NFL Power Rankings: Post-Draft Edition
After the completion of the latest NFL player selection meeting, otherwise known as the NFL draft, we have a much better understanding of what the league will look like heading into the 2012 season. While we have yet to see a team have so much as a minicamp, we can certainly start to look at how these teams stack up against each other.
In my pre-draft power rankings, a few of you took exception to what appeared to be a close adherence to the final standings in 2011. While I don't think that was necessarily the case, I do think the world champs have to stay at No. 1 until the games start. There’s no question they’ve earned that right.
So where does your team stack up with the rest of the league? Let’s get this party started and find out.
32. Indianapolis Colts
Landing Andrew Luck is obviously a nice start for the Colts, and it's clear that the team plans on building up its offense around its franchise quarterback.
One of the bigger surprises of the offseason was the return of wide receiver Reggie Wayne to the Colts. While Wayne may not be the receiver he was even three years ago, his veteran presence will only help Luck’s development.
The Colts and their fans will have to settle in for a long, frustrating season. While I think they could actually win around five games, it will be another year before this team can think of a real bounce-back campaign—but I do think it could be right back in the wild-card hunt as soon as 2013.
31. Minnesota Vikings
A few short weeks after reports surfaced that owner Zygi Wilf had offered Bill Parcells complete control of the team earlier this offseason, Vikings general manager Rick Spielman absolutely crushed the draft.
Getting picks from Cleveland to move back one spot and take the player they most likely wanted anyway was a great start to a great weekend for Spielman and the personnel group in Minnesota.
Second-year quarterback Christian Ponder will need running back Adrian Peterson to come back healthy from a torn ACL suffered in Week 16 last year. While the Vikings can no doubt plan on opening things up a bit more in the passing game for the young signal-caller, Peterson’s presence will make things much easier for everyone involved.
30. Cleveland Browns
The Browns got their man in the draft in running back Trent Richardson, who should become an instant fan favorite in Cleveland. One of the bigger surprises of the draft was the Browns' selection of quarterback Brandon Weeden, effectively ending the Colt McCoy era.
It’s hard to see a long-term plan emerging from Browns headquarters. While they sat out most of free agency, which would indicate a willingness to build through the draft, they appear ready to chuck out their third-year quarterback for a soon-to-be 29-year-old QB, reportedly after the receiver they wanted with their second first-round pick wasn’t there.
This team always has the feel of a rudderless ship, and 2012 doesn’t look to be much better than 2011.
29. Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins wasted little time putting their first choice in the 2012 draft to work, sending out a voice mail to season ticket holders on Friday morning from new quarterback Ryan Tannehill, exclaiming how excited he is to be the Dolphins’ new quarterback.
New head coach Joe Philbin has talent to work with on the offensive side of the ball, especially at running back with veteran holdover Reggie Bush and fourth-round pick Lamar Miller. The question will be how long it takes to get Tannehill up to speed and if he is able to transition to the pro game.
While I don’t think it will happen overnight, I trust Philbin to have the Dolphins in contention for the AFC East crown...in 2014.
28. St. Louis Rams
The Rams had what seems like a great draft. Unfortunately, it will take more than one draft to fix what had become one of the least talented rosters in the NFL.
New general manager Les Snead and new head coach Jeff Fisher spent the offseason improving the overall talent level, both in free agency and in the draft.
From cornerback Cortland Finnegan and first-round pick Michael Brockers on the defensive side of the ball to center Scott Wells and second-round pick Isaiah Pead on the offensive side, the Rams badly needed an infusion of overall talent, and they seem to have done well in that respect.
Fisher was wise to stick with quarterback Sam Bradford, who I thought got a bad rap last year for having to deal with a dearth of playmakers on the offensive side of the ball. Bradford has the talent to be one of the better quarterbacks in the league. He just needs a little bit of help.
27. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars landed Justin Blackmon in the draft to pair with free-agent acquisition Laurent Robinson in an attempt to give beleaguered second-year quarterback Blaine Gabbert some help in the passing game.
Much of the attention paid to the Jaguars and new head coach Mike Mularkey this offseason has been on the need for Gabbert to make a big jump from his first year's performance. It doesn’t speak well to new owner Shad Khan’s belief in the young signal-caller that he attempted to trade for Tim Tebow when he came available.
This is a team that had a championship-caliber defense last year and an offense that was painful to watch. If Mularkey can get even an iota of watchable football out of Gabbert and company, it will be a minor victory.
26. Arizona Cardinals
While the pairing of Fitzgerald and Floyd is exciting, it doesn’t fix the dilemma the team faces at the quarterback position, where it used a great deal of resources to bring in Kevin Kolb, only to watch him struggle through inconsistent play and injury and finally be outplayed by John Skelton.
The defense got better as 2011 went on, and the draft brings underrated Jamell Fleming to help in the secondary, but realistically this team isn’t going anywhere until they find a quarterback who isn’t Kevin Kolb.
25. Oakland Raiders
New general manager Reggie McKenzie will spend 2012 digging out from the gigantic mess that Hue Jackson left behind.
McKenzie spent his first draft as Raiders GM using what picks he had on selecting some tough, hard-nosed players. This comes after gutting a roster that was well over the salary cap, causing a parade of talent to walk out the door.
McKenzie spent nearly 20 years learning from Ron Wolf and Ted Thompson. The Raiders are in good hands. Much like Thompson hiring the relatively unknown Mike McCarthy, McKenzie tabbed Dennis Allen, with all of one year's experience as a defensive coordinator and no head coaching experience whatsoever, to be his head coach.
This team will work together to bring the Raiders back to their former glory—but it's going to take a while.
24. Washington Redskins
Robert Griffin III is in the fold. The excitement surrounding RGIII is understandable, but this team is far from ready to start putting up huge numbers on offense.
While head coach Mike Shanahan surprisingly spent another draft pick on another quarterback in Kirk Cousins, the idea of developing two young, talented signal-callers is not as crazy as some would have you believe.
With a defense that is actually quite good, the Redskins offense should feature a heavy dose of Roy Helu banging out yards and RGIII running heavy boot-action throwing to tight end Fred Davis. The offense doesn’t need to be spectacular in 2012; it just needs to keep the ball safe and score just enough to keep give the underrated defense a lead to protect.
Obviously, this is easier said than done, and there will be growing pains along the way for the young franchise quarterback, but this team is not as far away as some might think.
23. Tennessee Titans
Adding tough players who succeeded at major universities with big-time experience in the 2012 draft will help the Titans raise their overall talent level, but this team needs to find out sooner rather than later if quarterback Jake Locker is the long-term answer.
The other pressing issue for the Titans is getting a more productive season out of running back Chris Johnson. After an extremely disappointing season coming on the heels of signing a huge contract extension, Johnson will be scrutinized heavily all year and needs to provide the spark on offense that the team had come to expect during his first three years in the league.
The Titans should improve their overall level of play in 2012, and it would not be a big surprise to see them push for a wild-card spot, though getting past the Texans and winning the division could be a tall order.
22. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
New head coach Greg Schiano hasn’t wasted any time putting his stamp on his new team. Reports from the team's first organized activity, prior to the draft, had Schiano yelling at his squad for how they began a certain drill, which drew more than a few raised eyebrows. This certainly isn’t the player-friendly atmosphere fostered by Raheem Morris.
Obviously, yelling at guys doesn’t make Schiano a good coach. What ends up happening on the field on Sundays will help determine that.
As all bad teams do, the Bucs had to go out and overpay in free agency just to raise the talent level of their team, landing receiver Vincent Jackson, guard Carl Nicks and cornerback Eric Wright. Throw in the drafting of Alabama safety Mark Barron and running back Doug Martin, and the Bucs at least have some talent to take the field with in September.
The big question mark for the Buccaneers, however, remains quarterback Josh Freeman. Freeman looked to be a bright young star on the rise his first two seasons, only to crash back down to earth in 2011. The Bucs will need new quarterbacks coach Ron Turner to completely break down Freeman’s game and build it back up again after Freeman developed a barrel of bad habits at the position last year.
21. New York Jets
While the Jets' 2012 season could end up being a referendum on their decision to trade for quarterback Tim Tebow, I expect Rex Ryan’s group to surprise many of us and win a decent number of games. The problem is, I don’t see them winning a lot of them against the better teams on their schedule.
The Jets, as they tell seemingly anyone who will listen, plan to keep on the “ground and pound” tip, which is fine, except for the fact that they don’t really have a bell-cow, workhorse back and also have a glaring weakness at right tackle.
I expected to see some help arrive in the draft, but instead the Jets grabbed boom-or-bust candidate Quinton Coples and my favorite receiver in this year's draft in Stephen Hill.
The spotlight will be trained on quarterback Mark Sanchez in a way that we hadn’t thought imaginable prior to Tebow coming to town, and every incompletion, every turnover, will be blown up into a back-page drama in the New York papers. It will be fun to watch—if you’re not a Jets fan.
20. Seattle Seahawks
From signing quarterback Matt Flynn and defensive lineman Jason Jones in free agency to re-signing running back Marshawn Lynch and defensive lineman Red Bryant, Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider were busy as usual this offseason.
While I like three of those moves, I’m not wild about giving big money to a running back, no matter how much of your offense he accounted for the previous year.
The Seahawks have taken some grief for their draft, but I actually like what some have seen as a reach for Bruce Irvin, and I thought the Bobby Wagner selection was great as well.
This team will play a tough brand of defense and try to pound the football and work Flynn (or possibly Tarvaris Jackson, if you believe the line Carroll is selling about a training camp quarterback competition) and the passing game off play-action and more traditional West Coast offensive sets. While the 49ers are the presumptive favorites, the Seahawks could surprise with a real challenge for the division crown.
19. Kansas City Chiefs
This is the first team where I find myself thinking, “They should probably be higher in these rankings.” New head coach Romeo Crennel did an admirable job last year when thrust into the role of interim head coach, bringing stability and clarity to what had become close to a joke.
General manager Scott Pioli had a solid, if not spectacular, draft this past weekend. This team will probably win a few more games just by virtue of being healthy this year, starting with getting its quarterback Matt Cassel back under center and, more importantly, the dynamic presence of running back Jamaal Charles, who is returning from an ACL injury.
However, Cassel’s play needs to improve overall or this team could find itself treading water in the AFC West.
18. San Diego Chargers
Did anyone ever get a legitimate answer to what exactly was up with Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers for the first part of the 2011 season? Rivers swore blind that he wasn’t injured, yet his play looked like anything but what we’ve come to expect from the eight-year veteran.
Chargers general manager A.J. Smith, despite taking some shots in the media early on, has quietly had a good offseason, which seems to have played into a quietly excellent draft. Landing Melvin Ingram and Kendall Reyes should go a long way to fixing what ailed the Chargers defense last year.
Most teams would probably have moved on from head coach Norv Turner at this point, but Chargers owner Dean Spanos seems to believe Turner is the man to bring a Lombardi Trophy to San Diego. I’ll just let the last sentence hang in your head for a little bit, Chargers fans...
17. Buffalo Bills
General manager Buddy Nix went out and got a premier pass-rusher in Mario Williams in free agency, but he didn’t stop there. Nix also inked former Patriot Mark Anderson to a free-agent contract in hopes of giving the Bills' moribund pass rush some life.
New defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt brings his—let's be honest now—somewhat outdated defensive scheme to Buffalo. In Wannstedt’s scheme, the corners need to be physical at the line, and the four-man line needs to get to the quarterback. Nix drafted Stephon Gilmore to help with the former and signed Williams and Anderson to help with the latter.
In the end, this team’s fortunes will most likely rise and fall with quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who looked fantastic last year before signing a new contract and getting hurt. The burning question for the Bills and their fans: Which of those two events contributed more to Fitzpatrick’s slide? The answer holds the key to the Bills' 2012 season.
16. Carolina Panthers
While I would have liked to see the Panthers do a little more to get quarterback Cam Newton some help on offense, they did re-sign Steve Smith to a long term deal, ensuring he will be around for the foreseeable future.
The Panthers did go and get bruising fullback Mike Tolbert in free agency and still boast a serious one-two punch at tailback in DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. General manager Marty Hurney spent the draft getting his defense some help, led by the selection of linebacker Luke Kuechly, who should be the cornerstone of the Panthers defense for years to come.
The Panthers have a tough row to hoe in the NFC South, but Newton is a special talent, and I wouldn’t be surprised in the least to see the Panthers challenge the Saints for the division crown.
15. Denver Broncos
I hear Broncos fans already: “No team quarterbacked by a healthy Peyton Manning should be this low in any NFL power ranking!”
While that may end up being quite true, this team has been saddled with some extremely big expectations by signing Manning, and while the league's only four-time MVP could very well end up taking the Broncos to a Super Bowl, I have some serious reservations about how this team will come together—and not only on offense.
Last year’s dramatic playoff victory papered over some significant cracks, from an inconsistent secondary to a suspect running game.
The Broncos will be tested right out of the gate, facing the Steelers on Sunday Night Football in front of the entire country. It will be interesting to watch how this team responds to the pressures that landing Manning has brought it.
14. Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons went through some coaching upheaval on both sides of the ball this spring, hiring new offensive and defensive coordinators.
On defense, Mike Nolan figures to be an upgrade over the departed Brian VanGorder. On offense, Mike Mularkey left to become head coach of the Jaguars, who turned around and sent Dirk Koetter to run the Falcons offense.
Head coach Mike Smith has won a bunch of games during his time in Atlanta, but he has yet to win a playoff game. This year will be quite telling when it comes to his continued prospects.
Can Smith get this team over the hump and deep into the playoffs? Or is he some kind of second coming of Dennis Green or Mike Sherman—coaches who could win lots of games but whose teams folded when the spotlight was on them?
13. Philadelphia Eagles
Andy Reid and company spent last offseason assembling the ill-fated “Dream Team.” This offseason, they’ve done a perceived 180 by mostly rewarding their own, keeping guys like Trent Cole and DeSean Jackson in the fold with new contracts.
The Eagles spent a good part of their draft getting their embattled defensive coordinator Juan Castillo some help.
In the end, however, this team will really rise and fall on the fortunes of quarterback Michael Vick. If (and that’s an enormous “if”) Reid and company can keep Vick upright and on the field, they are as dangerous as any team in the league.
12. Cincinnati Bengals
Mike Brown’s two big hits in last year's draft, quarterback Andy Dalton and receiver A.J. Green, seem destined to be a lethal duo for the next decade.
Brown followed that up with the Carson Palmer trade, which he turned into cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and offensive lineman Kevin Zeitler. While neither may end up on highlight reels with as much regularity, both could very well end up being cornerstones for the Bengals for years to come.
Coming out of preseason last year, I thought this was the worst team in the league (their march to becoming a wild-card playoff team probably speaks to how seriously you should take these power rankings...).
Now, the Bengals have the look of an ascending team that should build on last year’s success and has a serious chance of challenging the Ravens for the division crown.
11. Chicago Bears
Some may be surprised to see the Bears ranked so high—and by a Packers fan, no less—but this team probably makes the playoffs last year if quarterback Jay Cutler doesn’t get hurt. Cutler was playing an insane brand of ball before having his season cut short by a thumb injury.
New general manager Phil Emery has wasted little time putting his stamp on his first Bears team. From trading for oft-troubled receiver Brandon Marshall to presiding over a draft that, while curiously ignoring the offensive line, should provide at least two new starters, this is a Bears team that will be better than a lot of people think.
While the Matt Forte issue could become a real distraction if both sides dig in for the long haul over the summer, head coach Lovie Smith has done a good job in the past of keeping his team focused in the face of outside distractions.
10. Dallas Cowboys
If Morris Claiborne is as good as the Cowboys think he is (and I tend to agree with the Cowboys on this one), he will form an extremely tough cornerback duo with free-agent acquisition Brandon Carr.
Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan’s group should be much more effective when sending pressure than they were last year.
Jerry Jones’ squad is a perennial paper champion, seemingly stocked with players who will bring the city of Dallas its first Super Bowl since Jones ran Jimmy Johnson out of town. (Yes, Barry Switzer won a title - with Johnson's players.) This team is little different.
Head coach Jason Garrett needs to make the playoffs and probably win a game or two when he gets there, or you can bet Jones will be looking for his seventh head coach since parting ways with Johnson.
9. New Orleans Saints
So, it’s been a pretty quiet offseason for the Saints, no?
While the Saints have been grabbing headlines for all the wrong reasons, from Bountygate and Mickey Loomis’ alleged wiretapping of opposing coaching staffs to the continued standoff in contract negotiations with their franchise quarterback, it can’t be denied that this is still an extremely talented team.
While Sean Payton’s suspension has the potential to hang like a dark cloud over this team all season, I tend to think the Saints will be more than all right. The best thing this team did this offseason was hire defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, who will be a vast improvement over the departed Gregg Williams.
8. Detroit Lions
The Lions have done an excellent job of assembling an extremely deep and talented roster. General manager Martin Mayhew has done an excellent job of identifying his core players and getting them locked up, the seven-year contract extension given to Calvin Johnson being the most recent example.
What remains for the Lions? What needs to happen for them to take the proverbial “next step”? Simply put, they need to grow up. Having three players busted for marijuana possession in one offseason doesn’t exactly point to things improving in that area. This is a team that cost itself game after game with its immaturity in 2011.
If head coach Jim Schwartz can’t get this talented but troubled group deep into the playoffs, Mayhew may have to start looking for someone who can.
7. Pittsburgh Steelers
Apart from their starting quarterback’s various legal issues, the Steelers usually manage to stay quiet during the offseason, content to stay out of free agency, draft well and then win a bunch of games in the fall.
Things were a bit different this offseason, as the team hired a new offensive coordinator in the volatile Todd Haley to replace “retired” Bruce Arians. The Steelers also bid adieu to a trio of veteran mainstays in Hines Ward, James Farrior and Aaron Smith.
While the Mike Wallace situation looks as though it could potentially drag on well into the summer, no one seriously thinks he won’t be back with the team. Throw in another excellent draft orchestrated by general manager Kevin Colbert, and the Steelers should be right in the thick of the playoff race this December.
6. Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens made most of their headlines this offseason in their contract dealings with their star quarterback and running back. This is a very good team that should pick up where it left off last year, but that might be part of the problem—the fact that the Ravens are a perennial playoff team that can’t ever quite get over the hump.
They have the general manager, and they have the head coach. The question that seems to annually haunt this team is, “Do they have the quarterback?”
While Joe Flacco may not be as good as he thinks he is (he told a local Baltimore radio station he thinks he’s the best quarterback in the NFL), he should be good enough to guide this team to a championship.
5. Houston Texans
Last season, the Texans withstood an onslaught of injuries to key players that would have sunk lesser teams. Losing your starting quarterback, his backup and your best pass-rusher all within a few weeks of each other is supposed to kill your season. Not these Texans, who not only got to the playoffs but actually advanced to the divisional round.
While they suffered some losses in free agency, they are still an incredibly talented team that added key pieces to both sides of the ball in the draft in outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus and center Ben Jones. As with every team, they need to stay healthy. But this is a serious contender in my eyes.
4. San Francisco 49ers
This team has the “we have unfinished business” vibe to it. Returning all 11 starters to a defense that dominated nearly every week, head coach Jim Harbaugh has added some weapons to the offensive side of the ball in hopes of scoring a few more points a game.
While Randy Moss, Brandon Jacobs and Mario Manningham grabbed headlines, the thinking here is that former Oregon running back LaMichael James, who the Niners grabbed in the second round of this weekend's draft, will turn out to be a key component of the 49ers' offensive improvement.
3. Green Bay Packers
When your team sets a franchise record for points scored the same season your team gives up an NFL record for yardage allowed through the air, it's pretty clear which side of the ball needs work.
General manager Ted Thompson dipped his toe into free agency with the signing of defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove and center Jeff Saturday and then spent nearly the entire draft working on their defense.
Thompson’s unusual aggressiveness in trading up a couple times on Day 2 speaks to how badly the Packers felt they needed help on defense. My early call is a Packers-Patriots Super Bowl...with an emphasis on “early.”
2. New England Patriots
At this point, it’s a cliché to say, “As long as they have Bill Belichick and Tom Brady they are Super Bowl contenders”—but as we all know, clichés only become clichés because they contain an element of truth, which is certainly the case here.
The Patriots got more explosive on the outside with their free-agent acquisition of wide receiver Brandon Lloyd and spent the draft getting better on defense. Adding Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower, along with defensive end Jake Bequette, should help upgrade a Patriots defense that gave up way too many yards last year.
1. New York Giants
As Dave Moss says in David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross, “The rich get richer, that’s the law of the land.” The world champs, led by perennially underrated general manager Jerry Reese, have had a great offseason.
From trading for linebacker Keith Rivers to signing defensive tackle Shaun Rogers on the eve of the draft, the Giants have not made a big splash but have rather done their usual stellar job of allowing less-than-key components of the roster to walk (think Mario Manningham and Brandon Jacobs) and filling those holes with young talent.