Every NFL Team's Biggest Red Flag Heading into 2020 Season
The NFL is a mismatch league, and opposing coaches will expose any area of weakness. Free-agent and draft additions can only rectify so much. Weaknesses can still be found on each and every roster as red flags for opponents to attack.
Not every potential problem is glaring, but certain sore spots still exist. As such, specific positions can be identified that could continue to be a thorn in each team's side during the 2020 campaign.
These roster deficiencies are a byproduct of issues found within the squad's personnel.
Some may be gaping holes where a lack of talent exists. Unproven talent will need to prove it's capable of performing at an acceptable level. Then, there are those who must show they can improve upon previous performances or return to form.
Whatever the case, these areas in question will be crucial to their respective team's success or failure this fall.
Arizona Cardinals: Cornerback
The Arizona Cardinals have two problems at cornerback. Patrick Peterson wasn't his old self last season, and the organization is still looking for another quality starting option.
Peterson's issues are twofold. The eight-time Pro Bowl cornerback, who turns 30 next month, needs to return to his previously established performance level not only for the Cardinals to succeed but because he's a free agent after this year and the team hasn't approached him about a contract extension.
"I feel I have a lot to prove," he said, per Darren Urban of the Cardinals' official site.
Cornerback opposite Peterson remains a mystery. Byron Murphy Jr. has plenty of potential, but he's better working the slot. Kevin Peterson and Robert Alford are left to stake a claim for the other outside corner position.
Atlanta Falcons: Cornerback
The Atlanta Falcons may have executed the biggest reach of this year's first round when the front office decided to select Clemson's A.J. Terrell with the 16th overall draft pick.
Terrell isn't a bad prospect by any means, but the run on cornerbacks started earlier than expected after Jeff Okudah and CJ Henderson came off the board within the first nine selections.
The Falcons, meanwhile, didn't execute a trade and drafted for a position of need. Terrell now steps in as the Falcons CB1, which could be an adventure considering his poor performance against an elite wide receiver—LSU's Ja'Marr Chase caught nine passes for 221 yards primarily in Terrell's coverage—during his final collegiate game.
Furthermore, Atlanta didn't add anyone else to the position group after finishing 26th last season by allowing a 65.5 percent completion percentage.
Baltimore Ravens: Offensive Interior
Marshal Yanda's retirement will cause the Baltimore Ravens' offensive interior to take a step back in 2020 compared to last year's record-setting performance. D.J. Fluker signed to replace Yanda, and he's a big, physical interior blocker, but Yanda played at a Hall of Fame-caliber level throughout his career.
Center remains suspect as well.
Matt Skura is coming off a season-ending knee injury, while Patrick Mekari started Baltimore's final six games. A competition will ensue between these two, though Skura isn't guaranteed to be ready for the start of training camp.
"If I'm not ready at the beginning, then maybe we'd take a week to get me back in the groove," Skura said, per Clifton Brown of the Ravens' official site. "I'm trying not to rush back too quickly, but I don't want to delay myself too long."
Buffalo Bills: Quarterback
Josh Allen's continued maturation is vital to the Buffalo Bills' ascension to the top of the AFC East.
Last season, the 2018 seventh overall pick showed growth and improved across the board in every meaningful statistic. But he must be even better if the Bills plan to legitimately build on last year's playoff berth.
Buffalo has talent at every level with an outstanding secondary and exciting young pieces in Stefon Diggs, Devin Singletary, Ed Oliver, Tremaine Edmunds and Cody Ford.
Allen must continue to improve his overall efficiency and effectiveness within the offensive structure. He can't finish 32nd in completion percentage again or rank in the bottom half of the league in passing yards, yards per attempt, touchdown passes, QBR and standard quarterback rating while expecting to be the answer at quarterback for a squad on the rise.
Carolina Panthers: Defense
Potential doesn't automatically equate to production. This is important to remember when evaluating the Carolina Panthers roster.
The Panthers defense is going to be very young without the same veteran leadership it previously had before Matt Rhule became the head coach.
Brian Burns, Shaq Thompson, Donte Jackson and this year's first- and second-round picks—defensive tackle Derrick Brown and defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos—form a promising core of talent to build long-term success.
However, the organization lost Luke Kuechly, Mario Addison, Gerald McCoy, Dontari Poe, Eric Reid and James Bradberry this offseason. The Panthers subsequently drafted all defensive players this year.
The potential found within Carolina's defense is great, but the likelihood of this group coming together and excelling during its first year together is not so great.
Chicago Bears: Quarterback
Chicago Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky knows he hasn't played well enough to warrant confidence in his play or for the team to pick up his rookie fifth-year option.
"I felt like the way I played didn't merit that," Trubisky told reporters.
In response, the organization traded for veteran signal-caller Nick Foles. Foles already has a previous working relationship with head coach Matt Nagy, offensive coordinator Bill Lazor and quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo.
Trubisky might not make it out of training camp as the starter. Foles, meanwhile, must prove he can be more than a flash in the pan and turn into a consistent performer throughout an entire campaign.
The Bears don't know what they have at the game's most important position, and that uncertainty could continue to hold the organization back.
Cincinnati Bengals: Offensive Line
The Cincinnati Bengals are finally getting some reinforcements along their offensive line, but they're likely not enough to stabilize the front.
Jonah Williams, whom the organization selected with last year's 11th overall pick, will enter the lineup after missing his rookie campaign with a torn labrum. His inclusion at left tackle could create a ripple effect throughout the starting five, but the right side remains questionable.
Cincinnati signed Xavier Su'a-Filo in free agency to potentially solve one of the guard spots, but he's never been more than a replacement-level performer. Bobby Hart, meanwhile, has consistently graded poorly throughout his career, though he deserves some credit for finishing the 2019 season strong.
How this group holds up will directly affect the performance of this year's No. 1 overall pick, quarterback Joe Burrow. This thought doesn't provide much comfort for a rebuilding franchise.
Cleveland Browns: Linebacker
On paper, the Cleveland Browns own the league's worst set of linebackers.
The team essentially has half a quality starter. B.J. Goodson, who signed a one-year free-agent deal this offseason, is a physical downhill linebacker but is not as effective working in space. Beyond that, the Browns have nothing but unproven options.
Mack Wilson struggled as a 21-year-old rookie forced to start 14 games. Sione Takitaki, whom the organization drafted two rounds before Wilson, played sparingly. This year, the Browns chose LSU's Jacob Phillips at the tail end of the third round.
Cleveland lacks the connective tissue between a talented defensive front and secondary. Either this young crop of linebackers rapidly improves, or it'll be exploited.
Dallas Cowboys: Tight End
Jason Witten finished third on the Dallas Cowboys last season with 63 catches. A 37-year-old tight end, who averaged a career-low 8.4 yards per reception, only had three fewer snags than wide receiver Michael Gallup.
Blake Jarwin is expected to have an expanded role after he signed a four-year, $22 million contract extension and Witten went to the Las Vegas Raiders.
Jarwin caught 58 passes for 672 yards through his first three seasons. He must prove he's capable of being a primary option within the offense, because the Cowboys aren't stacked at tight end. Dalton Schultz, Blake Bell and Cole Hikutini have 53 career receptions between them.
Quarterback Dak Prescott leaned on Witten to work the middle of the field and provide a reliable target. The Cowboys don't have that player on the roster right now.
Denver Broncos: Left Tackle
A spotlight will be shined on Denver Broncos left tackle Garett Bolles throughout the entirety of the 2020 campaign. Expectations are being heaped on Denver's offense after Drew Lock's impressive finish to his rookie season. The team then went all-in to improve Lock's supporting cast, except for left tackle.
The team already declined Bolles' rookie fifth-year option because of his overall inconsistency and drive-killing penalties.
Offseason additions of running back Melvin Gordon III, interior blockers Graham Glasgow and Lloyd Cushenberry III and wide receivers Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler helped solidify three different roster areas. Left tackle stands as the weak link.
At times, Bolles can look very good. Those flashes need to come more often. If they don't, Lock's progression could be stunted.
Detroit Lions: Edge Rush
The Detroit Lions made a few excellent defensive additions, but they didn't address the unit's biggest concern.
A reworked secondary with Jeff Okudah, Desmond Trufant and Duron Harmon to go along with Jamie Collins Sr., Reggie Ragland and Danny Shelton in the front seven should improve pass coverage and run defense. Yet, the pass rush remains a concern.
Last year, Detroit tied for 29th with 28 sacks. Trey Flowers is the team's returning sack leader with seven, but he's most effective along the interior. No one else on the current roster managed more than two sacks last season.
Someone among Romeo Okwara, Jahlani Tavai and third-round rookie Julian Okwara will need to apply consistent edge pressure, or the Lions will almost certainly rank among the league's worst again.
Green Bay Packers: Secondary Receiving Threat
The Green Bay Packers inexplicably didn't address wide receiver beyond signing Devin Funchess, who missed 15 games last season with a broken collarbone.
The thought of passing on an opportunity to select a wide receiver when this year's class featured the deepest group of targets in draft history cannot be explained, though general manager Brian Gutekunst tried.
"We just felt there weren't a lot of great candidates that were locks to make our team next year," Gutekunst told reporters.
Other than Davante Adams, no wide receiver on the Packers roster managed more than 35 receptions or 477 receiving yards. Allen Lazard and/or Marquez Valdes-Scantling must improve, or the Packers still won't have a second threat working outside the numbers.
Houston Texans: Defensive Interior
D.J. Reader will be missed along the Houston Texans defensive interior, and the team knows it.
"We would have loved to keep D.J. Reader," head coach/general manager Bill O'Brien told reporters. "We had good conversations with him and his representatives, but at the end of the day, we couldn’t get that one done."
Instead, Reader signed a four-year, $53 million free-agent deal with the Cincinnati Bengals. The Texans responded by drafting TCU's Ross Blacklock in this year's second round.
Reader will be extremely difficult to replace because he's a well-rounded defender. The 347-pound defensive tackle isn't just a space-eater; he also consistently collapses the pocket as a pass-rusher. None of the team's remaining interior defenders are nearly as good in either category, and Blacklock will likely need some time before he's a steady presence.
Indianapolis Colts: Edge Rush
The Indianapolis Colts did an exceptional job by swooping in and acquiring one of the NFL's best interior defenders in DeForest Buckner. His addition will make the entire defensive front far more potent.
However, defensive end Justin Houston lacks a true bookend. The 31-year-old veteran led the Colts last season with 11 sacks. No other edge-rusher still on the roster managed more than 3.5 sacks.
Plenty of potential exists among the team's other edge-defenders. Kemoko Turay, Al-Quadin Muhammad and Ben Banogu are excellent athletes with the ability to develop into starting-caliber players. If not, defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus may turn to Denico Autry or Tyquan Lewis to play more end than defensive tackle.
Either way, the position remains unsettled and could be a liability as offenses slide protection toward Houston.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Quarterback
Either Gardner Minshew II develops into a franchise quarterback this season, or the Jacksonville Jaguars will be searching for one next offseason. No in-between exists.
The Jaguars know Minshew exceeded expectations as a sixth-round pick. In fact, he graded as the top rookie quarterback, according to Pro Football Focus.
"He's accurate, he's tough and obviously he's a great leader, so he's got the intangibles you want in a quarterback," new offensive coordinator Jay Gruden told ESPN's Michael DiRocco.
But late-round draft picks are on short leashes. Minshew may have outperformed expectations but that's a far cry from quality quarterback play. Any regression means the Jaguars will lose games and likely place them in a position to select his successor. It falls on the second-year quarterback to prove himself and make this conversation moot.
Kansas City Chiefs: Left Guard
The reigning Super Bowl champions remain loaded. The Kansas City Chiefs minimized their offseason losses by retaining Chris Jones (franchise tag) and Sammy Watkins despite very little financial flexibility.
But the team did lose its Super Bowl-starting left guard. Stefen Wisniewski signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers in free agency.
Andrew Wylie opened the season as the starter, but a high-ankle sprain allowed Wisniewski to take over the position. Now, a competition will likely ensue between Wylie and veteran offseason addition Mike Remmers.
As good as Kansas City's offense is, the offensive interior is soft. Patrick Mahomes' creativity inside and outside the pocket often makes the group look better than it is. But Kansas City should strive for better overall protection from everyone not named Mitchell Schwartz.
Las Vegas Raiders: Defensive Line
The Las Vegas Raiders invested a lot in their defensive front. The team chose Arden Key, P.J. Hall, Maurice Hurst, Clelin Ferrell and Maxx Crosby during the 2018 and '19 drafts. Yet, this group remains a potential sticking point.
Crosby excelled as a rookie with 10 sacks. No one else still on the roster managed more than 4.5. As a unit, the Raiders finished among the bottom 10 teams with only 32 sacks.
Natural improvement should occur as these individuals develop. However, some concern should still exist about whether any of them, outside of Crosby, will become consistent disruptive forces.
The Raiders made sure to address both linebacker and cornerback this offseason to fill obvious holes. The defensive line must live up to its end of the bargain by turning potential into production.
Los Angeles Chargers: Left Tackle
When discussing the Los Angeles Chargers' left tackle spot, new offensive line coach James Campen basically damned the team's options with faint praise.
"There are options there," Campen told reporters. "There is a lot of good candidates that have a lot of the athletic traits you want at left tackle."
Translation: No established blockers are currently on the Chargers roster to play the position, and the roster features developmental prospects who may not be ready.
The right side of Los Angeles' front five should be excellent after adding Bryan Bulaga and Trai Turner. Center Mike Pouncey is expected back from last year's neck injury, too.
But the idea of Trey Pipkins, Sam Tevi or Forrest Lamp protecting the quarterback's blindside should worry Tyrod Taylor and Justin Herbert.
Los Angeles Rams: Edge Rush
The Los Angeles Rams' starting edge-rushers went from Dante Fowler Jr. and Clay Matthews a year ago to Samson Ebukam and Leonard Floyd.
Fowler and Matthews combined for 19.5 sacks last season, whereas the new duo managed 7.5. In fact, Floyd's sack production decreased in each of his four seasons after the Chicago Bears made him the ninth overall pick in the 2016 NFL draft.
Maybe the Rams will strike gold with Floyd like they previously did with Fowler. The 27-year-old linebacker might flourish in a new defensive scheme, but his sudden development isn't a given.
Ebukam is a nice rotational player, but he didn't excel as a starter in 2018. The addition of Terrell Lewis in this year's third round offers a ton of upside, however.
Miami Dolphins: Offensive Tackle
The Miami Dolphins prioritized offensive tackle during the 2020 NFL draft with the selections of USC's Austin Jackson and Louisiana's Robert Hunt.
Hunt could project to tackle or guard, but the Miami Herald's Barry Jackson reported the organization wants "to give him a chance at right tackle."
Jesse Davis could win the job, thus pushing Hunt inside, but the staff certainly has plans to work with the incoming rookies.
As the 18th overall pick, Jackson's status shouldn't be in question. He's the team's present and future left tackle. Although, he's not the most polished prospect, which could create protection issues as he develops.
While Miami did the right thing by investing in both offensive tackle spots, the thought of two rookies trying to protect a rookie quarterback in Tua Tagovailoa is a potential recipe for disaster.
Minnesota Vikings: Left Side of Offensive Line
The Minnesota Vikings have considered the possibility of moving veteran left tackle Riley Reiff to guard for a long time.
Head coach Mike Zimmer acknowledged the possibility before the 2019 NFL draft. The Vikings didn't draft a potential replacement at that time. They did this year, though. Minnesota chose Ezra Cleveland with the 58th overall pick.
From this point, two things could happen, and both could be detrimental in the short term. Either the team sticks with Reiff, thus leaving Pat Elflein at guard after another disappointing season, or Cleveland takes over and a rookie will be protecting Kirk Cousins' blind side.
Either way, the Vikings will have to deal with the fact that one of their blockers on the left side may be a hindrance during the '20 campaign.
New England Patriots: Quarterback
No matter what Jarrett Stidham does as the New England Patriots starting quarterback, he'll always be stuck in Tom Brady's shadow.
Stidham will bring a different dynamic to New England's offense thanks to his big arm and movement skills. Those two traits have the potential to open up possibilities Brady couldn't. But slight physical advantages can't offset 20 years of championship pedigree and knowledge of playing the position.
The Patriots can believe in Stidham—or Brian Hoyer, for that matter—all they want, but quarterback is now a serious issue in New England after they had the luxury of the greatest player/coach relationship in NFL history for nearly two decades.
At this juncture, the idea of New England having the worst quarterback setup in the AFC East is very real.
New Orleans Saints: Right Guard
The New Orleans Saints decided change was needed along their offensive interior, and they made it by selecting Michigan center Cesar Ruiz with this year's 24th overall pick and subsequently cutting three-time Pro Bowl right guard Larry Warford.
Now, the Saints have to decide if Ruiz or last year's standout rookie, Erik McCoy, will move to guard.
"Obviously, we think one of them is going to be a guard, because we weren't drafting someone that high to come in and be a backup," Saints coach Sean Payton told reporters.
If Ruiz takes over center, the Saints will have a rookie snapping the ball and a second-year player learning a new position. If Ruiz moves to guard, he'll be playing the position for the first time since his freshman campaign. Neither is optimal for a team with Super Bowl aspirations.
New York Giants: Pass Rush
The New York Giants front office should be anxious to find out what happens next with Markus Golden.
The Giants placed the unrestricted free-agent tender on Golden before he entered the market. If the player signs elsewhere, he would count toward the 2021 compensatory pick formula. Or, the team would retain exclusive rights if Golden remains unsigned past July 22.
The clock is ticking, and the Giants need Golden and last season's team-leading 10 sacks. No one else on the roster managed more than 4.5, and New York didn't make the splash in free agency many expected, such as pursuing Jadeveon Clowney.
With Golden on the roster, the Giants still finished among the bottom half of the league in sacks. Plus, New York's defense lacks a true bookend.
New York Jets: Wide Receiver
New York Jets general manager Joe Douglas knew he had to build a better offense around quarterback Sam Darnold.
The offensive line received a total makeover with the additions of Connor McGovern, Greg Van Roten, George Fant and this year's first-round pick, Mekhi Becton.
Wide receiver also received attention but not to the same level, especially after Robby Anderson's departure.
Jamison Crowder is an excellent slot receiver and serves as Darnold's security blanket. New York signed Breshad Perriman and drafted Denzel Mims in this year's second round. A solid trio forms on paper, but Perriman must finally produce like a starting-caliber wideout, while Mims will be forced to adjust to the professional game rather quickly.
If these things don't occur, the Jets passing game won't improve upon last year's 29th-ranked effort.
Philadelphia Eagles: Linebacker
An earlier breakdown stated the Cleveland Browns have the league's worst linebacker corps. The Philadelphia Eagles could give the Browns a run for their (lack of) money at the position.
Neither Nigel Bradham nor Kamu Grugier-Hill re-signed. Instead, the organization signed Jatavis Brown to a minuscule one-year, $1 million contract. Philadelphia also drafted Davion Taylor with this year's 103rd overall pick.
Nathan Gerry is still in the mix as the team's top returning tackler. Gerry registered 78 stops last season.
Otherwise, the Eagles will rely on TJ Edwards, Duke Riley and Taylor. None of the three has extensive playing time at the professional level, though all three have the potential to contribute this fall in different areas.
Clearly, Philadelphia doesn't prioritize the linebacker position, and the approach could prove problematic.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Quarterback
Ben Roethlisberger is a gigantic question mark—he should wear the Riddler's green leotard with a question mark emblazoned on his chest this season—until the 38-year-old quarterback proves he's fully recovered from last year's elbow surgery and back to the player he was prior to the injury.
Everything so far this offseason has been positive.
"He was out there and he was throwing. Did some off-schedule stuff. No restraints," Steelers wide receiver Ryan Switzer told The Athletic's Mark Kaboly. "He threw everything—across his body. Everything."
Throwing in practice sessions without defenders is very different from throwing with a pass rush bearing down on a quarterback.
If Roethlisberger doesn't hold up, the Steelers don't have a legitimate replacement plan. Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges convinced them last year that they're not capable of leading Pittsburgh's offense.
San Francisco 49ers: Cornerback
The San Francisco 49ers knew as an organization they couldn't address every position this offseason. Instead, general manager John Lynch had decisions to make. For example, he signed Arik Armstead to a lucrative long-term deal while trading DeForest Buckner to the Indianapolis Colts.
The team acquired Trent Williams to replace the retiring Joe Staley as well.
San Francisco didn't address cornerback opposite Richard Sherman. Ahkello Witherspoon proved he's not the solution. Emmanuel Moseley showed some promise, especially late in the 2019 campaign, but he must demonstrate he can be a full-time starter.
The position remains unsettled, and the 49ers did nothing to improve the situation.
Furthermore, last year's defensive backs coach, Joe Woods, who helped turn the 49ers into the league's No. 1 pass defense is now the Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator.
Seattle Seahawks: Edge Rush
A reunion between Jadeveon Clowney and the Seattle Seahawks appears unlikely since the defensive end would have to accept "significantly less money than what the team previously offered him, according to ESPN's Brady Henderson.
The organization made sure to address defensive end this offseason with the veteran additions of Bruce Irvin and Benson Mayowa. Seattle also spent a second-round draft selection on Tennessee's Darrell Taylor to go with last year's first-round pick, L.J. Collier.
Irvin turns 33 later this year. Mayowa has never been an every-down defender. Collier can play end, but he's more effective rushing from the interior. Taylor is a rookie and an unknown at the professional level.
It's an interesting group of edge players Seattle accumulated, but the Seahawks had to work with the individuals available to them.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Running Back
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished among the bottom six teams last season with an average of 3.7 yards per carry. Head coach Bruce Arians brought a vertical passing game, but the team's backfield options need to be far more effective when called upon.
Ronald Jones II led the team and set career highs during his sophomore season with 172 carries for 724 rushing yards and six touchdowns.
Tampa Bay chose Vanderbilt's Ke'Shawn Vaughn in this year's third round to complement Jones. Unless Vaughn excels as a rookie, running back will almost certainly be a continued area of concern with Tom Brady now under center and all of the talent found at wide receiver and tight end.
Tennessee Titans: Right Tackle
Jack Conklin finally looked like the offensive tackle the Tennessee Titans expected when the organization selected him with the eighth overall pick in the 2016 draft. However, the front office decided not to pick up his fifth-year option after an ACL tear and down season. He signed with the Cleveland Browns this offseason.
Now, the Titans have two options for right tackle. Either the team relies on Dennis Kelly, who is a quality swing tackle, or this year's first-round pick, Isaiah Wilson, starts sooner rather than later.
Regardless of what happens, the Titans will take a step back.
Neither Kelly nor Wilson is as athletic as Conklin. Wilson, in particular, will likely force the Titans to utilize fewer outside zone runs, because the 350-pound lineman is powerful but far from a polished technician or nimble lead blocker.
Washington Redskins: Left Tackle
When an NFL head coach admits something publicly, listen to him.
The Washington Redskins' Ron Rivera told reporters that left tackle is the Redskins' biggest uncertainty.
After trading Trent Williams to the San Francisco 49ers, the team didn't have an established left tackle on the roster. Last season, Donald Penn manned the position, but he remains a free agent, thus leaving 2018 third-round pick Geron Christian Sr. and this year's 108th overall selection, Saahdiq Charles, as the team's best options.
Both are talented, albeit unproven. On top of that, left guard remains unsettled, which will only make it harder for a young left tackle to establish himself.
Quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr. has a lot to prove in his second season, and he's unlikely to get much help from his blindside protectors.