The 2021 Dream Team

Teams have just finished creating their initial 53-man rosters for the upcoming season. As a result, it’s prediction season for the playoffs, awards and naturally, the Superbowl itself. With this, a question wandered its way into my head: what is the best team that could be made? Now this is not a full-on buffet where one can load up on just the BBQ chicken and ice cream but instead, we must dive into the salad bar as well. In other words, this team is constrained by the salary cap among other things:

Rules:

  1. 11 starters on offense, 11 starters on defense, 1 kicker, punter, and long snapper. (25 players overall).
  2. A team built for the 2021/2022 season ONLY.
  3. Cap hit totalling no more than $140 million. The top 25 cap hit of NFL mostly total between $130 million and $150 million. The overall salary cap for the 2021 season is $188.4 million.
  4. To avoid filling the team with rookie contracts; no more than 4 players across the 2018-2021 draft classes (excluding kicker, punter, and long snapper).
  5. Team can be made of any formation desired, in this case, 11 personnel on offense, and a 4-2-5 nickel on defense (playing with smaller, versatile D-Lineman at the DT position; also only two LBs so no Sam-backer).

With these rules, this team is hopefully representative of what can happen if a team drafts, signs, and trades well. This team is built of contracts that could feasibly be part of an actual team; so, let’s get to the team:

(Salary Cap information from Spotrac)

Offense

QB: Patrick Mahomes (KC – 2017) – $7,433,381

Shouldn’t be any surprise, the best QB in the game at this very moment and he comes with a discount due to being on the 5th year option. A bullet arm QB will be able to stretch the field, pushing the defense back to open rushing lanes and screen passes if they counter with pass rush.

RB: Christian McCaffrey (CAR – 2017) – $6,899,500

A dual threat RB who hits harder through the inside holes than he is given credit for. McCaffrey is elite, he can regularly break defender’s ankles (see Panthers @ Buccaneers 2019 at Wembley). McCaffrey is great at screen plays and that impacts choice of O-Lineman.

WR1: Davante Adams (GB – 2014) – $16,787,500

The highest cap hit on the team for arguably the best WR in the game. I have no worries about him working with Mahomes instead or Rodgers, if anything, he will boost Mahomes’ play with his incredible route running. Adams will work the outside and intermediate part of the field, hopefully take up double coverage to allow other players to shine.

WR2: Robert Woods (LAR – 2013) – $5,875,000

Th most underrated player in the league? Woods is a do-it-all threat. He’d be able to take a few end arounds and play any place in the offense. He has reliable hands and will thrive in this offense.

WR3: DeSean Jackson (LAR – 2013) – $3,264,705

He may be very experienced, but the burner has shown he has hardly lost a step. Jackson will adore catching deep balls from Mahomes and diverting safeties away from Adams, pushing them back for Woods, Adams and McCaffrey underneath. Jackson will also dominate on play action, quickly getting behind the linebackers on crossers and posts for decent games. This wily veteran is a great addition to the team.

TE: Travis Kelce (KC – 2013) – $7,650,000

Reuniting the dynamic due of Mahomes and Kelce. The best current TE in the game. Kelce will find holes underneath, sit in between the zones and keep the chains moving. He also gives the team a prolific Red Zone target. When the other offensive outlets are covered, Kelce will cut the defense through curls, hitches and drags.

LT: Mekhi Becton (NYJ – 2020) – $4,192,284

Giant man-mountain; that’s how to describe Becton. Imagine being the backside DB on a weak side scree, trying the square McCaffrey up with Becton in between you. You don’t have a chance. To add to this, Becton was very good in pass protection, he isn’t just a mauler. Infact, PFF graded Becton 74.4 last year, he will be great for a very long time and even in his second year, he has earned my trust.

LG: Joe Thuney (KC – 2016) – $4,500,000

Thuney is an agile O-Lineman who is at home on toss plays, able to get up to the second level quickly and efficiently. Spending his early years under the tutelage of Dante Scarnecchia in New England, Thuney has learned from the best and here he gets to reunite with an old teammate by his side.

C: David Andrews (NE – 2015) – $1,727,932

Andrews is an undrafted gem found by Belichick and Scarnecchia out of Georgia. He is a well above average centre who has previously posted an 84.7 PFF grade in 2017 and after returning from a season-ending injury in 2019, was more than serviceable with a 67.7 PFF grade last year; he’s likely to only improve this year coming.

RG: Zack Martin (DAL – 2014) – $9,950,000

The best guard in the league? Very possibly. Martin has been stalwart in that fearsome Dallas O-Line. Martin is brilliant in space, clearing out LBs and DBs. Every QB and RB want to play with him and no defensive player wants to play against him. A leader on this team.

RT: Ryan Ramczyck (NO – 2017) – $5,514,824

The last pick of round 1 in the 2017 draft, Ramczyk seemed elite from day 1 and he hasn’t looked back since. Brees hardly ever needed to worry about pressure from the right side due to Ramczyck, infact he only allowed 10 sacks in his career (4 seasons) so far. He completes the offense

Defense

DT: Cameron Heyward (PIT – 2011) – $7,481250

With 58 career sacks, Heyward has been recking O-Lines for a decade. He is still reaching new ground, including his first INT last season. He can play multiple places along the D-Line and is a great piece for this 4-man D-Line.

DT: Shelby Harris (DEN – 2014) – $4,000,000

Harris is overlooked, perhaps his 7th round draft status has led to this but one thing is for certain, he has only improved year by year. In fact, PFF graded him an 88.3, not bad, huh? Harris will be the run-stopping master in this front seven, the first line of attack against the league’s best rushers.

Edge: Chase Young (WFT – 2020) – $ 7,855,362

It took one year for Young to become a feared edge in the league. Recording 7.5 sacks and 44 tackles in a rookie season is incredible. Young has such extreme athleticism that tackles simple can’t do anything and with a year under his belt, he will start winning many mental battles as well.

Edge (hybrid): Matthew Judon (NE – 2016) – $6,323,529

Judon is the swiss-army knife of the defense. He has great rush ability as he proved last season with the Ravens recording 6 sacks as well as 9.5 the season prior. He can also drop into coverage if needed to confuse opposing QBs. Judon has already been blowing up preseason both in training camp and on the field.

Mike-backer: Demario Davis (NO – 2012) – $6,900,000

A true veteran who is still playing top quality football. Davis is a great tackler with pass rush ability as displayed by his 26.5 career sacks. Davis is a steal at just under $7 million.

Will-backer: Lavonte David (TB – 2012) – $3,360,000

Completing the all-veteran LB corpse is David. Perennially underappreciated. David is an all-time great and he finally got to taste that sweet Superbowl success last year. No play design is going to fake him out, he will get to the ball before any other LB because he knows where it WILL be, not where it IS.

CB1: Tre’Davious White (BUF – 2017) – $6,782,000

A top 5 CB in the game for under $7 million, absolute steal. What’s special about White is his ability to dominate in man and zone, he is an all-around great CB. White is feisty and although his athleticism might not be top tier, his competitiveness and mental game are off the charts. He knows what route the receiver is running and he reaps the rewards.

CB2: Jaycee Horn (CAR – 2021) – $3,838,572

The only rookie on the team, Horn would have a lot of pressure on him, but reviews from camp have been practically an A+. He has already shown he will not back down, even getting involved in a scuffle at joint practise with the Ravens. Horn has adept in both man and zone, adding to versatility and his “Alpha” mentality that has been reported is just what you should want on defense.

Slot CB: Kenny Moore II (IND – 2017) – $6,385,294

Another undrafted free agent, Moore II has thought this way onto a starting roster, eventually settling with the Colts. He may only be 5ft 9in (at a stretch) but Moore II is a high-class slot corner. He has the agility to keep up with the shiftiest slot receivers and Moore has shown the speed needed to even pick a few sacks on corner blitzes (6 career sacks). He is also coming off a career high INT year with 4.

Strong Safety: Jordan Poyer (BUF – 2013) – $7,851,470

Poyer is part of an insane Buffalo DB room also including Tre’Davious White and Micah Hyde. He has reached over 100 combined tackles for 3 seasons and has recorded 13 INTs in his last 4 seasons.

Free Safety: Minkah Fitzpatrick (PIT – 2018) – $2,722,878

Ever since Fitzpatrick hasn’t had to do seemingly EVERYTHING on defense, he has materialized into a star. The Steelers simplified his role down after they spent a first round pick acquiring him from the Dolphins. This has seen Minkah explode, 9 INTs over the last 2 years. The ball-hawking safety also has a talent for taking those INTs back to the house with 3 career pick sixes. He is the home run hitter on defense.

Special Teams

K: Harrison Butker (KC – 2017) – $3,940,000

A powerful leg, Butker can score from anywhere and his accuracy has only improved, he’s used to kicking extra points from his time with the Chiefs.

P: Jake Bailey (NE – 2019) – $922,245

Bailey is a rising star in the punting world. Belichick has always loved his special teams and he hit the bullseye with Bailey. He has always had power but it was last year when he stopped out-kicking his coverage and alongside the future HOF gunner (hopefully) in Matthew Slater, created a deadly punt team for the Patriots.

LS: Joe Cardona (NE – 2015) – $1,176,471

My knowledge of long snappers is not deep so I’ve relented into trusting former high school long-snapper Bill Belichick with his assessment. Cardona has been with the Patriots since 2015, splitting time with the US Navy – he must be pretty good.

Overall Cap: $139,974,197

2021-2022 NFL Record Prediction

After going through the schedule game by game, these are the prediction of team records come early January. Following that are the playoff prediction and the Superbowl Champion.

AFC North

Browns     14-3

Ravens     10-7

Steelers    8-9

Bengals    3-14

AFC East

Bills           13-4

Patriots     10-7

Dolphins   10-7

Jets           6-11

AFC South

Titans        15-2

Colts         4-13

Jaguars     3-13

Texans      1-16

AFC West

Chiefs       14-3

Chargers  14-3

Raiders     7-10

Broncos    6-11

NFC North

Packers    15-2

Bears        5-11

Lions         3-14

Vikings      2-15

NFC East

Washington       13-4

Cowboys  11-6

Eagles      2-15

Giants       1-16

NFC South

Buccaneers       15-2

Panthers   11-6

Saints        4-13

Falcons     4-13

NFC West

Rams        14-3

49ers         13-3

Seahawks 12-5

Cardinals  9-8

AFC Playoffs

(Wild Card)

Ravens (7) @ Chiefs (2)

Patriots (6) @ Browns (3)

Chargers (5) @ Bills (4)

(Divisional)

Bills (4) @ Titans (1)

Browns (3) @ Chiefs (2)

(Championship)

Chiefs (2) @ Titans (1)

NFC Playoffs

(Wild Card)

Cowboys (7) @ Packers (2)

Seahawks (6) @ Rams (3)

49ers (5) @ Washington (4)

(Divisional)

Seahawks (6) @ Buccaneers (1)

49ers (5) @ Packers (2)

(Championship)

Packers (2) @ Buccaneers (1)

Superbowl

Chiefs (AFC) Vs Packers (NFC)

Preseason Rookie QBs

With the preseason over, it’s time to dive into the rookie QBs and their outlook on the season. This year’s class featured 5 1st round QBs including the NO.1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence.

Trevor Lawrence – Jaguars – Pick 1

“Sunshine” enters the season under the most pressure of the rookie QBs. Often thought to be of the greatest potential since Andrew Luck, it was no surprise to see Lawrence get taken NO.1 by the Jags. Lawrence processes quickly and has supreme accuracy. However, he did struggle in the first preseason match. Facing the Browns, he was consistently hassled and looked unsure on his reads. This is likely due to the pass rush of the Browns dominating the Jags O-Line. This pressure continued into Lawrence’s second preseason game against the Saints, but he handled it much better, looked more settled. Whilst his completion percentage dropped from the first game, the throws attempted were further down field and against tighter coverage (basically less 5 yard drag routes). The one takeaway from this game is that Lawrence needed to understand that the DBs and LBs in the NFL are faster than in college, a few throws hung in the air too long and allowed for either a bat down or a tough catch for his receiver.

However, Lawrence was playing at a high level through camp, showing that without pressure or the threat of getting hit he was calm, and a lethal thrower of the ball. His poise improved from game to game, especially with his almost perfect performance against the Cowboys in preseason week 3. Lawrence did not seem fazed by down and distance, completing a beautiful comeback route to Marvin Jones Jr in week 1 on a 3rd and 9. Speaking of Marvin Jones Jr, he and Lawrence have formed quite a partnership already, always on the same page. Adding to this, Lawrence has looked adept on bootlegs and has shown an ability to through the ball away, something rookies rarely do. Overall, there is absolutely no worries if you a Jaguars fan. Lawrence already looks well on his way to becoming a great QB, he just needs to iron out the odd issue and gain experience.

Zach Wilson – New York Jets – Pick 2

Wilson is looking to become the first QB for the Jets to become a true career-long franchise star since Joe Namath. His poise and arm talent seems brilliant. He gets to sit behind a highly underrated O-Line with Mekhi Becton at left tackle and the camp surprise of George Fant looking to continue his jump in form throughout the regular season. Wilson has also developed a great partnership with Corey Davis. The former Titan has exploded in preseason, looking like the round 1 pick he was always supposed to be. Wilson has displayed all the arm talent needed to be an NFL QB. Also had the awareness on a screen against the Packers to pull the ball down as the edge had beaten Wilson’s right tackle faster than expected, before completing the pass after the edge passed. This may have just been one play but a play where Wilson looked like a veteran.

Trey Lance – San Francisco 49ers – Pick 3

No QB is going to benefit from sitting for part of the season more than Lance. Throughout the preseason games, Lance has been experimenting with the dos and don’ts of the NFL. This is most evident when he is trying to squeeze the ball over the middle. The NFL have much faster LBs than in college and Lance has had a few passes deflected or off-target trying to avoid the LBs. However, this is how Patrick Mahomes played early and we know how good he is. The rewards are starting to show, a perfect TD pass in tight coverage to Travis Benjamin. Lance also holds onto the ball a little too long. He has got away with it a few times due to his mobility but he needs to release that ball. This will come in time as he gets quicker at his reads. He will miss some time due to his finger injury (out for at least week 1) but he wasn’t going to start anyway, Garoppolo is very competent. If I was Kyle Shanahan, I would look to be starting Lance after the week 6 bye. Announce it (at least to Lance and Garoppolo) straight after week 5 so Lance has 2 weeks to get ready for the Colts. Lance looks good for an end of season explosion and potential playoff push. The only thing that could stop him is a Garoppolo career year.

Justin Fields – Chicago Bears – Pick 11

The most exciting to watch of all the QBs. Fields is perhaps playing the most “boom or bust” play style so far. He is airing it down field and has shown the ability to throw from alternate arm angles. He learned quickly after week 1 to firstly, slide and secondly protect the ball whilst running. The major high point of Fields’ performances is that he is not the slightest bit fazed by pressure. He is happy to hang in the pocket to the very last moment to complete the throw and has the mobility to escape if it’s clear no option will come open. It’s likely Fields will be on the bench for a while. He will lead the scout team for the regular season. He is behind Dalton on the depth chart and him moving to NO.1 really depends on fan pressure. It seems that Jim Nagy wants to sit Fields for as long as possible and run with Dalton but results and fans may force Fields to be played soon. He might well explode on the NFL. Bears fans should be excited.

Mac Jones – New England Patriots – Pick 15

I know it’s preseason but Mac Jones has looked good. Mac Jones looks like the most pro-ready QB out of the rookies. I’ve always hated the idea that a young QB looks like NFL legend “X” and is “X” in the making but no matter how hard I try I can’t shake the idea that Jones looks like a young Brady and it’s not just the Patriots jersey and the NO.10 from Brady’s Michigan days. Jones takes what the defense gives him. He is deadly accurate, has displayed better arm strength than he showed in college. Whilst his pocket awareness is of course not near Brady, his footwork looks familiar and the way he tucks the ball against his back shoulder is as Brady-esque as it gets. Jones has been efficient in the Belichick-McDaniels system. I’m surprised with the Newton cut, expecting Newton to start until at least after the Bucs game so Jones didn;t suffer the arguably unfair comparisons between Brady and Jones (Jones is not near Brady’s level just yet). But, when Jones starts, he will have one of the best O-Lines in the league and the deepest RB room. Fellow rookie Rhamondre Stevenson is a bruiser with the electric JJ Taylor complementing Damien Harris. Meanwhile, veteran James White will take the 3rd down role. Jones is set up for success.

Purr-fecting Success

In 1995 the Carolina Panthers played their first game in franchise history. Despite the 23-20 loss to the Atlanta Falcons, the Panthers became the most successful expansion team in NFL history with a 7-9 record before accelerating towards an NFC Championship game the very next year. The Panthers seemed to be a young team destined for success early in their history. Since then, 2 Superbowls have been reached, albeit both losses (2003, 2015), and after a few subpar seasons and a quick rebuild the Panthers seem en route to another Superbowl. For this year, the playoffs should be a very realistic target.

In 2015, the Panthers were led to a 15-1 record by the career year of Cam Newton. 45TDs through air and ground, a deep threat of Ted Ginn Jr racking 10TDs and a devastating defense consisting of 4 pro bowlers (including 1st team all-pros of Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis and Josh Norman). All the way to Superbowl 50, the Panthers played and came up one “no dive” away from a potential win. The next year saw a decline from Newton and the Panthers and no return to the heights of 2015. As a result, the Panthers turned to a new chapter in their history.

First, a new coach in former Temple and Baylor Head Coach Matt Rhule. Rhule turned a 4-7 Temple team into a 10-3 success before being picked to become the new Bears Head Coach in Baylor. Whilst never defeating a ranked team with the Bears, Rhule led Baylor to an 11-1 record and was hired to replace Ron Rivera, coach of 9 seasons. Along with Rhule came fellow college coach Joe Brady. The former LSU passing game co-ordinator who oversaw the rise of Joe Burrow was to oversea the new young buck bought in to replace the oft-injured and recently cut Cam Newton. Whilst the QB in 2020 was journeyman Teddy Bridgewater, there is now “young buck” at the helm in Sam Darnold.

The running game has changed from Jonathan Stewart to the dynamic Christian McCaffrey. The O-Line has been refuelled, whilst it may be seen as a possible weak point but Taylor Moton, John Miller and Matt Paradis will keep the centre and right side of the line solid. Third round rookie, Brady Christensen will look to compete for left tackle with Cameron Erving and Greg Little. However, with Joe Brady at the helm and Darnold trying to regain confidence. Expect screens utilizing the skills of Christian McCaffrey and the speed of DJ Moore. Moore, Robby Anderson and 2nd round rookie steal Terrance Marshall Jr, will stretch the field which will force the defense to sit back a few yards. That will allow screens more room as well as for the running of McCaffrey. The play action will be lethal for the Panthers. With the LBs and safeties deep from the Moore and Anderson threat, running room will be set up. Once McCaffrey guts the defense, the LBs will start flying down from deep to stop the run, allowing a room for the deep throw in behind. Whilst some would look to Darnold’s dreadful Jets career, the Jets were never in a position to help him succeed, a place almost polar opposite to the Panther’s situation.

Now for the defense and, oh boy, is it YOUNG. The great Luke Kuechly retired before the 2020 season, Short, Davis and Norman long gone. In came Derrick Brown, Brian Burns and Jamie Chinn. Brown is powerful, and whilst he only recorded 2 sacks in his rookie season, a sophomore leap should be expected. Jeremy Chinn is versatile. The LB-safety hybrid can play all over the defense and match up with receivers, tight ends and running backs. However, the real star is set up to be Brian Burns. Burns has an incredible ability to pass rush. He has utilized his extra tape study to not just beat tackles with his physical skills but also his brain. Burns now utilizes “ghost” techniques to get the tackles to bite before exploiting his leverage advantage. Burns can also play in coverage which allows for versatility in defensive scheming for defensive coordinator Phil Snow. Versatility is major on this young defense. Brown has the athleticism to play along the defensive front. Burns can rush or drop into coverage where the Swiss army knife of Jeremy Chinn patrols. This defense only now needs experience and it will only get that by playing.

The Panthers may start slow this year but they can reach the playoffs by the end of the year. Especially in a division of the rebuilding Falcons and the Brees-less Saints. A wild card spot behind the all-dominating Tampa Bay Buccaneers is a realistic and probable goal. Next year, if Darnold hits, a Superbowl? It’s possible, perhaps even probable. It won’t be long before the Panthers have another taste of a Superbowl and this time, they can get Superbowl glory.

Underdogs Return – The Cleveland Browns

In 1944, Arthur B. McBride secured the right to field a Cleveland American Football team in the AAFC. Co-founder and coach Paul Brown was onboard and the team named after him, the Cleveland Browns. Out of this moment came one of the most important sports franchises, a franchise that would rise and fall, a franchise that spent years being mocked, but a franchise that finally looks to be ascending to the top once again.

Cleveland flew into action. Led by their acclaimed coach, Paul Brown, and legendary QB Otto Graham, the Browns won their first AAFC Championship on their inaugural season. In the Championship beating the New York Yankees, fitting considering Paul Brown wanted to emulate the baseball Yankees with his team. Then Cleveland continued to do something unprecedented, they won the next 3 years. This means that the Browns won the Championship in every year of their first 4, something unmatched by any franchise. This was capped by an unbeaten season in 1948, something only matched in football by the unbeaten 1972 side of the Miami Dolphins. However, the Browns success became the league’s undoing. Their dominance crushed the league which folded in 1949 but the Browns along with the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Colts merged with the NFL. The Browns dominance did not stop here. Cleveland won, again, in 1950. They had changed their league but not their ways. Led by the passing attack of Hall of Famer Otto Graham, the Browns returned to the NFL Championship the following 5 years, winning in 1954 and 1955. This meant that Cleveland reached the Championship match in their first 10 years, winning 7 times. They were the first true dynasty in a sport that had just started reaching its maturity. The Browns gifted the NFL its’ first stars in coach Paul Brown and QB Otto Graham, however, Graham retired after 1955 and it was possible that the end of the Browns dominance had just began.

Losing a player of Graham’s talents may have seemed a lethal blow but the Browns replaced one star with another. Fullback Jim Brown joined the team in 1957. He played for 9 years and reached 9 Pro Bowls – no wonder he is still considered one of the greatest players to ever play the game. His physical running style gutted defences and his charismatic personality helped him blossom into a star off the pitch as well as on it at a time when TV had started to display the great game across the country. The Browns bulldozed their way to wins, albeit no Championships. Especially after the growing tension between Paul Brown and the players, especially Jim Brown. But, in 1964, Paul Brown was fired, and Cleveland won a championship. However, that championship (won over future Hall of Fame duo in Coach Don Shula and QB Johnny Unitas) was to be the last peak of Cleveland for some time. Paul Brown retired in 1965 and Jim Brown followed the following year. Stars retired, the building blocks gone and the end of a dynasty for the Cleveland Browns.

A drought began. After two Conference Championship in 1968 and 1969, a streak ongoing today began. Those are the last Conference Championships Cleveland won. So often in the NFL, teams endure a cycle of success for 5-10 years before falling back for around the same period of time before rising once more. Especially with a franchise that was so full of success, that new how to win, it seemed it would only be a matter of time before the Browns rose once more. But this time did not pass quickly. Since the retirement of Graham, the QB position had been underwhelming. As the Browns found out, it’s difficult to win with subpar play at the most important position in the sport. The QB position proved to haunt the Browns for till 1985. Cleveland native Bernie Kosar was desperate to play for his hometown team and so managed to find his way into the supplemental draft rather than the regular draft in order for the Browns to draft him, instead of the Vikings who would have otherwise. As a result of this, Kosar became a home town hero and Cleveland had its QB. Kosar led the Browns to 3 AFC Championships games in 4 years, but losing all of them. This included via the infamous “The Fumble”. The Browns had their QB but kept finding different ways to lose, it had been so long since they won that it seemed they had forgotten how to even when the win was right in front of them.

In 1991, the Browns hired someone who new how to win. Bill Belichick was the defensive coordinator of the New York Giants and owning of 2 Superbowl rings. He was young but with potential. Belichick also had an eye for spotting coaching talent. The coaching and front office team that eventually called Cleveland home consisted of Nick Saban, Scott Polio, Eric Mangini, Thomas Dimitroff, Jim Schwartz and Kirk Ferentz. With a team like that, and a team with players Bernie Kosar, Eric Metcalf and Clay Matthews; the Browns looked to be rising again. Cleveland had all the right people, but sadly, at the wrong time. Kosar and Belichick had a difficult relationship. Kosar started getting injured along with his backup (who Belichick was thought to have preferred) in Vinny Testaverde. Without a QB, the Browns sunk back. Their coaching staff was too inexperienced including at the top in Belichick. He was still working out how to be a Head Coach, how to get respect from his players and work with players in different ways to extract their best. Belichick seemed to need Cleveland as a learning experience and so did defensive coordinator Nick Saban. Between the two of them, their football IQ could have exceeded the rest of the league but trying to convey that to men who did not respect them was a tougher task than they could handle at that point in their young careers. They gained a playoff win in 1994 against the Bill Parcels led New England Patriots but that was as far as they got. The early 90s were years of wasted potential for Cleveland. This once great franchise had still not risen again and its darkest days were just ahead.

Art Modell, the owner since 1961 was fed up with Cleveland. He wanted to move to greener pastures, and announced a move to Baltimore in 1995. The players and franchise left Cleveland to become the Baltimore Ravens. Some coaches followed, others such as Belichick, did not. This was the end of football in Cleveland, football’s first great dynasty, home to some of its first stars had seemingly ended. To make matters worse, the fans stood by to watch the Baltimore Ravens win a Championship in the 2000/01 season. Their team had left and started to win.

But all was not lost, the team returned 1999 but stumbled, some might say “fumbled” their way through the seasons. The Browns were not good. There winning seasons in 2002 and 2007 their only bright spot since their rebirth, excluding being the “good guys” in the 2014 film Draft Day”. If that is all a team has to cling to, not a lot has gone its way. Again, Cleveland was haunted by their lack of a QB. 29 different QBs started a game between 1999 and 2018. That’s almost 1.5 a season. The Browns were the laughing stock of the league, still not won a Playoff game since 1994 and not ever really looked close. In 2018, the Browns held another early 1st round pick in the draft, this time first overall. With it they picked Baker Mayfield out of Oklahoma. Despite inconsistency in his first 2 years, Mayfield was the best QB they had seen since Kosar, for the first time Cleveland has hope they may ascend once more and in 2020, 2 hiring’s seemed to make the difference.

Andrew Berry was hired to be GM, the youngest in the league at only 32. Along with him, Kevin Stefanski the former offensive coordinator of the Minnesota Vikings was hired to be Head Coach. The two of them hit free agency and hit it smartly. Suring up the O-Line to help their young QB by signing Jack Conklin. He made holes for Derrick Henry in Tennessee, he can do so once again, this time for Nick Chubb (best pure RB in the game?). They then set out and signed Austin Hooper, TE from the Falcons. A young pass catching TE with Superbowl experience. Another weapon for Mayfield. In the draft they selected Jedrick Wills to play LT who instantly seemed like a veteran, finally an honourable replacement for long retired Joe Thomas. To add to this a great safety in Grant Delpit (injured for his rookie receiver) and a swing at Donovan Peoples-Jones, WR who can learn behind Landry and OBJ. The draft showed a great understanding of the team. The Browns have long had a good D-Line and skill positions and so drafted away from that. Protecting their QB not only through protection but also addition by helping the running game and allowing inexperienced rookies to learn behind established teammates. Last years draft seemed to be the best that Cleveland have had in a while. It showed.

Cleveland ended with an 11-5 record, their best since rebirth in 1999. They were in the Playoffs and has a chance to avenge so many past losses in facing division rival Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers had been everything Cleveland wasn’t. Despite a slow start as a franchise, they had turned into a dominant team. A 70s dynasty not eclipsed till the 20-year Patriots dynasty. Further success in the 2000s led by Ben Rothlisberger. A never-ending run of historic coaches and playoff appearances. Also, and most importantly, 6 Superbowls. A feat equalled only by the Patriots. They had bullied and humiliated the Browns since 1999. The record since 1999 stood at 34-3-5 in favour of the Steelers. This was no rivalry; it was a twice-annual workover for the Steelers. And now, they hosted the Browns in the playoffs.

It was the end of the first quarter and the game was already over. One team down 28 points, humiliated with no way back. This was the last game they would play in the 2020 season. Sitting at home after testing positive for Covid was Browns Head Coach Kevin Stefanski, side-lined for his first playoff game as Head Coach; he was powerless. He watched his team play against their bullies, a team that had feared Cleveland for so long. But despite not having their coach, Cleveland had belief for the first time since the 90s, and before that the 60s. It showed. The Browns dominated. The underdogs were going to win and embarrass their tormentors. The revamped secondary receiving 4 INTs whilst the offense held onto possession and bulldozed their way to victory behind the improved O-Line. Mayfield threw for 3TDs proving to be the QB the Browns had long needed. This was not the Browns team of old. Berry and Stefanski had created a team of underdogs that weren’t afraid to fight and it led to the Browns claiming their first playoff victory since 1994. The Browns had done it, they had started to rise once more.

Another plucky performance against the defending Superbowl Champions in the Kansas City Chiefs had ended in defeat, but they had almost won. Only foiled by a completion on a 4th and 1 from backup QB Chad Henne (probably the only “backup” QB to not have played for the Browns at some point in his career). The season may have ended in a loss but it was a season the Browns had won. Stefanski won Coach of the Year honours and Berry completed another successful draft. This time somehow picking up Jeremiah Owusu-Koromoah in the 2nd round to make the Browns defence seemingly impenetrable. The Browns now enter the 2021 season as 2nd favourites, only slightly behind the Baltimore Ravens. They finally have a GM, Head Coach and QB to go and succeed. They finally look to have a team built for success. They finally seem to be ready to ascend to the great heights they entered the league at, they can reach the top of the NFL, they can win a Superbowl. And, I am sure that almost every fan of the league will want that to happen, will cheer them on in the Superbowl (unless they play your particular team). The Browns deserve your support. The turnaround that has taken place is quite amazing. One of the most historical and legendary franchises of the NFL is seems about ready to regain its rightful place, battling for Championships against the best of the best in the NFL.

2021 Draft Recap

The draft is over. Optimism and dread are high among the different fanbases. Some have hope, some are full of despair. Whilst everyone has an idea of how well each team drafted, it will take 3+ years to find out. So, with that in mind, I shall refrain from grading drafts. Instead, I shall delve into my two favourite draft classes and my 2 individual favourite picks (1st round excluding so no Rashawn Slater).

Detroit Lions

Has this franchise even looked so compelling? Run by the hit-new team of HC Dan Campbell and GM Brad Holmes, Detroit is looking on the up. They dedicated their draft to the on-brand style of players – kneecap biters. This Lions squad is going to be playing with one massive chip on their shoulder, they are going out every game to overpower their opponents and feel good about. This is the type of team that may be down 20 but will still be celebrating that hit that almost broke the ribs of the opponent. The Lions are scary.

Their first pick was Penei Sewell, one of the nastiest tackles in the draft. He will bully defensive lineman. He will dominate in the trenches, exactly where this Detroit team looks to win. He shouldn’t have fallen to 7, but he did. The Bengals loss is the Lions gain. Also, this pick gave us Brad Holmes’ response. Any player should want to go to the team with the GM that gets THAT excited about drafting you. This team is going places, it’s a new Lions team and it started with the pick of Sewell.

The Lions then added to the trenches on Day 2 but from the defensive side of the ball in Levi Onwuzurike and Alim McNeill. Onwuzurike will fit in Detriot immediately if his post-draft interview is anything to go by. McNeill is athletic for 320 pounds and with the 2 of them manning the D-line, likely alongside Trey Flowers in the 3-man front Dan Campbell has announced that will be run, Detroit is not just going to be stopping the run game; but also getting the QB on a regular occurrence.

Next, Holmes targeted players who fell. First in the CB from Syracuse in Ifeatu Melifonwu and then in WR Amon-Ra St Brown from USC. To get these players in the 3rd and 4th round respectively are steals. Melifonwu is a large corner at 6ft 2in and will perfectly complement Okudah who will man the opposite CB spot. Large and physical corners. St Brown (brother to Equanimeous St Brown) is a crisp route runner who gives Goff a reliable target. The offense has a chance at not being totally dire but it’s likely the offense is a project for next year’s draft.

The Lions rounded the draft out with LB Derrick Barnes (Purdue) and RB Jemar Jefferson (Oregon State). Barnes has been announced as the Mike backer for the Lions and he plays HARD. He will hit hard and come with a full head of steam. Jefferson is a productive runner who will find himself in a rotation with Swift in the backfield now Johnson has been cut. This Lions draft is full of bully-players. The Lions are getting ready to bully the rest of the NFL. This draft signals intent – now it’s just the execution.

New York Jets

As with any draft which starts with a QB, the success of the draft is dependent upon their play. Therefore, everything is realistically down to Zach Wilson. However, it wasn’t just Wilson who makes this draft special. Trading up for Alijah Vera-Tucker consolidates an O-Line that may be top-5 by the end of the season. This protects Wilson and will allow him time in the pocket to dissect the complicated NFL defences.

Following this, the Jets grabbed Elijah Moore early round 2. This was a great pick, especially considering many had him as a first round WR. His fall allowed the Jets to improve a receiving core which is now led on the outside by Denzel Mims and on the inside by Moore who can learn tricks of the trade from Jamison Crowder before taking his spot in the team. Wilson truly has this team built around him; it does mean he won’t get the same excuses that Sam Darnold was handed.

Day 3 started with Michael Carter for the Jets. A great player, a running back jitterbug who will likely find himself running lots of zone runs to the left side of the line or outside sweeps. He will have the monster of Mekhi Becton at LT with Vera-Tucker at LG. This means that the Jets have a new QB, an improved O-Line, a new RB and added to an impressive WR core. This offense looks ready to roll and their defence was already top-10.

Their other Day 3 steal was Hamsah Nasirildeen, S from Florida State. Nasirildeen has the versatility to also play down in the box, an off-ball linebacker. Robert Salah is going to enjoy moving this trustworthy tackler all around the Jets defense. Not bad for a day 3 pick. The Jets filled their major needs at the draft this year. If Wilson does pan out at QB, this could be looked back on as an all-time great draft class for the Jets.

Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (LB, Cleveland Browns)

There is no doubt that if it wasn’t for the heart issue of JOK, he would have left the board likely at or just after the Brown’s first pick. Instead, he slid to Round 2, pick 52. JOK is a hybrid. He can play LB, Slot or a box safety. He can cover of plug a hole to stop the run. JOK is likely the most versatile defensive player in the draft and to get him at 52 is ridiculous. The Browns now own a lethal front 7 that includes Myles Garrett, Jadeveon Clowney, Jordan Elliot and now also JOK.

Tyree Gillespie (S, Las Vegas Raiders)

A starting safety in Round 4 at pick 143 is ridiculous. Gillespie is the most physical safety in the draft and shattered both Jaylen Waddle and DeVonte Smith when he played Alabama. His coverage skills may not be the best but as the Raiders picked up Trevon Moehrig in the second, it’s doubtful that matters. Gillespie will be told to find ball – hit ball, make the offense pay. He can turn the momentum of a game in one play, he will increase the motor of those around him and can become the heart of this rebuilding Raiders defense. The best pick Gruden and Mayock have made in their Raiders tenure so far.

2021 First Round NFL Mock Draft

  1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence, QB (Clemson)

The Jags gain the best prospect at the most important position in the game, simple.

2.New York Jets: Zach Wilson, QB (BYU)

They didn’t trade down and have traded Sam Darnold to the Panthers. As a result, the Jets select the next best QB with salivating upside.

3.San Francisco  49ers: Justin Fields, QB (Georgia)

After flirting with Trey Lance and Mac Jones, the 49ers select the mobile QB of Fields. Once his pocket awareness and read progression improve, he has the potential to be the best QB in the class, especially with Kyle Shanahan as his new head coach. Jimmy Garoppolo will likely remain for a year or be traded, maybe to Washington?

4.TRADE – Denver Broncos: Trey Lance, QB (North Dakota State)

The Broncos give up a 2022 1st next year to fend off other offers sent to the Falcons to move up from 9th to make the 2021 draft the first to have only QBs selected in the firth 4 picks. Lance is raw but can battle with Drew Lock to start, if the Broncos don’t feel secure with Lance in year 1, they don’t have to move off Lock just yet.

5.Cincinnati Bengals: Penei Sewell, OT (Oregon)

The first non-QB selected. The Bengals shake off the idea of drafting Ja’Marr Chase and instead elect to protect Joe Burrow. The Bengals are a sleeper candidate to trade down, the Cowboys may move up to grab Kyle Pitts if Jerry Jones is as “infatuated” with him as reported.

6.Miami Dolphins: Ja’Marr Chase, WR (LSU)

The Dolphins collect first round picks from the 49ers in the earlier trade and still end up with one of the best WR prospects to ever enter the draft. Tua has potential but needs help, landing Chase is a great way to start.

7.Detroit Lions: Kyle Pitts, TE (Florida)

With Hockenson playing the typical TE spot in Detroit, they draft Pitts to create the best TE duo in the league. They can line Pitts up anywhere to create mismatches and any coverage he draws will only help Hockenson, and then of course Jared Goff. Pitts is not a bad pickup after the Lions’ top target of Chase is off the board. Kellen Mond could be an early round 2 selection for them, someone to learn from then challenge Goff.

8.Carolina Panthers: Rashawn Slater, OT (Northwestern)

After acquiring Darnold from the Jets, the Panthers look to protect their new QB. Slater can play all 5 O-Line positions will help the Panthers considering they need help at almost all of them. Waddle would be the alternative if the Panthers want to make a splash by drafting a weapon.

9.(From Denver) Atlanta Falcons: Patrick Surtain II, CB (Alabama)

The Falcons draft the first defensive player in the draft, what made the Broncos trade so alluring was they still ended ahead of the defense-needy Cowboys. They land the best physical corner and can help stop the ever-bleeding defense. Expect a WR in round 2 (such as Rashod Bateman) or round 3 (such as Amari Rodgers).

10.Dallas Cowboys: Jaycee Horn, CB (South Carolina)

With Surtain II gone, the Cowboys fall back to the 2nd best physical corner in Horn. Horn has a good chance of being even better than Surtain so it isn’t a massive loss for the Cowboys. They desperately need to improve their secondary.

11.New York Giants: Micah Parsons, LB (Penn State)

Parsons is an athletic freak who could mould into an all-time great, he just needs the right coaching. The Giants like their chances and after an impressive defensive showing last year, the Giants improve to become true threat.

12.Philidelphia Eagles: DeVonte Smith, WR (Alabama)

The Eagles get another field stretcher in Smith. The Heisman winner is a threat from anywhere on the field and instantly upgrades an underwhelming receiving core.

13.Los Angeles Chargers: Caleb Farley, CB (Virginia Tech)

If not for injury, Farley would likely be the top CB in the draft. The Chargers take their chances after the top tackles are off the board. Farley received good news from the doctors, he should be ready for the coming season. This could be a steal for the Chargers.

14.Minnesota Vikings: Kwity Paye, Edge (Michigan)

The Vikings need to draft rushers here. Ngokoue didn’t work out and it’s possible Hunter is on his way out of town very soon. To replace the lost pass rush, the look to Kwity Paye, a disrupter who continuously affects to timing of an offense off the edge.

15.New England Patriots: Mac Jones, QB (Alabama)

Jones falls to the Patriots without them needing to trade up. His methodical play style will suit the Patriots’ system. He has more mobility than he’s credited for, certainly inside the pocket. Belichick will have all the inside information on him due to Jones being coached by Belichick’s friend and former colleague Nick Saban.

16.TRADE – Washington Football Team: Jaylen Waddle, WR (Alabama)

Washington sends a 3rd to Arizona to trade up to get the top WR left. Waddle is a great route runner with better size than Smith. He will create an incredibly talented receiving group alongside Terry McLaurin and Curtis Samuel. Fitzpatrick is going to have fun next season.#

17.Las Vegas Raiders: Jayson Oweh, Edge (Penn State)

The Raiders have always loved raw, talented prospects who have high athletic upsides and Oweh is just that. He has an electric first step and has a high-pressure rate despite not registering a sack last year. With Maxx Crosby on the other side, the Raiders pass rush will immediately become top 10 in the league; even if Oweh may be considered a bit of a boom or bust prospect.

18.Miami Dolphins: Alijah Vera-Tucker, OG (USC)

After getting Tua help at skill position with Chase, the Dolphins now look to help him by keeping him upright. They select one of the most mobile O-lineman in the draft in Vera-Tucker. He can play tackle if needed and with the Dolphins rolling with a Patriots inspired philosophy under former Patriots coach Brian Flores, versatility is a highly valued talent.

19.(From Washington) Arizona Cardinals: Jalean Phillips, Edge (Miami)

After acquiring an extra 3rd round pick from Washington, the Cardinals are in a position to go best player available. They select Phillips to learn behind JJ Watt and Chandler Jones and to create a spark in the rotation. The Cardinals are a solid team who could really pick anyone at this stage of the draft.

20.Chicago Bears: Teven Jenkins, OT (Oklahoma State)

Bears ideally need a QB but the top 5 are long gone and so they elect to round out the rest of the roster. Here they go with Jenkins. A nasty tackle who punishes defenders. He will be able to create gaps in the run game, essential for team that is perennially subpar in the passing game.

21.Indianapolis Colts: Gregory Rousseau, Edge (Miami)

The Colts need an edge threat to help Buckner inside and Rousseau can provide it. A prospect on the upswing, Rousseau will get better and better and he might be the piece that can push the Colts from a playoff contender, to a title contender.

22.Tennessee Titans: Rashod Bateman, WR (Minnesota)

After collecting AJ Brown in the 2019 draft, the Titans take another talented receiver here. Bateman is large at 6ft 2in 210lbs and creates a great one-two with Brown. By continuing to support Tannehill, the Titans keep enough pressure through the air in order to force the opposing defense to not stack the box, allowing Derrick Henry to continue to run wild.

23.New York Jets: Elijah Moore, WR (Ole Miss)

The Jets want Wilson’s rookie NFL season to be as comfortable as possible. They grab Moore to complement Denzel Mims, who’s entering his second season and Corey Davis who has just signed from the Titans.

24.Pittsburgh Steelers: Greg Newsome, CB (Northwestern)

Tall, lean and fast. Newsome is the perfect corner. He is young at 20 and won’t be at his best immediately but after a season or two he may blossom into a star. The Steelers need corners. Their front 7 is top 3 in the league and there are no QBs left to draft this high for a future replacement of Roethlisberger. They draft Newsome to make their defense seemingly impenetrable.

25.Jacksonville Jaguars – Trevon Moehrig, S (TCU)

The Jags desperately need to upgrade their safeties and Moehrig does this. He has outstanding coverage skills and is versatile and smooth. He’s a great pick up for the Jags.

26.Cleveland Browns – Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, LB (Notre Dame)

The Browns need help at LB and JOK is severely underrated. Due to other teams’ needs, he could end up with a slight fall and the Browns will reap the rewards. JOK can play almost anywhere. His singular downside is he is slightly undersized. Otherwise, he is a great player and a brilliant pick up this late in the draft.

27.Baltimore Ravens – Azeez Ojulari, Edge (Georgia)

Ravens were at their best with a feared defense and they look to return to that here by drafted a very skilled edge. Ojulari is a high effort performer who won’t stop on a play. He is great at setting against the run as well which is vital in the AFC North.

28.New Orleans Saints – Terrance Marshall, WR (LSU)

Yet another WR. This time, it’s Chase’s partner in crime in Marshall. Marshall could become a red-zone magnet with his play. Allowing Hill or Winston (whoever starts for the Saints) a large reliable target who also takes some pressure off of Michael Thomas.

29.Green Bay Packers – Jamin Davis, LB (Kentucky)

Davis is fast and can read the game at an elite level. He is almost always where he needs to be. He may be the piece that finally pulls this talented Packers defense into an elite unit. Davis has been rocketing up draft boards over the last few months and he lands in a great spot with the Packers.

30.Buffalo Bills – Christian Barmore, DT (Alabama)

The Bills need to stop explosive runs and they look to solve that issue with Barmore. He creates havoc in the middle of the line, whether that’s stopping RBs or applying interior pressure to the QB. The Superbowl showed how important pressuring a QB is and with the Bills so close to making it to the game themselves last year, Barmore could be the final piece.

31.Kansas City Chiefs – Christian Darrisaw, OT (Virginaia Tech)

Speaking of pressure in the Superbowl. The Chiefs have to protect Mahomes, they cut their starting tackles from last year in Fisher and Schwartz. Despite signing Joe Thuney, they still need help, especially at the tackle spot. They take Darrisaw as he’s the best left. He is agile which will help when Mahomes starts running around behind him.

32.Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Carlos Basham Jr, Edge (Wake Forest)

An all-effort rusher in Basham rounds out the first round. The Bucs look to further improve in the area which won them the Superbowl last year, pressure. Basham will be able to sit in rotation for a season or two before becoming a full-time starter. He is able to create a spark that can change the momentum of a team.

Belichick Goes Shopping

It is often understood that the New England Patriots do not spend big in free agency. When they do, it’s on a proven game changer that becomes an anchor of the team (see Stephon Gilmore). Instead, the Patriots prefer to hold tight, wait for all the other teams to outbid each other for the available talent, overpaying for unproven players and then signing proven veterans to small contracts who fill a specific role in the Patriots roster. These veterans not only help the team through their own play but can also mentor the young rookies drafted by the Patriots (usually on day 3). Then after all of this, the Patriots find hidden gems in the draft and rejuvenate the careers of previously seen as washed-up veterans. Then came 2021.

First, context shall be provided. Tom Brady, the franchise QB, 6x Superbowl winner and Greatest Player of All Time left for the sunny beaches of Tampa Bay. The Patriots were left with small cap room left to re-load this team. It’s very possible that Belichick could have signed Brady but the deal was not made and the team suddenly seemed underwhelming. A still-strong defence was opposed by a dismal offense. Bargain signing QB Cam Newton originally seemed positive through the first 3 weeks before contracting Covid and never looking like himself, including decline in arm strength and mental processing. The receivers were severely under NFL average (one reason why Brady may have wanted to leave) and no help was coming out of the tight end position. After a 7-9 season, their first losing season since 2002, the Patriots then found themselves with the third most cap space in the league and a declining cap which saw multiple teams already over cap, keeping potential competition low in bidding wars. Whilst everyone was laughing at Belichick after seeing Brady leave and win another Superbowl, this time in Tampa, Belichick was planning beyond the 2020 season. He simply didn’t have a chance to win in 2020. Now 2021 is here.

The largest holes on the roster were on offense, specifically QB, TE and WR. Re-enforcing the O-Line was also a need. On defence, interior D-lineman to stop the run and reinforcements to the linebacking core would be nice. Belichick signed TE Jonnu Smith to a 4-year $50 million contract. Smith is a run-after-catch (RAC) freak. Belichick described him last year (whilst Smith was still a Titan) as the best TE at RAC in the league. Belichick then decided to sign the consensus top free agent TE on the market in Hunter Henry to a 3-year £37.5 million contract. Now the Patriots have gone from the worst TE group in the NFL to maybe the best. Belichick has always had an affinity for the 12 personnel package. As seen when having Ben Watson and Daniel Graham before replacing them with Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski more recently. TE is now solved.

Next up is WR. Belichick hasn’t swung for the big-names (not yet anyway) in signing Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne. Agholor may seem an overpay at 2 years $26 million but it’s a short-term candidate for a WR that might just boom. If Agholor keeps his form from the Raiders, the Patriots have just signed one of the best deep-ball threats in the league, the role that was left unfilled last year. The risk is if Agholor returns to his Philadelphia form when he led the league in drops. Bourne’s 3-year $22.5 million contract is more conservative, he can serve as primary backup to Julian Edelman or even take the spot if Edelman is past his best (will be 35 next season). Whilst the Patriots don’t have a NO.1 receiver, they do have depth. That top receiver could be found in free agency (Kenny Golladay) or in the draft (Rashod Bateman seems reasonable for where the Pats are picking).

Belichick traded for RT Trent Brown and a 7th round pick for only a 5th rounder. When healthy, he may be the best RT in the league and is a former Patriot. Brown is also on a reasonable contract (1 year $11 million). This allows the Patriots to cover for the loss of Joe Thuney to the Chiefs. The O-Line next year will likely look like:

LT Isaiah Wynn

LG Michael Onwenu

C David Andrews (currently a free agent, believed to either re-sign with Patriots or head down to Miami)

RG Shaq Mason

RT Trent Brown

If Andrews does re-sign, this is easily a top 5 unit in the league. And this was for the price to move back 2 rounds on day 3 of the draft and the Patriots don’t have to pay $16 million a year for the services of Joe Thuney, which the Kansas City Chiefs now have to.

To turn to the defensive side of the ball, the Belichick signed Davon Godchaux for a small 2-year $16 million contract to stop do what the Patriots couldn’t do in 2020, stop the run at the line of scrimmage. This signing along with the Henry Anderson signing instantly improves the Pats D-Line which has been underwhelming in past seasons. Anderson isn’t going to light the league on fire but is a veteran who likely will grab a few sacks and fit into a rotation.

Then comes the largest splash in signing linebacker Matthew Judon. The ex-Raven didn’t have his greatest season last year but before that, he was a force. 9.5 sacks in 2019 and 4 forced fumbles. He will instantly replace Kyle Van Noy who also left before 2020. He will fill the void that the Patriots have long had success at from Ninkovich to Van Noy and now Judon. To those who point that Judon is not a game-wrecker on his own, he will be on a defence featuring workaholic Chase Winovich, the returning Donta Hightower and exciting 2nd year player Josh Uche. This will be a front 7 working by committee. Expect multiple Patriots to have between 5 and 10 sacks rather than 1 or 2 players at 10+ and the rest under 3. 4-years $56 million is not an overpay for Judon who re-enforces this already strong Patriot defence.

The last question is at QB. This is where all the signings make sense. The common criticism of the Patriots’ free agency is they are spending big on good but not great players. However, after signing a 1-year extension for QB Cam Newton, the Pats have a veteran QB next year. A veteran QB who can mentor and test a rookie. All singings were at a point of need for the Patriots, none (maybe outside of Jalen Mills) are at positions of want. This allows the Patriots to go all in on the draft. Their roster outside of a NO.1 WR and a QB past the coming season is looking quite full now. No contact exceeds 4 years, the length of a rookie contract (excluding the 1st round option to make it 5 years). This allows the Patriots to overpay for players outside the QB position for the next 4 to 5 years. This was utilized by both the Eagles and Rams in recent years surrounding Carson Wentz and Jarred Goff respectively. This along with the long history of Belichick finding undervalued players points to the Patriots having and executing a plan. I am now convinced the Patriots will move up in this year’s draft into the top 5 for a QB. They could offer their 3rd rounders this year and a 1st next year to move from 15 to 3 or 4 depending on who is more willing out of the Dolphins and Falcons to trade. That should leave them with a choice of Justin Fields, Mac Jones or Trey Lance (after Lawrence and Wilson go 1 and 2). The rookie QB will then be able to learn behind Newton for up to a year before taking the reins. If they can escape the trade with their 2nd rounder this year, there will still be multiple top quality WRs in a loaded draft class. It looks as if Belichick is playing for 2022 challenge at the Superbowl. The rest of the NFL better watch out.

2021 Draft Rankings BY-Position

These are my by-position for the 2021 NFL draft. Top 3 of each position (and top 5 for QBs because of the depth of the class and the positional value). Some players are polar-opposites and would only fit on different teams (interior O-Lineman Vera-Tucker and Davis spring to mind) so the rankings are purely personal preference of type rather than the player.

QBs:

  1. Trevor Lawrence (Clemson)
  2. Zach Wilson (BYU)
  3. Mac Jones (Alabama)
  4. Trey Lance (North Dakota State)
  5. Justin Fields (Ohio State)

Lawrence is a standout prospect with great accuracy and better decision making than most college prospects. Wilson has incredible arm strength and is gifted at off-script plays. Jones has the brain to overcome his lack of mobility, Brady and Rivers have played in the league the last few years, whilst the move has been to mobile QBs, thinking it’s a “must” is a step too far. Lance is unproven but high upside and Fields needs to stop holding onto the ball forever. One of the best QB classes in recent memory, Fields is still a top 10 prospect and he’s QB5!

RBs:

  1. Travis Etienne (Clemson)
  2. Javonte Williams (North Carolina)
  3. Najee Harris (Alabama)

Etienne is a day 1 starter with great agility. Williams has made highlight plays behind a sub-par O-Line, he will explode if his future team has a great O-Line. He’s definitely under the radar. Harris is the best true power back in the class.

WRs:

  1. Ja’Marr Chase (LSU)
  2. Jaylen Waddle (Alabama)
  3. Rashod Bateman (Minnesota)

Special Shoutout: Amari Rodgers (Clemson)

Chase is unbelievable, would have been the top WR for all recent draft classes. His catch radius/ability is otherworldly and is physical enough to dominate corners. Waddle is slick in route running and explosive. Bateman follows in those footsteps who is just slightly behind Waddle in route running but is larger and can use that to his advantage. Rodgers is a coach’s son and it shows. He may be the smartest receiver in the draft, he’ll be day 1 plug and play and surprise the team that picks him likely late day 2 of the draft. This class is stacked, Heisman winner Devonta Smith is incredibly athletic, just a little small. Kadarious Toney is the definition of electric, just worry about how many extreme cuts he can make before injury. There are many, many other as well. This draft class is WR heavy, day 2 and even early day 3 picks have a chance at being starters.

TEs:

  1. Kyle Pitts (Florida)
  2. Pat Freiermuth (Penn State)
  3. Tommy Tremble (Notre Dame)

Kyle Pitts is the best TE prospect in memory. He is projecting to dominate at the next level on any team. He could be the first TE to be drafted in the top 5 since Riley Odoms in 1972. Freiermuth is tough and will be a the typical modern TE. Mobile with a good catch radius, he will be a solid player. Tremble is an incredible run-blocker and will never get run away from contact, he will make a defence hurt even if he isn’t the quickest/biggest.

Offensive Tackles:

  1. Rashawn Slater (Northwestern)
  2. Penei Sewell (Oregon)
  3. Christian Darrisaw (Virginia Tech)

Slater can play any of the 5 O-line positions. He is solid, and that is the largest compliment for an O-Lineman. Sewell is great, strong, physical and reads the ends well. He has the odd issue with footwork, otherwise a top prospect. Darrisaw is mobile and has shown technical improvement over his years at Virginia Tech, he needs to add more strength to be dominant.

Interior O-Line:

  1. Alijah Vera-Tucker (USC)
  2. Wyatt Davis (Ohio State)
  3. Creed Humphrey (Oklahoma)

Vera-Tucker is perfect for zone blocking schemes, getting out in space and running up field to the second level. Davis is never letting go once he gets a hold. He will have pancake after pancake in the next level, just lacks mobility. Vera-Tucker and Davis are total opposites, it’s not really one is better than the other, more a team needs to pick their “type”. Humphrey’s hands and technique are brilliant and he displayed that at the Senior Bowl.

Interior D-Line:

  1. Christian Barmore (Alabama)
  2. Levi Onwuzurike (Washington)
  3. Tyler Shelvin (LSU)

Barmore is a 3-Technique who is adapt at exploding up field to create interior pressure. He is by far the leader in this class. Onwuzurike is leadin the class in the pure mobility department. He’s quick and explosive but can struggle slightly against the run. Shelvin, on the other hand, is a brick wall. He may not pressure the QB but put him on the interior and RBs aren’t gaining yards.

Edge Defenders:

  1. Jayson Oweh (Penn State)
  2. Kwity Paye (Michigan)
  3. Carlos Basham Jr (Wake Forest)

Oweh is a freak. He may not have recorded a sack last season but he still had a high-pressure rate. Every now and again, a prospect comes along where the upside is too enticing to not take the, this is that prospect this year. Oweh is the kind of prospect I would expect the Raiders to take a swing at. Paye is athletic and has been destructive when running twists. Basham Jr lit up the senior bowl. He has a never-say-die attitude and has the ability to ignite a defence.

Linebackers:

  1. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (Notre Dame)
  2. Micah Parsons (Penn State)
  3. Jamin Davis (Kentucky)

JOK is extremely versatile. He is a strong tackler who reads the game better than any other college linebacker. Parsons is a physical freak who transferred from edge. He might need a season to get to grips with the NFL, expect an Isaiah Simmons like rookie year from Parsons before a potential year 2 explosion. Davis is quick and can sift through traffic, he has great instincts, just needs the right coach to fully reach his potential.

CBs:

  1. Caleb Fairley (Virginia Tech)
  2. Patrick Surtain (Alabama)
  3. Jaycee Horn (South Carolina)

Fairley is fast, like really FAST. He can make up for mistakes with his speed which will pay off in his rookie year. Fairley has the potential to be a lockdown corner. Surtain is physical and looks to bully receivers. Some WRs will look to exploit his slight lack of speed but we have seen multiple corners thrive with subpar speed (Richard Sherman). Horn is the son of former WR Joe Horn. He has size and length and great hands. He just needs to tackle better.

Safeties:

  1. Tyree Gillespie (Missouri)
  2. Jamar Johnson (Indiana)
  3. Trevon Moehrig (TCU)

Gillespie is a hitter. He will shake any receiver that dares to wonder into the middle of the field. He can change the momentum of a game in one play. Johnson is ridiculously underrated. He is expected to go day 3 yet he is already playing like NFL safeties. He is tricking QBs pre-play and he doesn’t miss tackles. He is fast enough to play as well. He should be an early 2nd not a Day 3 pick. Moehrig will instantly improve the pass defense even if he struggles to tackle or be in run support, another player that projects to excel in certain situations.

Case Study: How To Ruin A Team In 4 Easy Steps. Featuring The Houston Texans

In order to ruin a team, one must first have a team with promise to ruin. Indeed, the Texans had just that. For the first time in their short history (shorter than Tom Brady’s NFL career), the Texans were looking promising and then it all went downhill – fast.

The Houston Texans were founded in 1999 and played their first competitive game on the 8th September 2002 against the Dallas Cowboys. After selecting David Carr 1st overall, the Texans also had their QB. But after years of neglecting the O-Line leaving Carr skittish and a subpar defence giving up points, the Texans never materialised into a true contender. However, over the last few years they improved. A defence consisting of franchise great JJ Watt and linebackers Zach Cunningham and Benardrick McKinney. An offense which included one of the best receivers in the league (if not THE best) in DeAndre Hopkins as well as promising superstar at the most important position – QB Deshaun Watson. They had traded many draft picks away for LT Laremy Tunsil but with Tunsil playing great football (except from the false starts), it could be argued it was worth it. The Texans had truly entered their first Superbowl window. In 2018 and 2019, they had won the AFC South back-to-back and were leading the favoured Kansas City Chiefs 24-0 in the AFC Divisional round and then it all went wrong …

Step One: Blow A Big Game That Stays With The Franchise For A Long Time

Other recent examples of this include Superbowl 51 for the Atlanta Falcons or any time the Saints make the playoffs recently (even if their losses weren’t all their fault). In this case the Texans were facing of against the Chiefs, eventual Superbowl Champions but that was not looking likely after the Texans had pulled out a 24-0 lead in just the 2nd quarter. It seemed as if this was the first playoff matchup between two future great QBs in the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes and the Texans’ Deshaun Watson and Watson had the upper hand. But 2 key coaching decision changed the course of the game. Firstly, electing to kick the field goal to take the lead to 24 points instead of going for it on a 4th and short with the chance to make the lead 28. Then, after sending out the punt team in their own territory, the Texans faked the punt and ran for the 1st down. Dan Sorensen tackled Justin Reid short and the lead quickly dwindles to 10 points (24-14). The rest of the match was a bloodbath. The Chiefs emerged victors on their way to their 1st Superbowl title in 50 years and the Texans went home for the offseason. A loss like this lingers in the locker room, whether through decreased confidence, or just a basic sports curse, teams rarely recover and are set for years of tragedy (just ask the Saints).

Step 2: Hire An “Interesting” Front Office

Everyone has probably heard of Jack Easterby by now. He shot to fame after the firing of Bill O’Brien as O’Brien was no longer a possible candidate to consistently blame as he was no longer with the team. Jack Easterby was previously a character coach with the New England Patriots who have been the dominant team since the turning of the century. But it seems even Bill Belichick, the Patriots renowned Head Coach does not see Easterby as fit for his current position. Belichick said “Jack’s not a personnel person, no”. This has been displayed with the Texans’ moves. Since Easterby has become the de facto General Manager the Texans personnel moves have been, well, interesting. And this co-insides with step 3.

Step 3: Have Your Coach And GM Trade, Trade and Trade Some More – And Get Worse.

This starts with an issue that every team has faced. You have a QB but no O-Line. Watson was getting sacked at a ridiculous pace (62 times in 2018) and so the Texans gave up a fortune for LT Laremy Tunsil. Tunsil has continued his stellar play over the last 2 season but Watson was still sacked 49 times. Consider as well that Watson is playing better himself, getting the ball out faster which will also leads to fewer sacks. The Texans gave up 2 1st round picks (2020 and 2021) and a 2021 2nd round pick in exchange for the services of Tunsil and WR Kenny Stills. Stills has also been useful, a deep threat who can play from the slot who stretches the field for other targets such as Will Fuller (deep threat) and Brandin Cooks (deep threat), so not much variety. They also traded for Tunsil in his contract year. Meaning if they didn’t resign him, they gave up 2 1st and a 2nd for less than a season of good LT play. Therefore, Tunsil could essentially ask for as much money as he wanted, he wanted $66 million over 3 years with $50 million guaranteed. Tunsil is now the highest paid O-Lineman in the history of the NFL. Yes, LT is an important decision but not at $22 million per year (well, not yet anyway with the ever-increasing cap, not including this year). Then we get to the real gem.

The Houston Texans traded DeAndre Hopkins for a 2nd round pick and RB David Johnson. Not the 2016 Johnson, but the post injury Johnson, who plays what might be the least valued NFL position. The reason for trading Hopkins was he wanted too much money and had differences with the coaching staff and front office. The money that was essentially gifted to Tunsil, could have been used to help keep Hopkins happy, a true game changer who put up elite numbers with 9 different QBs before Watson. Between them they racked up victories leading Houston to the matchup previously discussed against the Chiefs. Watson was happy, Hopkins was happy and the defence was relieved to not have to carry the team as in past years. But Easterby and O’Brien traded Hopkins to Arizona (where he has since continued to thrive). To replace Hopkins, the Texans bought in Brandin Cooks for a 2020 2nd round pick. Not only is that another pick traded away (the same value as they got for Hopkins) but Cooks is also on a mega-deal which pretty much destroys the narrative of getting rid of Hopkins to save money. Cooks also is not as good as Hopkins, that is no slight at Cooks but rather a testament to Hopkins’ talent which is truly extraordinary.

Entering 2020, expectations were mixed for the Texans and they not only missed them but to an embarrassing amount. They went 4-12 despite Watson putting up numbers and performances which could lead to MVP votes in other years. This is a team that lost 12 games despite elite QB play. They did this whilst trading away their future in picks and floundering in cap hell. Franchise hero JJ Watt even apologised to Watson for the team wasting a career year – not that it was in any way JJ’s fault and I hope he gets traded to a contender and wins a ring he has deserved for so long. This all brings us to the final step.

Step 4: Annoy Your Franchise QB At Every; EVERY SINGLE TURN.

First trading away his favourite weapon, spending away cap space to replace those weapons, then waste one of his career years by going 4-12 and then promise him the chance to hire the coach he wants before ignoring that promise. Watson is a sane person. He wants to stick with the team that drafted him. He stuck around after Hopkins was traded, after they traded their future, after cap hell but it seems it was the mistrust and even disrespect that may be the final straw. After O’Brien was fired, the Texans reportedly promised Watson that he could help find the next Head Coach. Watson wants Eric Bienemy, Kansas City Chiefs Offensive Coordinator. The Texans are in such a mess that Bienemy made it clear he had no interest in the job, despite the allure of coaching Watson. The New York Jets also landed Robert Salah, another Coach Watson was interested in. The Texans hired Nick Caserio for GM role, not consulting Watson, then hired David Culley as their new head coach. All opinions on Culley aside, the Texans did not live up to the promise they gave their franchise star QB and so Watson has officially asked for a trade from the Texans. At this point, with a mostly new regime (only Jack Easterby and owner Cal McNair remain from the previous regime), it would be expected that they do right be Watson trade him to a team he wants to play for (Jets or Dolphins are his apparent favourites) and look forward to rebuild this mess. Not so fast.

Instead, the Texans new GM Nick Caserio has reported the Texans are not interested in trading Watson and look forward to working with him for years to come. Just brilliant. To add to this, coverage suggests that this may be more than just smoke and that Caserio and Culley will try to persuade Watson to stay. If they do it, they deserve a medal and hopefully it would work out, but I don’t see that happening. Watson needs to be traded and they might be able to recoup picks that they had previously traded (most potential offers START with 3 1st round picks).

No team has collapsed from contender to a mess of this size so quickly. It’s a stain in the Texans’ short history and has caused many of their fanbase pledging allegiance to Watson or JJ Watt and their (potential) future teams instead of the Texans. It’s a mess, blown games, bad cap management, worse personnel management and disrespect to franchise stars. Hopefully this is turned around just as quickly and there are people within the organization capable of that but we’ll just have to wait and see.