As I do every year once free agency and the draft are wrapped up, I wanted to take a look at every team in the league and point out their biggest remaining area that could use some improvement. This could be a need for a top-end starter, a specific role player or simply depth at a position.
To specify this a little bit, these are the most important additions the teams should still make to win this year, not necessarily for the future. So I am not considering having to find replacements for older players or some guys a team might not be able to afford a year or so down the road – simply that one hole they need to fill to be more competitive this season.
For the first time ever this list does not include a single starting quarterback since I think pretty much all 32 teams are set at that spot at least for the upcoming season – even though I might disagree with them long-term.
I have these teams listed by division and alphabetically within those. Let us dive in right away now:
Chicago Bears – Nickelback
The Bears are coming off a season in which they had a dominant defense with great players at every level, which helped them win the North for the first time since 2010. While they retained pretty much everybody from that unit, they did let their strong safety Adrian Amos and nickelback Bryce Callahan walk in free agency.
In the end I think it is kind of odd how the Packers and Bears basically swapped safeties with Chicago signing Haha Clinton-Dix following a mid-season trade to Washington. Bryce Callahan was one of the best slot corners in the NFL last season. Of course a lot of that has to do with the pieces the Bears had around him in the secondary with one of the top playmaking defenders in all of football when you look at Eddie Jackson and an excellent duo of cornerbacks.
However, Callahan still was a big part of what they did on the league’s number one scoring defense. Buster Skrine once was looked at as one of the better number twos and he was asked to move inside quite a bit when he joined the Jets, but these last two years he has surrendered over 100 yards in penalties respectively and while Callahan allowed only 319 total yards in 2018, Skrine gave up 314 after the catch only.
He will definitely be a step down and could be an issue when opposing teams decide to work the slot with quick-rhythm passing that puts their receivers in YAC-situations. Of course they are still looking for a dependable kicker as well.
Detroit Lions – Speed Edge Rusher
So what Matt Patricia is trying to build in Detroit is another version of Foxborough and there is no doubt about it. The offense is becoming more run-centric with Matthew Stafford struggling to be pinched into the role of more of a game-manager, as his coaches up to that point just put him in shotgun 40 times a game and asked him to win games.
They drafted Iowa tight end T.J. Hockenson eight overall to be their version of Rob Gronkowski and they brought in a former Patriot in Danny Amendola to work in-between the numbers. Defensively, Patricia signed one of his former standout players in Trey Flowers, who finally got the recognition he deserved, and he invested heavily into that side of the ball after the first round of the draft.
I thought the front office reached on Hawaii linebacker Jahlani Tavaii because he brings that versatility to stand up and play on the edge like a Kyle Van Noy; they got a physical safety in Michigan State’s Khari Willis, another big defensive end with championship pedigree in Clemson’s Austin Bryant and they made an absolute steal with Penn State cornerback Amani Oruwariye in the fifth round, who I think could be the day one starter across from Darius Slay.
However, when I look at their roster I see a bunch of big bodies on the defensive line to shut down the opposing rushing attack, but even Flowers is at his best over guards in sub-packages. So as much as those New England guys cover size, I think the Lions would benefit from a true speed-rushing threat off the corner. However, I understand that they didn’t want to pay a banged-up Ziggy Ansah.
Green Bay Packers – Inside Linebacker
Green Bay might have the most improved defense in the league, when you look at the combination of Za’Darius and Preston Smith being brought in via free agency to come off both edges, Adrian Amos coming over from Chicago and their two first round picks.
In contrast to public opinion, I think Rashan Gary will be an excellent addition, because he is exactly the type of chess piece to move along their front to make all these Mike Pettine blitz packages work, and I absolutely love Maryland’s Darnell Savage, who has a chance to be an even better version of Micah Hyde and should at the very least be a really good nickel corner for them righ away.
With the big guys in Kenny Clark and Mike Daniels on the interior the position I look at for a potential upgrade would be inside linebacker. Blake Martinez has developed into a pretty good player for them and I liked Oren Burks last preseason, but there is no alpha dog in the middle for this Packers D really.
I’m guessing a former Stanford guy in Martinez would be Pettine’s option for the communicator, but I definitely believe one of those quick-trigger, explosive WILL backers could be a star for them because they have the bodies up front to keep him clean. Let’s see if they see somebody in the later stages of free agency who can fill that role or if Burks is their guy for the job. Either way, this is the most talented defense to complement Aaron Rodgers since their Super Bowl run.
Minnesota Vikings – 3-tech defensive tackle
One of the more disappointing teams last season definitely was the Minnesota Vikings – especially the way their defense regressed. Coming off an NFC Championship game appearance with Kirk Cousins signing a huge fully-guaranteed deal with the number one ranked defense in multiple categories, this squad looked poised for another run, but they finished the year 8-7-1 with a disappointing week 17 loss to the Bears that kept them out of the playoffs.
While most people want to put the blame on Cousins – and he did fail to come through in some of their biggest games – I think a big reason for their decline was how the defense seemed to fall apart. After keeping opponents to an average of just 15.8 points in 2017, Minnesota allowed more than that in all but two games last season.
With that being said, when I look at their depth chart I see everything necessary to get back to that form from two years ago – two excellent edge rushers, a strong duo of linebackers with Anthony Barr pulling out of that contract with the Jets, highly physical boundary corners and an All-Pro caliber safety in Harrison Smith.
The one spot that needs an upgrade is that upfield defensive tackle on the outside shoulder of the guard to pair with Linval Joseph. Sheldon Richardson was a monster early on in 2018, but he is now with the Browns, making Shamar Stephen the likely starter at this moment. I could see sixth-round pick Armon Watts compete for that spot, but with the news of Gerald McCoy’s release, he would be the perfect candidate to fill that role.