Commentary

Draft priorities for AFC teams

From QB to DB, we examine the needs of each AFC club at the midway point

Originally Published: November 5, 2013
By ESPN.com NFL Nation

Marcus Mariota AP Photo/Don RyanThe Browns and Jaguars should be thinking about drafting a QB, perhaps Oregon's Marcus Mariota.

It's never too early to talk about the draft.

Some teams have obvious positions of need, such as struggling Houston and Pittsburgh and winless Jacksonville. But even the undefeated Chiefs and high-flying Broncos have areas of vulnerability and salary-cap ramifications to consider.

With half of the 2013 season as a sample size, we tap each of ESPN's 32 team reporters, and draft gurus Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay, to assess the greatest need for each franchise and possible draft remedies.




More coverage:

Hot Read: Ten bold predictions | Team-by-team draft needs: NFC

ESPN.com 2014 draft home page

McShay: Top 32 Insider | Draft Tracker Insider | Kiper: Big Board Insider | Draft blog Insider




Baltimore Ravens

Biggest area of need: Tight end

Tight end, once a position of strength for Baltimore, has quickly turned into a big need. Dennis Pitta is recovering from hip surgery and is in the final year of his deal, and none of the backups are signed beyond the 2013 season. While it's believed the Ravens will make a strong push to keep him, there's no guarantee Pitta will be re-signed or will be the same player when he comes back from the injury. Dallas Clark was a stopgap addition and turns 35 next year, and Ed Dickson has been a major disappointment with his dropped passes. Defensively, the Ravens have to make the defensive line a priority. Arthur Jones has had a breakout season and likely will command a contract that the cap-strapped Ravens can't match.

-- Jamison Hensley


Top prospects:
Eric Ebron, North Carolina  |  Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Washington
Jace Amaro, Texas Tech

Scouts evaluations: Ebron Insider |  Seferian-Jenkins Insider |  Amaro Insider

Draft analysis: Tight end is indeed a need, and the Ravens could at least be in the mix for the top tight end in the draft. Right now that's Ebron. He's a tall, athletic type who can make catches away from his body like a wide receiver and cause constant matchup problems. Another player I'd put into first-round consideration is Amaro of Texas Tech. Either could impact this offense immediately. On the defensive line, Florida State's Timmy Jernigan could be a player general manager Ozzie Newsome would like, an active, versatile interior presence who can move around.

-- Mel Kiper Jr.






Buffalo Bills

Biggest area of need: Safety

At the moment, this isn't a major need for the Bills. They have one of the NFL's better safeties in Jairus Byrd, along with a former second-round pick in Aaron Williams, who has adapted well to his position change from cornerback. But Byrd's status remains up in the air for next season. The best bet is that he'll play elsewhere in 2014, which would create a big hole in the back end of the defense. Jim Leonhard was a stopgap solution this season when Byrd was sidelined, but the Bills need to do better going forward.

-- Mike Rodak


Top prospects:
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama  |  Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State  |  Craig Loston, LSU

Scouts evaluations: Clinton-Dix Insider |  Joyner Insider  |  Loston Insider

Draft analysis: The only safety we have graded in the first two rounds is Clinton-Dix, a 6-foot-1, 208-pounder with a versatile skill set. He's reliable against the run and has good awareness and ball skills in pass coverage. If Clinton-Dix is off the board when the Bills are picking or they elect to not use a first-round pick on a safety, they'd likely be better off waiting until the third or fourth round to take one. LSU's Loston is an option. He doesn't have elite speed, so he could have trouble against the league's better slot receivers, but he plays faster because of his instincts and he's very good versus the run.

-- Todd McShay






Cincinnati Bengals

Biggest area of need: Linebacker

The Bengals have been remarkably thin at linebacker this season. Depth has been such an issue there that at one point they were forced to rotate a safety in to perform certain linebacker duties. They'll want to add inside and outside 'backers in this draft, and depending on how confident they are about signing the franchise-tagged Michael Johnson this offseason, they may consider at least one rush end, too. While the offense has operated just fine without true fullbacks this season, if there are any worth pursuing, the Bengals may use the draft to shore up depth there, as well.

-- Coley Harvey


Top prospects:
Anthony Barr, UCLA  |  C.J. Mosley, Alabama  |  Khalil Mack, Buffalo

Scouts evaluations: Barr Insider |  Mosley Insider |  Mack Insider

Draft analysis: Mosley of Alabama is the top inside linebacker on my board, and he could play inside or weak side for the Bengals and would certainly help them in a need area as a linebacker who can cover. However, the Bengals could win too many games to get him and could be looking at an option such as  Yawin Smallwood of Connecticut, Chris Borland of Wisconsin, or perhaps A.J. Johnson of Tennessee. Christian Jones of Florida State, who has a lot of versatility but doesn't have a first-round grade from me at this point, also could be in the picture.

-- Mel Kiper Jr.






Cleveland Browns

Biggest area of need: Quarterback

Determining the Browns' biggest draft need doesn't require quantum physics: They must get a quarterback. The Browns have proven they cannot and will not win without the right guy under center. The problem is the Browns have made a habit of drafting for position, and they've been swayed by the image of what a quarterback should be. It's led to failure after failure (Brady Quinn, Brandon Weeden and Colt McCoy, to name a few). There are enough other needs, so the goal this May should be to draft the best player, and if that means taking a quarterback after the first round because the best ones are gone when the Browns are called ... well, so be it.

-- Pat McManamon


Top prospects:
Marcus Mariota, Oregon  |  Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville  |  Brett Hundley, UCLA

Scouts evaluations: Mariota Insider |  Bridgewater Insider |  Hundley Insider

Draft analysis: The Browns ideally would be in the market for Mariota or Bridgewater, but they might win too much to make that happen, and the extra first they get from the Colts won't be a high pick. Hundley could be a fit, and Johnny Manziel also could be drafted somewhere in the mid to late first round. I'd keep an eye on Tajh Boyd or Zach Mettenberger here. I don't have Boyd among my top five, but he could be fantastic during the workout process, and he has all of the skills to play early. For him, it's more about consistency and decision-making. I think the Browns are well-positioned for a draft that's deeper at QB than it is certain to deliver a star at the top.

-- Mel Kiper Jr.






Denver Broncos

Biggest area of need: Offensive tackle

Though they will have to look at wide receiver -- with Eric Decker's contract set to expire after this season, and Demaryius Thomas and Wes Welker both up after the 2014 season -- the Broncos' most immediate need is at offensive tackle. Right tackle Orlando Franklin had toe and shoulder surgeries this past offseason, suffered a hip injury in training camp and injured his ankle earlier this month. Combine his banged-up season with left tackle Ryan Clady, who is on injured reserve after surgery to repair a Lisfranc injury in his foot, and you can see why the need is pressing. The Broncos were short-handed enough at the position to have moved guard Louis Vasquez to right tackle in the loss to the Colts. At minimum they need a right tackle, but Clady's injury is often difficult to rebound from, so they could use a player who could play both sides if needed.

-- Jeff Legwold


Top prospects:
Jake Matthews, Texas A&M  |  Taylor Lewan, Michigan  |  Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama

Scouts evaluations: Matthews Insider  |  Lewan Insider |  Kouandjio Insider

Draft analysis: Peyton Manning does a lot pre-snap and has a quick release to neutralize the rush, but he's also vulnerable in the pocket because he's relatively stationary. The Broncos have to get another piece at tackle. They figure to be drafting late in Round 1, so they could get a less refined but very good talent in a player such as La'el Collins of LSU if he's in the draft. My guess is he'll be gone by the late first round, but Antonio Richardson of Tennessee could be a good pass protector early in his NFL career.

-- Mel Kiper Jr.






Houston Texans

Biggest area of need: Quarterback/offensive line

Houston's biggest draft need might be quarterback, but we won't know that for sure until there's a larger sample size of Case Keenum's work. Coach Gary Kubiak's decision to start Keenum last week was a strong indication the Texans don't believe Matt Schaub is the future. Houston can part ways with Schaub with no cash repercussions and a minimal cap hit after this season. Beyond quarterback, the Texans have serious needs on the offensive line. Right tackle Derek Newton has struggled this season and left guard Wade Smith is in the final year of his contract.

-- Tania Ganguli


Top prospects:
Marcus Mariota, Oregon  |  Jake Matthews, Texas A&M  |  Taylor Lewan, Michigan

Scouts evaluations: Mariota Insider |  Matthews Insider  |  Lewan Insider

Draft analysis: At this point, it appears likely that the top two QBs on our board (Mariota and Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater) won't be around when the Texans draft, so their first-round options at QB could be limited to UCLA's Brett Hundley and Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel (if both enter the draft). If they get a quarterback they like in the first round, they could address the O-line in the second. I'd recommend Baylor's Cyril Richardson. He can play multiple spots but is best suited to play guard. He moves well for his size and has done a lot of zone-blocking, which the Texans like to do.

-- Todd McShay






Indianapolis Colts

Biggest area of need: Wide receiver

The Colts opened the season with talent at receiver, but it was also their thinnest position behind Reggie Wayne, Darrius Heyward-Bey and T.Y. Hilton. It's even thinner now that Wayne is out for the season with a torn ACL. The Colts are searching for a third receiver to play behind Heyward-Bey and Hilton. Returning from a torn ACL already is a tough task; it's even tougher when you're trying to do it at 35, which Wayne will turn this month. Heyward-Bey hasn't done anything significant to stand out at the position. That leaves Hilton, who has been the team's second-best receiver this season, as the only player at that position you feel confident about.

-- Mike Wells


Top prospects:
Sammy Watkins, Clemson  |  Marqise Lee, USC  |  Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt

Scouts evaluations: Watkins Insider |  Lee Insider |  Matthews Insider

Draft analysis: The Browns own the Colts' first-round pick following the Trent Richardson trade, but if Indianapolis goes in search of a receiver in the second round, it will find some quality options. Rutgers' Brandon Coleman is a huge target at 6-foot-5, 220 pounds. Wyoming's Robert Herron is smaller but possesses excellent speed and quickness. Ole Miss' Donte Moncrief reminds me of Anquan Boldin in that he has a thick, running back-type build. Moncrief has big, strong hands and deceptive speed.

-- Todd McShay






Jacksonville Jaguars

Biggest area of need: Quarterback

Blaine Gabbert, the No. 10 overall pick in 2011, is clearly not the player new general manager Dave Caldwell can build the franchise around. Gabbert is 5-22 as a starter, is completing barely half of his passes (53.3 percent) and has thrown 22 touchdown passes and 24 interceptions. He also can't stay healthy, having missed 10 games because of various injuries, including four this season. Chad Henne isn't the answer, either, and he's unlikely to be re-signed when his contract expires after this season. A QB will have the opportunity to flourish with receiver Cecil Shorts and tight end Marcedes Lewis. Justin Blackmon is also a supremely talented target, but his indefinite suspension leaves his 2014 status in question.

-- Michael DiRocco


Top prospects:
Marcus Mariota, Oregon  |  Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville  |  Brett Hundley, UCLA

Scouts evaluations: Mariota Insider |  Bridgewater Insider |  Hundley Insider

Draft analysis: This choice likely could come down to Mariota and Bridgewater, and two key variables would go into the decision: Who do they grade as the No. 1 QB on the board, and are there any QB-needy teams picking in front of them? Both Mariota (No. 2 overall on our board right now) and Bridgewater (No. 3) are very good players, but Mariota gets the slight edge because of his tremendous upside. He has elite speed as a runner to go along with a very quick release and good accuracy. Bridgewater is a good athlete as well, but he does most of his damage from the pocket. He is tough, a good decision-maker and has a strong, accurate arm.

-- Todd McShay






Kansas City Chiefs

Biggest area of need: Wide receiver

Andy Reid has a lofty vision for Kansas City's offense, but it's going to be difficult for the team to have a high-powered passing game with the wide receivers currently on the roster. That's why taking a big-play wideout with their first pick makes sense for the Chiefs. No. 1 wide receiver Dwayne Bowe is 29, so he's rapidly approaching the age when players at his position begin to lose their skills. Bowe, off to the worst statistical start of his career, may have hit that point already. Donnie Avery is fast and a nice complementary player, and Dexter McCluster is a decent slot receiver. But the Chiefs could use a playmaking wide receiver to further enhance their passing game.

-- Adam Teicher


Top prospects:
Sammy Watkins, Clemson  |  Marqise Lee, USC  |  Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt

Scouts evaluations: Watkins Insider |  Lee Insider |  Matthews Insider

Draft analysis: I thought the Chiefs could be looking for a wide receiver in Round 1 of the 2014 draft, I just didn't think it would be at the end of the first round. The Chiefs could look for a big target -- a perpetual matchup problem who will give Alex Smith an option regardless of the coverage -- and go for a player like Mike Evans of Texas A&M. Evans is special as a pass-catcher with a huge catch radius, but his ability to separate from defenders will have some teams pegging him as more of a split-out tight end. Another option could be a speedster like Tevin Reese of Baylor. . I could see him running well and landing in the late first round or early second.

-- Mel Kiper Jr.






Miami Dolphins

Biggest area of need: Offensive tackle

The Dolphins could use a boost in several areas, but one position that's impacting the entire offense is tackle. Even before the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin scandal, this was an area of need. Right tackle Tyson Clabo is having a horrible year and was replaced by Bryant McKinnie, who was acquired from the Ravens in a move of desperation and is merely a short-term solution for the second half of this season. McKinnie and Clabo both will be free agents at the end of the season. That will leave a big hole at left or right tackle, depending on Martin's status.

-- James Walker


Top prospects:
Jake Matthews, Texas A&M  |  Taylor Lewan, Michigan  |  Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama

Scouts evaluations: Matthews Insider  |  Lewan Insider |  Kouandjio Insider

Draft analysis: It's often the case that the teams drafting with the first few picks need offensive tackles, and it appears that could end up happening again this season. So while Matthews is the top prospect, it's difficult to see him being available when the Dolphins draft. Lewan would be a great consolation prize, as he is a very efficient blocker in both the running and passing games, but there's no guarantee that he'd still be around, either. The next two tackle prospects in our rankings are Kouandjio and Tennessee's Antonio Richardson.

-- Todd McShay






New England Patriots

Biggest area of need: Defensive tackle

Perennial Pro Bowler Vince Wilfork is 32 and was knocked out for the season in Week 4 with a torn Achilles. Fellow veteran Tommy Kelly, the team's other big body in the middle, turns 33 next month. The Patriots haven't drafted a big defensive tackle since the 2010 seventh round, and it makes sense to think they will look to feed that pipeline in 2013. While there is solid young depth with Joe Vellano (undrafted in 2013) and Chris Jones (claimed on waivers in 2013), the best place to find a franchise-type difference-maker at the hard-to-fill position is early in the draft, because those types of players are rare.

-- Mike Reiss


Top prospects:
Louis Nix III, Notre Dame  |  Timmy Jernigan, FSU  |  Ra'Shede Hageman, Minnesota

Scouts evaluations: Nix III Insider  |  Jernigan Insider |  Hageman Insider

Draft analysis: Patriots defensive tackles come in all shapes and sizes these days, from 285-pound Vellano to 325-pound Wilfork, so I don't think there's a certain prototype they need to find. Nix III and Jernigan are the top prospects at the position, with Jernigan being the better fit, but it's uncertain if either will be around when the Pats are drafting. That's why Hageman could be a good option. He has impressive athletic ability for his size, and has been very productive for the Gophers this season.

-- Todd McShay






New York Jets

Biggest area of need: Wide receiver

The Jets need playmakers everywhere on offense, but they can start at receiver. They will need someone to replace Santonio Holmes ($10.75 million cap charge in '14), a virtual lock to be released in the offseason. They also have to decide how long they're willing to wait on the slow-developing Stephen Hill. The Jets can't afford to repeat the same mistake they made with QB Mark Sanchez with Geno Smith. Instead of putting weapons around Sanchez, they let the skill-position talent erode and his play regressed. GM John Idzik won't do that to Smith.

-- Rich Cimini


Top prospects:
Sammy Watkins, Clemson  |  Marqise Lee, USC  |  Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt

Scouts evaluations: Watkins Insider |  Lee Insider |  Matthews Insider

Draft analysis: I'm not always a fan of using a high draft pick on a wide receiver, but if you're going to take one you want it to be on a guy who can open up your offense. That's why Watkins and Lee would make sense for the Jets. Watkins has the higher grade of the two. Even though my guess is Lee will put up a faster 40 time, Watkins has really good acceleration, especially when the ball is in the air. Both guys can take the top off of the defense. If neither is available when the Jets are drafting in the first round, they shouldn't reach. There are good prospects like Ole Miss' Donte Moncrief, Louisville's DeVante Parker and Rutgers' Brandon Coleman to be found in the Day 2 range.

-- Todd McShay






Oakland Raiders

Biggest area of need: Wide receiver

The Raiders already have a gaggle of young and speedy pass-catchers in Denarius Moore, Rod Streater, Jacoby Ford, Brice Butler, Andre Holmes and Juron Criner. But as a group, it is as inconsistent as it is flashy. Oakland needs a solid, dependable, game-changing No. 1 receiver who stands above the rest. One who won't disappear like Moore often does. One who has more credibility than Streater and Holmes. One who has better hands than Butler and Ford. One whose work ethic cannot be questioned, unlike Criner. The Raiders need a target for Terrelle Pryor who will show up every day and make him look better, too.

-- Paul Gutierrez


Top prospects:
Sammy Watkins, Clemson  |  Marqise Lee, USC  |  Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt

Scouts evaluations: Watkins Insider |  Lee Insider |  Matthews Insider

Draft analysis: If the draft were tomorrow, the Raiders wouldn't even be in the top 10, which isn't a comfort to Oakland fans but tells you the team hasn't been nearly as bad as many pundits believed it would be. That's significant because it could take them out of the running for the top wide receiver. Right now, that's Watkins on my board. However, Lee, a gifted talent out of USC, could fall in this range. Either could be a fit and both have "No. 1" stuff, particularly after the catch. I also think the Raiders could target a QB in Round 1 and wait for the wide receiver, however. Offensive line will also be an area of need.

-- Mel Kiper Jr.






Pittsburgh Steelers

Biggest area of need: Left tackle

The Steelers have used two first-round picks and a pair of second-round selections on their offensive line since 2010, and yet left tackle may be their biggest need heading into the 2014 draft. The Mike Adams experiment was as disastrous as it was short-lived, and Kelvin Beachum, a seventh-round pick probably better suited for guard, is now protecting Ben Roethlisberger's blind side. If the Steelers don't take a left tackle with their top pick, they should target a playmaker on defense -- whether it is at outside linebacker or in the secondary -- or a nose tackle who can fill the void left by Casey Hampton and allow the Steelers to move Steve McLendon to defensive end.

-- Scott Brown


Top prospects:
Jake Matthews, Texas A&M  |  Taylor Lewan, Michigan  |  Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama

Scouts evaluations: Matthews Insider  |  Lewan Insider |  Kouandjio Insider

Draft analysis: I agree that the Steelers need to get better up front, and continued struggles should give them a chance to draft one of the better offensive linemen available. At left tackle, they could look at Kounadjio, a guy who has started since his freshman season and was the left tackle on a national championship team while barely 19. Lewan could be available and also has the experience to play early and hold up in pass protection. Another player I like is Brandon Scherff of Iowa, who could work his way into top 10 consideration. I could also see Pittsburgh selecting a defensive lineman early, and Louis Nix III of Notre Dame could be one to watch. Same with his teammate, Stephon Tuitt. Depends on where the Steelers want to upgrade first on that line.

-- Mel Kiper Jr.






San Diego Chargers

Biggest area of need: Outside linebacker

San Diego also could use help in the defensive backfield and on the offensive line, but securing an elite pass-rusher off the edge is the team's most pressing need heading into the 2014 draft. With Dwight Freeney out for the season with a torn quad, Melvin Ingram rehabbing from ACL knee surgery and Larry English not playing to the level of his draft status (No. 16 overall in 2009), the Chargers need an elite athlete who can create consistent pressure off the edge of the defense.

-- Eric D. Williams


Top prospects:
Anthony Barr, UCLA  |  Khalil Mack, Buffalo  |  Adrian Hubbard, Alabama

Scouts evaluations: Barr Insider |  Mack Insider |  Hubbard Insider

Draft analysis: Right now, the Chargers would be drafting in the middle of the first round, and at that point they might hope for a pass-rushing force like Vic Beasley to fall to them  The Clemson junior is a former running back who brings the athleticism you'd typically associate with that position to a pass-rushing role. Beasley has 10 sacks in his first nine games this season and is going to get better as he diversifies his pass-rushing portfolio. If Beasley is gone inside the top 10, there's a chance that Mack could fall to the Chargers. Mack is a very good pass-rusher but also can  pursue, get off blocks and tackle in space.

-- Mel Kiper Jr.






Tennessee Titans

Biggest area of need: Offensive tackle

If Alterraun Verner reaches free agency and leaves, cornerback will become priority No. 1 in a hurry. If not, the top need could be offensive tackle. The Titans spent a lot of money on left guard Andy Levitre and the No. 10 overall pick on right guard Chance Warmack. They're around for the long haul. Tackles David Stewart and Michael Roos are starting to slip, and they may have to seriously consider the position.

-- Paul Kuharsky


Top prospects:
Jake Matthews, Texas A&M  |  Taylor Lewan, Michigan  |  Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama

Scouts evaluations: Matthews   |  Lewan   |  Kouandjio

Draft analysis: The number of teams in need of an offensive tackle at the top of the draft could prevent the Titans from filling this need in the first round. Lewan and Kouandjio, a prospect with tremendous physical talent who has room to improve, are two guys who would make sense for them, but they may not be around when the Titans draft. If that's the case, I think Tennessee would be better off getting a cornerback, such as Florida's Loucheiz Purifoy or Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert, in the first round, and addressing its offensive tackle need later.

-- Todd McShay



More coverage:

Hot Read: Ten bold predictions | Team-by-team draft needs: NFC

ESPN.com 2014 draft home page

McShay: Top 32 Insider | Draft Tracker Insider | Kiper: Big Board Insider | Draft blog Insider



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