Every NFL Team's Biggest Hole Heading into 2012
Even after teams have had ample opportunities to fill their holes via the draft and free agency, there are still several holes that need to be filled on every team.
Whether it was financial reasons or simply bad luck with injuries, a lot of teams find themselves with more deficiencies than they anticipated on having at this time of year.
Here is the biggest hole remaining on every NFL team.
Atlanta Falcons: Left Tackle
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There was a time in which Sam Baker was viewed as one of the best young left-tackle prospects in the NFL.
However, injuries took their toll on Baker, who was benched midway through the 2011 season. His replacement, Will Svitek, actually outplayed Baker. Still, Svitek is more of a versatile, stop-gap player—not a long-term solution at the most important position on the offensive line.
Baker is expected to start, but the Falcons have prepared for the future; they picked Southern Mississippi product Lamar Holmes in the third round of the draft. Holmes is a long-armed project-type player who could see action sooner than expected if Baker fails to get his career back on track.
Let Baker start the season and insert Holmes if Baker continues to struggle.
New Orleans Saints: Defensive End
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Between trying to keep their multitude of free agents and having limited resources in the draft, the Saints were unable to upgrade their pass rush once again.
Last year's first-round pick, Cam Jordan, needs to provide more as a rusher. Veteran Will Smith is facing a four-game suspension for his role in the "Bountygate" scandal, which will make the need ever more glaring.
The Saints did have Greg Romeus, an undrafted product out of Jackson State who spent all of last season on IR. However, after suffering another injury in camp, the Saints released him, further depleting their depth at the position.
It is not like there are many options available on the free-agent market at this point, so the Saints are just going to have to have faith in Cam Jordan making a jump in his second year.
Carolina Panthers: Defensive Tackle
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Coming into the offseason, defensive tackle was clearly the Panthers' biggest area of need, as they struggled mightily to stop the run.
However, they somehow failed to use any draft picks or sign any free agents who could be used to fill the position. They passed on Fletcher Cox and Dontari Poe in the first round in favor of Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly.
Perhaps the Panthers just have more faith in Sione Fua and Terrell McClain's ability to improve than the rest of us, but there is a good chance that defensive tackle will be on top of the Panthers' shopping list for next season.
Assuming Fua and McClain, both third-round picks from 2011, make a jump in their second season, the Panthers should be scouring the waiver wire looking for underrated players who do not survive training-camp cuts to add depth to their rotation.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Cornerback
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As Ronde Barber makes the move to safety, the Bucs' cornerback position remains a big question mark in 2012 and beyond.
Luckily, Aquib Talib's court case was dismissed, but a suspension is still possible. As of right now, the starters are Talib and Eric Wright.
While Wright is a capable player, he is not viewed as a long-term solution, and Talib is coming off a substandard season. While they will probably not make many changes to the lineup before the start of the season, by this time next year, I would expect the Bucs' secondary to look vastly different.
Assuming Talib is not suspended, the Bucs have a good enough tandem to at least get through the season, but this position needs more raw talent to build around in the future. This is a "hole" because of the uncertain future of the position.
Houston Texans: Right Tackle
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After releasing the best right tackle in the game in Eric Winston, the Texans find themselves with a massive hole on the right side of their line.
As of now, Rashad Butler is set to be the starter, but he is an athletic, pass-blocking type, which is a far cry from the masher that Eric Winston was that gave them the best running attack in football.
The Texans would not have cut Winston if they did not feel as if they had a solution on their roster, but it's hard for me to believe that the Texans will push opponents around in the ground game like they did last year without him.
Pencil in Butler as the starter, but bring in veteran competition—someone like Kareem McKenzie—to keep him at the top of his game.
Indianapolis Colts: Cornerback
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Jerraud Powers is a better player than he is given credit for, but the corner situation in Indy is pretty bleak.
Since the Colts did not use a draft pick on the position, Kevin Thomas, Brandon King and Chris Rucker will battle for one of the starting jobs. Unless one of those players is a hidden gem that no one knows about, the Colts could have the weakest starting-corner tandem in the game.
As the Colts look to get younger at just about every position in their rebuilding movement, it makes little sense for them to bring in a stop-gap veteran who would just stunt the development of their younger players.
The Colts are better off seeing what they have in training camp before they make any moves. Since they have first dibs on the waiver wire, they could pick up some training-camp casualties that would be an upgrade over what they have, if they feel like they need to make a move.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Right Tackle
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While the Jaguars spent most of their energy adding a plethora of wide receivers (and rightfully so), they failed to add an offensive lineman in the draft.
This leaves Guy Whimper and Eben Britton as the two options at right tackle. Britton, when healthy, is a solid player, but he is coming off back surgery. Whimper did nothing in Britton's place to suggest that he can be the solution at the position.
In a year in which the Jaguars are trying to rescue Blaine Gabbert from his shell-shocked rookie season, rolling the dice on the questionable health of your right tackle is a huge gamble.
I am assuming the Jaguars are content with the progress Britton has made in terms of his recovery, which would make him the starter headed into camp. But if Britton's back fails to hold up, they may want to bring in another veteran as insurance.
Tennessee Titans: Cornerback
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The Titans seemed very content with their decision to let Cortland Finnegan walk in free agency, despite the fact that he was arguably their best defensive player.
Finnegan's departure would naturally leave a hole at corner, which Jason McCourty is expected to fill, leaving the other position wide open. Alterraun Verner or Ryan Mouton will battle for the job in camp.
Verner has some starting experience and has played well in the past, which makes him the favorite to win the job.
Judging by how the Titans used little resources to replace Finnegan, they seem content with the likes of Verner or Mouton starting. Unless either player gets injured or has a terrible preseason, it makes sense to give them a year to see what they can do before bringing in a veteran who would stunt their development.
If neither player proves that they are up to the task, this position will be revisited a year from now.
Denver Broncos: Defensive Tackle
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The biggest loss the Broncos suffered this year was not Tim Tebow; it was losing Broderick Bunkley to free agency, leaving a gaping hole in the middle of their defense.
While former Patriot Ty Warren will be one of the starters after missing the entire season with a torn triceps, the other spot is wide open. The Broncos are hoping Derek Wolfe, their second-round pick, can seize the starting job sooner than later.
However, the Broncos probably see Wolfe more as a situational pass-rusher and do not want to rush him into the starting lineup right away.
To start the season, it makes the most sense to play more experienced players like Justin Bannan in the base defense and insert Wolfe into the lineup on obvious passing downs.
Kansas City Chiefs: Quarterback
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Frankly, the Chiefs are a good enough team to win a Super Bowl. Looking up and down their roster, it is difficult to find any holes in their starting lineup.
However, their otherwise-talented team's potential will be limited to how far Matt Cassel can take them. After making the Pro Bowl in 2010, he took a step back and finished the season on injured reserve.
Cassel will be the unquestioned starter coming into the season, but his performance this year will determine whether or not he is capable of putting the Chiefs in Super Bowl contention.
Give Cassel one more year, and revisit the position next March if necessary.
San Diego Chargers: Right Tackle
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The Chargers' line issues were partially resolved when they were able to hang onto Jared Gaither to play left tackle, but the right side of the line remains a huge question mark.
Jeromey Clary will start the season at right tackle, but the Chargers had better hope that last season's performance was an anomaly after giving him a huge extension last year.
The Chargers simply have too much money invested in Clary to give up on him now, but adding some veteran depth, such as Kareem McKenzie or Max Starks, would be wise in case they have no choice but to bench him.
Oakland Raiders: Cornerback
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After releasing Stanford Routt in a cap-saving move, Reggie McKenzie is starting from scratch at the corner position.
While Bartell is a bit underrated and could turn out to be quite a steal, both players have dealt with a lot of injury issues, and neither should be viewed as long-term solutions at the position.
The Raiders' cap situation does not allow them to make many moves before next offseason; in fact, I'm pretty impressed with how McKenzie was able to bring in some decent talent with such limited resources.
The Raiders really have no choice but to hope both players can stay healthy and revisit the position at the end of the year.
Seattle Seahawks: Quarterback
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On paper, the Seahawks are a pretty complete team, but huge questions remain about the quarterback position.
Matt Flynn is expected to be the starter, but Tarvaris Jackson and even Russell Wilson are still in contention for the starting job.
Pete Carroll is going to make this competition seem as real as possible in training camp, but it would be a huge upset if Matt Flynn is not the starter, considering the kind of money they are paying him.
Assuming Flynn wins the job, he should get a least a full season to prove his worth as a starter. If he totally collapses, Seattle should cut their losses after the season, but there are too many possible outcomes to rule anything out at this point.
The Seahawks will know if they have their quarterback within a few months.
Arizona Cardinals: Quarterback
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The quarterback competition between Kevin Kolb and John Skelton is about as exiting as a trip to the DMV. The fact that this competition even exists tells us enough about Kevin Kolb's future as a starting quarterback in the NFL.
While their offensive line does not do either player many favors, neither player is going to put them in position to compete with the 49ers for division supremacy.
I have a feeling that Kolb will get one more chance to start, but unless he has a major turnaround in his second year in Arizona, the Cardinals will be back in the quarterback market sooner than later.
Play the season out with Kolb or Skelton, and start scouting the top college prospects. Hopefully, the Cardinals don't win too many games so they can get a shot at someone like USC's Matt Barkley.
San Francisco 49ers: Right Guard
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Since they will be returning all 11 defensive starters and have made major upgrades to the offensive skill positions, it is difficult to find many holes on the 49ers' roster.
However, they do have a hole at right guard. Jim Harbaugh says he plans on moving Alex Boone into the starting job, but he will face competition from Daniel Kilgore and Joe Looney.
It makes the most sense to move Boone from tackle to step in and play guard if the 49ers believe that he is the best option so far. If Boone falters, the Niners still have options they can use and could possibly revisit the position next offseason.
St. Louis Rams: Safety
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After playing about as well as any safety in the game in 2010, Quintin Mikell showed some age last year, as the Rams gave up far too many big running plays.
On the other side, Darian Stewart missed a ton of tackles and may have been forced into action too early as a rookie.
The safety market is all but dried up at this point, but perhaps they could take a chance on a player like Jim Leonhard, who is still recovering from a leg injury.
If the Rams go with the same starting tandem as they did last year, they could still scour the waiver wire to add depth to an otherwise-thin position.
Green Bay Packers: Safety
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For a team that won 15 games in the regular season last year, the Packers actually have quite a bit of work to do on their roster.
However, the biggest concerns have to start on the defensive side, in which the Packers slipped to the bottom of the league in yards allowed per game. They gave up way too many big plays, which is an indictment on their safety play, particularly after Nick Collins went down in Week 2.
Morgan Burnett and Charlie Peprah are still expected to be the starters, but Ted Thompson spent his 133rd pick on Maine product Jerron McMillan to add some competition and depth.
The Packers will probably not make any further changes to the safety position, but I would be tempted to take a chance on a player like Jim Leonhard to see if he can at least stop the bleeding in the back end of the secondary.
Minnesota Vikings: Wide Receiver
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Even before Percy Harvin stirred the pot when he asked for a trade, the Vikings had their issues at the receiver position.
While Jerome Simpson spends his first two games serving a suspension, Harvin and Devin Aromashodu appear to be the opening day starters. Harvin has a lot of talent, but the likes of Aromashodu and Mike Jenkins do not exactly strike fear into opposing defenses.
If I were making the decision in Minnesota, I would not be hesitant to insert the two Arkansas rookies, Jarius Wright and Greg Childs, on the field sooner than later. The Vikings already know what they have in a player like Mike Jenkins, so it makes more sense to start developing their younger receivers with their young quarterback as soon as possible.
Detroit Lions: Cornerback
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As of now, Chris Houston and Aaron Berry are the starting corners for the Lions, which is not exactly exciting news for Lions fans who watched their team get torched for big plays, particularly at the end of the year.
This unit will also be without Eric Wright, who could have been their best corner last year.
Rookies Dwight Bentley, Chris Greenwood and Jonte Green will be in the mix to battle Jacob Lacey for playing time in sub-packages, but it would be an upset if any of these players turned out to be starters.
If I were the Lions, I would take a good look at players like Drew Coleman or Donald Strickland to add as much competition to this spot as possible.
Chicago Bears: Left Tackle
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The Bears made a lot of upgrades at the receiver position, but the offensive line still remains a huge question mark, as it has been for several years now.
The competition for left tackle is between J'Marcus Webb and Chris Williams, who have both struggled at the position.
The Bears still want to see if they have a starter in J'Marcus Webb, so they will give him every opportunity to start. However, unless Webb makes significant improvements in his game, the Bears will find themselves in the market for a left tackle next March.
Baltimore Ravens: Outside Linebacker
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Despite grabbing Courtney Upshaw in the second round, the Ravens have to be concerned with the loss or Terrell Suggs. Losing Suggs will have a rippling effect on the rest of the defense and expose weaknesses that did not exist in the past.
Not only did the Ravens lose Suggs, but Jarrett Johnson, who played on the opposite side at outside linebacker, left for the Chargers in free agency.
As of now, Paul Kruger is set to move into Suggs' position, and Upshaw should replace Johnson.
The Ravens may have entered this offseason knowing they would have to replace one outside linebacker, but losing their best defensive player was something they never anticipated. It makes no sense to go after a free agent or trade for one because Suggs will return in a year.
The Ravens really don't have much choice but to play Kruger and Upshaw and hope for the best.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Left Tackle
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While the Steelers may have made a huge upgrade to the interior of their offensive line by drafting David DeCastro in the first round, the left-tackle position remains a huge question mark.
As of now, Marcus Gilbert appears to be the opening-day starter, but second-round pick Mike Adams should not be counted out of the mix just yet.
The Steelers should just let these two players battle it out and play the best player, regardless of money or draft position; the Steelers are built to win now, and they should not let experience and/or money get in the way of making the best decision.
Cleveland Browns: Defensive Tackle
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With Phil Taylor likely out for the season after injuring himself lifting weights, there is a gaping hole in the middle of the Browns' defense that needs filling.
Unfortunately, the injury happened after the draft and the bulk of free agency, so the Browns could not do much to rectify the situation.
Luckily, they did draft John Hughes and Billy Winn, so they have some added depth at the position, but neither player would be able to come in and produce at Taylor's level right away.
There are still a few free-agent defensive tackles available, such as Aubrayo Franklin and Tommie Harris, who could potentially hold down the fort for at least one season, so the Browns wouldn't have to force their young players into the mix right away.
Cincinnati Bengals: Strong Safety
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Before the draft, the Bengals were prepared to go with Taylor Mays as their starting strong safety, which would make any Bengals fan nervous.
They were, however, able to add Boise State product George Iloka in the draft, putting the starting job back up in the air.
However, many consider Iloka to be more of a developmental player, so starting him right away is still not an ideal situation.
If I were Mike Brown, I would look for a veteran free agent to give the position more stability, but it appears as if the Bengals are ready to let Iloka and Mays duke it out for the starting job in training camp.
New York Jets: Right Tackle
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Lost in the Tebow craze is the solid offseason the Jets have enjoyed. They have a brand-new safety duo and have added young, cheap talent to their receiving corps.
Still, for some reason, the Jets seem to believe that Wayne Hunter is a legitimate starting left tackle in this league, which makes Jets fans across America face-palm in unison.
The Jets did add two veteran tackles in Stephon Heyer and Ray Willis, but they are more than likely there to provide depth than to compete with Hunter for the starting gig.
The time for making an upgrade at the position has come and gone. If Hunter struggles out of the gate, the Jets will be forced to revert to either of the two recently signed veterans, or even the disappointing Vladimir Ducasse if things get really ugly.
New England Patriots: Defensive End
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After losing both Andre Carter and Mark Anderson to free agency, the Patriots were at least able to fill one of those spots with the selection of Chandler Jones in the first round.
However, the other spot remains wide open, but the Patriots seem content in letting their current roster fill the vacancy.
Andre Carter is still available on the free-agent market, but his availability is an indication that teams do not like his outlook from a health standpoint.
However, I can see Dont'a Hightower taking some snaps from the defensive-end position on passing downs, with the likes of Brandon Deaderick and Trevor Scott filling in on earlier downs.
Miami Dolphins: Wide Receiver
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Even after acquiring Chad Ochocinco, the wide-receiver situation in Miami is anything but settled.
If Ochocinco can return to at least 2010 form and become a starter once again, he will likely line up next to Davone Bess, who is probably better suited in the slot.
Miami could really benefit from an improvement from Clyde Gates, a young speedster who can provide a deep threat.
Given their current quarterback situation, this is a rebuilding year for Miami. How the receiving corps will look in September largely depends on whether or not Ochocinco pans out.
Miami would be wise to let its young players develop and revisit the situation a year from now, when the quarterback situation is clearer.
Buffalo Bills: Left Tackle
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With Demetress Bell now in Philadelphia, the Bills will head into 2012 with a brand-new left tackle.
Last season, Chris Hairston filled in for Bell when he was injured, However, the Bills were able to get Cordy Glenn in the second round of the 2012 draft, which adds depth to the position, but makes it far less clear as to who the starter will be.
I have a gut feeling that Hairston will be the starter to open the season, simply because he has (slightly) more experience than Glenn. However, Glenn is a very talented player, much more powerful than Hairston and will certainly give Hairston a run for his money.
New York Giants: Right Tackle
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The Giants showed almost no interest in bringing back Kareem McKenzie, and rightfully so; he was the weak link of the Giants' line last season.
The Giants are now relying on second-year player James Brewer, who was a fourth-round pick in 2011, to be the starter.
The Giants need to save as much money as possible for future contracts such as Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz, so it makes little sense to go after a big-time free agent. If they get desperate, they could give McKenzie a call, but they would have to be pretty desperate to go there again.
Philadephia Eagles: Strong Safety
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The Eagles made some key fixes to their flawed defense, specifically at the linebacker position.
They were able to fix one of their safety spots by signing O.J. Atogwe, but they could still use an upgrade at strong safety, which is currently occupied by Kurt Coleman.
Coleman flashed some brilliance at times last year, but he can be abused in coverage.
Coleman is good enough to stick with through this year, but it is definitely a position they will want to address a year from now.
Washington Redskins: Right Tackle
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You could put the entire Redskins line on this list (with the exception of Trent Williams), but since they at least spent a draft pick on a guard, I went with the right-tackle position.
The current starter, Jamaal Brown, had lingering hip issues all last year, which forced the Redskins to constantly shuffle the line around.
At this point, there is not much else to do besides bring in a veteran like Max Starks, Flozell Adams or Kareem McKenzie if they feel they need to add depth.
Dallas Cowboys: Slot Receiver
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After Laurent Robinson went to the Jaguars for quite a handsome amount of cash, the Cowboys need to fill his role as the third receiver, especially if Dez Bryant keeps getting nicked up.
The slot-receiver battle will be mostly be between Kevin Ogletree and Virginia Tech product Danny Coale, who missed time in OTAs and minicamp with a broken foot.
Ogletree has been around for a few years now, so the Cowboys are probably comfortable playing him if they need to. But, if Coale comes back to camp healthy and appears to be the better of the two, the Cowboys will go with the best player.