The biggest remaining need for each NFC 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
(Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The biggest remaining need for each NFC 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 NFC is below; click here for the AFC.)

NFC East

Dallas Cowboys – Defensive interior

The Cowboys had one of the best drafts this year as they seemingly took the best player available and filled a need at the same time. After losing several secondary players via free agency, Dallas drafted three CBs and one safety while also doubling up on the defensive interior in the seventh round. That said, the one weakness on the team a year ago was having quality players on the defensive line and Dallas did little to add top-tier talent to the interior of the D-line. Stephen Paea does a solid job rushing the passer and David Irving has talent but has yet to realize it. Maliek Collins struggled in all facets as a rookie and Cedric Thornton took a big step back in a part time role after being a reliable run defender in the previous three years. While the Cowboys have depth, they lack a playmaker inside and that might hurt them this year.

New York Giants – Offensive tackle

Ereck Flowers has allowed 10 sacks and 26 hits in his first two seasons in the NFL, while Bobby Hart allowed 2 sacks, 9 hits, and 35 hurries for a pass-blocking efficiency of just 93.4. Despite those appalling numbers, the New York Giants addressed the offensive tackle position with just one offseason move – drafting Adam Bisnowaty from Pittsburgh in the sixth round. While Bisnowaty very well could step in and be an improvement over either Flowers or Hart, relying on that and massive improvement from Flowers is risking a lot on arguably the most important position on the offensive line. With offensive weapons galore, shoring up the offensive line to push to get Eli Manning one more Super Bowl ring is needed.

Philadelphia Eagles – Cornerback

The Eagles double-dipped into the cornerback class in the draft, but did so with one of the picks going to a player whose status in 2017 is still uncertain in Sidney Jones. Rasul Douglas led the nation in interceptions with 8 while adding on an additional 10 pass defenses, and should compete immediately for a starting spot. That said, relying on two rookies — one coming off Achilles surgery — to transform a secondary is a stretch. The Eagles signed Dwayne Gratz in December and Patrick Robinson this offseason but Gratz played just 87 snaps in 2016 and Robinson is coming off his worst season since 2012. The Eagles boast a front-seven that has potential to be the best in the NFL but the defense could very well be undone by poor play by their cornerbacks. A lot is riding on an underperforming veteran group and two rookies.

Washington Redskins – Nose tackle

As is the case with the Titans, having your biggest need at nose tackle isn’t the worst thing in the world. While Bashaud Breeland struggled last year at CB and Shaun Lauvao at LG is a concern, rolling into 2017 with Ziggy Hood as your starting NT isn’t the wisest move. Outside two seemingly fluke seasons in 2009 and 2014 that saw him grade at a slightly below-average level with 73.2 and 74.1 grades, respectively, Hood has averaged a season grade of 39.0 in those six NFL seasons. While the Redskins should be fortunate to only have Hood on the field for about 40 percent of the defensive snaps, he’s still a liability on those snaps.

NFC North

Chicago Bears – Offensive tackle

With the Bears trading up for Mitchell Trubisky in the draft, the Bears gave up a lot of picks in the process and the ability to draft more complementary pieces around their franchise QB. Chicago is rolling into 2017 with Charles Leno and Bobby Massie as its offensive tackles – two players combining to allow 9 sacks, 14 hits, and 50 hurries in 2016. While those are terrible numbers, they aren’t good as they both graded below-average in pass protection but even worse as run-blockers. While the team has several holes to fill on the roster, have two suspect players protecting the edge is not a good sign for the season outlook and for whoever wins the starting QB job.

Detroit Lions – Defensive interior

The Lions have had a rather large need at defensive tackle since allowing Ndamukong Suh go in free agency in 2015. They tried to address it by signing Haloti Ngata but Father Time caught up with him. He’s a shell of his former self, albeit still a solid piece for the team. With free agency and the draft come and gone, the only significant piece the Lions added was Cornelius Washington from Chicago whose 63.3 2016 grade doesn’t inspire confidence. Dan Williams could be had for a relatively cheap contract, but it still leaves the team needing to address the position with youth next offseason.

Green Bay Packers – Inside linebacker

The Packers still have plenty of question marks on defense, but they at least addressed the nickel safety and cornerback positions in the draft and free agency. Inside linebacker still remains the team’s biggest need, as Ted Thompson just doesn’t seem to value the position very highly despite the lack of production from the players getting thrown out there to do the job. Instead, Green Bay added three HBs and two WRs to an offense that will need depth once Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb start declining. For now, Packers fans will hope for improvement from Jake Ryan and Blake Martinez.

Minnesota Vikings – Safety

As good as Harrison Smith is, he can’t do it all and play two positions at once, and the coverage ability of Andrew Sendejo hurt the Vikings last year, especially down the stretch when the injuries started piling up for Minnesota. GM Rick Spielman did a good job addressing a lot of the holes and weak spots on the roster this offseason, adding several offensive linemen, but he avoided adding to the safety room. While Sendejo grades well on special teams and as a run defender, his struggles in coverage really limit the versatility of Harrison Smith, and Sendejo doesn’t allow Smith to be utilized to his fullest abilities.

NFC South

Atlanta Falcons – Right guard

Atlanta has a loaded and deep roster that should compete for the NFC crown and another Super Bowl in 2017, so nitpicking the team’s needs was a chore. We eventually settled on their right guard position as more of a question mark rather than a need. While the Falcons do lose ace special-teamer and returner Eric Weems, filling that hole is easier than an offensive line position. Currently the RG spot will have a competition between Ben Garland, Wes Schweitzer, and Hugh Thornton. Garland played well in 2016, albeit in just 42 snaps and Schweitzer pushed Chris Chester for the starting position while Thornton missed all of 2016 on injured reserve. While the roster looks to naturally progress and get better, the only major question mark left on the defending NFC Champions is the right guard position that was weakest on the team a year ago.

Carolina Panthers – Left tackle

The Panthers signed Matt Kalil to a five-year, $55 million deal this offseason, though it’s been several years since he’s played at a Pro Bowl level. While there is an opt-out clause after two years, banking on Kalil to turn things around and protect Cam Newton’s blindside is not without risk. In his last two full seasons (he played just 121 snaps in 2016), Kalil surrendered 18 sacks and 15 hits. While the Panthers drafted Taylor Moton in the second round, he’s projected as a guard in the NFL – though they may be best to use him at LT if Kalil continues to struggle.

New Orleans Saints – Inside linebacker

With a projected starting group of Craig Robertson (51.2), Dannell Ellerbe (68.0), and rookie third-rounder Alex Anzalone at linebacker, the Saints are risking a lot on a pivotal position in a 4-3 defense. Robertson got his first taste of starting, full-time action in 2016 and struggled in coverage in a division with the likes of Matt Ryan, Cam Newton, and Jameis Winston. Ellerbe fared better, but his track record of poor play doesn’t project him to build off that limited success in coverage. The addition of Anzalone might boost the group in coverage as he graded well in that aspect in college but on a limited basis and relying on him to play the whole season is a stretch, considering he was unable to do so in college.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Left tackle

Donovan Smith continued to struggle as he showed very little improvement from 2015 to 2016, grading at 37.1 and 42.0, respectively. While he flashed more potential as a run-blocker, Smith was still very inconsistent game to game and allowed more total pressures in his second season. With Jameis Winston looking to cash in on a year-three leap with more weapons in addition to WR Mike Evans, he’ll need solid protection from his offensive line and especially his left tackle. If Smith is unable to make dramatic improvements, Winston and the Buccaneers could very well miss the playoffs once again.

NFC West

Arizona Cardinals – Cornerback

This clearly is the cornerback opposite Patrick Peterson, as the Cardinals failed to address a hole that they’ve been trying to fill for years. Special-teams ace Justin Bethel finished the season strong but has been an unreliable option there for the team previously. Brandon Williams struggled as a rookie, and the main starter in 2016, Marcus Cooper, departed in free agency. The Cardinals have managed to keep the poor play at the position at bay with talent on the rest of the defense but after losing Calais Campbell, D.J. Swearinger, and Tony Jefferson via free agency, that luxury might not exist in 2017.

Los Angeles Rams – Right tackle

Pick a position and it’s arguably a need for the Los Angeles Rams. Aaron Donald does it all for the defense and makes everyone around him better. Robert Quinn has struggled since hitting a massive peak in 2013 and they are rolling out Connor Barwin opposite. E.J. Gaines is currently slotted at cornerback opposite Trumaine Johnson and the wide receiver position is a concern after allowing Kenny Britt to leave via free agency. The Rams added pieces in the draft to address all their needs except at RT. Greg Robinson has been a bust as the No. 2 overall pick and graded positively in just one game in 2016. His best season was his rookie year at 41.3, so having him be a piece to protect your franchise QB is risky.

San Francisco 49ers – Edge defender

Despite drafting Thomas with the No. 3 overall pick, edge rusher remains a major need for the 49ers. A roster with several holes, having a pass-rushing specialist will help ease a lot of poor play elsewhere. Thomas is more of a “tweener,” as he’ll play base DE and kick inside on sub-packages. Ahmad Brooks has played poorly the last three seasons and Aaron Lynch reportedly showed up to OTAs 20 pounds overweight. If Lynch can get back to his 2015 form, the position is less of an issue but his struggles in 2016 and reporting to camp overweight are not good signs. The 49ers are in a long-term rebuilding mode and filling all their holes will take time.

Seattle Seahawks – Offensive tackle

Until Seattle puts out an offensive line that doesn’t give up pressure essentially before the snap happens, any position on the O-line should be considered a need. They at least drafted two players in C Ethan Pocic in the second round and OT Justin Senior in the sixth to begin addressing the issue. Luke Joeckel was signed in free agency but he has even been close to living up to his No. 2 overall status. When you decide to roll into 2017 with George Fant – 27.6 season grade, allowing a whopping 8 sacks and a league worst 90.8 PBE – the position will be the biggest need on the team.

| Analyst

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

  • Chad

    Bears I would say is Corner Back hands down. They signed Prince Amakamura who is nothing special and behind him is a bunch of burn victims. Charles Leno is ok given the greatness of the interior line I was hoping Massie would be upgraded though still have no clue why they gave him all that money when they could have gotten Mitch Schwartz for almost the same price. One of those player is complete garbage the other is one of the best tackles in the league hmm tough choice…
    Ryan Pace signed his own pink slip this summer with that dumpster fire of a offseason. One of the most FA dollars and we got how many impact players? Zero. Then proceeded to blow most his draft capital for a QB with 12 starts and what little picks he had left threw away on Div II players so he would look like he is a scouting genius. Well line between genius and dumbass is sometimes blurry but he definitely went full dumbass.

    • themacabre

      Bears are not a playoff team…they are several years away…in that position you draft the best player on your board, whomever that may be. Grading a draft the next day is a waste of time…no one knows anything at this point. As far as Trubisky goes, he’s thrown as many passes in college as Carson Wentz, who went #2 last year.

      • Chad

        Yeah if you are years away and have tons of needs you don’t blow all your draft capital for no reason just to move up one spot and roll the dice on a QB. You have tons of holes you stay where you are and take best player on your board or move down if there are several guys you like and get more picks. Unless Trubisky becomes a Pro Bowl QB it was a really really bad investment. Sure if Pace miraculously hits on 2-3 guys in this draft I will eat my words but who is he going to hit on? Big stiff TE from Div II they massively reached for in the second doubt it or the tiny little RB also from Div II with low overall athleticism they drafted in the fifth?
        Bad draft and bad free agency for a bad GM.

        • themacabre

          If you don’t have a QB you will always be average. When you draft that high you have to take a flyer on a QB. Elways and Lucks come once every 5 years. Big stiff TE? That’s not what I saw. The guy looks to be a great athlete. RB with low overall athleticism? You must writing about someone else.

          • paul

            Luck has done nothing to get mentioned with Elway.

          • Andre Taylor

            Elway put up gaudy numbers, and got the Broncos to the Super Bowl on 4 different occasions. Yet until Terrell Davis got there, Elway couldn’t get over the hump. With the offensive line Luck has had, until last year no running game. Although RB Frank Gore’s best days are behind him, Luck has been pretty good with no more help then TY Hilton. So please dont suck Elway to hard.

      • Andre Taylor

        Carson Wentz at least proved to be a winner, unlike Tribisky. Carolina was 10-3 in 2015 under QB Marquis Williams who isn’t even on a NFL roster, Tribisky takes over and they regress and go 8-5 with pretty much the same team.

    • Andre Taylor

      I totally agree, to be bamboozled into trading away major draft capital in the deepest draft in NFL history only to move up one spot, by a rookie GM is just shameful

  • Drake

    For the Saints, I agree on the need at ILB, but you gotta at least mention AJ Klein who got a significant contract and is most likely penciled in as a starter at this point.

    • Andre Taylor

      Drake i am a diehard Raven fan, but rooted for the Saints after the hurricane Katrina laid waste in that area. To see the city and fans rally around the team and they won a Super Bowl was great. For years now i really respected HC Sean Payton, that is until this off-season. For HC Sean Payton and GM Mickey Loomis to trade WR Brandin Cooks for the 32nd pick in the draft was plain madness. Drafted in 2014 in the lower half of the 1st round, giving the Saints an average of 75 catches, 1200 yards, and 8 tds, with a year, and a 5th year option still left on his rookie contract, and just about to turn 23-years-old. HOF QB Drew Brees has 3 maybe 4 years left of high level production in him. To literally give the kid away under the BS excuse that they wanted picks to improve their defense, then turn around with several talented prospects still on the draft board. Draft LT Ryan Ramczyk, makes absolutely no sense. To make matters worst they traded Cooks to the Patriots of all freaking teams, the trade is so ass backwards that both Payton and Loomis should be under investigation for sabotaging their own franchise. Nothing they did made any real since in the draft, LT was not a position of need with LT Terron Armstead playing at a Pro-Bowl level, veteran RT Zach Strief having the best year of his career, and they just drafted an OT 2 years ago in Andrus Peat. Offense was not the problem, to top it off starting RB Mark Ingram had his most productive season last year. However signing Adrian Peterson wasnt a bad idea, giving the Saints solid depth at the RB position. Low and behold with so many needs on the defensive side of the ball, and a logjam at the RB position. Payton and Loomis draft a 3rd RB in Alvin Kamara, ok so let me get this straight. They trade away then ALL-PRO TE Jimmy Graham stating they were looking to improve the aging O-line and their defense. They do get veteran C Max Unger in return, go draft a LT that they switched to LG. With their second 1st round pick they take MLB Stephone Anthony, who has an outstanding rookie season, but has been on the bench because his skillset fits the 3-4 defense better. Then last year after getting the offense set with the addition of 2nd round pick WR Michael Thomas, now they have 3 excellent WR’s in Brandin Cooks, Michael Thomas, and Willie Snead. Only to turn around and trade cooks, claiming to improve the defense. With two 1st round picks in the deepest defensive draft in NFL history, and massive needs on that side of the ball. The Saints draft a LT, and a RB, two positions that they had no need at all. Instead of trading Cooks, and keeping the offense intact for one last run at a Super Bowl before Brees retired. They could have traded ILB Stephone Anthony who is miscast in a 4-3 defense, there would be several 3-4 defensive teams that would line up for a 24-year-old ILB, at 6ft 3, 245lbs, and 4.55 speed, that has proven that he can play in the scheme still on his rookie contract, including my Baltimore Ravens. Nonl

  • Jeff Diamond

    Was this Vikings section just copied and pasted from last year? Sendejo had his best season as a pro, clearly improving his tackling and grading out as a decent starting safety within the PFF system. He’ll now be back for $3.0 million this season and $3.5 million next year, and they’ll now enter their 3rd year as the starting safety duo. That continuity will only help both players and that money can be saved and spent elsewhere. Yes, he is better as a SS than as a FS, but almost all safeties are better at one spot than the other. There aren’t many Harrison Smith’s out there. What were they to do this offseason, trade a boatload of draft picks to the Jets for Jamal Adams? Sendejo gets knocked for his coverage abilities, which are still pretty bad. I do think they could consider rotating him out more in their nickel and working in someone like Kearse, or even using Newman as a nickel safety with Rhodes/Waynes/Alexander as the corners. Still, if we’re talking about positions that still need to be addressed, even his coverage grade from last year (his huge flaw, apparently) was higher than the overall grades of the two starting tackles they signed. More importantly, the WILL has not been sufficiently addressed. This defense swam or sank last year based on how quickly teams got hip to the fact that all of their linebackers struggled in a base D because Greenway was not pulling his weight when he was on the field. Now he’s gone, but they don’t seem to have a replacement. They have a couple guys who couldn’t earn snaps last year and a couple of late round draft picks. That’s a much bigger problem than a Andrew “well he’s a pretty good player but he’s not ideal for utilizing Harrison Smith” Sendejo.