2011 NFL Power Rankings: Pre-Free Agency
The NFL Draft is over and free agency is set to begin, sometime between June and Armageddon. Some teams are patting themselves on the back waiting to see what their new draftees can do, while others are salivating over what veterans can be brought in to lead the team to the Lombardi Trophy.
While waiting for the owners and ex-NFLPA to get some common sense, here’s a look at where teams currently rank on the NFL power scale.
32. Arizona Cardinals
Though 5-11 wasn’t the worst record in the NFL, losing to the worst team in the NFL (the Carolina Panthers) and finishing last in what was possibly the worst division in NFL history make the Cardinals worthy of this rank.
The Cardinals were hurt by how bad Derek Anderson turned out to be, but they may have discovered their future in Max Hall or John Skelton, who both were decent in their time on the field.
It's doubtful that the Cardinals will stay in this position, as they addressed their defense in a big way. First, they used the No. 5 pick overall to draft arguably the most complete prospect in cornerback Patrick Peterson. Peterson will play on the other side of Dominique Rogers-Cromartie, creating a tall, fast, young and very skilled cornerback tandem.
The Cardinals also added two playmakers at the linebacker position in Sam Acho and Quan Sturdivant. Acho is a workhorse out of Texas who goes all out all the time. I expect him to contribute as a backup and fight for a starting position in a comparatively weak group. Sturdivant fell because of his unfortunate decisions at North Carolina, but the Cardinals shouldn’t be complaining. Sturdivant is another UNC player that would’ve gone in or near the first round, as he is athletically gifted and has a nose for the ball. He should compete for the starting job immediately. The young defensive players will need to step up as the defensive line may take a big hit with four linemen, including Gabe Watson, all eligible for free agency.
Offensively, the Cardinals added tight end Robert Housler, who will provide a big, speedy target for whichever young quarterback is under center next season. Housler will play a big role in the offense, not because of his size and athleticism, but because the Cardinals may lose both Steve Breaston and Early Doucet to free agency. It’s a good thing the Cardinals are moving towards a rushing offense, because with Breaston and Doucet gone, Larry Fitzgerald may be the only experienced receiver left.
The Cardinals play in a division that's still wide open, and whichever team gets decent quarterback play and good defense could take the AFC West. Can the Cardinals’ young defense and young quarterbacks step up?
31. Carolina Panthers
The Panthers had the misfortune of being the worst team in the NFL at 2-14. The coaching was predictable, the offense was injured and lacking at the quarterback position, and the defense was great overall, but suffered because of the offense.
The Panthers said goodbye to John Fox and much of his staff. In comes Ron Rivera, and a plan to be aggressive in every aspect of the game. Rivera did not wait until the season to start working, and with the first pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, the Panthers were aggressive and drafted Cameron Newton.
Newton is without a doubt the riskiest pick in the draft, but also has the most upside. Newton is the future of the franchise, but the question is, when will he start?
In the meantime, the Panthers added depth to the offense. They drafted Kealoha Pilares out of Hawaii to compete in the slot and add a potential playmaker. Tight end Jeremy Shockey was added before the draft to add an offensive weapon as well as to teach the Panthers’ young tight ends.
Defensively, Rivera was again aggressive and definitely risky. Terrell McClain is a defensive tackle with good strength to help take up blockers. Sione Fua was a very risky pick in the third round as he is not a prototypical run stuffer in terms of size. Fua and McClain will both see time in the rotation, and possibly be the starting tackles when the season begins. Brandon Hogan is the Newton pick of the defense. Hogan has a history of off-the-field issues and is recovering from a leg injury. When on the field, however, Hogan showed that he could be a solid cover corner in the NFL.
With some 28 players eligible for free agency, Rivera will be very busy before a new CBA is even created. The Panthers will also be well under the salary cap, no matter what it is, and this year may be the best year to use some of it. The Panthers have normally been a team that only adds depth through free agency, but with players like guard Carl Nicks and receiver Sidney Rice on the market, it may be in the team’s best interests to find a few starters.
There is a mountain of uncertainty with the Panthers. Depending on how Newton adapts to the NFL and how the Panthers handle free agency, this is a team that could return to respectability or end up at the bottom of the barrel once again.
30. San Francisco 49ers
At 6-10, the 49ers made a case for being the NFL's greatest disappointment last year (it's become redundant to give Dallas this title). The Niners are in the worst division in the NFL, with no team having a defense or an established quarterback.
The 49ers were shockingly awful because their defense took a step back from the previous season, but also because the quarterback position continues to plague them. Alex Smith sometimes looks like an NFL quarterback, but at other times looks like he's still a rookie.
The 49ers have already taken the necessary steps to make a run at winning a division whose last champion went 7-9. The first key step was the release of Mike Singletary, followed by hiring Stanford’s Jim Harbaugh.
The 49ers’ key offensive addition is Colin Kaepernick, who was second in size and athleticism only to Newton among quarterbacks in the draft. Kaepernick is still too raw to start immediately, and I expect Harbaugh to either re-sign Smith or bring in a veteran to show him the ropes.
Defensively, the 49ers have lacked a stellar defensive lineman, but picked one up in Aldon Smith out of Missouri. He should provide the push upfront to help Patrick Willis’ linebackers blow up the play.
The 49ers could hold the division in their hands, and with Frank Gore, Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis on offense, only a decent quarterback is missing. The big question is, will Harbaugh bring Smith back and try to train him, or bring in a more established quarterback to run the team before Kaepernick takes the reins?
29. Denver Broncos
The Broncos are a historic franchise that featured possibly the greatest quarterback ever in John Elway, and Denver was home for many years to one of the greatest coaches during my lifetime in Mike Shanahan. My question is, what in the world happened?
A 4-12 2010 record is an understatement compared to the current state of this franchise. Josh McDaniels was given the boot in the middle of the season, but he had already traded away Brandon Marshall and Jay Cutler. Now, John Fox is in control, but it is not a happy time in Denver.
The Broncos have no passing game, no running game, and no defense. Two of these should change now that the draft is over.
The Broncos used the second pick overall to draft linebacker Von Miller to add pass-rushing ability outside of Elvis Dumervil. The Broncos also added safety Rahim Moore out of UCLA to help shore up the secondary.
The biggest gain for the Broncos will be John Fox, a former defensive coordinator with the Giants and former head coach of the Carolina Panthers. I understand that some Broncos fans are not thrilled with the idea of having a coach who just went 2-14 last season, but there are still many reasons to be happy.
John Fox will re-establish the Broncos as a run-first team, and he can turn Knowshon Moreno into the running back he’s supposed to be. Another positive is that he’ll turn the Broncos into a formidable 4-3 defense, especially now that he has leaders at all three levels of the defense. Lastly, he can coach a game so that the quarterback will only need to manage the game, not win it by himself.
The Broncos don’t know who their quarterback will be, so the last benefit is big. It could be Tim Tebow, it could be Kyle Orton, but Mickey Mouse also has a solid shot. Fox likes Tebow, who showed last season that he can make plays, but with John Elway running the show, there’s still a question as to whether Tebow will even be on the team.
The Broncos need to decide who the quarterback will be. Fox knows where this team will end up without a quarterback, but the bigger question may be who Elway gives him as his options for the starting job. This question is crucial for a team that plays in a division that can be won with a 9-7 record in most years.
28. Buffalo Bills
The Bills were an 8-8 team that ended with a 4-12 record. The 8-8 may even be low-balling, as this team took the Ravens and Steelers into the final minutes and overtime, but couldn’t finish the job.
The Bills actually had a solid offense, with Fred Jackson leading the rushing attack and the emergence of Ryan Fitzpatrick and Steve Johnson. The offense made the Ravens look like a CFL team. Fitzpatrick has provided much hope for the Bills franchise and helped make their decision to not draft a quarterback a lot easier.
The Bills know the defense is their main problem, and they addressed it in a big way in April’s draft. With the third overall pick, the Bills chose Marcel Dareus to join Kyle Williams in clogging up the running lanes. Dareus also has the added benefit of having light feet, and should make for a good pass rusher at the end position in a 3-4.
The Bills then added corner Aaron Williams out of Texas and linebacker Kelvin Sheppard out of LSU. Both should be able to start on Day 1. Ironically, these two picks may end up being more important than the addition of Dareus. The Bills are on the verge of finally becoming a competitive team, but one issue needs to be addressed.
What will the Bills do with Paul Posluszny? He's still their best linebacker, when healthy, and is the leader of the defense. Re-signing him and Drayton Florence would put the Bills in the top half of the league in defense, but do the Bills want them back?
27. Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals had a horrible year compared to the expectations they had going into the season. 4-12 is not the record of a team with a stellar offense and good defense. Unfortunately, neither the offense nor the defense showed up to play.
The team is almost being forced to rebuild. Carson Palmer has demanded a trade or he’ll retire. Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens are getting up there in age and it’s likely both will be gone. Cedric Benson is also a free agent, and there’s a chance he could be gone as well, which would be a huge loss for a team that just found its first feature back since Corey Dillon.
The Bengals moved in the right direction with their draft. First, they drafted my personal favorite player in the draft, A.J. Green. His size, hands and speed make him the premier receiver in this class and a future Pro Bowler. This is a guy who had almost 1,000 yards receiving in a season where he missed four games. Pairing him with Jordan Shipley will make for a great duo in the future.
With Carson Palmer wanting out, there was a huge question mark as to who would be throwing the ball. In the second round, the Bengals addressed that problem with the selection of TCU’s Andy Dalton. He's the most accurate quarterback in this class, and with Green, Shipley and Jordan Gresham to throw to, he could have the most success statistically of any quarterback in the draft.
The Bengals’ best picks were on the offensive side of the ball, but the steal was not Green or Dalton, it was offensive guard Clint Boling. A teammate of Green at Georgia, Boling has good size and great technique. He also had a good showing in the Senior Bowl. He will immediately compete for a starting position, which isn’t bad for a fourth-round pick.
The Bengals have the misfortune of being in the toughest division in the AFC, but their failure or success will depend on what happens with the Bengals’ big four, and if the team has found their franchise quarterback in Dalton.
26. Washington Redskins
The Redskins are a constant conundrum. One year they're competitive, and the next they’re 6-10. They went from Jason Campbell to Donovan McNabb and got worse, but how?
Mike Shanahan needs to get his team in order, and fast. He has a $100 million couch potato in Albert Haynesworth and a Donovan McNabb look-a-like who was shelved mid-season for Rex Grossman. Shanahan is also without a team leader in Clinton Portis, and may lose another in receiver Santana Moss. What have the Redskins done so far to fix the problem?
The Redskins addressed both sides of the ball with impact players. On defense, the Redskins used their first pick to draft Ryan Kerrigan. Kerrigan is a 4-3 defensive end out of Purdue who has always been seen as a solid pass rusher. The Redskins are hoping to have found the Yin to Brian Orakpo’s Yang.
To assist the pass-rushing abilities of Orakpo and Kerrigan, the Redskins drafted Jarvis Jenkins. Jenkins is a nasty nose tackle out of Clemson who will hopefully do what Haynesworth could not. If they can retain corner Carlos Rogers, the Redskins will once again have one of the top defenses in the NFL.
Offensively, the Redskins drafted receiver Leonard Hankerson out of the University of Miami. Hankerson has the skills to be a No. 1 receiver. He has the build of Anquan Boldin, and had a great Senior Bowl where he and Christian Ponder looked like they had been playing together for years.
The other offensive weapon was drafted in the later rounds. Evan Royster is an explosive running back out of Penn State, where he set the school record for rushing yards. With Clinton Portis out, Royster could step in as the No. 2 back, and once he gets familiar with Shanahan’s system, he could be a consistent 1,000-yard back in the NFL.
The NFC East is stacked, and I don’t see a great season ahead for the Redskins, but if the defense can gel, they can be a core building block for the franchise moving forward.
25. Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings started the season thinking Super Bowl, but by the end they could only watch their expectations go down the toilet bowl. The Vikings finished 6-10 and in last place in the NFC North.
The Vikings were a team built to win now. Unfortunately, Brett Favre was downright bad, receiver Percy Harvin was not on the field much due to his constant migraines, and the defense was sub-par.
The Vikings are no longer a contender, as their division has passed them by. They said “ciao” to Brad Childress and welcomed Leslie Frazier as head coach, which was a good start. In April, they made more solid personnel moves to try and get back to respectability.
On offense, the Favre experiment is over and done. He’s retired for good, hopefully, so the Vikings needed to find a franchise quarterback. Joe Webb wasn’t the answer, so with the 12th pick the Vikings selected Christian Ponder our of Florida State,
Ponder shined in the Senior Bowl, earning MVP honors with good reason. Ponder is not big and has only an average arm, but he offers much more. He is accurate, he makes the right decisions when throwing the ball, and the guy is smart. All of these traits were demonstrated in the Senior Bowl, as he and Leonard Hankerson played like they had been college teammates, not rivals.
To give Ponder a big target with great hands, the Vikings chose tight end Kyle Rudolph out of Notre Dame in the second round. Rudolph has a knee injury to recover from, but he was rated the best tight end in the draft. He will play on the other side of Visanthe Shiancoe, creating a pair of big targets for the young quarterback.
To complete a strong offensive draft, the Vikings added offensive linemen Demarcus Love and Brandon Fasco. Love is a tackle who should play guard in the NFL. He is very big, but has trouble in pass protection, which is why he’ll fit best at guard. His lack of pass blocking in the Senior Bowl did not help his stock. Fasco is out of Slippery Rock, but he dominated small school competition and could double as guard or center.
Defensively, the Vikings picked up two steals at key positions. Somehow, defensive end Christian Ballard fell all the way to the fourth round. He was a monster at Iowa, but lost momentum as he went through the draft process. He will definitely add depth to the Vikings’ strongest position.
The other steal was cornerback Brandon Burton. Like Ballard, Burton was at one time projected to be a first-round pick, but he too lost steam and will be a huge gain for the Vikings, as their secondary is their weakest position.
The Vikings needed a good draft as free agency may hit them hard. Their main target in Sidney Rice is out on the market and will be heavily sought after. Defensively, Pat Williams, Ben Leber and Ray Edwards are all free agents and have been crucial to the front seven’s success the last few years.
Ponder is heading into a good situation, but with a questionable secondary and the fact that every other team in the NFC North keeps improving, it will be hard for the Vikings to do more than challenge the Detroit Lions for last place.
24. Tennessee Titans
The Titans could easily be the worst team in the league, but I feel the defense and Chris Johnson will keep them out of the top spot in next year’s draft.
The Titans are in a state of disarray right now. The only coach in the Titans’ history has left, both of their quarterbacks will be gone, and the team overall was a mess last season, leading to a 6-10 record.
Mike Munchak has been hired as the new head coach, and his main job will be to fix the offense. Kerry Collins was bad and Vince Young was too immature to handle the team. Also, Chris Johnson was not the premier back he thought he would be, and fell considerably short of his projected 2,500 yards rushing. Then, there was the fact the Titans only had Kenny Britt as a legitimate passing target.
While I expect the Titans to sign a veteran quarterback when free agency begins, they chose who the face of their franchise would be in April. At eighth overall, the Titans chose quarterback Jake Locker. Locker was considered the best quarterback available before last season, but he decided to stay in college, which backfired when Washington had a merely average year.
Locker brings mobility and a decent arm, and he has passion and intensity which were lacking in former quarterback Vince Young. Locker will probably be asked to start from Day 1, competing right out of the gate against the likes of Peyton Manning and Matt Schaub. He will probably struggle, as Britt will be challenged more this year, and teams will constantly stack eight in the box waiting for Johnson.
Defensively, the Titans made two key additions. First, Akeem Ayers will provide the leadership at the linebacker position that has been lacking since Keith Bullock departed. The other is defensive tackle Jurrell Casey out of USC. Casey was considered one of the top five defensive tackles in the draft. He will add depth to an already strong front four.
This will be quite a learning experience for Locker, but what he learns from his first season will help him as an NFL quarterback for the rest of his career.
23. Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks won the NFC West and, to my delight, defeated the New Orleans Saints in the playoffs, but finishing with a 7-9 record does not earn much respect.
The Seahawks seem to have found their running back in Marshawn Lynch, they may have their go-to receiver in Mike Williams, and Chris Clemons emerged as the leader of the defensive line, giving them leaders at all three levels of the defense, especially with the year safety Earl Thomas had.
The Seahawks just need to learn how to win outside of their division. They made two key additions during the draft that will aid them in their cause.
Wide receiver Kris Durham was projected to go undrafted, but the Seahawks saw something in him and decided he was worth a fourth-round pick. What they saw was a 6’5” receiver out of Georgia who is physical, has good hands, and knows how to find the holes in the defense. He will join Mike Williams and Golden Tate to form the best receiving corps in the NFC West, with the potential to be one of the best groups in the NFC.
The other key player added was corner Richard Sherman out of Stanford. Sherman stands at 6’3” and should make for a Cromartie-like cover corner in the future. His addition almost completes the defense, with only the linebacker group left to be settled. The linebackers were once Seattle’s strength, but Leroy Hill can’t stay on the field and Lofa Tatupu had a very sub-par season.
The question that will determine Seattle’s future is figuring out who starts at quarterback. Is Matt Hasselbeck still the guy? Is it Charlie Whitehurst? The NFC West is wide open, and if Seattle can determine its quarterback, the Seahawks could rule the division.
22. Oakland Raiders
I will never understand the Raiders until Al Davis is dead, buried and prevented from rising from the grave. They go 8-8 and Tom Cable finally has the team going in the right direction, and then he gets fired.
The Raiders are now Hue Jackson’s team, and he inherits a fast and talented group that only lacks a quarterback and offensive line. They have Darren McFadden leading the running game, they have a plethora of young and speedy receivers, and their defense is finally worthy of Raider Nation.
The Raiders two key draft picks are Stefen Wisniewski and Demarcus Van Dyke. Wisniewski was the top center in the draft as he dominated at Penn State. He is a leader, he is very intelligent, and he can definitely hold his own when it comes to blocking.
Van Dyke is a prototypical Raider with great speed. He has talent as well, and while he can come in to compete for the nickel spot right away, he isn't the starter they need.
The Raiders are almost dreading free agency. Michael Bush, Zach Miller and Nnamdi Asomugha are all free agents, and all crucial to the Raiders' success.
Bush is the power in the backfield and filled in nicely before McFadden returned from injury. Miller is considered a top-five tight end, and is also Oakland's No. 1 receiver. Nnamdi is arguably the best shutdown corner in the NFL. All three need to be re-signed for the Raiders to be competitive this season in the brutal AFC.
Like many teams out west, the biggest question the Raiders need to answer is who the quarterback will be. Is Jason Campbell the guy? Are they a candidate for Kevin Kolb? With better direction, this team could take the AFC West.
21. Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins were a team I personally had high hopes for, and I know head coach Tony Sparano did not envision a 7-9 record for his team.
The Dolphins defense was very good. The defense ranked sixth overall and finished 10th in sacks. The offense, on the other hand, struggled mightily.
Chad Henne was Mr. Wrong, and they lacked the running game that made the Dolphins special in the past. They went away from the Wildcat and tried playing like other top teams in the AFC, which resulted in the third-worst scoring offense in the NFL and the third-worst turnover differential. With the receiving corps they have and the running backs they have, this shouldn't happen.
The Dolphins went with the “if it ain't broke, don't fix it” strategy for the draft, and picked mainly offensive players. In the first round, they added center Mike Pouncey out of Florida to strengthen the line. Though better as a guard, Pouncey still has the potential to be a starting center in the league. He will need to keep Chad Henne comfortable in the pocket.
The Dolphins also decided to beef up the receiving corps by drafting the fastest receiver in the draft in Edmond Gates. With Gates joining Brandon Marshall, Davone Bess and tight end Anthony Fasano, Henne will have no excuse not to put up points.
With the possibility of both Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown departing, the Dolphins needed a feature back and may have found one in Kansas State-product Daniel Thomas. Thomas is a 230-pound bruiser who will help reestablish the physical presence that the Dolphins used to earn a 10-6 record a few years ago and win the division.
The last player I liked from the Dolphins’ draft was Charles Clay. He can play tight end, halfback or fullback. His versatility makes him a steal as a late-round pick.
The defense is only getting better, the receiving corps cannot get any better, and the line and running game will be nasty and physical. Now it’s all on Henne’s shoulders. He could lead this team to a division title, even in the AFC East, but if they fail to make the playoffs, I do not see Henne having a part in Miami’s future.
20. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars once again met expectations, as they were average. An 8-8 record cannot be more average. The good news for Jaguar fans is that they can easily change, and even take the division.
The Jaguars can still run the ball like the best of them, as they averaged almost 150 yards per game last season. The offensive line is getting better and will improve as the younger players get more experience. Plus, they drafted William Rackley out of Lehigh, who will compete for one of the starting guard positions.
Offensively, the problem is the passing game. David Garrard started the year out as one of the best passers in the NFL, but throughout the season that changed. Garrard had a few down games, but a huge problem was he had no receivers to rely on. Luckily, tight end Mercedes Lewis stepped up and became the Pro Bowl-caliber player everyone thought he could be.
Mike Thomas has glimpses of brilliance, and made a few miracle catches, but he needs to be more consistent. Mike Sims-Walker is very similar, as he has the skills to be a No.1 receiver, but sometimes doesn’t show that he wants to be.
The receiving corps needs to step up as the Jaguars have their quarterback of the future in Blaine Gabbert. Gabbert has size, athleticism and is fairly accurate. Unfortunately, he needs more than a tight end to rely on. Gabbert has the advantage of staying on the sidelines and learning the game from a veteran, landing him in the best situation of any quarterback in his class.
The receivers are a concern, but they are not the main one. When the defense is ranked 28th and gives up almost 27 points a game, there are issues that need to be addressed.
First, apologies to Tyson Alualu. Though 10th overall was a little high, as he performed very well last season, Alualu cannot do everything himself and I don’t think the defense was addressed enough in the draft. Jacksonville's D gave up the most yards per play in the league, and they went offense for their first two picks.
The first two picks were great, but I think Jacksonville will need to hit free agency hard. Ben Leber would be nice to help the linebacker group, and maybe a corner like Carlos Rogers would help the secondary.
The Jaguars defense is crucial, especially in a division with Peyton Manning and Matt Schaub, and if they do not add depth, they will once again be just an average team watching the Colts make the playoffs yet again.
19. Detroit Lions
Whoever made the final decisions on the Lions’ draft picks should give themselves many pats on the back. Their early-round picks were phenomenal.
The Lions hold the worst record in NFL history, they have not been good for as long as I’ve been alive, and 8-8 means raises for the whole organization. Now, this is a franchise on the rise.
The Detroit Lions only went 6-10 last season, but they didn’t finish last and they even beat the Green Bay Packers. Their defensive line was great and the offense could be great if the quarterbacks could stay on the field. The Lions did upgrade the offensive line and should be a priority during free agency, but they upgraded at three other key positions.
With their first pick, Christmas came early. Prince Amukamara was there, but so was Nick Fairley. They selected Fairley and now have the most ferocious defensive tackle combo in the NFL. Ndamukong Suh and Fairley together should not be allowed. Both big, both dominant, and both have a nastiness that cares little for the ethics of the game. Not to mention both are pass-rushing defensive tackles, and there’s no better way to help out a weak secondary than having the defensive line be able to do almost everything.
Fairley was the game changer drafted for the defense, but the Lions added two impact players on offense as well. The Lions added receiver Titus Young out of Boise State and running back Mikel Leshoure out of Illinois.
Titus Young will make a nice compliment to Calvin “Megatron” Johnson and Nate Burleson. He has good game speed and can make the difficult catches. Leshoure adds a nice, powerful compliment to Jahvid Best. Every successful team is moving towards a two-back system and now the Lions will have a very young, talented duo for the next three-to-four years.
The Lions could still use help on the offensive line and the secondary, but the skilled positions are set and the defensive line is almost unfair. If the Lions could keep Matthew Stafford on his feet, the Lions will be a force offensively and an 8-8 or 9-7 season would be a reasonable goal to obtain.
18. Dallas Cowboys
If the league had a “Most Underachieving Team” award, it would be called the Cowboy award. I can see every now and then having an off year because of injuries, but Dallas has taken underachieving to another level.
And 6-10 is a record for the Redskins, the Lions or the Raiders. Dallas can have the best team on paper all they want, but it’s how they play on the field that matters. Part of last season’s problems can be attributed to Wade Phillips, but the team needs to take responsibility.
The Cowboys have three running backs that could all be 1,000-yard rushers, but they don’t run the ball. They have two Pro Bowl-caliber tight ends, but only one seems to ever play. They have a seven-foot wall of giants on the offensive line, yet they block like third graders. The worst part is, the team was better off with Jon Kitna than Tony Romo.
The Cowboys’ draft did not help matters. They drafted a good tackle in Tyron Smith and a good linebacker in Bruce Carter. Smith will finally keep Romo from needing to look over his shoulder every second. Carter should come in and start right away, as he is another member of the All-American suspended team known as North Carolina.
Both of these guys are standouts, but then they get infatuated with running backs. They have Tashard Choice, Felix Jones, and Marion Barber III, so why did they draft Shaun Chapas and DeMarco Murray? Do they know five running backs can’t be on the field at the same time?
The Giants are getting better, especially with the draft they had. The Eagles are contending for the Super Bowl. If the Cowboys don’t play as a team, they’ll be watching the Super Bowl from the same place I will, minus the multi-million dollar home.
17. St. Louis Rams
What more can a team ask for after having the first pick overall the year before? The Rams went 7-9, they were a tiebreaker short of making the playoffs, and Sam Bradford was great for a rookie.
Now, the Rams need to take the next step and try to win the division with an actual winning record. They have the quarterback, the running back, and some leadership on defense. They just needed a good draft to upgrade the talent on the team and I must say their draft was excellent.
The Rams added talent defensively as they drafted three defensive backs and added possibly the best pass rusher in the class in Robert Quinn. The end out of North Carolina stands at 6’5”, 270 pounds and is just pure talent. With Chris Long on one side, Quinn on the other and James Laurinaitis at the middle linebacker position, the Rams have great building blocks for the defense.
Even though the Rams did not add any depth behind Steven Jackson (probably because Dallas drafted them all), the Rams did a great job giving Bradford new weapons in the passing game, three to be exact.
The Rams added one of the best tight ends in this year’s class in Lance Kendricks out of Wisconsin. He will add blocking to the tight end position, but his hands are no joke either.
The Rams also added two receivers who Bradford should be very happy to have. Both Greg Salas and Austin Pettis are exactly what Bradford needs. Salas is a receiver with great hands that can gain separation and knows how to use his body to shield defenders. Pettis is a big target at 6’3” and is the best receiver coming out of Boise State. He can find the openings in a zone, but he could add some more weight to handle the roughness of the NFL.
The Rams have something no one else in the NFC West has, a quarterback. If the rams can keep Bradford upright and improve their secondary, they will be the division champs.
16. Cleveland Browns
The Browns are another team on the rise and are the best 5-11 team ever. This team not only beat, but spanked the New England Patriots and the New Orleans Saints. They also had close games with the Chiefs, Bucs and Falcons. Two of those teams went to the playoffs and the other went 10-6.
Under Mike Holmgren, the Browns are gaining an identity as their smash-mouth running game sets up Colt McCoy and his army of tight ends. The Browns had receivers, but their names were Ben Watson and Evan Moore.
The Browns looked to change the passing game so that a receiver may actually be considered the No.1 target. The Browns did draft tight end Jordan Cameron to add more depth to the position, but the Browns used a second round pick to draft the second best receiver in the Draft, Greg Little.
The biggest disappointment was not being able to watch Greg Little destroy the ACC last season. At 6’3”, 220 pounds, Little is a big, powerful receiver who has game speed like no other. As a former running back, Little actually looks for contact and doesn’t mind lowering his shoulder or using his powerful stiff arm. Little should be the No.1 receiver for the Browns and McCoy only has himself to blame if the offense is one of the best in the AFC.
The Browns also had a great draft defensively. After making a great trade with Atlanta, the Browns traded up and selected Phil Taylor. The massive nose tackle out of Baylor paired with Rubin makes for almost 700 pounds up the middle. This is a great pick for a defense moving to a 4-3.
Since the Browns released most of Eric Mangini’s 3-4 linemen, the Browns still needed more, especially at defensive end. In the second round, the Browns drafted defensive end Jabaal Sheard out of Pittsburgh. With Sheard on one end, and probably Matt Roth on the other, the Browns will have a big, run-stuffing line. They should have no problem freeing up linebackers on run plays and blitzes.
The Browns may be in a division with the Ravens and Steelers, but they are no longer the pushovers that they had been since their rebirth. As long as the Browns can strengthen the right side of their line, they could definitely shoot for a 9-7 or even 10-6 record.
15. New York Giants
The Giants are a team that needs the season to be shortened to eight games instead of extended. For one reason or another, they falter in the second half of the season. Last season they did well overall with a 10-6 record, but when a team blows a 17-point lead in the second half it’s not good. Everyone remembers the DeSean Jackson punt return, but not that the defense played like it was never on the field.
This is a good team. Eli Manning is a Super Bowl quarterback, they have the running backs, they have the receivers, and they have more rushers than some teams have defensive linemen. Things just haven’t worked out lately.
The Giants decided to try and change their misfortune with a solid draft, and I would say mission accomplished. The Giants had a Grade A draft.
Offensively, the only standout pick was James Brewer. Brewer is a massive offensive tackle out of Florida who will add much-needed depth to an aging, but still effective, offensive line.
The real picks of the Giants’ draft came on the defensive side. With their pick in the first round, they were given a player they couldn’t pass up. Prince Amukamara was a projected top 10 pick that the Giants selected at 19. The Nebraska corner adds more depth to a very talented position. Corey Webster and Aaron Ross are very capable corners that struggled last year. Prince should push them to be better as he will have a great chance to start Week 1.
The Giants received another gift in the second round when first-round talent Marvin Austin fell to them. Austin is the third best defensive tackle in the draft, but he’s only that way because he was suspended all year as part of the almost-dream team. Austin has light feet, good leverage and a nastiness that is second to only Nick Fairley. He’ll join the race to the quarterback ends with Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora.
The Giants must have thought it was Christmas in April as in the late rounds they received yet another gift. The Giants drafted the Michigan State tackling machine known as Greg Jones. I don’t know how he fell to the sixth round, but he did and Jones will add great depth to the linebacker position with one day becoming the future leader of the defense.
The Giants season will fall on the offense’s shoulders as I cannot see how the defense can ever falter with their new additions. It all starts with the offensive line and the running game, get those working and the Giants will be Super bowl contenders once again.
14. Houston Texans
The Texans always seem so close yet so far away. They have the expectations of reaching the playoffs, but for one reason or another they always come up short. A 6-10 record is not what anyone expected of them last year and I think this year they must reach the playoffs.
The Texans have some of the best players in the NFL. Have they have a great quarterback in Matt Schaub, a great running back in Arian Foster, arguably the best receiver in Andre Johnson, and a sack machine in Mario Williams. I cannot figure out how they never seem to reach their potential, until I look at their defense.
As the Saints proved a few years ago, an amazing offense and a horrible defense will only lead to an 8-8 record at best. The Texans finished third last in total defense and allowed almost 27 points per game. Add this and an unfortunate Hail Mary and you get the Texans.
Knowing defense was the main problem, Wade Phillips was brought in as defensive coordinator and the focus of the draft was defense. The Texans made three solid picks for the defense and all should dramatically improve one of the worst squads, statistically, in the NFL. I do think these picks are better suited for a 4-3, but I’m curious to see how they work.
The Texans used the 11th-overall pick to draft an unsuspecting J.J. Watt. The defensive end out of Wisconsin was a great pick and there’s no one better to put on the opposite side of Williams. Watt is big, strong and he has closing speed. This guy was meant for Peyton Manning.
If Watt wasn’t enough, let’s throw in the Texans’ second-round pick Brooks Reed out of Arizona. I’m not sure where he’ll go, maybe as an end or someone who rotates in on passing situations. Reed has a very high motor, you can almost see the fan spinning, and he knows how to use his hands. The Texans decided that the best way to protect a weak secondary is to have a strong pass rush, and I hope it works.
In case it doesn’t work quite to plan, the Texans did add Brandon Harris to boost the secondary. He is a little raw, but I think he’ll definitely benefit from the Texans’ earlier picks and the addition of Wade Phillips.
The offense will do its job, but can the defense do theirs? And for heaven’s sake, catch the Hail Mary pass if it’s right to you and no one is around trying to deflect it.
13. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The surprise team last season was without a doubt the Bucs. Their 10-6 record was a shock and it saved Raheem Morris’ job. The Bucs gave the Saints and Falcons a run for their money and lost on tiebreakers to the Packers.
There were two keys to the success of the Bucs last season. The first was LeGarrette Blount who came in and took over with his power and ability to hurdle defenders as he rushed for over 1,000 yards. This isn’t bad for an undrafted rookie who was not wanted by the Titans.
The main reason the Bucs succeeded was the speedy maturation of quarterback Josh Freeman. Freeman went from a quarterback who had multiple 3+ interception games and was benched during the season, to a 6’5” freak who could not be brought down and had 25 touchdowns with only six interceptions.
The Bucs are still a young team who has found it beneficial to build through the Draft and they had their second consecutive “outstanding” draft. Offensively, they selected tight end Luke Stocker out of Tennessee. He adds depth and the future successor to Kellen Winslow as a guy who excels at blocking and pass-catching.
The impact players of their draft are on the defensive side of the ball. They started off with defensive end Adrian Clayborn. Clayborn was a stud at Iowa as a man that can play big at about 290 pounds, but still be quick enough to get to know the quarterback on a more personal level. The Bucs have lacked any kind of presence at the end position since Simeon Rice left.
The second impact player is Da’Quan Bowers out of Clemson. The Bucs should thank that knee of his as they were able to get college football’s leading sack artist in the second round. Bowers is a big boy with a big motor and hands to boot. Bowers and Clayborn along with Gerald McCoy and Brian Price complete a young but very talented line for the Bucs. This will be the best line the NFC South for many years to come.
The final impact player is Ahmad Black out of Florida. He wasn’t drafted until Day 3, but this guy has instinct and hands. He may be too slow for corner so he’ll need to add some bulk and play safety, but nice job Bucs for finding another talented defensive back in the late rounds.
The Bucs will need their young guys to step up immediately as free agency could be a little painful. Defensive backs Ronde Barber and Aqib Talib may both be gone hurting the corner position, and there has been speculation that linebacker Barrett Ruud will not be returning. Barber and Ruud are the leaders of that defense and at least one needs to return to keep the young defense in line.
The Bucs are definitely heading in the right direction, but they need to prove that last year wasn’t a fluke. They can be real contenders for the playoffs, but the NFC South can be a little misleading and the Bucs don’t want to know what the basement looks like again.
12. Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs finally found a winning formula and they did a good job in their pursuit of the AFC West crown. It had been awhile since someone other than the Chargers had won the division and, though they were slaughtered in the playoffs, they have the building blocks to be contenders year after year.
The Chiefs may still have questions about their quarterback Matt Cassel, but I think he’s the right man for the job. He has a great running game in Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones, he has a big receiver in Dwayne Bowe who exploded midway through the season, and now he has his own Tony Gonzalez in Tony Moeaki.
The defense performed well under the guidance of Romeo Crennel and Eric Berry had a great rookie season. The defense still had holes to fill, but the Chiefs did a nice job addressing some of their needs.
The Chiefs got a steal in DE/OLB Justin Houston out of Georgia. Huston was a leading pass rusher in the SEC and one of the few that excelled in Todd Grantham’s new defense. With Houston on one side and Tamba Hali on the other, teams will be better off running the ball.
Of course, the Chiefs thought that might happen so they drafted end Allen Bailey and nose tackle Jerrell Powe. Bailey was considered a late-first, early-second round talent until he underperformed during the draft process. The U product will provide a pass rush from the end position and help out the Chiefs’ bookend pass rushers. Powe’s main job is to make sure he stays put. At 340 pounds, he could provide the gap stopper needed by the defense.
Houston’s slide to the third round worked out very well as they decided to go offense in the first. The selection of Jonathan Baldwin should scare the rest of the West as he is 6’5” and can jump. Baldwin on one side, Bowe on the other, all Cassel has to do is fire his BB gun in the right direction and this could be a top 10 offense.
The questions for the Chiefs are whether Cassel can be consistent week after week, and if the offense can perform without Charlie Weis calling the shots. Chiefs fans should be looking for another playoff push if all goes well.
11. Chicago Bears
The Bears finally came together and played to their abilities. They edged out the Packers for the NFC North title and went all the way to the NFC championship game. It was unfortunate that Cutler suffered a serious leg injury as he may have made the difference against the Packers.
Jay Cutler did a good job establishing the Bears as his team, Matt Forte acted like a running back for the first time in his short career, and Brian Urlacher proved the defense is not the Bears defense without him. The Bears did have weaknesses its biggest weakness was addressed in the first round of April’s Draft.
The Bears have needed a tackle to keep Cutler off his bum and Gabe Carimi is the man for the job. The tackle out of Wisconsin may be the best in the class. Unfortunately, he was still recovering from injury so did not participate in the Senior Bowl and had to wait until his pro day to really show what he could do. The guy is big, physical and will allow Cutler to sleep in less pain when he lies down at night.
With the possible departure of Tommie Harris in free agency, the Bears needed a guy who could control the line of scrimmage. They decided why not go with the strongest man in Combine history. Stephen Paea set the combine record for most bench press reps at 49, though I think he could have popped out a few more. Paea should be able to keep linemen off the Bears star linebackers and allow the Midway defense to dominate.
The Bears have a very solid team and Johnny Knox may finally become the No.1 receiver the team has lacked for a very long time, but I was surprised the Bears did not address the corner position. If any position is weak on the team it’s the secondary and I thought they would have looked to add more depth at the position. Maybe they’ll look to free agency, like Nnamdi Asomugha, to solve their problem.
The Bears won the division last year and fought the Packers very hard, but the Packers will not be as injured this year and with the Bucs and Giants looking to make a playoff push, the Bears will be tested. Can they succeed?
10. New York Jets
The Jets are one of the tougher teams to rank because what their team looks like relies heavily on what happens in free agency. This is without question a “win now” team, but how far they go is a big question.
The Jets went 11-5 last season and made much of the country happy when they knocked off the Patriots in the playoffs. They have their franchise quarterback in Mark Sanchez, their offensive line is great, and their defense is top five in the NFL.
The Jets have one glaring hole on the defense and it is the one left by nose tackle Kris Jenkins. Jenkins will not be returning and nose tackle is a crucial cog in the defense. What’s the best way to fix a nose tackle problem? The answer is to take two of the three biggest human beings in the draft.
In the first round, the Jets drafted tackle Muhammad Wilkerson out of Temple. Wilkerson is the No.1 nose tackle on many boards and what he brings is his versatility. At 315 pounds, he can certainly handle himself and can play any line position in a 3-4. He also has the hands and “speed” to wreak havoc at the nose on passing downs.
Depth is always a good thing and the Jets agree, so in the third round they went with the biggest boy in the draft. Kenrick Ellis is a massive defensive tackle out of Hampton, standing at 6’5” and 350 pounds. As long as he’s on the field, Ellis will have no problem commanding double teams and sometimes teams may want to put the whole interior line on him. The Jets defensive front just got bigger and a whole lot better.
As mentioned earlier, free agency could change the face of the team, particularly on offense. Both Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards are free agents and there are numerous teams that could use a No.1 receiver.
Santonio Holmes is an established winner and the Jets are not the same without him on the field. Braylon Edwards found out that life is greener on the other side as he became a reliable 6’3” target with good hands while playing with the Jets. These two complement each other very well and re-signing both should be top priority for the Jets, especially with little depth at the receiver position.
Sanchez is only getting better and the defense will always keep the game within reach, but they need to address two issues. The first is their receiver position and the second issue is that of the running game. LaDainian Tomlinson has become the feature back, but he won’t be around much longer. Shonne Greene had a sub-par year last season and he needs to prove himself this year if he wants to continue to be a Jet.
The Jets can compete with the best of them, but can the offense compete with the rest of the best of them?
9. New Orleans Saints
The only partying last season was in Seattle as the Saints were stunned by the Seahawks in the Wild Card round. The Saints didn’t expect it, the Bears didn’t expect it, and it probably came to a surprise to Seattle, but it happened. Of course, when eight defenders cannot bring down Marshawn Lynch it was going to be a strange day.
Losing to the worst playoff team record-wise in NFL history is behind them now. Now is for re-signing the players that contributed to an 11-5 record and the Saints already added defensive tackle Shaun Rogers. They have to decide which of the three offensive linemen to re-sign and if Reggie Bush should return.
Whoever the Saints decide on, they’ll have three new impact players to help them out next season.
The first player is defensive end Cameron Jordan out of California. Defensive line had been a weak spot until recently and New Orleans is adding depth and thinking down the road with this pick. Jordan is in the mold of Will Smith as he is pretty big, but has pass-rushing abilities. Jordan will join Rogers and Sedrick Ellis to create a fierce defensive line for the Saints.
When the Saints went all-the-way, they could run the ball. Last season and the season leading up to their Super Bowl run they focused too much on the pass. The Saints made a bold move and traded away a second round pick and next season’s first round pick to trade into the first round and draft running back Mark Ingram.
The Alabama bowling ball is the physical presence the Saints running game has lacked since Deuce McAllister, but Ingram has more explosiveness. He was a Heisman candidate, a national champion, and without question the best back in the draft. One guy cannot bring him down and with the offense New Orleans runs, Ingram could average over five yards per carry easy.
The Saints addressed two big needs in the first round and I feel their team is complete. Free agency will have a big impact on their offensive line, but it’s all on the Saints now. They can only stop themselves as their front office has put together one of the most complete teams in the NFL.
8. San Diego Chargers
The Chargers had a special season in 2010. They found a way to have the best offense and the best defense in the NFL but still not make the playoffs. That takes skill, bad luck, and horrible special teams, all of which the Chargers had resulting in a disappointing 9-7 record.
They did not have receiver Vincent Jackson for much of the season due to contract disputes and Mike Tolbert carried the running game due to Ryan Matthews’ injury. The team was just sloppy and their special teams killed them. For example, they allowed Seattle’s Leon Washington to take it to the house twice and the Chargers went on to lose in the final minutes of the fourth quarter.
The Chargers definitely fixed their special teams with their draft picks. They drafted defensive tackle Corey Liuget out of Illinois in the first round, but that was to satisfy a big need on the defensive front. He will play the end in a 3-4 and should be able to keep linemen off one of the better linebacker units in the NFL.
The rest of the picks all have special teams value. Jordan Todman is a smallish running back out of UConn, but he will make a good return man if Darren Sproles is not retained. Todman also is physical and had a good showing in the Draft process including the Senior Bowl.
The Chargers added a couple of gunners in Marcus Gilchrist and Shareece Wright. Both add depth to the corner position and Wright will compete for a starting position whenever camp begins.
The Chargers obviously cannot get much better. They need to decide on what to do with Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd, but it is really just on the Chargers to perform to their abilities. I expect them to win the AFC West and possibly make a splash in the playoffs, but they have to get there first.
7. Indianapolis Colts
The Indianapolis Mannings are always a top team and always will be as long as Peyton is around. He is the best quarterback in the NFL and arguably the greatest in history.
The Colts went 10-6 lasts season which is disappointing for the Colts as they are usually good for 12 wins. They were hit hard with injuries as tight end Dallas Clark went down a month into the season, Pierre Garcon was injured at times and Austin Collie would get injured, return, and get injured the same game he came back.
The Colts know that as long as they have Peyton they’ll be in it, but last season they realized Manning was getting hit a little too much. Insert first-round pick Anthony Castonzo. The offensive tackle out of Boston College will protect Manning’s blind side starting next season. Castonzo will also provide more stability to the running game. He uses his technique and powerful arms to drive linemen off the ball and should have no problem making holes for either Donald Brown or Joseph Addai.
The other key player the Colts drafted was defensive tackle Drake Nevis. Nevis is a tackle out of LSU and he fits the Colts system to a T. He is a lighter tackle at close to 300 and he uses speed and hands to break into the backfield. He will provide a pass rush from the inside and will be needed to hassle Schaub and the new quarterbacks in the division.
The Colts will have some stiff competition this year, especially from the Texans, as their draft looked like it was designed to get after Manning. With Castonzo on the left side, the offense should be just as productive as ever, but it is up the defense to find a leader. The defense of the Colts has always been questionable and is the key to Colts’ season.
6. Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles were rewards for their trust in two very special players. The 10-6 record and NFC East division title can be attributed to Michael Vick and DeSean Jackson. Vick learned from Andy Reid how to be a NFL quarterback and not just an athlete that plays the position. Jackson may have character issues but he has become one of the best playmakers in the NFL.
The Eagles have the skilled positions set. Vick has taken the job from Kevin Kolb who is likely to be traded, LeSean McCoy had a huge year at running back, Jackson and Jeremy Maclin were living in the end zone, and Brent Celek is still a good tight end. The problem is the offensive line.
In the first round, the Eagles selected guard Danny Watkins out of Baylor. Watkins is considered to be the best guard in the Draft. Watkins will look to improve the league’s fourth worst offensive line that gave up 49 sacks last season. I understand some are contributed to Vick’s style of play, but he’s not responsible for 49 of them.
The Eagles might finally have a leader for their defense as they drafted another member of the Matthews family. Casey will come in at middle linebacker and look to lead the league’s 12th-ranked defense. He has great awareness and speed. He is a Matthews and even he could be half of what his brother is then the Eagles will have gotten a steal in the fourth round.
The Eagles did well in the draft, even adding their kicker of the future in Nebraska’s Alex Henery, but their free agency will be very interesting. They are looking to move Kolb and reports say the Eagles can still get a first for him, which would be huge seeing that Mike Kafka also has starting talent. The other news is the Eagles may be interested in bringing Nnamdi Asomugha to Philadelphia. They would have the greatest cornerback tandem around, but can they afford it?
The Eagles play in the rough NFC East and will need Vick and their defense to be on top of their game.
5. Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens are one of the meanest and most talented teams in the NFL. Unfortunately, the Steelers are just a little meaner and a little more talented. Their 10-6 record was enough to tie for the division, but not win it.
The Ravens have a great mix of youth and veterans. Offensively, Joe Flacco and Ray Rice are joined by veterans Todd Heap and Anquan Boldin. Defensively, Haloti Ngata and Terrence Cody join Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. Last season, they had enough to get there, but their talent faltered when most needed.
The Ravens kept adding young talent that can contribute now as their draft was one of the best. They added talent on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.
Defensively, the Ravens had corner Jimmy Smith fall to them because of character issues. Besides his off-the-field issues, the Colorado product is second only to Patrick Peterson, and even then some say there’s no comparison. Smith is big at 6’2” 210 and he doesn’t mind hitting people. He’ll be a great addition to a weak secondary.
Offensively, the Ravens brought in veteran receivers like Donte Stallworth and T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Both were to join Boldin and Derrick Mason creating the greatest receiving corps in the league, but they failed. Stallworth barely saw the field, and Housh said he wanted to be passed the ball and when he finally had a pass thrown to him he dropped it. The drop sealed the loss for the Ravens.
The Ravens decided they had too many veteran receivers and used the draft to add Torrey Smith and Tandon Doss. Smith has good size at 6’1” 205, but he is fast. He will provide the vertical threat that the Ravens lacked last season. Doss is a big boy out of Indiana at 6’3” who has great hands and runs his routes. This is the 1-2 punch of the future, but for now will benefit from the multiple veterans on the team.
The Ravens have the perfect blend of youth and experience, and as long as their secondary holds up they should compete for the Lombardi Trophy.
4. New England Patriots
The Patriots are, well, the Patriots. Their 14-2 record is no surprise and as long as Bill Belichik is there they will be constant contenders. Last year, they just ran into a more experienced and hungrier Jets team.
The offense is led by Tom Brady and Belichick as they know how to get the most out of their players. The human law firm, Ben Jarvis Green-Ellis, and Danny Woodhead were great in the running game, solving a problem New England has had for a few years. As for the defense, they were young and struggled to match the intensity of other teams.
Surprisingly, the Patriots went heavy on offense in April. Ras-I Dowling was a second-round pick that will add depth to the secondary, but their two impact picks came in the form of Nate Solder and Ryan Mallett.
Solder is a massive tackle at 6’8” and will prove to be a good right tackle who can plow the road. He struggled in the Senior Bowl, but he also spent time at other positions than the familiar right. One day, he may be blocking for quarterback Ryan Mallett.
Mallett is tall at 6’7” and the Arkansas signal caller can throw, far. He is the ideal pocket passer as he is accurate, throws a laser, and will never have problems will balls being batted down. It is unclear as to why he was drafted as Brady expects to be playing for another five years. Is he trade bait or is Brady a little too optimistic?
The Patriots have written books on how to run the draft, but can they find one that teaches them to go all the way?
3. Atlanta Falcons
Temporary king of the NFC South, home to Matty Ice, but also road kill made by the rolling cheese heads known as the Green Bay Packers. The Falcons had back-to-back winning seasons for the first time and an impressive 13-3 record.
The Falcons are a young team that is winning now, and their mighty offense led by Matt Ryan, Michael Turner, and Roddy White is one of the best in the league. If that wasn’t enough, they have Tony Gonzalez and a great offensive line.
The defense had always been the question mark and after the beating they took from the Packers it is still a question mark. Knowing how bad the defense performed, it would seem logical for the Falcons to go defense. That didn’t really work out.
The Falcons traded away four, high draft picks to the Cleveland Browns in order to draft receiver Julio Jones. The Falcons believe Jones’ size and overall skill will be the missing piece to the offense. I am very skeptical of this move because Jones is not A.J. Green, and may not even be better than Greg Little, but only time will tell.
The Falcons did add linebacker Akeem Dent out of Georgia. Dent will contend for the starting MLB position, especially if Mike Peterson is gone. This is a good addition, but will it be enough?
The Falcons secondary is better than its playoff performance showed, but the defensive line is a weak spot. There are players such as Ray Edwards and maybe Pat Williams that would add good depth to the line, but I think it will be a weak area the whole season and the Falcons may regret not addressing it in the Draft.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers achieved their goal of making it to the Super Bowl. The even beat the Ravens in order to get to Dallas. Unfortunately, they came up short in the big game. Honestly, the Steelers were never in it as the Packers had control of the game from start to finish.
This is a Super Bowl caliber team with Big Ben Roethlisberger, Rashard Mendenhall and the Steeler defense. No team makes it to the big game without having a talented team. The Steelers job is to make sure they get back to the Super Bowl, but still improve the team.
The Steelers did address its weak spots in the draft, but not with its first-round pick. Cameron Heyward can be a good player, but the line position is deep on the Steeler defense and he will not have as much of an impact.
The impact players on defense were the corners Curtis Brown and Cortez Allen. The corner position is a weakness for the Steelers, especially with Ike Taylor saying he wants to test the market. Brown and Allen will provide much needed depth and may be the difference if they face a team like the Packers that is three or four deep at receiver.
Offensively, there is no bigger weakness than offensive line, the tackle position in particular. When the Steelers’ third-string tackles are seeing the field more than the starters, there is a need. The Steelers filled that need with a mammoth tackle in Marcus Gilbert. Gilbert stands 6’6”, 330 pounds, and the Florida Gator is a mauler. The last Gator they drafted turned out pretty well, but can they hit on the second?
The Steelers made it to the Super Bowl for a reason, and if they can just make it to the playoffs without needing tryouts to play offensive line then they should be in the championship game once again.
1. Green Bay Packers
Congratulations to the Packers for bringing the Lombardi Trophy home to Green Bay. It is fitting they would win the last Super Bowl before the CBA debacle.
Super Bowl teams usually just have to make sure they don’t lose their guys to free agency. Luckily, all those available for free agency like Cullen Jenkins, James Jones and Atari Bigby are at positions that are already deep for the Packers.
The other key issue to tackle is health. Championship teams, especially the Packers, just try to get healthy. The Packers had 17 players on the IR, and they still won. That’s scary.
With the lockout, the players are definitely getting their rest, but there’s always room to improve. The Packers addressed their biggest need and only became better through the draft.
The Packers did not wait long to address their offensive line problem. In the first round, the Packers selected Derek Sherrod. The tackle out of Mississippi State is a big boy that likes to run block, which was a key element missing for much of last season. He was decent in the Senior Bowl, but with Castonzo and Solder off the board, Sherrod was the best choice.
With James Jones likely gone to free agency, the Packers chose to add more depth to a deep position. They selected Randall Cobb in the second round. The speedy receiver out of Kentucky is going into a great situation. He already has the explosiveness and big play ability, but now he can learn to run better routes and how to become an NFL receiver from Greg Jennings and Donald Driver.
The rich keep getting richer as the Packers added one more offensive weapon. D.J. Williams provides another tight end with playmaking ability to the offense. He has speed, hands and doesn’t shy from contact. He now makes it about four tight ends the Packers have that could start for almost any team.
When you are Super Bowl champion, there’s only one thing left to do. Do it all over again.