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The Biggest Draft Need for All 32 NFL Teams

With free agency calming down to a simmer, the Cowboys no longer have a secondary, the Panthers failed to find adequate protection for Cam Newton, and plenty of teams still lack an impact pass rusher

(Getty Images/Ringer illustration)
(Getty Images/Ringer illustration)

The chaos of NFL free agency is mostly over, and the initial barrage of big-name signings has slowed to a crawl. The movement of dozens of veteran players over the past few weeks, though, has changed the complexion of just about every team in the league and altered the list of each squad’s most pressing vulnerabilities. Just ask the Jerry Jones, as the Cowboys lost nearly their entire 2016 secondary to the open market.

So, with the dust of free agency mostly settled, let’s take a look at each team’s biggest need ahead of the NFL draft.

Arizona Cardinals: Safety

The Cardinals lost 1,766 combined defensive snaps from 2016 when playmaking safety duo Tony Jefferson and D.J. Swearinger left in free agency. And 32-year-old free agent Antoine Bethea is just a veteran stopgap. Prospects like Ohio State’s Malik Hooker, NC State’s Josh Jones, Washington’s Budda Baker, Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers, Florida’s Marcus Maye, Utah’s Marcus Williams, or UConn’s Obi Melifonwu have the potential to be instant starters alongside Tyrann Mathieu in defensive coordinator James Bettcher’s aggressive, blitz-happy system.

Atlanta Falcons: Guard

Atlanta signed Dontari Poe and Jack Crawford to help bolster its 27th-ranked defense by DVOA, but the Falcons must address the offense. Losing coordinator Kyle Shanahan to the 49ers was already a big blow for the most prolific offense in the league last year, and if the Falcons can’t find a quality replacement for now-retired right guard Chris Chester, they run the risk of taking a big step back next year. Pittsburgh’s Dorian Johnson, Temple’s Dion Dawkins, and Indiana’s Dan Feeney are all intriguing options as early-round picks.

Baltimore Ravens: Edge Rusher

The Ravens brought back their interior disruptor by signing nose tackle Brandon Williams to a five-year, $52.5 million deal, but the team still needs to bolster its edge-rushing ability after letting outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil go. Baltimore finished tied for 24th in the NFL in sacks (31) and 22nd in adjusted sack rate in 2016, and it relied far too much on the soon-to-be-35-year-old Terrell Suggs (eight sacks). Matt Judon and Za’Darius Smith, who combined for just five sacks, are the only other pass-rushing options for defensive coordinator Dean Pees right now. In a talent-rich draft at the edge-rusher position, Stanford’s Solomon Thomas, Michigan’s Taco Charlton, UCLA’s Takkarist McKinley, and Tennessee’s Derek Barnett all could be potential targets.

Buffalo Bills: Wide Receiver

The Bills lost 167 targets, 90 catches, 1,233 receiving yards, and eight touchdown catches from last year’s passing offense when Robert Woods, Marquise Goodwin, and Justin Hunter walked in free agency. With questions lingering about the health of Sammy Watkins’s foot following a second surgery, another 28 catches, 430 yards, and two touchdowns could be gone as well. Buffalo needs to add depth and playmaking talent at the receiver position whether or not Watkins returns, and the acquisitions of Corey Brown and Jeremy Butler in free agency aren’t going to cut it. Picking at no. 10, the Bills could have their choice of any receiver in this class, whether it’s Washington’s John Ross, Clemson’s Mike Williams, or Western Michigan’s Corey Davis.

Carolina Panthers: Offensive Tackle

The Panthers’ decision to sign Matt Kalil to a five-year, $55 million deal doesn’t do a whole lot to solve their issues at tackle. Kalil is another experienced body on the line, but he comes to town on the heels of hip surgery and a four-season stretch of middling to downright bad play (in which he’s surrendered 23 sacks and 160 total quarterback pressures and committed 28 penalties). The depth behind Kalil is even less inspiring: Mike Remmers left in free agency, Michael Oher’s future is in doubt due to concussions, and Daryl Williams — the projected starter on the right side — struggled in relief of Oher last year. If Carolina wants to keep Cam Newton from taking a beating again in 2017, it’ll need to keep investing at both tackle spots. Wisconsin’s Ryan Ramczyk, Utah’s Garett Bolles, and Alabama’s Cam Robinson are all options in the first round.

Chicago Bears: Offensive Tackle

The Bears have hitched their wagon to quarterback Mike Glennon, for the 2017 season at least, and while it’s been some time since we’ve seen him in action, what we know from Glennon’s performances early in his career is that he struggled greatly with pressure. The former Buccaneer completed just 42.9 percent of his passes when hurried in 18 starts from 2013 to 2014, compiling 10 touchdowns to nine interceptions on those throws. Chicago’s excellent interior trio of Josh Sitton, Cody Whitehair, and Kyle Long should give Glennon great protection up front, but on the edges, both tackle spots need to be upgraded. Projected starting tackles Charles Leno and Bobby Massie graded out 35th and tied for 38th, respectively, in pass blocking among all tackles last year, per Pro Football Focus, and this poor play on the outside is a big reason Chicago tried (but failed) to land Baltimore free-agent right tackle Ricky Wagner.

Cincinnati Bengals: Edge Rusher

With a mass exodus of starters in free agency over the past month, the Bengals have holes to fill on both sides of the ball — at offensive line, receiver, defensive tackle, and linebacker — but their most pressing need is a sack-maker to pair with Carlos Dunlap. Michael Johnson is no longer much of a danger to bring down opposing passers (just 3.5 sacks in 2016), and Will Clarke (4.0 sacks) doesn’t have enough speed off the edge to consistently get to the quarterback.

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Cleveland Browns: Quarterback

Dating back to 1999, 26 quarterbacks have started a game for Cleveland, and while Cody Kessler showed promise at times last year as a rookie — tossing six touchdowns to two picks with a 65 percent completion rate and a 92.3 rating in eight starts — he’s not a clear answer. (Brock Osweiler might — just kidding). So while there’s no can’t-miss prospect like Andrew Luck or Cam Newton among the top passers this year, Cleveland’s desperation to finally find someone that looks like a franchise quarterback means that the team could sink one of its two first-rounders into Mitchell Trubisky, Deshaun Watson, Patrick Mahomes, or DeShone Kizer.

Dallas Cowboys: Defensive Back

Dallas has to replace 2,643 defensive snaps from 2016 after the departures of cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne and safeties Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox in free agency. While Byron Jones looks like an ascending star at safety and cornerback Anthony Brown played well as a rookie last year, the acquisition of 30-year-old Nolan Carroll, coming off of his worst season as a pro, is nothing more than a Band-Aid. The Cowboys need to add starting-caliber players — and depth behind them — at both safety and cornerback. It’s a talent-rich draft at both positions, and a player like UConn’s Obi Melifonwu, who has worked out for teams at both safety and corner, could potentially contribute at both spots.

Denver Broncos: Left Tackle

GM John Elway and the Broncos got off to a good start in addressing a leaky offensive line that finished 24th in sacks (40) and 27th in adjusted sack rate last year by signing guard Ronald Leary and right tackle Menelik Watson. But even Elway has admitted that something needs to be done at the left tackle spot after the team declined to pick up the option on last year’s starter, Russell Okung. In his first two years, Ty Sambrailo has already shown that he’s not the answer there.

Detroit Lions: Edge Rusher

The Lions have plenty of work to do on their 32nd-ranked defense (per DVOA) from 2016, and improvement in 2017 starts with getting to the quarterback. Detroit finished 25th in adjusted sack rate, 29th in pressure rate, and tied for 30th in sacks last year, and its second-most-productive sack-getter, Devin Taylor, remains a free agent. With a deep group of pass rushers coming into the draft, Detroit will have a couple of chances to add an explosive disruptor off the edge to join forces with Ezekiel Ansah and Kerry Hyder.

Green Bay Packers: Edge Rusher

Cornerback is still a big need for a Packers defense that ranked 31st in passing yards allowed and 29th in passing touchdowns surrendered last season, but a good pass rush could help hide some of the vulnerabilities Green Bay has in the backend. Clay Matthews collected just five sacks in 12 games as he battled shoulder and hamstring injuries last year. Mathews may return to form if he’s healthy in 2017, but the Packers plan to move him around (perhaps playing him in the middle again), and with the loss of Julius Peppers (and his 7.5 sacks) to free agency, Green Bay needs to add a disruptive edge rusher or two to the mix.

Houston Texans: Quarterback

The Texans managed to wriggle free from the four-year, $72 million contract they gave Osweiler last spring, but presumptive starter Tom Savage isn’t the answer either. The team still needs to draft and develop for the future. Kizer and Mahomes could be great fits for the Texans in the first round, as they both possess strong arms and aggressive styles that would satisfy Bill O’Brien’s desire for a more explosive downfield passing game.

Indianapolis Colts: Inside Linebacker

The Colts surrendered an opposing passer rating of 117 to the short middle of the field (28th in the league) and, per NFL GSIS charting, gave up an average of 4.6 yards per carry on rushes up the middle (also 28th). Indy needs to add a middle-of-the-field patroller or two, especially after Chris Ballard’s first move as GM was releasing D’Qwell Jackson, who racked up 237 tackles for Indianapolis over the last three years. Ballard will be looking to plug in a rangy, big-hitting, tone-setting inside linebacker that can strike fear into receivers going over the middle and stuff runs up the gut. Alabama’s Reuben Foster, Vanderbilt’s Zach Cunningham, Ohio State’s Raekwon McMillan, or Florida’s Jarrad Davis could all be options with the Colts’ first-round pick.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Offensive Line

Trading a future seventh-round pick to the Dolphins for Branden Albert helped the Jaguars address their need at the tackle position after letting 2016 starter Kelvin Beachum go, but the team can’t stop there. Albert has the upside to be a solid starter this year, except relying on a guy who’s 32 years old, hasn’t played a full season since 2011, and is coming off his worst year as a pro is a gamble. Meanwhile, right tackle Jermey Parnell (30) isn’t getting any younger, and the depth on the edges behind both starters is basically nonexistent. The guard position could use an upgrade as well, as both A.J. Cann and Patrick Omameh struggled last season and at least need some competition.

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Kansas City Chiefs: Inside Linebacker

Coming off a ruptured Achilles, Derrick Johnson’s effectiveness in the middle of the field could decline in 2017, and even if the 34-year-old four-time Pro Bowler can get back to his previous level of play, Kansas City needs to start looking for a successor to go alongside Ramik Wilson in its 3–4 system.

Los Angeles Chargers: Offensive Line

The Chargers offensive line is basically one big hole; it ranked 19th in pressure rate and 24th in adjusted sack rate in 2016, per Football Outsiders. Last year’s starting left tackle, King Dunlap, is gone, and while signing free agent Russell Okung gives the Chargers a nominal replacement on the blind side, the eighth-year veteran has always struggled with speed rushers (not great in a division that features Von Miller, Justin Houston, and Khalil Mack!), and 2016 was his first full season as a pro. Left guard Orlando Franklin has been a disappointment since signing a five-year, $36.5 million contract in 2015, center Matt Slauson is on the wrong side of 30 and entering the final year of his deal, right guard D.J. Fluker leaves a vacancy after signing with the Giants in free agency, and right tackle Joe Barksdale struggled last year. Los Angeles needs to use multiple picks on its O-line.

Los Angeles Rams: Edge Rusher

You can pencil in Robert Quinn and recent free-agent acquisition Connor Barwin as new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips’s two primary edge-rushing outside linebackers, but behind those two, the Rams’ cupboard is pretty bare. With Aaron Donald wrecking offensive plans from the inside, outside rushers should be able to go against one-on-one blocks all game long. The Rams don’t pick in Round 1 (see: Goff, Jared), but edge rushers like Wisconsin’s T.J. Watt, Auburn’s Carl Lawson, or Missouri’s Charles Harris could be around in the early second.

Miami Dolphins: Linebacker

Even after signing former Steeler Lawrence Timmons to a two-year, $12 million deal and handing Kiko Alonso a long-term extension, the Dolphins shouldn’t be done at linebacker. A restructured contract for Koa Misi gives the team a probable third starter next to Timmons and Alonso, but Misi missed most of last season with a neck injury. Even if he can stay healthy this season, it’s time for Miami to invest in the future: Depth at all three linebacker spots is thin, and Timmons and Misi are both 30 years old.

Minnesota Vikings: Defensive Tackle

Offensive line and running back are still needs, but with defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd possibly retiring due to nerve damage in his knee, addressing the lack of depth on the interior defensive line should be the top priority for the Vikings. After Floyd, Tom Johnson is 32 and coming off of a torn hamstring, and the team has to start looking for a long-term replacement for Linval Joseph before too long. Michigan State’s Malik McDowell, Florida’s Caleb Brantley, Auburn’s Montravius Adams, and Mississippi’s D.J. Jones could be a few options for the Vikings when they pick in the middle part of the second round.

New England Patriots: Edge Rusher

The Patriots traded away Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins over the last 13 months and lost Jabaal Sheard and Chris Long in free agency, so while it’s still pretty hard to find a real hole on New England’s roster, after finishing 16th in sacks, 26th in pressure rate, and 26th in adjusted sack rate, the pass rush needs to be addressed. With no first- or second-round pick, New England will have to target potential gems later in the draft. If players like Alabama’s Tim Williams, Kansas State’s Jordan Willis, Youngstown State’s Derek Rivers, or Houston’s Tyus Bowser fall into the early third round, each could fit the bill.

New Orleans Saints: Cornerback

A lack of depth at cornerback killed the Saints last year. With injuries to Damian Swann, Delvin Breaux, and P.J. Williams, New Orleans relied heavily on Sterling Moore and a pair of undrafted free-agent rookies, De’Vante Harris and Ken Crawley, to man that spot. It went about well as you’d expect: The Saints gave up an NFL-worst 273.8 passing yards per game while surrendering a 98.1 passer rating to opposing quarterbacks (29th). Priority no. 1 for head coach Sean Payton and defensive coordinator Dennis Allen should be to add a ballhawking corner or two when the draft kicks off. Ohio State’s Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley, Alabama’s Marlon Humphrey, LSU’s Tre’Davious White, or Washington’s Sidney Jones and Kevin King are all options with either (or both) of New Orleans first-round picks.

New York Giants: Offensive Tackle

Giants GM Jerry Reese recently suggested that starting left tackle Ereck Flowers could lose his job, admitting, “It is time for him to show us the fruits of being a first-round draft pick.” But New York’s work so far this offseason — re-signing guard John Jerry and adding right tackle/guard D.J. Fluker in free agency — hasn’t really given Reese any other option. At 36, Eli Manning needs a nimble-footed pass protector capable of giving him consistent protection on the blindside, and the penalty-prone Flowers hasn’t shown many signs of developing into that guy.

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

New York Jets: Quarterback

No team has had a more underwhelming offseason, and while the Jets have needs at basically every position on the roster, the heart of their struggles is the inability to find and develop a franchise quarterback. The decision to sign 37-year-old Josh McCown buys New York a little bit of time to do that, but not much time: The 15th-year pro lasted all of four quarters as the starter for the Browns last year before fracturing his collarbone, and even after coming back from that injury, the journeyman vet ended the season third on the Cleveland depth chart. Bryce Petty, who managed three touchdowns to seven picks, a 60.0 passer rating, and 6.1 yards per attempt in six appearances last year, and Christian Hackenberg, who couldn’t get on the field even with Petty being that bad, are the only other two passers on the payroll. New York still needs to invest in a long-term starter.

Oakland Raiders: Linebacker

Oakland lost 1,560 defensive snaps from last season when starting linebackers Malcolm Smith and Perry Riley departed in free agency, leaving Ben Heeney (who struggled before going onto the injured reserve last year), Tyrell Adams (who didn’t register a stat last season in six games), and a handful of other backups at the position. Realistically, Oakland still needs to find an instinctive, big-hitting starting middle linebacker and a run-and-chase weakside linebacker to bolster the mid-level of its defense. As prospects who could occupy either spot, Temple’s Haason Reddick and Florida’s Alex Anzalone might interest the Raiders.

Philadelphia Eagles: Cornerback

This might be the most obvious need for any team in the NFL: Both of Philly’s starters at cornerback, Leodis McKelvin and Nolan Carroll, are gone. That leaves Jalen Mills, who’s still a work in progress, and Ron Brooks, who is coming off a ruptured quad tendon and just took a pay cut. The signing of Patrick Robinson is nothing more than a flier on a former first-round pick — he was terrible last year for the Colts — so realistically, the Eagles still need to add two starting-caliber cornerbacks to their roster before the season starts. The good news: It’s a very deep draft year at corner.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Inside Linebacker

With Lawrence Timmons’s departure in free agency, the Steelers lose 950 snaps from 2016, plus the knowledge and reliability that his 10 years of experience in Pittsburgh’s defense brought on a weekly basis. (Timmons hasn’t missed a game since 2009.) Ryan Shazier is an ascending star in defensive coordinator Keith Butler’s scheme, but Pittsburgh needs to find another rangy thumper to pair him with in its 3–4.

San Francisco 49ers: Edge Rusher

The 49ers finished second-to-last in pressure rate last year, per Football Outsiders, sacking, hurrying, or forcing opposing quarterbacks to scramble on just 22 percent of passing downs. Moving to an attacking 4–3 scheme under new offensive coordinator Robert Saleh — a big departure from Chip Kelly’s wait-and-react two-gap defense — should help San Francisco generate a little more pressure, but they’ll need the explosive athletes on the edge to do it. As the roster stands now, Aaron Lynch (14 sacks in 37 career games) is just about the only guy who will strike any fear into opposing offensive tackles.

Seattle Seahawks: Offensive Tackle

The Seahawks line finished dead last in pressure rate last year per Football Outsiders, 25th in adjusted sack rate, and 27th in sacks, so GM John Schneider has little choice but to continue to throw picks at a position group that the team has really struggled to develop. Grabbing free-agent tackle Luke Joeckel — the former second overall pick who had problems with injuries and consistency in Jacksonville — is a start. But while Joeckel has the potential to turn his career around on a one-year deal, right tackle is also an area of concern. Seattle needs to take a long look at Ramczyk, Bolles, Robinson, or Western Kentucky’s Forrest Lamp if any of them are sitting there at 26.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Safety

When the Bucs let free safety Bradley McDougald walk in free agency, they lost 1,012 defensive snaps from 2016. The addition of former Cowboy J.J. Wilcox in free agency helps at strong safety, and the emergence of Keith Tandy, who played well when he replaced Chris Conte as the starter opposite McDougald over the final five weeks, adds some flexibility, but in a division with Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, and Cam Newton, Tampa Bay still needs to add some talent and playmaking to really lock down the back end of its secondary.

Tennessee Titans: Cornerback

The Titans defense surrendered the third-most passing yards of any team last year and finished with the 26th ranked pass defense per Football Outsiders DVOA. Even after the signing of free agent Logan Ryan, the secondary needs help. Ryan’s ability to play outside or in the slot gives Tennessee a lot of flexibility. With Jason McCourty, Brice McCain, and Ryan, the Titans have solid starters in base and nickel looks. But depth behind that trio is still an issue, and with McCourty and McCain both entering contract years, the future of the position needs to be addressed with one of Tennessee’s two first-round picks

Washington Redskins: Safety

Last year, the Redskins gave up a rating of 125 to opposing quarterbacks on throws to the deep middle, where they surrendered 18.39 yards per play (29th) and a 68.75 completion rate (dead last). While adding D.J. Swearinger in free agency and moving linebacker Su’a Cravens to safety give the Redskins an upgrade up in the box, neither player is fast or instinctive enough to consistently shut down the passing game. Washington needs to look for a long-term replacement for free safety DeAngelo Hall — yes, he’s still playing — and the draft this year presents plenty of options to do just that.