Ranking the rosters, 1-32
Which NFL teams have the best collections of players? Seattle tops the list
By Sam Monson | Pro Football Focus
Russell Wilson, Michael Crabtree and Peyton Manning contribute to three of the NFL’s best rosters.
At Pro Football Focus we run position rankings and have done unit group rankings in the past, but here we’re going to do something a little more in-depth coming out of the draft — ranking entire rosters.
We got together PFF’s analysts and composed a ranking of each team’s roster using our grading, data and football knowledge for added context. Along with each team’s ranking we have color-coded the projected starters — blue for the elite players through to red for the poorest (you can see the color key in the chart at right — the more blues and greens you have, the better, while a lot of oranges and reds are bad news).
For our starting units we have gone 12 players deep to reflect the base and nickel/third down sets from both sides of the ball.
Here you have it: Our 1-32 ranking of every roster in the NFL. The team at the top is no surprise, although there are plenty in the top 10 and further down the list.
It is no surprise that the defending Super Bowl champions top this list. The defense is stacked with arguably the best corner and safety in the game in Richard Sherman andEarl Thomas, who lead a fearsome secondary. The pair is helped out by a formidable group of pass-rushers up front and a solid linebacker corps.
The offense can’t quite match the standard set by the D, but Marshawn Lynch heads a loaded backfield and the receiving corps has plenty of depth, if no elite standout. Russell Wilson is a quality starter, and Tarvaris Jackson is a capable backup while Terrelle Pryor provides an interesting X factor to the depth at the position. The only slight weak spot to the team is on the offensive line, but the Seahawks are perfectly set up to mitigate that negative. As if things weren’t good enough, the Seahawks also have comfortably the league’s best special teams units withJeremy Lane the pick of the bunch.
By the numbers: With seven members of the defense either blue-chip elite players or high-quality starters, and the entire starting unit ranking average or better, this is the standard-setting defense in the NFL. 16.7 percent of the offensive starters rank below average, but they are on the offensive line and can be covered elsewhere.
The Seahawks are pushed hard by their divisional rivals for the best 53-man roster in football. The 49ers’ roster is so good that the team has begun essentially redshirting players in the draft, with Marcus Lattimore a year ago and Brandon Thomas this season sitting out their first year on injured reserve. Their receiving corps was an issue in 2013, but it has been remade in the offseason, and with Michael Crabtree fully recovered from his injury, it should be a strength this year.
In the same way that they have been taking chances on talent in the draft, the Niners have been able to take shots at talented players with checkered histories in free agency, and traded for Blaine Gabbert in the hope a new surrounding can uncover why he was a first-round draft pick just a few years ago. Former Vikings second-round pick Chris Cook — signed this offseason — also fits that description. The only thing separating them and the Seahawks is some question marks in the defensive secondary, where they are counting on young players to take a step forward.
By the numbers: Daniel Kilgore is the only question mark on offense, with every other member of the starting unit ranked good or better. In total, 70.1 percent of their starters on both sides of the ball are ranked good or better. Rookie Jimmie Ward and center Kilgore are question marks, but there is no projected starter who grades out below average.
The Broncos were blown away in the Super Bowl, and with Peyton Manning perhaps in the twilight of his career, they set out to re-tool this offseason, adding several big-name players to a lineup that was already strong.
Bradley Roby is a question mark likely to be thrust into the lineup as the third corner, but ESPN draft expert Todd McShay called him “maybe the most physically gifted corner in this class”, and he will be surrounded with talent to take the pressure off. Injuries in the past have resulted in their secondary having good depth, so even if Roby does struggle early, they have players they can bring in to pick up the slack.
By the numbers: An impressive 58.3 percent of their projected starters are graded good or better, with only a lone player (Derek Wolfe) below average. Manning and Von Miller are the obvious blue-chippers among the starters, but if Ware can recapture his best form he could join them there.
For years, the Saints had an offense that could hang with anybody while their defense consistently let them down. The year they won the Super Bowl, the defense still wasn’t stellar, but it had a stellar run of generating turnovers.
This year, however, the D has some legit talent of its own. Jairus Byrd joins Kenny Vaccaro to give the Saints a safety tandem that should rival Seattle’s for the best in football, and Byrd is the kind of free safety who allows you to change the coverages you run on the back end. The front seven has been slowly retooled and now has some legitimate talent and depth.
As always, the offense has plenty of weapons without any superstars among the receivers and backs. The offensive line could be stronger, but Drew Brees is well capable of making them look better than they really are.
By the numbers: The Saints are tied for the league lead with three starters (12.5 percent) in the blue and they have five more players (20.8 percent) following closely behind as high-quality starters. The linebacker corps is the weak link, with both David Hawthorne and Curtis Lofton grading out below average, but both have had seasons of high-quality play earlier in their careers.
Nick Foles had spectacular numbers last season, but in truth his play was never nearly as good as the picture they painted.
He likely won’t beat (or even match) those numbers in 2014, but he could well improve his play. Helping him out is the fact that the offensive line might be the best in the league, and it has considerable depth. The pass-catchers are solid, and rookie Jordan Matthews may wind up as the team’s third wide receiver by the start of the season.
The team is loaded with pass-rushers and has been slowly reworking a secondary that needed attention. About the only question mark is at wide receiver, but they have a pair of draft picks that will be fighting to earn a spot there, and players that have proven to be solid in the past.
By the numbers: The left side of the Philadelphia offensive line forms the only blue-chip unit in the league with Jason Peters and Evan Mathis both selected as All-Pros. The other three starters there are each ranked good or better. The defense is less of a sure thing, with 50 percent of the starters ranked average so far.
Much was made of how little help Tom Brady had a year ago.
Nobody will be able to make that claim this season, as the team added talent at several spots through the draft and with the big-time acquisition of Darrelle Revis for the defense. Revis and fellow newcomer Brandon Brownercome in to a unit that already boasted perennially under-appreciated Devin McCourty to give the Patriots some exciting options. Logan Ryan, in particular among the backups, looks to have significant talent.
The return of Rob Gronkowski means everything to the offense, but the rookie wideouts that so undermined Brady’s play last season should be looking to take a significant step forward in their second seasons. The defense was exposed last season up front when Vince Wilfork went down, but they were able to unearth some unheralded depth by necessity that could make valuable contributions going forward.
By the numbers: The Patriots also tie with the league lead with three (12.5 percent) blue-chip studs, but after a steady but slow decline in play, Brady is no longer one of them (for our take on why he’s no longer a top-5 QB, click here). Brady heads a group of three more starters of high quality while only three players are graded below average among the starting units.
The Bengals roster would probably find itself even higher if it wasn’t for the quarterback position.
If Andy Dalton were just an average quarterback (as his color-code suggests) the team could probably work with it, but his problem is he lurches wildly from stud to disaster on a weekly basis, never lasting more than a couple of games in either state. His grades in 2013 range from a +7.2 to a -6.6, and those games came just two weeks apart.
Outside of QB, though, the roster is in great shape. The receiving corps is strong and deep with the emergence of Marvin Jones. Meanwhile, the O-line is strong and the defense is in good order despite a couple of holes, most notably at nose tackle whereDomata Peko hasn’t earned a positive season grade from us overall since 2007.
By the numbers: Cincinnati has five players across both sides of the ball (20.8 percent) that grade out as below-average or worse, and could stand to be replaced. BenJarvus Green-Ellis is one of those players, and will likely be starter in name only even if he manages to hold off Giovani Bernard on paper (in other words, don’t read too much into those HB1 and HB2 designations). Andrew Whitworth teams with Geno Atkins to give the team one blue-chipper on either side of the ball.
Having one of the league’s best quarterbacks is always going to put a floor on your roster rankings, that’s just how important the position is in today’s NFL.
Aaron Rodgers was at his best last year when healthy, and if you extrapolate his performance over the full season, he would have been looking at topping 5,000 passing yards with 34 touchdowns and just 12 picks.James Jones may have left in free agency, but Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb are formidable receivers who return, and Jarrett Boykin impressed in limited opportunities this past season, forcing missed tackles at a higher rate than any other receiver after the catch.
The team yet again tried to address the pass rush opposite Clay Matthews, this time with a veteran in Julius Peppers, but it would take a turnaround in his performance to prove that decision wise. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix was the 19th-best player on Mel Kiper’s Big Board, and the best safety available in the draft, and should add to a talented secondary.
By the numbers: The team has almost as many projected blue-chip starters (three, 12.5 percent) as it does below average (four, 16.7 percent), but it is the average players who may dictate the ceiling for this team. Seven projected starters (29.2 percent) grade out as average at this time, and whether those players outperform or underperform that designation will likely determine how good this team becomes.
Trying to keep pace in today’s NFC West is no easy task. The Cardinals have been trying to hang on to the coattails of the Seahawks and 49ers as they have become the league’s elite, and while they haven’t quite managed to keep pace, they have forced their way into the top 10 of this ranking despite not having a better-than-average quarterback with Carson Palmer at the helm.
Jared Veldheer was a major get for the team in free agency, answering a question it has had at left tackle for several years now. Though Bradley Sowell is an issue at right tackle, the team has a built-in upgrade sitting on the bench in Bobby Massie. Antonio Cromartie brings an interesting skill set and experience to a defense that already hasPatrick Peterson to move around to track receivers.
By the numbers: The right side of the offensive line is an issue for the Cardinals, with both guard and tackle grading out as poor starters, but that could be fixed if they insert Massie into the lineup. There are more question marks in Arizona’s lineup than most teams’, with two rookies slated to start and two more players (Jonathan Cooper andKevin Minter) from whom we have seen a total of one snap.
The Chiefs saw a minor hemorrhaging of talent during free agency, specifically on the offensive line; otherwise, they could have been even higher on this list.
Branden Albert had his detractors, but the fact remains he was a quality pass-protector at left tackle. Eric Fisher was drafted to be that guy, but struggled badly as a rookie and needs to improve significantly moving over to the left side in his second year. Jeff Allenremains at left guard, but moving from Geoff Schwartz/Jon Asamoah to Jeff Linkenbach at right guard is a downgrade and the line doesn’t have a tremendous amount of depth.
Defense is now the strength of this roster, with the draft only adding to it in the form of pass-rusher Dee Ford in the first round and corner Phillip Gaines in the third. Eric Berryfinally realized his potential in 2013 as a strong safety, and if Brandon Flowers remains in town, the secondary is a strong unit.
By the numbers: The offensive line is the obvious concern now with this roster. Only Rodney Hudson escapes a grade of below-average, but all five starting members rank as average or worse. Dontari Poe heads a list of five defensive starters ranked as high quality or better.
11. Detroit Lions
The bare bones of a quality roster have been there for a while in Detroit, and the Lions have made some nice moves to try and ensure they flesh it out.
Signing Golden Tate to operate oppositeCalvin Johnson was a masterstroke, and drafting Eric Ebron in the first round shows that the team is not messing around when it comes to surrounding Matthew Stafford with weapons. In 2013, Stafford suffered from 58 dropped passes by his receivers, five more than any other quarterback. That shouldn’t be the case anymore with the players they have added.
In the secondary, a lot relies on second-year corner Darius Slay improving upon the 118.1 passer rating he surrendered as a rookie. He did flash at times, and his best game of the season came late in the campaign, but the Lions need a significant improvement from him, along with Chris Houston bouncing back from a poor season.
By the numbers: Only Glover Quin earns a grade above average in the Detroit secondary, while the team has just one blue-chip player in Johnson. Right guard Larry Warford, running backJoique Bell and linebacker Stephen Tulloch represent an underrated trio of high-quality players.
The Colts are another club that has a quarterback capable of papering over a lot of cracks in a roster. That’s not to say that Andrew Luck is without faults in his own game, as his 18th-ranked passer rating in 2013 suggests, but he does seem to have an ability to turn it on when it really matters.
In adding Hakeem Nicks, the Colts secured a player who has huge talent if an up-and-down history. He should ease the burden onReggie Wayne returning from a major knee injury, and rounds out the receiving corps nicely. The offense should also be buoyed by the return of Dwayne Allen, who showed massive potential during his rookie year as both a receiver and blocker. The offensive line has been an issue for a while now, and it still remains a potential problem area.
By the numbers: In center Khaled Holmesand free safety Delano Howell, the Colts are projected to start two players whose careers are 13 snaps (Holmes) and 212 snaps (Howell) old. Pairing one of those next to their lone poor starter could be a recipe for continued problems on the interior of the offensive line. Robert Mathis is the team’s only blue-chip defender, suspension notwithstanding.
13. Miami Dolphins
Miami had some obvious problems ending the 2013 season, and to its credit the team has aggressively tried to fix them before the next season rolls around.
Branden Albert coming in at left tackle represents a 19.5-point swing in PFF grading for pass protection towards the green, with Albert surrendering less than half the total pressure Bryant McKinnie did this past season. Ja’Wuan James was seen by many as a reach in the first round — he was Todd McShay’s ninth-graded offensive lineman with a second-round grade — but he does address a clear need, and as McShay points out has “very good natural tools as a pass protector.”
This bolstering of the pass protection is key for the team, as Ryan Tannehill‘s passer rating dropped almost 50 points from 94.2 to 46.3 when he felt pressure in 2013. The team added some impressive depth in free agency, including Earl Mitchell on the defensive line and Louis Delmas in the secondary.
By the numbers: The right side of the offensive line is a question mark, but otherwise eight members of the projected starting lineup (66.7 percent) rank as good starters or better. There are more question marks on the defense, where 50 percent of the unit is graded as average or worse.
Philip Rivers rebounded in 2013 after an ugly campaign the year before. He completed a league-leading 69.5 percent of his passes this past season, and a large part of that was due to the number of times he was sacked plummeting from 50 to 30 thanks to some repair work the team did on the offensive line.
While the offense looks to be largely repaired, the defense is still a patchy unit. Dwight Freeney was looking back to his best before injury last year, but it is asking a lot for him to carry the load in terms of generating pressure. There is nobody else on the roster who can scare teams in that area. In the secondary, Eric Weddle looked lost at times a year ago trying to cover up for a group of inexperienced players, and they will be hoping first-round pick Jason Verrett can make a sizeable impact on fixing that deficiency.
By the numbers: Nine of the projected starters on offense (75 percent) are graded good or better, though there isn’t a blue-chip stud among them (unless Rivers can take another step). The defense is a far different matter though, with seven players (58.3 percent) graded average or worse with three more question marks.
15. Chicago Bears
The Chicago defensive line last year may have been one of the worst units in football.
It was a disaster that only became worse as injuries bit, forcing defensive end Corey Wootton inside to play as an every down 3-technique defensive tackle. The good news is the team saw the problem and aggressively sought to fix it this offseason, bringing in upgrades in the form of Lamarr Houston,Willie Young and Jared Allen. Not content with that, they also spent draft picks in the second and third rounds on the line.
The secondary should be boosted by Charles Tillman being back 100 percent healthy, but they also planned for the future by draftingKyle Fuller in the first round. Linebacker remains the biggest problem on defense, withShea McClellin trying to transition to a completely different role and Lance Briggstrying to hold things down virtually on his own.
By the numbers: Despite the additions on defense, seven of the starters are graded as average or worse (58.3 percent), with rookie Fuller an unknown quantity. On offense, Brandon Marshall is the lone blue-chip player, but receiving partner Alshon Jeffery is hot on his heels as a high-quality player.
16. Baltimore Ravens
It’s hard to believe just how recently the Ravens won a Super Bowl.
Joe Flacco typifies the average player with which the Ravens roster is loaded at the moment on both sides of the ball. There is talent here as there is on every team, withMarshal Yanda and Lardarius Webb the pick of the offense and defense, respectively, but there are too many players that are likely on the losing end of most battles in a given week.
Adding Steve Smith could be a big addition forTorrey Smith‘s production, taking some attention away from the burner, but Flacco still needs to be able to take advantage of that with improved accuracy, especially deep. The defensive line has some impressive depth, and the back seven is loaded with potential in young players.
By the numbers: 11 projected starters (45.8 percent) across both sides of the ball grade out as average, with just three ranked as high quality. The Ravens are projected to start two rookies on defense and Arthur Brown, a question mark, will likely push Daryl Smith to start at linebacker.
New head coach Lovie Smith inherited a roster with plenty of talent but also plenty of holes, and he has acquired several players that look like perfect fits for his system. Letting Darrelle Revis leave was a criticized move, but within Smith’s defensive system, Alterraun Verner is just about as good, for a fraction of the price.
Verner, along with defensive end Michael Johnson, should perform well on defense, while the team concentrated on the offensive side of the ball during the draft, spending their top pick on Mike Evans to play oppositeVincent Jackson at wide receiver and their second-round pick on tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who will compete withTimothy Wright for playing time behind free agent acquisition Brandon Myers. The roster has certainly had some holes repaired, but remains patchy with several question marks, notably still at quarterback.
By the numbers: Tampa Bay remains a team all over the place when it comes to starters, with two blue-chip players on defense (Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David) but three players (25 percent) graded as poor starters and three more below average. On offense there are high-quality players (Vincent Jackson and Carl Nicks), but there remain players below average, even new imports such as Myers at tight end.
18. Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys’ defense had its problems before star inside linebacker Sean Lee suffered a torn ACL last week in OTAs. Lee was a high-quality starter, and only his history with injuries prevented him from being a legitimate blue-chipper. Without him, the team looks even more threadbare on that side of the ball.
Henry Melton was a nice addition in free agency, but when you look at what else has departed in the same offseason, it does little to stem the bleeding. There is a lot of money invested in the secondary, but neither Morris Claiborne nor Brandon Carr has come close to justifying it yet. The offense is what keeps this roster afloat, with Tony Romo and Dez Bryant headlining talent that runs deep across the skill positions. The Cowboys look likely to be involved in plenty of shootouts this year.
By the numbers: Tony Romo is among seven projected starters on offense (58.3 percent) who are graded good or better, with only Ronald Leary at left guard ranking below average. On defense, things are a different story entirely, with only Melton grading out as above average. The loss of Lee robs the team of its fifth high-quality starter and the only one on defense.
19. New York Giants
The Giants are another team that recognized their biggest problems and tried hard to fix them this offseason. In their case, it was the offensive line, and free agency saw the arrival of J.D. Walton and Geoff Schwartz, while the draft brought second-round center Weston Richburg, giving them a plan B in case Walton doesn’t pan out.
There aren’t many glaring holes on the Giants’ roster anymore, but their problem is more the absence of real difference-makers.Rashad Jennings showed he was a “capable” runner a year ago in Oakland, but he’s little more than that, and the receiving corps now expects Victor Cruz to lead the way rather than complement a true No. 1 receiver.
By the numbers: Eli Manning has had an up-and-down career, but the ups in that roller coaster ride have been high enough (two Super Bowl wins) to iron out the downs and still earn him a designation of above average. Nine players across both sides of the ball (37.5 percent) ranked as average starters, however, with two more below average and three question marks, including rookie WR Odell Beckham Jr.
20. Buffalo Bills
There might not be a finer example in the league of how much coaching can affect a team than the Bills and their defense. That side of the ball has been loaded with talent for a while, but it was anonymous in 2012 under the old coaching staff and then a completely different prospect in 2013 under Mike Pettine.
With Pettine now installed as the Cleveland Browns‘ head coach, we are going to see how much of that success a year ago can be sustained with new coaching. The talent is certainly there, but that hasn’t kept the team from underachieving in the past. On offense, much rests on the shoulders of EJ Manuel in his second season after an ugly first year. Manuel has a decent offensive line in front of him and a backfield full of talent to hand the ball off to, but the receiving corps needs first-round draft pick Sammy Watkins to be special right off the bat.
By the numbers: Buffalo has a pair of starters ranked as poor, including QB Manuel. While Manuel at least has the chance to improve upon that ranking with a big step forward in his development, the other player, left guard Chris Williams, has been a model of consistently poor play. Kyle Williams is the team’s lone blue-chip player, but along with Marcell Dareus and Mario Williams, three quarters of the Bills’ defensive line rank as good starters or better.
21. Tennessee Titans
Change in scheme might be the biggest problem affecting the Titans when it comes to the defensive side of the ball. Jurrell Casey is versatile enough that he should be able to succeed in any front, but Derrick Morgan doesn’t appear to have an obvious place in the new defense, and he led the team in total pressures a year ago with 58 combined sacks, hits and hurries.
Alterraun Verner was a high-quality player at cornerback for the Titans and it’s asking a lot of Blidi Wreh-Wilson to match that level as an every-down starter, considering he played just 93 snaps a year ago. Jake Locker has weapons to play with in the passing game, but the team has a curious three-into-two situation at tackle after drafting Taylor Lewanin the first round. First-round offensive tackles rarely sit, meaning either Michael Roos or Michael Oher becomes an expensive benchwarmer or trade bait. Shonn Greenedoesn’t inspire confidence at running back, but the team did add Bishop Sankey in the draft, and he could well win that job.
By the numbers: Wreh-Wilson and Justin Hunter give the Titans a pair of unproven question marks. They have 12 starters (50 percent) ranked as average or worse compared to 10 (41.7 percent) who rank above average.
It’s tough to tell sometimes exactly what the plan is in Carolina. The Panthers’ receiving corps was never a strength even before Steve Smith left town, and after he did, it began to look like a disaster.
Both Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant are nice role players, but both are better as complementary players to a legitimate stud at the position. The team drafted Kelvin Benjamin in the first round; he has rare size, but it’s asking a lot for him to be the No. 1 guy right away. The retirement of longtime tackle Jordan Gross put the team in a deep hole on the offensive line, one it didn’t seem too keen on climbing out of. Heading into the season, the starting tackles are expected toNate Chandler and Byron Bell, who don’t grade out well. Couple that with the receiver problems and this offense is essentially resting on the shoulders of Cam Newtonmore than ever.
By the numbers: The Panthers’ front seven is in fine shape with only unknown quantity A.J. Klein spoiling the set of starters all ranking above average. In the secondary, however, things aren’t as rosy, with all five members of that unit ranking below average or worse, with Roman Harper serving as the low mark after some extremely poor showings in New Orleans. On offense, it’s a bad sign when your only high-quality starter is a fullback (Mike Tolbert), with Newton held to the good starting designation because of the lack of help around him.
23. New York Jets
The Jets will be helped immeasurably if Geno Smith starts 2014 the way he finished his rookie season. A raw college prospect, Smith was never really supposed to see the field as a rookie, and the -27.4 PFF grade he amassed by Week 13 reflects that. Over the final month of the season, however, he posted a +7.2 grade, which would have ranked him among the league’s better passers if he had performed at that level all four months instead of one.
Adding Eric Decker should be a major boost to an anemic receiving corps, although Chris Johnson seems unlikely to be a consistent upgrade at running back. The Jets’ defensive line is formidable, especially against the run, but there is still a lack of edge rush and the team needs to generate pressure in creative ways. Dee Milliner, like Smith at quarterback, ended the year far better than he began it, and all signs suggest he could be much improved in 2014.
By the numbers: The Jets have eight players (33.3 percent) who rank as below average or worse, with seven more (29.2 percent) graded average. That leaves a little less than a third of projected starters, when rookie safety Calvin Pryor is taken into account, who rank as better than average, and that’s despite a defensive line trio who all grade out as high-quality starters.
24. Cleveland Browns
Johnny Manziel brings an excitement to the Browns faithful that hasn’t been there since, well, the last fresh new hope the team drafted at quarterback. As we all know, there has been no shortage of ’em in recent years.
Adding Justin Gilbert in the draft was a big move because in 2013 Buster Skrinestruggled badly moving around to accommodate Joe Haden tracking an opponent’s top receiver. Skrine allowed nine touchdowns in coverage, tied for the league lead, and the Browns need somebody who can hold up a bit better. Donte Whitnershould provide a capable replacement for T.J. Ward in the defensive secondary, but the pass-rush still needs attention or a significant leap in performance by Barkevious Mingo, who wound up playing his way to the bench as a rookie.
Second-round guard Joel Bitonio is scheduled to start, but there’s a chance he actually proves to be a downgrade on the criminally underrated John Greco, at least initially. TheJosh Gordon situation bears close watching, and Miles Austin could end up cracking the top three of the receiver depth chart, possibly ahead of Nate Burleson.
By the numbers: Whether Brian Hoyer or Johnny Football starts Week 1, it’s going to be an unknown quantity for the Browns at the most important position on the team. Joe Thomas gives them a single blue-chip player, and Haden is right on the cusp of that designation himself, heading a group of five high-quality starters across both sides of the ball (20.8 percent). The Browns are projected to start two rookies, and that could rise to a league-leading three if Manziel earns the job.
25. Houston Texans
Excitement is in the air in Houston at the prospect of teaming Jadeveon Clowney with J.J. Watt and unleashing destruction on opposing offenses, but the problem is that the roster is riddled with issues everywhere else.
Watt was the best player in football a year ago and a virtually unstoppable force inside, generating 85 total pressures and earning them at a rate of one every 6.1 rushing attempts — a rate better than anybody not named Robert Quinn — and yet the Texans still stumbled to just two wins on the season. Clowney will no doubt help, but the team needs a revamp elsewhere. The offensive line, not far removed from being the best unit in football, is suddenly a questionable entity now that they are moving away from the zone-blocking scheme that they executed so well. The defensive secondary is talented but inconsistent, and the biggest problem of all is that there is still no real answer at quarterback, with Ryan Fitzpatrick being a caretaker at best.
By the numbers: The Texans span the entire color-coded spectrum, with their projected starters featuring everything from a pair of blue-chippers to a rookie and a player in Jerrell Powewhom we just have not seen enough snaps to accurately quantify. The real issue, though, is with below-average players. Eight of them (33.3 percent) currently occupy places among the starting lineups.
Things were looking so good for Washington during Robert Griffin III‘s rookie season. The triple option was in full flow, the offense looked formidable, and the defense was showing enough signs of revival that there was reason for hope.
Then the wheels fell off the wagon with the serious knee injury to their star quarterback, and since that point he has never really looked the same. The struggles permeated the entire roster in 2013, and caused a change at the head coaching spot. Though there is still legitimate talent on the roster, there are also some major holes that have yet to be properly addressed, hanging like an anchor from the belt of the team. Jason Hatcher should help add an interior pass rush to a unit that had no defensive lineman tally more than three sacks a year ago. Only Barry Cofield topped 19 total pressures from the defensive line, as the team left it entirely toBrian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan to generate pressure.
By the numbers: Ten projected starters (41.7 percent) are graded as good or better, and though the team doesn’t have any blue-chip players, that is still an impressive amount for a side ranked this far down the list. The issue is that four of the remaining players are graded as poor starters, three of them residing in the secondary.
Once held up as a shining example to the rest of the league for how to run a franchise, the Steelers have allowed their roster to be eroded talent-wise for several years now, and are clinging onto being in contention for playoff spots at the end of the season largely thanks to having a top-quality quarterback and little else.
The team simply has not drafted well, failing to replace key personnel when they needed to, and then persisting with struggling players long past the point they should have given up on them. Ike Taylor is still used as if he were a shutdown corner, shadowing an opponent’s best receiver despite surrendering six touchdowns in 2013 and a passer rating into his coverage of 110.6. The departure ofEmmanuel Sanders in free agency means the team needs Markus Wheaton to step up, and for all the draft picks spent on the offensive line, it remains a unit that has yet to distinguish itself.
By the numbers: Troy Polamalu remains a high-quality starter, one of three the Steelers project to start on both sides of the ball (12.5 percent), but outside of him, the secondary features four players who grade as average at best. Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown are the other two high-quality starters, and they might be the only players keeping the Steelers competitive into December.
28. Oakland Raiders
More than any other team in the league, the Raiders could be struggling just to attract players. They wanted to secure their own talent and made a big push to re-sign Jared Veldheer before he hit the open market, but they couldn’t get him to stay. They were left replacing him by signing Donald Penn, getting older and downgrading at the position in the process.
Matt Schaub would need a massive bounce-back season to be anything other than a problem at quarterback after his display in 2013, actually rivaling Terrelle Pryor for negative PFF grade with a -15.9 (to Pryor’s -17.0) on just 624 snaps. Though they did add some names to the defense, they were left picking over a particular type of player, veterans whose best years are likely behind them. Behind those veterans, only top draft pick Khalil Mack and last year’s top pick D.J. Hayden represent any hope for the future. Persisting with Darren McFadden in the backfield also smacks of desperation, with Maurice Jones-Drew unlikely to fix that position, either.
By the numbers: Only Marcel Reece ranks among the high-quality band from Oakland’s projected starters, and Reece is a perennially underused (and very versatile) fullback. Elsewhere, the best the team can manage is a group of eight (33.5 percent) good starters, with the rest of the team struggling to remain average at best.
The Vikings are in the midst of a clear-out after the last coaching staff was sent packing and Mike Zimmer was named the new head coach. Teddy Bridgewater is an unknown quantity at quarterback, and likely won’t revamp things on his own in Year 1.
The once-formidable defense has been in decline for years and is now without an identity until Zimmer can put his stamp on it. The offensive line has become a strength of the team, and there is depth in the form of experienced veterans such as Joe Berger, but without good quarterback play, it’s unlikely to get them very far. The linebackers are a major issue, with Chad Greenway‘s decline a concern and Anthony Barr making a tricky transition as a rookie. The secondary is young and has some talented players, but they need to collectively take a big step forward to improve upon the 7.5 yards per pass attempt they surrendered in 2013.
By the numbers: Whether Bridgewater orMatt Cassel starts in Week 1, quarterback is going to be, at best, an unknown quantity, but with three-fifths of the offensive line grading as high-quality (with Matt Kalil very capable of joining them if he rediscovers his rookie form), the defense is where the problems lie. That side of the ball has four good starters and problems everywhere else.
30. Atlanta Falcons
Atlanta has been in “win-now” mode for a while, but every move the team has made to try to get closer to that aim seems only to have brought it further away from it. This offseason the Falcons spent big retooling their offensive and defensive lines, but seem to have added a series of one-dimensional players: run specialists in a league that is getting more pass-oriented.
There is a concerning absence of pass rush on the defense, with only really Osi Umenyioracapable of bringing consistent pressure, and he is unlikely to be an every-down player (Jonathan Massaquoi will likely play more of the snaps at that spot). On offense, there is talent at the skill positions, but once again, the offensive line looks like a major issue and an Achilles’ heel for a team that needs to protect its quarterback more than it has in recent years. Matt Ryan‘s passer rating dropped from 99.9 to 72.0 when he was pressured in 2013, and there is no obvious cure to that on the offensive line unless rookie Jake Matthews hits the ground running in a big way.
By the numbers: Ryan and Julio Jones represent the only two high-quality starters. Average players are the big issue for this lineup, with 66.7 percent of the starters grading out as average or worse.
31. St. Louis Rams
If there is a team to challenge the Jaguars for the worst roster in football, it’s the Rams. Robert Quinn is a blue-chip player who had 91 total sacks, hits and hurries a year ago, and the starters look capable in the trenches, but the roster is in trouble everywhere else.
Chris Long is capable opposite Quinn, but Michael Brockers is still far more potential than performance, and the back seven is a major issue behind them. The team used 14 linebackers and defensive backs during the 2013 season, and not one of them graded in the green for the season. The offense is threadbare at the skill positions despite investment in recent years, leaving Sam Bradford mired in quarterback mediocrity. There are players who have flashed talent in the past, and there is plenty of potential in the form of 2013 and 2014 first-rounders Tavon Austin (WR), Alec Ogletree (LB), Greg Robinson (OL) and Aaron Donald (DT), but the Rams need several of them to display that talent on a consistent basis if they are to improve overall.
By the numbers: 70.8 percent of the projected starters grade out as average or worse, with the entire back seven from the defense fitting that description. Safeties T.J. McDonald andRodney McLeod represent a starting pair that have graded out poorly so far, a stark contrast to the quality elsewhere in the division at the position.
The Jaguars have been moving in the right direction, but it speaks volumes that they are still the easy choice for this position in the rankings despite some time already spent in the rebuilding project.
Quarterback was a disaster for the Jags in 2013, and though they drafted Blake Bortleswith the third overall pick in the draft this year, they have said they intend to bring him along slowly and don’t expect him to help in Year 1. They spent money in free agency, but the guys they brought in were questionable signings on both sides of the line, which could easily prove problematic. The loss of Justin Blackmon only adds to the problems, though they did at least prepare themselves for that by taking a pair of receivers in Marqise Leeand Allen Robinson in the second round of the 2014 draft.
By the numbers: Eight of the projected starters (33.3 percent) are graded at below average or worse, while two more are expected to be rookies. Just one player on offense (Cecil Shorts) graded above average; on defense, only four are above average, and two of those are the new imports from Seattle, Red Bryant and Chris Clemons. Winston Guy could end up winning the free safety job over Josh Evans.