Every NFL Team's Biggest Red Flag Heading into 2021 Season

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistJune 14, 2021

Every NFL Team's Biggest Red Flag Heading into 2021 Season

0 of 32

    Adam Hunger/Associated Press

    The NFL game is one of individual matchups. Strengths are built around, and weaknesses are frequently exploited. Even the strongest rosters can stumble when their flaws are exposed by what the opposition does best.

    This played out in Super Bowl LV, where the Kansas City Chiefs carried a roster that lost just a single game before its meaningless regular-season season finale. With both starting tackles out, Kansas City's offensive line depth was tested by a ferocious Tampa Bay Buccaneers pass rush. What ensued was a major mismatch, and the vaunted Chiefs were routed as a result.

    Naturally, teams spend the offseason looking to plug holes from the previous year. Free agency and the draft can't fix everything, however. And while some red flags can be masked by proper scheming, game-planning or overall talent, every team has one.

    Here, we'll examine every team's biggest red flag heading into training camp. Some are positions or position groups where proven talent is absent. Others are areas where a lack of experience could prove problematic. Others still are carry-over issues from the 2020 season that have not been properly patched over the last few months.

    What each of these red flags has in common is the ability to derail a team at some point during the 2021 season.

Arizona Cardinals: Run Defense

1 of 32

    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    The Arizona Cardinals' biggest defensive issue in 2020 was an inability to stop the run. Arizona ranked 22nd in rushing yards allowed and 25th in yards per carry surrendered. That's a problem in a division with opposing backs like Chris Carson, Cam Akers and Raheem Mostert.

    The good news is Arizona addressed its run defense by selecting former Tulsa linebacker Zaven Collins with the 16th overall pick in the draft. The rookie is expected to immediately step into a significant role.

    "1st round draft picks can change plans: The [Cardinals] picked LB Zaven Collins 16th overall, and he is now the starting MIKE backer," NFL Media's Ian Rapoport tweeted in May. "The team has given Jordan Hicks permission to find a new home via trade, source said. Hicks is a respected leader & AZ wants to do right by him."

    The bad news is there's no guarantee that Collins will succeed early. Arizona also used a high draft pick on a linebacker last season, taking Isaiah Simmons eighth overall, and didn't see immediate results.

    Simmons played just 34 percent of the defensive snaps as a rookie and was credited with five missed tackles. If the Cardinals do end up moving Hicks, they'll be starting two relatively inexperienced linebackers in Week 1. The move could pay off, but the potential of having a run defense only marginally better than last year's is a red flag.

Atlanta Falcons: Cornerback

2 of 32

    Danny Karnik/Associated Press

    No team allowed more passing yards in 2020 than the Atlanta Falcons. Atlanta also ranked 29th in net yards per pass attempt and 27th in passing touchdowns allowed. Because of cap constraints, the Falcons were not a major player in free agency, and their biggest moves were the additions of safety Erik Harris and cornerback Fabian Moreau.

    Atlanta did add to its secondary early in the draft, snagging former Central Florida safety Richie Grant in the second round. However, the Falcons didn't add a cornerback until Round 4—San Diego State's Darren Hall.

    2020 first-round pick A.J. Terrell projects as Atlanta's No. 1 corner heading into the season, and he was up and down as a rookie. In 14 games, he logged 74 tackles and an interception, but he also allowed an opposing quarterback rating of 109.6.

    A second-year leap by Terrell would be huge for the Falcons, but this is still a questionable position group heading into training camp. Coupled with a pass rush that produced only 29 sacks last season, it could prove to be a fatal flaw.

Baltimore Ravens: Run Defense

3 of 32

    David Richard/Associated Press

    The Baltimore Ravens addressed two of their biggest 2020 problems early in the draft. They lacked a No. 1 receiver, and they took Minnesota's Rashod Bateman in Round 1. They needed to reload a pass rush that lost Matt Judon and Yannick Ngakoue, so they used their second first-round pick on Penn State edge-defender Odafe Oweh.

    This leaves run defense as a potential red flag for the Ravens. While Baltimore ranked eighth in rushing yards allowed, this was largely due to the potency of its offense, which regularly left opponents looking to pass.

    As a team, Baltimore ranked 22nd in yards per carry allowed (4.6). This shouldn't be a major issue against most opponents, but against run-heavy AFC foes like the Cleveland Browns and Indianapolis Colts, it could be a problem.

    The Ravens didn't add a run-defender early in the draft or make a major run-stopping acquisition in free agency. The run defense isn't likely to be better than it was a year ago.

    This may seem like a fairly insignificant—and situational—problem, but it's one of the only issues facing this relatively complete roster.

Buffalo Bills: Tight End

4 of 32

    Adrian Kraus/Associated Press

    Like the Ravens, the Buffalo Bills have a pretty complete roster—especially coming out of the draft. A pass rush that produced only 38 sacks in 2020 was a concern, but Buffalo used its first two selections on edge-rushers Gregory Rousseau and Carlos Basham Jr.

    One thing the Bills still lack is an elite pass-catching tight end. Dawson Knox was a serviceable starter last season—he caught 24 passes for 288 yards and three touchdowns—but he is far from the top tier.

    Knox was credited with 14 drops over the past two seasons and provided a passer rating of just 88.1 when targeted in 2020. The depth behind Knox is also underwhelming, with players like Tommy Sweeney and Jacob Hollister filling out the tight end room.

    Hollister only had 209 receiving yards last year, while Sweeney didn't play at all in 2020.

    This may not be a massive issue for a team that made the AFC title game in 2020, but some of the league's best rosters feature dynamic tight end groups—the Ravens and Kansas City Chiefs are two from the AFC. Great tight ends can create mismatches all over the field, and unfortunately, Buffalo heads into camp without one on its roster.

Carolina Panthers: Quarterback

5 of 32

    Nell Redmond/Associated Press

    The Carolina Panthers made two significant quarterback trades this offseason. First, they dealt for Sam Darnold. Then, they sent 2020 starter Teddy Bridgewater to the Denver Broncos.

    Darnold has plenty of upside—he was the third overall pick in 2018 for a reason—and the Panthers like what he brings to the table.

    "It's not like you're getting a guy that's brand new," Panthers offensive coordinator Joe Brady said, per ESPN's David Newton. "You're getting a veteran, a guy that just so happens to be young. That was extremely enticing to us."

    In Carolina, Darnold will also have the supporting pieces that the New York Jets never provided. Still, Darnold is going to have to perform on the field, and he's struggled to do that to this point in his pro career.

    Darnold has never played more than 13 games in a season and has a subpar career passer rating of just 78.6. The Panthers don't have proven depth behind him either, with P.J. Walker and Will Grier the only other signal-callers on the depth chart.

    Carolina is in a boom-or-bust situation at quarterback. While the boom potential is great, the bust potential is a red flag.

Chicago Bears: Pass Rush

6 of 32

    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Pressuring opposing quarterbacks should not be an issue for a defense with Khalil Mack on the roster. However, it was a problem for the Chicago Bears last season. As a team, Chicago produced just 35 sacks in 2020 while ranking a pedestrian 17th in yards per pass attempt allowed.

    Mack was responsible for nine of Chicago's quarterback takedowns. Bilal Nichols was the only other player with more than four.

    Yet, Chicago largely ignored this need in the offseason. Jeremiah Attaochu, who had five sacks in 2020, was the only significant addition. The Bears completely ignored the pass rush in the draft.

    Chicago still has Mack, of course, and a defense that ranked 11th in yardage a year ago. Still, this is the one potential red flag that mostly went ignored.

    The Bears upgraded the quarterback position by adding Andy Dalton and Justin Fields. They addressed their receiver depth by signing Damiere Byrd and drafting Dazz Newsome. They didn't improve a pass rush that was basically a one-man show last year.

Cincinnati Bengals: Offensive Line

7 of 32

    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow showed a lot of promise as a rookie, throwing for 2,688 yards with 13 touchdowns and five interceptions in 10 games. Unfortunately, he was also lost for the season in his 10th start, suffering a serious knee injury that involved multiple torn ligaments.

    Keeping Burrow healthy and on the field has to be Cincinnati's biggest priority in 2021.

    The problem is the Bengals don't feature a top-tier offensive line. Last year's unit was awful, allowing Burrow to be sacked 32 times. In all, the Bengals line surrendered 48 sacks on the season.

    The Bengals did make a couple of moves to upgrade the unit in the offseason. They signed free-agent tackle Riley Reiff and drafted former Clemson tackle Jackson Carman in the second round—though Carman may be best suited to play guard and is unpolished as a pass protector.

    "He is inconsistent using his hands in an attempt to deliver a knockout shot, oftentimes being late and landing off target high or wide with raised pads and a compromised base," Brandon Thorn of the B/R Scouting Department wrote.

    The Bengals passed on drafting a franchise tackle in Round 1, opting instead to take wideout Ja'Marr Chase. While the additions of Reiff and Carman may be enough, the Bengals must still be concerned about their ability to protect Burrow as he returns from a major injury.

Cleveland Browns: Cornerback Injury Concerns

8 of 32

    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    The Cleveland Browns hope to contend for a Super Bowl in 2021. They won 11 games a year ago, bring back virtually the entire 2020 offense and took major steps to upgrade the defense this offseason.

    Two of this year's key additions—Troy Hill and rookie Greg Newsome II—are cornerbacks. The Browns have an established No. 1 corner in Denzel Ward.

    Yet, cornerback depth is still a red flag for the Browns because of the group's collective injury history.

    Newsome played just 21 games in three college seasons. Greedy Williams has appeared in only 12 games in two years as a pro. Even Ward has been bitten by the injury bug, missing at least three games in each of his three seasons.

    This is a potentially serious problem because Cleveland's depth will be tested over the new 17-game season. The Browns ranked 22nd in passing yards allowed last year, and while they appear better on paper, improvement will only come if the secondary can stay healthy.

Dallas Cowboys: The Coaching Staff

9 of 32

    LM Otero/Associated Press

    The Dallas Cowboys fixed a couple of red flags in the offseason. They locked up quarterback Dak Prescott with a new long-term deal, and they added players like Keanu Neal, Jayron Kearse and rookie Micah Parsons to a defense that ranked 28th in scoring last season.

    However, arguably Dallas' biggest red flag entering the offseason remains: a coaching staff that lacked cohesion and direction in 2020.

    Mike McCarthy was brought in as head coach because of his experience, but his first season at the helm was a disaster. Yes, injuries to Prescott and the offensive line hurt, but Dallas' issues ran deep.

    "They don't teach. They don't have any sense of adjusting on the fly," one player said of the coaching staff, per NFL Network's Jane Slater.

    The Cowboys did replace defensive coordinator Mike Nolan with Dan Quinn this offseason, which may improve that side of the ball. McCarthy is still the one steering the proverbial ship, though, and it's worth noting that he's gone 17-26-1 in his last three years as a head coach.

Denver Broncos: Quarterback

10 of 32

    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    When you don't have a franchise quarterback, it's a problem, and the Broncos have lacked one since Peyton Manning decided to call it a career.

    This year, Denver will stage a quarterback competition between incumbent Drew Lock and trade acquisition Teddy Bridgewater. Neither option is likely to fix the franchise's biggest long-term issue.

    Lock was a borderline disaster in 2020. In 13 starts last season, he threw for 2,933 yards with 16 touchdowns, 15 interceptions and a passer rating of 75.4. Bridgewater was better with the Panthers—he delivered a rating of 92.1—but he also went 4-11 as a starter and was dumped after just one year in Carolina.

    Despite being new to the team, Bridgewater appears to have the early edge in the competition.

    "Bridgewater won the day," Troy Renck of ABC 7 Denver wrote after one OTA session. "And it wasn't close.

    While Bridgewater may be able to improve the quarterback position, he isn't likely to suddenly transform into a franchise signal-caller. Barring a surprise, the Broncos head into camp at a disadvantage in a division with Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert and Derek Carr.

Detroit Lions: Cornerback

11 of 32

    Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    Swapping out Matthew Stafford for Jared Goff does lead to some quarterback uncertainty for the Detroit Lions. However, a lack of proven cornerback talent could be an even bigger problem heading into the regular season.

    Detroit had one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL last season. It ranked 30th in passing yards allowed and 32nd in passing touchdowns allowed. While 2020 third overall pick Jeff Okudah was supposed to be the centerpiece of the Lions secondary, he struggled as a rookie

    Okudah finished his rookie season with an opposing passer rating of 118.0.

    The good news is Detroit took steps to address its pass rush, trading for Michael Brockers, signing Charles Harris and re-signing Romeo Okwara. It also added defensive tackle Levi Onwuzurike in the second round of the draft. Onwuzurike, who had five sacks over the past two seasons, should generate pressure from the interior.

    However, the Lions did little to improve their cornerback room. They signed free-agent Corn Elder—who has just one NFL start—and didn't draft a corner until taking Ifeatu Melifonwu in Round 3.

Green Bay Packers: Uncertainty Surrounding Aaron Rodgers

12 of 32

    Jeffrey Phelps/Associated Press

    The Green Bay Packers have every reason to believe they can contend for a title in 2021. They have an offense that ranked fifth in yards in 2020, a defense that ranked ninth in yards allowed and a roster that won 13 regular-season games and advanced to the NFC title game.

    The Packers also have the reigning MVP in quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Or, more accurately, they may have Rodgers in 2021.

    The future Hall of Fame quarterback is unhappy with the Green Bay organization for reasons that haven't quite been made public, and there's a chance he'll refuse to play for the Packers this season.

    The Packers simply don't know if Rodgers will be under center in Week 1, which leaves them preparing with Blake Bortles and 2020 first-round pick Jordan Love at quarterback. It's been a bit of a crash course for Love during OTAs.

    "He's a guy who hasn't had the experience as some others," head coach Matt LaFleur said, per ESPN's Rob Demovsky. "We've got to get him multiple looks at many different plays and really find out what he does best and what our team does because every year things change in the National Football League."

    There's always the possibility that Rodgers shows up and plays. However, the prospect of entering the 2021 season without arguably the best quarterback of his generation has to be a worrisome red flag for the Packers.

Houston Texans: Quarterback

13 of 32

    Matt Patterson/Associated Press

    A year ago, quarterback would have been the opposite of a red flag for the Houston Texans. Deshaun Watson was a two-time Pro Bowler—he made his third Pro Bowl in 2020—on the verge of signing a lucrative contract extension.

    A lot has changed over the last year, however. Watson asked to be traded early this offseason and now faces multiple allegations of sexual assault and misconduct. The reality is he probably won't play for the Texans in 2021, if ever again.

    This likely leaves Houston looking at either journeyman Tyrod Taylor or rookie Davis Mills at quarterback. While the Texans could do worse than Taylor—who has a 24-21-1 record as an NFL starter—there are plenty of question marks surrounding the position.

    Despite Taylor's winning record as a starter, he's only made four starts over the past three years. Mills has battled multiple knee injuries and only appeared in 14 college games. Third option Jeff Driskel has a 1-8 record as a starter.

    With a receiving corps that Pro Football Focus ranked the worst in the league and a defense that ranked 30th in yardage last season, Houston will need quality quarterback play just to be competitive. With the current group, there's no guarantee it will get that.

Indianapolis Colts: Carson Wentz's 2020 Resume

14 of 32

    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    The Indianapolis Colts were a natural trade destination for quarterback Carson Wentz. Head coach Frank Reich was Wentz's offensive coordinator with the Eagles, and the two helped bring a Lombardi Trophy to Philadelphia during the 2017 season.

    For now, Wentz will serve as Indy's quarterback of the future. While the upside is potentially high—Wentz was playing at an MVP level under Reich before they parted ways—it's impossible to look at Wentz's 2020 resume and not see a significant risk.

    Wentz was arguably the NFL's worst quarterback last season. He completed just 57.4 percent of his passes, was sacked an NFL-high 50 times, tied for the league lead with 15 interceptions and posted a paltry passer rating of 72.8.

    Poor coaching, an injured offensive line and a lack of receiving weapons may have contributed to Wentz's 2020 struggles, but the quarterback we saw last season is not a quarterback the Colts will want long-term.

    The potential for Wentz to be as bad as he was in 2020—regardless of the circumstances—should have Indianapolis at least a little concerned about its quarterback situation heading into 2021.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Urban Meyer's Lack of NFL Experience

15 of 32

    John Raoux/Associated Press

    The Jacksonville Jaguars have their new franchise quarterback in Trevor Lawrence. The biggest concern for Jacksonville now should be whether Urban Meyer is the right head coach to lead Lawrence and the franchise into the future.

    The Jaguars obviously believe so, or they wouldn't have hired him. However, Meyer has zero experience coaching in the NFL. He's also made one baffling decision, bringing in friend and former Florida protege Tim Tebow as a tight end.

    Tebow last played in the NFL in 2012...as a quarterback. While the move was Meyer's call to make, not everyone is happy about it.

    "Not everybody in the Jaguars building is thrilled," ESPN's Jeff Darlington said last month (h/t B/R Gridiron).

    While plenty of coaches have successfully made the leap from college to the pros, the NFL is a different game and requires a different management style. We'll find out how it pans out for Meyer before long, but his lack of NFL experience is a red flag.

Kansas City Chiefs: Run Defense

16 of 32

    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    Kansas City had its hopes dashed by two weaknesses in Super Bowl LV. Its offensive line—missing starters Mitchell Schwartz and Eric Fisher—was dominated by the Buccaneers pass rush. Its run defense had no answer for Tampa's rushing attack, which amassed 145 yards on the day.

    The Chiefs addressed their offensive line needs this offseason, adding Orlando Brown, Kyle Long and Joe Thuney. Aside from drafting linebacker Nick Bolton in the second round, they did little to address their ground defense.

    To be fair, Kansas City's run defense wasn't atrocious overall last season. It ranked 17th in yards per carry allowed and 21st in yards surrendered. However, the Chiefs gave up at least 150 rushing yards five different times in 2020 while surrendering 386 yards and two touchdowns in three postseason games.

    Again, this is a roster with few holes, and the Chiefs addressed their biggest need emphatically. If there's a red flag that could cost Kansas City in 2021, though, it will likely be its inability to contain the run when it matters most.

Las Vegas Raiders: Offensive Line

17 of 32

    John Locher/Associated Press

    The Las Vegas Raiders may have solved their biggest problem this offseason by adding pass-rushers Yannick Ngakoue, Solomon Thomas and rookie Malcolm Koonce. While they bolstered a pass rush that produced only 21 sacks last season, though, they parted with a large chunk of their pass-protection unit.

    The Raiders traded three-time Pro Bowl center Rodney Hudson along with offensive tackle Trent Brown and guard Gabe Jackson. Losing Jackson and Hudson is particularly significant, as Jackson played 98 percent of the offensive snaps last season and Hudson played 100 percent.

    Las Vegas added center Nick Martin and used a first-round pick on tackle Alex Leatherwood, though many analysts view the Leatherwood pick as a reach.

    "This might be the first 'this feels high' pick of the draft with Leatherwood at No. 17 to the Raiders," The Athletic's Dane Brugler wrote on draft night.

    Leatherwood may prove the Raiders wise, and the new-look line may be just fine in 2021. However, Las Vegas is still undergoing a major overhaul at a key position group, which is usually a red flag for a team with playoff aspirations.

Los Angeles Chargers: Pass Rush

18 of 32

    Peter Joneleit/Associated Press

    The Los Angeles Chargers addressed their biggest need in the draft by taking left tackle Rashawn Slater with the 13th overall pick. The addition of Slater should considerably improve the pass protection for quarterback Justin Herbert.

    Getting to the opposing quarterback, however, could remain a problem for the Chargers. Los Angeles produced only 27 sacks in 2020 and did nothing to improve the pass rush in free agency—it also has yet to re-sign longtime starter Melvin Ingram III.

    The Chargers didn't take a pass-rusher in the draft until the fourth round, where they selected Duke's Chris Rumph II.

    Now, the Chargers do have one elite sack artist in Joey Bosa, who has 47.5 sacks in five pro seasons. On the other hand, they lack depth, as Bosa was the only Chargers defender to reach five sacks last season. It's worth noting that Bosa and Ingram missed a combined 13 games in 2020, but there was nobody to pick up the slack.

    Building around Herbert is the right move for the Chargers as he enters Year 2, so there's no faulting the decision to add players like Slater and All-Pro center Corey Linsley. However, L.A. will have to stop opposing quarterbacks at some point, and that could be a problem with the current group.

Los Angeles Rams: Center

19 of 32

    David Dermer/Associated Press

    After adding quarterback Matthew Stafford in an offseason trade, the Los Angeles Rams have a roster with few noteworthy holes. They do, however, have a sizable question mark at center.

    2020 starter Austin Blythe left for Kansas City in free agency. While he wasn't a Pro Bowler last year, he played 100 percent of the offensive snaps. According to Pro Football Focus, he was responsible for just one penalty and four sacks.

    With Blythe gone, the Rams will likely rely on 2018 fourth-round pick Brian Allen or undrafted free agent Jordan Meredith. Allen started nine games in 2019 but was lost for the season with a torn MCL. He didn't see the field last year.

    Meredith, meanwhile, is a developmental prospect with deficiencies in his pass protection.

    "He's likely to struggle in finding the range to protect his gaps in pass protection and his redirection for recovery blocks is just average," NFL Media's Lance Zierlein wrote of Meredith.

    Allen may return to form and solidify the center spot for Los Angeles, but the Rams are betting heavily on a player bouncing back from a very serious injury.

Miami Dolphins: Running Back

20 of 32

    Adrian Kraus/Associated Press

    The Miami Dolphins made it clear that they're committed to quarterback Tua Tagovailoa when they traded out of the No. 3 draft slot. Miami would have had a crack at signal-callers Trey Lance, Justin Fields and Mac Jones there, though it couldn't have known who would be available at the time of the trade. Instead, the Dolphins moved down before trading back up, eventually taking wideout Jaylen Waddle sixth overall.

    With Waddle and free-agent addition Will Fuller in the fold, Tagovailoa should have a greatly improved receiving corps with which to work in 2021.

    The support of an elite backfield? That will elude Tagovailoa for at least another season.

    Miami has some fine complementary backs in Myles Gaskin, Malcolm Brown and Salvon Ahmed, but its committee backfield largely underwhelmed a year ago. Miami ranked 22nd in rushing last season and only 29th in yards per attempt.

    Bringing in Brown as a free agent should help some—he averaged 4.1 yards per carry with the Rams last season—but there still isn't a proven workhorse back on this roster.

    Perhaps Tagovailoa will make enough of a second-year jump that it won't matter. But a high-end running back can take a lot of weight off of a young quarterback's shoulders, and the Dolphins simply don't have one.

Minnesota Vikings: Run Defense

21 of 32

    Bruce Kluckhohn/Associated Press

    The Minnesota Vikings took steps this offseason to bolster a secondary that ranked 25th in passing yards allowed last year. They added cornerbacks Patrick Peterson and Bashaud Breeland while bringing back former Viking Mackensie Alexander.

    While Minnesota's pass defense may be better, the run defense could still be a problem. The Vikings were 27th in rushing yards allowed last season and 23rd in yards per attempt surrendered. Minnesota did add defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson in free agency but didn't draft a run-defender until taking linebacker Chazz Surratt in Round 3.

    The return of linebacker Anthony Barr—who suffered a torn pectoral last September—should help Minnesota's ground defense immensely. The additions of Tomlinson and Surratt could have an impact, too. Still, this has been a problem area for the Vikings for a couple of years now—the defense ranked 19th in yards per attempt allowed in 2019—and it should concern the team heading into camp.

    Only three teams allowed more points last season than Minnesota, and that trend could continue if the Vikings cannot figure out how to stop the run.

New England Patriots: Wide Receiver

22 of 32

    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    The New England Patriots found a possible long-term answer at quarterback in Alabama's Mac Jones. They also have Cam Newton back for another season, and presumably, one of the two will start under center in 2021.

    What the Patriots don't have is a wide receiver corps substantially better than the one they had in 2020. Last year's group—headlined by Jakobi Meyers and Damiere Byrd—was arguably the worst in the NFL. No wideout reached 800 receiving yards, and New England finished the year ranked 30th in passing yards.

    While the Patriots added two solid tight ends in Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith, they did little to upgrade the receiver room. Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne were the only notable free-agent additions, while Byrd departed for Chicago.

    New England did not draft a wideout until it took Tre Nixon in the seventh round.

    While Henry and Smith should help make life easier for Newton and/or Jones, the Patriots are still likely to struggle stretching the field and attacking the perimeter. Even with the new additions, New England's receiving corps was recently ranked 25th in the NFL by Pro Football Focus.

New Orleans Saints: Quarterback

23 of 32

    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    It would be entirely unfair to suggest that the New Orleans Saints won't get a quality starting quarterback out of the camp competition between Taysom Hill and Jameis Winston. Both signal-callers are experienced in the New Orleans system, Winston has loads of starting experience, and head coach Sean Payton is willing to tailor his offense to whoever is under center.

    "We'll build it a little bit around that player accordingly," head coach Sean Payton said, per ESPN's Mike Triplett

    The problem is that both quarterbacks have drawbacks. Winston's turnover problem pushed him out of the Buccaneers organization, while Hill only has 134 career pass attempts. The fact that New Orleans doesn't have a preferred starter in mind is also an issue.

    Having too many promising players at other positions is usually a good problem. Having two promising quarterbacks but no clear-cut favorite is a bad problem.

    The reality is that Winston and/or Hill may be great for New Orleans in 2021, but they'll still be replacing a first-ballot Hall of Famer in Drew Brees. That's always a challenge for an NFL franchise, and replacing Brees should be the biggest concern the Saints have heading into training camp.

New York Giants: Quarterback

24 of 32

    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    The New York Giants addressed a couple of major issues in the offseason by signing wideout Kenny Golladay, drafting receiver Kadarius Toney and drafting edge-rusher Azeez Ojulari. With a defense that ranked ninth in scoring last season and running back Saquon Barkley set to return, New York could be a formidable squad in 2021.

    The one big question is whether Daniel Jones can bounce back from last year's disappointing campaign.

    Jones showed promise as a rookie, throwing for 24 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. However, he was not good in 2020, passing for just 2,943 yards with 11 touchdowns and 10 interceptions while posting a passer rating of 80.4

    Fumbles have been a constant issue for Jones, too, as he's dropped the ball a whopping 29 times in two seasons. He has gone 8-18 as a starter.

    While a better supporting cast should help Jones improve, he's going to have to if the Giants have any hope of reaching the playoffs. Bad quarterback play can doom even the most promising of teams.

New York Jets: No QB Mentor for Zach Wilson

25 of 32

    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    Like several teams, the New York Jets found their quarterback of the future in this year's draft. They took Brigham Young's Zach Wilson with the second overall pick and will likely rely on him for the entirety of the 2021 season.

    Unlike other franchises—notably, the Bears, Jaguars, Patriots and San Francisco 49ers—the Jets don't have an experienced quarterback to mentor Wilson. Behind Wilson sit Mike White and James Morgan, two quarterbacks with no regular-season experience.

    While rookie quarterbacks are frequently called upon to start early, this is still a potentially serious issue for New York. Wilson appears to be a pro-ready prospect, but not everyone is convinced he can't miss.

    "The good with Zach Wilson is really good, but the bad can be really, really bad," one quarterbacks coach told Bruce Feldman of The Athletic. "... If I had to bet money, I’d bet it doesn’t work out for him with the Jets."

    Not having an experienced veteran on the roster leaves the Jets without a sound insurance policy. It also leaves Wilson without a mentor should he stumble into any rookie roadblocks. That's a red flag for a franchise hoping to finally get it right with a first-round quarterback.

Philadelphia Eagles: Offensive Line

26 of 32

    Rich Schultz/Associated Press

    Now that Carson Wentz is in Indianapolis, the Philadelphia Eagles may soon hand the keys to 2020 second-round pick Jalen Hurts. If Hurts is going to succeed where Wentz failed last season, the second-year signal-caller will have to see improved offensive line play.

    The Eagles line was a disaster in 2020. It gave up a total of 65 sacks and allowed Hurts to be sacked 13 times even though he only started four games.

    Injuries and constant shuffling were a big part of the problem, as the Eagles used 14 different offensive line combinations, according to Dave Zangaro of NBC Sports Philadelphia. While the return of healthy tackles Andre Dillard and Lane Johnson should help some, only Johnson is guaranteed to waltz into a starting role.

    Dillard will face competition from Jordan Mailata, who was responsible for seven sacks and three penalties last season, according to Pro Football Focus

    "Oh, there's definitely one," offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland said of the left tackle competition, per Zangaro.

    While Philadelphia did add guard Landon Dickerson in the second round, there is plenty of uncertainty surrounding the Eagles O-line. If the group is even close to as unreliable as it was a year ago, Hurts could be set up to fail from day one.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Quarterback Depth

27 of 32

    Don Wright/Associated Press

    2021 may represent the last hurrah for Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. If the Steelers hope to make it a successful one, they're going to have to keep Big Ben healthy and playing well for the majority of the 17-game season.

    This could prove problematic for a couple of reasons. For one, Roethlisberger is 39 years old and showed signs of decline late last season. He averaged just 6.3 yards per attempt, which is a career low for a full season.

    The Steelers are also looking at a rebuilt offensive line, one that doesn't feature longtime starters Maurkice Pouncey and Alejandro Villanueva. On top of that, Pittsburgh is implementing a new offense under coordinator Matt Canada.

    Should Roethlisberger miss extended time or fall off the proverbial cliff this season, the Steelers' campaign could be sunk. The tandem of Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges only delivered eight wins in 2019 despite Pittsburgh boasting the league's fifth-ranked defense.

    Rudolph isn't the answer, Dwayne Haskins has shown next to nothing as a pro, and Joshua Dobbs has just 17 career pass attempts. Pittsburgh's 2021 season could hinge entirely on Roethlisberger's battle against the injury bug and Father Time. That should sound the alarm given the way last season came to a close.

San Francisco 49ers: Jimmy Garoppolo's Injury History

28 of 32

    Josie Lepe/Associated Press

    The 49ers found their quarterback of the future when they selected North Dakota State's Trey Lance with the No. 3 pick in the draft. While Lance has upside to spare, he appeared in just 19 college games and is far from a finished product.

    "Lance still has room to grow, both literally because of his build and young age but also in terms of consistency and accuracy, as he'll spray the ball when feeling late on a throw or try to gun a ball into contested spaces," Nate Tice of the B/R Scouting Department wrote.

    If Lance isn't ready to start early in his career, it could pose a problem for San Francisco because projected 2021 starter Jimmy Garoppolo has a significant injury history.

    While Garoppolo has played well at times—he helped the 49ers reach the Super Bowl two years ago—he has struggled to stay on the field. He has missed 23 games over the past three years and also missed time during a brief starting stint with the New England Patriots.

    This clearly isn't a red flag as it relates to the long-term picture. Lance is the future. However, it's an issue that must make San Francisco a bit apprehensive heading into the regular season.

Seattle Seahawks: Cornerback

29 of 32

    Kyusung Gong/Associated Press

    The Seattle Seahawks appear to have quelled any unrest with quarterback Russell Wilson this offseason. With Wilson under center, healthy and happy, the Seahawks offense will be a force in 2021. The pass defense, however, could be a major weakness.

    Seattle saw progress from its secondary last season. It didn't allow 300 yards passing in any of the final eight contests, yet it still finished the year ranked 31st in passing yards allowed. Seattle also lost starting cornerback Shaquill Griffin to the Jaguars in free agency.

    The Seahawks didn't make cornerback a position of priority this offseason, either. Their lone notable signing was that of Pierre Desir, who spent time with the Ravens and Jets last season. They didn't draft a cornerback until taking Tre Brown in the fourth round.

    This may not be a major issue if the Seahawks defense picks up where it left off at the end of the 2020 season. However, the lack of high-end reliable cornerback talent could cost Seattle in a division that features opposing wideouts like DeAndre Hopkins, Brandon Aiyuk and Cooper Kupp.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Tom Brady's Knee

30 of 32

    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are reigning Super Bowl champions, and all 22 offensive and defensive starters are back from last season. The Bucs might even have a stronger roster than they did a year ago, as they added new weapons like running back Giovani Bernard, rookie pass-rusher Joe Tryon and rookie wideout Jaelon Darden.

    Tampa has a roster practically devoid of holes, and it feels like injuries are all that could derail their 2021 campaign—specifically, an injury to Tom Brady.

    The Buccaneers brought back Blaine Gabbert and drafted Kyle Trask in the second round. However, either would represent a major step down from Brady. Of course, Brady has only missed time because of injury once in his career—he suffered a torn ACL in his left knee in 2008. However, he is coming off offseason surgery on the same knee after it bothered him last season.

    "I knew I would have to have something done at the end of the year. Happy I did it," Brady said, per ESPN's Jenna Laine.

    While knee injuries have become routine in the NFL and Brady was a full participant in minicamp, there's no telling exactly how his knee will respond over the course of a full 17-game season. Brady will be 44 years old when the season starts, and if his knee begins to go, so too could the Buccaneers' season.

Tennessee Titans: Pass Defense

31 of 32

    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    The Tennessee Titans solved one of their biggest problems by trading for star wideout Julio Jones. He and A.J. Brown should form one of the AFC's better receiver tandems, and with Derrick Henry leading the ground attack, the Titans offense will be tough to stop.

    However, stopping opposing offenses, particularly in the passing game, could be a tall order. The Titans ranked just 29th in passing yards allowed last season while ranking 22nd in net yards per attempt allowed. The defense produced just 19 sacks as a unit.

    Tennessee took steps to improve the secondary by signing cornerback Janoris Jenkins and drafting cornerbacks Caleb Farley and Elijah Molden. It added to the pass rush by signing former Steeler Bud Dupree.

    The problem is that Farley, Tennessee's first-round pick, is coming off of back surgery, while Dupree is recovering from a torn ACL. There's a chance that neither player will be able to contribute early.

    On paper, Tennessee's pass defense should be much better in 2021. Still, games aren't played on paper, and this was one of the league's worst overall pass defenses last season.

Washington Football Team: Quarterback Depth

32 of 32

    Luis M. Alvarez/Associated Press

    The Washington Football Team won the NFC East last season despite having three different quarterbacks start at least a quarter of the season—and a fourth start in the playoffs. The addition of journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick should solidify the quarterback spot for at least a year, but depth remains a potential issue.

    Fitzpatrick has played well over the last couple of years, but he has been wildly unreliable in the past. He's had five seasons with a passer rating below 80.0 and led the league in interceptions in 2011.

    This isn't to say that Fitzpatrick won't be the same productive passer he was last year—he helped lead Miami to 10 wins while posting a rating of 95.6—but if Fitzpatrick does struggle, Washington could be in trouble.

    Kyle Allen started four games last year and went 1-3. Taylor Heinicke has just two career starts under his belt (counting the playoffs), while Steven Montez has never taken an NFL snap.

    With a defense that ranked second in yards allowed last season, an improved receiving corps and a versatile backfield, the Football Team has the pieces needed to return to the postseason. If Fitzpatrick gets injured or plays poorly, however, it could spell disaster.


    Advanced statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference unless otherwise noted.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.