- Pat Yasinskas, ESPN Staff Writer
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Each week leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: Under the radar needs.
The talk has been all about defensive end and linebacker and those positions probably will be addressed early. Although the Falcons appear to be in good shape on offense, they’re not going to ignore that side of the ball because they need depth at several spots. The offensive line has been good, but the Falcons can’t be complacent in this area. Center Todd McClure isn’t getting any younger and it might be time to find his eventual replacement. The Falcons are content with Roddy White, Michael Jenkins and Harry Douglas as their top three receivers, but it might be wise to add another weapon here. Jenkins is more of a role player than a playmaker and another receiver with some explosiveness could be a big help.
Overhauling the defensive line and finding a No. 2 wide receiver are the early priorities. But there are needs elsewhere. Carolina’s veteran purge was designed to get young players like linebackers Dan Connor and James Anderson on the field. But someone will have to take their places on special teams and the Panthers will be looking for athletic linebackers. Also, keep a close watch on fullback because second-year player Anthony Fiammetta is all the Panthers have there. Also, don’t be surprised if the Panthers look for another receiver beyond the early rounds. They haven’t used the slot receiver much in recent years and I believe they’d like to change that.
The big needs have been narrowed to defensive line and outside linebacker. But always remember that Sean Payton is an offensive coach and that side of the ball won’t be ignored. Payton always is looking to add new toys. Although running back and receiver appear deep, they could get even deeper. Fullback depth is also a possibility. The Saints slumped a bit after Heath Evans was injured last year and they’d be wise to have a viable alternative in case Evans gets hurt again.
It’s tough to separate big needs from smaller ones here because the Bucs need just about everything. But let’s say defensive line and wide receiver are the two biggest needs and work from there. The Bucs like to say they feel good about their offensive line and linebackers. But should they? The offensive line wasn’t all that good last year and the linebackers didn’t really make plays. These areas definitely can be improved. Veteran cornerback Ronde Barber was a bit of a bright spot last year, but how long can he go on like that? With 11 picks in this draft, the Bucs have a chance to find Barber’s successor. If they can get a good corner, they could pair him with Aqib Talib and be set at that position for several years.
23mJason Gibbs, Special to ESPN.com