With the first days of training camp in full swing every NFL organization has to look at their roster and point out the biggest positional needs for their team to have as much success as possible. And that’s what I did for each team in the league. This list is not about building depth or planning for the future, but rather which positions have to be upgraded for them to win this year. Without any further ado, here it is:
The Bears already got one of the best safeties in football when they made their move for Antrel Rolle, but that free safety spot is still up for grabs. Rolle can cover any part of the field and easily play as a free, but I think he’s at his best when he’s roaming around and covers different parts of the field, to trick opposing quarterbacks. A true deep safety to not let wide receivers run by the secondary would be a nice addition.
Right now the Lions only have four tackles on their active roster and of those four only one has ever started a regular season game (Riley Reiff). That’s crazy! I like Corey Robinson out of South Carolina, who they drafted in the seventh round, but he’s not a starting-calibre tackle come week one. Some help on the right side of the O-line is definitely needed for them to succeed.
At this point I think the favorites for a starting spot at the inside linebacker position would be Sam Barrington and rookie Jake Ryan out of Michigan. When Barrington saw the field he did a solid job, being able to do a little bit of everything, while Ryan might not be ready to make plays in coverage at this point, but could improve a rush defense which ranked 23rd in yards allowed. Still, at least having another guy compete for a spot never hurts.
AP is back – Let’s give him some running room! Right tackle could also be a spot to look at, but I think a road-grader at guard would help most in building a dominant rushing attack. Teddy Bridgewater will have the ball in his hands for often than he did last year at times, especially with their improved receiving corp, but there’s a reason we call the guy in the backfield All Day.
With the additions of Greg Hardy via free agency and Randy Gregory via the draft, the ‘Boys have a potential game-wrecking edge rushing duo, but I don’t think they have anyone on their roster who can really make an impact from the inside. Dallas’ defense was written down as one of the worst units in the league coming into last season and still played very well, but at some point you need the talent at all positions to win games.
The Giants seem to be willing to follow what the Cowboys did as they drafted O-linemen in the first round two of the last three years. They certainly needed help at the tackle position and with Will Beatty out for the remainder of the season that’s even more imminent. The spot they should look at as the next one towards a great offensive line is the center position. If you search through their official roster you can only find one true center and that’s a rookie and Weston Richburg has been moved to guard. A guy in the middle who can communicate with everyone around him should be their top priority.
I have no idea how you can let two great starting guards go and not do anything to replace them. But once again I’m not sure what Chip Kelly is doing in general. Evan Mathis was a Pro Bowler the last two years and Todd Herremans has made a big impact in Philly the last ten. If Chip wants to be explosive on offense he first must sure up his offensive line.
Dashon Goldson was a nice start to a renewed secondary in DC, but the second safety spot is still up for grabs. Right now Jeron Johnson looks like the favorite to win the battle, but while he has probably gathered a lot of experience with the legion of boom, he has started only one game of his four-year career. The second guy fighting for a starting spot is Duke Ihenacho, who is entering his fourth season and has already been starter one year for the Broncos. If none of them can prove he earns that spot, they need to bring in someone else.
Paul Worrilow really came into his own last season and the Falcons will depend on him to control the defense, but a dynamic playmaker in the middle would be another element to take this unit to the next level. I’m not sure how happy they are with Tyler Polumbus in a starting role. Opposing pass rushers had a lot of success against him last year. Either one of the choices would be very beneficial.
The Panthers obviously like size at the receiver position as they drafted Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess the last two years, but they don’t have anyone at receiver who can work inside or catch bubble screens. A slot receiver would make a ton of sense as Cam Newton still struggles with his accuracy at times. Having a guy who can shake his defender quickly on slant or pivot routes gives Cam much more room to throw to.
The Saints paid far more for guards the last few years than any other team. Now they feel the consequences with a negative salary cap which led to trading Jimmy Graham and letting Ben Grubbs go. They won’t be able to replace Graham with anyone, since there’s nobody like him in the league other than Rob Gronkowski, but they need to find someone who they can plug in at the open guard spot, because I don’t think there’s anybody on the roster at this point.
The only two players on that line I would like as starters are center Evan Dietrich-Smith and guard Logan Mankins. None of the other starters from last season has true starting caliber. The Bucs drafted a couple of young O-linemen in Ali Marpet (Hobart) and Donovan Smith (Penn State) who could eventually start for them, but I don’t think letting a bunch of rookies protect your rookie signal caller is the best option. They need to pick some more guys up.
I think the Cardinals have finally fixed their offensive line. The have five very good starters and they just need to work together from here on. I also like what they have at receiver with an aging but still producing Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and speedster John Brown. Moreover they have a couple of dynamic young running backs and a quarterback who went 6-0 last year. So what do they still need on offense? – A security blanket for Carson Palmer. Jermaine Gresham had a few solid years in Cincinnati, but a premier playmaker at the tight end position would be a huge upgrade. On defense it depends on whether linebacker Daryl Washington comes back.
The Rams have one of the very best defensive lines in football. Those guys can really put the pressure on opposing quarterbacks. What this defense needs now is a true shutdown-corner who lines up on number one receivers and stays with them to give that pass rush more time to get home. Janoris Jenkins has become a very good player and E.J. Gaines has played solid as well, but having someone who can really take away ones is a different thing.
The Niners have lost so many players and even starters from last year’s team I could mention a few more positions, but the departure which might hurt them the most is the one of right tackle Anthony Davis. They get NaVorro Bowman back to take the middle linebacker spot and Darnell Dockett is a great D-lineman, but I don’t see anyone on their roster who can start at right tackle come week one. At guard they drafted Brandon Thomas out of Clemson last year and after a redshirt year he should be ready to take over the void Mike Iupati left, but they probably didn’t think Davis would retire at age 25.
This one’s pretty obvious to me – the Hawks traded away their Pro Bowl center Max Unger to aquire a huge weapon in Jimmy Graham, but who will take over in the middle of their offense? They don’t have anybody at that position who’s even played in more than six games. And I’m not talking about rookies. The key to the Seahawks offense is letting the Beast run the ball. Now without their best O-lineman that element of their game takes a hit. They better get someone ready until the season starts.
Okay, I now I’m breaking my rules right here, but let me explain this. Strong safety Matt Elam is probably out for the season with a torn biceps, so Will Hill now is the clear starter at that position. They added Kendrick Lewis to play the free and they have second-year man Terrence Brooks and Anthony Levine as their backups. Even though those guys did a solid job when the Ravens had to rely on them last year, adding another veteran safety would be an important security blanket for Baltimore. Other than that I think this is the team with the least imminent need at any position in all of the NFL.
A.J. Green recently made comments about him not being in the conversation for the best receivers in the league and I feel that way too. But this guy is without a question one of the elite wideouts in the NFL. The thing the Bengals still look for is someone to line up on the opposite side of him and make plays when opponents have a gameplan for stopping Green. They have a couple of young talented receivers like Mohamed Sanu and Greg Little, but I think bringing in another receiver who can make plays on his own and destroy opponents who don’t respect him would be an enormous boost.
Right now the Browns have some talented young receivers, but I wouldn’t call any of them a true number one. Dwayne Bowe who they picked up from Kansas City would be the only one you could that way, since he’s been that for short periods of time for the Chiefs, but I don’t think he can really take on that role. Brian Hartline is a solid backup at worst and Travis Benjamin seems to make noise in training camp so far, but since the quarterback situation to me is still unclear (even though Josh McCown will probably start the season), a top-tier wideout would certainly make life a lot easier for whoever is under center.
Troy Polamalu was a special player for quite some time and even though he wasn’t a huge contributor the last two seasons, finding someone who plays with so much passion and instincts won’t be easy. Will Allen is a very good backup, but I don’t think the 12-year veteran is the reason for the Steelers’ problems in the secondary. A true tone-setter like Kam Chancellor would give opponents a whole new respect for the Steel Curtain and intimidate them once again.
Does anyone think the Bills can’t feature the top defense in the league? They have the very best D-line in football, a couple of dynamic linebackers, probably the most underrated duo of cornerbacks and one of my favorite players in strong safety Aaron Williams. The only thing still missing is a true ballhawk and deep safety. They had to let Da’Norris Searcy walk away, but even before that I thought that this would complete their defense. Sure, someone to throw the ball would be nice as well, but how many franchise quarterbacks can you find in August? They have three guys battling for the job. Let’s see who comes out as the man.
In 2013 no offensive line allowed more sacks to opponents than the Dolphins. In 2014 they improved to the 10th-most, so to keep that trend upright a move for another guard must happen. I like that they brought in Jeff Linkenbach to compete for the right tackle spot, but they need help inside to maybe even be able to move Mike Pouncey to his natural position at center. A lot of sacks in the previous years came from Ryan Tannehill seeing ghosts in the pocket and therefore moving around too much instead of keeping his eyes down the field. The coaches try to get the ball out of his hands quicker, but he has to get more comfortable behind his big guys.
I can’t remember the last time a team lost their top three cornerbacks in one offseason (even though Kyle Arrington is more of a nickel). Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler looks more and more like a sure-fire starter at this point, Robert McClain and Bradley Fletcher both had their moments during their journeyman-like careers and Logan Ryan is now entering his third year in the Patriots system, but what got them over the hump last season was the best cornerback in the game. Now without him another confident DB who can take receivers out of the game is needed.
The Jets are the only team I picked to have their biggest need at the quarterback position, just because they now have good enough players to go wherever their signal caller can take them. The defense has talent and experience at every level (even though it’s not clear when Sheldon Richardson will see playing action), they have a solid O-line, Brandon Marshall on the outside and a good rotation of running backs. Now to make everything work they need to find a true field general. Geno Smith is still not the answer in my eyes.
If Arian Foster wouldn’t have injured his groin you’d see safety as their top priority, but without one of the elite running backs in today’s game, they need to find someone else to carry the load. Alfred Blue only averaged 3.1 yards a carry during his rookie season and none of their other backs cracked the 4 yard per carry mark either. The Texans and Pierre Thomas were not able to work out a deal, but he hasn’t proven himself as an every-down back anyway. Luckily guys like Ray Rice and Chris Johnson are still on the market and hungry for carries.
Some help on the O-line certainly wouldn’t hurt, but Andrew Luck has managed to stay upright even while taking a ton of shots and the addition of Todd Herremans certainly helps. If you watch the AFC Championship game (and don’t just think about the in- or deflation of the footballs) you’ll see a struggling Luck, but even easier you can see how LeGarette Blount slices through the defense for about 150 yards and three scores. In that game the Colts were just dominated up front and now with their two best D-lineman Cory Redding and Ricky Jean-Francois leaving they’re even in a bigger hole to be able to control the line of scrimmage. I like nose tackle Josh Chapman, but he can’t take on five blockers on his own.
With 71 sacks allowed in 2014 the Jaguars gave up 13 more than any other team in the league, so the front office made fixing the pass protection and O-line in general their top priority this offseason. With the signings of center Stefen Wisniewski, rookie guard A.J. Cann and tackle Jeremy Parnell they did a solid job, even though I’m not sure Parnell is a starting caliber tackle, so they may look for someone else. But getting to the quarterback themselves will be an even taller task now with their top draft pick Dante Fowler out for the entire season. They have Sen’Derrick Marks and Jared Odrick inside, but they need help on the edge.
Jurrell Casey is a beast. With that being said, he can’t control the line of scrimmage himself. The addition of Brian Orakpo made a lot of sense since the Titans were slim at edge rushers and he should become one of their leaders defensively. I thought Leonard Williams from USC would have been a perfect fit, but by choosing to make Marcus Mariota their franchise signal caller they left themselves in search for someone who can put his hand in the dirt and make the opponents O-line work, to free up the linebackers to make plays.
There’s no question about this one. Other than the Texans’ Arian Foster hurting his groin I don’t think any team took a bigger blow than the Broncos when they found out Ryan Clady would miss the entire upcoming season. Nothing is more important to them than keeping a 39-year old Peyton Manning upright. Peyton’s best friend will be a more powerful running game under new head coach Gary Kubiak, but if opponents can win on his blind side and put pressure on him without having to send extra guys Sundays will be a lot less fun for the old man.
First of all, let’s all thank god Eric Berry is healthy again and back on the football field. If he wouldn’t have been the Chiefs probably would have had to look for his replacement, but as it is their main focus should be on finding another premiere weapon at the receiver position. Jeremy Maclin is a solid player, I like rookie Chris Conley out of Georgia and their offense will once again be built on handing the ball off or getting it out quick to players in space, but a big target for Alex Smith, which can just go up and make plays on the ball would add a whole other dimension.
Of their top three corners only D.J. Hayden will be wearing silver and black this year. T.J. Carrie should take over the other spot on the outside, but I think he will be exploited a couple of times during his starting campaign. This defense has a couple of special parts on it like second-year linebacker Khalil Mack and the ageless wonder Charles Woodson, but in order for them to also play special someone to run right with his man would certainly help.
The Chargers have quietly put together one of the better defensive lines in football and I still believe Melvin Ingram will find the consistency to be a dominant force on the edge, but even with a 34-year old Dwight Freeney they just couldn’t put enough pressure on opposing quarterbacks. With that guy leaving the building and nobody really coming in as someone who could help them in that department, the Bolts have to look for someone to provide the spark they need.