Preseason NFL Power Rankings: 1-32 poll, plus who’s on the hot seat for every team

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Preseason is a time for looking ahead, but as we unleash the latest version of the 2021 NFL Power Rankings, we’re looking way ahead. That means looking into the future to see whose status could be in jeopardy if they don’t step it up this season. Whether it’s judging who might be looking for a new team next year, who might be in danger of a demotion or who might lose their NFL employment for good, we’re breaking out the hot seat.

We’re not just talking about players, though there are plenty who qualify to be on the hot seat — especially at quarterback. (There are 11 QBs listed below, including a certain defending league MVP.) The hot seat is an across-the-board phenomenon that involves coaches (young and old) who need to win to keep their jobs and general managers who need to see some of their draft picks start to pan out so they can make more in the future.

How we rank: Our power panel — a group of more than 80 writers, editors and TV personalities — evaluates how teams stack up throughout the season.

Jump to:
ARI | ATL | BAL | BUF | CAR | CHI | CIN
CLE | DAL | DEN | DET | GB | HOU | IND
JAX | KC | LV | LAC | LAR | MIA | MIN
NE | NO | NYG | NYJ | PHI | PIT | SF
SEA | TB | TEN | WSH

Post-draft ranking: 1

Person on the hot seat: WR Mecole Hardman

The Chiefs showed a lot of faith in the third-year player, declining to bring in a veteran receiver or draft one in an early round to replace Sammy Watkins. Hardman is first in line to replace Watkins and needs to justify that faith. If he doesn’t respond with a consistent season, one without all the highs and lows of the past two seasons, look for the Chiefs to acquire a receiver next year to join Tyreek Hill as a regular. — Adam Teicher


Post-draft ranking: 2

Person on the hot seat: QB Ryan Griffin

The writing was already on the wall when the Bucs selected Kyle Trask in the second round of the 2021 NFL draft, but Griffin had still maintained his spot as the third-best quarterback on the team in terms of rep hierarchy. However, Griffin threw two interceptions in the Bucs’ preseason opener against the Bengals. Others who have been in Bruce Arians’ doghouse include running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn and wide receiver Tyler Johnson, but both have responded with strong performances since getting called out. — Jenna Laine


Post-draft ranking: 3

Person on the hot seat: TE Dawson Knox

The Bills are undeniably high on Knox after a pedestrian 2020 season, declining to make major moves for a starting tight end outside of signing Jacob Hollister. But GM Brandon Beane said this offseason that the team needs more out of its tight ends, and Knox, the leader of the bunch, has the talent to provide it. He has struggled with drops over the past two seasons but worked with a “hand-eye” trainer this offseason to alleviate the issue. — Marcel Louis-Jacques


Post-draft ranking: 5

Person on the hot seat: QB Aaron Rodgers

As absurd as it might seem on the surface, yes, the reigning NFL MVP is on the hot seat. He put himself there — perhaps unwittingly — with the way he approached this offseason and essentially tried to leverage control over his future. If he wants this to be his last dance with the Packers, then it would help his legacy to go out a winner. Anything short of a Super Bowl might tarnish his legacy, at least among some Packers loyalists. — Rob Demovsky


Post-draft ranking: 4

Person on the hot seat: C Brian Allen

When the Rams opened training camp, Allen appeared to be second in a competition with Austin Corbett to earn the starting job at center. But midway through camp, coach Sean McVay bumped Allen to starter, and now the fourth-year pro must prove he can excel on a team that has Super Bowl aspirations. A fourth-round pick in 2018, Allen is entering the final season of his rookie contract and does not have an extension in place. He started at center in 2019 and had uneven results in nine games before suffering a season-ending knee injury, and he did not play in 2020. — Lindsey Thiry


Post-draft ranking: 6

Person on the hot seat: C Bradley Bozeman

Bozeman is the new starter at center, which was the hottest seat on the team last year. The Ravens struggled with two centers last season — Matt Skura and Patrick Mekari — with poor snaps to Lamar Jackson in the pistol formation. Now Bozeman tries to stabilize that position in a contract year. After starting the past two years at left guard, Bozeman feels center is his natural position because he played there at Alabama. How well Bozeman plays this season will likely determine his future in Baltimore. — Jamison Hensley

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Field Yates gives his analysis of Baltimore TE Mark Andrews for fantasy.


Post-draft ranking: 7

Person on the hot seat: WR Odell Beckham Jr.

The Browns proved last season they can move the ball — and win — without OBJ. Now the pressure is on Beckham to prove he can elevate Cleveland’s ceiling — and its offense — to another level. Beckham has struggled to find a chemistry with QB Baker Mayfield since arriving two years ago. He has been limited by injuries as well, including 2020’s season-ending ACL tear. But OBJ appears healthy again. And all eyes will be watching to see if the three-time Pro Bowler can make his mark in what figures to be a make-or-break season for his Cleveland tenure. — Jake Trotter


Post-draft ranking: 8

Person on the hot seat: RB Rashaad Penny

It’s now or never for Penny in Seattle as the No. 27 overall pick in 2018 enters the last year of his rookie deal. The Seahawks declined to pick up his fifth-year option this spring because of his underwhelming production in three injury-plagued seasons. While the talk entering camp was about how fit Penny looked and the one-two punch he could form with Chris Carson, Penny has since missed time with a thigh injury. Carson just signed a two-year deal, but his own injury history means Penny could have chances to showcase himself to potential suitors. He’ll have to stay healthy to capitalize on those opportunities. — Brady Henderson


Post-draft ranking: 10

Person on the hot seat: OLB Harold Landry III

The Titans expected last season to be a breakout year for Landry after he finished with nine sacks in 2019. Landry worked to add a complementary move to his speed rush, but it didn’t get results and his production decreased to 5.5 sacks. New outside linebackers coach Ryan Crow isn’t allowing Landry to use his patented speed rush in camp, which is challenging him to develop another way to get to the QB. This is a contract year for Landry, so he needs to prove himself worthy of an extension. — Turron Davenport


Post-draft ranking: 9

Person on the hot seat: QB Jimmy Garoppolo

Realistically, this decision was made once the Niners traded up to No. 3 and drafted QB Trey Lance. But Garoppolo is still clinging to his starting job, and the longer he does that — and stays healthy — the better it will bode for his future. It’s unlikely he could do enough to stay beyond this year, but either way, this is a huge season from a career standpoint. Garoppolo is under contract for just one more season after this, but a big year would undoubtedly increase his trade value and could put him in position to land another sizable contract as a starter somewhere else. — Nick Wagoner


Post-draft ranking: 15

Person on the hot seat: TE Eric Ebron

Signed in free agency a year ago, Ebron was brought in to be a red zone threat. But he struggled with drops last season, he wasn’t a significant help as a blocker and his production — five touchdowns and 558 yards — didn’t meet expectations. The Steelers took Penn State tight end Pat Freiermuth in the second round, and he has been a standout in camp as a receiver and a blocker. Ebron has been sidelined with elbow soreness, giving Freiermuth more first-team reps. The rookie could not only push Ebron, an unrestricted free agent after this season, for a starting job but also could bump him off the roster. — Brooke Pryor


Post-draft ranking: 16

Person on the hot seat: LB Jaylon Smith

Smith led the Cowboys in tackles the past two seasons but didn’t make many impactful plays. His $7.2 million base salary is guaranteed for this season, but his playing time is not. The Cowboys know they need to get 2021 No. 12 overall pick Micah Parsons on the field a ton. Leighton Vander Esch has had a productive training camp and is back at his preferred weakside spot. Free-agent pickup Keanu Neal has performed well, too. All of it could leave Smith out in the cold. If Smith does not regain his form of a few seasons ago, this could be his last year with the Cowboys. — Todd Archer

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Ryan Clark says that the pressure is on Ezekiel Elliott to produce for the Cowboys this season.


Post-draft ranking: 11

Person on the hot seat: Coach Kliff Kingsbury

This is a make-or-break season for Kingsbury. Arizona has made steady improvement the past two seasons, going from three wins to five in 2019 — Kingsbury’s first season — and from five to eight last season. But Arizona didn’t make the playoffs last season for the fifth straight year, going into a tailspin after starting 5-2, thanks in part to an injury to quarterback Kyler Murray. If Arizona doesn’t make the playoffs in 2021 for any reason besides major injuries, it is hard to think that Kingsbury will be the coach in 2022. — Josh Weinfuss


Post-draft ranking: 12

Person on the hot seat: K Rodrigo Blankenship

Blankenship’s seat has been warm since he missed a field goal in a three-point playoff loss to Buffalo to cap off a rookie season in which he lacked consistency — five missed field goals and two missed extra points. The Colts made it clear that Blankenship didn’t have the job locked up when they signed veteran Eddy Pineiro to compete with him during the offseason. — Mike Wells


Post-draft ranking: 17

Person on the hot seat: RB Justin Jackson

Jackson is the Chargers’ No. 4 running back at the moment, and few see the team keeping all four. He has been productive when healthy in his first three seasons but finds himself fighting for time with starter Austin Ekeler, second-year man Joshua Kelley and rookie Larry Rountree III. Jackson’s future with the Chargers looks uncertain, and he could be the victim of a numbers game. — Shelley Smith


Post-draft ranking: 14

Person on the hot seat: QB Tua Tagovailoa

This is low-hanging fruit, sure, but Tagovailoa is absolutely under pressure to perform in his second NFL season. The team around him is built for success, and although Miami’s offensive line still has room for improvement, the Dolphins expect to see a more confident, aggressive quarterback in 2021. He gets somewhat of a pass for last season, coming off a debilitating hip injury and entering the league in a pandemic-ravaged offseason. But in a year when the Dolphins should expect to make the playoffs, Tagovailoa must rise to the occasion. — Marcel Louis-Jacques


Post-draft ranking: 19

Person on the hot seat: QB Cam Newton

Since the Patriots selected Mac Jones No. 15 overall, it has been more a matter of when rather than if Jones becomes the starting QB. If Newton can turn a full offseason in the Patriots’ system into better on-field results during the regular season, he could hold off the passing of the torch until 2022. The pressure is on. — Mike Reiss


Post-draft ranking: 13

People on the hot seat: GM Rick Spielman and coach Mike Zimmer

Both Spielman and Zimmer are in the first year of three-year contract extensions, but that job security could wane if the Vikings don’t make the playoffs. The team has not missed the postseason in back-to-back years since Zimmer arrived in 2014, and the head coach’s influence was apparent with the defensive additions the team made this offseason. Right now, the outlook for the 2021 draft class isn’t great. Of the 11 players Spielman drafted, only one — fourth-round running back/kickoff returner Kene Nwangwu — looks to make a considerable contribution early on. That doesn’t bode well for Spielman, who needs linemen Christian Darrisaw (first round) and Wyatt Davis (third round) to pan out. — Courtney Cronin


Post-draft ranking: 18

People on the hot seat: QBs Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill

Both QBs have a great opportunity to inherit a playoff offense in the wake of Drew Brees’ retirement. And both have shown enough growth through three weeks of training camp to prove they deserve a legitimate shot at an NFL starting gig. But the runner-up in this battle will face a very uncertain future. Both are scheduled to be free agents after this season, and it’s hard to imagine either one of them will find an opportunity this good on the open market next year. — Mike Triplett

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Field Yates and Matthew Berry examine Taysom Hill’s propensity to run the ball and how it could affect Alvin Kamara.


Post-draft ranking: 20

Person on the hot seat: QB Ryan Fitzpatrick

He’s the clear starter ahead of Taylor Heinicke and Kyle Allen, but Fitzpatrick — with his ninth franchise — remains a quarterback with much to prove. Washington harbors playoff aspirations, and he has never led a team to the postseason in 16 seasons. Fitzpatrick is on a one-year contract, so if it doesn’t work out, he’ll be gone — but if it does, Washington can re-sign him, draft a quarterback to groom and be set for 2022 and beyond. Fitzpatrick has impressed new teammates with his knowledge and communication skills, and the receivers like that he’ll be aggressive. Turnovers have been his nemesis, but if he limits them, then he’ll jump off the hot seat — until next year. — John Keim


Post-draft ranking: 22

Person on the hot seat: GM Mike Mayock

If it’s true that draft classes cannot be fairly judged for three years, the same should be said for first-time general managers who used to be on TV as a draft expert, yes? Yes. Mayock may not have final say on personnel decisions — that’s coach Jon Gruden’s department — but his fingerprints are all over the past three draft classes, which have yielded more head-scratching picks at their draft spots (Clelin Ferrell, Johnathan Abram, Henry Ruggs III, Damon Arnette, Lynn Bowden Jr., Alex Leatherwood) than bona fide Pro Bowlers (Josh Jacobs). Fair or not, the spotlight is on Mayock in his third season as Raiders GM. — Paul Gutierrez


Post-draft ranking: 24

Person on the hot seat: OLB Robert Quinn

The Bears badly need Quinn to have an impactful year rushing the passer opposite Khalil Mack. Quinn’s first season in Chicago was forgettable. After signing a big free-agent deal that included $30 million in guarantees, the veteran had just two sacks. The Bears want to see a return on their investment from Quinn. So far, not so good. Quinn has been sidelined with back issues for a good portion of training camp. — Jeff Dickerson


Post-draft ranking: 21

Person on the hot seat: QB Matt Ryan

This is a transitional year for everyone in the organization. Head coach Arthur Smith and general manager Terry Fontenot are in their first seasons and will have time to construct the team in their images. The biggest question is what to do at quarterback. If Ryan leads the Falcons to success, he is probably around until the end of his contract in 2023. But if things falter, Smith and Fontenot might elect to start anew. It’s a tricky line to walk, but the 2021 season could dictate the path of the Falcons for the next four to six seasons. — Michael Rothstein


Post-draft ranking: 23

Person on the hot seat: GM Dave Gettleman

Fifteen wins in three seasons since he took over says it all. The Giants need to win some games in order for Gettleman to feel safe. A fourth straight losing year would not reflect well on the 70-year-old general manager, especially if the offensive line and/or quarterback were among the primary reasons for the team’s failure. Gettleman’s legacy ultimately rests on the success of Daniel Jones and an O-line that was supposed to be his top priority when he took the job four years ago. Both remain massive question marks for this organization. — Jordan Raanan


Post-draft ranking: 25

Person on the hot seat: QB Sam Darnold

The hot seat could have belonged to coach Matt Rhule, who put his faith in Darnold after the quarterback’s three failed seasons with the Jets when he could have taken Justin Fields or Mac Jones with the eighth pick. The belief was that Darnold and corner Jaycee Horn — the Panthers’ pick at No. 8 — offered more value. Fortunately for Rhule, he’s in the second season of a seven-year deal, so he isn’t likely to be fired if Darnold turns out to be mistake. But if Darnold fails in 2021, Carolina will be in the quarterback market again — even though it picked up Darnold’s fifth-year option. — David Newton


Post-draft ranking: 26

Person on the hot seat: Coach Vic Fangio

The third-year coach is respected throughout the league, and defensive coordinators routinely say how much they use what he does in certain matchup situations. His players respect him, but Fangio needs wins. He’s 0-for-7 in September with the Broncos, and the team has not been able to recover from those starts. Yes, 2020 cratered with a long list of injuries to some of the team’s best players, and the Broncos famously lost all their quarterbacks for a game last season due to COVID-19 protocols, but the roster has been upgraded. With first-year general manager George Paton in firm control, Fangio has to win now. — Jeff Legwold


Post-draft ranking: 27

Person on the hot seat: QB Jalen Hurts

This isn’t exactly fair to the 23-year-old Hurts, who is entering his second season and has shown promise as a player and leader during his brief time as the front man in Philadelphia. But the Eagles are in a transition period and have upward of three first-round picks in the 2022 NFL draft, assets they can use to acquire their QB of the future if they’re not sold on Hurts. In other words, he’s already facing a prove-it year. — Tim McManus

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Matthew Berry and Field Yates examine the final four games of the rookie seasons for Lamar Jackson and Jalen Hurts.


Post-draft ranking: 29

Person on the hot seat: Coach Zac Taylor

All the pressure is on Taylor, who has just six wins in his first two seasons. He entered at the bottom of the rebuilding project, but now the roster has been retooled through the draft and an unprecedented spending spree for the franchise. That leaves it up to Taylor to make the most of those resources, as the front office has acknowledged the urgency needed to find more wins. It’s time for the Bengals to see if the rebuild is finally complete. — Ben Baby


Post-draft ranking: 30

People on the hot seat: OTs Cam Robinson and Jawaan Taylor

Second-round pick Walker Little has had a very good training camp, and the Jaguars have been training him at both tackle spots, though he has mainly been working at left tackle. Robinson and Taylor struggled last year, combining to give up 27 sacks (including a league-high 18 by Taylor), per ESPN Stats & Information. The Jaguars opted to franchise Robinson and not pursue a veteran in free agency, but Little is pushing him. Right now, the plan is for Little to be the swing tackle, but if either Robinson or Taylor falters, Little could move quickly into the starting lineup. — Michael DiRocco


Post-draft ranking: 28

Person on the hot seat: TE Chris Herndon

The fourth-year tight end has regressed since showing promise as a rookie in 2018. He’s off to a slow start in his third offensive system in four years, raising questions about his role. In the preseason opener, he got only seven reps with the starters, compared with 15 for fellow tight end Tyler Kroft. Herndon would be in serious jeopardy if the Jets were stacked at tight end, but that is hardly the case. Still, with a new coaching staff, anything is possible. — Rich Cimini


Post-draft ranking: 31

Person on the hot seat: WR Breshad Perriman

The 2021 season will be huge for Perriman, who agreed to a one-year deal in the offseason with the same franchise for which his father, Brett, starred in the 1990s. There is a big opportunity for Breshad, but he must seize the moment as a former first-round pick. He isn’t necessarily in jeopardy of not making the team, but his long-term future could be at stake depending on how this year pans out. — Eric Woodyard


Post-draft ranking: 32

Person on the hot seat: RB David Johnson

Johnson’s spot on the Texans’ roster is safe for this season, but his future in the NFL likely hinges on having a productive year. The Texans clearly want Johnson on the team in 2021, as they doubled his guaranteed money when they restructured his contract this offseason, but going into the season, they don’t expect him to play nearly as much as he did in 2020. Johnson, who is making $4.7 million in 2021, is a free agent after this season. — Sarah Barshop



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