How the elite teams can get even better
By: Adam Hulse (Twitter: @AdamHulseSports)
It’s the middle of the NFL offseason and the Draft is quickly approaching. Teams are working hard to improve their rosters as they prepare for the 2021 season. This is the time of year when player personnel really starts to take shape and expectations begin to form for the upcoming year. Ultimately, teams are looking to build in a way that improves their chances of making the playoffs.
Last season there were 14 playoff teams in total. All of them are hoping to make another run at it next season. Let’s take a look at one question remaining about each of those 14 teams. Specifically, let’s explore one thing that still needs to be improved in either the Draft or free agency.
Tampa Bay Bucs
In reality, the defending Super Bowl champions are absolutely loaded. They are pretty well stacked at every position and are bringing back almost their entire roster from last year. They are favored to repeat as champions again, and rightfully so. Their upcoming draft pick is going to be a luxury pick and they can do just about anything they want with it. The only questions with this team are more about the long-term future, such as who is going to replace Tom Brady when he retires. That is not important for this upcoming season, and with the way Brady is still playing, it may not even be a question any time soon.
Kansas City Chiefs
After their offensive line was absolutely dominated in the Super Bowl, the Chiefs decided to make some changes. They went straight to free agency and signed Joe Thuney, Kyle Long, and Austin Blythe to hopefully get more protection for Patrick Mahomes. As long as this quarterback has time in the pocket, their offense is still the most dangerous in all of football. This is why they have made it a priority to get as much help as possible on the offensive line. It would not be surprising if they added even more blocking in the Draft.
The Bills are one of the most complete teams in the NFL, which is why they were one of the most consistently impressive teams all season last year. The one area where they could improve is in rushing the passer. They were average at best in this department last year and youth is not on their side. Hughes and Addison are on the wrong side of thirty so now is the time to find their replacements. They started doing so last offseason when they drafted Epenesa and would be wise to take another edge defender in this Draft.
Green Bay Packers
The question for this year is no different than what seems to be the question for the Packers every year in recent memory. That is of course with the wide receiver depth. There is no doubt that Davante Adams is one of the best pass-catchers in the NFL but the position group is weak after that. Lazard and Valdes-Scantling are decent but the team is still missing a true number two option behind Adams. Maybe this will be the year that the organization finally drafts a first-round wide receiver for Aaron Rodgers and his offense.
New Orleans Saints
The Saints offense is going to look much different next year with Drew Brees retiring. Either Taysom Hill or Jameis Winston will be the new quarterback, and they will need all the weapons they can get. Kamara and Thomas are a great start, but that’s not quite enough considering they lost Sanders and Cook to free agency. The Saints are in a very tight salary situation, so they will look to the Draft to add a pass-catcher to this new-look offense.
The way the Ravens win games with Lamar Jackson is through an old-school philosophy but with a new-age approach. That of course is by running the ball and playing defense. They have one of the best rushing attacks in the NFL and were one of the top defenses last season. If they want to continue with this winning strategy, they will have to find a way to replace the pass-rushing production of Ngakoue and Judon, who they lost to free agency.
Getting a pass rusher to pair with Myles Garrett was a goal for the Browns this offseason, and they recently accomplished it by signing Clowney. This brings their defense to a new level, but they still have an opportunity to improve it even further. The weakest position group on this team is the linebackers, and therefore it should be their focus for the remainder of this offseason.
Los Angeles Rams
Similar to the Browns, the weakest position group for the Rams is also the linebackers, and similar to the Saints, the Rams are also very tight on cap space. This should mean that the plan is to look for LB help in the Draft. Unfortunately, they do not have a first-round pick this year, but they do have their second and two third-round picks. They could use one of these picks for just that, or try to package them together and move up for a higher projected target.
The Steelers rushing game was almost nonexistent for most of last season and things are looking even worse now. They have lost their starting running back, James Conner, as well as a starting tackle, Matt Feiler, to free agency. To further complicate things, Maurkice Pouncey retired and Alejandro Villanueva still has not signed a contract. Pittsburgh absolutely needs to do something about this entire situation if they want to compete for a playoff spot again next year.
The one thing the Seahawks need to focus on is protecting Russell Wilson. He has been pressured way too much by opposing defenses and that needs to change. This could bring Seattle from playoff contender to Super Bowl contender. Unfortunately for them they only have three total draft picks this year, but that should be enough to get blocking help. At least one of those three picks should be used to improve the offensive line.
The defense was in no way a strength for the Titans last year and things are trending further downward this offseason. Most notably, they have lost two starting cornerbacks to free agency, Adoree Jackson and Desmond King. This is a major problem for this team, and what they currently have in pass coverage is just not good enough. They will need to find solutions to this problem if they want to make another playoff run.
The Colts are one of the most complete teams in the league. Their roster is solid across the board and they don’t really have any big weaknesses. The one area that could use some reinforcements is the pass rush. They lost Autry to free agency and Houston has yet to sign a new contract. Even if Houston does return to the Colts, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to still bring another edge rusher anyway.
The Bears did not have a great season last year, but they did still find a way to get into the playoffs. It was more a product of the NFC not having enough good teams than it was the success of the Bears. On the positive side, David Montgomery had a breakout season and the defense was solid as expected. The help this team needs is at wide receiver. They placed the franchise tag on Allen Robinson, but they desperately still need another weapon in the passing game. This draft class is loaded with talent at the position, so maybe they can find their solution when they are on the clock.
Washington Football Team
Like the Bears, Washington made the playoffs last year more because of other teams being worse than them being good. The NFC East was the worst division in the NFL by far. What was good about this team was their defense and in particular their front seven. This is the core of their team with a ton of young talent like Young and Sweat. They also have some good young weapons on offense including McLaurin, Samuel, Thomas, and Gibson. This is a team built for future success if they find a long-term answer at quarterback, so for now, the smartest thing to do would be to build out the offensive line.