NFL Nation: Draft Watch 21709

Draft Watch: AFC South

February, 17, 2010
2/17/10
12:00
PM ET
NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Wednesday 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: biggest team needs.

Houston Texans

A potent offense might be one player away from diversifying in a huge way. The Texans need a bigger running back who has third-down/short-yardage/goal-line vision and skill. By pairing that player with Steve Slaton, the Texans could build a run game that sufficiently supplements the pass attack.

Interior offensive line depth is an issue too, but the other big issues are on defense. Free safety and defensive tackle have been issues for too long and corner depth is a concern that turns into an outright need if Dunta Robinson isn’t retained.

Indianapolis Colts

The Colts need options on the offensive line, where they are loaded with smart guys but need to have more of a physical presence to ensure they can move people in the run game for a crucial third-and-short. With Howard Mudd retiring as position coach and Pete Metzelaars expected to take over, the Colts will do well to increase the quality options.

It runs counter to how they’ve operated, but because they should be deep at receiver and corner if they are healthy, a return specialist could provide a great boost. Depth at defensive end also rates worth a mention.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars could add people anywhere but offensive tackle, and that’s only because they addressed that position with their top two picks last year in GM Gene Smith’s first draft. Pass-rushers are a giant priority -- if they can hurry the quarterback more often, the backers and secondary will improve.

Interior offensive line and safety are issues too, but everything is trumped by quarterback. The Jaguars have acknowledged that David Garrard's not elite, and you’ll find an elite quarterback or a young guy with a chance to be one on every team from the 2009 playoffs.

Tennessee Titans

Because the Titans have more free agents than anyone else in the division, their needs could change based on who they retain. But no matter who they might re-sign, they’ve got to get younger on defense and need help at cornerback, defensive end and linebacker.

The return games are major concerns, and they’d be well served to spend a value pick to address it rather than presuming someone will emerge from a field of midrange picks. (How did that work out last season?) They’ll also probably need an interior offensive lineman and could look to add a quarterback to develop.

Draft Watch: NFC East

February, 17, 2010
2/17/10
12:00
PM ET
NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Wednesday 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: biggest team needs.

Dallas Cowboys

I had a chance to visit with owner Jerry Jones on ESPN 103.3 in Dallas-Fort Worth on Tuesday and he made it pretty clear that he's not feeling pressure to fill any certain positions. In some ways, the Cowboys will be rolling out two draft classes in 2010. The '09 class was taken out by a wide variety of injuries, so Jones is anxious to see how some of those players respond. Jones didn't confirm this, but I've been told that the scouting department is taking a long look at the safety position with the No. 27 pick overall. The organization is disappointed in the play of Ken Hamlin and it's time to start looking for his eventual replacement. Alan Ball has looked good at times, but I'm not sure he's ready for full-time duty. The Cowboys also would like to add depth along the offensive line. Doug Free emerged as a solid contributor in '09, but the team needs to continue drafting and developing young linemen. I'm not sure where the Cowboys will find a place-kicker, but it's certainly a major need. In fact, it's probably their biggest need heading into the 2010 season.

New York Giants

The Giants have to figure out what went wrong on defense and start adding talent. Linebacker Clint Sintim is a player from the '09 draft who's expected to take a major step this offseason. And there's also speculation that the Giants could go after Karlos Dansby in free agency. The Cardinals linebacker would give the Giants much-needed speed and power. You also have a major need at safety. The Giants were burned when Kenny Phillips went down with a season-ending knee injury after Week 2. C.C. Brown flamed out as Phillips' replacement and Aaron Rouse wasn't a lot better. You cannot enter the '10 season on a wing and a prayer that Phillips will stay healthy. The Giants will have plenty of options at No. 15. I wouldn't rule out a linebacker with that pick. But if a talented offensive tackle is available, general manager Jerry Reese will be ready to pull the trigger.

Philadelphia Eagles

The back end of this defense needs help immediately. You can't just depend on Asante Samuel and Sheldon Brown to get you through another season at cornerback. With that No. 24 pick, the Eagles should look long and hard at another cornerback. And obviously safety is a position of need. Quintin Mikell can't line up next to Macho Harris or Quintin Demps next season. The lack of a reliable safety really put the Eagles in a tough spot against teams with elite tight ends such as the Chargers and Cowboys. The Eagles also need to be on the lookout for another pressure player on defense. Trent Cole is one of the top defensive ends in the league, but he needs some consistent help. Defensive tackle is another need. I thought Brodrick Bunkley and Mike Patterson looked tired late in the season. The Eagles can't afford for that to happen again. On offense, you have to figure out the Stacy Andrews situation. If you think Nick Cole can be a long-term answer at right guard, you have to think about releasing Andrews and his big salary.

Washington Redskins

If defensive coordinator Jim Haslett is going to make the transition to the 3-4 scheme, the Skins will have a different mindset in this draft. London Fletcher's a great player, but he wasn't made for the 3-4. It just won't work. The Skins will start looking for big thumpers at inside linebacker and excellent pass-rushers on the outside. Brian Orakpo should make a seamless transition to the new scheme, but I'm not so sure about Andre Carter. The Redskins also need to think about drafting cornerbacks and safeties. The back end of this defense needs to show major improvement. But obviously, all the talk will be about the quarterback position. I think Jason Campbell is a legitimate starter in this league, but Mike Shanahan has to go with the guy he's most comfortable with. That's why I think the Skins likely will stay at No. 4 and pick Sam Bradford. Then the Redskins have to start building an offensive line. The offensive line has suffered from years of draft neglect. It's time to start investing in the trenches.

Draft Watch: NFC North

February, 17, 2010
2/17/10
12:00
PM ET
NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Wednesday 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: biggest team needs.

Chicago Bears

The Bears started five different safety combinations last season and have a pressing need for a ball-hawking free safety. Al Afalava could fit as a strong safety, but the Bears don't seem to trust any of their incumbent safeties in deep coverage. The Tampa-2 scheme doesn't always put safeties in position to make big plays, but the Bears' free safety has too often been a liability. Chicago could also use depth at defensive end after the death of Gaines Adams and the expected departure of Adewale Ogunleye.

Detroit Lions

Depth is an issue at most positions, but none moreso than in the Lions' interior offensive and defensive lines. They are in position to draft an elite defensive tackle with their No. 2 overall pick, be it Oklahoma's Gerald McCoy or Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh. They also will be scouring the nation for candidates to play both guard positions alongside center Dominic Raiola. A receiver to steal some coverage from Calvin Johnson should be a priority after the middling performance of free agent acquisition Bryant Johnson last season. There could also be a need at tight end, where starter Brandon Pettigrew is recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament and his two backups -- Casey FitzSimmons and Will Heller -- are eligible for unrestricted free agency.

Green Bay Packers

Both of the Packers' starting offensive tackles, Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher, are pending unrestricted free agents. At 34 and 33, respectively, neither player has a long career ahead of him. The Packers might have addressed one of the positions by drafting T.J. Lang last year, but they could use additional depth and options considering both positions must soon be turned over. Injuries last season revealed a need for depth in the defensive backfield, especially at cornerback, and the Packers also need to determine whether they will replace outside linebacker Aaron Kampman.

Minnesota Vikings

Whether or not quarterback Brett Favre returns in 2010, the Vikings must establish a succession plan at the position. They've drafted three quarterbacks in the past four years, but among that list -- Tarvaris Jackson, Tyler Thigpen and John David Booty -- none are signed for 2010. There's no reason to believe the Vikings consider Sage Rosenfels a long-term solution, so drafting a quarterback would seem to be among their highest priorities. Another area of need is at cornerback, where starter Cedric Griffin is recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament and nickel back Benny Sapp is a pending unrestricted free agent.

Draft Watch: AFC North

February, 17, 2010
2/17/10
12:00
PM ET
NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Wednesday 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: biggest team needs.

Baltimore Ravens

For years, adding an elite No. 1 receiver has been a major topic of discussion in Baltimore. This should be the year the Ravens finally make it happen. Baltimore will likely see what's available in free agency or the trade market at receiver. But look for Baltimore also to acquire fresh legs at receiver or tight end in the draft. This offseason should be mostly about helping budding quarterback Joe Flacco reach his full potential. The recent signing of Jim Zorn as quarterbacks coach also is a good step in that direction.

Although the defense is still one of the NFL's best, cornerback depth is needed.

Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals were a good team in 2009. But their inconsistent passing game prevented the reigning AFC North champs from being a great team, as Cincinnati was one-and-done in the playoffs. Outside of Pro Bowl receiver Chad Ochocinco, the Bengals had no reliable receivers or tight ends. So look for the Bengals to address both needs in the draft. The recent addition of free-agent receiver Matt Jones might fill a need if he stays out of trouble. There are also rumors of Terrell Owens being interested in Cincinnati, which would be a solid upgrade over Laveranues Coles. Oklahoma tight end Jermaine Gresham also has been linked to the Bengals as a possible first-round option with the No. 21 overall pick.

Cleveland Browns

When your offense was ranked dead last and the defense finished 31st in the NFL last season, there are a lot of holes. New Browns president Mike Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert have a big project ahead of them. But 11 draft picks give the team a lot of flexibility to fill those needs.

The biggest question for Cleveland is at quarterback. Can the Browns find their long-term solution at the position or is Brady Quinn the answer? With a thin crop of quality rookie quarterbacks, Cleveland likely will explore trades or free agency. Other key positions like linebacker, safety and cornerback are also huge needs. Reportedly, the team is intrigued by University of Florida cornerback Joe Haden. Tennessee safety Eric Berry is another potential option in the secondary.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Just one year removed from winning a Super Bowl, the Steelers do not have a lot of major needs. But a 9-7 season exposed some weaknesses with Pittsburgh, and cornerback is probably the biggest. William Gay was not ready to make the jump to a full-time starter in 2009. Unfortunately for Pittsburgh, there are not a lot of corners with first-round grades thus far, although that may change after the combine and individual workouts.

The status of Pro Bowl nose tackle and pending free agent Casey Hampton is another issue. The Steelers could use the franchise tag to keep Hampton for at least another year while they try to find a replacement. Defensive tackle Dan Williams from the University of Tennessee would be an enticing draft option in the first round. Depth on the offensive line is also needed.

Draft Watch: NFC West

February, 17, 2010
2/17/10
12:00
PM ET
NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Wednesday 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: biggest team needs.

Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals need to get younger in their defensive front seven while improving their outside pass rush. Bryan Robinson is still the most dependable nose tackle on the team. He turns 36 in June. At outside linebacker, 34-year-old Bertrand Berry is retiring and Chike Okeafor turns 34 shortly after becoming an unrestricted free agent next month. It's a tough situation for a team that could lose linebacker Karlos Dansby, 28 and in his prime, to free agency.

Arizona had the right idea when drafting outside linebacker Cody Brown in the second round last year. Brown spent his rookie season on injured reserve. The Cardinals need to get him on the field. They need to develop young linebacker Will Davis, who has shown promise. They need to supplement their front seven in the 2010 draft.

On offense, Kurt Warner's retirement reduces the margin for error. The Cardinals do not need to draft a quarterback early this year, but they do need to continue upgrading their offensive line. Drafting a tackle could make sense. Tight end was a need in the past, but the Cardinals seemed to get through that position OK once Ben Patrick returned from suspension last season.

San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers need to find a long-term starting right tackle, preferably in the draft. They're set at left tackle and center. Both guards showed improvement late last season. Right tackle has been a question mark for too long. Time to find the answer.

The quarterback issue lurks in the background because San Francisco still cannot count on Alex Smith. With two first-round choices, the 49ers could justify selecting a developmental quarterback early while still addressing a short-term need such as tackle. It's not a must, but it should be a consideration if any of the college quarterbacks appeals.

San Francisco is strong on defense, but every team needs pass-rush help and the 49ers are no different. They had 44 sacks, an impressive total, but 24 came against the Rams (two games), at Seattle and home against Jacksonville. And while it's natural for teams to rack up sack numbers against inferior opponents, the 49ers gain nothing from pretending they were a consistently great pass-rush team. Drafting an outside linebacker with a nose for the quarterback surely wouldn't offend defensive coordinator Greg Manusky.

The 49ers also could use an inside linebacker to pair with Patrick Willis, a strong safety to replace Michael Lewis and a cornerback to pair with Shawntae Spencer as the team transitions away from Nate Clements in the coming years.

Seattle Seahawks

Linebacker stands as one of the few offensive or defensive positions Seattle doesn't need to address in the draft, and even that position isn't as strong as it appears on paper. Leroy Hill, Aaron Curry and Lofa Tatupu made it through part of one game last season. They were never on the field at the same time after an opening-week victory over the Rams.

The Seahawks need to upgrade their offensive line to give Matt Hasselbeck -- or any quarterback -- a chance to function more consistently. They need a big-play threat at running back and receiver. They need to identify and acquire Hasselbeck's eventual successor. They need to get bigger at cornerback. They could use an outside pass-rusher to give them what Patrick Kerney gave them before injuries derailed him.

Seattle had zero sacks in five of 16 games last season. The offense's inability to score points created fewer situations ripe for effective pass-rushing, and the Seahawks could help their pass rush with additional scheming. It's also possible the new coaching staff will get more from Lawrence Jackson and Darryl Tapp. I just don't see how the Seahawks can count on these things. They need more raw pass-rushing talent.

St. Louis Rams

Coach Steve Spagnuolo recently reiterated his belief in building a team from the inside out, starting with the lines. The Rams can be good enough up front on offense when their line is healthy. They need more young talent on their defensive line to help Chris Long. They need to build around James Laurinaitis at linebacker. They could use another cornerback, too.

But anyone who watched the Rams last season realizes this team is going nowhere without an impact player at receiver and a quarterback the team -- and city -- can get excited about. Marc Bulger can be OK, but the sense here is that he's finished in St. Louis and the Rams need to find a stronger leader to rally around.

The Rams' draft position and long list of needs makes it tough to draft a quarterback early when there doesn't appear to be an elite prospect at the position in this draft. For that reason, the Rams might be wise to acquire a veteran such as Michael Vick or Chad Pennington to get them through the season while they continue to bolster the roster elsewhere.

The draft board might dictate selecting a defensive lineman first overall, and that's OK. But this team badly needs a playmaking receiver to give the offense punch beyond Steven Jackson. The Rams were unable to address that need in the 2009 draft, but they need to find a way this time.

It's a bonus if the Rams also come out of this draft with a change-of-pace back and an all-around tight end.

Draft Watch: AFC West

February, 17, 2010
2/17/10
12:00
PM ET
NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Wednesday 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: biggest team needs.

Denver Broncos

The Broncos have needs across the board -- on both sides of the ball. As Denver switches from the zone-blocking schemes of the Mike Shanahan era to a traditional power-blocking model, the team has to get better in the trenches.

Although the Broncos are happy with their offensive tackles, they want upgrades at guard and center. This will likely be addressed early. Denver is also looking for a big, stout defensive tackle to anchor the 3-4 defense, which the team adopted last year in Josh McDaniels' first season as coach. Denver is also likely to draft a receiver and linebacker early. If the Broncos trade Brandon Marshall, they could take a receiver in the first round.

Kansas City Chiefs

Although the Chiefs could use an upgrade at several positions, their biggest need is on the offensive line. Kansas City needs up to three new starters and it could take a left tackle with the No. 5 pick. Watch for the Chiefs to try to add to all three positions on the line.

This is a rebuilding team and Kansas City will consider reloading at several positions -- safety, linebacker and wide receiver. If Tennessee safety Eric Berry is on the board at No. 5, the Chiefs could grab him. They also need to find a young, explosive wide receiver to give quarterback Matt Cassel more help.

Oakland Raiders

Oakland has to finally address its need at tackle this year. It has been holding off and Oakland’s line play has suffered. There are several top-level prospects at left tackle and Oakland should get a quality player with the eighth pick.

Of course, Oakland needs to find a quarterback. But the team may opt to pursue a veteran instead of drafting a quarterback early. The Raiders have depth at defensive end, but it will serve the franchise well to get younger and better at defensive tackle and linebacker.

San Diego Chargers

The Chargers have big needs to fill if they want to stay way ahead of the division. Their most pressing demand is at running back , where San Diego will need to replace LaDainian Tomlinson, who is expected to be released soon. If the Chargers don’t sign a veteran to be their primary back, they will probably fill the position with their No. 28 pick.

I can see San Diego using its second-round pick to add depth and youth at defensive tackle. The Chargers could also use a young linebacker. One final factor in the Chargers' draft will be the role of their several free agents. If it loses some, San Diego may have to use some picks to replace them.

Draft Watch: NFC South

February, 17, 2010
2/17/10
12:00
PM ET
NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Wednesday 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: biggest team needs.

Atlanta Falcons

The biggest needs are a pass-rusher and some depth at cornerback. But the organization believes help in the secondary won't be as necessary if the pass rush improves. That puts the priority on getting a top-notch pass-rusher. Veteran John Abraham showed signs of age last year and that took a toll on the entire defense. Keep a close eye on whether the Falcons re-sign cornerback Brian Williams. If he’s back, the Falcons won’t feel a huge need to make any big moves at cornerback. Getting some depth on the offensive line also is a priority.

Carolina Panthers

At the moment, the Panthers don’t have a first-round draft pick (that was traded to San Francisco last year) and they’ve got plenty of needs. The biggest might be at quarterback where the Panthers at the very least need someone to compete with Matt Moore. But that probably won’t come through the draft unless the Panthers somehow end up with a first-round pick. The Panthers are very much in the market for a wide receiver to play across from Steve Smith and they would like a receiver with good size. Getting some more depth at defensive tackle also is a priority after last year’s loss of Maake Kemoeatu showed how thin the team was at this position.

New Orleans Saints

The good news is the Saints don’t have a lot of big needs and with the 32nd overall pick, they won’t be locked in on any one position. They’ve got several ways they could go early in the draft. A defensive tackle to play next to Sedrick Ellis would be nice. But the Saints also could look to get a pass-rushing defensive end to push or take over for Charles Grant. Some eventual replacements for linebackers Scott Fujita and Scott Shanle also would be nice, but the Saints aren’t desperate yet.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Bucs have 10 picks overall and five in the first 99 selections. That makes the draft hugely important for a franchise that is deeply into a rebuilding project. There are lots of needs, but none is bigger than on the defensive line, where the Bucs could use a stud tackle or a pass-rushing end. They also could use a cornerback to eventually replace veteran Ronde Barber. Offensively, the Bucs are in desperate need of upgrades at wide receiver.

Draft Watch: AFC East

February, 17, 2010
2/17/10
12:00
PM ET
NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Wednesday 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: biggest team needs.

Buffalo Bills

The Bills had craters to fill on both sides of scrimmage before new coach Chan Gailey came aboard and decided to switch to a 3-4 defense. That has created more positional needs. Critical to pulling off that defensive transformation is identifying a classic, run-stopping, multiple-blocker-occupying nose tackle. One doesn't exist on their roster.

But where the Bills really need to upgrade is at offensive tackle and quarterback for an offense that has rated 30th, 25th, 30th, 30th, 28th, 25th and 30th the past seven seasons. They neglected left tackle after trading Pro Bowler Jason Peters before last year's draft. They passed on budding star Michael Oher. Without that piece, can the Bills afford to draft a quarterback ninth overall, pay him the type of money he would command and expect him to develop behind a feeble line?

Miami Dolphins

For the third offseason in a row, receiver is Miami's sexiest offseason need. Dolfans have been begging for downfield help, and the necessity has been augmented now that Chad Henne is the quarterback. The Dolphins got by with a collection of possession receivers because of Chad Pennington's pinpoint, midrange arm. A reliable deep threat would benefit Henne.

The Dolphins have a decision to make at nose tackle. Incumbent Jason Ferguson is coming off a season-ending leg injury and will turn 36 next season. If the Dolphins look elsewhere, then that's a big hole.

No matter what, they must improve at inside linebacker and free safety, the positions most responsible for surrendering big play after big play throughout the season. Last year's free safety, Gibril Wilson, was paid well and gave up costly plays. Inside linebackers Channing Crowder and Akin Ayodele simply aren't playmakers. They combined last year for one sack, one interception, one forced fumble and two recoveries.

New England Patriots

Crucial to the Patriots' offseason is finding pass-rushers, either through free agency or the draft. They're rice-paper thin at outside linebacker, where unrestricted free agents Tully Banta-Cain and Derrick Burgess were first (9.5) and tied for second (five) on the team in sacks. It's hard to imagine Adalius Thomas remaining on the roster. Defensive end is another area of concern. Bill Belichick dealt Richard Seymour in training camp. Jarvis Green is unrestricted.

On offense, it would sound laughable to say this a year ago, but the Patriots need receiver help. They never located a legitimate third option last season. Randy Moss showed his volatile side for the first time as a Patriot. Wes Welker has a long recovery from knee surgery ahead. Tight end is another unsettled spot. Benjamin Watson is unrestricted, and even if he comes back, the Patriots never seem comfortable there.

New York Jets

A year ago, the Jets embarked on what appeared to be massive renovations. Now they're tweaking. On offense, receiver is an area to concentrate on. Braylon Edwards and Jerricho Cotchery are a nice start, but the Jets couldn't find trustworthy help beyond that. Whether they add a wideout or a slot target, Mark Sanchez could use help as the Jets develop into a more balanced offense.

Offensive line and defensive end are places where the Jets are getting older. The Jets are not compelled to find starters in either area, but they're in desperate need of depth players they can groom for the future. General manager Mike Tannenbaum isn't afraid to barter draft picks, and the result has been just 13 selections over the past three Aprils, including three last year. When you're constantly filling out the back end of your roster with undrafted rookies and castoffs, depth can suffer a long time.

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