NFL Nation: combine preview 2013

NFC combine preview: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

NFL Nation previews the 2013 scouting combine by identifying the most important thing for each team to learn about its greatest area of need.

Denver: The Denver Post reported that the Broncos plan to let Nate Irving and Steve Johnson battle for the middle linebacker job. But this is a strong class and I think Denver will closely be watching the movement of the middle linebackers at the combine. It could start with Manti Te’o. He clearly has a lot of damage control to do after the fake girlfriend fiasco. If Te’o falls down the board at the combine, Denver could have a decision to make at No. 28. Football-wise, Te’o would be a great value at that spot. Also, Denver will be watching fellow Mike linebackers Alec Ogletree of Georgia and Kevin Minter of LSU. Both are rising stars. Ogletree, though, was recently arrested on suspicion of drunk driving, and that will be a major topic at the combine. It will be interesting to see if the performances of the middle linebackers at the combine sways Denver from committing to the competition between Irving and Johnson.

Kansas City: It’s the biggest question of the combine. Will a quarterback impress the Chiefs enough to tempt them to use the No. 1 pick on him? Right now, the odds are against it. Top quarterback prospect Geno Smith of West Virginia plans to throw at the combine. If he excels, Smith could put himself in the conversation for the top pick. If not, the Chiefs will likely find their new quarterback on the veteran trade or free agency market. Another top prospect, Matt Barkley of USC, is still not healthy enough to throw at the combine because of a shoudler injury. Still, the Chiefs will likely talk to him with the idea of possibly using a second-round pick on him.

Oakland: The Raiders are in a position of strength in the draft. They are simply going to let the draft board come to them with the No. 3 pick. Oakland has massive defensive needs across the board. It will very likely take the best defensive player available at No. 3. Fortunately for the Raiders, this draft is loaded with defensive talent at the top of the draft. So Oakland is just going to watch the combine and stack its defensive board. It's a good place to be for Oakland.

San Diego: The Chargers need a left tackle badly. The problem is, the position isn’t deep at the top of the draft. The top left tackles are Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel, Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher and Oklahoma’s Lane Johnson. Joeckel will surely be a top-five pick, and Fisher and Johnson were stars at the Senior Bowl. If both players shine at the combine, the Chargers may have to worry that both will be gone by the time they pick at No. 11. So it’s almost as if they’ll hope Fisher and Johnson don’t have mind-blowing performances at the combine.

NFL scouting combine preview: AFC East

February, 20, 2013
2/20/13
12:00
PM ET
NFC combine preview: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

NFL Nation previews the 2013 scouting combine by identifying the most important thing for each team to learn about its greatest area of need.

Buffalo Bills: Is there a top-10 quarterback? The Bills hold the No. 8 overall pick and are looking for a long-term solution at the position. But is there one in this year’s draft worth taking that high? Buffalo needs to continue its evaluation this week to find out. Currently, the Bills have Ryan Fitzpatrick and Tarvaris Jackson on the roster in what will be an open competition. A rookie most likely will be thrown in the mix. But whether it's a first-round pick such as Geno Smith, or a second-rounder or later like Ryan Nassib, remains to be seen. Expect the Bills to poke and prod all of the top quarterback prospects this week.

Miami Dolphins: Who is the top wide receiver? The Dolphins need offensive playmakers in the worst way. They were 27th in the NFL in passing last year, and leading receiver Brian Hartline is an unrestricted free agent who may not return. Young quarterback Ryan Tannehill needs legitimate weapons around him entering his second season. The Dolphins will hit free agency hard with options like Greg Jennings and Mike Wallace. But Miami also could look to the draft, perhaps as early as the No. 12 pick. There is no slam-dunk receiver in this group. But prospects such as Cordarrelle Patterson and Keenan Allen could be of interest in the first round, especially if Hartline doesn't re-sign.

New England Patriots: Who are the top corners and safeties? The Patriots won the division last season and were within a game of the Super Bowl. This isn't a team with a lot of glaring needs, but the secondary is definitely one of them. The Patriots need upgrades and depth at cornerback and safety. It won't be easy for New England to find elite talent in the first round. The Patriots have the 29th pick, which means many of the top players will be off the board. But they must do their homework at the combine to zero in on quality prospects who could be overlooked, particularly for the secondary.

New York Jets: Where are the offensive playmakers? The conventional train of thought is New York will draft a defensive player in the first round. It has been that way three of the past four years Rex Ryan has coached the Jets. The exception was the first year, when Ryan and the Jets needed a quarterback and picked Mark Sanchez No. 5 overall. That hasn't worked too well. But most of the Jets' major demands this year are on offense -- they need help scoring points. To do that, the Jets need to identify the top offensive playmakers at tight end, running back, right tackle, wide receiver and, yes, quarterback. Will New York finally draft a player for the offense in the first round under new general manager John Idzik? The Jets first must determine if there are offensive skill players worth taking in the top 10.
NFC combine preview: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

NFL Nation previews the 2013 scouting combine by identifying the most important thing for each team to learn about its greatest area of need.

Houston Texans: Andre Johnson still dictates matchups, but the Texans lack sufficient options in the receiving group after him. Last year they tried to fill out the position with a third-rounder (DeVier Posey) and fourth-rounder (Keshawn Martin). Both have promise, but aren’t especially dynamic. And Posey is recovering from an Achilles injury suffered in the playoff loss at New England. So the combine question is, can a receiver who can stretch the field and qualify as a No. 1 guy in a few years be there for them at No. 27? Cordarrelle Patterson from Tennessee and Keenan Allen from Cal could be gone. Does DeAndre Hopkins of Clemson have enough speed? Does Tavon Austin of West Virginia have enough size?

Indianapolis Colts: How do the cornerbacks run? The Colts have a lot of needs, but none ranks bigger than cornerback, where they need a second starter and perhaps a nickel, as well as depth. Alabama’s Dee Milliner seems largely regarded to be the top guy at the spot heading into the combine. Odds are he’ll be gone by the 24th pick. So how do the next guys run, and how capable are they of playing man-to-man coverage? I think sorting through that for Florida State’s Xavier Rhodes, Washington’s Desmond Trufant and Mississippi State’s Johnthan Banks could be the biggest thing Indianapolis needs to do at this combine.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Who are the two best pass-rushing defensive ends in this draft class for a Gus Bradley/Bob Babich defense? That’s the biggest question for the team holding the No. 2 pick in the April draft. Because if the Chiefs take a pass-rusher first overall, then the Jaguars can do no worse than get their second-favorite guy. Certainly they can go in virtually any direction given the state of their roster. But coming off a season that saw the Jags produce fewer sacks (20) than J.J. Watt had by himself for Houston (20.5), they need to answer a long-standing problem. A new defense simply has to get to the quarterback more than the old defense did. Is Bjoern Werner from Florida State or Damontre Moore of Texas A&M a potential answer?

Tennessee Titans: A pass-rusher and a strong safety are big needs. But they won’t help Jake Locker the way an interior offensive lineman (or two) can. So the Titans need to see if they rate Alabama’s Chance Warmack and North Carolina’s Jonathan Cooper as highly as many analysts do, and if they find one or both worth the No. 10 pick if they are available. If they don’t think they are, is there a second- or third-round prospect they believe can be an immediate and long-term starter? If Tennessee doesn’t find a guard scenario it loves, perhaps it will be more likely to shop for a free agent for the interior.
NFC combine preview: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

NFL Nation previews the 2013 scouting combine by identifying the most important thing for each team to learn about its greatest area of need.

Baltimore Ravens: Days after the Ravens won the Super Bowl, general manager Ozzie Newsome pointed to the middle of the defense as the team's biggest need. Inside linebacker is the popular choice as the Ravens' biggest void, considering the retirement of Ray Lewis and the uncertainty with Jameel McClain (spinal cord contusion). That's why LSU's Kevin Minter has been linked to Baltimore. But Newsome was also talking about defensive tackle and safety. Nose tackle Ma'ake Kemoeatu was average at best, and backup Terrence Cody has been a disappointment. Safety could end up being the Ravens' biggest need if they are unable to re-sign Ed Reed. There always seems to be good value at that position at the bottom of the first round.

Cincinnati Bengals: Strong safety is the biggest area of concern for the Bengals. Actually, it's been a need for the past two years, but the Bengals essentially ignored it last offseason. The hope was for Taylor Mays to take over that spot. When that didn't work out, Cincinnati tried to convert cornerback Nate Clements to safety. When that didn't work out, the Bengals brought back Chris Crocker, who is merely a stopgap player. Texas' Kenny Vaccaro makes a lot of sense for the Bengals at the No. 21 pick. Florida's Matt Elam is another highly-rated prospect at safety who could start immediately. The Bengals also need to add more youth at linebacker and speed at running back.

Cleveland Browns: The hope is for the Browns to address one of their top needs -- outside linebacker and cornerback -- with the No. 6 overall pick. That means keeping their fingers crossed that either Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones or Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner will fall out of the top five. Jones and Milliner are the top prospects at their positions. The Browns are transitioning to a 3-4 defense under new coordinator Ray Horton and need to find versatile outside linebackers. Cleveland won't find a better one than Jones, who is an elite playmaker off the edge. Under Horton, the Browns are expected to blitz more, which puts more pressure on the cornerbacks. The Browns could play that style if they pair Milliner with Joe Haden.

Pittsburgh Steelers: As I addressed at length Tuesday, the Steelers need to find a way to come away with a feature running back in this draft. The biggest need on defense is at linebacker. There's a chance the Steelers could return all four starters from last season: LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison on the outside and Lawrence Timmons and Larry Foote on the inside. If Pittsburgh is able to do this, and it could take a pay cut from Harrison, no one expects this to be the starting group in 2014. Foote would be 34 by the start of 2014, and Harrison would be nearing Ray Lewis territory at 36. It would be solid forward thinking to take a linebacker with the No. 17 overall pick. Could the Steelers be the team to take Notre Dame's Manti Te'o? His showing the combine (on the field and in interviews) could determine whether or not he slips out of the top half of the first round.

NFL scouting combine preview: NFC East

February, 19, 2013
2/19/13
12:00
PM ET
NFC combine preview: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

NFL Nation previews the 2013 scouting combine by identifying the most important thing for each team to learn about its greatest area of need.

Dallas Cowboys: The switch from a 3-4 defensive alignment to a 4-3, and the likelihood of losing Anthony Spencer to free agency, means the Cowboys' greatest need is on the defensive line. Is there a pass-rushing defensive end who will be available with the No. 18 overall pick? Is there a 1-technique nose tackle they could take in the first or second round who would allow them flexibility with other players on that line? Dallas also needs help on the offensive line and will be looking at the top guards. They traded up last year to get cornerback Morris Claiborne. Could they trade up for someone like Alabama guard Chance Warmack?

New York Giants: It's a good year for the Giants to employ their best-player-available philosophy with their No. 19 overall pick, because they have a number of positions of need. Osi Umenyiora has one foot out the door, and you know the Giants like to look at pass-rushers in the first round. But they could also go offensive line, linebacker, cornerback ... any number of ways, really. For the Giants, the combine will be about prioritizing their needs. Perhaps the interview process helps them figure out which player -- rather than which position -- is worthy of their first-round pick.

Philadelphia Eagles: Drafting No. 4 overall, the Eagles need a franchise difference-maker. Their first order of business is finding out whether their quarterback of the future is in this draft. But if guys like Geno Smith and Matt Barkley don't rise to fourth-pick worthiness, the Eagles will need a building-block piece at a vital position. Luke Joeckel at offensive tackle. Star Lotulelei for defensive line. Dee Milliner at cornerback. The Eagles will be able to pick almost anyone they want and probably get a great player as a consolation prize for their terrible season. Though their greatest roster needs right now appear to be on defense, they shouldn't shy away from using that fourth overall pick on a difference-making tackle or even a quarterback if they find one they love. Drafting in the top five isn't about filling an immediate need as much as it's about finding someone around whom you can build for the long term.

Washington Redskins: The Redskins traded their first-round pick in the Robert Griffin III deal and don't pick until No. 51 -- the 19th pick in the second round. This makes their scouting more challenging and their combine itinerary different from that of many other teams. There's no way for them to guess how the first 50 picks will go, so they must cast a wide net as they look for help at safety and cornerback. Fortunately for them, this draft appears deep with talented secondary players. The Redskins' mission this week will be to try to figure out which of the guys they like will still be available for them when it's finally their turn to pick.

NFL scouting combine preview: NFC West

February, 19, 2013
2/19/13
12:00
PM ET
NFC combine preview: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

NFL Nation previews the 2013 scouting combine by identifying the most important thing for each team to learn about its greatest area of need.

Arizona Cardinals: Quarterback is the most obvious and critical need area for the Cardinals. The team can use this combine to figure out whether any of the prospects at the position would warrant the seventh overall selection. Conventional wisdom says Geno Smith and Matt Barkley aren't promising enough to justify selecting so early. As we discussed earlier Tuesday, the Cardinals' division rivals from San Francisco showed two years ago how it's done at No. 7. They bucked expectations to select a quarterback that early, choosing Aldon Smith instead. The 49ers then found their quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, in the second round. The Cardinals head to this combine needing to fall in love with a quarterback for the right reasons. It happened for Seattle last year (Russell Wilson), and it happened for the 49ers with Kaepernick. Neither was a first-round selection, but both were players each team badly wanted to select in the early stages.

St. Louis Rams: Offensive line is probably the greatest need area. The Rams proved last season they could function offensively in the absence of front-line talent along the line. Line coach Paul T. Boudreau prides himself in rewarding the best players regardless of draft status. Coach Jeff Fisher's teams have never used a first-round choice for an offensive lineman when Fisher was a head coach. Fisher's teams have used two second-round selections (2005, 1996) and two third-rounders (1997, 1999) for the position. It's still important for the Rams to identify starting-caliber linemen for drafting in 2013. Lane Johnson (Oklahoma) and D.J. Fluker (Alabama) are two tackles whom analysts project as potentially available when the Rams are scheduled to select with the 16th and 22nd overall selections. Would either one be worthy of such a high selection? Alabama guard Chance Warmack is another lineman to consider.

San Francisco 49ers: Defensive line has to be a primary focus area for the 49ers at this combine. Justin Smith will turn 34 in September and will be coming off arm surgery. He and fellow defensive end Ray McDonald rank among the NFL's top four in most snaps played by defensive linemen over the past two seasons. Depth along the line needs reinforcing even if Smith returns to top form and plays another couple of seasons at his customary high level. Kentwan Balmer and Ricky Jean Francois are the only true defensive linemen the 49ers have selected in any round over the past five drafts. Balmer was a bust. Jean Francois can become a free agent this offseason. With that in mind, the 49ers head to the combine looking to identify defensive linemen worth drafting as early as 31st overall. UCLA's Datone Jones and Georgia's John Jenkins are two guys to investigate further.

Seattle Seahawks: Defensive line and receiver are two positions for the Seahawks to keep in mind heading to Indianapolis for the combine. Improving the pass rush was a priority even before the team's sacks leader, Chris Clemons, suffered a torn ACL against Washington during the wild-card playoff round. The team could stand to improve its pass-rush push on the interior and exterior alike. Seattle gets much credit for landing impact players throughout its three drafts under general manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll. However, 2012 first-rounder Bruce Irvin stands as the only true defensive lineman the current regime has selected in the top three rounds. Fourth-rounders Jaye Howard and E.J. Wilson were the only ones drafted in the first six rounds. Trading for Clemons and converting Red Bryant from tackle to end eased pressure to target the defensive line in past drafts. The pressure is there now. Seattle has boldly bucked convention with some of its draft picks. Is there a defensive lineman in this draft with the unusual traits Carroll seems to value?
NFC combine preview: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

NFL Nation previews the 2013 scouting combine by identifying the most important thing for each team to learn about its greatest area of need.

Atlanta Falcons: The defensive line needs to be a focus this offseason. Defensive end John Abraham and defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux are the team’s two best defensive linemen and they’re not getting any younger. The Falcons could use a run-stuffer in the middle and a pass-rusher on the outside. But the Falcons aren't picking until No. 30 and there's no guarantee there will be value there, so Atlanta will have to do its homework at multiple positions to be ready for any scenario.

Carolina Panthers: The team has to figure out whether this draft class is as deep at defensive tackle as many draft experts say. The middle of the defensive line has been a problem for Carolina since the departure of Kris Jenkins after the 2007 season. The Panthers need to fix this once and for all. This draft class has a strong group of defensive tackles, and the Panthers could address this spot in the middle of the first round.

New Orleans Saints: The scouts and coaching staff need to adjust their thinking as the Saints move to a 3-4 defense under new coordinator Rob Ryan. The Saints are in dire need of help on the defensive line and also need to add some outside linebackers who can serve as edge rushers.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Bucs will focus heavily on the defensive secondary after ranking last in the league in passing yards allowed last season. The Bucs need to find out whether they have a chance to get a cornerback in the middle of the first round who can start immediately. They also need to look hard at safeties in case Ronde Barber decides to retire.

NFL scouting combine preview: NFC North

February, 19, 2013
2/19/13
12:00
PM ET
NFC combine preview: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

NFL Nation previews the 2013 scouting combine by identifying the most important thing for each team to learn about its greatest area of need.

Chicago: The Bears have a glaring hole at left tackle, but with the No. 20 pick, they likely aren’t in a position to select any of the consensus top players at the position (Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel, Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher and Oklahoma’s Lane Johnson). The combine is another step in solidifying and ranking their targets among the second tier of left-tackle prospects for first- or later-round consideration. If the Bears don’t feel there is a draftable prospect with starting credentials for 2013, they could find a player in the tackle-rich free-agent market.

Detroit: With the No. 5 pick, the Lions can narrow their focus to a handful of prospects. Since Kyle Vanden Bosch has been released and Cliff Avril is a free agent, the Lions must hone in on the crop of top pass-rushers available and decide whether one is worth the substantial investment of the fifth pick. Taking a player such as Bjoern Werner, Damontre Moore or Barkevious Mingo would soften the blow of potentially losing Avril, and the combine will give the Lions a better sense of what each offers as a replacement. Team president Tom Lewand recently suggested the Lions need to find rookies who can contribute immediately, and being in Indianapolis will allow them to seek a pass-rusher who fits that mold.

Green Bay: There’s a shortage of top-rated running backs available in this draft, and the Packers discovered a bargain find in DuJuan Harris late last season. But there’s still room to upgrade the position, and the Packers need to search for a high-upside back who can be had in the middle rounds perhaps due to a lack of polish or concerns about an aspect of his game. Four of the top seven rookie rushing leaders from 2012 were drafted in the sixth round or later. There’s backfield talent to be had past the first round, and the Packers will head out to survey the landscape of mid-round running backs available.

Minnesota: Adrian Peterson stomped to nearly 2,100 yards in 2012 for an offense without a vertical passing game (or much of a passing offense at all), and finding a speedster to take the top off a defense would make one of the scariest sights in the NFL to an opposing defense even more frightening. The ability of defenses to stack the box helped to mildly contain Peterson; more space would open up if a vertical passing threat is on the field to stress the safeties in coverage. When the wideouts are running their 40s, the Vikings will have their stopwatches ready and be on the lookout for players who project as downfield receiving threats. Regardless of what the team decides to do with slot maven Percy Harvin (GM Rick Spielman recently shut down talk of a trade), adding a vertical receiver is a premium need for Minnesota this offseason.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider