2014 NFL Draft: Every Team's Biggest Need 1 Week Before the Draft
Although prospects are often drafted for what they could become rather than what they already are, all 32 franchises will be looking for players who can make an immediate impact.
Among other needs, each team should specifically be looking for a player at the positions designated in this slideshow. Each team should not consider it an option to go into the 2014 season with only the players it already has on its depth chart at these positions.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that teams should use their first-round picks to fill these specific needs. Successful drafting is all about balancing value versus need, and if there are better players on the board at other positions, teams shouldn’t panic and draft simply to fill needs if they believe they can address them in later rounds.
Nonetheless, every team in the NFL has at least one pressing need that it should be looking to address sooner than later in the draft.
Arizona Cardinals: Outside Linebacker
The Arizona Cardinals have enough talent to get by with what they already have at outside linebacker, but their premier pass-rushing threat, John Abraham, will turn 36 prior to the draft. As he is firmly on the back end of his career, the Cardinals should look for another young, dynamic pass-rushing threat for their 3-4 defense.
The Cardinals have a solid set of players at the position between Matt Shaughnessy, Lorenzo Alexander, Sam Acho and Alex Okafor, but none of them are particularly explosive rushers known for consistently bringing heat on opposing quarterbacks.
Arizona is one of the few teams fortunate enough to have no truly pressing needs, allowing it to be flexible with its early-round draft selections. Nevertheless, a player like UCLA’s Anthony Barr, Auburn’s Dee Ford or BYU’s Kyle Van Noy would make sense at the No. 20 overall pick and could provide an immediate pass-rushing spark off the edge.
Should the Cardinals look for a pass-rushing linebacker on Day 2 or 3, options to upgrade at the position could include Stanford’s Trent Murphy, Louisville’s Marcus Smith and Arizona State’s Carl Bradford.
Atlanta Falcons: Edge Defender
The Atlanta Falcons run a hybrid defense that uses both 4-3 and 3-4 elements, but regardless of whether you classify their edge defenders as defensive ends or outside linebackers, it’s clear the team needs to add a pass-rushing spark at that position.
Atlanta’s best pass-rusher, Osi Umenyiora, is well beyond his prime. Kroy Biermann is a solid all-around player, but he’s no sack specialist and is coming off a torn Achilles. Jonathan Massaquoi started to blossom last year in his second NFL season, but he’s not the primary answer to Atlanta’s pass-rushing woes either.
The Falcons could target one of two star pass-rushing prospects—South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney or Buffalo’s Khalil Mack—with their first-round pick. However, they would likely have to move up from the No. 6 overall selection to have a shot at drafting them.
If the Falcons wait until Day 2 to address this need, players who could fit the bill and make an immediate impact off the edge include Oregon State’s Scott Crichton, Boise State’s Demarcus Lawrence and Georgia Tech’s Jeremiah Attaochu.
Baltimore Ravens: Right Tackle
The Baltimore Ravens solidified one end of the offensive line by re-signing left tackle Eugene Monroe this offseason but have a major need at right tackle after letting Michael Oher walk in free agency.
His departure might not be considered much of a loss, as he never quite lived up to his potential in Baltimore. But unless the Ravens feel comfortable going into next season with 2013 fifth-round pick Ricky Wagner as their starter—they probably shouldn’t—they will need to address this position early in the draft.
Baltimore could do that with the No. 17 overall pick, especially if Michigan’s Taylor Lewan or Notre Dame’s Zack Martin is still available.
Day 2 options include Tennessee’s Antonio Richardson and Ja’Wuan James, Virginia’s Morgan Moses and Stanford’s Cameron Fleming.
Buffalo Bills: Right Tackle
The right tackle position already looked like a weakness for the Buffalo Bills going into last season, even before Chris Hairston was shelved for the entire year on the non-football injury list.
Erik Pears was a weakness in both pass protection and run blocking all year. With Hairston’s status still unclear after his undisclosed medical situation last year, the Bills appear to have a liability up front at the position and should look to upgrade in this year’s draft.
In an ideal scenario, Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews or Auburn’s Greg Robinson would fall to them at the No. 9 overall pick. Should they be off the board, it’s possible Buffalo could still go with a right tackle in Michigan’s Taylor Lewan or Notre Dame’s Zack Martin with its first-round pick.
Should the Bills wait until Day 2 or 3 to target a right tackle, options would include Virginia’s Morgan Moses, Alabama’s Cyrus Kouandjio and Stanford’s Cameron Fleming.
Carolina Panthers: Wide Receiver
The Carolina Panthers had four wide receivers who caught passes for their team in 2013, and none of them are still on the roster. The Panthers made some serviceable additions by signing veteran free agents Jerricho Cotchery, Jason Avant and Tiquan Underwood, but there are no go-to playmakers in that group.
The Panthers have other major needs on their offense in addition to pass-catcher, as the retirement of longtime standout Jordan Gross leaves Nate Chandler as their projected starter at left tackle, but it’s clear the team needs to add at least one more weapon for quarterback Cam Newton.
Carolina could target USC’s Marqise Lee or Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks with its first-round pick, but it shouldn’t feel handcuffed to draft a wideout in Round 1. There is more talent in this year’s wide receiver class than at any other position, which could allow the Panthers to address other needs first and then find value at receiver in the middle rounds.
Some intriguing options between the second and fourth rounds include Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews, Fresno State’s Davante Adams, Mississippi's Donte Moncrief and LSU’s Jarvis Landry.
Chicago Bears: Safety
Chicago’s Chris Conte and Major Wright were arguably the NFL’s worst pair of starting safeties this past season.
The Bears added new options to the mix by signing free agents Ryan Mundy and M.D. Jennings, but the team still lacks any surefire starters at the position. With Wright having left for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Chicago should be looking to draft players who can immediately push the veterans for playing time.
That could prompt the Bears to draft a safety as early as Round 1, especially in a draft class that has promising talent at the top but lacks depth at the position. Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix would be a strong choice if he is available at the No. 14 overall pick. Northern Illinois’ Jimmie Ward and Louisville’s Calvin Pryor could be considered reaches at that slot, but either would make sense, given the team’s need at the position.
In the second round, Florida State’s Terrence Brooks and Washington State’s Deone Bucannon would be strong options for the No. 51 overall pick. Should the Bears be looking for a safety in later rounds—which they should unless they draft safeties with both of their first two picks—some potential targets would include LSU’s Craig Loston, Alabama’s Vinnie Sunseri and Baylor’s Ahmad Dixon.
Cincinnati Bengals: Interior Offensive Line
The Cincinnati Bengals have a roster with very few holes, but one area they should be looking to improve is the interior offensive line. After releasing veteran center Kyle Cook this offseason, their only sure starter on the inside is right guard Kevin Zeitler.
Clint Boling projects as the starter at left guard, but he was a weak link of the offensive line even before tearing his ACL this past season. At center, the Bengals could start Trevor Robinson or Mike Pollak, but they have a significant question mark going into the 2014 season unless they upgrade through the draft.
The Bengals could turn to UCLA’s Xavier Su’a-Filo as a left guard upgrade with the No. 24 overall pick, but it’s more likely they’ll look for an offensive lineman on Day 2. Any of the draft’s top three centers—Colorado State’s Weston Richburg, USC’s Marcus Martin or Arkansas’ Travis Swanson—could be an option for the Bengals at the No. 55 overall pick in the second round.
There aren’t many strong center options beyond those first three picks, but Florida State’s Bryan Stork or Utah State’s Tyler Larsen could be a selection in the middle rounds. Guard prospects who might provide competition on the left side include Ohio State’s Jack Mewhort, Furman’s Dakota Dozier and Florida’s Jon Halapio.
Cleveland Browns: Quarterback
With a quarterback roster that consists of Brian Hoyer and Alex Tanney, it’s obvious the Cleveland Browns must prioritize finding a signal-caller early in this year’s draft.
Even if the Browns believe Hoyer is capable of taking on the starting job in 2014, they need competition and depth. It’s likely that the Browns, who hold two first-round picks and the No. 35 overall selection, will be one of the first teams to draft a quarterback this year.
If Cleveland looks to fill this need right off the bat, it could select Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel with the No. 4 overall pick. Whether it be at the fourth slot, at the 26th pick or in a trade up or down from either spot, other options include Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater, UCF’s Blake Bortles and Fresno State’s Derek Carr.
Should the Browns decide to wait until Day 2 to draft a quarterback, their options would include Eastern Illinois’ Jimmy Garoppolo, Georgia’s Aaron Murray and Alabama’s AJ McCarron.
Dallas Cowboys: Defensive Tackle
The Dallas Cowboys found a solid replacement for Jason Hatcher this offseason by signing Henry Melton as a free agent. But while he can fill Hatcher’s role as an explosive penetrator at the 3-technique tackle position, the Cowboys still need to upgrade at nose tackle.
They had one of the NFL’s worst defenses against the run this past season, and a big reason for that was the lack of presence on the interior defensive line, including from incumbent starting nose tackle Nick Hayden. Dallas needs depth at the position as well but should be in the market for a big, powerful tackle who can be a consistent gap-plugger against the run.
Pittsburgh’s Aaron Donald is similar to Melton, but he’d be tough for the Cowboys to pass up at the No. 16 overall pick. A more fitting selection in the first round, however, might be Minnesota’s Ra’Shede Hageman or Notre Dame’s Louis Nix III.
Should Dallas look for a defensive tackle on Day 2 of the draft, its options could include Florida State’s Timmy Jernigan, Penn State’s DaQuan Jones and LSU’s Ego Ferguson.
Denver Broncos: Middle Linebacker
By going on a major spending spree in free agency this offseason, the Denver Broncos have addressed most of their significant needs already. One area where they should still be looking to upgrade, however, is at middle linebacker.
It’s not as though they didn’t spend money there too, but neither Jamar Chaney nor L.J. Fort should be viewed as the starting middle linebacker. Nate Irving will probably get the first crack at winning the job inside, but he’s better suited to be a rotational player at outside linebacker.
The ideal selection to fill the Broncos’ biggest need might be Alabama’s C.J. Mosley, but they’d likely have to trade up from the No. 31 overall pick to select him.
Ohio State’s Ryan Shazier could project to playing in the middle as a late first-round pick, while Wisconsin’s Chris Borland could be an option in either the first or second round. In the second or third round, the Broncos could turn to Stanford’s Shayne Skov or Connecticut’s Yawin Smallwood as a potential starting inside linebacker.
Detroit Lions: Safety
Despite signing veteran strong safety James Ihedigbo in free agency, it’s still important for the Detroit Lions to find another safety who can handle greater coverage responsibilities and be used more interchangeably with starting free safety Glover Quin.
Ihedigbo would be best utilized as a third in-the-box safety, as he does his best work in run support and closer to the line of scrimmage. He might not be the every-down replacement Detroit needs after releasing Louis Delmas this offseason.
Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix projects as one of Detroit’s most likely selections at the No. 10 overall pick. Should it trade down or wait until Day 2 to draft a safety, the team’s options could include Louisville’s Calvin Pryor, Florida State’s Terrence Brooks and Washington State’s Deone Bucannon.
Even if they search for a gem in a later round, Detroit should be looking for a safety who can cover deep downfield and play either safety position. That might be hard for the Lions to find past the second round, but sleeper possibilities include Minnesota’s Brock Vereen and Wisconsin’s Dezmen Southward.
Green Bay Packers: Free Safety
The Green Bay Packers didn’t re-sign M.D. Jennings this offseason, but they would have needed an upgrade over him anyway. One of the worst starting safeties in the NFL this past season, he left the Packers with a stark drop-off at a free safety position where Charles Woodson and Nick Collins had starred before him.
With a solid starting strong safety in Morgan Burnett, the Packers should be looking for an athletic safety with the coverage skills to quickly step in and handle center field and single-high responsibilities when needed.
Should the Packers look for a safety in Round 1, their best options would be Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix or Northern Illinois’ Jimmie Ward. Clinton-Dix is likely out of Green Bay’s range unless it trades up from the No. 21 overall pick, but Ward, though he might be considered a reach, is likely to be available.
Outside of Round 1, Florida State’s Terrence Brooks projects as the team’s best option if he is available at the No. 53 overall selection. The Packers could also look to convert a cornerback, such as Florida State’s Lamarcus Joyner, Utah’s Keith McGill or Liberty’s Walt Aikens, to the free safety spot.
Houston Texans: Quarterback
The Houston Texans went from being a playoff team to having the NFL’s worst record in just one year, and the biggest reason for that was the abysmal play from the quarterback position. If they’re going to return to contention quickly, they need to find a franchise quarterback.
Ryan Fitzpatrick has consistently been one of the NFL’s more reliable backup quarterbacks and spot starters, but if the Texans view him as more than a short-term stopgap at the position, they’re making a mistake. That doesn’t necessarily mean they should draft a quarterback with the No. 1 overall pick, but they should at least look to select one in the first three rounds.
If the Texans draft a quarterback in the top spot or trade down to get better value on a signal-caller, their options would likely consist of Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, UCF’s Blake Bortles, Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater and Fresno State’s Derek Carr.
Beyond the first round, quarterbacks to consider include LSU’s Zach Mettenberger, Eastern Illinois’ Jimmy Garoppolo and Alabama’s A.J. McCarron.
Indianapolis Colts: Interior Offensive Line
Even after signing free agent Phil Costa earlier this offseason, the Indianapolis Colts had a lingering need to upgrade at the center position. When he surprisingly decided to retire earlier this month, that need became even more pressing.
While the Colts could turn to 2013 fourth-round pick Khaled Holmes as their starting center, they didn’t exactly show much confidence in him last season by never turning to him despite struggles from starter Samson Satele.
Additionally, the Colts should also be looking to add talent at guard. Left guard Donald Thomas is talented but coming off torn biceps and quadriceps muscles this past season, while right guard Hugh Thornton showed promise but was shaky as a rookie.
The Colts have no first-round pick but could turn to one of the draft’s top centers—Colorado State’s Weston Richburg, USC’s Marcus Martin or Arkansas’ Travis Swanson—on Day 2. Later-round center options include Oklahoma’s Gabe Ikard and Ohio State’s Corey Linsley, while Furman’s Dakota Dozier, Alabama’s Anthony Steen and Florida’s Jon Halapio make up the guard possibilities.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Quarterback
After three entirely disappointing seasons, the Jacksonville Jaguars traded 2011 first-round pick Blaine Gabbert for only a sixth-round pick this offseason. Now, with Chad Henne standing as the top quarterback on their depth chart, the Jaguars need to pursue another potential franchise quarterback.
Whether they will do that with the No. 3 overall pick remains uncertain, but they aren’t going to make a lasting change to their losing ways unless they find a signal-caller with greater passing skills.
Should they go with a quarterback right off the bat or trade down to select one at better value but still in Round 1, Jacksonville’s best options would be Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater and UCF’s Blake Bortles.
On Day 2, the Jaguars could look to fill their need with less liability by selecting a quarterback such as LSU’s Zach Mettenberger, Eastern Illinois’ Jimmy Garoppolo, Alabama’s A.J. McCarron or San Jose State’s David Fales.
Kansas City Chiefs: Free Safety
A Kansas City Chiefs defense that started out the year dominantly started to be exposed down the stretch, and one reason for that was the team’s lack of a reliable presence in coverage alongside Eric Berry at safety.
After letting incumbent starter Kendrick Lewis walk in free agency, the Chiefs have no legitimate starting option at the position.
With no second-round pick, the Chiefs could be smart to fill their greatest need in Round 1 at a position that is likely to be in high demand in the early rounds. Northern Illinois’ Jimmie Ward and Louisville’s Calvin Pryor could both be possible options at the No. 23 overall pick.
Later in the draft, the Chiefs would have to take a greater chance to land a free safety. Options include Alabama’s Vinnie Sunseri, USC’s Dion Bailey and Minnesota’s Brock Vereen.
Miami Dolphins: Right Tackle
The Miami Dolphins started the necessary overhaul of their offensive line by signing free-agent left tackle Branden Albert to a lucrative contract. However, they shouldn’t be looking at the other free-agent tackle they signed, Jason Fox, as the starting right tackle.
Embroiled in a well-publicized bullying scandal this past season, the Dolphins offensive line was no better on the field, allowing the most sacks (58) in the NFL. Despite a number of free-agent additions at the position, Miami still needs to prioritize upgrading its offensive line throughout this year’s draft.
The Dolphins could find their right tackle at the No. 19 overall pick by selecting Notre Dame’s Zack Martin or Michigan’s Taylor Lewan if either of them is still available. The team has also been linked to Alabama’s Cyrus Kouandjio by Andrew Abramson of The Palm Beach Post and to Tennessee’s Ja’Wuan James by Adam H. Beasley of the Miami Herald.
Should the Dolphins wait until the second or third round to draft a right tackle, their options could also include Virginia’s Morgan Moses, Tennessee’s Antonio Richardson and North Dakota State’s Billy Turner.
Minnesota Vikings: Quarterback
Like the aforementioned Jacksonville Jaguars, the Minnesota Vikings have been stuck in a rut at the quarterback position thanks to the disappointing play of their 2011 first-round pick.
While Christian Ponder remains with the Vikings—and played well enough to lead Minnesota to a playoff berth in 2012—he isn’t the franchise quarterback he was drafted to be. Neither is Matt Cassel, a solid spot starting option who was re-signed to a two-year deal this offseason, but he shouldn’t preclude Minnesota from drafting a quarterback as early as its No. 8 overall pick.
In the first round, the Vikings should look to target a pocket passer in Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater, UCF’s Blake Bortles or Fresno State’s Derek Carr to lead their offense if they choose to go the quarterback route.
If Minnesota waits until the second or third round, its quarterback options could include LSU’s Zach Mettenberger, Alabama’s AJ McCarron, Eastern Illinois’ Jimmy Garoppolo and Georgia’s Aaron Murray.
New England Patriots: Defensive Tackle
When Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly both went down with season-ending injuries this past year, the New England Patriots’ lack of bulk on their interior defensive line got exposed. While Wilfork and Kelly are back with the team on restructured contracts for 2014, the Patriots desperately need to add youth and depth at the position.
Chris Jones and Sealver Siliga are good enough to give the Patriots flexibility to look to upgrade other positions in earlier rounds, but New England would be making a mistake if it continues to neglect its need at defensive tackle. Kelly is 33 years old, Wilfork is 32, and both are past their prime while coming off major lower-body injuries.
Even if Kelly and Wilfork can continue to be productive in 2014, what the Patriots really need at the position is an explosive interior pass-rusher. The ideal first-round pick for New England might be Minnesota’s Ra’Shede Hageman, a quick gap-shooter who also has the size and strength to play nose tackle situationally.
On the draft’s second or third day, some versatile defensive tackle options with penetrating ability could include Florida’s Dominique Easley, Princeton’s Caraun Reid and LSU’s Anthony Johnson.
New Orleans Saints: Interior Offensive Line
The New Orleans Saints have a major question mark at center—and almost no depth across their interior offensive line—after letting Brian de la Puente walk as a free agent this offseason.
Their only real option at center is Tim Lelito, a 2013 undrafted free agent. He showed some promise as a rookie, but even if the Saints intend to give him a shot to start, they should at least be looking to bring in a significant competitor at the position.
That could lead the Saints to turn to Colorado State’s Weston Richburg, USC’s Marcus Martin or Arkansas’ Travis Swanson as a potential starting center with their second- or third-round pick.
Later in the draft, some of the options for center/guard depth could include Notre Dame’s Chris Watt, Vanderbilt’s Wesley Johnson and North Carolina’s Russell Bodine.
New York Giants: Tight End
After losing wide receiver Hakeem Nicks and tight end Brandon Myers this offseason, the New York Giants should be in the market for another pass-catching playmaker. That need is especially significant at tight end, where Adrien Robinson and Kellen Davis stand as the team’s best options.
On an offense that has few difference-makers, the Giants should be looking for a player who can stretch the field from the tight end position.
That could lead them to North Carolina’s Eric Ebron, the most athletic and dynamic receiving threat among tight ends in this year’s draft class, with the No. 12 overall pick.
Should they instead look to draft a tight end in the second round, Texas Tech’s Jace Amaro, Washington’s Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Notre Dame’s Troy Niklas would all be strong options for the No. 43 overall pick. Options in the middle rounds could include Iowa’s C.J. Fiedorowicz, Georgia’s Arthur Lynch or Colorado State’s Crockett Gillmore.
New York Jets: Tight End
Like their counterparts who play in the Meadowlands, the New York Jets also have a need for pass-catching playmakers, especially at the tight end position.
If the Jets are going to make their offense more dynamic and give young quarterback Geno Smith more weapons to work with, they can start by upgrading at tight end, where Jeff Cumberland is the projected starter. The Jets invested in him by re-signing him this offseason, but he lacks the downfield athleticism to give New York an impact player at the position.
The Jets should look to pair him with a more dynamic, mismatch-creating receiving threat at the position. North Carolina’s Eric Ebron would be an ideal selection in the first round, where New York picks No. 18 overall, while Texas Tech’s Jace Amaro would be a great value if still on the board at the 49th pick.
Should the Jets wait to find a tight end in a later round, which could be a more realistic option if Ebron is off the board and they go for a wide receiver in Round 1 or 2, players who could fit the bill include Colorado State’s Crockett Gillmore, California’s Richard Rodgers and Fresno State’s Marcel Jensen.
Oakland Raiders: Quarterback
The Oakland Raiders traded a sixth-round pick to acquire Matt Schaub from the Houston Texans, and coach Dennis Allen has already named him the team’s starting quarterback. But as already mentioned in the Texans’ slide, Schaub’s poor play this past season was a primary factor in Houston’s quick collapse from success to catastrophe.
Despite their public votes of confidence for Schaub, the Raiders would be making a mistake if they do not accept they still have a need for a young, starting-caliber, potential franchise quarterback.
Given the acquisition of Schaub and some promise shown by 2013 undrafted free agent Matt McGloin in his rookie season, the Raiders might not look to draft a quarterback in Round 1. That said, they would be smart to consider Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater and even UCF’s Blake Bortles or Fresno State’s Derek Carr as a first-round possibility.
In the more likely event that the Raiders look to draft a quarterback in Round 2 or 3, their options could include LSU’s Zach Mettenberger, Alabama’s A.J. McCarron, Eastern Illinois’ Jimmy Garoppolo and Georgia’s Aaron Murray.
Philadelphia Eagles: Cornerback
Brandon Boykin has quickly emerged as one of the NFL’s best slot cornerbacks, but the Philadelphia Eagles’ starting options on the outside—Bradley Fletcher, Cary Williams and Nolan Carroll—are subpar.
While none of them are complete liabilities at the position, the Eagles have no one who would be considered a No. 1 cornerback. Philadelphia should be looking for at least one bigger, faster and more technically sound player at the position who can provide a legitimate challenge to top receivers like Dez Bryant of the divisional rival Dallas Cowboys.
Should the Eagles target cornerback help at the No. 22 overall pick, their options could include Virginia Tech’s Kyle Fuller, Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard and Ohio State’s Bradley Roby.
There is a drop-off outside the top group of cornerback talent in this year’s draft, which will likely be dried up by the time the Eagles are on the clock in Round 2, but players who could be legitimate starting options as Day 2 picks include Rice’s Phillip Gaines and Lindenwood’s Pierre Desir.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Cornerback
At 33 years old, Ike Taylor is the shell of the player he was in his prime, quickly dropping off from a No. 1 cornerback to a liability in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ secondary. The Steelers need to be able to shift him to a reduced role, but they have no quality starting options outside of William Gay.
Needing both front-line talent and depth at the position, Pittsburgh should prioritize finding a cornerback early in the draft.
Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert, Virginia Tech’s Kyle Fuller and Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard could all be fits as physical, tough and well-rounded cover cornerbacks. Any of them would be strong choices at the No. 15 overall selection.
Outside of the first round, players who could be immediate assets to the Pittsburgh defense include Florida State’s Lamarcus Joyner, Rice’s Phillip Gaines, Florida’s Jaylen Watkins and Oregon State’s Rashaad Reynolds.
San Diego Chargers: Cornerback
Thanks to the one-year debacle that resulted from the 2013 free-agent signing of Derek Cox, the San Diego Chargers might not have a single starting-caliber cornerback on their roster. Having released Cox, they need to take a chance on more cornerback talent, and this time they’ll need to do it through the draft.
The No. 25 overall pick could be a good spot for them to seek upgrades over Shareece Wright and Richard Marshall.
TCU’s Jason Verrett, Virginia Tech’s Kyle Fuller, Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard and Ohio State’s Bradley Roby could each make sense for both value and need at the end of the top 25.
Outside of Round 1, where the Chargers might end up looking for another cornerback even if they’ve already drafted one in the first round, some of the team’s best options could include Rice’s Phillip Gaines, Nebraska’s Stanley Jean-Baptiste and Duke’s Ross Cockrell.
San Francisco 49ers: Cornerback
Chris Culliver could be considered one of the San Francisco 49ers’ top two cornerbacks. Considering that he is more well-known for his issues off the field—including an arrest on felony hit-and-run and weapons possession charges in March—than his inconsistent play on it, that doesn’t leave the 49ers in good shape at that position.
While Tramaine Brock blossomed into a quality starting cornerback for the 49ers this past season, San Francisco has little else at the position besides him. Its top two cornerbacks from this past season, free agent Tarell Brown and cap casualty Carlos Rogers, made their way across the Bay Area this offseason to join the Oakland Raiders.
The 49ers’ need for another starting-caliber cornerback could persuade them to draft one with the No. 30 overall pick or even trade up to a higher spot in Round 1 to land the cornerback they covet. Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert, Virginia Tech’s Kyle Fuller, Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard and TCU’s Jason Verrett could all be targets for San Francisco within the top 30 selections.
With six picks in the top 100, San Francisco is also likely to look for another cornerback in the middle rounds. Their options there could include Rice’s Phillip Gaines, Lindenwood’s Pierre Desir, Clemson’s Bashaud Breeland and Oregon’s Terrance Mitchell.
Seattle Seahawks: Guard
The defending Super Bowl champions have been able to keep most of their title-winning roster intact, but the guard position is one that already needed an upgrade for the Seattle Seahawks. Left guard James Carpenter and right guard J.R. Sweezy are weak links on a team that ranks as one of the NFL’s most talented on both sides of the ball.
The Seahawks are already adept at running the ball with running back Marshawn Lynch, but the addition of power at the guard position could make that part of their offense even more effective while also helping the offensive line as a whole provide adequate pass protection for quarterback Russell Wilson.
UCLA’s Xavier Su’a-Filo would be Seattle’s ideal selection if he were to fall to the No. 32 overall pick. There might not be another guard worth a first-round selection in this year’s draft, but both Nevada’s Joel Bitonio and Stanford’s David Yankey could draw consideration at that spot.
Should the Seahawks wait until Day 2 or later to draft a guard, other options the team should consider include North Dakota State’s Billy Turner, LSU’s Trai Turner and Mississippi State’s Gabe Jackson.
St. Louis Rams: Cornerback
After a disastrous 2013 campaign that started with a stark drop-off in his level of play and ended early due to a fractured orbital bone, it came as no surprise that the St. Louis Rams released Cortland Finnegan this offseason. It left the Rams, however, with very little at the cornerback position.
The play of Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson has been filled with ups and downs in each of their first two NFL seasons, but the real concern is that the Rams have no legitimate depth behind that pair. St. Louis should not only be in the market for a potential starter at the position but also players who can step into the lineup in nickel and dime packages.
The Rams could look to use their second first-round pick, the No. 13 overall selection, on a cornerback such as Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert or Virginia Tech’s Kyle Fuller. If not, they could look to trade down for better value on a cornerback later in Round 1 or target a player such as Florida State’s Lamarcus Joyner or Rice’s Phillip Gaines with their second-round pick.
If St. Louis waits until the third round or beyond to draft a cornerback, their options could include Nebraska’s Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Utah’s Keith McGill, Liberty’s Walt Aikens and Missouri’s E.J. Gaines.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Wide Receiver
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a big go-to wideout in Vincent Jackson but very little receiving talent outside of him after trading Mike Williams to the Buffalo Bills earlier this offseason.
As their roster stands, the Buccaneers would be forced to rely upon unexceptional veterans like Louis Murphy or Lavelle Hawkins or unproven players like Chris Owusu or Eric Page to step up as the No. 2 and slot receiving options.
Tampa Bay should look to upgrade both of those roles through its draft selections. That could start with the No. 7 overall pick, where Clemson’s Sammy Watkins, Texas A&M’s Mike Evans and even LSU’s Odell Beckham Jr. have emerged as realistic possibilities.
Fortunately for the Buccaneers, they should also be able to find value at the position in later rounds, thanks to the depth of this year’s wide receiver class. The team’s Day 2 options could include Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews, Fresno State’s Davante Adams, Colorado’s Paul Richardson and Wyoming’s Robert Herron.
Tennessee Titans: Outside Linebacker
As the Tennessee Titans switch to a 3-4-based, hybrid defensive scheme under new head coach Ken Whisenhunt and defensive coordinator Ray Horton, their biggest need is to add another edge defender who can bring heat from the outside linebacker position.
The Titans made a solid addition for that role by signing veteran free agent Shaun Phillips, but the soon-to-be 33-year-old is no longer a premier pass-rusher at this stage of his career. If Tennessee is going to find immediate success in its new defensive look, it needs a player with more impact potential off the edge than Phillips or Kamerion Wimbley.
That could sway the team to draft an outside linebacker, such as UCLA’s Anthony Barr or Auburn’s Dee Ford, with its first- or second-round pick. Optimally, the Titans should be looking for a player with the skill set to also play defensive end in 4-3 looks but who has the athleticism and moves off the edge to make an immediate impact in, at least, a situational pass-rushing capacity.
If the Titans decide to go in another direction with their early picks, they could be left looking for a hidden gem at outside linebacker on Day 3, as the 49ers own their third-round pick in this year’s draft. Some potential value selections in the fourth or fifth round could include Arkansas’ Chris Smith, Alabama’s Adrian Hubbard and Notre Dame’s Prince Shembo.
Washington Redskins: Inside Linebacker
The Washington Redskins shouldn’t count on free-agent signings Darryl Sharpton and Akeem Jordan to be their answers at inside linebacker, which was already a position of weakness even before London Fletcher announced his retirement.
While Sharpton, Jordan and Perry Riley all have starting experience, none of them should be handed a starting job in Washington without competition. The Redskins have no first-round pick but should target a linebacker on Day 2 or 3 who can give them a more explosive, thumping presence in the middle of their 3-4 defense.
Wisconsin’s Chris Borland could be an option for the Redskins when they are first on the clock with the No. 34 overall selection. Should Washington wait until the third round to draft a linebacker, its options then could include Stanford’s Shayne Skov and Connecticut’s Yawin Smallwood.
While the Redskins might not be able to find an immediate upgrade on Day 3, linebackers they could bring in the fourth or fifth round to promote competition include LSU’s Lamin Barrow, Louisville’s Preston Brown and Kentucky’s Avery Williamson.
Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.
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