FanPost

Assessing (and ranking!) the post-draft state of each team, part 1

I've been wanting to write this for a good long while, but I've spent the past two weeks barricaded in my (metaphorical) office trying to grind out a thesis. I'm happy to report that as of Saturday, my thesis has been accepted, and I'm now done with grad school.

So, from now on that's MASTER jbacon55 to you, peasants. (it's funny because my degree is worthless and will probably prove to have been a colossal waste of time.) EDIT: I worry from some of the comments that people think I was bragging. I way wasnt; I just wanted to excuse my length absence.

Self-depricating condescension aside, I want to take a few minutes to assess each team's likelihood of success for the coming season. The easy way out is to simply say that these are power rankings, but I hate that term in the offseason for one major reason: it implies predictions. Ranking teams before they take the field should be based on the same general idea as evaluating free agent signings or rating draft prospects--the rankings should be based on probability rather than prediction. It's ridiculous to make predictions about which teams will succeed and which will be the Jacksonville Jaguars before the season even starts. Instead, the prudent ranker will order teams by how likely they are to succeed--a much more manageable and appropriate task.

With that in mind, ranking teams on any relatively subjective measure even before training camp begins is just dumb, so I'll be really disappointed in anyone who reads any more of this post.

For those of you silly enough to stick around, let's get started with part 1 (#1-16). I've been ranking since the start of free agency, so in parentheses I'll include the team's pre-draft rank.

1. Seattle Seahawks (1)

What they have: one of the most promising young quarterbacks in the league, a terrifying defense, an electric playmaker at WR, a stacked offensive line, and one of the best running backs in the game.

What they don't have: super powers, ostensibly.

X factor: Russell Wilson, QB.

Analysis: This is arguably the most complete team in the NFL. For this analysis section, you could pretty much copy and paste the "What they have" section. They were already one of the best teams (Atlanta had no business winning that divisional playoff game), and they only got better throughout the off season. Their defensive line looks fierce, and the addition of Antoine Winfield to an already-stacked secondary seems almost unfair. Wilson is the X factor only because he plays the most important position, so the team will perform at whatever level Wilson can take them to. I don't expect him to regress much because of his tireless work ethic, so expect the Seahawks to soar (I swear I did not mean to make a pun here).

2. San Francisco 49ers (2)

What they have: one of the most promising young quarterbacks in the league, a terrifying defense, an electric playmaker at WR, a stacked offensive line, and one of the best running backs in the game.

What they don't have: A true superstar defensive back?

X factor: Justin Smith, DE/DT

Analysis: There isn't much else to say about the Niners that hasn't been said about the Seahawks (as evidenced by the copy-pasted strengths section). I'm going with Justin Smith as the X factor because he's the real leader of their fearsome pass rush, and with their starting NT and back up DE/DT departing, there will be added pressure on him to perform at a high level. If he can't get pressure on the quarterback, I don't think their defense will be what it was in 2012.

3. Denver Broncos (3)

What they have: A first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterback, a defense that would be number 1 in any other era, and the absolute best receiving trio in the league (and maybe even in recent memory).

What they don't have: A reliable running back

X factor: Champ Bailey, CB

Analysis: This team's passing attack is down right scary. The combination of Eric Decker and Demariyus Thomas was already one of the most lethal in the league, but some how John Elway managed to sign Wes Welker making it the unquestioned lord of all receiving corps. The only thing this team lacks is a reliable running back. If Willis McGahee stays healthy that's settled, but he won't. Montee Ball, on the other hand, isn't likely to enjoy much success. He's already got tons of miles on his body. I've chosen Champ Bailey instead of Peyton Manning as the X factor because of his central role in their passing defense. Bailey is still left on an island with opposing receivers and still, despite his age, shuts them down. If he's unable to do that this year, they'll have to significantly alter their secondary game plan.

4. Green Bay Packers (5)

What they have: The best QB in football, a defense on the rise, and now two of the safest rookie RBs to come out of the 2013 draft

What they don't have: A corner to pair with Casey Hayward, a suitable back up for the potentially injury-prone BJ Raji.

X factor: Eddie Lacy, RB

Analysis: What can be said about the Packers that isn't already common knowledge? They have a high-octane aerial attack and a decent pass rush. The pass rush got much better with the addition of Datone Jones, and for the first time in years they should have a solid run game. If Eddie Lacy pans out, one of two things should happen. Either 1) he forces defenses to shut him down opening up far more passing opportunities, or 2) he puts up monster numbers.

5. Atlanta Falcons (4)

What they have: One of the better starting quarterbacks, a dynamic receiving corps, and a shiny new running back.

What they don't have: they lost some of their pass-rushing prowess and don't have much veteran leadership in the secondary.

X factor: Steven Jackson, RB

Analysis: The Falcons are to this decade what the Cowboys were to the 70s: "next year's champions." They consistently underperform, and I'm hesitant to put them this high. Falcons fans have reason to be optimistic this year, though. Matt Ryan presumably got the monkey off his back by winning his first playoff game last season, and the addition of Steven Jackson should constitute a massive upgrade over Michael Turner. If Steven Jackson pans out, he'll take a fair amount of pressure off Matt Ryan. Atlanta's aerial attack should also let Jackson enjoy more success than he's used to.

6. Houston Texans (6)

What they have: One of the best running games in the league, one of the best receivers in the league, an insane defense, and an efficient, relatively mistake-free quarterback

What they don't have: A proven receiving corps behind Andre Johnson.

X factor: DeAndre Hopkins, WR

Analysis: The Texans have been on the verge of greatness for the past couple of seasons. With a maturing defense and the addition of some more offensive weapons, this might be their year. Arian Foster is obviously great, and Matt Schaub is not someone who will lose you many games. The Texans' big problem over the past two years has been their lack of a reliable #2 receiver. DeAndre Hopkins inspired a lot of hot or cold responses from draftniks and fans alike, but if he can perform how some expect him to, the Texans' aerial attack could become elite. I fully expect this to happen, too. In the weeks leading up to the draft, I became more and more high on Hopkins--so much so that by the time draft night rolled around, my nose had gone so far up his rear that he spent the evening perched comfortably atop my shoulders. (If you thought that was crass, you should have read my original joke.)

7. Chicago Bears (8)

What they have: An outstanding quarterback, an All-Pro receiver, a great run game, and one of the league's best defenses

What they don't have: A reliable receiving corps behind Brandon Marshall and an offensive line

X factor: Jermon Bushrod, OT

Analysis: The Bears broke every Chicagoan's heart last season, starting 7-1 and then failing to make the playoffs. There were two major reasons for this: an offensive line that might have been more porous than the Colts' and a complete lack of any receiving weapons outside of Brandon Marshall. The Bears went all-out on their offensive line this off season, so if everyone pans out Jay Cutler might stand a chance of not being totally destroyed this year. I've picked Jermon Bushrod as the X factor because he will be Cutler's blind-side protector, but any offensive lineman could be put here.

8. Cincinnati Bengals (10)

What they have: A solid aerial attack, a great offensive line, a running back with high upside, and a solid defense

What they don't have: A game-changing quarterback

X factor: Giovanni Bernard, RB

Analysis: Over the past two-ish seasons, the Bengals have been the definition of average. They obliterate the bottom half of the league and tend to fair rather poorly against the top half of the league. However, there is no denying they are a team on the rise. Andy Dalton isn't an ultra-elite quarterback by any stretch of the imagination, but I'd take him over a lot of other QBs in the league. The combination of Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert should help him along, as will the drafting of Bernard. Much like Eddie Lacy and the Packers, if Bernard pans out it will really open things up for Dalton and AJ Green.

9. New Orleans Saints (11)

What they have: A top-flight QB, a stud receiver, a stacked backfield, and a coach with a chip on his shoulder

What they don't have: A defense (mostly)

X factor: Rob Ryan, DC

Analysis: No one should doubt the Saints' offensive prowess. Drew Brees is a sure-fire Hall of Famer, Marques Colston is tremendous, and their offensive line is on the rise. The Saints' Achilles Heel, however, has always been the defense. That is poised to change this season. The addition of Kenny Vaccaro (safety), John Jenkins (DT/NT), and Chase Thomas (OLB) should inject the team with some much-needed talent. If Rob Ryan can get the most out of those additions, the Saints should be a contender.

10. New York Giants (9)

What they have: A great-if-inconsistent QB, playmakers at receiver, a young RB with upside, and a defense on the rise

What they don't have: A capable receiving TE and depth in the secondary

X factor: Hakeem Nicks, WR

Analysis: The Giants are one of the best teams in December and January, and they should continue that this season. However, it seems they probably got a little bit worse over the course of the off season. They failed to adequately replace the departed Osi Umenyiora or Martellus Bennett. Damontre Moore might be able to help the pass rush, though scouts apparently are really concerned about his maturity level, but the didn't really add anyone capable of covering for the lost receiving capability of Bennett. For that reason, the success of the Giants seems to hinge on Hakeem Nicks--specifically whether he can stay healthy. Since entering the league he's never played a full season, but if he can stay healthy this year that might help make up for the hole at receiving TE.

11. New England Patriots (7)

What they have: Tom Brady and Bill Belichick

What they don't have: A reliable secondary and receiving talent

X factor: Aqib Talib, CB

Analysis: As long as the Patriots have Tom Brady and Bill Belichick at the helm, they should be considered contenders. They are ranked this highly for that reason alone. Aside from those two guys, there really isn't much to speak of on this team. Sure they have a decent pass rush and a stable of RBs that has shown a lot of potential, but it's looking like the Patriots are due for some struggles. The loss of Wes Welker cannot be overstated, as he was the team's only reliable receiver. With all that said, I'm not too worried about the Pats having the offensive firepower to win the AFC simply because Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are *that* good. This team's success will be determined by the play of their secondary, so their X factor is the best player on that secondary. if Aqib Talib can play to his potential, the Pats just might have a decent defense. If that happens, watch out.

12. Minnesota Vikings (13)

What they have: The best run game in the league, a TE who is lethal in the red zone, a top-flight pass rusher, and three of the most promising rookies from the 2013 class.

What they don't have: A reliable QB and a proven secondary

X factor: Cordarrelle Patterson, WR

Analysis: If not for the Chiefs, the Vikings just might have been the most under-achieving team in 2012. Many will point to the loss of Percy Harvin as a harbinger of disaster for the Vikings, but it should not be forgotten that they were essentially without him for most of the 2012 season and still made the playoffs. If Cordarrelle Patterson can live up to his hype and Christian Ponder can take a step forward, this team could be tremendous. If either of the team's two defensive first round selections pan out, this team could easily make a short run in the playoffs.

13. Baltimore Ravens (15)

What they have: A great RB, a deep-threat WR, a solid TE, and defense with a lot of upside.

What they don't have: A legitimate #2 or #3 receiver

X factor: Torrey Smith, WR

Analysis: The reigning Super Bowl champions are getting a lot of respect in the wake of free agency and the draft. As always, Ozzie Newsome made a series of shrewd moves in free agency and the draft and has left Baltimore fans with lodes of optimism. The problem for the Ravens (and the reason I'm not ready to put them in my top 10) is that right now a lot of that optimism is based on unproven potential. If the Ravens' top draft choices pan out, this defense could be even better than it was prior (which is hard to imagine). While the defense is soaked in upside, the X factor here is Torrey Smith. With the loss of Anquan Boldin, Smith will be the unquestioned top receiver. If he can rise to the occasion the Ravens should compete for the AFC title again.

14. St. Louis Rams (19)

What they have: An improved offensive line, a maturing QB, and a receiving corps dripping with upside.

What they don't have: A running back capable of taking pressure off Sam Bradford

X factor: Jake Long, OT

Analysis: I'm going to be honest: I really don't think the Rams belong this high on the list, but something in my gut is telling me that this is a team to watch in 2013. They turned in some surprising performances in 2012, and they only got better this off season: there were two major limiting factors for the Rams in 2012, and the front office addressed both. The signing of Jake Long and the drafting of Barrett Jones should solidify the offensive line and give Sam Bradford a fighting chance. Long is my X factor here simply because he is Bradford's new blindside protector. If he can return to his previous form, Bradford will have plenty of time to get the ball to his shiny new receivers. If not, expect him to go down with a case of David Carr syndrome. It's worth noting that the other big question mark is Tavon Austin. He has the tools to be the next Percy Harvin, so it will be interesting to see if he capitalizes. I'm also convinced Stedman Bailey will be an elite receiver in a few years time.

15. Indianapolis Colts (18)

What they have: The best young QB in the league, veteran leaders at two of the most important positions (Mathis and Wayne), an outstanding TE, and a maturing run game

What they don't have: Proven talent anywhere else.

X factor: Everyone not named Luck, Wayne, Mathis, or Allen.

Analysis: If I were to describe the Colts in one word, it would be "upside." This team is stacked with unproven potential that could just as easily make a Super Bowl run as it could go 7-9 and miss the playoffs. There are questions all over the roster. Which Gosder Cherilus will we get? Will RJF be worth his contract? Will Bjoern Werner pan out? Can LaRon Landry stay healthy? Will DHB finally play to his potential? Will TY learn how to catch? Will Coby Fleener live up to his hype? Can one of our three centers actually play center? Was Freeman's 2012 campaign a fluke? Can Greg Toler stay healthy? Will Vontae Davis continue to improve? And those are just the first ones that come to mind. If I had to pick one player, though, I'd probably say Josh Chapman. If he delivers on his hype, our defense will be greatly improved, and maybe, just maybe, we won't have to win close games in the 4th quarter.

16. Pittsburgh Steelers (14)

What they have: A solid-when-healthy QB, a decent receiving corps, and a solid defense

What they don't have: proven talent at pass rush, depth at corner and receiver, and a solid running back

X factor: Jarvis Jones, OLB

Analysis: The Steelers missed the playoffs last year, so they will have a chip on their shoulder. Unfortunately, they simply didn't get much better in the off season. Markus Wheaton and Le'Veon Bell could pan out and fill big holes, but even then I think their success will be determined by Jarvis Jones and the injury-plagued Troy Polamalu. I've gone with Jarvis Jones as the X factor because the loss of James Harrison cannot be overstated. He made the entire defense better, and his pass rushing could take some pressure off the secondary. Jarvis Jones is a boom-or-bust player. He had tremendous success in the best conference in college football, but there are major questions about his work ethic and his game speed. There have also been questions raised about the nature of his sack numbers--a few draftniks have suggested that he benefited from a lot of unblocked or coverage sacks. If he lives up to his pre-draft hype, the Steelers should pick up where they left off last season. If not, expect a continued decline.

So there's the first half of this analysis. If you guys want, I can have part 2 posted later this week. What are your thoughts?

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of Stampede Blue's writers or editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of Stampede Blue's writers or editors.

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