Ell’s NFL Preseason Rankings Part 5 #16-13
Strength: Defensive Line. The Eagles D-line is absolutely loaded led by star DT Fletcher Cox, pass rushers DEs Vinny Curry and Brandon Graham, while adding pass rushing DT/DE Timmy Jernigan and veteran DE Chris Long coming off a Super Bowl, as well as, 1st round pick DE Derek Barnett. This unit can get after the quarterback and hold up against the run; they should really be the key group on this team.
Weakness: Running back. It was tough to pick a true weakness on the Eagles, but running back could be a concern if RB LeGarrette Blount struggles like he did in the preseason and continues to not be the fit they hoped for. Darren Sproles continues to be a nice gadget back they you would prefer to use in spurts and special teams. Wendell Smallwood is expected# to get carries, but with his size he is probably best used as a 3rd down back and on special teams. The two rookies have not had carries to be in the starting equation in Donnel Pumphrey and undrafted Corey Clement.
Impact Rookie: WR Mack Hollins. Hollins is a 4th round pick who has impressed the team since the beginning with his size, speed, and versatility. He can contribute from the slot, outside, going deep, and on special teams. If Nelson Agholor or Torrey Smith shows any signs of poor play, Hollins will have every chance to take over. It was tough to pick Barnett with all of depth in front of him, but I believe he find his way on the field.
Strength: Pass Rush. The Chiefs are loaded with pass rushers who make it a problem for opposing quarterbacks led by OLBs Justin Houston, Tamba Hali (injured) and Dee Ford. DE Allen Bailey and DT/DE Chris Jones can also get on the hunt chasing down the quarterback as well. With this constant rush and the fact that Houston is nearly unstoppable alone makes this one of the best defensive units in the league.
Weakness: Cornerback. It was very tough to find a weakness on the Chiefs, but cornerback is the only position that stands out, as last year’s starter Steven Nelson went down with an injury. Marcus Peters has been one of the best shutdown cornerbacks in the league since his rookie season, but he has been waiting for a solid partner. Philip Gaines will take over the starting job and has good size and speed, as well as, a couple years in the system which should help him a lot.
Impact Rookie: RB Kareem Hunt. Hunt is a third round back who has impressed in camp while showing good speed, catching ability, and the ability to contribute on special teams. Despite having Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware on the team Hunt was in the mix for the starting job. However, an injury to Ware has thrown Hunt into the starting spot. (Update: Great Week 1 stats in a Win vs the Patriots!)
Strength: Cornerback. The Chargers have two cornerbacks capable of doing their job very well in Jason Verrett and Casey Hayward. Verrett has excelled as a shutdown corner since his rookie season despite being slightly undersized; he hasn’t backed down with good speed and overall cover skills. Hayward had his best season with 7ints last season, after a few seasons in Green Bay. Rookie DB Desmond King has impressed in camp and has been all over the field in the preseason; he will take over the nickel back role and hopefully solidify this unit completely, all signs have been positive.
*Honorable Mention* Quarterback/Tight End. You can’t mention the Chargers without Philip Rivers and the veteran QB has been a long time franchise player since he was drafted and he has the ability to throw this team into any game. This will be the 2nd year he will be blessed with two top pass catching TEs as long time target and future Hall of Famer Antonio Gates is still around and able to make plays all over the field, especially in the clutch. Also, 2nd year TE Hunter Henry has turned out to be a great go to target for Rivers last season, as he continued to lose WRs to injury and their chemistry should be that much better.
Weakness: Offensive Line. The offensive line continues to be an issue as injuries continue to cause them to make changes each offseason. The team overpaid to acquire free agent LT Russell Okung coming off an average season with the Broncos. G Matt Slauson moves back to Guard from Center which is probably better for him as a good run blocker. C Spencer Pulley takes over the starting job after seeing time mostly at Guard. RG Kenny Wiggins has played both Guard and Tackle for the Chargers and hopes that he can also hold on to his starting job after years of fighting just for a roster spot. RT Joe Barksdale has been a mainstay at RT the last two seasons. This unit has a lot of versatility, but the hope is that they have finally found the right combination to stay injury free and gel into a solid unit; despite not being the most talented group.
Impact Rookie: G/T Dan Feeney. As mentioned above, the Chargers O-line is lacking in talent, but 3rd round rookie Dan Feeney has experience at both Guard and Tackle in college, but fits best as a Guard in the league. The Chargers have been training Feeney at both Guard and Center in camp and soon enough he should take over one of the starting jobs on the interior. The Chargers also drafted G/C Forrest Lamp in the 2nd round who was supposed to take over one of the interior jobs, as well, preferably Center, but he is loss for the season due to injury.
Strength: Linebacker. The LB core is young and rebuilt and should be able to make their presence felt on the field. Future Hall of Fame OLB Terrell Suggs continues to lead the way, as a relentless pass rusher, young ILB C.J. Mosley who has done a good job manning the middle the last few seasons making strides in his coverage, and two young additions in LB Kamalei Correa who didn’t get to show much of his pass rushing skills as a rookie due to injury, and OLB Matthew Judon who has shown promise as a pass rusher in limited play and the athleticism to play LB, despite being built like a D-lineman. The Ravens also added 2nd round pick Tyus Bowser who can be used in multiple ways due to this athleticism and versatility, but he also offers value as a pass rusher and former Alabama LB Tim Williams who offers pass rush potential, but maybe no so immediate. Pass Rusher Za’Darius Smith is another player who has also been in the pass rushing mix making this unit very deep this year; as they learned injuries happen.
*Honorable Mention* Safety. The Ravens added young S Tony Jefferson who has the versatility to play like a LB at the line helping to stop the run and the ability to cover TE’s, as he plays very physical. The Ravens haven’t had the luxury of two safeties in years as they already have veteran FS Eric Weddle who has been solid in coverage for years reading the quarterback’s eyes and making plays on the ball, while also being able to make a big hit.
Weakness: Offensive Line. The Ravens O-line continues to be a weak point, as they let a few quality lineman leave over the years and injuries have taken their toll. LT Ronnie Stanley had a productive rookie season, but he will need to be a year better and stay healthy, as there is no real depth. T James Hurst takes over the LG spot after average production at Tackle; he will need to play better. The Center job was a competition all off season, but by default Ryan Jensen will take over, after a few spot starts in prior seasons. RG Marshall Yanda continues to be one of the best in the league and is capable of filling in at both tackle spots if needed. Newly acquired RT Austin Howard will start and while he is a good run blocker, can he hold up in pass protection?
Impact Rookie: OLB Tyus Bowser. Bowser has stood out at camp and in the preseason as a very quick player with good instincts in coverage and the quickness off the line to get after the quarterback. As a team who loves swarming tacklers, Bowser will definitely have a home here and find his way on the field. While I really like 1st round CB Marlon Humphrey, I don’t think he will see much time as a slot and will only see the field pending injury to Brandon Carr or Jimmy Smith.