Top 10 NFL quarterbacks going into 2020

By Kieran Patterson (@DCCYTFootball)

Every season there is one position valued above all others, a position that’s scrutinized and picked apart more than any other…the quarterback.

With the position being so varied between teams, players styles and schemes I think it would be interesting to take a look at the top 10 signal callers in the league, break them down and see who is going to be exciting to watch going into the 2020 season.


Ryan Tannehill, Tennessee Titans


I know off the bat I’m going to get flack for this. I know it. Not only was the former number 8 overall pick a complete bust in Miami, he was also injury prone. Every season he played the full 16 games he threw double digit interceptions and struggled to help the Dolphins get anywhere.

So what changed in Tennessee?

Better coaching? More motivation? Better culture? Regardless of what changed at the Titans, it worked. In the 12 games he took the field (only started 10) he put up 2,742 passing yards, 22 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. He had 4 less touchdowns than Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes while only starting 10 games!

Tennessee Titans' Ryan Tannehill named best QB at 4 types of throws
Jim Brown – USA Today Sports

Behind a dynamic hardnosed offence that includes man mountain Derrick Henry and dynamic Wide Receivers like AJ Brown, Cory Davis and Adam Humphries this offence has all the power it needs to take them deep into the playoffs again. Possibly even a Superbowl appearance.

This isn’t just me jumping onto a player who had a hot season, this is me telling you that the Titans are dangerous and can beat any team they face off against this year. Good luck stopping them.


Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers


You might be asking why I have a future all of famer this far down this list. Well it’s not only his lack of weapons but actually his recent productivity.

Last year Rodgers posted a respectable 4,002 passing yards, 26 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. Couple that with the fact that not only is he missing weapons he’s not getting any younger. The Packers realized this and that’s why they brought in Jordan Love.

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Now my personal opinions on Rodgers aside he is in fact a future first ballot Hall of Famer and an all time great. But I think we see him start to wind his career down now. With little to no offensive weapons to help him move the ball I don’t see Rodgers living up to any of the hype we see around him and the Packers every year.

Sure he’s one of the best…but he can’t win games alone anymore.


Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco 49er’s


Now many people might call Patriots bias due to who drafted Jimmy Garoppolo and his history with the Patriots but if you’re familiar with my work then you know that I know what I’m talking about (I’m pretty good at this whole football lark).

The 49er’s are 19-5 with Jimmy G under center since he suited up in red and gold and 3-10 without him…now you tell me he’s not a difference maker. People love to hate on Jimmy G but watching him play is sensational, his release is one of the fastest in the league, he can make throws downfield, he makes fast reads and isn’t afraid to take a hit.

Jimmy Garoppolo back to throwing after torn ACL
Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Last year Jimmy racked up 3,978 passing yards for 27 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Oh no he’s terrible despite having a stat line almost identical to Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson and Aaron Rodgers. With just a few more interceptions. Yeah tell me he’s bad again.

Despite coming up short in the Superbowl I think it would be foolish to not expect this even stronger 49er’s team to not tear it up next year and make another run at the Superbowl behind this super-powered offense.  


Deshaun Watson, Houston Texans


After Deandre Hopkins was traded to the Arizona Cardinals in the off-season there was rumors that Deshaun Watson was looking from a way to escape Bill O’Brian too and the Patriots got mentioned…to say I was excited was an understatement.

Watson is unquestionably one of the most exciting signal callers in the league he’s a great athlete with a really accurate arm and despite his O-Line failing to keep him upright most of the time he still manages to make plays and as long as he’s on the field the Texans are still in the game. Watson has taken the Texans to playoffs for 2 of his 3 seasons, the exception being his rookie year.

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Last year he had a great season but unfortunately fell to the eventual Superbowl champions the Kansas City Chiefs. He went into the playoffs with  3,852 passing yards, 26 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He also tallied 413 ground yards taking 7 touchdowns in with his feet.

Despite losing Hopkins, Watson still has a strong defense and competent offensive pieces to aid him going into the 2020 season which will be crucial in helping the Texans to their 3 playoffs berth in as many years.

Hopefully Watson wears a visor this year so he doesn’t nearly lose an eye while escaping the pocket.


Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints


When it was reported that Drew Brees has already signed a TV deal ahead of the 2020 season I think that was almost a confirmation that this was his last 2 years as a player.

Despite playing at a high level his whole career an MVP award has always alluded this man, not that he hasn’t deserved it. The future hall of famer has one last shot at the MVP and he’s in a great position to do it with the team around him.

Drew Brees responds to Donald Trump on national anthem: 'I realize ...
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With a pro-bowl supporting cast including players like Alvin Kamara, Micheal Thomas and Taysom Hill it’s not hard to picture this Saints team making it back to the playoffs. Last season Brees unfortunately missed 5 games due to a thumb injury he picked up in week 2 against the rams. After back up Teddy Bridgewater came in and went 5-0 in his absence Brees returned and managed to finish with 2,079 passing yards, 27 Touchdowns and 4 interceptions.

Despite struggling against the Vikings in the playoffs in the past 3 years Brees has all the tools to finally make it to the big game and despite Tom Brady, Russell Wilson and Jimmy G all being in the NFC it’s not smart money to bet against this man.


Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks


Now if I had to pick one quarterback to extend a play as long as possible until someone gets open, I’d pick Russell Wilson.

For pretty much his whole career Wilson had played behind one of the worst O-Lines in history, no matter what he’s tried to make plays and subsequently pulled off some of the most jaw dropping plays in NFL history.

Seahawks' Russell Wilson using Google to prep for Pittsburgh ...
Joshua Bessex

A true leader of men Wilson would earn a place on this list for almost every year he’s been in the NFL. Last season the Seahawks signal caller threw for 4,110 yards, 31 touchdowns and 5 interceptions taking the Seahawks to the playoffs for the 7th time in Wilson’s 8 year tenure with the Seahawks.

It seems a this point a guarantee that Wilson and the Seahawks will see post season action, with stiff competition now in the NFC how far can Wilson take his men?

Time will tell, but with this man as a signal caller the Seahawks won’t go down without a fight.


Tom Brady, Tampa Bay Buccaneers


Tom Brady will be 43 years old when the NFL season kicks off this year. 43. Just let that sink in for a moment.

So after one of his worst seasons in 2019 Brady decided to leave for pastures new in Tampa Bay. Whether it was him butting heads with Bill Belichick or him feeling under appreciated by the team he spent the last 20 years of his life leading, Brady left the Patriots. He’s walked into a great situation in Tampa. Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, OJ Howards, JF3 and oh…Rob Gronkowski are just a few reasons why Tampa Bay is looking to be the best team in the NFC this year.

At 43 Brady will 100% slow down, it’s just nature but if that Tampa Bay pocket gives him 2-3 seconds every snap then no doubt they’re dangerous. Now last year on a team plagued with injuries, young players making mistakes and an O-Line made out of paper Brady managed to throw for 4,057 yards, 24 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. Pretty good considering.

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So now put him on a team with Gronk who’s in the conversation for best tight end ever, Mike Evans a rough and ready wide receiver who can out muscle anyone covering and high points balls like a man twice his size, Chris Godwin who can take the top off a secondary and might be one of the fastest guys in the league and the little mentioned JF3 a Taysom Hill type player with 4.19 speed and agility to match. SCARY.

I think if this Tampa Bay team doesn’t make the playoffs it will be the biggest shock the league has ever seen. They’re almost a lock for the Superbowl and Brady vs Mahomes would be one of the most fun matchups ever. This Tampa Bay team is going to be fun to watch with the GOAT at the helm.


Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills


If it wasn’t for Lamar Jackson winning the MVP then Josh Allen would’ve been number 2 instead of here. Josh Allen is my favorite quarterback in the league and that’s coming from a Patriots fan. He’s got a bazooka for an arm, he’s athletic and he’s tough.

Josh Allen has come into a long snakebitten franchise and completely changed the energy. In his Rookie season he played in 12 games throwing for 2,074 yards for 10 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He also added a further 631 rushing yards and 8 rushing touchdowns. Oh and he hurdled over Anthony Barr against the Vikings. That was pretty great.

ESPN highlights where Bills QB Josh Allen needs to improve
John Munson / AP

In his sophomore season he really improved starting in all 16 games putting up 3,089 passing yards, 20 touchdowns and 9 interceptions while adding 510 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns.

Between his huge frame and cannon arm he really does look like a movie quarterback in every sense of the word. He came into the league with so much potential and only last year did he scratch the surface in terms of what he’s really capable of. The Bills unfortunately dropped out of the playoffs early another one and done situation.

Look for them to make a deep run this year taking on the likes of the Ravens, Titans and Chiefs along the way. If they can beat a team like the Chiefs in the playoffs I’d say they’d be a safe bet to win the big game come February.


Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens


Honestly the number 2 on this list was hotly contested for a whole host of reasons but reigning MVP Lamar Jackson just edged it.

Showing massive improvements in his passing game during his sophomore season Jackson was one of the most electric playmakers in the league. With a mix of great throws and ridiculous speed and agility on the ground Jackson was a true duel threat.

The year he was drafted I was on record saying he might be one of the best quarterbacks we’ve seen in a long time and 100% the best quarterback in his class. Not only did he stick to his guns when teams wanted him to work out as receiver he showed true improvement in his passing game taking his completion percentage from 58.2% in his rookie season to 66.1% in his sophomore year.

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In his first season as a starter (starting all 16 games) he put up 3,127 passing yards, 36 touchdowns and 6 interceptions plus his staggering 1,206 rushing yards and 7 rushing touchdowns there’s a reason why he won MVP. While he does look like he struggles in the playoffs it clear that Jackson is a true duel threat and more than a handful for any NFL defense.

Expect the Ravens to appear in the playoffs again this year as they finally try as Lamar finally tries to break the one and done showings of his first 2 years.

He is on the cover of Madden though…but then again Patrick Mahomes may have ended the Madden curse for good


Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs


Former MVP and reigning Superbowl champion, Patrick Mahomes might be the best quarterback in the league right now.

The former 2017 first round pick sat his full rookie season, which is something I actually recommend for most quarterbacks coming into the league.

Fresh from blinding stat lines at Texas Tech one of which was throwing for 734 yards in a game (819 combined yards) against Oklahoma. It was clear Mahomes had talent and the Chiefs coaching staff realized sitting him behind a veteran like Alex Smith was a great idea.

It paid off.

In his first season as a starter Mahomes threw for 5,097 yards, 50 touchdowns and 12 interceptions on the road to an MVP award and AFC championship game. In his first year as a starter…that’s crazy. His stats saw a slight drop in 2019 where he threw for 4,031 yards, 26 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. He did go on to win the Superbowl though so I’m sure he’s not too upset.

Super Bowl 2020: Several Super Bowl records set or tied as Chiefs ...
Robert Deutsch / USA Today Sports

Mahomes looks to be the best quarterback in the league for years to come, he’s got a cannon for an arm, great feet and awareness which allow him to extend plays and he understands football. If you could pick the best quarterback in the league at this exact moment, it’s Mahomes.

I can’t wait to see how the rest of his career plays out. Honestly I feel like it’s a given that the Chiefs at least appear in the AFC Championship game behind one of the best offences the NFL has ever seen, appearing to have broke the Madden curse with a Superbowl win and Superbowl MVP award to boot.

Preventing Perfection

By Lawrence Vos (@F10YRetro and @NFLFANINENGLAND

Back in the 1980s the NFC conference dominated the NFL landscape, winning eight of ten Super Bowls, with only the Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders twice wrestling away the Vince Lombardi Trophy from the decade’s superior half of the league. 

During the 80s two NFC teams achieved a feat that has to this day never been equalled. The achievement was combining for 15 regular season wins and winning a Super Bowl. 

Remarkably the other four teams to have won 15 regular season games in a 16 game schedule (introduced out of interest as late as 1978) failed to win, and in some cases even reach the big dance.

Picture credit: stmedia.startribune.com

They were as follows: 

  • 1998 Minnesota Vikings (lost NFC championship to the Atlanta Falcons) 
  • 2004 Pittsburgh Steelers (lost AFC championship to the New England Patriots)
  • 2011 Green Bay Packers (lost NFC Divisional playoff to the New York Giants)
  • 2015 Carolina Panthers (lost Super Bowl to Denver Broncos) 

Before anyone throws their arms up and says what about the 2007 Patriots and the 1972 Dolphins (both who went undefeated in the regular season) please note the small print in this piece, as neither team won 15 regular season games or went on to win the Super Bowl.

We all know the 1972 Miami Dolphins remain the only team to stay undefeated in an entire NFL regular and post-season, but they won a combined 17 games, not 19, and the 2007 New England Patriots indeed went 18-0 (16-0 in the regular season) but came unstuck against Eli Manning in the Super Bowl as the Giants came away with all the marbles. 

Now I’m not going to explore the triumphs of the 49ers in Super Bowl XIX (1984 season) or Da Bearz in Super Bowl XX (1985 season), instead it’s time to turn the tables and dig a little deeper into the two games that prevented perfection for these two mid-80s powerhouses. 


1984  


Picture credit: history.wordpress.com

For a world yet to be saturated with mobile/cell phones it was somewhat ironic that Stevie Wonder’s classic ‘I just called to say I love you’ was atop the U.S. billboard charts in the middle of October 1984. Over in blighty the chart topping song was Freedom by Wham, and American football coverage was in it’s infancy on Channel 4. 

The reigning NFL champions, the Los Angeles Raiders, fresh from their second Super Bowl win in four seasons, were lighting up the 1984 season early on going 4-0. That streak came to a grinding halt in Week 5 as a 4 yard third period rushing td from Denver Broncos running back Gerald Willhite was the gamebreaker in a 13-16 loss. 

Over in the NFC the San Francisco 49ers were drawing the attention of West Coast reporters, but maybe not the rest of the NFLs journalists quite yet. 

After four weeks the Niners were undefeated, the first time the franchise had gone 4-0 since 1952, and it was their defense that was garnishing all of the headlines as they streaked to 6-0. In fact between weeks 4-6 the Gold Rush defense, led by punishing defensive back Ronnie Lott, the team allowed a measly 24 points. 

This was a team nobly led by Joe Montana, but when he was injured prior to a week 4 contest against the Eagles in Philly it was up to backup Matt Cavanaugh to come in and guide the team to a statement 21-9 victory. Cavanaugh threw three touchdown passes on the day, one to RB Roger Craig. 

With the Niners at 6-0 and cruising they started to smell the polish on the Lombardi Trophy, and facing a mediocre 3-3 Pittsburgh Steelers team at home was not an opponent the team feared. Arguably the 49ers were looking to a Week 9 road game in L.A. as their next quality rival.

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The 1984 Steelers were not a special team if you used the regular season as a metric to judge their success. They finished 9-7, barely winning the AFC Central over the 8-8 Cincinnati Bengals. 

They did astonish the heavily favourited Denver Broncos in the Divisional playoffs before getting punched, kicked and knocked out by the Miami Dolphins in the AFC championship. 

Coming from Pennsylvania to California in October would likely have been welcomed by Steelers players and fans alike, but their expectations would not have matched their optimism for some sunshine. 

Playing a 6-0 team that won a Super Bowl just three seasons before would not have been welcomed, and the Steelers were a completely different team from the one that dominated the previous decade and won four Vince Lombardi trophies.  


Dateline – October 14 1984, Candlestick Park, California. 


Picture credit: steelers gab.com

Having come back from a one week sojourn on the injury list 49ers QB Joe Montana tossed five td’s and zero interceptions in Week 5 and 6 wins, the game against Pittsburgh was seen as a tough but imminently winnable game. 

With an average roster the Steelers were remaining competitive in the main because of the winning mentality of their head coach Chuck Knoll, in his 16th consecutive year at the helm. Knoll had gained four Super Bowl wins in the 70s and would go on to coach the Steelers all the way until 1991. 

To the shock of home fans the Steelers took a 10-0 lead, behind a first quarter Rich Erenberg 2 yard run and a Gary Anderson field goal. (Side note: It was the very same Gary Anderson that missed a game-winning field goal in the 1998 NFC championship for the 16-1 Vikings.) 

Much like he did in Super Bowl XVI, 49ers QB Joe Montana opened his team’s scoring with a 7-yard run to bring the deficit down to three at half-time. 

The third quarter was a 0 point slugfest, and it was the 49ers who took the lead in the fourth quarter courtesy of a Wendell Tyler run. Ray Wersching booted the extra-point. Tyler certainly enjoyed 1984 as he made his only Pro-Bowl appearance in 10 seasons as a pro. 

The lead wasn’t held for long by the home team as the erratic Steelers QB Mark Malone connected with veteran WR John Stallworth on a six yard pass with under three and a half minutes left. Anderson added the point after.

Unable to counter the 49ers gave the ball back to Pittsburgh and Gary Anderson converted his second field-goal of the game – a dinky 21 yard attempt, that turned out to be the winning score for the black and gold. 

Frank Pollard – Picture credit: Rick Stewart/Getty Images

The tale of the tape revealed that it was the Steelers running game that was the difference, holding the ball for almost 35 minutes thanks to 47 attempts. 11th round 1980 draft pick Frank Pollard led the team with 105 yards on 24 carries. QB Mark Malone was a paltry 11-18 for 156 yards, but his touchdown pass was the only aerial td on the day. Joe Montana had 241 yards in the air and 29 on the ground in the defeat. 

The three-point loss turned out to be the 49ers single blemish on a remarkable season. The following week, a 34-21 win over the Houston Oilers, was the only other time in the whole season the Niners allowed over 17 points in regular or post-season. 

Joe Montana went on to lift the Super Bowl and become the game’s MVP, beating the NFL’s Most Valuable Player, Miami Dolphins QB Dan Marino. Steelers QB Mark Malone, who prior to the 1984 season hadn’t registered a single victory, finished his career with 23 wins, and one playoff victory (in 1984) over John Elway’s Broncos. 


1985


Picture credit: edible ink.wordpress.com

Saying out loud or even typing the words ‘the 1985 Bears’ conjures up an almost mythical sense of nostalgia, evoking memories of Fridge-Mania, Walter Payton and Jim McMahon baring his pasty white posterior to a flying television crew. 

Arguably the ultimate defense to ever be assembled, and without doubt the single greatest group of personalities ever to be grouped together on an NFL roster, the Chicago Bears, led by the combination of the outlandish head coach Mike Ditka and the defensive savant Buddy Ryan, began the season hotter than an exploding volcano in a heatwave. 

From September until the end of November the team reeled off twelve consecutive wins, few being solid, but most being spectacular displays of defensive prowess, including weeks 7 to 12 where they allowed just 29 points in six games. Just absorb that – 29 points in six games – that’s under 5 points a game in that stretch. 


Dateline – Monday December 2 1985,  Orange Bowl, Miami, Florida.


Picture caption: hardwoodandfields.blogspot.com

Travelling east to Miami was not a common occurrence for the Bears, who were making only their fourth trip to play the Dolphins in their rich history. It was a fixture they had never previously won.

The Dolphins boasted a respectable 8-4 record after 12 weeks, and an unblemished 5-0 home record in the tropical Florida sunshine, the four losses coming on their travels to Texas, New York, Michigan and Massachusetts.

In a year that saw the cinematic release of ‘Rambo: First Blood Part II’ it was the Dolphins that drew the red stuff first, making the initial cut into the thigh of the Bears, Dan Marino hitting WR Nat Moore on a 33 yard passing score to set an early tone. The score, on the Dolphins first offensive possession saw Marino exploit Bears safety Gary Fencik.

The Bears, led by QB Steve Fuller, starting in place of an injured Jim McMahon, replied straight away, a bomb to Willie Gault helped move downfield quickly, and Fuller carried the rock himself on a 1 yard dive to tie up the game. 

Still in the first quarter the Dolphins got to double digits, kicker Fuad Reveiz blasting a 47 yard field goal. With the wind in Miami’s sails they opened up the second quarter scoring with a rushing score from 6thround rookie Ron Daventport. The drive again aided by Nat Moore, who was lining up all over the field, including reps at tight-end. 

Bears kicker Kevin Butler got the deficit down to 7, before Miami’s death by a thousand cuts offense, led by the arm of Dan Marino, the coaching guile of Don Shula and the outstanding blocking of the Dolphins offensive line, produced two late second period scores. 

Nat Moore – Picture credit: pinterest.com

Before blinking the Bears found themselves down by 21 at the half as Miami completed a 21 point quarter. Davenport breaking the plane for his second one yard score, and WR Nat Moore capping off one of the single greatest halves of football in his career with a 6-yard TD grab. 

Chicago fought back in the third quarter, backup QB Steve Fuller scoring twice in the third quarter, either side of Dan Marino’s third TD pass, a 43-yard laser caught by Mark Clayton, but that was all the Monsters of the Midway could muster. 

A scoreless fourth quarter gave Bears fans time to realise that the team that had gone undefeated in the same regular and post-season had just prevented Chicago from pursuing perfection. 

Everything that could go wrong in the game did for Chicago, including a blocked punt,  a muffed kick-off and a pass deflected by DE Dan Hampton that ended up landing in a Dolphins players hands for a score. 

Much like the 1984 49ers, the lone defeat was enough of a splash of icy water on the faces of the Bears players and coaches alike to refocus the team, as Chicago went on to crush their next six opponents, including the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XX. 

The Bears and Dolphins were clear favourites to reach the Super Bowl in 1985, but it was division rivals the New England Patriots, who finished third in the AFC East that season but still scraped into the playoffs, who became the AFC representatives. 

In the AFC championship the Patriots held the ball just under 40 minutes, rushing for 255 yards, and effectively keeping Dan Marion on the side-lines. Marino’s stat line was an ugly 41% completion rate. 

Super Bowl XX was a dominating display by the Bears, but even Mike Ditka regrets not having Hall of Fame RB Walter Payton score on the day, in the 46-10 mauling. 


Conclusion 


Picture credit: vsaauctions.com

Going 15-1 in the regular season is absolutely no guarantee of winning a Super Bowl. Only one in three teams who complete a 16 game regular season with one cross in their schedule have ended up winning the big dance. 

The 1984 49ers and the 1985 Chicago Bears are historically great teams, the Bears dominating in terms of popularity and misty-eyed greatness.

Both teams played each other in 1984 and 1985, the team that won the Super Bowl winning beating their fellow NFC foe on the way to victory. 

The best 15-1 Super Bowl winners? I’ll be controversial here and give the overall nod to the 84 49ers, simply because they were the first to go 15-1 and win a Super Bowl in the same season. The team they beat in the NFC Championship to get to Super Bowl – none other than the Chicago Bears! 

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F10Y Retro Feature – Tom Rathman – The original #44

by Lawrence Vos (@F10YRetro and @NFLFANINENGLAND)

When the San Francisco 49ers scored their first touchdown in Super Bowl 54, it wasn’t mega-stud TE George Kittle, red-hot RB Raheem Mostert or even mid-season acquisition WR Emmanuel Sanders who broke the plane of the end-zone, it was a guy with a name that features two z’s, and we are not talking Buzz Lightyear. 

Photo credit: NBCSports.com

Kyle Juszczyk the premier fullback (FB) in the NFL was the scorer of that TD. Resplendent in a #44 shirt Juszczyk could have gone on to score a second, but even if he had it would not have won the game for his beloved 49ers. 

Exactly 30 years prior to Juszczyk’s heroics the 49ers were in the Super Bowl, their fourth, and coincidentally their fullback wore #44 too. In fact that #44, a Mr Thomas Dean Rathman, went on to eclipse Juszczyk’s feat by scoring not one, but two touchdowns of his own.

The game, Super Bowl XXIV, ended up at the biggest blowout in Super Bowl history as the 49ers destroyed the John Elway led Denver Broncos 55-10. 

Turned out for Tom Rathman that in his 14 career playoff games he never again had two scores, and never topped the 11 bone-shattering carries he was given by Hall of Fame QB Joe Montana on that remarkable day in New Orleans. 

So who exactly was Tom Rathman? 


Photo credit: ksnblocal4.com

Born in 1962 in Grand Islands, Nebraska, a city of under 50,000 residents, Tom went to his local high school, Grand Island Senior High. This was an honour he shared with another boy who went on to become the 10th heaviest recorded human being in history. 

Rathman was an excellent high-jumper, once clearing a distance of 6 feet 7 inches, but he was most at home in high-school running the football for the Islanders, so much so he earned a place at the University of Nebraska.

Rathman joined the Cornhuskers in 1981, but only saw limited action as a freshman, gaining 20 yards on four carries. A power running team, Nebraska’s backfield in the early 80s was led by Roger Craig (more to come later) and Mike Rozier, who went on to play in the USFL and then the NFL for 8 seasons. 

After redshirting in 1982 Rathman benefitted from a fortunate proverbial bounce of the ball a year later when the team’s starting fullback Doug Wilkening quit the team, allowing Tom to avoid the possibility of being converted to a tight-end. 

The 1983 Cornhuskers had a remarkable season, Rathman was lead blocker for Mike Rozier, who as a senior rushed for 2,148 yards and went on to win the Heisman Trophy. Nebraska reached the College National Championship Game, losing 31-30 to ‘The U’ – the Miami Hurricanes. 

Rathman averaged 5.5 a carry that season on his rare handoffs and scored his first college TD (a catch), and like most fullbacks he spent most of the season blocking, in fact in the College Championship he didn’t touch the ball. 

With Rozier gone Rathman entered his junior season in 1984, and again his carries went up, gaining 381 yards on 75 carries with 4 scores, but 0 catches. 

Photo credit: Richard Voges/Nebraska Football

The Cornhuskers lost two games, but won the Sugar Bowl against LSU, running the ball 59 times for 280 yards. Rathman had 2 carries for 8 yards in the victory. 

In his senior season (1985) Rathman’s draft stock shot up, and he was billed as the top fullback in the country after gaining 881 yards, at 7.5 a pop, plus 8 scores. Nebraska lost in the Fiesta Bowl to Michigan to cap off a 9-3 season. Behind the blunt force trauma blocking by Rathman, Nebraska ran for 304 yards in the Bowl game, Tom himself gaining 47 yards in the showcase contest. 

RATHMAN REACHES THE NFL

The 49ers 1986 Draft was one of the best negotiated and choreographed masterpieces of tactical execution in NFL history. 

San Francisco head coach Bill Walsh, who had won Super Bowls following the 1981 and 1984 season was reeling after a 1985 Wild-Card loss to the Giants. 

Walsh wanted to come out of the ’86 draft with an improved secondary, a devastating pass-rusher and blocking fullback, to lead the way for Roger Craig, who was fresh from becoming the first RB in NFL history to have 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving in a regular season. 

Moving around the draft like a chess grandmaster Walsh traded away an acquired first round pick to the Buffalo Bills to pile up picks in the middle rounds, including the first pick of the 3rd round. With that 56th pick the 49ers selected Tom Rathman. 

Despite only watching footage of Rathman once Coach Walsh said:

“I saw Rathman take a screen pass, break two or three tackles physically and run 60 yards. He was an absolutely terrific blocker, and the thing we’d never had was the massive blocking fullback. I knew Rathman could be that player.”

The 49ers draft class of 1986 included DE Charles Hayley (4th Rd) who is now in the Hall of Fame, CBs Tim McKyer (12 season is the NFL) and Don Griffin (11 seasons in the NFL), WR John Taylor, and T Steve Wallace. Between just these six (including Rathman) their careers combined for 18 Super Bowl winners rings. 

As a rookie Rathman suffered from some training camp fumbles, and feared he would be cut, however by the time his nine-year NFL career was concluded he only lost the pigskin 7 times. 

Picture credit: 49ers.com

Now reunited with former college backfield team-mate Roger Craig, Rathman was going to become a significant feature in Bill Walsh’s final three seasons coaching. 

Tom’s first two NFL seasons ended in crushing playoff defeats, firstly a devastating 49-3 loss to the Giants and then in 1987 a huge shock defeat to the visiting Minnesota Vikings. 

In his first two seasons Rathman ran for just under 400 yards, and although big and bruising, it was found he had soft hands, catching 43 passes in a West Coast offense that would not simply carry a blocking back. He missed 4 games in 1987, but would not miss a start over the next four years. 

The 1988 49ers finished the regular season a rather middling 10-6, but went on to win their third Vince Lombard Trophy, a second win over the Bengals. Rathman led the way for Roger Craig to go All Pro with 1,502 rushing yards – Craig’s career best. 

Photo credit: 49ers.pressdemocrat.com

Rathman himself had 427 yards rushing and 42 catches for just under 400 yards in ’88. He touched the ball six times for 39 yards in Super Bowl XXIII, and narrowly missed scoring a second quarter rushing touchdown, a David Fulcher tackle preventing end-zone glory. 

Following the emotional retirement of Coach Walsh, the 1989 49ers, under recently promoted defensive coordinator George Seifert, and offensive coordinator Mike Holmgren, gained revenge against the Vikings from 1987, blowing them away in the playoffs en-route to their fourth Super Bowl title, a blow out beatdown of the Denver Broncos.

Rathman led all NFC running backs with 73 catches, but just one TD, adding a second score on the ground alongside 305 rushing yards. Tom had 11 carries in the Super Bowl and turned them into two scores. 

His first came in the second quarter, a 1 yard dive to cap a 14 play drive where he caught three Joe Montana passes for 39 yards, as well as converting a 4th and 1 at the Broncos 3-yard line. 

Photo credit: Focus On Sport, Getty Images

Rathman’s second score in the final period extended the 49ers lead to 36, a three yard dive, in what would turn out to be his final touch of a ball in a Super Bowl. 

An unsung hero, Rathman went on to play a further 55 games for the 49ers, winning a grand total of 7 division titles in 8 seasons. Whilst his trophy cabinet was bulging as a valued team-mate he never gained any individual recognition in his playing days, failing to make a Pro Bowl roster or an All Pro team. 

Rathman played his final season in 1994 for Art Shell and the Los Angeles Raiders, failing to find paydirt for the only time in his 9 seasons in the NFL. 

What happened after Rathman retired? 

Having sacrificed his body for almost a decade Rathman hung up his helmet and immediately went into coaching, spending 1995-96 as an RB coach at high school level and then OC for the Menlo College Oaks in California. 

The 49ers came calling in 1997 and Rathman was reunited with the red and gold colours as RB coach, a role he served until 2002. Rathman coached RB Garrison Hearst to three 1,000+ yard rushing seasons, including a team record 1,570 in 1998, to eclipse Roger Craig’s 1988 team record (where Rathman paved the way). 

Photo credit: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Following two seasons out of the league due to a potentially career ending medical condition Hearst returned in 2001, and thanks in part to Rathman became the NFL Comeback Player of the Year. 

Rathman accompanied 49ers coach Steve Marriuchi (yes that crazy one on NFL Network) to Michigan and the Detroit Lions in 2003. With minimal talent Rathman helped RB Kevin Jones have his only 1,000 yard season as a rookie in 2004. 

Missing the West Coast Rathman spent 2006-08 with the Raiders, still as RB coach. With an equally inept roster as the Lions Rathman helped Huggy Bear’s (character from the original Starsky and Hutch TV series) son to lead the Raiders in rushing three seasons in a row, including his only 1,000 yard season (2007). 

Rathman then moved up the road and back to the 49ers for a second stint with the 49ers, from 2009-16, surviving four head-coaching moves (Mike Singletary, Jim Harbaugh, Jim Tomsula and Chip Kelly). 

In the 2012 season Rathman coached in his first Super Bowl, a 3-point loss to the Baltimore Ravens. This was Frank Gore’s only Super Bowl and Rathman coached Gore to 110 yards rushing and a touchdown to lead all players in the game. 

Photo credit: Matt Kryger/Indy Star

Following the arrival of Kyle Shanahan in 2017 Rathman was cut loose by the Niners, and after a year out he was hired as RB coach by the Indianapolis Colts just under two years ago. Colts RB Marlon Mack had his first 1,000 yard season under Rathman’s tuition in 2019. 

2020 and beyond for Rathman 

Having spent 30 seasons playing and coaching in the NFL, 23 for the 49ers, it’s time for Rathman to move into a more senior coaching role, as a head coach or offensive coordinator at the very least. 

Maybe Rathman has been offered promotions but just loves to coach running backs, somewhat symbolic of the sacrificial role he had on the field, one where his reward was not so much glory, rather executing a pancake block or helping to find a tiny crease for a star half-back to get that crucial first-down. 

Millennial 49ers fans will only recognise Kyle Juszczyk as their favourite #44, but before him, paving the way for his team-mates, putting his body on the line against octopus-armed speed rushers, sledgehammer safeties and missile focused middle linebackers was San Francisco’s original #44 – Tom Rathman. 

Photo credit: 49ers.com

I’ll leave you with a recent intense quote from Coach Rathman, who was inducted to the 49ers Hall of Fame in 2017 (above):

“If you have the ball in your hands, you’re not only carrying yourself and your family, but the whole organization. The entire franchise is in your hands.” 

Follow Lawrence at @F10yRetro on Twitter for more blasts from the NFL past.

Season in Review – Kansas City Chiefs

By Sean Tyler (@SeanTylerUK)

As we get to the end of our Season in Review series, we finally get to the story with the fairy tale ending. Here’s the lowdown on the 2019 campaign that saw the Kansas City Chiefs lift the Lombardi Trophy for the first time in 50 years.


ENTERING THE SEASON


2018 had been a successful year for the Chiefs, winning the AFC West and getting within a coin toss of reaching the Super Bowl. An overtime loss in the AFC Championship game to the Patriots may have ended differently if Patrick Mahomes had started with the ball instead of Tom Brady…

In the offseason, KC released two of their most established players in linebacker Justin Houston (now with the Colts) and safety Eric Berry (still a free agent). They also shipped out newly acquired receiver Sammie Coates, now starring in the XFL for the Houston Roughnecks.

DE Dee Ford was franchise tagged before being traded to the San Francisco 49ers, while Frank ‘The Shark’ Clark came in from Seattle. He was joined by running back Carlos Hyde, corner Bashaud Breeland and the Honey Badger himself, safety Tyrann Mathieu.

Joe Robbins/Getty Images

All this trade action left KC with no first-round option in the 2019 NFL Draft. Nonetheless, with their first selection (#56 overall), the Chiefs acquired WR/return specialist Mecole Hardman from Georgia, who went on to the Pro Bowl in his first season. Their other Round 2 choice, safety Juan Thornhill, formed a solid partnership with Mathieu.

During pre-season, Chiefs fans wouldn’t have had a sense of what was to come. Of course, they beat the Bengals but lost the other three warm-up games to the Steelers, 49ers and Packers.


DURING THE SEASON


In 2019 – the Chiefs’ 50th NFL campaign, 60th in total and seventh under Andy Reid as Head Coach – they shot out of the gate with four straight wins. As well as going to Jacksonville (three receiving TDs for Sammy Watkins), Oakland (four TD passes by Patrick Mahomes in the second quarter) and Detroit (three rushing touchdowns), they dished out a rare L to the much-fancied Baltimore Ravens at Arrowhead Stadium. One of Hardman’s two receiving plays that day was an 83-yard score during which he was clocked at 21.7 mph.


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But given how the season started and finished, it’s hard to believe that KC then went on a run of just two wins in six. Their 19-13 loss to the Colts ended a 25-game streak of scoring at least 25 points, and they also fell at home to the Texans (having only 20 minutes of possession didn’t help). Matt Moore stepped in at QB after Mahomes injured his knee in a TNF win over Denver, and started two home games: a loss to the Packers and a win against Minnesota, decided by a Harrison Butker FG with three seconds left.

Mahomes returned with a bang to face the Titans, attempting 50 passes, racking up 446 passing yards and nailing three TD throws, including a 63-yarder to Hardman, but it still ended in defeat. Luckily, it was their last one of the campaign.

James Kenney/Associated Press

Through their sticky patch, KC had stumbled from a confident 4-0 to an unsteady 6-4. But from Week 11 onwards – when the Chiefs dispatched the LA Chargers in Mexico City – they became the model of perfection, recording nine wins in a row, including The Big One in Miami on 2 February. 

After their bye week, the Kansas City defence really stepped it up, keeping Oakland to just nine points and running a blocked kick back to the house with the final play. After a 23-16 win over the Patriots, which sealed the AFC West crown for the fourth time on the bounce, the Chiefs held both the Broncos and Bears to a single field goal in easy wins. 

In Week 17, Hardman returned a kick-off for a 104-yard TD in another victory against the Chargers, earning them the No.2 seed in the AFC and a free pass through to the Divisional Round of the playoffs. The Chiefs battled back from 24-0 down after 15 minutes to see off the Houston Texans 51-31, with Mahomes throwing three of his five TDs passes to TE Travis Kelce, and Damien Williams running in two more. Their points tally was a KC postseason record, it sealed back-to-back playoff wins for the first time in franchise history and it was first time any team has scored TDs on seven consecutive drives since 1970, when Kansas last won the Super Bowl. (Oooh, spooky…)

Jeff Curry

The Chiefs hosted the AFC Championship, where they got their revenge over the Tennessee Titans in front of the Arrowhead faithful. Again, they trailed at the end of the first quarter but five TDs (including two for Tyreek Hill) saw them advance to Super Bowl LIV with a 35-24 win.

As we all know by now, Mahomes rallied his team once last time in the season finale, leading a late charge to beat the 49ers 31-20 and take their first championship title since Super Bowl IV exactly 50 years ago. Read my take on the game here.


OFFSEASON OUTLOOK


Heading into the offseason, it’s obvious that KC really need a new quarterback… ha ha, as if.

While they may need a new backup, with Matt Moore entering free agency, their top priority should be re-signing Chris Jones, the team’s sack leader for the last two years. The defensive lineman’s contract could set them back around $20m a year – akin to what they pay Frank Clark – and when the time comes, they’ll have to pay Mahomes mega-bucks too. This won’t leave GM Brett Veach much of his $13.9 million cap space (the sixth lowest in the league) to be as aggressive as he has in previous offseasons unless something else gives.

Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Of the Chiefs’ 24 players whose contracts are expiring, LeSean McCoy, Terrell Suggs and Spencer Ware are three that will probably depart or even retire. And when it comes to April’s NFL Draft, the Chiefs only have five picks, having traded away their sixth and seventh rounders. As champions, they’ll pick last, starting at #32 overall.

Given the free-agent status of Jones, as well as Bashaud Breeland and Kendall Fuller, the Chiefs may target a defensive lineman (Jordan Elliott from Missouri?), cornerback (Clemson’s AJ Terrell seems a possibility) or linebacker (I’m seeing Kenneth Murray out of Oklahoma and LSU’s Patrick Queen mocked to the Chiefs). Another edge rusher could complement Clark well, so Curtis Weaver (Boise State) or Zack Baun (Wisconsin) may also be in the mix.

On the other side of the ball, WR Sammy Watkins has another year left but he didn’t score after Week 1. The Chiefs could release him, save a shed-load of money and pluck a young pup from a loaded 2020 class. They could also upgrade at running back, either with a draft pick like Johnathan Taylor from Wisconsin or maybe a free agent, with the names Austin Ekeler and Matt Breida being bandied about.

But as you’d expect with a Super Bowl-winning side with a much-respected HC, there’s a lot of silver lining and not very much cloud in the long-range forecast. So if you fancy a flutter on the year ahead, the Chiefs (in or around 6/1) are the current favourites to defend their title next year in Tampa.

Season in Review – Tampa Bay Buccaneers

By Sean Tyler (@seantyleruk)

Time to take a look at Mr 30/30 himself and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Arguably one of the most exciting teams to watch (not always for the right reasons) in 2019 but what did Bruce Arians achieve this season and what has he got to do to try and obtain a winning record in 2020? More importantly, does it involve Jameis Winston?


ENTERING THE SEASON


Hoping to improve on 5-11 from the previous year, Tampa Bay spent the spring re-signing, extending and acquiring a whole host of players. These included offensive tackles Donovan Smith and Demar Dotson, and leading rusher Peyton Barber. WR Breshad Perriman was a decent pick-up in free agency, but linebacker Shaquil Barrett was arguably the best signing (by any team) in 2019.

Paul Sancya/AP

A couple of months later, former LA Rams defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh also joined the fray, and in the NFL Draft, the Bucs stayed D-heavy. Other than kicker Matt Gay and receiver Scotty Miller, every other pick was a defender. Headed by another linebacker (LSU’s Devin White) at No.5 overall, followed by corners Sean Murphy-Bunting and Jamel Dean, NFL.com recently gave the rookie class an A+ grade.

Not surprisingly, the Bucs’ pre-season games were close, low-scoring affairs, with a two-point loss at Pittsburgh preceding wins over Miami (16-14), Cleveland (13-12) and Dallas (17-15). 


DURING THE SEASON


To the uninitiated, their eventual 7-9 record might appear to have been an unremarkable campaign for the Bucs. But in many ways, it was anything but; in fact, the record-book writers were kept pretty busy.

Providing a snapshot of what was to come, Jameis Winston featured heavily in the highlight reel of the opening day 31-17 loss to San Francisco, for all the wrong reasons (three interceptions, including two pick-sixes). The Bucs’ win at Carolina in Week 2 featured some solid last-ditch defending to keep Christian McCaffrey out of the end zone but then they blew an 18-point lead against the New York Giants, with rookie kicker Matt Gay missing what would have been a winning FG as the clock hit zero.

In Week 4, Suh, a former LA Ram, iced the 55-40 victory over the reigning NFC champions with a 37-yard fumble return. The win took the Bucs over the 50-point mark for the first time.

Bucs Report

Despite their early promise, the Buccaneers hit a wall and limped to 2-6 with a run of four defeats. In a lacklustre 31-24 loss to New Orleans, Teddy Bridgewater threw four TD passes, while the Seahawks’ Russell Wilson went one better a couple of weeks later. Worryingly, Tampa shipped almost 1,000 total yards in those two games alone.

In between, Tampa lost 37-26 in their Panthers rematch, with Winston (five interceptions – there’s a theme here, people) fumbling twice and getting sacked seven times in the second NFL game at the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London. After the bye week, our erstwhile quarterback hero (four turnovers) carried on where he left off in a 27-23 loss to the Titans.

Somehow, things picked up with a run of five wins in six, starting with Arians getting the better of his former team the Arizona Cardinals. After another loss to the Saints (Winston: four interceptions), the Bucs hit their stride, tormenting Matt Ryan, Nick Foles and Gardner Minshew in wins over Atlanta and Jacksonville. And in defeating the Colts 38-35, Winston (three turnovers) nabbed five total touchdowns and threw for 456 yards, surpassing his own single-season total with three games to spare. The win lifted the Bucs to 6-7, but it wasn’t enough to avoid elimination from postseason contention.

In setting yet another NFL benchmark – two consecutive games of 450+ yards passing – Winston threw for four TDs in a dominant 38-17 win over the Detroit Lions. Third-choice wideout Breshad Perriman – suddenly the target man after Chris Godwin and Mike Evans sustained hamstring injuries – set career bests down the stretch with 134 yards receiving (week 17 vs Atlanta) and three TDs (week 15 vs Lions), and finished the season with three 100-yard games.

Leon Halip / Getty Images

Disappointingly, having battled to back to 7-7 and the chance for a winning season, Tampa lost their last two against the playoff-bound Houston Texans and NFC South rivals the Atlanta Falcons, in which Devin White returned a fumble 91 yards to the house.

Looking back, the season was awash with new franchise records: most touchdowns (54), most points (458), fewest rushing yards allowed (1,181) and, to put the icing on the cake, Shaq Barrett smashed his one-year ‘prove-it’ deal out of the park with 19.5 sacks. The Bucs also led the NFL in run defence, allowing only one player (Seattle’s Chris Carson) – and only three entire teams – 100 yards rushing.

Even Jameis Winston himself set new highs: 5,109 passing yards, 33 touchdown passes, 626 passing attempts and 389 completions. But on the flip side, he also led the NFL with 30 interceptions. Amazingly, that wasn’t a franchise record (thanks to Vinny Testaverde back in the Eighties).

Reaching 7-9 in 2019 – with Head Coach Bruce Arians at the helm for the first time since being hauled out of retirement – the Buccaneers weren’t a million miles from the playoffs. That said, their eventual failure extended the NFL’s second-longest postseason drought to 12 years.


OFFSEASON OUTLOOK


At this time of year, which Bruce Arians has referred to as “monotonous”, there are no gaping holes to fill but Tampa Bay do have 19 unrestricted free agents, which muddies the waters somewhat. Even keeping the half-dozen regular starters like Suh, Dotson and Perriman will put a sizeable dent in their $92 million of available cap space (the third most in the NFL). While they’ll want to keep the bulk of their young defence in tact, the priorities remain two-fold: Shaq Barrett and Jameis Winston.

Back in December, Arians said that Barrett “ain’t going anywhere”. Alas, the Pro Bowl linebacker only signed for a year so if he’s staying, he’s gonna get paid. And if he’s not staying, he’s still gonna get paid. They could franchise tag him but if not, a DT like Javon Kinlaw (South Carolina) or Iowa’s edge rusher AJ Epenesa could be Round 1 draft targets.

As for quarterback, heaven only knows what they’ll do. At 67, Arians can’t wait forever for Winston to eradicate the errors. After their final game, he summed up the dilemma perfectly: “There’s so much good, and so much outright terrible.”

Octavio Jones / Tampa Bay Times

So do the highs outweigh the lows enough to pay Winston the $25m he could expect? It’s hard to tell.

They could move him on and get a bridge quarterback (a la Dalton or Bridgewater). They might keep him – possibly on a franchise tag – but still sign a new young thing to wait in the wings in case he goes turnover-crazy again. (And since his 30 TD/30 INT season ended, he’s had eye surgery so maybe we can expect something nearer 20/20 next year?) Or they could just let him compete against some of the game’s best QBs in a crowded free agent market, and sign a newbie. Whatever the case, Arians likes ‘em big and strong, so Oregon’s Justin Herbert, Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts or Jacob Eason from Washington could well be in the frame when they’re on the clock at the NFL Draft with pick #14.

So in summary, Buccaneers fans should be looking ahead to the coming year with a degree of optimism… as long as they can tie down a few of their best performers (#ShackleShaq) and solve The Great Winston Conundrum.

Oh, and there are some snazzy new uniforms in the pipeline…

Season in Review – Denver Broncos

By Chris Tod (@ctdk1980)

Today we take a peek back at the Denver Broncos’ season. One of a few teams that deployed 3 Quarterbacks in one season, which kind of tells you how successful it was. They do say that every cloud has a silver lining though.


ENTERING THE SEASON


The Denver Broncos entered the season with a new signal caller after trading for former Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco from Baltimore.

GM John Elway hoped he had finally found a viable successor to Peyton Manning after failures (to at least some extent) with Brock Osweiler, Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch and Case Keenum since the future Hall of Famer’s retirement in 2016.

Image result for vic fangio
Joe Amon/DP

Vic Fangio came over from the Bears as a first time Head Coach at the age of 61, hoping to capitalise on a defence boasting the abilities of Von Miller, Chris Harris and Bradley Chubb among others.

However, they were probably always an outsider for a playoff position, battling with phenom Patrick Mahomes and the high-powered Chiefs in the division.


DURING THE SEASON


Denver, perhaps understandably considering the changes undergone in the offseason, started slowly, losing their first 4 games.

With an offence struggling to get out of second gear, added to a defence strangely passive in the early going, indeed exalted pass rush duo Von Miller and Bradley Chubb failed to record a sack between them in the first 3 games of the season. With Chubb tearing his ACL in the week 4 loss to the Jaguars, as the season threatened to fall out of control.

However, the Broncos certainly showed some fight, as they managed to end the season with a respectable 7-9 record, good enough for 2nd place in the division.

Image result for joe flacco drew lock
Joe Amon / DP

On the offensive side of the ball Joe Flacco struggled to recapture his former magic, and when he went down to a neck injury after week 8, Brandon Allen was thrust into a starting role that he probably wasn’t ready for.

When Drew Lock returned from his own injury in week 13 however, he promised at a better future to come in Mile High. He went 4-1 to finish the season on a high note. WR Courtland Sutton also took a big step forward in his play, finishing with over 1,100 yards despite the turmoil at the QB position.


OFFSEASON OUTLOOK


Denver are in a more settled position this year than in recent years, with the franchise’s confidence in Drew Lock, meaning Flacco will likely be moved on, or at least brought back on a reduced salary as a back up. That should mean they are able to be active in free agency, projected to have around $60million in cap space available.

Although some of that money will almost certainly be tied up in bringing back key personnel like Justin Simmons. It’s likely too that Denver look to invest in the lines, with most of the defensive linemen up for free agency, as well as improving the offensive line.

It feels like a big offseason coming up for John Elway as he tries to catch up with Super Bowl winners, the Kansas City Chiefs. However, with a few well-judged forays into free agency and a strong draft, there is no reason why they can’t improve next season and be a factor in the playoff chase for 2020.

Season In Review – Chicago Bears

By Lee Wakefield (@wakefield90)

Today’s “Season in Review” focuses on the Chicago Bears. The team a double doink away from a deep playoff run last year, expectations where high in the windy city. Could Trubisky take another step forward or were the team going to succumb to the high price paid for Khalil Mack?


Entering the Season


Coming off a 12-4 season and and NFC North divisional crown, things were looking rosy for the Bears coming into the NFL’s 100th season.

The question was, could the Bears defense, led by Khalil Mack, reach the dizzying heights that they did in 2018 without Vic Fangio running the show as defensive coordinator. Chuck Pagano was hired to oversee the unit, which on the face of it, wasn’t a revolutionary hire but also could be seen as a safe pair of hands.

On the other side of the ball, questions loomed around quarterback, Mitchell Trubisky and whether he could take the leap in Matt Nagy’s offense in year two. Bears fans needed to start feeling like they were winning games because of Trubisky, not in spite of him.

The Bears didn’t do much business in terms of incomings and outgoings during the offseason.

The team swapped safeties with the Packers – switching Adrian Amos for HaHA Clinton-Dix – Elsewhere in the defensive backfield, slot corner Bryce Callaghan was deemed too expensive to resign and went to Denver, and GM Ryan Pace brought in Buster Skrine in his stead. Speaking on backfields, the offensive backfield also underwent some renovations, with Jordan Howard traded to the Eagles for a 6th round pick and in came Mike Davis from Seattle and David Montgomery with Chicago’s third round pick on the 2019 draft.

Image result for david montgomery
Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports

That brings us nicely on to the draft and for the Bears, it was a pretty quiet affair.

Due to the monster trade for Khalil Mack, Montgomery was the Bears first selection of the draft and certainly the headline of their haul.

Pace said before the draft that the team didn’t have “pressing, huge needs” and could “select the best players”.

In that case, I guess he thought the Bears were primed for another divisional title and playoff run…


During the Season


Let me tell you, it did not go down like that.

Opening night, the NFL was full of celebrations, the Bears and the Packers squared off, a meeting of two of the oldest rivals in sport… Time for an offensive masterpiece between two QB’s at the top of their games… Right?

The Packers actually ran out 10-3 winners in what was a defensive battle, where neither team could get the running game going and to be honest, neither team could keep their QB on his feet.

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After that came a season of streaks for the Bears, both good and bad. Three wins over the Broncos, Redskins and Vikings meant that the Bears travelled to London to kick off the international series in a healthy 3-1 position. One aspect of the team that wasn’t healthy, however, was the QB. Mitchell Trubisky had suffered a shoulder injury in the win against Minnesota – Although to be honest, he was struggling to ignite the offense before then anway, having thrown only 3 TD’s (all of which came against Washington) to 2 picks and only managing 5.6 yards per attempt.

Anyway, on to The Khalil Mack Bowl at the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium – a stadium tasting its first NFL action.

Image result for bears vs raiders london
Tim Ireland/AP

The Raiders jumped out to a 17-0 halftime lead on the back of rookie running back, Josh Jacobs. The Bears answered back with 3 unanswered scores to make things very interesting indeed but eventually succumbed to another Jacobs touchdown that handed Chicago its first loss since week 1.

Mitchell Trubisky returned in week 7 but the victories did not. Three more losses followed after the bye and the Bears, sat at 3-5 at this point, were at the stage where it really was put up or shut up.

The defense, as the year before, wasn’t the issue – They were holding up their end of the bargain, the offense on the other hand were not.

A win against Detroit and a loss against the Rams didn’t do much to aid the cause, in effect it was just two more weeks that ticked by but the situation remained the same. 4-6, surely there was no hope?

However, 3 wins followed and hope was alive, the Packers were out in front by now but the Vikings were catchable – Plus, amazingly, it was still in the Bear’s hands as they had to play both Green Bay and Minnesota in the final three weeks of the season – 3 wins were needed but this was a tough ask because the meat in the sandwich of these divisional games was Kansas City.

Unfortunately for Bears fans, it wasn’t to be – the only win that was had was on the final day against Minnesota.

Too little, too late. 8-8 and a bit of a damp squib, really.


Offseason Outlook


Do the Chicago Bears need a new quarterback?

Yes, Chase Daniel is out of contract.

Wait… What did you think I meant?

Of course I wasn’t suggesting that the Bears admit defeat on Trubisky – The traded up to get him with the second overall pick. He’s only 3 years into his career too.

Or was I?

Image result for mitchell trubisky
Isaiah J. Downing

In all seriousness, the Bears need to get someone in to put pressure on Trubisky, at least. Year 4 really is make or break for Trubisky’s long term NFL career, in my opinion – If he doesn’t perform to a high level in 2020, the Bears probably won’t pick up his 5th year option and he’ll be done in the Windy City – In the event that happens, the Bears will want a replacement to be in the building already.

In my most recent mock draft for the Full 10 Yards, I gave them a QB in round 2, you can see whom that was here.

That leads me on to the Bears capital both draft and financial… It ain’t good. Not a position you want to be in when you’ve just gone 8-8 and need a jump start in a very tough division.

Chicago probably needs to do some roster surgery, currently sitting with a smidge over $5m in cap, which ranks 28th in the NFL (according to Overthecap.com).

HaHa Clinton-Dix, Danny Trevethan, Nick Kwiatkoski and Aaron Lynch are all veteran contributors who are set to hit the open market – I can see these guys having to find new homes this spring, along with the aforementioned Chase Daniel. This will free up around $17m and give the Bears some flexibility.

This would mean that the shopping list will have the following positions; QB, linebacker, pass rush depth and tight end.

Yes, let’s talk about tight end for a second… The Bears got absolutely no production from the position last year and since overpaying for Trey Burton because he threw a Superbowl TD, two years ago. Burton caught 14 balls for 84 yards in 8 games in 2019 and in 2018, he amassed 569 yards (ranked 13th amongst tight ends) on 54 catches, 6 of which were touchdowns.

That isn’t a lot of bang for their buck at an average of $8m per year! $18m of his 4 year, $32m deal is guaranteed – the highest guaranteed money for tight ends in the league, as things stand.

That is not great, boys and girls.

The next problem for the Bears is that when it comes to the draft and acquiring the young talent to fill these gaps is that they simply do not possess the requisite capital which gives them a good chance of doing so – Ryan Pace needs to hit a few home runs in April. 

Still paying back the Raiders for the Mack trade the Bears have two seconds, two fourths, a fifth, a sixth and a seventh round pick. That is hard.

So to sum up the offseason outlook for Chicago is, well, I wouldn’t say it’s bleak but man, they have some work to do.

Pace has to do some off-field surgery and keep his roster decent via clever drafting and free agent moves without premium capital with which to deal. Nagy also has to get Mitchell Trubisky and this offense firing – What he was hired to do – And turn the Bears into a force in a very, very, tough division.

Good luck.

Season In Review – Green Bay Packers

By Maxwell Petit-Jean (@a_winning_smile)

It’s time for another ‘season review’ for the 2019 NFL season. This article focuses on the Green Bay Packers, a team who reached the NFC Championship game, only to be beaten by the eventual runners-up.


ENTERING THE SEASON


Prior to the 2019 season, the Green Bay Packers split opinions maybe more than any other team in the NFL. 2018 was one of the most disappointing seasons of Aaron Rodgers career, they achieved a record of 6-9-1 which took them to their second consecutive 3rd place finish in the NFC North. Mike McCarthy had been fired, only to be replaced by Matt LaFleur, an “offensive guru” who only managed to lead a Tennessee offense to an incredibly uninspiring 6th worst offense in the NFL the previous year.

Image result for matt lafleur
Todd Olszewski/Getty

Moreover, General Manager Brian Gutekunst faced criticism for his offseason acquisitions. Despite bringing in some experienced talent (Preston Smith, Za’Darius Smith, Adrian Amos & Billy Turner), at the time, not much was expected of these players.

The only positivity heading into the 2019 season was the buzz around the 3 players picked up in the first 2 rounds of the draft: Rashan Gary, Darnell Savage & Elgton Jenkins.


DURING THE SEASON


Week 1 in Chicago was a remarkable start that really set the tone for the Packers season. It was the first game of the NFL calendar, and many expected the match-up to be a shoot-out between two talented young offensive minds; Matt LaFleur & Matt Nagy. In fact, we saw the rise of Mike Pettine’s defense in a huge 5-sack performance. Also, the game was sealed by the new recruits; Adrian Amos getting a pick against his former team, and Za’Darius Smith with a big sack on the final play.

Week 7 was arguably the best performance of the season for the Packers, in a dominant 42-24 victory over the playoff contending Oakland Raiders. The game will be remembered for a majestic Aaron Rodgers passing performance, where he threw for 421 yards and 5 touchdowns with a perfect passer rating. The game was also an example of the Packers excellent pass blocking, who completely negated the Raiders talented pass rushers; Maxx Crosby & Clelin Ferrell. The leader of the offensive line in 2019 was Left Tackle David Bakhtiari, who finished the season as the only Packer to make the NFL All-Pro team. It’s also worth noting that, new offensive line recruits; Elgton Jenkins & Billy Turner played nearly every snap in the season.

Mike Roemer/AP

In week 8, against the eventual World Champion Chiefs, the Packers had a big win led by Aaron Jones in a truly breakout performance. Not only did he run for over 5 yards per carry, but he had 159 receiving for 2 TDs. The Packers used him in a variety of positions as part of their Empty passing formation. Jones really had an impressive year, ending the season leading all skill position players in the NFL with 19 Touchdowns.

The wins over the Chiefs & Raiders were the best performances by the Packers all year, but the sweep of the AFC West came to a crashing conclusion in week 9 against the LA Chargers. The Packers were dominated 26-11 on the road, in a game where the Chargers ran the ball for fun, and held the Packers rushing attack to a season low 45 yards.

After another loss to San Francisco in week 12 which took their record to 8-3, the Packers finished the regular season with a 5-game win streak over the Giants, Redskins, Bears, Vikings & Lions. The victory over the Vikings was particularly impressive as they held the Vikings offense to less than 140 yards. Outstanding performances along the defensive line by Kenny Clarke, Za’Darius Smith & Preston Smith shut down a rushing attack without the injured Dalvin Cook. Moreover, this 5 game run highlighted the dominance of Jaire Alexander who, in only his second season, showed his talent as one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL.

Week 17 perfectly summed up the Packers regularly season, they snuck past a weak Lions side, led by David Blough, with a Field Goal in the closing moments. Here is a stunning stat: in the two wins over the Detroit Lions, they won both games, but the led for a grand total of 0 seconds.

In the 2019 Playoffs, the Packers beat the Seahawks in the Divisional round, before falling on the road to the #1 seed 49ers in the NFC Championship game.

The Seahawks game was a great example of what the Packers could do. They passed the ball extremely well, particularly to Davante Adams. Adams had his best game of the year, terrorising the Hawks DB unit with 8 catches for 160 yards and 2 TDs. Also, the mighty defensive line picked up yet another 5 sacks, which is even more impressive against the elusive Russell Wilson.

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Despite being on the high of a 6-game win streak going into the NFC Championship game against the 49ers, the Packers dreams were crushed at the penultimate hurdle by a record-setting offensive performance. Kyle Shanahan’s San Francisco offense ran for nearly 300 yards, only needing to throw the ball 8 times in a comfortable victory. Although the Packers defensive line is extremely talented at rushing the passer, they were abused by a far superior offensive line in the run game. On offense, Rodgers was sacked three times and had two bad interceptions. A poor performance by one of the best players to ever play QB.

Summary of the Packers season: Rarely impressive, but largely successful.


OFFSEASON OUTLOOK


The 2019 Packers were fundamentally different to any Packers team within the Aaron Rodgers era. General Manager Brian Gutekunst brought in some amazing free-agent talent and, except for 1st round flop Rashan Gary, drafted well. 2nd round picks Darnell Savage & Elgton Jenkins may be pivotal Packers for years to come. Also, Head Coach Matt LaFleur showed that he could lead a team to a Championship game in his first year.

From an offensive perspective, the team has a completely new identity. In 2018, Matt McCarthy’s offense had become stale and predictable. His offense aligned in an 11-personnel grouping (1 Running Back & 1 Tight End) on 72% of all offensive plays, the 2nd highest usage in the NFL. However, under LaFleur, 11-personnel was only used on 53% of plays, this was the 9th lowest in the NFL. The formations and personnel groups were more creative and more effective than previous years. Going into 2020, there are plenty of positive signs for the offense.

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From a defensive perspective, at the time of writing this article, Mike Pettine is still the Defensive Coordinator for the Packers. However, he had a pretty shaky season where the legitimacy of his defensive philosophy was brought into question. The Packers gave up more than 120 rushing yards in 12 games during the 2019 season.

There are plenty of talented players on the Packers defense, but schematically Blake Martinez is asked to do too much as the singular inside Linebacker. Either the Packers need to find a world class LB, or Pettine needs to change his scheme to fit the talent available.

Overall, it’s hard to ignore the issues highlighted in San Francisco’s dominant win over Green Bay. The Packers have two clear areas of concern: The skill position players struggle to win in man coverage & they cannot stop the run. However, if they can find solutions to these issues, then they could be a Superbowl favourite in 2020.

In Gutekunst we trust.