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NFL Arizona Cardinals

NFL Power Rankings: Not Your Average Take, Teams 32-21

Several NFL Columnists here at RantSports.com were asked to create power rankings listing all 32 teams in order from best to worst. NFL Network manager Jeric Griffin compiled the lists to make one collaborative effort: the 2012 RantSports NFL Power Rankings, Offseason Edition. After looking over the list and noticing after 10 things started to change between the team’s list and mine, I decided to publish my own power rankings – which may or may not have had a hand in elevating the St. Louis Rams to 30. I also apologize in advance if I anger anyone.

So here we go:

32. Jacksonville Jaguars                                2011 Record: 5-11

Ugh. Jacksonville. You’ll see me say this repeatedly: I don’t like to be negative about teams, players, fans, or anything else for that matter. I find it can be offensive, insensitive, and counterproductive. Instead I like to focus on the positive, so here we go…Blaine Gabbert: he has nice hair. Maurice Jones-Drew: he got me a lot of fantasy points in 2009. Laurent Robinson: he went to Illinois State, and I used to live 10 minutes from campus. Go Redbirds! Of course I have nicer things to say about MJD and Robinson. Gabbert? Not so much. I keep getting scenes from Major League in my head every time the Jags get mentioned, and I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because the whole firing of Jack Del Rio left a bad taste in my mouth considering the franchise was being run by buffoons. Maybe it’s because instead of doing something about an offensive line that allowed Gabbert to be sacked 44 times last year, they left it the same. In all fairness not all 44 sacks were the fault of the O-Line, Gabbert ran into about 30 of them on his own. That’s not a concrete number; it’s just a guess. The defense was pretty good last season; ranking sixth in the league in total yards allowed per game (313), eighth in passing (208 ypg) and ninth in rushing (104 ypg). Two of Arian Foster’s five fumbles on the season came against the Jags in week 12, and in the two games they played against Chris Johnson he was held for a combined 80 yards on the ground. Pass rushing was an issue, they only sacked opposing QBs 31 times last season, but they did take Andre Branch (Clemson) with their second round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, so that number should increase this season. Justin Blackmon was the best receiver in the class, winning the Biletnikoff Award in back-to-back seasons while at Oklahoma State. He has great hands, strength, and instincts. Unfortunately those instincts don’t carry over off the field. Currently Blackmon and Jacksonville are in contract negotiations – negotiations that may be tipped in the franchise’s favor considering the wideout’s second DUI arrest recently. He may be subject to a suspension from Roger Goodell as well. Just when I think things could be starting to look up for the Jaguars, scenes from Major League come right back. Oh, and they drafted a punter (Bryan Anger, California) in the third round. I mean, what owner would allow their team to draft a punter in the third round when it is clear as crystal they had so many other needs to address? Rachel Phelps and Shahid Khan, that’s who.

31. Oakland Raiders                        2011 Record: 8-8

Mustering up all those positive thoughts about Jacksonville took a lot out of me, so here’s the long and the short of it: if I wasn’t so sure new Jaguar owner Shahid Khan was intentionally trying to tank the team so he could move the franchise to LA, the Raiders would be dead last on my list. They’re slightly ahead of Jacksonville for one reason – the front office isn’t intentionally tanking the team, they’re doing just fine due to incompetence. I know, I know I said I don’t like being negative so I will exercise the old additive “If you don’t have anything nice to say…”…Darren McFadden was averaging 5.4 yards per carry before being sidelined with yet another injury. Okay, maybe that’s a half-nice statement. Oh here’s one: Juron Criner was one of the wide receivers I was really high on entering the draft. He has good size (6’3” 224 Lbs.), large hands (10.5”), great leaping ability (38” Vert), and although he didn’t wow anyone at the NFL Combine in February, his game film was quite impressive. Sure, his routes were sloppy at times and he doesn’t have elite speed. Sometimes he was a little inconsistent, but he had the streaky Nick Foles tossing him the ball at Arizona. Overall, he was solid across the board. He doesn’t do anything perfect, but he doesn’t suck at anything either. I always saw him as a number two NFL receiver, and although he isn’t number two at this time, I don’t think it is long before he becomes it. How’s that for nice? Now, moving on…

30. Indianapolis Colts                    2011 Record: 2-14

Oh Indianapolis. How I wish I could put you higher. You’ve been through so much in your fall from almost-perfection. You lost your almost-perfect head coach, Tony Dungy, to retirement. You lost your almost-perfect receiver, Marvin Harrison, in a quiet retirement that may have been triggered by a bizarre string of shooting incidents in Philadelphia. Then, you lost your almost-perfect quarterback, Peyton Manning, when the QB had four neck surgeries in less than two years, sat out the entire 2011 season, and your owner didn’t want to pay him a roster bonus. Now, Dungy is on Sunday Night Football on NBC, Manning is starting for the Denver Broncos, Harrison is, well, I don’t know if anyone actually knows what Harrison is doing, aside from not playing for the Colts. Oh Indy. I cry real tears for you. Real. Tears. You did Suck for Luck pretty well last year and were able to draft him number one overall. Last time you drafted a quarterback overall was Manning back in 1998, and he won you a Super Bowl and catapulted himself into the history books because of his greatness. He was almost-perfect. Can Andrew Luck be almost-perfect too? Well if he can, unfortunately it won’t be for a while. The kid needs some help. I know you drafted his favorite Stanford target, TE Coby Fleener, to make his transition easier but the truth is when it comes to defense, you’re a Joke for (Jarvis) Jones.  Miserable for Manti (Te’o). Boring for Bjoern (Werner). Feel free to add in clever quip you’d like. Fact remains, the Colts won’t do a 180 this year.  Sorry, Indy.

29. Miami Dolphins                        2011 Record: 6-10

This is one of those teams who I have pretty deep in the rankings this year, but I can see next year the Dolphins at least making it to the middle of the pack. The main reason is I didn’t think this team was too far off even before they drafted Ryan Tannehill (Texas A&M) eighth overall in the draft. Miami owner Stephen Ross has said Matt Moore is the starter; GM Jeff Ireland seems to be leaning toward Tannehill. Let’s not forget David Garrard is in there somewhere. I’m not sure who we should believe at this point, but I can’t help to think you don’t select a backup quarterback that high in a non-lockout draft. That said, Tannehill shouldn’t be the starter, not because he doesn’t have the tools to be a capable, competent NFL QB, but because he has a total of 19 games starting at quarterback under his belt. Last season Tannehill was shaky at best, throwing 15 interceptions and winning one out five games against top-25 teams. Tannehill has good size (6’4” 221 Lbs.) and athleticism (he played wide receiver for two seasons). He has NFL arm strength and in the short-to-intermediate game is accurate and has a nice velocity to his passes. It’s the decision making skills that are an even bigger knock than his inexperience. In 2011 Texas A&M entered the season ranked in the top 10 in both the AP and USA Today/Coaches Polls. They finished with a disappointing 6-6 record. I don’t think Tannehill is entirely to blame, although his three interceptions in the final 19 minutes against Oklahoma State blowing a 17-point lead are a testament to his decision making abilities. In the losses to Oklahoma and Texas, he threw a combined six interceptions. His former coach in College Station, Mike Sherman, is now his offensive coordinator in Miami. Good for Tannehill, bad for Miami. Remember, I said the losses weren’t entirely Tannehill’s fault; Sherman had something to do with them too. None the less, they drafted him eighth overall then constructed a good portion of the rest of the draft building around him. OT Jonathan Martin (second round, Stanford), TE Michael Egnew (third round, Missouri), RB Lamar Miller (fourth round, Miami FL), and Wide receivers BJ Cunningham (sixth round, Michigan State) and Rashad Matthews (seventh round, Nevada) made up five of their remaining eight picks behind Tannehill. They signed undrafted former Aggie teammate WR Jeff Fuller and added free agent receivers Chad Ochocinco (or Johnson, depending on which day of the week it is) and Legedu Naanee. I can’t help to think the addition of the three wideouts following the draft are a subtle hint that head coach Joe Philbin plans on using the rookie signal caller sooner rather than later.

28. New Orleans Saints                 2011 Record: 13-3

I want to preface this with a foreword: Please read the entire paragraph before you rush to judgment and call me a “hater”.

Since I’m posting my power rankings backwards, you can deduce that I have the Saints below anyone else in the NFC South, and in all of the NFC for that matter. I keep seeing Saints fans say that they’ve been through adversity before, and they will overcome “Bountygate” and prove to everyone how resilient their team is by winning the Super Bowl. Okay, where do I start? Without getting too deep into the previous adversity, this is completely different. The current is brought on by members of the New Orleans Saints staff, not a natural disaster. I bring this up for a reason. Bringing in Curtis Lofton from Atlanta and Broderick Bunkley from Denver (among others) in free agency would ordinarily be great moves. In this case, who is going to coach them? The loss of Sean Payton to a one year suspension is being severely undervalued. Two things always made the Saints a contender over the last six years; Payton and QB Drew Brees. Now, one is gone for the entire season, and the other is in a contract dispute. The contract dispute, quite frankly in my opinion, is a joke. Pay the man. Pay him whatever he wants. Not only is he one of the greatest quarterbacks in this generation, he has been nothing but a class act and a positive face of the organization since he arrived in NoLa. Pay the man. He wants a five year deal, you give it to him. You have nothing else saving you from public’s perception that you are a dirty, shady bunch of cheaters. It would not just be a sign of goodwill, but a sign that you appreciate and recognize everything he has done for the franchise. Without Brees and Payton, there would have been no Super Bowl celebration. There is no Payton this year, and along with no head coach, there also won’t be general manager Mickey Loomis for the first eight regular season games, and the guy currently acting in place of Payton, assistant coach Joe Vitt will serve a six-game suspension. Two current Saints players will also serve a suspension this season; LB Jonathan Vilma was banned for the entire year while DE Will Smith will sit out four games. All the reports out of the Saints’ mini-camp were that everything seemed normal, aside from the fact their beloved head coach and quarterback weren’t there. We’ll see at the end of the season if the Saints end in the NFL South basement, or if they overcome adversity once again. Either way, it’s going to be a long season for the Saints.

27. Arizona Cardinals                     2011 Record: 8-8

Arizona is one of those enigma teams. They have one of the top wide receivers in the league in Larry Fitzgerald, added one of the top wide receivers in the draft with Michael Floyd (Notre Dame) to play opposite him, and boasts one of the NFL’s most exciting young players to watch, CB/PR Patrick Peterson. Then you look at the roster and depth charts and think “Hmm. Interesting.” Beanie Wells is their number one running back, leading the team with 1,047 yards and 10 TDs on 245 attempts in 2011, which is nothing to shake a stick at, but after Wells their second leading rusher was LaRod Stephens-Howling with 167 yards on 43 carries. Almost a year ago Arizona traded Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a 2012 second round draft pick to the Eagles for QB Kevin Kolb. The traded itself wreaked havoc on the interwebs with many people feeling the Cardinals gave up far too much for an unproven backup quarterback. At the end of the season, the critics looked as if they were right. In nine starts Kolb took 30 sacks and missed seven games to a concussion. Making matters worse for Kolb, his injury opened the door for his backup, John Skelton, to compete with him for the starting job this summer. To be fair, the Cardinals O-Line was atrocious last year, and Ken Whisenhunt et al knows it. They signed veteran OT/G Adam Snyder from San Francisco in free agency and drafted two offensive tackles Bobby Massie (fourth round, Mississippi) and Nate Potter (seventh round, Boise State), and OG Senio Kelemete (fifth round, Washington), They signed undrafted rookie guards Braeden Clayson (Idaho State) and Blake DeChristopher (Virginia Tech) and center Scott Wedige (Northern Illinois). Defensively the Cardinals are moving in the right direction, but aren’t quite there yet. Two rookies, Jamell Fleming (third round, Oklahoma) and Justin Bethel (sixth round, Presbyterian), were drafted into a deep cornerback corps, and the linebacker position is also filled with talent and depth. The key is to keep them fresh and off the field as much as possible – something I’m not sold will happen with either Kolb or Skelton under center.

26. Minnesota Vikings                   2011 Record: 3-13

There’s something about Adrian Peterson; has been since he was at Oklahoma. I’ve never been able to come up with the proper word to describe him. Ridiculous, incredible, phenomenal; they all just don’t do him justice. He is a freak of nature, a running back so productive he has single-handedly won every game for the Vikings since 2007. Okay, maybe that’s a stretch, but still, that’s the feeling I have about The Cashier. Peterson…what? Yes, I’m aware Merril Hoge and I are the only people on the planet that still call him that.  Yes, I know it isn’t hip or clever. No, I won’t stop calling him that. Look, can we please just get back to the gushing? Peterson’s season ended when he suffered a torn ACL and MCL, and damaged both the medial and lateral meniscus in his left knee against theWashington Redskins on Christmas Eve. I’m not a doctor, but I know that’s a pretty significant knee injury. Word on the street is that he was running sprints in OTAs. Stop and think about that. That’s insane. Will he be 100% by training camp? Who knows, but I do know this: Adrian Peterson at 84.6% is still better than 97.2% of the running backs in the league (numbers not official). I really like what Minnesota did in the draft, top to bottom. OT Matt Kalil (first round, USC), FS Harrison Smith (first round, Notre Dame), CB Josh Robinson (third round, UCF), WR Jarius Wright (fourth round, Arkansas), FB Rhett Ellison (fourth round, USC), WR Greg Childs(fourth round, Arkansas), CB Robert Blanton (fifth round, Notre Dame), K Blair Walsh (sixth round, Georgia), LB Audie Cole (seventh round, NC State), and DE Trevor Guyton (seventh round, California) are all solid picks. What can we learn about the Vikings from the draft? Well aside from they really got bang for their buck at the Arkansas, Notre Dame, and USC Pro Days, they have talented young players backing up the veterans.  Good news if you’re a fan of the Purple and Gold. Here comes the bad news – Christian Ponder is your quarterback and Percy Harvin wants out.

25. Seattle Seahawks                     2011 Record: 7-9

Seattle ending up at 25 on my power rankings is simply one of those “just don’t have a great feeling about them” reasons. There’s nothing on the depth chart, roster, front office, or coaching staff that logically explains why I have them so low. I’ve never been to Seattle, but it looks like a nice city. I dig their uniforms. I actively took part in the #AllRussellWilsonEverything movement on twitter last season. Call it woman’s intuition I guess. They have a lot of young talent (WR Doug Baldwin, LB Bruce Irvin) mixed in nicely with veterans (WR Sidney Rice, LB Chris Clemons), which is always conducive to a successful franchise (see New England Patriots). Pete Carroll is a polarizing coach. Some college football diehards believe he skipped out on USC knowing NCAA sanctions were coming. Maybe. Regardless of why he left a program he coached to two AP National Championships (2003-04), a BCS National Championship in 2005 (since vacated by said sanctions), and produced three Heisman Trophy winners: Carson Palmer in 2002, Matt Leinart in 2004, and Reggie Bush in 2005 (again, vacated due to sanctions), he left to return to the NFL. 7-9 isn’t a horrible record, especially when you consider the Denver Broncos made the playoffs at 8-8 playing in an equally weak division (AFC West). The Seahawks almost beat NFC West rivals and Division Champs San Francisco 49ers in their second meeting last year, but fell a little short on time and eventually lost 19-17. I think they’re on an upward swing, but something is keeping me from putting them higher. I just can’t put my finger on it. Maybe it’s because Carroll keeps insisting there’s a QB competition going on, and there’s a chanceTarvaris Jackson is named the starter once again. Too bad this team is too talented to play “Bingo for Barkley”.

24. Carolina Panthers                     2011 Record: 6-10

Remember that disclaimer I gave you before the Saints’ write-up? I would like to exercise my right to use it again:

Recently I said on a podcast with Michael Collins that Cameron Newton is the fourth-best quarterback in the NFC South. It turns out people didn’t respond well to that remark. So let me take this opportunity to explain why I feel this way. Cameron Newton is a talented, athletic, intuitive, electrifying football player. The same way people feel about the “T-Word” I feel about Newton (me included, sorry Gatornation). Just like with “T-Word”, it’s not personal against him. I could care less about what happened with laptops or cheating when he was the backup for the Florida Gators. He was a kid, and kids do dumb things. It’s the fact that when I think of a great quarterback, I think of a guy that can throw the ball. Let me phrase that. I think of a guy that can throw the ball efficiently and accurately. “But Dory, you’re a hater! He threw for over 400 yards in his first two games!” Right, against an Arizona Cardinals defense ranked 18th overall in the NFL in total yards allowed last year and the Green Bay Packers, whose defense mirrored that of a Pop Warner team’s. I mean, for goodness’ sakes, I could have put up at least two bills on the Pack in 2011. And in those games I’d like to point out he threw three touchdowns and four interceptions. A quarterback’s job is to throw TDs, not INTs. Against Green Bay’s putrid pass defense (which finished last in the league, by the way) he threw three of those picks. His highest completion percentages came against the Washington Redskins (78.3%) and the Colts (74.1%), two teams that had a combined seven wins in 2011. The problem is there isn’t much around Newton to make him one of the elite QBs in the NFL. No matter how many people try to force him into the same category as Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, or Tom Brady he doesn’t have the weapons, accuracy, or their decision making skills, and until he does he just won’t be a great quarterback. “But Dory, you’re a hater! His mechanics will improve!” Umm, no they won’t. Not significantly anyway. Take Philip Rivers for example. I have a hard time watching San Diego Chargersgames because watching Rivers throw the ball makes my eyes bleed. Why is he considered in the second-tier of NFL quarterbacks? Because, despite the fact he looks like a Lego-man throwing a Lego in the shape of a prolate spheroid (I’ve been waiting years to actually use “prolate spheroid” in a sentence!), he is somehow accurate and has above-average decision-making abilities. Over the course of River’s eight-year career he has a 63.6% completion percentage, 163 TDs and 78 INTs, and a QB rating of 95.5. All with those goofy, eye-bleeding, unorthodox mechanics. Newton can do it too eventually once the organization realizes that he needs better weapons. At 33 years old Steve Smith is coming to the end of his career. The 5’9” wideout led the team in receiving with 79 catches for 1,394 yards. Pretty good numbers, but how much longer can he put those stats up? The running back-by-committee approach doesn’t fool anyone when your third leading rusher, Newton, has only 29 rushing attempts less than your team leader, Deangelo Williams (155).  On the plus side, the Panthers are trying to protect their number one investment by keeping him off the field; drafting tackle-machine LB Luke Kuechly (Boston College) with the ninth overall pick of the first round was an extremely good move. I just don’t see it being enough this year to put them any higher.

23. Washington Redskins             2011 Record: 5-11

The Redskins are quite intriguing to me. Just like Indianapolis, they drafted a franchise quarterback. In my opinion, Robert Griffin III will have a better rookie season than his counterpart Andrew Luck. The reason is simple: when the Redskins traded with the St. Louis Rams for the number two overall pick they immediately started building a better team, months before RG3 heard his name called. They signed a deep-threat in Pierre Garcon. The additions of Brandon Meriweather (SS) and Tanard Jackson (FS) were questionable if you look at their off-the-field antics, but an upgrade if you base it off of talent alone. Neither safety has lived up to their potential, a fact that needs to be stated, but their third and second-chances (respectively) could be a wakeup call.  They drafted two offensive guards, Josh LeRibeus (third round, SMU) and Adam Gettis (fifth round, Iowa) and an OT, Tom Compton (sixth round, South Dakota) and signed James Lee from Tampa Bay in free agency. None are probably immediate (if ever) starters, but it doesn’t hurt to have depth on your offensive line. RB Roy Helu had flashes of brilliance last year and Evan Royster’s average of 5.9 yards per carry in 2011 is promising. It may take a couple years for the Skins to make a complete turnaround, but RG3 gives them their best shot to do so.

22. San Diego Chargers                  2011 Record: 8-8

I don’t need to rehash my take on Philip Rivers, since I was pretty candid when talking about him in the Carolina Panthers’ paragraph. So I’ll focus on other things. They lost Vincent Jackson in free agency to the Tampa Bay Bucs. How did they rebound from the devastating loss? By signing every other free agent wide receiver that has ever played football. Of course, I’m exaggerating. But they did sign quite a few: Robert Meachem (New Orleans), Eddie Royal (Denver), Roscoe Parrish (Buffalo), and Michael Spurlock(Tampa Bay). Meachem should play opposite Malcolm Floyd, where Jackson used to play; and although he may not necessarily replace Jackson he should at least be productive. They brought in LeRon McClain (Kansas City) at fullback to block for RB Ryan Matthews, and Ronnie Brown (Philadelphia) to back him up. None of these are bad additions. Then there’s the defensive side of the ball which was pretty middle-of-the-road in 2011. Their first three draft picks this year were defensive players – DE/OLB Melvin Ingram (first round, South Carolina), DT/E Kendall Reyes (second round, Cincinnati), and SS Brandon Taylor (third round, LSU) – all talented rookies with bright NFL futures. When I mentioned earlier about the balance between young players and veterans being key to a successful team, look no farther than San Diego. They have Corey Liuget, 2011’s first round draft pick, starting at left defensive end next to NT Antonio Garay, who is entering his sixth year in the league. The secondary, led by Quentin Jammer, is full of vets with one and two-year guys like Marcus Gilchrist behind them. Sounds like a great team on paper – and it is. There’s obviously one glaring reason I have them at 22 (and it’s not River’s eye-bleeding mechanics) it’s Norv Turner. As head coach of Washington from 1994-2000 the Redskins posted a record of 49-59. As skipper of the Raider’s ship in 2004-05, a record of 9-23. In the five years he’s been at the helm of the Chargers he’s done better at 49-31. San Diego won the division three years in a row (2007-09) but couldn’t go deep into the postseason. Sure, dumping on Turner is the popular cool thing to do so it seems like a cop out. Without any other explanation, maybe it is.

21. New York Jets                            2011 Record: 8-8

This is where we come to the “T-Word” portion of the list. I’ve tried to avoid it, but honestly we both knew it was bound to come up eventually. Tim Tebow is now a Jet. According to the always entertaining Rex Ryan, he will be a personal punt protector. I don’t know how many people actually buy that. I’m not sure if I do or don’t yet. On one hand, it seems like he’s showing his hand by saying he has the ability to execute fake punts. On the other, maybe it gives opposing coaches (i.e. Bill Belichick) something to think about. He admitted that Tebow isn’t an accurate passer, so is he eluding that he will mainly run the ball? So if defenses are assuming Tebow will run the ball, they will stack the box which would leave receivers and tight ends open and he could dump it out to one of them, right? But with a genius like Belichick he might see through Ryan trying to screw with his head and be prepared for both. I think Ryan has screwed with my head; all I can think about is what he’ll do with Tebow. Moving on…Mark Sanchez has struggled with the reins in New York to put it mildly. In three years he has thrown almost as many interceptions (51) as he has touchdowns (55). 2011 was his best season to date with 26 TDs and 18 INTs, 3,474 yards, 56.7% completion percentage, and a QB rating of 78.2. Yikes, no wonder he traded three times for Tebow. Really, if you think about it they can’t do much worse with him in. Last season in Denver Tebow threw for 1,729 yards, 12 TDs and six interceptions, had a completion percentage of 46.5% and a 72.9 QB rating. Okay, I guess they could do worse. But is that the point? That you don’t know who will be worse – Sanchez or Tebow – so you don’t know who will be taking the majority of the snaps? Darn it, Ryan. Stop screwing with me. Let’s just get to the defense. The Jets were the fifth-best defense in the NFL last year allowing 312.1 yards of total offense on average per game. Not bad considering they’re in the same division as the Super Bowl runners up, New England. They have the best shut-down corner in the game in Darrelle Revis, and I bet LB Bart Scott can’t wait to start the season, now that he is over his frustrations (sorry guys, I couldn’t resist). There is nice depth at both the defensive line and linebacker corps, but there’s nothing stopping Ryan from throwing Tebow into the mix as well. At 6’3” 236 Lbs., the personal punt protector/quarterback…okay. That’s it. Thanks, Ryan. Thanks a lot.

Come back tomorrow to see who I have listed from 20-11.

 

For more from Dory, follow her on Twitter @DoryLeBlanc1