Rick Gosselin's NFL offseason rankings
1. Kansas City Chiefs. The Browns had Otto Graham in the 1950s, the Packers had Bart Starr in the 1960s, the Steelers Terry Bradshaw in the 1970s, the 49ers Joe Montana in the 1980s, the Cowboys Troy Aikman in the 1990s and the Patriots Tom Brady in the 2000s. Dynasties are constructed on the backs of franchise quarterbacks. Now the Chiefs have that guy in Patrick Mahomes. He became a league MVP and Super Bowl MVP before the age of 25. He’s also had a 5,000-yard, 50-TD passing season on his resume. KC is never out of it with Mahomes taking the snaps. He rallied the Chiefs from a 24-point second-quarter deficit to a playoff victory over the Houston Texans, then rallied KC from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit for a Super Bowl victory over the 49ers. The one area the Chiefs needed to improve was the running game and they did that with their first-round draft pick HB Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who rushed for 16 touchdowns and caught 55 passes at LSU last season.
2. Baltimore Ravens. NFL quarterbacks generally make the biggest jump between their first and second full seasons as a starter. They’ve seen all that NFL defenses have to offer and at that point figure out what works for them at this level and what doesn’t. The Ravens are understandably anxious to see the jump Lamar Jackson can make. In his first full season as a starter in 2019 he accounted for 43 touchdowns – an NFL-leading 36 passing and seven more rushing – on his way to NFL MVP honors. Jackson also set an NFL record with his 1,206 rushing yards by a quarterback. Already a Top 5 defense, Baltimore improved itself on that side of the ball by trading for Pro Bowl DE Calais Campbell and using a first-round draft pick on LB Patrick McQueen. And this was a 14-win team a year ago.
3. New Orleans Saints. Drew Brees is 41 and isn’t the same quarterback he was at 31. Not that it matters. Coach Sean Payton has surrounded him with players who can do the heavy lifting in the passing game. WR Michael Thomas and RB Alvin Kamara are veteran Pro Bowlers who caught 224 passes between them in 2019. The Saints added another veteran Pro Bowler this offseason in WR Emmanuel Sanders, who caught 66 passes a year ago splitting his time between Denver and San Francisco. Pro Bowl center Max Unger retired after the 2018 season and the Saints missed him, slipping from 12th in the NFL in rushing in 2018 to 16th in 2019. So New Orleans drafted Michigan center Cesar Ruiz in the first round last April. The Saints finished ninth in the NFL in offense last season. They’ll finish higher in 2020.
4. San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers were a 13-game winner a year ago and one of only two teams that ranked in the Top 5 in both offense and defense. But San Francisco could not hold onto a 10-point fourth-quarter lead against Kansas City in the Super Bowl and it cost them a sixth Lombardi Trophy. That leaves the 49ers with an uphill climb in 2020 – only one team in the salary-cap era lost an NFL championship game one year and returned to the Super Bowl the next. That was the Patriots in 2018 – and that team had Tom Brady. The 49ers have Tom Brady Light in Jimmy Garoppolo. Pro Bowl left OT Joe Staley retired and the 49ers replaced him with another Pro Bowl vet, Trent Williams. Pro Bowl DE DeForest Buckner was traded and the 49ers replaced him with first-round draft pick Javon Kinlaw.
5. Green Bay Packers. Franchise QB Aaron Rodgers wasn’t happy with Green Bay's first-round draft pick – QB Jordan Love, who becomes the heir apparent. His concern is understandable. The Packers reached the NFC title game last season and spending a first-round pick on a backup wasn’t going to help them take the next step. But Rodgers should be happy with second-round draft pick A.J. Dillon, who rushed for almost 1,700 yards and 16 touchdowns at Boston College last season. The Packers haven’t had a 1,000-yard rusher since 2014 – and the threat of a rushing attack should heighten Rodgers’ effectiveness as a passer. Green Bay fielded a below-average defense last season and that unit took a hit with the departure of inside linebacker Blake Martinez, the NFL’s third-leading tackler in 2019 with 155.
6. Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks have doubled down on their bid to reach the Super Bowl for the first time since the 2014 season. Seattle wins on offense because of the playmaking wizardry of QB Russell Wilson and a relentless ground game featuring the legs of Chris Carson and Wilson. This offseason they added Carlos Hyde. There were only 16 1,000-yard rushers in the NFL in 2019 and the Seahawks now have two of them. But the Legion of Boom is long gone with the departures of Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman. The Seahawks must run the ball to protect their defense.
7. Buffalo Bills. For the first time since 2002, a team from the AFC East ranks higher than the New England Patriots in these offseason rankings. And the Bills will benefit from the same edge that the Patriots held these last 18 years – a lack of competition from the AFC East. The Pats and Dolphins will go with young QBs and the Jets ranked last in the NFL in offense in 2019. Buffalo has a Top 10 rushing attack and Top 5 defense. The Bills have given QB Josh Allen a deep threat in Stefon Diggs and added to a 44-sack pass rush with free agent Mario Addison and second-round draft pick A.J. Epenesa.
8. Minnesota Vikings. If the Vikings can keep RB Dalvin Cook healthy, the Vikings will be in the mix in January. QB Kirk Cousins passed for 26 touchdowns with only six interceptions last season and Minnesota gave him a speedy new WR this season in first-round draft pick Justin Jefferson. The Vikings had 15 picks in the draft and restocked the Mike Zimmer's defense with the selections of cornerbacks Jeff Gladney, Cam Dantzler and Norman Hand, edge rushers D.J. Wonnum and Kenny Willekes, DT James Lynch, LBs Troy Dye and Brian Cole and safety Josh Metellus.
9. Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys added another weapon to the NFL’s best offense in WR CeeDee Lamb, the franchise’s first-round draft pick. But the other side of the ball has been the problem. The Cowboys have lacked sacks (39) and takeaways (17). They need to get into the mid-40s in sacks and the mid-20s in takeaways. But Dallas lost its top cornerback (Byron Jones) and best pass rusher (Robert Quinn) in free agency. The Cowboys signed DT’s Gerald McCoy and Dontari Poe in free agency for some bulk inside and are hoping that pass rusher Aldon Smith still has some spring in his legs after a four-year absence.
10. Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bucs have added a dynamic duo – Patriots’ defectors Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski, who were both recently named to the NFL’s 100th anniversary team. But for Tampa Bay to take the next step as a contender, can they protect Brady and cause enough havoc on defense? The Bucs used a first-round draft pick on a blocker for Brady, tackle Tristan Wirfs, and used a second-round pick on safety Antoine Winfield Jr., who intercepted seven passes in the Big Ten in 2019. Tampa must also improve the NFL’s worst special teams from a year ago.
11. Tennessee Titans. Like Baltimore and Seattle, the Titans are bucking the NFL’s pass-happy trend with a football existence on the ground. The Titans, Ravens and Seahawks all ranked in the Top 5 in rushing and that commitment to the ground took all three to the playoffs a year ago – and Tennessee all the way to the AFC championship game. Derrick Henry led the NFL in rushing with 1,540 yards and the Titans gave him another road-grader up front with first-round pick (and 350-pound guard) Isaiah Wilson.
12. Pittsburgh Steelers. If defense still wins championships, you have to like Pittsburgh’s chances in 2020. The Steelers have a Top 5 defense that led the NFL in both sacks (54) and takeaways (38) a year ago. Pittsburgh finished 8-8 despite playing without Pro Bowl QB Ben Roethlisberger the final 14 weeks of the season. Roethlisberger will return this fall and Pittsburgh has given him a new weapon in WR Chase Claypool, a second-round draft pick out of Notre Dame. He’s big (6-4, 238) and fast (4.42).
13. Philadelphia Eagles. Carson Wentz passed for 4,000 yards with 27 touchdowns and only seven interceptions despite a lack of playmakers on the flank. His top two receivers were tight ends and his No. 3 receiver was a running back. And the Eagles still won the NFC East. The offseason goal was to put some speed on the flank and Philly accomplished that this offseason, trading for Marquise Goodwin and drafting Jalen Reagor in the first round. Pro Bowl CB Darius Slay bolsters a Top 10 defense.
14. Indianapolis Colts. The Colts have gone all-in on a one-year run with veteran QB Philip Rivers, who went to Pro Bowls and an AFC title game with the Chargers. He’ll have at his disposal the speed of T.Y. Hilton and the power of second-round draft pick Michael Pittman, who brings 6-4, 220 pounds to the flank. The Colts also gave Rivers the best running back in college football in second-round draft pick Jonathan Taylor. The Colts acquired Pro Bowl DE DeForest Buckner from the NFC champion 49ers to upgrade the NFL’s 16th ranked defense.
15. Houston Texans. The Texans traded away their best player this offseason, sending WR DeAndre Hopkins to the Cardinals for RB David Johnson. That removes 104 catches from the offense but the Texans hope to get some of that back from trade acquisition Brandin Cooks. Houston also needs to do a better job of protecting QB DeShaun Watson (54 sacks in 2019) and getting off the field on defense. Playing without DE J.J. Watt for half the season, the Texans finished 28th in the NFL in defense.
16. Los Angeles Rams. The Rams are a shell of the juggernaut that went to the Super Bowl just two Februarys ago. Offensive catalysts RB Todd Gurley and WR Brandin Cooks are gone as are defensive stallwarts Ndamukong Suh, Cory Littleton and cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib. The Rams drafted RB Cam Akers in the second round to try to replace Gurley and also signed free-agent pass rusher Leonard Floyd to give Pro Bowl DT Aaron Donald some help up front.
17. Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons finished in the Top 5 in the NFL in offense and Top 3 in passing but it was only good for a 7-9 record. QB Matt Ryan and WR Julio Jones are the cornerstones of the offense and the Falcons added RB Todd Gurley and TE Hayden Hurst in free agency. But the problem was on defense. Atlanta finished 20th in the NFL, lacking sacks (28) and takeaways (20). The Falcons signed double-digit sacker Dante Fowler in free agency and used a first-round draft pick on CB A.J. Terrell.
18. Arizona Cardinals. The Cardinals believe they have a special quarterback in place in Kyler Murray, the first overall pick of the 2019 draft. He passed for 3,397 yards and 18 touchdowns as a rookie despite running for his life (47 sacks). This offseason Arizona went out and got the best receiver in the NFL – DeAndre Hopkins – to accelerate Murray’s development at quarterback. The Cardinals used their first-round draft pick on OLB Isaiah Simmons to help prop up the NFL’s worst defense.
19. New England Patriots. Tom Brady left the AFC East champions this offseason – and he wasn’t alone. Defensive starters Jamie Collins, Duron Harmon, Danny Shelton and Kyle Van Noy all moved on in free agency as did starting center Ted Karras and special-teams ace Nate Ebner. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski, the franchise’s all-time leading scorer, also became a salary-cap casualty. Playoff berths, division titles and Lombardi Trophies will become a bit more difficult at attain in New England going forward.
20. New York Giants. The Giants have a new head coach (Joe Judge), a new offensive play caller (Jason Garrett) and two of the best young offensive skill players at their positions in QB Daniel Jones and HB Saquon Barkley. New York spent a first-round draft pick on a blocker to protect Jones (OT Andrew Thomas) and signed MLB Blake Martinez and CB James Bradberry to bolster the 25th ranked defense.
21. Chicago Bears. The Mitch Trubisky era didn’t last long. After an 8-8 finish with the NFL’s 29th ranked offense last season, the Bears moved on from Trubisky this offseason to former Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles. Bears head coach Matt Nagy was on staff with the Eagles in 2012 when Foles was starting at quarterback. Chicago also added free agent pass rusher Robert Quinn on defense.
22. Las Vegas Raiders. Al Davis believed you build a championship team with speed. Size and speed. In tribute to their late owner, the Raiders used their first-round draft pick on the fastest player in the 2020 draft -- WR Henry Ruggs, who ran a 4.27 40 at the combine. He’ll provide the vertical stretch in this offense. Defensively, the Raiders are lacking in both sacks (32 in 2019) and takeaways (15).
23. Cleveland Browns. If the Baker Mayfield who took the snaps in 2018 returns, the Browns could surprise. If the Mayfield who showed up in 2019 returns, the Browns could disappointment. Two new offensive tackles – free agent Jack Conklin and first-round draft pick Jedrick Willis – should settle Mayfield’s happy feet from a year ago.
24. Denver Broncos. Since winning an NFL championship in 2015 with Peyton Manning at the helm, the Broncos have cycled through seven different starting quarterbacks. The seventh is the 2020 incumbent, Drew Lock, and GM John Elway has given him one of the best receiver’s in college football to catch his passes this fall, first-round draft pick Jerry Jeudy of Alabama.
25. Carolina Panthers. The Panthers have a new coach (Matt Ruhle) and a new quarterback (Teddy Bridgewater). The problem is the division. The other three starting quarterbacks in the NFC South have skins on the wall. Tom Brady (Bucs) and Matt Ryan (Falcons) have been NFL MVPs and Drew Brees (Saints) is the league’s all-time passing leader. All three have taken teams to the Super Bowl.
26. Detroit Lions. The Lions are trying to become Patriots West. The general manager, head coach and a half a dozen players left Patriots for employment with the Lions. Detroit seems to be collecting every former Patriot except the two that mattered most in New England’s success, coach Bill Belichick and QB Tom Brady. The Lions can win with QB Matthew Stafford. But not with the team currently around him.
27. Cincinnati Bengals. The best quarterback in college football will be taking the snaps for the Bengals this season – Joe Burrow, who won the Heisman and led LSU to a national title before becoming the first overall pick of the 2020 draft. But can Cincinnati protect him? Their quarterbacks were sacked 47 times a year ago and a similar beating in 2020 would slow Burrow’s learning curve dramatically.
28. New York Jets. High-priced free-agent RB Le’Veon Bell was a disappointment last season and this offseason New York’s most dangerous receiver (Robby Anderson) left in free agency. So the Jets are banking on second-round draft pick Denzel Mims becoming QB Sam Darnold’s new go-to guy. First-round draft pick Mekhi Becton should upgrade Darnold’s protection at tackle.
29. Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins spent a chunk of change on defense in free agency, signing cornerback Byron Jones and linebacker Kyle Van Noy to contracts totaling $133 million. But the key in Miami’s development into a contender will be how soon first-round draft pick Tua Tagovailoa gets onto the field as the starting quarterback. Miami can compete in the meantime with QB Ryan Fitzpatrick.
30. Jacksonville Jaguars. It’ll be Gardner Minshew at quarterback from the start this season but he can’t tackle – and that’s where the Jaguars need help. They allowed an average of 25 points per game last season, which is why they signed middle linebacker Joe Schobert away from the Browns in free agency and spent a first-round draft pick on cornerback C.J. Henderson.
31. Los Angeles Chargers. The city of Los Angeles has been resisting the Chargers and now the top name on their marquee is gone with QB Philip Rivers’ departure. The Chargers will go with first-round draft pick Justin Herbert at quarterback in what looms as a rebuilding season.
32. Washington Redskins. The Redskins have a Super Bowl-quality coach in Ron Rivera but not a team that can get him there. Not yet anyway. Washington snared college football’s best pass rusher in the draft in Chase Young but the Redskins remain offensively challenged.