Every NFL Team's Biggest Hole to Fill Before the 2021 Season
Not every NFL roster resembles Swiss cheese, but holes of various sizes exist on each depth chart in the league.
And the reality is some will become more glaring as training camps progress this summer.
Here, we'll look at the largest hole on every roster on the brink of camp season and make a suggestion or two for how each team might want to address said weak spot. In some cases, the answer could come from within but isn't obvious yet; in others, free agents might do the trick.
Arizona Cardinals: Cornerback
The Patrick Peterson era is over for the Arizona Cardinals now that the eight-time Pro Bowler has jumped to the Minnesota Vikings. And while the team did bring in veteran Malcolm Butler, the position remains weak with just Butler (who is 31), Robert Alford (who is 32 and hasn't played since 2018) and 2019 second-round pick Byron Murphy Jr. leading the way.
Murphy improved quite a bit as a sophomore and could become a solid No. 1 corner, but the Cards could still use more competition across the board.
Maybe that could come from a rookie Day 3 pick such as Marco Wilson or Tay Gowan, maybe it means bringing back an unsigned veteran such as Dre Kirkpatrick or Johnathan Joseph, or it could even mean making one more splash with a lingering free agent such as Steven Nelson or Richard Sherman.
Atlanta Falcons: X Receiver
X receiver is the outside spot previously occupied by superstar Julio Jones, who is now a member of the Tennessee Titans.
Sure, the Atlanta Falcons still have three solid, intriguing pass-catchers in Calvin Ridley, Russell Gage and Kyle Pitts, but Gage and Pitts aren't likely to be major factors on the boundary, and somebody will have to emerge opposite Ridley if the Falcons are going to get it together sans Jones.
The only established player in the mix for that gig is Tajae Sharpe, who was a non-factor with the Minnesota Vikings and Kansas City Chiefs last year but had some moments with Tennessee.
Could the Falcons give another shot to a veteran such as Josh Gordon or Dez Bryant? There isn't a lot else out there.
Baltimore Ravens: Edge Defender
The Baltimore Ravens lost top edge defenders Matt Judon and Yannick Ngakoue in the offseason, leaving a lot on the shoulders of Pernell McPhee (who is 32 and hasn't had a five-sack season since he was 27), Tyus Bowser (who has been held to three or fewer sacks in three of his four campaigns) and Calais Campbell (who has declined as he enters his mid-thirties).
They did use a first-round pick on pass-rusher Odafe Oweh, but he may need some time to develop after a zero-sack 2020 season at Penn State.
There's at least plenty of depth on the edge with Jaylon Ferguson and rookie fifth-round pick Daelin Hayes joining that committee, but the front office would be smart to attempt to get a late-summer discount on an established player such Justin Houston, Olivier Vernon or Trent Murphy.
Buffalo Bills: No. 2 Cornerback
Jay Skurski of the Buffalo News recently suggested the battle to start opposite star cornerback Tre'Davious White could be the highlight of Buffalo Bills training camp. But there's a good chance neither Levi Wallace nor Dane Jackson emerges as a reliable option.
Wallace, a fourth-year 26-year-old, wasn't drafted and is back on a $1.8 million prove-it deal, with the Bills likely expecting him to improve this summer. However, there isn't a lot of competition with veteran Josh Norman still unsigned. Jackson was a pleasant surprise in limited action as a rookie seventh-round pick last year, but neither player jumps off the tape.
The Bills are a Super Bowl-caliber team with few holes, but this has the potential to become a big one if neither player can stand out. Perhaps they still have Norman's number handy, and Steven Nelson or Richard Sherman would make a lot of sense too.
Carolina Panthers: Left Tackle
Four different players started at left tackle for the Carolina Panthers in 2020, mainly because veteran Russell Okung wasn't healthy for much of the season. Carolina brought back free agent Taylor Moton on the right side but didn't do much to address that left tackle spot, as Okung remains unsigned.
Now, it's likely looking at a summer battle between 2019 second-round pick Greg Little, rookie third-round selection Brady Christensen, veteran journeyman Cameron Erving and 2019 sixth-round pick Dennis Daley.
It's good the Panthers have options, but none are too intriguing. According to Adam H. Beasley of the Pro Football Network, the 32-year-old Okung is waiting for a satisfactory offer. The Panthers ought to consider sending him one, because there aren't many options—and they owe new quarterback Sam Darnold the best protection they can secure.
Chicago Bears: Offensive Tackle
The Chicago Bears made significant changes to their offensive line this offseason, showing the door to 2020 starting tackles Charles Leno Jr. and Bobby Massie and drafting potential Week 1 starter Teven Jenkins in Round 2.
But that left questions about whichever side Jenkins doesn't take. It's possible the Bears will roll with Jenkins on the left side and veteran Germain Ifedi at right tackle, but that would leave a hole (and a lot less depth) at guard.
Unless free-agent addition Elijah Wilkinson (who looks like a swing tackle at best) rises up this summer, the Bears should do their best to grab at least one more experienced offensive lineman, whether that be a tackle such as Russell Okung or Mitchell Schwartz or a guard such as David DeCastro or Nick Easton.
Cincinnati Bengals: Guard
Earlier this offseason, the Cincinnati Bengals stole top-quality slot cornerback Mike Hilton from the cap-strapped division-rival Pittsburgh Steelers. Now, they might want to consider doing the same with recent Steelers release David DeCastro.
The veteran guard has a nagging ankle injury and could decide to walk away, but it's worth the risk for the Bengals to see if he might be able to recover and beat out underwhelming veterans Michael Jordan, Xavier Su'a-Filo and Quinton Spain to bolster an interior offensive line that continues to be a concern.
That'd make it easier to bring rookie second-round pick Jackson Carman along, easing the burden on the line and making life less stressful for sophomore quarterback Joe Burrow as he returns from a torn ACL.
Other options include Nick Easton and Kelechi Osemele.
Cleveland Browns: Defensive Tackle
The stacked Cleveland Browns are likely comfortable with every position on the roster, but there's been plenty of turnover at defensive tackle, and they don't appear to be set at the position on the eve of camp.
Larry Ogunjobi and Sheldon Richardson are gone. Malik Jackson joined the fray, and Andrew Billings is back after a COVID-19 opt-out, but the former is 31 and has started just seven games over the last two years, while the latter didn't return in ideal football shape.
There are other options such as sophomore third-round pick Jordan Elliott and rookie fourth-rounder Tommy Togiai, but neither of them are proven, and Cleveland could contemplate diving in on a veteran free agent such as Kawann Short or Geno Atkins.
Dallas Cowboys: Cornerback
The Dallas Cowboys have lost top corners in back-to-back years with Byron Jones now a member of the Miami Dolphins and Chidobe Awuzie now with the Cincinnati Bengals.
They at least brought back free agent Jourdan Lewis this offseason and drafted Kelvin Joseph in Round 2 to work with Lewis and sophomore second-rounder Trevon Diggs, but Dallas doesn't have a lot of experience or reliability for a team that is undoubtedly trying to win now because of its powerhouse offense.
Lewis has been limited to the slot, Brown hasn't been a reliable presence, and the jury is still out on Joseph and Diggs, who could need time to develop.
The Cowboys need another veteran, and Steven Nelson and Richard Sherman should be on their radar.
Denver Broncos: Quarterback
This may seem like a cop-out considering the buzz surrounding the Denver Broncos' quarterback situation, but it's also a sign that Denver really has put it together elsewhere. The secondary is stacked, the defensive front seven looks stout, the offensive line is shored up with Bobby Massie joining the fray, and there is plenty of talent and depth at the offensive skill positions.
Now, if Denver could just upgrade from Drew Lock (who has been unreliable and might not offer enough stability to become a long-term No. 1 option) and Teddy Bridgewater (who is stable but might not offer the playmaking ability to carry a team), it would have a chance to contend in the AFC.
The Broncos have been linked to Aaron Rodgers ever since the reigning MVP became the subject of trade rumors on draft day. KOA NewsRadio's Benjamin Allbright estimated last month that Denver had a 60 percent chance of completing a trade for the 37-year-old.
We'll see if that comes to fruition. If it doesn't, it's hard to imagine the Broncos chasing someone else, which would be a shame.
Detroit Lions: Cornerback
One year after trading star cornerback Darius Slay, the Detroit Lions have also given up on Justin Coleman and moved on from Desmond Trufant at that critical position. They brought in veteran Quinton Dunbar this offseason, but it's clear they're putting most of their eggs in 2020 first-round pick Jeff Okudah's basket.
But Okudah struggled as a rookie and is no lock to live up to expectations. And even if he can make progress and Dunbar remains healthy for the first time in four years, the Lions look soft in the slot, where Mike Ford and Corn Elder are expected to compete.
Detroit needs another proven player inside or outside, but Richard Sherman probably doesn't make much sense considering his age and Detroit's status as a non-contender. Steven Nelson and Brian Poole are logical targets, however.
Green Bay Packers: No. 2 Cornerback
The last thing the Green Bay Packers want to do is rely on a rookie cornerback. That position is just too hard to nail right off the bat in this league, so in a perfect world, first-rounder Eric Stokes will have some time to get acclimated.
In other words, a lot could fall on disappointing second-round picks Kevin King and Josh Jackson—even if Jaire Alexander and Chandon Sullivan hold things down outside and in the slot.
Those two just haven't gotten it done, and King in particular was a mess in last year's NFC Championship Game. Barring marked signs of improvement this summer, the Packers should be all over Steven Nelson, Richard Sherman and maybe even Josh Norman.
Houston Texans: No. 2 Outside Receiver
In the case of the Houston Texans, it's whoever lines up on the boundary opposite Brandin Cooks. With Randall Cobb and Keke Coutee better suited for the slot, Chris Conley, Andre Roberts and rookie third-round pick Nico Collins are likely to compete for the other outside starting job.
Unless Collins shocks the football world, none are ideal starters.
Regardless of who starts at quarterback, Houston simply needs more talent in the receiving corps. But it's not an attractive destination right now and the Texans are low on salary-cap space.
Maybe general manager Nick Caserio can talk to his old colleague Bill Belichick about a trade for N'Keal Harry. It couldn't hurt.
Indianapolis Colts: Left Tackle
The otherwise deep and talented Indianapolis Colts have some insurance in the event left tackle Eric Fisher hasn't recovered from an Achilles injury in time to replace retired stalwart Anthony Castonzo. But Sam Tevi and Julie'n Davenport have failed elsewhere and are not promising short-term options for a squad that will be battling from the get-go in the tough and improved AFC South.
NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported in May that Fisher might not be ready until October, and even then there'd be a catch-up process for a 30-year-old who has undergone two major surgeries in the last two years.
The Colts are in win-now mode and have the cash to sign Russell Okung. Even if it seems superfluous, they should make it happen.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Tight End
There's a chance the Tim Tebow experiment won't pay off for the Jacksonville Jaguars, who may or may not have signed the former minor league baseball player as a publicity stunt but also lack talent at the tight end position.
Tebow hasn't played since 2012, and that was at quarterback. Let's be real. And beyond that, it'd be Chris Manhertz (who is 29 years old with 12 catches on his resume), James O'Shaughnessy (also 29 with three career touchdown grabs), sophomore sixth-round pick Tyler Davis, second-year undrafted free agent Ben Ellefson and rookie fifth-rounder Luke Farrell.
No security blanket for you, Trevor Lawrence!
Eventually, the Jags might just bring back veteran Tyler Eifert, but Trey Burton has had some moments and remains available as well.
Kansas City Chiefs: Right Tackle
The Kansas City Chiefs offensive line is loaded with depth, but that doesn't change the fact there is at least a temporary hole in the starting spot possessed last season by standout veteran Mitchell Schwartz.
That job might temporarily belong to Mike Remmers, but that'd be by default after Remmers contributed to the mess that was Kansas City's pass-protection performance in Super Bowl LV. That's a potential problem for a contender that is otherwise shored up—unless or until intriguing sophomore third-round pick Lucas Niang can take the reins.
But nothing's certain with Niang, who opted out in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic. So, it's not out of the realm of possibility that K.C. will bring back Schwartz.
Las Vegas Raiders: Slot Cornerback
Veteran Lamarcus Joyner is no longer a member of the Las Vegas Raiders, leaving them with a significant hole in slot coverage.
The Raiders did bring in two-time Pro Bowler Casey Hayward to work with highly drafted youngsters Damon Arnette and Trayvon Mullen. However, Arnette is likely to be the odd man out on the boundary, and he isn't necessarily an ideal fit in the slot.
Nevin Lawson, Amik Robertson, and fifth-round rookie Nate Hobbs will likely battle for that spot, with Arnette potentially joining that competition. It's hard to get excited about any of them, and the Raiders might lose patience at a position that has been problematic for them in recent years.
If that happens, Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock should call up Brian Poole and Steven Nelson.
Los Angeles Chargers: Cornerback
A lot of teams could use help in coverage. The Los Angeles Chargers are no exception after moving on from Casey Hayward, even with rookie second-round pick Asante Samuel Jr. joining the fray.
Samuel is no sure thing as a rookie, which could leave the Chargers with the solid-but-not-spectacular Michael Davis, aging slot cover man Chris Harris Jr. and not a lot else in a division that already has Patrick Mahomes and could eventually boast Aaron Rodgers as well.
This isn't a glaring hole, because the rebuilt Chargers are solid up and down and side to side right now. But adding Steven Nelson or Richard Sherman could help take pressure off Samuel and Davis outside.
Los Angeles Rams: Guard or Center
Brian Allen did not perform well as the Los Angeles Rams' starting center in 2019 before losing the starting job amidst an injury-impacted 2020 season. But his 2020 replacement, Austin Blythe, is now in Kansas City.
There's a chance the Rams move Austin Corbett to that spot after he performed well at guard in 2020, but that would just create a hole opposite David Edwards at that position.
Maybe 2019 third-round pick Bobby Evans grabs hold of that gig, or maybe Rob Havenstein secures the right tackle job and they slide Joseph Noteboom back inside. The Rams have some flexibility there. But it's also easy to see things getting awkward for a competitive team that doesn't have five clear starting offensive linemen.
The underrated Austin Reiter is still out there and would provide an immediate upgrade over Allen at center, allowing Corbett to remain at guard with Edwards and giving them max depth at tackle. If they can dig up the cash, they should take that into consideration.
Miami Dolphins: Free Safety
When the Miami Dolphins parted ways with veteran Bobby McCain this offseason, free safety became a hole.
They likely released McCain because they felt that rookie second-rounder Jevon Holland can take the reins at that spot, but the Oregon product could need some time to get up to speed after opting out of the 2020 season.
Holland will probably compete with 2020 third-round pick Brandon Jones, who was OK while making four starts as a rookie. But Miami doesn't have much else there, which isn't ideal for a team that expects to make a playoff run as it completes a significant rebuild in 2021.
According to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, the Dolphins brought in Malik Hooker for a visit in May. That makes a lot of sense, and the eventual addition of a player like him shouldn't be ruled out.
Minnesota Vikings: No. 2 Edge Defender
The Minnesota Vikings will be delighted to get 26-year-old Pro Bowl pass-rusher Danielle Hunter back from a neck injury that caused him to miss the entire 2020 season. However, he hasn't suited up since 2019, and he even missed OTAs due to a contract dispute.
Ideally, the Vikings would get Hunter as much help as possible on the edge. But the cap-strapped Minnesota front office focused on the offensive line and secondary in the offseason (for good reason).
That leaves the underwhelming Stephen Weatherly as the Vikings' top option to start at defensive end opposite Hunter while they wait for rookie third-round pick Patrick Jones II to acclimate.
Minnesota might miss Ifeadi Odenigbo, who recorded a team-high 15 quarterback hits in 2020 but left for the New York Giants in free agency. Luckily, veterans such as Justin Houston, Olivier Vernon and Trent Murphy remain on the market if the Vikings realize Weatherly won't cut it.
New England Patriots: Wide Receiver
Nelson Agholor signed with the New England Patriots in free agency after a breakout 2020 season with the Raiders, but 2019 first-round pick N'Keal Harry looks like a trade or cut candidate. And none of Agholor, Harry (if the Pats keep him) or newbie Kendrick Bourne look well-suited to fill Julian Edelman's vacated role.
If Jakobi Meyers or special-teams ace Gunner Olszewski don't emerge as reliable contributors this summer, the Patriots might want to go back to the receiver market regardless of what they do with Harry.
This isn't an extremely pressing need for now, especially with Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith joining the offense at tight end, but Cam Newton and/or Mac Jones could use all of the help they can get. Meanwhile, New England's defense and retooled offensive line appear stacked.
New Orleans Saints: Defensive Tackle
Sheldon Rankins got away from the cap-strapped New Orleans Saints in free agency, and they traded Malcom Brown to the Jaguars. That left them thinner than usual at defensive tackle even before presumed starter David Onyemata received a six-game suspension to start the season.
The Saints do have Shy Tuttle up front, but he has only four career starts under his belt. New Orleans can't afford to play six games with only Tuttle and a handful of unproven players in those spots.
Established veterans Geno Atkins, Jurell Casey, Kawann Short and Gerald McCoy still remain unsigned and could probably be had at a decent price on one-year contracts. New Orleans might be an attractive landing spot for any of those guys.
New York Giants: Guard
The New York Giants may have just enough upside and experience at offensive tackle with early 2020 draft picks Andrew Thomas and Matt Peart teaming up with veteran Nate Solder. And they may even have themselves a center in Nick Gates, who flashed as an every-game starter in 2020.
But the guard position continues to be a concern.
The top three candidates for those two starting jobs are Shane Lemieux (who struggled mightily as a rookie fifth-round pick in 2020), Will Hernandez (who has generally disappointed as a 2018 second-round pick) and vet Zach Fulton (who was a high-priced bust in three years with the Texans).
The odds are against even two of those three players emerging, and there isn't a lot else there. Might they be able to convince David DeCastro to come aboard in a make-or-break year for quarterback Daniel Jones?
New York Jets: Cornerback
For whatever reason, the New York Jets have neglected the cornerback position throughout their rebuild.
Brian Poole remains unsigned, and they didn't add any notable players at that position this offseason. That leaves 2019 sixth-round pick Blessuan Austin (ideally a No. 3 corner), 2020 fifth-round pick Bryce Hall (who was OK in seven starts as a rookie), rookie fourth-round pick Michael Carter II and second-year undrafted free agent Javelin Guidry in line for major roles.
Maybe a few of those guys will pan out, but it's unlikely that a majority will become reliable in coverage. The Jets should try to bring back Poole in the slot or add Steven Nelson on the outside, as their secondary could use a boost to support the ongoing rebuild.
Philadelphia Eagles: No. 2 Cornerback
The Philadelphia Eagles may have a heck of a competition for the role opposite standout cornerback Darius Slay.
Jalen Mills is gone (and converted to safety last year anyway), Avonte Maddox was a nightmare in coverage on far too many occasions in 2020, and both Nickell Robey-Coleman and Cre'von LeBlanc remain unsigned. They likely won't want to rely too heavily on rookie fourth-rounder Zech McPhearson, but they might not have a choice unless somebody unproven emerges.
The Eagles desperately need at least one more experienced cover man, regardless of whether it's in the slot or outside. Steven Nelson and Brian Poole would make sense, and they could even consider a flier on someone with a little more room to grow like Daryl Worley or Gareon Conley.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Offensive Line
The Pittsburgh Steelers said goodbye to veteran offensive linemen Alejandro Villanueva, Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro and Matt Feiler this offseason. They only have Chukwuma Okorafor, Kevin Dotson and Zach Banner returning and Trai Turner joining the fray.
Even if the Steelers pencil in those four at two tackle spots and two guard spots, they'll be left with an issue at center. That's where they might rely on rookie third-round pick Kendrick Green, which is far from ideal for a veteran team trying to make one last deep playoff run before its Super Bowl window closes.
But let's not assume anything about Doston based on limited action as a rookie fourth-rounder in 2020, or an unproven Banner coming off a major knee injury, or Turner in a new home while facing durability concerns, or even Okorafor in an entirely new role.
The Steelers could use another accomplished, starting-caliber player anywhere along their offensive line. Mitchell Schwartz, Russell Okung, Austin Reiter and Rick Wagner would all make sense.
San Francisco 49ers: Cornerback
With Richard Sherman still unsigned and now facing legal issues and Ahkello Witherspoon now a member of the division-rival Seattle Seahawks, the deep and talented San Francisco 49ers are less deep and talented than they'd probably prefer to be at cornerback.
Is a competitive team thrilled about relying on Jason Verrett, Emmanuel Moseley and Dontae Johnson in outside coverage? Verrett has missed 61 games over the past five seasons, and the other two guys are not ideal starters for a contender.
The Niners did draft Ambry Thomas in Round 3 and Deommodore Lenoir in Round 5, but rookies often need time at corner, and there isn't a lot else there right now.
If the Niners are done with Sherman, Steven Nelson would be an ideal target this summer.
Seattle Seahawks: No. 3 Receiver
With both David Moore and Phillip Dorsett II gone, the Seattle Seahawks will likely have a competition to see who can complement standouts Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf as their No. 3 wide receiver in 2021.
The obvious potential favorite is rookie second-round pick D'Wayne Eskridge, in part because the rest of the receiver depth chart is filled with unproven young players. None of them made much of an impact last year unless you count 13 catches and two touchdowns for 2020 sixth-rounder Freddie Swain.
If the Seahawks get the impression Eskridge won't be ready to play a fairly major role right away, they should do their best to satisfy a seemingly increasingly frustrated Russell Wilson by adding another veteran at that key position.
Perhaps a reunion with Golden Tate could be in store? Larry Fitzgerald and Alshon Jeffery are also out there.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Defensive Tackle?
That question mark is there for a reason, because the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers have arguably the NFL's most complete roster.
It's difficult to identify a soft spot for the Bucs, but we'll throw the defensive line out there as a possible candidate. Ndamukong Suh is 34, Vita Vea missed much of the 2020 season with an ankle injury, and soon-to-be 30-year-old William Gholston isn't special.
The Bucs could do better than Gholston and maybe even Suh at this point, and Rakeem Nunez-Roches, Steve McLendon, Khalil Davis and Jeremiah Ledbetter don't exactly move the needle as reserves.
Geno Atkins, Jurrell Casey, Kawann Short and even Bucs legend Gerald McCoy remain on the free-agent market, and all would likely be fired up about joining a legitimate contender. However, the Buccaneers are likely to stick with the status quo for now.
Tennessee Titans: Edge Defender
This is a bit of a stretch, too, because the Tennessee Titans also have questions along the offensive line and in the secondary. But they're a lot deeper at those spots than they are on the edge, especially with Jadeveon Clowney gone and big-ticket free-agent addition Bud Dupree still recovering from surgery to repair a torn ACL.
The Titans had the lowest sack rate in the NFL last season. If Dupree can't make an impact early in his tenure with the team, too much could fall on the shoulders of Harold Landry III on the edge and Jeffery Simmons inside.
The Titans could bring Jack Crawford back, but fans might prefer a bigger swing despite the money already committed to Dupree. Steady veteran Justin Houston would be a nice one-year option for a team in win-now mode.
Washington Football Team: Quarterback
It's rare for any team to have a hole at quarterback this late in the offseason, but that's the case with the Washington Football Team, who are inexplicably leaning on journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick and backup-caliber former Panthers Taylor Heinicke and Kyle Allen on the brink of camp.
In 16 NFL seasons, Fitzpatrick has never started a playoff game. He's a solid backup who turns it on for short stretches when used as a starter, but he's extremely inconsistent. There's no reason to believe that won't continue to be the case in his age-39 season.
Meanwhile, Heinicke is an undrafted 28-year-old with limited experience, and Allen faces an uphill battle as the presumed No. 3 quarterback on the depth chart.
Washington has enough talent to contend in 2021 if it can upgrade at quarterback. The front office should be doing everything it can to acquire Aaron Rodgers, Jimmy Garoppolo, Derek Carr or any other starting-caliber signal-caller who could potentially be available via trade.