10 glaring roster holes still remaining for NFL teams
While the buzz of free agency begins to quiet, many NFL rosters still have glaring needs that should be addressed this offseason. Whether it’s through a free-agent signing or draft-day gamble, here are 10 team needs that must be addressed at some point in the 2016 offseason.
San Diego Chargers: Defensive end
The Chargers at least added some talent to their defensive line in former Seahawks nose tackle Brandon Mebane, but the defense remains devoid of talent at five-technique. Corey Liuget is a solid contributor (68.9 overall grade in 2015), but is far from the kind of interior disruptor the Chargers need. Aside from him, San Diego lacks even starting-caliber defensive ends. Ricardo Matthews was our third-lowest graded interior defensive lineman in 2015, recording a 44.9 overall grade. Otherwise, the Chargers are relying on Darius Philon, a sixth-round pick from last year, and a few below-average players to man the trenches. Oregon’s DeForest Buckner fits from a scheme, production, and need standpoint.
New York Giants: Offensive tackle
Will Beatty’s injuries last year certainly hampered the Giants’ offense last season, so much so that New York opted to part ways with the talented, yet flawed, blindside protector. Ereck Flowers was forced into left tackle duty, and did not respond well. The raw University of Miami product ranked 74th out of 77 OTs, recording a pass-protection grade of just 23.9. Flowers has a ton of potential, but could have used period where he wasn’t forced to learn on the job. To confound the issue, Marshall Newhouse was the primary backup. He ranked only slightly higher than Flowers, at 68th overall, after recording a positive grade in just one game in the entirety of 2015. The Giants’ investment on the defensive side of the ball in free agency will only pay off if they protect Eli Manning better than they did last year—and that starts with improving on the edge of their offensive line.
New York Jets: Offensive tackle
New York’s other franchise has a desperate need at the same position as its NFC counterpart. D’Brickashaw Ferguson’s regression is a major concern. After consistently grading amongst the top offensive tackles for a number of years, Ferguson’s performance fell off a cliff in 2015. He ranked as just PFF’s 60th offensive tackle, giving up four more combined knockdowns than he has in any season of his career. The 59 combined pressures he gave up were 22 more than he allowed in 2014. Opposite him, Breno Giacomini’s struggles were less of a surprise; the extent of his struggles, however, was certainly a concern. The former Seahawks offensive lineman ranked 64th out of 77 tackles, allowing 54 combined pressures. With a pair of bookends who combined to allow over 100 pressures last season, the Jets will be on the lookout for tackle help in 2015.
San Francisco 49ers: Wide receiver
Chip Kelly’s Philadelphia offense never really recovered from losing Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson in back-to-back offseasons. Now in San Francisco, 49ers’ receiving corps lacks the talent Kelly inherited in his first stint as a head coach. Torrey Smith has certainly flashed the ability to make big plays, but recorded career-lows in receptions (33), yards (663), and touchdowns (four, tied with 2013) in his first season in Santa Clara. It remains a possibility that Anquan Boldin will re-sign with the team (he’s currently a free agent), but that appears far from likely. The veteran was the only receiver on the roster to record a positive grade. Backups Quinton Patton and Bruce Ellington both graded negatively on the year, and have thus far failed to show the kind of ability required of a starting NFL receiving.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Interior offensive linemen
The Jaguars at least addressed their offensive line issues with the addition of Kelvin Beachum, but issues remain on the interior of the line. The only player with a positive grade last year was Stefen Wisniewski, and he remains on the open market. Brandon Linder impressed in 2014, but is coming off season-ending injured reserve. Reports suggest Linder might move to center, which would be a baffling move, considering A.J. Cann’s struggle at his current position, right guard, last year. Furthermore, Zane Beadles recorded his lowest season-grade of his career, while Mackenzy Bernadeu remains a journeyman backup. The Jaguars’ defense has a number of holes, but the offense could use an injection of talent as well.
Washington Redskins: Running back
The departure of Alfred Morris to a division rival was far from a significant blow for Washington, but they could still add talent to the running back position. Matt Jones ranked a full 20 places below Morris in our grades, finishing 66th out of 69 qualifying running backs. He averaged just 3.4 yards per carry, broke only 21 tackles, and found the end zone on three of his 490 carries. Jones also had an issue with ball security, putting the ball on the ground four times in 2015. Chris Thompson offers very little as a backup, ranking 55th among running backs in 2015. The halfback positions isn’t the most valuable in the modern NFL, but the Redskins could do with an upgrade at the position.
Buffalo Bills: Linebackers
Rex Ryan doesn’t seem to prioritize the linebacker position in his defense, but his Jets’ unit relied on David Harris as the cornerstone of the group throughout his tenure in New York. It says something that converted edge defender Manny Lawson is his best option at the moment. Lawson is a solid player (70.6 overall grade), but he should not be considered the standout on any defense. Nigel Bradham moved on to new pastures new this offseason, leaving Preston Brown as the starter at middle linebacker. He ended the year as our 90th-overall player at the position, with a grade of just 37.0. None of the Bills’ other options have much experience, suggesting Buffalo will address the position in the draft.
Indianapolis Colts: Edge rusher
The Colts have a pair of veteran edge rushers in Trent Cole and Robert Mathis, two players who have made a living getting to the QB, but both appear close to their last paycheck as professional athletes. Both Cole and Mathis recorded positive grades rushing the passer in 2015, but neither made the sort of impact to match their high standards. Each of the vets recorded their lowest pass-rush grade since 2007 (the year PFF began grading games). Bjoern Werner added to the misses on Ryan Grigson’s resumé, and the Colts admitted their mistake by cutting ties with the former first-round pick. Erik Walden, meanwhile, is a backup and special-teamer at best. The Colts’ need at the outside linebacker position is significant.
Miami Dolphins: Offensive guard
The Dolphins’ guard situation was an absolute mess in 2015; both of their starters ranked in the bottom 12 at the position last season. Dallas Thomas was second from last, recording a grade of just 30.8. Billy Turner, meanwhile, was at least average in pass-protection, despite recording a 44.4 overall grade. Kraig Urbik is likely an upgrade on both, without improving on either significantly. He’s been a dependable player in the past, but has struggled somewhat the last few seasons. First-year head coach Adam Gase has his work cut out generating offense without competent guards.
Denver Broncos: Quarterback
It didn’t much matter to the Broncos that they received inconsistent QB play from their passers last season. Lombardi trophies rarely end up with franchises who lack quality signal-callers, but Denver was able to ride an insane defense to the big prize. Mark Sanchez, however, is a downgrade even on a Peyton Manning past his prime. Sanchez may have graded positively for the first time in his career in 2015, but he still showed the flaws that have persisted throughout his NFL tenure. He threw untimely interceptions, particularly in the red zone, losing his spot to Sam Bradford as soon as he recovered from injury. The Broncos could rely on an elite defense to succeed for a second consecutive year, but their chances of winning the Super Bowl will be greatly diminished without a more effective quarterback at the helm.