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Unit Rankings, Skins 8th overall

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Old 08-19-2004, 09:39 AM   #1
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Unit Rankings, Skins 8th overall

http://proxy.espn.go.com/nfl/news/story?id=1858398

A cool breakdown of everyteams individual units. Once again, we rank great on paper, hopefully it will all come together for us this year.
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Old 08-19-2004, 09:49 AM   #2
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don't have insider, so I can't see it. Can you paste it on?
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Old 08-19-2004, 10:08 AM   #3
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Old 08-19-2004, 10:53 AM   #4
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Skins ranking high on any kind of ESPN paper is kinda rare tho. its all Gibbs.
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Old 08-19-2004, 12:32 PM   #5
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I don't care if they rank last, I want to see them actually do something this season.
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Old 08-19-2004, 01:11 PM   #6
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Sorry about the lack of formatting. They don't make it exactly easy to cut and paste the exclusive content!

I hope I don't lose my subscription for posting this....



*-----------------------------------------------------

It's no surprise the New England Patriots, winners of two of the last three Super Bowls, are No. 1 overall, ranking in the top five in five of eight categories. But what is a bit surprising is how big the gap is between the Pats and the second-rated Ravens, who earned top rankings at running back and linebacker but were near the bottom at quarterback and receiver.

How does your team stack up? Here's the complete chart, along with some explanation:

2004 NFL Unit Rankings
Team QB RB WR OL DL LB DB ST TOTAL
Patriots 4 15 10 19 3 2 1 4 58
Ravens 29 1 26 3 9 1 2 9 80
Panthers 16 4 20 11 1 12 20 1 85
Vikings 5 11 3 6 10 27 8 17 87
Colts 2 12 1 4 21 29 22 3 94
Packers 3 5 13 2 18 21 9 26 97
Bills 11 9 14 22 12 3 4 23 98
Redskins 10 7 6 16 28 9 13 11 100
Seahawks 8 6 11 9 30 19 6 13 102
Titans 1 28 16 10 25 4 14 5 103
Rams 13 10 2 5 19 20 19 16 104
Eagles 6 21 7 20 4 25 16 7 106
Broncos 14 29 17 14 11 15 5 8 113
Chiefs 7 3 25 1 27 30 21 6 120
Buccaneers 19 25 18 21 6 6 11 19 125
Bengals 12 17 5 18 24 13 26 10 125
Raiders 15 27 27 8 5 24 18 2 126
Saints 18 13 4 13 13 31 30 12 134
Jaguars 21 8 19 7 17 14 23 28 137
Dolphins 27 32 28 29 2 8 3 14 143
Steelers 23 24 8 23 7 16 27 21 149
Texans 22 18 23 17 8 23 28 15 154
Lions 24 30 12 12 22 28 7 20 155
Browns 17 19 15 30 15 17 12 30 155
Cowboys 31 26 22 28 14 7 10 27 165
Falcons 9 14 24 27 26 18 31 18 167
Bears 25 22 30 15 29 11 17 24 173
Chargers 28 2 32 32 31 10 24 25 184
49ers 32 20 31 24 16 5 25 32 185
Giants 26 23 21 31 20 26 15 24 186
Jets 20 16 29 26 23 22 29 22 187
Cardinals 30 31 9 25 32 32 32 29 220

Quarterbacks

It takes more than a strong arm, pinpoint accuracy and the mobility to avoid the rush to be considered one of the best starting quarterbacks in the league. The ability to consistently provide big plays at critical times and put a team in a position to win is what separates the elite from the rest of the league. This is evident in our rankings, as seven of the top 10 quarterbacks led their respective teams to the playoffs last year, and all 10 have playoff experience.


BradyNew England fans will be disappointed that having two-time Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady didn't put the Patriots' QB unit in the top three. Brady is poised under pressure and an excellent manager of the game, but his numbers aren't as good as the three starters ranked ahead of him. Indianapolis' Peyton Manning, who led the league in passing yards last year, is the only QB in NFL history to throw for at least 3,000 yards in each of his first five seasons. Steve McNair's league-leading passer rating and Brett Favre's league-leading 32 touchdown passes last year also helped push their teams ahead of New England.


McNairAlthough the quality of the starter had the biggest impact on these rankings, depth clearly played a big role as well. Despite the fact that Manning and McNair shared MVP honors and McNair missed two games with injuries last year, the Titans edged the Colts out for the top spot based in large part on their backup. Billy Volek appeared in seven games and led the Titans to a win against a tough Buffalo defense in his only start last year. The Titans would feel comfortable inserting Volek into the starting lineup if McNair were to miss substantial time. Colts backup Corey Sauter, on the other hand, is a former undrafted free agent who has appeared in just one game during his six-year career. Indianapolis's explosive offense would sputter if Sauter was forced into the lineup for an extended period of time.


VickThe Colts' lack of depth gives Tennessee an advantage, but it isn't enough for them to fall farther than the second slot, because Manning has never missed a start. Atlanta, on the other hand, has arguably the most explosive playmaker in the league in Michael Vick, but he missed 11 games with a leg injury last year, and the fact that he runs so much makes durability a big concern. Backup Ty Detmer's experience in the West Coast scheme makes him a quality mentor to Vick, but the 36-year-old Detmer hasn't attempted a pass since the 2001 season. The Falcons would be in trouble if Vick were to miss significant time with an injury again.


FavreIt's also important to note that quality depth never hurts, no matter how durable the starter has been in the past, and that an excellent No. 3 can make a difference in the rankings. Favre has started every game since the 1993 season. While the Packers hope that continues, the 34-year-old has battled through knee and thumb injuries over the past two seasons. Adding Tim Couch gives Green Bay a backup with 59 career starts, including eight last year, who is ready to step in should injuries finally catch up with Favre. With Couch backing Favre up, the Packers can move Doug Pederson to the No. 3 slot. Pederson is almost like another coach on the field because of his extensive experience in Green Bay's system, and he'll make the transition for Couch smoother.
The No. 26 ranking for the Giants clearly shows that experience and consistency are critical. Although Kurt Warner is a former league MVP and Eli Manning has a bright future, Warner hasn't won in his last seven starts and Manning is an untested rookie. Cincinnati, San Diego, Chicago and Arizona all are expected to have first-year starters under center, and inexperience hurt their rankings, as well. However, the Bengals didn't drop as far as the other three, because backup Jon Kitna is coming off a career-year.

Running Backs

LewisJamal Lewis became the fifth player in league history to rush for more than 2,000 yards in a season, and he is capable of repeating that production if he starts all 16 games this year. However, with his drug conspiracy trial scheduled to begin Nov. 1, he might not be able to do that.
If Lewis misses an extended period of time, Baltimore won't have the best backfield in the league, but they shouldn't drop too far. The Ravens have been impressed with 2003 third-round pick Musa Smith and believe he's ready if needed. Both backs will benefit from running behind FB Alan Ricard, one of the most underrated isolation blockers in the league.


TomlinsonLewis' production and Baltimore's superior depth gave the Ravens the edge over San Diego, but LaDainian Tomlinson is the most versatile back in the league. Tomlinson has rushed for more than 1,500 yards the past two seasons, and he caught 100 passes last year. The lead blocking of FB Lorenzo Neal also helped the Chargers secure the No. 2 ranking. San Diego's lack of depth wasn't enough to drop it behind Kansas City, because Tomlinson has been durable and is yet to miss a game.
Carolina boasts two quality backs in Stephen Davis and DeShaun Foster, giving the Panthers the edge over Green Bay. Davis has the power to wear teams down between the tackles, and Foster gives them a threat on the perimeter.


GreenWhile Carolina possesses two backs capable of starting for many teams, Green Bay has even better depth, as Najeh Davenport and Tony Fisher frequently spell explosive starter Ahman Green. FB William Henderson didn't carry the ball once last year, but he does a good job of creating seams for Green & Co., and he is a reliable receiver out of the backfield.
Trading Champ Bailey to Denver for Clinton Portis clearly helped Washington's ranking, but the return of head coach Joe Gibbs also had a significant impact. The counter plays in Gibbs' offense create better blocking angles for the offensive line, and the coach's commitment to running the ball means more carries for Portis.

It's hard to factor in unproven talent, so while Buffalo could have one of the most talented backfields in the league, it's ranked ninth because Willis McGahee has yet to take a snap in a regular season game.

FaulkSt. Louis' No. 10 ranking might seem low, what with the presence of Marshall Faulk, Lamar Gordon and 2004 first-round pick Steven Jackson in the backfield. But Faulk hasn't been a 1,000-yard back in either of the past two seasons, and his receiving numbers dipped significantly last year. Gordon has been inconsistent, and Jackson is a rookie.
Chris Perry, Cincinnati's 2004 first-round pick, could develop into the team's back of the future, and Rudi Johnson is coming off a strong season. However, Johnson isn't the complete back that Corey Dillon was, and Perry will need some time to develop. As a result, Cincinnati fell to 17th with Dillon's departure.

GeorgeThe addition of free agent Eddie George and second-round pick Julius Jones wasn't enough to rank the Dallas backfield any higher than 26th. George appears to be on the downside of his career, and he'll be running behind a Cowboys' offensive line that doesn't run block as well as Tennessee's. Jones' talent doesn't outweigh his inexperience at this point, and how big a role he'll play this year remains to be seen. It doesn't help that FB Richie Anderson isn't a great lead blocker, but it should be noted that Anderson didn't hurt Dallas' ranking because he is an excellent receiver out of the backfield.
Depth played an important role in these rankings, but it didn't carry nearly as much weight as the quality of the starter, which is a big reason why Oakland's backfield received the No. 27 ranking. While Tyrone Wheatley, Troy Hambrick and Amos Zereoue all have starting experience, Wheatley has started just eight games over the last three seasons. Both Zereoue and Hambrick struggled in starting roles last year.

The loss of Marcell Shipp to a broken leg for at least eight weeks and Emmitt Smith's declining burst through the hole landed Arizona's backfield in the 31st slot. It shouldn't surprise anyone that Miami finished with the worst ranking following the abrupt retirement of Ricky Williams.

Receivers

HarrisonThere are few weaknesses in Indianapolis' top-ranked receiving corps. While perennial Pro-Bowler Marvin Harrison's receiving yards dropped last year, much of the decline in production can be attributed to the improved supporting cast surrounding him. In addition to adding Brandon Stokley and TE Dallas Clark last year, Reggie Wayne also continued to progress. As a result, it's not that much of a shock that Harrison's numbers dropped. Add TE Marcus Pollard to the mix and this is clearly the deepest and most talented receiving unit in the league.
Donovan McNabb doesn't have the same weapons to work with as Peyton Manning does in Indianapolis, but he finally has the playmaking receiver in Terrell Owens that he has lacked throughout his career. Owens will stretch the field and draw attention away from the rest of Philadelphia's receivers, effectively improving the entire unit. TE L.J. Smith, coming off a solid rookie season and expected to continue to progress, also contributed to the Eagles' No. 7 ranking.

New England doesn't have a premiere playmaker like Owens or Harrison, but the Patriots' receivers are dangerous after the catch, which makes them great fits for the team's quick-hitting passing attack. Excellent depth at tight end also helped New England secure the No. 10 ranking, as Dan Graham, Christian Fauria and 2004 first-round Ben Watson are all expected to contribute. Of course that all changes if Watson continues to hold out.

Seattle's No. 11 ranking could prove too harsh if the receiving corps can eliminate the costly drops that plagued it a year ago. Koren Robinson is a playmaker who can stretch the field. Darrell Jackson excels at getting open underneath, and Bobby Engram is a quality No. 3. If TE Jerramy Stevens finally starts to realize his potential, this unit's stock would go up dramatically.

SmithOn the flip side, Denver's No. 17 ranking could prove too charitable. Rod Smith is a precise route-runner who won't drop many passes, but he isn't as explosive as he was earlier in his career. While Ashley Lelie appears ready to step into a starting role, he has been inconsistent thus far. The retirements of TE Shannon Sharpe and WR Eddie McCaffrey hurt this unit's ranking substantially.
In Carolina, where the Panthers are ranked No. 20, Steve Smith is coming off a breakout season, Muhsin Muhammad finished with the second highest average-yards-per-catch of his career last year and the Panthers drafted Keary Colbert in the second round. However, Muhammad, who the Panthers almost released during the offseason, has been inconsistent, and Colbert is untested. It doesn't help that 36-year-old Ricky Proehl's numbers slipped last year, and Carolina doesn't have a playmaker at tight end.

Baltimore has one of the best receiving tight ends in the league in Todd Heap, but he will continue to face almost constant double coverage until the Ravens add some weapons on the outside. Although Kevin Johnson is a reliable safety valve underneath, he lacks the playmaking ability to consistently draw attention away from Heap. As a result, the Ravens' receiving corps finished with the No. 27 ranking.

McCareinsThe Jets signed Justin McCareins, and he is capable of developing into an excellent complement to Santana Moss, but the Jets' receiving corps is ranked 29th for good reason. McCareins has yet to enter a regular season as the starter, and how he handles higher expectations remains to be seen. The Jets also have a glaring lack of depth, as No. 3 Wayne Chrebet's head injuries have become career-threatening. If Chrebet were to sustain another concussion, the Jets would lack the personnel to spread the field with three-receiver sets. TE Anthony Becht has also been a disappointment.
Despite losing both starters from last year, San Francisco avoided the No. 32 ranking, finishing just ahead of San Diego. The Chargers were hurt by the departure of WR David Boston through free agency and the lack of a quality receiving tight end. It didn't help that Kevin Dyson missed all of one game with a hamstring injury last year and San Diego lacks a true No. 2 let alone a prototypical No. 1 receiver.

Offensive line

Kansas City lost John Tait to free agency but it wasn't enough to unseat it as the best offensive line in the league. The Chiefs replaced Tait by trading a 2005 fifth-round pick to Philadelphia to acquire John Welbourn, and signing free agent Chris Bober helps improve depth. In addition, offensive coordinator Al Saunders likes to get RB Priest Holmes to the perimeter by pulling offensive linemen around the corner and frequently running screens. This group excels at getting to the second level and making blocks downfield, making them a perfect fit for the offense.
All five starters return for the second-ranked Packers and have extensive playing time together but its lack of ideal depth gave Kansas City the advantage.

OgdenBaltimore's third-ranked unit could have the best left side of the offensive line in the league. LOT Jonathan Ogden and Edwin Mulitalo are powerful run blockers who consistently drive defenders off the ball. They also do a great job of maintaining their blocks, allowing RB Jamal Lewis to cut back to the left when there isn't a seam to the right.
Although St. Louis came in at No. 5, Kyle Turley's back problems and Orlando Pace's holdout are reasons for concern. Grant Williams, Scotty Tercero and free-agent acquisition Greg Randall are adequate backups, but this ranking would prove far too favorable if Turley or Pace is unavailable.

Jacksonville's top-10 ranking will surprise some people, but it shouldn't. The Jaguars rushing attack averaged more than four yards a carry last year and gave up just 28 sacks despite protecting a rookie starting quarterback who had to adjust to the speed of the game at this level.

The addition of LOT Robert Gallery and the progression of ROT Langston Walker were big reasons Oakland ranked eighth. If Gallery can reach his potential even quicker than anticipated and the rest of the line lives up to expectations, this group could end the season as one of the five best in the league. The problem is it probably won't get that kind of recognition, because of the Raiders' questions at receiver and their lack of a franchise-back.

Although Carolina's offensive line has undergone some changes, the Panthers still finished with a respectable No. 11 ranking. Jordan Gross has the athletic ability to make a smooth transition from right tackle to left tackle and he should develop into an excellent blindside pass protector for QB Jake Delhomme. This is also a well-coached unit that rarely makes mistakes or misses blocking assignments.

JansenThe loss of ROT Jon Jansen to a season-ending Achilles injury hurt Washington's ranking. However, the Redskins are another team that will benefit from great coaching, which is why they didn't fall farther than the No. 16 ranking. Assistant head coach Joe Bugel played a critical role in developing Washington's dominant offensive lines during the 80s, and he is an excellent motivator who will get the most out his line.
New England's offensive line was one of the most difficult units in the league to evaluate. While they don't have an upper-echelon player at any of the five positions, the Patriots play much better as a group than the talent of the individuals would indicate. However, it's important to note that the departure of Damien Woody through free agency hurt the ranking.

At first glance, Philadelphia's No. 20 ranking may seem somewhat unkind, as well. However, this unit has been somewhat overrated in the past. In addition, most of the Eagles' offensive linemen are better run blockers than pass blockers, despite Philadelphia's pass-heavy West Coast offense.

Tampa Bay's offensive line has undergone some radical changes, with three free-agent acquisitions expected to start. With so many players adjusting to new schemes, as well as new teammates, this unit will need some time to gel, which is a big reason the Buccaneers received the No. 21 ranking.

Atlanta is expected to start three seventh-round draft picks and one former undrafted free agent. That explains the unit's ranking -- 27th overall. It shouldn't be a surprise that San Diego's offensive line is ranked at the bottom of the league, as the five starters would be backups for most teams.

Defensive line

PeppersThe combination of talent, versatility and depth on Carolina's defensive line make it the best in the league. All four starters are capable of anchoring at the point of attack and have the quick first step to make plays in the backfield. Perhaps the scariest part of this ranking is that LDE Julius Peppers has yet to reach his potential.
Miami received the No. 2 ranking, but Adewale Ogunleye's contract-problems are reason for concern. If he continues to hold out or the Dolphins decide to trade him for a running back, this ranking would prove too complimentary.

New England is another team who's ranking was helped by its versatility. The ability of the Patriots' third ranked-defensive line to make smooth transitions from a 3-4 front to a 4-3 front helps keep opposing offensive lines off-balance.

McFarlandWarren Sapp's departure through free agency hurt Tampa Bay's ranking somewhat, but not enough to cause it to slip past the sixth ranking. LDT Anthony McFarland appears poised for a big season, and RDE Simeon Rice remains one of the most dangerous pass rushers in the league.
Minnesota was a difficult team to evaluate because of UT Chris Hovan's inconsistency last year and the inexperience of RDE Keneche Udezi. However, Hovan has shed some weight, which should make him quicker, and Udezi has the talent to draw attention away from nickel rusher Lance Johnstone, who had 10 sacks last year. If both Hovan and Udezi live up to expectations, the Vikings' 10th-ranked offensive line could be on of the top-five at the end of the season.

Green Bay's 18th-ranked unit has used both the draft and free agency to find a defensive end to complement RDE Kabeer Gbaja-Biamilla. The problem is they have been unsuccessful in both areas, releasing 2002 free-agent acquisition Joe Johnson and 2001 first-round pick Jamal Reynolds during the off-season.

EllisThe Jets 23rd-ranked defensive line has also been hurt by early-round draft picks not living up to their potential, and it may be the most underachieving unit in the league. Shaun Ellis, Dewayne Roberson, John Abraham and Bryan Thomas are all former first-round picks. Despite the abundance of talent, the Jets' pass rush finished in the bottom half of the league last year, and the team ranked 28th against the run.
Losing DT Robaire Smith and RDE Jevon Kearse through free agency significantly hurt Tennessee's 26th-ranked defensive line. While the Titans added five defensive linemen through this year's draft, it remains to be seen how well the rookies play.

Atlanta's defensive line will benefit from switching from the 3-4 to the 4-3, and it has pass rushers to consistently hurry opposing quarterbacks, but there isn't great size inside. The Falcons' inability to stop the run is a big reason this unit finished with the 26th ranking.

HollidayWhile Kansas City's defensive line will be far more aggressive under new defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham, it still finished near the bottom of the league. RDE Vonnie Holliday, a 2003 free-agent acquisition, and Ryan Sims, 2002's first-round pick, will have to live up to expectations to significantly alter this unit's No. 27 ranking.
Unlike last year, Chicago's defensive line will attack upfield, and the Bears added explosive first-round pick Tommie Harris at defensive tackle. This could be a top-10 defensive line in a few seasons but the change in philosophy and the development of young players will take some time, causing the Bears to finish with the No. 29 ranking.

Seattle is another team with the potential to prove its ranking too critical. Marcus Tubbs, the team's 2004 first-round pick, will improve the interior defensive line, and free-agent acquisition Grant Wistrom should improve the pass rush. The problem is, neither Wistrom nor Tubbs is a lock to play well this year. Wistrom has been bothered by a strained foot tendon, and Tubbs' inexperience is reason for concern. If they both struggle, the 30th ranking this defensive line received should be more than fair.

Arizona did well to acquire free agent Bert Berry and draft third-round pick DT Darnell Dockett in the third round, but Berry will face almost constant double teams, and Dockett will need some time to develop. The Cardinals' defensive line received the No. 32 ranking as a result.

Linebackers

LewisROLB Peter Boulware is coming off a knee injury that will force him to miss the entire preseason, and Baltimore is expected to use him as a nickel pass rusher when he does return to the lineup. This weakens the Ravens' linebacker corps somewhat, but Ray Lewis is arguably the most dominant defender in the league and a big reason Baltimore received the No. 1 ranking. The consistent play of LILB Ed Hartwell and 2003 first-round pick LOLB Terrell Suggs' 12 sacks last year also played a role.
New England's linebackers may be the best-coached in the league. They are rarely caught out of position, despite defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel consistently changing schemes and formations. Moreover, they are very sound tacklers. The fact that the Patriots' outsider linebackers can line up at defensive end on passing downs also helped this unit finish just behind the Ravens in the rankings.

GildonAt first glance, Buffalo's ranking may seem somewhat charitable, but the Bills have an excellent starting three in SLB Jeff Posey, MLB London Fletcher and WLB Takeo Spikes. They played a big role in the Bills' No. 2 overall defense last year. The addition of SLB Jason Gildon also improves the depth of Buffalo's third-ranked linebacker corps.
Dallas' undersized linebackers make up for their lack of bulk with range and explosiveness, earning them the fourth ranking. It doesn't hurt that defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer's schemes allow them to attack upfield rather than stacking blockers up at the point of attack.

Denver will have two new starters on the outside after Ian Gold signed with Tampa Bay as a free agent and John Mobley was released because of a career-threatening neck injury. But Al Wilson returns on the inside, preventing the Broncos from slipping past the No. 15 slot. In addition, 2004 first-round pick D.J. Williams is a playmaker with the speed and athletic ability to make a significant impact if he progresses as quickly as anticipated.

Ranked only No. 18, Atlanta's linebacking unit could surprise some people. It all depends on the ability of Chris Draft to hold up on the inside in the Falcons' new 4-3 scheme. If Draft plays well, the Falcons will keep Keith Brooking on the outside, where his combination of size, athletic ability and quickness is the best fit. However, Brooking is a Pro Bowl caliber interior linebacker as well, and Atlanta may decide to move him back inside if Draft struggles.

The departure of Randall Godfrey though free agency leaves Orlando Huff as the Seahawks' starter on the inside. Huff is a quality backup, but he shouldn't be an every-down player, and Seattle's 19th ranked linebacker corps should continue to have some problems stopping the interior run. In addition, WLB Chad Brown is a productive pass rusher and SLB Anthony Simmons has great range, but both have had some problems staying healthy over the past two seasons.

BarnettNick Barnett gives Green Bay an interior linebacker who can make plays all over the field, but the Packers' 21st ranked linebacker corps doesn't have great size, and its inability to anchor against the run is an issue. Green Bay also lacks ideal depth. Conversely, the Jets' 22nd-ranked linebacker corps has good bulk, but there is a lack of speed on the outside. Teams should continue to have success attacking the perimeter of the Jets' defense as a result. In addition, while 2004 first-round pick Jonathan Vilma appears to have a bright future, he'll need some time to develop.
Signing MLB Jeremiah Trotter could improve Philadelphia's interior run defense, but he'll need to bounce back with a strong year, and his knee problems are reason for concern. Losing Carlos Emmons to free agency hurt this unit significantly and played a big role in the Eagles' receiving the No. 25 ranking.

Minnesota's youth and inexperience affected their ranking. However, the additions of MLB E.J. Henderson, WLB Mike Nattiel, WLB Dontarius Smith and SLB Raonall Smith over the past two seasons have improved the athletic ability here considerably. If these players can live up to their potential, this unit should make more big plays this year and considerably improve on its No. 27 ranking.

Defensive secondary

There was tremendous focus on the cornerback position during the off-season, with a number of big name free agents changing teams. Add to that a blockbuster trade involving the game's premier cornerback, and it becomes hard to underestimate just how important a good secondary is. If it's true that defense wins championships -- and the defensive backfield is the last line of defense -- its no wonder last year's Super Bowl winners boast the best group in the league.

LawWhile the Patriots lack a lot of big names in their secondary, they do a great job of playing within defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel's scheme. SS Rodney Harrison is invaluable to the team, and his versatility allows Crennel to get creative in his play-calling. Harrison has a penchant for playing near the line of scrimmage and is a big hitter. FS Eugene Wilson is a youngster, but he proved capable of handling the full-time load last year and has great physical tools. This group also will benefit from the return of CB Ty Law, one of the top shut-down corners in all of football. Crennel understands the importance of marrying his scheme to the strengths of his players, and based on last year's performance, New England's secondary will set the tone for the rest of the league in '04.

McAlisterHowever, while the Patriots will showcase the most cohesive group in the league, it's the Baltimore Ravens that own the most explosive. CB Chris McAlister and FS Ed Reed combined for 10 interceptions and two touchdowns last season. This group also gets a boost from CB Gary Baxter, who had bounced between FS and CB earlier in his career but has settled into his role on the perimeter. Baxter has great size and is a physical corner who likes to press receivers at the line. His aggressive style, coupled with McAlister's on the other side, allows the Ravens to turn their pass rushing linebackers free and ultimately increases this defense's ability to create turnovers.

VincentThe Bills are hoping the addition of CB Troy Vincent will have a similar effect on their defense after it finished dead last in the league in turnovers in each of the last two seasons. Vincent will replace Antoine Winfield as the team's starter opposite Nate Clements and is a perfect fit for defensive coordinator Jerry Gray's aggressive philosophy. The Bills would like to attack more in '04, and having a big, physical corner like Vincent will allow them to turn up the heat.
On the flip side, while top-shelf teams usually boast top-shelf secondaries, the league's perennial bottom-feeders usually leave something to be desired in their defensive backfields. The Arizona Cardinals are perhaps the best example, at least in recent years. This year, Arizona is hoping CB Duane Starks will rebound from series of injuries and regain his starting form, but at this point that seems like a long shot. Outside of Starks, the Cardinals have a number of nickel and dime defenders but no clear-cut starters. FS Dexter Jackson is overrated, while corners David Macklin and Renaldo Hill need to consistently be protected in coverage. In fact, Arizona's secondary is so weak we expect them to run a steady diet of cover-2 simply out of necessity.

The Falcons made some moves to try and improve the league's worst pass defense from a year ago, but in all reality they failed to bring in any impact players. CBs Jason Webster, Derek Ross and Tod McBride are Nos. 2, 3 and 4 corners, respectively, and will struggle without a true shut-down corner or solid safety tandem to support them. Rookie DeAngelo Hall is loaded with talent and eventually will develop into a top cover corner, but he is still very raw and may need eight to 10 games before he gets his legs under him.

In New Orleans, the problem is age. Ashley Ambrose will be 34 next season, and Fred Thomas will be 31. Add to that 32-year old SS Jay Bellamy and you're looking at the oldest defensive backfield in football. The Saints have an adequate starter in FS Tebucky Jones, but outside of that, this group lacks the ability to turn and run with the NFL's best receivers. Look for defensive coordinator, Rick Venturi to try to protect his aging secondary by keeping things vanilla and running more off schemes.

Special teams

Special teams had a tremendous impact on the 2003 season, from Saints' PK John Carney missing a crucial extra point in a one-point loss to Dante Hall's run at the record books to the final two minutes of the Super Bowl -- an errant kickoff out of bounds by Carolina's John Kasay and the subsequent game-winning field goal by New England's Adam Vinatieri. Special teams matter, and no one takes more pride in that than the Carolina Panthers.

KasayGranted it was Kasay who botched the Panthers' championship aspirations by kicking the ball out of bounds, but through the regular-season, he was money. Kasay finished the year 32 for 38 on FGs and scored a total of 125 points, second in the NFC. PR Steve Smith is extremely dangerous with the ball in his hands and has four career return touchdowns. Rod Smart handles the kickoff return duties and averaged 23.1 yards per in '03 including a 100-yard TD return. However, what sets this group apart is their ability to change the course of a game. The Panthers' special teams blocked five kicks in the first two games last season and were directly responsible for the team's 2-0 start.
The Raiders boast the best kicking game in football and have some explosive options in the return game. P Shane Lechler has a booming leg and can kick the team out of trouble, while Sebastian Janikowski is perhaps the most talented place kicker in the league. PR Phillip Buchanon is dangerous with the ball in his hands and already has three career touchdowns.

VanderjagtIndy PK Mike Vanderjagt's current streak of 41 consecutive FGs is a league record. He'll enter the regular-season trying to add to that already remarkable feat. PT Hunter Smith is young, but he proved capable of handling the full-time load last year and should only improve with more experience. The Colts' return game lacks explosiveness, but WR Brad Pyatt and RB Dominic Rhodes are reliable options.
With two championship-winning kicks to his credit, it would be tough to find a more clutch player in the league than the Patriots' Vinatieri. Although he struggled a bit through the regular-season, he came through when it counted. WR Bethel Johnson surprised as a rookie and gives New England a home-run threat out of the return game. The Patriots also boast one of the best coverage teams in the league. Blue-collar guys like Larry Izzo and Je'Rod Cherry embody New England's team-first mentality.

The 49ers own the worst kicking game in the NFL and have been unable to find a long-term solution for either position. P Andy Lee and PK Todd Peterson enter the pre-season as the favorites to win the jobs, but nothing is guaranteed. DC Jimmy Williams handles most of return duties for the Niners, but he hasn't been nearly as explosive in that role since injuring his knee in 2002.

The Browns failed to bring a single return back for a TD last year as the combination of WRs Dennis Northcutt and Andre Davis left something to be desired back deep. To make matters worse, their kicking game was average at best. PK Phil Dawson finished the year 18 of 21, while P Chris Gardocki posted his worst net average in eight seasons.

Rounding out the "not-so-special" teams is Arizona. The Cardinals went through three place kickers last season without one posting a success rate better than 75 percent. Of the three, only Neil Rackers returns. P Scott Player has a strong leg and gets good hang time, but he has been let down by a coverage team that allows 11.5 yards per return on average.

Scouts, Inc., watches games, breaks down film and studies the NFL from all angles for ESPN Insider.
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Old 08-19-2004, 02:11 PM   #7
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I wrote a quick little app that converted your text into a simple little table. Thanks for posting some insider stuff, DBB!

http://mason.gmu.edu/~cpayne5/rankings
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Old 08-19-2004, 02:52 PM   #8
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Nice one, cpayne! I actually had to de-engineer the page from the source code to remove the tag info/javascript crap and just leave the text... you can't select, copy or paste from the Insider site. But "View Source" is always wide open!
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Old 08-19-2004, 03:01 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by Dave Butz Baby!
Nice one, cpayne! I actually had to de-engineer the page from the source code to remove the tag info/javascript crap and just leave the text... you can't select, copy or paste from the Insider site. But "View Source" is always wide open!
I see. Yeah, some sites try to 'protect' their content, but as long as the source is plain text, it will never be truly protected. Even when they are able to protect the source, there will still be screen shots .
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Old 08-19-2004, 03:15 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by cpayne5
I see. Yeah, some sites try to 'protect' their content, but as long as the source is plain text, it will never be truly protected. Even when they are able to protect the source, there will still be screen shots .
LOL.... I have a screen shot of the original table and was gonna post that first!

Nice to see evil minds think alike...

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Old 08-19-2004, 03:38 PM   #11
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just use a browser other than internet explorer and you can copy and paste it, heh. Y ou guys went through a lot of work for that thing, I just got back otherwise I would have just pasted it up here. I didnt think it was an insider article so I didnt think to copy it this morning, sorry.
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Old 08-19-2004, 04:06 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SKINSnCANES
just use a browser other than internet explorer and you can copy and paste it, heh. Y ou guys went through a lot of work for that thing, I just got back otherwise I would have just pasted it up here. I didnt think it was an insider article so I didnt think to copy it this morning, sorry.
It only took 50 lines of very easy code to produce that html table. Only took like 5 minutes to write.

I don't have an Insider subscription, so I can't see how it looks in its original form.
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Old 08-19-2004, 04:45 PM   #13
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CPayne5....this is the internet police. You are hereby sentenced to reading the Dallas Cowboy website for 3 full weeks without parole.

hehehehe
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Old 08-19-2004, 05:00 PM   #14
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CPayne5....this is the internet police. You are hereby sentenced to reading the Dallas Cowboy website for 3 full weeks without parole.

hehehehe
doh!

I'll opt for the chair.
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Old 08-20-2004, 01:29 PM   #15
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Once again we are good on paper to start the season...

I think they were pretty generous in their rankings of us, position wise...

10th in QB? Not the way they are playing now

6th in WR? Yeah, its a pretty decent core, but I dunno about 6th... maybe 10th...
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