Examining every NFL team's glaring positional weakness
The Falcons and Titans? Outside rush. Niners, Cards, Broncos and Cowboys? Inside LB. Chiefs, Pats, Jets, Raiders? Wideouts. Every team has a hole.
Free agency is long in the rear-view mirror and the NFL Draft was over a month ago. So as teams work their way through the offseason, with training camps set to open in less than two months, it's a good time to check on what positions remain a major concern for each of the league's 32 teams.
Teams can spend and draft their way through a spring and summer and still come to camp with issues, some of which are highlighted below.
So as the 32 teams continue to work through OTAs and minicamps on their way to a month off in late June, here's a look at the biggest position of concern for all 32 teams:
Inside linebacker: With the news that Daryl Washington is suspended for the year for violating the league's substance-abuse policy coming out Friday, there is no doubt the Cardinals have issues inside. They also lost Karlos Dansby to Cleveland in free agency. That means second-year player Kevin Minter will start at one spot, and the other spot is wide open. They did sign veteran Larry Foote, so he could soften some of the blow.
Outside pass rushers: They addressed a lot of needs in free agency and the draft, but who provides the pass rush from the edge? Does Osi Umenyiora have much left? Can Kroy Biermman return to form after injury? Can rookie Prince Shembo be the guy? That's a lot of questions for a key spot.
Right Tackle: With Michael Oher and his inconsistency moving on, Ricky Wagner will get the first shot here. He played some as a rookie last season and struggled with speed off the edge. But maybe a year in the system and adjustments to the speed will help. It's not like Oher dominated. Ryan Jensen, a second-year player who is coming off a broken foot, will challenge Wagner.
Left guard: They signed veteran Chris Williams as a free agent, but he's just OK. They also have rookie Cyril Richardson, a big mauler from Baylor who saw his stock sink in the draft process. There are bodies, but are they good enough?
Left tackle: They passed on a tackle in the draft, which means right tackle Byron Bell could move to the left side. He will likely compete with Nate Chandler, a converted defensive lineman who played guard last season. It's not a good situation, and one the team should have addressed in the draft.
Safety (both spots): They had big problems on the back end last season, so they've added a lot of bodies to the mix. But are any of them any good? Rookie Brock Vereen is intriguing, but the others are just a bunch of guys.
Right defensive end: This isn't a team with a lot of holes, but with Michael Johnson gone in free agency it means Wallace Gilberry has to step up in a starting role. That's a big leap, even if he's been a good player. They have Margus Hunt and Robert Geathers back and also drafted Will Clarke from West Virginia. But Johnson was an important part of that defense last season.
No. 2 receiver or maybe No. 1: If Josh Gordon is away for a long period of time because of a suspension, the Browns have major issues. They signed veterans Miles Austin, Nate Burleson and Earl Bennett, but none of those players is a lead dog. They didn't address receiver in the draft, which was odd.
Middle linebacker: With Sean Lee suffering a major knee injury in OTAs last week, the Cowboys have a huge hole in the middle of their defense. They play a Tampa-2, so it's not as important as in some defenses, but he is the fiery leader of that unit. They will first look at some internal candidates in Justin Durant, DeVonte Holloman and rookie Anthony Hitchens. But they could also look to a veteran free agency to fill the hole. Whoever plays will be way below Lee in terms of talent.
Middle linebacker: For now, it looks as if Nate Irving, who has played at several linebacker spots, is the starter. Jamar Chaney, who has started five games in two seasons, is also in the mix. The Broncos did draft Lamin Barrow in the fifth round, and he could push for the job, although he looks more like a weak-side linebacker.
Corner: The Lions have veterans Chris Houston and Rashean Mathis, third-year player Bill Bentley and second-year player Darius Slay as their top four. That isn't great. They have to hope Slay and Bentley can make big steps forward to help improve a pass defense that was 23rd in the league last season or they will be in trouble in a division with Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler.
Tight end: If the season started today, Andrew Quarless would be the starter. That's not good enough in an offense that needs a big threat in the middle of the field. Ryan Taylor is the lead backup. They did draft Richard Rodgers and signed troubled Colt Lyria as a free agent. But that's asking a lot of a rookie to step in and fill the role right away.
Quarterback: They didn't take a quarterback until taking Tom Savage in the fourth round, which means Ryan Fitzpatrick will be the starter. That's not a good thing. He is just a guy, and this is a team that needs more than that from the position.
Free safety: With Antoine Bethea leaving to go to San Francisco as a free agent, they have little in terms of talent to pair with LaRon Landry, who isn't great in coverage at the other spot. Corey Lynch, Sergio Brown, Delano Howell and Colt Anderson are possibilities. Howell played strong safety last season when Landry missed time, but can you play two strong safeties in a passing league?
Center: They will try Mike Brewster there to open camp, and Patrick Lewis will get the best shot to unseat him. Brewster played center in college, but has also played guard in the NFL. When he has played guard, he has lacked the power at the point. He has to get stronger. Now we know why they went hard after Alex Mack.
Wide receiver: Is Dwayne Bowe a No. 1 receiver? At times, he has looked like one. At others, he has not. They certainly don't have much behind him. The Chiefs need somebody like A.J. Jenkins to emerge as a legitimate threat outside.
Weak-side linebacker: After paying Philip Wheeler all that money last season as a free agent, he flopped. So now what? Do they stick with him and hope he plays like he did in 2012 when he was with Oakland? Good luck with that. Could Jelani Jenkins or even rookie Jordan Tripp take his job?
Strong safety: If Harrison Smith is healthy, they are good at free safety. But the strong safety spot has been a problem. Jamarca Sanford and Mistral Raymond are just guys. Robert Blanton is a player to watch. They did sign Kurt Coleman, but he isn't the answer.
No. 1 receiver: They have a lot of bodies to take to camp, but are there any big-play deep threats? They have to hope Aaron Dobson, the second-year player, emerges in that role. They also signed veteran Brandon LaFell, but he's just OK.
Outside pass rusher: Like Atlanta, they have questions about their outside pass rush in a division where you need it. Junior Galette did some good things last year, but can he keep it going? How is Victor Butler in his return from injury? Parys Haralson is just OK. This is a major problem as they head to camp.
Tight end: Who starts? Who produces? Is anybody any good? If the season started today, their tight end would be Adrien Robinson, Kellen Davis or Daniel Fells. Oh, boy. The Giants have lacked a big-play tight end for much of the Eli Manning years.
Wide receiver: They signed Eric Decker to a big-money deal, but the question is whether he can be a No. 1 receiver. Stephen Hill hasn't done much in two seasons on the other side. They did draft several players: and I like Jalen Saunders: but this is still a huge question mark.
Wide receiver: They signed James Jones as a free agent and also recently added Greg Little from Cleveland. They also have some holdover talent in Denarius Moore, Andre Holmes and others, but is this a group that excites?
Wide receiver: They released Desean Jackson, and now have little in terms of speed outside. Riley Cooper needs help to be effective. Jeremy Maclin is coming off a knee injury. They did draft Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff, but rookie receivers often times struggle.
Cornerback: Ike Taylor is back for another season, but he isn't a kid anymore. And William Gay is just OK on the other side. Cortez Allen is the third corner, but there is little behind those three. It is not a position of strength.
No. 1 receiver: They have a lot of bodies, led by second-year player Tavon Austin, but do they have a No. 1 threat on the roster. Austin will be expected to do a lot more in his second season. They might get lucky and get something from troubled veteran Kenny Britt. Stedman Bailey is expected to do a lot more in his second season. Still, there are questions.
Nose tackle: They have veteran Sean Lissemore as the starter for now, but they better hope rookie Ryan Carrethers can step in and play quickly. He is a big body at 337 pounds, while Lissemore is smaller at 303 pounds. Lissemore did take the job from the bigger Cam Thomas last season. Kwame Geathers is also in the mix.
Inside linebacker: When NaVorro Bowman tore up his knee in the NFC Championship Game the 49ers lost their best defensive player. It will be a while before he's back to the same player, and should miss at least half the season, if not more. They still have Patrick Willis, but they will have a tough time replacing Bowman. Michael Wilhoite, who has played special teams and started two games for Willis last season, will get the first shot. Rookie Chris Borland and Nick Moody could push him.
Right tackle: They will first try Michael Bowie, who started some at guard last season, at right tackle. They also drafted Justin Britt, who will get a shot. Russell Wilson took a lot of shots last season when the line suffered injuries. They need to be better up front.
Strong-side linebacker: They have two good ones in middle linebacker Mason Foster and Lavonte David on the weak side. But they have little when it comes to the strong side. Jonathan Casillas is the favorite to win the job, but is he the answer?
Outside pass rushers: They signed Shaun Phillips in free agency from Denver, but how much can he and Kamerion Wimbley give them in terms of a pass rush? Akeem Ayers will be used as an outside rusher as well. Derrick Morgan will play some down end and stand up as a linebacker. The standing-up part will be an adjustment. This is a defense that might have to manufacture pass rush with a lot of creativity.
Interior of the offensive line: They signed guard Shawn Lauvao in free agency from Cleveland, but is he really an upgrade? They are moving guard Kory Lichtensteiger to center, but he wasn't good at guard. Rookie Spencer Long could push Chris Chester at right guard.
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