Week 9 NFL Power Rankings: 1-32 poll, plus players who need to step up

ByNFL Nation ESPN logo
Tuesday, October 29, 2019

As the NFL power rankings hit the midseason point, it's more than simply ranking teams. This is the perfect time to see what each team needs to do to up its performance, or, more accurately, which players on each team need to step up their games.

So that's what we have going this week. Our NFL Nation reporters selected one player on their teams who can most help their squads by producing more down the stretch. From running backs who haven't quite hit their stride to defenders who have more to give, we're calling people out -- in a way. Our power panel -- a group of more than 80 writers, editors and TV personalities -- evaluates how teams stack up throughout the season.

Previous rankings:8 |7 |6 |5 | 4 | 3 | 2 | Preseason

1. New England Patriots (8-0)

Week 8 ranking: 1

Player who needs to step up: Isaiah Wynn, LT

Getting Wynn back from injured reserve (he is eligible to play Nov. 17 at Philadelphia) -- and keeping him healthy -- would go a long way toward solidifying an offensive line that has not been able to consistently create openings for the running game. Veteran Marshall Newhouse has filled in admirably, and the Patriots are in good shape at 8-0, but one could also argue they are living dangerously by not having the running game to help settle things down. Without it, there is too much pressure on Tom Brady and the passing attack. -- Mike Reiss

2. San Francisco 49ers (7-0)

Week 8 ranking: 3

Player who needs to step up: Robbie Gould, K

It hasn't been entirely his fault, as he has had to deal with a game of musical long-snappers, but Gould has missed seven field goals in his first seven games, more than he had ever missed in a season. By his own admission, it's one of the worst streaks of his career, and improvement is necessary as the Niners inevitably get into some closer games. Original long-snapper Kyle Nelson is back from suspension, which should help, but the Niners will need more from Gould & Co. over the season's final half. -- Nick Wagoner

3. New Orleans Saints (7-1)

Week 8 ranking: 2

Player who needs to step up: Jared Cook, TE

Although the Saints have been extremely successfully relying on WR Michael Thomas and his league-leading 73 catches, they need to find more reliable targets. No other Saints WR or TE has more than 20 catches this season -- an issue that was also their Achilles' heel down the stretch last season. Cook, who joined the team in free agency this year to help address that problem, was starting to come on a little with his first two TD catches of the season in Weeks 5 and 6 but has missed the past two games with an ankle injury. The Saints could really use a second-half boost from him. -- Mike Triplett

4. Green Bay Packers (7-1)

Week 8 ranking: 4

Player who needs to step up: Kevin King, CB

King has gotten over the first hurdle: staying healthy. After two injury-filled seasons in which he missed more games (17) than he played (15), he has appeared in all eight games so far this season. At times, he's been productive (he has a team-high three interceptions), but he's also had his breakdowns. The Packers are going to need to cut down on the explosive pass plays allowed, and King could help do that. -- Rob Demovsky

5. Kansas City Chiefs (5-3)

Week 8 ranking: 5

Player who needs to step up: LeSean McCoy, RB

The Chiefs benched McCoy on Sunday night against the Packers after he lost his second fumble of the season, this one leading to a Green Bay touchdown. McCoy is too valuable to the Chiefs -- particularly when they're playing without Patrick Mahomes--to be on the bench. He's their most talented back with the ball in his hands. "He's not a fumbler," coach Andy Reid said. "That's not been his deal. ... He'll work on it. He's a pro." McCoy needs to fix the problem fast. -- Adam Teicher

6. Baltimore Ravens (5-2)

Week 8 ranking: 6

Player who needs to step up: Matthew Judon, OLB

Honestly, you can insert any Baltimore outside linebacker in this spot. The Ravens have recorded a meager 12 sacks, the fifth-lowest total in the league, and they've lost Pernell McPhee to a season-ending triceps injury. That means Baltimore needs Judon to take it to the next level as a leader and as a pass-rusher. Judon has four sacks this season, and the Ravens will need more from him considering the other pass-rushers -- Tyus Bowser, Jaylon Ferguson and Jihad Ward -- are not top-tier threats from the edge. -- Jamison Hensley

7. Seattle Seahawks (6-2)

Week 8 ranking: 7

Player who needs to step up: Joey Hunt, C

Barring a trade for another team's starter, the Seahawks will turn to Hunt at center now that Justin Britt is out with a knee injury. Hunt is a bit undersized but is known for his intelligence, which should serve him well -- though he takes over with only three starts in his first 3 NFL seasons. Hunt will be a restricted free agent after this season. Britt, meanwhile, is scheduled to have the third-highest cap number among centers -- $11.67 million -- in the final year of his contract next season as he comes off a serious injury. This is very much an audition for Hunt. -- Brady Henderson

8. Minnesota Vikings (6-2)

Week 8 ranking: 8

Player who needs to step up: Pat Elflein, OG

Elflein's move from center to left guard has come with its share of struggles. The third-year offensive lineman averaged two pressures per game in the first eight weeks, allowed four sacks and has been flagged five times. The Vikings moved Elflein to left guard because they felt it would be a better fit with rookie Garrett Bradbury at center, but the left side of the offensive line has taken a hit with Elflein's struggles in pass protection. His run blocking has been great, so if Elflein can improve his blocking when Kirk Cousins drops back to pass, the Vikings will be able to routinely create clean pockets. -- Courtney Cronin

9. Houston Texans (5-3)

Week 8 ranking: 10

Player who needs to step up: Whitney Mercilus, OLB

With J.J. Watt out for the year with a torn pectoral muscle, Mercilus is the only proven pass-rusher on the roster right now. He had a strong first half of the season (5.5 sacks, four forced fumbles, a fumble recovery and an interception) but will need to continue to get to the quarterback if Houston is going to put any pressure on opponents for the rest of the season. -- Sarah Barshop

10. Los Angeles Rams (5-3)

Week 8 ranking: 11

Player who needs to step up: Todd Gurley II, RB

Gurley has yet to have a signature game in 2019, which perhaps shouldn't come as a surprise given the amount of offseason speculation about the health of his left knee and his tempered workload throughout training camp. However, the Rams and Gurley have repeatedly stated that his health is fine, which means it's time -- with eight games remaining in the season -- for the Rams to turn up his workload and for Gurley to prove that he still remains a dynamic playmaker who can power his team to a deep playoff run. -- Lindsey Thiry

11. Indianapolis Colts (5-2)

Week 8 ranking: 13

Player who needs to step up: Parris Campbell, WR

Campbell, a speedster out of Ohio State, has been dealing with injuries most of his rookie season. He missed a significant portion of training camp to a hamstring injury and just returned from a two-game absence after abdominal surgery. Campbell, a second-round pick, is the perfect player to fit in coach Frank Reich's offensive scheme because he can be used a number of ways. But he has totaled only 10 receptions for 62 yards in five games this season. A strong second half of the season will help Campbell move up the depth chart, where there's no obvious No. 2 receiver behind T.Y. Hilton. -- Mike Wells

12. Dallas Cowboys (4-3)

Week 8 ranking: 12

Player who needs to step up: Jaylon Smith, LB

Smith leads the Cowboys in tackles, has two sacks, two tackles for loss, two pass deflections and two quarterback hurries, but he has not played as well as he played last season, which is why the coaches moved to a rotation of sorts between Smith, Leighton Vander Esch, Sean Lee and Joe Thomas. Smith had his best game of the season against Philadelphia in Week 7. He was active, forced a fumble and was involved in sideline-to-sideline plays. Considering the strength of schedule and some of the offenses remaining, Smith has to be at his best if the defense is going to be feared. -- Todd Archer

13. Buffalo Bills (5-2)

Week 8 ranking: 9

Player who needs to step up: Robert Foster, WR

From Weeks 10 through 17 last season, only 14 wide receivers had more yards than Foster -- and none had as many yards with his number of catches. In fact, his 20.4 yards per reception led all receivers with at least 15 catches in that time frame. This year, however, he has been active for only four games and is without a catch on just four targets. The Bills have shifted toward a more intermediate passing game, but Foster's ability to take the top off a defense would alleviate some of Buffalo's offensive struggles. -- Marcel Louis-Jacques

14. Philadelphia Eagles (4-4)

Week 8 ranking: 15

Player who needs to step up: Fletcher Cox, DT

Cox is finally starting to round into form after offseason foot surgery. He has 2.5 sacks this season, all coming in his past two games. The Eagles have had issues on all three levels of their defense, but many of those issues would lessen if Cox can reemerge as a line-busting game-wrecker. -- Tim McManus

15. Carolina Panthers (4-3)

Week 8 ranking: 14

Player who needs to step up: Curtis Samuel, WR

Samuel was the de facto MVP of training camp and had a great rapport with Cam Newton, but that hasn't carried over to the regular season -- with Newton or Kyle Allen. He has 27 catches on 54 targets for only two touchdowns. He hasn't taken the pressure off Christian McCaffrey to carry the offensive load or become the consistent deep threat that opens up the offense. -- David Newton

16. Detroit Lions (3-3-1)

Week 8 ranking: 17

Player who needs to step up: Trey Flowers, DE

Flowers already started picking up his game in Sunday's win over the Giants with two sacks, but the Lions didn't give him a five-year, $90 million contract to merely sometimes make plays. He has been hurt, somewhat, by Detroit using three rushers a decent amount at the beginning of the season, but for the Lions to have a better second half, they need more pressure (not necessarily sacks, but at least pressure) from Flowers. Forcing teams to account for him more will open up lanes for Romeo Okwara, Jarrad Davis and Devon Kennard to get to the quarterback even if Flowers doesn't himself. -- Michael Rothstein

17. Chicago Bears (3-4)

Week 8 ranking: 16

Player who needs to step up: Trey Burton, TE

Mitchell Trubisky is too easy of an answer. The Bears have a multitude of issues beyond quarterback, and tight end is at the top of the list. Chicago signed Burton to a four-year deal that included $22 million in guarantees. Burton is making $6.8 million in 2019. The "U" tight end is a critical position in the Andy Reid style of offense, but Burton has 14 catches for 84 yards and zero touchdowns. -- Jeff Dickerson

18. Tennessee Titans (4-4)

Week 8 ranking: 20

Player who needs to step up: Ryan Tannehill, QB

Picking Tannehill is an easy choice because of how the Titans are built. The defense is one of the NFL's best. All Tennessee needs is for Tannehill to not turn the football over while capitalizing on turnovers the defense creates and put together a few quality drives to get points on the board. Tannehill needs to keep the offense's red zone efficiency going after leading the group to a perfect six scores in six visits inside the 20-yard line. If Tannehill can continue the success of his first two starts, the Titans will be a tough out down the stretch. -- Turron Davenport

19. Oakland Raiders (3-4)

Week 8 ranking: 18

Player who needs to step up: Derek Carr, QB

This is not a slam on Carr, who entered last week with an NFL-best completion percentage of 74.1. Thing is, quarterbacks get too much glory when things are going well, too much blame when things go south. It's not Carr's fault the Oakland defense could not get off the field in Sunday's 27-24 loss to the Texans, and it's not his fault Tyrell Williams had two costly drops in the fourth quarter. But if the Raiders want to run off a few victories in a row on this upcoming three-game homestand against the Lions, Chargers and Bengals, it starts with Carr limiting those lapses into inconsistency. -- Paul Gutierrez

20. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-4)

Week 8 ranking: 22

Player who needs to step up: Josh Oliver, TE

It's a little unfair to put pressure on the rookie third-round pick because he has played in only two games to this point (he missed the preseason and the first six games because of a hamstring injury,) but the Jaguars need to get something from the tight end position. Jaguars tight ends have combined for just 30 catches and are averaging only 8.4 yards per catch through eight games (second lowest in the NFL). Oliver got his first two targets last weekend: He dropped the first and caught the other for 6 yards. The receivers are banged up, and Oliver needs to help offset that and give Gardner Minshew II/Nick Foles a reliable target in the middle of the field. -- Mike DiRocco

21. Pittsburgh Steelers (3-4)

Week 8 ranking: 21

Player who needs to step up: JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR

It's not entirely his fault that he has had a forgettable first half of the 2019 season. Losing Ben Roethlisberger in Week 2 hasn't helped the offense, but Smith-Schuster also needs to prove he's capable of being the No. 1 WR the team needs with the departure of Antonio Brown. Smith-Schuster has only 25 catches for 340 yards and two TDs through six games. He also had two TDs at this point a year ago, but he had a lot more catches (42) to go with 561 yards. -- Brooke Pryor

22. Cleveland Browns (2-5)

Week 8 ranking: 19

Player who needs to step up: Baker Mayfield, QB

Though he's hardly alone among the Browns, even Mayfield would admit he hasn't played up to expectations overall through the first half of the season. That said, there are signs of his turning a corner, including a steady effort Sunday in New England against the league's No. 1 defense. Continuing to limit the turnovers will obviously be paramount. If Mayfield can do that, the rest of the offense could finally begin to realize some of its potential. -- Jake Trotter

23. Los Angeles Chargers (3-5)

Week 8 ranking: 24

Player who needs to step up: Melvin Gordon, RB

The Wisconsin product is off to a slow start since his return from a holdout, totaling 112 rushing yards (2.5 per carry) in four games. The Chargers are 1-3 in those contests. Head coach Anthony Lynn wants to create balance for an offense that's averaging just 19.6 points a game. That means Gordon and the offensive line have to get on the same page, generating more explosive runs and taking pressure off Philip Rivers to carry the offense with the passing game. -- Eric D. Williams

24. Arizona Cardinals (3-4-1)

Week 8 ranking: 23

Player who needs to step up: David Johnson, RB

Johnson has yet to have a breakout game and has been hampered by injuries in the first half of the season. To step up in the second half, Johnson needs to produce 100-yard games on a regular basis, whether that's rushing or receiving. And to do that, he needs to be more consistent hitting holes, making players miss and creating after the catch. -- Josh Weinfuss

25. Denver Broncos (2-6)

Week 8 ranking: 25

Player who needs to step up:A quarterback, any quarterback

The Broncos need one of their three 20-something quarterbacks -- Brandon Allen, Brett Rypien and Drew Lock, who have played a combined zero snaps in an NFL regular-season game -- to find some mojo. Joe Flacco will miss at least Sunday's game against the Browns with a herniated disk in his neck, and his season is in jeopardy. Right now that puts Allen, who was claimed off waivers Aug. 31 from the Rams, in the starting lineup. The Broncos will decide in the coming days whether Rypien, a rookie, will be moved off the practice squad or Lock, also a rookie, will be moved off injured reserve. Lock hasn't practiced since mid-August because of a right thumb injury (his throwing hand). -- Jeff Legwold

26. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-5)

Week 8 ranking: 26

Player who needs to step up: Jameis Winston, QB

Winston is not getting a lot of help from the ground game, and his offensive line has had more than its share of hiccups, but he has two Pro Bowl-caliber receivers in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin and a top red zone target in tight end Cameron Brate. Turnovers, red zone incompletions and communication issues continue to plague the Bucs. That's where Winston comes in, not just as a QB but as a team leader. -- Jenna Laine

27. New York Giants (2-6)

Week 8 ranking: 27

Player who needs to step up: Daniel Jones, QB

This season is all about the No. 6 pick. The Giants need for Jones to continue to grow in this lost year. He can do that by improving his ball security and decision-making. Jones has 12 turnovers in six starts. That's too many. It would be promising to see him do better in that area over the final eight weeks. -- Jordan Raanan

28. Atlanta Falcons (1-7)

Week 8 ranking: 29

Player who needs to step up: Devonta Freeman, RB

Freeman hasn't been the same since undergoing season-ending core-muscle surgery last year, but he has shown flashes of his old self. He entered this week's bye fresh off an eight-catch performance against the Seahawks. Now he has to string together a few 100-yard rushing games against some tough NFC South defenses. -- Vaughn McClure

29. New York Jets (1-6)

Week 8 ranking: 28

Player who needs to step up: Sam Darnold, QB

The Jets' season already is a bust, leaving Darnold's development as the main storyline. After back-to-back stinkers (seven interceptions), he seems to be regressing behind a porous offensive line. Problems that plagued him in his final season at USC have resurfaced, which is to say he's pressing and making bad decisions under duress. It's on coach Adam Gase to clean up Darnold's bad habits. In theory, the schedule should help. They have six games against defenses ranked in the bottom eight in yards allowed. -- Rich Cimini

30. Washington Redskins (1-7)

Week 8 ranking: 30

Player who needs to step up: Dwayne Haskins, QB

The problem here is that we don't yet know when he'll get the starting job this year. The Redskins would like him to sit as long as possible before they play him, but that doesn't mean there aren't ways he can still develop. The Redskins need him to have a firmer grasp on what they're doing and to prepare every week as if he is the starter. The coaches can help by providing more periods during and after practice to further develop him. Make no mistake: It's a shared responsibility. But Haskins also needs to first and foremost give them a reason to believe he's ready. -- John Keim

31. Cincinnati Bengals (0-8)

Week 8 ranking: 31

Player who needs to step up: Joe Mixon, RB

Mixon's season has been disappointing for various reasons. The AFC's leading rusher from a year ago has failed to score a rushing touchdown and has four games with 20 or fewer rushing yards (yes, that's not a typo). Most of the blame falls on a very inefficient offense and an offensive line that has struggled to open holes. However, Mixon earns the nod since he carries the most potential of anyone on the roster. He'll need to take advantage of opportunities to reel off big runs, even if they've been rarer than anticipated in 2019. -- Ben Baby

32. Miami Dolphins (0-7)

Week 8 ranking: 32

Player who needs to step up: Albert Wilson, WR

First, Wilson has to stay healthy for the rest of the season and return to the explosive YAC monster he was before hip and lower-body injuries slowed him down. He has missed four games this season and hasn't made the game-changing impact he flashed early in 2018. Wilson has eight games left to show he can be an explosive playmaker worthy of being a part of the Dolphins' long-term future. A second half of the season that consists of 35 catches for 400 yards would be a strong goal for Wilson to pursue. -- Cameron Wolfe

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