We are just 50 days from the 100th NFL season, as training camp is here, with rookies from the Cardinals, Ravens, and Seahawks—and the entire Broncos squad—reporting for duty. Denver immediately gets things started with a full-team practice tomorrow, and things will quickly get into full swing for all 32 teams. There will be one more set of power rankings before the regular season, but the pre-training-camp NFL power rankings include a mini jump for the Falcons and a drop for the Browns.
1. New England Patriots
Coming off their sixth Super Bowl, there is zero drama with the Patriots leading up to the preseason. Many of the “issues” during last offseason were probably media-created hoopla anyway, but there’s not even a hint of trouble in 2019. It’ll be different without All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski on the team, and his presence could potentially loom over the season, but I don’t expect he’ll return during training camp if he ultimately decides to un-retire—this will give a bunch of players (at tight end and otherwise) and opportunity to step up as they look to earn roles in an offense led by Tom Brady. Second-year running back Sony Michel’s knee (which he had scoped in the offseason) is probably the biggest storyline for the Patriots throughout camp.
2. Los Angeles Rams
A fellow University of Georgia running back will headline training camp for the Rams, as Todd Gurley will be watched as closely as any player in football this summer after the former NFL Offensive Player of the Year was used sparingly while dealing with a knee issue at the end of last season and through the Super Bowl. I think (and hope) the concerns over Gurley’s knee might have been overblown, but hopefully we do get a clear idea of where he stands ahead of Week 1, as his health is huge for the Rams’ outlook in 2019. Also, the Rams will have two new starters on the offensive line as Sean McVay looks to keep his offensive machine humming, while the defense will adjust to adding safety Eric Weddle on the back-end after losing Lamarcus Joyner in free agency.
3. Los Angeles Chargers
The likely Melvin Gordon holdout (barring a new contract) throws a wrench into things, as holdouts rarely work out well for the player, especially at his position—ideally, a deal will get done so that the star running back doesn’t miss much time and can be full-go for the September 8 season opener against the Colts. The Chargers are simply loaded with talent, with multiple All-Pro caliber players on both sides of the ball, and they’ll clearly be among the Super Bowl favorites ahead of the regular season if everyone can stay healthy this summer.
4. Indianapolis Colts
Last year, Andrew Luck’s shoulder was probably the biggest question around the league, and it’s awesome that he got through last season 100%—while getting sacked just 18 times behind a top-notch offensive line anchored by All-Pro rookie left guard Quenton Nelson—and can go into this training camp with no limitations on his throwing arm. The Colts probably don’t have a strong case for most talented team in the NFL, but the roster plays very hard and all the players fit together well. General manager Chris Ballard added pieces in free agency and the draft that again look like perfect fits with Indy’s roster, and they’ll compete for roles in the coming weeks.
5. Kansas City Chiefs
Perhaps media reports are way off, but it sounds like dynamic wide receiver Tyreek Hill will get away with more disturbing off-field behavior by serving a short suspension (if any). I know Chiefs fans are supporting Hill and insist he is getting a bad rap, but no one can deny that threatening your fiancée is not the way for someone to behave. Anyway, Kansas City will potentially get a boost if Hill is available all 16 games, and they could certainly already be in the No. 2 or No. 3 spot in the power rankings right now even without Hill. The Chiefs adjusting to a new defense—including new pieces at safety in Tyrann Mathieu and rookie Juan Thornhill—will be a key during training camp.
6. Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons were able to lock up franchised defensive tackle Grady Jarrett to a long-term deal earlier this week ahead of the deadline, and now the great Julio Jones is probably up next for an extension that makes him the highest-paid receiver in football. If and when that happens, it’ll be all good vibes for Atlanta as they look to bounce back from a disappointing year. The Falcons added two first-round offensive linemen to protect Matty Ice, and hopefully the team has more injury luck throughout the preseason and regular season after the roster was decimated by injuries in 2018. A healthy roster and sky-high upside from a consistent franchise has the Falcons up at No. 6 in the pre-training-camp power rankings.
7. New Orleans Saints
The Saints drop behind the Falcons in part because Atlanta is currently my favorite to win the NFC South, but I am also concerned about New Orleans putting a second consecutive devastating end to their season behind them. All the focus should now be on 2019, and thankfully they have future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees, who has the right mindset to keep moving forward, leading the team into the summer. Look for one of the receivers to step up behind No. 1 target Michael Thomas and deep threat Ted Ginn Jr. throughout camp—along with the addition of Jared Cook, the offense will have a case for the NFL’s best if the secondary receivers play more consistently.
8. Philadelphia Eagles
They decided to stick with Carson Wentz at quarterback over former Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles, but I was still surprised that the Eagles gave Wentz a huge contract extension with a lot of guaranteed money after his previous two seasons were cut short by injury. However, the Eagles do have the pieces to have another strong season and remain in the championship mix at the end, so perhaps Wentz’s price would have gotten out of control with a Super Bowl win. Nonetheless, getting some of the young guys like second-round running back Miles Sanders involved throughout the preseason will be important for the Eagles. Potential immediate red-zone threat J.J. Arcega-Whiteside is also someone to watch, though I believe it would be a bad idea to get rid of Nelson Agholor via a trade even if Arcega-Whiteside is ready for a starting role.
9. Chicago Bears
I believe the Bears have a borderline top-ten offense, and they are probably without question boast the NFL’s best defense entering the preseason, so they could easily be closer to the top five in the power rankings. Mitchell Trubisky has plenty of physical tools and should only get better with experience, and continued development with another full training camp in command of Matt Nagy’s offense will be huge. Additionally, getting two new running backs—Mike Davis and third-round rookie David Montgomery—acclimated to the offense, along with Allen Robinson and company staying healthy at receiver, will be important for team chemistry on offense.
10. Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys move up a couple of spots from my post-draft power rankings, as there seems to be a lot of optimism about their offense under new offensive coordinator and former quarterback Kellen Moore. Dak Prescott’s play with Amari Cooper in the lineup last season (and Cooper’s play itself) showed that he can operate a passing attack at a high level if necessary, and Dallas should be one of the most multiple offenses in football in 2019. Defensively, the Cowboys have the potential to be a shutdown unit, and the summer should set the tone for a group that’ll play as hard as anyone.
11. Pittsburgh Steelers
The top 11 or 12 in the power rankings mostly consists of steady teams that should be in playoff contention barring injuries, and the Steelers are right in that mix despite parting ways with wide receiver Antonio Brown. Cornerback is probably the biggest question mark for Pittsburgh entering training camp—if that position competes well in the preseason and it translates to the real games, the defense has top-three potential. Rookie Michigan State cornerback Justin Layne (a converted wide receiver) emerging in Year 1 would be huge for the Steelers.
12. Seattle Seahawks
July and August is probably the time the Seahawks become the Seahawks, as Pete Carroll and his program thrives on competition as much as any organization in sports—everyone battling for positions during camp leads to laser-focused play when it matters in the games. This new group on defense is going to draw comparisons to the previous core in Seattle, but the group of linebackers—Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright, and Mychal Kendricks—might be the best in the NFL. On offense, we’ll keep an eye on the impact second-round rookie receiver D.K. Metcalf is expected to have, as he was a little raw coming out of Ole Miss but has freakish natural talent and size.
13. Tennessee Titans
The Titans have a second-round Ole Miss rookie receiver of their own to keep an eye on in A.J. Brown, who possesses a pro-ready game that could be huge in a revamped receiving corps that also added Adam Humphries and gets Delanie Walker back from a leg injury suffered in Week 1 of last season. Entering a contract year, quarterback Marcus Mariota added weight in an effort to finally stay healthy for all 16 games—I just hope he stays healthy all summer and into the season, as he appears to be in one of the better situations of his career despite going on his fourth offensive coordinator (which is the opposite of ideal for a young quarterback). Head coach Mike Vrabel will now have guys with a year of experience in his defense entering his second season leading Tennessee.
14. San Francisco 49ers
The Niners jump seven spots in the pre-training-camp power rankings, as they really do have a lot of talent on both sides of the ball for the coaching staff to work with. General manager John Lynch, who was given patience to build things, has done an excellent job of acquiring talent on what was clearly the roster in the worst shape of any team three or four years ago. Now it’s time for results, and San Francisco also has the quarterback in Jimmy Garoppolo—healthy entering camp after his early-season ACL tear in 2018—to deliver, but it starts in camp.
15. Houston Texans
Houston’s offensive line was its biggest weak spot in 2018, so first-round rookie Tytus Howard and second-round rookie Max Scharping should have opportunities to win roles this summer. Protecting Deshaun Watson is the No. 1 priority for the Texans, and we’ll see if they didn’t do enough to address the trenches on offense during the offseason, as their upside is probably limited if that unit doesn’t take a noticeable step up. Everyone will be watching franchise-tagged player Jadeveon Clowney’s status as he holds out and does things on his own after not getting a long-term deal with the Texans before the July 15 deadline, but—especially as he looks to earn a monstrous contract next offseason—I expect he’ll be in shape whenever he does report.
16. Jacksonville Jaguars
My optimism about Nick Foles is the driving force behind the Jaguars’ ranking in the top half of the power rankings, but Jacksonville probably has the least-proven supporting cast in the league, especially with Marqise Lee working his way back from last summer’s bad knee injury. However, Foles is the type of quarterback that’ll elevate the play of his teammates around him, and there are several options that can step up on the outside for the Jags to complement what should be a powerful running game if Leonard Fournette comes into camp fully committed entering his third NFL season. If linebacker Telvin Smith never shows up, that’d be a tough blow to the Jaguars; the defense should be more consistent this season than they were last year, though, and the addition of defensive end Josh Allen with the No. 7 pick in the draft will help.
17. Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings return much of the same ultra-talented roster from last season and should again have one of the league’s top defenses in 2019, which should keep them competitive in the NFC North and the NFC overall. They are down at No. 17 because, while statistically he again performed well, quarterback Kirk Cousins wasn’t able to help the team take the next step and still might not be able to this season. The new offense will focus on running the ball with Dalvin Cook and playing great defense on the other side, but Cook must stay healthy after dealing with injury issues his first two seasons.
18. Oakland Raiders
We’ll get an inside training-camp look at the Raiders during HBO’s Hard Knocks, with plenty of storylines to watch for Jon Gruden’s squad. This summer might be more important for Oakland than any other team after adding so many new, key pieces in free agency (All-Pro receiver Antonio Brown, tackle Trent Brown, defensive back Lamarcus Joyner, wide receiver Tyrell Williams, and more) and the draft (three first-round picks: defensive end Clelin Ferrell, running back Josh Jacobs, and safety Johnathan Abram) that must come together.
19. Buffalo Bills
I believe the Bills will have a top-three defense in 2019 (assuming there aren’t injuries throughout the summer) and that second-year quarterback Josh Allen will take a step forward as a passer with more pieces around him, so this ranking doesn’t indicate the upside Buffalo has. Getting the additions on offense to transition smoothly into offensive coordinator Brian Daboll’s scheme—as it gets set to mix up the tempo more to keep defenses off-guard—will be big for the Bills this summer.
20. Green Bay Packers
The several teams in this range could all be in the top-15 of the power rankings, but new head coach Matt LaFleur’s offense has already been publicly questioned by quarterback Aaron Rodgers. It wasn’t harsh criticism or anything like that from the long-time Green Bay starter, and maybe Rodgers just wanted to be honest—but that probably would’ve been better to keep in-house. A promising group on defense gets the benefit of staying in Mike Pettine’s defense for a second season despite the change in head coach.
21. Cleveland Browns
I had the Browns up at No. 13 in the post-draft power rankings, and they could be up in that area heading into training camp. Cleveland is very talented, but they figure to be a volatile group that must deal with increased expectations and scrutiny throughout the next several weeks leading up to Week 1. Especially when considering the presence of Kareem Hunt (suspended eight games), it helps having a steady foundational runner like Nick Chubb in the backfield—the Browns won’t exactly be hurting at the position when Hunt is forced to leave after the preseason. However, it will be important for Hunt to get reps in the offense so he can come back and contribute when he returns mid-season.
22. Baltimore Ravens
Again, these rankings could go a lot different (and it’ll help to evaluate things when we first see teams on the field when it counts early in the regular season), but the Ravens are another team that could be at least several spots higher in the power rankings. Lamar Jackson probably didn’t show his best ability as a passer during his rookie season, as he might have been pressing to prove people wrong about his passing—but this new Ravens offense is a bit of a mystery entering training camp. The unit will be one of the groups I’ll be watching most closely during preseason action, though new offensive coordinator Greg Roman might not unleash the offense fully until it counts.
23. Carolina Panthers
Part of me believes the Panthers should be higher than No. 23 in the power rankings. Cam Newton’s shoulder appears to be fully healthy after he debuted a quicker throwing motion during offseason training, and he and the team are entering their second year in Norv Turner’s offense. And a defense led by head coach Ron Rivera and All-Pro linebacker Luke Kuechly can make serious noise in the NFC. However, it’s hard to get last season’s seven-game losing streak out of my head (Amazon’s All or Nothing will give an inside look at what went wrong). This summer will be huge for Carolina getting back on track and building positive vibes heading into the 2019 season.
24. Denver Broncos
Things got started during offseason training, but first-year head coach Vic Fangio will really have a chance to set the tone with his team during their first training camp, which is starting earlier than any other team. It sounds like breakout 2018 undrafted running back Phillip Linday’s wrist is in good shape heading into camp, and the backfield split will be interesting with the more-bruising Royce Freeman also in the mix for a team that’s going to want to be physical. Defensively, Fangio should get his team to play more consistently after a disappointing couple of seasons.
25. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The play of Tampa Bay’s young cornerbacks will be important for the Bucs throughout training camp, and they’ll get tested plenty against Bruce Arians’ offense. Also, the team must have guys step up and find a way to get an outside pass rush to compliment recent signing Ndamukong Suh and second-year first-rounder Vita Vea on the interior. If Melvin Gordon is actually traded by the Chargers, the Buccaneers should be the team to watch, as Arians knows how to use an all-around running back like Gordon.
26. Washington Redskins
I would be more optimistic about the Redskins if there wasn’t a good chance they’ll be starting a rookie quarterback this season, as it sounds like first-round pick Dwayne Haskins is a realistic shot at being under-center in Week 1. But Jay Gruden’s squad has a much better roster on paper than people think, especially if Josh Norman can get back to his level of play from a couple of seasons ago while others step up around him. Talented second-year running back Derrius Guice is someone to keep an eye on, as he’s had a complicated return from last preseason’s knee injury.
27. Detroit Lions
I’m interested to see what Detroit’s offense looks like under new offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, including the backfield split with stud second-year runner Kerryon Johnson in the mix. Also, if eighth overall pick T.J. Hockenson is able to immediately contribute in a big way at tight end, the Lions could surprise people on offense with Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones, and Danny Amendola at receiver. Detroit lost safety Glover Quin to retirement (he saved 70% of his income during his career, which should be a lesson to athletes that blow their money on things and go broke because of it), but the unit has definite top-five upside heading into Matt Patricia’s second year at the helm.
28. New York Jets
It’s been a while since All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell played football, so getting back into the swing of things during the preseason will be very important after he took all of last year off because he didn’t want to play on the franchise tag. Bell should make things easier on quarterback Sam Darnold heading into his second season, but the Jets will be without promising second-year tight end Chris Herndon for four games because of a suspension. Defensively, coordinator Gregg Williams will undoubtedly get his guys to play hard, but getting the cornerbacks—including the high-priced Trumaine Johnson—to play well is critical for the unit.
29. New York Giants
There’s no Odell Beckham Jr. with the Giants any more, which makes things less exciting and dramatic for the team. However, things could get interesting if Eli Manning is pushed for the starting quarterback role by first-round rookie Daniel Jones. I’ll also be watching two other rookies in defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence and cornerback Deandre Baker, both of whom easily could’ve been top-ten picks but slipped to the middle and end of the first round. The Giants are currently ranked lowest of the teams I wouldn’t be surprised by reaching ten wins, but things could change before the start of the regular season.
30. Cincinnati Bengals
I thought the Bengals might have had a chance to surprise people and compete for the AFC North in 2019 (and they still might), but losing rookie first-round offensive tackle Jonah Williams for the season will have ripple effects on the entire offensive line. The position will likely be a weakness again this season, which will make it difficult for the team to make a playoff push. However, maybe guys will step up and the unit up front will come together nicely in new head coach Zac Taylor’s offense in the coming weeks. On defense, the upside of Cincinnati might be limited, but I think third-round linebacker Germaine Pratt might have been a major steal that could deliver a spark for a group that needs it.
31. Arizona Cardinals
He’s probably not going to reveal a legit offensive gameplan during exhibitions, but Kliff Kingsbury’s offense might be the most intriguing thing to watch this preseason—including how first overall pick Kyler Murray reacts to playing around and against bigger NFL talent than he did at Oklahoma. Arizona’s offseason moves indicate they expect to compete for the postseason in 2019, and we’ll see how the defense comes together this summer after adding pieces like Terrell Suggs and Jordan Hicks. Remember, star cornerback Patrick Peterson is suspended for the first six games of the season for violating the leagues’ PED policy, so other players at his position stepping up during camp will be key.
32. Miami Dolphins
Eventually, Josh Rosen is almost certainly going to get playing time after the Dolphins sent a second-round pick to the Cardinals for him, but expect a true quarterback competition between the second-year UCLA product and veteran journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick. New head coach Brian Flores is certainly going to push competition across the board during his first training camp leading the franchise, which could lead to better-than-expected play when the regular season begins. This summer will be a building block for the future in Miami.