The full madness of the NFL offseason is about to kick into full gear with the start of the 2018 league year on March 14, and the opening of free agency just around the corner right in the middle of everybody’s draft preparation. Both represent an excellent opportunity for each NFL team to address their biggest problems on paper, and allow them to enter the 2018 season in a much better position, chasing a championship.
Here is the biggest offseason question for every NFL team, and how they should answer it:
Question: What is their plan at quarterback?
The Bills have now been lukewarm in their approach to Tyrod Taylor under multiple regimes and they enter this offseason needing to finally make a decision about the most important position on the roster. It seems unlikely they will be rolling into the 2018 season with Taylor as their starter, but they have yet to uncover a better option.
The solution: The Bills are seen as a likely player for a quarterback in the draft, but if they have truly decided that Taylor is not the answer, there are free agent options out there, this year more than others. Sam Bradford has some excellent play under his belt over recent seasons, but injuries are a major concern. Ultimately, Taylor is likely their best option once again.
Question: Is Ryan Tannehill the future at quarterback?
The Dolphins enter an offseason in which they need to decide if Ryan Tannehill is going to be this team’s franchise quarterback long-term. They were without him all of 2017, and they saw him take steps backwards in his development the years before that. While Tannehill doesn’t have a lot of help around him, he certainly doesn’t look like he has the talent to be a star passer, with just one overall PFF grade higher than 85.0 over his career.
The solution: Miami is in position in the draft (11th overall) to snag a first-round quarterback and potentially even pounce on one of the top prospects if they begin to slip. Baker Mayfield is the No. 1 player on PFF’s big board, but could slip in the draft because he doesn’t stand much above 6-foot tall. If he slips to Miami, he could transform the franchise. He owns the best two single-season college grades we have given a quarterback.
Question: Who becomes the new heir in waiting?
Tom Brady saw both of his backups traded away in 2017, and at north of 40 years old, the Patriots need a future again at the position. Brady, remarkably, has been playing his best football in recent years and once again led the league in overall PFF grade at 95.5, almost 7.0 grading points higher than the next best passer.
The solution: The Patriots are unlikely to go after a quarterback in the first round of the draft given that they pick 31st, so they will again be looking to the mid rounds for Brady’s backup and successor. Richmond’s Kyle Lauletta would make a lot of sense, as would Western Kentucky’s Mike White, who posted two solid seasons of PFF grades despite adjusting to a new offense in 2017. He posted the 11th-highest PFF grade in the draft class on third and fourth down situations, and the seventh-lowest turnover worthy play percentage. He also had an excellent Senior Bowl game.
Question: Who is going to protect the quarterback?
Sure, the Jets need a solution at quarterback, but they also need a complete overhaul of one of the worst offensive lines in the league. They had eight linemen with 100 or more snaps in 2017, and none of them earned strong grades over the season, with the highest grade of the entire group coming from Kelvin Beachum (72.7). The Jets once had one of the league’s better offensive lines, and the quarterback they find won’t have a chance unless they start heading back in that direction.
The solution: The Jets have more salary cap space than any team in the league outside of Cleveland and could be legitimate players in free agency as well as in the draft for linemen. They should be chasing after Kirk Cousins, but they could make his life a lot easier by going hard after Andrew Norwell at the same time. Norwell didn’t allow a sack or a hit all last season and surrendered just 13 total hurries.
Question: Where do the Ravens find an elite receiver?
As much as Joe Flacco‘s play has plunged into the depths of being a real problem for the offense, the contract he sits on makes him untouchable for a while more, so the team needs to focus on the players he is throwing to. Baltimore hasn’t had a top-level receiver in years, and they need to get back to having weapons that can scare teams.
The solution: Oklahoma State’s James Washington is one of a few receivers this season that could become a true No. 1 star. He isn’t the biggest receiver in the world, but plays with impressive strength and speed. Washington was a monster during the Senior Bowl practices and earned the top receiver grades against both press and off-coverage in 1-on-1 drills.
Question: How do they fix the offensive tackles?
Cincinnati’s offensive line was a problem on paper heading into the season, and it proved to be the case once they got on the field too, leading to multiple personnel changes on the coaching side of things. Cedric Ogbuehi, Andre Smith and Jake Fisher combined to surrender 83 total pressures over the season, and only Smith was able to offset that with some kind of run-blocking positivity. They need to protect Andy Dalton better, because he isn’t the kind of elite quarterback that can consistently overcome bad pass protection.
The solution: The free agent tackle group is terrible this season with the only quality starter possibly not even going to make it as far as the open market, so the Bengals must turn to the draft. Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey makes a huge amount of sense for them in the first round. He was a dominant run-blocker and while he did lose a little too much as a pass-blocker, he allowed just 50 total pressures over the past three seasons of play.
Question: Can Cleveland finally find their franchise quarterback?
The Browns quarterback woes are legendary, and they have consistently failed to find a viable NFL starter effectively since their return to the NFL as a franchise. DeShone Kizer was taken last season in the second round because his physical tools represented too good a value to pass up at that point, but they were never going to be married to him barring an outstanding rookie year. Kizer’s overall PFF grade was just 51.0, good for 37th in the league, ahead of only Brock Osweiler and Blaine Gabbert.
The solution: This is a momentous decision for Cleveland as a franchise. They have the No 1 and No. 4 overall picks in the draft, and their pick of a number of wildly diverse quarterbacks when it comes to style and skillset. Every bit of data PFF has says that Baker Mayfield is the best quarterback in this class, and that he can do things the others in the group can only achieve on their best days. He led the NCAA in passer rating under pressure for each of the past three seasons, but to pick him, the Browns would have to look past the fact that he is just 6-foot tall and 215-pounds.
Question: Can the Steelers patch up their back seven?
Pittsburgh has a solid roster all around, but they have some underwhelming performers in the secondary in particular, which now looks like their biggest problem area along with the linebacker group. Pittsburgh’s defense plays more zone coverage than any other unit in the league, but players like Sean Davis in the secondary and the linebackers up front just haven’t been able to prevent receptions and make plays on the ball within that scheme. They need an injection of some capable coverage players.
The solution: The Steelers don’t have a lot of salary cap space to play with, so free agency may be a reach for them to address their coverage woes. Green Bay’s Morgan Burnett could replace Davis in their defense and would be a big upgrade, but he could be a stretch financially. If they need to turn to the draft, West Virginia’s Kyzir White would be a very interesting addition. White had three picks, three pass breakups and didn’t allow a touchdown last season from 40 targets in the Mountaineers 3-3-5 defense.
2018 Free Agency
Question: Can they improve on the game’s worst offensive line?
That much shouldn’t be hard – the only way to go is up – but how much they can improve it in one offseason is perhaps the better question to ask. The Texans surrendered a league-high 252 total pressures as an offensive line in 2017 and their pass-blocking efficiency score of 67.2 was comfortably at the bottom-end of the league, some way off the worst teams in the league. Nobody on the line earned an overall grade higher than 50.0.
The solution: Houston needs to attack the offensive line on multiple fronts this offseason. They have a lot of cap space, but the free agent crop of linemen is not strong. Carolina’s Andrew Norwell is the star, but Justin Pugh from the Giants is a very good player with the versatility to play guard or tackle. In the draft, Connor Williams from Texas may be the best left tackle prospect available when they pick. Williams allowed just 26 total pressures across three seasons of grading.
Question: Can the Colts secure a No. 1 corner?
In truth, Andrew Luck is the biggest offseason question in Indianapolis, but absent any medical training and intimate details of his recovery, I’m in no position to dive into that one. Instead, the Colts need to find a top cover corner to add to last year’s rookie pick Malik Hooker and to continue the rejuvenation of that secondary. Rashaan Melvin played impressively for half the season in 2017 before getting hurt, but he came out of largely nowhere and is slated to hit free agency.
The solution: The Colts have upwards of $70 million in salary cap space, so they could make a splash in free agency. They could re-sign Melvin and still go after a big player like New England’s Malcolm Butler, getting some measure of revenge for Josh McDaniels spurning them at the eleventh hour. Butler was sensationally benched in the Super Bowl after suffering through a rough year, but he had been threatening All-Pro status the season before and has big play ability. Butler has eight interceptions and 40 pass breakups over the past three seasons, including the playoffs.
Question: Does the team keep Allen Robinson in town?
A couple of seasons ago, Allen Robinson looked like one of the best up and coming receivers in the league. He had 672 yards and 19 receptions – both league-leading marks – on deep (20-plus air yards) passes that year and looked like a star despite having Blake Bortles as his quarterback. The following year, though, his play fell off a cliff, as did that of Bortles, and then he lasted just three snaps in 2017 before injuring his knee and being shut down for the season. The Jaguars did well this season without their best receiver on paper and Robinson is now scheduled to hit free agency.
The solution: With the success the team had in 2017 without Robinson, and given how highly in the free agent receiver class Robinson ranks, the Jaguars may decide he isn’t worth the financial investment. They have around $30 million of cap space, but any significant contract for Robinson would eat into that quickly, and it has now been two full years since they saw his best play. They are in a position to keep him around long-term, but perhaps the smartest play is to franchise tag him and see what 2018 brings.
Question: Can Tennessee find a pass-rusher for the future?
Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan are both getting on in years, and while Orakpo graded well and earned nine sacks, Morgan’s grade began to slip in a major way despite still generating some pressure. Morgan’s overall PFF grade was 74.8, down 4.0 grading points from a season ago, and more than 10.0 points shy of his career best mark back in 2012. That pair combined for very respectable 110 total pressures over the season, but Morgan at least appears to be declining, and the team needs to get younger at the position.
The solution: Marcus Davenport from UTSA is an athletic monster and has the potential to develop into one of the game’s best pass-rushers. He improved his grade each season of his college career, ending with an overall mark of 89.6, and while he struggled early at the Senior Bowl, he settled in and was dominating by the end of the week. If that kind of adjustment happened at the NFL level, we could see him provide the kind of edge rush the Titans need just when they need it most.
Question: Can Denver find a quarterback?
The Broncos looked like they might contend early in 2017 with Trevor Siemian just playing average football, but when his play fell apart, so did the team’s hope of hanging with the best teams in the league. Siemian showed he is a backup at best and Paxton Lynch hasn’t come close to dislodging him as a starter. The Broncos are in desperate need of a legitimate starting quarterback, because the rest of this roster is still very capable of winning in 2018.
The solution: The Broncos are expected to be strong contenders for Kirk Cousins‘ signature in free agency, but given the kind of contract Cousins can command, they may simply not have the ammunition to make that happen with just $24 million in cap space. Even with massaging the cap, Denver may struggle to free up the kind of space they would need to make that deal happen. Case Keenum could be an interesting consolation prize though. He is coming off a season with the Vikings that earned him an overall PFF grade of 85.3, just 0.1 grading point below the best mark of Cousins’ career (85.4). Keenum was legitimately impressive for the Vikings this season and would have been more than good enough for Denver to win games with the rest of their roster.
Question: Can they cover anybody anymore?
When Kansas City secured Kendall Fuller as part of the Alex Smith trade, it looked like they were getting their secondary on track. Fuller had an overall PFF grade of 90.0 in 2017, allowed a passer rating of just 56.7 when targeted and looked like a player that could finally give them a solid starter opposite Marcus Peters. Of course, they then traded away Marcus Peters, a dynamic playmaking corner who impacts the ball in the air more than any other corner in the game. Peters had 19 interceptions and 34 pass breakups as a Chief including his playoff games, but now they are back to needing more capable starting play at the position.
The solution: The Chiefs don’t have money to play with in free agency, so they’re going to have to target the draft for their needs. The play man coverage on 51 percent of their snaps, one of the highest rates in the league, so they are looking at specific types of players. Ohio State’s Denzel Ward is a coverage stud, and a player with extensive experience in man coverage, but he may be gone by the time the Chiefs pick. Carlton Davis from Auburn could be the most natural fit in that defense. He allowed just 49.1 percent of passes thrown his way to be caught in 2017 and had eight games in which he allowed fewer than 20 receiving yards. At over 6-foot, 200-pounds, he also ticks the measurable boxes.
Question: Can they improve the O-line (again)?
The perennial question facing the Chargers seems to be can they improve their offensive line, in particular their pass protection for Philip Rivers as he faces the final seasons of his career. The Chargers surrendered 188 total pressures as an offensive line in 2017 and had the 25th-best pass-blocking efficiency score in the league (78.6). Only Russell Okung was able to grade relatively well in pass protection while surrendering just 24 total pressures over the season.
The solution: Just getting Forrest Lamp healthy should be an immediate boost to this offensive line. Lamp went down injured before the season and they never got to see the impact one of their top draft choices could have. Lamp allowed just four total pressures in 2016 playing tackle for western Kentucky, and 30 total pressures across his final three seasons of college play. If Lamp was paired with a new addition in the draft, particularly at center where Frank Ragnow of Arkansas would make a lot of sense, they could dramatically improve. Ragnow has graded exceptionally well and should be a far better player than measurable profile.
Question: Can the Raiders rediscover their 2016 form on offense?
The Raiders were a late-season Derek Carr injury away from being a real contender in 2016, and if anything, they looked stronger on paper heading into 2017, but things unraveled quickly and the team struggled badly for much of the year. The offensive line was still impressive in pass protection, surrendering just 133 total pressures, the third-fewest in the league, but Carr, Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree among others all struggled to produce any kind of consistent play.
The solution: The Raiders made a huge coaching move and finally lured Jon Gruden out of the commentary booth and back onto the sideline. Gruden will install a new offensive approach, and will be hitting the ground running after a decade away. One thing that needs to change is that passing scheme. Carr ran play action on just 14.0 percent of passing plays, the third-fewest in the league, and he had the fastest average time to throw. Gruden needs to make that passing attack a little more diverse and deceptive than it was in 2017 and hope to rediscover the talent of some weapons that looked like stars in the making.
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Question: Will Dallas look to life beyond Dez Bryant?
Dez Bryant has reportedly played hurt for some time for Dallas and that would certainly explain some of the drop-off in production and grade, but we are now three seasons removed from his most dominant play, and at times in 2017, his best plays were when he turned into a defensive back to break up potential interceptions. As talented as Bryant is, that Dallas offense has been without the No. 1 gamebreaker they need as a receiver for some time. Bryant could bounce back when fully healthy, but the team may be better served looking for his replacement now and trying to ease a transition in 2018.
The solution: Dallas picks 19th in the draft, which could give them a choice of receivers in a draft that isn’t graced with stars. Alabama’s Calvin Ridley is the most explosive athlete of the group and could provide that fear factor that this passing game has been missing for a while. Ridley caught 53.3 percent of the deep targets thrown his way in 2017 and gained 361 yards on eight catches from 20-plus air-yard passes.
Question: Who replaces Torrey Smith?
The Eagles roster is pretty well stacked and the big question for them going forward is how much of it can they retain, but one obvious place to upgrade is at wide receiver opposite Alshon Jeffery, where Torrey Smith’s deep threat can be improved upon. Over the regular season, Smith dropped three deep targets compared to catching just five, leading the league in drop rate on those passes targeted 20-plus yards downfield. At times he seemed more productive simply as a decoy and as a way of keeping defenses honest.
The solution: The Eagles have no cap space to play with, and are actually significantly over the cap right now as things stand. Any improvement here will come from the draft and LSU WR D.J. Chark could be the kind of speedy threat to do that. Chark had 14 receptions on deep passes in 2017, the third-most in the draft class and his target rate on those deep balls was one of the highest in the nation as well. He can run past defenders in a heartbeat and provide the kind of threat that Smith does, only without the drops.
Question: Who is Eli Manning’s successor?
The Eli Manning situation was mishandled in 2017, but the idea that the Giants needed to look at the players behind him on the depth chart was not wrong. That Davis Webb never saw the field was perhaps the biggest mistake of that whole saga, and now the Giants need to decide if he has any hope as a future starter, or if they need to turn to the draft and skip over Webb without ever giving him a chance at becoming the heir to Manning. Even in preseason, Webb only saw 53 snaps, grading terribly from 34 attempts despite three drops from his receivers.
The solution: The Giants won’t get a better chance to draft Eli Manning’s successor than this year, where their disastrous season at least earned them the No. 2 pick in the draft. With the Browns likely taking a quarterback at pick No. 1, the Giants will have their pick of the remaining options. UCLA’s Josh Rosen in many ways is an Eli Manning clone, with a high-variance to his play but the ability to go on a run that leads his team to the promise land. He posted the highest grade of the draft class on intermediate throws and ranked eighth in big-time throw percentage at 5.72. He could be the perfect heir to Manning.
Question: Can they give Alex Smith the receivers to be successful?
2017 saw Washington’s receiving corps take a major step back from the season before. Having been rebuilt on paper, it just wasn’t nearly as productive, with flop seasons from free agent Terrelle Pryor and Josh Doctson doing little more than flashing talent in his first healthy year. With a new quarterback in town, the Redskins need to give Alex Smith the weapons to maintain his aggressive streak of play.
The solution: Washington has money to spend in free agency, but this crop of free agents isn’t great at receiver. If Allen Robinson hits the open market they could be players for his signature, but after that there isn’t really another available receiver that can make a significant dent. The draft does have some interesting options and Michael Gallup from Colorado State could be a real underappreciated star. Gallup had the highest overall PFF grade of any receiver in this class (92.0) and continued to impress at the Senior Bowl against elite competition.
Question: Who is Trubisky going to throw to?
The Chicago Bears have their quarterback of the future and their offensive line is in pretty good shape, but now they need somebody for him to throw to because as things stand, he may have the worst receiving corps in the game. Their recent attempts to address the position have underwhelmed, and injuries dealt blows to the group. Kendall Wright led the team in both targets and receptions among wide outs, but despite that he gained just 193 yards after the catch and didn’t have a catch longer than 22 yards all season.
The solution: The Bears have money to spend in free agency, and will be all over Allen Robinson if he makes it onto the market. They could also be interested in Jarvis Landry if the Dolphins are trying to trade him after applying the franchise tag. Landry is a polarizing player, but he is exceptionally productive as a slot receiver. In 2017, he led the league in slot receptions (68), and the year before that, he gained 100 more yards from an inside alignment than any other receiver. He may be a role player, but it’s a role Chicago could use, in addition to other help.
Question: Will Detroit run the ball more?
The Lions are one of the few teams in the league perfectly prepared to put the ball in the hands of their quarterback almost every down. They passed on 63 percent of their snaps in 2017, the second-most in the league, after having had the third-highest pass rate the season before. The more research done, the more this actually looks like the most statistically sound approach, but it does lead to the endless question of whether they will run the ball more or whether they can find a bellcow running back.
The solution: The Lions pick 20th in the first round, and likely won’t target a back in the first round, but they could potentially find a quality player at the position in the lower rounds who can still provide value as a receiver. San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny has as complete a skill set as any back in this draft and broke 80 tackles last season. He could become an every down back for them and give them more versatility on offense without compromising their skills at the running back position as a receiving option.
Question: Can the Packers find capable cornerback play?
Green Bay’s secondary fell apart from the 2015 season in which they looked like they had the makings of one of the best young secondaries in the game. Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins both regressed badly and surrendered another five touchdowns in 2017. Davon House allowed another three, with Josh Hawkins coughing up six. Kevin King flashed potential as a rookie, but still allowed a passer rating of 102.9 when thrown at and gave up a pair of scores himself. The Packers secondary needs an injection of solid play.
The solution: The Packers don’t have a lot of spending room in free agency, but could target a mid-level free agent like Prince Amukamara, who consistently plays to a solid level when he is on the field. Rashaan Melvin played like a Pro-Bowler for half of the 2017 season before going down injured, and he could be a boom or bust prospect. In the draft, the first round could see them go after a ballhawk like Iowa’s Josh Jackson, who allowed an NFL passer rating of just 35.9 when targeted in 2017.
Question: Who plays quarterback?
The Vikings head into free agency with all three of their top quarterbacks slated to hit the open market. Sam Bradford, Case Keenum and Teddy Bridgewater have all played impressively for the team at one point or another, but they have yet to tie any of them down. Bradford is a durability nightmare at this point, but he actually owns the highest single-season PFF grade of the group (86.2). Keenum was excellent this season, but 2017 is an outlier compared to the rest of his career, and Bridgewater is the biggest unknown factor because of just how catastrophic his knee injury was.
The solution: Though the Vikings have been said to want to make a strong push for Kirk Cousins, and they are one of the few teams with the cap space to make that happen, there isn’t enough of a gap between Cousins and the players they already have in-house to make that contract worth it. They should try to tie down Case Keenum to as team-friendly of a contract as they can, bring back Bridgewater and let those two compete to win the job. The franchise tag for Keenum makes the most sense, but the team has already said they won’t use it on him.
2018 NFL Draft
Question: Can they finally patch up the weakness at right guard?
The Atlanta Falcons have struggled badly at right guard for a couple of seasons now, and it has been a bad enough issue that they have been forced to completely change game plans, even mid-game, as was the case in the playoffs against Aaron Donald and the Rams. The combination of Wes Schweitzer and Ben Garland surrendered 46 total pressures in the regular season, which would have led the league if they were a single player, and this occurred just one season after Chris Chester did lead the league with 45 pressures given up.
The solution: This is a good draft to finally address this problem, and while they won’t be in a position to snag the best guard prospect in years – Notre Dame’s Quenton Nelson – they should have a chance to pick up a local prospect in Georgia’s Isaiah Wynn. Wynn was a tackle for the Bulldogs, but projects inside at the NFL level. Despite being relatively undersized for a tackle, he allowed just five total pressures all season and only 26 for his college career. He showed well at the Senior Bowl and would plug up the hole on that offensive line.
Question: Will the Panthers target some receivers that can just get open?
Cam Newton is a unique quarterback. He is an inaccurate passer in the broader sense of the word, and has ranked 32nd or worse in each of the past two seasons in PFF’s adjusted completion percentage. He led the league in 2017 in overthrown passes, with 45 going high of his receivers and in the past, the Panthers have tried to combat that first by surrounding him with giant receiving options and then by shortening the passes they ask him to make. He is among the most inaccurate passers on those shorter plays though, and the next option might be to just look for the best receivers they can find at getting open.
The solution: Oklahoma State’s James Washington has the ability to torch defensive backs and make plays all over the field. He led the nation with 815 yards on deep passes in 2017, and ranked second in deep touchdowns with eight. He also ranked fourth in the nation in yardage on contested catch situations, scoring three times on those plays. Washington dominated at the Senior Bowl when he faced elite competition all week, and he could be the No. 1 receiver the Panthers have been missing for years.
Question: Who becomes heir to Drew Brees?
Whether Drew Brees re-signs with the Saints or not, the team needs to start identifying the future at the position. Brees is still playing at an excellent level, and is leaned upon less than he ever has been given the roster around him. His play has begun to slowly slip from his very best performances, and his overall PFF grade of 88.6 represents his second consecutive season under 90.0.
The solution: The Saints are unlikely to be chasing a quarterback in the first round of the draft and even if they were, the top prospects will all likely be taken by the point they select. If they are targeting a guy lower down in the draft though, one of the most intriguing names they could all would be Richmond’s Kyle Lauletta. Despite playing in the FCS, we graded all of his games after seeing his impressive Senior Bowl performance, and he earned one of the top grades in the country. His accuracy on fade routes in Mobile was nothing short of incredible and he could be a very real successor to Brees for the Saints.
Question: Who brings the pass-rush?
The Buccaneers have been trying to add weaponry to their defensive front for a number of years to make that unit more than just Gerald McCoy and assistants. Noah Spence flashed as a rookie at defensive end, but played just 246 snaps in Year 2 and generated only 12 total pressures on those plays. Robert Ayers has been solid if unspectacular for years, and the team desperately needs a legitimate edge rusher that can apply heat on opposing quarterbacks.
The solution: The Bucs have plenty of money to spend, but free agency has a horrific crop of edge rushers to spend it on, so the team likely turns to the draft again, unless DeMarcus Lawrence somehow escapes the franchise tag in Dallas. The Bucs pick high enough in the draft that they could have their pick of edge rushers, and the player with the most spectacular upside is Boston College’s Harold Landry. He is coming off an ugly 2017, but the season before he was staggeringly productive, with 69 total pressures from 322 pass-rushing snaps. He could be the most explosive pass-rusher in the draft.
Question: Who is their new quarterback?
Bruce Arians and Carson Palmer both retired following the season, leaving the team with a new head coach (Steve Wilks) and a new quarterback, but they are yet to find the latter. The only thing for sure is that the answer is not already on the roster, as we saw extensive evidence of what was there once Palmer went down for the season. The Cardinals do at least have some receiving weapons, and a returning David Johnson to help, but their offensive line won’t be the friend of any new quarterback.
The solution: The Cardinals don’t have a huge amount of money to play with in free agency (they won’t be Kirk Cousins suitors), but they could be players for the next tier of available passers, of which there are a plethora of options. Any of the Vikings free agents have all shown the ability to start and perform well, even under pressure, and could easily serve as a bridge quarterback to a draft pick. If the Cardinals shoot for a rookie as well, Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph is a very intriguing prospect who likely needs an adjustment period. Rudolph posted three-straight seasons of a PFF grade of 90.0 or higher.
Question: Can they continue the improvement on the O-line?
The additions of veterans Andrew Whitworth at left tackle and John Sullivan at center completely transformed this offensive line and laid the bedrock for them to build much of the growth of the 2017 season upon, but Whitworth is 36 years old and Sullivan is scheduled to be a free agent and no spring chicken himself even if he is brought back. The team needs to add some young, quality starters to that unit to prevent it going backwards.
The solution: Bringing back Sullivan makes a lot of sense given his play for them in 2017. He allowed just 15 total pressures all season and run-blocked well, and likely won’t have a huge market given his age and injury history. They could also stand an upgrade at both guard spots and a player like UTEP’s Will Hernandez could be a monster for them. His 95.2 overall grade in 2016 was the highest single-season grade we have ever given to a guard and he was able to hold up pretty well even in pass protection at the Senior Bowl against elite competition.
Question: Can the 49ers find edge rush to go with their 3-tech interior players?
When the team drafted Solomon Thomas a year ago, many raised the question of how their three first-round draft picks would all fit together in the same defensive front given they all appeared to be more or less the same player. The answer was that Thomas was shunted outside to act as an edge rusher while Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner played inside. Thomas struggled, generating just 30 total pressures from 401 pass-rushing snaps, and the team now needs a legitimate edge rusher to man that outside pressure.
The solution: Even Jimmy Garoppolo’s winning streak could only drag the 49ers to a 6-10 record on the season, which will give them either the ninth or 10th overall pick (coin flip pending). That could give them the complete group of edge rushers to choose from in this draft. They could go with Bradley Chubb in Round 1, or if he really slips in the draft due to his various red flags, there may be no better talent than LSU’s Arden Key. Key had 138 total pressures and 62 defensive stops over his past three seasons and 1,554 snaps, which is elite production.
Question: Will Seattle hit on an O-lineman?
The Seahawks have had one of the worst-performing offensive lines in the league for years now and while they have addressed it in spots, it hasn’t been nearly enough. Adding Duane Brown at left tackle in a mid-season trade was inspired. He had a monster impact, but any of the other four spots could be upgraded by hitting with a draft pick. Over the season, only the Cardinals and Texans surrendered more than the 209 total pressures the Seahawks managed, and that’s with Brown improving the unit for the second half of the year.
The solution: The Seahawks likely don’t have a shot at Quenton Nelson, the best offensive line prospect in the draft, given they pick 18th, but they could have a real chance at any of the next 4-5 players across the various offensive line positions. Isaiah Wynn from Georgia might be the best schematic fit, and a player that could immediately solidify one of their guard spots and prevent Russell Wilson coming under quite as much pressure as he typically faces.