NFL Nation: Draft Watch 2011 Biggest Needs

Draft Watch: AFC East

March, 10, 2011
NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: biggest team needs.

Buffalo Bills

Where would you like to start?

Offense? How about left tackle, right tackle, tight end and -- if there's a great one still on the draft board -- quarterback?

Defense? How about the line, outside linebacker, inside linebacker, cornerback and safety?

Special teams? OK, the Bills are fine there.

But kicker, punter and running back are about the only positions the Bills can draft third overall and not help themselves.

The most pressing needs, however, are tackle and outside linebacker. The Bills haven't drafted an offensive tackle earlier than the fifth round since taking Mike Williams in the first round in 2002, and their line play shows that. They have tried to coach up late draft picks (Demetrius Bell, Ed Wang) and rummaged through free agency (Cornell Green, Mansfield Wrotto, Jonathan Scott, Jamon Meredith) rather than acquire that prized blindside protector.

The Bills were so desperate at outside linebacker they plucked the injury-ravaged Shawne Merriman off waivers last year and then, even though he got hurt again minutes into his first workout, gave him a contract extension.

They can't bank on Merriman to anchor their pass rush. Yet even if he can contribute, they'll need more help. The Bills recorded 27 sacks last year. Only three teams had fewer.

Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins probably will need a running back. They could stand to upgrade at quarterback if they can.

But they definitely need interior offensive linemen.

They recently re-signed left guard Richie Incognito to an extension, but they still have problems at center and right guard. Although they have two solid book-end tackles in Pro perennial Bowl left tackle Jake Long and veteran Vernon Carey, they've been a mess in between for the past three years.

The Dolphins need to upgrade their power running game. Despite having a capable and healthy backfield tandem in Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams last season, the Dolphins ranked 21st in rushing yards, 29th in yards per carry and 29th in rushing touchdowns.

A stud running back certainly can help, and the Dolphins might have little choice but to take one with their 15th selection. Brown's and Williams' contracts are up. That's why so many draft analysts project the Dolphins will take Alabama running back Mark Ingram and then address the O-line later.

New England Patriots

Funny how things work for the Patriots when it comes to draft picks. The reigning AFC East champs might have the fewest needs but have the most draft picks at their disposal.

The Patriots went 14-2 last season and own two draft choices in each of the first three rounds. So the Patriots have the flexibility to go any number of directions.

The most obvious need is outside linebacker. The Patriots' entire outside linebacking corps mustered 13.5 sacks last year. Dolphins outside linebacker Cameron Wake generated 14 sacks all by himself.

Offensive line is another concern because there are so many question marks. Right guard Stephen Neal retired. Left guard Logan Mankins is upset. Left tackle Matt Light isn't signed. Nick Kaczur is coming off serious back surgery. The timing is right to bring in some fresh O-line blood.

The Patriots had one of the NFL's most entertaining backfields last year, with BenJarvus Green-Ellis rushing for over 1,000 yards and Danny Woodhead making the Jets look foolish for cutting him. But each running back has his limitations, and the Patriots could be on the lookout for an all-purpose back adept at catching a pass and converting a third-and-short.

New York Jets

The Jets are in a weird spot. They finished the season as a team with talent at virtually every position.

But they have a crowded group of free agents and couldn't bring themselves to sign any (aside from giving inside linebacker David Harris the franchise tag) until a new collective bargaining agreement was in place. The Jets want to know what the new salary cap is before moving forward.

That leaves a lot of loose ends for the Jets heading into the draft. Will they need a receiver to replace Santonio Holmes or Braylon Edwards? A cornerback to replace Antonio Cromartie?

The needs we can bank on are outside linebacker and safety.

The Jets must generate a better pass rush and still need to recover from the Vernon Gholston pick that set them back. Outside linebacker Bryan Thomas is competent, but no star. He led the Jets with just six sacks. Calvin Pace had 5.5 sacks. The recently released Jason Taylor added five.

Safety is an area of emphasis because they could have stood to upgrade even before Brodney Pool, Eric Smith and James Ihedigbo became free agents. Jim Leonhard is a Rex Ryan favorite but recovering from a broken shin.

Draft Watch: AFC South

March, 10, 2011
NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: Needs.

Houston Texans

Where to start? The defense needs a major personnel infusion, starting at safety, where this draft is weak. Eugene Wilson (cut) and Bernard Pollard (not tendered in case he would be restricted) are not going to be back. They need candidates for both starting spots.

Outside linebacker in Wade Phillips’ 3-4 is a void, where rehabbing 4-3 end Connor Barwin is slated to be one guy and there is a blank on the other.

The team has talked confidently about Shaun Cody, who got a two-year contract, and second-year man Earl Mitchell being capable of playing the nose for Phillips. They can certainly upgrade.

The best answer for a group of too-young cornerbacks would be a veteran, not a rookie, but who knows how the next guy arrives? And a No. 2 wide receiver better than Kevin Walter who can do what they’d hoped Jacoby Jones would do would be nice.

Indianapolis Colts

We’ve been hearing about the need to get a tough yard in a crucial situation with the run game for some time and haven’t seen the personnel changes necessary. Then Bill Polian said during the season that yes, offensive tackle Rodger Saffold (drafted by the Rams in the second round) could have helped the Colts. The team needs offensive linemen, plural. At least one high-quality guy who can contribute from opening day would be big.

When they're healthy, Indianapolis has a great four-pack of receivers in Reggie Wayne, Austin Collie, Pierre Garcon and Anthony Gonzalez. But health questions on Collie and Gonzalez will linger; none of those guys looks to be an heir to Wayne’s role, and the Peyton Manning-era Colts have spent premium picks on skill guys.

The corner depth proved pretty good, but even if they are ultimately able to re-sign Melvin Bullitt, the Colts need some depth at safety.

Jacksonville Jaguars

While Courtney Greene may be a serviceable NFL safety, Don Carey probably is not. Odds are the Jaguars draft one and sign one at a position that was a big weakness in 2010.

Linebacker is also a spot of need. Daryl Smith is locked in, but the team probably will allow Kirk Morrison and Justin Durant to walk as free agents, meaning they need a starter on the middle and the outside.

Defensive end wouldn’t seem a need considering the team drafted Larry Hart and Austen Lane last season after adding veteran Aaron Kampman. But the pass rush is not where they want it, and a rush end could well be a position they address.

Inconsistent quarterback David Garrard needs to see the team have a legitimate alternative, and he should come from this draft. And those two quarterbacks plus Luke McCown need a No. 1-caliber receiver to head a group that won’t bring Mike Sims-Walker back.

Tennessee Titans

It starts under center, where the Titans do not have a No. 1 or No. 2 quarterback. They intend to add one veteran and one rookie and could easily spend their first or second pick on a signal-caller.

The team needs to get bigger and more durable on the defensive line. A beefy tackle and a rugged defensive end are on the wish list, and both could help make things easier for the rest of the defense. The interior didn’t collapse the pocket a lot, and the smallish ends wore down. Three of them are heading for free agency -- Jason Babin, Dave Ball and Jacob Ford.

Stephen Tulloch is heading for free agency, and the Titans didn’t get enough plays out of the linebackers last year, so they could upgrade.

Chris Hope’s replacement at strong safety doesn’t appear to be on the roster. While it’s a thin draft at the spot, the Titans need to find a candidate.

Draft Watch: NFC South

March, 10, 2011
NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: biggest team needs.

Atlanta Falcons

Perhaps the biggest positive to come out of a 13-3 season that ended with a disappointing playoff loss to Green Bay is that it made Atlanta’s offseason needs so clear. Coach Mike Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff have said, in no uncertain terms, the Falcons need to become more explosive on both sides of the ball, and they have established a track record of working together to get what they want.

It’s no secret that Atlanta’s biggest need is to improve the pass rush. Veteran John Abraham stepped up with 13.5 sacks last season, but there’s no guarantee that will continue. Even if Abraham produces another big season, the Falcons need another defensive end to help provide a more consistent pass rush. Although the team used its first-round pick on linebacker Sean Weatherspoon last year, another athletic outside linebacker is a possibility, because Mike Peterson is getting older and Stephen Nicholas might leave via free agency. Speed and athleticism also will be targets on offense. The Falcons have a good power running game with Michael Turner and Jason Snelling, but need a speed back to make some big plays. Roddy White is one of the game’s best receivers, but the Falcons would like to add a speedster to stretch the field.

Offensive line also is a possibility, because the Falcons have several possible free agents and it remains to be seen if the team is really sold on left tackle Sam Baker.

Carolina Panthers

New coach Ron Rivera takes over a roster that’s not as depleted as last year’s 2-14 record might suggest. There are some areas of strength -- defensive end, running back and linebacker. Some consistent play at quarterback would go a long way toward making the Panthers competitive quickly. It remains to be seen if the Panthers will take a leap on Cam Newton or Blaine Gabbert in the draft, or try to get a veteran through free agency or via trade.

Whatever the Panthers decide at quarterback, there are some other big needs that will have to be addressed in the draft. The middle of the defensive line has been a problem spot the past two seasons, and Auburn’s Nick Fairley is a candidate for the No. 1 overall pick. The wild card in all this could be LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson. Some say he’s the best player in the draft, and there is uncertainty about the futures of cornerbacks Richard Marshall and Chris Gamble. The rule of thumb is that you don’t take a cornerback with the top pick of the draft. But Peterson might be the most complete player in the draft, so the Panthers have to at least consider breaking the rules.

New Orleans Saints

Assuming the restricted free agent tags hold up with a new labor agreement, the Saints should be able to keep a pretty strong roster intact. That said, there are some obvious areas of need. On defense, the Saints could use another pass-rusher to team with Will Smith. Alex Brown and Jimmy Wilkerson were adequate last season, but not dynamic. The basis of a Gregg Williams defense is to create turnovers, and that starts with a pass rush up front. An athletic outside linebacker also is high on the list. The Saints thought they had enough young guys last year to let Scott Fujita walk in free agency. But several of those young linebackers were injured, and that spot became a problem.

Offensively, the Saints are pretty well set at the skill positions, but it’s possible they could at least look to add another running back at some point. Reggie Bush's future remains uncertain and the Saints were hampered by injuries at running back last season. Although the Saints drafted Charles Brown last year, offensive tackle could be addressed again. Brown might get a shot to start ahead of Jermon Bushrod at left tackle, but the Saints might like to add one more person to that competition.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Despite a surprising 10-6 record last season, the rebuilding job is far from done in Tampa Bay. The Bucs still need to upgrade the talent level at several positions, and defensive end appears to be first on the list. Stylez G. White and Tim Crowder ended up as the starters last season and weren’t able to generate much of a pass rush. After using the first two picks of last year’s draft on defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Brian Price, the Bucs would like to surround them with young talent on the outside.

The Bucs could be looking for a middle linebacker if Barrett Ruud leaves via free agency, and more depth at outside linebacker also is a possibility. The uncertain future of suspended safety Tanard Jackson means the Bucs might have to look for depth at that position. The offensive needs aren’t as big, but the Bucs could use a running back to help share the load with LeGarrette Blount.

Draft Watch: NFC West

March, 10, 2011
NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: biggest team needs.

Arizona Cardinals

Quarterback stands out as the most obvious need for the Cardinals after Arizona suffered through a rough 2010 season with Derek Anderson, Max Hall and John Skelton under center. Acquiring a veteran passer in free agency or trade would clear the way for Arizona to focus on other areas in the draft. But if the labor impasse continues through April, the Cardinals will face more pressure to find one in the draft.

Beyond quarterback, the Cardinals need fresh talent at outside linebacker to improve their pass rush and perimeter run defense. They need help at offensive tackle, where Levi Brown hasn’t played to his status as the fifth player drafted in 2007. Their starting interior offensive linemen are without contracts for 2011, so that area is another concern.

Arizona does not have a starting-caliber tight end. Inside linebacker is another position needing attention.

San Francisco 49ers

Quarterback, cornerback and outside linebacker rank among primary needs for a team that has invested five first-round picks in its offense since 2006, including three over the past two drafts.

David Carr is the only quarterback under contract to the 49ers for 2011. Starting cornerback Nate Clements will not return under his current contract. Will Alex Smith come back for another year?

While San Francisco’s front seven has been strong, the team hasn’t had a player reach double digits in sacks since Andre Carter had 12.5 in 2002. That was also the last time the 49ers posted a winning record. New defensive coordinator Vic Fangio likes to build around a pass-rusher and a cover corner.

Nose tackle could become another concern. Starter Aubrayo Franklin played last season as a franchise player. The balloon payment Washington paid to Albert Haynesworth pumped up the projected franchise value for defensive tackles, making it prohibitive for the 49ers to name Franklin their franchise player for a second consecutive season, should the designation exist in a new labor agreement.

St. Louis Rams

The Rams are set at quarterback and picking late enough in the first round -- 14th overall -- to let the draft come to them. They’re in position to benefit when a highly ranked player falls unexpectedly. They should not feel pressured to reach for a position even though they do have needs.

It’s important for the team to arm Sam Bradford with a more dynamic outside receiving threat. Injuries severely weakened the position last season. Front-line talent was lacking at the position even when most of the Rams’ wideouts were healthy.

Defensive tackle and outside linebacker jump out as two additional primary needs. Finding a defensive end to develop behind James Hall would also make sense. Landing a right guard in the draft would solidify the offensive line while letting 2010 starter Adam Goldberg back up multiple positions. The team also needs safety help after letting Oshiomogho Atogwe leave. Finding a change-of-pace back to supplement Steven Jackson's contributions might count as a luxury.

Seattle Seahawks

Quarterback will be a primary need if the Seahawks fail to re-sign Matt Hasselbeck. The position needs to be stocked for the long term even if Hasselbeck does come back for an 11th season with the team.

Restocking the offensive line must take priority no matter what happens at quarterback. The Seahawks’ running game has disappeared in recent seasons, putting too much pressure on the rest of the offense. Drafting left tackle Russell Okung sixth overall a year ago was a start. Seattle needs to find answers at both guard spots and probably right tackle (assuming Max Unger returns from injury and takes over at center, as expected). Adding Robert Gallery in free agency could take off some pressure in the draft. Gallery played under Seattle's new line coach, Tom Cable, in Oakland.

The cornerback situation needs attention. Marcus Trufant’s salary jumps significantly, raising questions about how the team will view him coming off an inconsistent season. Another corner Seattle chose in the first round, Kelly Jennings, is without a contract and lacks the size Seattle prefers at the position.

Draft Watch: NFC North

March, 10, 2011
NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: biggest team needs.

Chicago Bears

It's no secret that the Bears patched together a serviceable offensive line last season, one born of trial, error and desperation. But with an entire offseason to prepare, they will need a better Week 1 plan. The Bears need help across the line, and you could make an argument for any of the five positions as their top need. Center Olin Kreutz could relieve the situation by re-signing when the free-agent market opens, but otherwise the Bears don't have a single position with an established starter. It's not clear where incumbents Frank Omiyale, Chris Williams, Roberto Garza or J'Marcus Webb will play in 2011. Meanwhile, the release of defensive tackle Tommie Harris highlighted the Bears' need for an upgraded interior pass rush. The Bears would benefit from a pass-rushing defensive tackle as well as some depth behind defensive ends Julius Peppers and Israel Idonije.

Detroit Lions

The Lions have only two experienced cornerbacks under contract, Nate Vasher and Alphonso Smith. They offered 2010 starter Chris Houston a contract tender, but he is likely to be made an unrestricted free agent when the market opens. The Lions would like him to return but the situation's uncertain. In either event, cornerback is the Lions' top need this offseason. Running a close second is outside linebacker after the Lions released one starter, Julian Peterson, and issued a qualifying tender for another, Zack Follett, whose 2010 neck injury could preclude his return. There has been some discussion about moving middle linebacker DeAndre Levy to the outside, but that probably would still leave the Lions in search of two new starters. Finally, the Lions want more production from their No. 3 receiver after Bryant Johnson and Derrick Williams combined for 21 receptions last season. Good depth at tight end mitigates the urgency of this need, but the Lions are one injury away from a shortage at receiver.

Green Bay Packers

The Super Bowl XLV champions will get an internal boost at several positions from the 15 players who finished last season on injured reserve. As a result, this roster doesn't have many obvious shortcomings. But at the top of a short list is outside linebacker, where the Packers rotated three players opposite Clay Matthews last season. The Packers also must continue crafting their succession plan for longtime offensive tackles Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher. Last year's No. 1 pick, Bryan Bulaga, replaced Tauscher in Week 5. Bulaga could stay at right tackle, or he could ultimately take over for Clifton. In either case, the Packers eventually will need further reinforcements. The same is true at receiver, where veteran Donald Driver is 36 and No. 3/4 receiver James Jones could sign elsewhere as a free agent. Jordy Nelson remains under contract, but Driver's age and Jones' uncertain status make receiver a secondary area of need for the Packers.

Minnesota Vikings

As we've been discussing for months, the Vikings need to acquire at least one and perhaps two new quarterbacks. Their dream scenario is to draft one who is ready to start right away, but that might be difficult if they stay in the No. 12 overall slot. Short of that eventuality, the Vikings might be forced to draft a future starter and sign or trade for a short-term answer. The Vikings are also looking to replace two starters on their defensive line, left end Ray Edwards and nose tackle Pat Williams, and could have three starting positions in their secondary up for grabs. Only cornerback Antoine Winfield seems guaranteed of a starting spot. The receiver position could need an overhaul if they lose Sidney Rice to free agency and Bernard Berrian is ultimately released, as has been speculated.

Draft Watch: NFC East

March, 10, 2011
NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: biggest team needs.

Dallas Cowboys

While its 2010 record did not show it, Dallas has an excellent roster. I see only two major areas to attack this offseason: the secondary and the offensive line. On the back end of the defense, the Cowboys have to add one more cornerback to the mix -- preferably one with the talent to challenge for a starting spot before long. But I see free safety as the bigger need in Dallas’ secondary. A rangy, ball-hawking center fielder type could make a lot of secondary problems go away. Locking up defensive end Stephen Bowen also would be the smart move, but adding another end to the mix even if he does stay also makes sense.

On the offensive line, Doug Free and Kyle Kosier are up for free agency. The Cowboys must bring back Free. Dallas also needs to acquire a starting right tackle, because that position was a major liability last season. Adding youth to the interior should be a priority. Adding a big-time prospect like Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara or USC tackle Tyron Smith or even Cal’s defensive end Cameron Jordan with the ninth pick overall could be exactly what the doctor ordered.

New York Giants

The running back position is somewhat unsettled, and if Ahmad Bradshaw were to depart, replacing him would be priority No. 1. But overall, I see the Giants’ offensive needs up front on the offensive line. There was just too much shuffling with this unit in 2010 -- mostly because of injuries. But if the Giants could add an infusion of youth -- specifically at left tackle -- this line might quickly get back to the extremely high level it played at in previous seasons. Kevin Boss is a free agent, which would open up a hole for a starting tight end should he leave.

On defense, the Giants are loaded up front and at safety. But linebacker help would be a huge boost to an already solid defensive nucleus. Adding a cornerback to compete for playing time also would make sense. But I see an every-down, versatile outside linebacker as the position New York would most like to add on the defensive side of the ball right now.

Philadelphia Eagles

The biggest need I see for the Eagles is at cornerback. If they could find a legit starter opposite Asante Samuel, this defense could be poised to jump into the elite category. Maybe they get involved with Nnamdi Asomugha? Depth at the position is also a problem, so adding two bodies at corner could be a wise move. The rest of the defense could use some tweaking, maybe by adding another linebacker or two because there could be change at that position. Another possibility would be adding a defensive end, but those needs pale in comparison next to cornerback. However, if Quintin Mikell were to depart in free agency, a massive hole would emerge at safety. Philly cannot afford to let Mikell walk.

On offense, Andy Reid has never been shy about fortifying his offensive line, and I fully expect him to go that direction again this offseason. Right tackle was a big problem last season, and adding a guard to the mix might make some sense as well. Wisconsin’s Gabe Carimi would be a great fit in the first round. Overall, the Eagles don’t have a ton of pressing needs, but if Jerome Harrison leaves, then a backup to LeSean McCoy will be required as well.

Washington Redskins

I hate to say it, but I believe the Redskins need everything. On offense, they need help in all areas except tight end. On defense, they need help in all areas except safety. That sounds extreme -- and it is. But for the Redskins to catch up with the other teams in the division, a lot of work needs to be done.

On offense, they could use a right tackle if Jammal Brown leaves via free agency. They also probably need interior offensive line help no matter what. The running backs are pedestrian. The wideout group needs an influx of talent, and would be decimated if Santana Moss departed. At quarterback, few teams are in as bad of shape as the Redskins right now.

The defensive side looks better, but really, how many building block players are in place? I like the safeties. Among other things, nose tackle is a massive need if the team is to properly run the 3-4. Brian Orakpo is a great young player, but they need a pass-rusher opposite him. They don’t have many good fits overall for the 3-4. And -- by the way -- their kicking specialists might need to be replaced.

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Draft Watch: AFC North

March, 10, 2011
NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: biggest team needs.

Baltimore Ravens

Baltimore's offensive line gradually fell apart as the 2010 season progressed, and it affected both the running and passing game. That is why the Ravens' biggest need entering next month's draft is offensive tackle. The Ravens tried Marshal Yanda, Tony Moll and Oniel Cousins at right tackle and never found the right combination to pair with Michael Oher. Even Oher struggled at times on the left side. If the Ravens are fortunate enough to find a true left tackle in the draft with the No. 26 pick, they could put Oher back at right tackle, where he thrived as a rookie.

Pass rush is a concern but not nearly as pressing. Some mock drafts also have the Ravens taking a cornerback. Josh Wilson and Chris Carr are both free agents. But if one or both were re-signed, I think the Ravens would feel more comfortable with their secondary than people think. Starter Domonique Foxworth is returning from a knee injury, and Lardarius Webb still has room for growth.

Cincinnati Bengals

When you're picking so high in the draft, you have a variety of needs. The Bengals own the No. 4 overall pick -- the highest in the AFC North -- and could go several ways.

Currently, most of the attention has been put on Cincinnati's quarterback position after Carson Palmer's threat to retire. The Bengals say they're taking this situation seriously, and speculation has increased that they might be interested in Auburn quarterback Cam Newton, who reportedly will hold a private workout for Cincinnati.

But unless the Bengals are 100 percent certain they will trade Palmer or he will retire, they may want to address other needs in the first round, like the defensive line. Cincinnati needs more help with its pass rush up front. The Bengals can always come back and draft "Palmer insurance" in the second round. Prospects include Arkansas' Ryan Mallett, Florida State's Christian Ponder or TCU's Andy Dalton.

Cleveland Browns

The Browns' two biggest needs are wide receiver and defensive line, and they could really be 1A and 1B. Cleveland could have a chance to improve both positions with the No. 6 overall pick.

Cleveland's passing game needs help. Rookie quarterback Colt McCoy had no one to throw the ball to last season. That really showed in the final two games, when the stiff defenses of the Ravens and Steelers put a hurting on McCoy. A legitimate No. 1 threat like A.J. Green could be just what they need in rookie head coach Pat Shurmur's new West Coast offense.

Defensively, Cleveland is very thin on the defensive line. There are very good prospects this year at defensive end and defensive tackle in the top 10, and the Browns could have their choice of several. Cleveland is switching to a 4-3 defense, where the linemen in the trenches are very important. If the Browns don't patch up their defensive line, they could get run over this season in this physical division.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Pittsburgh has very few holes to fill, and its needs are clear-cut. The team could use an upgrade and depth at cornerback and the offensive line.

Although not by much, the need at cornerback is probably more pressing, especially if the Steelers can't re-sign No. 1 cornerback Ike Taylor. The lack of depth in Pittsburgh's secondary was exposed in Super Bowl XLV, as the Green Bay Packers used three- and four-receiver sets to pick apart Dick LeBeau's defense. Opponents will continue to follow that blueprint until Pittsburgh finds a counter, and it starts with getting better cornerbacks.

The offensive line has been an issue for years. Pittsburgh could use help at either guard or tackle. The Steelers hit big last year in the first round with Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey. Another blue-chip lineman could go a long way toward helping get the Steelers back in title contention.

Draft Watch: AFC West

March, 10, 2011
NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: Biggest team needs.

Denver Broncos

The Broncos, who have the No. 2 overall pick, currently have six draft picks (four in the top 67 picks). I wouldn’t be surprised if the Broncos stuck with the six picks, and five of them could be dedicated to defense. Denver was last in total defense and points allowed in 2010. New head coach John Fox is a defensive specialist, and he will look to upgrade this unit in the draft.

Although Denver has needs throughout the defense, its biggest needs are on front seven. Denver is moving from a 3-4 defense to a 4-3 look under Fox. Denver needs a lot of help at the defensive line. It is looking for a pass-rusher and for multiple defensive tackles. I bet it will also look for a middle linebacker and a strongside linebacker. D.J. Williams probably will play weakside if he doesn’t play in the middle. Denver probably will look at the defensive line first with the No. 2 pick.

It could also use a safety and it probably will consider LSU’s Patrick Peterson at No. 2 pick because he is so special. Once Denver addresses its defensive needs, it probably will consider a right tackle and a tight end. Running backs will also be considered.

Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs have one of the more exciting young rosters in the NFL. But Kansas City, which went 10-6 and was a surprise AFC West winner in 2010, has some needs. If the Chiefs get the right front seven players for their intriguing 3-4 defense, this unit could be top notch soon.

Kansas City could use a pass-rusher to team with Tamba Hali. Hali, who was given the franchise tag last month, led the AFC with 14.5 sacks in 2010. This is a very strong draft for pass-rushers, so the Chiefs should have a lot of options at No. 21.

The Chiefs, who lost out to New Orleans for Shaun Rogers, also are looking for some help at defensive tackle. I think the Chiefs are looking for two defensive tackles through the draft and free agency this offseason. A huge run stuffer will be a top priority.

Offensively, I can see the Chiefs looking for a receiver and a perhaps a right tackle. I wouldn’t be shocked if the Chiefs used a very high pick on a receiver. Kansas City is looking for a legitimate No. 2 receiver to pair with Dwayne Bowe. If an upgrade from Barry Richardson can be found, I think Kansas City would consider it. I also wouldn’t be shocked if Kansas City looked for a developmental quarterback in the middle rounds.

Oakland Raiders

One of the interesting aspects of this improving team is that it really doesn’t have a ton of pressing needs. It has young players penciled in through the lineup on both sides of the ball. The only question is whether these young players are ready.

But the Raiders do have some needs, starting on the offensive line. They could have multiple openings in the starting lineup. I’d think the Raiders would seriously consider using the No. 48 pick -- Oakland’s first-round pick was sent to New England for Richard Seymour in 2009 -- on an offensive lineman, probably a guard.

Oakland may need to take a cornerback early if Nnamdi Asomugha leaves in free agency. Other areas that may need to be upgraded because of free agency include safety and tight end.

Oakland also could look for a developmental quarterback in the middle rounds and could consider a linebacker and receiver at some point in the draft.

San Diego Chargers

The Chargers have one of the better rosters in the NFL, but it could use some sprucing up at several spots. San Diego has extra picks in the second and third rounds, and its five picks in the top three rounds are the second most in the NFL behind New England, which has six.

So, the Chargers have the draft power to get better. Like Kansas City, San Diego will look at the strong class of pass-rushers first. The Chargers could use a defensive end or a pass-rushing linebacker. I would expect San Diego, which has the No. 18 pick, to seriously look to fill this need first.

The Chargers could look for multiple defensive linemen and will surely try to grab an inside linebacker early as well. If Eric Weddle leaves through free agency, safety will also have to be addressed.

San Diego could also look for a receiver early in the draft, depending on free agency. The same thing goes at right tackle. A change-of-pace running back and return man may be needed in the middle rounds if Darren Sproles leaves in free agency. I could also see San Diego looking for a blocking tight end in the middle rounds.