By Jared Trexler
Unlike my colleague, I think ESPN's Ultimate Depth Chart provided interesting pigskin fodder in the beginning of July. ESPN, surprisingly, didn't overblow the Depth Chart for more than it was -- a best-chance prognostication at the NFL with training camp still several weeks away.
Below, I take a stab at ranking the skill positions for the upcoming NFL season. I list the Top 10 in each category and then (if they fall outside the Top 10) where the E-A-G-L-E-S stand to the rest of the field.
Finally, I take an early gander at my crystal ball and crown a champion IN JULY. I, however, reserve the right to change my picks once training camps get into full swing, injuries become an issue and The Phanatic makes its official 2006-07 NFL Predictions later in the summer.
NFL Signal-Callers (rankings based on the following traits: arm strength, field awareness, pocket presence, mobility in and out of the pocket, winning mentality, performance with game on the line)
1. Tom Brady, New England: I hate to say it, but Brady is a proven winner with an above average NFL arm, superb field awareness and above average mobility in the pocket. There is no other quarterback in the league I would rather have leading my team with the game on the line.
2. Peyton Manning, Indianapolis: The most physically gifted PASSER in the NFL. Equipped with a quick release, above average arm strength and the NFL's most accurate right arm, Manning will never move ahead of Brady until he proves he can win in the playoffs.
3. Carson Palmer, Cincinnati: This ranking comes with an asterisk. If healthy, Palmer is a quarterback with super-stardom in his near future. He is the complete package -- mixing a cannon arm with a strong QB intellect. Coming back from a torn ACL is never a sure thing, but all accounts from Bengals camp have Palmer improving daily. If he is 100%, Palmer belongs in this spot.
4. Donovan McNabb, Philadelphia: McNabb is used to playing with a no-name receiving corps, so the loss of Terrell Owens is actually a positive. Last year was a major headache on and off the field for McNabb, yet no one can argue with the QB's enormous talent. He throws on the run better than anybody and should get back to using his legs more often now that he is fully healthy.
5. Matt Hasselbeck, Seattle
6. Drew Brees, New Orleans
7. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh
8. Jake Delhomme, Carolina
9. Daunte Culpepper, Miami
10. Trent Green, Kansas City
Noticeable Emission: Michael Vick, Atlanta: The West Coast offense doesn't suit Vick's game, and though every year we hear the quarterback has been working to improve his accuracy, the results on the field never back up the extra "work." Vick is the best athlete at the position, but ranks somewhere below the middle of the pack when talking about the drop-back ability necessary at some point for success in this league.
Running Backs (rankings based on the following traits: running between and outside the tackles, pass blocking, ability to find the end zone, overall running style, pass-catching skills).
1. Larry Johnson, Kansas City: Out of the big three, Johnson runs behind the best offense line and Kansas City just feeds this workhouse the ball. Johnson will find the end zone more than any back in football and has above average hands to haul in passes out of the backfield. His pass blocking needs work, but one must remember the kid is entering just his first full season as a starter.
2. LaDanian Tomlinson, San Diego: The best all-purpose running back in football. Tomlinson gets to the corner faster than Johnson, but is nowhere near LJ's equal in-between the tackles. Tomlinson has great hands out of the backfield and will be called on to carry the load as Philip Rivers adjusts to the quarterback position.
3. Shaun Alexander, Seattle: Alexander is a great back, but isn't the receiver nor the blocker that Johnson and Tomlinson are. The Seattle star also has more mileage on his body, making him more injury prone during the upcoming season.
4. Edge James, Arizona: Imagine an offense featuring Boldin, Fitzgerald, Johnson, Leinart and James in the coming years....Scary. James will be sorely missed in Indy, as he fits into the same mold as Tomlinson. LT is slightly faster and a better receiver, and James isn't as good in-between the tackles as Johnson or Alexander.
5. Tiki Barber, NY Giants: Barber is coming off a career season when he showed the multi-purpose skills that make him an elite back in this league. He rectified a fumbling problem to an extent last season, but asking him to step it up another notch may be asking too much at this point in his career.
6. Clinton Portis, Washington
7. Rudi Johnson, Cincinnati
8. Willis McGahee, Buffalo
9. Caddy Williams, Tampa Bay
10. LaMont Jordan, Oakland
18. Brian Westbrook, Philadelphia
Wide Receivers (rankings based on the following traits: route running, pass-catching, blocking ability, intangibles)
1. Chad Johnson, Cincinnati
2. Hines Ward, Pittsburgh
3. Steve Smith, Carolina
4. Terrell Owens, Dallas
5. Randy Moss, Oakland
6. Marvin Harrison, Indianapolis
7. Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona
8. Torry Holt, St. Louis
9. Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis
10. Chris Chambers, Miami
45. Reggie Brown, Philadelphia
THE 2007 NFL PLAYOFFS
East champion: Washington Redskins
Central champion: Chicago Bears
South champion: Carolina Panthers
West champion: Seattle Seahawks
Wild Cards: Dallas Cowboys and Arizona Cardinals
#5 Dallas over #4 Washington
# 3 Chicago over #6 Arizona
#1 Seattle over #5 Dallas
#2 Carolina over #3 Chicago
Carolina over Seattle
East champion: New England Patriots
Central champion: Pittsburgh Steelers
South champion: Indianapolis Colts
West champion: Denver Broncos
Wild cards: Miami Dolphins and Cincinnati Bengals
#5 Cincinnati over #4 Denver
#6 Miami over #3 Indianapolis
#2 Pittsburgh over #5 Cincinnati
#6 Miami over #1 New England
#2 Pittsburgh over #6 Miami
Carolina defeats Pittsburgh in the Steelers quest for back-to-back Super Bowl titles.
Again, I have the right to change my picks when The Phanatic unveils its NFL Preview sometime in August. Until then, enjoy training camps.
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Copyright 2006 The Phanatic