With just Super Bowl LV left to play to wrap the 2020 NFL season, almost every team’s attention has turned to the offseason and to the moves they need to make to be the ones fighting for the Lombardi Trophy in a year’s time.
NFL Free agency is just around the corner, and the 2021 NFL Draft evaluation process is already well underway, with Senior Bowl practices taking place this week and the first version of the PFF Draft Guide already up and available (get yours here, and use code SUPERBOWL25 for 25% off).
But in order to work out what players your team should be pursuing in either free agency or the draft, we need to first get a handle on what each team’s biggest needs are. So, here we will set them out for all 32 franchises.
ARIZONA CARDINALS: WIDE RECEIVER, TIGHT END, INTERIOR DEFENSIVE LINE
The Arizona Cardinals are entering a make-or-break season in many ways in 2021. Things started brightly this season before fading down the stretch and casting some doubt about the direction the team is headed in. With Kyler Murray’s play hitting a plateau and Kliff Kingsbury struggling to take this offense to the moon, this is a team that needs to add weaponry even after the trade for DeAndre Hopkins last offseason.
This is a league where one threat is nice, but two or more is where the big gains are. Hopkins drew 154 targets in his first season with the team, but nobody else was even within half of that. The team is crying out for a legitimate secondary threat.
ATLANTA FALCONS: CORNERBACK, SAFETY, EDGE DEFENDER
The Falcons spent their first-round pick a year ago on a cornerback in the form of A.J. Terrell, but swinging again a year later isn’t an indictment of the former Clemson player. Terrell was about average as a rookie, which, given how 2020 went in terms of passing, was an achievement and put him among the best rookies at the position.
Terrell was beaten for a passer rating of 109.2 in Year 1, but the bigger point is that even if he were a superstar, the team would need a second corner to start alongside him. No cornerback on the roster in 2020 earned a PFF coverage grade north of 65.0.
BALTIMORE RAVENS: WIDE RECEIVER, INTERIOR OFFENSIVE LINE, SAFETY
At this point, the Ravens owe it to themselves to find out what a true No. 1 X-receiver would look like within this offense. It might not be the cure-all some think it would be, and they might not even make the best use of his talents given the run-heavy dynamic, but it’s clear that the offense isn’t all that it could be in the passing game — the lack of a player fitting that description has been evident for some time.
Marquise Brown caught 62.7% of the passes thrown his way this year and generated a quarterback rating of 100.0 when targeted, but he had just two contested catches all season. That’s a skill set lacking in the Ravens’ arsenal right now, and it’s a great offseason to try and find a player who can bring that over.
BUFFALO BILLS: OFFENSIVE TACKLE, CORNERBACK, INTERIOR DEFENSIVE LINE
It’s difficult to find glaring needs on this roster, which is a good sign for the Bills as they look toward 2021. There are certainly areas that could be strengthened, but no one area stands out as prohibitively problematic, and there are plenty of places where they are playing with real strength.
Daryl Williams is scheduled to be a free agent, and while he played well this past season, he has a lot of questionable tape on his resume, as well. In an excellent tackle draft, Buffalo could look to upgrade and get cheaper at right tackle. Williams allowed 29 total pressures from 827 pass-blocking snaps including the playoffs and was penalized nine times. Seven of those pressures were sacks.
CAROLINA PANTHERS: LINEBACKER, EDGE, TIGHT END
The Panthers threw all of their draft resources at defense last season, but there is still work to be done. With no Luke Kuechly, the team has still yet to replace what the star linebacker brought to the defense.
Shaq Thompson was supposed to step into a larger role and be that talisman this season, but Thompson ended the year with an overall PFF grade of just 51.6 with no above-average facet of play. That’s a career-low grade for Thompson by some margin, and it has to cast doubt about whether he needs to be more of a complementary player to somebody new in the linebacker corps. No linebacker on the roster who played more than 10 snaps earned an overall PFF grade above 62.0.
CHICAGO BEARS: QUARTERBACK, OFFENSIVE LINE, WIDE RECEIVER
The Mitchell Trubisky experiment has failed on multiple occasions now and adding Nick Foles to the roster as a hedge did little to help. It’s time for the team to clean house at the position and start over. Maybe one of those players can serve as a solid backup, but the Bears need a new starter.
Trubisky recorded twice as many turnover-worthy plays as big-time throws this season, and while Foles was better in that regard, he still passed for just 5.9 yards per attempt and earned a PFF passing grade below 70.0 in a season of record passing numbers.
CINCINNATI BENGALS: INTERIOR OFFENSIVE LINE, OFFENSIVE TACKLE, CORNERBACK
The Bengals have a lot of holes on the roster, and limiting their team needs to just three areas is doing it a great disservice. But given how the season ended for QB Joe Burrow — their new franchise quarterback — they need to desperately address the offensive line and protect their biggest asset.
Burrow was put under pressure on 32.2% of his dropbacks this season, and 21.2% of those pressure plays resulted in a sack. Cincinnati’s offensive line as a group combined to surrender 181 total pressures and ranked 27th in the league in pass-blocking efficiency. They need to attack the offensive line in a huge way to prevent a repeat disaster.
CLEVELAND BROWNS: SAFETY, LINEBACKER, INTERIOR DEFENSIVE LINE
Cleveland’s offense is in a good place despite some question marks at wide receiver — not least of which is whether Odell Beckham Jr. is part of the plan moving forward — but defense is obviously the place they need work.
The back seven is a problem area, and while they have players coming back who might help at cornerback, the safety and linebacker positions, in particular, need an injection of talent. Andrew Sendejo led the team in safety snaps (918) after playing mostly as a backup for his two previous teams and seasons of play. He earned an overall PFF grade of 44.4, and his coverage grade was even worse (39.3).
DALLAS COWBOYS: INTERIOR DEFENSIVE LINE, SAFETY, OFFENSIVE TACKLE
The fact that Dallas needs defensive help shouldn’t be a shock if you watched them for more than five minutes this season. Generally, being stout against the run isn’t that big of an issue in today’s NFL, right up to the point you’re as bad at defending it as Dallas was. The Cowboys allowed 2.3 yards per carry before first contact on average, which was the most in the league by a clear half-yard. At the other end of the scale, the Bucs allowed just one yard on average before a defender made first contact.
The Dallas defensive front was just blown off the ball with frightening regularity, and they need an impact player up the middle to prevent that from happening again in 2021.
DENVER BRONCOS: QUARTERBACK, CORNERBACK, INTERIOR OFFENSIVE LINE
Denver is a team ready to charge if they could just find a viable quarterback. PFF ranked Drew Lock as the 32nd-ranked passer entering the season, the worst starter in the league, and he ended up with an overall PFF grade of 63.5 by the end of it, good enough to rank 34th out of 42 qualifiers. Lock is young and occasionally flashes big talent, but the Broncos have to find an upgrade — even if it’s only a temporary fix — or risk Lock dragging down the young playmakers around him. Rookies K.J. Hamler and Jerry Jeudy had the worst and second-worst drop rates in the league, respectively.
DETROIT LIONS: LINEBACKER, EDGE DEFENDER, WIDE RECEIVER
Detroit is another team with several major holes on the roster, but none are in worse shape than linebacker, where the players they have drafted in recent seasons just haven’t lived up to expectations.
Five linebackers played significant snaps for the Lions in 2020, and none earned an overall PFF grade of more than 65.0. Two of them earned identical — and awful — PFF coverage grades of just 35.7. In a passing league, the Lions need to find second-level defenders who can hold up in coverage without being lit up by opposing passing attacks, and they’re a long way from that with the current group.
GREEN BAY PACKERS: LINEBACKER, INTERIOR DEFENSIVE LINE, CORNERBACK
The Packers have a similar need at linebacker, if not quite acute. Injuries hammered the Packers’ linebackers this season, and while they did have some young players flash ability, the group’s overall baseline was not high. Four of the five linebackers who saw snaps on defense in the regular season were beaten for a passer rating above 110.0 in coverage, and the best of the group (Kamal Martin) may have only escaped that because he only saw four passes thrown into his coverage. The Packers defense isn’t a bad unit, but it needs some help at all three levels.
HOUSTON TEXANS: CORNERBACK, EDGE DEFENDER, SAFETY
Houston’s defense was a disaster in 2020. It was such a problem that the team finished 4-12 despite Deshaun Watson finishing the year as the No. 3-graded quarterback in the league — behind only Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady. Watson was the only passer in the league without a single sub-60.0 PFF game grade, but the Texans’ defense allowed the 30th-most yards per play, the 31st-most expected points added per play and the highest passer rating in the league. Every position within that unit is due for an upgrade, and even J.J. Watt — Houston’s best player on that side of the ball — was a shadow of his former greatness in 2020.
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS: QUARTERBACK, EDGE DEFENDER, WIDE RECEIVER
As soon as Philip Rivers retired, quarterback became the biggest need on the Indianapolis roster — that is, if it hadn’t been already. Rivers was able to guide the Colts into the playoffs in his first season with the franchise but came up short against a better team. The Colts’ roster is still good, but the team now needs to find a new signal-caller. Rivers finished the year with a 77.2 overall PFF grade, which is solid but was only good enough to rank 17th in the league amid a year of record passing figures.
JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS: QUARTERBACK, EDGE DEFENDER, CORNERBACK
Jacksonville’s biggest need is quarterback, but it is presumed the franchise will address that by selecting Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Lawrence had three straight seasons as a starter with an overall PFF grade above 90.0, and he is widely believed to be the best prospect to come along since at least Andrew Luck in 2012. Beyond quarterback, the team needs help in most areas. Edge rusher is still a huge weakness, with recent draft picks Josh Allen and K’Lavon Chaisson yet to show signs of dominating. Chaisson had just 29 total pressures on 336 pass-rush snaps, while Allen notched 22 on 246 snaps before injury took him out.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: OFFENSIVE GUARD, EDGE DEFENDER, LINEBACKER
The Chiefs are the best team in football, but they still have a surprising number of weaknesses. It just doesn’t matter because their strengths are in the right areas, which includes having the best quarterback in the game. Their offensive line has been hit hard by the injury bug this season, but even outside of that, the unit could use help at guard. No guard on the roster either this year or last posted a PFF grade above 70.0. Mahomes and the passing attack limit the impact of that weakness, but that doesn’t mean Kansas City shouldn’t attack it this offseason.
LAS VEGAS RAIDERS: EDGE DEFENDER, INTERIOR DEFENSIVE LINE, SAFETY
The Raiders theoretically “won” the Khalil Mack trade on paper if you look at the abstract value of what they brought back in return. Still, the franchise needs to spend that value wisely, and it has struggled to do so. Las Vegas has yet to replace what Mack brought to the table. In the three seasons since he departed, the team hasn’t had an edge rusher top 50 total pressures, and Mack’s final year with the Raiders saw him post 79, a three-year low at the time. The highest PFF pass-rushing grade of the group this past season was just 70.0, so Las Vegas need to find a solution again.
LOS ANGELES CHARGERS: INTERIOR DEFENSIVE LINE, TIGHT END, INTERIOR OFFENSIVE LINE
One of the great constants in life is the Chargers being in need of offensive line help. That remains true with a young quarterback in 2021, but their biggest need might be inside on the defensive line. Linval Joseph isn’t the player he once was, even against the run (64.0 PFF grade in 2020), while Jerry Tillery has been a disappointment since entering the league, notching just 45 total pressures across more than 650 pass-rushing snaps in his short NFL career. The Chargers need to add an impact playmaker to that defensive interior to maintain the strength they have in the front seven.
LOS ANGELES RAMS: LINEBACKER, QUARTERBACK, EDGE DEFENDER
Quarterback might be Los Angeles’ biggest need, but with Jared Goff locked into a big-money contract, they’re unlikely to be able to do much about it. Outside of that, linebacker is still a weakness on a defense that proved to be the best unit in football in 2020. The best PFF grade among the linebacker corps this season was just 60.4, and none of them graded above 60.0 in coverage despite an elite secondary behind them. The Rams’ defense is already excellent, but a difference-maker at linebacker would make the group that much better.
MIAMI DOLPHINS: INTERIOR OFFENSIVE LINE, EDGE DEFENDER, WIDE RECEIVER
Miami’s offensive line in 2020 was probably worse than it looked given how well it was protected by the scheme and the quarterbacks, and the unit actually had some encouraging play at tackle with Robert Hunt on the right side. Austin Jackson was always going to take some development on the left side, but he will be given time as a first-round pick, leaving the interior as the place to attack. Miami’s guards coughed up 37 total pressures between them this season. So while there is some youth and potential for development, the Dolphins would be wise to jump on a clear upgrade if one presents itself.
MINNESOTA VIKINGS: OFFENSIVE GUARD, INTERIOR DEFENSIVE LINE, EDGE DEFENDER
The Minnesota Vikings have several glaring holes that need to be addressed, none bigger than on the offensive line. Minnesota’s guards were some of the worst starters in the league in 2020, with Dru Samia ending up with an 18.7 PFF pass-blocking grade and Dakota Dozier a 36.7 pass-blocking mark. Former first-round pick Garrett Bradbury was a little better at center (38.8), meaning the entire interior could use an upgrade. The defensive line was also an abysmal unit once it had no Danielle Hunter to rely on, and any spot outside of his could use an immediate upgrade.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: QUARTERBACK, WIDE RECEIVER, TIGHT END
Cam Newton wasn’t the answer in New England, but he exposed that the problems in the team’s passing game ran far deeper than an aging Tom Brady. The Patriots just have nobody bringing any kind of plus play at receiver — and they haven’t for a couple of seasons. Jakobi Meyers earned an 80.0 PFF receiving grade this season, but nobody else was within 10 grading points. And former first-round receiver N’Keal Harry was the worst of the group (61.4). The Patriots need to go back to the well in a big way to give whoever their quarterback is any kind of hope.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: QUARTERBACK, CORNERBACK, WIDE RECEIVER
Assuming Drew Brees finally rides off into the sunset, retirement and an announcing booth (as he should, based on this season), the Saints need quarterback help. Jameis Winston is an impending free agent, and only stubbornness would lead you to believe that Taysom Hill is the best you can do at the position given what we have seen from him so far. Hill hasn’t been atrocious (68.6 overall PFF grade), but he is a limiting factor for an offense that needs to be constructed around what he can do. This team doesn’t need that kind of headache if they can avoid it.
NEW YORK GIANTS: OFFENSIVE GUARD, EDGE DEFENDER, WIDE RECEIVER
Kevin Zeitler was a solid player at one guard spot, but the other one for the Giants was a mess. Will Hernandez and Shane Lemieux combined to create a problem spot all season long regardless of who was starting. The pair surrendered 50 total pressures and had PFF run-blocking grades below 60.0 each. They are both young players, but at this point the Giants may not have the luxury of allowing them to develop if the team values the development of quarterback Daniel Jones, who had a PFF grade of 91.5 when kept clean this season but 46.9 when pressured.
NEW YORK JETS: QUARTERBACK, CORNERBACK, EDGE DEFENDER
It’s far from all his fault, but at this point Sam Darnold has played himself out of a starting job unless the New York Jets are asleep at the switch or big fans of huge gambles. Darnold ended the season with a PFF grade of 58.4, the lowest of his career by a significant margin despite a record-setting season for offense across the league. Darnold was inefficient across the board and only mustered a PFF grade of 59.1 and passer rating of 81.7 from a clean pocket. The Jets still have work to do around the quarterback, but they need a new solution at the most important position as well.
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: LINEBACKER, CORNERBACK, QUARTERBACK
Let’s assume for a moment that the Eagles can work things out with Carson Wentz given the regime change at head coach and somehow piece him back together to the point where he was a good starter. At that point, by far their biggest weakness is at linebacker, where the group they had this season was being lit up with frightening regularity. None of the linebackers they used in 2020 had a PFF coverage grade above 65, and the player that had the best mark (T.J. Edwards) was an undrafted player with major athleticism limitations in 2019.
PITTSBURGH STEELERS: QUARTERBACK, INTERIOR OFFENSIVE LINE, RUNNING BACK
Whether Ben Roethlisberger is going to walk away or not, quarterback has become a need for the Steelers. The team’s overall quality and some unsustainable play on third down masked the fact that Roethlisberger wasn’t actually playing very well for much of the season. He finished the regular season with a PFF grade of just 69.0, which ranked 25th in the league. From a clean pocket — one of the most stable and predictive metrics in quarterback play — Roethlisberger ranked 33rd out of 37 qualifiers. The Steelers either need a new starter or a very viable succession plan who may have to be ready to take the reins sooner rather than later in 2021.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS: CORNERBACK, INTERIOR DEFENSIVE LINE, QUARTERBACK
Richard Sherman was great for the 49ers in 2019 and Jason Verrett was excellent in 2020, his first healthy season in several years, but both players are scheduled to be free agents and the 49ers don’t have a great group outside of them. Ahkello Witherspoon bounced back this season after being destroyed at times in 2019, but he has been beaten for a passer rating of over 100 for his career, and nobody else on the roster played more than 500 snaps this season. The 49ers need to find a new No. 1 cornerback or make a big push to retain Verrett.
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: CORNERBACK, EDGE DEFENDER, INTERIOR DEFENSIVE LINE
Seattle’s cornerbacks were supposed to be a strength in 2020, but Quinton Dunbar missed most of the year injured and Shaquill Griffin wasn’t able to duplicate his career year from 2019. Griffin was beaten for a passer rating of 95.2 when targeted, allowing 61.6% of the passes thrown his way to be caught, and gave up six touchdowns. The Seahawks need to find a way to get better on the back end and stop exposing their safeties so badly, and that starts with improved cornerback play — what was once a mainstay of this defense.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS: LINEBACKER, INTERIOR DEFENSIVE LINE, EDGE DEFENDER
With Lavonte David slated to be a free agent, the Bucs need to replace the kind of high-level impact play he brought to the defense for the better part of a decade. David was again excellent in 2020, and while Devin White is seen in some circles as a quality partner and obvious successor, he is a better athlete than football player right now and has serious weaknesses in coverage — an area in which David has been incredibly strong over the years. White was beaten for a passer rating more than 20 points higher than David when each was targeted in 2020, surrendering far more receiving yards and making fewer plays on the football.
TENNESSEE TITANS: EDGE DEFENDER, CORNERBACK, OFFENSIVE TACKLE
The Titans just haven’t been able to generate pressure on the quarterback, and they need to find an answer to that lack of pass rush. Harold Landry hasn’t become the player we expected him to at the NFL level, and though he had 51 total pressures this season, it took him 546 snaps rushing the passer to generate that many — and only five of them were sacks. Landry’s PFF pass-rushing grade of 61.1 was a career-high but still clocked in at a below-average mark. Landry almost doubled the next-best mark for Titans edge rushers in terms of pressures (28), so Tennessee needs a new answer.
WASHINGTON FOOTBALL TEAM: QUARTERBACK, WIDE RECEIVER, OFFENSIVE TACKLE
The Washington Football Team took advantage of a weak NFC East to sneak into the playoffs. While they may have ridden some good luck a little, they showed that they are a formidable team that is moving in the right direction fast. The issue is that they have no real answer at the most important position. Alex Smith was a comeback story for the ages given his gruesome injury, but his recurring calf problem raised questions about his future — and even if it hadn’t his level of play is closer to that of a backup, with an overall PFF grade of just 66.0. Taylor Heinicke was genuinely fantastic in the playoffs, but even a generous interpretation of his play is based on a sample size of two games, which just isn’t enough to gamble on. Washington needs to find a quarterback.