For nearly half of the 32 NFL franchises, the last three weeks of the 2020 NFL season will be about pride, player development and draft order. These teams have just three more weeks until they can set their sights fully on free agency and start preparations for the 2021 NFL Draft.
With the offseason nigh, let’s inspect the biggest looming need for every team in the NFL.
ARIZONA CARDINALS: CORNERBACK
This is a need driven by a potential free agency departure, as Patrick Peterson’s contract expires at the end of the year. And while former second-round pick Byron Murphy has looked better in Year 2, he’s in all likelihood a slot-only going forward.
ATLANTA FALCONS: SAFETY
Edge is also a need here, but with Keanu Neal and Damontae Kazee set to become free agents, the safety position takes the cake. While Neal was a perfect fit in the box in Dan Quinn’s Cover 3-heavy defense, there’s no sure thing that whoever is coordinating next season will feel the same. The odds are that there will be a lot of holes to fill on this defense next year.
BALTIMORE RAVENS: WIDE RECEIVER
Marquise Brown has had his flashes this season but is nowhere near complete enough to be a consistent No. 1 option. He’d be far better suited as a No. 2, with a do-it-all option leading the way.
After accumulating only 206 receiving yards on 213 routes this season, it’s clear that the physically gifted Miles Boykin isn’t that option. They could certainly use interior line help, as well, but the lack of any passing attack this year looms large.
BUFFALO BILLS: OFFENSIVE GUARD
The Bills parted ways with the struggling Quinton Spain this year, though it’s not as if Brian Winters, Jon Feliciano, Ike Boettger or Cody Ford have been any better. Winters leads that group with a pass-blocking grade of 55.3 on the season. While the rest of the offensive line has been solid, the guards could be their Achilles' heel down the stretch.
CAROLINA PANTHERS: LINEBACKER
If you’re starting Tahir Whitehead at linebacker, the chances are that it’s a position of need. While 2018 fifth-rounder Jermaine Carter has taken over and been an upgrade these past few weeks, he’s still only earned a 53.8 grade in coverage this season.
Feel free to throw cornerback in this mix, as well.
CHICAGO BEARS: INTERIOR OFFENSIVE LINE
The Bears have been decimated by injuries on the interior this year. While there’s only one spot up for grabs if James Daniels and Cody Whitehair return healthy, they could use some reinforcements in case this happens again next year. They’ve had eight different linemen play at least 250 snaps this season.
CINCINNATI BENGALS: OFFENSIVE LINE
This one doesn’t even need to be discussed. Bobby Hart, of all people, has been their third-best offensive lineman in 2020. If the Bengals don’t address it, Joe Burrow should opt-out for health reasons even if COVID is gone next season.
CLEVELAND BROWNS: OFFSEASON
Safety has looked like the weak link on the roster this season, but they get some reinforcement with second-round pick Grant Delpit returning next year. Ronnie Harrison has been a quality option when healthy, too.
DALLAS COWBOYS: DEFENSIVE TACKLE
One big man planted in the middle of that defensive line could go a long way for their disastrous run defense. It would also make life easier on their now-maligned former first-round linebacker, as well as their highly paid veteran linebacker. Antwaun Woods’ 62.1 run-defense grade is the highest among Cowboys defensive tackles this season.
DENVER BRONCOS: QUARTERBACK
I wrote about the Broncos' need at quarterback at this point last year, just before Drew Lock had a few encouraging games to end the season. Now, those encouraging games are still only showing up once every few weeks. He’s earned a 59.5 overall grade on the season and doesn’t have a single game over 70.0.
DETROIT LIONS: WIDE RECEIVER
With Kenny Golladay, Danny Amendola and Marvin Jones Jr. set to hit free agency, the Lions offense could look a lot different in 2021. The problem is that that’s obviously not their only need, as they have multiple positions worth addressing on defense.
GREEN BAY PACKERS: LINEBACKER
That’s right, I'm going with linebacker and not the much-debated need at WR2. The worrisome thing for Green Bay is that they tried to address this already by signing Christian Kirksey last year. The former Browns linebacker now has a 37.4 overall grade across 452 snaps and is in serious danger of being a cap casualty. Packers linebackers this season have combined for a 29.8 coverage grade, the lowest of any team in the NFL.
HOUSTON TEXANS: CORNERBACK
We called it their biggest need last year as well, but the then-Texans brass banked on their bevy of former first-rounders taking a step forward this year. It’s safe to say that hasn’t happened, as the Texans have the sixth-lowest coverage grade of any team in the NFL.
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS: QUARTERBACK
Philip Rivers signed just a one-year deal and turns 40 next year, so there’s no telling what the future holds at the quarterback position in Indy. This is a position that you have to think the Colts will address via free agency, as they’ll be drafting at the back end of Round 1, far away from the Trevor Lawrences and Justin Fieldses of the class.
JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS: QUARTERBACK
Gardner Minshew has outperformed any expectation you could ever have for a sixth-round pick. That doesn’t mean the Jaguars are set at the position, however. He’s a limited passer who you'd feel great about if you had to throw him under center in a pinch, but that's probably it. They will very likely be drafting second overall, and I give them approximately a 100% chance of taking a quarterback.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: EDGE DEFENDER
The Chiefs are currently giving legitimate snaps to UDFA defensive end Michael Danna (234 on the season), and he’s performing about as well as you’d expect from a former UDFA. He's struggled to a 53.1 pass-rushing grade so far this year. Compounding this need is the fact that Frank Clark is not performing the way they expected when they traded a bevy of picks for him. His run defense and pass-rushing grades are below 55.0 at the moment.
LAS VEGAS RAIDERS: DEFENSIVE LINE
The Raiders have poured a considerable amount of capital into the defensive line in recent years, but they still rank 30th league-wide in team pass-rushing grade. Any position up front will do as long as the player can create disruption.
LOS ANGELES CHARGERS: OFFENSIVE LINE
This may be the longest-running “biggest need” in football. The Chargers are now going on over a decade in search of offensive line help and currently rank 30th in team pass-blocking grade. Impending free-agent right tackle Bryan Bulaga is the only offensive lineman who doesn’t particularly need to be upgraded at this point.
LOS ANGELES RAMS: LINEBACKER
The Rams knew that this was an issue coming into the season and have still pieced together a fantastic defense. As it stands right now, though, Kenny Young and Micah Kiser both have overall grades in the low 40s.
MIAMI DOLPHINS: OFFENSIVE LINE
While the Dolphins can hope for some development from their three rookies, that could be a risky proposition. Only Robert Hunt is currently grading over 60.0 overall, and he’s at 60.1. For Tua’s sake, I’d take out some insurance plans.
MINNESOTA VIKINGS: DEFENSIVE LINE
The Vikings rank 31st among NFL teams in pass-rushing grade, and Yannick Ngakoue — whom they traded away — still leads the team in sacks, with five. While they get Michael Pierce and Danielle Hunter back next season, that’s not going to fix things entirely.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: QUARTERBACK
Cam Newton is only on a one-year deal and has already been benched at times this season. He’s not the man taking Bill Belichick back to the promised land. Whether the position is addressed in the draft, free agency or trade remains to be seen, but Patriots fans won’t be happy unless it’s addressed in a big way.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: WIDE RECEIVER
The Saints have one of the most complete rosters in the NFL, so picking pretty much any position is nitpicking here. That said, relying on a 34-year-old Emmanuel Sanders to be the No. 2 receiver could qualify as a need. Sanders may even be a cap casualty; the veteran has a $10 million figure in 2021, and the Saints are desperate for space.
NEW YORK GIANTS: EDGE DEFENDER
Kyler Fackrell currently leads all Giants edge defenders with 15 total pressures. Fifteen! They’ve had injury problems at the position, but none of the six Giants edge rushers who have played at least 100 snaps have been effective when called upon.
NEW YORK JETS: QUARTERBACK
Sam Darnold recently said he wants to be a Jet for life, but that decision is not going to be left up to him. He's regressed mightily from even his rookie year and quite obviously needs a change of scenery. Bring on Trevor Lawrence.
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: LINEBACKER
Eagles linebackers have combined for a 34.7 coverage grade this season (fourth-lowest of any team in the NFL) and a 117.0 passer rating when targeted (third-highest in the NFL). They threw some later-round resources at it last year but might want to think about investing a little more this offseason.
PITTSBURGH STEELERS: OFFENSIVE TACKLE
You could throw quarterback on here too, but offensive line is where they could have actual holes. Left tackle Alejandro Villanueva and left guard Matt Feiler are both set to hit free agency. While rookie Kevin Dotson can fill in Feiler’s shoes, it just will not be as easy to replace Villanueva. It’s even more of a need because Chukwuma Okorafor, and his 57.7 overall grade, hasn’t exactly impressed at right tackle.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS: QUARTERBACK
Jimmy G was far too much of a roller coaster this past year, with some dreadful performances, and he has had too many health issues over the past few seasons to feel good about relying on him to lead a Super Bowl-caliber roster in 2021. They can get out of his $26.9 million cap hit with only $2.8 million in dead money; they could either use that cap space elsewhere or find another quarterback altogether.
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: CORNERBACK
We highlighted the Seahawks' cornerback situation as a serious issue last season, but the group remained unaddressed in 2020. The results speak for themselves. Seahawks corners have combined to allow 104 first downs and touchdowns, the fourth-most of any cornerback group in the NFL.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS: EDGE DEFENDER
The Bucs have a very complete roster at the moment, so this one has everything to do with impending free agents. With Shaquil Barrett and Lavonte David hitting free agency this offseason, I’m guessing that the team will prioritize the lifelong Buccaneer at linebacker over Barrett. At that point, edge gets very thin for Tampa.
TENNESSEE TITANS: EDGE DEFENDER
The Titans threw money at both Vic Beasley Jr. and Jadeveon Clowney last offseason because of how big a need they had at the position. With Beasley already gone and Clowney on only a one-year deal, the Titans will be in exactly the same boat again in a few months.
WASHINGTON FOOTBALL TEAM: QUARTERBACK
The Dwayne Haskins era is over in Washington, and Alex Smith — as admirable as his comeback was — will in all likelihood be a cap casualty. Kyle Allen…well…let’s say he isn't a long-term option. The only question that remains is how they address it, as their current hot streak has seen them sink further and further down the 2021 NFL Draft.