Ell’s NFL Preseason Rankings Part 3 #24-21
Strength: Quarterback. Matthew Stafford continues to be a strong-armed gun slinger giving them a chance in any game. The offensive line which was a strength for the team last year, might take a step back; however, the team is hoping an improved run game will help him even more. Stafford showed improved accuracy last season and should continue to improve with an OC he really likes.
Weakness: Pass Rusher/ Defensive End. DE Ezekiel Ansah is the only proven pass rusher on the team with DT Haloti Ngata relegated to more of a run stopper at this point and the season ending injury to DE/DT Kerry Hyder; someone will need to step up.
Impact Rookie: Jarrad Davis. The Lions haven’t had a true play making LB in years and Davis has the size, athleticism and talent to make a difference at the position. He is expected to help the run defense, as well as make plays in coverage mostly against TEs.
Strength: Running Game. The Bills have a tough run blocking O-line leading the way with huge LT Cordy Glenn, tough LG Richie Incognito, captain C Eric Wood, who has been one of the best in the game, and RG John Miller; Jordan Mills and rookie Dion Dawkins will fight for the RT spot for more improvement. While RB LeSean McCoy continues to be one of the best in the league, as a dual threat, with a solid backup in Jonathan Williams, who can also carry the load. QB Tyrod Taylor can also make plays in the running game making it even tough for defenses. The additions of FBs Patrick DiMarco, who added to the Falcons pass game last season and veteran Mike Tolbert who is a power blocker, who can also handle RB duties if needed.
Weakness: Wide Receiver. After the trade of #1 WR Sammy Watkins, the loss of #2 WR Robert Woods and #3 WR Marquise Goodwin via free agency, the Bills do not have much to lean on. Newly acquired veteran WR Anquan Boldin retired for bigger causes leaving rookie WR Zay Jones as the default #1 WR. WR Jordan Matthews acquired via trade should be the best of the bunch, but he operates best out of the slot and free agent pickups, Corey (Philly) Brown, Andrew Holmes, and Rod Streater have been inconsistent, but someone could step up; possibly Brown after some recent success with the Panthers.
Impact Rookie: Zay Jones/Tre’Davious White. With the Bills in transition or rebuilding mode a lot of rookies will have a chance to make an impact. Zay Jones will be the default #1WR and he is an athlete with good size and speed who the Bills will try to get the ball many ways, as he is a possession WR with good quickness. Tre’Davious White has also been thrust into a big role with the loss of both top CBs from last season; he is a smaller CB who plays with good speed, coverage ability, and toughness; however, HC Sean McDermott isn’t too reliant on great CBs like with the Panthers.
Strength: Running back. The Bengals now have three backs who can carry the load in power runner Jeremy Hill, explosive runner Giovanni Bernard, and rookie Joe Mixon who is considered a complete back. Giovanni he coming off a late injury and he may not be ready, but they want to see more explosiveness from Hill leading to the pick of Mixon.
Weakness: Offensive Line. The Bengals lost long time LT Andrew Whitworth, a team captain over the years who has stabilized the line despite any changes and LG Kevin Zeitler who has developed into a pro bowl player and one of the top guards. The Bengals have brought back Andre Smith to play guard, after an average season at RT for the Vikings and untested Tackles Jake Fisher and Cedric Ogbuehi to man those spots, despite unimpressive play.
Impact Rookie: Joe Mixon. Mixon is a do it all type of back who can run with good power and speed, as well as catch out the backfield. Mixon will share carries with Hill early in the season, but it is expected that he will take over the majority of carries; he has impressed in the preseason with his playmaking.
Strength: Quarterback. Drew Brees continues to be one of the top QBs in the league with the ability to give this team a fighting chance in any game with his arm. Brees and Sean Payton continue to be one of the top coaching-QB duos in the league and they will continue to fight for wins in the tough NFC South.
*Honorable Mention* Running back. The RB position is stacked with starter Mark Ingram, free agent pickup and star Adrian Peterson, rookie Alvin Kamara (mentioned below), and pass catching back Travaris Cadet. Ingram continue to be a back who has shown he can be workhorse and make plays out the backfield, but he is fresher with help. Peterson should still have something in the tank and also play better in limited carries.
Weakness: Pass Rush. The Saints will rely on DE Cameron Jordan to provide the majority of the pass rush again which has been a constant problem the last few seasons. DE Alex Okafor was brought in to help the problem and the hope is that he will expand his playmaking with more field time, but the potential is there. DT Sheldon Rankins was expected to provide help last season as a rookie, but injury led to him missing three preseason and seven regular season games; the hope is that full training camp will have him ready to be a disruptive force up the middle.
Impact Rookie: Marcus Lattimore. Marcus Lattimore has the size, athleticism, and coverage skills to be a #1 CB in the league and was considered a top 5 talent. Lattimore is too talented to be kept off the field for a team in need of talent at the position, so expect him to impress and take over a starting spot quickly.
*Honorable Mention* Alvin Kamara. Kamara was one of favorite backs coming out of the draft with good power and quickness, but most teams didn’t have him ranked high enough. He has looked great for the Saints in the preseason and he will find his way on the field, as more of a speed option/homerun threat to Peterson and Ingram.