The Free Agency Frenzy is pretty much over, and the hoopla of the NFL Draft has come to an end. That means that it is time for our first Al Dente Dozen of the 2017 season, with our post-draft power rankings.
Questions at the quarterback position still remain for a few top contenders. Who will be the starter in Denver? Tom Savage has been named the leading man in Houston but how long will that last before fans begin calling for Watson to start? Not saying that Savage is Case Keenum, but we could see a similar situation as the one in Los Angeles in 2016 if Houston underperforms to start the year.
As OTA’s begin around the country, teams rosters will begin to take hold and give us a better idea of team pecking order, but for now, let’s speculate based on offseason acquisitions and draft selections.
As always share your thoughts with @RyanDyrud, and let us know if you agree with where your team is slotted.
1. New England Patriots (2016 Record: 14-2)
As an organization, you have two goals. Make yourself the best that you can be, and, in doing so, disallow the competition from getting better. It seems like the other 31 teams are doing everything they can to make the defending Super Bowl Champs even better. The Saints sent Brandin Cooks to the Pats for a first round pick. He adds yet another explosive piece to an already potent offense. New England didn’t want to overspend on Martellus Bennett, no problem, they got Dwayne Allen from Indy at a much more affordable clip. A second round pick in exchange for Kony Ealy and a third rounder? Why Carolina, why? Stephon Gillmore was signed with the expectation that Malcolm Butler would be leaving. Nope, he’s still a Patriot. If this team plays like they are expected to in 2017, they are going to be extremely hard to beat.
2. Atlanta Falcons (2016 Record: 11-5)
The Falcons can do one of two things in 2017. The crushing defeat in Super Bowl LI coupled with the loss of offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan will be too great to overcome and the hangover will leave disparaging ramifications throughout the season, i.e. the 2016 Carolina Panthers. Or they will bounce back hungrier and play inspired football. I believe the latter will happen. The player personnel remains almost completely intact along with the additions of Dontari Poe via free agency and Takkarist McKinley via the Draft. With Matty Ice at the helm and a strengthened defense, this team can make another run in the NFC.
3. Oakland Raiders (2016 Record: 12-4)
2017 and beyond will ride on the health of Derek Carr. All indications are that his recovery is going great and on schedule, which is great news for Raiders fans. Maybe the biggest question mark besides Carr’s health is the acquisition of Marshawn Lynch. After sitting out a season, and being injured before that, who knows what kind of production he can bring to the offense. If there is any Beast Mode left, then this is a slam dunk signing. The Raiders did a great job addressing the secondary in the draft, but there is still a looming hole at the inside linebacker position. Negligence at this position could cause the run defense to suffer, but if Carr returns to form this is one of the top teams in the NFL.
4. Green Bay Packers (2016 Record: 10-6)
The Packers have a storied history of being very quiet in free agency, as they are known for building their roster through the draft. They made one splash move this season in signing Martellus Bennett. He will add to an already elite receiving corps and will be another weapon at Aaron Rodgers disposal. The Pack addressed the defense early in the draft taking corner Kevin King and safety Josh Jones in the second round. After letting Eddie Lacy leave for Seattle, Green Bay drafted two running backs late in the draft that will compete with Ty Montgomery for the starting job. Jamaal Williams had tremendous production at BYU and could be a great value pick in the fourth round.
5. New York Giants (2016 Record: 11-5)
The defense that was so stellar last season remains almost fully intact. The offense was surprisingly inconsistent, so what did New York do? Bolster it. Brandon Marshall was added in free agency at an extreme value. Evan Engram, the undeniably talented hybrid tight end, was drafted in the first round. Not the strongest offense line, but not the worst, and it will probably be a running back by committee for the G-Men, but they seem to be very high on last year’s draft pick Paul Perkins. If Eli Manning can play at a Pro Bowl level again, this is a very complete team.
6. Pittsburgh Steelers (2016 Record: 11-5)
With Big Ben coming back for another season, the Steelers should pick up where they left off in 2016. They added JuJu Smith-Schuster in the draft, and will get Martavius Bryant back from a year long suspension. The offense could be scary good if Ben can stay healthy, which seems to be a problem as of late. T.J. Watt will aim to come in and produce for the defense right away. With Baltimore on the rise, and Cincinnati on the decline, Pittsburgh should have a red carpet to another division title.
7. Denver Broncos (2016 Record: 9-7)
The Broncos had a very disappointing 2016 season after winning the Super Bowl the year prior. With a new coaching regime in place, they will aim to rebound in 2017. The additions of Ronald Leary, Menelik Watson (via free agency), and Garett Bolles (via draft) should dramatically improve the offensive line that was the weak part of the team last season. Two speedy receivers were added in the draft that should compete for the slot position in between Thomas and Sanders, and Jake Butt was selected in the fifth round who will be the tight end of the future when he is fully healthy. They also get C.J Anderson back from injury, Devontae Booker has a season under his belt, they drafted a bowling ball in De’Angelo Henderson and signed Jamaal Charles in free agency. If Charles has anything left, this may be the deepest and most lethal running back room in the NFL. The defense, who was still among the best last season, added run stuffers and should remain one of the leagues elite. Whoever is under center simply needs to manage the game to keep this team in playoff contention in the best division in football.
8. Kansas City Chiefs (2016 Record: 12-4)
Eric Berry is probably the best safety in the game, but losing Dontari Poe will sting more than people think as he was a monster in the run defense. KC added Bennie Logan on a one-year contract but other than that they didn’t do much in free agency. They used the draft to take their hopeful quarterback of the future, but that doesn’t help them this season, nor will it guide them past the second round of the playoffs. This is still a very good roster top to bottom, but their offseason has been too complacent making me believe that they may regress from last year’s division title.
9. Dallas Cowboys (2016 Record: 13-3)
The Cowboys were the surprise of the NFL last season, finishing 13-3 and winning the NFC East. Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliot became the darlings of the league and both made the Pro Bowl. Unfortunately, this team was hit hard by free agency. Their secondary was decimated as they watched Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne, Barry Church, and J.J. Wilcox all sign with other teams. They also lost guard Ronald Leary and a pair of defensive tackles. Defenses will not be surprised by Prescott this year, and I expect him to regress a bit. If they want to remain the top team in the NFC East they will have to rely heavily on Elliott and the run game, thus keeping their defense off the field. I love their top two draft picks, Taco Charlton, and Chidobe Awuzie, who should make an immediate impact.
10. Seattle Seahawks (2016 Record: 10-5-1)
Unless the Cardinals have a big turnaround this season, the NFC West is in somewhat of a rebuild mode and Seattle has a stranglehold on the division. The biggest problem for the Seahawks last season was the offensive line. They added Luke Joeckel in free agency, who played guard for the Jaguars last season after beginning his career as a left tackle. However, they passed on Forrest Lamp, arguably the best lineman in the draft, when he was still available in the second round. As of now, Richard Sherman remains a Seahawk so the Legion of Boom is still an entity, but their number one priority is keeping Russell Wilson upright and healthy. Eddie Lacy should be a nice addition, but I didn’t see a huge conscious effort to improve the area that needed the most improvement. Offensive line play could be their demise once again come playoff time.
11. Houston Texans (2016 Record: 9-7)
The Texans gave up a 2nd round pick in order to send Brock Osweiler and his bloated paycheck to the Mistake by the Lake. After Tony Romo decided that the comfort of the broadcast booth was more for him, Houston settled on Tom Savage as their starter instead of pursuing the likes of Jay Cutler or Colin Kaepernick. Getting Deshaun Watson was a great pick in the draft, but he does not make this team better if he is the starter day one. The defense, who finished number one last year, lost starting corner A.J. Bouye and starting safety Quintin Demps, but they will get J.J. Watt back from injury. If Savage can give them any kind of consistency throughout the season, the Texans should be the lead candidate to win the division, but Tennessee is right on their heels and a healthy Marcus Mariota could lead them to a division title.
12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2016 Record: 9-7)
The Buccaneers just barely missed the playoffs last season and made a point to add more skill to an already very talented roster. They signed DeSean Jackson in free agency and added tight end phenom O.J. Howard in the draft. Jameis Winston now has an unbelievable arsenal of weapons that he will be able to deploy on opposing defenses. While going into the season, I have the Falcons as the favorite, the NFC South is a division that any of the four teams can win. All four teams were pro-active in free agency and the draft and made a point to not be complacent. The Bucs have a young roster with loads of talent. They will improve on their 9-7 record and will be fun to watch when Training Camp begins in HBO’s Hard Knocks.
— Sports Al Dente (@SportsAlDente) May 8, 2017