Evan Silva

Offseason Low Down

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Pre-Draft NFL Roster Rankings

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

25. Cleveland Browns

QB: Brian Hoyer
RB: Ben Tate*
WR: Josh Gordon
WR: Andrew Hawkins*
TE: Jordan Cameron
TE: Jim Dray*
LT: Joe Thomas
LG: Jason Pinkston
C: Alex Mack
RG: John Greco
RT: Mitchell Schwartz

Offensive Overview: The Browns aggressively upgraded the skill positions in free agency, poaching Hawkins on a four-year, $13.6 million offer sheet and giving Tate one of the offseason's better running back deals. This offense obviously isn't a finished product, needing a quarterback, legit every-down second wideout, and arguably one more lineman. They're the team best suited to take on Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel. New OC Kyle Shanahan worked with another dual-threat signal caller in Washington, Manziel has big hands to play in inclement weather, and in Gordon the Browns already have a Type-A wide receiver in place. (Gordon is actually a talent upgrade on Manziel's college go-to guy, Mike Evans.) The "ifs" are many in Cleveland -- and I admittedly felt similarly about them last offseason -- but I think this team has a chance to take a 2014 leap.

LE: Ahtyba Rubin
RE: Desmond Bryant
NT: Phil Taylor
ILB: Karlos Dansby*
ILB: Craig Robertson
OLB: Paul Kruger
OLB: Jabaal Sheard
LCB: Joe Haden
RCB: Buster Skrine
FS: Tashaun Gipson
SS: Donte Whitner*

Defensive Overview: The Browns are short at multiple key positions on offense. The same can only be said on defense for right corner, where returning starter Skrine would be best suited to a sub-package role. Rookie GM Ray Farmer has ten draft picks, including six in the top 106, and I fully expect him to use at least one at cornerback. Otherwise, this group looks ready to play with a strong starting lineup and impressive depth. Not even listed here are OLBs Barkevious Mingo and Quentin Groves, and useful DLs John Hughes, Billy Winn, and Ishmaa'ily Kitchen. Cleveland comes in low in these pre-draft rankings in large part because they lack a quality long-term starting quarterback. It's really that simple. They'll move way up when/if they establish one.

26. New York Jets

QB: Michael Vick*
RB: Chris Johnson*
WR: Eric Decker*
WR: David Nelson
WR: Jeremy Kerley
TE: Jeff Cumberland
LT: D'Brickashaw Ferguson
LG: Brian Winters
C: Nick Mangold
RG: Willie Colon
RT: Breno Giacomini*

Offensive Overview: There seem to be two diametrically opposed viewpoints on how the Jets should build their team. One posits New York is better off conceding its shortcomings at quarterback, attempting to play run-first football featuring Johnson and Chris Ivory, and leaning on Rex Ryan's defense to stay competitive on a weekly basis. Vick would likely be the Jets' starter in this scenario, with the No. 18 overall pick devoted to tight end, offensive line, or defense. The other viewpoint hopes the Jets draft a first-round wide receiver to supplement playcaller Marty Mornhinweg's "weapons," and lets Geno Smith continue to take sophomore lumps. My guess is the Jets would be a better 2014 team employing the former strategy, though one could argue the latter is a superior long-term approach. Both viewpoints seemingly agree the Jets currently have one of the league's most limited offenses. They simply differ on how to build it up.

LE: Sheldon Richardson
RE: Muhammad Wilkerson
NT: Damon Harrison
ILB: David Harris
ILB: Demario Davis
OLB: Quinton Coples
OLB: Calvin Pace
RCB: Dimitri Patterson*
LCB: Dee Milliner
FS: Antonio Allen
SS: Dawan Landry

Defensive Overview: The Jets' defense is obviously much closer to being a unit on which GM John Idzik can hang his hat, when compared to Mornhinweg's offense, but it's also far from a finished product. The Jets need an edge rusher to push or even supplant 33-year-old Pace, a press corner on the perimeter to allow Patterson to focus on slot coverage, and a rangy center fielder to patrol the deep half for Ryan. Allen and Landry are both natural strong safeties. The Jets have up-front personnel to eliminate opposing run games, but are vulnerable to the pass. With a flawed, limited offense and holes in the defensive back eight, this is a bottom-seven NFL roster.

27. Buffalo Bills

QB: E.J. Manuel
RB: C.J. Spiller
WR: Stevie Johnson
WR: Mike Williams*
WR: Robert Woods
TE: Scott Chandler
LT: Cordy Glenn
LG: Chris Williams*
C: Eric Wood
RG: Kraig Urbik
RT: Erik Pears

Offensive Overview: If there seems to be a recurring theme toward the back end of these rankings, it's because there is: These low-rated teams either don't have a quarterback, are stuck in quarterback purgatory, or their quarterback in place has yet to establish himself as a quality starter. The Bills fall somewhere between the second and third categories. Buffalo returns an average to above-average line, and more than enough talent at receiver and running back, yet this side of the ball will remain a huge question mark until Manuel demonstrates durability and comfort in control of Buffalo's offense. I'm not particularly optimistic after Manuel's rookie season, but at least he showed flashes. He deserves 16 more games to prove whether or not he's the solution.

LE: Mario Williams
RE: Jerry Hughes
NT: Kyle Williams
DT: Marcell Dareus
MLB: Brandon Spikes*
WLB: Kiko Alonso
SLB: Keith Rivers*
RCB: Stephon Gilmore
LCB: Leodis McKelvin
FS: Corey Graham*
SS: Aaron Williams

Defensive Overview: The Bills are in a similar position to the Browns with regard to their QB dilemma, but intriguing rest of the roster. Buffalo lost top safety Jairus Byrd in free agency, but still returns an impressive unit equipped with multiple impact edge rushers, two outstanding defensive tackles, plus starting linebackers, and a secondary long on talent. I expect a 2014 breakout from Gilmore. Graham arguably gives the Bills more options than Byrd with an ability to cover slot receivers in sub-packages and man safety on early downs. Spikes won't play in nickel and dime packages, but will thump against the run. Buffalo can afford to add another outside rusher and defensive back, but ultimately new DC Jim Schwartz inherits a well-constructed group.

28. Minnesota Vikings

QB: Matt Cassel
RB: Adrian Peterson
FB: Jerome Felton
WR: Greg Jennings
WR: Cordarrelle Patterson
TE: Kyle Rudolph
LT: Matt Kalil
LG: Charlie Johnson
C: John Sullivan
RG: Brandon Fusco
RT: Phil Loadholt

Offensive Overview: The Vikings are yet another team that's "a quarterback away," but offensively can keep the chains moving with a solid line and first-ballot Hall of Fame tailback. The run game, as a unit, can carry this offense until OC Norv Turner gets his next signal caller ready. The reason Minnesota is especially low in these rankings is I'm not sold on the defense, which we'll get to shortly. As for a potential 2014 breakout player, I'm looking less at the popular Patterson and more at Rudolph, who seems like he's been in the NFL for a long time but is still only 24. Due to inevitable pass-game limitations, I can envision Rudolph being the go-to receiver in Turner's historically tight end-friendly scheme. I like his chances of flirting with double-digit TDs.

LE: Brian Robison
RE: Everson Griffen
DT: Sharrif Floyd
NT: Linval Joseph*
MLB: Audie Cole
WLB: Gerald Hodges
SLB: Chad Greenway
LCB: Xavier Rhodes
RCB: Captain Munnerlyn*
FS: Harrison Smith
SS: Jamarca Sanford

Defensive Overview: Defensively, I think the best thing Minnesota has going for itself is the addition of Mike Zimmer, who has displayed a marvelous knack for maximizing player talent throughout his coaching career. As for whether he has personnel in place to fully execute his defense in year one, I'm skeptical. Floyd was a disappointment as a rookie, and the Vikings hinted at their concerns by pursuing Henry Melton in free agency. Griffen oozes ability, but is wholly unproven as a full-time player. The linebackers are weak, and so is strong safety. Munnerlyn is an impact slot defender, but you don't want him playing much outside. GM Rick Spielman has gotten an awfully long leash in Minnesota. He has five draft picks in the top 108, and needs them to hit.

29. Houston Texans

QB: Ryan Fitzpatrick*
RB: Arian Foster
WR: Andre Johnson
WR: DeAndre Hopkins
TE: Garrett Graham
TE: Ryan Griffin
LT: Duane Brown
LG: Ben Jones
C: Chris Myers
RG: Brandon Brooks
RT: Derek Newton

Offensive Overview: The Texans are a quarterback away from fielding an above-average to legitimately good NFL offense, though plenty of QB-less teams could make the same case. The top-two wideouts are excellent, the tight ends have potential -- particularly sophomore Griffin -- and Foster's overworked but still only 27-year-old body should be refreshed after sitting out the second half of last season. On the line, three plus starters return in Brown, Myers, and Brooks. Houston could use upgrades at left guard, right tackle, slot receiver, and obviously signal caller. As alluded to previously, teams that lack franchise quarterbacks get bumped down significantly in these rankings, regardless of how you might feel about the rest of the players on offense.

LE: J.J. Watt
RE: Jared Crick
NT: Jerrell Powe*
ILB: Brian Cushing
ILB: Jeff Tarpinian
OLB: Whitney Mercilus
OLB: Brooks Reed
LCB: Kareem Jackson
RCB: Johnathan Joseph
FS: Chris Clemons*
SS: D.J. Swearinger

Defensive Overview: Watt, Cushing, and Joseph are big-name players, giving this unit the appearance of being closer to a finished product than it is. Realistically, it has a long way to go to. New DC Romeo Crennel's defense won't function without a two-gap nose tackle, and he currently doesn't have one. Crennel's scheme has also historically relied on outside linebackers to generate pressure -- not down linemen like Watt -- and Mercilus has been a major disappointment through two seasons. Houston needs a franchise outside rusher, an interior anchor, a slot corner to play between Jackson and Joseph, and an inside linebacker to bookend Cushing. It's possible, if somewhat unlikely, that those latter two needs could be filled in-house by Brandon Harris and listed outside linebacker Reed, who’d likely kick inside if the Texans draft Jadeveon Clowney.

30. Jacksonville Jaguars

QB: Chad Henne
RB: Toby Gerhart*
FB: Will Ta'ufo'ou
WR: Cecil Shorts
WR: Ace Sanders
TE: Marcedes Lewis
LT: Luke Joeckel
LG: Zane Beadles*
C: Mike Brewster
RG: Will Rackley
RT: Austin Pasztor

Offensive Overview: I waffled between Jacksonville and Houston as the 29th-ranked roster, ultimately giving the Texans the nod because they have more high-end offensive talent. The Jaguars are closer to being a well-rounded team, and I expect them to have moderate 2014 success with a run-based offense as GM Dave Caldwell continues to build in the Seahawks' likeness. The Jags lack a franchise quarterback, need at least one new offensive line starter, and remain in limbo regarding Justin Blackmon's availability. Regardless of whether it's a rookie or Henne under center, I expect Jacksonville to be a high-volume rushing team that feeds Gerhart north of 250 carries. The Jags are at least a year away from fielding a formidable passing attack.

RE: Chris Clemons*
LE: Red Bryant*
DT: Sen'Derrick Marks
NT: Roy Miller
MLB: Paul Posluszny
WLB: Geno Hayes
SLB: Dekoda Watson*
RCB: Alan Ball
LCB: Dwayne Gratz
FS: Josh Evans
SS: Johnathan Cyprien

Defensive Overview: I like what the Jags have cooking on defense. Add Andre Branch, Jason Babin, Tyson Alualu, Ziggy Hood, and Abry Jones to the first-team line listed here, and Jacksonville boasts a deep rotation that won't ask any one individual to play too many snaps. It's another Seahawkian approach. And I think they'll draft Buffalo's Khalil Mack to fill the "Leo" pass-rush role. The linebackers are fairly weak, but the secondary offers a ton of promise with Gratz, Evans, and Cyprien all entering their second years. Ball quietly graded out as a top-20 corner in Pro Football Focus' 2013 ratings. This group is far from complete, but I think Jacksonville could field a sneaky top 12-15 defense in 2014. Again, I expect the Jaguars to be a team that leans on a voluminous running game, plays stingy defense, and competes every week.

31. Oakland Raiders

QB: Matt Schaub*
RB: Maurice Jones-Drew*
FB: Marcel Reece
WR: James Jones*
WR: Rod Streater
TE: Mychal Rivera
LT: Donald Penn*
LG: Khalif Barnes
C: Stefen Wisniewski
RG: Austin Howard*
RT: Menelik Watson

Offensive Overview: Oakland's weakness will continue to be its offense, where headline acquisition Schaub has a 13:19 TD-to-INT ratio with five pick-sixes over his last 16 games. "Top" tailbacks Jones-Drew and Darren McFadden combined to rush 348 times for 1,182 yards (3.40 YPC) last season. I didn't list Denarius Moore because he's fallen out of favor and will likely be traded during the draft. Jones is best suited to a No. 2 receiver role, and Streater to No. 3. I do think there is room for optimism on the line, where position coach Tony Sparano has a knack for coaching up players. At age 31, Penn should still have a season of above-average starts left in him. Howard has the potential to be a mauling right guard. Wisniewski is one of Oakland's few quality young starters. 2013 second-rounder Watson offers upside if he can stay off the shelf.

LE: Justin Tuck*
RE: LaMarr Woodley*
DT: Antonio Smith*
NT: Pat Sims
MLB: Nick Roach
WLB: Kevin Burnett
SLB: Sio Moore
LCB: Carlos Rogers*
RCB: Tarell Brown*
FS: Charles Woodson
SS: Tyvon Branch

Defensive Overview: I'd call the Raiders a sneaky bet to flirt with 8-8 if they didn't face a brutal schedule, consisting of 12 dates with teams that finished last year .500 or better. Although Oakland has little to no depth throughout its defense, first-teamers Woodley, Tuck, Smith, and Moore should be able to generate pass rush, and Branch's healthy return will give the back end a boost. I don't have 2013 first-rounder D.J. Hayden penciled in as a starter after his disappointing rookie season, but the Raiders are certainly hoping for a year-two leap. The linebacker corps is solid and should supply competitive run defense. Ultimately, I think whether this can be a quiet top-15 defense will come down to unpredictable injury luck, based on the Raiders' lack of depth.

32. Tennessee Titans

QB: Jake Locker
RB: Shonn Greene
WR: Kendall Wright
WR: Justin Hunter
WR: Nate Washington
TE: Delanie Walker
LT: Michael Roos
LG: Andy Levitre
C: Brian Schwenke
RG: Chance Warmack
RT: Michael Oher*

Offensive Overview: The Titans lack both a franchise quarterback and franchise tailback. They are changing defensive schemes with several questionable 3-4 fits. Their best player on offense is a 5-foot-10, 196-pound slot receiver who managed two touchdowns among 94 catches last year. GM Ruston Webster's roster is not completely devoid of talent, but it is most certainly among the league's bottom five, and in the basement for me when you consider a rookie tailback will likely be the centerpiece of new coach Ken Whisenhunt's offense. Why did Whiz choose the Titans over the Lions' job again? It's also worth noting Webster has only six draft picks, and just two in the top 110. I expect Tennessee to bring up the rear in the NFL's worst division this year.

RE: Jurrell Casey
LE: Ropati Pitoitua
NT: Al Woods*
ILB: Zach Brown
ILB: Wesley Woodyard*
OLB: Derrick Morgan
OLB: Akeem Ayers
LCB: Jason McCourty
RCB: Blidi Wreh-Wilson
FS: Michael Griffin
SS: Bernard Pollard

Defensive Overview: Defense is this roster's theoretical strength -- the Titans ranked a respectable 14th in yards allowed last year, and 16th in points against -- but they lost top corner Alterraun Verner in free agency without a replacement, and the defense currently lacks a two-gap nose tackle. It's a critical position in new DC Ray Horton's 3-4, and especially so for a team with undersized inside linebackers who will get engulfed by guards with no space eater to protect them. Casey and Morgan were great 4-3 linemen, but will be forced out of position under Horton. Converted Sam 'backer Ayers, 33-year-old Shaun Phillips, and Kamerion Wimbley, whose sack totals have dropped in three straight seasons, will be counted on to supply pass rush. The Titans will try to compete in 2014, but I think they will have to undergo a full-on rebuild by next offseason.

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

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