The NFL Never Sleeps: The Professor’s Take on AFC Draft Needs After Free Agency

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The NFL Never Sleeps: The Professor's Take on AFC Draft Needs After Free Agency

The latest NFL shakeup on the AFC side came when Miami traded receiver DeVante Parker to New England after acquiring a surplus of receivers this offseason, a reminder that there could be more moves to come before the NFL draft, but with the free agency market down to older veterans who could wait until after the NFL Draft to sign with a team, rosters are about as set as they will get before the league’s annual selection ceremony.

That makes it a great time to look at each team’s draft needs and capital; this AFC Draft Needs article and the accompanying NFC version will serve as a reference point in future articles where The Professor will break down player selection props available on DraftKings and FanDuel.

Teams are broken into four groups based on where they stand ahead of the draft; “Ready to Roll Teams” have already fielded a contending roster, “Post-Draft Contenders” will be contenders with a half-decent draft, and “On the Bubble” teams could dramatically swing their 2022 future with a strong draft. The last group, “A Year (or Two) Away”, explains itself; barring a significant leap in play at the quarterback position, these teams need to temper short-term expectations.

Ready to Roll

Buffalo Bills

Draft Picks: 1 (25), 2 (57), 3 (89), 4 (130), 5 (168), 6 (185, 203), 7 (231)
Needs: CB2
Wants: RB1

Buffalo has amassed an absurd amount of talent; the addition of guard Rodger Saffold went under the radar compared to edge rusher Von Miller, but the mauling Saffold has paved the way for two backs in the MVP conversation in recent years (Todd Gurley and Derrick Henry). The shift to receivers Gabriel Davis and Jamison Crowder saved cost relative to veterans Emmanuel Sanders and Cole Beasley without sacrificing talent, a key shift given that the Bills have to work around quarterback Josh Allen’s increased cap hit. Buffalo has their full complement of draft picks, and cornerback, where Tre’Davious White is recovering from last season’s knee injury, is the only position room that really needs help, though a dynamic weapon at running back wouldn’t hurt.

Cincinnati Bengals

Draft Picks: 1 (31), 2 (63), 3 (95), 4 (136), 5 (174), 6 (209), 7 (226, 252)
Needs: DT3, DE3
Wants: LT/LG1, TE1, LB1, CB1

Los Angeles Chargers

Draft Picks: 1 (17), 3 (79), 4 (123), 5 (160), 6 (195,214), 7 (236,254,255,260)
Needs: RB2
Wants: RG1, RT1, DT1, LB1, S2

The Bengals and Chargers are in similarly enviable positions entering the third season of Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert’s rookie contracts. Despite the Chargers missing the playoffs last season, both quarterbacks have established themselves as superstars, and the addition of elite players in receiver Ja’Marr Chase and left tackle Rashawn Slater to their respective rosters in last year’s NFL draft creates an additional $20 million in surplus contract value on top of the savings at quarterback.

Right guard and tackle could be listed as needs for the Chargers, but given that last year’s offense put up a lot of points despite issues at those spots, they could be considered luxuries. The Bengals need to add depth behind a strong starting four on the defensive line, and the Chargers need a more consistent back to spell Austin Ekeler, but both teams have the flexibility to get creative as they add to their already talented rosters.

Denver Broncos

Draft Picks: 2 (64), 3 (75,96), 4 (115,116), 5 (145), 6 (206), 7 (232)
Needs: RB2/3, TE1/2
Wants: C1, LB1, S2

Denver took care of their biggest need by trading for quarterback Russell Wilson, but because the Seahawks were willing to take back players in the deal, the Broncos still have significant draft capital in the middle rounds to fill out a roster that needs contributors on rookie contracts around Wilson. Running back Javonte Williams, receiver Jerry Jeudy, guard Quinn Meinerz, and cornerback Pat Surtain II form the core of that group, but they need to continue to add to the list. Depending on what they think of running back Mike Boone and tight end Albert Okwuegbunam, the Broncos may need to add an RB2 or TE1, and there are a few other spots where they could stand to upgrade, but this roster would be ready to go if it were already Week One.

Post-Draft Contenders

Kansas City Chiefs

Draft Picks: 1 (29,30), 2 (50,62), 3 (94,103), 4 (121,135), 7 (233,243,251,259)
Needs: EDGE3, CB2, CB3,
Wants: RT1, WR1, EDGE1, S1/2

Kansas City brought the band back together in Year One after their Super Bowl, made some shifts in Year Two, and committed to radical change in Year Three. Cornerstone players such as receiver Tyreek Hill and safety Tyrann Mathieu are gone, but with the draft capital the Chiefs got for Hill, they can reload around quarterback Patrick Mahomes. The Chiefs would be tough to play against as it stands, so even a mediocre draft will ensure they remain in contention, but the addition of multiple difference-makers with their six picks in the top 103 could propel them back to the top of the NFL. It will be interesting to see which positions they target; they may surpass a potential number one receiver for an upgrade at right tackle, or a dominant threat off the edge, depending on the vision head coach Andy Reid and his coordinators have for the team’s style.

Las Vegas Raiders

Draft Picks: 3 (86), 4 (126), 5 (164,165), 7 (227)
Needs: RT1, LG1, C1
Wants: DT1, LB1, CB1

Quarterback Derek Carr did a solid job operating behind this offensive line last season, so those positions could be considered wants more than needs, particularly if receiver Davante Adams takes some pressure off the line with a threat in the quick passing game, but Las Vegas could certainly stand to upgrade at least one of those spots. The Raiders also lack a standout at defensive tackle, but between the pass-rush tandem of Maxx Crosby and Chandler Jones and the addition of solid players such as linebacker Jayon Brown, cornerback Anthony Averett, and safety Duron Harmon in the back end, there should be enough talent here to play some defense in the juggernaut AFC West. With limited draft capital, the Raiders may not be able to realize significant improvements in an NFL Draft they are hosting, but this roster is already an upgrade on the team that made the NFL Playoffs last year.

Cleveland Browns*

Draft Picks: 2 (44), 3 (78,99), 4 (118), 6 (202), 7 (223, 246)
Needs: WR2, DT1, DT2, DE2
Wants: LB1, S2

Cleveland’s inclusion in this group assumes quarterback Deshaun Watson will be available for the full NFL season, though it is certainly possible he is suspended for the entire year (hence the asterisk). If Watson is suspended, the Browns have no hope, so expect general manager Andrew Berry to draft for the version of the Browns that will eventually include Watson. Cleveland is missing their first-rounder but has picks in the second to fourth rounds to fill out the defensive line room behind Myles Garrett and perhaps add another difference-maker to the wide receiver group of Amari Cooper, Donovan Peoples-Jones, and Jakeem Grant.

On the Bubble

Baltimore Ravens

Draft Picks: 1 (14), 2 (45), 3 (76,100), 4 (110,119,128,139,141), 6 (196)
Needs: LT*, DT1, DT2, EDGE, CB3, CB4
Wants: RB, WR1, LB2

Left tackle gets an asterisk here because of the questions surrounding Ronnie Stanley, who has missed the past season and a half with a significant ankle injury. Stanley is a stud when healthy, but it’s hard to say if he will return to that standard.

The bigger concerns are on defense, where Baltimore may move on from veterans such as defensive linemen Calais Campbell and Brandon Williams, and cornerback Jimmy Smith. They also lost a solid young cornerback to the Colts in free agency when Anthony Averett signed there. With four picks in the first three rounds and nine picks in the first four rounds, look for the Ravens to be aggressive in adding youth to their defense. They may also want insurance for J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards at running back after both backs suffered season-ending injuries in training camp last season.

Indianapolis Colts

Draft Picks: 2 (42), 3 (73), 4 (122), 5 (159,179), 6 (216), 7 (239)
Needs: LT/RG, RB3, WR1, WR3, DT3/4, CB2 (outside), CB3 (outside)
Wants: LT/RG, TE1

The Colts appear set to give Matt Pryor the first crack at the left tackle position; Pryor could also play right guard, and some may argue he should be a sixth lineman, which is why LT/RG is listed together as both a potential need and want. Beyond that, the Colts could help new quarterback Matt Ryan by adding to the receiver room around Michael Pittman Jr., who is an excellent number two, but perhaps stretched as a lead receiver, and could at the very least use a 1a who brings more dynamic route-running across from him. On defense, they need to add players at outside cornerback; Kenny Moore is a stud in the slot, but they need more options than Brandon Facyson and Isaiah Rodgers on the outside, particularly in today’s NFL.

New England Patriots

Draft Picks: 1 (21), 2 (54), 3 (85), 4 (127), 5 (170), 6 (200,210)
Needs: RG1
Wants: OT1, WR1, LB1, CB1

New England’s offseason moves, particularly when viewed over a two-year window, have been a bit perplexing. Head coach Bill Belichick may be executing a plan some aren’t seeing, and he has earned the benefit of the doubt, but trading guard Shaq Mason and letting cornerback J.C. Jackson walk a year after throwing top dollar at several mediocre free agents is hard to fathom, edge rusher Matt Judon’s success aside. The Patriots need to add a reliable option at tackle, where Isaiah Wynn and Trent Brown both have been consistently unavailable due to injury and may want to target an off-the-ball linebacker who runs better than Ja’Whaun Bentley or Mack Wilson.

Miami Dolphins

Draft Picks: 3 (102), 4 (125), 5 (158), 7 (224, 247)
Needs: QB1
Wants: C1, RG1, RT1

Pittsburgh Steelers

Draft Picks: 1 (20), 2 (52), 3 (84), 4 (138), 6 (208), 7 (225,241)
Needs: QB1, WR2/3, CB1, S2
Wants: OL1, RB2, DT1/2

Miami and Pittsburgh both have fairly strong rosters; the Dolphins are loaded at the skill positions, have talent on all three levels of the defense, and made improvements on the offensive line in free agency, while the Steelers’ defense could bounce back and be one of the NFL’s better units with better injury luck on the defensive line and talent upgrades at cornerback.

The issue for both teams is at quarterback, with Tua Tagovailoa entering a pivotal season in Miami and Mitchell Trubisky is attempting to resurrect his career in Pittsburgh. With no picks in the Top 100, this Miami roster will go as far as Tagovailoa can take them, and he will need to show meaningful improvement to compete with Josh Allen in the AFC East. Based on the players they targeted in free agency or re-signed on the offensive line, the Steelers appear content with mediocrity at that position group, so it will be on Trubisky or a rookie quarterback to raise the waterline of the offense around him. With a defense that still needs help in the secondary, the Steelers face a difficult path to contention in the AFC North, but head coach Mike Tomlin’s track record gives the benefit of the doubt in terms of their grouping in this exercise.

Tennessee Titans

Draft Picks: 1 (26), 3 (90), 4 (131,143), 5 (169), 6 (204,219)
Needs: LG1, RT1, RB2, WR3, CB1/2
Wants: LB2

Tennessee has enough good players to remain competitive in the AFC South, but the Titans have struggled to get a return on their most valuable draft capital in the past two seasons. Spending a 2020 1st rounder on offensive tackle Isaiah Wilson and trading a 2021 2nd rounder for receiver Julio Jones brought little to no return, and 2021 1st round cornerback Caleb Farley, who came into the NFL Draft with injury concerns, tore his ACL as a rookie. The departure of left guard Rodger Saffold left a void that will likely have to be addressed with a mid-round pick, because given Farley’s injury situation and the current hole at right tackle, the Titans likely need to spend their first-round pick on one of those higher-value positions.

A Year (or Two) Away

Jacksonville Jaguars

Draft Picks: 1 (1), 2 (33), 3 (65,70), 4 (106), 5 (157), 6 (180,188,197,198), 7 (222,235)
Needs: NA
Wants: OT1, LG1, C1, WR1, DT1, EDGE2, S1

The Jaguars spent a massive amount of money in free agency, but that’s been a consistent theme in Duval County over the past decade and it has rarely led to results. Linebacker Foyesade Oluokun brings outstanding range, but played on a horrible Atlanta defense and may not be an upgrade on Myles Jack. Left tackle Cam Robinson was retained on a second straight franchise tag, a difficult position to negotiate a long-term deal from, as the Jaguars should know, as it is the reason free-agent signee Brandon Scherff was available after the guard played on two straight tags in Washington. Robinson’s situation means that offensive tackle isn’t necessarily out of the picture, especially because NC State product Ikem Ekwonu and Alabama product Evan Neal could both play guard as rookies. Even if all the free-agent additions work out, this roster lacks blue-chip players, and quarterback Trevor Lawrence would need to take an immense step forward to elevate this roster, even in a watered-down AFC South.

Houston Texans

Draft Picks: 1 (3,13), 2 (37), 3 (68,80), 4 (107), 6 (183,205,207), 7 (245)
Needs: NA
Wants: Offense, Defense

Houston took the opposite approach of Jacksonville in free agency, adding very little in the way of veteran help. Quarterback Davis Mills will get an opportunity to build on some promising film from his rookie season, and general manager Nick Caserio can add the best players available as he rebuilds this talent-deficient roster. Once there are some pieces in place, Houston can start adding free agents, but if they had handed out big contracts this season, they likely would have been paying a lot of money to players destined to be on a losing team.

New York Jets

Draft Picks: 1 (4,10), 2 (35,38), 3 (69), 4 (111,117), 5 (146,163)
Needs: OT
Wants: Star Players
General manager Joe Douglas has done a solid job plugging the many holes that existed on this roster when he took over, which leaves this roster with very few holes. Offensive tackle is listed as the lone need because it seems overly optimistic to expect that Mekhi Becton will be consistently available, but beyond that, Douglas can target the best players available on a roster that is solid but lacks elite players. That won’t matter unless quarterback Zach Wilson becomes dramatically more consistent with the minutia of his position in Year Two, but even if Wilson does get that fixed, the Jets will need more elite talent on the roster for this team to contend for the NFL Playoffs.

Conclusion

This article looked at AFC teams and their draft needs ahead of the 2022 NFL Draft. For more from The Professor, check out his NFC Draft Needs Article and the rest of his content on BeerLife Sports.

About the author:

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Steven Clinton, better known as "The Professor", is a former D-1 Quality Control Assistant (Northwestern, Toledo) who holds a B.A. in Economics and M.S. in Predictive Analytics from Northwestern University. He maintains an end-to-end NFL game projection model and is a film junkie who breaks down the tape of every NFL game.