Analysis

Most complete NFL teams heading into 2021 season? Browns, Buccaneers lead the pack

A lot of NFL teams have spectacular units: an explosive offense, a shutdown defense, efficient kickers/returners on special teams. But it's rare for one organization to simultaneously excel in all three phases of the game.

Today, I'm spotlighting the rosters that currently look like the NFL's best from top to bottom. There are certainly arguments to be made for teams like the Baltimore Ravens and Arizona Cardinals, but other candidates caught my eye. After all, this is my list. Here is my ranking of the top five most complete teams in 2021:

Rank
1
Cleveland Browns
Cleveland Browns

The Browns have been building a respectable roster for several years now. But heading into the 2021 season, they aren't just good -- they're loaded with Pro Bowl talent from top to bottom, featuring multiple high-level players at almost every position group. The offensive success no doubt stems from an O-line that returns all five starters from a unit that Pro Football Focus ranked first in pass blocking and second in run blocking in 2020. Cleveland's offense also returns all of its star power -- a quarterback in Baker Mayfield who made a big leap in Year 3 to help the Browns earn a playoff berth and first-round win, the league's top running back duo in Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt and a talented receiving corps that gets Odell Beckham Jr. back after an injury cut his 2020 short. This offense should be even better in Kevin Stefanski's second season after having a full offseason to understand and expand the playbook. 

 

Despite an All-Pro campaign from Myles Garrett, the defense had its struggles in 2020, but general manager Andrew Berry did a great job addressing those areas in free agency and the draft. The Garrett-led defensive front got a boost on the open market with the additions of Jadeveon Clowney, Takk McKinley and Malik Jackson. But the unit that should see the most improvement this fall is the secondary. Cleveland signed two key members of last year's top-ranked Rams defense (S John Johnson and CB Troy Hill) and drafted CB Greg Newsome in the first round. Greedy Williams could also add depth with a healthy return from a shoulder injury that kept him out all of last season. Another big addition for the Browns this offseason: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, a second-round linebacker most evaluators considered a first-round talent. JOK is a versatile player who could impact any defense immediately. 


Cleveland's special teams unit was a liability at times last season. The return game was subpar, while Cody Parkey was solid but didn't attempt a field goal of 50 yards or more. This entire unit should improve with the addition of several key players, including returner JoJo Natson. And now there's a budding kicking competition between Parkey, who re-signed with the Browns on a one-year contract in March, and Chase McLaughlin.


Even with questions on special teams, these aren't the same old Browns. Those days are over.

Rank
2
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tampa Bay has enjoyed a remarkable offseason -- maybe the best offseason we've seen from a defending Super Bowl champion, at least in the salary cap era. The fact that the Buccaneers were able to retain their entire title-winning starting lineup is unheard of, especially when you consider three players in particular (Shaq Barrett, Chris Godwin and Lavonte David) were set for massive paydays in free agency. Hats off to Jason Licht for keeping this group together, and to Bruce Arians for getting everyone to buy in. 


This roster starts with Tom Brady. Although he's no longer at his peak at 43 years old (he'll be 44 in August), his attention to detail and the way he demands perfection from his supporting cast is incomparable. Of course, he does have one of the best receiving corps in the league with Godwin, Mike Evans and Antonio Brown, along with a bevy of talented tight ends in Rob Gronkowski, O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate. This loaded passing attack -- behind an offensive line that features second-year tackle Tristan Wirfs, who's on his way to becoming the best lineman in the NFL -- makes up for a run game that finished tied for 28th in the league last season, averaging just 94.9 rush yards per game. I'd expect the ground game to improve in 2021, considering Tampa's sheer depth at the RB position. If guys want the rock, they're going to have to earn it.


Defensively, Todd Bowles has stars at every level with Barrett, Jason Pierre-Paul and Vita Vea impacting the game in a big way up front. Adding Joe Tryon with the final pick in April's first round only keeps this pass-rush unit more formidable. Then there's David and Devin White, perhaps the best linebacking duo in the league, manning the middle in front of a young secondary full of promise.


There is no weakness on this roster, as Tampa boasts a respectable special teams unit. Ryan Succop had his best performance last season since 2016, converting more than 90 percent of his field-goal and extra-point attempts, which earned him a new three-year deal.

Rank
3
Kansas City Chiefs
Kansas City Chiefs

There's no question that the strength of this roster is Patrick Mahomes and his pass-catching weapons (Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, Demarcus Robinson, Mecole Hardman, Clyde Edwards-Helaire) -- even though he may be working with less talent in 2021 than he has in the past. But you know what they say: The better the quarterback, the more weaknesses (in this case depth at the skill positions) he can cover up. One soft spot he couldn't overcome on the biggest stage back in February was the offensive line, and the moves Brett Veach made this offseason convey he's not about to let his MVP quarterback run for his life with a Lombardi on the line again. The Chiefs went out and signed high-priced free agent guard Joe Thuney, traded for left tackle Orlando Brown and also inked center Austin Blythe and guard Kyle Long, who came out of retirement but has since injured his lower leg and could miss training camp. Oh, and K.C. drafted center Creed Humphrey in the second round. They also return guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, who is up for the ESPN 2021 Muhammad Ali Sports Humanitarian Award after opting out of the 2020 season to serve on the front lines during the COVID-19 pandemic. You have to applaud Veach's aggressive approach to fixing the O-line. 


The Chiefs have plenty of pieces on defense, with free-agent signee Jarran Reed joining Frank Clark, Chris Jones and Taco Charlton up front. (Clark, though, could be facing league discipline after a pair of gun arrests in recent months.) Their selection of Nick Bolton in the second round helps shore up the linebacker position, while the Tyrann Mathieu-led secondary is a solid unit capable of making stops and forcing turnovers. I can't continue on without mentioning second-year DB L'Jarius Sneed. A fourth-round pick, Sneed was one of the biggest steals of last year's draft as a talented defender with legitimate Pro Bowl potential.


The Chiefs also have some of the more known players on special teams in kicker Harrison Butker and Hardman, a Pro Bowl returner in 2019. While Hardman was the team's primary punt returner last year, he eventually took a backseat to Byron Pringle on kickoffs. Pringle averaged 32.4 yards per return and returned one 102 yards for a touchdown in Week 7 against the Denver Broncos. Butker finished the 2020 season with the highest field-goal percentage of his career (92.6), making all four of his attempts of 50-plus yards. However, he completed a career-low 88.9 percent of PATs. He'll obviously need to button that up, but he's still one of the more reliable kickers in the NFL.

Rank
4
Los Angeles Chargers
Los Angeles Chargers

The Chargers are a sneaky group loaded with talent, but they're often overlooked because of the team's subpar record, which stems from poor game management and decision-making, as well as injuries. Justin Herbert, the 2020 Offensive Rookie of the Year, has the potential to become a top-five quarterback if he continues to progress under first-year Chargers OC Joe Lombardi. The young gunslinger elevated this offense in 2020 despite a shortened offseason. Thrown into the fire in Week 2 -- thanks to a botched pregame injection on Tyrod Taylor -- Herbert quickly built a rapport with his pass catchers. Heading into the 2021 campaign, promising rookie receiver Josh Palmer should get plenty of action alongside veteran studs Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, while Jared Cook and third-round selection Tre' McKitty aim to fill the void left by Hunter Henry's free agency departure. Getting Austin Ekeler back healthy is huge, and the free-agent additions to the offensive line (All-Pro center Corey Linsley, tackle Matt Feiler) should pay off in a big way this fall. The most notable move up front, though, was the drafting of tackle Rashawn Slater at No. 13 overall. This was one of the best picks in terms of value and need in the entire draft. I had Slater graded as my top offensive lineman in this class. 


The Chargers might not have the big names on defense outside of Joey Bosa and Derwin James, but this is a solid unit from top to bottom. Linval Joseph demands attention inside, linebacker Kenneth Murray should build off his solid rookie campaign, and the secondary has the personnel to be special (even after losing Casey Hayward). I loved the Asante Samuel Jr. pick in this year's draft, too, as he'll add even more depth to a unit that's tasked with containing Patrick Mahomes twice a year. Brandon Staley went from one uber-talented defense to another, and only had to drive down the freeway to do it.


Special teams haven't been a Bolts strength over the last several years, and kicker Michael Badgley's struggles in 2020 -- in addition to Ty Long having a league-high three blocked punts -- only brought more attention to this unit. Badgley had his worst campaign in three seasons with the Chargers, ranking second in the league with 12 missed kicks. He re-signed with the team this offseason, but must beat out the competition in second-year pro Tristan Vizcaino and undrafted rookie Alex Kessman.

Rank
5
Buffalo Bills
Buffalo Bills

Having a star quarterback is a predictable theme in this list, and the Bills fit right in. Josh Allen's across-the-board improvement over his three pro seasons is remarkable, and now he's fresh off a campaign in which he established himself as a legit MVP candidate while guiding Buffalo to the AFC Championship Game. His ability to be effective outside of the pocket while minimizing errant throws and poor decisions has taken this offense to the next level. Brandon Beane and Sean McDermott deserve plenty of credit for how they've built the offense around him. Allen sits behind one of the league's top O-lines, a blue-collar group that brings back all of its starters in 2021, and has a cavalcade of pass-catching weapons at his disposal in Stefon Diggs, Cole Beasley, Gabriel Davis, Dawson Knox and newly signed Emmanuel Sanders. The biggest question on the offense -- and maybe on this entire roster -- is the running back position, which is more about quantity than quality at this point, but Allen's cannon of an arm and running ability take pressure off the group.


The Bills bring back their defensive core after re-signing Matt Milano in free agency, and the pass rush got a much-needed boost in the draft in Gregory Rousseau and Boogie Basham -- a great pair of versatile players to learn from veterans Mario Addison and Jerry Hughes. A marginal defensive tackle group -- Ed Oliver's first two seasons haven't lived up to expectations -- hurts Buffalo's overall value in my list. However, the secondary shouldn't miss a step, as it returns its top playmakers, including All-Pro cornerback Tre'Davious White and safeties Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer. After slipping to No. 14 in total defense last season (Buffalo's lowest ranking since 2017, McDermott's first year on the job), the Bills look poised to field to a top-10 unit once again in 2021. 


Bills kicker Tyler Bass left some points on the field last season by converting just 82.4 percent of field-goal attempts -- going 18-for-24 on attempts of 30-plus yards -- but he was reliable on PATs with a 96.6 conversion rate. With the departure of Andre Roberts, Isaiah McKenzie could step into a full-time returner role. Last season, the gadget weapon took his lone punt return 84 yards for a touchdown and averaged 16 yards over two kick returns. Whoever ends up returning kicks will have some big shoes to fill, as Roberts, who signed with Houston this offseason, led all kick returners (min. 20 returns) in yards per return (30.0) in 2020.

Follow Marc Ross on Twitter.

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