Skip to main content

Biggest weak spot for each AFC team heading into 2016

Mark Sanchez is the expected Week 1 starting quarterback for the defending Super Bowl champions. No matter how many times I read or write that sentence, it never stops looking uncomfortable.

For the Denver Broncos to avoid Sanchez becoming this generation's Elvis Grbac, he needs a lot of help. The Broncos need to get better up front.

No NFL depth chart is perfect. Let's take a look at the biggest weak spot for each AFC team. The NFC weak spots are right here.

AFC West

Denver Broncos: Sure, the quarterback position is the most glaring problem for the Broncos. Sanchez is just keeping the seat warm for Paxton Lynch (or Trevor Siemian?), but whomever is under center will need the offensive line to improve.

Only one starter (2014 sixth-round pick Matt Paradis) returns from the Super Bowl, and that is by design. Denver patched together a shaky line last season and changed things up dramatically. The Broncos are counting on Russell Okung, coming off major surgery, to handle left tackle. He's not available for organized team activities. Gary Kubiak is known for coaching up offensive lines, and knows he has his work cut out for him.

San Diego Chargers: This is not your average 4-12 roster. The Chargers' starting lineup is solid top-to-bottom, although they are hoping for a healthier offensive line and that Joey Bosa helps upgrade the pass rush. The most obvious hole is at safety, where the team needs to replace Eric Weddle. Dwight Lowery is the most likely starter for now next to Jahleel Addae. This is a team that gave up too many big plays last year.

Kansas City Chiefs: The offensive line looked like a trouble spot for the Chiefs heading into last season, too. Then they ran for more than 2,000 yards with 19 rushing scores despite losing Jamaal Charles early. That success helped guard Jeff Allen get a big payday in Houston, and Ben Grubbs was released. That means two starting guard spots are open for four different players, none of whom have experience or success at the NFL level.

Oakland Raiders: It's hard not to appreciate the starting lineups that general manager Reggie McKenzie has put together. The team could use defensive tackle depth, but its biggest weak spot appears to be at middle linebacker. Ben Heeney is mostly untested after three solid late-season starts. The team's flexibility to change schemes means the middle linebacker won't always be on the field.

AFC East

New England Patriots: The Patriots have won with surprising defensive tackle combinations for a while. This is a team that has started Chris Jones and Sealver Siliga in AFC Championships and Super Bowls. They tried to solve the position by drafting first rounders in consecutive seasons, but 2014 pick Dominique Easley is already gone.

While 2015 pick Malcom Brown looks promising, journeymen veterans Alan Branch and Terrance Knighton will battle for the other spot. There isn't great depth throughout the line, so expect teams to try to run against New England.

Buffalo Bills:Tyrod Taylor had a wideout problem beforeSammy Watkins' foot surgery. If Watkins can't stay healthy, they could have a crisis. Robert Woods would be stretched as a No. 3 receiver on a lot of teams. He's locked in as a starter here. The local rags are talking up Greg Salas as a strong candidate for the slot receiver job. Leonard Hankerson and Jarrett Boykin are other options. Coach Rex Ryan might never let coordinator Greg Roman call a forward pass.

Miami Dolphins:Byron Maxwell was a big disappointment in Philadelphia as its No. 1 cornerback last season. Now he's Miami's top corner, and second on the depth chart is second-round pick Xavien Howard. There is virtually no depth with experience after that. In short: Safety Reshad Jones might need to be even better for this secondary to survive.

New York Jets: While Geno Nation nervously participates in FitzWatch 2016, no one is paying attention to the Jets' questions at cornerback and outside linebacker. The Jets have been looking for a pass rusher who can win one-on-one matchups since the Eric Mangini era. Lorenzo Mauldin showed potential last year and the team drafted Jordan Jenkins in the third round, but that is an untested group overall.

AFC North

Pittsburgh Steelers: The Steelers having cornerback problems is a Pittsburgh tradition as old as meat, Italian bread and french fries. The team hopes defensive coordinator Keith Butler's system is easier to learn than Dick Lebeau's heady scheme, which would allow first-round pick Artie Burns to see the field faster (not to mention second-round safety Sean Davis). Other than William Gay and his glorious celebrations, there is not a lot to rely on here.

Baltimore Ravens: A return to health should bolster the Ravens' offense, although it's easy to forget their defense still has holes. Defensive end, inside linebacker and cornerback each will have competitions in training camp without proven options in place. Following Lardarius Webb's move to safety, the team's cornerback position looks especially thin. Jimmy Smith is coming off two surgeries. The team might need recent pickup Jerraud Powers and some mid-round rookie picks to play a lot of snaps.

Cincinnati Bengals: Mike Brown, Marvin Lewis and Duke Tobin have put together one of the best rosters in the league. The biggest concern heading into the season centers around whether Andy Dalton has enough weapons. Following the departure of Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu, the recent surgery for Tyler Eifert is especially devastating. Is Dalton the type of player to raise the level of players like rookie Tyler Boyd and Brandon LaFell?

Cleveland Browns: At least half of the Browns' starting jobs are up for grabs, with safety and outside linebacker among the big concerns. Choosing any position but quarterback as the biggest weakness, however, would be an attempt at being contrarian. Robert Griffin III wasn't even active on game days last season, and Cody Kessler was a surprise late third-round pick. It's not a great sign when a 37-year-old journeyman not guaranteed to make the team (Josh McCown) looks like the most trustworthy signal-caller.

AFC South

Houston Texans:J.J. Watt is the best defensive player in football, but he can't start at two positions. Jared Crick was an underrated starter the last two years and now the Texans are searching for someone that qualifies as replacement level. The options: Devon Still, Jeoffrey Pagan, Christian Covington and Brandon Dunn. Still battled just to stay on the Bengals' roster, so it's not a good sign for Houston that he's a strong candidate to start for the Texans.

Indianapolis Colts: The entire defense could be listed as a weak spot, which is good news for the rest of the young quarterbacks in the AFC South. Despite having a defensive-minded coach, the Colts' roster and production on defense has gone from worse to worse since coach Chuck Pagano and general manager Ryan Grigson took over from Jim Caldwell. This offseason didn't provide much hope. Robert Mathis, 35, is still the team's only pure pass rusher. The next best player in the front seven is ... Kendall Langford?

Jacksonville Jaguars: With the team focusing so much attention on its defense, the Jaguars' offensive line struggles have mostly been forgotten. Former No. 2 overall pick Luke Joeckel might be on the bench now behind strong free-agent pickup Kelvin Beachum. But there are still questions at center and the rest of the interior line needs to come together. There is also pressure on coach Gus Bradley to get all his new defensive talent in synch quickly, which won't be an easy task.

Tennessee Titans: It's hard to get a handle on the Titans' defense. They have a nice pedigree in the coaching staff with Dick LeBeau and plenty of good-not-great players throughout the roster. There is a lack of difference makers, however, other than defensive tackle Jurrell Casey. That's especially true in the secondary, where the Titans have Jason McCourty, safety Da'Norris Searcy and little else they can feel confident about.

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.

Related Content