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2018 NFL combine preview: Targets, positions of need for every team – NFL Nation

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With the 2018 scouting combine kicking off this week, NFL Nation reporters take a closer look at the positions of need for all 32 teams and which players will be closely evaluated.

Click the link after each team to view the full post.

AFC East | AFC North| AFC South | AFC West

NFC East | NFC North | NFC South | NFC West


AFC EAST

Whether or not the Bills keep Tyrod Taylor for the final season of his contract, they are expected to be in the thick of the race for a quarterback early in the draft. Read more.

There were signs Ryan Tannehill could be on the rise when Miami extended him in 2015, but last season’s knee injury cast doubt on his long-term future with the Dolphins. It would be wise for the Dolphins to explore their options in the draft to potentially upgrade from Tannehill over the long haul. Read more.

The Patriots need a strong off-the-line linebacker. On offense, there will be some intrigue as to whether the team can find “the next Jimmy Garoppolo” at quarterback, that is a high-upside developmental prospect. Read more.

Let’s make it easy and list the positions that don’t need to be addressed: free safety and strong safety (Marcus Maye and Jamal Adams, respectively). The Jets are open for business everywhere else, which tells you why they won only five games last season. Read more.

AFC NORTH

Baltimore has to upgrade the supporting cast for quarterback Joe Flacco and improve the NFL’s No. 27 offense. The Ravens desperately need to draft a wide receiver because their top two (Mike Wallace and Jeremy Maclin) could be gone and Breshad Perriman has been a bust. Read more.

The Bengals must make their offensive line their first priority after allowing 80 sacks in two seasons. The Bengals don’t have much stability at that position with center Russell Bodine potentially becoming a free agent and their two tackles remaining big question marks. Read more.

The Browns will focus on quarterbacks, obviously, but they also need to be sure about two other players they will consider drafting: running back Saquon Barkley and safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. This draft is too important to miss on any opportunity. Read more.

This process starts with inside linebacker, where the Steelers were depleted last season after a severe spinal injury to Ryan Shazier and a shoulder injury to backup Tyler Matakevich. The Steelers will have options here and should capitalize on them. Read more.

AFC SOUTH

The Texans’ biggest offseason need right now is to upgrade their offensive line. The group gave up 252 total pressures, the second-most allowed by a team in any of the previous 12 seasons. Read more.

Pass-rusher or running back first? Will the Colts surprise everybody and go with an offensive lineman in the first round? That’s just the start for the Colts, who also need to add depth at receiver behind T.Y. Hilton because Donte Moncrief and Kamar Aiken are headed to free agency. Read more.

Interior offensive line and tight end should be the Jaguars’ top two priorities at the combine. The Jaguars finished the regular season as the NFL’s top rushing team (141.4 yards per game), but their production dropped off significantly over the final six games. Read more.

The Titans’ pass-rush pipeline is barren as 2016 second-round pick Kevin Dodd is looking like a bust and 32-year-old Erik Walden is a pending free agent. Depending on what happens with pending free agent Avery Williamson, inside linebacker could be a big need, too. Read more.

AFC WEST

After a 5-11 finish, it’s clear the Broncos need plenty of things, but a solution at quarterback certainly leads the way. Read more.

Defense should be the focus for the Chiefs, who don’t have a first-round pick after sending it to Buffalo in last year’s trade for quarterback Patrick Mahomes II. Read more.

With one of the league’s worst run defenses last season, the Chargers need to add more athletic bodies who can make an impact defensively in the run game. That means players who can create havoc up front and rangy athletes at the second level of the defense who can cover and tackle. Read more.

The Raiders would be hard-pressed to pass on a top cornerback prospect, even if they drafted one last year in Gareon Conley at No. 24. Read more.

NFC EAST

The Cowboys need linebacker, wide receiver, offensive line, defensive line, safety and tight end help either in major or minor ways. It is always worth remembering a draft is not just about the current year but the future. Read more.

New general manager Dave Gettleman has made it a priority to rebuild the offensive line — his “hog mollies” as he likes to say. The Giants can use guards and tackles. Maybe even a center. They won’t discriminate. If you’re an offensive lineman, you’re in play. Read more.

The Eagles need to bolster their linebacker corps. Besides lacking depth, there are question marks around each of the 2017 starters: Middle linebacker Jordan Hicks is recovering from a ruptured Achilles and has had difficulty staying healthy, Nigel Bradham is a pending free agent, and Mychal Kendricks has requested to be traded in the past. Read more.

They need to add more playmakers to their offense, which would pair well with holdovers such as tight end Jordan Reed and third-down back Chris Thompson. Read more.

NFC NORTH

The Bears’ top offensive need is at wide receiver, as the team had only one receiver crack the 50-catch mark in 2017 — Kendall Wright (59), who is an unrestricted free agent. The Bears are still holding out hope that former first-round pick Kevin White will pan out, but White has played in only five regular-season games since the Bears drafted him No. 7 overall in 2015. Read more.

The Lions are set at some positions, including receiver and quarterback. But don’t be surprised if this draft ends up heavy on linemen. Read more.

When Dom Capers took over in 2009, then-GM Ted Thompson finagled his way into a pair of first-round picks and turned them into nose tackle B.J. Raji and linebacker Clay Matthews. They became cornerstones of a defense that won the Super Bowl. Mike Pettine needs that kind of talent influx as he implements his defensive system. Read more.

Aside from figuring out who the quarterback will be in 2018, the Vikings’ other biggest need this offseason is to add pieces to the offensive line. The unit struggled to protect Case Keenum in the playoffs and has a number of question marks. Read more.

NFC SOUTH

The Falcons likely will prioritize the offensive and defensive lines because coach Dan Quinn always emphasizes winning the line of scrimmage first. Read more.

The easy choice is wide receiver. The Panthers traded No. 1 receiver Kelvin Benjamin to Buffalo last season and promoted Devin Funchess into that role. Funchess, who was dealing with a shoulder injury late in the season, never proved worthy of the promotion. Read more.

The biggest needs are defensive end (since last year’s standout starter, Alex Okafor, is a free agent and coming back from a torn Achilles), a pass-catching tight end and an athletic outside linebacker. Read more.

Look for the Buccaneers to make upgrades on defense, with both their pass rush and their back end. Read more.

NFC WEST

The Cardinals don’t have a projected starter at quarterback on the roster and might address the position in free agency, but the draft might be where Arizona finds a long-term answer. Read more.

The Rams did a fine job fixing the offense last offseason, and now it’s time to focus on the defense. Cornerback stands out as their most glaring need. Read more.

Top needs are edge-rusher, cornerback and interior offensive line. The Niners also could use a game-breaker at receiver or running back, but with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo in place, those positions aren’t as pressing. Read more.

The Seahawks have varying degrees of need or potential need at as many position groups as they have areas that are currently solidified. Such is life for a team with 16 unrestricted free agents and uncertainty with several other starters. Read more.

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Biggest Week 7 injury questions for all 32 NFL teams

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The 2020 NFL season ambles into Week 7, and it’s a tough time to be an interior lineman or receiver. The Cowboys’ Zack Martin has a concussion, 49ers’ Trent Williams‘ ankle is barking, so is Buffalo’s Cody Ford‘s knee, as is Packer David Bakhtiari‘s chest, and the Broncos’ Dalton Risner‘s shoulder. Aside from strains, sprains and bruises, the Raiders had to contend with a COVID-19 case that put offensive tackle Trent Brown on the COVID-19 list and sent the rest of the starting offensive line home for contact tracing.

Meanwhile, New Orleans still doesn’t know what’s going on with Michael Thomas, Atlanta’s Julio Jones is still nursing that nagging hammy and the Chargers’ Keenan Allen‘s back is still tender and the Eagles’ Zach Ertz‘s ankle will keep him out for several weeks. Washington will be down two receivers this Sunday. Yeah, that’s it.

How will Cody Ford‘s injury impact the rest of the Bills’ offensive line? Buffalo’s starting left guard exited Monday’s game with a knee injury and head coach Sean McDermott deemed Ford “week-to-week” during his press conference Tuesday. Brian Winters presumably will continue to start at right guard but Jon Feliciano could possibly return from injured reserve to take over for Ford at left guard. If neither Ford nor Feliciano can go, Ike Boettger is another option. — Marcel Louis-Jacques


It’s a good time for the Dolphins, who suffered a handful of injuries in Sunday’s blowout win over the New York Jets including DeVante Parker (groin), Kamu Gruiger-Hill (hand), Raekwon Davis (shoulder) and Andrew Van Ginkel (concussion). The significance isn’t clear at this point, but Parker and Davis are the main injuries to watch here. — Cameron Wolfe


Starting center David Andrews returned to practice Wednesday after having been placed on injured reserve Sept. 26 following surgery on his right thumb. If he returns to action this week, it has a significant trickle-down effect that aids the offensive line, with Joe Thuney sliding back to left guard. Starting right guard Shaq Mason (quad/reserve COVID-19 list) also was back at the start of practice after missing the last two games. — Mike Reiss


Quarterback Sam Darnold (shoulder) took a big step toward a return, practicing for the first time since his Oct. 1 injury. If he can avoid any setbacks and discomfort, Darnold will start against the Bills. If not, it will be Joe Flacco. — Rich Cimini

AFC NORTH

The bye week came at a good time for the Ravens, who might not have to play without running back Mark Ingram. The Pro Bowl running back left Sunday’s game with an ankle injury and didn’t return. Ingram hasn’t missed a game due to injury since 2015, and the Ravens will need him for their Nov. 1 showdown with the Steelers. “He probably will be back for the Steelers game, but we’ll have to see,” coach John Harbaugh said. — Jamison Hensley


Bengals running back Joe Mixon‘s status is in question after he suffered a foot injury in the Week 6 loss to the Colts. Mixon finished the game but missed Wednesday’s practice. His outlook for the rest of the week is uncertain and the Bengals protected running back Jacques Patrick off the practice squad this week, a move that hedges their bets in case Mixon can’t go this week against the Browns. Fantasy owners should be looking to do the same thing if Mixon’s status doesn’t improve the rest of the week. — Ben Baby


Quarterback Baker Mayfield says he expects to get more practice snaps this week after being limited last week with a chest injury. Mayfield isn’t able to throw much in practice until Friday. — Jake Trotter


The Steelers know they’re going to be without Devin Bush this week and the rest of the season, but what is more uncertain is the availability of defensive back Mike Hilton. The nickel injured his shoulder against the Browns and didn’t practice Wednesday. With a task like slowing the Titans’ Derrick Henry on the horizon, it’s all hands on deck for the Steelers defense — and the health of a versatile, blitz-happy defensive back like Hilton is especially important. — Brooke Pryor

AFC SOUTH

Tight end Jordan Akins (concussion/ankle), who has not played since Week 4, did not practice on Wednesday. In Akins’ absence, tight end Darren Fells has stepped up, with six catches for 85 yards and a touchdown in Week 6. — Sarah Barshop


The bye week comes at a good time for the Colts because it’ll allow some of their injured players to get healthy. There’s a chance rookie receiver Michael Pittman Jr. (calf) and third-year defensive end Kemoko Turay (ankle) will be ready to return. But the most important player likely returning is linebacker Darius Leonard, who has missed the past two games with a groin injury. — Mike Wells


Linebacker Myles Jack has been the Jaguars’ best defensive player — and arguably best player overall — this season but he’s dealing with an ankle injury that he suffered in the loss to the Bengals in Week 4. He aggravated it last week against Detroit and his status for Sunday is in question. Jack did not practice Wednesday and might be a game-time decision. Dakota Allen would take his place, but Allen is dealing with a foot injury, as well. But he did practice on a limited basis on Wednesday. — Mike DiRocco


Jonnu Smith was on the field during team stretch but went inside the building afterward. He was listed as a limited participant on Wednesday. Smith tweaked the ankle early in the third quarter of Sunday’s game. Trainers taped his ankle and he did sprints on the sideline to test it out, but Smith did not return. — Turron Davenport

AFC WEST

On a day Broncos coach Vic Fangio called Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones “a monster inside … if he’s not the best inside rusher in the game, he’s (No.) 2 or (No. 3),” Fangio also watched his offense practice Wednesday without guard Dalton Risner (shoulder) on the field. Fangio said he still hopes Risner can play against Kansas City on Sunday, but will have to see if Risner can get back on the practice field this week. The Broncos already have faced some of the league’s more difficult defensive fronts and they have routinely attacked the middle of the offensive line. Austin Schlottmann finished out last weekend’s game in Risner’s spot and is expected to play if Risner isn’t available. — Jeff Legwold


The Chiefs practiced without defensive ends Taco Charlton (knee) and Alex Okafor (hamstring) on Wednesday, calling into question whether they can have much of a rotation on Sunday against the Broncos. Charlton in particular is important to the Chiefs because he plays as a situational pass rusher. The Chiefs might have to play Chris Jones some at an outside position to provide relief to starters Frank Clark and Tanoh Kpassagnon. — Adam Teicher


Coming off their bye week, how about the Raiders’ starting offensive line? With right tackle Trent Brown going on the COVID-19 list, the other four starters — left tackle Kolton Miller, left guard Denzelle Good, center Rodney Hudson and right guard Gabe Jackson — were sent home from the team facility on Wednesday for contact tracing, as was safety Johnathan Abram. The Raiders adjusted practice Wednesday and utilized the five other O-linemen on their 53-man roster: Brandon Parker, John Simpson, Andre James, Patrick Omameh and Sam Young. “What’s crazy is…whoever’s out there, that’s who’s out there,” said quarterback Derek Carr. “Nobody cares about this or that. They just see the win-loss and that’s all that matters in this business.” Oh, and the Buccaneers’ 22 sacks are tied for second-most in the NFL. — Paul Gutierrez


Wide receiver Keenan Allen left the Monday night game early with back spasms and didn’t return. Head coach Anthony Lynn has insisted that Allen “will be just fine,” and on Wednesday he was scheduled to get some reps in practice. They sorely need Allen with injuries to Austin Ekeler (still out with a hip/knee injury) and he’s rookie quarterback Justin Herbert‘s favorite target. Well, he and the 6-4 Mike Williams. — Shelley Smith

NFC EAST

Zack Martin‘s availability for Sunday is in question because of a concussion as the offensive line continues to be in a state of flux. Left tackle Brandon Knight had knee surgery on Tuesday and is out so the Cowboys could look to use Cameron Erving and Terence Steele at tackle or move Martin to right tackle. He played there in the second half in Week 2 at Seattle but that would be a tough ask this week with little to no practice time if he plays. Washington’s strength is its defensive line and the Cowboys would not be in a good way without Martin, but they might not have any choice if he is not cleared to play. — Todd Archer


The Giants are hoping to have Sterling Shepard (turf toe) back Thursday night. It might not be at full capacity, but they could use him even in a limited role. That appears to be where this is headed. Shepard was on the practice field Monday for the first time in uniform. That officially opened his 21-day window to return from injured reserve. The Giants, however, hope it will be much sooner, beginning Thursday against the Eagles. They might have to wait until pregame warmups to make that official decision. — Jordan Raanan


The Eagles are getting wide receiver DeSean Jackson (hamstring) and tackle Lane Johnson (ankle) back for Thursday’s game against the New York Giants, which is timely given that two other key offensive pieces in tight end Zach Ertz (ankle) and running back Miles Sanders (knee) are unable to go. The question for Jackson and Johnson is: Can they stay on the field or will they continue to be in and out of the lineup?— Tim McManus


Chase Young was limited in practice with a groin injury, but that was more out of caution. So the big question surrounds Washington’s receivers and the reality is two receivers, Isaiah Wright (shoulder) and Antonio Gandy-Golden (hamstring) won’t play Sunday against Dallas. However, Washington is hopeful Wright will return after the bye, but Gandy-Golden could be out a while. It’s been a lost year for the fourth-round pick because of injuries and struggling to adjust to the NFL. — John Keim

NFC NORTH

The Bears are riding a wave of relatively good health. The only notable inactive in Week 6 – minus left guard James Daniels, who went on injured reserve with a torn pectoral muscle – was reserve safety Deon Bush, who the team uses in certain dime packages. Without Bush, the Bears turned to seldom-used DeAndre Houston-Carson, who preserved Chicago’s victory with a late interception against Panthers quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. “As far as DeAndre, I’m really proud of him,” Bears coach Matt Nagy said. “What a role player for us on this team.” It’s been that kind of season for the Bears. — Jeff Dickerson


Trey Flowers, Detroit’s top pass-rusher, didn’t practice Wednesday with a wrist injury — a new ailment that popped up for the first time. If Flowers are unable to play against Atlanta, that would be a major problem. Flowers leads Detroit top pass rusher with two sacks and two forced fumbles. Detroit would need to lean on Romeo Okwara even more if Flowers can’t go. The Lions also could have issue at receiver with Marvin Jones (knee) not practicing and Danny Amendola (foot) being limited. — Michael Rothstein


The Packers listed 13 players on their injury report –13! But the one they’ll miss the most if he can’t go is left tackle David Bakhtiari, who couldn’t finish Sunday’s loss to the Bucs after defensive end William Gholston landed on his upper body. The Packers say it’s a chest injury, and the All-Pro did not practice Wednesday. If he can’t go, they have options, although none of them ideal. Rick Wagner filled in to finish the game. Earlier this year they moved Elgton Jenkins from left guard to right tackle, so perhaps they’ll move him outside again. — Rob Demovsky


The Vikings will use their bye week to try and get healthy in a couple of areas, namely running back Dalvin Cook, who injured his groin in Week 5, and cornerback Mike Hughes, who sustained a neck injury against the Falcons. The timetable the Vikings were initially given for Danielle Hunter‘s neck injury would mean he could be ready to go after the bye. But at this point, and the way the season has gone thus far, it doesn’t seem likely the defensive end will be returning ahead of the Green Bay game in Week 8. — Courtney Cronin

NFC SOUTH

Wide reciever Julio Jones (hamstring) did not practice on Wednesday. Jones played just 15 snaps in Week 4 and did not play in Week 5 with the same hamstring injury. He returned Sunday, catching eight passes for 137 yards and two touchdowns as Atlanta got its first victory of the season. Wide receiver Calvin Ridley was listed as limited in practice with an elbow injury. — Sarah Barshop


Wide receiver Curtis Samuel missed Sunday’s game with a knee injury and it showed up big time on third down. The Panthers had become one of the most efficient offenses on third down, and a big part of that was Samuel, who was tied for the league-lead with 11 third-down catches. They were a dismal 3-for-13 on third down against the Bears in a 23-16 loss. Samuel was limited on Wednesday, so he remains questionable for this week’s game against NFC South rival New Orleans. –– David Newton


Wide receiver Michael Thomas remains the Saints’ biggest question mark for the fifth consecutive game — though the reasons keep changing. He was listed as limited in Wednesday’s practice with both the ankle injury that has sidelined him since Week 1 and a new hamstring issue. Thomas looked like he was close to returning from the ankle injury in Week 5 before he was benched because of a team disciplinary issue. Then he had the bye in Week 6 to recover further. But it’s unclear how much of a concern the hamstring is since coach Sean Payton declined to give any injury updates. — Mike Triplett


The Bucs are in a lot better shape injury-wise this week compared to the last two weeks, with Pro Bowl wide receiver Chris Godwin not experiencing any setbacks when he returned to action coming off a hamstring strain last week. Another positive is Leonard Fournette returned to practice and was a full participant Wednesday after a game-time decision was made to hold him out due to an ankle injury last week. Coach Bruce Arians isn’t in a rush to put him back out there though. “It’s a long season,” Arians said. “His best interest is what I’m concerned about [and] our best interest. We’re going to need him, and he didn’t need to go out there at 85 to 90 [percent healthy], tweak it again and go down for another month.” — Jenna Laine

NFC WEST

Kylie Fitts‘ health this week will determine whether Dennis Gardeck will get more reps — reps that he’s already been turning into production. But a return by Fitts could mean that he may not see as much playing time because of Haason Reddick‘s recent play and Gardeck’s surprising play. — Josh Weinfuss


The Rams enter Week 7 with no serious injury concerns after they came out of their Week 6 loss to the San Francisco 49ers with nothing more than routine bumps and bruises, according to Rams coach Sean McVay. Barring any issues that arise during practices this week, the Rams will go into Monday Night Football against the Bears with a healthy active roster. — Lindsey Thiry


Left tackle Trent Williams is dealing with an ankle sprain and is expected to be questionable throughout the week, according to coach Kyle Shanahan. “Hopefully it will get better each day but it’s not there yet,” Shanahan said. The good news is Williams doesn’t have a high ankle sprain or any additional damage to the ankle, so he can be considered day-to-day but his status for Sunday against the New England Patriots remains up in the air. — Nick Wagoner


Jamal Adams returning for Sunday’s game at Arizona doesn’t seem nearly as certain as head coach Pete Carroll previously suggested. Carroll said last week the All-Pro safety would be back from his groin injury following the Seahawks’ bye, but he’s since backed off that comment. Adams, who’s missed the last two games, didn’t practice Wednesday. Carroll said Adams didn’t suffer a setback, so it’s not clear why the prospects of Adams’ return this week have changed. Ryan Neal has played well in Adams’ absence. — Brady Henderson

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Aaron Lynch ending retirement to re-join Jacksonville Jaguars

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Defensive end Aaron Lynch has unretired and been reinstated to the Jacksonville Jaguars‘ exempt list. He must go through five days of COVID-19 testing and could be eligible to return to the facility as soon as Monday.

Lynch, who signed a one-year contract with the Jaguars in May, retired on Aug. 18 because of personal reasons. He was going to provide much-needed depth to a defense that had already lost nose tackle Al Woods (opt out), defensive end/tackle Rodney Gunter (heart problem), and linebacker Lerentee McCray (opt out).

Lynch has 20 sacks and 10 pass breakups in 73 games with San Francisco and Chicago. That’s the most of any player on the Jaguars’ defense.

In addition, the Jaguars designated kicker Josh Lambo to return from injured reserve. The team has 21 days to promote him to the active roster. Head coach Doug Marrone said the team had hoped Lambo would be able to play in this Sunday’s game at the Los Angeles Chargers but it depends on how Lambo’s hip feels later in the week.

If Lambo can’t play, the Jaguars will use Jon Brown, who attempted his first field goal and PAT in a game at any level of football in last Sunday’s loss to Detroit. When Brown hit a 32-yard field goal, the Jaguars become the first team since the 1970 merger to have a different player attempt a FG/PAT in five consecutive games.

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‘You gonna hit some holes today?’ Kenyan Drake motivated by mom ahead of MNF – Arizona Cardinals Blog

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TEMPE, Ariz. — The motivation behind running back Kenyan Drake‘s breakout performance for the Arizona Cardinals on Monday came from a familiar yet unlikely source.

After they hadn’t talked on the phone all of last week, the first thing Drake’s mother said, even before “hello,” ahead of the Monday’s matchup with the Dallas Cowboys was: “Hey, son, you gonna hit some holes today?”

Drake got the point.

He ran for 164 yards and two touchdowns during a 38-10 blowout of the Cowboys on Monday Night Football, his first 100-yard game of the season.

“It just kind of lit a fire under me,” he said. “I was just ready to go out there and play ball.

“It just kind of really hit home when your own mom is not liking what she sees out there, so I really just kind of had to buckle up and go out there and just play ball, get north and south, and make them tackle me going forward. And I feel like we had a lot of success, and hopefully we can just keep that going in the right direction.”

Drake said his mom went to his games “now and then” while he was growing up, and the two usually talk on the phone at least weekly. Those conversations include some football talk, but they wouldn’t typically get into the nuances of the games.

But she’s not afraid to speak her mind, Drake said.

“As long as I’m healthy and happy, she’s happy,” he said. “So for her to kind of speak up about, I guess, the schematics and what she sees, obviously is glaring. So whatever mom says, I got to go out there and do my best to get that done, so I hope I made her proud.”

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