Players have emerged from their COVID-19 testing stations to put on helmets and pads. We have actual competition on football fields across our fair country! This feels like the perfect time to check in with the Big 32 in our latest edition of the Power Rankings.
And here's your gentle reminder to refrain from angry outbursts over your favorite team's placement in a mid-August ranking exercise like this. There will plenty of time to yell at me come September. Let's get to it.
Previous rank: No. 1
Damien Williams' decision to opt out of the 2020 season has cleared the runway for Clyde Edwards-Helaire, the rookie first-rounder who becomes the apparent clear-cut starter at running back for an obscenely loaded Chiefs offense. There is, of course, the not-so-inconsequential matter of CEH proving to Andy Reid and associates that he has a firm grasp of the offense and can be trusted with handling the assignments necessary to protect Patrick Mahomes, K.C.'s half-a-billion-dollar man. Speaking of Mahomes, the quarterback recently said that Edwards-Helaire has "incredible vision" in the backfield. You get why fantasyheads out there believe he can have a Saquon-like rookie impact.
Previous rank: No. 2
Their depth at wide receiver took another hit on Sunday, when Jalen Hurd suffered a torn ACL in practice. The hope was that Hurd would make a Year 2 impact after a back issue cost him his rookie season, but the page now turns to 2021 for the star-crossed former Baylor standout. The Niners are already without Deebo Samuel (foot), whose Week 1 availability is in doubt. These developments put more on the shoulders of first-round choice Brandon Aiyuk, but it's fair to wonder if Aiyuk -- or any rookie in this unorthodox season -- should be counted on for instant production with the spring and summer limitations of a COVID-19 world. Hey, maybe this is the year you Tavon Austin Truthers are vindicated!
Previous rank: No. 3
Here's a wild stat from Warren Sharp: The Ravens out-rushed their opponents by 112.6 yards per game last season. They averaged over 200 yards on the ground per week on their way to setting the league's all-time rushing record. We all know the role Lamar Jackson played in this department during his record-breaking MVP season, but the Ravens have an embarrassment of rushing riches beyond their sleek QB. Mark Ingram and Gus Edwards each ran with great efficiency in 2019, and now that three-headed monster becomes a four-headed beast with the addition of J.K. Dobbins, a rookie with star potential. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman will be asked to perform a juggling act -- not that anyone is feeling sorry for him.
UPDATE: The Ravens released Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas for conduct detrimental to the team, following a fight with teammate Chuck Clark during practice.
Previous rank: No. 4
Alvin Kamara recently revealed to reporters that he "tore his knee" in Week 6 last season and played through the injury, which neatly explains why the usually elusive running back couldn't make anyone miss last winter. Kamara managed to recover from the injury without surgery and now enters 2020 as a 25-year-old in prime position for a huge bounce-back season. Remember: At this time last year, Kamara and Christian McCaffrey were seen by most as superstar equals. CMC left Kamara in his dust during a historic 2019, but we might see the two players producing at a similar rate once again going forward.
Previous rank: No. 5
Welcome back, Corey Davis. The receiver was activated off the PUP list on Monday after an offseason spent recovering from toe surgery. Davis played through the injury last year, when he averaged a career-best 14.0 yards per catch. The Titans have probably given up on Davis ever realizing the potential that led to him being selected with the No. 5 overall pick in 2017 (the team's decision to not pick up his fifth-year option tells you everything you need to know there), but that doesn't mean Davis can't fill the role as a solid second banana to A.J. Brown. Brown's playmaking ability will command attention from opposing defenses and give Davis plenty of opportunities to put up some numbers in a contract year.
Previous rank: No. 6
The Buffalo Bills have established themselves as an ascendant AFC contender and one of the most stable franchises in football. (I wouldn't have guessed that back when Rex Ryan was tooling around Orchard Park in his Billsmobile.) The organization further solidified its foundation last week by locking up Sean McDermott with an extension that keeps the head coach in Western New York through the middle of the decade. This no-brainer move occurred on the same week that left tackle Dion Dawkins signed a four-year, $60 million extension. We've all had enough of the endless speculation about Josh Allen's boom/bust potential (Week 1, get here please), but you get the feeling that Buffalo will survive and adapt even if Allen doesn't turn out to be the long-term solution behind center.
Previous rank: No. 7
Quite an eventful past week for the defense, which continues to be the biggest question mark surrounding Big D. On Monday, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy ruptured his quad in practice, a brutal injury that ended his season -- and inherently, his tenure in Dallas. That disappointment came a few days after the Cowboys wisely invested in former Vikings star defensive end Everson Griffen on a one-year deal. McCoy's injury stings for Dallas, which was counting on the former All-Pro to provide stability on a line that lost Robert Quinn and Maliek Collins in free agency. With an elite offense in place, the Cowboys really just need their defense to be average. Do they have the pieces in place to pull that off?
Previous rank: No. 8
This will not be an Aaron Rodgers blurb. Last weekend, the Packers signed Kenny Clark to a four-year, $70 million extension through 2024, making the former first-round pick the highest-paid nose tackle in football. It's another smart move by general manager Brian Gutekunst, who locks up the unsung hero of Green Bay's defense. On Monday's edition of the Around The NFL Podcast, Chris Wesseling said that Clark dominated on an Aaron Donald-like level at times last season ... so, yeah, this felt like a guy to keep in the building. Clark was one of a slew of Packers starters who arrived at training camp on expiring deals. Pro Bowl left tackle David Bakhtiari should be up next on Gutey's list. This was not an Aaron Rodgers blurb.
Previous rank: No. 13
Yes, it cost a ton in draft capital and a solid starter in Bradley McDougald, but how could you take issue with GM John Schneider for any trade that brings a player at the level of Jamal Adams? The former Jets All-Pro is a game-changer at safety, and you imagine the Seahawks and defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. will find a way to make Adams a centerpiece of their defense -- even if Gregg Williams has his doubts. Is Adams the "missing piece" for the Seahawks, the guy who puts them over the top and sends them back to the Super Bowl? Time will tell, but this was a worthwhile gamble for a team that's telling us 11-5 and a playoff win is no longer enough.
Previous rank: No. 9
Philip Rivers signed a one-year, $25 million deal in March, which tells us everything we need to know about who the Colts believe is The Man behind center in 2020. However ... let's pause for a thought exercise here: What if Rivers is not The Man in 2020? What if, instead, he's the same almost-40-year-old turnover machine we saw in his final go-around with the Chargers? What if the Colts find themselves floundering at the season's midpoint? Would erstwhile starter Jacoby Brissett get another opportunity? Brissett said last week he knows he'll start again somewhere -- is it insane to think that could come with the Colts in a couple of months? Yeah, yeah, everyone expects Rivers and Frank Reich to make magic ... but what if they don't? This concludes our thought exercise.
Previous rank: No. 10
How different will the offense look with Gary Kubiak in charge? Typically, you'd expect a significant shift when the offensive coordinator leaves town (former OC Kevin Stefanski is now the head coach in Cleveland), but Stefanski actually operated Minnesota's offense under the principles of Kubiak's enduring scheme. Kubiak served in an advisor capacity on Mike Zimmer's staff, and now he'll settle into a more traditional role with the play-caller duties that come with it. His biggest year-over-year challenge? Find a way to replace the production of star wideout Stefon Diggs, who now catches and tweets in Buffalo. You won't find a proven commodity inside the wide receiver room beyond Adam Thielen.
Previous rank: No. 11
Who else is buying in on this JuJu Smith-Schuster comeback season? If you're not, you should be. The fourth-year receiver has so much in his favor. In fact, let's count it off:
1) He's healthy.
2) Ben Roethlisberger is back.
3) Diontae Johnson has emerged as a legit counterpart.
4) He's still just 23 (seriously).
It will never be as easy as it was when peak Antonio Brown was tearing apart secondaries and opening up opportunities all over the field, but it would be a mistake to write JuJu off as eXpOsEd after a Murphy's Law 2019 that saw everything break against him. Entering a contract year, Smith-Schuster is ready to set himself up for a huge payday.
Previous rank: No. 12
I'm intrigued by the mystery around the tight end position at Bucs camp. Peter King predicted this week that Rob Gronkowski would finish third in snaps played behind O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate this season. That will surprise many, but it makes sense when you think about it. The current version of Gronk, after a year away from football and with a 31-year-old body that looks like an Operation board, probably isn't built for a 16-to-19-game haul. It's just one of many reasons why Tampa was a perfect landing spot for the future Hall of Famer. Gronk can be utilized in select spots of a game, while Howard gets the chance to learn and develop alongside the best quarterback ever. Howard took a step back last year, but he remains a tantalizing prospect. Gronk's arrival shouldn't push the former first-round pick into the background.
Previous rank: No. 14
The Miles Sanders hype train was right on schedule before the running back showed up on Wednesday's injury report with a lower-body injury that has him listed as week-to-week. On the plus side, NFL Network's Mike Garafolo reports that the Eagles are likely being cautious with the second-year man, which makes sense with the season opener still 25 days away. Gotta make sure Sanders begins the season feeling right, given the heavy workload he's about to shoulder. The 2019 second-rounder set a franchise rookie record last year with 1,327 yards from scrimmage, and head coach Doug Pederson recently said Sanders will be "the guy" in the Iggles backfield in 2020. Hardly news, seeing as Sanders was on the field for more than 70 percent of snaps in the back half of last season. Sanders' role as both a rusher and pass catcher is of obvious importance for an offense that doesn't know what it will be getting at wide receiver. I'll note here that Carson Wentz threw to his tight ends 39 percent of the time in 2019, one of the five highest rates in 35 years, according to Football Outsiders. Sanders, like Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert, is in the circle of trust. That's unlikely to change when the 2020 season begins.
Previous rank: No. 15
You get the feeling that Bill Belichick, in a summer where he's attempting to figure out a quarterback room without that Brady guy, doesn't really mind the significant restrictions placed on the media in a COVID-19 world. Beat reporters have their binoculars out, desperately trying to make sense of Belichick's byzantine QB camp rotation, which can appear -- on some days at least -- to have Cam Newton working fourth in the rotation. In reality, Newton is the heavy favorite to break camp with the starting job, but we all have to keep in mind that Belichick operates on his own terms, terms that have a tendency to "upend conventional wisdom." Newton will probably be the guy, but don't accept total defeat on that premature Jarrett Stidham jersey purchase just yet.
Previous rank: No. 16
Kenny Stills was activated off the NFI list on Monday and now joins Will Fuller, Brandin Cooks and Randall Cobb in a post-DeAndre Hopkins wide receiver room in Houston. So what are we working with? Stills is a nice complementary player, and Cooks (concussion issues aside) has four 1,000-yard seasons at 26 years old. Cobb is a veteran who showed he could still play last year in Dallas, while Fuller profiles as a star in the making if his body ever allows it. If it all breaks right, Deshaun Watson can still make plenty of magic even without Hopkins. But the darkest timeline is obvious: The receivers crumble and Watson suffers through a frustrating and fruitless contract-push year. The absolute last thing Bill O'Brien needs is a DeAndre Hopkins butterfly effect involving his franchise quarterback.
Previous rank: No. 17
The Rams have the best defensive player on the planet in Aaron Donald, and new defensive coordinator Brandon Staley has made it a top priority to find ways to free the perennial All-Pro from constant double-teams in 2020. "I think what I've tried to do with all the players, but definitely him in particular, is being able to express himself within the defense,” Staley said, via The Athletic. That's some elite coach-speak right there from Staley, and it will be interesting to find out what it, you know, actually means. This is a time of transition for the Rams, but the front around Donald will look familiar, with Michael Brockers and Sebastian Joseph-Day in L.A.'s base 3-4 scheme. One thing we can report with certainty, thanks to Hard Knocks: Donald reported to camp in decent shape.
Previous rank: No. 18
The Falcons took a chance on veteran running back Todd Gurley with the hopes that the former Rams All-Pro can recapture the brilliance of his best days in Los Angeles. The suspect depth behind Gurley tells us Atlanta kind of needs this signing to work. Last week, ESPN's Vaughn McClure wrote that Gurley walked with a noticeable limp (in early camp workouts) and wore a compression sock on his left leg. That's the same leg with the surgically repaired ACL, and which has long been rumored to be affected by an arthritic condition. (Gurley and the Falcons have yet to confirm existence of that chronic malady.) McClure added that Gurley has been moving well despite the limp, but ... well ... Todd Gurley walking with a limp in August is not ideal. Stay tuned.
Previous rank: No. 19
The Browns invested big in a revamped offensive line this offseason, but the unit is facing an early challenge after starting center JC Tretter underwent knee surgery last week that puts his availability for Week 1 in doubt. If Tretter misses time, Cleveland could be forced to rely on fifth-round rookie Nick Harris in the pivot. It's not an ideal situation for Kevin Stefanski's team, which is also working in new starters at both tackle positions, with first-round pick Jedrick Wills Jr. manning the blind side. With so much riding on quarterback Baker Mayfield, the last thing the Browns need is a fire drill up front.
Previous rank: No. 20
We all know by now that Jon Gruden develops crushes on his backup quarterbacks. This is the same man who talked up Mike Glennon like he was 1989 Joe Montana last summer on Hard Knocks. It's happening again with Marcus Mariota, the former Titans first-round pick described by Gruden as "a dazzling playmaker" in a Zoom session last week. I'm sure that sat tremendously well with incumbent starter Derek Carr, who just launched his I Demand To Be Taken Seriously initiative. Carr has the ability to make plays with his legs but rarely does -- perhaps Gruden pines for the versatility that an increasing number of coaches enjoy across the league. One thing we know: Mariota is getting paid top backup money. Carr's leash might be shorter than you think.
Previous rank: No. 21
Melvin Gordon acknowledged this week he's "struggling a little bit" with the change in altitude that comes with playing in Denver. (For the record, there is a 5,200-foot disparity between Denver and Los Angeles, Gordon's former football home.) Assuming Gordon gets acclimated with the air up there, he figures to slot in as the lead back in the Broncos attack. One can imagine this probably irks Phillip Lindsay, who piled up nearly 2,500 yards from scrimmage in his first two seasons. Gordon's signing in free agency was a disappointing turn of events for Lindsay, but it's an ideal setup for the Broncos, who have two legitimate three-down backs in their building. Roster depth will be so important in this strange season.
Previous rank: No. 23
Sometimes what's good for Hard Knocks producers isn't so good for the team it covers. Case in point: Chargers defensive end Melvin Ingram is holding out from practice (while attending team meetings and walkthroughs) in the apparent hopes of jump-starting contract talks with the team. It's an unusual little soap opera at camp, one that plays out with roughly 700 NFL Films cameras situated in every corner of the facility. Ingram's pass-rushing counterpart, Joey Bosa, recently signed a five-year extension worth $135 million, the biggest contract ever handed to a defensive player. Ingram, 31, is entering the final year of his deal, and it's fair to wonder if the size of Bosa's deal will ultimately end Ingram's Chargers run after 2020.
Previous rank: No. 24
The Cardinals are a buzzy playoff pick this summer, and the hype is not entirely unwarranted, with Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins set to light up the desert. But there is the not-inconsequential matter of the other side of the ball. No team in football allowed more yards than the Cardinals in 2019, and we learned Monday that cornerback Robert Alford will miss the season after tearing his pectoral muscle in practice. Arizona was counting on Alford to line up across from Patrick Peterson after the former missed the entire 2019 season with a broken leg. Now the scramble begins to plug another hole on defense.
Previous rank: No. 25
The Bears' defense needs to get its mojo back if Chicago expects to seriously contend in the NFC. A big step toward achieving that goal is the return of a healthy Akiem Hicks. The defensive lineman is a major disrupter on the interior, and Chicago's defense simply wasn't the same after he broke his elbow last October. Hicks' absence allowed the opposition to key on Khalil Mack, who faced regular double- and triple-teams on the way to his lowest sack total (8.5) since his rookie season (4.0). The Bears' pass rush disappeared during Hicks' nine-game absence, and his presence this season should make everyone better.
Previous rank: No. 22
You wonder if general manager Joe Douglas is pondering a splash move at wide receiver. The Jets were thin at the position before training camp, with Robby Anderson departing in free agency, and injuries to Denzel Mims (hamstring) and Vyncint Smith (core surgery) have further complicated matters. New York added a body this week by signing Chris Hogan (that's AFC East Bingo for the veteran), but quarterback Sam Darnold is clearly in need of more help in what will be a hugely important third season for the former first-round pick. Would Douglas be willing to part with some of the draft capital accrued in the Jamal Adams trade if it meant giving Darnold a better chance to make the leap in 2020? The bigger question might be whether there's a team willing to part ways with a legit wide receiver this close to the start of the regular season.
Previous rank: No. 26
The news continues to be positive on the Tua Tagovailoa front. The rookie first-round pick and hopeful new face of the franchise in Miami participated in his first padded practice on Monday. It's another positive step as Tua works his way back from the posterior wall fracture and right hip dislocation that ended his college career last November. Tagovailoa is sharing snaps with Ryan Fitzpatrick and Josh Rosen at quarterback, and it will be interesting to see how practice work is distributed as we get closer to Week 1. The idea of giving Tagovailoa a redshirt year as he works his way back from injury makes sense, but redshirt years aren't really a thing anymore with first-round picks in the NFL. Will the Dolphins be able to resist the temptation to unwrap their shiny new toy?
Previous rank: No. 27
The Bengals finally opened up their wallets in free agency, and this is how the Football Gods reward them? Cornerback Trae Waynes -- who signed a three-year, $42 million deal in March -- is expected to miss most of the 2020 season after surgery to repair a torn pec. It's a huge setback for a Bengals defense that surrendered 8.3 yards per pass attempt (the second-worst mark in the NFL) and 13.4 yards per completion (the worst) in 2019. The arrival of Joe Burrow brings excitement and hope to Cincinnati, but actual wins will continue to be elusive if the Bengals can't stop anybody. Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo has his work cut out for him.
Previous rank: No. 28
Joe Judge seems ready to run a disciplined ... don't do it ... court room. The first-year coach and graduate of Belichick U is making headlines in New York for his stern demeanor, and training camps have featured players -- and even assistant coaches -- running laps as a punishment for sloppy play. "The last time I [ran laps for mistakes], probably middle school," wide receiver Sterling Shepard said. Matt Patricia, another Belichick disciple, instilled a similar atmosphere when he got to Detroit, with mixed results. If the Giants show improvement in Judge's first year at the helm, his style will be applauded. But if the Giants continue to struggle? If players start to speak out, anonymously or otherwise? It's chum in the water for the tabloids and talk radio.
Previous rank: No. 29
A team in the position of the Panthers -- a team with a new head coach, a new quarterback and a new offensive scheme -- would seem to be in a particularly deep hole in a season absent OTAs, minicamps and preseason games. Luckily, Carolina isn't a team of total strangers. There's a relationship between new QB Teddy Bridgewater and new OC Joe Brady, who spent the 2018 season together with the Saints. Brady was an offensive assistant on Sean Payton's staff, then put himself in line for a big promotion thanks to his work as the passing game coordinator with LSU during Joe Burrow's record-breaking 2019 season. Bridgewater and Brady already speak the same football language, and it gives the Panthers' offense a shot come September.
Previous rank: No. 30
We received a disappointing update this week from tight end T.J. Hockenson, the 2019 first-round pick who acknowledged that his ankle is still not quite 100 percent after sustaining a season-ending injury last November. You may remember Hockenson going off in his NFL debut for 131 yards, but the rest of his rookie campaign was marred by injuries and long disappearing acts in the Detroit offense. The hope is that Hockenson's lower half gets right and he can build on his chemistry with Matthew Stafford to improve an already-solid Detroit offense. But it's fair to be concerned that the ankle issue that wrecked Hockenson's 2019 season will also play a role in his 2020.
Previous rank: No. 31
Alex Smith was activated from the reserve/PUP list this week, a huge step forward in the veteran quarterback's comeback attempt from a gruesome leg injury in November 2018 that necessitated 17 different surgeries. Head coach Ron Rivera said earlier this month that Smith is "going to be in the throes of this competition" for the team's starting quarterback gig, which was either a ceremonial show of respect for Smith and the work he's put in, or an indictment of second-year passer Dwayne Haskins, who appears to have a lot of convincing to do under a new regime in Washington. First-round picks at QB usually have plenty of leash, but Haskins -- even as a 23-year-old second-year pro -- increasingly feels like the team's past rather than its future.
Previous rank: No. 32
New coordinator Jay Gruden is running the show on offense in Jacksonville, and it's fair to say he has some pieces to work with. The addition of talented second-rounder Laviska Shenault Jr. adds more playmaker potential to a solid group of wide receivers that includes DJ Chark, Chris Conley and Dede Westbrook, who all made noise in 2019. Free-agent acquisition Tyler Eifert was one of football's most productive tight ends before injuries torpedoed his run in Cincinnati. Even Leonard Fournette -- bad ankles, bad attitude and all -- could stack some numbers in a Gruden offense that loves to feature running backs. The biggest question might be whether Gardner Minshew is an actual solution at quarterback or just a fun guy to have around the building.