NFL Training Camp: Report Card Grades for Every NFL Roster Heading into Camp
Remember that time you took a placement test in high school or college and knew you aced it? Now look back at that moment for a second. Despite the feeling of absolutely acing the test, you also knew that your placement was contingent upon open seats as well as how others performed.
The same can be said for NFL teams that are currently looking over their rosters and comparing them to other teams within the division, the conference and the National Football League as a whole.
Just because the St. Louis Rams are extremely happy with the team they're going to field in 2013, it doesn't mean that they compare all too well to the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks.
What about the Cleveland Browns in the AFC North? They seem to have added a ton of key players to an already young, up-and-coming roster this offseason. Does this mean that they stand a chance against the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens or the other two teams in the division?
Well, I am going to try to answer these questions and more in this article. I will provide letter grades for the rosters of each team in the NFL as they currently stand.
Bruce Arians (left) and Carson Palmer (right) will look to lead Arizona out of the cellar in 2013.
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New head coach Bruce Arians is in an unenviable position in Arizona. First of all, he is taking over a team that finished dead least in one of the most competitive divisions in football. Secondly, he is doing so when the trajectory of the other three teams in the division seem to be on the upswing.
The former Indianapolis Colts interim head coach had a successful run in his only season with the franchise, and he turned that into a full-time coaching gig this offseason. What he did with Andrew Luck and a myriad of youngsters last season, especially with the Chuck Pagano backdrop, was nothing short of amazing.
Fans in the desert are looking for a repeat performance from Arians in 2013.
Don't get too excited that this is going to happen, though. Arizona brought in Oakland Raider castoff Carson Palmer and a bunch of marginal defensive players in free agency this offseason.
However, its philosophy remained the same: to build through the draft and acquire young players to mesh with what seems to be a talented core.
First-round pick Jonathan Cooper represents a major upgrade along the interior of Arizona's offensive line, and he will help protect the immobile Palmer. Considering that Arizona's offensive line yielded 112 sacks over the last two seasons, this was a necessity.
Johnson will join talented young right tackle Bobby Massie and fellow 2013 draft pick Earl Watford to build what Arizona hopes is an improved offensive line. If they are able to successful at doing so, you could be looking at a return to form from Palmer and re-emergence of Larry Fitzgerald in the passing game.
The additions of rookies Kevin Minter, Tyrann Mathieu and Alex Okafor on the defensive side of the ball in the draft will go a long way in building up what has been one of the better young defenses in the league.
The huge issue here is Daryl Washington's four-game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy as well as his recent arrest on domestic abuse charges. As one of the top-five inside linebackers in the game, Arizona needs Washington on the field. However, the team did bring Karlos Dansby back as an insurance policy.
If Arizona can get protection for Palmer, find a decent running game with the two rookies it brought in and improve on an already good defense, it should be in decent shape to surprise the outside world.
That being said, finishing outside the cellar in the NFC West is a long shot at this point.
Is Mike Smith an average coach leading an elite team?
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Where are the Atlanta Falcons thin on their roster? You'd likely have to look at linebacker and cornerback to find an area of weakness.
The Falcons released Dunta Robinson and lost Brent Grimes to free agency earlier in the offseason. While Grimes didn't play a role in Atlanta's NFC South-winning club this past season due to an ACL injury, Robinson was instrumental in terms of improving the Falcons' defensive performance under Mike Nolan. He will surely be missed.
However, the Falcons did go out and spend their first two picks in the draft on cornerbacks. First-round pick Desmond Trufant will immediately become a starter opposite Asante Samuel, and second-round pick Robert Alford should move into the nickel role.
Osi Umenyiora comes in to replace the recently departed John Abraham at defensive end. Atlanta will need him to approach double-digit sacks if its defense is going to hold up in the NFC.
Meanwhile, the Falcons offense is just all sorts of scary. Longtime Rams running back Steven Jackson represents a tremendous upgrade over the 2012 version of Michael Turner, while Tony Gonzalez returns for yet another season, and what he has been able to do at his advanced age is nothing short of amazing. He is again joined by the best duo of starting receivers in the NFL in the form of Roddy White and Julio Jones.
The excuses are over for Matt Ryan. He needs to now lead Atlanta to a conference championship in order to take that rather large monkey off his back.
The issue here is that Atlanta has a whole heck of a lot of competition in the NFC and a couple questions marks. Will its linebacker and cornerback play be its downfall?
Can Matt Elam (pictured) and Arthur Brown replace two future Hall of Famers?
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The loss of Ed Reed is going to hurt from a leadership standpoint in Baltimore. While his game was on a downward trajectory this past season, the future Hall of Famer was a quarterback in the defensive secondary.
Speaking of leadership, Ray Lewis has called it quits after one of the best careers in the history of the NFL. That being said, his 2012 performance left a lot to be desired.
General manager Ozzie Newsome set out to replace these two greats and get younger on defense this year. This is exactly what Baltimore did, both via free agency and the draft.
It found replacements in the form of safety Matt Elam and linebacker Arthur Brown in the first two rounds. Both should be able to come in and immediately produce at a high level. The addition of Elvis Dumervil to team up with Terrell Suggs as Baltimore's two primary pass-rushers was also huge.
Fresh off a new long-term contract and MVP performance in the Super Bowl, Joe Flacco is going to miss Anquan Boldin in the passing game. The Ravens traded the physical wide receiver to the San Francisco 49ers just a little over a month after the Super Bowl.
Who will step up in that role? This is a primary question that is still dogging the Ravens heading into the summer.
Is surprise first-round pick EJ Manuel the answer at QB in Buffalo?
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The Buffalo Bills appear to have enough talent on their roster to compete for a playoff spot in 2013. However, it appears that talent is concentrated at running back and the defensive secondary.
Is EJ Manuel in a position to lead the Bills to the playoffs at quarterback? If not, can Kevin Kolb represent an upgrade over Ryan Fitzpatrick from last season? These two questions will go a long way in determining whether Buffalo will contend for a postseason spot in 2013.
In addition, the loss of Andy Levitre to the Tennessee Titans in free agency is going to be huge. Pro Football Focus (subscription required) had Levitre as the top-ranked pass-blocking guard in the entire league this past season. There is no way that either David Snow or Keith Williams will perform up to that level this upcoming season.
The talent is there with C.J. Spiller and Stevie Johnson at the skill positions, but other areas of concern will hold Buffalo back in 2013.
Its linebacker situation is questionable at best, with Nigel Bradham and Manny Lawson starting alongside rookie second-round pick Kiko Alonso. That, coupled with a revamped offensive line and questionable quarterback situation, really leads me to believe that higher expectations in upstate New York are just that—expectations.
Cam Newton and the Panthers will look to mature in 2013.
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The Carolina Panthers needed to shore up a weak area on the roster along the defensive line this offseason, and they did just that in the draft. They spent their first two picks on defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short, who will both be likely starters at this upcoming season.
Other problem areas for this young team include the defensive secondary and depth at wide receiver. In no world is Captain Munnerlyn a No. 1 cornerback in the National Football League, and while Josh Norman did surprise a great deal of people as a rookie last season, Carolina's cornerback situation is shady at best.
Brandon LaFell put up decent No. 2 wide receivers numbers in 2012, but he isn't anything more than a decent slot guy on a good team. Meanwhile, mid-tier free agent acquisitions like Ted Ginn and Domenik Hixon aren't really going to scare opposing defenses in the NFC South.
That being said, Carolina does have a ton of talent on both sides of the ball.
It's all going to be about Cam Newton utilizing his amazing talent on the football field and maturing as a quarterback. He struggled with decision-making early in the 2012 season before coming through towards the end of the year. If he can continue to improve as an all-around quarterback, Carolina should be just fine.
In addition, linebacker Luke Kuechly is coming off a stellar rookie year that saw him win the 2013 Defensive Rookie of the Year Award. He will team up with Charles Johnson and a healthy Jon Beason to form a strong front seven. If Carolina can get consistent pressure on the quarterback and the two rookies at defensive tackle can improve a lackluster run defense, they could surprise a great deal of people in 2013.
Rookie first-round pick Kyle Long looks to add more talent to a revamped offensive line.
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Let's try not to overreact about the loss of Brian Urlacher. He was a shell of his former self over the last couple seasons, and he won't be missed a great deal on the field in 2013.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Urlacher ranked 44 out of a possible 53 inside linebackers in the NFL this past season.
This offseason, general manager Phil Emery and company went out there and looked to upgrade a linebacker group that also lost Nick Roach in free agency to Oakland. Chicago drafted Jonathan Bostic and Khaseem Greene in April, and both should play important roles in a suddenly youthful looking front seven.
At the very least, Bostic should be an upgrade over the 2012 version of Urlacher.
Despite adding Kyle Long in the first round—which was a ridiculous reach in my mind—Chicago's offensive line leaves a lot to be desired. Long projects to be nothing more than a decent right tackle in the NFL, but he is likely to start his career at left guard.
Meanwhile, the five-year, $35.9 million contact that brought in left tackle Jermon Bushrod this offseason is nothing to write home about. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Bushrod ranked 56th among offensive tackles in pass protection this past season. That's not an upgrade over what we saw in 2012.
I don't care how good running back Matt Forte and wide receiver Brandon Marshall are at their specific positions. If Jay Cutler is still getting hit on a consistent basis, it doesn't bode well for Chicago's playoff chances in 2013. That one major issue could be the downfall to Chicago's hopes heading into the summer.
Overall, this is a borderline playoff team with a ceiling similar to what was a flawed Washington Redskins team a year ago.
The Bengals hope that Tyler Eifert (pictured) and Giovani Bernard are missing pieces that can put their young and talented offense over the top.
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It appears that the tide is turning in the AFC North. While the Pittsburgh Steelers continue to struggle with their salary cap and seem to have taken a step back, this division is now all about the rivalry between Baltimore and the Cincinnati Bengals.
Following another stellar draft class, Cincinnati seems destined to overtake the Super Bowl champion Ravens in this competitive division.
The additions of tight end Tyler Eifert in the first round as well as running back Giovani Bernard in the second round will create balance in a Cincinnati offense that seemed to lack this attribute in 2012. Now, opposing defenses will not be able to hone in on the Andy Dalton to A.J. Green connection as much they did in 2013. In addition, Bernard brings much more to the table as an all-around running back than BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
Cincinnati's offense will be explosive in 2013.
Where the Bengals may lack in the secondary, they sure do make up for it in the front seven. The addition of Margus Hunt in the second round of April's draft gives Cincinnati a rotation of 10 solid performers along the defensive line.
In addition, bringing in veteran James Harrison to pair with Vontaze Burfict at linebacker was a great under-the-radar move. He should be able to produce at a high level in 2013 before being replaced by rookie Sean Porter sometime in the near future.
The only major question mark on this team is at free safety. It doesn't take an expert to understand that Taylor Mays just isn't a starting-caliber defender in the NFL. The addition of Shawn Williams, while solid for the long term, might not make a major impact in 2013.
If Cincinnati's front seven can get consistent pressure on the quarterback this season, its one weak link (free safety) may be masked. That's the primary question here.
As it is, Cincinnati should be the clear-cut favorites to win the AFC North in 2013.
Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell will vie for starting gig this season.
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A lot of people fail to recognize that the Cleveland Browns were extremely competitive in 2012—five of their 11 losses came by a total of 22 points. If Cleveland was able to pull out wins in a majority of those games, we'd be looking at a team on the rise.
Instead, its coming off another double-digit loss season and seems to be mired in the cellar of one of NFL's best divisions.
Mediocrity at the quarterback position has been a consistent issue for this team over the years. For instance, rookie Brandon Weeden threw three more interceptions than touchdowns and led the 24th-ranked scoring offense in 2012.
Cleveland decided to bring in veteran Jason Campbell to compete with Weeden for the starting job. Let's be honest for a second; both leave a lot to be desired.
Trent Richardson will be the primary focus of Cleveland's offense. The talented young running back will need to put up over 1,600 total yards and double-digit scores if the Browns are going to have any chance of improving on offense.
While Josh Gordon appears to be a decent get, he doesn't really have any running mates at wide receiver. Greg Little dropped 10 passes on just 107 targets last season, proving once more that he is a waste of a roster spot (via Pro Football Focus, subscription required). Cleveland needs newly acquired Davone Bess to step up and become a solid No. 2 option if it is going to be viable on offense.
Defensively, it is a completely different story.
Cleveland possesses one of the best young units in the entire league. Paul Kruger and Desmond Bryant join holdovers such as Jabaal Sheard, Phil Taylor and D'Qwell Jackson to form a solid front seven. Meanwhile, Joe Haden and T.J. Ward lead an underrated secondary.
Also, though questionable, the selection of Barkevious Mingo in the first round should give Cleveland a great pass-rushing unit as well.
Until the Browns offense improves dramatically, you can expect them to continue losing close games. Being competitive is one thing, but winning games is completely different.
Jerry Jones will have to answer questions about a lackluster draft class in 2013.
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A lot has been made about the Dallas Cowboys' inability to get to the postseason, but it's still important to note that they have gone down to the last game in each of the last two years with a shot at winning the NFC East.
This team isn't too far off.
With that in mind, a lackluster draft class has the vultures in the national media circling. Reaching for Travis Frederick, who I had a third-round grade on, in the first round bordered on heresy. Grabbing a tight end in the second round with so many other needs made absolutely no sense. And forgetting to add more beef along the offensive line was questionable at best.
Say what you want about the recently extended Tony Romo, but he is the best part about an under-performing Cowboys roster. Give him protection and talent on offense, and he'll be just fine.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Dallas ranked 25th in the NFL in pass protection this past season. Both left tackle Tyron Smith and right tackle Doug Free ranked among the worst at their positions in pass protection as well. That's just not going to get it done.
Defensively, Dallas is moving to a new scheme under defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. He will implement more of a hybrid 4-3 scheme than the base 3-4 that we saw from Rob Ryan over the past couple seasons.
The talent is there. DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer will play with their hands down at the line, while Bruce Carter and newly signed Justin Durant will take on outside linebacker roles with Sean Lee returning to health inside.
Some expected the Cowboys pass defense to improve a great deal in 2012 after they signed Brandon Carr and drafted Morris Claiborne. Due to lackluster safety play, that just didn't happen.
Without any money to spend on outside free agents, this deficiency was pretty much ignored in the offseason. While third-round pick J.J. Wilcox possesses tremendous upside, he isn't a short-term fix after playing just one season on defense at Georgia Southern.
As of right now, Dallas will be fielding a starting safety tandem of Barry Church and Matt Johnson. That is pedestrian at best.
Much like Chicago, Dallas is a borderline playoff team. It will need solid performances in pass protection, a healthy DeMarco Murray and improved safety play to earn a rare postseason spot.
Can Jerry Jones and Co. bank on that?
Peyton Manning has so many toys on offense, it's almost unfair
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One of only three teams with a straight-A grade, the Denver Broncos will be right in the midst of Super Bowl contention in 2013.
Adding Wes Welker to an offense that saw Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker put up a combined 2,500 receiving yards and 23 touchdowns last season is just plain ridiculous.
Just think about this for a second. Those three receivers tallied more yards (3,800-plus) and touchdowns (31) than Joe Flacco did during the 2012 regular season.
For his part, Peyton Manning came back strong after missing the entire 2011 season with a neck injury. The future Hall of Fame quarterback now has the single best supporting cast in the entire NFL supporting him.
Also, the under-the-radar signing of right guard Louis Vasquez was highway robbery. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), the former Chargers offensive lineman was the ninth-best pass-protecting guard in the NFL in 2012. Give Manning even more time to pass and he'll literally eat opposing AFC West defenses for breakfast, lunch and dinner before chewing them up as a midnight snack. It's just not fair.
Sure, losing Elvis Dumervil to the Baltimore Ravens in free agency after an odd contractual issue will hurt, but Denver has the pieces on defense to overcome the gaffe. It needs Derek Wolfe to step up even more and for rookie first-round pick Sylvester Williams to take on blockers in order to open up pass-rushing lanes for Von Miller.
If that happens, Denver's front seven will be just fine.
It's the secondary that could be an issue here. We saw Champ Bailey regress right in front of our eyes at cornerback last season, while Rahim Moore's snafu in the postseason may have cost Denver a shot at the Super Bowl. Both are question marks heading into the summer.
For his part, Chris Harris was the seventh-ranked cover corner in the NFL in 2012, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). If he can continue to improve, Denver's secondary should be just fine.
This roster has Super Bowl written all over it. Peyton Manning and Co. now need to prove that they can win the big game in January. The simple fact that Denver went as far with Tim Tebow at quarterback as it did this past season with Manning should be just enough bulletin board material for it to stay focused.
If so, watch out NFL.
The Lions will rely on Ziggy Ansah and other youngsters to create balance on defense.
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Talk about taking a major step backwards.
Fresh off a rare playoff appearance in 2011, the Detroit Lions struggled to remain competitive on the field in 2012. They finished with just four wins, including an eight-game losing streak to end the year.
This led some, including myself, to believe that Detroit just wasn't a good football team. After all, its performance was all about Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson and nothing else. A team just cannot contend on a consistent basis with lackluster depth at a myriad of positions throughout the roster.
Stafford saw his quarterback ranting drop from a stellar 97.2 in 2011 to 79.8 in 2012. A primary reason for this was his intent to focus on Megatron in the passing game.
As a result, Johnson's touchdown numbers decreased from 16 in 2011 to just five this past season. In addition, the best receiver in the game caught just 61.3 percent of the passes thrown in his direction, which is a number that ranked him just ahead of Greg Little (via Pro Football Focus, subscription required).
While Detroit did add Reggie Bush to the mix in free agency, it also lost its two starting tackles from a season ago. Gosder Cherilus signed a long-term contract with Indianapolis, and Jeff Backus called it quits after 12 seasons in Detroit.
The Lions will now be forced to go into 2013 with Riley Reiff and likely, Corey Hilliard as bookends along their offensive line. That doesn't bode well for Stafford's chances of reclaiming superstar status.
Defensively, the Lions are also in trouble.
They picked up Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah at the top of the 2013 draft, but it's hard to come to the conclusion that such a raw talent can make a huge impact right away. Meanwhile, the Lions lost Cliff Avril to Seattle in free agency and "replaced" him with Jason Jones.
Any type of regression that relates to the team's pass-rush will surely hurt Detroit's pass defense, as it lacks the necessary talent to compete on a consistent basis in the secondary.
Detroit may not be as bad as its 2012 record indicates, but it surely isn't as good as its 2011 playoff season. Expect something in the middle in 2013. They are likely an 8-8 team at best.
Green Bay Packers
Eddie Lacy (pictured) and Johnathan Franklin will look to create balance on offense.
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Some questioned why Green Bay didn't make a larger push for Steven Jackson in free agency. After all, a one-dimensional offense seemed to hurt them a great deal in the playoffs against San Francisco.
The answers were revealed when general manager Ted Thompson picked up two of the best running backs in the 2013 NFL draft class, Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin.
I am expecting those two youngsters to create the type of balance that we haven't seen in Green Bay during the Aaron Rodgers era. As a result, you can expect the former MVP to remain a bit more upright than we saw this past season. Rodgers was sacked more than any other quarterback in the NFL in 2012, which was a direct result of a pass-happy offense.
Green Bay has also made the decision to utilize a musical chairs mentality along its offensive line. Bryan Bulaga will move from right tackle to left tackle, while Josh Sitton will join him on the left side. New rookie additions David Bakhtiari and J.C Tretter will push incumbents at starting positions along the rest of the line.
This new unit must improve a great deal if the Packers are to contend for a conference championship.
Losing Greg Jennings in free agency wasn't a big deal. Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and James Jones are more than capable of holding down the fort.
On offense, it's all about getting balance and protecting Rodgers. Defensively, it's all about finding a running partner for Clay Matthews.
Enter first-round pick Datone Jones, who will be tasked with holding down the fort at defensive end to open up lanes for Nick Perry and Matthews. If the UCLA product is able to do this, Green Bay's defense will be in good position.
The Packers are one of the top five teams in the entire NFL. The problem with this is that they're not one of the top two teams in the NFC as of right now. Everything will have to go right for them to make a return trip to the Super Bowl in 2013.
Can DeAndre Hopkins finally give the Texans a solid No. 2 receiver behind Andre Johnson?
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It wasn't too long ago that the Houston Texans were considered one of the better young teams in the National Football League.
This just isn't the case anymore.
Questions continue to be asked as it relates to Matt Schaub's ability to go up against upper-echelon quarterbacks in the AFC and come out on top. While serviceable, the veteran just doesn't seem to possess that natural edge that we see with the likes of Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.
Meanwhile, it might be time to start worrying about Arian Foster's workload over the past few seasons. While he is still only 26, Foster has touched the ball over 1,100 times since 2010. For comparison's sake, another workhorse, Adrian Peterson, has had 200 less touches during that span (via Pro Football Reference).
Is his increased workload sustainable moving forward?
Continuing on offense, Houston selected DeAndre Hopkins in the first round of the 2013 draft as an immediate secondary option to Andre Johnson at wide receiver. The Clemson product has to come in and represent an upgrade over Houston's No. 2 options over the past few seasons.
The Texans are still stout on defense. They will welcome Brian Cushing back from injury and retain the best overall defensive player in the NFL in the form of J.J. Watt. In addition, acquiring safety Ed Reed in free agency will add a huge amount of experience and leadership to a secondary that continues to get better.
Houston's ability to compete in the AFC will be reliant upon Schaub picking up his game and finding more balance on offense. If Foster touches the ball anywhere near the level that we saw last season, it probably won't be a good thing for the Texans' chances of winning the AFC South, let alone the conference.
Andrew Luck will look to take the next step toward elite status in his second season.
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It's my belief that the Indianapolis Colts were nowhere near as good as their record indicated in 2012. A bunch of youngsters on offense led this team to a surprise playoff berth in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year.
That being said, does anyone expect the Colts to win nine games by single digits this season? Because that's exactly what Andrew Luck and Co. did in 2012.
It is all going to be about maturation and building for the long term in Indianapolis. The young pieces are in place, but this team is still a couple years away from realistic contention in the AFC.
As it relates to those pieces, the likes of Vick Ballard, Coby Fleener, Dwayne Allen and T.Y. Hilton on offense formulate one of the better young supporting casts in the entire league.
Indianapolis made what seemed like a seamless transition to a 3-4 defense last year. Robert Mathis played well as a pass-rushing outside linebacker, but the Colts struggled a great deal against the run. They ranked 29th in the NFL in that category.
This is why general manager Ryan Grigson made it a point to add some bulk along the front seven this offseason. Veteran additions Aubrayo Franklin and Ricky Jean-Francois have experience playing in the 3-4 and are two of the most underrated run-stuffing defensive linemen in the NFL.
While I am not too sure if it's a great fit, first-round pick Bjoern Werner brings a special set of pass-rushing moves to the table and should be a major force for the Colts as a rookie.
Indianapolis will need that pass rush considering that its secondary is makeshift at best. LaRon Landry comes over from the New York Jets, but leaves a lot to be desired in terms of coverage. As the Colts' No. 1 cornerback, Vontae Davis isn't a top cover guy either. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), he ranked 24th among cornerbacks in coverage this past season.
The Colts may still be a playoff team in 2013, but expect a certain level of overall regression. The talent is there; they just need to mature as a unit before they should be taken seriously.
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If one word could describe Jacksonville's roster right now, it would probably be "ugh." This is a team so far away from any type of contention that I had a hard time giving it a grade worthy enough of just how downright bad it is.
To say that Blaine Gabbert was bad this past season would be an understatement. He struggled in nearly every single category scouts look for in a young quarterback. The former first-round pick was lost in the pocket, couldn't make simple progressions to secondary targets and seemed unwilling to look down the field.
The end result was a 21st-ranked passing offense that only reached those heights because of a couple stellar performances from Chad Henne, who should compete with Gabbert for the starting job in 2013.
Maurice Jones-Drew, who was severely limited due to injury in 2012, will need to be the focal point once again. Even with the Pro Bowler in the fold, Jacksonville only ranked 30th in scoring offense in 2011.
2012 first-round pick Justin Blackmon picked his game up a great deal as his rookie season drew to a close, but a couple of off-field incidents and a four-game suspension leaves questions about his ability to make an impact this year (via National Football Post).
Defensively, it's all about a lack of pass rush.
As a unit, the Jaguars defense tallied less sacks (20) than J.J. Watt (20.5) accumulated by himself in 2012.
Did new head coach Gus Bradley make it a point of emphasis to improve this disturbingly bad pass rush? No. Jacksonville didn't select a single pass-rush threat in the draft and is going to rely on the same characters to get it done in 2013.
It's hard to imagine Jacksonville's front seven being able to mask what has to be considered an inexperienced and makeshift secondary.
Look for the Jaguars to win less than one handful of games this upcoming season. They just don't possess the talent to compete on a consistent basis.
One silver lining is that Jacksonville could be in prime position to acquire the No. 1 overall pick next season, and with it come the rights to select South Carolina standout defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.
Kansas City Chiefs
Will having a consistent quarterback (Alex Smith) finally give the Chiefs that edge?
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Alex Smith will definitely bring a bit of consistency back to Kansas City's quarterback position after two disastrous seasons from Matt Cassel and a couple of other lackluster players.
If new head coach Andy Reid can help Smith improve—much like what we saw in San Francisco under Jim Harbaugh—Kansas City could be a surprise team in 2013.
After all, it has the talent on both sides of the ball to compete for a playoff spot.
Jamaal Charles tallied over 1,700 total yards as one of the better all-around running backs in the NFL last season. Meanwhile, Dwayne Bowe decided to sign a long-term contact with the Chiefs and has been among the most productive wide receivers in the NFL since 2010.
The addition of No. 1 overall pick Eric Fisher to play right tackle opposite Branden Albert solidifies what promises to be one of the better offensive lines in the AFC.
Kansas City also possesses one of the most talented defenses in the conference. That being said, the talent didn't perform all too well as a unit in 2012. It ranked 20th in the NFL in total yards against and gave up nearly 27 points per outing.
New defensive coordinator Bob Sutton will have to improve the Chiefs' overall play on defense if they are going to compete for a playoff spot. The additions of cornerbacks Sean Smith and Dunta Robinson in the secondary may help.
Kansas City will likely contend for a wild-card spot in 2013, but it needs to show more consistency on both sides of the ball to be considered a serious playoff team.
Ryan Tannehill now has the necessary weapons on offense.
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I am not a fan of what general manager Jeff Ireland did this offseason. He paid star money to a handful of role players in free agency. Mike Wallace may have been a sexy addition to make headlines in April, but he leaves a lot to be desired.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), the talented young receiver ranked 75th among wide receivers in reception percentage. He will be a solid threat down the field for Ryan Tannehill, but he will not act as a consistent receiving threat in key situations.
Meanwhile, Miami spent a ton of money to bring in Dannell Ellerbe as a replacement for Karlos Dansby at linebacker. While this made sense in terms off getting younger, reality suggests that Ellerbe just isn't a huge upgrade over Dansby.
The Dolphins then traded up in the first round to acquire the ultra-talented Dion Jordan, who will act as a major pass-rush threat as a rookie. The issue here is that he didn't fill a position of need, and Miami failed to replace left tackle Jake Long, who departed South Beach for St. Louis—well, unless you believe Tyson Clabo is up to par there.
Listen, the talent is definitely here, and the team closed the gap between itself and New England in the AFC East. This doesn't mean that it has a solid shot at capturing a wild-card spot, though, let alone winning the division.
The Vikings may be relying too much on Adrian Peterson.
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Can the Minnesota Vikings ride Adrian Peterson to another postseason in 2013? That's the million dollar question in the NFC North as we enter the summer months.
Peterson had one of the best single-season performances for a running back in the history of the NFL, and he did so less than a year after tearing his ACL. He was also able to do this with defenses stacking the box to stop him.
The primary problem as it relates to Minnesota's chances to return to the playoffs is a lack of balance on offense. Quarterback Christian Ponder played much better in his sophomore season, but he still leaves a lot to be desired in terms of consistency.
Minnesota also sent Percy Harvin packing to Seattle in an early offseason trade and replaced him with Greg Jennings. They are two completely different types of receivers, but Jennings could bring the production we saw from Harvin.
Minnesota really made its impact known in the draft by picking three times in the first round. Sharrif Floyd and Xavier Rhodes are building blocks on defense, while Cordarrelle Patterson possesses the highest ceiling of any wide receiver in the draft class. Expect all three to contribute in a big way this upcoming season.
The Vikings will assuredly be in the playoff race all season, but don't expect them to contend with the Green Bay Packers for the division title. They are still a couple key players away from legitimate contention in the NFC.
New England Patriots
Rob Gronkowski's injury and the loss of Wes Welker should concern New England.
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New England's success took on a different feeling in 2012. It relied a great deal upon an improved young defense and a solid running game on offense. It was the complete antithesis of what we saw with Tom Brady and Co. in previous seasons.
In order to contend for a conference championship again in 2013, New England will need to continue molding its team in this direction.
The Patriots lost Wes Welker to Denver in free agency and replaced him with an injury plagued Danny Amendola, who has played in a total of 12 games over the last two seasons.
In addition, the ultra-talented Rob Gronkowski may be facing a fifth surgery on his left forearm, which could lead to questions about his ability to play in September (via The Boston Globe). Brady needs him to be at 100 percent in order to help limit the loss of Welker.
Defensively, the Patriots are in a great position. They have numerous youngsters stepping up to the plate and an improved secondary looking to mold into one of the best units in the AFC.
Alfonzo Dennard played darn good football as a rookie in 2012, while Aqib Talib showed everyone why he is one of the better cover corners in the NFL. Being able to re-sign him was a coup for the Patriots.
As it relates to their roster, the Patriots are still among the most talented teams in the AFC. They just won't be consensus favorites to grab the conference championship.
New Orleans Saints
Sean Payton (pictured) pegged Rob Ryan to run a revamped defense in 2013.
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It's fine and dandy to bring on Rob Ryan as defensive coordinator and switch to a 3-4 scheme—but that really doesn't matter if you don't have the personnel to make it work.
On that note, New Orleans plans on starting Jonathan Vilma at right inside linebacker, a position usually reserved for pass-rushers in a 3-4 defense. Meanwhile, relying on Will Smith to play defensive end in this new scheme is questionable.
I must, however, give props to the Saints for acing the draft without a second-round pick. Kenny Vaccaro is the best safety prospect to enter the NFL since Earl Thomas and represents a tremendous upgrade at free safety. The first-round pick can play a myriad of roles along the secondary and will have a tremendous impact as a rookie.
Adding nose tackle John Jenkins later in the draft will also free up pass-rushing lanes for the likes of Victor Butler, Martez Wilson and Junior Galette at linebacker.
Offensively, the Saints are still one of the most dynamic units. That side of the ball will not be an issue in 2013.
Their ability to contend for a playoff spot will rely solely upon their defense's ability to actually stop anyone. If that happens, we could be looking at a return to form in the Bayou. If not, a .500 record is a likely end result.
I'd bet on the latter at this point.
New York Giants
Manning and the Giants seem to be stuck in reverse.
To say that the New York Giants struggled this past season would be an understatement. Fresh off a surprising Super Bowl run, Eli Manning reverted back to inconsistent play in 2012. He threw for about 1,000 less yards than the previous season, as the Giants offense was unable to overcome inconsistent play in close games.
Overall, the Giants lost four games by one score.
If you look at New York's roster heading into 2013, it's definitely playoff-caliber. When healthy, Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks represent one of the better starting receiving tandems in the league. In addition, Manning was sacked just 19 times in 2012. This leads me to believe that he should be able to return to his 2011 form.
The Giants ranked 31st in overall defense in 2012, but were right in the middle of the pack in terms of points against. It's that "bend but not break" mentality that concerns me a great deal.
As is the case with every team in the NFC East, New York has a legitimate shot at winning the division. It will need to get more consistency from Manning, find a decent running game on offense and get production from a lackluster secondary in order to fulfill those expectations.
New York Jets
Was Geno Smith's (pictured) fall in the draft the Jets gain?
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In terms of overall talent, the Jets are right up there with Jacksonville as one the worst teams in the entire National Football League. They lack the necessary talent to compete on both sides of the ball, and they are likely to take a major step backward in 2013.
It all starts with the quarterback position, as Mark Sanchez's performance in 2012 was beyond atrocious.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Sanchez ranked 37th out of a possible 38 quarterbacks with a negative 22.1 grade. His quarterback rating of 66.9 also ranked second-to-last among regular starters in 2012. That's just not going to get it done.
New York also sent All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis packing to Tampa Bay in a pre-draft trade, only to replace him with an untested Dee Milliner in the draft. Who here thinks that Milliner will be able to live up to his top-10 billing under the media scrutiny that the bright lights of New Jersey will bring?
I could go on for a while here, but this team is closer to acquiring the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft than it is to earning a postseason spot.
The only question here is whether New York will throw second-round pick Geno Smith to the wolves as a rookie. If so, we could be looking at one of the worst teams in the league.
GM Reggie McKenzie (pictured) is cutting the fat, but at what cost?
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General manager Reggie McKenzie is building something in Oakland. He decided to cut the fat off an underperforming roster by releasing a multitude of high-priced veterans and trading Carson Palmer to the Arizona Cardinals.
However, what might make sense long term will likely impact the product we see on the field in 2013.
Whether it is Matt Flynn, Terrelle Pryor or Tyler Wilson under center this season, Oakland probably won't be getting an above-average performance from its quarterback. While Darren McFadden is one of the most consistent running backs when he is on the field, the former first-round pick has missed a grand total of 23 games in five NFL seasons and simply cannot be relied upon to play a full 16-game schedule.
Oakland's returning group of wide receivers combined for just 106 receptions last season, which will handicap whoever is under center. This doesn't even take into account the loss of tight end Brandon Myers to the New York Giants in free agency.
If you look at Oakland's defense, it's a makeshift group of under-the-radar veteran additions and high-upside youngsters. What was a major problem area in 2012 might actually turn the corner this season.
It all starts with rookie first-round pick D.J. Hayden, who is expected to start alongside Mike Jenkins in a revamped secondary that also includes veteran addition Tracy Porter.
While Oakland's defense should be improved, it likely won't be enough to keep this team out of the cellar in the AFC West.
That being said, the future shines bright in Northern California with McKenzie at the helm.
Chip Kelly (pictured) has a talent-laden roster in Philadelphia.
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I am definitely buying into the hype this season. The Philadelphia Eagles have a tremendous amount of talent, but they need to put it all together in order to capture the NFC East.
It starts at the quarterback position.
Can Michael Vick rebound from a disastrous 2012 campaign with a couple of stellar bookends protecting him on the outside? Jason Peters missed the entire 2012 season due to injury, but he was among the best offensive tackles in the league in 2011 and will be welcomed back with open arms.
First-round pick Lane Johnson fits exactly what new head coach Chip Kelly is attempting to build on offense. The Oklahoma product will eventually take over for Peters at left tackle and is the most athletic tackle in the entire 2013 draft class.
As long as Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson can stay on the field, Philadelphia's offense is going to be explosive. It returns LeSean McCoy and Brent Celek, and it added James Casey as a dual-threat fullback and Zach Ertz as a solid pass-catching tight end.
However, it's the Eagles defense that really intrigues me.
The Eagles were able to build off a stellar 2012 draft class by switching to a 3-4 scheme that seems to fit their personnel to a T. Meanwhile, the additions of Kenny Phillips (if healthy), Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher should shore up what was a disastrous secondary in 2012.
In short, the Eagles are my dark-horse favorites to win the NFC East in 2013.
Talent seems to be lacking around "Big Ben" these days.
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A less-than-stellar salary cap situation coupled with a few marginal draft classes has finally come back to haunt Pittsburgh. After missing out on the playoffs last year, the Steelers might actually find themselves on the outside looking in again this upcoming season.
Ben Roethlisberger hasn't played a full 16-game season since 2008 and has a questionable offensive line in front of him. He was sacked 30 times in just 13 games in 2012, which is a prime reason why he fell to the injury bug once again.
The loss of Mike Wallace to Miami will also hurt Pittsburgh a great deal this season. It leaves Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders as Big Ben's two primary targets in the passing game. Meanwhile, the Steelers will likely be relying on rookie Le'Veon Bell to create some balance on offense.
Pittsburgh should be just fine on defense. It still has a decent veteran-laden core that ranked among the best units in the NFL in 2012. While losing James Harrison could hurt, the addition of Jarvis Jones in the first round of the draft might actually represent in upgrade.
The Steelers could easily find themselves as the third-best team in the AFC North, but sneak into the playoffs as a wild-card team. I just don't envision them improving upon a pedestrian 2012 campaign.
San Diego Chargers
I am not entirely sure the Chargers will be able to protect Philip Rivers (pictured) this season.
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With a new regime comes a different philosophy. The San Diego Chargers absolutely aced the early portion of the 2013 NFL draft by finding starting-caliber players in the initial three rounds.
First-round pick D.J. Fluker will start at right tackle out of the gate. While he might struggle with speedier pass-rushers off the edge, the Alabama product is one of the most physical young offensive linemen in the National Football League.
Being able to acquire Manti Te'o in the second round was an absolute coup as well. The talented inside linebacker will replace Takeo Spikes at left inside linebacker and should represent an immediate upgrade as a rookie in 2013.
Those were two huge areas of need heading into the draft, and both were solidified a great deal by the time the three-day event was over.
If Philip Rivers is able to get the necessary protection in the passing game, he has the talent around him to rebound from a disastrous 2012 campaign.
Vincent Brown, who missed a good chunk of last season, is going to be a star. Meanwhile, San Diego returns restricted free agent Danario Alexander, who broke out to the tune of 658 yards and seven touchdowns this past season. They will be joined by Malcom Floyd, Eddie Royal and rookie Keenan Allen to form a deep wide receiver group.
Defensively, it's all about improved play from the secondary. This is one of the primary reasons that the Chargers completely revamped that unit. Derek Cox might have been one of the better under-the-radar free-agent signings. He has a chance to be a top-tier cornerback for San Diego moving forward and is still relatively young.
He is joined by Marcus Gilchrist, Eric Weddle and Brandon Taylor to form what has to be considered a vastly improved secondary.
As with all 3-4 defenses, San Diego will rely heavily upon getting to the quarterback. This is where its young pass-rushers come into play. This is also where the biggest question mark remains on defense. Can Melvin Ingram and Larry English live up to their first-round billing? If so, the Chargers could be in good shape.
Overall, look for the San Diego to compete with Kansas City for the second spot in the AFC West. Will it be good enough to earn a wild-card berth? I am not entirely sure about that.
San Francisco 49ers
Have GM Trent Baalke (pictured) and Jim Harbaugh (pictured) built the NFL's most talented team?
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It's hard not to look at San Francisco's roster and to come to the conclusion that it has the best team in the National Football League.
Coming off a season that saw them finish a mere few yards away from winning the Super Bowl, the 49ers added a ton of talent to an already loaded roster.
Anquan Boldin comes in to pair up with Michael Crabtree on the outside. These two receivers will represent a major matchup problems for opposing defenses, especially with the dynamic Colin Kaepernick under center.
Speaking of Kaepernick, what he did in just seven NFL starts this past season is beyond ridiculous. The young quarterback seems to possess the highest ceiling of any signal-caller in the entire league and has a great supporting cast.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), San Francisco's offensive line ranked No. 1 in the league in 2012. It's ridiculous considering that this unit is among the youngest in the entire league.
Frank Gore returns at running back, but will be joined by what has to be considered the deepest group in the league. Kendall Hunter is returning from injury, while LaMichael James came on strong toward the latter half of his rookie season.
Defensively, San Francisco was exploited in the postseason. Its secondary failed to play consistently good football and may have cost the franchise a sixth Super Bowl.
As I have mentioned with previous teams that run 3-4 defensive schemes, it's all about the pass-rush in the front seven. The additions of Cornellius "Tank" Carradine and Corey Lemonier in April's draft is going to make San Francisco's front seven nearly unstoppable. They'll team up with the best linebacking group in the league to formulate a downright nasty front seven.
Anything short of a Super Bowl championship will be seen as a failure in the 49ers' final season at Candlestick Park.
They are the best team in football right now.
GM John Schneider (pictured) and Pete Carroll (pictured) are building for 2013 and beyond.
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You probably just read where I indicated that the San Francisco 49ers were the best team in football right now. If that is the case, Seattle comes in a close second.
What it was able to do this offseason in terms of complementing one of the most talented rosters in the league was downright crazy.
Bringing in Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett and Antoine Winfield to a defense that was already among the best in the league just solidified Seattle's status as a true Super Bowl contender. Returning all four starters to the best secondary in the league doesn't hurt either. Simply put, the Seahawks defense is going to be scary good.
On the other hand, general manager John Schneider turned three draft picks into Percy Harvin. The former Minnesota Vikings standout adds another dimension to Seattle's offense and gives young superstar Russell Wilson a true No. 1 receiver. This addition also enables Sidney Rice to fall back as the No. 2 wide receiver and Golden Tate to become one of the better No. 3's in the league.
If there was one issue as it relates to Seattle, it would likely be along the offensive line, as this is probably the biggest gap between the Seahawks and their division rivals down south. Can franchise left tackle Russell Okung stay healthy? Is Breno Giacomini a reliable right tackle? What about James Carpenter at left guard?
If that unit can answer those questions in the affirmative, Seattle could be looking at dethroning San Francisco as conference champions.
At the very least, it's going to be an amazing season in the NFC West. After all, two of the best teams in football reside in this division.
St. Louis Rams
Sam Bradford has no more excuses.
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The additions of Jake Long and Jared Cook in free agency really did shore up some weak links in the Rams offense. Sam Bradford finally has that franchise left tackle and should find himself with more time to pass the rock.
Even more importantly, St. Louis went out there and found a shiny new toy for its franchise quarterback in the form of wide receiver/running back/do-it-all playmaker Tavon Austin. The top-10 pick is going to immediately become Bradford's No. 1 receiving target and should help out a lot in the passing game.
Defensively, the Rams have one of the better young units in the league. The likes of Robert Quinn, Chris Long and Michael Brockers form a stellar defensive line, while Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins are one of the better starting cornerback tandems in the conference.
The issue here is competition.
Can you honestly look at the Rams roster and say that they're anywhere near the level of Seattle and San Francisco? If not, it leaves them fighting for one playoff spot with a multitude of equally talented teams in the NFC.
At the very least, St. Louis has started to narrow the gap between itself and those two teams and should be in the playoff hunt in December.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Bucs are looking for a healthy Darrelle Revis to help lead a revamped secondary.
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On paper, Tampa Bay should be favorites to land one of the two wild-card spots in the NFC. It added Dashon Goldson and Darrelle Revis to what was a weak secondary and suddenly made this area a strength on defense.
Those two will pair with Mark Barron and either Eric Wright or Johnthan Banks to form a solid last line of defense. If Revis is healthy, this may actually become one of the better secondaries in the league.
The primary issue here is that Tampa Bay did not address its pass-rushing woes and will likely have to rely too much on the secondary. I am going to have to see more consistent production from Da'Quan Bowers before propping this defense up more than I am already. After all, the loss of Michael Bennett to Seattle really hurts here.
Speaking of consistency, Josh Freeman leaves a lot to be desired in that category. He continues to struggle with decision-making and putting up stellar performances on a weekly basis. This needs to change for the Buccaneers to have a shot at contending in the NFC South.
Doug Martin is one of the better young running backs in the NFL and should only get better with the return to health of both staring guards, Davin Joseph and Carl Nicks. If those two maulers inside can spring more open holes for Martin, watch out.
Again, the talent is here, but it is all about maturing as a unit and being more consistent each week. As of right now, Tampa Bay is a borderline playoff team.
Chris Johnson could lead a resurgence in Nashville this season.
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Just how many yards will Chris Johnson rush for in 2013? Tennessee did everything in its power to put Johnson in a situation to succeed this upcoming season.
It added one of the top 10 guards in the NFL in the form of Andy Levitre, drafted Chance Warmack in April and even brought in one of the best run-blocking tight ends in Delanie Walker.
There are no more excuses here; Johnson simply needs to put up or shut up.
The same can be said for former first-round pick Jake Locker, who failed to progress as a quarterback in 2012. His limitations in terms of reading coverage and pocket awareness were magnified as a sophomore and need to be fixed in short order.
Meanwhile, Tennessee's defense is going through a major overhaul. It will have to rely on youngsters such as Zach Brown, Akeem Ayers and Derrick Morgan to get it done in the front seven because its secondary is lacking even average coverage ability.
The combination in terms of coverage from starting safeties Michael Griffin and Bernard Pollard is going to be atrocious. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Griffin ranked second-to-last among safeties in coverage in 2012.
Is that really what you want from a free safety?
This is where Tennessee is going to struggle in 2013. This is also the primary reason I don't see the Titans finishing above third place in the AFC South.
The Redskins need a healthy RGIII to contend in the NFC.
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For the Redskins, it is all about the health of Robert Griffin III, who tore up his knee late last season. The talented young quarterback needs to be at 100 percent for the entire 2013 season if Washington hopes to repeat as division winners.
The difference he made as a rookie for a previously downtrodden offense was beyond ridiculous. This story has been repeated over and over again throughout the offseason, and Washington needs its franchise quarterback under center in September.
Meanwhile, Alfred Morris returns after one of the most surprising rookie campaigns for a running back in the recent history of the league. If he is able to even come close to duplicating his performance from this past season, Washington will be in good shape.
The Redskins also set out to improve a secondary that was atrocious in 2012. They drafted David Amerson, Phillip Thomas and Baccari Rambo last month—all of whom will play important roles this upcoming season.
If Washington gets even average play from its secondary, there is no reason to believe that it cannot repeat in the NFC East.
The larger question here is whether the 'Skins have taken that step toward elite status in the ultra-competitive NFC.
Vincent Frank is an NFL featured columnist here at Bleacher Report. Vincent is the head sports editor over at eDraft, co-host of Draft Sports Radio, which airs every Monday and Wednesday from 3 to 6 p.m. ET, and a fantasy writer for Pro Football Focus.
Go ahead and give him a follow on Twitter @VincentFrankNFL.