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Silva's Pre-Camp Team Rankings

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Silva's Pre-Camp Team Rankings
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With training camp fast approaching, Rotoworld's Evan Silva ranks the NFL's Rosters 1-32

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.


9. Chicago Bears

QB: Jay Cutler
RB: Matt Forte
WR: Brandon Marshall
WR: Alshon Jeffery
WR: Marquess Wilson
TE: Martellus Bennett
LT: Jermon Bushrod
LG: Matt Slauson
C: Roberto Garza
RG: Kyle Long
RT: Jordan Mills

Offensive Overview: The Bears return all 11 starters from an offense that ranked No. 2 in points scored. They'll upgrade from an upside standpoint on outgoing No. 3 wideout Earl Bennett with long, lanky 21-year-old prospect Wilson. Chicago has the best No. 1-2 wideout combination in football, and Wilson's ability to play outside will increase Marshall's slot snaps, where he is a huge mismatch. Jeffery busted out at age 23 to rank 10th in the NFL in receptions and sixth in receiving yards, and still has room to grow as a touchdown scorer (7). Cutler battled ankle and groin injuries last season, first going down in Week 7. His 16-game pace over the first month and a half was a 32:16 TD-to-INT ratio with 4,347 passing yards. We haven't even mentioned Forte or Martellus yet. This is an elite and relatively young, touchdown-scoring offense.

RE: Jared Allen*
LE: Lamarr Houston*
NT: Stephen Paea
DT: Jay Ratliff
MLB: D.J. Williams
WLB: Lance Briggs
SLB: Shea McClellin
LCB: Tim Jennings
RCB: Charles Tillman
FS: Brock Vereen*
SS: Ryan Mundy*

Defensive Overview: The 2013 Bears defense was historically porous, so GM Phil Emery set out this offseason to patch it up. He dished out lucrative contracts to Allen, Houston, and Jennings before using four of his first five draft picks on this side of the ball. No one should expect Chicago to field a shutdown 2014 defense, but simply becoming average would make the team significantly better. The Bears may also see silver lining in the restored health of Paea, Ratliff, Williams, and Briggs, who last season combined to miss 31 games. The Bears' offense is a high-octane machine. The jobs of this defense will be to stay out of its way and just get the ball back.

10. San Diego Chargers

QB: Philip Rivers
RB: Ryan Mathews
WR: Keenan Allen
WR: Malcom Floyd
TE: Antonio Gates
TE: Ladarius Green
LT: King Dunlap
LG: Chad Rinehart
C: Nick Hardwick
RG: Jeromey Clary
RT: D.J. Fluker

Offensive Overview: The Chargers under second-year GM Tom Telesco are a rising team I underestimated entering 2013. Rivers has been revitalized in coach Mike McCoy's quick-release passing attack, and remains in his prime at age 32. Telesco hit moon shots on 2013 draft picks Allen and Fluker, long-term building blocks at 22 and 23 years old, respectively. 24-year-old Green is a prime breakout candidate with enough talent to almost single handedly spike this unit from the NFL's No. 12 scoring offense into the single digits because of his touchdown upside and big-play ability. Healthy now, Floyd gives San Diego an upgrade on Vincent Brown, who was overmatched as last year's No. 2 receiver and got benched down the stretch. The O-Line is littered with maulers, and the backfield is among the deepest in football with Danny Woodhead, Donald Brown, and Marion Grice behind Mathews. San Diego has enough front-line talent and useful depth to be considered a top six or seven offense on paper, with room to grow.

RE: Corey Liuget
LE: Kendall Reyes
NT: Sean Lissemore
ILB: Manti Te'o
ILB: Donald Butler
OLB: Dwight Freeney
OLB: Melvin Ingram
LCB: Brandon Flowers*
RCB: Shareece Wright
FS: Eric Weddle
SS: Marcus Gilchrist

Defensive Overview: Even if the talent is merely above average, I expect San Diego's defense to be among the most improved in football after finishing last year 23rd in yards allowed, but a much more respectable 11th in points allowed, and making strides down the stretch as DC John Pagano gave ends Liuget and Reyes more one-gap freedom. Freeney, Ingram, Butler, and Te'o combined to miss a whopping 30 games. The pass rush should be far better, in turn helping cornerback play, which also received upgrades with the Flowers signing and first-round selection of playmaking nickel back Jason Verrett. The biggest concern on Pagano's side of the ball is nose tackle, where replacement-level Lissemore and fifth-round rookie Ryan Carrethers will be tasked with significant roles. This defense is by no means fearsome, but I think it can be league average this year. I think the Chargers will comfortably overtake the Chiefs as the AFC West's No. 2 team.

11. Indianapolis Colts

QB: Andrew Luck
RB: Trent Richardson
WR: T.Y. Hilton
WR: Reggie Wayne
WR: Hakeem Nicks*
TE: Dwayne Allen
LT: Anthony Castonzo
LG: Donald Thomas
C: Khaled Holmes
RG: Hugh Thornton
RT: Gosder Cherilus

Offensive Overview: Fairly or unfairly, I weight franchise quarterbacks heavily into my rankings. I see Luck as a top-five real-life signal caller, even if his fantasy performance hasn't quite reached those heights. (Yet.) The Colts' pass-catching corps is commonly viewed as deep, with Wayne going on age 36, Nicks on board, Hilton having broken out, and Da'Rick Rogers and Donte Moncrief in reserve, with a healthy Allen and Coby Fleener at tight end. A question worth asking is whether we'd see that cast as quality "weapons" if Luck wasn't their quarterback. Richardson is 24 with elite talent, but has underachieved through two NFL seasons and can only be viewed as a negative on this offense until (if) he turns it around. The offensive line is shaky with multiple camp battles for starting jobs. I think the Colts are a top-dozen team almost solely because they have Luck. If they had a worse quarterback, I'd probably rank them in the 20s.

RE: Arthur Jones*
LE: Cory Redding
NT: Josh Chapman
ILB: Jerrell Freeman
ILB: D'Qwell Jackson*
OLB: Bjoern Werner
OLB: Erik Walden
RCB: Vontae Davis
LCB: Greg Toler
FS: Mike Adams*
SS: LaRon Landry

Defensive Overview: Indy will be without top defender and 2013 DPOY runner-up Robert Mathis for games against Denver, Philadelphia, Jacksonville, and Tennessee to open the season. Mathis will be replaced by 2013 first-rounder Werner, a huge disappointment as a rookie. Chuck Pagano's defense doesn't look much better than last year's -- and could conceivably be worse -- after finishing 13th against the pass and 26th versus the run. Jackson is going on 31 with a long injury history. The secondary is competent at only two positions. Jones was a strong signing, but team pass rush remains a big concern. It's time for Colts fans to start becoming anxious about GM Ryan Grigson. Since a spectacular 2012 draft, he has struggled to assemble a strong roster.

12. Detroit Lions

QB: Matthew Stafford
RB: Reggie Bush
WR: Calvin Johnson
WR: Golden Tate*
TE: Brandon Pettigrew
TE: Eric Ebron*
LT: Riley Reiff
LG: Rob Sims
C: Dominic Raiola
RG: Larry Warford
RT: LaAdrian Waddle

Offensive Overview: I continue to be dumbfounded by Ken Whisenhunt's decision to coach the Titans over the Lions, who have the makings of an elite offense with a depth chart chock full of playmakers on the right side of 30, and as many as three young building-block linemen. Detroit settled for Jim Caldwell, who tabbed Sean Payton disciple Joe Lombardi to design offense and call plays. After watching in horror as Stafford suffered through an NFL-most 58 drops by would-be pass catchers last season, GM Martin Mayhew signed sure-handed run-after-catch weapon Tate, and drafted monster-ceiling top-ten pick Ebron. Lombardi will lean on a rotation of Bush and versatile timeshare partner Joique Bell to key his running game, while Stafford returns at age 26 and Megatron goes on 29. Personnel wise, the Lions' offense is firmly in the top seven or eight.

RE: Ziggy Ansah
LE: Jason Jones
DT: Ndamukong Suh
DT: Nick Fairley
MLB: Stephen Tulloch
WLB: DeAndre Levy
SLB: Kyle Van Noy*
LCB: Rashean Mathis
RCB: Darius Slay
FS: Glover Quin
SS: James Ihedigbo*

Defensive Overview: The Lions play stout run defense and can be incredibly disruptive on the interior, but their defense is otherwise question-mark laden. The outside pass rush is mediocre and the secondary is a huge concern with sophomore Slay coming off an injury-wrecked, largely ineffective rookie year and 34-year-old Mathis re-signed to be Detroit's No. 1 corner. Ihedigbo was solid in new DC Teryl Austin's Ravens back end last year, but can be a liability in pass coverage. Ultimately, the Lions have a handful of nice pieces, but the rest of their starting 11 on defense is suspect. Mayhew may need the offense to carry his team to the playoffs to keep his job into 2015.

13. Baltimore Ravens

QB: Joe Flacco
RB: Bernard Pierce
WR: Torrey Smith
WR: Steve Smith*
TE: Dennis Pitta
TE: Owen Daniels*
LT: Eugene Monroe
LG: Kelechi Osemele
C: Jeremy Zuttah*
RG: Marshal Yanda
RT: Rick Wagner

Offensive Overview: New OC Gary Kubiak is installing a run-based, play-action attack that should better suit Baltimore's personnel than outgoing Jim Caldwell's three-wide offense did. Flacco exposed himself to be a quarterback that needs a consistent foundation running game to succeed in 2013, when the Ravens ranked a putrid 30th in rushing and dead last in team yards per carry. Flacco's performance took a sizable step back after his breakout 2012 season-ending stretch. A Shanahan disciple, Kubiak's zone rushing offenses have a great history of success. Torrey will play the old Andre Johnson role in Kubiak's scheme, with Steve as Kubes' new Kevin Walter and Pitta teaming with Daniels regularly in two-tight end sets. The Ravens are unsettled at running back and right tackle, however, leaving some critical unfinished business for the heat of training camp. I view this as a league-average offense, albeit one with an arrow teetering up.

RE: Chris Canty
LE: Haloti Ngata
NT: Brandon Williams
ILB: Daryl Smith
ILB: C.J. Mosley*
OLB: Terrell Suggs
OLB: Elvis Dumervil
LCB: Lardarius Webb
RCB: Jimmy Smith
FS: Darian Stewart*
SS: Matt Elam

Defensive Overview: Defense is the strength of GM Ozzie Newsome's roster, although some drop-off should be feared. Ngata, Canty, Daryl Smith, Suggs, and Dumervil are all on the wrong side of 30, yet Baltimore is counting on them to be among its top defenders. Where the Ravens should noticeably improve is in the secondary, with Webb over a full year removed from his October 2012 ACL tear and Smith, an ascending 26-year-old with legitimate shutdown upside. Elam has slid to his more natural strong safety spot, while third-round pick Terrence Brooks puts pressure on ex-Rams starter Stewart for center-field duties. Williams offers big-time potential on the nose, and Baltimore is deep at inside linebacker after re-signing Smith and using back-to-back top-60 draft picks on Mosley and Arthur Brown. I think the Ravens will be stout against the run with sticky coverage in the back end. I'm a bit concerned about the overall team pass rush.

14. Kansas City Chiefs

QB: Alex Smith
RB: Jamaal Charles
WR: Dwayne Bowe
WR: Donnie Avery
TE: Anthony Fasano
TE: Travis Kelce
LT: Eric Fisher
LG: Jeff Allen
C: Rodney Hudson
RG: Rishaw Johnson
RT: Donald Stephenson

Offensive Overview: Last year's Chiefs played better offense than expected under Andy Reid, but were dangerously dependent upon Charles. Charles was the only tailback in football to lead his team in every receiving category, and simultaneously ranked third in the NFL in rushing. (Kansas City lost its only two games where No. 2 back Knile Davis was forced to carry the load.) Salary-cap constraints cost the Chiefs OLs Geoff Schwartz, Branden Albert, and Jon Asamoah, who combined for 28 starts last season and all landed lucrative paydays elsewhere. The trio will be replaced in-house. Kansas City didn't use a single draft pick to upgrade on Avery and A.J. Jenkins at wide receiver, while sophomore Kelce is being counted on for a suddenly major role after his rookie year was wiped out by microfracture knee surgery. Be it due to O-Line or weapons deficiencies -- or losing Charles to injury -- a 2014 offensive step back is likely.


RE: Vance Walker*
LE: Mike DeVito
NT: Dontari Poe
ILB: Derrick Johnson
ILB: Joe Mays*
OLB: Tamba Hali
OLB: Justin Houston
LCB: Marcus Cooper
RCB: Ron Parker
FS: Husain Abdullah
SS: Eric Berry

Defensive Overview: The Chiefs will use No. 23 pick Dee Ford in a sub-rusher role to spell Houston and Tali, and replace the latter as soon as 2014, when Hali's scheduled pay hits $9 million and he'll be approaching age 32. The front seven can be deadly when Poe, Houston, and Hali are all available to bring two-way pressure from the edges and interior, a worrisome combo for even the league's premier quarterbacks. The secondary is a question mark. Kansas City cut Brandon Flowers and benched Sean Smith during OTAs, where 27-year-old journeyman Parker ran with the ones. After a hot start, the bottom fell out on sophomore Cooper late in his rookie year. Abdullah has primarily been a special teamer in his career. In Houston's five missed games last season, the Chiefs' defense served up a weekly average of 25.2 points. They allowed 16.3 points per game in Houston's 11 appearances. The back end is a concern, but simply keeping the big guns up front healthy is the key for DC Bob Sutton’s defense.

15. Washington Redskins

QB: Robert Griffin III
RB: Alfred Morris
WR: Pierre Garcon
WR: DeSean Jackson*
TE: Jordan Reed
TE: Logan Paulsen
LT: Trent Williams
LG: Shawn Lauvao*
C: Kory Lichtensteiger
RG: Chris Chester
RT: Tyler Polumbus

Offensive Overview: The Shanahan era left behind a franchise back in Morris, a quarterback with league MVP potential, plus talent at "X" receiver and tight end, and a 26-year-old left tackle who's already made two Pro Bowls. The Skins parted with Mike and Kyle Shanahan due to differences with owner Dan Snyder, not based on job performance. The new staff has supplemented RG3's weapons with Jackson and Andre Roberts, as coach Jay Gruden intends to open up Washington's passing game, while wider bodies were targeted on the line. This offense can rediscover top-five heights if Griffin's knee is indeed healed and his dual threat restored, as spring reports out of D.C. insist. The Redskins are a sneaky threat to win the NFC East if RG3 is his 2012 self. If not, this could end up as a rough, learning year. This will be Griffin's first-ever experience with a non-college-style offense, and his 2013 tape shows he needs quite a bit of refinement in the nuances of the quarterback position.

RE: Jason Hatcher*
LE: Chris Baker
NT: Barry Cofield
ILB: Perry Riley
ILB: Keenan Robinson
OLB: Brian Orakpo
OLB: Ryan Kerrigan
RCB: David Amerson
LCB: DeAngelo Hall
FS: Ryan Clark*
SS: Brandon Meriweather

Defensive Overview: Mike Shanahan's biggest failures were on defense, where the Skins boast two impact rush linebackers but ended last year deficient everywhere else. Washington's new decision makers shelled out to retain two-gap end Baker and signed 32-year-old Hatcher to a $27.5 million deal. Baker is a replaceable talent, and Hatcher's already undergone knee surgery. A camp battle will take place at inside 'backer next to Riley, while the Skins will count on in-house strides from Amerson and Meriweather. On the wrong side of 30, Hall is a mediocre corner. Ex-Steeler Clark drew little interest in free agency and is going on age 35. The Redskins need their offensive potential to be maximized by Gruden; DC Jim Haslett's defense can't carry them. Haslett's focus should be on sacks and turnovers because this group probably won't stop anyone.

16. Pittsburgh Steelers

QB: Ben Roethlisberger
RB: Le'Veon Bell
WR: Antonio Brown
WR: Markus Wheaton
WR: Lance Moore*
TE: Heath Miller
LT: Kelvin Beachum
LG: Ramon Foster
C: Maurkice Pouncey
RG: David DeCastro
RT: Marcus Gilbert

Offensive Overview: After a half-decade of offensive line troubles and last year's shortage of playmakers -- at least to open the season -- the Steelers appear to have solidified both. All five starters return up front, most notably Pro Bowler Pouncey after tearing his right ACL and MCL last Week 1. Perhaps Pittsburgh doesn't have elite O-Line talent, but it does have a shot at continuity, crucial in Todd Haley and Mike Munchak's zone-blocking scheme. The Steelers' wideouts are small but explosive, and a healthy Miller gives them a formidable red-zone presence after playing last season well short of 100%. Utilizing no-huddle packages in the second half of 2013, Big Ben logged a 20:7 TD-to-INT ratio across the final nine games. The Steelers finished 6-3. This should be viewed as a top-half-of-the-NFL offense with room to grow. Roethlisberger remains squarely in his prime at 32, while seven members of this projected starting 11 are 26 or younger.


LE: Stephon Tuitt*
RE: Cameron Heyward
NT: Steve McLendon
ILB: Lawrence Timmons
ILB: Ryan Shazier*
OLB: Jason Worilds
OLB: Jarvis Jones
LCB: Cortez Allen
RCB: Ike Taylor
FS: Mike Mitchell*
SS: Troy Polamalu

Defensive Overview: 21st in run defense, 27th in sacks, and 14th in points allowed, DC Dick LeBeau's 2013 defense lacked speed and playmaking ability. GM Kevin Colbert obviously recognized that, drafting freak athlete Shazier in the first round and 21-year-old Tuitt in the second after transition tagging sack leader Worilds and signing 4.39 burner safety Mitchell. The Steelers will hope for in-house leaps from Heyward, Jones, and Allen, and one more respectable year out of Taylor and Polamalu. I think the Steelers will be better defensively than they were last season, but neither outside linebacker is proven as a full-time starter, the run defense could remain an issue, and depth is dangerously thin behind frequent 2013 burn victim Taylor, who turned 34 in May. Haley's offense has passed LeBeau's defense as the strength of the Pittsburgh roster.

17. Carolina Panthers

QB: Cam Newton
RB: DeAngelo Williams
FB: Mike Tolbert
WR: Jerricho Cotchery*
WR: Kelvin Benjamin*
TE: Greg Olsen
LT: Nate Chandler
LG: Amini Silatolu
C: Ryan Kalil
RG: Trai Turner*
RT: Byron Bell

Offensive Overview: Much has been made of Carolina's weak wide receiver depth chart despite the fact that it's quite conceivable Cotchery (10 TDs in 2013) and 6-foot-5, 245-pound rookie Benjamin are upgrades on outgoing Brandon LaFell and 35-year-old Steve Smith. The worry should be up front, where LT Jordan Gross and LG Travelle Wharton's retirements have forced a reshuffling that may result in converted defensive tackle Chandler protecting Cam's blind side, a rookie starting at right guard, and liability Bell returning at right tackle. The backfield stable should improve with 27-year-old Jonathan Stewart finally healthy, even if 31-year-old Williams returns the likely starter. OC Mike Shula's 2013 offense finished 26th in total yards and 18th in points scored, and I wouldn't project the 2014 version to be much worse. I do think Carolina is at least one more offseason away from opening up its offense. In 2014, this will continue to be a ball-control group.

RE: Greg Hardy
LE: Charles Johnson
NT: Colin Cole
DT: Star Lotulelei
MLB: Luke Kuechly
WLB: A.J. Klein
SLB: Thomas Davis
RCB: Melvin White
LCB: Antoine Cason*
FS: Thomas DeCoud*
SS: Roman Harper*

Defensive Overview: The foundation of Carolina's team, beyond Cam Newton, is its deep, talented front seven which was good enough last season for the Panthers to rank No. 2 in run defense, No. 6 against the pass, and No. 2 in points allowed despite a makeshift secondary that had to be reshaped this offseason. Hardy is a dominant edge player, and Johnson's versatility to rush from various angles is an ideal complement. Carolina is deep at end and tackle on down to 2013 second-round pick Kawann Short, a sophomore leap candidate. The linebackers are quick play diagnosers with sideline-to-sideline range. As GM Dave Gettleman attempts to clean up the salary cap mess left by Marty Hurney, he will lean on Newton and his young, stocked defensive front seven to keep the on-field product competitive. I do anticipate Carolina taking a 2014 step back, but not to the extent the public seems to foresee. I think they'll remain in the playoff hunt.

18. New York Giants

QB: Eli Manning
RB: Rashad Jennings*
WR: Victor Cruz
WR: Rueben Randle
WR: Odell Beckham*
TE: Adrien Robinson
LT: Will Beatty
LG: Geoff Schwartz*
C: J.D. Walton*
RG: Chris Snee
RT: Justin Pugh

Offensive Overview: Referred to by owner John Mara as "broken" following last season, the Giants' offense is being re-tooled by ex-Packers assistant Ben McAdoo, who will replace Kevin Gilbride's older-school vertical attack with a quick-hitting passing game intended to place less stress on New York's line and get the football out of Manning's hands quickly. Eli absorbed a career-high 39 sacks in 2013, and his performance fell off a cliff under frequent duress. Now 33, Manning can't continue to take that kind of punishment on an annual basis. McAdoo's scheme will also be far less reliant on an "X" receiver to clear space for teammates and beat man coverage on isolation routes. The Giants plan to increase Cruz and 23-year-old breakout candidate Randle's run-after-catch opportunities, using the former a la Randall Cobb and Randle as McAdoo's version of Jordy Nelson. Beckham will play the old Greg Jennings role. The front five is still a major question mark despite an infusion of free agent dollars and draft picks, and the run game figures to be distributed on a committee basis, as Tom Coughlin has historically preferred. I don't think this is a great offense by any means, but there's a good chance it will take a step forward in 2014.

RE: Jason Pierre-Paul
LE: Mathias Kiwanuka
DT: Cullen Jenkins
NT: Johnathan Hankins
MLB: Jameel McClain*
WLB: Jacquian Williams
SLB: Spencer Paysinger
LCB: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie*
RCB: Prince Amukamara
FS: Stevie Brown
SS: Antrel Rolle

Defensive Overview: Perhaps this is the case for many teams, but the Giants seem to have an inordinate amount of scenarios where if a certain couple of things go right, they'll be in the division-title hunt. If those things don't go right, we'll see another mediocre seven- to nine-win season. One thing that absolutely must go right is a healthy and effective return of Pierre-Paul, who's managed two sacks over his last 18 games while battling conditioning, back, and shoulder woes. Still only 25, JPP had 16.5 sacks during the 2011 season alone. GM Jerry Reese did do an impressive job of rebuilding the secondary, although few NFL defensive backs excel without up-front help. The Giants were dealt a significant second-level blow in June, when MLB Jon Beason tore a ligament in and fractured his right foot. He's on the doubtful side of questionable for Week 1. Beason's injury occurred just two weeks after the Giants were forced to release budding star FS Will Hill for off-field reasons. Kiwanuka and Rolle are 31. Jenkins is 33.

19. Miami Dolphins

QB: Ryan Tannehill
RB: Lamar Miller
WR: Mike Wallace
WR: Brian Hartline
WR: Brandon Gibson
TE: Charles Clay
LT: Branden Albert*
LG: Dallas Thomas
C: Nate Garner
RG: Shelley Smith*
RT: Ja'Wuan James*

Offensive Overview: I like the direction the Dolphins seem to be headed under new OC Bill Lazor, who spent 2013 with Chip Kelly in Philly and will bring to Miami a far more balanced offense designed to get speed back Miller into space, and scheme Wallace free releases into pass routes. There is still an unhealthy amount of question marks amongst this unit. Tannehill has every tool necessary to become a franchise quarterback, but his play particularly slipped down the stretch of last season, and absorbing 58 sacks as Tannehill did under Mike Sherman last year is cause for long-term concern. Miller is a talented runner, but has deficiencies in his overall game. The offensive line was sewn back together by rookie GM Dennis Hickey this offseason, following a disastrous 2013, only to lose C Mike Pouncey to June hip surgery. I see this offense as a major unknown entering camp, but I am optimistic about its future under Lazor. Lazor has a run-committed background -- something this team desperately needs -- and was Nick Foles' position coach during his breakout year. Tannehill has superior physical skills to Foles.

RE: Olivier Vernon
LE: Cameron Wake
DT: Randy Starks
NT: Earl Mitchell*
MLB: Koa Misi
WLB: Philip Wheeler
SLB: Dannell Ellerbe
LCB: Brent Grimes
RCB: Cortland Finnegan*
FS: Louis Delmas*
SS: Reshad Jones

Defensive Overview: The Fins' 2013 defense underachieved under DC Kevin Coyle, but theoretically should be the strength of Hickey's roster. Wake, Starks, and Grimes are blue-chip starters. Mitchell and Delmas are probably short-term stopgaps, but they are quality role players who were signed to address needs. Jones, Ellerbe, and Wheeler are only one season removed from solid years, while Vernon is a huge breakout candidate after registering 11.5 sacks as a 22/23-year-old last season. He'll open the year at age 23. Even with Dion Jordan on suspension, Miami has depth in versatile DL Jared Odrick, rangy sophomore LB Jelani Jenkins, CB/S Jimmy Wilson, and 2013 second-round pick CB Jamar Taylor. Put simply, Coyle probably needs to go if this team doesn't play top-ten defense in 2014. It should be stout against both the run and pass.

20. Dallas Cowboys

QB: Tony Romo
RB: DeMarco Murray
WR: Dez Bryant
WR: Terrance Williams
TE: Jason Witten
TE: Gavin Escobar
LT: Tyron Smith
LG: Ronald Leary
C: Travis Frederick
RG: Zack Martin*
RT: Doug Free

Offensive Overview: Jerry Jones has assembled the most lopsided roster in football, with very arguably a top-five offense weighed down by the NFL's worst on-paper defense. We'll start with the positives. Romo, Bryant, Witten, and Murray are established stars to varying degrees. Escobar and Williams are talented rising sophomores with breakout potential. On the line, Smith, Frederick, and Martin are all recent first-round picks, while Leary and Free have settled in as respectable to above-average starters. All in all, Dallas has a chance to field one of the league's top lines, and there aren't many teams with superior skill-position players. Dallas also has impressive offensive depth in explosive scatback Lance Dunbar, sure-handed slot receiver Cole Beasley, and Mackenzy Bernadeau, Uche Nwaneri, and Jermey Parnell as front-five reserves.

RE: Demarcus Lawrence*
LE: George Selvie
DT: Henry Melton*
NT: Terrell McClain*
MLB: Justin Durant
WLB: Bruce Carter
SLB: Kyle Wilber
LCB: Brandon Carr
RCB: Orlando Scandrick
FS: J.J. Wilcox
SS: Barry Church

Defensive Overview: The Cowboys' defense was a mess even before MLB Sean Lee tore his left ACL in May. Including DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher, Dallas has lost its best three defenders after allowing the third most yards in league history last year. The Cowboys' defense is now living on prayers. DC Rod Marinelli will *hope* second-round pick Lawrence is ready to be a premier NFL pass rusher as a rookie, and *hope* Melton rediscovers pre-ACL form after teams shied away from him in free agency. Marinelli will *hope* journeyman nose McClain is primed for a huge career leap, and that an underwhelming linebacker corps plays significantly above its head. The Cowboys will *hope* Carr rebounds from a disastrous season, and that 2012 first-round pick Morris Claiborne overcomes his bust label. They’ll also *hope* Wilcox takes major strides in coverage after getting roasted by the pass last year. If more than one of those *hopes* don't pan out, on paper this is a unit talent-poor enough to torpedo the Cowboys' entire 2014 season.

21. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

QB: Josh McCown*
RB: Doug Martin
WR: Vincent Jackson
WR: Mike Evans*
TE: Brandon Myers*
TE: Austin Seferian-Jenkins*
LT: Anthony Collins*
LG: Carl Nicks
C: Evan Dietrich-Smith*
RG: Jamon Meredith
RT: Demar Dotson

Offensive Overview: The Buccaneers' guard positions are a potential quagmire and their quarterback is a 35-year-old journeyman who's never enjoyed NFL success away from Marc Trestman, but I still like how Tampa Bay's offensive unit has come together. Their pass-catching corps is comprised of mismatch-creating touchdown scorers, and the backfield goes as many as four deep with Charles Sims, Mike James, and Bobby Rainey behind Martin. The apparent plan is to run the football with volume and lean on McCown's willingness to throw into 50:50 situations when pass plays are required on third downs and in the red zone. New OC Jeff Tedford has never coached in the pros before, so it's hard to say exactly what his scheme will look like. On paper, the personnel suggest Tampa Bay can be an effective ball-control team with red-zone efficiency.

RE: Michael Johnson*
LE: Adrian Clayborn
DT: Gerald McCoy
NT: Akeem Spence
MLB: Mason Foster
WLB: Lavonte David
SLB: Jonathan Casillas
RCB: Alterraun Verner*
LCB: Johnthan Banks
FS: Dashon Goldson
SS: Mark Barron

Defensive Overview: The 2013 Bucs underachieved spectacularly under Greg Schiano, but the outgoing regime left behind an intriguing amount of defensive talent, which rookie GM Jason Licht supplemented with double-digit sack threat Johnson, key reserve DT Clinton McDonald, and new No. 1 corner Verner. They did trade Darrelle Revis, although his impact was limited by Schiano's zone concepts and refusal to consistently use Revis in man coverage. With Johnson and Clayborn on the ends, and McCoy and McDonald inside in sub-packages, Tampa Bay has a chance to generate multi-dimensional pressure, a dangerous proposition for opposing offenses. The Bucs are speedy on the second level with a shot to be rock-solid in the secondary. If you're pursuing a "sleeper" or breakout defense, look Tampa's way. They have playmakers, numerous difference-making pass rushers, physical defensive backs, and will be coached by Lovie Smith.


22. Arizona Cardinals

QB: Carson Palmer
RB: Andre Ellington
WR: Larry Fitzgerald
WR: Michael Floyd
TE: Jake Ballard
TE: John Carlson*
LT: Jared Veldheer*
LG: Jonathan Cooper
C: Lyle Sendlein
RG: Paul Fanaika
RT: Bobby Massie

Offensive Overview: Vegas sees Arizona as one of the league’s most obvious regression teams, which makes sense on the heels of an unanticipated 10-win year. Although the addition of Veldheer helps, the Cardinals’ offensive line remains a major concern with Cooper struggling to regain form and liability Fanaika returning as a starting guard. Even if the tackle play improves, this team will continue to have trouble running inside and remains vulnerable to interior pressure. Approaching age 35, Palmer’s mobility evaporated long ago, and his performance dips sharply in disrupted pockets. The Fitz-Floyd-Ellington skill-position trio looks exciting on paper, but there are hurdles to clear elsewhere on offense. I think this unit is more likely to take a step back before it leaps forward. I also hope Bruce Arians is careful to not put too much on Ellington’s plate. He had a lot of injuries in college and isn’t built to be an NFL workhorse.

RE: Calais Campbell
LE: Darnell Dockett
NT: Dan Williams
ILB: Larry Foote*
ILB: Kevin Minter
OLB: John Abraham
OLB: Matt Shaughnessy
LCB: Patrick Peterson
RCB: Antonio Cromartie*
FS: Rashad Johnson
SS: Deone Bucannon*

Defensive Overview: Defense was the strength of Arizona’s 2013 roster, but the onus will likely shift to Arians’ offense this year. The Cardinals have lost difference-making ILBs Karlos Dansby (Browns) and Daryl Washington (suspension), while FS/CB Tyrann Mathieu (ACL/LCL) isn’t expected back until October. 33-year-old Dockett, 36-year-old Abraham, and 34-year-old Foote are being counted on for major front-seven roles. Dansby replacement Minter is an unknown after earning one defensive snap as a rookie last season. Arians deserves a cap tip for getting this team to play above its head in 2013. The Cards will be exposed as an average to below-average team in 2014.

23. Atlanta Falcons

QB: Matt Ryan
RB: Steven Jackson
WR: Julio Jones
WR: Roddy White
WR: Harry Douglas
TE: Levine Toilolo
LT: Sam Baker
LG: Justin Blalock
C: Joe Hawley
RG: Jon Asamoah*
RT: Jake Matthews*

Offensive Overview: Although there are concerns amongst this unit, it theoretically should be the side of the ball on which GM Thomas Dimitroff hangs his hat. The Falcons have an established, 29-year-old franchise quarterback, one of the NFL's top wideout trios when healthy, and an offensive line that should be much improved with the additions of Asamoah and Matthews, and a healthy Baker. The front five still only projects as league average or slightly worse, while losing Tony Gonzalez removes a major wrinkle from OC Dirk Koetter's passing-game inventory as Atlanta transitions to heavy-footed sophomore Toilolo, whose strength is blocking. Observers can nitpick, but ultimately this offense should be capable of generating a lot of yards and points. And it will likely have to in order to compensate for a leaky defense.

RE: Jonathan Babineaux
LE: Tyson Jackson*
NT: Paul Soliai*
ILB: Paul Worrilow
ILB: Joplo Bartu
OLB: Kroy Biermann
OLB: Jonathan Massaquoi
RCB: Desmond Trufant
LCB: Robert Alford
FS: Dwight Lowery*
SS: William Moore

Defensive Overview: After finishing 2013 ranked 21st against the pass and 31st versus the run, Dimitroff dedicated his offseason to increasing Atlanta's bulk and physicality up front, doing so by signing wide-bodies Jackson and Soliai. This team remains dangerously short on pass rush after finishing 30th in sacks. The Falcons' defensive outlook was further diminished by ILB Sean Weatherspoon's June Achilles' tear, which removes a critical three-down player from the second level of DC Mike Nolan's defense. Atlanta is counting on huge second-year steps forward from Worrilow and Bartu, a big leap from Massaquoi in his first season as a starter, injury-prone Lowery to finally stay healthy, and Biermann to rediscover past form after his own Achilles' tear. Most likely, Nolan will have to get very creative with his blitz packages in order to generate any havoc against enemy quarterbacks. Look for the Falcons to field a risk-taking 2014 defense that may be competitive if it creates sacks and turnovers, but will almost certainly give up lots of yards.

24. St. Louis Rams

QB: Sam Bradford
RB: Zac Stacy
WR: Kenny Britt*
WR: Chris Givens
TE: Jared Cook
TE: Lance Kendricks
LT: Jake Long
LG: Greg Robinson*
C: Scott Wells
RG: Rodger Saffold
RT: Joseph Barksdale

Offensive Overview: The Rams’ offensive summary arguably should begin with an assessment of Bradford, although there are indications the front office and coaching staff might disagree. Having played more competitive football utilizing a run-heavy offense following Bradford’s 2013 ACL tear, St. Louis seems to have embraced a ground-n-pound future despite opening last season in a pass-aggressive spread. The Rams paid up to retain right guard Saffold, before using the No. 2 pick on mauling guard Robinson. They also selected a reserve tailback in third-rounder Tre Mason. Bradford’s four years of mediocrity and humdrum outlook weigh on the Rams’ roster ranking here, but the arrow does appear to be teetering up. It would get a nice boost if a change of scenery sparked Britt’s career, and the line stayed healthy. St. Louis’ wideout jobs are entirely up for grabs after 2013 No. 8 overall pick Tavon Austin’s disappointing rookie year.

RE: Robert Quinn
LE: Chris Long
DT: Michael Brockers
DT: Aaron Donald*
MLB: James Laurinaitis
WLB: Alec Ogletree
SLB: Jo-Lonn Dunbar
LCB: Trumaine Johnson
RCB: Janoris Jenkins
FS: Lamarcus Joyner*
SS: T.J. McDonald

Defensive Overview: The Rams’ front four has an opportunity to be special with No. 13 overall pick Donald joining an already studly corps, and Kendall Langford, William Hayes, Eugene Sims, and Alex Carrington in reserve. They have good enough personnel to field a legitimate eight-man D-Line rotation. Unfortunately, St. Louis’ defense gets worse the further back you look. The linebackers are largely pedestrian, and neither Johnson nor Jenkins has played to his potential at corner. The Rams will lean on a rookie free safety in Joyner, and coverage-deficient sophomore McDonald as his veteran mentor. There is no real clarity at nickel back, where FS/CB Rodney McLeod, Brandon McGee, and rookie E.J. Gaines will duke it out. St. Louis’ defense has a chance to be very disruptive up front. But GM Les Snead shouldn’t view it a finished product.


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.

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