Projecting Every NFL Team's Starting Lineup for 2021
The NFL draft has come and gone, and for the most part, the rosters for the league's 32 teams are set for the 2021 season. However, there's a long way to go between now and the season opener between the Dallas Cowboys and Tampa Bay Buccaneers on September 9.
There are rookie minicamps, some of which have already taken place. Then organized team activities. Then training camp. And then finally the preseason, albeit a truncated one thanks to the new 17-game regular season.
For some teams, a lot of that will be more formality than necessity. The starters the Buccaneers trot out in Week 1 will likely look an awful lot like the team we saw blast the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV.
But for many teams, the next few months will be incredibly vital. It's an opportunity to see who gives them the best chance to win once games count.
This article carries with it a few caveats. With a few exceptions, the offensive starters here are "11" personnel: three wide receivers, one tight end. For most teams, it's the default offensive formation in 2021.
Defensively, the nickel (five defensive backs) has become the common formation. But since we're talking starting lineups here, with one exception, the defenses listed are in "base" sets: seven-man fronts, four-man secondaries.
Also, this assumes the starting lineups for Week 1. So there are some rookies who didn't make the cut (yet), and suspended players (while noted) are not included.
Now that the technicalities are out of the way, let's get to speculating by projecting every NFL team's starting lineup for 2021.
Offense: QB Kyler Murray, RB Chase Edmonds, WR DeAndre Hopkins, WR Christian Kirk, WR A.J. Green, TE Maxx Williams, LT D.J. Humphries, LG Justin Pugh, C Rodney Hudson, RG Justin Murray, RT Kelvin Beachum
Defense: DE J.J. Watt, NT Rashard Lawrence, DE Zach Allen, edge Chandler Jones, ILB Zaven Collins, ILB Isaiah Simmons, edge Markus Golden, CB Robert Alford, CB Malcolm Butler, FS Budda Baker, SS Jalen Thompson
After a second-half swoon led to the Arizona Cardinals missing the playoffs in 2020, the team was aggressive this offseason in adding talent on both sides of the ball.
Offensively, veteran wideout A.J. Green and rookie burner Rondale Moore were brought in to give Kyler Murray more weapons in the passing game. Pro Bowl center Rodney Hudson should represent a big improvement up front.
Defensively, J.J. Watt was signed to bookend edge-rusher Chandler Jones, while the team spent a first-round pick on a versatile chess piece on defense for the second straight year in Tulsa's Zaven Collins. Cornerback Malcolm Butler replaces the departed Patrick Peterson after joining the Redbirds in free agency.
There are questions, however. The addition of James Conner shores up the running backs somewhat, but Chase Edmonds has never been a featured back in the pros. There are also significant changes coming defensively; with Collins slated to start inside, the Redbirds have reportedly given 2020 tackle leader Jordan Hicks permission to seek a trade.
The Cardinals appear substantially better on paper than last year's team. The question in arguably the league's best division is whether those changes will be enough.
Defense: edge Dante Fowler, DT Grady Jarrett, DT Tyeler Davison, edge Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, ILB Deion Jones, OLB Foyesade Oluokun, OLB Mykal Walker, CB A.J. Terrell, CB Kendall Sheffield, FS Richie Grant, SS Duron Harmon
There's no question that where passing-game firepower is concerned, the Atlanta Falcons are loaded. That was the case even before the Falcons made Florida's Kyle Pitts the earliest-drafted tight end in league history. Pitts and wide receivers Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley are the stuff of nightmares for opposing secondaries.
However, once you get beyond that impressive cadre of pass-catchers, the questions start piling up with speed and quickness.
Despite a heavy investment in terms of draft capital the past several years, the Falcons sport a below-average offensive line. Running back Mike Davis was decent in relief of an injured Christian McCaffrey in Carolina last year, but he wasn't much more than that.
The biggest problem for the Falcons is the team's defense, or lack thereof. Atlanta was 29th in total defense last season, and no additions of note were made in the offseason. It can be argued that tackle Grady Jarrett and middle linebacker Deion Jones are the only two above-average performers the team possesses on that side of the ball.
Offense: QB Lamar Jackson, RB J.K. Dobbins, WR Marquise Brown, WR Sammy Watkins, WR Rashod Bateman, TE Mark Andrews, LT Ronnie Stanley, LG Ben Cleveland, C Bradley Bozeman, RG Kevin Zeitler, RT Alejandro Villanueva
Defense: DE Calais Campbell, NT Brandon Williams, DE Derek Wolfe, edge Pernell McPhee, ILB L.J. Fort, ILB Patrick Queen, edge Tyus Bowser, CB Marlon Humphrey, CB Marcus Peters, FS DeShon Elliott, SS Chuck Clark
The Baltimore Ravens have the talent to challenge the Kansas City Chiefs for supremacy in the AFC.
Offensively, the Ravens have an MVP quarterback in Lamar Jackson. A talented young tailback in J.K. Dobbins. One of the game's better tight ends in Mark Andrews. A stout offensive line. And an improved wideout corps that added veteran Sammy Watkins in free agency and rookie Rashod Bateman in the 2021 draft.
Defensively, the Ravens have arguably the deepest assemblage of quality cornerbacks in the league. Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey are both Pro Bowl-caliber players, and Jimmy Smith and Tavon Young are no slouches either.
This isn't to say there aren't potential areas of concern. Veteran tackle Alejandro Villanueva will be tasked with replacing Pro Bowler Orlando Brown Jr. at right tackle. The Ravens used one of their two picks in Round 1 this year on a talented young edge-rusher in Penn State's Odafe Oweh, but the departure of Matthew Judon and Yannick Ngakoue in free agency makes the Baltimore pass rush an area of unnerving uncertainty.
Offense: QB Josh Allen, RB Zack Moss, WR Stefon Diggs, WR Emmanuel Sanders, WR Cole Beasley, TE Dawson Knox, LT Dion Dawkins, LG Jon Feliciano, C Mitch Morse, RG Cody Ford, RT Daryl Williams
Defense: edge Mario Addison, DT Ed Oliver, DT Vernon Butler, edge Jerry Hughes, OLB Matt Milano, ILB Tremaine Edmunds, OLB A.J. Klein, CB Tre'Davious White, CB Levi Wallace, FS Micah Hyde, SS Jordan Poyer
The Buffalo Bills are in the thick of things in the AFC after making the conference title game last year, and the 2021 Bills look quite a bit like last year's iteration.
There have, however, been a few changes and additions. With veteran wideout John Brown now in Las Vegas, Emmanuel Sanders was brought in to serve as the No. 2 receiver opposite Stefon Diggs. Buffalo used its first pick in this year's draft to select Miami edge-rusher Gregory Rousseau, but with a pair of capable veterans in front of him in Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison, Rousseau will probably begin his NFL career in a rotational role.
There's also the matter of the looming battle at running back between Devin Singletary and Zack Moss. But as the 2020 campaign continued, Moss' role grew, so he has the inside track on leading the backfield in touches in 2021.
The Bills are a talented and balanced team without a glaring weakness on either side of the ball.
It's going to be a fun year to be a member of Bills Mafia.
Offense: QB Sam Darnold, RB Christian McCaffrey, WR D.J. Moore, WR Robby Anderson, WR David Moore, TE Dan Arnold, LT Cameron Erving, LG Pat Elflein, C Matt Paradis, RG John Miller, RT Taylor Moton
Defense: edge Haason Reddick, DT Derrick Brown, Bravion Roy, edge Brian Burns, OLB Shaq Thompson, ILB Denzel Perryman, OLB Jermaine Carter, CB Donte Jackson, CB Jaycee Horn, FS Justin Burris, SS Jeremy Chinn
There's a new sheriff in town in Charlotte.
After one disappointing season in Carolina, Teddy Bridgewater has given way to Sam Darnold under center for the Panthers. In Christian McCaffrey, D.J. Moore, Robby Anderson and David Moore, Darnold has a better supporting cast now than he ever did in New York.
He's also playing behind a rebuilt O-line that added a pair of options in tackle Cameron Erving and guard Pat Elflein, who aren't exactly blowing anyone's doors off.
There are big changes on defense as well. After a career year in Arizona, Haason Reddick was signed to complement Brian Burns off the edge. Denzel Perryman was brought in to replace Tahir Whitehead at middle linebacker. And the Panthers used the eighth overall pick in the 2021 draft to select a potential difference-maker in the secondary in South Carolina cornerback Jaycee Horn.
On paper, the Panthers appear better this year than last.
But a great deal will depend on how the team's 23-year-old signal-caller fares in his second home.
Offense: QB Justin Fields, RB David Montgomery, WR Allen Robinson II, WR Darnell Mooney, WR Anthony Miller, TE Cole Kmet, LT Teven Jenkins, LG James Daniels, C Cody Whitehair, RG Alex Bars, RT Germain Ifedi
Defense: DE Akiem Hicks, NT Eddie Goldman, DE Bilal Nichols, edge Khalil Mack, ILB Roquan Smith, ILB Danny Trevathan, edge Robert Quinn, CB Desmond Trufant, CB Jaylon Johnson, FS Eddie Jackson, SS Tashaun Gipson
Yes, that's right. Justin Fields.
The Chicago Bears can insist that Andy Dalton remains the team's starter until they are indigo blue in the face. But in this projection, we're going to assume that the 11th overall pick in the 2021 draft shows enough in camp and preseason for Matt Nagy to decide the future is now and start the former Ohio State standout under center.
The question then becomes if there's enough around Fields to give him an opportunity to succeed.
Chicago's defense (anchored by edge-rusher Khalil Mack, inside linebacker Roquan Smith and defensive end Akiem Hicks) remains stout. But the offense is another story. Outside of star wideout Allen Robinson, that position group has more questions than answers.
Both tackle spots are potential weaknesses as well. The surprising release of Charles Leno thrusts rookie Teven Jenkins into the starting lineup on the left side, while Germain Ifedi and Elijah Wilkinson will compete to man the strong-side tackle spot.
Offense: QB Joe Burrow, RB Joe Mixon, WR Tyler Boyd, WR Tee Higgins, WR Ja'Marr Chase, TE Drew Sample, LT Jonah Williams, LG Jackson Carman, C Trey Hopkins, RG Quinton Spain, RT Riley Reiff
Defense: edge Sam Hubbard, DT D.J. Reader, DT Larry Ogunjobi, DE Trey Hendrickson, OLB Logan Wilson, ILB Germaine Pratt, OLB Akeem Davis-Gaither, CB Trae Waynes, CB Chidobe Awuzie, FS Jessie Bates III, SS Vonn Bell
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow has a new playmate—in an old playmate.
With the addition of fifth overall pick Ja'Marr Chase (Burrow's teammate at LSU), the Bengals have an impressive trio of wide receivers in Chase, Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins. If healthy, Joe Mixon is a capable and talented young running back.
That's the good news.
The bad news is that it all may be for naught. The Bengals took steps to upgrade a leaky offensive line with the addition of veteran tackle Riley Reiff and guard Jackson Carman, but that line's ability to protect Burrow after last year's ACL tear is easily the most pressing issue facing the team.
However, it isn't the only one. The Bengals used a substantial amount of money on Trey Hendrickson in free agency as a replacement for the departed Carl Lawson, and for the second straight year, Cincy invested significant salary resources in the defensive backfield.
But one year after allowing the fourth-most rushing yards per game in the league, the Bengals linebackers remain virtually untouched and just as unimpressive as a year ago.
Offense: QB Baker Mayfield, RB Nick Chubb, WR Odell Beckham Jr., WR Jarvis Landry, WR Rashard Higgins, TE Austin Hooper, LT Jedrick Wills Jr., LG Joel Bitonio, C J.C. Tretter, RG Wyatt Teller, RG Jack Conklin
Defense: edge Myles Garrett, DT Malik Jackson, DT Andrew Billings, eedge Jadeveon Clowney, OLB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, ILB Anthony Walker,, CB Denzel Ward, CB Troy Hill, FS Grant Delpit, FS Ronnie Harrison, SS John Johnson III
The Cleveland Browns are loaded.
That is not a misprint.
The Cleveland Browns are loaded.
The Browns were already well-positioned on offense. Cleveland has arguably the best offensive line in the entire NFL. The league's best backfield duo in Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. A more-than-adequate assemblage of passing game talent (especially with Odell Beckham back). And a rising young signal-caller in Baker Mayfield.
Last year, the defense was the team's undoing, and general manager Andrew Berry took a buzzsaw to it.
The only starter on the defensive line left over from a year ago is all-world edge-rusher Myles Garrett. The Browns signed middle linebacker Anthony Walker in free agency and drafted Notre Dame linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah in Round 2. The team's first pick in the 2021 draft was spent on Northwestern cornerback Greg Newsome, who joins safety John Johnson and veteran corner Troy Hill in Cleveland's revamped secondary.
You'll notice that Cleveland's defensive starters contain three safeties. Per Jeff Risdon of Browns Wire, Cleveland very rarely had three linebackers on the field in 2020. With Grant Delpit presumably healthy again, that's not going to change.
This is a team without a real weakness…and a roster capable of a Super Bowl run. But with a season opener at Kansas City, it won't take long to see how close Cleveland is to realizing that potential.
Offense: QB Dak Prescott, RB Ezekiel Elliott, WR Amari Cooper, WR Michael Gallup, WR CeeDee Lamb, TE Blake Jarwin, LT Tyron Smith, LG Connor Williams, C Tyler Biadasz, RG Zack Martin, RT La'el Collins
Defense: edge DeMarcus Lawrence, DT Neville Gallimore, DT Trysten Hill, edge Randy Gregory, OLB Jaylon Smith, ILB Leighton Vander Esch, OLB Micah Parsons, CB Trevon Diggs, CB Anthony Brown, FS Donovan Wilson, SS Keanu Neal
Dak is back, baby!
The predominant storyline surrounding the Dallas Cowboys as we move into summer workouts is the health of quarterback Dak Prescott's surgically repaired ankle. But provided that Prescott's rehab doesn't hit a snag, the Cowboys offense isn't the story. Whether it's the quarterback, the offensive line, the running game or the pass-catchers, Dallas has plenty of talent on that side of the ball.
It's the Dallas defense that's the story—because that's where the questions lie.
After taking Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons 12th overall, the Cowboys have three highly drafted linebackers in Parsons, Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith. One of those linebackers will be coming off the field in the nickel. There's also a logjam of sorts at safety after the signings of Keanu Neal and Damontae Kazee, although the original plan was reportedly for Dallas to try Neal at linebacker.
With Parsons now in Big D, that plan may well change, especially since Kazee has quite a bit of experience playing the slot from his time in Atlanta.
Seeing a lot of 4-2-5 looks from the Cowboys this fall wouldn't be surprising.
Offense: QB Teddy Bridgewater, RB Melvin Gordon III, WR Courtland Sutton, WR Jerry Jeudy, WR Tim Patrick, TE Noah Fant, LT Garrett Bolles, LG Dalton Risner, C Lloyd Cushenberry III, RG Graham Glasgow, RT Calvin Anderson
Defense: DE Dre'Mont Jones, NT Mike Purcell, DE Shelby Harris, edge Von Miller, ILB Alexander Johnson, ILB Josey Jewell, OLB Bradley Chubb, CB Ronald Darby, CB Kyle Fuller, FS Justin Simmons, SS Kareem Jackson
The Denver Broncos feature one of the biggest QB battles of 2021.
The problem is that no matter who wins, Broncos fans may well wind up losing.
Neither incumbent quarterback Drew Lock nor newcomer Teddy Bridgewater inspire a ton of confidence. For argument's sake, we'll give the edge here to Bridgewater's experience and higher floor. The same logic applies to the running back position and veteran Melvin Gordon, although after spending a second-round pick on Javonte Williams of North Carolina, it's clear that Gordon's leash is short in 2021.
Denver's skill-position talent on offense is solid, but the line ranked 25th in the league last year, per Pro Football Focus, and already lost right tackle Ja'Wuan James to yet another season-ending injury.
As has been the case in recent years, the strength of this team is on the defense. Whether it's the front seven anchored by edge-rushers Von Miller and Bradley Chubb or a back end that features Pro Bowl safety Justin Simmons and two new corners in Ronald Darby and Kyle Fuller, Denver's fortunes will depend less on scoring points than stopping opponents from doing so.
Offense: QB Jared Goff, RB D'Andre Swift, WR Tyrell Williams, WR Breshad Perriman, WR Quintez Cephus, TE T.J. Hockenson, LT Taylor Decker, LG Jonah Jackson, C Frank Ragnow, RG Halapoulivaati Vaitai, RT Penei Sewell
Defense: edge Romeo Okwara, DT Alim Mcneil, DT Michael Brockers, edge Trey Flowers, OLB Jamie Collins Sr., ILB Jahlani Tavai, OLB Jalen Reeves-Maybin, CB Quinton Dunbar, CB Jeff Okudah, FS Tracy Walker, SS Will Harris
The Detroit Lions are rebuilding—again.
The trade that sent Matthew Stafford to the Los Angeles Rams landed the Lions both quarterback Jared Goff and two first-round picks. But the Detroit offense has some real issues in the passing game, especially after both Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones left in free agency.
The Lions have one 1,000-yard receiving season total on the entire roster: Tyrell Williams all the way back in 2016.
It's not all doom and gloom in Motown. Running back D'Andre Swift and tight end T.J. Hockenson have both shown considerable promise early in their professional careers. The addition of tackle Penei Sewell to the offensive line should make that unit an area of strength for the franchise. Detroit also spent three of their first four draft picks on a defense that allowed a league-high 419.8 yards per game in 2020.
Still, while there's a bright spot here and there, the Lions have a lot of work to do to return to respectability in the NFC North.
And this might be the most talent-deficient starting lineup in the league.
Green Bay Packers
Offense: QB Aaron Rodgers, RB, Aaron Jones, WR Davante Adams, WR Allen Lazard, WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling, TE Robert Tonyan, LT David Bakhtiari, LG Elgton Jenkins, C Josh Myers, RG Lucas Patrick, RT Billy Turner
Defense: DE Dean Lowry, NT Kenny Clark, DE Kingsley Keke, edge Za'Darius Smith, ILB Krys Barnes, ILB Kamal Martin, edge Preston Smith, CB Jaire Alexander, CB Kevin King, FS Darnell Savage, SS Adrian Amos
So there's kind of a thing going on in Green Bay.
Since news broke on April 29 that Aaron Rodgers might want out of Green Bay, there's seemingly new information every day regarding the 2020 NFL MVP. The latest reports indicate that a reconciliation is a possibility—if Rodgers gets a new contract with some guaranteed money.
The reality is that was always the most likely outcome to this situation; there's a reason no reigning MVP has ever been traded. And if Rodgers is under center when the Packers face the New Orleans Saints in Week 1, then Green Bay will again be among the top contenders in the NFC.
Offensively, the Packers sport an excellent running back in Aaron Jones, arguably the best wideout in the game in Davante Adams and a top-five offensive line. Defensively, the Packers were quietly ninth in the NFL. And while the loss of center Corey Linsley was a blow, the Pack will field essentially the same team in 2021 that won 13 games each of the last two seasons.
Of course, if Rodgers is traded, that all goes out the window. Jordan Love has all of zero career passing attempts, and Green Bay would go from Super Bowl contender to rebuilding also-ran in the blink of an eye.
Offense: QB Tyrod Taylor, RB David Johnson, WR Brandin Cooks, WR Randall Cobb, WR Keke Coutee, TE Jordan Akins, LT Laremy Tunsil, LG Max Scharping, C Justin Britt, RG Marcus Cannon, RT Tytus Howard
Defense: edge Whitney Mercilus, DT Maliek Collins, DT Charles Omenihu, edge Shaq Lawson, OLB Christian Kirksey, ILB Zach Cunningham, OLB Neville Hewitt, CB Vernon Hargreaves III, CB Terrance Mitchell, FS Justin Reid, SS Lonnie Johnson Jr.
The Houston Texans are a dumpster fire.
The Deshaun Watson situation continues to loom over the Texans like a dark cloud. Between Watson's trade demands and the numerous lawsuits alleging sexual misconduct, Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports said on a recent radio interview that he doesn't see Watson playing at all in 2021.
"I don't think you're going to see Deshaun Watson in an NFL building for a long time," La Canfora said, via Mike Fisher of Texans Daily. "I don't think Deshaun Watson has any short-term future playing football."
That's far from Houston's only problem. Personnel losses over the past few years have decimated the wide receivers. The running back room is crowded but uninspiring. The offensive line has been a sore spot for years.
The defense is also undergoing major changes in 2021. With Lovie Smith (who hasn't coached in the NFL since 2015) now the team's defensive coordinator, Houston will be moving to a Tampa-2 four-man front after years running the 3-4. Between that new scheme, the loss of J.J. Watt and all the new faces in town on that side of the ball, a third straight year as a bottom-five defense is a very real possibility.
It's going to be an ugly year in Houston.
Offense: QB Carson Wentz, RB Jonathan Taylor, WR T.Y. Hilton, WR Michael Pittman Jr., WR Parris Campbell, TE Jack Doyle, LT Sam Tevi, LG Quenton Nelson, C Ryan Kelly, RG Mark Glowinski, RT Braden Smith
Defense: edge Kwity Paye, DT DeForest Buckner, DT Grover Stewart, edge Al-Quadin Muhammad, OLB Darius Leonard, ILB Zaire Franklin, OLB Bobby Okereke, CB Kenny Moore, CB Xavier Rhodes, FS Julian Blackmon, SS Khari Willis
On many levels, the Colts enter the 2021 season in good shape for a playoff run.
Offensively, the Colts sport an offensive line (led by all-everything guard Quenton Nelson) that is among the league's best. Running back Jonathan Taylor was as advertised as a rookie. The passing game weapons aren't fantastic, but they are adequate—especially if Parris Campbell can stay healthy.
Defensively, the Colts have talent at all three levels, whether it's tackle DeForest Buckner, linebacker Darius Leonard or cornerback Xavier Rhodes.
But there are some significant questions as well. Carson Wentz will try to rejuvenate his professional career after an abysmal season with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2020. The retirement of Anthony Castonzo opened a major hole at left tackle, and while the Colts signed Eric Fisher he may not be ready for the opener after tearing his Achilles in last year's AFC title game.
With veteran edge-rusher Justin Houston no longer with the team, the pass rush is a concern, although the Colts tried to address that with Michigan's Kwity Paye in the first round of this year's draft. There's also a void at MIKE linebacker after Anthony Walker signed with the Cleveland Browns in free agency.
These Colts could go 11-6 and win the AFC South. Or go 7-10 and miss the playoffs altogether.
Offense: QB Trevor Lawrence, RB James Robinson, WR Marvin Jones Jr., WR D.J. Chark Jr., WR Laviska Shenault Jr., TE Chris Manhertz, LT Cam Robinson, LG Andrew Norwell, C Brandon Linder, RG A.J. Cann, RT Jawaan Taylor
Defense: edge Josh Allen, DT Roy Robertson-Harris, DT Taven Bryan, edge K'Lavon Chaisson, OLB Myles Jack, ILB Joe Schobert, OLB Leon Jacobs, CB Shaquil Griffin, CB C.J. Henderson, FS Jarrod Wilson, SS Rayshawn Jenkins
It's the dawn of a new era in Duval County.
It's not that often that a 1-15 team enters a season with considerable enthusiasm. But the Jaguars have a new head coach in Urban Meyer and a generational prospect at quarterback in Trevor Lawrence—and that has fans riled up.
Lawrence does have weapons to work with. James Robinson and newcomer Travis Etienne have the makings of a great one-two punch at running back. D.J. Chark, Marvin Jones, and Laviska Shenault provide Lawrence with a capable trio of wide receivers.
However, there are also some potential problems. A Jaguars O-line that Pro Football Focus ranked 22nd in the NFL remains essentially unchanged. Jacksonville's defense allowed the most points per game in the AFC last year, and while the Jags added Shaquil Griffin and Rayshawn Jenkins on the back end the front seven looks a lot like the unit that gave up the third-most rushing yards per game in 2020.
The Jaguars will probably be better in 2021, if only because it's hard to do worse than 1-15.
But there's a difference between better and good—and the latter is still a ways off.
Kansas City Chiefs
Offense: QB Patrick Mahomes, RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire, WR Tyreek Hill, WR Mecole Hardman, WR Demarcus Robinson, TE Travis Kelce, LT Orlando Brown Jr., LG Joe Thuney, C Austin Blythe, RG Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, RT Mike Remmers
Defense: edge Frank Clark, DT Chris Jones, DT Jarran Reed, DE Tim Ward, OLB Willie Gay Jr., ILB Anthony Hitchens, OLB Nick Bolton, CB L'Jarius Sneed, CB Charvarius Ward, FS Juan Thornhill, SS Tyrann Mathieu,
In February's blowout loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl LV, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback spent the entire game running for his life—to the tune of almost 500 yards.
To say that the Chiefs made fixing the offensive line a priority in the offseason is an understatement.
The Chiefs sent a first-round pick to Baltimore for tackle Orlando Brown Jr. Kansas City handed guard Joe Thuney $16 million a season to man the spot next to Brown. Add in the signings of tackle Mike Remmers and center Austin Blythe and the return of guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (who opted out of the 2020 season), and the Chiefs could easily open the season against the Cleveland Browns with five new starters up front.
Cue Mahomes nodding with approval.
Other than that overhaul and some minor additions defensive (tackle Jarran Reed and rookie linebacker Nick Bolton) and losses (wide receiver Sammy Watkins) and this Chiefs team is ostensibly the same club that has won the last two AFC championships.
In other words, the Chiefs are the team to beat in the AFC—again.
Las Vegas Raiders
Offense: QB Derek Carr, RB Josh Jacobs, WR John Brown, WR Henry Ruggs III, WR Hunter Renfrow, TE Darren Waller, LT Kolton Miller, LG Richie Incognito, C Andre James, RG Denzelle Good, RT Alex Leatherwood
Defense: edge Yannick Ngakoue, DT Quinton Jefferson, DT Johnathan Hankins, edge Maxx Crosby, OLB Cory Littleton, ILB Nick Kwiatkoski, OLB Nicholas Morrow, CB Casey Hayward Jr., CB Trayvon Mullen, FS Trevon Moehrig, SS Johnathan Abram
The Raiders hired Jon Gruden back in 2018 and added Mike Mayock as general manager a year later. The pair was supposed to bring back the "Commitment to Excellence" glory days.
Three years (and zero playoff trips) later, no such luck. And while the Raiders made plenty of moves in the offseason, if anything this roster feels farther away from contention in the AFC West than it was in January.
It wasn't all bad. The addition of edge-rusher Yannick Ngakoue should add some badly needed punch to a pass rush that managed just 21 sacks in 2020. Veteran corner Casey Hayward Jr. was a solid get who should bolster the league's seventh-worst pass defense from a year ago.
But a wide receiver room that already needed an influx of talent at best treaded water by replacing the departed Nelson Agholor. For reasons known only to God and Mayock, the Raiders traded three starters on the offensive line (tackle Trent Brown, guard Gabe Jackson and center Rodney Hudson), two of whom have Pro Bowls on their professional resume.
That new-look defensive line faces a stiff test in Week 1, when the Raiders host Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens. If Vegas can't get much better at rushing the passer in 2021, the season could come off the rails before Halloween.
Los Angeles Chargers
Offense: QB Justin Herbert, RB Austin Ekeler, WR Keenan Allen, WR Mike Williams, WR Jalen Guyton, TE Jared Cook, LT Rashawn Slater, LG Matt Feiler, C Corey Linsley, RG Oday Aboushi, RT Bryan Bulaga
Defense: DE Jerry Tillery, NT Linval Joseph, DE Justin Jones, edge Joey Bosa, ILB Kenneth Murray, Kyzir White, edge Uchenna Nwosu, CB Chris Harris Jr., CB Michael Davis, FS Nasir Adderley, SS Derwin James
The offseason priority for the Los Angeles Chargers was abundantly clear. Fix the offensive line in front of 2020 Offensive Rookie of the Year Justin Herbert—a line that Pro Football Focus ranked as the worst in the entire NFL last year.
The Chargers didn't play around in that regard. Pro Bowl center Corey Linsley got $12.5 million a season to snap the ball to Herbert and make the line calls. Los Angeles got the gift of gifts when mauling Northwestern tackle Rashawn Slater fell to them in Round 1 of the 2021 draft.
In addition to that new-look line, there are big changes on defense as the Bolts transition to more three-man fronts under new head coach Brandon Staley. With Melvin Ingram gone, young edge-rusher Uchenna Nwosu will have to step up his game and help take pressure off Joey Bosa.
The Chargers all but certainly won't challenge the Chiefs for the AFC West title. But the team has the talent (especially on the offensive side of the ball) to be in the mix for a Wild Card spot. Keenan Allen is one of the better receivers in the league, running back Austin Ekeler had an excellent 2020 season and Jared Cook is a fine replacement for Hunter Henry at tight end.
But to get to the playoffs, the O-line play needs to improve—markedly.
Los Angeles Rams
Offense: QB Matthew Stafford, RB Cam Akers, WR Robert Woods, WR Cooper Kupp, WR DeSean Jackson, TE Tyler Higbee, LT Andrew Whitworth, LG David Edwards, C Brian Allen, RG Austin Corbett, RT Rob Havenstein
Defense: DE Aaron Donald, NT A'Shawn Robinson, DE Sebastian Joseph-Day, edge Leonard Floyd, ILB Micah Kiser, ILB Ernest Jones, edge Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, CB Jalen Ramsey, CB Darious Williams, FS Jordan Fuller, SS Taylor Rapp
Thanks to a lack of cap space and a seemingly pathological aversion to ever picking in the first round of the NFL draft, the Los Angeles Rams didn't do a lot in free agency or this year's festivities in Cleveland. The biggest free agent move was retaining edge-rusher Leonard Floyd. Their first pick was spent on a situational player in diminutive wideout Tutu Atwell.
But the Rams made their big offseason splash long before free agency started—and it was one of the biggest of any team in the league.
With the addition of veteran quarterback Matthew Stafford (a trade that cost the Rams their first pick in both 2022 and 2023), the edict in Los Angeles is clear—anything less than becoming the second straight team to play in a "home" Super Bowl will be viewed as a failure.
With a loaded wideout room, an excellent young back in Cam Akers and a solid offensive line, the tools are there for Stafford and the Rams to post big numbers offensively. The defense (led by three-time Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald) led the NFL in both total defense and scoring defense in 2020, although it lost two starters in cornerback Troy Hill and safety John Johnson.
It's easily the best team Stafford has ever played on. But in an absolutely stacked NFC West, there won't be much room for error.
Offense: QB Tua Tagovailoa, RB Myles Gaskin, WR DeVante Parker, WR Preston Williams, WR Jaylen Waddle, TE Mike Gesicki, LT Austin Jackson, LG Solomon Kindley, C Matt Skura, RG Robert Hunt, RT Jesse Davis
Defense: DE Christian Wilkins, NT Raekwon Davis, DE Zach Sieler, edge Emmanuel Ogbah, ILB Benardrick McKinney, ILB Jerome Baker, edge Jaelan Phillips, CB Xavien Howard, CB Byron Jones, FS Jevon Holland, SS Eric Rowe
The future is now for the Miami Dolphins.
Not even two full years ago, the Dolphins were a hot mess in the opening stages of a ground-up rebuild. Now, the Dolphins head into the summer a legitimate playoff contender coming off a 10-6 season.
Miami has built an excellent cadre of skill-position talent around second-year quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. Once wide receiver Will Fuller V finishes serving his suspension and joins the club in Week 2, Miami will have a trio of receivers in Fuller, DeVante Parker and rookie Jaylen Waddle who can take the top off a defense as well as any team in the NFL.
However, with all those weapons comes pressure to perform. Tagovailoa will be expected to take a sizable step forward in Year 2, and a young offensive line that struggled at times in 2020 could be cause for concern.
The Dolphins also possess an underrated defense that finished the 2020 campaign inside the top 10 in both points allowed and turnover differential. That defense added a sizable amount of talent in free agency and the draft, bringing in new starters at inside linebacker (Benardrick McKinney), edge-rusher (Jaelan Phillips) and safety (Jevon Holland).
So far, the rebuild has gone as well as could be expected.
But now it's time for a playoff run.
Offense: QB Kirk Cousins, RB Dalvin Cook, WR Adam Thielen, WR Justin Jefferson, WR Chad Beebe, TE Irv Smith Jr., LT Christian Darrisaw, LG Dakota Dozier, C Garrett Bradbury, RG Ezra Cleveland, Brian O' Neill
Defense: edge Danielle Hunter, DT Dalvin Tomlinson, DT Michael Pierce, edge Stephen Weatherly , OLB Anthony Barr, ILB Eric Kendricks, OLB Nick Vigil, CB Patrick Peterson, CB Cameron Dantzler, FS Xavier Woods, SS Harrison Smith
It's do-or-die time in the Twin Cities.
The Vikings entered the 2020 season as a Super Bowl contender in the eyes of some. They left it a 7-9 mess with a porous defense. And with a long-tenured head coach in Mike Zimmer who has a losing record in the postseason and a high-priced quarterback in Kirk Cousins who can't seem to win the big game, the pressure to win in 2021 is substantial.
Many of the defensive struggles may be alleviated just by players getting healthy. There were free agent additions in edge-rusher Stephen Weatherly, linebacker Nick Vigil and defensive backs Patrick Peterson and Xavier Woods. But the even bigger development may be the return of key contributors like Edge-rusher Danielle Hunter and linebacker Anthony Barr.
Scoring points shouldn't be an issue. Davin Cook has become one of the very best running backs in the entire league. Justin Jefferson broke the record for receiving yards by a rookie in 2020. And the offensive line got a sizable boost in this year's draft when the Vikings snagged Virginia Tech tackle Christian Darrisaw at No. 23 overall.
With the Chicago Bears breaking in a new quarterback, the Aaron Rodgers saga enveloping Green Bay and the Lions in the midst of being very Detroit, the opportunity is there for the Vikings to make a run this season.
If they don't, big changes are likely coming next offseason.
New England Patriots
Offense: QB Cam Newton, RB Damien Harris,, WR Nelson Agholor, WR Kendrick Bourne, TE Hunter Henry, TE Jonnu Smith, LT Isaiah Wynn, LG Mike Onwenu, C David Andrews, RG Shaq Mason, RT Trent Brown
Defense: DE Lawrence Guy, NT Davon Godchaux, DE Henry Anderson, edge Matthew Judon, ILB Ja'Whuan Bentley, ILB Dont'a Hightower, edge Kyle Van Noy, CB Stephon Gilmore, CB J.C. Jackson, FS Devin McCourty, SS Adrian Phillips
You'll notice a difference on New England's depth chart. The Pats have long been a team that runs a lot of "12" (two tight ends) and "21" (two running backs) personnel, and after paying big money to both Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith in free agency, the Patriots are going to scheme those tight ends onto the field with regularity.
Those are hardly the only new faces for a Pats team that went bonkers in free agency after missing the playoffs for the first time since 2008. Both starting receivers (Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne) were playing elsewhere a year ago. So was right tackle Trent Brown, who is back with New England after a stint with the Raiders.
There are changes galore on defense too. Like Brown, edge-rusher Kyle Van Noy is back after a year in Miami. Matthew Judon will flank Van Noy after piling up 15.5 sacks over the past two years with the Baltimore Ravens.
Henry Anderson was brought in to bolster the defensive front, while inside linebacker Dont'a Hightower will be back after opting out of last season over concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic.
All in all, it's a team that could be a tough out if Cam Newton gives them any kind of consistent play under center.
If he doesn't, then rookie first-round pick Mac Jones is waiting in the wings.
New Orleans Saints
Offense: QB Jameis Winston, RB Alvin Kamara, WR Michael Thomas, WR Tre'Quan Smith, WR Marquez Callaway, TE Adam Trautman, LT Terron Armstead, LG Andrus Peat, C Erik McCoy, RG Cesar Ruiz, RT Ryan Ramczyk
Defense: edge Cameron Jordan, DT Malcolm Roach, DT David Onyemata, edge Marcus Davenport, OLD Demario Davis, ILB Pete Werner, OLB Zack Baun, CB Marshon Lattimore, CB Patrick Robinson, FS Marcus Williams, SS Malcolm Jenkins
It's a new age in New Orleans—unfortunately.
With the retirement of Drew Brees, the most successful era in Saints history has come to an end. It has also created a gaping void at the game's most important position, with Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill vying for the unenviable task of replacing the franchise's best player ever.
It was Hill who got the nod while Brees was injured a year ago, but his limitations as a passer were evident over that stretch. The smart money says that Winston's superior arm talent wins out here, although he needs to cut down on the turnovers that have plagued his career.
The quarterback position isn't the only area of concern in the Big Easy. Wide receiver Michael Thomas is one of the league's best, but there's precious little on the depth chart behind him. 2020 sack leader Trey Hendrickson is now in Cincinnati, raising questions regarding the team's edge-rushers outside Cameron Jordan.
If things break the right way in New Orleans this year (including consistently decent play under center), the Saints have the talent to at least compete for a wild-card spot. But after winning 12 games and the NFC South in 2020, it wouldn't take much for these Saints to experience a major backslide this season.
New York Giants
Offense: QB Daniel Jones, RB Saquon Barkley, WR Kenny Golladay, WR Darius Slayton, WR Sterling Shepard, TE Evan Engram, LT Nate Solder, LG Shane Lemieux, C Nick Gates, RG Zach Fulton, RT Andrew Thomas
Defense: DE Dexter Lawrence, NT Danny Shelton, DE Leonard Williams, edge Lorenzo Carter, ILB Blake Martinez, ILB Reggie Ragland, edge Azeez Ojulari, CB James Bradberry, CB Adoree Jackson, FS Logan Ryan, SS Jabrill Peppers
This is something of a make-or-break season for New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones.
The Giants have put plenty around the third-year pro. The arrival of Kenny Golladay in free agency gives the team a true No. 1 receiver and a strong trio of players at the wideout spot. Tight end Evan Engram is an athletic field-stretcher. The return of a healthy Saquon Barkley in the backfield puts yet another dangerous weapon at Jones' disposal.
The Giants have made quality additions on defense as well. The arrival of cornerback Adoree Jackson in free agency gives the Giants a secondary that (on paper, at least) is as deep as it is talented. New York took steps to add some pop to the pass rush by bringing in edge-rusher Azeez Ojulari in Round 2 of the 2021 draft.
The biggest obstacle facing Jones in 2021 is the line in front of him. Andrew Thomas' rookie year was such a mess (especially over the first half of the year) that the first tackle drafted in 2020 may not even start this season, and if he does it could be on the right side. Per PFF, the G-Men sported the worst line in the NFC last season.
It's exceedingly difficult to complete passes from your backside.
New York Jets
Offense: QB Zach Wilson, RB Michael Carter, WR Corey Davis, WR Denzel Mims, WR Jamison Crowder, TE Chris Herndon IV, LT Mekhi Becton, LG Alijah Vera-Tucker, C Connor McGovern, RG Greg Van Roten, RT George Fant
Defense: edge Carl Lawson, DT Quinnen Williams, DT Sheldon Rankins, edge Vinny Curry, OLB Blake Cashman, ILB C.J. Mosley, OLB Jarrad Davis, CB Bless Austin, CB Bryce Hall, FS Marcus Maye, SS Lamarcus Joyner
There are changes galore with the New York Jets in 2021 under new head coach Robert Saleh.
The Jets used the second overall pick in the 2021 draft on a new quarterback in BYU's Zach Wilson after trading Sam Darnold to the Carolina Panthers. There's a talented new running back in Michael Carter who could easily be the team's Week 1 starter. A new left guard in USC's Alijah Vera-Tucker. A new No. 1 wide receiver in former fifth overall pick Corey Davis, who had the best season of his career in 2020.
The changes carry over onto the defense. New York gave edge-rusher Carl Lawson $15 million a season to anchor the team's pass rush, then brought in veteran Vinny Curry to complement him. Jarrad Davis was signed to add athleticism to the LB corps, while Lamarcus Joyner joined the team as a new starter at safety. The Jets are hopeful that inside linebacker CJ Mosley will finally start living up to his big contract after missing most of 2019 and opting out in 2020.
There's still a ways to go for Gang Green—this is a team filled with young players, and the cornerback position remains a potential problem area.
But there's at least some room for hope for long-suffering Jets fans.
Offense: QB Jalen Hurts, RB Miles Sanders, WR DeVonta Smith, WR Jalen Reagor, WR Greg Ward, TE Dallas Goedert, LT Andre Dillard, LG Isaac Seumalo, C Jason Kelce, RG Brandon Brooks, RT Lane Johnson
Defense: edge Brandon Graham, DT Fletcher Cox, DT Javon Hargrave, DE Derek Barnett, OLB Alex Singleton, ILB Eric Wilson, OLB Shaun Bradley, CB Darius Slay, CB Avonte Maddox, FS Anthony Harris, SS Rodney McLeod
It's shaping up to be a difficult season in the City of Brotherly Love.
After trading quarterback Carson Wentz to the Indianapolis Colts (and absorbing an NFL-record dead cap hit in the process) the Eagles were left with precious few resources to spend in free agency. The team was at least able to add a quality starter on the back end in Anthony Harris, but there wasn't much in the way of veteran additions in 2021.
That left the draft as the primary means of improving the team. The Eagles got some desperately-needed help at the wide receiver position in Heisman Trophy-winner DeVonta Smith of Alabama, but even then Philly's wideout group is the weakest in the NFC East. Second-round pick Landon Dickerson will eventually help the Eagles as an heir to Jason Kelce at center, but his short-term impact on the team will more likely than not be minimal.
The reality is that the Eagles have effectively punted on 2021. Thanks to the Wentz trade and Philly's slide back on draft day, the team could be looking at three first-round picks in 2022, when the franchise will be in a better position relative to the cap.
It's that 2022 campaign that the Eagles appear focused on, while the goal in 2021 is to see what the team has in second-year quarterback Jalen Hurts.
Offense: QB Ben Roethlisberger, RB Najee Harris, WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR Diontae Johnson, WR Chase Claypool, TE Eric Ebron, LT Chukwuma Okorafor, LG Kevin Dotson, C Kendrick Green, RG David DeCastro, RT Zach Banner
Defense: DE Cameron Heyward, NT Tyson Alualu, DE Stephon Tuitt, edge T.J. Watt, ILB Devin Bush, ILB Vince Williams, edge Alex Highsmith, CB Joe Haden, CB Cameron Sutton, FS Minkah Fitzpatrick, SS Terrell Edmunds
It's not that often that a 12-win team enters a season with more anxiety than anticipation. But after starting the 2020 season 11-0, Pittsburgh closed out last year with five losses in six games—including getting trounced at home by the rival Cleveland Browns in the Wild Card Round.
The Steelers defense remains stout for the most part, loaded with Pro Bowl-caliber talent like defensive end Cameron Heyward, edge-rusher T.J. Watt and safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. But a lack of cap space led to the loss of several significant players, including two of the team's top three cornerbacks in Steven Nelson and Mike Hilton.
There's also no shortage of skill-position talent on offense. Pittsburgh's three-deep at wide receiver is as good as you'll find in the AFC, and the addition of Alabama running back Najee Harris should provide a sizable boost to a run game that finished last season dead last in the league.
But over Pittsburgh's stretch-run swoon last year, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger looked every bit of his 39 years of age. And after losing multiple starters on the offensive line (including two Pro Bowlers in center Maurkice Pouncey and left tackle Alejandro Villanueva), the Steelers' front five may well be the weakest in the AFC North.
Given all the success the Steelers have enjoyed under Roethlisberger and head coach Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh can't be counted out. But in a division that produced three playoff teams in 2020, those O-Line woes could be Pittsburgh's undoing.
San Francisco 49ers
Offense: QB Jimmy Garoppolo, RB Raheem Mostert, FB Kyle Juszczyk, WR Deebo Samuel, WR Brandon Aiyuk, TE George Kittle, LT Trent Williams, LG Laken Tomlinson, C Alex Mack, RG Daniel Brunskill, RT Mike McGlinchey
Defense: edge Nick Bosa, DT Javon Kinlaw, DT D.J. Jones, edge Arik Armstead, OLB Dre Greenlaw, ILB Fred Warner, OLB Samson Ebukam, CB Jason Verrett, CB Emmanuel Moseley, FS Jimmie Ward, SS Jaquiski Tartt
This projection for the San Francisco 49ers makes a couple of exceptions.
The first is that Kyle Shanahan will continue to use a fullback more than any team in the NFC. It's not a difficult assumption to make when the team has Pro Bowler Kyle Juszczyk on the roster.
The second is that while the Niners made a massive investment to move up to the third overall spot and draft North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance, it will be veteran Jimmy Garoppolo who opens the 2021 season as the starter in San Fran—because this team is built to win now.
The 49ers suffered through a miserable 2020 season, but that was because of injuries that wracked the organization on both sides of the ball. Just getting healthy will help the team as much as anyone they added in free agency or the draft.
On offense, star tight end George Kittle will be back, paired with an excellent duo of wideouts in Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel. The Niners are good up front and added a punishing downhill runner (Ohio State's Trey Sermon) on the second day of the 2021 draft.
Defensively, San Francisco should benefit greatly from the return of edge-rushers Nick Bosa and Dee Ford. If there's a question on that side of the ball it's at corner, although the 49ers still haven't ruled out bringing back Richard Sherman.
Offense: QB Russell Wilson, RB Chris Carson, WR DK Metcalf, WR Tyler Lockett, WR Freddie Swain, TE Gerald Everett, LT Duane Brown, LG Damien Lewis, C Ethan Pocic, RG Gabe Jackson, RT Brandon Shell
Defense: edge Carlos Dunlap, DT Poona Ford, DT Bryan Mone, edge Kerry Hyder Jr., OLB Jordyn Brooks, ILB Bobby Wagner, OLB Ben Burr-Kirven, CB Ahkello Witherspoon, CB D.J. Reed, FS Quandre Diggs, SS Jamal Adams
The 2021 offseason began with quite a bit of anxiety in the Emerald City. The reported unhappiness of quarterback Russell Wilson caused a major kerfuffle in Seattle, but it wound up being much ado about nothing.
Wilson is still Seattle's starting quarterback, and the offense around him is largely unchanged.
The Seahawks added a passing-game target for Wilson in tight end Gerald Everett. But the biggest arrival on that side of the ball had to be the trade with the Las Vegas Raiders that brought guard Gabe Jackson to the Pacific Northwest. Jackson won't single-handedly fix Seattle's line, but it is a step in the right direction.
On defense, the Seahawks took substantial steps to fortify the pass rush, re-upping Carlos Dunlap and bringing in veterans Kerry Hyder Jr. and Aldon Smith as complementary options. But there could be trouble brewing on the back end. With Shaquill Griffin now cashing checks in Jacksonville, the Seattle secondary is that much farther removed from its "Legion of Boom" heyday.
Playing in the same division as quarterbacks like Kyler Murray and Matthew Stafford and wide receivers like DeAndre Hopkins, Robert Woods and Deebo Samuel, Ahkello Witherspoon, D.J. Reed and nickelback Tre Flowers are going to have to hold up for the Seahawks to contend in the loaded NFC West.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Defense: DE Ndamukong Suh, NT Vita Vea, DE William Gholston, edge Jason Pierre-Paul, ILB Devin White, ILB Lavonte David, edge Shaquil Barrett, CB Carlton Davis, CB Sean Murphy-Bunting, FS Jordan Whitehead, SS Antoine Winfield Jr.
The theme of the 2021 Tampa Bay Buccaneers is "the more things change, the more they stay the same."
When you're coming off a Super Bowl win, that's a good thing.
In a remarkable feat in this era of free agency, the Buccaneers will take the field at Raymond James Stadium against the Dallas Cowboys with the same 22 starters that trounced the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV.
Tampa brought back running back Leonard Fournette, wide receiver Chris Godwin, wideout Antonio Brown and tight end Rob Gronkowski. The skill positions are loaded, and the offensive line ranked fifth in the league per PFF.
On defense, long-time stalwart linebacker Lavonte David and defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh are back as well. Buccaneers GM Jason Licht used the team's first draft pick in 2021 on a rotational pass-rusher in Washington's Joe Tryon, who can be eased in behind Shaquil Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul.
Oh, and that old man who plays quarterback for the Buccaneers is reportedly pretty good.
It's extremely difficult to win back-to-back Super Bowls, but the Bucs have to viewed as the favorite to represent the NFC in Los Angeles. And if there's anyone who knows how to win two Super Bowls in a row, it's Tom Terrific.
Offense: QB Ryan Tannehill, RB Derrick Henry, WR A.J. Brown, WR Josh Reynolds, WR Dez Fitzpatrick, TE Anthony Firkser, LT Taylor Lewan, LG Rodger Saffold, C Ben Jones, RG Nate Davis, RT Dillon Radunz
Defense: DE Jeffery Simmons, NT Teair Tart, DE Denico Autry, edge Bud Dupree, ILB Jayon Brown, ILB Rashaan Evans, OLB Harold Landry, CB Janoris Jenkins, CB Caleb Farley, FS Kevin Byard, SS Amani Hooker
The Tennessee Titans are the invisible contender. The playoff team that no one talks about. Just two years ago, the Titans came one game away from playing in the Super Bowl.
Whether the team can make that sort of run in 2021 is very much in question.
The Titans do have a lot going for them. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill has gone from first-round bust in Miami to quality starter in Nashville. Derrick Henry is the king of the mountain at running back after a 2,000-yard 2020 campaign. A.J. Brown is an ascending young star at wide receiver. Kevin Byard is one of the league's more underrated safeties.
But there are some holes on the roster as well. Personnel losses in the passing game have left the receivers behind Brown a less-than-imposing bunch. An average offensive line will be breaking in a new starter at right tackle in Dillon Radunz. There will be a pair of new starters at cornerback in veteran Janoris Jenkins and rookie Caleb Farley, and like Farley, the team's big free-agent add (edge-rusher Bud Dupree) is rehabbing a significant injury.
The Titans have the talent to win the AFC South for the second year in a row, but taking on the Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens (who have eliminated the Titans from the last two postseasons) could be a tall ask.
Washington Football Team
Offense: QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, RB Antonio Gibson, WR Terry McLaurin, WR Curtis Samuel, WR Adam Humphries, TE Logan Thomas, LT Charles Leno, LG Wes Schweitzer, C Chase Roullier, RG Brandon Scherff, RT Morgan Moses
Defense: DE Montez Sweat, DT Jonathan Allen, DT Da'Ron Payne, DE Chase Young, OLB Jamin Davis, ILB Jon Bostic, OLB Cole Holcomb, CB Kendall Fuller, CB William Jackson III, FS Kamren Curl, SS Landon Collins
The Washington Football Team has a lot going for it in 2021.
The skill-position talent on offense features a rising young running back (Antonio Gibson), a legitimate star at wide receiver (Terry McLaurin), a threat to score every time he touches the ball (Curtis Samuel) and a quality tight end (Logan Thomas).
The offensive line was among the 10 best in the NFL last year, per Pro Football Focus, and recently added an experienced starter at left tackle in Charles Leno.
The defense, for lack of a better word, is loaded. 2020 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Chase Young anchors a defensive line featuring four first-round picks. The addition of Kentucky linebacker Jamin Davis with the 19th pick in the 2021 draft injected range and athleticism into the linebacker corps. The addition of cornerback William Jackson in free agency more than offset the loss of Ronald Darby.
But as well-positioned as the WFT may be in other areas, whether the team can repeat as the champion of the NFC East in 2021 will depend on one thing: the play of new starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.
If the 38-year-old can take advantage of the weapons around him while minimizing turnovers, Washington could be a real factor in the playoffs.