Happy offseason! We have seven long, football-free months ahead of us; there’s no better time to start prepping for next season than this very second. What follows is a breakdown of every team’s top three needs with corresponding stats related to certain position units' 2020 performance, 2021 salary cap and more.
Note that the needs aren’t listed in any particular order. The following list is organized according to 2021 draft position. Thanks to OverTheCap.com for the salary cap and contract information.
Tune in to the PFF Fantasy Football Podcast for my 32 for 32 series featuring a different team-specific reporter every day for the next month to preview every team’s offseason. Check out the PFF 2021 NFL Draft Guide to get a grasp on all the incoming rookies. And finally PFF’s top-150 free agents.
Team Needs: Quarterback, secondary, offensive line
- The Trevor Lawrence photoshop doesn’t disappoint. The expected No. 1 overall pick should immediately force defenses to account for every square inch of the field with his combination of arm strength and mobility. The PFF Draft Guide says it best: “We've seen more accurate QB prospects in seven years of doing this, but we haven't seen a more complete one.”
- Both CB Tre Herndon and S Josh Jones could be taking their talents elsewhere in free agency. Either way, the unit’s 31st-ranked defense in yards per attempt allowed is a liability. The Jaguars have the fifth-fewest 2021 dollars devoted to their cornerback and safety rooms. Further addressing the pass rush also wouldn’t hurt.
- LT Cam Robinson is a free agent a season after grading out as PFF’s 66th-best tackle among 93 qualified players. Last season this offensive line ranked 22nd and 27th in pressure rate and yards before contact per rush.
Team Needs: Quarterback, pass rush, secondary
- Sam Darnold has flashed on occasion, is just 23 years old and figures to benefit from the usual post-Gase voodoo. Still, this is a bottom-10 QB in PFF passing grade (61.3), yards per attempt (6.6) and adjusted completion rate (72.3%) since entering the league in 2018. PFF ranks BYU QB Zach Wilson as the second-best QB and compares him to “a more creative Baker Mayfield.”
- This defense ranked 10th in pressure rate in 2020, but blitzed at the NFL’s sixth-highest rate in order to do so. Failure to wreak havoc proved to be brutal; the Jets ranked among the league’s bottom-10 defenses in yards per attempt, explosive pass-play rate and QB rating allowed against signal-callers that were kept clean. Nobody has fewer 2021 dollars devoted to the edge position.
- Safety Marcus Maye is a free agent and earned PFF’s fourth-highest overall grade among 99 qualified players at the position. The Jets have just $8.4 million in 2021 dollars devoted to their cornerback and safety rooms; only the Buccaneers ($11.7M) are also below even $15 million. They haven’t drafted a corner inside of the first three rounds since Dexter McDougle back in 2014.
3. Houston Texans (traded to the Dolphins)
Team Needs: Wide receiver, pass rush, secondary
- It remains to be seen if Will Fuller will be re-signed, Randall Cobb turns 31 in August and Brandin Cooks’ concussion history remains awfully troublesome despite his consistent success over the years. The Texans have drafted the following wide receivers in the first three rounds over the past decade: DeAndre Hopkins, Fuller, DeVier Posey, Jaelen Strong and Braxton Miller. What better way to keep Deshaun Watson healthy than by adding, not subtracting, talented receivers?
- The Texans ranked 26th in pressure rate last season and reportedly could be parting ways with J.J. Watt. This was a bottom-two defense in passer rating overall and also when the QB was kept clean or under pressure; help is needed just about everywhere.
- CB Vernon Hargreaves was PFF’s eighth-lowest-graded player among 136 qualified defenders at the position and is a free agent. The secondary as a whole is fairly brutal outside of Bradley Roby; only the Lions allowed more EPA per pass play.
Team Needs: Edge, secondary, running back
- High-priced 2020 free agency addition Dante Fowler finished his first season with the Falcon as PFF’s eighth-lowest-graded edge among 124 qualified players. Generating pressure has been a problem for a while now, as the Falcons were a below-average unit in 2020 (19th in pressure rate), 2019 (24th), 2018 (24th) and 2017 (No. 16) alike.
- The Falcons are one of nine teams with fewer than $20 million 2021 dollars devoted to their safety and cornerback rooms. Only the Lions allowed more total completions of 15-plus yards; talent is needed anywhere and everywhere in this back end.
- Both Todd Gurley and Brian Hill are free agents. Only the Packers, Steelers, Bills and Jets have fewer 2021 dollars devoted to the position. The likes of Travis Etienne (No. 39 on PFF's top-200 draft big board), Javonte Williams (No. 58), Najee Harris (No. 69), Michael Carter (No. 74) and Kenneth Gainwell (No. 79) could be potential draft-day targets.
Team Needs: Cornerback, pass rush, offensive line
- William Jackson, Mackensie Alexander and LeShaun Sims are all free agents. Further improvement is needed even if they return, as this secondary was mediocre in yards per attempt (19th), explosive pass-play rate (19th) and passer rating allowed (23rd) alike.
- This is one of five teams with fewer than $5 million devoted to the edge position. Longtime stud DT Geno Atkins turns 33 in March and could be a cap casualty after this season if his performance slips.
- The Bengals ranked 21st in pressure rate when throwing in under 2.5 seconds and 20th overall. Joe Burrow did about as well as you could’ve hoped for as a rookie; just realize it’s vital to continue to invest resources up front to limit the amount of future hits for the 2020 first-overall pick. Investing high-end draft capital and/or free agency dollars to a receiver also wouldn’t hurt.
Team Needs: Linebacker, secondary, wide receiver
- The Eagles have the sixth-fewest 2021 dollars devoted to their linebackers with both Alex Singleton and Duke Riley set to potentially test free agency. Things weren’t pretty when the defense was forced to play with a banged-up defensive line, and ultimately they allowed the sixth-most rush yards after contact in the league.
- New defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon is expected to lean more heavily on zone coverage, meaning No. 1 CB Darius Slay’s greatest strength could be minimized moving forward. Throw in the reality that S/CB Jalen Mills and slot corner Nickell Robey-Coleman both need to be re-signed or replaced, and it’s clear the league’s reigning 26th-ranked secondary in yards allowed per attempt has plenty of work to do.
- It’d be rather shocking if either DeSean Jackson or Alshon Jeffery return next season even with the dead cap total expected to be high. This cap-strapped team needs more help either way after drafting a slew of busts at the position over the years. Regardless of how the volatile situation under center plays out, more help is needed inside of anyone’s idea of a bottom-three WR room. First-round rookie Jalen Reagor flashed in limited opportunities; everything else is a mystery for this group.
Best of Jalen Reagor as a rookie pic.twitter.com/qyjDoq4ibf
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) February 9, 2021
Team Needs: Defense, offensive line, wide receiver
- The Lions boasted PFF’s single-worst grade in 1) overall team defense, 2) coverage, and 3) tackling. They became one of just 13 teams in NFL history to allow 40-plus points in at least five games during a single season. Help is needed quite literally everywhere on this side of the ball.
- If the Lions are serious about this Jared Goff thing they’ll need to emphasize protecting the league’s fourth-most sensitive QB to pressure in terms of difference in yards per attempt when kept clean vs. when under duress.
- Nobody has fewer 2021 dollars devoted to WR than the Lions. At the moment they’re only set to pay Geronimo Allison, Quintez Cephus, Victor Bolden and Tom Kennedy money to play football next season. Sheesh. Failure to re-sign any of Marvin Jones, Danny Amendola and (especially) Kenny Golladay would be bad for the scoring-points business.
Team Needs: Offensive line, cornerback, quarterback
- The Panthers are a full $7 million under the next-cheapest team when it comes to 2021 dollars devoted to the big uglies. The reigning 24th-ranked offensive line in yards before contact per attempt hasn’t made life easy on the team’s running backs. Last year's second-round OT Greg Little and 2017 second-rounder Taylor Moton mark the only two times over the past six years that the front office has devoted a pick in the top-three rounds to the group. Moton is now a free agent and checks in as PFF’s No. 12 free agent in the 2021 class. Russell Okung, PFF's 32nd-ranked free agent, will also be in talks for a new deal.
- Only the 49ers, Chiefs, Seahawks, Jets and Panthers have less than $5 million devoted to their corners in 2021. This defense ranked 25th in passer rating allowed when the opposing QB was pressured; additional resources are needed to compete in a division featuring a slew of worthy top-10 WR talents.
- There have been reports on the Panthers shopping Teddy Bridgewater throughout this young offseason. The ex-Vikings/Saints QB wasn’t awful in 2020, but his average-to-mediocre numbers in an offense with so much available skill-position talent was concerning. Overall, Bridgewater ranked 32nd in PFF passing grade and had more turnover-worthy plays (19) than big-time throws (17).
Team Needs: Quarterback, linebacker, offensive line
- Drew Lock made more great throws than you remember in 2020, but this was still anyone’s idea of a bottom-10 QB. Fifth in big-time throw rate and 34th in turnover-worthy play rate, Lock has shown a frighteningly low floor to go along with his occasional flashes of brilliance. Ultimately, it makes sense for the Broncos to invest in some high-end competition at a minimum considering their plethora of skill-position talent.
- The Broncos join the Browns and Dolphins as the only defenses with fewer than $4 million in 2021 dollars devoted to their linebackers. Perhaps LB Alexander Johnson will be re-signed, but either way help is needed to assist the league’s 30th and 21st ranked defense in rush yards before and after contact allowed per carry.
- Lock deserves plenty of blame for his bad habit of holding the ball too long, but this offense ranked just 27th in pressure rate in under 2.5 seconds. The front office has devoted three first- and second-round picks to the offensive line since 2011. Controlling the line of scrimmage a bit better will undoubtedly help whoever winds up under center next season.
10. Dallas Cowboys
Team Needs: Secondary, defensive line, quarterback
- The Cowboys basically declined to replace No. 1 CB Byron Jones. Meow they’ll also have to deal with the thought of losing Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis. Entering 2021 with Anthony Brown (PFF’s 92nd-highest graded CB) and Trevon Diggs (No. 60) as the top two corners is a scary proposition. Safety has been a concern for years. Only the Jets and Buccaneers have fewer 2021 dollars devoted to their cornerback and safety rooms.
- Defensive end Aldon Smith is an unrestricted free agent. Randy Gregory isn’t suspended for the moment. Obviously DeMarcus Lawrence is a stud, but otherwise upgrades could be used across the board. Only the Raiders and 49ers have fewer 2021 dollars devoted to their interior defensive line.
- The Cowboys are reportedly expected to franchise tag Dak Prescott if they can’t get a long-term deal done. It’s unclear why locking him down has taken so long; the man has improved his accuracy and command of the offense year in and year out. There weren’t five better signal-callers on the planet than Prescott during the first five weeks of 2020; here’s to hoping they sign him soon and can then move on to reloading the offensive line.
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) February 1, 2021
11. New York Giants
Team Needs: Defensive line, offensive line, secondary
- The Giants join the Titans, Patriots and Jaguars as the only defenses with fewer than $20 million 2021 dollars devoted to the defensive line. The likes of Leonard Williams, Dalvin Tomlinson and Kyler Fackrell are all unrestricted free agents. This wasn’t a bad defense by any stretch of the imagination in 2021; just realize they’ll need to reload a bit ahead of next season to maintain that success.
- This unit ranked a respectable 12th in rush yards before contact per attempt, but 31st in pressure rate allowed. Note that Daniel Jones didn’t help matters with a below-average time to release. Either way, upgrading from free agent RT Cameron Fleming should be a priority, and this unit as a whole should be prioritized for as long as Jason Garrett remains the (underwhelming) offensive coordinator.
- This secondary didn’t have a single cornerback or safety graded within PFF’s top-40 players at their position other than No. 1 CB James Bradberry. Improvement could be used across the board in the reigning below-average secondary in explosive pass-play rate (No. 22) and contested target rate (No. 20).
Team Needs: Quarterback, cornerback, left tackle
- Jimmy Garoppolo has had his moments with the 49ers, but it’s fair to wonder what a more mobile and generally better talent under center might be able to achieve in this offense. Nobody has averaged more yards per attempt on passes thrown to a target *behind* the line of scrimmage over the past three seasons.
- Nobody has fewer 2021 dollars devoted to their corners than the 49ers with both Richard Sherman and Jason Verrett set to take their talents elsewhere. Literally only Ken Webster, Adonis Alexander and Tim Harris are presently under contract for next season. Obviously this defense could remain special thanks to their blue-chip resources on the defensive line, but putting even a little bit of attention to the coverage unit wouldn’t hurt.
- Trent Williams finished his first season with the 49ers as PFF’s No. 1 overall tackle. It’s clear the 49ers would love to bring him back; the question is whether another team might wave a blank check at the 32-year-old tackle. Either way, San Francisco has more than enough skill-position talent elsewhere to again boast one of the league’s more-efficient offenses.
Team Needs: Offensive line, linebacker, tight end
- Justin Herbert was PFF’s highest-graded QB when under pressure last season, but that’s not exactly a reason to not build a more solid front to protect the 2020 rookie of the year. They have the eighth-fewest 2021 dollars devoted to the unit and are tasked with either replacing or re-signing the likes of C Dan Feeney, LG Forrest Lamp and LT Sam Tevi.
- This defense has plenty of talent at the line of scrimmage as well as in the back end. Free agent LB Denzel Perryman finished as PFF’s second-highest-graded player at the position, but adding another playmaker to the group, particularly one with better pass defense skills, could help take this defense from great to among the league’s best.
- Hunter Henry is an unrestricted free agent and backup Donald Parham doesn’t ever figure to boast the sort of blocking ability to warrant a three-down role. The 26-year-old TE rarely leaves the field when healthy enough to suit up and ranks 12th in yards per route run among 62 players at the position with at least 100 targets since 2016.
Team Needs: Secondary, pass rush, offensive line
- Cameron Dantzler (No. 28) was the only Vikings CB to earn an overall PFF grade ranked among the position’s top-80 players last season. The safety room is obviously more sound, although free agent Anthony Harris might have to be replaced. This defense ranked 28th and 30th in yards per attempt and explosive pass-play rate allowed.
- Literally nobody pressured opposing QBs at a lower rate than the Vikings in 2020. Not having stud edge rusher Danielle Hunter all season certainly didn’t help matters, but either way the Vikings have the 10th-fewest 2021 dollars devoted to their defensive line.
- The Vikings are one of just six teams with fewer than $26 million devoted to their offensive line in 2021. LG Dakota Dozier is a free agent, and the league’s 28th-ranked unit in pressure rate allowed as a whole could use some upgrading.
Team Needs: Quarterback, receiver, defensive line
- Cam Newton didn’t have much help in his debut with the Patriots, and Tom Brady’s Super Bowl run proved that he certainly wasn’t the problem in 2019. Still, Newton’s status as PFF’s 30th-ranked QB in passing grade reflects the reality that things were never easy through the air for this offense. At a minimum, high-end draft capital or truly worthwhile competition must be brought in to compete with Newton if the Patriots decide to bring the ex-Panthers QB back.
- The Patriots have drafted 10 wide receivers other than Julian Edelman since the 2009 draft. They are: Brandon Tate, Taylor Price, Jeremy Ebert, Josh Boyce, Aaron Dobson, Jeremy Gallon, Devin Lucien, Malcolm Mitchell, Braxton Berrios and N’Keal Harry. Sheesh. Credit to Jakobi Meyers for making the most of his opportunities, and a healthier version of Edelman could very well return in 2021. Regardless, this entire position group is in dire need of a makeover.
- Only the Texans have fewer 2021 dollars devoted to their defensive line. Covid opt-outs hit the Patriots harder than just about anybody, but they’ve still been overdue in addressing their pass-rush since letting most of their free agent talent walk last offseason. Potentially losing John Simon and Deatrich Wise further heightens the sense of urgency to improve PFF’s 10th-worst-graded pass rush from a season ago.
Team Needs: Cornerback, receiver, pass rush
- Both Patrick Peterson (PFF’s No. 90 highest-graded CB) and Dre Kirkpatrick (No. 113) are free agents. Neither Johnathan Joseph (No. 51) nor Byron Murphy (No. 53) should be viewed as locked-in starters for a defense that simply struggled to get receivers to the ground last season. Overall, only the Texans, Jaguars, Chiefs and Dolphins allowed more yards after the catch per reception than the Cardinals.
- It remains to be seen if Larry Fitzgerald will retire. Either way, we haven’t seen the sort of consistency from Christian Kirk or Andy Isabella to be confident in this group behind all-world talent DeAndre Hopkins. Enabling Kyler Murray to greater heights should be a priority for the entire organization; it’s not illegal to have more than one exceptional pass-catcher in the same offense.
- Edge rushers Markus Golden and Haason Reddick are both free agents. Getting Chandler Jones back from injury will unquestionably help matters in 2021, but the quest to find a high-end partner in crime persists. The Cardinals ranked ninth in pressure rate last season but had to blitz at the league’s second-highest rate to do so.
Team Needs: Defensive line, secondary, pass rush
- Nobody has fewer 2021 dollars devoted to their interior defensive line than the Raiders with Johnathan Hankins set to be a free agent. The league’s 25th-ranked defense in rush yards after contact per attempt allowed needs all the help it can get throughout the front-seven.
- Nevin Lawson is a free agent. He was the Raiders’ highest-graded CB from last season at No. 87. It’s tough to name a good cornerback that has played for this team since Nnamdi Asomugha. A bottom-10 defense in yards per attempt and explosive pass-play rate, this Raiders unit needs to continue to devote high-end draft resources to their secondary and pray some of them start to work out.
- This unit has ranked 24th, 26th, 32nd and 25th in pressure rate over the past four seasons. Remember that Khalil Mack guy?
18. Miami Dolphins
Team Needs: Offensive line, linebacker, receiver
- Only the Panthers have fewer 2021 dollars devoted to their offensive line. The Dolphins have the fifth-cheapest offense overall; it’d make sense if they start the true reloading process by throwing money and/or high-end draft picks at the group. PFF graded the 2021 group as the league’s 20th and 30th ranked unit in pass and run blocking.
- The Dolphins join the Broncos and Browns as the only teams with fewer than $4 million 2021 dollars allocated to their linebackers. The one flaw of this defense was their inability to stop the run, ranking 22nd and 19th in rush yards after and before contact per attempt allowed.
- Tua Tagovailoa didn’t play as bad as many made it out to be down the stretch of last season; Ryan Fitzpatrick is good! The likes of DeVante Parker and Mike Gesicki made plenty of plays last season, but otherwise this group blended inconsistency with injuries. Even if the team decides to move on from Tua, more firepower is needed for whoever winds up under center.
(Tua Tagovailoa didn't get a lot of help as a rookie) pic.twitter.com/vO9UE0pY45
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) February 9, 2021
Team Needs: Quarterback, cornerback, wide receiver
- Credit to Alex Smith on his comeback player of the year campaign; the man ranked outside of the league’s top-30 signal-callers in every meaningful metric. Lost in the Football Team’s “heroic” decision to release Dwayne Haskins was the reality that they got absolutely nothing in return from their 2019 first-round pick. Kirk Cousins is the best QB this franchise has drafted since the new millennium and it isn’t particularly close.
- CB Ronald Darby (PFF’s 14th-highest graded CB) is a free agent. Neither Kendall Fuller (43rd) nor Jimmy Moreland (78th) managed to crack the top-40 corners. Regardless of Darby’s final decision, adding some more talent to the secondary to complement the team’s collection of monsters across the defensive line should be a priority.
- Terry McLaurin is objectively a stud, but another high-end option would be much appreciated. Free agent and incumbent No. 2 WR Cam Sims does possess some underrated ability after the catch; just realize this unit is one injury to the artist known as F1 away from being painfully thin. Only the Lions, Steelers, Colts and Jaguars have fewer 2021 dollars devoted to the WR room.
20. Chicago Bears
Team Needs: Quarterback, wide receiver, offensive line
- Mitch Trubisky is a free agent after finishing 2020 as the NFL’s single-worst deep-ball QB in PFF passing grade (55), yards per attempt (5.5) and QB rating (29.1). And then we have Nick Foles, who was average to awful depending on what stat you want to look at. The self-pronounced “best QB room in the NFL” was anything but in 2020; don’t be surprised if a first-round rookie or acquired veteran is under center come Week 1.
- The Bears have the sixth-fewest 2021 dollars allocated to WRs. Allen Robinson is a free agent and appears to be this offseason’s Stefon Diggs in terms of sending cryptic tweets; it seems like a stretch to think he’ll be back with the Bears. Rookie Darnell Mooney impressed and could’ve had a far bigger debut season with a more accurate QB; the position room is painfully thin otherwise.
- Guards Germain Ifedi and Alex Bars are free agents, while tackles Charles Leno (PFF’s 30th highest-graded tackle) and Bobby Massie (No. 36) could be improved upon. Credit to David Montgomery for his fantasy comeback of the year award and making the most out of life behind the league’s 25th-ranked offensive line in yards before contact per rush. The Bears have selected just three offensive linemen in the first four rounds since 2013.
Team Needs: Quarterback, receiver, edge
- Philip Rivers is retired and Jacoby Brissett is a free agent. Don’t even get me started on Chad Kelly. 2020 fourth-round pick Jacob Eason has been a starting QB for exactly one season since 2017. This remains one of the more complete teams in the league, but without at least an average signal-caller it’s going to be tough to expect much of a ceiling for anybody involved.
- Wide receivers T.Y. Hilton and Zach Pascal join tight ends Trey Burton and Mo Alie-Cox as free agents. Nothing against Michael Pittman, Parris Campbell and Jack Doyle, but clearly more resources need to be devoted to pass-catchers. Overall, the Colts have the third-fewest 2021 dollars allocated to the WR room.
- Only the Jets and Ravens are spending less on their edge rushers in 2021. This is certainly a side aspect of building the defense around two studs in LB Darius Leonard and DT DeForest Buckner; just realize it’s not illegal to try and improve elsewhere as well. This pass defense ranked near the top of the league in most categories, except pressure where they came in at just 21st.
22. Tennessee Titans
Team Needs: Receiver, pass rush, linebacker
- It’s always AJB WR1 szn, but Corey Davis is a free agent, and the rest of the group is painfully thin with or without a healthy version of Adam Humphries in the slot. Credit to Davis for largely breaking out in 2020; he ranked 10th in PFF receiving grade and fifth in yards per route run among 84 WRs with at least 50 targets last season.
- Jadeveon Clowney was a combination of bad and injured in his first season with the Titans. Nobody else really picked up the slack; this was the league’s fourth-worst defense in pressure rate ahead of only the Jaguars, Bengals and Vikings. The Titans easily have the fewest 2021 dollars devoted to their defensive line at the moment.
- This is one of just seven defenses in the league with fewer than $6 million in 2021 dollars allocated to their linebackers. Perhaps having to deal with Derrick Henry in practice every day has produced a passive defense; only the Ravens, Bengals and Texans allowed more rush yards after contact per attempt last season.
23. Seattle Seahawks (traded to the Jets)
Team Needs: Cornerback, pass rush, offensive line
- The Seahawks join the Jets, Panthers, Chiefs and 49ers as the only four defenses with fewer than $5 million in 2021 dollars devoted to their CB room. Both Shaquill Griffin and Quinton Dunbar are free agents, and regardless of their respective status, upgrades are needed. Only the Falcons allowed more total receiving yards to opposing WRs last season, as this defense was arguably the worst group in the league before coasting by with a soft schedule during the second half of the season.
- The league’s 25th-ranked defense in pressure rate largely couldn’t get the job done without help from S Jamal Adams. None of the group’s defensive linemen managed to crack PFF’s top 45 players at their position in pass-rush grade. Throw in the potential departure of free agent LB K.J. Wright and DT Poona Ford, and it’s clear there’s work to be done across the front-seven.
- Adding a running back to replace Chris Carson and/or Carlos Hyde should also be a priority, but devoting more resources to the big uglies on the line of scrimmage is probably a better idea. Overall, the Seahawks have ranked 31st, 26th, 15th, 26th, 26th, 32nd and 30th in money spent on the offensive line since 2015. Happy wife, happy life: Russell Wilson’s desire to take fewer sacks *should* be met by this front office in a big way.
Team Needs: Offensive line, running back, quarterback
- The 2020 Steelers boasted PFF’s 31st-ranked offensive line in run-blocking grade and nobody averaged fewer yards per carry. They slip from third to 13th in pressure rate when we only consider throws in under 2.5 seconds from the snap. Throw in the reality that both LT Alejandro Villanueva and RT Matt Feiler are free agents, and it’s clear additional resources need to be devoted to this group through free agency and the draft alike.
- The lack of success on the ground can be blamed on both the big uglies and the team’s running backs. Perhaps James Conner returns on a team-friendly deal, but either way it’s fair to wonder what this offense would look like with a more explosive three-down back in the fold. This offense ranked 26th in yards after contact per attempt, and only the Falcons had a lower rate of 10-plus yard runs.
- Ben Roethlisberger is apparently back for one more run after ranking as a below-average QB in PFF passing grade (No. 23 among 44 qualified QBs), yards per attempt (No. 36), adjusted completion rate (No. 25) and QB rating (No. 24) alike. The answer to Dwayne Haskins or Mason Rudolph is probably easy: no.
25. Los Angeles Rams (traded to the Jaguars)
Team Needs: Secondary, offensive line, edge
- There’s a solid argument to be made that Jalen Ramsey is the single-best CB in the league. The team’s willingness to move him all over the field makes the lack of a high-end partner in crime less of an issue than it might be for a different high-end corner, but either way there needs to be an effort made to at least try and retain free agent CBs Troy Hill and Darious Williams as well as S John Johnson.
- Edge defender Leonard Floyd will need to be replaced in some way, shape or form. Like with Ramsey in the secondary, the Rams are always going to be a bit thin across the defensive line due to having so much money wrapped up in all-world talent Aaron Donald. Again, like with Ramsey, Donald’s ability to dominate and move all over the line of scrimmage makes this less of a need than it would be on another team.
- The Rams have improved the offensive line from within in recent seasons, but at some point they’ll need to consider investing legit resources to the group. Overall, 2015 marks the last time the team used a top-two round pick on the position. The good news is that having Matthew Stafford under center should help with the rather large drop off in performance when Jared Goff would experience pressure. The early returns from Cam Akers have certainly been promising.
Cam Akers 2021 RB1 szn pic.twitter.com/kUT37LDglN
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) January 25, 2021
26. Cleveland Browns
Team Needs: Secondary, pass rush, linebacker
- There’s a plethora of free agents in the secondary, as corners Terrance Mitchell and Kevin Johnson could feasibly join safeties Andrew Sendejo and Karl Joseph as defenders that will take their talents elsewhere come March. More reinforcement is needed either way with neither Denzel Ward nor Greedy Williams managing to maintain good health over the years.
- Yes, Myles Garrett is a monster. Also yes, fellow edge Olivier Vernon and DT Larry Ogunjobi are free agents. Credit to this defense for ranking 12th in pressure rate, but they need to find somebody to complement Garrett in order to take a leap into the league’s elite units.
- Nobody has fewer 2021 dollars devoted to their linebackers than the Browns. Both B.J. Goodson (PFF’s No. 26 highest-graded LB) and Malcolm Smith (No. 13) are free agents, meaning this defense will have some real holes on the second level if they don’t address this group.
27. Baltimore Ravens
Team Needs: Wide receiver, offensive line, edge
- Josh Allen got Stefon Diggs. Kyler Murray got DeAndre Hopkins. Baker Mayfield got Odell Beckham. Lamar Jackson got… Marquise Brown, who is fine, but c’mon people. The unironic “RB playing QB” jokes are old; Lamar Jackson has thrown 62 TDs over the past two seasons with arguably the worst WR room in the league. One of just seven teams with fewer than eight figures in 2021 dollars devoted to the group, Baltimore needs to find Jackson a true No. 1 WR in order for this offense to reach its gaudy ceiling.
- RT Orlando Brown wants a trade if he can’t play on the other side, which seems unlikely considering all-world LT Ronnie Stanley should be manning that spot for the better part of the next decade. Regardless, improvement should be considered across the entire group considering they largely declined to invest any real resources in replacing retired perennial All-Pro guard Marshal Yanda following the end of the 2019 season.
- Nobody blitzed more often than the Ravens in 2020. And yet they ranked just 18th in pressure rate. This is one of the league’s rare defenses that can largely hold up in coverage even in the absence of a high-end pass-rush; just realize any unit would benefit from further infusion of a legit blue-chip talent on the edge, and only the Jets have fewer 2021 dollars allocated to the position than the Ravens.
Team Needs: Quarterback, safety, wide receiver
- Having Taysom Hill under center basically 1) replaces a good chunk of Alvin Kamara’s production with QB rush yards, and 2) renders this offense without a true high-end ceiling. It remains to be seen if Jameis Winston will 1) be re-signed, and 2) iron out the sort of reckless-gunslinger mentality that led to 17 (!!!) more turnover-worthy plays than the next-closest QB during the 2017-2019 seasons.
- S Marcus Williams is a free agent, leaving the Saints with the league’s 12th-fewest 2021 dollars devoted to the position. Re-signing PFF’s eighth-highest graded safety makes sense and should be a key priority; the problem is that this roster is presently an absurd $74.6 million over the salary cap.
- Michael Thomas has caught 33 of 36 (92%) catchable targets thrown at least 20 yards downfield since entering the league in 2016 — the fourth-highest mark among 64 qualified receivers. Chill on the slant boy jokes; nobody ever said Steph Curry shouldn’t shoot so many three-pointers. Thomas is anyone’s idea of an alpha No. 1 WR; the problem is that Emmanuel Sanders could be a cap casualty, and this offense truly hasn’t had a high-end field-stretching talent since trading Brandin Cooks away before the 2017 season.
MiChaEl tHomAs oNlY rUnS SLanTs pic.twitter.com/w2bfRF0MnE
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) June 8, 2020
Team Needs: Receiver, cornerback, front seven
- Obviously Davante Adams is a stud among studs at WR. Beyond that we have Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who averaged a league-high 20.9 yards per reception while battling a bad case of butterfingers, and Allen Lazard, who is fine, but c’mon. The Packers have only drafted Randall Cobb, Adams and Ty Montgomery at WR inside of the top three rounds over the past decade. Breakout TE Robert Tonyan is a free agent, leaving the Packers with the fifth-fewest 2021 dollars allocated to the position.
- Jaire Alexander finished 2020 as PFF’s No. 1 overall CB. Chandon Sullivan (No. 62), Kevin King (No. 85) and Josh Jackson (No. 102) didn’t quite pull their weight. The former two corners are free agents; the Packers have the seventh-fewest 2021 dollars devoted to their CB room.
- The Packers failed to improve their run defense in 2020, allowing more yards before contact per carry (1.8) than anyone other than the Cowboys. They also slipped in terms of getting after the QB, falling from second to 27th in pressure rate. Not a single linebacker was graded among PFF’s top-80 players at the position; Kenny Clark (No. 30 among interior defenders) and Za’Darius Smith (No. 15 among edge) can’t do it all.
30. Buffalo Bills
Team Needs: Guard, tackle, cornerback
- Guards Ike Boettger, Brian Winters and Jon Feliciano are all free agents. The one weak spot on this offense was some inconsistency with running the ball; the Bills’ average of 1.3 yards before contact per carry ranked just 21st last season. Their status as the 21st-ranked unit in pressure rate is more due to Josh Allen’s tendency to hold the ball for a good bit of time, but either way continuing to invest in protecting Allen should be a priority.
- RT Daryl Williams (PFF’s 21st-highest graded tackle) is a free agent. All in all, only the Panthers, Dolphins and Seahawks have fewer 2021 dollars devoted to the offensive line. This front office has only drafted three total offensive linemen in the last five drafts.
- Corners Levi Wallace and Josh Norman are free agents. Tre’Davious White is brilliant, but the Bills were more hesitant to use him in shadow coverage in 2020 compared to past years. Improving the supporting cast around him might coax them back into letting White attempt to blanket the opposition’s No. 1 WR more weeks than not.
Team Needs: Offensive line, cornerback, wide receiver
- The likes of C Austin Reiter, RG Mike Remmers and LG Andrew Wylie are all free agents. The Super Bowl showed what life without their pair of great tackles in Mitchell Schwartz and Eric Fisher can be like; trying to boast some semblance of depth in an effort to keep Patrick Mahomes upright only makes sense.
- Both Charvarius Ward and Bashaud Breeland are free agents. Only the 49ers have fewer 2021 dollars devoted to their corners. This pass defense was hardly a liability last season, but they’ll need to make an effort to reload at corner in order to maintain their relative success.
- Sammy Watkins, Byron Pringle and Demarcus Robinson are all free agents. Mecole Hardman is worthy of joining Tyreek Hill in the starting lineup, although the Super Bowl did demonstrate that this offense is lacking a third option capable of getting open at will when Hill and Travis Kelce both face double-teams. Hardman and Chris Conley are the only WRs that the Chiefs have invested a top-three round pick in since 2011.
Team Needs: Front seven, receiver, secondary
- At full strength, this front seven is obviously a strength; the problem is that LB Lavonte David (PFF’s No. 5 highest-graded LB), Shaquil Barrett (No. 30 edge) and Ndamukong Suh (No. 72 interior defender) are all free agents. There’s still plenty of existing talent even if these players walk; just realize this team figures to again be active in free agency.
- It remains to be seen if the Bucs will give Chris Godwin a contract worthy of his talents, while Antonio Brown’s next move remains a mystery to everyone including probably AB himself. Rob Gronkowski has said he’d like to return in 2021. It’s honestly not much of a problem regardless of what happens with those aforementioned players: Both Tyler Johnson and Scotty Miller are worthy of filling bigger roles; Mike Evans remains one of the best receivers in the game; and Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard are more than capable of picking up the slack if Gronk decides to retire again.
- This is a plenty solid secondary with young talent available at both corner and safety. Still, only the Jets have fewer 2021 dollars devoted to the two positions, and we did see some stretches of struggle from the group during the middle part of the season. This secondary wouldn’t be a need for most teams; the Super Bowl champs on paper sure look a lot like a team that will be back in contention this time next year.