Evan Silva

Offseason Low Down

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Pre-Draft NFL Roster Rankings

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

LE: Cam Thomas*
RE: Cameron Heyward
NT: Steve McLendon
ILB: Lawrence Timmons
ILB: Vince Williams
OLB: Jason Worilds
OLB: Jarvis Jones
LCB: Cortez Allen
RCB: Ike Taylor
FS: Mike Mitchell*
SS: Troy Polamalu

Defensive Overview: Pittsburgh's 2013 defensive meltdown was its team undoing, as Dick LeBeau's unit finished 21st against the run and 27th in sacks. Parting with ILB Larry Foote, RE Brett Keisel, OLB LaMarr Woodley, and FS Ryan Clark, the Steelers have made a concerted effort to get younger. 34-year-old Taylor took a whopping $4.25 million pay cut to keep his roster spot, but is likely to lose his starting job to a first-round pick. The Steelers need a new starting outside corner and are dangerously thin on the line. I'd expect this defense to be better than last year, but the talent in place is no better than average, and there are lasting run-defense concerns.

17. Carolina Panthers

QB: Cam Newton
RB: DeAngelo Williams
FB: Mike Tolbert
WR: Jerricho Cotchery*
WR: Tiquan Underwood*
TE: Greg Olsen
LT: Byron Bell
LG: Amini Silatolu
C: Ryan Kalil
RG: Garry Williams
RT: Nate Chandler

Offensive Overview: The Panthers have Newton, Olsen, Ryan Kalil, and then not a whole lot else on offense. OC Mike Shula orchestrates a run-based attack, and top tailback Williams is 31 with an annually declining yards-per-carry average. The wideout corps is the weakest in football. The line isn't far off, with only center settled entering May's draft. Coach Ron Rivera, then-rookie GM Dave Gettleman, and the Panthers' players all deserve credit for last season's 2013 finish, but will have to work some serious magic to come anywhere near a repeat with a decaying, startlingly talent-deficient offensive cast. Gettleman has only three draft picks in the top 125. He must emerge with at least two starters on offense -- ideally a left tackle and a playmaking wide receiver.

RE: Greg Hardy
LE: Charles Johnson
NT: Star Lotulelei
DT: Dwan Edwards
MLB: Luke Kuechly
WLB: A.J. Klein
SLB: Thomas Davis
RCB: Melvin White
LCB: Antoine Cason*
FS: Charles Godfrey
SS: Roman Harper*

Defensive Overview: The Panthers' roster strength is its dominant front seven, which keyed last year's league-high 60 sacks and No. 2 total defense. Only Seattle allowed fewer points. Carolina can go four-deep at both tackle and end. Sophomore leaps from Klein, White, and 2013 second-rounder Kawann Short would give the Panthers a chance to repeat as the NFC's second-best defense, though their offensive predicament makes any defensive step back worrisome in an NFC South sure to be better than last season. Regardless of how well Gettleman does in the draft, I think Carolina would do well to get back to 9-10 wins, pushing for a Wild Card spot. Realistically, they are a prime regression candidate that could return to mediocrity or worse.

18. Arizona Cardinals

QB: Carson Palmer
RB: Andre Ellington
WR: Larry Fitzgerald
WR: Michael Floyd
TE: Rob Housler
TE: John Carlson*
LT: Jared Veldheer*
LG: Jonathan Cooper
C: Lyle Sendlein
RG: Earl Watford
RT: Bobby Massie

Offensive Overview: The Cards surprised a lot of people by finishing 10-6 last year and overtaking the Rams for third place in the NFL's best division. I attribute the overachievement more to good coaching, and less to overwhelming talent. Palmer can still keep an offense moving and power the ball downfield when well protected, but is 34 years old and likely in his last season with Arizona. As much as we all love Ellington, he isn't an NFL feature back. Neither of the Cards' tight ends is a proficient blocker, which is the foremost requirement of tight ends in Bruce Arians' offense. Arizona's right-side offensive line starters combined to play 50 snaps in 2013. I like the Cardinals' receiver corps, and the addition of Veldheer combined with Cooper's healthy return gives the front five a significant lift. In terms of sheer talent, however, this is a sub-average group.

RE: Calais Campbell
LE: Darnell Dockett
NT: Dan Williams
ILB: Daryl Washington
ILB: Kevin Minter
OLB: John Abraham
OLB: Matt Shaughnessy
LCB: Patrick Peterson RCB: Antonio Cromartie*
FS: Tyrann Mathieu
SS: Rashad Johnson

Defensive Overview: Defense is the strength of Arizona’s roster. The Cards return 6-of-7 starters from a front seven that keyed Arizona’s No. 1 finish against the run and No. 6 ranking in sacks. Pairing Cromartie (6’2/208) with Peterson (6’0/219) gives them a Seattle-like look on the perimeter. There are question marks, though. Abraham turns 36 in May, and Arizona lacks an edge rusher to compensate if he misses time or breaks down physically. Washington pleaded guilty to aggravated assault in March and may face a lengthy suspension. Mathieu tore his left ACL and LCL in Week 14, and is questionable for Opening Day. Difference-making ILB Karlos Dansby is gone. Dockett is going on age 33. In all likelihood, this unit will take a 2014 step back, barring high-impact rookie additions. Just how far a step back may determine the Cardinals’ fate.

19. New York Giants

QB: Eli Manning
RB: Rashad Jennings*
WR: Victor Cruz
WR: Rueben Randle
WR: Jerrel Jernigan
TE: Adrien Robinson
LT: Will Beatty
LG: Geoff Schwartz*
C: J.D. Walton*
RG: Chris Snee
RT: Justin Pugh

Offensive Overview: The Giants were the NFL's busiest team in free agency, executing 26 signings or re-signings between March 12 and April 28. While they did not grossly overpay anyone, large-scale roster churning could be a sign GM Jerry Reese has begun feeling uneasy about his job. His recent drafts have certainly disappointed. New York's offense looks better than it finished last season, but the Giants still have big question marks at "X" receiver, tight end, and at least two positions on the line. New OC Ben McAdoo hails from Green Bay, where the Packers mostly played quarterback-centric offense with three-wide "11 personnel" as their base package. I think McAdoo would have a tough time playing that way with the Giants' current cast.

RE: Jason Pierre-Paul
LE: Damontre Moore
DT: Cullen Jenkins
NT: Johnathan Hankins
MLB: Jon Beason
WLB: Spencer Paysinger
SLB: Jameel McClain*
LCB: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie*
RCB: Prince Amukamara
FS: Stevie Brown
SS: Antrel Rolle

Defensive Overview: I hate to sound like I'm reducing an entire side of the ball to one player, but do believe a large percentage of New York's 2014 defensive outlook hinges on Pierre-Paul rediscovering past form. Wracked by shoulder and back injuries last season, and allegedly poor conditioning the year before, the Giants' defensive catalyst has managed two sacks over his last 18 games after posting 16.5 during the 2011 season alone. I like how the secondary has come together on paper, and am intrigued by the potential of young linemen Hankins and Moore, but ultimately all of those complementary players will be more effective with Pierre-Paul operating at his peak. For now, I'm taking a glass-half-full approach and would recommend buying low on JPP in Dynasty IDP leagues. Pierre-Paul avoided offseason surgery, and is still only 25 years old.

20. Miami Dolphins

QB: Ryan Tannehill
RB: Knowshon Moreno*
WR: Mike Wallace
WR: Brian Hartline
WR: Brandon Gibson
TE: Charles Clay
LT: Branden Albert*
LG: Shelley Smith*
C: Mike Pouncey
RG: Nate Garner
RT: Dallas Thomas

Offensive Overview: The fact that Miami's 2013 offense was functional at all is a huge credit to Tannehill considering its utter lack of pass protection, anemic run game, and vanilla-to-be-kind scheme. Last year's Dolphins were poorly coached and even more poorly constructed. OC Mike Sherman and GM Jeff Ireland both deservedly lost their jobs, and were replaced by ex-Eagles QBs coach Bill Lazor and former Bucs personnel director Dennis Hickey, respectively. Lazor tutored Nick Foles in Philly, and witnessed first-hand Chip Kelly's success with a run-foundation offense. Hickey bought the line a new left side in free agency, and needs at least one right-side starter in the draft. Tannehill is ascending entering just his third straight full season at quarterback after converting from college receiver. The rest of this offense is a work in progress.

RE: Olivier Vernon
LE: Cameron Wake
DT: Randy Starks
NT: Earl Mitchell*
MLB: Dannell Ellerbe
WLB: Philip Wheeler
SLB: Koa Misi
LCB: Brent Grimes
RCB: Cortland Finnegan*
FS: Louis Delmas*
SS: Reshad Jones

Defensive Overview: Ireland's 2013 linebacker swap backfired spectacularly, as Ellerbe and Wheeler both turned in miserable seasons while departures Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett each had excellent years for their new teams. Miami's defensive line remains strong and deep, with Jared Odrick and Dion Jordan headlining the reserves. The back seven is suspect beyond Grimes. Theoretically, the Fins return enough pass-rush talent to help camouflage weaknesses in the back end, and both of their safeties are generally sturdy in run support. A concern for Miami's secondary is Delmas and Jones' lack of ideal range, which may force playcaller Kevin Coyle to lean heavily on off coverage, giving enemy receivers cushion. Ultimately, I think this is a pretty average defense. Combine an unfinished offense, and you get the league's 20th-ranked roster.

21. Dallas Cowboys

QB: Tony Romo
RB: DeMarco Murray
WR: Dez Bryant
WR: Terrance Williams
TE: Jason Witten
TE: Gavin Escobar
LT: Tyron Smith
LG: Ronald Leary
C: Travis Frederick
RG: Mackenzy Bernadeau
RT: Doug Free

Offensive Overview: The Cowboys return at least four quality O-Line starters and one of the top skill-position corps in the league. They also have depth, with the ability to go three wide featuring Bryant, Williams, and Cole Beasley, or attack in “12 personnel” with either Escobar or James Hanna alongside Witten. Unfortunately, the Cowboys are built in an incredibly lopsided manner with what should be a shoo-in top-ten offense that will likely be forced to carry one of football’s weakest defenses. We’ll get to the latter in a minute. New OC Scott Linehan’s Lions offenses ranked sixth, third, first, first, and fifth in pass attempts over the last five seasons. Linehan embraces decidedly pass-first offense, and is very likely to continue to employ one as Dallas leans on its pass game in attempts to erase deficits created by the other side of the ball.

RE: Jeremy Mincey*
LE: George Selvie
DT: Henry Melton*
NT: Terrell McClain*
MLB: Sean Lee
WLB: Bruce Carter
SLB: DeVonte Holloman
LCB: Brandon Carr
RCB: Orlando Scandrick
FS: Jeff Heath
SS: Barry Church

Defensive Overview: We know Dallas’ defense was bad last year -- historically bad -- and don’t have to revisit that. The product on paper here isn’t much better. Salary cap constraints forced the Cowboys to cut top defender DeMarcus Ware, while Mincey (two years, $3 million), McClain (three years, $3 million), and Melton (one year, $3.5 million) were bargain-bin offseason pickups. That isn’t to suggest those players won’t make 2014 impacts -- Melton has the best shot -- but there’s a reason their free agency markets weren’t busier. The linebackers are suspect to be kind beyond injury-riddled Lee. The secondary got burnt to a crisp last season and returns fully intact. Dallas has three top-80 picks in May’s draft. I expect at least two to be used on defenders.

22. Atlanta Falcons

QB: Matt Ryan
RB: Steven Jackson
WR: Julio Jones
WR: Roddy White
WR: Harry Douglas
TE: Levine Toilolo
LT: Sam Baker
LG: Justin Blalock
C: Joe Hawley
RG: Jon Asamoah*
RT: Lamar Holmes

Offensive Overview: The Falcons are positioned similarly to Dallas in that they return quality skill-player talent -- and look good on paper from a fantasy football perspective -- but are far more deficient than the Cowboys at offensive line, tight end, and running back. Although Atlanta is rumored to be considering a trade up for Jadeveon Clowney, its roster composition suggests a trade down would be in GM Thomas Dimitroff’s best interest. The Falcons do not have one of the league’s bottom-ten rosters only because they have a franchise quarterback. Elsewhere, they compare similarly or worse to teams like the Vikings and Texans. The O-Line is littered with turnstiles, there isn’t a pass-catching tight end on the team, and the top tailback is a broken-down player going on age 31. Dimitroff has ten draft picks, but could use even more.

RE: Osi Umenyiora
LE: Tyson Jackson*
NT: Paul Soliai*
DT: Jonathan Babineaux
MLB: Paul Worrilow
WLB: Sean Weatherspoon
SLB: Kroy Biermann
RCB: Desmond Trufant
LCB: Robert Alford
FS: Dwight Lowery*
SS: William Moore

Defensive Overview: Dimitroff and personnel director Lionel Vital deserve major kudos for nailing 2013 draft picks Trufant and Alford, who both look like ten-year starters after promising rookie campaigns. The Falcons' alleged interest in moving up for Clowney does make sense from the standpoint that failing to supply young cornerbacks with pass-rush support is a potentially damaging undertaking. Umenyiora, entering his age-33 season, is currently Atlanta's best pass rusher. Jackson and Soliai were signed to fortify the run defense, while I found Lowery to be a savvy under-the-radar addition. He is only 28 and was a quality starter before last September's year-ending concussion in Jacksonville. Ultimately, however, this is a defense in need of vastly improved line play, at least one starting linebacker, and an immediate impact defensive back.

23. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

QB: Josh McCown*
RB: Doug Martin
WR: Vincent Jackson
WR: Louis Murphy*
TE: Brandon Myers*
TE: Tim Wright
LT: Anthony Collins*
LG: Carl Nicks
C: Evan Dietrich-Smith*
RG: Jamon Meredith
RT: Demar Dotson

Offensive Overview: The Bucs' offense is deficient to the extreme with a journeyman who'll turn 35 before the season at quarterback, a goose egg at No. 2 wideout, one of the worst tight end depth charts in football, and needs at one or both guard positions, depending on Nicks' health. New coach Lovie Smith demonstrated zero aptitude for offense in Chicago, while new OC Jeff Tedford has never coached in the NFL before. That's a glass-half-empty take to be sure, but I think there are real concerns. Smith promises to run a Ground 'N Pound, run-oriented attack featuring Martin with competent reserve backs Mike James and Bobby Rainey around to provide breathers. I think the Bucs will need creativity from Tedford and definitely better blockers to avoid a two-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust run game. Tampa also has only three draft picks in the top 140.

RE: Michael Johnson*
LE: Adrian Clayborn
DT: Gerald McCoy
NT: Akeem Spence
MLB: Mason Foster
WLB: Lavonte David
SLB: Jonathan Casillas
RCB: Alterraun Verner*
LCB: Johnthan Banks
FS: Dashon Goldson
SS: Mark Barron

Defensive Overview: Whereas I'm worried about Tampa Bay's offense, I'm excited about their defense, which could push Carolina to be the best in the division, and perhaps a top-five NFC group. The Bucs finally have a stable of pass rushers and defensive line depth, with "sub-rusher" DT Clinton McDonald likely to replace Spence on passing downs, and power end William Gholston as a run-stopping role player. The linebacker corps is headlined by David, a sideline-to-sideline striker who perfectly fits Lovie's Tampa 2. Verner is capable of excelling in both man and zone technique, and will be Smith's new Charles Tillman. There is a lot of talent on this side of the ball, and it will be well coached. Even with a limited pass game, the Bucs should be competitive week in and week out with a run-oriented offense complemented by a potentially superb defense.

24. St. Louis Rams

QB: Sam Bradford
RB: Zac Stacy
WR: Kenny Britt*
WR: Stedman Bailey
TE: Jared Cook
TE: Lance Kendricks
LT: Jake Long
LG: Brandon Washington
C: Scott Wells
RG: Rodger Saffold
RT: Joseph Barksdale

Offensive Overview: The Rams are commonly perceived as a team on the way up -- or at least they used to be -- but they've failed to make the playoffs in each of Jeff Fisher's first two years, and fell to fourth in their division last season, getting leapfrogged by Arizona. St. Louis' 2013 acquisitions of Cook and Tavon Austin flopped, while third-year GM Les Snead's drafts have left much to be desired despite a surplus of selections from the 2012 Robert Griffin III trade. Bradford is entering his fifth NFL season as a seemingly shell-shocked and ultimately mediocre quarterback from whom the franchise will have to move on in 2015 if he doesn't take a major 2014 step. Not helping Bradford's cause is a shaky pass-catching corps and sub-par line, though it could easily be argued that Bradford's limitations exacerbate those perceived flaws. The Rams' most bankable offensive asset is Zac Stacy, who averaged 3.89 yards per carry as a rookie.

RE: Robert Quinn
LE: Chris Long
DT: Michael Brockers
DT: Kendall Langford
MLB: James Laurinaitis
WLB: Alec Ogletree
SLB: Jo-Lonn Dunbar
LCB: Trumaine Johnson
RCB: Janoris Jenkins
FS: Rodney McLeod
SS: T.J. McDonald

Defensive Overview: Fisher and Snead have had a lot more success building up this side of the ball, although it's worth noting they "inherited" both Quinn and Long from former GM Billy Devaney's drafts, as well as Laurinaitis. Regardless of who picked whom, St. Louis returns every starter from a defense that finished No. 9 against the run and No. 3 in sacks. The Rams do have some relatively minor holes to fill -- free safety needs an upgrade, and they could use a better slot corner -- but all in all this defense is a strength. St. Louis would come in higher in these rankings if I felt confident Bradford was a franchise quarterback, and if the Rams had a better offensive line.

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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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