The offensive line is one of the biggest issues facing the Rams
. (Tony Gutierrez/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, Chris Burke and Doug Farrar take a look at each franchise’s most pressing needs.
Current picks: 1, 33, 65, 101, 135, 141, 177, 181, 211, 216, 256
Needs: Quarterback, offensive tackle, outside linebacker
The Texans were not as bad from a talent standpoint as their 2-14 record last season indicates, but they are far from a finished product. Currently, the QB competition would be between Case Keenum and Ryan Fitzpatrick, neither presenting appealing choices. Right tackle remains unsettled — hence chatter about Greg Robinson being the No. 1 overall pick. An OLB combo of Brooks Reed and disappointing 2012 draft pick Whitney Mercilus hardly will soothe Houston’s frustrated fan base.
Drafting Jadeveon Clowney at No. 1 would help the defense a great deal. Blake Bortles or Johnny Manziel (as opposed to, say, Teddy Bridgewater) would take longer to develop. Head coach Bill O’Brien said that the Texans may draft two QBs this year, just to widen the net.
MORE: 2014 NFL Mock Draft | Top QBs | Top WRs | SI64: Our definitive Big Board
Current picks: 4, 26, 35, 71, 83, 106, 127, 145, 180, 218
Needs: Quarterback, wide receiver, inside linebacker
Brian Hoyer makes for a steady backup. As a starter, over the long haul, he leaves something to be desired. Cleveland did swipe WR Andrew Hawkins from Cincinnati, so Josh Gordon has a little more help in the passing attack. Both the ILB and cornerback spots need depth for new defensive-minded head coach Mike Pettine.
With two picks in the first round, Cleveland can do most of its critical legwork early. Exiting the round without a new quarterback would be a surprise. Doubling down on offense, following the signing of free-agent RB Ben Tate, could lead to a significant turnaround on that side of the ball.
New York Jets
Current picks: 18, 49, 80, 104, 115, 137, 154, 195, 209, 210, 213, 233
Needs: Cornerback, wide receiver, tight end
Guard is another spot the Jets would like to address. But they may have backed themselves into a corner by slow-playing free agency at cornerback, where they lost Antonio Cromartie and only later added Dmitri Patterson. Tight end and receiver go somewhat hand-in-hand: New York needs more weapons on offense, even after signing Eric Decker.
Fortunately for the Jets and many others, as has been discussed often, this is a deep draft at WR. That’s not so much the case at cornerback, at least in terms of finding a No. 1 or No. 2 option — so the Jets might lean that direction in Round 1.
For more AFC draft needs click here
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 them playing 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.
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: 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.
For more NFC draft needs click here