Russ Lande breaks down his top four classes from the 2016 NFL draft.
USA TODAY Sports
With free agency and the draft receding into the rearview mirror, now is a fair time to assess each NFL team’s offseason to date. Though some dominoes may still fall, here’s a ranking from 1 to 32, based on each team’s progress (or lack thereof) this offseason.
1. Jacksonville Jaguars: They might have scored the draft’s two best players by picking DB Jalen Ramsey and LB Myles Jack, whose mysterious knee condition knocked him into Round 2. A defense that allowed the most points in the AFC should also benefit from DT Malik Jackson, perhaps free agency’s biggest prize this year, along with incoming S Tashaun Gipson and CB Prince Amukamara. DE Dante Fowler, the No. 3 overall pick in 2015, is ready to rock after a knee injury scuttled his rookie season. GM Dave Caldwell, who also added AFC rushing leader Chris Ivory to an ascending offense, still has more than $50 million in cap space for the future. After so many desolate seasons, the Jags seem on the cusp of rewarding the patience of their fans and owner Shad Khan.
2. Houston Texans: The J.J. Watt-led defense is as stout as ever. But a plodding offense was injected with speed during free agency (RB Lamar Miller) and the draft (WRs Will Fuller and Braxton Miller). If new franchise face QB Brock Osweiler can quickly assimilate with a team that won nine games apiece the last two years despite often-shoddy quarterback play, the Texans could be poised to do something special.
3. Tennessee Titans: New GM Jon Robinson traded the draft’s No. 1 pick – a blessing in light of the Laremy Tunsil fiasco that ensued – and wound up with five of the top 64 selections, which were parlayed into potential impact players T Jack Conklin, OLB/DE Kevin Dodd and RB Derrick Henry. Robinson also acquired RB DeMarco Murray for a song during free agency. Could be yet another AFC South club on the fast track to relevance.
4. Los Angeles Rams: It’s already been a year of big moves for this team, literally and figuratively. But it’s understandable why coach Jeff Fisher and GM Les Snead would part with so much draft capital to get Cal QB Jared Goff at No. 1 overall considering one Rams passer in the past nine seasons has managed to throw for at least 20 TDs. Despite cutting aging defensive mainstays Chris Long and James Laurinaitis and failing to re-sign CB Janoris Jenkins, this club got better this offseason.
5. Oakland Raiders: With a strong foundation in place, GM Reggie McKenzie may have finally put the roof on this house. G Kelechi Osemele, OLB Bruce Irvin, CB Sean Smith and S Reggie Nelson were nice free-agent additions but the types used to fill in gaps rather than build around. First-round S Karl Joseph can alter a game’s momentum just like retired Charles Woodson, the man Joseph will replace
6. Minnesota Vikings: They didn’t make much noise and that’s OK. New G Alex Boone should be a boon to RB Adrian Peterson while departed WR Mike Wallace won’t be missed, especially with highly touted first-round WR Laquon Treadwell inbound. Overall, the Vikes quietly added depth to solidify a roster that should be ready to defend the NFC North crown.
7. Baltimore Ravens: An 11-man draft headlined by LT Ronnie Stanley looks like another strong Ozzie Newsome haul. Veteran S Eric Weddle should stabilize a defense that struggled. But perhaps most importantly, QB Joe Flacco, OLB Terrell Suggs, WR Steve Smith and others are on track to return to a team that lost 20 players to injured reserve.
8. Arizona Cardinals: GM Steve Keim and coach Bruce Arians don’t shy from risk and have assumed plenty. If pass rusher Chandler Jones signs an extension and avoids trouble, the low second rounder Arizona spent to acquire him looks like a bargain. The Cards used the draft’s 29th pick on DL Robert Nkemdiche, whose baggage dropped him to that point even though his talent warranted a far higher selection. Veteran G Evan Mathis was a great pickup – assuming he can stay healthy at age 34.
9. Green Bay Packers: GM Ted Thompson followed his usual script, re-signing most of his own free agents while largely eschewing outside ones – the exception being TE Jared Cook, who was cut by the Rams. First-round DE Kenny Clark might be the only draft pick who gets a lot of snaps in 2016. But if all goes as planned, recovering WR Jordy Nelson (ACL) and shrinking RB Eddie Lacy will have significantly more snaps this season.
10. Washington Redskins: Franchise-tagged QB Kirk Cousins isn’t going anywhere. A defense bolstered by the arrival of all-pro CB Josh Norman and promising draft picks Su’a Cravens and Kendall Fuller may be ready for a big leap. But GM Scot McCloughan is gambling that second-year RB Matt Jones can carry spearhead the rushing attack without Alfred Morris.
11. Buffalo Bills: Despite a dearth of cap space, they retained starting O-linemen Cordy Glenn and Richie Incognito for the league’s No. 1 rushing attack. Coach Rex Ryan and GM Doug Whaley then reloaded a disappointing defense with promising prospects like OLB/DE Shaq Lawson and ILB Reggie Ragland. The question that remains is whether Buffalo will extend QB Tyrod Taylor, who’s now looking over his shoulder at fourth rounder Cardale Jones.
12. Atlanta Falcons: They’ve quietly gotten better. Adding Pro Bowl C Alex Mack makes the offense tougher, while new WR Mohamed Sanu creates options. A steadily improving defense got bigger in free agency (DE Derrick Shelby and OLB Courtney Upshaw) and more athletic through the draft (S Keanu Neal, and LB Deion Jones).
13. Dallas Cowboys: A headline-stealing, go-for-broke draft – RB Ezekiel Elliott and LB Jaylon Smith didn’t address needs but could be future all-pros (assuming Smith’s knee heals), and QB Dak Prescott may one day replace Tony Romo – masks the suspensions of DEs Randy Gregory and Demarcus Lawrence and failure of the Greg Hardy experiment. But the return of Romo, who had another collarbone surgery, and WR Dez Bryant (foot) is what the Cowboys are counting on most.
14. Kansas City Chiefs: With few exceptions, their maneuvers were unremarkable. Yet a similar approach has brought playoff berths two of the last three years. They need RB Jamaal Charles and OLB Justin Houston to rebound from ACL injuries.
15. Miami Dolphins: New head coach Adam Gase is regarded as a quarterback guru and if he can get Ryan Tannehill on track, the Fins’ outlook is sunny. Assuming the hubbub surrounding him diminishes, Miami may have a steal by drafting T Laremy Tunsil at No. 13. New DE Mario Williams negates the loss of Olivier Vernon. The big questions are whether there’s a locker-room issue with DT Ndamukong Suh, who’s been skipping voluntary workouts, and if RBs Jay Ajayi and rookie Kenyan Drake can replace Lamar Miller’s production.
16. Cincinnati Bengals: Pretty much a typical Bengals offseason – which they don’t get enough credit for – as they stayed under the radar in free agency before producing what looks like another stellar draft. QB Andy Dalton is fully healthy, which is good as he’ll need to acclimate to several new wideouts, including second-rounder Tyler Boyd. LB Vontaze Burfict’s three-game suspension stings.
17. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Free agency proved a success when RB Doug Martin re-upped. Adding CB Brent Grimes and DE Robert Ayers was gravy. The defense got further help when GM Jason Licht drafted CB Vernon Hargreaves and DE Noah Spence with his top picks, though he invited scrutiny for dealing 15 slots up the board for K Roberto Aguayo, the first kicker called in Round 2 in 11 years.
18. Pittsburgh Steelers: They hope their first two draft picks, corners (Artie Burns and Sean Davis) remedies the AFC’s worst pass defense. Retired TE Heath Miller will be missed as will suspended WR Martavis Bryant.
19. Indianapolis Colts: They spent four draft picks on offensive linemen, which should be welcome news to battered QB Andrew Luck even though he lost TE Coby Fleener to free agency and doesn’t yet have a long-term contract. But coach Chuck Pagano and GM Ryan Grigson did get new deals, perhaps why they seemed far more measured with their spending habits.
20. Carolina Panthers: GM Dave Gettleman boldly rescinded the franchise tag from all-pro CB Josh Norman, signaling an intention to reinvest in his beloved front seven – DTs Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei will soon need new deals – which also saw first-round DT Vernon Butler join the rotation. Three of Gettleman’s four remaining picks were used on cornerbacks (and veteran Brandon Boykin was signed), so there could be a committee vying for Norman’s post. WR Kelvin Benjamin (ACL) should be ready to go.
21. New Orleans Saints: A defense that allowed a league-high 476 points and league-record 45 TD passes welcomes veteran MLB James Laurinaitis and DT Nick Fairley along with a first rounder (DT Sheldon Rankins) and a second rounder (S Vonn Bell). And though QB Drew Brees lost trusted targets Jimmy Graham and Marques Colston over the last year, GM Mickey Loomis signed a talented tight end (Coby Fleener) and drafted a large wideout (6-3, 212-pound Michael Thomas) in Round 2.
22. Chicago Bears: A defense that made great strides in 2015 under its new 3-4 alignment should further benefit with rookies Leonard Floyd and Jonathan Bullard joining the front seven. However an offense that has a hole at left tackle and bid adieu to RB Matt Forte and coordinator Adam Gase could suffer a significant setback.
23. New York Giants: Free-agent spending sprees rarely yield the desired results, at least immediately, but embattled GM Jerry Reese had little choice other than to drop $200 million on DEs Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon, DT Damon Harrison and CB Janoris Jenkins to try and fix the NFL’s worst defense. Reese’s draft is promising, and CB Eli Apple and WR Sterling Shepard may contribute heavily as rookies.
24. Detroit Lions: It’s hard to be optimistic when your best player retires at age 30. However the loss of WR Calvin Johnson may be a blessing in disguise for a team that became way too reliant on the passing game and really needed the infusion of cap space. New GM Bob Quinn earmarked four of his first five draft picks on linemen and could score big on T Taylor Decker and DT A’Shawn Robinson. Newly-signed WR Marvin Jones won’t replace Megatron but costs a lot less.
25. Cleveland Browns: Until they’ve finished painting the bigger picture with their analytics brush years from now, it’s hard to make a fair evaluation. Aside from signing QB Robert Griffin III, the Browns were panned for their inactivity during free agency. However $40 million-plus in cap space gets pushed into the future, and several good compensatory picks will be forthcoming next year as a result. The draft brought highly-productive college players (WRs Corey Coleman and Jordan Payton and DEs Emmanuel Ogbah and Carl Nassib among them) but, more importantly, the front office’s manipulation of the board netted future first- and second-round selections.
26. Philadelphia Eagles: They swept away much of the Chip Kelly past – goodbye, DeMarco Murray, Byron Maxwell and Kiko Alonso – but bet heavily on the future, surrendering a future first and second rounder in hopes that QB Carson Wentz is the ideal fit for new coach Doug Pederson’s system. Of course prior to maneuvering his way up the draft board for Wentz, executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman had already guaranteed nearly $35 million to free agent QBs Chase Daniel and Sam Bradford. Despite a few other nice additions, G Brandon Brooks and S Rodney McLeod among them, how the quarterback situation unfolds (and whether something can be recouped in a future trade of Bradford) will define an extremely risky strategy in Philly.
27. San Diego Chargers: They spent on role players – WR Travis Benjamin, CB Casey Hawyard and DL Brandon Mebane. They kicked Pro Bowl S Eric Weddle to the curb. They’re gambling that the O-line didn’t need anything but time to heal. And most of the draft picks, aside from pass rusher Joey Bosa, might be a year or two away.
28. Seattle Seahawks: This season could reveal how sustainable they are as an NFC juggernaut. Maybe Thomas Rawls and a committee of backs can offset the retirement of Marshawn Lynch. The remainder of an offensive line that was crucial to the 2013 title team was raided in free agency, but maybe assistant Tom Cable can cobble together an effective group with the additions of rookies Germain Ifedi (first round) and Rees Odhiambo (third round). Maybe the defense won’t miss LB Bruce Irvin and DT Brandon Mebane. A lot of maybes to overcome in a highly competitive division.
29. New York Jets: A team that fell a tiebreaker shy of the playoffs remains in weeks-long limbo amid the contractual standoff with unsigned QB Ryan Fitzpatrick. The current options under center are Geno Smith, who lost the locker room and his starting job last year; second-rounder Christian Hackenberg, who is nowhere near ready to play; and Bryce Petty, who didn’t take a snap as a rookie. The Fitzpatrick showdown also doesn’t give GM Mike Maccagnan much opportunity to hammer out an extension for franchise-tagged DE Muhammad Wilkerson. But the roster looks formidable otherwise with Matt Forte a potential upgrade at running back, new LT Ryan Clady a capable replacement for retired D’Brickashaw Ferguson and rangy first-round LB Darron Lee a likely Day 1 starter.
30. San Francisco 49ers: They’re banking that Chip Kelly 2.0 is a better coach than the one the Eagles couldn’t wait to divorce. But it won’t be easy for Kelly to revive an offense that scored the fewest points in the league after GM Trent Baalke sat on $50 million in cap space added little firepower in the draft. And can the strained marriage with QB Colin Kaepernick survive, much less thrive again, after the team agreed to trade him to the Broncos?
31. New England Patriots: A somewhat eventful offseason that included the trade of DE Chandler Jones, arrival of replacement Chris Long and a two-year extension for Tom Brady was upended when the quarterback’s four-game Deflategate suspension was reinstated, thus reinstating a summer-long distraction.
32. Denver Broncos: After investing four years of development into QB Brock Osweiler, losing him to Houston clearly wasn’t part of GM John Elway’s master plan. That forced the acquisition of franchise QB flameout Mark Sanchez and a Round 1 gambit on Paxton Lynch, who typifies today’s boom-or-bust quarterback prospects. Free agent departures Malik Jackson and Danny Trevathan will be missed by the champs’ No. 1 defense, and Super Bowl MVP Von Miller still needs a long-term deal despite getting the franchise tag.
Follow Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.
PHOTOS: First-round draft picks