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.
We've spent a lot of time talking about the needs at safety and placekicker. And as I explained Tuesday evening, owner Jerry Jones feels like the competition between Connor Hughes and David Buehler will produce a suitable placekicker. I think that's a poor plan, but Jones did not seek my counsel during our lengthy discussion. So what are the Cowboys' biggest needs that no one's talking about?
Well, let's start with outside linebacker. Wade Phillips, a champion of outside linebackers, told me that this draft is full of talent at that spot. The Cowboys need someone to emerge behind DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer. Phillips mentioned that former Texas Tech star Brandon Williams was showing signs of being up to the task before suffering an injury last preseason. Both Phillips and Ware are excited about Williams' future. The Cowboys also have second-year player Victor Butler, who had his moments in '09. But I still think the Cowboys will look for help in next month's draft. They'll probably go with an offensive lineman at No. 27 overall, but it wouldn't surprise me if that next pick was an outside linebacker.
Everyone knows that replacing Ken Hamlin at safety is also a point of emphasis with the Cowboys. That's why I think Dallas will keep a close eye on which player starts to slip in the first round. If teams get fascinated with all this left tackle depth, a couple of safeties might start to slide in the first round. But I think the Cowboys also will look to draft another cornerback. As the Eagles found out last season, you can never have enough corners. The Cowboys were pretty fortunate with injuries in '09, but they can't count on Terence Newman, Mike Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick to make it through the season without getting banged up. So yes, I think cornerback is certainly an under-the-radar need.
We all assume the Giants will take a defensive player with the No. 15 pick. And Tom Coughlin basically confirmed that during the recent owners meetings. But don't be surprised if the Giants look to take another running back this season. I don't know whether Andre Brown (Achilles' tendon) will make a full return, so it's important to keep developing young backs. Both Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw were banged up in '09. The Giants need to create more depth at that position.
I also think tight end is an under-the-radar need. Kevin Boss has developed into a consistent threat, but the Giants need to identify and draft another tight end. I think Travis Beckum has some talent as he heads into his second season, but he's more of an H-back than a true tight end. Don't be surprised if the Giants go for a tight end in the third or fourth round. And keep the offensive and defensive linemen coming. General manager Jerry Reese knows that his offensive line is starting to show some age, so look for him to add depth via the draft. So far, last season's free agency moves with defensive tackles Chris Canty and Rocky Bernard look pretty sketchy, so they'll have to address that position as well.
The Eagles have some rather glaring needs at linebacker and safety. If you think Marlin Jackson's the automatic answer at free safety, you're a pretty optimistic Eagles fan. I don't trust a man who's had an ACL tear on each knee the past two seasons. So you have to take a long look at rookies such as Nate Allen and Taylor Mays and decide what you want to do at No. 24.
The Eagles also have an under-the-radar need at tight end. Brent Celek has emerged as one of the best in the league, but the Eagles could use a blocking tight end to help the running game. Mike Bell gives them more power in the backfield. Now, they have to open a hole or two in short-yardage situations. The Eagles have an excellent fullback, but let's not act like Leonard Weaver's some type of battering ram at that position.
In other news, it's time to draft some more cornerbacks. Sheldon Brown's starting to break down and Asante Samuel didn't play well down the stretch. His interception totals are nice, but the guy makes way too many mistakes. Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott was very frustrated with him at times. The Eagles have to create more depth at cornerback -- and the draft's a good place to start.
We know where Washington stands at quarterback and left tackle. I think Jason Campbell could do a nice job for Mike Shanahan, but so far, the coach isn't really embracing the incumbent starter. But those are the obvious needs. Honestly, there are no under-the-radar needs because the Redskins need help at pretty much every position. Maybe with the presence of Albert Haynesworth and Maake Kemoeatu, folks have been lulled into thinking the Redskins are OK at defensive tackle. But I don't think that's the case. If you can find a nose tackle early in the draft, you have to think about selecting him. Haynesworth's going to line up at defensive end the majority of the time. He wants no part of playing nose tackle, although he'll be there some of the time.
The Redskins would also be wise to look for inside linebackers for their new 3-4 scheme. If you think London Fletcher's going to succeed in a 3-4, you haven't studied the league. Little guys like Fletcher simply don't function well in this type of defense. Ask the Cowboys' former mighty mites Dat Nguyen and Dexter Coakley. It just doesn't work for 5-10 guys to be taking on 340-pound guards who are light on their feet. So yes, inside linebacker might qualify as an under-the-radar need.
The Redskins still have questions at punter and placekicker as well. They have needs all over the roster, so this could rank as the most important draft in the last 20 years. Nothing's really under-the-radar when it comes to this team's draft needs.