NFL News & Analysis

Biggest needs for all 32 NFL teams after free agency: Chicago Bears and Denver Broncos need a QB, 49ers and Cowboys need secondary help

The peak of NFL free agency has officially come and gone. Some teams went all-in on filling their biggest offseason needs and got better, and other teams decided to stand pat.

Regardless of these free-agency decisions, there’s no such thing as a perfect team. Some are as complete as they come — the reigning Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, for example — but even they could stand to boost a part of their depth chart ahead of the 2021 campaign.

With the biggest wave of signings now behind us, it’s time to readdress all 32 teams’ biggest needs as they approach the 2021 NFL Draft.

ARZ | ATL | BLT | BUF | CAR | CIN | CHI | CLE | DEN | DAL | DET | GB | HOU | IND | JAX | KC | LVR | LAC | LAR | MIA | MIN | NE | NO | NYG | NYJ | PHI | PIT | SF | SEA | TB | TEN | WFT

ARIZONA CARDINALS: CB, TE, DI

Arizona significantly bolstered the pass-rush this offseason by swooping in and signing J.J. Watt after his release from Houston. Watt and Chandler Jones may be getting up there in age, but they should be one of the top pass-rushing tandems in the league as long as they stay healthy. After all, the two rank sixth and seventh, respectively, over the last two years in pass-rush grade among all at the position.

The interior does need some work, as their top three players at the position — Zach Allen, Leki Fotu and Jordan Phillips — all posted sub-55.0 PFF grades in 2020. Still, outside cornerback should be the top priority for the Cardinals this offseason.

Last year’s starters, Patrick Peterson and Dre Kirkpatrick, are no longer with the team, and understandably so. Last season, Arizona ranked 25th in outside coverage grade.

So, why didn't the Cardinals make outside cornerback priority No. 1 in free agency this year? The only signing they have made thus far to address this issue was re-signing Robert Alford, who hasn’t played a down of football since the 2018 season — a year in which he earned a 53.1 coverage grade.

We can probably go ahead and sharpie in a cornerback early in the 2021 NFL Draft for Arizona, and if Alabama's Patrick Surtain II is on the board when they pick at No. 16, it shouldn’t even be a thought for the Cardinals. Surtain played on an island more than anyone in the country last year and still came in at No. 1 at his position in PFF grade (89.7). With his size, physicality and press skills, Surtain is exactly who the Cards need in their secondary.


ATLANTA FALCONS: CB, S, EDGE

It’s reasonable to say that Atlanta’s secondary was a liability last season — they ranked fifth-to-last among the 32 secondaries in coverage grade and gave up more 20-plus-yard pass plays than any other group in the league. And given their dire cap situation, the team could do nothing to fix that in free agency.

Atlanta will need to attack the secondary aggressively in the 2021 NFL Draft and hope that A.J. Terrell, who posted a 57.0 coverage grade and allowed 901 yards and five touchdowns in 2020, takes the second-year leap in 2021.

Atlanta has one of the top interior defensive linemen in the game in Grady Jarrett, but the defensive front outside of that is sorely lacking — especially along the edge. Dante Fowler Jr., Steven Means, Jacob Tuioti-Mariner and Charles Harris were ineffective in the pass-rush last year, and all earned pass-rush grades below 63.0. As a whole, Atlanta’s set of edge rushers tied for the second-fewest pressures generated in 2020 with only 89. For perspective, Super Bowl Champion edge defender Shaquil Barrett had 76 alone in the regular season.


BALTIMORE RAVENS: WR, OT, EDGE

The Ravens’ wide receiver group finished among the five lowest-graded units in the NFL in 2020. After Marquise Brown, the best wide receiver the Ravens have on the roster is either Miles Boykin or Devin Duvernay, both of whom have a career receiving grade just above 60.0. Baltimore needs an “X” receiver who imposes a threat to defenses, and head coach John Harbaugh knows it.

The Ravens once fielded one of the league’s best tackle tandems with Ronnie Stanley Jr. and Orlando Brown Jr., but that relationship is coming to an end. Brown filled in for the injured Stanley over at left tackle last year and has since demanded a trade because he wants to protect the blind side full-time. The good news is that this draft class is a loaded one when it comes to tackles. Baltimore is destined to be getting great value by selecting a tackle, whether it be with their first-rounder or whatever compensation they receive from the Brown trade.

They should have their eyes set on Oklahoma State’s Teven Jenkins, who is PFF’s OT4 and 26th-best prospect overall. Jenkins was a mainstay on the Pokes’ offensive line over the past three years, and he performed exceptionally well each season. He excelled in the run game, where he notched the second-best run-blocking grade among FBS right tackles over those three years. He was the only Power 5 tackle to rank top-five in both positively and negatively graded run-block rate in 2020.

Bills Jerry Hughes comes off the line against Jets Mekhi Becton. Credit: JAMIE GERMANO/ROCHESTER DEMOCRAT AND CHRONICLE via Imagn Content Services, LLC

BUFFALO BILLS: DL, CB

Buffalo may be one of the most well-rounded teams in the league, but their defensive front is on shaky ground. This is specifically true against the run, as their interior defensive line and edge defenders combined for a run-defense grade that ranked fourth-to-last in the NFL.

When it comes to the pass-rush, there’s not much to get excited about outside of veteran edge defender Jerry Hughes (86.5 pass-rush grade in 2020) and 2019 first-round pick Ed Oliver (72.3 pass-rush grade). The latter didn’t make much of an impact on their pass defense, given that they ranked inside the top 10 in expected points added (EPA) allowed per pass play. Coverage matters more than the pass-rush, but it definitely wouldn’t hurt to keep trying to add an effective pass-rusher.


CAROLINA PANTHERS: QB, CB, WR/TE

Carolina was extremely limited with Teddy Bridgewater leading the offense in 2020. He finished 27th in passing grade at 66.4 and second-to-last in uncatchable pass rate (44.5%) on passes thrown 10-plus yards downfield.

The Panthers have long been rumored to be in the quarterback market this offseason — they threw together an aggressive offer for Matthew Stafford and were locked in on acquiring Deshaun Watson. Regardless if it’s through the draft or not, something has to be done at the position before the start of the 2021 season.

The same can be said for the receiving unit. D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson both found success in Joe Brady's first year, with both pass-catchers receiving grades north of 76.0, but depth is an issue for the group, especially after they allowed Curtis Samuel to walk in free agency.


CHICAGO BEARS: QB, WR, OL, CB

Chicago had its eyes set on Russell Wilson, Trent Williams and Kenny Golladay this offseason. Instead, it ended up with Andy Dalton and Germain Ifedi while also cutting cornerback Kyle Fuller, the most valuable player they have had on the defensive side of the ball since 2017. Needless to say, it hasn’t been a stellar offseason for the Bears.

Dalton is coming off a year where he ranked 23rd at the position in PFF grade while filling in for Dak Prescott down in Dallas. He’s a modest upgrade with his manageable accuracy and decision-making, but his inability to push the ball downfield is going to keep this offense down in the basement of the NFL. Dalton ranked 30th in big-time throw rate this past season.

Historically speaking, Chicago’s quarterback situation has arguably been the worst of any franchise. Their best passers in the franchise’s history come down to Sid Luckman, Jim McMahon, Erik Kramer and Jay Cutler — that’s not a list to be proud of.

The Bears may have holes at wide receiver, along their offensive line and now on the defensive side of the ball, but they should be using whatever assets they have to move up in the 2021 NFL Draft to secure one of the top quarterbacks. They are in desperation mode.


CINCINNATI BENGALS: OL, WR, EDGE

The main goal for Cincinnati entering the offseason was to significantly upgrade the offensive line and make sure what happened to Joe Burrow in 2020 — the season-ending injury — never occurs again.

Only two spots were secure: left tackle (Jonah Williams) and center (Trey Hopkins). In response, the team signed Minnesota cap casualty Riley Reiff, who produced a 73.8 PFF grade and ranked 15th among all left tackles in pass-block snaps played per sack allowed (gave up just one in 2020). Considering what Cincy had at the position before signing Reiff, they’ll take that kind of average play any day of the week.

Following the signing, Zac Taylor publicly stated that Reiff will be playing right tackle and that Williams will stay on the left. While it doesn’t completely rule out Penei Sewell to Cincinnati with their No. 5 overall pick, it significantly improves the odds of them passing on the tackle for a prospect like wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase. And that is absolutely the avenue the franchise should pursue with that prime draft slot.

There are no clear negatives to his scouting report, and he does everything at a high level. He has the physicality and release package needed to handle press coverage right away in the NFL — he still ranks second among Power 5 receivers in 15-plus-yard receptions against press coverage since 2019 (28) despite not playing a single snap last year. Let’s not forget either that he and Burrow comprised arguably the best QB-WR connection college football has ever seen in LSU’s historic 2019 season. The duo connected for more deep completions (24), yards (860) and touchdowns (14) in 2019 than any other Power 5 connection in a single season since 2014.

Then, when Round 2 comes around, Cincy would ideally address the interior with a tackle-to-guard convert candidate like Alex Leatherwood. The 6-foot-6, 322-pounder doesn't cede much ground in a phone booth and boasts nightmarish length and strength. His physical traits showed up routinely in the run game, where he posted more big-time blocks than any Power 5 tackle in the country last season.

Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) rushes back to the locker room after beating the Pittsburgh Steelers in an NFL wild-card playoff football game, Sunday, Jan. 10, 2021, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. [Jeff Lange/Beacon Journal]

CLEVELAND BROWNS: EDGE, LB, DI

Cleveland now has one of the best rosters in the NFL. No, really.

There’s an argument to be made that they might challenge the reigning Super Bowl champions for having the best roster in the NFL after they secured the signings of safety John Johnson III and slot cornerback Troy Hill. If anything, Myles Garrett — the league’s fourth-highest-graded pass-rusher at the position last year — could use some help along the defensive front.

They did sign edge defender Takkarist McKinley, but he has been rather subpar throughout his NFL career. In his four years at the NFL level, McKinley ranks 62nd among 113 qualifying edge defenders in pass-rush grade.

Along with McKinley, Cleveland signed nine-year veteran interior defensive lineman Malik Jackson. He mainly served as a rotational piece along the Eagles’ loaded defensive front in 2020 and struggled against the run while providing some juice as a pass-rusher. Jackson ranked 10th at the position in pressure rate generated (11.3%) and cracked the top 25 in pass-rush grade (72.1).

I fully expect Cleveland to use its first-round pick on the best defensive lineman or off-ball linebacker available. Regardless of what they do with that pick, I’d look out for this Browns team in Year 2 of the Kevin Stefanski era. If we see the same Baker Mayfield we saw over the second half of last year, this team will be right behind the Chiefs in the AFC.


DALLAS COWBOYS: CB, S, EDGE, TE

The biggest reason why Dallas struggled in 2020 was the season-ending injury to Dak Prescott n Week 5, but the secondary certainly didn’t help matters, either. The group was among the worst in the NFL, ranking fourth-to-last in coverage grade and tying for the most 25-plus-yard touchdowns allowed.

The continued growth of 2020 second-round pick Trevon Diggs will be vital to their success in 2021, but so will be what the Cowboys do in this year’s draft. They hold the No. 10 overall pick and are in prime position to grab PFF’s CB1 Caleb Farley, who has all the physical tools desired for the position and was a lockdown corner at Virginia Tech.  He opted-out in 2020, but he posted an elite 90.5 coverage grade in his final collegiate season in 2019

The only question is, will any team snag Farley before he falls to the Cowboys at Pick 10? It looks unlikely that occurs as of now, but as we all know, anything can happen on draft day. If someone were to take Farley ahead of Dallas, it’d be Jerry Jones’ worst nightmare.


DENVER BRONCOS: QB, S

Denver simply cannot go into Week 1 of 2021 with Drew Lock as its starter. Lock has appeared in 18 games in his two-year NFL career and has come away with the league’s third-worst passing grade over that span (61.8). No quarterback has thrown a higher rate of uncatchable passes (28%) on throws beyond the line of scrimmage since 2019. Quarterback is in play for Denver with their No. 9 overall pick, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them trade up to secure their guy.

Outside of quarterback, Denver’s biggest need was cornerback entering the offseason. However, after they signed Ronald Darby, Denver received a cap-casualty gift to make this a nonissue.

Following the Bears’ release of Kyle Fuller, not even an hour passed before Denver head coach Vic Fangio and general manager George Paton swooped in to sign the corner. Fuller’s three best seasons of his NFL career have come with Fangio as his defensive coordinator in Chicago in 2015, 2017 and 2018 (missed 2016 due to injury). Fuller ranked 12th among all outside cornerbacks in coverage grade from 2015 through 2018.

Taking quarterback out of the equation, Denver boasts one of the more complete rosters in the NFL.


DETROIT LIONS: WR, Defense

When healthy, the Lions' wide receiver group easily ranks in the top 10 over the past few years, with Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones Jr. and Danny Amendola leading the way. All three of those players hit the open market this offseason, with none returning to Detroit. In replacement, the Lions opted to sign Breshad Perriman and Tyrell Williams in free agency.

This will be Perriman’s fifth team in five years, and he has been notoriously inconsistent throughout his NFL career. He has produced PFF grades of 44.4, 70.9, 72.8 and 63.1 over the past four seasons. As for Williams, he missed the entire 2020 campaign due to injury and failed to replicate his sophomore year success back in 2016. His receiving grade in his three seasons of action since 2017 ranks 90th among 137 qualifying wide receivers.

Detroit’s slot receiver, Geronimo Allison (opted out in 2020), ranks dead last among that group in that metric. The Lions need to use their No. 7 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft on one of the blue-chip receivers.


GREEN BAY PACKERS: WR, CB, LB

Davante Adams generated more than six times as much PFF WAR as any other receiver on Green Bay’s roster in 2020. Allen Lazard and Marquez Valdes-Scantling were the two most-targeted wide receivers after Adams, and each posted sub-70.0 receiving grades while ranking fifth- and sixth-to-last, respectively, in drop rate.

Aaron Rodgers hasn’t had two wide receivers crack the top 50 in PFF grade in any of the past four years. Instead of signing a solid WR2 in free agency for the reigning MVP, the Packers used what cap space they had to pay running back Aaron Jones. In order to take that next step forward and better its contention odds, Green Bay has to get Rodgers more weapons in the 2021 NFL Draft, assuming none become available via trade.

Dec 13, 2020; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) looks on before the game against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. Credit: Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

HOUSTON TEXANS: QB (probably), DL, WR

The outcome of the Deshaun Watson situation is going to alter the Texans’ franchise significantly for the coming years. At this point, all signs point to Watson — the third-highest-graded passer in 2020 — not playing another down in a Houston uniform.

It might be in Houston’s best interest to tank if it can't secure an early pick to put the team in position to take BYU’s Zach Wilson or Ohio State’s Justin Fields. The boatload of one- and two-year free agency deals the Texans handed out allude to a rebuild, and a Watson-less roster would put them in contention for the No. 1 overall pick in 2022. Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler is the frontrunner to be that first pick after he ranked second to only Mac Jones for highest passing grade in the Power Five in his first full season as starter in 2020 (92.5). If Watson is out for pennies on the dollar, Houston should consider this path.


INDIANAPOLIS COLTS: OT, EDGE, WR

Indy suffered a crushing loss to its top-tier offensive line with left tackle Anthony Castonzo‘s retirement. He had been the eighth-highest-graded left tackle in pass protection over the past three seasons. There are some veteran options available at the time of writing who could take over his starting job, such as Alejandro Villanueva or Eric Fisher, but I wouldn’t put it past the Colts for looking toward the draft for a long-term solution to the problem.

On defense, Indianapolis has a major hole along the edge. The team's group of edge defenders in 2020 ranked 25th in the NFL in combined pass-rush grade, and the Colts then lost their two most productive players at the position, Justin Houston and Denico Autry, in free agency.

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS: S, TE, OT

The Jaguars entered free agency with more cap space than any other NFL team, and they made the most of it by dishing out over 15 deals. But none were really a “splash” signing, and we are bearish on most of their moves — headlined by the four-year, $35 million contract for safety Rayshawn Jenkins. We projected Jenkins to receive a deal around one year, $3 million based on his career performance.

Back in 2019, when he played primarily free safety, Jenkins ranked 39th of 52 qualifiers in PFF grade when lined up deep. He then moved to a box role for the 2020 season, where he failed to crack the 50th percentile in PFF grade. Jenkins may be versatile, but that doesn’t mean he can play every position at a high level.

Regardless of the sentiment surrounding the Jenkins signing, the Jags still have a glaring need at safety. The good news is that they have a whole lot of draft capital in this upcoming draft and could be in a position to land PFF’s top safety prospect, Trevon Moehrig.


KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: OL, EDGE

Kansas City made a few surprising moves this offseason along its offensive line. The Chiefs decided to cut long-time starting tackles Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz. They also let left guard Joe Thuney walk and brought in the previously retired Kyle Long to start at right guard.

Thuney ranks as the fourth-highest-graded left guard over the past three years and should remain one of the better players at the position for the Chiefs. As for Long, he has some serious injury baggage. He played fewer than 600 snaps in each of his final four seasons before retiring for the 2020 season.

At his peak, though, Long can produce at a high level. In his first two seasons in the league, 2013 and 2014, he ranked eighth among right guards in pass-block grade. But can Long find that kind of success again in the NFL? It’s a risky bet for Kansas City, especially considering the fact the team has no one to play left tackle or center as of now.

It seems to be a near virtual lock that the Chiefs select an offensive lineman with their first-round selection.

LAS VEGAS RAIDERS: CB, S, OL

Jon Gruden publicly stated that Las Vegas is looking for veteran help in its secondary. Ever since he took over the Raiders' head coaching gig in 2018, their coverage unit has been among the worst in the NFL. In 2018, 2019 and 2020, the Raiders posted expected points added per pass play allowed marks that rank seventh-, 10th- and 13th-to-last among all pass defenses in the past decade.

So far this offseason, Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock have yet to address their secondary. There are still plenty of quality options on the open market at the time of writing, such as cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Casey Hayward Jr., both of whom have vast experience playing in Gus Bradley’s defense. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Las Vegas trade away or release backup quarterback Marcus Mariota to open up cap space for one or both of those guys.

Las Vegas opted to overhaul its offensive line prior to the start of the new league year by trading away tackle Trent Brown, guard Gabe Jackson and center Rodney Hudson. Considering that those three have protected Derek Carr quite well in recent years, those moves were surprising. Since 2019, Brown, Jackson and Hudson own pass-block grades above 76.0. Tackle Kolton Miller and guard Richie Incognito should hold the left side of the line down, but the other three spots aren’t looking too hot as of now.


LOS ANGELES CHARGERS: OL, CB

The Chargers did precisely what they needed to in free agency: attacking the offensive line. It was known that likely only one starter — Bryan Bulaga at right tackle — would return from last year’s squad that posted the second-worst combined PFF grade by an offensive line in the past decade (Bulaga finished only six whole games due to injury). Yes, it was that bad.

Los Angeles went out and signed center Corey Linsley, who posted the highest grade of anyone at the position last season for the Packers. On top of that, they signed the versatile Matt Feiler. After playing at right tackle in 2019 and posting the fifth-best pass-block grade at the position, Feiler kicked inside to left guard for 2020 and finished 12th in that same metric.

Even with those two signings, there is still work to be done. Rashawn Slater at the No. 13 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft to plug in at left tackle would be a dream scenario for the Chargers. From a technical standpoint, Slater looks ready to thrive at the NFL level, and his collegiate production and freakish athleticism should make the team very comfortable with taking him in Round 1.

In Slater's last college season, he earned a 90.0 PFF grade and allowed just five pressures over 11 games. Look beyond his arm length and overall size; Slater has all the fixings to be a quality starting tackle at the next level.

After the decision to cut long-time starter Casey Hayward Jr., the Chargers are also in need of a new starting cornerback. The best-case scenario for Los Angeles is either Northwestern's Greg Newsome II or Florida State's Asante Samuel Jr. in Round 2. Both fit the profile of corners Brandon Staley needs in his defense — athletic, instinctive and versatile.


LOS ANGELES RAMS: LB, C, CB

The Achilles' heel of the 2020 Rams’ defense that ranked No. 1 in EPA per play allowed was clearly the off-ball linebacker unit. That group ranked earned a bottom-five grade among its counterparts across the league. As the Rams showed last season, it’s a position a team doesn’t necessarily need to be good at to find defensive success, but it certainly helps. Los Angeles had limited cap space this offseason to address this issue, so I’d expect the franchise to hope a top coverage linebacker, such as Jabril Cox, slides to it at Pick No. 57 in the 2021 NFL Draft.

The Rams also currently have no one to play center after Austin Blythe, the 2020 starter, left for free agency. Blythe played all along the interior for the Rams in his four years with the team and was always better at guard as opposed to center. He ranks fourth-to-last in pass-block grade when playing center since 2018.

Creed Humphrey is a name Les Snead and Sean McVay should also be eyeing in the draft. Humphrey is fresh off a dominant Pro Day that featured 70th-plus percentile historical finishes among centers in all the major testing categories. This past season, Humphrey didn’t allow a single sack or hit across 401 pass-block snaps and ranked seventh among FBS centers in run-block grade. His physical profile, strong hands and great college production also make him an alluring option in Round 2 for the Rams.

Dec 20, 2020; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; New England Patriots defensive tackle Byron Cowart (99) grabs the jersey of Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (1) during the second half at Hard Rock Stadium. Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

MIAMI DOLPHINS: OL, DL

While Miami’s offensive line didn't match the ineffectiveness of the team's 2019 unit, it was still among the worst in the league in 2020. The unit combined for a PFF grade that ranked 27th among the 32 offensive lines, and all of the key contributors outside of center Ted Karras are set to return. In Karras’ replacement, Miami signed Matt Skura, who was benched in Baltimore during the 2020 season, finishing the year ranking third-to-last in PFF grade at the position.

The main goal for Miami in the 2021 NFL Draft should be to trade back and take the best offensive lineman on the board.


MINNESOTA VIKINGS: EDGE, OL, S

Minnesota’s set of edge defenders in 2020 ranked fifth-to-last among the 32 teams in pass-rush grade generated. Sure, this may have been without Danielle Hunter, who was hurt in 2020 and a top-10-graded player at the position in 2019, but he’s now looking for a trade and unlikely to play another down for the Vikings.

Minnesota decided to bring back Stephen Weatherly, a 2016 seventh-round pick of theirs, in free agency after he left in 2020 to play in Carolina, but he has yet to sniff good pass-rush production in his career. Weatherly hasn't finish a season with a pass-rush grade above 60.0.


NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: QB, WR, CB

It’s never good when a team’s three biggest needs are the three most valuable positions on the field. The cornerback situation is really contingent on whether the Patriots trade away star cornerback Stephon Gilmore, but it’s no longer a position of strength even if he stays.

Perhaps the most concerning aspect of the Patriots' current roster is their quarterback situation. At this point in Cam Newton’s career, it’s safe to say his ceiling is bottom-tier starter. He proved as much last season when New England finished 26th in EPA per pass play, by far the team's lowest ranking of the past decade. Newton had shaky accuracy and struggled to push the ball downfield, ranking 26th among 32 qualifying quarterbacks in percentage of accurate passes thrown beyond the line of scrimmage.

New England's splashy free agency doesn't guarantee they'll be better than last season. Some of the signings were overrated and could set the team up for quarterback purgatory.


NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: CB, WR, LB

New Orleans had to make some costly cuts this offseason in order to get under the cap. That included starting wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders and cornerback Janoris Jenkins. Their loss is a major concern for 2021.

Sanders was one of the 25 most productive wide receivers of the 2020 season in terms of yards generated per route run (1.99) and has been one of the 25 most valuable players at the position over the last three years. Tre’Quan Smith is the next man up, along with Michael Thomas, who has a career receiving grade of 64.1 and yards per route run average of 1.10.

At corner, New Orleans will eye the 2021 NFL Draft looking for a rookie to compete with Patrick Robinson, who will be 34 years old when the season starts. Robinson is three years into his second stint with the Saints, having played only 342 coverage snaps and posted a middling 62.8 coverage grade.


NEW YORK GIANTS: CB, EDGE, OL

Cornerback James Bradberry, whom New York signed last offseason, far exceeded expectations in his first year as a Giant by finishing as one of the five highest-graded outside corners in the game. Even with him on the roster, the Giants still only ranked 23rd in team coverage grade — that’s how bad the rest of the group was. The same can be said for their crop of edge defenders, as they ranked third-to-last in pass-rush grade last season.


NEW YORK JETS: CB, EDGE, iOL

The Jets were one of the big winners of 2021 free agency, bringing back safety Marcus Maye (fourth in PFF grade in 2020) and making big signings with wide receiver Corey Davis (eighth in PFF grade) and edge defender Carl Lawson (ninth in pass-rush grade). Along with those three key moves, New York made an underrated addition with the signing of Lamarcus Joyner, who will be playing safety in Robert Saleh’s defense as opposed to the slot in Las Vegas. Joyner was the fourth-highest-graded free safety in 2017 and 2018 with the Rams before moving to the slot with the Raiders, where he ranked dead last in coverage grade.

That said, the Jets still have some work to do, specifically at cornerback. Their outside corners produced the worst coverage grade in the NFL last season, and they still haven't brought in any reinforcements at the position.

Dec 20, 2020; Glendale, Arizona, USA; Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts (2) runs the ball in for a touchdown against the Arizona Cardinals during the second half at State Farm Stadium. Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: QB, WR, CB, LB

Philly has been on the decline ever since their Super Bowl LI win over the Patriots and are firmly in rebuild territory. Jalen Hurts is set to take over at quarterback, but that doesn’t mean the team shouldn’t keep looking for a franchise starter. Hurts proved he can do damage on the ground and make throws off structure that some can’t, but there are a lot of question marks around his game after he posted a poor 57.5 passing grade down the stretch in 2020. A dream scenario would be Justin Fields falling to Philadelphia at No. 6, but they should also be among the teams aggressively trying to trade up for him.

If the Eagles are against trading up and want to ride with only Hurts for 2021, wide receiver makes all the sense in the world. Their current group of wideouts is incredibly young and unproven. Philly’s wide receivers were dead last in receiving grade this past season and are set to roll out Greg Ward, Travis Fulgham, Jalen Reagor and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside as their main targets at the position for 2021. Since 2019, the most WAR generated among those four belongs to Ward and Fulgham at 0.14. For perspective, that barely cracks the top 100 at the position in that span.


PITTSBURGH STEELERS: QB, OL

The Steelers are heading into 2021 with Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback again, and that is not a good thing. There were signs of Big Ben declining back in 2018 when he earned a 75.2 passing grade, and he looked rough in his lone start in 2019 before suffering a season-ending elbow injury. Last season, the decline became more apparent. He had just one game with a PFF grade above 80.0 on the year and finished the season with a 69.0 mark (24th). His downfield passing was inconsistent, as he produced the sixth-worst uncatchable pass rate when targeting the sticks.

All that Pittsburgh can do at this point is to take a long shot on Day 2 on a prospect such as Kellen Mond, Jamie Newman or Davis Mills. Those three have really low floors but high ceilings for non-first-rounders. They're worth taking a shot on for a team that isn’t likely to have an early pick for a few years.


SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS: CB, S, WR/TE

San Francisco’s main goal was to retain left tackle Trent Williams after he posted the highest PFF grade at the position in 2020, and they were able to do so. Still, the resources allocated there forced them to neglect the secondary a bit. While they did retain cornerbacks Jason Verrett, Emmanuel Moseley and Dontae Johnson, they're likely to lose Richard Sherman, slot corner K’Waun Williams and safety Jaquiski Tartt. Trotting out Verrett, Moseley and Johnson is a bit of a risk for the Niners.

Verrett did finish as one of the 10 highest-graded corners in 2020, but he has one of the worst injury backgrounds of anyone in the game. Moseley is likely to take the other starting spot opposite Verett, and Johnson is likely to man the slot despite having experience on the outside. Either way, this is not an ideal scenario, as both corners have been hit-or-miss throughout their careers. Moseley has notched a career coverage grade of 62.2, while Johnson owns a 56.7 mark in his seven years.


SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: OL, DI, EDGE

It’s no secret that Russell Wilson is upset about the offensive line Seattle has put in front of him recently. But tackles Duane Brown and Brandon Shell actually performed quite well when it came to protecting Wilson in 2020. They each ranked eighth or higher among left (Brown) and right (Shell) tackles in pass-block grade. Brown’s playing days are almost over, as he turns 36 before Week 1, and we shouldn’t discount the notion that Shell’s 2020 was a one-hit wonder in a shortened season considering what his career was up until that point. On the interior, new guard Gabe Jackson has seen a declining or flat pass-block grade since entering the league in 2014, and 2020 third-round pick Damien Lewis struggled in pass-protection starting at right guard as a rookie.

Seattle’s pass-rush may be in rough shape, but it would be in their best interest to keep Wilson happy by investing in the offensive line in the 2021 NFL Draft. Wilson has been the league's most valuable quarterback since 2019 according to PFF WAR.

Feb 7, 2021; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) and tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) celebrate after beating the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV at Raymond James Stadium. Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS: DI

Tampa has no glaring need on the roster. They pulled off the inevitable and brought back their marquee free agents with little cap room to speak of. The roster is not perfect, but they should be entering the 2021 NFL Draft with the idea of taking the best player available on the board (really every team should). The best-case scenario for them in the draft is Alabama interior defensive lineman Christian Barmore, as that position isn’t as strong as others on their depth chart. Barmore comes in at No. 14 on PFF's board, but he is someone we're higher on than others.

Barmore was the unheralded superstar of the Crimson Tide’s CFP run, feasting on two of the best offensive lines in the country on the game's biggest stage. Against Notre Dame and Ohio State, Barmore picked up a 91.3 pass-rush grade, 12 total pressures and 10 defensive stops. With his build, flexibility and hand usage, Barmore has all the fixings to become a stud at the next level. Todd Bowles dialing up blitzes and stunts with Barmore, Vita Vea, Shaq Barrett and JPP would be a nightmare for opposing offensive lines.


TENNESSEE TITANS: WR, CB, OL

Tennessee has one of the league's rising stars at wide receiver in A.J. Brown, whose PFF receiving grade over his first two seasons ranks fifth at the position from 2019-20. He has been among the most productive receivers in that span with a staggering 2.66 yards per route run that trails only Michael Thomas. As good as Brown is, he can’t do it all himself.

Following the departures of wide receiver Corey Davis and tight end Jonnu Smith, the Titans’ best pass-catching weapon is arguably Nick Westbrook-Ikhine — a 2020 UDFA who caught just five passes as a rookie. In other words, they have a lot of work to do to ensure their passing attack doesn’t regress in 2021. Losing play-caller Arthur Smith, who is now Atlanta’s head coach, doesn’t help matters.

Tennessee overhauled its secondary this offseason, cutting cornerbacks Adoree’ Jackson and Malcolm Butler and allowing slot corner Desmond King II to walk in free agency. They did sign Saints cap casualty Janoris Jenkins to man one of the outside spots, and it's likely that 2020 second-round pick Kristian Fulton will take over the job opposite him.

Jenkins was actually a really good outside corner for the Saints in 2020, ranking 12th among 78 qualifiers in outside coverage grade. Fulton was one of our biggest steals of the 2020 NFL Draft, as he was our CB2 and No. 12 prospect overall. He played just over 200 snaps as a rookie and looked far better when playing his natural position on the outside. His coverage grade on the outside was 64.0, while his slot coverage grade sat at 48.5. This is a small sample, but it’s not a shock considering that he rarely took a snap inside at LSU.

Tennessee signed Kevin Johnson, but he has been an absolute roller coaster during his NFL career, bouncing between the slot and outside over the last four years. Johnson earned just a 34.0 coverage grade in 2017, then missed most of 2018 with an injury. He was better in 2019 with a 73.6 coverage grade, but that fell to 52.6 in 2020. In other words, he’s not someone Tennessee should be banking on.

They'll want to take a corner within the first few rounds of the 2021 NFL Draft.


WASHINGTON FOOTBALL TEAM: WR/TE, LB, OT

Washington entered free agency in dire need of receiving threats. Even with a top-25 receiver in terms of PFF grade on their hands — Terry McLaurin — in 2020, the team as a whole ranked dead last in receiving grade at the wide receiver and tight end positions. They picked up a dynamic WR in Curtis Samuel, who was actually teammates with McLaurin at Ohio State. Samuel had the best season of his NFL career in Joe Brady’s Carolina Panthers offense in 2020, posting a 77.0 PFF grade. He can win underneath, separate against single coverage when given the opportunity and — with the right quarterback — add value vertically with his speed.

Still, new quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick could use another pass-catching weapon for his arsenal. The good news is that this draft class is deep at wide receiver. Terrace Marshall Jr., Dyami Brown and Tylan Wallace would all make sense for Washington with their second-round selection.

Know tomorrow, today. Western Southern Financial Group.
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