Free agency and the NFL draft haven’t even happened but that doesn’t stop us from debuting our initial The Draft Scout power rankings.
No, these won’t all be right, but this is a fun look at one writer’s opinion of how the 32 NFL teams stack up right now with some projections of how they’ll improve over the course of the off-season.
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32. Houston Texans
The worst organization in all of sports deserves to be at the bottom of every power ranking list. In one year they’re traded DeAndre Hopkins, forced J.J. Watt to ask for his release, and have Deshaun Watson ghosting them while requesting a trade.
It’s very hard to imagine this roster improving given the overall dysfunction from ownership on down. Who will be the starting quarterback Week 1? What is their plan outside of quarterback, where the roster is atrophying?
Sorry, Houston. You deserve better.
31. New York Jets
What the Jets do in the off-season will dramatically change their ranking, especially given their ownership of the Nos. 2 and 23 overall picks in Round 1. If they can leave the first night of the draft with a quarterback and a defensive difference maker while plugging some holes in free agency, I wouldn’t be shocked to see Robert Saleh’s team challenging in the AFC East next year.
But for now, until we see how the plan unfolds, they’re still ranked very low.
30. Detroit Lions
Trading for Jared Goff was a questionable move given his contract and his play, but the future first-rounders will be nice. Of course, those don’t factor in until 2022 so we can’t give Detroit credit for them right now.
This isn’t a good roster and the best player (Kenny Golladay) is a free agent. As many knee caps as Dan Campbell wants his players to bite, right now the new front office has to focus on simply adding quality football players.
29. Philadelphia Eagles
It really doesn’t feel like the Eagles have a plan for the future of this team. I will give them credit for trading away Carson Wentz and getting a 2021 third-rounder and potentially a 2022 first, but the roster here just isn’t good.
The wide receivers aren’t good. The offensive line is marred by question marks due to age, injury and lack of development. And on defense the line needs re-worked and the secondary hasn’t played up to expectations.
Fans in Philadelphia won’t like this, but there are so many question marks here.
28. Cincinnati Bengals
A healthy Joe Burrow will help in 2021, but the Bengals have to protect him while continuing to fix holes on the roster that made this one of the NFL’s worst teams in 2020.
It’s safe to assume an offensive tackle will be the pick at No. 5 overall, but one player isn’t fixing this line or this roster—especially not a rookie offensive lineman.
Head coach Zac Taylor is on one of the hottest seats in the NFL—if the Bengals would actually pony up to buy out a contract.
27. Jacksonville Jaguars
Hiring Urban Meyer gives the Jaguars instant credibility. Drafting Trevor Lawrence will give them an instant shot of talent at the most important position on the roster.
This is still a team in a rebuild, though.
The Jaguars will be better in 2021, but a first-time NFL coach and a rookie quarterback will take time to develop. This should be seen as a three year plan, not a shot at an immediate turnaround.
26. Denver Broncos
Another team where it doesn’t feel like a concrete plan is in place. Is Drew Lock the guy at quarterback or not? Will they get involved at a high level if Deshaun Watson is available? Will they draft a quarterback at No. 9 overall?
If it seems like the team has been jumping from one quarterback solution to the next since Peyton Manning left, it’s because they have been. And until the Broncos find consistency at the position, they’ll be ranked dead last in a suddenly very exciting AFC West.
25. New York Giants
The New York Giants closed out the year with positivity, but this is still a roster in need of big help. Daniel Jones has shown flashes, but has to be much more consistent in Year 3. The offensive line started to show promise, which should be encouraging, but unless Saquon Barkley can stay healthy and unless they find answers at wide receiver this remains an underperforming team offensively.
Joe Judge proved many doubters (myself included) wrong in his first year. The Giants have to take some big steps in 2021 but the good news is the NFC East looks to be the NFL’s weakest division again this year.
24. Atlanta Falcons
This roster is better than No. 24 overall, but it’s hard to have faith in the Falcons after their uninspired play in 2020. Perhaps the move to Arthur Smith as head coach will help in that area, but reviving a team that can best be described as “flat” last year can’t be done via scheme alone.
With Matt Ryan and Julio Jones the Falcons should be competitive, but they’re a hard team to have faith in at this time.
23. Carolina Panthers
The Carolina Panthers are headed in the right direction with head coach Matt Rhule and new general manager Scott Fitterer, but everything about this ranking hinges on who the quarterback is in 2021.
If Teddy Bridgewater returns, expect a tough and competitive team that flirts with the postseason but is probably on the outside looking in.
If they can land Deshaun Watson or a top-tier quarterback prospect in the first round of the NFL Draft, things will feel very different. Based on the roster right now (and with question marks on the offensive line), it’s hard to rank Carolina any higher even if there’s a lot of faith in their process.
22. Chicago Bears
Does it feel to anyone else like Mitchell Trubisky will be back quarterbacking the Chicago Bears on a short-term, “prove it” deal in 2021? Sure seems that way after the Bears missed out on Carson Wentz and with pick No. 20 overall in Round 1 are very likely to miss out on the top quarterbacks prospects.
Without an upgrade at quarterback, this will be another 8-8 (or worse) type of season. The Bears desperately need a quarterback who can elevate the roster.
21. New England Patriots
Another team with a gigantic question mark at quarterback, but with New England it feels different because the faith you must have in Bill Belichick as a coach and (even though there have been some big misses) as a general manager.
Assuming a Marcus Mariota or Jacoby Brissett lands in New England, expect the Patriots to once again be a very tough, physical team but one that lacks offensive identity and explosiveness.
That’s good for another 7-9 or 8-8 type season.
20. Washington Football Team
One of the NFL’s nastiest defenses needs a quarterback to complement it. That’s not on the roster right now—no offense, Taylor Heinecke—and until the Football Team solves its hole at quarterback it’s tough to put more faith in the potential of the team.
Especially with pick No. 19 overall in the NFL Draft this year and all the viable starting quarterbacks expected to be off the board and the team lacking the draft assets to get involved in a trade market that has more demand than supply.
Washington is a good football team, but they will be held back by the lack of quarterback play.
19. Pittsburgh Steelers
Ranking Pittsburg this low will definitely draw the ire of fans, but let’s realistically talk about this roster for a second.
Ben Roethlisberger wasn’t good down the stretch, is old and is expensive. The team doesn’t even want him back and there is no realistic replacement on the roster unless you’re willing to bet on a Dwayne Haskins resurgence.
Left tackle Alejandro Villaneuvo and wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster are both free agents the team could lose due to poor salary cap management as they continually kicked the can down the road on big salaries.
Oh, and the rest of the division is young, fast and aggressive.
The Steelers could surprise us, but it’s starting to look like a down year is in the cards.
18. Arizona Cardinals
Which Kyler Murray will the Arizona Cardinals have in 2020? The explosive, attacking dual-threat quarterback or the banged up, small, timid passer we saw too often in his sophomore year that didn’t feature the breakout so many expected.
Murray is the key to success in Arizona. The team has a star wide receiver (DeAndre Hopkins), an offensive line that improved last year and could get better via the Draft, and a young defense with studs like Chandler Jones, Budda Baker and Isaiah Simmons.
But unless Murray can elevate his own game, the Cardinals will once again be mediocre.
17. Minnesota Vikings
The Minnesota Vikings seem destined to be “just good enough” each year. That’s the prediction again for 2020. Kirk Cousins will be “just good enough” to keep his job, the offensive line will be “just good enough” to help Dalvin Cook to 1,200 yards and the defense will be “just good enough” to see the Vikings bounced from the NFC North as Green Bay continues to exploit them in the passing game.
16. San Francisco 49ers
If Jimmy Garoppolo is the Week 1 starting quarterback, the San Francisco 49ers will not make the playoffs.
This roster is not good enough in 2021 to cover up mistakes and timid play from the quarterback. Especially with so many veteran free agents likely to leave given the team’s salary cap situation and with so little depth on the roster due to average drafting.
Kyle Shanahan is one of the best coaches in the NFL—he showed that last year dealing with a roster ravaged by injuries—but not even he can out-scheme an offense held back by the quarterback if the defense sees a remake due to free agency.
15. Las Vegas Raiders
The play of Derek Carr in 2020 didn’t get enough love, but expect that to change as a healthy Las Vegas Raiders team becomes more consistent and more competitive in 2021.
The playmakers are here on both sides of the ball. If general manager Mike Mayock can plug holes on the middle of the defense this off-season, a healthy Raiders team has the look of a playoff contender next year.
14. Indianapolis Colts
I’m sorry, Indy, but going from Philip Rivers to Carson Wentz is a downgrade.
Yes, I know we’re supposed to believe that Wentz reuniting with former offensive coordinator Frank Reich will return him to his pre-meltdown play, but that’s a wish not rooted in logic. Wentz was broken in 2020 and unless Reich can tell him where to throw the ball on every passing play, I don’t see the turnaround.
Oh, and not to mention the Colts’ left tackle (Anthony Castonzo) retired, their WR1 is an old free agent (TY Hilton) and the secondary is about to take a big hit in free agency.
So slow down on the “Super Bowl contender” talk in Indianapolis.
13. Dallas Cowboys
Add a healthy Dak Prescott to this roster and Dallas easily wins the NFC East last year (not a huge accomplishment, I know) and could have made waves in the postseason.
The Cowboys have questions at both tackle spots due to injuries suffered by Tyron Smith and La’el Collins, but this is an ascending team with too many playmakers on offense to not dominate a terrible NFC East next year as long as No. 4 is behind center for 17 weeks.
12. New Orleans Saints
The Saints come in at No. 12 overall only on the faith that Sean Payton can win with almost anyone at quarterback. But if Drew Brees does retire, it’s important to see the plan for the offense.
Does Taysom Hill return? Does Jameis Winston get the starting job on a prove it deal? Do they get super aggressive and move up in the draft?
Unlike other teams ranked much lower with questions at quarterback, Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis get the benefit of the doubt given their track record. But also, we could have seen the end of the Saints’ dominant run with Brees gone.
11. Los Angeles Chargers
Justin Herbert has arrived and the Los Angeles Chargers will be competitive as long as he’s on the field. Expect to see LA firmly planted as an AFC Wildcard team for the forseeable future thanks to the new quarterback.
There are questions on the roster (offensive line, edge-rusher opposite Joey Bosa) and a new head coach (Brandon Staley), but if the Chargers can shake off the injury bug that has dominated this team of late, they’ll be among the NFL’s most exciting offenses in 2021.
Add in the return of Derwin James from injury, the development of linebacker Kenneth Murray and the Staley’s expertise on defense and the Chargers could start to give the Kansas City Chiefs a good game real soon.
10. Miami Dolphins
A 10-6 season with no running game and inconsistency at quarterback shouldn’t be overlooked for the Miami Dolphins in 2020.
Moving forward, the question will be what happens at quarterback but unlike other teams on the rankings the Dolphins are okay with their current starter (Tua Tagovailoa) even if they can’t add Deshaun Watson this off-season.
In fact, of the teams linked to Watson, the Dolphins are in the best shape if a trade doesn’t materialize.
Head coach Brian Flores has proven his ability and if Tua is the man next season, expect a more comfortable and aggressive passer with a full off-season under his belt and more time removed from the hip injury that ended his 2019 college season at Alabama.
9. Tennessee Titans
We know who the Titans are. They’re going to run the ball, beat you up with physical route-runners and big play receivers, and play really tough defense.
Now they need to spice up the pass rush and find another receiver on offense to get back to an AFC Championship Game.
The game plan and roster may seem a little bland here, but the Titans are very close to competing as an AFC elite.
8. Seattle Seahawks
Russell Wilson has never had a losing season in the NFL. That won’t change in 2021.
Even if he’s unhappy with the amount of hits he’s taking (and he should be), Wilson is dangerous enough to single-handedly keep the Seahawks among the NFC’s elite clubs.
The Seahawks do need to patch up the offensive line (heard that before?) and fill in gaps on defense, but we’re to the point where you simply don’t write off Wilson and Seattle no matter how many holes you see on the roster.
7. Los Angeles Rams
Exchanging Jared Goff for Matthew Stafford makes the Rams one of the NFC’s legitimate contenders. It’s that simple.
With a nasty defense returning in tact and an offense that instantly becomes more dangerous by virtue of Stafford’s athleticism and arm strength, the Rams can go from early playoff exits to NFC title dreams in 2021.
6. Cleveland Browns
The Browns took a major step forward in 2020 and have the foundation in place for a period of success—as long as quarterback Baker Mayfield remains consistent.
That’s the key to the Browns making a return playoff appearance, but the Kevin Stefanski scheme is perfect for Mayfield and with the addition of more weapons (even if it’s only the return of Odell Beckham, Jr.) and a year of more comfort in the system, the Browns appear poised to remain one of the AFC’s toughest teams.
5. Baltimore Ravens
Injuries plagued the Baltimore Ravens in 2020 but the team still finished with an 11-5 record and Lamar Jackson was making big-time plays again with his arm and legs as the season ended.
The Ravens have to figure out the Orlando Brown, Jr. situation (he wants to play left tackle and has asked for a trade), but this is one of the most stable rosters in the NFL and one of the most consistent front offices. They’ll be okay.
4. Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers has a short window left of elite years at quarterback; which is why we’re hearing him nudge the Green Bay Packers to add more help around him.
And Rodgers should expect a different front office philosophy this off-season; one that focuses on bolstering his weapons and his protection.
But as we saw this past year, when the Packers’ 2020 draft class made almost no contributions throughout the season, as long as No. 12 is behind center this team will be among the best in the NFL.
3. Buffalo Bills
The Buffalo Bills showed through their 13-3 run in 2020 that they are close. With another off-season to plug holes, general manager Brandon Beane (one of the best in the business) and head coach Sean McDermott can realistically catch the Kansas City Chiefs.
2. Kansas City Chiefs
It wasn’t that long ago many believed the Kansas City Chiefs had started the next dynasty in the NFL. Too bad they forgot that the current reigning dynasty in the NFL isn’t a team, it’s Tom Brady.
The Chiefs have a great quarterback and a good supporting cast, but they’re not the juggernaut many expected them to become. At least not yet. The 2021 offseason has to key on protecting Patrick Mahomes II (with Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz both questionable for the season and the future) while getting the defensive depth chart younger, faster and cheaper.
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are on top of the NFL mountain with little reason to think they’ll fall off next year. Tom Brady seems immortal, they’re expected to be able to retain key free agents like Shaq Barrett, Chris Godwin and Lavonte David, and the entire coaching staff returns.
Barring a fall-off from Brady, this team looks to pick up right where they left off when they were red hot throughout the playoffs.