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Pre-Season Power Rankings: Part 1

August 13, 2012 Leave a comment

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.

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2012 Draft Recap: AFC South

This is the 2nd of 8 divisional wrap ups. You can find the AFC East here:

AFC East Recap

Indianapolis Colts – There was no where to go but up for Indianapolis and obviously their draft hinges on the arm of Andrew Luck. If he flops, it won’t matter how good the rest of the class is – the 2012 draft will forever be remembered as the “Luck draft”. To go along with their brand new signal caller, the Colts added Luck’s college TE Coby Fleener who will remind Indianapolis fans of the recently departed Dallas Clark with his ability to get yards over the middle. The pair of Dwayne Allen and T.Y. Hilton potentially gives Luck other weapons, though I’m not a fan of Hilton’s – frail looking WR’s with ball security problems don’t often turn out well in the pros. Snagging Vick Ballard and Josh Chapman in the 5th seems like good value, with Chapman possibly being the anchor that Chuck Pagano needs if he goes with a 3-4 defense. Not adding more talent on the defensive side was a bit curious, though it makes sense that the Colts would spend their first rebuilding year trying to make Luck as comfortable as possible. Undrafted DB Michah Pellerin could pay off, as the small school sleeper was a guy I thought could have gone as early as the late 4th or early 5th.

Houston Texans – For a team that has drafted fairly well lately, their draft this year left me scratching my head. Whitney Mercilus is a guy I liked a lot more as a 4-3 LE than an OLB in a 3-4. Wade Phillips certainly can get the most out of his edge rushers, and chances are he will have Mercilus rush early and often to prevent the rookie from having to drop into coverage. Taking an edge rusher when they already have Connor Barwin and Brooks Reed seems like possible overkill. You can certainly never have too many pass rushers, but getting all three of those guys on the field at the same time without leaving the defense vulnerable to big rushing yardage is going to be an interesting challenge for coach Kubiak and Phillips. Not addressing the WR spot until the 3rd round was somewhat defensible, obviously they loved the value of Mercilus in the late 1st and the draft was very deep at the receiver spot. However, taking DeVier Posey as the answer to the big hole opposite Andre Johnson is one of the most questionable moves of the draft. Even were he clean off-field, Posey’s stock as a receiver was in a bit of a free-fall and there appeared to be a number of other options. 4th rounder Keshawn Martin might be a better bet to contribute, but like Posey seems like a potential reach. Jared Crick in the 4th was a good value pick, if there ever was a defensive scheme for him to succeed in (and it could be the only one he can succeed in at the NFL level), it’s Wade Phillips’ attacking 3-4. He could be a nice role player to give J.J. Watt a breather. Adding Dwight Jones (another overrated and questionable character WR) might yield dividends, but their best undrafted finds could be LB Shawn Loiseau and S Eddie Pleasant.

Jacksonville Jaguars
– Andre Branch in the 2nd could be a nice value, though I’m not as high on him as some. The rest of the Jaguars picks seem underwhelming. Justin Blackmon has tons of upside, and the Jaguars badly need a top WR, but I’m not convinced he was really worth a top 10 pick. It’s tough to imagine him as being a top 5 WR in the league at any point in his career, and might not ever be a top 10 guy. Drafting a punter in the 3rd was strange insofar as Brian Anger doesn’t strike me as that great of a prospect. Punters are more important than people like to pretend (and let’s face it, most 3rd round picks are marginal starters at best, so landing a potential 10 year player like a punter is good value if he works out). Just look at the impact Steve Weatherford had in the Super Bowl – almost single-handedly keeping the Patriots pinned deep in their own territory and is a true unsung hero of the Giants’ win. 7th rounder Jeris Pendleton is an interesting story but a long-shot. Undrafted Mike Brewster is the biggest name in the bunch, though there’s a reason he dropped from a 1st round consideration to not being selected – he’s just never lived up to his college hype. Still, he has intriguing upside if he can get himself on track.

Tennessee Titans – Individually, I like the prospects the Titans took. Collectively though, and given the team’s needs, it was strange to see it come together in the manner it did. Signing Kam Wimbley before the draft cut down the team’s need for an edge player, but going with a WR in the 1st surprised a lot of people. Maybe the team feels Kenny Britt isn’t a good bet to rebound to pre-injury form or stay out of trouble? The Titans did throw the ball with surprising frequency last year, so it’s possible they plan on airing it out a lot again in 2012 and want more playmakers in their receiving corps. Zach Brown in the 2nd is a boom-or-bust type, but he fits the Titans’ scheme really well. Taylor Thompson was one of the most intriguing prospects to come out, the converted DE has great athleticism and size for the TE position. Mike Martin is a little short but looks to have solid upside as a rotational player. Markelle Martin was vastly overrated in the beginning of the draft process (at one point, he was being mocked in the 2nd round) but as a 6th rounder he could add some value in sub packages or on special teams. DaJohn Harris could stick as an undrafted free agent.

Overall, the Colts’ class has the most obvious potential – even outside of Luck. The other three teams seemed to be a mixed bag of guys I liked and guys I didn’t like. It doesn’t look like Jacksonville or Tennessee did enough to close the gap between themselves and Houston as the top team in the division but it also doesn’t look like the Texans’ draft class put them definitively atop the AFC contenders. If the Texans are healthy, they should win the AFC South comfortably, even if they get nothing from their draft class. For the Jaguars or Titans to supplant Houston as division champs, they will need their 2nd year QB’s (Gabbert and Locker) to play extremely well and get some first year impact from their draft classees.

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