Now that we’ve wrapped up the major parts of free agency and the draft, I decided to take a look at each NFL roster, to see where every team could still use some help. This can be a need for a starter or some more depth at a specific position. We are starting with the NFC side and I will come back with the AFC version next week.
Chicago Bears – Defensive line depth
It is time to stop ridiculing the Chicago Bears. Offensively, they have a strong running game, a promising young quarterback and now they have surrounded him with weapons on the outside, plus a creative play-caller. On defense, their young talent might be even more impressive. The starting D-line of Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman and Jonathan Bullard seems to have a chance to really control games up front, but the Bears don’t have much depth behind them. With Mitch Unrein down in Tampa Bay now, their next guys up seem to be John Jenkins and Roy Robertson-Harris, with the first having seen the field only half his games since 2016 and the latter one barely cracking a hundred NFL snaps. Taking on those double-teams and plugging up those lanes is exhausting in a 3-4 defense and they will need to rotate those guys through to some degree. I loved watching Roquan Smith run around like a maniac and light up people for Georgia, but the reason I had him lower than a lot of other people on my draft board, is the fact he can not stack blockers whatsoever and big bodies swallow him up in the run game. I can not put into words how pivotal it will be for the rookie backer to stay clean and be able to around free. It could be the difference between him being Defensive Rookie of the Year and the Bears not being able to stop the run. Therefore, adding beef in front of him will be crucial for building a dominant front-seven up there in the Windy City. This team could surprise some people next year.
Detroit Lions – 3-tech defensive tackle
I’ve been saying this for years now – Matthew Stafford has been shouldering the load for Detroit. He hasn’t had much help from his offensive line for quite some time and definitely not from the defense. The front office has made it a priority to completely rebuild the O-line over the last two offseason. While the Lions D had a hot start to last year, leading the league in turnovers for the first quarter of the season or so, once again they fell off as the year went along, finishing 27th in yards allowed. With Matt Patricia taking over as head coach, expect a hybrid defensive scheme, designed to counter opposing offenses. A’Shawn Robinson should be a fixture for them for the next few years, as he can play a true nose in a 3-4 as well as a 1-technique in a 4-3. Anthony Zettel will be moved along the defensive front and Ziggy Ansah should ball out, rushing the passer off the edge under the franchise tag. The one element I simply can’t find on their roster is a penetrating 3-technique. Right now, second-year man Jeremiah Ledbetter seems to be the favorite to earn that spot. Detroit grabbed him in the sixth round last year and he saw limited action in all 16 games, but this is too crucial of a spot to rely on him that heavily. They just drafted another Alabama D-lineman in Da’Shawn Hand, but he is more of a tweener between 3-4 and 4-3 defensive end. He can slide inside on sub-packages, but he’s not a refined pass-rusher yet. I need to see more aggressiveness and polish to believe that he is ready to improve on disappointing collegiate production, after being a top-ten recruit out of high school.
Green Bay Packers – Interior O-line depth
First and foremost, Aaron Rodgers is back. Everything else’s importance is astronomically small compared to the All-World QB. Jordy Nelson is gone, but they still have weapons at wide receiver and they have added Jimmy Graham at tight-end, who will give them another dimension and be a goal-line beast once again. I also like what they have added at the running back position with Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones in last year’s draft, to make Ty Montgomery more of a receiving threat, who will line up in the slot quite a bit as well. Defensively, they have remade their D-line and secondary in recent years, so we will see how that pans out next season. Therefore, I want to focus more on the offensive line for this team. Green Bay has an excellent duo of offensive tackles and they have done a god job replacing their interior guys. So the starting front looks more than solid, but I’m concerned with the depth behind it. The Packers selected Washington State’s Cole Madison with the first pick in the fifth round of the draft, who I like as a pass-protecting guard, but outside of him, these are the top three interior guys they could carry on gameday – Day Dillon, Patrick Lucas and Kofi Amichia. Lucas is the only one to ever start an NFL game, when he was forced into the lineup as a rookie last season. If all five guys stay healthy, they should be able to keep Aaron Rodgers clean, but if one of them goes down with an injury, I’m concerned for the man at the helm for them once again.
Minnesota Vikings – Third-down back
The Vikings had a magical run last season, capped off with the Minneapolis Miracle to beat the Saints in the Divisional Round on a 61-yard catch-and-run by Stefon Diggs. Unfortunately, all that magic went away a week later, when they were blown out 38-7 in Philadelphia in the NFC Championship Game. I believe Minnesota still has the most well-rounded, disciplined defenses in the league. However, they understood that they are not quite there with their offensive attack. That’s why they handed out the league’s first fully guaranteed 84-million dollar contract to free agent quarterback Kirk Cousins. Their offensive line saw a massive improvement last season and they had the premiere wide receiving duo with Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, plus a quality tight-end in Kyle Rudolph. I expect Dalvin Cook to build on last year’s shortened success in the league and have a monster season in his sophomore campaign. However, the Vikings lost Jerrick McKinnon to the 49ers in free agency. I don’t see another back with a pass-catching role on that offense, with Latavius Murray being more of a short-yardage and goal-line option. Kirk Cousins loved having Chris Thompson alongside him in the backfield on third downs with the Redskins and he was heavily featured in the passing game. McKinnon was on the field for 47 percent of the Vikes’ offensive snaps and he would have definitely had a significant role again. The third veteran halfback they have on their roster is Mack Brown, who has one career reception. The guy, who might develop into a pass-catcher out of the backfield is rookie Roc Thomas. The former top-five RB recruit caught 37 passes for JSU last season, although he didn’t put much effort into his pass pro.
Dallas Cowboys – No. 1 wide receiver
I think I was one of the few guys out there, who didn’t pick the Cowboys to go to the playoff last year. I also was somebody, who told everybody to pump the breaks a little on quarterback Dak Prescott. He had a phenomenal rookie campaign and I still believe he should be their guy going forward, but he is a QB, who needs to see his receivers run open and get the ball to them, instead of throwing them open with his arm. I loved watching him at Mississippi State because of his leadership and heart, but there is a reason he fell to the fourth round – his arm talent is average and he has yet to prove he can beat man-coverage consistently. That doesn’t mean he can’t be successful in this league, but with the uncertainty surrounding Ezekiel Elliott I didn’t think they would make it to the postseason and I still believe he needs a go-to target he trusts to win one-on-one matchups. Even though he didn’t seem to have a great connection with Dez Bryant and number 88 didn’t create separation based on pure athleticism anymore, Dallas didn’t replace the X receiver. I thought they got extremely lucky in the draft, with Colorado State’s Michael Gallup and Boise State’s Cedrick falling right into their lap, in the third and sixth round respectively. Allen Hurns and Deonte Thompson are solid free-agent acquisitions, especially with a suspension looming for Terrance Williams. However, none of those guys are ready to be true number one receivers. I think Gallup will start at X, Hurns slides in at Z and Cole Beasley makes for a security blanket in the slot, but I don’t think any of those guys or the players on the depth chart are ready to be the go-to receiver when it’s 3&8 and the Cowboys desperately need a first down.
New York Giants – Right tackle
Sorry, but I’m out on Ereck Flowers. After I heard reports on how he was working his butt off last offseason, I hoped he would develop into a quality tackle for the G-Men, but he was miserable on the left side and was embarrassed by the Lions’ Ziggy Ansah on national television early on in the season. Now he is in his feelings because the Giants signed a cornerstone left tackle in Nate Solder and move him to the opposite end? Give me a break, man. With the draft acquisitions of Penn State running back Saquon Barkley and UTEP guard Will Hernandez, they immediately boosted their rushing attack in a major way. Odell Beckham Jr. will be back healthy to go with an excellent young slot receiver in Sterling Shepard and the dynamic tight-end Evan Engram. This offense has some firepower now and while they haven’t done anything to replace Brandon Marshall as their big-bodied wide receiver, I think it’s the third-year right tackle that could hold them back. Defensively, they might be forced to rely on rookies at outside linebacker, now that they have converted to a 3-4 base scheme under new defensive coordinator James Bettcher, and nickelback, but I think they will be aggressive and creative on that side of the ball no matter what. Realistically speaking some more cover-guys might be a higher priority when I look at their roster, but I’m too annoyed by a young offensive tackle, who shows up late for the workouts he desperately needs, because he is upset with the organization for bringing in a new blindside protector for their 37-year old signal-caller.
Philadelphia Eagles – Power back
After winning a Super Bowl trophy without their starting quarterback, left tackle, middle linebacker, third-down back and top special teams players, and then improving their roster, there’s not much the Eagles are lacking in their personnel. Their offensive and defensive lines are ridiculous, they have weapons on the perimeter and inside, they get their first glimpses at cornerback Sidney Jones, who they drafted out of Washington coming off an Achilles surgery and they resigned linebacker Nigel Bradham, who I thought was a top ten off-the-ball linebacker last season. The only people they lost, that might actually hurt them are in their coaching staff, as former QB coach John DeFilippo was hired as the offensive coordinator of the Vikings and Frank Reich took the head coach vacancy with the Colts, once Josh McDaniels left them hanging high and dry. If I had to point out a position, they could use some help at, it would be a power runner. LeGarrette Blount is off to Detroit and the Eagles are loaded with smaller running backs. Jay Ajayi can run through some people and impose his will, but he is not the hammer Blount was for them, and behind him, they have Corey Clement, Wendell Smallwood, Darren Sproles and Donnel Pumphrey, who are all smaller, shiftier guys and will have their roles in the passing and return game. The Eagles just signed Matt Jones, who I never understood the hype around to kind of give them a similar body, but if one guy on this roster can give them anything like that, it’s undrafted free agent Josh Adams in my opinion. The former Notre Dame back doesn’t show very good vision or creativity in the open field, but if you let him run downhill on gap-schemes, he has the speed and leg-drive to make an impact.
Washington Redskins – Offensive line depth
This has been kind of a weird offseason for Washington. First, they traded a third-round pick and a promising young cornerback in Kendall Fuller to the Chiefs for quarterback Alex Smith. This signaled that they were done with the Kirk Cousins saga, as he became a very rich man soon after. I don’t think this team got better at the position and thinking that they had to give up quite a bit for an older signal-caller, dealing with a team in Kansas City that already had their future guy sitting behind him, was pretty confusing to me. In the draft, they surprised me once again when they decided to select Alabama defensive lineman Da’Ron Payne ahead of guys like Tremaine Edmunds, Derwin James and Jaire Alexander. Don’t get me wrong, I like the big fella a lot, but I thought all of those three were better positional prospects. However, with Orlando Scandrick coming over from Dallas, Fabian Moreau who I would have had as a top 50 prospect last year if he was healthy and D.J. Swearinger leading the secondary, I think they are okay with what they have. They could have used an upgrade at MIKE, but let’s go back to the offense. Terrell Pryor was ineffective for Washington before going on IR, so they replaced him with Paul Richardson and Josh Doctson should emerge as one of the bright young talents at the position. More importantly second-round steal Derrius Guice gives them a workhorse at RB. The Redskins had about 900 different offensive line combinations last season and all they added this offseason was one offensive tackle in the draft. The starting five is looking strong, but they should be cautious. I like Geron Christian, who they selected out of Louisville in the third round, but he is more of a developmental prospect and if they have similar bad luck up front this season, they are doomed.
Atlanta Falcons – Defensive end
As if the Falcons needed even more weapons. They already had a monster on the outside in Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu feeding on number two and three cornerbacks, a rising star at the tight-end position in Austin Hooper, the dynamic running back duo of Freeman and Coleman, a rock-solid offensive line and a former MVP under center. Then at 26th overall in the draft, they snagged another Bama receiver in Calvin Ridley, who should have never been there. So they have all the pieces you could ever need and it’s now up to Steve Sarkasian to step up big time as offensive coordinator, after a few embarrassing performances. The crazy part is that the dominant unit in their two playoff games last season was this Atlanta defense. They were absolutely flying around and I expect more of the same this upcoming season. They are loaded with young talent in the secondary and at linebacker. Their defensive line is headlined by tackle Grady Jarrett and they selected the ferocious Takk McKinley in last year’s draft. However, they lost Adrian Clayborn and Dontari Poe. So adding another guy who can come off the edge could take this defense to the next level. That’s why I thought the ideal fit for them would be Michael Bennett from Seattle or Taven Bryan as a draft pick from Florida, because they both can be disruptive inside and out, in this Dan Quinn scheme. Brooks Reed and Derrick Shelby have had some success in this league, but they are not as dynamic as the two other guys I just mentioned. I won’t blame them for grabbing the number one receiver available, but I wouldn’t be upset if they added another pass rusher now.
Carolina Panthers – Cornerback
The Panthers just got a new owner, but watching them last season, the Saints were the ones who actually owned them, beating them in all three matchups and having Sean Payton bring out the broom, when celebrating in the locker room after their Wildcard Round win. With the Falcons being one end-zone drop by Julio Jones away from beating the eventual Super Bowl champs and the Buccaneers being everybody’s offseason darling for the last few years and that having to materialize at some point, this is a crucial period for Carolina to get back on top of the division. With Norv Turner calling the shots, expect an explosive offensive attack by the Panthers, featuring plenty of downfield throws with the renewed receiving corp and Christian McCaffrey being featured in a variety of ways. Defensively, they have most of their key pieces back in the front seven. The secondary is a concern for me. I’ve always been a fan of 37-year old Mike Adams and they drafted Tennessee’s Rashaan Gaulden to transition to the second safety spot, even though I thought he was most well-rounded nickelback in this class. James Bradberry has developed into a quality corner in their zone-heavy scheme, but I don’t think they have a second corner to go with him. I think Donte Jackson, who they selected out of LSU in the second round, could be a special player inside with that incredible short-area burst, but he doesn’t have size for the perimeter. Captain Munnerlyn will be the guy to teach him the ropes of the position, but he is more of an inside guy at this point of his career as well. That leaves Ross Cockrell, Kevon Seymour, Corn Elder and Ladarius Gunter as the other options. They are all solid backup material, but I don’t think any of them is a starter. When they decided to let go of Josh Norman a couple of years ago, they signaled that cornerback doesn’t have the highest priority in their defense, but they still need to trot two quality guys out there on Sundays.
New Orleans Saints – 1-tech defensive tackle
The Saints are a Super Bowl favorite for a lot of people and for good reason. They have a better version of Marques Colston in Michael Thomas, a strong offensive line, a dynamic RB duo (even though one of them is suspended for four games) and a future Hall of Famer under center. The defense was what held them back for years, but they became a different unit last season. The additions of Marshon Lattimore and Marcus Williams in the secondary through last year’s draft and the transformation of the linebacker level have made them a different group. I already projected Sheldon Rankins to have a breakout season last year and he showed serious flashes, but I expect him to be a game-changer in his third NFL season. However, he needs a 1-tech to along with him to draw attention and not allow offensive lines to slide Rankins’s way. Nick Fairley was the perfect match at that shade nose spot, but he hasn’t seen the field since being diagnosed with a lingering heart condition a little less than a year ago. Cam Jordan is the leader and tone-setter for this young Saints defense. They gave up this and next year’s first round picks to move up in the draft and select UTSA’s Marcus Davenport to come off the opposite edge and he showed some ability to slide inside on sub-packages at the Senior Bowl. With Hau’oli Kikaha, Alex Okafor and Trey Hendrickson on the roster, they have a few guys to rush the passer. To me the obvious weak-spot is right in the middle of their defense. David Onyemata and Tyeler Davison shared time inside last season and they gave them some quality snaps, but neither one of them is a difference-maker quite yet. This roster is all of a sudden loaded with cover-guys. No it’s time to control games up front and get after the passer.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Linebacker depth
The Bucs’ offseason was all about getting bigger and nastier up front on both sides of the ball. They signed former Ravens center Ryan Jensen to a big deal and drafted Alex Cappa out of Humboldt State in the third round to the offensive front. Defensively, they acquired Jason Pierre-Paul via trade and picked up Vinny Curry after he was released by the Eagles, to make for a completely new edge-rushing duo. Most importantly though, they invested their 12th overall pick in the huge man that is Vita Vea out of Washington. Tampa Bay added USC running back Ronald Jones to their offensive attack as well as two aggressive DBs to their secondary. So looking at their starting lineups on either side of the ball, there simply are no glaring needs. They could maybe use a true power back, but to me this is more about adding depth, especially among the linebacking corp. Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander missed three and four games respectively, while Kendell Beckwith started growing into the SAM role. Riley Bullough was one of the fan favorites in last year’s version of Hard Knocks and he is a core special teamer plus a solid third-stringer, but the other four linebackers on their current roster have a combined seven starts. Even though I believe Wisconsin’s Jack Cichy could be a steal in the sixth round because of his combination of instincts and passion for the game, he is coming off knee surgery and is a pure MIKE in that 4-3 scheme in my opinion. I truly believe that they need some more guys with starting experience, who can step right in if any of those three guys miss time again.
Arizona Cardinals – Dual-duty safety
I feel like these Cardinals are not talked about enough at all. Of course, there’s a lot of change with quarterback Carson Palmer retiring, the release of versatile defensive back Tyrann Mathieu and even giving up the speedy receiver John Brown. Regardless of that, this team went 8-8 last season despite playing with their third-string QB and not having several key pieces healthy. They get an outstanding all-around back in David Johnson, starting left tackle D.J. Humphries and guard Mike Iupati back from injury. So the ground game should already take a huge boost. Newly signed Sam Bradford has proven to be a more than capable signal-caller if healthy (which is a big if) and they have their future of the franchise in tenth overall pick Josh Rosen from UCLA. I don’t know if the rook will be able to beat out the eight-year veteran in training camp, but either way they should have an upgrade at the position to what they had for most of last year. I see a bigger role for second-year receiver Chad Williams and Christian Kirk will learn the nuances of the receiver position from Larry Legend. Defensively, they return the reigning sack king in Chandler Jones, a fast LB unit and a premier corner in Patrick Peterson. I could point out a rather slim defensive line and the fact Haason Reddick only collected 2.5 sacks in his rookie campaign, but with Budda Baker taking on Tyrann Mathieu’s role of rolling into deep coverage as well as covering in the slot, the Cardinals need another versatile defensive back to bring in on sub packages. Former Browns’ cornerback Jamar Taylor was just shipped to the desert, but Arizona used more three-safety packages than any other team in the league and without Mathieu or Tyvon Branch, they probably won’t put Rudy Ford or some of those undrafted free agents on the field that much.
Los Angeles Rams – Outside linebacker
What would you say about a team, that led the league in scoring last year and added Marcus Peters, Aquib Talib and Ndamokung Suh to their defense? Did I forget to mention that their quarterback Jared Goff and play-caller Sean McVay only had their first season together, when they went back to the postseason for the first time in 13 years? You’d think that they were going to the Super Bowl and with the ways they have structured some of their contracts, their window should be right now. The Rams’ offensive line was fortified with the addition of veteran left tackle Andrew Whitworth last offseason and as long as Todd Gurley keeps pounding defenses away, I don’t see how opposing defenses can really slow down their bootleg game off zone plays and creative ways of getting their playmakers the ball in space, even with a full offseason for coaches to study them. With the acquistions of those two feisty corners I mentioned coming from the AFC West, their starting safeties and nickel all coming back, they seem to the set on the back-end. With all the money the spent this offseason, they had to let go of inside linebacker Alec Ogletree, but I think with undrafted rookie Tegray Scales out of Indiana, they can duplicate his man-coverage on backs and tight-ends at least to some degree. Los Angeles has built a ridiculous interior D-line with Aaron Donald and Ndamokung Suh, but the edge rush needs some help, now that they traded Robert Quinn to Miami. Matt Longacre did a solid job for them last year, as they run more of a 5-2 on a lot of passing downs anyway, but despite having some upside, guys like Samson Ebukam, Garrett Sickels and Ejuan Price haven’t really done anything in this league yet. Fortunately for them, Oklahoma’s Ogbonnia Okoronkwo might have been the biggest steal of the entire draft, having been one of the most productive and unique edge rushers in college football over the last two years.
San Francisco 49ers – Pass-catchers
Everything changed for this franchise when they traded for backup quarterback Jimmy Garappolo in the middle of last season. The team was 1-10 when the former Patriots QB was inserted into the starting lineup and boy did he turn this thing around. Jimmy GQ rattled off five straight wins, while proving command of the offense and giving his teammates hope (for an in-depth look on the Niners’ new franchise signal-caller click here). San Francisco’s defense is loaded with young talent, such as DeForest Buckner, Solomon Thomas, Reuben Foster and others. With Richard Sherman to go with some of their young corners, they seem to be set on the perimeter and I’d like to see Jimmie Ward move back into the slot, now that they added the rangy Tarvarius Moore out of Southern Miss in the third round of the draft. Having signed Garoppolo to a massive 137.5-million dollar contract, they need to build around their franchise investment. The offensive line in front of him was a focus early on, signing center Weston Richburg and drafting Notre Dame tackle Mike McGlinchey with the ninth overall pick. Now it’s time to surround their new signal-caller with weapons. Garoppolo was asked to do a lot with very little last season. However, Pierre Garcon is coming back from injury as a dependable possession receiver, there seemed to be a really good connection with the quick Trent Taylor in the slot, Marquise Goodwin emerged as more than a pure deep threat and they added another speedster in Washington’s Dante Pettis by trading up in round two. I think Pettis will make his mark primarily in the return game though and none of those guys I just mentioned is a true featured guy in the passing game. I like some of the young tight-ends on the roster, especially second-year man George Kittle, but give your guy some more weapons and he will light defenses up.
Seattle Seahawks – Right tackle
I said in my draft review, that the Seahawks are in some type of rebuild or retooling process. No matter how you want to call it, I don’t think they are built to compete for championships right now. That’s why I didn’t like the selection of a running back in the first round and I think there’s no other team in the league with two more apparent positional needs. If Earl Thomas stays in Seattle in combination with Bobby Wagner in the middle, they can build around those two guys. Offensively, it has been all Russell Wilson for the last couple of years. I understand that they want to help him out by providing a rushing attack to take some pressure off his back, but they don’t have anybody I’d be comfortable with as a second tackle to Duane Brown or as a pass-catching tight-end. As far as right tackle goes, Germaine Ifedi and George Fant are both sub-par starters. I’ve never been very high on Ifedi. He simply isn’t under enough balance to play the position. Fant on the other hand, had a rough first year in the NFL, when he basically came straight off the court to square up against the elite edge rushers in this league and had to watch his quarterback scramble around from the sideline, with a torn ACL in his second season. Jamarco Jones, who they were extremely lucky to grab late in the fifth round, is a promising young talent. Yet, he is more of a developmental prospect, who won’t be ready to go quite yet. Looking at the tight-end spot, after seeing Jimmy Graham leave for Green Bay, they selected Will Dissly in the third round. He might be a plan to help out on the edges in pass-protection, but he doesn’t offer much in the passing game, other than outlets and drag routes.
Find positional draft rankings, the according big board and a full recap of the draft from Halil’s Real Footballtalk, at https://halilsrealfootballtalk.com/