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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 tackle