With the NFL Draft 2017 looming, it is now clear which position each team in the league desperately needs if they are to improve on their 2016 performance.
We’ll look at the AFC teams today, where it seems pass rushers and quarterbacks will be in high demand.
Buffalo Bills – cornerback
Upon initial discussion, it seemed a wide receiver was needed. But that’s no longer a dire necessity. Buffalo’s defense needs to be top notch when they’re facing New England twice. Slowing down Tom Brady and wideouts Julian Edelman and Brandin Cooks requires experience and depth at cornerback, and the Bills lack this.
ESPN’s Mike Rodak believes “there is little depth” behind Ronald Darby and Kevon Seymour, so the team will certainly be looking into drafting a cornerback.
Miami Dolphins – guard or outside linebacker
It appears Miami’s need for a guard outweighs their need for an OLB, since Koa Misi is on the roster. According to ESPN analyst James Walker, the team have a questionable situation with guards, considering free agent left guard Ted Larsen is a part-time starter and veteran Jermon Bushrod will be pressured to play 16 games while remaining injury free.
New England Patriots – running back
In a surprise move by the Patriots, power running back LeGarette Blount was not re-signed, despite being the team’s leading rusher (1,161 yards) and his 18 rushing TDs in 2016. This means only D.J. Foster, Rex Burkhead, James White and Dion Lewis make up their running back corp.
But while this year’s running back class is a deep one, the Patriots will likely miss out on the likes of Christian McAffrey, Leonard Fournette and Dalvin Cook.
New York Jets – safety
With the No. 6 overall pick, the Jets will most probably address this need first. There has been significant interest in Malik Hooker and Jamal Adams, two top prospects. Either of these players will be fitting backups or replacements for Calvin Pryor after his disappointing season. Adding to their urgency is the fact that Marcus Gilchrist will still be recovering from knee surgery come training camp.
Baltimore Ravens – pass rusher
The Ravens ranked 24th last season with 31 sacks. Investing in their defense did not pay off. Their current outside linebacker Terrell Suggs is aging. Fellow OLB Matt Judon and Za’Darius Smith have yet to prove themselves.
Baltimore faded towards the end of last season because they lacked a player with x-factor, someone who could successfully sack a quarterback again and again. The stats over their last four games speak volumes – three sacks and three losses.
Cincinnati Bengals – outside linebacker/pass rusher
With big plans to replace star veterans, guard Kevin Zeitler and tackle Andrew Whitworth, their offensive line is no longer a matter of high priority. Instead, they too are in serious need of a pass rusher.
Getting at quarterbacks has been a struggle over the last few years. With a partner in crime for Carlos Dunlap, Bengals defense may finally sing.
Cleveland Browns – quarterback
The Browns are the perpetual quarterback searchers. 2017 will be just like 2016, 2015, 2014… you get the picture. They traded for Brock Osweiler last month. So some are questioning whether they would even use their No. 1 pick for a quarterback, since the class isn’t deep.
Fox Sport’s Nunzio Ingrassia suspects the Browns will use one of their 11 other selections on the position. But with a history of health issues plaguing their past quarterbacks, they’d best draft one early.
Pittsburgh Steelers – pass rusher
Veteran James Harrison may have owned 7.5 sacks in his last 11 games, but behind him and Bud Dupree, the team lacks promising pass rushers. It’s important they focus on the OLB/pass rusher position entering the draft. Especially since Anthony Chickillohave and Arthur Moats have yet to prove themselves as consistent.
They’ll need a quick-fire athlete much like Jarvis Jones to replace Harrison in time to come. Jeremy Fowler of ESPN believes inside linebacker and tight end are also a matter of concern. It will be interesting to see in which direction the Steelers will go during the draft.
Houston Texans – quarterback
There had been plenty of talk about Tony Romo replacing the traded Osweiler. But his retirement means other veteran free agents like Colin Kaepernick and Jay Cutler could be called upon.
Tom Savage could have some competition on his hands during training camp if they can draft a decent quarterback. But with a weak class, there will be plenty of work ahead for the Texans.
Indianapolis Colts – outside linebacker/pass rusher
The Colts have signed a whopping 10 free agents. Yet none of the linebackers they’ve acquired are known for being difference-makers in the pass rush. The draft is now the best place for them to secure strong talent, since most free agents have been snatched up. Lucky for them, the OLB class is strong this year.
Jacksonville Jaguars – left or right guard
The Jaguars seem content with their re-signing of left tackle Patrick Omameh. He’ll most likely share the job with fellow veteran reserves. ESPN’s Mike DiRocco feels the team are being complacent in their relaxed attitude towards their offensive line. Considering a right guard should be drafted due to A.J. Cann’s lacklustre play last season…
Tennessee Titans – wide receiver
Sadly, the Titans are lacking a certain edge with their current receivers Tajae Sharp and Rishard Matthews. Together with third receiver Harry Douglas, Marcus Mariotta’s job won’t be made any easier.
Tennessee’s offense relies on a two-tight-end offense. So it’s possible they could go in another direction and equip themselves with another efficient tight end to pair with Delanie Walker. That way their pass-catching remains knife-sharp.
Denver Broncos – left tackle
The Broncos are the only team in the AFC with a huge gaping hold at left tackle. Donald Stephenson and Ty Sambrailo didn’t perform as well as they should have last season. In fact, Stephenson is considered a better right tackle, as is Menelik Wilson. Denver will need to address this in the first or second round of the draft. Perhaps Dion Dawkins or Joe Thomas will be the answer.
Kansas City Chiefs – running back
Open-field speed is an area the Chiefs need to focus on in the offseason. Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware gave up some big plays last season because they lacked the speed of Jamaal Charles. The Chiefs showed their hand when they signed veteran C.J. Spiller hoping he will return to his early-career form. They should play it safe and draft a running back, because it’s unlikely.
Los Angeles Chargers – safety
Dwight Lowery is self-admittedly near the end of his career. And while the Chargers replaced nickel defender Brandon Flowers with Jahleel Addae, they still need a versatile safety who thrives near the line of scrimmage and in the back field.
Chargers Wire’s Austin Gayle believes they need a “hard-hitting” safety, like Jamal Adams. A player like him could really boost the Chargers.
Oakland Raiders – middle/inside linebacker
The Raiders haven’t got a good history with their inside linebacker selections. According to Levi Damien of Silver and Black Pride, “They sign castoffs, make low round picks at the position, and simply move outside linebackers inside.”
This needs to change – the team needs an instinctive every-down middle linebacker like Haason Reddick or Zach Cunningham. If either of these two top prospects are still available at pick 24, they should be snatched up.
NFL Draft 2017: positions of need in the AFC
Every team knows which position they need to draft and most are reasonably realistic in their choices. But with so many teams needing the same position to be filled, the main concern now is whether their favourite prospects are still on the board by the time it’s their turn to pick.
by Yvonne Hew – contributor