Nick's Pre-2021 NFL Draft Power Rankings

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Nick's Pre-2021 NFL Draft Power Rankings
Published at 2/13/2021 12:53:27 AM

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1 TBB

5-1-0

This needs no preface. Tampa (Brady) Bay's offseason is shaping up to be one of the calmest in recent memory. The defending champs will likely see the majority of their star-studded roster return for the 2021-2022 season. We all had questions about Brady's age and abilities before the 2020 season. Once again, Brady proved everybody wrong. Barring a Peyton Manning level regression, Tampa Bay will be the raid boss of the NFL for the new year.

2 KCC

3-3-0

A year of wonder and hype ended in crippling misery for the heir apparent to the GOAT, as Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs came up just short of a critical milestone in their pursuit of the Patriot dynasty. Ironically, the Chiefs are in a very similar situation to that of the champs. They too will see the majority of their core return. Andy Reid will look to the draft to bolster the offensive line, at which the lack of depth cost the team dearly in SB LV. One of the offseason's few questions for Kansas City relates to the health of their franchise QB. Mahomes will undergo surgery to repair a torn plantar plate in his foot - something that affected his mobility this postseason. Provided his recovery goes smoothly, the Chiefs will once again be in powerhouse form for the 2021 season.

3 GBP

5-1-0

I really hate to be that guy, but I have to mention Green Bay's constant tug-of-war with itself. Despite manhandling many of the teams they played this year (many of them also playoff caliber) and having Aaron Rodgers play the best season of his career en route to winning MVP, the Packers came up short. The Packers are a team that annually performs well and finds ways to mess up in the postseason. Their game against the Buccaneers was simply a culmination of this phenomenon, as the team generated plenty of turnovers and failed to convert them into digits on the scoreboard. This offseason, the Packers have a lot of questions to answer, particularly in their receiving squad and at halfback. Aaron Jones, who is arguably one of the biggest reasons Rodgers really opened up the passing game this year, is an unrestricted free agent. The team is also $30M over the salary cap for the upcoming season, so while most of the team will remain, the Packers are going to have to let at least one big name in Jones walk. How they respond in the draft will determine if the team can be an NFC juggernaut come the playoffs.

4 CLE

3-3-0

Surprised? The Browns turned heads this year under new head coach Kevin Stefanski. Led by the best twin-headed dragon backfield in Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, Cleveland's offense forced opponents to respect multiple zone run schemes, then punished them downfield with Baker Mayfield's play-action prowess. While the passing game in 2020 was certainly not the scariest part of the Browns, Mayfield got the job done most weeks, and the defense's uncanny ability to generate turnovers kept them in front. No other game epitomized this quite like the manhandling of Pittsburgh in the wild card round. A one-dimensional offense was engulfed by the Cleveland front seven, and Mayfield threw all over what was supposed to be an incredible Pittsburgh pass defense. The Browns have arguably the highest ceiling for the 2021 season, and are poised to be a dark horse Super Bowl team. Its success for the new year largely hinges on the continued development of Baker Mayfield in the passing game as well as the improvement of the secondary on the other side of the ball. Provided the team drafts some depth in the draft, makes use of its cap room in free agency, and continues its resurgence, look out, Kansas City.

5 BUF

4-2-0

I have to admit that I have a deep respect for Sean McDermott and what he has built in the colder reaches of the Empire State. The passing game is incredibly potent with Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs at the helm, and the defense, particularly the secondary, is oftentimes suffocating. We saw this firsthand against Lamar Jackson and the Ravens as well as the Phillip Rivers led Colts, both of whom Buffalo promptly sent to the Shadow Realm. As with the team above them, the Bills got a cold dose of reality when they showed up at Kansas City's doorstep: they just aren't quite there yet. Speaking of suffocating, the Bills are going to have to escape the choke-hold of a tiny salary cap this offseason. One of the biggest pieces of Buffalo's insurgent defense is outside linebacker Matt Milano, and the team will be unable to resign him to a long-term deal without some reshuffling to free up at least $10M in cap room. On the offensive side of the ball, Buffalo still has yet to find a quality halfback to give Allen breathing room. While Zach Moss and Devin Singletary have been adequate, they have not been enough to put the Bills over the top. Buffalo will look to the draft to fill out the gaps in its defense and backfield as they seek to return to the AFC Championship Game for the second year in a row.



6 LA

5-1-0

A surprise to be sure, but a welcome one. The Rams made the unprecedented move of deciding it was time to move on from Jared Goff. In return, they get an upgrade in long-time Lions veteran Matthew Stafford. Stafford is a bit more of a traditional pocket passer than Goff and also boasts a better arm, which will allow Sean McVay to integrate more downfield options in the passing game. This will potentially help the Rams escape the offensive rut they have found themselves in ever since Todd Gurley's injury and subsequent departure. As it has been since McVay's arrival, the Ram's defensive unit continues to be the most dominant in the NFL, led by Hall of Fame caliber and 2020 Defensive Player of the Year winner Aaron Donald. Jalen Ramsey anchors the secondary and has an uncanny ability to remove an opposing team's receiver from the game at times. We saw this in the game against Seattle, in which Donald made Russell Wilson see visions of the afterlife and Ramsey didn't allow DK Metcalf to catch a single pass. Unfortunately, the limits of an offense and an injury-prone QB reared its ugly head against Green Bay in the Divisional. The Rams have a few free agents, but nothing that will really shake the roster up in a gigantic way. Even if they did, the salary cap is such that the Rams can do nothing anyways. They also gave up a boatload of draft capital- to the tune of two first round picks and a third round pick- to acquire Stafford. The playoff and Super Bowl window for this team is incredibly narrow, and Stafford and the offense have to materialize quickly for this team to compete with other NFC juggernauts.

7 MIA

1-5-0

Something about constant failure off the Belichick tree? Brian Flores was a top coach of the year candidate, and likely would have won had the Browns not completely changed their fortunes. As the first entry on this list to miss the 2020 playoffs, the Dolphins found themselves in a spot no other major sports team with their winning percentage would have. The NFL is unforgiving in playoff seeding. After starting 1-3, the Dolphins swam to their first winning record since 2016. Though they just missed the postseason, they find themselves sitting on a treasure trove of draft capital, namely the third overall pick. Miami got away with robbery in the Laremy Tunsil trade, and now has the opportunity to add another Alabama superstar in Devonta Smith (or other standouts Jaylen Waddle and Ja'Marr Chase) to their roster. Giving the steadily improving Tua Tagovailoa an incredible receiver he had incredible chemistry with at Alabama would go a long way toward improving the Miami offense. On the defensive side of the ball led by Xavien Howard, Miami finished the season with the third highest turnover differential in the NFL and the sixth best scoring defense. One can glean a sense of this Dolphin's team's mettle by re-watching their battle against the AFC Champion Kansas City Chiefs in week 14. The Dolphins fell behind 30-10 heading into the fourth quarter, and battled back, coming up short 33-27. I note this game in particular because it shows the discipline and fight that Flores has instilled in this team, despite it not (at least for the moment) being absolutely stacked with talent. With a smoking gun of draft capital and a decent amount of cap room this offseason, few teams can match the intrigue of Tua and the Fins as they look to battle Buffalo in the AFC East.

8 BAL

5-1-0

The Ravens had a season one could argue serves as a solid microcosm for how 2020 went as a year. For a variety of reasons, Lamar Jackson's ability to throw far downfield evaporated overnight, in a scarily similar way to America's mental health. Harbaugh and the offense went right back to being one dimensional (see: being inside for 11 months), relying on the run game to put them in front and keep them that way. Through the first half of the year, the Raven's defense took on a Jekyll & Hyde persona, either letting teams put up multiple touchdowns or suffocating them. In the second half, the defense turned it around, allowing only the divisional foe Cleveland Browns and Titans to score more than 20 points on them (they still managed to beat Cleveland behind the inhuman foot of Justin Tucker). Come the postseason, Lamar Jackson felt that he had something to prove given his playoff struggles, and the team took out Tennessee in the Wild Card round, a team Jackson hadn't beaten previously. While attempting to mount a comeback against the Bills in the Divisional, Jackson went down with an injury, sadly and abruptly ending a season filled with hope for the squad. A positive for Baltimore this season was the emergence of both Ohio State halfback J.K. Dobbins and Mark Andrews as excellent outlets for Lamar Jackson on offense. Despite having loads of talent, the Ravens continue to come up short each year, and coach Harbaugh will have to depend on Jackson re- calibrating his throwing arm for the team to have any chance against the rest of the AFC's playoff hopefuls. A one-dimensional offense is not going to take this team to the next level. Thankfully, the team has a bit of draft capital and a bit of salary cap room, and should be able to fill some holes en route to another winning season.

9 SEA

2-4-0

Of the Seahawks 16 game schedule, 12 of those games were decided by a single score, with Pete Carroll's team going 8-4 in them. This was Seattle's greatest strength and weakness during the regular season and in the playoffs. While the team was certainly capable of pulling off wins and playing well when it needed to, its tendency to fall behind or play lax in the first half and third quarter were ultimately its downfall. Despite having a well rounded offense with versatility and an ability to put up 28+ points each week, the defense sometimes couldn't come up with stops. Seattle played a Rams team in the Wild Card whose QB situation could have been described as "laughable" at best, and was embarrassed at home, quickly ending a dark horse run. At the time of this writing, Russell Wilson recently expressed his frustration with his protection, which is understandable given how many plays he spent dancing like a ballerina in the pocket this season. Seattle is both frustrating and entertaining to watch, and has one of the most talented offensive units in the NFL. However, defensive play will determine the Rainy City's fate this season. Defensive anchor Bobby Wagner isn't getting any younger, as aren't all the other pieces of the defense. Seattle is also a bit strapped for cash, with only around $15M at its disposal and a lot of free agent decisions to be made. Star safety Jamal Adams is easily the most glaring decision, as Carroll will either have to pay him a hefty salary or ship him off. Seattle also lacks high draft capital, with no picks in the first round. Coach Carroll has a lot of important decisions to make this offseason, and the new talent Seattle brings in will determine if whether they make a deep postseason run in 2021, or disappoint as they did this year.

10 IND

2-4-0

I had high hopes for the Colts throughout the regular season, particularly with my draft crush Jonathon Taylor's arrival. After a short time battling injuries in a committee backfield that saw Marlon Mack's season ending injury, Taylor exploded in the second half of the season. One could argue he single handedly kept the offense afloat as Phillip Rivers remained his pocket passing, game managing self. Had the team not made a tiny mistake in not kicking a field goal against Buffalo, they'd be a few spots higher on this list. Now, even if Marlon Mack returns to form next season, I can't see Jonathon Taylor taking much of a backseat, especially given how excellent he is in the passing game. The offensive line captained by brick wall Quenton Nelson is incredible, and is easily part of the reason Taylor has been able to blossom. The defense is young and has lots of pieces that jumped out this season, and the team has an absolutely ridiculous $80M in cap room this season. That, and a small chest of draft picks, should bolster this team's chances of a consecutive playoff appearance and possibly more. As with many teams in this area of the list, the giant question for Indy is the quarterback position. The team is in position to draft a solid QB in, say, a Mac Jones, or better if they're lucky. I won't rule out them trading up either, as Frank Reich knows exactly where he wants to take this team heading into 2021. That remains the biggest need for this team, and if it's satisfied, this is easily a dark horse contender that will fly under ever ESPN hack's noses all year.



11 TEN

4-2-0

Tennessee is a perfect example of what can most adequately be described as a coin flip. Derrick Henry is an incredible player, and makes a case for being the best halfback in the NFL. Tannehill is a solid game-managing QB, and has plenty of weapons in the passing game in A.J. Brown, Corey Davis, and others. The titan's failures this year rested heavily on their defense, however. The defense generated only 19 sacks on 630 opposing passing attempts. Read that again. Tennessee also pressured the passer on only 17.6% of those dropbacks, trailing only the Detroit Lions for the worst rate in the league. While not too miserable against the run, Tennessee's defense struggled to stop just about any passing offense it came up against. It featured the worst scoring defense in the entire playoff bracket. Knowing these stats, its easy to see why the team fell to Baltimore in the Wild Card. Teams that can slow down the bulldozer that is Derrick Henry and force Tannehill to win with his arm are the teams that beat Tennessee. Though the offense isn't entirely one-dimensional, it relies on the running game to keep it in front. If a defense forces the Titans to switch tactics, Mike Vrabel's squad often succumbs. Therefore, the biggest questions this offseason for the Titans are on the defensive side of the ball. The team doesn't even have $1.5M in cap room to work with, so coach Vrabel will look to the draft to garner much needed help for the defense. That is the sole reason Tennessee is ranked 10th. If the defense finds ways to improve, the Titans can easily challenge other AFC top dogs. It's just that getting there will be very difficult and require a lot of dominoes to fall for the Volunteer State's squad.

12 SFO

2-3-0

Kyle Shanahan's squad was an enigma throughout 2020, as they saw one of the most tear-jerking declines of any championship loser in recent memory. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo only managed to start six games the entire season, suffering two different ankle sprains, one against the Jets in week 2, and one against the Patriots in week 7. In that same Jets game, defensive commando Nick Bosa tore his ACL, setting the tone for a disappointing season riddled with 49er casualties. Star tight end George Kittle missed eight games with a broken bone in his left foot, bringing the passing game to its knees. Injuries to receivers Brandon Aiyuk and Tavon Austin made matters worse. Halfbacks Raheem Mostert, Jeff Wilson, and Tevin Coleman also missed significant time.You get the point. Despite rolling out a quintessential 2nd and 3rd string squad every week, the 49ers still managed to finish 6-10, pulling upsets against the division rival Rams and a manhandling of Garoppolo's former team in week 7. I really can't fault the 49ers for their season, as their offense and defense remained decent despite the injury cart constantly being rolled out for the team. The Niners know they are a solid team with an excellent coach, and have a whopping 40 free agents this offseason. Resigning linebacker Fred Warner and star left tackle Trent Williams will be high priorities for a team with little wiggle room for cap space, especially given their roster needs. The number one reason this team isn't in the single digit rankings is due to the sheer amount of big injuries it suffered, and uncertainty surrounding the return of the dependable (albeit injury prone) Garoppolo. If Garoppolo can stay healthy, get some offensive reinforcement in the draft, and players like Nick Bosa can return to form, this team will be poised to make a deep playoff run once again.

13 NOS

3-2-0

I'm willing to bet a lot of Linkin Park has been shuffled through the playlists of Saints players over the past few weeks. Given how quickly it became apparent that this was Drew Breese's "last ride", I said the Saints would defeat the Chiefs in the Super Bowl back in week 7. Boy was I wrong. After playing a solid game against Chicago in the Wild Card Round (On Nickelodeon, for crying out loud!) the Saints curled up in a ball and died with a whimper when the Buccaneers showed up to the Superdome. After demolishing Tom Brady in the regular season, Brees withered to him in the postseason. Regardless, New Orleans displayed a dominant defense throughout the year, a far cry of years ago wen Brees was the only thing keeping the team afloat. The first question for the Saints is obviously what they're gonna turn to at quarterback. The good news is, Taysom Hill has shown he can lead the offense, albeit at the cost of a good passing game. The Saints could also look to the draft, possibly trading some defensive talent to move up and draft their new franchise quarterback. The Saints also win the "Cap Hell Champion" pennant this season, as they are currently a disgusting $70M over the cap. They will most certainly have to either release or trade a great deal of their core, which could even include Michael Thomas or Cameron Jordan, among others. This adds to the mystique of the Saints offseason. The defense will retain most of its pieces and remain a solid unit, but questions surrounding the offense will determine if this team can garner a playoff berth once more, or if it will return to irrelevance beneath the overlords in Tampa Bay.

14 WAS

2-4-0

A season of no expectations almost saw the team with no name beat Tom Brady with a quarterback who, mind you, was studying for a Partial Differential Equations exam to complete his college degree two weeks before he was told he was starting. As of this writing, the Football Team has signed Taylor Heinicke to a two year, $8.75M contract. This is a clear indication that Ron Rivera at least sees potential in him, but I will make the bold prediction that the team will name him the starter for 2021. Though the sample size is small as can be, Heinicke played incredibly well against a Super Bowl defense, and this doesn't even take into account that his only weapons were Terry McLaurin and aged tight end Logan Thomas. Oh, I almost forgot about Chase Young. Experts raved about him having an amazing season for a rookie all year, when he had an amazing season for a defensive player, period. He forced 4 fumbles during the regular season and finished top 25 in sacks. Montez Sweat and Thomas Davis rounded out an insurgent Washington unit that proved deadly against the pass, allowing just 21 passing TDs all year. In a confusingly mediocre NFC East, Washington is poised to be the favorite, especially given their substantial $54M in cap room, good draft capital, and returning stars.

15 CHI

3-3-0

Yet another season has passed in which the Bears passing offense was anemic at best. Let's just get this out of the way: the state of the Windy City's passing game is unchanged whether Foles or Trubisky is under center. Week to week, Allen Robinson was the only player keeping the air game afloat. The running game, on the other hand, was respectable, and even explosive the second half of the year. With Tarik Cohen sidelined with an ACL injury, David Montgomery led the Bears to multiple wins down the stretch en route to a sneaky playoff berth (albeit a short lived one). Matt Nagy's team has been consistently decent, and nothing more, his entire tenure. 2021 will see a great defensive unit return and some big names, particularly Allen Robinson, head to free agency. If the Bears manage to hold onto their pieces and draft well, they should be able to contend for a Wild Card spot in 2021. Otherwise, I expect this team to be the epitome of "meh" for the new year.

16 CAR

3-3-0

Did this one strike a chord too? Look at Carolina's scores all year. A team that stepped into 2020 knowing it was rebuilding managed to rip off a couple of wins. None of them are impressive, right? Take a look at how many close losses Carolina (who lacked arguably the best player in football in Christian McCaffrey for essentially the entire year) found itself in. Carolina almost beat the Saints, the Chiefs, the Packers, the Bears, the Vikings, and the Broncos. Given how close these games were, it isn't too outlandish to assume the Panthers would have stacked up more wins if they had fielded their best player. No, Teddy Bridgewater is not a franchise quarterback, but he had DJ Moore and breakout former Jets wide receiver Robby Anderson. Jeremy Chinn is a solid player on defense and Brian Burns has steadily improved, finishing top 15 in sacks this year. Yes, on paper, the Panthers were a below average team for much of the year, but Matt Rhule has instilled a fire in the squad that I can't say any other NFC south coach has. This is a team the hits the same nerve the Miami Dolphins in Brian Flores's first year as coach did. It's a team with a decent amount of talent on both sides of the ball that has a coaching advantage over a lot of the other middle of the road teams. In an NFC with only a handful of great teams, the Panther could very well sneak a wild card spot this season if the pieces fall into place. However, this will require a lot of salary cap working and good drafting, as Carolina has just under $20M in cap space. This is a team that I personally have some high hopes for, and will watch closely as their treasure trove of talent improves. The biggest question for the new season will be how far Teddy Bridgewater can take the offense. Though he has weapons around him, his ceiling thus far in his career has still remained low.

17 MIN

3-3-0

Chicago's NFC North neighbor finds itself in a strangely contrasting situation. A star-studded offense led by the likes of Adam Thielen, Dalvin Cook, and record-shattering rookie Justin Jefferson returns for the 2021 calendar year. Kirk Cousins certainly isn't the best quarterback around, but the Vikings offense doesn't need him to be. The problem for the Vikings in 2020, and for the upcoming year, was and will be the defensive side of the ball. Though at a slight cap deficit at $5.5M, the Vikings have a little bit of draft capital to work with, and will need to use it judiciously to improve the defense. The defense was fourth to last in pressure rating on opposing quarterbacks at just 19.6%, and only 23 sacks all year. Given how historically good Mike Zimmer's defenses have been, it's fair to assume the defense will slowly return to form. The pace it does so, however, will decide how far Minnesota's Wild Card and postseason hopes can go.

18 PIT

3-3-0

A relatively easy schedule in tandem with a top three defense, brought the Steelers to an 11-0 record through the majority of the season. The only problem? There were still five games left, and the Steelers lost four of them in agonizing fashion, dashing their hopes of a division title and first-round bye heading into the postseason. Reality struck again against the Browns. Having a one dimension offense is oftentimes a one-way ticket to disappointment, and the Steel City found out the hard way. A rushing attack that can most adequately be described as a paper airplane averaged a league worst 3.6 yards per attempt. Despite Big (a bit rickety) Ben often throwing 50 passes a game, the Steelers were wretched in passing yards per completion, at just 9.6. To put this in perspective, the only teams with lower passing efficiency were...nobody. Ironically, a the Steelers are the opposite of a team they skated by this season in the Tennessee Titans. The Steelers have an incredible defensive unit, boasting (almost) Defensive Player of the Year linebacker T.J. Watt, upstart shutdown safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, and a plethora of other mostly homegrown stars. To Mike Tomlin's credit, the Steelers defense is rarely bad in a category. This season, the Steelers topped the NFL in sacks, tackles for loss, QB hits...you get the point. This offseason, the Steelers have a lot of work to do given they are $19M over the cap and have a little bit of draft capital. Unfortunately, top wideout Juju Smith-Schuster, veteran left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, as well as other role players will hit the open market this offseason. The Steelers can't bring all of their pieces back on offense, and the elephant in the room is the possibility of Ben Roethlisberger's retirement, which would leave the passing game, already weak, in a state of ruin. This is the lowest ranked team that made the postseason in 2020, and for good reason. The offensive side of the ball has fallen into shambles for Pittsburgh. If Tomlin's squad wants any chance of a playoff berth in a competitive 2021 AFC field, he will need to revamp the offense in the offseason, and the defense will need to remain as dominant as ever.

19 NEP

2-4-0

New England had the most players decline to participate in the 2020 season of any team in the NFL. One of those players was the defense's commando in Dont-a Hightower, who, along with special teams captain Matthew Slater, look to return for the 2021 season. Quarterback Cam Newton essentially flipped New England's offense from the Brady days of old, as Josh McDaniels's offense went from the deep passing game to RPOs and quick passes down the middle to mix it up. It went as expected. A respectable top 5 rushing offense and an abysmal 30th ranked passing offense, led by an aged quarterback who didn't throw for even 100 yards some weeks, got the Patriots nowhere. Do the names Dalton Keene, Devin Asiasi, or Ryan Izzo ring a bell? Of course they don't. The Patriots ranked dead last in catches by tight ends all year, another far cry of the Rob Gronkowski days. The expertise of Belichick maintained a great defensive unit all year that was a bit weak to the run game, but not much else. In special teams a similar story emerges, with depth wide receiver Gunner Olszewski becoming a weapon in the return game and Nick Folk kicking multiple game winners. However, the positives end there. In the absence of veteran Julian Edelman, the already depleted Patriots pass offense rolled over and died. With no tight ends as well, Cam Newton's only outlets were his own legs and emergent halfback Damien Harris, who served as a bright spot all year. The biggest question for New England, like a lot of teams on the cusp, is who will be under center. The Patriots have a spot in the 1st round that gives them a solid chance to draft a great quarterback in Trey Lance or Mac Jones. The Pats also have a great opportunity to draft the new Gronk in Kyle Pitts and possibly trade up to draft a quarterback as well, given how much defensive talent they can afford to lose. The direction the Patriots take at quarterback will be the determining factor in their pursuit of the clearly superior AFC East teams. As cliche as it sounds, nobody can do it like Belichick can, so I will not entirely count them out of playoff contention just yet. This offseason will be quite telling indeed.









 








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