Evan Silva

Offseason Low Down

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Post-Draft NFL Lineup Rankings

Monday, May 06, 2013


With free agency and the NFL draft behind us, starting lineups around the league are mostly set pending training camp position battles and a handful of third-wave veteran signings. Here is a glance at each team's projected first-string offense and defense, ranked in order of quality.

* = Offseason Addition.

1. Seattle Seahawks

QB: Russell Wilson
RB: Marshawn Lynch
WR: Percy Harvin*
WR: Sidney Rice
WR: Golden Tate
TE: Zach Miller
LT: Russell Okung
LG: James Carpenter
C: Max Unger
RG: J.R. Sweezy
RT: Breno Giacomini

Offensive Overview: The Seahawks return every starter from an offense that ranked third in the NFL in rushing and got better by the week in the passing game with then-rookie Wilson at the controls. Across the final 13 contests, Wilson went 212-of-330 (64.2 percent) passing for 2,875 yards (8.71 YPA), 24 touchdowns, and five interceptions. He added five rushing scores. Harvin is football's most dynamic inside-the-numbers receiver. In three-wide packages, Harvin will man the slot with Tate at X receiver and Rice at Z. Coached up by offensive line mastermind Tom Cable, the Seahawks' front five lacks flash but is a meat-and-potatoes group. The Seahawks also boast excellent offensive skill-player depth with Robert Turbin and rookie Christine Michael behind Lynch. Doug Baldwin would be a strong third receiver on many NFL teams. He's Seattle's No. 4.

RE: Cliff Avril*
LE: Red Bryant
DT: Brandon Mebane
DT: Michael Bennett*
MLB: Bobby Wagner
SLB: K.J. Wright
WLB: Malcolm Smith
LCB: Richard Sherman
RCB: Brandon Browner
FS: Earl Thomas
SS: Kam Chancellor

Defensive Overview: The 2012 Seahawks played top-four defense in yards allowed and surrendered the fewest points in the league. The only notable losses were free agents Leroy Hill and Alan Branch, and "Leo" end Chris Clemons due to a torn ACL. Branch is just a guy and no one has signed Hill, which says plenty. While Clemons could be a factor by midseason, explosive edge-rusher addition Avril may render him irrelevant by then. Avril, Bennett, and fifth-round steal Jesse Williams can more than plug the up-front holes. The Seahawks will again field a stingy run defense, and their pass rush looks better on paper than it ever has during Pete Carroll's tenure.

2. San Francisco 49ers

QB: Colin Kaepernick
RB: Frank Gore
FB: Bruce Miller
WR: Michael Crabtree
WR: Anquan Boldin*
TE: Vernon Davis
LT: Joe Staley
LG: Mike Iupati
C: Jonathan Goodwin
RG: Alex Boone
RT: Anthony Davis

Offensive Overview: Kaepernick enters his first full season as San Francisco's starter after ripping off 19 all-purpose touchdowns while completing 169-of-272 throws (62.1 percent) for 2,406 yards (8.84 YPA) and a 14:4 TD-to-INT ratio across ten 2012 starts. Cannon-armed with plus downfield accuracy and game-breaking run skills, Kaepernick's future looks starry bright. You could argue he's every bit the long-term prospect Robert Griffin III is, with healthier knees. Gore is aging, but the 49ers back him up with the best backfield depth in the NFL. Crabtree, Boldin, Davis, and second-round tight end Vance McDonald form a good-not-great pass-catching corps that could really use a vertical field stretcher. 2012 first-round pick A.J. Jenkins can be the answer if he shows up ready to work. All five starters return on arguably the league's best offensive line. San Francisco mauls opponents in the trenches. They are the most physical team in football.

RE: Justin Smith
LE: Ray McDonald
NT: Glenn Dorsey*
ILB: Patrick Willis
ILB: Navorro Bowman
OLB: Aldon Smith
OLB: Ahmad Brooks
LCB: Carlos Rogers
RCB: Tarell Brown
FS: Eric Reid*
SS: Donte Whitner

Defensive Overview: Just like on the offensive line, physicality reigns supreme on San Francisco's defense. It's why Reid was such a good fit. While he lacks man-coverage skills and isn't the most fluid mover, the 49ers aren't going to ask Reid to cover one-on-one. They will use him like Dashon Goldson, patrolling the center-field deep half and as a blow-up box defender. The 2012 49ers were stout against the run and they will remain so even after losing Isaac Sopoaga and Ricky Jean-Francois, who were both comically overpaid in free agency. Cornerback is one area in which this defense underwhelms, though Nnamdi Asomugha, Chris Culliver, and Perrish Cox will put heat on Brown and Rogers. The Niners are filthy rich with pass rush. Behind Aldon Smith and Brooks, coordinator Vic Fango can now trot out Parys Haralson, Tank Carradine, and Corey Lemonier.

3. Denver Broncos

QB: Peyton Manning
RB: Montee Ball*
WR: Demaryius Thomas
WR: Eric Decker
WR: Wes Welker*
TE: Joel Dreessen
LT: Ryan Clady
LG: Zane Beadles
C: J.D. Walton
RG: Louis Vasquez*
RT: Orlando Franklin

Offensive Overview: With the additions of Ball and Welker, the Broncos boast arguably the premier skill-position corps in the league. This unit won't have much trouble moving the ball. Denver also returns all five offensive line starters, although Chris Kuper is coming off a severe injury and may not make the 53-man roster. He's been replaced by big-ticket free agent Vasquez. Pass-catching tight end might be the Broncos' lone weakness, though Jacob Tamme is still around and promising Virgil Green is now entering his third NFL season. Dreessen is easily the best blocker and will play the most snaps. Under new coordinator Adam Gase, Denver will be even more of a hurry-up team, firing off offensive snaps and lighting up the weekly box scores.

LE: Derek Wolfe
RE: Robert Ayers
DT: Terrance Knighton*
DT: Sylvester Williams*
MLB: Nate Irving
WLB: Wesley Woodyard
SLB: Von Miller
LCB: Champ Bailey
RCB: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie*
FS: Rahim Moore
SS: Mike Adams

Defensive Overview: The Broncos ranked No. 2 in the NFL in total 2012 defense. Their lone high-impact departure was right end Elvis Dumervil, whose 11 sacks and six forced fumbles aren't easily replaced. VP of Player Personnel John Elway still attacked need positions with run-plugging 26-year-old nose tackle Knighton and first-rounder Williams to play three technique. In Denver's sub-packages, I'd expect to see Miller on one of the ends with Ayers or Shaun Phillips opposite him and Wolfe next to Williams, rushing from the interior. Lingering question marks are middle linebacker and free safety, where Moore is returning from a brutal playoff performance. There's still every reason to believe Denver can field a top 5-8 defense again, even if it slips a bit.

4. Green Bay Packers

QB: Aaron Rodgers
RB: Eddie Lacy*
WR: Jordy Nelson
WR: Randall Cobb
WR: James Jones
TE: Jermichael Finley
LT: Bryan Bulaga
LG: Josh Sitton
C: Evan Dietrich-Smith
RG: T.J. Lang
RT: Derek Sherrod

Offensive Overview: There was never any doubt Green Bay would field a high-octane 2013 passing offense, but their new emphasis on balance was a draft-weekend theme. Lacy was stolen late in the second round, before GM Ted Thompson traded up for Johnathan Franklin in the fourth. If you recall, the Packers insisted on a run-game commitment last season, even if they didn't have the horses to pull it off. Cedric Benson got hurt, Alex Green and James Starks could not cut it, and DuJuan Harris is internally viewed as a change-of-pace scatback. If Lacy and Franklin pan out as expected, Green Bay will be able to put away opponents in fourth quarters while sporting a Thunder & Lightning backfield element. It can add a new dimension to this unit. The up-front changes are designed to improve Rodgers' blindside protection and the Packers' weak-side rushing attack, both of which were major 2011-2012 problems with Marshall Newhouse at left tackle. Bulaga has replaced him, while Sitton and Lang have swapped guard positions. Right tackle will be wide open between Sherrod, David Bakhtiari, Newhouse, and Don Barclay.

RE: Datone Jones*
LE: B.J. Raji
NT: Ryan Pickett
ILB: Desmond Bishop
ILB: A.J. Hawk
OLB: Clay Matthews
OLB: Nick Perry
LCB: Casey Hayward
RCB: Tramon Williams
FS: M.D. Jennings
SS: Morgan Burnett

Defensive Overview: Draft-weekend trade rumors surrounding Bishop were surprising. Beyond All-Pro Matthews, Bishop is arguably the best player on Green Bay's defense when healthy, and his return should provide a major lift. The Packers would be better off moving on from Hawk if they're so keen on starting Brad Jones. Since their Super Bowl win three years ago, the Packers' defense has been a liability, and I'm not convinced talent is the culprit. It certainly shouldn't be with Perry and Bishop back healthy, Hayward having quietly emerged as a top-shelf NFL cornerback, and stud first-rounder Jones added to the defensive line. In all likelihood, 2013 will be coordinator Dom Capers' final season in Green Bay if he doesn't turn his defense around.

5. New England Patriots

QB: Tom Brady
RB: Stevan Ridley
WR: Danny Amendola*
WR: Aaron Dobson*
TE: Rob Gronkowski
TE: Aaron Hernandez
LT: Nate Solder
LG: Logan Mankins
C: Ryan Wendell
RG: Marcus Cannon
RT: Sebastian Vollmer

Offensive Overview: Virtually unstoppable offense is still carrying New England's roster ranking. Even if the wide receiver corps isn't upper echelon, the running game, tight end duo, and quarterback atone for deficiencies out wide. The Patriots' offensive line is the best in the business with pass-protection extraordinaire Vollmer returning and Cannon likely to unseat Dan Connolly at right guard. Assuming his health cooperates, Amendola may prove an upgrade on Wes Welker with superior hands, big-play ability, and diversity in his routes. Whereas Welker has dropped 9.4 percent of his targets since 2010, Amendola has dropped just 3.7 percent. X receiver will come down to a hard fought training camp battle. Sure-handed rookie Dobson, TCU speedster Josh Boyce, and free-agent pickup Donald Jones will all get extended looks. If none of them pans out, incumbent X Brandon Lloyd remains available in free agency and figures to stay there into July.

RE: Chandler Jones
LE: Rob Ninkovich
DT: Vince Wilfork
DT: Kyle Love
MLB: Brandon Spikes
WLB: Jerod Mayo
SLB: Dont'a Hightower
LCB: Aqib Talib
RCB: Alfonzo Dennard
FS: Devin McCourty
SS: Adrian Wilson*

Defensive Overview: The Pats traded out of the 29th pick and came away with some solid prospects, improving the bottom third of their roster and special teams. The most disappointing aspect of their draft was a failure to secure any surefire first-season contributors. Dobson has a chance on offense, but 'tweener outside rusher Jamie Collins looks like a longshot for immediate impact. The Patriots return 11 starters from last year's No. 25 defense, which isn't necessarily a good thing. Bill Belichick should think long and hard about ponying up for free agent John Abraham.

6. Baltimore Ravens

QB: Joe Flacco
RB: Ray Rice
WR: Torrey Smith
WR: Jacoby Jones
TE: Dennis Pitta

TE: Ed Dickson
LT: Bryant McKinnie
LG: Kelechi Osemele
C: Gino Gradkowski
RG: Marshal Yanda
RT: Michael Oher

Offensive Overview: Flacco's stats over Baltimore's final eight games: 138-of-231 passing (60 percent) for 1,919 yards (8.31 YPA), 18 touchdowns, and two picks. Spread across 16, that's a Brady-like 32:4 TD-to-INT ratio. It's no coincidence those numbers coincided with ex-playcaller Cam Cameron's firing. The Ravens are banking -- literally -- on $120.6-million man Flacco taking off in his first full season under new coordinator Jim Caldwell. Flacco is complemented by one of the league's premier 1-2 punch backfields in Rice-Bernard Pierce. Pitta will assume a larger pass-catching role with Anquan Boldin gone to San Francisco. With McKinnie back, Osemele drops down to left guard, where he has long-term All-Pro potential. The lone remaining concern is No. 2 receiver. The Ravens will audition Jones, Tandon Doss, Aaron Mellette, and Tommy Streeter, and if none of them is up to the task, GM Ozzie Newsome usually has something up his sleeve.

LE: Chris Canty*
RE: Arthur Jones
NT: Haloti Ngata
ILB: Jameel McClain
ILB: Arthur Brown*
OLB: Terrell Suggs
OLB: Elvis Dumervil*
LCB: Lardarius Webb
RCB: Jimmy Smith
FS: Michael Huff*
SS: Matt Elam*

Defensive Overview: The early-offseason departures of Cary Williams, Paul Kruger, Ed Reed, and Dannell Ellerbe were grossly overblown. Newsome has upgrades lined up on Kruger (Dumervil) and Williams (Webb), and the Huff-Elam safety combo can be every bit as effective as Reed-Bernard Pollard. Reed isn't the game-changing free safety he once was, and Elam gives coordinator Dean Pees more options than Pollard due to superior coverage skills, particularly in the slot. Ray Lewis' presence may be missed, but the same can't be said for his on-field performance. He retired at the right time. In Dumervil and Suggs, Baltimore will trot out its finest edge-rush tandem since Suggs was bookended by Adalius Thomas. Opposing offensive lines will struggle mightily to move Canty, Jones, and Ngata in the running game. In Webb, Baltimore gets its top cover man back. There's every reason to think this defense will be better than last year's 17th-ranked unit, probably by a lot.

7. Washington Redskins

QB: Robert Griffin III
RB: Alfred Morris
FB: Darrel Young
WR: Pierre Garcon
WR: Josh Morgan
TE: Fred Davis
LT: Trent Williams
LG: Kory Lichtensteiger
C: Will Montgomery
RG: Chris Chester
RT: Tyler Polumbus

Offensive Overview: Assuming Griffin's right knee is play-ready by Week 1 -- and this ranking assumes that -- Washington returns 11-of-11 starters from the NFL's No. 5 offense. The Skins were a bit offensively passive in the draft, adding only undersized situational tight end Jordan Reed and two rookie tailbacks who'll vie for roster spots. The biggest lifts on this side of the ball should come from Garcon and Davis, who both return from debilitating injuries. Garcon plays X receiver in the Shanahans' offense, manned by Andre Johnson under Kyle in Houston and Brandon Marshall, Rod Smith, and Javon Walker on Mike's Denver teams. It is the most critical position in the Shanny passing attack, and Garcon was highly productive when he played last season. Camp battles will take place at Z receiver between Morgan and 2012 disappointment Leonard Hankerson, right tackle between Polumbus and Tom Compton, and No. 2 running back.

RE: Stephen Bowen
LE: Jarvis Jenkins
NT: Barry Cofield
ILB: London Fletcher
ILB: Perry Riley
OLB: Brian Orakpo
OLB: Ryan Kerrigan
LCB: DeAngelo Hall
RCB: Josh Wilson
FS: Phillip Thomas*
SS: Brandon Meriweather

Defensive Overview: Washington played top-five run defense in 2012, but got shredded by the pass after losing edge-rushing linchpin Orakpo to his second left pectoral tear in as many seasons. Only the Saints and Bucs allowed more passing yards, and only the Eagles coughed up more TD passes. Orakpo's return provides a huge boost, giving Washington two legit double-digit sack threats, playing across from Kerrigan. While great pass rush can mask secondary flaws, the Skins still have one of the shakiest back fours in football. As a starting tandem, Hall and Wilson are below average. A rookie (Thomas or Bacarri Rambo) will likely end up starting at free safety, and Meriweather is coming off a torn ACL. Second-round pick David Amerson, who was burned relentlessly for vertical touchdown bombs in the ACC last season, is penciled in at nickel back.

8. Chicago Bears

QB: Jay Cutler
RB: Matt Forte
WR: Brandon Marshall
WR: Alshon Jeffery
WR: Earl Bennett
TE: Martellus Bennett*
LT: Jermon Bushrod*
LG: Kyle Long*
C: Roberto Garza
RG: Gabe Carimi
RT: J'Marcus Webb

Offensive Overview: Chicago is gearing up to play pass-first offense under rookie coach Marc Trestman, and approached the offseason accordingly. Although not an elite tackle, Bushrod finally gives the Bears credibility on Cutler's blindside, while 6-foot-6, 313-pound first-rounder Long is a dancing bear at left guard. The other three line positions should be up for grabs between the trio penciled in here, guard Matt Slauson, swingmen Eben Britton and James Brown, and tackle Jonathan Scott. The line remains suspect, but should still be the best of Cutler's Bears career. His weaponry certainly is. Marshall is an All-Pro in the thick of his prime. Bennett is arguably the most underrated all-around tight end in football and will be a difference maker both as a blocker and red-zone threat. 2012 second-round pick Jeffery is a wildcard with big upside if Trestman can instill in Cutler a willingness to work through his progressions. That'll be a big deal for the Bears.

RE: Julius Peppers
LE: Corey Wootton
DT: Henry Melton
DT: Stephen Paea
MLB: Jon Bostic*
WLB: Lance Briggs
SLB: D.J. Williams*
RCB: Charles Tillman
LCB: Tim Jennings
FS: Chris Conte
SS: Major Wright

Defensive Overview: Like Ray Lewis in Baltimore, Brian Urlacher's departure may hurt in the leadership department but will be addition by subtraction on the field. Playing on two balky knees, Urlacher was nothing short of a stiff in 2012, getting feasted on by opponents particularly in pass coverage. It was time to turn the page. The Bears will keep their Cover-2 base intact under new coordinator Mel Tucker and are armed with ample talent to equal last year's top-five finish on defense. They'll definitely be faster to the ball at the second level. In the nickel, Paea will leave the field in favor of a four-man front consisting of Peppers, up-and-comer Wootton, three-technique Melton, and 2012 first-round pick Shea McClellin. They'll be in the hunt to lead the NFL in sacks.


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Evan Silva is a senior football editor for Rotoworld.com. He can be found on Twitter .
Email :Evan Silva



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