1. New Orleans Saints
The Saints signed Darren Sharper for another year, and inked defensive end Alex Brown from Chicago. The draft didn’t make headlines, but that’s what happens when you pick last. The team did select players to address glaring needs at cornerback and offensive tackle. The champs haven’t improved dramatically, but they have also done nothing to take away from their top-rated ranking entering the 2010 season.
2. Indianapolis Colts
The Colts got great value at their position in the draft. Jerry Hughes was a steal at thirty-one. They held on to Gary Brackett who is a key to their success on defense. There were few holes to fill, and the Colts always seem to manage. They’ll be in the league’s elite again.
3. New York Jets
By most accounts the Jets had a solid draft and landed immediate contributors at nickel back and offensive guard in their first two picks. The league’s best defense will add Jason Taylor at defensive end and Antonio Cromartie at corner. If Cromartie plays back to his former level, this team is airtight on defense.
The Jets will rise or fall on offense. They will improve to some degree due to the maturation of soon-to-be second-year quarterback, Mark Sanchez. How much is arguable. They cast off Alan Faneca and will hope to fill his spot with a converted rookie tackle. They also said goodbye to Thomas Jones and Leon Washington at running back. Santonio Holmes will start his season in week five and provide an upgrade at wideout after the Steelers essentially gave up on him.
There is no questioning the effort this off-season to get to the next level, but there are some questions about the moves: is asking a rookie to fill Faneca’s spot too much? If Santonio Holmes is worth the risk in regards to character and off-field issues, why wasn’t Brandon Marshall, who is clearly the better player and not spending any time on the police blotter or suspended list of late? What does LaDainian Tomlinson have left? The answers will likely mean the difference between playoff disappointment and a berth in the Super Bowl.
4. Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings did well in the draft despite not having a first-round selection. Chris Cook addresses one of very few positions of need. Toby Gerhart is going to enjoy running at defenses that are already softened by Adrian Peterson. If the Vikings can motivate Everson Griffen, the team will have had stunning draft success considering when they were selecting.
This off-season’s one and only true question concerns the return of Brett Favre. The Vikings added nothing at the quarterback position, and this team’s rating falls dramatically – out of the top ten – if Favre decides to hang them up.
5. Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens landed arguably the best available player this off-season in Anquan Boldin. Boldin competently fills the Ravens biggest area of need. Sergio Kindle will benefit from playing alongside Ray Lewis, and Terrence Cody has the size the Ravens love on the interior defensive line. The addition of Boldin and the emergence of Ray Rice make this team dangerous through the air and on the ground.
6. Green Bay Packers
The Packers’ road gets much easier if Favre decides to retire, but this team may unseat the Vikings in the NFC North even if he returns. Brian Bulaga fell to number twenty-three and should upgrade the offensive line, which struggled last season to keep Aaron Rogers upright. The defensive was solid and will improve as Clay Matthews builds on a stellar rookie season.
7. San Diego Chargers
The Chargers moved decisively to fill LaDainian Tomlinson’s shoes. Although CJ Spiller got the most press of all the backs in the draft, Ryan Matthews has the better tools for an every-down back. The underlying issue affecting the running game doesn’t seem to be improved, as the Chargers offensive line was not addressed. The Bolts will succeed in the weak AFC West, but anything more than a division title will be difficult.
8. Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys got a gift when top-rated receiver Dez Bryant fell to them at twenty-four. If they can keep Bryant’s ego in check and get him to focus on the basics, the Cowboys can stop pretending that Roy Williams is a number one receiver. The team will need to replace departing tackle, Flozell Adams. The Cowboys still have the best talent in the division, though they’re still lagging behind the elite NFC teams.
9. Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons should get a bounce back year from quarterback Matt Ryan who had a minor case of the sophomore jinx. Part of that could be attributed to injuries at running back and the pressure Ryan had to carry the offense. The Falcons added Dunta Robinson to a defensive secondary badly in need of a talent upgrade. The Dirty Birds will benefit from two first-round players as last year’s top pick, Peria Jerry, should return after missing last season with an injury. Jerry’s return and the addition of linebacker Sean Witherspoon should help fortify the front seven. If the Falcons notched nine wins with the injuries they suffered, they should easily be in position to step up into double-digit win territory.
10. New England Patriots
Devin McCourty was rated in the top half off many first-round draft boards and should help a weak secondary in New England. The Pats got good value with Brandon Spikes in the second round. That value now needs to translate into production since the Pats let Adalius Thomas walk.
There are many questions in New England including the health of Wes Welker and where a pass rush will come from, but the Pats still have Brady and Moss and enough to stay in the top tier of the league.
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