Predicting Impact of a Canceled College Football Season on Each NFL Team

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystAugust 15, 2020

Predicting Impact of a Canceled College Football Season on Each NFL Team

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    Steve Helber/Associated Press

    The NFL is wading into uncharted territory when it comes to the draft.

    Multiple college football conferences already made the decision not to play this fall, while others wait to see whether a season of some sort is salvageable during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    The ripple effects could be felt for years to come as individuals and teams will be placed in uncomfortable positions. Each NFL franchise will have to deal with not being able to properly evaluate and prepare for the event as it normally would.

    "You'll be drafting guys in May 2021 that haven’t buckled a chinstrap since December 2019," an anonymous AFC college scouting director told Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer. "And think about it—so many guys were drafted this year due, 90 percent, to what they did their junior or senior year. Without that, we'll have guys overdrafted, underdrafted. This year, everyone kept saying that you're gonna look back at that draft, and that's going to be the draft that you'll study."

    For example, Joe Burrow wasn't even projected as an early-round talent at this same point last year. He earned his status as the No. 1 overall pick by putting together the greatest single season in college football history. His ascension wouldn't have occurred if everyone had been in this same position in 2019.

    We've already seen three potential top-10 prospects—Penn State's Micah Parsons, Miami's Gregory Rousseau and Virginia Tech's Caleb Farley—declare for the draft, which gives them eight months of preparation.

    If the entire college football season is canceled, the NFL draft will more closely reflect its NBA counterpart, where potential is far more important than actual game-day performance. The possible impact for each organization is great with each squad leaning into the uncertainty of it all.

AFC North

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    Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens can make a case for owning the NFL's most talented roster, but it's not without fault. The offensive interior is in transition after Marshal Yanda's retirement and an upcoming competition at the center position. How the organization addresses the middle of its offensive line will be integral to Lamar Jackson's long-term effectiveness. 

    Unfortunately, a canceled football season means even fewer reps for those big boys up front, which could severely hamper evaluations as offensive linemen are already coming into the league less prepared than ever because of practice and scheme limitations.


    Cincinnati Bengals: Much like their divisional counterpart, the Bengals must protect their quarterback investment at all costs. The Bengals are essentially entering the first year of a soft rebuild and really didn't do Joe Burrow any favors with the lack of assets spent on their offensive line.

    The difference is where the two franchises currently sit. Baltimore is one of the league's best, while the Bengals are one of the worst. Cincinnati could be in a position to select a premier offensive line prospect. But if the franchise doesn't land someone like Oregon's Penei Sewell near the top of the draft, then question marks about development will come to the forefront. 


    Cleveland Browns: The Browns are one of three teams (along with the Miami Dolphins and Minnesota Vikings) that already own 10 or more draft picks for the '21 class. In Cleveland's case, it's not necessarily looking to protect its quarterback—the Browns invested heavily in the O-line this year—but it is looking to get after opposing signal-callers.

    Olivier Vernon and Larry Ogunjobi are free agents after this season. Sheldon Richardson could be a salary-cap casualty, too. However, the defensive line class isn't loaded with Miami's Gregory Rousseau and Florida State's Marvin Wilson projected as potential top-10 prospects with a drop-off behind them. If the Browns are unable to land a top lineman early in the process, the lack of depth could hamper their growth on the defensive side of the ball. Without having guys on the field to improve their standing, options could be limited.


    Pittsburgh Steelers: Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges proved without a shadow of a doubt last season they're not the future of Steelers football. Ben Roethlisberger, meanwhile, is 38 and coming off major elbow surgery.

    But certain expectations exist in Pittsburgh.

    A healthy Roethlisberger will once again place the team in the playoff picture—which, in turn, places the Steelers further away from an opportunity to select an elite quarterback prospect. Without the opportunity for a surprise option to rise through the ranks, the Steelers may be flying somewhat blind when it comes to investing in the game's most important position.

NFC North

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    Matt Ludtke/Associated Press

    Chicago Bears: The Bears sit on the precipice of starting all over again. The lack of clarity at the quarterback position could very well waste years even though the team features a talented roster overall. If Mitchell Trubisky fails, quarterback must become a priority again since Nick Foles isn't the long-term answer.

    A quarterback is a massive investment that requires all levels of an organization to sign off on the decision. It's even more difficult when a team isn't in a position to select one of the elite prospects. In this case, the Bears probably won't have an opportunity to choose Clemson's Trevor Lawrence or Ohio State's Justin Fields. Without seeing more of North Dakota State's Trey Lance, Georgia's Jamie Newman, Iowa State's Brock Purdy, etc., the Bears will have a difficult time finding their guy.


    Detroit Lions: The Detroit Lions could be in a different position than most, because a housecleaning could be warranted if the team continues to disappoint under general manager Bob Quinn and head coach Matt Patricia.  

    The organization itself is transitioning to new principal owner Sheila Ford Hamp. A third straight season of sub-.500 performance should seal the fate of the team's current regime. Then, the Lions would venture into murky waters with a new coach and GM to address the problems found throughout a team that finished 9-22-1 over the last two seasons. Thus, the draft process itself could be even more tenuous as the organization tries to establish a new identity.


    Green Bay Packers: The Green Bay Packers finally drafted an offensive-skill-position performer in the first round this year for the first time since the organization chose Aaron Rodgers during the opening frame of the 2005 event. Unfortunately, the team chose Rodgers' eventual replacement in Jordan Love instead of giving its future Hall of Fame quarterback an actual weapon to utilize.

    The 2020 wide receiver class was as deep as any in the game's history. Yet, the Packers did nothing. Their decision not to do so remains baffling. They could rectify this with yet another strong incoming class since LSU's Ja'Marr Chase, Minnesota's Rashod Bateman, Purdue's Rondale Moore and Alabama's Devonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle are already considered first-round talents, though the Packers won't have the luxury of certain talents separating themselves from their peers. Davante Adams can't do it all, and Green Bay needs to take some type of chance to address the position. 


    Minnesota Vikings: Interestingly, the Vikings extended both general manager Rick Spielman and head coach Mike Zimmer this offseason. Their continued leadership should steady the organization through uncertain times. The Vikings will enter an important offseason with Anthony Harris, Dalvin Cook and Pat Elflein set to enter free agency. Harrison Smith, Riley Reiff and Brian O'Neill will be on the final years of their current deals as well, which means they could use replacements beyond the '21 campaign.

    On top of that, the Vikings are tied with the Cleveland Browns with the second-most (10) draft picks at the moment. Considering the team could experience significant changes among its core talent, a steady hand or two should help the Vikings by adding a potential-filled draft class to the roster.

AFC East

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    Buffalo Bills: The Bills have been slowly and properly building a strong foundation since head coach Sean McDermott took over the franchise. They made the postseason last season and could be considered the favorites to win the AFC East this fall.

    Everything is progressing nicely. Success brings a lower draft slotting, though, and the Bills may not be in a position to address edge-rusher early in the process because of the class' lack of first-round-caliber pass-rushers.

    Trent Murphy is set to become a free agent. Mario Addison and Jerry Hughes will both be 33 next offseason. The Bills will have this year's second-round pick, A.J. Epenesa, as the only long-term building block at the position.


    Miami Dolphins: Flexibility regarding utilization is important when it comes to available talent. Unfortunately, the Dolphins lack that flexibility under Brian Flores' supervision.

    "It was going to get tough for me to show something to somebody they were choosing not to see," Minkah Fitzpatrick told Bleacher Report's told Ty Dunne of his time working with Flores. "They didn't give me the opportunity to show it, even though I had film that showed it."

    Strict adherence to the system over talent limits what an organization can do in a draft class, especially when that team is the Dolphins and already own 11 draft picks next year, including a pair of first- and second-rounders. If players aren't on the field to show how their skill sets translate, draft decisions become far more difficult when looking for specific types of talent.


    New England Patriots: The Patriots will never be the same, and the organization could enter unfamiliar territory depending on how Cam Newton performs this fall.

    New England should still be highly competitive because of the team's culture and experience. But the front office hasn't had to actively search for a franchise quarterback in two decades. Sure, the team invested picks in Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett and Jarrett Stidham within the last six years, but none of those were first-round selections.

    The next offseason could be very different based on Newton's acclimation. True quarterback evaluations will be tough for multiple franchises, and the Patriots can't go into another season with so much uncertainty behind center. They'll likely reach for someone who fits their personality and let him earn the job.


    New York Jets: The Jets going into another campaign with Adam Gase leading the way seems improbable at best. Yes, the upcoming season has yet to be played, but Gase has already proved to be a problem within the locker room. 

    "Players don't respect Gase, who has rubbed them the wrong way with his inability to lead and lack of support," the New York Daily News' Manish Mehta reported in June.

    If Gase doesn't make it into next season, general manager Joe Douglas will be restarting with a new coach while trying to align his philosophies with whoever steps into the role, which requires a reset when evaluating the type of players the organization prefers.

NFC East

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    Dallas Cowboys: The Cowboys could have a problem at safety next year since both projected starters, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Xavier Woods, are currently slated to be free agents. Even if one or both return, the position could use a boost based on sub-package usage. 

    The versatility of the upcoming safety class is quite intriguing. At 6'4" and 220 pounds, Florida State's Hamsah Nasirildeen can fill numerous roles. Oregon's Jevon Holland may be better working over the slot than being a traditional safety. TCU's Ar'Darius Washington is undersized (5'8", 179 lbs) and needs to show he can hold up as a full-time starter.

    No position may be a bigger projection than safety, so a team like Dallas will have to adjust expectations.


    New York Giants: The Giants built a solid base with their last three draft classes, but the organization is transitioning under the direction of new head coach Joe Judge. He'll bring his version of "The Patriot Way" to the Big Apple after eight seasons with Bill Belichick's dynasty. 

    As such, how Judge jells with current general manager Dave Gettleman and aligns their vision will be integral as the franchises progresses. The Giants have some quality pieces in place with quarterback Daniel Jones, running back Saquon Barkley, offensive tackle Andrew Thomas, defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence and cornerback James Bradberry. But the entire foundation must be built according to Judge's preferences, and that could prove quite difficult with so much uncertainty surrounding the entire evaluation process.


    Philadelphia Eagles: Right now, the biggest issue regarding the draft for the Eagles is how they'll even afford to pay their incoming rookie class. According to Spotrac, the team is $84.5 million over next year's projected salary-cap figure. 

    Actually, these two things could go hand in hand. The team can recoup approximately $13 million next year by releasing Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson. General manager Howie Roseman can then reinvest in the wide receiver position during next year's draft with a prospect—which may be difficult to project without a season's worth of on-field performances—to complement this year's top pick, Jalen Reagor.


    Washington Football Team: Where to even begin? The Washington Football Team has been turned upside down by scandal, naming rights and changes to the front-office structure and coaching staff. Now, add an unprecedented situation coupled with the uncertainty of long-term talent acquisition via the draft process, and it's a recipe for disaster.

    Ron Rivera could well be the right person to lead the franchise into the future. He's well-respected throughout the league and experienced with previous success leading the Carolina Panthers.

    At the same time, Washington doesn't have a true direction, and anything added to this mix of instability increases volatility until the entire organization settles.

AFC West

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    Denver Broncos: The Broncos recently signed Demar Dotson to play right tackle after Ja'Wuan James decided to opt out this season. While James is expected back next season, the Broncos won't be in the clear when it comes to offensive tackle. 

    Garett Bolles is still a significant question mark on the other side of the formation. Bolles is on the final year of his rookie deal after the organization decided not to pick up his fifth-year option.

    Denver has high expectations after finishing the '19 campaign with a 4-1 record. If the Broncos are relatively successful, the team will be looking at Texas' Samuel Cosmi, North Dakota State's Dillon Radunz, Stanford's Walker Little and Alabama's Alex Leatherwood as potential replacements even though all of them still have questions to answer about their games.


    Kansas City Chiefs: The reigning Super Bowl champions are relatively set at almost every position through the '21 campaign. Wide receiver is slightly different in that Sammy Watkins and Demarcus Robinson are scheduled to be free agents again, and it's going to be difficult to re-sign either after extending Patrick Mahomes, Chris Jones and Travis Kelce, since Kansas City is well over the projected '21 salary cap, per Spotrac.

    The Chiefs may rely heavily on whatever version of the NFL Scouting Combine ensues next spring. While no team should base an entire evaluation on workout numbers, Kansas City certainly prefers those on the outside with blazing-fast speed. Adding another burner, who may not have been very productive prior to this year, could be prioritized over other wide receiver prospects.


    Las Vegas Raiders: Quarterback Derek Carr told reporters he's "tired of being disrespected" earlier this month. Carr has been a solid starter since being drafted in the second round of the '14 draft. With that said, the Raiders showed interest in recent top quarterback prospects and signed Marcus Mariota this offseason. On top of those points, the Las Vegas franchise can save $19.6 million by cutting Carr next year. 

    The Raiders would almost certainly weigh all of their options next season under normal circumstances. The reverse could occur if there's no current film to back up the play of certain quarterback prospects. Las Vegas may be more likely to keep Carr for yet another year instead of entertaining the idea of investing in a young signal-caller as a result of a potential lost season.


    Los Angeles Chargers: The Chargers are one of the few organizations that could prioritize the tight end position with Hunter Henry operating under the franchise tag this fall. If Henry doesn't return, the squad will require a replacement in what could be one of the better tight end classes in recent memory.

    Even so, the top prospects could use an extra year of development, especially as blockers. Penn State's Pat Freiermuth, Florida's Kyle Pitts and Miami's Brevin Jordan are better when detached from the line of scrimmage. None of the three are true Y-tight ends at this stage of their careers.

NFC West

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    Arizona Cardinals: Year 2 of the Kliff Kingsbury tenure could be quite interesting on account of Kyler Murray's maturation, the addition of four-time Pro Bowl wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and fortifications along the offensive front. But the defense, particularly the secondary, could be in trouble after this season. Patrick Peterson and Budda Baker are scheduled to become free agents.

    Cornerback would take a massive hit since the Cardinals have been searching for a true bookend to Peterson for years. Yet, the cornerback class is littered with question marks. Virginia Tech's Caleb Farley already tore an ACL in 2017 and suffered from back issues last year, per the Roanake Times' Mike Niziolek. Ohio State's Shaun Wade was supposed to get more work outside this fall. Stanford's Paulson Adebo needed to shake some of the inconsistency he previously showed. As of now, none of those things will be accomplished.


    Los Angeles Rams: Once again, the Rams don't have a first-round pick in the upcoming NFL draft, because they traded their '20 and '21 selections to the Jacksonville Jaguars as part of the Jalen Ramsey deal. As a result, the Rams will be waiting a bit before they're finally on the board. 

    In this particular case, it may turn out to be a positive, as certain prospects who could have improved their draft standing and wouldn't otherwise be available may fall into the Rams' proverbial lap.

    As such, the team doesn't have much salary-cap flexibility with Cooper Kupp, Gerald Everett, Austin Blythe, John Johnson III and Ramsey (if he doesn't re-sign in the near future) set to become free agents, and its second-round selection could become vitally important to the roster's health.


    San Francisco 49ers: Like the Cardinals, the 49ers secondary could be decimated after this season since Richard Sherman, Ahkello Witherspoon, K'Waun Williams and Jaquiski Tartt are upcoming free agents.

    All of the issues previously mentioned with the secondary prospects could be amplified since San Francisco runs a variant of the famed Legion of Boom zone-heavy scheme that relies on long and physical corners to consistently reroute wide receivers. As such, the 49ers front office will likely place a much bigger emphasis on measurables than anything else, since it may not have ample footage to watch of next year's prospects.


    Seattle Seahawks: The Seahawks love to run the football. Only the record-setting Baltimore Ravens and NFC West-rival 49ers ran the ball more times last season. Yet, Seattle's bell cow, Chris Carson, is on the last year of his rookie deal. The Seahawks can sink a significant amount of money into re-signing Carson or look to the draft since Rashaad Penny hasn't worked out to date.

    For running backs, a year off could be beneficial since prospects would have one fewer season of wear and tear on their bodies. A potential one-season layoff might actually increase the position's value ever so slightly. The Seahawks could then invest in someone like Clemson's Travis Etienne, Alabama's Najee Harris or Oklahoma State's Chuba Hubbard.

AFC South

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    Stephen B. Morton/Associated Press

    Houston Texans: The Texans don't value draft picks, so it's time to move along.

    In all seriousness, Houston already traded its first- and second-round draft picks to the Miami Dolphins as part of the Laremy Tunsil deal.

    Bill O'Brien and Co. will have to wait until the third round to add any type of reinforcements. Normally, an investment in a high-end project would make sense that late in the process, but those types are surely going to go sooner rather than later since teams have to bank on untapped potential more than anything else.


    Indianapolis Colts: Chris Ballard is counted among the league's best general managers, and he's done a wonderful job building the Colts roster in general and creating unequaled financial flexibility. But Andrew Luck's abrupt decision to retire last year threw a wrench into the team's long-term plans. Thus, the Colts are moving forward with 38-year-old Philip Rivers, who is operating on a one-year deal.

    Quarterback has to be at the forefront of the Colts plans next offseason. Rivers may decide to play another year or two, but that shouldn't change what Indianapolis does at the position, though it may help significantly since the team can be more comfortable investing in a developmental signal-caller who isn't considered an elite prospect and let him grow naturally behind the established veteran. If he chooses to call it quits, the Colts may lean toward a quarterback prospect with more starting experience.


    Jacksonville Jaguars: The Gardner Minshew II experience will catch fire this fall. Either the second-year signal-caller will become one of the league's hottest young quarterbacks, or his opportunity to become the Jaguars' long-term starter will go up in flames.

    If the latter occurs, quarterback will be the topic of every conversation regarding Jacksonville's future. Unlike the Colts, more certainty exists around the Jaguars' possibilities at the quarterback position. The organization could very well own a top-three selection based on its current roster makeup. In that case, the impact of a year off from college football should be minimal since the top quarterback prospects, Clemson's Trevor Lawrence and Ohio State's Justin Fields, established themselves in 2019. The problem would be choosing between the two.


    Tennessee Titans: The Titans are searching for a bookend to Harold Landry III. The team signed Vic Beasley Jr. this offseason, but he didn't show up to the start of training camp and wasn't excused by the team. Whether Beasley works out or not may be moot since he signed a one-year deal this offseason. Therefore, Tennessee will be in the same boat next offseason.

    As previously stated, the upcoming class of edge-rushers is suspect. Tennessee is a little different in that it runs a base 3-4 to go along with the defense's sub-packages. Options change slightly since the edge-defenders are asked to do a little more in the system. Yet, Quincy Roche might not get a chance to prove himself after transferring to Miami. Penn State's Jayson Oweh is physically gifted, but he's still early in his development. Maybe Duke's Chris Rumph II adds weight—he's listed at 225 pounds.

NFC South

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    Mike McCarn/Associated Press

    Atlanta Falcons: Alex Mack had a good run, but the Falcons will have to go back to the well for the third straight year and address the offensive line. The front office brought Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary into the fold last year before drafting Matt Hennessy in this year's third round. 

    Mack, a six-time Pro Bowl center, is an upcoming free agent, and the Falcons are well into the red regarding next year's projected salary-cap space, per Spotrac.

    Atlanta's decision-makers will eventually choose whether Hennessy plays guard or center long-term. This could change how the front office views the interior class. For example, Trey Smith is arguably the best guard prospect, but he has a history of blood clots. Another healthy season would quell concerns. The Falcons may decide to go in another direction without seeing him play another snap.


    Carolina Panthers: The Panthers are entering the league's most prominent rebuild under the supervision of first-time NFL head coach Matt Rhule. The team has a new starting quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater. The organization parted ways with numerous veteran contributors such as Greg Olsen, Luke Kuechly, Dontari Poe and Mario Addison this offseason. One side of the ball, the defense, will experience a major youth movement. 

    In turn, next year's draft class may be more important to this organization than any other. However, this group, as a whole, has yet to experience a normal evaluation process together, which could negate any advantage that previous collegiate ties and high draft picks (after an expected down season) would normally have given them.

    On top of everything already mentioned, current general manager Marty Hurney is reportedly working under an expiring contract.


    New Orleans Saints: The Saints will enter salary-cap hell next offseason if the future number bottoms out at $175 million and Drew Brees doesn't retire. Even if Brees does retire, his decision won't put the Saints' bottom line back in the black. Alvin Kamara, Jared Cook, Demario Davis, Marcus Williams and Sheldon Rankins, among others, are scheduled to enter free agency, too.

    New Orleans has been exceptional in recent years when it comes to evaluating talent. Obviously, the team's previous processes will change during the upcoming cycle. The Saints can't falter, though. Another strong class will be needed once multiple significant contributors leave because they can't afford them anymore.


    Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Buccaneers' acquisitions of Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski overshadowed the fact that Tampa Bay also put together an outstanding draft class. Like the Saints, the Bucs will have significant financial decisions to make next offseason, since Tampa won't be able to afford re-signing Gronk, Shaquil Barrett, Lavonte David, Chris Godwin and Ndamukong Suh. However, another strong class can fill holes.

    The defensive line is an interesting target with Suh's and Rakeem Nunez-Roches' impending free agency. Plus, the team can save $5.5 million by releasing William Gholston.

    The incoming interior defenders are far more potential than production at this point. Alabama's Christian Barmore has yet to become a full-time starter. LSU's Tyler Shelvin needs to show more as an interior rusher. Pitt's Jaylen Twyman could be more consistent on an every-down basis.