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Biggest draft need for each NFL team following free agency

Apr 28, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; A general view as Carson Wentz (North Dakota State) is selected by the Philadelphia Eagles as the number two overall pick in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft at Auditorium Theatre. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Anderson-USA TODAY Sports

NFL free agency helped teams fill some needs, but the best teams build their rosters through the draft on a consistent basis. With that in mind, we’re going to take a walk through every single team’s biggest need following the recent free agent frenzy.

What do the Denver Broncos need to focus on now that they have Case Keenum under center? How about the Minnesota Vikings, who landed the biggest fish of them all in Kirk Cousins?

We already know what the Buffalo Bills and Cleveland Browns need to do, even though both teams did some work to shore up their biggest area of need in free agency.

Here’s a look at what every team needs to focus on the most now that most of the top free agents have signed.

Dallas Cowboys: Defensive line

DeMarcus Lawrence is the only solid edge rusher on Dallas’ roster right now. And at this point it’s unclear if he’s going to be a long-term answer, having produced at a high level in just two of his four NFL seasons thus far thanks to back surgeries and a suspension. The Cowboys have a dynamic interior rusher in David Irving for at least another year, too, after using a second-round tender. Maliek Collins has shown some promise as well but to this point hasn’t been anything more than a complementary player.

The Cowboys have struggled to draft defensive linemen that can make an impact and stick around. Because of that, this team is lacking depth and impact players across the line aside from the three mentioned above. If the team’s young secondary is going to take another step in the right direction in 2018, then Jerry Jones and Co. need to fix this situation quickly.

New York Giants: Offensive line

The Giants had to make a big move in free agency to shore up their offensive line. But boy, did they overpay for Nate Solder, who was the best offensive tackle available but who is hardly an elite pass protector. Even assuming Solder does a bang-up job protecting Eli Manning’s blind side in 2018, the rest of the offensive line is still a huge question mark.

Justin Pugh was one of the team’s better players on offense last year, but he’s signed with the Arizona Cardinals now. Center Weston Richburg is now with the San Francisco 49ers. Both of New York’s guard spots are at this point just massive holes that need to be filled, and Ereck Flowers has in no way locked up the right tackle spot. Needless to say, general manager Dave Gettleman has his work cut out.

Philadelphia Eagles: Cornerback

There aren’t many big issues facing the defending Super Bowl champs, who have a young roster overall, a ferocious (and upgraded) defensive line, a franchise quarterback who has weapons and protection up front, and a young head coach who obviously knows his business.

The one area that needs shoring up is on the defensive side of the ball, namely at the cornerback position. Sidney Jones is healthy after missing most of his first season with an Achilles injury, so he’ll help out. But with the departure of Patrick Robinson to New Orleans, the team needs a guy who can take over as the slot specialist. Jones isn’t that guy — he’s much more suited to play outside. So if Philly can land a quick, aggressive cornerback early in the draft who can start from Day 1, Jones can play outside and take over for Robinson in the starting lineup.

Washington Redskins: Linebacker

Re-signing Zach Brown was tremendously important for Washington. Had he left in free agency, then this defense would be in even worse shape at the all-important linebacker position. Even with Brown coming back, the cupboard is extremely bare at this position for the Redskins.

Junior Galette is still a free agent. Trent Murphy signed with the Buffalo Bills. Will Compton, who has been a solid starter when healthy, is also still a free agent. Preston Smith and Ryan Kerrigan are both solid edge rushers at outside linebacker, but aside from them there just isn’t much reliable talent on the roster at this time.

Buffalo Bills: Quarterback

AJ McCarron is not the answer in Buffalo, and the Bills know it. He’s a shaky bridge, at best, and his contract suggests the Bills signed him to be a backup to whichever rookie quarterback they land. At this point the only quarterback on Buffalo’s roster is Nathan Peterman, who is famous for throwing five interceptions in one half of play last year.

The Bills are rumored to be in the market to move up into the top five of the upcoming draft. And after the New York Jets traded up to No. 3 on Saturday, they might have to move up into the top two to land the quarterback they desire. The Bills have all the draft capital needed to make such a jump, and it’s going to be fascinating to see what the franchise does to find its long-term solution at this key position.

Miami Dolphins: Defensive tackle

It could be argued that the Dolphins need to upgrade their offensive line just as much as their defensive line. Especially if Ryan Tannehill (with his twice-injured knee) is going to be the long-term starter. That said, Miami’s defense was just as much a problem as its offense last year, and now it has a gigantic hole in the middle after releasing Ndamukong Suh for salary-cap reasons.

Jordan Phillips has failed to develop into an impact player to this point in his career. Davon Godchaux and Vincent Taylor aren’t starter-caliber players, either. There’s been a lot of chatter about Miami potentially taking a quarterback in the first round. But the Dolphins might be better served by selecting an elite defensive tackle early, then looking for a backup to Tannehill a bit later in the draft.

New England Patriots: Offensive tackle

Nate Solder is gone. Cameron Fleming, who started eight games last year in the place of Marcus Cannon, is still a free agent and has a visit lined up with the Dallas Cowboys. Tom Brady needs protection, and he needs it now.

The problem is that there is a dearth of elite talent at the offensive tackle position in this year’s draft. There are some players who could become terrific, and it’s possible UCLA’s Kolton Miller is a Solder clone in the long run. But no matter how you slice it the Patriots are going to be working with less than they did last year at this key position. And Brady’s not getting any younger, folks.

New York Jets: Quarterback

The Jets' quarterback situation is laughable. Bryce Petty

Some aren’t excited about how the Jets approached the quarterback position to this point. I’m not among that group, as it seems clear bringing a rookie into a quarterback room with Teddy Bridgewater and Josh McCown is extremely smart. And make no mistake about it, the Jets are drafting a quarterback in the first round.

That said, New York gave up a ton of capital to move up three spots, and the Jets could be looking at a situation during the draft where they have to settle for a guy the Cleveland Browns and Giants didn’t want. It’s going to be fascinating to see how things unfold for Gang Green, which hasn’t had a true franchise passer in decades.

Chicago Bears: Offensive line

General manager Ryan Pace wasted no time providing offensive weapons for quarterback Mitch Trubisky, landing some of the most talented skill position players in free agency. That said, the offense is far from fixed, because the offensive line is still very much a work in progress.

Chicago declined an option to keep veteran guard Josh Sitton, who has since signed with Miami. If healthy, Kyle Long is a very good guard. Combined with left tackle Charles Leno and center Cody Whitehair, the left side of the line can be solid. But the right side needs help, and overall depth is a big need. We fully expect Chicago to invest in the offensive line during the draft, and the Bears would be lucky if guard Quenton Nelson is still available when it’s their turn to pick at No. 8 overall.

Detroit Lions: Running back

The last time the Lions had a running back rush for over 100 yards, Reggie Bush was the starter, all the way back in 2013. That’s just pathetic. Detroit did sign veteran LeGarrette Blount to a one-year contract, but he hardly fits the mold of a bell-cow running back any more. He’s a short-yardage grinder who will help, but he’s not up for carrying the load for an entire season.

Detroit will likely not take a running back at No. 20 overall. But if a guy like Derrius Guice is still on the board then the Lions need to at least consider taking him. If not, then a player like Rashaad Penny, Nick Chubb or Royce Freeman would be a terrific option on Day 2.

Green Bay Packers: Cornerback

The Packers did some big things in free agency, which is pretty stunning considering how little Ted Thompson did when he was the general manager. Brian Gutekunst has plenty of work in front of him, however, to shore up what has been a miserable pass defense in recent years. Especially after trading away the team’s best cornerback, Damarious Randall, to the Cleveland Browns.

Right now, the Packers have just four cornerbacks on their roster, and aside from Quinten Rollins and potentially Kevin King, this group has very little upside. Davon House is a free agent and could return, but he’s not going to save this secondary, either.

Minnesota Vikings: Offensive line

Now that the Vikings have handed Kirk Cousins a fully-guaranteed contract that pays $28 million per year, it’s time to protect their investment. Last year, Minnesota signed Mike Remmers and Riley Reiff, only to have Remmers — a train wreck for the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50 — end up playing at left guard in the end.

Whether they focus on guard or tackle, the offensive line remains the most prominent area of need for this organization. One amazing solution would be if somehow Will Hernandez out of UTEP is still on the board when the Vikings pick at 30 overall.

Baltimore Ravens: Tight end

Signing Michael Crabtree was a huge boost to Baltimore’s tepid receiving corps. That unit still needs big-time help, though. As part of that plan, it’s time for Ozzie Newsome to once again focus on the tight end position, because Joe Flacco misses his security blanket in a major way.

Maxx Williams has talent but seems to struggle with his temperament and consistency. Nick Boyle is backup quality, but he does have some value as both a blocking tight end and bailout option in the passing game. Baltimore needs to find a reliable threat here to balance out the tight end group and provide Flacco with a red-zone weapon he can bank on in critical situations.

Cleveland Browns: Quarterback

Whether he wants to believe it or not, Tyrod Taylor is nothing more than a bridge quarterback for the Browns in 2018. Cleveland — a team that hasn’t had a franchise passer in decades — will use its top pick to land a quarterback now that the Jets have forced its hand by moving up to No. 3 overall.

That quarterback, regardless of what Hue Jackson says about there being no competition, will push Taylor from the start of training camp. It’s exactly the same situation the Bears dealt with last year with Mike Glennon and Mitch Trubisky. And we know how that turned out.

Cincinnati Bengals: Offensive line

Cedric Ogbuehi was an unmitigated disaster on the left side last year and will have to fight to start at right tackle this season. Jake Fisher was no better on the right side in 2017 than Ogbuehi was on the left. Starting center Russell Bodine is still out there in free agency, and it would be wise for Cincinnati to bring him back — just look what happened when Kevin Zeitler and Andrew Whitworth bolted. The right guard spot is wide open as well.

Essentially, the only spot that features an established veteran is left tackle. The Bengals addressed this glaring area of need in a big way by trading with Buffalo for left tackle Cordy Glenn. But in no way does landing Glenn solve all of Cincinnati’s troubles on the offensive line.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Inside linebacker

Ryan Shazier shoes

We’re all praying for Ryan Shazier to have a full recovery. Even if he does, it’s already known that Pittsburgh won’t have the stellar linebacker on its active roster in 2018, at the least.

Vince Williams isn’t a bad starter, but he lacks explosion, instincts and the ability to come through with game-changing plays like Shazier did. The Steelers are missing a dynamic presence in the middle of their defense. Many expect Pittsburgh to be all-in on Leighton Vander Esch in the first round, and he’d be an amazing addition to this defense as an instant starter inside.

Atlanta Falcons: Defensive tackle

Dontari Poe was a huge difference-maker for Atlanta last year as he played out his one-year, prove-it deal. Now he’s in Carolina, having replaced Star Lotulelei up front for the Panthers. Grady Jarrett is still a tremendous player who will continue to ascend, but he needs help on the inside. It’s probably too much to ask for Vita Vea to still be on the board when Atlanta picks at 26 overall. With that being said, don’t be surprised if general manager Thomas Dimitroff — known for being aggressive in the draft — attempts to move up with Vea as his preferred target.

Carolina Panthers: Offensive line

Losing Andrew Norwell in free agency was expected, but it still hurts. Especially because Carolina’s offensive line was already overall a miserable wreck last year — just ask Cam Newton, Christian McCaffrey and Jonathan Stewart. So there’s an immediate need to improve this line. And with the news that center Ryan Kalil will retire after the upcoming season, along with Trai Turner suffering a concussion that kept him out multiple games last year, there’s a long-term need as well.

New Orleans Saints: Defensive end

The Saints have done some solid work to continue building up their defense, which was much improved last year. They signed linebacker Demario Davis, cornerback Patrick Robinson and re-signed defensive end Alex Okafor. But this team still needs a full-time starter at defensive end who can play opposite Cameron Jordan.

Luckily, this year’s draft class has some pretty impressive talent on the edge. Landing a guy like Harold Landry, Arden Key or Marcus Davenport would be an ideal solution to this problem.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Defensive end

The Vinny Curry signing helps. But in no way is Curry going to step in and suddenly be a dominant edge player for the Bucs, who have a desperate need to land a pass rusher. Noah Spence is currently penciled in as the starter opposite of Curry, and neither of them has managed a single double-digit sack season.

The Buccaneers are in prime position at No. 7 overall to potentially land the top edge rusher in this year’s draft, Bradley Chubb. This is especially true given the fact that the top of the draft is going to be a free-for-all for teams looking to score their franchise quarterback. And make no mistake about it, Chubb would instantly be the best pass rusher on Tampa Bay’s roster. Put him next to Gerald McCoy and let those two dominate en route to the quarterback.

Houston Texans: Offensive line

Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson in NFL Week 3

It’s no secret the Texans were working hard to try and sign Nate Solder, but ultimately the Giants made Solder an offer he couldn’t refuse. They did end up bringing in Seantrel Henderson on a one-year deal, but it’s worth pointing out he has started one game in two years due to health issues and a ridiculous suspension.

Signing Senio Kelemete was one of the bigger steals of free agency, as he’s capable of playing all over the line. But Houston needs help at left tackle and both guard spots heading into the draft. Chances are, general manager Brian Gaine will focus on bolstering this unit to ensure the health of franchise quarterback Deshaun Watson.

Indianapolis Colts: Offensive line

One of the big losers in free agency, the Colts had more salary cap space than every team minus a few. Yet general manager Chris Ballard made just one move worth mentioning, signing defensive end Denico Autry to a three-year deal.

Bringing in help for the offensive line was a priority, but Ballard failed to land Andrew Norwell or Nate Solder. So it’s back to square one with only two of five spots locked up on the line — left tackle Anthony Castonzo and center Ryan Kelly. Needless to say, if Andrew Luck is going to stay healthy (assuming he does come back healthy to begin with), Indy has to make a concerted effort to provide him with adequate protection.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Linebacker

The stunning news of Paul Posluszny announcing his retirement last week made this an easy choice. He wasn’t as speedy as some inside linebackers, but for seven years he was the man in the middle for the Jaguars, and now the team needs a new running mate for Telvin Smith and Myles Jack.

There are some really good linebackers in this year’s draft, and one of the top ones could potentially fall to Jacksonville at No. 29 overall. But as we mentioned earlier, the team picking ahead of the Jaguars — the Pittsburgh Steelers, also needs a linebacker badly and could pose a problem here. Then again, perhaps a guy like Malik Jefferson will be there in Round 2, if the Jags don’t target someone like Alabama’s Rashaad Evans in Round 1.

Tennessee Titans: Defensive end

It’s time to bring in some new blood on the edge for Tennessee. Both Brian Orakpo and Derek Morgan are experienced, productive veterans. But both are entering contract years, are up there in age, and they managed to combine for just 14.5 sacks last season (seven for Orakpo and 7.5 for Morgan). They were the team’s top sack artists last year, so it’s clear there’s room for improvement.

Sitting at No. 25 overall, Tennessee could see a top pass rusher fall right into its lap, depending on how things shake out up at the top. If they aren’t comfortable with a pass rusher at this spot, then the Titans should look at receiver, since Marcus Mariota still needs weapons on the outside in a bad way.

Arizona Cardinals: Quarterback

Leonard Floyd sacks Sam Bradford for a safety on Monday Night Football

Right now, the Cardinals are entering the 2018 season with Sam Bradford and Mike Glennon as their two quarterbacks. Yeah, that’s not going to be sustainable. The only way this team shuffles from being a loser into the winner category this offseason is if general manager Steve Keim makes a bold move up in the first round to land a top quarterback. Any other outcome would signal this team is going nowhere, and fast.

Los Angeles Rams: Outside linebacker

The Rams have done some incredible work this offseason to revamp their defense. They still have more work to do, however. First and foremost, general manager Les Snead needs to come to a long-term deal with defensive tackle Aaron Donald. Assuming that gets hammered out — Donald is likely to hold out if he doesn’t land this deal — the Rams still need an upgrade at outside linebacker.

Wade Phillips loves his speed rushers, and the Rams recently traded away one of their to the Dolphins, Robert Quinn. Connor Barwin is said to be on the team’s radar as a return option, but he’s more of a situational pass rusher these days than an every-down terror.

San Francisco 49ers: Cornerback

Like the Rams, the 49ers could look to upgrade on the edge. But they did a bit of that in free agency by signing Jeremia Attaochu. And depending on where they end up picking in Round 1 (could easily trade down if a team is looking to move up for a quarterback), cornerback could be a big-time target early.

Yes, the 49ers signed Richard Sherman and have promising second-year corner Ahkello Witherspoon. But Sherman is coming off a ruptured Achilles and might never be the same again. Even if he is, adding another top cornerback would do wonders for this defense, which is stacked with talent up front.

Seattle Seahawks: Offensive line

Of all the teams in the league, Seattle gave us the easiest read for the purposes of this list. The Seahawks have a left tackle in Duane Brown, which is something they haven’t been able to boast in recent years. But aside from Brown and maybe center Justin Britt (and/or second-round pick last year, Ethan Pocic), there’s nothing good going on up front for Seattle offensively.

The Seahawks have other needs, too, now that the Legion of Boom is no more. But it’s clear from the moves general manager John Schneider has made this offseason that the team will be built around Russell Wilson going forward. And if Schneider doesn’t protect Wilson, then the entire franchise will go down with the young quarterback.

Denver Broncos: Quarterback

Case Keenum is, no offense intended, going to end up being Trevor Siemian 2.0 for Denver in the next year or two. He’s going to do just enough to keep Denver afloat until another quarterback takes over.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the move John Elway made to eschew the Kirk Cousins sweepstakes and hone in on a much less expensive option. But in no way does the move to acquire Keenum mean Elway isn’t interested in drafting a quarterback at No. 5 overall to secure his team’s future. The offensive line needs work, and the defense isn’t as dominant as it once was during the Peyton Manning era. But quarterback is still the biggest long-term need for this team.

Kansas City Chiefs: Cornerback

Landing Kendall Fuller in the Alex Smith trade will be greatly beneficial to the Chiefs, but Fuller is a slot specialist — one of the best in that role, but his game is limited by his slight stature. Replacing Marcus Peters is no small task. Was he a pain in the butt for Kansas City’s coaches? Sure. But his play on the field is nearly peerless in the NFL right now, and the Chiefs already had issues behind him on the depth chart to begin with.

Making things a bit more difficult here is the simple fact that Kansas City doesn’t have a first-round pick in this year’s draft, having traded it away last year to move up and draft quarterback Patrick Mahomes. So, identifying talent at the cornerback position later in the draft is of utmost importance for general manager Brett Veach and Co.

Los Angeles Chargers: Center

An undrafted free agent in 2016 out of Vanderbilt, Spencer Pulley ended up starting all 16 games for the Chargers last year. He ascended to the starting spot due to the suspension of Max Tuerk, being the team’s best option at this critical position. However, it would be wrong to say Pulley thrived. In fact, no starting center gave up more pressures than he did last year (by far), per Pro Football Focus. So clearly, an upgrade is needed here.

General manager Tom Telesco has shown a commitment to the offensive line recently, using top picks on Forrest Lamp and Dan Feeney last year. He’d be smart to invest another top pick to solidify the center position in order to ensure Philip Rivers can continue to play at a high level in the coming years.

Oakland Raiders: Inside linebacker

It’s pretty telling that the Oakland Raiders haven’t brought veteran NaVorro Bowman back yet. Reportedly, they have made him an offer, but he’s currently testing the market, which indicates the Raiders didn’t offer him as much as he thinks he’s worth. Even if Bowman does return, it’s clear Oakland needs an upgrade inside, as he’s not the same dynamic playmaker in the passing game he once was during his tenure with the San Francisco 49ers.

It’s even more telling that Oakland had to bring Bowman on board last year. Simply put, there isn’t a starting-caliber inside linebacker on the roster right now. That’s why you’re seeing so many mock drafts showing either Roquan Smith or Tramaine Edmunds going to Oakland at No. 10 overall.

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