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The 2023 AFC Team and Draft Preview

By Ronacesports

Baltimore Ravens - Season Summary

Baltimore’s roster is built to win big, but something is missing. Am I the only analyst out there who thinks John Harbaugh is a C+ coach? Wait, I said that a year ago! It’s brutally true. This roster is deep and strong, but as they demonstrated while Lamar Jackson was ON the field, no lead was safe. Making the playoffs should have been a given. Going deep depends on three things: Jackson’s availability, Jackson’s pass game development, and sadly, late game coaching decisions. Here we go again.

2022 Stat Sheet: The biggest issue Baltimore had early in 2022 was protecting double-digit leads. No team has even blown as many leads of ten or more points, and it could have been worse. The 2nd biggest issue was Harbaugh (again) not adjusting his offense and play-calling offensively once Jackson went down. QB Huntley is not Lamar Jackson, but Baltimore didn’t care, and Huntley ran just 3.2 per carry. Of course, what else is new! Much of the stat sheet shows a team that is playoff worthy. The sack ratio was 48-38 (34-57 a year ago), they ran 160-5.2 per carry, gave up only a 36% 3rd down conversation rate (4th), they were 3rd best defending the run, and as usual, had plusses in most special team areas. The defense improved after the Roquan Smith trade, but the overall pass D was well below expectations at 66.4%. Nothing good happened with their WR unit, with Demarcus Robinson being the “best” of the bunch (46-434-2 TD’s).

2022 draft recap: Most analysts, including me, gave this draft a top five grade. It clearly lacked a WR (and they traded away their top player, Marquise Brown to essentially draft a center and a punter), but the 11-player draft covered most everything else save for another DL. Safety Hamilton tested slow, but the instinctive player should be an asset moving forward (4 rookie starts). Center Linderbaum started all 17 games and was properly drafted. DE Ojabo as expected was a “redshirt”, coming off a Pro Day Achilles tear. He was considered a 1st rounder pre-combine, so the upside is there. DT Travis Jones is a work in progress but filled a need (3 starts). Thanks to trades and compensatory picks, the Ravens had a world record six picks in the 4th round. All six received numerical or * (also-eligible) ratings. For those new to my ratings, a *rated player is draftable, but only after all my numerically rated players have been chosen. They may need some development time, but could ascend to full starter status. Massive OT Faalefe needs more time to develop. At his best, he pushes the pile for this run oriented team. CB Armour-Davis was one of the * rated players who should have gone later (6th round grade). He saw limited action before going on IR. TE’s Kolar and Likely were both 3rd rounders on my board. Likely shows potential as a seam breaking TE. Kolar was hurt most of the year but I like him (four receptions in the finale, his only real action). Punter Stout won the job. CB Damarion Williams added depth. The final pick (6-196) was used for RB Badie, who was picked up by Denver during the season.

FREE AGENCY ANALYSIS AND STAFF NOTES (Short Version): As of this writing, only WR Nelson Agholor has been added. Losses include OG Ben Powers, TE Josh Oliver and DE Calais Campbell. Safety Chuck Clark was traded to the Jets for virtually nothing (2024 7th round pick). Greg Roman is out as offensive coordinator, replaced by Todd Monken. Monken has both NCAA and NFL experience, and most recently was in charge of NCAA champion Georgia’s offense. I like the move.

4/9 UPDATE: Baltimore outbid other teams to sign WR Odell Beckham for one year.

2023 DRAFT NEEDS: WR, DE, OG, CB, DL. WR is painfully obvious. They need a WR1 and more than that. I have DE next, with an aging Jason Pierre Paul not even guaranteed to be on the roster, and David Ojabo still not 100% off his college injury. Depth is minimal. OG is next, as that position is down one starter. CB is very high on many a list, which might be understandable considering their lack of closure in so many 2022 games. Additional DL depth would be a nice add as well.

4/9 UPDATE: With WR Beckham now signed, WR, while still a need, is not the absolute obvious need right away. Still, Beckham is here for just one year, so I’m perfectly okay with double dipping for the long haul.

RECENT DRAFT HISTORY AND TENDENCIES FOR 2023: GM Ozzie Newsome was mostly a best player available GM, letting the draft come to him. He seldom traded up, and never too high. His moves down the board were calculated and not far removed from his original pick. He valued draft picks and never left this team with too few. When I disagreed with what he tried to do, it was more of a case of preference (player or position) and not because of a lack of understanding of how to work a draft board. Not much has changed in his absence.

DRAFT PICK OVERVIEW: Picks in 1st 3 rounds: 22, 86. Baltimore has only five picks in this draft, which is highly unusual. Really solid LB Roquan Smith cost them their 2nd round pick.

ROUND ONE PREVIEW: I make it 75-25 that the Ravens trade BACK in the draft, attempting to acquire more picks. WR or DE would be my target areas. Assuming QB Jackson is back, I’d want someone with a large catch radius, as Jackson is not all that effective throwing in rhythm. I still think a WR choice is in play, but certainly the best available approach can be used for the areas I’ve bolded above.

REST OF THE DRAFT: It would surprise me if the Ravens ended this draft with just five picks. They can fill WR and OG (positions that lend themselves well to later selections), but at most they would only be able to partially address DE/CB, and more than likely will end up ignoring one of these needs completely if they made no trades. One side note: With Beckham here, Baltimore seems all in to make a push to win NOW, especially given the $15-$18 million contract. I don’t know as of 4/9 what that means for QB Jackson (would he sit out?), but the Raven’s hope 2023 finds him here all season long.

Buffalo Bills - Season Summary

Buffalo expected more. While they were one of the top five NFL teams at season’s end, there was no gap and certainly no indication that the Bills would get past either KC or Cincy. What happened? Maybe it was a combination of a weaker pass defense (injuries contributed early on, but they never found their footing), a top heavy pass approach, and Josh Allen making too many mistakes. Buffalo will remain a top tier team but the AFC is loaded, and this draft will definitely matter.

2022 Stat Sheet: 1st, the good news. The run game was more than solid, at 5.2 per carry and nearly 140 yards per game. Allen, Singletary, and rookie Cook (5.7) formed a nicely varied attack. WR Diggs was still special. When not turning over the ball, Buffalo was #1 easily with a 50+% 3rd down conversion rate. They also had over 1,250 more net yards than their opponents, resulting in a stout 53-32 TD differential. They finished 2nd in points allowed, 6th in total defense, and allowed just ten rushing TD’s. RB Hines was a more than effective return specialist. But some numbers were down, after a 2021 season when for the 1st time ever, this Buffalo squad was my 1st ever to not have any negative listings in this section (which used to be titled, What Went Right, and What Went Wrong). Josh Allen was intercepted 14 times, fumbled seven times, and threw five redzone interceptions, clearly most in the NFL. Injuries didn’t help in the secondary, and that unit wasn’t nearly as stout as it had been. Most of their starters, including once lockdown CB White missed time (White didn’t play until after Thanksgiving and was rusty). While 40 sacks sounds good, Buffalo averaged under two defensive sacks per game when Von Miller was out.

2022 draft recap: CB Elam was a necessary pick. He took some lumps as a rookie but CB is usually a very tough position to learn right away. RB Cook was one of my favorite draft picks. While not an immediate Buffalo need, Cook has a chance to be a solid NFL player. LB Bernard saw his NCAA stat sheet rise sharply at the end of his college career. He might see more action depending on Buffalo’s moves in free agency. WR Shakir has talent but why this team? He caught ten passes as a rookie and probably will supplant some veterans during his rookie contract. With serious off-field acquisitions, punter Araiza was cut in training camp. CB Benford was hurt halfway through 2022. I was not high on him, so we’ll see how this goes. OL was my #2 need for the Bills behind CB. Buffalo waited until pick 209, taking Luke Tenata. He was cut in training camp.

FREE AGENCY ANALYSIS AND STAFF NOTES (Short Version): Buffalo added WR Trent Sherfield, OG’s Connor McGovern and David Edwards, RB Damien Harris and safety Taylor Rapp. For a team already at or near the top of the NFL, that’s not bad. Losses include WR’s Isaiah McKenzie and Jamison Crowder, RB Devin Singletary and LB Tremaine Edmunds. Singletary and Edmunds will need replacements, although RB Harris might be equal value. In big coaching news, defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier is taking a year off. He may or may not be coming back to Buffalo, but for 2023, the defense will be run by committee, although Coach McDermott announced on 3/27 that he will likely be calling the defensive signals.

2023 DRAFT NEEDS: MLB, front seven run stoppers, OG, WR, TE2. MLB is far and away the #1 need. Even though sacks declined after Von Miller was hurt, I like the pass rushing roster. What’s lacking may be enough run stoppers in the front seven. The OG need is lessened after free agency, but even if current free agent Roger Saffold stays, there’s no long-term stud. Gabe Davis and Khalil Shakir are decent as WR2 and WR3, and could be even better, but both guys have shown some inconsistency. It wouldn’t hurt to add a sleeper WR in this draft. TE Dawson Knox is steady. The depth behind him is below what’s needed.

RECENT DRAFT HISTORY AND TENDENCIES FOR 2023 I noted in ‘18 that the new regime was looking to be aggressive in the draft. They certainly were then, and in 2020 when they traded for WR Diggs. This draft team has been solid, and focused on team needs. Final decisions are generally a shared process between GB Brandon Beane and Coach Sean McDermott.

DRAFT PICK OVERVIEW: Picks in 1st 3 rounds: 27, 59, 91. Buffalo has just six picks in this draft.

ROUND ONE PREVIEW: MLB’s typically are available later than other positions. As I write this on 3/31, it’s too early to speculate who they might target at pick 27, but certainly this would be my focus.

REST OF THE DRAFT: Buffalo only has six picks, but it’s enough to fill the needs above, since the more “glamourous” positions of OT, edge rusher and CB are not on my list. Let’s see how focused Buffalo will be this draft season.

Cincinnati Bengals - Season Summary

Despite facing a severe uptick in prime-time games, coupled with some expected regression off an improbable 2021 Super Bowl run, Cincy improved in 2022, clearly earning the respect of the rest of the league. The revamped OL wasn’t perfect, but did show noticeable improvement mid-season. Meanwhile, Joe Burrow ascended to the #2 NFL QB ranking, and the defense is good and well-coached. Roster changes, especially in the secondary are expected now, but Cincy will remain tough to beat.

2022 Stat Sheet: I was impressed with Cincy, especially coming off one of its best ever seasons. Despite a tougher, 1st place schedule and considerably more prime time games, (and therefore short weeks), many areas improved. They allowed 322 points, down from 376 in 2021. They had the #1 pass D, clocking in at 58.6%. The pass TD differential was +17. With Joe Burrow and a top tier WR group the 3rd down success rate was #4, at over 47%. Not everything was perfect. The sack ratio was poor for a team of this caliber, at 30-44. The pass rush disappointed, and the changes made along the OL provided more talent, but certainly not elite talent. RB Mixon often gets better as the season rolls on. Not in 2022, as he had just one super 2nd half of the season game, and ran for less than 3.0 per carry the final three games. The overall run O was just 3.8 per carry.

2022 draft recap: Despite drafting late in each round (rare) and possessing just six picks, the Bengals continued to be one of the more focused draft teams in the past decade. Looking toward the future, their 1st two picks (DB Dax Hill, CB Cam Taylor-Britt) started a combined 11 games, gaining necessary experience. Hill needs to find his proper position, while Taylor-Britt, despite his nine starts needs to be protected in coverage (lacks ideal change of direction skill). DL Carter started nine games and provides decent rotational value. Maybe by necessity, OG Volson started 16 games. The former OT was going to need time to make the move inside, but I like his rookie contribution. The remaining two picks (safety, DE) did not play, but it should be noted that they both received draft eligible grades on my board and this defense was already in good shape.

FREE AGENCY ANALYSIS AND STAFF NOTES (Short Version): I like that Cincy remains committed to improving it’s OL. I’m not a fan of Orlando Brown at LT, but it still looks like an upgrade. Cody Ford adds OG depth. Two losses offensively are RB Samaje Perrine and TE Hayden Hurst. TE Irv Smith has signed on. While Cincy did add CB Sidney Jones and safety Nick Scott, the DB losses of Vonn Bell and Jessie Bates represent a net loss. The Bates loss was fully expected, as that’s why Dax Hill was drafted a year ago. NOTE: Safety Nick Scott was signed on 4/7, and is penciled in as the starter.

2023 DRAFT NEEDS: CB, RB, TE, safety, 1 OL, DE. They drafted Dax Hill and Cam Taylor-Britt for the secondary a year ago, anticipating roster losses in 2023. I don’t trust Eli Apple, and CB Chidobe Awuzie comes off injury. I’d start anew at RB, as Joe Mixon doesn’t do enough for me. This is a good year to add a day one or day two TE. Cincy needs one badly. Both starting safeties are gone. Nick Scott was recently added, but this need could even be higher. As noted above, the sack ratio was way below expectations for such an ascending team, at 30-44. In addition, the run game sputtered. A quality OL still needs to be added, and extra DL bodies for competition purposes should be added as well.

RECENT DRAFT HISTORY AND TENDENCIES FOR 2023: Except for 2014, and last year, I have been “lucky” enough to know exactly who the Bengals were targeting on draft day. Owner Mike Brown oversees the operation. In 2019 he shed his aversion to making draft day trades. Duke Tobin has been the GM since 1999. He’s been more than willing to listen to what Coach Taylor has to say. Cincy has almost always delivered a better than average draft, even with the smallest draft staff in the NFL.

DRAFT PICK OVERVIEW: Picks in 1st 3 rounds: 28, 60, 92. Cincy has seven picks in this draft.

ROUND ONE PREVIEW: I’d go best DB available or best TE available at pick 28. RB Gibbs (or certainly RB Bijan Robinson if he suddenly dropped this far) would be enticing as an alternative.

REST OF THE DRAFT: I’d certainly take a TE on or before pick 92. That leaves two DB’s, or one DB and either a draft dropping RB or OL. Cincy usually focuses well on draft day, so let’s see how they handle position priorities.

Cleveland Browns - Season Summary

Cleveland’s hope was that QB Brissett could manage the game well enough to a) allow the veteran defense to win close games, and b) QB Watson would do the rest, guiding the Browns back into the playoffs. Instead, Brissett was average at best, the defense regressed, and Watson was extremely rusty. I write this on March 16th. Cleveland is hardly in the news these days and that might be a good thing. Even in a loaded AFC, maybe the Browns still have enough talent to regroup.

2022 Stat Sheet: I expected better things from this defense, as did most people. The unit was soft against the run (4.7 per carry) and produced just 34 sacks. The LB’s are speedy, but you can run right at them. The secondary is the strong suit, and they delivered a top three performance in pass completions allowed (60.7%). The offense maintained its stout run game, but even with the emergence of WR Peoples-Jones, coupled with free agent Amari Cooper, Cleveland’s QB play held them back. The OL allowed 44 sacks and LT Wills, a top draftee a short while ago, was called a ‘liability”. I’m not willing to go that far, but the OL has to be better. Then again, QB Watson needs to do his part, as 58% and 20 sacks taken in just 170 attempts means blame could go in many directions. Cade York was drafted to win games. He was just 24-32, missing some short kicks.

2022 draft recap: With WR Cooper and QB Watson counting in the draft grade, all Cleveland needed was some well thought out picks during the actual draft. The player grades I gave here were decent, but I wanted them to focus on LB (my #1 need) and they did not take any LB. CB Emerson had a solid debut. DE Wright was called by many to be developmental. I agreed, and he got in some work as a rookie. WR David Bell has some upside, but lacks breakaway speed. I was okay with this selection as well. DT Winfrey wasn’t consistent enough to earn significant playing time but I think he can develop. PK Cade York won the job, but also missed a few critical kicks. RB Ford sat behind a loaded backfield. As a 4th round selection, why was there no LB selected? WR Woods has a low ceiling here (five rookie receptions, * rated). DE Isaiah Thomas was numerically rated by me so perhaps he can contribute over time. Center Deaton tore his ACL in training camp.

FREE AGENCY ANALYSIS AND STAFF NOTES (Short Version): Time stopped in 2022 when Cleveland threw six draft picks at Houston, “winning” the Deshaun Watson sweepstakes. To their credit, the Browns are not sitting still right now, especially defensively. 1st, the offense. Little has been lost or gained, although WR Marquise Goodwin can be a deep threat if healthy and TE Jordan Akins adds complementary depth. Cleveland did add (disgruntled) WR Elijah Moore, with the trade details listed below. He has WR2 potential. Ogbonnia Okoronko is a slight DE upgrade over the departed Chase Winovich, and Dalvin Tomlinson may be a slight DT upgrade over Taven Bryan. GB Greedy Williams is gone, never quite fulfilling his potential (injuries contributed). The addition of free safety Juan Thornhill is a good one. Joe Woods was fired after three seasons as defensive coordinator. Jim Schwartz has a decent defensive resume and would seem to be an upgrade.

2023 DRAFT NEEDS: Big LB, interior OL, DE, DL depth, backup QB, RB depth. Cleveland has speedy but light LB’s. Teams have success running right at them. The OT’s are fine, although maybe I could have added OT depth to the mix. They are short one interior OL, which showed in their 2022 performance. Cleveland is missing an edge rusher opposite Myles Garrett. The DL as a whole could use some reinforcements. Kellen Mond is the current backup QB. Free agent RB Kareem Hunt and 2022 draft pick Jerome Ford are the current RB backups.

RECENT DRAFT HISTORY AND TENDENCIES FOR 2023: In January, 2020, Harvard-based Andrew Berry returned to Cleveland to take over GM duties. He tends to use an analytic approach, but does value input from Head Coach Stefanski.and perhaps Paul DePodstra, who carries the title of Chief Strategy Officer. It took the owner (the beleaguered Jimmy Haslam) to sign off/encourage the outlandish guaranteed contract package given to Watson, which naturally rankled the other NFL owners. I’ll assume Berry will be the primary decision-maker for most other deals moving forward.

DRAFT PICK OVERVIEW: Picks in 1st 3 rounds: 74, 98. Cleveland has eight picks, including two in both the 4th and 5th rounds. Watson cost them picks 12 and 73 in this draft. Pick 98 was compensatory from the NFL (minority hiring rule). The trade for Elijah Moore cost them pick 42, and in return the Browns received pick 74.

ROUND ONE PREVIEW: No pick. Get used to this, as acquiring QB Watson will cost them 1st round picks here, and in 2024.

REST OF THE DRAFT: What’s even possible, starting the draft so late? Cleveland reportedly has about $9 million in cap space, but if they get creative, more $$$ could be available. I’d take the best big MLB at pick 74, and use the rest of the draft to fill other needs. OG Dalton Risner would be an easy free agent signing for me. Both Yannick Ngakoue and Frank Clark are available at DE/edge, and would be instant upgrades.

Denver Broncos - Season Summary

Denver paid dearly for Russell Wilson, giving up four high draft picks and three veteran players. Tom Brady and Matt Stafford switched teams and won Super Bowls. Wilson did not, and the season was a disaster in more ways than one. Enter Sean Payton. Hopes remain (mile) high, and this will be another fascinating team to monitor leading up to the start of the season.

2022 Stat Sheet: Where to start? The sack ratio was 36-63 (36-40 in ’21). Denver allowed three or more sacks 13 times. Bradley Chubb was traded after week eight. The sack ratio was 24-24 with him, and a disastrous 12-39 without him. Let that sink in. Russell Wilson had a pedestrian season, hitting just 60.5%, with a 16-11 ratio. Denver was dead last, with a 29% offensive 3rd down success rate. The offense missed RB Williams (injury), had several WR’s either underperform or out with hamstring injuries, and the OL was down a couple of notches after not retaining their respected OL coach (Mike Munchak). Denver was last in points scored. The defense wasn’t bad, but did regress some without former Head Coach Vic Fangio. The 3rd down defense was a success, allowing just a 34% success rate (2nd). Yards-per-completion figures were very good. True to form, the return game offense was poor, but the return game defense was really good. Upon becoming interim coach on 12/26, Jerry Rosberg fired their OL coach and their special team coordinator, and demoted returner Montrell Washington, who had already fumbled five times! Nathaniel Hackett was overmatched, so this can improve. Denver ended up 5-12, but with just a -72 point ratio. That translates to 6-10-1 or 7-10. Sean Payton and a 4th place schedule could mean better results.

2022 draft recap: People panned GM Elway often (myself included) but when we give out draft grades Denver always seemed to be graded highly. The 2021 draft post-Elway was another good draft. What I thought, and what others now agree with, is that coaching let them down. I graded last years draft harshly however, especially when one considers what was given up in draft and player capital. Not once did I feel they got value with any of their draft picks. LB Bonito had a decent grade (from me). He has pass rush potential but has other deficiencies in his game (one rookie start). TE Dulich was the replacement for the traded Noah Fant. He showed some pass-catching promise as I expected, but is a liability as a blocker. CB Mathis was expected to be penalty prone, which he was. Still, he had 11 starts and supplanted CB Darby, who I’ve always regarded as a below par player. Mathis can get too aggressive at times, so he needs to be coached up. DT Uwazurike found some rotational snaps and could develop into a complimentary piece. Safety Turner-Yell was unrated by me. He played solely on special teams. Three other draftees also received NR grades. WR Washington fumbled five times as a punt returner. Ouch. DT Henningsen found a way to be a decent reserve and could stick in his 2nd season. CB Hicks was on the practice squad in all but two games. Finally, lower rated center Wattenberg played in seven games and may stick around as a reserve.

FREE AGENCY ANALYSIS AND STAFF NOTES (Short Version): Denver has been active, as usual. Additions include WR Marquez Calloway, OG Ben Powers, OT Mike McGlinchey, TE Chris Manhertz, back-up QB Jarrett Stidham, RB Samaji Perrine and DE Zach Allen. The two OL are the best of the bunch. Losses have mostly not impacted the team, with the only real “damage” being at DE, where two players, Dre’Mont Jones and DeShawn Williams have left. Riley Dixon is the new punter. Nathaniel Hackett didn’t even last one season in Denver. In comes Sean Payton, but at a price, and I’m not just talking about his enormous salary. Denver traded their 1st round pick away this year, and swapped a 2nd round pick for a 3rd round pick in 2024 to get Payton from New Orleans. Joe Lombardi is the new offensive coordinator, but I’m sure Payton will have his fingerprints all over this offense. He’s had two other coordinator jobs, and his last one saw fans of the LA Chargers a bit angered over his play calling. Vance Joseph was once Denver’s Head Coach. Strangely, he’s back, this after serving four seasons as Arizona’s defensive coordinator. I am not a big fan of his, but he did have modest success at times in this role other than at Arizona. Ben Kotwica will coach special teams, but he has two experienced helpers which means Denver cares more about this unit than almost every other team. That is a good thing. Of course, the Bronco’s also are under new ownership.

2023 DRAFT NEEDS: 1-2 LB’s, 1-2 DE’s, OG, DB, extra TE, PR/KR. Not one of their four starting LB’s scares me if I’m an offensive coordinator. Two DE’s left via free agency, leaving them with newly signed Zach Allen and guys who should be in the XFL. There’s a void at OG without Dalton Risner, and I may agree with some others who think even more changes could be beneficial for this unit. I’m not quite as concerned about the secondary, but there are no talented players on the bench, and nickel play could be elevated. Unless Albert “O” finds his game, TE could easily use extra bodies. A more reliable return specialist would be advised, as fumbles/turnovers are game changers that impact the won-loss record.

RECENT DRAFT HISTORY AND TENDENCIES FOR 2023: GM Elway had all the power and many detractors, but the overall roster improved under his watch. George Paton is the 3rd year GM. He’s made some surprise picks, but has generally added talent, although like in 2022, he’ll be without a few early round draft picks.

DRAFT PICK OVERVIEW: Picks in 1st 3 rounds: 67, 68. Denver has just five picks. If you thought Denver helped Seattle in 2022, well, it gets worse, as picks 5 and 37 are with the Seahawks as additional payment for Russell Wilson. A 2022 draft trade netted Denver their extra 3rd round pick. Sean Payton cost Denver the 1st round pick they received in a previous draft trade (for Bradley Chubb), plus a 4th round pick in 2024.


REST OF THE DRAFT: Denver continues to pay the price for the Russell Wilson trade. Payton’s New Orleans team often traded UP on draft day. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Denver sacrifice a high 2024 pick in this draft, but most likely I’d advise against it. Based on my needs listed above, getting better in both tranches is a must.

Houston Texans - Season Summary

Lovie Smith. Two greater ($$$) words have never been spoken. I went full fade on them, but in reality, the team competed, and if not for a few curious, but predictable decisions the Texans could have won more games. The roster has been turned over ten-fold in just two seasons, so chemistry was lacking. What often saved them was opponents looking past the Texans to their next scheduled matchup. Lovie’s parting shot was to pull out a last second win week 18, denying them the 1st overall pick in the draft. DeMeco Ryans is a nice hire, but he’ll likely oversee another wave of massive roster turnover. I’d slow build this team right now.

2022 Stat Sheet: Let’s start with good news. Lovie Smith is gone. The pass D allowed just 15 TD’s, but there was a reason. Kicking was solid, as was the kick return D. Houston has two good OT’s and rookie DB Pitre led the team with a massive 147 tackles. Now the bad news. QB Mills regressed and was graded very low overall. The run offense was bad even with rookie Pierce, and especially without him. The offense was 31st overall, running 3.7 per carry and 87 yards per game. Total yardage allowed was last in the NFL, as the run D 32nd, allowed 5.1-170 per game (unheard of), and the pass D coming in at 30th overall. In 2021 the rush TD differential was awful at 8-25. Last year was not any better, at 7-25. Net rushing yards were -1,418.

2022 draft recap: A little bit of history: Houston’s 2021 NFL composite score (18 national draft reviews) was 1.88, which was dead last. The 2020 Composite score was 1.88 (31st). Last year was much better. I wouldn’t have drafted CB Stingley 3rd overall despite his high ceiling. He was average in his nine game debut, but availability could be an issue, as it was in college. Passing on the electric Ahmed “Sauce” Gardner was typical for this franchise, and unfortunately, much expected (by me). OG Green was very properly drafted. He started 14 games, but performed well below average. I think he will pan out with better coaching. The versatile Pitre was a solid playmaker on the back end of the defense but true to his pedigree, was a bit too aggressive. That can be fixed. WR Metchie was medically inactive in 2022. If fully cleared, he fits a dead-on need. LB Harris started 11 games and quickly became the unit’s best player, but that may be a low ceiling (check that LB roster out). RB Pierce was more than solid. DT Booker became part of the rotation and should remain in that role. Unrated TE Quitoriano was a typical Texan TE pick, one who shows flashes, but doesn’t move the needle. OT Deculus was also unrated and played only on special teams. Like I said, this was a better draft than usual, but the class was deep, and they could have fared even better.

FREE AGENCY ANALYSIS AND STAFF NOTES (Short Version): New staffs often make roster changes above the norm. Given this is Houston’s 3rd straight new staff, it’s hard to find anyone who was on this team prior to 2020! I write this on March 29th. Exactly 24 months ago, the Texan’s had 31 new players. They had over twenty at this time a year ago. This doesn’t count the two drafts and undrafted free agent signings, plus a few trades. According to the mostly accurate Ourlads depth charts, nine new starters have already been added through free agency. The nine are WR’s Noah Brown and Robert Woods, OT Shaq Mason, TE Dalton Schultz, fullback Andrew Beck, DT Sheldon Rankins, LB’s Denzel Perriman and Corey Littlejohn, and safety/CB Jimmie Ward. RB Devin Singletary complements Dameon Pierce at RB, and OG Michael Dieter, DT Hassan Ridgeway and possible starter Chase Winovich (DE) add additional depth. The roster does look better. Losses include WR’s Brandin Cooks (trade) and Phillip Dorsett, TE Jordan Akins and DE Okoronkwo Ogbonnia. QB Case Keenum replaces Kyle Allen. It’s back to ground zero for Houston with staff and front office changes. DeMeco Ryans returns to where he played to try to right the ship. He fast-tracked to Head Coach but is well regarded. Former SF passing game coordinator Bobby Slowik is the new offensive coordinator. He’s young (35), but prepped in a solid organization. This for me will be a learning on the job experience for him. Matt Burke is the new defensive coordinator. He’ll have help from Ryans, but he’s had over a decade of NFL exposure. Executive Jack Easterby was fired last October. He was generally hated by everyone except the owner.

2023 DRAFT NEEDS: QB, interior OL, stud DL, WR, DB depth. Last year they needed everything except special team help. The list is shorter thanks to a better draft and this year’s free agency, but glaring holes remain. QB is one of them. The interior OL likely needs a new OG and center. The DL needs someone special. The best three players on the DL are their free agency additions, which shows how much more work is needed. The WR’s are Nico Collins, Robert Woods, Noah Brown and 2022 rookie John Metchie, who missed the season. More is needed. I’m under the assumption that Jimmie Ward will play safety in Houston. If so, the need is more for CB, with it being unlikely that the current group stays healthy. In addition, overall DB depth is nonexistent, and CB’s Desmond King and Steven Nelson are not sure things to hold up in regular and nickel coverage.

RECENT DRAFT HISTORY AND TENDENCIES FOR 2023: Head Coach O’Brien won the power struggle and before being fired, had 100% of the power in all talent related areas. He was the primary force behind three of the worse deals in recent NFL history (counting the trade of Hopkins) and continued the draft day tradition of needlessly squandering draft picks. It’s been several years since the Texans have had a highly rated draft haul. 3rd year GM Nick Caserio came from NE. Between him and Easterby, roster demolition was commonplace. It’s all Caserio now with no interference, so this is his chance to shine.

DRAFT PICK OVERVIEW: Picks in 1st 3 rounds: 2, 12, 33, 65, 73. Houston has 12 picks in this draft. Picks 12 and 73 are from Cleveland for QB Watson. They also added a 5th round pick in this draft and a 6th round pick in the 2024 draft when they traded WR Cooks to Dallas. Can the draft team build on last year’s improved draft haul?

ROUND ONE PREVIEW: I run scared every time Houston is on the clock, as no team makes more off the wall picks than this one. We should see a QB at pick #2, but please, don’t go for anyone but Stroud or Young. My choice at pick #12 would be versatile Northwestern OL Peter Skoronski (50-50 to be there). Pure OG O’Cyrus Torrance is another option, as is a stud DL.

REST OF THE DRAFT: Past drafts have included fullbacks, long snappers and fringe TE’s, all in one year! I go OL and DL at picks 12/33, and WR in the 3rd round, plus another OL or DL. DO NOT trade away picks.

Indianapolis Colts - Season Summary

Many people questioned me when I said QB was not the problem for the Colts in 2021. Until sidelined with COVID, Carson Wentz was an asset. The fall of the Colts in 2022 had more to do with WR and OL play offensively, Matt Ryan’s turnovers, and the usual bend and eventually break defense that lacked any gamechangers outside of the injured Leonard. Jeff Saturday was hired out of nowhere after Frank Reich lost his job before game #10. That was an experiment in terror, and an insult to the profession. Indy has a new staff for 2023, and plenty of roster decisions to make. For now, this could turn in any given direction.

2022 Stat Sheet: Indy reportedly had the leagues highest OL payroll (unconfirmed). That OL allowed 60 sacks. Indy committed the NFL’s most turnovers (34), leading to a -13 ratio. WR’s Pittman and Campbell caught a very nice 162 combined passes, but Indy threw (very) short, so the total yardage was just 1,548. Points scored ended up 30th in the NFL. The TD differential was poor at 28-50, and that included five defensive/special team TD’s given up, most in the NFL. Indy, even with RB Taylor, had just eight rush TD’s, and finished 29th in 3rd down success rate. Losing all-everything defensive player Leonard (one game played) didn’t help matters. As usual the SOFT, passive pass D allowed 68%. I hate that scheme. The special team unit was decent, especially with their punt return defense and kick return offense. The Colts were unlucky that opposing PK’s went 26-28.

2022 draft recap: GM Ballard had three straight incredibly deep drafts, but the last two drafts missed the mark. They started the ’22 draft without a 1st round pick in the oversized trade for Wentz. They took WR Pierce at pick 42. The focus was decent and while Pierce is likely never going to be a WR1 threat, he wasn’t bad. TE Woods saw his stock rise based on his incredibly athletic combine. He was a tad inconsistent but you could see his potential. OT Rainmann started 11 games but the former TE still is a work in progress. Safety Nick Cross was named the opening week starter but he clearly wasn’t ready (lost job week three). DT Eric Johnson had three tackles. The Missouri State product has much work to do. The final three picks received NR grades from me. TE Ogletree tore his ACL. DT Brooks was cut. Safety Rodney Thomas had 52 tackles and an amazing ten starts, but I wouldn’t yet call him a true keeper. His work was graded below average and remember, the Indy pass defense was it’s usual bottom-feeding self. Still, he more than made the team and exceeded my early expectations. With all that said, in the deepest draft I’d ever seen in terms of available talent, Indy wasted a few picks, and didn’t find much, if any impact.

FREE AGENCY ANALYSIS AND STAFF NOTES (Short Version): We don’t yet know much about Indy’s QB rotation, but Gardner Minchew has been signed. Isaiah McKenzie is in at WR and Parris Campbell is out. Tayon Bryan is in at DT and Byron Cowert is out. LB Bobby Okereke is gone, as is Stephon Gilmore (trade). Matt Guy is the new PK. Other moves made were minor ones. Former Philly offensive coordinator Shane Steichen is the new Head Coach. Jim Bob Cooter is on his 9th team, and 2nd stint as offensive coordinator. Brian Mason had some success at the NCAA level and assumes the special team coordinator duties.

2023 DRAFT NEEDS: 2 CB’s, QB, OLB, OL/OL depth, WR, safety, DL. About 2% of draft analysts list CB in their top three needs. I disagree. Look at the roster. Dallis Flowers (who), Darnell Baker (who), Isaiah Rodgers, Kevin Tolliver (who), Kenny Moore and Tony Brown are the listed CB’s on the roster. Give me a break! QB is of course, just as big a need. I’d list OLB a distant 3rd, but still critical. Right now, the starters are EJ Speed and Zaire Franklin, with Leonard in the middle. I’m not high on Indy’s RG situation as of today, and OL depth needs to be improved. WR talent is just as thin beyond the top two, and gadget WR Isaiah McKenzie. Rodney McLeod may leave in free agency. Even if he stays, safety play hasn’t exactly stopped any opposing offenses in recent years. Assuming Yannick Ngakoue leaves, another DL would help. If not, then DL is fine for now.

RECENT DRAFT HISTORY AND TENDENCIES FOR 2023: After four increasingly awful drafts, GM Chris Ballard brought some much-needed sanity to the Indy draft experience. His drafts from 2018 to 2020 had been at or near the top of the NFL food chain, but his last two drafts have fallen off. With Frank Reich gone, it’s all Ballard now. What will he do with the 4th pick?

DRAFT PICK OVERVIEW: Picks in 1st 3 rounds: 4, 35, 79. The Colts have a total of nine draft picks. The extra 5th round pick is payment for trading CB Gilmore to Dallas.

ROUND ONE PREVIEW: Indy is heavily rumored to go QB with this pick. I would NOT. I tweeted out some stats for 1st round QB’s and beyond Stroud and Young (maybe Houston passes one of them up), I’m not sold, and Indy has several other roster holes. It might be too early for a CB, but not too early for edge rusher Will Anderson slips by Arizona.

REST OF THE DRAFT: I’d prefer an edge rusher at 4, and if you want a QB, take a hard look at Hendon Hooker at 35. I MUST come away from this draft with two CB’s, and so pick 35 should seriously be in the mix for that position. Part of the rebound has to due with changing that awful cover-zero pass scheme, but as noted above, the roster has talent holes in several key spots.

Jacksonville Jaguars - Season Summary

Goodbye, Urban Meyer. Any change would have been good for the Jags (and for the human race), but it turned out to be a bonus having the respected Doug Peterson in the building. In some ways they got lucky, as the rest of the Division was a disaster, but Peterson got QB Lawrence on the right track and now the future is very bright. Last year they had tons of $$$ and overspent on free agents, but that was necessary in order to get the roster back on track. While I have several bones to pick with this incompetent GM, the Jags did enough to make things interesting, all the way to their final drive of the playoffs. With the right moves this offseason we might see some separation in the Division, the weakest in a loaded AFC.

2022 Stat Sheet: You know it’s great that Urban Meyer is out of Jacksonville when a guy named Tyler Shatley is your right guard and the team goes from allowing 52 sacks down to 28. This is my 43rd year fully covering the NFL and I’ve never heard of him. The run game also markedly improved, as did QB Lawrence of course. He completed over 66% with a stout 25-8 ratio, and was careful with the ball in the 2nd half of the season until that 1st playoff game vs. the Chargers. His rookie ratio was 12 TD’s to 17 interceptions. Free agent WR’s Christian Kirk and Zay Jones, plus TE Evan Engram combined for an amazing stat line of 239-17 TD’s. LB Oluokun is a tackling machine, adding 184 tackles to the 192 he had in 2021. As usual, return specialist Agnew was stout. The Jags were unlucky as opposing PK’s hit 26-27. That often resets itself the following year. The 3rd down defense is one area that needs work, as opponents had a near 44% success rate ((Jags 29th overall). Interestingly enough, the Jags may just be hitting their stride. They finished 9-8, with a +54 point ratio, which is often a good sign moving forward.

2022 draft recap: GM Trent Baalke found a way to turn 12 picks in the deepest ever draft into seven, and then he used his seven picks on average talent. He’s stealing money. Trevon Walker was somewhat controversial as the top overall pick due to his limited resume in college. There’s obvious upside, but there’s plenty of work still to be done. LB Lloyd started 15 games (benched twice) and did fine, but I wasn’t a fan of trading up six spots and losing the very 1st pick in each of the next two rounds. They later traded four more picks to move up for an unrated RB and a 4th round pick in this year’s draft. I’m 135 pounds but if I saw him do this in the draft room I’d have taken him down! The unrated RB (Conner) had 12 carries for 42 yards. Center Fortner was properly drafted but seemed to acclimate faster than expected with 17 starts. LB Muma‘s best usage is vs, the run and he was fine in his debut. The final two picks, both CB’s, were unrated by me. Gregory Junior was active once. Montaric Brown had six tackles. Trent Baalke, you stunted this teams’ growth!

FREE AGENCY ANALYSIS AND STAFF NOTES (Short Version): What a difference a year makes. No team EVER spent more during free agency than the 2022 Jacksonville Jaguars. This year only one player of note has been added via free agency, back-up RB D’Ernst Johnson. The only losses of note so far are WR Marvin Jones and OT Jawaan Taylor. Last year the Jags traded for suspended Atlanta WR Calvin Ridley. From what I’ve heard thus far, Ridley is another solid offensive addition.

2023 DRAFT NEEDS: 2 OL, CB, DE and DL depth, backup QB, safety/DB depth, TE. There’s no replacement for OT Taylor on the roster unless one believes Walter Little can hold up as a full-time starter. LG is also shaky, and the bench needs more viable options. The next two needs can be in any order. The Jags have nothing close to a shutdown CB, and the entire DL doesn’t really scare opposing offenses. CJ Beathard is the current backup QB. Others have concerns at strong safety, while my concerns are more in the area of depth. Maybe an upgrade could be had over backup TE’s Dan Arnold and Luke Farrell.

RECENT DRAFT HISTORY AND TENDENCIES FOR 2022: The 3rd year GM is Trent Baalke, who was with SF before being an NFL consultant and then with the Jags in a different capacity prior to last year. As one can tell, I’m not a fan of his. Until last year, Baalke continually scared me with his insistence on drafting players with well-noted injury risks. He repeatedly did this with SF, and there were three such instances in 2021. Only one player fell into that trap in 2022. Last year was NOT the time to turn 12 draft picks into seven. Let’s see what he does this year. What’s Coach Peterson’s role in his 2nd season? I think if he pounds the table for a particular person or position, he’ll be heard, but whimsical trade ups and downs will all be Baalke’s.

DRAFT PICK OVERVIEW: Picks in 1st 3 rounds:24, 56, 88. Jacksonville has 9 picks. My advice, don’t make it become seven!

ROUND ONE PREVIEW: The Jags are not used to picking late in each round, and we might see some more moves up the board by this GM. For now, selecting a quality player in any of my top three areas of need would work.

REST OF THE DRAFT: Knowing this GM, I expect seven, not nine overall picks. Give me 2 OL, a viable CB, and two DL and I’ll live with the trades. I’ll learn more about their intentions much closer to draft day (my Intel has been good with this GM). Side note: It’s early, but my sense is that they will add another RB from this very deep positional group. I have names that I will further vet out before making them public.

Kansas City Chiefs - Season Summary

Last year I said this: KC is living proof that you can reinvent yourself in less than one season. 12 months ago, everyone was discussing KC’s over the hill OL. Predictably starting slow (thanks), KC looked like a top five team by season’s end, thanks in part to shrewd moves made along this now completely rebuilt OL. 2022? Did they reinvent themselves again after trading speedy Tyreek Hill? Andy Reid is special, but no other team has a QB named Patrick Mahomes. It seems like every other AFC team is trying to upgrade to catch KC. Games are close, but have fallen the Chief’s way. Can that continue yet again?

2022 Stat Sheet: There’s no need to discuss Mahomes, the face of the NFL right now. In a shock to no one, KC scored more points than any other NFL team, and was 2nd in 3rd down success rate at 49%. KC’s sack ratio was 55-26, and that doesn’t include Chris Jones and Frank Clark’s playoff contribution of another 4.5 sacks. KC had just 31 sacks in 2021. Rookie RB Pacheco ran hard, and improved all season long, including a playoff ledger of 37-197. TE Kelce is elite. He caught 110 regular season passes, with 12 TD’s. In three playoff games he went 27-4. KC did allow a league worst 33 TD passes. Teams were behind of course, but that mark was four more than the 31st rated team. The good news is that the yards-per-completion figure was tied for 3rd best in the NFL. The run D actually improved, to just 4.4 allowed per carry. It had been the weak link for years. Punting was great, while this is another team that got unlucky with opposing kickers making 92% of their field goals.

2022 draft recap: KC has also reinvented itself on draft day, earning some solid grades of late. Amazingly, KC rookies started 63 games, among the highest of any team. CB McDuffie started all 11 games he was active and looked pretty good. DE Karlaftis started all 17 games and had 5.5 sacks in his final seven games. The try-hard DE was another smart selection. WR Skyy Moore was schemed well late in the year and should continue to see increased usage. Four additional DB’s were drafted, and most saw playoff snaps due to injuries. Safety Cook received a solid grade on my board and he should continue to see increased action. Fayetteville CB Joshua Williams ran hot and cold, but that’s expected from a small school prospect. Unrated CB Jaylen Watson outplayed his rating with some solid late season performances. Safety Nazeeh Johnson was in learning mode (some CB action) but he was pick 259 in the draft. 4th round LB Chanel started eight games. I noted that he was a productive NCAA tackler and he had 35 regular season rookie stops. I gave OG Kinnard (5-145) a 2nd round grade. The OL was locked and loaded but he may see more time in ’23. If that’s not enough, how about RB Pacheco, drafted at pick 251? In my draft recap I noted his strength and how much faster than expected he ran. All he did was take the starting job away from everyone, and delivered a stout yards-per-carry ledger. In a word, WOW. This now grades out as the #2 or #3 best 2022 draft, even with the subtraction of Tyreek Hill (counting Hill, I had them tie 9th a year ago).

FREE AGENCY ANALYSIS AND STAFF NOTES (Short Version): KC has been active in both gains and losses this offseason. Offensively, Jawaan Taylor replaces Orlando Brown at LT. The rest are deletions, with WR Mecole Hardman, OT Andrew Wylie and fullback Michael Burton leaving. Charles Omenihu is new at DE, where the Chiefs have cut Frank Clark. Drue Tranquill has been added at LB. At safety, Juan Thornhill is out, replaced by former Tampa safety Mike Edwards. Eric Bieniemy wanted to be the true offensive coordinator, so he left KC (with Andy Reid’s blessing). Matt Nagy was “promoted” to take his place.

NOTE: KC added former NYG WR Richie James on 4/7. The WR room is beginning to take shape.

2023 DRAFT NEEDS: 2 WR’s, DL/LB run stoppers, pass rusher (lesser need if Dunlap stays), OT. Kadarius Toney and Skyy Moore might step up, but KC could still use more WR talent. NOTE: With Richie James signed on 4/7, this may no longer be need #1, but I still believe a WR1 could be added, and the position still needs to be addressed at least once. The run D was contained in 2022, but not fixed. The LB’s and DL are fast for the most part, but not tired and true run stoppers. Frank Clark is gone, but the pass rush might survive if Carlos Dunlap decides to stay. If he leaves, this is a day two need and if he stays, I’d still add a pass rusher. The interior OL is set, but the depth is gone at OT, and Lucas Niang remains untested as a true starter.

RECENT DRAFT HISTORY AND TENDENCIES FOR 2023: Speed kills! Brett Veach and Andy Reid reinvented KC with heavy doses of speed and daring, and the 2022 draft was another example of this draft team being one step ahead of most other NFL front offices. Reid’s voice is a loud one on draft day. These two individuals have worked together for quite some time.

DRAFT PICK OVERVIEW: Picks in 1st 3 rounds: 31, 63, 95. KC has 10 picks, and probably doesn’t need to keep all of them. Their extra 4th round pick is final payment from Miami in the Tyreek Hill trade.

ROUND ONE PREVIEW: Deft trades UP this board might be useful, as KC is one of the few teams that can turn 10 picks into 7 and make me happy. If they see value for any of the draft needs listed above, go ahead and make the deals to get the right prospect. I have no specific person-team fits this early, although TCU WR Quentin Johnston seems like a nice target.

REST OF THE DRAFT: KC has thrived lately on drafting for speed on both sides of the ball, but at least a couple of the picks needs to be set aside for bulk, either offensively along the OL (or even TE) or defensively, in the front seven.

Las Vegas Raiders - Season Summary

Prior to the start of 2022, most prognosticators had the AFC West as the NFL’s toughest Division. Denver ended up disappointing, but many had Vegas right in the Divisional mix in August. That, and an unsustainable close game record in 2021 had me fading this team in my super five fade package. Vegas could not sustain their upgraded pass pressure (from 2021) and the new staff soured on QB Carr. For now, I’m not as low as others are on Josh McDaniels. By Pythagorean standards, they really entered 2022 at 7-10 (not 10-7) and the GM dealt them a bottom five draft haul (see below). The AFC is filled with superstar QB’s. It sure seems like this team is farther away from competing than they were even a year ago.

2022 Stat Sheet: Last year Vegas went 10-7, with a -65 point ratio and a stout close game record, strongly suggesting regression, which was easy to take advantage of, considering their roster. They finished 2022 at 6-11, but with just a -23 point ratio, suggesting this time that they were more of an 8-9 team. Now, can the roster improve? Vegas, despite one of the NFL’s best pass rushers in Maxx Crosby (12.5 sacks), managed to total just 27 sacks. WR Adams did his part with a stat line of 100-15.2-14 TD’s, and RB Jacobs had one of the best performances of any RB, going 1,653-4.9-12 TD’s, but QB Carr had a below average ledger by his standards, and Vegas was 29th passing. The pass D% was high as usual at 67.6%. The team was tied last at just six defensive interceptions, leading to a -11 interception ratio. PK Carlson had another solid season. Vegas was quite lucky in that opposing PK’s were just 28-40, or a very poor 70%. That is unlikely to be repeated (hidden stat line)..

2022 draft recap: I can’t begin to tell you when Vegas last had a competent draft. The previous GM, Mike Mayock (along with Gruden) reached repeatedly for talent, and in fact most of their draft picks have already been purged from the roster. WR Adams cost them 1st and 2nd round picks, but even starting at pick #90, Vegas butchered this draft. They took two OG’s, two DT’s and two RB’s. Can you pick any worse trio of positions in today’s NFL? OG Parham started all 17 games, which was NOT surprising since OL was my #1 need. He’s easily their best pick. OG/OT Mumford was the only other rookie to start, but he has much work to do it he is to be a full-time starter. Zamir White has some run skill, but why this team? RB Brittain Brown played some on special teams, and that seems like his ceiling. DT Ferrell has rotational potential, while DT Butler’s ceiling is just a rotational run down player, spelling 1st string DT’s. This was an awful draft in terms of focus after Parham, and once again that translates into making it tougher to get back into the playoff mix.

FREE AGENCY ANALYSIS AND STAFF NOTES (Short Version): Vegas is rapidly changing its roster, Offensively, they lost QB Derek Carr (and their back-up), WR Mack Hollins and by trade, TE Darren Waller. They’ve signed Jimmy G to replace Carr, and added TE’s Austin Hooper and OJ Howard to replace Waller. The WR room is deeper, with Jacoby Myers, DeAndre Carter, Cam Sims and Phillip Dorsett. Defensively, DL John Jenkins and Jordan Willis replace Andrew Billings and former 1st round pick Clelin Ferrell, with LB Robert Spillane “replacing” Denzel Perryman. Five additions were made to the underachieving secondary. Marcus Epps, David Long, and Duke Shelley are listed on the depth chart as potential starters. Is that good enough? Newcomers Brandon Facyson and Jaquan Johnson add depth.

2023 DRAFT NEEDS: Multiple OL, LB’s, 1-2 DB’s, pass rusher. Vegas is a mess along the OL, a position NOT addressed in free agency. It’s safe to say at least two spots need upgrades. Current potential LB starters are Divine Deable, Robert Spillane, Jayon Brown and Micah Kiser. Vegas uses a 4-3 alignment, and I don’t see three starters I’d want from this group. I see many pundits wanting the CB room upgraded. Numbers have been added, but yes, one solid CB should be added, and I wouldn’t rule out safety either. Sacks were down in 2022. Maxx Crosby and Chandler Jones need help beyond what they currently have.

RECENT DRAFT HISTORY AND TENDENCIES FOR 2022: The pairing of Mike Mayock and the impatient Jon Gruden was an odd one from the start. I was interested to see what would happen with new GM Dave Ziegler, and what I saw was not good. I won’t completely jump to conclusions, since Vegas had no 1st or 2nd round pick a year ago, but the positional focus needs to be light years better. Head Coach Josh McDaniels will have some say on draft day as well.

DRAFT PICK OVERVIEW: Picks in 1st 3 rounds: 7, 38, 70, 100. Vegas has 12 picks, three of them compensatory. Pick 100 is from the NYG in the trade of TE Waller.

ROUND ONE PREVIEW: Will the Raiders fire on a QB as has been projected? Personally, I’m saying no right now. Would they take a chance on DT Jalen Carter? Yes, with the old regime, and maybe with this GM. They do NOT need to trade back from the 7th pick since they have an even dozen in this draft. It’s too early to go OL, so I’d look DE/Edge (Tyree Wilson), and might not be opposed to a trade up for Will Anderson if the price was reasonable.

REST OF THE DRAFT: I do NOT need to draft a QB. Build the foundation. Let Jimmie G try to stay healthy (get a veteran backup QB after the draft). But day two I want two OL, and two players for the defense, and by draft’s end, I want many more rated players for this defense. This is the draft that helps me define GM Ziegler, so let’s hope he learned lessons from 2022.

Los Angeles Chargers - Season Summary

“Today is tomorrow. It happened.” That’s a line by Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, when the next day finally happened. It fits here, as LA’s special team unit moved from their decade-long bottom feeder rating all the way up to 9th best in 2022. The result? A playoff appearance, just as I promised if that were to be fixed. The next move? Reeling in their Head Coach, whose decision-making is the difference between being a good team and cracking the top group in the NFL. The roster cries repeat playoff performance, and in reality, only coaching separates this team from potentially overtaking KC, a team they lost twice to last year, both times by just three points. The season ended with a thud vs. the Jags, but clearly, the potential for a deep run is there.

2022 Stat Sheet: We’ll start with special teams, as it’s a thrill to see this team improve. The punt return ratio was outstanding between offense and defense. Punting length was low, but net punting was good. Two PK’s combined to go 31-33 while making all 34 extra points. Justin Herbert had a minuscule interception rate, and as all Charger QB’s, past and present have done, played through pain for most of the 1st half of 2022. The pass D% was in the top group, but once again, the run D was awful, at 5.4-146 per game. RB Ekeler led the NFL with 18 TD’s, but the Chargers ran just 3.6-90 per game. Injuries hurt this squad more than anyone outside of SF. The top two WR’s, OLB Bosa, and stud LT Slater all missed plenty of games.

2022 draft recap: OG Zion Johnson started all 17 games. He needs to clean up a few things but should improve. LA added OG Salyer in the 6th round. I gave him a 4th round grade. He was quite versatile in college and that versatility showed when OT Slater went down. He started 14 games. The rest of the draft fell short, as I suspected. Safety J.T. Woods (3-79) was drafted too high. He spent some time being inactive but my 13th rated safety still has room to grow. RB Spiller ran super slow at his Pro Day, never a good sign. He has the NFL body but that lack of speed is an issue. DT Ogbonnia had 12 tackles. The final three picks were all given NR (not draft worthy) grades from me. CB Taylor played some and might stick around, as he wasn’t out of place when used. CB Leonard contributed to their special team play improvement, but that’s it. FB Horvath plays an often-forgotten position but somehow had a pair of TD catches. LA should have drafted LB’s and DT’s, my 2nd and 3rd areas of need.

FREE AGENCY ANALYSIS AND STAFF NOTES (Short Version): It’s quiet so far. Beleaguered OT Strom Norton is gone. At LB, Eric Kendricks is in, with Troy Reeder and Drue Tranquill out. The Chargers are replacing both coordinators. Kellen Moore should be an upgrade as offensive coordinator. Former defensive coordinator Renaldo Hill left to reunite with Vic Fangio in Miami, taking a demotion no less. Derrick Ansley has been a DB coach for a decade (two years here) and has now been promoted to coordinator. NOT changing is special team coach Ryan Ficken. His 1st year here was a rousing success.

2023 DRAFT NEEDS: 1-2 DL/edge, 1-2 DB’s, LG and OL depth, ILB youth, better big RB, WR with speed, return specialist. LA can’t stop the run, and also needs some pass rushing help from the DL, which has been lacking. LA has two great DB’s, but is just getting by at the other spots. JC Jackson signed a huge contract prior to 2022 but he went on IR midseason, and has a pending legal case. I’d at the very least give LG Matt Feiler some competition. I show no current OL reserves that could help if there is an injury, like in 2022. ILB needs are below the top three listed, but should be addressed once in this draft. At some point lead RB Austin Ekeler will need rest. As I’m not a big fan of Spiller, a push the pile RB with a bit more speed needs to be added. This need gets larger if Ekeler, who wants to be traded, does find a trade partner. Jalen Guyton is plenty fast, but hardly a consistent threat at WR. I’d upgrade here for sure, freeing their top two WR’s more often. The return offense needs a spark.

RECENT DRAFT HISTORY AND TENDENCIES FOR 2023: The LA Chargers have kept their original draft picks in five of the past seven years. GM Tom Telesco is very good at hiding their pick intentions, much to my dismay. Draft grades tend to be middle of the pack, but they’ve been able to find some really good players, especially in the 1st round.

DRAFT PICK OVERVIEW: Picks in 1st 3 rounds: 21, 54, 85. LA has seven picks, one in each round.

ROUND ONE PREVIEW: LA tends to keep their intentions close to the vest. Addressing any of my top three needs would work.

REST OF THE DRAFT: LA has done well in round one, but not quite as well after the 1st day. To catch KC, this needs to change. When this draft is over, LA should be able to add one more pass rush threat, at least one player to address yearly run D woes, fix the OL void, and finally, enhance depth at ILB, RB and WR. People think it’s easier said than done, but with the right focus, I believe LA has a chance to solidify this roster. NOTE: RB Ekeler has asked to be traded. If that does happen, RB becomes a very big need, but one that can be addressed in this deep RB class.

Miami Dolphins - Season Summary

It’s been a strange last 12 months for Miami. It started with the sudden firing of Brian Flores and continued through the massive trade for WR Tyreek Hill. Mike McDaniel would be the type of guy I’d easily hang out with for a couple of drinks, even if he ends up using part of the time quoting Socrates, as he did during the NFL combine. The season became interesting as Tua was fulfilling his promise as a QB you could win with, but then the concussions came, and the organization as a whole mishandled the entire situation. Understandably, the team wasn’t the same without Tua, and in addition the defense regressed without the previous coaching staff. 2023 brings new challenges for the very young McDaniel.

2022 Stat Sheet: Despite missing plenty of games, Tua helped lead Miami to the 6th most yards in the NFL. Tyreek Hill was outstanding, and Jaylen Waddle was a fantastic deep threat. Tua’s ratio was 25-8, even counting the game where he stayed in despite being concussed. Ex-SF RB’s Mostert and Wilson combined to run over 4.8 per carry, but the overall run game was average at best in year #1 of the system. DT Christian Wilkins was the bright spot for the defense. His 98 tackles reportedly were the most for a DT since 1994. Opponents passed effectively, with Miami allowing 66.7%, with just eight interceptions, coming in 26th on 3rd down defensive stop rate. Special team offense and defense was poor by any and all standards used.

2022 draft recap: Miami’s trade happy 2021 and 2022 adventures left them with just picks 102, 125, 224 and 247. They made no attempt to trade back to acquire more picks, and in my report, only LB Tindall was close to a decently placed selection. Tindall barely played except for special team duties and needs to step up. WR Ezukanma only suited up in the final game. LB Goode was cut and later signed to the practice squad. Amazingly, QB Skylar Thompson made two starts, contributing to Miami reaching the playoffs. Miami needs to pay more attention on draft day no matter how many picks they have to make.

FREE AGENCY ANALYSIS AND STAFF NOTES (Short Version): The most impactful of the changes are as follows: Signed are WR Braxton Berrios, OG Dan Feeney, TE Eric Saubert, QB Mike White, DT John Jenkins, LB David Long, safety DeShon Elliott, and by trade, CB Jalen Ramsey. Those gone include WR Trent Sherfield, OG Michael Dieter, TE Mike Gesecki, and LB Elandon Roberts. Miami fired defensive coordinator Josh Boyer. Vic Fangio has been hired. This is a massive upgrade.

2023 DRAFT NEEDS: Interior OL and OT depth, DE, run-stopping LB, go-to TE. Miami’s starting 22 is decent, but the roster isn’t as deep as it needs to be. One area that has lagged behind for years is OL. While some people want OT changes, my main focus is the interior, and additional overall depth. I feel Miami lacks two starting DEs, so that would be another area that could be targeted. I like the LB talent, but I’m not sure about their overall run D prowess. Miami lost two TE’s and gained one. I’d love to see them add impact here, but I’m listing this 4th if all they draft is another complementary player.

RECENT DRAFT HISTORY AND TENDENCIES FOR 2023: After a strong 2020 draft, GM Chris Grier earned the right to stay in the job. He had another fine draft in 2021, while last year’s draft was a non-starter, and was mostly about past trades. GM Grier calls the shots, but 2nd year Coach McDaniel will likely have some say in the process. With any good fortune, the owner will stay OUT of the picture, as his meddling has already cost this team a 1st round pick.

DRAFT PICK OVERVIEW: Picks in 1st 3 rounds: 51, 84. Miami once again has just four picks, with the final picks late in the draft (197, 238). Miami forfeited their 1st round pick for tampering, and traded another 1st round pick (Trey Lance deal) for Bradley Chubb. Losing such a high pick due to tampering is a crushing blow, but this is one owner who has made more than just this one mistake. Miami once had a pair of 3rd round picks, but traded one away along with TE Hunter Long to get CB Jalen Ramsey from the Rams. The final payment for WR Hill was their 4th and original 6th round pick. They later added a 6th round pick. RB Jeff Wilson cost the Dolphins their 5th round pick. After pick 84, Miami’s last two picks come at #197 and #238.

ROUND ONE PREVIEW: No pick. That pick was traded as part of the huge package to get WR Hill.

REST OF THE DRAFT: You can address positions such as OG and center on day two, as it’s the glamor positions that get picked apart earlier. Miami won’t be doing much in the draft unless they feel like sacrificing an early 2024 pick.

New England Patriots - Season Summary

New England had their moments in 2022 but the lack of a consistent aerial attack ultimately spelled their doom. It’s never easy to play a Bill Belichick coached team, but the fear factor is long gone. Getting back to the playoffs would be a lot easier if they drafted better, but it’s more miss than hit for this team on draft day. As the veterans begin to retire, new faces must step up.

2022 Stat Sheet: Matt Patricia was a liability in Detroit. Joe Judge was a disaster with the NYG. Together, they did no favors commanding the NE offense. Mac Jones regressed, but I think he’s not as “bad” as people think. He hit 65%, but the 14-11 ratio is a setback. Bradley Zappe got in some meaningful snaps. It’s a loaded RB room that will get thinned out soon, but RB Stevenson is the clear lead guy right now. WR play again was substandard, and TE usage was down for some reason. All this led to an unusual (for them) 35% success rate on 3rd down, 27th best in the league. One thing NE did well was get to opposing QB’s. Led again by Matt Judon, they registered 54 sacks. The run D also was relevant, allowing just seven TD’s. While likely NOT sustainable, this helped lead to a league high 7 defensive TD’s. Finally, while Marcus Jones elevated the return game, NE was unusually deficient with their special team unit. Two punters were substandard, and the kick return defense took a dive.

2022 draft recap: The NFL composite draft grade (18 national sources) rated their draft dead last a year ago. My rating wasn’t much higher (D). As it turned out, the Pats did find a little bit of productivity from this haul. No one liked seeing OG Cole Strange going at pick 29, He started all 17 games but has to improve his pass blocking. He’ll be fine, but would have been available in the 2nd round. WR Thornton was NE’s 1st attempt to finally add much needed roster speed. He didn’t do much as a rookie but a change in coordinators might help. CB’s Marcus Jones (3-85) and Jack Jones (4-121) were next. Marcus showed some special team value, while Jack played some decent CB when not suspended. That was why I dinged him, as he had major baggage coming into the NFL. For whatever reason, the Pats became five deep at RB after selecting Pierre Strong and Kevin Harris. One or both belong in the NFL (both received decent grades from me), and will probably take over for two of the current RB’s, but NE needed to focus on other needs. QB Zappe had three starts and could remain as an option moving forward. Nose tackle Sam Roberts played in five games. The 7th round OG’s were unrated by me. Both players were stashed on IR last year. I don’t see either player as anything more than a roster filler moving forward.

FREE AGENCY ANALYSIS AND STAFF NOTES (Short Version): Nelson Agholor and Jacoki Meyers are out at WR, with JuJu Smith Schuster in. Riley Reiff and Calvin Anderson add to the OT group (two current OT’s are free agents). Mike Gesecki replaces the traded Jonnu Smith at TE. James Robinson replaces Damien Harris at RB. Chris Board adds LB depth. DB Devin McCourty has retired. Whatever the arrangement, hiring Matt Patricia and Joe Judge reeked stubbornness, and NE’s offense paid the price. Bill O’Brien is back with the Pats, and that’s an improvement. According to some depth charts, Steve Belichick is listed as defensive coordinator. Certainly, this defense is a family run affair.

2023 DRAFT NEEDS: WR, RG and perhaps center, DB, LB, DL. WR is obvious in so many ways. NE has never had success drafting young WR’s but that position has holes. RG has a void, and center David Andrews needs competition. OT depth has been added, so I’m not listing these spots (other have this as a major need). With McCourty retired, a void exists in the secondary. Other than Matt Judon, I rate the LB’s as average. New talent is needed. DL reinforcements is a lesser need.

RECENT DRAFT HISTORY AND TENDENCIES FOR 2023: Bill Belichick basically runs everything. Belichick checks a vast number of sources OUTSIDE the organization in the 72 hours leading up to the draft. He is a) a stickler for detail, and b) looking for that diamond in the rough. He is also known for leaving impact players on the table unnecessarily just to stockpile picks in later drafts. He likes to use some of his draft capital to ensure their always stout special team unit stays that way, although that unit fell quite a bit in 2022. He’s back on the road in 2023, personally scouting potential special team players (a fact). As for Bill’s “hidden gems”, these picks have not been good. New England will typically look for players that can fill multiple roles. They value players with strong combine cone drills and lateral movement skill. I look for NE to make several trades in this draft.

DRAFT PICK OVERVIEW: Picks in 1st 3 rounds: 14, 46, 76. NE has 11 overall picks, including three in the 4th round.

ROUND ONE PREVIEW: I don’t think they would do it, but getting WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba at pick 14 would be my current 1st choice. The top OG will also be available, as would a premier DB. In a typical draft season, no one really knows what Belichick will do with his first few picks.

REST OF THE DRAFT: With 11 picks, I fully expect NE to move up and down the draft board, even if it’s not really necessary. NE likes players with strong cone and shuttle times, and position versatility. As usual, we should see one or two curveballs from their draft. Going WR Jalin Hyatt on day two would be another fit, but again, NE is not all that adept at selecting WR’s. I’m pretty sure Belichick will address OL and DB, and I’m very sure he will add 2-3 players who carry special team unit value.

New York Jets - Season Summary

Robert Saleh and the Jets had a predicable 1st year, but armed with plenty of draft capital, optimism was possible. The draft delivered, and the defensive-minded Saleh saw that side of the ball improve mightily. The next area that needs fixing is QB, where Zach Wilson has fallen completely out of favor. All signs are pointing to Aaron Rodgers becoming a Jet. Here we go!

2022 Stat Sheet: What a difference a year makes. Except at QB, improvement was everywhere. The sack ratio was 45-42 (just 33-53 a year ago). The OL remains a work in progress. The run game suffered when rookie Breece Hall went down, but slightly improved. The WR room is deeper, and TE Conklin elevated that position. The Jets were 29th in scoring, and 28th in 3rd down success rate, at 34.5%. QB Wilson hit just 54.5% with just a 6-7 ratio and many sacks taken. Worse than that, he lost the locker room. Let’s see what happens when/if Rodgers arrives. The 2021 defense was last in many categories, but the defensive-minded staff got things turned around in 2022. They were 4th best in yards allowed (LAST in 2021) and 3rd best in passing yards allowed. They tied for 1st in fewest pass TD’s allowed (15). Rush TD’s allowed were much improved, and the 68.3% pass D became a decent 62.4%, helped immensely by rookie CB Gardner, who was outstanding. With him, the Jets were 3rd best at 9.3 yards-per-completion allowed. Kicking was 31st in the NFL, while the Jets benefitted by seeing opposing PK’s go just 33-43, for 76.7%. I will add this however. Having opponents try 43 field goals means there were some redzone stops by the defense.

2022 draft recap: The Jets got better in the ’21 draft but had yet to have a top ten outcome. That changed last year as this team had my #1 draft haul, which was generally the consensus all around the country. CB Gardner may already be top five at his position. He won defensive rookie of the year, while WR Garrett Wilson won offensive rookie of the year. DE Jermaine Johnson wasn’t a major sack presence in his rookie year but made positive strides. Going 4 for 4, RB Breece Hall was a major rookie of the year contender before his week eight ACL injury. TE Ruckert seemed like a luxury pick after they had already added two free agents at the position. He saw minimal action. I wanted the Jets to draft two OL. Instead, they took only one, Max Mitchell at pick #111. He actually had five starts (on this bottom-feeder OL) before exiting 2022 with blood clots. Their final pick was amazingly at #117 (4th round). DT Clemons added depth and won a deserved roster spot.

FREE AGENCY ANALYSIS AND STAFF NOTES (Short Version): The Jets have a slight gain at WR, losing Braxton Berrios, Elijah Moore (trade) and Jeff Smith, but gaining Allen Lazard and Mecole Hardman. Two OL are in, including projected starting OG Wes Schweitzer, with a pair of backup OL gone. QB Mike White and RB James Robinson are gone. Defensive losses include DT’s Sheldon Rankins and Nathan Shephard, with no additions thus far. The Jets “parted ways” with their former offensive coordinator. Nathaniel Hackett was awful as Denver’s Head Coach, but many former players loved him as a coordinator, including at least one former GB player who is now a Jet.

2023 DRAFT NEEDS: OL, DT and DL youth, LB, CB, safety depth, QB decisions. We’re still waiting for both young OL Mekhi Becton and Alijah Vera-Tucker (each a former 1st round pick) to realize their potential. They’ve also been hurt quite a lot. In addition, their center is unsigned. Stability and consistency along the OL is a must fix. The Jets use a 4-3 alignment and two spots need upgrades. There’s no one behind stud MLB CJ Mosley, and he’s getting older. In addition, OLB Kwon Alexander is currently a free agent, and LB depth here is just as bad. DJ Reed and nickelback Michael Carter are okay, but it wouldn’t hurt to upgrade here as well. Safety depth is a lower need. Finally, we await resolution at QB. Is there a plan B if Rodgers bails?

RECENT DRAFT HISTORY AND TENDENCIES FOR 2023: GM Joe Douglas stockpiled picks, presumably understanding that the rebuild is a two-to-three-year process. I had no real Intel on what their 2021 tendencies would be, but wasn’t thrilled that they traded away a pair of valuable 3rd round picks in a draft day trade. They continue to have a disturbing trend of trading away day two picks, but the 2022 draft was their best in over 25 years, and the best in the NFL last year. More trades are happening as I write this report, and we haven’t even had the Rodgers deal yet. I think Douglas has a few targets in mind come draft day.

DRAFT PICK OVERVIEW: Picks in 1st 3 rounds: 13, 42, 43. The Jets have six picks, pending what happens with Aaron Rodgers. They traded picked 74 and WR Elijah Moore to Cleveland to get pick 42. Safety Chuck Clark cost them a 7th rounder.

ROUND ONE PREVIEW: Joe Douglas has improved his draft haul in each of the last two seasons. He can get a top target at OL or DL at pick 14. I’ll get more Intel closer to the draft. That Intel was spot on last year

REST OF THE DRAFT: The offense lagged behind last year, but with Rodgers here, all that would be needed is fixes along the OL so that Aaron can take advantage of a very good WR group. I’m very concerned about depth at DL and LB. If Rodgers is signed, the Jets may not even have six picks in this draft. Hopefully when all is said and done, they stay true to my need board.

Pittsburgh Steelers - Season Summary

Pittsburgh may be a flawed team but players love to suit up for Mike Tomlin and effort is a big part of the win equation. In some respects, achieving yet another winning record was a major accomplishment, considering that they were breaking in a new QB behind an offensive line still in growth mode, and WR play again fell below standards. Taken another way, T.J. Watt is now the most valuable defensive player in the NFL. With a healthy Watt, Pittsburgh is 59-26 in their last 85 games. When not healthy, Pittsburgh is 1-10-1. While better drafts would help, free agent signings have kept them relevant. Now, can Watt stay healthy?

2022 Stat Sheet: Pitt went 7-2 in their final nine games, allowing over 17 points just once. They have playmakers on this side of the ball and just need to keep them healthy. The pass D was stout at 61.3%. The run D was average, but much better than their 29th spot in 2021. They tied for the lead, allowing just seven run TD’s. QB Pickett improved as the year went on. His overall stat sheet was modest, but his % was strong and he was able to run to move the chains, something Big Ben could not do. It may surprise some to know that the Steelers were 7th overall in 3rd down offensive success rate. One area they must clean up is yards allowed per completion (11.4). They were 30th in that department. PK Boswell’s injury impacted his accuracy. He was an awful 71.4%, including 5-10 from between 40-49 yards. There will likely be competition moving forward.

2022 draft recap: To repeat, I’ve always liked Pitt’s draft day focus. I usually strongly dislike their draft in terms of positional value, especially when it comes to selecting DB’s. The 2022 draft was focused once again with the exception of OL. Kenny Pickett proved to be the only 1st round QB drafted. Tomlin seems to have made the right choice, but he’s still far behind the enormous QB talent in the AFC, so job #1 is to put playmakers all around him. WR Pickens is a good start, as he made the contested catch look routine. If he can stay healthy, this is a guy you can build a pass game around. DT Leal came into the NFL without a true position and true to form, Pitt tried him at nose tackle, DT, DE and OLB. His ceiling might be as a complimentary starter. I wanted Pitt to draft two WR’s but my 23rd rated WR, Calvin Austin was not who I would have gone for as high as pick 138. He missed the season (IR). Conner Heyward was born to be a Steeler. He fits mostly on special teams but the high effort FB/H-Back can be an occasionally useful chess piece. Both LB Robinson and QB Oladokum were NR rated and wasted picks in my eyes. Robinson is a hitter and still learning the position (44 snaps). Taking a QB who I didn’t even evaluate (I studied 455 players) is never a good thing. He’s in KC now, and Pitt needed OL as high as pick 94 and here.

FREE AGENCY ANALYSIS AND STAFF NOTES (Short Version): In a shocker, Pitt spent about $92 million in 2022 on free agent contracts, far more than ever before. Half of that figure came from signing interior OL Cole and Daniels as they attempted to fix a major weak spot in their offense. This year they’ve added projected starting OG Isaac Semualo and backup OG Nate Herbig. Three LB’s left, including Robert Spillane and occasionally good ILB Devin Bush. Two free agents, Cole Holcomb and Elandon Roberts are projected starters at LB. Pitt will miss nickelback Cam Sutton, but did not ignore the secondary, as they’ve added safety Keanu Neal and CB Patrick Peterson, who had a strong season last year in Minnesota.

2023 DRAFT NEEDS: CB and DB depth, several WR’s, DL, OL. On the surface the Steelers have about the same quality DB’s as a year ago but they gave up too many splash plays, and some are older and may not last all season. The top two WR’s are good, but not perfect. Diontae Johnson caught ZERO TD’s a year ago. George Pickens plays a very physical game and in college he was routinely banged up. That’s it for quality and quantity, so this area must be addressed twice, even if it’s later in the draft. No real changes have taken place along the DL, but three players are free agents and some or all of them may not return. Regardless, this area needs one significant upgrade. The OL has been addressed five times in free agency the past two seasons but even with better chemistry, there isn’t one starter that stands out. Competition for this area should be welcome.

RECENT DRAFT HISTORY AND TENDENCIES FOR 2023: Pittsburgh tends to “stay and play”, seldom trading on draft day unless they see someone special. Last year was retiring GM Kevin Colbert’s 23rd and last draft. EVERYONE in the draft room is new, although GM Omar Khan was present during the 2022 draft. Mike Tomlin may be training them during this year’s draft!

DRAFT PICK OVERVIEW: Picks in 1st 3 rounds: 17, 32, 49, 80. Pittsburgh has seven picks. Pick 32 (top of round #2) is a gift from Chicago in the trade of Chase Claypool. After pick 120, the Steelers will not pick again until pick 234.

ROUND ONE PREVIEW: Every time Pitt drafts a CB I cringe, but that’s where I expect them to go either with pick 17, or with the 1st pick in the 2nd round (pick 32, as Miami was stripped of its 1st round pick for tampering, leaving just 31 picks in round #1). That might change to DL if the Steelers do lose a couple of the pending free agents in this area. It would be interesting if Pittsburgh honed in on CB Joey Porter JR (bloodlines).

REST OF THE DRAFT: Mike Tomlin values the private visits, and several selections each year come from private visits and dinner with the Coach. They tend to be the NFL’s most transparent team in all draft matters, which reflects the straight-shooting persona of their Head Coach. I’ll have more to say about their draft in the article that comes out just before the start of the draft.

Tennessee Titans - Season Summary

Poof! Despite being the AFC’s #1 seed in 2021, my personal Power Ratings had them somewhere around 11th or 12th for the 14-team playoff race. In 2022, the Titans lost more than they gained during free agency, traded their best WR on draft day, and produced yet another head-scratching draft haul. The GM was fired mid-season. The old school offensive attack was “good enough” to compete in the AFC South, but not good enough to make the playoffs. As I write this, the Titans are in somewhat of a rebuilding mode, purging many veterans from the team. I’ll be curious as to how they handle this year’s draft.

2022 Stat Sheet: After six consecutive winning seasons, the Titans fell apart despite playing in a soft division. Injuries were everywhere, but losing their final seven games is not just due to that. The sack ratio was 39-49 as LT Lewan was hard to replace (tore ACL week two). Somehow, RB Henry remained exceptional (1,538-4.4-13 TD-s) but the pass attack featured no exciting targets. Amazingly, they allowed over 100 more pass yards per game than they achieved. One bright spot was their 3.4-77 rush yards allowed per game. Even with an average at best pass defense, the 3rd down opponent success rate was just 34% (Titans #3 here). Still, this ball control, run 1st attack was -62 in 1st down differential. Overall, the Titans allowed just nine rushing TD’s but 29 passing TD’s. Poor drafting hasn’t helped, as GM Robinson wasted picks on way too many players with medical, motivational and/or arrest record concerns, including a trio of recent 1st round picks. Perhaps they can improve upon their -6 fumble differential. Punter Stonehouse broke Sammy Baugh’s record, averaging 53.1 yards, but he did outkick the coverage, so more directional punting is advised.

2022 draft recap: The good news is that Tennessee broke their habit of taking police blotter and unmotivated players early in the draft. The bad news is that they swung and missed many times. I like WR Burks but he’s a work in progress and he needs to get himself in better condition. CB McCreary was another nice addition despite marginal size. He started all 17 games. OT Petit-Frere started 16 games. I saw him as a high floor, low ceiling OL, but another necessary pick as OL was my #1 area of need. Up next was QB Malik Willis. He’s electric as a runner but incredibly marginal as a passer to this point. He was clearly not ready as a rookie and will need even more time to develop. RB Haskins was concerning to me as he NEVER ran a 40. Timed speed matters for this position. With Derrick Henry here, he sat. Shouldn’t the Tians have drafted at a different position? TE Okonkwo had eight starts. He overachieved his * rating with 32 receptions but I’ll be interested in what his ceiling really is. WR Phillips disappointed on special teams before going on IR. He has a complimentary WR ceiling. Unrated CB Theo Jackson was cut. *rated LB Campbell injured his knee and was on IR all season.

FREE AGENCY ANALYSIS AND STAFF NOTES (Short Version): The Titans have let many a veteran player go. Those gone to other teams include three OL, (two fringe starters), WR Robert Woods, TE Austin Hooper, two DL (including DeMarcus Walker), LB’s David Long and Dylan Cole, and safety Lonnie Johnson. Those cut and/or not expected back include offensive players Taylor Lewan and Ben Jones, and defensive players Zach Cunningham, Randy Bullock and Bud Dupree. Andre Dillard comes in at OT. Defensively, LB Arden Key (underachiever), LB Azeez Al-Shaair and CB Sean Murphy-Bunting have been signed. Tim Kelly was promoted to offensive coordinator, as Todd Dowling was not retained. In more important news, Ran Carthon is the new GM. He was the Director of Player Personnel with the Rams and then the 49ers the past eleven years.

2023 DRAFT NEEDS: 2-3 OL, 2 WR’s, 2 ILB’s, DL, TE, safety, PK, return specialist. My top two needs are tied in importance, and are massive in nature. Tennessee’s best two OL might be Andre Dillard and Nicholas Petit-Frere. Maybe Dillon Radunz steps up, but the Titans must address this area. The top three WR’s are Treylon Burks, Nick Westbrook-Ikhine and Kyle Phillips. This is not even close to being a viable unit. Monty Rice and Azeez Al-Sharir are the two ILB’s, with no reserves that are appealing. Harold Landry comes off injury, but even assuming he’ll be ready to go (which is possible, as the injury was in the preseason), two spots along the four-man DL need competition. As noted above, TE Okonkwo had a solid debut, but that’s the extent of the TE room right now. Safety is a lesser need, one mostly for depth. The PK spot is wide open, and I’m unclear as to who will fill either return specialist spot. Tennessee is one of a handful of teams that is in need of a roster overhaul.

RECENT DRAFT HISTORY AND TENDENCIES FOR 2023: Ex-GM Jon Robinson saw his Tennessee draft grades steadily decline over his tenure. His incessant trade ups and reaches for risky players finally got the best of him. As of 3/23, Tennessee appears to be dumping more players than they are adding. If that’s the case, I’d like to see picks added, not subtracted in the 2023 draft. Mike Vrabel will now have more of a voice on draft day with Robinson gone, and in fact may have the bigger voice in this draft when deciding what specific player to draft. Still, I anticipate new GM Carthon will dictate draft philosophy, and will be the primary decision-maker when it comes to trading and building the roster for the long term.

DRAFT PICK OVERVIEW: Picks in 1st 3 rounds: 11, 41, 72. Tennessee has six picks in this draft.

ROUND ONE PREVIEW: Pick #11 puts them squarely in the mix for one of the top three OL, or the 1st or 2nd WR off the board.

REST OF THE DRAFT: Mike Vrabel has been here awhile and deserves a big say in roster construction, especially since he won the power struggle with former GM Jon Robinson. His midseason firing was no coincidence. I’ll be spending the last few days before the draft gathering Intel on new GM Ran Carthon. Personally, I’d like to see six picks become eight, as the roster needs help more than in the recent past. It’s still a relatively soft Division, but the quick fix route is not my preference.

THANKS FOR READING, and look for some more updates closer to the draft.

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