The 2021 season is set to begin, and all NFL fans will have to get used to new faces in new places. Here’s a look at which teams are the most improved and least improved by position:
Quarterback – Bears
Added: Justin Fields
Lost: Mitchell Trubisky
Honorable mention: 49ers (Trey Lance)
There weren’t too many teams without a hole at the quarterback position that filled it as efficiently as the Bears. The loss of Mitchell Trubisky hurt, but trading up nine picks to the 11th spot in the first round and selecting Justin Fields has been the highlight of the offseason for Bears fans. Fields provides a much-needed spark to this offense that Trubisky was not able to supply. Trubisky averaged less than 2 touchdown passes per game last season and had a bottom-10 interception percentage in the league.
Running Back – Falcons
Added: Mike Davis, Cordarrelle Patterson, Javian Hawkins
Lost: Todd Gurley, Brian Hill, Ito Smith
Honorable mention: Texans (Mark Ingram II, Phillip Lindsay)
The Falcons had little success running the ball last season with the 27th-ranked rushing offense. Todd Gurley II had seemed to be the answer, but an injury-riddled season cast his future in doubt. When Gurley wasn’t retained, the Falcons signed Mike Davis to a 2-year, $5.5 million contract and Cordarelle Patterson to a 1-year, $3 million contract. They then proceeded to sign undrafted free agent Javian Hawkins as well. Davis was stellar as a fill-in for injured RB Christian McCaffrey in Carolina, rushing for 642 yards and 6 TDs in 12 games. This backfield now has depth, and with a completely new backfield Atlanta could come back with a run attack that could perform very well during the season.
Wide Receiver – Giants
Added: Kenny Golladay, John Ross III, Kadarius Toney
Lost: Golden Tate III
Honorable Mention: Titans (Julio Jones, Josh Reynolds)
The New York Giants have not had the same clear “x factor” receiver since Odell Beckham Jr. was traded. However, with the signing of Kenny Golladay, Daniel Jones could have a much-needed receiver he can depend on in 2021. He finished with a 62.5% completion percentage in 2020 (31st among qualified QBs). Golladay provides Jones with a big frame receiver (6-4, 214) that he hasn’t had in his two years as a starter. With other additions in drafting Kadarius Toney in the first round of the draft and signing John Ross III to a 1-year, $2.25 million contract, Jones can pair this arsenal with Evan Engram and Darius Slayton and have a strong receiver corps to throw to in 2021. His starting wide receivers averaged over 15 yards/catch in their last full season. This could help Jones stretch the field this season, as he only averaged 10.6 yards per pass completed last season.
Tight End – New England Patriots
Added: Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith
Honorable Mention: Falcons (Kyle Pitts)
The Patriots have not had much tight end production since Rob Gronkowski left, only targeting tight ends 33 times in 2020, but there finally seems to be hope in Foxborough as the Patriots signed two big-name tight ends on the market, Hunter Henry (3 years, $37.4 million) and Jonnu Smith (4 years, $50 million). These two tight ends will be a huge addition to this Patriots lineup that had one of the worst tight end productions in 2020. This allows the QB starting for this team to have more weapons at his disposal than last year.
Offensive Line – Los Angeles Chargers
Added: Corey Linsley, Matt Feiler, Rashawn Slater, Oday Aboushi
Lost: Forrest Lamp, Dan Feeney
Honorable Mention: Vikings (Christian Darrisaw, Wyatt Davis)
Los Angeles needed to protect their sophomore quarterback Justin Herbert in 2021, and they delivered. Signing Corey Linsley from Green Bay and Oday Aboushi from Detroit in addition to drafting Rashawn Slater with the 13th overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft. These additions ensure the better protection of their star QB, who was sacked 32 times in 2020 (11th most).
Defensive Line – New York Jets
Added: Carl Lawson, Sheldon Rankins, Vinny Curry
Lost: Henry Anderson
Honorable Mention: Cleveland Browns (Jadeveon Clowney, Takkarist McKinley, Tommy Togiai, Malik Jackson)
The New York Jets’ defensive line has been performing better as of recent years, much of which has been due to the selection of Quinnen Williams in 2019. Their rush defense was 13th in the league last season; however, they were in the middle of the pack with pass defense. Now, they sign three starters to join Williams in the new 4-3 scheme that Jeff Ulbrich has set up in New York in order to attempt to get more pressure to the quarterback. Even with the preseason injury to Lawsom that will sideline him for the season, there seems to be hope in New York, adding new pieces along with a new coordinator.
Linebackers – Cleveland Browns
Added: Anthony Walker, Jeremiah Owusu-Koromoah
Lost: B.J. Goodson
Honorable Mention: Arizona Cardinals (Zaven Collins)
The Browns have been quite busy this offseason. Their main goal was to improve their defense, as Baker Mayfield has been leading an electric offense in Cleveland averaging 369.6 yards per game. They drastically improved their linebackers this offseason, which was much needed as they had no real starting core last year. Adding Anthony Walker, who had at least 60 tackles each of his last three seasons, gives a great boost to an already great run defense. Having Owusu-Koromoah fall to Cleveland at the 52nd pick is another addition that could help this Browns team go even further in the playoffs than last year.
Secondary – Denver Broncos
Added: Kyle Fuller, Patrick Surtain II, Ronald Darby
Lost: A.J. Bouye, Will Parks
Honorable Mention: Cleveland Browns (John Johnson III, Troy Hill, Greg Newsome II)
A.J. Bouye leaving Denver wasn’t the worst thing that could’ve happened this offseason. Denver drafted superstar CB Patrick Surtain II with the 9th overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft and signed CB Kyle Fuller from Chicago to a 4-year, $56 million deal. Fuller was a two-time Pro Bowler who has 11 interceptions in the last three seasons. Pairing them with cornerback Michael Ojemudia and newly signed CB Ronald Darby, this cornerback combination is a great bolster to an already-strong Broncos defense.
Quarterback – Carolina Panthers
Added: Sam Darnold
Lost: Teddy Bridgewater
There wasn’t a lot of quarterback movement in free agency this year. This trade for Sam Darnold is a step backwards from Teddy Bridgewater, who they traded to Denver for a sixth-round pick. Bridgewater completed 69.1% of his passes last season compared to Darnold’s 59.6%. Darnold needs to play well to prove to the Panthers that he can be a long-term starter, especially since he has arguably more weapons in Carolina than he had in New York.
Running Back – Kansas City Chiefs
Added: Michael Burton
Lost: Damien Williams, Anthony Sherman
Similarly, there are not many teams that lack a clear starting running back going into 2021. The main reason the Chiefs were selected is because of the loss of their fullback Anthony Sherman. This is a big loss for the Chiefs, who need good blocking for sophomore running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire. They also lost backup RB Damien Williams, who ran for 498 yards in 6 games last year when Edwards-Helaire was out with an injury.
Wide Receiver – Detroit Lions
Added: Tyrell Williams, Breshad Perriman, Amon-Ra St. Brown
Lost: Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones Jr., Jamal Agnew
This wide receiver corps may be the worst in the league. Losing their entire receiving corps with star receiver Kenny Golladay, veteran receiver Marvin Jones Jr. and special teams star Jamal Agnew, Goff does not have any experienced receivers to throw to in 2021 aside from newly signed Tyrell Williams and Breshad Perriman, but this group is not looking good going into the 2021 season. Their number 1 receiver on their depth chart, Williams, has missed at least four games in the past two seasons and has a 61.2% catch rate, way below the top 100 receivers in 2020. Drafting St. Brown gives the lions another receiver with a similar build to Robert Woods (both 6’0 and around 175 pounds) that Goff has been used to in Los Angeles.
Tight End – New Orleans Saints
Added: Nick Vannett
Lost: Jared Cook, Josh Hill
The tight end position has been performing well for the Saints in the last few years. However, they lost Jared Cook to Los Angeles and Josh Hill to retirement, which casts this position in doubt going into the new season. They signed Nick Vannett to cover these losses, but there is no clear tight end 1 as week 1 nears.
Offensive Line – Las Vegas Raiders
Added: Richie Incognito, Alex Leatherwood
Lost: Trent Brown, Rodney Hudson, Gabe Jackson
Losing three high-end starters in the offseason (Brown to New England, Hudson to Arizona, and Jackson to Seattle) is a huge hit to this Raiders offensive line. The Raiders signed Incognito and drafted Leatherwood in the first round of the draft to cover for these losses, but the loss of 3 linemen is hard to immediately fix.
Defensive Line – Cincinatti Bengals
Added: Trey Hendrickson, Joseph Ossai
Lost: Geno Atkins, Carl Lawson
Aside from edge rushers, there was not much movement with defensive linemen this offseason. A notable loss is the Cincinatti Bengals, with Carl Lawson leaving for New York and Geno Atkins to free agency. However, they were able to add Trey Hendrickson and drafted Joseph Ossai in the third round. This is an obvious hit to this defensive line, with two veterans leaving that the Bengals could depend on. They had the lowest amount of sacks last season (17) and it does not appear to be getting any better this season.
Linebacker – Philadelphia Eagles
Added: Eric Wilson
Lost: Duke Riley, Nate Gerry
Philadelphia does not appear to be in any rush to contend in 2021. This team has suffered losses at almost every position group going into this season, and linebacker is no exception. Although they added Eric Wilson from Minnesota, they lost two starters in Duke Riley and Nate Gerry. This team was 23rd against the rush last season and losing key pieces with Riley and Gerry does not help the cause for this Eagles defense. This team does not seem to want to help second year QB Jalen Hurts in this new season, but they still have a core of veterans that have stuck with them.
Secondary – Tennessee Titans
Added: Janoris Jenkins, Kevin Johnson, Caleb Farley, Elijah Molden
Lost: Malcolm Butler, Adoree’ Jackson, Kenny Vaccaro
The Titans have made some big moves this offseason by trading for Julio Jones and bolstering their offense. The issue with that is their defense, which is suffering from all the money leaving to the offensive side of the ball. They lost veteran CB Malcolm Butler and CB Adoree’ Jackson who they had drafted at the 18th pick in 2017. Signing Janoris Jenkins and some others helped, but the two cornerbacks that solidified their defense last year left, creating a hole that cannot be filled. The Titans were already 29th last year against the pass, and losing their top two cornerbacks creates even more of the problem for this defense.