Pre-Training Camp NFL Power Rankings

Many things can and will change prior to the start of the 2018 NFL season.  Injuries, players showing growth during training camp, late free-agent signings and trades are just a few things that will likely go down and influence the outlook of teams prior to week one.

Now that we’re to the middle of July and NFL training camps are just a couple short weeks away, it’s time for the NFL Power Rankings: Pre-Training Camp Edition!

32. New York Jets

Sorry, Jets’ fans, but someone had to be last. The selection of Sam Darnold was the correct pick back in April, but the results won’t be immediate as the Jets will likely struggle to find wins once again in 2018

31. Buffalo Bills

When your quarterback options going into the season are A.J. McCarron, Josh Allen and Nathan Peterman you’re destined to be this far down on a power rankings list.  Combine the question marks at quarterback with the recent LeSean McCoy allegations and you have the makings of a very long, painful season after making the playoffs last year

30. Baltimore Ravens

A solid defense paired with an offense that puts the word ineffective to shame.  The Ravens did the right thing by selecting a playmaker at quarterback in Lamar Jackson, but even if he sees the field in 2018, this team doesn’t have the ingredients on offense to win on a consistent basis

29. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

It’s a make or break year for Jameis Winston and its pretty safe to say he isn’t off to the best start.  The Bucs have some talented playmakers on the offensive side of the ball, specifically Mike Evans, but a rookie running back, question marks at several positions on the defense and the unknown with what the team really has with Winston may hold the Bucs back in 2018

28. Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals never seemed to be in play for one of the top quarterbacks in the 2018 NFL Draft, but I believe they missed their opportunity to trade up and select their quarterback of the future.  Andy Dalton will forever be the quarterback who may take you to the playoffs, but won’t make any noise once you’re there

27. Washington Redskins

This ranking may seem a little low since it’s hard to imagine a team led by Alex Smith ever finishing much lower than 8-8, but he’s going to a brand new team that doesn’t feature as many playmakers – or nearly as good of a run game – as the Chiefs possessed the last few years.  Also keep in mind that Smith’s favorite target – the tight end – is very talented (Jordan Reed) but often injured

26. Chicago Bears

The offseason additions the Bears made have them now pointed in the right direction.  The issue remains the fact that they’re in the same division as the Packers, Vikings and Lions.  This year won’t result in a playoff appearance, but it’s the beginning of a team headed in the right direction

25. Miami Dolphins

You can’t possibly lose Jarvis Landry, Ndamukong Suh and Mike Pouncey and be considered a better team, can you? As always for the Dolphins – and most teams – the season rests on the success at the quarterback position, and Miami showed a vote of confidence in Ryan Tannehill after not trading up for a sliding Josh Rosen in April’s NFL Draft.  With questions remaining at several positions, and without the security blanket of Landry for Tannehill, this new-look offense could be in line for some growing pains

24. Arizona Cardinals

There is reason to be excited as a fan of the Arizona Cardinals.  After signing Sam Bradford as a stop-gap quarterback, the team selected Rosen with the 10th overall selection in the draft as he will eventually become the franchise leader.  Along with Rosen, the return of one of the most complete running backs in the league in David Johnson, plus another season with Larry Fitzgerald paired with the selection of Christian Kirk, the Cardinals are making the right moves to eventually compete in a highly competitive NFC West

23. New York Giants

Can the offensive line hold up and provide Eli Manning time to spread the ball out to all of this team’s playmakers?  That and the performance of the defense will ultimately decide the fate for the Giants in 2018 as Saquon Barkley, Odell Beckham Jr., Evan Engram and Sterling Shepard form a potentially elite group of offensive playmakers to build around

NFL: New York Giants-Rookie Minicamp

22. Indianapolis Colts

Selecting a guard in the top 10 of the NFL Draft is an extremely unpopular thing to do, but the selection of Quenton Nelson was the right move for the Colts if they plan on keeping Andrew Luck healthy once (if) he comes back.  Indianapolis isn’t littered with playmakers on either side of the ball, but a healthy Luck has proven to elevate the level of play of those around him

21. Cleveland Browns

This has to be the highest the Browns have been in a power ranking list since, well, since power rankings were even a thing?  Chalk me up as a huge fan of the moves the Browns made this offseason.  Tyrod Taylor is the perfect quarterback to lead this offense while Baker Mayfield develops and learns how to become an NFL-caliber signal caller.  Landry, Josh Gordon, David Njoku, Corey Coleman, and the trio of running backs makes this offense one of the more intriguing units to follow this season

20. Oakland Raiders

After averaging 30 touchdowns between 2015-16, David Carr took a step back last year tossing just 22 passing TDs.  The combination of Carr and Amari Cooper remains a duo loaded with potential, but I think it’s fair to question the consistency and longevity of some of the other options the team will lean on in 2018 as Jordy Nelson, Martavis Bryant, Marshawn Lynch and Doug Martin are some interesting names, but not sure how they stack up in regards to productivity at this point in their careers

19. Seattle Seahawks

What are the Seahawks if Russell Wilson were to get hurt?  Wilson will need to have the season of his career if Seattle is going to make any noise this year.  The defense is completely overhauled, they still don’t have much in regards to offensive playmakers outside of Doug Baldwin and they decided to throw another average running back into the mix by using a first-round pick on Rashaad Penny

18. Kansas City Chiefs

Growing pains will be the story of the 2018 Kansas City Chiefs.  A team that has routinely made the playoffs with Smith at quarterback has decided to turn the franchise over to last year’s first-round pick, Patrick Mahomes.  While the decision to move onto Mahomes is the right move for the long run, the AFC West is too competitive for the Chiefs to match their success of last year.  The Chiefs will be fine with Mahomes in the future; just don’t expect those results to occur overnight

17. Dallas Cowboys

Zeke Elliott is the one constant we know the Cowboys’ offense can count on.  But what happens when opposing teams build early leads and force Dak Prescott to rely solely on the pass game?  Despite an elite-level offensive line, the team’s playmakers outside of Elliott are scarce, and may eventually cost this team when it matters most

zeke

16. Detroit Lions

The Lions may be onto something here if Kenny Golladay emerges as a playmaker and 2018 draft selection, Kerryon Johnson, is able to produce alongside LeGarrette Blount.  A running game that opposing team’s defenses actually have to account for would help simplify the game for Matthew Stafford who has basically had to run the show through his arm since joining the Lions in 2009.  Detroit’s defense and the fact it resides in the NFC North with the Vikings and Packers remain one of the main hurdles heading into 2018

15. Houston Texans

Is the Deshaun Watson that we saw before his season-ending injury last season the same player that we’ll see this year?  Did Watson have some turnover issues?  Sure.  But what rookie quarterback doesn’t make a few mistakes while trying to make some potentially game-changing plays?  The defense also needs J.J. Watt to return to his Defensive Player of the Year-level of play as the team allowed the most points per game in the entire NFL last season

14. Denver Broncos

The Broncos are in line to be one of the most-improved teams in the league in 2018.  After signing Case Keenum this offseason, the Broncos’ offense should once again be relevant as Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders will surely welcome a fresh face in the huddle to replace Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch

13. Tennessee Titans

Despite making the playoffs and earning a Wild Card Playoff win over the Kansas City Chiefs, it’s fair to say the Titans offense never fully got on track last season as Marcus Mariota accounted for just 18 touchdowns after never having less than 20 in his first two years.  The running back duo of Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis should provide consistency in the run game while allowing Mariota to find more success through the air with the likes of Delanie Walker, Rishard Matthews and last year’s first-round pick, Corey Davis

12. Carolina Panthers

Another team in a loaded division, the Carolina Panthers face an uphill battle in 2018 while primarily competing against the Saints and Falcons in the NFC South.  Carolina grabbed a do-it-all receiver to develop with Cam Newton in D.J. Moore, but you’re asking a lot from a rookie wide receiver if you’re expecting him to instantly take this offense to the next level.  It’s more likely that Moore is brought along slowly while Devin Funchess, Greg Olsen and Christian McCaffrey lead the way this season

11. Atlanta Falcons

Which Matt Ryan will we see in 2018?  Does he return to his MVP-level of play from 2016 or are we going to see another year of inconsistency that finishes with an early-round exit from the playoffs?  This team doesn’t lack playmakers on the offensive side of the ball, so if Ryan can bounce back as a top-level quarterback this season, Atlanta deserves to be in the conversation as serious title contenders

10. San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers found a gem in Kyle Shanahan.  Not saying that Jimmy Garoppolo couldn’t be successful without him, but his skill set compliments exactly what Shanahan sets out to do, which is get the ball out to your playmakers in a creative and efficient manner.  San Francisco will have its hands full with the Los Angeles Rams for the division, but don’t be surprised to see the 49ers in the mix for one of the Wild Card spots in the NFC this season

9. Los Angeles Chargers

It hasn’t been a pleasant offseason for the Chargers as Hunter Henry was lost for the season before training camp has even started, but Philip Rivers has the talent and playmakers around him to be the favorite in the AFC West.  Derwin James helps bolster an already impressive secondary, while Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram are arguably the league’s best pass-rushing duo.  Look for Rivers to push this team to new heights in 2018

8. Green Bay Packers

Aaron Rodgers is back, so that means the Packers are a shoe-in as a top-10 team in the NFL.  What we saw in Rodgers’ absence last year wasn’t pretty, but when you surround a healthy Rodgers with Davante Adams, Randall Cobb, Jimmy Graham, and a trio of running backs who can combine to get the job done on the ground, you have the necessary ingredients to make a Super Bowl run.  Don’t forget that the Packers have invested three high-round draft picks on cornerbacks over the last two years who should help improve what was a very underwhelming secondary

7. Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars’ defense in reason enough to believe this team will win the AFC South and once again be heard when it’s playoff time.  Blake Bortles remains a wild card in Jacksonville, but if Leonard Fournette can stay healthy and effective while the defense limits opponents to under 17-20 points per game, look for the Jaguars to be in the mix come Championship Weekend

6. New Orleans Saints

The highest-ranked team from the extremely competitive NFC South, New Orleans seems to have the makings as one of the more exciting teams in the league this year.  Last year’s breakout rookie, Alvin Kamara, should see an increased workload early in the season due to Mark Ingram’s suspension, but the Saints should be plenty fine in the absence of Ingram as future Hall-of-Fame quarterback Drew Brees is no stranger to getting the job done in an efficient manner through the air.  Also, the defense which used to be the Achilles heel of the team, made some major improvements in 2017 and finished in the top 10 last year in points allowed per game

5. Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers’ offense features three players destined to land in the Hall of Fame at their current pace in Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown.  But even with these playmakers, the Steelers seem to run into issues during the regular season that make you believe they don’t quite have what it takes to steal the AFC from the Patriots.  The time is now for Pittsburgh if it plans on returning to the Super Bowl during Roethlisberger’s career

bigben

4. Minnesota Vikings

How often do you see a team that played in a conference championship game opt to move away from each quarterback they had on the roster?  This season will determine if the Vikings’ decision to do just that pays off or not as the franchise is now in the hands of Kirk Cousins.  The return of Dalvin Cook and the continued success of one of the best defenses in the league should once again make the Vikings title contenders, but the team is going to need Cousins to make plays in key situations in order to compete in a loaded NFC

3. New England Patriots

As the highest ranked team in the AFC, New England continues to be the team to beat as long as Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are employed and can remain cordial.  If there were ever a time to knock off the Patriots it would seem that now is the time.  Brady, Belichick and Robert Kraft have their disagreements, Rob Gronkowski has discussed retirement and can’t seem to shake the injury bug, and Julian Edelman will miss the first four weeks of the season due to suspension.  With all that said, New England will run through the AFC East and will clearly be a player when it comes time to finding out who will represent the conference in the Super Bowl

2. Los Angeles Rams

After one of the most aggressive offseasons we’ve seen in the history of the NFL, the Rams may now have a very strong defense to go along with their offense that broke out last season.  Super Bowls aren’t won in March, but if the new pieces on defense look as good as they do on paper, while Jared Goff and the offense continues to trend in the right direction, we may be witnessing one of the quickest franchise turnarounds in quite some time

1. Philadelphia Eagles

As long as Carson Wentz comes back at 100 percent, the Eagles should once again pace a high-powered NFC with their explosive offense and continually improving defense.  Nick Foles showed that he can get the job done after leading the Eagles to a Super Bowl win over the Patriots despite Wentz going down with his knee injury, but does anyone actually believe this offense is at its best if Wentz isn’t on the field?  The NFC is loaded and it’s hard to repeat as champions in the NFL, but Philadelphia is in the midst of something very special right now if Wentz does indeed make a full recovery

There you have it – the first NFL Power Rankings of the season from the Loaded Box.  Feel free to comment with your thoughts on those you agree and disagree on, and as always, let us know what you think on Twitter: @loadedbox

 

Be sure to check out the latest episode of the Loaded Box Podcast as we discuss which quarterbacks we’re targeting and avoiding on draft day from those we have ranked No. 13-24

Ben Morgan is a co-host and blogger for the Loaded Box Podcast.  Check out his article archive and find more from the Loaded Box on Twitter & Facebook

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