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NFL's thinnest position groups: A GIANT concern; Pats' soft spot

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The free agency frenzy and 2019 NFL Draft are deep in the rearview. By the end of next week, training camps will be open across the league. So now is a perfect time to assess areas of roster depth ... and the lack thereof. After identifying the NFL's deepest position groups last week, Chris Wesseling will explore the opposite extreme today. Here are the league's thinnest position groups heading into the 2019 season:

1) New York Giants defense

Buoyed by the return to health of defensive end Olivier Vernon and safety Landon Collins, the otherwise-porous Giants defense showed signs of life in December. Now that Vernon has been shipped to Cleveland and Collins escaped the franchise tag to land a windfall with the Redskins, however, Pat Shurmur's defense is recovering from full-blown deconstruction mode. Embattled GM Dave Gettleman has begun the reconstruction effort with promising safety Jabrill Peppers to go with a draft class that includes nose tackle Dexter Lawrence, pass rusher Oshane Ximines and the cornerback tandem of Deandre Baker and Julian Love. Therein lies the pain in tearing down what took so long to build up. As prospects such as Peppers, Ximines and Lawrence gain valuable experience, they might eventually measure up to the standards set by Collins, Vernon and former Giants run-stuffer supreme Damon "Snacks" Harrison.

2) Cincinnati Bengals offensive line

Two years ago, the Bengals opted to sink or swim with 2015 draft busts Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher as their bookend tackles. The blocking unit sunk like a stone, sabotaging Andy Dalton's offense in a lost season. Having learned the hard way, they kicked off the 2018 offseason by trading for former Bills left tackle Cordy Glenn and then drafted Ohio State center Billy Price in the first round. After watching both newcomers struggle in their Queen City debut seasons, the Bengals went back to the drawing board this offseason, pushing Glenn to guard with the addition of No. 11 overall pick Jonah Williams on Dalton's blind side. Plans for a magical transformation up front were promptly dashed when Williams went down with a torn labrum in his shoulder during spring practices. Compounding Williams' absence, first-year head coach Zac Taylor recently lost his most reliable blocker when veteran guard Clint Boling decided to hang up his cleats due to his own health issues. Much like the Dolphins, the Bengals will enter the season handicapped by a threadbare offensive line.

3) New England Patriots receiving corps

Future Hall of Famer Rob Gronkowski is retired, former Browns tease Josh Gordon remains suspended, ageless free-agent acquisition Ben Watson is facing his own four-game ban and multiple fallback options have already backfired at tight end. Tom Brady can take solace in the presence of Super Bowl LIII MVP Julian Edelman, but the rest of the depth chart is littered with rookies, scrap-heap hopefuls, developmental projects and special teamers. Brady has helped turn the likes of Jabar Gaffney, David Givens, Danny Amendola and Malcolm Mitchell into playoff heroes. On the flip side, he's notorious for freezing newcomers out of the offense if they can't be trusted to make the right route reads. As a soon-to-be 42-year-old with a declining fastball and limited mobility, Brady is being asked to carry too much of the burden on this roster. Don't be surprised if Bill Belichick is shopping for receivers at the trade deadline for the second straight October.

4) Oakland Raiders front seven

Which statistical oddity is more embarrassing: 1) The Raiders could have doubled their 2018 sack total (13) and still would've finished last with room to spare; or 2) six NFL players had more sacks than the entire Oakland roster? Although new GM Mike Mayock did address his biggest need with the selection of Clemson edge rusher Clelin Ferrell at No. 4 overall, the rest of the acquisitions inspire little confidence up front. Linebackers Vontaze Burfict and Brandon Marshall were deemed a step (or three) slow in Cincinnati and Denver, respectively. Former Cardinals defensive ends Josh Mauro and Benson Mayowa have combined for seven sacks over the past two years. Mayock will need at least one more loaded draft class before he can weed out the progress stoppers on defense.

5) Green Bay Packers running backs

Under-utilized during the latter stages of the Mike McCarthy regime, play-making tailback Aaron Jones hasn't done himself any favors by carrying extra weight and suffering MCL sprains in each of his first two seasons. Should he miss time this year, new coach Matt LaFleur will be forced to rely on speed-challenged receiving specialist Jamaal Williams, who has averaged just 3.8 yards per carry last season compared to Jones' gaudy 5.5 mark. Neglecting to add veteran depth this offseason, the Packers' insurance policy appears to be sixth-round rookie Dexter Williams, a straight-line runner out of Notre Dame who was suspended for the first four games of last season for violating team rules.

6) Baltimore Ravens pass rushers

While the back end of Baltimore's defense is loaded, the same can't be said about the front seven. The departed quartet of Za'Darius Smith (63), Terrell Suggs (55), Brent Urban (22) and C.J. Mosley (15) tallied more sacks, hits and hurries (155), according to Pro Football Focus, than the rest of Don "Wink" Martindale's defense combined (153). Rather than replace that production with marquee free agents, GM Eric DeCosta opted to take fliers on Broncos washout Shane Ray and fading veteran Pernell McPhee. Beyond starter Matt Judon, Martindale will have to lean heavily on third-round rookie Jaylon Ferguson as well as untested Tim Williams and Tyus Bowser, a pair of 2017 draft picks unable to crack the pass-rushing rotation in their first two years. Martindale might have to scheme up his pressure this time around.

7) Chicago Bears kicker

During an offseason that featured a defensive coordinator switch from new Broncos head coach Vic Fangio to former Colts head man Chuck Pagano, special teams have dominated the discussion in the Windy City. Specifically, how will the Bears replace scapegoated kicker Cody Parkey? If the dream scenario was reuniting with Robbie Gould, that possibility evaporated Monday when the 49ers finally appeased their franchise-tagged player with a lucrative long-term deal. Whereas the Seahawks, Buccaneers and Browns threw money and/or draft capital at their own field-goal woes, the Bears ushered in a traveling kicker caravan that came and went without a convincing solution. Barring a major surprise, the competition will come down to AAF exile Elliott Fry and Raiders castoff Eddy Pineiro for the opportunity to exorcise Parkey's ghost.

Follow Chris Wesseling on Twitter @ChrisWesseling.

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