Evan Silva

Offseason Low Down

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Pre-Draft NFL Roster Rankings

Wednesday, April 30, 2014


These are my second annual Pre-Draft Roster Rankings; the link to last year's can be found here. The process in devising these rankings is imperfect, and inarguably subjective. Inevitably, certain teams will perform better than I anticipate during the upcoming season. Others will do worse.

Please keep in mind that the rankings are a projection for 2014, not a regurgitation of last year's results. I make plenty of references to 2013 in the Offensive and Defensive Overviews, but there has been a lot of player movement since last season ended, and the idea is to get a feel for where every team stands heading into May's draft. Quarterbacks and defensive line -- with a special nod to pass rush -- weigh heavily into the rankings because they can mask or compensate for flaws and deficiencies elsewhere on a team.

* = Offseason Addition.

1. Seattle Seahawks

QB: Russell Wilson
RB: Marshawn Lynch
WR: Percy Harvin
WR: Doug Baldwin
TE: Zach Miller
TE: Luke Willson
LT: Russell Okung
LG: James Carpenter
C: Max Unger
RG: J.R. Sweezy
RT: Michael Bowie

Offensive Overview: The Seahawks don't have the prettiest offense on paper, but play a distinct brand and effectively identify players who fit that philosophy. Lynch is the centerpiece of OC Darrell Bevell's unit, which has ranked first and second in rushing attempts in Wilson's two years as a starter, and 32nd and 31st in pass attempts. Depth is strong at the skill positions, with rugged third-down back Robert Turbin and mega-talent Christine Michael behind Lynch. Jump-ball specialists Jermaine Kearse and Sidney Rice back up Baldwin and Harvin. Michael and athletic freak Willson are 2014 breakout candidates. The Seahawks were quiet in free agency, but Harvin is essentially an addition after appearing in just one regular season game last year. Expect GM John Schneider to supplement the line in May's draft, and target a potential alpha-type receiver.

LE: Michael Bennett
RE: Cliff Avril
NT: Brandon Mebane
DT: Tony McDaniel
MLB: Bobby Wagner
WLB: K.J. Wright
SLB: Bruce Irvin
LCB: Richard Sherman
RCB: Byron Maxwell
FS: Earl Thomas
SS: Kam Chancellor

Defensive Overview: Defense is where Seattle butters its bread. The Seahawks are loaded up front, with 2013 third-round DT Jordan Hill, versatile DE/DT Greg Scruggs, "Monstar" Jesse Williams, and 2013 preseason star Benson Mayowa behind a standout first team. Super Bowl 48 MVP Malcolm Smith is the fourth linebacker. If Seattle has question marks on defense, they're at slot cornerback with Walter Thurmond III gone to the Giants, and "five-technique" end with Red Bryant off to Jacksonville after Schneider made him a cap casualty. The Seahawks have the best defense in football, but could afford to upgrade their depth at the second and third levels.

2. Denver Broncos

QB: Peyton Manning
RB: Montee Ball
WR: Demaryius Thomas
WR: Wes Welker
WR: Emmanuel Sanders*
TE: Julius Thomas
LT: Ryan Clady
LG: Orlando Franklin
C: Manuel Ramirez
RG: Louis Vasquez
RT: Chris Clark

Offensive Overview: Denver returns eight starters from an offense that led the NFL in per-game points (37.9), yards (457.3), and plays (72.3). LG Zane Beadles and tailback Knowshon Moreno are easy to replace, though No. 2 wideout Eric Decker's red-zone efficiency will be missed. From a fantasy perspective, it could force more scoring onto the Thomases' plate. As Manning will be 38 1/2 years old when the season starts, the Broncos plan to lean more on the run with Ball as a candidate to approach 300 carries. Sanders is an excellent crossing-route runner, a staple in OC Adam Gase's attack. The O-Line figures to be better than last year, when Clady missed all but two games with a Lisfranc fracture. Clark was stretched at times at left tackle, and should be more comfortable on the right side. Peyton is likely to experience natural regression off his 2013 stats, but this should remain the NFL's best offense for one more year.

LE: Derek Wolfe
RE: DeMarcus Ware*
DT: Sylvester Williams
NT: Terrance Knighton
MLB: Nate Irving
WLB: Danny Trevathan
SLB: Von Miller
LCB: Chris Harris
RCB: Aqib Talib*
FS: Rahim Moore
SS: T.J. Ward*

Defensive Overview: Jack Del Rio's defense will receive major talent injections at all three levels this season, with Miller due back healthy, fellow edge-bender Ware signed to book end him in sub-packages, and 2013 Pro Bowlers Talib and Ward added in the back end. Expect GM John Elway to use an early-round pick at middle linebacker, upgrading on Irving. In terms of depth and talent, the Broncos can rival Seattle for the NFL's most fearsome front seven. Beyond the starters listed here, Denver has beastly third-year pro Malik Jackson, trusty utilitymen Mitch Unrein and Kevin Vickerson, and sophomore sleeper Quanterus Smith, who "redshirted" his rookie season.

3. 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: Daniel Kilgore
RG: Alex Boone
RT: Anthony Davis

Offensive Overview: Similar to division-rival Seattle, San Francisco plays run-foundation offense with a dual-threat quarterback who offers big-play ability but is primarily tasked with avoiding turnovers. In Kaepernick's first full season as a starter, the 49ers ranked third in rushing attempts and last in pass attempts. That run-first approach won't change this year, even with potential transition in the backfield. Kendall Hunter and sophomore Marcus Lattimore will push 31-year-old Gore for carries. 4-of-5 starters return from arguably the league's sturdiest offensive line. The 49ers are big and physical with YAC ability at wideout, but lack a vertical stretcher capable of fully capitalizing on Kaepernick's cannon arm. GM Trent Baalke will likely target one in the draft.

RE: Justin Smith
LE: Ray McDonald
NT: Glenn Dorsey
ILB: Patrick Willis
ILB: Michael Wilhoite
OLB: Aldon Smith
OLB: Ahmad Brooks
LCB: Tramaine Brock
RCB: Chris Cook*
FS: Eric Reid
SS: Antoine Bethea*

Defensive Overview: It's fair to wonder if San Francisco's defense could take a fairly significant step back this season. Aldon Smith's off-field transgressions may result in a lengthy suspension, and "Cowboy" Justin Smith turns 35 in September. Not listed here due to ACL and MCL tears, ILB Navorro Bowman isn't due back before midseason. Baalke has 11 picks, and will have to attack cornerback in the draft. One could argue the 49ers need a new starter to play opposite Brock, as well as a nickel package slot defender. Chris Culliver can't be counted on following his March 28 hit-and-run arrest, while listed starter Cook is a chronic underachiever.

4. New England Patriots

QB: Tom Brady
RB: Shane Vereen
WR: Julian Edelman
WR: Danny Amendola
WR: Aaron Dobson
TE: Rob Gronkowski
LT: Nate Solder
LG: Logan Mankins
C: Ryan Wendell
RG: Dan Connolly
RT: Sebastian Vollmer

Offensive Overview: The Pats have injury issues to sort out at tight end and receiver, and the coaching staff understandably lost confidence in primary early-down back Stevan Ridley due to ball-security woes last season. But New England returns the top six members of one of the league's top offensive lines, including G/T Marcus Cannon, and a future first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterback. Despite an incredible amount of adversity, the 2013 Patriots finished No. 7 in total offense and No. 3 in points scored. This remains an elite NFL offense even as it experiences a transitional phase. Look for the Patriots to use an early-round pick on a "move" tight end, adding multiplicity to OC Josh McDaniels' unit by giving him flexibility to use diverse personnel packages.

RE: Chandler Jones
LE: Rob Ninkovich
NT: Vince Wilfork
DT: Tommy Kelly
MLB: Jerod Mayo
WLB: Jamie Collins
SLB: Dont'a Hightower
LCB: Darrelle Revis*
RCB: Brandon Browner*
FS: Devin McCourty
SS: Duron Harmon

Defensive Overview: The Patriots' secondary is as deep and talented as it's been in many years following the additions of Revis and Browner. Collins flashed three-down promise as a rookie down last season’s stretch. Mayo's return from a right pectoral tear that cost him all but six games in 2013 will give this impressive back seven another big boost. New England is shakier in the front four, where only Jones and Ninkovich return as bankable starters. Wilfork is entering his age-33 season and tore his Achilles' tendon late last September. Kelly is 33 and coming off a torn ACL. Young reserve DTs Joe Vellano and Chris Jones may benefit from having played more snaps than intended, but New England's defensive front badly needs an interior difference maker.

5. New Orleans Saints

QB: Drew Brees
RB: Pierre Thomas
FB: Erik Lorig*
WR: Marques Colston
WR: Kenny Stills
TE: Jimmy Graham
LT: Terron Armstead
LG: Ben Grubbs
C: Tim Lelito
RG: Jahri Evans
RT: Zach Strief

Offensive Overview: Sean Payton is laying the groundwork for a truly balanced offense, moving on from "satellite" back Darren Sproles and toward a traditional under-center run game featuring Khiry Robinson and Mark Ingram. Thomas will stay involved due to his versatility, but I like Robinson's chances of leading the 2014 Saints in carries. New Orleans' top three offseason additions were a fullback (Lorig) and two defensive players (Champ Bailey, Jairus Byrd), and I expect them to continue to supplement Payton's revised strategy in May's draft. A powerful early-round center would be a particularly telling addition. The Saints' passing game may lose volume, but returns an elite skill-position corps of Brees, Graham, Colston, and sophomore Stills, who combined efficiency with big-play ability as a rookie and is a candidate for a sizable year-two leap.

RE: Cameron Jordan
LE: Akiem Hicks
NT: Brodrick Bunkley
ILB: Curtis Lofton
ILB: David Hawthorne
OLB: Junior Galette
OLB: Victor Butler
LCB: Champ Bailey*
RCB: Keenan Lewis
FS: Jairus Byrd*
SS: Kenny Vaccaro

Defensive Overview: Rob Ryan's 2013 unit ranked No. 4 in both total defense and points allowed, and looks better on paper than it finished last season. Byrd and Vaccaro give the Saints arguably the league's premier safety tandem, while rising youngsters DE Glenn Foster, DT John Jenkins, and ILB Kevin Reddick will push for more front-seven snaps. The wild card "addition" is Butler, who possesses intriguing pass-rush ability and will be more than 12 months removed from last June's ACL tear when training camp begins. I'm not sure what Bailey has left at age 36, but I do know he had a much better 2012 season than people think, before an injury-ruined 2013. I expect New Orleans to use its first-round pick on defense, either at corner or outside linebacker.

6. Green Bay Packers

QB: Aaron Rodgers
RB: Eddie Lacy
WR: Jordy Nelson
WR: Randall Cobb
WR: Jarrett Boykin
TE: Andrew Quarless
LT: David Bakhtiari
LG: Josh Sitton
C: J.C. Tretter
RG: T.J. Lang
RT: Bryan Bulaga

Offensive Overview: Even with arguable deficiencies at tight end and the interior line, there are not many offenses in football with more talent than Green Bay's. There may be none. This is the strength of GM Ted Thompson's roster, bolstered by the returns of Rodgers, Cobb, and Bulaga, who combined to miss 33 games last season. The Packers should lose nothing replacing James Jones with Boykin at third receiver, while sophomore Bakhtiari figures to improve in his second year on Rodgers' blind side. Lacy is a battering ram in the backfield, capable of wearing down defenses and putting away games in the fourth quarter. Look for Thompson to explore early-round additions at tight end and center or guard. Say those positions were not upgraded; I still think the Packers have an assembly to push for the top offense in the league.

RE: Julius Peppers*
LE: Datone Jones
NT: B.J. Raji
ILB: A.J. Hawk
ILB: Brad Jones
OLB: Clay Matthews
OLB: Nick Perry
LCB: Tramon Williams
RCB: Sam Shields
FS: Morgan Burnett
SS: Micah Hyde

Defensive Overview: The Packers have been annual defensive underachievers under Dom Capers, from whom Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy refuse to move on. Over the past three years, Green Bay has finished 32nd, 11th, and 25th in total defense, and 19th, 11th, and 25th in points against. I don't think the Packers' defensive failings have necessarily been due to a lack of talent, though injuries have played a role. I am surprised 64-year-old Capers has gotten such a long leash. Green Bay has plenty of theoretical pass rushers and run stoppers, and one of the deepest cornerback depth charts in football, especially with 2012 star rookie Casey Hayward returning healthy. Although the Packers are commonly linked to safeties in mock drafts, they are quite high on sophomore Hyde, and by no means ready to give up on $26 million man Burnett.

7. Cincinnati Bengals

QB: Andy Dalton
RB: Giovani Bernard
WR: A.J. Green
WR: Marvin Jones
TE: Jermaine Gresham
TE: Tyler Eifert
LT: Andrew Whitworth
LG: Clint Boling
C: Mike Pollak
RG: Kevin Zeitler
RT: Andre Smith

Offensive Overview: The Bengals are widely considered one of football's most talented teams -- and they are -- but shortcomings at quarterback and positions where impact players left in free agency keep them behind New England, New Orleans, and Green Bay for me. Cincinnati's 2014 offense will be coordinated by Hue Jackson, a proven talent maximizer who believes in a run foundation complemented by vertical shot plays. In Jackson's last stop, he coaxed career-best performances out of Darren McFadden, Jason Campbell, Michael Bush, Denarius Moore, and Darrius Heyward-Bey, among others. Jackson's 2010-2011 Raiders offenses ranked fourth and seventh in the NFL in rushing attempts. Expect much less volume for Dalton and a potential breakout season for Bernard, assuming the Bengals don't use an early-round draft pick at running back.

RE: Carlos Dunlap
LE: Wallace Gilberry
NT: Domata Peko
DT: Geno Atkins
MLB: Rey Maualuga
WLB: Vontaze Burfict
SLB: Emmanuel Lamur
LCB: Terence Newman
RCB: Leon Hall
FS: Reggie Nelson
SS: George Iloka

Defensive Overview: The Bengals' three most notable free agent losses were LT Anthony Collins, RE Michael Johnson, and WR Andrew Hawkins. Johnson's replacement figures to be targeted in the draft, while cornerback is a glaring need as Newman enters his age-36 campaign, nickel back Pacman Jones goes on 31, and Hall attempts to return from his second Achilles' tear in three seasons. Cincinnati brings back some excellent pieces, but this defense has holes, and the departure of DC Mike Zimmer is sure to be felt. Zimmer was a master at getting the most out of players. The Bengals may need a homerun draft to avoid a fairly sizable regression on defense.

8. Philadelphia Eagles

QB: Nick Foles
RB: LeSean McCoy
WR: Jeremy Maclin
WR: Riley Cooper
TE: Brent Celek
TE: Zach Ertz
LT: Jason Peters
LG: Evan Mathis
C: Jason Kelce
RG: Todd Herremans
RT: Lane Johnson

Offensive Overview: Chip Kelly fielded the NFL's most efficient 2013 offense, leading the league in both yards per pass (8.7) and yards per rush (5.1). Only three teams scored more points. Philly's lone significant offseason loss was DeSean Jackson, whom the coaching staff seems to believe will be easily replaced. With Maclin back healthy and second-year breakout candidate Ertz ascending, the Eagles can continue to run a big-play passing attack with multiplicity, excelling out of various personnel groupings. The unsung heroes of Kelly's offense play up front. 5-of-5 starters return from an offensive line that Pro Football Focus graded as the league's best run-blocking group by a wide margin. The foundation of Kelly's offense will remain the McCoy-led run game.

RE: Fletcher Cox
LE: Cedric Thornton
NT: Bennie Logan
ILB: Mychal Kendricks
ILB: DeMeco Ryans
OLB: Trent Cole
OLB: Connor Barwin
LCB: Bradley Fletcher
RCB: Cary Williams
FS: Malcolm Jenkins*
SS: Nate Allen

Defensive Overview: Billy Davis deserves credit for coordinating a defense that stayed competitive throughout 2013 despite a below-average assembly of players, particularly excelling versus the run. The unit still needs upgrades at all three levels. Cole is no longer a franchise pass rusher going on age 32, while Barwin is a better cover guy and edge setter than threat to enemy quarterbacks. The secondary played well as a unit last year, but lacks a high-end starter. The Eagles could use a bulkier nose tackle to take snaps off undersized Logan's plate. I think this defense remains a work in progress, and I expect Philly's draft approach to confirm they agree.


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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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