Richard Moore presents the second half of our first Power Rankings since the NFL Draft.
Introducing the bottom half of the NFL's class of 2013...
17) Minnesota Vikings
The primary concern confronting the Vikings approaching 2013 was the retention of two of league M.V.P Adrian Peterson’s most trusted blockers in Phil Loadholt and Pro Bowl Jerome Felton. Landing receiver Greg Jennings was a tactical masterstroke, as it he’ll provide quarterback Christian Ponder with the ideal down field safety valve, thus enhancing both his and the Vikings offense potency.
On the defensive side of the ball, first-round picks Shariff Floyd and Xavier Rhodes appear more than capable of disrupting the fluidity of offenses elsewhere in the NFC North.
18) Dallas Cowboys
The primary task on the Cowboy’s agenda was extending Tony Romo through 2019, but should they really be lavishing such exorbitant remunerations upon a guy that’s won one play-off game during his entire career in Dallas? Rewarding failure? We shall see…
Otherwise, Jerry Jones was pretty much occupied with compressing a pay roll under a tightened salary cap, as Dallas paid the remainder of last year’s penalty, incurred for over spending in 2010.
It will be intriguing to witness the transition from Rob Ryan’s 3 - 4 defense to the 4 - 3 ‘Tampa 2’ format used to great effect during new defensive coach Monte Kiffin’s tenure with the buccaneers. In his 13 years as coach, the Buccaneers finished in the top 10 in total defense and scoring defense in 11, and was a major factor in securing Tampa’s Super Bowl triumph in 2002.
Replicating that success could well define Dallas’s season…
19) Kansas City Chiefs
The broom of change has swept out the underachieving dead wood, and brought in a head coach that took his previous team to five NFC championship games and a Super Bowl appearance against the Patriots, and a quarterback in Alex Smith (completed 25 of his last 27 passes for a 70% completion percentage and a 104.1 passer rating) that represents the complete antithesis of the turnover machines that were Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn, who threw a combined 20 interceptions to eight touchdowns in 2012.
The Chief’s also drafted well, bringing in Central Michigan’s offensive tackle Eric Fisher, who’ll provide Alex Smith with all the protection he needs to effectively manage the offense with his trademark efficiency, making the Chief’s a potential favourite for most improved team of 2013.
20) Carolina Panthers
Taking defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawaan Short provides Carolina a potentially dominant offensive line - Defense ends Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy combined for approximately 24 sacks - in front of recovering linebacker Jon Beason and middle linebacker Luke Kuechly.
The front seven looks pretty solid overall, however if Cam Newton is to continue in the same vein of form that he ended 2012-13 with, he needs a greater array of targets. Steve Smith remains a threat; Gregg Olson is a pretty solid if unspectacular tight end, but how of a difference will former Dominick Hixon make?
With DeAngelo Williams not being the force he once was, rookie Kenjon Barner (Oregon) may see more action than he may have initially anticipated, but as a rotation-changeup back with extreme quickness, he could well help Carolina establish a more effective and balanced offense to improve upon last season’s disappointing 7 - 9 finish.
21) Miami Dolphins
One thing you can’t do is accuse General Manager Jeff Ireland of lacking ambition, especially in light of some particularly aggressive moves in free agency. However it remains to be seen just how well he’s distributed his significant financial outlay, notably the $160 million used to lure receiver Mike Wallace, linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, cornerback Brent Grimes, linebacker Philip Wheeler, and of course to retain Brian Hartline.
Miami entered the draft with five of the first 82 selections, and after some trading up and down, came away with arguably the best pass-rusher in the draft in Oregon’s Dion Jordan, although no other players of note were added.
Expect an improvement on last season’s 7 - 9 finish, but not the end of New England’s dominance.
22) Detroit Lions
Signing Reggie Bush may give Detroit the one-two punch from the backfield that it’s been crying out for, but more importantly it will take the heat of Calvin Johnson. That being said, the running lanes for Bush and protection for quarterback Mathew Stafford are questionable after the loss of last season’s starting tackles.
The defence were also deprived of both starting ends, therefore the burden on first-rounder Ziggy Ansah just got bigger…
23) St. Louis Rams
For many the Rams probably had the best draft, outside of Minnesota. Procuring a total of seven players who could make significant inroads in 2013, most notably the exciting Tavon Austin, who’ll enable Sam Bradford to stretch the field in ways he was unable to at times last year.
Fourth-year quarterback Bradford will also benefit from a cleaner pocket courtesy of Pro Bowl left tackle Jake Long protecting his blind side. Questions may still linger at safety, but the Rams will ensure the race for the NFC West title is by no means a foregone conclusion.
24) Arizona Cardinals
Following last season’s spectacular capitulation from a seemingly advantageous 4 - 0 start, Bruce Arians will provide some much needed enthusiasm and competitive spirit. Carson Palmer may not be "Greatest Trade in Football”, but he’ll provide leadership and experience that was dearly lacking in both Kevin Kolb and John Skelton.
The offensive cause will be ably assisted by the presence of highly touted first-round picks Jonathan Cooper, Stepfan Taylor and Andre Ellington, all more than capable compliments to the more established talents of Larry Fitzgerald and free agent signing Rashard Mendenhall.
However, the same cannot be said of the defensive side of the ball, as the Cardinals have offloaded coordinator Ray Horton and both starting safeties, and just to compound their misery, will have to do without the services of inside linebacker Daryl Washington following his suspension for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy. Washington led the Cardinals with 134 tackles and nine sacks last season. He signed a six-year contract extension in September.
25) Philadelphia Eagles
New coach Chip Kelly appears an inspired hire, and his high-octane offense will do doubt provide plenty of fireworks through an exciting combination of the run and the pass; though to be fashion a truly effective balance, LeSean McCoy needs 20 carries or more. When McCoy had 20 or more carries a game, the Eagles were 3 - 0 during the first 9 games of 2012. The question is - who will be the catalyst?
Micheal Vick’s dynamism may place him in the driver’s seat, but Kelly, upon his hire, was heard gushing over the merits of Nick Foles. Interesting, as despite having the arm strength and accuracy to go with it, I’d question the logic of placing the controls of such a fast paced offense in his hands, due to his evident lack of mobility out of the pocket, which brings us to Matt Barkley. Scouts noted the lack of elite arm strength, although footballing intuition at the line of scrimmage and the capacity to accurately hit targets down field may mean that Barkley represents the threat to Vick in the race to start 2013. One thing’s for sure, we’ll have fun finding out.
As far as the defense is concerned, Kelly and new defensive coordinator Billy Davis will dispense with the 4 - 3 front that came to represent nothing but abject failure (the prime catalysts being the now departed Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, though it’s fair to say that schematic unsuitability hardly helped their cause) and will move to a 3 - 4 scheme. Free agent signings Connor Barwin, Cary Williams, Patrick Chung, Isaac Sopoaga, and Kenny Phillips will at least ensure that there will be no repeat of that ill-fated 4 - 12 campaign that brought about the most unceremonious of endings for Andy Reid.
26) San Diego Chargers
New General Manager Tom Telesco’s first draft may turn out to be right on the money. First-round right tackle D.J Fluker provides the foundation for an o-line that for most of 2012 took on the look of a revolving door.
Second-round linebacker, the controversial Manti Te’o and third-round receiver Keenan Allen fell out of the first round given respective concerns. Free agent acquisition Danny Woodhead’s versatility could be the factor that kick-starts the revival of quarterback Philip Rivers.
27) Cleveland Browns
As opposed to most teams who have won five or less games for five seasons on the bounce, the Browns are loaded to the point where they can afford to trade draft picks into the future. Saying that, the defense received a much needed make over in the form of Paul Kruger, Quentin Groves and Desmond Bryant.
28) Tennessee Titans
Guard Any Levite is a respectable cornerstone when it comes to making life easier for quarterback Jake Locker, runningbacks Chris Johnson, and Shonn Greene (acquired from the Jet’s during free agency). Don’t be surprised to see the Titans adopt the ‘ground and pound’ approach Greene saw in New York whilst with the Jets.
29) Buffalo Bills
Kevin Kolb is in Buffalo “to win a Super Bowl, period”. No, I can’t edit out the laughs. Something tells me E.J Manuel, may be starting sooner than he thinks…
30) New York Jets
How Mark Sanchez is still in a job is beyond me…might have something to do with the $8.3 million it would cost the Jet’s to wave him goodbye. With that in mind, it may be within ‘Gang Green’s’ interests to blood rookie Geno Smith now, even though it may mean a rather long and painful ride through the school of hard knocks, as the long term benefits may prove invaluable.
31) Oakland Raiders
Whilst the 2013 roster may come to represent less talent than the 2012 outfit, second-year General Manager Reggie McKenzie has just about finished fighting the fires started by the previous regime, most notably dampening the flames of waste left over from the ill-fated Carson Palmer trade. The transition from basement boys to genuine contenders may take some time, but with efficiency at quarterback in the form of Matt Flynn, and the leadership and football savvy provided by the returning Charles Woodson, things in the ‘black hole’ may not be black for too much longer…
32) Jacksonville Jaguars
Newly installed General Manager David Caldwell and coach Gus Bradley seem to have the patience required to carry out the long and arduous task of restoring the respectability of the franchise following another embarrassing campaign. When the draft came around the Jags captured highly rated tackle Luke Joeckel, who will at least give Blaine Gabbert a chance of restoring credibility as a starting quarterback, thus prolonging his stay in Jacksonville.
But for how long?
image: © joeshlabotnik