With the NFL Draft been and gone and the top free agents signed up, Richard Moore delivers his NFL Power Rankings...
Here is part one, teams 1-16:
1) Seattle Seahawks
The questionable acquisition of Brady Quinn aside, the Seahawks appear primed for another post season push. Percy Harvin enhances the explosiveness of an already potent offense that through its last four regular season games smashed opposition defenses to the tune of 170 points, and the loading up on pass-rushers in the form of Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril (18.5 sacks combined through 2012) only add weight to the assertion that Seattle are most certainly in Super Bowl or bust mode.
Though it will be intriguing to see how ‘the legion of boom’ are affected through the first four games of the season following the suspension of outside linebacker Bruce Irvin (the fifth Seahawk since 2010), for violating the league’s policy on performance enhancing drugs, and yes, Adderall was the culprit once again.
2) San Francisco 49ers
Despite falling short in agonising fashion to the Ravens in Superbowl 47, Jim Harbaugh’s outfit appear more than capable of building upon last season’s march to the promise land. Anquan Boldin may lack speed, but his footballing intuition and strength are adequate compensation, giving Colin Kaepernick added security downfield. He will be even more important early on in light of Crabtree's Achilles injury.
Losing Pro Bowl safety Dashon Goldson would appear a sizeable blow, but the drafting of LSU safety Eric Reid, should prove more than adequate compensation due to his impressive size, athleticism, intelligence and toughness; all qualities that are particularly evident in coverage, against both the run and the pass, as evidenced by his 14 passes defended and 91 total tackles through 2012. Establishing chemistry with Donte Whitner is paramount.
*Note - Marcus Lattimore could prove to be the ultimate steal…
3) Denver Broncos
Locking up left-tackle Ryan Clady was imperative, and with the addition of star performers in Wes Welker (New England’s most targeted receiver with 170 receptions through 2012-13), who provides Payton Manning and the Broncos with the slot receiver they’ve been crying out for, and guard Louis Vasquez, Denver have every chance of erasing the memories of that gut-wrenching double-overtime defeat to the Baltimore Ravens in the divisional round, and reaching the promise land for the first time since the glory days of John Elway.
Denver also added significant depth at runningback, by selecting Wisconsin’s Montee Ball, one of the most coveted backs in Aprils Draft. Ball at 5-ft-11 and 215lb’s, will provide plenty of competition for both Willis McGahee and Knowshon Moreno; especially if he can replicate his form during his last year at collegic level, where he found the end-zone 22 times.
Though time will tell just how much Denver will miss pass-rushing sensation Elvis Dumervil and his 54 tackles, 6 forced fumbles, and 11 sacks…
4) Green Bay Packers
Owing much the physicality of Eddie Lacy (Alabama) and the rapidity of Jonathan Franklin (UCLA), Aaron Rodgers may have found the rock to his roll, thus providing the Packers offense with the balance it was lacking last season, and in doing so, could make Green Bay a top-10 rushing unit for the first time in 9 years.
Signing both Aaron Rodgers and Clay Mathews to long-term deals without inflicting major damage on the salary cap, should go some way to ensuring the kind of continuity required to solidify championship aspirations.
5) New England Patriots
It appears the Rutgers return policy is well and truly alive, as New England exchange Wes Welker for Danny Amendola. Although with the former Ram missing a combined twenty games over the last two seasons, you’d be hard pressed to bet your mortgage on Welker’s replacement fashioning the level of production from the man who for so much of his time in New England was Brady’s go to guy. LaGarrette Blount adds the power that Danny Woodhead lacked, but will he provide the versatility?
The window of opportunity may be narrowing, what with increasing uncertainty surrounding the availability of Rob Gronkowski (despite comments from owner Robert Kraft in today’s edition of The Boston Herald ), who’s just undergone a forth procedure to repair his broken left arm, the aforementioned loss of Welker, and Brady’s advancing age (he turns 36 in August), but with Belichick’s ability to constantly evolve with the times and Brady’s form in 2012, where he threw for 4, 827-yards and 34 touchdowns to only eight interceptions, New England will always be in the conversation where it concerns potential Super Bowl champions.
At the very least they remain the dominant force in the AFC East.
6) Atlanta Falcons
The rookie pairing of Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford should go some way to improving a secondary that ranked 23rd against the pass, and 21st against the run.
Tony Gonzalez (1,242 yards, seventh on the career receiving yards list with 14,268 yards, and with 103 touchdowns) has come back for one last ride, and despite being 29, Steven Jackson provides a significant upgrade (and a physically effective foil for the more speedy Jacquizz Rodgers) over a Michael Turner that faded badly during his final year in Atlanta, although questions remain over the right side of an offensive line that allowed 83 hits and 28 sacks of quarterback Matt Ryan…
7) Houston Texans
A solid draft, the impending return of linebacker Brian Cushing, and the capture of veteran safety Ed Reed (61 career interceptions to date) via free agency should off-set the loss of Conner Barwin and Glover Quin, who left for Philadelphia and Detroit, respectively.
Houston will hope the drafting of Clemson’s DeAndre Hopkins who, in 2012, closed out his collegic career with a single-season school record of 1,405 receiving yards, and setting a new ACC mark with 18 receiving scores, will take some of the heat from Andre Johnson, thus allowing the Texans to stretch the field more and reduce the reliance on Arian Foster. Although, he was the most prolific back in the league last season, registering 15 scores…
8) New York Giants
They made the difficult decision to part ways with Superbowl stalwarts such as Osi Umenyiora, who chalked up 75.0 sacks with ‘Big Blue’, to both promote and sign younger talent in the form of Ohio States Jonathan Hankins and Texas A&M’s Demontre Moore.
They added weight up front, but questions remain over the solidarity of the offensive line. That being said, they went some way in addressing that concern by drafting Syracuse’s Justin Pugh.
9) Cincinnati Bengals
The new kid in town??? Andy Dalton could potentially boast the most devastating array of weapons in the NFL, at the very least, the AFC North. He now has tight end Tyler Eifert and North Carolina runningback Giovani Bernard to compliment the established talents of A.J Green, Germaine Gresham, and BenJarvis Green-Ellis…
10) Baltimore Ravens
You’ll be hard pressed to find a team that has undergone as big a transition in the wake of a championship run as Baltimore. Nine of the twenty-two starters from that glorious night in New Orleans, are either unsigned or no longer in the building.
The main priority during the off season was tying Super Bowl M.V.P Joe Flacco to a long-term contract, followed by the re-tooling of a defence ready to turn over a new leaf in the aftermath of Ray Lewis’s retirement, Ed Reed’s departure for Houston, and Dannell Ellerbe’s defection to Miami, and Paul Kruger to the Browns.
Owner Ozzy Newsome snagged one of the best pass rushers in the business in Denver’s Elvis Dumervil, before restoring the nucleus of the unit via the draft by acquiring Notre Dame’s defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore, Missouri South defensive tackle Brandon Williams, and Ohio States John Simon.
They say ‘Ozzy Know’s, time will tell…
11) Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The pass defense was utterly atrocious and part of the reason why Tampa finished the season with a less than auspicious 7 - 9 record, but the Bucs addressed the issue by importing arguably the best defensive player in the league in Derrelle Revis (who stands to earn $96 million over 6 years), after acquiring safety Dashon Goldson from the San Francisco 49ers. You add second-round pick Jonathan Banks to the mix, and there could be an argument to suggest Tampa boast the best secondary in the league. Though, I’m sure Seattle may have something to say on that front.
Third-round pick Mike Glennon provides insurance if Josh Freeman erratic form of 2012 continue, but is he league ready now, as General Mark Dominik is suggesting?
12) Washington Redskins
The Skins were essentially hamstrung as they continued to deal with draft-pick debt incurred with quarterback Robert Griffin 111’s arrival in 2012 and the $36 million cap hit enforced last year.
Despite dropping to 3-6, and going on a remarkable run to win their last seven games and securing a division title for the first time since 1999, the NFC East champions don’t appear all that improved from a personal standpoint, although with the impending return of defensive linchpin Brian Orapko, and hopefully a fully fit and firing RG111, it may not matter. In any case, back-up Kirk Cousins has proven a more than capable deputy, when needed.
13) Indianapolis Colts
The ultimate feel good story, as the Colts went from worst to first (not literally, but you know what I mean) against the backdrop of coach Chuck Pagano’s truly inspirational fight against Leukemia, to reach the first-round of the play-offs; only to bow out to eventual champions Baltimore, no disgrace in that given the travails of a 2012 -13 that reached its nadir with the 62 - 7 debacle in New Orleans.
The biggest test now is building upon 2012 and the more than respectable 11 - 5 finish, and the ability to do so hinges largely on the transition from Bruce Arians. Fortunately, newly installed offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton and quarterback Andrew Luck have previous, the former having coached the latter at Stanford. Also, Luck’s on field supporting cast looks markedly improved with Darius Heyward-Bay joining rookie TY Hilton and the experienced Reggie Wayne.
Expectations in Indy just got a whole lot higher…
14) Chicago Bears
One things for certain, Jay Cutler will take the fewest hits of his NFL career, as General manager Phil Emery addressed glaring deficiencies in an offensive line that ranked 25th in the league, by signing former Saint Jermon Bushrod, who becomes the highest-paid offensive lineman in franchise history by signing a five-year contract worth $35.97million ($7.19 million per season), and Jets guard Matt Slausen, who arrives as a replacement for Lance Louis. Slausen is by definition a left-guard; although it’s believed he’d be a more than competent replacement for Louis at the right-guard position.
Cutler’s productivity should be enhanced still further by the capture of former Giants and cowboy’s tight end Martellus Bennett, who’s individual production in 2012 (fifty-five catches for 626-yards, and five touchdowns) far outweighed the collective contributions of Kellen Davis and Matt Spaeth, who together produced a paltry 297-yards from 29 catches and 3 touchdowns. Both are gone.
Regardless, the acquisition of Bennett in conjunction with the threat already posed by Brandon Marshall and first-year receiver Alshon Jeffery, alongside a more than capable ground game in the form of Matt Forte and Michael Bush, means Cutler has all the tools he needs to land the city its first Championship since 1985.
15) New Orleans Saints
Much work needs to be done to ensure to consign 2012-13 to the history books, but New Orleans went some way in doing so by dramatically improving a secondary that ranked 31st against the pass, and 32nd against the run, by drafting highly rated safety Kenny Vaccaro and nose tackle John Jenkins.
The impeding return of Sean Peyton will help re-establish the direction and discipline that was absent for much of last year.
16) Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers of 2012 were living proof that over-expiring resources in the name of winning, brings about sufficient financial hits, and the cap-tight Steelers were forced to part with receiver Mike Wallace (Miami) and outside linebacker James Harrison (who’s joined division rivals Cincinnati). That being said, the Steelers did a good job of restructuring in the draft, and General Manager Kevin Colbert added a lot of depth.
image: © Neal D