Evan Silva

Offseason Low Down

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Silva's Pre-Camp Team Rankings

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

25. Cleveland Browns

QB: Brian Hoyer
RB: Ben Tate*
WR: Andrew Hawkins*
WR: Miles Austin*
TE: Jordan Cameron
TE: Jim Dray*
LT: Joe Thomas
LG: Joel Bitonio*
C: Alex Mack
RG: John Greco
RT: Mitchell Schwartz

Offensive Overview: The Browns' starting quarterback will be either Hoyer or Johnny Manziel, following a training camp competition. Cleveland's offensive personnel is well below optimal due to QB uncertainty and the NFL's weakest wideout corps, but I still think there is reason to believe the Browns will be able to move the ball this season. Tate and Terrance West form a talented backfield tandem in new OC Kyle Shanahan's run-based system, while four starters return from an offensive line that Pro Football Focus graded among its top five in pass protection last season. The Browns were 21st in run blocking, but added physical second-round pick Bitonio at left guard, allowing Greco's superior run blocking to shift to the right. Cameron is an emerging star going on age 26 and will be the focal point of Shanahan's West Coast-style passing attack. Although this offense has its share of depth chart holes and question marks, I think it has a chance to be a competitive unit on a weekly basis due to its run-game potential.

LE: Ahtyba Rubin
RE: Desmond Bryant
NT: Phil Taylor
ILB: Karlos Dansby*
ILB: Christian Kirksey*
OLB: Paul Kruger
OLB: Jabaal Sheard
LCB: Joe Haden
RCB: Justin Gilbert*
FS: Tashaun Gipson
SS: Donte Whitner*

Defensive Overview: New coach Mike Pettine served as the Bills' defensive boss in 2013, and helped improve Buffalo's rankings from 11th to 10th in yards allowed, 26th to 20th in points allowed, 10th against the pass to No. 4, and 19th in sacks to No. 2. I think we could see similar improvement from this year's Browns, whose defensive talent has been upgraded significantly in each of the last two offseasons. Cleveland has run stuffers on the front end, complemented by a borderline shutdown cover guy and top-ten pick on the corners. Dansby adds playmaking ability in the middle of the field, while 23-year-old sub-rusher Barkevious Mingo is primed for a sophomore leap. Kruger is a steady if overpaid edge setter, while contract-year OLB Sheard has smoothly transitioned from 4-3 end to 3-4 rush 'backer. Gipson and Whitner are quality all-around safeties. The Browns finished No. 17 in total defense last season. I think they'll finish 2014 in the top dozen.

26. New York Jets

QB: Geno Smith
RB: Chris Johnson*
WR: Eric Decker*
WR: Jeremy Kerley
TE: Jace Amaro*
TE: Jeff Cumberland
LT: D'Brickashaw Ferguson
LG: Brian Winters
C: Nick Mangold
RG: Willie Colon
RT: Breno Giacomini*

Offensive Overview: Second-year GM John Idzik made upgrading Smith's supporting cast his top offseason priority, adding big-play potential to New York's backfield, physical playmaking wideout Decker, and receiving tight end Amaro. Idzik seems to realize his future is tied to Geno's success, or lack thereof. Although the personnel on this side of the ball are better, it's still among the five weakest offenses in football. At least one guard job will be up for grabs in camp, while No. 2 wideout is an open competition between Stephen Hill, Kerley, and David Nelson. Decker was one of the NFL's most productive receivers playing with Peyton Manning. He's now with Geno Smith, and will face Darrelle Revis, Stephon Gilmore, and Brent Grimes twice per year. The Jets are heaping a lot of immediate responsibility on Amaro, a rookie who played in Texas Tech's wide-open spread. Nearing age 29, it's debatable whether Johnson will prove an upgrade on incumbent Chris Ivory. Giacomini is a downgrade from outgoing Austin Howard at right tackle.

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: Calvin Pryor*

Defensive Overview: Defense is the backbone of New York's AFC team, although Rex Ryan's side of the ball isn't without holes. The Jets have shaken up their secondary, where Allen will play out of position at free safety and Dawan Landry has been demoted down the depth chart. Patterson is a solid slot corner, but will frequently have to play outside with the Jets, who are also counting on major second-year improvement from Milliner following a disappointing rookie year. The Jets are excellent at generating interior pressure, but Coples has been an underachiever on the edge and Pace is going on age 34. After struggling in all areas last year, Davis needs to be better in his second full season as a starter. Harris has been a liability against the pass for years. The Jets usually play good defense under the direction of Ryan, but this is far from a complete group.

27. Buffalo Bills

QB: E.J. Manuel
RB: C.J. Spiller
WR: Sammy Watkins*
WR: Mike Williams*
WR: Robert Woods
TE: Scott Chandler
LT: Cordy Glenn
LG: Chris Williams*
C: Eric Wood
RG: Kraig Urbik
RT: Cyrus Kouandjio*

Offensive Overview: GM Doug Whaley has done an aggressive and ultimately admirable job of enlisting talent to play around Manuel. My ranking policy is to severely downgrade teams without franchise quarterbacks, however, and I have little or no faith E.J. will become one. That isn't to say he definitely won't, but I don't feel good about his chances and have ranked Buffalo correspondingly. In addition to a defense we'll touch on soon, keeping the Bills out of the league's basement is a promising young receiver corps and one of the NFL's top run-game units. Buffalo blends satisfactory or better line play with a deep, diverse tailback stable that also includes 23-year-old Bryce Brown, a size-speed specimen Whaley acquired via trade. All that said, the Bills could be much better than I think if Manuel takes a big step forward. I was concerned with his lack of pocket poise, consistency, and accuracy last season. I also wish Buffalo had more at tight end.

LE: Mario Williams
RE: Jerry Hughes
NT: Kyle Williams
DT: Marcell Dareus
MLB: Brandon Spikes*
WLB: Keith Rivers*
SLB: Nigel Bradham
RCB: Stephon Gilmore
LCB: Leodis McKelvin
FS: Aaron Williams
SS: Da'Norris Searcy

Defensive Overview: While Buffalo should remain solid on defense under first-year DC Jim Schwartz, losing FS Jairus Byrd (FA) and WLB Kiko Alonso (ACL), and potentially Dareus to a multi-game suspension could render it more ordinary than last year's No. 2 ranking in sacks suggests. The Bills do return bookend double-digit sack guys Mario Williams (13) and Hughes (10), and the Gilmore-McKelvin cornerback duo quietly has a chance to be among the best in the league. Run defense and playmaking ability are 2014 concerns without last year's leading tackler Alonso and ballhawk Byrd. Buffalo will attempt to replace the latter with Aaron Williams, thrusting box safety Searcy into the starting lineup. Depth is a concern at end, where converted linebacker Manny Lawson is the top reserve. Schwartz's Wide 9 scheme works best with multiple edge-rush options. I think the Bills' sack total will regress, and they'll continue to be vulnerable on the ground.

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: My low Vikings ranking has been questioned in some circles, though I'm actually higher on them than Vegas, which projects Minnesota to finish with the NFL's third lowest win total (6.0), better than only the Raiders (4.5) and Jaguars (4.5). Pro Football Focus' post-draft roster rankings placed Minnesota 29th. The Vikings' personnel chief since 2006, GM Rick Spielman seems to have nine lives. He threw his latest quarterback dart at Bridgewater with the 32nd pick in May's draft. Minnesota's best player is a 29-year-old running back, and the best wideout is Jennings, who's going on 31 while transitioning into a late-career possession receiver. Patterson and Rudolph ooze potential, though the former was a better kick returner than offensive weapon last season, and the latter fractured his left foot eight games in. The Vikings' line is solid and there is talent in the skill-position corps, but ultimately this is a bottom-ten offense on paper.

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

Defensive Overview: The Vikings' defensive depth chart underwhelms at first glance, but there is a reasonable chance they'll play above their talent level under new coach Mike Zimmer, a proven player maximizer. Minnesota has the makings of a presentable pass-rush unit with Robison and breakout candidate Griffen on the ends, and first-round pick Barr rushing with his hand in the dirt in sub-packages. Floyd struggled as a part-time tackle during his rookie season, however, and Greenway is in severe decline at age 31 1/2. Cole and Sanford are mere stopgap solutions. I do love the upside of Rhodes, and Smith's healthy return is a huge plus. The Vikings have some nice pieces, but getting this defense where Zimmer truly wants it will probably be a two-year process.

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: Xavier Su'a-Filo*
C: Chris Myers
RG: Brandon Brooks
RT: Derek Newton

Offensive Overview: The Texans are another team without a franchise quarterback I correspondingly placed especially low in my rankings. I still think they have enough in place to field a competitive offense. Rookie coach Bill O'Brien inherited a solid line GM Rick Smith has supplemented with No. 33 overall pick Su'a-Filo, and Foster returns healthy after missing half of last season with a back injury. O'Brien heavily utilized two-tight end sets as the Patriots' offensive coordinator, and will repeat that approach in Houston with some combination of Graham, Griffin, and third-round pick C.J. Fiedorowicz. Depth is lacking at wideout, but the first team has a perennial All Pro in Johnson, and promising 2013 first-round pick Hopkins. I think Houston has enough weapons to prop up Fitzpatrick in some instances, and a good enough defense-run game combination to limit his impact on games. I think O'Brien will find ways to move the ball this year.

LE: J.J. Watt
RE: Jared Crick
NT: Louis Nix*
ILB: Brian Cushing
ILB: Brooks Reed
OLB: Whitney Mercilus
OLB: Jadeveon Clowney*
LCB: Kareem Jackson
RCB: Johnathan Joseph
FS: Chris Clemons*
SS: D.J. Swearinger

Defensive Overview: O’Brien has the pleasure of beginning his NFL head-coaching career with an awful lot of defensive talent. Watt and Clowney form a potentially lethal inside-outside pass-rush duo, while 2012 first-rounder Mercilus just turned 24. Jackson and Joseph are solid bookend corners when healthy, and in similar circumstances Cushing is a top-five NFL inside linebacker. Centerfielder Clemons and sophomore hitter Swearinger have a chance to become an impressive safety tandem. Houston’s depth is lacking and the run defense probably won’t be overwhelmingly stout, but there are a lot of pieces here, most of them young. In a weak AFC South, the 2014 Texans have a chance to surprise despite their low overall roster ranking.

30. Jacksonville Jaguars

QB: Chad Henne
RB: Toby Gerhart*
WR: Cecil Shorts
WR: Marqise Lee*
WR: Ace Sanders
TE: Marcedes Lewis
LT: Luke Joeckel
LG: Zane Beadles*
C: Mike Brewster
RG: Brandon Linder*
RT: Austin Pasztor

Offensive Overview: The arrow is pointing up on the rebuilding Jaguars, who drafted QB of the future Blake Bortles but don't plan to start him as a rookie. Jacksonville will saddle up first-time feature back Gerhart as its offensive centerpiece, attempting to play ball-control, run-first offense and lean on an improved defense to stay competitive in games. The Jaguars used free agency (Gerhart, Beadles) and the draft (Bortles, Lee, Allen Robinson) to attack holes on an offense that previously lacked firepower. Jacksonville is at least one year away from fielding a legitimately dangerous offense, but does appear en route. I think they'll play like the Seahawks this year. Long term, the vision is more Falcons-ish with Robinson and Lee on the outside, and Shorts at slot receiver. Jags GM Dave Caldwell is a former Atlanta executive. He'll hope Bortles becomes his version of Matt Ryan, and Gerhart can provide a few Michael Turner-like seasons.

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: Winston Guy
SS: Johnathan Cyprien

Defensive Overview: Under ex-Seahawks DC Gus Bradley, the Jaguars’ defense improved incrementally over the course of last season, and received spring talent injections at critical spots in the front seven. Run-plugging five technique Bryant and “Leo” pass rusher Clemons followed Bradley from Seattle. The Jags seem to envision athletic Watson as a versatile jack of all trades. Marks earned a late-season extension for his ability to pressure the pocket inside, and Jacksonville has a ton of promise in the secondary with Gratz, Cyprien, and incumbent FS Josh Evans all entering their second years. The Jaguars are at least a year from fielding a truly imposing defense, but I’d expect the 2014 unit to be solid in both the front and back ends. They can also bring DE Andre Branch, DLs Tyson Alualu and Ziggy Hood, and CB Will Blackmon off the bench.

31. Oakland Raiders

QB: Matt Schaub*
RB: Maurice Jones-Drew*
FB: Marcel Reece
WR: James Jones*
WR: Rod Streater
TE: David Ausberry
LT: Donald Penn*
LG: Gabe Jackson*
C: Stefen Wisniewski
RG: Austin Howard*
RT: Menelik Watson

Offensive Overview: High-profile offseason additions Schaub, MJD, Jones, and Penn are all on the downsides of their careers, and this unit is noticeably short on big-play ability. OC Greg Olson's objective will be to play ball-control offense, leaning on a front five that has a chance to be league average or better. Oakland has invested numerous recent high picks on offensive linemen, and free agent pickup Howard is a mauling right guard. The Raiders will likely utilize Jones as a high-volume possession target, with Andre Holmes in the vertical role and Streater manning the slot in three-wide packages. While I think they could field a respectable run-game unit, the biggest concern for Oakland's offense is descending 33-year-old quarterback Schaub. Over his last 16 games, Schaub has a 13:19 TD-to-INT ratio and 6.68 YPA with a league-high five pick-sixes.

LE: Justin Tuck*
RE: LaMarr Woodley*
DT: Antonio Smith*
NT: Pat Sims
MLB: Nick Roach
WLB: Sio Moore
SLB: Khalil Mack*
LCB: Tarell Brown*
RCB: D.J. Hayden
FS: Charles Woodson
SS: Tyvon Branch

Defensive Overview: Even if much of it comes from late-career players, the Raiders' defense has sneaky pass-rush upside and is the primary reason I kept them out of the league's basement. While front-four depth is a big concern -- DC Jason Tarver needs his starters to stay healthy -- Tuck, Woodley, and Smith all still have juice left in the tank, and Mack and Moore offer young legs capable of playing diverse roles. Kevin Burnett and Miles Burris provide depth at linebacker, if, say Mack is forced to see more action on the line of scrimmage. Sims and sophomore DT Stacy McGee can stuff the run, as can Mike 'backer Roach and safety Branch, who returns healthy after missing all but two games last season with a fractured fibula. 2013 first-round pick Hayden is penciled in as a starter here, although that job may go to Carlos Rogers if Hayden can't stay out of the trainer's room. I don't think Oakland will play truly stout defense, but their pass rush should be much improved, and I believe they'll remain competitive versus the run.

32. Tennessee Titans

QB: Jake Locker
RB: Bishop Sankey*
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: GM Ruston Webster's offseason moves annually confuse, but never more so than this year, when he used a top-11 pick on projected swing tackle Taylor Lewan after making Oher the Titans' highest paid free agent. Still, Tennessee's line is talented with some depth, and ultimately the strength of Webster's roster. On the flip side, Locker is an erratic, injury-prone quarterback coming off a Lisfranc fracture, Sankey's college tape was pedestrian, and the wideout corps has theoretical potential but is far from a top-15 NFL group. Just how do the Titans plan to sustain offense with a low-percentage passer learning a new offense while rehabbing? They're asking an awful lot of second-rounder Sankey and injured career plodder Shonn Greene.

RE: Jurrell Casey
LE: Ropati Pitoitua
NT: Al Woods*
ILB: Zach Brown
ILB: Wesley Woodyard*
OLB: Derrick Morgan
OLB: Shaun Phillips*
LCB: Jason McCourty
RCB: Coty Sensabaugh
FS: Michael Griffin
SS: Bernard Pollard

Defensive Overview: With Alterraun Verner gone to Tampa Bay, Tennessee's best two defensive players are Casey and Morgan, both suspect fits for new DC Ray Horton's 3-4 scheme, which traditionally asks linemen to contain rather than get up field, and will convert Morgan from a base 4-3 end into an outside-rush linebacker. Horton's defenses have always been anchored by heavyweight zero-technique nose tackles. In Nashville, the top options are ex-Steelers backup Woods and fourth-round pick DaQuan Jones. That likely inability to control the point of attack is particularly concerning because the Titans' inside linebackers are undersized, and if not properly protected could be easily washed out of run plays by offensive linemen on the second level. The pass rush and secondary are both major concerns, which could result in a porous pass defense. I don't think the Titans will be stout against the run, either. As team brass implicitly conceded when they declined Locker's 2015 option, this is a bad team one year away from an inevitable rebuild.

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