The NFL's Most Improved Position Groups After 2020 Draft

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistMay 3, 2020

The NFL's Most Improved Position Groups After 2020 Draft

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Some teams went into the 2020 NFL draft dialed in on improving one positional group above anything else.

    These teams identified problem areas and sometimes repeatedly addressed the issue over the course of seven rounds, oftentimes getting great value via prospects who will contribute right away.

    Generally speaking, a lucky few teams massively improved their quarterback rooms with single additions. But we will zoom in more on teams that spent multiple resources to dramatically improve positional units.

    Coming out of the draft, these are the most improved positional groups across the NFL.

Cincinnati Bengals Linebackers

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    Brian Blanco/Associated Press

    There are few better examples for this exercise than the Cincinnati Bengals and their linebackers.

    Cincinnati has consistently had one of the worst linebacking groups in recent years, notably cycling through Vontaze Burfict and even cutting Preston Brown midseason.

    But the Bengals said "enough is enough" in this year's draft and made three of their seven selections linebackers. Wyoming's Logan Wilson (No. 65 overall pick in the third round) will be a starter, Appalachian State's Akeem Davis-Gaither (No. 107 in the fourth round) generally reviews as one of the draft's best values, and Purdue's Markus Bailey (No. 215 in the seventh round) fell because of injury concerns.

    Things were so bad in Cincinnati at this position that all three should easily stick on the roster. While Wilson will probably be the stat machine who racks up tackles, Davis-Gaither is the most intriguing. As B/R's Matt Miller wrote: "Davis-Gaither is one of the most impressive athletes at linebacker in this year's class. He is a hybrid safety-linebacker based both on his usage at Appalachian State and his body type."

    The Bengals will greatly benefit from their draft approach, as all three rookies will play behind a line that added D.J. Reader to a core of Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap and others.

Denver Broncos Wide Receivers

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    Vasha Hunt/Associated Press

    This is what fans of a team building around a potential franchise-passer should want to see.

    The Denver Broncos appear all-in on Drew Lock, the 2019 second-round pick who played five games last year and showed promise. To better the odds that everything will pan out, the front office spent the No. 15 pick on Alabama wideout Jerry Jeudy and then grabbed Penn State's KJ Hamler at No. 46 in the second round.

    Call it incredible value, at a minimum. Jeudy was widely considered a contender to be the best wideout in a deep class. He's a 6'1", 193-pound every-down threat with 4.45-second 40-yard dash speed and pristine route running. Over two seasons of big usage, he put up 1,300-yard and 1,100-yard campaigns with 24 touchdowns.

    And don't overlook Hamler, a wicked-fast slot prospect at 5'9" and 178 pounds who finished with 904 yards and eight scores last season, averaging 16.1 yards per catch on 56 receptions.

    On paper, Denver landed arguably a top-five overall prospect at a position of need and followed by plucking a versatile weapon. On the field, Lock will have a potential No. 1 to grow with in the long term plus a chess piece of a gadget player to keep defenses honest. Keep in mind they'll go to work while opposing defenses worry about the Phillip Lindsay-Melvin Gordon III tandem in the backfield.

Baltimore Ravens Linebackers

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    Danny Karnik/Associated Press

    The Baltimore Ravens didn't need long to replenish their linebacker unit.

    Baltimore has recently lost talent at one of a defense's most important positions: Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley and Za'Darius Smith to name a few.

    But after offering Matthew Judon on a franchise tag, the Ravens used the No. 28 pick in the first round on LSU's Patrick Queen before looping back to hit the position again at No. 98 in the third with Ohio State's Malik Harrison.

    That's two big-name defenders from massive programs. Queen was consistently in the conversation as the best linebacker in the class and earned a 6.71 (Year 1 quality starter) grade from NFL.com's Lance Zierlein, who compared him to Thomas Davis, the longtime Carolina Panthers star who is still going after starting his career in 2005.

    And don't discount the addition of Harrison next to Queen. He's a bigger presence (6'3", 247 lbs) who can blitz or play downhill against the run, hence his 205 tackles, 29 tackles for loss, nine sacks and nine passes defensed in college.

    The Ravens have a new, cost-effective tandem in the heart of their defense, and based on how they've added linebackers in the past, it will be a long-term solution.

Las Vegas Raiders Wide Receivers

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    Vasha Hunt/Associated Press

    Who saw this coming?

    Jon Gruden and the Las Vegas Raiders have a habit of grabbing headlines with big moves. But adding three wideouts with their first four picks—all in the top 81—was a surprise.

    First up was Alabama's Henry Ruggs III at No. 12, the first receiver off the board. He boasts game-changing speed at 6'0" and 190 pounds with a 4.27-second 40-yard dash. He's not just measurements, though, not after registering 700-plus yards in consecutive seasons with 18 touchdowns over that span.

    Normally a team would stop there. But the Raiders used picks Nos. 80 and 81 in the third round on Lynn Bowden Jr. from Kentucky and Bryan Edwards from South Carolina.

    Bowden is a versatile slot presence who can work outside and move all over the place to capitalize on matchups. Edwards was a four-year player and boasts a massive catch radius atop a big frame (6'3", 212 lbs), which makes him an ideal safety net.

    While the rookies will have to compete for snaps with Tyrell Williams and Hunter Renfrow, fans can no longer cite wideout as the biggest problem affecting the Raiders after the Antonio Brown debacle.

    And given the improved quality of the group, the pressure has never been greater on one Derek Carr.

Carolina Panthers Defensive Line

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    The Carolina Panthers hit it out of the proverbial park last year at No. 16 with edge presence Brian Burns, who quietly put up 7.5 sacks.

    With a regime change underway and the offensive-minded Matt Rhule leading the charge with Teddy Bridgewater behind center, the Panthers again addressed their defense in the top 50 of the draft.

    First up was Auburn interior lineman Derrick Brown at No. 7. If there's a team that knows how important a disruptive piece in the middle is, it's the Panthers, who've enjoyed years of guys such as Kawann Short. Brown was one of the quieter top-10 candidates this year, but it's hard to argue with 33 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks over four seasons in the SEC. He arrived with a 6'5", 325-pound frame and was classified as a Pro Bowl talent by Zierlein.

    Carolina then drafted Penn State's Yetur Gross-Matos at No. 38 in the second round. The edge defender was a longstanding selection in first-round mocks throughout the predraft process. That usually happens for long edge prospects who top elite athleticism with frames in the range of 6'5", 265 pounds. Gross-Matos put his traits to work in the Big Ten, posting eight or more sacks in consecutive seasons before turning pro.

    Add Brown and Gross-Matos to Short and Burns in a versatile front, and feel a bit of sympathy for Matt Ryan, Drew Brees and Tom Brady in the NFC South. Or don't—but the Panthers appear to have the right idea.

New York Giants Offensive Line

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    The New York Giants have a small window to get things right around Daniel Jones.

    Jones is in the middle of his critical developmental years, and how the Giants build around him could be the difference between finding their long-term answer at quarterback or having to pick another one soon.

    And the Giants acted like it during the draft.

    New York went the safe route in the top five with Georgia tackle Andrew Thomas, who is as sure of a prospect on the offensive line as it gets these days. Miller graded him at a 91 as "the most pro-ready true left tackle in the 2020 draft class."

    The Giants hardly stopped there. The front office used a compensatory pick to nab Connecticut's Matt Peart at No. 99 in the third round. While he received only a 68 grade from Miller, he made an Andrew Whitworth comparison. And it's hard to complain about the arrival of a 6'5", 310-pound tackle prospect with all the traits that could make him a long-term answer.

    Shane Lemieux out of Oregon topped the notable adds in front of Jones at No. 150 in the fifth. In that range, a four-year player from a big program who can be a superb backup with the potential to start constitutes an upgrade and a win.

    Competition will decide what the line looks like next season. But the Giants will be safe well beyond Nate Solder's eventual departure and have some serious talent now alongside strong starting guards Will Hernandez and Kevin Zeitler. While safe, if not boring, that is nothing but a good thing given the circumstances.

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