AFC's hottest seats: Which veterans face the most intense scrutiny?
Buffalo Bills linebacker Von Miller. Jamie Germano/Rochester Democrat and Chronicle / USA TODAY NETWORK

AFC's hottest seats: Which veterans face the most intense scrutiny?

Following the NFL Draft, a handful of veterans on each team have good reason to be nervous.

Could one of the team's draft picks replace them as a starter? Or could other circumstances put them on edge?

We asked Yardbarker's NFL writers to spotlight the veteran on the hottest seat on every AFC team.

AFC East

BUFFALO BILLS | OLB Von Miller | The biggest free-agent signing in franchise history is already one of the worst deals Buffalo has made, as Miller only made three tackles in 12 games after returning from an ACL tear last season. Buffalo and Miller could ultimately be headed toward a divorce next offseason, but the team desperately needs the eight-time Pro Bowler to make an impact this season after losing 2023 sack leader Leonard Floyd in free agency.

MIAMI DOLPHINS | QB Tua Tagovailoa | Despite being eligible for a contract extension, Tagovailoa hasn't signed a long-term pact with Miami, perhaps suggesting his disappointing wild-card outing last season (199 yards, one touchdown and one interception) has raised concerns within the organization regarding his potential. In all likelihood, the Dolphins will eventually extend Tagovailoa, but the 26-year-old must take another step forward to be paid like one of the NFL's top QBs.

NEW YORK JETS | WR Allen Lazard | Lazard, who signed a four-year, $44M deal with the Jets last offseason, had a disastrous first season with the team, finishing with 311 yards receiving and more healthy scratches (two) than touchdown catches (one). Lazard's strong rapport with QB Aaron Rodgers should help him rebound, but it's unclear how large of a role in the offense he'll play after New York signed Mike Williams and drafted Malachi Corley.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS | WR JuJu Smith-Schuster | Another free-agent wide receiver signing from last offseason that has failed to live up to expectations, Smith-Schuster caught just 29 passes for 260 yards and one touchdown catch in an injury-plagued 2023 season. Despite having two seasons remaining on his deal, it appears the Patriots' new regime doesn't expect Smith-Schuster to contribute much this season because the team invested premium draft capital in wideouts Ja'Lynn Polk and Javon Baker. — Colum Dell

AFC West

DENVER BRONCOS | RB Javonte Williams | In 16 games last season, Williams averaged a career-low 3.6 yards per carry and only rushed for three touchdowns. Denver gave Williams competition when it selected Notre Dame RB Audric Estime (fifth round, pick No. 147), who tied for the FBS’ third-most rushing touchdowns (18 in 12 games) in 2023.

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS | WR Kadarius Toney | Former first-rounder Toney underwhelmed in 13 games last season, recording one touchdown catch and four drops, per Pro Football Focus. K.C. added two potential Toney replacements this offseason, signing WR Marquise Brown (one year, $7M) and drafting Texas’ Xavier Worthy (pick No. 28).

LAS VEGAS RAIDERS | TE Michael Mayer | Former second-rounder Mayer may take a back seat on the depth chart because the Raiders took Georgia TE Brock Bowers (pick No. 13), a two-time first-team All-American, in the draft. In his rookie season, Mayer logged 27 receptions for 304 yards and two touchdown catches in 14 games, so he must produce far better numbers to remain a starter.

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS | OT Trey Pipkins III | After signing a three-year, $21.75M deal in 2023, Pipkins allowed a career-high nine sacks in 17 games last season, per Pro Football Focus. Don’t be stunned if L.A. turns to OT Joe Alt (pick No. 5 in first round), who allowed one sack in 12 games at Notre Dame in 2023. — Clark Dalton

AFC North

BALTIMORE RAVENS | WR Nelson Agholor | Agholor signed a one-year extension with the Ravens in February, but his 35 catches for 381 yards and four touchdown catches last season far from guarantee him a starting job. Baltimore’s fourth-round selection (No. 113) of WR Devontez Walker will put the pressure on Agholor. Over the past two seasons at Kent State and North Carolina, Walker reeled in 99 catches for 1,620 yards and 18 touchdown catches.

CINCINNATI BENGALS | DT B.J. Hill | Hill has been productive for the Bengals, registering 169 tackles, 13 sacks, one forced fumble and two interceptions since joining the team in 2021. However, he is heading into the final year of his deal, and Cincinnati invested a second-round pick in Michigan DT Kris Jenkins (No. 44) and a third-round pick in Texas A&M DT McKinnley Jackson (No. 97).

CLEVELAND BROWNS | WR Elijah Moore | The Browns traded for Moore last offseason, but he underwhelmed with just 640 receiving yards and two touchdowns catches in 2023. He could be the odd man out by season’s end because of Cleveland’s wide receiver additions of Jerry Jeudy (acquired from Broncos) and Louisville's Jamari Thrash (fifth-round pick in 2024 draft).

PITTSBURGH STEELERS | OT Dan Moore Jr. | Moore Jr. has been the Steelers’ left tackle for the past three seasons, but the team has invested back-to-back first-round picks on offensive tackles Troy Fautanu (2024) and Broderick Jones (2023). Plus, Moore Jr. is heading into the final year of his rookie deal and, per Pro Football Focus, allowed eight sacks in 2023. — Aaron Becker

AFC South

HOUSTON TEXANS | RB Dameon Pierce | Pierce has really fallen from grace after nearly rushing for 1,000 yards as a rookie two seasons ago. With the Texans trading for four-time 1,000-yard rusher Joe Mixon and drafting Louisville’s Jawhar Jordan in the sixth round of the 2024 draft, Pierce’s time as a featured back in Houston may be numbered.

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS | WR Alec Pierce | Josh Downs’ emergence last season pushed Pierce down the depth chart, and the drafting of Texas’ Adonai Mitchell in the second round only makes Indy’s receiver room even more crowded. With Michael Pittman Jr. signed to a three-year, $70M contract and Downs and Mitchell on rookie deals, Pierce may be the odd man out after 2024.

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS | Center Luke Fortner | The fact the Jaguars pounced on Pro Bowl center Mitch Morse after his release by the Buffalo Bills wasn’t exactly a ringing endorsement of the job Fortner did as the team’s starting center last season. He’s only 25, so all hope isn’t lost for him, but his days in Jacksonville could be numbered.

TENNESSEE TITANS | WR Treylon Burks | The No. 18 overall pick in the 2022 draft has failed to live up to expectations for the Titans, who drafted him as A.J. Brown’s replacement. Tennessee re-signed Nick Westbrook-Ikhine, gave Calvin Ridley a four-year, $92M contract in free agency and signed two-time 1,000-yard WR Tyler Boyd to a one-year deal Tuesday, so a clear message has been sent to Burks: no more free passes. — Michael Gallagher

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