NFL Offseason

Biggest roster holes for each AFC team:

After talking about the weak-spots for each team on the NFC side, I’m switching to the other conference. Once again, I’m going to start discussing each team’s starting line-ups and what moves they have made so far in the offseason before coming to the conclusion of what their biggest need is. I didn’t use this article to discuss depth or future plans, it’s just about starters for this upcoming season. Oh, and no quarterbacks. NFL people talk about them enough already.


 

AFC North:

 

AFC North

 

Baltimore Ravens: Receiver

With the investments on defense via free agency with safety Tony Jefferson and their first four draft-picks being defensive players, the Ravens have sent a clear message – they want to have one of the elite defenses in the league again. I thought they really improved their secondary and added some young pass-rushers, who will come into their own eventually. Now the focus should be on the offensive side of the ball. I’m sure there’s a lot of people out there still doubting Joe Flacco, but he’s the man in Baltimore. He was relied on too heavily last season, as he attempted the second-most passes in the entire NFL, behind only Drew Brees (672 compared to 673 for Brees). That’s not the recipe for success. The team wants to run the ball effectively and fake it to throw over the top, where Flacco is at his best. I’m sure they will depend more on their two running backs Terrance West and Kenneth Dixon, plus Danny Woodhead who will catch a bunch of balls out of the backfield. Their depth at tight-end is ridiculous, as they can go five and six guys deep if they need to. What they really lack is a true number one receiver in the passing game. Mike Wallace was big for them a year ago, but their best receiver was a 37-year old Steve Smith Sr., who now is retired. Breshad Perriman was a first-round selection in the 2016 draft and expectations for him will be big, but he’s more of a deep threat and has dropped the ball in crucial situations. Michael Camparo and Chris Moore are trying to break out this upcoming season, but the fact of the matter is they have combined for 19 receptions in their pro careers. Baltimore doesn’t have anybody on their roster who can actually be the guy on third-and-medium to run a slant and catch the ball in traffic. They need a player like that.

 

Cincinnati Bengals: Offensive tackle

This offseason the Bengals’ focus clearly was to give quarterback Andy Dalton more weapons after losing Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu in free agency a year ago. With the ninth overall pick in this year’s draft they selected 40-yard-dash sensation John Ross (Washington) and in the middle of round two they took a chance on Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon. If Ross becomes the deep threat they anticipate him to, as well as being able to hold up to the hits he’ll receive on intermediate routes, and Mixon stays clean off the field to display his talents, the weight on Dalton’s shoulders should be lifted substantially. On the other hand, they let their two best offensive linemen walk out the door. Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler both were top-five OL free-agents and it will be a challenge for Cincinnati to replace them. I agree with their philosophy to draft players and develop to eventually take over for the ones that are too expensive, but there’s a major drop-off here. Two years ago the Bengals drafted Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher in the first two rounds to take over the two tackle spots at some point. Both those guys have struggled mightily when called upon, especially Ogbuehi, who gave up nine sacks and crazy total of 40 QB pressures in just 11 starts. I wasn’t very high on him coming out of Texas A&M due to his lack of core strength and he was still recovering from ACL injury. I believe Andre Smith, who they signed a couple of months ago, will bounce back with a move inside, but the tackle spots are a major question mark for me. Defensively, they had a pretty good year, ranking eight in points allowed as they have continually added to pieces to that unit. Expect draft picks Jordan Willis (Kansas State) and Carl Lawson (Auburn) to help in the pass rush department. (Their cornerback depth is impressive as well.)

 

Cleveland Browns: Free safety

The Browns have been the laughing-stock of the NFL for a long time now and their 1-15 campaign didn’t really help, but if you look at their starting line-ups, they have some guys to work with. The quarterback spot is still a question mark for this team, as it has been for years now, but with Cody Kessler handling the offense for now and a promising rookie in Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer, I won’t go there for now. I really like their newly formed offensive line, which I had listed as one of the most improved units in a previous article (LINK !!!), and they will lean on the RB duo of the bruising Isaiah Crowell and the explosive Duke Johnson to move the ball. I didn’t like seeing them let Terrell Pryor go after his first full season as a receiver, but they upgraded their weapons in the passing game with Kenny Britt in free agency and tight-end David Njoku (Miami) in the draft. I’m not sure who will line up in the slot for them, but I’d like to see some of sophomore Rashard Higgins before I declare this as a position of need. On the defensive side of the ball Cleveland made their biggest investment with number one overall pick Myles Garrett (Texas A&M) to go along with nose-tackle Danny Shelton, Emmanuel Ogbah and, if focused, Florida’s Caleb Brantley as their three-technique. Behind that line, they have a promising linebacker-duo of Jamie Collins and Christian Kirksey, whose contract they just extended by four years. The real issue on this team for me is their secondary. With a little more help Joe Haden certainly is a Pro-Bowler, they just signed Jason McCourty from the open market and Jamar Taylor showed some strides of improvement, plus I like two other cover-guys they just drafted. The Browns have some solid options at strong safety with Ibraheim Campbell and the two newly added guys – Calvin Pryor and Jabrill Peppers (Michigan), who can also line up in the slot for them. What they lack is a true free safety. Right now Ed Reynolds and a bunch of other guys are competing for that spot. It will be interesting to see how new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams will rotate his safeties through, but I don’t see a quality natural center-field on their roster. Peppers to me is the only one with that kind of sideline-to-sideline speed and he started at linebacker for the Wolverines a year ago, even though it was out of necessity.

 

Pittsburgh Steelers: Cornerback

The Steelers roll out one of the most prolific offenses in football with the Triple-Bs. To me Le’Veon Bell is the best back in the NFL today, Antonio Brown comes in right behind Julio Jones and Big Ben has proven to able to go on fire. Their offensive line is one of the best in the league and they get the speedy Martavis Bryant back from suspension. In other words – they are loaded offensively. On defense they will only be better as well with the return of Cameron Heyward up front. He and Stephon Tuitt make for one of the top 5-technique duos, while Bud Dupree has started coming into his own and James Harrison still wreaks havoc from the opposite edge at the age of 50 or so. In the middle of their defense Ryan Shazier is an extremely dynamic linebacker, while I think he could use someone else besides him. Maybe last year’s seventh-round pick Tyler Matakevich gets a shot at that role, since he has always produced at Temple due to his instincts and work ethic. To me where Pittsburgh needs the most help is the cornerback position. Artie Burns is a developing first-rounder, who is still learning the game, but who else do they have on their roster? Ross Cockrell and William Gay are no starters. I’m sorry. I like Tennessee’s Cameron Sutton, who they selected late in round three, but he’s suited better at nickel. Mike Mitchell and Sean Davis are a solid safety tandem, but they need a lot of help on the outside if they really want to challenge the Patriots in the AFC. The Steelers defense improved heavily throughout last season, but they haven’t gotten much better this offseason. Sutton and first-rounder T.J. Watt (Wisconsin) will work their way into the rotation, however they might not bring the same impact right away Lawrence Timmons has had for a decade now.


 

AFC East:

 

AFC East

 

Buffalo Bills: Free safety

The Bills are a team in transition. They have a new coaching-staff, a new GM and it looks like new starters at a bunch of positions. We don’t know what the new regime thinks of quarterback Tyrod Taylor, but assuming he’s their guy for the job, they needed to give him more weapons. So they went out and drafted Zay Jones out of East Carolina in the second round, who should step in as an immediate starter, as well as signing Corey Brown from Carolina. I don’t like the depth at the position, but since this article is about starters, I won’t go deeper into this. Buffalo had one of the top run-blocking O-lines last season, but they also gave up 46 sacks. The biggest weak link of that unit was right tackle Jordan Mills, who was beat clean a bunch of times, especially when I think of his match-up against Cliff Avril. With their second round two pick they selected Temple’s Dion Dawkins, who gives them flexibility as a guard or tackle. Defensively their front-seven looks like one of the better ones in the league as they switch back to a 4-3 look, which should be a more natural fit for the guys they have in place. Cornerback Stephon Gillmore went to the division-rival Patriots, so they tried to replace him with their first-round Tre’Davious White (LSU). I think he’s more of an ideal nickel, but if he stays on the outside they should be fine. That brings me to the two safety spots. The Bills released Aaron Williams and Corey Graham, leaving them with voids at both those spots. Newly signed Micah Hyde is an excellent safety-nickel hybrid who offers versatility and should slide in at strong safety for them. Jordan Poyer looks like the starting free safety at this point, but I’m not sure if he’s not better as a third safety to bring in on passing downs. With the way Brady manipulates defenses you need a roaming center-fielder on the field at all times, if you want to have a chance. When I imagine what Sean McDermott’s defense will look like I don’t see any exotic blitz-and-drop schemes, so you need somebody who can get involved sideline-to-sideline.

 

Miami Dolphins: Right guard

Last season the Dolphins finally made it back to the playoffs for the first time since 2008. Unfortunately they never really seemed to have a chance against the Steelers in the Wild-Card Round and will once again have to fight for a spot in the postseason. Defensively they have improved immensely this offseason with the addition of linebacker Lawrence Timmons via free agency as well as Ohio State LB Raekwon McMillan and Missouri DE Charles Harris. Add those guys to the likes of Ndamokung Suh, Cameron Wake and Kiko Alonso and you have a pretty impressive front-seven. At the start of last year their secondary had major problems and while I still see some room to get better, the front office seems confident in what they have, especially with the way Byron Maxwell resurrected his career, the promise rookie Xavien Howard showed and the fact Reshad Jones will be back from injury. Therefore, I believe the offense needs more help. The Dolphins OC already talked about what big a year DeVante Parker will have, Jarvis Landry has been extremely productive and they even re-signed Kenny Stills to attack defenses deep. The guy who broke out for them last season was running back Jay Ajayi. I was pretty high on him coming into the draft two years and he burst onto the scene with consecutive 200-yard performances weeks six and seven. The offensive line was kind of hot-and-cold for them, never really finding consistency without center Mike Pouncey. With Pouncey back, his fill-in Anthony Steen, who did a marvelous job when called upon, will probably move to the left guard spot, where Laremy Tunsil played as a rookie. Tunsil will be their new franchise left tackle, while on the other side Ja’Wuan James has quietly been really solid. The weak-link of this unit without a question is right guard Jermon Bushrod. Since he was embarrassed a few years ago by Aldon Smith, his career has been in absolute free-fall. In 2016 he gave up five sacks and 34 total QB pressures, while not being much better as a run-blocker either. I don’t want to pick on players, but how he is still a starter is a mystery to me.

 

New England Patriots: Left guard

It’s hard to argue with the Patriots having the best overall roster in the NFL today. They went 14-2 last season with one of their losses happening with their number three quarterback under center and the other one dependent on a contested catch from the one-yard line. So what did New England do this offseason? They traded for Brandin Cooks, who adds more speed on the perimeter than anybody they had before, Kony Ealy, who might have been the Super Bowl MVP if the Panthers pulled off a comeback in last year’s big game, and they signed Stephon Gilmore, who has been a thorn in their eyes when facing Buffalo in recent years, plus two very functional backs in their roles. With the picks they had remaining in the draft they selected two developmental offensive tackle in Antonio Garcia (Troy) and Conor McDermott (UCLA), a versatile defensive lineman in Deatrich Wise (Arkansas) and a flash off the edge in Derek Rivers (Youngstown State), who I loved on tape. This team was ranked first in points allowed and third in points scored. So if you look at them, you’d think: Where can the champs even get better? When you check out their starting lineups, there is really only one spot that jumps out to me and that’s their left guard. Joe Thuney struggled as a rookie in protection, allowing 45 total QB pressures and being flagged ten times over the course of the season. The O-line made an enormous jump under the lead of Dante Scarnecchia after allowing the Broncos pass-rushers to knock around Tom Brady in the AFC Championship game like I’ve never seen before. In 2016/17 Nate Solder returned to his usual form, Shaquille Mason improved heavily as a pass protector and Marcus Cannon went from a liability to second-team All-Pro. Can Thuney make the same kind of transition heading into his sophomore campaign? Absolutely. But you can’t assume he will figure everything out that quickly and play at the level the rest of this unit, including center David Andrews to not just leave his name out, performed a year ago.

 

New York Jets: Offensive tackle

A year ago the Jets tried to work out a deal with quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, as many believed they could compete for a wild-card spot with Fitz on the boat. Instead the bearded one with a 46-69-1 record played like – you guessed it – the way you would think of a guy with that career record. But not only did he show how good he actually is, the season also demonstrated how bad this roster actually is. They turned the ball over a total of 34 times, while taking it away on just 14 occasions. You don’t have to be a genius to figure out that you won’t win many games with a turnover-margin of -20 (tied for worst in the league). One of the few bright-spots on this team was the development of Leonard Williams, who recorded seven sacks and looked very disruptive, but the rest of the entire team combined for only 20 more. So New York went into the draft looking for difference makers on defense and they got them with safeties Jamal Adams (LSU) and Marcus Maye (Florida). This tandem should sure up the back-end, even though another cornerback wouldn’t hurt either. Their interior defensive line is filled with high draft picks and even though they haven’t come through quite yet I can live with the duo of Lorenzo Mauldin and Jordan Jenkins on the edges going forward. Obviously the quarterback position is the biggest question mark at this point, but I won’t say they need to find the guy for that job before Christian Hackenberg has even smelled NFL grass. With the departure of Brandon Marshall they lose a big weapon in the passing game, but Quincy Enunwa and Robby Anderson have really emerged for them, giving them one less position group to worry about, plus by drafting Clemson’s Jordan Leggett they might have found their tight-end of the future. That leaves the offensive line. The Jets signed free agent Kelvin Beachum to lock up one of the tackle spots, but I don’t see anybody else who can fill out the second spot. Last year they inserted Ben Ijalana, who never started before in the league and struggled when finally doing so. I’m not sure if I’d call Beachum a franchise left tackle, but he will be pressed into that spot and maybe Brandon Shell, a late-round rookie from last year, can fill out the void, as he is a powerful run-blocker.


 

AFC South:

 

AFC South

 

Houston Texans – Right tackle

All people have said over the last five years was the Texans are a quarterback away from winning a Super Bowl. DeShaun Watson is the man. I know his struggles with consistent accuracy are real and it sounds like this is Tom Savage’s job to lose. Well, guess what – he will. I don’t see how you can have a proven winner like DeShaun on bench for very long, especially with your number one receiver DeAndre Hopkins being similar to Mike Williams and the willingness to throw the ball up for him to make a play. The defense is legit, especially with three-time Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt back, Will Fuller and Braxton Miller should be better in year two and Lamar Miller is one of the more underrated running backs in the league. To me this Texans squad is a right tackle away from being a championship contender. That position is a major question mark with the health of Derek Newton hanging in the balance. Right now they have Chris Clark, who allowed seven sacks in only 14 starts last season, Breno Giacomini, who might be even past his time as a below-average starter and rookie Julie’n Davenport, who I think has the feet to work with, but is probably two years from being trusted to move into the starting line-up. When healthy Duane Brown can still pretty much lock down the blindside, Nick Martin has a chance to step in as their starting center after missing all of his rookie stint, but I wouldn’t trust anybody else to secure the edges for this Houston team. My best bet at this point would be that they hand Clark the job, since he started for them the majority of last year, but as long as nobody else emerges I see this as a weak-spot.

 

Indianapolis Colts: Edge rusher

I was very high on the Colts’ draft this year because they addressed a depleted secondary, but when I go back to last season I’d have to say they owned one of the worst rosters in the league. Their only real positions of strength was Andrew Luck at quarterback and that receiver group. They made a commitment to get better up front with the selection of center Ryan Kelly a year ago, but they still let their QB get hit way too often. Usually I’d say you have to protect your franchise investment, but they have even bigger needs on defense. Like I said, I like what they did in terms of adding pieces to their defensive backfield, most notably the rangy free safety Malik Hooker and the physical corner Quincy Wilson. They don’t have any standouts at linebacker, but I think John Simon will do a nice job for them and I personally am just a big fan of the heart fifth-round pick Anthony Walker displays on the field. He might not be the greatest athlete, but if you let him stay inside and clean up plays he can be a starter for them. New GM Chris Ballard added a lot of beef to the defensive line, but what’s missing is a premiere edge rusher. Jabaal Sheard can be productive to some degree and Barkevious Mingo once was a sixth overall pick, but in today’s passing league you need to have players, who can really get after the quarterback. Robert Mathis retired this January as a 15-year veteran and Indy still hasn’t found anybody who can pick up the slump from his predecessor, because there were so many holes on this roster. I think with some of the additions they made they will be a more complete team, but if they didn’t have Andrew Luck last season they might not have won more than two or three games.

 

Jacksonville Jaguars: Offensive tackle

I’m going to be honest with you here – I’m sick of everybody crowning the Jaguars as their offseason winners and then they go 4-12 or 5-11 again the following season. At the same time, I believe this Jacksonville team is the best we have seen in many years, at least on paper. Defensively they have standouts all over the place. They signed Calais Campbell to a talented, young defensive line, Myles Jack and Telvin Smith are probably the fastest linebacker-duo in the league, Barry Church adds another veteran presence at the back-end and they paired Jalen Ramsey with A.J. Bouye, who was the most impressive cornerback in all of football last season. On the offensive side of the ball they have the Allen-duo outside, plus some highly talented receivers behind them, including Heisman-finalist Dede Westbrook, who they stole in the fourth round. Tom Coughlin and the front office decided to change the identity to this group by selecting LSU’s Leonard Fournette fourth overall as their workhorse to take pressure off of Blake Bortles, who a year ago was ranked the 56th-best player in the league by his peers and now is referred to as one of the worst starters overall. His fundamentals and overall game took a huge step back from 2015, but he will be a lot better with less attempts and if the offensive line does a better job. I like the interior front with Patrick Omameh, Brandon Linder and A.J. Cann, but the Jags’ tackle play was atrocious a year ago. Kelvin Beachum proved to be one of the worst signings of last year’s offseason, while Jermey Parnell allowed five sacks and was flagged ten times himself. With the addition of Alabama’s massive tackle Cam Robinson they should be set at one side, especially if NFL coaches teach him how to stay under control and not overextend, but the other tackle spot is in doubt to me. Robinson and Fournette should give an enormous boost to this ground game, but Bortles’ development has to go hand-in-hand with better protection if they don’t want their QB to play his best in garbage-time.

 

Tennessee Titans: No. 2 Tight-end

The Titans are one of those sexy playoff tips for this upcoming season and I understand why. Offensively they have one of the top three offensive lines in the NFL, a dual-threat quarterback that takes care of the football, one of the most consistent tight-ends in the league and a two-headed monster in the backfield with DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry, even though his role was limited due to the resurgent season Murray had. The thing that was missing for them a year ago was a true number one receiver. Insert Western Michigan’s Corey Davis, who they selected fifth overall in Philly, and have pretty much all the pieces. On defense what jumps out is the front-seven. The likes of Jurrell Casey, Avery Williamson, Brian Orakpo and company will take control of games. Actually they were ranked second overall in rushing yards allowed over the course of last season. The biggest issue for this team last year was the secondary, but I like their free safety Kevin Byard, cornerback LeShaun Sims improved steadily over the course of last season, they signed Logan Ryan, who had a large role for the reigning Super Bowl champions, they have versatility with Da’Norris Searcy and Jonathan Cyprien at the safety position and they selected USC’s Adoree Jackson 18th overall, who now can start inside at nickel if size ever was a concern with him. They look pretty much set throughout their line-up, so I decided to go a little off the map with this pick. The loss of Anthony Fasano in free agency is very underrated. The Titans love to run two-tight-end sets and Fasano was a valuable asset, especially in the run-game. I’m pretty sure the coaching-staff wants to put more on Mariota’s shoulders and spread things out, but their 12-personell won’t be nearly as effective with Phillip Supernaw or Jace Amaro. Maybe Jonnu Smith, who they drafted in the third round, can take over that role soon. Since Tennessee’s starting line-up even included Fasano in ten games, I consider him a starter even though he’s a TE2.


 

AFC West:

 

AFC West

 

Denver Broncos: Right tackle

Last season didn’t go as planned for the (then) reigning Super Bowl champs. They won their first four games of the season, but ultimately never really had a chance to win the AFC West and finished with a 9-7 record. Denver lost Peyton Manning to retirement and a couple of defensive starters, but they brought back most of their pieces. Once again Von Miller was a force off the edge, as he has been a double-digit sack artist in every full season he’s had in the league, Chris Harris, Aquib Talib and Bradley Roby made for the top cornerback-trio and Peyton Manning’s nine touchdowns compared to 17 interceptions weren’t missed that much either. I just think it’s funny how that many people talked about the quarterback position being a need for the Broncos. Sure, it would have been nice to bring someone like Tony Romo in and compete for another championship with him, but Trevor Siemian threw for 3400 yards, 18 touchdowns and ten INTs. The real issue was the offensive line, allowing 40 sacks and a hundred more QB hits as well as averaging the fourth-lowest number per rushing attempt. If not for horrific protection, Siemian should have been an above-average starter, plus they have only seen two-and-a-half games out of their first-round quarterback from a year ago. If this team wants to have a shot at another title they have to improve their O-line play immensely. Drafting Utah tackle Garrett Bolles and signing guard Ronald Leary from Dallas were big steps already, but that doesn’t fix the entire unit. Center Matt Paradis played like a man possessed last season and really was the only bright spot for them up front, but they need another tackle badly. Last year they rotated Ty Sambrailo and Donald Stephenson with both those guys struggling mightily. According to Pro Football Focus they were rated as two of the three worst players at their position. If you want to see how bad they were, just watch Justin Houston destroy them in their week 12 match-up against Kansas City, when the Chiefs’ edge rusher collected three sacks and ten solo tackles. The Broncos D had major problems stopping the run, ranking 28th in rushing yards allowed, but that was to some degree because teams realized it’s easier than throwing the ball on them and should be upgraded with the signing of nose-tackle Domata Peko.

 

Kansas City Chiefs: No. 2 Cornerback

Over the last four years the Kansas City Chiefs have gone 43-21 in the regular season, but only won in the playoffs once. In the draft they made a major investment when they moved from pick number 27 to tenth overall to select their quarterback of the future in Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes. The organization made it pretty clear that they thought Alex Smith wasn’t going to take them over the hump. Still, this team was the number two seed in the AFC and if Justin Houston is finally 100% percent again they should feel like they have a chance to challenge the Patriots. Tyreek Hill jumped onto the scene as a rookie, giving them the explosive element they’ve been looking for, Travis Kelce clearly is the second-best tight-end in football and their defense led the league with 33 total takeaways. If there’s one position on the depth chart I would upgrade, it would be their number two cornerback. Marcus Peters was a first-team All-Pro, but who complements him? Phillip Gaines was absolutely killed in a bunch of games last season. I can remember a game where he gave up about 250 yards and two or three touchdowns. He showed some improvement towards the end of the year and should be better coming into his sophomore campaign, but opposing signal-callers will pick on him early on, because of the way Peters makes them pay. I’m curious to see if he can make the jump. I like third-year man Steven Nelson, who will make a permanent move to nickel I’d think, but they could have really used another DB in the draft. With their 27th pick the Bills selected Tre’Davious White for example. He would have helped this team much more this upcoming season at least.

 

Oakland Raiders: Inside linebacker

Right now everybody wants to put the Raiders in the AFC Championship game with New England already, even though they are three years away from a 3-13 record. Everything changed with their first- and second-round picks Khalil Mack and Derek Carr. Those two players became the cornerstones of their franchise on each side of the ball and Mark Davis built a team around them. If not for the Carr’s broken leg in week 15, they might have won the division and who knows what else. They added the retired Marshawn Lynch and a solid draft class, so you’d say their chances to take the next step are pretty good. While I think they are one of the few teams that can challenge the Patriots, let’s not act like this Raiders defense was one of the top units in the league. I know Mack was named Defensive Player of the Year and they were second in total takeaways with 30, but when the rush didn’t get home opposing QBs threw the ball all over them. Especially early on, as they allowed 26 points or more over their first six games. The Silver and Black started putting more pressure on the quarterback they faced and the secondary worked more hand-in-hand with them. To me they still needed to improve the secondary heading into the offseason and they did by drafting Ohio State’s Gareon Conley and UConn’s Obi Melinfonwu. Both are really long and extremely gifted athletically. I’m looking forward to seeing how the work themselves into the mix and so I don’t see this is an area of need anymore. I still think some extra-push up the middle would help them, but if third-round D-tackle Eddie Vanderdoes (UCLA) stays in shape and shows more of what I saw from him at the Senior Bowl, he could be the answer. I want to focus more on the linebacker position. Bruce Irvin is penciled in as their SAM-backer, but I’m not sure who will fill those other two spots. Cory James and Jelani Jenkins look like the starters at this point with Ben Heeney seeing his role reduced from year one to two. If you look at the rest of their depth chart those two guys stick out. I know the league is all about rushing the passer and coverage, but I still believe you need a strong field-general at the linebacker spot and I don’t see that in those two. Their fifth-round pick Marquel Lee out of Wake Forest might work his way into the starting line-up because he is hungry for tackles and doesn’t miss many.

 

Los Angeles Chargers: Free safety

The Chargers 2016/17 season was an absolute mess. They had 23 total players on injured reserve, including some of their brightest stars, and had a lot of things happening that shouldn’t have. For example, they were 24-3 in the middle of the third quarter against the Chiefs week one and still lost that game, as well as handing the Browns their lone win of the season. I have no doubt they will be better this upcoming season, but the question is – how much better? Philip Rivers will have one of the best supporting cast he’s ever had with Keenan Allen coming back from injury and the selection of Mike Williams ninth overall in the draft, although he already threw for almost 4400 yards and 33 TDs with the other guys on the roster already. But not only will his targets be better, they also selected my two highest-graded guards in Philly to keep Rivers upright. Defensively, they get their number one corner Jason Verrett back, while Casey Hayward picked off seven passes and went to the Pro Bowl in his absence. The edge-duo of Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa will wreak havoc around the league and the combination of the banging Denzel Perryman and the roamy Jatavis Brown is really interesting to me. What they still lack to me is a true free safety who can take over the deep middle of the field. Malik Hooker was mocked a bunch to the Chargers, but they went wide receiver instead. So who’s their last line of defense? Last season Dwight Lowery took over for Eric Weddle at that spot, but he was a huge down-grade when you watched what Weddle did for Baltimore. I’d be very interested in seeing Desmond King, who they selected 151st overall out of Iowa, make the switch to safety. He was a Jim Thorpe-award winning cornerback for the Hawkeyes, but his lack of pure athleticism had many scouts believe he’ll be better off switching positions. I still think he could make his mark at nickel, but all I know is he’s extremely competitive and intelligent. Plus, he was a crazy steal in round five.

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