The Titans' Julio Jones move brings a future Hall of Famer to Tennessee, potentially changing the AFC South outlook. Other teams made moves to augment their pass-catching and ball-carrying situations this year. Here is how the NFL's skill-position groups stack up going into training camps.
With two first-round picks in the 2022 and '23 drafts, it makes sense for the Lions to start over. The effort is evident at the skill positions. Jared Goff will go from targeting Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp to Breshad Perriman and Tyrell Williams. The Lions let five-year starter Marvin Jones walk in free agency and opted against franchise-tagging Kenny Golladay or drafting a wideout early. D'Andre Swift showed flashes last season; the latest Detroit second-round running back will team with ex-Aaron Jones Green Bay sidekick Jamaal Williams. The Lions' O-line looks good, but Goff will still have a tough time.
In this strange pre-rebuilding place, where lower-middle-class veterans arrived in droves, the Texans did at least acquire underappreciated Broncos dynamo, Phillip Lindsay. Unfortunately, he will team with declining backs David Johnson and Mark Ingram and placeholder wideouts Brandin Cooks and Randall Cobb. Less recognizable vets Chris Conley and Donte Moncrief are behind them, while the Texans' tight end troops are unlikely to help much. This reminds of the opening acts of a Madden franchise when a virtual GM randomly adds free agency's top names ahead of his/her first season. The Texans have a long road out of this place.
This Jets receiver nucleus would make for interesting 2-for-1 trades in fantasy. A host of No. 2- and No. 3-type receivers line this roster, giving Zach Wilson depth Sam Darnold did not consistently possess. A quantity-for-quality-type swap would come in handy because the additions of Corey Davis and slot Elijah Moore -- pairing with two-year receiving leader/ice-cold pay-cut recipient Jamison Crowder -- do not solve issues at tight end and do not check off the WR1 box. Fourth-rounder Michael Carter -- the running back, not the safety -- has a good chance to lead the Jets in carries as well. An intriguing, incomplete mix.
Finally rid of the onerous Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson contracts, the Eagles are now counting on first-round receivers, DeVonta Smith and Jalen Reagor. The latter's rookie-year dud -- which came as ex-second-rounder J.J. Arcega-Whiteside's NFL no-show continued -- clouds Philly's picture, but it is hard to accomplish more than Smith did in a college season. The Heisman winner's sub-170-pound frame will be an issue, however. Dallas Goedert will be relied upon, though trade-chip Zach Ertz remains on the roster, and Miles Sanders will be essential for unproven QB Jalen Hurts.
The Justin Fields-induced euphoria comes with the usual Bears caveat. Beyond Allen Robinson, surefire playmakers have yet to emerge. David Montgomery navigated some bad defenses down the stretch to help the 8-8 Bears to the playoffs, but the unremarkable runner has more to prove. Chicago attempted to trade Anthony Miller at multiple points this offseason, which points to Darnell Mooney (631 rookie-year yards with a bad QB setup) having an opportunity to be Fields and Andy Dalton's WR2. Mooney and tight end Cole Kmet provide upside, but it is too early to anoint anyone beyond Robinson.
Impressive quadriceps notwithstanding, Mike Davis leads one of the NFL's thinnest backfields. The Falcons will also ask 30-year-old return man Cordarrelle Patterson to back him up. Julio Jones will not be around to propel Matt Ryan this year, and Calvin Ridley has dealt with injuries in each of the past two seasons. He is now rehabbing a late-offseason foot surgery. Ridley has the potential to be a top-10 receiver, however, and Russell Gage quietly displayed auxiliary-cog chops last season. This group will depend on Kyle Pitts being the rare quick-study tight end. Otherwise, the pieces here do not add up.
Carson Wentz's 2021 setup is better than the mess he helmed last year, but the Colts are lacking weaponry. The soon-to-be 32-year-old T.Y. Hilton, who is set to play with a fourth QB in four years, has produced back-to-back down seasons. Promising WR2 Michael Pittman Jr. will determine this receiving corps' viability. With ex-second-round slot receiver Parris Campbell having missed 23 games in two years, the 6-foot-4 Pittman is vital. The Colts do have a potentially dominant run game; Jonathan Taylor (feat. Marlon Mack) will be tasked with heavy lifting this season.
If used properly, James Robinson and Travis Etienne give off Mark Ingram-Alvin Kamara vibes. The Jaguars better receive a middle-class version of the late-2010s Saints' elite pair, because Urban Meyer signed off on a first-round luxury pick as coach of a team coming off a 1-15 season. Jacksonville's receivers are fine. Marvin Jones should help Trevor Lawrence, who also has D.J. Chark and versatile Laviska Shenault to target. Tight end, however, could be a no-show for about the 10th straight year in Jacksonville.
Hoarding talent at a difficult-to-staff job, the Patriots made Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith the NFL's third- and fourth-highest-paid tight ends. The Pats could go from getting zilch from their post-Gronk tight end corps to having the NFL's top 1-2 punch here. New England also features Damien Harris, who quietly averaged five yards per carry as the team's full-time starter last year. These players will need to compensate for an understaffed wideout room. The Pats misread the receiver market re: Nelson Agholor's $11M-per-year deal and have gotten little from N'Keal Harry. They look needy here for a third straight season.
Washington paid up for gadget player-turned-contract-year climber Curtis Samuel, but the $11.5M-per-year receiver has a history with both Ron Rivera and college teammate Terry McLaurin. Samuel, buy-low slot cog Adam Humphries and third-rounder Dyami Brown (two 20-YPC seasons at North Carolina) should provide an upgrade on Washington's Sims tandem and aid burgeoning-star McLaurin. Logan Thomas has successfully transitioned from quarterback to tight end, adding juice to this now-Ryan Fitzpatrick-dependent equation. Antonio Gibson still battling a toe injury from 2020 is troublesome, however.
Submitting offers to many notable free agent wide receivers, the Ravens had trouble convincing veterans their offense works for outside pass catchers. But their new hires -- Sammy Watkins and first-rounder Rashod Bateman -- do complement undersized burner Marquise Brown. Lamar Jackson has not proven he can consistently involve wideouts outside the numbers, but the Ravens do have high-second-tier tight end, Mark Andrews. This receiving crew is the best Andrews has played with, and it should also aid a run game housing breakthrough candidate J.K. Dobbins (6.0 YPC in 2020).
The Cardinals made an effort to help DeAndre Hopkins, drafting electric threat Rondale Moore in Round 2 and
overpaying signing A.J. Green. The former is 5-foot-7 and the latter is four years removed from his last quality season. Nuk's support may still fall heavily on Christian Kirk, an inconsistent target but a former second-rounder entering a contract year. Arizona has an efficient ball-carrying weapon in Chase Edmonds (217 career carries); he likely will lead a backfield that also includes oft-injured James Conner. For most of their desert existence, the Cards have bothered little with tight ends.
Perhaps because of Jon Gruden's other personnel struggles, the Raiders' Darren Waller move does not receive sufficient credit. The ex-Ravens wideout/suspension recipient has become a monster in the passing game, helping Derek Carr post back-to-back QBR top-11 marks. Josh Jacobs and, interestingly, Kenyan Drake represent solid run-game support. Las Vegas needs to better utilize Henry Ruggs this season; 43 targets in 12 starts made for a woeful rookie year. John Brown should help the bottom line, even at 31, and 6-3 Bryan Edwards surfacing in Year 2 would be important to a quarterback that may have less time to throw in 2021.
Since his mid-2010s run of bad luck, Keenan Allen has largely stayed healthy. This Chargers setup looks vulnerable if the 29-year-old separation maven goes down. Mike Williams generally runs into injury trouble, but the occasionally productive ex-top-10 pick is going into a contract year. Sub-4.4-second 40 performers Jalen Guyton and Tyron Johnson fared well in a national TV spot without Allen or Williams, but that may merely speak to Justin Herbert's immense talent. The Bolts are thin at running back, placing importance on keeping Austin Ekeler in pads after his injury-limited 2020. Jared Cook is now on Team 6.
Jaylen Waddle rated Mac Jones as a superior thrower to Tua Tagovailoa, but the No. 6 overall pick will try to lift the embattled southpaw to start his career. Miami acquiring Waddle and Will Fuller could transform its aerial attack, though Fuller is coming off a PED ban, and provide a better picture of Tua's capabilities. Mike Gesicki quietly finished fourth among tight ends in receiving yards (703) last season. While the Dolphins have the more important skill spots staffed, their backfield -- featuring seventh-rounder Myles Gaskin and ex-Ram Malcolm Brown -- doubles as one of the league's weaker ball-carrying battalions.
Three members of the Bengals' 2021 offense were on the field for the LSU-Clemson NCAA title game. Ja'Marr Chase joining the Tee Higgins-Tyler Boyd tandem gives Joe Burrow one of the NFL's best wideout trios. Viewed as the most well-rounded of this year's receiver prospects, Chase dominated as a sophomore and will be tasked with filling a WR1 role A.J. Green had not truly held since 2017. The 6-foot-4 Higgins nearly reached 1,000 yards as a rookie, despite Burrow's injury. This trio will help a Bengals team lacking a proven tight end and one counting on Joe Mixon to return to health after losing longtime RB2 Giovani Bernard.
Same as it ever was. The Saints, who made Emmanuel Sanders a one-and-done for cap purposes, are rolling with Michael Thomas, Alvin Kamara, and unproven staffers. While Thomas' injuries and his punching of fast-rising NFL troublemaker C.J. Gardner-Johnson hurt the 2020 Saints, the two-time All-Pro racked up 3,130 receiving yards from 2018-19 with a declining Drew Brees. Kamara is the NFL's most versatile playmaker, and Latavius Murray has delivered two 600-plus-yard rushing seasons as his backup. Beyond this, New Orleans' Jameis Winston- Taysom Hill duo lacks reliable options. Hill could also help Winston as a chain-mover.
In the time since Aaron Rodgers' 2017 shoulder injury, Davante Adams has become an all-around dynamo. Rodgers' WR1 caught 18 TD passes -- the third-most ever in a season -- last year and did it in 14 games. The Packers have tried to supplement him with bargain-bin pass catchers, but Rodgers made it work with Allen Lazard and deep-threat Marquez Valdes-Scantling. Ex-Clemson slot Amari Rodgers is now in the mix too. UDFA Robert Tonyan caught 11 TDs, while dual-threat back Aaron Jones deservedly cashed in this year. What will this group look like without the reigning MVP? The Packers may be poised to find out.
Perhaps no skill array matches Denver's depth. The Broncos have three first- or second-round wideouts, and WR4 Tim Patrick proved useful filling in for the injured Courtland Sutton in 2020 with a 742-yard, drop-less season. Sutton is back and set to team with intriguing playmakers Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler. Tight end Noah Fant has elite tight end speed and may be on the verge of a tier jump, while the Broncos have Melvin Gordon and ex-North Carolina tackle-shedding maven Javonte Williams in the backfield. Now on Team No. 5, Teddy Bridgewater has an interesting opportunity.
While showing the sizable gap between elite sprinters and swift-footed NFL receivers, D.K. Metcalf brings a rare skill set to the gridiron. The 230-pound freak broke Steve Largent's single-season Seahawks record, with 1,303 yards. Coming off consecutive 1,000-yard slates, Tyler Lockett is overqualified to be labeled a sidekick . Metcalf complements the 5-foot-10 Lockett and new 5-9 long-range target D'Wayne Eskridge, and it will be interesting to see if the Seahawks coax consistency from Gerald Everett in a way the Rams could not. Depth behind Chris Carson is an issue; it will be a high-stakes season for post-ACL-tear Rashaad Penny.
Sam Darnold should have a skill corps that surpasses Bridgewater's (and far outflanks what Cam Newton largely worked with), with Christian McCaffrey back from the high ankle sprain that cost him 13 games. A rest year for Run CMC actually benefits Carolina's 2021 outfit. Robby Anderson took a step forward last year, and D.J. Moore was one of just five wideouts to post 1,100-yard seasons in 2019 and '20. OC Joe Brady also has ex-LSU pupil Terrace Marshall, the Tigers' No. 1 2020 target after Chase's opt-out, to integrate after Curtis Samuel's exit. Major upside here.
The Vikings make it easy on fantasy execs, funneling their attack through two impact wide receivers and one of the league's best backs. Justin Jefferson's 1,400-yard season -- the most by a rookie in 60 years -- made Minnesota's Stefon Diggs trade a win-win, and Adam Thielen, at 31, should have at least one more prime season in him. Dalvin Cook's nearly 1,918 scrimmage yards surpassed all but one Adrian Peterson season. Irv Smith Jr. displayed interesting potential as a backup, and the ex-Alabama pass-catcher should have a bigger pie piece after the Vikings cut Kyle Rudolph.
While the Steelers drafting a first-round running back despite questions across their O-line can be questioned, their wide receiver intel cannot. Pittsburgh's wideout-development factory has four ready-made models for Ben Roethlisberger's age-39 season, with JuJu Smith-Schuster surprisingly back in the picture. In the WR4 role as a rookie and lacking an offseason, Chase Claypool showed a scary ceiling. Diontae Johnson should hang onto more passes this year, while James Washington would start on most teams. Hopefully, the Steelers' new-look line can give Najee Harris enough running lanes.
Stefon Diggs showed the value a dominant wide receiver can provide for a young quarterback, and the Bills may be even better at this position in 2021. This could be Emmanuel Sanders' last ride as a wideout regular, at 34, but he has a better track record than John Brown. Diggs, Sanders, Cole Beasley, and Gabriel Davis -- seemingly primed for a bigger workload after being a frequent Josh Allen recurring actor -- form the NFL's best receiver quartet. The Bills can add to this with an easily makeable Zach Ertz trade. Buffalo needs more from its Devin Singletary-Zack Moss duo, however.
We have not seen the 49ers' optimal skill contingent since Super Bowl LIV. Injuries to just about every key party (and its conductor) wrecked the 2020 season. Jimmy Garoppolo's last Bay Area ride, which should feature Trey Lance taking the keys at some point, stands to include the league's best all-around tight end, the expected yards-after-catch metric's ruler, one of the league's fastest backs, and a first-round pick who was not around for that Chiefs loss. San Francisco's George Kittle-Deebo Samuel-Raheem Mostert-Brandon Aiyuk quartet rivals almost anyone's, and backfield reinforcements are coming. Can these chain-movers stay healthy?
If Julio Jones has one more great season in him, Ryan Tannehill's setup will somehow improve despite Corey Davis and Jonnu Smith's exits. Jones' run from 2014-19 is on another continent compared to everyone else, statistically speaking, in that span. And the future Hall of Famer can probably teach monster-in-training A.J. Brown some tricks. Tennessee's physically imposing M.O. obviously centers on Derrick Henry -- he of 3,567 rushing yards and 35 TDs since 2019 -- but after 378 carries last year, the wrecking-ball back needs rest in this 17-game season. Darrynton Evans needs to take a step forward after basically a redshirt year.
Sean McVay transformed the Rams in 2017 , taking them from the NFL's worst offense to its top-scoring attack. If Matthew Stafford can lift the Rams' established skill troops to greater heights, the Buccaneers will be tested. Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp are going into Year 5 as a pair, and the Rams have DeSean Jackson and two second-round receivers ( Van Jefferson, tiny Tutu Atwell) behind them. This provides tight end Tyler Higbee with stellar support, and Los Angeles could present one of the NFL's top backfield tandems in Cam Akers and Darrell Henderson. This group's progress will be a pivotal 2021 storyline.
Dak Prescott's ankle malady ruined a historic pace, but the Cowboys have the same cars in their snazzy garage. CeeDee Lamb should be further along compared to where he was when Dak last played, and he nearly hit 1,000 yards despite Ben DiNucci and Garrett Gilbert factoring into last year's QB equation. The Cowboys have two other 1,000-yard wideouts -- Amari Cooper and 2022 free agent Michael Gallup -- and preferred tight end Dalton Schultz missed most of last year. Ezekiel Elliott's form will be worth monitoring, but the two-time rushing champ will only be 26 this season. And Tony Pollard is a high-end backup.
Putting himself on the Canton radar, Travis Kelce has not missed a game due to injury since undergoing microfracture surgery in 2013. Kelce will turn 32 this year, so his run in the tight end stratosphere may be winding down. For now, he and Tyreek Hill have no peers in terms of aerial 1-2 punches. Hill has avoided scandals since his second one in 2019, and the NFL's premier speed demon has missed just four games due to injury in five seasons. Clyde Edwards-Helaire and whoever the Chiefs tab at WR2 post-Sammy Watkins will continue to ride shotgun to the duo that has helped the team to two Super Bowls.
The Giants drop off this tier if Saquon Barkley is not fully recovered, but Daniel Jones has a full closet of flashy options in his third season. Kenny Golladay quickly seized WR1 duties in Detroit, from two established vets, and first-round pick Kadarius Toney provides a boom-or-bust -- for this year, at least -- gadget. Sterling Shepard moving back to the slot will help unshackle him, while Darius Slayton has performed well in spurts. Kyle Rudolph figures to aid in the red zone, helping contract-year starter Evan Engram. Jones, OC Jason Garrett, and a suspect O-line could foil this group's hopes, but few can beat its talent and depth.
Even if Odell Beckham Jr. does not recapture his early-career superstardom, the Browns' efficient offense hinges on one of the best backfields in NFL history. Cleveland's Nick Chubb-Kareem Hunt pair combined for 2,362 scrimmage yards and 23 TDs last season. Hunt should be an RB1 somewhere else, but his ugly Kansas City exit routed him to his hometown. The Browns have capitalized. Jarvis Landry now has two more Pro Bowls than OBJ (five); both are just 28. Also deep at tight end, the Browns have no holes in their skill corps, as strange as that sounds. If Beckham can bounce back, the group could explore new territory.
Although Tom Brady's Hall of Fame-bound mercenaries are now 32 and 33, respectively, Rob Gronkowski and Antonio Brown could be better in 2021 after spending time in Bruce Arians' offense. Brady's age will be an issue at some point soon, but the cliff has somehow not emerged yet. The Bucs retained their soon-to-be 44-year-old QB's incredible arsenal, which still houses Scotty Miller as a WR4. Tampa Bay may have the best receiving corps, the best tight end stable -- which has O.J. Howard back -- and a strong backfield. Giovani Bernard is now part of that stable. The Bucs are running a clinic on how to build around a title window.
Sam Robinson is a Kansas City, Mo.-based writer who mostly writes about the NFL. He has covered sports for nearly 10 years. Boxing, the Royals and Pandora stations featuring female rock protagonists are some of his go-tos. Occasionally interesting tweets @SRobinson25.