AFC draft previews: Team-by-team outlook, projections
Buffalo Bills (12-7)
► LAST SEASON: A mere 13 seconds separated the Bills from reaching the AFC championship game for a second straight year. Instead, Buffalo allowed the Chiefs to gain 44 yards on two plays to set up Harrison Butker’s tying 49-yard field goal as time expired. Buffalo lost the coin toss and never got the ball in overtime of a 42-36 loss to Kansas City. The Bills’ collapse cast doubts on the sturdiness of a defense which led the NFL in numerous categories, including fewest yards and points allowed, and furthered the narrative of Buffalo padding its record against weaker opponents. Buffalo went 2-4 in the regular season against teams that made the playoffs. The Josh Allen-led offense lacked balance for the much of the season before running back Devin Singletary secured the lead job in the final month. Singletary’s emergence helped Buffalo close the season with four straight wins and claim its second consecutive AFC East title.
► FREE AGENCY/TRADES: Lost WRs Cole Beasley and Emmanuel Sanders, CB Levi Wallace, DEs Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison, DTs Harrison Phillips, Star Lotulelei and Vernon Butler, QB Mitchell Trubisky, RB Matt Breida, OLs Jon Feliciano and Daryl Williams. Signed DEs Von Miller and Shaq Lawson, DTs Jordan Phillips, DaQuan Jones and Tim Settle, WR Jamison Crowder, TE O.J. Howard, RB Duke Johnson, OL Roger Saffold and David Quessenberry, QB Matt Barkley, LB Marquel Lee. Acquired QB Case Keenum in trade with Cleveland. Re-signed WRs Isaiah McKenzie and Jake Kumerow, DB Siran Neal, LB Tyrel Dodson, RB Taiwan Jones and OLs Ryan Bates, Bobby Hart and Ike Boettger.
► THEY NEED: CB, LB, S, WR, RB.
► THEY DON’T NEED: QB, DE.
► POSSIBLE FIRST PICK AT NO. 25: Clemson CB Andrew Booth Jr.; North Dakota State WR Christian Watson; Florida CB Kaiir Elam; Georgia LB Nakobe Dean; Michigan S Daxton Hill.
► OUTLOOK: So long as Allen stays healthy, the Bills should be odds-on favorites to win their third consecutive AFC East title, with the real challenge coming against a conference filled with elite-caliber quarterbacks. The AFC’s QB arms race is a reason GM Brandon Beane placed an emphasis on improving Buffalo’s middling pass rush. Highlighted by Miller’s addition, Beane is counting on a sturdier pass rush taking the pressure off Buffalo’s secondary holding up in coverage. The offense is undergoing transition, with Ken Dorsey taking over as coordinator following Brian Daboll becoming head coach of the Giants. Though the offense will continue to revolve around Allen, expect Dorsey to place a little more emphasis on running the ball.
New England Patriots (10-8)
► LAST SEASON: The Patriots spent heavily in free agency last offseason and got great production in return from new additions Matt Judon, Davon Godchaux and Hunter Henry. Still, they got off to a 2-4 start, which included a loss to Tom Brady and Tampa Bay in his return to face his former team. It turned out to be an inflection point. A subsequent seven-game win streak briefly catapulted New England into first place in the AFC East, a position it hadn’t held since Brady’s departure. That was erased by three losses in the final four games, setting up a wild-card playoff matchup with Buffalo. New England’s return to the postseason lasted that one game as the Bills rolled to a 47-17 win.
► FREE AGENCY/TRADES: Traded G Shaq Mason to Buccaneers and LB Chase Winovich to Browns. Lost CB J.C. Jackson (Chargers), C Ted Karras (Bengals), WR-KR Gunner Olszewski (Steelers), FB Jakob Johnson (Raiders), RB Brandon Bolden (Raiders) and LB Brandon King (Colts). Acquired WR DeVante Parker (Dolphins) and LB Mack Wilson (Browns) via trade. Signed free agent CB Malcolm Butler, WR Ty Montgomery, S Jabrill Peppers and CB Terrance Mitchell. Re-signed S Devin McCourty, RB James White, ST Matt Slater, LB Ja’Whaun Bentley, T Trent Brown, OL James Ferentz, K Nick Folk and QB Brian Hoyer.
► THEY NEED: LB, OL, CB, WR.
► THEY DON’T NEED: QB, RB, S.
► POSSIBLE FIRST PICK AT NO. 21: Georgia LB Nakobe Dean; UCLA WR Kyle Philips; Clemson CB Andrew Booth Jr.
► OUTLOOK: The Patriots are in transition mode after former director of player personnel Dave Ziegler went to Las Vegas, where he’ll be new coach Josh McDaniels’ general manager. There’s been some adjustment to their approach under new personnel head Matt Groh, but he has been with the Patriots for more than a decade and is familiar with Bill Belichick’s philosophies. Look for New England to be more aggressive than usual, when it typically has chosen to trade back. The only year the Patriots haven’t made at least one draft-day trade under Belichick was 2004.
Miami Dolphins (9-8)
► LAST SEASON: The Dolphins finished one game away from a wild-card spot despite a 1-7 start to the season, then reeling off seven consecutive wins to make things very interesting.
► FREE AGENCY: Trading for WR Tyreek Hill cost Miami its first two picks in this draft, a stiff price that the Dolphins feel is more than fair. LT Terron Armstead, WR Cedrick Wilson and QB Teddy Bridgewater were all part of a massive haul of free agents by the Dolphins, who upgraded their offensive line and retained both DE Emmanuel Ogbah and TE Mike Gesicki.
► THEY NEED: C, LB, RB.
► THEY DON’T NEED: DB, QB.
► POSSIBLE FIRST PICK AT NO. 102: Arizona State C Dohnovan West; Georgia RB James Cook.
► OUTLOOK: With only four picks in this draft, and only two before the seventh and final round, the Dolphins know they can’t afford to miss. That said, Miami also has the luxury of knowing it has addressed many of its needs already, and even a team with a very clear “win now” approach probably isn’t going to be overly worried about finding any immediate-impact players in this draft.
New York Jets (4-13)
► LAST SEASON: Robert Saleh’s debut season as Jets coach was tough as the team navigated COVID-19, lots of injuries and a young, inexperienced roster, led by rookie quarterback Zach Wilson. Despite winning just four games, there were some positive vibes at the end of the season with Wilson’s finish – no interceptions in his last five games. The No. 2 overall draft pick last year had a rocky start and then missed four games with a knee injury before coming back and playing mostly solid down the stretch. Offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur’s system showed some potential to be explosive with rookie running back Michael Carter and wide receiver Elijah Moore possible key playmakers for years to come. Jeff Ulbrich’s defense struggled mightily, finishing last or among the worst in the NFL in several key categories. Injuries decimated the unit, particularly at safety and linebacker. Wide receiver Braxton Berrios was a surprising bright spot while earning his first All-Pro selection as a kick returner.
► FREE AGENCY/TRADES: Signed G Laken Tomlinson, TEs C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Conklin, CB D.J. Reed, S Jordan Whitehead, DE Jacob Martin, DT Solomon Thomas and K Greg Zuerlein. Re-signed WR/KR Braxton Berrios, RB Tevin Coleman, QBs Joe Flacco and Mike White, Ss Lamarcus Joyner and Will Parks, OLs Dan Feeney, Conor McDermott and Greg Senat, DL Nathan Shepherd, K Eddy Pineiro and FB Nick Bawden. Released TE Ryan Griffin and K Matt Ammendola. Lost S Marcus Maye, WR Jamison Crowder, LB Jarrad Davis, DL Folorunso Fatukasi and OT Morgan Moses.
► THEY NEED: Edge rusher, WR, CB, LB, DL.
► THEY DON’T NEED: QB, TE.
► POSSIBLE FIRST PICKS AT NO. 4, 10: Cincinnati CB Ahmad Gardner; Georgia defensive end Travon Walker; Oregon edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux; North Carolina State OT Ikem Ekwonu.
► OUTLOOK: After resetting the roster last offseason with Saleh as the team’s new coach, GM Joe Douglas has nine draft picks this year – including two in the top 10 for the first time in franchise history. The Jets also have four of the first 38 selections. They’re are banking on Wilson taking a big step forward in his second season and they’ve surrounded him with more playmakers and protection in free agency. New York still has plenty of needs entering the draft and Douglas could play it a number of ways. The Jets could stick with their two picks at Nos. 4 and 10 and get potential immediate starters at cornerback (Gardner), edge rusher (Walker or Thibodeaux) or even on the offensive line with Ekwonu or Alabama’s Evan Neal. Douglas has made it clear New York is in the market for a No. 1-type wide receiver – as shown by the failed deal for Tyreek Hill – so trading a first-round pick for an established veteran could be in play. If the Jets stay put at No. 10, USC’s Drake London or Ohio State’s Garrett Wilson would be enticing.
Cincinnati Bengals (13-8)
► LAST SEASON: Bengals coach Zac Taylor entered his third year under considerable pressure to show results – and he did. With a (generally) healthy quarterback Joe Burrow returning from a devastating knee injury that prematurely ended his rookie season in 2021, and eventual Offensive Rookie of the Year Ja’Marr Chase, Cincinnati wasn’t quite a juggernaut. But it got hot in December and rode the momentum all the way to the Super Bowl, prevailing in some exciting playoff nail-biters. The team’s glaring need was an upgrade to an offensive line that couldn’t protect Burrow and consistently establish lanes for workhorse running back Joe Mixon. Burrow was sacked a league-high 70 times in 20 games.
► FREE AGENCY/TRADES: Bengals addressed O-line problems quickly via free agency, adding G Alex Cappa, C Ted Karras and T La’el Collins. Also signed TE Hayden Hurst and TE Nick Eubanks. Placed franchise tag on S Jessie Bates III. Lost T Riley Reiff, DB Michael Thomas, DT Larry Ogunjobi, DE Zach Kerr, T Quinton Spain, TE C.J. Uzomah, WR Auden Tate, CB Darius Phillips, LB Jordan Evans, CB Vernon Hargreaves III. Released C Trey Hopkins, T Fred Johnson, CB Trae Waynes. Re-signed WR Stanley Morgan, WR Trenton Irwin, CB Eli Apple, CB Tre Flowers, WR Mike Thomas, QB Brandon Allen, DT Josh Tupou, LS Clark Harris, DE B.J. Hill, LB Joe Bachie, CB Jalen Davis, WR Trent Taylor, TE Mitchell Wilcox, S Ricardo Allen retired.
► THEY NEED: CB, DL, OL.
► THEY DON’T NEED: QB, RB, S.
► POSSIBLE FIRST PICK AT NO. 31, 63: Clemson CB Andrew Booth; Washington CB Kyler Gordon; Florida CB Kaiir Elam; Iowa C Tyler Linderbaum.
► OUTLOOK: The Bengals have a retooled offensive line but wouldn’t be adverse to adding more guys to that unit, especially if Linderbaum is still available. What they need is cornerbacks after cutting the oft-injured Waynes and losing some depth to free agency. Apple was re-signed but he had consistency problems last season. Cincinnati added franchise building blocks Burrow and Chase with its initial picks the last two years. With the 31st pick this time the Bengals are hoping to get a cornerback who will compete for a starting role with Apple and make a difference right away. The Bengals also may also have their eye on some defensive linemen.
Pittsburgh Steelers (9-7-1)
► LAST SEASON: The Steelers somehow managed to reach the playoffs in quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s swan song despite an offense and a defense that both ranked in the bottom third in the league. Pittsburgh bet on a rebuilt offensive line to keep Roethlisberger upright and the results were mixed at best. The running game showed signs of life behind rookie Najee Harris but the defensive line struggled to stop the run following an injury to Tyson Alualu in Week 2 and the season-long absence of Stephon Tuitt. Pittsburgh finished dead last in yards rushing allowed and yards per rushing attempt. Outside linebacker T.J. Watt looked worth every last dime, winning the Defensive Player of the Year award by tying an NFL record with 221/2 sacks after signing a lucrative contract extension on the eve of the season. The rest of the defense was spotty and the Steelers looked outclassed against the AFC’s best in Kansas City and Cincinnati, going a combined 0-4 against the two teams that reached the conference championship game.
► FREE AGENCY/TRADES: Cut RT Zach Banner and LB Joe Schobert. Lost WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR James Washington in free agency and did not re-sign CB Joe Haden and S Terrell Edmunds. Signed QB Mitch Trubisky, OL Mason Cole, OL James Daniels, CB Levi Wallace, WR Miles Boykin and WR Gunner Olszewski. Re-signed RT Chukwuma Okorafor, CB Ahkello Witherspoon, DT Montravius Adams, CB Arthur Maulet, LB Rob Spillane, LB Marcus Allen, S Karl Joseph, LB Genard Avery and OL J.C. Hassenauer.
► THEY NEED: QB, OL, DL, CB, S, WR.
► THEY DON’T NEED: RB, LB.
► POSSIBLE FIRST PICK AT NO. 20: Liberty QB Malik Willis; Cincinnati QB Desmond Ritter; Georgia DL Devonte Wyatt; Georgia DT Jordan Davis.
► OUTLOOK: GM Kevin Colbert will step down following the draft following a more than 20-year run with the Steelers that included two Super Bowl victories and an appearance in a third. His legacy is secure, but his final draft in Pittsburgh may be the most important he’s had since taking Roethlisberger in the first round in 2004. The tragic death of quarterback Dwyane Haskins in Florida earlier this month heightened the need for a quarterback to compete with Mason Rudolph and Trubisky. The incoming crop of QBs is underwhelming in terms of quantity, though Colbert has insisted he likes the quality. It’s unlikely Pitt QB Kenny Pickett will be available at No. 20. Willis offers the kind of mobility head coach Mike Tomlin has stressed is a priority, but he might not be there when the Steelers are on the clock. There are also serious needs along the defensive line, in the secondary and at wide receiver. Pittsburgh will never admit it is rebuilding. Taking a quarterback in the first round would indicate the Steelers are in the midst of one anyway.
Cleveland Browns (8-9)
► LAST SEASON: Perhaps the NFL’s most disappointing team, the Browns fell way short of expectations after making the playoffs in coach Kevin Stefanski’s first season. Quarterback Baker Mayfield suffered a left shoulder injury in Week 2 and never got untracked. He’s on the trading block following the team’s stunning acquisition of Deshaun Watson from Houston. Cleveland’s offense lacked firepower – running back Kareem Hunt’s injury and wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr’.s messy release made things worse – and the unit didn’t score enough to complement a defense that played well despite new faces.
► FREE AGENCY/TRADES: Acquired Watson from Houston for three first-round draft picks and more. Acquired WR Amari Cooper from Dallas. Acquired DE Chase Winovich from New England for LB Mack Wilson. Released WR Jarvis Landry, C JC Tretter and TE Austin Cooper. Traded QB Case Keenum. Placed franchise tag on TE David Njoku. Re-signed LB Anthony Walker Jr., T Chris Hubbard, K Chase McLaughlin, S Ronnie Harrison. Signed QBs Jacoby Brissett and Josh Dobbs, C Ethan Pocic, WR/KR Jakeem Grant, DT Taven Bryan, P Corey Bojorquez. Lost WR Rashard Higgins, FB Andy Janovich, DT Malik Jackson, S M.J. Stewart, LB Elijah Lee, DE Takk McKinley, QB Nick Mullens, S Jovante Moffatt, WR/KR Jojo Natson, LB Malcolm Smith, P Dustin Colquitt.
► THEY NEED: Edge rusher, WR, DT, K, TE.
► THEY DON’T NEED: QB, RB, S, LB.
► POSSIBLE FIRST PICK AT NO. 44: Alabama WR John Metchie III; Georgia WR George Pickens; South Carolina DE Kingsley Enagbare.
► OUTLOOK: Watson’s arrival has altered everything: the draft, the upcoming season, the long-term plan, Mayfield’s future. GM Andrew Berry unloaded three first-round picks, a third-rounder in 2023, and 2022 and 2024 fourth-round selections for Watson, a three-time Pro Bowler accused by nearly two dozen women in Texas of sexual assault. Mayfield is on the market, but the Browns are struggling to find a partner due to his $18.8 million salary next season. Cooper drops into the No. 1 receiver spot, but the Browns still need depth at that position. Landry remains unsigned as a free agent and could return. Defensive end is another priority, but there’s still a chance the team could re-sign Clowney, who was healthy and productive in 2021. Berry has been aggressive in two previous drafts with Cleveland, and given the team’s substantial investment in Watson, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Berry make a major move again for a coveted WR.
Baltimore Ravens (8-9)
► LAST SEASON: The Ravens lost six straight games to end the season as injuries – including to star quarterback Lamar Jackson – finally became too much to overcome. Jackson got off to an impressive start and looked like an MVP candidate early on, but he wasn’t available at the end because of ankle problems. Baltimore got a terrific season from tight end Mark Andrews, and Jackson put up good passing numbers for a while, but the secondary was depleted by the end of the season, and the Ravens finished last in the NFL against the pass. Baltimore replaced defensive coordinator Don Martindale after the season.
► FREE AGENCY/TRADES: Signed S Marcus Williams, T Morgan Moses and DT Michael Pierce. Re-signed FB Patrick Ricard, LB Josh Bynes and DL Calais Campbell. Released WR Miles Boykin, terminated the contract of CB Tavon Young. T Alejandro Villanueva retired. Lost CB Anthony Averett, LB Chris Board, C Bradley Bozeman, S DeShon Elliott, NT Justin Ellis, TE Eric Tomlinson, WR Sammy Watkins and CB Chris Westry.
► THEY NEED: DL, LB, CB, OL.
► THEY DON’T NEED: QB, TE.
► POSSIBLE FIRST PICK AT NO. 14: Purdue edge rusher George Karlaftis; Washington CB Trent McDuffie; Utah LB Devin Lloyd; Georgia DT Jordan Davis; Northern Iowa T Trevor Penning; Iowa C Tyler Linderbaum.
► OUTLOOK: The Ravens used one of their two first-round picks last year on outside linebacker Odafe Oweh, and they may look for another defensive prospect this year. They certainly have room for improvement on that side of the ball, whether it’s adding another pass rusher, some help in the middle of the defensive line or some depth in the secondary after last season’s injury problems. The offensive line isn’t totally settled either, in light of Villanueva’s retirement and Ronnie Stanley’s injury problems. Baltimore has nine picks in the first four rounds, including five in the fourth. So the Ravens have flexibility to move around if they desire.
Tennessee Titans (12-6)
► LAST SEASON: The Titans earned the No. 1 seed in the AFC despite using an NFL-high 91 players, most ever in a non-strike season, because of injuries. RB Derrick Henry missed the final nine games with a broken right foot. He was among 26 Titans on injured reserve, not counting 21 who spent time on the reserve/COVID-19 list. A trade for seven-time Pro Bowl WR Julio Jones didn’t pan out as injuries limited him to 11 games. The Titans lost to Cincinnati in the divisional round.
► FREE AGENCY/TRADES: Kept OLB Harold Landry III and C Ben Jones off the market with extensions. Traded a 2023 sixth-round pick to the Rams for WR Robert Woods. Signed TE Austin Hooper and OL Jamarco Jones. Re-signed TE Geoff Swaim, K Randy Bullock, RBs Dontrell Hilliard and Jordan Wilkins, CB Buster Skrine and LB Dylan Cole. Cut CB Jackrabbit Jenkins.
► THEY NEED: WR, OL, TE, ILB, CB.
► THEY DON’T NEED: Edge rusher, DT, S, K.
► POSSIBLE FIRST PICK AT NO. 26: Alabama WR Jameson Williams; Arkansas WR Treylon Burks; Penn State WR Jahan Dotson; Texas A&M All-American OL Kenyon Green; Boston College OL Zion Johnson.
► OUTLOOK: The Titans have put together six straight winning seasons with GM Jon Robinson using a combination of free agent signees and the draft to turn one of the NFL’s worst defenses into one of the league’s best last season. Now he needs to address the offense that dropped to 24th in the NFL in yards passing. QB Ryan Tannehill needs more targets beyond Woods and Hooper. Bolstering the offensive line also is a top priority after cutting LG Rodger Saffold for salary-cap space and letting RT David Quessenberry leave in free agency. It won’t be easy with Tennessee’s second-round pick in Atlanta due to the Jones’ trade. The Titans also don’t have a seventh-rounder sent to Miami in 2021.
Indianapolis Colts (9-8)
► LAST SEASON: Carson Wentz, NFL rushing champion Jonathan Taylor and a solid defense put Indianapolis in position to make the playoffs. But the Las Vegas Raiders beat the Colts on their home turf in Week 17 and then Indy endured an embarrassing 15-point loss at Jacksonville in the season finale – a collapse that eliminated it from the postseason and spurred an offseason overhaul. Gus Bradley takes over as defensive coordinator from Matt Eberflus, now head coach of the Chicago Bears. And general manager Chris Ballard has plugged three major holes by trading for 2016 league MVP Matt Ryan and 2017 Pro Bowl defensive Yannick Ngakoue in addition to adding 2019 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore at cornerback, and dealing Wentz to Washington.
► FREE AGENCY/TRADES: Traded Wentz to Washington and starting CB Rock Ya-Sin to Las Vegas in exchange for Ngakoue. TE Jack Doyle announced his retirement. Lost WR Zach Pascal, OG Mark Glowinski and S George Odum. Acquired Ryan in a trade with Atlanta. Signed Gilmore, safeties Rodney McLeod and Armani Watts, CBs Brandon Facyson and Tony Brown, LB Brandon King and OT Brandon Kemp in free agency. Re-signed DT Tyquan Lewis, OT Matt Pryor, LB Zaire Franklin, TE Mo Alie-Cox, CB Marvell Tell III, WR Ashton Dulin.
► THEY NEED: LT, CB, WR, TE, long-term QB prospect.
► THEY DON’T NEED: RB, LB.
► POSSIBLE FIRST PICK AT NO. 42: Central Michigan OL Bernhard Raimann; Georgia WR George Pickens; Alabama WR John Metchie III; CB Kyler Gordon, Washington.
► OUTLOOK: Ballard has spent this offseason adding key pieces to an already strong defense. Indy now has five starters with Pro Bowl credentials and potentially the best pass-rushing rotation in more than a decade. Now Ballard will likely address the offense. At age 36, Ryan gives Indianapolis the best combination of arm strength and veteran savvy its had since Andrew Luck. But even he needs help. The most glaring hole is left tackle where last year’s inconsistent starter, Eric Fisher, remains unsigned. Indy also needs young receivers and a legitimate No. 1 tight end.
Houston Texas (4-13)
► LAST SEASON: The Texans won just four games for the second straight year in a season that was lost with QB Deshaun Watson sitting out amid a trade request and 22 lawsuits alleging sexual assault or harassment. With Watson out they started Tyrod Taylor at QB to open the season, but injuries and ineffective play led to third-round pick Davis Mills starting 11 games. The rookie improved as the season progressed, but it wasn’t enough to get the team on track and coach David Culley was fired after just one season.
► FREE AGENCY/TRADES: Traded Watson to Cleveland for a package including three first-round picks, including No. 13 in this draft. Lost S Justin Reid in free agency. Signed free agents QB Kyle Allen, OT Cedric Ogbuehi, RB Marlon Mack and LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin.
► THEY NEED: QB, CB, OL, DE, WR.
► THEY DON’T NEED: K, P.
► POSSIBLE FIRST PICK: Alabama OT/G Evan Neal; Oregon DE Kayvon Thibodeaux; Cincinnati CB Ahmad Gardner; North Carolina State T Ikem Ekwonu.
► OUTLOOK: The Texans moved to full rebuilding mode last season with Watson sitting out and GM Nick Caserio trading or releasing the team’s few remaining stars. Houston got a huge haul in the Watson trade and Caserio will have a chance to add some talent in this draft with two first-round picks. Houston has so many needs that it’s difficult to predict what he’ll do with those picks. But it will be a big draft for the Texans after they didn’t have a first-round pick in either of the last two drafts. New coach Lovie Smith, the team’s former defensive coordinator, would probably be happy if one of their top picks goes to beefing up the defensive line after Houston was last in sacks last season with just 32.
Jacksonville Jaguars (3-14)
► LAST SEASON: Urban Meyer’s much-ballyhooed leap to the NFL was a debacle, landing the Jaguars the No. 1 pick for the second straight year. The three-time national championship-winning coach at Florida and Ohio State didn’t know league rules, stars on other teams or seemingly how to effectively communicate with or properly lead his own players. He was fired with cause after 13 games in November, ending one of the worst coaching tenures in NFL history. He did leave behind quarterback Trevor Lawrence, the consensus No. 1 pick in last year’s draft, as well as plans (and now construction) for a stand-alone football facility that will get the Jaguars out of their stadium for the first time since the team’s inception in 1994. Lawrence’s rookie year was far from impressive, however. The former Clemson star finished with 12 touchdown passes, 17 interceptions and plenty of room for improvement. Lawrence did look sharp in the regular-season finale, a 26-11 victory that kept AFC South rival Indianapolis out of the playoffs. Jacksonville hired former Philadelphia head coach Doug Pederson to replace Meyer, counting on his even-keeled approach and history of getting results from quarterbacks like Alex Smith, Donovan McNabb, Carson Wentz and Nick Foles to make the Jaguars more competitive immediately and ultimately a perennial playoff contender.
► FREE AGENCY/TRADES: Jacksonville committed $260 million, including more than $155 million guaranteed, to sign seven free agents who could help reshape floundering franchise that’s lost 35 of last 41 games. Added WR Christian Kirk, RG Brandon Scherff, LB Foyesade Oluokun, DT Folorunso “Foley” Fatukasi, CB Darious Williams, WR Zay Jones and TE Evan Engram. Cut veteran LB Myles Jack and were prepared to release longtime C Brandon Linder when he retired. Brought back several others, including LT Cam Robinson (franchise tag), WR Laquon Treadwell, C Tyler Shatley, OL Will Richardson and CB Tre Herndon.
► THEY NEED: Edge rusher, OL, WR, ILB, TE, RB, DT, S, PK.
► THEY DON’T NEED: QB, CB, P.
► POSSIBLE FIRST PICK AT NO. 1: Michigan pass rusher Aidan Hutchinson; Georgia pass rusher Travon Walker; North Carolina State LT Ickey Ekwonu; Alabama LT Evan Neal.
► OUTLOOK: GM Trent Baalke gets a year without Meyer in the mix to continue shaping the roster. Baalke puts a premium on size – “I still believe it’s a big-man’s game, and I think that’s proven over time to hold true” – so choosing between Hutchinson, Walker and two massive blockers at No. 1 has to be an enticing spot for him. Hutchinson appears to be the safest option, which makes sense for a team short on talent, but Baalke could take a chance on Walker’s potential. The Jaguars have 12 picks in total, including four in the first three rounds. Getting immediate and productive starters with those top four selections could be key to getting Jacksonville out of the AFC South cellar and away from the top draft spot next year.
Kansas City Chiefs (14-6)
► LAST SEASON: The Chiefs were 3-4 at the end of October before ripping off eight straight wins to help claim a record sixth consecutive AFC West title. After beating Pittsburgh and winning a thriller against Buffalo in overtime to begin the playoffs, the Chiefs lost to Cincinnati in their fourth consecutive trip to the AFC title game. Patrick Mahomes had another spectacular season under center, Travis Kelce broke more records at tight end and Tyreek Hill – who has since been traded to Miami – set the club record for yards receiving in a season. The defense struggled early in the year and again in the playoffs, though, and the biggest problem was a near-total inability to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
► FREE AGENCY/TRADES: Traded Hill to Miami for package of draft picks, giving Chiefs two apiece in each of first four rounds. Placed franchise tag on LT Orlando Brown Jr. Lost FSs Tyrann Mathieu and Armani Watts, WRs Demarcus Robinson and Byron Pringle, C Austin Blythe, CBs Charvarius Ward and CB Mike Hughes, DT Jarran Reed. Released LB Anthony Hitchens. Signed WRs JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling, FSs Justin Reid and Deon Bush, LBs Elijah Lee and Jermaine Carter Jr., OL Geron Christian, RB Ronald Jones II, DL Taylor Stallworth.
► THEY NEED: WR, CB, DE, LB, TE.
► THEY DON’T NEED: QB, LB.
► POSSIBLE FIRST PICK AT NO. 29, 30: Arkansas WR Treylon Burks; Minnesota DE Boye Mafe; Michigan S Daxton Hill.
► OUTLOOK: The Chiefs have extra draft capital for the first time since GM Brett Veach took over five years ago. Given he is among the most aggressive front-office execs in the NFL, look for Kansas City to package picks to move up or down based on who is available. One example would be trading up to snag Alabama WR Jameson Williams in the top 15, even though he’s expected to miss about half the season after tearing his ACL in the national championship game. The Chiefs also could use CB help after losing Ward to the 49ers in free agency. As it stands, Kansas City has 12 selections thanks to the picks acquired from the Dolphins in the Hill trade and a couple of compensatory selections.
Las Vegas Raiders (10-8)
► LAST SEASON: The Raiders survived a tumultuous 2021 to make the playoffs for just the second time in 19 seasons. Coach Jon Gruden resigned after five games because of the publication of his old offensive emails. Receiver Henry Ruggs III was released after being charged with felony DUI following a fatal car crash. The Raiders rallied to win their final four games under interim coach Rich Bisaccia to qualify as a wild card despite getting outscored by 65 points for the season. The defense led by star pass rusher Maxx Crosby was much improved, while the offense took a step back because of poor line play and the absence of Ruggs. The Raiders lost the wild-card game at Cincinnati and owner Mark Davis opted for a clean slate by replacing Bisaccia and GM Mike Mayock with coach Josh McDaniels and GM Dave Ziegler.
► FREE AGENCY/TRADES: Acquired WR Davante Adams in trade with Green Bay. Traded DE Yannick Ngakoue to Indianapolis for CB Rock Ya-Sin. Signed edge rusher Chandler Jones, DT Bilal Nichols, CB Anthony Averett, RB Brandon Bolden, LB Jayon Brown, LB Kyler Fackrell, DT Andrew Billings, WR Demarcus Robinson, WR Mack Hollins, S Duron Harmon, FB Jakob Johnson, DT Kyle Peko, DT Vernon Butler, LB Micah Kiser, QB Nick Mullens, CB Cre’Von LeBlanc, CB Darius Phillips, RB Ameer Abdullah. Lost CB Casey Hayward, DT Quinton Jefferson, CB Brandon Facyson, DL Darius Philon, DL Solomon Thomas, WR Zay Jones, DE Carl Nassib, LB Cory Littleton, LB Nick Kwiatkoski, LB K.J. Wright, RB Jalen Richard, FB Alec Ingold, QB Marcus Mariota.
► THEY NEED: RT, G, S, CB, LB, DT.
► THEY DON’T NEED: WR, QB, TE.
► POSSIBLE FIRST PICK AT NO. 86: Washington State T Abraham Lucas; Central Michigan OL Luke Goedeke; Maryland S Nick Cross.
► OUTLOOK: The Raiders will have a long wait to make their first draft pick after trading away their first and second-rounders for Adams. This marks the first time since 2012 the team won’t pick in the first round. The lack of premium picks will make it difficult for McDaniels and Ziegler to add significant contributors, but they will be looking for help on the offensive line after 2021 first-round pick Alex Leatherwood struggled as a rookie. The only set spots on the line are LT Kolton Miller and C Andre James. The other big needs are in the secondary, especially at safety where 2019 first-rounder Johnathan Abram may not be a good fit for new coordinator Patrick Graham’s scheme that relies on two deep safeties. Cornerback is also a bit thin after losing Hayward in free agency.
Los Angeles Chargers (9-8)
► LAST SEASON: The Chargers won four of their first five games under first-year coach Brandon Staley, but won consecutive games only once after their bye week in mid-October. They missed the playoffs for the third straight season after dropping three of their final four games, including the season finale in overtime against the Las Vegas Raiders. Quarterback Justin Herbert was second in the league in passing yards (5,014) and third with 38 touchdown passes en route to making the Pro Bowl for the first time. Los Angeles struggled on defense. It allowed 27 points per game, which tied for third worst in the league. The Chargers were also near the bottom in run defense and third-down conversions. General manager Tom Telesco sent two draft picks to the Chicago Bears for premier edge rusher Khalil Mack, and signed cornerback J.C. Jackson.
► FREE AGENCY/TRADES: Acquired Mack from Chicago. Lost DT Justin Jones, LB Kyzir White, LB Uchenna Nwosu, LB Kyler Fackrell, OL Scott Quessenberry, TE Stephen Anderson. Signed CB J.C. Jackson, DT Sebastian Joseph-Day, DT Austin Johnson, TE Gerald Everett, LB Troy Reeder, P JK Scott, LS Josh Harris, WR DeAndre Carter. Re-signed WR Mike Williams, K Dustin Hopkins, QB Chase Daniel, OT Storm Norton, DT Christian Covington.
► THEY NEED: OL, LB, DT, RB, S.
► THEY DON’T NEED: QB, Edge rusher, K.
► POSSIBLE FIRST PICK AT NO. 17: Northern Iowa OT Trevor Penning; Georgia DT Jordan Davis.
► OUTLOOK: As much as Telesco likes to publicly eschew the benefits of having a quarterback on a rookie contract, he showed otherwise during the first week of free agency by re-signing Williams, trading to get Mack and signing Jackson to one of the top contracts for an unrestricted free agent. The Chargers have 10 selections, with their biggest needs being to upgrade the right side of the offensive line as well as building depth in the secondary, defensive tackle and linebacker.
Denver Broncos (7-10)
► LAST SEASON: The Broncos’ post-Peyton Manning slide continued after journeyman QB Teddy Bridgewater beat out incumbent Drew Lock in training camp and went 7-7 before a season-ending concussion in December. Lock started and lost the last three games, securing Denver’s fifth consecutive losing season and sixth straight season without a playoff berth. That doomed head coach Vic Fangio, whose defensive prowess was undermined for a second straight season by obdurate offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur’s throwback game plans and another awful special teams showing under Tom McMahon. GM George Paton fired Fangio and most of his staff and hired head coac Nathaniel Hackett, then acquired QB Russell Wilson from Seattle for a package of players and picks, including this year’s first-rounder, the ninth overall selection.
► FREE AGENCY/TRADES: Acquired Wilson and a 2022 fourth-round pick in exchange for Lock, DE Shelby Harris, TE Noah Fant, 2022 first-, second- and fifth-round picks and 2023 first- and second-round picks. Released WR DaeSean Hamilton. Re-signed LB Josey Jewell, OLB Malik Reed, DL DeShawn Williams, FB Andrew Beck, OT Calvin Anderson and S Kareem Jackson. Signed OL Ben Braden, DT D.J. Jones, TE Eric Tomlinson, OL Tom Compton, DE Randy Gregory, QB Josh Johnson, LB Alex Singleton, S J.R. Reed, CB K’Waun Williams and OL Billy Turner. Lost Bridgewater, RB Melvin Gordon, CB Bryce Callahan, CB Kyle Fuller, ILB Alexander Johnson, ILB Kenny Young, DE Stephen Weatherly, OT Bobby Massie, OT Cameron Fleming, DL Shamar Stephen, TE Eric Saubert, CB Mike Ford, CB Nate Hairston, OL Brett Jones, RB Adrian Killins, RB Natrez Patrick.
► THEY NEED: OT, CB, Edge rusher, ILB, P, RB, FS.
► THEY DON’T NEED: K, WR, OG.
► POSSIBLE FIRST PICK AT NO. 64: Cam Taylor-Britt, S, Nebraska.
► OUTLOOK: Paton says he doesn’t lament the lack of a first-round pick because every time he sees Wilson throwing the ball he’s thankful his search for a premier passer is over. Paton figures it’ll cost too much to move back into the first round, but he doesn’t rule out moving up in the second – or even moving down. Paton’s makeover is far from over, but he’ll have to hit on this year’s draft class and find impact players like he did last year in Pat Surtain II, Javonte Williams, Quinn Meinerz, Baron Browning and Jonathan Cooper in his first draft in Denver. Denver’s not on the clock until the final selection of Round 2. But it has two selections in both the third and fourth rounds, giving Paton ammo to move up, and he still has nine picks overall even after the blockbuster trade for Wilson finally landed the Broncos with a worthy successor to Manning.