Tuesday, May 24, 2022

2022 NFL Draft: Examining the most pressing needs for every AFC team after free agency moves

The AFC has been a vacuum for talent this offseason, acquiring Russell Wilson, Khalil Mack, Matt Ryan, Davante Adams and many others. Despite an infusion of new faces, each AFC team still has a pressing need to fulfill on its roster. Here are the most pressing draft needs for each AFC franchise:

Bengals: Cornerback

Cincinnati was able to extract a lot out of free agent signings Mike Hilton, Chidobe Awuzie and Eli Apple in 2021. Gambling on players cast off by other teams would not be a wise long-term strategy for a team aspiring to return to the Super Bowl. From 2006-2016, the Bengals drafted five defensive backs in the first round. They have not taken a defensive player in the first round over the past five years. 

Bills: Cornerback

Buffalo understands it is in a position to compete and it is looking to upgrade every portion of the roster. The secondary remains untouched, however, despite Levi Wallace departing in free agency. The unit will be aided by the return of Tre’Davious White, and Taron Johnson played well in his role. The team needs another starter and certainly depth.

Broncos: Linebacker

Denver has some other areas on the roster that it could stand to upgrade, but linebacker jumps out as the most pressing. The Broncos added a high-volume tackler (Alex Singleton) from Philadelphia, but the Eagles were considered a team that needed to upgrade the same position even when Singleton was on the roster. Baron Browning and Josey Jewell could get larger workloads, but the team has to be thinking of adding more talent at the position. 

Browns: Defensive tackle

Cleveland has swung big in trades this offseason by acquiring quarterback Deshaun Watson and wide receiver Amari Cooper. While the team has functional players at the wide receiver and edge rusher positions, defensive tackle is an area of concern. The Browns signed former first-round pick Taven Bryan from Jacksonville, but he has not exactly flourished to this point in his career. A once highly regarded talent at a bargain price is the aisle in which general manager Andrew Berry likes to shop. In addition to Bryan, the team is counting on former draft picks Tommy Togiai and Jordan Elliott to take the next steps in their respective careers.

Chargers: Right tackle

Interior defensive line? Upgraded. Cornerback? Upgraded. Edge rusher? Upgraded. Los Angeles has been active in addressing some areas of need on the roster. With the Bryan Bulaga experiment coming to an end, the Chargers need to find a starting right tackle. Storm Norton was an issue on an island, and all the AFC West has done is add Randy Gregory and Chandler Jones this offseason.

Chiefs: Edge rusher

Frank Clark has not been what Kansas City had expected over the past two seasons. The team picked up Melvin Ingram in a trade with the Steelers at the deadline last year to give it more juice off the edge. Ingram is not going to be a long-term solution in his advanced age, so the organization must find that player through other means. There is an easy case to be made for wide receiver as well, but the Chiefs have added some players with experience playing at a high level. They are in a good position to do so after adding some picks, including No. 29 overall, via the Tyreek Hill trade. 

Colts: Left tackle

Indianapolis should have been in the mix for Terron Armstead. It has a roster ready to compete and added Matt Ryan under center. With roughly $22 million in salary cap space, they could have easily signed Armstead, who received a contract that pays out an average annual salary of $15 million. In all likelihood, the team will sign a veteran prior to the NFL Draft, but for now, it is a glaring need on that roster. 

Dolphins: Linebacker

Miami no longer has a first-round pick, so it works out that a top position of need is not generally taken early. The Dolphins could stand to add some help at linebacker. They do not pick until No. 102 overall, so the top prospects at the linebacker position will be long gone. The strategy should be taking a few players at the position and hoping one develops into a starter.

Jaguars: Defensive front

Jacksonville resembles a team that is going to give up a lot of rushing yards. The team needs more strength and attitude up the middle on defense. Most believe that Aidan Hutchinson is going to be the No. 1 overall selection, and that is a reasonable choice. Paired with Josh Allen, the Jaguars would have one of the most professional edge rushing duos in the league. Defensive tackle and linebacker stand out as areas of weakness.

Jets: Cornerback

New York did a good job of finding some young players who can play last offseason, but it is lacking a lockdown man coverage cornerback. If they add an alpha in that room, it is going to raise the level of play down the depth chart. With two picks inside the top 10, the Jets are in a great position to address that area of need. 

Patriots: Cornerback

Bill Belichick has always valued having a lockdown man coverage cornerback. Over the past 12 months, the team has lost Stephon Gilmore and J.C. Jackson. Wide receiver has been the talk of the offseason, but it is hard to ignore that glaring hole on the defensive side of the ball. 

Raiders: Offensive line

With the exception of left tackle Kolton Miller, the entire offensive line is a concern. They took Alex Leatherwood in the first round last year and were publicly proclaiming expectations that Andre James would take the next step in his career. James was adequate, but there is room for improvement across the board. The interior defensive line should be another point of emphasis for Las Vegas.

Ravens: Linebacker

Edge rusher may receive priority after the situation with Za’Darius Smith, but linebacker may be more important to the coming season. They have Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison who could develop and remove all doubt, but it is unclear how long Baltimore is willing to allow that to happen. It has been sniffing around about Bobby Wagner, and that would be a tremendous addition in free agency. He would serve as a mentor for those young players while providing the level of desired play in the meantime.

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Steelers: Offensive tackle

Mitchell Trubisky is not the long-term answer for Pittsburgh at quarterback, but he is enough to prevent that from being an area of desperation. Najee Harris was not given a lot of room to operate last season and that was because he was meeting defenders at the line of scrimmage or in the backfield. By adding some offensive tackle help, the Steelers are not only taking the pressure off of Trubisky but their young running back as well. 

Texans: Interior offensive line

The conversation is similar to that of Chicago. The Texans have several needs, so the team’s primary objective should be surrounding second-year quarterback Davis Mills with the talent that will allow Houston to adequately evaluate him this fall and winter. Armed with two first-round picks in the 2023 NFL Draft, the worst outcome for the Texans would be a poor season and having no more clarity on the future of the quarterback position.

Titans: Linebacker

Tennessee has some young players at cornerback, and there is a case to be made that those players deserve more time to latch onto starting roles. With the addition of Robert Woods, right tackle and linebacker become the biggest cause of concern on this roster. They could use a player who understands his role and is willing to do the dirty work for that front seven. 

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