We’re identifying AFC Team Needs for the 2021 NFL Draft, analyzing each football team’s best fits and position targets. Read our full 2021 NFL Draft Guide for our 3-round mock draft, sleepers, scouting reports, betting tips and more analysis.
Also, check out our 2021 NFL Free-Agency Tracker to see which teams signed which free agents.
Click to see our 2021 NFL Draft NFC Team Needs: Best Fits & Position Targets.
2021 NFL Draft AFC Team Needs
- 2021 NFL Draft AFC Team Needs: WR, OL, LB
- 2021 NFL Draft Round 1 Pick: 30th
There simply aren’t too many holes on the defending division champions, but another young receiver certainly wouldn’t be a bad idea. Emmanuel Sanders is a perfectly adequate veteran stopgap measure that helps fill the void created by John Brown’s departure, but a young stud that can be groomed alongside Stefon Diggs as a legitimate No. 2 would be a potentially shrewd investment.
At least one above-average run blocker and run-stuffing linebacker may be prudent to nab as well, considering Buffalo’s O-line created a modest 4.4 adjusted line yards per carry and the defense gave up 4.5 RB yards per carry last season.
- 2021 NFL Draft AFC Team Needs: WR, OL, S
- 2021 NFL Draft Round 1 Picks: 6th & 18th
The signing of Will Fuller certainly helps address a receiving corps without a top-shelf No. 1 option, but the former Texan is both injury-prone and signed for only one season. With a strong wideout class on tap, it’s an opportunity too good to pass up for a team that wants to give Tua Tagovailoa every chance to take a big step in Year 2.
Continuing to add run blockers to an offensive line that produced just 4.2 adjusted line yards and 3.95 RB yards per carry last season is also a must, as is bringing the back end of the secondary up to par with the excellent play of its corners via some young reinforcements at safety.
- 2021 NFL Draft AFC Team Needs: DL, WR, QB
- 2021 NFL Draft Round 1 Pick: 15th
When your defense allows 5.0 adjusted line yards and 4.7 RB yards per carry, your squad might need some serious upgrading in the front seven. Such is the case for the Patriots, which will look to continue fortifying the first line of attack against the run and also upgrading its pass rush after tallying just 24 sacks last season.
New England already got to work upgrading the receiving corps in free agency with Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne, but those feel largely like veteran patch-up jobs that can serve as solid complementary pieces.
It also wouldn’t surprise in the least to see Bill Belichick and company take a flyer on a quarterback at some point this year despite the fourth-round investment in Jarrett Stidham two Aprils ago.
- 2021 NFL Draft AFC Team Needs: QB, TE, CB
- 2021 NFL Draft Round 1 Picks: 2nd & 23rd
With Monday’s trade of quarterback Sam Darnold to the Carolina Panthers, New York is all but locked in to drafting a QB.
Whether New York opts to jump on Zach Wilson or Justin Fields with the No. 2 overall pick remains to be seen, but it seems a virtual lock they’ll be nabbing a signal-caller on Day 1 this year.
A stud tight end is certainly a great way to help out a rookie quarterback, and while top positional prospect Kyle Pitts might be just a tad ambitious a choice at No. 2 overall (albeit not by much), there should certainly be opportunities for New York to upgrade a position that’s currently helmed by the underachieving Chris Herndon.
- 2021 NFL Draft AFC Team Needs: WR, S
- 2021 NFL Draft Round 1 Pick: 27th
Sammy Watkins is a nice complementary addition to the receiving corps, but his injury history and increasing short-area role the last few seasons still leaves Baltimore wanting for a more dynamic presence to pair with the still-developing Marquise Brown.
The Ravens are essentially solid-to-excellent everywhere else one looks on the roster, but nabbing a young safety could be a prudent strategy.
- 2021 NFL Draft AFC Team Needs: DL, LB, TE
- 2021 NFL Draft Round 1 Pick: 5th
The Bengals allowed 4.8 adjusted line yards and 5.3 RB yards per carry a year ago, so defensive line remains a top priority even with the free-agent signings of Larry Ogunjobi and Trey Hendrickson.
Upgrading the linebacker corps might be of even more urgency at this point given those same numbers, especially with Cincy ranking 30th and 31st in second-level and open-field yards per carry allowed, respectively, in 2020.
On the other side of the ball, tight end is in equally desperate need of replenishment, and with the fifth overall pick, Pitts could very well be in Cincinnati’s crosshairs.
- 2021 NFL Draft AFC Team Needs: LB, WR
- 2021 NFL Draft Round 1 Pick: 26th
Tight ends lit up the Browns last season for a collective 90-907-10 line, so a solid coverage linebacker would seemingly be one of the team’s top priorities in this year’s draft. Cleveland also allowed an elevated 4.61 adjusted line yards per carry (No. 23 rank), further suggesting the front seven could use some reinforcements.
Then, while receiver may appear a bit counter-intuitive on the surface, Odell Beckham is getting up in years and carries a fairly extensive injury history at this point, while the wideouts behind him are solid secondary options that would be miscast as No. 1 options if Beckham misses time again in the coming season.
- 2021 NFL Draft AFC Team Needs: OL, RB, CB
- 2021 NFL Draft Round 1 Pick: 24th
Maurkice Pouncey’s retirement naturally leaves a significant vacuum right up the middle of Pittsburgh’s offensive line, while returning journeyman B.J. Finney is no more than a stopgap measure. There are some solid prospects at the position in this year’s class – Alabama’s Landon Dickerson and Oklahoma’s Creed Humphrey among them – and given Ben Roethlisberger’s increasing susceptibility to holding the ball and taking sacks, this could be high priority for the Steelers.
Pittsburgh also appears to be in a transition period at RB after allowing James Conner to walk, so a significant investment at the position isn’t out of the question.
Cornerback is a third area where Mike Tomlin and company may look, as Joe Haden is getting long in the tooth and the other side is currently set to be manned by the unproven Cameron Sutton.
- 2021 NFL Draft AFC Team Needs: DL, OL, LB
- 2021 NFL Draft Round 1 Pick: None
The Texans’ run defense was essentially the laughingstock of the league last season, with Houston allowing an NFL-high 160.2 rushing yards per game and 5.6 RB yards per carry. F
ree agency hasn’t really brought any immediate remedies, although the signing of LB Christian Kirksey, who revitalized his career in Green Bay last season, is a nice start. Houston needs help on a large scale in the front seven, however, so multiple investments at defensive line and linebacker wouldn’t be surprising.
The same holds true on the offensive line, where the Texans allowed a league-high 50 sacks and could be operating with a less mobile quarterback than Deshaun Watson in 2021.
- 2021 NFL Draft AFC Team Needs: WR, TE
- 2021 NFL Draft Round 1 Pick: 21st
The Colts retained T.Y. Hilton and invested a second-round pick in Michael Pittman last April, but more help is needed, especially with a quarterback seemingly at a career crossroads in Carson Wentz now under center.
Hilton had his moments in his one year with Philip Rivers, but he’s now 31, and it would be hard to argue that his most explosive seasons aren’t behind him. A true stud No. 1 option in the mold of a Jaylen Waddle, DeVonta Smith or Ja’Marr Chase could do wonders for a team looking to take things to the next level in a tough conference, and which already seems to have its ground attack in order with second-year sensation Jonathan Taylor.
To a lesser extent, tight end could also become a priority, with Jack Doyle also getting up there in years and Mo-Alie Cox promising but not completely a proven commodity entering his fourth season.
- 2021 NFL Draft AFC Team Needs: QB, DL, TE
- 2021 NFL Draft Round 1 Picks: 1st, 25th
The Jags’ gaping hole at QB will be addressed in spectacular fashion with the selection of Trevor Lawrence at the top of the draft, a pick that should set up the franchise at the most important position for many years to come if the Clemson star is as good as advertised.
The defensive line is undoubtedly priority 1-A after Jacksonville garnered an anemic 18 sacks and allowed 4.8 RB yards per carry a year ago.
The free-agent signing of Chris Manhertz doesn’t erase the Jaguars’ needs at tight end by any means, as the former Panther has only 12 career receptions and only has fellow journeyman James O’Shaughnessy behind him.
- 2021 NFL Draft AFC Team Needs: DL, LB, CB
- 2021 NFL Draft Round 1 Pick: 22nd
Tennessee compiled the third-fewest sacks (19) a season ago while allowing 4.6 RB yards per carry, so there’s improvements to be made along the front seven. The signing of former Steeler Bud Dupree is a potentially excellent start in this regard, but he is coming off a torn ACL suffered in December, making his timeline for a true return to full health an open question. T
he team also partly addressed the cornerback position with the inking of Janoris Jenkins, who still got his hands on plenty of passes in New Orleans last season but will turn 33 in late October. A team that gave up the fifth-most passing yards per game (270.8) a year ago can likely benefit from filling out the depth chart with one or two more quality young cover men in the draft.
- 2021 NFL Draft AFC Team Needs: DL/LB, CB, RB
- 2021 NFL Draft Round 1 Pick: 9th
Unless the Broncos are ready to invest another high-ish pick on a quarterback already just two seasons into the Drew Lock experiment, they’re likely to prioritize the defensive side of the ball in this year’s draft. Denver allowed 130.0 rushing yards per game and 4.6 yards per carry a season ago, so a run-stopper could be high on their list. The return of Von Miller after missing all of last season with an ankle injury could certainly help if he’s back to full strength, but that’s largely an unknown at this point.
Running back could also get attention at some point over the first two days as well. Melvin Gordon and Royce Freeman are on expiring contracts, and Phillip Lindsay was allowed to walk this offseason.
- 2021 NFL Draft AFC Team Needs: LB, WR
- 2021 NFL Draft Round 1 Pick: 31st
The back-to-back AFC champs & winners of Super Bowl 54 will be on a mission to erase their ugly Super Bowl loss to the Buccaneers in February. KC unsurprisingly doesn’t have many glaring holes to address. Nevertheless, infusing some fresh bodies into the front seven isn’t a bad idea after the Chiefs allowed 4.6 adjusted line yards per carry last season and also ranked in the bottom half of the league in open-field yards per carry surrendered.
On the other side, adding more firepower to the air attack is always a priority for Andy Reid, and KC could actually use another solid option behind Tyreek Hill. Mecole Hardman can possibly develop into a solid No. 2 wideout, but the likes of Demarcus Robinson and Byron Pringle don’t offer much stability or consistency at the No. 3 and No. 4 slots.
- 2021 NFL Draft AFC Team Needs: DL, LB, WR
- 2021 NFL Draft Round 1 Pick: 17th
The signing of Yannick Ngakoue goes a long way toward addressing some of the Raiders’ needs at the front of the defense, but a team that allowed 4.8 RB yards per carry and mustered just 21 sacks last season can use multiple new bodies along its front four.
As such, a reasonably high draft investment in a strong pass rusher wouldn’t surprise, and the same goes for linebacker, where deficiencies also played a part in Las Vegas ranking No. 23 in rushing yards per game allowed in 2020.
Receiver was partly addressed with the signings of John Brown and Willie Snead. However, the former is essentially a 1-for-1 swap with the departed Nelson Agholor. Moreover, both Brown and Snead are slight in stature, leaving the wideout corps still devoid of a big body that can consistently make contested catches in the short-to-intermediate passing windows.
- 2021 NFL Draft AFC Team Needs: WR, RB
- 2021 NFL Draft Round 1 Pick: 13th
The Chargers have to be excited by what they have in 2020 first-round pick Justin Herbert under center, so outfitting him with as many talented pass-catching weapons figures to be a top priority this April. Tight end was a need going into free agency after the departure of Hunter Henry, but the signing of veteran Jared Cook and the development of Donald Parham last season reduces the draft-day urgency there by a good amount.
However, receiver is a different story, even with the presence of a still-productive Keenan Allen at the top of the depth chart. Mike Williams is an elite physical talent that nevertheless has trouble staying on the field, and while Jaylen Guyton and Tyron Johnson showed flashes last season, plucking one of this year’s strong wideouts wouldn’t be the worse idea by any stretch.
The Bolts could also help Herbert out by adding another strong running back to their stable, as Austin Ekeler works best when sharing a solid amount of volume with another capable option that can allow him to stay fresh.
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