The 2021 season is rapidly approaching, and the NBA has already begun to announce their top 100 players for that year. This list includes some of the league’s most notable superstars, but it also includes a few names that will probably surprise you.
The nfl top 100 players of 2021 full list is a prediction from ESPN that predicts the top 100 players for the 2021 season.
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We’re getting close to the start of the 2021 NFL season, which means it’s time for our annual list of the best 100 players in the league. What can we expect from the greatest players in the game, and how do they compare?
We asked an ESPN panel of more than 50 NFL experts to evaluate players based on how excellent they would be in the 2021 season relative to their contemporaries in order to compile our list. The focus was entirely on the next season’s expectations and forecasting potential greatness, rather than previous success, a resume, or positional worth. Long-term ailments, such as the one Michael Thomas is suffering with, are likely to have had a role. We were able to rate the best of the best from 1 to 100 based on their ratings.
The reigning Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers were first with eight players in the top 100, followed by the Kansas City Chiefs and Green Bay Packers with seven each. Those three franchises accounted for almost a quarter of the total number of franchises on this year’s list. At least one player from each of the thirty clubs was there, with the exception of the Jacksonville Jaguars and Philadelphia Eagles. In 2021, two-thirds of the top 100 players from the previous year returned, and wide receivers topped the list, with 18 wideouts making the cut. Quarterback (13) and cornerback (10), respectively, were well-represented.
Our NFL Nation writers weighed in on each player’s prognosis for 2021, gave a trademark metric to know, and asked a player, coach, or league official what makes him so dominating. Mike Clay, a fantasy expert, then predicted a stat line for this season. Here’s the whole list, beginning with the Chiefs’ great quarterback, who is in first place for the second year in a row.
To go to a noteworthy outside the top ten, go to: C. Young | T. Brady | D. Henry Q. Williams | K. Mack | D. Cook Baker, Baker, Baker, Baker, Baker, Baker, Baker, Baker, Baker, Baker, Baker, Baker, Baker, Baker, Baker, Baker
More: Experts choose snubs, and more
Chiefs quarterback Age: 25 Rank: 1 in 2020
Last season, Mahomes was put under too much pressure, especially in Super Bowl LV. The Chiefs seem to have addressed the issue by overhauling their offensive line, which may include five new starters. Soon after the Super Bowl, Mahomes underwent surgery to heal his turf toe, but he exhibited no adverse effects throughout training camp. Adam Teicher’s remark
The defeat in Super Bowl LV was just Mahomes’ second career game with a below-average QBR. During the regular season, he has a QBR of 50 or above in 98 percent of his games, which puts him well ahead of the next greatest quarterback who has made his debut since 2006. (Lamar Jackson at 76 percent ).
What they have to say: “Coach Pat, and you’ll notice that even before you get a chance to reprimand him in the film room, he’ll tell you, ‘Hey, on this play, I messed up,’ or ‘On this play, I should have done this.’ Those are the qualities you like in him.” Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy
Projection for 2021: 4,896 passing yards, 37 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions (328 yards/4 touchdowns running).
DT | Los Angeles Rams 30 years old in 2020, 2nd place
Over the summer, the three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year turned 30 and acknowledged at the start of training camp that his aches and pains linger a bit longer. But don’t expect the seven-time Pro Bowler, who has averaged more than 12 sacks a season in his seven-year career, to be slowed by that. Despite his many personal achievements, Donald is still driven to lead the Rams to a Super Bowl win. Lindsey Thiry (Lindsey Thiry)
Donald has led the NFL in pass-rush initial pressures with 380, 61 more than the next defender, despite encountering a double-team on 63 percent of his pass rushes since 2014 (ranked third in the NFL at that period) (Khalil Mack, who only was doubled-teamed on 23 percent of his pass rushes).
What people have to say: “To me, he seems to be very attractive. He has the same expression on his face. He seems to be in excellent shape… We know he’s putting forth a lot of effort. I believe he will resume where he left off, and what he has accomplished while I’ve had the opportunity to be around him has been nothing short of amazing. He is a one-of-a-kind individual.” Coach Sean McVay of the Rams
11 sacks, 52 tackles, and 2 forced fumbles are projected for 2021.
Packers’ QB 37 years old in 2020, 23rd place
Here’s all you need to know about Aaron Rodgers’ significance to the Green Bay Packers: If Rodgers had chosen not to play for Green Bay this season, the team’s odds of reaching the playoffs would have plummeted from 70% to 24%, and its chances of winning the Super Bowl from 6% to 0.2 percent, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI). Demovsky, Rob
Rodgers’ signature statistic is that he owns the two best single-season passer ratings in NFL history: 122.5 in 2011 and 121.5 in 2020. According to Elias Sports Bureau, he was just the third player in NFL history to lead the league in passing touchdowns (48) while throwing the fewest interceptions (five).
What they have to say: “I can’t believe [him] isn’t in Green Bay. That’s where my thoughts are right now. I admire not just the player, but also the guy. On a daily level, I like working with him. From the players in the locker room to the coaching staff, I believe we all do. I don’t want to let my thoughts go there again.” Coach Matt LaFleur of the Green Bay Packers
2021 projection: 4,296 passing yards, 35 touchdowns, and 9 interceptions (rushing: 179 yards, 2 touchdowns).
Seahawks quarterback 32 years old in 2020, 4th place
The Seahawks are enthused about Wilson’s potential in Shane Waldron’s system now that the controversy from earlier this summer is behind them. They think it will correct the issues that contributed to last season’s second-half collapse and put Wilson in a position to perform like he did during the first nine games of the season, when he led the NFL in touchdown passes. Brady Henderson’s quote
Wilson leads all quarterbacks in various statistics on passes that go at least 25 yards beyond the line of scrimmage since joining the NFL in 2012: completions (159), completion rate (41.8 percent), yards (6,421), and touchdowns (6,421). (53).
What they have to say: “Russell is a smorgasbord of world-class traits. He has extraordinary abilities, but he also has outstanding conduct. He wouldn’t be who he is if he didn’t behave the way he does.” Wilson’s mental fitness instructor, Trevor Moawad
4083 passing yards, 31 touchdowns, 11 interceptions projected for 2021 (425 yards/2 touchdowns running)
Chiefs Wide Receiver Age: 27 Rank: 11 in 2020
Hill’s status as the team’s top receiver has never been in question since he first entered the lineup. The Chiefs have no other wide receiver who has been a regular for a full season after losing Sammy Watkins. Hill’s value as the Chiefs’ lone proven wideout grows as a result. Adam Teicher’s remark
Hill has scored 19 touchdowns of more than 50 yards in his career, including 12 catches, five kick returns, and two runs.
What they have to say: “He has the speed and quickness, but it’s his technique and basics that allow him to open up. There are a lot of fast and quick players in this league, but you have to have the rest of it to play wide receiver, and he’s worked extremely hard to acquire it.” Coach Andy Reid of the Kansas City Chiefs
1 369 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns are projected for 2021.
Steelers’ OLB Age: 26 Rank: 31 in 2020
Watt is on his way to become the highest-paid player in the league at his position, and for good reason. He is not just a defensive pillar for the Steelers, but also for the club as a whole. Watt and Bud Dupree were a formidable pass-rushing duo a year ago, and now that Dupree is gone, Watt will be even more crucial. The Steelers want to make another run at the Super Bowl before Ben Roethlisberger’s contract expires, and Watt will be a major part of that attempt. Brooke Pryor is an actress who plays Brooke Pryor.
According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Watt set league records with 15 sacks, 80 disturbances, and an 18.4 percent disruption rate in 2020. As a result of this combination, he is regarded as the league’s most disruptive pass-rusher.
What they have to say: “To tell you the truth, T.J. is a visitor from another planet. He combines freakishly unusual skill with freakishly unique work habits and mentality to create what you see every week, which is Defensive Player of the Year caliber in my view.” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin
11 sacks, 62 tackles, and 3 forced fumbles are projected for 2021.
Rams’ CB Age: 26 Rank: 35 in 2020
Ramsey has shown that he can cover any of the NFL’s best receivers on the outside or slide into the slot and disrupt the offense from the inside. Ramsey’s entire skill set will be exploited by new Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris, who will make it tough for opponents to simply avoid throwing in his way. Ramsey wants to get in on the action and make more plays on the ball as he continues to grow as a slot corner so he can improve on his one interception from last season. Lindsey Thiry (Lindsey Thiry)
According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Ramsey allowed two touchdowns as the closest defender in 2020, tied for the sixth fewest among cornerbacks with at least 60 targets.
What they have to say: “Excellent competitor. I simply believe he brings it with his enthusiasm, his play intensity, and his constant competition. He has a knack of raising everyone around him to a higher level…. Jalen has exceeded my expectations. So far, the 99 Madden rating has been well deserved.” Coach Sean McVay of the Rams
55 tackles, 2 interceptions, 1 sack, and 1 forced fumble are projected for 2021.
Packers Wide Receiver Age: 28 Rank: 33 in 2020
While Adams has only had two 1,000-yard seasons in his career (2018 and 2020), he has also had two seasons with 997 yards (2016, 2019). He stepped up his game last year, setting a single-season club record with 115 receptions and leading the league with 18 touchdowns despite missing two complete games, and he shows no signs of slowing down. There’s reason to believe he’ll back it up since he’s in a contract year and wants to be the highest-paid WR in the league. Demovsky, Rob
Adams’ signature stat: How fast can he run a route? According to NFL Next Gen Stats, he had the second-most open catches (3-plus yards of separation when targeted). Only DeAndre Hopkins has more receptions than him with 59. (66).
What they have to say: “Davante, I can assure you, is superior to all of us. That isn’t meant as a dig at Jordy [Nelson], Randall [Cobb], or any of the other [former Packers receivers]. ‘I’m better than you,’ I’ll tell him square to his face. But I’ll tell it to you: of all of us, he’s the finest.” — Former Packers wide receiver James Jones
1,341 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns are projected for 2021.
QB | Buffalo Bills Age: 25 2020 position: NR
Josh Allen made the greatest leap in the top 100 last season, establishing himself as one of the finest quarterbacks in the game and finishing second in the MVP voting. Allen is primed for another outstanding year in 2021, equipped with a six-year contract deal, his best wide receiver (Stefon Diggs) from last season, and the same offensive coordinator (Brian Daboll) he has had in each of his three NFL seasons. — Louis-Jacques Marcel
Allen became the first player in NFL history to have at least 4,500 passing yards, 35 touchdown passes, and five running touchdowns in a single season last season.
What they have to say: “Josh threw a post ball to Cole Beasley today that I hadn’t seen before. It was insane, to the point of being jaw-dropping. I’ve been in the league for 12 years, so I’m looking forward to seeing what they’ve come up with out here.” Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders of the Buffalo Bills
2021 projection: 4,532 yards passing, 32 touchdowns, 12 interceptions (528 yards/7 touchdowns running)
Chiefs (TE) 31 years old in 2020, 17th place
Kelce will be 32 in October, but he showed no indications of a downturn in his career past season, posting his finest statistical season. Due to the lengthier, 17-game regular season, coach Andy Reid has said that he has no intentions to restrict Kelce’s snaps this season. Kelce said that he talked with Reid and requested more reps, not less. Adam Teicher’s remark
Kelce is the only tight end in the NFL to have five consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, and the run is still going strong.
What they have to say: “Everyone in this room has seen him develop in front of their eyes… You like the fact that he still comes to work every day trying to improve. Every day, he is a source of vitality.” Coach Andy Reid of the Kansas City Chiefs
1,322 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns are projected for 2021.
Browns | Defensive End Age: 25 Rank: 12 in 2020
Before testing positive for COVID-19 in Week 11 of last season, Garrett was leading the league in sacks and caused fumbles. Garrett claims to be healthy again, and that he now has more defensive assistance around him, including Jadeveon Clowney opposite him at defensive end. Garrett is a viable candidate for Defensive Player of the Year in the NFL. Jake Trotter’s remark
Garrett has a pass rush win percentage of 26.1 percent over the past three seasons, which ranks third in the NFL.
What they have to say: “I believe he’s shown the kind of player he can be: a Defensive Player of the Year candidate. He is eager to improve. You wouldn’t expect him to return larger, stronger, and quicker, yet he did. ‘Holy cow,’ I thought when I first saw him return. It’s incredible. He’s one of the greatest athletes on the planet, and every year and every day, he improves as a football player. I’m really looking forward to seeing what he accomplishes this year.” Browns defensive line coach Chris Kiffin
12 sacks, 52 tackles, 3 forced fumbles are projected for 2021.
Cowboys quarterback Age: 28 Rank: 20 in 2020
Prescott was on track to throw for over 6,000 yards before suffering an ankle injury that ended his season. Prescott has already received a $160 million contract deal and has been restricted in camp due to a latissimus strain, but the Cowboys feel he is their greatest chance of winning a championship. Todd Archer is a writer.
When the score differential is within seven points in the fourth quarter or overtime, Prescott has 20 touchdowns (17 passing, three running) since 2016. Only Russell Wilson (29), Derek Carr (24) and Matt Ryan (23) have missed more games than Prescott did last season.
What they have to say: “Dak is one of those people that looks the same every day. In terms of performance, I believe we’re stating the obvious. He’s a fantastic quarterback who has a lot more good days ahead of him. But, to me, his leadership and all of that is part of the deal. When players get large salaries, I think they’re being rewarded and acknowledged for what they do on Sundays, at least in my perspective. However, the amount of responsibility they have Monday through Saturday skyrockets. And no one does it better than Dak Prescott.” Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy
2021 projection: 4,824 passing yards, 31 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions (rushing: 258 yards, 6 touchdowns).
49ers (OT) Age: 33, 2020 position: NR
Williams said that he felt rusty in 2020. For the first season since 2015, he played 14 games. Williams should be clear of rust from his last hiatus, committed to a rich long-term deal, and settled in with the Niners, and ready to stake his claim to the title of the game’s best tackle once again. Nick Wagoner is a writer.
After missing the 2019 season, Williams returned in 2020 and was fourth in the NFL with a 93.6 percent pass block victory rate.
What they have to say: “Last year, he demonstrated it to us. That was the greatest Trent Williams performance we’d ever seen. Trent doesn’t have a ceiling. His game can always be bettered. And I believe he would agree with me on that.” 49ers offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel
CB | Miami Dolphins Age: 28 2020 position: NR
Howard was the most dangerous cornerback in the NFL in 2020, leading the league with 10 interceptions. He sought a reworked deal this summer and demanded a trade when he didn’t receive it. The Dolphins agreed to Howard’s salary request in part because their defense last season was built on forcing turnovers, which is tough to accomplish without a ball hawk like Howard. When he signed his deal in 2019, he was the highest-paid cornerback in the NFL, and when he and Miami renegotiate his contract at the conclusion of this season, he may return to that position. — Louis-Jacques Marcel
Howard has the most interceptions in the NFL over the last three seasons (18), and his 10 last season were the most in a single season since Antonio Cromartie had that many in 2007.
What they have to say: “X is a vital player on our defense, and not just a good player; he’s also a wonderful person to hang out with. We’re overjoyed that he’s returned.” Dolphins linebacker Jerome Baker
58 tackles, 3 interceptions, and 1 forced fumble are projected for 2021.
49ers | DE Age: 23 Rank: 15 in 2020
Last season, Bosa only played one complete game before his season was cut short due to an ACL injury. However, he had a pass rush victory rate of 26.7 percent in that game, indicating that he was on track to build on a strong rookie season. If Bosa can remain healthy, he’ll emerge as a major member of the 49ers’ defense, with double-digit sacks for the first time in his short career. Nick Wagoner is a writer.
Bosa recorded 80 total pressures in his lone full season in 2019, according to Pro Football Focus, which is 14 more than any other rookie edge defender.
What they have to say: “I don’t have any concerns about what he’ll accomplish this year. Let your imagination go wild. He’ll be a fantastic football player once again.” 49ers tight end George Kittle
11 sacks, 60 tackles, and 2 forced fumbles are projected for 2021.
Chargers | DE Age: 26 Rank: 18 in 2020
Bosa missed most of last season due to two concussions, but he came back even better. On certain plays, he’ll be requested to stand up and on others, he’ll be asked to put his hand on the grass. The defense of new coach Brandon Staley is designed to be difficult, but Bosa is sure that he will have it down and be ready for another great season. Shelley Smith says:
Despite missing four games in 2020, Bosa still racked up 27 quarterback hits, and his 24.9 percent pass rush win rate was sixth in the NFL.
What they have to say: “What he excels at is rushing the quarterback. When you’re around him in person, you can understand why he’s such a quality rusher, with his hands and speed. His capacity to absorb information rapidly while on the go.” Coach Brandon Staley of the Chargers
11 sacks, 66 tackles, and 1 forced fumble are projected for 2021.
Cardinals Wide Receiver Age: 29 Rank: 8 in 2020
Hopkins may be in line for his greatest season in the NFL, as he teams up with Kyler Murray, an excellent quarterback, and experienced receiver A.J. Green. Green’s presence on the opposite side of Murray may help Hopkins, who has a better grasp of the Cardinals’ system thanks to his summer work with his quarterback. Hopkins may have his first season of 1,500 yards since 2018. Josh Weinfuss (@JoshWeinfuss)
Hopkins was very successful outside of the numbers last season, catching 67 receptions for 823 yards and scoring five of his six touchdowns. What’s more impressive is that he accomplished it with an average separation of just 3 yards.
What they have to say: “His hands, to be precise. He captures everything, I mean. He’ll go grab the ball wherever it is. Even if the defensive player is in the ideal position, has his hand in the exact place, and does everything perfectly, D-Hop will still get the catch and the ‘it’ factor, as Madden gamers like to call it. He’s got it.” Cardinals safety Budda Baker
1,361 receiving yards and 7 touchdowns are projected for 2021.
WR | Buffalo Bills Age: 27 Rank: 79 in 2020
Any concerns about Diggs’ ability to flourish in the Bills’ offense after his trade from the Vikings will go down in the Cold Takes Hall of Fame. He answered his detractors by catching 127 passes for 1,535 yards, breaking single-season club records in the process. In 2020, the first-team All-Pro effortlessly integrated into Buffalo’s air-raid system, and in 2021, he heads a stacked wide receiver corps. — Louis-Jacques Marcel
Last season, Diggs made history by becoming the first Bills player to lead the NFL in receptions and receiving yards. He was also the first veteran to lead the league in receiving yards and receptions in his debut season with a new club since 1970.
What they have to say: “I make decisions based on what I observe. And from what I’ve seen, he’s a fantastic teammate. A fantastic leader. For our football squad, he is a highly reliable player. A wonderful individual. We’re extremely lucky to have him, to be sure. And I know how much he means to us all.” Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll
1401 receiving yards and 9 touchdowns are projected for 2021.
49ers’ TE Age: 27 Rank: 9 in 2020
Kittle only appeared in eight games last season, but if he had been healthy, his 3.0 yards per route run would have placed second in the NFL behind Davante Adams. While Kittle’s physical approach makes him prone to bruising, a healthy Kittle has shown that he can perform at a high level regardless of who is at quarterback. Nick Wagoner is a writer.
Despite missing 10 games due to injury over the last three seasons, Kittle is fourth among all players with 1,760 yards after the catch during that time.
What they have to say: “I know he wasn’t pleased with the team’s performance, but I believe he thought he could have done even better. In George, I’ve seen a new kind of drive…. For him, the sky is the limit.” Fullback Kyle Juszczyk of the San Francisco 49ers
1 033 receiving yards and 6 touchdowns are projected for 2021.
Buccaneers quarterback 44 years old 32nd place in 2020
After leading a club that hadn’t gone to the playoffs since 2007 all the way to Super Bowl LV and winning it, he’s ranked as the sixth-best quarterback in the country. Brady won’t be pleased about that, even though he just turned 44, and it’s all the incentive he needs to try for an eighth ring. Jenna Laine is a writer who lives in New York City.
Brady passed for 40 touchdowns during the regular season, tied for second most in the NFL, in a completely new system. And he continues to drive the ball vertically, ranking fourth in the league with 8.64 air yards per pass attempt last season.
What they have to say: “I’ll have to keep working for it. I don’t believe there is a part of me that believes what I did last year was significant. This is something I have to accomplish this year.” —Bryan
2021 projection: 4,651 passing yards, 36 touchdowns, 11 interceptions (rushing: 22 yards/2 touchdowns)
Cardinals quarterback Age: 24 Rank: 47 in 2020
Murray seems to be on track to make the same kind of leap from Year 2 to Year 3 as most quarterbacks do between Years 1 and 2. He feels more in command of the Cardinals’ offense, and his understanding of the system is already showing. He’s looking at blocking tactics and running plays more. Murray may be in the MVP discussion come December if he can match his development with a skill level that continues to improve. Josh Weinfuss (@JoshWeinfuss)
Murray’s 819 rushing yards in 2020 were the 17th highest in the NFL, outpacing 32 other running backs with at least 100 carries.
What they have to say: “Going into Year 3, I get the impression that he now considers the team to be his. That sense of ownership has certainly increased.” Coach Kliff Kingsbury of the Cardinals
405 yards throwing, 25 touchdowns, 12 interceptions projected for 2021 (728 yards/9 touchdowns running)
Ravens quarterback Age: 24 Rank: 3 in 2020
Because of a new supporting cast, Jackson is poised for another MVP-caliber season. Baltimore revamped its offensive line and acquired two wide receivers in Sammy Watkins and Rashod Bateman. Jackson has a track record of success, having won 30 games quicker than any other quarterback in NFL history. The big issue is whether he’ll be able to go to the next level as a passer. Jamison Hensley (Jamison Hensley)
Jackson holds the record for becoming the only player in NFL history to gain 5,000 throwing yards and 2,500 running yards in his first three seasons.
What they have to say: “His skill set [and] ability are really exceptional and one-of-a-kind. He has a fantastic arm. In terms of arm skill, you might say he’s a naturally talented thrower. He has the ability to flee. He has the ability to prolong plays. He has a good view of the field. We’re all like, ‘Wow,’ when we see some of his plays. How did Lamar manage to accomplish that? That, I believe, is what makes him so fascinating and deadly.” Coach John Harbaugh of the Ravens
3 326 passing yards, 26 touchdowns, 11 interceptions projected for 2021 (869 yards/6 touchdowns running)
Bills | CB Age: 26 Rank: 26 in 2020
Since joining the league in 2017, White has been a picture of consistency; he is instinctive, intelligent, and one of the most technically sound cornerbacks in the game. Even if he is beaten, the two-time Pro Bowler has exceptional closing speed, so he can usually still make a play on the ball. White ended 2020 strong after an All-Pro season in 2019, forcing four turnovers in the Bills’ last seven games. — Louis-Jacques Marcel
White has 16 takeaways in the second half of games since 2017, which is the most in the NFL.
What they have to say: “I’ve never seen a better off-coverage corner in my life. He’s very patient. For one thing, I believe he trusts his speed, but he’s also very patient, knowing that people can’t truly fly past him.” CB Levi Wallace of the Bills
76 tackles, 2 interceptions, 1 sack, and 1 forced fumble are projected for 2021.
Rams quarterback Age: 33 Rank: 52 in 2020
After 12 seasons with the Lions, Stafford leads the league in every passing metric. But now that the one-time Pro Bowl selection has joined the Rams, he has the chance to show that he can do more than simply put up numbers. Stafford’s arm and ability to read, identify, and manipulate a defense have been lauded by Rams coach Sean McVay, and his new colleagues have watched in amazement as he completes no-look throws. Stafford is poised for a breakout season, playing in McVay’s high-octane offense and surrounded by a slew of receivers. Lindsey Thiry (Lindsey Thiry)
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According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Stafford has a 20-6 touchdown-to-interception ratio on vertical passes and is sixth in Total QBR on tight-window throws since 2019.
What they have to say: “He’s putting on a show, dude. He’s chosen to be on our side, assisting us in our victory. So I’m just watching him work, the balls he throws, and how he gets them to these receivers. I’ve never seen it done like that before. It’s really amazing to be able to witness it personally.” Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald
2021 projection: 4,630 passing yards, 26 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions (130 running yards/1 TD).
Chiefs (S) Age: 29 Rank: 36 in 2020
Mathieu is not only flexible (he played at least 100 plays as a safety, linebacker, and slot corner last season), but he also excels at each position. The Chiefs often use Mathieu on blitzes, and he won 28.6 percent of his pass rushes last season. In addition, he recorded six interceptions, including one in the playoffs. Adam Teicher’s remark
Mathieu is the only player in the past five years to have played at both slot corner and safety for at least 300 plays in a season. He’s done it in each of the last three seasons.
What they have to say: “Tyrann has been the consummate professional throughout his career in the NFL, and especially during his time with us. I’m certain he’ll be at his best this year.” Chairman of the Kansas City Chiefs, Clark Hunt
77 tackles, 2 interceptions, 1 sack, and 1 forced fumble are projected for 2021.
Patriots’ Cornerback 30 years old in 2020, 7th place
Former NFL cornerback Brandon Flowers recently stated that the 2019 Defensive Player of the Year possesses the size, speed, and toughness to match up against a variety of pass-catchers, making him the league’s greatest corner. Each of the past three seasons, Gilmore has been selected to the Pro Bowl. — Reiss, Mike
Gilmore was the first defensive back since Troy Polamalu in 2010 to earn the Defensive Player of the Year Award, and the first corner since Charles Woodson in 2009.
“He’s been the greatest person for the past several years, clearly defensive MVP, and he’s really helped this defense function at a different level when he’s out there,” they add. Patriots safety Devin McCourty
59 tackles, 1 interception, and 1 forced fumble are projected for 2021.
G | Indianapolis Colts Age: 25 Rank: 44 in 2020
It didn’t take long for many to figure out why the Colts chose a guard at No. 6 overall in the 2018 draft. Nelson was not only the greatest offensive lineman in that class, but he was also one of the group’s best all-around athletes. He’s been named to the All-Pro team in each of the last three seasons, becoming the first offensive lineman and the sixth player since the 1970 merger to do so. Nelson has started all 48 regular-season games and three playoff games at left guard in his career, accounting for 98.7% of the team’s snaps. Mike Wells’ remark
Nelson’s signature stat: He had the third-best pass block victory percentage among all NFL guards last season, at 95.5 percent.
What they have to say: “Great players, as the adage goes, make the impossible seem simple. Quenton has been doing it on a regular basis. You’ve simply become used to it. He has a sixth sense, or eyeballs in the back of his head, as the case may be. He has a natural talent for it.” Coach Frank Reich of the Indianapolis Colts
Seahawks | ILB Age: 31 Rank: 27 in 2020
Here’s a good example of consistency: Wagner has been selected to the Pro Bowl seven times in a row and has been named to the first team All-Pro in six of the past seven seasons. The presence of a healthy Jamal Adams alongside Wagner could relieve some of Wagner’s burden by giving offenses another blue-chip defender to worry about. Brady Henderson’s quote
Wagner is the first player in the past 20 years to start his career with nine consecutive seasons of 100 tackles. Only one other player in history has had a longer run at any point in his career: London Fletcher, who has 13 such seasons.
What they have to say: “Some individuals want to be the greatest, and they work hard to achieve that objective. He aspires to be the greatest of all time. And it’s thrilling to watch him continue to develop after seven Pro Bowl appearances.” Seahawks defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr.
140 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 interception, and 1 forced fumble are projected for 2021.
Titans’ RB Age: 27 Rank: 28 in 2020
In each of the previous two seasons, Henry averaged more than five yards per carry on more than 300 running attempts. Opposing defenders attempted but failed to stop him by stacking eight in the box. With Julio Jones on board, it will be more difficult to concentrate on Henry and more rushing lanes will open up. Turron Davenport (Turron Davenport)
Henry’s 2,027 yards running last season were the fifth-most in NFL history, and he was just the sixth player to carry for more than 2,000 yards.
What they have to say: “Derrick is the best at preparing for the season’s challenges. I’m not going to claim Derrick is the hardest worker in the league; I wouldn’t say that about any of the guys in this league. But I can’t see any of them working harder than he does, and I’m sure he realizes it, as well as the price he’ll pay.” Titans coach Mike Vrabel
Projection for 2021: 1,537 running yards and 13 touchdowns (201 yards/1 TD receiving).
49ers | ILB Age: 24 2020 position: NR
Warner finally received the accolades he deserved in 2020, but there’s reason to think that under new defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans, he can take his game to the next level. Last season, Warner recorded 13 pressures on 93 pass-rush attempts, both career highs, indicating that more blitzing chances in 2021 may provide him even more opportunity to influence the game. Nick Wagoner is a writer.
Warner’s signature stat: In 2020, he allowed the lowest completion rate of any linebacker since NFL Next Gen Stats started monitoring in 2016. (minimum 50 targets).
What they have to say: “He doesn’t need to put any pressure on himself to change his ways. Fred just needs to be Fred. I’m searching for men that are always asking themselves, “How can I improve?” And if Fred stays true to himself, he’ll have a fantastic year.” Defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans, 49ers
138 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 interception, and 1 forced fumble are projected for 2021.
Washington, D.C. Age: 22 2020 position: NR
Young wasn’t happy with his first season’s performance, which included 4.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, and three fumble recoveries, including one for a score, in the last seven games. During exercises, he concentrated on improving his fluidity, which helped him round the corner more easily. He’s also free of a hip ailment that kept him out for most of his first season. His game’s strength, though, is his fast and powerful hands. ‘John Keim’
Chase Young was second in the NFL among edge defenders in pass rush win rate in the last seven games of 2020. According to ESPN Stats & Information, his 26.9% victory percentage was second only to Baltimore’s Yannick Ngakoue during this time. His overall season percentage of 22.5 percent was sixth in the league.
What they have to say: “[He] obviously has all of the necessary tools, including size, agility, speed, and power. But, to tie everything together, he has this incredible work ethic and determination that he displays every single day in practice. As a rusher, the next stage for him is to grasp when and where the protection is going, and other such things.” Washington offensive tackle Charles Leno Jr.
9 sacks, 55 tackles, 3 forced fumbles are projected for 2021.
Steelers (S) Age: 24 Rank: 42 in 2020
In 2019, the Steelers completed the unusual in-season blockbuster deal for Fitzpatrick, and they haven’t looked back. Fitzpatrick, a two-time Pro Bowler, is a leader in the secondary and a favorite of coaches due to his football knowledge and skill. Coach Mike Tomlin claimed Fitzpatrick can “digest stuff and make it turn up on the field that other players can’t” on a recent episode of The Flying Coach podcast. Although his numbers as a free safety don’t often reflect his influence, he is a powerful player in the center of the field. And the longer he is in Keith Butler’s corner, the more he will have an effect. Brooke Pryor is an actress who plays Brooke Pryor.
Fitzpatrick has 13 interceptions in the last two seasons, including a league-leading eight this year. This is second only to J.C. Jackson (16) in the NFL and tops among safeties.
What people have to say: “I have high hopes for him. On the dadgum field, he’s a coach. He is an expert in football. The only thing about him that irritates me is when he says, ‘Let me call the plays!’ Allow me to call the games!’ I can’t say I blame him. When I was younger, I had the same desire.” Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler
85 tackles, 2 interceptions, and 1 forced fumble are projected for 2021.
Extra Time | Packers Age: 29 Rank: 34 in 2020
The only issue now is when Bakhtiari will return from his ruptured left ACL, which he sustained on December 31. If not this week, when will it be? In the playoffs, his absence was felt a lot. Despite having the highest pass block victory percentage in the league (73.8 percent) during the regular season, the Packers only managed 50% in the NFC Championship Game sans Bakhtiari. Demovsky, Rob
Bakhtiari has the NFL’s best pass block victory percentage among all lineman, at 94.5 percent, since entering the league in 2013.
What people have to say: “When the injury occurred, I said to myself, “Well, I know he’ll come back stronger.” As a result, he’s a large dog. He goes out and does his job. He’ll do his thing, and I’m certain that when he returns, he’ll be even better than before.” Packers guard Elgton Jenkins
Packers | CB 24 years old 94th place in 2020
In practice, Aaron Rodgers doesn’t even attempt to pass to Alexander because of how excellent the fourth-year cornerback has gotten. That’s why he doesn’t have a lot of interceptions. If at all possible, the rest of the league avoids throwing at him. Alexander’s first Pro Bowl and second-team All-Pro honors in 2020 speak for themselves. Demovsky, Rob
Only Stephon Gilmore and Denzel Ward have allowed less yards per target as the closest defender than Alexander (6.3) over the last two seasons, according to NFL Next Gen Stats (among defensive backs with at least 125 targets).
What they have to say: “You’re at the summit of the mountain right now. How do you go back to becoming one of the best corners in the league? There will be actions you must do in order to return there. It’s not going to be simple since everyone is going to be attacking you right now. They may not throw the ball at you right first, but it will come back to you, and you must be ready to play because if you aren’t, they will start throwing back at you if they see any flaws in your game.” Coach of the Packers’ defensive backs, Jerry Gray
61 tackles, 3 interceptions, and 1 forced fumble are projected for 2021.
Titans Wide Receiver 32 years old in 2020, ranked 13th
Jones is still capable of making huge plays at 32 years old. Jones gained 15.1 yards per reception last season despite injuries. Jones’ decision to join the Titans bodes well for him because of the team’s powerful rushing attack, as well as the fact that he will be paired with A.J. Brown. Jones may anticipate more one-on-one attention. Turron Davenport (Turron Davenport)
Jones’ signature stat: Over the course of his 10-year career, he has averaged 84 catches, 1,289 yards, and six touchdowns each season.
What they have to say: “Julio Jones is capable of completing the whole route tree. He’s tall and muscular, and he’s a force to be reckoned with when he has the ball in his hands. Julio still has the ability to stretch the field vertically and is ready to dig out a linebacker or safety if necessary. He has a competitive attitude and passion.” Titans General Manager Jon Robinson
1 046 receiving yards and 7 touchdowns are projected for 2021.
Vikings Wide Receiver Age: 22 2020 position: NR
Despite a late start in 2020 (his first game was in Week 3), Jefferson had the greatest rookie season of any receiver in the Super Bowl era (1,400 yards). He’s a top-10 receiver whose deep threat ability (he also sprinted 100 yards or more on seven routes as a rookie) is precisely what the Vikings need to be even more explosive this season. Courtney Cronin (Courtney Cronin)
Jefferson’s 88 catches were the most by a Vikings rookie in team history. His catch rate was 70.4 percent, which was higher than his anticipated rate of 61.3 percent. Among receivers with at least 50 receptions, his plus-9.1% above-average catch rate was ninth in the NFL.
What they have to say: “After last year’s season, which was marred by a slew of misfortunes, I’m feeling a lot more confidence this year, having spent the whole season with Kirk [Cousins] and the rest of the players on this squad. I believe I will achieve even more success this year than I did last year.” — Thomas Jefferson
1 259 receiving yards and 8 touchdowns are projected for 2021.
Ravens (OT) Age: 27 Rank: 43 in 2020
Stanley had season-ending ankle surgery in November, which held him out of training camp for a while. Stanley is aiming to reclaim his position as the greatest left tackle in the game, thanks to a unique combination of size, agility, and intuition. Last October, the Ravens signed him to a five-year, $98.75 million contract, making him the league’s second-highest-paid tackle. Jamison Hensley (Jamison Hensley)
Stanley’s signature stat: In his last complete season, he allowed six pressures. According to Pro Football Focus, that’s the fewest by an offensive lineman in a season in 14 years.
What people have to say: “He recognizes the importance of hard effort. He is a true expert at what he does. He’s always talking about it. And, together with ability, that is the most essential factor in that job. In that sense, he’s very unique.” Coach John Harbaugh of the Ravens
Chargers quarterback Age: 23 2020 position: NR
As long as Herbert remains healthy and avoids the sophomore yips, the world is his oyster. Herbert has had a full summer to prepare, and despite learning a new system, he is picking things up fast and could be even better this season than last. Shelley Smith says:
Last season, Herbert set an NFL rookie record with 31 touchdown passes. Since 2006, his 70 Total QBR was the third highest of any rookie (behind Dak Prescott and Russell Wilson). With 29 more passing touchdowns in 2021, he’ll become just the second player in NFL history to throw for 60 or more touchdowns in his first two seasons, joining Dan Marino (68).
What they have to say: “He has a powerful arm, but it isn’t ignited. ‘I can’t catch this,’ for example. It’ll come, but it’ll be so easy for these receivers to grab it, and it’ll be such a pure pass every time.” Coach Brandon Staley of the Chargers
2021 projection: 4,405 passing yards, 28 touchdowns, 12 interceptions (248 running yards, 4 touchdowns)
Panthers’ RB Age: 25 Rank: 6 in 2020
Since joining the league in 2017, McCaffrey has averaged an NFL-best 114.7 yards from scrimmage, and he is finally healthy after missing 13 games in 2020 due to various ailments. He’s in a system that’s built around his varied skill set, which helped him account for a league-high 44 percent of the offense last season. David Newton is an author.
McCaffrey became the third player in NFL history to have 1,000 yards running and receiving in the same season in his last full season in 2019. Despite only appearing in three games last season, he is just the third player in NFL history to accumulate 3,000 running yards and 2,500 receiving yards in four seasons.
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What people have to say: “With Christian McCaffrey, I haven’t altered my opinion. When Christian is on the field, you can clearly see the difference. It’s possible to observe how it was made. ‘I don’t want Christian to be anything other than Christian McCaffrey,’ I told him. He has nothing to prove to me, or to anybody else for that matter.” Panthers offensive coordinator Joe Brady
Projection for 2021: 1,059 running yards and 10 touchdowns (680 yards and 3 touchdowns receiving).
Bears’ OLB 30 years old in 2020, ranked 21st
Mack only had nine sacks last season due to a shoulder ailment that he fought for the most of the season. The former NFL Defensive Player of the Year is back to full strength and has been practicing well. The Bears feel that greater assistance from the opposing outside linebacker (Robert Quinn) will help Mack reclaim his status as one of the league’s top pass rushers. Dickerson, Jeff
Mack has 66.5 sacks since the start of 2015, which is the third highest in the NFL during that time period. Mack has 11 sacks, eight forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, and two interceptions in 13 prime-time games with the Bears.
What they have to say: “These offensive coordinators in the NFL are well aware that every Tuesday when they come in for the game plan, they always emphasize this player or that player. This individual has no ability to influence or destabilize the game. Khalil is the one in question.” Coach Matt Nagy of the Bears
9 sacks, 52 tackles, 3 forced fumbles are projected for 2021.
Chiefs | DT Age: 27 Rank: 29 in 2020
This season, Jones will play more as an edge rusher, but not entirely. That should provide him with more opportunities for sacks. Jones and the Chiefs’ other defensive lineman will be looking for favorable matchups, and he may end up with big sack statistics at various spots. Adam Teicher’s remark
Jones’ pass rush win percentage while lining up on the edge was 20.9 percent last season, and 20.3 percent when lining up on the inside was 20.3 percent.
What they have to say: “Any gap that allows me to get to the quarterback is my preference. But racing over the cliff makes me feel wonderful.” Jones –
7 sacks, 48 tackles, and 2 caused fumbles are projected for 2021.
Saints’ RB Age: 26 Rank: 50 in 2020
While Drew Brees and Michael Thomas were both injured last season, the Saints needed Kamara more than ever, and he delivered with career highs of 932 running yards, 1,688 yards from scrimmage, and an NFL-high 21 touchdowns in only 15 games. Expect even more from him this year, since he’ll be crucial to New Orleans’ offense without Brees on the field. Triplett, Mike
Kamara has has 59 touchdowns in four seasons, which places him second in Saints history. Only Todd Gurley II (63) has accumulated more since 2017.
What they have to say: “The ability to see. Surprising strength. Balance. It’s unusual to find all three of them in a single player. Then there’s his potential to be more than just a conventional running back, such as splitting out wide or creating mismatches in the passing game.” Former Saints running back Deuce McAllister is now a radio commentator.
863 running yards, 8 touchdowns (686 yards, 4 touchdowns receiving) are projected for 2021.
Buccaneers Wide Receiver Age: 28 Rank: 22 in 2020
Evans made history last season by becoming the first and only player in NFL history to achieve 1,000 receiving yards in each of his first six seasons. Having another year with Tom Brady as his quarterback would only help him achieve his goal of going 7-for-7. Because of his size mismatch with most defensive backs, Evans will always be at or near the top of Brady’s list of targets in Tampa. Jenna Laine is a writer who lives in New York City.
Since 2018, Evans has had more catches (37), yards (1,066), and touchdowns (13) on go routes than anybody else. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, he also has a 9.1 percent catch rate over expectation on similar routes.
What they have to say: “Every year, I feel like I improve. My route running improves. My body is more energized. Every year, I become healthier. I’m feeling better.” Evans –
1106 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns are projected for 2021.
Buccaneers (DE) Age: 28 Rank: 84 in 2020
Barrett has led the NFL with 111 pressures since his 19.5-sack breakthrough year in 2019 — when he became the first Buccaneer to achieve double-digit sacks since Simeon Rice in 2005 — and his 27.5 sacks are the second highest in the NFL over the last two seasons. Jenna Laine is a writer who lives in New York City.
Barrett was heavily chipped and double-teamed in 2020 as a result of his previous season’s performance. Despite this, he had the highest pass rush win percentage in the league (21.7 percent versus double teams, just ahead of Aaron Donald’s 21.0 percent), and he came up big when it counted most, with 4.0 sacks and 15 pressures combined in the NFC Championship Game and Super Bowl LV this season.
What they have to say: “I’m going to need to be psychologically tough. I usually assume that the opponent I’m facing is more fatigued than I am, so this is my chance to make a move. I’ll always want to be the player who makes the correct play at the right moment.” Barrett’s comment
10 sacks, 56 tackles, and 2 forced fumbles are projected for 2021.
Raiders’ TE Age: 28 2020 position: NR
Waller missed two weeks of training camp due to a lingering ankle ailment, but the Raiders decided to be cautious with their Pro Bowl tight end, who is, at least, among the best three tight ends in the NFL. On the one hand, Waller isn’t going to be caught off guard after two tremendous seasons. On the other hand, with his receiver speed, soft hands, and QB Derek Carr’s unwavering confidence, he doesn’t have to. Gutierrez, Paul
Waller’s 107 catches in 2020 established a Raiders team record, surpassing Hall of Fame wide receiver Tim Brown’s 104 receptions in 1997, and were the third highest by a tight end in a single season in NFL history, behind only Zach Ertz (116 in 2018) and Jason Witten (114 in 2017). (110 in 2012).
What they have to say: “He’s done an outstanding job as a slot receiver, tight end, and wide receiver. He’s making his way out of the backfield. He’s astute. He’s adaptable. He’s a full-fledged player. He has the ability to block and pass protect. I’ve never met a man who is so selfless, brilliant, flexible, and complete. We must continue to construct around him…. We’re going to be a lot tougher on Waller in the future. We need to keep looking for matchups and putting him in positions where he can receive the ball.” Raiders coach Jon Gruden
Projection for 2021: 1,065 receiving yards and 7 touchdowns
Falcons Wide Receiver Age: 26 2020 position: NR
After the transfer of Julio Jones to Tennessee, Ridley will be the obvious No. 1 in the Atlanta offense for the first time. While this may imply greater focus, it should also imply more targets. Last season, despite having a broken foot, he recorded 90 receptions for 1,374 yards. In an offense that should showcase him, he’s expected to put up similar or better numbers this year. Michael Rothstein is a writer and producer.
Ridley’s 13.99 air yards per target was tenth in the NFL last season, but it was the highest among players with 60 or more receptions.
What they have to say: “Calvin’s ability to be resourceful is a result of his craftiness. He knows how to use leverage and work the top of the routes. Calvin’s attitude is another something I like. He’s a ruthless individual. He wants to improve, which is why he comes out here every day to attempt to do so. He’s aware that certain people have excellent spatial awareness, and he plays with deception.” Falcons coach Arthur Smith
1 338 receiving yards and 8 touchdowns are projected for 2021.
WR | Seattle Seahawks Age: 23 2020 position: NR
Metcalf has racked up 2,203 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns in two seasons while playing in every game after entering the NFL with concerns about his route-running and durability. With 1,303 yards last season, he surpassed Steve Largent’s 35-year-old club record. Brady Henderson’s quote
According to NFL Next Gen Stats, when Metcalf tracked down Budda Baker in October, he achieved a peak speed of 22.64 miles per hour. It was the fourth-fastest speed achieved by an NFL player in 2020.
What they have to say: “He has all the skill in the world, therefore he should be able to relax…. And he’s one of the first people there every day, always ready to work.” Russell Wilson, quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks
1 291 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns are projected for 2021.
Titans quarterback Age: 32, 2020 position: 90
Tannehill was anticipated to decline last season after being awarded Comeback Player of the Year in 2019. Instead, he was even more effective, completing 33 touchdown passes while only throwing seven interceptions, a career best. Tannehill already had A.J. Brown as a top receiver, and now he gets Julio Jones as another option in the passing game. Turron Davenport (Turron Davenport)
Tannehill’s 55 touchdown passes since taking over as the Titans’ quarterback in October 2019 are the third most in the NFL. Aaron Rodgers (66) and Russell Wilson (57) are the only players with more.
What they have to say: “He’s not on anyone’s top-10 list or anything like that. It’s rubbish in my opinion. We’ve come back in the last two minutes of many games, and Derrick [Henry] doesn’t get the ball every time. Someone has to toss the ball to us, and he’s extremely accurate. Anyone who believes that is a load of rubbish. I believe his mind is in a good place because he doesn’t care about such things, and neither do we.” Titans wide receiver A.J. Brown
2021 projection: 3,975 passing yards, 29 touchdowns, 10 interceptions (210 running yards, 4 TDs)
Ravens, CB Age: 25 Rank: 74 in 2020
Humphrey is the most hard-nosed corner in the league, and he’s an old-school throwback. When he causes turnovers, makes a tackle in run defense, and blitzes, his physicality shines through. Humphrey also excels at shutting down wide receivers, as his single coverage Pro Football Focus rating is the highest in the NFL since 2018. (90.0). Jamison Hensley (Jamison Hensley)
Last season, Humphrey set a club record with eight forced fumbles, tied for the second most by a defensive back in NFL history.
What they have to say: “He’s far beyond his prime. He should’ve played while Ray Lewis and the other players were on the field. As a cornerback, he’s really physical, and he cares. He is passionate about football. He’ll go back and study that video to make sure, ‘Dang, how can I get better?’ in terms of technique and what occurs at practice.” Ravens safety DeShon Elliott
87 tackles, 2 interceptions, 1 sack, and 2 forced fumbles are projected for 2021.
Cowboys (G) 30 years old in 2020, 45th place
Martin missed six games last season due to a concussion and calf injury, ending his six-year Pro Bowl run. He’s still a dominating guard, and he proved last season that he can play right tackle if necessary. The Cowboys know they can dominate the inside now that Martin is healthy. Todd Archer is a writer.
Martin’s signature stat: In 2020, he did not allow a sack or an accepted penalty against him. In fact, in his past 25 games, he hasn’t had a penalty.
What they have to say: “There aren’t many people who can win and keep winning against him. They may defeat him once, but he typically rebounds and finds a way to battle and claw his way back into the game, giving us just enough time to get the ball out. He’s a one-of-a-kind guy.” Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore
DT | Indianapolis Colts Age: 27 Rank: 51 in 2020
The Colts’ defense is headlined by Darius Leonard, but Buckner is the defensive line’s rock — and he makes life a bit easier for the linebackers. Buckner established a single-season club record for most sacks by a defensive lineman with 9.5 in his debut season with the Colts in 2020, while also earning All-Pro honors. Mike Wells’ remark
Buckner’s 14 tackles for loss last season were second among defensive tackles in the NFL, behind only Aaron Donald’s 20.
What they have to say: “I don’t believe there is a single guard who can block him one-on-one because of his presence up front. Then you see him in the pass-rush game, where he’s getting pressure after pressure after pressure, causing havoc in the pass game. ‘He’s just excellent on run plays,’ there isn’t any.” Colts linebacker Darius Leonard
7 sacks, 65 tackles, and 2 forced fumbles are projected for 2021.
RB | Minnesota Vikings Age: 26 Rank: 41 in 2020
Sure, the Vikings have a lot of weapons in the passing game, but Cook and the run will always be the focal point of this attack. In just 14 games, the dynamic back became the first player in club history to rush for 1,500 yards and 15 touchdowns. Cook has the ability to run for almost 2,000 yards in a 17-game schedule if he can remain healthy a year after piling up 356 touches. Courtney Cronin (Courtney Cronin)
Cook accounted for 30.5 percent of the Vikings’ scrimmage yards in 2020, which was the second-highest percentage in the NFL behind Derrick Henry of Tennessee.
What they have to say: “We have a clear idea of what we want to accomplish. We need to get the ball to 33 points and find out how to accomplish that.” — Vikings running backs coach Kennedy Polamalu
1 371 rushing yards, 12 touchdowns projected for 2021 (398 yards/2 touchdowns receiving)
Saints’ CB Age: 25 Rank: 54 in 2020
This is a crucial year for the three-time Pro Bowler, who is in the last year of his deal and wants to show that he is one of the best cornerbacks in the league. He’s struggled with inconsistency, but his finest performance has always come against elite wide receivers, particularly rival Mike Evans and the Buccaneers. Triplett, Mike
Since entering the league in 2017, Lattimore is tied for third in the NFL with 39 passes defensed.
What they have to say: “He’s just astute in that he eliminates plays based on a variety of factors. When we’re out there [practicing], he speaks to himself. ‘Man, I can only do so much since he knows what’s coming,’ I think as I listen to his thinking process.” Saints wide receiver Marquez Callaway
72 tackles, 3 interceptions, and 1 forced fumble are projected for 2021.
RB | Cleveland Browns Age: 25 Rank: 59 in 2020
Despite missing four games due to a knee injury, Chubb surpassed 1,000 yards on the ground again last season for Cleveland’s run-heavy attack. Chubb may finally win the NFL running championship after falling up just short two seasons ago with the Browns’ whole offense revolving around him, including all five starters up front. Jake Trotter’s remark
Chubb’s signature stat: In the fourth quarter of games last season, he averaged a staggering 10 yards per rush, comfortably leading the league.
What they have to say: “He has the amazing ability to avoid being tackled. He can do it all: broken tackle, stiff-arm, juke, and speed. He’s a one-of-a-kind individual.” Browns guard Joel Bitonio
Projection for 2021: 1,199 running yards and 11 touchdowns (293 yards/1 TD receiving).
Falcons Defensive Tackle Age: 28 Rank: 86 in 2020
Defensive coordinator Dean Pees’ more aggressive approach should help Jarrett. Pees will exert pressure from all directions, perhaps resulting in more single blocks. Jarrett will be the defensive core for Atlanta, and he’ll keep up his Pro Bowl form as a high-level run-stopper and interior pass-rusher. Michael Rothstein is a writer and producer.
Jarrett’s pass rush success percentage versus double teams of 14.6 percent is sixth in the league, and he’s third among players who mainly work inside behind Chris Jones and Quinnen Williams.
What people have to say: “Every day, he works as hard as anybody I’ve ever met in my profession. And he’s as reliable a colleague as anybody I’ve worked with in my career, and there’s no replacement for hard work when it comes to success. That is why Grady has been so successful.” Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan
7 sacks, 58 tackles, and 1 forced fumble are projected for 2021.
Browns (CB) Age: 24 Rank: 89 in 2020
Ward’s first three seasons in the league were marred by injury. Ward, on the other hand, has been one of the best cover corners in the NFL when he has been on the field. Ward’s flexibility allows him to play everywhere on the field, and Cleveland will be able to use him in new ways now that the secondary has been beefed up this summer. Jake Trotter’s remark
Ward’s signature stat: As the closest defender in the previous two seasons, he ranked second among defensive backs with 6.2 yards per target allowed.
What they have to say: “He’s unquestionably one of the greatest cornerbacks in the NFL. He’s one of the most athletic players in the NFL, but the most impressive aspect of his game is his intelligence. That’s certainly a person I’d want to learn from and develop with.” Browns cornerback Greg Newsome II
64 tackles, 3 interceptions, and 1 forced fumble are projected for 2021.
Ravens, CB Age: 28 2020 position: NR
Peters is one of the best ball hawks in the league. Since 2015, he has thrown 31 interceptions, nine more than anyone else in the NFL. Peters seems to have a keen sense of where the ball will be at crucial moments. And his aggressive personality may lead to squabbles with opponents. Jamison Hensley (Jamison Hensley)
Peters joins Ed Reed and Deion Sanders as the last three players in NFL history to have at least 30 interceptions in their first 85 games.
What they have to say: “When it comes to playing corners and routes, he is a genius. That’s been a wonderful breath of fresh air. In our league, information is power, as I’ve stated many times. His performance demonstrates that he has a great deal of expertise.” Ravens defensive coordinator Don Martindale
63 tackles, 2 interceptions, and 2 forced fumbles are projected for 2021.
Falcons quarterback Age: 36 Rank: 37 in 2020
Ryan consistently puts up the same numbers, regardless of the system, playcaller, or people surrounding him: about 4,500 yards, 65 percent or more completions, and 25 or more touchdown throws. Ryan has only missed three games in his career, and it’s been that way for a decade. Although Coach Arthur Smith’s offense will be different, Ryan’s performance should be similar. And, on sometimes, consistency triumphs above everything else. Michael Rothstein is a writer and producer.
Ryan has thrown for over 400 yards in each of the last three seasons, including a league-high 408 in 2019 and 407 in 2020.
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What people have to say: “Just his demeanor, I believe. He’s calm and collected, and he’s a tough leader, which I believe you’ll need in the huddle. When you’re in a huddle with him, you know he’s aware of everything that’s going on. As a result, it rubs off on you, making you want to improve and stay on top of your game even more.” Falcons fullback Keith Smith
2021 projection: 4,371 throwing yards, 25 touchdowns, 11 interceptions (rushing 113 yards/1 TD).
Broncos (S) Age: 27 Rank: 92 in 2020
Simmons can do it all, from covering to running the ball and being a team leader. Simmons and Jessie Bates III are the only safeties in the league with three straight seasons of at least 90 tackles and three interceptions. Legwold, Jeff
Simmons is the only defensive player in the league to have appeared in every defensive action since the start of the 2018 season, having played 3,211 straight snaps.
“It’s such a passing league, and his ability to run, play in space, blitz, and cover a tight end — that’s important to have on your football team,” they add. Broncos GM George Paton
96 tackles, 3 interceptions, and 1 forced fumble are projected for 2021.
Jets | DT Age: 23 2020 position: NR
In the Jets’ new 4-3 system, which stresses attacking rather than reading and reacting, Williams has an opportunity to be a standout. He’s the prototypical 3-technique for a 4-3 front, since he’s powerful and explosive off the ball. If he stays on his current path, he may end up with double-digit sacks. The only issue is a surgically repaired foot, which has hindered his fitness and may cause him to start the season slowly. Cimini, Rich
Last season, Williams had the best run stop victory percentage (49.2 percent) among interior defensive lineman in the league.
“The amount of backlash we believe he’ll be able to create in this plan, as well as the number of interruptions we believe he’ll be able to cause, it’s going to be fantastic,” they add. Jets coach Robert Saleh
7 sacks, 62 tackles, and 1 forced fumble are projected for 2021.
Packers | OLB Age: 29 Rank: 58 in 2020
Only three players have had at least 12 sacks in consecutive seasons, and Smith is one of them (joining Aaron Donald and T.J. Watt). Smith has the most sacks by a Packers player in his first two seasons with the club, with 26. He can also shift from the outside to the inside to keep opposing teams guessing. Demovsky, Rob
According to ESPN Stats & Information research, Smith is third in the NFL in pressures with 107 over the last two seasons, behind only Shaq Barrett (111) and Donald (109).
“I’m probably playing favorites, but I do believe he’s one of the greatest in the game, and I believe he’s proved that the past couple of years,” they say. Coach of the Packers’ outside linebackers, Mike Smith
11 sacks, 56 tackles, 3 forced fumbles are projected for 2021.
Cardinals’ OLB Age: 31 Rank: 25 in 2020
Jones is eager to go back to his 2019 form, which included 19 sacks, after missing 11 games due to a biceps injury last season. And the acquisition of J.J. Watt should be very beneficial to him. Despite a five-year streak of double-digit sacks before to last season, outsiders continue to ignore him. Josh Weinfuss (@JoshWeinfuss)
Jones has 97 sacks since 2012, which puts him first in the NFL. Second on the list? His new teammate, J.J. Watt.
“We missed him last year when he was hurt, and he provides such a presence in the locker room and on the field that getting him back and having him rolling again would be huge for us,” they add. Coach Kliff Kingsbury of the Cardinals
8 sacks, 48 tackles, 3 forced fumbles are projected for 2021.
Texans | Texans | Texans | Texans | Texans Age: 27 Rank: 64 in 2020
Tunsil is the Texans’ most gifted offensive player right now, and his coach praises him for winning at the line of scrimmage with his strength and aggressiveness. In 2020, Tunsil won 89.7% of his pass-blocking snaps. Sarah Barshop is a writer.
Tunsil’s signature stat: In 2020, he was fourth among tackles in run block victory rate (80%), the highest of his career since ESPN Stats & Information began monitoring the statistic in 2017.
What they have to say: “[Tunsil] is the greatest player in the game. My aim is to reach that level, which is why I study all of his footage, learn from it, and apply what I’ve learned to my own game.” Texans right tackle Tytus Howard
Chargers (C) NR NR NR NR NR NR NR NR NR NR NR
Linsley was an All-Pro with the Packers before being signed as a free agent by the Chargers this summer. Last season, he appeared in 13 of Green Bay’s 16 games, missing three due to a knee injury. In those 13 games, Linsley had zero holding calls and zero false starts. Shelley Smith says:
Linsley was selected first-team All-Pro after not allowing a sack or tackle beyond the line in 2020.
What they have to say: “Our surgery with Corey and Justin Herbert has gone very well. I like their tenacity and aggressiveness in creating our playing style.” Coach Brandon Staley of the Chargers
Chargers Wide Receiver Age: 29 Rank: 69 in 2020
Allen is one of the league’s most valued receivers. The four-time Pro Bowler signed a four-year, $80.1 million contract deal in 2020, and then had his third career season with 100 or more catches. Shelley Smith says:
Allen is one of four players in the NFL with at least 200 receptions in the last two seasons, and his 58 receptions inside the numbers in 2020 were the third highest in the league.
What they have to say: “As stated in the advertisement. There isn’t anything better. He’s simply one of those people who is constantly available.” Chargers offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi
1104 receiving yards and 7 touchdowns are projected for 2021.
Buccaneers | DT Age: 26 2020 position: NR
Vea returned from a broken leg in Week 5 to play in the NFC Championship Game, affecting the Bucs’ defense significantly, and he subsequently made it tough for Patrick Mahomes to stride into his passes in Super Bowl LV. Todd Bowles’ A-gap blitzes feature him prominently. Many people think Vea is just a space eater up front at 347 pounds, yet he moves very well for his size and gets into the backfield. Vea even chased down running back Ronald Jones II during training camp at one point. Jenna Laine is a writer who lives in New York City.
When Vea was on the field last season, the Buccaneers’ sack rate increased from 5.9% to 10.5 percent.
What they have to say: “With him on the field, we’re 10 times better on defense. That’s how good he is. Even if he’s not making a huge play, believe me, if you see what he’s doing in that movie, you’ll understand why I said that. I admire him and rely on him on the pitch.” Buccaneers linebacker Devin White
5 sacks and 40 tackles are projected for 2021.
Age: 28 CB | Giants 2020 Rank: NR
Bradberry showed in his debut season in New York that the three-year, $43.5 million contract he signed as a free agency last summer was well worth it. He was named to his first Pro Bowl and was often utilized by the Giants to shut down No. 1 receivers. In 2020, he was the seventh-best cornerback according to Pro Football Focus. This season, expect opposing quarterbacks to start avoiding him. Jordan Raanan is a writer.
When Bradberry was the closest defender, opposing quarterbacks had a 67.7 passer rating against him, which ranked tenth among corners who faced at least 50 targets.
What they have to say: “All that is apparent is the difference in height and length. Even though JB has excellent footwork, taller men’ footwork is a little different.” Giants wide receiver Kenny Golladay
62 tackles, 3 interceptions, and 2 forced fumbles are projected for 2021.
Bears Wide Receiver Age: 28 2020 position: NR
Despite playing for the league’s 26th-ranked overall offense, Robinson has 200 receptions, 2,397 receiving yards, and 14 touchdowns over the previous two years. After the Bears improved at quarterback with Andy Dalton and Justin Fields in 2021, his chances of success are much greater. Dickerson, Jeff
Robinson is just the sixth Bears player to have 1,000 receiving yards in back-to-back seasons, and he is tied for best in club history in games with 10-plus catches (five).
What they have to say: “Allen is a fantastic athlete. He’s capable of a great deal. He’s very excellent at separating while the ball is in the air. He’s a full-fledged receiver. He can do a little bit of everything.” Bears quarterback Andy Dalton
1 171 receiving yards and 6 touchdowns are projected for 2021.
WR | Titans | 24 years old 97th place in 2020
Brown appears to gain the most from the acquisition of Julio Jones, as Jones will make it more difficult for opposing teams to double-team him. Brown has the best average yards per route versus man-to-man defense of any player (3.35). And he’ll have to deal with a lot of man coverage because opponents have to account for Jones and Derrick Henry in their game plans. Turron Davenport (Turron Davenport)
Brown’s signature stat: In his short career, he has six receiving touchdowns of 50 yards or more, the third most by a player in his first two seasons since 1990. Randy Moss (8) and Odell Beckham Jr. (7) are the only players with more.
What people have to say: “I had been following him from afar, but now that I’m in the same building as him, I can see his work ethic and everything he does. He is a consummate professional.” Titans wide receiver Julio Jones
1283 receiving yards and 9 touchdowns are projected for 2021.
Washington, D.C. Age: 29 2020 position: NR
Scherff has been one of the finest guards in the NFL for many years and just received his first All-Pro honor. There’s a reason he’s made four Pro Bowls. Scherff is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to blocking inside, whether in the run or pass game, or when he’s on the move — he’s a nuisance on screens. This is likely Scherff’s last season in Washington, since he is on the franchise tag for a second year, and he would be a significant loss for the club. ‘John Keim’
Scherff’s 94.4 percent pass block victory rate was No. 20 in the NFL among all offensive linemen in 2020, and he was in the top 10 among guards.
What they have to say: “With his speed and body control, he is really an athletic athlete. He doesn’t seem to miss very often.” Washington coach Ron Rivera
Cowboys Wide Receiver Age: 27 Rank: 56 in 2020
Cooper missed the start of training camp due to offseason ankle surgery, but coach Mike McCarthy has been pleased with his fitness. Cooper does not think he is behind after receiving 92 passes from four different quarterbacks last season. Cooper may draw less defensive attention now that CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup are in the fold, but he may also be staring at fewer targets. Todd Archer is a writer.
Since joining the Cowboys, Cooper has scored 19 regular-season touchdowns, nine of which have been of 20 yards or more.
What they have to say: “It’s something I’m taking very seriously. I want this to be the greatest season of football I’ve ever had, and you can’t simply say that. You may say things, but if you’re going to say them, you have to back them up, which is what I’m attempting to do.” Cooper’s words
1 064 receiving yards and 7 touchdowns are projected for 2021.
Cardinals (S) Age: 25 2020 position: NR
In each of Baker’s four seasons, he’s only gotten better. For Arizona’s defense, the three-time Pro Bowler is a Swiss Army knife. From playing in the box to blitzing to falling into coverage, he can do it all. The latter is, without a doubt, where he has progressed the most as a player. Josh Weinfuss (@JoshWeinfuss)
Baker’s 49 quarterback pressures are second highest among defensive backs since 2017, behind only Jamal Adams (62).
“You put on the video, and he’s as good as anybody on the field week in and week out,” they say. Coach Kliff Kingsbury of the Cardinals
122 tackles, 2 interceptions, 2 sacks, and 1 forced fumble are projected for 2021.
Washington, D.C. Age: 25 2020 position: NR
McLaurin’s first two seasons were characterized by efficiency despite quarterback turmoil. He caught 145 receptions in those two years despite playing with six starting quarterbacks and little assistance on the outside. McLaurin has improved his release at the line and has evolved into a fantastic route runner. And he and Ryan Fitzpatrick have gotten along swimmingly this summer. ‘John Keim’
McLaurin’s signature stat is 2,037 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns in two seasons. In the same time frame, the other 11 receivers he has played with in Washington have combined for 2,298 yards and 11 touchdowns.
What they have to say: “His albums are unquestionably superior. He makes unexpected movements and gives you a little bit at the line, making it more difficult for [defensive backs].” Washington cornerback William Jackson III
1 274 receiving yards and 6 touchdowns are projected for 2021.
Lions (C) Age: 25 2020 position: NR
While much about this new-look Lions team is unknown, the offensive line, led by Ragnow, the NFL’s highest-paid center, is anticipated to be a strong point. Ragnow’s offensive line coach, Hank Fraley, is urging him to be true to himself in order to excel at his position and avoid being swayed by outside expectations. Eric Woodyard’s remark
Ragnow’s signature stat: Last season, he recorded a pass block victory percentage of 94.8 percent, which was fifth among all qualifying centers. He also placed fourth among centers in run block victory rate.
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What they have to say: “Expectations are always present. Nobody is going to be more difficult on me than I am. And I want to show the citizens of Detroit, the Ford family, and the rest of the management that this investment was well worth it. But above all, I owe it to my family and team. Those are the individuals. I’m not concerned about what others may think. I just want to assist in the winning of games, and that is exactly what I intend to accomplish.” Ragnow’s words
Buccaneers | ILB Age: 23 2020 position: NR
When White is on the field, you can’t take your gaze away from him. He’s all over the place, with a team-high 9.0 sacks, 140 tackles, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery in the 2020 regular season. His improved coverage will only help him to become one of the league’s best defensive players this season. Jenna Laine is a writer who lives in New York City.
White dominated the playoffs last season, with 38 tackles, two interceptions, and two fumble recoveries. In each of his three playoff games, he had at least one takeaway.
What they have to say: “I have to thank all of you in the media for informing him that he couldn’t cover. He was irritated and took it personally, so thank you.” Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians
153 tackles, 4 sacks, 1 interception, and 1 forced fumble are projected for 2021.
Vikings (DE) Age: 26 Rank: 55 in 2020
Last season, Minnesota’s pass rush weakened as a result of Hunter’s absence. In 2020, the Vikings had a franchise-low 23 sacks, and the team’s sack leader — Yannick Ngakoue (five) — was on the move before Week 7. Hunter’s return to the fold, now that he’s healthy, alters the picture for this rebuilt defensive line. It’s no surprise that coach Mike Zimmer wishes he had ten more edge rushers like Hunter on his roster. Courtney Cronin (Courtney Cronin)
With Hunter on the field, the Vikings have produced pressure on 28 percent of dropbacks since the start of the season. During his absence, that figure fell to 23%.
What they have to say: “He’s been torn to shreds and has the physique of a gladiator. He reminded me a lot of Jevon Kearse when he was younger. He has the same body shape and aggressiveness off the edge, and he’s capable of wreaking havoc every time he steps onto the football field.” Vikings cornerback Patrick Peterson
10 sacks, 67 tackles, and 2 forced fumbles are projected for 2021.
Buccaneers Wide Receiver Age: 25 Rank: 57 in 2020
Last season, Godwin missed numerous games due to ailments, including a concussion, hamstring strain, and a fractured finger that needed ten pins to fix. It was the first time in his career that he’d had a string of ailments. But he’s back to full health and will remain one of Tom Brady’s most dependable targets. Jenna Laine is a writer who lives in New York City.
Godwin has gained 150 yards or more on nine different routes since 2019, according to NFL Next Gen Stats, the most in the NFL during that time period. In addition, behind Michael Thomas and Tyler Lockett, his 73.7 percent catch percentage since 2019 is the third highest in the NFL.
What they have to say: “It instilled in me a great deal of patience. It taught me how to persevere in the face of hardship. And I believe it was important in my personal development. That year was unlike any other I’ve ever experienced. On the other hand, I believe it has made me a better person.” Godwin’s words
Projection for 2021: 1,044 receiving yards and 7 touchdowns
WR | Seattle Seahawks Age: 28 Rank: 83 in 2020
When the Seahawks handed Lockett a $69 million contract in March, it hardly noticed throughout the NFL. That’s how quietly he’s grown into one of the league’s most prolific and efficient wideouts. He is sixth among receivers in touchdown receptions (28) and second in catch percentage since his breakthrough season in 2018. (76.8 percent ). Brady Henderson’s quote
Lockett is tied for the NFL lead with 17 receptions with a completion probability of 30 percent or below since 2018, according to NFL Next Gen Stats (Mike Williams and Stefon Diggs also have 17 in that span).
What they have to say: “He’s a natural athlete with a lot of talent. To him, everything is so smooth and simple. He’s one of the best all-around athletes in the world.” Coach Pete Carroll of the Seattle Seahawks
Projection for 2021: 1,049 receiving yards and 8 touchdowns
OT | Dallas Cowboys 30 years old in 2020, 60th place
Because of injuries, Smith hasn’t played a complete season since 2015, but he thinks neck surgery has helped him get back into the greatest condition of his career. He’s just 30 years old and entering his 11th season, but the Cowboys think he’s still one of the finest — if not the greatest — left tackles in the league. Todd Archer is a writer.
Smith’s signature stat is that he has only allowed six sacks in his last 3,477 snaps.
What they have to say: “I can’t think about it too much. You must act as though you are still a young man. You’ll be an old man if the team believes you’re an old guy. I strive to maintain a youthful mindset, which is why I am often smiling and fooling about.” ‘Smith’
Panthers | Defensive End Age: 23 2020 position: NR
Despite not having a true edge rusher beside him, Burns led Carolina in sacks (nine) and quarterback hits (21) last season. In the middle, he now has Haason Reddick, who had 12.5 sacks for Arizona in 2020, as well as Derrick Brown and DaQuan Jones, who have more experience. It’s time to choose your poison, as Burns put it. David Newton is an author.
Burns’ signature stat: Among all defensive players in 2020, he had the second-highest percentage pressure rate on third down (22.1 percent).
“[Reddick] is going to make me work even harder because there is going to be a competition to see who can get the sack the quickest,” they claim. — Mr. Burns
9 sacks, 61 tackles, 3 forced fumbles projected for 2021
Chargers (S) Age: 25 2020 position: NR
James made 105 tackles in his first season, but he missed the whole 2020 season due to a ruptured right meniscus and sat out all but five games in 2019. However, in 2021, he is already leading the defensive calls, is in excellent condition, and is regarded as one of the league’s best safeties. In defense of coach Brandon Staley, he will be all over the field in an unconventional system. Shelley Smith says:
Signature stat: James is one of the league’s most versatile players. Over the course of his career, including playoffs, below are James’ percentages of snaps lined up at various pre-snap positions: Outside linebacker has a 51 percent success rate, free safety has a 24 percent success rate, cornerback has a 19 percent success rate, interior linebacker has a 5% success rate, and defensive lineman has a 1% success rate.
“I know this, having been around Derwin for a short while… I’ll put my money on him against anybody,” they add. Chargers offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi
104 tackles, 3 interceptions, and 2 sacks are projected for 2021.
Packers (G) Age: 25 2020 position: NR
How many Pro Bowl guards can make the switch from right to left tackle without missing a beat? Jenkins should be able to accomplish that until David Bakhtiari recovers from his ACL injury, according to the Packers. Jenkins could be a top-tier starter at any of the five O-line positions, according to the Packers. Demovsky, Rob
Jenkins started at three different positions last season, starting 12 games at left guard, three games at center, and one game at right tackle. His pass block victory percentage of 95.8% in those three positions was sixth in the NFL.
“You could place Elgton wherever on the offensive line and not have to worry about him,” they claim. Packers guard Billy Turner
Bengals (S) Age: 24 2020 position: NR
Bates is coming off his best season in the NFL to date. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, Bates was ranked as the league’s best safety in 2020 by Pro Football Focus, and he had 10 pass deflections, the second-highest total among all safeties. Bates is primed for a strong year, which may lead to a contract extension, thanks to Cincinnati’s improvements at cornerback and along the defensive line. – Ben Little
Bates had the lowest anticipated points added allowed of any safety in the league when targeted as the closest defender, according to NFL Next Gen Stats.
What they have to say: “He has a wide variety of abilities. He’s free to go grab the ball. Finding genuine free safety, center-field type players has been more difficult in recent years.” Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo
105 tackles, 3 interceptions, and 1 forced fumble are projected for 2021.
Packers’ RB Age: 26 Rank: 63 in 2020
Jones is the most explosive player at the position right now. He is sixth in NFL history among running backs with at least 600 career runs, averaging 5.17 yards per carry. The Packers have always attempted to prevent him from being too worn out, as he has only played four games in his career with 20 or more carries. He has, nevertheless, made the most of those details. Demovsky, Rob
Jones’ signature stat: Over the last two seasons, he is tied for second in the NFL in running touchdowns (25) and total touchdowns (30).
What they have to say: “He’s a crucial component of our attack. He’s a dynamic player who embodies everything we look for in a professional football player, from the way he conducts himself to the way he looks after himself. He’s a fantastic member of the squad.” GM Brian Gutekunst of the Green Bay Packers
2021 projection: 973 yards running, 9 touchdowns (432 yards/3 touchdowns receiving)
Seahawks (S) Age: 25 Rank: 19 in 2020
Adams has a greater influence on games than a normal safety. Consider his 9.5 sacks in just 12 games last season, which established the single-season sack record for a defensive back in the NFL. See also his new four-year, $70 million contract with the Seahawks, which is $2.25 million more per year than the previous norm for the position. Brady Henderson’s quote
Last season, Adams not only led the Seahawks in sacks, but he also led the club in pressures with 30. That was 14 more than any other NFL defensive back, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
What they have to say: “Take a look at him. The guy is a huge fan of the game. He clearly enjoys the game. You can sense the intensity in practice, the enthusiasm in practice, and then when he’s on the field.” Seahawks safety Ryan Neal
108 tackles, 2 interceptions, 3 sacks, and 1 forced fumble are projected for 2021.
Browns quarterback Age: 26 2020 position: NR
In 2020, Mayfield resurfaced, leading Cleveland to its first playoff win in 26 years. Mayfield has all of the elements in place to take another step forward. Around him, the whole attack resurfaces. Mayfield also didn’t have to spend the summer learning a new offense or adapting to a new coach for the first time. Jake Trotter’s remark
Only the previous two MVPs, Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers, had a better QBR than Mayfield’s 81.0 from Weeks 7 to 15 last season.
What they have to say: “He performed very well in the last seven or eight games of the season. I believe he now understands. He knows what it entails and how he must work inside the system in order to be successful. You can see it much more now that he recognizes it.” Browns offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt
3901 passing yards, 28 touchdowns, 12 interceptions projected for 2021 (189 yards/2 touchdowns running)
Buccaneers | ILB 31 years old NR for 2020.
Through their first eight seasons, David and Hall of Famer Ray Lewis are the only players in NFL history with 1,000 tackles, 20.0-plus sacks, and 10-plus interceptions. In the Bucs’ defense, he’ll be paired with Devin White, and he’ll be in line for another huge year. Jenna Laine is a writer who lives in New York City.
According to NFL Next Gen Stats, David had the third-fewest yards per attempt allowed (4.2) among linebackers who faced at least 40 targets in coverage as the closest defender last season.
What they have to say: “Lavonte has been the defensive backbone of our team for the last nine seasons. On and off the football field, he exemplifies every attribute we seek for in a player.” Buccaneers GM Jason Licht
119 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 interception, and 2 forced fumbles are projected for 2021.
ILB | Indianapolis Colts Age: 26 Rank: 53 in 2020
Since being drafted in the second round by the Indianapolis Colts in 2018, Leonard has led the NFL in tackles per game with 9.9. In each of his first three seasons, he was selected to the first or second team All-Pro. The Colts rewarded Leonard with a five-year, $98.5 million contract deal during training camp, making him the highest-paid inside linebacker in league history. Mike Wells’ remark
According to ESPN Stats & Information analysis, Leonard is the only player in the last 30 seasons to have at least 400 tackles (416) and 15 sacks (15.0) in his first three seasons.
What they have to say: “There’s a reason he’s the way he is: he’s the league’s highest-paid linebacker. Every day, he adds energy and juice.” Colts linebacker Bobby Okereke
159 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 interception, and 3 forced fumbles are projected for 2021.
Saints (OT) NR NR NR NR NR NR NR NR NR NR NR
If you watch Alvin Kamara’s six-TD performance on Christmas last season on video, you’ll see that it was as much an Armstead highlight reel as it was a Kamara highlight reel. Early in his career, the nine-year veteran battled injuries. But now that he’s back in shape, he’s gaining recognition as one of the NFL’s most dominating forces. Triplett, Mike
His 40-yard sprint speed of 4.71 seconds at the NFL scouting combine in 2013 is still the quickest by an offensive lineman.
What they have to say: “I’m not sure what qualities constitute a good offensive lineman — it’s the polar opposite of what I consider athleticism to be. He is, however, the most athletic offensive lineman I’ve ever seen. He outruns all of our D-tackles.” Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan
Saints (OT) Age: 27 Rank: 66 in 2020
For good reason, the Saints paid Ramczyk $19.2 million a year, making him the highest-paid right tackle in NFL history. Since Ramczyk was selected in 2017, the club has led the NFL in both fewest sacks allowed and most running touchdowns, and he has been named to the first- or second-team All-Pro each of the last three years. Triplett, Mike
Ramczyk’s signature stat: According to ESPN Stats & Information research, he has 16 pass block sacks in his four-year career. That’s tied for the fewest among all offensive tackles who have played at least 1,000 pass-blocking plays during that time period.
What people have to say: “His mentality and attitude [distinguishes him]. He’s never in a tense situation. He’s never rushed. He isn’t scared of anything. As a result, his ability to manage any circumstance — rebound when he’s down, never get too comfortable — is unquestionable. Being even-keeled is most likely his superpower.” Saints offensive tackle Terron Armstead
Saints Wide Receiver Age: 28 Rank: 5 in 2020
Thomas has dropped 86 places from last season, when he was named the NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year. But that’s only because he’ll be out for a long due to an ankle ailment that kept him restricted to seven games and zero touchdowns until the playoffs last season. Triplett, Mike
Thomas has 29 more catches (510) than any other player in NFL history during his first five seasons, despite missing nine games last season. With Drew Brees, Teddy Bridgewater, and Taysom Hill as quarterback, he has at least two games with nine receptions and 100 receiving yards.
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What they have to say: “He’s a fantastic route runner. He can locate the margins in your coverage even if you have tight coverage or double bracket on him. He’s powerful at the catch point, so he’ll come down with the ball even if it’s challenged. He’s a physical being, therefore he understands how to create distance. He isn’t the quickest player on the field, but he always seems to have a stride or two on the defensive back. And it’s shown in his route running and aggressiveness.” Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins
813 receiving yards and 4 touchdowns are projected for 2021.
Panthers Wide Receiver Age: 24 2020 position: NR
Moore had two 1,000-yard seasons in a row while playing with five different starting quarterbacks. It’s not about being showy for him. It’s all about consistency, regardless of who’s throwing. His greatest challenge has been scoring touchdowns, with just 10 in three seasons. Moore’s potential is increased now that Sam Darnold is at quarterback and isn’t hesitant to attempt long shots. David Newton is an author.
Moore is the first wide receiver in the NFL to have at least 1,175 receiving yards in each of the last two seasons.
What they have to say: “DJ is an effervescent receiver. DJ and the kind of football player he is have great expectations from me. I’m looking forward to seeing him progress and take his game to the next level.” Panthers offensive coordinator Joe Brady
1169 receiving yards and 5 touchdowns are projected for 2021.
Browns | G Age: 29 2020 position: NR
Bitonio, the backbone of one of the league’s most dominating lines, became the first Browns guard to make the Pro Bowl for the third time in five decades. Given the consistency surrounding him up front, the Browns will have a strong argument for being the league’s best line, putting Bitonio in position for yet another Pro Bowl appearance. Jake Trotter’s remark
Bitonio was first among guards with a pass block victory percentage of 97.3 percent last season.
What they have to say: “We have faith in him. A fantastic colleague. He’s always there and works his tail off. A fantastic mix of size, strength, and speed on the feet.” Browns coach Kevin Stefanski
Saints (DE) Age: 32, 2020 position: 30
Jordan’s output was down last season, with just 7.5 sacks. The six-time Pro Bowler, though, has always been more than a sack artist. Since 2017, he’s ranked fourth in the NFL in sacks (48) and batted passes (16), and he’s a major reason the Saints have allowed the fifth-most yards per run. Triplett, Mike
Jordan has never missed a game in his 11-year career, and he leads all defensive lineman with 3,356 snaps since 2017. (With 8,560 snaps since 2011, he is by far the most among all defensive lineman.)
What they have to say: “By far the finest defensive end I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing alongside. Guys who are excellent pass rushers, good edge setters, and strong run defensive ends may all be found. But when players have the whole package, it’s a tackler’s nightmare. His physique is what really sets him apart. I believe that towards the conclusion of the game, the players have had enough of the smoke.” Saints linebacker Demario Davis
8 sacks, 54 tackles, and 1 forced fumble are projected for 2021.
Cardinals | Defensive End Age: 32, 2020 position: 38
Watt will be the icing on Chandler Jones’ ice cream if he stays healthy — he missed all of training camp before returning on Aug. 23. He’ll force offensive linemen to choose between double-teaming and chipping. Watt may have double-digit sacks for the first time since 2018. If the line hedges to one guy, the other will have a one-on-one matchup with the quarterback. With 95.5 sacks since 2012, Watt is second only to Jones. Josh Weinfuss (@JoshWeinfuss)
Watt was one of just two edge rushers in the top ten in both pass rush win rate (eighth) and run stop win rate (sixth) last season, the other being Chase Young. And he did it despite being double-teamed on passing plays more than any other edge rusher.
What they have to say: “He was out-lifting and out-running everyone from the first day he walked into the weight room. And this is giving our group a unique connection that we really need.” — Cardinals defensive tackle Rashard Lawrence
7 sacks, 52 tackles, and 2 forced fumbles are projected for 2021.
Buccaneers (OT) Age: 22 2020 position: NR
Wirfs has started every game in his debut season in 2020, allowing just two sacks in the process. Wirfs demonstrates incredible power by lifting 300-pound trees on his back and doing 48-inch box leaps from a sitting posture, not to mention viral pool feats. Jenna Laine is a writer who lives in New York City.
Wirfs’ signature stat: As a rookie, he had the best pass blocking victory percentage of any Buccaneers offensive lineman, at 89.1 percent, and it increased to 95.0 percent during the team’s Super Bowl run.
What they have to say: “With no OTAs or preseason games, it’s difficult to put into words. I believe that going up against the people he went up against in early September gave him a lot of confidence. You couldn’t ask for much more from a rookie, that’s for sure. I believe the sky is the limit in terms of his potential.” Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians
Chiefs (G) Age: 28 2020 position: NR
Thuney is the crucial component for the Chiefs, who have five new offensive lineman who did not play for them last season. Thuney’s experience is critical given the possibility of three rookies starting on the offensive line, as well as a left tackle in Orlando Brown Jr. who is learning a new position. Adam Teicher’s remark
Thuney has the third-highest pass block victory percentage among guards since the metric was introduced in 2017. (95.1 percent )
What they have to say: “Joe is a fantastic player. With his tenacity and work attitude, he’s everything you want in an offensive lineman. He’s also very bright, as shown by his performance on the field.” Coach Andy Reid of the Kansas City Chiefs
Ravens’ tight end Age: 26 2020 position: NR
Andrews aspires to join Travis Kelce and George Kittle among the best tight ends in the league. For the last three seasons, he has been Lamar Jackson’s go-to target. Andrews has an uncanny ability to find free space, particularly in the red zone. Since 2018, he has scored five more touchdowns than any other Ravens player. Jamison Hensley (Jamison Hensley)
Andrews has 17 touchdown receptions in the last two seasons, which ranks eighth in the NFL and tops among tight ends.
What they have to say: “He’s starving. He aspires to be the greatest in his job, and he works hard to achieve that goal.” Coach of Ravens tight ends Bobby Engram
832 receiving yards and 8 touchdowns are projected for 2021.
Titans | S | S | S | S | S | S | S | S | S | S | S | S | S | S |
Byard played 1,089 snaps (98.5 percent) last season, which was more than any other Titans defender. On several of those plays, Tennessee had Byard playing closer to the line of scrimmage instead of his single-high position. Byard will be able to show off his incredible ball-hawking abilities this season as he plays more center field. Turron Davenport (Turron Davenport)
Byard’s 18 interceptions since joining the NFL in 2015 are the second highest by a safety in that time period (behind Tyrann Mathieu, 20).
What people have to say: “He studies just as hard at home as he does at school. It’s not as if you can say, “OK, I’ll leave the building and forget about football.” He’ll come in and tell me what’s coming in the next day — we try to stay ahead of them and let them know what’s coming in the next day — and then he’ll come back the following day with a question about something we haven’t even covered yet, which shows me he’s doing everything correctly.” Falcons defensive coordinator Dean Pees (formerly with Titans)
105 tackles, 2 interceptions, 1 sack, and 1 forced fumble are projected for 2021.
Chiefs (OT) Age: 25 2020 position: NR
Brown will play left tackle solely for the Chiefs. He admits he lacks the traditional mobility abilities required of a great left tackle, but the Chiefs think his height (he’s 6-foot-8 and 345 pounds), power, and ability to handle the rush will make him more than competent at his new position. Adam Teicher’s remark
Brown was the only player in 2020 to line up 100 pass block win rate plays at both left and right tackle, and his pass block win rate was almost identical at both positions. 89.5 percent at left tackle and 88.8 percent on the right side were both slightly above league average.
What people have to say: “I’m struck by the fact that even when he makes errors, he doesn’t repeat them. That’s an excellent indication.” Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy
The nfl top 100 players of 2021 by team is a list that predicts the top 100 players for the 2021 season. The reason why they are among the league’s best is because they are young, have potential to improve, and are under contract for multiple years.
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