Report Card Grades for Every NFL Roster Heading into the Draft

Michael SchotteyNFL National Lead WriterApril 11, 2013

Report Card Grades for Every NFL Roster Heading into the Draft

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    Which NFL teams have done the most to improve themselves in free agency this offseason, and which teams still have lots to do in the draft?

    To sort that out, I've graded every roster in the NFL heading into the draft. While I'm sure there will be plenty of discussion in the comments section (these are subjective, after all), I made every effort to be as comprehensive as possible.

    The grades may not match up with a team's win-loss record in 2012—a credit to the work they've done (or failed to do) this offseason. Other teams may be far better in some areas than others, resulting in a higher grade overall but still not relieving them of a clear Achilles heel. Still others have gaping holes sure to be filled in the draft or the post-draft free agency period that could seriously improve their current grade.

     

    How the Grades Were Compiled

    To find the overall grade, the weighted grading system broke out into four categories: starting QB, LT/edge rusher (scheme-dependent—either DE in a 4-3 or OLB in a 3-4), starters and depth. QBs were given the most weight, and then overall starters and LT/edge rusher were given roughly equal weight.

    Depth includes both subpackage players and immediate backups. In the formula, depth rarely changed the overall grade, but it was included to give a clearer picture of why some teams with equal grades have different outcomes.

    Why did I choose the weighting the way I did? Clearly, this is a quarterback-driven league—very few people not named Adrian Peterson would argue with that notion. After passing the ball, the next goal is to keep the other passer from doing the same. Thus, pass-rushers and pass-protectors are the other uniquely valued positions in the NFL.

     

    What the Grades Mean

    A: Able to Excel without Much Help

    B: Able to Excel with a Customary Amount of Help

    C: Able to Excel Under Ideal Conditions Against Most Opponents

    D: Unable to Excel Under Even Ideal Conditions Against Almost All Opponents

    For quarterbacks, as well as left tackles and edge rushers, this will make a lot of sense. The "help" or "conditions" described is often good protection, a great receiving corps, a talented guard next to the tackle or a quarterback with a quick release who makes his line look better.

    For units and complete team grades, the "help" or "condition" might be something like fantastic coaching, home-field advantage, weather conditions, unforced errors by the other team, etc.

    Overall, the grades are on a bit of a bell curve—though that was not done intentionally. It mimics what we see in the NFL every winter when the playoff races begin. A few elite teams secure their spots early, and a few are all but eliminated by Thanksgiving. The middle of the pack, however, is huge and ultra-competitive.

    Check out how your favorite team did compared to their rivals and leave your comments below.

Arizona Cardinals

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    Starting QB: C-

    LT/Edge Rusher: D

    Starters: C-

    Depth: D-

    Overall: D+

     

    Cardinals fans may have high hopes for Carson Palmer, but he wasn't the man in Oakland, and he wasn't really in Cincinnati either, save the years he had boatloads of help. He won't succeed in Arizona either, unless the Cardinals are able to snag a top offensive tackle in the draft.

    This roster has a lot of bright spots—notably the receiving corps, secondary and defensive line—but there isn't enough talent where it counts for the Cardinals to win very many football games.

Atlanta Falcons

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    Starting QB: A

    LT/Edge Rusher: B-

    Starters: A

    Depth: B+

    Overall: A-

     

    The Falcons are one of the most talented teams in football, and that begins with their quarterback. Matt Ryan has proven that he can be "the man" for the Falcons, but GM Thomas Dimitroff and company have done a fantastic job of putting quality talent around him. Well, maybe he hasn't done such a great job at the left tackle position, where Sam Baker has become a liability.

    Barring major unforeseen circumstances, look for the Falcons in the playoffs in 2013 and well beyond.

Baltimore Ravens

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    Starting QB: B+

    LT/Edge Rusher: B

    Starters: A-

    Depth: A

    Overall: A-

     

    Maybe it's harsh to give the Super Bowl MVP a "B+," but go back and look at the descriptions on the intro slide. If the Ravens want to receive dividends on the investment they've made in Flacco, they'll need to continue to diversify their offensive portfolio and get him even more help.

    If Baltimore received this grade after the first rush of free agency, it might be a lot lower. Kudos to Ozzie Newsome for adding great pieces like Elvis Dumervil and Marcus Spears to stem the tide of the other defensive losses.

    The Ravens could be even better in 2013.

Buffalo Bills

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    Starting QB: C-

    LT/Edge Rusher: B

    Starters: B

    Depth: C+

    Overall: B-

     

    The Bills are a better overall team than their record showed last season. Poor quarterbacking and coaching largely led to their demise. Sadly, the new head coach is an unknown commodity in the NFL, and Kevin Kolb hasn't shown that he will be any better than Ryan Fitzpatrick—though he is a few years younger and has more raw physical tools.

    Left tackle Cordy Glenn is a valuable piece to the puzzle, but he pulls down the LT/Edge Rusher grade a bit from the "A" that defensive end Mario Williams would've earned on his own. Depth is a slight concern, but that will probably sort itself out as current starters in the defensive back seven get pushed down the depth chart.

Carolina Panthers

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    Starting QB: B

    LT/Edge Rusher: B+

    Starters: C-

    Depth: D+

    Overall: B-

     

    Remember, this isn't a scouting report. If I graded only on tools, Cam Newton would have a much higher grade. He just hasn't shown the production to warrant a higher grade among his peers.

    If you really have a problem with Newton being a "B," go look at some of the other quarterbacks who received "B+" or better and try to make the argument that Newton has been better. He can be, but he hasn't been.

    I'm a huge fan of the Panthers defensive ends, and left tackle Jordan Gross is an underrated stud. If the Panthers can shore up the interior of their offensive and defensive lines and add a little more talent in the defensive backfield, this will be a heck of a football team in 2013.

Chicago Bears

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    Starting QB: B+

    LT/Edge Rusher: B

    Starters: B+

    Depth: B-

    Overall: B+

     

    Left tackle Jermon Bushrod and defensive end Julius Peppers are a fine combo to have at LT/Edge Rusher, but both are probably a little worse than their press clippings would admit.

    Peppers is aging, and while I am reticent to say he has "lost a step," he isn't the same dominant force that he once was. Bushrod benefited from Drew Brees' crazy-quick decision-making and release in New Orleans, and it will be interesting to see if he is the same player in Chicago. 

    With a new coach, it might be a little early to declare the Bears a playoff team in the tough NFC North, but they shouldn't be counted out by any means.

Cincinnati Bengals

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    Starting QB: B

    LT/Edge Rusher: B+

    Starters: B+

    Depth: C

    Overall: B+

     

    Quarterback Andy Dalton is pretty much the epitome of the "B" rating here. He doesn't have the physical tools to put the Bengals on his back, but he doesn't need to. A.J. Green, Jermaine Gresham, Andrew Whitworth, Kevin Zeitler and that fantastic defense can all turn the tide when he isn't able to.  

    There is a gaping hole at right tackle right now, and this team will not be the same without Andre Smith. The Bengals either need to get him back or find a suitable replacement ASAP.

Cleveland Browns

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    Starting QB: C

    LT/Edge Rusher:  A-

    Starters: B+

    Depth: C+

    Overall: B-

     

    The Browns have far more talent on their roster than one would expect from a team trotting out a new head coach and general manager in 2013. Yet with one of the better young offensive lines in all of football, a stud running back and a defense that started to come on in 2012 after Joe Haden returned, the Browns have plenty of building blocks.

    It might be too early to give up on quarterback Brandon Weeden because he does have more to show than he did in 2012, but if the Browns have a shot to draft an elite quarterback prospect they like, it could turn the tide in Cleveland very quickly.

Dallas Cowboys

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    Starting QB: B+

    LT/Edge Rusher: B+

    Starters: B

    Depth: C-

    Overall: B

     

    Outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware almost single-handedly carries this grade for the Dallas Cowboys. Left tackle Tyron Smith is a great player, but he suffered on the blind side last year. He deserves another shot, but he may end up as an All-Pro right tackle when all is said and done...and that's OK! Without Ware's incredible talent making up for the "C" I would have given Smith, things could have looked worse.

    The Tony Romo grade will probably give his many haters pause. I'll reiterate what I've said about Romo literally every time this sort of thing comes up. When the owner talks about "watching tape," the quarterback is probably not the biggest problem with the Cowboys.

Denver Broncos

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    Starting QB: A+

    LT/Edge Rusher: A

    Starters: A-

    Depth: B

    Overall: A

     

    Quarterback Peyton Manning, left tackle Ryan Clady and linebacker Von Miller are a heck of a trio to build around. Most of you already knew that.

    Some of you may ask, however, why Miller was graded as the "edge rusher" and not one of the Broncos' defensive ends. Well, Miller hardly operates as a "normal" strongside linebacker. He rushes the passer almost constantly and rarely has a pass coverage assignment, unless it's contain on a back out of the backfield. Because of the way Denver employs him, it was only fair to grade the Broncos accordingly.

    There's still work to be done on both sides of the ball, but this team has a Super Bowl window as long as Manning is under center.

Detroit Lions

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    Starting QB: B

    LT/Edge Rusher: D

    Starters: C

    Depth: C-

    Overall: C

     

    Had this grade been taken at the very end of last season, it might be slightly higher. Unfortunately, the retirement of left tackle Jeff Backus and the departures of defensive ends Cliff Avril, Kyle Vanden Bosch and Lawrence Jackson have hurt the Lions more than signing guys like running back Reggie Bush and safety Glover Quin have helped them.

    With a top offensive tackle or defensive end in the draft, this grade could shoot up quickly as the Lions look to rebound from their atrocious play of last year.

Green Bay Packers

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    Starting QB: A+

    LT/Edge Rusher: C+

    Starters: B+

    Depth: B

    Overall: A-

     

    If I could give out an "A++" to Aaron Rodgers, I probably would, as he has shown that he is one of the top quarterbacks in the league and has succeeded on teams that (as a whole) are not as talented as he makes them look.

    The defense has improved since 2011, but the Packers are still looking for a pass-rusher (or one of their guys to step up) opposite Clay Matthews. Matthews supports that grade, though, as left tackle Marshall Newhouse should not be the one protecting the franchise investment.

Houston Texans

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    Starting QB: B

    LT/Edge Rusher: A+

    Starters: B+

    Depth: B-

    Overall: B+

     

    The Texans are another team that get a "special" grade for edge rusher, as J.J. Watt does not operate like a normal 3-4 DE. He might be the best player in all of football, and Duane Brown might very well be the best left tackle—especially for the Texans' zone-blocking scheme.

    Getting a No. 2 receiver should be a pretty huge draft priority and could boost that starters grade quickly, but ultimately, this team may have to win a Super Bowl in spite of quarterback Matt Schaub rather than because of him.

Indianapolis Colts

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    Starting QB: A

    LT/Edge Rusher: C

    Starters: B-

    Depth: C

    Overall: B

     

    The Colts have done a ton of good work this offseason, but they appear to be giving Anthony Castonzo another chance at left tackle (a good move because he's still got tons of upside). Combined with defensive end Robert Mathis, who isn't a great fit in the 3-4, the Colts may need to think about upgrading their non-QB premium positions sooner rather than later.

    The depth on this team is pretty lackluster as well—a sure sign of any rebuilding team—but they went to the playoffs last year and should do so repeatedly as long as quarterback Andrew Luck is upright.

Jacksonville Jaguars

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    Starting QB: D+

    LT/Edge Rusher: B-

    Starters: D

    Depth: D

    Overall: D+

     

    It should come as no surprise that, overall, the Jaguars are one of the worst teams in this exercise. Nor should it surprise anyone that quarterback Blaine Gabbert doesn't help matters.

    However, it may shock some to see such a high grade for the tandem of left tackle Eugene Monroe and defensive end Jason Babin. Monroe has languished in relative obscurity for the Jaguars but has held his own. Babin will be interesting to see in the Jaguars' new defensive scheme and should continue to collect sacks.

    All told, this is a team that has a lot of rebuilding to do.

Kansas City Chiefs

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    Starting QB: B

    LT/Edge Rusher: A-

    Starters: B+

    Depth: C+

    Overall: B

     

    The Chiefs' acquisition of quarterback Alex Smith (who is an average starter) will make a huge difference to a team that had a lot more talent than Matt Cassel or Brady Quinn allowed them to show in 2012.

    It starts with left tackle, where Branden Albert is a fine specimen (and improving in recent years), but the Chiefs may end up upgrading there in the draft anyway. The real boost in grade comes from linebacker Tamba Hali (or Justin Houston, really, because...take your pick), who is one of the best pass-rushers in the NFL that no one ever talks about.

Miami Dolphins

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    Starting QB: B

    LT/Edge Rusher: B

    Starters: B+

    Depth: C

    Overall: B

     

    Had I accounted more for age, quarterback Ryan Tannehill would probably get a better grade here, as would left tackle Jonathan Martin. However, the Dolphins still grade out well in this exercise because defensive end Cameron Wake is such a force of nature.

    The rest of the defense has a ton of talent as well, especially following the free-agency additions of Brent Grimes, Dannell Ellerbe and the criminally underrated Philip Wheeler.

    The Dolphins spent big because Jeff Ireland needs to turn this team around quickly. If the Dolphins can't live up to their talent in 2013, they could see another rebuild in the very near future.

Minnesota Vikings

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    Starting QB: C+

    LT/Edge Rusher: B+

    Starters: B+

    Depth: B-

    Overall: B

     

    Adrian Peterson was the MVP last season, but he doesn't have as much of an impact in this exercise as he did on the Vikings' end-of-season run toward the playoffs. Quarterback Christian Ponder's grade is fair, but he has a chance to really improve, as Greg Jennings should be a better match for his talents than Percy Harvin was.

    Last offseason, I proclaimed that the Vikings would be better than people expected. If this team can stay healthy and add a little more talent in the draft, they could grab the No. 2 spot in the NFC North once again.

New England Patriots

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    Starting QB: A+

    LT/Edge Rusher: B-

    Starters: A-

    Depth: B+

    Overall: A-

     

    The Patriots are usually thought of as "Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and company," but the insinuation that Brady carries a bunch of also-rans couldn't be further from the truth.

    Nate Solder, Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo and Stevan Ridley are all great players, and there are many more in both the starting lineup and further back on the depth chart.

    Work still needs to be done in regard to adding talent on the defensive side of the ball, but the Patriots should have another deep playoff run in 2013.

New Orleans Saints

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    Starting QB: A

    LT/Edge Rusher: C

    Starters: B-

    Depth: B

    Overall: B

     

    With Charles Brown now protecting Drew Brees' blind side and a new defense shifting pass-rushers to new positions, the Saints have a lot of questions heading into 2013, so they'll be glad to have head coach Sean Payton back to see them through the speed bumps.

    Overall, however, this team will go as far as they let Brees take them. He's one of the best quarterbacks in the league and is uniquely capable of putting up 4,500-plus yards a season without batting an eyelash.

New York Giants

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    Starting QB: A

    LT/Edge Rusher: B+

    Starters: B+

    Depth: B-

    Overall: B+

     

    Left tackle Will Beatty is improving and will probably exceed the "B+" rating in 2013, but defensive end Justin Tuck declined pretty quickly last year, and it is possible that he could end up dragging his team down if this exercise is done again halfway through next season.

    The Giants are a good team—a team that deserves to go to the playoffs. Yet their effort is so frenetic and their health is so spotty that they could miss out again this coming season.

New York Jets

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    Starting QB: C

    LT/Edge Rusher: C+

    Starters: B-

    Depth: C-

    Overall: C

     

    Left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson might be the only thing standing between this team and a "D." Mark Sanchez may not survive the offseason as the Jets' starting quarterback, and the Jets desperately need a pass-rusher to go along with the rest of their talented defense.

    This is a perfect example of why this exercise is set up the way it is. The Jets have plenty of great players, but they need to improve at the elite positions before they can hope to get back to the playoffs.

Oakland Raiders

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    Starting QB: C

    LT/Edge Rusher: C-

    Starters: C-

    Depth: D+

    Overall: C-

     

    Raiders fans want Matt Flynn to be the savior, but that just isn't very likely to happen. Flynn lacks the physical tools to cure what ails the Raiders, but he's a short-term band-aid for a general manager who has worked with him in the past.

    The Raiders will field an almost entirely new defense in 2013, but how those players fit together and how the team will actually score points are awfully big concerns.

Philadelphia Eagles

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    Starting QB: B

    LT/Edge Rusher: INCOMPLETE (Computed As C)

    Starters: C+

    Depth: C+

    Overall: B-

     

    The Eagles get my one "incomplete" grade of the exercise (though I computed it as a C), as Jason Peters is one of the league's better left tackles when healthy, but no one knows what he'll look like following another catastrophic injury. As for pass-rushers, it's impossible to know what any of their rushers will look like rushing from a new location in a brand-new defense.

    If the Eagles can stay healthy, they could potentially compete in a lot of other divisions in the NFL. In the NFC East, however, it could be another long season.

Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Starting QB: A

    LT/Edge Rusher: C+

    Starters: B+

    Depth: B-

    Overall: B

     

    Ben Roethlisberger belongs in the "Brady, Manning, Brees" conversation of great franchise quarterbacks expanding quickly to include Rodgers, Ryan and many others. Big Ben has carried the Steelers on his back in the past, and he'll have to do so again, as the rest of the Steelers' elite aren't getting any younger.

    Left tackle Mike Adams drags this grade down, and he could do the same to the Steelers this season if Roethlisberger can't stay healthy.

San Diego Chargers

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    Starting QB: B

    LT/Edge Rusher: D+

    Starters: C+

    Depth: C-

    Overall: B-

     

    Much like Romo in Dallas, quarterback Philip Rivers is not the problem in San Diego. Former head coach Norv Turner was a big issue, as he tried to run a vertical offense with zero protection and receivers who refused to get consistent separation.

    Rather than play to the strengths of his roster (a roster poorly constructed by A.J. Smith), Turner threw Rivers under a massive train asking him to do too much with too little.

    This is a rebuilding squad, but a left tackle and more help coming off the edge would really help this team in a big way.

San Francisco 49ers

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    Starting QB: A

    LT/Edge Rusher: A+

    Starters: A

    Depth: A-

    Overall: A

     

    The 49ers were awfully close to getting an overall grade of "A+," as they have a tremendous trifecta in quarterback Colin Kaepernick, left tackle Joe Staley and linebacker Aldon Smith. They also have even better talent at running back, offensive guard, inside linebacker and other places on the roster.

    The depth they have at cornerback, wide receiver and running back is filthy, especially considering that the Niners have a ton of draft picks to add even more talent later on in April.

    Expect the 49ers to be back to the playoffs, and potentially the Super Bowl, numerous times in the next decade.

Seattle Seahawks

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    Starting QB: A

    LT/Edge Rusher: B

    Starters: B+

    Depth: B

    Overall: A-

     

    The Seahawks have added Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett and Tony McDaniel, and according to reports (h/t Ed Werder of ESPN), they could potentially add Antoine Winfield to a defense that really didn't need as much help as they've brought in. On offense, Percy Harvin gives the Seahawks another innovator so Russel Wilson doesn't have to do it alone.

    The 'Hawks have had as good of an offseason as any team in the NFL, and they are one of the most talented young teams in the entire league.

St. Louis Rams

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    Starting QB: B

    LT/Edge Rusher: B+

    Starters: B+

    Depth: C-

    Overall: B

     

    Jake and Chris Long are solid pieces at premier positions. Chris is underrated as a pass-rusher—an element of his game that has improved in recent years.

    Meanwhile, Jake was a disappointment at left tackle last season, but he has plenty of tape from 2011 and before that could point to a rebound in his new setting. If he performs better than expected, it could push this grade (and the Rams' win total) up very quickly.

    The Rams overachieved a bit last season and still need to add talent on the offensive line and in the linebacking corps, defensive backfield and receiving corps, as well as all over the back end of the depth chart, but this team has kept pace and can expect to compete in the NFC West.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Starting QB: B

    LT/Edge Rusher: C

    Starters: C+

    Depth: D+

    Overall: C+

     

    The Buccaneers almost criminally underspent in recent years, so they had money to add players like Jonathan Casillas and Dashon Goldson after making a huge splash last year as well.

    Yet it will probably take a few more years of normal spending and hitting on mid- to late-round draft picks if the Buccaneers plan to field a competitive and deep team across the board.

    Quarterback Josh Freeman has enough talent on offense that he should be just about out of excuses, and this team needs to win sooner rather than later. Head coach Greg Schiano's control-hungry schtick will wear awfully thin if it doesn't.

Tennessee Titans

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    Starting QB: C+

    LT/Edge Rusher: B+

    Starters: B

    Depth: B+

    Overall: B-

     

    Much like Christian Ponder in Minnesota, Jake Locker needs to take a step forward in 2013. If Locker doesn't, the head coach in his corner might not be there much longer.

    He has a solid amount of help as well, as offensive tackles Michael Roos and David Stewart are far better than they're given credit for. Chris Johnson surged forward again in 2012, and the Titans have added plenty of receiving talent in recent years.

    The Titans have added a couple of offensive linemen and a bunch of defensive depth in free agency, so they can truly go get the best player available in the draft.

Washington Redskins

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    Starting QB: A

    LT/Edge Rusher: A

    Starters: B-

    Depth: B-

    Overall: A-

     

    The Redskins are better as a team simply on the basis of the miracle of the human body's capability to heal itself and the skill of Dr. James Andrews. The Redskins didn't have much money to work with in free agency and don't have a first-round draft pick to work with this year either.

    If quarterback Robert Griffin III can stay healthy, this team can do just about anything. Heck, it's not like Kirk Cousins couldn't do well as a starter either. With RGIII at the helm, though, it's a whole new ballgame, and the Redskins can put a stranglehold on the NFC East if he comes back healthy and ready to play a full season.

     

    Michael Schottey is the NFL national lead writer for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff at The Go Route.