Biggest draft need for every AFC team, entering the combine
We haven’t even gotten to free agency yet, so every NFL team’s personnel needs have the potential to change in a significant way between now and the 2016 NFL draft. But that doesn’t mean we still can’t identify what each team’s biggest need looks like right now.
Here is the single biggest positional need for each of the 32 NFL teams, entering this week’s scouting combine. Which position groups should you be watching extra closely?
[Editor’s note: Stay tuned as we’ll break down draft needs for every NFC team tomorrow.]
Buffalo Bills: Edge rusher
High-priced defensive end Mario Williams is likely to be released this offseason, but even if he were to return, there is a strong case for the Bills to add a pass-rusher in the 2016 draft. The only Bill who was able to disrupt opposing quarterbacks last season was undersized edge rusher Jerry Hughes, with Williams producing the NFL’s fourth-worst pass-rush productivity score at the position. The good news for Buffalo is that there should be plenty of good edge rushers available at the No. 19-overall pick.
Miami Dolphins: Offensive line
Miami ranked No. 31 in our offensive line rankings this season – after ranking No. 32 in 2015. The Dolphins could consider a tackle as early as the No. 8 overall pick, with Branden Albert turning 32 this season and having graded out as average in two of the last three years, and Ju’Wuan James yet to prove he can be a productive NFL right tackle. Moreover, RT Jason Fox, LG Dallas Thomas, RG Billy Turner and G/C Jamil Douglas all produced horrific grades this season, meaning there are needs everywhere.
New England Patriots: Offensive line
This one is one of the more obvious picks on the list. Tom Brady’s pass protection this season was one of the worst in the league on an otherwise strong roster. In fact, every single Patriots offensive lineman earned a negative grade in pass blocking this season. Brady is coming off one of the best seasons of his entire career, but he can’t play forever – New England would do well to fix this issue for his final years.
New York Jets: Cornerback
This might seem odd given the spending spree the Jets made at the position last offseason, but two of those acquisitions – Antonio Cromartie and Buster Skrine – graded out very poorly in 2015, and the third, Darrelle Revis, didn’t perform at his usual dominant level and will turn 31 years old before the start of next season. If the Jets find themselves with an opportunity to draft a franchise quarterback, they should obviously do so – but the latter could be a tall order at No. 20 overall.
Baltimore Ravens: Edge rusher
The Ravens need to get a lot better in pass defense, and with Elvis Dumervil 32 years old and Terrell Suggs turning 34 this season and coming off a season-ending torn Achilles, getting an impact edge rusher in the draft should be a priority. Dumervil was the only player to provide any sort of edge-rushing presence, and he earned a negative grade versus the run.
Cleveland Browns: Quarterback
This shouldn’t come as a surprise given the off-field issues with Johnny Manziel, and Josh McCown grading out as one of the worst quarterbacks in the league. The Browns have a couple of intriguing options at the second overall pick in the form of Cal’s Jared Goff and North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz.
Cincinnati Bengals: Defensive back
The Bengals graded out as a top-10 coverage unit in 2015, but with safeties George Iloka and Reggie Nelson both eligible for free agency along with cornerbacks Adam Jones (who committed a costly personal foul in the team’s Wild-Card loss to Pittsburgh) and Leon Hall, the defensive backfield is a need area. Third corner Dre Kirkpatrick ranked as the ninth-worst player at his position this season.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Linebacker
This is true both for the outside and inside linebacker positions. Soon-to-be-38-year old James Harrison was by far the team’s best edge rusher, with Bud Dupree struggling as a rookie, and inside backers Lawrence Timmons and Ryan Shazier were liabilities against both the run and in pass coverage (with Shazier’s one standout game coming in the Wild-Card win over Cincinnati).
Houston Texans: Quarterback
This is easier said than done, given that barring a trade the Texans won’t pick until No. 22 overall, but this is a team in serious need of an upgrade at quarterback. Brian Hoyer produced the worst grade we’ve ever seen from a QB in a playoff game in Houston’s Wild-Card loss to Kansas City, and on a team with a top-5 defense in PFF grades and a legit star at wide receiver in DeAndre Hopkins, identifying a potential franchise quarterback is a must.
Indianapolis Colts: Offensive line
The truth is there are a number of positions we could have gone with here, but after Andrew Luck was under pressure on 40 percent of his dropbacks last season, before missing the final eight weeks of the season due to injury, it’s clear that Indianapolis needs to do a better job of protecting him. The only standout in PFF grades last season was left guard Jack Mewhort, making finding an impact offensive lineman in the draft a necessity.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Defensive back
The Jags need to get better along the offensive line, but we’ll go with the defensive backfield as the slightly bigger need, after they posted the third-worst coverage grade in the NFL. Last year’s big-money free-agent pickup at cornerback, Davon House, earned a negative grade on the season, and the only player in the entire secondary to earn a positive grade was Aaron Colvin, who played primarily in the slot. The Jags could look at adding a corner or safety as early as the No. 5 overall pick.
Tennessee Titans: Offensive line
The Titans could certainly afford to add a top talent to a receiving corps that has little star potential outside of 2015 second-rounder Dorial Green-Beckham and tight end Delanie Walker. But the offensive line is in an even worse situation, with every player outside of left tackle Taylor Lewan grading out very poorly. There’s a reason some mock drafts have Tennessee taking Ole Miss tackle Laremy Tunsil with the top overall pick.
Denver Broncos: Offensive tackle
The Broncos’ offensive line was saved by an average performance from center Matt Paradis and an excellent performance from left guard Evan Mathis, who was PFF’s top-graded run-blocker at his position. But things were ugly on the outside. Left tackle Ryan Harris graded equally as poorly as a pass blocker as he did in the running game, while right tackle Michael Schofield earned the second-worst pass-blocking efficiency score of any tackle, allowing 57 quarterback pressures on the season, including nine sacks.
Kansas City Chiefs: Offensive tackle
This could change depending upon how many of their defensive free agents the Chiefs lose, but the combination of Jah Reid and Donald Stephenson at right tackle was a disaster, while left tackle Eric Fisher still hasn’t proven himself worthy of the 2013 No. 1 overall pick. He performed well in the divisional-round loss to New England and showed improvement over his first two seasons, but still finished the year with a negative grade.
Oakland Raiders: Defensive back
The Raiders actually graded out relatively well in most areas last season, but their pass coverage was a major weakness. Moreover, they are losing their highest-graded coverage player to retirement in safety Charles Woodson, and their second-highest-graded coverage player, cornerback David Amerson, posted an outlier season compared to his first two. Former top-10 pick D.J. Hayden had his worst season as a pro, allowing a 104.1 passer rating that ranked 15th-worst among corners, and it might be time to invest another premium draft pick at the position to replace him.
San Diego Chargers: Defensive line
The Chargers had the worst offensive line in the NFL last season – which give you an idea of just how bad their defensive line was in order to get chosen over them here. San Diego graded out as the second-worst run defense in football this season, and there are zero bright spots on the defensive line. The Chargers really need to add a stud up front to bolster a poor defense.