Ranking NFL Offenses Poised to Improve the Most in 2021

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistJuly 15, 2021

Ranking NFL Offenses Poised to Improve the Most in 2021

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    During the 2020 NFL season, the Buffalo Bills jumped from middling to elite offensively. They went from averaging 19.6 points in 2019 to 31.3 last year in large part thanks to the addition of wideout Stefon Diggs and improvement of quarterback Josh Allen.

    Which teams could follow in the Bills' footsteps in 2021?

    Between big-name additions, players returning from injuries and internal development, a handful of teams seem poised to make dramatic offensive leaps this season. We've ranked them here based on the size of their projected jump. 

5. Washington Football Team

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    Luis M. Alvarez/Associated Press

    The Washington Football Team was a mess under center in 2020, starting Alex Smith (six games), Dwayne Haskins (six) and Kyle Allen (four) in the regular season and Taylor Heinicke in the playoffs.

    The results were...not great. Washington was tied for the league's seventh-worst mark with 20.9 points per game, and its 317.3 yards per game were third-worst. 

    The WFT did have a few signs of hope, though. Rookie running back Antonio Gibson broke out with 795 rushing yards and 11 scores while averaging 4.7 yards per carry, and Terry McLaurin cemented his credentials as a No. 1 wideout with 1,118 yards and four scores, along with 17 catches of 20-plus yards.

    One might not think adding 38-year-old quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick would move the needle that much for Washington. But experience and consistency under center can go a long way, and he completed 68.5 percent of his attempts over nine games last year. 

    Washington also added free-agent wideout Curtis Samuel, who could be a do-it-all weapon alongside McLaurin and Gibson. Don't overlook the addition of left tackle Charles Leno Jr., either.

    A year ago, tight end Logan Thomas and running back J.D. McKissic received 110 targets apiece for Washington. Now the offense has more consistency at center and a big playmaker at wideout, giving it a chance to match the WFT's strong defense.

4. Jacksonville Jaguars

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    The Jacksonville Jaguars scuffled to a 1-15 record last season in large part because of their dismal offense. Their 19.1 points per game was the third-worst mark in the league, and their 326.2 yards per game were fifth-worst.

    The Jaguars cycled between Gardner Minshew II (eight starts), Mike Glennon (five starts) and Jake Luton (three starts) under center to predictably disastrous results. They finished with only 25 passing touchdowns to 16 interceptions, 6.4 yards per pass attempt and 44 sacks.

    The one bright side to that forgettable season? They wound up with the No. 1 overall pick, which they used on Clemson signal-caller Trevor Lawrence.

    Rookie passers aren't guaranteed to help an offense take a dramatic leap in their first year. But 2020 No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow and 2020 No. 6 overall pick Justin Herbert hit the ground running last year despite not having the benefit of a preseason to get their feet wet. 

    Lawrence threw 90 touchdowns to only 17 interceptions over 1,138 attempts during his three years at Clemson, and he seems like a lock for multiple Pro Bowl appearances. The Jaguars also bolstered his supporting cast by spending the No. 25 overall pick on Clemson tailback Travis Etienne and signing veteran wideout Marvin Jones Jr. in free agency.

    While new head coach Urban Meyer is an unknown and hampers Jacksonville's ranking here a bit, nothing comes close to moving the needle like a quarterback upgrade in today's NFL. 

3. New England Patriots

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    Steven Senne/Associated Press

    To no one's surprise, the New England Patriots' first year without Tom Brady didn't go so well. 

    Despite bringing in Cam Newton as Brady's replacement, the Patriots went only 7-9 and averaged 20.4 points per game, the sixth-worst mark in the league. The Patriots didn't sign Newton until late June, and he later said that the time he missed early in the season with COVID-19 set him back.

    "When I came back, that’s where the lack of an offseason and the lack of time in the system really showed itself," he said on Brandon Marshall's I Am Athlete podcast, per Christopher Price of the Boston Globe. "I was behind and I was thinking too much."

    Newton completed 65.8 percent of his passes last season, but he finished with only eight passing touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 15 starts. The Patriots wound up attempting 502 rushes to 440 passes, but Newton (12) was the only player to score on the ground more than three times.

    This offseason, New England went on a spending spree to bolster Newton's supporting cast. The Patriots signed wideout Nelson Agholor (18.7 yards per catch last year) and tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith, who combined for more than 1,000 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns on their respective teams last year.

    Newton likely isn't long for New England after the Patriots selected Alabama quarterback Mac Jones with the No. 15 overall pick. But with another year in the system and a better pass-catching corps, he should help the Patriots become far more potent on offense this season.

2. Cincinnati Bengals

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    Aaron Doster/Associated Press

    Before 2020 No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 11 last year, the Cincinnati Bengals averaged 349.1 yards and 21.3 points per game. Over their final six games with Brandon Allen (five starts) and Ryan Finley (one start) under center, they averaged 270.8 yards and 16.3 points.

    Head coach Zac Taylor said in mid-June that Burrow is "in a really good spot" heading into training camp, so he should be back under center in Week 1. He'll be playing behind a vastly improved offensive line and with a better pass-catching corps.

    The Bengals signed right tackle Riley Reiff in free agency and spent their second-round pick on Clemson guard Jackson Carman, both of whom should help protect Burrow from getting sacked as frequently as he did as a rookie (32 times). Burrow has also been reunited with LSU wideout Ja'Marr Chase, who racked up 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns over 14 games with the signal-caller in 2019.

    Swapping out A.J. Green, who mustered only 47 catches on 104 targets last season, for Chase should be a huge upgrade. He'll join Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd to give Burrow a formidable pass-catching trio. Running back Joe Mixon played only six games last season, but he should help round out the offense with a potent rushing attack, too.

    The Bengals have missed the playoffs for five straight years, but the young core they've assembled on offense could push them back into relevance this season. 

1. New York Giants

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    With quarterback Daniel Jones heading into a make-or-break season, the New York Giants spent the offseason improving his supporting cast.

    The Giants signed wideout Kenny Golladay to a four-year, $72 million contract to give Jones the No. 1 receiver he's sorely lacked. They also spent the No. 20 overall pick on Florida wideout Kadarius Toney and signed veteran tight end Kyle Rudolph as a potential safety blanket behind Evan Engram.

    Star running back Saquon Barkley is also expected to be back in the fold after he tore his ACL in Week 2 last season. He had back-to-back 1,000-yard campaigns in his first two seasons along with 17 rushing touchdowns, so he should return to being the focal point of the Giants' offense when he's fully recovered.

    Getting Barkley back in the fold and the additions of Golladay, Toney and Rudolph should help Jones be far more productive than he was last season. He mustered only 2,943 passing yards, 11 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 14 starts after posting 3,027 yards, 24 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in 12 starts as a rookie. 

    The Giants averaged only 17.5 points per game last season, the second-fewest in the league, but a bad offensive line (50 sacks), lack of threats in the passing game and Barkley's injury didn't help. Considering their offseason upgrades, they're in line to make the biggest jump of any team offensively this year.

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