3 AFC contenders with a major problem area on their roster

Maddie Meyer / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Here, we examine three contenders from each conference and identify a major weakness that could derail their playoff hopes in 2018 unless it's fixed through the upcoming draft.


New England Patriots - Left tackle

Nate Solder has been protecting Tom Brady's blindside since 2012, and he was rewarded for his solid play in free agency by the New York Giants, who made him the league's highest-paid left tackle.

The Patriots were never going to match New York's huge offer, but Bill Belichick will still have to find a way to give a soon-to-be 41-year-old Brady the pass-protection he needs.

While Solder was never a top-tier option, he's still far superior and experienced compared to New England's current options. Free-agent signing and former swing tackle Matt Tobin, right tackle Marcus Cannon, and 2017 third-rounder Tony Garcia will all be considered options, but each carries performance- or injury-related concerns.

The Patriots could use one of their two first-round selections to ensure Brady's window stays open for as long as physically possible.

Pittsburgh Steelers - Inside linebacker

The Steelers own one of the conference's most well-rounded rosters, but with Ryan Shazier already ruled out for the 2018 season after suffering a spinal contusion last year, Pittsburgh is in desperate need of more playmakers in the middle of its defense.

The Steelers' scheme relies on having athletic inside linebackers who can play sideline to sideline, and current veteran starters Vince Williams and Jon Bostic aren't capable of coverage play close to Shazier's level.

Williams struggles to consistently hold up in run support, while Bostic is a journeyman who had the best year of his career in 2017 as part of maybe the league's worst inside linebacking corps in Indianapolis.

It was clear Pittsburgh was a far weaker team after Shazier went down - especially against the Jacksonville Jaguars, who dropped 45 points on Pittsburgh in the playoffs - and despite investing heavily in the linebacker position in recent years, the Steelers shouldn't hold back from filling one of the few holes on the roster.

Kansas City Chiefs - Defensive line

The Chiefs' defense was, quite simply, awful in 2017 despite playing with one of the highest-scoring offenses in the league. Kansas City couldn't stop anyone, in any way, finishing the season 25th in run defense and 29th against the pass.

The problems for the Chiefs' defense starts up front. Chris Jones is a budding star, but the defensive end appears to be a one-man band at this point. Run-stuffer Bennie Logan left for the Tennessee Titans in free agency, and the likes of Xavier Williams, Allen Bailey, and Rakeem Nunez-Roches fit better as depth players.

Kansas City needs to find a player similar to Jones, who excels against both the run and the pass and rarely needs to come off the field. Adding some more athletically gifted younger players is a must, too, as the Chiefs can't allow first-time starter Patrick Mahomes to play from behind too often.

Luckily, this year's draft boasts a strong defensive linemen class, and the Chiefs should start the retooling of their defense with at least two big bodies in the first three or four rounds.

(Photo courtesy: Action Images)

3 AFC contenders with a major problem area on their roster
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