The new NFL league year is off to a blazing start. New England, Baltimore and Jacksonville have been among the most active AFC teams. Several impact free agents have yet to decide where they will suit up in 2017, including Donta’ Hightower, Adrian Peterson, Dontari Poe, Johnathan Hankins and Morris Claiborne.
Nevertheless, most of the players that move the needle have already inked new contracts. We already have a decent picture of how AFC rosters will stack up heading into the draft in April. Here are the AFC offseason power rankings after the initial free agency frenzy:
The masters of roster management have made several splashes in free agency, most notably the acquisitions of cover corner Stephon Gillmore and 1,100-yard receiver Brandin Cooks. They replaced Marcellus Bennett with capable tight end Dwayne Allen and upgrade at defensive end with Kony Ealy and Lawrence Guy. The Patriots retained Duron Harmon, Alan Branch and star linebacker Donte’ Hightower is expected to be brought back. The Patriots appear to be the clear-cut favorites next season.
Last year’s AFC runner-up has been relatively quiet early in free agency. Their biggest moves have been retaining top running back Le’Veon Bell and extending explosive receiver Antonio Brown. The loss of stalwart linebacker Lawrence Timmons hurts, but Pittsburgh’s defense is still on the upswing with several promising young players.
The Chiefs found a way to keep All-Pro safety Eric Berry without gutting their roster. They also resigned guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and backup safety Daniel Sorenson. With a diverse offense and strong pass defense, they should maintain their position as a legitimate contender.
2016’s breakout team has replaced Menelik Watson with Marshall Newhouse on the offensive line and are poised to upgrade at running back. Led by an outstanding offensive line, pair of top level receivers and potent pass rush, Oakland is well equipped to continue winning shootouts.
Focused on bolstering their offensive line with the signings of Ronald Leary and Menelik Watson. Also replaced Sly Williams with Domata Peko at nose tackle. Still field the best group of pass defense personnel in the NFL even without Demarcus Ware. Could move up the list if they acquire quarterback Tony Romo.
Keeping Brandon Williams and upgrading at safety with Tony Jefferson should keep the run defense stout for years to come. Danny Woodhead is a fine replacement for Kyle Juszczyk, but the departure of Rick Wagner leaves a glaring hole on the offensive line. Lawrence Guy and Elvis Dumervil were losses on the defensive front, while the retirements of Steve Smith Sr. and Zach Orr have created even more pressing needs. The Ravens must continue supplementing the roster before the draft, help is necessary at too many positions to rely completely on rookies.
The pass rush will be fierce when J.J. Watt rejoins Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus, but stud corner A.J. Bouye left for the division rival Jaguars and safety Quentin Demps is headed for Chicago. The Texans boast several playmakers on offense and a sound defense, but have a desperate need at the crucial quarterback position.
Tennessee continued adding pieces to their young roster with the signings of corner Logan Ryan, defensive tackle Sly Williams and safety Jonathan Cyprien. They did lose receiver Kendall Wright. Their roster has a strong foundation, especially in the trenches. If they can add a couple playmakers in the draft, they are poised to leapfrog some teams slotted above them.
The Dolphins are basically treading water so far this offseason, swapping one injury prone tight end Jordan Cameron for another in Julius Thomas, trading for William Hayes to fill in for Mario Williams, retaining edge defender Andre Branch and receiver Kenny Stills, while shuffling their line by brining in Jermon Bushrod for Brandon Albert. Lawrence Timmons and Nate Allen should bring leadership to the defense, and Miami has above average personnel on paper, but they struggle to find a winning edge against good teams.
10. Jacksonville Jaguars
They brought in a few elite level players in A.J. Bouye, who should replace Prince Amukamara to form a lockdown duo at corner with Jalen Ramsey and Calais Campbell to round out a talented defensive line. Brandon Albert and Earl Watford will help solidify the offensive line, but their blockers are still below par as a whole. Likely to be overhyped unless quarterback Blake Bortles can rebound from a poor season in 2016.
11. Buffalo Bills
Reaching an agreement with Tyrod Taylor allows the Bills to continue using their throwback style of run-first offense, but receiver Robert Woods left for the Rams. Versatile defense back Micah Hyde should minimize the drop off from Stephon Gillmore’s departure. Keeping sack artist Lorenzo Alexander and bringing back right tackle Jordan Mills will help Buffalo stay in the wildcard mix.
Franchising capable pass rusher Melvin Ingram and resigning safety Jahleel Addae have been their biggest moves so far. The Chargers are hoping for a return to form from recently signed offensive tackle Russell Okung as they retool their blocking unit. Their roster has a few promising players, but no reliable strength in any phase.
Suffered major losses on their offensive line. The departures of Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler, far and away their two best blockers, is devastating. They also lost Domata Peko and had to pay a premium to keep corner Dre’ Kirkpatrick. After a crushing loss in the 2015 playoffs, followed by a six-win 2016 and free agent exodus this offseason, Cincinnati is clearly trending downward.
14. Cleveland Browns
Retaining linebacker Jamie Collins and guard Joel Bitonio, combined with the additions of guard Kevin Zeitler and center J.C. Tretter have the lowly Browns on the upswing. However, replacing Terrelle Pryor with Kenny Britt is a downgrade. Without a competent quarterback or many playmakers on defense, Cleveland is still at least a year away from contention.
Jabaal Sheard, Barkevious Mingo and John Simon will help solidify the edges of their defensive front, and the Colts are reportedly in hot pursuit of nose tackle Dontari Poe. But their terrible offensive line has not been adequately addressed and last season proved even a great year from Andrew Luck is not enough to carry them into the postseason.
16. New York Jets
Following a five-win campaign, the Jets released three of their best veterans in Brandon Marshall, Darrelle Revis and Nick Mangold. They took a gamble on left tackle Kelvin Beachum, and boast one of the best defensive lines in the league. However, their depth chart is flawed at every other level. They will need a miracle to avoid the basement next season.