more so than any statistic we’ve seen thus far. As a result, first down rate correlates with future winning more than yards per play, but yards per play allowed correlates with future winning more than first down rate allowed.

The disappointing thing about first down rate differential is that, while it is significantly more predictable year-to-year and higher correlated with same-season winning than yards per play differential, it isn’t actually more predictive of future winning year-to-year than yards per play differential, at least over the 10-year sample of this study. On top of that, in comparison to points per play differential, it is less predictive of future winning, despite the problems with points per play differential. 

However, there is still a lot to like with first down rate differential and there is a key thing that points per play differential takes into account that first down rate doesn’t that likely explains why it is more predictive. That key thing is special teams, which both yards per play differential and first down rate differential both lack, likely the reason they are not as predictive. Reliable special teams statistics are hard to come by, but one that does a great job is DVOA, Football Outsiders’ signature statistic.

To illustrate this point, I’ve broken out overall, offensive, defensive, and special teams DVOA.

Year to YearWinning %Next Year Winning %
DVOA41.36%87.54%38.67%
DVOA O41.28%70.29%31.10%
DVOA D39.86%-48.32%-18.27%
DVOA ST38.73%26.18%18.62%

Across the board, DVOA does very well, correlating with next year’s winning at about the same rate as points per play differential, while effectively separating out performance in all three phases of the game. The standout here is special teams though, having year-to-year predictability in line with other phases in DVOA and surprisingly correlating with winning and future winning relatively well, given how small a part of the game special teams is. 

In fact, special teams DVOA is actually slightly more predictive of winning than defensive DVOA, at least over the course of this 10-year sample. I would take that with a bit of a grain of salt, but it’s clear that special teams performance has a much bigger impact on winning than most, including myself, would expect. Because of this, I am going to go back and factor special teams more significantly into my season previews.

Given that special teams is likely what makes points per play differential more predictive than first down rate differential, I decided to add special teams DVOA to first down rate differential and see what that does to predictiveness. I played around with different allocations of offensive, defensive, and special teams performance, but I found that 45% offense, 30% defense, and 25% special teams was most predictive, which once again reinforces the importance of special teams.

Year to YearWinning %Next Year Winning %
45/30/2546.05%75.55%39.20%

Just by adding special teams to first down rate differential, we get a statistic that is more predictive than anything we’ve seen so far. We can do better than this though. Since we know that yards per play allowed is more predictive than first down rate allowed, let’s see what happens when we swap yards per play allowed into this hybrid statistic. Once again, I found the 45/30/25 split was most predictive.

Year to YearWinning %Next Year Winning %
45/30/2547.34%75.16%41.50%

This gets us to an impressive number when you consider that winning percentage itself predicts future winning percentage at just a 25% rate. NFL records are very tough to predict year-to-year, but having a statistic that correlates with future winning percentage at a 41.5% rate is a very useful tool for handicapping. 

For the record, I tried swapping in points per play allowed and defensive DVOA and both lowered the predictiveness significantly. Points per play allowed didn’t surprise me because, even though it was predictive, it includes things that the offense is already being given credit for. Defensive DVOA surprised me a little, but it’s not a very predictive statistic year-to-year, so it’s not a huge surprise that including it did not have a positive effect on predictiveness.

Let’s see how each team performed in this metric in 2020.

BUF2.81%
NO2.23%
KC1.68%
SEA1.55%
BAL1.44%
IND1.28%
TB1.18%
ARZ0.97%
GB0.92%
NE0.73%
LAR0.61%
SF0.58%
TEN0.17%
WAS0.12%
CLE0.10%
PIT0.07%
CHI0.03%
CAR-0.04%
LV-0.16%
DAL-0.17%
MIA-0.23%
DET-0.45%
MIN-0.46%
NYG-0.65%
HOU-0.79%
ATL-1.10%
PHI-1.15%
LAC-1.65%
CIN-1.91%
DEN-2.14%
JAX-2.32%
NYJ-3.22%

Obviously, this can’t be blindly followed, as 41.5% correlation is still not that high and a lot changes for teams from season to season to affect their performance from year-to-year, but this is a much better base point to start with than win/loss record.

I also wanted to show a few other breakdowns. This one shows yards per play differential broken out into pass offense, pass defense, rush offense, and rush defense.

Year to YearWinning %Next Year Winning %
PYA35.26%58.72%24.34%
PYAA37.21%-45.59%-25.51%
RYA27.64%11.24%7.13%
RYAA21.94%-9.14%-24.38%

Unsurprisingly, offensive statistics are more predictable and predictive than defensive statistics and, also perhaps unsurprisingly, pass statistics are more predictable than rush statistics and by a significant amount.

Let’s take a look further at passing statistics.

Year to YearWinning %Next Year Winning %
PYA35.26%58.72%24.34%
Completion %45.08%49.02%15.91%
TD%25.31%60.52%24.10%
INT %18.82%-50.43%-19.86%

We see that completion percentage is much more predictable year-to-year than any other metric, but yards per play correlates better with winning and next year’s winning. Touchdown rate also correlates with winning and next year’s winning, but is tough to predict on a year-to-year basis. Interception rate is as well, but it’s notable that it’s significantly more predictive than turnover margin, which brings me to my next chart.

Year to YearWinning %Next Year Winning %
INT %18.82%-50.43%-19.86%
Def INT %11.73%48.71%3.65%
Fumbles Lost2.43%
Fumbles Recovered-3.23%

While turnover margin itself is very unpredictive, interception rate seems to at least have some predictive value, which makes sense, given that passing offense is what tends to be most consistent year-to-year. Teams who fare well in turnover margin as a result of having a quarterback who had a low interception rate are more likely to see their turnover success continue than teams reliant on defensive takeaways or avoiding fumbles. For fumbles, I didn’t even bother calculating its relationship to winning because of how unpredictable it is year to year. There is no predictive value to a statistic you can’t reasonably predict and fumbles are a perfect example of that.

Year to Year
1st/2nd34.96%
3rd/4th38.75%
1st/2nd vs. 3rd/4th differential10.52%
1st/2nd allowed29.71%
3rd/4th allowed30.81%
1st/2nd vs. 3rd/4th allowed differential12.22%

This is the last one I want to show for now. I may add more to this later, but this breaks out the year-to-year predictability of first down rate and first down rate allowed between early downs (1st and 2nd) and later downs (3rd and 4th). I didn’t correlate these statistics with winning because it’s obvious that better success on 3rd and 4th down leads to better results on the scoreboard, but it’s worth noting that those downs don’t tend to be any more predictive than early downs and there is minimal, if any, evidence that teams can consistently outperform their 1st and 2nd down performance on 3rd and 4th down year-to-year, as there is very little year-to-year correlation in the differential between early down and later down performance.

2021 NFL Mock Draft (2nd and 3rd rounds)

Updated: 4/30/21

33. Jacksonville Jaguars – DT Christian Barmore (Alabama)

34. New York Jets – OLB Azeez Ojulari (Georgia)

35. Atlanta Falcons – G Quinn Meinerz (Wisconsin-Whitewater)

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

37. Philadelphia Eagles – MLB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (Notre Dame)

38. Cincinnati Bengals – C Creed Humphrey (Oklahoma)

39. Carolina Panthers – OT Teven Jenkins (Oklahoma State)

40. Denver Broncos – OLB Carlos Basham (Wake Forest)

41. Detroit Lions – WR Terrace Marshall (LSU)

42. New York Giants – OLB Ronnie Perkins (Oklahoma)

43. San Francisco 49ers – CB Asante Samuel (Florida State)

44. Dallas Cowboys – S Trevon Moehrig (TCU)

45. Jacksonville Jaguars – TE Pat Freiermuth (Penn State)

46. New England Patriots – WR Elijah Moore (Mississippi)

47. Los Angeles Chargers – CB Kelvin Joseph (Kentucky)

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

49. Arizona Cardinals – WR Rondale Moore (Purdue)

50. Miami Dolphins – OT Dillon Radunz (North Dakota State)

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

52. Chicago Bears – OT Jalen Mayfield (Michigan)

53. Tennessee Titans – OT Samuel Cosmi (Texas)

54. Indianapolis Colts – OT Spencer Brown (Northern Iowa)

55. Pittsburgh Steelers – QB Kyle Trask (Florida)

56. Seattle Seahawks – CB Tyson Campbell (Georgia)

57. Los Angeles Rams – MLB Nick Bolton (Missouri)

58. Kansas City Chiefs – DE Joseph Ossai (Texas)

59. Cleveland Browns – DT Levi Onwuzurike (Washington)

60. New Orleans Saints – CB Robert Rochell (Central Arkansas)

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

62. Green Bay Packers – WR Tylan Wallace (Oklahoma State)

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

64. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – CB Elijah Molden (Washington)

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

66. Minnesota Vikings – S Jevon Holland (Oregon)

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

68. Atlanta Falcons – DE Patrick Jones (Pittsburgh)

69. Cincinnati Bengals – MLB Jabril Cox (LSU)

70. Philadelphia Eagles – CB Ifeatu Melifonwu (Syracuse)

71. Denver Broncos – OLB Chris Rumph (Duke)

72. Detroit Lions – MLB Baron Browning (Ohio State)

73. Carolina Panthers – DT Milton Williams (Louisiana Tech)

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

75. Dallas Cowboys – TE Tommy Tremble (Notre Dame)

76. New York Giants – G Jackson Carmen (Clemson)

77. Los Angeles Chargers – RB Trey Sermon (Ohio State)

78. Minnesota Vikings – DT Daviyon Nixon (Iowa)

79. Las Vegas Raiders – CB Benjamin St-Juste (Minnesota)

80. Las Vegas Raiders – WR Amon-Ra St. Brown (USC)

81. Miami Dolphins – S Jamar Johnson (Indiana)

82. Washington Football Team – WR D’Wayne Eskridge (Western Michigan)

83. Chicago Bears – CB Paulson Adebo (Stanford)

84. Dallas Cowboys – DE Rashad Weaver (Pittsburgh)

85. Tennessee Titans – WR Dyami Brown (North Carolina)

86. Minnesota Vikings – CB Ambry Thomas (Michigan)

87. Pittsburgh Steelers – OT Walker Little (Stanford)

88. Los Angeles Rams – OLB Jordan Smith (UAB)

89. Cleveland Browns – MLB Chazz Surratt (North Carolina)

90. Minnesota Vikings – DE Dayo Odeyingbo (Vanderbilt)

91. Cleveland Browns – WR Josh Palmer (Tennessee)

92. Green Bay Packers – OT Brady Christensen (BYU)

93. Buffalo Bills – TE Hunter Long (Boston College)

94. Baltimore Ravens – OT James Hudson (Cincinnati)

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

96. New England Patriots – MLB Dylan Moses (Alabama)

97. Los Angeles Chargers – G Aaron Banks (Notre Dame)

98. New Orleans Saints – S Richie Grant (UCF)

99. Dallas Cowboys – CB Shakur Brown (Michigan State)

100. Tennessee Titans – TE Brevin Jordan (Miami)

101. Detroit Lions – QB Davis Mills (Stanford)

102. San Francisco 49ers – WR Amari Rodgers (Clemson)

103. Los Angeles Rams – C Landon Dickerson (Alabama)

104. Baltimore Ravens – WR Anthony Schwartz (Auburn)

105. New Orleans Saints – DT Alim McNeil (NC State)

2021 NFL Mock Draft

Updated 4/29/21

1. Jacksonville Jaguars – QB Trevor Lawrence (Clemson)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Cincinnati Bengals – WR Jamarr Chase (LSU)

The Bengals benefit the most from the run on quarterbacks as they have last year’s #1 pick Joe Burrow under center already and can sit back and likely have their choice of the top non-quarterbacks in the draft at 5. I’ve had offensive tackle as a bigger need than pass catcher in the past, so I’ve given the Bengals Penei Sewell when available, but the addition of Riley Reiff in free agency changes my thinking here. Reiff is only on a one-year deal and could move inside to guard, so they still need offensive tackle help, but it’s not as pressing of a need anymore and can be addressed later in the draft. 

Meanwhile, the Bengals did nothing to upgrade their receiving corps this off-season and are badly hurting for pass catching options behind Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd. I’ve had this between Chase and Kyle Pitts in the past and even had Pitts here with my last pick, but it’s sounding like the traditional position value with Chase is going to win out. Pitts is a truly rare tight end position, but Chase is one of the best wide receiver prospects in years as well.

6. Miami Dolphins – OT Penei Sewell (Oregon)

The Dolphins might have telegraphed this pick by trading guard Ereck Flowers to Washington in a salary dump. Sewell isn’t a guard, but he could play tackle and push Robert Hunt inside to guard. With Chase looking like the pick at 5 to the Bengals, the Dolphins could easily be targeting an offensive line upgrade. They started three rookie offensive linemen last season, but still need help upfront after ranking well below average as a group.

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

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

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

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

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

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

8. Carolina Panthers – TE Kyle Pitts (Florida)

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

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

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

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

10. Detroit Lions (TRADE) – WR Devonta Smith (Alabama)

The Lions originally moved down from 15 to 7, picking up several extra picks to facilitate the Patriots’ move up for a quarterback, but similar to the Dolphins, the Lions could use some of those extra picks to move back up for a player they have their eyes on. In this scenario, that player is Devonta Smith, who would fill a massive need for the Lions at wide receiver and almost definitely would be gone by the 15th pick, possibly 11th to the Giants one pick after this. 

The Cowboys are likely targeting top cornerback prospect Patrick Surtain at 10, but if he’s not available, I could see them moving down, accumulating extra picks, and picking another defensive player later in the first round. The Lions give up a 3rd and 4th round pick to make their move up, but considering they got two second round picks and a 4th to move down from 7 to 15, that’s a very reasonable price to move back up and take the player they easily could have selected at 7. 

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

While Sewell is the best pure left tackle in the draft, there is an argument that Slater is going to be the best offensive lineman from this draft class. Slater’s issue is he lacks the ideal size for a left tackle, but he could move inside to guard or center and be a perennial Pro-Bowl caliber player at that position. After using a first and third round pick on an offensive tackle in last year’s draft, the interior is a much bigger need for the Giants. Slater would be an immediate upgrade at either center or right guard for a team that needs to get tougher upfront. 

12. Philadelphia Eagles – WR Jaylen Waddle (Alabama)

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

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

13. Los Angeles Chargers – OT Christian Darrisaw (Virginia Tech)

The Chargers may try to trade up for Penei Sewell if he starts to slip because left tackle is their biggest need and Sewell is the consensus top player at that position in the draft, but if they can’t move up, Christian Darrisaw seems like an obvious decision for the Chargers at 13. Left tackle is a glaring hole for this team and as the #2 offensive tackle in the draft class, Darrisaw would be a solid value in the top-15. He could give Justin Herbert and the Chargers a long-term blindside protector for years to come.

14. Minnesota Vikings – DE Kwity Paye (Michigan)

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

15. Dallas Cowboys (TRADE) – CB Jaycee Horn (South Carolina)

The Cowboys miss out on top cornerback prospect Patrick Surtain at 10, but they are able to move down, accumulate extra picks, and still take the #2 cornerback in the class at 15. The Cowboys had one of the worst cornerback groups in the league last season and, with Chidobe Awuzie signing with the Bengals, things are even worse at the position now. If Horn happens to be off the board by this point, the Cowboys would then likely turn their attention to the defensive end position, which is also a position of significant need.

16. Washington Football Team (TRADE) – MLB Micah Parsons (Penn State)

Micah Parsons is a potential top-10 pick, but off-the-field concerns and offensive players being pushed up could cause Parsons to fall on draft day. If he falls out of the top-15, I could see a team making a move up for him. The Cardinals don’t need him, having used their first round pick on linebacker Isaiah Simmons in last year’s draft, but they do need extra picks, having traded away their 2nd round pick for Stephon Gilmore, their 3rd round pick for Rodney Hudson, and their 4th round pick to complete last year’s DeAndre Hopkins trade. Washington overpays a little bit by the trade value chart by giving up a third round pick, but, if Parsons is highly rated enough, Washington will see that as worth it, especially given that they have an extra third round pick from trade of Trent Williams to the 49ers.

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

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

18. Miami Dolphins – DE Zaven Collins (Tulsa)

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

19. Arizona Cardinals (TRADE) – S Trevon Moehrig (TCU)

I already mentioned earlier I have the Cardinals trading their 2nd round pick for Stephon Gilmore, but that isn’t the only secondary upgrade the Cardinals need as they lack a consistent safety next to Budda Baker. Trevon Moehrig is the top safety in the draft class and could make a big difference from day one. He’d be a slight reach at 16, even as the top safety in the draft, but if the Cardinals can move down, acquire a third round pick, and draft Moehrig at 19, I think they’ll see that as a success. With JJ Watt added in free agency, Gilmore and Moehrig being added through the draft and draft day trades, and Chandler Jones expected back from injury, this would be a much improved Cardinals defense in 2021, to pair with an emerging offense led by Kyler Murray in his third season in the league.

20. Chicago Bears – CB Greg Newsome (Northwestern)

The Bears had to cut Kyle Fuller for financial reasons and downgraded significantly by replacing him with Desmond Trufant. This hurts a cornerback group that already was a position of concern. The Bears could address this position early in the draft. Newsome is a late rising prospect who seems likely to go in the first round. He could play immediately in three cornerback sets with Trufant and last year’s second round pick Jaylon Johnson.

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

Philip Rivers wasn’t the Colts’ only significant retirement this off-season, as long-time left tackle Anthony Castonzo retired as well, leaving a gaping hole on an offensive line that has been one of the best in the league over the past few years due to their continuity. The Colts will likely target Castonzo’s replacement in the draft. Teven Jenkins is an option that is likely to be available when they pick at 21. As long as the Colts have a first round grade on him, I’d be surprised if they passed on him if he was available.

22. Tennessee Titans – CB Caleb Farley (Virginia Tech)

Edge defender was the Titans’ biggest need coming into the off-season and I didn’t expect them to be able to address it significantly in free agency because of their cap situation. They signed Bud Dupree to a big contract, but only because they gutted their cornerback depth. Adoree Jackson and Malcolm Butler were both released and Desmond King wasn’t retained, leaving 2020 2nd round pick Kristian Fulton and cheap veteran free agent additions Janoris Jenkins and Kevin Johnson as their top-3 cornerbacks. Now cornerback is their biggest need and one they could easily address in the first round.

23. New York Jets – OLB Azeez Ojulari (Georgia)

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

24. Pittsburgh Steelers – RB Najee Harris (Alabama)

Back-to-back running backs off the board, as the Jets and Steelers are arguably the two neediest teams at the running back position and have picks back-to-back. Steelers starting running back James Conner signed with the Cardinals 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. The Steelers are almost definitely going to use an early pick on the position. The smoke connecting them to Najee Harris seems real.

25. Jacksonville Jaguars – DT Christian Barmore (Alabama)

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

26. Cleveland Browns – MLB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (Notre Dame)

The Browns have a decent linebacking corps, but they lack a clear every down linebacker in the group, so if Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah falls to them, I would expect them to pull the trigger. The Browns have bigger needs on defense like defensive end, defensive tackle, and cornerback, but Owusu-Koramoah is too good of a value to pass on and would make this defense a lot better if he can be as advertised.

27. Baltimore Ravens – WR Rashod Bateman (Minnesota)

The Ravens desperately tried to add a wide receiver in free agency, but ended up having to settle for Sammy Watkins on a one-year deal. He isn’t a long-term option, so I would expect them to use an early pick on a long-term option at the position. With the Ravens now possessing two first round picks after the Orlando Brown trade, it would be a surprise to not see them use one of those two picks on a wide receiver, especially since they’ll have many options who will fit the range at the end of the first round. Bateman would be a good complement as a bigger bodied receiver (6-2 208) to the smaller, speedier Marquise Brown. 

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

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

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

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

30. Buffalo Bills – RB Travis Etienne (Clemson)

The Bills don’t run the ball much, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t benefit from an upgrade at the running back position, especially one like Etienne who can be a threat in the passing game as well. The Bills current running backs are not only mediocre runners, but also don’t contribute in the passing game. Etienne would fit well for a team that doesn’t have many needs and can afford to make a “luxury” pick like this.

31. Baltimore Ravens – OLB Jaelan Phillips (Miami)

The Ravens acquired this pick in their trade of Orlando Brown to the Chiefs. The Ravens could use this pick on Brown’s replacement, but it sounds like they will be signing veteran Alejandro Villaneuva to be a short-term replacement, so they won’t be locked into the offensive tackle position and could address a different need. The Ravens had one of the deepest and most talented edge defender groups in the league last year, but few teams could lose both Yannick Ngakoue and Matt Judon and not need to replenish talent at the position. Phillips could have a big role as a rookie.

32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – OLB Carlos Basham (Wake Forest)

The Buccaneers don’t need much of anything after bringing back every key player from a well-rounded Super Bowl Champion, but they could use better depth at the edge defender position behind Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre Paul, especially with the latter going into his age 32 season and his contract season. Basham could play a rotational role as a rookie before taking over as a starter in 2022.

33. Jacksonville Jaguars – CB Eric Stokes (Georgia)

The Jaguars signed Shaq Griffin in free agency and now have a talented young cornerback duo with Griffin and last year’s first round pick CJ Henderson, but they need a better third cornerback to go with them.

34. New York Jets – RB Javonte Williams (North Carolina)

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

35. Atlanta Falcons – G Quinn Meinerz (Wisconsin-Whitewater)

The Falcons lost a pair of starters on the offensive line this off-season in James Carpenter and Alex Mack. Last year’s third round pick Matt Hennessy could take over at either of those positions, but the Falcons still would need one more starter. Meinerz could be a week one starter at left guard.

36. Miami Dolphins – WR Elijah Moore (Mississippi)

The Dolphins added Will Fuller in free agency, but only on a one-year deal and even with him on board the Dolphins still need better wide receiver depth behind him and Devante Parker. If the Dolphins can’t get Jamarr Chase at 6, they may opt to address the position

37. Philadelphia Eagles – MLB Jamin Davis (Kentucky)

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

38. Cincinnati Bengals – C Creed Humphrey (Oklahoma)

The interior of the Bengals’ line is a much bigger need than offensive tackle now than Riley Reiff has been added. Humphrey could be a starter at any of the three interior positions for the Bengals.

39. Carolina Panthers – OT Dillon Radunz (North Dakota State)

The Panthers retained stud right tackle Taylor Moton with the franchise tag this off-season, but left tackle Russell Okung wasn’t brought back, leaving the Panthers with 2019 2nd round pick Greg Little, who has struggled mightily in limited action thus far in his career, penciled in as the starting left tackle right now. Little is not a reliable option and could kick inside to guard if the Panthers draft an alternative, something they could easily do early in the draft.

40. Denver Broncos – OLB Jayson Oweh (Penn State)

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

41. Detroit Lions – CB Kelvin Joseph (Kentucky)

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

42. New York Giants – OLB Ronnie Perkins (Oklahoma)

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

43. San Francisco 49ers – CB Asante Samuel (Florida State)

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

44. Dallas Cowboys – DE Gregory Rousseau (Miami)

With Tyrone Crawford retiring and Aldon Smith signing with the Seahawks, Randy Gregory is the Cowboys’ only consistent edge defender behind DeMarcus Lawrence and Gregory has proven to be incredibly unreliable in the past, so they will almost certainly look to improve this position group in the draft.

45. Jacksonville Jaguars – TE Pat Freiermuth (Penn State)

The Jaguars are starting the underwhelming Tyler Eifert at tight end right now because they don’t have another good option, so I would expect them to address this position in the draft. This isn’t a good tight end class outside of Kyle Pitts, but Freiermuth is expected to be the first tight end off the board after Pitts and would be a good option in the second round. He could push to start as a rookie.

46. Detroit Lions (TRADE) –  DE Joe Tyron (Washington)

The Lions retained Romeo Okwara in free agency and will get Trey Flowers back healthy in 2021, but the Lions could still use more pass rush help on the edge, so defensive end is yet another position the Lions can address on draft day.

47. Los Angeles Chargers – CB Aaron Robinson (Central Florida)

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

48. Las Vegas Raiders – WR Rondale Moore (Purdue)

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

49. Detroit Lions (TRADE) – MLB Nick Bolton (Missouri)

The Lions need help basically all over their defense and their linebacking corps is no exception, especially with Jarrad Davis signing with the Jets in free agency this off-season. Bolton would have the opportunity to play a lot right away and could easily develop into an above average every down linebacker for this team.

50. Miami Dolphins – DT Levi Onwuzurike (Washington)

Defensive tackle isn’t the Dolphins’ biggest need, but they could use more talent at the position and Onwuzurike is a good value at this point. He could compete for a role as a rookie and develop into a starter long-term.

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

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

52. Chicago Bears – OT Jalen Mayfield (Michigan)

The Bears had a strong offensive line a few years ago, but they haven’t been able to keep that group together and struggled upfront last season, particularly on the right side where right tackle Bobby Massie missed significant time with injury. Massie was let go ahead of his age 32 season in 2021 for salary reasons and the Bears may be targeting his replacement early in the draft.

53. Tennessee Titans – OT Samuel Cosmi (Texas)

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

54. Indianapolis Colts – WR Tylan Wallace (Oklahoma State)

TY Hilton was retained in free agency, but only on a one-year deal and he’ll be in his age 32 season as well. I expect the Colts to add another developmental wide receiver through the draft. Wallace could be a long-term #1 wide receiver.

55. Pittsburgh Steelers – QB Kyle Trask (Florida)

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

56. Seattle Seahawks – CB Tyson Campbell (Georgia)

The Seahawks lost both Quinton Dunbar and Shaq Griffin in free agency this off-season and only signed Akhello Witherspoon and Pierre Desir as replacements, so I expect them to address this position early in the draft. Campbell has the size the Seahawks look for at the position.

57. Los Angeles Rams – OLB Chris Rumph (Duke)

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

58. Kansas City Chiefs – DE Joseph Ossai (Texas)

The Chiefs have retooled their offensive line this off-season, so now their biggest need by far is defensive end, as no other edge defender besides Frank Clark had more than 3 sacks last season and the Chiefs had a below average 32 sacks as a team, despite playing with frequent leads. The Chiefs don’t have a first round pick anymore, but they could address this need in the second round.

59. Cleveland Browns – CB Robert Rochell (Central Arkansas)

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

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

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

61. Buffalo Bills – DE Payton Turner (Houston)

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. 

62. Green Bay Packers – OT Alex Leatherwood (Alabama)

The Packers had maybe the deepest offensive line in the league last season, but they have lost several linemen in free agency this off-season and also have stud left tackle David Bakhtiari uncertain for the start of next season after tearing his ACL last December. The Packers will look to add depth in the draft and Leatherwood’s versatility will likely be very intriguing to the Packers.

63. Kansas City Chiefs – MLB Baron Browning (Ohio State)

Linebacker has been the achilles heel of the Chiefs’ defense for years. The position group is still unsettled, so if there is someone available that they think can play every down for them, they could easily pull the trigger.

64. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – CB Elijah Molden (Washington)

Carlton Davis and Jamel Dean are a talented young cornerback duo, but the Buccaneers could use a better third cornerback. Molden is one of the best pure slot cornerbacks in the draft and would be a great fit if he was still available at this point in the draft.

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

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

66. New York Jets – WR Nico Collins (Michigan)

The Jets signed Corey Davis in free agency and will use him, Denzel Mims, and Jamison Crowder in three wide receiver sets, but Crowder is in the final year of his contract, so they could add insurance for him in a good wide receiver draft.

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

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

68. Atlanta Falcons – DE Patrick Jones (Pittsburgh)

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

69. Cincinnati Bengals – MLB Jabril Cox (LSU)

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

70. Philadelphia Eagles – CB Ifeatu Melifonwu (Syracuse)

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

71. Atlanta Falcons – RB Michael Carter (North Carolina)

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

72. Dallas Cowboys – S Jamar Johnson (Indiana)

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

73. Carolina Panthers – DT Milton Williams (Louisiana Tech)

The Panthers drafted Derrick Brown in the first round last year, but they need another defensive tackle to start long-term inside next to him. With Kawaan Short being released this off-season, the Panthers are currently expected to start veteran DaQuan Jones at defensive tackle next to Brown. Aside from Jones only being on a one-year deal and not being a long-term solution, the Panthers also need to add depth at the position.

74. Washington Football Team – OT Spencer Brown (Northern Iowa)

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

75. Dallas Cowboys – TE Tommy Tremble (Notre Dame)

Blake Jarwin came into last season with a lot of promise as the starting tight end, but he tore his ACL early in the season. Dalton Schultz wasn’t bad in his absence, but the Cowboys still don’t have a proven starter at the position, so they could continue adding competition.

76. New York Giants – MLB Chazz Surratt (North Carolina)

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

77. Los Angeles Chargers – DT Daviyon Nixon (Iowa)

Justin Jones and Linval Joseph are a decent starting duo, but they need to add better depth, especially with Joseph going into his age 33 season. Their 2019 1st round pick Jerry Tillery has completely failed to develop thus far, so they can’t count on him long-term.

78. Minnesota Vikings – OT Walker Little (Stanford)

Ezra Cleveland was probably the Vikings’ best guard last season, but the 2020 2nd round pick could be moving to left tackle with Riley Reiff no longer with the team. That would leave the Vikings with a starting duo of Dakota Dozier and Dru Samia at guard, which would be one of the worst in the league. They could keep Cleveland at guard, but would need to draft an offensive tackle in that scenario. Either way, they need to prioritize adding offensive linemen, likely multiple, through the draft.

79. Las Vegas Raiders – CB Benjamin St-Juste (Minnesota)

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 relatively high pick on a cornerback.

80. Las Vegas Raiders – OT Liam Eichenberg (Notre Dame)

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

81. Miami Dolphins – RB Trey Sermon (Ohio State)

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

82. Arizona Cardinals – G Jackson Carmen (Clemson)

The Cardinals have already added a #1 cornerback in Stephon Gilmore (via trade) and a top safety prospect in Trevon Moehrig, which, along with the addition of JJ Watt and the return of Chandler Jones, would go a long way towards their defense catching up with their offense and making this a complete football team. However, they still have some needs on offense, including the offensive line. Carmen is a versatile lineman who could provide depth and competition at both guard and tackle.

83. Chicago Bears – QB Davis Mills (Stanford)

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

84. Philadelphia Eagles – S Richie Grant (UCF)

The Eagles signed Anthony Harris in free agency, but he’s only on a one-year deal and fellow starter Rodney McLeod is an underwhelming option who is going into his age 31 season.

85. Tennessee Titans – WR Amon-Ra St. Brown (USC)

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

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

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

87. Pittsburgh Steelers – OT Brady Christensen (BYU)

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

88. Los Angeles Rams – MLB Dylan Moses (Alabama)

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

89. Cleveland Browns –  DT Jay Tufele (USC)

The Browns cut Sheldon Richardson to sign Jadeveon Clowney, so now defensive tackle surpasses defensive end as the Browns’ biggest draft day need. Richardson could still be brought back on a cheaper day, but it would likely only be a one-year deal for his age 31 season, so he’s not a long-term solution. 

90. Minnesota Vikings – CB Paulson Adebo (Stanford)

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

91. Cleveland Browns – DE Rashad Weaver (Pittsburgh)

The Browns added Jadeveon Clowney in free agency, but only on a one-year deal and their depth behind him and Myles Garrett is still very suspect. Defensive end is still one of the Browns’ top needs.

92. Green Bay Packers – MLB Pete Werner (Ohio State)

The Packers addressed their long standing wide receiver need in the first round and now they address their long standing middle linebacker need. Even as a third round pick, Werner could see significant snaps as a rookie.

93. Buffalo Bills – TE Hunter Long (Boston College)

The Bills haven’t been successful at adding competition for Dawson Knox in free agency, so, without many pressing needs, the Bills could add a tight end in the draft if the value makes sense.

94. Baltimore Ravens – OT James Hudson (Cincinnati)

Even if the Ravens sign a veteran solution to replace Orlando Brown at right tackle for 2021, they’ll still likely use a draft pick at some point on a developmental starter who can play long-term.

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

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

96. New England Patriots – WR D’Wayne Eskridge (Western Michigan)

The Patriots had arguably the worst wide receiver group in the league last season, so, even though they added Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne in free agency, as well as a talented tight end duo that figures to play together a lot with just two wide receivers on the field, the Patriots still need to keep adding depth at the wide receiver position, especially in the wake of Julian Edelman’s retirement.

97. Los Angeles Chargers – G Aaron Banks (Notre Dame)

The Chargers addressed the offensive tackle position in the first round, but they could still use help at guard. Banks could compete at either spot as a rookie.

98. New Orleans Saints – CB Shakur Brown (Michigan State)

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

99. Dallas Cowboys – OT Stone Forsythe (Florida)

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

100. Tennessee Titans – OLB Jordan Smith (UAB)

The Titans signed Bud Dupree to a big contract in free agency, but their need at the edge defender position was so big that they still need help now, even after adding Dupree. They’ll likely add a draft pick as well.

101. Detroit Lions – G Trey Smith (Tennessee)

The Lions will probably add an offensive lineman at some point in the draft because they are unsettled everywhere except left tackle and center. Smith could provide competition at both guard spots as a rookie.

102. San Francisco 49ers – WR Amari Rodgers (Clemson)

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

103. Los Angeles Rams – C Landon Dickerson (Alabama)

The Rams lost center Austin Blythe in free agency this off-season and need competition for Brian Allen, who has struggled in starting action in the past. Dickerson could be a first round pick if not for concerns about a twice torn ACL, but he’s a worth a risk at this point in the draft.

104. Baltimore Ravens – WR Josh Palmer (Tennessee)

The Ravens need at the wide receiver position is dire enough that they could double up on the position in the draft.

105. New Orleans Saints – DT Alim McNeill (NC State)

The Saints lost Malcolm Brown and Sheldon Rankins in free agency this off-season and didn’t really replace them, so they will need to do so through the draft.

106. Jacksonville Jaguars – DE Dayo Odeyingbo (Vanderbilt)

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

107. New York Jets – TE Brevin Jordan (Miami)

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

108. Atlanta Falcons – S Andre Cisco (Syracuse)

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

109. Houston Texans – WR Dyami Brown (North Carolina)

The Texans pretty much need help at every position on the field and this is just their second pick, so they need to just take the best available player. Brown could easily go in the third round and would fill a big need at wide receiver.

110. Cleveland Browns – WR Anthony Schwartz (Auburn)

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

111. Cincinnati Bengals – OT Adrian Ealy (Oklahoma)

The Bengals signed Riley Reiff in free agency, but he’s going into his age 33 season and only on a one-year deal, so the Bengals need to find a long-term right tackle option in the draft.

112. Detroit Lions – DT Tyler Shelvin (LSU)

Defensive tackle is another position the Lions need help at, as they are very thin behind presumed starters Michael Brockers and Da’Shawn Hand.

113. Carolina Panthers – MLB Cam McGrone (Michigan)

The Panthers added Denzel Perryman in free agency, but he’s a one dimensional run stuffer, so they could add more depth at the position in the draft.

114. Denver Broncos – S Divine Deablo (Virginia Tech)

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

115. Dallas Cowboys – CB Trill Williams (Syracuse)

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

116. New York Giants – CB Camryn Bynum (California)

The Giants have big financial investments in two cornerbacks in Adoree Jackson and James Bradberry, but they could use a better third cornerback

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

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

118. Los Angeles Chargers – RB Chuba Hubbard (Oklahoma State)

All of the Chargers’ running backs aside from Austin Ekeler struggled mightily last season, which is a problem because Ekeler is undersized and may not be able to hold up over a full season as a feature back. Having Ekeler back healthy and a better offensive line will help the Chargers be better on the ground in 2021, but they need to add talent at the running back position as well.

119. Minnesota Vikings – G Kendrick Green (Illinois)

The Vikings should come away from this draft with multiple offensive linemen. Having already added an offensive tackle, now the Vikings add a versatile interior offensive lineman.

120. New England Patriots – CB Shaun Wade (Ohio State)

If the Patriots trade away Stephon Gilmore, the Patriots will still be in good shape at cornerback, but they will need to replenish cornerback depth.

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

The Raiders have remade their defensive tackle group this off-season, adding Quinton Jefferson and Solomon Thomas in free agency and cutting Maurice Hurst, who was arguably their most effective player at the position for the Raiders last season, though that’s not saying much and it came in limited action due to injury and illness. Jefferson, Thomas, and holdover Johnathan Hankins will likely be their top-3 players at the position this season, but that’s an underwhelming trio and they need better depth. I expect them to use a mid round pick on the position at the very least.

122. Detroit Lions (TRADE) – WR Ihmir Smith-Marsette (Iowa)

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

123. Philadelphia Eagles – DE Elerson Smith (Northern Iowa)

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

124. Washington Football Team – DE Adetokunbo Ogundeji (Notre Dame)

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

125. Minnesota Vikings – DT Bobby Brown (Texas A&M)

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

126. Tennessee Titans – TE Tommy Yeboah (Mississippi)

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

127. Indianapolis Colts – DE Malcolm Koonce (Buffalo)

The Colts could still bring back Justin Houston as a free agent, but they will likely be looking for edge defender help through the draft.

128. Pittsburgh Steelers – C Trey Hill (Georgia)

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

129. Seattle Seahawks – DT Osawaru Odighizuwa (UCLA)

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

130. Jacksonville Jaguars – WR Cade Johnson (South Dakota State)

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

131. Baltimore Ravens – C Michael Menet (Penn State)

Aside from right tackle, center is the Ravens’ weakest spot on the offensive line, so they could add some long-term competition through the draft.

132. Cleveland Browns – G Deonte Brown (Alabama)

The Browns really don’t need anything else, but you can never have enough offensive line depth and Brown is a good value at this point.

133. New Orleans Saints – WR Marquez Stevenson (Houston)

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

134. Minnesota Vikings – MLB Derrick Barnes (Purdue)

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

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

Kevin King was retained as a free agent this off-season, despite his up and down tenure as a starter, but he’s only on a one-year deal, so the Packers will likely be looking for long-term alternatives.

136. Baltimore Ravens – TE Tre McKitty (Georgia)

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

137. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – WR Shi Smith (South Carolina)

The Buccaneers re-signed Antonio Brown, but he’s going into his age 33 season and only on a one-year deal, so the Buccaneers could still add a young receiver through the draft at some point.

138. Dallas Cowboys – MLB Anthony Hines (Texas A&M)

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

139. New England Patriots – MLB Ernst Smith (South Carolina)

The Patriots’ linebacking corps should be better in 2021 with the return of Dont’a Hightower, but he’s going into his age 31 season, so the Patriots should look for a long-term option behind him.

140. Pittsburgh Steelers – CB Rodarius Williams (Oklahoma State)

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

141. Los Angeles Rams – CB Davis Daniel (Georgia)

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

142. Green Bay Packers – WR Seth Williams (Auburn)

The Packers are thin enough at the wide receiver position that they could double up on the position in order to try to keep Aaron Rodgers happy.

143. Minnesota Vikings – S Hamsah Nasirildeen (Florida State)

The Vikings lost Anthony Harris in free agency this off-season and only replaced him with Xavier Woods, who was just signed to a one-year deal. They should look for a long-term solution in the draft.

144. Kansas City Chiefs – WR Tutu Atwell (Louisville)

The Chiefs lost Sammy Watkins in free agency and, while Mecole Hardman seems capable of handling a larger role, the Chiefs still need to find a better third receiver behind Hardman and Tyreek Hill. The Chiefs don’t have a lot of picks after the Orlando Brown trade, but I expect them to use one of their first few picks on another option at the wide receiver position.

NFL Free Agency Predictions – Skill Position Players

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

Quarterbacks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Running Backs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wide Receivers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tight Ends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

2021 NFL Head Coach Openings – Rankings and Predictions

1. Los Angeles Chargers 

Pros – Young franchise quarterback, talented roster, cap space to be aggressive in free agency

Cons – Ownership, lack of fanbase

The Chargers are one of the only two teams on this list with the most valuable asset in the NFL, a young franchise quarterback, Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate Justin Herbert. However, unlike the other team the Texans, the Chargers have talent on the rest of this roster as well and, because their franchise quarterback is on a cheap rookie deal, they have the financial flexibility to add more talent this off-season, entering the off-season with the 9th projected most cap space in the league. 

There are concerns about the ownership and the lack of fanbase (once fans are allowed back in stadiums), but all of the available jobs have their warts and the Chargers’ job looks to be the clear best of the bunch. That is likely to be the consensus among head coaching candidates as well, so the Chargers could have their pick of the bunch. 

No head coaching candidate has been more popular than Kansas City offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, who has interviewed for every available position after three seasons coordinating the league’s most explosive offense in Kansas City with Pat Mahomes and Andy Reid, so he could have his pick of jobs. A pairing between him and Herbert and the Chargers would make a lot of sense.

Prediction: Eric Bieniemy, Kansas City Chiefs Offensive Coordinator

2. Jacksonville Jaguars

Pros – #1 pick, tons of cap space

Cons – Weak roster

The Jaguars may seem like an unattractive opening, given that they finished with the worst record in the league last season, but this was always part of a long-term rebuild and the Jaguars are armed with an extra first round pick and a lot of cap space to build their roster and, of course, because they were the worst team in the league last season, they get the right to draft Trevor Lawrence, once of the top quarterback prospects in decades. 

This could be a quick rebuild and any head coach who takes this job will have relatively low expectations to start. Compared to the other options, there is a lot to like here. Multiple reports suggest the Jaguars are locked onto former college championship winning head coach Urban Meyer and are waiting on his decision to come out of retirement, at age 56.

Prediction: Urban Meyer, Former Ohio State University Head Coach

3. Philadelphia Eagles

Pros – Good players on both sides of the ball, ownership/front office, #6 pick, quarterback?

Cons – No financial flexibility, likely need to cut players, quarterback?

The Eagles are late to the game after somewhat surprisingly firing Doug Pederson earlier this week and they’re a complicated case overall. Probably more than any team on this list, the Eagles are a well-run organization from top to bottom and, despite their record last season, they have a lot of individually talented players. They also have a premium draft pick by virtue of their record last season, picking 6th overall. However, they’re already far over next year’s cap before re-signing free agents and may need to let some very talented players go, or further sacrifice depth on a top-heavy roster.

Then there is the matter of their quarterback situation, which could be viewed as either a positive or a negative depending on the incoming coach’s view of this team’s quarterback options. Some may see Carson Wentz as an exciting reclamation project who, prior to last season’s disastrous performance, had always been a capable starter and at times an MVP candidate, and some may see 2020 2nd round pick Jalen Hurts as an exciting young quarterback prospect, but the Eagles don’t seem to have a clear plan at the position and wouldn’t be able to get appropriate value for either quarterback if they were to move on right now. 

The Eagles may be a little behind, but they can still get a good offensive coach to help resolve this situation, with Arthur Smith or perhaps Joe Brady looking like strong early options. I have Brady going elsewhere, but Smith would still be a strong hire. In two seasons as the Titans’ offensive coordinator, Smith unlocked Derrick Henry as a feature back, coaxed a mid-career breakout out of Ryan Tannehill, and orchestrated one of the best offenses in the league in back-to-back seasons. Only 38, Smith is an exciting young candidate that is in high demand this off-season.

Prediction: Arthur Smith, Tennessee Titans Offensive Coordinator

4. Houston Texans 

Pros – Deshaun Watson

Cons – Weak roster, no first round pick, lack of financial flexibility, ownership/front office, Deshaun Watson?

I alluded to the Texans’ situation earlier, but I didn’t include the added wrinkle that the Texans don’t have their own first round pick this year and that star quarterback Deshaun Watson may want out. Add in the questions around their front office and ownership, their cap situation (7th least projected cap space in the league), and a roster that is arguably the league’s worst outside of the quarterback position and there are a lot of concerns about this opportunity.

So why do they rank ahead of other opportunities with so many cons and just one pro (who may want out)? Because Watson is that good. When you have a superstar quarterback like that in the prime of his career, other things tend to fall into place much more easily. Even if the Texans are forced to trade Watson, he would command a king’s ransom including multiple premium picks, which, along with the cap space freed up by moving Watson, would allow the Texans to adequately rebuild the rest of this roster long-term.

The Texans seem to be focused on the short-term in their coaching search, interviewing several older former head coaches like Jim Caldwell, Leslie Frazier, and Marvin Lewis. They seem more likely to hire a steady hand that has experience being in playoff races to assure their veterans they plan on continuing to try to compete, rather than rebuilding with a young head coach. 

Caldwell is reportedly the favorite for the job. He’s an unexciting hire who has never really moved the needle as a head coach in his first two opportunities with the Colts and Lions, but he’s guided talented teams and has a winning record overall, including playoff appearances in 4 of 7 seasons (2-4). 

A football lifer, Caldwell, 65, coached in some capacity at the NFL or collegiate level for 41 straight seasons from 1977-2017, including a stint as Wake Forest’s head coach and pair of Super Bowl victories, as the Colts quarterbacks coach and then as the Ravens’ offensive coordinator. Caldwell unretired for a year to be an assistant in Miami in 2019, before sitting out 2020, and seems likely to be willing to return a third time in 2021, for the right opportunity.

Prediction: Jim Caldwell, Former Detroit Lions Head Coach

5. Atlanta Falcons

Pros – More talented than 4-12 record, #4 pick

Cons – Aging roster, limited financial flexibility

The Falcons went just 4-12 last season, but their four losses in which they had a 95% chance to win in the 4th quarter, their 2-8 record in one score games, and their -18 point differential suggest this is a team that is a lot more talented than that record. That record also gets them the 4th overall pick. However, they have a relatively old roster without a lot of financial flexibility (3rd least cap space in the league) and might max out as a .500 team with this roster. 

The Falcons seem committed to keeping highly paid stars Matt Ryan and Julio Jones as they go into their mid-30s, so the incoming head coach will be expected to compete relatively quickly, which is possible, but not given, with this roster. The Falcons can add to this roster with their high draft pick, but they could also use the pick on a quarterback with an eye on the future, as Ryan is going into his age 36 season and isn’t getting cheaper. 

Hiring a young offensive coach may make that more likely and reports suggest they’re down to either Arthur Smith or divisional rival Joe Brady, who coordinated an overachieving Panthers offense in his first season as an NFL offensive coordinator, after coordinating a record setting offense at the college level with LSU in 2019. Also experienced as an assistant with fellow division rival New Orleans, Brady has an impressive resume for a 31-year-old and seems likely to get a shot at a head coach job, if not this off-season then within the next couple years.

Prediction: Joe Brady, Carolina Panthers Offensive Coordinator

6. New York Jets 

Pros – #2 pick, cap space

Cons – Ownership, weak roster, quarterback situation

This job would have been a lot more attractive had the Jets held on to the #1 overall pick and had the rights to select Trevor Lawrence. The Jets still have the #2 pick and the cap space to add to this roster this off-season, but they have an unfavorable ownership situation and they have the kind of roster where the cap space they have and the #2 overall pick don’t seem like enough to turn this around quickly. 

The #2 overall pick plays into the uncertainty at quarterback, where the Jets will have to decide between keeping 2018 3rd overall pick Sam Darnold, guaranteeing him 25 million for injury in 2022, and trading away the #2 pick for more draft assets, or using the #2 pick on his replacement and trading Darnold for lesser draft assets. Darnold is only going into his age 24 season and could still develop into a starter somewhere else, while any quarterback they take #2 overall would not be a sure thing, but Darnold’s contract situation is much less favorable than a rookie’s and passing on a franchise quarterback in the draft could easily come back to haunt them as well. Whoever the quarterback is, the Jets will undoubtedly have to do more to support them in 2021.

The Jets may be passed over by some of the best coaching candidates, but they could still get a good candidate from division rival Buffalo. Daboll has only interviewed with the Chargers aside from the Jets and, though the Chargers seem to like Daboll, I have them going elsewhere in this scenario, leaving the Jets to get the guy responsible for helping develop Josh Allen into a franchise quarterback. The Jets would be hoping he could do the same in New York, either with Darnold or a rookie like Justin Fields or Zack Wilson. Daboll, 45, also has experience on Bill Belichick’s staff in New England and on Nick Saban’s staff at the University of Alabama, winning championships in both spots.

Prediction: Brian Daboll, Buffalo Bills Offensive Coordinator

7. Detroit Lions

Pros – Some good players, #7 pick

Cons – Ownership, mediocre roster, limited financial flexibility

The Lions aren’t the worst team on this list, but it was hard to find big pluses for them. They do have some talented players in Matt Stafford, DeAndre Swift, TJ Hockenson, Taylor Decker, Frank Ragnow, and Trey Flowers, as well as pending free agent Kenny Golladay and they have the 7th overall pick to add to this team, but they don’t have a lot of financial flexibility, even before re-signing or franchise tagging Golladay, and they may be maxed out with their current roster. 

Injuries were a big part of the problem for this team in 2021, most notably Golladay and Flowers, leading to a 5-11 finish, but, even with better health in 2021, it’s hard to see this as much better than a middling team. They could opt to rebuild, using the 7th overall pick on a quarterback and either sitting him for a year or trading Stafford to get draft compensation and financial flexibility to build around their rookie quarterback, but it wouldn’t be a quick rebuild. 

Robert Saleh, 41, is one of the most in-demand young head coaching candidates, coordinating a dominant 49ers defense to a Super Bowl appearance in 2019 and then arguably doing a better job in 2020, when the 49ers still finished in the top-10 in most defensive metrics, despite missing half of their roster. He could probably get a better job than this, but he’s been rumored to Detroit because he’s from the area and they could certainly use his defensive minded coaching after fielding arguably the worst defense in the league last season.

Prediction: Robert Saleh, San Francisco 49ers Defensive Coordinator

2020 NFL Mock Draft (Day 2 Re-Mock)

  1. Cincinnati Bengals – OT Ezra Cleveland (Boise State)

Teams typically pick another offensive player after drafting a quarterback in the first round. The Bengals are pretty set with skill position players, but they could definitely use help on the offensive line. Ezra Cleveland could have easily gone in the first round and could be an instant upgrade at the right tackle position.

  1. Indianapolis Colts – WR Denzel Mims (Baylor)

The Colts apparently had their eyes on Brandon Aiyuk, but the 49ers took him in the first round. Maybe they’ll target another wide receiver at 34, given how deep this wide receiver class is. They need another receiver for the long-term to go with TY Hilton and last year’s 2nd round pick Parris Campbell.

  1. Detroit Lions – DE Yetur Gross-Matos (Penn State)

The Lions surprisingly didn’t move down from the 3rd pick, even though they likely still could have gotten Jeff Okudah a few picks later and even though they have needs all across the roster. They should just take the best available player left on the board at 35 and Yetur Gross-Matos, an expected first round pick, would make a lot of sense for them, given their need for another defensive end opposite Trey Flowers.

  1. New York Giants – S Grant Delpit (LSU)

Surprisingly no safeties went in the first round. It’s not a great safety class, but one or both of Grant Delpit and Xavier McKinney were expected to go in the first. Perhaps the Giants will be the first team to take a safety this year and select one of those two to start opposite Jabrill Peppers. This could be either Delpit or McKinney, but Delpit seems to be higher rated overall.

  1. New England Patriots – OLB Zach Baun (Wisconsin)

The Patriots traded down from 23, which made sense because they wouldn’t have picked again until 87 had they selected there. They may still be able to get whoever they were targeting at 23 at 37. Baun would have made some sense for them in the first round and is a much better value at this point in the draft. He’s a hybrid defensive end/linebacker and will fit in perfectly in New England in the old Kyle Van Noy role.

  1. Carolina Panthers – CB Jaylon Johnson (Utah)

Top cornerback James Bradberry was a big loss in free agency and the Panthers didn’t do anything to replace him. They’re very thin at cornerback, so a rookie could play a big role. This could easily be a position they target at the top of the second round.

  1. Miami Dolphins – RB D’Andre Swift (Georgia)

Some thought the Dolphins were going to take a running back at 30 after moving down with the Packers, but they went cornerback instead. Maybe they are targeting a running back with this pick. They have probably the thinnest running back depth chart in the league, so they have to address the position at some point.

  1. Houston Texans – DT Ross Blacklock (TCU)

The Texans are pretty thin on the defensive line after losing DJ Reader to the Bengals in free agency. They don’t have many picks to work with because of their asinine trade spree over the past year with Bill O’Brien in charge of everything, but they need to address the defensive line at some point. Blacklock would be a good value if he fell to 40.

  1. Cleveland Browns – DE AJ Epenesa (Iowa)

The Browns could use a long-term bookend for Myles Garrett. Olivier Vernon is highly paid (15.5 million in 2020) and in the final year of his contract, so he might not be around much longer and they don’t have great depth at the position either.

  1. Jacksonville Jaguars – RB Jonathan Taylor (Wisconsin)

The Jaguars are reportedly trying to trade Leonard Fournette. Even if they end up keeping him for 2020, he’s going into the final year of his contract, so I don’t expect him to be around beyond this season. The Jaguars lack another good option behind him on the depth chart though, so they’ll have to address this position in the draft.

  1. Chicago Bears – CB Kristian Fulton (LSU)

The Bears had to move on from starting cornerback Prince Amukamara this off-season for cap purposes and didn’t have the financial flexibility to find a real replacement. If the season was to start today, they’d likely be starting former Steelers first round pick Artie Burns. The Bears didn’t have their first rounder because of the Khalil Mack trade, but they have two picks in the 2nd round and should look to add a cornerback who could play immediately if needed.

  1. Indianapolis Colts – S Xavier McKinney (Alabama)

The Colts could use a better starting safety option opposite Malik Hooker. Xavier McKinney was considered a potential first round pick and top safety off the board, so he’d be a great value at this point.

  1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – RB JK Dobbins (Ohio State)

The Buccaneers continue adding help for Tom Brady, after drafting offensive tackle Mekhi Becton in the first round. Running back is a big need as well, with the Buccaneers needing a more reliable complement to Ronald Jones. Look for them to take one of the day 2 running backs.

  1. Denver Broncos – OT Josh Jones (Houston)

The Broncos got young Drew Lock some receiving help in the first round with Jerry Jeudy. Now they get him some help upfront. Left tackle Garret Bolles has been a disappointment since going in the first round in 2017 because of his extreme tendency to commit penalties and could be on his last chance in 2020. Jones gives them insurance at left tackle and should have the versatility to kick inside to guard if needed.

  1. Atlanta Falcons – DE Julian Okwara (Notre Dame)

The Falcons passed on K’Lavon Chaisson in the first round and filled a bigger need at cornerback, but they could still use edge rush help. Look for them to target this position on day 2 as they continue to try to build their defense.

  1. New York Jets – WR Tee Higgins (Clemson)

Most expected the Jets to go wide receiver in the first round, but they took an offensive lineman instead. Perhaps they love the depth of this wide receiver class and think they can get a great value on day 2. Tee Higgins in the middle of the 2nd round would qualify as a great value and would be a big addition for a Jets team that lacks a long-term #1 receiver and needs an immediate option to play in 3-wide receiver sets with Breshad Perriman and Jamison Crowder.

  1. Pittsburgh Steelers – QB Jacob Eason (Washington)

If there’s one thing the Steelers learned in Ben Roethlisberger’s absence last season, it’s that neither Mason Rudolph nor Devlin Hodges are their quarterback of the future. With Roethlisberger going into his age 38 season and coming off of a serious injury, the Steelers need a good backup plan and a long-term option at the position.

  1. Chicago Bears – WR KJ Hamler (Penn State)

The Bears need to find a wide receiver to play in three wide receiver sets with Allen Robinson and Anthony Miller. Hamler may remind Matt Nagy of Tyreek Hill, or at least of Taylor Gabriel.

  1. Dallas Cowboys – S Antoine Winfield (Minnesota)

The Cowboys had CeeDee Lamb fall into their lap in the first round, but had that not happened many were expecting them to take a defensive back. Winfield could either provide depth at cornerback or play safety long-term, with HaHa Clinton-Dix only on a one-year deal.

  1. Los Angeles Rams – OLB Josh Uche (Michigan)

The Rams lost both Dante Fowler and Clay Matthews this off-season. They signed Leonard Floyd, but he’s not much of a pass rusher and he’s only on a one-year deal. Samson Ebukam, the other projected starter, is also set to hit free agency next off-season. They desperately need a talented young edge rusher.

  1. Philadelphia Eagles – S Kyle Dugger (Lenoir-Rhyne)

The Eagles lost Malcolm Jenkins this off-season and didn’t bring in an obvious replacement. After addressing their glaring need at wide receiver in the first round, I expect the Eagles to turn their attention to defensive needs like safety on day 2.

  1. Buffalo Bills – DE Jabari Zuinga (Florida)

The Bills lost Shaq Lawson and Lorenzo Alexander this off-season, so they need to replenish depth at the edge defender spot. They signed Mario Addison in free agency, but need one more player in the mix. A young player makes sense, with Addison going into his age 33 season and fellow starter Jerry Hughes going into his age 32 season.

  1. Baltimore Ravens – WR Michael Pittman (USC)

The Ravens aren’t a passing team and when they do pass they mostly feature tight ends, but the Ravens still need to get Lamar Jackson a reliable wide receiver option opposite Marquise Brown. Their lack of talent at wide receiver was evident in their playoff loss to the Titans. Pittman is a bigger player who would complement the speedier Brown well.

  1. Miami Dolphins – DT Marlon Davidson (Auburn)

The Dolphins pick for the 5th time already, but still have plenty of needs they can fill. Davidson is a great value at this point and would provide much needed depth behind Christian Wilkins and Davon Godcheaux at defensive tackle.

  1. Los Angeles Rams – MLB Logan Wilson (Wyoming)

Dante Fowler isn’t the only linebacker the Rams lost to a big contract elsewhere this off-season, with middle linebacker Cory Littleton signing with the Raiders. They badly need help at the middle linebacker spot in his absence, so this should be a priority position for them to address on day 2.

  1. Minnesota Vikings – DE Curtis Weaver (Boise State)

The Vikings replaced Stefon Diggs and Xavier Rhodes in the first round, but still have other key departures to replace, including defensive end Everson Griffen. Griffen could still return, but he’s going into his age 33 season, so the Vikings need to think about the future at defensive end either way.

  1. Seattle Seahawks – DT Jordan Elliott (Missouri)

The Seahawks re-signed Jarran Reed, but they lost Quinton Jefferson and Al Woods, leaving them thin at the defensive tackle position. Unless the Seahawks bizarrely take another linebacker, defensive tackle will likely be a position they focus on during the draft’s 2nd day.

  1. Baltimore Ravens – G Matt Hennessy (Temple)

Losing right guard Marshal Yanda to retirement is a huge blow because he was still playing at a high level in 2019. Look for the Ravens to replace him early in the draft. 

  1. Tennessee Titans – CB Trevon Diggs (Alabama)

The Titans haven’t totally closed the door on re-signing Logan Ryan, but he wants a significant contract and the Titans already have significant money committed to Malcolm Butler and will soon need to lock-up fellow starting cornerback Adoree Jackson long-term on a big contract. The Titans could take a cornerback on day 2 to give them a cheaper option and close the door on bringing back Ryan.

  1. Green Bay Packers – TE Cole Kmet (Notre Dame)

The Packers almost have to get Aaron Rodgers some help on day 2 right? It’s hard to imagine Rodgers is taking the news well that his long-term replacement has been drafted, but maybe the Packers can smooth things over by getting him some much needed pass catchers. Even if that’s not how they’re thinking about it, the Packers have pressing needs at wide receiver and tight end, so it would make sense either way.

  1. Kansas City Chiefs – G John Simpson (Clemson)

The Chiefs need cornerback help, but if there isn’t a cornerback who fits the range, the Chiefs won’t force it in the 2nd round. Instead, they could address a need like the offensive line, where they have an open spot at left guard. Simpson could compete immediately with Andrew Wylie for the starting job.

  1. Seattle Seahawks – OT Matt Peart (Connecticut)

The Seahawks added Brandon Shell in free agency, but he’s a borderline starting option and could be pushed by a rookie. They also need a long-term option at left tackle, where Duane Brown is going into his age 35 season.

  1. Cincinnati Bengals – MLB Malik Harrison (Ohio State)
  2. Washington Redskins – TE Albert Okwuegbunam (Missouri)
  3. Detroit Lions – DT Justin Madubuike (Texas A&M)
  4. New York Jets – OLB Bradlee Anae (Utah)
  5. Carolina Panthers – OLB Akeem Davis-Gaither (Appalachian State)
  6. Miami Dolphins – OT Lucas Niang (TCU)
  7. New England Patriots – TE Adam Trautman (Dayton)
  8. Arizona Cardinals – OT Prince Tega Wanogho (Auburn)
  9. Jacksonville Jaguars – DT Raekwon Davis (Alabama)
  10. Cleveland Browns – WR Gabe Davis (Central Florida)
  11. Indianapolis Colts – OLB Willie Gay (Mississippi State)
  12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – OLB Terrell Lewis (Alabama)
  13. Denver Broncos – DE Neville Gallimore (Oklahoma)
  14. Atlanta Falcons – RB Cam Akers (Florida State)
  15. New York Jets – CB Darnay Holmes (UCLA)
  16. Las Vegas Raiders – G Robert Hunt (Louisiana)
  17. Las Vegas Raiders – QB Jalen Hurts (Oklahoma)
  18. Dallas Cowboys – DE Jonathan Greenard (Florida)
  19. Denver Broncos – WR Laviska Shenault (Colorado)
  20. Los Angeles Rams – WR Lynn Bowden (Kentucky)
  21. Detroit Lions – OT Ben Bartch (St. John’s MN)
  22. Buffalo Bills – RB AJ Dillon (Boston College)
  23. New England Patriots – S Jeremy Chinn (Southern Illinois)
  24. New Orleans Saints – WR Bryan Edwards (South Carolina)
  25. Minnesota Vikings – DT James Lynch (Baylor)
  26. Houston Texans – OLB Darrell Taylor (Tennessee)
  27. Las Vegas Raiders – OLB Jacob Phillips (LSU)
  28. Baltimore Ravens – OLB Alton Robinson (Syracuse)
  29. Tennessee Titans – OLB Khalid Kareem (Notre Dame)
  30. Green Bay Packers – WR Devin Duvernay (Texas)
  31. Denver Broncos – G Tyler Biadasz (Wisconsin)
  32. Kansas City Chiefs – CB Cameron Dantzler (Mississippi State)
  33. Cleveland Browns – DT Jason Strowbridge (North Carolina)
  34. New England Patriots – MLB Joe Bachie (Michigan State)
  35. New York Giants – OLB Alex Highsmith (Charlotte)
  36. New England Patriots – QB Jake Fromm (Georgia)
  37. Seattle Seahawks – TE Harrison Bryant (Florida Atlantic)
  38. Pittsburgh Steelers – RB Eno Benjamin (Arizona State)
  39. Philadelphia Eagles – OLB Davion Taylor (Colorado)
  40. Los Angeles Rams – RB Darrynton Evans (Appalachian State)
  41. Minnesota Vikings – G Jonah Jackson (Ohio State)
  42. Baltimore Ravens – RB Joshua Kelly (UCLA)

2020 NFL Mock Draft

1. Cincinnati Bengals – QB Joe Burrow (LSU)

The Dolphins are reportedly making a “godfather” option to the Bengals to move up to #1. They have the draft capital over the next two years to make a very appealing offer (although they wouldn’t have had to do this if they had benched Ryan Fitzpatrick for the final two games of the season), but the Bengals seem pretty set on Burrow, who they have been talking to weekly over video for the past month. Either way Burrow would be the pick here, most likely to Cincinnati, but you never know.

2. Washington Redskins – DE Chase Young (Ohio State)

There may be some trade chatter here too, but ultimately the Redskins are expected to stay put and take Chase Young, the draft’s consensus top defensive player. It would likely take a similar “godfather” offer from a team for the Redskins to be willing to move down and give up the opportunity to draft Young.

3. Miami Dolphins (TRADE) – QB Tua Tagovailoa (Alabama)

I’ve had the Lions trading down from this spot since my initial mock draft and it seems likely to happen. Teams will want to move up to this spot to secure their favorite of the remaining quarterbacks and the Lions will want to move down because they have a bunch of needs and can still get one of their target defensive players a few spots later. The Dolphins have always been the favorite to move up here, assuming they want to, over teams like the Chargers, Jaguars, and Raiders. 

Not only do they have the fewest spots to move up, but they also have more draft capital than any team in the league. They have a whopping 5 first round picks in the next two drafts and, with four second round picks as well, they might not have to give up a single one of those first rounders to get this deal done. Draft day reports suggest a trade is close for the Dolphins to move up to this spot, either with an ultimate goal of moving up all the way to 1 or to secure their 2nd ranked quarterback on their board at 3. There has been a lot of smoke tying the Dolphins to both Justin Herbert and Tua Tagovailoa, but I’m sticking with my original pick of Tua here.

4. Los Angeles Chargers (TRADE) – QB Justin Herbert (Oregon)

With Tua off the board, that could prompt one of the other teams looking at a quarterback to also move up in order to secure their quarterback. Like the Dolphins are favored to move up to 3, the Chargers should be favored to move up to 4. The Chargers don’t have as much draft capital as the Dolphins do, but with only two spots to move up, they should have enough to get this deal done. The Giants wouldn’t need a king’s ransom just to move down a couple spots and select a player they likely would have taken at 4. The Chargers like Tyrod Taylor as a short-term solution, but he’s going to be a free agent next off-season and a franchise quarterback on a rookie contract is the most valuable asset in football, so they won’t hesitate to move up to secure Herbert if they like him enough.

5. Detroit Lions (TRADE) – DT Derrick Brown (Auburn)

The Lions’ trade down works to perfection as they still have the same choices on defense as they would have had if they had stayed put at 3. I’ve gone back and forth between defensive tackle Derrick Brown and cornerback Jeff Okudah, who would both fill massive needs, with linebacker Isaiah Simmons also a possibility, but I’ve heard more tying Brown to the Lions in recent days than Okudah and this is a deeper cornerback class than defensive tackle class in the second round. With Damon Harrison, A’Shawn Robinson, and Mike Daniels all gone from last year’s team, the Lions badly need someone like Brown to go with free agent acquisition Danny Shelton and holdover Da’Shawn Hand.

6. New York Giants (TRADE) – OT Andrew Thomas (Georgia)

I’ve had the Giants taking a defensive player in the past, but there has been more buzz about an offensive tackle here lately. They need immediate help at right tackle and long-term help at left tackle, where Nate Solder is expensively paid and going into his age 32 season. They’ll likely have their pick of any of the top offensive tackles in this class and could start what some are predicting is going to be a run on tackles in the top-10. With the Chargers and Dolphins both taking quarterbacks, that run becomes less likely, but Thomas is still expected to hear his name called very early and he’d make sense at this spot for the Giants.

7. Carolina Panthers – OLB Isaiah Simmons (Clemson)

With Luke Kuechly’s sudden retirement, the Panthers have a big hole to fill at linebacker. Simmons is a similar player to Panthers linebacker Shaq Thompson, their other every down linebacker with Kuechly last year, which could make Simmons an odd fit on the Panthers, but I think the pairing could work. The Panthers would have as much speed and coverage ability at linebacker as any team in the league and could use one or the other as a safety or slot cornerback depending on the situation. Cornerback Jeff Okudah is also an option here, as the Panthers are in a good spot to sit back and pick between the defensive players who fall to them after the quarterbacks go high.

8. Atlanta Falcons (TRADE) – CB Jeff Okudah (Ohio State)

The Cardinals are also in a good spot to sit back and wait for a defensive player to fall to them, although not necessarily to take themselves. There is a lot of talk about the Falcons wanting to move up into the top-10 for a defensive player and the Cardinals, who lack a second round pick after trading it for DeAndre Hopkins, seem like an obvious trade partner. On the trade value chart, the Falcons giving up 16 and 47 to the Cardinals for 8 is about an even trade, so they won’t have to get terribly creative with this deal either. In the past I’ve had the Falcons moving up for Isaiah Simmons, but cornerback Jeff Okudah seems to be the target now if he slips out of the top-6.

9. Jacksonville Jaguars – CB CJ Henderson (Florida)

The Jaguars got leaped by the Falcons for this draft’s top cornerback Jeff Okudah, but Henderson is getting his own top-10 buzz of late, so they might be happy with either cornerback. With Jalen Ramsey and AJ Bouye both being traded, the Jaguars desperately need to reload at the cornerback position. Henderson could be their top cornerback even as a rookie. The Jaguars have another pick at 20, which they got for Ramsey, but they can’t afford to wait on a cornerback.

10. Cleveland Browns – OT Tristan Wirfs (Iowa)

I’ve had this as a trade spot in past mocks, with teams looking to leap the Jets for a wide receiver and the Browns potentially feeling they can still get a good tackle later in the first. That could still happen, but it would require a team being so in love with one particular wide receiver that they can’t sit back and wait for a deep wide receiver class to come to them, which may not happen. If the Browns stay put, they’ll have their choice of the remaining tackle prospects, with Wirfs possibly moving into the #2 spot after a dominant combine. Wherever the Browns pick, I’d be shocked if they took anything other than a left tackle, with a glaring hole in their starting lineup at that position and up to 6-7 offensive tackles projected to go off the board in round 1. 

11. New York Jets – WR CeeDee Lamb (Oklahoma)

The Jets signed Breshad Perriman to replace Robby Anderson in free agency, but the Jets also need to replace free agent Demaryius Thomas in three wide receiver sets. Perriman is also only signed to a one-year deal and isn’t the long-term #1 option the Jets need to give Sam Darnols. If no one moves up into the top-10 for a wide receiver, the Jets could easily be the first team to dip into the wide receiver pool and take one at 11 overall. It’s between CeeDee Lamb and Jerry Jeudy to be the top wide receiver off the board, but recent buzz has had Lamb higher.

12. Las Vegas Raiders – WR Jerry Jeudy (Alabama)

The Jets take a wide receiver one pick earlier and now the Raiders follow suit by taking Jerry Jeudy. The Raiders added Antonio Brown for a reason last off-season and, while that didn’t work out, they definitely could have used his help opposite Tyrell Williams and still have a big need at that position after only taking a flier on Nelson Agholor in free agency this off-season. The Raiders found a steal with slot receiver Hunter Renfrow in the 5th round of the draft last year. Now they find an outside receiver.

13. Miami Dolphins (TRADE) – OT Jedrick Wills (Alabama)

The 49ers have a pair of first rounders after acquiring this pick from the Colts for DeForest Buckner, but they somehow don’t pick again until the 5th round, so they’ll almost definitely be looking to move down from one of their two first rounders in order to accumulate more picks. The Dolphins have already moved up to secure their quarterback, but they have so much draft capital that they can afford to move up again. They desperately need a left tackle to protect whoever their quarterback ends up being and it’s unlikely that one of the top-4 guys will still be there at 18. To make this move up, the Dolphins send the 49ers their 3rd and 4th round picks and the 49ers send back one of their three 5th rounders to the Dolphins.

14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – OT Mekhi Becton (Louisville)

The Buccaneers landed Tom Brady and now will have to make sure they protect the soon-to-be 43-year-old. Right tackle is still a glaring hole with long-term veteran starter Demar Dotson still unsigned ahead of his age 35 season, so the Buccaneers may be planning on filling this hole early in the draft with one of the top tackle prospects.

15. Denver Broncos – WR Henry Ruggs (Alabama)

This draft class lacks a clear elite wide receiver prospect as it’s unlikely any wide receivers go before the 10th pick, but there could be as many as 7 wide receivers that go in the first round in total. The Broncos could easily be one of the teams that takes a wide receiver, as they don’t have much at the wide receiver position behind Courtland Sutton after trading away Emmanuel Sanders mid-season and not addressing this position in free agency.

16. Jacksonville Jaguars (TRADE) – DE K’Lavon Chaisson (LSU)

The Cardinals got this pick in their trade down with the Falcons, but they’re not done making moves. They have a young franchise quarterback on a cheap rookie deal and, as we’ve seen teams in that situation do in the past, they could be very aggressive about maximizing their chances of winning while their quarterback is still cheap. They’ve already added DeAndre Hopkins via trade, but they still have a projected 80 million in cap space for 2021, and could add another veteran like disgruntled Jaguars franchise player Yannick Ngakoue.

The Jaguars are currently looking for a first round pick and more for Ngakoue, but no one has offered them even a first round pick, so they may have to get creative with trade proposals for a player who clearly wants out. In this scenario, Jacksonville wouldn’t get the 16th pick straight up from the Cardinals, but they’d get the second rounder that the Cardinals got from the Falcons (47th) and a swap of the 20th pick and the 16th pick. 

In this trade, Ngakoue would be valued as equivalent to the 33rd overall pick on the trade value chart, which might be the most the Jaguars could hope for, and the Jaguars would have the ability to move up and grab a replacement for Ngakoue in K’Lavon Chaisson, who likely wouldn’t have been available at 20 (the Cowboys at 17 are known to like him). The Jaguars have now added a top cornerback prospect, a top edge rusher prospect, and still have another 2 picks in the top-50, their own second rounder and the Falcons’ second rounder.

17. Dallas Cowboys – WR Justin Jefferson (LSU)

The Cowboys get jumped for the defensive end they likely would have taken, so they address another need. The Cowboys had one of the most explosive passing games in the league last season, but without Randall Cobb, who signed with the Texans in free agency, they lack a good 3rd receiving option. The Cowboys should look to add a 3rd receiver or a pass catching tight end early in the draft to fill that need and with the wide receiver class being deeper than the tight end class I suspect they’d go that route early. Taking Jefferson here also has the added benefit of keeping him away from the division rival Eagles, who are known to be high on him.

18. San Francisco 49ers (TRADE) – DT Javon Kinlaw (Mississippi)

The 49ers trade down with the Dolphins and are still able to address their biggest need with a player who would have been in consideration at 13, so their trade worked out well. With DeForest Bucker being sent to the Colts in order to get that 13th pick in the first place, the 49ers are very thin at defensive tackle, so they will be happy if they can get a blue chip defensive tackle prospect from that pick and replenish later picks at the same time.

19. Las Vegas Raiders – CB AJ Terrell (Clemson)

The Raiders have added some nice young pieces on defense in the past couple drafts, but need to keep building their defense, especially the back seven. The Raiders are very thin at cornerback, so a highly drafted rookie can start for them from week 1. Their first pick at 12 is probably too high for a cornerback unless Okudah or Henderson fall, but cornerback is a strong possibility at 19.

20. Arizona Cardinals (TRADE) – OT Josh Jones (Houston)

The Cardinals trade down twice and, through a couple trades, essentially get the franchise tagged Yannick Ngakoue for doing so. Ngakoue won’t be cheap to keep long-term, but the Cardinals have an inexpensive franchise quarterback and the financial flexibility long-term to make an aggressive move like that to try to make a big leap as a team in Kyler Murray’s second season in the league. In addition to the cost of Ngakoue’s contract, the Cardinals miss out on one of the top-4 tackle prospects in this draft, but there’s enough depth at the position for the Cardinals to still find a needed upgrade at right tackle later in the first round.

21. Philadelphia Eagles – WR Denzel Mims (Baylor)

Wide receiver was a major problem for the Eagles in 2019. They should get more from 2019 2nd round pick JJ Arcega-Whiteside and Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson should hopefully be healthier next season, but they still need to address this position through the draft. Jeffery and Jackson are both injury prone and will be in their 30s next year with big salaries, so their days with the team may be numbered and they need insurance for them in the short-term.

22. Minnesota Vikings – DE Yetur Gross-Matos (Penn State)

The Vikings got this pick from the Bills for Stefon Diggs. It’s a trade that makes sense for both sides. The Bills are in win now mode and need a legitimate #1 receiver like Diggs, while the Vikings are tight on cap space and are a run heavy team that doesn’t need to commit significant money to their quarterback and top-2 wide receivers. The move leaves the Vikings thin at wide receiver, but this is a deep wide receiver class and the Vikings have three picks in the first 2 rounds, so they don’t need to find a replacement for Diggs right away. Instead, they use this pick to replace Everson Griffen and fill a big need at defensive end.

23. New England Patriots – MLB Kenneth Murray (Oklahoma)

This could be a spot for a quarterback, but the Patriots seem to at least somewhat like Jarrett Stidham as a developmental prospect, so it makes more sense that the Patriots would add a veteran stopgap in free agency rather than using a high draft pick on a quarterback. Lost in the story of Brady’s departure from New England is the story of all of the Patriots losses at linebacker, with Jamie Collins, Kyle Van Noy, and Elandon Roberts signing elsewhere this off-season. The linebacker position should be a priority on draft day.

24. New Orleans Saints – QB Jordan Love (Utah State)

The Saints clearly value Taysom Hill, giving him a first round tender this off-season, but even the first round tender is only worth 4.641 million, so that’s not necessarily a sign that they view him as a quarterback of the future. His salary is more than justifiable by his role as a “gadget” player and special teamer and it’s telling that when Drew Brees was hurt last year the Saints turned to a traditional quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and actually scaled Hill’s usage down significantly. If they don’t view Hill, who is already going into his age 30 season, as a long-term quarterback option, they may add one through the draft this year. We know the Saints were interested in taking Patrick Mahomes a few years ago before the Chiefs moved up ahead of them and took him. Jordan Love has drawn some comparisons to Mahomes as a prospect. He enters the league very raw, but would benefit from sitting a year or two on the bench behind Brees.

25. Minnesota Vikings – CB Jeff Gladney (TCU)

The Vikings have had a history of taking defensive backs early, even when they don’t need to, taking Xavier Rhodes in the first round in 2013, Trae Waynes in the first round in 2015, Mackenzie Alexander in the second round in 2016, and Mike Hughes in the first round in 2018. This off-season, they need to, so it would make sense that the Vikings would take another cornerback early. Waynes and Alexander both left as free agents this off-season, while Rhodes was a cap casualty after two down seasons. Hughes is still on his rookie deal, but has had an injury plagued two years in the league thus far. Even if he pans out, they still need a long-term starter opposite him.

26. Miami Dolphins – S Xavier McKinney (Alabama)

The Dolphins got this pick from the Texans for Laremy Tunsil, but one of their extra first round picks comes from their trade of Minkah Fitzpatrick to the Steelers, a trade the Dolphins never really wanted to have to make, and a trade the Dolphins seemed to regret after Fitzpatrick broke out with the Steelers. Without Fitzpatrick, the Dolphins lack an impact making safety, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if they used one of their later two first round picks on the position.

27. Green Bay Packers (TRADE) – MLB Patrick Queen (LSU)

It wouldn’t be a trades mock draft if I didn’t include the Seahawks moving down. Somehow, the Seahawks have not drafted at their original pick in the first round since 2012 and over that stretch have selected just three times total in the first round, with one of those first rounders coming from the Chiefs in the Frank Clark trade. Expect them to trade down and accumulate more picks, possibly trading down more than once as they’ve done several times in recent years. The Packers moving up here to leap the Ravens for Patrick Queen makes sense. Both the Packers and Ravens desperately need middle linebacker help and the middle linebacker class drops off significantly after Murray and Queen.

28. Baltimore Ravens – G Cesar Ruiz (Michigan)

The Ravens miss out on the middle linebacker they likely would have been targeting here, so they address another need instead. Losing right guard Marshal Yanda to retirement is a huge blow because he was still playing at a high level in 2019. Look for them to replace him early in the draft. Ruiz is the consensus top interior offensive lineman in this draft and is on the 1st/2nd round border, possibly being pushed up into the first out of positional need in a thin guard class.

29. Tennessee Titans – OLB Zack Baun (Wisconsin)

The Titans need to improve their pass rush, with only one player on the roster having more than 5 sacks last season. Harold Landry, their 2018 2nd round pick, led the way with 9, but they need a long-term option opposite him. They signed Vic Beasley in free agency, but only on a one-year deal and he’s been highly inconsistent in the past. Even if he has a strong season in 2020, the Titans will likely still need a long-term option because Beasley could price himself out of the Titans’ range with a bounce back 2020 campaign.

30. Seattle Seahawks (TRADE) – DT Ross Blacklock (TCU)

The Seahawks re-signed Jarran Reed, but they lost Quinton Jefferson and Al Woods, leaving them thin at the defensive tackle position. The Seahawks could target that position after trading down. Blacklock would also make sense as their pick at 27 if they have to stay put.

31. San Francisco 49ers – OT Austin Jackson (USC)

The 49ers need a long-term replacement for Joe Staley, who is going into his age 36 season. Jackson can start his career at right guard, where he could be an immediate starter, and would be a long-term bookend for Mike McGlinchey whenever Staley is no longer around.

32. Kansas City Chiefs – RB Jonathan Taylor (Wisconsin)

Damien Williams scores a lot of touchdowns in the playoffs, but he mostly just picks up what’s blocked on probably the easiest offense in the league to run on, given how much defenses have to respect the pass. The Chiefs have lacked an explosive back since getting rid of Kareem Hunt and could target one of the top backs in this draft class at the end of the first round. Jonathan Taylor could add another dimension to an already deadly offense.

2020 Franchise and Transition Tag Candidates

The franchise/transition tag period for the 2020 off-season starts this Thursday February 27th and goes through March 12th. After the 12th, all non-tagged players with expiring contracts will hit the open market. Those dates were both moved forward by two days with the NFL and NFLPA still trying to negotiate a new CBA ahead of the new league year. Those negotiations complicate this situation in a couple ways. On one hand, if a new CBA is agreed to, the franchise tag and transition tag values could be drastically changed from their current projections. On the other hand, without a new deal, teams will have access to both the franchise tag and the transition tag this off-season, making life much easier for teams with multiple top free agents. There’s a much larger pool than usual of top free agents who could be tagged this off-season, even with top free agents Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Jadeveon Clowney all ineligible for the tag for different reasons. Below is a list in order of descending likelihood of candidates to be tagged without a long-term deal. 

QB Dak Prescott (Dallas)

This seems like the most no brainer franchise tag candidate, assuming a long-term deal isn’t worked out beforehand. The Cowboys might not be quite willing to meet Prescott’s 40 million dollar annual salary ask, but they’re unlikely to let him hit the open market without any compensation and the projected 26.895 million dollar franchise tag is a much easier number for the Cowboys to keep him at. Prescott is also unlikely to sign the tag right away, meaning the Cowboys could still pursue other quarterback options like Tom Brady this off-season and eventually trade Prescott at some point. 

DE Yannick Ngakoue (Jacksonville)

Not much remains of the dominant defense the Jaguars had in 2017 that carried them to the AFC Championship game, but Ngakoue was still a bright spot in an otherwise disappointing season for the Jaguars in 2019. He had 8 sacks and another 10 hits on the quarterback, giving him 37.5 sacks and 55 hits in 63 games for his career, along with a 12.0% pressure rate. His play against the run leaves something to be desired, but guys who can get to the quarterback as consistently as he does are guys you can build your defense around and those guys get paid on the open market. 

The Jaguars’ cap is clogged with big contracts, but they can move on from underperforming veterans to clear space for Ngakoue, who was severely underpaid in the final year of his rookie deal in 2019, making 2.025 million. The 2016 3rd round pick is only going into his age 25 season and is someone the Jaguars should want around for a long time. If he does end up leaving the Jaguars, I imagine it would only be in a tag and trade situation, as the Jaguars are unlikely to let him walk for nothing.

The only complication here is that while the defensive end franchise tag is worth 19.316 million, Ngakoue would likely get upwards of 20+ million annually with 50+ million guaranteed on the open market and may not be happy about being tagged. The Jaguars could have to agree to a long-term deal with him or work out a trade quickly to prevent it from becoming a problem, but that certainly beats the alternative of losing him outright.

DE Shaq Barrett (Tampa Bay)

Shaq Barrett is a player who the franchise tag seems tailor made for. After just 14 sacks in 4 seasons with the Broncos, Barrett led the NFL with 19.5 sacks this season after signing a one-year deal with the Buccaneers last off-season. Barrett played better than his sack total suggested in Denver, as he was a strong run defender who always flashed in limited pass rush opportunities behind the likes of Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware, and Bradley Chubb, with a 12.1% pressure rate in the first 4 seasons of his career, but the Buccaneers only signed him for 4 million last off-season and might not want to commit to him on a big money deal long-term just yet. Likewise, Barrett might not mind the one-year, 16.266 million dollar payday with an opportunity to break the bank next off-season with another strong season in Todd Bowles’ system. For that reason, the franchise tag makes a lot more sense than the transition tag for both sides.

DT Chris Jones (Kansas City)

Pat Mahomes was obviously going to win Super Bowl MVP for his efforts in leading the team back, but he was also pretty underwhelming for the first three quarters of the game and threw a pair of interceptions, so some felt that Chris Jones should be MVP instead for his 4th quarter disruptions of Jimmy Garoppolo. Jones didn’t just have a strong Super Bowl either, as the 2016 2nd round pick has finished in the top-8 among interior defenders on PFF in each of the past 3 seasons, while totalling 31 sacks, 33 hits, and a 12.3% pressure rate over that time. His play against the run leaves something to be desired, but as a pass rusher he’s been more productive than any interior player other than Aaron Donald and more productive than most edge players for that matter. Those guys usually get paid and the Chiefs are unlikely to let him hit the open market.

Whether or not Jones ultimately gets paid by the Chiefs is the question though. The Chiefs already have 12 million or more annually committed to 5 players on their roster and 8 million or more annually committed to 9 players on their roster. Those 9 players currently occupy about 61% of their cap space and that’s before the inevitable Pat Mahomes megadeal. The Chiefs might not be able to afford the 9 figure deal Jones would likely command on the open market. They could franchise tag him and bring him back on a one-year deal, but this could also be a tag and trade situation like the Chiefs did with Dee Ford last off-season. The tag and trade scenario would not work as well with the transition tag, so I wouldn’t expect the Chiefs to go with the cheaper option.

S Justin Simmons (Denver)

Simmons seems like a likely franchise tag candidate. A 3rd round pick in 2016, Simmons was a solid starter prior to 2019 (32 starts in his first 3 seasons in the league), but broke out in a big way in the final year of his rookie deal last season, finishing 1st among safeties on PFF. The Broncos might not want to commit to a top of market deal based off of one dominant season, but he’s more than earned the 12.735 million dollar franchise tag and is not someone the Broncos would want to lose. The transition tag, which could force the Broncos to make a long-term commitment this off-season, probably isn’t an option.

QB Ryan Tannehill (Tennessee)

At first glance, Tannehill might seem like an obvious franchise tag candidate. He took over a 2-4 team last season and led them to 7 wins in their final 10 games to qualify for the post-season, where they won a pair of games on the road in big upsets and advanced to the AFC Championship game. In the process, he led the NFL with a 117.5 QB rating. He had a good situation around him with a strong running game and offensive line and a capable receiving corps, but he’s still not the kind of player the Titans would want to lose. However, his performance in 88 starts with the Dolphins in his first 7 seasons of his career (87.0 QB rating) suggest he’s unlikely to have suddenly become an elite quarterback, so committing to him on a big money, long-term deal is risky. 

The 26.895 million dollar franchise tag seems like a great middle ground option, but there are some complicating factors. For one, the Titans are rumored to be interested in trying to sign Tom Brady this off-season, but won’t be able to talk to him until they’ve made a decision on tagging Tannehill or not. The Titans could tag him and try to negotiate with Brady anyway, but Tannehill could end up opting to sign the tender to keep his job on a contending team. The 26.895 million dollar franchise tag is a steep increase for a quarterback who took home just 10.425 million last season. 

On top of that, the Titans also want to keep running back Derrick Henry off the open market and if a new CBA is ratified soon, the Titans wouldn’t have the option of both the franchise tag and the transition tag and would have to make a decision between Tannehill and Henry. I’d still expect Tannehill to be tagged as, even though this could be a big off-season for quarterback movement, the Titans still don’t want to be left without a chair at the end of it, but it’s not a given, especially if a new CBA is agreed to and/or the Titans get a sense they might get Brady.

OLB Matthew Judon (Baltimore)

Judon has never had a double digit sack season in his career, but he was still a dominant pass rusher in 2019, with 9.5 sacks, 24 hits, and a 14.1% pressure rate. He has his struggles against the run and his 38th ranked finish overall among edge defenders on PFF in 2019 was his career best, so he’s not an elite overall player, but he’s also not the kind of player the Ravens want to lose because of his pass rush productivity (12.2% pressure rate in his career). Working in the Ravens’ favor is the fact that Judon would be tagged as a linebacker (16.266 million) rather than a defensive end (19.316 million) because the Ravens run a 3-4 and the NFL uses archaic position titles for the franchise tag. 

WR AJ Green (Cincinnati)

It’s clear that AJ Green would prefer not to be franchise tagged, but he wouldn’t have much of a say in the matter. His only option would be to hold out the season and try to force a trade by doing so, but I don’t think Green would risk missing the season now at age 32 after missing all of last season with injury. The Bengals have never committed to top market long-term deals with players at any position and Green, despite being arguably their best player in the past decade, is unlikely to be an exception given his age and injury history. 

The Bengals likely view Tyler Boyd, who they extended on a 4-year, 43 million dollar deal, as their long-term #1, but Green can still be a difference maker when he’s on the field, and the Bengals may want to bring him back to help with likely #1 pick Joe Burrow’s development. They may view the franchise tag as a bridge to a short-term team friendly deal as the best way to proceed with Green this off-season even if that doesn’t seem to be what Green himself wants, as he’d like to try to sign a guaranteed long-term deal with a legitimate contender this off-season. The transition tag, which would force the Bengals to match a long-term deal or lose Green for no compensation, is unlikely to be an option.

OT Anthony Castonzo (Indianapolis)

There are rumors Castonzo is considering retiring ahead of what would be his age 32 season, so this is obviously assuming he wants to continue playing. If he does, the Colts will likely want to retain a left tackle who has been rock solid for them since being drafted in the first round in 2011 and still played at a high level in 2019, even being on the older side. He’s started 132 games in 9 seasons in the league, finishing in the top-23 among offensive tackles in all but his rookie season, including 3 seasons in the top-8 and a 7th ranked finish in 2019. Castonzo likely wouldn’t command a 4+ year deal in free agency, so the Colts could use either tag on him and work on a short-term extension that pays him near the top of the left tackle market for another couple seasons. They have plenty of cap space and wouldn’t want to break up a strong offensive line.

DE Arik Armstead (San Francisco)

Armstead is a good fit for the franchise tag. A first round pick in 2015, Armstead was a good run stopping defensive end with solid peripheral pass rush stats through his first 4 seasons in the league (12.3% pressure rate), but missed 18 games with injury, averaged just 406 snaps per season, and totalled a combined 9 sacks. That all changed in the final year of his rookie deal, when he broke out with 10 sacks, while adding 9 hits, and a pressure rate of 12.5%, while continuing to play the run well and playing 776 snaps overall. Overall, he finished as PFF’s 4th ranked edge defender on the season. 

The 49ers don’t want to lose someone like that with their Super Bowl window still wide open, but it would be risky to give him a big long-term deal with a lot of guaranteed money because he’s only put it all together once. Armstead also hasn’t objected to questions about the franchise tag, likely understanding that the 19.316 million it would pay him next season is still a significant sum for one year for a player who had 9 career sacks a season ago and understanding that if he has another strong year he’d likely break the bank in free agency next off-season. The transition tag is less likely because he’d probably get an offer, forcing the 49ers to decide whether or not to commit to a long-term deal with him.

DE Leonard Williams (NY Giants)

Williams was the 6th overall pick by the Jets in 2015 and overall lived up to expectations. He never posted huge sack numbers, but he was consistently a strong run stuffer and had good peripheral pass rush stats as well, adding 70 hits and a 9.7% pressure rate to his 17 sacks in 71 games with the Jets. He maxed out as PFF’s 10th ranked interior defender in 2016 and has finished in the top-28 three times. Williams made it no secret about the kind of long-term deal he’s looking for this off-season though and, as a result, the Jets traded Williams in the middle of what was an overall down year for him to the Giants for a 3rd and 5th round draft pick to recoup something for a player they weren’t expecting to bring back. 

Even after he finished last season 42nd among interior defenders on PFF, the Giants still seem to value him highly and likely didn’t trade significant draft picks for him to see him walk in free agency. Still only going into his age 26 season, Williams has obvious bounce back potential for 2020 and beyond and is likely to be tagged by the Giants with the idea of working out a long-term agreement with him. They view him as a long-term building block. 

WR Amari Cooper (Dallas)

Cooper’s situation is complicated by Dak Prescott also being a pending free agent, but the Cowboys are unlikely to let Cooper walk for nothing, after using a first round pick to acquire him just a season and a half ago. Assuming the Cowboys get use of both tags, Cooper would be an obvious candidate for the transition tag, as the Cowboys would likely match any deal he’d get on the open market. He’s averaged a 84/1225/9 slash line per 16 games in 25 games with the team and could be looking at 18-20 million annually on a long-term deal, still only going into his age 26 season.

RB Derrick Henry (Tennessee)

Henry would be a no-brainer franchise tag candidate if Tannehill wasn’t also a pending free agency. Instead, the Titans will have to hope there isn’t a new CBA and that they’ll have use of both their franchise tag and transition tag. With Tannehill likely to be franchised, Henry would be an obvious candidate for the transition tag. The 10.189 million dollar transition tag is still a steep sum for a running back, but Henry is incredibly important to the Titans’ offense and it’s likely they value him higher than any other team would and, as a result, would match any long-term deal he gets on the open market. Even after his rushing title and dominant post-season performance last season, Henry still might not reach the Todd Gurley/Ezekiel Elliott tier of running back contracts because of his limitations on passing downs. 

G Brandon Scherff (Washington)

Not much has gone right for the Redskins over the past few seasons, but the selection of Brandon Scherff 5th overall in 2015 has been one of the bright spots and, as such, the Redskins are unlikely to let one of their few true building blocks leave this off-season. Injuries are a minor concern as he’s missed 15 games in the past 3 seasons, but he’s also finished in the top-27 among guards on PFF in all 5 seasons in the league, including top-7 finishes in 2017 and 2019. Expect the Redskins to give him one of the two tags with the idea of buying them more time to sign him to a long-term deal. 

CB James Bradberry (Carolina)

The Panthers’ top cornerback, Bradberry is rumored to be looking for offers of about 14-15 million annually in free agency this off-season. The Panthers have plenty of cap space and could keep him with the 16.471 million dollar franchise tag or the 14.57 million dollar transition tag. Bradberry regularly matches up with top wide receivers, but he has had trouble holding his own, finishing in the top-15 among cornerbacks in yards allowed in each of the past 3 seasons, including 2 seasons in the top-7. Still, he’s only going into his age 26 season and the Panthers may project him as a better player going forward than he’s been in the past.

S Anthony Harris (Minnesota)

Harris wasn’t even drafted back in 2015, but the former special teamer has been a revelation as a starter for the Vikings at safety over the past season and a half. After playing 621 career defensive snaps through week 7 of his 4th season in the league in 2018, Harris took over as the starter in week 8 and has been one of the best safeties in the league since, finishing 5th among safeties on PFF in 9 starts in 2018 and then 2nd as a 15-game starter in 2019. 

Harris has been a late bloomer, but he’s only going into his age 29 season and should command a top of the market deal in free agency. The Vikings don’t want to lose him, but will need to let other players go and get creative with the cap to tag him. With so much long-term money tied up in other places and another top level safety on the team in Harrison Smith, this could ultimately be a tag and trade scenario.

TE Hunter Henry (LA Chargers)

Henry has missed 23 games in 4 seasons in the league since the Chargers took him in the 2nd round in 2016, but he’s averaged a 53/667/7 slash line per 16 games, despite spending his first two seasons as a part-time player behind Antonio Gates on the depth chart. Last season was his first full season as a starter and, though he missed 4 games with injury, he ranked 9th in the NFL in receiving yards by a tight end and was on a 869-yard pace per 16 games. Throughout his career, he’s averaged an impressive 8.85 yards per target in his career and he is also an above average blocker to boot. 

Signing Henry to a big long-term deal may be a risk, but he doesn’t turn 26 until December and there is plenty of evidence that Henry could have a monster season if he can ever put it all together for a 16-game stretch and that’s probably not the kind of player the Chargers want to lose, especially with franchise star Philip Rivers likely on his way out this off-season. I’d say there’s a better chance than not that the Chargers tag him, with the franchise tag making more sense than the transition tag because the Chargers wouldn’t have to worry about making a decision on whether or not to match.

OLB Dante Fowler (LA Rams)

Fowler has had an interesting career. Drafted 3rd overall in 2015 by the Jaguars, Fowler tore his ACL at his first practice as a professional, missed his whole rookie season, and had lost his starting job by his return, playing just 30.7 snaps per game in 39 games for the Jaguars before they traded him to the Rams for a 3rd and 5th round pick in the middle of the 2018 season. Fowler had shown promise as a pass rusher in limited action with the Jaguars, with a 10.6% pressure rate, but was underwhelming in his half season with the Rams, with 2 sacks, 5 hits, and 16 hurries on 256 pass rush snaps. Fowler hit free agency last off-season because the Jaguars had declined his 5th year option, but the Rams were willing to bring him back on a one-year, 12 million dollar deal and were rewarded with Fowler breaking out with a 11.5-sack season. 

With Fowler still only going into his age 26 season, he figures to secure a big deal in free agency this off-season. Fowler’s peripheral pass rush stats, 6 hits and a 13.2% pressure rate, weren’t as good as his sack total and he finished just 35th overall among edge defenders on PFF, so the cap strapped Rams might not see bringing him back as a necessity, but they could still tag him to keep him off the open market because the 16.266 million dollar franchise tag and the 14.08 million dollar transition tag are likely both less than he’d get annually in free agency.

DT DJ Reader (Houston)

The 6-3 346 pound Reader isn’t just a big run stuffer, although he is one of the better run stuffing base package nose tackles in the league. What could make him worth the 12.321 million dollar transition tag or even the 15.5 million dollar franchise tag is his ability to stay on the field for all 3 downs, playing 60.6% of the snaps over the past 2 seasons. He had just 2.5 sacks last season, but added 11 hits and a 9.9% pressure rate and he has a 8.4% pressure rate for his career. The 2016 5th round pick has gotten better every season in the league and finished last year as PFF’s 5th ranked interior defender overall. Big run stuffers like him that also contribute on passing downs are rare.

OLB Bud Dupree (Pittsburgh)

Dupree’s 11.5 sacks in 2019 suggest he’s someone the Steelers wouldn’t want to lose, but they are tight on cap space and Dupree has some obvious downsides. The former first round pick never topped 6 sacks in a season before his contract year in 2019 and even in 2019 he had just a 9.5% pressure rate and several of his sacks were the result of playing on an overall strong defense with a dominant edge rusher in TJ Watt on the opposite side. He was just PFF’s 25th ranked edge defender, still a career best, and has just a 9.3% pressure rate for his career, so he could be an overpay on a big long-term deal.

Tagging Dupree and making him repeat his big sack total to get a long-term deal would make a lot more sense than committing to him long-term this off-season, but the 16.266 million dollar linebacker tag could be too big of a cap hold for a #2 edge defender for a Steelers team that is short on cap space already and needs to figure out a long-term deal for TJ Watt sometime soon. The most likely scenario in which he returns to the Steelers in 2020 may be one where he returns on a team friendly deal long-term deal after not finding the market he expects in free agency. On a long-term deal, the Steelers could lower his cap hit for 2020 and keep kicking the can on their cap problems. For that reason, the transition tag might make the most sense of all. 

OT Jack Conklin (Tennessee)

Conklin’s situation is complicated by the Titans also having Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry, as well as to a lesser extent cornerback Logan Ryan, set to hit the open market without a tag. The Titans can use both tags if a new CBA isn’t agreed to before free agency, but the Titans wouldn’t be able to keep all of their top free agents off the open market without signing some long-term deals. Unless Tannehill or Henry sign a long-term deal before free agency, they’re likely to take precedence over Conklin for the tags.

That being said, if either of those two players does re-sign long-term before free agency and the Titans have the transition tag available, Conklin would become an obvious choice, even above the 29-year old Ryan. The 26-year old Conklin is very much in the prime of his career and is only hitting free agency because the Titans Jon Robinson led front office made a rare mistake last off-season in declining Conklin’s 5th year option over concerns about the health of his knee. 

That 5th year option would have had Conklin under contract for 12.86 million in 2020. The transition tag instead would cost the Titans 14.666 million. After Conklin finished last season as PFF’s 12th ranked offensive tackle, the long-term deal the Titans are likely to have to match will probably exceed both of those totals annually with significant upfront guarantees. Injury concerns appear to be a non-factor with Conklin having never missed a game aside from the 7 he missed in 2018 while recovering from his January 2018 torn ACL. 

CB Byron Jones (Dallas)

Jones is a distant 3rd on the Cowboys’ free agent priority list behind Prescott and Cooper, but if one of those two gets signed long-term and both the franchise tag and transition tag are available to the Cowboys this off-season, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Jones get the transition tag. Even then, the Cowboys might not match a long-term deal he gets elsewhere as he’s likely to get paid at the top of the cornerback market and the Cowboys have other financial obligations and promising young cornerbacks behind Jones on the depth chart, but the Cowboys will likely at least try to keep a cornerback who has finished 7th and 15th among cornerbacks on PFF in the past 2 seasons respectively.

S Devin McCourty (New England)

I don’t know if McCourty would get the 12.735 million dollar franchise tag for his age 33 season in 2020, but the 10.801 million dollar transition tag could be an option. McCourty was still PFF’s 11th ranked safety last season for one of the best defenses in the league, so that wouldn’t be an unreasonable amount for him to get on a one-year deal and it would give the Patriots the right to match if McCourty were to try to sign elsewhere. McCourty probably would prefer to stay in New England, so he may give the Patriots the right to match regardless, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Patriots keep such an important player off the open market entirely.

CB Chris Harris (Denver)

Harris is a veteran who is likely to want to test the open market over being tagged, given that he’s running out of chances to sign big money deals with legitimate contenders, now going into his age 31 off-season. Harris definitely took a step back last season, finishing 35th among cornerbacks on PFF, after finishing in the top-18 in 8 straight seasons prior to last season, but there’s still an argument to be made for bringing Harris back on the 14.57 million dollar transition tag and seeing what his market is. Harris is still the Broncos’ best cornerback and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him bounce back in 2020. A long-term deal with significant guarantees might not be the best idea, but he could easily have another couple strong seasons left in the tank. As of right now, it looks like the Broncos are willing to let Harris test the market without a tag, but that could change.

TE Austin Hooper (Atlanta)

Hooper is much less likely to be tagged than fellow top free agent tight end Hunter Henry, but that’s primarily because the Falcons don’t have much cap flexibility and already have made significant investments on offense. Still, Hooper is the safer choice between the two tight ends, as his receiving totals in the past 2 seasons have both topped Henry’s career best mark and he’s also only missed 5 games in 4 seasons in the league, while Henry has missed 23, though Henry is the better blocker and more efficient pass catcher on a per target basis. Hooper is still a solid blocker though, making him one of the few tight ends in the league who can be mismatches in the passing game and hold their own in the run game. He’ll get paid by someone this off-season and the Falcons attempting a tag and trade wouldn’t be a shock.

S Jimmie Ward (San Francisco)

Much like fellow former 49ers first round pick Arik Armstead, Ward has had injury issues throughout much of his career and finally put it all together in 2019. A first round pick in 2014, Ward missed 29 games in the first 5 seasons of his career and had to settle for a 1-year, 4.5 million dollar deal to return to the 49ers last off-season. That contract started out with more of the same, with Ward missing the first 3 games of the season, but he returned to play the rest of the way and finished 8th among safeties on PFF. His previous best finish was 28th, so he’s the definition of a one-year wonder and his injury history is obviously concerning, but I would expect the 49ers to at least consider tagging him, even though it’s likely unrealistic given their cap situation to keep both Armstead and Ward on big contracts long-term.

MLB Cory Littleton (LA Rams)

Originally undrafted in 2016, Littleton has worked his way up from a special teamer in his first two seasons to a starter in 2018 and, after a solid first season as a starter, Littleton took his game to another level in 2019, finishing 6th among off ball linebackers on PFF. He has a few things working against his chances of getting tagged though. For one, the Rams are tight on cap space. Two, the linebacker tag value is inflated because of 3-4 edge rushing linebackers, so Littleton would cost 16.266 million on the franchise tag and 14.08 million on the transition tag, which would rank 3rd and 5th annually among non-rush linebackers. Three, the Rams also have rush linebacker Dante Fowler set to hit free agency and may prefer to tag him instead, if they end up keeping either one.

RB Kenyan Drake (Arizona)

The idea of Drake being tagged would have seemed ridiculous a few months ago when the Cardinals acquired him from the Dolphins at the trade deadline for just a 6th round pick, but Drake turned what was supposed to be a temporary stint as the starter with David Johnson and Chase Edmonds hurt into a full-time gig, rushing for 643 yards and 8 touchdowns on 123 carries (5.23 YPC) in 8 games, while adding 28 catches for 171 yards through the air. 

Johnson still has 5.1 million guaranteed on his contract for 2020 and the Cardinals would lose cap space if they cut him, but they could trade him, though they’d likely have to get creative with the deal structure and eat salary in that scenario. Reportedly, they’d be doing that with the idea of tagging Drake and keeping him long-term. It might not be likely, but Drake is a perfect fit for the Cardinals’ wide open offense with his ability to make plays in space and run over defenses that are lined up to defend the pass. 

Drake never posted big numbers in Miami, but he averaged 4.60 yards per carry on 333 carries running behind an awful offensive line, while breaking 67 tackles and averaging 3.29 yards per carry after contact. The one downside is he’s never had more than 170 carries in a season even dating back to high school, so he hasn’t proven he can hold up as a feature back for a full season yet, but he also has fresh legs going into his age 26 season with 456 career carries. Drake could be a candidate for the transition tag as well as the Cardinals likely value him more than any other team would and would match any long-term deal he signs. Johnson’s presence on a big salary obviously complicates things though.