Pigskin’s NFL POWER RANKINGS Part Two/ The Top 12

May 29, 2022

My grandfather ran a creamery in Northern Vermont before the Great Depression wiped it out. He was a fond user of the phrase, ‘the cream will rise to the top’. In that case it referred to the non-homogenized milk which you had to shake up to mix with the mostly water in the bottom and the  fresh thick cream at the top of the bottle. He also used it to describe trotters at the county fairs, and  show horses, as well. I got used to hearing it and now will present my Top 12 teams, as the cream does rise to the top. They should be the ‘cream of the crop’ at the end of the 2022 season.

12)  Philadelphia Eagles:  It’s Play-Offs or bust, and/or draft a new QB for 2023 for the Eagles. JALEN HURTS has a stack of new toys to play with and he must progress with them or likely be declared a non-franchise QB. Luckily for him Trader Howie, Eagles GM Howie Roseman, was able to land another young star WR to go with DeVONTA SMITH in disgruntled Titans’ WR A.J. BROWN. These two are 23 and 24-years old and already have proven themselves as pros. Stir in TE DALLAS GOEDERT and WR ZACH PASCAL/VFA and maybe JALEN RAEGOR and Hurts has a nice group of weapons to play with. We have learned two things about RB MILES SANDERS after 3 years in the League; he is a RB1 as a pro, but he can’t stay out on the field every week. So the team has brought in KENNEDY BROOKS/RFA, and is hoping that Kenneth GAINWELL a Rookie last year, can supplement SANDERS and spell him for a few productive carries each week. Speaking about staying healthy, how about ANDRE DILLARD, the Eagles’ first rounder in 2019 who has been scheduled to start at LT the past two seasons, but also cannot stay on the field. LANDON DICKERSON played late in his Rookie season and looked like the long term replacement for BROOKS (retired) at OG. KELCE, this one Jason, is back for likely his last year at OC. But fear not Iggles fans, Roseman drafted OC/CAM JURGENS/Nebraska in Round 2 and he likely can handle starting as soon as they need him to. ROSEMAN tapped the standout GEORGIA Defense trading up in Round 1 to get JORDAN DAVIS (all 340+LBS of him) to literally anchor the DL. Then he stole (perhaps) LB NAKOBE DEAN from that same Defense in Round 3, because of injury concerns. Eagles doctors gave him thumbs up, and if they are wrong not only will they be back totally in private practice, but the Eagles D will not be what is expected of them right now. Their secondary needed some upgrading, but the team ran out of Draft Picks before addressing that. Never fear, Roseman is here. The GIANTS were Salary Cap space needy and cut CB JAMES BRADBERRY after the Draft. Bradberry isn’t likely going to any Pro Bowls this year, but he should be an upgrade over a group of athletic, but green CB candidates opposite of DARIUS SLAY. So Roseman wasted little time in signing him. Super Bowl not, but if HURTS progresses again this season they might dethrone the Cowboys atop the NFC East. And more importantly it will allow Trader Howie to concentrate on the rest of his roster and put HURTS name on the roster board in ink at the QB slot.

11)  Indianapolis Colts     Last year’s QB trial with CARSON WENTZ is history and GM CHRIS BALLARD has moved on. This year’s answer at QB looks much more promising in the person of MATT RYAN, who is a sprightly 37-year old vet to work with HC FRANK REICH and OC Marcus Brady. Now if Ballard can just get T.Y. HILTON back into the fold, affordably, RYAN will have a full compliment of wideouts to throw to. BALLARD is also trying to assemble an OL group that is worthy of run blocking for Star-RB JONATHAN TAYLOR. Taylor will get a breather or two from backups NYHEIM HINES & VFA PHILLIP LINDSAY. With the retirement of Jack Doyle, their TE group looks “interesting” and large. MO ALIE-COX , the 6’5 former hoopster, Rookie JELANI WOODS, 6’7/253 (he of the perfect “10” RAS), Rookie  ANDREW OGLETREE, 6’5/260 are the primary candidates to occupy the TE room.  BALLARD has rolled the dice and elected not to re-sign OT ERIC FISHER(for now). Rookie BERNHARD RAIMANN/OT is their future LT along that OL but the Austrian is relatively raw, despite his standout athleticism. BRADEN SMITH & MATT PRYOR look like the starting OT pairing unless RAIMANN truly surprises. RYAN KELLY is a standout at OC, but has battled injuries off and on throughout his career. QUENTON NELSON is still the best all-around OG in the NFL. He leads by example and by word of mouth. Even without HILTON the receiving corps in Indy looks solid and deep for RYAN. MICHAEL PITTMAN has emerged as the star of the group. ALEC PIERCE was drafted in Round 2 and is athletic with seeming upside to spare. The oft-injured PARRIS CAMPBELL claims to be healthy and raring to go after two seasons pretty much lost injury. A guy to watch here is ASHTON DULIN. An undrafted Rookie in 2019, he made the team based on Special Teams excellence initially. But last year when injuries nit hard in the receivers group he got playing time and was a solid, sure handed receiver. A healthy KWITTY PAYE would go a long way to upgrading their already decent Defense. He showed the flashes last season when healthy to justify the KHALIL MACK comparisons some have made with him. BALLARD also brought in EDGE YANNICK NGAKWE who has traveled around the League, but has undeniable pass-rush skills when his motor is turned on to full. The overall star of their DL group is of course  DeFOREST BUCKNER. But keep your eyes peeled for DAYO ODEYINGBO, who pretty much had an injury red-shirt Rookie season last year. The team is re-shuffling it’s secondary, again. They have gotten rid of the CB combo of RHODES & YA-SIN, and the primary replacement is  STEPHON GILMORE, a recent Pro Bowler, who may or may not have passed his prime at 31. The COLTS are rolling the dice that he is still elite.  They also brought in BRANDON FACYSON, who was part of the general purge of the Raiders roster. Vet KENNY MOORE seems firmly entrenched as the NCB. KHARI WILLIS, JULIAN BLACKMON & Rookie NICK CROSS look like the top 3 S on paper. No doubt that DARIUS LEONARD will be the leader of their Defense. BOBBY OKEREKE is his underrated side kick. Ex-back up QB FRANK REICH is a solid, if sometimes unconventional Head Coach. The loss of DC MATT EBERFLUS to DA BEARS, as their head man, will be felt. But perhaps not as much as some might think given that a wily, veteran coach named GUS BRADLEY is their new DC. They look like a legit Play-Off contender, but not much of a threat for a Super Bowl run.

10)  Baltimore Ravens:   The word right now is that the trading of MARQUISE BROWN to Arizona does indeed have QB LAMAR JACKSON in a funk and has stalled contract negotiations. So for now management will be trying to sooth the disgruntled QB, meanwhile bathing in the glory of perhaps the best Draft in the League. And let’s be honest this team is not afraid to take young players and plug them in sooner rather than later. Just a small instance… SAM KOCH is a 17-year NFL vet Punter who will 40 before September rosters are announced. Clearly SAM let the team know  prior to the Draft that he was going to retire. So Draft Wizard/GM Eric DeCOSTA quietly kept that under wraps and snapped up Penn State Punter JORDAN STOUT late in Round 4. He should be a more than adequate replacement for Koch with a booming leg, as he demonstrated capably during Senior Bowl week. With a total of 11 Picks this year ACOSTA was perfectly comfortable to Draft DAVID OJABO, Aidan Hutchinson’s compatriot in the Michigan D in Round 2, Pick 45. OJABO tore his Achilles Tendon during the Michigan Pro-Day and will end up red shirting the 2022 season most likely. Then he’ll probably lead the team in Sacks in 2023. That’s how they roll in Baltimore. Since their O rolls pretty much as their TE group rolls, the team landed CHARLIE KOLAR from Iowa St, followed shortly thereafter by ISAIAH LIKELY who will likely play out of the slot, not as an Inline TE. The team may have finally finished remodeling a largely over-the-hill secondary thru VFA & the Draft. They now have a CB group of MARLON HUMPHREY- JALYN ARMOUR-DAVIS (R) – MARCUS PETERS- BRANDON STEPHENS. Peters is the gray beard at 29. The S group looks even stronger with Rookie KYLE HAMILTON- VFA MARCUS WILLIAMS-  CHUCK CLARK- GENO STONE, with Clark the oldster at 27. Their OL may feature 2 Rookie starters in OC/Tyler LInderbaum, from the Ferentz OL factory at IOWA, and DANIEL FAALELE, from Minnesota, all 380 lbs. of him. Just picture if you will a right side of their OL with FAALELE/T and BEN CLEVELAND/OG at 355 lbs. Te team was decimated at RB last season but may be looking at 5 seasoned vets in their RB room once Camp opens. They could rise a few spots or fall couple, but this will once again be a team that plays bully-ball, with a lot of talent. Now if they can just get LAMAR signed… oh how I hate the contract crap.

9)  San Francisco 49ers:   There was a slight temptation here to NOT have the Niners in my Top 12. But given their winning ways lately and the quality of their coaching staff and front office I decided to go with the flow. I will feel better about this if they end up keeping Jimmy G. at least until the Trading Deadline, in case TREY LANCE isn’t quite ready to be an NFL starter after all. Jimmy G is almost untradable right now because of his shoulder surgery. So keep the man around and nurse his rehab through Training Camp. Patience is indeed a virtue in this case. Besides GM JOHN LYNCH has more immediate issues to deal with like the DEEBO SAMUEL contract situation. The team will look much different and hinder the progress of LANCE if Deebo is not around. The cupboard would not be bare though. GEORGE KITTLE is the best pass catching TE in the NFL, just a tick above KELCE in my book. WR BRANDON AIYUK is an ascending Receiver2 behind Deebo. It’s early but initial indications are that Rookie DANNY GRAY is a bonafide deep threat with sprinter’s speed. JUAN JENNINGS was too good to take off the field in the final months of last season. It should also denoted that FB KYLE JUSZCZYK includes receiving as a skill set on his resume. KeeSean JOHNSON had decent run with the Cardinals but may be better suited for the Niners Offense, and pleasant surprise. The OL is more than average, and when both are healthy their OT combo of TRENT WILLIAMS & MIKE McGLINCHEY  is top shelf. They may also have gotten themselves a couple of future gems in SPENCER BURFORD/ROUND 4 & NICK ZAKELJ/Round 6 , a couple of swing men who could backup multiple positions for now, with bigger things in their future. NICK BOSA is every bit as good as brother JOEY, in fact, he might be even better. Rookie DRAKE JACKSON could be quite the compliment to NICK’s play on the other end of their DL. A big key on their DL is the health of DT JAVON KINLAW, who has a history of missing playing time. A healthy KINLAW, beside ARIK ARMSTEAD make for a formidable DL base. To my mind this team has one of the best LB groups in the NFL. The best is MLB FRED WARNER, with DRE GREENLAW & AZEEZ AL-SHAAIR on the outside. The latter came on big time last season. None of these guys will be over 25-years old when the season starts. Another addition to the Edge-rush crew is VFA KEMOKO TURAY , who never found a prime spot with the Colts but is an athletic specimen. Look for DC DeMeco Ryans to find playing time for him. The team spent some serious money and Draft Capital to upgrade their secondary this off-season. They signed CB CHARVARIOUS WARD from the  Chiefs as a VFA. They also signed jack-of-all-trades GEROGE ODOM away from the Colts. ODOM has seen playing time in the NFL at both S and WR, not to mention Special Teams work. As the season wore on last year Rookie TALANOA HUFANGA flashed some big play tendencies at SS.  Enough to earn him a shot at a starting job this year. By the end of the season Rookie AMBRY THOMAS was starting on the Corner and making some impact plays.  They drafted the very athletic TARIQ CASTRO-FIELDS at CB in Round 6 in April. Round 5 brought them Nickel CB SAMUEL WOMACK. It would not surprise this writer if there as a rather large youth movement in their secondary group. In fact if GM LYNCH looks to find money to pay DEEBO, some big dollar vets like ER/DEE FORD, OFT-INJURED CB Jason VERRETT, pricey Edge SAMSON EBUKAN and a few more vets (Garoppolo)  could be erased from the roster to save money and make way for ascending younger guys. And they will still be the RAMS top challenger in the NFC West.

8) Dallas Cowboys:  Two years ago Owner JERRY JONES was as giddy as a school-boy with a coaching crush in hiring MIKE McCARTHY to take over as Head Coach of his beloved Dallas Cowboys football team. Now I think Jones has the phone number of Sean Payton on his speed dial button. And Mike should be a bit worried, because this Cowboys team is as thin as it has been in quite some time. Injuries and Salary Cap constraints could leave the ‘Boys in a position to have to carry a record number of Rookies on their September roster. The Offense is well set at the skill positions featuring DAK PRESCOTT  at QB, and a RB tandem of ZEKE ELLIOTT & TONY POLLARD. The two RB combined should be good for over 2,000 yards this season. DARREN SCHULTZ really blossomed at TE last season and Rookie JAKE FERGUSON should make a nice compliment for him. The team parted ways with Amari Cooper because of Cap issues, and Cedrick Wilson moved on for starter’s money in Miami. But fear not Cowboys fans the starting tandem of CEE DEE LAMB and MICHAEL GALLUP will be just fine, and they will have some solid depth here with VFA JAMES WASHINGTON  & Rookie JALEN TOLBERT just waiting for some DAK throws to come their way. It’s the OL that needs some fixing after being perhaps the best in the NFL for about 3-4 seasons. Father Time has taken a toll up front. LT TYRON SMITH looked like a future HoF, but back problems have limited his playing time and body flexibility when he does play. The team gave up on Connor Williams and used its Round One Pick on Tulsa OT TYLER SMITH, but intends to plug him into that LG spot, at least for now. TYLER BIADASZ/OC has replaced retired Travis Frederick, but hasn’t played at his predecessor did. All-Pro ZACK MARTIN/RG is the star of this OL, with  TERRENCE STEELE/OT  being satisfactory.  Connor McGOVERN represents their only real vet depth here. Rookie MATT WALETZKO is a veritable athletic freak, but played at North Dakota and is not ready to start in the NFL right away.  Their Defense hasn’t been dominant as a group for some time. The best news is that MICAH PARSONS looks to be a Lawrence Taylor type impact guy. VANDER ESCH was healthy last season, and flashed his top end athleticism. Other than QUINTON BOHANNA, at 360 lbs, the team relies on speed and quickness more than strength along their DL, and it shows late in games. They have some guys like LAWRENCE and VFA DANTE FOWLER, who can bring heat on the pocket, but they can’t set the edge well against the run. Their secondary may finally be rounding into shape behind athletic guys like CB TREVON DIGGS who led the NFL with 11 INT last season. Youngsters KELVIN JOSEPH & NASHON WRIGHT, will be trying to take over the CB slot opposite DIGGS, from vet ANTHONY BROWN. I don’t like the fact that the defending NFC East Champs are counting on a RFA named GARIBAY, from Texas Tech as their PK right now. They probably go 10-7, but lose in their first Play-Off game. Ring, Ring… hello, this is Jerry Jones calling, is Sean home?

7)  Los Angeles Chargers:  The CHARGERS have their first legit elite Franchise QB perhaps since a guy named DAN FOUTS. And luckily the organization seems to recognize that fact after only two seasons. Justin Herbert possesses all the physical and mental attributes needed to be big time and has moved up quite quickly into the Top 10 QBs in the League. The team spent a lot of time, energy and money this past off-season to take this team from a Play-Off contender to a Super Bowl contender. They have done it wisely by bringing in new players via VFA & the Draft, on both sides of the ball. Last year they added RASHAWN SLATER as an instant starter at OT. In this most recent Draft they brought in ZION JOHNSON to play OG as a Rookie starter. My only concern now along this OL is the reality that STORM NORTON may still be their starting RT. NORTON is a liability in trying to protect Mr. Herbert in pass-pro. He’s OK in run blocking, but HERBERT is the key here. They also drafted ISAIAH SPILLER/RB to give them the big, power compliment to do-it-all (but not so often please) AUSTIN EKELER. Spiller lasted until the 4th Round because he did not test well at his Pro Day, and ran slow by today’s NFL standards. But he was productive at A&M and catches the ball almost as well as he runs with it. They didn’t add anything to their WR group, but most importantly they re-signed vet MIKE WILLIAMS, who is a deep threat that spreads out opposing secondaries with his fly patterns and sideline acrobatics. They made an upgrade for their TE room by passing on re-signing aging vet JARED COOK, and bringing in pass catching VFA GERALD EVERETT, most recently of Seattle, but originally a draftee of the cross-town RAMS. Everett is only 27 and can run with some of the team’s other wideouts, tho not WILLIAMS. If a jumbo TE is needed for blocking in Red Zone and short yardage situations TRE McKITTY is still on hand to help. On the D-side of the ball the team traded to obtain KHALIL MACK to stop Offenses from keying almost every down on JOEY BOSA. Also watch for 2nd year OLB CHRIS RUMPH who was a sack artist at Duke, but played sparingly for the Chargers last season because of injuries.  The interior of their DL will look a lot more athletic this year with the VFA additions of AUSTIN JOHNSON and SEBASTIAN JOSEPH-DAY. TILLERY & COVINGTON look to provide quality depth for them. KENNETH MURRAY, TROY REEDER (another EX-RAM), DRUE TRANQUILL and recently signed vet KYLE VAN NOY will supply the LB talent to supplement the EDGE players BOSA & MACK. Their secondary may have gotten the biggest boost with the VFA addition of ex-Pats CB J.C. JACKSON. The quick little ball hawk actually leads all NFL defenders in INT since joining N.E. as an Undrafted Rookie, in 2018. DERWIN JAMES & NASIR ADDERLEY are one of the best S duos in the League and neither has reached the age of of 26 yet. Nor has JACKSON. There maybe one heck of as battle for the CB job opposite JACKSON. Last year’s star Rookie CB (until injuries late) ASANTE SAMUEL, CFL Vet TEVAUGHN CAMPBELL and starter MICHAEL DAVIS should battle for that job with the losers either traded or providing exceptional depth for their secondary. VFA BRYCE CALLAHAN comes over from the Broncos and may engage Rookie JA’SIR TAYLOR in a battle for the Nickel/Slot-back job. Former PACKERS, and Alabama star, J.K. SCOTT looks to be the Punter to replace TY LONG. SCOTT may find the SoCal, west coast weather more to his liking than Wisconsin in December. If good health blesses this team, which has not often been the case in recent years, they could fly even higher than this spot. Moving from San Diego was quite costly for the Spanos family which owns this team. They don’t have the deep pockets of some of the high rollers who own other franchises, but their time may have come if they can cash in over the next couple of years  with a Super Bowl appearance.

6)  Los Angeles Rams:  They are the defending Champions and in the process have given GMs for opposing teams cause for pause in looking at how to build and sustain a Cap Friendly roster, while still winning a lot of football games. GM LES SNEAD & HC JOHN McVAY have no affinity for early round draft choices, other than using them to bring in All-Pro players like MATTHEW STAFFORD, JALEN RAMSEY and even short term fixes like VON MILLER and SONY MICHEL. Then they stock their back end of their roster with Day 3 Picks, a few who even turn into viable starters. This year’s roster will be an even bigger challenge to their theories and personnel practices than ever. The list I compiled shows 10 “vets” moving on from their championship roster. MILLER, HEKKER, R. WOODS, JOSEPH-DAY, D. WILLIAMS, MUNDT, CORBETT, MICHEL, and REEDER all being allowed to move on from the RAMS. LT ANDREW WHITWORTH has retired. OBJ is still rehabbing yet another leg injury, though both he and McVay hint at healthy reunion during the Fall. Because in good part of the Glitz & Glamour of SoCal, not to mention a winning team, they were able to pick up some not quite over the hill yet vets like WR/ALLEN ROBINSON & BOOBY WAGNER/LB. They also gave the Browns a late round Pick to bring back Nickel CB TROY HILL after 1 year in Cleveland. And then you stir in their 8 later round Draftees and you have a roster ready to carry on for 2022. STAFFORD got better as the season went on and likely will be even better in 2022. Their RB room is above average when healthy with CAM AKERS-DARRELL HENDERSON- KYREN WILLIAMS (R) in place. With COOPER KUPP leading the way their receiving group looks really good with ROBINSON(VFA), VAN JEFFERSON, TUTU ATWELL, JACOB HARRIS in tow and a TE room of TYLER HIGBEE/KENDALL BLANTON/BRYCEN HOPKINS isn’t too shabby at all. That OL will take some work, but I look for Rookies LOGAN BRUSS and JACK SNYDER adding quality depth. Adding BRUSS to young vets ROB HAVENSTEIN/T & DAVID EDWARDS/G gives the OL a distinctively Badgers look to it. JALEN RAMSEY/CB may be the best CB in the NFL today. Getting HILL back in the fold to play the Nickel is big for them. DAVID LONG will likely start on the other Corner and hope to be forced into finding playing time for DECOBIE DURANT their Rookie from S.C. State. Safety is solid with TAYLOR RAPP, JORDAN FULLER & NICK SCOTT battling for playing time. Oh yes, I almost forgot another Rookie named QUENTIN LAKE out of UCLA. He is the son of former Steelers starting S CARNELL LAKE. The RAMS will obviously be hoping he carries a lot of his dad’s genes with him. WAGNER, Leonard FLOYD & JUSTIN HOLLINS might be the starting LB crew with another Rookie DANIEL HARDY from Montana State pushing for time, and adding another Edge Rusher to their roster. Assuming that AARON DONALD is back playing, which I do feel he will be, their DL is an area of strength. If you watch a RAMS game and can take your eyes off of DONALD, FLOYD & RAMSEY for a few snaps watch #94/A’SHAWN ROBINSON if you’d care to see one of the NFL’s best run defenders just control the line-of-scrimmage. WAGNER should luv playing behind this hole plugger, and vice versa. One of the best Punters in the League, JOHNNY HEKKER, is gone for Cap reasons so watch for that position to draw attention. I am still skeptical of the SNEAD/McVAY drafting plan, and that is why I don’t feel deserve a higher Power Rank.

5)  Cincinnati Bengals:  The BENGALS battled all the way to the Super Bowl last season and current wisdom says as long as JOE BURROW is around, and healthy, then they will be in the hunt to go back there for some time to come. He’s that good as a passer, and perhaps even better as a leader. He and Ja’MARR CHASE looked just like the deadly pair they were at LSU last season. RB JOE MIXON is a run/catch combo player with a nose for the end zone. And by the way TEE HIGGINS and TYLER BOYD are pretty darn good receivers in their own right. It’s the OL that is worrisome but the good news the organization knows it, and is working hard to improve that unit. They signed VFA TED KARRAS for an IOL spot, perhaps OC.  VFA RG ALEX CAPPA & VFA LA’EL COLLINS For the RT slot should also provide upgrades. Last year’s Round 2 Pick, JACKSON CARMAN will get first crack at LG, with former 1st Rounder JONAH WILLIAMS getting the nod at LT. They aren’t likely to send any of them to a Pro Bowl this year, but BURROW might get hit half as many times as last season. Their Defense was a big factor in their success last season.   Their S tandem of BATES/BELL is arguably among the best in the League. They spent their first 2 Draft Picks on S/DAXTON HILL & CB/CAM TAYLOR-BRITT. Not sure who plays exactly where, but it seems logical to believe that they will both see considerable playing time as Rookies. Both of their starting CBs from last year, AWUZIE & APPLE could be fighting for their starting jobs, and APPLE may be fighting for a roster spot, period.  They also tried to add some athletic pieces to the front-7 on D as well. ZACHARY CARTER/DL/EDGE from Florida is a long, athletic piece to move around in their DL. And JEFFREY GUNTER, is a nice looking DE who can set the edge and also provide some pass rush. The young LB tandem of GERMAINE PRATT and LOGAN WILSON blossomed last season as versatile big play makers. TREY HENDRICKSON, SAM HUBBARD, and a healthy JOSEPH OSSAI should provide some solid pass rush in long yardage situations. One of the more interesting battles in Training Camp might develop between KEVIN HUBER (14-year vet) and DRUE CHRISMAN (2nd year pro) for the team’s Punting job. Also look for CAL ADOMITIS(RFA) and CLARK HARRIS to battle for the job of long-snapper. Must feel pretty good to Head Coach ZAC TAYLOR, to think that those may be the toughest jobs to sort out in Training Camp this Summer. Yes, with having a Franchise QB like JOE BURROW at the helm the coaches can worry about the important, but little questions like depth and kicking specialists.

4)   Green Bay Packers:  OK, the first order of businesses is to advise you all that AARON RODGERS is back, and under contract again. For how long? The contract says 3 years, but let’s deal with the present right now. Were a guy named ADAMS also under contract to them again, I would give them a higher Power Rank, but he wanted to go play with his college QB DEREK CARR, where he also lives, in LasVegas.  So GM GUTEKUNST got a First & 2nd Round Pick in the 2022 Draft to part with ADAMS before he became a holdout and a distraction. Coincidentally he as NOT the only member of their receiving corps to head elsewhere. MARQUEZ VALDES-SCANTLING got a nice contract offer and moved on to catch passes from a young man named MAHOMES. They also let EQUANIMEOUS ST. BROWN move on the DA BEARS. And even though they did not use one of their 2 First Round Picks for a WR, they did trade up in Round 2 to select CHRISTIAN WATSON out of North Dakota State, up in frozen tundra Packers country, unless you happen to be a Vikings fan. They also took ROMEO DOUBS, with Pick 132, and SAMORI TOURE with Pick 258. TOURE may help most initially on Special Teams, which was another target of improvement for them. AMARI RODGERS, from last year’s Draft, will get another shot to earn time splitting the slot reps with RANDALL COBB. ALAN LAZARD is the other starting WR back in the fold. He is certainly past his prime, based on numerous injuries, but the team also signed SAMMY WATKINS as a VFA. Once healthy ROBERT TONYAN will get the most targets of any TE, and the coaching staff has expressed optimism that TYLER DAVIS might be a true free agent find, after he escaped the URBAN nightmare in Jacksonville last Summer. The team hopes to run the ball a bit more this season with AARON JONES & A.J. DILLON splitting the work load. They also return KYLIN HILL who had an impressive Rookie Camp with the PACK, including kick-off return duties, but lost most of the season after suffering a knee injury as their primary Kick Returner. Assuming two injured players return healthy the OL could be a strong point for this team. LT DAVID BAKHTIARI and G/T ELGTON JENKINS should be ready to go by Training Camp but only time will tell. The team has added some highly regarded OL in the 2022 Draft in SEAN RHYAN/G/T/UCLA and even more versatile OL/ZACH TOM from Wake Forest. Last year the team added JOSH MYERS/OC/Ohio St & ROYCE NEWMAN/OG/Ole Miss. Both guys played significant roles starting multiple games with positive results overall. The team spent a lot of money as well as Draft Picks to solidify their Defense. ILB De’VONDRE CAMPBELL was given a nice new contract after playing surprisingly well in 2021. QUAY WALKER/OB/ER  of Georgia was their first draft pick this year. He was followed 6 Picks later by DT DEVONTE WYATT also from UGA. KINGSLEY ENAGBARE selected at Pick 179 will likely replace ZaDARIUS SMITH as the main back-up to PRESTON SMITH & RASHAN GARY. Tyler Lancaster is gone but the team had already upgraded his spot at DT by signing FVA JARREN REED from the Chiefs. CB JAIRE ALEXANDER missed the latter part of the season and it really cost the team into the Play-Offs. He just got a big contract and is scheduled to return to action. ERIC STOKES had a solid Rookie season, and RASUL DOUGLAS was a waiver pick-up find when JAIRE got hurt. ADRIAN AMOS & DARNELL SAVAGE are both solid at Safety. Now let’s turn back to the area of biggest concern last season for the PACK… miserable Special Teams play. All the way around they stunk in every facet of their Special Teams play. Point of emphasis… step one… hire RICH BISACCIA, long time NFL Special Teams Coach and interim Head Coach of the Raiders last season when the Gruden Regime imploded. Should have been made permanent HC in Vegas but their mistake is the Packers’ gain. He has already had some input into player acquisitions and you can look for the following names to surface on Special Teams this season in Green Bay; P/PAT O’DONNELL, TOURE (mentioned above/Rookie), RANDY RAMSEY (injured last year), KEISEAN NIXON (Raiders), ISAIAH McDUFFIE, RICO GAFFORD (former RAIDERS), TARIQ CARPENTER (Rookie), JACK COCO/LS (ROOKIE FA), INNIS GAINES. These are for starters. I guarantee that Coach BISACCIA will be able to select at least a half dozen guys at the bottom of the 2022 roster that are Special Teamers first and foremost. Special Teams have been a thorn in the PACKERS side for a long while. That will change. And despite their losses like ADAMS, VALDES-SCANTLING, Z. SMITH, etc. I believe having RODGERS in tow (and seemingly pleased with his situation), Special Teams improvement, a really good 2022 Draft, and young guys still improving their overall play, the team will overcome other obstacles and be a serious Super Bowl threat again.

3)  Tampa Bay Buccaneers:  Without the return of GOAT TOM BRADY this team would likely have been ranked 10 spots lower, in the ranks of the close, but no cigar, ranked teams appearing last week in these pages. But Brady makes all the difference in the world, and rightly so. He leads by words and actions. And like a guy named MANNING, he hangs on this long because for every ounce of athleticism he loses with age, he makes up for it with will, FBI and guile. Even the athleticism lingers. He claimed last Training Camp that he runs a faster 40-time now than when he was at the Combine. Who am I to argue with the GOAT?!  Just like last season, once BRADY un-retired a bunch of 2021 teammates eschewed Vet Free Agency and inked one year deals to return to the BUCS. But not everyone. As I type this GRONK, JPP and a Man-named-SUH were not BUCCANEERS. However, names like FOURNETTE, GODWIN, SHAQ BARRETT, GHOLSTON, GIO BERNARD, RYAN JENSEN, NUNEZ-ROCHES, PERRIMAN, and more all signed on for the 2022 voyage. More importantly GM JASON LICHT brought in some familiar NFL names to bolster the team depth. Guys like WR/RUSSELL GAGE, OT/FRED JOHNSON, OG SHAQ MASON, LB/KEANU NEAL, S/LOGAN RYAN. I will also tell you that Licht did quite well in the 2022 NFL Draft. The biggest loss from last year’s roster may have been the surprise early retirement of OG Ali Marpet, but the trade for MASON at least provides a short term, serviceable band-aid. BRADY may like Rookie RB RACHAAD WHITE a lot more than the departed RONALD JONES, since WHITE specializes in receiving. And Draftee CADE OTTON could make a suitable replacement for GRONK, once BRADY builds up trust with the Rookie, by say mid-season. LOGAN HALL/DL could also look a bit like JPP with time. Even with the retirement of BRUCE ARIANS from the sidelines, the promotion of DC TODD BOWLES, and the retention of OC BYRON LEFTWICH should provide symmetry along the sidelines and in meeting rooms. Watch out, this team could sneak up on people and be a better version of last year’s team. And of course, they still have TOM BRADY at the helm offensively.

2)   Kansas City Chiefs:  I have heard some folks proclaiming gloom and doom for the Chiefs given the trade of TYREEK HILL and the loss of 3 of their top 5 DB to Free Agency. Things will be bit different in the Chiefs scheme of doing things this coming season, but do not despair Chiefs fans. There is more than one way to skin opposing teams game day, and when all is said and done you still have Top Gun PATRICK MAHOMES. The OL that retooled last off-season is back and they may have snagged another potential young starter in DARIAN KINNARD, a 340 lb.+ OG candidate who may force playing time to come his way. He’s in the mold of OL that ANDY REID has always loved, and affectionately referred to as ‘elephants on parade’. Yes, TYREEK is in Miami but Mr. Mahomes still has the following receivers to throw to; MECOLE HARDMAN, CORNELL POWELL, TRAVIS KELCE, NOAH GRAY, JOSH GORDON. OK, I admit that soup is a bit thin. But they also added VFA MARQUEZ VALDES-SCANTLING & JUJU SMITH-SCHUSTER. Then they drafted SKYY MOORE, and signed Rookie FA JUSTYN ROSS. I will also bet dollars-to-doughnuts that they will use their RB group more this season, as receivers and runners. Nothing wrong with CLYDE EDWARDS-HELAIRE that staying healthy wouldn’t fix. RON JONES, VFA from Tampa, is solid young RB who will be only 25 when the season starts. He has improved greatly as a receiver the past two seasons playing with Mr. Brady.  Two Rookie RB have been added to the team, and I feel one, if not both, will find their way onto the Chiefs roster, They drafted ISAIH PACHECO from Rutgers and signed RFA TAYON FLEET-DAVIS. Let’s get back to their secondary which lost S TYRANN MATHIEU, CB CHARVARIUS WARD, S DANIEL SORENSON. That’s 3 of their top 6 DB, and certainly a bitter pill to chew in today’s NFL. However, they did a nice job of restocking, and my guess is that by mid-season they will be a solid secondary, and rising. They signed VFA JUSTIN REID, who was languishing with the mess that is the TEXANS in Houston. Rookie S BRYAN COOK was drafted from that excellent Cincinnati secondary of HC Luke Fickell. Their first pick of the Draft was TRENT McDUFFIE out of the Washington Huskies program and projected by many scouts to be an instant Rookie starter in the NFL. They also tabbed Fayetteville State CB JOSHUA WILLIAMS who is small school raw, but also seen as a pro starter with time and coaching. S DEON BUSH signed as a VFA from Chicago for S depth. They will get by and get better. Their two young LB starters in GAY/BOLTON are back and they drafted LEO CHENAL/Wisconsin & signed RFA MIKE ROSE/Iowa St for depth and Special Teams. Their second First Round Pick was used on GEORGE KARLAFTIS a DE/ER from Purdue, who may start ahead of Mike Danna. This team still has depth and talent and most of all  a guy named MAHOMES. If the BILLS  slip up, these guys could skate right into a Super Bowl spot for the 3rd time 4 years.

1. BUFFALO BILLS: Yes, the Bills! The team that no one is going to want to face in the Play-Offs if they secure home field throughout the AFC Play-Offs. GM Brandon Beane has used a combination of patience, with a bit of guile mixed in, to form a solid roster built around his 2018 Round One QB Draftee JOSH ALLEN, who has gotten better every year in the League. Now they sit at the top of the heap with an explosive Offense and a solid Defense. SEAN McDERMOTT with a solid resume’ as an NFL Assistant Coach has developed into a solid, no nonsense Head Coach who works hand-in-glove with his G.M. QB ALLEN is the energy that drives the team, but it would be nice if he did not have to take off running with the ball as often as he does. To that end, the development of a more potent ground attack would be a priority for this team. I was really hoping the team would  tab RB/BREECE HALL as their late Round One selection. But alas it was not to be. So, ala the Holmgren Offense in Green Bay with FAVRE throwing passes that were basically just long Hand-offs to SHARPE & BENNETT, the Bills will likely continue to throw dump offs to capable players like SINGLETARY, MOSS & Rookie JAMES COOK. The Bills shed some salaries and age in clearing out Slot Guy BEASLEY & E. SANDERS Both in their 30’s, but never fear the receiving corps was replenished by signing VFA Jamison Crowder and drafting KHALIL SHAKIR to join starters DIGGS, DAVIS & TE KNOX.  The OL is solid, with a nice blend of savvy vets & young draftees. Vet DION DAWKINS & 2nd Year-man SPENCER BROWN are the 2 OT and massive vet RODGER SAFFOLD was signed as a VFA to man RG. They almost totally revamped their DL and their DE group is loaded with pass-rushers like GREG ROUSSEAU & A.J. EPENESA. But the crown jewel is the addition of vet Sack artist VON MILLER. They also beefed up the interior of the DL to help improve their run defense. Standout vet ED OLIVER will welcome some massive vets to join him in TIM SETTLE, JORDAN PHILLIPS & DAQUAN JONES. All 3 of those guys are well over 300 lbs., which should help plug the middle against opponent run games. When TRE’DAVIOUS WHITE went down with an ACL injury in Week 12 their secondary suddenly looked mediocre, at best. Then they lost LEVI WALLACE in VFA this off-season. And so BEANE jumped in with both feet and patched things up. He grabbed Florida CB KAIIR ELAM in Round 1 and Villanova developmental CB CHRISTIAN BENFORD at Pick 185. POYER & HYDE are one of the best veteran S combos the League. They even drafted one of the Big 3 Punting prospects in MATT ARAIZA, who may be a big help in late season home games where field position can be everything. See you in February, BILLS Mafia.



Pigskin Paul