NFL free agency: Numerical needs (AFC)

March, 11, 2014
Mar 11
12:02
AM ET
ESPN Stats & Information’s video analysis data has revealed needs that may not be apparent through traditional statistics.

Here’s a team-by-team look at areas of need for each AFC team heading into free agency.

AFC East
Buffalo Bills: offensive line, linebacker/safety
Bills quarterbacks were sacked a league-high 33 times when facing four or fewer pass rushers last season. When opposing four-man rushes pressured Buffalo quarterbacks, the Bills’ 23.8 completion percentage was worst in the league.

On the other side of the ball, the Bills’ rush defense allowed 1.8 yards after contact per rush last season, fourth worst in the league. The Bills allowed 36 rushes with at least 5 yards after contact. Only the Browns (37) had more.

Miami Dolphins: offensive line, wide receiver/tight end
Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill was sacked a league-leading 58 times last season, the most of any quarterback since Jon Kitna in 2006.

The Dolphins also rushed for 37 first downs inside the tackles, 12 fewer than any other team.

Tannehill threw four touchdowns and 13 interceptions on throws deeper than 10 yards downfield last season. Tannehill’s minus-nine TD-Int differential on those throws was the worst in the league.

New York Jets: wide receiver, quarterback, pass rush
There have been 116 different 1,000-yard seasons posted by receivers in the past seven seasons. None has been by a Jet. Free agent Jeremy Kerley gained 523 yards last season to lead the Jets, the lowest total of any team leader.

The Jets (59.0 percent) were the only team whose quarterbacks completed fewer than 60 percent of throws 10 yards or fewer downfield. Geno Smith completed 58.9 percent of short throws, worst of any quarterback who appeared in at least nine games.

On defense, the Jets recorded sacks on 4.6 percent of third-down dropbacks, the only team in the league at least than 6.5 percent. One of their best pass-rush specialists, Calvin Pace, (10 sacks last season) is a free agent.

New England Patriots: defensive line/linebacker, cornerback, wide receiver
After losing Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo by Week 7, the lack of depth in the Patriots’ front seven was exposed. Undrafted defensive tackles Chris Jones and Joe Vellano hadn’t played a snap before 2013 but each played more than 600 snaps last season.

Over the last 11 weeks of the season, the Patriots ranked 27th in yards allowed per rush and 29th in yards allowed per game.

In the secondary, Aqib Talib is an unrestricted free agent. Talib tied for a team-high 14.0 disrupted dropbacks (sacks, interceptions or pass breakups) last season. Since Talib’s first game in New England (Week 11 of 2012), no Patriot has more interceptions than his five.

Talib (819 snaps) and Steve Gregory (813) ranked second and third respectively in defensive snaps played among New England’s secondary. Gregory was cut in February.

On offense, Julian Edelman is an unrestricted free agent after posting 105 catches last season (fourth in NFL). Edelman’s 70.5 catch percentage was best in the league among 60 wide receivers with at least 75 targets.

AFC North
Cincinnati Bengals: linebacker, defensive end, offensive line
Bengals defenders had 26 tackles for loss on rushing plays last season, eight fewer than any other team. Sixteen teams had at least twice as many tackles for loss on rushing plays as the Bengals did.

A pair of impact Bengals are free agents, one on each side of the line. Defensive end Michael Johnson had 25 disrupted dropbacks (sacks, interceptions or pass breakups) over the past two seasons, 12th among defensive linemen.

Offensive lineman Anthony Collins played in 15 games last season, with quarterback Andy Dalton’s sack percentage jumping from 3 percent with Collins on the field to 7 percent with Collins off.

Cleveland Browns: wide receiver, running back, defensive back, defensive line
Browns wide receivers had 24 drops last season (6.6 percent of targets), the most of any team in the league. Josh Gordon was excellent, but he didn’t get much help, as the chart on the right shows.

Seven different Browns players led the team in rushing in a game last season. Among that group were Gordon and fellow receiver Travis Benjamin and defensive back Josh Aubrey.

On defense, the Browns forced eight fumbles last season, the only team with less than 10. Cleveland’s secondary and defensive line forced three combined fumbles, half as many any other team.

D’Qwell Jackson (1,105 snaps) and T.J. Ward (1,073) ranked first and second in defensive snaps played last season. From 2010-13, Jackson and Ward posted at least 100 tackles five times (including both last season), something no other Brown did over that span.

Baltimore Ravens: running back, wide receiver
The Ravens averaged 3.1 yards per rush last season, worst in franchise history. Baltimore was one of two teams (Jacksonville) to average fewer than 2.0 yards per rush before contact last season.

Baltimore wide receivers caught 55 percent of targets last season, 27th in the league. Baltimore was one of five teams without a wide receiver recording more than 40 catches on throws 10 yards or fewer downfield.

Pittsburgh Steelers: defensive line/linebacker, offensive line, wide receiver
The Steelers' defense allowed 6.5 yards per rush outside the tackles last season, the second highest average in the league and more than double what it allowed in 2012. Pittsburgh was the fifth team in the past five seasons to allow at least 5.0 yards before contact per rush outside the tackles.

On offense, The Steelers averaged 3.5 yards per rush last season, fourth lowest in the league. Pittsburgh is the only team to have ranked in the bottom four in yards before contact per rush in both 2012 (1.7, last) and 2013 (2.0, 29th).

The Steelers have five wide receivers under contract for next season. Antonio Brown set career highs with 110 catches for 1,499 yards and nine touchdowns.

The other four combined for eight catches for 84 yards last season. Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery are both free agents.

AFC South
Indianapolis Colts: wide receiver, defensive line, defensive back
Colts receivers dropped 8 percent of third-down targets last season, the highest drop percentage in the league. Reggie Wayne’s return should help, but even Wayne dropped three of his 18 targets on third downs before being placed on injured reserve.

On defense, Robert Mathis was outstanding for the Colts last season but didn’t have much help. Mathis recorded 13.5 sacks when the Colts sent four or fewer rushers, more than the rest of the Colts combined (9.5).

Mathis forced six fumbles when Indianapolis sent standard pressure, He was the only Colt to force one in those situations.

Two of the three Colts defenders who played at least 900 snaps (Antoine Bethea and Vontae Davis) are free agents, as well as Cassius Vaughn (393 snaps).

Jacksonville Jaguars: quarterback, defensive line, offensive line
Jaguars quarterbacks posted a league-worst 23.8 Total QBR last season, the second time in the past three seasons Jacksonville has had the league’s worst QBR. The Jaguars have a 24.7 Total QBR since drafting Blaine Gabbert (2011), the only team below 30 during that span.

The Jaguars averaged 1.7 yards before contact per rush last season, worst in the league and one of only two teams below 2.0.

On defense, Jacksonville’s 20 sacks when sending four or fewer pass rushers was tied for 10th-fewest in the league last season, despite using standard pressure more often than any other team (82 percent of opponents’ dropbacks).

Houston Texans: quarterback, cornerback, inside linebacker
Texans quarterbacks handled the blitz worse than any team in the league last season. Houston’s Total QBR against at least five pass rushers was 20.9, worst in the NFL.

On defense, the Texans intercepted seven passes last season, fewest in the NFL and less than half of their total in both of Wade Philips’ previous two seasons as defensive coordinator. Houston intercepted three passes intended for wide receivers, less than half of any other team’s total.

Darryl Sharpton and Joe Mays (both free agents) were the only two Texans’ inside linebackers to record at least 500 snaps last season. Brian Cushing (315 snaps) missed nine games with a left leg injury.

Tennessee Titans: cornerback, defensive line
The Titans' defense allowed six receiving touchdowns by wide receivers last season, with only the Dolphins allowing fewer (five). But top cornerback Alterraun Verner is a free agent.

The Titans' rush defense allowed 4.0 yards per rush inside the tackles last season, 11th in the league.

However, Tennessee allowed 1.7 yards after contact on those rushes, 23rd in the league. The Titans allowed the fourth-fewest yards before contact per rush last year, but defensive lineman Antonio Johnson (363 snaps) is an unrestricted free agent.

AFC West
Denver Broncos: defense, running back
Forty-four percent of Denver’s defensive snaps last season were logged by players who are restricted or unrestricted free agents, including five of seven Broncos with at least 650 defensive snaps.

Three of the four secondary snaps leaders are free agents. Shaun Phillips (team-high 10 sacks) and Wesley Woodyard (second on team with 83 tackles) are also unrestricted free agents.

On offense, Broncos free-agent running back Knowshon Moreno rushed for 1,038 yards last season, 12th in the league. Moreno played 671 snaps -- more than fellow running backs Montee Ball, Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson combined.

Kansas City Chiefs: defensive back, wide receiver
The Chiefs allowed 6.4 yards after the catch per reception last season, worst in the league. The Chiefs also share a division with the Broncos (first in yards after the catch) and Chargers (fifth). Defensive snap leader Kendrick Lewis is a free agent.

On offense, Chiefs wide receivers ranked among the league’s least-productive units last season, ranking last in receptions, receiving yards and first downs.

San Diego Chargers: cornerback, defensive line, outside linebacker
The Chargers' defense allowed 9.1 yards per attempt to wide receivers last season, highest in the league. Richard Marshall was one of two cornerbacks to play at least 600 snaps for the Chargers last season and is a free agent.

The Chargers put opposing quarterbacks under pressure on 19 percent of dropbacks with a four-man pass rush last season, the second lowest rate in the league. Opposing quarterbacks averaged 7.9 yards per attempt against San Diego’s standard pass rush, fifth worst in the league.

Oakland Raiders: defensive line, cornerback, offensive line
The Raiders had a league-low 12 sacks with four or fewer pass rushers last season, 21 behind the league-leading Panthers. Fifteen teams had at least twice as many sacks with a standard pass rush as Oakland did.

The Raiders also allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete a league-worst 69.1 percent of passes targeting wide receivers last season.

On offense, Raiders quarterbacks were under duress on 32 percent of dropbacks last season, the fourth-highest rate in the league. Tackles Jared Veldheer and Tony Pashos are free agents. Veldheer is the team leader in snaps played over the past four seasons (3,184), but missed the first 11 games of 2013 with a triceps injury.

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