1. WR. As the Texans sputtered down the stretch, it became obvious that their biggest issue was their unwillingness and inability to stretch the field with the deep ball, allowing safeties to congest the box. The current recipe to contain the passing game calls for a #2 corner on Walter and a #1 plus and rolling a man high toward Andre Johnson. If the Texans can land a second good starter, it would allow Walter to face a better match-up against #3's. With Andre's age, he's become a much tougher underneath possession receiver, which is fine, but the missing deep ball must be restored by means of a speedy starter on the other side. If the core of the issue lies with Matt Schaub, they need to allow TJ Yates to compete for that position. After the early September contract extension for Schaub, an outside investment would tie too much money to the position.
2. 3-4 NT. The Texans still haven't received the production out of their nose tackle that Wade Phillips demands. Shaun Cody is a free agent, which may push Houston's hand to find an improvement there. With Watt, Antonio Smith, and a number of high draft picks at outside linebacker, Houston has been capable of applying pressure from the outside. On the inside, they have to rely on stunts, twists, and delays to artificially generate pressure. Finding an interior pass rusher will help the Texans take the next step in containing top quarterbacks, a huge weakness of the defense.
3. DB. The Texans were a below average defense defending against the #2 and lesser wide receivers a season ago. With Wade Phillips' aggressive defense, it's important that Houston shores up its depth at corner. Kareem Jackson made great strides this season while Johnathan Joseph battled injury and took a step back. Regardless, their base starting corners are in good shape, but as second round rookie Brandon Harris struggled to even see the field, they'll want to hedge their bets to ensure this isn't a problem going forward. Alternatively, Glover Quin is a free agent and if they can get their hands on a playmaker at strong safety, they won't hesitate to pull the trigger and make the upgrade.
4. ILB. Brian Cushing is an All-Pro linebacker if he can stay healthy, but even with him in the lineup, the Texans could use another starter. In their elimination game against the Patriots, New England controlled the middle of the field on their way to a 41-point day. Finding someone that can drop into coverage or blitz up the middle will be important as they look to improve upon their defense in this part of the field next year. Finding a capable blitzer may be an important trait for whomever they decide to pursue to improve the interior rush. Ruud, Dobbins, and James are free agents that can be returned for depth.
5. OL Depth. After losing their entire right side from the dominant 2011 unit, Houston struggled to form an elite rushing attack. The run game remained the focal point of the offense, but coupled with the lingering injury to Ben Tate, efficiency dropped. Depending on the team's impression of the Ben Tate situation, running back is another potential need, but perhaps even stronger is bolstering the offensive line. The team expects Brandon Brooks, an impressive athlete, to jump into the starting lineup at right guard and Derek Newton to retain his position at right tackle, but neither are bets to return the run game to dominance. Bringing in depth to push the current favorites will only help the situation.
1. OL. Watching one Big Ben-esque throw after another, Andrew Luck had an impressive rookie campaign even if it wasn't as efficient as those of his classmates. If they want him to replicate some of the early success the offense had under Peyton Manning, they'll have to afford him similar luxuries which included an offensive line that was as strong as any in the league. If possible, the Colts should look to bring in a pair of new starters for next season to replace a couple of castoffs and undrafted free agents. Secondarily, the right tackle position could be improved, but is more likely to be improved with competition for 2nd round pick Ben Ijalana.
2. 3-4 OLB. The inevitable loss of Dwight Freeney this year will hurt a defense that already ranked 23rd in sacks with 32. In addition to improving the pass rush, the Colts must finally take strides to better a horrendous run defense that ranked 31st in allowing 5.1 yards per carry and has been similarly porous for years. With the 24th pick, it's unlikely they can snag an elite pass rusher, but they may be able to find a balanced outside linebacker capable of doing several things well.
3. DL. Though Pagano has a coaching background in the secondary making targets at safety or corner a possibility, the defense must improve up front before any gains in the secondary can realistically translate into strong success. A pair of starters in Antonio Johnson and Fili Moala are unrestricted free agents allowing them an opportunity to pursue upgrades through free agency or the draft. In year two of the transition to a new defense, the front office will begin slowly phasing out players from the old scheme to fit the new one, particularly in the front 7. This offseason will be their first real opportunity to do so after having evaluated carryovers from the inherited roster.
4. WR. As the organization moves into year two of Andrew Luck era, parallels to Manning era will continue. Among the many intelligent decisions Bill Polian was surrounding a maturing Manning as many weapons as possible, accelerating his growth. T.Y. Hilton played well down the stretch catching timely deep balls to provide a vertical, explosive boost to the offense. Missing from the group may be a slot receiver to move the chains. Austin Collie would fit well in that role if not for his misfortune in injuries. Alternatively, a physically imposing receiver would be the best case scenario if not for the difficulty in finding one. With more pressing needs and a draft slot in the 20s, this seems realistically unattainable this offseason.
5. SS. The combination of Joe Lefeged and Tom Zbikowski didn't serve the Colts well this year. It's a position where they could find a temporary fix in free agency or a more permanent one if the draft board plays out in their favor. At free safety, Antoine Bethea is one of their best defenders, but entering a contract year. If Pagano chooses to build his area of greatest expertise, the secondary, into the defense's greatest strength, strong safety will be a good start.
1. DB. Finishing near the bottom in all major statistical pass defense categories, the Titans will head into this offseason looking for ways to improve. From the defensive line, they'll look to apply more pressure causing the ball to come out quicker. In the secondary they'll need better play from their safeties. After signing Michael Griffin to a 5-year, $35 million dollar contract less than a year ago, they have an out if they want it. Griffin has been wildly inconsistent in Tennessee with high highs and low lows. The strong safety position beside him is also a definite area of upgrade. The corner combination of McCourty and Verner will only improve leaving depth to be upgraded.
2. DT. Since losing Albert Haynesworth and Jason Jones, the middle of the Titans defensive line has struggled to pressure the quarterback, making it difficult for the outside to get home as well. The Titans have spent middle round picks over the past couple years, stockpiling some talent at defensive tackle, but no one has emerged as expected. They have a strong rotation. but maybe this is a season they make a bigger investment in an attempt to find a star up front. After surrendering a league high 471 points, it would be a good start.
3. OG. Chris Johnson's breakout season was the last where the Titans were a strong, cohesive unit up front. Players have since gotten older and left the organization leaving the unit dry in talent and thin on depth. Restricted free agent Fernando Velasco played well enough at center where a restricted tender should keep him there for another year. At guard, unrestricted free agent Leroy Harris and 35-year old Steve Hutchinson are expected upgrades in the near future. This offseason, the Titans need to begin a rebuilding of sorts to bring talent and athletes to the offense. Improving the guard situation is the quickest route to returning the run game to form, after which the rest of the offense can be built.
4. DE. With 2010 first round pick Derrick Morgan and $35 million Kamerion Wimbley combining for only 12.5 sack, the Titans will continue adding talent until they get more productivity out of the end position. The heavy investment suggests they'll turn to the draft to fill this need. Again, the Titans are suffering a 3rd hangover (Haynesworth, Jones) from losing another pass rusher to free agency in Jason Babin, which has depleted their pass rush.
5. TE/WR. This is an area in a precarious position with Jared Cook's uncertain contract situation and Kenny Britt's trouble with the law. If all goes according to plan, perhaps this isn't a pressing concern of the Titans, but given the likelihood of the situation, new acquisitions will have to be made at either (or both) position(s). Locker hasn't taken the steps forward the organization would have wanted, but he also needs receivers capable of making smart reads and running consistent routes. Bringing in established players through free agency makes logical sense.
1. DE. Finishing last in the league in sacks again, the Jaguars are in desperate need of a pass rush, something that's eluded them no matter how they've approached the problem. Jason Babin, a pass rush specialist, should be able to help them mount pressure on the quarterback, even if it means sacrificing run defense. Their search will continue into the offseason until they find a couple more reasonable solutions, are confident they can adequately get into the backfield. With Gus Bradley at head coach, there won't be a change in front.
2. OL. With Maurice Jones-Drew missing the majority of the season, the Jaguars struggled to move the ball on the ground this year. Perhaps this is a sign that the Jaguars should attempt to find a better back-up to MJD, but it's an equal indication that the team needs to get younger and more athletic up front. Jacksonville struggled particularly with runs up the middle in large part due to 35-year old Brad Meester's diminishing skill set and Eben Britton's multiple benchings at left guard. With a pair of expiring contracts, they could take this opportunity to improve both positions with a combination of free agency and the draft. Additionally, they could also make improvements at right tackle, which finished the year starting 2nd year undrafted free agent Cameron Bradfield.
3. QB. Depending on how the new brass evaluates Blaine Gabbert, it could take their entire offseason in one of two opposite directions. Whether this team need is satisfied through development of their recent 1st round pick, another large investment through the draft, or perhaps a median of the two, they'll need improved play from the quarterback situation for the offense to take off and the franchise to steer the ship in the right direction. Selecting 2nd overall, the Jaguars don't have the fortune of a top-heavy, or quarterback-heavy draft class to make their decision easier, but if they want one, there may not be much wiggle room to trade down as other quarterback-starved teams currently slated at 3, 4, 7, 8, and 9.
4. WR. After signing a $32.5 million contract, Laurent Robinson suffered four concussions in a span of four months jeopardizing his career. As the Jaguars move on from the series of sobering injuries, their focus on the football field will have to return to the position where they need to find a complement to Justin Blackmon who has the making of a star receiver in the right situation. Cecil Shorts will play a big part of their future especially out of the slot position, but adding another receiver to the mix could give the Jaguars a formidable corps of receivers that will give a quarterback no excuses in failing.
5. CB. With an inept pass rush, the Jaguars have fared better than expected in overall pass defense over the last couple years thanks to good corner play (when healthy) from Rashean Mathis and Derek Cox. Assuming the aging Mathis and the oft-injured Derek Cox are brought back, it still leaves the defense thin at the position where they haven't been able to find a heir to Mathis's position. If the defense is unable to find a pass rush, a starting-caliber nickel corner could help prolong plays a tad longer for the pass rush to get home.
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