NFL Nation: 2014 Post-Draft Power Rankings

The last time we posted our ESPN.com Power Rankings -- after the final week of the regular season -- the Buffalo Bills ranked 25th.

Over four months later, the Bills have slipped in the ranking.

Our latest ESPN.com Power Rankings, released Tuesday, have the Bills as the 27th-best NFL team. Of our six national voters, here's how they ranked the Bills: 22nd, 24th, 27th, 28th, 29th, and 30th.

Take that as you will. It's May, after all.
An unusually busy offseason for the Steelers has not inspired much confidence in them returning to the playoffs among voters in ESPN.com's NFL Power Rankings.

The Steelers have slipped from No. 14 to No. 17 in the rankings that were released Tuesday despite receiving strong reviews for their draft from ESPN analysts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay. The Steelers are third in the AFC North behind the Bengals (No. 10) and the Ravens (No. 13). The Browns are last in the rankings despite (or maybe because of) drafting Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel in the first round.

The Steelers finished the 2013 season at No. 14 in the rankings after winning eight of their final 12 games and nearly sneaking into the playoffs.

Here is a breakdown of the Steelers’ voting:

Ashley Fox: 19
Mike Sando: 14
Kevin Seifert: 17
John Clayton: 13
Dan Graziano: 15
Jamison Hensley: 12

It would be silly to read too much into rankings in the middle of May with the start of training camps more than two months away. But clearly there is a perception that the Steelers have not done enough to re-build their defense following consecutive 8-8 seasons.
Suffering from Power Ranking withdrawal? No worries, our ESPN voting panel made a quick cameo return Tuesday morning with the post-draft edition of the rankings.

Yes, I know there have been a total of zero games played since the rankings last posted, but the idea here is to give an idea of how the six-member panel views the moves teams did or didn't make to improve in the offseason.

For the most part, the rankings are stable with teams sitting in the same spot or moving up and down a couple of spots. There are a few outliers who made big jumps or went on a bit of a freefall.

As for the St. Louis Rams, they fall into the category of mostly stable, moving up two spots to No. 18. In the final edition of last season's rankings, the Rams and their 7-9 checked in at No. 20.

In the time since, the Rams mostly stayed out of the free-agent spending spree other teams enjoyed. They did get lucky with the return of offensive lineman Rodger Saffold but it was an important move regardless of how it happened. Other additions in free agency were one-year prove-it deals for receiver Kenny Britt and defensive lineman Alex Carrington. Backup quarterback Shaun Hill also signed a one-year deal.

But there's little doubt that the Rams' marginal jump is more strongly correlated to the work they did in last weekend's NFL draft. They selected 11 players and earned positive reviews across the board for their work. The additions of tackle Greg Robinson, defensive tackle Aaron Donald, cornerback Lamarcus Joyner and running back Tre Mason, in particular, should provide immediate impact for a team in need of it.

Time will tell if the offseason approach is enough for the Rams to make the leap to contender in 2014. Of course, much more will hinge on the health of quarterback Sam Bradford and left tackle Jake Long.
The Tennessee Titans' free-agent moves and NFL draft haven’t done a lot to change the thinking of the voters in ESPN.com’s NFL Power Rankings.

Tennessee is 25th, three spots down from where they were at the end of the 2013 regular season.

NFL Nation’s Kevin Seifert has the worst view of the Titans, placing them 31st on his ballot, ahead of only the Browns.

I asked Seifert for his view of the Titans.

"The biggest reason, other than giving my good friend Paul Kuharsky an easy post, was I think the Titans have one of the NFL's worst quarterback situations and haven't addressed it in a way that can help them in 2014," he said. "They have put their season in the hands of Jake Locker, who hasn't proved himself as an NFL starter in the short periods of time he has been able to stay on the field. Charlie Whitehurst is a career backup, Zach Mettenberger won't help this season and the release of Chris Johnson leaves an unfilled hole in terms of offensive personality.

"First-round pick Taylor Lewan doesn't play a position that needed addressing in 2014. The Titans did make some nice veteran additions to their defense, but if you're asking me in May how the Titans will win consistently this season -- what they will do well and how they'll look doing it -- I couldn't tell you."

That’s a well-reasoned explanation, and Seifert is always well reasoned.

But there is a well-reasoned counter argument: The Titans were 7-9 last year, they’ve got an easier schedule and an upgraded head coach and staff. I don't know that they will be very good. But I feel confident they aren't going to rank as one of the worst teams in the league.
ESPN.com’s post-draft NFL Power Rankings are here!

This is the first chance to get a sense for what the national perception is of all 32 teams. With the NFL draft in the books and free agency all but over, there will not be a lot of opportunities to improve your roster after this point.

So where does ESPN.com’s experts rank the Dolphins in May? The answer may disappoint Miami fans.

Power Ranking: No. 24

AFC East rank: Third

Analysis: The Power Rankings panel does not have much respect for Miami. After finishing 8-8 last season and one game away from the playoffs, this ranking at No. 24 suggests the Dolphins are trending down, not up. Even one panelist, ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert, voted the Dolphins at No. 30. Ouch! Miami believes it’s a team on the cusp of the playoffs and just needed a few pieces. Players such as left tackle Branden Albert, running back Knowshon Moreno and first-round pick Ja'Wuan James are expected to fill major weaknesses. But it's clear ESPN.com’s panel believes other teams improved as well, particularly in the AFC East. The New England Patriots are No. 4 in the Power Rankings and the New York Jets are No. 21, three spots ahead of the Dolphins. Even the Buffalo Bills (No. 27) made significant moves to improve this offseason. Every team is in "win now" mode in the AFC East, which should make for a competitive division. The Dolphins must win this season under third-year head coach Joe Philbin. Another third-place finish in the AFC East won't cut it.
If there was any question about the best division in football, one look at the ESPN.com's post-draft power rankings should provide all the answers.

Three of the top 8 teams are from the NFC West -- No. 1 Seattle, No. 3 San Francisco and No. 8 Arizona.

The Cardinals made serious headway in closing the gap between themselves and the Seahawks and 49ers during free agency, but adding a hard-hitting safety and big tight end through the draft may have made the race for the NFC West title even closer.

Cracking the top 10 months before the season was no easy task, especially when the non-West teams above them include Denver, New England, New Orleans and Green Bay. This is unfamiliar territory for the Cards but a testament to the work Bruce Arians has done. And pending no season-altering injuries during OTAs, minicamp or training camp, the Cardinals are expected the start the season somewhere among the top 10.

Then it's up to them to stay there.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Was it because the voters loved what Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson did in the draft?

Perhaps.

But the more likely reason the Packers were back in the top 10 of the ESPN NFL Power Rankings was the fact that quarterback Aaron Rodgers is expected to be fully healthy this season.

The Packers came in at No. 6 in the first poll of the 2014 season. That's a six-spot improvement from where they finished following their 8-7-1 season that saw Rodgers miss nearly half the year because of a broken left collarbone.

That was the second-biggest jump in the rankings. Only the Atlanta Falcons, who climbed 12 spots to No. 14, made a bigger move.

Two of the other three NFC North teams also are trending upward. The Chicago Bears were at No. 12, up three spots from the end of last season, while the Detroit Lions moved up one spot to No. 20. The Minnesota Vikings fell five spots to No. 29.

Not surprisingly, the Packers' Week 1 opponent, the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks, came in at No. 1. The Packers also play two other teams in the top 5 -- the No. 4 New England Patriots (on Nov. 30) and at the No. 5 New Orleans Saints (on Oct. 26).
ESPN.com has released its post-draft power rankings and the New England Patriots land in the No. 4 spot. The Seahawks, Broncos and 49ers are the teams to rank ahead of New England.

"Why did the Patriots take three linemen? Tom Brady had the highest sack percentage since his rookie year despite having the eighth-lowest average time in the pocket of 37 qualified quarterbacks," ESPN's Stats & Information notes as part of the power rankings.

I looked a bit closer at the voting breakdown and noticed that four of the six voters all had the Patriots fourth, one voter had them third, and the final voter ranked the team seventh.

One of the takeaways from looking at the power rankings is that while the Patriots might not have targeted immediate impact from the majority of its draft class, it didn't seem to hurt them from a perception standpoint nationally. The team was viewed as a contender even before the draft.
Johnny Manziel should be an upgrade to the Cleveland Browns and make them better immediately.

Right?

Wrong, according to the voters in the ESPN.com NFL Power Rankings.

These six -- names withheld here to protect the guilty, but they’re available at the bottom of the poll -- are decidedly unimpressed with the Browns. They are so unimpressed, in fact, that they rank the Browns 32nd in a 32-team league.

Which, of course, would be last.

Holy Johnny Football, Batman, who put the dog biscuits in their coffee?

The Browns actually dropped four spots since the last poll. And they dropped below Oakland, Jacksonville and Minnesota, all of whom took quarterbacks in the draft, but none of whom took Mr. Football.

Buffalo, which gave up a first-round pick in 2015 and has uncertainty at quarterback, is 27th. Washington is ahead of the Browns. The way this is going the Browns are being pushed by Wittenberg University.

The only thing I’ll say about the individual votes is that Ravens reporter Jamison Hensley ranked the Browns the highest of the six, though it was 29. The other five voters had the Browns in the 30s, with Ashley Fox and Kevin Seifert putting them dead last.

If Mike Pettine believes in these silly motivational things to inspire players, he might wish to clip and paste this poll and place it on the Browns' bulletin board.

The Browns ... 32nd ... hrrmph.
The voters in ESPN's power rankings apparently are only mildly impressed with what the Baltimore Ravens did in free agency and the draft.

In this year's post-draft edition, the Ravens check in at No. 13. This is an improvement of three spots from last year's season-ending No. 16 rankings.

The Ravens' ranking is better when you put in context of the conference. They have the second-highest ranking in the AFC North (the Bengals are No. 10) and are fifth in the AFC behind the Denver Broncos (No. 2), New England Patriots (No. 4), Indianapolis Colts (No. 7) and Bengals.

As a matter of full disclosure, I'm one of the six voters and I had the Ravens at No. 10. That was the highest ranking given to the Ravens (#homer).

Here is the Ravens' ranking from the other voters:
  • Ashley Fox: No. 13
  • Mike Sando: No. 18
  • Kevin Seifert: No. 16
  • John Clayton: No. 12
  • Dan Graziano: No. 12

How accurate are these rankings at this point in the year? Last year, the Ravens were ranked No. 8 following the draft and finished the season at No. 16. In 2012, the Ravens and 49ers were both in the top five after the draft and met each other in the Super Bowl. So, the post-draft rankings have been hit or miss when it comes to the Ravens.
INDIANAPOLIS -- There is no better time for an offseason power ranking than right after the draft, because that is the unofficial ending of the major moves made by teams.

Teams will continue to tinker with their roster, but the draft is compete and the majority of the headline-making moves are complete.

ESPN.com's post-draft Power Rankings, based teams' offseason moves, were released Tuesday. The Indianapolis Colts are seventh in the rankings up one spot from the season-ending rankings.

To no surprise, the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks are at the top of the rankings. From an AFC standpoint, the Colts are third behind Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos (2nd), who lost to the Seahawks in the Super Bowl, and Tom Brady and the New England Patriots (4th).

I think the Broncos are still the class of the AFC after they added DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward on defense to go with Manning and that high-powered offense.

I only give the Patriots the edge over the Colts because they beat Indianapolis in the playoffs last season, and Colts quarterback Andrew Luck has struggled in two games -- seven interceptions -- against New England.

The Colts didn’t make a major splash in the offseason, but they continued to add offensive weapons to go with Luck’s arm, feet and ability to pull off the unthinkable. Questions at center and safety will remain until Khaled Holmes (center) and Delano Howell prove they are the right players to start at those positions.

The Colts will be able to see how they match up with those teams next season. They play the Broncos in Week 1 and the Patriots in Week 11.
Though the Houston Texans finished last in the NFL, earning the first overall draft pick, their selections last week have people encouraged.

After a draft to which Mel Kiper gave an A- for value and need, the Texans have risen to 26th in ESPN.com's post-draft Power Rankings.

The Texans selected outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney (1st), guard Xavier Su'a-Filo (33rd), tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz (65th), nose tackle Louis Nix III (83rd), quarterback Tom Savage (135th), defensive end Jeoffrey Pagan (177th), running back Alfred Blue (181st), fullback Jay Prosch (211th), cornerback Andre Hal (216th) and finally safety Lonnie Ballentine (256th).

The Texans' lowest rank in this post-draft power ranking was 30th, given by Mike Sando who only ranked the Raiders and Browns below them. Their best ranking came from Dan Graziano, who ranked the Texans 20th, ahead of St. Louis, both New York teams, Washington, Miami, Minnesota, Tennessee, Buffalo, Tampa Bay, Cleveland, Jacksonville and Oakland.

Of course, the top of these rankings remained the same. The Seahawks hold the No. 1 spot with the Broncos immediately after them.
The Carolina Panthers lost their starting left tackle to retirement, their top four wide receivers as a result of being cut or signed by other teams in free agency, three-fourths of their secondary in free agency and their franchise quarterback for four months to recover from ankle surgery.

So it is no surprise that the reigning NFC South champions lost a lot of spots in ESPN.com's post-draft Power Rankings.

They lost more spots than any other team in the league. Eight to be exact, all the way to No. 11.

I'm actually surprised it wasn't more judging by the national reaction of the decision to cut Steve Smith, the team's all-time leading receiver, and quarterback Cam Newton's surgery to tighten the ligaments in his left ankle.

But I actually believe the receiving corps will be better with first-round pick Kelvin Benjamin and free agent acquisitions Jerricho Cotchery, Jason Avant and Tiquan Underwood.

I also believe Newton will be better now that he has repaired an injury that has hampered him since college.

Questions on the offensive line aside, the Panthers are in better shape now than they were at the beginning of last season when they had a power ranking of 21.

Improving on last season's 12-4 record will be difficult, though, primarily because the rest of the NFC South should be better. New Orleans ranks No. 5 in the power rankings. Atlanta made the biggest jump, improving 12 spots to No. 14.

Tampa Bay, which had arguably the best free agency of the division teams, moved up four spots to 23rd.

And in case you're wondering, Seattle and Denver remained Nos. 1-2 just as they were at the Super Bowl.

As Carolina showed last season, there will be surprises. Will the Panthers surprise and record consecutive winning seasons for the first time in team history? Or will they continue to suffer losses?

Stay tuned.
ESPN's post-draft Power Rankings are out and the Kansas City Chiefs are in the middle of the pack. The Chiefs are 15th, and it makes sense they would be somewhere in the middle after an offseason that saw them lose more talent than they gained. The Chiefs finished last season 10th in the Power Rankings.

A couple of things trouble me as far as their ranking. Judging from the comments voters made about the Chiefs, they were marked down because they lost three offensive linemen to free agency. I think the Chiefs will be in better shape on the offensive line than many people believe. They Chiefs drafted a lot of linemen in the early rounds in recent years so they built up some nice depth there. That took a big hit with the loss of Branden Albert, Geoff Schwartz and Jon Asamoah but the Chiefs still should be able to survive there.

The other is that the Chiefs are immediately behind the Atlanta Falcons, who jumped 12 spots to No. 14. The Falcons made some strides during the offseason but after winning four games are they really ready to leap back into the top half of the league? They lost tight end Tony Gonzalez to retirement and among their free-agent additions were Asamoah, Tyson Jackson and Javier Arenas. Asamoah was benched midway through last season and Chiefs fans also remember Jackson and Arenas more for what they didn't accomplish as what they did during their time in Kansas City.

If these rankings were to hold true during the regular season, the Chiefs would claim the sixth and final playoff spot in the AFC. Denver, New England, Indianapolis and Cincinnati are ranked as division champions. Baltimore at No. 13 is the first wild-card and the Chiefs would hold off No. 16 San Diego and No. 17 Pittsburgh for that final playoff berth.

Also of note, the Chiefs will play five games against the top four rated teams. They'll have a home game on Nov. 16 against the No. 1 Seattle Seahawks, two games against the No. 2 Denver Broncos, a road game on Oct. 5 against the No. 3 San Francisco 49ers and a Monday night home game against the No. 4 New England Patriots on Sept. 29.
The last time we saw the Atlanta Falcons in the ESPN Power Rankings, they were hovering somewhere near the bottom.

But the post-draft rankings show how much respect folks had for what the Falcons have accomplished this offseason. They made the biggest jump of any team in the league, moving up 12 spots from No. 26 to No. 14. The Falcons are the only team in the top 15 with a losing record last season (4-12).

Team owner Arthur Blank expressed firm belief in his team making a worst-to-first turnaround in '14. To do so, the Falcons beefed up both the offensive and defensive lines with the additions of nose tackle Paul Soliai, defensive end Tyson Jackson, guard Jon Asamoah, rookie offensive tackle Jake Matthews and rookie defensive end Ra'Shede Hageman. That's more than 1,500 pounds added up front.

Although the Falcons will attempt to establish more offensive balance, particularly with rookie running back Devonta Freeman expected to contribute, they still will rely heavily on the passing game. No doubt about it.

Giving Matt Ryan adequate time to throw deep to returning top target Julio Jones (foot surgery) will give the Falcons the element they sorely missed last season. A healthy Roddy White next to Jones gives the team one of the most dangerous tandems in the league.

Of course none of that will matter if the Falcons can't stop anybody. But the switch to a 3-4-base with, Soliai as the anchor, will help shut down the run. And a pressure-by-committee approach will help the Falcons get to opposing quarterbacks more often than last season.

Not to be forgotten is the impact Devin Hester could have in the return game. Field position is always important and Hester has plenty left in him. Plus he's working under one of the league's best special teams coaches in Keith Armstrong, who will be a head coach eventually.

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