22. Cincinnati Bengals
QB: Andy Dalton > John Skelton > Josh Johnson > Zac Robinson
RB: BenJarvus Green-Ellis > Bernard Scott > Cedric Peerman > Dan Herron
WR: A.J. Green > Mohamed Sanu > Andrew Hawkins > Marvin Jones
TE: Jermaine Gresham > Alex Smith > Orson Charles > Richard Quinn
Skill Player Overview: The Bengals' skill corps returns intact, which isn't necessarily a good thing. The offense had a hindering effect on Cincinnati's 2012 season, failing to generate big plays outside of up-for-grabs bombs to Green that became less and less frequent as the year went on. Dalton is limited in terms of both arm talent and athleticism and is dependent on a strong run game to be successful. He had that only in brief spurts last year. Dalton has now regressed as the season has progressed in back-to-back years. Over the final six games of 2012 -- including Cincinnati's second straight one-and-done playoff berth -- Dalton completed 106-of-184 passes (57.6 percent) for 1,027 yards (5.58 YPA), and a 4:6 TD-to-INT ratio. Dalton did not improve as a second-year pro, particularly in terms of his reaction to blitzes and hesitancy to pull the trigger.
Cincinnati brutally miscast Green-Ellis as a franchise back. His strengths are short yardage and getting what's blocked as opposed to carrying a ground game. He's a role player. Scott is coming off a torn ACL. Since owner Mike Brown refused to open his pocketbook in free agency, the Bengals must draft a running back with playmaking ability. Sanu flashed reliable possession-receiver skills and red-zone chops as a rookie before getting injured. Hawkins didn't play enough snaps. Gresham lacks the athletic movement skills he was billed to have coming out of college, and so far has not come remotely close to meeting expectations of the 21st pick in the 2010 draft.
2013 Breakout Candidate: Sanu. Green tilts coverage, meaning he opens up the field for others. Defenses either must bracket Green or at the very least keep a safety over the top at all times. The Bengals fruitlessly tinkered with Brandon Tate and Armon Binns at No. 2 receiver early last season, until giving Sanu his shot in Week 10. He delivered 11 receptions and four touchdowns over a three-game stretch before suffering a stress fracture in his left foot. That scoring rate is obviously unsustainable on a 16-game schedule, but Sanu will draw consistently favorable coverage and is a quality short to intermediate complement to Dalton's sub-average arm.
23. St. Louis Rams
QB: Sam Bradford > Austin Davis > Kellen Clemens
RB: Daryl Richardson > Isaiah Pead > Terrance Ganaway > Chase Reynolds
WR: Chris Givens > Brian Quick > Austin Pettis > Nicholas Johnson
TE: Jared Cook > Lance Kendricks > Cory Harkey > Mike McNeill
Skill Player Overview: The Rams are only 1 1/2 offseasons into the Jeff Fisher/Les Snead regime, and in that brief amount of time appear to have done a terrific job of improving the roster. Whether Bradford's development picks up pace and his on-field performance overcomes maddening early-career inconsistency will be the true indicators of St. Louis’ 2013 offensive product. They have a fascinating and logical plan in place to help him get there.
Letting Danny Amendola and Steven Jackson go in favor of Cook while increasing the roles of early 20-somethings Pead, Richardson, Givens, and Quick signals an attempt by the Rams to create bigger plays on offense. As good of ballplayers as Amendola and Jackson were, they didn't offer big-play ability. They were chain movers. Amendola averages 8.8 yards per catch in his career. Cook averages 13.1. Givens averaged 16.6 as a rookie. Jackson averaged 4.1 yards per carry in 2012. Richardson and Pead combined to average 4.9. The Rams want to get the ball outside the numbers and downfield, and Snead and Fisher are eyeballing explosive "splash" plays in the run game. They now seem to have pieces to do that. This is a skill group long on potential, but short on production. At this time next year, perhaps we'll reevaluate the offensive corps and deem it top 15.
2013 Breakout Candidate: Cook. Essentially Amendola's replacement, Cook will play slot and outside receiver in OC Brian Schottenheimer's offense, floating around the formation in an effort to create mismatches versus linebackers and safeties. Fisher coached Cook in Nashville and realizes he isn't an in-line blocker. Cook's $35 million contract indicates the Rams will funnel offense through him at the intermediate and deep levels, which is where Cook's 4.49 straight-line speed causes big problems. Despite ranking 24th in 2012 targets among tight ends -- and forty first in snaps played -- Cook led all of them in 25-plus-yard catches. He is a big-play weapon.
24. Arizona Cardinals
QB: Carson Palmer > Drew Stanton > Brian Hoyer > Ryan Lindley
RB: Rashard Mendenhall > Ryan Williams > William Powell > Alfonso Smith
WR: Larry Fitzgerald > Andre Roberts > Michael Floyd > LaRon Byrd
TE: Rob Housler > Jeff King > Jim Dray > Kory Sperry
Skill Player Overview: Opening running lanes and protecting cement-footed Palmer are far bigger concerns for Arizona than this skill-position corps. Bruce Arians has some pieces. Palmer is a statue and lacks the arm power he once possessed, but he can drive the ball downfield and into tight windows, making him a system fit under Arians. Palmer will play with the best wideout corps he's had since Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh's prime years. Fitzgerald has become all but a forgotten man, but he's still a top-seven NFL receiver at age 30. Roberts is a versatile Z and slot weapon, capable of playing the old Antonio Brown/T.Y. Hilton role in Arians' scheme. Floyd's snaps are in for a leap with Early Doucet gone. Arians loves to go three wide.
Mendenhall and Williams ooze talent, but in each case it's yet to be fulfilled. The good news is both running backs are still young, with Mendenhall going on 26 and Williams having just turned 24. If the Cardinals hit on one of those two players, they'll be golden at running back. While Mendenhall is the favorite to start Week 1, Williams should not be counted out. When healthy, Williams is a highly physical inside runner with explosive, space-creating lateral moves and short-area burst. When the 2013 season starts, Williams will be 25 months removed from his ruptured right patellar tendon. Mendenhall will be 20 months removed from his January 1 of 2011 ACL tear.
2013 Breakout Candidate: Housler. A 2011 third-rounder out of Florida Atlantic, Housler ran the fastest forty time (4.55) among tight ends at his Combine. He also has vine-like 34 1/2-inch arms and a 37-inch vertical, creating a massive catch radius. While Arians' scheme has never been overly tight end-friendly -- Heath Miller and Dwayne Allen's numbers were pedestrian in Pittsburgh and Indy -- it's worth noting that Palmer peppered Brandon Myers for team highs in targets (101) and catches (79) in Oakland last year. They were among the most efficient quarterback-tight end tandems in football, and Housler has considerably more talent than Myers.
25. San Diego Chargers
QB: Philip Rivers > Charlie Whitehurst
RB: Ryan Mathews > Danny Woodhead > Ronnie Brown > Edwin Baker
WR: Danario Alexander > Malcom Floyd > Vincent Brown > Robert Meachem
TE: Antonio Gates > John Phillips > Ladarius Green > Dallas Walker
Skill Player Overview: A leaky line and receiver disappointments deserve partial blame, but Rivers' physical fade has been noticeable and dramatic over the past two seasons. I did a tape study of Rivers in the 2012 offseason and was very discouraged by his floating short to intermediate throws and dying deep balls. Rivers' arm strength did not improve in 2012, and his pocket composure got worse. At this stage of his career, Rivers is an immobile, weak-armed liability. He's off the radar among top-15 NFL quarterbacks, and he might not even be top 20.
The rest of the skill group has some talent, but question marks abound. Mathews is the NFL's most injury-prone back outside of Oakland. He's also seemingly mentally incapable of playing on passing downs. Alexander finished strong in 2012 and is a big body with some vertical tools, but he's undergone five left knee surgeries and never played a full NFL season. Floyd is a low-end No. 2 wide receiver at best. Meachem was a colossal free-agent bust. A sure-handed ball catcher with great route-running ability, Brown has the skill set of an ideal Z receiver. Unfortunately, he's been all potential and no production to this point in his career. Gates turns 33 in July. He needs to learn to rely more on timing and box-out moves than speed at this stage. Gates also spent too much time on the line blocking last season, attempting to compensate for a brutal offensive line.
2013 Breakout Candidate: Brown. The 82nd pick in the 2011 draft, Brown has missed 18-of-32 games through two seasons while battling a quad strain and fractured left ankle that cost him all of 2012. Coming out of San Diego State, Brown drew comparisons to Derrick Mason for his reliable playing style. He's also been talked up by new head coach Mike McCoy, which is a promising sign. Brown should have every opportunity to unseat Floyd for the No. 2 wideout job.
26. Pittsburgh Steelers
QB: Ben Roethlisberger > Bruce Gradkowski > John Parker Wilson
RB: Jonathan Dwyer > Isaac Redman > Baron Batch
WR: Antonio Brown > Emmanuel Sanders > Jerricho Cotchery > Plaxico Burress
TE: Heath Miller > Matt Spaeth > David Johnson > David Paulson
Skill Player Overview: It's easy to forget Roethlisberger was on pace for statistical career highs across the board before severe rib and shoulder injuries torpedoed his 2012 season at the halfway point. Now entering his second year on the job, Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley faces the tall task of replacing premier playmakers Mike Wallace and Miller. (Miller tore his right ACL, MCL, and PCL in Week 16 last season and is a candidate to open the year on PUP.) Big Ben, Brown, and to a lesser extent Sanders are the Pittsburgh skill-position corps' only established positives. Haley needs a starting running back and likely a starting tight end, too.
While Dwyer had some good moments early in 2012, Steelers management has determined he isn't a viable feature back. He struggles in the passing game, and lacks quick feet and explosive burst. Redman is a strong blitz protector, but plods in the run game and offers little to no big-play ability. GM Kevin Colbert must find at least two offensive weapons in the draft, and arguably three.
2013 Breakout Candidate: Sanders. The Patriots made an aggressive run at Sanders in restricted free agency, indicating he is well regarded around the league. While New England has been ineffective in its evaluation of college receivers, Bill Belichick's club has hit homeruns on veteran acquisitions from Wes Welker to Randy Moss. They wouldn't have pursued Sanders if they didn't think he could ball. Sanders ran 4.41 coming out of SMU and will replace Wallace at X receiver. Haley's offense is very receiver-friendly, setting up Sanders for a potential career year.