The Biggest Flaw Every NFL Team Still Must Address After the Draft
Believe it or not, after 32 teams selected 256 players in the 2018 NFL draft, front offices still have holes to fill. Hence, a barrage of prospects signed as undrafted free agents.
At times, teams' needs go by the wayside as coveted players fall. It's still the responsibility of general managers to address weaknesses from the previous season or add talent to shallow spots on their depth charts.
Through minicamps, training camps and the preseason, coaching staffs have ample time to plug holes. To combat delayed development, however, teams may turn back to the free-agent market. Big names such as wide receiver Dez Bryant, outside linebacker Tamba Hali and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie could come into play in those scenarios.
Let's identify the biggest weakness for each team. In most cases, in-house development will solve these issues, though some teams should consider looking outside their own doors to strengthen their rosters.
Arizona Cardinals: Right Tackle
The Arizona Cardinals may have found their franchise signal-caller and a top target in the first two rounds of the 2018 draft, but the right tackle position could become a turnstile.
General manager Steve Keim dealt Jared Veldheer to the Denver Broncos in exchange for a sixth-round pick, which left Andre Smith as the default veteran starter on the perimeter. The 31-year-old spent most of his nine-year career with the Cincinnati Bengals and made a brief stop in Minnesota in 2016.
The Cardinals drafted offensive tackle Korey Cunningham in the seventh round. The coaching staff should put its hard work into his development and sign a late offseason cut as an insurance policy.
Quarterback Sam Bradford's lengthy injury history should push this roster weakness to the forefront.
Atlanta Falcons: Right Guard
The Atlanta Falcons don't have any glaring weaknesses that require immediate attention, but the front office decided not to pick an offensive guard in the draft, which created a slight need.
Wes Schweitzer struggled at right guard during 2017. After a decent season with the San Francisco 49ers, Brandon Fusco signed a three-year, $12.8 million deal with the Falcons.
The Falcons have short-term confidence in Fusco to produce a few more decent years in the league, though any type of decline will put general manager Thomas Dimitroff in a position to look elsewhere.
If Fusco struggles in the upcoming campaign, Schweitzer would likely have another shot to start, but it's a shaky proposition. The coaching staff should continue to work with him and Ben Garland as potential long-term assets.
Baltimore Ravens: Offensive Guard
The Baltimore Ravens made an effort to assist, protect and challenge quarterback Joe Flacco with their draft picks. The 33-year-old signal-caller will have new pass-catchers, potentially a new starting offensive tackle in Orlando Brown and a young signal-caller in Lamar Jackson looking to take his job.
Through it all, the Ravens missed on providing quality help at guard. James Hurst struggled at the position and should move back to a perimeter spot as a backup. The Ravens need to fill that hole, especially with their physical identity in the ground game.
After missing all but two games in 2017 because of a fractured ankle, Marshal Yanda will return to action. He'll fill a gap on the interior, but the opposite side may need a veteran stopgap to limit pressure through the A-gaps.
Buffalo Bills: Offensive Guard
Richie Incognito's sudden retirement put the Buffalo Bills in a tough position. Both offensive guard spots lack established talent to clear lanes for running back LeSean McCoy, who's been the focal point of the offense over the past two seasons.
The Bills selected offensive guard Wyatt Teller from Virginia Tech in the fifth round as a potential starter, but one incoming rookie doesn't provide the coaching staff with enough options at the position.
Buffalo should place a call with available free agents Luke Joeckel or Jahri Evans for immediate manpower on the interior. The former hasn't lived up to his draft hype as the 2013 No. 2 overall pick, but at 26 years old, he's worth a tryout.
With a new quarterback under center, the Bills will need to rely on the ground attack in the upcoming season, which places a higher premium on the guard spots.
Carolina Panthers: Safety
At 37 years old, safety Mike Adams will play his 15th NFL season in 2018. He's still a productive defensive back and suited up for all 16 games in the previous campaign.
In the third round of the draft, the Carolina Panthers added defensive back Rashaan Gaulden, who profiles as a hybrid cornerback-safety, but he only intercepted one pass during his time at Tennessee.
The Panthers need a deep safety who can force turnovers on the back end. In 2017, linebacker Luke Kuechly led the team in interceptions with three. The Carolina secondary also allowed big plays down the stretch.
Assuming Adams doesn't return after his contract expires at the end of the year, Carolina will need to pair someone with Gaulden at safety. If Da'Norris Searcy doesn't make the final roster, the front office should replace him with another veteran on the waiver or free-agent market.
Chicago Bears: Offensive Tackle
The Chicago Bears can shift their versatile offensive linemen to compensate for injuries, but the roster has more depth on the interior compared to the perimeter.
Kyle Long spent a Pro Bowl season at right tackle in 2015, but who can the Bears trust other than him to fill a potential gap at the position or on the left side?
The Bears selected offensive lineman James Daniels in the second round of the draft. According to Chicago Tribune's Colleen Kane, he'll compete for a spot at left guard.
Chicago has layers of talent on the interior to help the running game. As quarterback Mitchell Trubisky progresses, the front office will need to consider depth on the outside. Behind two average starters at tackle, the Bears should add a young asset during the summer.
Cincinnati Bengals: No. 2 Wide Receiver
The Bengals need more help in the passing game to balance the attack. After a moderate drop-off in production between the 2016 and 2017 seasons, Brandon LaFell fits as a No. 3 wideout.
Cincinnati drafted a wide receiver in the first or second round in each of the past two drafts. Tyler Boyd hasn't performed to the level of an early-round selection. John Ross didn't record a single catch after coming into the league as the No. 9 overall pick in 2017.
The front office doesn't have to look elsewhere to solve this issue. The coaching staff must do a better job developing in-house talent.
Cleveland Browns: Cornerback
The Cleveland Browns flipped their secondary over the offseason. General manager John Dorsey passed on edge-rusher Bradley Chubb to take cornerback Denzel Ward. The team brain trust added Simeon Thomas, who plays the same position, in the sixth round.
Keep in mind the front office will likely part ways with Jamar Taylor after acquiring such help in the secondary, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.
Cleveland acquired E.J. Gaines during free agency, but he's struggled to stay on the field throughout his career. He hasn't missed extensive time, but the Browns should have added depth at the position in case the injury bug bites again.
Ward will likely start on the boundary. T.J. Carrie profiles as a solid slot defender. After Briean Boddy-Calhoun's disappointing 2017 season, it wouldn't be a bad idea to add veteran help to a young secondary. Terrance Mitchell followed Dorsey from the Kansas City Chiefs, but he's not a lock to contribute.
Dallas Cowboys: Safety
The Dallas Cowboys intend to move Byron Jones to cornerback, which creates a void at safety. Among nine selections, though, the front office didn't draft a player at the position.
Clearly, there's confidence in the young talent, but Dallas should pursue a trade for Seattle Seahawks All-Pro free safety Earl Thomas. He doesn't play at a premium position but has the ability to change the game with takeaways.
According to ESPN's Josina Anderson, Seattle has set a steep price for Thomas, but he could put this team over the hump in a postseason run. The Cowboys have struggled to defend on the back end. A defensive back who can erase drives with interceptions would upgrade a unit that also experiences issues with getting off the field on third down.
The Cowboys' decision to steer clear of safeties keeps the option open for further discussion.
Denver Broncos: Left Guard
As long as he remains healthy, Ronald Leary will clear lanes at right guard. The Broncos ground attack, featuring Devontae Booker and Royce Freeman, should improve in the upcoming season.
It's a different story on the left side. In 2017, Max Garcia struggled on the interior and surrendered multiple sacks. Pressure up the middle could cause quarterback Case Keenum to contemplate moving the pocket before it's necessary.
Denver selected Arizona State product Sam Jones in the sixth round. He's not the strongest guard, but he can develop into a functional component in the trenches with added bulk to his frame.
The Broncos have improved their offensive line over the offseason. Nonetheless, the front office would benefit from searching the waiver wire late in the offseason for added help on the left interior.
Detroit Lions: Outside Linebacker
The Detroit Lions skipped on linebackers during the draft, but there's a roster need alongside Jarrad Davis on the back end of the front seven.
The Lions lost linebacker Tahir Whitehead, who played 950 snaps in 2017, per Pro Football Reference. He can also line up at all three spots across the second level of the defense.
Detroit isn't likely to find that type of versatility on the open market. However, an experienced linebacker can serve as a Band-Aid at the position until head coach Matt Patricia finds a long-term starter on the outside.
Patricia may also channel his inner Bill Belichick and find a diamond in the rough at the position.
Jalen Reeves-Maybin may progress with a larger role, but a training camp competition could prove he's not ready or bring out the best in him for the upcoming season.
Green Bay Packers: Offensive Guard
The Green Bay Packers will run the risk of putting quarterback Aaron Rodgers in harm's way if the front office doesn't address the interior offensive line.
Green Bay hasn't found a guard pair that compares to Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang. In 2017, Lane Taylor struggled to seal running lanes. Jahri Evans didn't look much better in that area.
After choosing to go with Evans as a stopgap during the past year, the Packers should look for a younger asset with more upside, whether he's in-house or on the free-agent market.
With improved guard play, the ground attack would serve as a stronger complement to Rodgers' arm. And the Green Bay offense could reach a new level with a top-10 rushing unit.
Houston Texans: Offensive Tackle
The Houston Texans didn't have much quality or depth on the perimeter in 2017. The front office shipped offensive tackle Duane Brown to the Seattle Seahawks midway through the season after his lengthy holdout.
Now, the Texans must focus on protecting starting quarterback Deshaun Watson, who's coming off an ACL injury suffered in practice.
Houston selected Martinas Rankin in the third round of the draft. He lined up at left tackle in college, but his size suggests a move inside.
The coaching staff should utilize Rankin as an offensive tackle and track his progress before moving him to guard or center. Julien Davenport will also vie for a starting spot on the perimeter.
The Texans can rely on developing in-house talent to address this particular weakness, but the front office should look to sign a veteran at some point.
Indianapolis Colts: Cornerback
The Indianapolis Colts allowed cornerback Rashaan Melvin to walk in free agency, so Quincy Wilson must perform at a high level in a starting role. It's unclear who will take over on the opposite side of the field.
Surprisingly, the Colts addressed the front seven but ignored the secondary during the draft. Without a clear succession plan for Melvin, division rivals will lick their chops with opportunities to rack up yards through the air.
Wilson, the projected starter, isn't an established player going into his second season. Indianapolis may show improvement against the run. However, unless the Colts sign a proven veteran cornerback, the defense will have issues stopping downfield attacks.
Even if quarterback Andrew Luck returns, Indianapolis may have to score 35 points to win most games in 2018.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Middle Linebacker
Paul Posluszny's retirement left a gaping hole in the middle of the Jacksonville Jaguars' vaunted defense. Don't expect the unit to fall apart, but a talented offensive group could exploit the weakness.
It's fair to wonder if Jacksonville would've added Leighton Vander Esch to fill the position if the Cowboys didn't take him at No. 19. The Jaguars selected only one outside linebacker—Leon Jacobs in the seventh round—and he's projected to become a special teams asset.
Typically, a strong defense has a leader in the middle. Aside from missing more than half the 2014 season, Posluszny played as the centerpiece to this unit since the 2011 campaign. The front office should inquire with NaVorro Bowman's agent after his solid half-year with the Oakland Raiders in 2017.
Bowman can still play the run. He'd also bring extensive postseason experience to a talented but young defense.
Kansas City Chiefs: Cornerback
The Chiefs waited until the sixth round to draft cornerback Tremon Smith out of Central Arkansas, which left some pressing questions about the secondary.
Kansas City acquired Kendall Fuller from the Washington Redskins in the Alex Smith trade. He can line up on the inside and outside, but who projects as the starter at the other two spots in nickel packages?
David Amerson signed with the team, but he has a long history of concussions. Secondly, inconsistent play has caused him to bounce around the league. It's his third team in six seasons.
In a division with quarterbacks Philip Rivers and Derek Carr, the Chiefs must address a premium position in the secondary. The coaching staff should focus on in-house development to strengthen the cornerback spot.
Los Angeles Chargers: Inside Linebacker
The Los Angeles Chargers selected Uchenna Nwosu, who brings a mean streak to the linebacker corps, in the second round. It's a character need for the unit, but the defense still lacks a sideline-to-sideline player.
Safety Derwin James fell to the Chargers at No. 17. At 6'2", 215 pounds, he could play a hybrid role, but the Florida State prospect fills a void in the secondary at his natural position.
The Chargers run defense ranked No. 31 in 2017. A quick-striking linebacker from the second level would prevent gashing runs up the middle and around the front seven.
Defensive coordinator Gus Bradley may decide to experiment with Nwosu's placement, but look for the Chargers to groom an in-house talent to address the inside linebacker spot.
Hayes Pullard started 10 games and struggled in every aspect on the back end of the front seven in 2018.
Los Angeles Rams: Outside Linebacker
The Los Angeles Rams traded Robert Quinn to the Miami Dolphins and left Connor Barwin on the free-agent market.
There's no doubt defensive coordinator Wade Phillips will find a way to dial up pressure on the interior with Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh. He'll likely use Ogbonnia Okoronkwo as a situational pass-rusher for added effect off the edge.
Still, the Rams defense can cover the remaining holes on the second level of the front seven with every-down outside linebackers. It should rank as one of the top units with quality assets on the front and back ends. Another impact player would complete an already strong group.
According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Barwin visited with the Cardinals, but he didn't sign. The 31-year-old should remain an option for the Rams.
Miami Dolphins: Interior Offensive Line
Despite running back Kenyan Drake's late-season success, the Miami Dolphins didn't have quality blocking on the interior of the offensive line. The front office signed Josh Sitton, a four-time Pro Bowler, to elevate the ground attack.
The Dolphins complied with Mike Pouncey's request for a release, which prompted another transaction to acquire center Daniel Kilgore. It's a downgrade at the center position, though.
Jesse Davis and Ted Larsen struggled to hold their ground on the interior in 2017. As the roster stands, one of the two will have another shot at a starting position this season.
As the Dolphins ease quarterback Ryan Tannehill back into action, head coach Adam Gase may opt to lean heavily on Drake and Frank Gore in the backfield. A player-for-player trade could net a young mauler at guard to help bolster the ground attack.
Minnesota Vikings: Interior Offensive Line
As quarterback Kirk Cousins settles into his new surroundings, he'll notice the issues in pass protection. Mike Remmers started at right tackle in the regular season but shifted inside in the playoffs.
According to the Pioneer Press' Chris Tomasson, the Vikings may opt to move Remmers to right guard. Second-round pick Brian O'Neill should emerge as a starting offensive tackle.
Minnesota had to shuffle its offensive line personnel throughout 2017, which added some difficulty to development.
Nevertheless, the front line needs Pat Elflein—a third-round pick from the 2017 draft—to improve in his second season. It's worth noting he underwent ankle surgery during the offseason.
Cousins will face constant pressure up the middle if Remmers, Elflein and Nick Easton don't click on the interior.
New England Patriots: Wide Receiver
The New England Patriots dealt wideout Brandin Cooks to the Rams before the draft. Don't expect sixth-round pick Braxton Berrios to fill the void during his rookie season.
Without Julian Edelman in action, Cooks led Patriots wide receivers with 65 catches for 1,082 yards and seven touchdowns, all of which ranked second on the team behind tight end Rob Gronkowski.
It's easy to point to Edelman's return, but Chris Hogan has eclipsed 500 receiving yards just once in six seasons. Jordan Matthews is coming off an injury-riddled campaign with the Bills. He underwent multiple surgeries in December, per Pro Football Talk. The recovery could delay his progress with a new team. Will Kenny Britt make the roster?
New England doesn't need more household names to move the ball downfield with quarterback Tom Brady throwing to Gronkowski, but the wide receiver corps has several question marks.
New Orleans Saints: Outside Linebacker
Demario Davis joined a linebacker unit that once again dealt with multiple injuries in 2017. He'll bring stability to the position as a starter in 79 of the last 80 games with the Browns and New York Jets.
On the outside, A.J. Klein didn't play the run or the pass well. Alex Anzalone's collegiate track record as a talented but injury-prone player followed him into the league. He only played four games and landed on injured reserve with a shoulder injury.
The Saints hope oft-injured linebacker Hau'oli Kikaha will play a full season, but it's not a safe bet. He's appeared in 27 contests over the past three seasons.
The defense could use help, particularly on the weak side. New Orleans didn't take a linebacker in the draft. General manager Mickey Loomis may want to take a peek at available free agents before training camp.
New York Giants: Slot Cornerback
The New York Giants released Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to save $6.5 million in cap space. He remains unsigned, but general manager Dave Gettleman isn't looking in the rearview mirror.
During the past couple of seasons, Rodgers-Cromartie spent most of his time in the slot. In a passing league, it's become a premium position. The Giants shouldn't underestimate the effect of his absence.
Gettleman didn't select a cornerback in this year's draft, which left the slot cornerback spot open for competition. New York doesn't have a particular player who stands out, but expect the front office to take a look at some veterans if no one grabs a stranglehold on the position in the early parts of the offseason program.
The Giants don't have much wiggle room in cap space. A new addition would have to come on a modest one-year deal as a stopgap for a future draft pick.
New York Jets: Offensive Guard
It's fair to argue the Jets need to get more from their outside linebackers in the pass rush, but the interior offensive line hit rock bottom during the past year.
Left guard James Carpenter has put together quality stretches, but Brian Winters has struggled since entering the league as a third-round pick in the 2013 draft.
The Jets signed Spencer Long to improve at center, but Winters and Dakota Dozier could get extended time at guard opposite Carpenter, which doesn't bode well for the ground attack.
New York didn't draft an offensive lineman with its six picks.
Though reluctant to replace Winters, the Jets need an upgrade alongside Carpenter and Long on the interior. General manager Mike Maccagnan has the cash to sign the best veteran option on the free-agent market.
Oakland Raiders: Linebacker
Despite head coach Jon Gruden's return with more personnel power, general manager Reggie McKenzie's pattern in taking late fliers at inside linebacker continued in this year's draft.
Over the past few seasons, the Raiders went into the offseason with a void in the middle of their defense. NaVorro Bowman temporarily solved the issue for half of the 2017 season. McKenzie left the door open for his return, but the situation seems similar to that of Perry Riley Jr., who fared well for 11 games at the position in 2016.
The Raiders never ruled out a return for Riley, but he hasn't played a down since his abbreviated stint with the Raiders.
Oakland drafted Washington product Azeem Victor to address a pressing need at inside linebacker. He fell to the sixth round of the draft because of a subpar senior season, which included two suspensions.
Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther optimized Vontaze Burfict's talent in Cincinnati. He went undrafted out of Arizona State in 2012 because of character concerns.
However, until Victor shows starting-caliber qualities, McKenzie should keep communication lines open with Bowman's agent.
Philadelphia Eagles: Running Back
The Philadelphia Eagles finished with the No. 3 rushing offense last season en route to a Super Bowl victory. LeGarrette Blount led the backfield with 766 yards on the ground. Jay Ajayi joined the team midway through the season via trade.
Blount signed with the Lions during free agency. Is Ajayi ready to handle the majority workload at running back as he did with the Dolphins in 2016? Darren Sproles goes into his age-35 season. How much does he have left? Can Corey Clement and Wendell Smallwood take the next steps in career development? Will Donnel Pumphrey have a role in his second season?
The running back depth chart isn't a major concern, but the RBs' effectiveness is something to keep an eye on, especially if Ajayi struggles or gets hurt.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Inside Linebacker
During the draft, linebacker Ryan Shazier walked across the stage to announce the Pittsburgh Steelers' first-round pick, safety Terrell Edmunds (No. 28 overall). It's a big moment for Shazier, who went down with a spinal injury 12 games into the 2017 campaign. However, he's not expected to play for the upcoming year.
The Steelers have a void where the two-time Pro Bowler lined up in the middle of the defense. Vince Williams has been a serviceable inside linebacker and broke out with eight sacks in 2017. Expect competition for the spot next to him. Pittsburgh didn't draft a player at the position, so we could see someone rise through the ranks.
There's also an outside chance that we see the Steelers reunite with linebacker Lawrence Timmons, who spent a decade in Pittsburgh. He's available on the free-agent market. It's a Band-Aid on the position but much-needed at this point.
San Francisco 49ers: Offensive Guard
San Francisco will see Donald and Suh twice in division matchups. Expect Phillips to turn up the pressure on the interior against the 49ers, who have some question marks at the guard positions.
Fusco signed with the Falcons. Laken Tomlinson hasn't been on par with his draft status as a 2015 first-rounder on his second team. Joshua Garnett missed the entire 2017 season with a knee injury. It's still unclear what the 49ers have in the Stanford product, who allowed constant interior pressure during his rookie campaign.
San Francisco has enough developmental talent on the roster. Without Fusco's veteran presence, Garnett will need to show progression throughout the offseason to quell any concerns about the interior offensive line. Otherwise, the front office should look to pull off a trade.
Seattle Seahawks: Wide Receiver
There's a scarcity of options for quarterback Russell Wilson downfield. In 2017, tight end Jimmy Graham led the team in touchdown receptions with 10. Wide receiver Paul Richardson ranked second on the team in receiving yards with 703. Both signed with new clubs during free agency.
Seattle selected Washington tight end Will Dissly but didn't take a wide receiver. Tyler Lockett should see an increase in targets, but it's not enough for an offense that heavily relies on Wilson to make plays with his arm.
Bryant had NFC East teams on his wish list, but Seattle should at least reach out to him. Though, his sideline animation may not fit with the new roster makeup.
Regardless, the Seahawks should add another playmaker to the wide receiver unit alongside Doug Baldwin and Lockett. If not, Wilson will probably target running backs as pass-catchers out of the backfield more so than the recent past.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Offensive Tackle
Left tackle Donovan Smith has struggled to handle pass-rushers since entering the league in 2015 as a second-round pick. Despite the rough stretch, Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive line coach George Warhop hasn't given up on him, per Tampa Bay Times reporter Rick Stroud.
"I love the guy. I think he's got strength. He's got quickness. He's got athleticism. I think through the early part of last year he just wasn't consistent. If you watch him in the second half of the season, he played a lot more consistent."
It's clear Smith will have an opportunity to put forth his best in a starting role during a contract year. Nonetheless, his potential remains untapped going into his fourth campaign.
At right tackle, Demar Dotson has fared well, but he underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus, per Rapoport. He's expected to return to the field for training camp, but Tampa Bay should add an insurance policy player just in case.
Dotson's surgery coupled with the difficulties on the left side could leave quarterback Jameis Winston without adequate perimeter protection.
Assuming Dotson returns and looks like the player of years past, the Buccaneers may want to look at some alternatives for Smith. Wherever rookie offensive lineman Alex Cappa starts his career, he'll need extensive development before seeing regular-season action.
Tennessee Titans: Strong Safety
Johnathan Cyprien didn't have his best year with the Tennessee Titans, but he'll have another shot to fill the safety spot alongside Kevin Byard.
Byard led the league in interceptions with eight, which mirrored his ball-tracking skills at Middle Tennessee State. Now, the Titans have to find a complementary safety to complete the secondary.
Among the Titans' four picks, the front office selected Dane Cruikshank to strengthen the secondary. He's projected to play safety, but the fifth-rounder may start out as a special teams asset. The Arizona product didn't play the "spur" safety spot until his senior year, per NFL Media analyst Lance Zierlein.
Cruikshank made an impact at the position, but it's a much tougher transition on the professional level. Cyprien will likely start alongside Byard for a second year with the club. However, for the long term, the coaching staff should work on developing the former Wildcat to complement their All-Pro free safety.
Washington Redskins: No. 2 Cornerback
We all know about cornerback Josh Norman. Who's going to step in opposite of him on the field? Washington didn't re-sign Bashaud Breeland and traded Fuller during the offseason.
Orlando Scandrick spent some time in the slot during his time with the Cowboys, but he may line up opposite Norman due to Fabian Moreau's inexperience.
Moreau played 59 snaps in the previous season. He's going to wear a bull's-eye on his jersey in 2018. How much does Scandrick have left to offer going into his age-31 season? Opposing quarterbacks will test both players frequently in pass coverage.
Quinton Dunbar's play during the previous season adds some optimism going forward, but the front office should look to add another veteran asset from the open market.
The unknowns at cornerback leave the Redskins vulnerable against NFC East passing attacks, specifically those of the Eagles and Giants.