At this point in the offseason, every NFL team is still trying to fill holes on their current roster. One of the biggest opportunities to make improvements is in the upcoming NFL draft next week. With that in mind, STATS takes a deep dive into the biggest question marks on every roster in the NFC based on our latest projections.
We also have created pre-draft power rankings for each team in the NFL. Those rankings are listed at the beginning of each team’s section, and are in terms of the entire league, not just the NFC. We wrote about the AFC last week, which you can read here.
Dallas Cowboys (STATS Pre-Draft Power Ranking – 3)
Biggest Question: Defensive Line
The Cowboys boast one of the most well-rounded rosters in the league. Their offensive line and pass defense stand out as the strengths of the team, but they could use an upgrade on the defensive line. In the STATS’ projections for this season, the Cowboys currently rank 23rd in run defense and 20th in pass rush. If you take out DeMarcus Lawrence, who was outstanding last season, no other Cowboy defensive lineman that got consistent playing time had a positive impact according to STATS’ analysis. Randy Gregory was also suspended indefinitely this offseason, so the Cowboys could use an upgrade at pretty much any position across the D-line.
America’s team does not have a first-round pick because of the Amari Cooper trade, but look for them to focus on defensive line when they finally get on the clock at No. 58 and maybe pick up another center in the later rounds for insurance.
New York Giants (25)
Biggest Question: Edge Rusher and Right Tackle
Your first thought was probably ‘Not Quarterback?’ Nope. Eli Manning was by no means elite last season, but nothing in his advanced statistical profile jumps out as particularly bad. STATS actually had him as an average quarterback in 2018 and projects about the same performance for this upcoming season.
Meanwhile, the Giants have two much bigger problems. Their pass rush projects to be nothing short of atrocious at 31st in the NFL. Olivier Vernon was their only good edge rusher last season, and they traded him to the Browns for guard Kevin Zeitler. They also desperately need to upgrade at right tackle. They got the second-worst play from the right tackle position of any team in the league last year. If they had just gotten league-average play from their right tackle last season, they would have jumped from 21st to 14th in STATS’ offensive line rankings. An improved right tackle and the upgrade with Zeitler could catapult the Giants to a top-10 offensive line. The Giants may feel pressure to find their quarterback of the future, but if they want to upgrade their team the most, they should start by using their two first round picks on an edge rusher and right tackle.
Philadelphia Eagles (1) Biggest Question: Linebacker and Backup Quarterback
Obviously, there really are not many holes on what we see as the best roster in the NFL. Every single unit rates above league-average, but the Eagles could really use a cover linebacker to bolster their pass defense after losing Jordan Hicks to the Arizona Cardinals in free agency. He gave up 2.36 yards less than expected per target last season, the best mark of any linebacker in the NFL. The Eagles need to find his replacement in the draft.
Also, with the departure of Nick Foles to Jacksonville, Nate Sudfeld is the current backup quarterback in Philadelphia for an injury-prone Carson Wentz. The Eagles probably want to rectify that with a veteran, but they could also bring in a younger guy through the draft.
Washington Redskins (11)
Biggest Question: Receiver
The Redskins quarterback situation is not great after the injury to Alex Smith. They traded for Case Keenum, but a 31-year-old quarterback with Keenum’s track record feels like a stop gap. In the short term, they need to surround Keenum with better offensive weapons if he is going to succeed. Josh Doctson is currently listed as the No. 1 receiver after Jamison Crowder left for the Jets in free agency, and beyond him there is not much. The Redskins could really use some help on a pass catching unit that projects to be 23rd in value added this season.
The Redskins will undoubtedly look to address the future of the quarterback position in the draft. Keenum is probably not a long-term answer, and who knows when, if ever, Smith returns to the field. Look for them to use an early pick on a quarterback, and then one of their subsequent picks on a receiver.
Chicago Bears (18)
Biggest Question: Quarterback
The Bears actually have a pretty strong roster, especially on defense where we project them to have the No. 1 pass rush this season, but they come in as a below-average team in our power rankings because of Mitch Trubisky’s limitations at quarterback. He rates as a bottom-five quarterback mostly because of his accuracy issues. Bears fans will point to him jumping from 27th in completion percentage his rookie year to 14th this year as a sign of optimism. Unfortunately, a deeper dive into the numbers proves that they are mistaken. STATS’ completion metric, which filters out the screens and shovel passes that are so prevalent in Matt Nagy’s offense, had Trubisky’s expected completion percentage last season at 60.5 percent, fifth-worst in the NFL. The only four guys behind him? Four rookies (Josh Allen, Josh Rosen, Sam Darnold, and Lamar Jackson).
So how do the Bears help Trubisky improve? They have to surround him with more weapons at the skill positions. STATS has the Bears’ pass catchers as a bottom-third unit in the league, and while none of the receivers are particularly bad, Trubisky only had an open throw on 68.4 percent of his attempts last season, tied for 25th in the NFL. The Bears could also use another running back in their rotation after trading Jordan Howard to the Eagles and losing Benny Cunningham in free agency. They already signed Mike Davis from Seattle, but they may want to add one more running back in the mix. The Bears have no first round pick as a result of the Khalil Mack trade, so look for Ryan Pace to add skill position players in the middle rounds.
Detroit Lions (21)
Biggest Question: Cornerback
This might have been pass rush until the Lions signed Trey Flowers and franchised Ziggy Ansah this offseason, so the problem is solved at least for now. They also really need help on the backend of the defense though. Their best corner, Darius Slay, had a strong season, as did newly-signed slot corner Justin Coleman, but outside of those two the Lions are desperate for help at corner with the departure of Nevin Lawson. They signed Raashan Melvin, but according to STATS, he was burned 12.1 percent more than expected last season on the Colts. Look for the Lions to draft a corner to play opposite Slay and maybe a long-term answer at edge rusher.
Green Bay Packers (2)
Biggest Question: Secondary
The Packers either need help at corner or safety based on where they want to play Tramon Williams. Prior to last season, Williams was a corner. However, he had to start at safety in 2018 because of the limited options at the position. They signed Adrian Amos to solidify strong safety opposite Williams, but WIlliams may also need to slide back to corner to provide depth opposite Jaire Alexander. The Packers have other potential replacements at corner in Kevin King and Josh Jackson. Both are young, but if Jackson can limit his penalties and King can stay healthy, they could be long-term solutions at the position. Either way, there will be a hole somewhere in the secondary that needs filling, most likely at the safety position.
Minnesota Vikings (15)
Biggest Question: Offensive Line
Help Kirk Cousins. Please. The Vikings had a solid roster last season except for the small issue that not one of their offensive linemen played above average at their position. Not one. They got rid of Mike Remmers and Tom Compton at the guard positions, which could be addition by subtraction. Right now, right tackle and center are adequately filled by Pat Elflein and Brian O’Neill, so STATS would start with left tackle or guard if we had to choose.
Atlanta Falcons (7)
Biggest Question: Corner and Defensive Line
The Falcons had a lot of injuries on the defensive side of the ball last year, but players like Keanu Neal and Deion Jones should come back healthy after missing essentially the whole 2018 season. However, the Falcons pass defense still is a concern according to our projections because of how Desmond Trufant played last season. He is supposed to be the Falcons top corner, yet players covered by Trumant gained 1.67 more yards than expected per target last season. None of the Falcons’ regular corners were particularly good last season, so they need an upgrade.
Defensive line is not a concern at the moment, but it could be a huge issue next year. We have Grady Jarrett rated as the fifth-best defensive tackle in the league, and see him as the primary reason why our projections have the Falcons with the second-best pass rush coming into the draft. The issue is Jarrett signed the franchise tag and has held out so far from offseason workouts. That, in combination with Vic Beasley Jr. being a bust so far in his career, could lead to the Falcons needing a lot of defensive line help this season if Jarrett holds out and/or leaves next season. They could get ahead of that by drafting one of the many talented defensive linemen in this class.
Carolina Panthers (23)
Biggest Question: Wide Receiver and Defensive End
Outside of Christian McCaffrey, not much stands out on this Panthers roster. Perhaps the most concerning part is the other weapons around Cam Newton. Their other main pass catchers last season – Curtis Samuel, D.J. Moore, and Greg Olsen – were all in-and-out of the lineup in 2018, and even when they did play, the results were subpar. Moore struggled at separating in particular. His 1.4 yards below expected separation was tied for seventh-worst among receivers with at least 50 targets. Overall, STATS has the Panthers as the 30th-ranked unit of pass catchers in terms of value added coming into the 2019 season, so they need to add to that group.
The Panthers have solidified interior defensive line, mostly because of Kawann Short, but they need help on the edge. Julius Peppers retired, and the two other main starters last season, Wes Horton and Mario Addison were both below-average in pressure generated from pass rushes. There should still be some quality edge options on the board when they pick at No. 12.
New Orleans Saints (6)
Biggest Question: Safety and Center
The Saints have another strong roster capable of propelling them to another deep playoff run in 2019 (with new replay rules in tow). Safety is the one obvious need. Vonn Bell is in the final year of his rookie contract, and his counterpart Marcus Williams struggled in pass coverage last season. According to STATS, he gave up 2.50 more yards than expected when he was targeted last season, the sixth-worst mark of any safety that got meaningful playing time.
Max Unger, the Saints’ center for the past four seasons, retired unexpectedly in March, leaving a hole in their otherwise strong offensive line. The Saints signed Nick Easton to a four-year contact to replace Unger, even though Easton has only started 17 games in his career and missed all of last season with a neck injury. The Saints might want to explore some other options just in case.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (27)
Biggest Question: Secondary
You know who was one of the five safeties worse at covering than the Saints’ Marcus Williams last season? Justin Evans on the Bucs. His 2.88 additional yards given up than expected puts him as the fourth-worst cover safety in the league. The Bucs other safety, Jordan Whitehead, was not great either. Carlton Davis III was really solid at corner, but opposite of him, Vernon Hargreaves III could not stay healthy and has not performed well when he has played.
This is going to come down to how much the Bucs are willing to admit their mistakes in the draft. Hargreaves was a first round pick four years ago, Evans was a second round pick three years ago, and Whitehead was a fourth round pick two years ago. Unfortunately, it is time for the Bucs to try again.
Arizona Cardinals (32)
Biggest Question: Everything but Patrick Peterson
Let’s start with the positive. Their pass defense is second best in our projections. Now let’s go to the negative. Everything else. There is a lot of buzz about the Cardinals drafting Kyler Murray with the first pick in the draft. Josh Rosen certainly did not impress in his rookie season. His expected completion percentage of 52.1 percent was the second worst of any starting quarterback behind Josh Allen. In his defense, his offensive line and pass catchers were awful. Even if Murray is an upgrade, it will still be hard for him to succeed with what we project as the third-worst offensive line and the sixth-worst group of pass catchers.
The Cardinals appear set on drafting Murray. After that, they still need a lot of help at other key positions like left tackle, edge rusher, and wide receiver. They have to address those needs at some point in the draft if they want to give whoever starts at quarterback a fighting chance.
Los Angeles Rams (8)
Biggest Question: Interior O-Line and Pass Rusher
The Rams’ offensive line struggled in the Super Bowl, and now will certainly have some new pieces. Rodger Saffold, the left guard, will need to be replaced after signing a four-year contract with the Titans. The Rams also declined their team option on center John Sullivan, making him a free agent. It seems like they are going to replace him with Brian Allen, a fourth round draft pick from last year who only played 36 snaps in his rookie season.
The defense projects to be really strong overall, but we think they could use another pass rusher to support Aaron Donald. Ndamukong Suh is almost assuredly too expensive to bring back, and STATS’ metrics do not favor newly-signed Clay Mathews as someone who can pressure the quarterback anymore. Dante Fowler had a few splash plays, but wasn’t as consistent as you’d like from an edge rusher after they traded for him at the deadline in 2018, so the Rams defense could use another pass rushing specialist.
San Francisco 49ers (24)
Biggest Question: Secondary
The 49ers are another team that could use help both at corner and safety to defend the pass. Coming off his torn achilles, Richard Sherman could not return to form last season. He gave up 1.98 more yards than expected when he was targeted by opposing quarterbacks last season. That was the fourth-worst number of any corner in the NFL, and two of the three guys lower than him, Vontae Davis and Darryl Roberts, are currently unemployed. Adrian Colbert started the first six games of 2018 season at free safety for the 49ers and was the worst cover safety in the league before his season was cut short with a high ankle sprain. Obviously, they could use some improvement there as well.
The 49ers pass rush is not a concern after trading for Dee Ford. However, they still will probably take a defensive lineman with the second overall pick given the high-end talent there at the top of this draft class. After that, they should try to find some players who can assist in pass coverage.
Seattle Seahawks (17)
Biggest Question: Left Guard and Pass Rush
The offensive line is once again a primary concern at a couple of positions, especially left guard. The Seahawks lost J.R. Sweezy in free agency and replaced him with Mike Iupati, who is too old and injury-prone to be relied on as a starter. Frank Clark was an absolute beast last season, finishing as the fifth-best edge rusher in the NFL based on STATS’ metrics. The team needs more than Clark, though, to solidify its pass rush, and there is not a strong secondary rusher on the current roster. They better find one in the draft.