2012 NFL Power Rankings: Pre-Draft Edition
Preparation for the NFL draft and free agency is in full swing, and as we begin to see familiar faces in new places, now's a perfect time to break down the best and worst teams in the league.
While many of the rankings have stayed the same from my last power ranking done after the Super Bowl, some recent events (like the Denver Broncos' signing of Peyton Manning or the recent punishment of the New Orleans Saints) have led to some big changes within the new rankings.
Here are the pre-NFL Draft power rankings.
32) Minnesota Vikings
A quiet offseason for the Minnesota Vikings may not be the best way to stir up fan excitement, but that's fine for general manager Rick Spielman.
Their biggest acquisition so far? The five year contract given to tight end John Carlson, who they will pair with current starter Kyle Rudolph.
In other words: Zzzzzzzzzz!
For a team desperate to get fans on their side and fill up some holes in the roster (there are plenty of them to fill), this seems like a counterintuitive approach.
31) Indianapolis Colts
All of the talk for likely first overall pick Andrew Luck has taken away from the major cuts made by the Indianapolis Colts to create extra cap room...in 2013.
Again, a recap of this offseason in Indianapolis:
Dumping one of the best talents in league history? Check.
Clearing any other fan favorites (minus wide receiver Reggie Wayne)? Check.
Ending all hope of competing in 2012? Check.
The Colts may be a team to look out for down the road, but for now they will be experiencing plenty of growing pains typical of this kind of massive transition.
30) Cleveland Browns
The Cleveland Browns are looking to the future by taking a measured approach to free agency this offseason.
While this may produce results down the road, it certainly doesn't make them fun to watch this upcoming season.
As the Browns currently stand, they still have a lot of holes to fill in their roster (especially on their offensive line) and not nearly enough talent to seriously compete for a playoff spot.
However, the Browns should be able to make some high-quality additions in the draft, as they enter with two first-round picks.
29) Miami Dolphins
Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross and general manager Jeff Ireland must be wearing an awful cologne (Sex Panther?), because it seems that almost every major free agent they've pursued has bolted in the other direction.
The list of recent misses for the team include quarterbacks Peyton Manning, Matt Flynn and Alex Smith, along with head coaches Jeff Fisher and Jim Harbaugh.
Combined with the talent drain so far this free agency, including the loss of leading receiver Brandon Marshall (though that may be coming anyway through suspension), it's tough to say the Dolphins are in a better place in 2012 than they were in 2011.
28) Jacksonville Jaguars
Fans may be upset that the Jacksonville Jaguars lost in the Tim Tebow derby, but in actuality this may be a better fit for them both this season in 2011 and down the road.
The team can fully dedicate its resources to its young incumbent quarterback Blaine Gabbert (who showed some positive signs last year) and develop its roster more sensibly in the upcoming draft.
They have the No. 8 pick in next month's draft, which should help them fill at least one hole, most likely on their hum-drum defense.
27) St. Louis Rams
The St. Louis Rams are going to get a lot of great help in the draft the next few seasons following its move with the Washington Redskins, giving them three additional first-round picks over the next three drafts and an extra second-rounder this year (they pick at Nos. 6, 33 and 39 this year).
As team officials now point out, they must give help to their franchise quarterback Sam Bradford. He showed some major signs of regression last season, and his situation would be much improved with some extra targets to throw at.
However, the team has focused more on its defense so far in free agency, putting up big money for guys like cornerback Cortland Finnegan and defensive lineman Kendall Langford.
26) Tampa Bay Buccaneers
With the amount of cap space the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had going into the free-agency period, it's no surprise to see them whip out the checkbook to snag some top-level free agents and fill some big needs.
Quarterback Josh Freeman will enjoy the protection of new signing Carl Nicks and will love having a big receiving target like Vincent Jackson. The team's defense will also improve with the signing of cornerback Eric Wright, who had a career year in 2011 with the Detroit Lions.
They'll also be able to bring on some great talent in the draft, as they go in with the fifth overall pick.
25) Washington Redskins
It's tough to imagine a scenario where Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones would see eye to eye, but the league's outrageous punishments for salary movements to the uncapped year are the kind of cruel move that should get these two big-spending owners to join forces.
Again, the two teams are being punished for something that was not in the rule books.
The Redskins in the next two seasons will be docked an unprecedented $36 million for the shifting of salaries, while the Cowboys will lose $10 million.
Needless to say, there is likely to be a lot more to come of this story down the road.
In the short term, the 'Skins should be happy about its move to grab the No. 2 overall pick from the St. Louis Rams. The cost may have been high, but it will be worth it should they grab Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III.
24) Carolina Panthers
The good news: The Carolina Panthers have quarterback Cam Newton.
The bad news: The Panthers have been pretty much quiet in all areas of free agency, a product of a tight cap situation that has limited their ability to go for new players.
Confusingly, their biggest move so far has been the signing of running back Mike Tolbert, who fits an area where the team already has a logjam of talent.
23) New York Jets
The story of the New York Jets today is the trade for quarterback Tim Tebow, which is both an interesting case for team management (Jets leadership barely read Tebow's contract until learning of a $5 million bonus) and roster building (the team just re-signed starter Mark Sanchez).
Needless to say, the media circus that led to issues in 2011 isn't likely to go away in 2012.
22) Seattle Seahawks
The Seattle Seahawks have been pretty quiet in free agency so far, but their one big signing, quarterback Matt Flynn, is enough to get excited about this team's direction.
Last year's starter Tarvaris Jackson was not the answer to the team's needs in 2011, and there's not much indication that his game would improve with another turn leading the offense.
While Flynn may not have the most experience around, it's tough to not look at the games he has played and be hopeful he can be more accurate than his predecessor.
21) Arizona Cardinals
While the Arizona Cardinals have been quiet so far, it's clear that offensive line will be the main focus in free agency.
The team will have the No. 13 draft pick and have already made some low-key moves, such as the signing of the San Francisco 49ers' Adam Snyder.
They also have to hope for some improvement from quarterback Kevin Kolb, who missed a lot of time last year due to injury.
20) Tennessee Titans
It's not the sexiest method of managing player talent, but when it comes to free agency, the Tennessee Titans are sticking to their valuations of their free agents.
As an example, as cornerback Cortland Finnegan entered free agency with an expected price tag of $10 million, the Titans didn't make much of a move to get him. Finnegan went on to sign with the St. Louis Rams.
Needless to say, the Titans will not be major players in the free-agent market.
19) Kansas City Chiefs
It's tough to not like the approach of the Kansas City Chiefs approach in free agency: They see a guy they like and they sign him to a reasonable deal.
The best example of this is the signing of right tackle Eric Winston, boosting a need position in a reasonable deal worth as much as $22 million. The team has also picked up running back Peyton Hillis, tight end Kevin Boss and cornerback Stanford Routt.
However, fans have to be confused about the inaction leading to the loss of cornerback Brandon Carr. One of team's best defenders, he walked away to the Dallas Cowboys with seemingly little effort from the team to bring him back.
18) Buffalo Bills
The Buffalo Bills have had one of the splashier free-agent periods so far, boosting their defensive line with big signings including Mario Williams (pictured) and Mark Anderson (from the division rival New England Patriots).
Watch out, AFC East quarterbacks: The Buffalo Bills are going to be rushing for you. You might want to take cover.
17) San Diego Chargers
On the hottest of hot seats, San Diego Chargers general manager A.J. Smith and head coach Norv Turner have to know they need to win, and they need to do so this season.
They face an immense challenge in shoring up their offensive line, with the exit of Kris Dielman (whose retirement is due to some disturbing concussions) and left tackle Marcus McNeill. They also need help in in rushing opposing passers.
One good sign: They still have one of the league's best quarterbacks, Philip Rivers, in the prime of his career.
16) Oakland Raiders
I admit I might have the Oakland Raiders too high here. While they fell just short of the playoffs in 2011, they will have a tough time doing any kind of improving to their roster in 2012.
They don't have a draft pick until Day 2, their cap situation is abysmal and the hiring of new head coach Dennis Allen will only add more confusion to the organization.
The core talent of this team is still solid, but they may have dug themselves too deep of a hole to recover from.
15) Chicago Bears
The Chicago Bears look to be in a good spot thanks to some good moves to start free agency.
With the chemistry the two developed when they both played in Denver, it wouldn't be a surprise to see them become one of the most dynamic offensive pairs in the league.
The Bears also got a nice upgrade at the backup quarterback position, acquiring Jason Campbell to replace the atrocious Caleb Hanie.
14) Philadelphia Eagles
The Philadelphia Eagles look even more potent after the signing of veteran Houston Texans linebacker DeMeco Ryans.
The middle of the defense was a major issue last season, where inexperience held the whole unit down despite an excellent pass rush and secondary. Ryans should play a big role in improving that part of the defense.
Added with the return of wide receiver DeSean Jackson, look for the Eagles to be a tough team to beat in 2012.
13) Dallas Cowboys
The Dallas Cowboys may have been stung by a league ruling that took away about $10 million in cap room, but the team has already made some nice moves to fill its needs for 2012.
Among its signings are cornerback Brandon Carr, offensive guard Mackenzy Bernadeau, safety Brodney Pool and linebacker Dan Connor. They also snagged a quality backup quarterback in Kyle Orton.
With a decent pick in next month's draft (No. 14), look for the Cowboys to be in good shape by the time the summer rolls in.
12) New Orleans Saints
The punishments have come marching in for the New Orleans Stains for its bounty program, and things are not looking good.
Even more worrisome for Saints fans: We've only seen a small part of the overall scope of the league's action.
While the league's announcement Wednesday targeted the team's coaches and management, there are still large questions on what will happen to players involved in the practice.
While it's tough to drop the Saints so low for this power rankings (I originally had them at the No. 6 position), the large storm clouds hanging over the organization make it tough to get excited about their talented roster and great fanbase.
11) Atlanta Falcons
The Atlanta Falcons have reached a plateau as a team that dominates the regular season before crashing in its first playoff game. Star quarterback Matt Ryan is still looking for his first playoff win.
However, the team's cap problems have led to issues in re-signing its best defensive talent. It will likely see middle linebacker Curtis Lofton leave in free agency.
No matter who is on the team, the Falcons know they need to win big this year. Another first-round exit is not acceptable at this point.
10) Cincinnati Bengals
The Cincinnati Bengals have to like where they're at after a breakout season in 2011, and they should be able to hold their talent level going into 2012..
The team signed cornerback Jason Allen and running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who will let the team drop Cedric Benson.
They will still have a few needs entering the draft at positions, like wide receiver and guard, which usually can be found in the middle to late rounds.
Overall, the Bengals should be in good shape.
9) Pittsburgh Steelers
The Pittsburgh Steelers waved goodbye to one of their greats this week, wide receiver Hines Ward, who retired after 14 years in black and yellow.
Ward developed a reputation as not only a talented pass-catcher, but a physical blocker who made the lives of opposing defenders miserable.
While other receivers can take over his statistical output, few guys can match the intensity and dedication to the team and his teammates brought by Ward.
8) Houston Texans
The Houston Texans should be thrilled about the state of their team, despite the disappointment of having to make some painful salary cap cuts this past week.
Amongst those moved were tackle Eric Winston and fullback Lawrence Vickers. Mario Williams' loss will also be felt by fans of the team, despite his reduced numbers in 2011.
However, the team they still have in place is still very capable of making the playoffs and being a title contender in 2012.
The most important thing for the Texans: staying healthy.
7) Denver Broncos
The reason for hope in Denver can be summed up in two words: Peyton Manning.
With that said, they may want to lock down a backup in case their new leading man finds his way to the injured list (not unlikely given Manning's recent medical woes). Both leading quarterbacks of 2011, Tim Tebow and Brady Quinn, have found new teams.
6) Detroit Lions
Calvin Johnson, better known as "Megatron," will take home the largest salary ever for a non-quarterback after signing a seven-year contract extension this past week worth as much as $132 million.
It was only right for a player who has taken on a lion's share of the receiving work for a team that saw massive improvement in 2011.
The Lions should be in a good spot, as they return with many of their most important pieces still in town. Look for them to be a dangerous title contender in 2012.
5) Baltimore Ravens
The time is again running out for the Baltimore Ravens to make a title run, and their recent free-agent exodus isn't helping matters.
In the past week the team has lost guard Ben Grubbs, linebacker Jarret Johnson and defensive end Cory Redding to free agency. Those losses, especially Grubbs, will put a strain on a team that already is feeling the effects of its age.
However, as long as the defense can manage another year of solid play, it's impossible to rule the Ravens out of contention (especially as their offense grows into a very dangerous unit).
4) Green Bay Packers
There should be no need for panic in Green Bay, as the Packers will continue to factor in as a major title contender after falling short in the playoffs this past season.
The most pressing need is the defense, which will certainly be a priority in next month's draft.
That, and maybe some new gloves for the team's wide receivers.
3) San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers should be commended for a great free-agency period, as they will return with all of their main starters on a defense that was one of the most dominating in the league.
While there's some frustration from fans about the re-signing of Alex Smith, it's nice to see Smith get another shot to take the team to the title after a great 2011 season and playoffs.
2) New England Patriots
The dangerous just became even more so, as the New England Patriots gave quarterback Tom Brady another weapon in wide receiver Brandon Lloyd. For a Patriots offense that was among the most dangerous in the league in 2011, this makes them even more potent.
The team's next area of focus will be the defense, and they've already gotten off to a great start with the signing of Cincinnati Bengals defensive lineman Jonathan Fanene.
1) New York Giants
Yes, the New York Giants roster is looking pretty old, and yes they have already seen some players slide away in free agency (like wide receiver Mario Manningham).
However, I'm not going to say this team has shifted dramatically enough for it to not keep its number one spot.
Until further notice, the Giants stay in the top spot.