Biggest needs for AFC teams ahead of training camp: Chiefs offensive tackles, Steelers receivers top list


                        Biggest needs for AFC teams ahead of training camp: Chiefs offensive tackles, Steelers receivers top list
By: CBS Sports Posted On: July 05, 2024 View: 42

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Training camp is around the corner. There is still an opportunity to make additional signings and trades, but roster construction is largely complete after free agency and the draft. Reflecting on the moves already made, it is clear that each team has varying levels of roster unknowns. 

Here are the most pressing needs for teams across the AFC: 

AFC North

Bengals: Running back

Cincinnati had a really prudent offseason with its free agent acquisitions and draft choices. The loss of defensive tackle D.J. Reader and offensive tackle Jonah Williams were countered with signings of Sheldon Rankins and Trent Brown. The return of safety Vonn Bell brings some stability to that unit. The draft choices of defensive tackles Kris Jenkins Jr. and McKinnley Jackson, as well as cornerback Josh Newton, offensive tackle Amarius Mims and wide receiver Jermaine Burton add depth at critical positions. 

Following the trade of running back Joe Mixon, the Bengals signed Zack Moss from Indianapolis. They need him to have a big season as the go-to option or second-year runner Chase Brown will be forced into action. 

Browns: Linebacker

Cleveland has a case for having the league's best roster. The Browns do not have any needs that would submarine the team's efforts. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah has All-Pro potential but the rest of that unit is up for grabs. Veterans Jordan Hicks and Devin Bush are competing with youngsters Nathaniel Watson, Tony Fields and Mohamoud Diabate

Ravens: Offensive guard

Baltimore is currently in a position to start two players along the offensive line who played a combined 191 offensive snaps in the NFL last season. Utility man Patrick Mekari has been able to step into any role asked of him. However, the Ravens traded Morgan Moses to the Jets, and veteran offensive guard Kevin Zeitler signed with the Lions. Roger Rosengarten was drafted in the second round as the replacement right tackle and Andrew Vorhees, a seventh-round pick from the prior year, is penciled in as the starting left guard. Left tackle Ronnie Stanley has battled injuries in recent years. There is a lot of unknown in that unit. 

With defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald accepting a head coaching job in the Pacific Northwest, it provides a bit more mystery as to how the defense will perform this season. Edge rusher Jadeveon Clowney and linebacker Patrick Queen are gone from last year's roster. Will they be able to facilitate enough of a pass rush with Odafe Oweh, David Ojabo, Kyle Van Noy and Adisa Isaac

Steelers: Wide receiver

Prior to the Diontae Johnson trade, the conversation would have centered around the cornerback and offensive tackle positions. Left tackle Dan Moore Jr. and cornerback Donte Jackson give them options, but either starting would bring frustrations over the course of the season. The franchise then drafted Troy Fautanu to fill a starting offensive tackle spot. 

With Johnson gone, Pittsburgh has little outside of George Pickens. The hope is that Calvin Austin III takes on a bigger role and rookie Roman Wilson's acclimation to the NFL is fast and smooth. 

AFC South

Colts: Cornerback

Indianapolis was able to re-sign wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. and retain a defensive line that played really well when the full complement of talent was available. 

The most-pressing need is cornerback. The opportunity to acquire L'Jarius Sneed had been on the table before Tennessee pulled the trigger. The team drafted and developed depth at the position in 2023, but could still use a lockdown cornerback on one side who is able to open up more possibilities for the defense. 

Jaguars: Cornerback

Jacksonville's offensive line needs to be more consistent but the Jaguars made some tweaks to the unit this offseason. Full season availability of Cam Robinson and another year under the belts of Anton Harrison, Walker Little, as well as the veteran leadership of center Mitch Morse should provide some stability. 

Darious Williams was a casualty of the franchise's search for salary cap health. He was replaced by 30-year-old Ronald Darby

Texans: Defensive tackle

Defensive tackles Sheldon Rankins, Maliek Collins and Teair Tart are gone from last year's roster. They signed veterans Folorunso Fatukasi and Denico Autry, but that remains a position to monitor. As much respect as I have for Autry and the career he has made for himself, he is 33 years old. 

Cornerback, opposite Derek Stingley Jr., and center are a few other positions of note. Georgia's Kamari Lassiter was drafted in the second round and is the leader in the clubhouse to start opposite Stingley. 

Titans: Defensive line

The new look Tennessee defense leaves a lot to be desired in Brian Callahan's first season as head coach. The roster was constructed to accentuate second-year quarterback Will Levis

Tennessee's defensive line has changed drastically over the past few years losing key pieces like Denico Autry and Teair Tart. It is a collection of misfit toys beyond Jeffery Simmons. The team added a few ex-Longhorns, T'Vondre Sweat and Keondre Coburn, but that does not bring clarity to the matter. The Titans need to find a more consistent way to generate pressure having finished in the bottom five in team pressure rate a year ago, per TruMedia. 

AFC East

Bills: Interior offensive line

Wide receiver, defensive tackle, safety and linebacker are a few positions that may have answers already on the roster even if there is more for the group, as a whole, to prove. 

The choice was either cornerback or the interior offensive line. Rasul Douglas played really well after coming over from Green Bay in a trade. Christian Benford and Kaiir Elam are once again being asked to lockdown the other side now that Tre'Davious White has departed for Los Angeles. Connor McGovern moved from offensive guard to center this offseason, then the team signed David Edwards in free agency. It may work out fine but there are a lot of moving parts from last season. 

Dolphins: Defensive tackle

The Dolphins are one of the best examples of a team that has had more pulled out of the operation than they have put in this offseason. Offensive guard Robert Hunt, defensive tackles Christian Wilkins and Raekwon Davis and linebacker Jerome Baker are all gone. Edge rusher Emmanuel Ogbah and cornerback Xavien Howard were released while center Connor Williams remains unsigned. With their draft picks, they added an heir apparent pass rusher, a potential replacement for Terron Armstead and more competition at running back; hardly addressing the depletion of the talent pool in certain areas.

They signed Neville Gallimore, Teair Tart, Da'Shawn Hand, Benito Jones and Calais Campbell to compete with Zach Sieler in an effort to build a respectable defensive line. 

Jets: Safety 

Although it is entirely possible, if not probable, that the other shoe will drop at linebacker this season with a 32-year-old C.J. Mosley, safety is the easier choice. New York returns Chuck Clark, who is returning from injury, and Tony Adams, but is that enough? 

There is also the lingering question about Haason Reddick's future with the organization. If he does not report for the season, then undue pressure is put on the shoulders of former first-round pick Will McDonald IV.

Patriots: Offensive tackle

The choice between wide receiver and offensive tackle was a knock-down-drag-out fight. Both are critical needs, but it all starts upfront with the offensive line. If that is not solidified, then the rest hardly matters. Wide receiver also has a few young players, such as Ja'Lynn Polk and Javon Baker that should at least be entertaining.

They signed Chukwuma Okorafor from Pittsburgh in free agency, but the Steelers already deemed him not good enough to start in the Steel City. He is a viable third tackle option for a team. Mike Onwenu is penciled in as the starter at right tackle, which is a role he has adequately filled in the past. 

AFC West

Broncos: Offensive line

Denver has one of the worst rosters in the NFL. The offensive line is a unit of particular concern. Lloyd Cushenberry departed in free agency. Denver's interior offensive line consists of Ben Powers, Luke Wattenberg and Quinn Meinerz. While in New Orleans, Sean Payton consistently invested premium draft assets into the offensive line year over year but it is not exactly a strength for his Broncos team that is ushering in a new era at quarterback. 

Chargers: Wide receiver 

Coach Jim Harbaugh wants to build a tough, physical football team and that means being stubborn in the trenches, first and foremost, which led to the selection of Joe Alt at No. 5 overall. Wide receiver is a much bigger need after trading Keenan Allen and releasing Mike Williams. If the season were to start today, Josh Palmer, Quentin Johnston and Ladd McConkey would be in line to start. DJ Chark and Brenden Rice would be on the two-deep.

Cornerback is a critical area of weakness as well. 

Chiefs: Offensive tackle

As much as I was a fan of Wanya Morris coming into the 2023 NFL Draft, it is a lofty expectation to think the former Oklahoma right tackle will step in at left tackle seamlessly. Kingsley Suamataia was added for competition. 

Cornerback is a primary need after moving L'Jarius Sneed this offseason. It will be interesting to learn whether they will play Trent McDuffie, who is one of the game's rising stars, on the boundary or keep him in the slot. Joshua Williams, Jaylen Watson, Chamarri Conner and Nazeeh Johnson would be competing for those other two starting spots. 

Raiders: Cornerback 

The outlook at quarterback is not exciting, but little can be done about that at this stage of the offseason. Cornerback is a bigger issue. Jack Jones was a good find for them on the waiver wire, but the team lost Amik Robertson in free agency. Nate Hobbs is a great player. The hope is that Jakorian Bennett or Decamerion Richardson -- both of whom were drafted in the fourth round each of the past two years -- step up and take hold of a starting job. 

Linebacker and defensive tackle are a few secondary needs.

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