PFR Polls

Poll: Who Will Be The Steelers’ Next Starting QB?

One of the biggest talking points in Pittsburgh right now, of course, is the uncertainty the team is facing at the quarterback position. With it all-but guaranteed that Ben Roethlisberger has played his final snap in the NFL, the central focus of HC Mike Tomlin‘s end-of-season press conference was the team’s plans to replace him. 

As Tomlin said, “all options are on the table” with respect to finding a new signal-caller. He expressed a level of “excitement” about the process, which could include any combination of free agency, trades and the draft. Let’s look at some of their options in each capacity:

First off, the team’s in-house options need to be considered. Mason Rudolph is the only QB with a contract for 2022, but Dwayne Haskins could easily be brought back as well. The former has been with the team since being drafted in the third round in 2019, making 10 total starts. His overall play has been inconsistent and underwhelming, though, which prompted the team to bring in Haskins last year. The 2019 first-rounder crashed out of Washington and has only made 13 starts in his three-year career. Tomlin left the door open for each to “establish themselves” going forward.

As for free agency, the team is positioned to have an unusually high degree of flexibility. With over $30MM in projected cap space and not many impact UFAs to sign, the Steelers could add a veteran without much issue. The two best options on that front, however, are likely Jameis Winston and Teddy Bridgewater. Winston’s second season in New Orleans – and first as the starter – came to an abrupt end with a torn ACL after just seven games. He would probably offer more upside, if healthy, in 2022 than Bridgewater, whose first year in Denver saw him essentially match his career numbers and confirm himself as a low-end starter. Pittsburgh, or any other QB-needy team could still do worse in free agency than the consistent 29-year-old, though.

As for the trade market, bigger names – but much more uncertainty – are involved. Veterans Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson are names frequently thrown around in trade speculation, and the Steelers may be able to afford taking on their contracts if they so desired. However, the former has recently made comments that are a far cry from his trade request made last year. As for Wilson, meanwhile, the team has just decided to keep most of its front office and coaching staff in place, and has no plans to trade the seven-time Pro Bowler. The biggest x-factor in the QB market, of course, is Deshaun Watson. The Texans are indeed looking to move the 26-year-old, but there has yet to be a resolution with respect to his ongoing sexual misconduct allegations.

Some other veterans are being mentioned as trade candidates as well. Established starters who are set to enter the final year of their contracts include Kirk CousinsDerek Carr and Jimmy Garoppolo. The cap hits of those respective deals cover quite a range, which will play a role in how easy they are to move. In the case of Cousins and Carr, new head coaches and general managers will ultimately decide whether to re-commit to them, or look elsewhere for replacements and make them expendable. For Garoppolo, it has been widely known for quite a while that the franchise is ready to move on to 2021 first-rounder Trey Lance.

The final avenue is the 2022 NFL Draft. This year’s QB class is generally seen as underwhelming, and there is no clear-cut, can’t-miss type of prospect as there has been in recent years. One of the top options is Kenny Pickett from the University of Pittsburgh, who many regard as the most complete – perhaps safest – option. Other names include Ole Miss’ Matt Corral and UNC’s Sam Howell, both of whom took their programs to new heights with hugely productive careers. Smaller-school options include Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder, who led his team to an unprecedented CFP semifinal appearance, and Liberty’s Malik Willis, who, while very raw, may have the best overall physical traits in the class.

Tomlin made a point in stressing the need for mobility in the new QB, which may lend itself to a draftee being given the reins. In his first mock draft, ESPN’s Mel Kiper has the Steelers selecting Corral 20th overall. Meanwhile, the Athletic’s Dane Brugler has Pittsburgh taking Howell with that same pick in his latest mock.

One factor to keep in mind is the recent news that offensive coordinator Matt Canada is expected to be back in 2022. The new quarterback – whomever it ends up being – will be tasked with trying to fully implement his scheme, something that the team struggled to do in Roethlisberger’s final year.

Let us know who you think will be the Steelers’ Week 1 starter in 2022 below.

 

Will Matt Nagy Coach The Bears in 2022?

Out of all the tenuous coaching situations throughout the NFL, the one in Chicago may be the most interesting. Matt Nagy has displayed enough during his tenure as head coach of the Bears that a case can be made either way for the team to keep him or move on at the end of the season. 

After being hired in 2018, Nagy helped the team to an impressive 12-4 record, earning himself Coach of the Year honors. Back-to-back 8-8 seasons followed, however, including a six game losing streak in 2020. While the Bears made it to the playoffs that year — the second trip to the postseason in three campaigns under Nagy — things have not gone nearly as well in 2021. Another five-game skid has contributed to a 4-9 overall record, and uncertainty about his job security came to a head as recently as Thanksgiving.

Cause for optimism came in April in the form of Justin Fields being drafted 11th overall as the latest attempt to solidify the quarterback position. The former Buckeye represented not only a potential upgrade over Mitch Trubiskybut a lifeline for Nagy and GM Ryan Pace. With enough signs of franchise potential – if not results in the win-loss column along the way – there would be an argument to be made in favor of keeping the coach-quarterback relationship together at least one more year.

Things haven’t been stellar for Fields or the Bears in 2021, though. In and out of the lineup with injuries, and splitting the starting job with free agent signing Andy Dalton, Fields currently has a record of 2-7. While he has shown flashes with his legs in particular, posting 385 rushing yards and two touchdowns averaging just under six yards per attempt, he has struggled in the passing game. His completion percentage (57.6%), touchdown-to-interception ratio (six to 10) and 33 sacks taken are some of statistics that are evidence of a struggling offense, much of the blame for which has been laid at Nagy’s feet.

Have your say below regarding Nagy’s coaching future in Chicago (link for app users):

Poll: Who Will Win The AFC West?

The race for the AFC West is far from over. There is no team with a losing record in the division, setting for up an exciting final stretch of the regular season.

The Chiefs (7-4) began the season as clear favorites to win the division, but they’ve failed to create the distance they’d hoped for between themselves and their divisional foes. Kansas City’s first five games were defined by shootouts in which its defense struggled to contribute to team success, leading to an opening record of 2-3. After the Chiefs’ 27-3 loss to the Titans in Week 7, their defense seems to have found its footing. The Chris Jones-led unit is allowing 11.75 points per game since then en route to a four-game win streak.

In Los Angeles, Justin Herbert has benefitted from having healthy weapons in running back Austin Ekeler and receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, an improvement from the 6-4 Chargers’ injury-riddled 2020 season. Much like the Chiefs, though, the Chargers’ defense has struggled to turn that success into wins as they’ve only managed to hold two opponents under 20 points this season.

The Raiders (6-5) have been a team of streaks this season. They began the year 3-0 with impressive wins over the Ravens and Steelers. They then lost two, won two, and lost three in a row through their next seven games with concerning losses to the currently reeling Bears and Giants. Las Vegas rebounded with an impressive Thanksgiving Day win in Dallas. The Raiders’ current winning record is all the more impressive when you consider the off-the-field controversies that have rocked the franchise.

The Raiders cut promising second-year receiver Henry Ruggs after he was arrested for his role in a fatal car accident. Their other 2020 first-round pick, Damon Arnette, is also gone after appearing in a video which showed him threatening a person with a gun. All of this after former head coach Jon Gruden was forced to resign in the wake of an email scandal that revealed the coach’s use of derogatory and offensive language. Las Vegas currently sits in third in the division at 6-5.

Over their first eight games of the season, the Broncos (5-5) were fairly easy to decipher. They beat teams currently under .500 — the Giants, Jaguars, Jets and the Football Team — but they could not get past teams currently over .500 (Ravens, Steelers, Raiders, Browns). They did buck this trend in their past two games by beating the Cowboys (7-4) and losing to the Eagles (4-6). They certainly hope that trend is over, as the Lions represent the only team they face over the rest of the season with a sub-.500 record. Offseason pickup Teddy Bridgewater leads an offense that has seen the return of Pro Bowler Courtland Sutton, though Denver’s latest run of injury misfortune involved second-year receiver Jerry Jeudy missing most of the season’s first half. The running game has been split pretty evenly between seven-year veteran Melvin Gordon and second-round rookie Javonte Williams.

With seven weeks remaining in the regular season, potential for divisional chaos remains. The Chiefs don’t have any remaining opponents currently under .500. The Raiders are set to play just one — the Washington Football Team. The Bolts potentially have a softer route, with two teams remaining under .500 in the Giants and Texans. In addition, there’s plenty of divisional play left to ensue before the playoff field forms.

So who do you see taking control of the AFC West? Do the Chiefs regain their supremacy and claim the division for the sixth straight year? Or do any of the other contenders take advantage of Kansas City’s four early-season losses? Vote in our latest poll and weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section.

Poll: Who Will Win The AFC North?

There is perhaps no division in the NFL more up in the air right now than the AFC North. All four clubs have a winning record and, by extension, every team has a chance of taking the division title.

Back in the August, the Ravens were favored to win the division with +115 odds with the Browns (+140) in a close second. Since then, injuries have leveled the playing field. Now, the recently resurgent Steelers (+400) and the surprising Bengals (+2000) find themselves right in the thick of the race.

The preseason favorite Ravens were bit by the injury bug early and often, losing their three top returning running backs – J.K. Dobbins (ACL), Gus Edwards (ACL), and Justice Hill (Achilles) – before playing a single regular season game. They also lost their team leader in interceptions and starting cornerback, Marcus Peters (ACL), in the preseason and star offensive tackle, Ronnie Stanley (ankle), after only one game. The Ravens quickly adopted a next-man-up philosophy where possible and turned to the free agent market for some veterans to fill out their depleted running back room, settling on eight-year journeyman Latavius Murray and former Falcons star Devonta Freeman to tote the rock. The Ravens rattled off five straight wins after a season opening loss, but have struggled with consistent success over the last few weeks with troubling performances in losses to the Bengals and Dolphins and close three-point wins against the Vikings and Bears. Despite the up-and-down play, the Ravens occupy first place in the AFC North with a 7-3 record.

The Bengals are making a bid to be the latest team in the NFL to go from worst in the division one year to first in the division the very next year. A healthy Joe Burrow, with some NFL experience now under his belt, has benefitted greatly from the team’s first round pick out of LSU, wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase. Chase has teamed up with wide receivers Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins to create quite the three-headed monster. Boyd received important experience as a number one target in 2019 in the absence of A.J. Green and Higgins had an impressive rookie year in 2020 after coming one pick shy of the first round. They’ve also been assisted greatly by a defense that ranks eighth in the league, according to Pro Football Focus. The Bengals have shown a bit of a Jekyll-and-Hyde persona with dominant wins over the Steelers, Ravens, and Raiders (all +.500) and puzzling losses to struggling franchises in the Bears and Jets. They currently sit in 2nd in the AFC North with a 6-4 record.

The Steelers have run hot and cold, opening the year with a shocking road win over the Bills before losing three straight. They rebounded with four straight wins before tying the winless Lions and losing to the Chargers in which they trailed 27-10 late in the 3rd quarter. The story of the Steelers’ season has been one of a 39 year-old Ben Roethlisberger trying to find success with trio of young WRs – Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, and JuJu Smith-Schuster – and a rookie running back, Najee Harris. Johnson and Claypool have taken the reins as Roethlisberger’s top targets, while Smith-Schuster struggled to find footing in 2021 before landing on IR. Harris, has taken over as the Steelers’ bell-cow, taking 188 of the team’s 244 total carries. While Harris ranks top ten in rushing yards, the defense has struggled without stars Minkah Fitzpatrick and T.J. Watt in the lineup. The Steelers currently sit at 5-4-1, good for third in the AFC North.

Even though Nick Chubb has the third-most rushing yards in the NFL, the Browns have lacked much of their expected offensive firepower. Jarvis Landry has missed 4 games while his would-be partner, Odell Beckham Jr., is out of the pictureKareem Hunt‘s calf injury hasn’t helped either, but the Browns have still managed to stay afloat at 6-5.

There’s lots of time left in the 18-week schedule for this order to change, especially since the Browns get to face the Ravens twice inside of the next three weeks. Meanwhile, every AFC North team has a stacked dance card — all of their remaining opponents are over the .500 mark. If you enjoy entertainment and chaos, this is the divisional race for you.

So how do you see the division shaping up? Vote in our latest poll and weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section.

Poll: Who Will Earn NFC’s No. 1 Seed?

While the AFC features a deeper contender pool, the NFC brings more clarity near the top. Five teams enter Week 10 with one or two losses, bringing about a high-level second-half race for the conference’s lone bye.

The 2020 CBA reducing conference byes from two to one made the No. 1 seed more valuable. Only one team — the 2020 Buccaneers, in a season with limited attendance — has qualified for a Super Bowl without the benefit of a bye week over the past eight seasons. Week 9 certainly benefited the Cardinals, with the Rams, Packers and Cowboys joining the Buccaneers as two-loss teams. But eight weeks remain.

The Rams also made two major efforts to tilt the scales over the past week and change, trading for Von Miller and signing Odell Beckham Jr. Will that be enough to give them their first No. 1 seed since 2001? Los Angeles (7-2) is coming off a one-sided loss to Tennessee. The team has not lost one of its impact players the way the rest of the NFC’s top tier has, though Miller and Beckham are coming off injuries sustained with their previous teams. The Rams rank in the top 10 offensively and defensively and have made a major upgrade at quarterback, with Matthew Stafford sitting first in QBR after nine games. Road games against the Cardinals, Packers and Ravens remain, however.

Responsible for handing the Rams their first defeat, the Cardinals (8-1) are the NFL’s lone one-loss team and the only NFC squad to rank in the top five on offense and defense. The Cardinals, who have not earned a No. 1 seed since home-field advantage was introduced in the mid-1970s, have seen their defense make more strides under DC Vance Joseph. Arizona ranks second in defensive DVOA, though the team is now down J.J. Watt for potentially the rest of the season. The Cards, who have seen offseason additions A.J. Green and Rodney Hudson also play key roles in their early 30s, still face the Rams and Cowboys and have two Seahawks matchups — presumably each with Russell Wilson at the controls — in their final seven games.

Last earning the NFC’s top seed five years ago, the Cowboys (6-2) are coming off a strange loss to the Broncos — one in which they trailed 30-0 — and have seen Tyron Smith run into more injury trouble. The Cowboys are also down both DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory, the latter being placed on IR this week. Dallas’ defense gave up a franchise-most points last season, but the arrivals of Dan Quinn and Micah Parsons have helped the NFC East leaders move toward the middle of the pack on that side of the ball. No other NFC East team has more than three wins, but the Cowboys still have games against the Chiefs, Raiders, Saints and Cardinals.

While the Packers have gone through significant midseason turmoil, they are expected to have Aaron Rodgers back in Week 10. Jaire Alexander and Za’Darius Smith remain on IR, however. The NFC North leaders (7-2) signed Whitney Mercilus and have seen Rashan Gary fare well in replacing Smith. Despite Smith and Alexander’s absences, the Packers rank sixth defensively. Summer signing De’Vondre Campbell (83 tackles, which lead the Packers by nearly 30) has bolstered new DC Joe Barry‘s unit as well. Green Bay also stands to receive a boost once David Bakhtiari returns following his ACL rehab. The All-Pro left tackle spent nine weeks on Green Bay’s PUP list and is not expected to play in Week 10. The Packers still have games against the Rams, Ravens and Browns.

Tampa Bay’s second Super Bowl run came from the No. 5 slot; the franchise has never secured the NFC’s top seed. But this Bucs edition’s bye path includes an inviting second-half schedule. The defending champions play just one team — the Bills — with a winning record over their final eight. The Bucs (6-2) brought back their full nucleus from last season but have seen some of their veterans run into injury trouble. They will again be without Antonio Brown and Rob Gronkowski in Week 10, and Gronk may be facing another extended absence. Cornerback unavailability has also helped define Tampa Bay’s season, but the team is getting healthier on that front.

Which of these five teams will prevail en route to the NFC’s bye? Is there another squad that could make a stealth bid? Vote in PFR’s latest poll and weigh in with your NFC thoughts in the comments section.

Poll: Who Will Be The Patriots Starting QB?

Considering Cam Newton‘s 2020 struggles coupled with the Patriots’ decision to invest a first-round pick in a quarterback, many assumed rookie Mac Jones would take over as New England’s starter in 2021.

Not so fast.

Following the draft, Bill Belichick came out and said Newton would remain the team’s starter until he was unseated. Belichick has stuck with that sentiment throughout the offseason and into the preseason, even if the former MVP’s hold on the starting gig has started to show some cracks.

For starters, earlier this month, we heard that Jones had narrowed the gap between himself and Newton with a strong training camp. Then, Newton was recently sidelined due to a “misunderstanding” over COVID-19 protocols. While Newton’s absence stemmed from a team-approved visit to an out-of-state doctor, NFL Network’s Mike Giardi recently tweeted that there was “a level of frustration internally” with the entire situation. In fact, one member of the organization told the reporter that Newton’s recent absence “opened a window of opportunity” for the rookie, and Belichick acknowledged earlier this week that Newton’s absence would provide Jones with a chance to show what he’s got.

Naturally, Belichick surprised a few when he went back to Newton as the starter during today’s joint practice with the Giants. As Jeff Howe of The Athletic wrote, this decision gave “off the appearance nothing has changed in the race for the No. 1 job.” So, just more confusion in regards to the starting gig.

Jones has earned glowing reviews for his consistent play during practice, while Newton has merely shown glimpses of consistency. The duo has been relatively even during their preseason contests, and their statistics only help to cloud the quarterbacks depth chart.

There are merits to starting either one of the two quarterbacks. Newton didn’t get a fair shake during his first season in New England; he got a late start to training camp, dealt with a depleted set of offensive weapons, and had a bout with COVID. On the flip side, he guided the Patriots to one of the worst passing offenses in the NFL. While there could still be some upside with Newton, the consensus opinion seems to be that his 2020 performance is more indicative of his future production than his standout campaigns with the Panthers.

The main argument in the pro-Jones camp is that he’s not Newton, but there are some other reasons to believe in the rook. While Jones certainly isn’t (and probably will never be close to) Tom Brady, the 6-foor-3, big-armed quarterback would appear to be a better fit in Belichick and Josh McDaniels‘ successful offense. Jones has also impressed with his decision making and ability to grasp the offense. On the flip side, we shouldn’t put a lot of stock in practice and preseason. Plus, Belichick traditionally buries his rookies; Jones probably wouldn’t be an exception.

While we’ll likely get our answer in the next few weeks, we’re putting the question out to you: who will be the Patriots starting QB to start the 2021 season? (In before someone jokes about Brian Hoyer or Jarrett Stidham taking the reigns). Let us know in the poll below, and share your thoughts in the comments.

Poll: Which Rookie Wide Receiver Will Finish With Most Receiving Yards?

This past week we asked you which rookie running back would finish with the most yards in 2021, and now we’re turning our attention to the wide receivers. This year’s wideout class was a great one, with three going in the top ten picks.

Two more then went later in the first round, and then five were off the board in the second. The crop included reigning Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith, and LSU star Ja’Marr Chase who was reunited in Cincinnati with college teammate Joe Burrow.

Chase became the first receiver off the board when the Bengals nabbed him with the fifth overall pick. He should already have great chemistry with Burrow, so he’s got that working in his favor. Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd are still there, but the team moving on from A.J. Green this offseason means Chase should see plenty of opportunity right away. Will his rapport with Burrow and a potentially improved Cincy O-line be enough for him to seize the rookie receiving title?

The following pick, the Dolphins took Jaylen Waddle from Alabama at number six. Waddle is also reconnecting with an old college quarterback as he’ll re-team with Tua Tagovailoa in Miami. His blazing fast speed gives him plenty of upside, although working against him is the fact that he missed a good chunk of the 2020 season due to injury. Will Fuller will have to sit out the first game of the 2021 season with a suspension, but DeVante Parker and Mike Gesicki will also be competing for targets.

Smith *also* is getting paired back up with a familiar face under center. The Heisman winner played with Eagles second-year quarterback Jalen Hurts at Alabama. Despite winning the award for best college football player in the country, Smith was the third wideout taken. Will he use that as added motivation and come out with a chip on his shoulder? He certainly shouldn’t struggle for playing time with Philly’s receiving depth chart being thin as ever. Jalen Reagor, Travis Fulgham, and Greg Ward Jr. are all he has to compete with.

The other two first-rounders were Kadarius Toney from Florida to the Giants at 20 and Rashod Bateman from Minnesota to the Ravens at 27. Toney surprised New York by skipping OTAs and apparently might begin the year in a gadget role as he’s buried behind Sterling Shepard, Kenny Golladay, Darius Slayton, and Evan Engram in the pecking order, so he’s got his work cut out for him. Bateman has a path to a breakout with Baltimore in desperate need of receiving help, but the Ravens’ passing game is going to be a wild card.

Elijah Moore was the next big name, with the Ole Miss product going to the Jets at 34. He’s also got upside, but has a few guys ahead of him and will have a rookie quarterback throwing to him. Rondale Moore (Purdue) to the Cardinals at 49, D’Wayne Eskridge (Western Michigan) to the Seahawks at 56, Tutu Atwell (Louisville) to the Rams at 57, and Terrace Marshall Jr. (LSU) to the Panthers at 59 round out the rest of the round two receivers.

So, what do you think? Which receiver will rack up the most yards in 2021? Who are the later-round candidates or UDFAs who can join these players as early contributors? Vote in PFR’s latest poll and weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section.

Poll: Who Will Be First Head Coach To Lose Their Job?

We know, we know…it’s probably a bit early to speculate about the job security of NFL head coaches. However, let’s not forget Bum Phillips‘ famous (supposed) quote: “There’s two kinds of coaches, them that’s fired and them that’s gonna be fired.”

[RELATED: The Longest-Tenured Head Coaches In The NFL]

Even with the start of the NFL season more than a month away, a handful of head coaches already find themselves on the hot seat. Nowadays, it isn’t all that hard to determine which head coaches are at risk of losing their jobs. You can pretty much remove the 12 first- and second-year coaches, and you can definitely remove the successful, long-term coaches (the likes of Bill Belichick, Sean Payton, etc.).

That leaves about 15 coaches with at least two years of tenure but fewer than eight years of tenure (yes, we chose eight to shoehorn Andy Reid into the “definitively safe” section but not the likes of Mike Zimmer). Have those coaches had successful teams? You can remove them from the list. Have those coaches continually shown improvement? You can probably remove them from the list, too. Have those coaches’ teams disappointed or underwhelmed, especially recently? Ding ding ding…those are the coaches on the hot seat.

As we all know, those on the hot seat either redeem themselves and save their jobs or…ultimately get canned. So, that brings us to today’s question: which head coach will be fired first? We used Bovada’s top-three options below, but we’d like to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Matt Nagy, Bears

Following a 12-4 campaign to begin his coaching career, Nagy found his seat getting a bit warm following a disappointing 8-8 campaign in 2019. The former Chiefs offensive coordinator didn’t do a whole lot to inspire confidence in 2020. The team finished 8-8 for a second-straight season, and the former QB whisperer found his passing offense ranking in the bottom-half of the NFL in most categories.

The Bears finally bailed on Mitchell Trubisky this past offseason, and they added a pair of QBs to replace him: veteran Andy Dalton and first-round pick Justin Fields. With a solid defense that’s in win-now mode, Nagy will have to get something out of one of these signal-callers if he hopes to retain his job. Considering Dalton’s recent play and Fields’ inexperience, things are looking bleak.

Zac Taylor, Bengals

It’s easy to put an asterisk on the Bengals’ 2020 campaign following the season-ending injury to Joe Burrow, but there’s no denying that Taylor’s staff has now collected an ugly 6-25-1 record through two seasons. There’s really nowhere to go but up for the head coach, but even if the Bengals improve their record in 2021, the team would still have to pass the smell test. Specifically, we should expect the offensive guru to guide Burrow and the rest of the offense to at least an above-average performance, and it’d be encouraging if the defense was able to show some progress after finishing as one of the worst units in the league in 2020.

As we saw with Marvin Lewis, the Bengals organization values continuity. It’s hard to envision the team not giving Taylor at least another full season, but if the team is unable to show any improvement over 2020, then the 38-year-old could find himself without a job.

Vic Fangio, Broncos

There are a number of things working against Fangio and his future in Denver. For starters, he hasn’t done a whole lot during his two seasons at the helm, leading the team to a 12-20 record. Making it worse, the team took a clear step back in 2020, and with a questionable roster on paper, it’s hard to envision the Broncos getting a whole lot better in 2021.

Next, GM George Paton was only recently hired, so he surely won’t be feeling pressure throughout the 2021 season. However, a disappointing campaign could change things. In that hypothetical, you can bet the executive would be looking to right the ship immediately, and that would probably start with the head coach.

The final factor is the uncertain status of Broncos ownership. If the team is ultimately sold, the new owners would presumably be looking to clean house, at least from an on-field perspective. That means Fangio would surely be handed his walking papers, even if the team did show some progress in 2021.

For reference, the next four head coaches listed by Bovada are Jon Gruden (Raiders), Mike Zimmer (Vikings), Matt LaFleur (Packers), and Mike McCarthy (Cowboys). Let us know what you think in the comments below!

Poll: Which Rookie Running Back Will Finish With Most Rushing Yards?

Quarterbacks, per usual, dominated this year’s pre-draft coverage. The Falcons made Kyle Pitts the highest-drafted tight end in NFL history, and four wide receivers then went off the board in the top 20. Running backs, as they have done in a few drafts over the past decade, waited.

While two went in Round 1, the Jaguars’ Travis Etienne pick preceded a 60-pick stretch during which just one running back — the Broncos’ Javonte Williams choice — went off the board. The 2021 draft matches 2016 and 2003 for the fewest backs chosen in the top 80 (three) in the common draft era (1967-present), continuing a grim era for this once-storied position. But several of this year’s draftees have quick paths to key roles.

Linked to Najee Harris ahead of the draft, the Steelers took the Alabama standout at No. 24. Harris will join a Steelers team that ranked last in rushing in 2020. Although the Alabama product scored 30 touchdowns in his senior season and topped 1,200 rushing yards in two straight years, he will now play behind an offensive line that went through considerable turnover this offseason. The Steelers lost 17 Pro Bowls on their offensive line this year. They will replace Maurkice Pouncey and Alejandro Villanueva with far less experienced players, and David DeCastro‘s replacement (Trai Turner) struggled in 2020. Will Harris’ talent be enough to overcome significant O-line concerns in Pittsburgh?

Etienne joins a Jags team that just saw James Robinson set the rookie UDFA record for scrimmage yards (1,414) despite missing two games in 2020. Jacksonville also signed Carlos Hyde, who played for Urban Meyer at Ohio State. Etienne spent time at receiver during the Jags’ offseason program but should be expected to contribute heavily in the backfield. Like Harris, Etienne stayed in college for four years. He twice surpassed 1,600 rushing yards and totaled 78 college TDs — most of which coming alongside No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence — but will this unusual setup (for a first-round back, that is) translate to rookie-year production?

The Broncos traded up four spots for Williams in Round 2, Pro Football Focus’ top-rated back in this class, and chose the North Carolina product 36th overall. Williams teamed with Jets draftee Michael Carter to form one of the nation’s top backfield tandems. Williams compiled just one 1,000-yard season with the Tar Heels but led Division I-FBS with 75 broken tackles in 2020. The Broncos have Melvin Gordon signed through 2021, but the John Elway-era addition does not appear to be a lock to hold off Williams for the starting role.

The rest of the rookie field includes third-rounder Trey Sermon (49ers), Carter (fourth round, Jets) and a host of backs ticketed for early-career backup roles. While injuries certainly will hit the running back position, potentially forcing some of the later-round picks into the fray, Sermon and Carter have the best bets of seeing steady action among the mid- and late-round selections.

An Oklahoma and Ohio State product, Sermon also played four years. He averaged more than seven yards per carry in each of his past two, though he never topped 1,000 on the ground. Lead 49ers back Raheem Mostert is coming off an injury-marred season. The Jets added Tevin Coleman, who joined Mostert in missing most of last season, but do not have another back with much experience. This could allow Carter (two 1,000-yard years at North Carolina) early upward mobility, despite his 5-foot-8 frame.

Which rookie back will rush for the most yards in 2021? Who are the later-round candidates or UDFAs who can join these players as early contributors? Vote in PFR’s latest poll and weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section.

Poll: Who Will Be Broncos’ Primary QB Starter In 2021?

One of the key points in this year’s draft came at No. 9, when the Broncos — who did extensive work on quarterbacks coming in — passed on Justin Fields and Mac Jones to select Patrick Surtain II. Denver passing on potential long-term starters transpired shortly after new Denver GM George Paton acquired Teddy Bridgewater from the Panthers.

With the Broncos choosing Surtain, Bridgewater and Drew Lock reside as their quarterbacks. They split reps down the middle this offseason and will continue this competition during training camp, when chapter six in the franchise’s post-Super Bowl 50 quarterback saga commences in earnest.

The Broncos have started an NFL-most 10 players at quarterback — counting Phillip Lindsay‘s wildcat snap in the COVID-19-created Kendall Hinton game last season — since Peyton Manning‘s March 2016 retirement. Denver has tried free agency (Case Keenum, the second Brock Osweiler acquisition), the trade market (Joe Flacco, Bridgewater) and the draft (Lock, Paxton Lynch) to fill this spot. The Broncos’ most successful post-Manning season — 2016, when the team went 9-7 — came with 2015 seventh-rounder Trevor Siemian at the controls.

Now on his fifth team, Bridgewater is still just 28 and has a history with Paton. The Vikings drafted the Louisville alum in the 2014 first round, when Paton was working as GM Rick Spielman‘s top lieutenant. The former Jets (briefly), Saints and Panthers passer has developed a reputation as a risk-averse passer, and Carolina was eager to jettison him after authorizing a three-year, $63MM deal in 2020. The trade agreement knocked Bridgewater’s 2021 cap hit down to just $4.4MM and made him a 2022 free agent. But Bridgewater makes sense for a team with high-end defensive capabilities, which a healthy Broncos iteration possesses.

Bridgewater finished 17th in QBR last season; Lock ranked 29th. The 2019 second-round pick was often erratic during his second NFL season, tying for the NFL INT lead (15) despite missing three games. Lock, however, was thrust into an unusual spot in 2020 — learning a new offense in a virtual offseason — and lacked top receiver Courtland Sutton for most of the season. But Lock’s grace period is over, with longtime GM John Elway ceding the reins to Paton.

The elephant in this room: will the Broncos’ interest in Aaron Rodgers be relevant soon? The Broncos have lapped the field in Rodgers rumors, with the Raiders — another team Rodgers is open to joiningcomfortable with Derek Carr for the time being. Depending on which skill-position players would be left in Denver after a trade, Rodgers would be equipped with a host of young weapons and a defense positioned to be one of the league’s best.

Even as some around the league wonder if the Packers are bracing for the reigning MVP’s exit, they are holding firm and possess leverage. Despite a return that could feature two or three first-round picks and one or more established young starters, Green Bay is understandably clinging to hopes this situation can be salvaged. The Bengals traded disgruntled QB Carson Palmer in October 2011, after the incumbent had staged a retirement in an effort to leave Cincinnati, and Palmer made nine starts for the Raiders that year. The Broncos likely would be open to a Rodgers in-season arrival, but ideally for them, the Packers begin trade discussions before the season.

Denver passing on Fields also leaves the door open, albeit narrowly, for Deshaun Watson. Twelve years younger than Rodgers, at 25, Watson is believed to be interested in being traded to the Broncos. The team had Watson on its radar as well. Kareem Jackson, conflict of interest notwithstanding, said his former Texans teammate has Denver atop his destination list. The Broncos are believed to prefer Rodgers to Watson, with the latter’s off-field issues undoubtedly factoring into this equation. Watson faces an uncertain future, with the Commissioner’s Exempt List and/or a suspension potentially looming. But if clarity emerges here before the trade deadline, the Broncos — assuming they do not acquire Rodgers — may be back in play for the three-time Pro Bowler.

Will the Broncos end up swinging a trade this year, or will 2022 be the window for such a transaction? Can Bridgewater or Lock seize the job and halt Rodgers and Watson rumors for good? Vote in PFR’s latest poll and weigh in with your thoughts on this situation in the comments section.