We are closing in on the 2021 NFL season, and that means it’s time for our annual ranking of the league’s top 100 players. What can we expect from the game’s best, and how do they stack up?
To create our list, we asked an ESPN panel of more than 50 NFL experts to rate players based on how good they will be in the 2021 season compared to their peers. Emphasis was placed solely on expectations for the upcoming season and predicting potential greatness, rather than past performance, career résumé or positional value. That means long-term injuries, like the one Michael Thomas is dealing with, played a part. From those ratings, we were able to rank the best of the best, 1 to 100.
The defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers led the way with eight players cracking the top 100, while the Kansas City Chiefs and Green Bay Packers came in right behind with seven apiece. Those three franchises made up nearly one quarter of this year’s list. Thirty teams in all were represented by at least one player, with the Jacksonville Jaguars and Philadelphia Eagles striking out. Two-thirds of last year’s top 100 returned for another appearance in 2021, and in terms of positions, wide receiver dominated — 18 wideouts made the list. Quarterback (13) and cornerback (10) were also well represented.
For each player, our NFL Nation reporters weighed in on his 2021 outlook, provided a signature stat to know and asked a player, coach or executive from the league what makes him so dominant. Then fantasy analyst Mike Clay projected a stat line for this season. Here’s the full list, starting with the Chiefs’ star signal-caller, who’s on top for a second straight season.
Jump to a notable outside the top 10:
T. Brady | D. Henry | C. Young
K. Mack | D. Cook | Q. Williams
B. Baker | B. Mayfield | J. Watt
See more: Experts pick snubs, more
QB | Chiefs
2020 rank: 1
Mahomes was under pressure too often last season, particularly in Super Bowl LV. The Chiefs appear to have fixed the problem by rebuilding their offensive line, which could feature five new starters. Mahomes had surgery to repair turf toe shortly after the Super Bowl, but showed no ill effects during training camp. — Adam Teicher
Signature stat: The Super Bowl LV loss was only Mahomes’ second below-average QBR game of his career. In the regular season, he has had a QBR of 50 or better in 98% of his games, which is far ahead of the next best QB who debuted since 2006 (Lamar Jackson at 76%).
What they are saying: “The unique thing about coaching Pat is that before you have an opportunity to correct him in the film room, he’s already letting you know, ‘Hey, on this play I screwed this up’ or ‘On this play, I should have done this.’ Those are the things that you love about him.” — Eric Bieniemy, Chiefs offensive coordinator
2021 projection: 4,896 passing yards, 37 TDs, 10 INTs (328 yards/4 TDs rushing)
DT | Rams
2020 rank: 2
The three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year celebrated his 30th birthday over the offseason and admitted at the outset of training camp that his aches and pains last a little longer. But don’t expect that to slow the seven-time Pro Bowl selection, who has averaged more than 12 sacks per season in his seven-year career. Despite his numerous personal accolades, Donald remains motivated to lead the Rams to a Super Bowl victory. — Lindsey Thiry
Signature stat: Despite facing a double-team on 63% of his pass rushes since 2014 (ranking third in the NFL over that time), Donald has led the NFL in pass-rush first pressures with 380, 61 more than the next defender (Khalil Mack, who only was doubled-teamed on 23% of his pass rushes).
What they are saying: “He looks pretty damn good to me. He has got that same look in his eye. He looks good. … We know that he’s working hard. I think he’s going to pick up right where he left off and what he has done, since I’ve been fortunate enough to be around him, has been pretty spectacular. He is one-of-one.” — Sean McVay, Rams coach
2021 projection: 11 sacks, 52 tackles, 2 forced fumbles
QB | Packers
2020 rank: 23
Here’s everything you need to know about what Rodgers means to the Packers: According to ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI), the team’s chances of making the playoffs would have dropped from 70% to 24% — and its Super Bowl chances from 6% to 0.2% — if Rodgers had decided not to play for Green Bay this season. — Rob Demovsky
Signature stat: Rodgers has posted the two highest single-season passer-rating marks in NFL history: 122.5 in 2011 and 121.5 in 2020. And last season, he became just the third player in NFL history to lead the league in passing touchdowns (48) while throwing the fewest interceptions (five), according to Elias Sports Bureau.
What they are saying: “I can’t fathom [him] not being in Green Bay. That’s where my mind’s at. I don’t only love the player, but I love the person. I love working with him on a daily basis. I think we all do — from the players in that locker room to the coaching staff. Again, I don’t even want to let my mind go there.” — Matt LaFleur, Packers coach
2021 projection: 4,296 passing yards, 35 TDs, 9 INTs (179 yards/2 TDs rushing)
QB | Seahawks
2020 rank: 4
With the drama from earlier this offseason on the back burner, the Seahawks are excited about Wilson’s potential in Shane Waldron’s offense. They believe it will fix what led to last season’s second-half collapse and put Wilson in position to produce like he did while leading the NFL in touchdown passes over the first nine games. — Brady Henderson
Signature stat: Since entering the NFL in 2012, Wilson leads all quarterbacks in several categories on throws traveling at least 25 yards beyond the line of scrimmage: completions (159), completion rate (41.8%), yards (6,421) and touchdowns (53).
What they are saying: “Russell is a collection of world-class behaviors. … He has very good gifts, but he has exceptional behavior. But if he didn’t act the way he acts, he wouldn’t be who he is.” — Trevor Moawad, Wilson’s mental conditioning coach
2021 projection: 4,083 passing yards, 31 TDs, 11 INTs (425 yards/2 TDs rushing)
WR | Chiefs
2020 rank: 11
Hill’s standing as his team’s No. 1 receiver hasn’t been in doubt since he became a starter. After losing Sammy Watkins, the Chiefs have no other wide receiver who has been a regular for an entire season. That increases Hill’s importance to the Chiefs as their only proven wideout. — Adam Teicher
Signature stat: Hill has 19 career touchdowns of more than 50 yards, including 12 receptions, five kick returns and two rushes.
What they are saying: “He’s got the speed, and he has the quickness, but it’s the technique and fundamentals that he uses to get open. There are a lot of fast and quick guys in this league, but to play wide receiver, you’ve got to have the rest of it, and he’s worked very hard at getting that.” — Andy Reid, Chiefs coach
2021 projection: 1,369 receiving yards, 10 TDs
OLB | Steelers
2020 rank: 31
Watt is poised to become the highest-paid player at his position — and with good reason. He is an anchor not only for the Steelers defense but for the team as a whole. A year ago, he and Bud Dupree formed a fierce pass-rushing tandem, and with Dupree gone, Watt will be even more important. The Steelers want to make another run at the Super Bowl before the clock runs out on Ben Roethlisberger, and Watt will be a key player in their efforts to get there. — Brooke Pryor
Signature stat: Watt posted league-highs with 15 sacks, 80 disruptions and an 18.4% disruption rate in 2020, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. That combination anoints him as the league’s most disruptive pass-rusher.
What they are saying: “T.J.’s visiting from another planet, to be quite honest with you. He has freakishly unique talent coupled with freakishly unique work habits and mindset and it produces what you guys witness every week, which, in my opinion, is Defensive Player of the Year quality.” — Mike Tomlin, Steelers coach
2021 projection: 11 sacks, 62 tackles, 3 forced fumbles
CB | Rams
2020 rank: 35
Ramsey has proven he can lock down any of the NFL’s top receivers on the outside or move into the slot and disrupt from the inside. Watch for new Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris to continue to take advantage of Ramsey’s complete skill set and make it difficult for opponents to simply avoid throwing in his direction. With his continued development as a slot corner, Ramsey wants to get in the action and make more plays on the ball so that he can improve on last season’s one interception. — Lindsey Thiry
Signature stat: Ramsey allowed two touchdowns as the nearest defender in 2020, tied for the sixth fewest among cornerbacks with at least 60 targets in 2020, according to NFL Next Gen Stats.
What they are saying: “Great competitor. I just think the energy, the play energy, that consistent competes that he has, he just brings it. He’s got a way of kind of bringing everybody up around him. … I’ve been very pleased with Jalen. 99 Madden rating is very earned so far.” — Sean McVay, Rams coach
2021 projection: 55 tackles, 2 interceptions, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble
WR | Packers
2020 rank: 33
While it’s true Adams has only two 1,000-yard seasons in his career (2018 and 2020), he has hit 997 in two other years (2016, 2019). He took his game to another level last year, when he set the single-season franchise record with 115 catches and led the league with 18 touchdowns — all despite missing two full games — and there’s no sign of decline. He’s in a contract year and wants to be the highest-paid WR in the league, so there’s reason to think he’ll back it up. — Rob Demovsky
Signature stat: How good of a route runner is Adams? He caught the second-most open receptions (3-plus yards of separation when targeted), according to NFL Next Gen Stats. His 59 such catches were exceeded only by DeAndre Hopkins (66).
What they are saying: “I can tell you that Davante is better than all of us. And that’s no disrespect to Jordy [Nelson], Randall [Cobb] or any of those others [former Packers receivers]. I’ll tell him straight up to his face, ‘I’m better than you.’ But to you, I’ll say it: He’s the best one out of all us.” — James Jones, former Packers WR
2021 projection: 1,341 receiving yards, 13 TDs
QB | Bills
2020 rank: NR
Making the biggest jump of anyone in the top 100, Josh Allen asserted himself as one of the best quarterbacks in the league last season, putting together an MVP runner-up campaign. Now armed with a six-year contract extension, his top wide receiver (Stefon Diggs) from last season and the same offensive coordinator (Brian Daboll) he has had in each of his three NFL seasons, Allen is poised for another standout year in 2021. — Marcel Louis-Jacques
Signature stat: Last season, Allen became the first player with at least 4,500 passing yards, 35 touchdown passes and five rushing touchdowns in a single season in NFL history.
What they are saying: “Josh made a throw today that I haven’t seen, a post ball to Cole Beasley. It was crazy, like mouth-dropping. I’ve been in the league for 12 years, so I’m excited about what they’ve created out here.” –– Emmanuel Sanders, Bills wide receiver
2021 projection: 4,532 passing yards, 32 TDs, 12 INTs (528 yards/7 TDs rushing)
TE | Chiefs
2020 rank: 17
Kelce turns 32 in October but showed no signs of a career decline last season, instead having his best statistical season. Coach Andy Reid has said he has no plans to limit Kelce’s snaps this season in response to the longer, 17-game regular season. In fact, Kelce said he spoke with Reid and asked for more reps, not less. — Adam Teicher
Signature stat: Kelce is the only NFL tight end to have five straight 1,000-yard seasons — the streak is active and ready to continue.
What they are saying: “Everyone here has watched him grow before their eyes. … He still comes to work every day wanting to get better, so you love that part of him. He brings energy every day.” — Andy Reid, Chiefs coach
2021 projection: 1,322 receiving yards, 11 TDs
DE | Browns
2020 rank: 12
Garrett was leading the league in sacks and forced fumbles before testing positive for COVID-19 in Week 11 last season. Garrett says he’s healthy again, and with more help around him defensively — notably, Jadeveon Clowney opposite him at defensive end — Garrett is a legitimate contender to be the NFL Defensive Player of the Year. — Jake Trotter
Signature stat: Over the last three seasons, Garrett ranks third in the league with a pass rush win rate of 26.1%.
What they are saying: “I think he’s put it out there, the type of player he can be — a Defensive Player of the Year-type of player. He’s hungry to get better. With him, you wouldn’t think he would come back bigger, stronger and faster, but he did. When I first saw him come back, I was like, ‘Holy cow.’ It’s amazing. He’s one of the best athletes in the world, and he’s constantly getting better as a football player every year and every day. Super excited to see what he does this year.” — Chris Kiffin, Browns defensive line coach
2021 projection: 12 sacks, 52 tackles, 3 forced fumbles
QB | Cowboys
2020 rank: 20
Before his season-ending ankle injury, Prescott was on pace for more than 6,000 yards passing. Since then, he has signed a $160 million contract extension and was limited in camp because of a latissimus strain, but the Cowboys believe Prescott is their best chance of winning big. — Todd Archer
Signature stat: Prescott has 20 touchdowns (17 passing, three rushing) since 2016 when the score difference is within seven points in the fourth quarter or overtime. Despite Prescott’s 11 missed games last season, only Russell Wilson (29), Derek Carr (24) and Matt Ryan (23) have more.
What they are saying: “One thing about Dak, he’s the same man every day. From a performance standpoint, I think we’re stating the obvious. He’s an outstanding quarterback that has great days in front of him. But his leadership, and all that, to me that’s part of the contract. When players receive big contracts, I view it — this is my opinion — that obviously they’re being rewarded and recognized for what they do on Sundays. But the responsibility that they have Monday through Saturday greatly increases. And nobody emulates that more than Dak Prescott.” — Mike McCarthy, Cowboys coach
2021 projection: 4,824 passing yards, 31 TDs, 12 INTs (258 yards/6 TDs rushing)
OT | 49ers
2020 rank: NR
By his own admission, Williams was rusty in 2020. He played 14 games for the first time since 2015. Healthy, signed to a lucrative long-term contract and settled in with the Niners, Williams should be free of any rust from his previous layoff and again stake his claim to the title of the game’s top tackle. — Nick Wagoner
Signature stat: After sitting out the 2019 season, Williams returned and posted a 93.6% pass block win rate in 2020, fourth best in the NFL.
What they are saying: “He proved it to us last year. That was the best version of Trent Williams that we had ever seen. … You don’t put a ceiling on Trent. His game can always improve. And I think he would agree with that as well.” — Mike McDaniel, 49ers offensive coordinator
CB | Dolphins
2020 rank: NR
There’s a reason why Howard wanted a restructured contract this offseason and requested a trade when he didn’t initially get it — he was the most dangerous cornerback in the NFL in 2020, leading the league with 10 interceptions. The Dolphins granted his contract request, mostly because their defense revolved around creating turnovers last year, and it’s difficult to do so without a ball hawk like Howard. He was the NFL’s highest-paid cornerback when he signed his extension in 2019 and could reach that echelon again when he and Miami renegotiate his contract at the end of this season. — Marcel Louis-Jacques
Signature stat: Howard’s 18 interceptions over the past three seasons are the most in the NFL, and his 10 last season were the most in a single season since Antonio Cromartie had that many in 2007.
What they are saying: “X is a key guy on our defense, and not just a key guy, a great guy to be around. We’re definitely happy to see him back.” — Jerome Baker, Dolphins linebacker
2021 projection: 58 tackles, 3 interceptions, 1 forced fumble
DE | 49ers
2020 rank: 15
Bosa only played one full game last season before an ACL injury ended his season. But, he posted a pass rush win rate of 26.7% in that game, a sign that he was set to improve on a dominant rookie season. If Bosa can stay healthy, he will become the key player of San Francisco’s defense and should hit double-digit sacks for the first time in his young career. — Nick Wagoner
Signature stat: According to Pro Football Focus, Bosa had 80 total pressures in his lone full season in 2019 — 14 more than any edge defender has had as a rookie.
What they are saying: “I’ve got no worries about what he’s going to do this year. Just leave it to the imagination. He’s going to be a hell of a football player again.” — George Kittle, 49ers tight end
2021 projection: 11 sacks, 60 tackles, 2 forced fumbles
DE | Chargers
2020 rank: 18
Bosa was out for much of last season with two concussions but came back even stronger. He is being asked to stand up on some plays and have a hand on the grass on others. New coach Brandon Staley’s defense is complex by design, but Bosa is confident he will have it down and be prepped for yet another outstanding season. — Shelley Smith
Signature stat: Despite missing four games, Bosa still tallied 27 QB hits in 2020, and his 24.9% pass rush win rate was fifth in the NFL.
What they are saying: “The thing that he does best is rush the passer. You can see why he is such a premium rusher when you’re around him in person, with his hands, his quickness. His ability to process quickly on the move.” — Brandon Staley, Chargers coach
2021 projection: 11 sacks, 66 tackles, 1 forced fumble
WR | Cardinals
2020 rank: 8
Hopkins may be in for his best season in the NFL, playing with an elite quarterback in Kyler Murray and alongside a veteran receiver in A.J. Green. Having Green on the other side of Murray could open up the field for Hopkins, who has a better understanding of the Cardinals’ scheme after working closely with his QB this offseason. Hopkins very well could have his first 1,500-yard season since 2018.— Josh Weinfuss
Signature stat: Hopkins was incredibly effective last season outside the numbers, catching 67 passes for 823 yards and scoring five of his six touchdowns. But what was more remarkable is he did it with an average of just 3 yards of separation.
What they are saying: “His hands. I mean he catches everything. Wherever the ball is, he’s gonna go get it. The defensive player can be in the perfect position, have his hand in the right spot and do everything perfect, but D-Hop will still get that catch and just that ‘it’ factor, that X factor, as Madden players would like to say. He has it.” — Budda Baker, Cardinals safety
2021 projection: 1,361 receiving yards, 7 TDs
WR | Bills
2020 rank: 79
Any doubts that Diggs would thrive in the Bills’ offense following his trade from the Vikings will now live in infamy in the Cold Takes Hall of Fame. He silenced his critics with an NFL-leading 1,535 yards on 127 catches, setting single-season franchise records in the process. The first-team All-Pro fit seamlessly into Buffalo’s air-raid offense in 2020 and leads a loaded wide receiver corps in 2021. — Marcel Louis-Jacques
Signature stat: Last season, Diggs became the first Bills player to lead the NFL in catches or receiving yards. He was also the first veteran to lead the league in receiving yards in his first season with a new team since 1970, and the third to do so in catches over that span.
What they are saying: “I go by what I see. And what I’ve seen is a great teammate. A great leader. A very dependable player for our football team. A great person. I mean, we’re very fortunate to have him. And I know how much we all appreciate him.” — Brian Daboll, Bills offensive coordinator
2021 projection: 1,401 receiving yards, 9 TDs
TE | 49ers
2020 rank: 9
Kittle only played eight games last season, but his 3.0 yards per route run would have ranked second in the league behind Davante Adams had he been healthy. While his physical style lends itself to bumps and bruises, a healthy Kittle has proved he can produce at a high level regardless of who is at quarterback. — Nick Wagoner
Signature stat: Despite missing 10 games over the past three seasons as a result of injuries, Kittle is fourth among all players with 1,760 yards after the catch in that span.
What they are saying: “I know he wasn’t happy with how the team did, but even I think he felt like he could have done even better. I have seen that different determination in George. … The sky is the limit for him.” — Kyle Juszczyk, 49ers fullback
2021 projection: 1,033 receiving yards, 6 TDs
QB | Buccaneers
2020 rank: 32
Ranked as the sixth-best quarterback here after taking a team that hadn’t been to the postseason since 2007 all the way to Super Bowl LV, and winning it? Even for a guy who just turned 44, Brady won’t be happy about that, and it is all the motivation he needs to go for an eighth ring. — Jenna Laine
Signature stat: In an entirely new offense, Brady threw for 40 touchdowns during the regular season, tied for second-most in the NFL. And he still pushes the ball vertically — his 8.64 air yards per pass attempt ranked fourth in the league last season.
What they are saying: “I have to keep earning it. I don’t think there is any aspect of me that thinks what I’ve done last year means anything. I have to go do it this year.” — Brady
2021 projection: 4,651 passing yards, 36 TDs, 11 INTs (22 yards/2 TDs rushing)
QB | Cardinals
2020 rank: 47
Murray is poised to make the type of jump from Year 2 to Year 3 that most quarterbacks make between Years 1 and 2. He feels like he has more control of the Cardinals’ offense, and his maturity in the scheme is already showing. He’s checking more into blocking schemes and run plays. Matching that growth with a skill set that keeps developing could land Murray in the MVP conversation come December. — Josh Weinfuss
Signature stat: Murray’s 819 rushing yards in 2020 were 17th most in the NFL — and more than 32 running backs who had at least 100 carries.
What they are saying: “Going into Year 3, I just feel like he really feels like it’s his team now. That ownership aspect has definitely grown.” — Kliff Kingsbury, Cardinals coach
2021 projection: 4,056 passing yards, 25 TDs, 12 INTs (728 yards/9 TDs rushing)
QB | Ravens
2020 rank: 3
Jackson is primed for another MVP-level season because of a revamped supporting cast. Baltimore added two wide receivers — Sammy Watkins and Rashod Bateman — and rebuilt the offensive line. Jackson is a proven winner, reaching 30 victories faster than any other quarterback in NFL history. The looming question is whether he can take the next step as a passer. — Jamison Hensley
Signature stat: Jackson is the first player in NFL history to reach 5,000 passing yards and 2,500 rushing yards in the first three seasons of a career.
What they are saying: “His skillset [and] his talent is really remarkable and unique. He’s got a great arm. He’s a naturally gifted thrower, in terms of he’s got arm talent, you would call it. He can run. He can extend plays. He sees the field well. Some of the plays he makes are just … we’re all, ‘Wow.’ That’s Lamar, how did he do that? I think those are the things that make him so exciting and dangerous.” — John Harbaugh, Ravens coach
2021 projection: 3,326 passing yards, 26 TDs, 11 INTs (869 yards/6 TDs rushing)
CB | Bills
2020 rank: 26
White has been a model of consistency since entering the league in 2017 — he is instinctual, cerebral and one of the most technically-sound cornerbacks in the NFL. The two-time Pro Bowler possesses elite closing speed, so even if he is beaten, he is typically able to still make a play on the ball. After an All-Pro season in 2019, White finished 2020 strong, forcing four turnovers in the Bills’ final seven games. — Marcel Louis-Jacques
Signature stat: Since 2017, White leads the NFL with 16 takeaways in the second half of games.
What they are saying: “He’s the best off-coverage corner I’ve ever seen in my life. … He’s so patient. I think he trusts his speed for one, but he’s also just really patient, just knowing that guys can’t really fly by him.” — Levi Wallace, Bills CB
2021 projection: 76 tackles, 2 interceptions, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble
QB | Rams
2020 rank: 52
Stafford owns every passing category in Detroit after he spent 12 seasons with the Lions. But now that the one-time Pro Bowl selection has joined the Rams, he has the opportunity to prove he does not just put up stats — he can also win big games. Rams coach Sean McVay has raved about Stafford’s arm and his ability to read, recognize and manipulate a defense, and his new teammates have watched in awe as he has completed no-look passes. Playing in McVay’s high-octane scheme and surrounded by a host of targets, Stafford is set up for a career season. — Lindsey Thiry
Signature stat: Since 2019, Stafford ranks fifth in Total QBR on tight-window throws and has a 20-6 touchdown-to-interception ratio on vertical routes, according to NFL Next Gen Stats.
What they are saying: “He’s playing lights out, man. He has decided that he’s going to be on our side, helping us to win. So, I’m just watching him, the way he works, the balls he’s throwing and getting it to these receivers. I ain’t never see it done like that. So, to be able to see it firsthand, it’s pretty cool.” — Aaron Donald, Rams defensive tackle
2021 projection: 4,630 passing yards, 26 TDs, 12 INTs (130 yards/1 TD rushing)
S | Chiefs
2020 rank: 36
Mathieu is not only versatile — he played at least 100 snaps last season as a safety, linebacker and slot corner — but he does it all well. The Chiefs frequently send Mathieu on a blitz, and he had a pass rush win rate of 28.6% last season. He also had six interceptions, plus another in the playoffs. — Adam Teicher
Signature stat: Mathieu is the only player with at least 300 snaps at slot corner and safety in a season over the last five years. And he has done it each of the last three seasons.
What they are saying: “Tyrann is the ultimate professional and really has been his entire career in the league and definitely with his couple years with us. I know he’s going to be at his very best this year.” — Clark Hunt, Chiefs chairman
2021 projection: 77 tackles, 2 interceptions, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble
CB | Patriots
2020 rank: 7
The 2019 Defensive Player of the Year has the size, speed and physicality to match up against a variety of pass-catchers, which former NFL cornerback Brandon Flowers recently opined makes him the league’s best corner. Gilmore has been voted to the Pro Bowl each of the last three seasons. — Mike Reiss
Signature stat: Gilmore was the first defensive back to win the Defensive Player of the Year Award since Troy Polamalu in 2010, and the first corner since Charles Woodson in 2009.
What they are saying: “He’s been the best guy for the last couple of years, obviously defensive MVP, and he’s really made this defense operate at a different level when he’s out there.” — Devin McCourty, Patriots safety
2021 projection: 59 tackles, 1 interception, 1 forced fumble
G | Colts
2020 rank: 44
It did not take long for many to realize why the Colts went outside of the box to select a guard at No. 6 in the 2018 draft. Not only was Nelson the best offensive lineman in that class, he was one of the best all-around players of the group. He has been voted an All-Pro in all three seasons — the first offensive lineman and the fifth player since the 1970 merger to be so honored. Nelson has started all 48 regular-season games and three postseason games at left guard while also playing 98.7% of the team’s snaps in his career. — Mike Wells
Signature stat: Nelson had a pass block win rate of 95.5% last season, which was third best among all NFL guards.
What they are saying: “What they say about great players is they make the difficult things look easy. Quenton has been doing that, I mean, with regularity. You just come to expect it. He has a sixth sense, eyes in the back of his head — whatever you want to call it. He has a knack.” — Frank Reich, Colts coach
ILB | Seahawks
2020 rank: 27
How’s this for consistency: Wagner has seven straight Pro Bowls and a first team All-Pro nod in six of the last seven seasons. Having a healthy Jamal Adams playing near him should take some pressure off Wagner as it gives offenses another blue-chip defender to worry about. — Brady Henderson
Signature stat: Wagner is the only player over the last 20 years to top 100 tackles for nine straight seasons to begin his career. In that span, only one other player has a longer streak at any point in his career: London Fletcher with 13 such seasons.
What they are saying: “Some people become the best, and that’s their goal. He wants to become the best of the best. And it’s really exciting to see him continue to improve even after seven Pro Bowls.” — Ken Norton Jr., Seahawks defensive coordinator
2021 projection: 140 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 interception, 1 forced fumble
RB | Titans
2020 rank: 28
Henry averaged over five yards per carry on more than 300 rushing attempts in each of the past two seasons. Opposing defenses tried to stop him by stacking eight in the box but failed. The addition of Julio Jones will make it harder to focus on Henry and open up more rushing lanes. — Turron Davenport
Signature stat: Henry’s 2,027 yards last season were the fifth-most in NFL history, and he was only the eighth player to surpass 2,000 yards rushing.
What they are saying: “Nobody prepares for the rigors of the season more than Derrick. I’m not going to say that Derrick is the hardest working player in football — I wouldn’t do that to the players around this league. But I can’t imagine that any of them work harder than he does, and he understands that, and the toll that he is going to take.” — Mike Vrabel, Titans coach
2021 projection: 1,537 rushing yards, 13 TDs (201 yards/1 TD receiving)
ILB | 49ers
2020 rank: NR
Warner finally garnered the appropriate recognition in 2020, but there’s reason to believe he can take his game to another level under new defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans. Warner had 13 pressures on 93 pass-rush attempts last season — both career highs — a sign that additional blitzing opportunities could create even more ways for him to impact the game in 2021. — Nick Wagoner
Signature stat: Warner allowed a completion rate of just 54% in 2020, the lowest by any linebacker since NFL Next Gen Stats began tracking in 2016 (minimum 50 targets).
What they are saying: “He doesn’t have to put any pressure on himself to do anything different. Fred just has to be Fred. … I want guys who are always looking, ‘How can I get better?’ And Fred, if he continues to be himself, he’ll do great things this year.” — DeMeco Ryans, 49ers defensive coordinator
2021 projection: 138 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 interception, 1 forced fumble
DE | Washington
2020 rank: NR
After a strong finish to his rookie season — 4.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries, including one for a touchdown, in the final seven games — Young wasn’t satisfied. He focused quite a bit during workouts on increasing his fluidity, helping him turn the corner better. He also isn’t bothered by a hip injury that plagued him for half of his rookie season. But the strength of his game remains his quick and strong hands. — John Keim
Signature stat: In the last seven games of 2020, Chase Young ranked second in the NFL among edge defenders in pass rush win rate. His 26.9% win rate trailed only Baltimore’s Yannick Ngakoue during this stretch, according to ESPN Stats & Information. And his 22.5% mark for the whole season was seventh in the league.
What they are saying: “[He] clearly has every tool: size, athleticism, speed, power, all that. But to wrap that all in one, and on top of that, what he has is this tremendous work ethic and effort that he shows every single day in practice. The next level for him as a rusher is definitely just taking that step of understanding when and where the protection is going, things like that.” — Charles Leno Jr, Washington offensive tackle
2021 projection: 9 sacks, 55 tackles, 3 forced fumbles
S | Steelers
2020 rank: 42
The Steelers made the rare in-season blockbuster trade for Fitzpatrick in 2019 and haven’t regretted it for a second. A two-time Pro Bowler, Fitzpatrick is a leader in the secondary and a favorite among coaches for his football acumen and talent. On a recent episode of The Flying Coach podcast, coach Mike Tomlin said Fitzpatrick is able to “digest things and make it turn up on the field that other guys can’t.” As a free safety, his stats aren’t always reflective of his impact, but he is a dynamic player in the middle of the field. And the longer he is in Keith Butler’s defense, the greater impact he will have. — Brooke Pryor
Signature stat: Fitzpatrick has 13 takeaways over the past two seasons, including a league-leading eight in 2019. That ranks second in the NFL behind only J.C. Jackson (16) and is first among safeties.
What they are saying: “I expect a lot of him. He’s a coach on the dadgum field. He knows a lot about football. The only thing he pisses me off a little bit about [him] is: ‘Let me call the plays! Let me call the plays!’ I don’t blame him. I wanted to too when I was playing.” — Keith Butler, Steelers defensive coordinator
2021 projection: 85 tackles, 2 interceptions, 1 forced fumble
OT | Packers
2020 rank: 34
The only question is when Bakhtiari will return from the torn left ACL he suffered on Dec. 31. If not Week 1, then when? His absence was felt significantly in the playoffs. The Packers had a league-best pass block win rate (73.8%) in the regular season but managed only 50% in the NFC Championship Game without Bakhtiari. — Rob Demovsky
Signature stat: Since he entered the league in 2013, Bakhtiari has the NFL’s highest pass block win rate among all linemen at 94.5%.
What they are saying: “Once the injury happened, I felt like, well, I know he’s going to come back stronger. So he’s a big dog. He gets out there and works. He’s going to do his thing, so once he comes back, I feel like he’ll be even better than he was before.” — Elgton Jenkins, Packers guard
CB | Packers
2020 rank: 94
Aaron Rodgers does not even try to throw toward Alexander in practice very often; that’s how good the fourth-year cornerback has become. And that’s why he doesn’t have gaudy interception totals. The rest of the league also knows not to throw his way if it’s avoidable. Alexander’s first Pro Bowl and first All-Pro (second-team) selections in 2020 tell it all. — Rob Demovsky
Signature stat: Over the past two seasons, only Stephon Gilmore and Denzel Ward have allowed fewer yards per target as the nearest defender than Alexander (6.3), per NFL Next Gen Stats (among defensive backs with at least 125 targets).
What they are saying: “Right now, you’re sitting on the top of the mountain. You’re one of the top corners in this league, how do you get back there? There’s going to be steps that you have to take to get back there. It’s not easy because everybody is going to be going at you now. They may not throw the ball at you early, but … the ball’s going to come back there, and you have to be ready to go because, if not — if they see any kink in your game — then they will start throwing back at you.” — Jerry Gray, Packers defensive backs coach
2021 projection: 61 tackles, 3 interceptions, 1 forced fumble
WR | Titans
2020 rank: 13
Even at 32 years old, Jones is still capable of making big plays. Despite injuries, Jones averaged 15.1 yards per reception last season. Joining the Titans bodes well for Jones because of the team’s strong rushing game — as well as having A.J. Brown opposite him. Jones can expect to see more one-on-one coverage. — Turron Davenport
Signature stat: Jones has averaged 84 receptions, 1,289 yards and six touchdowns per season over his 10-year career.
What they are saying: “Julio Jones can run the full route tree. He’s long, with really good size, and he’s strong with the ball in his hands. Julio can still push field vertically and is willing to dig out a linebacker or safety. He has a competitive fire and spirit.” — Jon Robinson, Titans GM
2021 projection: 1,046 receiving yards, 7 TDs
WR | Vikings
2020 rank: NR
Despite a late start in 2020 (his first game was in Week 3), Jefferson compiled the best season of any rookie receiver (1,400 yards) in the Super Bowl era. He’s a top-10 receiver whose prowess as a deep threat — he also ran 100-plus yards on seven routes as a rookie — is exactly what the Vikings need to be even more explosive this season. — Courtney Cronin
Signature stat: Jefferson’s 88 receptions were the most ever by a Vikings rookie. His catch rate was 70.4%, while his expected catch rate was 61.3%. That plus-9.1% catch rate above expectation ranked eighth in the NFL among receivers with at least 50 catches.
What they are saying: “Me having the season I had last year with so many different inconveniences … now going into this year, having a whole year with Kirk [Cousins] and the rest of the guys on this team, I feel way more confident. I feel like I’m going to do even more, better than I did last year.” — Jefferson
2021 projection: 1,259 receiving yards, 8 TDs
OT | Ravens
2020 rank: 43
Stanley is coming off season-ending ankle surgery in November that kept him out of a chunk of training camp. With a rare blend of size, mobility and instincts, Stanley is looking to reestablish himself as the game’s best left tackle. The Ravens made him the second-highest-paid tackle in the league last October, when they signed him to a five-year, $98.75 million extension. — Jamison Hensley
Signature stat: In 2019 — his last full season — Stanley allowed six pressures. That’s the fewest by an offensive tackle in a season in 14 years, according to Pro Football Focus.
What they are saying: “He understands the value of hard work. He really is a technician at what he does. He talks about that all the time. And really, at that position — along with talent — that’s the most important thing. He’s pretty special that way.” — John Harbaugh, Ravens coach
QB | Chargers
2020 rank: NR
The world is Herbert’s oyster, as long as he stays healthy and doesn’t get the sophomore yips. He has had a full offseason to train, and despite having another new offense to learn, Herbert is picking things up quickly and should be even better than last season. — Shelley Smith
Signature stat: Herbert threw an NFL rookie record 31 touchdowns last season. His 70 Total QBR was the third best of any rookie since 2006 (behind Dak Prescott and Russell Wilson). With 29 more passing touchdowns in 2021, he would join Dan Marino (68) as the only two players to throw for 60-plus touchdowns in his first two NFL seasons.
What they are saying: “He has a really strong arm, but it doesn’t ignite. You know, like, ‘I can’t catch this.’ It’s coming, but it’s so catchable for these receivers, and it’s such a pure throw every time.” — Brandon Staley, Chargers coach
2021 projection: 4,405 passing yards, 28 TDs, 12 INTs (248 yards/4 TDs rushing)
RB | Panthers
2020 rank: 6
A healthy McCaffrey has averaged an NFL-best 114.7 yards from scrimmage since entering the league in 2017, and he is now fresh after missing 13 games in 2020 with multiple injuries. He is playing in a system that is designed around his diverse skill set that allowed him to account for a league-high 44% of the offense in 2019. — David Newton
Signature stat: In his last full season in 2019, McCaffrey became the third player in NFL history to have 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in the same season. And despite playing just three games last season, he is only the third player in league history to have 3,000 rushing yards and 2,500 receiving yards through four NFL seasons.
What they are saying: “My mindset has not changed with Christian McCaffrey. You can obviously see the difference when Christian is on the field. You can see the production of it. I told Christian, ‘I don’t want Christian to be anything more than Christian McCaffrey.’ He doesn’t have anything to prove to me, to prove to anybody.” — Joe Brady, Panthers offensive coordinator
2021 projection: 1,059 rushing yards, 10 TDs (680 yards/3 TDs receiving)
OLB | Bears
2020 rank: 21
Mack registered just nine sacks last season but battled a shoulder injury most of the season. The former NFL Defensive Player of the Year is now fully healthy and has been sharp at practice. The Bears believe better support at the opposite outside linebacker spot (Robert Quinn) will help Mack again be one of the league’s dominant pass-rushers. — Jeff Dickerson
Signature stat: Mack has 66.5 sacks since the start of 2015, the third most in the NFL over that span. In 13 prime-time games with the Bears, Mack has 11 sacks, eight forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and two interceptions.
What they are saying: “These offensive coordinators in the league understand that every day they walk in on a Tuesday for the game plan, they always highlight this guy or that guy. This guy can not affect or wreck the game. Khalil is that guy.” — Matt Nagy, Bears coach
2021 projection: 9 sacks, 52 tackles, 3 forced fumbles
DT | Chiefs
2020 rank: 29
Jones will play more — though probably not exclusively — as an edge rusher this season. That should give him the opportunity for more sacks. The Chiefs will look for favorable matchups with Jones and their other defensive linemen, and he could wind up posting significant sack numbers at multiple positions. — Adam Teicher
Signature stat: Jones’ pass rush win rate last season was 20.9% for snaps when he lined up on the edge and 20.3% for plays when he lined up on the interior.
What they are saying: “My favorite gap is any gap I can get to the quarterback in. But I feel good rushing off the edge.” — Jones
2021 projection: 7 sacks, 48 tackles, 2 forced fumbles
RB | Saints
2020 rank: 50
The Saints needed Kamara more than ever last season while Drew Brees and Michael Thomas dealt with injuries — and he delivered with career highs of 932 rushing yards, 1,688 yards from scrimmage and an NFL-high 21 touchdowns in just 15 games. Expect even more this year since he will be vital to New Orleans’ offense without Brees taking snaps. — Mike Triplett
Signature stat: Kamara already ranks second in Saints history with 59 touchdowns in four seasons. And league-wide, only Todd Gurley II (63) has more since 2017.
What they are saying: “Vision. Surprising power. Balance. It’s rare that you get all three of those in one player. And then the ability to not just be a traditional running back, his ability to split out wide or just create mismatches in the passing game.” — Deuce McAllister, former Saints RB and current radio analyst
2021 projection: 863 rushing yards, 8 TDs (686 yards/4 TDs receiving)
WR | Buccaneers
2020 rank: 22
Last season, Evans became the first and only player to reach 1,000 receiving yards in each of his first six NFL seasons. Having another year with quarterback Tom Brady will only help his quest to go 7-for-7. Even as Brady’s list of targets grows in Tampa, Evans will always be at or near the top of it because he’s such a size mismatch for most defensive backs. — Jenna Laine
Signature stat: No one has had more receptions (37), yards (1,066) or touchdowns (13) on go routes since 2018 than Evans. He also has a particularly impressive 9.1% catch rate over expectation on such routes, per NFL Next Gen Stats.
What they are saying: “I feel like each year I get better. I improve in my route running. My body has more juice. I’m healthier every year. I feel lighter.” — Evans
2021 projection: 1,106 receiving yards, 10 TDs
DE | Buccaneers
2020 rank: 84
Since his 19.5-sack breakout year in 2019 — in which he became the first Buccaneer to reach double-digit sacks since Simeon Rice in 2005 — Barrett has led the NFL with 111 pressures, and his 27.5 sacks are the second most in the NFL over the past two seasons. — Jenna Laine
Signature stat: Barrett was chipped and double-teamed a lot in 2020 due to his success the previous season. Still, he produced a 21.7% pass rush win rate against double-teams — the best in the league and slightly ahead of Aaron Donald’s 21.0% — and he came up big when it mattered most, with 4.0 sacks and 15 pressures combined in the NFC Championship Game and Super Bowl LV this past season.
What they are saying: “I most definitely have to be mentally strong. I always think that the guy I’m going up against is more tired than me, so it’s my opportunity to make a play. I’ll always want to be the guy who makes the play at the right time.” — Barrett
2021 projection: 10 sacks, 56 tackles, 2 forced fumbles
TE | Raiders
2020 rank: NR
A nagging ankle injury sidelined Waller for two weeks of camp, but the Raiders were going to err on the side of caution with their Pro Bowler, who is, at worst, among the top three tight ends in the NFL. On one hand, Waller is not going to sneak up on anyone after consecutive monster seasons. On the other, he doesn’t have to, with his receiver speed, soft hands and the undying trust of QB Derek Carr. — Paul Gutierrez
Signature stat: Waller’s 107 catches in 2020 set a Raiders franchise record, eclipsing the 104 receptions Hall of Fame wide receiver Tim Brown had in 1997, and marked the third most by a tight end in a single season in NFL history, trailing only Zach Ertz (116 in 2018) and Jason Witten (110 in 2012).
What they are saying: “He has done an incredible job of playing wide receiver, tight end, in the slot. He’s come out of the backfield. He’s smart. He’s versatile. He’s a complete player. He can block, pass protect. I’ve never been around a guy that is that unselfish, that talented and that versatile and that complete. We’ve got to continue to build around him. … We are going to be a lot more demanding of Waller going forward. We’ve got to continue to try to probe some matchups and get him places where we can get him the ball.” — Jon Gruden, Raiders coach
2021 projection: 1,065 receiving yards, 7 TDs
WR | Falcons
2020 rank: NR
Ridley is going to be the clear No. 1 in the Atlanta offense for the first time after the trade of Julio Jones to Tennessee. While that might mean more attention, it should also mean more targets. Playing on a beaten-up foot last season, he still had 90 catches for 1,374 yards. There is every expectation he’ll put up similar numbers or better this year in an offense that should feature him. — Michael Rothstein
Signature stat: Ridley’s 13.99 air yards per target last season was ninth in the league — but best in the NFL among players with 60 or more catches.
What they are saying: “What made Calvin productive is he’s very crafty. He understands leverage, how to work the top of the routes. And I love Calvin’s demeanor. He’s a tough guy. He wants to get better, and that’s why he’s out here every day trying to improve that. He understands some guys have good spatial awareness, and he’s got a good craftiness to his game.” — Arthur Smith, Falcons coach
2021 projection: 1,338 receiving yards, 8 TDs
WR | Seahawks
2020 rank: NR
After entering the NFL with questions about his route-running and durability, all Metcalf has done over two seasons is rack up 2,203 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns while playing in every game. He broke Steve Largent’s 35-year-old franchise record with 1,303 yards last season. — Brady Henderson
Signature stat: Metcalf reached a top speed of 22.64 miles per hour when he chased down Budda Baker last October, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. It was the fourth-fastest speed any NFL player had reached in 2020.
What they are saying: “A guy like him has all the talent in the world, he could take it easy. … And he is one of the first guys there every day, he’s one of the guys that’s always ready to work.” — Russell Wilson, Seahawks quarterback
2021 projection: 1,291 receiving yards, 10 TDs
QB | Titans
2020 rank: 90
After he was named Comeback Player of the Year in 2019, Tannehill was expected to regress last season. Instead, he managed to be even more efficient, posting a career-high 33 touchdown passes while throwing only seven interceptions. Tannehill already had a premier receiver in A.J. Brown, and he now has Julio Jones as another option to target in the passing game. — Turron Davenport
Signature stat: Since taking over as the Titans’ QB in October 2019, Tannehill’s 55 touchdown passes are the third most in the NFL. Only Aaron Rodgers (66) and Russell Wilson (57) have more.
What they are saying: “He’s not in the top-10 talk or whatever talk. To me, it’s nonsense. Many games, we fought back in the two-minute, Derrick [Henry] don’t get the ball every play. Somebody’s got to throw us the ball, and he’s very accurate. Anybody who’s sleeping on that is nonsense. He doesn’t really care about that stuff, and neither do we, so I think his head is in a good place.” — A.J. Brown, Titans WR
2021 projection: 3,975 passing yards, 29 TDs, 10 INTs (210 yards/4 TDs rushing)
CB | Ravens
2020 rank: 74
An old-school throwback, Humphrey is the most hard-nosed corner in the game. His physicality shows when he forces fumbles, makes a tackle in run defense and blitzes. Humphrey also excels in shutting down wide receivers, as his Pro Football Focus coverage grade in single coverage is the best in the NFL since 2018 (90.0). — Jamison Hensley
Signature stat: Humphrey led the NFL with a franchise-record eight forced fumbles last season, tying for second most by a defensive back in NFL history.
What they are saying: “He’s way after his time. He should have played back when Ray Lewis and those guys were playing. He’s so physical as a cornerback, and he cares. He cares about the game of football. Anything technique-wise, and anything that happens at practice, he’s going to go back and watch that film to make sure, ‘Dang, how can I get better?'” — DeShon Elliott, Ravens safety
2021 projection: 87 tackles, 2 interceptions, 1 sack, 2 forced fumbles
G | Cowboys
2020 rank: 45
Martin missed six games last season because of a concussion and calf strain, which ended his Pro Bowl streak at six years. He remains a dominant guard, and he showed last season he could move to right tackle without any problem if needed. With Martin fully healthy, the Cowboys know they can dominate the interior. — Todd Archer
Signature stat: Martin did not allow a sack or have an accepted penalty against him in 2020. In fact, he has not had a penalty in his last 25 games.
What they are saying: “You don’t see a whole lot of guys win and continue to win against him. They may beat him once, but he usually recovers and finds a way to fight and claw and get a hand back on the guy and give us just enough to get the ball out. … He’s pretty, pretty special.” — Kellen Moore, Cowboys offensive coordinator
DT | Colts
2020 rank: 51
Darius Leonard is the headliner of the Colts’ defense, but Buckner is the anchor of the defensive line — and he makes life a little easier for the linebacker group. Buckner set the Colts’ single-season franchise record for most sacks by a defensive tackle when he recorded 9.5 in 2020, his first season with the franchise, while also being named an All-Pro. — Mike Wells
Signature stat: Buckner’s 14 tackles for loss were second among defensive tackles in the NFL last season, behind Aaron Donald’s 20.
What they are saying: “His presence up front, I don’t think there is a guard that can block him one-on-one. Then you see him in the pass-rush game, he’s getting pressure after pressure after pressure, so he’s very disruptive in the pass game, as well. There is no, ‘He’s only good on run plays.'” — Darius Leonard, Colts linebacker
2021 projection: 7 sacks, 65 tackles, 2 forced fumbles
RB | Vikings
2020 rank: 41
Sure, the Vikings have a ton of weapons in the passing game, but this offense will always be centered around the run and Cook. The explosive back was the first player in franchise history to notch 1,500 yards and 15 touchdowns on the ground in only 14 games. If he can stay healthy a year after racking up 356 touches, Cook has the potential to eclipse 2,000 yards rushing in a 17-game slate. — Courtney Cronin
Signature stat: Cook was responsible for 30.5% of the Vikings’ scrimmage yards in 2020, the second-highest rate in the NFL behind that of Tennessee’s Derrick Henry.
What they are saying: “We know what we want to do. We want to get the ball to 33 and figure a way to do that.” — Kennedy Polamalu, Vikings running backs coach
2021 projection: 1,371 rushing yards, 12 TDs (398 yards/2 TDs receiving)
CB | Saints
2020 rank: 54
This is a big year for the three-time Pro Bowler, who is heading into the final year of his contract and wants to prove he is one of the NFL’s elite corners. He has battled inconsistency but has always done his best work against top wide receivers — especially rival Mike Evans and the Buccaneers. — Mike Triplett
Signature stat: Lattimore is tied for third in the NFL with 39 passes defensed since he entered the league in 2017.
What they are saying: “Just smart — he eliminates plays based off a lot of things. He talks to himself when we’re out there [in practice]. I listen to his thought process, and I’m like, ‘Man, I can only do so much because he knows what’s coming.'” — Marquez Callaway, Saints wide receiver
2021 projection: 72 tackles, 3 interceptions, 1 forced fumble
RB | Browns
2020 rank: 59
The engine of Cleveland’s run-heavy offense, Chubb topped 1,000 yards on the ground again last season, despite missing four games with a knee injury. With the Browns’ entire offense back around him — including all five starters up front — Chubb could finally win the NFL’s rushing title after coming up just short two seasons ago. — Jake Trotter
Signature stat: Chubb averaged a whopping 10 yards per carry in the fourth quarter of games last season, easily tops in the league.
What they are saying: “He’s got an uncanny ability to not get tackled. Broken tackle, stiff-arm, juke, speed — he does it all. Just a special guy.” — Joel Bitonio, Browns guard
2021 projection: 1,199 rushing yards, 11 TDs (293 yards/1 TD receiving)
DT | Falcons
2020 rank: 86
Jarrett should benefit from defensive coordinator Dean Pees’ new aggressive scheme. Pees is going to send pressure from everywhere, which could mean more single blocks. Jarrett is going to be the hub of Atlanta’s defense and continue his Pro Bowl ways as a high-level run-stopper and interior pass-rusher. — Michael Rothstein
Signature stat: Jarrett’s pass rush win rate against double-teams of 14.6% is seventh in the league — and ranks him third behind Chris Jones and Quinnen Williams among players who primarily work inside.
What they are saying: “He works as hard as anybody I’ve been around in my career, every day. And he is as consistent of a teammate as anybody I’ve been around in my career, and there’s no shortcut or substitute to being successful. And that’s why Grady’s had such great success.” — Matt Ryan, Falcons quarterback
2021 projection: 7 sacks, 58 tackles, 1 forced fumble
CB | Browns
2020 rank: 89
Ward has battled injuries over his first three seasons in the league. But when he has been on the field, Ward has been one of the NFL’s top cover corners. He has versatility to play all over the field, and having beefed up its secondary this offseason, Cleveland will be able to utilize Ward in new ways. — Jake Trotter
Signature stat: In the past two seasons, Ward ranked second among defensive backs with 6.2 yards per target allowed as the nearest defender.
What they are saying: “He’s one of the best corners definitely in the league. He’s one of the most athletic players in the whole NFL, but biggest thing is just how smart. That’s definitely a guy I’m looking to grow with and learn from.” — Greg Newsome II, Browns cornerback
2021 projection: 64 tackles, 3 interceptions, 1 forced fumble
CB | Ravens
2020 rank: NR
Peters is among the league’s top ball hawks. His 31 interceptions since 2015 are nine more than anyone else in the NFL has over that time. Peters seems to know where the ball is going to be at the most critical times. And his fiery side can lead to some altercations with opposing players. — Jamison Hensley
Signature stat: Peters joined Ed Reed and Deion Sanders as the last three players to record at least 30 interceptions in their first 85 games played.
What they are saying: “He is a savant when it comes to playing corners and routes. That’s been really refreshing. As I’ve said many times, knowledge is power in this league. You can see with his play that he has a lot of knowledge.” — Don Martindale, Ravens defensive coordinator
2021 projection: 63 tackles, 2 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles
QB | Falcons
2020 rank: 37
No matter the offense or the playcaller or the people around him, Ryan continually gives the same performance — around 4,500 yards, 65% or more completions and 25 or more touchdown passes. It has been this way for a decade, as Ryan has missed three career games. Coach Arthur Smith’s offense is going to be different, but Ryan’s performances should be about the same. And sometimes, consistency wins out above all else. — Michael Rothstein
Signature stat: Ryan has completed over 400 passes each of the past three years, including a league-best 408 in 2019 and 407 in 2020.
What they are saying: “I think just his demeanor. He’s real poised, and he’s a stern leader, and I think you need that in the huddle. You know when you get in the huddle with him, he knows everything that is going on. So, it kind of rubs off on you and makes you want to be better and be on top of your stuff even more.” — Keith Smith, Falcons fullback
2021 projection: 4,371 passing yards, 25 TDs, 11 INTs (113 yards/1 TD rushing)
S | Broncos
2020 rank: 92
Simmons can do everything, from covering, to playing the run, to being a leader on his team. There are only two safeties in the league to have three consecutive seasons of at least 90 tackles and three interceptions: Simmons and Jessie Bates III. — Jeff Legwold
Signature stat: Simmons has played 3,211 consecutive snaps and is the league’s only defensive player to have appeared in every defensive snap since the start of the 2018 season.
What they are saying: “It’s such a passing league, and his ability to play the run, play in space, blitz and cover a tight end — it’s huge to have that on your football team.” — George Paton, Broncos GM
2021 projection: 96 tackles, 3 interceptions, 1 forced fumble
DT | Jets
2020 rank: NR
Williams has a chance to be a star in the Jets’ new 4-3 scheme, which emphasizes attacking instead of reading and reacting. He is the quintessential 3-technique for the 4-3 front, as he is strong and explosive off the ball. If he continues his career trajectory, he could reach double-digit sacks. The only concern is a surgically repaired foot, which hampered his conditioning and could result in a slow start this season. — Rich Cimini
Signature stat: Williams recorded the league’s highest run stop win rate (49.2%) for interior defensive linemen last season.
What they are saying: “The amount of knock-back we feel he’ll be able to generate in this scheme, and the amount of disruptions we feel like he’ll be able to generate, it’s going to be awesome.” — Robert Saleh, Jets coach
2021 projection: 7 sacks, 62 tackles, 1 forced fumble
OLB | Packers
2020 rank: 58
Smith is one of only three players coming off consecutive seasons with at least 12 sacks (joining Aaron Donald and T.J. Watt). Smith’s 26 sacks with Green Bay are the most by a Packers player in his first two seasons with the team. And he can move around, from the edge to the inside, to keep teams guessing. — Rob Demovsky
Signature stat: Smith ranks third in the NFL in pressures over the past two seasons with 107, behind only Shaq Barrett (111) and Donald (109), according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
What they are saying: “I’m probably playing favorites, but I do think he’s one of the best in the league, and I think he’s proven that the last couple years.” — Mike Smith, Packers outside linebackers coach
2021 projection: 11 sacks, 56 tackles, 3 forced fumbles
OLB | Cardinals
2020 rank: 25
After missing 11 games because of a biceps injury last season, Jones is chomping at the bit to return to his 2019 form, when he had 19 sacks. And the addition of J.J. Watt should help him immensely. Outsiders continue to overlook him despite a run of five straight seasons with double-digit sacks before last season. — Josh Weinfuss
Signature stat: Jones leads the NFL in sacks since 2012 with 97. Second on the list? J.J. Watt, his new teammate.
What they are saying: “We missed him last year when he was injured, and he brings such a presence in the locker room, on the field, that to get him back and have him rolling again will be big for us.” — Kliff Kingsbury, Cardinals coach
2021 projection: 8 sacks, 48 tackles, 3 forced fumbles
OT | Texans
2020 rank: 64
Tunsil might be the Texans’ most talented offensive player on the roster right now and is praised by his coach for using his power and physicality to win at the line of scrimmage. Tunsil won 89.7% of his pass block snaps in 2020. — Sarah Barshop
Signature stat: In 2020, Tunsil ranked fourth in run block win rate (80%) among tackles, the best in his career since ESPN Stats & Information started tracking the stat in 2017.
What they are saying: “[Tunsil is] the best in the game. … My goal is to be on that level, and that’s why I look at all his film, learn from it, and I take all that in and I try to apply it to my game.” — Tytus Howard, Texans right tackle
C | Chargers
2020 rank: NR
Linsley was an All-Pro with the Packers before the Chargers scooped him up in free agency this offseason. He played in 13 of Green Bay’s 16 games last season, missing three with a knee injury. And Linsley tallied zero holding calls and zero false starts in those 13 games. — Shelley Smith
Signature stat: Linsley didn’t allow a sack or tackle behind the line in 2020 and was named first-team All-Pro.
What they are saying: “Our operation with Corey and Justin Herbert … have been really pleased with that. I like their toughness and their physicality and really establishing our way of playing.” — Brandon Staley, Chargers coach
WR | Chargers
2020 rank: 69
Allen is one of the most valuable receivers in the league. The four-time Pro Bowler signed an extension in 2020 for four years, $80.1 million, and then had his third career season with 100-plus receptions. — Shelley Smith
Signature stat: Allen is one of four players with at least 200 receptions over the past two seasons, and his 58 catches inside the numbers in 2020 were the third most in the NFL.
What they are saying: “As advertised. There’s not better. He’s just always open, just one of those guys.” — Joe Lombardi, Chargers offensive coordinator
2021 projection: 1,104 receiving yards, 7 TDs
DT | Buccaneers
2020 rank: NR
Vea overcame a broken leg in Week 5 to return for the NFC Championship Game, which dramatically impacted the Bucs’ defense, and he then made it particularly difficult for Patrick Mahomes to step into his throws in Super Bowl LV. He plays an integral role in Todd Bowles’ A-gap blitzes. Many assume that at 347 pounds, he is merely a space-eater up front, but Vea moves extremely well for his size and gets into the backfield. In fact, at one point during training camp, Vea actually chased down running back Ronald Jones II. — Jenna Laine
Signature stat: The Bucs’ sack rate went from 5.9% to 10.5% when Vea was on the field last season.
What they are saying: “We’re ten times better on defense with him on the field. He’s just that good. Even if he’s not making a big play, trust me, if you turn on that film and watch what he’s doing, you’ll see why I said that. I respect him and I really need him on the field.” — Devin White, Buccaneers linebacker
2021 projection: 5 sacks, 40 tackles
CB | Giants
2020 rank: NR
Bradberry proved in his first season in New York to be worth every penny of the three-year, $43.5 million deal he received as a free agent last offseason. He earned the first Pro Bowl berth of his career, and the Giants used him regularly to shut down No. 1 receivers. He was Pro Football Focus’ seventh-ranked cornerback in 2020. Look for opposing quarterbacks to start avoiding him this season. — Jordan Raanan
Signature stat: Opposing QBs had a 67.7 passer rating against Bradberry when he was the nearest defender, ninth among corners who faced at least 50 targets.
What they are saying: “The noticeable difference is just height and length. Taller guys, footwork is a little bit different, even though JB has great footwork.” — Kenny Golladay, Giants wide receiver
2021 projection: 62 tackles, 3 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles
WR | Bears
2020 rank: NR
Remarkably, Robinson tallied 200 catches, 2,397 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns over the past two years, despite playing on the league’s 26th-ranked total offense. His prospects for success are even brighter in 2021 after the Bears upgraded at quarterback with Andy Dalton and Justin Fields. — Jeff Dickerson
Signature stat: Robinson is only the fifth Bears player to have back-to-back seasons with 1,000 receiving yards, and he is tied for first in franchise history in games with 10-plus receptions (five).
What they are saying: “Allen is a great player. He can do so much. He’s so good when the ball is in the air, he can separate. He’s a complete receiver. He can kind of do it all.” — Andy Dalton, Bears quarterback
2021 projection: 1,171 receiving yards, 6 TDs
WR | Titans
2020 rank: 97
Brown stands to benefit the most from the addition of Julio Jones because Jones will make it tougher for teams to double-team him. No player has a higher average yards per route against man-to-man defense than Brown (3.35). And he will face plenty of man coverage as teams must also factor Jones and Derrick Henry into their game plan. — Turron Davenport
Signature stat: Brown has six receiving touchdowns of 50-plus yards in his young career, the third most by a player in his first two seasons since 1990. Only Randy Moss (8) and Odell Beckham Jr. (7) have more.
What they are saying: “I was watching him from afar, but being in the building with him now, you see his work ethic and everything that he does. He’s a true professional.” — Julio Jones, Titans wide receiver
2021 projection: 1,283 receiving yards, 9 TDs
G | Washington
2020 rank: NR
Scherff has been one of the NFL’s best guards for several years and is coming off his first All-Pro award. He has made four Pro Bowls for a reason. Scherff is terrific blocking inside, whether in the run or pass game, or on the move — he is a handful on screens. With Scherff playing on the franchise tag for a second season, this is probably his last season in Washington, and he would be a big loss for the team. — John Keim
Signature stat: In 2020, Scherff’s 94.4% pass block win rate was No. 20 in the NFL among all offensive linemen and in the top 10 among guards.
What they are saying: “He truly is a very athletic player with his quickness and body control. You don’t see him miss an awful lot.” — Ron Rivera, Washington coach
WR | Cowboys
2020 rank: 56
Cooper had offseason ankle surgery that kept him off the field for the start of training camp, but coach Mike McCarthy has been impressed by his conditioning. After catching a career-high 92 passes from four different QBs last season, Cooper does not believe he is behind. With CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup also in the fold, Cooper might garner less defensive attention but could also be looking at fewer targets. — Todd Archer
Signature stat: Cooper has scored 19 regular-season touchdowns since joining the Cowboys, and nine have been of 20 yards or more.
What they are saying: “I’m taking it real serious. I want this to be the best season I’ve ever had playing football, and you can’t just say those things. I mean you can, but if you’re going to say them, you have to back them up — and that’s what I’m trying to do.” — Cooper
2021 projection: 1,064 receiving yards, 7 TDs
S | Cardinals
2020 rank: NR
Baker has done nothing but get better in each of his four seasons. The three-time Pro Bowler is a Swiss Army knife for Arizona’s defense. He can do it all, from playing in the box to blitzing, to dropping into coverage. The latter is arguably the area in which he has grown in the most as a player. — Josh Weinfuss
Signature stat: Baker’s 49 quarterback pressures are the second most among defensive backs behind Jamal Adams (62) since 2017.
What they are saying: “You turn on the film, and he’s as good as anybody on the field week in and week out.” — Kliff Kingsbury, Cardinals coach
2021 projection: 122 tackles, 2 interceptions, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble
WR | Washington
2020 rank: NR
McLaurin’s first two seasons have been marked by productivity amid quarterback upheaval. Despite playing with six starting QBs and getting little help around him on the outside, he caught 145 passes in those two years. McLaurin has developed into a terrific route runner and improved his release at the line. And he and Ryan Fitzpatrick have clicked this summer. — John Keim
Signature stat: In two seasons, McLaurin has 2,037 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns. The other 11 receivers he has played with in Washington have combined for 2,298 yards and 11 touchdowns in the same span.
What they are saying: “His releases are definitely better. He’s doing sudden moves, he gives you a little something at the line, so he’s making it harder for [defensive backs].” — William Jackson III, Washington cornerback
2021 projection: 1,274 receiving yards, 6 TDs
C | Lions
2020 rank: NR
While much is unknown about this new-look Lions roster, the offensive line is expected to be a strong point, with Ragnow as the NFL’s highest-paid center. O-line coach Hank Fraley is encouraging Ragnow to continue to be himself to become the best at his role and not get caught up in outside expectations. — Eric Woodyard
Signature stat: Ragnow had a pass block win rate of 94.8% last season, which ranked seventh among all qualified centers. He also ranked fourth in run block win rate among centers.
What they are saying: “There’s always gonna be expectations. I don’t think anybody’s gonna be harder on myself than myself. And I want to prove to the city of Detroit and to the Ford family and to all the management that I was worth this investment. But more importantly, to my family and my team. Those are the guys. I’m not worried about what the outsiders are thinking. I just want to help win ballgames, and that’s what I’m gonna try to do.” — Ragnow
ILB | Buccaneers
2020 rank: NR
You can’t take your eyes off of White when he is on the field. He is just everywhere, finishing the 2020 regular season with a team-leading 9.0 sacks, 140 tackles, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. His improvement in coverage will only catapult him this season into one of the top defensive players in the league. — Jenna Laine
Signature stat: White owned last season’s playoffs, finishing with 38 tackles, 2 interceptions and 2 fumble recoveries. He notched at least one takeaway in all three of his postseason games.
What they are saying: “I’ve got to thank all you guys in the media for that, telling him he couldn’t cover. He got pissed and kind of took it to heart, so thank you guys.” — Bruce Arians, Buccaneers coach
2021 projection: 153 tackles, 4 sacks, 1 interception, 1 forced fumble
DE | Vikings
2020 rank: 55
Minnesota’s pass rush suffered without Hunter last season. The Vikings recorded a franchise-low 23 sacks in 2020, and the team’s sack leader — Yannick Ngakoue (five) — was playing for a different team by Week 7. A healthy Hunter back in the fold changes the outlook for this revamped defensive line. It’s no wonder coach Mike Zimmer said he wishes he had 10 more edge rushers like Hunter. — Courtney Cronin
Signature stat: Since the start of 2019, the Vikings have generated pressure on 28% of dropbacks with Hunter on the field. That number dipped to 23% in his absence.
What they are saying: “Just ripped up, has a body of a gladiator. Reminded me a lot of a young Jevon Kearse. Just has that same body structure, that same tenacity off the edge, and he’s able to create havoc every single time he’s on the football field.” — Patrick Peterson, Vikings cornerback
2021 projection: 10 sacks, 67 tackles, 2 forced fumbles
WR | Buccaneers
2020 rank: 57
Godwin missed several games last season with injuries, including a concussion, a hamstring strain and a broken finger that required 10 pins to stabilize the joint. That was truly the first time in his career he’d dealt with a rash of injuries. But he is healthy again and will continue to be one of Tom Brady’s most trusted targets. — Jenna Laine
Signature stat: Godwin has gained 150-plus yards on nine different routes since 2019, the most in the NFL in that time frame according to NFL Next Gen Stats. His 73.7% catch percentage since 2019 is also third best in the NFL behind Michael Thomas and Tyler Lockett.
What they are saying: “It taught me a lot of patience. It taught me how to endure through adversity. And I think it was something that really helped me grow as a person. That was a year unlike anything else that I’ve had. But I think I’m much better for it on the other end.” — Godwin
2021 projection: 1,044 receiving yards, 7 TDs
WR | Seahawks
2020 rank: 83
It barely registered across the NFL when the Seahawks gave Lockett a $69 million extension in March. That’s how quietly he has become one of the league’s most productive and efficient receivers. Since his breakout season in 2018, he ranks fifth among receivers in touchdown catches (28) and second in catch percentage (76.8%). — Brady Henderson
Signature stat: According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Lockett is tied for the NFL lead since 2018 with 17 catches that had a completion probability of 30% or lower (Mike Williams and Stefon Diggs also have 17 in that span).
What they are saying: “He’s a naturally gifted athlete. Everything is just so smooth and easy to him. He’s one of the real special all-around athletes.” — Pete Carroll, Seahawks coach
2021 projection: 1,049 receiving yards, 8 TDs
OT | Cowboys
2020 rank: 60
Smith has not played a full season since 2015 because of injuries, but he believes neck surgery has helped him get back into the best shape of his career. He is entering his 11th season at just 30 years old, and the Cowboys believe he remains one of the best — if not the best — left tackles in the NFL. — Todd Archer
Signature stat: Smith has allowed just six sacks in his past 3,477 snaps.
What they are saying: “I can’t think too much about it. You got to think as if you’re still a young guy. If the team thinks you’re an old guy, you’re going to be an old guy. I try to keep a young mentality, that’s why I come around laughing and joking around.” — Smith
DE | Panthers
2020 rank: NR
Burns led Carolina in sacks (nine) and quarterback hits (21) last season despite not having a bona fide edge rusher opposite him. Now he has Haason Reddick, who had 12.5 sacks for Arizona in 2020, as well as more experience in Derrick Brown and DaQuan Jones in the middle. As Burns said, it’s pick-your-poison time. — David Newton
Signature stat: Burns had the second-highest percentage pressure rate on third down (22.1%) among all defensive players in 2020.
What they are saying: “[Reddick] is going to make me go even harder because there is going to be a competition to see who is going to get the sack the fastest.” — Burns
2021 projection: 9 sacks, 61 tackles, 3 forced fumbles
S | Chargers
2020 rank: NR
James had 105 tackles in his 2018 rookie year, but he then missed all of 2020 with a torn right meniscus and sat all but five games in 2019 with a foot injury. But he is already leading the defensive calls in 2021, is in tremendous shape and is considered one of the top safeties in the league. In coach Brandon Staley’s defense, he will be all over the field in a nontraditional scheme. — Shelley Smith
Signature stat: James is one of the most versatile players in the league. Here are James’ percentages of snaps lined up at different pre-snap positions over his career, including playoffs: 51% at outside linebacker, 24% at free safety, 19% at cornerback, 5% at inside linebacker and 1% at defensive tackle.
What they are saying: “I know this, being around Derwin for a little bit … I’ll put my money on him against anyone.” — Joe Lombardi, Chargers offensive coordinator
2021 projection: 104 tackles, 3 interceptions, 2 sacks
G | Packers
2020 rank: NR
How many Pro Bowl guards can jump out to left tackle and not miss a beat? That’s what the Packers think Jenkins will be able to do until David Bakhtiari returns from his ACL injury. In fact, the Packers truly believe Jenkins could be a top-tier starter at any of the five O-line positions. — Rob Demovsky
Signature stat: Jenkins started at three different positions last season: 12 games at left guard, three at center and one at right tackle. And across those three spots, his 95.8% pass block win rate was ninth in the NFL.
What they are saying: “You could put Elgton anywhere on the offensive line and not really have to worry about him.” — Billy Turner, Packers guard
S | Bengals
2020 rank: NR
Bates is coming off his strongest NFL season to date. In 2020, Pro Football Focus rated Bates as the league’s top safety, and he had 10 pass deflections, the second-highest total among all safeties, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. With Cincinnati’s improvements at cornerback and along the defensive line, Bates is poised for a big year that could lead to a contract extension. — Ben Baby
Signature stat: When targeted as the nearest defender, Bates had the lowest expected points added allowed of any safety in the league, according to NFL Next Gen Stats.
What they are saying: “He has great range. He can go get the ball. It’s been a little bit harder these last few years to find true free safety, center-field type of guys.” — Lou Anarumo, Bengals defensive coordinator
2021 projection: 105 tackles, 3 interceptions, 1 forced fumble
RB | Packers
2020 rank: 63
Who is more explosive at the position right now than Jones? Among backs with at least 600 career carries, he ranks sixth in NFL history with an average of 5.17 yards per carry. The Packers have always tried to keep the wear and tear off him, as he has had only four career games with 20 or more carries. But he has made the most of those touches. — Rob Demovsky
Signature stat: Jones is third in the NFL in rushing touchdowns (25) and tied for second in total touchdowns (30) over the past two seasons.
What they are saying: “He’s such an important part of our offense. He’s a dynamic player, and he’s absolutely everything we want in a professional football player — the way he goes about his business, the way he takes care of himself. He’s a great teammate.” — Brian Gutekunst, Packers GM
2021 projection: 973 rushing yards, 9 TDs (432 yards/3 TDs receiving)
S | Seahawks
2020 rank: 19
Adams impacts games more than a typical safety does. Just look at his 9.5 sacks in only 12 games last season, which set the NFL’s single-season record for a defensive back. Also see his new four-year, $70 million extension from the Seahawks, which topped the previous standard at the position by $2.25 million per year. — Brady Henderson
Signature stat: In addition to leading the Seahawks in sacks last season, Adams also led the team with 30 pressures. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, that was 14 more than any other NFL defensive back.
What they are saying: “Look at him. The dude loves the game. You can tell he loves the game. The intensity at practice, the energy at practice, and then when he’s on the field, you feel it.” — Ryan Neal, Seahawks safety
2021 projection: 108 tackles, 2 interceptions, 3 sacks, 1 forced fumble
QB | Browns
2020 rank: NR
Mayfield bounced back in 2020, quarterbacking Cleveland to its first playoff victory in 26 years. The pieces are in place for Mayfield to make another leap. The entire offense returns around him. And for the first time, Mayfield didn’t have to spend the offseason learning another scheme or adjusting to a new coach. — Jake Trotter
Signature stat: From Weeks 7 to 15 last season, only the past two MVPs — Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers — posted a higher QBR than Mayfield’s 81.0.
What they are saying: “In the last seven or eight games last year, he really played really well. I think he now feels that. He understands what that looks like and how he has to operate within the system to be successful. Now that he realizes that, you see it even more.” — Alex Van Pelt, Browns offensive coordinator
2021 projection: 3,901 passing yards, 28 TDs, 12 INTs (189 yards/2 TDs rushing)
ILB | Buccaneers
2020 rank: NR
David joins Hall of Famer Ray Lewis as the only players in NFL history with 1,000-plus tackles, 20.0-plus sacks and 10-plus interceptions through their first eight seasons. Lined up with Devin White in the Bucs’ defense, he is primed for another big season. — Jenna Laine
Signature stat: Among linebackers to face at least 40 targets in coverage as the nearest defender last season, David had the third-fewest yards per attempt allowed (4.2), per NFL Next Gen Stats.
What they are saying: “Over the past nine seasons, Lavonte has been the defensive cornerstone of our franchise. He embodies every quality that we look for in a player, both on and off the football field.” — Jason Licht, Buccaneers GM
2021 projection: 119 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 interception, 2 forced fumbles
ILB | Colts
2020 rank: 53
Leonard leads the NFL in tackles per game at 9.9 since the Colts selected him in the second round in 2018. He has been named first- or second-team All-Pro in each of his first three seasons, too. The Colts rewarded Leonard during training camp by making him the highest-paid inside linebacker in league history when they gave him a five-year, $98.5 million contract extension. — Mike Wells
Signature stat: Leonard is the only player in the past 30 seasons to have at least 400 tackles (416) and 15 sacks (15.0) in his first three seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
What they are saying: “There’s a reason he’s the guy he is — he’s the highest-paid linebacker in the league. He brings intensity, he brings juice every day.” — Bobby Okereke, Colts linebacker
2021 projection: 159 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 interception, 3 forced fumbles
OT | Saints
2020 rank: NR
If you watch the tape on Alvin Kamara’s six-TD performance on Christmas last season, you’ll see it was as much of an Armstead highlight reel as it was one for Kamara. The nine-year vet battled injuries early in his career. But now that he has been healthy, he has been getting his due as one of the NFL’s most dominant forces. — Mike Triplett
Signature stat: His 40-yard dash time of 4.71 seconds at the NFL’s 2013 scouting combine remains the fastest ever by an offensive lineman.
What they are saying: “I’m not sure what makes a good offensive tackle — it’s my antithesis of what I think athleticism is. But he’s probably the most athletic offensive tackle I’ve seen. He’s faster than all our D-tackles.” — Cameron Jordan, Saints defensive end
OT | Saints
2020 rank: 66
The Saints made Ramczyk the highest-paid right tackle in NFL history at $19.2 million per year for good reason. The team ranks best in the NFL in both fewest sacks allowed and most rushing touchdowns since Ramczyk was drafted in 2017, and he has been either first- or second-team All-Pro the past three years. — Mike Triplett
Signature stat: Ramczyk has 16 pass block sacks attributed to him in his four-year career, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. That’s tied for the fewest among all offensive tackles with at least 1,000 pass-blocking plays over that span.
What they are saying: “His mindset, his attitude [makes him special]. He’s never in a panic. He’s never in a rush. He’s not afraid of anything. So his ability to handle all situations — recover when he’s beat, never get too comfortable. His superpower is probably being even-keel.” — Terron Armstead, Saints offensive tackle
WR | Saints
2020 rank: 5
Thomas is 86 spots lower on this list than last season, when he was the NFL’s reigning Offensive Player of the Year. But that’s only because he is expected to miss time while recovering from an ankle injury that also limited him to seven games and zero touchdowns until the playoffs last season. — Mike Triplett
Signature stat: Thomas missed nine games last season, but he still has 29 more receptions (510) than any other player in NFL history through his first five seasons. He has at least two games with nine catches and 100 receiving yards with each of Drew Brees, Teddy Bridgewater and Taysom Hill at QB.
What they are saying: “He’s a really good route runner. So even when you have tight coverage on him or double bracket, he can find the margins in your coverage. He’s strong at the catch point, so even if it’s contested, he’s coming down with the ball. He’s physical, so he knows how to create separation. He’s not the fastest guy out there, but he somehow always has a step or two on the defensive back. And that comes through his route running and his competitiveness.” — Malcolm Jenkins, Saints safety
2021 projection: 813 receiving yards, 4 TDs
WR | Panthers
2020 rank: NR
Moore has two consecutive 1,000-yard seasons playing with five different starting quarterbacks during that span. For him, it’s not about being flashy. It’s about being consistent no matter who is throwing. Scoring touchdowns has been his biggest hurdle, with only 10 in three seasons. But with Sam Darnold now at quarterback and not afraid to take deep shots, Moore’s upside is elevated. — David Newton
Signature stat: Moore is the only wide receiver in the NFL to have 1,175 yards or more receiving in each of the past two seasons.
What they are saying: “DJ is a dynamic receiver. I have high expectations for DJ and the type of football player he is. I’m excited to see him develop, and I am excited to see him take his game to the next level.” — Joe Brady, Panthers offensive coordinator
2021 projection: 1,169 receiving yards, 5 TDs
G | Browns
2020 rank: NR
The backbone of one of the league’s most dominant lines, Bitonio became the first Browns guard in five decades to make a third consecutive Pro Bowl. Given the continuity around him up front, the Browns will have a case as the league’s top line, which would put Bitonio on track for yet another Pro Bowl. — Jake Trotter
Signature stat: Bitonio ranked No. 1 among guards last season with a pass block win rate of 97.3%.
What they are saying: “We count on him. A really great teammate. Always shows up and works his butt off. A great combination of size, power and foot quickness.” — Kevin Stefanski, Browns coach
DE | Saints
2020 rank: 30
Jordan’s production dipped last season with just 7.5 sacks. But the six-time Pro Bowler has always been more than just a sack artist. He ranks fourth in the NFL in sacks (48) and batted passes (16) since 2017, and he’s a big reason the Saints rank fifth in yards per rush allowed over that span. — Mike Triplett
Signature stat: Jordan has never missed a game in 11 seasons, and he ranks first among all defensive linemen with 3,356 snaps since 2017. (He also ranks first by far among all defensive linemen in snaps since 2011 with 8,560.)
What they are saying: “By far the best defensive end I’ve ever played with. You can have guys who are good as pass-rushers, good at setting the edge and being good run defensive ends. But when guys have the full package like that, that’s a tackle’s nightmare. What really separates him is his physicality. I think by the end of the game, guys just don’t want that smoke.” — Demario Davis, Saints linebacker
2021 projection: 8 sacks, 54 tackles, 1 forced fumble
DE | Cardinals
2020 rank: 38
Should Watt stay healthy — he had missed all of training camp before returning Aug. 23 — he will be the sprinkles to Chandler Jones’ ice cream. He will force offensive lines to decide whom to double-team or chip. If the line hedges to one player, the other will have a one-on-one to the quarterback, which could lead to Watt having double-digit sacks for the first time since 2018. Watt is second in sacks since 2012 with 95.5, behind only Jones. — Josh Weinfuss
Signature stat: Watt was one of just two edge rushers to rank in the top 10 last season in both pass rush win rate (eighth) and run stop win rate (sixth), with Chase Young being the other. And he did it while being double-teamed more than any other edge rusher on passing plays.
What they are saying: “From the day he came in the weight room, the first day, he was out-lifting everybody and outrunning everybody. And this is bringing a special bond to this group that we really need.” — Rashard Lawrence, Cardinals defensive tackle
2021 projection: 7 sacks, 52 tackles, 2 forced fumbles
OT | Buccaneers
2020 rank: NR
Wirfs has started since day one of his rookie season in 2020, and he surrendered just two sacks the whole year. Between hoisting 300-pound trees on his back and doing 48-inch box jumps from a seated position — not to mention viral pool tricks — Wirfs displays astounding strength. — Jenna Laine
Signature stat: Wirfs produced an 89.1% pass blocking win rate as a rookie, the highest of any Bucs offensive lineman last season, and it jumped to 95.0% during the team’s Super Bowl run.
What they are saying: “It’s hard to put into words — with no OTAs, no preseason games. … To go against the guys he went against in early September, I think it gave him a ton of confidence. You could never ask for any more out of a rookie, that’s for daggone sure. I think the sky is the limit for how good he can be.” — Bruce Arians, Buccaneers coach
G | Chiefs
2020 rank: NR
The Chiefs may have five new offensive linemen who didn’t play for them last season, but Thuney is the key piece. The potential to have three rookies starting on the line plus a left tackle in Orlando Brown Jr. who is trying to master a new position makes Thuney’s experience vital. — Adam Teicher
Signature stat: Thuney has the third-highest pass block win rate at guard since 2017, when the stat was created (95.1%)
What they are saying: “Joe is an impressive player. He’s everything you want in an offensive lineman with his toughness and work ethic. He’s also very intelligent, and you can see that translate on the field.” — Andy Reid, Chiefs coach
TE | Ravens
2020 rank: NR
Andrews is looking to join Travis Kelce and George Kittle in the top tier of tight ends. He has been Lamar Jackson’s go-to target for the past three seasons. Andrews has a knack for always getting open, especially in the red zone. His 20 career touchdowns are five more than any other player on the Ravens since 2018. — Jamison Hensley
Signature stat: Andrews’ 17 touchdown catches over the past two seasons ranks eighth in the NFL and first among all tight ends.
What they are saying: “He’s hungry. He has a desire to really be the best at the position, and not only that, he works at it.” — Bobby Engram, Ravens tight ends coach
2021 projection: 832 receiving yards, 8 TDs
S | Titans
2020 rank: 77
Last season, Byard played 1,089 snaps (98.5%), more than any other Titans defender. Tennessee had Byard playing closer to the line of scrimmage on a lot of those snaps instead of his single-high post. Getting to play more center field this season will allow Byard to showcase his immense ball-hawking skills. — Turron Davenport
Signature stat: Byard’s 18 interceptions since entering the NFL in 2015 are the second most by any safety over that span (behind Tyrann Mathieu, 20).
What they are saying: “He studies as much at home as he does here. It’s not like, ‘OK, I’ll leave the building and I’m forgetting about football.’ He’ll come in and tell me — we always try to keep ahead of them and let them know what’s coming in the next day — and he’ll come back the next day and have a question on something we haven’t even covered yet, which tells me then he’s doing all the right things.” — Dean Pees, Falcons defensive coordinator (formerly with Titans)
2021 projection: 105 tackles, 2 interceptions, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble
OT | Chiefs
2020 rank: NR
Brown will exclusively play left tackle for the Chiefs. He has acknowledged he does not have the classic mobility skills considered necessary for a top left tackle, but the Chiefs believe that with his size — 6-foot-8 and 345 pounds — strength and ability to handle the rush, he will be more than adequate at his new position. — Adam Teicher
Signature stat: Brown was the only player in 2020 to have 100 pass block win rate plays lined up at both left and right tackle, and his pass block win rate was virtually the same at each position. Both were slightly above league average: 89.5% at left tackle and 88.8% on the right side.
What they are saying: “The thing that I’m impressed about is the mistakes that he does make, he doesn’t repeat them. That’s a great sign.” — Eric Bieniemy, Chiefs offensive coordinator