Training Camps are open and it is time to put the DRAFT into the rear view mirror (for now) and let you know how I rank the NFL teams as I peruse their current rosters. Rosters will change even before the first round of player cuts in mid-August, but those changes will be relatively minor in most cases. So let’s start with the lower end of the League.
32) BROWNS It would be nice for this team, and the league in general, if ROBERT GRIFFIN could revitalize his career and elevate the BROWNS QB position play. But I will believe it when I see it. The team had a high volume draft, and JOSH GORDON was just reinstated by ROGER GOODELL. But at the earliest GORDON gets back on the field in Week 5. The talent base is still marginal in quality and lacking in any kid of depth. JIMMY HASLAM, Owner, has to leave this organization alone and let all his relatively new managers settle in and set the course for the team in their image. Constant changes in the front office and with the coaching staff create a constant do-over atmosphere, and dictate excessive roster changes every year. For 2016 the plan should be to settle in and let the team run it’s course for 17 weeks. Then get ready to upgrade again with picks at the top of the 2017 DRAFT.
31) 49’ERS CHIP KELLY gets a second chance to head an NFL organization and this time he is doing it from the bottom up. A team that was a serious Super Bowl contender just a few short years ago under JIM HARBAUGH has basically been torn down and is being rebuilt in the image of GM TRENT BAALKE, who often butted heads with HARBAUGH. KELLY will not have the overall authority he did his last year in Phily, so Niners fans can only hope that the BAALKE/KELLY partnership is a harmonious one. There are more questions about this roster than we have time to detail here. Can KELLY & KAEPERNICK forge a relationship that will drive the Offense or is it just a matter of time before COLIN is out of the Bay Area? Will it matter much who the top QB is on a roster whose leading returning receiver is TORREY SMITH, who had 33 catches last season? It does not look like there will be very much to get excited about other than the amenities of LEVI STADIUM at home games this fall.
30) LIONS MATTHEW STAFFORD/QB will likely continue to be the good soldier and try to lead the LIONS to respectability, but the last thing he needed was for All-World WR CALVIN JOHNSON to retire. Megatron was still an elite WR last season and the team failed to draft a replacement for him, despite having 10 Picks in April. Then the team cut JOIQUE BELL/RB and will try to produce a running game featuring two 200 lb. RB in RIDDICK & ABDULLAH. Expect STAFFORD to exceed his 592 passing attempts in 2016. The best news here may be that the team might have drafted 3 guys who will be starters soon along the OL in DECKER, GLASGOW & DAHL. Their DB unit looks like a target opponents will revel in throwing at. I expect a dip from 7-9 to at least 10 losses in 2016. Even HC/JIM CALDWELL’s patience may be tested here.
29) TITANS This team has the best young talent of these bottom feeders, but unless the addition of DeMARCO MURRAY & DERRICK HENRY really boosts the running game behind a restructured OL too much pressure will be placed on MARCUS MARIOTA, which will delay his development. This is the year the team will try to shake out their receiving corps, which has a lot of well known names, who by and large have failed to step up and become elite pro receivers. TE/DELANIE WALKER led the team with 94 catches in 2015, with no one else even topping 40 catches. DICK LaBEAU is now the DC for the TITANS and with all due respect to his knowledge and resume’ I have to wonder if he’s still up to the task well into his 70’s. It looks as though they helped themselves in the Draft, but are likely still another year away from breaking out of the AFC South cellar. They could double their Win total from last year (3) and still have 10 losses.
28) RAMS JEFF FISHER/HC clearly has more faith in his roster personnel than many observers do. I look at this team’s recent moves and perceive that job one is developing California boy JARED GOFF into their franchise QB so he’s ready to lead the team to play-off contention when their new stadium opens in 2018. How else do you explain the salary slashing of JAMES LAURINAITIS/LB, CHRIS LONG/DE, NICK FAIRLEY/DT & JANORIS JENKINS/CB from their Defense. Then look at their Draft of 2 TE & 2 WR, ostensibly to help GOFF, and 1 measly pick for the Defense in Round 6. The good news is that “old-time” RAMS fans may be excited by memories of ERCI DICKERSON/HOF/RB, as they watch TOOD GURLEY run behind a young and talented OL. Other than that I’d expect a 10-Loss season for the RAMS on their return to Southern Cal.
27) BEARS Despite the strong/steady hand of JOHN FOX at the helm DA BEARS look like another team that is reshaping it’s roster, almost from scratch. More vets (BENNETT/TE, FORTE/RB, BUSHROD/OT, ROLLE/S, McCLELLAN/LB) have been dispatched and replaced by younger, hopefully emerging players. FORTE was their leading rusher & third ranked receiver last season. They are still trying to adjust their roster personnel to some of the new systems implemented last season, like DC VIC FANGIO and his 3-4 base scheme. JAY CUTLER actually had a very productive 2015 season, but may be hard pressed to duplicate it without MARTELLUS BENNETT/TE & FORTE. It also looks questionable as to whether the roster really contains 5 OL starting caliber pro players right now. And CUTLER is not a highly mobile QB if his protection breaks down. The defensive personnel are getting younger, and hopefully better, but the rebuild is hardest on that side of the ball.
26) CHARGERS A rash of injuries last season, especially along the OL, revealed some real warts on the CHARGERS roster. In today’s NFL it can be hard to fix a lot in a short period of time. That is why I still see this team in the bottom quarter of the League. The biggest offensive questions revolve around their RB group, where MELVIN GORDON returns off a disappointing rookie campaign, topped off by a knee injury. Was DEREK WATT drafted to block for his former BADGERS teammate in a traditional backfield as opposed to the shotgun, or is that asking too much from QB PHILLIP RIVERS? Stay tuned. Will the addition of quick TRAVIS BENJAMIN/WR add a significant quickness aspect to their passing attack? I think the biggest additions to bring a smile to the franchise QB’s face will be at the TE position where the support group for ANTONIO GATES should be much improved with Rookie HUNTER HENRY & VFA JEFF CUMBERLAND. JOEY BOSA/R (when he finally signs) and VFA BRANDON MEBANE/DT should help upgrade the DL group as well. Keeping the injury bug out of their locker room this season, might be their biggest move toward improvement. They are likely to really miss S/ERIC WEDDLE and his energy in the secondary. But it’s still hard to see this team moving past a 10-Loss season. If they do end up looking like a pretender this season, it could seriously hamper their efforts to remain in San DIego by getting support for a new stadium.
25) FALCONS Looks to me like FALCONS fans may have to revel in looking forward to 2017 when their new stadium opens and they can chomp down on $2 hot dogs and other menu items at the most affordable concession prices in the NFL. I do not expect tis team to sniff even their 2015 .500 record of last season. I hear excited talk about the addition of SANU from the Bengals, but Mohamed caught 33 balls in Cincinnati last year, while the departed RODDY WHITE pulled down 43 catches. That’s NOT a net gain to me. The OL is being shuffled again this summer, which is looking like an annual exercise, that has shown few results. QB MATT RYAN is still taking way too many hits for a non-mobile QB. The team is counting on Rookies to boost the D, and that may happen (S/NEAL & LB/JONES), but when their top Rookie from 2015 VIC BEASLEY, led the team with 4 Sacks they likely needed to add much more. The next familiar face to leave Atlanta may be GM THOMAS DIMITROFF who has failed to bring in enough talent to keep this team above the break even mark in recent seasons. Their last trip to the Play-Offs was in 2012. I don’t see it in the cards for 2016.
This weekend I’ll take a look at the next 8 teams in my pre-season rankings.