November 28, 2020

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Touchdown Wire’s way-too-early 2020 power rankings

8 min read
Touchdown Wire’s way-too-early 2020 power rankings


The best part of doing power rankings this early in the offseason, of course, is that the league year doesn’t turn over until March 18. So, no free agency yet, and no draft picks, which gives us, at best, a 50% understanding of how each team will look in 2020. Throw in new coaching staffs and front offices for a handful of teams, and things can get very interesting very quickly.

Still, there are fundamental, franchise-altering questions that should be asked this early, and some teams won’t be as different when the first kickoff happens in September. So, with the Chiefs installed as the 2019 NFL champions and everybody else looking up to dethrone them, here are our way-too-early power rankings for the 2020 season.

32-25 | 24-17 | 16-9 | 8-1

32. Cincinnati Bengals

Current cap space: $44,701,400
Primary free agents: WR A.J Green, TE Tyler Eifert, CB Darqueze Dennard.

(Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)

The Bengals’ decision to move on from Andy Dalton is the right one; throughout his nine-year career, Dalton put the franchise in the purgatory of having a quarterback good enough to keep, but never spectacular enough to make things happen in the postseason. Cincinnati will likely go with LSU’s Joe Burrow as Dalton’s replacement, and while that gives the team a ton more quarterback upside, there’s still a lot for the Bengals to do before they’re out of the cellar. Only the Raiders and Dolphins ranked worse in Football Outsiders’ opponent-adjusted defensive efficiency metrics, and there were far too many examples of players in the wrong places under defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo, who kept his job. On offense, head coach Zac Taylor and offensive coordinator Brian Callahan need to put some zip in an offense that ranked 29th in FO’s metrics and has very few current stars outside of running back Joe Mixon and receiver Tyler Boyd. Burrow or not, this is going to be a big rebuild.

31. Carolina Panthers

Current cap space: $32,687,733
Primary free agents: TE Greg Olsen, DT Gerald McCoy, OLB Mario Addison, OT Daryl Williams, CB James Bradberry, CB Ross Cockrell, EDGE Bruce Irvin, S Tre Boston

(Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports)

Change is here for the Panthers, but to what end? General manager Marty Hurney has said that he’s uncertain about Cam Newton’s future with the team. Newton missed 14 games last season with various injuries, and the team could save $19.1 million in cap space if Newton were to be released. New head coach Matt Rhule might want to go in a different direction, but given Rhule’s one year of NFL experience as the Giants’ assistant offensive line coach in 2012, it’s difficult to know what that means at this point. James Bradberry and Ross Cockrell, the Panthers’ two best cornerbacks, will be free agents when the league year turns over. Christian McCaffrey and D.J. Moore are major offensive talents who will help Carolina’s quarterback du jour, whoever that may be, but there’s a lot of uncertainty here for a team that went 5-11 in 2019 and has an owner in David Tepper who’s definite enough about results to have fired former head coach Ron Rivera in early December. Rhule may find himself on a similarly short leash.

30. Washington Redskins

Current cap space: $38,951,968
Primary free agents: OG Brandon Scherff, RB Chris Thompson, QB Case Keenum, OT Donald Penn, OG Ereck Flowers

(Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports)

Speaking of Rivera, he’s now in charge of a Redskins team that also fired its head coach (Jay Gruden) during the 2019 season and is looking for a culture change. The idea is to give Rivera more control than past Redskins coaches have had; team owner Dan Snyder fired 10-year team president Bruce Allen in late December and rearranged the front office in hopes of presenting a more cohesive vision. Rivera is an excellent defensive coach, and one of his primary tasks will be to improve a defense that has fallen into disrepair. On offense, Washington has Adrian Peterson and the potential of Derrius Guice at running back, and future star Terry McLaurin at receiver. Franchise quarterback Dwayne Haskins had a rough rookie season, struggling to read defenses and move past his first and second reads, so offensive coordinator Scott Turner and quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese have their work cut out for them. If you want to know how Washington plans to climb out of the 3-13 hole it dug last season, you can start right there.

29. Detroit Lions

Current cap space: $47,054,794
Primary free agents: DL Mike Daniels, WR Danny Amendola, S Tavon Wilson, CB Rashaan Melvin, G Graham Glasgow

(Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Following the 2017 season, the Lions fired former head coach Jim Caldwell after back-to-back 9-7 seasons and a 36-28 four-year record because the organization wanted more. They then hired former Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, and so far, Patricia has filled the paradigm of ex-Bill Belichick assistants who strike out on their own: Generally, they strike out. Patricia has a 9-22-1 mark after two seasons, the Lions went 3-12-1 in 2019, and while Matthew Stafford missing the final eight games of the season with a back injury was a primary factor there, the real disconcerting part of Patricia’s tenure is how the defense has bottomed out as the head coach has endeavored to get “his type of guys” in the building. So far, that’s led to a lot of on-field confusion and few positive results. Patricia better put it together with as many of his guys as he can, or the Lions will be fishing for another head coach sooner than later.

28. Miami Dolphins

Current cap space: $89,390,424
Primary free agents: CB Aqib Talib, OG Evan Boehm

(Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports)

The idea for the 2019 Dolphins was to tank without admitting to tanking; to open up as much salary cap space as possible for a total rebuild. Not a bad idea after two straight seasons under Adam Gase where things got worse and worse, but the Dolphins took the remodel to a different level. When all the moves were done, including trading left tackle Laremy Tunsil and receiver Kenny Stills to the Texans for a host of draft capital and offloading defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick to the Steelers, Miami had three picks in the first round of the 2020 draft — the fifth, 18th and 26th sections — and the start of a new era. What the Dolphins also found out is that first-year head coach Brian Flores appeared to be the rare former Patriots assistant with a knack for the head coaching game. Flores’ team started 0-7 and looked as bad as you’d expect for a while, but consecutive wins over the Jets and Colts told a different story. In the end, the Dolphins finished 5-11 with season-ending wins over the Bengals and Patriots. Last season was a rough one, but the Dolphins clearly have the pieces in place at the top. Now, they just have to go and make the rebuild real.

27. New York Jets

Current cap space: $49,693,190
Primary free agents: WR Robby Anderson, CB Brian Poole, WR Demaryius Thomas

(Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)

Jets quarterback Sam Darnold missed three games early in the 2019 season with mononucleosis. In those games, started by backup Luke Falk, head coach Adam Gase’s offense scored a grand total of three field goals and no touchdowns. The offense gained 105 yards against the Patriots in Week 3 and 128 yards after the bye against the Eagles in Week 5. Falk was in no way ready for prime time, but Gase’s response to the anemic output was disconcerting at best.

Things got a bit better when Darnold returned in Week 6, but Gase’s attitude continued. In December, he was quoted as saying that he didn’t care about fan criticism because he was “rich as [expletive].

It’s not that Gase has to be Mr. Congeniality, but given his career results as an NFL head coach — a 30-34 record over three seasons with the Dolphins and 2019 with the Jets — he hasn’t exactly earned the right to shoot his mouth off. The Jets did go 6-2 in the second half of the season, and if Gase can keep that momentum rolling, perhaps all will be forgiven.

26. Jacksonville Jaguars

Current cap space: (minus-$3,419,464)
Primary free agents: EDGE Yannick Ngakoue

(Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports)

In December, the Jaguars fired Executive VP of Football Operations Tom Coughlin for at least two reasons: multiple grievances filed against him by Jaguars players with the NFLPA, and a two-season stretch in which the team went 11-21 after a 10-6 season in 2017 when the Jags reached the AFC Championship Game and played the Patriots tight in the first half before everything fell apart. Head coach Doug Marrone has to be on the hot seat as well, and owner Shad Khan has to be wondering where it all went wrong. Over the past three seasons, Jacksonville has fielded one of the league’s most talented defenses with enough good players on offense to partially overcome its quarterback schisms, led by Blake Bortles. The ostensible answer was to sign Nick Foles to a four-year, $88 million contract before the 2019 season, but Foles missed nine games with a broken clavicle, and when he returned, he was so ineffective that he was benched in Week 13. The Jags may have backed into their actual quarterback of the future in sixth-round pick Gardner Minshew, the Washington State alum who had rough patches but showed talent and situational bravado this team hasn’t had since the days of David Garrard.

25. Denver Broncos

Current cap space: $61,946,764
Primary free agents: FS Justin Simmons, CB Chris Harris Jr., DL Derek Wolfe, DT Shelby Harris

(Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports)

“Yeah, that’s what I like. Contrary to the stereotype that is always out there — a defensive head coach wants to ground and pound and considers a pitch to the halfback a pass — that is not me. I like to be aggressive.”

That’s what Broncos head coach Vic Fangio said Thursday in the press conference welcoming new offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur to the team. Shurmur, the former Giants head coach, does have a favorable recent history in this regard. As the Vikings’ offensive coordinator in 2017, he somehow turned Case Keenum into one of the NFL’s most effective downfield passers with route concepts that presented his quarterback with easy deep reads.

Now, Shurmur has second-year quarterback Drew Lock, whose arm sets up very nicely for deep throws — even if his GPS isn’t always on point. Last season, Lock completed three of 11 passes of 20 or more air yards for 96 yards, one touchdown and one interception. There’s work to be done here, but Lock has the most potential of any Broncos quarterback since … well, Peyton Manning. Not to put Lock on that level yet; it’s more an indictment of the quarterbacks John Elway has chosen over the past few seasons. Shurmur and Lock seem like a good match.

32-25 | 24-17 | 16-9 | 8-1


Touchdown Wire's way-too-early 2020 power rankings

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