In NFL Network's "Top 100 Players of 2020," the Baltimore Ravens and New Orleans Saints each have a league-high seven players on the list, which is voted on by the players themselves. With that in mind, NFL Network analyst and former All-Pro running back Maurice Jones-Drew provides his own ranking of the top 10 most talented teams heading into the 2020 regular season.
A Super Bowl contender for the bazillionth year, the Saints are undoubtedly the most talented NFL team right now. And it's not really close. They had 11 Pro Bowlers and four first-team All-Pro selections last season. It all starts with their trio of offensive superstars: QB Drew Brees, RB Alvin Kamara and WR Michael Thomas. Although Brees is entering his age-41 season, I'd still take him over most quarterbacks right now, because, like Tom Brady, Brees is ahead of every other player on the field when it comes to the mental aspect. That alone gives the Saints an advantage; then, his younger supporting cast can do the rest. Kamara's about to show out entering a contract year, while Thomas is coming off a monster season that saw him break numerous team and league records and out-produce several teams' receiving corps by himself. I mean, Thomas finished with more receptions (149) than the wide receivers of the Eagles, Vikings, Ravens (that's three playoff teams) and Raiders.
This offseason, the Saints lost WR Ted Ginn Jr., S Vonn Bell and OG Larry Warford -- all 2019 starters -- but they made upgrades in all three areas, signing veterans Emmanuel Sanders and Malcolm Jenkins and drafting Cesar Ruiz. This offense is scary, and the defense will be much stiffer with Jenkins and the return to health of Sheldon Rankins and Marcus Davenport (both missed the last four games of the season) along the defensive line. I'm sitting here trying to unearth a weakness on Sean Payton's roster, and I can't find one.
The Falcons underachieved in 2019, but it wasn't due to a lack of talent. They had 10 starters who were former first-round draft picks, including seven on offense, and they could've had 11 if Keanu Neal wasn't lost for the year with a torn Achilles. Fast-forward a few months, and the Falcons could potentially field a former first-rounder at every offensive position after signing RB Todd Gurley and WR3 Laquon Treadwell and trading for TE Hayden Hurst. They'll join the dynamic receiving duo of Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley in QB Matt Ryan's supporting cast. The offensive line had its struggles last season when playing through numerous injuries, including to 2019 first-round guard Chris Lindstrom, and the group must improve in pass pro to help the Falcons take full advantage of the weapons at their disposal. As far as the run game is concerned, the O-line played well last year and now blocks for a player looking to prove haters wrong in Gurley.
The defense has talent at all three levels and was able to string together a good second half of the season in 2019. The one thing that makes me nervous with this unit is health, in light of the numerous injuries to afflict some of the Falcons' top players in recent years. The additions of Dante Fowler Jr. and rookie A.J. Terrell and the return of Neal should help the defense pick up where it left off. The amount of talent on the Falcons' roster is not in question -- it's clear they have a lot. It's just a matter of everything coming together to produce the best results.
Last season, the Ravens had a league-leading 13 Pro Browlers and five first-team All-Pro selections (MVP QB Lamar Jackson, LT Ronnie Stanley, CBs Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey and K Justin Tucker). As good as Jackson and the offense were, the powerful offensive line deserves more credit than it gets for paving the way for the league's most dynamic run game and a passing game that developed with its young quarterback. The Ravens are deep at the tight end position even after trading away Hayden Hurst, but they're missing consistent production from the wide receivers. The defense could vie for top honors by the look of the starting 11. With Calais Campbell leading the way up front, first-round pick Patrick Queen and Matt Judon manning the middle and Humphrey, Peters and Earl Thomas covering the back end, this unit could give any offense fits.
There's no shortage of talent in the NFC South, with three teams landing in the top four of this list. The Bucs finished third in total and scoring offense a year ago, then went out and signed six-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady and traded for future Hall of Famer Rob Gronkowski, who came out of retirement to rejoin Brady and the Bucs. This is the scariest passing unit in the league right now, and to be frank, I don't know how defenses can stop an offense that has Brady, Gronk, O.J. Howard, Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. Drafting one of the top O-line prospects, Tristan Wirfs, to protect Brady, who'll be 43 on Aug. 3, only helps. The Bucs' defense features a linebacking crew full of stars -- OLBs Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaq Barrett and ILBs Lavonte David and Devin White -- but the secondary is an area of concern. The bottom line with Tampa: The team's talent pool is top-heavy -- which is enough to put the Bucs above both Super Bowl LIV reps. Speaking of ...
Even putting superstar Patrick Mahomes aside for a second, the Chiefs are loaded on offense, with a receiving corps that challenges even the NFL's best defenses. Rookie RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire only makes this offense more dangerous, but the Chiefs will have to find a replacement for RG Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, who has chosen to opt out this season. (Yes, that replacement could indeed by the recently signed Kelechi Osemele.) Kansas City's defense is sprinkled with talent, but definitely has weak spots throughout. At the end of the day, The Half A Billion Dollar Man (Mahomes) is so talented that he can single-handedly win games. He obviously does a lot to make the Chiefs a top-five team, talent-wise.
The 49ers ranked in the top five in both total offense and defense last season. Offensively, they are led by All-Pro TE George Kittle. But while they have other first-round talent on the unit, it's head coach Kyle Shanahan's scheme that makes the offense truly special. The defense, on the other hand, is built from a combination of talent and coordinator Robert Saleh's energy, scheme and leadership. The defensive line is among the best in the league, as the 49ers keep replenishing areas of need up front; they drafted Javon Kinlaw with one of their first-round picks after trading away DeForest Buckner. Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw showed major improvement in 2019. Veteran Richard Sherman is as motivated as ever, and it's rubbing off on the rest of the secondary.
The Cowboys could be even higher on the list, but they have a good amount of starters who need to be more consistent. The unit that has been exceptional for the last half-decade is the offensive line, which has paved the way for Dallas' offensive trio (QB Dak Prescott, RB Ezekiel Elliott and WR Amari Cooper). This offense has real potential to be the league's best under new head coach Mike McCarthy, especially if players like Michael Gallup, rookie CeeDee Lamb and TE Blake Jarwin can make a leap in 2020. The Dallas D is littered with talent on all three levels -- it's just a matter of whether they can play together and stay on the field (looking at you, Sean Lee and Leighton Vander Esch).
Everyone had better watch out for Anthony Lynn's defense, because ... wow! The defensive line and secondary should be dominant after the additions of DT Linval Joseph and CB Chris Harris Jr., while the linebacking corps added first-rounder Kenneth Murray. The defense isn't just loaded; it's deep, as players like Desmond King, Nasir Adderley, Denzel Perryman and former first-rounder Jerry Tillery could rotate in as non-starters. On offense, there are questions about what and who we'll see at quarterback (Tyrod Taylor or Justin Herbert), but there is talent at the skill positions, with Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Hunter Henry and Austin Ekeler making things easy for the guy under center. Perhaps the biggest upgrade of the offseason came on the offensive line, which now features former Panther Trai Turner and former Packer Bryan Bulaga. The pieces are there for this team to turn things around in 2020.
The Steelers aren't the offensive juggernaut they were when the Killer Bs roamed the field together, but there is potential for fireworks anytime Ben Roethlisberger takes the field. The offensive line has been one of the most consistent units for the Steelers; here's hoping the skill players can get up to speed when Big Ben returns. The defense is the 2020 Steelers' foundation. With a pass rush led by T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree and Cam Heyward and a secondary featuring former first-rounders Minkah Fitzpatrick and Terrell Edmunds, the Steelers are as stout as they come. Oh, and you can't forget about last year's first-round pick, do-it-all middle linebacker Devin Bush.
A number of teams could've ended up in this spot, but the trade for DeAndre Hopkins, a top-two receiver in the league, put the Cardinals over the top. This team is poised to get out of the NFC West cellar in Kliff Kingsbury's second season at the helm. His Air Raid offense should soar with Kyler Murray, Kenyan Drake, Larry Fitzgerald, Hopkins and Christian Kirk flying around the field. Vance Joseph's defense also has its bright spots, with the brightest star coming in the form of sack king Chandler Jones. Eight-time Pro Bowler Patrick Peterson needs a bounce-back season, and several others must elevate their play, but there's potential in the desert, and I'm here for it.