With the 2016 NFL season in the books, all 32 teams are now entering the stage of the year known as the “off-season”, which of course is anything but for the 32 General Mangers and coaches. This is the time of year where GM’s make their money and where championship rosters are built, with free agency and the draft both equally as important.
Today we’ll have a look at all 16 AFC teams and what roster positions they need to address in order to have a shot at a playoff run. Teams are in draft order as currently situated.
Team needs: QB, DB, O-line
Let’s be honest, the Browns need help everywhere across the board and it’s pretty damning when the best player on your roster is a 32 year old left tackle. The Browns have a great hand to deal with at the draft table and will have more cash to spend than any of the other 31 teams in the league. Terrelle Pryor is the only FA the Browns are desperate to keep, while they may look at spending some cash on a QB to steer the ship such as Tyrod Taylor perhaps, they are also taking a closer look at the QB prospects from next years draft crop. Possessing 4 picks inside the first 2 rounds on draft night, the Browns will surely look to find help across from Joe Haden in the defensive backfield, especially with Haden looking like someone who’s best football is behind him. This off season will be looked back on as one spent stock piling talent everywhere before pulling the trigger next year on a young talented passer.
Team needs: O-line, S, TE
A disappointing season from the Jags will culminate in the team picking inside the top 5 on draft night yet again. Most of the off season concern will be around QB Blake Bortles and if he can get back to his 2015 form. The Jags again will have cash to splash and have shown in the past they’re not afraid to spend, so look for them to go after both offensive and defensive lineman in free agency. Safety Johnathan Cyprien is the free agent they’d love to re-sign, leaving a hole at the safety position if he leaves. Picking an instant impact player at pick 4 should be the Jags focus on draft night, and with more talent than people realise, there’s no excuse for them to be picking this high again next season.
Team needs: CB, WR, ILB
Tennessee are another team with plenty of cash to spend ($62 million) and are a team to keep an eye on this off season. Adding two first round picks plus a veteran or two via free agency to an already young and exciting team could make the Titans a team to fear in 2017. Expect Tennessee to exploit the drafts depth at Cornerback by taking at least a couple in the first 3 to 4 rounds. The Titans will be praying one of the top WR’s or even TE’s are available at their second pick (18) as adding somebody like Clemson’s Mike Williams or Alabama’s OJ Howard could really open up defenses for what is a run first offense.
New York Jets
Team needs: QB, LB, DB
The Jets believe that Christian Hackenberg made strides this past season despite not playing in any meaningful Sunday football, though that shouldn’t deter them from signing a veteran via free agency. The Jets roster is much like the Browns, featuring not much talent and holes everywhere. They are expected to upgrade their dreadful secondary with their first pick, however the Jets will have a decision to make if Deshaun Watson, Mitch Trubisky and Deshone Kizer are all still on the board at pick 6. They don’t posses a lot of cap space and won’t lose too much through FA, so expect the Jets to go back to the draft this off season.
Team needs: O-line, S, QB
The Chargers are no doubt one of the better teams picking in the top 10, with injury having dogged their past two seasons. Offensive line is one of few weak spots on this roster, however the Chargers regime may bulk at reaching for a lineman at pick 7. This is a team with not a lot of cap space ($20 million) and is set to lose some important players through FA (Danny Woodhead, Jahleel Addae, Melvin Ingram and Mante Te’o). The Chargers will look to add a blue collar player at pick 7 (possibly a safety) capable of having an eaerly impact, and focus on bolstering the O-line and finding Rivers’ heir apparent in the drafts middle rounds.
Team needs: C/G, D-line, LB
A team that has built their name on drafting and developing quality early and mid round draft selections look like getting picked apart through free agency for the second year running. The Bengals are set to lose most, if not all, of the following: OT Andrew Whitworth, DT Damata Peko, CB Dre Kirkpatrick and G Kevin Zeitler. The Bengals are not typically known for being aggressive in FA, so this may be a very important draft coming up for the current regime. Expect Cincy to re-sign 1 of their impending free agents (likely OT Andrew Whitworth) while taking a highly regarded defensive talent with pick 9 (likely Alabama’s Reuben Foster or Stanford’s Soloman Thomas).
Team needs: QB, WR, DB
It will be very interesting to see what this team does at the QB position if Tyrod Taylor leaves in FA. With pick 10, the Bills are in a nice position to see who of the top 3 QB’s in the class falls to them. With not a lot of cap space to work with (just under $20 million), Buffalo will be desperate to re-sign whoever they can from CB Stephon Gilmore and line-backers Zach Brown and Lorenzo Alexander. The team will expect for more production next year out of both Shaq Lawson and Reggie Ragland, and with a new Head Coach and very possibly a new QB, it could be a rocky season for the team with the longest playoff drought in North American sports.
Team needs: LB, RB, O-line
Despite needing help on all 3 levels of the defense, expect the Colts to pounce if one of either Leonard Fournette or Dalvin Cook are availabe at pick 14 on draft night. Indy do have some cash to spend this offseason ($54 million) so don’t be surprised if they make a play for one of the big ticket defensive FA stars, possible Donta Hightower from New England or they could pinch AJ Bouye from division rival Houston. Expect the Colts to have plenty of rookies starting on defense next season, particularly at outside and inside linebacker and also cornerback. Right tackle will also be looked at, perhaps in FA.
Team needs: OLB, CB, WR
With the untimely retirement of Zach Orr and Elvis Dumervil looking like a cap casualty, both linebacker spots are needs for a Baltimore team that historically prides itself on great defense (particularly from those two positions). Expect both Cornerback and Safety positions to get a look in early as well, possibly round 1. The Ravens will be keen to keep Nose Tackle Brandon Williams and Right tackle Ricky Wagner, but with cap space tight (($15 million) retaining those two players looks unlikely. Look for coach John Harbaugh to draft a few of his brothers former players from Michigan, as the Ravens would love to acquire the services of players like Taco Charlton and Jourdan Lewis on defense.
Team needs: O-line, TE, D-line
This whole off-season for the Broncos is about rectifying the 5 guys in-front of the starting QB, whoever that may be. They took a swing at Russel Okung and missed last off-season, so look for them to go after not 1 but perhaps 2 offensive tackles in both the draft and FA. The upcoming draft is light on for OT talents, but Denver sit beautifully at pick 20 and should be able to grab somebody like Wisconsin’s Ryan Ramcyk or Utah’s Garrett Bolls. Finding a quality TE shouldn’t be difficult in the upcoming draft, and finding more defensive depth up front is a must as the Broncos look set to lose DeMarcus Ware, Vance Walker and Sylvester Willams from the championship defense two seasons ago.
Team needs: LB, DE, TE
Most of Miami’s needs reside on the defensive side of the ball, and with such a deep crop of defensive players in this years draft class, there’s no excuse for the Dolphins not to find two starters in the early rounds. Linebacker is the most pressing need, with the Dolphins crying out for a play maker opposite Kiko Alonso. Look for Miami to pull the trigger on Zach Cunningham from Vanderbilt or perhaps take the enigma of the entire draft, hybrid safety/linbacker Jabrill Peppers from Michigan. The Dolphins have to get more athletic in the back 7, and no doubt Peppers brings athleticism to the table. Branden Albert gone and Laremy Tunsil moving to Left tackle opens up a guard spot, which could be pursued through free agency (Miami have $42 million in cap space).
Team needs: ILB, CB, NT
The Raiders are no doubt a team on the rise, however there are a few areas on defence they must address to go to the next level in the ultra competitive AFC West. A pass rush up the middle was lacking all season, so look for the Raiders to beef up at Nose tackle and at the middle linebacker spot. Despite plenty of cap space (just under $40 million) expect the Raiders to be cautious in FA, as they are aware most of that cash will be required to re-sign gun QB Derek Carr and defensive juggernaut Khalil Mack. Expect the Raiders to go back to the draft to fill their holes on defense, and expect them to look closely at the Cornerback position with pick 24.
Team needs: QB, OT, S
Despite paying Brock Osweiler a mammoth contract before last season, he didn’t fair very well and it looks as though the franchise are still in search for their long term answer. Don’t be surprised to see the Texans nab a lesser known QB late in the first round (somebody like Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes perhaps). The offensive line has all the ingredients if 2016 second round pick Nick Martin can get healthy and play up to his lofty standard at Centre, though there will be an interest in upgrading the right tackle position, be it through FA or the draft. AJ Bouye could be a blow if he leaves this offseason, so getting depth at CB and more help at Safety would be wise.
Kansas City Chiefs
Team needs: ILB, CB, WR
The Chiefs have two key free agents in Eric Berry and Dontarie Poe, and can’t afford to pay both. Berry has stated he will not play under the Franchise tag again, and if he leaves, safety will go straight to the top of this list. Derrick Johnson has been a great long term player, however being 34 and coming off a serious Achilles injury, expect the Cheifs to draft their next great inside linebacker reasonable early. Marcus Peters is a gun on the perimeter, and Steven Nelson is developing nicely, but a second rangy ball-hawk across from Peters could make this defense feared league wide. The Chiefs all of a sudden have a great aerial attack, especially with the emergence of Tyreek Hill, but Alex Smith can never have too many targets to throw to.
Team needs: OLB, TE, RB
One of the Steelers main aims this off-season should be to find an edge rusher opposite Bud Dupree. James Harrison is a freak, but despite what he may tell us, he can not play forever. The Steelers may look to bolster their passing game by adding their next great TE, imagine what somebody like OJ Howard from Alabama could do in this offense! Pittsburgh will be hoping and praying he’s available on draft night. The Steelers have stated they will tag Le’Veon Bell but De’Angelo Williams is just about finished so expect the Steelers to find some RB depth in the middle rounds. Side note: is it time to think about life after Ben?
New England Patriots
Team needs: OT, LB, TE
It hardly seems fair that the reigning champs have the 6th most cap space to spend. They’re going to need it, however, with a long list of impending FA’s (Jabaal Sheard, Martellus Bennett, Sebastian Vollmer, Chris Long, Donta Hightower, LaGarrette Blount, Logan Ryan and Duron Harmon). Hightower is the favorite to return as things sit, though expect another 2 or 3 to have been signed ahead of the 2017 season. Possesing pick 32, the final pick of the first round, Bill Belicheck and the Patriots have a knack of having a star player fall into their lap. Perhaps this year it will be Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey or Miami TE David Njokue. Bill loves to build through the trenches, so expect some more offensive and defensive tackles to find their way to Foxborough through free agency or the draft.