Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Every NFL team’s biggest need entering Week 3, including how Browns replace Nick Chubb

The NFL has been riddled with injuries just two weeks into the season. Some of the notable names added to injured reserve lists this week include Browns running back Nick Chubb, Bears offensive tackle Braxton Jones, Lions safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, Panthers linebacker Shaq Thompson, Cardinals safety Budda Baker and Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson. 

With that in mind, here is a look at the most pressing positional needs for every NFL team:

AFC

Bengals: Offensive guard

The health of Joe Burrow is a concern right now. If he is unavailable for any period of time, then the franchise’s fortunes lie in the hands of Jake Browning and Will Grier. 

When Burrow is completely healthy, the bigger question mark on the roster is the interior offensive line. The franchise has invested significant resources into the offensive line over the past two offseasons but still have positions to fill before Burrow can feel secure. The unit has not played up to expectations. 

Bills: Linebacker

There are not any fatal flaws that stand out as Buffalo answered a few of its most pressing needs in the draft by taking Utah tight end Dalton Kincaid and Florida offensive guard O’Cyrus Torrence. Torrence has played particularly well this season. However, they did not aggressively look to replace Tremaine Edmunds after he departed in free agency. Through two weeks in the season, no linebacker has taken a firm grasp of that role. Terrel Bernard has gotten the first crack at it.

Broncos: Safety

Denver ranks in the bottom half of the NFL in passing yards allowed per game yet cornerback Patrick Surtain has allowed just 33 yards in coverage, according to TruMedia. Veteran safety Justin Simmons has not played up to his standards this season.

Defensive tackle has also been underwhelming. Dre’Mont Jones left Denver in free agency. The Broncos are left with some overperforming players at the position and one has to wonder if that is sustainable moving forward. Mike Purcell is one of the key contributors at 32 years old. Length and depth were integral in head coach Sean Payton’s time with the Saints and that will be challenged early in his time with Denver.

Browns: Offensive tackle

An injury to veteran Jack Conklin forced rookie Dawand Jones into the lineup early. They added Ty Nsekhe as a swing tackle but Jones and Wills need to play better. According to TruMedia, they have allowed 13 combined pressures through two games. Trey Hendrickson and T.J. Watt have been formidable competition so the slate of pass rushers should ease up in the coming weeks.

Running back may have been the biggest need had the team not already moved to sign Kareem Hunt. Jerome Ford will be the feature running back moving forward but Hunt may eat away at some of the receptions.

Chargers: Defensive tackle

Los Angeles’ defense is allowing 31.5 points per game, which is the third worst rate in the league through two games. The Chargers have added players at defensive tackle in recent offseasons but it has not produced the results it had hoped. Morgan Fox, Sebastian Joseph-Day and Austin Johnson need to be the best versions of themselves. 

The secondary is also a concern. They are allowing 333 passing yards per game, which is the worst in the league.

Chiefs: Defensive tackle

Kansas City looked lost at wide receiver in their opening loss, but ultimately it’s defensive tackle that is most pressing. They lost some of their interior defensive line depth in free agency, and that essentially leaves the Chiefs with Chris Jones, who was dominant in his return from a holdout. The Chiefs need to keep loading up on the defensive front to withstand some of these grueling AFC battles. They took Texas’ Keondre Coburn in the later rounds of the NFL Draft and traded for Neil Farrell Jr. but it may not answer their needs for the upcoming season.

The collection of skill talent will be worth discussing if they do not improve upon Travis Kelce’s return. Kansas City has four drops this season, which is tied for sixth-most in the NFL, according to TruMedia.

Colts: Secondary

The secondary was a cause for concern in the Week 1 loss to Jacksonville. Trevor Lawrence completed 75% of his passes. The Indianapolis defense accounted for eight missed tackles, according to TruMedia. Texans rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud threw for nearly 400 yards against them last week. In fact, the Colts are allowing 287 passing yards per game, which is the fourth most in the NFL.

Running back is also an issue but that was difficult to predict given the situation with Jonathan Taylor.

Dolphins: Offensive guard

Tight end is the position most bereft of talent on the roster but offensive guard will have a bigger impact on the season. Free agent addition Isaiah Wynn has moved to left guard and his play has been up and down as most would expect. Offensive tackle play should be improved when Terron Armstead returns, and Connor Williams was fantastic at center in his first season after signing in free agency. Miami’s offensive guard play has been better this season, which is fantastic because Tua Tagovailoa has been one of the league’s best quarterbacks when clean.

David Long Jr. has shown improvement at linebacker but they need more from that group. 

Jaguars: Interior offensive line

Through two weeks in the NFL season, the Jacksonville offensive line, particularly the interior offensive line, has been a bigger concern. The Jaguars are below the league average in yards and points per game. Trevor Lawrence and the skill talent have been really good but the ceiling could be even higher.

Jets: Offensive tackle

The biggest issue may be quarterback following the injury to Aaron Rodgers. While Zach Wilson’s performance did not exactly inspire confidence, they will probably give him a game or two to lose trust. Left tackle Duane Brown recently turned 38 and Mekhi Becton was flipped to the right side. It is reasonable to wonder if either is a viable solution for the duration of the season. General manager Joe Douglas has built a roster that has few limitations but offensive tackle is one of them. 

Patriots: Offensive tackle

New England was slated to start Trent Brown — who has played six of his eight seasons at right tackle — on the left side and 34-year-old Riley Reiff on the right side. The position was already viewed as a concern, then it was learned that Reiff will miss at least the first four games on the injured reserve. Calvin Anderson has started at right tackle after three seasons with the Broncos and that has not been convincing. The team could theoretically move starting guard Michael Onwenu to right tackle, which he played the better part of four games as a rookie in 2021, in a pinch. The interior offensive line has not been great either but the hope is that improves once Onwenu settles back in as a starter.

Raiders: Defensive tackle

There are glaring weaknesses on both sides of the ball, including defensive tackle and cornerback. Depth at edge rusher gets thinner if Chandler Jones does not make an appearance this season. Defensive tackle is the bigger need, however, as the Raiders are allowing the sixth-most rushing yards per game.

Las Vegas addressed essentially every position other than the offensive line during the draft. It was a big area of concern as Jimmy Garoppolo settled in as the starter but the group has performed above expectation. Greg Van Roten looks like a quality addition but is that a viable long-term solution. The Raiders have a wealth of weapons in the pass game but Garoppolo may not have the time to distribute the football. 

Ravens: Cornerback

Baltimore’s run game is just always going to produce no matter who is in the backfield. Cornerback has been a bigger issue for this team as Marlon Humphrey has yet to make his 2023 debut. It has not been a terrible group but they lack a true difference maker capable of playing on an island. 

Steelers: Linebacker

Linebacker has not been an issue for the always consistent AFC franchise. They may have a lower ceiling but Cole Holcomb is a high-volume tackler and Elandon Roberts has been a reliable performer during a portion of New England’s run. The Steelers defensive line is one of the best in the league and they have kept some of those blockers off the second-level talent.

Cam Heyward was added to the Injured Reserve and will be out another three games. Fortunately, rookie Keeanu Benton and Larry Ogunjobi have elevated their play to account for his absence.

The offense as a whole has been awful but that is largely attributed to play-calling rather than any particular personnel group.

Texans: Defensive tackle

Outside of edge rusher Will Anderson Jr., Houston has lacked true difference-makers who can impact the opposing quarterback and hold up at the point of attack. Demeco Ryans‘ starting unit is not bad but it lacks depth and that is one area where teams want options to rotate players in and out. The defense, as a whole, has made mistakes but players are making those mistakes fast and rallying to the football.

The interior offensive line has also been a point of weakness. 

Titans: Linebacker

Tight end may actually be a bigger need for Tennessee right now as that group is being outperformed by the position group listed above. But, there are still questions about a linebacker group that lacks experience. Fortunately, the defensive line is a strength so that should free up some of those linebackers. 

The offensive line remains a work in progress as well. It appears that they pulled the right levers to upgrade that room in the off-season. 

NFC

49ers: Interior offensive line

San Francisco is giving Colton McKivitz a chance at right tackle following the departure of Mike McGlinchey in free agency. McKivitz still has a lot to prove but it is magnified by the lack of confidence in the interior offensive line. Spencer Burford had some success as a rookie but grades out as PFF’s worst offensive guard this season. His counterpart, Aaron Banks, has hardly been better. 

Bears: Interior offensive line

Where does one begin discussing the offense? They have struggled mightily. The interior offensive line has not been good and now left tackle Braxton Jones has been added to the Injured Reserve. It is a unit that has hardly taken the pressure off of quarterback Justin Fields and now their depth is already being tested.

Edge rusher had been a huge need but they made what appeared to be good free agent signings in Yannick Ngakoue and DeMarcus Walker. Chicago has just one sack this season after finishing dead last a year ago.

Buccaneers: Interior offensive line

The defense has big names and proven veterans. Most of them are free agents after the season. Tampa Bay’s interior offensive line is a concern.  Right guard Cody Mauch made his first appearance. It may work out fine but it is a lot of moving pieces in front of first-year quarterback starter Baker Mayfield.

The offensive tackles have played well despite being a bit of a mystery coming into the season. Its most proven asset, Tristan Wirfs, is transitioning from right tackle to the left, but he looked great in the opener. The new right tackle, Luke Goedeke, played left guard last season, but also looked solid.

Cardinals: Defensive tackle

Spin a wheel and state your case for the defensive position it lands on with the Cardinals. Their defense features a lot of names who would stump the average fan. The Cardinals need help on the interior of the defensive line. The edge rushers are actually performing well in pass rush metrics. First-year head coach Jonathan Gannon comes from a situation where he had a wealth of options along the defensive front. Cornerback is another area of need and the offensive line was in shambles Week 1.

Commanders: Linebacker

Washington has played well on both sides of the ball. Former first-round pick Jamin Davis appears to have taken the next step in his career at linebacker but the Commanders need more depth in that room. Competition level has been lacking in the first two games so the coming games will be telling.

Cowboys: Running back

Dallas’ starting unit was fortified this offseason so one has to split hairs just to find a reasonable choice for the team’s most pressing need. Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn is known to get the most out of his players and that group is playing with a lot of confidence. They are easily one of the most impressive teams thus far.

Running back may be the biggest question mark because it is not yet known if Tony Pollard can consistently shoulder the load. 

Eagles: Safety

The Eagles have a well-rounded roster that is difficult to pinpoint a glaring flaw. For now, safety continues to be the choice as Reed Blankenship deals with an injury. Justin Evan has been serviceable. Philadelphia has addressed essentially every problem area on their roster.  

Falcons: Linebacker

If one were to squint, they would see that Atlanta has legitimate contributors at essentially every position. Although the pictures of the pass catchers could have been placed on a milk carton after Week 1, linebacker is still a more pressing need. Atlanta has added some bodies to that defensive front this offseason but the linebacker group remains a problem. They will continue developing Troy Andersen but will be overly reliant on unproven talent and Kaden Elliss around him. 

Giants: Interior offensive line

It is difficult to pinpoint just one position of need based on how New York has performed in the first three weeks of the season. The vulnerability of the interior offensive line was on display Thursday night against San Francisco. It really could have been expanded to include the entire offensive line considering Andrew Thomas was out against the 49ers.

They need to create more pass rush opportunities as well. 

Lions: Cornerback

Detroit was impressive in the Week 1 victory over Kansas City. The group rose to the occasion but the success of the cornerbacks could be directly tied to the struggles of the Chiefs pass catchers. They were credited with three drops, according to TruMedia, and those ended multiple drives. Through two games, the NFC franchise is allowing the seventh-most pass yards. 

Packers: Safety

Green Bay has some interior offensive linemen who have played and played well, but this is an important year for that group. They may need to steer some assets in that direction next year. However, safety is more of a problem for the upcoming season. Darnell Savage has been disappointing and there is little else to feel confident about in that room. 

Panthers: Wide receiver

Carolina drafted its quarterback of the future when Alabama’s Bryce Young was announced as the No. 1 overall selection. It is difficult to evaluate him because essentially every other component of the offense has failed except for the offensive tackles. 

Injuries to cornerback Jaycee Horn and linebacker Shaq Thompson have thoroughly tested the defense as well. The Panthers are off to an 0-2 start but do not hold the rights to their first-round draft pick in 2024.

Rams: Edge rusher

The offensive line is still an issue despite investing resources into the unit this off-season. Cornerback Jalen Ramsey has been traded. The group played better than expected in the opener. Holes exist everywhere on the roster but the pass rush is the biggest concern. 

Jonah Williams, Earnest Brown, Byron Young Nick Hampton, Michael Hoecht and Zach VanValkenburg — who among that group has proven that they can heat up the opposing quarterback at this level? Los Angeles needs someone to step up as they have the fifth-fewest sacks in the league.

Saints: Defensive tackle

New Orleans’ interior defensive line showed improvement from Week 1 to Week 2. They signed Khalen Saunders and Nathan Shepherd in the offseason and drafted Bryan Bresee. The defensive line has set the tone for the NFC South franchise for years and they may lack that edge this season.

The offensive line needs to perform at a higher level as well considering they’ve used Top-50 draft choices on each of the five starters. 

Seahawks: Offensive guard

General manager John Schneider has found several long-term contributors over the past two years. Offensive guard is the biggest need for that team. The Seahawks could use a starter and most certainly need accountable depth. Injuries to offensive tackles Abraham Lucas and Charles Cross have impacted the unit.

They need to find more consistent pass-rush options to take some of the pressure off the secondary. Seattle has the third lowest sack production in the league.

Vikings: Defensive tackle

Minnesota has lost two games this season by a combined nine points. They are allowing 166.0 rushing yards per game this season. The Vikings need to become more stout at the point of contact. The cornerback group fared better than expected. 

Cornerback and the interior offensive line are a few other spots to monitor. 

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