News & Analysis

Projecting all 32 NFL starting lineups ahead of the 2020 season

With the opening stages of free agency and the 2020 NFL draft in the rearview mirror, NFL rosters are largely complete. That gives us an opportunity to look forward and project the starting lineups for every NFL team heading into next season.  

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One important thing to point out before I get started — base defenses are not “base” anymore. The average NFL team ran just 27% of its defensive plays in base personnel last season, with nickel and dime packages quickly becoming the prevalent look. With that in mind, nearly all of these teams include five defensive backs in the starting lineup with the fifth member of the secondary (nickel/slot defender) taking the place of an off-ball linebacker or defensive lineman in what would traditionally be viewed as their starting base defense.

To jump to each division, click here: AFC East | AFC North | AFC South | AFC West | NFC EastNFC North | NFC South | NFC West

AFC East

Nov 3, 2019; Baltimore, MD, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman (11) warms up prior to the game between the Baltimore Ravens and the New England Patriots at M&T Bank Stadium. Credit: Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

New England Patriots

Offense

QB: Jarrett Stidham

RB: Sony Michel

WR: Mohamed Sanu

WR: N’Keal Harry

Slot: Julian Edelman

TE: Devin Asiasi

LT: Isaiah Wynn

LG: Joe Thuney

C: David Andrews

RG: Shaq Mason

RT: Marcus Cannon

Defense

DI: Lawrence Guy

DI: Adam Butler

EDGE: Chase Winovich

EDGE: John Simon

LB: Dont’a Hightower

LB: Ja’Whaun Bentley

CB: Stephon Gilmore

CB: Jason McCourty

CB: Jonathan Jones

S: Devin McCourty

S: Adrian Phillips

Battle to watch: Adrian Phillips vs. Patrick Chung at strong safety

For years, Chung has been the player the Patriots have let loose in the box to take on  opposing tight ends in the passing game. He has played at least 500 defensive snaps every season since 2010, and all but one of those seasons came with the Patriots. Last season, Chung saw his role and performance take a hit, though, earning an overall grade of just 55.6 after bringing in 70-plus grades in four of the five previous seasons. At 33 years old, his days as the Patriots’ starting strong safety may be numbered. 

Phillips missed much of the 2019 season with the Chargers due to a fractured forearm, but he played well in limited action with an 87.5 overall grade on just shy of 300 defensive snaps. He earned grades of 65.0 or higher in each of 2017 and 2018, as well. There’s a good chance that Phillips could push Chung for the starting job despite Chung’s longtime standing with the team. 

Name to watch: Josh Uche

It’s hard to imagine a better landing spot for Uche than New England given Bill Belichick’s experience with hybrid pass rushers. Uche may be undersized for a traditional edge defender, but he flat-out produced in his limited opportunities at Michigan, picking up a pass-rushing grade of 91.7 over the 2018 and 2019 seasons combined. I could see Uche carving out a role for himself on this defense at some point during the 2020 season.  

Buffalo Bills

Offense

QB: Josh Allen

RB: Devin Singletary

WR: Stefon Diggs

WR: John Brown

Slot: Cole Beasley

TE: Dawson Knox

LT: Dion Dawkins

LG: Quinton Spain

C: Mitch Morse

RG: Jon Feliciano

RT: Cody Ford

Defense

DI: Ed Oliver

DI: Star Lotulelei

EDGE: Jerry Hughes

EDGE: Mario Addison

LB: Tremaine Edmunds

LB: Matt Milano

CB: Tre’Davious White

CB: Josh Norman

CB: Taron Johnson

S: Jordan Poyer

S: Micah Hyde

Battle to watch: Josh Norman vs. Levi Wallace at outside cornerback

I gave the second starting job at cornerback to Norman right now, but after watching what he put on tape in 2019, that’s a tough pill to swallow for the Bills on what is otherwise a very strong roster. Buffalo will be hoping it gets the guy who put up five straight seasons with a coverage grade of 69.0 or higher from 2014 to 2018 rather than the 2019 version of Norman, who earned a 43.4 grade in coverage and allowed a passer rating of 133.3 into his coverage. If it’s a similar story to last year, Wallace is the clear choice as starter after a solid sophomore campaign that followed up an excellent rookie debut. 

Name to watch: Zack Moss

For a long time, Moss was PFF’s RB1 in the 2020 NFL Draft. A disappointing showing at the Scouting Combine and D’Andre Swift’s top-of-the-class ability as a receiver ultimately pushed him down to our second-ranked running back, but no running back in the draft was more elusive than Moss. He forced the third-most missed tackles on the ground during his career with the Utes of any running back since PFF began charting college football in 2014. Moss has all the tools to become a three-down back, and while Singletary may hold the edge right now, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Moss eventually earn the lion's share of the snaps at running back by the end of the season. 

New York Jets

Offense

QB: Sam Darnold

RB: Le’Veon Bell

WR: Breshad Perriman

WR: Denzel Mims

Slot: Jamison Crowder

TE: Chris Herndon

LT: Mekhi Becton

LG: Alex Lewis

C: Connor McGovern

RG: Greg Van Roten

RT: Chuma Edoga

Defense

DI: Quinnen Williams

DI: Steve McLendon

DI: Henry Anderson

EDGE: Jordan Jenkins

EDGE: Tarell Basham

LB: C.J. Mosley

CB: Pierre Desir

CB: Blessuan Austin

CB: Brian Poole

S: Jamal Adams

S: Marcus Maye

Battle to watch: Chuma Edoga vs. George Fant at right tackle

The right tackle for the Jets in 2020 is expected to be one of those two players, and I gave the nod to Edoga despite his 48.9 overall grade in limited action last season. Fant has played 454 snaps at tight end as a sixth offensive lineman with the Seahawks compared to 477 snaps at tackle over the past three seasons. When he is lined up at tackle, his career grade is just 47.6. It makes more sense for New York to roll with Edoga and hope he takes a step forward in his second season while keeping Fant as depth behind him and Becton.  

Name to watch: Bryce Hall/Avery Williamson

Hall may be a fifth-round rookie cornerback, but he was one of the best values in the 2020 NFL Draft in that range. His year was cut short by injury in 2019, but he earned a 91.4 coverage grade while accumulating an FBS-high 23 forced incompletions the year prior. If used correctly, he could develop into a solid starting option for the Jets in a cornerback room that lacks sure things. 

Williamson doesn’t really qualify for this category, but he should get a mention given that he should see plenty of playing time in formations with two or more linebackers on the field. He is the projected starter in the Jets’ base defense. 

Miami Dolphins

Offense

QB: Ryan Fitzpatrick

RB: Jordan Howard

WR: DeVante Parker

WR: Preston Williams

Slot: Albert Wilson

TE: Mike Gesicki

LT: Austin Jackson

LG: Ereck Flowers

C: Ted Karras

RG: Robert Hunt

RT: Jesse Davis

Defense

DI: Christian Wilkins

DI: Davon Godchaux

EDGE: Shaq Lawson

EDGE: Emmanuel Ogbah

LB/EDGE: Kyle Van Noy

LB: Jerome Baker

CB: Xavien Howard

CB: Byron Jones

CB: Noah Igbinoghene

S: Bobby McCain

S: Eric Rowe

Battle to watch: Robert Hunt vs. Jesse Davis at right tackle

It seems very unlikely that Hunt goes without a starting job as a rookie next season, but the question becomes whether it will come at the right tackle position he played at Louisiana or at right guard after kicking inside. PFF lead draft analyst Mike Renner listed Hunt as one of the top tackle-to-guard converts in the 2020 NFL Draft, and I think that’s where he begins his career with Davis maintaining the right tackle job he held last season. 

Name to watch: Brandon Jones

Jones is a bit of a project given his read-and-react deficiencies on the back end, but in a role closer to the line of scrimmage where he can use his size, athleticism, movement skills and physicality, he could develop into a nice player for Miami. Eric Rowe’s starting job on this list at strong safety is written in pencil rather than pen after the 2019 season with the Dolphins where he recorded a 58.9 overall grade. There’s a chance Jones wins the job outright by the time the season rolls around. 

NFC East

Jan 5, 2020; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz (11) passes against the Seattle Seahawks during the first quarter in a NFC Wild Card playoff football game at Lincoln Financial Field. Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Philadelphia Eagles

Offense

QB: Carson Wentz

RB: Miles Sanders

WR: Alshon Jeffery

WR: Desean Jackson

TE: Zach Ertz

TE: Dallas Goedert

LT: Andre Dillard

LG: Isaac Seumalo

C: Jason Kelce

RG: Brandon Brooks

RT: Lane Johnson

Defense

DI: Fletcher Cox

DI: Javon Hargrave

EDGE: Brandon Graham

EDGE: Derek Barnett

LB: Nate Gerry

LB: T.J. Edwards

CB: Darius Slay

CB: Avonte Maddox

CB: Nickell Robey-Coleman

S: Rodney McLeod

S: K’Von Wallace

Battle to watch: Avonte Maddox vs. Sidney Jones at outside cornerback

The Eagles put in work in their secondary this offseason, bringing in several high-level players like Darius Slay and Nickell Robey-Coleman, along with a draft prospect PFF liked in K’Von Wallace. Their second outside cornerback spot is still a little up in the air, though, with the two major players being Maddox and Jones. Maddox has the edge in experience (1,248 defensive snaps compared to Jones’ 643) and has graded out slightly better (55.9 compared to Jones’ 53.0). That should give him the leg up in the competition.  

Name to watch: Davion Taylor

Taylor is someone who landed as PFF data scientist Eric Eager’s “my guy” for the 2020 NFL Draft after testing well at the Scouting Combine and projecting well from the college to the pros as both a blitzer and a coverage defender at the position. There are no sure bets at linebacker in Philadelphia, so Taylor cracking the starting lineup after being selected in the third round would not come as a surprise. 

Dallas Cowboys

Offense

QB: Dak Prescott

RB: Ezekiel Elliott

WR: Amari Cooper

WR: Michael Gallup

WR: CeeDee Lamb

TE: Blake Jarwin

LT: Tyron Smith

LG: Connor Williams

C: Tyler Biadasz

RG: Zack Martin

RT: La’el Collins

Defense

DI: Gerald McCoy

DI: Dontari Poe

EDGE: Demarcus Lawrence

EDGE: Randy Gregory

LB: Jaylon Smith

LB: Leighton Vander Esch

CB: Chidobe Awuzie

CB: Trevon Diggs

CB: Jourdan Lewis

S: Xavier Woods

S: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix

Battle to watch: Anthony Brown vs. Jourdan Lewis in the slot

There are a lot of unknowns in the Dallas secondary, but my guess is that Chidobe Awuzie stays at cornerback despite rumors of him moving to safety. A team that is bereft of top cornerback options probably shouldn’t be moving its current top cornerback to safety when it already has two solid starters there. If Trevon Diggs takes the other starting job outside, that leaves Brown and Lewis to battle it out for the starting job in the slot. Lewis has fared well thus far there, with three consecutive seasons with a 68.0 grade or higher to open his career. I’d give him the edge over Brown inside. 

Name to watch: Aldon Smith

Smith was a low-risk acquisition for the Cowboys on a one-year deal that could end up paying off big. They did not address the starting edge spot opposite Demarcus Lawrence in the 2020 NFL Draft, and though Smith hasn’t played since 2015, he was one of the top pass rushers in the league at his peak. His 189 total pressures over the first three seasons of his career were a top-five mark across the entire NFL. Now, it’s unlikely he turns back into that player after such a long time off, but there is plenty of opportunity in Dallas, and Smith clearly has talent if he can stay on track. 

New York Giants

Offense

QB: Daniel Jones

RB: Saquon Barkley

WR: Sterling Shepard

WR: Darius Slayton

Slot: Golden Tate

TE: Evan Engram

LT: Andrew Thomas

LG: Will Hernandez

C: Nick Gates

RG: Kevin Zeitler

RT: Nate Solder

Defense

DI: Leonard Williams

DI: Dalvin Tomlinson

DI: Dexter Lawrence

EDGE: Kyler Fackrell

EDGE: Oshane Ximines

LB: Blake Martinez

CB: James Bradberry

CB: DeAndre Baker

CB/S: Julian Love

S: Jabrill Peppers

S: Xavier McKinney

Battle to watch: Nick Gates vs. Spencer Pulley vs. Shane Lemieux at center

Gates spent time at both right guard and right tackle during the 2019 season, ending the year with a very respectable 77.0 overall grade. That has generated some buzz around his name as a potential starter — a young player whom the Giants want to involve — despite no real experience at the center position. Considering his main competition is Pulley (who has yet to grade above 57.0 in four NFL seasons) and Lemieux (a fifth-round rookie who didn’t play center in college), it’s not unrealistic to think Gates wins the job outright. 

Name to watch: Sam Beal

I included DeAndre Baker on this starting lineup, but chances are that he is heading towards a significant suspension. That leaves the door open at the outside cornerback spot opposite free agent acquisition James Bradberry, and Beal has to be the leader in the clubhouse to take advantage after three starts outside late last season. Those starts weren’t exactly impressive — Beal allowed 14 of 20 targets into his coverage to be completed without recording a pass breakup or interception — but he is two years removed from earning an 88.1 coverage grade at Western Michigan in his final collegiate season. 

Washington Redskins

Offense

QB: Dwayne Haskins

RB: Derrius Guice

WR: Terry McLaurin

WR: Cody Latimer

Slot: Steven Sims

TE: Jeremy Sprinkle

LT: Cornelius Lucas

LG: Wes Schweitzer

C: Chase Roullier

RG: Brandon Scherff

RT: Morgan Moses

Defense

DI: Jonathan Allen

DI: Da’Ron Payne

EDGE: Chase Young

EDGE: Montez Sweat

LB: Thomas Davis

LB: Cole Holcomb

CB: Ronald Darby

CB: Fabian Moreau

CB/S: Kendall Fuller

S: Landon Collins

S: Sean Davis

Battle to watch: Who earns linebacker snaps?

The linebacker position is wide open in Washington. I listed Thomas Davis Sr. and Cole Holcomb as my best guess at the top two players on the depth chart, but the truth is that Shaun Dion Hamilton, Jon Bostic and Reuben Foster, among others, could draw starter snaps this season. Seeing who comes out on top at this position and who ends up not making the roster will be something to monitor leading up to the 2020 NFL season. 

Name to watch: Antonio Gibson

Somewhere between traditional running back and wide receiver, Gibson figures to be an offensive weapon who won’t slot into the starting lineup at running back ahead of players such as Derrius Guice and Adrian Peterson nor in the slot over someone like Steven Sims. That doesn’t mean he won’t see playing time. I expect Gibson to provide a spark on the offense that the Redskins are missing and build his role as the season progresses

AFC South

Jan 12, 2020; Kansas City, MO, USA; Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) against the Kansas City Chiefs in a AFC Divisional Round playoff football game at Arrowhead Stadium. Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Houston Texans

Offense

QB: Deshaun Watson

RB: David Johnson

WR: Brandon Cooks

WR: Will Fuller

Slot: Randall Cobb

TE: Darren Fells

LT: Laremy Tunsil

LG: Max Scharping

C: Nick Martin

RG: Zach Fulton

RT: Tytus Howard

Defense

DI: Ross Blacklock

DI: Brandon Dunn

EDGE: J.J. Watt

EDGE: Whitney Mercilus

LB: Zach Cunningham

LB: Benardrick McKinney

CB: Bradley Roby

CB: Gareon Conley

CB: John Reid

S: Justin Reid

S: Eric Murray

Battle to watch: Gareon Conley vs. Lonnie Johnson Jr. at outside cornerback

I think there is a real chance John Reid could earn the starting slot job for the Texans as a rookie, which would leave the other starting cornerback job up to Conley and Johnson. Johnson had a disastrous rookie season after his second-round selection by the Texans out of Kentucky, earning a coverage grade of 29.0 and allowing a passer rating of 133.5 into his coverage. Conley has disappointed in the context of his first-round draft status, but he has graded at 64.0 and 64.5 the last two seasons in a prominent role — solid play for a starting cornerback. Those numbers get even better press coverage, where he has graded out as one of the best players at the position across the entire NFL. 

Name to watch: Kahale Warring

Darren Fells certainly isn’t infallible. Warring is a player the Texans were excited about last season after his third-round selection, but he took a redshirt year after suffering a hamstring injury and concussion in August. Warring played fewer than 1,000 career snaps at San Diego State and is still relatively new to the game, but he has the combination of size and athleticism that you look for at the position. He could carve out a role for himself in a tight end room without a clear leader.  

Tennessee Titans

Offense

QB: Ryan Tannehill

RB: Derrick Henry

WR: A.J. Brown

WR: Corey Davis

Slot: Adam Humphries

TE: Jonnu Smith

LT: Taylor Lewan

LG: Rodger Saffold

C: Ben Jones

RG: Nate Davis

RT: Dennis Kelly

Defense

DI: Jeffery Simmons

DI: DaQuan Jones

EDGE: Harold Landry

EDGE: Vic Beasley Jr.

LB: Rashaan Evans

LB: Jayon Brown

CB: Adoree’ Jackson

CB: Malcolm Butler

CB: Kristian Fulton

S: Kevin Byard

S: Kenny Vaccaro

Battle to watch: Isaiah Wilson vs. Dennis Kelly at right tackle

Generally, when you take a tackle in the first round, that player is going to start as a rookie. I think it makes sense for the Titans to give Wilson time to develop, though, because he isn’t ready to go up against NFL edge defenders week in and week out. We had listed him as a potential guard convert — a position where his power could shine — given his sluggish feet and problems with speed off the edge. Kelly would give more security to a team that is looking to contend once again in 2020. He is coming off two consecutive seasons with 70-plus overall grades on 300 or more snaps as the Titans’ swing tackle. 

Name to watch: Amani Hooker

The Titans are losing a key contributor from their secondary last season in Logan Ryan, and in the starting lineup above, I made the assumption that Malcolm Butler would remain outside and the recently drafted Kristian Fulton would start his career in the slot for Tennessee. There is a chance that Hooker could earn a larger role in the slot, though, after playing primarily deep at free safety in 2019. Hooker was one of the best coverage defenders in the slot in all of college football at Iowa, picking up a coverage grade of 91.1 in his final season with the Hawkeyes while playing the majority of his snaps in the slot. 

Indianapolis Colts

Offense

QB: Philip Rivers

RB: Jonathan Taylor

WR: T.Y. Hilton

WR: Michael Pittman Jr.

Slot: Parris Campbell

TE: Jack Doyle

LT: Anthony Castonzo

LG: Quenton Nelson

C: Ryan Kelly

RG: Mark Glowinski

RT: Braden Smith

Defense

DI: DeForest Buckner

DI: Denico Autry

EDGE: Justin Houston

EDGE: Al-Quadin Muhammad

LB: Darius Leonard

LB: Anthony Walker

CB: Rock Ya-Sin

CB: Xavier Rhodes

CB: Kenny Moore

S: Khari Willis

S: Malik Hooker

Battle to watch: Edge defender opposite Justin Houston

There are a couple of names who could start opposite Houston, but none of them are overly exciting. The most exciting of the bunch may be Kemoko Turay after he got off to a very fast start to the 2019 season (91.0 pass-rushing grade before season-ending injury in Week 5), but he was used primarily as a pass-rushing specialist, with 72 of his 81 defensive snaps coming on pass plays. Ben Banogu and Tyquan Lewis are also names who could fill the position. Al-Quadin Muhammad has the most experience of the bunch and has graded decently over the last two seasons in Indianapolis.  

Name to watch: Marvell Tell III

Name value will likely propel Xavier Rhodes to the starting job in Indianapolis, but he has been thoroughly exposed over the last two seasons in Minnesota. That culminated in a 2019 season where he earned a coverage grade of 45.3 while allowing 66 of the 79 passes into his coverage to be completed. Those are bottom of the barrel numbers. He’ll have to significantly turn his career around to play up to the level of a starting-caliber cornerback. Tell, meanwhile, showed promise in limited action as a rookie with an overall grade of 67.6. It wouldn’t surprise me to see the former safety starting with Rock Ya-Sin late next season. 

Jacksonville Jaguars

Offense

QB: Gardner Minshew

RB: Leonard Fournette

WR: DJ Chark

WR: Chris Conley

Slot: Dede Westbrook

TE: Tyler Eifert

LT: Cam Robinson

LG: Andrew Norwell

C: Brandon Linder

RG: Ben Bartch

RT: Jawaan Taylor

Defense

DI: Taven Bryan

DI: Davon Hamilton

EDGE: Josh Allen

EDGE: K’Lavon Chaisson

LB: Myles Jack

LB: Joe Schobert

CB: CJ Henderson

CB: Rashaan Melvin

CB: D.J. Hayden

S: Jarrod Wilson

S: Ronnie Harrison

Battle to watch: Chris Conley vs. Laviska Shenault Jr. at outside wide receiver

Shenault has the size and physical profile to play outside in addition to the slot, and he showed he could do both across the 2018 and 2019 seasons at Colorado. His injury history may slow the start of his NFL career, but he is clearly the more talented option compared to Conley. The Jaguars may want to bring him along slowly and develop his route tree during his rookie season rather than throwing him into the fire as a full-time starter, however, which is why I slotted Conley in as the starter right now. Conley is coming off a career year with the Jaguars in 2019, averaging 16.5 yards on his 47 receptions. 

Name to watch: Josiah Scott

D.J. Hayden has played well in the slot for the Jaguars over the last two seasons (70-plus coverage grades in 2018 and 2019), but they’re a team looking towards the future so it’s hard to imagine Hayden is in their long-term plans. The bottom line on Scott in the PFF Draft Guide stated, “Scott projects as one of the top slot cornerback options in this class. His quicks, instincts and ball skills are superb.” This is someone they should be trying to get on the field sooner rather than later. 

NFC South

Oct 6, 2019; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas (13) after a touchdown catch in the second half against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

New Orleans Saints

Offense

QB: Drew Brees

RB: Alvin Kamara

WR: Michael Thomas

WR: Emmanuel Sanders

WR: Tre’Quan Smith

TE: Jared Cook

LT: Terron Armstead

LG: Andrus Peat

C: Erik McCoy

RG: Cesar Ruiz

RT: Ryan Ramczyk

Defense

DI: Sheldon Rankins

DI: David Onyemata

EDGE: Cameron Jordan

EDGE: Marcus Davenport

LB: Demario Davis

LB: Zack Baun

CB: Marshon Lattimore

CB: Janoris Jenkins

S: Chauncey Gardner-Johnson

S: Malcolm Jenkins

S: Marcus Williams

Battle to watch: Zack Baun vs. Kiko Alonso vs. Alex Anzalone for linebacker snaps

The Saints — wait for it — traded up in the draft to get their guy. Shocker, I know. It’s hard to see Baun not drawing significant snaps as a rookie, even with the likely position change from edge to primarily off-ball linebacker. Alonso earned grades of 61.3, 49.1 and 49.6 in his last three seasons as a full-time starter (2016 to 2018 with the Dolphins), and Anzalone put up decent numbers in 2018 (67.7 overall grade) but doesn’t pose a massive roadblock to playing time for Baun. 

Name to watch: Malcom Brown

It doesn’t exactly come as a surprise that Brown is going to see plenty of playing time on this defense. He played over 500 snaps for New Orleans in 2019, just as he did the four years prior with the Patriots, and he earned his fifth consecutive season with a grade north of 64.0. I put Sheldon Rankins and David Onyemata above him in the starting lineup, but Brown should see similar snaps to those two and play the most snaps of the three over center at nose tackle. 

Atlanta Falcons

Offense

QB: Matt Ryan

RB: Todd Gurley

WR: Julio Jones

WR: Calvin Ridley

Slot: Russell Gage

TE: Hayden Hurst

LT: Jake Matthews

LG: Matt Hennessy

C: Alex Mack

RG: Chris Lindstrom

RT: Kaleb McGary

Defense

DI: Grady Jarrett

DI: Tyeler Davison

EDGE: Dante Fowler Jr.

EDGE: Takkarist McKinley

LB: Deion Jones

LB: Foyesade Oluokun

CB: A.J. Terrell

CB: Isaiah Oliver

CB: Kendall Sheffield

S: Keanu Neal

S: Ricardo Allen

Battle to watch: Ricardo Allen vs. Damontae Kazee at free safety

Allen is coming off the worst season of his career from a PFF grading standpoint (58.7 overall), but he also played more strong safety than any year in his career with the injury to Keanu Neal. From 2015 to 2017, Allen picked up overall grades of 68.4, 81.2 and 72.1 on 800 or more snaps each season. Kazee, meanwhile, has bounced between the slot and free safety (where he has had more NFL success). He put up an 82.7 coverage grade in 2018 as the team’s primary free safety in place of an injured Allen. My guess is that Allen edges out Kazee, but Kazee will still see a good bit of the field in various nickel and dime packages. 

Name to watch: Laquon Treadwell

The start to Treadwell’s career has been, well, disastrous. From 2016 to 2018, he failed to produce a single receiving grade above 55.0, topping out at 302 receiving yards in 2018 on 47 targets. He didn’t have a large role with the Vikings in 2019, but there were signs of improvement as he picked up a receiving grade of 74.5 on his 87 routes run. The Falcons don’t have a solidified third wide receiver behind Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley — though Russell Gage is the leader to earn that role — which leaves the door open for Treadwell to resurrect his career in a new city, similar to what we saw from Breshad Perriman

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Offense

QB: Tom Brady

RB: Ronald Jones II

WR: Chris Godwin

WR: Mike Evans

TE: Rob Gronkowski

TE: O.J. Howard

LT: Donovan Smith

LG: Ali Marpet

C: Ryan Jensen

RG: Alex Cappa

RT: Tristan Wirfs

Defense

DI: Ndamukong Suh

DI: Vita Vea

DI: William Gholston

EDGE: Shaquil Barrett

EDGE: Jason Pierre-Paul

LB: Devin White

LB: Lavonte David

CB: Carlton Davis

CB: Jamel Dean

S: Antoine Winfield

S: Jordan Whitehead

Battle to watch: Jamel Dean vs. Sean Murphy-Bunting at outside cornerback

Both Dean and Murphy-Bunting performed well for a pair of rookie cornerbacks in 2019. Murphy-Bunting picked up a coverage grade of 66.5, combining for seven interceptions and pass breakups on the year. Meanwhile, all Dean accomplished was ranking third among all cornerbacks in PFF grade from Weeks 10 through 17 with 10 forced incompletions over that span (second among all cornerbacks behind only Carlton Davis). That hot stretch pushed him over Murphy-Bunting in my starting lineup, but I expect both will see plenty of the field next season. 

Name to watch: Tyler Johnson

PFF's Anthony Treash wrote prior to the draft that Johnson very well could be the steal of the draft, and it appears the Buccaneers are the team that is going to reap the reward after taking him in the fifth round. Johnson is the rare wide receiver that consistently created separation at the college level yet excelled in contested catch situations, ideal for a slot receiver working over the middle of the field. That role is open for the taking in Tampa Bay’s offense. Chris Godwin did plenty of damage from the slot in 2019, and he’ll likely continue to do so, but he has also shown the ability to win outside. A potential Godwin/Johnson/Mike Evans trio looks mighty good on paper. 

Carolina Panthers

Offense

QB: Teddy Bridgewater

RB: Christian McCaffrey

WR: D.J. Moore

WR: Robby Anderson

WR: Curtis Samuel

TE: Ian Thomas

LT: Russell Okung

LG: John Miller

C: Matt Paradis

RG: Michael Schofield III

RT: Taylor Moton

Defense

DI: Kawann Short

DI: Derrick Brown

EDGE: Brian Burns

EDGE: Yetur Gross-Matos

LB: Shaq Thompson

LB: Tahir Whitehead

CB: Donte Jackson

CB: Troy Pride Jr.

CB: Corn Elder

S: Juston Burris

S: Tre Boston

Battle to watch: John Miller vs. Michael Schofield III vs. Dennis Daley at guard

There aren’t any sure things when it comes to the guard position for the Panthers after trading away Trai Turner for Russell Okung this offseason. Daley played 686 snaps last season, but they all came at tackle where he earned a 58.3 overall grade (48.8 as a pass blocker). Though there is a sense that he is going to come away with one of the starting guard jobs, Miller and Schofield are just more reliable there in my eyes. Granted, they’re not spectacular options — Miller ranks 57th among 87 qualifying guards in PFF grade since 2015, while Schofield ranks 42nd — but they’re experienced and unlikely to be complete disasters.

Name to watch: Jeremy Chinn

Chinn is undeniably raw coming out of Southern Illinois. He has all the size and athleticism to be a dominant player in the box, but he doesn’t play to that physicality and lacks the processing speed to be an impactful player out of the gates. Those uncoachable physical traits could push him onto the field sooner rather than later, though, particularly with the state of the strong safety depth chart in front of him. 

AFC West

Jan 20, 2019; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce (87) celebrates with quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) in the AFC Championship game against the New England Patriots at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Kansas City Chiefs

Offense

QB: Patrick Mahomes

RB: Clyde Edwards-Helaire

WR: Tyreek Hill

WR: Sammy Watkins

WR: Mecole Hardman

TE: Travis Kelce

LT: Eric Fisher

LG: Andrew Wylie

C: Austin Reiter

RG: Laurent Duvernay-Tardif

RT: Mitchell Schwartz

Defense

DI: Chris Jones

DI: Derrick Nnadi

EDGE: Frank Clark

EDGE: Alex Okafor

LB: Anthony Hitchens

LB: Willie Gay Jr.

CB: Charvarius Ward

CB: Bashaud Breeland

CB: Rashad Fenton

S: Tyrann Mathieu

S: Juan Thornhill

Battle to watch: Willie Gay Jr. vs. Anthony Hitchens vs. Damien Wilson for linebacker snaps

Kansas City won this past year’s Super Bowl in spite of their linebacking corps rather than because of them. Wilson and Hitchens (their two leaders in snaps last season) maxed out at a 50.4 overall grade (Wilson). There is no reason that Gay shouldn’t immediately become the best linebacker on that defense with his freakish athleticism and natural instincts he showed in coverage at Mississippi State, albeit in a small sample. I gave the edge to Hitchens in the starting lineup alongside Gay, but there isn’t a big gap between him and Wilson. Ideally, the Chiefs will be upgrading on both in the future. 

Name to watch: L’Jarius Sneed

The Chiefs’ cornerback depth chart wasn’t settled before the arrest of Bashaud Breeland in late April, and it certainly isn’t now. There is opportunity there for Sneed to potentially see playing time early. PFF's Steve Palazzolo listed him as a low-risk, high-reward prospect in this year’s draft, citing his frame, athleticism and ball skills as a potential winning combination on the outside. 

Denver Broncos

Offense

QB: Drew Lock

RB: Melvin Gordon

WR: Courtland Sutton

WR: Jerry Jeudy

Slot: KJ Hamler

TE: Noah Fant

LT: Garrett Bolles

LG: Dalton Risner

C: Lloyd Cushenberry

RG: Graham Glasgow

RT: Ja’Wuan James

Defense

DI: Jurrell Casey

DI: Shelby Harris

EDGE: Von Miller

EDGE: Bradley Chubb

LB: Alexander Johnson

LB: Todd Davis

CB: AJ Bouye

CB: Michael Ojemudia

CB: Bryce Callahan

S: Kareem Jackson

S: Justin Simmons

Battle to watch: Michael Ojemudia vs. Isaac Yiadom vs. Davontae Harris vs. De'Vante Bausby at outside cornerback

There was a sense the Broncos would do more to address the second cornerback slot this offseason. They have built a pretty solid all-around roster, but this is pretty clearly the biggest weakness on it. I’m guessing Ojemudia is the leader in the clubhouse to win that job given how ineffective Yiadom (53.4 PFF grade) and Harris (53.4 PFF grade) have been in that role in recent seasons. The other primary option — Bausby — hasn’t played more than 150 defensive snaps in a season since entering the NFL in 2015 as an undrafted free agent. Vic Fangio is one of the best defensive minds in the NFL, but he will have his work cut out for him at cornerback beyond A.J. Bouye and Bryce Callahan

Name to watch: Phillip Lindsay

I put Melvin Gordon in the starting lineup, but this really should be a running back by committee situation with both Lindsay and Royce Freeman on the roster. That’s part of what made the Gordon signing seem unnecessary at the time, particularly given that Lindsay has been a legitimately good runner these last two years. His 87.3 rushing grade since the start of 2018 ranks fourth among qualifying running backs. Lindsay should still see plenty of opportunity on the ground in Denver’s offense. 

Las Vegas Raiders

Offense

QB: Derek Carr

RB: Josh Jacobs

WR: Henry Ruggs III

WR: Tyrell Williams

Slot: Hunter Renfrow

TE: Darren Waller

LT: Kolton Miller

LG: Richie Incognito

C: Rodney Hudson

RG: Gabe Jackson

RT: Trent Brown

Defense

DI: Maliek Collins

DI: Maurice Hurst

EDGE: Maxx Crosby

EDGE: Clelin Ferrell

LB: Cory Littleton

LB: Nick Kwiatkoski

CB: Trayvon Mullen

CB: Prince Amukamara

CB: Lamarcus Joyner

S: Johnathan Abram

S: Damarious Randall

Battle to watch: What does the starting secondary look like?

The Raiders have quite a few highly drafted players in their secondary heading into the 2020 season, but there are still some questions. Will the recently signed Prince Amukamara beat out Damon Arnette for a starting spot out of the gates? Will Lamarcus Joyner stay in the slot in Las Vegas (where he struggled in 2019 with a 42.8 coverage grade) or will he return to free safety where he saw some success with the Rams? Can Amik Robertson crack the starting lineup in the slot? These are all questions that need to be answered in 2020 and could go either way. 

Name to watch: Carl Nassib

Las Vegas will be hoping that the combination of Maxx Crosby and Clelin Ferrell can maintain starting status throughout the year given Crosby’s strong rookie season and the fact that Ferrell was the fourth-overall pick in the NFL draft. Nassib is a solid albeit unexciting starting option if things don’t go according to plan, though. He has played 500 or more defensive snaps in each of the past three seasons, earning grades of 64.0 or higher each year. Nassib isn’t going to scare opposing quarterbacks, but he will provide stout play against the run.  

Los Angeles Chargers

Offense

QB: Tyrod Taylor

RB: Austin Ekeler

WR: Keenan Allen

WR: Mike Williams

Slot: K.J. Hill

TE: Hunter Henry

LT: Trey Pipkins

LG: Dan Feeney

C: Mike Pouncey

RG: Trai Turner

RT: Bryan Bulaga

Defense

DI: Linval Joseph

DI: Jerry Tillery

EDGE: Joey Bosa

EDGE: Melvin Ingram III

LB: Kenneth Murray

LB: Drue Tranquill

CB: Casey Hayward Jr.

CB: Michael Davis

CB: Chris Harris Jr.

S: Derwin James

S: Nasir Adderley

Battle to watch: Jerry Tillery vs. Justin Jones at interior defender

Tillery was not what the Chargers expected in his rookie season. Not only did he play below expectations, but his 35.5 overall grade ranked dead last among all qualifying interior defenders during the 2019 season. The guy who put up a FBS-high 19.6% pass-rush win rate in 2018 at Notre Dame didn’t just disappear, though. If Tillery can get back towards that player in Year 2, he has a decent chance of winning the starting job over Jones (overall grades of 51.9 and 59.2 in 2018 and 2019). 

Name to watch: Desmond King II/Justin Herbert

King has been the third-highest-graded cornerback in the entire NFL since 2017, so seeing his name come up here seems odd. The problem is that King has only played in the slot, and the Chargers just signed the best slot cornerback of the past decade to play in the slot (Chris Harris Jr.). That leaves King without a well-defined position. His role will likely be as the sixth defensive back in dime looks, but it will be hard to keep him off the field entirely given how talented he has proven himself to be. 

The other obvious candidate to crack the starting lineup is Herbert. I believe the Chargers will start the season with Tyrod Taylor at quarterback (and that they can have success with him at the helm), but any sign of struggle will likely force the Chargers’ hand in ushering in the Herbert era in Los Angeles, whether or not he is ready to be a starting quarterback in the NFL

NFC West

San Francisco 49ers

Offense

QB: Jimmy Garoppolo

RB: Tevin Coleman

FB: Kyle Juszczyk

WR: Deebo Samuel

WR: Brandon Aiyuk

TE: George Kittle

LT: Trent Williams

LG: Laken Tomlinson

C: Weston Richburg

RG: Daniel Brunskill

RT: Mike McGlinchey

Defense

DI: Javon Kinlaw

DI/EDGE: Arik Armstead

EDGE: Dee Ford

EDGE: Nick Bosa

LB: Fred Warner

LB: Kwon Alexander

CB: Richard Sherman

CB: Emmanuel Moseley

CB: K’Waun Williams

S: Jaquiski Tartt

S: Jimmie Ward

Battle to watch: Kwon Alexander vs. Dre Greenlaw in two-linebacker packages

It seems at this point as if Fred Warner is comfortably top dog in the 49ers’ linebacking corps. If we’re going off paychecks, Alexander would be a clear choice to receive more playing time than Greenlaw. Greenlaw saw plenty of action during Alexander’s injury last season, however, and he played well with that opportunity, earning an overall grade of 67.7 with strong play in coverage and sure tackling. If he continues to improve on that performance, it is going to be hard to keep him off the field. 

Name to watch: Tom Compton

The release of Mike Person — the starting right guard for the 49ers last season — corresponded with the signing of Compton, indicating that the 49ers plan to have him compete for that newly vacant guard position. I have Daniel Brunskill filling that position in my starting lineup after a solid showing in 2019 across multiple positions, but Compton could win the job as well. He has significantly more experience than Brunskill. The only issue is his performance — it hasn’t exactly been starter-quality with overall grades of 57.7, 61.8 and 49.7 since 2017 on 300 or more snaps each year. 

Seattle Seahawks

Offense

QB: Russell Wilson

RB: Chris Carson

WR: Tyler Lockett

WR: DK Metcalf

TE: Will Dissly

TE: Greg Olsen

LT: Duane Brown

LG: Mike Iupati

C: B.J. Finney

RG: Damien Lewis

RT: Brandon Shell

Defense

DI: Poona Ford

DI: Jarran Reed

EDGE: Rasheem Green

EDGE: Bruce Irvin

LB: Bobby Wagner

LB: KJ Wright

LB: Jordyn Brooks

CB: Shaquill Griffin

CB: Quinton Dunbar

S: Quandre Diggs

S: Bradley McDougald

Battle to watch: Who draws the start at edge defender?

The fate of Jadeveon Clowney continues to hang in the balance for this upcoming season. Even though the Seahawks may not have an upper tier option like Clowney on their current roster, they do have options. Rasheem Green seems the safest bet to take one of the starting edge jobs after playing a career-high 594 defensive snaps in 2019 and putting up 30 quarterback pressures (including playoffs). I gave the other starting slot to Bruce Irvin in his return to Seattle, but  LJ Collier, Benson Mayowa and Darell Taylor should all be in the mix for a starting job if the Seahawks don’t make any more moves at the position. 

Name to watch: Phil Haynes

Haynes played just 42 snaps over the course of his rookie season, all coming in the Divisional Round matchup with the Packers, and he held up well. Haynes allowed two pressures in his 32 pass-blocking snaps despite Russell Wilson having an average time to throw of nearly four seconds in the game. If the former fourth-round pick were to crack the starting lineup next season, it would most likely be at left guard in place of Mike Iupati (60.3 overall grade in 2019).

Los Angeles Rams

Offense

QB: Jared Goff

RB: Cam Akers

WR: Robert Woods

WR: Josh Reynolds

Slot: Cooper Kupp

TE: Tyler Higbee

LT: Andrew Whitworth

LG: Austin Corbett

C: Austin Blythe

RG: David Edwards

RT: Rob Havenstein

Defense

DI: Aaron Donald

DI: A’Shawn Robinson

DI: Michael Brokcers

EDGE: Leonard Floyd

EDGE: Samson Ebukam

LB: Micah Kiser

CB: Jalen Ramsey

CB: Troy Hill

S/CB: Terrell Burgess

S: Taylor Rapp

S: John Johnson

Battle to watch: Samson Ebukam vs. Ogbonnia Okoronkwo vs. Terrell Lewis at edge defender

The Rams replaced Dante Fowler Jr. with Leonard Floyd in free agency in what figures to be a downgrade from a pass-rushing standpoint, and their move to counteract the lost snaps from Clay Matthews was to select Lewis in the third round of the 2020 NFL Draft. Lewis has some definite upside down the line, but this is still a guy who will likely take time to develop at the NFL level after playing over 150 defensive snaps for the first and only time in his collegiate career last season. The battle will likely come down to Ebukam and Okoronkwo to start, and Ebukam’s experience in recent seasons (1,717 defensive snaps since 2017) should give him the edge. 

Name to watch: Brian Allen

Allen was the starter at center to start the 2019 season before going down with injury, and he struggled mightily in pass protection, earning a pass-blocking grade of just 45.4. After Allen went down, Austin Blythe slid over from right guard to center, but things weren’t much better for him (58.2 overall grade at center). I put Blythe in the projected starting lineup, but the Rams could very well decide to go back to their 2019 starter in Allen should he win the job this offseason. 

Arizona Cardinals

Offense

QB: Kyler Murray

RB: Kenyan Drake

WR: Deandre Hopkins

WR: Christian Kirk

Slot: Larry Fitzgerald

TE: Maxx Williams

LT: D.J. Humphries

LG: Justin Pugh

C: Mason Cole

RG: J.R. Sweezy

RT: Marcus Gilbert

Defense

DI: Corey Peters 

DI: Jordan Phillips

EDGE: Chandler Jones

EDGE: Devon Kennard

LB: Isaiah Simmons

LB: Jordan Hicks

CB: Patrick Peterson

CB: Robert Alford

CB: Byron Murphy

S: Budda Baker

S: Jalen Thompson

Battle to watch: Marcus Gilbert vs. Josh Jones at right tackle

The fact that the Cardinals didn’t go offensive tackle in the first round and still ended up with the 14th ranked player overall and the fourth-ranked offensive tackle on PFF’s Big Board in the third round remains arguably the biggest steal of the entire NFL Draft. Jones has the starting experience and production (93.4 overall grade with Houston in 2019) that indicates he could start right away at right tackle, but the question becomes whether or not the Cardinals opt to bring him along slowly. 

Gilbert hasn’t been healthy since 2016, but he showed in Pittsburgh that he was a quality starting option when on the field, putting up three consecutive seasons of 73.0-plus grades on 800 or more snaps from 2014 to 2016. He could serve as a bridge for Jones as he continues to develop, if he can stay on the field. 

Name to watch: De’Vondre Campbell

The only team that ran more base defense than the Cardinals in 2019 was the Seahawks, meaning there could be a decent chunk of time that Campbell, Jordan Hicks and Isaiah Simmons are all on the field at the same time. Even if the return of Robert Alford from injury mitigates that to a degree, Campbell could potentially beat out Hicks for linebacker snaps next season. Campbell played 700 or more defensive snaps in each of the first four seasons of his career with the Falcons, and the 61.0 overall grade Hicks earned in 2019 was the lowest of his career.

AFC North

Dec 8, 2019; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) runs with the ball against the Buffalo Bills during the first quarter at New Era Field. Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Baltimore Ravens

Offense

QB: Lamar Jackson

RB: J.K. Dobbins

WR: Marquise Brown

WR: Willie Snead IV

TE: Mark Andrews

TE: Nick Boyle

LT: Ronnie Stanley

LG: Bradley Bozeman

C: Matt Skura

RG: Ben Powers

RT: Orlando Brown

Defense

DI: Derek Wolfe 

DI: Brandon Williams

DI/EDGE: Calais Campbell

EDGE: Matthew Judon

LB: Patrick Queen

LB: Malik Harrison

CB: Marcus Peters

CB: Marlon Humphrey

CB: Tavon Young

S: Chuck Clark

S: Earl Thomas

Battle to watch: Who earns the starting jobs on the interior offensive line?

Marshal Yanda’s retirement leaves all three interior offensive line positions uncertain heading into the 2020 season, and the Ravens didn’t make any major moves to add a clear-cut starter. Bradley Bozeman should retain his starting left guard spot from 2019 (63.8 overall grade), and Matt Skura figures to retain the center job after Patrick Mekari was forced to take over last season due to injury, performing admirably in Skura’s stead. There are competitors for those two jobs, though, and Yanda’s right guard spot is completely in the air with Ben Powers, DJ Fluker, Ben Bredeson and Tyre Phillips all sticking out as reasonable solutions. I sided with Powers due to his familiarity playing next to Orlando Brown Jr. at Oklahoma and a year of experience with the offense under his belt. 

Name to watch: Miles Boykin

The Ravens were the run-heaviest team in the NFL last season, so there isn’t going to be a surplus of targets to go around. Even with that being true, Boykin had a quiet rookie season after being selected in the third round, bringing in just 13 passes on 192 routes over the course of the regular season. He clearly has the physical ability to perform at a high level in the NFL after tearing up the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him begin to supplant Willie Snead as WR2 on that Ravens’ offense next season. 

Pittsburgh Steelers

Offense

QB: Ben Roethlisberger

RB: James Conner

WR: Diontae Johnson

WR: James Washington

Slot: JuJu Smith-Schuster

TE: Eric Ebron

LT: Alejandro Villanueva

LG: Stefen Wisniewski

C: Maurkice Pouncey

RG: David DeCastro

RT: Matt Feiler

Defense

DI: Cam Heyward

DI: Stephon Tuitt

EDGE: T.J. Watt

EDGE: Bud Dupree

LB: Devin Bush

LB: Vince Williams

CB: Joe Haden

CB: Steven Nelson

CB: Mike Hilton

S: Terrell Edmunds

S: Minkah Fitzpatrick

Battle to watch: Stefen Wisniewski vs. Kevin Dotson vs. Matt Feiler at left guard

There has been talk that the Steelers could be moving Feiler to left guard this season, allowing second-year tackle Chukwuma Okorafor and Zach Banner to compete for the starting right tackle job. It makes more sense to keep Feiler at right tackle — a position where he played well in 2019 — and plug the free agent acquisition Wisniewski in at left guard. Wisniewski has been a steady veteran presence for years, and he showed what he can bring to a team by stepping into the Chiefs’ offense during their Super Bowl run last season and delivering a 70.9 overall grade

Name to watch: Cameron Sutton

The Steelers’ secondary has quickly gotten pretty crowded, which limits playing time for someone like Sutton. He impressed in the few chances he did get last season, putting up a 74.5 overall grade on just over 250 defensive snaps and allowing a passer rating of 47.0 on the 26 throws into his coverage. Sutton will see the field in dime and some nickel packages, but there’s a chance he could steal some snaps from Terrell Edmunds at strong safety if Edmunds doesn’t take a step forward in Year 3 or takes on more of a linebacker hybrid role in the box. 

Cleveland Browns

Offense

QB: Baker Mayfield

RB: Nick Chubb

WR: Odell Beckham Jr.

WR: Jarvis Landry

TE: Austin Hooper

TE: David Njoku

LT: Jedrick Wills

LG: Joel Bitonio

C: JC Tretter

RG: Wyatt Teller

RT: Jack Conklin

Defense

DI: Sheldon Richardson

DI: Andrew Billings

EDGE: Myles Garrett

EDGE: Olivier Vernon

LB: Mack Wilson

LB: Sione Takitaki

CB: Denzel Ward

CB: Greedy Williams

CB: Kevin Johnson

S: Karl Joseph

S: Grant Delpit

Battle to watch: Larry Ogunjobi vs. Andrew Billings at nose tackle

Most expect Ogunjobi to retain his starting job at this point, but Billings has graded out higher than Ogunjobi in each of the past two seasons, bringing in an overall grade of 74.0 in 2018 and 69.3 in 2019 on 600 or more defensive snaps both seasons. He provides good play against the run and a little more pass-rushing ability than what you get from your typical nose tackle. I think there’s a decent chance he comes away as the starter, leaving the Browns in a good position in the depth department inside. 

Name to watch: Jordan Elliott

Speaking of depth at the defensive tackle position, Elliott was one of the bigger steals in the draft in PFF’s eyes. He was the 23rd overall player on our big board heading into the draft and put up the highest two-year grade of any interior defender in this class — yes, including Javon Kinlaw and Derrick Brown. He should carve out a nice role on this Cleveland defense as the season progresses, rotating with Sheldon Richardson on the defensive line. 

Cincinnati Bengals

Offense

QB: Joe Burrow

RB: Joe Mixon

WR: A.J. Green

WR: Tee Higgins

Slot: Tyler Boyd

TE: C.J. Uzomah

LT: Jonah Williams

LG: Michael Jordan

C: Trey Hopkins

RG: Xavier Su’a-Filo

RT: Bobby Hart

Defense

DI: Geno Atkins

DI: DJ Reader

EDGE: Carlos Dunlap

EDGE: Sam Hubbard

LB: Logan Wilson

LB: Germaine Pratt

CB: William Jackson III

CB: Trae Waynes

CB: Mackensie Alexander

S: Jessie Bates III

S: Vonn Bell

Battle to watch: Which linebackers draw the most snaps in 2020? 

Cincinnati certainly recognized that the linebacking corps needed to be addressed this offseason, bringing in three rookies and Josh Bynes in free agency to help solve the issue. Though he struggled a bit as a rookie in 2019 (51.2 overall grade), I think it’s safe to assume Germaine Pratt will maintain his starting status. Of the rookies, the first off the board — Logan Wilson — is likely to receive the most snaps. Akeem Davis-Gaither and Markus Bailey were both strong values at their respective picks, falling a bit due to injury concerns. We may not know who will start for the Bengals at linebacker, but they will be better there next season than they were in 2019. 

Name to watch: John Ross

The Bengals declined Ross’ fifth-year option, making this a prove-it year for the speedster out of Washington. What remains to be seen is just how much opportunity he gets to prove it with Cincinnati’s selection of Tee Higgins to open the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft. As PFF's Steve Palazzolo put it in a recent piece looking at the players whose fifth-year options were declined, “His game-changing ability is still valuable if deployed as a complementary piece in an otherwise solid offense.” That speed and ability to produce big plays, despite the maddening inconsistency, could earn him a larger role than Higgins early on as the rookie adjusts to life in the NFL. 

NFC North

Sep 5, 2019; Chicago, IL, USA; Green Bay Packers wide receiver Davante Adams (17) makes a catch against Chicago Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller (23) during the second half at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Green Bay Packers

Offense

QB: Aaron Rodgers

RB: Aaron Jones

WR: Davante Adams

WR: Devin Funchess

WR: Allen Lazard

TE: Jace Sternberger

LT: David Bakhtiari

LG: Elgton Jenkins

C: Corey Linsley

RG: Billy Turner

RT: Ricky Wagner

Defense

DI: Dean Lowry

DI: Kenny Clark

DI: Kingsley Keke

EDGE: Za’Darius Smith

EDGE: Preston Smith

LB: Christian Kirksey

CB: Jaire Alexander

CB: Kevin King

CB: Chandon Sullivan

S: Darnell Savage Jr.

S: Adrian Amos

Battle to watch: Who takes Tramon Williams’ role in the slot?

There is still the possibility that the Packers could bring the 37-year-old Williams back for another season, but as of right now they’re lacking in quality options to replace him in the slot. The best of the bunch is probably Chandon Sullivan — a third-year undrafted free agent out of Georgia State. Sullivan played 378 snaps with the Packers in 2019, split between box and slot duties, along with a little bit of action at wide cornerback and free safety. It’s a small sample, but he earned a respectable 68.9 grade in the slot last season. 

Name to watch: Tyler Lancaster

Lancaster isn’t really an exciting name to watch, but there’s a decent chance he draws more snaps than Kingsley Keke in 2020. The Packers will be hoping that someone like Keke or Montravius Adams will take a big step forward to give them another legitimate option next to Kenny Clark inside. That doesn’t mean it’s going to happen, though. Lancaster graded well against the run as a rookie in 2018 (74.2 run defense grade), but he took a step back in a slightly larger role last season (57.2 overall grade on 442 defensive snaps). If the Packers’ other young interior defenders don’t take that next step, Lancaster could finish the season third in snaps at the position once again.  

Minnesota Vikings

Offense

QB: Kirk Cousins

RB: Dalvin Cook

WR: Adam Thielen

WR: Justin Jefferson

TE: Kyle Rudolph

TE: Irv Smith Jr.

LT: Riley Reiff

LG: Ezra Cleveland

C: Garrett Bradbury

RG: Dru Samia

RT: Brian O’Neill

Defense

DI: Michael Pierce

DI: James Lynch

EDGE: Danielle Hunter

EDGE: Ifeadi Odenigbo

LB: Eric Kendricks

LB: Anthony Barr

CB: Mike Hughes

CB: Cameron Dantzler

CB: Jeff Gladney

S: Harrison Smith

S: Anthony Harris

Battle to watch: Dru Samia vs. Ezra Cleveland vs. Pat Elflein vs. Dakota Dozier vs. Aviante Collins for two starting guard spots

Interior offensive line has been a problem for the Vikings for a couple years now, and there are still a lot of questions with that group heading into 2020. Both starting guard spots are up in the air. Elflein has likely done enough over the last two seasons to lose his grasp on a starting job with pass-blocking grades below 50.0 both seasons. Cleveland could start at tackle, potentially kicking Riley Reiff inside to guard, but I think the more logical move is to start Cleveland at left guard and keep Reiff where he is. Samia, a 2019 fourth-round selection, is my choice for the starting job at right guard, giving Minnesota two new starters on the offensive line. 

Name to watch: Holton Hill

I like what the Vikings did at the cornerback position, bringing in the battle-tested Jeff Gladney in Round 1 and getting good value on Cameron Dantzler in Round 3 — a player who would have gone higher had it not been for poor testing at the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine. It’s hard to imagine former first-round pick Mike Hughes won’t secure one of the starting jobs, but Hill could earn a starting job over one of the two rookies outside. He showed promise as a rookie in 2018 with a coverage grade of 75.9 on just shy of 400 defensive snaps. Hill may get an opportunity to build on that and break out in a larger role in Year 3. 

Chicago Bears

Offense

QB: Nick Foles

RB: David Montgomery

WR: Allen Robinson

WR: Tedd Ginn Jr.

Slot: Anthony Miller

TE: Jimmy Graham

LT: Charles Leno Jr.

LG: James Daniels

C: Cody Whitehair

RG: Germain Ifedi

RT: Bobby Massie

Defense

DI: Akiem Hicks

DI: Eddie Goldman

EDGE: Khalil Mack

EDGE: Robert Quinn

LB: Roquan Smith

LB: Danny Trevathan

CB: Kyle Fuller

CB: Jaylon Johnson

CB: Buster Skrine

S: Tashaun Gipson

S: Eddie Jackson

Battle to watch: Nick Foles vs. Mitchell Trubisky at quarterback

The Bears have indicated that this will be a legitimate competition between Foles and Trubisky, but it’s hard to imagine Foles isn’t the starter in 2020. He’s simply the better quarterback. The highs for Foles have been pretty high — namely his 2013 season with the Eagles (eighth-highest passing grade in the NFL) and his back-to-back elite performances during the Eagles’ Super Bowl run in 2017. To be fair, the lows have been pretty low, but Foles has shown a ceiling that Trubisky hasn’t to this point. That gives the Bears a better chance of getting back to the postseason in 2020 than if they were to roll with Trubisky. 

Name to watch: Cole Kmet

The Bears have haphazardly added tight ends to this roster with the presumptive name on top being Jimmy Graham. Graham carries more name value than his play on the field has warranted recently, however. He has failed to reach the 60.0 overall grade threshold in either of the last two seasons. Kmet may not be the best tight end prospect in recent memory (98th on the PFF Big Board entering the draft), but the door is open for him to take the starting job considering Graham’s declining play. Chicago clearly placed a premium on bringing him in early in the second round. 

Detroit Lions

Offense

QB: Matthew Stafford

RB: Kerryon Johnson

WR: Kenny Golladay

WR: Marvin Jones Jr.

Slot: Danny Amendola

TE: T.J. Hockenson

LT: Taylor Decker

LG: Joe Dahl

C: Frank Ragnow

RG: Jonah Jackson

RT: Halapoulivaati Vaitai

Defense

DI: Danny Shelton

DI: Da’Shawn Hand

EDGE: Trey Flowers

EDGE: Julian Okwara

LB: Jamie Collins Sr.

LB: Jarrad Davis

CB: Desmond Trufant

CB: Jeffrey Okudah

CB: Justin Coleman

S: Tracy Walker

S: Duron Harman

Battle to watch: Da’Shawn Hand vs. Nick Williams at defensive tackle

Danny Shelton should be the clear-cut starter at nose tackle heading into next season for Detroit, but the next two in line for snaps on the defensive interior should be Hand and Williams. Both guys figure to see plenty of playing time in a rotational capacity, but I like Hand to carve out the larger role in 2019. He got off to a tremendous start to his career as a rookie in 2018, earning an 85.9 overall grade and contributing as both a run defender and a pass rusher. Hand saw his role shrink in 2019 down to just over 100 snaps, but if he can put up a similar performance to what we saw from him as a rookie, the Lions' defensive line will be in good shape.  

Name to watch: Jahlani Tavai

Hopefully for the Lions' sake, the move to Detroit and former coach Matt Patricia’s defense goes smoother for Jamie Collins than his last departure from New England. If so, he’ll add a dynamic blitzing/coverage threat that the Lions’ linebacking corps needed. Jarrad Davis should begin the season seeing more snaps than Tavai, but he has shown little thus far to feel confident in his progression as an NFL starter, with grades of 52.8, 51.0 and 40.4 in his first three seasons. Tavai, meanwhile, put up an overall grade of 60.5 as a rookie last season on nearly 600 snaps — not perfect but a decent start to his career. He could end up stealing snaps from Davis as the year progresses. 

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