A good NFL team is built over the course of years of planning for free agency, player development and NFL draft acquisitions. Some fans seem to think you can lay out team needs like a chore list and check them off as you go throughout one offseason, but when teams try to do this (think of those Washington teams that "won" free agency every year), it doesn't work.
The New England Patriots are a modern dynasty that's been built on the foundation of quarterback Tom Brady with rotating parts around him acquired through trades, free agency, the draft and undrafted signings after the fact. And every other team in the league is trying to emulate that in its own way.
As the season gets started, every team has needs or weaknesses to address. Some may be checked off over the course of the season by emerging players or trades, and in some cases other needs will be created by injury, failed draft picks or signings and simple regression. But every general manager in the NFL right now knows where his team is strong and where it's weak and what he's willing to do to make the roster better.
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As an NFL draft analyst, you must be aware of every team's needs because of how that affects a mock draft. With just one week finished, here's my take on where each team will look to improve this coming offseason.
Please note that some needs are because of aging players—especially needs at quarterback where teams like Arizona and New Orleans must start planning ahead.
|Early-Season Team Needs|
|Team||Top 3 Needs|
|Bills||QB - CB - EDGE|
|Dolphins||QB - CB - DE|
|NY Jets||QB - LT - WR|
|Patriots||DE - DL - WR|
|Bengals||OT - LB - C|
|Browns||CB - WR - S|
|Ravens||OG - RB - WR|
|Steelers||CB - QB - RB|
|Colts||OT - EDGE - WR|
|Jaguars||QB - WR - S|
|Texans||OT - CB - S|
|Titans||CB - EDGE - S|
|Broncos||QB - WR - OG|
|Chargers||QB - OC - OT|
|Chiefs||WR - CB - S|
|Raiders||RT - MLB - S|
|Cowboys||DE - WR - DT|
|Eagles||WR - OT - RB|
|NY Giants||QB - OT - LB|
|Washington||QB - RB - WR|
|Bears||WR - CB - S|
|Lions||CB - DE - OG|
|Packers||EDGE - LB - CB|
|Vikings||OT - OG - WR|
|Buccaneers||CB - RT - RB|
|Falcons||OL - S - QB2|
|Panthers||OT - CB - DE|
|Saints||QB - CB - LB|
|49ers||QB - OG - CB|
|Cardinals||QB - WR - OT|
|Rams||OT - CB - DE|
|Seahawks||OT - OG - CB|
Here's what else is going on this week:
- Top five matchups to watch in Week 3
- Grading the top QBs' Week 2 performances
- Which QBs fit the team needs in the NFL
- Stick to Football Episode 23 with former NFL offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz
The Scout's Report
— Josh Allen Week 2 grade: A
Allen had a strong bounce-back game in Week 2 against Gardner-Webb after struggling against Iowa in the opener. The defense didn't challenge him much, but Allen's traits are still exciting given his arm strength, athleticism and ability to make plays on the move. He'll face Oregon this week on the road.
—Sam Darnold Week 2 grade: B+
Darnold carved up Stanford in a dominant win, but he still threw two interceptions. Darnold is tough, athletic, poised and can win either inside or outside the pocket, but his arm strength is a question mark. On both interceptions, the defenders were able to make plays on passes Darnold left hanging. He's at home against Texas this weekend.
—Josh Rosen Week 2 grade: A
Another week, another strong performance from Josh Rosen. Critics will say destroying Hawaii isn't that impressive, but Rosen's ball placement and timing are very good no matter who he's playing. The schedule doubters will continue to question him no matter how well he plays against Memphis this week.
—Lamar Jackson Week 2 grade: A
It's hard to stress just how good Lamar Jackson is with the ball in his hands. Through two games he's accounted for over 1,000 yards in total offense and is playing much better from the pocket. On the downside, his footwork is still an issue, and he's missing or floating a lot of deep outs. I'll get a chance to see Jackson live this weekend at home against Clemson.
—Baker Mayfield Week 2 grade: A+
A defining win over Ohio State gets Mayfield on the report card this week. He's short and doesn't have a top-tier arm, but Mayfield has tools to get excited about. On the move he's poised and fearless, showing the athleticism to reset his feet and throw with accuracy. Mayfield's measurements may hold him back, but he's exciting to watch.
—Does Andrew Luck want out of Indianapolis? That rumor was floated by ESPN's Mike Greenberg on his morning radio show and caused the NFL to wake up on a slow Tuesday morning. But is it true? I'm told, emphatically, by multiple executives and general managers that it is not. When texted for context on the rumor, one GM said that no team in the NFL has enough draft picks to even tempt Colts general manager Chris Ballard with that type of trade.
—USC linebacker/pass-rusher Porter Gustin had surgery this past week to repair a small crack in his big toe, according to an announcement by head coach Clay Helton. Gustin is questionable for the Texas game this weekend. In a preseason ranking, Gustin was in the top 50 players for the upcoming draft. His injury status is one to track.
—Here's a name to know: San Diego State running back Rashaad Penny. A senior, Penny was behind Donnel Pumphrey for the Aztecs, but his film is much better. At 5'10" and 220 pounds, Penny has legit speed and can run over defenders. He's trending upward and could be a top-five back soon.
—If you're looking for a great punt returner and pretty good receiver, Washington's Dante Pettis is your guy. Last week, Pettis broke the Pac-12 record with his seventh career punt return for a touchdown.
—Washington State quarterback Luke Falk had a busy game last week. He set the school record for career passing yards, got benched, came back onto the field and then was hurt. He'll start this week, but how NFL scouts react to Falk's being benched by head coach Mike Leach will gain a lot of attention.
—Georgia linebacker Lorenzo Carter is quickly becoming one of the top edge-rushers in the class. A senior at 6'5" and 245 pounds, Carter's closing speed to the quarterback is awesome. He has to work on shedding blocks, but when he's free to the backfield, you can see the traits that make him special.
5 Matchups to Know
Week 3 is highlighted by Clemson's stacked defense traveling to Louisville to attempt to shut down Heisman winner Lamar Jackson. That game alone has five matchups worth watching, but this is another strong week of college football. Here are the must-see battles on Saturday.
5. Jaire Alexander (Cornerback, Louisville) vs. Deon Cain (Wide Receiver, Clemson)
It's rare to get arguably nation's best versus nation's best matchups at any point in the college football season, but that's what will happen Saturday night in Louisville when the potential top-ranked cornerback Jaire Alexander lines up across from top-ranked wide receiver Deon Cain. Alexander looks the part on film with excellent size (5'11", 192 lbs) and instincts, but his long speed will get a real test from Cain, who is another first-round talent at receiver for Clemson.
4. Sam Darnold (Quarterback, USC) vs. Malik Jefferson (Linebacker, Texas)
Sam Darnold has been solid through two starts against Western Michigan and Stanford but hasn't faced the type of speed he'll see at home Saturday against Texas. Darnold's four interceptions this season have come largely because of what looks like limited arm strength when pressured. The Longhorns defense, led by linebacker Malik Jefferson, gave up a ton of points to Maryland in Week 1 but shut out San Jose State last week. We'll find out if Texas corrected its earlier mistakes and is ready to hang with the big dogs.
3. Harold Landry (Edge-Rusher, Boston College) vs. Notre Dame Offensive Line
It's too bad we won't see Harold Landry, the top senior in the country, facing off against the second-best senior in left tackle Mike McGlinchey, as it's unlikely the two are head-up often in this game. Instead we'll see Landry, who rushes mostly off the left edge of the defense, against a well-coached Notre Dame offensive line. How head coach Brian Kelly schemes to slow down Landry will be worth watching, too. Landry against the Irish line and in pursuit of the super-athletic Brandon Wimbush will be a great matchup.
2. Arden Key (Edge-Rusher, LSU) vs. Nick Fitzgerald (Quarterback, Mississippi State)
Arden Key will make his 2017 debut against a tough SEC opponent with sleeper quarterback Nick Fitzgerald. Mississippi State's best offensive lineman is center Martinas Rankin, so there won't be a dominant edge battle going on, but we'll see how Key comes back off an offseason in which he temporarily left the team and then underwent shoulder surgery. On the other side, Fitzgerald will get a great test against Key and the speed of the LSU defense.
1. Lamar Jackson (Quarterback, Louisville) vs. Clemson Defensive Line
Lamar Jackson is on a tear this season, racking up over 1,000 yards of total offense in two games. The reigning Heisman Trophy winner has to be considered an early favorite to recapture the crown if he keeps up this pace. Standing in his way is a Clemson defense that posted 11 sacks against Auburn last week. The Tigers have four legitimate first-rounders (Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell, Austin Bryant and Dexter Lawrence) on the line, which will force Jackson to play against NFL talent for the first time this season.
10. A popular question on Twitter is "What type of QB fits my team's offense?" The reality is that the good offensive coordinators and play-callers in the NFL don't need a certain type of quarterback. What they need is a hardworker and smart player who can execute on the field.
Bottom line: A good play-caller can get by with average talent (like Brian Hoyer). The difference is when you give a good play-caller top-tier talent or his equal mentally. That's when you get great results.
A good example of this is Kyle Shanahan, now the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers. He's had success with Matt Ryan, Matt Schaub, Hoyer, Robert Griffin III and Kirk Cousins. Those players have no common trait. What's most important in Shanahan's offense is that the quarterback can think quickly and deliver strikes on crossing routes that are so popular in the scheme.
Shanahan and assistant Mike McDaniel are great schemers. They'll find a way in the X's and O's to get wide receivers open. The pressure on the quarterback is to see it the way they do and make the throw on time and on point. You don't need a big-armed quarterback or a mobile quarterback to run this scheme; you just need to execute.
9. Another great example of what happens when you give a talented quarterback a good play-caller is the Week 1 performance of Jared Goff for the Los Angeles Rams.
Sure, it's one game, and they did beat up an Indianapolis Colts defense that looked lost, but Goff's 21-of-29 performance with no interceptions and over 300 passing yards should remind everyone why he was the No. 1 pick in the 2016 draft.
Goff's rookie year was marred by awful coaching and a bad offensive supporting cast. The difference now is that the Rams have a plan under head coach Sean McVay and legitimate NFL starters surrounding Goff at wide receiver and left tackle.
It's way too early to proclaim being right or wrong about Goff, but what he put on the field in Week 1 is the type of play he showed the potential for at Cal and why so many in the NFL loved him as a prospect.
8. Pro Football Focus, in the last five years, has become a staple of NFL coverage thanks to its analytical look at the game. For my own work, where I used to chart every game for quarterbacks, PFF does the work now. That doesn't mean everyone loves it. Detroit Lions guard T.J. Lang isn't a fan:
“My opinion is there’s no way you can possibly accurately grade offensive linemen if you haven’t done that job before in your life. A lot of these guys, they’re not qualified to be grading NFL players."
In an interview with The Valenti Show on 97.1 The Ticket in Detroit (via CBS Detroit), Lang went on to say he "doesn't respect" its analysis.
NFL players in the past have spoken for and against PFF, but it seems like the negative comments tend to come from offensive linemen more than most. That makes sense, given the complex nature of the job.
Why am I sharing this? Not to bag on PFF or Lang, but to bring to mind that evaluating players is a hard job for everyone, and that just because a commentator or analyst criticizes a player, it doesn't mean he or she is right.
7. If you're like me, you missed the comments made by Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith this week in an interview with Graham Bensinger. In it, Smith says he expects this will be his last year in Kansas City and opens up about how the picks used to acquire Patrick Mahomes could have been spent on first-year contributors.
Maybe I was in a coma when this interview was released Wednesday, but this doesn't seem to have made its way into the national turntable of news. Smith, the starting quarterback and AFC Offensive Player of the Week, publicly comments on his future with the team and where draft picks should have been spent, and it's not the lead on every sports website in America?
Must be nice to be in a small market. I'll let you get back to the Odell Beckham Jr. dance-off controversy now.
6. This is an important read.
Some people want to pretend football isn't violent, but you can't do that after seeing LenDale White say he suffered 20 to 30 concussions. White's interview with the Los Angeles Times' Zach Helfand pulls back the curtain on concussions, painkiller abuse in the NFL and dealing with addiction post-NFL.
5. Speaking of former NFL players...Vonta Leach had no trouble throwing former teammate Brian Cushing under the bus this week.
Leach tweeted, then deleted, that Cushing was "always juicing". It's notable because Cushing was just suspended by the NFL for 10 games for violating the NFL policy on performance-enhancing substances.
Cushing likely doesn't factor into the long-term plans of the Houston Texans given another suspension. If the preseason and Week 1 play of undrafted free agent Dylan Cole continues to trend up, Cushing won't be needed.
4. ESPN's Adam Schefter expects Ezekiel Elliott will play the entire 2017 season and serve any possible suspension next year.
This feels like Tom Brady all over again.
3. Writing this on Thursday night, it's impossible to not comment on Deshaun Watson's first NFL start. Here are my game thoughts.
Watson is playing behind a bad offensive line and is missing three tight ends because of injury. That showed up and has to be acknowledged when evaluating his play. The biggest issue on Thursday night was Watson's habit of dropping his eyes and watching the pass rush when pressured. This was also an issue at Clemson. Ideally he's looking downfield for a target, but when those eyes drop you can't locate your hot route.
The Texans offense attacked short, so we didn't get to see Watson's deep passing, and he wasn't used outside the pocket as much as expected. By doing this, the Texans eliminated two of Watson's biggest strengths, but he took matters into his own hands with a 49-yard scramble for a touchdown at the end of the second quarter. That's the type of play we saw from Watson in college.
Coach Bill O'Brien said at halftime that Watson "looked like a rookie," and that's true. He stared down receivers, threw into coverage and got caught looking at the rush. He also made some very good throws that were dropped, scored with his legs and showed the trademark poise that made him a national champion.
The key for Watson's development will be gaining comfort with the offense so he can change the play at the line (something he rarely did Thursday night) and get out of run plays on stacked boxes.
2. I'm on the road this weekend, checking out Clemson at Louisville. An updated 2018 draft big board will be posted Monday with a new podcast (including commentary from Louisville) on Wednesday.
1. Stick to Football Episode 23 is ready to download—and if you haven't already, go ahead and subscribe with a five-star review! This week, Connor Rogers and I are joined by former NFL offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz to talk about why the New York Giants offensive line is so bad, what it's like to get blocked on Twitter and what his life is like now that he's retired.
Matt Miller covers the NFL and NFL draft for Bleacher Report.