Want to know what your team needs in free agency? Want to see if your team can be considered a legitimate contender as of this moment, before the free-agency period begins?
I offer you my four-pronged approach to gauging the strength of NFL teams.
We did this a few years back, and with free agency likely playing out over the next few weeks and the opening of camps coming soon thereafter, it feels like a good time to do it again.
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The four-pronged approach is this:
• Rate the quarterback.
• Rate the guys who knock the quarterback down.
• Rate the players who knock down the quarterback's passes.
• Rate the men who keep the quarterback upright.
That means the important positions are quarterback, defensive end or outside linebacker as a pass rusher, cornerback and left tackle.
Strong up the middle? That's your daddy's football. The game is a perimeter game now, which is why my four-pronged approach works in building a team -- and also applies to assessing the fortunes of a team.
I rated the players at each of the four positions from 1-32, based on who is expected to be the starter as of right now. There are some free agents included, players who their teams will try to keep. A player like Nnamdi Asomugha, the top player on the free-agent market, isn't rated among the corners because he isn't on a team yet, and the Oakland Raiders have no plans to bring him back.
Each team is represented by just one player at each position, so the Packers -- with two star corners -- only get one rated. The Steelers, with two great outside rushers, only get one rated.
The top player at each position gets 32 points, all the way down to the bottom player getting one, with one important catch: the quarterback rating is doubled, since that position might be 75 percent of the game the way it is played.
|All-Pro Nnamdi Asomugha, a free agent unlikely to return to Oakland, does not figure into these ratings. (Getty Images)|
The four positions are then added up for an overall cumulative score.
The top team in 2011 based on these rankings is the Green Bay Packers, who also happen to be the defending Super Bowl champions. A scan of the top of the list shows some other teams widely expected to be good.
One of the surprises of these rankings is seeing the Denver Broncos as the sixth-best team. That's because they have elite players at corner (Champ Bailey), left tackle (Ryan Clady) and pass rusher (Elvis Dumvervil). Imagine if they had a real quarterback?
Another surprise to some might be the Detroit Lions sitting at No. 26. Detroit is generally considered a team on the rise, but lacks a premier player at left tackle and is weak at corner. The Lions also are average at pass rusher and Matthew Stafford isn't as highly ranked because he has been hurt. I offer this data to those of you on the Lions-to-the-playoffs bandwagon.
Now if they sign a corner in free agency, it would help. The same goes for the Houston Texans. They have good ratings, except at corner. What if they signed Asomugha? He would be the top-ranked corner and would move them to second in the overall rankings.
I did include Carson Palmer with Cincinnati and Donovan McNabb with Washington. I still think there is a chance they both play for those teams again -- no matter what the rhetoric has been.
I caution that this isn't an exercise in predicting a Super Bowl winner. That will come with time. What this should do is offer a hint at what your team needs to do to become elite, or what they possess to have already entered that category.