NFL Power Rankings: Ranking the NFL's Most Veteran-Savvy Squads

Joe FitzhenryCorrespondent IIJuly 12, 2012

NFL Power Rankings: Ranking the NFL's Most Veteran-Savvy Squads

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    This article will take a look at the NFL's most veteran savvy teams as we inch closer and closer to the start of training camp. 

    The rankings will be pretty close to what I think the actual NFL power rankings should look like at this point in time. 

    Who cares if the regular season is still a little less than two months off? 

    It's time to rank the NFL's most veteran-savvy squads and find out where your team ranks!

32. Indianapolis Colts

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    The Colts are essentially starting back from square one, and there isn't much of a veteran presence on this team at all. 

    With tons of new pieces on both sides of the ball, it's unrealistic to expect more than four or five victories from Indy in 2012. 

    No. 1 pick Andrew Luck has all the tools to be a great leader, but let's not place unfair expectations on him for year one. 

    Quarterbacks, just like everyone else, need time to develop, and the results won't show this season for the Colts. 

    Rebuilding projects like this one don't get done overnight. 

31. Cleveland Browns

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    Who is the true leader of this team? 

    Well, my friends, that's a question to which I'm sure Cleveland fans would love to know the answer. 

    The Browns lost one of their most senior players in Peyton Hillis, and the rest of the roster is filled with guys who are still learning their way in the NFL. 

    The offense will be one of the worst in the league, with all the uncertainty under center and a lack of overall talent at wide receiver. 

    With that being said, I like what this team is doing on defense, and the unit should only continue to improve. Joe Haden is a stud, D'Qwell Jackson is very underrated and some fresh blood on the defensive line means good things will come. 

    Overall, I just don't see a whole lot of veteran presence on this team, and it will continue to show in 2012. 

30. Minnesota Vikings

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    Pictured above is one of the few veterans left on the Minnesota roster. Just two seasons removed from playing in the NFC Championship game, rebuilding mode is now in full effect in the Twin Cities. 

    Jared Allen is essentially solely responsible for bringing together a locker room that is chalk full of first or second year players. 

    Adrian Peterson recovering from knee surgery, Christian Ponder still trying to put everything together behind a green offensive line (at least Charlie Johnson isn't playing left tackle anymore), a disgruntled star receiver and playing, in my opinion, in the NFL's toughest division isn't exactly a recipe for success.

    With the aforementioned multitude of young players, it could be another lean year for the Vikings and their fans.

29. Jacksonville Jaguars

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    One of the few veterans left in this locker room is currently in a holdout

    That's not good news. Not to mention the fact that particular veteran is the face of the franchise, the heart and soul of the team and the engine that makes this offense go. 

    Without Jones-Drew for the time being, there isn't much to be excited about for the Jags unless Blaine Gabbert develops into a leader much faster than expected. 

    His continued development is absolutely crucial to any hope of success for Jacksonville in 2012. 

28. Washington Redskins

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    Robert Griffin III showed great leadership at Baylor and will in the NFL one day, but similar to Luck it may be too much to expect for Year 1. 

    London Fletcher is a grizzled veteran on defense and the heart and soul of that unit. That's about the extent of veteran leaders on this team, with the lack of one on offense. 

    The offense has a number of young, talented players that will continue to develop over the next couple of seasons. 

27. Carolina Panthers

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    I like the direction that this team is headed in, but there seems to be an overall lack of leadership for the time being. 

    As good as Cam Newton was last year and should be again this season, his leadership qualities are still developing. 

    When it comes to the rest of the offense, Steve Smith has never struck me as much of a veteran leader. 

    On the defensive side of the ball, Charles Johnson may actually be the best veteran presence on the team. 

    As Newton continues to grow, good things will come. They will reach the playoffs in 2013. 

26. Miami Dolphins

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    Joe Philbin has himself quite the rebuilding project on his hands, but that's a story for a different day. 

    The overall veteran leadership on this team is, well, lacking. It certainly doesn't help with so much uncertainty under center. 

    Leadership from the quarterback is arguably more important than any other place on the field, but the Dolphins aren't sure who their starting quarterback will be come September. 

    Whether it's Matt Moore, Ryan Tannehill or David Garrard taking the snaps, they must take control of the offense with a limited supporting cast around him. 

    A dynamic running game will help, but expect another .500 or so season on South Beach. 

25. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    I love the Greg Schiano hire for this team; I think it's a great move for a guy who has a chance to win in Tampa.

    With that being said, it may be a few years. The young guys on this team are still growing up and learning their way in the NFL. 

    Josh Freeman was one of the NFL's best stories in 2010 before seriously struggling last season, and he's still developing as a quarterback and leader. 

    The true leader of this team is still Ronde Barber for the time being, one of the NFL's classiest veterans. 

    Beyond Barber, there isn't much to speak of. 

24. Seattle Seahawks

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    Matt Flynn was one of the better signings of the offseason, but it remains to be seen if he will be successful as the next starting QB in Seattle. 

    The jury is also still out on what kind of a leader Flynn is; his sample size is extremely small, and this will be his first season since college as the starting quarterback. 

    With all due respect to the LSU product, it's easy to look good when you carry a clipboard for 16 weeks a year and then get a chance to show your stuff in Week 17. 

    For a franchise that hasn't had a winning season in five years, Flynn will get his fair shot to lead them to the playoffs. 

23. Oakland Raiders

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    Year after year, this team is seemingly always one of the most dysfunctional in the NFL. Despite that, the Silver and Black finds a way to win a few more games than they should and stays in the playoff race until the final couple weeks. 

    I like a number of things about this team, namely the running game—although losing Michael Bush hurts—but man, that quarterback situation needs to be figured out. 

    Carson Palmer has never been much of a leader (just take a look at the way he left Cincinnati), and he isn't a long-term solution for the position. 

    The defense was a train wreck last year, but Richard Seymour is a reliable veteran who may need to lead the other guys during a potential transition phase to Dennis Allen's schemes. 

    Expect more of the same from the Raiders in 2012; they'll win eight or nine games and keep things interesting in the playoff race. 

22. New York Jets

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    Simply put, there was absolutely no veteran leadership on this team when they needed it most in 2011. 

    Instead, Santonio Holmes and Co. pouted their way to an 8-8 finish and missed the playoffs for the first time in the Rex Ryan era. 

    On defense, Bart Scott is the emotional leader and a guy that most NFL teams would love to have. I'm not a Jets fan by any means, but you have to admire Scott's leadership, passion and overall love of the game. 

    Fans of Gang Green must be wondering how great it would be if only that leadership carried over to the other side of the ball.

    Entering his fourth season, and with the Tebow Train arriving in Manhattan, it's time to put up or shut up for Mark Sanchez

    He has yet to display the leadership qualities of a great quarterback, but must do it this season or else he could lose his starting spot. 

    The Jets will go as far as the quarterback duo carries them in 2012. 

21. Arizona Cardinals

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    Similar to the Jets, Arizona will go about as far as the quarterback takes them in 2012. 

    Kevin Kolb will get his third chance, and second with the Cardinals, to be the unquestioned starting quarterback. 

    If he can stay healthy (a big assumption), Kolb must then show the leadership abilities to carry a team that I think has a chance to at least compete in the playoff hunt. 

    A combination of Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd and the running of Beanie Wells gives Kolb some solid weapons with which to work. 

    On defense, Adrian Wilson is a great locker-room presence and a very good safety, while Patrick Peterson is a star in the making and will one day replace Wilson as the heart and soul of the defense. 

20. St. Louis Rams

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    Yes, I'm well aware that this team went 2-14 last year, but the reason I'm ranking them higher than some might expect has to do with the big splash they made on the sidelines. 

    In my opinion, Jeff Fisher was the best hire of the offseason and brings a winning mentality to a locker room that desperately needs it. 

    He will help the young stars, such as Sam Bradford, Chris Long and James Laurinaitis, to name a few, to continue to grow and develop. 

    I also like the Scott Wells signing for this team on offense. 

    Sure, it may not be the sexiest signing ever, but Wells is a locker room guy who remains an above-average center. He knows how to win from his time with the Packers and will instill that mindset into the cast of youngsters that makes up the rest of the offense. 

    It may not show this year, but the future is bright in St. Louis. 

19. Kansas City Chiefs

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    Just like some of the other teams that I have ranked on this list so far, the success of the Chiefs this season will depend on the quarterback play. 

    Matt Cassel has yet to fully prove himself as a franchise QB, and Kansas City fans seem to be getting a bit restless. 

    Cassel will be learning a whole new offensive system this year as Brian Daboll took over that post from Bill Muir. 

    His overall level of play and leadership ability will play a large part in determining how far the Chiefs can go in 2012. 

    On defense, it's all about the young stars. Brandon Carr bolted for Dallas, but Eric Berry should return in top form to lead the secondary, while the front seven has potential to be the best in football in a couple years. 

    Sure, they may be young, but Romeo Crennel knows a thing or two about defense and is a great leader for this team. 

18. San Diego Chargers

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    Okay, I'll say it: I don't think a Phillip Rivers-led team will ever win a Super Bowl. 

    The guy just has never struck me as much of a leader and has been lackluster in some of the biggest games of his career. Not to mention the fact that he isn't much of a locker room presence either. 

    Year after year, the Chargers make the so-called "experts" look silly as they consistently underachieve. 

    The N.C. State product must be better this season in order to give his team a chance to improve on their 8-8 record. 

    On defense, Jarret Johnson may actually turn out to be the leader of this club. Johnson, a linebacker, learned his leadership skills from the best, with Ray Lewis in Baltimore. 

    Once again, the success of this team will largely depend on Rivers cutting down on his 20-interception total from 2011. 

17. Philadelphia Eagles

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    Who is the true leader of this team? 

    Well, folks, I'm an Eagles fan, and I'm still trying to figure out the answer to that question. 

    I was less than impressed with Vick's leadership last season and it certainly isn't the mercurial DeSean Jackson. 

    LeSean McCoy may be the NFC's best running back and is one of the few sure things on the offense. 

    Not many people talk about it, but where was the leadership on last year's "Dream Team" that stumbled and bumbled their way to an 8-8 finish? 

    Vick couldn't stay healthy and missed a handful of games, leaving Vince Young to take control of the offense and the team for that matter. 

    Despite a serviceable job, Young remains just about the last person I want leading my team when the season is on the line as it was for pretty much the entire second half of 2011. 

    McCoy, Trent Cole and Jason Babin are all still relatively young and are more lead by example guys. 

    It seems as if Philly is missing that vocal locker-room presence who can take them to the next level. 

    Someone in the mold of a Brian Dawkins. 

16. Buffalo Bills

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    One of the NFL's biggest winners from free agency this offseason, the Bills enter the 2012 season with more hype than they've had in a long time. 

    That's what signing Mario Williams will do for you. 

    I love what Buffalo is doing on defense. Williams is the perfect choice to lead that unit. His play-making ability is tremendous, and he'll quickly become the heart and soul of the Buffalo defense. 

    The defensive line is oozing with potential, as Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus are both stars in the making. 

    Super Mario will help to groom the youngsters like Williams and Dareus over the next couple of years. 

    However, the leadership questions for this team lie with Ryan Fitzpatrick and the offense. 

    Fitzpatrick's critics point to the seven-game losing streak that the team endured last season and the supposed lack of leadership. 

    Sure, the Harvard grad wasn't at his best during that time, but the injury to Fred Jackson didn't exactly help matters either. 

    With a healthy Jackson and a host of other weapons to work with, I fully expect Fitzpatrick to lead this team into the playoffs in 2012. 

    Yes, I actually just said that. 

15. Tennessee Titans

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    The Titans, more so than any other team, may have added the most veteran leadership this offseason. 

    New acquisitions Steve Hutchinson and Kamerion Wimbley are both veterans who can help lead their respective units. It will be especially key for Wimbley, as the unit tries to move on after the losses of Jason Jones and Cortland Finnegan. 

    Tennessee already had one of the NFL's best locker room guys at their disposal in Matt Hasselbeck

    The former Seahawk is a great mentor to Jake Locker, who is learning what it takes to play quarterback in the NFL. 

    Expect this team to once again be on the fringe of wild-card contention in 2012. 

14. Dallas Cowboys

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    I'm preparing myself for every Cowboys fan on the planet to comment on this article and tell me why their team should be in the top 10. 

    The fact of the matter is that Tony Romo isn't enough of a leader to warrant a coveted spot in the top 10. 

    I love the revamped secondary on this team, but Dallas will go as far as Romo can take them. 

    No. 9 has often fallen flat in big games and desperately needs to prove his critics wrong this season. 

    With a solid running game, two dynamic receivers in Dez Bryant and Miles Austin and an All-Pro tight end in Jason Witten, there's no excuse for Big D to fall short of the playoffs again. 

13. New Orleans Saints

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    In normal times, this team would usually be ranked much higher on a list such as this one. 

    Thing is, these aren't exactly normal times in New Orleans. 

    The Saints have lost both their head coach, Sean Payton, and their best defender, Jonathan Vilma, for the entire 2012 season. 

    That's without mentioning the fact that Vilma was the heart and soul of the unit. 

    This team's leader on offense, Drew Brees, is currently doing just about everything that a leader shouldn't do. 

    Brees is the true leader of this team and the face of the franchise, but is on the verge of sitting out at least a part of training camp. 

    With so much chaos surrounding the team, it's hard to imagine the Saints being elite in 2012. 

    If Brees holds out, who on the team is going to step up and be a leader?

    The answer to that question remains to be seen. 

12. Cincinnati Bengals

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    I know they are both still young, but I think Andy Dalton and A.J. Green are both capable of doing very big things together. 

    Dalton showed incredible poise during his rookie season and is charged with leading the Bengals back to the playoffs for a second consecutive year. 

    Amazingly, the TCU product led this team to the playoffs after starting from day one amid very low expectations for the team. 

    With Dalton, Green and free-agent signee Ben-Jarvus Green Ellis on offense and one of the NFL's most underrated defenses, the future looks bright in the Queen City. 

11. Atlanta Falcons

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    Let's start with the good stuff for the Falcons: Lofa Tatupu and Asante Samuel are two very solid pickups for this team and should lead the defense. 

    Moving on to the offense, Matt Ryan is one of my favorite players to watch, but he hasn't performed when it counts most. 

    Matty Ice has been great in the regular season, but has yet to win a playoff game or truly play well in one for that matter. 

    The tools to be a great leader are there—we saw it at Boston College—but the Falcons will only soar (no pun intended) as far as No. 2 can take them. 

    With all the chaos in New Orleans, 2012 is the time for Atlanta to stake their claim at the top of the NFC South. 

    It is up to Ryan to prove that he can produce when the lights shine brightest and the pressure is on. 

10. Chicago Bears

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    We'll start with the defense: Brian Urlacher, Julius Peppers and Lance Briggs are as good a trio that you'll find in the NFL today. 

    All three guys are proven veterans who know how to lead a team, with Urlacher being the true leader in the Windy City. 

    He is one of the best locker-room presences around the league and has been a model of consistency over the course of his career.

    After all, there's a reason Peppers decided to come play for the Bears: Guys want to get a chance to play with someone like Urlacher. 

    Moving on to the offense, the Bears spent the better part of the offseason wheeling and dealing for weapons that Jay Cutler can utilize. 

    With the additions of Brandon Marshall, Michael Bush and Alshon Jeffrey, Cutler now has no excuse not to lead the Bears on a deep playoff run. 

    He isn't a great leader, per se, but with a viable No. 1 receiver now at his disposal, Cutler should at least be happier, and the new additions could help him improve his leadership. 

9. Houston Texans

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    While the losses of Mario Williams and DeMeco Ryans hurt, the Texans still have some solid veterans on their team. 

    Matt Schaub isn't a great quarterback, but he is very good and consistently produces from year to year. After an injury cut short his 2011 campaign, the Virginia product will return to lead the offense this season. 

    Schaub's supporting cast is excellent, with arguably the NFL's most dynamic running back duo and one of the game's best receivers in Andre Johnson. A legitimate No. 2 receiver would be nice, but this offense will be one of the best in the league anyways. 

    On defense, guys like Bradie James, Connor Barwin and Brooks Reed will be counted on to fill the leadership void left by Williams and Ryans. 

    The biggest question for this team may be how they handle the first true success in franchise history. 

8. Detroit Lions

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    One of the best and most underrated moves that any team made this offseason was the Lions' re-signing of Stephen Tulloch. 

    Tulloch is the heart and soul of the Detroit defense and has been a tackling machine throughout the course of his career. 

    The Lions employed the full-court press to bring him back, and it worked to perfection. 

    The loss of Eric Wright and some immaturity issues elsewhere on the defense (I'm looking at you, Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh), make Tulloch as important as ever especially for a team that is desperately trying to upgrade their defense. 

    On offense, Matthew Stafford is being groomed on the fly on how to lead a team. He stayed primarily healthy in 2011 and brought this once woebegone franchise to the playoffs for the first time since 1999. 

    What remains to be seen is how Stafford and Co. handle their first success in quite a while.

7. Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Despite losing two of the NFL's best locker room presences in Hines Ward and James Farrior, the Steel City is still home to a number of reliable veterans. 

    Troy Polamalu isn't overly vocal, but is one of the league's best safeties. Over the past few seasons, we have seen Polamalu become the heart and soul of this unit, and it will remain that way in 2012. 

    Also, with Farrior's departure, guys like James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley will get their shot to be the anchors of the linebacking corps.

    As for the offense, Ben Roethlisberger has matured over the course of his career and finds a way to lead this team to double-digit victories nearly every year. Not to mention the fact that Roethlisberger is one of the NFL's toughest quarterbacks as well. 

6. Denver Broncos

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    This is one of the few teams on the list that I don't necessarily agree with where I would put them if this was the NFL power rankings. 

    The reason that Denver is ranked so high? 

    Well, that's simple: some fellow named Peyton Manning

    You may have heard his name a few times before, but Peyton can mean that much to a team. 

    His leadership is matched by few others in the NFL and despite a complete face lift on offense, expect No. 18 to lead the Broncos to several victories this season.

5. San Francisco 49ers

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    Patrick Willis reminds me a lot of Brian Urlacher in terms of leadership, and what Willis means to San Francisco is similar to what Urlacher means to the Bears. 

    Both as a locker room presence and as an on-field coach, the Ole Miss product is one of the best in the NFL. 

    With the offense, Alex Smith isn't quite as polished as some of the other guys of the highly-ranked teams on this list, but he has shown the tools to be a good leader. 

    Smith led the 49ers to within one errant knee of the Super Bowl and with an improved receiving corps and the NFL's deepest backfield this time around. It is up to the former No. 1 overall pick to bring this team back to its glory days. 

4. Baltimore Ravens

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    One of the NFL's best (and most vocal) leaders is the anchor of this team. 

    Ray Lewis knows a thing or two about leadership, and he has passed that on to fellow defensive studs Ed Reed, Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs. 

    Even though he is getting older, you can't discount the knowledge and leadership that a guy like Lewis can provide. 

    He remains one of the best in the business and has been the heart and soul of this team for as long as I've been watching football (about 13 years). 

    On the offensive side of things, Joe Flacco is still learning how to be a great leader, but he is coming along. For all of the criticism, Flacco still does a pretty solid job at getting the ball to his receivers and leads the offense.

    He understands his role and knows that the true leaders of this team play on the defensive side of the ball. 

3. New York Giants

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    Tom Coughlin may not be the most fun coach to play for, but he sure knows how to coach a team. 

    His teams always seem to get hot at the right time, and that's a big reason why the Giants have captured two Super Bowls in five years. 

    Crazy to think how close Coughlin once was to being run out of New York just a couple years ago. 

    The former Jacksonville head man has passed a thing or two about leadership on to Eli Manning, and thus Manning has become an upper-tier quarterback in this league after some bouts of inconsistency earlier in his career. 

    The man who played in his older brother's shadow for so long has finally emerged and made a name for himself as one of the most clutch quarterbacks in the league. 

2. Green Bay Packers

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    When you get to the top of this list, there really isn't much that can be used to distinguish the top few teams. 

    Aaron Rodgers is every bit as good of a leader as Manning or Tom Brady

    After all, Rodgers is the leader of arguably the NFL's top passing attack and is respected by just about everyone from his own teammates to opposing fans. 

    The defense is more of the same, as Clay Matthews is one of the best pass rushers and locker-room guys in the league. 

    Matthews takes a more vocal approach, but both players are very solid leaders and big reasons why the Packers won 15 games last year. 

1. New England Patriots

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    I could write only Tom Brady and Bill Belichick on this slide and it would suffice as to why the Patriots are at the top of this list. 

    The duo has combined to win three Super Bowls and more than 100 games, plus they are two incredible catches away from having two more Super Bowl victories and a 19-0 perfect season on their resume. 

    Enough dwelling on the losses though; they still hurt. 

    Brady and Belichick are two of the best minds in the game and have made countless cast-offs into Pro Bowlers or, at the least, very productive players. 

    That alone should say enough about the veteran presence that is inside the Patriots' locker room and why it is the best in the NFL. 

    The savvy of both Brady and Belichick is unmatched by any other combination in the league.