Top needs for each NFC team in free agency and the 2020 NFL Draft

Using PFN’s Offensive Share Metric (OSM), in conjunction with NFL Next Gen Stats, we’ll take a look at each NFC team’s most pressing needs as they prepare for free agency and the 2020 NFL Draft.

With the 2019 NFL season over, each team now looks towards the future. What went well in 2019? What didn’t? Are there improvements that can be made in 2020? Using PFN’s Offensive Share Metric (OSM), in conjunction with NFL Next Gen Stats, we’ll take a look at the most pressing needs for each NFC team as they prepare for free agency and the 2020 NFL Draft.

For a true apples-to-apples comparison, we’ll only consider OSM as it relates to the regular season and exclude the minimum and maximum OSM scores in each category to avoid anomalies (e.g. Saquon Barkley’s -184 OSM in Week 10 against the New York Jets). The greatest need for each NFC team in free agency or the 2020 NFL Draft, as listed below, is determined by the largest variance to the average OSM (or OSM allowed) for that position.

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NFC East

Dallas Cowboys – Cornerback

The Cowboys need help in defending tight ends and wide receivers per OSM. The catch rate allowed was 77% on average for pass catchers targeted less than nine yards versus 55% if more than nine yards. For those targeted less than nine yards, they were given seven yards of cushion, allowing the receivers to gain an extra yard of separation, leading to the higher catch rate. While the cushion allowed can be an indicator of defensive scheme, both Byron Jones and Anthony Brown are free agents which gives the Cowboys an opportunity to address this need head-on.

New York Giants – Cornerback

The Cowboys aren’t the only NFC East team that needs to focus on the cornerback position in 2020. The Giants were least effective against wide receivers, fifth-worst in the league in OSM allowed. However, on average, the Giants gave up the highest OSM when receivers were targeted nine to fourteen yards downfield. Perhaps they’d consider targeting Byron Jones or Anthony Brown, who excelled in that range.

Philadelphia Eagles – Offensive lineman

When each offensive skill position falls below the average, it screams issues with the offensive line. That holds true with the Eagles. Across the board, the Eagles offense wasn’t horrible, but many NFL Next Gen Stats fell below the average – time to throw, completed air yards, running back efficiency (combined average), catch rate. Better protection upfront should help.

Washington Redskins – Defensive lineman

Most assume the Redskins’ greatest need is the offensive line. While that may end up true once free agency starts – especially with Brandon Scherff hitting the open-market – the Redskins struggled the most on defense in 2019, primarily against the run but also against quarterbacks and wide receivers. That is why they should focus on both defensive tackle and edge. They were fourth-worst in OSM allowed to opposing quarterbacks, fifth-worst against opposing running backs and second to last against opposing wide receivers. Whether or not the Redskins believe Chase Young is the best player on the board come draft day, he would certainly help bolster this defensive line.

NFC North

Chicago Bears – Offensive lineman

Again, we find a team falling below the average OSM in every offensive skill position which means issues along the offensive line. Look for the Bears to focus on guard first. Of all offensive skill positions, running backs struggled the most. David Montgomery’s worst stretch of the season was Week 11 to Week 16, where his average OSM was just 5.5. This was primarily due to his inability to run downhill – 25% less efficient than the average back – while rarely facing eight men in the box during that span.

Detroit Lions – Wide receiver

The Lions wide receivers weren’t horrible but they had the largest OSM variance to the average of all offensive skill positions. In addition to their below-par catch rate, they had the least amount of separation of any receiving corps despite receiving more cushion at the line of scrimmage than the average receiver in the league. This led to more than one yard after catch less than the average receiver and a negative variance to the expected catch rate. In other words, they weren’t breaking tackles.

Green Bay Packers – Wide receiver

Aaron Rodgers had the largest variance to the average OSM by position for the Packers. At 3.5 yards, Rodgers had the worst differential between intended air yards and completed air yards in the league. However, his receivers had as much to do with that as he did, if not more. Of Packers receivers not named Davonte Adams, there were eleven occasions where they were targeted more than five times for an average of seven yards or more downfield. Only once did one of their catch rates exceed 60% and not once did one of those receivers gain 100 yards in the game. There was simply no threat opposite Adams for Rodgers to rely on downfield.

Minnesota Vikings – Defensive end

The Vikings gave up the second-worst OSM to opposing quarterbacks. They also gave up the ninth-worst OSM to opposing running backs. While the whole defensive line could improve, it’s the pass rush that needs the most work. The Vikings gave up the sixth-best completion rate in 2019 which resulted in the fourth-highest variance to expected completion rate.

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