Most Underrated NFL Teams Heading into the 2019 Draft

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistApril 10, 2019

Most Underrated NFL Teams Heading into the 2019 Draft

0 of 5

    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    How is one over- or underrated in April? With everybody in the NFL 0-0 for another five months, all we have to work with is public opinion during this interesting stretch between peak free agency and the draft. 

    Fortunately, there's a lot of that. 

    Based on general online sentiment, Super Bowl odds, projected win totals in Las Vegas and recent power rankings from eight major digital outlets—ESPN.com, NFL.comCBSSports.com, USA TodayScout, Walter Football, OddsSharktheScore—here are five teams that deserve more love than they're getting as the April 25-27 draft approaches. 

         

Detroit Lions

1 of 5

    Rey Del Rio/Associated Press

    Super Bowl odds: +8000 (26th)

    Projected win total: 7

    Average power ranking position: 24th

    Best position: 19th (twice)

    Worst position: 29th (twice)

    The Detroit Lions aren't a bottom-10 team. They have a middle-of-the-pack quarterback who is a top-10 passer at his best and continues to possess a high ceiling. They've also got plenty of talent.

    That's especially the case after they spent big in free agency, upgrading the pass rush with versatile former New England Patriot Trey Flowers, who at age 25 is already one of the league's most balanced, reliable defensive ends. Not all big-money free-agent signings pan out, but this five-year, $90 million deal should. 

    Detroit also upgraded the secondary with emerging nickel cornerback Justin Coleman and gave quarterback Matthew Stafford two new potential safety valves in receiver Danny Amendola and tight end Jesse James. 

    The offensive line is talented enough and should improve as youngsters Taylor Decker, Graham Glasgow and Frank Ragnow continue to develop. So Stafford is well-supported by that unit, those additions and a solid one-two receiving punch in Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones Jr. 

    The key, though, is the trajectory in Detroit. The Lions aren't deep, nor are they loaded with primo talent at most positions, but there's a lot of young promise supporting key cogs Stafford and cornerback Darius Slay on their respective sides of the ball. Flowers, Coleman, Teez Tabor and Jarrad Davis are all 26 or younger. Ditto for Decker, Ragnow, Glasgow, Golladay and Kerryon Johnson, who looks like he could be the real deal in the backfield for a team that might finally have a running game. 

    Stafford is coming off a lousy season, but he was at times magnificent in 2016 and 2017, and there's room for him to bounce back at age 31. This was a winning team in both of those seasons, and one that until it won six games in 2018 hadn't won fewer than seven since 2012.

    After growing pains in Matt Patricia's maiden season as head coach, there's a decent chance they'll bounce back in 2019. 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2 of 5

    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Super Bowl odds: +7000 (25th)

    Projected win total: 6.5

    Average power ranking position: 25th

    Best position: 16th

    Worst position: 29th

    In six seasons as an NFL head coach (including a 12-game interim run with the Indianapolis Colts in 2012), new Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians has never lost more than eight contests. If that trend continues as Arians works with a talented No. 1 overall pick at quarterback and a superstar receiver in 2019, the Bucs will surpass that projected win total of 6.5 and stay clear of the bottom 10. 

    It's easy to believe in Arians, a two-time Coach of the Year who expects to win right away with a team that went 9-7 with a similar group in 2016. 

    "I think we have the core here to win quickly," he said at his introductory press conference, per Pro Football Talk's Michael David Smith. "I'm not about rebuilding. I'm about reloading."

    Arians' presence could work wonders for quarterback Jameis Winston, who's entering a make-or-break fifth NFL season. The respected quarterback whisperer played pivotal roles in helping get the most out of Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Andrew Luck and Carson Palmer earlier in his career, and it helps that Winston has Mike Evans, O.J. Howard and a decent offensive line with which to work.

    And for what it's worth, Winston posted a 13-to-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio along with a triple-digit passer rating in seven games after he took his job back from Ryan Fitzpatrick in November. 

    A defense that struggled immensely last year could hold back the Bucs just enough to keep them from contending. But Arians and that talented offense could mask a lot of those issues, and it's not as though they don't have talent on D. There's hope for youngsters Vernon Hargreaves, Justin Evans, Carlton Davis, Kendell Beckwith and Vita Vea, they have plenty of wisdom and experience with Gerald McCoy and Jason Pierre-Paul still on board, and newbies Shaquil Barrett and Deone Bucannon should make the linebacker corps better. 

    This isn't a great team yet, but it could be a surprisingly good one—especially if it turns that fifth overall pick into something special right off the bat.

Oakland Raiders

3 of 5

    Ben Margot/Associated Press

    Super Bowl odds: +6600 (24th)

    Projected win total: 6.5

    Average power ranking position: 24th

    Best position: 22nd

    Worst position: 30th

    The Oakland Raiders were one of the NFL's worst teams last season, but there's a different vibe surrounding the franchise after a splashy March. The Raiders dramatically upgraded quarterback Derek Carr's receiving corps with Antonio Brown and Tyrell Williams, bolstered the offensive line by signing left tackle Trent Brown and spruced up a maligned defense with free-agent acquisitions Lamarcus Joyner and Vontaze Burfict. 

    And now they have three first-round draft picks. 

    It's hard to imagine that under those circumstances the Raiders can't double their 2018 win total of four. 

    That was a messy campaign from the get-go as the team recovered from new head coach Jon Gruden's controversial decision to trade superstar pass-rusher Khalil Mack. But the good vibes from the 2019 offseason could make it easier to get into a better head space, and they now have the talent to become competitive. 

    But Carr is the No. 1 reason the Raiders are underrated. He's taken a lot of heat but is just a couple of years removed from a Pro Bowl season in which he earned a half-dozen MVP votes. He was also a Pro Bowler with 32 touchdown passes in 2015 and again received that honor despite struggling at times during an injury-marred 2017 campaign.

    And with less support than ever in 2018, the 28-year-old quietly posted the highest completion percentage (68.9) and yards-per-attempt average (7.3) of his career, while throwing just two interceptions in the final 11 games of the season. 

    How much better could he be with Brown and Williams at his disposal in Gruden's second year back with the franchise? Assuming the Raiders don't sabotage themselves by trading Carr, and assuming they obtain some pro-ready pieces with all that draft capital, it could be a surprisingly strong year for both the quarterback and his Raiders. 

Jacksonville Jaguars

4 of 5

    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Super Bowl odds: +3300 (T-18th)

    Projected win total: 8

    Average power ranking position: 21st

    Best position: 16th

    Worst position: 29th

    Have we all forgotten that the Jacksonville Jaguars fell a handful of points short of the Super Bowl just 15 months ago? 

    The team defined Murphy's Law in 2018, but on paper the current version isn't much different than the one that won double-digit games while ranking in the top six on both sides of the ball in 2017. And now it has upgraded at quarterback from bust Blake Bortles to Super Bowl LII MVP and former Pro Bowler Nick Foles

    With Foles and Leonard Fournette on offense and Jalen Ramsey, Calais Campbell, Telvin Smith, Myles Jack, Yannick Ngakoue and A.J. Bouye leading the way on defense, the Jags could easily rediscover that magic in 2019.

    Hell, even as the sky was falling last year, that D still managed to rank fourth in terms of points allowed and sixth in terms DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average) at Football Outsiders

    Now one of the most talented teams in the league has itself a top-10 draft pick. 

    Even if the Jaguars aren't as good as they were when they were rolling in 2017, they are a hell of a lot better than they were when the wheels fell off in 2018. With a full offseason to retool and a clutch, reputable veteran under center, a bounce-back, winning season probably awaits the Jaguars. 

Green Bay Packers

5 of 5

    Dylan Buell/Getty Images

    Super Bowl odds: +2000 (T-10th)

    Projected win total: 9.5

    Average power ranking position: 13th

    Best position: 3rd

    Worst position: 24th

    As you can see, the Green Bay Packers are only broadly underrated. Half the power rankings we used had them in the top 12, and two ranked them in the top six. But Green Bay remains polarizing, with a pair of outlets even ranking the Pack in the bottom 12. So there's by no means a consensus that the Packers will struggle in 2018, but don't bet against a 10-plus-win playoff campaign. 

    Quarterback Aaron Rodgers should be more inspired than ever after a tumultuous offseason that has only ratcheted up the pressure, and now he should have more opportunities to succeed in a new, more innovative offense following a transition from the stale Mike McCarthy to the energizing Matt LaFleur in the head-coaching role. 

    The Packers defense is also likely to rally in a major way after the front office uncharacteristically broke the bank on three emerging, high-potential defensive free-agents—pass-rushers Za'Darius Smith and Preston Smith along with coverage-savvy safety Adrian Amos. 

    With a healthy Rodgers potentially inspired in a revamped offense that will be much better supported by a replenished defense, Green Bay should improve with a pair of first-round draft picks. It should also again be viewed as the favorite in an NFC North that Rodgers helped win five times in a six-year span between 2011 and 2016.