By: Lucas Kochevar
The second part of the power rankings discussion is here and nothing has changed, in my eyes. The biggest notable transaction was Odell Beckham Jr. finding a new home in Baltimore. A very peculiar signing by a team that doesn't have a ton of cap space. They paid a pretty penny for Beckham Jr. as he's set to make up to $18 million on a one year deal. This is interesting for a number of reasons because it seems like the Ravens last ditch effort to keep their star quarterback. Beckham Jr. add notoriety to a receiving core that hasn't had a name like Beckham's in years. Although he is coming off an ACL injury in the 2022 Super Bowl, Beckham Jr. will be healthy after taking off the previous season. Since he was a complement to Cooper Kupp on the Rams, it's unknown whether he can contribute as a WR1 and carry that workload. It'll be intriguing to see if Jackson warms up to the idea of coming back to Baltimore since Beckham signed. Now, on to the second part of the way-too-early power rankings! You can find part one here.
Way-Too-Early Pre-Draft Power Rankings, Part Two
The next half of the power rankings start at C tier. This is where I think the fringe playoff teams are. These guys are all hard to project and could either go 9-8 or fall to 6-10. The Dolphins stand first in the tier as they were on pace for an easy playoff clinch, until Tua Tagovailoa was hurt. The status of Tua quickly sunk their season and their defense was a no-show in the playoffs. Miami worked on that side of the ball by hiring highly coveted defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and they traded for all-pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey. If Tua can stay healthy and the defense can elevate their play, the Dolphins should compete in their division.
The Seahawks were also a playoff team last year, but they didn't go anywhere. They brought back quarterback Geno Smith and reunited with star linebacker Bobby Wagner. Wagner isn't what he was, but he brings a boost back to their culture. The Seahawks could find an impact player at the fifth overall pick, but right now, they seem like they'll be around the same level. The Pittsburgh Steelers are next as they look to show improvement with Kenny Pickett in his sophomore campaign. The Steelers defense should be as stellar as always, but they'll need consistent offensive production to make the next step. The next team is the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers weren't that far away from a playoff berth and now they made a trade up to the first pick. Along with that, they have a new coaching staff with Frank Reich and they've signed several impactful guys, such as Vonn Bell and Miles Sanders. They should make a leap this year, even with a rookie quarterback.
The Rams are a highly volatile team. They punted away the season early last year after brutal injuries. They didn't make any big acquisitions and they did trade away Ramsey, however, they still have talented players. I also don't want to underestimate Sean McVay. The Rams will have to make serious strides on the offensive line to get back to winning, but with Matthew Stafford healthy and Aaron Donald, they can comeback. The Packers title hopes have taken a significant dip with Aaron Rodgers likely gone, but the rest of the roster is still talented. It'll be very interesting to see if Jordan Love is legit and if Matt LaFluer is a good coach without Rodgers covering up their deficiencies. This year will be big for development, but they could sneak in the playoffs if Love is serviceable.
The Ravens are a complete wild card with their situation because of Lamar Jackson. Since the Beckham signing, I'm leaning towards Jackson returning. I think they'll have wild card potential if he plays, but the rest of the roster is questionable to me. With a very competitive division, I think that the Ravens could fade quickly. The next team is another AFC North division team in the Cleveland Browns. I really like the improvements Cleveland made to their defensive front and I love the gamble on Elijah Moore from the Jets. My concern comes from their consistency at the quarterback position. Deshaun Watson never found his footing last year, but if he can return to 75% of his old form, then I think the Browns will be in the same mix as Baltimore.
The Broncos focused this free agency on the trenches and it could pay off for the new look Broncos. Head coach Sean Payton was the big acquisition they made this offseason and they hope that he can revive Russell Wilson, who posted a career-low 36.7 QBR. They'll get standout running back Javonte Williams back from his ACL injury and that should help take pressure off the Wilson, but my issue comes with the defense. It's largely unimpressive group outside of the secondary and I can't imagine a defense like this can survive in a division against Pat Mahomes and Justin Herbert. The New England Patriots are in a critical year as they brought in a new offensive coordinator for Mac Jones and it's been reported that the Patriots brass aren't entirely confident in him. I don't think they've made many improvements from last offseason and could easily be the worst team in their division.
The regression from the Titans has been tough to watch. Ever since the A.J. Brown trade, it feels like they've made a misstep in every transaction. This offense will be a brutal watch this year and it'll take a hell of a coaching job by Mike Vrabel for the Titans to be competitive. The Saints are another team that I think will look rough. They seem pretty mediocre on both sides of the ball as cap hell has forced them to let good players walk. They have a chance to win the division, but that's not saying much. Atlanta is the next team and the Falcons have made a ton of moves to try and improve their defense. The draft will be huge for them as they can go in any direction. This is a big year for Arthur Smith and co. since they finally had the cap space to make moves and shape the team in their own way. If Desmond Ridder is the starter, and that's a big 'if', he'll be under the microscope.
Last, and also least, the F tier. This features many teams that I just don't see it yet. Some of them have promising futures, but some of them have to go back to the drawing board. The Bears seem committed to Justin Fields and will look to keep his upward trajectory going in development, especially with receiver D.J. Moore coming from Carolina. Dan Snyder is in the midst of selling the team and that's the only good news for Commander fans. The team is bad and Ron Rivera feels like a lame duck coach. The Buccaneers are in complete rebuild mode, despite having the attitude of trying to compete. Any team that has Baker Mayfield and Kyle Trask competing for the starting job is not serious about winning. The Colts feel far away, but if new coach Shane Steichen and their rookie quarterback are any good, then the Colts could be a surprise team. The Texans are moving in a positive direction and I loved their coaching hire, but they're are still years away. The only thing I can say about the Raiders and Cardinals is 'good luck' because these guys are awful.
That concludes the power rankings and I think this draft will be monumental for those F tier teams.
Forgotten Player of the Week: Shawne Merriman
This weeks 'Forgotten Player of the Week' goes to Shawne 'Lights Out' Merriman! When I was a young boy, I remember playing Madden on my Nintendo DS, which had laughably bad graphics, and Merriman was a killer. The San Diego Chargers had an array of very fun players throughout the 2000s and Merriman was that guy on the defense. In a league that was very dependent on off-ball linebackers, Merriman was among the league's best in his first couple seasons. Coming out of Maryland, Merriman exploded onto the scene with 10 sacks, 57 tackles and 10 tackles for loss. This rookie season earned him Defensive Rookie of the Year and a Pro Bowl.
His second season was step up as he earned 17 sacks, 63 tackles and 15 tackles for loss. He also forced four fumbles and was voted third in Defensive Player of the Year voting. Along side that, he was voted First-Team All-Pro and was invited to another Pro Bowl. His third season was where he started to regress. He still managed to get 12.5 sacks, 68 tackles and 19 tackles for loss. He was voted a Second-Team All-Pro and earned his third Pro Bowl. After this season, he only started double-digit games one more time in 2009. After the Chargers and a short stint with the Bills, he retired after the 2012 season. Although his prime was short, Merriman was a force on defense for the Chargers and remains a fan favorite to this day.
Sources: Stats via pro-football-reference