The biggest remaining need for each AFC team

With the draft and most of free agency now behind us, Analyst John Kosko looks at the biggest remaining area of need for each franchise.

| 3 weeks ago
(Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

(Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

The biggest remaining need for each AFC team


With the NFL draft past us and free agency essentially dried up, teams are looking towards OTAs, mini-camps, and installing playbooks. While each team did what they felt was necessary to fill holes and needs of the team, no team is perfect and they will have weaknesses. We’re taking a look at every team to determine what each team’s biggest need is heading into the summer. (The AFC is below; click here for the NFC.)

AFC East

Buffalo Bills – Safety

Buffalo made several changes this offseason, including the entire front office and coaching staff. With a new coaching staff comes player cuts and adding players that fit the scheme the coach desires. A position that will look completely different for the Bills is safety, as the team cut veterans Corey Graham and Aaron Williams in favor of signing Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer. Graham has had a fine career but considering his age, cutting him for youth makes sense. Hyde was inconsistent in Green Bay but has versatility to play every position in the secondary. Relying on Poyer, though, to lock down the free safety position is questionable. Poyer started six games for the Browns in 2016 before a devastating blindside hit placed him on the IR with a lacerated kidney. Poyer primarily played on special teams in Cleveland and has limited experience in the NFL at safety while grading at a below-average level. While Buffalo has multiple holes to fill and players needing to step up, shoring up the back end in a division with Tom Brady at the quarterback position is paramount.

Miami Dolphins – Guard

The Dolphins addressed the guard position this offseason by signing Ted Larsen from the Bears in free agency and drafting Isaac Asiata from Utah in the fifth round. That said, the Dolphins should in no way be set at guard considering Larsen has just two slightly below-average seasons paired with five very bad seasons under his belt and the subpar play that Jermon Bushrod has displayed throughout his career. Asiata has a very good shot at starting this season and may exceed expectations of a fifth-rounder only because of the competition of the position. Laremy Tunsil started at LG but will kick out to LT this season, leaving the guard position as a big question mark and in the eyes of PFF, the biggest need still left on the team.

New England Patriots – 3-tech/interior pass-rusher

The defending world champs unsurprisingly have very few holes on their roster, even after losing some key pieces on defense in CB Logan Ryan and Edge Jabaal Sheard. Their biggest weakness a year ago was generating pressure from their interior defensive lineman as Alan Branch, Malcolm Brown, and Vincent Valentine all graded very poorly in pass-rushing despite being stout against the run. Bill Belichick re-signed Branch to a team-friendly two-year deal and signed Lawrence Guy from the Ravens in free agency, but Guy also graded poorly as a pass-rusher in 2016. It’s difficult to nitpick the moves Belichick makes, but it is odd that he didn’t address the lack of production at the position.

New York Jets – Quarterback

No one knows who the Jets plan to roll out at quarterback in Week 1. In consecutive years, the Jets drafted Bryce Petty out of Baylor and Christian Hackenberg out of Penn State, but opted to avoid the position in the 2017 draft despite a 100 percent consensus that the Jets still have a major need at the most important position in the NFL. While they did sign Josh McCown as a free agent, he clearly isn’t a long-term answer at the age of 37. In a draft with question marks with the top four QBs, the Jets most likely have their sights set on the 2018 class, which they are (un?)favored to have a top-three pick.

AFC North

Baltimore Ravens – Right tackle

Whichever position Alex Lewis doesn’t play, the Ravens have a hole. With James Hurst slotted to start at RT, Baltimore will have a big concern despite improved play from the three-year veteran. Grading as one of the worst OTs in the NFL in 2014 and 2015, Hurst played just 305 snaps in 2016 allowing three hits and 11 hurries but no sacks. While he showed improvement, relying on Hurst to start and play well is unlikely. Since Ozzie Newsome drafted two guards in Nico Siragusa out of San Diego State and Jermaine Eluemunor out of Texas A&M, the Ravens have some pieces attack the OL holes.

Cincinnati Bengals – Offensive tackle

Forward thinking, the Bengals drafted two offensive tackles in 2015 in the first two rounds and eased them into the roles as rookies. Once RT Andre Smith departed for Minnesota, Jake Fisher and Cedric Ogbuehi battled for the starting role but both struggled mightily with neither being able to lock down the job. LT Andrew Whitworth, one of the best tackles in the NFL for the past five seasons, wasn’t re-signed and allowed to leave for Los Angeles to protect Jared Goff’s blindside. With Fisher and Ogbuehi grading at 43.5 and 39.4 respectively, the OT positions are far from set. If both continue to struggle in training camp and preseason, expect the Bengals to look to address the position on cut down days.

Cleveland Browns – Free safety

While the Browns have roster holes still needing filled and most notably still a question mark at the quarterback position, the biggest need the team has after free agency and the draft is free safety. Cleveland addressed several positions of need this offseason, but one of the team’s biggest weaknesses in 2016 was getting beat deep due to the backend of the defense either busting on the coverage or biting on play action and double moves. The Browns drafted Jabrill Peppers in the first round, but he’ll be used as more of a versatile chess piece that can play all over. Currently, Ed Reynolds and Tyvis Powell look to be contenders for the starting job at FS, but Reynolds posted a poor coverage grade in 2016 and Powell has yet to play a regular-season snap on defense in the NFL.

Pittsburgh Steelers – Inside linebacker

The Steelers allowed long standing linebacker Lawrence Timmons to leave via free agency and didn’t add anyone to complement Ryan Shazier this offseason. With Shazier very much a boom-or-bust type player, having a consistent counterpart next to him is vital. Unfortunately for Pittsburgh, that looks like an open competition between Vince Williams (68.4 2016 overall grade), L.J. Fort (47.3), and Tyler Matakevich (56.6). The team still has question marks elsewhere, but for a team losing its top tackler and stopper (team-high 45 defensive stops in 2016), the Steelers are rolling the dice on inexperienced and inefficient youth.

AFC South

Houston Texans – Right tackle

Once Derek Newton tore both patellar tendons in a Monday night game against the Denver Broncos last year, the Texans had a big void at the RT position. Chris Clark graded as one of the worst OTs in the NFL at 37.0 and as much having Newton return would help solidify the OL, relying on him to return from such a devastating injury is unwise. In a draft with a lack of quality offensive lineman, the Texans added just Julie’n Davenport out of Bucknell in the fourth round. While some fourth-round players can make an immediate impact, Davenport doing so out of Bucknell is unlikely and he assuredly needs time to adjust to the NFL.

Indianapolis Colts – Inside linebacker

New GM Chris Ballard has been very busy this offseason transforming the roster to his liking but since Rome wasn’t built in a day, the Colts still have holes in a roster that has been deteriorating the past several years. Most of the pieces on defense will look very different in 2017 and there are still many concerns about how they will mesh together but inside linebacker is probably the most concerning. Sean Spence has bounced around the league but played well enough in 2016 with the Titans and looks to start at one ILB position with an open competition opposite. Edwin Jackson (61.6) is the early favorite and will compete with rookie Anthony Walker Jr. and Antonio Morrison. With such massive turnover on the defense, having both ILB spots solidified would help for communication and leadership.

Jacksonville Jaguars – Tight end

The Jaguars have plenty of holes on their roster, especially concerning their offensive line, we’re settling at tight end as the biggest need for the team. Jacksonville added Mychal Rivera this offseason via free agency, but his grades the past three seasons aren’t very inspiring — he has struggled in all facets as a blocker and receiver. Marcedes Lewis is a shell of his former self, as he hasn’t graded above-average since 2013. With the team not addressing the position in the draft, they are hoping for bounceback seasons from both but neither has shown high-level play in several seasons.

Tennessee Titans – Nose tackle

Titans GM Jon Robinson has done a marvelous job putting together a roster that is poised for playoff contention in 2017. While inside linebacker could be improved as could their tight end depth, the weakest position heading into the season is nose tackle. It’s not the worst thing in the world to have a player that will see typically just 40 percent of the team’s defensive snaps as a team weakness, but having a run-stuffing NT helps the team beyond the plays he’s on the field (see Damon Harrison’s impact for the Giants). Sylvester Williams is slated to start and has a reputation because of playing on a generationally great Denver Broncos defense, but his play didn’t elevate the players around him; it was the players around him that made him perform better.

AFC West

Denver Broncos – Right tackle

John Elway has done a good job addressing the porous offensive line this offseason, even if he arguably reached for OT Garett Bolles in the first round. Bolles will probably struggle at LT as a rookie, but adding Menelik Watson and relying on him to start at RT is a major concern. His 49.4 2016 grade is a career high and he arguably single-handedly lost the Wild Card game for the Raiders as he couldn’t block Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus. While QB is a question mark as Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch have yet to prove anything in the NFL, having sieves at both OT positions will destroy any offensive production.

Kansas City Chiefs – Cornerback

In a draft with a plethora of quality cornerbacks, the Chiefs opted to stay out of the pool entirely and are currently looking to start journeyman and former seventh-round pick Terrance Mitchell at RCB. In a division with budding star QB Derek Carr and the multitude of offensive weapons the Raiders have, and Philip Rivers throwing to a healthy receiving corps that also added top-10 pick in Mike Williams, the Chiefs will have their hands full defending the pass. Doing so with uncertainty at cornerback could be a big detriment. While WR depth is an issue as is ILB, shoring up their CB depth is of the utmost importance.

Los Angeles Chargers – 3-tech/interior pass-rusher

If CB Jason Verrett can stay healthy, the Chargers will have one of the best secondaries in the NFL with few holes to fill on the defensive side. While the offensive line still raises concerns, they at least addressed the holes via the draft in OT/G Forrest Lamp and G Dan Feeney. Currently Corey Liuget and Damion Square are slated as DIs in their nickel package; neither graded well as pass-rushers, and they combined for three sacks and seven hits in 2016. With one of the best duos on the outside in Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, if Los Angeles is able to get some interior pressure, the defense, which might already be playoff-caliber, could take it to top-five status.

Oakland Raiders – Defensive interior

Even though GM Reggie McKenzie drafted Eddie Vanderdoes in the third round and Treyvon Hester in the seventh, the defensive line remains a big concern. Vanderdoes struggled with injuries at UCLA and getting production out of a seventh-rounder is never reliable. With Denico Autry, Justin Ellis, and Jihad Ward all grading in the bottom third of the NFL, getting any of them to produce at above replacement level is asking a lot. With tremendous talent on the edge and in the secondary, improving on the DL will help Derek Carr compete for the AFC Championship this year.

| Analyst

John is an analyst for Pro Football Focus and former safety for the University of Kansas Jayhawks (2004–2006).

  • Parker

    How do you not have ILB for Oakland? Instead you’ve got DT where they’ve got two draft picks this year and to 2nd rounders over the past two years? Smart.

    • Parker

      Two*

    • Andre Taylor

      My friend most have never heard of Marquis Lee, he was a one man wrecking crew at Wake Forrest. At 6ft 3, 240lbs, with good size, speed and length, he is underrated but will open some eyes soon.

  • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

    that jordan poyer kid on the bills must love football, cause i’d never leave my house after the hit he took in the titans/browns game

  • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

    still think SD screwed up by passing on jonathan allen in the first round, add him to their D and it gets downright absurd all the sudden

    • Andre Taylor

      I agree Malaci, they got good production from the WR’s last year despite losing WR Kennan Allen to injury. Adding Jonathan Allen to Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram would be scary. However the steal of your Chargers draft class is SS/FS Rayshawn Jenkins, trust me on that. At 6ft 2, 220lbs, with 4.53 speed, Jenkins is a film junkie, with a little coaching Jenkins will be a stud.

      • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

        whoa whoa… my chargers??? lol, noooo. i’m a die-hard broncos fan. i just follow the league very closely, esp rivals. :)

        • Andre Taylor

          Ok my bad! Lol! Well as for your Broncos, im not sure what to make of your team bro. I respect what John Elway has accomplished as an ex-player. However the loss of DC Wade Phillips will have a greater impact they any other move that was made this off-season. The guys on the defense loved Phillips, were willing to run through brick walls for the guy. Hopefully new HC Vance Joseph turns out to be pretty good.

          • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

            coaching staff is fine, joe woods lead the best secondary in football the last few years, and we worried about losing him as a DC to another team hence why we let wade walk. joseph is a leader, who assembled some highly skilled assistants, i.e. mccoy and musgrave

    • Mark Gordon

      You mean LA?

      • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

        ha! yes i do

    • Joseph Telegen

      I think they wanted a skill position guy to show off as they moved into the big city…happened last year with the Rams and Goff (except Williams might actually be good).

      • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

        i highly doubt that had anything to with their draft approach

        • Joseph Telegen

          Do you disagree in the case of the rams and Goff? I guess another way of putting it would be “they wanted to give rivers a new toy” or however draftniks usually put it.

          We both, certainly, know that Mike Williams wasn’t even close to best player available.

          • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

            i get your point, and the goff selection seems more like a fit in that scenario than williams to the chargers does.

  • ThenAtlasSpoke

    Three years from now the Texans’ biggest need will be QB…again.

  • Mark Gordon

    Raiders will compete or AFC championship this year.. Marquel Lee will turn heads. And mark my words both Melifonwu and Conley will both be productive in this D. Reggie Mackenzie is a football genius and all of Raider Nation should pay respect to that man. He built the Raiders from ground up..

  • McGeorge

    Bill – QB
    Browns – QB
    Jaguars – QB
    Chiefs – QB
    Broncos – QB
    Texans – QB

    • Joseph Telegen

      The Bills and Chiefs have average QBs and drafted a rookie (the Chiefs gave up a lot to get theirs). Try again.

      • McGeorge

        The Bills and Chiefs current starters are unlikely to be their starters much longer. And just because they drafted QBs doesn’t mean those are good prospects.
        Try again.

        • Joseph Telegen

          The chiefs obviously disagree with you about mahomes. They traded up and made him a top 10 pick. As this is a “remaining needs” conversation, you’d have to have massive disdain for their talent evaluation (and pff’s player ratings of Alex smith, who again is an average player) to come to the conclusion you have.

          As for buffalo, Taylor can and should be retained after this year. Is it possible that you simply don’t know what the word “need” means?

          • McGeorge

            Any team that reaches “obviously disagrees”, and they are usually wrong.
            We’ll see.
            Given the poor quality of QBs available , and how most of the star QBs are old, the NFL is facing a serious QB shortage. Given that situation, even an average QB (Alex Smith, Andy Dalton) looks very good. That doesn’t mean they are very good, just that many of the other QBs aren’t very good.

            Alex Smith is OK, but he’s not young, and the Chiefs will probably need to replace him in the near future. Not this season, but say in a few years.

            Tyrod Taylor can be retained, so what? A team can retain any player they want. That doesn’t mean QB is not a position of need for the Bills.
            Are the Bills going to get a solid 15 games worth of production out of Taylor? Because if he gets hurt again, and misses time, you have to average in the terrible performance of backups with his stats, making him less valuable than it appears.

            Is it possible that you don’y understand football as well as you think?

          • Joseph Telegen

            “Any team that reaches “obviously disagrees”, and they are usually wrong.
            We’ll see.”

            That sentence went all the way of the coherence rails. I’ll just move on.

            “Given the poor quality of QBs available , and how most of the star QBs are old, the NFL is facing a serious QB shortage. Given that situation, even an average QB (Alex Smith, Andy Dalton) looks very good. That doesn’t mean they are very good, just that many of the other QBs aren’t very good.”

            You are making my argument for me, brilliantly. You’re trying to claim that the position of greatest need on both teams is QB, while simultaneously demonstrating that the Chiefs and the Bills are comparatively well-endowed at the position; the Chiefs have both a competent QB for now and their chosen gun for the future…most teams would envy that. Next…

            As for the Bills and Taylor…your comments are downright pathetic. The only reason Taylor didn’t turn in 16 starts (IE: More than 15, you moron) last year was management’s mysterious decision to bench him for week 17. Not “understanding football” held you back there.

            The year before…he started every game after replacing EJ Manuel…14 total. In other words…he’s never missed a start via injury since he took over the job. You idiot.

            Taylor can reasonably be called both durable and competent. PFF has reasonably articulated why safety is a bigger need. Any reader can reasonably conclude that you suck at arguing about football. Quit while you’re behind.

          • McGeorge

            Your logic is flawed, to the point of being pathetic. You are letting your lack of judgment causing you to mistake “alternative facts” for reality. You have a bright future in politics :-)

            If you think the Bills and Chiefs are “well endowed” at QB, then your football knowledge is pathetic. You would compare Smith and Taylor to Brady and Rodgers? Lol, get a grip.

          • Joseph Telegen

            Seriously, dude. You’re hallucinating. The words “Brady” and “Rodgers” aren’t even present above. I’m too worried about the safety of those near you to continue talking to you.

  • MOmoney

    Chargers surprise… AFC Champs
    2nd Raiders
    3rd Chiefs
    4th Broncos