With the 2019 NFL season about to kick off, it’s time for our annual ranking of the top 100 players in the league.
We asked a panel of more than 40 ESPN NFL experts to rate players based on how good they will be in the 2019 season in comparison to their peers. Emphasis was entirely on predicting potential greatness for the upcoming season, rather than past performance or positional value. From those ratings, we were able to rank the best of the best.
It’s probably not surprising that playoff favorites Kansas City Chiefs and New Orleans Saints dominated the list with seven representatives apiece. And 30 of the 32 teams had at least one player (sorry, no Titans or Redskins here).
For each player, our NFL Nation reporters weighed in on his 2019 outlook, ESPN Stats & Information provided a signature stat, and fantasy analyst Mike Clay projected a stat line for this season. Here’s the full list:
Jump to a notable outside the top 10:
D.Brees | O.Beckham Jr. | E.Elliott
A.Brown | B.Roethlisberger | B.Mayfield
L.Bell | E.Thomas | C.Newton
DT | Rams
2018 rank: 3
He’s the two-time defending NFL Defensive Player of the Year who finished with 20.5 sacks last season, two shy of the single-season record. Donald is poised to make history in 2019 after attending his first training camp in three seasons. He has prepared for a fast start and a chance to win a historic third consecutive DPOY award. — Lindsey Thiry
Signature stat: According to ESPN’s pass rush win rate, Donald beat his blocker within 2.5 seconds on a league-high 46.3% of his pass rushes last season.
2019 projection: 58 tackles, 16.0 sacks
QB | Chiefs
2018 rank: NR
The most amazing part of Mahomes’ 2018 season wasn’t that he became only the second player to throw for 50 touchdown passes and 5,000 yards. It’s that he did it in his first season as a starter and at age 23. Mahomes should only keep improving this season and into the future. — Adam Teicher
Signature stat: Mahomes’ 14 passing touchdowns while throwing on the move were twice as many as any other player had last season.
2019 projection: 4,737 passing yards, 35 TDs, 12 INTs
OLB | Bears
2018 rank: 10
One the league’s most feared defenders, Mack has posted four consecutive double-digit-sack seasons and been voted to four straight Pro Bowls. The 2016 Defensive Player of the Year has 49.0 sacks over the past four seasons, tied for third in the NFL. He has been a boost for Chicago since being acquired last September. — Jeff Dickerson
Signature stat: Mack had 12.5 sacks in his first season with the Bears and helped them pressure the quarterback on 30% of dropbacks, their highest rate in the past 10 seasons.
2019 projection: 61 tackles, 12.0 sacks
QB | Patriots
2018 rank: 2
Brady has quarterbacked the Patriots to victories in 207 of his 267 career regular-season starts, the most wins all time and with a single team. With a revamped contract that makes him a free agent after the 2021 season, he has acknowledged that he is in “uncharted territory” as it relates to age and being with the same team for 20 years. — Mike Reiss
Signature stat: Brady was sacked on just 3.5% of his dropbacks last season, the fourth-lowest rate in the NFL.
2019 projection: 4,424 passing yards, 28 TDs, 11 INTs
WR | Texans
2018 rank: 24
Deshaun Watson believes his No. 1 receiver is the best in football, and Hopkins has backed that up over the past two seasons. Hopkins has the most receptions (528) by a player in his first six seasons and is on track for a third straight campaign being named First Team All-Pro. — Sarah Barshop
Signature stat: Hopkins accounted for a league-high 37.7% of his team’s receiving yards last season. Atlanta’s Julio Jones was next on that list at 33.9%.
2019 projection: 103 catches, 1,391 yards, 9 TDs
QB | Packers
2018 rank: 1
Since when is 25 touchdowns and two interceptions a bad year? Well, when you’re Aaron Rodgers and your team went 6-9-1 despite you starting every game. Now, at age 35, Rodgers is essentially starting over with a new coach after 13 seasons with Mike McCarthy. How will the QB embrace Matt LaFleur’s offense? Said LaFleur: “I feel like he absorbs everything.” — Rob Demovsky
Signature stat: Just 0.3% of Rodgers’ pass attempts were intercepted last season, the lowest figure in NFL history by a qualified quarterback.
2019 projection: 4,001 passing yards, 30 TDs, 7 INTs
WR | Falcons
2018 rank: 8
Jones enters 2019 riding five consecutive seasons with at least 80 catches and 1,400 receiving yards. His career average of 96.7 receiving yards per game stands as the best in NFL history. Jones also helps everyone else on offense by constantly commanding double teams, giving his teammates opportunities to win their one-on-one matchups. — Vaughn McClure
Signature stat: According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Jones had 19 receptions last season on tight-window throws (less than one yard of separation), the most in the NFL.
2019 projection: 96 catches, 1,431 yards, 8 TDs
OLB | Broncos
2018 rank: 5
Miller has continued to refine his game, but first-year coach Vic Fangio has made it clear he believes there’s even more to come from Miller. With Fangio’s track record with pass-rushers over the years, Miller should flourish in the new defensive scheme. — Jeff Legwold
Signature stat: Miller’s 14.5 sacks last season marked the fifth straight year he’s reached double digits. That’s the longest active streak in the NFL.
2019 projection: 51 tackles, 12.0 sacks
QB | Seahawks
2018 rank: 19
Wilson will miss Doug Baldwin, but this might be the best collection of deep threats he has had, with Tyler Lockett (sixth-best yards-per-catch average last season), David Moore (third-best passer rating when targeted on go routes, per Pro Football Focus) and rookie DK Metcalf (4.33 speed) catching his passes. That aligns with what Wilson perhaps does best: throw the deep ball. — Brady Henderson
Signature stat: Wilson threw a league-high 15 passing touchdowns against the blitz last season, four more than anyone else.
2019 projection: 3,604 passing yards, 27 TDs, 7 INTs
WR | Saints
2018 rank: 44
The Saints made “Can’t Guard Mike” the NFL’s highest-paid receiver for good reason: They’ve never been so dependent on a pass-catcher. Thomas has 33 more catches through his first three years than anyone in NFL history. Drew Brees said Thomas is one of those rare players who treats ever practice rep like the Super Bowl. — Mike Triplett
Signature stat: According to Next Gen Stats, Thomas made 47 receptions when pressed at the line of scrimmage last season, the most in the NFL. His six touchdowns when pressed are only behind Antonio Brown and DeAndre Hopkins (seven apiece).
2019 projection: 114 catches, 1,322 yards, 8 TDs
QB | Saints
2018 rank: 6
The 40-year-old just had his best passer rating ever (115.7) last season. He faded down the stretch, but had a long way to fall after starting with 29 TDs and two interceptions. “I feel like I’m pretty aware of what you lose with the aging process,” Brees said recently, “and so far I feel like I’m beating it.” — Mike Triplett
Signature stat: Brees had seven game-winning drives last season, the most in the NFL. In his career, he has had 48 game-winning drives, six behind Peyton Manning for the most since the AFL-NFL merger.
2019 projection: 4,291 passing yards, 29 TDs, 8 INTs
RB | Giants
2018 rank: 87
Barkley led the NFL in yards from scrimmage last season with 2,028. That should rise now that he’s the true focal point of the offense with Odell Beckham Jr. off to Cleveland. Four hundred touches could be in play, with the Giants becoming more of a run-heavy team and Barkley being far and away their best and most explosive playmaker. — Jordan Raanan
Signature stat: Against a box of at least eight defenders, Barkley averaged 5.7 yards per rush, highest in the NFL (min. 30 rushes).
2019 projection: 2,000 scrimmage yards, 12 TDs
WR | Browns
2018 rank: 11
Over his career, Beckham is averaging 92.8 yards per game, second highest in NFL history. He’s now healthy and paired with budding star QB Baker Mayfield, suggesting OBJ could be in for his biggest season yet. “Once we get on the same page,” he said, “I just feel like it’s going to be scary.” — Jake Trotter
Signature stat: OBJ is averaging 118.9 receiving yards per game against AFC teams, the most vs. AFC squads in NFL history (min. 10 games).
2019 projection: 89 catches, 1,224 yards, 10 TDs
DE | Texans
2018 rank: 41
Watt is coming off his best — and first healthy — season since 2015 and finished second in the NFL with 16 sacks. The three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year said he’s “in a great place” after not having to spend an offseason rehabbing and has a lot of confidence going into the season. — Sarah Barshop
Signature stat: According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Watt’s 3.61-second time to sack was the league’s second-lowest for players with at least five sacks, behind only Aaron Donald (3.6).
2019 projection: 59 tackles, 12.0 sacks
RB | Cowboys
2018 rank: 15
The Cowboys’ offense will continue to flow through Elliott. He has 19 100-yard rushing games since 2016, and there is no reason to believe he will not add to that total in 2019 and break a tie with DeMarco Murray for the third most in team history. But could a training camp holdout hurt his effectiveness? — Todd Archer
Signature stat: Elliott led the NFL in rushing yards per game in each of his first three seasons. Only Jim Brown and Earl Campbell have done that.
2019 projection: 1,963 scrimmage yards, 13 TDs
WR | Chiefs
2018 rank: 75
Hill’s stats took a big leap last season (12 additional catches in 2018 compared to 2017, with 296 more yards and five extra touchdowns) because he played with Patrick Mahomes. The two are made for each other: Mahomes has that big arm and Hill has game-breaking ability to get beyond a defense. — Adam Teicher
Signature stat: Hill has 16 career 50-yard touchdowns, tying Gale Sayers for the most in a player’s first three seasons in NFL history.
2019 projection: 84 catches, 1,285 yards, 9 TDs
QB | Chargers
2018 rank: 45
Although he turned 37 in December, Rivers had one of his best seasons as a pro in 2018. The most durable quarterback in the league, Rivers has not missed a start since 2006 and has thrown for over 300 passing yards in a team-record 62 games, tied with Brett Favre for fifth in NFL history. — Eric D. Williams
Signature stat: Rivers has thrown at least 25 touchdown passes in 11 straight seasons, tied for the second most since the merger.
2019 projection: 4,250 passing yards, 30 TDs, 12 INTs
TE | Chiefs
2018 rank: 22
Kelce is so productive in part because head coach Andy Reid knows how to scheme to get the best out of him. Last season, Kelce lined up as a tight end 46% of the time but had 78% of his catches and 81% of his yards when lined up at other positions. — Adam Teicher
Signature stat: Last season, only 36% of Kelce’s snaps came from the slot, but he had 854 receiving yards from there, the second most of any receiver.
2019 projection: 98 catches, 1,235 yards, 10 TDs
ILB | Panthers
2018 rank: 16
It’s hard to imagine a better all-around linebacker than Kuechly, who has led the NFL in tackles since arriving from Boston College in 2012. The switch to a 3-4 scheme won’t change that. “I mean, it’s stupid to think he’s not going to fit,” coach Ron Rivera said. “We’re not disrupting anything he does.” — David Newton
Signature stat: Kuechly has been a first-team All-Pro selection in five of the past six seasons, the most by any player over that span.
2019 projection: 142 tackles, 2.0 sacks
ILB | Seahawks
2018 rank: 37
Wagner leads the NFL in tackles since 2014, and in a sign that he doesn’t seem to be slowing down, he missed only one tackle last regular season, per PFF. With serious questions about their ability to generate pressure with their front four, the Seahawks might need to tap into Wagner’s blitzing skills more in 2019. — Brady Henderson
Signature stat: Wagner has been a first-team All-Pro selection in four of the past five seasons, tied with Antonio Brown, Aaron Donald and Luke Kuechly for most in the NFL over that stretch.
2019 projection: 146 tackles, 1.0 sacks
DE | Browns
2018 rank: 57
In his second season, Garrett was among only four NFL players with at least 13 sacks, three forced fumbles and three pass breakups. The Browns have since upgraded the talent around him with Sheldon Richardson and Olivier Vernon. Said coach Freddie Kitchens of Garrett, “With his size and athleticism. … he has a chance to be special.” — Jake Trotter
Signature stat: Garrett’s 13.5 sacks last year were the second most in Browns history and just a half sack shy of the franchise record.
2019 projection: 40 tackles, 11.0 sacks
RB | Panthers
2018 rank: NR
McCaffrey’s stock soared when Norv Turner became offensive coordinator and began using him as he did LaDainian Tomlinson and other backs from his past. McCaffrey fell just shy of becoming the third running back in NFL history with 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in the same season, setting the single-season record for receptions by a running back with 107. — David Newton
Signature stat: Not only did McCaffrey set the RB single-season reception record last season, but he did it without recording a single drop. That’s the most catches in a season without a drop by any player since at least 2006.
2019 projection: 1,784 scrimmage yards, 11 TDs
TE | Eagles
2018 rank: 79
Carson Wentz targeted Ertz an average of 10 times per game during Ertz’s record-setting 2018 season, in which he finished with 1,163 yards and eight touchdowns. Their connection is strong, and Wentz will continue to look Ertz’s way quite a bit even with the array of offensive options at his disposal. — Tim McManus
Signature stat: Ertz’s 116 catches last season were the most by a tight end in a single season in NFL history.
2019 projection: 87 catches, 881 yards, 7 TDs
CB | Jaguars
2018 rank: 9
Ramsey gets the opponent’s top receiver each week, and this year he’ll face nine receivers with a combined 36 Pro Bowls (including DeAndre Hopkins and T.Y. Hilton twice). Ramsey is also looking for a mega-contract. If he plays well against that lineup, he just might get it. — Mike DiRocco
Signature stat: Ramsey is one of three cornerbacks to be a Pro Bowler each of the past two seasons (Patrick Peterson, Darius Slay).
2019 projection: 66 tackles, 2 INTs
DE | Chargers
2018 rank: 14
The Ohio State product is primed to bounce back from a tough 2018 season in which he missed nine games due to a bruised left foot, finishing with a career-low 5.5 sacks. However, Bosa’s 19 sacks in his first 20 games were tops for a player in his first 20 games in NFL history. — Eric D. Williams
Signature stat: Bosa has 28.5 career sacks, the most by a Chargers player in his first three seasons since Shawne Merriman and the third most in franchise history.
2019 projection: 64 tackles, 13.0 sacks
RB | Saints
2018 rank: 30
The Saints don’t plan to make Kamara an every-down monster now that Mark Ingram II is gone, even though he showed he could handle such a role when Ingram was suspended four games last season. Sean Payton said he likes Kamara’s “pitch count,” which has led to 3,146 yards from scrimmage and 32 TDs in two seasons. — Mike Triplett
Signature stat: Kamara and Herschel Walker are the only players in NFL history with 1,600 rush yards and 1,500 receiving yards over their first two NFL seasons.
2019 projection: 1,640 scrimmage yards, 14 TDs
WR | Raiders
2018 rank: 4
Derek Carr has dreamed of having a weapon like Brown, who has averaged 114 receptions a season since 2013. Brown is polarizing but has already impressed coaches and teammates with his work ethic and talent. Now if only his feet heal and HelmetGate comes to a conclusion. — Paul Gutierrez
Signature stat: Brown has 9,145 receiving yards over the past six seasons, the most in a six-season span in NFL history.
2019 projection: 99 catches, 1,218 yards, 8 TDs
WR | Vikings
2018 rank: 71
Thielen has one of the NFL’s highest contested catch rates and makes adjusting to underthrown balls look easy. He’s in the category of elite wide receivers because of how difficult he is to cover, thanks to his ability to make every route look the same at the line of scrimmage until it isn’t. — Courtney Cronin
Signature stat: Hall of Famer Randy Moss is the only Vikings player with more receiving yards in a single season than Thielen’s 1,373 in 2018.
2019 projection: 88 catches, 1,095 yards, 6 TDs
DT | Eagles
2018 rank: 29
Cox has been limited this offseason following foot surgery but is on track to play come September. He has averaged eight sacks per season since 2015 and has the chance to reach double-digit sacks for the second straight season with his new partner, Malik Jackson, helping to create chaos in the middle. — Tim McManus
Signature stat: Cox had 34 quarterback hits last season; Aaron Donald was the only player with more.
2019 projection: 44 tackles, 9.0 sacks
DE | Cowboys
2018 rank: 42
Lawrence was rewarded with a $ 105 million contract in the offseason because he has proven to be one of the best all-around defensive ends in the NFL. His 25 sacks the past two seasons are tied for fourth most in the NFL, and he has 18 tackles for loss in the past two seasons. — Todd Archer
Signature stat: According to ESPN’s pass rush win rate, Lawrence beat his block within 2.5 seconds on 37% of pass rushes in the past two seasons, third highest in the NFL (min. 500 rushes).
2019 projection: 66 tackles, 9.0 sacks
QB | Eagles
2018 rank: 17
Wentz was coming off an ACL injury and played most of the season with an injured back but still put up respectable numbers (69.6 completion percentage, 21 TDs, 7 INT) in 2018. He comes into this season in good health and with a host of playmakers at his side. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he returns to the MVP conversation. — Tim McManus
Signature stat: Wentz has 18 passing TDs and one interception against the blitz in the past two seasons, the best ratio in the NFL.
2019 projection: 4,044 passing yards, 31 TDs, 10 INTs
OT | Packers
2018 rank: 84
Bakhtiari has earned Aaron Rodgers’ trust to go along with wide-ranging recognition as a two-time All-Pro selection. Said his new line coach, Adam Stenavich: “Guys like Dave and guys like Joe Staley [are] very intelligent players. … It’s cool to have guys like that who are really focused on the details and focused on being as perfect as they can be.” — Rob Demovsky
Signature stat: Bakhtiari had a pass block win rate of 90.1% last season, fourth highest in the NFL (min. 400 pass blocks).
CB | Patriots
2018 rank: NR
A first-team All-Pro pick in 2018, Gilmore recorded 20 passes defended, second in the NFL behind Kyle Fuller. His all-around skills allow him to match up successfully against a variety of targets. Now in his eighth season, Gilmore said he used to rely on just his athleticism, but coach Bill Belichick has taught him to combine athleticism and smarts. — Mike Reiss
Signature stat: According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Gilmore allowed a completion percentage of 45.2% as the nearest defender last season, second lowest in the NFL (min. 50 targets).
2019 projection: 53 tackles, 3 INTs
DE | Saints
2018 rank: 31
Jordan finally earned his due, making first-team All-Pro in 2017 and second-team All-Pro last season after combining for 25 sacks in both years. But the Saints have always appreciated his value as a pass-rusher, run defender and pass-rejecter who plays about 90% of the snaps. Defensive coordinator Dennis Allen called Jordan the NFL’s “best all-around defensive end.” — Mike Triplett
Signature stat: Jordan leads all defensive linemen with 6,969 snaps played since his rookie season in 2011; he and J.J. Watt are the only players with 70 sacks and 30 batted passes in the past eight seasons.
2019 projection: 54 tackles, 12.0 sacks
WR | Steelers
2018 rank: NR
Smith-Schuster is taking the responsibility of replacing Antonio Brown seriously, showing up to camp in excellent shape and catching everything thrown his way. Last season, the Steelers had a 67% completion rate throwing to Smith-Schuster, averaging 8.6 yards per attempt. He knows the next step is consistently beating double teams, and he says he’s ready for that. — Jeremy Fowler
Signature stat: Smith-Schuster leads all wide receivers with 1,316 receiving yards from the slot in the past two seasons.
2019 projection: 103 catches, 1,310 yards, 8 TDs
WR | Buccaneers
2018 rank: 49
Last season, Evans became the third receiver in NFL history to record 1,000 yards in each of his first five seasons. And he thinks he’ll be doing even more in Bruce Arians’ offense. “I’m going to be on the island as the extra receiver, one-on-one a lot, but I’m going to be hidden sometimes where defenses can’t key on me,” Evans said. — Jenna Laine
Signature stat: According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Evans has nine receiving touchdowns on tight-window throws (less than one yard of separation) in the past three seasons, tied for second among wide receivers.
2019 projection: 85 catches, 1,355 yards, 7 TDs
QB | Falcons
2018 rank: 21
The 2016 MVP nearly reached 5,000 passing yards in two of the past three seasons, and he has thrown for more than 4,000 yards and 20 touchdowns in each of the past eight seasons. Ryan is 3,280 yards shy of 50,000 career passing yards, standing 12th on the all-time list. — Vaughn McClure
Signature stat: Ryan completed 77.2% of his passes and threw 13 touchdowns in the fourth quarter last season, both of which were first in the NFL.
2019 projection: 4,635 passing yards, 31 TDs, 8 INTs
QB | Steelers
2018 rank: 18
Roethlisberger hasn’t won an MVP, but might have an argument for one with a successful 2019, as it’s all on him now. He led the league in passing attempts in 2018 with 675, and there’s no reason he won’t get close to that this season. Tight end Vance McDonald says Roethlisberger has been an “excellent” leader this offseason. — Jeremy Fowler
Signature stat: Roethlisberger’s 11 touchdown passes thrown at least 20 yards downfield last season were tied with Russell Wilson for the most in the NFL.
2019 projection: 4,777 passing yards, 29 TDs, 16 INTs
G | Cowboys
2018 rank: 38
Martin is on his way to joining Larry Allen as the best offensive linemen in team history. He did not give up a sack in 879 snaps last season and has allowed just 10 sacks in his career. — Todd Archer
Signature stat: Martin is one of three players in Cowboys history to earn a Pro Bowl selection in each of his first five seasons, joining Hall of Famers Mel Renfro and Emmitt Smith.
DT | Chiefs
2018 rank: NR
Jones led the Chiefs in sacks last season with 15.5, but they’re expecting more from the fourth-year defensive tackle this season. They believe pairing him with Frank Clark, for whom the Chiefs traded in the offseason, will make Jones even more productive. “They look pretty good together,” coach Andy Reid said. “That’s a pretty hefty load right there.” — Adam Teicher
Signature stat: According to ESPN’s pass rush win rate, Jones beat his block within 2.5 seconds on 33% of pass rushes in 2018, the sixth-highest mark in NFL (min. 300 pass rushes).
2019 projection: 37 tackles, 11.0 sacks
DE | Texans
2018 rank: 33
Clowney excelled against the run last season, earning a run defense grade of 91.2 from PFF. After holding out because he and the Texans couldn’t agree to a new contract before the franchise-tag deadline, Clowney will have a lot of motivation in his contact year. — Sarah Barshop
Signature stat: According to ESPN’s pass rush win rate, Clowney beat his block within 2.5 seconds on 35% of pass rushes in 2018, the second-best mark among DE/OLB (min. 300 pass rushes).
2019 projection: 52 tackles, 8.0 sacks
TE | 49ers
2018 rank: NR
Despite working with three starting quarterbacks in 2018, Kittle set a record for single-season receiving yards by a tight end in only his second year. It will be difficult to improve on that production in 2019, but with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo back to health and improved weapons around him, Kittle’s star should continue to rise. — Nick Wagoner
Signature stat: Kittle led the NFL with 855 yards after the catch last season. In fact, it was the most yards after the catch by any player in a single season since YAC was first tracked in 2006.
2019 projection: 82 catches, 1,159 yards, 6 TDs
WR | Chargers
2018 rank: 53
One of the most polished route runners in the NFL, Allen is the first Charger to post back-to-back 1,000-yard receiving seasons since Vincent Jackson pulled it off in 2008-2009. Allen, a third-rounder out of California in 2013, holds the franchise record for single-season receptions, grabbing 102 in 2017. — Eric D. Williams
Signature stat: Over the past two seasons, Allen’s 882 receiving yards on third down lead the NFL. His 57 catches on third down in that span are the third most in the NFL behind Adam Thielen (62) and Michael Thomas (58).
2019 projection: 98 catches, 1,236 yards, 7 TDs
ILB | Colts
2018 rank: NR
Leonard led the NFL in tackles, was tied for sixth in forced fumbles and was an All-Pro as a rookie last season. He wants to lead the league in tackles again while also being the league’s Defensive Player of the Year. The level of opposing quarterbacks the Colts face this season will be tougher, but Leonard will be ready. — Mike Wells
Signature stat: With an NFL-best 163 tackles in 2018, Leonard became the third rookie since 2001 to lead the NFL in tackles, joining Patrick Willis in 2007 (174) and Luke Kuechly in 2012 (164).
2019 projection: 153 tackles, 4.0 sacks
QB | Browns
2018 rank: NR
Mayfield was tremendous producing outside the pocket last season once Freddie Kitchens took over as offensive coordinator. Outside the pocket after Week 9, the rookie averaged 11.3 yards per attempt, tops in the NFL. “With that kind of skill,” said Kitchens, his playcaller again, “that is where his big plays are created a lot.” — Jake Trotter
Signature stat: Mayfield was the best quarterback in the league in yards passing and completion percentage on tight-window throws, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. His nine touchdown passes on such throws were also tied for the most in the NFL.
2019 projection: 4,176 passing yards, 32 TDs, 15 INTs
RB | Rams
2018 rank: 13
Despite back-to-back seasons of rushing for more than 1,200 yards and leading the league with 21 touchdowns last season, uncertainty looms over Gurley’s future because of his left knee. But expect Gurley to remain the focal point of the Rams’ offense, even as the team manages his workload so that he will be available in the playoffs. — Lindsey Thiry
Signature stat: Gurley has led the NFL in touchdowns scored each of the past two seasons, the first player to do so in back-to-back seasons since Shaun Alexander in 2004-2005.
2019 projection: 1,498 scrimmage yards, 16 TDs
QB | Texans
2018 rank: 89
Head coach Bill O’Brien said Watson is “light-years” ahead of where he was before the 2018 season in terms of understanding defenses. Watson was sacked a league-high 62 times last season, and if he can get a rid of the ball quicker and take fewer hits while still using his mobility, DeAndre Hopkins thinks “the sky’s the limit.” — Sarah Barshop
Signature stat: Since the start of 2017, Watson’s 83.1 QBR on plays from outside the pocket is the third-best in the NFL. His 64% completion rate on passes outside the pocket is also third in that time (league average is 51% in that span).
2019 projection: 4,002 passing yards, 25 TDs, 11 INTs
QB | Rams
2018 rank: NR
Goff continues to trend upward from when he finished 0-7 as a rookie. He has won 24 regular-season games over the past two seasons while leading the Rams to back-to-back division titles, an NFC championship and a trip to the Super Bowl. A fourth-year pro, Goff should have his best season yet as he takes increased ownership of the offense. — Lindsey Thiry
Signature stat: Goff’s 21 passing touchdowns on play-action since 2017 are the second most in the NFL behind Russell Wilson’s 23. In addition, Goff has averaged an NFL-best 10.1 yards per attempt on play-action in that span (min. 100 play-action passes).
2019 projection: 4,267 passing yards, 28 TDs, 10 INTs
DT | Bears
2018 rank: NR
Hicks bounced around from New Orleans to New England before becoming a dominant player in the Bears’ defense. He recorded seven-plus sacks in each of the past three seasons. The 6-foot-5 defensive lineman is also a feared run-stopper, posting a combined 27 tackles for loss during the past two seasons. — Jeff Dickerson
Signature stat: When Hicks was on the field last season, the Bears allowed just 3.56 yards per rush — a figure that would have ranked second in the NFL. When Hicks was off, that number surged to 4.62 yards per rush, which would have ranked 20th.
2019 projection: 56 tackles, 7.0 sacks
OT | Cowboys
2018 rank: 32
Some feel that Smith is not as dominant as he once was, but he did not allow a sack last season. He has dealt with injuries to his elbow, back and knee, but said he is as fit as he has been, and the team doesn’t believe he is slowing down. — Todd Archer
Signature stat: Since 2016, the Cowboys have allowed a 9.5% sack rate when Smith has been off the field, compared to 6.0% with him on the field. For context, the worst sack rate since 2016 belongs to the Texans at 8.0%.
WR | Bengals
2018 rank: 40
When he’s on the field, Green is one of the most dynamic receivers in the game. Since the Bengals drafted him in 2011, he has been among the league leaders in receptions (fifth), receiving yards (fourth) and touchdowns (sixth). Green will be coming off an ankle injury that happened during the first practice of training camp. — Ben Baby
Signature stat: Since 2016, Green has averaged 9.2 yards per target on tight window throws (less than 1 yard of separation). That’s the best of any WR with at least 20 tight window catches in that span.
2019 projection: 69 catches, 1,012 yards, 6 TDs
G | Colts
2018 rank: NR
What’s next for Nelson? That’s the most obvious question after he lived up to the hype of being the No. 6 pick in last year’s draft by being named an All-Pro and to the Pro Bowl. Nelson gave up only two sacks, four quarterback hits and 17 hurries last season. — Mike Wells
Signature stat: According to ESPN’s pass block win rate, Nelson sustained his block for at least 2.5 seconds on 87.8% of his pass blocks. That was the second-best pass block win rate of any guard with at least 300 pass blocks in 2018, trailing only Trai Turner.
CB | Saints
2018 rank: 26
Lattimore burst onto the scene as a rookie Pro Bowler in 2017. He was a little more inconsistent last season but still proved his worth as a No. 1 corner who draws the toughest matchups. “There’s some awareness that exists that is a bit unusual for such a young player,” Drew Brees said. — Mike Triplett
Signature stat: Lattimore has five forced fumbles and seven interceptions since entering the NFL. That’s tied with Marcus Peters and D.J. Swearinger for the most combined picks and forced fumbles since 2017.
2019 projection: 70 tackles, 3 INTs
WR | Cowboys
2018 rank: NR
Cooper changed the Cowboys’ offense last season after coming over from the Raiders in a midseason trade, and there is no reason to think he won’t build on his connection with Dak Prescott in their first full season together. In Cooper’s nine games, Prescott ranked third in completion percentage (71%) and first in third-down conversion rate (48.4%). — Todd Archer
Signature stat: After his trade to Dallas, Cooper had 321 yards after the catch. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, he was expected to accumulate only 166 YAC. That plus-155 difference between YAC and expected YAC was the best of any WR from Week 9 on.
2019 projection: 86 catches, 1,148 yards, 7 TDs
RB | Jets
2018 rank: 7
The Jets expect to get the 2017 version of Bell: a dynamic runner and receiver who can take pressure off Sam Darnold and create favorable matchups for other skill players. Bell will be a big factor in the passing game, lining up outside the backfield. But can the Jets’ pedestrian offensive line provide the running room he had in Pittsburgh? — Rich Cimini
Signature stat: According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Bell had a 14.1% stuff rate (carries for no gain or loss) during his past two seasons in Pittsburgh, best among RBs with 100 rush attempts in that span. Jets RBs were stuffed on 26.2% of their carries in 2018, worst in the league.
2019 projection: 1,654 scrimmage yards, 9 TDs
WR | Packers
2018 rank: 86
No way Adams can top last season, when he caught 111 passes on 169 targets, right? “I’d like to throw to Davante more,” Aaron Rodgers said this offseason. Given that the Packers let Randall Cobb walk in free agency and didn’t add a receiver in free agency or the draft, Rodgers might have to throw to Adams even more. — Rob Demovsky
Signature stat: Over the past two seasons, Adams has seen 36.8% of the Packers’ red zone targets. That’s the highest share of any player over that span.
2019 projection: 98 catches, 1,204 yards, 11 TDs
WR | Colts
2018 rank: NR
Hilton has at least 1,000 yards receiving in five of the past six seasons, though it might be tough for him to top the 1,270 yards he had last year due to the Colts’ skill-position depth and Andrew Luck missing from the offense. The key stat for Hilton will be yards per catch. He has averaged at least 15.9 in five straight seasons. — Mike Wells
Signature stat: Hilton had 14 catches on passes traveling at least 20 air yards last season, tied for second most with Tyler Lockett. Only Tyreek Hill (19) had more such catches.
2019 projection: 77 catches, 1,204 yards, 7 TDs
DE | Chiefs
2018 rank: NR
Dee Ford had 13 sacks in 2018, the same as Clark. But the Chiefs thought Clark was enough of an upgrade that they traded for him and sent Ford to the 49ers. The Chiefs see Clark as a superior player, particularly against the run. “He doesn’t really have any weaknesses,” GM Brett Veach said. — Adam Teicher
Signature stat: Clark beat his block within 2.5 seconds on 22% of pass rushes, according to ESPN metrics using NFL Next Gen Stats. Dee Ford’s pass rush win rate was 31% last season.
2019 projection: 43 tackles, 12.0 sacks
DE | Vikings
2018 rank: 93
After a career-high 14.5 sacks last season, the 24-year-old pass-rusher is just starting to get into his prime. Nicknamed “Gumby” for his ability to bend, lean and contort his 6-foot-5, 252-pound frame in unorthodox ways to get around tackles, Hunter has cemented himself as a rising star defensive end and nightmare for QBs. — Courtney Cronin
Signature stat: Hunter’s 12.5 sacks on first and second down last season led the NFL (his 2.0 sacks on third down tied for 78th).
2019 projection: 70 tackles, 13.0 sacks
RB | Chargers
2018 rank: 72
The bruising runner has expanded his game by developing as a pass-catcher, totaling 108 receptions for 966 receiving yards and eight touchdowns over the past two seasons to go with 1,990 yards and 18 touchdowns rushing. Gordon is the only player in the NFL with at least 12 touchdowns from scrimmage in each of the past three seasons. But will he suit up for the Chargers this season? — Eric D. Williams
Signature stat: Gordon is one of four RBs with at least 5,000 scrimmage yards since 2015. The other three (Todd Gurley, Ezekiel Elliott and LeSean McCoy) all rank among the top seven RBs in cash earned over that span. Gordon ranks 28th.
2019 projection: 1,552 scrimmage yards, 12 TDs
S | Jets
2018 rank: NR
Adams is one of the premier box safeties in the league — fast, instinctive and tenacious. He lines up as a quasi-linebacker most of the time, allowing him to dominate at the line of scrimmage. Problem is, he doesn’t make enough plays in pass coverage (one interception in two years) to be considered an elite, two-way safety. — Rich Cimini
Signature stat: Adams’ 44 stops — tackles resulting in a successful play for the defense based on yards to go by down — last season led all defensive backs in the NFL, according to NFL Next Gen Stats.
2019 projection: 107 tackles, 1 INTs
OLB | Chargers
2018 rank: 55
Ingram provides energy and leadership to the Bolts’ defense, and his 36 combined sacks during the past three seasons ranks 12th in the NFL. He led the Chargers last season with 14 tackles for loss and also added seven sacks en route to his second consecutive Pro Bowl appearance. — Eric D. Williams
Signature stat: Ingram beat his block within 2.5 seconds on 27% of pass rushes last season, the 15th-best pass rush win rate in the NFL among 83 qualified DE/OLB.
2019 projection: 48 tackles, 8.0 sacks
S | Bears
2018 rank: NR
The Bears stole Jackson, who suffered a broken leg in his final year at Alabama, in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL draft. Jackson’s five defensive touchdowns are the most in the NFL since he entered the league, and he tallied six interceptions last season en route to making first-team All-Pro. — Jeff Dickerson
Signature stat: Opposing QBs completed 42% of passes with Jackson as the nearest defender last season, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. That was the lowest completion percentage allowed by anyone as nearest defender in the NFL, with a minimum of 500 coverage snaps played.
2019 projection: 74 tackles, 3 INTs
WR | Vikings
2018 rank: NR
Diggs reached career highs in receptions (102), yards (1,021) and touchdowns (nine) in 2018 and is a lightning force opposite Adam Thielen. Diggs had double-digit targets in nine games last season and emerged as Kirk Cousins’ preferred weapon the final three games of 2018 with a new offensive coordinator, which might carry over to this season. — Courtney Cronin
Signature stat: Diggs had seven receptions with a completion probability below 30% last season, second most in the NFL behind Tyler Lockett (nine), according to NFL Next Gen Stats.
2019 projection: 86 catches, 930 yards, 7 TDs
OLB | Cardinals
2018 rank: 43
Jones has done whatever the Cardinals needed him to do since he has been in Arizona. This year, that means losing weight and returning to outside linebacker, where he’ll be able to rush off the edge. That’ll help him add to his already-staggering sack total from the past four seasons. No one has more sacks than Jones since 2015 (53.5). — Josh Weinfuss
Signature stat: Jones had 13.0 sacks last season, tied for seventh in NFL, but only beat his block within 2.5 seconds on 18% of pass rushes, the 54th-best pass rush win rate in NFL among 83 qualified DE/OLB.
2019 projection: 50 tackles, 12.0 sacks
DT | Bengals
2018 rank: 50
Atkins extended his Pro Bowl streak to five straight years and ensured the Bengals had at least one representative for the eighth straight year. The silent defensive tackle is already living up to the four-year extension worth $ 65.3 million that he signed in 2018. In his first year under the new deal, he tallied a team-high 10 sacks. — Ben Baby
Signature stat: Atkins has 39.0 sacks in his past four seasons, second in NFL over that span among tackles, behind Aaron Donald.
2019 projection: 42 tackles, 8.0 sacks
S | Vikings
2018 rank: 25
One of the league’s hardest-hitting safeties, Smith tied a career high with three sacks and set a career best with nine TFLs in 2018. Oddly enough, it was considered somewhat of a down year for Smith, who is the cornerstone of the Vikings’ defense and a four-time Pro Bowler who is etched in the elite category at his position. — Courtney Cronin
Signature stat: Smith played 98% of defensive snaps last season. Nobody else on the Vikings played more than 84% of snaps on defense.
2019 projection: 86 tackles, 2 INTs
DE | Jaguars
2018 rank: 76
Ngakoue is already third in franchise history in sacks (29.5). He might be even more motivated this year after being unable to agree on an extension with the Jaguars. Ngakoue’s sack numbers dipped in 2018, but he had 10 more QB hits than the season before — so he was around the QB more but just missed finishing. — Mike DiRocco
Signature stat: Ngakoue leads the 2016 draft class in sacks (29.5) and forced fumbles (10) since entering the NFL.
2019 projection: 31 tackles, 9.0 sacks
DE | Jaguars
2018 rank: 23
Campbell had his two best sack totals in the two years that he has played in the Jags’ 4-3 defense. He’ll be 33 when the season starts, but the team limited him in camp and preseason because it believes a fresher and fully healthy Campbell should reach double figures in sacks for a third straight season. — Mike DiRocco
Signature stat: Only two players in the past 10 years have 75-plus sacks and 30-plus batted passes: J.J. Watt (92 sacks, 49 batted passes) and Campbell (81.5 sacks, 36 batted passes).
2019 projection: 69 tackles, 9.0 sacks
OLB | Broncos
2018 rank: NR
Like Von Miller, Chubb has every chance to do big things in Vic Fangio’s defensive scheme. This season could offer a glimpse of Chubb and Miller on the same side of the formation at times, which presents defenses with a difficult decision in pass protection, as Chubb’s relentlessness is a quality complement to Miller’s speed. — Jeff Legwold
Signature stat: Chubb’s 12.0 sacks last season were the most by any rookie since Aldon Smith’s 14.0 in 2011, and a half-sack more than Miller posted as a rookie in 2011.
2019 projection: 56 tackles, 9.0 sacks
CB | Dolphins
2018 rank: NR
Seeing Howard become the NFL’s highest-paid cornerback this offseason should wake up everyone who was sleeping on him. Quarterbacks know him as a ball hawk, as he’s nabbed 11 interceptions over his last 17 games. Even with life-changing money, Howard is still hungry for his next goal: “I want to become the top corner in the league,” he said. — Cameron Wolfe
Signature stat: Howard tied for the league lead with seven interceptions last season, the most by any Dolphins player in the past 15 years.
2019 projection: 55 tackles, 3 INTs
CB | Broncos
2018 rank: NR
Many personnel executives would put Harris higher on this list because he’s a player who is in the highest demand — a corner who can perform at an elite level in the nickel role, but also line up outside and be one of the best in the league there, as well. Expect the Broncos to move him around their defense. — Jeff Legwold
Signature stat: Harris has played the second most snaps at slot corner of any player in the past eight years. In that span, Denver’s defense has 46 interceptions on targets to slot receivers, third most in the NFL.
2019 projection: 64 tackles, 3 INTs
S | Ravens
2018 rank: 28
Thomas is the best ball hawk the Ravens have had since Ed Reed left in 2012. He fits what Baltimore desperately needs — a center fielder who will make Ben Roethlisberger and Baker Mayfield think twice about throwing deep. According to PFF tracking, Thomas has allowed just a 58.5 completion percentage since 2015, third best in the NFL. — Jamison Hensley
Signature stat: Over his nine-year career, Thomas is the only player in the NFL with 25-plus interceptions and at least 10 forced fumbles (28 interceptions, 10 forced fumbles).
2019 projection: 84 tackles, 3 INTs
RB | Cardinals
2018 rank: 27
This could be the season that Johnson returns to form. He led the NFL in yards from scrimmage in 2016 but has been quiet since. He was injured for much of 2017 and misused last season. But Kliff Kingsbury will use him like Bruce Arians did, which means Johnson might have another shot at 1,000 rushing and 1,000 receiving yards. — Josh Weinfuss
Signature stat: Johnson is one of three running backs with 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns from scrimmage in three of the past four seasons, joining Melvin Gordon and Todd Gurley.
2019 projection: 1,713 scrimmage yards, 11 TDs
WR | Patriots
2018 rank: NR
It has been an eventful year. Coming off a Super Bowl MVP performance, Edelman finished his classes and graduated from Kent State in the spring. And now he figures to see plenty of double teams in 2019 as a result of Rob Gronkowski’s retirement and a variety of personnel-related uncertainties at tight end and receiver. — Mike Reiss
Signature stat: In the past five seasons including playoff games, the Patriots are 53-9 when Edelman plays (.855 win percentage) and 21-11 when he doesn’t (.656).
2019 projection: 95 catches, 1,161 yards, 6 TDs
OT | Saints
2018 rank: NR
Armstead should’ve debuted on this list years ago but has been plagued by a variety of injuries. He was named second-team All-Pro last year despite missing six games with a torn pectoral and now enters the 2019 season healthy. And he still holds the record for the fastest 40-yard dash by an offensive lineman at the combine (4.71 seconds). — Mike Triplett
Signature stat: In the past five seasons, the Saints have a league-high 18 rushing touchdowns on rushes outside the left tackle, where Armstead has played 99.7% of his snaps in that span.
CB | Cardinals
2018 rank: 20
Peterson’s streak of eight straight Pro Bowls — one for each season of his career — will come to an end this year because of his six-game suspension for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy. But Peterson is set on returning at the same level, which has seen him become one of the least-thrown-to corners in the NFL. — Josh Weinfuss
Signature stat: Meet the NFL’s iron man: Over the past eight seasons, no one has played more defensive snaps at any position than Peterson (7,937).
2019 projection: 35 tackles, 1 INT
WR | Rams
2018 rank: NR
In his first season playing in coach Sean McVay’s offense and alongside quarterback Jared Goff, Cooks caught 80 passes for 1,204 yards and five touchdowns. The sixth-year pro’s chemistry with Goff will only continue to grow, so expect him to have another big season in 2019 as the two perfect their connection. — Lindsey Thiry
Signature stat: Cooks is one of three players with 50-plus receptions on throws at least 20 yards downfield in the past four seasons (Antonio Brown, 55; Julio Jones, 51; Cooks, 50).
2019 projection: 75 catches, 1,119 yards, 6 TDs
RB | Steelers
2018 rank: NR
Conner has big plans for his second season as a starter. He wants to play a full 16-game slate, and the numbers will be there if he does. Conner averaged 113 yards and one touchdown per game last season but missed three weeks with an ankle injury. Conner has Ben Roethlisberger’s full trust in the passing game, as well. — Jeremy Fowler
Signature stat: Conner scored 13 scrimmage touchdowns last year, tied for third most by a running back in Steelers history and two more than Le’Veon Bell ever had in a season as a Steeler.
2019 projection: 1,434 scrimmage yards, 13 TDs
OT | Rams
2018 rank: 58
Whitworth enters his 14th NFL season, his third with the Rams, and shows no signs of slowing down. The 6-foot-7, 330-pound left tackle has played a significant role in keeping Jared Goff upright the past two seasons since coming over from the Bengals and helped spring Todd Gurley to back-to-back seasons of 1,000 yards rushing. — Lindsey Thiry
Signature stat: According to ESPN pass-rush metrics, Whitworth posted a pass block win rate of 92.1% last season, the best of any offensive lineman with 100 pass blocks.
CB | Bears
2018 rank: NR
The Bears were prepared to say goodbye to Fuller after he missed the entire 2016 season, but Fuller battled back and started all 32 games over the past two seasons, snagging nine total interceptions. He also led the team with 21 pass breakups in 2018, helping a dominating Bears defense lead the team to the playoffs. — Jeff Dickerson
Signature stat: Fuller tied for the league lead with seven interceptions last year, the third-highest total by a Bears defender in the past 25 years (Tim Jennings had nine in 2012, and Nathan Vasher had eight in 2005).
2019 projection: 59 tackles, 3 INTs
OLB | Bears
2018 rank: NR
The No. 8 overall pick of the 2018 NFL draft, Smith led the Bears with 122 tackles despite missing most of training camp. Additionally, Smith finished with five sacks and eight tackles for loss, and became just the sixth rookie in Bears history to intercept a pass in a postseason game. — Jeff Dickerson
Signature stat: Smith is one of three rookies since 2001 with 120-plus tackles and five-plus sacks in a season (121 tackles, 5.0 sacks), joining Darius Leonard last year (163 tackles, 7.0 sacks) and David Harris in 2007 (121 tackles, 5.0 sacks).
2019 projection: 130 tackles, 4.0 sacks
OLB | Steelers
2018 rank: NR
Watt racked up 13 sacks despite playing in coverage on 131 snaps, which PFF says ranks second among outside linebackers last season. Those numbers highlight Watt’s versatility, and he might have more chances to rush the passer thanks to secondary upgrades. He said he’s spent this offseason trying to refine every area of his game. — Jeremy Fowler
Signature stat: Watt had six forced fumbles last season, tied with Khalil Mack for third most in the league. Who did Watt trail? Big brother J.J. and Dee Ford, both with seven.
2019 projection: 69 tackles, 12.0 sacks
ILB | Falcons
2018 rank: 96
Jones, a one-time Pro Bowler, quickly established himself as one of the elite coverage linebackers in the game, if not the best. His speed helps cover up mistakes made by others. Said Hall of Fame linebacker Brian Urlacher of Jones: “He’s already a star.” Jones should be fully healthy this season after suffering a broken foot in 2018. — Vaughn McClure
Signature stat: Over the past three seasons, Jones is tied with Alec Ogletree for the most interceptions among linebackers with eight, despite playing seven fewer games (37) than Ogletree (44) in that time.
2019 projection: 134 tackles, 1.0 sack
OT | Saints
2018 rank: NR
What a remarkable rise. Ramczyk nearly quit football while spending time at five different colleges, started for just one year at Wisconsin as a left tackle and was drafted No. 32 overall in 2017. The Saints moved him over to right tackle, where he has quickly established himself as one of the NFL’s best. — Mike Triplett
Signature stat: Over the past two seasons, the Saints rank second in the NFL in both rushing yards (1,745) and yards per rush (5.3) on runs to the right side, where Ramczyk plays.
S | Chiefs
2018 rank: NR
The Chiefs prioritized Mathieu, who has 13 interceptions and seven sacks in his six NFL seasons, in free agency because of his versatility. “There were a lot of safeties out there, but I don’t think there are many safeties out there that can really do everything on the field [like Mathieu],” GM Brett Veach said. — Adam Teicher
Signature stat: Mathieu is one of three players with at least 13 interceptions and seven sacks since 2013, joining Luke Kuechly and Harrison Smith.
2019 projection: 92 tackles, 2 INTs
CB | Chargers
2018 rank: 66
Although he finished without an interception last season for the first time in three years, Hayward is poised to return to his ball-hawking ways for the Chargers in 2019. Hayward’s 11 interceptions since 2016 (seven in 2016 and four more in 2017) are tied for fourth most in the NFL over that span. — Eric D. Williams
Signature stat: Since joining the Chargers in 2016, Hayward’s 23 pass breakups as a perimeter corner are third most in the NFL (Darius Slay and Kyle Fuller both have 28).
2019 projection: 54 tackles, 2 INTs
DT | Falcons
2018 rank: NR
The Falcons rewarded Jarrett with a four-year, $ 68 million extension for a reason. He constantly creates havoc with a quick first step, making it difficult for offensive linemen to get a hand on him. Jarrett uses his small frame to his advantage in getting leverage and also uses his hands well. Plus, he’s a high-character guy who never stops working. — Vaughn McClure
Signature stat: According to ESPN pass-rush metrics, Jarrett beat his block by 2.5 seconds on 33.7% of his pass rushes, which was the third-highest rate among DT/NTs last season, including playoffs, behind only Aaron Donald (43.5%) and Kawann Short (34.2%).
2019 projection: 55 tackles, 6.0 sacks
CB | Browns
2018 rank: NR
Baker Mayfield wasn’t Cleveland’s only outstanding rookie in 2018. On the way to a Pro Bowl, Ward became one of only three NFL defenders with at least three picks, two fumble recoveries and one forced fumble. Ward and rookie Greedy Williams boast the collective talent to develop into one of the league’s top corner duos. — Jake Trotter
Signature stat: According to NFL Next Gen Stats, opposing QB completion percentage when Ward was the nearest defender was 52.4%, the best rate by a rookie defensive back last season.
2019 projection: 66 tackles, 3 INTs
DE | 49ers
2018 rank: NR
The 49ers haven’t had an edge rusher reach double-digit sacks since 2012, but they added Ford believing he could break that streak. With DT DeForest Buckner serving as a complement similar to what Ford had with Chris Jones in Kansas City, Ford has a chance to build on his breakthrough 2018 season. — Nick Wagoner
Signature stat: Last season, Ford and J.J. Watt were the first players in the past five seasons to post at least 13.0 sacks and seven forced fumbles in a single year.
2019 projection: 48 tackles, 10.0 sacks
ILB | Jets
2018 rank: 81
The Jets wanted Mosley so badly in free agency that they gave him $ 17 million a year, a then-record for an off-the-ball linebacker. He’s the quarterback of the defense as a smart, tough tackling machine, and it’s no accident that he has made four Pro Bowls. The Jets expect him to galvanize a unit that has talent on all three levels. — Rich Cimini
Signature stat: Mosley has 21 pass breakups in his career, which is fourth most among linebackers since 2014.
2019 projection: 129 tackles, 1.0 sack
OT | Chiefs
2018 rank: NR
Schwartz has always excelled against top pass-rushers. Von Miller has a half-sack in the past five games against Schwartz and the Chiefs, a big reason the Chiefs are 5-0 against the Broncos in that stretch. Kansas City has won the AFC West in each of the three seasons with Schwartz in its lineup. — Adam Teicher
Signature stat: Schwartz had a pass block win rate of 86.7% including the playoffs last season, which ranked eighth among tackles with at least 300 blocks.
WR | Seahawks
2018 rank: NR
Russell Wilson had a perfect passer rating when targeting Lockett last season. Lockett accrued 10 touchdowns and the sixth-best yards-per-catch average at 16.9. He should see an increase in targets now that he has replaced Doug Baldwin as Wilson’s No. 1 receiver and the focal point of Brian Schottenheimer’s passing game. — Brady Henderson
Signature stat: Lockett caught 80% of passes thrown 15-plus yards downfield last season, the highest rate of any player with at least 10 such targets.
2019 projection: 69 catches, 961 yards, 6 TDs
QB | Panthers
2018 rank: 63
Newton said during Carolina’s 6-2 start last season that he was playing the best football of his career, even better than his MVP season of 2015. And he was. With his shoulder apparently healthy after a second surgery, and in his second year under Norv Turner, Newton legitimately could be back in the MVP race if he stays healthy. — David Newton
Signature stat: Newton had a career-high 68% completion percentage last season while averaging his lowest air yards per attempt (7.0) and QB contact rate (20%) of his career.
2019 projection: 3,859 passing yards, 24 TDs, 12 INTs
OT | Eagles
2018 rank: 54
Johnson yielded five sacks last season compared to three the year before, per PFF, as he fought through an MCL sprain and a high ankle sprain. But when healthy, Johnson is arguably the best right tackle in the game. — Tim McManus
Signature stat: According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Johnson saw his pass block win rate go from 85% in 2017 to 82% in 2018, including playoffs.
OLB | Cowboys
2018 rank: NR
His journey has been remarkable given the seriousness of the knee injury he suffered at Notre Dame. If Smith has limitations, he hasn’t shown them in the past 32 games he has played. He makes big plays on the ball. He can attack the quarterback. The only thing he hasn’t done yet is record an interception. — Todd Archer
Signature stat: According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Smith had 14 tackles where he covered 20 yards of in-play distance from snap to tackle, most on the Cowboys and tied for sixth in NFL last season.
2019 projection: 123 tackles, 3.0 sacks
CB | Bills
2018 rank: 100
Simply put, White is usually too quick to separate from. He’s not the biggest or most physical corner, but he closes quickly and has good enough hands to send an opposing offense back to its sideline. Coupled with one of the league’s best safety duos behind him, White is a tough corner to test. — Marcel Louis-Jacques
Signature stat: According to NFL Next Gen Stats, White was the nearest defender on 64 targets last season, 25 more than any other Bills player. His completion percentage against was 59.4%, which was lower than league average of 61%.
2019 projection: 59 tackles, 2 INTs
C | Eagles
2018 rank: 98
Kelce did not give up a single sack in 2018, according to PFF tracking, further cementing his status as one of the best centers in the game. Fighting through multiple injuries, Kelce contemplated retirement this offseason, but is back serving as Carson Wentz’s first line of defense in better health. — Tim McManus
Signature stat: Kelce saw his pass block win rate go from 73% in 2017 to 81% in 2018. Kelce ranked 16th among 33 centers with 300 blocks last season.
G | Ravens
2018 rank: 99
Yanda has been among the most dominant linemen of his generation. He is the second-best guard in Pro Football Focus’ grading history (since 2006). Known for his toughness and technique, Yanda anchored an offensive line that helped the Ravens produce the NFL’s No. 2 rushing attack (141.9 yards per game) last season. — Jamison Hensley
Signature stat: Yanda was 10th in pass block win rate among guards last season, including the playoffs, at 82%.
CB | Lions
2018 rank: 67
Slay has reached the Pro Bowl the past two seasons and, in his words, is trying to “dominate” again in 2019, after intercepting eight passes in 2017 and adding another three last year. He has the speed to hang with any receiver and the ball skills to both intercept passes and deflect them when necessary. — Michael Rothstein
Signature stat: Slay was targeted on 21% of his coverage snaps last season, the second-highest rate among DBs with at least 400 coverage snaps, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. And he was sixth in catch rate allowed at 49.4%.
2019 projection: 52 tackles, 3 INTs