The stage is set for six-year veteran Derek Carr, who is due $22.5M in 2019, to sink or swim in a Raiders uniform this upcoming season. The former Fresno State signal-caller has yet to rank inside the top-10 among qualifiers in passer rating from a clean pocket in any one season of his career, and that includes his career-best season in 2016. His performance under pressure, as it is with all quarterbacks in the NFL, is up and down every year. Where he needs to prove he can play well with consistency is from a clean pocket, and he should have every reason to do so with the Raiders’ new additions on the offensive side of the ball.
Oakland added Trent Brown, Tyrell Williams and Antonio Brown as free agents this offseason, and made both Trent and Antonio the highest-paid players at their respective positions to do so. Though Trent has never earned an 80.0-plus pass-blocking grade and has logged just one season with a 70.0-plus run-blocking grade, he’s an upgrade over North Carolina A&T product Brandon Parker and should help Carr stay upright at least slightly better than last year. Antonio is coming off his lowest-graded season in the PFF era, but he’s still one of the league’s best wideouts and is destined to return to form as a high-volume contributor in the offense.
Jon Gruden & Co. drafted high-character, quality football players with each of their first four picks in the 2019 NFL Draft, but they drafted each of them a handful of picks before we at PFF would have selected them. Clemson edge Clelin Ferrell, the Raiders’ first of three first-round picks, finished the 2018 season ranked tied for ninth among qualifiers at his position in pass-rush grade (89.9). He also ranked 16th in pass-rush win percentage (18.6%) and 13th in pressure percentage (17.4%).
Kansas City Chiefs
The Chargers come into 2019 with more hope than ever after an excellent draft this spring and wise choices in free agency. While the headlines may speak of Melvin Gordon’s contract holdout, the true question will be if the offensive line in front of him and 15-year veteran quarterback Philip Rivers will finally be able to stay healthy and play up to expectations in 2019.
Gordon’s training camp holdout has been the one monkey wrench in an otherwise smooth offseason for the Chargers. They brought in veteran linebacker Thomas Davis, who earned a 74.4 coverage grade and an overall grade of 74.2 at 35 years old this past season. He will pair in part with linebacker Denzel Perryman, who missed half of last season due to a knee injury but still managed 22 stops and a 70.1 overall grade. Chargers GM Tom Telesco did let deep-threat receiver Tyrell Williams walk in free agency, along with oft-injured corner Jason Verrett. Williams has always had the tools but has never built upon his 75.6 grade from his second year in the league when he cracked 1,000 yards for the first and only time in his career.
The Chargers concluded the draft with one of only six “excellent” ratings given out by PFF’s Lead Draft Analyst Mike Renner in PFF’s annual NFL Draft Grades. The Chargers got a top-10 talent in Notre Dame’s Jerry Tillery, who tied for the nation’s highest pass-rushing grade at 92.5, with the 28th overall pick. The team then found the perfect pairing for Derwin James with Delaware’s Nasir Adderley, an explosive free safety with the range to play single-high coverage in the Chargers’ cover 3 scheme. PFF had a first-round grade on the 60th overall pick, who earned a 90.3 overall grade and performed well at the 2019 Reese’s Senior Bowl. Those two players alone were enough, but the team then landed linebacker Drue Tranquill in the fourth round, who was one of the best coverage linebackers in college football with an 83.3 coverage grade last season.
San Francisco 49ers
Los Angeles Rams
New England Patriots
It was an awkward transition from former GM Mike Mike MacCagnan to new Jets GM Joe Douglas. After firing MacCagnan less than three weeks after the draft, the team took nearly a month to land on Douglas all the while interim GM and head coach Adam Gase was reportedly considering trading new free agent running back Le’Veon Bell. Now that the Jets have their coach and GM duo in place, we’ll see what they can build around second-year quarterback Sam Darnold.
The Jets attacked the offseason to build as quickly as they could around former top-10 quarterback, making some good and some bad signings in the process. The team overpaid for low-value positions in linebacker C.J. Mosley (five years, $85M) and Bell (four years, $52M). While Mosley is solid, he’s just an average coverage linebacker with a career-high grade of 78.6 in that area. Bell is a great weapon out of the backfield with two seasons over 100 catches, but his position simply limits his value. It wasn’t all bad, though. The team brought back Henry Anderson, who earned a 76.5 grade last season and added 48 pressures from the nose. They also brought in slot receiver Jamison Crowder and traded a late-round pick for Raiders lineman Kelechi Osemele. The veteran lineman had a career-low grade of 53.7 last year but is only two years removed from an 84.9 overall grade.
The trade up for Darnold last year tapped out a lot of the Jets’ draft capital this spring, but the team made the most of it, grabbing Alabama’s Quinnen Williams with the third overall pick. Williams earned the highest interior defensive lineman grade in the PFF College era (2014-18) with a 96.0 overall grade last season. The Jets continued to add to the trenches with their next two picks, selecting Florida’s Jachai Polite 68th overall and USC’s Chuma Edoga at 92. Polite was a terror from the edge last season. He earned a 90.9 pass-rushing grade but slipped down the draft boards due to a poor combine. Udoga is a pass-blocking specialist (83.3 grade) at left tackle who could develop into a solid pass protector in time.
After stripping the roster down to the studs in the past two seasons, Buffalo signed 22 free agents this offseason in an effort to surround volatile second-year quarterback Josh Allen with enough talent to succeed in 2019. Allen was responsible for the eighth-most positively graded plays by a quarterback last season but finished dead last in negatively graded plays. He may never be a surgeon from the pocket (30th in passer rating from a clean pocket), but his explosive arm talent and active legs could build the foundation for something unique in 2019 if backed by a solid defense.
Brandon Beane and Sean McDermott invested heavily in the offense this offseason, signing deep threat receiver John Brown and slot specialist Cole Beasley to pair with tight end Tyler Kroft, who was signed from Cincinnati. Brown is a career deep threat with 109 of his 425 career targets coming on deep balls. The team also added six offensive linemen highlighted by center Mitch Morse, who is a quality pass-blocker when healthy (81.2 pass-blocking grade last season) and Quinton Spain, a big-bodied pass-blocker who only allowed 16 pressures last season with the Titans.
The Bills used the draft to fill voids along both lines, starting with Ed Oliver out of Houston with the ninth overall pick. Oliver was one of the best interior pass-rushers in the 2019 NFL Draft, as he earned an impressive 91.1 pass-rushing grade despite playing the majority of his snaps at nose tackle. Second-round pick Cody Ford allowed one sack last season at Oklahoma and will likely start at tackle first, but he has the ability to play guard as well. The team continued to add talent at the skill positions during the middle rounds. Third-round running back Devin Singletary forced 203 missed tackles at FIU and third-round tight end Dawson Knox from Ole Miss averaged 18.9 yards per reception last season.
New York Giants
There are high hopes in Indianapolis after seeing the Colts clinch a playoff berth for the first time in four seasons in 2018. A big part of their success last year can be attributed to the resurgence of Andrew Luck, who was named PFF’s Comeback Player of the Year. Luck enters the 2019 season as a legitimate MVP candidate, as he finished with the third-highest overall grade (91.0) at the quarterback position in 2018, tallying 39 passing touchdowns in the process. With the Colts only adding to their offense arsenal from a season ago, Luck is primed and ready for another big season.
Despite having plenty of salary cap space to work with, the Colts improved their roster in free agency without making any big paydays. Re-signing Pierre Desir, Mark Glowinski and Margus Hunt was a clear priority, but the addition of veteran edge defender Justin Houston will make a massive difference. Houston was a salary cap casualty in Kansas City but will have plenty to offer this Colts defense, as he finished with 53 total pressures and an 89.7 pass-rush grade in 2018. The Colts also added veteran wideout Devin Funchess, who could see a bit of a resurgence with Luck under center.
The Colts took advantage of all their draft capital by adding a mix of players on both sides of the ball. Second-round cornerback Rock Ya-Sin has an impressive skillset and earned an 87.5 overall grade while yielding just a 62.1 passer rating when targeted this past season with Temple. Fellow second-round selection Parris Campbell finished his last season at Ohio State with a healthy 3.44 yards per route run from the slot and should fit nicely into the Colts’ high-powered offense.
Offensive line is the name of the game for the Texans, and they haven’t exactly been winning in that regard as of late. In 2018, Houston’s pass-blocking unit allowed the highest pressure rate in the NFL (44.7%). Quarterback Deshaun Watson has largely counteracted the poor play with his elusiveness, but it’s yet to be seen just how good he can be when he isn’t feeling the heat regularly. While the Texans retain most of their offensive line pieces from a year ago, including Nick Martin (59.3 overall grade), Zach Fulton (52.6) Senio Kelemete (56.0) and Julie’n Davenport (52.5), change is inevitable for the struggling unit.
Free agency was fairly quiet for the Texans. The team’s brass signed veteran depth along the offensive line in Matt Kalil, Rick Leonard and the re-signing of Seantrel Henderson. Both Henderson and Kalil spent nearly all of last season on the Injured Reserve. Kalil has had an up-and-down career, earning overall grades hovering around 70.0 in each of his five full seasons. He allowed the 10th-most pressures among tackles in 2017.
It seemed the Texans had ignored their most glaring issue during free agency. That wasn’t the case in the 2019 NFL Draft. Houston selected linemen Tytus Howard and Max Scharping with their first two picks, respectively, in an attempt to stanch the seemingly endless bleeding on the offensive line. Howard and Scharping ranked 56th and 50th, respectively, on PFF’s big board ahead of the draft. Howard allowed just 11 pressures on 276 pass-blocking snaps in 2018 while Scharping surrendered 12 on more than 500 pass-blocking snaps. Can they translate that success to the NFL level? The Texans are relying on it.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
New Orleans Saints
Change has been the key word for the Bengals this offseason. The team hired former Rams quarterback coach Zac Taylor to replace Marvin Lewis after 16 years at the helm. Taylor is tasked with turning quarterback Andy Dalton into the AFC North version of Jared Goff. The goal this offseason is the same as it’s ever been; improve the team around Dalton to the point that he doesn’t have to carry them. He had that last season with receiver Tyler Boyd (84.6 overall grade) and running back Joe Mixon (78.3) stepping into larger roles and flourishing.
Despite that, the Bengals spent most of the offseason re-signing their own. Preston Brown, Tyler Eifert, Darqueze Dennard, C.J. Uzomah and Bobby Hart all received new deals from the team. Hart struggled all last year, allowing 10 sacks and 39 total pressures en route to a lowly 54.2 pass-blocking grade last season. The team did try to address the offensive line by signing John Miller, who earned a 64.3 grade last season in Buffalo. Those plans to improve the line have taken a turn for the worse, though. First-round pick Jonah Williams will miss the season with a torn shoulder labrum and Clint Bolling, the team’s highest-graded lineman last season, retired on the eve of training camp.
Possibly the best move the Bengals made this offseason was to select Alabama’s Williams with their first round pick. Williams was the fourth overall player on the PFF Top 50 big board and finished the 2018 season as the third-highest graded lineman in the draft (89.2). Their next two picks were a bit less impressive, selecting Washington tight end Drew Sample (192 on PFF’s big board) in the second round and then grabbing NC State linebacker Germaine Pratt, a run-stuffing specialist with their next pick. The team got positional value by trading up for NC State quarterback Ryan Finley at the top of the fourth round. Seventh-round pick Jordan Brown out of South Dakota State was a flyer we liked as a physical corner who dominated at his level.
It’s the dawning of a new era in Pittsburgh after both Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown made their much-publicized departures from the team this offseason. The Steelers will have plenty of young faces on offense in 2019, but the leader of the team, Ben Roethlisberger, is back with a three-year contract extension. GM Kevin Colbert also took steps this offseason to finally address their lack of athleticism at linebacker after the unfortunate injury to Ryan Shazier.
The Steelers are traditionally conservative in free agency and once again lived up to that trend. They signed veteran corner Steven Nelson from Kansas City, who earned a 73.6 coverage grade despite being targeted 113 times, which was the most in the NFL last season. They also brought in former Rams linebacker Mark Barron as a coverage linebacker. He earned a 54.5 coverage grade in 2018, which is actually lower than both Vince Williams and Jon Bostic who started for the Steelers last season. The Steelers also took a flyer on receiver Donte Moncrief, who flashed potential early in his career but has failed to reach a 70.0-plus receiving grade in the past two seasons.
The Steelers uncharacteristically traded up in the 2019 NFL Draft to select Michigan linebacker Devin Bush with their first pick. Bush fills a massive hole in the middle of the defense and represents a true upgrade with an 85.0 overall grade and an 87.7 coverage grade. The trade left them without a second-round pick, but the team may have struck gold in Toledo’s Diontae Johnson in the third. Johnson is a superb route runner who nabbed 14 balls for 185 yards and four touchdowns in two games vs Miami (FL) in 2017 and 2018. The Steelers may have also found an answer at cornerback, grabbing our 39th overall player at pick No. 83 in Michigan State’s Justin Layne.
All the talk about the Ravens revolves around quarterback Lamar Jackson, and rightly so. The questions about his accuracy, whether he’ll hold up in such a run-heavy scheme and generally whether he can be a top NFL quarterback have run rampant this offseason. But let’s switch gears to the other side of the ball, where the Ravens have excelled in years past. With the loss of Za’Darius Smith (71.7 overall grade) and Terrell Suggs (70.0) — the Ravens’ top-two pass-rushers from 2018 — as well as C.J. Mosley (73.6) and Eric Weddle (80.7) departing, there were massive holes to fill after the initial wave of free agency.
That’s a lot of veteran leadership lost over the course of a few weeks. The Ravens ultimately added standout safety Earl Thomas while choosing to stick with younger, in-house players for the other vacancies. Thomas earned a 91.3 overall grade in four games last season, finishing second among safeties. While it’s hard to judge him based off that, he’s put up a 90.0-plus grade in three of the past four years — a feat that is certainly nothing to scoff at. Former 2017 NFL Draft sections Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams are expected to take on larger roles in the pass-rush, but neither has seen more than 200 snaps in a season so far.
In this year’s draft, the Ravens opted for a plethora of offensive weapons, including Marquise Brown, Miles Boykin, Justice Hill and even a versatile Trace McSorley. In the third round, though, edge defender Jaylon Ferguson’s name was called to come to Baltimore. Ferguson had 64 pressures at Louisiana Tech in 2018 (third-most of all FBS defenders in the 2018 class), and he should figure to fit right into an already-young Ravens pass-rushing unit. Undeniably, initial doubts will continue to swirl around Baltimore’s defense and offense because this team is going to look a lot different than 2018’s squad.
The smart trend in the NFL is to spend aggressively when you have a talented quarterback on his rookie deal. Browns GM John Dorsey did exactly that this season, putting an incredible array of talent around 2018 No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield. Some of the moves may have been controversial, but the talent is undeniable, landing star receiver Odell Beckham Jr. in a blockbuster trade with the Giants. Those moves now have the Browns in position to threaten for the AFC North crown for the first time in a decade.
The biggest moves the Browns made this offseason were the two trades with the Giants sent OBJ and edge defender Olivier Vernon to Cleveland. The latter was the Giants’ best pass-rusher, finishing 2018 with an 86.0 pass-rushing grade. Beckham came back from an injury in 2017 to produce the second-best performance of his career with an elite 90.0 grade. The Browns also picked up talented but enigmatic free agent defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, who has the talent but hasn’t earned a pass-rushing grade above 75.0 since 2015. Their most controversial move of the offseason was signing suspended running back Kareem Hunt. When on the field, Hunt has been one of the best backs in the NFL the last two seasons with overall grades of 82.1 and 82.3.
All of that activity in free agency cost the Browns their first-round pick, but they got a first-round talent in the second when they traded up to select LSU corner Greedy Williams. He allowed a paltry 39.3 passer rating against at LSU and an outstanding 39.2 percent completion percentage in his two years at Baton Rouge. The rest of the draft was not as stellar in the eyes of PFF. Sione Takitaki was a bit of a reach in the third round according to PFF’s Lead Draft Analyst Mike Renner. Linebacker Mack Wilson has potential, but he failed to post a grade above 72.0 during his time at Alabama.
Green Bay Packers