Predicting the Top 5 defenses this season

Is the Rams defense the best in the NFL?

By: Adam Hulse (@AdamHulseSports)

The 2021 NFL season is now less than a week away. The preseason has been completed and rosters are being finalized as teams prepare for week 1 of the regular season. Now is as good a time as any to start projecting how each team will perform this year. In particular for this article, let’s predict who the top five defenses in the NFL can be this season, counting down from 5th place and continuing all the way to the number one spot.

5. Buffalo Bills

The Bills were an average defense last year, ranking 14th in yards allowed per game with 352.5 and 16th in scoring with 23.4 points per game allowed. What’s encouraging is that they played much better defensively late in the season than they did earlier. For example, in their final six regular-season games following their bye week, they held four of their six opponents to under 20 points and then also held the Ravens to just three points in a playoff game. That gives reason for optimism heading into the 2021 NFL season, especially because head coach Sean McDermott is defensively focused. In addition, they addressed their lack of “true pass rushers” in the NFL Draft this year with first round pick Greg Rousseau and second round pick Boogie Basham. With the improved pass rush and renewed focus on defense, the Bills can get back to playing like they did in 2019 when they ranked 2nd in scoring defense at 16.2 points per game and 3rd in total defense at 298.3 yards per game.

4. San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers suffered an extreme amount of injuries in the 2020 NFL season, including their top two pass rushers in Nick Bosa and Dee Ford. Despite the fact that neither of them played much at all, in addition to all of the other injuries as well, they still managed to finish ranked 5th in total defense at 314.4 yards allowed per game. They only recorded 30 team sacks in 2020 but that number should greatly improve with their overall health, as demonstrated by their 48 team sacks in the 2019 NFL season. Lead by superstar linebacker Fred Warner, the 49ers should have another great year defensively, even without Robert Saleh as the defensive coordinator anymore after he accepted the New York Jets head coaching job.

3. Washington Football Team

Last season WFT ranked 2nd in yards allowed per game with 304.6 and 4th in scoring defense with 20.6 points allowed per game. There is good reason to believe that they could be even better this season than they were last season because of the development and progress of their young and dominant front seven. Chase Young and Montez Sweat are already one of the very best EDGE duos in the NFL and should continue to improve as they mature a bit more. The team ranked 6th in sacks last year with 47 and that number will likely go up this season. The front seven was the biggest strength of the team last season but that didn’t stop them from using their first round draft pick on linebacker Jamin Davis out of Kentucky. As long as they can keep this unit together, WFT will have one of the top defenses for many years to come.

2. Pittsburgh Steelers

The center piece to their defense, linebacker Devin Bush, only played in five games last season due to injury but the Steelers still ranked 3rd in both scoring and total defense with 19.5 and 305.8 respectively. They did lose pass rusher Bud Dupree to free agency but replaced him with a very capable veteran in Melvin Ingram. He was plagued by injuries last season, but from 2015 to 2019 he recorded 43 total sacks with the Chargers. He will pair with one of the best EDGE players in the NFL in TJ Watt, whose 15 sacks helped the Steelers lead the league in team sacks last year with a massive 56 total. In just four seasons, Watt has already accumulated 49.5 sacks and 17 forced fumbles. The Steelers have an absolute stud at all three levels of their defense, with Minkah Fitzpatrick on the back end to go with Watt on the EDGE and Bush in the middle.

1. Los Angeles Rams

The Rams were the most dominant defense in the NFL last season. Their 281.9 yards per game allowed was best in the league by a very wide margin of more than 22 yards per game. In addition, they lead the NFL in scoring defense at 18.5 points allowed per game and were second in team sacks with 53 total. They have, arguably, the best cornerback in the entire NFL in Jalen Ramsey and he’s not even their best defensive player. That is, of course, Aaron Donald. He is not only the best defensive player in the NFL but he very well may be the best overall player period. In seven season with Rams he has only missed two games total while accumulating 85.5 sacks, 19 forced fumbles, and 6 recovered fumbles despite being double or triple teamed on every single play. He is the “favorite” to once again win the Defensive Player of the Year award this season, as he should be favored every year. Based on their dominance last season, as long as they have Donald and Ramsey then there is no real reason to believe that they will regress as a defensive unit.

Dark horse Super Bowl contenders in the AFC and NFC

The 49ers are back to being a threat

By: Adam Hulse (@AdamHulseSports)

As the kickoff to the 2021 NFL season quickly approaches, it’s time to start really taking a look at what teams are built to make a Super Bowl run. There are certain teams on all radars such as the Kansas City Chiefs, Buffalo Bills, Tampa Bay Bucs, and Green Bay Packers but there are no sure things at all in the NFL. Every season is different and filled with surprises. There are always teams that exceed expectations as well as others that greatly disappoint. Looking past the top favorites, here are a few teams that have a realistic opportunity to be Super Bowl contenders this year.

NFC: Dallas Cowboys

The 2020 season was one to forget for the Cowboys but that is mostly because quarterback Dak Prescott was only able to play in five games before suffering a season-ending ankle injury. In 2019 Prescott lead the Cowboys to be the top-ranked overall offense in the NFL at 431.5 yards per game, the second-ranked passing offense at 296.9 yards per game, and the sixth-ranked scoring offense at 27.1 points per game. It’s possible that these totals could be even higher in the 2021 NFL season with the addition of CeeDee Lamb to the returning weapons of Ezekiel Elliot, Amari Cooper, and Michael Gallup. The defense has been an issue for the Cowboys, especially in the 2020 season where they were towards the bottom of the NFL in almost every category, but drafting Micah Parsons and signing Dan Quinn to be the new defensive coordinator should both greatly help to improve on that side of the ball. Finally, the Cowboys have the second easiest strength of schedule ranking this year so they have an excellent opportunity for a huge season.

NFC: San Francisco 49ers

Unfortunately, the 49ers season in 2020 was one that was defined by an endless list of injuries including key players like Jimmy Garoppolo, George Kittle, and Nick Bosa. It was a very disappointing season, especially considering that they were the defending NFC Champions. Looking back to the 2019 season when they were healthy, they had the fourth-ranked total offense at 381.1 yards per game and the second-ranked scoring offense at 29.9 points per game to go with the second-ranked total defense at 281.8 yards allowed per game and eighth-ranked scoring defense at 19.4 points allowed per game. This obviously demonstrates not only how dominant they were but also their elite balance. They were towards the top of the NFL in just about every statistical measure and they have good reason to believe they can have a similar season in 2021 now that everyone is healthy again and they are returning the large majority of their roster.

AFC: Tennessee Titans

Possibly the biggest move of the entire NFL offseason was the Titans adding superstar wide receiver Julio Jones to their already potent offense. They were already the second-ranked total offense last season at 396.4 yards per game and will likely be much better this year with their new weapon. The Titans offense is going to create a huge problem for opposing defenses now that Jones is joining AJ Brown and Derrick Henry. In particular, the defending safeties are going to have to pick their poison. It’s impossible to double team both wide receivers as well as load the box to defend against the dominant rushing attack of Henry. If these three players, and also quarterback Ryan Tannehill, can all stay healthy this season the Titans are likely going to have a very special offense. Their defense was fifth-worst in the NFL last season at 398.3 yards allowed per game but they are hoping their added reinforcements, such as Bud Dupree and Caleb Farley, can help them improve on that side of the ball.

AFC: Pittsburgh Steelers

After finishing the 2020 season with a 12-4 record and winning the very tough AFC North division it’s a little strange to consider the Steelers a dark horse but that is exactly what they are. According to the Draft Kings Sports Book, they have only the 16th best odds to win the Super Bowl this year and their projected win total is just 9 games. This is interesting because they are returning all of their offensive weapons and the majority of their impact defenders as well. In addition, they probably upgraded at running back by drafting Najee Harris and will get back one of their best defenders, Devin Bush, who missed ten games last season. The biggest loss for the Steelers this offseason was to their offensive line, where they will basically have a brand new unit this year that is completely unproven. The Steelers are not getting much respect at all heading into the 2021 NFL season but as long as their blocking comes together, they can be right back in the mix again for a Super Bowl.

Expect the Lions, Eagles, and Texans to have the worst records in 2021

The worst NFL teams in 2021 will be…

By: Andy Davies

Plenty of uncertainty surrounds the Detroit Lions, Philadelphia Eagles, and Houston Texans going into the 2021 season. Their quarterback situations are far from clear and their overall rosters are mediocre at best.

The same goes for their head coaches, with all three going into their first seasons at the franchise. Neither of Dan Campbell, Nick Sirianni, or David Culley has been a full-time head coach in the NFL. Campbell is the only one to have some experience, with his spell as interim head coach of the Miami Dolphins in 2015.

Here is why you should be expecting the Lions, Eagles, and Texans to have the three worst records in the league in 2021.

Saying Goodbye To A Franchise Legend In Detroit. Struggles For The Replacement

Matthew Stafford was the number one overall pick in 2009, with the entire city of Detroit hoping he would be the man to turn around the fortunes of the franchise. Despite three seasons of making the playoffs, the Lions and Stafford never won a single postseason game as the wait continues. The Lions remain the team with the second-longest period without a playoff win, their last taking place on January 5th, 1992.

Stafford had some great individual moments as a Lion, most notably his Mic’d up moment during his 2009 rookie season. In a week eleven game against the Cleveland Browns, he overcame injury to produce a moment of pure heroism. He played with a separated shoulder despite the efforts of the medical staff to keep him off the field, leading the Lions to a touchdown-winning drive.

Jim Caldwell guided the Lions to these playoff appearances but was not seen as good enough to take them to the next step. New England Patriots assistant head coach Matt Patricia was brought in but never took to life as head coach. The Lions had three consecutive losing seasons under the coaching of Patricia. They will hope that they have found their guy in Dan Campbell. His press conference was certainly not dull, with Campbell referring to “biting kneecaps”. As a former Lions player, he knows what it takes to play in the league. He also knows about the city of Detroit and his intentions are both positive and clear. If he is given time, he has the desire to bring the good times back to Detroit. However, he is inexperienced as a head coach and the roster is below average.

New quarterback Jared Goff has the potential to struggle. This is despite the drafting of offensive lineman Penei Sewell at seventh overall, a selection that had Campbell and new General Manager Brad Holmes very excited.

Despite his brilliant 2018 season that saw the Rams reach Super Bowl 53, Goff had a poor game and struggled in 2020 as he and head coach Sean McVay’s relationship deteriorated.

Goff struggled despite a plethora of offensive talent around him. Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp form one of the best wide receiver duos in the NFL. He is going to a franchise that let go of their two best wide receivers and failed to replace them.

The Lions have a schedule that features the San Francisco 49ers, Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Los Angeles Rams, Pittsburgh Steelers, Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons, and Cleveland Browns. There are also two games against their division rivals, the Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings, and Chicago Bears. The Lions do not have it easy.

Prediction: 3-14

Trouble In Philadelphia; Reason For Hope?

The Eagles have seen three years of gradual decline after winning Super Bowl 52. The 2017 season saw the Eagles lift the Lombardi Trophy for the first time after two previous attempts.

Doug Pederson was the head coach to guide the Eagles to a Super Bowl but was fired after the conclusion of the 2020 season. His decision to bench rookie quarterback Jalen Hurts in order to lose and gain a higher draft pick appeared to be the final nail in the coffin.

Carson Wentz had an MVP caliber season before an injury derailed hopes of winning the award. Backup Nick Foles stepped in and guided the Eagles to the Super Bowl 52 win. He also stepped in a year later and guided the Eagles to a shock Wildcard Round win against the Chicago Bears, with thanks also going to a Cody Parkey missed field goal.

Both Foles and Wentz are no longer Eagles players. Out of the starters in that Super Bowl 52 win, only seven remain with the franchise. Their decision to draft Jalen Reagor over Justin Jefferson continues to be mocked by rival fans and nobody knows how new head coach Nick Sirianni will do in the role.

The schedule is mixed for Philadelphia. Whilst they face the New York Jets, Lions, and twice play the New York Giants, they also have to face the Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs.. This is as well as facing a rising Washington Football Team twice as well as playing the Dallas Cowboys both home and away.

Reports have surfaced in recent days of the Philadelphia Eagles being the favourites for Deshaun, with talks said to be “heating up”.

This could be a move that transforms the franchise. However, Deshaun Watson had his best statistical season yet the Texans only managed four wins all year. This proves that whilst it is very important to have a good quarterback, you need more around to be successful.

Unless the Eagles do something in what remains of the offseason, they will continue to be mediocre if their roster continues to be this poor. If they get offensive or defensive talent in the next one or two offseasons, then they are a team that will compete for years to come. Otherwise, the Eagles will fail to be a threat to both the NFC and NFC East.

This is why Deshaun should avoid the Eagles at this present time. He will be going into a situation no different to what he experienced in Houston.

Prediction: 4-13

What A Difference A Year Makes

Where do we start with the Houston Texans? The 2019 season saw them take a 24-0 lead against the Chiefs in the Divisional Round. However, they allowed 41 unanswered points as they lost 51-31. What has unfolded since in the following nineteen months has been reminiscent of a Greek tragedy.

Head coach Bill O’Brien, who also was general manager, made the unusual decision to trade star wide receiver, Deandre Hopkins. In exchange, the Texans received a running back past his sell-by date in David Johnson, one second-rounder and one fourth-round pick. O’Brien only lasted four games in the 2020 season as they finished the campaign with just four wins.

Since the conclusion of the 2020 season, franchise legend J.J Watt has left and there continues to be an uncertain future surrounding quarterback Deshaun Watson. Houston’s quarterback requested a trade in January before allegations of sexual assault arose. These have lingered throughout the remainder of the offseason. It is unclear if Watson will play in the NFL at all in 2021 but even if he does, it is unlikely that he will be wearing a Texans jersey.

Houston has said they would listen to trade offers for Watson, with the franchise said to be wanting three first-round picks. They have also acquired Tyrod Taylor via Free Agency and used their first pick in the draft on Davis Mills in the third round. Even if the Eagles stick with Hurts, there will be plenty of other suitors.

Even with Watson, the Texans are light on the ground when it comes to elite talent. Linebacker Zach Cunningham and Laremy Tunsil are talents and despite adding Phillip Lindsay and Mark Ingram to the running back room, the roster is one of the league’s worst.

David Culley has developed somewhat of a worrying reputation after his time with the Eagles, Chiefs, and Baltimore Ravens. During his fourteen-season spell with the Eagles, his four seasons with the Chiefs, and two years with the Ravens, he had 0 wide receivers earn a PFF grade of 80 or above.

The Chiefs wideouts went an entire season without a touchdown under Culley. With a wide receiver room featuring Brandin Cooks, Nico Collins and Anthony Miller, this is not exactly a position of strength for the Texans. Culley is unlikely to see any of these receivers score high PFF grades.

Whilst the Texans might be playing the Jacksonville Jaguars twice and the Jets, they have a tough schedule. They will face the Cleveland Browns, Buffalo Bills, Arizona Cardinals, Los Angeles Rams, Miami Dolphins and Seattle Seahawks. Houston will also play the Los Angeles Chargers and the San Francisco 49ers as well as the Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans twice.

They are unlikely to win many of these games. Fans should be expecting a difficult season.

Prediction: 2-15

Why the QB situation may prevent the 49ers from winning the NFC West

The 49ers QB spot is a question mark

By: Andy Davies

The San Francisco 49ers are one of the most successful franchises in NFL history. Only the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers (both 6) have more Super Bowl wins than the 49ers (5). The 49ers’ five Super Bowls all came between the years of 1981 and 1994. They have lost two since, in the 2012 and 2019 seasons. The quarterbacks that led the 49ers to the Lombardi Trophy were Hall of Famers Joe Montana and Steve Young. Three of those five wins saw Montana as the starter and Young as the backup.

Young is seen by many as the best backup quarterback in history, considering the gold jacket that he earned despite many years as the backup to Montana. He would win a Super Bowl as the starter after the franchise moved on from Montana. Ever since Young decided to hang up his cleats, the 49ers have struggled to find his replacement. Have they found the guy in Trey Lance?

Perhaps, but here is why the quarterback situation involving Lance and current starter Jimmy Garoppolo could prevent the 49ers from winning the NFC West during the 2021 season.

Struggles Since Young

Jeff Garcia was the man to come in for Young. During his five seasons in the Bay, he threw for 113 touchdowns and 56 interceptions as well as 16,408 passing yards. He had a 35-36 record as a starter for the 49ers in the regular season and a 1-2 record in the postseason, meaning he never hit the heights of his predecessor.

Alex Smith was the number one overall pick in 2005, shattering Aaron Rodgers’ dreams. However, he was a good quarterback, not a great quarterback. Colin Kaepernick replaced Smith and took the 49ers to the Super Bowl. They ended up losing to the Baltimore Ravens in a game often called the ‘Blackout Bowl’. Kaepernick failed to live up to the standards he set that season.

He would be kicked out of the league for taking the knee in a protest against police brutality in 2016. He has not played a snap in the NFL since. Jimmy Garoppolo was traded from the Patriots to the 49ers midway through the 2017 season. He gave hope to the organization after winning all five of the games he started in 2017. The fanbase had hope going into the 2018 season.

Many non-49ers fans had San Francisco down as their dark horse for the season. A season-ending injury to Garoppolo in Week 3 saw the starting role shared between Nick Mullens and C.J. Beathard. However, the 49ers finished 4-12 as they went into 2019 with the second overall pick. Nick Bosa was selected and transformed the defense of San Francisco and Jimmy G had the best season of his career. He threw for 3,978 passing yards, 27 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Despite these stats, Garoppolo saw his production limited in the NFC Championship game as the coaching staff decided to use more of their running game. This led to many questions leading to the Super Bowl. The 49ers threw away a ten-point lead in the fourth quarter as they would end up losing to the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl 54.

Garoppolo was criticized heavily for an overthrown pass to Emmanuel Sanders that would have given San Francisco back the lead. His 2020 season saw a mixture of poor form and injury. During the 2021 offseason, the 49ers traded up with the Miami Dolphins to gain the number three overall pick. They took Lance with the pick, showcasing their intentions to eventually move off from Garoppolo. There is now talk of whether San Francisco and head coach Kyle Shanahan will start Lance in week one. The other scenarios discussed are either Lance coming in mid-season or sitting out the whole campaign as the backup to Garoppolo. The uncertainty will have a significant impact on the 49ers’ season.

The Strength of the NFC West

This is a problem that will affect all four teams in the best division in the NFL. There is a chance that all four teams can make the playoffs. Los Angeles has an exciting new quarterback in 2009 first overall pick Matthew Stafford. Both the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals have quarterbacks in Russell Wilson and Kyler Murray that they would never dream of trading away. Meanwhile, the 49ers’ starting quarterback is largely unpopular by fans, due to a mixture of the overthrown pass in the Super Bowl, his poor 2020 campaign and his injury record.

San Francisco has the least trusted quarterback in the division. With the position being one of the most crucial in all sports, it does not bode well for a team when there is uncertainty in the position. Garoppolo may be benched at some point during the season for Lance. However, the 49ers would be putting a rookie that will still be learning the system into the toughest division in the NFL.

Learning From Mahomes, Jackson, Tua and Burrow

If San Francisco are to help Lance succeed, they will need to take some lessons from recent draft classes. Patrick Mahomes, widely seen as the best quarterback in the league, spent all but one game of his 2017 rookie season as a backup to Alex Smith. The Chiefs then traded Smith the following offseason and Mahomes has never looked back. In his first three full seasons as a starter in the NFL, he has reached two Super Bowls, winning one. He has also been crowned MVP and Super Bowl MVP and reached three successive AFC Championship games. All three have been at home. On the flip side, 2020 first overall pick Joe Burrow started in week one of his rookie year. He wouldn’t last the season, only playing ten games before injury curtailed his first NFL campaign. He was impressive before his injury but there are no guarantees he will be the same player when he returns.

Lamar Jackson was a backup to Joe Flacco during his 2018 rookie year but won the starting role midseason. He has since gone on to win an MVP award and is the future of the franchise. Meanwhile, the Miami Dolphins brought Tua Tagovailoa in mid-season but he struggled in his rookie season. He is seen to already be on the hot seat, with many feeling the Dolphins rushed him in. These examples all show there are reasons for the 49ers to be hasty when it comes to choosing when to bring Lance into the starting role.

Lance Or Garoppolo In 2021?

The 49ers will have to decide soon who their starter will be in 2021. Considering Lance has only played one full season (2019), he is likely to start the season as the backup. He only threw for a combined total of 31 passing attempts, two touchdowns and 1 interception across the 2018 and 2020 seasons, albeit the latter campaign being disrupted by the pandemic. He is likely to be a work in progress but his 28 touchdowns and 0 interceptions in 2019 mean that he is one for the future.

Garoppolo will likely start in week one but it was clear from the NFC Championship game that Shanahan doesn’t completely trust him.

Jimmy G is a capable quarterback but his health is a concern. Expect Garoppolo to remain as the starter provided the 49ers are winning games but for Lance to come in should Garoppolo either be injured or start the season poorly.

Should this happen, this will be the end of Garoppolo’s time in San Francisco. Depending on timing, he will then be traded either before the deadline or in the 2022 offseason.

Can The 49ers Returning Players Avoid A Repeat Of 2020?

This is key if the 49ers are to challenge for both the NFC West and the NFC. After earning the number one seed and reaching Super Bowl 54 during the 2019 campaign, San Francisco finished 6-10 in 2020 and bottom of the division. A ‘Super Bowl Hangover’ played its part but the main cause of such a decline was down to a colossal amount of injuries the team suffered. Along with the aforementioned Garoppolo, the 49ers also saw Bosa, Dee Ford, George Kittle, Raheem Mostert, Deebo Samuel and Solomon Thomas miss large chunks of the 2020 season due to injury.

San Francisco had 33 players reported questionable and there were 186 occasions when the 49ers reported a player on injured reserve. They had the second-most injuries of any team in the NFL over the past twenty years. Should all these players come back, then this 49ers roster will be one of the best in the league. This will make life much easier for whoever the San Francisco starting quarterback is.

However, from the strength of the division to the uncertainty at quarterback, San Francisco will find it tough to win the NFC West.

The Legendary Career of Steelers Dick LeBeau

Steelers Dick LeBeau is a defensive legend

By: Adam Hulse (@AdamHulseSports)

Dick LeBeau is one of the greatest defensive minds in the history of the NFL. He had an excellent career as both a player and a coach but is definitely most known for his success as the defensive coordinator for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He is one of the best of all time in this role for his contributions, innovations, and longevity. He was active in the NFL for 59 consecutive years as either a player or a coach and as of 2010 he is a member of the NFL Hall of Fame.

Career as a Player

The first thing that comes to mind when thinking about LeBeau is his incredible success as a defensive coach, but before that he was actually a very good NFL defensive player first. After being drafted in 1959 out of The Ohio State University, he would eventually sign with Detroit Lions where he would spend his entire 14 year career as a player.

He contributed solid production, including 62 interceptions and four touchdowns, on his way to be selected to three Pro Bowls and three second-team All Pros in three consecutive seasons from 1964 to 1967. He is clearly one of the best defensive backs in the history of the Lions organization and still has the franchise record for most career interceptions.

Career as a Coach

After retiring from his playing career in 1972, he immediately took a coaching job as the special team’s coordinator for the Philadelphia Eagles in 1973. He would then go on from there to be the defensive backs coach for the Green Bay Packers and then for the Cincinnati Bengals as well. In 1984 he was promoted by the Bengals to be the defensive coordinator before eventually accepting a job with the Pittsburgh Steelers to again be a defensive backs coach. In 1995 he would become the defensive coordinator for the Steelers until 1997 when he would go back to the Bengals to be their defensive coordinator as well as an assistant head coach.

In the year 2000 the Bengals promoted LeBeau to his first and only head coaching job. He would spend three years in this position where he would struggle to a disappointing 12-33 record before being fired. Not all great coordinators make good head coaches, and unfortunately LeBeau is an example of this concept. From there he was hired by the Buffalo Bills to be an assistant head coach the following season for one year before returning back to the Steelers in 2004 to once again be their defensive coordinator.

During his time in this position, which would last until 2014, is where he would find the most success. That’s not to say that his entire defensive coaching career was not filled success, but this long stretch would be the highlight of his career. This is where he would really solidify himself as one of the greatest defensive coaches in NFL history. The feared Steelers defense were consistently one of the best in the league for just about every year during this run, and the schemes and designs of Lebeau were a big part of the reason why. During this time, the Steelers appeared in three Super Bowls and won two of them with their defense being the biggest strength of the team.

He would make one more stop before retiring in 2017, serving as the defensive coordinator and an assistant head coach for the Tennessee Titans. This would end a legendary run of 45 consecutive seasons as a coach in the NFL without any breaks at all. This is a clear indicator of not just how good of a coach he was, but the massive level of respect he had around the league.

Innovations to the Game

Lebeau is widely accepted as an absolute genius when it comes to defensive schemes. He was well known for running a very creative and complex version of the 3-4 defense. He is credited with being the inventor, and the master, of the zone blitz. In this scheme, the pass rushers attack the quarterback from a wide variety of positions and angles while completely disguising the coverage format with an unconventional mix of zones and man, all within the same play. The goal was to create havoc while confusing the opposing offense and it was highly effective. This concept that he created is used across the entire league today in different forms, but nobody did it better than the great Dick LeBeau. His legacy will live on forever in NFL history.

Where the best available edge rushers could sign before Week 1

Where should Justin Houston sign?

By: Chris Thomas

In recent memory, it is hard to recall so many extremely talented free agent players still available at this point of the offseason. The reasoning may be that teams wanted to wait till after the draft to see if they could fill the remaining needs on their roster in the early rounds. Teams may also want to wait till training camp to see if the players on their roster have developed to a point where they could fill that need. On top of that in recent years veteran free agents have decided to wait till after the draft and training camp to sign with teams so they can look at a team’s overall roster before signing and skip training camp and get ready for the season with their own personal trainers.

One of the deepest positions in this free-agent class is edge rusher. Multiple former Pro Bowl edge rushers are still on the market. There are a couple of teams around the league who could still use another pass rusher off the edge. Here is where the top free agent edge rushers could land.

Justin Houston to Baltimore Ravens

Before free agency started in March, Justin Houston was viewed as one of the best free-agent edge rushers. However, due to his age and slight decline, teams may have been hesitant to give Houston a long-term big money contract. But that being said Houston showed last year that he is still capable of being a player opposing offenses need to plan for. After racking up eleven sacks in his first season in Indianapolis, Houston had eight sacks this past year after the Colts traded for DeForest Buckner in the offseason. The pairing of Houston and Buckner was disruptive enough to give Indianapolis one of the better defenses in the league last season.

A team that has not done enough to replace the pass rushers they lost in free agency is the Baltimore Ravens. During free agency, the Ravens lost both Yannick Ngakoue and Matthew Judon who both signed large deals with the Las Vegas Raiders and New England Patriots. Ngakoue and Judon had 9 of the teams 39 sacks last season. Along with Jihad Ward, they were three of the six payers that had three sacks or more for Baltimore last season.

They did manage to resign situational pass rusher Pernell McPhee and former second-round pick Tyus Bowser. But neither McPhee nor Bowser has shown the capability to play like a true number one pass rusher on a playoff team. The Ravens did use their second first-round selection (31st overall) on Penn State edge rusher Odafe “Jayson” Oweh. The hype around Oweh as a prospect was his athletic testing and high ceiling, but in year one he will likely be better in a rotational role.

Baltimore hasn’t been a stranger to signing veteran defenders over the years. Houston would arguably be the Ravens’ best pass rusher next season depending on how Calais Campbell plays. His eight sacks from a season ago would have led the Ravens last year and he could very well lead the team in that category if he were to sign there. The transition to Baltimore’s defense wouldn’t be that large considering Houston was largely looked at as just a 3-4 outside linebacker before landing in Indianapolis. Actually, the reason why Kansas City let him go was because of the fear that he would not be able to fit in with Steve Spagnuolo’s 4-3 defensive scheme. Bringing in Houston could be more than a bridge until Oweh can take on a full-time role. Houston could be what boosts this defense to play at a top-10 level this season. He has Pro Bowl upside and could very well make people question why he didn’t land with a team earlier in the offseason.

Prediction: Justin Houston signs with the Baltimore Ravens for one year $7.5 Million

Melvin Ingram to Pittsburgh Steelers

Throughout his career, Melvin Ingram has been a player who is good for about just under ten sacks a season who is capable of playing at a Pro Bowl-caliber level and put up double-digit sacks. Going into this season it seemed unlikely that Ingram would play his way into another huge contract. He was likely going to land somewhere as a veteran secondary pass rusher. However, a season riddled with injuries limited Ingram to seven games. He also did not have a single sack on the season. The knee Ingram injured that put him on IR twice is likely the reason why he remains unsigned. If Ingram’s knee heals, he could be a valuable addition to a defense.

The Pittsburgh Steelers arguably had one of the worst offseasons last year. Not only did they lose four of their five starters along their offensive line, but they also lost two starting cornerbacks, and edge rusher Bud Dupree. To replace those players Pittsburgh is betting on the players they have drafted in the middle rounds over the years that have shown the ability to potentially become starters for them. 2020 third-round pick Alex Highsmith is expected to take over for Bud Dupree this coming season. After Dupree tore his ACL last year, Highsmith was thrusted into the starting lineup. He had 48 tackles and two sacks in five starts. But since Pittsburgh believes they are in a win-now mode they should try to bring in a veteran to compete with Highsmith for the job starting opposite T.J. Watt.

Ingram appears to be the perfect veteran for Pittsburgh to bring in to compete with Highsmith for one of their starting edge rusher roles. Over the course of his career, Ingram has been very consistent over the last couple of seasons averaging 8.6 sacks a year between 2015-2019. That type of production is good enough to take away attention from premier edge rusher T.J. Watt and keep this defense playing near an elite level. At the worst, Ingram and Highsmith rotate rough out the season, and as the year progresses Highsmith develops into a full-time starter while Ingram reverts into a situational role. If Ingram signed to a low-risk contract he could be the real difference-maker this upcoming season.

Prediction: Melvin Ingram signs with the Pittsburgh Steelers for one year $5.5 million

Olivier Vernon to Dallas Cowboys

One of the forgotten free agents that hit the market this offseason is former Cleveland Browns edge rusher Olivier Vernon. He had nine sacks in 14 games this past season which is his highest total since he had 11.5 during his second season in the league in 2013-14. It was so unfortunate that during Week 17 Vernon tore his Achilles. Vernon was a vital part of the Browns’ defense this past season and could have gotten a large payday. His Achilles injury may be a large part of why he remains unsigned, but the fact that he has not been able to stay healthy and finish a 16 game regular season since 2017-18 may have derailed his market.

The Dallas Cowboys are one of those teams that could finish near the top or bottom of the league this year. It is hard to predict how they will finish the season. They are expected to have an elite offense but may be held back by their defense. Besides replacing Mike Nolan with Dan Quinn and drafting a couple of defensive rookies early, what else has Dallas done to improve their defense this offseason? How much better is Dallas’ defense this season compared to last year? After evaluating their roster, the answer is not much better.

The one position Dallas did not address this offseason is pass rusher. Since getting his huge contract from the Cowboys, DeMarcus Lawerence has been extremely inconsistent putting up five sacks in 2019 and six and a half sacks this past year. A trend Dallas has had the past couple of seasons has been adding a veteran pass rusher later in the offseason to pair up with Lawrence. In 2019, Dallas traded for Robert Quinn who had a borderline Pro Bowl season and got a huge payday after that. Last year Dallas signed Pro Bowler Everson Griffen to a deal but dealt him once it became clear that Dallas would not be contending after Dak Prescott’s injury. Dallas could do the same by adding Oliver Vernon this offseason. If Vernon is healthy and added to Dallas’ defense it gives them an extremely athletic pass-rushing duo who are dynamic enough to put up between 15-20 sacks combined next season.

Dallas desperately needs a veteran player opposite Lawerence because there is uncertainty whether Randy Gregory, Dorance Armstrong, Bradlee Anae, or third-round pick Chauncey Golston could fill that void.

Prediction: Olivier Vernon signs with the Dallas Cowboys for one year $5 million

Everson Griffen to Kansas City Chiefs

At this point last season one of the best available free agents was former Minnesota Vikings pass rusher Everson Griffen. Late in the offseason, Griffen signed a one-year $6 million deal with the Dallas Cowboys. He had 2.5 sacks in his seven games with the Cowboys but then was traded to the Detroit Lions for a conditional sixth-round pick. Griffen started two out of seven games with the Lions and had 3.5 sacks for them. So overall in 14 games, Griffen had six sacks which is solid for a secondary or rotational pass rusher.

The biggest theme for the Kansas City Chiefs this offseason was upgrading the trenches after their loss in the Super Bowl. Kansas City primarily focused on adding to their offensive line but has made some upgrades to their defensive line as well. They retained former first-round pick Taco Charlton and made the extremely underrated signing of former Seahawks defensive tackle Jarran Reed. The Chiefs have an elite group of defensive linemen including Frank Clark, Chris Jones, Jarran Reed, and great run defender Derrick Nnadi. According to NFL.com’s Kevin Patra, the Chiefs are planning to use Jones as an edge rusher this season opposite Frank Clark while playing Reed and Nnadi primarily in the middle. Jacob Lang of the St. Joseph News-Press reported that Jones has wanted to play defensive end for the Chiefs, but played in the interior because they had Justin Houston and Dee Ford at the time off the edge. Over the last four seasons, Jones has developed into one of the elite pass-rushing interior defensive linemen in the league. Jones has averaged 9.6 sacks a season since 2017.

So if Jones has been so dominant rushing the passer from the interior, why would the Chiefs try to move him around the line instead of keeping him at his natural position on the interior and finding another player to put opposite Frank Clark. Jones deserves the right to lineup at defensive end in a couple of packages a game, but it may not be the best thing for him to move all over the line.

Very few defensive linemen are able to play on multiple spots across a defensive line. It seems like almost every season a star defensive lineman signs with a large money deal with a new team and that team tries to play him in a different role than he is accustomed to and that player struggles. Jones may be one of the few players who can transition to a different role on the defensive line. But signing a veteran like Everson Griffen could give Kansas City a security blanket at edge rusher in case Jones is unable to transition well to his new role and lines up in the interior for a majority of the season. Griffen showed last year he is still capable of producing at a starting level and could rotate with Taco Charlton off the edge opposite Frank Clark. If he can mimic the production he had last season on this dominant defensive line it could be well enough to not consider this a major need or hole on the roster until they address it the following offseason.

Prediction: Everson Griffen signs with the Kansas City Chiefs for one year $4.5 million

Three quarterbacks who could be surprise Week 1 starters

Taylor Heinicke starting in 2021?

By: Chris Thomas

Now that the NFL is in the midst of their mandatory minicamps, quarterbacks competitions around the league have officially begun. Every year a couple of teams will have two (or three in rare cases) quarterbacks compete for the starting job. Quarterback competitions could be between two veterans, a veteran & a younger player, or an incumbent starter & a rookie. Every once in a while, a quarterback who many believe will lose the quarterback competition has a great camp and can be awarded the starting job.

There are a couple quarterbacks who may seem like long shots to win the starting quarterback job, but may end up being the Week One starter. Here are three quarterbacks who can surprise the league and be the Week One starter for their team.

Washington Football Team: Taylor Heinicke

The quarterback situation for the Washington Football team is not as open-and-shut as many believe it is. According to ESPN staff writer John Keim, Washington will still have a quarterback competition after signing Ryan Fitzpatrick to a one-year $10 million deal. The competition will be between Fitzpatrick, Kyle Allen, Taylor Heinicke, and Steven Montez.

After Fitzpatrick, the favorite to land the starting job is Taylor Heinicke. The former Old Dominion quarterback was back at school prepping for finals when Washington signed him to their practice squad. He was eventually promoted to the active roster and saw game action Week 16 against the Carolina Panthers. He completed 12 of his 19 passes for 137 yards and a touchdown in relief of Dwayne Haskins. Then when Alex Smith was ruled out for their playoff game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Heinicke was named the team’s starting quarterback. During that game, he completed 26 of his 44 passing attempts for 306 yards and one passing touchdown. On top of that, he had six rushing attempts for 46 yards and a rushing touchdown. The most impressive part of that game was the fact that the Heinicke-led Washington team was within eight points of taking down the eventual Super Bowl champions in the first round.

After coming into the year as the team’s fourth quarterback last season he is the favorite to be the team’s backup behind Fitzpatrick. However, it wouldn’t be shocking if Heinicke was named the Week 1 starter. After his performance in the playoffs, the team has rallied around Heinicke. He also showed that he is capable of taking control of an NFL offense and will lay it all on the line for his team. If Heinicke outshines Fitzpatrick in training camp, he could be Washington’s starter Week 1 against the Los Angeles Chargers.

Houston Texans: Davis Mills

The first draft selection of the Nick Caserio/David Culley era was former Stanford quarterback Davis Mills. Houston took Mills with the 67th overall pick in the third round. The selection was not a popular one because many thought Houston would have been better off taking a potential starter for another position of need with this selection over a project quarterback. But by selecting Mills in the first round the Texans administration feels that he could be their long-term starter and could even be their starter at this point this year. The Texans’ current quarterback room is made up of Mills, Tyrod Taylor, and Jeff Driskel. The belief is that former Pro Bowl quarterback Deshaun Watson will not play for the Houston Texans this season or ever again after his trade demands and his off-the-field concerns.

In a deep 2021 quarterback class Mills was considered a candidate to be the sixth quarterback drafted and the first one selected out of the first round. He ended up being the eighth quarterback drafted behind now-former Florida quarterback Kyle Trask who was taken by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 64th overall and former Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond who was taken by the Minnesota Vikings with the 66th overall pick. According to Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press, the Texans were prepared for select Mond with the 67th selection before Minnesota took him with the selection before.

Mills was a five-star recruit coming out of high school and the top quarterback coming out that year. However, Mills only had 11 career starts at Stanford. Mill redshirted his freshman year and only had two passing attempts his sophomore season. During his junior year, he completed 65.6% of his passes throwing for 1,960 yards, 11 touchdowns, and five interceptions in eight games. He took a slight leap forward during his senior year completing 66.2% of his passes throwing for 1,508 yards, seven touchdowns, and three interceptions. Mills also had three rushing touchdowns during his senior year.

It isn’t certain that Mills will become the Texans quarterback of the future. It is very possible that the team takes a quarterback in the first round next year and Mills becomes a high-end backup. However, after taking Mills with a high selection the Texans must give him starting reps at some point this season. He was taken as high as he was because of his upside. If Mills shows why he was such a highly regarded high school recruit and has flashes of the upside Houston saw in his tape during training camp, he could easily supplant Tyrod Taylor as the team’s starting quarterback next season as early as Week 1.

Philadelphia Eagles: Joe Flacco

After the 2020-21 NFL season it was believed that the Philadelphia Eagles would have a quarterback competition between Carson Wentz and 2020 Second Round pick Jalen Hurts to determine the team’s starter for this upcoming season. But instead, Philadelphia decided to trade Wentz to the Indianapolis Colts for a package of draft picks. Even with Wentz off of the roster new head coach Nick Sirianni still wants to have a quarterback competition to determine the starter for this upcoming season. The veterans that Hurts will have to compete with for the starting job are recently signed former 49ers quarterback Nick Mullens and former Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco.

It has felt like a long time since Joe Flacco was considered a borderline Pro Bowl quarterback for the Baltimore Ravens. Eight years has passed since Flacco won the Super Bowl MVP winning Super Bowl XLVII against the San Fransisco 49ers. Since that point Flacco had been very average and then was replaced by Lamar Jackson late in the 2018-19 season after a neck injury.

He was traded to the Denver Broncos the following season for a fourth-round pick. He went 2-6 in eight games for the Broncos completing 65.3% of his passes and throwing for 1,822 yards, six touchdowns, and five interceptions. After injuring his neck Brandon Allen and 2019 second-round pick Drew Lock started the rest of the Broncos games that season.

Flacco was then released by Denver the next offseason and picked up by the New York Jets to be the backup to Sam Darnold. When Darnold missed four games due to a shoulder injury, Flacco played decently well as the starter. He completed 55.2% of his passes and throwing for 864 yards, six touchdowns, and three interceptions during that time.

After how Hurts played during his four starts last season it would be shocking if he was not the teams starting quarterback in year one. But if he has a rough camp and doesn’t show improvement in a new system with a healthy offense around him, Nick Sirianni may feel that the 13-year veteran may give them a better chance to win early on. It is important to note that Nick Sirianni has done a lot of more work with veteran pocket passers versus younger mobile quarterbacks like Hurts.

More backup QBs who can become starters later in the year

Minnesota Vikings: Kellen Mond

One of the biggest surprises of the 2021 NFL Draft was the Minnesota Vikings selecting Kellen Mond with the 66th selection in the third round. According to Mike Florio of ProFootball Talk, the Vikings were prepared to move up to the eighth overall selection to take Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields to eventually replace Kirk Cousins as the team’s starting quarterback. That didn’t work out and Fields ended up with division rival Chicago Bears. So their plan B was the take Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond in the third round to potentially fill that void. Similar to Fields, Mond is a mobile quarterback that may be rawer than Fields but has the upside to become an NFL starting quarterback.

In 2016 the Dallas Cowboys did not land Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch in the first round and settled for Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott in the fourth round. It is fair to say that their plan B worked out for them extremely well. That is what Minnesota could hope for in Mond. If the Minnesota Vikings struggle early in the 2021-22 season, they could turn to Mond and see if he could potentially be the team’s long-term future at quarterback.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Mason Rudolph/Dwayne Haskins

After the Pittsburgh Steelers crushing playoff loss to the Cleveland Browns the biggest question surrounding the team was how would the team be constructed and whether Ben Roethlisberger would return for another season. Roethlisberger decided to return for his 17th season after taking a pay cut. He is expected to be the team’s starter in Week 1, but at this point of his career, Roethlisberger may not be capable of competing at a high level for a 17 game regular season and potential postseason play. Pittsburgh may have to evaluate their options in the house and make the tough decision of replacing Roethlisberger midseason with one of the younger quarterbacks on their roster.

Their quarterback situation this season may be similar to what the Super Bowl 50 Champion Denver Broncos’ was during the 2015-16 season. 2021 Pro Football Hall of Famer Peyton Manning only played in ten games during his finals season in Denver and was relieved by Brock Osweiler midway towards the season. But Manning returned as the team’s starter right before the playoffs and had enough in the tank to win the Super Bowl. That should be the blueprint for the Pittsburgh hopes to achieve this season with their aging quarterback and the younger quarterbacks behind him on the depth chart.

The battle for the backup job in Pittsburgh is between Mason Rudolph and 2019 first round pick Dwayne Haskins. Both have underachieved throughout their careers, but feel that they could be the Steelers long term option at quarterback if Roethlisberger decides to retire after this season. In 2019 Rudolph went 5-3 as a starter, but only threw for 1,765 yards, 13 touchdowns, and nine interceptions. Last season Rudolph threw for 324 yards two touchdowns, and an interception in five games (only one start).

Haskins spent his first two seasons in the league in Washington and was thrown in as the starter about midway through the season when he clearly wasn’t ready yet. In his first season, he went 2-5 as a starter, threw for 1,365 yards, seven touchdowns, and seven interceptions. The following season new head coach Ron Rivera made it clear early on that Haskins would have to earn the starting job and showed signs of not believing in him long term. Due to the lack of depth in the quarterback room, Haskins was named the starter and started six games for Washington last season. He went 1-5 as a starter, threw for 1,439 yards, five touchdowns, and seven interceptions. After a photo leaked of Haskins breaking COVID-19 protocol and attending a party with strippers, he was stripped of captain and later released after a brutal start against Rivera’s former team the Carolina Panthers. This offseason he signed a futures contract with the Steelers.

An interesting transaction that occurred this offseason is that the Steelers did give Rudolph a one year extension after this season worth $5 million. That is a sign that they view him as the potential replacement for Roethlisberger long-term or is comfortable with him competing for the job with Haskins or a rookie next season. It would be hard to imagine one if not both of these quarterbacks getting a shot at being the teams starting quarterback for a couple games this season to preview what their quarterback situation could look like next season and beyond.

Top 3 Landing Spots for Justin Houston

What team will Justin Houston play for next season?

By: Adam Hulse (@AdamHulseSports)

It is now the back half of the NFL offseason and there are still some big-name free agents that are without a team for the 2021 season. One of the best available remaining players is edge rusher Justin Houston. He is now 32 years old but has shown in recent years that he still has plenty of gas left in the tank. Over the last four years combined he has recorded 37.5 sacks, including a minimum of eight sacks in each of those seasons and a high of 11 in 2019. That’s not quite as impressive as his career-high of 22 sacks back in 2014 but it clearly demonstrates that he still has the ability to contribute in a big way.

The ideal landing spot for Houston in this upcoming season is a contending team that could use some help in the pass-rushing department. He could help a win-now team take a step to the next level. Additionally, his age would imply that his price tag should be relatively reasonable. In comparison, Ryan Kerrigan, who is the same age as Houston, just recently signed with the Eagles on a one-year contract worth 2.5 million guaranteed. Houston will likely be looking to get more than that, but he will not break the bank for interested candidates now that the market has been set. All things considered, here are his top three landing spots.

Buffalo Bills

The Bills are a team that is looking to improve their pass rush. They were middle of the road last season, ranked 16th in the NFL with 38 team sacks. They did use a first-round draft pick on Gregory Rousseau and a second-round pick on Carlos Basham, which demonstrates that it was an area of focus this offseason. Houston would not only give them an established pass rusher to help them win now but would also assist in the development of the younger players in the position group.

The Bills are a real Super Bowl contender this season, but if they could improve their pass rush they would become a whole new level of competitor. Houston could help them do exactly that. After recently restructuring the contract of Stefon Diggs, they have some available cap space to play with, and this may be the best way for them to use it.

Tennessee Titans

The Titans have done a great job in recent years building their offense, but this offseason they have focused on improving their defense. They know they have to be better on that side of the ball if they want to improve from a playoff team to a real contender. They were fifth-worst in the NFL last season in yards allowed per game with 398.3 and ninth-worst in points allowed per game with 27.4. Knowing they have to be better than that, they made moves this offseason in an attempt to improve defensively including adding Bud Dupree and drafting Caleb Farley.

Pass rush is a particular area that they struggled in, recording the third least team sacks in the NFL last season with just 19 total. Adding Dupree will help that number, but pairing him with Houston would provide a significant jump in that category. They would potentially go from one of the worst teams in the league at pass rushing to one of the better ones, and that would be a wise move for a team trying to contend this season.

Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers are a team that did not struggle at all in rushing the passer last year. They had the most sacks in the NFL with 56 total. The problem is that they lost Bud Dupree this offseason to free agency. He was an extremely important part of their defensive scheme and they do not have a proven replacement on their roster. Having a complementary pass rusher to play opposite of superstar TJ Watt is crucial to their philosophy of pressure defense.

Houston could definitely solve this problem. He is a piece that would allow them to continue their defensive dominance, which is a staple of their organization. The Steelers believe that they are Super Bowl contenders this season, so if Houston believes that as well then this could be a perfect fit. They currently have around 8 million in available cap space so they have more than enough to sign him.

2022 QB Draft Targets for the Steelers

by: Will Baptist

It is no secret in Pittsburgh that they will be on the market for a franchise QB sooner rather than later. Ben Roethlisberger has started to decline, and after an abysmal playoff performance he showed last year in their loss to the Cleveland Browns, the Steelers should be studying this draft class up and down for a quarterback.

Roethlisberger threw for 3,803 yards, 33 touchdowns, 10 interceptions and completed 65.6% of his passes last season. He played in 15 games and was much healthier than the prior season. Those statistics are not bad by any means, but after his four interception, playoff loss to their divisional rival, the end is nearing for Roethlisberger. His mobility and accuracy took another dip last year, and at 39 years old, he does not have much left in the tank.

His decline forced the Steelers to restructure his contract, and bring in Dwayne Haskins. Haskins struggled mightily in Washington, and a fresh start could be the motivating factor that forces him to improve. The Steelers will not bank on Haskins becoming the franchise QB, and they should focus on finding the next QB to lead this organization in the 2022 NFL Draft.

The Steelers will most likely have a pick in the latter portion of the draft, considering how good they have been under Mike Tomlin and the pieces they have in place. This should not deter them from trading up into the top five if they fall in love with one of the QB prospects.

These are three of the top prospects that the Steelers should target in next year’s NFL Draft.

1. Sam Howell, North Carolina

Drafting a QB from North Carolina is a terrifying proposition after seeing how the Mitchell Trubisky experiment ended in Chicago. Nevertheless, Sam Howell is a much different prospect, and should be evaluated as such. He walked on campus as a true freshman and earned the starting job at North Carolina, and threw for 3,641 yards, 38 touchdowns and seven interceptions. That is astounding for a true freshman, and he was still able to improve as a sophomore after a slow start to the season. He drastically improved his accuracy, while completing 68.1% of his passes as a sophomore compared to 61.4% as a freshman. His yards per attempt jumped to 10.3 compared to 8.6 as a freshman. Howell is one of the frontrunners for the Heisman and will be in the conversation for the number one pick in the draft. He has the arm talent and leadership abilities to be a franchise QB, and he would be a great fit for the Steelers system.

2. Spencer Rattler, Oklahoma

Spencer Rattler is more athletic and mobile than Howell. With the track record that Oklahoma head coach, Lincoln Riley, has with improving quarterbacks, Rattler could have a dominant season and easily be the number one pick in the draft. He is a very accurate QB, completing 67.5% of his passes in his first year starting. In 11 games, he threw for 3,031 yards, 28 touchdowns and seven interceptions. The Sooners should be much improved this season, and we may see how Rattler handles himself on the big stage during the college football playoffs. Now that Rattler is the face of the Oklahoma football team, he needs to continue to develop his leadership skills, and decision making. If he can improve in his second season, and learn under Riley, Rattler could be the face of an NFL franchise for the next 10-15 years, and the Steelers would be a perfect fit.

3. Kedon Slovis, USC

Last season was a disaster for the Pac-12, due to the covid issues that they dealt with, which makes this upcoming season huge for USC star QB, Kedon Slovis. He stepped in as a freshman and was forced to play due to their starting QB getting injured, and he never looked back. In his career thus far, he has completed 70% of his passes, for 5,423 yards, 47 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. All of that production is in just 18 games, and Slovis should improve dramatically with a full offseason in preparation for a full season. Slovis worked with QB coaches, Jordan Palmer and Tom House to improve his mechanics and arm talent during the offseason. He is already extremely accurate and must improve his ability to throw the ball down field and his decision making. Slovis could be a star in the making, and he would be a match made in heaven for the Steelers.

Considering all these QBs will most likely go in the top ten in next year’s draft, the Steelers will undoubtedly have to trade up to grab one of them. If the Steelers are willing to do that, and mortgage some future first round picks, they will have their new franchise QB in place for years to come.

Post NFL draft Winner and loser from each division

By: Gladys Louise Tyler

In every endeavor, there is a winner and a loser.  The repercussions from the 2021 NFL Draft are no different.  Of course, who won and who lost is all subjective until the playing actually starts.  But some teams did do better than others, and here they are.

AFC EAST

WINNERS: MIAMI DOLPHINS

It remains to be seen whether letting Ryan Fitzpatrick go handing the team completely over to Tua Tagovailoa was the right move.  However, the Dolphins did little wrong elsewhere. 

Drafting Alabama wide receiver Jaylen Waddle should help settle Tagovailoa and the offense.  But having the sixth-ranked scoring defense return in a division that has to deal with quarterback Josh Allen and newly arrived gunslinger Zach Wilson just seems good business.

LOSERS: NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

Yes, the Patriots are loaded up from their spending spree in free agency, including returning quarterback Cam Newton. 

Drafting their presumptive franchise quarterback, Mac Jones feels right.  But now the Patriots have two quarterbacks with diametrically opposite skill sets. 

So what do you do? It could work, and of course, you never count the Patriots out, but….

AFC WEST

WINNERS: LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

The Chargers solidified and added depth to their offensive line.  They added Larry Roundtree in the sixth round, who may prove what the Chargers offense needs behind Austin Ekeler to round out what was already a very good offense.

LOSERS: DENVER BRONCOS

If the Broncos passed up their chance to draft a franchise quarterback because they know something we don’t, my apologies.  But under current conditions, it appears to be an omission that will come to bite them in the ass.

AFC NORTH

WINNERS: BALTIMORE RAVENS

In two of the past three drafts, the Ravens have taken a wide receiver.  It has not helped.  The third time is the charm?  Rashod Bateman has the skill set to be WR1 in the Ravens offense (albeit a low bar), but if he can help the Ravens pass/run ratio become more equitable, it is a win.

In a division historically known for its defense, adding edge Odafe Oweh to their top-ranked defense is a bonus.

LOSERS: PITTSBURGH STEELERS

It could all work out; after all, tight end Pat Freiermuth is known for his blocking skill set.  But the offense, which finished last season 32nd in rushing yards per game (84.4) and yards per attempt (3.6) per teamrankings.com, needed to improve the 31st ranked run-blocking offensive line.

Fun fact Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry ran for 676 more rushing yards than the entire Steelers team in 2020.

AFC SOUTH

WINNERS: JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

With the number one pick and nine total picks, the Jaguars got their franchise quarterback and seemingly faster on offense. 

There was really nowhere to go but up.

LOSERS: HOUSTON TEXANS

They could not have won this.  The Texans needed a lot.  Their first pick was not until round three, and they managed only five total picks.  Thanks to Bill O’Brien, the Texans did good with what they were given, but winning wasn’t an option.

NFC WEST

LOSERS: SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

The Seahawks had the 30th ranked defense in passing yards last season.  They lost Shaquill Griffin and Quinton Dunbar in free agency.  And they only had three picks in this year’s draft. 

Their first pick was a wide receiver, D’Wayne Eskridge.

WINNERS: SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

It may be more accurate to say winner Trey Lance.  Going to a team that, but for injuries, is a playoff contender is a win. 

Now Kyle Shanahan has the quarterback of his dreams, and the 49ers are back in playoff contention.

Can we just acknowledge that this might be the most competitive division in the NFL?

NFC EAST

This was the hardest division to project a loser because basically, they all got what they needed.  However, it must be done.

LOSERS: WASHINGTON FOOTBALL TEAM

Depending on Ryan Fitzpatrick this season, okay, I get it.  But not getting a quarterback for the future may prove costly.

WINNERS: NEW YORK GIANTS

It remains to be seen if stockpiling 2022 NFL Draft picks will win the day.  Not getting offensive line help for quarterback Daniel Jones may hurt this season.

NFC SOUTH

LOSERS: NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

The Saints needed a cornerback.  Their first two picks were defensive end and linebacker.  There is also the questionable acquisition of quarterback Ian Book in the fourth round. 

It all seems so muddled. 

WINNERS: ATLANTA FALCONS

Taking arguably the best player on the board seems like a smart choice.  Adding him to an already prolific offense is a no-brainer.  Picking up much-needed help in a secondary that allowed 293.6 passing yards per game, check.

NFC NORTH

LOSERS: GREEN BAY PACKERS

I don’t know if further pissing off your reigning MVP quarterback counts as a loss, but it should.

WINNERS: CHICAGO BEARS Jumping up to #11 to pick up the second-best quarterback in the draft is a w

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