Monday, October 20, 2014
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NFC Hierarchy/Obituary: Pre-draft edition

For those of you who are unfamiliar, during the season, we do a 'hierarchy/obituary' every week. It's basically my hackneyed spin on power rankings, except I don't pretend to know the AFC, so we just skip it altogether. We also kill off teams when they are no longer realistic playoff contenders, and never speak about them again.

NFC Hierarchy/Obituary: Pre-draft edition

Quarterbacks Russel WIlson, Colin Kaepernick, and Nick Foles. (Getty Images)
Quarterbacks Russel WIlson, Colin Kaepernick, and Nick Foles. (Getty Images)

For those of you who are unfamiliar, during the season, we do a 'hierarchy/obituary' every week. It's basically my hackneyed spin on power rankings, except I don't pretend to know the AFC, so we just skip it altogether. We also kill off teams when they are no longer realistic playoff contenders, and never speak about them again.

Here's my pre-draft hierarchy, sans the obituaries. (Warning: It got a little out of control. It's over 2,300 words, so you might want to save this for a trip to the bathroom.)  

16) Vikings

There are at least 3 teams in the AFC that are worse than any team in the NFC, and no team in the NFC is truly awful. The worst of the superior NFC is the Vikings, who draft 8th overall. They may very well draft a QB in the first round, but for now, this is their current duo at QB:

Eagles fans remember Matt Cassel doing some damage to Philly's defense last season, but both he and Christian Ponder just weren't very good otherwise. Here are the top 8 QB's (or rather the bottom 8 QB's) last season in INT %:

In the NFL, if you don't have a QB, you don't have a chance, unless you have some sort of historic defense, which the Vikings don't. Until they get a QB, they don't really have a chance, even with a pair of extremely talented skill players like Adrian Peterson and Cordarrelle Patterson.

15) Cowboys

The Cowboys defensively last season:

If that's not bad enough, because Jerry Jones and Co. can't manage their salary cap, they had to release DeMarcus Ware, and they lost Jason Hatcher to the Redskins in free agency.

Their starting defensive line, which previously could have been considered a strength, is now George Selvie, Henry Melton, Nick Hayden, and Jeremy Mincey.

Meanwhile, Tony Romo will turn 34 this month and can't throw yet after having back surgery in December. The Cowboys could be a mess this year.

14) Redskins

The Redskins weren't as good as their 10-6 record in 2012 suggested and they weren't as bad as their 3-13 record in 2013. RG3 will be 2 years removed from his ACL tear, and he'll be a participant in training camp this season, as opposed to last season when there were fears whether he'd even be ready to play Week 1.

With the acquisition of DeSean Jackson, the Redskins' offense has talent at the skill positions. They could be a top 10 offense if RG3 can regain the form he showed as a rookie, and if they can somehow make improvements to the right side of their OL between now and Week 1. Those, of course, are "big ifs."

However, the Redskins defense remains a tackle-free disaster zone. Only the Minnesota Vikings allowed more points than the Skins last year. 

As you would expect, there are a lot of teams with awful records on that list. Normally, when your defense is that bad, you've suffered some key injuries along the way. In the case of the 2013 Redskins, they stayed healthy, and were still really bad. They'll be hurt further by the lack of a first round pick in this draft, which would have been #2 overall in what is considered to be the best draft in 30 years.

Even with DeSean Jackson, the Skins, who were last in the NFC with a -144 point differential, have a long way to go.

DeSean side note:

DeSean's post-Eagles career is already off to an awesome start. DeSean is not at the Redskins' first offseason program. Instead, he's at his own private villa:

The Redskins reportedly knew he would be on vacation, as it was something that was discussed when he was negotiating his deal. Furthermore, it's only strength and conditioning drills, so it's not like the Redskins are beginning to install their offense.

Stilll... if you're a Redskins fan, wouldn't it have been great to see him postpone his vacation to be with the team? Wouldn't that have been a fun little nugget to rub in the faces of your Eagles fan friends?

Or if you're a player, wouldn't it be better not to see the new star player hanging out by the infinity pool on Instagram while you're working hard at the Redskins' facilities?

13) Rams

Think the Eagles' schedule is difficult? Try being the Rams. They play the Seahawks twice, the Niners twice, the Cardinals twice, the Broncos, Chiefs, and Eagles. That would be 9 games against teams that had 10 or more wins last season.

Combined point differential of the Rams' 2014 opponents... +643. Yikes. Good luck, Rams.

12) Buccaneers

One of the under-appreciated rookie performances in the NFL last season was by Buccaneers QB Mike Glennon, who threw for 19 TDs and 9 INTs on a bad Tampa team.

Exit head coach Greg Schiano, enter new head coach Lovie Smith. On the second day of free agency, Smith brought in his former Bears backup QB Josh McCown, and immediately named him the starter, without giving Glennon a chance to compete for the job.

McCown had a tremendous season as a backup for the Bears last season, completing 66.5% of his passes and throwing for 13 TDs, 1 INT, and a 109.0 QB rating.

McCown will turn 35 in July. He's been in the league since 2002, he's on his 4th team, and prior to 2013 has never had a QB rating higher than 75 in any season. There are certainly examples of QBs who didn't do much early in their careers, but became very good as their careers wound down. The prime example would be Rich Gannon with the Raiders. Maybe this is McCown's time to shine, or maybe he just benefited from amazing skill position players in Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, and Matt Forte. And maybe he also benefited from a slate of games against bad defenses:

Time will tell. I happen to think McCown could wind up being one of the best pickups of the offseason, but shouldn't you at least give Glennon a chance to push him for the starting job?

Glennon side note: 

He has a long neck.

11) Lions

The biggest "addition by subtraction" this entire offseason was Jim Schwartz being fired by the Lions. Detroit was actually 7th in point differential last season, despite their 7-9 finish.

The Lions have a lot of premier talent, but here's an important thing to note. Over the last 3 years, Matthew Stafford is 2nd in the NFL in combined passing yards. That's great.

On the other hand, only one QB has thrown more INTs during that same span.

When is Stafford going to become a great NFL QB, instead of just a great fantasy football QB? 

10) Falcons

In the 2011 draft, the Falcons traded 5 draft picks to get up to #6 overall, where they selected Julio Jones. Here were the picks they gave up:

• 2011 1st round pick (27th overall)

• 2011 2nd round pick (59th overall)

• 2011 4th round pick (124th overall)

• 2012 1st round pick (which became 22nd overall)

• 2012 4th round pick (which became 118th overall)

Hang in there with me on a logic question on this one... Which slate of draft picks would you rather have?

• Option 1: (2) 1st round picks, a 2nd round pick, and (2) 4th round picks

• Option 2: Regular slate of picks: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.

You would take option 1 in a heartbeat, right? Option 1, therefore, is something more than a typical team's entire draft. Option 1 is what the Falcons gave up to get Julio Jones, meaning that the Falcons gave up more than an entire draft for him. It was just spread out over 2 years instead of 1.

The Falcons actually got what they wanted out of that trade because Julio Jones turned out to be a supreme talent. But is he worth an entire draft? Hell no. In other words, even though the trade "worked," it was still dumb.

The Falcons have just one other "starter" from the 2011 and 2012 drafts. That's rotational DE Jonathan Massaqoui. Woooo! So sure, the Falcons got one great player in Jones, but the rest of the roster has suffered in a big way. 

9) Bears

In one of my prouder moments of the 2013 season, near the end of the Eagles' boot-stomping of the Bears, I half-joked on Twitter that the Eagles weren't even going to be able to run the clock out because the Bears couldn't tackle anybody. Sure enough, next play, Bryce Brown ran for a 65 yard TD

How bad was the Bears' run defense last year? Since 2000, only 6 teams gave up more than 160 yards per game on the ground. Here's a list of those teams, with their rush D numbers the following season.

On average, those above teams were able to shave off about 47 yards per game the following year, but they were mostly still bad against the run. The Bears dropped a lot of their dead weight, but fixing that run defense isn't going to happen overnight unless they stick 9 guys in the box.

8) Panthers

The Panthers lost 4 receivers the offseason. Here are their career totals:

Carolina's top 2 receivers are now Jerricho Cotchery (32 in June) and Jason Avant (31 later this month). Yuck.

The Panthers' defense is still stacked, but Cam Newton doesn't really have a lot to work with on O. It'll be on him to make enough plays on his own to win games, a la Randall Cunningham. This team reminds me of a poor man's version of the Buddy Ryan era Eagles.

7) Giants

A list of players the Giants signed this offseason, in alphabetical order: DE Robert Ayers, CB Zach Bowman, OT Charles Brown, TE Kellen Davis, FS/KR Quintin Demps, KR Trindon Holiday, RB Rashad Jennings, OG John Jerry, WR Mario Manningham, ILB Jameel McClain, CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, OG Geoff Schwartz, CB Walter Thurmond, and C J.D. Walton.

Some of those above players are really good signings, some are bad ones, and some are 90-man roster filllers. Last year the Eagles had some success signing a bunch of guys and hoping that half of them panned out. The Giants could have similar success this year taking the same approach. 

The Giants are an average team whose season will swing based on turnover differential.

Assuming Eli can find a way not to throw 20 picks, I expect the Giants to be competitive this year once again, and should be the Eagles' stiffest competition in the NFCE.

6) Cardinals

The Cardinals' Achilles heel over the last few years has been their horrific offensive line. This season, they should be vastly improved there. They signed LT Jared Veldheer away from the Raiders in free agency, and they'll be getting 2nd year pro LG Jonathan Cooper back from injury. That will go a long way toward shoring up the left side of their line, and they can continue to address the right side in what is a deep OT draft class.

The Cardinals' defense, meanwhile, is very good. They led the NFL in rush D, and only 5 teams had more takeaways.  

5) Eagles

With DeSean Jackson being released, much of the conversation surrounding the Eagles of late has been in regard to how badly that will hurt that offense in 2014. Personally, while I do think the loss of Jackson hurts them on the field, I think the Eagles' offense will be explosive again, with or without him.

However, let's take a quick peek at what the Eagles have done with their defense since 4pm on the first day of free agency last year. Here were the projected starters then, and now.

The Eagles still have work to do, but they have already upgraded 5 spots, and there's a reasonable argument to be made that young players like Cedric Thornton, Fletcher Cox, Mychal Kendricks, and maybe even Nate Allen will only continue to improve in year 2 in Billy Davis' defense. Keep in mind, at this time last year, the Eagles didn't even know what they were going run on defense. This offseason should be so much different for the defense in terms of preparation. 

4) Saints

The Saints have 7 projected starters who are already 30 years old, including Drew Brees, who just turned 35. While this could be one of the Saints' last runs as a Super Bowl contender, for now they remain a good team with an elite QB.

The Saints' defense was given a lot of credit for going from historically bad in 2012 to 4th in overall in yards in 2013. They were indeed drastically improved, however, give a huge chunk of that credit to the offense, who held the ball for an eternity. Because the Saints offense was able to sustain long drives, the Saints defense faced the fewest number of plays in the NFL. That skews their defensive numbers quite a bit. 

3) Packers

If Aaron Rodgers retired today, he would own the following all-time records:

• Highest career passer rating, career (min 1500 attempts): 104.9

• Highest completion percentage, career (min 2500 attempts): 65.8%

• Most TD passes per games started: 2.16

• Best TD:INT ratio, career: 3.62:1

• Best passing yards:INT ratio, career: 465:1

• Best completion:INT ratio: 37:1

• Lowest INT percentage, career (min 1500 passes): 1.76%

Aaron Rodgers is still in his prime. He is by far the best QB in the NFC. It's not even close. As long as he's playing in Green Bay at a high level, the Packers have a chance to win it all.

2) 49ers

The NFC Championship Game was essentially the Super Bowl last year. The Seahawks and 49ers are pretty clearly the two best teams in the NFL right now, and the Niners have 11 draft picks, including 6 in the top 100:

30, 56, 61, 77, 94, 100, 129, 170, 242, 243, and 245.

If the Eagles are looking for a trade back partner, the Niners would make sense.

1) Seahawks

The champs.

Follow Jimmy on Twitter: @JimmyKempski

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