NFL experts debate best and worst teams after 2019 free agency, draft

ByESPN NFL Experts ESPN logo
Friday, May 17, 2019

With the NFL draft and rookie minicamps in the rearview mirror, the frenzy of offseason moves is mostly over. Next up this offseason? The spring owners meetings, which kick off next week, and mandatory team minicamps, which begin June 4.

Our panel of ESPN NFL experts takes a look at the past few months and looks ahead to the 2019 season, answering questions to recap the offseason action.

The topics our panel has hit so far (click the links to see the answers):

Who's your pick to be 2019 MVP?

Matt Bowen, NFL analyst: Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers. I picked Rodgers back in February, and I'm sticking with it. Healthy again, and playing in a new system that will create more rhythm throws and play-pass opportunities, I expect him to rack up top-tier numbers in 2019.

Mike Clay, fantasy writer: Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints. I chose Rodgers when asked this question in February, but I'm switching to Brees after New Orleans kept its core in place and maintained arguably the league's best roster on paper. Brees remains one of the best quarterbacks in the league and -- if this team lives up to expectations and wins 12-plus games -- will undoubtedly be one of the favorites to win his first MVP award.

Dan Graziano, national NFL writer: Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints. Picked him last year, and he would have won, too, if not for that meddling superstar kid in Kansas City. I'm staying with the Saints this year (third time's a charm?), and Brees' 2018 performance did nothing to convince me that he can't win his first MVP award at age 40.

KC Joyner, fantasy writer: Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons. Between the return of Dirk Koetter as offensive coordinator (see below), one of the most favorable pass coverage schedules in 2019, the development of Calvin Ridley into an impact receiver and the offensive line investments Atlanta made this offseason, Ryan has a strong chance of leading the league in many passing categories this season.

Jason Reid, The Undefeated senior writer: Patrick Mahomes, QB, Kansas City Chiefs. It's a quarterback league, and the Chiefs have the best one. People, we're in the nascent stages of the Mahomes era. Don't be surprised if his reign lasts a long, long time.

Mike Sando, senior NFL writer: Patrick Mahomes, QB, Kansas City Chiefs. Tumult in Kansas City made me consider changing the Mahomes prediction I made back in February, but I'll stick with it for now, based on his talent and Andy Reid's coaching. Andrew Luck and Matt Ryan are among the interesting alternatives.

Kevin Seifert, national NFL writer: Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks. I'm sticking with Wilson even after the release of receiver Doug Baldwin, which puts more pressure on rookie DK Metcalf and others to produce right away. Wilson demonstrated last season how much better the Seahawks are when the passing game is the focus of their offense. If coach Pete Carroll shifts his run-pass ratio just a bit, Wilson will dominate in 2019.

Field Yates, NFL analyst: Patrick Mahomes, QB, Kansas City Chiefs. He was my answer in February, and despite uncertainty surrounding Tyreek Hill's future in the NFL, I'll stick with him. There was little in the way of defensive resistance that NFL teams could conjure up last season. While Mahomes' numbers might dip a little bit (50-touchdown seasons are outliers), he's too immensely talented for me to fade my pick.

What was the most underrated move of the offseason?

Bowen: New England Patriots trade for defensive end Michael Bennett. The Patriots let DE Trey Flowers walk in free agency, but don't discount the impact Bennett can have in Bill Belichick's defense. With the ability to play on the edge or bump down inside, the Patriots can maximize Bennett's pass-rush traits in multiple fronts and personnel packages.

Clay: The Arizona Cardinals' defensive additions. With all eyes on Kyler Murray and the new-look Arizona offense, the team's strong moves on defense have gone a bit unnoticed. Among those added were Terrell Suggs, Jordan Hicks, Darius Philon, Robert AlfordandD.J. Swearinger, as well as rookies Byron Murphy, Zach Allen and Deionte Thompson. That talented group joins a core that already includes Chandler Jones, Patrick Peterson and Budda Baker. Expect this unit to be better in 2019.

Graziano: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers hiring Bruce Arians as coach. While the rest of the league lost its collective mind hiring young, inexperienced coordinators and position coaches in search of the next offensive genius, Tampa Bay hired a proven offensive genius. Arians should be able to get the most out of Jameis Winston, if anyone can, and the Bucs should score a ton of points.

Joyner: Dirk Koetter returning to the Atlanta Falcons as offensive coordinator. Matt Ryan's metrics have seesawed over the past four years. The return of Koetter should keep Ryan at the upper tier of that production scale, as Ryan had arguably his best three-year span while Koetter was the Falcons' offensive coordinator in 2012-14.

Reid: Jim Caldwell getting back in the game as the Miami Dolphins' assistant head coach and quarterbacks coach. Caldwell has been lauded for his past work with quarterbacks, including Peyton Manning and Joe Flacco. The Dolphins couldn't have found anyone better to work with Josh Rosen.

Sando: Gary Kubiak's unexpected departure from the Denver Broncos. Denver subsequently hired difference-making offensive line coach Mike Munchak to maximize big investments up front. Kubiak landed with the Minnesota Vikings, where his schematic influence could help them maximize their investment in Kirk Cousins.

Seifert: Teams making big moves at center. Rarely are there top-end tackles available in free agency, or even after the top of the draft. So, smart teams that need to elevate their offensive lines take the next-best step: spending relatively big to grab a difference-making center. The Panthers signed Matt Paradis. The Bills signed Mitch Morse. The Vikings used the No. 18 overall pick to draft Garrett Bradbury. And the Saints traded up in the draft to select Erik McCoy. All four moves will make big impacts.

Yates: Young head coaches bringing veterans with them. Brian Flores, Kliff Kingsbury, Adam Gase and Freddie Kitchens wisley brought at least one former NFL head coach with them on their staff, with the likes of Jim Caldwell (Dolphins) and Vance Joseph (Cardinals) allowing them to have a sounding board. As any NFL head coach will tell you, there's less time in the day to do the things that became routine (i.e., not as much time to study film as in a coordinator role) and having experienced coaches oversee one side of the ball will help with that.

Which offseason addition will make the biggest impact in 2019?

Bowen: S Tyrann Mathieu to the Kansas City Chiefs. Along with the trade that brought edge rusherFrank Clark to Kansas City, the Chiefs targeted impact defenders who can make plays in critical situations under new coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. And I love the fit here for Mathieu. He's that versatile defender for Spags in the secondary, a safety who can roll down as a rover or rotate post-snap to find the ball.

Clay: LB C.J. Mosley to the New York Jets. Off-ball linebacker certainly isn't the most impactful position, but Mosley is one of the league's best and an every-down contributor for a defense on the rise. Mosley, who registered 579 tackles during five seasons in Baltimore, joins a strong, young Jets core that also includes Leonard Williams, Henry Anderson, Avery Williamson, Trumaine Johnson, Jamal Adams, Marcus Maye, along with rookies Quinnen Williams and Jachai Polite. Mosley can push this unit over the top.

Graziano: RB Le'Veon Bell to the New York Jets. A year away from the game seems to have made many forget how good of a player he is. (I almost picked Earl Thomas to the Ravens for a similar reason.) Bell is the all-around playmaker the Jets' offense needs to help Sam Darnold through the next phase of his development. Darnold should be able to lean on Bell to carry the offense when he can't, to pick up blitzes on third down and be a top receiving option when needed. He'll kick-start the growth of the Jets' offense under Adam Gase and Darnold.

Joyner: WR Odell Beckham Jr. to the Cleveland Browns. Cleveland made vast improvements in many areas last season, but the lack of a true vertical threat led Baker Mayfield to rank 21st in vertical Total QBR. The addition of Beckham, who ranked sixth in vertical receiving yards per game over the past two seasons (54.4) despite having the noodle-armed Eli Manning as his quarterback, should vault Mayfield into the top 10 in that category and push the Browns' offense into overdrive.

Reid: WR Odell Beckham Jr. to the Cleveland Browns. Mayfield was on a collision course with superstardom before Beckham arrived. Now, he'll work with a difference-making wideout like few others in the game. Browns fans will be happy. Very happy.

Sando: QB Kyler Murray to the Arizona Cardinals. Murray's pairing with Kliff Kingsbury and upgraded receiving weapons should make the NFL's worst offense from 2018 more viable.

Seifert: QB Josh Rosen to the Miami Dolphins. Rosen, at worst, would have been the second-best quarterback in the 2019 draft, and he fell into the Dolphins' laps for a pittance via trade from the Cardinals. There are plenty of opinions on his future, but I think he is going to be an excellent NFL quarterback. Whether he elevates to that point in 2019, his acquisition has accelerated the Dolphins' rebuilding process and freed them to fill other positions instead of focusing on a quarterback in the 2020 draft.

Yates: QB Aaron Rodgers getting healthy for the Green Bay Packers. He's as talented as any quarterback in the league when at full capacity, but 2018 was a lost season in several ways, including an early injury that unquestionably impacted him. Now healthy, the NFC North knows the Green Bay Packers have a chance to bounce back soon.

Which team declined the most this offseason?

Bowen: Miami Dolphins. The roster moves this offseason point to a complete rebuilding phase in Miami. However, the Dolphins have a future star in first-round defensive tackle Christian Wilkins, and newly acquired quarterbackJosh Rosen could be a solid fit for Chad O'Shea's offensive system.

Clay: Baltimore Ravens. This defense has been one of the league's best for a while, but that might change in 2019 after the unit lost its Nos. 1, 2, 5 and 7 snap-getters from last season. Adding Earl Thomas helps but doesn't come close to offsetting the losses of C.J. Mosley, Eric Weddle, Terrell Suggs, Za'Darius Smith and Brent Urban, not to mention the team's overhaul of offensive skill position players.

Graziano: New York Giants. They've made themselves an easy target, but it's all justified. You can't tell me they're better for trading Odell Beckham Jr., for letting Landon Collins leave and sign with a division rival instead of holding him in place with an affordable $11.15 million franchise tag, for trading pass-rusher Olivier Vernon then passing up on outside linebacker Josh Allen at pick No. 6 so they could take a quarterback who had a 59.9 completion percentage in the ACC. When your team has missed the playoffs six of the past seven seasons, what you want to know is that it at least has a plan and a vision for how to pull out of the malaise. There's little evidence that the Giants have that.

Joyner: Denver Broncos. The Broncos lost three offensive line starters and two of their top three cornerbacks to free agency, but their biggest downgrade came from signing 34-year old Joe Flacco as starting quarterback. Flacco ranked 26th in Total QBR on vertical passes last season and could be a huge drop-off from the solid vertical passing numbers Case Keenum posted in Denver last season.

Reid: Miami Dolphins.General manager Chris Grier and first-year coach Brian Flores are leading a rebuild. This will be a heavy lift. Let's check back in a couple of years.

Sando: Miami Dolphins.They are starting over, which means they are willing to take a step backward now in hopes of taking two forward in the future.

Seifert: New York Giants. Their moves were confounding, from dispatching two of their best young players in OBJ (26 years old) and Collins (25) to reaching for quarterback Daniel Jones. But from a bigger picture, their contradictory vision and an old-school approach suggest this franchise is headed toward an extended down cycle.

Yates: Miami Dolphins. But this is by design, and wisely so. It's not hard to be middle in the NFL, but it's unproductive. The Dolphins will sacrifice likely short-term pain after trading away or cutting several key veterans in exchange for a plan of patience and development of young talent.

Which team improved most this offseason?

Bowen: Indianapolis Colts. General manager Chris Ballard took a smart approach to boost a squad that went to the playoffs in 2018. During free agency, the Colts re-signed key defensive contributors, while adding veteran pass-rusher Justin Houston and wide receiver Devin Funchess. Now, flip to the draft, where Ballard targeted productive college players with high-end athletic traits. Look for rookies Rock Ya-Sin, Parris Campbell, Ben Banogu and Bobby Okereke to carve out roles in 2019.

Clay: Detroit Lions. General manager Bob Quinn has quietly done a nice job filling voids on Detroit's roster over the past few months. Those moves included revamping the tight end position with Jesse James and first-round pick T.J. Hockenson, upgrading withTrey Flowers on the edge of the front seven, overhauling cornerback behind Darius Slay by signing Rashaan Melvin and Justin Coleman, and adding Day 2 talent at linebacker (Jahlani Tavai) and safety (Will Harris). Every year there is a team that goes from last to first in its division, and the Lions have a shot to be that team in a wide-open NFC North.

Graziano: Oakland Raiders. I count as many as eight potential Raiders starters who weren't on their roster when the 2018 season ended. They traded for Antonio Brown, hit free agency hard and picked four players in the first two rounds of the draft who have a chance to play a lot of snaps this year. Last year was a tough tear-down, but this year's Raiders roster looks more like what Jon Gruden is trying to build.

Joyner: Cleveland Browns. The perception of the Browns as cellar dwellers has disappeared, but this year's offseason haul of Odell Beckham Jr., Kareem Hunt, Sheldon Richardson, Greedy Williams and Morgan Burnett could give Cleveland as many as five more impact starters on its roster.

Reid: Cleveland Browns. There's no disputing that general manager John Dorsey is a top-notch talent evaluator, and he again displayed his chops in significantly bolstering the Browns' roster. The additions of Beckham and Hunt will only accelerate quarterback Baker Mayfield's ascent to Tier 1 status.

Sando: Oakland Raiders. They had so much room for improvement and tons of draft ammo to address needs. Antonio Brown, Tyrell Williams, Trent Brown, Lamarcus Joyner and three first-round draft picks made the Raiders much better on paper. Now we'll see how that translates against a potentially difficult schedule.

Seifert: Buffalo Bills. I love the depth and variety of players the Bills have assembled on both sides of the ball. They've put some really productive receivers around quarterback Josh Allen, most notably Cole Beasley and John Brown, and made a big move to add center Mitch Morse. Rookie defensive tackle Ed Oliver will enhance an already nasty defense. It all comes down to Allen. If he can make the kind of progress we normally expect from the first to second year, the Bills are a playoff team.

Yates: Buffalo Bills. They've been the team I've most focused in on this offseason throughout our variety of roundtables. General manager Brandon Beane and his staff have a clear pattern on how they want to build this roster, and I thought this offseason was productive in not just adding starters but also building competition across the roster. Between at least two new offensive line starters, two new starting wide receivers, their likely two top tight ends, backfield depth, an elite defensive line talent in Oliver and more, Buffalo made major strides.

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