NFL Offseason

Most improved position groups of the 2021 NFL offseason:

The main parts of the offseason and player acquisition are now over and it’s time to look at who was able to upgrade their roster – on paper at least. In this write-up, we will analyze which teams managed to address a certain position group and really improve it compared to a year ago, through free agency, trades and the draft.

For the purpose of this exercise, we only look at who these squads actually had for the season, but at the same time they don’t get points for getting a player back, that already was on the roster and didn’t miss the majority of the year with injuries. So the Giants running backs aren’t going to make the list, just because Saquon Barkley is coming back, for example.

Let’s dive into it:


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Cowboys QBs

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Quarterbacks – Chicago Bears  Bears

So I was thinking about some of these high-end singular replacements like Matt Stafford over Jared Goff or Ryan Fitzpatrick over the mess in Washington, but if we’re looking at a full room, I think the Bears have gotten the best balance of capable quarterback play right now and potential upside. It didn’t look at all like Bears fans would be excited about the guys they will have under center in 2021, when the Russell Wilson noise died down and they decided to opt for old sturdy Andy Dalton instead, but in reality, getting a reliable lower-tier signal-caller like him over the ups and downs they had with Nick Foles and Mitch Trubisky already could be big for a team whose defense over the first half of the season was good enough to overcome the least exciting offense in football. And then they make a splash in the draft, that could change the fortunes of their franchise and their current regime, when they took advantage of the talented Ohio State QB Justin Fields slipping, by trading up nine spots in exchange for next year’s first-round pick basically and getting their guy. There are some issues with mechanics and eye discipline that he still needs to clean up – and those could take some time to fully overcome – but I believe his play-making and off-script qualities will allow them to work through those, will giving the team somebody that can actually win games by taking over. Trubisky started getting into a bit of a groove down the road last season, but all Chicago needed was competency at the most important position, and once Fields is ready to go, they will be so much more exciting as a unit.

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Also considered: Los Angeles Rams & Washington Football Team

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Jets RBs

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Running backs – New York Jets  Jets

The 49ers deserve to be mentioned here for getting a sneaky-good Wayne Gallman for a million dollars and two rookies I liked quite a bit, but this really was a two-team race I would say, simply because the Jets and Falcons had the two worst groups of running backs this past season in my opinion. I love the additions of Mike Davis, after what he showed as a featured back in Carolina, in the absence of Christian McCaffrey last season, as well picking up Louisville’s Javian Hawkins from the UDFA market, as an explosive complement to that. However, I really believe when you look at a backfield, where 37-year old Frank Gore accounted for more rushing yards than the next three backs combined, they desperately needed some juice at that position. And the best thing for them is that they gave up no more than a fourth-round pick, in order to acquire my RB4 in the draft in North Carolina’s Michael Carter Jr. He is a perfect fit for this zone-run heavy offense that new offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur is bringing over from San Francisco, as somebody who can really press the front side and get out to the edges, but then also has superb vision for cutback lanes. Plus, he was the best pass-catching back in this class I thought, with the ability to give rookie Zach Wilson a dump-off option, who can consistently make the first man miss. Yet, even before that, they signed Tevin Coleman to a deal worth a maximum of two million dollars, after he was fighting through nicks and bruises all of last season. However, he has been working under Kyle Shanahan almost his entire career and is very well-versed in this offensive system, which will be great for this young room of RBs, while also having stuff left in the tank I believe, as long as he can stay healthy.

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Also considered: Atlanta Falcons (Mike Davis & Javian Hawkins)

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Giants WRs

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Wide receivers – New York Giants  Giants

Wow, there’s three teams I seriously considered here. Obviously with the amount of talented receivers in the draft once again, there were plenty of options to increase your firepower as a team, but the Giants, Football Team and Ravens all – more or less – paired that up with free agent signings. The way I looked at this is that New York is the only one that got a no-doubt major upgrade at WR1 and the best name among the bunch, speaking of Kenny Golladay. He is going to be Big Blue’s X receiver, giving Daniel Jones a big-bodied target to rely upon on third downs, but also to throw it up to in 50-50 ball situations and to boost the red-zone success rate. That moves Darius Slayton to the flanker spot, if you want to stick with the classic WR tags, where he should be, being able to stretch the field on the outside of trips sets to open up space underneath for Sterling Shephard in the slot, as your possession guy plus, and then on top of that, they invest their first-round pick into a dynamic play-maker in Florida’s Kadarius Toney, after trading back with the Bears. We can only imagine how this offense could have looked like if they actually got Alabama’s Devonta Smith, who they reportedly were going after, but Toney brings a very unique skill-set to the table himself. He still needs some refinement as a route-runner, but he is so explosive and tough to read, while having the moves in his bag to put defenders on skates after the catch. Plus, while certainly disappointing for their former teams, having top-ten pick John Ross and top-50 pick Dante Pettis as your number five and six isn’t bad either.

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Also considered: Washington Football Team & Baltimore Ravens

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Patriots TEs

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Tight-ends – New England Patriots Patriots

This was by far the easiest choice and I don’t have any other team listed here as “also considered”, because of how big the drop-off is. Atlanta certainly came to my mind, in terms of the best tight-end added, when they drafted a unicorn-type of prospect in Florida’s Kyle Pitts, but New England was the only team that added two legitimate tight-ends and I believe they were inarguably the top two names on the open market altogether. When we think back to the early 2010s, with the tandem of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, Josh McDaniels created a 12 personnel-heavy offense that presented challenges for opposing defenses on a weekly basis. While I don’t either one of the guys they added in free agency can fill that prototypical Y role in terms of an in-line blocker, Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith give the Patriots a lot of versatility. To where Henry will be playing more at the end of the offensive line, but also work detached from it, often times probably as their de facto X-receiver, unless N’Keal Harry makes a major jump in year three, since Henry split time almost exactly even between the two in L.A. last season. And then Smith will be used more as an H-back or even fullback, executing sift and wrap-around pulls in the run game, sneaking out for run-after-catch opportunities off play-action and I’m sure also take some creatively designed carries. With some of the speed guys they have added on the perimeter, I believe their efficiency in-between the numbers will certainly improve. Then when you look at who will be featured in those areas of the field, the tight-end production of just 254 receiving yards should see a big bump. Plus, I believe their two three-round picks from last year in Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene still have some potential.

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Chiefs OL

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Offensive line – Kansas City Chiefs  Chiefs

I went full offensive line, because no team brought in two clear-cut improvements (or replacements in general) at tackle for example and there is a clear winner, which I’m not totally sure where exactly that team will play all their guys yet. However, I believe this is how the Chiefs O-line at full strength looks like this upcoming season – LT Orlando Brown, LG Joe Thuney, C Creed Humphrey, RG Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and RT Kyle Long. I believe Long was at his best inside, but you can have two Pro Bowl-level guards in their natural position, and then I’d plug Humphrey into center, replacing Austin Blythe, whose a solid player himself, but I wouldn’t put up there with my top-ranked interior linemen in the draft, excluding Landon Dickerson due to injury concerns. And that makes Blythe a high-quality backup for those three interior spots, to go with a few other guys I liked quite a bit these last few drafts. Like, if both their starting tackles and one of the inside guys got hurt, like it was in the Super Bowl in February, I believe they could hang in there – and that is with the assumption Mike Remmers might not be on that roster. However, that starting five has a chance to be top-five-ish in the league, boosting a run game that they couldn’t rely upon all the time and allowing Patrick Mahomes to step up, rather than routinely backing up or escaping outside. That offense to me should be even better, because they can operate under more balance, the don’t have to formulate game-plans where the ball has to come out in under two seconds and they are certainly not as quarterback-reliant.

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Also considered: Los Angeles Chargers (Corey Linsley, Matt Feiler & Rashawn Slater)

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Colts EDGEs

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Edge rushers – Tennessee Titans Titans

Moving on to the defensive side of the ball, I believe no position is tougher to really upgrade than the play on the edge, unless you are ready to trade assets. Elite pass rushers are arguably the second-most important pieces to any team, so those real difference-makers rarely actually hit the market and with guys like Chase Young and the Bosa brothers have skewed our view of instant play-makers that are usually available in the draft. So looking at the Titans here, of course the additions they have made would have helped any team out there, but they make the list here because of how desperate they were to upgrade in this area. Looking at the numbers from a year ago, their 19 sacks on the season were more than only two teams – the one-win Jaguars and the four-win Bengals. However, unlike those bottom-feeders they were ranked next to, this was a division-winning 11-5 squad. The next-closest playoff team in that category still had 32. And they were only 0.1 percent better than the worst team (Lions) in terms of percentage of pressures provided on dropbacks (17.6 percent). Harold Landry and Jeffery Simmons were the only reliable players on that D-line for them. But by adding Bud Dupree from Pittsburgh, who really came into his own last season and was on track for 11.5 sacks and 41 pressures by himself, on a reasonable 16.5-million annual salary with a potential out two years from now, coming a torn ACL, a highly underrated Denico Autry, who quietly racked up 7.5 sacks for Indy last year, for basically a two plus one deal for 7 million per, and a very technically-sound, powerful Rashad Weaver (Pittsburgh) in the fourth round, they all of a sudden go four deep on the edge, with a couple of guys having inside flexibility.

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Also considered: New York Giants (Azeez Ojulari, Ryan Anderson & Ifeadi Odenigbo)

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Lions IDL

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Interior defensive line – Detroit Lions  Lions

When I look at who made my list last year in terms of the defensive interior, the Cowboys on paper seemed to have really boosted that group, but Gerald McCoy didn’t even make it to week one, due to a ruptured quad, Dontari Poe fell off dramatically and was cut mid-way through the season and Neville Gallimore didn’t even play a third of the snaps, which were mostly out of position I believe anyway. So them being the 31st-ranked rush defense and their true defensive tackles combining for 1.5 sacks on the year certainly doesn’t count as an improvement in hindsight. With that being said, I have a tough time imagining the Lions not making a big jump at that position. The bar is set pretty low, finishing 28th in rushing yards allowed and Nick Williams accounting for half of the group’s pressure production (10) – and he is still there. However, I believe Detroit actually drafted themselves a new starting DT duo with Levi Onwuzurike (Washington) and Alim McNeill (N.C. State). While Levi actually filled in as the Huskies nose-tackle in 2019 (opted out of last season), where he displayed the ability to stand his ground versus double-teams, I look at him being best suited as a penetrating three-technique, which he should be allowed to play as, thanks to grabbing McNeill a round later, who was an immovable object in the middle of the Wolfpack defense. While new defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn comes from New Orleans even, one-gapping front, his influence from Bill Parcells and Vic Fangio could signal more 3-4 base principles, although I see their personnel fitting much better for four-down looks. Yet, even if they do want to get more into those odd fronts, with the addition of Michael Brockers as sort of a prototype four/five-technique, that would still allow Onwuzurike to attack upfield more, while McNeill has plenty of experience with two-gapping the center. They still have Da’Shawn hand as well, who hasn’t been able to stay healthy, but has shown serious flashes in a penetrating role.

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Also considered: Jacksonville Jaguars (Roy Robertson-Harris, Malcolm Brown & Jay Tufele)

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Browns LBs

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Linebackers – Cleveland Browns  Browns

I called out this group of linebackers a little bit ahead of last season, when I thought their biggest remaining hole on the roster/depth chart was MIKE linebacker, while not being super excited about the other guys of that group either. Sione Takitaki was the best of the bunch and while he did make some nice impact plays, I think calling him a fringe starter isn’t a stretch. And if the Browns start games in nickel, I don’t envision him being on the field. First, Cleveland brought in Anthony Walker from Indianapolis, who I believe has been a very underappreciated players these last three years, due to playing alongside Darius Leonard. He may not have the same type of sideline-to-sideline range as his former teammate, but he is sturdy enough to stonewalling linemen working up to him and he has improved as a tackler every single year, missing just six of 98 attempts this past season, while making six plays on the ball in coverage. And then they got a major steal, due to some late medical concerns about his heart, when Notre Dame’s Jeremiah Owusu-Koromoah somehow made it to pick 52. He was my 17th overall prospect and complements very well what Walker does, as a more rangy coverage defender, who can funnel Lamar Jackson back inside, when they face their biggest competitors for the division in the Ravens for example. And they can basically play him as a big nickel as well, if you want to put three linebackers out there against heavier personnel. Plus, then the Browns also got Tony Fields out of West Virginia in the fifth round, who I looked at as a sleeper at the position, as a depth piece at worst. All while not really losing anybody from last year.

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Also considered: Miami Dolphins (Bernardrick McKinney & Duke Riley)

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Broncos CBs

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Cornerbacks – Denver Broncos  Broncos

It’s not like I thought the Broncos were bad at the cornerback position and when I look at this Broncos depth chart, I have a hard time finding real holes, as long as they get solid play from the quarterback position, but if you were to point out a position group that needs to make a jump in 2021 and they certainly attacked it hard. So the big move there last season for Denver was trading a fourth-round pick to Jacksonville for A.J. Bouye, to see what he had left in the tank. Unfortunately, he barely was on the field for them due fighting through shoulder injury and then having his season cut short prematurely due to a PED suspension. The two guys who easily led that group in playing time were Bryce Callahan, who played at a Pro Bowl-level, but missed six games, and then rookie Michael Ojemudia, who had some growing pains and didn’t get the benefit of the doubt I thought on many of the flags thrown against him, but did he battle and put some good things on tape. Plus, they had a bunch of other guys they threw out there. However, Vic Fangio certainly wasn’t satisfied with what he got from that group and brought in his former All-Pro corner Kyle Fuller from Chicago, who will play the field side corner role, that is in more off-zone coverage and is allowed to drive on routes, as well as investing the ninth overall pick in the draft in Alabama’s Patrick Surtain, who will be their boundary guy, that crowds receivers more at the line of scrimmage, where is already extremely technically sound at. And as well as he played on the outside, Bryce Callahan can now move back into the slot full-time again, where Fangio had him with the Bears. And let’s not overlook the signing of Ronald Darby, who had a rough couple of years in Philly, but is still a pretty talented corner, and a steal in the seventh round of the draft in Kary Vincent Jr. from LSU, who I believe could potentially be a starting nickel on many teams around the league.

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Also considered: Cleveland Browns (Greg Newsome II & Troy Hill)

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Browns SAFs

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Safeties – Las Vegas Raiders  Raiders

So, let’s just quickly talk about how the Raiders used their group of safeties last season. Jonathan Abram led the position with 78.6 percent of snaps as their boundary/strong safety, Erik Harris at two thirds as a field side guy and Lamarcus Joyner with a little less than that really as their starting nickel, plus then they had Jeff Heath as this combo-guy, who filled in at either safety spot. Paul Guenther used a lot of quarters coverage last season, where they tried to keep everything in front of them, but especially Abram made several mental mistakes and has been a disappointment as a coverage defender altogether, as ferocious as he may be filling the alley and getting involved as a blitzer against the run, and I wouldn’t call any of these other guys real playmakers necessarily either. So with Gus Bradley coming in as Las Vegas’ new DC and having evolved from his Seattle days, they clearly put a focus on adding rangy back-end defenders and being more diverse in that regard. First, they brought back their former first-round pick Karl Joseph, who did a year of growing in Cleveland, and can be deployed closer to the line of scrimmage. Then they went to the draft and got the number one safety on most people’s boards in TCU’s Trevon Moehrig, who excelled in a very complex defense, where they used a lot of split-safety looks, but he did show the ability to cover a lot of ground when rotated into the deep middle. Then in the fourth round, they brought in two of my favorites, in Missouri’s Tyree Gillespie, who fell here due to having no interceptions in college, but has been a super-consistent free safety in the SEC for years and can be paired up with Moehrig, to use them in interchangeable capacity and change the picture post-snap, as well as Virginia Tech’s Divine Deablo, who has surprising range for a 225-pounder, but really presents the most intrigue as a tight-end eraser and dime backer.

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Also considered: Jacksonville Jaguars (Andre Cisco, Rayshawn Jenkins & Rudy Ford)

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3 thoughts on “Most improved position groups of the 2021 NFL offseason:

  1. Pingback: NFL teams most likely to go from worst to first in 2021: | Halil's Real Footballtalk

  2. Pingback: NFL teams most likely to go from worst to first in 2021: | Defy Life

  3. Pingback: Power Rankings ahead of the 2021 NFL season: | Halil's Real Footballtalk

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