With the 2021 NFL Draft in the books, your daily media consumption has likely been filled with draft grade articles. While it’s tough to judge the true worth of a team’s draft right after the selection process is over, you can cast some judgement on the state of a roster now that most squads are almost completely set heading into the season.
Here, I’ll give a grade (A through F style) for each NFL team’s skill position units (QB, RB, WR and TE) as it stands in early May. Now, I don’t know how you all graded growing up, but back in good old Virginia terms, a C was average.
So if your team has a C, it’s an average looking offense. If it’s C+ or better, an above-average offense. C- or worse, you’re on the other side of average.
I came into the offseason worried that this unit was basically just Kyler Murray, DeAndre Hopkins, and a whole lot of middling options behind them. The last few months haven’t done much to move me off that stance. The Cardinals will be counting on A.J. Green to recapture his 2018 form, at the very least, after inking him to a one-year deal. Either that or they’ll need Rondale Moore to be an instant hit from Day 1. I’d be much more confident in the latter. Christian Kirk is an average-level starter so it could be much worse. Tight end and running back are question marks. Neither Chase Edmonds nor James Conner should be considered locked-in starters. They’ll probably form a committee in 2021. It’s a good thing Murray and Hopkins are awesome, though.
Kyle Pitts joining Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley gives Atlanta a nearly unmatched top-three of a pass catching corps. I doubt the Falcons deal Jones at this point because it looks like this braintrust is all-in on giving Matt Ryan everything he can to squeeze one last run out of this era. It would have been nice if the Falcons had added an exciting back to compete with Mike Davis but the veteran did shine in portions of his CMC replacement run in Carolina.
The Ravens are looking much better on offense going into this year than they did last. Rookie Rashod Bateman is a ready-made NFL receiver. He should be able to start at any of the three receiver positions from Day 1. Marquise Brown gets a bad rap but is a fine as a No. 2 receiver who you give layup targets and vertical looks. Sammy Watkins and fourth-round pick Tylan Wallace give this team attractive depth they didn’t have in years past. J.K. Dobbins is ready to own the top spot on the running back depth chart while Gus Edwards provides a power change of pace. Mark Andrews and Lamar Jackson are entrenched high-end starters at their positions. Let’s hope Greg Roman gets out of the way.
With Stefon Diggs and Josh Allen, you have two of the best offensive building blocks in the NFL. The receiver corps is deep with Emmanuel Sanders, Cole Beasley and Gabriel Davis checking in after Diggs. Tight end and running back didn’t get much tweaking in the offseason, which was surprising. However, Zack Moss and Devin Singletary should be able to handle splitting the rushing duties in this very pass-first offense.
If Sam Darnold is good, this offense should be a ton of fun in 2021. Of course, we really have no idea, to put it nicely, whether Sam Darnold will be good. His supporting cast is without question the best he’s had in his career. D.J. Moore, Robby Anderson and rookie Terrace Marshall are a strong trio. All of those guys win in different ways and can play multiple receiver positions. Christian McCaffrey is one of the best running backs in the league and a huge boost in the pass-catching department. The tight end spot has options but no one close to proven. It’s all going to come down to Darnold being an above-average starter, something he hasn’t been at any point during his three years in the NFL.
We need to see Justin Fields as soon as possible. He’s going to bring productivity and excitement this offense hasn’t seen in years. Beyond Fields, the Bears have pieces to work with. Allen Robinson is going to be fully unlocked as an elite receiver now that’s he’s at long last paired with a good quarterback. David Montgomery is coming off a strong season. Darnell Mooney, Cole Kmet and Anthony Miller can still develop. They’re far from loaded but Fields’ promise brings some hope to this equation.
The Bengals are an above-average offense as long as Joe Burrow is back at 100 percent following a rookie year ACL tear. By grabbing Burrow’s former LSU running mate in Ja’Marr Chase, the team officially made wide receiver a strength. Chase will slide in as the alpha X-receiver leaving Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd to be excellent complementary players. Joe Mixon should enjoy his best season to date in this offense. Tight end is the only place where they don’t have a strong starter. This unit should be fun. Maybe we’ll actually find out who Zac Taylor wants to be as an offensive coach this season.
The Browns have a ton of talent on offense. Obviously everyone knows about their backfield duo where Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt might legitimately be the best combo in the game. The receiver room is deeper than ever with Jarvis Landry, Odell Beckham, Rashard Higgins and a handful of athletic younger players competing behind them. Austin Hooper isn’t exciting but is rock solid at tight end. Baker Mayfield is a Kirk Cousins-like starter in this offense and when surrounded by these players and well-protected, can be a good answer as your starter.
An A- might be selling Dallas short. I see no reason why this team can’t get back to the ultra productive heights they reached in 2020 before Dak Prescott got hurt. They sport perhaps the best wide receiver trio in the NFL, a good starting back in Ezekiel Elliott and a top-10 quarterback. CeeDee Lamb looks like a player ready to make a huge leap in Year 2.
You can basically take everything I wrote about the Carolina Panthers and just swap some names around and it applies to Denver. The Broncos have an enviable core of skill position players around Drew Lock and former Panthers passer Teddy Bridgewater. Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, K.J. Hamler, Tim Patrick and Noah Fant is a strong pass-catching corps that is still young and developing. The running back rotation should be dangerous with Melvin Gordon and rookie Javonte Williams in town. The quarterback situation just isn’t good enough. The safe bet is Lock starts the season, eventually sinks the ship and cedes the job to Bridgewater who will do enough to keep the unit afloat but always leave you wanting more.
The Lions’ absurd weakness at wide receiver keeps them anchored to the bottom of offensive rankings. The only major addition at receiver in the draft was Amon-Ra St. Brown out of USC in the fourth round. He could fill a Cooper Kupp role for Jared Goff in this offense. Detroit will obviously hope that DeAndre Swift and T.J. Hockenson will take the next step and become high-end starters at their respective positions.
Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers’ situation is in flux right now. But as long as he’s on this team, this is a great offense. Aaron Jones and Davante Adams are elite players. Robert Tonyan is a fine starter at tight end after a breakout 2020. For all the grief the receivers catch, having Allen Lazard, MVS and rookie Amari Rodgers is more than good enough behind a guy like Adams who will demand 150-plus targets.
The Texans should be much higher on this list but, obviously, have a massive question-mark at quarterback. It would be stunning if Deshaun Watson ever took another snap for this team, one way or another. The running back room is old, the tight end room barren and the wide receiver room looks exciting on paper if the year was 2016. Brandin Cooks might be their only above replacement-level starter.
The Carson Wentz experiment is about to fully begin. The Colts ecosystem should do wonders in elevating the former MVP contender. But that’s mostly on the backs of Frank Reich and the offensive line, neither of which I included in these grades. It would have been nice to get Wentz a few more playmakers this offseason. Michael Pittman will have to have a true breakout season for their pass-catchers to even be considered above average. The running back corps is a strength with Jonathan Taylor wrecking shop to end 2020, Nyheim Hines is an awesome outlet receiver, and Marlon Mack an enviable No. 3 rusher. Between Wentz being a wild card and the pass-catchers a question-mark for now, the Colts skill-position players are just near the middle of the pack.
The Jaguars are building something and frankly, it could start showing results as soon as this year. Marvin Jones, D.J. Chark and LaViska Shenault is a nice trio. At running back James Robinson and Travis Etienne are going to form a young, electric tandem. It’s going to be hard to decipher the workload spilt between them, especially with Carlos Hyde factoring in somehow. Tight end is a real problem. They don’t have a solution or even much promise there. As long as Trevor Lawrence is all he’s cracked up to be, this offense could put up some decent production in his rookie year … probably in garbage time scenarios.
Kansas City Chiefs
Having the best football player on the planet in Patrick Mahomes makes it impossible to drop this team any lower than an A in the grades. That said, they’re sneaky shallow on offense behind superstars Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill. Clyde Edwards-Helaire should be better in Year 2, especially if he’s healthy. So that could net them another quality starter. However, the wide receiver depth chart and the tight end room are not pretty after Hill and Kelce. Mahomes covers up a lot of sins and may have to do more work in that department than ever.
Las Vegas Raiders
The Raiders are a tough unit to grade. I’d consider Derek Carr and Josh Jacobs fine starters at their position. At tight end, Darren Waller is right below the elite tier. Beyond that, however, they’re thin. Henry Ruggs needs to take a massive leap forward for the receiver corps to be considered anything other than bad. John Brown was a great addition but the rest of the depth chart is filled with middling veterans and unproven young players.
Los Angeles Chargers
Justin Herbert is ready to leap into the superstar club among quarterbacks and this ranking reflects that. Austin Ekeler and Keenan Allen are studs and Mike Williams is a strong complementary downfield receiver when he plays. Herbert also got the most out of end of the rosters types at receiver and the Chargers added more talent in Josh Palmer during the draft. Jared Cook and Donald Parham will duke it out to replace Hunter Henry at tight end. I love this offense on paper.
Los Angeles Rams
The Rams have reliable starters at every single position. That’s a good start. Los Angeles will hope that DeSean Jackson and/or Tutu Atwell can bring a vertical presence to this offense that was sorely missed in 2020 and would be a shame to miss out on with Matthew Stafford in the fold. Both of those receivers are dice rolls for their own separate reasons. Cam Akers looks like he’s ready to be the next great workhorse back in the NFL.
This might seem harsh for a team that took major steps to get more explosive this offseason. However, if the Dolphins ran out the crew that Tua Tagovailoa was working with to end 2020, I’d have given them an F. They’ve gotten so much better. Miami might have one of the most vertically dangerous wide receiver corps in the NFL right now between Will Fuller, DeVante Parker and Jaylen Waddle. Mike Gesicki can still grow as a tight end. The running back room is still led by Myles Gaskin, a pretty surprising development considering the discourse around Miami’s backfield heading into the offseason. The whole deal will basically come down to whether Tua can be the guy or not. He has the tools to work with now.
The Vikings are top-heavy but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Justin Jefferson and Dalvin Cook are stars at their position and Adam Thielen is still a high-end starter at wide receiver. Kirk Cousins is Kirk Cousins but he’s surrounded with enough guys in Minnesota to get the best out of him. Irv Smith is a wild card for this team in 2021. If he can breakout that will make this offense that much more dynamic.
New England Patriots
New England clearly wants to be a run-first team but strangely, doesn’t boast a high-caliber running back corps. Damien Harris is solid and James White fills his role. The Patriots have one of the best tight end rotations in the league but despite the cash thrown at the wide receivers, that’s still a problem area. Quarterback is no sure thing either. The smart bet is that both Cam Newton and Mac Jones make starts this year. It would be a surprise if either offered above-average play. The ecosystem just isn’t there yet.
New Orleans Saints
A fall from grace for the Saints but that’s what happens when a future Hall of Fame quarterback leaves. You can count me out on being even a little bit excited about either the Jameis Winston redemption tour or the Taysom Hill experiment. The Saints have options but no answers at quarterback. Elsewhere, the offense has two truly elite, top of their position talents in Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara. But that is just about it. They’ll be counting on big steps from tight end Adam Trautman and a host of unproven young receivers with little draft pedigree. Let’s just be honest, we have no idea what this offense is going to look like this year. After years of living in the palace with Drew Brees, the Saints are officially in the wilderness.
New York Giants
The Giants are legitimately stacked at wide receiver with Kenny Golladay, Darius Slayton, Sterling Shepard and now Kadarius Toney in the mix. Not only are all of those guys good options, they also fill specific roles that are each unique to the specific player. As long as Saquon Barkley gets back healthy, he should be one of the top backs in football. Evan Engram wasn’t great in 2020 but hopefully, the signing of Kyle Rudolph allows him to focus on what he does best. For the unit to reach the ceiling that this grade would let you know it can reach, Daniel Jones will have to play stable football. And Jason Garrett has to cooperate.
New York Jets
I’m a big fan of what the Jets have done this offseason. The additions of Corey Davis and Elijah Moore make this receiver corps look really interesting. Davis and Moore along with Denzel Mims, Keelan Cole and perhaps still Jamison Crowder the Jets have a solid, potentially deep crew with very different skill sets. The tight end and running back positions don’t have as much clarity. Michael Carter was just a fourth-rounder but has a shot to take the starting gig from Day 1. We are still waiting for the long-promised Chris Herndon breakout. This all has to come together around rookie Zach Wilson. The Jets are going in the right direction. It just might not always be pretty in 2021.
The Eagles have hope. Jalen Hurts wasn’t all that efficient as a passer in Year 1 but provided some electrifying moments. If he can build on that, this offense could surprise. Miles Sanders and Dallas Goedert should still have some room to grow their games as well. Jalen Reagor and DeVonta Smith will form a young receiver duo. Smith should take over as the No. 1 quickly, leaving Reagor to be a vertical threat and speed YAC weapon. There’s a lot of youth and potential here. That could all come together or it could remain untapped. There’s a ton of variance in Philly this year.
The Steelers should be a good offense in 2021 but they’ll need a few breaks. The receiver corps needs to iron out a few kinks from last year but a one to three of Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool and JuJu Smith-Schuster should be a team strength. Johnson and Claypool still have room to grow in Years 3 and 2, respectively. Najee Harris should be a volume monster as a rookie running back. The real key is whether Ben Roethlisberger has much gas left in the tank. The signs to end 2020 just weren’t great. That elephant in the room is enough to keep this unit at an average grade.
San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers get a minor ding just because I’m being conservative with my rookie year expectations for Trey Lance. Otherwise, this unit is quality bursting with talent. George Kittle is on a Hall of Fame trajectory and lifts this entire unit up. At receiver, the Kyle Shanahan 49ers have never boasted a combination like Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel. If those guys are healthy, they could form one of the more diverse and talented duos in the league. Some more depth behind them would have been a nice addition. At running back, rookie Trey Sermon should overtake this room after a draft-day trade-up. That would leave Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson to be really strong depth players.
Russell Wilson, Chris Carson, Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf are enough to get this team to the “A range.” Seattle also added Gerald Everrett in free agency and D’Wayne Eskridge among other receivers in the draft. There are enough horses in Seattle to make this a dangerous passing game. The player investments made by the team this offseason indicated they’re thinking that way, too.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers managed to bring back everyone in free agency. Tom Brady doesn’t look like he’s close to slowing down. I’m buying what this coaching staff was selling late in 2020 about them just hitting their stride as an offense during the playoff run. The Bucs offense could go crazy in Year 2 of this experience.
The Titans are a hard team to grade. With A.J. Brown and Derrick Henry they have two of the best players at their positions in the entire NFL. They also have an efficient quarterback in Ryan Tannehill. However, after those triplets the cupboard is almost completely barren. Expect Brown and Henry to get hefty workloads while they search for answers elsewhere on the roster.
Washington Football Team
The Washington Football Team was near bottom-feeder territory of these grades last year. A lot has changed. A receiver corps of Terry McLaurin, Curtis Samuel, Adam Humphries and rookie Dyami Brown is light years ahead of what they fielded in 2020. Logan Thomas legitimately broke out last year and might still be growing into his paws as a full-time tight end. Antonio Gibson was awesome as rookie and should inherit more responsibilities in Year 2. Oh, and of course, they now have a legitimate starting option in Ryan Fitzpatrick behind center. The Washington offense could be prolific this year but should at least be solid.
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