USC quarterback Sam Darnold is expected to be one of the first players off the board on draft night (Kelvin Kuo/AP)
With free agency winding down, NFL teams are focusing on next week’s draft to restock their roster for 2018. Some teams, like the Cleveland Browns, should be able to address a host of issues with a boat load of picks. Others, like the New York Giants, need to decide how to best take advantage of rare position at the top of the draft order when quarterbacks figure to fly off the board early in Round 1.
Here’s a comprehensive look at the lingering holes on every NFL roster and what they’ve done, and could still do, to address them.
Needs: WR, LB, offensive line, RB, CB
Analysis: The Super Bowl champs re-signed linebacker Nigel Bradham but lost tight end Trey Burton and running back LeGarrette Blount in free agency. The Eagles could use some additional help at linebacker and running back, and more probably needs to be done at wide receiver after Torrey Smith was traded but Mike Wallace was signed. It might be time to address the offensive line, with left tackle Jason Peters returning from an injury-shortened season. The Eagles have resisted any urge to trade quarterback Nick Foles after his Super Bowl MVP performance, so there seems to be little urgency to bolster that position at this point behind returning starter Carson Wentz.
Needs: WR, defensive line, LB
Analysis: The release of Dez Bryant might move wide receiver to the top of the list of the Cowboys’ draft needs. They already have added veterans Allen Hurns and Deonte Thompson at the position this offseason. But the Cowboys probably would be wise to try to get a wideout who could at least be part of the playing rotation. Bolstering their defensive line also could be a task worth prioritizing.
Needs: defensive line, CB, offensive line
Analysis: The secondary could be a priority after the trade of one cornerback, Kendall Fuller, in the Alex Smith deal and the free-agent departure of another, Bashaud Breeland. The arrival of Orlando Scandrick isn’t enough to offset that. But no one should be too surprised if the Redskins address their defensive front early in the draft.
New York Giants
Needs: QB, RB, offensive line, pass rusher, CB
Analysis: The Giants face a franchise-defining decision with the No. 2 overall choice in the draft. Do they put the eventual successor to two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback Eli Manning in place, or make the team around Manning better for what remains of his time in New York? They might receive a trade offer, of course, that enables them to do both. Taking running back Saquon Barkley would have the potential to make Manning’s life considerably easier. The signing of tackle Nate Solder in free agency was a good first step for the offensive line but more must be done. The trade of Jason Pierre-Paul could necessitate adding a pass rusher at some point in the early rounds. Wide receiver would become a major need, of course, if Odell Beckham Jr. is traded but it does not appear at this point that anyone is willing to meet what would be a hefty price tag.
Needs: offensive line, CB, RB, WR
Analysis: The Vikings made a huge investment by signing quarterback Kirk Cousins to a guaranteed three-year, $84 million deal in free agency, and now it’s about making the offense better around him and giving him the best chance to succeed. That means upgrading the offensive line for sure and perhaps adding to the depth of the playmakers around him at receiver and running back. The headliners at those spots are very good but the Vikings could use some additional complementary players. The idea of signing Cousins was to make this a Super Bowl team, and a Super Bowl team needs plenty of contributors at those positions.
Needs: TE, pass rusher, RB
Analysis: Matt Patricia inherits a more promising team than most new NFL head coaches, given that the Lions fired predecessor Jim Caldwell after a 9-7 season. But there’s plenty of roster-construction work still to be done. The release of tight end Eric Ebron, a former first-round pick, creates a need for a talented young player at the position. The Detroit defense could use another pass rusher, in particular, although Patricia sometimes had to find ways in New England to generate pressure on opposing quarterbacks without elite pass rushers.
Green Bay Packers
Needs: WR, CB
Analysis: The Packers, as promised, were more active in free agency under their new general manager, Brian Gutekunst. The bar was low, of course, after they generally showed disdain for free agents under former GM Ted Thompson. But the arrivals of tight end Jimmy Graham, defensive tackle Muhammad Wilkerson and cornerback Tramon Williams could be significant. There’s more to be done, however. The release of Jordy Nelson could necessitate getting a wide receiver, and the trade of Damarious Randall means help in the secondary could be a priority.
Needs: offensive line, defensive line, LB
Analysis: The Bears are committed to Mitchell Trubisky at quarterback and added some playmakers in free agency, including wide receiver Allen Robinson and tight end Trey Burton, to help him. Concentrating on the offensive and defensive lines in this draft might be wise. The departure of guard Josh Sitton in free agency means the interior of the offensive line might need help, and adding a pass rusher on defense certainly wouldn’t hurt.
New Orleans Saints
Needs: TE, LB, QB, pass rusher
Analysis: The Saints tried but failed to get Jimmy Graham back to New Orleans in free agency. They signed Benjamin Watson as a free agent but that doesn’t preclude adding a tight end in the draft. Drew Brees stayed with the Saints in free agency, as everyone expected. But it’s about time to add a young quarterback as a potential down-the-road successor. This team should remain a viable NFC contender after returning to that status last season, thanks in part to an improved running game and defense. This is about tweaking, not overhauling. No one should expect a repeat of last year’s memorably superb draft class in which the Saints landed four major contributors in cornerback Marshon Lattimore, offensive tackle Ryan Ramczyk, safety Marcus Williams and tailback Alvin Kamara.
Needs: WR, TE, CB
Analysis: Trading for Torrey Smith and signing Jarius Wright in free agency weren’t enough to upgrade the wide receiver corps significantly. Brining in Norv Turner as the offensive coordinator was a good move to aid Cam Newton’s development as a pocket passer. But giving him better receivers would be an even better move. Bolstering the depth at tight end would be wise with Greg Olsen being pursued by the TV networks for broadcasting jobs. Further help at cornerback is needed after the free agent signing of Bashaud Breeland was voided when he failed his physical.
Needs: defensive line, WR
Analysis: The most attention probably will be given to the defensive front after the free agent exits of Dontari Poe and Adrian Clayborn. Getting a wide receiver to complement Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu also remains a need. Neither of these issues was addressed in a meaningful way in free agency.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Needs: offensive line, RB, defensive line, CB
Analysis: The trade for Jason Pierre-Paul gives the Buccaneers the pass rusher they needed. That, coupled with the signing of Vinny Curry, means the defensive line probably does not need to be the top priority in the draft. But it shouldn’t be ignored, either. The re-signing of cornerback Brent Grimes also was significant. The Buccaneers really should focus on getting a runner to replace Doug Martin and upgrading the offensive line. But there’s plenty to be done after such a disappointing season.
The Rams have a great pass-rush up the middle, but could use an edge rusher to complement Aaron Donald. (AP Photo/Tom Gannam)
Los Angeles Rams
Needs: pass rusher, LB, offensive line
Analysis: The Rams clearly are not focused on building slowly through the draft at this point after making a series of big-splash moves this offseason. They signed defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and traded for cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib and wide receiver Brandin Cooks. Whether such an approach will work is another matter. They’re left without a pick in the first or second rounds. The presence Suh and Aaron Donald, the reigning NFL defensive player of the year, gives opposing blockers plenty about which to fret. But the Rams might need another pass rusher off the edge after trading Robert Quinn. The trade of Alec Ogletree means that additional help at linebacker could be useful, and adding an offensive lineman or two to develop over time would make sense.
Needs: CB, safety, WR, TE, offensive line, defensive line
Analysis: The Seahawks as everyone has come to know them have ceased to exist with the exits of cornerback Richard Sherman, defensive end Michael Bennett and others. The secondary is in the process of being remade. Bennett and Sheldon Richardson must be replaced on the defensive line. The free agent departures of wide receiver Paul Richardson and tight end Jimmy Graham create some openings among quarterback Russell Wilson’s group of pass-catchers, and Wilson’s offensive line almost always needs bolstering. This is a team in transition that could have a difficult time remaining a contender.
Needs: QB, WR, offensive line, safety
Analysis: Does bringing in Sam Bradford and Mike Glennon fix the quarterback situation? The Cardinals probably would be very fortunate for that to be the case. They must cross their fingers that Bradford can stay healthy and on the field and, if not, that Glennon can be the player who signed a $15 million-a-year contract in Chicago rather than the player who failed to live up to that deal. The release of Tyrann Mathieu creates a need for a difference-maker in the secondary.
San Francisco 49ers
Needs: pass rusher, offensive line, WR, CB, LB
Analysis: The 49ers have become an interesting team by following their strong finish to last season with an aggressive offseason in which they re-signed quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and added Richard Sherman, running back Jerrick McKinnon and offensive lineman Weston Richburg. No one should forget, however, that this was a 5-11 team last season and more roster repair is in order. The pass rush must get better. Sherman’s arrival does not necessarily mean that all is well at cornerback, as he must return from an injury-shortened final season with the Seahawks. The offense around Garoppolo still must get better.
New England Patriots
Needs: pass rush, WR, QB, LB, offensive line, CB
Analysis: The Patriots possess five of the draft’s first 95 selections, including a pair of first-rounders. That has produced speculation about everything from them trading for Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. to them moving up in the opening round to land one of the draft’s most coveted quarterbacks as the eventual successor to Tom Brady. Neither would be a very Patriots-like move, however. Coach Bill Belichick is known for trading down to get additional picks, and it shouldn’t surprise anyone if he takes the same approach in this draft. The Patriots, as they seek to replace Jimmy Garoppolo, could get one of the draft’s next-tier quarterbacks. It also will be interesting to see if they take a wide receiver after trading Brandin Cooks and a tight end, given the retirement talk about Rob Gronkowski.
Needs: QB, offensive line, WR, defensive line
Analysis: The Bills were able to get the first pick of the third round in the trade with the Browns that sent quarterback Tyrod Taylor to Cleveland, and they have five of the draft’s top 65 selections. They signed AJ McCarron as a free agent to give them a potential starter at quarterback. But they remain a top candidate to trade up—perhaps for the Giants’ No. 2 overall choice—to get one of the draft’s top quarterbacks. Otherwise, they must address their offensive line after the trade of Cordy Glenn, the end of Eric Wood’s career and the odd retirement announcement, then possible immediate return, by Richie Incognito.
Needs: WR, QB, LB, CB, offensive line, defensive line, TE
Analysis: The signing of Danny Amendola probably is not enough to offset the trade of Jarvis Landry at wide receiver. Ryan Tannehill returns from his knee injury as the starter at quarterback. But will the Dolphins trust Brock Osweiler, signed as a free agent, to be their main alternative at the position? The arrivals of defensive end Robert Quinn, guard Josh Sitton, center Daniel Kilgore and running back Frank Gore all should help. But more can be done at so many positions. The interior of the defensive line might need some help after Ndamukong Suh was released.
New York Jets
Needs: QB, RB, defensive line, offensive line
Analysis: It cost the Jets a trio of second-round choices, two of them this year, to trade up three spots and land the No. 3 overall selection in this draft via their blockbuster deal with the Colts. That should pretty much lock the Jets into taking a quarterback. You simply don’t surrender such a king’s ransom of picks to trade up for a running back or a pass rusher. The Jets will have at least two quarterbacks left from among Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, Josh Rosen and Baker Mayfield. How much confidence do they inspire that they’ll make the right choice? But if they do, no one will worry about what they gave up to get their guy. The question will be whether the prized rookie opens the season as the starter ahead of Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater.
Le’Veon Bell’s contract situation could prompt Pittsburgh to draft a running back. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, File)
Needs: Safety, LB, QB, RB
Analysis: It will be interesting to see if the ongoing contract-related drama with Le’Veon Bell leads the Steelers to draft a running back capable of taking over in the not-too-distant future. Ben Roethlisberger has put aside his retirement talk, at least for now, and reportedly is focused on playing several more seasons. But it would make sense for a young quarterback to be put in place now. Otherwise the Steelers probably must focus primarily on their defense.
Needs: TE, offensive line, WR, QB
Analysis: The passing game must improve and that means giving quarterback Joe Flacco more help. Getting a pass-catching tight end in this draft certainly would help. And, even after the signings of John Brown and Michael Crabtree, adding another wide receiver probably would be a sound move. Are the Ravens ready to trust Robert Griffin III as their backup at quarterback? It’s Ozzie Newsome’s final NFL draft as general manager of the Ravens. He has overseen plenty of success but now he’s trying to construct a roster capable of ending a three-season playoff drought.
Needs: CB, offensive line, RB, QB
Analysis: Help is needed in the secondary after the Bengals declined to retain Adam Jones. The trade for tackle Cordy Glenn could help but more work is needed along the offensive line. The exit of AJ McCarron creates the possibility that the Bengals could add a young quarterback behind Andy Dalton.
Needs: QB, offensive line, defensive line, CB, RB
Analysis: The Browns control the draft’s early stages, having the first and fourth overall selections. There might be the temptation to take running back Saquon Barkley with the No. 1 pick and then address quarterback at No. 4, especially after the trade for Tyrod Taylor. But while the franchise’s past failures to land a franchise quarterback are not the fault of new General Manager John Dorsey, he should resist overthinking the situation and risking another Browns-like blunder. He should identify which quarterback is, in his opinion, the draft’s best—whether it’s Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, Josh Rosen or Baker Mayfield—and take that quarterback with the No. 1 choice. The trade for Jarvis Landy lessens the need to take an early shot at a wide receiver. But the Browns must, at some point, address their offensive line following the retirement of mainstay left tackle Joe Thomas. More must be done about the secondary even after the trade for Damarious Randall. If Dorsey does well, the Browns have a chance to make a rapid move back toward respectability.
Needs: WR, offensive line, QB, LB
Analysis: The Jaguars doubled down on Blake Bortles as their quarterback, not only retaining him but also giving him a new contract. Is their trust misplaced? They might want to add a young quarterback in case things don’t work out as hoped. The Jaguars helped Bortles by signing tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins but they might want to provide him with an upgrade at wide receiver following the exits of Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson. The arrival of high-priced guard Andrew Norwell via free agency fortifies the offensive line and reinforces the notion that the Jaguars will be a run-first team on offense. But some further work on the offensive line might be advisable. The powerful defense needs only minor tweaks for depth, perhaps at linebacker following the retirement of Paul Posluszny.
Needs: Pass rusher, offensive line, LB
Analysis: The additions of cornerback Malcolm Butler and running back Dion Lewis in free agency should improve a team that reached the playoffs. The pass rush needs to be improved and the offensive line needs a bit of work.
Needs: RB, offensive line, WR, pass rush, LB
Analysis: General Manager Chris Ballard made a very good deal by getting three second-round choices, two of them this year, to move down three spots from No. 3 overall to No. 6 in the trade with the Jets. The gives the Colts five picks in the first three rounds. And they need them. As quarterback Andrew Luck returns after missing all of last season following shoulder surgery, the Colts must be far more committed than they were in the past to constructing an offensive line capable of safeguarding him. If running back Saquon Barkley falls to the Colts as teams focus on quarterbacks with the top five selections, that would help Luck enormously. The wide receiver group needs bolstering. The defensive front seven also needs attention.
Needs: offensive line, defensive line, CB, WR
Analysis: The franchise quarterback is in place with last season’s immediate emergence of Deshaun Watson. Now it’s all about making sure his offensive line is good enough to keep him healthy and on the field as he returns from last year’s knee injury. The once-formidable defensive front was plagued by injuries, including those to J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus, last season. The Texans must improve the depth there, especially with Watt having played a total of eight games over the last two seasons. The signing of Tyrann Mathieu improves the secondary but the Texans shouldn’t stop there with that group.
Kansas City Chiefs
Needs: Defensive line, LB, CB
Analysis: The defensive front is in transition with the departure of defensive end Tamba Hali and the signing of linebacker Anthony Hitchens. That process should continue in this draft. The Chiefs traded cornerback Marcus Peters. They added Kendall Fuller and David Amerson, but could focus further on the secondary.
Los Angeles Chargers
Needs: QB, offensive line, defensive line
Analysis: It might be time to put a young quarterback in place to be developed behind Philip Rivers. In the meantime, Rivers’s offensive line needs some work. The defensive front also could use some attention.
Needs: CB, pass rusher, WR, offensive line, RB
Analysis: The Raiders were busy in free agency trying to tailor their roster to the liking of their new coach, Jon Gruden. But did all that activity yield actual progress? The secondary clearly must be addressed in the draft. On offense, there was a wide receiver shuffle with Jordy Nelson being added and Michael Crabtree being released. It remains to be seen if that will result in an improvement. There has been speculation throughout the offseason about whether Gruden would retain running back Marshawn Lynch. He remains on the roster at this point, but can the Raiders count on him for production at this point in his career?
Needs: QB, offensive line, CB, pass rusher
Analysis: The Broncos signed Case Keenum but that probably won’t keep them from taking a quarterback with the No. 5 overall selection. From there, front office football czar John Elway might focus on the offensive line. Elway has acknowledged that he cannot ignore the defense. The Broncos need it to remain dominant and they must replace traded cornerback Aqib Talib.
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