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If you're looking for an elaborate, Einstein-esque equation to explain the NFL Future Power Rankings, you won't find one. To divine the projected positioning of each franchise entering the 2016 season, we relied on the simple formula that fueled last year's project and the informed insights of some of ESPN's top NFL analysts.
Our experts -- Herm Edwards, Mel Kiper, Mike Sando, Gary Horton, Matt Williamson and Field Yates -- ranked every team on a 1-to-10 scale across five categories. In doing so, they took the following factors into consideration:
Roster (excluding QB): This category covers each team's current roster players, emphasizing players selected in the 2010, 2011 and 2012 drafts -- players who will form the nucleus of the team in three seasons' time. Players 27 or older were heavily discounted, as history suggests a rapid decline for NFL players over 30 years of age. Quarterbacks were not included in this category. A rating of 10 represents a team with a number of stars/key contributors still on the upswing or entering their prime; a 1 represents a team that projects to have no significant contributors on its roster in 2016.
Quarterback: This category covers a team's QB situation, focusing on the future. Does a team have its 2016 starter on the roster and how does that player project in three seasons? A 10 represents a team that projects to have an All-Pro QB at the helm in 2016. A 1 represents a team with no projected 2016 starter in its system.
Draft: This category evaluates a team's 2013 draft class, a team's reputation in mining talent from the draft and the number of available picks in 2014, '15 and '16. A 10 represents a team that secured a strong 2013 draft class and appears likely to bring in similarly strong classes in 2014, '15 and '16. A 1 represents a team that had a poor 2013 draft class and appears unlikely to bring in help through the draft due to its reputation or a lack of future draft picks.
Front office: This category weighs each team's front office in terms of its ability to manage its roster and bring in new talent via free agency or trades. It also factors in a team's willingness to spend money and a market's attraction to free agents. A 10 represents a team that has the ability to spend freely and obtain top-choice talent on a regular basis. A 1 represents a team that has little ability to spend, has no track record of bringing in quality free-agent talent or, worse, has spent big on free agents who have made little-to-no impact.
Coaching: This category analyzes each team's coaching staff in terms of capability and stability. A 10 represents a team that has a consistently successful coaching staff with low turnover due to firings. A 1 represents an unsuccessful staff that has seen considerable turnover or has a high potential for such turnover between now and the start of the 2016 season.
The raw numbers from the polling were then weighted by the importance of each category -- shown in the chart to the right -- added together and translated into a 100-point final rating.
See? No crystal balls. No calls to Miss Cleo. No pocket protectors required. Just the astute ability of our analysts to recognize rosters chock-full of young talent and the ability and stability of coaching staffs and front offices to consistently produce high-level results.
It's important to understand the following, however: No one involved in this project believes the Future Power Rankings will provide chiseled-in-stone standings for the 2016 season. The findings from this project do not mean the first pick of the 2017 draft will slip out of a Goodellian embrace and into a New York Jets hat. Nor do they mean Super Bowl LI will provide a rematch of the Har-Bowl.
The key takeaway from this project? These rankings amount to a long-term vote of confidence from our panelists. The teams at the top have shown enough promise to make our experts believe they will be in the hunt for the Lombardi trophy come 2016. The teams at the bottom? Well, they have some work to do.
Are they doomed? Only time will tell. But in order to foster a brighter future, they must break from their failures in the recent past.