Your favorite team that's 0-2 can still make the playoffs. It's happened before in the NFL, and it'll happen again. But all the 0-2 clubs have exhibited some blatant weaknesses to begin their 2023 season. Naturally, as an NFL Draft analyst, I've pinpointed specific 2024 draft prospects who'd help alleviate those specific weaknesses in the future.
Before I begin, I can't emphasize enough how early it is regarding the draft and the stocks of prospects. Having written that, I've tried to provide prospects who, right now, are seemingly likely to be available in the range of when the listed teams could pick. Lot of guesswork here on both fronts. For example, Marvin Harrison Jr. would be a tremendous add for all of these clubs, of course. He's not going to be on the board much beyond the No. 5 overall pick, and could go earlier.
Biggest weakness through two games: Lack of true No. 1 wideout
Prospects who'd help: LSU's Malik Nabers, Florida State's Keon Coleman, Washington's Rome Odunze, Ohio State's Emeka Egbuka
You won't find many analysts/writers less impressed with Mac Jones through two seasons than I was, but that does not disqualify me from stating the third-year quarterback has been good through two games to start the 2023 campaign. Not MVP-caliber good. Just an ever-important step forward.
What has also been clear to me (and everyone who's watched even a quarter of Patriots football this year), New England needs a legitimate No. 1 receiver. I mean, it is 2023, seemingly every team has at least one stud pass catcher right? This is not meant to knock Kendrick Bourne, one of the most underrated receivers in football. But I don't believe he'll ever garner No. 1 receiver attention or generate that type of production. And I think because of the vast success of Wes Welker, Danny Amendola, and Julian Edelman along with an even longer list of pass-catching scatbacks coupled with the failure of N'Keal Harry, we all believe the only type of wideout that can thrive in the Patriots offense is one that plays like Welker, Amendola, Edelman or the likes of Kevin Faulk, James White, or Dion Lewis.
That doesn't have to be the case. Nabers would probably best fit the "classic" Patriots pass catcher mold, but Coleman and Odunze are sizable, physical perimeter wideouts and even Egbuka doesn't win with twitchiness and route-running brilliance on intricate underneath routes.
Biggest weakness through two games: Everything about the defense
Prospects who'd help: Miami DL Leonard Taylor, Michigan DL Kris Jenkins, Clemson LB Barrett Carter, Michigan LB Junior Colson
Sample size be damned -- how in the world are the Chargers last in Aaron Schatz's defensive DVOA through two weeks with Joey Bosa, Khalil Mack, Derwin James, and Asante Samuel Jr. on that unit? While that answer is for another story, another time, the fact is the Chargers have not fortified many other positions on the defense, mostly including the inside of the line.
Taylor has immense upside as a three-down disruptor, Jenkins already appears to be NFL strong when attacking blockers against the run, and Carter and Colson are two linebackers with the athletic fluidity and awareness to eventually thrive in coverage. And the Chargers desperately -- and I mean, DESPERATELY -- need more coverage stability at the linebacker position.
Biggest weakness through two games: Back seven portion of their defense
Prospects who'd help: Minnesota S Tyler Nubin, Penn State,CB Kalen King, Alabama CB Kool-Aid McKinstry, Ohio State CB Denzel Burke
It's the Patrick Surtain Show in Denver's secondary, and safety Kareem Jackson is stellar in a supporting role. Some problems with all that -- Jackson is 35 years old and the rest of the Broncos defensive backfield has left a lot to be desired in coverage through two games. Even former All-Pro Justin Simmons.
With plenty of investment on the front seven, Sean Payton and GM George Paton must prioritize the secondary next offseason. No doubt. Nubin is a ballhawk at free safety -- with 10 total interceptions since the start of the 2019 season -- and King is the next freaky athlete from the Nittany Lions program. McKinstry feels like the consensus top cornerback right now, and Burke has gotten off to a squeaky clean start for the Buckeyes in 2023. And we all know how many stud defensive backs that program has sent to the NFL.
Biggest weakness through two games: Blocking and pass rush
Prospects who'd help: Houston OT Patrick Paul, Duke OT Graham Barton, LSU DL Mekhi Wingo
Even when Joe Burrow is back to 100% from the calf strain he suffered during camp -- and apparently aggravated against the Ravens in Week 2 -- the philosophy cannot change for the Bengals. Protect Burrow at all costs. And for as good as Burrow was getting rid of the football down the stretch of the regular season and into the playoffs a season ago, he's not a high-caliber athlete at the position and did already suffer a torn knee ligament as a rookie.
Jonah Williams is unlikely to be on this team in 2024. He's fallen off considerably (and surprisingly given how consistently awesome he was at Alabama). Cordell Volson hasn't started 2023 like he finished 2022. That's where the likes of either the big and flexible Paul could come in at tackle, and Barton has guard/tackle flexibility with loads of ACC experience.
It hasn't been all on the offense. The pass rush has been lackluster. Trey Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard still bring it around the corner, and 2022 first-round pick Myles Murphy has the natural talent to eventually flourish, but it probably won't happen until next season. On the inside, D.J. Reader is set to hit free agency, and Cincinnati needs another game-wrecker inside. Wingo is that type at defensive tackle.
Biggest weakness through two games: Interior blocking and run defense
Prospects who'd help: Michigan OG Zak Zinter, Miami OG Javion Cohen, Texas A&M DL McKinnley Jackson, Texas DL T'Vondre Sweat
Houston's dealing with offensive line injuries, one of the worst things that can happen to damage the functionality of any offense at any level of football. I still don't believe in the Texans blocking contingent when those blockers are healthy. Oddly enough, C.J. Stroud's under-pressure statistics have been outstanding through two weeks -- his 104.7 rating while pressured currently ranks 10th in the NFL. Of course, Stroud pressured on more than 40% of his drop backs -- where his pressure rate is now -- is not the goal for Houston, and the experience/power combination of either Zinter or Cohen would be boons to what the Texans can do offensively in 2024 and beyond.
On defense, Houston is still mostly patchwork up front. Jackson and Sweat are two mammoth individuals with serious natural strength and refined block-shedding skills.
Biggest weakness through two games: Quarterback, lack of a true No. 1 WR, and downfield coverage
Prospects who'd help: USC QB Caleb Williams, Ohio State WR Marvin Harrison Jr., Auburn CB D.J. James
The Cardinals are in the coziest situation of all the 0-2 teams, a rebuilding club with the most luxurious collection of 2024 draft picks (ex: Houston's first-rounder) and a potentially franchise-altering quarterback-receiver duo waiting to be picked early in next year's draft.
It's not that Joshua Dobbs has been brutal. Far from. He's clearly not meant to be the long-term solution and quarterback, and even if Kyler Murray returns and plays well, with zero ties to the current regime, it seems more likely than not that he's on another team next season. Really, the Cardinals need plenty, but Williams and Harrison Jr. would be a tremendous lift for a club that's been mostly down since its NFC Championship appearance at the end of the 2015 season.
Biggest weakness through two games: Rushing offense and run defense (and turnovers)
Prospects who'd help: Illinois DL Jer'Zhan Newton, UNC LB Cedric Gray, Florida State RB Trey Benson, Wisconsin RB Braelon Allen
Much of what I wrote about Murray above with the Cardinals applies to the Vikings with Kirk Cousins. The quarterback play hasn't catalyzed the 0-2 start in Minnesota. I'm guessing Cousins would be happy to point to his 114.2 rating -- second-best in the NFL -- to prove that statement correct. But at the end of his contract at his age, he's probably gone after this year, right? Yeah. So, you can throw in any of the non Caleb Williams quarterback prospects in here, and I'll then focus on the rest of the roster.
The run defense is a problem. Has been for a while. Harrison Phillips plays his butt off every week, and Danielle Hunter has become one of the more underrated and consistently productive edge rushers in football. The defensive line as a whole is sub-standard. Newton has freakish upfield pass-rush skills and really gets after it as a run stopper. Gray might be the best pure run-halting off-ball linebacker in the country.
At tailback, Benson or Allen would be awesome additions to Kevin O'Connell's zone-blocking scheme based rushing attack that hasn't been anywhere as close to dynamic this season as it was during the Dalvin Cook era. Imagine that.
Biggest weakness through two games: Almost everything
Prospects who'd help: UCLA EDGE Laiatu Latu, Florida State EDGE Jared Verse, Penn State EDGE Chop Robinson, Iowa CB Cooper DeJean
Wooo boy, the Bears would love nothing more than to be able to hit the reset button on the start of the 2023 regular season. Essentially everything has gone wrong, and with a team that holds the Panthers first-round pick -- and more -- they're in a prime spot to continue to build in 2024.
For as much as the offense has sputtered, the edge-rushing group is in dire need of a true alpha disruptor. Latu has the size, length, power, and hand work to be that type of player as a professional. Much of the same can be said about Verse from Florida State, and Robinson from Penn State is an explosive rusher in his own right. I wouldn't hate to see more cornerback -- and playmaking -- depth in the secondary either. That's where DeJean would fit exquisitely.
Biggest weakness through two games: Stagnant pass game and pass blocking
Prospects who'd help: Western Kentucky WR Malachi Corley, Washington WR Jalen McMillan, Texas WR Xavier Worthy, Arizona OT Jordan Morgan, Washington OT Troy Fautanu
Offensively, the Panthers have been as woeful as it gets. No. 1 overall pick Bryce Young is tied for the lowest yards-per-attempt average (4.2) in football, he has the second-lowest passer rating, and as a team, they're averaging 210 yards per game.
Sure, starting a rookie quarterback -- even one as highly touted as Young -- typically comes with growing pains, agitations that in some cases, subside as the season progresses. But this team needs more than just Young to step his game up. The receiver group isn't dynamic, and the blocking has been average at its absolute best. Without a 2024 first-round pick, I've highlighted the second and third tier of receiver prospects (to date) and two offensive tackles who, right now, appear to be Day 2 options that have proven to be quality pass protectors in college.