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With proper pieces in place, Saints top blue-chip rankings

In my first year working with Bill Belichick with the Cleveland Browns, we had a draft meeting to go over the board and set some parameters on how many players should make the final board and the criteria we must work under.

I quickly learned that Belichick was not a fan of having a board filled with receivers, especially little ones, so we had to trim the wide receiver list quite a bit. Some 19 years later, I made the same mistake. I admit I am a soft grader, particularly on the wide receivers, and now I must get my red pencil out and after reviewing my work the last few days, I must now delete a few.

Blue- and red-chippers

When it comes to talent, the teams expected to make a playoff run rise to the top. That appears to be the case as Michael Lombardi evaluates the blue- and red-chip players from each team.

My first decision is to move the Bengals' Chad Ochocinco down from a blue-chipper to a red-chipper. I did not even have Ochocinco on my list two years ago (2008, the year he says he was not even trying) and moving him up two groups was a quick decision, one I soon regretted.

My second decision was to remove injured Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker from either list. I know he is ahead of schedule on his rehabilitation, however, keeping him at any color is not smart, especially coming off a major knee injury. He might return to his old form, but that is hard for us to predict now.

My third decision was to swap Jets wide receiver Santonio Holmes with Lions wideout Calvin Johnson. I want Johnson to be a better route runner, but if this was a draft, I would still pick Johnson ahead of Holmes on talent alone. I admit to being too hard on Johnson and always seem to want more from him based on his unique athletic skill set.

Now the sharp blade must come out, as I have 11 wideouts carrying blue grades, or 7.5 points, and can only have five more in the red category. So, say goodbye to the following wideouts in the red category:

Anquan Boldin, Ravens
Chris Chambers, Chiefs
Donald Driver, Packers
Lee Evans, Bills
Malcom Floyd, Chargers
Percy Harvin, Vikings
Mike Sims-Walker, Jaguars
Steve Smith, Giants
Wes Welker, Patriots

I realize these players are very effective, but there can only be 16 players at one position and cuts had to be made. It was hard for me to remove Boldin because I love the way he plays the game -- yet he has not been durable the last few years and those issues made him the last man to go.

FYI ... If Terrell Owens was playing for a team, he would not be placed in the blue or red categories.

Now that I have cleaned up the wide receiver list, here is the complete list of players and their numerical grade attached by position, starting with the offensive board.

Note: Even if a fullback receives a blue grade, that player will still only receive a five-point total.

As you can see, the one value change I made was to give a red player at a position of importance (pass rushers, quarterbacks and left offensive tackles) seven points.

Now, with my board in place and the head coaching rankings finalized, here are my final blue-chip rankings ...


1. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (77.5 points)

No surprise here, they have a great quarterback and coach, and an offensive line that has some very talented pieces.


2. PITTSBURGH STEELERS (74.5 points)

I am surprised the Steelers came out so high, but they have rushers, they have a quarterback and that have talent. It all adds up. Getting Smith back and healthy is as important as playing with a healthy Polamalu. Tomlin is a very good coach, worthy of his blue-chip status, which will be tested in the month of September as the Steelers have to win games without Roethlisberger.


3. BALTIMORE RAVENS (72 points)

Imagine if quarterback Joe Flacco gives the Ravens just a solid red-chip year this season and Boldin is able to stay healthy. Just imagine the possibilities for the Ravens. This is a strong roster, built with many of the right ingredients. The Ravens need their young quarterback to mature.


4. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (71.5 points)

This total comes from not having one of their best players in the count: Welker. But, like the Chargers, there are assumptions in the total -- the biggest one being that Brady plays well and does not let the distractions of his contract impact his play.


5. NEW YORK JETS (70 points)

A talented team with other talented players (Antonio Cromartie, Braylon Edwards and Shonn Greene) who are not yet at blue- or red-chip status, but could become blue or red with a solid season. The Jets are like the Ravens in the sense that they will need at least red-chip play from their young quarterback, Mark Sanchez, to be an elite team.


(69.5 points)

The 'Boys have everything in place and it can only get better if they get a red or blue year from Felix Jones or Dez Bryant, and can become great if they have a decent year from offensive tackle Doug Free.


(69 points)

A very talented roster, but if the 12.5 points at quarterback (Brett Favre) fails to show up in Week 3 of the preseason, then this becomes a very good team without a quarterback. That is potentially a huge shift in points for the Vikings.


8. SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (67 points)

I made a few assumptions here, the first giving Shawne Merriman a red grade as a rusher and thinking that both holdouts -- Jackson and McNeill -- will be playing all season. That is a 24.5-point swing. The Chargers need all their players to be playing well in order to maintain their status as an elite team.



If the Colts can get running back Donald Brown to stay healthy and play to a red or blue level, their point total will then exceed 70, making this roster very complete.


10. MIAMI DOLPHINS (61.5 points)

Impressive point total without getting any help from the quarterback position. The 'Fins need safety Yeramiah Bell to play to his normal red level, which he did not do last year, and get a blue- or red-caliber year from third-year quarterback Chad Henne.


11. SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (56.5 points)

Imagine if the 49ers would have entertained trading for Donavan McNabb this offseason? Add a blue-chip passer to play with wide receiver Michael Crabtree, a potential blue-chip wide receiver, and the 49ers would increase their point total 20 points. Just imagine.


12. CINCINNATI BENGALS (54.5 points)

The Bengals are like most every team in the 50-point total -- they need their quarterback to take a huge step forward. If Palmer regains his old form (seems like I have been writing that for three years), then this passing game will become more vibrant and the Bengals will be a Super Bowl contender.



The Redskins made two moves this offseason that increased their talent pool by 22.5 points -- trading for McNabb and hiring Shanahan. Two very smart moves that are interrelated.


14t. CAROLINA PANTHERS (52.5 points)

Carolina has some very good players, but losing Julius Peppers to the Bears and not having an established quarterback will be hard to overcome this season. The Panthers have talent but no depth, and this total might go down if they continue to get affected by the injury bug.


(52.5 points)

Broncos must get Kyle Orton to take a huge step and be consistent for 16 games. Orton, at times, will flash red or blue traits, but has never been consistent during his career. Mid 50 points, with no points given to a quarterback, means the team is closer than many might think.


(52 points)

Surprisingly low, as I thought they would grade in the middle 60s when I first started the project. However, the Packers have so many good young players that this list might grow as the season continues. Losing wide receiver Donald Driver as a red-chipper hurt their total, but what will help the most will be if the Packers can get one or two offensive linemen to raise their level of play. That will be critical.


17t. TENNESSEE TITANS (50 points)

The Titans are another very good team with some players that are right on the cusp of being a red-chipper (OT David Stewart), but need to become more consistent. The Titans need a pass rusher to emerge as a blue or red, but everyone knows the Titans need quarterback Vince Young to be factor in the count. With a red or blue year from Young, the Titans are a playoff team.


17t. HOUSTON TEXANS (50 points)

No offensive lineman in the count, and only one defensive lineman, tells the tale of the Texans. They need more from their fronts, and they need Schaub to stay healthy all year, coming off his first complete season as the starter. This number can go up or down, depending on many factors -- the first being Schaub's ability to stay healthy.


19. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (44.5 points)

Another surprisingly low total, but losing a blue quarterback and not replacing him with one will hurt the initial total. However, the Eagles could be one of those teams that can significantly increase this total if Kevin Kolb plays well and some of their defensive players (Brandon Graham, Stewart Bradley and Ernie Sims) take the next step.


(42 points)

Now, at least the Raiders have a chance to get some positive points from their quarterback.


(40 points)

Almost made third-year quarterback Matt Ryan a red, but held off because of the inconsistent year he had last season. He is the key for the Falcons to make a giant leap this season.


22. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (32.5 points)

Signing Penn to a contract extension would be a smart move as the Buccaneers try to keep adding pieces in the right spots.


23t. ARIZONA CARDINALS (30 points)

Another low total, but they have many players who could become blue- or red-chippers with a good season. I almost wanted to make Steve Breaston a red, but already had too many at that position. The Cards have talent -- they just need a little time to mature and they really need points from a quarterback. Hopefully for Cardinals fans, it will be from Matt Leinart.


23t. CLEVELAND BROWNS (30 points)

There are a few pieces in place in Cleveland, but more importantly, when was the last time the Browns have gotten blue or red points from the quarterback position?


25t. CHICAGO BEARS (25 points)

The Bears must get Jay Cutler to become at least a red-chip player and some of their one-time blue-chippers (Brian Urlacher and Tommie Harris) to regain their old form.


25t. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (25 points)

I have a feeling I will be making 2010 first-rounder Eric Berry a blue by the middle of the season ... a strong feeling.


27. NEW YORK GIANTS (22 points)

Let's face it, the Giants underachieved last year and this total is based on that lack of production across the board. The good news is that they have many pieces in place for a quick turnaround.


28. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (19.5 points)

The Jags are one of the youngest teams in the league, and therefore it will take some time to add to their total. A healthy Aaron Kampman would be a good start.


29. BUFFALO BILLS (10 points)

It will take some time to restore the talent base in Buffalo ... a lot of time.


30t. ST. LOUIS RAMS (7.5 points)

At least the Rams have a young quarterback to build the team around.


30t. DETROIT LIONS (7.5 points)

The Lions are going to take a giant leap next year when I do this project, I promise.


32. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (5 points)

Only having five points looks bad for Seattle, but there is a silver lining. They have many players coming back from injuries and their point total could increase into the 50s, quickly assuming they can stay healthy. The rebuilding has started in Seattle.

This list can be very volatile based on the play of some of the younger players on each team. However, this list does serve as a good starting point for our rankings. Football is back and I am very excited.

On Kaye Cowher ...

It was with great sadness that I learned of the death of Kaye Cowher from her battle with skin cancer. Bill's wife was a tremendous woman who loved life, loved her family and loved being involved with a team -- she was the consummate coach's wife. As I know all too well from being in professional sports myself, the challenges of parenting oftentimes falls on the wife and Kaye did her family proud raising three great children. I would like to extend my deepest condolences to Bill, his girls and all his family. She will be missed.

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