1. Green Bay Packers – Aaron Rodgers has one of the best arsenals of weapons in the league and the Packers figure to be in the top 3 in offense once again. Their defense looks to return to 2010 form, though losing quality ILB Desmond Bishop for the season could hurt. The secondary needs to rebound though I’m not sure they did enough to reinforce the talent in their defensive backfield. The Packers will need to find consistency and production in the trenches on both sides of the ball, but they look like a good bet to win the NFC North once again and it would be hard to bet against them in January.
2. New England Patriots – If Tom Brady stays healthy, the Patriots are all but guaranteed to have a top 5 offense. Adding Brandon Lloyd and Jabar Gaffney to an already dangerous passing attack should worry the rest of the AFC field. The Pats might also see more explosiveness from the RB position with 2nd year backs Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen replacing the plodding BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Ultimately though, the Patriots will only go as far as their defense takes them. Adding Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower looks like it will pay dividends but can their secondary improve from last year’s nightmarish season? If New England can get a good season from a few of their younger DB’s (Ras-I Dowling, Devin McCourty, Pat Chung, Tavon Wilson, Alfonzo Dennard), they will be nearly unstoppable.
3. Houston Texans – The Texans have an excellent offense and an excellent defense. Man for man, they might have the best 22 starters in the league. However, Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson have durability questions and the team’s depth isn’t great. Furthermore, I don’t trust coach Gary Kubiak to win in the playoffs. The Texans should put together an excellent regular season if they can avoid injuries to their top players, but they will need to prove that they can take the next step in the post-season.
4. Pittsburgh Steelers – It seems as if many fans and experts are discounting the Steelers a bit this year and it’s tough to see why. Their defense is still loaded with talent and young players like Ziggy Hood and Cam Heyward figure to play bigger roles in 2012. The offense underachieved last year for a number of reasons but the O-line should be improved and the WR corps is still amongst the game’s best if Mike Wallace reports. Even without Wallace, there is enough talent for the Steelers to put up a lot of points if they can do a better job of keeping Ben Roethlisberger upright and healthy. The Steelers are still one of the most talented and best coached teams in football and seem poised for another good year.
5. New York Giants – It’s tough to know what to make of the Giants. 2012 could see a return of the mediocre and underachieving regular-season team that they’ve been for most of Tom Coughlin’s tenure or perhaps the 2011 Super Bowl champion team of December – February will be on display for a full 16 games. If their key front 7 players are healthy, the Giants have enough talent to repeat as Champions. The big questions for New York are their CB’s, OL and running game without Brandon Jacobs. Ahmad Bradshaw hasn’t established himself as a consistent threat and I’m not a fan of 1st rounder David Wilson or backup D.J. Ware. The OL was a big problem last year and hasn’t improved much on paper though, as we saw, they can win with what they have.
6. New Orleans Saints – The Saints would be higher up in these rankings were it not for the suspension of Sean Payton. New Orleans has an incredibly talented roster, elite QB and enough young talent to think that they could improve in many of their weak spots. However, taking Sean Payton off the sideline is a huge loss. He might be the 2nd most valuable coach in the league behind Bill Belichick and it’s tough to see the Saints hoisting the Lombardi without him. Still, the Saints should be playoff-bound and Drew Brees is capable of putting the team on his back if needed. With the Super Bowl being played in New Orleans this year, it would be quite a story for the Payton-less Saints to win it all on their home turf.
7. San Francisco 49ers – Projecting the 49ers at this point in the pre-season comes down to one thing: do you think Alex Smith can repeat his 2011 season? Smith will never live up to his #1 overall status, but there’s plenty of reasons to think that he can continue to be a top third type QB under coach Jim Harbaugh who was superb at hiding Smith’s weaknesses and setting him up for success. The defense is loaded with depth and top-end talent and should remain an elite unit. Throw in a terrible division and the 49ers should be headed back to the post-season and double-digit wins.
8. Baltimore Ravens – The good news for the Ravens is that they were one or two plays away from the Super Bowl last year. The bad news is that it’s tough to see how they’ve improved enough to get themselves to the next level. Losing Terrell Suggs for the season is a huge blow and Ed Reed and Ray Lewis are at the very end of the line. As well coached as the Ravens’ D has been, a step back would not be surprising. Unfortunately for Baltimore, they probably cannot withstand a step back from the defense as their offense is simply not good enough to carry the team. Between the timid and overly conservative game plans of the coaching staff and the inconsistencies of QB Joe Flacco, the Ravens offense will be an average unit once again. Ray Rice is good enough to keep the unit from being bad, but the team will not be able to win (or even make the playoffs) without the defense playing up to the lofty standards set by the franchise over the last decade.
9. Detroit Lions – If the Lions can keep themselves out of trouble and avoid taking tons of stupid penalties, they could be a serious contender in the NFC in 2012. Of the teams in my top 10 rankings, the Lions are the team I could see as most likely to flop. Matthew Stafford is clearly an elite QB when healthy – but his ability to stay healthy needs to be proven. The defense has to improve from their 23rd overall ranking (points allowed) if the Lions are to challenge the Packers for the NFC North. While the Lions have some fairly big holes on their roster, an elite QB and disruptive pass rush can take you a long way.
10. Dallas Cowboys – The Cowboys have underperformed for awhile and it’s tough to avoid feeling that with a better coaching staff, they could be a consistent double-digit win team. Their DB corps which killed them at times last year has received a big boost in 1st rounder Morris Claiborne and prized free agent Brandon Carr. They still lack a pass-rusher to take attention away from DeMarcus Ware and Dez Bryant’s problems (both off-field and on) could really affect the offense given the lack of depth at WR. The OL – a perpetual problem in Big D – still looks shaky on paper. Still, the Cowboys have a lot of talent, a top QB and promising young players at a number of positions. The ‘Boys have a brutal opening stretch on their schedule, opening in New York against the Giants and then heading to Seattle before facing Tampa Bay and Chicago at home. After their week 5 bye, they head to Baltimore. If they’re still afloat after week 6, I like their chances for a return to post-season play and a potential Super Bowl run.
11. Atlanta Falcons – After last year, I’m highly skeptical of both coach Mike Smith and QB Matt Ryan’s ability to win a championship. Smith looked out of his league last year with overly conservative gameplans and a bad feel for when to take chances in his playcalling. The Falcons have a ton of talent with which to work, but seem to lack the killer instinct that great teams tend to have. In many ways, they are reminiscent of the Marty Schottenheimer Chiefs teams of the mid/late 1990’s (or even his Chargers teams of the mid 2000’s). The Falcons should be a contender next year and a top regular season team, but probably not a team headed for a deep playoff run.
12. Chicago Bears – Though I’m not a fan of big contracts for RB’s, re-signing Matt Forte was a must for a team lacking consistency on offense. Adding Brandon Marshall was very smart and will give Jay Cutler a solid, if inconsistent at times, target. Drafting Alshon Jeffery could turn into a major coup though I’m skeptical of Shea McClellin’s ability to have an impact in a 4-3 – assuming he can stay concussion free. While the Bears offense should be better than in recent years, their defense is getting old and still has holes in a number of key places. The offensive line has been bad far more often than good in the last few seasons but little was done to upgrade that unit. With Green Bay still an elite team and Detroit on the rise, the Bears could face an uphill battle to return to the playoffs.
13. Cincinnati Bengals – On paper, the Bengals have a pretty stacked roster. Certainly, they’ve added a ton of big name college players over the last few years. Yet, it’s still tough to pencil them into a playoff spot. One big reason is their division,, another is the growing pains that accompany many young QB’s. Andy Dalton was adequate last year, but his 80.4 QB Rating was worse than Kevin Kolb’s and only slightly better than Mark Sanchez and Tarvaris Jackson. Adding reliable, though mediocre, BenJarvus Green-Ellis could help take pressure off Dalton, though Green-Ellis isn’t a huge upgrade over Cedric Benson. If the Bengals haul of young prospects can step up, or they can find another big-time weapon on offense to complement A.J. Green, Cincinnati could be a big surprise next year.
14. Denver Broncos – The similarities between the Broncos and late 2000’s Colts are numerous: exceptional pass rushers, weak in the trenches, shaky secondaries with some upside, mediocre running backs and a team which will rely heavily upon the right arm of Peyton Manning. If Manning stays healthy, the Broncos should win the AFC West and could win 10-12 games. However, the Colts don’t have a Dallas Clark, Marvin Harrison or Reggie Wayne (let alone all 3 in their prime simultaneously) and it remains to be seen how effective Manning can be playing outdoors every week. We’ve seen him have success in bad weather and with mediocre supporting casts, so it wouldn’t surprise me if he is very much the Manning of old. However, like the Manning-era Colts, the team will collapse without him and it’s not a sure thing that his neck will hold up.
15. Philadelphia Eagles – The problems with basing an offense around Michael Vick were quite apparent last year: he simply isn’t very good at times and he can’t stay healthy enough to be at his best for more than a few games. Rookie Nick Foles will probably be called upon at some point in 2012 when Vick inevitably gets hurt or benched. There’s a good amount of talent on the Eagles roster and they could contend for the NFC East title, but they will need a lot of luck with Vick’s health and performance. The Eagles’ placing in the middle of my rankings is a direct result of them most likely having to play a few games with Foles or Mike Kafka at QB and they’re probably not good enough to survive with those guys for more than a game or two.
16. Seattle Seahawks – The Seahawks are right in the middle of my rankings for one reason: I could see them being very good or really terrible. More than any other team, it’s hard to get a feel for whether or not this is an 11-5 type team or 5-11. The QB situation is one big reason why: Matt Flynn is a total unknown and neither Russell Wilson or Tarvaris Jackson strike me as guys that can take a team to the playoffs. The skill position players are a bit overrated but are capable of great things at times. Marshawn Lynch can be a top back at times, and a non-factor at others. Sidney Rice is an excellent weapon when healthy – which has been rare. Seahawks fans seem to love the non-Rice receivers led by Golden Tate, Doug Baldwin and Ben Obomanu but the front office seems to have a different opinion as they’ve seemingly auditioned or signed every washed up veteran imaginable. If Braylon Edwards or Terrell Owens makes the roster and can be a #1 or #2 guy, Flynn should be set up for success. The Seahawks D is steady and well-coached but their depth is questionable and might have overachieved last year. 1st rounder Bruce Irvin will be one of the most intriguing stories to watch this year.
With the first week of pre-season in the books, it’s time for the first Power Rankings of the year. Here’s the bottom half of the league as I see it currently, though these rankings are sure to change as August rolls into September. At this point of the league year it’s tough to find much separation between the 20-25 middle-road teams. Other than the truly elite and truly awful teams, pre-season rankings really amount to how much the author likes each team’s young players, coach and QB. With that said, here is the bottom half of the league from my point of view:
17. Kansas City Chiefs – Put a top QB on the Chiefs and they are arguably an elite team. Their defense was fairly stout down the stretch last season and responded well to new coach Romeo Crennel. There is a lot of talent on both sides of the ball, assuming Tony Moeaki, Jamaal Charles and Eric Berry can return to form after missing last year with injuries. Unlike AFC West rivals Oakland and San Diego, Kansas City seems more likely to exceed expectations than to disappoint. If Brian Daboll can get a good season from Cassel (questionable given the track records of both Daboll and Cassel), the Chiefs could see double-digit wins and a division championship. Even if Cassel struggles, they might be able to squeak out 9 or 10 wins if their running game can perform to 2010 levels.
18. Tennessee Titans – The Titans, like the Bills, Chiefs and a few other teams, have a lot of nice pieces but it’s hard to project them to have a ton of success – though history tells us that one or more of the middle tier teams will put it all together and make a good run. Like those other teams, I can’t put them any higher than the middle of the pack due to their QB situation. Jake Locker is the future and probably a better bet than Matt Hasselbeck to lead the team to postseason glory but can he perform at the NFL level? The talent surrounding him is intriguing though it’s easy to be down on both Chris Johnson and Kenny Britt. Their defense has a good amount of talent despite not having many household names and the Titans could be well-balanced enough to make a run at their division if Locker can step up.
19. Buffalo Bills – Their front 7 is certainly talented, despite the horrendous contract given to Mark Anderson. The rest of the team is still lacking high-end talent and they are still led by Ryan Fitzpatrick and Chan Gailey. I don’t think 2012 will be the breakout year that Bills fans are hoping for, though 2nd place in the AFC East and an outside shot at the playoffs could be a possibility.
20. San Diego Chargers – With just about any other coach, the Chargers would have been higher up in my rankings. I just cannot take a Norv Turner coached team seriously. Especially a Norv Turner coached team with its worst talent level in a number of years. The Chargers are razor thin at a number of positions on both sides of the ball and are relying heavily on Ryan Mathews and Antonio Gates to stay healthy. The defense will need the plethora of recent high draft picks (Melvin Ingram, Kendall Reyes, Corey Luiget, Marcus Gilchrist et al) to step up for the Chargers to make a strong playoff run.
21. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – The Bucs should be better in 2012 if only because their coaching situation looks to be more stable (if not dramatically improved). It’s no secret that Raheem Morris was in over his head last year and that contributed to the team’s under-performance. They have a ton of young talent – on paper – and signing Vincent Jackson will help their offense quite a bit. Certainly, their skill positions look promising and the OL is solid enough to win. The real questions in Tampa Bay are: can Josh Freeman ever take the next step in his development and can Greg Schiano get his young talent to fulfill their promise?
22. Carolina Panthers – The Panthers offense again be a strong unit, though it’s likely the league will be better prepared for Cam Newton and the Carolina rushing attack. The OL has some question marks and the depth at WR can’t sustain a loss of Steve Smith (nor a decline in his production). That said, they should score a lot of points and be near the top of the league in yards. However, the defense – bad last year – hasn’t been improved enough to make the Panthers legitimate contenders. Adding Luke Kuechly is a nice start to rebuilding the team’s front 7 but there are still too many holes on D. The interior DL and CB spots are thin at best and the team will have to win a lot of shootouts to avoid a losing record.
23. Oakland Raiders – Carson Palmer is the epitome of a league-average QB. The Raiders are the epitome of a league average team talent-wise. Why are they so low in my power rankings? Simply put, I don’t see a lot of places for the Raiders to get unexpected production and chances are good that either Palmer implodes or Darren McFadden gets derailed by his seemingly yearly injury. They’re an 8-8 team (maybe 9-7 given their division) if everything goes right, but the guys they are relying upon have such troubling track records that it’s more likely than not that they underachieve relative to their talent level.
24. Indianapolis Colts – The Colts could be downright awful in 2012. However, their first pre-season game showed enough to think that there is also a chance that Indianapolis could be respectable this year. Forget the Andrew Luck hype and the over-the-top gushing over his first preseason game against an inept St. Louis team. What piqued my interest was the way Chuck Pagano had his defense playing. While the Rams’ OL is putrid, the key players on the Colts’ D look to have adapted to the new 3-4 look and even Jerry Hughes showed some potential as a pure rush linebacker. The young talent on offense is there and a good QB – which Luck seems poised to be right from the start – can make up for a lot of shortcomings. Luck’s biggest challenge will be surviving with a very questionable OL in front of him.
25. Arizona Cardinals – The NFL is a passing league and it’s tough to think of a team with a worse QB situation. Neither John Skelton nor Kevin Kolb seem like good enough passers to keep the Cardinals offense moving and the team’s running game simply isn’t able to compensate for their lack of a quality signal caller. Their defense, both young and promising, should help them stay in games and could keep them from a truly terrible season. Outside of a soft 4 game stretch from weeks 4-7, the Cardinals have a tough schedule. It would be surprising if they won more than 7 games and they have the potential to end up drafting top 5 in 2013.
26. New York Jets – The Jets seem like a team destined for collapse. Their defense has little depth outside of their DE spot and the offense is a mess. They fancy themselves a “ground and pound” offense but Shonn Greene is both mediocre and too soft for the style of offense Rex Ryan likes to employ. The QB situation has been much discussed, but neither Mark Sanchez nor Tim Tebow are good enough to win in the NFL without the defense carrying the team. If the Jets D stays healthy and Stephen Hill can hit the ground running, the Jets can probably hover around .500. But they are one or two injuries away from a 4-12 type of season.
27. Miami Dolphins – Ryan Tannehill looked good in his first pre-season action, but it’s hard to find a team with less talent on offense than Miami. Their WR’s, TE’s and RB’s are all in the bottom third of the league and probably in the bottom 5 at each position. Conversely, their defense is pretty solid and their schedule is somewhat favorable. 8-8 is probably their absolute upside if their defense can steal some games for them.
28. Cleveland Browns – I’m a bit more bullish on Brandon Weeden than many (though his first pre-season game didn’t really do much to inspire) but I’m not at all sold on the rest of the Browns talent on offense. Trent Richardson should help but the rest of the talent on offense is below average. Greg Little was a drop machine last year and supplemental draft pick Josh Gordon is unlikely to make a big impact early on. The defense has lost Chris Gocong from an already-thin LB grouping and Joe Haden is facing a 4 game suspension. It looks like another tough year in Cleveland.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars – Blaine Gabbert has a lot to prove this year after a horrific 2011 season. He has some decent pieces to work with on offense but a shaky OL which wasn’t improved enough in the offseason. The Jaguars D put up decent numbers last year but it is tough to see them repeating a top 10 year on that side of the ball given their tougher schedule and lack of top-end talent. 38th overall pick Andre Branch looks promising and the Jaguars have enough pieces to surprise some people if Gabbert can find his footing as a starting QB in the NFL. Mike Mularkey was a questionable choice as a coach and might not get too many years to turn around the franchise.
30. Washington Redskins – Robert Griffin III will give the Redskins something to watch every week, but the rest of the team needs more talent before the Redskins are ready to compete in the NFC East. They have enough decent players on both sides of the ball to think that they could exceed expectations with some luck. However, a rookie QB with a limited supporting cast can only do so much – especially against one of the league’s toughest schedules. The Redskins probably won’t play as poorly as their final record might suggest.
31. Minnesota Vikings – Barring a phenomenal year from Christian Ponder, it is hard to see how the Vikings can win more than 6 games. While Jared Allen and Adrian Peterson are amongst the game’s best players, the supporting cast is decidedly sub-par. They are riddled with holes on both sides of the ball and unlike many other bad teams from 2011, Minnesota didn’t do much to improve their roster. Matt Kalil should help solidify their line but it’s unlikely that the rest of their draft picks will be enough to get Minnesota out of the division’s cellar.
32. St. Louis Rams – Jeff Fisher will get his guys to play hard and compete, but there is still a significant lack of talent on the roster. The OLB and S spots are in bad shape and the team’s OL is amongst the worst in the league. There are a number of promising young players, but the Rams will lose a lot of games in 2012. They look like a team which will start to build some momentum late in the year as young players start to develop and find their footing in Fisher’s scheme.
While the image of Wes Welker dropping what most likely would have been a Super Bowl clinching catch just 3 and half months ago is probably still seared into the minds of Patriots (and Giants) fans, there are plenty of reasons to think that Welker will be in a position this year to atone for his drop (on an admittedly tough, but catchable, pass). After all, the Patriots have only gotten stronger on offense and their secondary has nowhere to go but up. Chances are good that Welker and the Patriots will be once again playing big games in January and, perhaps, February of 2013. However, what happens to the diminutive WR after that is a mystery.
Currently, Welker is franchise tagged and (unlike teammate Logan Mankins) decided that signing his franchise tender and getting into camp on time was a good way to ensure a good season and a potentially lucrative extension. Welker has reportedly turned down a 2 year, $18M contract which was rumored to have been fully guaranteed. Presumably, he is looking for a longer deal. The question is: is Wes Welker really worth re-signing for more than 2 years? If Tom Brady had his way, Welker would probably ride off into the sunset with Brady and Belichick in 3-4 years after winning another Lombardi trophy. While some Pats fans might not want to admit it for fear of sullying their image of Belichick the cold-hearted mastermind, Brady’s desires probably do have a little clout in the minds of Belichick and player personnel man Nick Caserio. After all, Tom Brady is not a QB who finds (or can create) chemistry with the average receiver – despite making plenty of average receivers look pretty good. Part of the Pats’ struggles to develop a young WR have come from Brady not trusting anyone other than Welker, Branch and his young TE’s. Keeping Brady happy is certainly a selling point for Welker and there is no denying that, with the exception of that one (very memorable and significant) pass in February, no one works as well with Brady as Welker does. In fact, were it not for the Brady/Welker chemistry, it is likely – or even probable – that this would be Welker’s swan song in Foxboro. As it is, he’s likely to end up with a contract extension in New England at some point between now and September of 2013.
The problem the Patriots have, and it’s a certainty that their front office knows it, is that Welker is small, takes a lot of vicious hits over the course of the year and is at the point of his career where small WR’s break down rapidly. Take a look at the yearly reception totals of the top 15 non-Welker WR’s 5’10 or shorter since 1990:
How many of those guys were worth big money after the age of 32 (which Welker will reach in 2013)? Mason, certainly. Steve Smith likely. The rest? Not so much. While Mason lasted forever and Smith looks to still be highly productive consider this:
Touches (receptions, rushes, punt returns, kick returns) through age 30:
Derrick Mason – 737
Steve Smith – 891
Wes Welker – 1063
Welker has 326 more touches than Mason did by the time each receiver got through their age 30 season. Even the 172 touch differential between Welker and Smith is nearly 2 full seasons worth.
None of this is to say that Welker cannot be productive beyond the next two years. However, most Patriots fans can attest to the fact that he gets knocked around pretty badly through the course of the season. As did Wayne Chrebet, whose style was more similar to Welker’s than Mason or Smith (the latter two being more frequently used on the perimeter than Welker). He disappeared into oblivion quickly due to injuries and concussion problems. Like running backs, small WR’s tend to age very poorly and the Patriots’ (well deserved) reputation for preferring to get rid of guys a year too early rather than a year too late seems to indicate that they will hesitate to keep Tom Brady’s security blanket in town for too many years.
(Originally posted by me at Mocking The Draft)
For a team coming off of a very disappointing 6-10 season and a coaching change, the 2012are surprisingly solid at many positions. There is every reason to believe that a good offseason by GM Jeff Ireland and new coach Joe Philbin could get the Dolphins into playoff contention. Here’s a look at their 2012 offseason needs:
On offense, the Dolphins have some talent. WR’sand are solid targets and TE is serviceable. 2011 6th round pick FB was a pleasant surprise, hauling in 16 receptions for 233 yards and showing a knack for getting open down the field. He figures to get more playing time in 2012, possibly seeing some snaps at TE as well as FB/H-Back. The Miami OL is anchored by two high quality young players – LT and C . The rest of the offense could use some work, as evidenced by their 20th overall ranking in points scored and 22nd ranking in total yards.
QB: The Dolphins biggest need, as it has been since Dan Marino retired, is a QB who is more than a short term stopgap or journeyman. Incumbent Matt Moore did a surprisingly good job down the stretch, finishing with a respectable 87.1 QB Rating (12th best in the NFL) but there is reason to think he isn’t the long term answer. Ireland and Philbin will have to decide how highly they will value an upgrade at QB. They probably don’t have the ammo necessary to trade up to getso their options for a true upgrade are limited. ’s name has been linked to the Dolphins, but he isn’t a long-term solution – especially with his neck being a question. is expected to be traded and could probably be had for the Dolphins 1st rounder, but that might be too steep for Miami. 2nd tier prospects like over-aged , or could be options in the early stages of the draft.
RT: The Dolphins usedat RT last year and he wasn’t particularly good. Finding an upgrade has to be a fairly high priority. An early/mid round pick on a RT like or could make some sense. The pickings are very slim for veteran upgrades, with free agent the best of the bunch. , on IR in 2011, is a possible in-house option.
RB:had an excellent year and the Dolphins probably want to give 2011 2nd rounder some more time to develop, but depth at the position is lacking. Thomas didn’t do much to establish himself last year and is unlikely to return. A mid/late round pick like or veteran like could add some power to the Miami backfield and complement Bush’s flashiness.
OG:(RG) is a pending free agent and (LG) is upgradeable. Re-signing Carey or finding a quality replacement has to be a priority. Depth could be found in free agency with a veteran like or or in the middle stages of the draft.
The Dolphins don’t have huge holes at WR or TE but could use a playmaker if the value is right. If Coach Philbin is looking to build a similar offense to the one he oversaw in Green Bay,could make some sense in the middle rounds as a type player.
The Dolphins defense performed pretty well in 2011 – ending up 6th in the league in points allowed, though their run defense was much stouter than their pass D. There has been a lot of talk about the Dolphins potentially switching schemes from a 3-4 base to a 4-3. However, they Dolphins have pretty good personnel for either scheme and the potential shift shouldn’t affect their offseason shopping list too much:
OLB/DE: The Dolphins have a glaring hole opposite pass-rusher. It doesn’t look like 2010 2nd rounder is going to fit on the outside and 2011 starter retired. Adding a high-quality edge player has to be the Dolphins biggest priority on defense. The Dolphins have about 15M in available cap room – probably not enough to be a serious bidder for and maybe not enough for (should he hit the free agent market). could be a possibility if he is let go by the . Other options, though not long term solutions, include , , or – all better fits for a 4-3 base. Draft options could include 1st round prospects , or Nick Perry. In the early 2nd round, the Fins could hope to snag Chandler Jones, , or . Another possibility is in the 1st round, if Miami thinks he can play DE in a 4-3 scheme.
S:(SS) is old and expensive. He’s a good candidate to be cut between now and opening day. At free safety, the Dolphins have a couple of younger players, and though neither has established himself. A 2nd round safety like or could be a good fit and help tighten up Miami’s pass defense. It’s unlikely that the Dolphins make a big splash at safety in free agency, but depth could be added with a veteran such as , or .
DT/NT: Reliable nose tackleis a free agent and it’s not clear if he will be back. One would think the Dolphins will bring him back but if he doesn’t return, the Dolphins will have a big hole in the middle of their defense. A veteran like or could be a short term option if Miami needs a NT. The Dolphins will have to make a decision on young veteran , one of the most underrated 5-techniques in the game. With and already in tow, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Langford is allowed to test the free agent waters. is a good depth player but the Dolphins might need reinforcements inside if they go to a 4-3 scheme. Local prospect could be a good addition in the middle parts of the draft, as could Baylor’s Nick Jean-Baptiste or North Carolina’s .
(Originally posted by me at Mocking The Draft)
2011 was a disappointing year for the New York Jets and coach Rex Ryan. Coming off of two straight AFC Championship appearances, the always confident Ryan saw his team take a step back and end the year at 8-8. If Ryan and GM Mike Tannenbaum are serious about dethroning the New England Patriots atop the AFC East, they will have their work cut out for them this offseason. The Jets enter free agency and the draft with minimal cap room (projected to be less than $2M under the cap) and a number of needs. Both their offense and defense need an infusion of talent and depth. Here’s a look at the Jets’ biggest needs:
New Jets offensive coordinator Tony Sparano needs to figure out exactly what he wants the identity of the offense to be. While Rex Ryan preaches “Ground and Pound,” the Jets ran the ball only 43% of the time in 2011. Furthermore, the Jets running game was pretty inept. They ranked just 22nd in yards and 30th in yards per attempt. They have a few needs to improve if they want to get back to the solid running game that carried the team to the AFC Championship game in 2010:
RT: The offensive line will probably return 3 starters: D’Brickashaw Ferguson (LT), Nick Mangold (C) and Brandon Moore (RG). Matt Slauson (LG) was disappointing last year but figures to get another shot as a starter. However, right tackle was a huge problem for the Jets in 2011 as they struggled to replace 2010 starter Damien Woody. Wayne Hunter was terrible in both pass and run protection and has to be upgraded. The team probably doesn’t have too much cap room to invest in the position, so an early draft pick could be used on a guy like Mike Adams, Levy Adcock, Andrew Datko or Bobby Massie.
RB: The Jets really need help at RB. LaDainian Tomlinson may or may not be back, and is a marginal player at this point in his career. Shonn Greene was thought to be a power back of the future but played soft and struggled to establish himself in the feature back role that Thomas Jones held for many years. Joe McKnight and Bilal Powell are fairly unknowns but neither figures to be the reliable chain-mover that the team needs. The Jets will probably miss out on Trent Richardson in the draft, but expect them to take a long look at the deep 2nd tier of backs. A guy like Chris Polk, Doug Martin, Isaiah Pead or Bernard Pierce could interest the team in the early/mid rounds. The Jets could also take a shot in the 1st round at a “flashier” guy like the explosive David Wilson or Lamar Miller.
TE: Dustin Keller is a good receiving target, but is lacking in the run game. Look for the Jets to try to add a TE – either a younger developmental TE like Michael Egnew or George Bryan or a young veteran like Houston Texans’ free agent Joel Dreessen.
The Jets needs on offense aren’t limited to the running game. Their passing attack needs to be overhauled:
QB: The Jets are probably stuck with Mark Sanchez for better or worse in 2012. They don’t have the money to bring in Peyton Manning despite the rumors to the contrary. However, the team would benefit from bringing in a legitimate backup who could push Sanchez. Current backup Mark Brunell is probably headed for retirement and neither Greg McElroy nor Kevin O’Connell figure to be ready to step in next year (or ever). A veteran like David Garrard (who wants to return to the league) or Shaun Hill could interest New York, as could a young castoff like Brady Quinn or Drew Stanton.
WR: Santonio Holmes will supposedly be back, for better or worse, in 2012. The rest of the Jets WR corps is unsettled. Jeremy Kerley looked like a decent #3 or #4 guy but the team has no #2 option and little depth. Plaxico Burress is likely to move on so the Jets will have to address the position in either free agency or the draft (probably both). Because of their cap situation, the team seems unlikely to be in the market for Mike Wallace, Brandon Lloyd or even Robert Meachem. A less established young veteran like the troubled Jerome Simpson, Early Doucet or Josh Morgan could work. If the Jets go WR in the draft, a taller target like Juron Criner, small school guy Brian Quick or Mohamed Sanu could be in the mix.
On defense, the Jets have bigger holes but fewer overall needs:
S: The Jets safeties were a huge liability in 2011. Jim Leonhard and Eric Smith both struggled at times and Brodney Pool reportedly had problems learning the defense. Pool and Leonhard (coming off of major surgery) are both unsigned and won’t be priorities to re-sign., The Jets figure to be in the market for a medium priced veteran like Mike Adams and at least one safety in the draft. Mark Barron could be a good fit as could Markelle Martin, who plays with the aggressiveness that Ryan covets. If the Jets can free up some cap space, expect their aggressive front office to try to nab Tyvon Branch or Reggie Nelson.
OLB: Aaron Maybin was a revelation as a scrap heap pickup, notching 6 sacks in limited duty. However, his limitations in the run game probably leave him as a situational player going forward. Long time starter Bryan Thomas is 33, unsigned and coming off of a torn Achilles tendon. Pre-season star Jamaal Westerman has never lived up to the praise heaped upon him by Rex Ryan. A veteran like Ahmad Brooks could go a long way in fortifying the Jets edge rush. If Kamerion Wimbley is cut by the Raiders (a questionable rumor), he could be in play as well. The Jets figure to take an OLB early in the draft. Cam Johnson, Vinny Curry, Andre Branch and Chandler Jones could be targets. Calvin Pace is steady but unspectacular and probably not in the team’s long-term plans. The Jets need a serious infusion of youth and talent at this position.
ILB: Bart Scott is old, expensive and declining. He’s a Ryan favorite but could be an early casualty in the offseason. The Jets could be interested in drafting the mercurial Vontaze Burfict, a guy some feel could be a star with a tough and smart coach like Ryan. Dont’a Hightower is a 1st round option as well, although it’s more likely the Jets wait until Day 2 to address the position. James-Michael Johnson, Mychal Kendricks or Bobby Wagner could be 2nd or 3rd round targets.
DL: Atop the Jets to-do list is to re-sign reliable NT Sione Pouha. However, he is 33 and the Jets might not have the money to bring him back. Kenrick Ellis probably isn’t ready to take over full time, so the Jets could be in the market for a stop gap veteran if Pouha leaves. Depth at DE is also an issue that could be addressed later in the draft or with backup quality veterans.
(Originally posted by me at Mocking The Draft)
Coming off a 13-3 season and a Super Bowl loss, the AFC champion New England Patriots have a bevvy of early draft picks and an estimated $25-30M (after 2011 rollover) in cap room to play with. Their needs are mostly on the defensive side of the ball, no surprise given they were 2nd worst in yards allowed in 2011 and their porous secondary was to blame for the Giants late TD drive in Super Bowl 46. However, there are a few places on offense the Patriots must address:
WR2 & WR3: Wes Welker is a pending free agent and must be retained. All signs seem to point to the Patriots and Welker working out a long term deal or (in a worst case scenario) Welker getting Franchise tagged. However, the rest of the Patriots WR corps is a mess. Deion Branch is old, unsigned and in the twilight of his career. Chances are he will be re-signed to a 1 year, low cost deal as his rapport with Brady is very good. Unfortunately, he’s not a #2 WR any longer and the Pats have to find someone to line up opposite of Welker. The Chad Ochocinco experiment didn’t work out, and it remains to be seen whether he will get a chance to compete for a spot in camp. The other WR’s on the roster: Tiquan Underwood (re-signed after the Super Bowl), Julian Edelman and Matthew Slater are not realistic options for a lot of playing time.
The Pats figure to be in the market for both a veteran and a younger player at WR. They have been linked to Brandon Lloyd, who has said he wants to play under Patriots Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels. However, Lloyd is represented by agent Tom Condon, with whom the Patriots had a falling out in 2004. Condon represented then 1st round pick Ben Watson and the Patriots (essentially) forced Watson to dump Condon in order to get a deal done. In the 7+ years since, the Pats have not worked a single deal with Condon.
Other veteran options include Robert Meachem who has the field stretching ability the Pats covet, or Eddie Royal who McDaniels was fond of in Denver (he would be a #3 option if Branch is not brought back). The Pats have been rumored to be interested in Mike Wallace and/or DeSean Jackson but both seem to be unrealistic options.
In terms of draft picks, the Pats figure to be looking for either a taller down-field option like Rueben Randle or Juron Criner (if he runs well at the Combine) or a dynamic playmaker like Jarius Wright or Joe Adams.
Offensive Line depth: The Patriots only other pressing need is reinforcements along the line. 2011 draftee Marcus Cannon looked decent in his limited duty after recovering from cancer and he figures to be a key backup at RG/RT. Brian Waters was excellent in his first year with the Patriots but is old and has been considering retirement. If Waters does retire, Cannon will be asked to play RG and New England will need a new backup G. The Pats have a pair of unsigned centers in Dan Connolly and Dan Koppen, and figure to retain at least one. Ryan Wendell is capable of playing center if needed, though one would think Belichick will look to upgrade the spot if a good opportunity presents itself in the draft.
The rest of the Patriots offense is in good shape. They could look to add a third TE or a replacement for the unsigned BenJarvus Green-Ellis but those are fairly small holes to fill. On defense, however, it’s a whole different story:
It remains to be seen whether or not the Pats go back to a 3-4 base after using a 4-3 for much of 2011. The base they use will most likely be dependent upon what talent they can find to bolster their starting unit. Here are their (many) needs on D:
DB: Despite having the 2nd worst pass defense (by yardage) in the league in 2011, the Pats CB’s are somewhat set for 2012. Devin McCourty, a Pro Bowler in 2010, fell apart in the Patriots’ new man-coverage heavy scheme in 2011. He’s a much better zone defender. He ended up switching to free safety in sub packages (5+ DB’s) at the end of the year and looked comfortable in that role. Patriots CB coach Josh Boyer said he expects McCourty to be at CB in 2012, not FS (though, who knows). Ras-I Dowling, a 2011 2nd rounder looked very good in camp and early in the season – winning an opening day starting spot – but hurt his hip and ended up on I.R. He figures to get another shot at starting. 2011 starter Kyle Arrington is an adequate #2 or a high quality slot CB. The Pats have some depth with late-season revelation Sterling Moore, former Texans’ CB Antwaun Molden (unsigned) and possibly WR convert Julian Edelman.
It’s a different story at Safety, where the Patriots need a lot of help. Pat Chung is a quality player but cannot stay healthy. James Ihedigbo (unsigned) wasn’t a disaster but isn’t a starting caliber player. At one point the Patriots tried Matthew Slater at FS with unsurprisingly poor results. McCourty is a good option at free safety if only because the pickings will be slim in the draft and free agency. Josh Barrett and Sergio Brown are special teams only guys who failed in their chances to win a spot. Ideally, the Patriots will find a safety with good coverage skills to pair with Chung (who is better in run support). They offered Dashon Goldson a contract last summer and could be interested in him if he hits the open market. A veteran like Mike Adams could help solidify the position as well. The Patriots figure to draft a safety early in 2012 if there is decent value to be had. Mark Barron seems to be a popular pick but might lack the coverage skills the Pats need. A guy like George Iloka could work or the Patriots could take a CB with some positional flexibility – Dre Kirkpatrick (with a trade up in round 1) or Jamell Fleming might interest Bill Belichick.
3-4 DE/ 4-3 DT: Regardless of scheme, Vince Wilfork is the only guy who figures to be a sure-thing starter. Brandon Deaderick has played well enough to be an incumbent starter at 5-technique if the Pats go to a 3-4. The rest of the line is a mess. Kyle Love, a former undrafted player, is still developing but was manhandled in the Super Bowl. The Pats will need a big body next to Wilfork. They have experimented with kicking Wilfork to 5-technique and using Love at nose tackle, so don’t be surprised if they pull the trigger on a guy like Dontari Poe (Belichick loves huge, athletic guys) early in the draft. One would think that Belichick would covet Quinton Coples and/or Michael Brockers but those guys will be long gone by the time the Patriots pick. Late 1st round 5-technique possibilities include Fletcher Cox or Devon Still (if he slides).
Veteran options here include a big offer for Calais Campbell or more affordable choices like Kendall Langford or Wallace Gilberry.
3-4 OLB/4-3 DE: Andre Carter and Mark Anderson were big successes as 2011 newcomers but both are unsigned for 2012. The Patriots probably would like both back but Anderson might want a contract which the Patriots view as too pricey for a guy who was frequently subbed out due to his deficiencies in the run game. Carter was a team leader but is old and coming off a serious injury. He also struggles in the 3-4 and might not want to return as a situational player. Rob Ninkovich is a serviceable starter at OLB in either scheme but 2nd year man Jermaine Cunningham’s season was a disappointment – he got injured early in camp and never managed to acclimate to the new 4-3 scheme before hitting IR with another injury. The Pats really need a guy who can bring pressure and can be a 3-down player.
Mario Williams might be on the Pats radar – the two biggest free agent splashes the Pats have made were Rosevelt Colvin and Adalius Thomas – both edge LB/DE types. More likely, the Pats will try to find someone in the draft like Andre Branch, Vinny Curry, Cam Johnson or Chandler Jones. They covet guys who have long arms and are 6’3+ 250+ (ideally 6’4 260).
ILB depth: Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes are quality players but the Pats need an upgrade at nickel (coverage) LB in their “light” sub packages. Tracy White supplanted Gary Guyton (unsigned and unlikely to return) but White needs to be upgraded. This figures to be a place where the Pats will find a veteran role player like Leroy Hill
Lastly, the Pats special teams are pretty set with quality coverage guys and a reliable kicker/punter. They do, however, need an upgrade at kick returner – neither Julian Edelman nor Danny Woodhead was successful in that role in 2011. Most likely any WR they draft will be a guy who can challenge for regular kick returning duty or perhaps 2011 2nd rounder Shane Vereen – who missed extensive time with a hamstring issue – can help out.
Last week I wrote briefly on whether or not the idea that “Defense Wins Championships” was a bit outdated. Looking solely at overall rankings in points per game scored/allowed, it seems as if good defenses are still a key element of a Super Bowl winning team. Of the 3 “bad” defenses which have won Super Bowls lately (2006 Colts, 2007 Giants, 2009 Saints), both the Colts and Giants got hot down the stretch to carry their team to a Lombardi trophy.
However, points per game allowed is a pretty simple measure of a defense and doesn’t tell us all that much about the unit in question. Here are some more numbers on the Super Bowl winning defenses:
Yards Per Drive Allowed
Average YPD: 26.2
Average YPD+: 108.8
Best YPD+: 1974 Pittsburgh Steelers (131)
Worst YPD+: 2006 Indianapolis Colts (79)
# of teams <100 YPD+: 8
Points Per Drive Allowed:
Average PPD: 1.36
Average PPD+: 121.6
Best PPD+: 2000 Baltimore Ravens (150)
Worst PPD+: 2006 Indianapolis Colts (75)
# of teams <100 PPD+: 1
Average TO%: 21.8%
Average TO%+: 114.8
Best TO+: 2000 Baltimore Ravens (165)
Worst TO+: 1976 Oakland Raiders (76)
# of teams <100 TO+: 9
Average TD%: 14.9%
Average TD%+: 123.2
Best TD%+: 2000 Baltimore Ravens, 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (152)
Worst TD%+: 2006 Indianapolis Colts (74)
# of teams <100 YPD+: 3
As you can see, other than the 2006 Indianapolis Colts, Super Bowl defenses have remained pretty consistently above average in most of these variables. Here are the 41 Super Bowl champion defenses from 1970-2010 ranked by my Defensive Efficiency Scores:
The average DSCORE of a Super Bowl winner is 20.83. Only 2 teams in 2011 had a DSCORE that high: San Francisco and Baltimore. The 2011 Patriots checked in at 5.93 and the Giants at -4.42. However, like the 2006 Colts and 2007 Giants, both current Super Bowl teams are playing better than their regular season numbers indicate. Whichever team wins next Sunday will join the recent trend of teams whose defenses got hot at just the right time.