NFL draft 2021 – Biggest offseason questions, team needs, rookie battles for all 32 teams

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So long, 2021 NFL draft. Hello, offseason. With all seven rounds in the books, front offices for all 32 teams are surely confident that they improved their rosters over the weekend. That’s not always the case, though. Which rookie quarterbacks will actually play in Week 1, and which organizations found the best value on Days 2 and 3 of the draft? We’ll find out in a few months when teams report for training camp.

For now, we’re looking ahead to what’s next for each team. What positions do all 32 still need to address, and what’s still lingering ahead of the 2021 season? We asked our NFL Nation reporters to identify the biggest looming question for the team they cover. There were a few that hit on the quarterback situation — what’s going on in Green Bay? — while others were tailored toward taking a franchise from good to great next season.

Check out what ESPN draft analysts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay thought of each draft class, scan the full classes for every team and check out the big-picture takeaways coming out of Saturday night.

Jump to a team:
ARI | ATL | BAL | BUF | CAR | CHI | CIN
CLE | DAL | DEN | DET | GB | HOU | IND
JAX | KC | LV | LAC | LAR | MIA | MIN
NE | NO | NYG | NYJ | PHI | PIT | SF
SEA | TB | TEN | WSH

AFC EAST

Will Gregory Rousseau and Carlos Basham Jr. help revitalize the Bills’ pass rush?

Buffalo surprisingly took defensive ends in the first and second rounds after failing to pressure Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes in the AFC Championship Game last season. With Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison not going anywhere in 2021, the Bills will need the two rookies to develop quickly alongside 2020 second-round pick A.J. Epenesa if they want to remain among the AFC’s elite teams. With three premium picks invested in pass-rushers over the past two years, Buffalo needs to see results sooner rather than later. — Marcel Louis-Jacques


Will Myles Gaskin be the lead running back again?

The hope was the Dolphins would draft one of the three top-tier running backs (Najee Harris, Travis Etienne, Javonte Williams), but all three went off the board before the team’s No. 36 pick, and the only backfield addition was seventh-round pick Gerrid Doaks. Gaskin surprisingly took over the Dolphins’ lead role last year with moderate success, but there is room for an upgrade. Gaskin struggled to stay healthy for the full season. Dolphins general manager Chris Grier and coach Brian Flores praised Gaskin while noting the addition of veteran free agent Malcolm Brown and return of second-year back Salvon Ahmed to form a solid group. Keep your eye peeled for a post-draft signing or trade, but as of now, the Dolphins seem comfortable running it back and trusting co-offensive coordinator Eric Studesville to maximize this unheralded group once again. — Cameron Wolfe


Did the Patriots do enough at wide receiver?

They could use some more speed at the position, with their only move in the draft coming with their final pick, No. 242 overall: Central Florida’s Tre Nixon. This was considered one of the deepest receiver classes, and for now, the team’s depth chart is topped by Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne, Jakobi Meyers and N’Keal Harry. — Mike Reiss


Is new quarterback Zach Wilson set up for success?

After failing to do this for Sam Darnold, the Jets made a concerted effort to rebuild their supporting cast on offense. It started in free agency with the addition of wide receivers Corey Davis and Keelan Cole. In the draft, they added a Day 1 starter in left guard Alijah Vera-Tucker and two potential playmakers, wide receiver Elijah Moore and running back Michael Carter. They’re also installing a quarterback-friendly system — the Kyle Shanahan version of the West Coast offense. Wilson ran some of the concepts at BYU, which should help the transition. — Rich Cimini

AFC NORTH

What’s the plan to replace right tackle Orlando Brown Jr.?

Baltimore didn’t draft an offensive tackle to replace him. Asked about the hole at right tackle, GM Eric DeCosta repeated an Ozzie Newsome mantra, “We don’t have to play games until September.” All signs point to the Ravens signing a free agent after the draft, when it won’t negate one of the team’s two fourth-round compensatory picks for the 2022 draft. Former Steelers offensive lineman Alejandro Villanueva would represent a perfect fit for Baltimore. — Jamison Hensley


Have the Bengals done enough to protect Joe Burrow?

Cincinnati signed tackle Riley Reiff in free agency and opted to draft wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase in the first round instead of offensive tackle Penei Sewell. Second-round pick Jackson Carman will immediately compete for a starting guard spot. Cincinnati is banking on its current moves, an improved passing attack and new assistant coach Frank Pollack to be enough to boost the team’s pass protection. — Ben Baby

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Take a look at the highlights from LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase as he gets ready to be one of the top receivers off the board in the NFL draft.


Can the Browns handle high expectations?

Positionally, there’s still a need at defensive tackle, though the Browns remain optimistic of their chances of bringing back Sheldon Richardson after recently releasing him to clear cap room. In reality, the biggest question after another banner offseason will be how Cleveland handles the massive expectations that figure to envelop the franchise heading into next season. The Browns wilted against the hype two years ago. They have another chance to show they’ve matured since then. — Jake Trotter


How will the Steelers replenish the cornerback position?

Pittsburgh rightly addressed offense early in the draft but didn’t take a defensive back until the seventh round despite losing starters Steven Nelson (released) and Mike Hilton (signed with the Bengals in free agency). Third-year corner Justin Layne could get an extended look in nickel, but the Steelers should be combing the second wave of free agency for viable depth options. Perhaps they circle back with Nelson on a reduced deal. — Jeremy Fowler

AFC SOUTH

Have the Texans done enough to improve at cornerback?

Corner was one of the weakest and thinnest positions for Houston in 2020, but it wasn’t one general manager Nick Caserio addressed in the draft. The Texans did add Desmond King and Terrance Mitchell in free agency, but will that be enough to see improvement at the position? — Sarah Barshop


Who will protect quarterback Carson Wentz‘s blindside next season?

The Colts went into the draft with questions at left tackle following Anthony Castonzo’s retirement, and they left the draft still with questions at that position after they did not select a left tackle with any of their seven picks. “How many true left tackles were in the draft? Some of these guys, maybe they end up playing left tackle,” general manager Chris Ballard said. “… If you’re going to draft a guy that high and you’re drafting him to play left tackle, you’d like to know that he’s going to be able to do it for his whole career.” Based off owner Jim Irsay’s comments, it appears Sam Tevi, who spent his first four seasons with the Chargers, will get the first crack at starting at left tackle. — Mike Wells


What are the Jaguars going to do at tight end?

The Jaguars have plenty of blocking options — Chris Manhertz and fifth-round pick Luke Farrell — but didn’t add a pass-catcher in the draft. Urban Meyer said the value wasn’t really there. Even if they do sign former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow, he has never played the position and last played in the NFL in 2012. Making a trade is an option, and Zach Ertz, David Njoku, Evan Engram and Hayden Hurst are possible targets. — Michael DiRocco


Who will be the primary slot receiver?

The Titans had multiple opportunities to add a slot receiver who could work the underneath routes and be a third-down specialist. Coach Mike Vrabel said he believes they have players who can be worked into the slot, but at this point there isn’t a proven slot receiver on the roster. — Turron Davenport

AFC WEST

Will the Drew Lock/Teddy Bridgewater quarterback competition be enough to take advantage of all of the other moves the team has made?

Barring a franchise-shaking, history-making acquisition of Aaron Rodgers, the Broncos have invested heavily in improving their defense, selected walk-in contributors in the draft such as Patrick Surtain II and Javonte Williams and improved up and down the roster. General manager George Paton made it clear Saturday night after the draft that the Lock/Bridgewater combination is “what we wanted all along.” With the quarterbacks who were actually available in free agency, the trade for Bridgewater did make the most sense, but for many among the team’s faithful, the decision to pass on Justin Fields at No. 9 is the one that will stand out. — Jeff Legwold


Who plays where on the offensive line?

The Chiefs attacked their biggest weakness, trading for one offensive lineman, signing three more and drafting two others. Settling on a lineup is the next priority. Two positions seem set: left tackle with Orlando Brown Jr. and left guard with Joe Thuney. But position battles loom at the other three spots. — Adam Teicher


When can they assemble and see what they have?

The Raiders addressed real needs throughout the draft, specifically at right tackle and free safety. So I asked GM Mike Mayock the biggest question facing him after the draft, and he lamented the uncertainty with the offseason training program amid the pandemic. “We all want to get all the rookies in the building,” Mayock said. “We’re allowed 20 people at rookie minicamp. I mean, it’s still frustrating. We still can’t meet in person. You know, we can have hundreds of thousands of fans in Cleveland [for the draft] but, for some reason, we can’t meet in person in these buildings. … Let’s get on the field. Let’s see what these kids can bring to the table for us.” — Paul Gutierrez


Do the Chargers have a good enough kicker?

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The Chargers filled their biggest needs at the top of the draft but didn’t address the kicking game. They re-signed Michael Badgley and added Tristan Vizcaino, who has spent time with five NFL teams. Badgley converted 24 of 33 field goal attempts last season, but all misses came from beyond 40 yards. Unless Badgley can locate his old form or Vizcaino suddenly surges ahead, the kicking game could again be an issue. — Shelley Smith

NFC EAST

What will they do at free safety?

The Cowboys added Keanu Neal, Jayron Kearse and Damontae Kazee in free agency, but Neal could play some linebacker and Kazee is coming off an Achilles tear. The Cowboys did not add a safety in the draft, although that was a position they looked at strongly. Had Kelvin Joseph been off the board in the second round, TCU’s Trevon Moehrig would have been an option, although the Las Vegas Raiders moved a spot ahead of Dallas to grab him. Donovan Wilson started 10 games a year ago and made a number of plays, but he is not a center field type. Of the safeties, Kazee is perhaps the best free safety option, so his health is crucial. — Todd Archer

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Matt Miller questions why the Cowboys focused strictly on the defense in the first three rounds of the NFL draft.


What about the offensive line?

The Giants didn’t draft an offensive lineman with any of their six picks. They now head into the season with some legitimate questions about each of the five spots. But as GM Dave Gettleman noted, the Giants “have a little more confidence in our offensive linemen than you guys [media] do.” New York is counting heavily on last year’s draft class, including tackles Andrew Thomas and Matt Peart and guard Shane Lemieux, making significant strides. If not, quarterback Daniel Jones could be in trouble. — Jordan Raanan


Who will play cornerback opposite Darius Slay?

Corner was the clearest need entering free agency and the draft, and while the Eagles did select Texas Tech’s Zech McPhearson in the fourth round, the position still needs some attention. With a couple of quality free agents still on the market, look for Philadelphia to sign another corner before the start of the season. — Tim McManus


What about free safety?

Washington addressed a lot of needs — at linebacker, left tackle and even finding more speed at receiver. It still needs a QB of the future, but that person wasn’t going to play this year anyway if all goes well with free-agent addition Ryan Fitzpatrick. But Washington still has to find a free safety to pair with Kam Curl at strong safety (with Landon Collins expected to play more big nickel or a hybrid linebacker role). Washington does have options, notably Jeremy Reaves and Deshazor Everett, and it did draft corner Benjamin St-Juste, who might be able to play safety. The team also could sign veteran Tre Boston, who played for coach Ron Rivera in Carolina. — John Keim

NFC NORTH

When will rookie Justin Fields become the starter?

The Bears prefer to play it safe and begin the season with Andy Dalton at quarterback, but the pressure to start Fields will be palpable. The last thing the Bears want is a repeat of what happened with Mitchell Trubisky in 2017, when veteran Mike Glennon struggled so mightily in four games that Chicago had no choice but to turn to Trubisky before he was ready. That being said, the city of Chicago is in a fever pitch over Fields, who many believe could be the franchise’s first true franchise quarterback in 70-plus years. The majority of the fan base never felt that way about Trubisky. — Jeff Dickerson


Who will emerge as Jared Goff‘s primary target in his first season in Detroit?

All signs point to T.J. Hockenson, and he’s currently prepping to be that guy entering Year 3. However, the Lions didn’t make it their No. 1 priority to draft a wide receiver early, unlike years past, although it’s a spot they need to address after key losses in Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones Jr. and Jamal Agnew. The Lions did draft USC WR Amon-Ra St. Brown in the fourth round, but it’s still unclear on how the current receiving corps will perform with Quintez Cephus, a 2020 fifth-round pick, returning as the only receiver who had a catch for the team last season. — Eric Woodyard


Who will be Green Bay’s quarterback?

A question that not long ago would have seemed unfathomable is No. 1 on the minds of Packers fans now that Aaron Rodgers‘ displeasure with the team has become public. The Packers didn’t draft a quarterback after they let last year’s No. 2, Tim Boyle, leave in free agency for the Lions. So the only quarterback on the roster who’s not unhappy with the team is Jordan Love. This was supposed to be Love’s year to be the No. 2 after spending his entire rookie season as the inactive third QB. If Rodgers is done here, they have to find out quickly whether Love can start or if they’ll need a stopgap starter. — Rob Demovsky


Who will start at defensive end opposite Danielle Hunter?

The Vikings made a handful of moves to address their pass rush and came away with two midround defensive ends in Pitt’s Patrick Jones II and Florida state’s Janarius Robinson. Both have traits Minnesota desires at the position, but how ready is either to compete for a starting job? Jones’ collegiate production (17.5 sacks from 2019 to ’20, tied for second in the FBS in that span) is more than the Vikings are typically used to seeing from the edge rushers they bring in via the draft. That should give Minnesota hope that he’ll either beat out Stephen Weatherly or D.J. Wonnum for the job or carve out a sizeable role in a rotation that will allow the Vikings to get after the quarterback in ways they couldn’t last season. — Courtney Cronin

NFC SOUTH

What about running back and the pass rush?

The Falcons addressed a lot of needs in the draft — particularly offensive line and secondary — but there are still needs at running back (someone to pair with Mike Davis), and it’s not quite clear where the pass rush could come from beyond Dante Fowler Jr. and maybe Steven Means. Atlanta did take two defensive linemen on Day 3 — Ta’Quon Graham and Adetokunbo Ogundeji, but both will need time to develop. General manager Terry Fontenot and coach Arthur Smith said the team will be involved in the undrafted free-agent market and potentially veteran free agency when it comes to seeking other running backs. — Michael Rothstein


Do the Panthers have a player who can give Sam Darnold the protection he needs to perform at a high level?

Carolina signed Cameron Erving in free agency to compete with Greg Little for the left tackle job, and drafted BYU’s Brady Christensen in the third round. Competition is great, but the Panthers need somebody to step forward and provide Darnold the help they had for years with Jordan Gross before he retired after the 2013 season. Since then, 14 players have started at LT for Carolina. — David Newton


Can the Saints find a No. 2 CB, a No. 2 WR — and a No. 1 QB?

Obviously the question that will dominate this offseason is whether the Saints can adequately replace Drew Brees with contenders Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill. But they also didn’t land a surefire No. 2 CB or No. 2 WR in the draft to replace the departed Janoris Jenkins and Emmanuel Sanders. So they might have to find a way to carve out some salary-cap space for one or two late additions in free agency. — Mike Triplett


Do the Bucs have enough youth along the defensive line?

Tampa Bay addressed just about every goal it had for the draft: a rotational pass-rusher, a developmental quarterback, a versatile backup offensive lineman who can line up in jumbo packages and speed on special teams. Defensive line is the one position that wasn’t strengthened. The Bucs acknowledged it was a weaker defensive line class this year. But Ndamukong Suh is 34, Steve McLendon is 35 and William Gholston will be 30 in July. They do have Jeremiah Ledbetter and Khalil Davis, but they’re unproven players at this point. — Jenna Laine

NFC WEST

Do the Cardinals have enough offensive weapons to make the playoffs?

Arizona drafted a wide receiver in the second round in Purdue’s Rondale Moore, but beyond A.J. Green, the Cardinals don’t have an effective big-bodied receiver on the team. They also didn’t draft a running back, which means they have enough faith that the James Conner and Chase Edmonds backfield can carry them to the postseason. If Arizona’s offense doesn’t have the type of season that’s expected and the Cardinals don’t make the playoffs, this year’s draft will be scrutinized immensely for passing on so many offensive options to draft five defensive players. — Josh Weinfuss


Who will snap the ball to quarterback Matthew Stafford?

The Rams lost center Austin Blythe to Kansas City in free agency, leaving Brian Allen, Coleman Shelton and Austin Corbett to fill the role. Rams coach Sean McVay expressed confidence any of these players can step in, but that remains to be seen. Allen was inconsistent as the starter in 2019 before he tore an ACL (Blythe took over as a result). Last year, Allen did not play and seemed to have some frustration with his knee. Shelton is an undrafted free agent from 2018 and has no NFL experience at center, and though Corbett has started at left and right guard the past two seasons, his NFL experience at center is limited to preseason action with the Cleveland Browns. — Lindsey Thiry


How will the quarterback situation shake out?

The plan, for now, seems to be for No. 3 pick Trey Lance to develop behind incumbent quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo until he is deemed ready to take over permanently. Coach Kyle Shanahan isn’t putting any sort of timeline on anything and said after taking Lance, “I want Jimmy to be here and I want this kid brought along. I want to see how he does, and if it turns into a competition, it turns into a competition.” Competition would probably be good for all involved, but it would still come as a surprise if Lance didn’t start at some point this season. After all, Carson Palmer in 2003 is the only quarterback taken in the top three during the common draft era not to start a single game his rookie season. — Nick Wagoner

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Kyle Shanahan discusses the timeline on when first-round QB Trey Lance might see the field.


Is the Russell Wilson drama gone for good?

Clearly, the Seahawks and their franchise quarterback are in a much better place than they were three months ago. Upgrading his pass protection with a trade for guard Gabe Jackson was among a number of moves that Wilson liked. Conversations with coach Pete Carroll also helped smooth things over. But the issues that led Wilson to publicly voice his displeasure in February weren’t going to be completely resolved by a few personnel additions. Wilson has long wanted more of the Seahawks’ offense to go through him. He and everyone else will have to wait to see if that’s the case under new coordinator Shane Waldron. — Brady Henderson

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