Seattle's John Schneider (left) and Pete Carroll have some work to do if they're to repeat as Super Bowl champions. (Elaine Thompson/AP)
On paper, the 2014 NFL draft class is one of the deepest in recent memory. How will the abundant talent impact teams’ plans throughout the weekend of May 8-10?
With the draft (finally) just around the corner, we take a look at each franchise’s most pressing needs.
Current picks: 16, 47, 78, 119, 158, 229, 231, 238, 248, 251, 254
Needs: Defensive end, safety, defensive tackle
The Cowboys have more needs than this, but that's what happens when your team's owner acts as ad hoc general manager for the better part of a decade -- holes start to show up, and there isn't enough cap space to fill them. Replacing DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer with George Selvie and Jeremy Mincey is a lateral move at best, so grabbing a pass-rushing defensive end is of maximum importance.
But the safety position is one that Jerry Jones and his band of merry personnel men have been looking to fill for years, and either of the aforementioned safeties -- Pryor or Clinton-Dix -- would be appealing options with the 16th overall pick. And Jason Hatcher's departure to Washington means that there's also a need for a pass-rushing defensive tackle. Should Minnesota's RaShede Hageman be available in that spot in the first round, he might be worth a flier.
MORE: 2014 NFL draft needs: AFC | 2014 NFL Mock Draft | SI64: Our definitive Big Board
Current picks: 12, 43, 74, 113, 152, 174, 187
Needs: Left tackle, defensive tackle, running back
The Giants are waiting to see how soon and how well Eli Manning recovers from the ankle surgery he underwent earlier this month. Manning was under siege in 2013 as New York's formerly great offensive line fell apart. General manager Jerry Reese added tackle Charles Brown, and guards John Jerry and Geoff Schwartz in free agency, and he also turned his attention to making the Giants secondary a lot better with the additions of cornerbacks Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Walter Thurmond, not to mention safety Quintin Demps. Still, one need towers above all if Manning is to stay upright more often in 2014.
Left tackle William Beatty had a terrible 2013, allowing 13 sacks and 39 quarterback hurries -- and breaking his leg in the season-finale. Brown could compete for the left tackle slot, but it would be wise for the team to look beyond its current depth chart at the position. And the loss of Linval Joseph in free agency leaves a major hole that could be filled by any number of defensive tackles -- Penn State's DaQuan Jones is a bigger, athletic player who should be available on the late second or early third day. In addition, a big back who can add blocking talent would be a wise choice.
Current picks: 22, 54, 86, 122, 162, 237
Needs: Pass rusher, safety, outside cornerback
The Eagles became Chip Kelly's team in Kelly's first season as head coach, and it's now even more Kelly's team with the release of DeSean Jackson. Nick Foles is the franchise quarterback of the future, LeSean McCoy became the first Eagles back to lead the league in rushing in the era of rock-and-roll (no, really) and the team seems perched on the precipice of great things. However, as much as the offense appears solid, tweaks and additions are needed on the other side of the ball before this franchise can really dominate.
Billy Davis' defense has a lot of 3-4 principles, which left end Trent Cole and linebacker Connor Barwin on the outside looking in when it came to pure pass rush in that set of schemes. A pure endbacker would be great in the early rounds, and BYU's Kyle Van Noy would be an intelligent fit, because he can cover almost as well as he goes after quarterbacks. Adding Malcolm Jenkins in free agency solved just one of two safety spots, and slot corner Brandon Boykin is the only sure thing at that position. With the 22nd overall pick, Philly could probably nab Kyle Fuller or Bradley Roby and increase its chances of another NFC East title.
Current picks: 34, 66, 102, 142, 178, 217
Needs: Safety, offensive guard, right tackle
Free from the constraints of recent league-imposed salary cap penalties and past the last regrettable remains of the Mike Shanahan era, the Redskins now look to move forward with new head coach Jay Gruden and a more traditional offense in which it's hoped that Robert Griffin III can thrive -- and stay healthy, with new best buddy DeSean Jackson running past opposing secondaries. Of course to do all that, a team needs an offensive line, and that's where Washington falls short with one notable exception.
Washington's line is basically Trent Williams and the Pips at this point, as the Pro Bowl-level left tackle is the only one who can provide consistent run-blocking and pass protection. Start the need train on the right side, where tackle Tyler Polumbus and guard Chris Chester gave up a combined seven sacks and 56 quarterback hits in 2013. The addition of former Browns guard Shawn Lauvao was an odd placeholder at best. And any number of safeties in the draft would help a position of need.
Current picks: 14, 51, 82, 117, 156, 183, 191
Needs: Safety, cornerback, defensive tackle
Between Chris Conte, Ryan Mundy and M.D. Jennings, there really isn't a lot to say about the Bears' prospects at either safety position. And despite the additions of Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston, Henry Melton and Willie Young ... well, unless defensive coordinator Mel Tucker wants to run a lot of NASCAR packages with hybrid ends playing tackle, there's still work to be done on a defensive line that was a sieve against the run last year. And though the team re-signed Charles Tillman, the need for a long-term shutdown cornerback is clear.
Selecting 14th could put the Bears in line for one of the two best safeties in this class -- Louisville's Calvin Pryor, or Alabama's Ha'Sean "Ha Ha" Clinton-Dix. In later rounds, Washington State's Deone Bucannon is a speedy thumper who needs to be a bit more assignment-correct. As far as that defensive tackle problem, Notre Dame's Louis Nix III is an ideal stout run-stuffer. And Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller would be a tremendous fit, because he plays off-coverage as well as he pressed receivers at the line.
Current picks: 10, 45, 76, 111, 133, 136, 189, 227
Needs: Safety, cornerback, defensive end
New head coach Jim Caldwell will try to use his measured and balanced style to bring the Lions back from a 2013 season that was a bitter disappointment. After starting 6-3, Detroit dropped six of its last seven games to miss the playoffs and put a lot of futures in doubt. General manger Martin Mayhew endeavored to give Calvin Johnson a real complementary target with the addition of former Seahawks receiver Golden Tate. And while the offense seems pretty well on track, some additions must be made to the defense before the Lions can contend in an NFC North division known for physical play and big, tough receivers.
Rookie end Ezekiel Ansah put forth an admirable effort, but outside of that, Detroit's outside pass rushers didn't do a lot, and Willie Young defected to division rival Chicago. And with the 10th overall pick, Detroit could be in play for anyone at that position in the draft outside of Jadeveon Clowney. Auburn's Dee Ford or Boise State's Demarcus Lawrence would help, though neither player seems to be aligned with a pick that high. Perhaps the move would be to take an elite safety to replace Louis Delmas, who moved on to Miami. The cornerback position has also been in need of reinforcement for years -- Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard has been a popular pick for this team in a lot of mock drafts.
Current picks: 21, 53, 85, 98, 121, 161, 176, 197, 236
Needs: Defensive end, tight end, free safety
When Aaron Rodgers is your quarterback, you expect to make the playoffs every year -- even when he struggles with injuries. And though the Packers barely did just that with an 8-7-1 record, they were also eliminated in the first round of the postseason, and general manager Ted Thompson must now endeavor to improve. To that end, he signed veteran end Julius Peppers to a lucrative deal, going against Thompson's general distaste for fixing holes in free agency. The draft is where the Packers prefer to get things right, and there are needs to be addressed, to be sure.
Though Peppers is on board, the team needs reinforcements inside in Dom Capers' 3-4 defense, and Missouri's Kony Ealy would be a good fit there. And with the team moving on from Jermichael Finley, it's possible that the Pack could select another tight end early to match up with Andrew Quarless. Washington's Austin Seferian-Jenkins has struggled with his weight and productivity at times, but he'd be an interesting fit in Mike McCarthy's offense. Should the Pack look to acquire a safety who can be multiple and play all over the field, Minnesota's Brock Vereen would be worth a look in the later rounds.
Current picks: 8, 40, 72, 96, 108, 148, 184, 223
Needs: Quarterback, cornerback, weakside linebacker
New Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer knows that he needs a franchise quarterback -- what he doesn't know is if he has one on his roster right now. And between Matt Cassel and Christian Ponder, signs point to "no." Perhaps looking to address that issue early in the draft, the Vikings went heavy on defense in free agency, adding underrated linemen Corey Wootton and Linval Joseph to a unit that has more than enough talent for Zimmer to mold with his defensive genius. Still, the need for this team if it's going to bounce back from last year's 5-10-1 record is very clear.
With the eighth overall pick, Minnesota will likely have a choice at quarterback -- unless there's an early run on the Big Three (Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel, Blake Bortles). And though the team smartly signed former Panthers pass defender Captain Munnerlyn, more help at cornerback is needed. TCU's Jason Verrett or Ohio State's Bradley Roby could be in play in Round 2. And Utah's Trevor Reilly or Florida State's Telvin Smith would be good later-round picks for a team in need of more range at outside linebacker opposite Chad Greenway.
Current picks: 6, 37, 68, 103, 139, 147, 182, 220, 253, 255
Needs: Pass rusher, offensive tackle, tight end
The Falcons have much more talent than their 4-12 record indicated last season, though depth has been affected by some iffy drafts in the past few seasons. The mantra has been to get bigger and stronger on defense, which led to the signings of defensive linemen Tyson Jackson and Paul Soliai. Atlanta will be more diverse schematically on that side of the ball, but pass protection and vertical production in the passing game are issues that must be addressed.
With the sixth overall pick, and the fifth pick in the second round, general manager Thomas Dimitroff has the chips -- and if he wants to trade up to snag Jadeveon Clowney, that's not out of the question. The tight end position will need to be addressed now that the ageless Tony Gonzalez has finally hung 'em up. The top 10 is a bit early for either of the top prospects in this draft -- North Carolina's Eric Ebron and Texas Tech's Jace Amaro -- but the Falcons could get good value later on with Notre Dame's Troy Niklas or Iowa's C.J. Fiedorowicz. And at some point, the offensive line that was an injury-plagued mess in 2013 must be improved. The Falcons could start by grabbing a franchise-level left tackle, since Sam Baker really hasn't done the job in that department. If either Jake Matthews or Greg Robinson were to fall to the sixth slot, that'd be a great place to start.
Current picks: 28, 60, 92, 128, 168, 204, 225
Needs: Receiver, offensive tackle, cornerback
Well, here's one good thing to say about the Panthers -- they really don't have to wonder what their primary personnel issue is. Having lost their three main receivers from 2013 (Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell and Ted Ginn) and replaced them with spackle in the form of Jerricho Cotchery, Jason Avant and Tiquan Underwood, the Panthers and general manager Dave Gettleman are on the clock to resolve this issue -- especially since Gettleman basically booted Smith out of town. The Panthers are a potential playoff team, hoping the defense holds fast while the offense is reconstructed.
Though Carolina doesn't have a selection until the 28th pick, that's a decent landing spot if a franchise-defining receiver is the goal. USC's Marqise Lee could still be on the board, and Penn State's Allen Robinson has an appealing combination of size and speed. The Panthers also have to replace retired left tackle Jordan Gross, and Byron Bell might not be the answer at either side. For a team that prefers power offense, Alabama's Cyrus Kouandjio would be a great fit, if his medicals don't scare the team off. And losing Captain Munnerlyn to the Vikings means that a new cornerback is needed. Clemson's Bashaud Breeland is a smaller corner who plays tough, and that seems to fit the franchise profile.
Current picks: 27, 58, 91, 126, 167, 169, 202
Needs: Cornerback, offensive tackle, slot receiver/slash back
The Saints didn't come into free agency with a lot of cap room after franchising tight end Jimmy Graham, but they did estimable work nonetheless. Adding safety Jairus Byrd to Rob Ryan's defense means that the team now has one of the better tandems in the league, because rookie Kenny Vaccaro has special talent. And cornerback Champ Bailey was a decent addition, as long as he's not tasked with deep coverage at this point in his Hall of Fame career.
Bailey aside, there's still a need to shore things up opposite Keenan Lewis -- Corey White was a disappointment in 2013, to say the least. Depth along the offensive line should also be addressed, but with the trade sending Darren Sproles to Philly, another primary need in the draft will be to get the kind of formation-diverse back Drew Brees has had since Reggie Bush came of age a few years back. Washington's Bishop Sankey would be a fascinating fit as a do-it-all player.
Current picks: 7, 38, 69, 143, 185, 221
Needs: Receiver, offensive tackle, offensive guard
Few, if any, teams scored more successfully in free agency this offseason than the Bucs, and with new head coach Lovie Smith on board, there's a lot of justified enthusiasm. Between end Michael Johnson, cornerback Alterraun Verner, quarterback Josh McCown and a host of slightly lesser-known transactions, Tampa Bay appears to have what it takes to rise through the ranks of the NFC South -- and maybe even to continue the division's worst-to-first history.
Getting a target to complement Vincent Jackson should be job one -- perhaps a speed receiver like Brandin Cooks, and his DeSean Jackson-esque skillset. And though the team grabbed former Bengals tackle Anthony Collins in free agency, more reinforcements along the offensive line would be wise -- especially since the NFL future of guard Carl Nicks is still up in the air following the recent locker room/staph infection scandal. And if the Bucs aren't convinced that Mike Glennon is the long-term answer, don't be surprised if Tampa Bay takes a quarterback early ... perhaps even with the seventh overall pick.
Current picks: 20, 52, 84, 120, 160, 196
Needs: Pass rusher, receiver, free safety
The Cards won 10 games in 2013, which would have won the NFC North and put them in second place in five other divisions. Sadly for them, they reside in the NFC West, the NFL's most brutal division. What they'll need to get over the Seahawks and 49ers in that division is more consistency and explosiveness on offense, and a few pieces on a defense that was one of the league's best last season. The Cards are close to great -- and you can add "quarterback" to the list as Carson Palmer's expiration date looms. But that's for the future -- the here and now for Arizona looks very bright.
Step 1 will be to procure the next generation of pass rusher -- Darnell Dockett and John Abraham are on the wrong ends of the age curve, and there's enough depth in the draft to get that guy with the 20th overall pick if they so choose. If they want to wait a bit, BYU's Kyle Van Noy would be a great fit in Todd Bowles' defense. Likewise, the team's need for another prime target in Bruce Arians' offense, which frequently features multiple receivers in different formations, comes at a time when there are legitimate receiver prospects into the middle and late rounds. Clemson's Martavis Bryant has the deep speed to fit Bruce Arians' vertical offense. And while rookie safety Tyrann Mathieu was a revelation, veteran Yeremiah Bell was not. Northern Illinois' Jimmie Ward might be worth a first-round pick to fill that void.
San Francisco 49ers
Current picks: 30, 56, 61, 77, 94, 100, 129, 170, 242, 243, 245
Needs: Cornerback, outside receiver, edge rusher
The 49ers' last three seasons have ended thusly: NFC Championship Game loss, Super Bowl loss, NFC Championship Game loss. So you'd understand why many in the franchise believe that a Super Bowl win is the only thing that will redeem its aspirations. Close is no longer good enough. Unfortunately, the team is in a bit of a pickle as some of its star players hit the bad side of the age curve, and there's precious little in reserve after two straight drafts that have produced very little in starting-quality talent. And the 2011 draft, featuring Aldon Smith, Colin Kaepernick and Chris Culliver -- has less of a sheen now that off-field questions follow all three players. If this team's championship window is slamming shut -- and it may well be -- there's still enough meat on the bone to accomplish that goal with the help of a few additions.
San Francisco's cornerbacks have been good enough in the Jim Harbaugh era, but there's a need to get better with age and injuries affecting the front seven, not to mention the losses of Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown ... and the assumption that Culliver's boneheadedness won't be tolerated anymore. A more interesting and pressing need is for an elite edge rusher, as Aldon Smith is no sure thing to play for anyone this season following his recent airport shenanigans. Oregon State's Scott Crichton would be a great fit because of his ability to bring pressure and stop the run both inside and outside. And the difference between San Francisco's offense with and without Michael Crabtree should have general manager Trent Baalke looking for a big and talented receiver in the early rounds. One thing's for sure -- this team can't afford another iffy draft class. It needs to hit it out of the park this time.
Current picks: 32, 64, 132, 146, 172, 208
Needs: Guard, outside receiver, right tackle
Some teams mortgage their futures for a shot at the Lombardi Trophy, while others build patiently and carefully, hoping that everything pays off and luck turns their way. The Seahawks have hit on a huge number of low draft picks and undrafted players in the last four years, and few expected 2012 third-round pick Russell Wilson to become a franchise quarterback -- certainly not so soon. Seahawks general manager John Schneider has the kind of personnel acumen that leaves few obvious spots of need, but there are a couple of glaring exceptions for the defending champs.
The guard position is one of Schneider's rare blind spots, and head coach Pete Carroll hasn't made that any better. Last year, it was a round robin of veterans and projects at both guard positions, and Seattle suffered through all kinds of interior pressure as a result. Should Stanford's Davis Yankey or UCLA's Xavier Su'a-Filo remain on the board at 32, Carroll and Schneider should be falling all over themselves. And with the departure of Golden Tate, not to mention the injury history of the recently re-signed Sidney Rice, a big receiver is needed. Kelvin Benjamin, who would help Seattle's occasional red-zone issues with his pure size, is a common first-round mock draft target. And Breno Giacomini's move to the New York Jets leaves the franchise in need of a right tackle -- though, based on tape, it could be said that this was a need that already existed.
St. Louis Rams
Current picks: 2, 13, 44, 75, 110, 153, 188, 214, 226, 241, 249, 250
Needs: Offensive tackle, offensive guard, receiver
The Rams are a chic pick as a breakout team in 2014, despite the fact that they play in the brutally tough NFC West. And there are reasons for excitement. Jeff Fisher has constructed a typically tough defense, the franchise has high draft picks galore as a result of the Robert Griffin III trade and few teams have more estimable young talent. With the second and 13th picks in this year's draft, there's a lot more the Rams can do -- and some obvious places to spend those riches if they're to rise up past two straight seven-win seasons.
The offensive line is the obvious issue -- left tackle Jake Long
is returning from an ACL injury, right guard Harvey Dahl
was released, right guard Chris Williams
went to Buffalo, and multi-position guy Rodger Saffold
came back home after the Raiders
botched a potential big-money deal. Saffold could play guard, but that still leaves needs at the other guard spot and tackle, which makes Auburn's Greg Robinson a tremendous possibility with the second pick. Robinson is amazingly athletic and powerful, but he needs technique work and may have to start his NFL career at guard. And, as has been said for years, this Rams team still needs targets for quarterback Sam Bradford
(or whoever the quarterback will be). With speedster Tavon Austin
already in the fold, perhaps a more versatile and bigger receiver, like USC's Marqise Lee or Florida State's Kelvin Benjamin, would unlock this passing offense.