Assessing each AFC team’s needs ahead of the 2019 NFL draft
With free agency largely in the books — and the NFL draft only a few weeks away — now is as good of a time as any to check in on each team’s needs before the NFL’s spotlight event of the spring (NFC coming next week).
Positions needed: RB, TE, RT, DT, EDGE, CB
Analysis: The Bills are about surrounding promising second-year quarterback Josh Allen with as much talent as possible, as fast as possible. In free agency, they wisely addressed holes at outside receiver (John Brown), slot receiver (Cole Beasley), tight end (Tyler Kroft), center (Mitch Morse), left guard (Quinton Spain) and right tackle (Ty Nsekhe). That’s a smart strategy, considering the Bills return several key pieces from the league’s second-best defense — and No. 1 against the pass — except for longtime inside stalwart Kyle Williams, who retired. The Bills could use some talented youth up front, both on the interior and edge, and whoever they draft wouldn’t be needed to start immediately. A starting corner would be nice, too, but if Buffalo isn’t absolutely smitten with a defensive player, the Bills should use their first pick to take the best available offensive player as a part of their ongoing effort to bolster their core around Allen, whose success or failure will determine how long this current regime sticks around.
Positions needed: QB, OG, RT, EDGE, DT, CB
Analysis: Ryan Fitzpatrick is always good for a few surprising wins as a starting quarterback, but “FitzMagic” always runs out after a while. Needless to say, Miami’s long-term starting quarterback is not on the roster. The departure of Ja’Wuan James in free agency left a Florida-sized hole at right tackle on an offensive line that’s also lacking across all its interior spots. Defensively, the Dolphins also have a major need at edge rush thanks to the trade of Robert Quinn and the departure of Cameron Wake in free agency. There are no impact disruptors at defensive tackle either, and the cornerback position needs some depth. Newly promoted general manager Chris Grier and coach Brian Flores have work to do, and it’s going to take some time to get there.
New England Patriots
Positions needed: Developmental QB, WR, TE, LT/LG, EDGE, S
Analysis: Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels deserves credit for coaxing an outstanding postseason out of a unit devoid of a playmaker at outside receiver. But don’t bet on the Patriots heading into the season with only Julian Edelman, Sony Michel and James White as the only skill players who need to be accounted for, especially with the retirement of future Hall of Famer Rob Gronkowski leaving a large receiving void at tight end. The Patriots could also use some O-line depth in case starting left guard Joe Thuney leaves as a free agent next spring or projected starter Isaiah Wynn — who is 6-foot-2 and coming off an Achilles injury — can’t hack it at left tackle. Defensively, the always-savvy Patriots replaced defensive end Trey Flowers — who signed with Detroit in free agency on a monster deal — with the still effective Michael Bennett, but New England could still use some talented youth along the defensive line as a hedge. New England’s starting safety duo of Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty is capable, but old (both are 32).
New York Jets
Positions needed: TE, C, LT/RT, EDGE, CB
Analysis: The Jets have started the process of adding talent around second-year quarterback Sam Darnold, as they signed running back Le’Veon Bell and slot receiver Jamison Crowder to big deals this offseason. They also traded for guard Kelechi Osemele, but New York must invest high picks into reinforcing its offensive line, as the Jets could use a tempo-setting right tackle and a long-term replacement for Kelvin Beachum at left tackle. Defensively, the interior is solid at both levels, but the edge rush is a major concern after Anthony Barr backed out of a deal in March. Add a playmaking outside corner to this team’s list of needs, as the recently signed Brian Poole is better suited for the slot.
Positions needed: WR, LG, C, EDGE, ILB
Analysis: With the offseason departures of Michael Crabtree and John Brown, the Ravens’ roster is completely devoid of a bonafide No. 1 receiver — a bold strategy considering they’re trying to develop a quarterback they took in the first round of last year’s draft, Lamar Jackson. The left guard and center spots could also use upgrading as the Ravens work to surround Jackson with talent. Defensively, the edge rush definitely needs solidifying with the offseason departures of Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith. Inside linebacker is also a major question mark after the offseason departure of stud C.J. Mosley.
Positions needed: QB, TE, RG, RT, DT, LB
Analysis: The Bengals are devoid of a playmaking off-ball linebacker, and while Nick Vigil and Malik Jefferson have talent, it could be difficult to pass on potential All-Pros like either LSU’s Devin White or Michigan’s Devin Bush Jr. at No. 11 overall. Both are fiery, athletic playmakers, and would completely fortify the position. But if one of the draft’s top quarterbacks — Kyler Murray, Drew Lock or Dwayne Haskins — falls into their lap, it could also be tough to pass on an opportunity to give their new coach, 35-year-old Zac Taylor, the young quarterback he can grow with, just like the Rams did by pairing their young quarterback (Jared Goff) with a young coach in Sean McVay. Regardless, they’ll need to build around their quarterback by adding a starting-caliber right guard, someone who can push free-agent signing Bobby Hart at right tackle and some Tyler Eifert injury protection at tight end.
Positions needed: OT, CB, DT, LB
Analysis: For the first time in ages, a look at the Browns’ roster doesn’t reveal gaps the size of the Grand Canyon. On the contrary, Cleveland looks downright loaded. There is still room for fortification, particularly at left tackle, where the Browns are relying on former No. 2 overall pick-turned-bust Greg Robinson. Robinson was serviceable at times last year, but Cleveland should try to draft his eventual replacement this year. Best-case scenario: Robinson is good and the tackle — which would come in the second round, since the Browns dealt their first selection for Odell Beckham Jr. — serves as a swing tackle for a while, which they also need. Also keep an eye on cornerback, where Denzel Ward could use a little help, and off-ball linebacker and defensive tackle, where the Browns could use some depth.
Positions needed: WR, TE, ILB, CB, EDGE
Analysis: The trade of Antonio Brown may have done wonders for the Steelers’ locker-room chemistry, but it won’t help the explosiveness of their offense. Brown was always open last year, and although JuJu Smith-Schuster is a burgeoning star, the Steelers will need to find a receiver who can give them some of Brown’s downfield explosiveness. A playmaking receiver tight end — one they can pair with Vance McDonald — would help, too. Defensively, the Steelers still haven’t recovered from the spinal-injury suffered by do-it-all inside linebacker Ryan Shazier, whose sideline-to-sideline speed is missed. Mark Barron was signed as a free agent to help, but after a down year, the Steelers might be wise to hedge their bets through the draft. Same goes for the cornerback position, where Pittsburgh needs a playmaker (even after the free-agent signing of Steven Nelson), and edge rusher, where Bud Dupree enters perhaps his final prove-it year.
Positions needed: RB, WR, TE, LT, LG, RT, CB, S
Analysis: The Texans hold the 23rd pick in the draft, and after surrendering a whopping 62 sacks last season — which isn’t ideal for young quarterback Deshaun Watson, who figures to be a multi-time Pro Bowler — it’s safe to say they better come away with an offensive lineman here, preferably a tackle. Houston signed Matt Kalil and Seantrel Henderson to man both spots, but neither figures to be a long-term answer (though 2017 fourth-round pick Julie’n Davenport could still develop). While the Texans are at it, if they could find a speedy running back and a third receiver to pair with DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller V, that would be ideal. Defensively, the Texans should seek a developmental safety and corner.
Positions needed: WR, DT, CB, S
Analysis: The Colts lack an impact defensive tackle — no one on the roster has proven to be consistently disruptive — and they could also stand to draft a potential starter at corner and safety, someone who can push the current starters. Offensively, the Colts have yet to develop a long-term complement for star receiver T.Y. Hilton, and while they threw $13 million at Devin Funchess this offseason, the one-year deal means there’s nothing keeping the Colts from adding another high-end talent here.
Positions needed: WR, TE, RT, DE
Analysis: The Jaguars addressed their biggest problem in 2018, which was the locker room’s complete lack of faith in then-starter Blake Bortles. The Jags committed $88 million to 2018 Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles. Now they must commit to give Foles everything he needs to succeed. They probably have the right man calling the plays in new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo — who helped call the plays during Foles’ brilliant championship run in Philly — but there’s no Zach Ertz on the roster anywhere in sight. So keep an eye on a playmaking tight end and a starting-caliber right tackle, one with a run-blocking intensity that fits the Jaguars’ offensive mindset. It wouldn’t hurt to add another weapon at receiver, too. The Jaguars’ defense underachieved last season, but has plenty of talent. Still, a backup who could rotate in behind Yannick Ngakoue would be nice.
Positions needed: WR, C, RG, DT
Analysis: One thing we know about the Titans is that they believe in playing smash-mouth football. So it’s easy to project them using a few of their top-100 picks to fill a couple of holes up front on both sides of the ball. The right guard position needs to be punched up some, and starting center Ben Jones could be a free agent next spring. Meanwhile the Titans need a high-upside defensive tackle to pair with Jurrell Casey, just in case Austin Johnson — a 2016 second-round pick — breaks out (or flames out) in a contract year and doesn’t re-sign. Also keep an eye out for a playmaking receiver — the Titans still aren’t explosive enough on the outside – who can make Marcus Mariota look better.
Positions needed: QB, WR, TE, C, OG, ILB, S
Analysis: The Broncos traded for Joe Flacco this offseason, but he’s not an appropriate long-term answer at quarterback in a division with Patrick Mahomes. So finding someone who can spend a year learning under Flacco and take the reins in 2020 should be of the utmost priority. Denver also needs to draft someone who can potentially start at center and guard, and a little receiver would be nice, too, especially with Emmanuel Sanders coming off an Achilles injury. Don’t sleep on tight end either, where the Broncos lack a proven playmaker that defenses must account for. Defensively, look for new head coach Vic Fangio — who puts a premium on having two terrific inside linebackers — to covet a player who can challenge Todd Davis and Josey Jewell. The Broncos might want to draft a young safety as well, with both their starters (Will Parks and Justin Simmons) set to hit the market in 2020.
Los Angeles Chargers
Positions needed: QB, OL, DT, CB
Analysis: With a succession plan developing at quarterback, the Chargers must invest resources in keeping 37-year-old Philip Rivers upright. Rivers is coming off one of his best seasons in years, one in which he led the Chargers to a 12-4 record, and priority No. 1 needs to be drafting a plug-and-play right tackle who can shift to left tackle if the Chargers choose to save $13.5 million by cutting Russell Okung next spring. If the Chargers can find a developmental successor for 29-year-old center Mike Pouncey and someone who can push guards Mike Schofield III and Dan Feeney, that would be great, too. Meanwhile, defensive coordinator Gus Bradley’s unit is already one of the best in football, but could use an interior pass rusher to help generate an extra push up front and a little help at corner.
Kansas City Chiefs
Positions needed: TE, C, EDGE, DT, ILB, CB, S
Analysis: The Chiefs’ had the league’s 31st-ranked defense, which led to the firing of defensive coordinator Bob Sutton and hiring of 4-3 disciple Steve Spagnuolo. As such, the Chiefs have spent the entire offseason reworking their defensive front, jettisoning the likes of edge rushers Dee Ford and Justin Houston for bigger 4-3 prototypes. At the moment, the Chiefs are hoping to get by on the edge with additions like Alex Okafor and Emmanuel Ogbah, but if there’s a first-round caliber edge rusher who falls to the middle of the first round, don’t be surprised to see the Chiefs trade up to grab one. The Chiefs could also use an impact defensive tackle (next to Chris Jones), a more well-rounded inside linebacker and starting-caliber playmakers at corner and safety, and could easily take any of those that fall to pick No. 29. Offensively, expect the Chiefs to court a speedy wide receiver, a tight end and a center to ensure quarterback Patrick Mahomes, the reigning MVP, has all the weapons he needs to keep the league’s No. 1-ranked offense humming.
Positions needed: RB, TE, OG, EDGE, DT, OLB, DB
Analysis: The Raiders added plenty of talent to one of the NFL’s worst offenses in 2018, guaranteeing nearly $76 million to left tackle Trent Brown, and receivers Antonio Brown and Tyrell Williams this offseason. That’s a good start to improving the O, but a dynamic running back and/or tight end would also help Derek Carr or whoever else is quarterbacking the Raiders in 2019. The interior also needs fortification following the trade of Kelechi Osemele. Defensively, the Raiders tallied a pitiful 13 sacks last season — 17 fewer than the next closest team — and they did nothing to get better up front in free agency, so yeah, expect them to address edge rusher and defensive tackle early. Oakland also has a lack of starting-caliber cornerback talent, unless expensive free-agent signee Lamarcus Joyner plays there. In that case, safety help will be a priority, as well.
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