Each NFL team’s greatest weakness heading into the draft

Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

The best NFL teams build through the draft, rather than trying to fix issues primarily through free agency. And even the best teams head into the draft with issues that need to be addressed, make no mistake about it. So what are those issues?

We’re taking a spin through the entire league here pinpointing the biggest weakness facing each NFL team as the draft draws near.

Dallas Cowboys: Defensive line

The front seven of Dallas’ defense needs help across the board. The Cowboys could use another impact pass rusher and another linebacker, especially since Anthony Hitchens signed a huge deal with Kansas City in free agency. But the biggest need this team has is right up front on the defensive line. Adding a run-stuffing defensive tackle who can also penetrate on passing downs like Vita Vea or Da’Ron Payne would be very smart.

New York Giants: Offensive line

Making Nate Solder the richest offensive lineman in the league (by far) shows just how desperate the Giants are to improve their offensive line. There are rumors that general manager Dave Gettleman is interested in trading down out of the No. 2 spot — that makes sense if he thinks Davis Webb is good enough to take over for Eli Manning. If that’s the case, then moving down a few slots and taking offensive guard Quenton Nelson would be a master stroke to improve the team’s offensive line in a major way.

Philadelphia Eagles: Linebacker

Retaining Nigel Bradham was huge. This allows the Eagles to go into the season with pretty much the same front seven it won a title with last year, only they upgraded at defensive end by adding Michael Bennett. However, starting inside linebacker Jordan Hicks missed nine games last year due to injury, and there are some very good inside linebackers that will be slotted right around where Philly is picking at the end of Round 1. The Eagles could land an instant starter, if that’s what they’re looking for here.

Washington Redskins: Defensive front

Sure, Washington will get Jonathan Allen back in 2018 after the rookie missed much of the last season with a foot injury. But he’s just one man. The rest of the defensive front needs an upgrade. We’re talking about pretty much every position here — inside linebacker, outside linebacker and the other two defensive line spots. Zach Brown is a star, and so is Ryan Kerrigan. But Washington’s 3-4 front needs another couple of stars to really make waves in 2018.

Buffalo Bills: Quarterback

Perhaps no team in the NFL besides perhaps the Cleveland Browns needs to land a franchise quarterback in this draft more than the Bills. Right now, Buffalo has AJ McCarron and Nathan Peterman on its roster, and neither of those guys is going to win many games if it comes down to them. With that in mind it’s hardly surprising that general manager Brandon Beane is reportedly intent on trading up into the top five, and one of his peers in the league thinks he could trade up twice to land the man he wants.

Miami Dolphins: Tight end

It could be argued that the Dolphins need a quarterback more than anything else. And the team’s defensive line could use an upgrade in the middle. But Miami is committed to Ryan Tannehill for at least another year, and if he’s going to succeed then he’ll need a dynamic tight end to be his security blanket and red-zone weapon. The Dolphins have tried like crazy in the past to provide him with one, but so far it remains a position of desperate need.

New England Patriots: Offensive tackle

This offseason has been brutal for the Patriots in many ways. One of the biggest reasons for this is that both Cameron Fleming and Nate Solder — the team’s top two starting offensive tackles — signed elsewhere. There’s a chance that Marcus Cannon could bounce back and be the solution on the right side, but he’s missed time due to injuries throughout his career and cannot exactly be relied upon. Needless to say, protecting Tom Brady is the team’s biggest challenge heading into the 2018 season.

New York Jets: Quarterback

Let’s be honest. As much as Josh McCown is one of the good guys we love to root for, and as much as we all hope Teddy Bridgewater can make an epic comeback, neither of these guys is likely to be the long-term answer at quarterback for the Jets. That’s why the team gave up the farm to move up three spots to No. 3 overall. So, until New York lands its franchise passer, this is going to be the biggest area of weakness on the roster. Period.

Chicago Bears: Offensive guard

The Bears did some incredible work in free agency to bring in starters on both sides of the ball. One spot they still need to address, however, is offensive guard. They declined to pick up Josh Sitton’s option this offseason, opening up this spot. But there just so happens to be a perfect solution for them in the draft. Notre Dame’s Quenton Nelson, if he’s still available at No. 8, would fix this problem right quick. It’s going to be interesting to see if another team sneaks in ahead of Chicago to land the stud offensive guard.

Detroit Lions: Running back

Do you know how long it’s been since a running back wearing a Lions jersey went for 100 yards on the ground? You have to go all the way back to 2013. That’s insane. It’s also unforgivable, because the lack of a running game is one of the biggest reasons why the Lions consistently underachieve. There are some tremendous running backs in this year’s draft, however, so there is no excuse for general manager Bob Quinn to not find a starter capable of carrying the load. He did sign veteran LeGarrette Blount, but at this point in his career he’s more of a complementary bludgeon than bell cow.

Green Bay Packers: Cornerback

Finding talented cornerbacks has been a bit of a problem for the Packers in recent years, and the team’s pass defense has suffered as a result. One of the team’s better corners from last year, Damarious Randall, was traded to Cleveland, and the moves Green Bay made in free agency were for depth purposes. The Packers still lack at least one, if not two, starting-caliber cornerbacks.

Minnesota Vikings: Offensive line

There aren’t many weaknesses on Minnesota’s roster. But now that the Vikings have landed their (they hope) franchise quarterback in Kirk Cousins, shoring up a weak offensive line should be at the top of their to-do list. Really, all across the line the Vikings could use some upgrades, perhaps barring the center spot with young Pat Elflein being a long-term cornerstone.

Baltimore Ravens: Tight end

The jury is still out on Maxx Williams. He could potentially become a star for the Ravens. Then again, he’s been extremely volatile and inconsistent in his three years as a professional. Even if Williams ends up producing some big plays for Baltimore, the Ravens desperately need a more consistent option. Joe Flacco is at his best when he has a security blanket tight end, which is why he’s struggled so much ever since Dennis Pitta’s injury issues rose up.

Cleveland Browns: Quarterback

Hue Jackson Cleveland Browns NFL coaches

Tyrod Taylor is a darn good bridge. But that’s really all he is. Don’t get me wrong. I like him. But he’s not a franchise-changing passer. He’s a guy who isn’t going to turn the ball over, and who will help the Browns win at least a few games this year. But Cleveland still needs a franchise quarterback, more than anything else it could get in the draft this year. The Browns certainly know this, which is why they’ll almost certainly stay at the top of the draft and finally pull the trigger. Josh Allen out of Wyoming and Sam Darnold out of USC are reportedly being considered the most.

Cincinnati Bengals: Offensive line

Landing Cordy Glenn in a trade with Buffalo was smart. The Bengals really have made some big mistakes letting starting offensive linemen leave in recent years. And they paid the price in a big way last season. Even with Glenn penciled in on the left side, however, Cincinnati’s offensive line needs help. Jake Fisher is a disaster at right tackle. The center and right guard spots need help, too. So, really, upgrading almost any position on the line will be a big plus.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Inside linebacker

The Steelers already know that two-time Pro Bowler Ryan Shazier won’t be available to them in 2018. Vince Williams is a solid starter, but he’s not an impact player, especially in the passing game. There’s a lot of buzz surrounding Boise State’s Leighton Vander Esch, who would be a natural inside of Pittsburgh’s 3-4 defense. If he’s there at No. 28 overall, then general manager Kevin Colbert shouldn’t hesitate to select the dynamic linebacker.

Atlanta Falcons: Defensive tackle

The Falcons featured quite a 1-2 punch last year featuring Dontari Poe playing next to Grady Jarrett. But Poe was playing on a one-year deal, which led to a massive long-term contract with Carolina this offseason. Now Atlanta has a gaping hole in the middle of its defense. You can bet head coach Dan Quinn will be banging on the table for general manager Thomas Dimitroff to target some of the top defensive tackles this year.

Carolina Panthers: No. 1 WR

Cam Newton

The Panthers have struggled mightily to provide Cam Newton with consistent, dynamic weapons in the passing game. They brought in Torrey Smith this offseason, but he’s a very inconsistent option, even if he’s good for a handful of monster plays most seasons. Slot specialist Curtis Samuel is a player who really could come on strong in Year 2. But right now, Carolina still doesn’t have a true No. 1 receiver on its roster. And that’s not a good thing for Newton’s continued development.

New Orleans Saints: Tight end

The Saints are a pretty well balanced team right now on both sides of the ball. And while they do need a bit more help overall on defense than offense, the one area of weakness that really stand out is at the tight end position. They tried to bring back Jimmy Graham during free agency, but he went to Green Bay instead. In the short term, Benjamin Watson could be very helpful. But long term, New Orleans needs an answer here.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Running back

The Bucs finished last season ranked No. 27 in the league rushing the ball. Doug Martin was a total disaster, and while he was somewhat of an upgrade, Peyton Barber wasn’t all that hot, either. Martin is now in Oakland, while Barber is penciled in as the No. 2 back behind Jacquizz Rodgers. Yuck. Now, ideally, Saquon Barkley would fall to Tampa Bay at No. 7 overall. Pairing him with Jameis Winston would be tremendous. But there’s no guarantee he’ll be there, so the team’s best option might be to wait until Day 2 or later to scoop up one of the many excellent backs in this year’s draft.

Houston Texans: Offensive tackle

Maybe trading Duane Brown to the Seahawks wasn’t the smartest move. Right now, Houston heads into the 2018 NFL Draft with Julie’n Davenport and Seantrel Henderson penciled in as its two starting offensive tackles. That’s a scary proposition, especially considering franchise passer Deshaun Watson is coming off a torn ACL. This year’s draft isn’t loaded with top-end offensive tackles, either, and free agency was bare at this position. It’s going to take some doing to fix this dire situation.

Indianapolis Colts: Pass rusher

It would have been easy to go with offensive line here. After all, Andrew Luck is going to need protection if he has any chance of playing a full season in 2018. But Indy has at least a semblance of an offensive line and some quality starters locked in. The Colts literally have nobody capable of wrecking an offense on the other side of the ball. You know it’s bad when your best edge rusher is Jabaal Sheard, who’s never had more than 8.5 sacks, and that was way back in his rookie campaign in 2011.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Linebacker

Paul Posluszney’s surprising retirement announcement last month punched a big hole in the middle of Jacksonville’s defense. He’s been the anchor inside for the past seven seasons. Now, it’s time for a new stud to rise up and fill his enormous shoes. Myles Jack and Telvin Smith are both better suited to play outside, so it would be best if they can both remain there. Fifth-round pick from last year Blair Brown isn’t the answer, and it’s likely the Jaguars will attempt to fill this void in the draft later this month.

Tennessee Titans: Pass rusher

Last year, Brian Orakpo and Derek Morgan led Tennessee’s pass rush, posting 14.5 sacks between them. They are both entering contract years and are grizzled veterans whose best days might be behind them. Clearly, the Titans need some new blood here. There are a bunch of impressive top-end pass-rushing prospects entering the league via the draft this year. And at the No. 25 spot there will almost certainly be a few to choose from there, if that’s what the team opts to address in Round 1.

Arizona Cardinals: Quarterback

No offense intended to Sam Bradford or Mike Glennon, but if either of them is starting for Arizona at the beginning of the 2019 NFL season then the Cardinals are in trouble. Landing Bradford as a short-term bridge was a smart move in principle, but paying him $15 million guaranteed was not. Hopefully that’s the last mistake general manager Steve Keim makes at this critical position. He needs to ace the draft and come away with a long-term answer, even if that means trading up.

Los Angeles Rams: Inside Linebacker

The Rams are terrifying up front now, featuring both Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh. But as things currently stand, the team’s lacking a starter at inside linebacker, having traded Alec Ogletree to the New York Giants this past month. As we mentioned previously, there are some very intriguing linebackers to be had, even outside the top 15, where Roquan Smith and Tremaine Edmunds are likely to land. So Wade Phillips should be a happy man come late April, when general manager Les Snead is sure to bring one of them to Los Angeles.

San Francisco 49ers: Edge rusher 

One of the underrated moves the 49ers pulled off this offseason was signing veteran Jeremiah Attaochu, who could provide a spark off the edge. However, the 49ers still lack a true star who can develop into the elite edge-rushing threat at the LEO position that is the hallmark of Robert Saleh’s defensive scheme. At No. 9 overall, San Francisco could look to land that player in Round 1. However, there are some talented edge rushers to be found later in the draft as well, so the team has options.

Seattle Seahawks: Offensive line

Russell Wilson needs more press protection in NFL Week 12

Duane Brown notwithstanding, Seattle’s offensive line is still in a shambles. Not surprisingly, the Seahawks are reportedly trying to lock up Brown on a long-term deal (h/t Bob Condotta of The Seattle Times) to secure the left tackle spot. Every other spot on the line besides center, however, is due for an upgrade. This is especially true now that Seattle is more than ever before Russell Wilson’s team, and the Legion of Boom is no more.

Denver Broncos: Tight end

Maybe Jake Butt ends up becoming a star. But after missing his entire rookie season with a torn ACL, that’s a huge question mark. Jeff Heurman, the team’s “top” tight end entering the 2018 season, has 18 career receptions. Yeah, Case Keenum has his work cut out to establish a reliable connection at the tight end position. John Elway would be smart to invest early in a tight end that can become a star in Denver’s offense.

Kansas City Chiefs: Cornerback

Kansas City’s decision to dump Marcus Peters for a ham sandwich (okay it wasn’t quite that bad) was one of the more questionable moves of the entire NFL offseason. At this time, head coach Andy Reid has indicated that Kendall Fuller, acquired in the Alex Smith trade, will play plenty on the outside, but he’s a natural nickel corner. Even if Fuller takes to the outside, the Chiefs need another starter to play opposite him, because Keith Reaser isn’t the answer, and neither is anyone else on the roster right now.

Los Angeles Chargers: Offensive tackle

Before Miami unconscionably released center Mike Pouncey, allowing him to fall into Tom Telesco’s lap, center was by far the biggest area of weakness on Los Angeles’ roster. Now that center is settled, the team’s biggest area of weakness is at offensive tackle. Both Russell Okung and Joe Barksdale are serviceable, but not tremendous players. If the Chargers can upgrade one or both of the tackle spots, then they will be in amazing shape on offense in 2018.

Oakland Raiders: Inside linebacker

It’s highly likely that this won’t be a big issue once the draft occurs. Oakland has the No. 10 overall pick and almost everyone believes the Raiders will take either Roquan Smith or Tremaine Edmunds, both of whom would be instant-impact starters. There are a bunch of needs on the defensive side of the ball, however, so it won’t be surprising if the Raiders go cornerback or safety at the top of the draft, either.