With the draft in the books, teams are starting to look a lot like how they’ll look come the start of the regular season. There are still players like Jamaal Charles and LeGarrette Blount out there, and some unexpected trades could happen, but as of now, this is where I see teams standing.
There are some elite teams at the top, but after that, there’s a lot of parity. Teams ranked in the 20’s could easily be ranked near the top ten. One of the great things about the NFL is that the games are settled on the field, and anything can happen. The power can shift drastically in a short time.
Seeing the teams on the field in the regular season—which we can’t do in May—can change the rankings; for example, the Falcons made a big early season jump last year when I watched how multiple and tough-to-stop their offense looked. The decision was questioned because no one else thought that highly of them, but they clearly didn’t watch them play. These rankings are a lock to change come September.
1. New England Patriots
The Patriots at number one doesn’t need much of an explanation. They have the greatest coach and greatest player of all-time, yet they remain as hungry as anyone for another championship. From September to January, and possibly February, it’s going to be tough to beat New England.
2. Atlanta Falcons
After a heartbreaking Super Bowl LI loss, the Falcons keep mostly everyone from last season while adding some more depth to their pass rush. After signing Cowboys defensive end Jack Crawford back in March, the team traded up to the 26th overall pick to select UCLA defensive end Takkarist McKinley.
The Falcons also gave their top cornerback Desmond Trufant a big contract extension to keep him with the team. He wasn’t available for the end of the regular season and the playoffs last season, so he’ll be a big addition to a team already on the cusp of a championship. The downside to the Falcons is their division, as every team in the NFC South looks like they’ve improved from last season.
3. Kansas City Chiefs
A huge surprise on Thursday night was when the Chiefs traded up 17 spots to draft a quarterback. I thought it was for Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, but it turned out to be Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes II. A true gunslinger reminiscent of Brett Favre—who Andy Reid coached in Green Bay as the QB coach—Mahomes offers a ton of upside.
People see this move as an indictment on Alex Smith, but I don’t. Because of the great state of the Chiefs roster, they can afford to make a move like this to set themselves up for the future. Smith is 41-21 as the Chiefs, and 22-9 in the last two seasons. Including his final two season in San Francisco, the guy is 60-26-1 over his last 87 games. Under Smith’s leadership, the team also owns a nine-game and a ten-game winning streak (and an eight-game win streak in SF), showing they can go on a run. The talk of Alex Smith being a bad quarterback is old, and it’s inaccurate.
This roster is very talented, and the quarterback is not going to lose them games. He almost always makes the right play, he keeps the offense moving, and he wins games; Alex Smith is a big reason I think the Chiefs are the second-best team in the AFC.
4. Minnesota Vikings
The big problem with Vikings last season was their offensive line. It was a glaring weakness, and the team got through it for the first five games, going 5-0, but it eventually caught up to them. When the defense took a slight step back, it was hard for the offense to pick them up and keep drives going because of their offensive line struggles.
Minneosta had one of the worst running games in recent memory last season, but they made moves to change that. Most importantly, they solidified the offensive line. In addition to tackles Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers being signed in March to protect Sam Bradford from the outside, Minnesota traded up in the third round to draft Ohio State center Pat Elfein, who very well may have been the top player on their board at the time, and he just happens to fill a big need (offensive line help).
The Vikings also traded up in the second round to draft Dalvin Cook from Florida State. While he may not have tested well at the combine, Cook’s play on the field at FSU was superb. With Latavius Murray, Cook, and Jerrick McKinnon, the Vikings have a very good group of backs to go along with this improved offensive line.
5. Oakland Raiders
Beast Mode is back. After weeks of speculation, Marshawn Lynch came out of retirement and joined his hometown Raiders to help make up for the loss of Latavius Murray in free agency. Lynch was banged up at the end of his time with the Seahawks in 2015, but the year off should mean he’s fresh. The combo of Lynch and Derek Carr—with his weapons on the outside—will not be fun for defenses.
The Raiders took Ohio State cornerback Gareon Conley with the 24th pick in the draft, despite the rape allegations against him. Because he reportedly passed a polygraph test, the Raiders must have felt confident that he was telling the truth with his side of the story. Conley will add a boost to the Oakland defense.
6. Green Bay Packers
The Packers probably aren’t as talented as the other teams on this list, particularly on defense, but they have Aaron Rodgers. As long as #12 is on the field, Green Bay can beat anyone. The signing of cornerback Davon House (who played his first four seasons in GB before playing in Jacksonville the last two years), along with the recently-drafted Washington cornerback Kevin King should improve that spot. N.C. State safety Josh Jones will also look to make an impact as a rookie for the Packers.
The team also added some running back depth in the draft (Jamaal Williams from BYU, Aaron Jones from UTEP, and Devante Mays from Utah State) to compete for spots behind Ty Montgomery and Christine Michael. I also like the selection of LSU receiver Malachi Dupre in the seventh round. [Note: Running back Christine Michael was released by Green Bay after this article was published.]
7. Dallas Cowboys
In the free agency set of power rankings, I was worried Tony Romo might be a distraction heading into next season if he happened to stay on the roster. Well, Romo has a great job at CBS now, and the Cowboys are all Dak Prescott now. They added some receiver depth for Prescott in the draft with UNC receiver Ryan Switzer, who can also contribute in the return game.
Dallas had a really good draft, and they happened to fill their biggest needs with the picks. Michigan men—defensive end Taco Charlton and cornerback Jourdan Lewis—will contribute right away on defense. Second round pick defensive back Chidobe Awuzie adds another versatile player in the secondary.
8. Tennessee Titans
As I’ve believed since he came out of Oregon, Marcus Mariota can become an elite quarterback in the NFL. The Titans are putting a bunch of weapons around him to help him continue to progress. They took Western Michigan receiver Corey Davis with the fifth overall pick, receiver Taywan Taylor with the 72nd pick, and tight end Jonnu Smith with the 36th pick. With their second first-round pick, the Titans took USC playmaking corner Adoree’ Jackson.
While I personally liked Mike Williams and John Ross better at receiver, and Tre’Davious White better at corner, it’s hard to question what Jon Robinson has done as the GM of the Titans.
9. Houston Texans
Well I believe Deshaun Watson was the best player in the entire 2017 draft, so I absolutely love the Texans’ move to trade up to the 12th pick to select him. They also might have gotten steals in the second and third round, grabbing Vanderbilt linebacker Zach Cunningham and Texas running back D’Onta Foreman. Cunningham will improve a defense that was already number one last season in yards per game, and Foreman has the potential to be a lead back in the NFL.
Houston will take it slow with Watson, which is smart because Tom Savage has a lot of experience in Bill O’Brien’s offense. Someone that never takes it slow is J.J. Watt, who the Texans will be getting back this season.
10. Pittsburgh Steelers
Speaking of Watt’s, the Steelers took J.J.’s brother, T.J., with the 30th pick in the draft. Watt will be a versatile weapon on defense for many years. The team also made some additions on offense, selecting USC receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster in the second round and Pitt running back James Conner in the third. Conner is a great story as a cancer survivor, but he’s also a great player. Conner and Smith-Schuster will add a lot of physicality to the offense.
Adding major athleticism and speed to the offense is the recently-reinstated Martavis Bryant. If Bryant can stay off marijuana and stay on the field, he’ll be a huge added element to the offense.
11. New York Giants
The Giants took a lot of very good players in their draft, but their biggest issue remains; the offensive line needs to protect Eli Manning to allow him to throw to all the weapons he has. One of the weapons is a new one, first-rounder Evan Engram. Basically a receiver that plays tight end, Engram is a matchup nightmare for some DBs.
I also really like their selection of Clemson running back Wayne Gallman in the fourth round. Gallman does everything well, and I believe he can be a lead back in the NFL, perhaps as early as this season. It’s a surprise that he lasted as long as he did in the draft.
The meshing of all these players is something to watch throughout OTAs and training camp. There are a lot of mouths to feed in the Giants offense.
12. Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens are very happy with their draft, which is not a surprise. Their first round pick, Alabama cornerback Marlon Humphrey, is a great fit for Baltimore. Humphrey not only covers, which is required for corners, but he will light you up. After the selection, Harbaugh said “we are going to be darn tough to throw against.” The Ravens also drafted Houston’s Tyus Bower and Alabama’s Tim Williams in the second and third rounds. With these additions to an always-good Baltimore defense, it’s going to be difficult to move the ball against them this season.
13. Los Angeles Chargers
Philip Rivers must be one of the happiest people in the league, based off the draft. He didn’t want the team to draft a quarterback, and they didn’t. Instead, they took Clemson receiver Mike Williams with the 7th pick and offensive linemen Forrest Lamp and Dan Feeney with their second and third round picks.
Williams gives Rivers a huge target to throw to and makes the receiving corps one of the deepest in the league. The additions of Lamp and Feeney will strengthen the interior line, giving Rivers more time to throw and opening more running lanes for Melvin Gordon and company.
The Chargers also drafted Desmond King in the fifth round, someone that might have slipped because he doesn’t have a clear position (corner or safety). Either way, he’s a good football player and should help out the Chargers defense.
14. Seattle Seahawks
This admittedly might be too low for Seattle, but it seems like things could explode at any moment. The team was very frank with their openness to trade cornerback Richard Sherman, which naturally is going to lead to at least some animosity. If things don’t go well (their early season schedule is no cake walk), things could go south for the Seahawks.
In the draft, they bolstered the defense, particularly with Michigan State defensive linemen Malik McDowell early in the second round (they traded out of the first round to this slot). On the offensive side, they added Amar Darboh in the third round, and he’ll fit right in as a team player that’s willing to give it all blocking in the run game.
15. Indianapolis Colts
The Colts were thrilled to get Ohio State safety Malik Hooker with the 15th pick in the draft. He was ranked higher than 15th overall on their board, but he somehow slipped to them at that spot. While he was likely the best player available on the board, he also filled a need at safety. Hooker has drawn comparisons to Ed Reed, and I believe he’ll be a blue-chip player for them for over a decade.
With Florida corner Quincy Wilson and Ohio pass rusher Tarell Basham, the Colts improved their defense mightily in the draft. New GM Chris Ballard is probably thrilled with his first draft.
Also, Andrew Luck should be even better this season, after playing with his injured shoulder for nearly two full seasons.
16. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Like with Malik Hooker and the Colts, Tampa Bay somehow had one of the top prospects drop to them in the draft. Alabama tight end O.J. Howard was sitting there at 19th overall, so the Bucs gave Jameis Winston another big target to throw to. In the third, they added Penn State receiver Chris Godwin, who doesn’t fill a need, but was somehow still there and presumably the best player available on their board.
With Howard, Godwin, Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Cameron Brate, and others, Winston has a lot of targets to throw to, along with the running back group led by Doug Martin. Tampa will be a fun team to watch on HBO’s Hard Knocks.
17. New Orleans Saints
New Orleans traded away Brandin Cooks, one of the best receivers in the league, but they were able to add future Hall of Fame running back Adrian Peterson to the offense. “All Day” is an excellent addition that is somehow going under the radar—there is no doubt Peterson will have a chip on his shoulder. Not only did they add Peterson, but they drafted Tennessee running back Alvin Kamara in the third round of the draft. Mark Ingram, Peterson, and Kamara form a formidable trio in the Saints backfield to pair with Drew Brees and the always potent New Orleans pass offense.
They also improved the offensive line by adding perhaps the best tackle in the draft, Wisconsin’s Ryan Ramczyk, with the 32nd pick from the Brandin Cooks trade. With the 11th pick they took the number one corner on many boards by selecting Ohio State cornerback Marshon Lattimore. In the second, they took rangy safety Marcus Williams of Utah. The Saints will rely on both of these rookies to help improve the defense this season.
18. Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins added some more juice to the pass rush, when they added Missouri defensive end Charles Davis with the 22nd pick in the draft. Davis should deliver some energy in a pass rushing role as a rookie. Also on defense, they added linebacker Raekwon McMillan from Ohio State in the second round. And they added Clemson cornerback Cordrea Tankersley to an already-deep group.
The improvements the Dolphins made should help them be one of the best, and deepest, defenses in the league. Adam Gase will need to continue to work his magic with the offense. It’s also great news that quarterback Ryan Tannehill (ACL) doesn’t need to go through a long rehab process for his injury.
19. Washington Redskins
Like fellow NFC East teams, the Redskins are probably very happy with their draft. Alabama defensive lineman Jonathan Allen dropped all the way to the 17th pick in the draft and they scooped him up. Then they drafted Allen’s teammate, Alabama linebacker Ryan Anderson, in the second round; he’s a guy that will help both as a pass rusher and in run defense.
On offense, they’ll be relying on a bunch of young receivers, hoping for a few of them to step up. Jamison Crowder may become a huge volume target for Washington inside. Second-year receiver Josh Doctson has a lot of ability and basically redshirted last year after missing most of the season with an Achilles injury; Doctson stepping up along with free agent acquisition Terrelle Pryor would be big.
The Kirk Cousins situation remains a mystery, so hopefully that doesn’t hinder the Redskins too much this season, knowing that this may be his last season with the team if they cannot work out a long-term deal (the franchise tag would be well over $30 million next season for Cousins).
20. Carolina Panthers
Out of all the teams in the league, the Panthers probably added the most “explosion” by far. Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey isn’t just some kind of gadget player—he’s a running back. But McCaffrey can definitely do a lot of things for Carolina. Then in the second round, they added Ohio State receiver Curtis Samuel, another versatile player with major playmaking ability.
Protecting Cam Newton will be a priority this season, but adding electric weapons around him should make things easier. The Panthers defense lost Kony Ealy in their trade with New England, and they turned that pick around potential starting right tackle Taylor Moton.
However, the Panthers will need to get back on track defensively this season. They improved their sack total from their great 2015 season, but the defense definitely took a step back. They’ll look to put it all together this season.
21. Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals probably would have liked to come away with a quarterback of the future, but there’s always next year. As for this season, they added Temple linebacker Haason Reddick and Washington safety Budda Baker with their first two picks, adding big-time excitement to the defense.
Arizona also drafted Grambling State receiver Chad Williams in the third round, someone with talent but some reported character concerns. They’d do well to have John Brown return to his usual form, after he had issues with sickle cell complications last season. Carson Palmer needs to play well for the Cardinals to get back to their pre-2016 form.
22. Detroit Lions
I had the Lions 11th in the free agency power rankings, but I feel like other teams have a higher upside than they do. I still love their offensive line additions of Ricky Wagner and T.J. Lang to help make Matthew Stafford more comfortable while opening up the running game, and I do like their first-round pick, Florida linebacker Jarrad Davis.
Overall, however, I feel the NFC North is such a difficult division. It could be because I never really took them seriously last season, but there can only be so many teams high in the rankings.
23. Denver Broncos
Playing in a tough division with a new coaching staff is less than ideal. Wade Phillips was a factor in making the Broncos defense one of the greatest of all-time as they won Super Bowl 50, but they decided to not bring him back.
The selection of Chad Kelly with the final pick of the draft is very interesting. It’s not likely he competes for the starting job at any point this season, but he has a lot of upside. Trevor Siemian showed flashes and the team likes him, while Paxton Lynch has also shown flashes and has a lot of natural talent, but it’s hard to trust Denver over some other teams with more established quarterbacks. The presence of John Elway makes me feel this rankings may be too low, but I’m not sure they make the playoffs this season.
24. Cincinnati Bengals
Cincinnati is the team that most rivals Carolina in terms of adding dynamic players in the draft. With the ninth pick, they took uber-fast Washington receiver John Ross (Mr. 4.22) to add a whole other element to the offense. Then in the second, they added Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon—who’s comparable to Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey in terms of talent. If not for his past transgression, Mixon would have easily been a first rounder.
This team no doubt has talent. With Ross and Mixon, they’re completely loaded at receiver and running back. We’ll need to see if they can bounce back from last season, and then take it a step further to finally start having postseason success.
25. Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles are going with a best player available approach, and it led to Tennessee defensive end Derek Barnett with the 14th pick in the draft. Barnett will look to help improve Philadelphia’s sack total of 34 last season. In the second round, the Eagles took Washingotn cornerback Sidney Jones—thought of by many as the number one corner in the draft before his torn Achilles at his Pro Day.
The team’s biggest hole is probably at running back. They drafted the all-time FBS leading rusher, San Diego State’s Donnel Pumphrey, but they are likely to add someone else. Free agent Jamaal Charles, who Eagles head coach Doug Pederson was the OC for in Kansas City, is someone to watch.
Quarterback Carson Wentz is seen as a bonafide franchise quarterback, so the Eagles need him to progress like one if they’re going to improve as a team this season. If he does, the Eagles could make things interesting in the NFC East.
26. Jacksonville Jaguars
After spending a lot in free agency, the Jaguars added some more talent in the draft. They took LSU running back Leonard Fournette with the fourth overall pick, the same spot the Cowboys took Ezekiel Elliott last year. Despite a backfield that already includes T.J. Yeldon and Chris Ivory, the Jaguars saw Fournette as the best player available and will look to hand him the rock to control the game and rely on the defense.
Alabama offensive lineman Cam Robinson was selected by Jacksonville in the second round, and he has immense potential as a big, athletic tackle (that may also play inside).
The Jaguars had a chance to draft a quarterback like Deshaun Watson if they wanted, but they’ll go with Blake Bortles for at least another year. Improvement from Bortles would go a long way in turning the Jaguars around. His mechanics were awful last season, but to be fair, he had injuries to both shoulders that certainly hindered his effectiveness. Hopefully he’s healthy and can get back to form this year.
27. Los Angeles Rams
Judging by their selections, the Rams had a clear priority in this year’s draft: give quarterback Jared Goff a plethora of targets. They took South Alabama tight end Gerald Everett with the 44th pick. Everett will look to be to Jared Goff as Jordan Reed is to Kirk Cousins: a scary tight end matchup for opposing defenses. Of course, the comparison is drawn because new Rams head coach Sean McVay was the offensive coordinator in Washington before he took the Rams job.
LA also added Eastern Washington receiver Cooper Kupp and Texas A&M receiver Josh Reynolds in the third and fourth rounds. Kupp and Reynolds, along with free agent addition Robert Woods, include three of the new faces Goff will be throwing to this season.
The defense, led by defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, might be able to make a quick turnaround—they have talent. If the defense does make strides under Phillips, they could really become competitive.
28. Buffalo Bills
The Bills came away with an excellent draft. It started with trading the 10th overall pick to Kansas City for the 27th overall pick, a third-rounder, and Kansas City’s 2018 first round pick. With the 27th pick they took standout LSU cornerback Tre’Davious White. If White were taken with the 10th pick, no one would have thought twice about it, so to trade back 17 spots and be able to still get White is a big win.
Buffalo did lose running back Mike Gillislee—who led the NFL in yards per carry (5.7) last season—when they chose not to match the offer from New England (Gillislee was a restricted free agent).
29. Cleveland Browns
Cleveland stayed at the top of the draft to select Myles Garrett, but they then traded back from #12 to get even more picks for next year, while grabbing defensive chess piece, Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers, 25th overall. Then they made a move they normally don’t, trading up to 29th overall for Miami tight end David Njoku. All three of those guys should be productive players right away for the Browns.
With the 52nd pick, the Browns took Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer. He needs some work, but Kizer is seen as someone with a lot of upside, so he was worth a shot as their fourth pick of the draft. Second-year player Cody Kessler is thought of very highly in Cleveland, and he is likely to start this season. He may not be a super exciting player with a big arm, but Kessler can play.
30. San Francisco 49ers
John Lynch has gotten rave reviews for his work as a first-time GM. Lynch stepped right from the broadcast booth, but it looks like he’ll do just fine. Good thing, because the Niners roster needs a lot of work. Grabbing Stanford defensive end Solomon Thomas and Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster with the 3rd and 31st picks in the draft, Lynch got two of the top players on his board. Foster was in consideration at number three overall, so they must be thrilled with their first round.
The draft was a big first step to turning around the 49ers. Brian Hoyer, while he probably would need a strong supporting cast to make a deep playoffs run, should keep the 49ers competitive this season.
31. Chicago Bears
While the draft was filled with surprises, the biggest shocker came from the Bears about 15 minutes into the draft, when they traded from number three to number two overall for North Carolina quarterback Mitchell Trubisky.
There are some concerns with Trubisky, mainly that he only started 13 games in college. It remains to be seen how he responds to things not going well, as he really doesn’t have the experience of some guys that have been through it in college. Chicago would probably do well to have Mike Glennon start most of this season and allow Trubisky to learn.
While it could be fake news, reports of head coach John Fox not even knowing of the Bears’ plans to draft Trubisky should be a big concern. Lack of trust can easily lead to friction and resentment.
32. New York Jets
The Jets got a tone-setter by drafting all-round safety Jamal Adams with the sixth pick in the draft. Adams was the number one overall player to some people, and the Jets said the decision was an easy one to select him. Then in the second round, they got another balanced safety, Florida’s Marcus Maye.
People claim the Jets have holes at spots other than safety, but it’s hard to fault a team that was so bad last season for drafting the best player available. Adams and Maye will look to help revamp a defense that surprisingly struggled under Todd Bowles last season.