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AFC Team Needs and Off-season Outlooks

By Jake Schwanitz (@JakeSchwanitz)

AFC West

Kansas City Chiefs: DL, CB, WR, QB

The Chiefs run defense ranked 29th in DVOA with teams averaging 128.2 yards on the ground per game in 2019. Whether the Chiefs are able to retain star defensive lineman Chris Jones is their main concern this off-season, but they also must improve a unit that has been one of the worst in the league against the run since 2017. Despite their struggles against the run, Kansas City’s pass defense has improved greatly over the last three seasons finishing at 6th in the NFL in 2019 according to DVOA. Cornerbacks Kendall Fuller, Bashaud Breeland and Morris Claiborne are all free agents in 2020 creating a need for the Chiefs in the back end. The Chiefs wide receiving corps was one of the best in the NFL in 2019 but will need some fine tuning in order to maintain that status. Demarcus Robinson is hitting free agency and questions are circling about Sammy Watkins' future in KC with potential retirement talks and a looming $21 million cap hit in 2020. Patrick Mahomes is coming off another stellar season and Super Bowl MVP honors despite facing injuries in 2019, but both Matt Moore and Chad Henne are free agents this spring. Expect Kansas City to bring in an established veteran to back up Mahomes in 2020.

Denver Broncos: WR, C, CB, DL

The Denver Broncos finally have some stability at the quarterback position with Drew Lock but need to address his supporting cast. Courtland Sutton emerged as a potential dominant player at the receiver position in 2019 but he headlines an otherwise weak receiving corps. Noah Fant came on late in 2019 and gave Lock another weapon to target, but the Broncos lack speed and playmaking ability on the outside. Connor McGovern, 2019 starting center, is entering free agency. Meanwhile, Ron Leary’s 2020 cap hit of $9.3 million will come into question as will Garrett Bolles’ chances of starting at left tackle for 2020. Moving over to the defensive side of the ball, the Broncos have multiple players looking for extensions. Derek Wolfe, Shelby Harris, Adam Gotsis, Chris Harris, Will Parks and Jusin Simmons all played a significant number of snaps in 2019. Rumors of an extension for Simmons have been swirling for months while rumors of Chris Harris’ extension seemed to have fizzled out. With at least $60 million in cap space and five picks in the top 100 of the 2020 Draft, Denver has ammo to fill all their needs.

Las Vegas Raiders: WR, LB, CB, S

Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock have their work cutout for them as the Las Vegas Raiders debut in 2020. The Antonio Brown circus has short lived for the Raiders but it left a massive void at wide receiver. While Tyrell Williams and Hunter Renfrow produced at times, this team desperately needs a natural WR1 to threaten defenses and open up areas for Williams and Renfrow. Whether or not Derek Carr is the QB beyond 2020 remains to be seen. Once again, the Raiders enter the off-season with multiple holes to fill on defense. While the pass rush improved from 13 sacks in 2018 to 32 in 2019, the secondary still allowed big plays on a consistent basis. Rookies Jonathan Abram and Trayvon Mullen were expected to play a big role in 2020, but after Abram was lost to injury for the season in Week 1 the secondary struggled. Ranking 30th in the league in pass defense according to DVOA and only recording nine interceptions in 2019, look for the Raiders to add another corner and a true center-field playing safety for 2020. With $54 million in cap space and two first round picks, the Raiders will be actively filling these needs this offseason.

Los Angeles Chargers: QB, RB, TE, CB

2020 is bringing a flurry of changes for the Los Angeles Chargers. Not only are they getting a new home stadium, they will be looking for a new face of their franchise. Philip Rivers is out making the Chargers 6th overall pick in April’s Draft quite intriguing. Rumors of Tom Brady heading west to join the Chargers have been swirling since the beginning of the new year also. Melvin Gordon will finally be getting paid this spring but chances are it will not be the Chargers signing that check. Austin Ekeler has put himself on the map with his play in Gordon’s absence but questions remain whether he can carry the load on his own. I would expect the Chargers to add at least one more back to compliment Ekeler. Hunter Henry’s injury riddled Chargers career is most likely over. The tight end returned in 2019 playing 12 games contributing 55 receptions for 652 yards and five touchdowns but it would make sense if the Chargers looked elsewhere for their starting tight end. The Chargers defense struggled in 2019 with injuries but got Derwin James back late in the season. James’ return wasn’t enough to save a mediocre pass defense, ranking 20th in DVOA for 2019. Casey Hayward and Desmond King could use one more addition to bolster the Charger’s defense.

AFC North

Baltimore Ravens: WR, EDGE, LB

After a disappointing end to their 2019 season, the Baltimore Ravens realized they are still a few pieces away from being a true championship contender. Luckily for them, this team is young and has the reigning league MVP, Lamar Jackson. Jackson impressed as a passer in 2019, improving in many areas. Marquise Brown impressed as a rookie with his speed and deep threat ability. A true technician and route runner in the middle and intermediate areas of the field could really open up the Ravens offense, expect Baltimore to target a wide receiver in free agency. The Ravens defense got off to a slow start in 2019 but ended up finding a groove as the season progressed. Matt Judon, Pernell McPhee and Patrick Onwuasor are free agents this spring and I’m not completely sure the Ravens were able to fill the void left by C.J. Mosley in 2019.

Pittsburgh Steelers: QB, RB, TE

The Pittsburgh Steelers problems for the 2019 season begin and end with the quarterback position. While Roethlisberger is expected to come back and lead the team in 2020, there are questions about how effective he will be returning from injury and how long he will be able to be the franchise quarterback. Roethlisberger aside, the Steelers have to improve at quarterback behind Ben as Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges proved to be largely ineffective. James Connor entered 2019 looking to capitalize off his 2018 breakout season. Connor only played 10 games producing 715 all-purpose yards. Jaylen Samuels has been a mediocre back up and Benny Snell was only seen in limited instances. Adding another back to help lead the backfield with Connor could take some pressure off of the Steelers QB’s. Vance McDonald is facing a club option for $6.5 million this off-season, either way the Steelers lack a presence over the middle of the field. A true middle of the field threat could open up the perimeter for the Steelers young receiving corps. With limited cap space and only four picks in the 2020 Draft, it could be difficult for the Steelers to improve their roster this season.

Cleveland Browns: LT, WR, EDGE

If we learned anything from 2019, we learned the Browns are still the Browns. While the roster is in a much better spot overall than it has been in years prior, Cleveland is still lacking some players at key positions. Since Joe Thomas retired after 2017, the Browns have struggled to find a suitable replacement at left tackle. Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry are a great 1-2 punch at receiver but the Browns lack a suitable third option at the position. With Baker Mayfield still on a rookie contract, the Browns need to capitalize on this advantage and surround Mayfield with as much talent as possible. It became clear once Myles Garrett was lost for the year due to suspension that the Browns lack a clear second pass rusher. With yet another new coaching staff, the Browns have a good amount of picks and about $50 million in cap space to improve their roster and push for their first playoff appearance since 2002.

Cincinnati Bengals: QB, WR, RT, EDGE

If you’re picking first overall, chances are your team has issues all over the field. That’s the case for the Cincinnati Bengals who are expected to move on from long-time quarterback Andy Dalton. Joe Burrow is expected to go first overall which will address the quarterback position but it will not matter much if the Bengals are unable to improve the team in multiple areas. A.J. Green is scheduled to enter free agency and despite stating his desire to stay in Cincinnati, the Bengals need to get better at receiver. Tyler Boyd has shown flashes of being a solid number 2 but John Ross has not been able to live up to his draft position. Disaster hit the Bengals early in 2019 when Jonah Williams was lost for the season before it even started. The offensive line was in shambles and right tackle is the position in greatest need of improvement. The Bengals also finished with only 31 sacks and were unsuccessful with generating pressure on opposing quarterbacks. If you’re going to have to face Lamar Jackson at quarterback for the near future, you must get faster on the edges.

AFC East

New England Patriots: QB, TE, WR, LB

Tom Brady is expected to test the open market but it seems that the best fit for both the Patriots and Brady in 2020 would be for Brady to return. That being said, eventually Tom Brady will retire and drafting a successor or signing a player like Teddy Bridgewater could help solidify the quarterback position for life after Brady. Rob Gronkowski’s retirement before the 2019 season hurt the Patriots greatly. Ben Watson isn’t getting any younger and Matt LaCosse isn’t anything better than replacement level. The Antonio Brown era in New England only lasted one week in 2019 and Josh Gordon was waived late in the season leaving Julian Edelman as the only threat on the perimeter. N’Keal Harry’s rookie season was disappointing leaving the Patriots searching for answers at wide receiver. Jamie Collins, Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts are all entering free agency. Bill Belichik has shown that he can find players from anywhere to come in and play linebacker for the Patriots. It would be shocking to see the Patriots use a high draft pick or shell out major cash to pay for a linebacker, but expect to see New England address this position one way or another.

Buffalo Bills: RB, WR, EDGE

The Buffalo Bills are entering the 2020 off-season as one of the most well-rounded teams in the league. Josh Allen showed some improvement in his second season, even if he seemed shellshocked at times in his first career playoff game. The running back position was fine for the Bills in 2019, Devin Singletary showed flashes and Frank Gore contributed where he could. Ideally, Singletary will be the lead back for Buffalo for years to come but it would be nice to get him a complimentary piece that can complete the Bills running back room. If the Bills’ brass are going to complete their team in the image of the mid-2010s Carolina Panthers, a great receiving back would fit in nicely. Wide receiver is the biggest need for the upstart Bills. Adding John Brown and Cole Beasley proved to be good signings but this team lacks a solid WR1. An excellent to elite route runner on the outside would really help complete this receiving corps. The Bills’ defense is their strength with good players at all three areas of the field. I can’t help but feel like a premier edge rusher would complete this defense. If the Bills can sign someone like Jadeveon Clowney or Matt Judon to give them a real pass rush threat, this team will be hard to beat in 2020.

New York Jets: WR, T, C, CB, EDGE

The New York Jets turned it on late in the year to finish 7-9 after a 1-7 start. This team needs help, let’s just cut to the chase. Sam Darnold has shown flashes in his first two years but has not had the supporting cast to let him shine to his full potential. With Robby Anderson entering free agency, the Jets are in desperate need of a wide receivers. Jamison Crowder was someone that Darnold showed trust in as the season progressed but this team needs more on the outside in order to threaten defenses. Le’Veon Bell was the Jets big signing in the 2019 off-season, say what you will about the production and how much of a disappointment Bell was the blocking just wasn’t there. With both starting tackles entering free agency along with their starting guard and center, the Jets need to improve at nearly every position on the offensive line if they want Bell or Darnold to be the best versions of themselves. Despite the offenses’ struggles in 2019, the Jets defense showed that they have potential to be one of the better units in the league. Headlined by players at all three levels including Quinnen Williams, C.J. Mosley and Jamal Adams, the Jets must improve their pass rush to become one of the few feared NFL defenses. Five picks in the top 100 of the 2020 Draft and about $50 million in cap space to work with, a good off-season can have the Jets ready to roll in 2020.

Miami Dolphins: QB, LT, RB, CB

One of the most fascinating teams this off-season will be the Miami Dolphins. While most had fun at the expense of Miami early in the season for tanking, Head Coach Brian Flores had a great impact on his team finishing the last half of the season with a 5-4 record bringing them to 5-11 overall. The speculation surrounding the Dolphins quarterback position has been fun to talk about with Ryan Fitzpatrick providing a spark once he returned to the starting lineup and the many reports linking them to Tua Tagovailoa. The Dolphins traded away Laremy Tunsil before the 2019 season leaving a void at left tackle. With three first round picks expect the Dolphins to add a cornerstone at left tackle. The Dolphins running back room was one of the worst in the NFL in 2019 ranking last in the league in DVOA. It would make sense for the Dolphins to be one of the first teams to select a running back in this April’s draft. Xavien Howard has proved he is one of the best cornerbacks in the league and while the Dolphins got great play out of undrafted corner Nik Needham, the position needs to improve as the Dolphins finished last in the league in pass defense according to DVOA. The Dolphins have the most cap space and draft picks in the NFL for 2020.

AFC South

Houston Texans: RB, IOL, EDGE, CB

Bill O’Brien took over full control of the football operations of the Texans in 2019 and made a few splashes along the way. The offensive line was better still allowed DeShaun Watson to be sacked 49 times while being hit 93 times. Laremy Tunsil and Tytus Howard helped secure the edges of the offensive line but the interior shows that there is still room to improve. Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson were also brought in before the 2019 season to lead the backfield after Lamar Miller tore his ACL. Hyde and Johnson played well enough to help the Texans to the playoffs but the lack of a true threat in the backfield has been a hindrance for the Texans since Arian Foster was on the team. Jadeveon Clowney was traded away and J.J. Watt struggled with injuries again in 2019. The Texans only produced 31 sacks and desperately need to gain another playmaker on the edge to bring the defense back to a good level. Bradley Roby and Jonathan Joseph are hitting free agency leaving a pretty big hole at corner for the Texans. The Texans don’t pick until the 57th overall pick in April’s draft but have $55 million to work with in free agency.

Tennessee Titans: RT, WR, CB,

The first big decisions for the Tennessee Titans are going to be made in regards to Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry who are both free agents. Assuming both of those players are re-signed, the Titans offense is in good shape at nearly every other position. A.J. Brown had an excellent rookie season and Adam Humphries provided to be a reliable receiver out of the slot. While Corey Davis hasn’t lived up to his draft position, he has played fine but another threat on the outside would make this offense lethal. Jack Conklin has been underwhelming for a first round pick at right tackle, if the Titans want to keep up with their smashmouth style on offense an improvement at right tackle would only help. The Titans need for another cornerback was on full display during the playoffs. With Malcolm Butler going down to injury earlier in the year, Tremaine Brock was asked to play a bigger role and was exposed in multiple games. A lockdown corner opposite Adoree' Jackson would help sure up the Titans defense.

Indianapolis Colts: QB, WR, CB

Andrew Luck stunned the entire sports world with his early retirement before the 2019 season. The Indianapolis Colts were fortunate enough to have Jacoby Brissett on their roster to fill in for 2019 but in order for this team to reach its full potential they need to have a true playmaker at quarterback. T.Y. Hilton has proved he can break a game wide open with his ability to make plays and out run opposing defenses. A solid complimentary target opposite of Hilton would help the Colts offense get back to being one of the better units in the league. Chris Ballard has done a great job improving the Colts’ defense since taking over in 2017. Cornerback remains one of the weak spots on this team leaving the Colts’ without a player to lock down other team’s number one targets. With $86 million in cap space and four picks in the top 100, look for the Colts to make a push back into the playoffs in 2020.

Jacksonville Jaguars: TE, LB, CB

The Jacksonville Jaguars have quite the decision to make at quarterback with Nick Foles and Gardner Minshew. Both players are securely under contract though pushing this decision further down the road. The receiving corps showed flashes with D.J. Chark impressing in his sophomore season and getting contributions from Dede Westbrook and Chris Conley. The Jaguars lack a good presence over the middle which brings up the need for a true playmaker at tight end. Jacksonville was stunned by Telvin Smith stepping away from the game prior to the 2019 season and the defense took another step back after making a deep run in 2017. Jalen Ramsey stole many of the headlines for the Jaguars going back to training camp before ultimately being traded mid-season. In order for the Jaguars to be a championship contender, playmakers and leaders need to be brought in to solidify their defense at the linebacker and cornerback position. Two first round picks should help the Jaguars in 2020 but their cap situation is one of the worst in the league, still needing to make some moves to be under the cap before the new league year.



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