With a little over a month to go until the draft, each team has questions remaining at different levels of the defense.
Cowboys– Dallas lost four players from their secondary: Morris Claiborne, Brandon Carr, Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox. This leaves a lot of holes in a secondary that gave up over 264 passing yards per game which was sixth worst in the league. Maybe it’s a good thing there’s going to be some new faces back there.
Seahawks– Recent chatter during the NFL offseason has been about Richard Sherman and whether or not the Seahawks might try to trade the superstar cornerback. Does he like the direction Seattle is going? Can he co-exist with some of the other big names there? Is he even happy? Add in the fact that Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor are getting up there in age and have injury concerns, and it looks like there could be trouble for Seattle and the Legion of Boom.
Cardinals– Tony Jefferson and D.J. Swearinger are gone from a Cardinals defense that was top five in passing yards allowed per game. A healthy Tyrann Mathieu helps alleviate some of the pain of those losses, but can the Honey Badger stay healthy?
Panthers– A year later and the Panthers are still looking for a replacement for Josh Norman. Captain Munnerlyn rejoins the squad along with a 36-year-old Mike Adams, but will that be enough to help a team that was in the bottom five of passing yards allowed per game?
Buccaneers– Tampa Bay could especially use some assistance at safety. The Bucs allowed almost 12 yards per completion last season. Chris Conte and Josh Robinson re-signed in the secondary plus J.J. Wilcox comes in from Dallas. That may not be good enough to shut down the big play potential of division rivals Julio Jones, Kelvin Benjamin and Willie Snead/Michael Thomas.
Packers– A big reason why Aaron Rodgers has had to play hero so often in Green Bay is because his teammates on defense are prone to getting picked apart all game long. The Packers finished near the bottom in most passing defense categories and allowed opposing passers to have a 97.2 passer rating. Teams playing Green Bay knew it too as they came out firing passes on 69% of first downs. Davon House was the only addition in the secondary and Micah Hyde took off for Buffalo. Things could be just as bad for the Pack in 2017 if not addressed heavily in the draft.
Texans– The Texans had a pretty stout defense in 2016 and that was without J.J. Watt on the field. Such a good defense that two of their four starters in the secondary were picked off by other teams. Quintin Demps and A.J. Buoye both received nice deals elsewhere and leave Houston with big question marks and a lot of inexperience outside of Johnathan Joseph.
Steelers– Thanks to a solid pass rush and front seven, the Steelers probably overachieved in 2016. But there are questions all over the secondary. Can you rely on guys like Artie Burns and Ross Cockrell? And is there a guy who can make a difference at safety alongside Mike Mitchell?
Jets– The secondary is pretty scary for the Jets when you see what they have and then remember they have to go up against Jarvis Landry, Brandin Cooks and Sammy Watkins twice a year each. New York added Morris Claiborne, but how healthy (good) is he? Is Nick Marshall really a cornerback and who are Justin Burris, Bryson Keeton and Daryl Roberts? At least they have Buster Skrine and Calvin Pryor with recognizable names. If the Jets don’t add a quarterback early, a player in the secondary would be a good idea in the first round.
Redskins– Lost in the drama with Kirk Cousins and in the front offense is the fact that the Redskins defense might still be the biggest problem. The Skins were gashed for 4.5 yards per carry last season thanks in large part to not having a true nose tackle. Chris Baker, who played some nose, is now a Buccaneer and Ricky Jean-Francois was cut and signed by the Packers. Washington brought in Stacy McGee and Terrell McClain, but neither have been more than role players in their careers. A pick along the defensive line would make a lot of sense for the Redskins at 17.
Giants– Damon Harrison had a big season for the Giants last year, and was a big reason why the Giants were second in the NFL with only 87.8 rushing yards allowed per game. Jonathan Hankins played a big part in that as well, but has yet to sign with the Giants or elsewhere. Outside of Jason Pierre-Paul, only two Giants along the defensive line have five or more years of experience. Having young guys isn’t a bad thing, but will their play be up to par? And if Hankins signs somewhere else, do the Giants have a backup plan?
49ers– The 49ers were arguably the worst team on defense in the NFL in 2016. They were the only team that allowed more than 400 yards per game to offenses last season. Therefore, San Francisco could be in each and every category on here. But a glaring need is some beef up the middle. The 49ers allowed almost five yards a carry to the tune of almost 166 rushing yards a game last year. It’s not a shock to see most mock drafts having them select a defensive lineman at #2 overall.
Bears– Chicago is a team that has been historically known as a defensive juggernaut. Not so much recently. The Bears were at best, middle of the pack in terms of defensive stats, but near the bottom when it came to stuffing the run. John Jenkins coming in from Seattle should help, but there’s not much else to work with up front. Could a Jonathan Allen early in the draft be a good fit in the Windy City?
Dolphins– Only San Francisco allowed more rushing yards per game in 2016 than Miami. The first question that comes to mind is: is Ndamukong Suh’s big contract blocking them from signing more help? A cheap alternative to this would be to pick up a player in the draft in what seems to be a deep class of defensive linemen. Not to mention, learning from and playing with Suh isn’t a bad way to start a career.
Browns– The Browns were pretty bad all over the defensive side of the ball, so like the 49ers, they could be anywhere in these lists. Since the secondary and passing defense was a LITTLE bit better than the run defense, it makes sense that Cleveland could use some big boys up front. Despite all of the needs, Cleveland did not add a defensive player in free agency. This probably means the draft will be defense-heavy since the Browns have the first overall pick and five picks in the first 70 overall.
Cincinnati– Outside of a couple of guys getting older, the Bengals don’t have too many big holes in their defense. They will get William Jackson III back from injury after he missed his rookie year and Kevin Minter should be a good replacement for Rey Maualuga. One loss that will have a big (literally) impact is Domata Peko leaving for Denver. A big defensive lineman would be a good place for the cats to look at.
Chargers– The Chargers are returning with a pretty solid defense. They lost Manti Te’o, but most of the other key players are returning. With Joey Bosa living up to being a top five pick so far, the question becomes: can he sustain that? And can the Chargers find ways to get him to the quarterback now that he will have all of the attention of the offensive line?
Rams– Despite their record, the Rams had a pretty solid defense. If anything is lacking, it is experience and playmakers at the linebacker level. Connor Barwin joins the team and is a solid addition opposite of Robert Quinn, but the inside backers are a little thin. Alec Ogletree has the most time spent in the league going into his fifth season with the rest of the inside linebackers all with three or less years of experience, besides converted safety Mark Barron. Ogletree is a tackle machine but could probably use another guy next to him. Arguably the biggest addition for the Rams is defensive coordinator Wade Phillips who has proven he can get the most out of his players. Can he do the same with the lack of experience at linebacker?
Vikings– Similar to the Rams, the Vikings have a stud at linebacker in Anthony Barr, but not much else to work with in the second level of the defense. Eric Kendricks has played well in his first two seasons, but can he continue that trend? The Vikings were a top five team in sacks per game, imagine if they were to add another dynamic linebacker to go after the quarterback with Barr, Kendricks, Everson Griffen and Brian Robison.
Falcons– The Falcons have the potential to have one of the better young defenses in the league in the next couple of years. Keanu Neal turned out to be a great pick in the first round, but the Falcons’ best pick was Deion Jones in the second round. He’s already one of the fastest and most athletic linebackers in the league. Add in De’Vondre Campbell and Vic Beasley from the year before, and the Falcons have some of the best young linebackers in the game. However, Atlanta could certainly use another pass rusher to pair with Beasley to help alleviate some of the pressure on him. Could Carl Lawson from Auburn be a target for the dirty birds at the end of the first round?
Saints-The Saints had all kinds of issues when it came to defense in 2016, and most of the last few seasons as well. They were able to re-sign Nick Fairley to bolster the line and then also added a trio of linebackers in Manti Te’o, A.J. Klein and Alex Okafor. None of those guys are real difference makers at linebacker, so it leaves the Saints still searching for help. Cameron Jordan could certainly use a hand rushing the passer since the Saints finished near the bottom of the league in sacks. It’ll be interesting if they choose to address that in the draft or roll the dice with the moves made during the offseason.
Lions– The Lions were in the middle of the pack when it came to defense in 2016. Nothing special, but nothing atrocious either. One big area they were lacking in was tackling though. DeAndre Levy couldn’t stay healthy again last year and remains unsigned. That left Tahir Whitehead as the leading tackler mainly because he was the best available. Detroit added Paul Worrilow who racked up tackles in Atlanta and has Antwione Williams as well, but it wouldn’t hurt to add a couple more tacklers and guys who can get after the signal caller. The Lions were 29th in the league with only 1.7 sacks per game.
Patriots– The Patriots have to be feeling pretty good that they got Don’t’a Hightower back in free agency, because the depth behind him is lackluster at best. Shea McClellin and Rob Ninkovich are okay as role players, but not what you are looking for as starters. With the additions of Stephon Gilmore in the secondary and Kony Ealy and Lawrence Guy on the defensive line, it really leaves the linebackers as a place that could be a weak spot (if there is one on a Bill Belichick defense.)
Bills– Buffalo was gashed in the run game last season to the tune of 4.5 yards per carry. Throw in that they lost leading tackler Zach Brown and it could get worse for the Bills. New head coach Sean McDermott is a defensive guru and hopefully won’t allow it to get worse, but it will be an uphill battle. Lorenzo Alexander is back but is more of a pass rusher. Preston Brown and Reggie Ragland will need to take a big step up to help make up for the loss of Brown.
Colts– Near the bottom in total defense, the Colts addressed the defensive line and secondary in free agency. This leaves them with a couple of unknowns at linebacker. Former top-10 pick Barkevious Mingo comes to town and Edwin Jackson is the leading returning tackler after Mike Adams and D’Qwell Jackson moved on. With a top-15 pick in the draft, could Indianapolis use it on a defensive playmaker at linebacker?
Titans– If you take out Wesley Woodyard (in name recognition only) from the inside linebackers on the Titans, it makes you wonder how the Titans had such a good defense last season. A lot of it had to do with how well Brian Orakpo, Derrick Morgan and company got after the quarterback on the outside. Williamson led the team in tackles with just over 100 and Woodyard hasn’t been what the Titans have expected since coming over from the Broncos. Another tackler at the second level will go a long way to keeping up a successful defense in Nashville.
Jaguars– The Jaguars were solid in pass defense, but could stand to increase the pressure since they only had 2.1 sacks per game. A couple of new faces in the secondary could mean that pressure from the front seven needs to improve while everyone gets up to speed. Calais Campbell up front should help out second year player Myles Jack and longtime veteran Paul Posluszny. Dante Fowler Jr. being healthy for a second year at outside linebacker/defensive end will help with pressure as well.
Ravens– Linebackers are missing in action in Baltimore. For a defense that played so well, the Ravens were near the bottom of the league in sacks. Elvis Dumervil is gone. Terrell Suggs is another year older. Not to mention, young stud and leading tackler from last year Zach Orr retired. Baltimore needs some linebacking help in a big way.
Broncos– The biggest defensive loss in the NFL might be Wade Phillips. And then DeMarcus Ware retired and a dominant Broncos defense suddenly doesn’t feel as dominant anymore. It’s hard to replace a legend in Ware, but Shane Ray has played well in two years, but how well will he do as THE guy opposite Von Miller? You can never have enough pass rushers and the Broncos might want to look into that. It will take a village to replace Ware.
Chiefs– Is there a succession plan in place for when Derrick Johnson is finally done and if/when Justin Houston gets hurt again? Bennie Logan signed on the defensive line and Eric Berry is locked down in the secondary, but not much was done with the linebackers. They are okay as is, but might want to look into a backup plan.
Eagles- Bennie Logan was one of the hot free agents to go after this offseason. The former Eagle signed with the Chiefs and then Connor Barwin left Philly as well. Timmy Jernigan and Chris Long signed on to help the defensive line, but a lot of the questions on the Eagle defense are with the linebackers. Are Nigel Bradham, Mychal Kendricks and Najee Goode the answers? We’ll see.
Raiders– Khalil Mack makes up for a lot, but on the Raiders roster he is listed as a defensive end. If that is the case, the black and silver could use some ranging linebackers to help out Mack. Leading tackler from last season Malcolm Smith found work in San Francisco and then next linebacker you find on the list is Perry Riley who was seventh in tackles… and also isn’t on the roster. The Raiders need a linebacker. Or two… or three.