Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Biggest remaining need for every NFC team: Bears’ Justin Fields could use more weapons, Eagles thin at safety

The majority of the talent acquisition period has been exhausted through free agency and the 2022 NFL Draft, but veteran signings (see: top-10 free agents available) may continue to trickle in over the next few months. Here is the biggest position of need for each team in the NFC:

49ers: Interior offensive line

The secondary is a potential area of concern, but the offensive line faces more instability with Alex Mack retiring. The interior offensive line is hopeful a collection of young talent takes a step forward. Dohnovan West, Spencer Burford, Aaron Banks, Jaylon Moore and Jake Brendel are all competing after being added in the past three seasons. Daniel Brunskill is potentially the only known starter at right guard. In addition to the personnel changes, the team has also lost assistant offensive line coaches Butch Barry and Zach Yenser. 

Bears: Wide receiver

Chicago has multiple spots on its roster that are considered needs, but that is why they made significant changes this off-season. General manager Ryan Poles essentially has a clean slate on which he can rebuild this team. The offensive line is a disaster, but wide receiver is as well. Darnell Mooney is probably the top target with Equanimeous St. Brown, Byron Pringle, Tajae Sharpe, Dante Pettis and Velus Jones Jr. among those competing for playing time. No favors were done for quarterback Justin Fields this offseason.

Buccaneers: Offensive guard

Tampa Bay’s roster has few glaring weaknesses, and it may be a stretch to suggest offensive guard is one of them. After losing Alex Cappa in free agency to Cincinnati and Ali Marpet to retirement, the team traded for the talented Shaq Mason. His presence means that only one spot is open to competition, and there are enough promising options to fill it. Last year’s third-round pick Robert Hainsey, second-round pick Luke Goedeke and free agent Aaron Stinnie are all in the mix. It is less of a need and more of a question mark, but that is where the Buccaneers’ roster stands after the work done by general manager Jason Licht.

Cardinals: Cornerback

No one could have foreseen the sudden passing of free agent signing Jeff Gladney. Byron Murphy and Marco Wilson struggled in their respective roles last season. Considering the team lost Chandler Jones in free agency, which will likely hinder the pass rush effectiveness, that puts even more stress on the secondary.

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Commanders: Linebacker

The choice was between safety and linebacker, but Kamren Curl has performed admirably in every role he has been assigned. Darrick Forrest and Percy Butler provide youthful competition to veteran Bobby McCain. Former first-round linebacker Jamin Davis needs to take the next step in his career. There were flashes of his capabilities last season, but those moments were fleeting. Cole Holcomb has been a tackle machine in the past, but Washington is lacking a player who will consistently make plays at the line of scrimmage with the flexibility to drop into coverage. 

Cowboys: Defensive tackle

It was difficult to pinpoint one area for Dallas because the potential is there at almost every position. The offensive line is scrambling a bit with Terence Steele settling in at right tackle and incoming first-round selection Tyler Smith playing left guard. Leighton Vander Esch played all 17 games last season. Edge rusher Randy Gregory signed with Denver in free agency, but they did sign Dante Fowler Jr. and draft Sam Williams. It is not a one-for-one swap, but at least there is a level of competency. 

The answer is defensive tackle because they lack difference makers. There are a bunch of names and, to the team’s credit, they have sunk a lot of draft capital into the position. It just has not worked out. 

Eagles: Safety

Positional value might as well have been trending in Philadelphia leading up to the draft. Would the team use one of its first-round selections on a wide receiver for the third time in as many years? Linebacker has never been a position of importance for the franchise. Would that change? Do they value safety in the first round? When the weekend had ended, they had addressed both linebacker and wide receiver in unconventional ways. That left safety as the remaining position of concern. 

Pursuit of Tyrann Mathieu fell short, and that leaves the team with Anthony Harris, Marcus Epps and several former undrafted free agents. The investment in cornerback and the front seven should help that unit, however. 

Falcons: Wide receiver

The Falcons’ roster is under construction, so there are a number of positions with a case to be made for biggest need. Quarterback is a question mark, but there is not a free agent walking off the street to upgrade that unit. Rookie Desmond Ridder would be given an opportunity before that happened. Left guard is a concern. Edge rusher is a concern. Safety is a concern. Linebacker has talent but that was not necessarily on display last season.

The wide receiver room was upgraded with Drake London, but the talent pool had been drained over the past two years. Julio Jones was traded, Russell Gage signed with the rival Buccaneers in free agency, and Calvin Ridley is serving an indefinite suspension. Olamide Zaccheaus is the team’s No. 2 receiver. Bryan Edwards was acquired in a trade, but he will be competing with the likes of KhaDarel Hodge, Auden Tate and Frank Darby to be the No. 3 wide receiver.

Giants: Cornerback

There were more potential shortcomings on the Giants’ roster than initially expected. Tight end is a bit scary post-Kyle Rudolph and Evan Engram. Linebacker and the interior offensive line are problematic. The team released James Bradberry after attempting and failing to trade him. Going into the draft, the impression was that the team had zeroed in on adding Cincinnati’s Sauce Gardner or LSU’s Derek Stingley Jr. to combat the eventual loss of Bradberry. Both prospects were gone before the Giants came on the clock. Adoree’ Jackson, who has dealt with injuries in the past, is going to be relied upon heavily. Aaron Robinson, Cordale Flott, Darnay Holmes and Jarren Williams are others competing for spots.

Lions: Linebacker

Listing linebacker for any team is rather subjective because it may not be a critical component to a team’s defensive strategy. With that being said, looking at the roster, it is an obvious position of need. Alex Anzalone and Jarrad Davis did not inspire confidence in their respective spots last fall. Malcolm Rodriguez is a fun prospect who is unproven at the professional level. 

The secondary would probably receive some votes if polling went public, but fans embark on another year of hoping for the best from former first-round selection Jeff Okudah

Packers: Interior offensive line

Wide receiver may have seemed like the obvious choice, but Aaron Rodgers makes a lesser unit look better. Rodgers can make do with Sammy Watkins, Allen Lazard, Randall Cobb, Christian Watson and Amari Rodgers. The offensive line is of greater concern. With a healthy David Bakhtiari at left tackle and Elgton Jenkins presumably moving to right tackle, the outside should be impenetrable. Josh Myers, Jon Runyan, Zach Tom, Rasheed Walker, Sean Rhyan and Royce Newman give Green Bay plenty of young interior offensive linemen to find a working rotation. They need more consistency from Myers and Runyan this season.

Panthers: Linebacker

Carolina’s roster is not too bad, which came as a bit of a surprise. Quarterback remains a liability, but that seems to be moving in the direction of the team acquiring Baker Mayfield. Mayfield represents a clear upgrade over Sam Darnold, and no one knows what the future holds for Matt Corral. The team’s outlook improves with Mayfield under center. 

Linebacker features fewer ready-made options beyond Shaq Thompson. Rookie Brandon Smith is tremendously talented but needs more time to learn his role.

Rams: Edge rusher

Following the defection of Austin Corbett and retirement of Andrew Whitworth, offensive line has a strong case here. There is cautious optimism that Joe Noteboom and Logan Bruss will be able to fill those roles. Cornerback and edge rusher come to mind next with Darious Williams and Von Miller following the money in free agency. The Rams have done well at drafting and developing cornerbacks, and Robert Rochell is a player who they like a lot. Edge rusher is the choice, but they are not bereft of talent at the position. Leonard Floyd has had his two best seasons with the Rams, but Miller is no longer there to support him.

Saints: Cornerback

New Orleans has one of the better starting lineups in the NFL. Quarterback Jameis Winston and the overall health of the team will ultimately determine the ceiling in 2022. They have competent starters across the board, but one of the potential weaknesses is opposite cornerback Marshon Lattimore. Paulson Adebo looked confident early in 2021, and the team has added Alontae Taylor for competition. 

Seahawks: Quarterback

Seattle has several needs, but none limit the expectations for the upcoming season quite like the quarterback position. Denver determined that Drew Lock was not good enough to get the Broncos where they ultimately wanted to go. Multiple teams reached the same conclusion with Geno Smith. Now, those two are competing for the starting job in the pacific northwest. Unless they have bought in to the idea of letting the bottom fall out and drafting a quarterback early in 2023, they could absolutely benefit from pursuing Mayfield. 

Vikings: Cornerback

Center was the other position under consideration, but the team is unlikely to move on from Garrett Bradbury now. Veteran Patrick Peterson returns to the cornerback room, where Cam Dantzler performed well last season. The hope is that Andrew Booth Jr. and/or Akayleb Evans show a lot of potential in Year 1. They have chased talent and dumped significant assets in the position since Xavier Rhodes‘ waning years in town. It is time to see the fruits of their labor. 

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