By Lucas Kochevar
The first wave of free agency and trades finally seemed to slow down and it's time for a way-too-early power rankings! I'm trying to cover my basis as someone that writes about the NFL and I'm not quite at the level of tiering NFL quarterbacks here in the offseason. Teams will still change a ton from now to training camp. In the grand scheme of things, I think teams are about 70% done with their team construction with the draft and second wave of free agency in front of them. There are still ways teams can move up and down, but overall this is where I see these teams heading into draft. Along with this, I'm going to try and start highlighting a forgotten player from my time watching football.
Way-Too-Early Pre-Draft Power Rankings
The way this opens up is the clear two best teams in my eyes. The Kansas City Chiefs are the reigning champions with the best quarterback in the league. It's hard to dethrone them from the number one spot right now and I won't be the hot take guy that does that. They still have a solid receiving core, despite losing Juju Smith-Schuster. They also replaced Orlando Brown Jr. with Jawaan Taylor. They made some high upside signings to their defensive front-seven, but losing Thornhill will be tough as he was a good captain for the back end.
The second team on their level is the San Francisco 49ers. Despite the obvious concerns about the quarterback position, the 49ers have the best roster in football. With dangerous weapons all over and a terrifying front-seven on defense with Javon Hargrave coming in, the 49ers will be a threat to any team on both sides of the ball. The secondary and offensive line lost some players, but the brain trust of GM John Lynch and HC Kyle Shannahan should help cover their losses.
The next tier and team at third is the NFC champion from last season, the Philadelphia Eagles. Jalen Hurts is still the guy for Philly, but the impact of losing both coordinators and a good amount of talent could set them back. I still like what they're doing and I think a mega extension will be on the way for Hurts. The Rashaad Penny signing a really under-the-radar as he was having a very good year before he got hurt and rookie Kenneth Walker III popped on the scene. Along with the solid mid-level signings, they're looking at two first round picks in the upcoming draft at 10 and 30.
The two teams that I think are relatively close to the Eagles are the Bengals and Cowboys. These teams are much riskier than the Eagles, but they seem like they have a solid base to build off of last year. The Bengals still have Joe Burrow, a top five quarterback in my eyes, and many dangerous weapons that are still on their rookie deals. The defense took a small hit, but they still have both their coordinators and their division is full of teams that are not quite there yet. The Cowboys are undergoing a lot of change, but with some key trades, I think they'll be better off. With Ezekiel Elliot gone, it'll be the Dak Prescott show. It's very interesting because he was atrocious towards the end of last season, but if he can get back to elite-level play, I think the Cowboys will once again compete with the Eagles.
The next tier of teams are my teams that seem like good bets to be in the playoffs. I'm assuming the Rodgers trade to New York happens here and they would likely compete for the division with Buffalo with Rodgers and a tenacious defense. Starting off with the Bills, they had a brutal year. They had all these expectations thrown on them, they had the whole deal with the weather moving them from their home and then Damar Hamlin. It was an emotionally taxing season and it's no wonder they ran out of gas. I think they'll comeback to form and be a solid team fighting for the one seed. Right now, however, they seem incomplete in their construction of the team. The Jaguars are also a team that I can see hanging around in the AFC. Trevor Lawrence has another year under his belt, as well as many of his young teammates, and they should win their division with a dangerous offense. Then, there are the Chargers. They often underperform and find ways to lose games they should win. I give them a higher ranking here because Justin Herbert is that good. I think he'll have a great year and compete for MVP, if they can stay healthy.
The NFC teams in this tier starts off with the Lions. Detroit is America's team in the sense that they are the lovable losers. They haven't been this exciting in years and they're on an upwards trend. Jared Goff had one of his best years last season with offensive coordinator Ben Johnson. He's getting a healthy Jameson Williams to add-on a receiving core that already has one of the most underrated receivers in the league, Amon-Ra St. Brown. The Giants are returning their core pieces on offense and they've signed some very underrated names in free agency, like Bobby Okereke. Daniel Jones should be able to improve too in his second season with Brian Daboll. The Vikings were very disappointing last season, but they still have a ton of talent on offense. I think they'll take a step back, but still remain in the playoff mix.
This will be a two-part series as I'll post about the second half thoughts next week!
Forgotten Player of the Week: Julius Thomas
After being drafted in the fourth round of the 2011 NFL Draft by the Denver Broncos, Thomas rarely saw action and only recorded one catch for five yards in his first two seasons. That would quickly change in 2013, one season after Peyton Manning's arrival to Denver. Thomas saw a dramatic increase in action after his opening performance that season. Against the defending Super Bowl champion Ravens, Thomas was a massive target catching five passes for 110 yards and two touchdowns. Thomas and Manning would connect ten more times in the endzone this season. With 65 catches and 788 yards this season as well, Thomas would earn his first Pro Bowl selection. A notable catch that Thomas had this season was Manning's record-breaking 51st touchdown. Manning broke the single-season passing record with 55 touchdowns and Thomas was a popular target.
Although he played in less games in 2014, Thomas proved once again why he was one of the NFL's best redzone targets. Thomas compiled another 12 touchdown season. This was enough to earn him his second Pro Bowl and he was in line for a big payday. The Broncos failed to meet expectations after an early exit against the Colts in the divisional round. Thomas tested free agency and quickly found a suitor with the Jacksonville Jaguars, who paid him $46 million over five years. This is, sadly, where it started to go downhill for him as he wasn't close to double digit touchdowns the rest of his career. The first season for the Jaguars was promising with 489 yards and five touchdowns, but his second season with the team was the beginning of the end.
He struggled to stay on the field as he started in only six games, where he managed 281 yards and four touchdowns. This would be his last season in Jacksonville as he was traded to Miami. Thomas played more games than the season before, but only had 388 yards and three touchdowns in Miami. In the March of 2018, the Dolphins released Thomas and effectively ended his NFL career. The highs were high and the lows were low, but Thomas was ultimately a very effective tight end and carved out a good career as a big time redzone threat.