Welcome back to my end-of-season power rankings. Since these posts are a bit, ahem, thicker than my standard power rankings posts, I’ve spread them out into quarter-sized increments.
If you’re looking for picks 32-25, click here.
Otherwise, let’s dive into the muddled middle of the NFL:
24. Atlanta Falcons
Atlanta, similar to Houston, has been a sort of not-rebuild rebuild the past few seasons. The difference between Houston and Atlanta, however, is that Atlanta is getting plenty of production out of its rookies and short-term veterans. Rookie WR Drake London was an excellent complement to TE Kyle Pitts, giving Atlanta major offensive pieces to build around before the 2023 draft even begins. When passing inevitably became difficult with Marcus Mariota under center, rushing the football with rookies Tyler Allgeier and Caleb Huntley was an immediate success. But, with a defense that only earned 20 sacks the entire season and ranked 30th in defensive DVOA, many of these ball-control games were lost at the very end. Rookie QB Desmond Ridder didn’t take the job from Mariota until Week 15, and he didn’t show much promise (although he was rather impressive in the preseason).
Entering another offseason of boundless speculation and potential, Arthur Smith will have over $60 million in cap space and nine picks in the 2023 NFL Draft - five of which are in the first four rounds. Atlanta’s offense jumped in production in 2022, coming entirely from a dramatically improved rushing attack and run-blocking line. Smith and GM Terry Fontenot will have all the capital they need to keep players like OT Kaleb McGary, OG Elijah Wilkinson, and LB Rashaan Evans. McGary would be more than worth the money, but Atlanta might be more willing to sign another free agent OG or LB than bring back Wilkinson and Evans. This is a defense in dire need of pass rush and better defensive tackles, so money could be spent to improve those premium positions. The draft, like last year, will be Atlanta’s chance to send this offense to another level. Whether or not that will be with Desmond Ridder under center is yet to be seen.
Key Offseason Targets: EDGE, WR, CB, DT
Tom Brady’s final season in the NFL wasn’t exactly as dramatic as we might’ve expected from such a quarterback, but it was still pretty impressive. In his final year, at age 45, Tom Brady had 490 completions on 733 attempts, both career highs. At age 45, Tom Brady was the entire offense for the 2022 Buccaneers, and even with career highs, it was just barely enough to squeeze into the playoffs at 8-9. This is a massive drop off from the 13-4 record a year ago, in which the Buccaneers scored 198 more points. The culprit of this drop off is primarily the rushing attack, which ended the season dead last in yards and touchdowns. Mediocre run-blocking and injuries to the offensive line didn’t help, either, and both contributed to a less effective year from Brady. The defense had maintained its strength in tackling, but loosened up in the backfield and in pass-rush, giving up more touchdowns and a higher QB rating than almost any other team in the league. Despite this, both sides of the ball had tightened up on the mistakes in the last month of the season, securing the NFC South title and a playoff berth by going 8-9. But, this late-season high wasn’t to last, and in Tom Brady’s last game as an NFL quarterback, both he and his defense struggled mightily against a loaded Cowboys roster.
So, with the GOAT retired, the oldest team in the NFL on the roster, and several of them entering free agency just as new offensive coordinator Dave Canales gets hired, what’s next? Sure sounds like a rebuild to me! But, with only three picks in the first three rounds, and then six picks from rounds 5-7, they’ll need to rely heavily on the later round picks to develop early, if they will at all. With LB Lavonte David, CB Jamel Dean, and S Mike Edwards all entering free agency, Tampa Bay won’t be able to keep them all. But, since WR Chris Godwin and Mike Evans still under contract, that side of the ball should be at least stable in the short-term. With a major transitionary year ahead of them, the Buccaneers will likely spend much of this offseason rebuilding the trenches and the defensive backfield.
Key Offseason Targets: QB, OT, EDGE, OG
22. Tennessee Titans
Tennessee fans got to see it all come crashing down in 2022. Practically every position needs addressing in 2023, and you wonder if Tennessee will just hit the full reset button and trade away all of their best players in anticipation of a tanking. The Titans’ offensive line was absolutely terrible in 2022 following OT Taylor Lewan’s season-ending injury in Week 2, only having a pass-blocking PFF grade over 70 once afterwards. Although, despite this, they were beating the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field in mid-November. Despite the line collapsing, A.J. Brown being traded in the offseason, and Ryan Tannehill playing his most limited football since becoming a Titan, they were still 7-3 entering the winter. This was largely because of Derrick Henry practically carrying the team, a welcome sign for fans worried about his dip in production after an injury-marred 2021. Tennessee was also getting a lot of production out of their run defense, led by LB David Long and S Joshua Kalu’s playmaking abilities. But, after the 7-3 start was a 4-game buzzsaw of playoff teams who FEASTED on Tennessee’s run-heavy offense and leaky pass-defense. Tannehill was shut down for the season after their loss to the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 15, leaving a QB room of Malik Willis and Josh Dobbs to try and revive their playoff hopes before they were gone for good. After three losses and the most disappointing debut of a rookie QB ever, the season was over.
Entering the offseason, the Titans are still in search of a new GM and offensive coordinator. Additionally, the Titans enter this offseason with the quarterback position in flux. Malik Willis was an extremely disappointing quarterback (albeit one with very little to work with), and Tannehill will be over 35 years old by the time the 2023 season begins. LB Dylan Cole, LB David Long, S Joshua Kalu, TE Austin Hooper, and OG Nate Davis are all set to enter free agency. Since they’re already projected to be a bit over the cap in 2023, I don’t expect them to spend in free agency beyond attempting to keep Long, Davis, and potentially Kalu. But, with OT Taylor Lewan and LB Zach Cunningham likely to be cut in order to conserve cap space, more spending could be had. Either way, the 2023 NFL Draft beckons to a Tennessee team itching for a rebuild.
Key Offseason Targets: OT, WR, OG, EDGE
The New Orleans Saints seemed to hover around the crest of playoff contention like a storm looming in the horizon. Jameis Winston’s comeback season fizzled out before it ever really got started, opening up the opportunity for one of the more unlikely events of the season, the Andy Dalton renaissance. Andy Dalton, despite a middling rushing attack and a poor offensive line, ended with an 82.1 PFF grade, good for 8th in the NFL. Their pass defense, led by LBs Demario Davis, Pete Werner, and Kaden Elliss, finished top 10 in the NFL. Their run defense, however, took a major step back in 2022, giving up 100+ yards/game every other week until Week 13. What that means is New Orleans got to see Andy Dalton throwing the ball like it’s 2015 again, mainly towards rookie WR Chris Olave, a finalist for the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award. But, what this also means is a 4-9 record by the bye week.
But, of course, New Orleans finished the year going 3-1 behind a stronger rushing attack and offensive line. Entering the offseason, HC Dennis Allen and GM Mickey Loomis will look to push the salary cap to its absolute limits once again and somehow attempt to build a playoff team while being over $40 million over the cap. New Orleans has several starting players both on offense and defense entering free agency this year, and because of the bill finally catching up to them, Allen and Loomis will have to get used to letting these players go. DE Marcus Davenport, QB Andy Dalton, LB Kaden Ellis, DT Davis Onyemata, CB Bradley Roby, and DT Shy Tuttle are all set to become free agents, and I don’t see many of them getting a better deal in New Orleans than they would elsewhere. Andy Dalton could end up being a priority for the Saints because of his performance in 2022 and their recent failure to get Derek Carr. Besides that, it’ll be a very important year in the draft, in which the Saints hold a pick in each of the first five rounds.
Key Offseason Targets: OG, CB, QB, WR
20. Los Angeles Rams
The defending Super Bowl champions had one of the worst hangovers in recent history, going 5-12 and missing the playoffs entirely. Starting QB Matthew Stafford missed half the season with a lingering elbow injury, but he wasn’t exactly lighting it up when he was on the field. The Rams’ injuries on the offensive line and determination to stick to pass-heavy schemes - even after Stafford’s injury - made scoring extremely difficult. The defense, led by DT Aaron Donald and LB Bobby Wagner, maintained a pretty strong run-defense, but their PFF grades for pass rush and coverage ranked 25th and 21st, respectively. Simply put, you couldn’t run the ball on them very much, but if you have a half-decent passing attack and could score over 24 points, you were in good shape to beat the Rams.
It doesn’t get easier for the Rams, either, as their mortgaging of the future to buy championships now has put them in a hole that won’t be easy to dig out of. Fortunately for them, Stafford and WR Cooper Kupp will be returning in 2024 to an offensive line that picked up the slack in the final 4 games of the season. They likely won’t be returning to a lot of rookies, though, seeing as Los Angeles only has 2 picks in the first 4 rounds. Although they expect to have multiple 5th and 6th round picks, leaving the opportunity for them to strike gold, as they have in the past (Scott, Skowronek, Gaines, Fuller). With so many DBs entering free agency this year, such as Troy Hill, Grant Haley, Taylor Rapp, and Nick Scott, they might need to hit on some of those later-round picks.
Key Offseason Targets: OT, EDGE, CB, LB
Carolina had one of the most unpredictable seasons this year, dramatically improving down the stretch with interim head coach Steve Wilks (now the 49ers’ defensive coordinator) and a deadly rushing attack led by RBs Chuba Hubbard and D’Onta Foreman. The Baker Mayfield experience went up in flames early, partially due to Baker and partially due to his offensive line. But, as Carolina transitioned to P.J. Walker and Sam Darnold, their line improved dramatically. Rookie left tackle Ikem Eckwonu has been a revelation on offense, leading a second-half surge into playoff contention rooted in a rushing attack. On defense, DE Brian Burns, LB Frankie Luvu, CB Jaycee Horn, and S Xavier Woods led a defense that appears poised to become elite in 2022.
To add to the fortunes for new HC Frank Reich, most of Carolina’s best players are under contract. Unfortunately for Frank Reich, his job will be finding a new starting QB and potentially a new starting RB if Foreman finds a better offer elsewhere in free agency. Losing OT Cameron Erving and DE Matthew Ioannidis (along with a potential cap casualty in LB Shaq Thompson) could give Reich some early, crucial work along the front line of both sides of the ball, but a defense this loaded will help in his first year.
Key Offseason Targets: QB, G, LB, TE
The Patriots spent much of the season riding the coattails of a great defense, a notable step backwards after QB Mac Jones’ incredible rookie season. Players like Kyle Dugger, Devin McCourtey, and Jonathan Jones made up a defensive backfield fueled by turnovers, while DE Josh Uche and LB Ja’Whaun Bentley highlighted a new defensive edge. Mac Jones and the offense infamously attempted to transition to a “streamlined” offense in 2022, incorporating elements of Sean McVay’s offense while cutting down on their own plays. This transition, led by Matt Patricia and Joe Judge, was a complete disaster, and led to heavy regression from Mac Jones and and offensive line at large in 2022.
New England has already begun the work of rebuilding their offense by hiring Bill O’Brien to be their offensive coordinator (good luck with him). But, to make things even harder, there’s a bevy of players from both sides of the ball set to enter free agency: WR Nelson Agholor and Jakobi Meyers, OT Marcus Cannon and Isaiah Wynn, RB Damien Harris, S Devin McCourty and Jabrill Peppers, and CB Jonathan Jones. The Patriots enter this offseason with plenty of cap room, and they’re going to need it if they plan on bringing some of those defenders back.
Key Offseason Targets: WR, CB, OT, G
17. New York Jets
The Jets didn’t get all that they wished for in 2022, but they sure got a lot of it. A resurgent defense led by an all-star rookie cornerback? Check. Better pass-blocking and run-blocking? Check. Production out of newly signed skill-position players? Check. This year, the Jets drafted so well that they took both the Offensive Rookie of The Year award (Garrett Wilson) and Defensive Rookie of the Year award (Sauce Gardner). Even with QB Zach Wilson failing to make that coveted sophomore leap, the Jets were still deadly on offense thanks to WR Garrett Wilson and rookie RB Breece Hall before his injury. And when Zach Wilson was benched in favor of career-backup Mike White, the Jets actually improved as a passing offense. This all culminated in a 7-4 record entering December, with the Jets riding the defensive performances of CB Sauce Gardner, CB D. J. Reed, and DT Quinnen Williams. However, it was doomed to go downhill from here.
After Breece Hall and G Alijah Vera-Tucker’s season-ending injuries, New York’s offense became much more reliant on Zach Wilson/Mike White’s lackluster passing ability. Now, without there deadly rushing attack, New York was entering the pivotal final month of the season with one side of the ball disintegrating. A 6-game losing streak later, and all the playoff hopes and dreams of Jets faithful quickly washed away in a sea of disappointment targeted at Zach Wilson. At least, in this failure, they can be certain he’s not the guy. Entering one of the biggest offseasons in recent Jets history, HC Robert Saleh and GM Joe Douglas will look to answer the quarterback question once and for all, while also spending to keep players like C Connor Mcgovern, LB Quincy Williams, and DT Sheldon Rankins around.
Key Offseason Targets: QB, G, S, EDGE
Another eight teams down! The Jets, Patriots, and Panthers in particular have several elements of both their offense and defense that are rock solid. Now, they hang on the bubble of NFL Playoff teams, maybe just a player or coach away from punching their ticket.
Next, we’ll go through picks 16-9, where the muddled middle slowly hardens into a string of teams on the precipice of greatness. If your team is here, you’re a lucky break away from a playoff run. See you, then!