I’m forever annoyed with how people evaluate quarterbacks. Just as important as the value of their skill-set as a signal player, is the talent of everyone else around them being utilized in an intelligent manner. We look at the production of these players and decide what we think of them, when in reality numbers are a result of a well-executed system with a wealth of playmakers at their disposal. Last year, we saw Andy Dalton rewrite his own narrative thanks in large part to everything else around him. On the other side of the spectrum, Aaron Rodgers struggled in the absence of Jordy Nelson while Randall Cobb, Eddie Lacy, and Davante Adams didn’t perform up to their usual standard.
Here we’ll look at which teams are positioned to make their quarterback look better than they are based on their receivers, running backs, tight ends, and offensive lines.
1. Arizona Cardinals
The stars of "All Or Nothing" have the look and feel of an offense that could set records. Bruce Arians has never been afraid to play bombs-away football and has the talent to boot. They feature the most complete receiving corps in the league, with fun-sized receivers John Brown and JJ Nelson having enough juice to blow safeties off of the field and with living legend Larry Fitzgerald and former first-round pick Michael Floyd to move the chains. After setting the league ablaze last December, David Johnson looks poised to enter the discussion for the league's most complete running back. It’s just so rare for a 230-pound physical running back with 4.4 speed who can run routes and catch like a receiver.
2. Dallas Cowboys
It’s 2016 and we may be seeing the second coming of the Cowboys offense of legend from the 1990’s. We all know about the historic line that they feature, headlined by All-Pros Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick. It seems almost unfair that they added another first round talent in La’el Collins as an undrafted free agent. They’ll be able to play the ball control football that leads them all the way to Divisional Round in 2014 again with a stacked backfield headlined by electric Ezekiel Elliott, a prospect touted as a more complete prospect than Todd Gurley. When they do eventually have to throw, Tony Romo will have his pick of the underrated trio of an angry Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, and Cole Beasley, not to mention Jason Witten.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers
If not for the year-long suspension of Martavis Bryant and the possible absence of Le’Veon Bell, the Steelers would have topped this list. Big Ben Roethlisberger is enjoying a late career breakout thanks to a scary good offense around him. Antonio Brown is the perfect partner in crime for Roethlisberger, a savvy, polished route runner who moves like a punt returner after the catch and is always on the same page with his freelancing quarterback. He’s joined by a buzzy group of pass catchers in Markus Wheaton, speedy Sammie Coates, and Darrius Heyward-Bey, and offseason acquisition LaDarius Green. Even in the late stages of his career, Deangelo Williams can do more than keep the running game afloat in the absence of Bell.
4. Cincinnati Bengals
Across the division from those Steelers, the Bengals feature a high-powered offensive nucleus of their own. Andy Dalton broke out in a major way last year, thanks in large part to a receiving group bursting at the seams with talent. Even with the departures of Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu, big-bodied weapons AJ Green and Tyler Eifert give Dalton more than enough at his disposal. They’ll like lean on the thunder and lightning attack of Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard, a pair of second round picks who will run behind a top tier offensive line, who seamlessly slid last years first round pick, Cedric Ogbuehi, at right tackle opposite of stud blindside protector Andrew Whitworth.
5. Oakland Raiders
With the resigning of Donald Penn and arrival of Kelechi Osemele, the Raiders have put together a front five that could be in the conversation with the likes of Dallas and Cincinnati a year from now. Derek Carr will have plenty of time to throw to an exciting nucleus of pass catchers on the outside. Amari Cooper came out as crisp and complete of a route runner as advertised, but what got lost in the shuffle was the high-end speed that allows him to stretch the field vertically. He’s joined by the now steady presence of Michael Crabtree and underrated third option Seth Roberts. The only thing holding this young group back is whether Latavius Murray is up to the task of carrying this ground game for sixteen weeks.
6. New England Patriots
The Patriots may well feature the best coach, quarterback, and tight end ever to step foot on the gridiron. Rob Gronkowski is the ultimate matchup nightmare, a 6’6 giant with 4.5 wheels who can run routes like a receiver and catch any contested ball. He’s utterly uncoverable by any linebacker, corner, safety, or creative combination a coordinator can scheme up. He’s joined by a quick, physical group of receivers in Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, and Chris Hogan, who are perfectly suited to Brady’s surgical dink and dunk game. Dion Lewis adds another dimension to this offense. In eight games with the Patriots, he flashed rare elusiveness and good hands out of the backfield. The offensive line remains a red flag, but Brady gets the ball out so quickly that it hardly matters.
7. Green Bay Packers
In 2015, we saw an offense that was supposed to break records derailed by injuries and disappointing performance by core players, showing the first signs in the armor of the league's best quarterback, Aaron Rodgers. They should be back this year. Jordy Nelson should add a much needed vertical element to the offense that was missing last year and draw attention away from Randall Cobb and Davante Adams. A slimmed down Eddie Lacy should return to Pro-Bowl level form after a humiliating 2015 season. The offensive line features two bookend guards in TJ Lang and Josh Sitton, although the tackle position remains a potential weakness.
8. Carolina Panthers
After Kelvin Benjamin went out last preseason, analysts wondered if Cam Newton had much anything around him. They were proven wrong last year. With Benjamin returning, the receiving the group that also features the likes of Corey Brown, Tedd Ginn, and Devin Funchess looks like one of the more complete in the league. Greg Olson is a perfect inside the numbers playmaker for Newton, with the size and speed to be indefensible on seam routes. The once maligned offensive line often kept Newton clean last year. Michael Oher’s extensions suggest that the front office thinks that he can do it again. This all goes without mentioning the talents of star running back Jonathan Stewart.
9. Atlanta Falcons
Julio Jones is really, really good. Let’s start by saying that. He’s the prototype for the modern receiver: big, twitched up, and explosive who can take over any game and overwhelm and cornerback. Last year, he was the entire Falcons' passing game. In 2016, he’ll at least by joined by Bengals defector Mohamed Sanu, who will replace the ghost of Roddy White and give the team a legitimate number two receiver. Behind Matt Ryan, speedy touchdown machine Devonta Freeman and second-year Indiana star Tevin Coleman make up one of the more exciting backfields around. For the team to justify this ranking, the offensive line will have to step up. Alex Mack will have to live up to the hype and Jake Matthews will finally have to play like a top ten pick.
10. Denver Broncos
Like the Falcons, the offensive line in Denver limits them from landing in the top half of this list. Three spots should be occupied by new starters this year, with only one of them, left tackle, that could be considered an upgrade. Even though the quarterback situation remains unsettling for the defending champs, whoever is behind center will have an embarrassment of riches at their disposal. CJ Anderson is one of the more underrated backs around, with an excellent combination of patience and vision paired with between the tackles physicality. On the outside, they’ll be able to throw to the best two outside receivers in the NFL. Demaryius Thomas is like Antonio Brown, light with a dropping problem, only he’s five inches taller. He’s joined by Emmanuel Sanders, a do-it-all run after the catch specialist with underrated ball skills and more reliable hands than his counterpart. The two bailed out their two scattershot quarterbacks a year ago. Expect them to do the same in 2016.