AROUND THE NFL

Well-connected Mark Maske of the Washington Post reports on what will take the place of the shortened preseason:

 

Amid mounting criticism of an uncompelling exhibition-season product with sparsely attended stadiums and star players being withheld from games to avoid injury, there is increasing conviction within the NFL to shorten the preseason.

 

The change could take effect by the summer of 2021 and probably would need to be accompanied by an expansion of the league’s playoff field or regular season to offset the revenue lost from cutting one to two preseason games per team. It is being discussed as part of ongoing negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement between representatives of the NFL Players Association and team owners, people familiar with the league’s inner workings said.

 

The options being discussed include the lengthening the regular season from 16 games to 17 or 18 or the expansion of the playoff field from 12 teams to 14. While some owners have not given up on getting players to agree to an 18-game season, the union’s ongoing resistance is increasingly likely to turn the focus to adding playoff games, according to those with knowledge of the situation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the confidentiality of the negotiations.

 

It is unclear, however, whether owners might push for a 17-game regular season if the NFLPA remains adamantly opposed to 18 and whether players would be receptive.

 

As for the preseason, it is becoming more certain that it will be cut to two or three games. One person close to the situation said it is “safe to say that the preseason will be shortened at some point.”

 

Owners have the right, in their view, to shorten the preseason and expand the playoffs without the union’s consent. But it appears, at least at this point, that consideration of those changes is taking place within the context of bargaining between the owners and the NFLPA.

 

NFL teams play four preseason games each, with the two participants in the annual Hall of Fame Game playing five. All teams are scheduled to play their final games of this preseason Thursday night.

 

The league has acknowledged the lack of quality of preseason games for close to a decade. In the negotiations that preceded the 10-year labor agreement struck in 2011, owners proposed shortening the preseason to two games and lengthening the regular season to 18 games but abandoned the idea after the NFLPA rejected the proposal on player-safety grounds.

 

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has continued to concede in recent months that preseason games are not up to the league’s standards.

 

“What we should be doing is always to the highest quality, and I’m not sure preseason games meet that level right now,” Goodell said at a June charity event in Buffalo, according to the Associated Press. “I’m not sure, talking with coaches, that four preseason games is necessary any more to get ready for a season to evaluate players, develop players. There are other ways of doing that, and we’ve had a lot of discussions about that.”

 

Teams have become increasingly willing to leave standout players, particularly star quarterbacks, on the sideline for all or nearly all of the preseason, minimizing or eliminating injury risks. Many games this preseason have been played in nearly empty stadiums.

 

Owners would lose revenue by cutting preseason games — teams charge season ticket holders for them, sometimes at a reduced rate — and would be unlikely to agree to a reduction of the preseason without an accompanying revenue-enhancing measure.

 

That measure, to many owners, should be an 18-game season, which has resurfaced during these CBA negotiations. A person on the players’ side said it’s “not a secret that NFL owners want more games.”

 

Some owners point out that increased revenue means more income for players, who receive a share of it under the salary cap system. Owners seem willing to increase roster sizes to get players to agree to a longer regular season. A proposal to limit each player to 16 games in an 18-game season does not appear to have widespread support on either side. But some owners also seem prepared to make concessions to players in other areas, such as the league’s marijuana policy and Goodell’s authority in player discipline.

 

Still, players and NFLPA leaders have expressed strong public opposition to an 18-game season. The retirements of standout players such as New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski and Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck before their 30th birthdays could reinforce the notion that the sport already takes an often-unmanageable toll on players’ bodies.

 

But an expanded set of playoffs almost certainly would be more palatable to players, given that players would be asked to play only two additional games.

 

Under the proposal, seven teams in each conference would qualify for the postseason instead of the current six. One team in each conference, rather than the current two, would receive an opening-round playoff bye. That would make for six first-round playoff games (three in each conference) instead of the current four, one of which might be played on a Monday night. The two additional playoff games probably would be enticing to networks in the NFL’s next set of negotiations for TV rights deals.

 

It’s not known whether expanding the playoffs would preclude the owners from seeking a 17th regular season game. That probably would involve each team playing one game per season at a neutral site, perhaps in another country.

 

The current CBA runs through the 2020 season. The league and the union have gotten an early start on bargaining for a new deal, trying to avoid a damaging work stoppage such as the owners’ lockout of the players that preceded the 2011 agreement.

 

NFC EAST

 

DALLAS

An update on nothing as it relates to progress in the contract discussions with QB DAK PRESCOTT.  Victor Frank of Sportsnaut.com:

 

Most of the talk surrounding the Dallas Cowboys this summer has involved holdout running back Ezekiel Elliott, who has two years remaining on his contract.

 

Though, both quarterback Dak Prescott and wide receiver Amari Cooper are slated to become free agents after the 2019 season. Specifically, the Cowboys want to get something worked out with their franchise quarterback.

 

Despite the fact that Prescott has taken part in the three preseason games thus far and decided against holding out, it doesn’t look like things are close in contract talks between him and the Cowboys.

 

Dallas Vice President and CEO Stephen Jones opened up about said talks on Wednesday.

 

He noted that the club has been in contact with Prescott’s agent, Todd France over at CAA Sports. Jones also said that talks have not involved details at this point.

 

@jonmachota

 Cowboys VP Stephen Jones was around Dak Prescott’s agent over the weekend. “We talked about (his contract) in generalities but there were no details discussed.”

 

This seems to be a clear indication that things will not be settled on the Prescott front prior to Week 1. If this were to drag on throughout the 2019 season, Dallas would almost certainly have to place the franchise tag on Prescott next March.

 

The quarterback is said to be demanding a deal on par with the $35 million Seattle Seahawks star Russell Willson is earning annually on his new contract. For their part, the Cowboys have looked at making Prescott a top-five paid quarterback. On average, that would net him just under $33 million annually.

 

This on the Cowboys’ propensity for attempting end runs around the agents of their players.  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

On Wednesday, NFL Media’s Mike Garafolo pointed out a dynamic that the Dallas Cowboys haven’t tried all that hard to hide: Their propensity for cutting out the middleman and dealing directly with players who are represented by agents.

 

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the NFL Players Association views the situation as “not good,” and currently is doing its due diligence before taking any official action and/or issuing any formal statement.

 

It won’t be hard for the union to piece together evidence. On Wednesday, owner Jerry Jones essentially confessed to 105.3 the Fan in Dallas that the Cowboys like to cut out the middleman whenever and however they can.

 

“[T]hat’s always been the issue with me and my approach to managing the Cowboys,” Jerry Jones said, via Jon Machota of TheAthletic.com. “When you cut out the people in between the money and the player, we all know that agents, attorneys have their agenda. By the way, they are all taking money out of the pie too when they’re there. The straighter it goes from the source to the one receiving it, nine times out of 10 that’s more efficient.”

 

Ten times out of 10 that’s better for the team, which would love to be able to run roughshod over players who don’t have agents protecting their interests. And it surely seems as if the Cowboys routinely go straight to the player to get deals done.

 

Consider this comment from Cowboys COO Stephen Jones at the camp-opening press conference regarding the team’s ability to work out a deal with defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence: “We sat there forever and then all of a sudden, we had a good little visit with DeMarcus and things happened like quickly. Inside of like 24 hours you’re home.”

 

That’s likely one of the reasons why running back Ezekiel Elliott is holding out. If he’s not in camp, the Joneses can’t put the squeeze on him. And they have no choice but to deal with his agent, Rocky Arceneaux.

 

Which they’d rather not do. Which is the best evidence of the value of having a good agent. And perhaps conclusive evidence that the Cowboys are taking liberties that the NFLPA will be compelled to challenge.

 

 

WASHINGTON

Bruce Allen blusters that he will not knuckle under to T TRENT WILLIAMS.  Jeremy Bergman of NFL.com:

 

As the season nears, Trent Williams remains away from the Washington Redskins over contract and medical disputes with the team.

 

Redskins brass has been optimistic all summer that Williams will eventually rejoin the team, yet the left tackle is still a holdout.

 

On Wednesday night, Redskins president Bruce Allen told NBC Washington’s Sherree Burruss that the team is preparing for their season opener with the Philadelphia Eagles with or without Williams.

 

“Well, he’s not here. You’re either here and you’re not and he’s elected not to be here,” Allen said. “We are in full mode right now even before this preseason game preparing for Philadelphia.

 

When pressed for details about potential contract negotiations or trade talks regarding Williams, Allen wouldn’t disclose when the last time he spoke to Williams was or what the nature of their conversations has been.

 

Redskins coach Jay Gruden said earlier this week he believed “very strongly” that Washington will not trade the star tackle, even though Williams has shown no sign of budging from his holdout.

 

Allen was similarly assured Williams would play with Washington this year.

 

“I think Trent’s going to play football, yes,” Allen said. “We had a surprising retirement this week in the NFL and I don’t see Trent retiring.”

 

Asked whether he thinks Williams will play for the ‘Skins or another team, Allen responded, “No, it’ll be with us.”

 

With Williams healthy and able to play, Washington could recoup a fortune if it were to trade him. The 31-year-old plays at a position of need for nearly half the league and has never missed more than six games in a season. Williams has also made consecutive seven Pro Bowls. The tackle could merit serious draft capital on the trade block, a useful commodity for any team but especially one that appears as middling as Washington.

 

But unless the ‘Skins make Williams available for trade, the situation in D.C. won’t change. Williams isn’t showing up, and Allen’s Redskins are confident he’ll be back with the team this season. Who blinks first?

 

NFC WEST

 

SAN FRANCISCO

QB JIMMY GAROPPOLO wants you to know that he is intentionally throwing the ball to well-guarded receivers in the preseason. Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

It’s been a preseason of ups and downs for 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who was absolutely terrible in his first game but much better in his second. Part of that is by design.

 

Garoppolo told KNBR that he likes trying things like throwing into coverage during the preseason to see how his receivers fight for the ball.

 

“A big part of that is it still being preseason, or in practice, you try things like that,” Garoppolo said, via NBCSportsBayArea.com. “You know, during a real game, you wouldn’t make that throw or that decision, but there’s a trust factor between quarterback and . . . whoever’s catching the ball. The more you try those things, you see who’s going to make the play for you in a crucial situation.”

 

Garoppolo is known to look better in regular season games than he does in preseason or in practice, so perhaps there’s something to this. The 49ers are counting on Garoppolo to look the way he did during his most extensive regular season action, at the end of the 2017 season.

– – –

Nick Wagoner of ESPN.com on a setback for RB JERRICK McKINNON:

 

San Francisco 49ers running back Jerick McKinnon’s latest attempt at a comeback from a torn ACL hit another snag on Tuesday, leaving his status for this season up in the air.

 

On what should have been a step in the right direction, McKinnon returned to practice Tuesday afternoon but the session apparently didn’t go that well for him and his surgically repaired right knee, according to general manager John Lynch.

 

“Yesterday we brought him out and it’s a real bummer because he keeps getting to the final step,” Lynch told KNBR radio in San Francisco on Wednesday morning. “And the final step is actually playing NFL football, particularly at his position where you have got to make hard cuts. You’ve got to put your foot in the ground. And we did it a month ago. And we got to that step and he kind of regressed and I would say yesterday we had a similar situation. So we’re trying to get to ‘OK, what’s really the root cause of the problems that he’s having?’

 

“Yesterday was not encouraging from that standpoint for Jet. What that means, we’re not sure yet. We’re working hard to find that out.”

 

AFC WEST

 

DENVER

The Broncos are flying under the radar in 2019, but they could have a fearsome pass rush, especially if EDGE BRADLEY CHUBB is improved.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

After Vic Fangio was hired as the Broncos head coach this offseason, he talked about getting more out of Von Miller in his ninth season.

 

Miller’s been on board with that goal, but he doesn’t think that improvement off the edge of the defense will be limited to his spot. Bradley Chubb had 12 sacks as a rookie and Miller said he’s seen signs of a “totally different” player as the 2018 first-round pick prepares for this second NFL season.

 

“I don’t even know what he did,” Miller said, via the team’s website. “If I find out what he did, I’m going to start doing it. I think it’s just natural. I think it’s just natural for defensive players to take a huge leap from Year 1 to 2. You saw it with me. I had 11 sacks and I jumped to 18.5 sacks my second year. You saw the same thing with Khalil Mack and Vic Beasley and all of these guys. Same thing with Bradley Chubb. I don’t know if it’s a certain drill or sleep or whatever else, I just think it’s exposure and time. He will definitely be a brand-new player this season.”

 

Facing Miller and Chubb was daunting for opposing teams in 2018. Should they both find new levels in Fangio’s defense, offensive linemen will be scrambling for time machines to go back the good old days.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

HOUSTON

An update on trade talks involving EDGE JADEVEON CLOWNEY.

 

The Houston Texans have engaged five different teams in discussions over a possible trade of franchise tag defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.

 

According to Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle, the most significant discussions have come with the Miami Dolphins. However, the Texans have also spoken with the Philadelphia Eagles, Seattle Seahawks, Washington Redskins and New York Jets in regards to the standout pass rusher.

 

“Nothing has advanced” with any of the teams outside of Miami at this point. Additionally, any trade with Washington appears to be dead as they won’t part with left tackle Trent Williams. Clowney reportedly prefers the Eagles or Seahawks as possible destinations.

 

Clowney cannot be traded without first signing his franchise tag tender, which gives him leverage in the discussions as long as he’s willing to remain home and not report to the Texans. Additionally, Clowney doesn’t currently have an agent representing him after firing Bus Cook. Clowney has met with Dolphins head coach Brian Flores after the Texans gave the two sides permission to do so.

 

Getting all of the variables to come together in such a way that everyone can feel satisfied may be a tough ask. Even if a trade comes together, that team won’t be able to negotiate a new contract for Clowney until after the 2019 season with no guarantees Clowney will spend more than one season at his new destination.

 

AFC EAST

 

MIAMI

WR DAVANTE PARKER could be part of a Dolphins purge.

 

DeVante Parker returned to practice this week and his chances of making the Miami Dolphins’ roster after a few disappointing seasons with the team increased especially given the trade rumors surrounding Kenny Stills.

 

Parker missed the team’s first three preseason games with an undisclosed injury, which raised some eyebrows, but now his recent social media activity has fans thinking something big is about to happen, Thomas Carannante of 12up.com reports.

 

@AllbrightNFL

 Devante Parker on Instagram…(a peace sign emoji)

 

Is he peacing out of Miami? What’s going on?

 

It’s certainly possible he’s been notified of being traded considering the Dolphins have reportedly expressed interest in acquiring star pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney from the Houston Texans, who have a dire need for wide receivers.

 

Parker, given his career-high in receiving yards is just 744, would obviously be a small piece of the deal, though he does still have two years left on his deal after signing an extension in the offseason.

 

 

NEW ENGLAND

This might be a reason to draft RB SONY MICHEL in your Fantasy Football League.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTAlk.com:

 

Sony Michel ran for 931 yards in his first NFL regular season with the Patriots and then had six rushing touchdowns in three postseason games to help the team to a Super Bowl title, so it’s hard to find much reason to complain about his rookie performance.

 

If one did want to find an obvious area of improvement, it would be Michel’s work in the passing game. Michel only caught seven passes last season and the Patriots skewed heavily toward the ground game when he was in the backfield, so defenses could predict what was coming even if they weren’t able to stop it often enough.

 

Patriots running backs coach Ivan Fears doesn’t think they’ll have that luxury this year. Fears said Michel is “much improved” in the passing game and that the offense will reflect that once the regular season is underway.

 

“The whole key to make it so we’re interchangeable, everybody looks at us saying they can do both. We like to be in that kind of mode, they got to worry about Sony catching the ball as well as running the ball,” Fears said, via Mac Cerullo of the Newburyport Daily News. “I think you’ll find Sony is going to do very well in the passing game, and I bet you’ll find James White and the rest of the guys doing very well in the running game also. We’re going to try to keep that going.”

 

Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said that the Patriots’ offensive identity is still taking shape. If Fears is right about Michel’s strides in the passing game, he’ll be at the forefront of whatever identity winds up ruling the day in New England.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

2020 DRAFT

We haven’t even played a game and ESPN wants you to know how they will line up for the 2020 draft.  Without looking, we guess there won’t be many changes from last year’s lineup.

 

The Miami Dolphins will own the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NFL draft, according to the preseason 1-32 projections from the ESPN Football Power Index (FPI). The Andrew Luck-less Indianapolis Colts? They’re projected to pick 11th.

 

Each week during the season, the FPI projects the draft order by simulating the remainder of the season 10,000 times. Game probabilities are based largely on the model’s ratings for individual teams in addition to game locations. The order is based on the record the model believes the teams will have after 16 games, and the order is based on each team’s average draft position in the simulations. Stats to know are courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information.

 

Check out the full projection:

 

1. Miami Dolphins

Projected record: 5-11

Average draft position: 6.6

FPI chance to earn No. 1 pick: 17.1%

FPI chance to earn top-five pick: 55.5%

 

Stat to know: Brian Flores spent 15 seasons with the Patriots organization before being named the Dolphins’ new coach. Coaches from Bill Belichick’s coaching tree, however, haven’t found great success, going 178-263 (.403). Only one coach from Belichick’s coaching tree has won a game in the playoffs (Bill O’Brien), and overall, those coaches have gone 1-5 in the playoffs.

 

 

2. Arizona Cardinals

Projected record: 5-11

Average draft position: 6.8

FPI chance to earn No. 1 pick: 15.9%

FPI chance to earn top-five pick: 53.7%

 

Stat to know: Kyler Murray could make an immediate impact. He’s set to become the first Cardinals rookie quarterback to start a season opener since Lamar McHan in 1954, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. In the past 15 seasons, rookie QBs drafted No. 1 overall have averaged 4.4 wins, with a .392 win percentage and 51.0 Total QBR. The only one to post a winning record was Andrew Luck, who, like Murray, had a rookie head coach (Chuck Pagano).

 

3. New York Giants

Projected record: 6-10

Average draft position: 8.1

FPI chance to earn No. 1 pick: 10.7%

FPI chance to earn top-five pick: 44.7%

 

Stat to know: Eli Manning, who is back for his 16th season, has 23 losses as a starting quarterback the past two seasons, the most in the NFL. He was sacked a career-high 47 times in 2018. The Giants’ offensive line struggled, finishing 27th in the NFL in ESPN’s pass block win rate (powered by NFL Next Gen Stats), sustaining their blocks for at least 2.5 seconds only 43% of the time.

 

4. Washington Redskins

Projected record: 6-10

Average draft position: 9

FPI chance to earn No. 1 pick: 9.1%

FPI chance to earn top-five pick: 39.1%

 

Stat to know: Adrian Peterson re-signed with the Redskins, inking a two-year deal after coming off his first 1,000-yard season since 2015. Peterson enters this season in eighth place on the all-time rushing list and needs four rushing touchdowns to tie Walter Payton for fourth in NFL history. He’s 34 years old but didn’t show any signs of slowing down last season; according to NFL Next Gen, he tied for the fifth-most rush attempts that reached 20-plus mph.

 

5. Oakland Raiders

Projected record: 6-10

Average draft position: 9.2

FPI chance to earn No. 1 pick: 7.9%

FPI chance to earn top-five pick: 37.2%

 

Stat to know: Since winning the Super Bowl with Tampa Bay in 2002, Jon Gruden has reached the playoffs only twice in seven seasons and has lost both of his postseason games in that span. Among 23 coaches with at least 100 games coached since 2003, Gruden’s .438 win percentage ranks second worst, ahead of only that of Ken Whisenhunt.

 

6. Cincinnati Bengals

Projected record: 6-10

Average draft position: 9.6

FPI chance to earn No. 1 pick: 8.1%

FPI chance to earn top-five pick: 36.5%

 

Stat to know: The Bengals allowed 413.6 yards per game last season, most in the NFL and the most allowed in franchise history. As a result, the Bengals drafted four defensive players and picked up two more through free agency. They also hired a new defensive coordinator, Lou Anarumo, who has mostly been a defensive backs coach in his seven years in the NFL.

 

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Projected record: 6-10

Average draft position: 10

FPI chance to earn No. 1 pick: 5.9%

FPI chance to earn top-five pick: 32.4%

 

Stat to know: Jameis Winston is playing out the fifth-year option after being taken first overall in the 2015 draft. Winston established a career high last season in completion percentage (64.6) and Total QBR (68.3). However, he has turned the ball over 76 times in his career, which ties him with Blake Bortles for the most in the NFL since he entered the league in 2015 (he has played 396 fewer snaps than Bortles in that span).

 

8. Buffalo Bills

Projected record: 7-9

Average draft position: 12.5

FPI chance to earn No. 1 pick: 3.5%

FPI chance to earn top-five pick: 22.5%

 

Stat to know: One of the bright spots for the Bills last season was their pass defense, which allowed 179.2 yards per game, the lowest in the NFL. One of the main reasons for that is the Bills held their opponents to the fewest yards after the catch. They also had 16 interceptions, which tied for seventh in the NFL.

 

9. Detroit Lions

Projected record: 7-9

Average draft position: 12.7

FPI chance to earn No. 1 pick: 3.5%

FPI chance to earn top-five pick: 21.5%

 

Stat to know: New offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell could pivot the Lions’ offense to a more run-first approach. Bevell was the Seahawks’ offensive coordinator from 2011 to ’17, and in that time, the Seahawks ranked second in total rushing. Kerryon Johnson, a second-round pick last year, snapped the Lions’ 70-game streak without a 100-yard rusher last season, and his 5.4 yards per rush ranked second among qualified rushers.

 

10. Denver Broncos

Projected record: 7-9

Average draft position: 12.9

FPI chance to earn No. 1 pick: 3.1%

FPI chance to earn top-five pick: 19.9%

 

Stat to know: Phillip Lindsay rushed for 1,037 yards in 2018. Only Dominic Rhodes, who recorded 1,104 yards for the Colts in 2001, has rushed for more among undrafted rookies in NFL history. Lindsay can thank his blocking for his success, as he averaged a league-high 3.82 yards before contact per rush.

 

11. Indianapolis Colts

Projected record: 7-9

Average draft position: 13.7

FPI chance to earn top-five pick: 18.1%

FPI chance to earn top-10 pick: 40.7%

 

Stat to know: Darius Leonard was named the 2018 Defensive Rookie of the Year after leading the NFL with 163 tackles, the most by a rookie since Luke Kuechly in 2012. Leonard now looks to join Kuechly and Patrick Willis as the only players in the past 15 seasons to record 300 tackles in their first two seasons. The Colts allowed 5.3 yards per play with Leonard on the field last season, compared to 7.0 yards per play with him off it.

 

12. New York Jets

Projected record: 8-8

Average draft position:14.7

FPI chance to earn top-five pick: 15.1%

FPI chance to earn top-10 pick: 35.8%

 

Stat to know: The Jets are hoping that second-year quarterback Sam Darnold takes the next step in his progression. From Week 14 through 17 last season, Darnold had the best Total QBR (80.9) in the NFL. One thing that he will need to improve is his accuracy down the field, as he had the worst completion percentage (22%) on balls thrown 20-plus yards downfield.

 

13. Tennessee Titans

Projected record: 8-8

Average draft position: 16.2

FPI chance to earn top-five pick: 12%

FPI chance to earn top-10 pick: 29.4%

 

Stat to know: Aside from the retirement of outside linebackers Derrick Morgan and Brian Orakpo, the Titans return the bulk of a defensive unit that finished third in points per game allowed last season. Safety Kevin Byard led the team with four interceptions last season and has a league-high 12 picks the past two seasons.

 

14. Jacksonville Jaguars

Projected record: 8-8

Average draft position: 16.2

FPI chance to earn top-five pick: 11.9%

FPI chance to earn top-10 pick: 30%

 

Stat to know: New Jaguars offensive coordinator John DeFilippo said running back Leonard Fournette will continue to have a major role in the offense. Fournette averaged 21.9 touches per game in his first two seasons, third most in the league in that span behind that of Ezekiel Elliott and Todd Gurley (minimum 20 games).

 

15. San Francisco 49ers

Projected record: 8-8

Average draft position: 16.7

FPI chance to earn top-five pick: 9.5%

FPI chance to earn top-10 pick: 25.4%

 

Stat to know: The 49ers have five former first-round picks on their defensive line with the additions of Nick Bosa (second overall pick) and Dee Ford (trade) to go with DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead and Solomon Thomas. They should improve a pass rush that was tied for 22nd in sacks (37) and 20th in pressure percentage (28.6) last season.

 

16. Carolina Panthers

Projected record: 8-8

Average draft position: 17.1

FPI chance to earn top-five pick: 8.3%

FPI chance to earn top-10 pick: 23.1%

 

Stat to know: The secondary will have to perform much better than it did in Weeks 10-17 last season, when the Panthers endured a seven-game losing streak. Carolina allowed a completion percentage of 68.4 (28th in NFL for Weeks 10-17) and gave up the most yards per attempt (8.4) while allowing 15 touchdowns and just two interceptions.

 

 17. Baltimore Ravens

Projected record: 8-8

Average draft position: 17.6

FPI chance to earn top-five pick: 8.1%

FPI chance to earn top-10 pick: 22.5%

 

Stat to know: The Ravens are counting on Lamar Jackson to improve as a passer. According to NFL Next Gen, Jackson’s completion percentage was 4.5 percentage points lower than his expected completion percentage, which was sixth worst among the 41 quarterbacks who attempted at least 100 passes last season. Of those 41 quarterbacks, only Josh Allen had a higher off-target percentage (24%) than Jackson’s 23%.

 

18. Cleveland Browns

Projected record: 8-8

Average draft position: 18.2

FPI chance to earn top-five pick: 7.3%

FPI chance to earn top-10 pick: 21.8%

 

Stat to know: Odell Beckham Jr. brings to Cleveland a receiving threat the Browns have rarely possessed. Beckham has three seasons with at least 1,000 receiving yards and 10 receiving touchdowns. Only two players have accomplished that in Browns history (Paul Warfield in 1968 and Braylon Edwards in 2007).

 

19. Seattle Seahawks

Projected record: 8-8

Average draft position: 18.3

FPI chance to earn top-five pick: 5.6%

FPI chance to earn top-10 pick: 18.4%

 

Stat to know: Seattle has not won a playoff game since the 2016 wild-card round vs. the Lions. But the Seahawks have seven consecutive winning seasons since they drafted Russell Wilson. That’s the second-longest active streak in the NFL behind that of the Patriots.

 

20. Atlanta Falcons

Projected record: 9-7

Average draft position: 18.8

FPI chance to earn top-five pick: 5.6%

FPI chance to earn top-10 pick: 16.9%

 

Stat to know: Matt Ryan finished 76 yards shy of a 5,000-yard season in 2018. He has a streak of eight consecutive 4,000-yard seasons, which is the longest active streak in the NFL and the second-longest in NFL history behind Drew Brees’ 12 in a row that ended in 2018.

 

21. Green Bay Packers

Projected record: 9-7

Average draft position: 19

FPI chance to earn top-five pick: 5.2%

FPI chance to earn top-10 pick: 16.3%

 

Stat to know: Aaron Rodgers threw only two interceptions on 597 passes last season, but he also posted the second-worst Total QBR (58.0) of his career. Rodgers struggled when the play broke down in 2018, completing a league-worst 30% of his passes when under duress, aided by a league-high 41 intentional throwaways.

 

22. Dallas Cowboys

Projected record: 9-7

Average draft position: 19.2

FPI chance to earn top-five pick: 4.5%

FPI chance to earn top-10 pick: 15.5%

 

Stat to know: The Cowboys won their second NFC East title in the past three years in 2018, but their season ended in the divisional playoffs against the Rams. Dallas hasn’t reached the conference championship in its past 10 playoff appearances (last time was 1995), tied with the Chiefs for the longest streak by any team since the 1970 merger.

 

23. Pittsburgh Steelers

Projected record: 9-7

Average draft position: 19.4

FPI chance to earn top-five pick: 5.6%

FPI chance to earn top-10 pick: 17.6%

 

Stat to know: With Le’Veon Bell holding out last season, the Steelers ran for 1,445 yards, second fewest in the NFL and their second fewest in the past 35 seasons. James Conner filled in for Bell and accounted for 67% of the Steelers’ rushing yards last season, the fifth-highest percentage in the NFL. However, Conner averaged 16.2 touches per game in his last five games after averaging 23.6 touches in his first eight.

 

24. Houston Texans

Projected record: 9-7

Average draft position: 19.5

FPI chance to earn top-five pick: 5.2%

FPI chance to earn top-10 pick: 16.5%

 

Stat to know: Last season, quarterback Deshaun Watson became the third player in NFL history with 4,000 passing yards and 500 rushing yards in a season, joining Russell Wilson and Cam Newton. Watson, however, was sacked a league-high 62 times. That was the most sacks taken by any quarterback since Jon Kitna in 2006 (63).

 

25. Minnesota Vikings

Projected record: 9-7

Average draft position: 20.2

FPI chance to earn top-five pick: 3.7%

FPI chance to earn top-10 pick: 12.4%

 

Stat to know: Mike Zimmer made no secret of his desire to run the ball more, and new offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski is expected to do so. Last season, the Vikings dropped back to pass 67% of the time, fifth highest in the NFL. The Vikings were 5-0 last season when rushing for at least 100 yards, making them one of four teams to go unbeaten when doing so (Rams, Patriots, Steelers).

 

26. Oakland Raiders (from CHI)

Projected record: 6-10

Average draft position: 20.3

FPI chance to earn top-five pick: 3.5%

FPI chance to earn top-10 pick: 11.9%

 

Stat to know: The Raiders’ defense picked up just 13 sacks last season, 18 fewer than any other team. Since individual sacks became an official stat in 1982, only three teams have had fewer sacks than the 2018 Raiders.

 

27. Los Angeles Chargers

Projected record: 9-7

Average draft position: 21

FPI chance to earn top-five pick: 3.1%

FPI chance to earn top-10 pick: 11.6%

 

Stat to know: Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram have combined for 54 sacks the past three seasons, fourth most of any duo for one team in the NFL. According to ESPN pass-rush metrics using Next Gen Stats, Bosa ranked fourth in pass-rush win rate (33.6%), while Ingram ranked 17th (27.3%) among 103 DE/OLB with at least 200 pass rushes last season.

 

28. Philadelphia Eagles

Projected record: 10-6

Average draft position: 23.6

FPI chance to earn top-five pick: 1.6%

FPI chance to earn top-10 pick: 6.5%

 

Stat to know: The biggest difference offensively for the Eagles from 2017 to 2018 was their running game. They were third in rushing offense in 2017 but dropped to 28th last season, the largest decrease in the NFL. Enter Jordan Howard, whom the Eagles traded for in March and who has the third-most rush yards in the league since his rookie season in 2016, behind only that of Elliott and Gurley.

 

29. Los Angeles Rams

Projected record: 10-6

Average draft position: 24

FPI chance to earn top-five pick: 1.3%

FPI chance to earn top-10 pick: 5%

 

Stat to know: The Rams have had a top-five defense in fantasy scoring the past two seasons under coordinator Wade Phillips. In fact, they had the league’s best fantasy defense through Week 8 last season but ranked 13th in the second half of the season.

 

30. Kansas City Chiefs

Projected record: 10-6

Average draft position: 26.1

FPI chance to earn top-five pick: 0.4%

FPI chance to earn top-10 pick: 2.5%

 

Stat to know: The Chiefs are preseason favorites to win Super Bowl LIV, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index. That gives Andy Reid a chance to win his first Super Bowl in his 21st season as an NFL head coach. According to Elias, that would tie Reid with Larry Brown for the most seasons coached before winning his first championship in NFL/NBA/MLB/NHL history. Brown was the head coach of the Detroit Pistons when they won the NBA Finals in 2004. Bill Cowher holds the NFL record in that category, at 14 seasons.

 

31. New Orleans Saints

Projected record: 10-6

Average draft position: 24.6

FPI chance to earn top-five pick: 0.9%

FPI chance to earn top-10 pick: 4.1%

 

Stat to know: Alvin Kamara joined Herschel Walker as the only players with 1,600 rushing yards and 1,500 receiving yards in their first two NFL seasons. Kamara saw his snaps per game increase from 27.7 in his rookie season to 41.9 last season. The Saints are 15-1 in the regular season when Kamara plays 35 snaps.

 

32. New England Patriots

Projected record: 11-5

Average draft position: 26.5

FPI chance to earn top-five pick: 0.5%

FPI chance to earn top-10 pick: 2.8%

 

Stat to know: Since turning 40, Tom Brady has completed 66% of his passes (sixth highest in the NFL) and thrown for 8,932 yards (third) and 61 passing touchdowns (third).