The Biggest Hole Each NFL Team Still Needs to Fill

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistMarch 28, 2019

The Biggest Hole Each NFL Team Still Needs to Fill

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    Roger Steinman/Associated Press

    With several quality free agents still available and the April 25-27 NFL draft on the horizon, teams will have multiple opportunities to plug holes before the start of the 2019 season—which is fortunate, since there are plenty of glaring needs remaining.

    By examining rosters after the initial wave of free agency, we'll pinpoint each team's biggest liability if the regular season were to start today. Keep in mind that some of these holes exist intentionally, as teams plan to fill them through next month's draft.

    Where does each franchise stand? Let's dig in.

         

Arizona Cardinals: Offensive Line

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    It won't matter who the Arizona Cardinals have under center in 2019 if they don't improve their offensive line.

    Arizona traded for right tackle Marcus Gilbert and added guard J.R. Sweezy, but the unit could still use an upgrade. Left tackle D.J. Humphries has struggled to stay healthy (14 games played over the last two years), and center Mason Cole struggled as a rookie last season.

    Josh Rosen took 45 sacks in just 13 starts, and Michael Renner of Pro Football Focus ranked the Cardinals line as the league's worst.

Atlanta Falcons: Edge-Rusher

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    Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

    Injuries hampered the Atlanta Falcons more than roster holes in 2018. However, the pass rush was a glaring weakness.

    Despite investing first-round picks in Vic Beasley and Takkarist McKinley over the past four years, the Falcons have struggled to consistently pressure opposing quarterbacks. That's a problem in an NFC South that features both Drew Brees and Cam Newton.

    Atlanta amassed just 37 sacks in 2018, and Beasley, who broke out with 15.5 sacks in 2016, had just 10.0 over the last two years. If the Falcons hope to compete for the division title, they need to add a consistent sack artist.

Baltimore Ravens: Edge-Rusher

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    Ron Schwane/Associated Press

    The Baltimore Ravens are another team in need of a dedicated pass-rusher. Unlike Atlanta, however, Baltimore was fairly good at getting to the quarterback in 2018. It did so 43 times (tied for 11th).

    But the Ravens said goodbye to both Terrell Suggs and Za'Darius Smith in free agency. Those two produced 15.5 of Baltimore's sacks last season.

    While a lot of the Ravens' success at rushing the quarterback comes from their blitz-heavy scheme, adding a top-tier edge-rusher would help ensure they can again compete for the AFC North crown.

Buffalo Bills: Edge-Rusher

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    Jeffrey T. Barnes/Associated Press

    In keeping with the running theme, the Buffalo Bills are another team in need of a dedicated edge-rusher. Their defense was solid in 2018—it allowed 294.1 yards per game, second-fewest in the league—but it also produced a mere 36 sacks.

    Buffalo doesn't have an edge-defender who strikes fear in opposing quarterbacks. Jerry Hughes has filled the role over the past several seasons, but he hasn't produced double-digit sacks since 2014 and is entering the final year of his contract.

    The Bills added Trent Murphy last offseason to help improve the pass rush, but he had just 4.0 sacks. If a pass-rusher like Michigan's Rashan Gary or Mississippi State's Montez Sweat falls to No. 9, the Bills should strongly consider pulling the trigger.

Carolina Panthers: Edge-Rusher

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    Bill Feig/Associated Press

    The Carolina Panthers had just 35 sacks in 2018. Five of those came from Julius Peppers, who retired after the season. This leaves the pass rush as a weakness for the Panthers as well.

    Carolina did add Bruce Irvin in free agency, but he is not a high-volume sack guy. He had just 6.5 sacks with the Falcons and Raiders in 2018. Adding Irvin helps to replace Peppers, but it won't make the pass rush dramatically better than it was last season.

    Like the Falcons, the Panthers reside in an NFC South filled with quarterback talent. If they can't regularly pressure Brees and Matt Ryan, they'll struggle to challenge for a division title.

Chicago Bears: Kicker

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    The Chicago Bears have few real weaknesses, which explains their 12-4 record. However, if you watched former Bears kicker Cody Parkey bang his attempt off the upright at the end of Chicago's playoff game against the Eagles, you know they do have one.

    Chicago cut Parkey after the season—not just for that kick but for the seven missed field goals and three missed extra-point attempts in the regular season. The Bears signed former Pitt kicker Chris Blewitt to compete for the spot, but it would behoove them to add competition before the season.

    If they can't find one in the draft, there are veteran options such as Phil Dawson and Sebastian Janikowski still available in free agency.

Cincinnati Bengals: Linebacker

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    The Cincinnati Bengals had several defensive issues in 2018, but a lackluster linebacker group was arguably the biggest. It was a big part of the reason Cincinnati ranked last against the pass (275.9 yards per game allowed) and 29th against the run (137.8).

    While the Bengals did re-sign Preston Brown, they also parted with longtime defensive centerpiece Vontaze Burfict. This leaves a big hole in the middle of the defense.

    Cincinnati needs to add a true sideline-to-sideline defender at the second level. Fortunately, prospects such as LSU's Devin White and Michigan's Devin Bush might be available when the Bengals pick at No. 11 overall.

Cleveland Browns: Linebacker

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    Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    The Cleveland Browns did an excellent job of upgrading their defensive front, trading for end Olivier Vernon and signing defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson. Now, they need to boost their linebacker corps to further improve a run defense that ranked 28th in the NFL last season (135.2 yards per game allowed).

    Cleveland was in need of linebacker help even before it released Jamie Collins. Adding Adarius Taylor was a solid depth move, but the Browns could use another high-end starter.

    Second-year man Genard Avery is penciled in at Collins' old spot, and he's more of a situational pass-rusher.

Dallas Cowboys: Tight End

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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    The Dallas Cowboys got a dominant No. 1 receiver when they traded for Amari Cooper last season. They need to complement him with a quality receiving tight end.

    Yes, Dallas is bringing back future Hall of Famer Jason Witten. However, Witten is 36 years old, coming off a year in the broadcast booth and expected to have a reduced role upon his return.

    "There's an understanding in Jason Witten's return that he won't be on the field for as many snaps as he's been throughout his career," David Moore of the Dallas Morning News wrote. "Witten has indicated to club officials he buys into this concept."

    An elite tight end is the one piece of the puzzle Dallas' offense is missing.

Denver Broncos: Interior Offensive Line

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    Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

    The Denver Broncos addressed quarterback by trading for Joe Flacco this offseason. However, Flacco will have a glaring hole right in front of him after center Matt Paradis' free-agent departure.

    Though not a Pro Bowler, Paradis was still one of the league's better centers, and there could be a significant drop-off if Denver goes from him to 2016 fifth-round pick Connor McGovern.

    McGovern finished the 2018 season at center after Paradis fractured his right fibula, but even if McGovern works out there, his vacated guard position could become an issue. Denver must focus on strengthening the interior line in the draft.

Detroit Lions: Edge-Rusher

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    Leon Halip/Getty Images

    The Detroit Lions added one free-agent edge-defender in Trey Flowers. Now, they need to acquire a speedy pass-rusher to complement Flowers both in the rotation and on the other side.

    Flowers' game is predicated on power and leverage more than speed. Mixing in an elite speed-rusher would help keep opposing offenses off balance. Playing one opposite Flowers would make it difficult for foes to double-team either player.

    Detroit did produce 43 sacks in 2018 (tied for 11th), but many of them were the product of head coach Matt Patricia's blitz-heavy scheme. If the Lions are to consistently combat quarterbacks such as Aaron Rodgers, Kirk Cousins and Mitchell Trubisky, they need to generate pressure without the blitz.

Green Bay Packers: Tight End

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    Dylan Buell/Getty Images

    The Green Bay Packers can't seem to incorporate the tight end into their passing offense. This is largely because they've long lacked an elite player at the position.

    The Packers tried to get Rogers a quality tight end last offseason when they signed Jimmy Graham to a three-year, $30 million deal. While Graham was good—he had 636 yards and two touchdowns—he never emerged as the dominant red-zone target Rodgers was missing.

    If the Packers are to have a top offense in 2019, they need to add an elite pass-catching tight end—perhaps a guy such as Iowa's T.J. Hockenson or Alabama's Irv Smith Jr. via the draft.

Houston Texans: Offensive Tackle

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    Bob Levey/Getty Images

    Somehow, Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson lasted through a full 16 games in 2018. That's a bit surprising, considering he was sacked a ridiculous 62 times.

    The Texans have to upgrade the offensive line, and it starts at tackle. The duo of Julie'n Davenport and Seantrel Henderson isn't good enough to protect a quarterback who still has a tendency to hold the ball too long.

    Fortunately, this year's draft is believed to be deep at the position. If Houston doesn't take an offensive tackle with the 23rd pick—perhaps Washington State's Andre Dillard—it would be a surprise.

Indianapolis Colts: Cornerback

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    The Indianapolis Colts don't have many holes, especially after they signed pass-rusher Justin Houston. Adding a legitimate No. 1 cornerback, however, could put Indianapolis' defense over the top.

    The Colts were merely average against the pass in 2018—they ranked 16th, allowing 237.8 yards per game through the air—and while adding Houston will help, there is room for improvement in the secondary.

    Cornerbacks Pierre Desir and Kenny Moore are more than serviceable, but if Indianapolis can land a top-tier corner prospect in the draft, it would make the secondary even stronger. Grabbing a player like Washington's Byron Murphy or Temple's Rock Ya-Sin at No. 26 would be ideal.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Tight End

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    Gus Ruelas/Associated Press

    The Jacksonville Jaguars seem to believe they have a long-term answer at quarterback in Nick Foles. Now, they need to surround him with offensive talent. After Foles thrived with Zach Ertz the past couple of seasons, this should mean adding a tight end.

    The Jaguars are woefully lacking at the position. They did sign Geoff Swaim in free agency, but he's a complementary tight end at best—not a dominant pass-catcher like Ertz.

    Of course, guys like Ertz aren't east to find. However, there are intriguing prospects in the draft—such as Iowa's Hockenson and Noah Fant—and the Jaguars would be wise to target one.

Kansas City Chiefs: Edge-Rusher

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    Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

    Defense was a liability for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2018. The team allowed the second-most yards in the NFL (405.5 per game), and it struggled to stop teams when it mattered—like in overtime of the AFC title game.

    A bright spot, however, was the pass rush. In part because the Chiefs were frequently ahead and the rush got plenty of opportunities, Kansas City racked up a league-leading 52 sacks.

    However, 22 of those 2018 sacks are gone, as the Chiefs released Houston and traded Dee Ford. If Kansas City wants its defense to be as good as last year, or even improve, it needs to add a quality pass-rusher.

Los Angeles Chargers: Offensive Tackle

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    Josie Lepe/Associated Press

    The Los Angeles Chargers have few holes, but there's serious room for improvement at right tackle. Former sixth-round pick Sam Tevi was thrust into a starting role in 2018 and was serviceable at best.

    "Sam Tevi was not a viable pass-protector, and it really held back what the offense was able to do," Kyle Posey of Chargers Wire wrote.

    The offensive line ended up costing the Chargers big in the divisional round of the playoffs. According to Next Gen Stats, it allowed Philip Rivers to be pressured on 70.6 percent of his pass attempts in the first half against New England as the Patriots built a 35-7 halftime lead.

    If the Chargers can draft an elite right tackle prospect, such as Florida's Jawaan Taylor, it would give them the kind of complete line they need to make a deep playoff run.

Los Angeles Rams: Guard

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    The Los Angeles Rams have a gaping hole at guard after they lost Rodger Saffold in free agency. While guards like Saffold don't sit in the spotlight, adding a quality replacement will be critical.

    Safford did a ton of work for the Rams. Not only did he open holes for Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson during L.A.'s Super Bowl run, but he was also responsible for protecting quarterback Jared Goff from the interior pass rush.

    With guys such as San Francisco's DeForest Buckner and Seattle's Jarran Reed harassing quarterbacks in the NFC West, not addressing the guard spot could be disastrous.

Miami Dolphins: Quarterback

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    Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

    Do the Miami Dolphins expect to make it through an entire season with Ryan Fitzpatrick as their starting quarterback?

    Whether the Dolphins want to get their signal-caller of the future in this year's draft or not, they need to add to the position before the season. Fitzpatrick is only capable of excelling for small stretches, and Luke Falk and Jake Rudock are unproven.

    Miami needs to find its quarterback of the future, but it also has to strengthen the depth chart for this season—otherwise, the team is essentially admitting it plans to tank.

Minnesota Vikings: Offensive Line

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    Leon Halip/Getty Images

    Quarterback Kirk Cousins deserves plenty of blame for his 2018 struggles. However, his offensive line does, too.

    "Outside of left tackle Riley Reiff—who himself had some ugly outings, most notably Buffalo—the Vikings didn't have a single offensive lineman with a top-80 grade this season," Renner wrote.

    If the Vikings are to get the player they expected when they signed Cousins to a three-year, $84 million deal in 2018, they'll have to upgrade the line. Whether Minnesota adds a tackle opposite Reiff or a quality guard on the interior, it has to do something.

New England Patriots: Tight End

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    Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    The New England Patriots lost the most dominant tight end of a generation when Rob Gronkowski announced his retirement over the weekend. It isn't an overreaction to say the position is now New England's biggest weakness.

    Tight end has been a staple of the Patriots' passing offense during Gronkowski's nine-year run, and it would be difficult for Tom Brady and Co. to transition to a game plan that doesn't heavily involve the position. This is exactly what may have to happen if the Patriots head into 2019 with the likes of Jacob Hollister, Matt LaCosse and Stephen Anderson at tight end.

    New England missed out on Jared Cook in free agency. The team must now turn its attention to the draft and hope intriguing tight end prospects such as Iowa's Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson fall to the No. 32 pick.

New Orleans Saints: Complementary Running Back

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    Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

    The New Orleans Saints might be the NFL's most complete team. However, they did lose a big piece in running back Mark Ingram.

    Ingram rushed for 645 yards in 12 games while complementing Alvin Kamara in the backfield. The two formed perhaps the league's best running back duo, and Ingram's bruising style will be tough to replace.

    New Orleans did add free-agent Latavius Murray, but he isn't the between-the-tackles grinder Ingram is. If the Saints want to be as dominant on offense as they were in 2018, they need to find a battering-ram back to replace Ingram.

New York Giants: Quarterback

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    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    The New York Giants would be OK at quarterback if the season started today. Eli Manning played well in 2018—he completed a career-high 66 percent of his passes and posted a 92.4 passer rating—though it's worth mentioning he benefited from Odell Beckham Jr.'s presence.

    Beckham, of course, is no longer with the team.

    New York needs a quarterback for several reasons, though. First, the Giants have to find Manning's long-term successor soon. The second is that if the 38-year-old Manning, who took 47 sacks in 2018, goes down with injury, the alternative options are Kyle Lauletta and Alex Tanney.

    The Giants may be looking at a lost season in 2019 anyway, but a Manning injury would be disastrous. It's time for New York to get its next franchise quarterback.

New York Jets: Wide Receiver

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    Al Pereira/Getty Images

    As a rookie in 2018, Sam Darnold showed flashes of being a franchise quarterback. If the New York Jets hope to develop him into one, they need to get him a true No. 1 wide receiver.

    New York has some nice complementary pieces, such as speedster Robby Anderson. However, the fact that Anderson was the only wideout on the roster to top the 500-yard mark illustrates how desperately the Jets need to add to the position.

    They did sign Jamison Crowder—who had 388 yards and two touchdowns last season—but he isn't a No. 1 wideout. It would make sense to target a receiver such as Mississippi's D.K. Metcalf in the draft, but probably not where the Jets sit at No. 3. That's too high in a draft chock full of defensive talent.

Oakland Raiders: Edge-Rusher

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    Jason O. Watson/Getty Images

    It shouldn't come as a surprise that the Oakland Raiders need a pass-rusher. They traded Khalil Mack before last season. While the move was probably a good one for the Raiders' long-term rebuild, it left Oakland severely lacking in the pass-rush department.

    Oakland produced a league-low 13 sacks in 2018. That the same number was fewer than the totals of six individual players.

    Fortunately, the Raiders are armed with three first-round picks in next month's draft, including No. 4 overall. Don't be shocked if Oakland takes the best available pass-rusher with that initial Round 1 selection.

Philadelphia Eagles: Running Back

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    Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

    As long as Carson Wentz is healthy, the Philadelphia Eagles have an upper-echelon quarterback. What they don't have is a top-tier rushing attack. They averaged just 98.1 rushing yards per game in 2018—fifth-fewest in the NFL.

    The Eagles need a legitimate workhorse running back to lead the rushing attack and take pressure off the oft-injured Wentz.

    According to Les Bowen of the Philadelphia Daily News and the Philadelphia Inquirer, Jay Ajayi is still in discussions with the Eagles about a possible return. Bringing him back would bolster the backfield, but the Eagles should still strongly consider adding a back in the draft.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Linebacker

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    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    The biggest need for the Pittsburgh Steelers isn't on offense—even after the team parted with wideout Antonio Brown and running back Le'Veon Bell. It's on defense, and it has been ever since Ryan Shazier suffered a serious spinal injury in 2017.

    Shazier was the proverbial glue that held Pittsburgh's defense together. That unit hasn't been consistent or particularly productive since it lost him—it ranked 16th in scoring, allowing 22.5 points per game last season.

    Finding a sideline-to-sideline playmaker like Shazier won't be easy, but the Steelers need to try their best because they don't have anything close to him. If they can land a linebacker like Michigan's Devin Bush at No. 20, it would be a coup.

San Francisco 49ers: Wide Receiver

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    Tony Avelar/Associated Press

    If everything goes as planned, the San Francisco 49ers will have quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo back at 100 percent after last year's torn ACL. They need to support him with a better receiving corps.

    George Kittle might be the best receiving tight end in football, but San Francisco has little at wideout worth writing home about. Marquise Goodwin is a decent deep threat, and Kendrick Bourne showed promise last season. However, Bourne led the position group with just 487 receiving yards, and there isn't a No. 1 receiver anywhere on the roster.

    San Francisco did add Jordan Matthews in free agency, but that move alone won't make the receiving corps a legitimate threat.

Seattle Seahawks: Receiver/Tight End

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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    The Seattle Seahawks' passing attack is functional because of quarterback Russell Wilson. However, it's far from elite—it averaged just 193.3 yards per game in 2018—in part because of a lack of top receiving options.

    Adding to the problem is that the one elite receiver Seattle has, Doug Baldwin, is set to have hernia surgery in April—though the Seahawks are confident he'll make a strong recovery.

    "If anybody can do it [and return], he can get it done," head coach Pete Carroll said, per Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times.

    A pass-catching tight end would be ideal, as the Seahawks lack one of those. The bottom line, though, is Seattle needs to add a pass-catcher, especially if Baldwin is going to miss time.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Cornerback

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    Mark LoMoglio/Associated Press

    Pass defense is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' biggest weakness. Both the pass rush—which generated 38 sacks—and the secondary were liabilities in 2018. However, the Buccaneers added pass-rusher Shaquil Barrett in free agency and parted with starting corner Brent Grimes.

    Cornerback was a need even before Grimes left, though. Vernon Hargreaves, a 2016 first-rounder, hasn't developed into a true No. 1 corner, and what's more, Tampa doesn't have one.

    This is a major issue in an AFC South that features the likes of Julio Jones, Michael Thomas, Calvin Ridley and DJ Moore. If the Buccaneers hope to return to relevance, they must find a legitimate shutdown cornerback. They have an excellent chance of getting one in the draft with the Nos. 5 and 39 overall picks.

Tennessee Titans: Defensive Tackle

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    Mark Zaleski/Associated Press

    The Tennessee Titans could afford to add another pass-rusher after Brian Orakpo's retirement, and the free-agent addition of Cameron Wake should help fill the void.

    With Wake on board, defensive tackle becomes the team's biggest need. While Jurrell Casey is a terrific anchor in the middle of the defensive front, Tennessee desperately needs another top-tier defender next to him in the trenches.

    That would help the Titans improve a run defense that allowed 116.4 yards per game last season, which was 18th in the NFL.

Washington Redskins: Wide Receiver

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    You could put "quarterback" here for the Washington Redskins, but between Colt McCoy and the recently acquired Case Keenum, they should have a functional signal-caller in 2019. The question is whether that quarterback will have enough weapons to succeed.

    Wide receiver is a major need. It was last year, when Josh Doctson led the team's wideouts with just 532 yards, and that was before No. 2 receiver Jamison Crowder left for the Jets.

    Whether Washington adds a veteran such as Michael Crabtree or addresses the position in the draft, it cannot afford to go into the season with the receiving corps it has.

                  

    *All contract information via Spotrac.

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