NFL Power Rankings: Not Your Average Take, Teams 20-11

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, continuing from yesterday:

20. Cleveland Browns                    2011 Record: 4-12

After a highly successful career quarterbacking the Texas Longhorns to a 45-8 record from 2006-09, Colt McCoy just couldn’t get the Browns to the same success. In 21 starts, McCoy has led Cleveland to a 6-15 record, throwing for 4,309 yards, 20 touchdowns and 20 interceptions. The losses haven’t been all McCoy’s fault, there’s enough blame to go around for everyone. After his rookie season Pat Shurmur was hired to take over as head coach, and many thought he would instantly transform McCoy into a successful QB. Unfortunately changes don’t always happen overnight. Or do they? The Browns selected the best running back to come out of college since Adrian Peterson, Alabama’s Trent Richardson, with the third pick of the 2012 NFL Draft. If you read yesterday’s post, you know how I feel about The Cashier (told you I wasn’t going to stop calling him that), so for me to agree with the assessment should speak volumes as to how successful I think TRich will be in the NFL. I also was one who was/is very fond of Cleveland selecting Brandon Weeden 19 spots later. I don’t know if the Browns will trade McCoy or let Weeden sit, but the fact that they at least have a choice is a positive thing. Now the negative – LB Scott Fujita has been suspended for the first three regular season games due to his alleged involvement in the Saints’ bounty scandal. Even though the Browns have young talent behind him in Kaluka Maiava and this year’s fourth round draft pick, James-Michael Johnson,  they will be missing a leader and player voted defensive team captain in 2010. They do have a strong defensive line and CB Joe Haden, who is on the verge of becoming one of the league’s best. I think things are looking up in Cleveland – at least enough to put them at 20.

19. St. Louis Rams                            2011 Record: 2-14

This is why I said that I might single-handedly be responsible for the Rams not being 32 on the collaborative power ranking list. 19 seems high, I know. Hear me out: this is not the same Rams team we watched fall apart in front of our eyes in 2011. They’ve got a new head coach in Jeff Fisher, new offensive coordinator in Brian Schottenheimer, new defensive coordinator in …oh yeah, forgot -group effort, and a new general manager in Les Snead. Their efforts as “new improved Rams” came together nicely during the draft when St. Louis nailed it. After trading out of the second spot with the Washington Redskins, the Rams traded back from six to 14 and still drafted a player they were eyeing at number six, Michael Brockers (LSU). Initially I questioned the pick of WR Brian Quick (Appalachian State) with the 33rd overall selection, but after hearing Snead and Fisher talk about how much they watched Quick and liked what they saw, I changed my mind. Not that either one of them cares about my opinion, but still. Janoris Jenkins (second round, North Alabama) and Trumaine Johnson (third round, Montana) add a lot of talent to the secondary, Isaiah Pead (second round, Cincinnati) will give some relief to an aging, yet still productive Steven Jackson. Chris Givens (fourth round, Wake Forest) will be a nice addition in the slot and could emerge as one of Sam Bradford’s favorite targets. So let’s see, that’s six draft picks right there that can have immediate productivity as rookies. The Rams had so many draft picks, they were able to take talent deep into the draft; OT/G Rokevious Watkins (fifth round, South Carolina) is a solid run blocker who will have success as a future starter, The Rams saved a ton of cap space when they were able to let Josh Brown go and draft K Greg Zuerlein (sixth round, Missouri Western). St. Louis needed a linebacker, and waited a little too long (again, my opinion) and selected LB Aaron Brown (Hawaii) in the seventh, then followed up 43 picks later with Daryl Richardson (Abilene Christian), adding depth to the running backs. They also helped out their O-Line by signing Pro-Bowl center Scott Wells from the Green Bay Packers in free agency. I’m not saying this team will do a complete 180 and go 14-2, but I don’t think 8-8 is out of reach.

 

18. Dallas Cowboys                         2011 Record: 8-8

Seven words you never want to hear, Cowboy fans: Tony Romo is out for the season. Heck, you don’t want to hear he is out for a game. Why you ask? Because then you’ll have Kyle Orton under center. Trust me, Cowboy fans, you don’t want Kyle Orton under center, no matter how many times someone rattles off a bunch of stats trying to convince you that you do. 18 might seem a little low for the Cowboys, but aren’t they always in someone’s playoff contender list and seem to fall short of everyone’s expectations? So, let’s cut to the chase and put them in the middle of the pack and see how they do. Of course I’m not suggesting Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and head coach Jason Garrett will read my power rankings, but what I am saying is just let’s once temper the expectations. Dallas pulled the trigger on a trade with the Rams that sent them up to the sixth spot in order to draft CB Morris Claiborne (LSU) and they signed CB Brandon Carr in free agency. The team’s biggest weakness was their secondary last year and they now have two upgrades at the corners. Overall the Cowboys are a solid squad and Tony Romo is coming off one of the best seasons of his career. In 2011 Romo passed for 4,184 yards, 31 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, had a completion percentage of 66.3%, and a 102.5 QB rating. He lost WR Laurent Robinson in free agency, but still has Dez Bryant and Austin Miles to toss the ball to. DeMarco Murray had a decent rookie season with 897 yards and two touchdowns considering he started only seven games (played in 13 total) and missed the last three with an ankle injury. The health of Murray is a key to the Cowboys season, but maybe no one’s health more key than Romo’s.

17. Atlanta Falcons                          2011 Record: 10-6

Okay, so here’s the thing about the Falcons: I’m on the fence about them. I really don’t have much to say about them positively or negatively. I think the success of the Dirty Birds is reliant on Matt Ryan, but who doesn’t? His top two targets, Julio Jones and Roddy White, are pretty good. Sure Michael Turner is getting older, but they have Jacquizz Rodgers who could emerge as a sleeper back in the league. Aside from trading a case of Coke Zero and a lawnmower to Philly for Asante Samuel, they didn’t add too much to move them from the middle-of-the-pack in my opinion.  I do like their offensive line, and think the protection of Ryan is the numero uno key to their success (duh). But seriously, a case of Coke Zero and a lawnmower? For Asante Samuel? I don’t care how many tackles (34) or interceptions (3) he had last season; Samuel is a four-time Pro Bowl, two-time Super Bowl winner, and can still ball. Now, Atlanta is coming off their second-straight trip to the playoffs and they must feel they are real close to getting back to the Super Bowl or they would have done more in free agency and the draft. I’m a fan of the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” theory, so if that’s their mentality I can lean a little more toward the positive side of the Falcon fence.

16. Tennessee Titans                     2011 Record: 9-7

At this point I’ve probably angered and/or confused a lot of people. I’m about to anger even more. I love Jake Locker. I can’t wait for him to start. I think it’ll be this year. I love Jake Locker. The Titans’ run game is solid and deep with Chris Johnson, Javon Ringer, and Jamie Harper. They may have ranked 31st in the NFL with an average of 89.9 yards per game, but CJ2K’s preseason holdout had a huge effect on that. Only once last season did Johnson have over 20 attempts and not hit 100 yards, and that was week two. He still managed to end the 2011 with 1,047 yards rushing and 418 yards receiving. I expect Johnson to get back to his pre-hold out production in 2012. Much like the Bills, the Titans won’t wow you on paper (aside from CJohnson), but collectively they are a solid group. They also have the luxury of playing the Colts and Jaguars twice. Not paying Cortland Finnegan may come back to punch them in the face, since they threw down the pro-bowler’s request for $10 million a year, letting him jump to the Rams in free agency, and didn’t do much to replace him. Yes, all puns were intended.

15. Kansas City Chiefs                    2011 Record: 7-9              

As much as I love what the Bucs did in free agency, no one did better than the Kansas City Chiefs. They now have a promising one-two punch in the run game signing Peyton Hills to go along with Jamal Charles. They strengthened their offensive line with Eric Winston. Kevin Boss’ numbers may have gone down last year from previous seasons, but he played for the Raiders. Stanford Routt isn’t considered a shutdown corner like Darrelle Revis, but he had just as many interceptions (four) in 2011. And they have Javier Arenas and fifth-round draft pick DeQuan Menzie behind him if things don’t go as well as planned.  Speaking of draft picks, they did alright. Not great, just alright. I watched a ton of game film on Dontari Poe (Memphis), and although he is a freakish athlete, his tape is not impressive. He struggled fighting through double teams and was too easily taken out of the play on one-on-one matchups. If Poe played at Alabama or LSU he’d get a pass because of the level of competition he faced, but he didn’t, so he doesn’t. They drafted two OT’s in back-to-back rounds in Jeff Allen (second round, Illinois) and Donald Stephenson (third round, Oklahoma) and although they are not rookie starter material, both could develop into solid NFL linemen in the future with a strong coaching staff. The Chiefs already had a nice receiving corps in place, and added some nice compliments with Devon Wylie (fourth round, Fresno State) and Junior Hemingway (seventh round, Michigan) as well as 63 undrafted rookies. Okay, I’m exaggerating, but they have as of the date of this post 13 wide receivers. They also drafted RB Cyrus Grey in the sixth round out of Texas A&M and another DT in the seventh with Jerome Long (San Diego State). I’ve been higher on Grey than most; I think he is a sound runner with great field vision, above average receiving skills, and a bright future.  Just like the Bucs, the one glaring deficiency on the Chief’s roster is at quarterback. They added Brady Quinn. Brady Quinn? Yup, Brady Quinn.

14. Buffalo Bills                                                2011 Record: 6-10

Heading into their bye week last year the Bills were 4-2, then something strange happened and they could only muster up two more wins the rest of the season. The offense isn’t full of a bunch of all-stars, but they were able to re-sign Stevie Johnson, who has been a fan-favorite and Ryan Fitzpatrick’s number one target the last two seasons. The running back tandem of Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller has been sufficient; in 2011 the duo rushed for a combined 1,495 yards and 10 touchdowns on 277 carries, while catching 78 passes for over 700 yards and two scores. Fitzpatrick isn’t a sexy QB by any stretch, and he has to improve on his 24 TDs to 23 INTs from last year for the Bills to have a fighting chance. Luckily for Fitz, they have a pretty sound defense in Buffalo. The defense got better in the offseason when they added Mark Anderson and Mario Williams at ends and drafted CBs Stephon Gilmore (South Carolina) and Ron Brooks (LSU). Williams was sidelined for most of last season (played in only five games) in Houston and seemed uncomfortable playing OLB in the 3-4, so going back to DE in a 4-3 should add a level of comfort for the former number one draft pick. Playing alongside Marcell Dareus, the left-side of the defensive line will guarantee to wreak havoc on opposing offensive coordinators’ nervous systems.  This team isn’t flashy, but they will quietly sneak out some wins in 2012.

13. Denver Broncos                         2011 Record: 8-8

In all honesty, I’m just not that sold on the Broncos. Despite getting arguably one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time in the Peyton Manning Sweepstakes, they’re getting him after four surgeries in less than two years and at 36 years old. The leader of the defense, Brian Dawkins, retired. One of the biggest reasons they ended as the number one rushing team in the NFL is gone (don’t worry; I won’t say the “T-Word” this time). Let’s look at what they added to go along with their new shiny toy, shall we? As far as free agents, the big-name signees were QB Caleb Hanie from the Bears, WR Andre Caldwell from Cincinnati, CB Tracy Porter from the Saints, and TE Jacob Tamme from Indianapolis. Well that’s good, at least Manning will have a familiar face among his teammates. Then there are the less-than-stellar draft selections this year. Don’t get me wrong, they made some good ones – mainly in the late rounds with C Philip Blake (Baylor), DT Malik Johnson (Tennessee), and LB Danny Trevathan (Kentucky); but the four that preceded them were stretches – DT Derek Wolfe (Cincinnati), QB Brock Osweiler (Arizona State), RB Ronnie Hillman (San Diego State), and CB Omar Bolden (Arizona State). We saw what happened to the Colts without Manning, so he obviously adds a tremendous amount to a team on his own and is why I have the Broncos at 13.

12. Cincinnati Bengals                   2011 Record: 9-7

Somebody told me in late April “If I could have a crush on an inanimate object, I would have one on the 2012 Cincinnati Bengals draft class.” Really, it’s hard to disagree with him. CB Dre Kirkpatrick (Alabama), OG Kevin Zeitler (Wisconsin), DT Devon Still (Penn State), WR Mohamed Sanu (Rutgers), DT Brandon Thompson (Clemson), TE Orson Charles (Georgia), CB Shaun Prater (Iowa), WR Marvin Jones (California), FS George Iloka (Boise State), and RB Dan Herron (Ohio State). That’s their draft picks. They added RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis from the Patriots and CB Terrence Newman from the Cowboys in free agency. There is no reason second-year signal caller Andy Dalton won’t be even better than he was last year. Not when he has 2011 draft classmate WR AJ Green as a target and added weapons. Currently the Bengals are three or four-deep at almost every position; exception being special teams, left tackle, and Center where they only have two. For all the young players they have just as many vets which gives way to a nice, balanced squad. Of course they have an unbalanced part as well (Pacman Jones), but hopefully that part will diminish with the new additions.

 

11. Tampa Bay Buccaneers           2011 Record: 4-12

Yes, I have Tampa Bay at 11. No, I’m not Brandon-Marshall-crazy. I think the Bucs are being overlooked for several reasons, mostly their 2011 record. I am also aware that they weren’t very good on either side of the ball. I do, however, know that the Bucs are entering a new era with a new head coach who has so far done everything right. He hired Eli Manning’s QB coach, Mike Sullivan, to be his offensive coordinator.  He somehow convinced Ronde Barber to not only stick around one more year but to switch positions from cornerback to free safety. Then free agency came and Schiano (I’m sure GM Mark Dominik had a hand in this) scooped up as much talent as he could. The last time I saw the Bucs spend that much money in free agency was 2002 and we know how that turned out. They had a monster of a draft adding Safety Mark Barron (Alabama) and RB Doug Martin (Boise State) in the first round. Both these guys will start immediately and are massive upgrades from what they had at those respective positions last season. I’m not saying they are primed to win the Super Bowl this year, but I do think we’re going to see a drastically improved team from 2011. When Kellen Winslow was traded to the Seattle Seahawks after he did not show up for OTAs, everyone started going nuts calling Schiano a control freak. Then Winslow made the comments that he didn’t want to be a Buccaneer anymore because his man Raheem Morris was fired and they fired the wrong dude. Schiano told him to “put his toes on the line” while blowing a whistle. You can’t laugh or joke around at practice anymore, so he had to roll. Let’s do a quick review: in three seasons as head coach, Raheem Morris led the Bucs to a 17-31 record. In 2010 they went 10-6, which means the other two seasons the team won a combined seven games. Maybe laughing and joking at practice didn’t work? Of course Schiano is a control freak. Most head football coaches are. Throw in a “weaker schedule” due to the whole parity thing, and almost immediately their record improves from 4-12. I understand they have a player that they spent the third overall draft pick on a few years ago that has shown to be prone to injury (Gerald McCoy), and another that although cleared of assault charges, may still face suspension or some kind of discipline from the league (Aqib Talib), but I still think there is way too much upside especially now that they have a control freak in place. Their weakest link is back-up quarterback. Behind Josh Freeman is Dan Orlovsky and Brett Ratliff. Dan Orvlosky. The commitment has been to Freeman, and they must be banking on him not going down. Their season depends on it.

 

For more from Dory, follow her on Twitter @DoryLeBlanc1


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