11. John Dorsey, Chiefs
Last Year’s Ranking: 12
If you are what your record says you are, John Dorsey is the Chiefs’ first playoff victory in 22 years. Andy Reid is the brains of the operation in Kansas City, but Dorsey has proven to be an excellent caddie, bringing a sober approach to roster building after Reid’s Eagles tenure was undone in part by trying to win the Super Bowl in free agency. Truth be told, Reid and Dorsey have largely just press played on a roster that was already well positioned to win before their arrival, but they’ve known when and where to make key additions. Alex Smith remains Dorsey’s most important acquisition, but Jeremy Maclin isn’t far behind. If there’s an issue, it’s that neither of Dorsey’s first two first-round picks, Eric Fisher and Dee Ford, appear on their way to being difference makers. Thankfully, Dorsey hit a homer when the Chiefs needed it most last May, snagging stud CB Marcus Peters at No. 18 overall. Scott Pioli and Carl Peterson’s talent base won’t be around forever. At some point, Reid and Dorsey need to start supplementing it in more meaningful ways. But keeping the talent base together is an accomplishment in and of itself, and Dorsey has the looks of being in the right place at the right time for a team that’s finally back on the move.
12. Mike Maccagnan, Jets
Last Year’s Ranking: — —
That’s how you produce a comeback album. Given the keys to a franchise in a four-year playoff drought, Mike Maccagnan convinced the old guitar player (Darrelle Revis) to return before finding a new singer (Ryan Fitzpatrick) on the cheap. He brought back the bassist (Antonio Cromartie), too, but ended up having to bury him in the mix. It was indeed a reunion feel for Gang Green in 2015, but it was the new faces who really got the party going. Catching passes from Fitzpatrick — and acquired for the No. 142 overall pick — Brandon Marshall had a career year at age 31. In the draft, Maccagnan selected one of its best overall players in Leonard Williams at No. 6 overall. It was this mix of old and new that got the Jets headed back in the right direction, and earned Maccagnan hero status in a ferociously tough market. Many challenges remain. The offensive core is aging and defensive linchpin Muhammad Wilkerson wants to get paid. Left tackle D’Brickshaw Ferguson has retired, and Revis is not the same player he was under Rex Ryan. It means Maccagnan’s honeymoon period isn’t going to last long, but the fact that he even got a honeymoon period in the Big Apple speaks to how well he performed as a rookie general manager.
13. Kevin Colbert, Steelers
Last Year’s Ranking: 19
Is Kevin Colbert underrated or overrated? It can be hard to tell sometimes. Colbert has allowed the Steelers’ once-proud defense to descend into mediocrity, and been amongst the worst in the NFL when it comes to managing the salary cap. He’s also had only two coaches in 17 years, and overseen the construction of one of the league’s most lethal offenses. Colbert is without peer when it comes to drafting wide receivers. The truth, then, must be somewhere in the middle. Colbert has to find a way to inject more talent into his defense, but still has a roster that hasn’t had a losing season since 2003. It’s possible Colbert has built a house of cards that will crumble any year now, but results are results. Colbert has continued to get them even in the face of glaring deficiencies. He needs to be better. He could also be a lot worse.
14. Scot McCloughan, Redskins
Last Year’s Ranking: — —
Jay Gruden’s coaching and Kirk Cousins’ development were the most important factors in the Redskins’ return to the playoffs last season, but second-year GM Scot McCloughan will determine the franchise’s future. A true personnel star, McCloughan paved the way for Jim Harbaugh in San Francisco before helping John Schneider and Pete Carroll build their colossus in Seattle. If we’re being honest, McCloughan had a quiet first year on the job in Washington. His first-round guard, Brandon Scherff, played 1,000 snaps, but the draft class was otherwise workmanlike. McCloughan’s most interesting signing, Junior Galette, played zero snaps after a camp Achilles’ tear. In free agency, McCloughan has avoided splash in favor of depth. The biggest concern remains McCloughan’s boss, owner Dan Snyder. Snyder has thus far stayed out of McCloughan’s way, but will that remain the case if McCloughan continues with an understated approach to team building? McCloughan is going to find impact players. He just needs the time and space to do so.
15. Jerry Jones/Stephen Jones, Cowboys
Last Year’s Ranking: 16
Has Jerry Jones the owner finally fired Jerry Jones the general manager? The Cowboys’ website says he hasn’t, but at the very least, Jones has allowed his advisers to curtail his whims. Ol’ Jer would have taken Johnny Manziel in a heartbeat, wrecking the most promising Cowboys core in a decade. New Jerry listens closely to his son Stephen and director of player personnel Will McClay. Together, Will and Stephen have quietly re-stocked the roster and turned the Cowboys into one of the league’s better drafting clubs. The Cowboys’ run on offensive linemen has given them a coherent identity for the first time since Bill Parcells was calling the shots, if not Jimmy Johnson. The plan was derailed last season when Tony Romo got hurt, but the Cowboys are undeniably working toward something on offense. The defense remains a work in progress, but far from a lost cause. Jerry’s brain trust landed upside pass rushers Demarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory in back-to-back second rounds, and nailed 2015 first-rounder Byron Jones. Jerry craves the spotlight like oxygen, but it’s his delegation of powers that’s allowed his team to come up for air.
16. Reggie McKenzie, Raiders
Last Year’s Ranking: 25
For two years, Reggie McKenzie had a reasonable claim to being the worst general manager in football. He inherited a mess like few in NFL history, but kept getting in his own way as he tried to clean it up. Zero members of McKenzie’s first (2012) draft class remain on the Raiders. In 2013, he made the worst pick of the first round (D.J. Hayden), and one of the worst of the second (Menelik Watson). Salary cap woes compromised the Raiders in free agency, but he made a pair of catastrophic blunders in 2014. For reasons that remain unclear, McKenzie let franchise LT Jared Veldheer depart at the age of 26 while attempting to overpay injury-prone OL Rodger Saffold. Veldheer quickly entrenched himself on Carson Palmer’s blindside in Arizona. Saffold failed his physical. It was at this low point that McKenzie started his comeback with a layup. Khalil Mack was the no-brainer to end all no-brainers as the No. 5 overall pick in 2014. More impressive was the three pointer McKenzie launched in the second round, taking Derek Carr at No. 36. Carr looked like he might rim out as a rookie, but rattled home as a sophomore. Just like that, two years of aimlessness had given way to two franchise building blocks. McKenzie is now on a roll, supplementing Mack and Carr with other excellent draft picks in OG Gabe Jackson, Amari Cooper, DE/OLB Mario Edwards and Clive Walford. Finally free to spend on the open market, McKenzie added two impact players in March, nabbing G/T Kelechi Osemele and SLB Bruce Irvin. It took him years to find it, but McKenzie has turned the corner, bringing a proud franchise along with him.
17. Doug Whaley, Bills
Last Year’s Ranking: 17
Whether it’s trading up for Sammy Watkins or acquiring LeSean McCoy, Doug Whaley isn’t afraid to think big. But as Tyrod Taylor and Richie Incognito can attest, perhaps he should think small more often. Whaley lives for splash, but his most impactful moves in 2015 were the minor additions of Taylor and Incognito. Watkins has had success between injuries, but 2015 second-rounder Ronald Darby made a bigger impact as a rookie. Fellow 2015 draftee Karlos Williams, the No. 155 overall pick, looks more indispensable to the Bills’ future than McCoy. Whaley trusts that big names will make his team better, but his track suggests he’d be best served by trusting his own instincts.
18. Les Snead, Rams
Last Year’s Ranking: 21
Les Snead has acquired so many studs on defense he had to let some of them go this offseason. Janoris Jenkins is now a Giant. Nick Fairley, a Saint, and Chris Long a Patriot. Even with those departures, Snead’s roster is still brimming with talent in the secondary, defensive line and linebacker corps. Aaron Donald is on the short list for best defensive player in the league (non-J.J. Watt division). So what’s the problem? Snead’s offenses have produced 1,251 points in four years. That’s 313 per season and 19.5 per game. The Rams scored 348 points in 2013 before declining to 324 and 280, respectively, the past two years. That’s simply not good enough, and there’s no immediate reason to believe things will get better. Snead and Jeff Fisher nailed their 2015 first-rounder in Todd Gurley, but have almost no one to help him. The Rams have one of the league’s worst offensive lines and a nightmarishly bad quarterback situation. Their “No. 1 receiver” is a 5-foot-8 gadget player who is most comfortable running the ball. Snead and Fisher could turn their defense into the ‘85 Bears reincarnate, but it’s not going to matter until they can score some touchdowns. It’s hard to see where the points will come from in 2016.
Editor's Note 4/14: Well maybe the Rams will score some touchdowns, after all. They've acquired the No. 1 overall pick, which will almost certainly be used on a quarterback.
19. Mickey Loomis, Saints
Last Year’s Ranking: 10
Mickey Loomis is the most successful general manager in Saints history. Unfortunately for Saints fans, that doesn’t include recent history. Three of Loomis’ past four rosters have finished 7-9, with two historically bad defenses and an eight-game suspension mixed in. Loomis is beholden to coach Sean Payton’s impulses, but together, the duo has had trouble formulating a plan. The Saints spent all last offseason prepping for a more run-based attack before nevertheless tying for second in passing attempts. Kenny Stills was needlessly traded away, and a lack of depth at running back led to Tim Hightower filling in for an injured Mark Ingram. Hightower hadn’t received a regular season carry in four years. One of the league’s shakiest drafters, Loomis found a late first-round gem in Stephone Anthony, but the jury remains out on first-round OL Andrus Peat. All the while, Loomis has been a bottom-five general manager at manipulating the salary cap. Loomis is essentially operating off goodwill until he either turns things around or gets fired. The latter grows more likely every season.
20. Ryan Pace, Bears
Last Year’s Ranking: — —
Ryan Pace didn’t inherit the Bears’ 53-man roster. He inherited the sinkhole where the Bears’ 53-man roster used to be. Left to decay under Jerry Angelo, the Bears’ once fearsome assemblage of players hit rock bottom under experimental GM Phil Emery, whose parting gift to Pace was an untradeable $126 million contract for then 31-year-old quarterback Jay Cutler. With vanishingly-little talent on defense and an aging core on offense, Pace had a clear objective for his first year on the job: Stabilization. He did just that, hiring steady hand John Fox as coach, and aside from signing on-the-rise pass rusher Pernell McPhee, sitting on his hands in free agency. The Bears only gained one game in the win/loss column, but were much more respectable, avoiding the embarrassing blowout losses that marred their 2014 season. Pace has stayed the course this offseason, releasing failed LT Jermon Bushrod while allowing an aging Matt Forte to walk in free agency. Building block WR Alshon Jeffery has been retained and veteran talent — Danny Trevathan, Jerrell Freeman and Akiem Hicks — added on defense. Pace could improve on his quiet rookie draft, but has done nothing to dent his status as an on-the-rise executive. Now all he has to do is keep the same upward trajectory for his team.