Evan Silva

Offseason Low Down

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Silva's Pre-Camp Team Rankings

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Updated since the NFL draft, these are my second annual Pre-Camp Roster Rankings. The process in devising these rankings is imperfect, and inarguably subjective. Inevitably, certain teams will perform better than I anticipate during the forthcoming season. Others will fare 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 turnover since last season ended, and the idea is to get a feel for where every team stands entering training camp. 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: Justin Britt*

Offensive Overview: The Seahawks don't return football's premier roster simply because they're the defending champs. They stand atop the mountain because GM John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll have mined mid- and late-round talent at a prolific rate while attacking free agency and trades with savvy aggressiveness. The Seahawks' biggest offseason addition is the healthy return of Harvin, an upgrade in both the pass and run games with dynamic special teams value. He missed all but one 2013 regular season game, but just turned 26 and is one of the NFL's most dangerous players with the ball in his hands. Willson and jump-ball specialist/reserve wideout Jermaine Kearse are 24, Wilson is 25, and Baldwin and Harvin are entering their age-26 seasons. Lynch is 28, but Schneider has stockpiled 23-year-old lead back of the future Christine Michael and 24-year-old third-down back Robert Turbin behind him. The skill-position player talent here is strong, and backed up by impressive depth. The offensive line is only mediocre, but more than functional under the masterful tutelage of OL coach Tom Cable. This is a grade B+ offense.

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

Defensive Overview: Seattle has lost LE Red Bryant, CB Brandon Browner, DT Clinton McDonald, and slot CB Walter Thurmond III from last year's No. 1-ranked defense. They'll turn to run-plugger McDaniel, 2013 late-season star Maxwell, ex-Viking Kevin Williams, and promising third-year corner Jeremy Lane to fill those voids. This defense is built on its secondary, where 25-year-old Thomas and 26-year-old Chancellor are All-Pro types. Both 26, Maxwell and Sherman stand 6'0/202 and 6'3/195, respectively. Built similarly to the NFL's best receivers, they are proven route disruptors with shutdown ability. The Seahawks have speed and depth at linebacker. Versatile pass rushers Avril and Bennett combined for 16.5 sacks and six forced fumbles last season, and are both on the right side of 30. Depth comes in the form of 23-year-old outside rusher Benson Mayowa -- a 2013 preseason star – sophomore DLs Jordan Hill and Jesse Williams, Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith, and promising press corner prospect Tharold Simon. This is an A+ defense.

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: The NFL's best offense returns eight starters, losing Eric Decker, Knowshon Moreno, and LG Zane Beadles. Replacing Decker will be difficult, but Ball is a more talented runner than Moreno, and a healthy Clady allows Franklin to man his natural position of guard with 2013 LT Clark taking over at right tackle. Even post-Decker, this is a juggernaut offense led by the NFL's top quarterback, a true Type A No. 1 wideout in Demaryius, a top-three receiving tight end in Orange Julius, and a more talented line than Denver fielded last year, when Pro Bowl LT Clady only played in two games. Statistical regression is likely in the passing game, but there’s room for the run game to become quite a bit stronger. Moreno was a replacement-level ball carrier and spread-type back, whereas Ball profiles as a volume workhorse and out-performed Moreno in yards per carry (4.66 to 4.31) last season. While passing touchdowns will likely dip, this offense has the potential to be more multi-dimensional, and less dependent upon its 38 1/2-year-old quarterback. As Manning is now an annual threat to retire, it's a transition the Broncos would likely embrace.

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

Defensive Overview: Supporting the notion that the Broncos want to become a more ball-control-oriented and ultimately complete team is GM John Elway's defense-focused offseason in which he landed Ware, Talib, and Ward with lucrative contracts before using his first-round pick on high-ceiling cover man Roby. The defensive front seven rivals Seattle's on paper with Miller and Wolfe healthy, and Malik Jackson, Quanterus Smith, Kevin Vickerson, and Mitch Unrein also involved in what could be the NFL's deepest up-front rotation. The Broncos' secondary has been revamped, as Elway secured major talent upgrades at both corner and safety. In terms of roster rankings, I believe the Seahawks' is the clear-cut No. 1. Elway's offseason bumped his above the 49ers'.

3. San Francisco 49ers

QB: Colin Kaepernick
RB: Frank Gore
WR: Michael Crabtree
WR: Anquan Boldin
WR: Stevie Johnson
TE: Vernon Davis
LT: Joe Staley
LG: Mike Iupati
C: Daniel Kilgore
RG: Alex Boone
RT: Anthony Davis

Offensive Overview: Fullback Bruce Miller ranked No. 3 on the Niners in 2013 targets, which tells you all you need to know about Kaepernick's to-date lack of weapons. Crabtree returns healthy for his age-27 contract year, and Johnson gives Kap a quick-footed, plus-sized (6'2/210) slot option who gets open early in routes. Kaepernick is criticized for making only one or two reads before running, which makes sense when you consider his third read has been a fullback or Jon Baldwin. The Niners remain deep and strong on the line, losing only 35-year-old C Jonathan Goodwin, and replacing him with 26-year-old Kilgore. I suspect Jim Harbaugh will primarily use three-wide, one-tight end ("11" personnel) packages, cutting down on San Francisco's two-tight end sets as the offense is opened up slightly. In just his second full season as an NFL starter, a step forward from Kap is likely. Expect the run game to remain the 49ers' foundation. They have second-round pick Carlos Hyde, nifty pace-change Kendall Hunter, and wild card Marcus Lattimore behind 31-year-old Gore.

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

Defensive Overview: While this may no longer be the top-five unit it's consistently been under DC Vic Fangio, it should hover around the top ten and remains a roster strength. Concerns are ILB Navorro Bowman's (ACL/MCL) absence until midseason, and OLB Aldon Smith's inevitable suspension. The Niners are also shaky at corner. Up front, Smith is going on age 35 and coming off an undisclosed surgery. Brooks and sub-rusher Corey Lemonier still make for a solid outside-edge grouping, while Dorsey and McDonald are stout in the front. Brock and Bethea are capable starters. 22-year-old Reid could be a future star. I think this will continue to be an imposing, tough defense. I do not believe it will be quite as stout as it was the past three seasons.

4. New Orleans Saints

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

Offensive Overview: Key offseason losses include Darren Sproles, Lance Moore, and C Brian De La Puente. Otherwise, nine starters return from the NFL's No. 4 offense, which added No. 20 overall pick Cooks and will look to Khiry Robinson for a sophomore jump at running back. Graham, Colston, and Cooks project as high-volume receivers underneath and over the middle of the field, with impressive sophomore Stills as New Orleans' designated lid lifter. Even at age 35, Brees remains a top-three NFL quarterback and pre-snap controller of games at the line of scrimmage. Depth is a concern throughout the Saints' offense, but the first string rivals the likes of Denver, Green Bay, Chicago, and Philly. Since Sean Payton took over as head coach in 2006, New Orleans has ranked first, fourth, first, first, sixth, first, second, and fourth in the league in total offense. They have finished fifth, 12th, first, first, 11th, second, third, and tenth in points scored.

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

Defensive Overview: New Orleans' offensive legacy is well established, but it was Rob Ryan's defense that made the biggest 2013 surge. 24-year-old Hicks, 25-year-old Jordan, 26-year-old Galette, and 28-year-old Lewis all enjoyed breakout years as the Saints finished No. 4 in total defense and points allowed. Vaccaro is a future All Pro, and blockbuster signing Byrd already is one. Sub-rusher Victor Butler offers disruptive ability off the bench. Shoring up the run defense has to be a priority, with 360-pound sophomore DT John Jenkins at the forefront of the cause. Despite last year's rankings, I still don't see this as a top-five defense after it finished 19th versus the run. I do think it's on its way. New Orleans has become one of the NFL's few complete teams.

5. 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: Staying healthy and out of Bill Belichick's doghouse have been the two biggest obstacles for this talented group. New England's offense boasts two highly efficient role-player backs in Vereen and Stevan Ridley, two versatile chain-moving wideouts in Edelman and Amendola, a possible Type A No. 1 in 23-year-old Dobson, the best all-around tight end in the game when healthy in Gronkowski, and a top-five offensive line. Not including Aaron Hernandez, Gronkowski, Dobson, Amendola, Vollmer, and Vereen combined to miss 33 games last season, while Ridley was repeatedly benched for fumbling. New England still ranked No. 7 in the league in total offense and No. 3 in points scored. This isn't a league-best offense anymore, but it's still up there, and has potential to re-reach those heights with better injury and ball-security luck.

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

Defensive Overview: Like the offense, the Patriots' 2013 defense was injury ravaged. The talent was above average before Revis' addition, however, and could take a leap with the Deion-like mercenary now shutting down one side of the field. Revis makes teammates better and gives his defensive coordinator more schematic freedom. Around him is a quality supporting cast. Jones is coming off an 11.5-sack age-23 season. Wilfork and Mayo return after combining to miss 24 games last year. Easley is an instant impact three-technique tackle if his knees hold up, while McCourty has developed into a star. Versatile sophomore WLB Collins offers difference-making three-down tools and athleticism. Brandon Browner’s suspension will end in Week 5, giving the Pats a physical 6'4/221-pound press corner opposite Revis. Ninkovich has long been underrated. Hightower and Harmon are the lone major question marks for an improved, top-dozen defense.

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: Rodgers, Cobb, and Bulaga combined to miss 33 games last year, and the Packers still finished No. 3 in total offense and No. 8 in points scored. Green Bay has a legitimate chance at a juggernaut offense with the simple assistance of some good-fortune injury regression. 30-year-old Rodgers is primed for a monster year behind a finally-settled and healthy offensive line, while Nelson and Cobb return as elite performers in their respective roles. Boykin will be pushed by second-round rookie Davante Adams, a premium prospect. The Packers' passing game can be lethal, and coach Mike McCarthy isn't afraid to ride hammerback bellcow Lacy for long stretches. A truly complete offense, this is a place to invest in 2014 fantasy leagues.

RE: Datone Jones
LE: Mike Daniels
NT: B.J. Raji
ILB: A.J. Hawk
ILB: Brad Jones
OLB: Clay Matthews
OLB: Julius Peppers*
LCB: Tramon Williams
RCB: Sam Shields
FS: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix*
SS: Morgan Burnett

Defensive Overview: GM Ted Thompson has been far better at fortifying his offense than defense via the draft, although this has become an annually underachieving group under DC Dom Capers. Over the past three years, Green Bay has finished 32nd, 11th, and 25th in total defense, and 19th, 11th, and 25th in points allowed. The primary reason for 2014 optimism is the healthy return of Matthews and slot cornerback Casey Hayward, both young, high-impact performers at premium positions. They combined to miss 18 games last season. The Packers should be deep and effective in the secondary, but are counting on major up-front contributions from disappointing 2013 first-round pick Datone Jones and Peppers at age 34. As good as Green Bay's offense projects to be, Capers' unit should be able to take a lot of chances. I like the Packers as a sleeper fantasy defense for that reason. I don't think they'll be particularly stingy against the run, and will struggle at times against the pass. They'll do their part if they create sacks and turnovers.

7. Philadelphia Eagles

QB: Nick Foles
RB: LeSean McCoy
WR: Jeremy Maclin
WR: Riley Cooper
WR: Jordan Matthews*
TE: Zach Ertz
LT: Jason Peters
LG: Evan Mathis
C: Jason Kelce
RG: Todd Herremans
RT: Allen Barbre

Offensive Overview: RT Lane Johnson's four-game suspension throws a wrench into this offensive line, although Barbre is a trusty reserve and by Week 5 the league's best front five will be re-stabilized. Offensive wizard Chip Kelly will replace DeSean Jackson's 82 catches with a committee approach, utilizing second-round pick Matthews at slot receiver, Darren Sproles in the passing game, and Maclin along the perimeter. Ertz can also expect a larger role after playing just 41% of Philadelphia's 2013 snaps while Brent Celek handled 77%. Kelly's offense is quarterback friendly in that it manufactures one-on-one chances for its playmakers, and 25-year-old Foles looks to be a rising star in the scheme. He was arguably the NFL's most aggressive passer last season, leading the league in both yards per attempt (9.1) and yards per completion (14.2). This offense has great young skill players, a top-notch offensive line, and is coached by Kelly. There's everything to like.

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: The Eagles will bring first-round pick Marcus Smith off the bench at outside linebacker, likely in all sub-packages after Barwin and now 31-year-old Cole managed 13 sacks between them last year. Although this unit has added some talent, it remains the weakness of GM Howie Roseman's roster as a middling group vulnerable in both the front and back ends. The shortcomings force Philly's offense to respond, which helps in fantasy football. But it doesn't help Super Bowl probability. I don't think Philadelphia's defense is terrible, but it is far from a shutdown force. One plus is being overseen by creative play designer Billy Davis, who got the maximum out of this defense last year by successfully scheming to create unblocked pressure. The defense as a whole improved as the season went on, which earns an additional nod to Davis.

8. 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: Russell Bodine*
RG: Kevin Zeitler
RT: Andre Smith

Offensive Overview: Cincy's offense lost LT Anthony Collins and WR Andrew Hawkins, but otherwise returns intact after ranking No. 10 in total yards and No. 6 in points scored. New OC Hue Jackson would certainly prefer a bigger-armed passer, but the nucleus in place fits Jackson's ball-control mindset intended to curb turnovers after Dalton committed 23 of them, including the fifth most interceptions in football. Expect expanded roles for Jones and Eifert at Mohamed Sanu and Gresham's expense. Jackson will emphasize a power run game and two-back approach, with Bernard as the primary playmaker and passing-game back, and rookie Jeremy Hill as the early-down and goal-line pounder. The offensive line is solid and the skill positions have consistently been strong enough to buoy Dalton in spite of his own talent deficiencies. Green is the blue chipper, entering his age-26 campaign with improved production each year he's been in the league. This is a top-dozen offense that will play more conservatively in 2014, but could tactically be more effective.

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

Defensive Overview: The Bengals' biggest offseason loss came on this side of the ball as RE Michael Johnson chased a $44 million contract to Tampa. Although Cincinnati was smart to not overpay, replacing Johnson presents a quandary they'll ostensibly fill by kicking Dunlap from his natural left-end position to the right side, and employing a committee approach on the other end involving Gilberry, Margus Hunt, and Robert Geathers. The secondary is more shaky with Hall attempting to return from his second career Achilles' tear, and rookie Dennard penned in as a starter. Defensive lynchpin Atkins tore his ACL last Halloween and is questionable for Opening Day. Combine these concerns with the loss of defensive overseer Mike Zimmer, and the Bengals may be poised for a step back defensively. I dropped them a spot in my rankings after the draft.

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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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