NFL Depth Chart Predictions: 10 Units That Need Help Via Free Agency or Trade

Brian Goldsmith@coldy4goldyContributor IIIJune 8, 2012

NFL Depth Chart Predictions: 10 Units That Need Help Via Free Agency or Trade

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    After free agency and the draft, there are still a number of teams in the NFL that have holes to fill on their depth chart. Some teams have entire units (offensive line, defensive line, wide receivers...) that could still use an upgrade.

    With the start of the season three months away, there's time for these teams to shore up their weakest positions.

    Here are 10 units that still need help via free agency or trade.

Indianapolis Colts: Cornerbacks

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    According to Football Outsiders 2011 Defensive Efficiency Ratings, the Indianapolis Colts had the 27th-ranked pass defense in the league last year. That ranking seems even worse when you consider teams could run the ball on them at will, and did on numerous occasions to close out games.

    Despite their poor performance, the Colts have done little to upgrade a cornerback unit that features, according to Bill Polian, only one cornerback (Jerraud Powers) capable of playing man-to-man. Joining Powers is a group of relative unknown players including Cassius Vaughn (recently picked up via trade), Chris Rucker, Kevin Thomas and a list of undrafted free agents.

    The Colts were rumored to be interested in disgruntled Cowboys cornerback Mike Jenkins. The interest in Jenkins and the trade for Vaughn shows the Colts know they need to upgrade the cornerback position.

    Free agent cornerbacks still available: Bryant McFadden, Kelly Jennings, Chris Johnson, Lito Sheppard, Andre Goodman and Alan Ball.

Chicago Bears: Offensive Line

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    The Chicago Bears offensive line ranked 24th in run blocking and 31st in pass protection last season, according to Football Outsiders.

    The Bears have allowed a combined 104 sacks the last two seasons.

    After being ranked the worst pass-protecting offensive line in the league in 2010, the Bears drafted offensive tackle Gabe Carimi in the first round of the 2011 draft.  Carimi missed 14 games last season due to a knee injury. He was only recently cleared for limited football activity.

    The Bears did nothing to improve their offensive line in the offseason. Maybe they hope another year together with the addition of Carimi will be all the help they need.

    Carimi is basically a rookie, though, having only played two games last season. He's also still recovering from that knee injury. The Bears would be wise to add a vet or two to their offensive line.

    Free agent offensive linemen still available: Marcus McNeill, Max Starks, Jake Scott, Vernon Carey and Jason Brown.

Detroit Lions: Cornerbacks

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    The Detroit Lions lost arguably their best cornerback, Eric Wright, to Tampa Bay via free agency. They drafted three corners (Dwight Bentley in the third, Chris Greenwood in the fifth and Jonte Green in the sixth rounds) and picked up former Colt Jacob Lacey in free agency.

    As a Colts fan who has seen Lacey play in more games than I'd like to remember, I think it's safe to say he is a huge downgrade from Wright. That's saying something, as Wright had a pretty rough year.

    Chris Houston returns as a starting cornerback. Third-round draft pick Dwight Bentley could battle Aaron Berry to start opposite Houston. The other rookie corners shouldn't be asked to contribute much this year. If they are, the Lions are in even more trouble in the defensive backfield.

    Because the Lions play primarily zone coverage in the secondary, their cornerbacks do not need to be world-beaters, but the team would certainly benefit from some added experience.

    Free agent cornerbacks still available: Benny Sapp, Justin Tryon, Donald Strickland, Dante Hughes, Lito Sheppard and Andre Goodman.

Cleveland Browns: Wide Receivers

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    The Cleveland Browns offense was not good last season. According to Football Outsiders, the Browns ranked 25th in the league in total offense. They took a step toward improving the offense by using two first- round draft picks on running back Trent Richardson and quarterback Brandon Weeden.

    They did not, however, upgrade their wide receiving corps. Their top three receivers (Josh Cribbs, Greg Little and Mohamed Massaquoi) return, but as you can see by their 2011 overall ranking, this group is mediocre at best.

    Cribbs ranked 42nd. Little and Massaquoi ranked 85th and 88th, respectively. Little has reportedly looked very good in recent practices as he looks to improve on his rookie campaign.

    Even if Little improves, as he should, the Browns could use another veteran wide receiver. It will only help Weeden's transition to the NFL.

    Free agent wide receivers still available: Plaxico Burress, Braylan Edwards (would they bring him back?), Patrick Crayton and Mark Clayton.

Carolina Panthers: Wide Receivers

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    The Carolina Panthers passing offense was pretty good last year, ranking 15th in the league. Rookie quarterback Cam Newton outperformed expectations, and wide receiver Steve Smith finished the season as a top-15 receiver.

    The problem is the depth behind Smith. They lost their No. 2 receiver, Legedu Naanee, to free agency. Brandon LaFell is in line to replace Naanee. David Gettis returns after missing all of last season with a torn ACL. Joe Adams was drafted in the fourth round of the draft.

    Another experienced, veteran receiver could make this offense one of the best in the league. To do that, they'll have to pursue a trade or do some bargain shopping in free agency. .

    Free agent wide receivers still available: Plaxico Burress and Braylan Edwards.

Dallas Cowboys: Offensive Line

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    Looking at the stats from Football Outsiders, the performance of the Cowboys offensive line last season was around the league average. Run blocking and pass blocking were a bit above average, but the stats indicate they struggled in power-run situations ("runs on third or fourth down, two yards or less to go, that achieved a first down or touchdown").

    This season, left tackle Doug Free will move back to the right side, and right tackle Tyron Smith will move over the the left side. The linemen between Free and Smith remain a mystery.

    The Cowboys cut long-time starting guard Kyle Kosier and their other starting guard, Montrae Holland. Starting center Phil Costa returns after a rough 2011 and will have to fight to get that starting job back.

    The Cowboys signed guards Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau this offseason. Livings is the projected starter at left guard. Mackenzy Bernadeau was the projected starter at right guard, but a hip injury will sideline him until mid-training camp.

    The Cowboys could use some help at guard and center before the season starts. Would they be willing to spend more in free agency to do it?

    Free agent offensive linemen still available: Vernon Carey, Jake Scott, Jason Brown and Bobbie Williams.

Miami Dolphins: Wide Receivers

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    The Miami Dolphins traded their best wide receiver (arguably their best player), Brandon Marshall, to the Bears. Marshall is a legit No. 1 receiver in the NFL. The Dolphins receiving corps now looks like this: Davone Bess (slot receiver), Brian Hartline (a No. 3 receiver on most teams) and the recently signed Legedu Naanee (a No. 2 receiver at best).

    With Marshall gone, there's no real threat at receiver.

    The Dolphins used their first-round draft pick on quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Tannehill would've benefited greatly by having Marshall at wide receiver. Instead, he's left with an incomplete receiving corps.

    Plaxico Burress, while no longer a No. 1 receiver, would be a great addition. He'd take pressure off the other receivers and Tannehill. We know Burress is interested.

    Free agent wide receivers still available: Plaxico Burress, Braylon Edwards and Mark Clayton.

New England Patriots: Cornerbacks

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    The New England Patriots are built to outscore teams with their offense. Their defense is a "bend but don't break defense" as evidenced by their 28th-ranked pass defense and 15th-ranked scoring defense.

    It's all good when you're winning, but take a look at this stat from Football Outsiders: The Patriots' DVOA (Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average) against the opposing team's No. 1 receiver was 43.9 percent, by far the worst in the league.

    The Patriots didn't really address the cornerback position this offseason. They did sign Will Allen and Marquice Cole, but neither will be starting unless there is an injury to Devin McCourty, Kyle Arrington or Ras-l Dowling.

    Just think how much better could this team be with better cornerback play?

    Free agent cornerback still available: Kelly Jennings, Donald Strickland, Chris Johnson, Lito Sheppard, Bryant McFadden and Andre Goodman.

Baltimore Ravens: Offensive Line

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    There are a lot of questions surrounding the offensive line of the Baltimore Ravens. Will center Matt Birk's age (he'll turn 36 in July) catch up with him this season? How will they replace departed free agent guard  Ben Grubbs? Will left tackle Bryant McKinnie finally get his weight under control?

    The main issue is insurance. Last season when Grubbs went down to injury, the line took a step back. They did draft offensive tackled Kelechi Osemele in the second round and guard Gino Gradkowski in the fourth. The question with them is, as rookies, will they be ready to step into a starting role when needed this season?

    This unit could use some depth and insurance across the line.

    Free agent offensive linemen still available: Marcus McNeill, Max Starks, Vernon Carey, Jake Scott and Jason Brown.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Offensive Line

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    The Jacksonville Jaguars offensive line ranked 27th in the league at protecting their quarterback last year. Not good when the team has invested so much in quarterback Blaine Gabbert.

    Despite this, the Jags opted not to address their offensive line in the draft and did little in free agency. From the looks of things, Gabbert will again spend too much time picking himself up off the turf.

    The thing is, there are quality pass-protecting offensive linemen available. Jake Scott would be an immediate upgrade at guard. Marcus McNeill or Max Starks would be a big improvement at tackle (most likely, right tackle).

    Free agent offensive linemen still available: Marcus McNeill, Max Starks, Vernon Carey, Jake Scott and Jason Brown.


    Follow Brian on Twitter @coldy4goldy.