Mr Belichick, meet Mr Newton

Just when I was about to finish the offseason grades for the last division (NFC West), the Patriots went and signed Cam Newton on a one-year deal. Much of the deal is wrapped up in incentives that can reach up to $7.5 million. Whilst Newton is by far and away the best QB that was left on the market, this was not a deal that I expected.

When Brady left for Tampa Bay (I refuse to give in to “Tompa Bay”), I was fully behind the idea that Jarrett Stidham would be the starter in 2020. There was never a point to signing Dalton as the difference in class would be outweighed by the price of signing, which would dent the ridiculously deep rotation that Belichick is creating for that defence. Drafting a QB was pretty much out of the question, Tua and Burrow would never fall to the Patriots range, and any other QB would be a project or just as good as Stidham, therefore making drafting a QB a suspect proposition. So that left Newton as the only possible signing (they did sign Brian Hoyer but he is essentially a QB coach to Stidham).

However, I never expected the signing to happen and not just because of the Patriot’s current cap situation. A few months ago, ex-Raven scout Daniel Jeremiah unearthed Bill Belichick’s scouting instructions to his scouts when he was coaching the Cleveland Browns. Here, Belichick lays out what he is looking for in a QB1. His instructions include “Accurate rather than a guy with a cannon” and “emphasis on our game will be on decision, timing, accuracy.” These are all things that describe the play of one Tom Brady. No need for mobility and moving methodically down the field without mistakes. This is also why I assumed that Stidham was a good bet to have the chance to be the next Patriots QB (he still does but not as large of a chance) as he showed in his preseason games that he can lead an offense based on these concepts. To add to this, he had surprising mobility which can lea    d to him making a few more plays with his feat than Brady, it wouldn’t take Stidham almost 20 years to get 1000yds rushing. It is also why I never expected Newton signed.

Newton was never an accurate QB, and his lack of competency with timing patterns held the Panthers offense back. He would often miss receivers or at the very least not consistently put the ball in a place where only the receiver can it, often using his powerful arm to bullet the football to the receiver before the defender can react. This attitude has led to 108INTs throughout his career. This is also reflected in his completion percentage which is at 59.57%, 56th in league history (per pro football reference). This is a major drop off from the standard Patriots fans are used to with Brady at 63.8% (16th all time). Whilst it can be argued that Newton has not sterling receivers with Kelvin Benjamin being the top receiver for may years in Carolina but at some point, the QB must take responsibility. Therefore, it seems that Newton is the exact opposite of what the Patriots are looking for.

However, Newton was the 2015 league MVP on route to Superbowl 50 after a 15-1 season. He was the number 1 overall pick in the 2011 draft and has been stuck in a division with the ever-dangerous Saints and Falcons. He has also thrown for 182 TDs. His rushing is ridiculously effective for a QB, rushing for 4806 yds in his career at 5.1 yds/carry. His rocket arm can make throws that Brady never could. Belichick mentioned in his scouting instructions that “leadership” is one of his important qualities of a QB1. Whilst Newton’s leadership seem to be questioned often, many teammates speak out for quite the opposite viewpoint. They have confidence in Newton, a QB who can make an incredible play on any snap. To add to this, consistency may not be vital for Newton in the Pats offense. This is a team built on defence (really, really built on defence). It’s also built around the run game with Michel, White Burkhead, Harris and Bolden, and now Newton. Maybe Belichick is trying to move with the times as QBs become more mobile, creating an extra danger to the opposing defences. Belichick also added Byrd (from the Cardinals) and Jeff Thomas (UDFA), both can stretch the filed unlike the past WR groups in New England which will allow Newton to unleash his arm. Also, there is no way Edelman is dropping anything thrown his way, no matter how much velocity is on the throw.

Maybe Belichick has pulled a great manoeuvre or maybe Newton will be cut before the season starts and Stidham does take the reins. But, no matter what happens, this is an interesting signing. If Newton is healthy after missing 14 games last year with a foot ailment, then he is a quality QB which is why CBS Sports data analyst Stephen Oh projects the Patriots wins increases from 7.8 to 9.3 with the addition of Newton. Newton could be the spark on offense which propels the Patriots back into the playoffs after their long drought of 0 seasons.

A Legend Of The Game Retires

If asked who the longest running coach (including assistants) of the Patriots was, many would probably answer Bill Belichick due to his long run as head coach since 2000 and serving as defensive coordinator and assistant head coach throughout the Bill Parcels era. But Belichick is the wrong answer. It’s not the secretive Ernie Adams either. Instead, it is a person who has been apart of the Patriots since before Robert Kraft was owner. That man is Dante Scarnecchia. Most recently acting as the teams’ offensive line coach.

He played college football at California Western University in 1966 as an O-Lineman and subsequently started his coaching career as an O-line coach at California Western University (CWU) in 1970. After moving through a few different positions and teams, he returned to CWU in 1980. This led to him following head coach Ron Meyer to the Patriots in 1992 as special teams and tight ends coach. He later joined the Colts, to be with Meyer, from 1989 to 1990 but quickly returned to the Patriots. In 1993 he was promoted to special assistant and was consistently reassigned to defensive assistant, special teams’ coach and then back to special assistant. Essentially, Scarnecchia became the coach that Parcells (and young defensive coordinator Bill Belichick) could rely on to control almost any part of the team. Over the 7-year period from 1993 to 1999 (Parcells and Pete Carroll eras), the Patriots only had 2 losing seasons and reached a Superbowl in 1997 where they lost 35-21 to the Green Bay Packers. This was a hugely successful era for the Patriots at the time, a team that had only made the playoffs 5 times since the NFL merger before 1993, made the playoffs 4 times in the 7-year period. Whilst Scarnecchia was certainly not the sole reason for the success, he was still a major part of it. Parcells left before 1997 season and Pete Carroll was replaced heading into 2000. But Scarnecchia stayed with the patriots.

In 2000, Robert kraft made a then controversial decision to hire the authoritarian former head coach of the Cleveland Brown (and familiar face to the Patriots) Bill Belichick. With that hiring, Scarnecchia was repositioned (again), but this team it was back to what he did best O-Line coach and it came with the added responsibility of being the assistant head coach. Here, Belichick could focus on building the dominant defence full of stars such as Ty Law, Teddy Bruschi and Willie McGinest whilst Scarnecchia could work on protecting then franchise QB Drew Bledsoe. When becoming the O-line coach, Scarnecchia inherited a good but not great O-Line. An ageing Bruce Armstrong at left tackle and young, inexperienced Damien Woody at centre. Entering 2001, the Patriots had boosted the O-Line by signing Mike Compton and drafting Matt Light 17th overall. With a second year, essentially rookie, QB under centre after Bledsoe’s injury (he was outside the pocket at the time so the O-Line can’t be blamed) Scarnecchia also had to deal with Damien Woody’s awful shotgun snap. Scarnecchia and offensive coordinator Charlie Weis sorted out a system where Compton would move to centre (and Woody to guard) whenever Brady was in the shotgun. This, along with the usual issues that come with an inexperienced QB led to 41 sacks. But in the playoffs, the O-Line strengthened and was seen at it’s best in the Superbowl. Brady has a sprained left ankle but was able to stay comfortable in an often-clean pocket; especially on the game winning 53-yard drive to set up Vinatieri’s 48 yard winning field goal. This growth and performance on the biggest stage was all whilst under the guide of Scarnecchia, and the Patriots won their first ever Superbowl.

Two years later, the Patriots drafted Dan Koppen in the 5th round, but he instantly became the starting centre which allowed Woody to move to left guard, a more natural position for him. The effects were seen almost immediately with Brady only being sacked 26, 26, 26, and 21 times in the 4 seasons of 04, 05, 06 and 07. This was also boosted by the addition of Logan Mankins in 2005. 2004 to 2010 also showcased one of Scarnecchia’s best coaching achievements. In 2001 they signed Steve Neal. Neal was a freestyle wrestler who did not play college football. But after 3 years learning from Scarnecchia and veteran guard Mike Compton and Neal was a starter at right guard for the Patriots between 2004 and 2010. Over this team, the Patriots went to 2 Superbowls including winning one and completing the perfect regular season on their way to the other. The Patriots consistently had a strong O-Line, with additions of first round pick Nate Solder, second round pick Sebastian Vollmer and the signing of previous undrafted free agent Dan Connolly (originally signed by the Jaguars). But in 2013, after 29 years with the Patriots, Scarnecchia retired with 3 Superbowl wins. The next year, his teaching was still in effect after holding private workouts with some of the Patriots’ O-lineman. The Pats went on to beat the Seattle Seahawks in Superbowl 49. But the next year, he was missed. In the AFC Championship game against the rival Denver Broncos, Brady was consistently pressured by Von Miller, Dereck Wolfe and DeMarcus Ware. This led to a 2-point winning margin for the Broncos (20-18) which stopped the Patriots from going to Superbowl 50. With that, Scarnecchia was talked out of retirement.

Scarnecchia returned for his third stint with the Patriots. The O-Line rebounded by only conceding 15 sacks and the Patriots went on to win Superbowl 51 against the Atlanta Falcons. Follow that, Brady won NFL MVP for the third time (2007, 2010 and 2017) behind a strong O-Line. Entering 2018 season, the Patriots O-Line was one of the best in the league despite a seemingly low pedigree. Left tackle was first year starter, 6ft 8in Trent Brown. The heaviest player currently in the NFL was acquired (along with the 143rd selection) with just the 95th overall pick from the 49ers. A former 7th round selection, he had been inconsistent but his year with the Patriots was strong and he started all 16 games at one of the most important positions on the roster. At left guard was 2016 third round selection Joe Thuney, the highest draft position of the 5 starters. He is now so valuable to the Patriots, he was franchise tagged for the 2020 season. Undrafted free agent David Andrews played at centre and was one of the best centres in the league. He has recovered from the blood clots in his lungs and will hopefully return to the Patriots starting line up in 2020 after missing the 2019 season. Right guard was Shaq Mason, 5th round pick who recently signed a 5 year $45 million contract. And finally right tackle Marcus Cannon, also a 5th round pick. No player was drafter before the 3rd round with the other 4 starters drafted on day 3 (David Andrews wasn’t drafted at all). Yet all 5 of them turned into stars, either still with the Patriots or got paid by other teams. The Patriots won Superbowl 53 that year. After the 2019 season, Scarnecchia retired (again) but it seems unlikely he will return. At 72 years old, Scarnecchia is apparently doing things in his yard and is keeping busy.

The Patriots are often seen to find talent where no other team does, Julian Edelman, Matthew Slater and Malcolm Butler being recent examples. But the Patriots also find talent in coaches, not just players. This can be seen with Scarnecchia. He coached in 10 of the Patriots 11 Superbowl appearances, winning 5 (and was closely associated with the 6th). He turned late round and undrafted talent into stars (Neal, Andrews and Mason) and utilized top tier talent to the fullest (Light, Mankins and Solder). His coaching has allowed the greatest player of all time (Tom Brady) to stay comfortable in the pocket and lead the Patriots offense for almost 20 years. When asked on Scarnecchia’s retirement, Bill Belichick responded, “It was a privilege to coach with Dante for so long,” and “I knew that long before his initial retirement and throughout a second act of continued excellence. Dante is among the very best assistant coaches ever.” That is high praise from the best coach of all-time. It was this year that one of the true legends of the game retired. May it be a long and happy one for Dante Scarnecchia.

NFC South Offseason Grades

Atlanta Falcons (C-)

The Falcons continue their fall from the top which started in the second half of Superbowl 51. They lost Austin Hooper to Cleveland, a good all-round tight end who was becoming a consistent safety blanket for Matt Ryan whenever Jones wasn’t open. Hooper had increased yearly in receptions, yards and TDs (75 rec, 787 yds and 6TDs in 2019). The Falcons replaced him with former first round pick Hayden Hurst. Hurst has talent but was severely upstaged by Mark Andrews in Baltimore. The Falcons traded a 2nd round pick for the 26 year old tight end who has only ever been a backup despite his first round pedigree. A large risk which felt like a reach to replace a player they wanted to keep around. They also lost Vic Beasley, De’Vondrae Campbell and Adrian Clayborn. All of which will leave a whole along the D-Line and outside linebacker.   The 3 of them accounted for half of the Falcons’ sacks last year (14 of 28). They did sign Dante Fowler Jr to ease the losses, but he can’t be counted on to stop the opposition’s rushing attack. Two good signings were the one year deals of Todd Gurley and Laquon Treadwell. Low risk high reward signings who can both add a spark to the Falcons offense if they can regain prior form or reach potential.

With their first-round pick, the Falcons selected AJ Terrell. A consensus second day player, he was a reach at a position of need. Inconsistent throughout college at Clemson, he is not a polished day one starter. He can get grabby and that will only be exploited at the next level. Due to the loss of Desmund Trufant in free agency, Terrell will need to be starting early to partner Isaiah Oliver. Davidson is a consistent D-Lineman who has good strengths. May be slightly to slow at the snap to worry top-tier O-Lineman but is a solid pick. Hennessy gets to sit behind Alex Mack for a year which will only help, Walker is a smart linebacker who should excel on special teams and his versatility could see him on the field for a few snaps a game, even if he’s not a full time starter. Hofrichter can battle for kicker or punter, after being declared as a kicker by the Falcons, it seems he will be battling with Koo but Ryan Allen’s job may also be in doubt if Koo wins the kicking job.

Carolina Panthers (B+)

Getting Teddy Bridgewater was a great signing. He looked near his pre-injury self when filling in for Drew Brees last year. He is also a guy that the rest of the team will play for. Everyone wants him to come back from the awful injury and a 3-year $63 million deal isn’t going to cause issue for the Panthers if he doesn’t succeed. Signing Anderson will only add weapons to a usually weak receiving core. But Moore, Anderson and Samuel (if he isn’t traded) will be a good, diverse top 3 for the Panthers. Weatherly will add experience to a very young D-Line. They are a little weak at guard but their wasn’t many options in free agency. The best decision may be letting James Bradberry walk. He is a good corner, but not worth they 3-year $43.5 million contract he got from the Giants. This does leave a weak cornerback depth chart (Eli Apple will most likely be CB2) but this team is not building for this season but instead the future.

The future D-Line for the Panthers will be ridiculous. I still think it was a mistake not selecting Simmons but it seems the Panthers weren’t confident on how to use him so selecting the monster of Brown to eat up the interior of the line was the next best option. To partner him with Gross-Matos is creating a monster for the future along with impressive second year player Brian Burns. All under 23 years old, they can all learn from Kawann Short for the next 2 years. Late in the second, the Panthers drafted Jeremy Chinn. He may struggle in man coverage, but he is a large safety with significant upside. However, it is likely he will be thrown right into the NFL level competition after playing college at Southern Illinois. Pride Jr is a corner who also has high upside. His speed has helped him recover from mistakes in college, it won’t be as helpful in the NFL though. Robinson is a great pick from a football persepective. Day 2 talent at day 3 price because of his academic fraud that left him expelled from West Virginia. He went to the XFL and now can be a useful safety for the Panthers. Roy and Thomas-Oliver are unknown quantities at their positions. Roy only had one good year and Thomas-Oliver changed from WR to CB. All the Panthers picks were on the defence after addressing offense in free agency. A good offseason for the Panthers which will pay off down the road.

New Orleans Saints (B)

Replacing Bridgewater with Winston was a great move, especially with Winston on such a cheap contract. If Brees has too miss games, Winston still gives the Saints a chance to win. Signing Jenkins to a 4-year $32 million contract is a risk at 32 years old but there is an out after 2 years. Sanders will only boost the receiving corps and forms a deadly duo with Michael Thomas. His instant impact was seen last season with the 49ers and Brees is a far superior QB to Garoppolo. Signing Andreas Peat to a 5-year $52 million contract was a great move. It locks up one of the best young guards in the game at a salary which will be kind to the team in 3 or 4 years. This led to the release of Larry Walford, but Ruiz will take his spot after being drafted. Vonn Bell left for the Bengals but the Saints have depth at both safety spots. The Saints are still a little weak at linebacker but Anzalone will only improve.

The Saints only had 4 picks in the draft this year after 3 draft day trades. They selected Ruiz in the first round. By far the best interior O-Lineman in the draft, he can start at centre and move McCoy to guard or he can replace Walford at guard. Protecting Brees is top priority entering what is likely his final season. Baun will help add spark to the LBs but his limited pass rush moves will be an issue. He doesn’t have the athletic frame to beat long tackles either. Trautmen can instantly becoming the second TE on the roster ahead of Josh Hill and behind veteran Jared Cook. Stevens is a dual threat QB to potentially replace Taysom Hill if he is traded for (by a very desperate team).

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (A+)

The Bucs signed Brady. That’s already an A+ because not only is he an improvement over Winston, but he will increase the play of others on his team. Reports are that he is already amazing the Buc’s players with his leadership (and centre Ryan Jensen with instructions on how to use a towel on game day). To add to this, Brady bought along Gronkowski to add to an already strong TE depth chart. That now creates a lethal receiving group with Gronkowski, Evans, Godwin and OJ Howard / Cameron Brate (assuming one of them is traded). They managed to resign Suh to keep stuffing opposing run games and smartly allowed Carl Nassib to leave due to the contract he got (3 year $25.25 million). Franchise tagging Shaq Barrett will allow for the Bucs to learn if last year was a fluke or a sign of the future. This all put with a young group of DBs (Davis, Murphy-Bunting, Dean and Winfield Jr) leads to a great offense and defence for the upcoming season.

The draft was also great for the Bucs. Getting Wirfs in the first round was great. The weak spot last year was the O-Line and whilst Brady does move well in the pocket, he can’t escape well … at all. Wirfs does overstep often so pass protection may be slightly underwhelming early in his career but his upside is huge and his athleticism will ignite the previously invisible run game which can take some pressure off of Brady. Winfield Jr has incredible instincts at safety and will push for the starting job almost immediately. Vaughn can power away inside and add juice to the run game which was lacklustre for the last few seasons in Tampa. Him and Jones will form a good 1-2 punch. Johnson will be loved by Brady. A receiver who does not drop the ball and makes no mistakes. He may not set the world alight, but his consistency will be important and propel him to the 3rd WR spot. Davis gets to learn from Suh and Vea and Calais will be a great returner on punts and kicks, great value for a seventh-round pick. This team has a great chance to be Superbowl bound.

NFC North Offseason Grades

Chicago Bears (C)

The Bears have had a disappointing last few years (well decades) and that seems to have continued into this year. Trading for Nick Foles is one that will probably not work out. Yes, he is reunited with Matt Nagy but Foles is inconsistent. He can lead a team to a few wins but the playoffs, I doubt. His greatest value would be a teacher for Trubisky but the declined 5th year option shows the Bears are willing to move on. Therefore, Foles is most likely the starting QB for the next two years. Sadly, the defence is in win now mode but Foles is a gap-fill QB. The defence was further added to as well this offseason with the addition of Robert Quinn (5 year $70 million). Giving a 5-year deal to a 30 year old, even if he is coming off an 11.5 sack year, is risky and seems an overcommitment. Whilst the Bears have a potential out after 2 years, it still leaves $9.3 million of dead cap. It likely Quinn is partnering Khalil Mack for the next 4 years and their contracts will likely hamper the team adding to the offense, it’s a shame to see wasted talent. They also added underachieve Artie Burns from the Steelers on a 1-year deal. Low floor but high ceiling, a one-year deal is perfect for the Bears to evaluate who Burns is – a change of scenery could spark some life. Signing Jimmy Graham on a two-year $16 million seems excessive now they drafted Cole Kmet, Graham is only declining in his play. Losing both Kwiatkoski and Floyd was necessary due to the Quinn signing, however, it does leave the depth in the front 7 very doubtful even if the starters are top tier of the league.

The Bears didn’t have their first-round pick due to the Khalil Mack trade and therefore, their first selection was local favourite Kole Kmet TE. He made 9 TEs on the roster but most of them were always going to be cut before the regular season. However, with the signing of Graham, TE wasn’t a major need. Grabbing O-Line or WR (potentially Mims) would have been better value. Johnson (CB from Utah) was a great pick late in the second who can immediately see playing time, most probably replacing Burns before mid-season. Gipson was very inconsistent in college and will take time to make an impact. Mooney could be a great pick, but he’ll need to have a QB that can actually get the ball to him, his smallish wingspan won’t leave any room for inaccuracy.

Detroit Lions (B)

The Lions lost both Glasgow and Wagner this offseason leaving large gaps on the O-Line. They signed Vaitai who can play both guard and tackle to replace one of them. A 5-year $45 million deal is a massive commitment for an effective backup when he was with the Eagles. It’s a massive risk. Less of a risk is the 3-year deal with Jamie Collins ($30 million). An outside linebacker with the ability to take over a game, Patricia knows how to use him from his days in New England. The Lions furthered their range of ex-patriot stars even more by signing Danny Shelton, most likely to replace Harrison as a large run stuffing DT. Desmond Trufant provides much needed experience to a very young corner back group, he can help Okudah get up to speed quickly. Trading for Duron Harmon (also ex-Patriot) provides the Lions with a dependable safety who knows how to close out big games.

The Lions got the best CB in the draft, and the best to come out of the draft in years. He is long, lengthy and doesn’t commit pass interference (as one unfortunate reporter was told at the combine). He is smooth in his movements and his size allows him to match up with any receive in the league. This was followed by selecting Swift in the second round. An electric RB who creates a ridiculous committee with Johnson (who’s ridiculously underrated). Power and speed will allow an easier season for Stafford. Julian Okwara joins his brother in Detroit. The lanky pass rusher who needs to fully recover from his broken leg and “grow into himself” provides high upside for the Lions, it will take time, however. Stenburg is a powerful guard who will hold his own in the league, may never become a star but a good pickup in the 4th. Quintez Cephus is a high upside receiver who deserves to succeed after being acquitted of sexual assault charges which almost derailed his career. He can compete for depth behind Golliday, Jones and Amendola.

Green Bay Packers (D-)

What are the Packers doing? They lost Blake Martinez, a very dependable inside linebacker to the Giants and so they go and replace him with the oft-injured Christian Kirksey. They also lost Bulaga to the Chargers (the first way they annoyed Rodgers) and replaced him with Wagner, who has the feeling of another Nate Solder, declining and overpaid by a desperate team. They then replaced depth receiver Allison with the inconsistent hands of Devin Funchess. They also lost Jimmy Graham (but for the price he went for, that may have been a good move). Now Mercedes Lewis is their top TE at the grand age of 36 (Rodgers is really having a great time right now). Then it only got worse in the draft.

Why pick Love, planning for the future is great but with Rodgers, it should be win now. Love may have talent, but he was severely inconsistent at Utah State. He shouldn’t have been a 1st round pick (neither should Herbert) and it was just a 3rd way to annoy Rodgers. Then there was the 2nd round, a chance to get Rodgers help, a great O-Lineman or receiver and they git … AJ Dillon. A good running back, but a talent that could have been selected in early day 3. Plus, the Packers already have Aaron Jones. Positions the Packers didn’t really need to add to: NO.1 QB, NO.2 RB. With their first two picks they got a QB and a running back. Then they pick Deguara. A tight end but will play fullback for the Packers, he’ll be used like Kyle Juszczyk of the 49ers. But a player like that in the 3rd is still way to high, good value still on the board at that stage such as Donovan Peoples Jones and Gandy-Golden. Martin (LB 5th round pick) is a do-it-all linebacker who would have gone earlier if not for injury. A great pick to help a defence which lost lots of key players in free agency (finally, good news for the Packers). Then 3 interior O-lineman to help depth and could turn into future starters. If Love does become a great QB, then the Packers deserve credit, but they have given up help for Rodgers for a big IF in the future.

Minnesota Vikings (A-)

A great offseason for the Vikings. They may have lost Griffen and Joseph but that D-Line is still scary with Hunter, and new signing Michael Pierce. Pierce is a massive tackling machine who will help stop any run game. Whilst they lost, Rhodes, Waynes and Alexander; they all got replaced (and even improved) in the draft. This helps their cap space. Resigning Dan Bailey for 3 years gives the Vikings a reliable kicker, something they haven’t have since before Blair Walsh missed against the Seahawks in the playoffs. Ameer Abdullah creates injury insurance at the RB position as well. Their biggest loss was that of Stephon Diggs but he was also replaced (albeit not to the same level) in the draft.

The largest draft class of the modern era from the Vikings. This is the best year to have a large draft class in the fact that so many players dropped due to injury concerns or didn’t have the chance to “pop” at a pro day, leaving talent all over the board. Might as well have more darts to throw at a harder board but with bigger rewards. Somehow Justin Jefferson fell all the way to the Vikings (the Eagles are going to hate themselves soon) who immediately creates a receiving threat once provided by Diggs. A monster against single coverage, he can open up the field for Adam Theilen. They then used their second 1st round pick on my second ranked CB in the draft, Jeff Gladney. Slightly overlooked for his smaller frame 5ft 10in 191lbs, he plays large and is a fighter. He is sticky in coverage and can even overpower some receivers. Can instantly start for the Vikings. Dantzler, the second CB the Vikings took (3rd round) is a high upside player. Long and lengthy, a true athlete who only recently converted from WR. Once he learns the position, he’ll be a great corner. They selected Ezra Cleveland in the late second, he needs to improve his strength but with Riley Reiff still manning the left tackle position, he will have a year or two to improve. Wonnum is a 4th round pick with good upside as a pass rusher. Willekes is another pass rusher (7th round) who had insane production in college. His athletic ability may not be top tier but he finds ways to produce and if he does at the NFL level, it doesn’t matter how he does it, a great 7th round pick. KJ Osborn can help in the return game and can provide slot receiving outside of Adam Theilen, provides great depth for a 5th round pick. Their great pickups continued with undrafted free agents with Quarterny Davis out of Texas A&M. He’s a sharp route-runner who can easily create separation. A truly great class from the Vikings, overall a great offseason. Cousins has no excuses next year.

NFC East Offseason Grades

Dallas Cowboys (A-)

The Cowboys had a great free agency. They had to let Byron Jones and Robert Quinn leave due to the massive salaries they would have received (and did). Therefore, resigning Anthony Brown will massively help keep the cornerback play high, even if it won’t be dangerous like last year but they won’t lose too many interceptions (Jones only has 2 in his career). Allowing Quinn to leave was the right idea, even though it leaves a gaping hole opposite Lawrence. The Bears overpaid and overcommitted to him. Last season the Cowboys allowed 11 games over 100yds rushing last season and only created 27.5 sacks outside of Quinn with no inside rusher accumulating more than 4 sacks and therefore, they signed Gerald McCoy to a 3-year $18.5 million deal. That may seem excessive for a 32-year old with dwindling success but there is an out after 1 year. An essential one-year prove it deal which can only bring excess sacks. Clinton-dix feels a hole at box safety but the best value signings are Dalton and Zuerlein. Andy Dalton is probably the best backup QB in the league and will lead the Cowboys to wins if Prescott has to miss games. Greg “the leg” Zuerlein will be a consistent kicker for the Cowboys, something they haven’t had since the best days of Dan Bailey.

The Cowboys also had one of their best drafts for years. Lamb shouldn’t have fallen as far as he did and builds on the powerhouse offense. However, I’m not as high on the pick as others due to K’Lavon Chaisson and Jeff Gladney being on the board (probably trade back, accumulate capital before picking Gladney). However, Lamb was a great pick. Then they got Stephon Diggs’ brother Trevon Diggs CB in the second. There were many better corners in the draft, Diggs was not completely trusted at Alabama (mostly had a safety covering) but with his brother in the NFL, he knows what’s waiting for him in the NFL and can emerge as a starter. Gallimore gets to learn from McCoy. Robinson is a hit/miss pick but shows promise and was value in the 4th. Biadasz will enter the competition to replace Travis Fredrick. The best pick was Bradley Anae. How he fell to the 5th is a mystery. A powerful pocket collapsar who will eventually complement Lawrence rushing from the left side. Dak Prescott may be the only player holding them back.

New York Giants (B-)

The first risk that the Giants took is hiring from the Belichick coaching tree. Whilst Vrabel has worked out and Flores looks to be a beast of a coach, passed apples from the tree of Belichick have not worked out so well, as we’re currently seeing (Bill O’Brian). Therefore, it will be intriguing to see how Joe Judge works, my feeling is that he’ll be a good but not great coach – he still needs to learn for a few years. The Giants took a second risk signing Bradberry to a 3-year $43.5 million deal. Bradberry is a good CB but not deserving of the contract, he only received a 61.7 overall grade from PFF last year. Blake Martinez is an upgrade at linebacker and his contract (3 years $30.75 million) isn’t excessive. Nate Ebner will bring energy to the locker room and boost special teams, following his special teams’ coach to New York in Joe Judge.

Andrew Thomas was a starter at Georgia as a true freshman and has continued ever-since. A sure fire starter to play opposite Solder, he has a high floor even if his ceiling isn’t as great as Becton, Wills or Wirfs. Protecting Jones is top priority and Thomas was a good option to do so. McKinney wasn’t expected to slip out the first round. Although the 2nd is where I would have taken him. His instincts are strong but does lose coverage too often for comfort. However, he could get a year playing rotation behind Julian Love before starting. Matt Peart will sit behind Solder and learn for two years. Therefore, he was great value in the 3rd and can work on his main weakness – strength. In the late rounds, they targeted linebackers, to provide depth and look for help on special teams, something Judge clearly cares about, considering he is an ex-special teams coordinator.

Philadelphia Eagles (C+)

The Eagles free agency hinges on the success of Javon Hargrave and Darius “Big Play” Slay. Hargrave was a monster pickup which replaces the loss of Timmy Jernigan and complement the beast of Fletcher Cox. With Brandon Graham; and Barnett, Avery and Sweat working in rotation; this D-Line looks scary again. Slay was an absolute steal in their trade and the Eagles finally have a CB1 on their roster. Robey-Coleman and Will Parks both come in on a one-year “prove it” deal at their DB positions. Most of free agency was about their players that left getting overpaid. Vaitai and Jenkins are massive risks on their 5-year and 4-year deals for their respected teams. However, the Eagles didn’t sign any wide receivers, not even a veteran such as Ted Ginn. Their free agency will get better if they sign Jason Peters as well.

The draft was an interesting one. Taking Jalen Reagor over Justin Jefferson will be a decision they regret. Whilst they may want a home-run hitter, Jefferson is no slouch and Reagor has a very low floor (although, he does have a high ceiling). Just hope it’s not Agholor 2.0. Hurts isn’t the worst pick. Wentz is injury prone and Hurts is the type of electric player that can be flipped for picks down the road, the issue is that the Eagles had big holes and planning for the future shouldn’t be part of the “win now” mode the Eagles should still be in. Davion Taylor is not NFL ready and the Eagles have a below average linebacker group, but if Taylor can get up to speed the talent is there, another pick for the future rather than this year. Wallace is a safe pick, he can push both Mills and Parks for the starting strong safety spot. He’s not a world beater but starting potential in the 4th is always good value. Prince Tega-Wanogho is a tackle who dropped due to injury concerns, but his ceiling is ridiculously high (a bit like Jordan Mailata). A very inconsistent draft class for the Eagles.

Washington Redskins (B+)

The first good decision the Redskins made was hiring “Riverboat Ron” Riveria who is a perfect fit considering that monster D-Line the Redskins currently have. The players are going to play for him. Then they signed Fuller back from the Chiefs, a premiere slot corner in the league, Fuller can stop passing offenses that move via the slot receivers (Patriots, Bills and even the Giants). If Fabian Moreau and one year deal of Ronald Darby hold up on the edge, this defence will be incredible (that’s a big if). Schweitzer immediately replaces Eric Flowers at left guard. JD McKissick also replaces Chris Thompson as the pass-catching threat out the backfield which gives the Redskins an improve rotation after their draft. However, losing Trent Williams, especially in the messy way they did is a blow, and one that still has a gaping hole at left tackle, they’re not that important … right?

They got Chase Young … A+. Young, Allen, Payne, Sweat and Ioannidis, that’s a lot of sacks, even more so if they keep Kerrigan around (albeit unlikely, probable cap casualty). Antonio Gibson is a swiss army knife who can play at RB, WR or anything in between. The backfield now consists of Peterson, Guice, McKissic and Gibson. The run game will be powerful to alleviate pressure off second year QB Haskins. Charles will move inside to guard due to his frame (6ft 4in 321lbs) but can cover at tackle if needed. More likely, he’s insurance for Schweitzer and Scherff at guard. Gandy-Golden is a high upside jump ball WR at 6ft 4in. Any one on one matchup in the redzone, that ball is going straight to Gandy-Golden. He will also see playing time due to the weak talent that currently occupies the Redskin WR group, however, they are all young with only Cody Latimer drafted before 2018. Undrafted free agent Thaddeus Moss (TE) will be an absolute steal. He may not be unstoppable like his Father (Randy Moss) but he will quickly ascend the depth chart, an absolute steal.

Give Russell Wilson More Credit

PFF ranked the top 101 players of the 2010s. Coming in at 33 was Russell Wilson. This seems completely disrespectful for a QB that has carried his team to two Superbowls, and consistently been in the MVP conversation. Wilson has been overlooked and undervalued, seemingly forever. Whether that was getting kicked out of the starting job at NC State, sliding to 75th overall (3rd round) in the 2012 draft or now being ranked behind Matt Ryan on the top 101 players of the decade. Wilson has also NEVER received a vote for MVP. This has been added to by the recent revelation that the Seahawks discussed trading Wilson before the 2018 NFL draft, however, this may be overblown and a team should always look into options, but if they were actually trying to trade him, it would have been a BIG mistake. Wilson has won a Superbowl and made it to another, has a career passer rating of 101.4 (per Pro football Reference), that’s second in the history of the NFL, only behind Aaron Rodgers (needed 1500 pass attempts to qualify). To rate him behind Matt Ryan is ridiculous, even behind Peyton Manning as he retired 2016 and was a shell of his former self at the end. Brady, Brees, Rodgers and Wilson are 4 QBs that have been in a league of their own for the 2010 decade, even with other positions included and future Hall of Famers (such as Aaron Donald and Julio Jones), all 4 QBs should be in the top 10 and no other QBs should come close in the rankings for the last decade. So why is Wilson underrated?

In 2008, Wilson joined NC State as a two-sport athlete (football and baseball). In his freshman year, Wilson threw 17TDs to only 1INT passing for almost 2000yds. A positive freshman year at NC State ended in him being the first ACC freshman QB to be named first-team-all-conference. After another great year despite his team being decimated by injury, Wilson was primed for his Junior year in 2010. With his main weapons being WRs Owen Spencer and Jarvis Williams along with RB Mustafa Greene (only Spencer even made it to the NFL), Wilson somehow carried his team to it’s joint 2nd highest win total in school history at 9-4. This included Wilson rushing for 9TDs to add to the 28 he threw through the air.

However, commitment to playing baseball was seen as detrimental by then head coach Tom O’Brien and Wilson felt forced to transfer to Wisconsin. This is where Wilson set the world on fire. Leading a team that had NFL talent around him including James White, Kevin Zeitler and Travis Frederick, the Badgers went 11-3 and won the inaugural Big Ten Championship game over Michigan State (42-39). Wilson threw for 2TDs in the game with 0INTs, already showing his ability in big games. Russell Wilson started a run of QBs entering the draft after a monster season and gaining high ratings, Wilson’s rating in 2011 was 191.8, that’s still 6th all-time with all above being 2016 onwards. It was at this point, that Wilson entered the draft.

With a college career which showed great talent and winning ability, Wilson should have been a day 1 pick. His weaknesses were his size, at 5ft 11in 204 pounds, and that he was sacked the 3rd most per pass attempt in college football (in 2011) which might show poor pocket awareness. However, his accuracy, decision making, and mobility are top quality. Therefore, Wilson can make the throws and will throw to the right guy and his mobility can allow him to shift easily in the pocket and escape to avoid hits. He should not have fallen outside of round 1. However, this is hindsight and after Andrew Luck’s college career as well as the excitement factor of RG3, there is no shame in taking them over Wilson at the time. But Ryan Tannehill (8th overall), Brandon Weeden (22nd overall) and Brock Osweiler (57th overall) is disrespectful to Wilson (75th overall). As said in the film Draft Day, you’ve got to find a player’s something, “Then figure out if it matters or not”. Size doesn’t matter as much as accuracy or decision making and it has shown in the NFL.

Second year, Wilson led the Seahawks to a Superbowl win over Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos (43-8). Whilst the Superbowl win may have been on the back of the Legion of Boom defense, Wilson showed his worth with 10 unanswered points in the NFC Championship game against hated divisional rivals the San Francisco 49ers. Add to this, that no O-lineman started for the whole season, Only J R Sweezy started over 13 games (15). For a young QB, no O-line continuity can destroy a career but instead Wilson went to and won a Superbowl. The next year he returned to the Superbowl … and Malcolm Butler happened. But in those Superbowls, he battled Peyton Manning (2013/14) and Tom Brady (2014/15). He went up against the best and came away 1-1. This is before mentioning the NFC Championship comeback against the Packers in 2014/15 and that his receiver group has consisted of Doug Baldwin and others until last year. This is whilst standing behind a practically invisible O-line that forces Wilson to use every bit of his mobility every single snap. Yet, Wilson has never missed a game, making him one of, if not the most, durable QB in the league. He slides to avoids hits when he must and lives to play another down. When he throws the ball, it is delivered on time to the right place that leads to the 2nd best TD to interception rate (3.34:1 need 1500 pass attempts).  Every year, Wilson has made the playoffs with his Seahawks team. Once Lynch left, he had no run game. The Legion of Boom disintegrated, and the defense has been below par recently and the O-line has been offensively bad for the almost his entire career. After navigating all of that, he is ranked as the 33rd best player of the decade. Consistent MVP contender, twice NFC Champion and once Superbowl champion. Was underrated at NC State, overlooked in the draft, and seemingly still disrespected in the NFL. Whilst may personal allegiances lie elsewhere in the NFL, there is no QB (Mahomes and Watson are close) that I would want for the next 5-10 years.

AFC West Offseason Grades

Denver Broncos (A)

What a great offseason for the Broncos. Trading a low fourth for AJ Bouye is a steal, he replaces Chris Harris and keeps experience in the CB room. Melvin Gordon will upgrade the RB position which will help take some pressure off first-year starter Drew Lock, Lock has a lot of pressure to succeed due to the apparent strength of this roster. Both Gordon and Lock will be excited about the 4-year $44 million deal for Graham Glasgow. A great guard signed from the Lions, will use power to block D-lineman creating lanes for Gordon and Lindsay whilst also creating protection for Lock. The 3-year starter in Detroit deserved a valuable contract and the Broncos gave him one. Despite the loss of McGovern (centre) to the Jets, the Broncos O-line is looking solid. If Garrett Boiles can improve at left tackle, Lock can feel secure for his first full season as a starter. They also picked up Jurrell Casey for only a 7th round pick, an absolute steal that greatly improves their D-line. That’s Miller, Chubb and Casey. This is a strong team.

Free agency was good, but the draft was outstanding. The matchup of the year will be when they play the Chiefs. It’s a full track meet. First, they acquired Jerry Jeudy 15th overall. It’s amazing the best WR in the draft slid to 15th. Already possessing route running of a veteran receiver, he will transform this offense. Add to this, the 2nd round pick of speedster KJ Hamler might be enough to force a safety to lean to that side of the field. With a great O-line, the defence may need to commit extra rushers leaving a one-on-one matchup with wither Jeudy, Hamler or the physical beast of Courtland Sutton. That’s frightening. Add to that the TE due of Noah Fant of the fastest TE in this year’s draft of Albert Okwuegbunam. Drew Lock has no excuse and from the way he played end of last season (especially against Houston) he has the potential to succeed. Lloyd Cushenberry will replace McGovern at centre and was one of the best interior O-lineman in the draft. Add to this McTelvin Agim, the DT from Arkansas who can use his quickness from playing defensive end to be a nightmare in the interior of the D-line. The best thing is with Purcell, Agim still has a year or two to learn before becoming a starter. Broncos, Jest and Vikings had one hell of a draft.

Kansas City Chiefs (B)

The Chiefs couldn’t do much in free agency due to being tight to the cap (and with the looming Pat Mahomes contract). They lost Kendall Fuller to the Redskins which leaves a large gap at slot corner that could revert the Chiefs defence back to it’s bad 2018-19 form. However, he was never going to get paid due to the cap. Resigning Bashaud Breeland does ease the pain in the defensive backfield. Other than that, the Chiefs look to be returning with effectively the same team as they did last year … and that team won them the Superbowl.

The draft was decent as well. Edwards-Helaire (EH) is just perfect for the offense. Whilst Swift and Taylor may be better pure runners, EH’s pass catching ability and versatility will improve this offense, something that was previously thought to be impossible. It’s even better that Mahomes picked EH himself. I believe that there was better value on the board than Willie Gay but taking Lucas Niang in the 3rd will help create lanes for EH and Williams (Williams should have been Superbowl MVP, but it’s always given to a QB even if he throws a boneheaded interception). Daryl Williams is an undrafted free agency who could make the 53 as a backup option for the interior O-line for the coming season.

Las Vegas Raiders (C)

Last year the Raiders had a great draft, and most people considered it lacklustre. Therefore, I feel that this grade may not hold up by the end of next year. However, signing Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski to sure up the linebacker which was quite weak last season. Neither came at an astronomical cap hit either. However, a 3-year $25.25 million deal for Carl Nassib is a bit rich. Especially when he may only be a rotational piece if Clelin Ferrall and Arden Key improve. The 3-year deal does cover the length of their rookie contract so he may just be a luxury rotational option until one of them gets paid. Mariota wasn’t a great signing but Gruden loves to have multiple QBs so it wasn’t surprising. Witten on a one-year deal can coach up a young and inconsistent tight end group and be a safety net for Carr, one he hasn’t had in years. However, they did sign Nelson “drop everything” Agholor, but if Gruden can train him to consistently catch, it may be the best signing of the Raider’s free agency.

The only thing I have against the Ruggs pick is that Jeudy was on the board, otherwise it was a great pick. He can stretch the field like no other receiver in the class. Damon Arnette was taken for being a fighter and an “underdog” but those qualities should be found on day two, day one you take a top tier talent and Mayock valuing Arnette as much as Okudah seems ridiculous, but this is Mayock and his evaluations have been as good as anyone’s for countless years. Bowden was announced as a running back and will be a change of pace for Jacobs. Add to this Bryan Edwards to fill the “big slot” and the Raiders are building a versatile offense to chase after the powerhouse Chiefs. Tanner Muse may struggle in coverage but his work on the field (chasing down JK Dobbins in the college playoff semi finals to stop a touchdown) is the kind of attitude any coach should want on his defence. Add to this the 5ft 8in corner in Amik Robertson and Mayock has picked up undervalued, tough guys on day two and three, it’s just doing it on day one with great athletes still on the board (Jeff Gladney) that seems detrimental.

Los Angeles Chargers (C)

Inconsistency in the offseason for the Chargers so far. Picking up Chris Harris on a two-year deal is fantastic and helps fill a need at outside corner. At 31, a two-year deal is the perfect duration for a past (and present as far as we know) top corner. Bulaga on a 3-year deal to help a dismal offensive line feels like the Nate Solder signing for the Giants a few years ago, it feels as if it won’t work out. Losing Rivers at QB is a massive loss but he needed a change of scenery and the Chargers needed to move on. However, letting Adrian Phillips walk, for the amount they could have paid him, seems ridiculous for a very undervalued player. They needed more depth at WR and the Chargers didn’t get it in free agency and they should have perhaps done more to sure up the O-line, especially considering that by the end of the coming season, they will have a rookie relying on it’s protection.

The draft was very inconsistent. One of my least favourite picks in the first round was Justin Herbert. He is inaccurate, he throws late and relies on receives winning 50/50 balls. He desperately needs to sit behind Tyrod Taylor for a year (and probably more). If the Chargers are patient with Herbert, they will be rewarded because of his high ceiling but he is not ready right now. We’ve seen young QBs thrown behind bad O-lines who aren’t ready before (David Carr and Deshawn Kizer). Herbert hopefully won’t be one of them. Then they took maybe the best value pick of the first round. An explosive athlete who is reportedly ready to take on play calling duties for the Chargers. His off-field value may be just as much or more than his on-field performance. A great pick. Joshua Kelly will be asked to replace Melvin Gordon and Joe Reed will start at slot most likely. However, depth at receiver is still a massive issue, it is Allen and Williams and then Reed and other unknown quantities. Very inconsistent but at least they have great uniforms.

AFC South Offseason Grades

Houston Texans (F)

What is going on? The last 2 seasons have not been great for fans of the Texans as well as Deshaun Watson and JJ Watt. Watson and Watt are trying to drag this team to success whilst Bill O’Brien is trying to drag it back to where it’s been since it was founded in 1999 … mediocrity. Trading one of the best WRs in the game for a 2nd round pick, a running back who’s best days are behind him (David Johnson) and is the same as a RB already on the roster (Duke Johnson) and moving a fourth round pick forward a year is ridiculous. Hopkins carried the Texans offense since he was drafted. He finally had a good QB in Watson and O’Brien trades him for peanuts. The Texans used future draft picks on getting Laremy Tunsil, the defence is aging and only the Chiefs and Ravens look to be top tier teams in the AFC every year. The Texans must be in win now mode so pay Hopkins, you have 2-3 years to win until those draft picks that were traded hurt you because no young talent emerges. But O’Brien seems to be half in win now, and half win for the future, that indecisiveness just leaves a team between 7 and 9 wins, that’s where the Texans will be. At least they still have Watson … for now. They also lost DJ Reader from the middle of that defence so expect running games to be powerful against them. Randall Cobb was bought in, but there is already Fuller, Stills and Coutee. The Texans needed a NO.1 receiver, not another NO.2 or NO.3. They got Cooks for that role, but they have to pay him quite a bit of money. Sadly, Cooks has a concussion history and I can’t see him playing past 2-3 seasons. I hope I’m wrong and at least that’s within the “win now” time zone. However, what does he add that Hopkins doesn’t?

The draft was good but doesn’t in any way make up for the trades and free agency. Blacklock was a nice pickup and can replace Reader, but it will take a season or two to get up to speed. Greenard gets to learn from JJ Watt so his potential can be reached. Coulter is a good 5th round pick with a high ceiling but will need a few seasons before contending for a starting role.

Indianapolis Colts (A)

Chris Ballard is a genius. Himself, John Lynch and Bill Belichick are in their own league compared with other GMs in the NFL. Losing Eric Ebron isn’t a massive loss with Jack Doyle still on the roster and Trey Burton is a great NO.2. Xavier Rhodes on a one-year $3 million deal is brilliant. He can lead a relatively inexperienced defensive back group in Indy. This helps them on the backend, whilst Darius Leonard and their effective first round pick (later) terrorize QBs and stop the run. Then there is the big one. A one year $25 million for QB Phillip Rivers. Rivers needed a change of scenery after a disappointing year for the Chargers. It seem his career has been filled with the Chargers letting him down (first it was Eli Manning, of course, for making Rivers a Charger). Now the Colts can get the old Phillip Rivers, the gunslinger who throws to his own team and can play at hall of fame level. The Colts have now been moved into the 3rd position in the AFC and I fully expect them to pressure the Chiefs and Ravens.

The draft just continued this great free agency. Their 1st round pick was traded for Deforest Buckner. He is worth the 13th overall pick and will help stop the run game. I can’t wait to see Derrick henry run inside against the Colts. Then they took Michael Pittman Jr with the 34th selection. A possession receiver with great ball skills, won’t drop anything. His weaknesses are in his ability to separate; luckily, the Colts have a guy called TY Hilton and he’s pretty good at getting separation. Hilton can train Pittman and the young receivers already there, Parris Campbell and Zach Pascal. Jonathan Taylor will be electric. With Mack and Hines already in the backfield, it seems as if one of those runners’ time in Indy is coming to an end, but Taylor is an upgrade. Julius Blackmon will use his skills from playing corner to become a top safety. Taking Jacob Eason is a great pick. He can learn from Rivers and potentially take over. Otherwise he can be flipped for picks later down the road. Undrafted free agent kicker Rodrigo Blankenship will be kicking come the season opener. Chris Ballard is turning these Colts into a Superbowl team despite last years retirement of Andrew Luck.

Jacksonville Jaguars (B-)

Trevor Lawrence may well be destined for the Jags. Free agency does show that there is still some chance of a good regular season. Joe Schobert is a great tackler who will control the middle of the field, but $53 million over 5 years seems a big commitment for a plyer who thrives being a second guy, rather than the star of the defence. However, the contract has an out after 2 years with only $7.2 million dead cap. He can help get this young (getting younger) team to commit to a level they can play at (that 2017-2018 year). Tyler Eifert is a great low risk high reward pickup on a 2-year $9.5 million deal. There are holes at DB but the Jags relied on the draft to fix that hole. However, for a team in disarray who will probably lose their top pass rusher, after losing Calais Campbell, if they wanted to be competitive for the playoffs, they needed a better free agency.

In the draft the Jags took CJ Henderson 8th overall. A top corner, Henderson can have a chance of replacing Ramsey, however, tackling is clearly an issue but he will surely be willing to turn that around or he won’t cut it in the NFL, he gets the benefit of the doubt because his coverage skills are so extraordinary. K’Lavion Chaisson was one of my favourite players in the draft. A great leader (wore 18 at LSU). A great pick at 20 who can help replace the expected loss of Ngakoue. Laviska Shenault will provide some juice to a WR but he is injury prone. Josiah Scott out of Michigan State could be a steal in the 4th round but other than that the draft was underwhelming.

Tennessee Titans (B+)

Whilst the Titans did retain Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry, their draft was just replacing losses in free agency, this may put them back a year or two. They lost Jack Conklin, one of the better right tackles in the league who helped create holes for Derrick Henry all season long. He was a great signing for the Cleveland Browns. Vic Beasley on a one-year deal can only help improve a pass rush. It was a shame that they let Jurrell Casey leave via trade, especially for so little (a seventh-round pick). They had issues with their cap so just to retain Henry and Tannehill was a success, however, will Tannehill continue in this newfound form?

The draft was used to correct losses. First, they selected Isaiah Wilson. A massive right tackle from Georgia to replace Conklin. A mauler at 350 lbs, Derrick Henry will love him. However, he is not quick in a division with JJ Watt and rookie K’Lavon Chaisson who will likely both be able to beat Wilson around the edge. Fulton was a great pick for a scheme full of zonal coverage, mainly cover 2. This allows him to sit and wait and use his explosiveness to get INT’s instead of using explosiveness to make up for recovering when getting separated in man in college. He’ll essentially be replacing Logan Ryan. Evans was my favourite pick by the Titans. The perfect complement to Henry, Evans can change the temp of the game and instantly fill the void of Dion Lewis. Cole McDonald has a chance to compete for the backup spot now Marcus Mariota is in Las Vegas with the Raiders. The Titans are still the same team from last year and as such they will probably have the same result, a playoff push that falls just short.

NFC Record Projection Post Schedule Announcement

A small detour from the offseason grades due to the release of the schedule. There are talks that week’s 3 and 4 can be moved to the end of the season in the event of disruption continued. The record in brackets are an assessment of what a team would do with an “average” schedule – how good a team is. The record without brackets are the prediction now the schedule has been released after going through the schedule and predicting every single game of the upcoming season.

EAST

Dallas Cowboys 10-6 (10-6)

A balanced schedule for the Cowboys, unlikely to win more than 2 games in a row and the same for losses. Late in the season (Week 16), facing the Eagles at home, potentially for the division is helpful and can force the division to a tiebreaker after they split the series with the Eagles. Having the away game against the Vikings will come after a bye. That could be enough to get an extra win on the board.

New York Giants 1-15 (5-11)

The Giants are unlucky. They get their win at home to the Redskins week 6. They get tougher teams at home, which leads to home losses (49ers week 3 and Bucs week 8) and easier teams away which leads to away losses (Bears week 1 and Bengals week 12). Not a great start for first year coach Joe Judge but he should (and will) be given time.

Philadelphia Eagles 10-6 (10-6)

The Eagles need to recover from last years injuries and take advantage of an early schedule as the last third is tough. From week 11 onwards, they face the Browns (A), Seahawks, Packers (A), Saints, Cardinals (A) and Cowboys (A). The only respite is the week 17 home game against Washington. That week 16 game against the Cowboys (in Dallas) is going to be decisive in the playoff chase/seeding.

Washington Redskins 4-12 (6-10)

With the best D-line in football, the Redskins will be aiming to suffocate teams. This may push them to a surprise win week 4 against the Ravens who could be coming off an emotional win against the Chiefs the week before. The Redskins can then take advantage of a lax midseason schedule in the Giants, Lions and Bengals (NO.1 vs NO.2 pick). After that, the schedule toughens up with the 49ers and Seahawks week’s 14 and 15.

NORTH

Chicago Bears 4-12 (5-11)

A big regression for the Bears. Their QB situation is dire, Trubisky is not the answer and Foles is seemingly only good in the playoffs. Their WRs have promise with Miller and Ridley but a WR is only as good as his QB (unless you’re De’Andre Hopkins). Their defence will be great again but will not put up enough points against divisional opponents (Packers, Lions and Vikings) and NFC South opponents (Bucs, Saints, Falcons and Panthers). Nagy will be out or on the hotseat unless one of the QBs takes a giant step forward. At least they have 10TEs.

Detroit Lions 2-14 (4-12)

A good draft for Detroit, but it will take more players to build a great team. The run game is going to be awesome but playing the Packers, Cardinals and Saints (Weeks 2-4) will need to put up more points. However, the Packers could get run over by the power line of the Lions with Swift and Johnson (underrated) running behind it. Ending on two home games may seem a blessing, but the opposition are the Bucs and then the Vikings, long year for Detroit but in terms of personnel, a move in the right direction.

Green Bay Packers 9-7 (8-8)

The QB reality show will be tested with a trip to Minnesota week 1. Both matchups with the Vikings could decide the division. After a bye in week 5, a run of Bucs (A), Texans (A), Vikings and 49ers (A) will dent the record but an ease in last portion or the season allows the Packers to return above 500.

Minnesota Vikings 10-6 (10-6)

If Cousins can win the big games, then the Vikings can become proper competition in the playoffs. A difficult start to the season includes Colts (A) week 2 and Seahawks (A) week 5. But after getting a few wins, they can improve their record after their bye with the Lions, Bears and Jaguars coming up quickly. However, week 16 they must travel to New Orleans were the Saints will want revenge for last year’s playoffs.

South

Atlanta Falcons 4-12 (6-10)

The Falcons are another team that will suffer from being the weakest in a strong division. They can’t rival the Saints or Bucs and the Panthers are stronger than some consider. A finish of Bucs, Chiefs (A) and Bucs (A) will not help their record. This may be the year that Dan Quinn is shown the door, sadly it will be more down to a strong division than a reflection of the Falcons themselves.

Carolina Panthers 6-10 (8-8)

The Panthers could see themselves at 4-2 after 6 games due to opponents of Raiders, Chargers (A), Falcons (A) and Bears in the first 6 weeks. However, the Saints (A), Chiefs (A), Bucs and Vikings (A) over the next 6 games will hurt the schedule. A late bye week can refuel them for the final 4 games of the season and perhaps a push for that new 7th seed.

New Orleans Saints 13-3 (12-4)

Opening week 1 against the Bucs will be must-watch TV. Due to them being the hosts, I believe Brees gets one over Brady to start the season and the Saints end up the last unbeaten team until week 9 (8th game) they travel to Tampa Bay and Brady gets his revenge. From there, the Saints face stiff competition 49ers week 10 and Chiefs week 15 and the Saints will need to win them and other big games to rival the Bucs in the division.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 14-2 (12-4)

The Bucs can take advantage of a lower finish in the standings last year and pull ahead of the Saints. They may lose week 1 but then can win until travelling to Minnesota week 14 following their bye. Due to the easier schedule, the Bucs can take the division and potentially the NO.1 seed in the NFC. This schedule seems to be a little present to Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski.

West

Arizona Cardinals 12-4 (9-7)

A great schedule for the Cardinals (due to last years 5-10-1 record) which shows the 49ers and Seahawks providing them with a loss (Weeks 1, 7 and 11). The Cardinals can gain a win from the 49ers when hosting them week 16. A weak out-of-division schedule includes the Tom Brady-less AFC East and top-heavy NFC East. After a terrific offseason, everything is falling in place for a great year for the Cardinals.

Los Angeles Rams 3-13 (7-9)

This record is mainly because of a possible 0-6 record in division. After putting all eggs into the 2018-19 season and coming up short by a game, they now are an average team in a brilliant division. Games against the Giants, Redskins, Bears, Dolphins and Jets are possible wins, but the Rams are now paying for their previous roster moves. Cam Aikers may provide a spark to outdo the predicted record.

San Francisco 49ers 13-3 (11-5)

The 49ers are still a good team, I do not trust Garoppolo but the talent around him (the talent of GM John Lynch mainly) will help return the 49ers to the playoffs. They may lose week 8 when travelling to the Seahawks and week 10 against the Saints. But after being rejuvenated from the bye week, they rush their way to wins till the Cardinals topple them week 16. The division then comes down to the week 17 game, just like last year, against the Seahawks.

Seattle Seahawks 13-3 (12-4)

Russell Wilson proves he is a top QB yet again this season. A nice opening 4 games to the season Falcons (A), Patriots, Cowboys, Dolphins (A) help the Seahawks have a fast start. Following that, a 3-game stretch of Vikings, Cardinals (A), 49ers may cause issues but a bye in the middle will help them navigate through. Week 17 could decide the division, hopefully the refs won’t screw them in the 4th quarter again.

AFC Record Projection Post Schedule Announcement

A small detour from the offseason grades due to the release of the schedule. There are talks that week’s 3 and 4 can be moved to the end of the season in the event of disruption continued. The record in brackets are an assessment of what a team would do with an “average” schedule – how good a team is. The record without brackets are the prediction now the schedule has been released after going through the schedule and predicting every single game of the upcoming season.

EAST

Buffalo Bills 8-8 (10-6)

The Bills, like the rest of the AFC East, have a tough schedule. The few weeks that will really strain the Bills are 9-10 and 13-16. Here they face the Seahawks and Cardinals before embarking on a 4-game test of 49ers, Steelers, Broncos and Patriots with only Pittsburgh played at home in Orchard Park.

Miami Dolphins 3-13 (5-11)

The AFC East is the only division where all 4 teams are under win totals before seeing the schedule. This might help Miami in the long run as they move further up the draft board (Ja’Marr Chase, a second-year gift for Tua?). Not even Fitzpatrick can save the Dolphins this year, but the future is very bright.

New England Patriots 8-8 (9-7)

Regression for the Patriots but not to the extent some expect. At the week 12 point, 3-8 is a possible outlook. After the everyone calls Brady the system and dams Belichick as an average coach, the schedule lightens. They do face a 3-game road trip at that point but it starts with both LA teams so the effect isn’t as bad as it could be. The Pats and Bills will rely on strength of schedule to get into the playoffs as they split the series with the home team winning both meetings.

New York Jets 5-11 (8-8)

The Jets had a great draft and free agency but it will take at least another year (especially under the current circumstances which will decrease training times through the summer) to really come together as a unit. This mixed with a tough schedule which includes being matched against both “West” divisions which are the best in the league. Plus ending against the Browns and then in Foxborough means they’ll have to rack up wins early.

North

Baltimore Ravens 13-3 (12-4)

Baltimore’s first big test is week 3, hosting the Chiefs on Monday night. That can be a big win for the Ravens but they will have to be careful when visiting the best D-Line in football the next week against Washington. I have the Ravens as the 2 seed in the AFC but they can get that one seed with consistency and Jackson continuing his MVP calibre play. At least the end of the season is kind with the Jaguars, Giants and finally the Bengals.

Cincinnati Bengals 3-13 (3-13)

Burrow opens at home against the weak Chargers, but he will face a tough defence featuring Joey Bosa, Derwin James and 1st round pick Kenneth Murray. His first win can come at home against the Jaguars in week 4. The issue for the bengals is they have a young QB in a division full of great defences. The NO.1 overall pick is getting thrown straight into the deep end.

Cleveland Browns 12-4 (10-6)

With a tough opening game in Baltimore, the Brown can gain confidence with the Bengals and Redskins the next weeks followed by a winnable game in Dallas. A nice midseason bye (week 9) and playing both New York teams in the last 3 weeks contribute to a season the fans of Cleveland have long deserved, and this team it’s a football team in the NFL, not a madden team like the last few years.

Pittsburgh Steelers 7-9 (7-9)

The Steelers have a slightly worse record than last year despite getting Big Ben back due to the Browns improving and being matched with a surprisingly strong AFC South (if you remove the Jaguars). The Steelers are one of the most unknown teams, Big Ben is an unknown quantity when returning, the defence is going to be great, but can it stop Jackson or the Browns, or can it stop the AFC South of Rivers, Watson and Derrick Henry? Steelers are a complete wild card.

AFC South

Houston Texans 9-7 (9-7)

The Texans aren’t as good this year and will not be as good for a while. However, they still have Deshawn Watson and JJ Watt (for at least a few games … hopefully). After a tough start, including the Chiefs in the season opener followed by the Ravens, Steelers and Vikings, they can steal a game from the Titans and improve through the latter part of the season due to a lighter schedule from the mid-point.

Indianapolis Colts 13-3 (11-5)

Over the first 7 games of the season (8 weeks), the Colts will only have tough tests against the Vikings and Browns. This allows Phillip Rivers to settle in, Rivers will improve massively in Indy as a change of scenery is exactly what he needed. If the division comes down to the wire, a week 17 matchup against the Jags is favourable as the Texans and Titans can take each other out.

Jacksonville Jaguars 1-15 (2-14)

The ultimate rebuild will start (again) in Jacksonville. Their sole win could be week 6 hosting the Lions. Other winnable games include week 3 and 4 (Dolphins and Bengals respectively) and week 8 against the Chargers. Overwise, it’s a very long year down in Duvall.

Tennessee Titans 11-5 (9-7)

The Titans will have a slowish start to the season and might enter the final quarter of the season at 7-5. However, teams will start wearing out and Derrick Henry will only get stronger, especially facing 4 teams that are week or can’t stop the run well in the Jags, Lions, Packers and Texans. The Titans can make another late run and be that team in the playoffs that nobody wants to play – just like last season.

West

Denver Broncos 11-5 (10-6)

I’m well and truly supporting the Broncos to outdo expectations this year. That front seven with the draft they had to give Drew Lock weapons (and protection) will propel them into the playoffs. The Broncos are helped by being better than the Chargers and Raiders, giving them 4 in division wins. Plus, they can steal a win in Mile High off the Chiefs week 7. However, they are still second best behind the Chiefs.

Kansas City Chiefs 14-2 (13-3)

The best team in the AFC may be the best in the NFL. After losing to the Ravens (week 3) and Broncos (week 7) away from home, the Chiefs win all other games, including close games against the Bucs (week 12) and Saints (week 15). However, they could easily swing the other way which may cost the Chiefs the top seed in the AFC as the Ravens may have the tie breaker.

Las Vegas Raiders 5-11 (5-11)

The Raiders have an issue of being in a division with Broncos and Chiefs and having to face the NFC South, a top division. They can get a few wins against AFC East opponents, Jets (Week 13) and Dolphins (Week 16) as well as both Charger games. The Raiders won’t be easy opponents but will often come up short in the big games.

Los Angeles Chargers 3-11 (5-11)

A team that sits at the bottom of its division, they will be waiting for Herbert to grow into a franchise QB. Tyrod Taylor is a good QB but the schedule is harsh. After meeting (and probably winning) opening week against the Bengals, they face the Chiefs, Panthers, Bucs and Saints in weeks 2-5. This sets the tone for the season which ends against the Broncos and then the Chiefs. A tough year for the Chargers.