Drafting to replace stars
A look at 17 top players whose teams may need to use the draft to replace
For a number of teams drafting this year, the need to replace either a veteran or a player simply on the verge of retirement is the reality. How much would the absence of Tony Gonzalez have changed or limited what the Falcons were able to accomplish on offense (or in the red zone) in 2012? If he's not around in 2013, is there a roster solution that provides at least 70 percent of what Gonzalez could do?
That's what a number of teams are thinking about right now as they assess their rosters. No, you're not simply going to find a replacement for a guy like Ed Reed, but you'd better find a player who can make the void not seem so significant.
What this is: Below, I've pegged a number of veterans, guys either retiring or on the verge of retirement, and players who might be elsewhere next season due to contract situations. I've then noted a player in the current draft class who might be a suitable replacement in the meantime.
Note that this is not a prediction of the players each team will pick. It's a look at players who make sense.
Tony Gonzalez, Atlanta Falcons
Atlanta might throw a parade and give him the key to the city in an effort to keep him from retiring, but even if Gonzalez were to come back next season, he's become such a huge part of their offense, they need to think about drafting his replacement. He's been targeted 135, 111, 116 and 124 times, respectively, in his four seasons with the Falcons. Who will get those targets when he's gone? (John Abraham is the other Falcon who could be on this list.)
Draft fit: Zach Ertz of Stanford is a complete tight end with hands even Tony would approve of.
To read Mel's list of players whose teams may need to use the draft to replace, and to access all of Insider's NFL draft coverage, become an ESPN Insider.