My Off-Season Thoughts
I thought our Defense was solid over-all. I think that right now we lack impact players on who will get close to double digit sacks, or get interceptions consistently.
I think our defensive line is good, but we need some guys to develop to the point they can beat one on one match-ups consistently, especially Dunlop and Johnson on the edge. We should add depth to the line through the draft, but keep the core intact if possible.
I thought Maualuga's performance in the middle was superb until the ankle injury. He shut down Jacksonville at the end of the game almost single-handedly. After the ankle injury, he was slow. This is his second ankle injury in his career, and we need to keep an eye on that. Thomas Howard was one of our top performers on defense and he makes Rivers expendable. Manny Lawson was solid at the SLB. Skuta and Brandon Johnson provided solid depth.
Cris Crocker was one of the two weakest links on the team. I think the team knew this going into the season, which is why they drafted Sands and traded for Mays. They were gaining confidence in Mays towards the end of the season, but he was hampered by injury. Nelson was the high point in the secondary. I do not grade our corners as harshly as some. I think that Hall, Clements, Jones, and Jennings were solid but unspectacular.
Our Offense was mediocre. We need to improve in every aspect except the big pass play.
Rush Offense: Both Scott and Benson were underwhelming. They did not seem to able to get a tough yard when necessary, nor kill games at the end. Benson's best quality is his durability, which is a good attribute, but we need more. Some will blame the offensive line, which needs to improve, but I look at what Demarco Murray did in Dallas, and I see that the running back is a key ingredient. Dallas played their best ball when Murray was running wild.
Pass Offense: Our pass offense was also mediocre. Dalton needs to improve next year for us to compete for the division. With our receiving corps, there is no reason he can't throw 25TDs or more and 10 or less INTs. AJ Green is phenomenal. Simpson needs to come back to the ball on short routes especially hooks. He needs to understand this is the NFL and he is playing against better corners than he did in college. Otherwise, he was number 12 in yards among number 2 wide receivers in the league. A lot of people want to replace Simpson with, but I think that Simpson with improvement from his first year starting, is solid. I think that Whalen, Hawkins, and Shipley all played well in their roles. Gresham is a work in progress as well, but progressing nicely. Lee was adequate. Leonard was spectacular in his role, which could be expanded some. The other running backs were abysmal in the passing game.
Special teams were solid all around. Hopefully Nugent gets over his late season slump. Tate was solid but I don't think he did enough to warrant his position as a return specialist.
How do we improve?
First off, I am not a splash free agency guy. I look at teams in similar markets(Indy, Pittsburgh, Green Bay) that have succeeded and I don't see splash free agents there. Our best free agents were not splash guys. Bobby Williams and Cedric Benson were our best recent signings, and there wasn't a huge market for either.
What positions can be improved?
Nate livings is probably our weakest starter, followed by Crocker. Neither should be re-signed, not even for depth. I am not a fan of either Scott or Benson and I think we need to replace both. We need a starting corner; however, we can draft a talented guy who is one year away. Bobbie Williams is old, and suffered a season ending injury, will he be able to recover?
What positions can be replaced from within?
This is my biggest question mark. Is Mays ready to start after learning the system for a season? He was a late pick-up and was not in training camp, so he had a learning curve. If so, he make drafting Barron a waste. Is Boling ready to be the LG? The coaching staff wanted Boling to start at left guard this year, but that got derailed by the Williams suspension. Remember that he was getting first team starts at both LG and RG during the preseason, even though the coaching staff knew he needed to start the season at RG, they wanted to know if he could replace Livings. Unfortunately, we still don't know. Is Otis Hudson ready to start at RG? Alexander said he was the most improved lineman and he was drafted to replace Williams. We know that our future running back is not on our roster. Moch also remains a question mark.
Who should we re-sign?
Nelson long-term. Lawson for one year. Simpson for 3-4 years. Nugent long-term. I don't think we can re-sign Collins, but we should if we can. Brandon Johnson, Fanene, and Pressley. I would re-sign Jennings and Jones if reasonable. If we draft a corner early, I would use Jones as our returner and 4th corner.
What are our needs?
Running back is our biggest need because we need to replace both RBs. Because we have questions at both guards, but possible replacements for both, I think Guard is our second biggest need. We can make it through another year at corner with our current roster, but we need a new starter, so that is our third need, aslo if we get an immediate starter Clements could be moved to nickel/safety. We need depth on the defensive line to replace Fanene, Rucker, and Geathers. I think this is Geathers last season with us, and the other two are nearing 30. We need depth at Linebacker, this need grows if Lawson gets a long term offer and leaves. Back-up Offensive Tackle if Collins signs elsewhere to start. We could use another TE if Coffman is a bust. We need safety depth. I like our receivers, unless someone else signs Simpson, then we have a need.
Where do we fill them?
Marvin has always seen cornerback as a first round position. He traded down in the draft to get Deltha Oneal, and drafted Joseph and Hall in the first round. This is the second position fixed, after Quarterback, when there is a need. Marvin has addressed RB early when there is a need. He drafted Perry and Irons in the first two rounds. When they didn't work out he replaced Perry midseason with Benson. This season is the biggest offseason need we have had a RB. Marvin has historically drafted guards to start immediately in the second round. Historically Marvin has replaced safeties in Free Agency.
From that I think we draft Richardson if available at 17, if not we take the best corner available. At 21, I think we take the best corner available, unless we took one at 17, then we take the best Guard, RB, or Barron.
Marvin has been gold drafting defensive linemen in the 3rd and 4th round, with Peko, Geathers, Rucker, Sims, Atkins, and Johnson all drafted in that range. I would fill our defensive line needs there.
In free agency, the signing I would most like to see is Benjarvus Green-Ellis. He has shown the ability to gain rushing yards in a passing offense and can share the ball. That does not eliminate the need to draft a RB.