NFL rankings: Teams best, worst equipped for challenging season

The COVID-19 pandemic halted the American team sports calendar for nearly four months. While the NFL did not see its season interrupted or delayed (yet), the coronavirus disrupted nearly everything else about the league this year.

Free agency visits, draft prospects’ pro days, and teams’ OTAs and minicamps did not happen. The preseason will end up somewhere between zero and two games, and several key training camp questions remain unresolved despite rookies’ report dates being days away. The mere negotiations for training camp devolving into a quagmire do not paint a pretty picture of what will happen when teams reconvene as the virus spreads at record rates in numerous NFL states.

This will have sweeping effects on teams. The altered offseason will probably disproportionately impact franchises that made big changes this year or ones set to rely on rookies in essential roles. Continuity has never been more important. Through that lens,  we assess which teams are in the best and worst spots to navigate training camp amid the pandemic. All camps are set to begin July 28.

1. Kansas City Chiefs (12-4 in 2019)

The reigning Super Bowl champions occupy the top spot for many reasons. They have Patrick Mahomes, the best player on the planet, and took away any contractual uncertainty with his mega-extension earlier this month. Kansas City also returns the rest of its offensive braintrust — head coach Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy. Kansas City only drafted one offensive skill player -– first-rounder Clyde Edwards-Helaire -– but because he is a running back, he should be able to get up to speed quickly. In all, the Chiefs return 20 of 22 starters from last year’s Super Bowl champion, and they managed to lock up stud defensive lineman Chris Jones to a long-term contract. It looks like the best got even better, and even in unprecedented circumstances, K.C. shouldn’t miss a beat.

2. Baltimore Ravens (14-2)

The Ravens have suffered through bitter playoff disappointments in each of the past two seasons, but they are poised to remain a force. Their continuity is a big reason why. Ten of 11 offensive starters return, though the one who is gone, likely Hall of Fame guard Marshal Yanda, is a big loss. Baltimore brings back 18 of 22 starters, and the entire coaching staff returns — including offensive coordinator Greg Roman, who figures to add more schemes to the arsenal. QB Lamar Jackson’s comments about winning a Super Bowl suggest he is more focused than ever, and the Ravens gave him two more weapons in second-round running back J.K. Dobbins and third-round wide receiver Devin Duvernay. One big question is how quickly first-round linebacker Patrick Queen can get up to speed. Given Baltimore’s overall commitment to continuity, it shouldn’t take long.

3. New Orleans Saints (13-3)

Few teams had a less interesting draft than the Saints; first-rounder Cesar Ruiz, a center, is expected to start right away, despite not having a traditional offseason. New Orleans’ coaches have been showering him with praise, particularly his ability to pick up blocking schemes quickly and process the mental side of the game. Linebacker Zack Baun and tight end Adam Trautman, both selected in the third round, should also contribute, but the reason the Saints should be able to surmount not having their normal offseason boils down to two men: Drew Brees and Sean Payton. They are entering their 15th year together, and as long as Brees is healthy and productive, the Saints will be dangerous. Brees’ comments about the national anthem still must be re-addressed with his teammates at camp, but beyond that, the Saints are well-positioned to weather offseason turmoil.

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By Chris Mueller, Sam Robinson and Michael Nania | Last updated 7/14/20

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