NFL Power Rankings: Where Does Every Team Stand After the 2021 NFL Draft?

NFL StaffContributor IMay 4, 2021

NFL Power Rankings: Where Does Every Team Stand After the 2021 NFL Draft?

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    The 2021 NFL draft has come and gone. And big changes have come with it for just about every team in the league.

    Beginning with Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence and ending with Houston linebacker Grant Stuard, 259 new players entered the NFL this past weekend. Five teams added what they hope will be a new franchise quarterback in the top half of Round 1. Others brought in new passing-game weapons and/or defenders they hope will become shutdown cornerbacks or forces off the edge.

    Coupled with the free-agency period that came before it, some teams look markedly better than they did when the 2020 season ended, while others seemingly face more questions than ever.

    Now that the festivities in Cleveland are over, Bleacher Report NFL Analysts Gary Davenport, Brad Gagnon and Brent Sobleski have gathered to offer their takes on how the offseason to date has affected the pecking order in the NFL.

    The top team isn't a surprise. No. 32 shouldn't be, either.

    But there has been plenty of shakeup in between.

32. Houston Texans

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    Matt Patterson/Associated Press

    High: 31

    Low: 32

    The Houston Texans have endured a brutal offseason.

    They appear to be making preparations to move forward without Deshaun Watson, who reportedly demanded a trade in January and is facing 22 lawsuits from women alleging sexual assault or misconduct. When the Texans finally went on the clock in Round 3, they spent their first pick on Stanford quarterback Davis Mills.

    Texans general manager Nick Caserio insisted that selecting Mills doesn't mean that Watson won't be the team's signal-caller moving forward.

    "Again, our whole philosophy has been to create as much competition as possible, and we'll continue to do that," Caserio said, per ESPN's Sarah Barshop.

    However, Davenport isn't buying it.

    "When you have the limited draft capital the Texans did in 2021, you don't use your first pick on a player whom you expect to be holding a clipboard," he said. "According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, not only do many around the league believe that Watson's time with the Texans is over, but quite a few folks are of the opinion that he won't play at all in 2021. Caserio can try to sugarcoat things all he wants, but between last year's faceplant and the catastrophic offseason that followed, it's fixing to be a long, brutal season in Houston."

31. Detroit Lions

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    High: 28

    Low: 32

    When Dan Campbell was introduced as head coach of the Detroit Lions, he made it clear that he intended to build a roster focused on toughness, per ESPN's Michael Rothstein:

    "This team is going to take on the identity of this city and this city has been down and it found a way to get up. It's found a way to overcome adversity, right? So this team is going to be built on, we're going to kick you in the teeth, right? And when you punch us back, we're going to smile at you. And when you knock us down, we're going to get up and on the way up, we're going to bite a kneecap off. All right?"

    The Lions followed through on that pledge in the 2021 draft, focusing on earth-movers on both sides of the ball. They spent their first pick on the draft's top tackle prospect, Oregon's Penei Sewell. They used their second pick on Washington defensive tackle Levi Onwuzurike.

    But while the Lions may be long on power, their roster looks to be precariously short on speed. Their top two wide receivers from 2020 (Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones Jr.) left in free agency, and the defensive backfield could be a problem area.

    "I love Penei Sewell," Gagnon said. "But with Taylor Decker and Halapoulivaati Vaitai on the roster, I don't think he makes the Detroit Lions significantly better right now, and right now is all that matters for this exercise. Swapping out Matthew Stafford for Jared Goff and then gutting your receiving corps is not a recipe for redemption, and Campbell remains an unknown as a head coach. Goff is not being positioned to succeed, and the defense isn't greatly improved. I see no reason why the Lions should be expected to end a run of three consecutive losing seasons."

30. New York Jets

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    High: 28

    Low: 30 

    The New York Jets are starting over...again.

    After trading quarterback Sam Darnold to the Carolina Panthers, the Jets used the second overall pick on BYU signal-caller Zach Wilson. Gang Green's recent history of highly drafted quarterbacks hasn't been great, but Wilson said after being drafted that there's nowhere he'd rather start his pro career.

    "There's not another team I'd want to play for besides the Jets," Wilson said, via Sean Walker of "We're going to be a special team. We're going for the Super Bowl."

    The youngster's enthusiasm is admirable, and the Jets did make some quality additions this offseason, whether it was in free agency (wide receiver Corey Davis, edge-rusher Carl Lawson) or in the draft (guard Alijah Vera-Tucker, wideout Elijah Moore).

    But the Jets won only two games last year. They ranked dead last in the league in both total offense and scoring offense last year and were 26th in scoring defense.

    In other words, Wilson and new head coach Robert Saleh have their work cut out for them.

29. Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    High: 29

    Low: 29

    We've known what the Jacksonville Jaguars were going to do in the offseason from the moment they put the finishing touches on last year's 1-15 debacle of a season.

    Sure enough, the Jags brought in Tim Tebow for a workout last week as a tight end, per ESPN.

    Oh, and they also drafted Clemson signal-caller Trevor Lawrence, the most ballyhooed quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck in 2012, with the first overall pick on Thursday night.

    There's little debate that Lawrence makes the Jaguars better. They've also made other improvements this offseason, whether it was veterans like wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr. and cornerback Shaquill Griffin in free agency or rookies like Lawrence, running back Travis Etienne and second-round pick Tyson Campbell during the draft.

    But the Jags dropped 15 straight games after beating the Indianapolis Colts in Week 1 last year. They were a bottom-five team in terms of total offense, scoring offense, total defense and scoring defense.

    Better is one thing. Good is another thing altogether.

28. Philadelphia Eagles

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    High: 27

    Low: 31

    The Philadelphia Eagles addressed one of their biggest needs in the first round of the 2021 draft with the addition of Heisman Trophy-winning wide receiver DeVonta Smith.

    But adding one wideout—even one as talented as Smithwon't fix all that ails this team.

    Quarterback Jalen Hurts showed some flashes down the stretch as a rookie, but he is far from a sure thing. Even with Smith in the fold, the Eagles have the weakest assemblage of passing-game weapons in the NFC East. An offensive line that once was a strength for the team has shown cracks as of late, too.

    The secondary also remains a mess. Veteran Darius Slay struggled mightily in 2020, and the depth chart behind him leaves much to be desired. The addition of veteran linebacker Eric Wilson should help the second level of the defense, but it is otherwise a potential weak spot.

    Three years ago, confetti was raining down on the Eagles after a win in Super Bowl LII. But the 2021 iteration of the team is more likely to finish last in the NFC (L)East than first.

27. Cincinnati Bengals

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    Steve Luciano/Associated Press

    High: 22

    Low: 30 

    Last year, the Cincinnati Bengals brought in the quarterback they hope will lead them for years to come in LSU's Joe Burrow. This year, they used the fifth overall pick on a new No. 1 wide receiver for Burrow.

    While playing with Burrow at LSU in 2019, Ja'Marr Chase reeled in 84 passes for 1,780 yards and a jaw-dropping 20 scores. Per Geoff Hobson of the Bengals website, Chase has every intention of continuing that success in the pros.

    "I'm going to break every record they've got. That's my goal right there. I'm telling you right now," Chase said. "I don't know how I'm going to do it, but it's going to get done."

    In Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd, Burrow has an impressive array of wideouts at his disposal. But his successful return from an ACL tear may hinge even more on a retooled offensive line that added right tackle Riley Reiff in free agency.

    Having great passing-game weapons isn't much good to a quarterback who's lying on his backside.

26. Carolina Panthers

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    Mark Tenally/Associated Press

    High: 24

    Low: 26 

    If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. That appears to be the Carolina Panthers' mantra at quarterback in 2021.

    After one disappointing season from Teddy Bridgewater, the Panthers flipped him to the Denver Broncos. But before that trade, they acquired Sam Darnold from the New York Jets.

    Darnold's first three pro seasons weren't good, but he wasn't given much of a chance to succeed in New York.

    In Carolina, Darnold will play with one of the NFL's best running backs in Christian McCaffrey. His passing-game weapons will include a familiar face in Robby Anderson, DJ Moore and explosive rookie Terrace Marshall Jr. And while Carolina's O-line wasn't great in 2020, it was better than the mess that "protected" Darnold in New York.

    There's pressure to go with this second chance, though. The Panthers elected to draft South Carolina cornerback Jaycee Horn eighth overall rather than take a quarterback.

    If Darnold can't turn things around, that decision won't soon be forgotten.

25. Las Vegas Raiders

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    High: 24

    Low: 26

    The Las Vegas Raiders have made some, um, interesting draft picks in the first round in recent years.

    In 2019, the Raiders used the fourth overall pick on Clemson edge-rusher Clelin Ferrell. Last year, they drafted Ohio State cornerback Damon Arnette at No. 19. Neither pick has panned out whatsoever.

    Raiders general manager Mike Mayock was at it again last Thursday. After a bizarre offseason in which the Raiders decided to fix what wasn't broken by gutting the offensive line, Mayock used the team's first pick on Alabama offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood.

    Leatherwood is a hard-nosed player who will likely slot at right tackle from the jump, but Mayock and head coach Jon Gruden were just about the only people who gave him a first-round grade. He likely would have been available for the Raiders when they got back on the clock on Day 2.

    "As a general manager, Mayock is a good TV analyst," Davenport said. "He has consistently drafted players a full round earlier than they should have been taken, and he extended one of those reaches (tackle Kolton Miller) a year earlier than he needed to. The Raiders aren't a bit better than the team that went 8-8 last year, and after taking a chainsaw to one of their few strengths (the O-line), even eight wins could be wishful thinking this year."

24. Atlanta Falcons

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    High: 21

    Low: 27

    The Matt Ryan era in Atlanta isn't over just yet.

    With the Falcons coming off a miserable season and in possession of the fourth overall pick in the draft, they were poised to add Ryan's successor under center. Instead, they gave him another passing-game weapon in  Florida's Kyle Pitts, a matchup nightmare who is the earliest-drafted tight end in league history.

    Per Jeff Schultz of The Athletic, Falcons head coach Arthur Smith said he intends to move Pitts all over the formation in an effort to create mismatches.

    "We think we can play him in multiple spots," Smith said. "I guess I do have a little bias towards tight ends, but we felt he was the best player available, and he checked every box."

    The Falcons certainly aren't short on weapons for Ryan, but it's curious that they didn't add another running back after signing Mike Davis in free agency. There's also the matter of Atlanta's 29th-ranked defense, which doesn't appear markedly better this year.

    Ryan may not have much choice but to throw the ball all day in 2021.

23. Minnesota Vikings

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    Matt Patterson/Associated Press

    High: 21

    Low: 27 

    The Minnesota Vikings are one of the more difficult teams in the league to get a bead on.

    On one hand, there's quite a bit to like about a Vikings team that made the postseason two years ago. Kirk Cousins isn't an elite quarterback, but he isn't a liability. Dalvin Cook is one of the most explosive running backs in the league. Adam Thielen and youngster Justin Jefferson are a dangerous duo of wide receivers. Edge-rusher Danielle Hunter, linebacker Eric Kendricks and safety Harrison Smith are all talented defenders, while first-round pick Christian Darrisaw should help shore up the Vikings line.

    But that offensive line ranked 26th in the league last year, per Pro Football Focus. The arrival of Patrick Peterson and the return of Mackenzie Alexander will help Minnesota's 25th-ranked pass defense, but the back end remains a question mark. So is the pass rush after Hunter missed the entire 2020 season.

    If things break the right way, the Vikings have already shown they have the potential to make a playoff run.

    But as last year's backslide demonstrated, this team has precious little margin for error.

22. New York Giants

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    High: 22

    Low: 23

    The New York Giants attacked improving the roster on both sides of the ball in the offseason, and the team wasn't shy about spending money to do it.

    Giants general manager Dave Gettleman shelled out big bucks in free agency for a new No. 1 wide receiver in Kenny Golladay and help in the defensive backfield in cornerback Adoree' Jackson.

    New York was aggressive in the draft as well. Trading down from No. 11 to No. 20 netted Big Blue an extra first-rounder in 2022. New York's first two picks (Florida wide receiver Kadarius Toney and Georgia edge-rusher Azeez Ojulari) both have the potential to make an impact as rookies.

    On paper, the Giants have a roster capable of hanging with the Cowboys and Washington in the NFC East, especially with the return of a healthy Saquon Barkley in the backfield. If quarterback Daniel Jones can take a step forward in his third season, the Giants could be in the mix for a wild-card berth, if not the NFC East title.

    If Jones struggles in 2021, though, New York might wind up using that extra first-rounder in 2022 as ammunition in the search for a new quarterback.

21. Denver Broncos

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    High: 21

    Low: 26

    On one hand, the Denver Broncos had a solid offseason. With the additions of Ronald Darby and Kyle Fuller, Denver now sports a formidable veteran one-two punch at cornerback.

    The defensive backfield got even better when the Broncos used the ninth overall pick on Alabama corner Patrick Surtain II. The second-round selection of North Carolina running back Javonte Williams gives them a dynamic complement to Melvin Gordon III in the backfield, too.

    But the most important position in football remains a question mark in the Mile High City.

    The Broncos swung a trade with the Carolina Panthers for veteran quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, but neither Bridgewater nor Drew Lock inspires a ton of confidence after both struggled last year. And in drafting Surtain, Denver passed on a pair of high-end rookies at the position in Justin Fields and Mac Jones.

    "I want so badly to buy Broncos stock," Gagnon said. "But I can't wrap my head around the quarterback mess. The combination of Drew Lock and Teddy Bridgewater somehow feels worse than only Lock or Bridgewater. You just know this is going to get ugly. Imagine how much better the vibe would be if they had just drafted Fields when they had the chance. Surtain is a great prospect, but they were already in quality shape at cornerback. In fact, they're in pretty good shape everywhere except the most important position in the sport, and that might again be their undoing in 2021." 

20. Chicago Bears

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    Kamil Krzaczynski/Associated Press

    High: 19

    Low: 20

    After trading up for Ohio State signal-caller Justin Fields at No. 11, Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace insisted that recently acquired veteran quarterback Andy Dalton remains the team's starter, per Jason Lieser of the Chicago Sun-Times.

    "Matt [Nagy] has spoken to Andy Dalton tonight; that communication and clarity for us is really important," Pace said. "Andy is our starter, and we’re gonna have a really good plan in place to develop Justin and do what's best for our organization and win games."

    We'll see how long that lasts.

    The Bears were a playoff team for two of the past three seasons. But last year's 8-8 team had one prevailing weakness: a limited quarterback. Dalton may be a slight improvement over Mitchell Trubisky and Nick Foles, but he doesn't offer the athleticism and ceiling of Fields.

    If he did, the New York Giants wouldn't have Chicago's first-rounder in 2022.

    "The Chicago Bears easily won this year's NFL draft," Sobleski said. "Just when everyone wrote off the idea of them truly upgrading at quarterback and resigned themselves to seeing Dalton start in the Windy City, Pace brilliantly traded up for Fields. That move alone was the draft's best moment. Bolstering the offensive line with Teven Jenkins in Round 2 was just icing on the cake."

19. New Orleans Saints

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    High: 16

    Low: 20

    The New Orleans Saints had to know this day was coming. Now that longtime quarterback Drew Brees has decided to call it a career, the most successful run in team history is over.

    It isn't all doom and gloom in New Orleans, though.

    Led by edge-rusher Cameron Jordan and cornerback Marshon Lattimore, the Saints defense ranked fifth in the league in points per game allowed last year. Brees may be gone, but the Saints still have one of the NFL's best wide receivers in Michael Thomas, a top-five running back in Alvin Kamara and a top-10 offensive line.

    "It's folly to say that losing Brees isn't a blow for the Saints," Davenport said. "But this is a team that won 12 games and the NFC South in 2020 with a clearly limited Brees under center. The Saints are now a clear No. 2 in the division behind the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but if Jameis Winston (who should be the starter in 2021) can avoid turning the ball over too much, New Orleans could still challenge for a wild-card spot at the very least."

18. New England Patriots

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    Steve Luciano/Associated Press

    High: 12

    Low: 18

    No team in the NFL has undergone a bigger transformation in 2021 than the New England Patriots.

    After slogging through a seven-win season in 2020 and missing the playoffs for the first time in over a decade, the Pats took a buzzsaw to their roster. They were the NFL's most active team in free agency, adding veteran tight ends Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry on offense and edge-rusher Matthew Judon and linebacker Kyle Van Noy on defense.

    The Patriots continued that aggressiveness in the draft, trading up in Round 2 to draft Alabama defensive tackle Christian Barmore. But the centerpiece of New England's draft class has to be Alabama quarterback Mac Jones, whom it drafted 15th overall.

    Sobleski believes the Pats did enough in the offseason to get them right back into the playoffs in 2021.

    "The Patriots brass clearly didn't enjoy last year's mediocre performance and not making the postseason," he said. "First, the organization splurged in free agency in a manner previously unseen. Then, Bill Belichick and Co. smashed the draft process by 1) getting their franchise quarterback, 2) trading up for the class' best defensive tackle prospect and 3) adding yet another quality edge-rusher in the third round. As long as Jones or Cam Newton don't fall flat on their faces, New England will earn a playoff berth in 2021."

17. Dallas Cowboys

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    Brandon Wade/Associated Press

    High: 13

    Low: 18

    The 2020 season was a nightmare for the Dallas Cowboys. Star quarterback Dak Prescott suffered a season-ending ankle injury, while the Cowboys defense allowed the fifth-most points per game in the league.

    Prescott is healthy again, and the Cowboys made a concerted effort to shore up that leaky defense both in free agency and the 2021 draft. Beginning with Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons at No. 12 overall, they spent their first six picks on defenders.

    "Owner Jerry Jones knew exactly what had to be done this offseason," Sobleski said. "Dallas needed defense, defense and more defense. As a result, the Cowboys used all five picks through the first two days of the draft on defensive help, with Parsons as the class' crown jewel. As long as Parsons keeps his head on straight, he's a good bet for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year."

    The Dallas offense is loaded with skill-position talent, and while the Cowboys O-line isn't what it once was, it's still above average.

    If the defense can take a step forward and hold up its end, Dallas could vie for the NFC East title.

16. Los Angeles Chargers

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    Reed Hoffmann/Associated Press

    High: 9

    Low: 20

    It's a time of considerable optimism for the Los Angeles Chargers.

    The Bolts appear to have found their franchise quarterback in Justin Herbert, who was named the 2020 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.

    And as ESPN's Mel Kiper noted while giving the Chargers an "A" grade for their 2021 draft class, few executives had a better go of it this past weekend than Tom Telesco.

    "The Chargers' top two needs headed into this draft were clearly defined: a left tackle to protect Justin Herbert and a starting-caliber corner," Kiper said. "General manager Tom Telesco hit both of those early, and he didn't have to reach."

    Northwestern tackle Rashawn Slater may well have been the best value of the first round at No. 13. The Chargers followed that up in the second round by selecting Florida State cornerback Asante Samuel Jr., who may have had the best ball skills of any player at the position in this class.

    No team in AFC West has improved more this offseason than the Chargers. And while knocking the Chiefs off their perch atop the division may be a tall task, this team could easily find itself in the thick of the hunt for one of the AFC's three wild-card spots.

    "Herbert has to be one of the happiest people in the NFL," Sobleski said. "Last season, the Chargers fielded the NFL's worst offensive line, according to Pro Football Focus. Everything fell into place beautifully this offseason while Los Angeles made a commitment to properly protect the reigning NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. A group now featuring Slater, left guard Matt Feiler, center Corey Linsley, right guard Oday Aboushi and right tackle Bryan Bulaga has suddenly turned into one of the league's better front fives."

15. Indianapolis Colts

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    Rick Osentoski/Associated Press

    High: 12

    Low: 16

    The Indianapolis Colts have had an eventful offseason.

    After making the postseason last year with Philip Rivers under center, the Colts were forced to back to the well at quarterback after Rivers retired. Indianapolis general manager Chris Ballard decided to once again go the veteran route, swinging a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles that brought Carson Wentz to town.

    With Justin Houston as of yet unsigned, the pass rush was another primary area of need, which the Colts hit with a double-dip in the draft. They selected Michigan's Kwity Paye 21st overall and then circled back a round later to grab another edge-rusher in Vanderbilt's Dayo Odeyingbo.

    It's a series of moves that has team owner Jim Irsay excited about the season to come.

    "When you can get your franchise quarterback, and what we feel are two outstanding edge-rushers—I mean special guysit's very hard to do, particularly when you're not even drafting in the top 20 of the draft," Irsay said, via Mike Chappell of Fox 59 in Indianapolis.

    Gagnon shares at least some of that enthusiasm, albeit with a few caveats.

    "I actually wanted to put the Colts in the top 10 because I believe in that regime, and I think it's possible Wentz will rebound under the tutelage of Frank Reich," he wrote. "But Wentz's disastrous 2020 season still has to be a factor, as does the fact that the Colts continue to neglect the left tackle spot left open by Anthony Castonzo's retirement. The defense has the ability to be fantastic, though, and there's a high ceiling on offense. Don't overlook Indy."

14. Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Don Wright/Associated Press

    High: 10

    Low: 18 

    For a team that opened the 2020 season with a franchise-record 11 straight victories, the Pittsburgh Steelers have had an uneasy offseason.

    The defending AFC North champions managed to emphatically address one glaring need when they selected Alabama running back Najee Harris in the first round of the draft. He should offer a sizable boost to the league's worst run game from a season ago.

    Still, the Steelers have more than a few remaining potential problem areas.

    Thanks in part to a salary-cap crunch, two of their top three cornerbacks from the 2020 campaign are gone. So is edge-rusher Alvin Dupree and three starters from last year's offensive line, including left tackle Alejandro Villanueva and center Maurkice Pouncey.

    "The Steelers are a good team," Davenport said. "But it's hard to view this group as a real Super Bowl contender. The defense lost a couple of big pieces in Dupree and cornerback Steven Nelson. Harris was a big add in the backfield, but Ben Roethlisberger showed his age at times in 2020, and the offensive line in front of him is a mess. These Steelers have the look of a team primed for a backslide."

13. Washington Football Team

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    High: 11

    Low: 16

    The Washington Football Team were the surprise champions of the NFC East in 2020. But any excitement over that title came with the asterisk that was their 7-9 record.

    However, there's reason to think Washington could better that mark in 2021 and perhaps even be a force in the postseason.

    In free agency, the WFT addressed the departure (and retirement) of quarterback Alex Smith by becoming the ninth stop on the Ryan Fitzpatrick tour. Washington gave him a new passing-game target in wide receiver Curtis Samuel, replaced Ronald Darby with William Jackson III at cornerback and upgraded at inside linebacker with the selection of Kentucky's Jamin Davis at No. 19 overall.

    Washington has quietly assembled a roster that doesn't have any glaring holes. The defensive line might be the best in the NFL. The offensive line is stout. The Samuel signing gives Fitzpatrick a solid trio of pass-catchers alongside star wideout Terry McLaurin and tight end Logan Thomas.

    If Fitzpatrick can avoid back-breaking turnovers and Washington can stay relatively healthy, this roster is more than capable of 10-11 wins and a second straight NFC East title.

12. Arizona Cardinals

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    High: 6

    Low: 18

    No team in the NFL attacked the offseason more aggressively than the Arizona Cardinals, and it shows.

    After fading down the stretch and narrowly missing the playoffs in 2020, the Cardinals made major additions in both free agency and the draft. Three-time Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt joined a front seven that includes former NFL sack king Chandler Jones. Wide receiver A.J. Green gives Kyler Murray a veteran target underneath. Cornerback Malcolm Butler offset the loss of Patrick Peterson. Arizona also bolstered the line in front of Murray, bringing in Pro Bowl center Rodney Hudson in a trade with the Las Vegas Raiders.

    For the second year in a row, Arizona used its first-round pick on a versatile defensive chess piece in Tulsa linebacker Zaven Collins. In the second round, the Cardinals snagged Purdue wide receiver Rondale Moore, who was one of the most explosive pass-catchers in this year's class.

    Making a slew of offseason moves is no guarantee of in-season success. But on paper, the Cardinals have everything they need to make some hay in the NFC West in 2021.

    That division is going to be an absolute meat grinder.

11. San Francisco 49ers

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    High: 5

    Low: 15

    After trading up to acquire the third overall pick in the 2021 draft, the San Francisco 49ers were the focus of a ton of offseason speculation. Which young quarterback did the Niners mortgage their future to obtain?

    As it turns out, it was North Dakota State's Trey Lance, a wildly athletic but raw signal-caller who played only one game in 2020. Lance's mobility and arm talent gives him one of the highest ceilings of any quarterback in the class. But given his lack of experience, it's a pretty safe bet that Jimmy Garoppolo will remain the team's starter, at least in the short term.

    San Francisco's 2020 season was an injury-marred disaster. But Gagnon believes that this team could be primed for an exceedingly rapid rebound.

    "Please don't forget that the 49ers were a Super Bowl team before losing Garoppolo, Raheem Mostert, Tevin Coleman, Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, Nick Bosa, Solomon Thomas, Dee Ford, Richard Sherman, K'Waun Williams and Jaquiski Tartt to injuries of varying severity for long stretches in 2020," he wrote. "It was one of the worst injury situations I've seen in my 14 years covering the NFL. Add most of those guys back, factor in the possibility that Lance catches fire in a great system as a rookie, and the 49ers are a Super Bowl contender again."

    Gagnon put his ranking where his writing was as well. He slotted the Niners inside the top five.

10. Miami Dolphins

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    High: 10

    Low: 13

    Given where the Miami Dolphins were a few years ago, what general manager Chris Grier has accomplished since then is quite impressive. In September 2019, Gagnon posited that the Dolphins could be in the early stages of the worst season in NFL history.

    Not even two full years later, the Dolphins are coming off a 10-win season and are a legitimate contender in the AFC East.

    Thanks in part to the fire sale they had in 2019, the Dolphins were loaded with draft capital in 2021. And they once again played Let's Make a Deal, first by trading down to the No. 12 spot while adding extra first-rounders in 2022 and 2023 and then using their own first-rounder next year to get back to No. 6 overall.

    Miami used that sixth pick to add a familiar face for quarterback Tua Tagovailoa in Alabama wide receiver Jaylen Waddle. Between that and signing wideout Will Fuller V in free agency, the Dolphins now sport a solid trio of receivers (Waddle, Fuller and DeVante Parker) and a good, young tight end in Mike Gesicki.

    The offensive line remains a potential problem area, but considering that the Dolphins were sixth in scoring defense in 2020, they appear capable of giving the Bills a run for their money in the AFC East.

9. Seattle Seahawks

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    Stephen Brashear/Associated Press

    High: 8

    Low: 10

    For most of the 2021 offseason, the dominant storyline for the Seattle Seahawks was the possibility that they might actually trade star quarterback Russell Wilson. However, that was never likely to happen, and barring an earth-shaking post-draft deal, Wilson will be under center for the Seahawks in 2021.

    Once that was settled, Seattle turned its attention to the roster around Wilson. And while there are a few changes relative to last year's 12-4 squad, the 2021 Seahawks are neither markedly better nor worse.

    The Seahawks did make a few notable additions on offense. Gabe Jackson should be a boost to Seattle's beleaguered offensive line, while second-round pick D'Wayne Eskridge gives Wilson another blazingly fast target in the passing game.

    On defense, Kerry Hyder was a quietly solid addition on the defensive front, as was edge-rusher Aldon Smith. But that pass rush is going to be under increased pressure to get after the quarterback, lest a rebuilt secondary that watched No. 1 cornerback Shaquill Griffin sign with the Jaguars in free agency be exposed.

8. Los Angeles Rams

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    Stephen Brashear/Associated Press

    High: 6

    Low: 13

    No NFL team was mentioned less on the draft's first day than the Los Angeles Rams. But that isn't new.

    The last player the Rams selected in Round 1 was quarterback Jared Goff back in 2016. And after they sent Goff packing in return for Matthew Stafford this offseason, they won't make an appearance in the first round again until at least 2024.

    Acquiring Stafford may be worth all that draft capital, as he could be the Rams' final piece in the Super Bowl puzzle. They have no shortage of skill-position talent, a top-three offensive line, a three-time Defensive Player of the Year in Aaron Donald and one of the game's best cornerbacks in Jalen Ramsey.

    If things break the right way, the Rams could challenge the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the right to represent the NFC in Super Bowl LVI. But they're also precariously short on depth on both sides of the ball.

    If the injuries start to pile up in La-La Land, things could come off the rails fairly quickly.

7. Tennessee Titans

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    James Kenney/Associated Press

    High: 6

    Low: 12

    In 2019, the Tennessee Titans rolled the dice on a talented player coming off a serious injury in Round 1. That gamble paid off, as Jeffery Simmons has already become one of the league's better young defensive tackles.

    They went back to that well in 2021.

    It isn't hard to see what spurred the Titans to draft Virginia Tech cornerback Caleb Farley with the No. 22 overall pick. If he recovers fully from back surgery, Farley has the talent to be the No. 1 corner in this draft class. And after losing Malcolm Butler and Adoree' Jackson in free agency, Tennessee had a glaring need in the defensive backfield.

    That wasn't the only area of need that the Titans hit this offseason. The loss of Corey Davis was (hopefully) offset by the Day 3 selection of Louisville's Dez Fitzpatrick and LSU's Racey McMath. Tennessee also bolstered its pass rush by signing Bud Dupree in free agency.

    The Titans have advanced to the playoffs each of the past two seasons, and they should be right in the AFC South mix again in 2021.

6. Baltimore Ravens

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    John Munson/Associated Press

    High: 5

    Low: 8

    The Baltimore Ravens have been one of the AFC's more consistently successful teams over the past decade-plus, in large part because they have done an excellent job of weathering personnel losses.

    Well, that and drafting Lamar Jackson in 2018. That wasn't a bad idea, either.

    That rebound ability will be put to the test again in 2021. Baltimore's top two edge-rushers from last season (Yannick Ngakoue and Matthew Judon) are gone. So is Pro Bowl tackle Orlando Brown Jr., who requested a trade rather than move back to the right side this season with Ronnie Stanley healthy.

    The Ravens have taken steps to plug those leaks. With the first-round pick they obtained in the Brown trade, they added a wildly athletic (but raw) pass-rusher in Odafe Oweh of Penn State. Veteran tackle Alejandro Villanueva reportedly plans to sign with Baltimore as a short-term replacement for Brown at right tackle, according to ESPN's Jamison Hensley. The Ravens also drafted badly needed wideout help in Minnesota's Rashod Bateman at 27th overall.

    "The Ravens aren't markedly better than last year's wild-card team," Davenport said. "But they also aren't significantly worse. Given their better long-term track record as of late, the Ravens are the betting favorites in the AFC North, and rightfully so."

5. Green Bay Packers

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    Morry Gash/Associated Press

    High: 5

    Low: 7

    There could be trouble brewing in Titletown.

    Free agency wasn't especially kind to the Packers, largely due to a lack of cap space. They were able to retain star running back Aaron Jones and cornerback Kevin King, but Pro Bowl center Corey Linsley, inside linebacker Christian Kirksey and running back Jamaal Williams all left. 

    Then came the real bombshell. Hours before the draft began, Adam Schefter reported reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers was "so disgruntled" with the Packers "that he has told some within the organization that he does not want to return to the team."

    On Friday, NFL Network's Ian Rapoport added that Rodgers is prepared to walk away from the game altogether "unless the situation [in Green Bay] is repaired to his liking." He also said Monday that the relationship between Rodgers and the Packers been souring for some time, in part because Rodgers hasn't had more input on personnel decisions.

    At least the Packers drafted a wideout in Round 1 in an effort to smooth things over.

    Oh, wait. No they didn't. General manager Brian Gutekunst instead reached at No. 29 for Georgia cornerback Eric Stokes.

4. Cleveland Browns

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    Don Wright/Associated Press

    High: 3


    The Cleveland Browns are a legitimate Super Bowl contender in the AFC.

    That statement would have earned you some serious side-eye or a breathalyzer test not long ago. But in 2021, it's true.

    It isn't just that the Browns won 11 games last year and notched their first playoff win since the mid-'90s. Or that they have arguably the best offensive line in the NFL and no shortage of offensive weaponry, including the return of wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.

    This offseason, Cleveland general manager Andrew Berry also attacked a Cleveland defense that struggled in 2020. Whether it was up front with edge-rusher Jadeveon Clowney and tackle Malik Jackson, at linebacker with Anthony Walker or in the secondary with cornerback Troy Hill and safety John Johnson III, the Browns added quality starters at all three levels.

    The Browns also spent their first pick on that side of the ball, adding another piece to the defensive backfield in Northwestern cornerback Greg Newsome II. Then they got one of the biggest steals of the draft, moving up in Round 2 to snag Notre Dame linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah.

    To say the defense is improved on paper is a massive understatement.

    "As the NFL emerges from the draft, a realization came to light," Sobleski said. "The Browns are now the biggest challengers to the Kansas City Chiefs' recent AFC supremacy. Throughout free agency and the draft, the Browns added significant defensive upgrades in Johnson, Clowney, Hill, Walker, Newsome and Owusu-Koramoah. They're better at all three levels, and they have one of the league's top two or three rosters."

3. Buffalo Bills

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    High: 3

    Low: 4

    The Buffalo Bills didn't do a ton in the 2021 offseason. But when you're coming off a 13-win season and a trip to the AFC Championship Game, you don't necessarily need to do a ton.

    The Bills' biggest moves were keeping talent from leaving western New York. They re-signed outside linebacker Matt Milano, cornerback Levi Wallace, edge-rusher Mario Addison and offensive tackle Daryl Williams, all of whom made significant contributions in 2020. When they did lose veteran wideout John Brown, they brought in Emmanuel Sanders, who may actually be an upgrade.

    The Bills were also able to address an area of need in the draft. This year's crop of edge-rushers lacked an elite Chase Young-type prospect, but Miami's Gregory Rousseau piled up 15.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss two years ago before opting out in 2020. After drafting Rousseau 30th overall, the Bills doubled up at the position with Wake Forest's Carlos Basham Jr. in Round 2.

    All told, this offseason sets the Bills up as the leading challengers to the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC.

2. Kansas City Chiefs

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    High: 1

    Low: 2

    After watching Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes rack up over a quarter-mile of running for his life in a blowout loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl LV, it was clear that the offensive line was a problem area for the two-time defending AFC champs.

    The issue became that much more pronounced when injuries and a precarious salary-cap situation led the Chiefs to release starting tackles Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz.

    As it turns out, Chiefs general manager Brett Veach had a plan. He signed one of the top free-agent guards of 2021, luring Joe Thuney away from New England on a five-year, $80 million pact. The Chiefs also signed Austin Blythe as their new starting center and veteran Mike Remmers as a less expensive replacement for Schwartz at right tackle.

    The centerpiece of KC's new-look line is left tackle Orlando Brown, who joins the Chiefs after back-to-back Pro Bowls in Baltimore. The cost wasn't cheap—they sent a package to Baltimore that included their 2021 first-rounder—but Mahomes was undoubtedly pleased with the move.

    "I'm not kidding about this: The Chiefs have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL," Gagnon said. "Certainly the deepest, and more than enough to practically ensure that they won't run into the same problems that arguably cost them Super Bowl LV. That impressive transformation was all I needed to see. A lot of people will give the top spot to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers just because they won last year, but that's not really the idea with power rankings. Tampa Bay impressively brought back all of its key in-house free agents, but the Chiefs were a much more dangerous team than the Bucs before their line blew up in 2020. Now that the line has been reconstructed, they're the team to beat." 

1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    High: 1

    Low: 2

    If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

    That appears to have been the offseason mantra of Tampa Bay Buccaneers general mantra Jason Licht.

    Tampa's most prominent addition in free agency was passing-down back Giovani Bernard. But the Buccaneers also prevented any significant contributors from last year's Super Bowl-winning team from departing.

    Linebacker Lavonte David will be back. So will edge-rusher Shaquil Barrett, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, wide receivers Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown, tight end Rob Gronkowski and running back Leonard Founette. As a matter of fact, all 22 starters from the team that won Super Bowl LV will be back in 2021.

    "I can't remember a team in recent memory that did a better job of holding on to its own talent than Tampa has this offseason, much less a defending champion," Davenport said. "What the Buccaneers did in the 2021 draft is almost incidental, although edge-rusher Joe Tryon was a nice get at the end of Round 1. It's amazing what a Lombardi Trophy can do for a general manager's sales pitch. Tampa is as talented and balanced as any team in the league and is the clear favorite to rep the NFC in Super Bowl LVI in February."


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