We’re going rogue in the SIS Football Research department, and we’re going to do something that our fearless leader Matt Manocherian would almost certainly not approve of: we’re going to analyze the NFL Draft from the perspective of team needs.
While we acknowledge that every team is always an injury away from having a brand new need, there must be some teams for whom need-based drafting would make more sense than others. Here’s our attempt at sorting that out:
Separating “Wants” from “Needs”
To evaluate each team’s roster, we used the Sonar Depth Chart that we publish on the SIS draft site and the 33rd Team site. For this visualization, each starter on the depth chart is evaluated relative to the rest of the league using their Total Points per game in their most recent season’s worth of games.
Using Sonar, we thought of teams as having “wants”—starters that are below the 50th percentile—and “needs”—positions that are below the 25th percentile. We then determined the extent of a team’s wants and needs by how far off each position was from no longer being a want.
To identify teams with the most specific needs, for each team we compared the total extent of their needs to the total extent of their wants, simply by subtracting them.
For example, a team that’s middle-of-the-road across the board with the exception of three players who are in the 20th percentile would have the highest possible rating, because all of their sub-par positions are positions of need. A team that’s full of 33rd percentile players would probably be rated as worse overall, but they wouldn’t have any specific needs.
So, here is every team in the league ordered by this metric, with links to the team pages on the SIS draft site. A handful of teams are spelled out in more detail, but you can evaluate all of the rosters yourself by following each link.
And for reference, here is the color scale used to illustrate the quality of each starter:
Just look at this depth chart and you know we’ve nailed the goal of identifying teams with specific needs. For a team coming off an excellent season they aren’t as well-positioned to take “luxury picks” as you might think, especially after losing multiple defensive starters to free agency. They have multiple first rounders, so they could have an opportunity to go for both a position of need and a best-player-available selection.
The Chargers might need to look at a cornerback early on after struggling to solidify the opposite side of Asante Samuel Jr. with a struggling and injured J.C. Jackson. Adding a defensive tackle would fill one of their biggest needs too. Filling these major needs can make this one of the most complete rosters in the NFL.
The Raiders have many more holes than the teams ahead of them on this list, but they are almost all strong needs. Their struggles primarily fall on the defensive side of the ball, with a back seven that Sonar makes look like the cast of the next Avatar movie. They finished the season 2nd to last in Pass Defense Total Points and allowed the highest EPA/play on passes. In addition to the backend, their linebacking corps can use improvement after losing Denzel Perryman to the Texans. Sitting at pick No. 7, they are in a good spot to address one of these defensive holes.
The Titans have major needs on the offensive side of the ball. After presumably losing Taylor Lewan to free agency, the Titans need to address their offensive line that already was in the bottom third in production a season ago in terms of Total Points. On top of that, another receiver would be welcomed after finishing in the bottom tier of Receiving Total Points. If the Titans end up taking a QB in the first round, it might be an unenviable position to be in for the young signal-caller.
It might not look it based on the Sonar visual, but the Jaguars actually rated as the team with the smallest total value of their wants. There are opportunities for improvement on the offensive line and in the back seven defensively, but they’ve established solid starters on both sides of the ball. They won’t have as good of an opportunity to improve through the draft as they have in recent seasons because they were actually pretty good in 2022, but that’s a problem they’d accept.
And here we have the neediest team, but one with enough wants to go with them that they don’t top this list. The Cardinals could use the most help in their front seven after a couple of key departures, and their depth at receiver could look a lot better if Marquise Brown and Rondale Moore take steps forward in 2023 (or a lot worse if DeAndre Hopkins departs). Kyler Murray has his faults, but he’s not going to be replaced with the No. 3 pick in this year’s draft, so they have a great opportunity to start filling in these gaps.
The Bills roster is balanced and strong. Wide receiver and linebacker are their biggest needs, but they could also stand to bolster the offensive tackle position as well. Sitting at pick No. 27, they certainly won’t have a first choice of who they want, so it would be wise to take the best player available.
How things have changed in the span of two years! The Rams look like a bare cupboard after several post-Super-Bowl departures, and one of the better positions listed on their Sonar is headed up by tight end Tyler Higbee, whose usage and hands performance in 2022 suggest he’ll be more valuable as a blocker than receiver going forward. They have the most wants in the league, but, because there are so many of them, their targets shouldn’t be as defined as the teams above them.
The Panthers are a great example of what we’re trying to do here. They have zero needs by this measure, but have several wants (primarily on the offensive side of the ball). Establishing a franchise QB with the first pick in the draft will help, but there is definitely some work to be done across the skill positions with DJ Moore out of the picture. The Miles Sanders signing isn’t viewed too positively through the Total Points lens, but there’s no doubt they’re in a better spot at running back than they were without him.