• With the draft less than 48 hours away, a final look at each team’s biggest need, plus one more hidden need you might not have thought of
By Andy Benoit
April 25, 2018

Arizona Cardinals

Biggest Need: No. 2 Cornerback
They’ve been seeking this for years, trying everyone from untested guys like Justin Bethel and Brandon Williams to back-nine veterans like Tramon Williams and Jerraud Powers. None have handled the much-targeted job opposite Patrick Peterson. New head coach Steve Wilks runs a zone scheme. Those don’t usually require first-round corners, but Wilks’s zones are fire zones, meaning there are six defenders in coverage instead of seven. The Cards need pass defenders who can win one-on-one in space.

Hidden Need: Safety
The need at safety is as critical as the need at corner if last year’s second-rounder Budda Baker winds up playing the slot, which seems likely given how well his blitzing would fit Wilks’s system. Safety Antoine Bethea is a heady veteran who can learn a new scheme, but there’s no other trustworthy safety on the roster. Whoever you get must be smart, since many of Wilks’s understaffed zone coverages only work if the safeties can confuse quarterbacks with disguised looks early in the down.

Atlanta Falcons

Biggest Need: Defensive Tackle
Dan Quinn has troves of different D-line packages for various situations. Those packages are hard to fill with just one quality interior player (Grady Jarrett). The Falcons must find replacements for departed free agents Dontari Poe, Courtney Upshaw and Ahtyba Rubin.

Hidden Need: Guard
The Falcons knew that right guard Wes Schweitzer was the man every pass rushing schemer attacked, which is why they signed much-improved ex-Vikings/Niners right guard Brandon Fusco in free agency. They’d be wise to get out in front of the situation at left guard and find the eventual replacement for Andy Levitre, who is almost 32, in a contract year, and battled injuries in the second half of last season.

Baltimore Ravens

Biggest Need: Tight End
You could say the biggest need is still wide receiver, considering 2015 first-rounder Breshad Perriman hasn’t developed and newcomers Michael Crabtree and John Brown provide the same type of aerial attack as predecessors Jeremy Maclin and Mike Wallace. But consider: The 2017 Ravens came to life once they finally committed to being a run-first team (unfortunately, it was a tad too late). They already have two decent blocking tight ends in Nick Boyle and Maxx Williams. Finding a flexible receiving one would add dimension to their two-tight end packages, creating more flexibility for their first-and second-down passing game and opening more of their ground game.

Hidden Need: Front-Seven Defender
Six front-seven contributors are in contract years, including Terrell Suggs (still a superstar) and C.J. Mosley (a solid star). Mosley will almost surely be signed long-term or franchise-tagged, but retaining everyone else is impossible. Depth must be replenished through the draft. The beauty is Baltimore’s scheme is pliable enough to accommodate almost any style of D-lineman or linebacker, allowing GM Ozzie Newsome to take the best on the board.

Buffalo Bills

Biggest Need: Inside Linebacker (immediate), Quarterback (long-term)
Head coach Sean McDermott’s double-A-gap pressure packages and 4-3 zone scheme require athletic linebackers who can drop from the line of scrimmage into coverage and then pivot and attack on a dime. Those linebackers also must read multiple parts of the field. In Carolina, McDermott had Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis. Right now in Buffalo he has last year’s fifth-and sixth-round picks, Matt Milano and Tanner Vallejo.

Hidden Need: Edge Rusher
McDermott shows a lot of double-A-gap blitzes, but he doesn’t actually bring many. Which means he needs edge defenders who can carry a four-man rush. Free agent pickup Trent Murphy is not that. He’s best suited as a 3-4 utility front seven player. Lorenzo Alexander is almost 35 and in a contract year. And 2016 first-rounder Shaq Lawson doesn’t quite have the initial burst to bend the corner. His success must come from mechanics and tenacity, which would apply more at nickel defensive tackle. The Bills need another edge guy to bookend Jerry Hughes.

• NFL DRAFT, PODCAST-STYLE: Get the four-part mock draft preview series now, and the deep dive draft recap blowout first thing Monday morning, from Andy Benoit, Gary Gramling and the 10 Things Podcast.

• THE LATEST DRAFT RUMORS FROM PETER KING: The premium on second-round picks, landing spots for QBs and more.

Carolina Panthers

Biggest Need: Guard
Free agent Andrew Norwell wasn’t worth what his surprising 2017 first-team All-Pro honor suggested, which is why the Panthers let Jacksonville sign him in free agency. But that doesn’t mean Norwell’s left guard role wasn’t critical. Carolina’s ground game is built on “gap scheme” runs, meaning man-to-man blocking and pullers. That should remain true under new coordinator Norv Turner since those runs best highlight Cam Newton’s unique talent. The left guard is crucial to these designs.

Hidden Need: Wide Receiver
We’re fudging on the “hidden” part here because any team that has Devin Funchess and especially Torrey Smith as projected starters obviously needs help at wide receiver. The question is, what kind of help? With last year’s second-round flex weapon Curtis Samuel (if healthy) plus ex-Viking Jarius Wright, there are answers in the slot, which means we could be looking at another big-bodied target outside. Kelvin Benjamin 2.0, in other words. Benjamin and Funchess were drafted because their size compensated for some of Newton’s ball placement erraticism. That logic should be applied again.

Chicago Bears

Biggest Need: Edge defender
Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is tremendous at blurring his coverages. The Bears run a simple zone defense textured with subtle complexities. They’re comfortable with their secondary in this approach, having re-signed corners Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara. Now they need another outside pass rusher to make those guys’ jobs easier.

Hidden Need: Inside linebacker
Fangio plays nickel, almost never dime. That keeps two linebackers on the field. Offenses know this and find ways to employ a fourth wideout, matching him against those linebackers. And so Chicago’s ’backers need athleticism. But they also must be stout enough to stop the run, as that’s the main reason they’re on the field. The Bears have one in Danny Trevathan. And 2016 fourth-rounder Nick Kwiatkowski isn’t bad. But given the demands on this position, and how Fangio isolates his linebackers by playing a lot of two-deep coverage, getting a first-round prospect at the forefront would be helpful.

Cincinnati Bengals

Biggest Need: Interior O-line
The front five got zero movement on the ground last year and has been inconsistent against designer pass rush tactics like stunts and gap-exchanging blitzes. With every interior O-lineman in the last year or two of his contract, this lineup could be altered at any spot. And it must. Andy Dalton needs a clean pocket. When he doesn’t have one, his flawed footwork leads to the mechanical breakdowns that cause most of his befuddling incompletions and turnovers.

Hidden Need: Pass Rusher
Last year we said the Bengals needed an upgrade over right defensive end Michael Johnson. They found that in third-round pick Jordan Willis and especially fourth-rounder Carl Lawson. Their arrivals pushed Johnson inside on passing downs, making “nickel defensive tackle” the new position in need of an upgrade.

Cleveland Browns

Biggest Need: Quarterback
There’s nothing to say here that hasn’t already been said 1,000 times.

Hidden Need: Everything and Nothing
What’s strange is the Browns were 0-16 last year, but they have no glaring weaknesses. Obviously, they have no major strengths, either. Overall, their roster is of 5-11 type quality with the chance to shoot to 8-8 with (a) the right QB, and (b) a positional upgrade or two. The safest route for “general upgrades” is almost always along the defensive line, where the Browns happen to lack depth.

• THE BROWNS MUST TAKE A QB ON DAY 1. AND ON DAY 2: Why the safe and savvy move, for the short-term and the long-term, is for Cleveland to spend a second-rounder on a QB too.

Dallas Cowboys

Biggest Need: Wide Receiver
This was true even before Dez Bryant’s release. The Cowboys align in spread formations and run basic route combinations. It’s imperative they find a true No. 1 receiver who can influence coverages. Otherwise, this offense becomes too easy to defend on third-and-long.

Hidden Need: Tight End
Jason Witten, almost 36, wants to play until he’s 40. Pass-catchers who rely more on mechanics than speed tend to age gracefully (Larry Fitzgerald, Hines Ward and Tony Gonzalez are other examples). Imagine grooming a talented tight end behind a teacher like Witten. The only argument for not finding an understudy is that the last two, Martellus Bennett and Gavin Escobar, failed here. But that shouldn’t discourage Dallas from trying again. And if Witten does indeed play another four or five years, his understudy can still contribute meaningfully given how a run-first offense can flourish with two multidimensional tight ends.

• NFL DRAFT, PODCAST-STYLE: Get the four-part mock draft preview series now, and the deep dive draft recap blowout first thing Monday morning, from Andy Benoit, Gary Gramling and the 10 Things Podcast.

Denver Broncos

Biggest Need: Guard
Undersized quarterback Case Keenum needs a clean pocket and a running game to lean on. Ronald Leary is solid at left guard, but Keenum will need a better right guard than Connor McGovern or Max Garcia. The question is, Are the Broncos high enough on Notre Dame’s Quenton Nelson to take him at No. 5? Or are they comfortable finding someone later in the early rounds?

Hidden Need: Pass-Catcher
Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders still form a strong 1-2 punch, especially given their contrasting styles of play. But there’s no depth behind them, and Denver’s tight ends appear to be very average.

Detroit Lions

Biggest Need: Pass Rusher
Ziggy Ansah played well when his numbers were bad in 2016 and (relatively) poorly when his numbers were good in 2017. That makes his price hard to figure, which is why GM Bob Quinn delayed that decision by franchise-tagging Ansah for 2018. Unless he lights it up like he did in ’16 while producing statistically like he did in ’17, Ansah will be gone in ’19. His franchise tag will be too expensive, and some other team will overpay him. It would behoove Detroit to find a replacement now. And, if Ansah winds up being here long-term, that would-be replacement could form a nice rotational duo with Anthony Zettel on the other side. This would also allow Kerry Hyder to play inside on passing downs, where his skills fit better.

Hidden Need: Tight End
Detroit’s offseason moves suggest overkill in compensating for the trauma of the Eric Ebron Era. Plagued by the since-released tight end’s inept blocking, the Lions went out and acquired Luke Willson, an adept on-the-move blocker from Seattle, and Levine Toilolo, a lanky in-line blocker from Atlanta. Their other tight end is 270-pound Michael Roberts. And so what you have are three blockers, zero receivers. The Lions need a new Ebron. The old one is gone because he would have cost $8.25 million. The new one will cost less than half of that each year.

• LEIGHTON VANDER ESCH’S STORY: The linebacker’s journey from eight-man football in a small Idaho town to the NFL draft.

Green Bay Packers

Biggest Need: Cornerback
Some might cite edge rusher as a bigger need, with a declining Clay Matthews almost 32 and in a contract year. But new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine never had great edge rushers with the Jets, where he made his bones. What Pettine had was great cover corners, which he put on islands to enhance his interior pressures and zone blitz disguises. Presumably, that’s how head coach Mike McCarthy wants to play, given that Pettine’s predecessor, Dom Capers, subscribed to a similar philosophy. The Packers appear to have a quality cover corner in Kevin King (though the 2017 second-rounder has played just nine NFL games). After that, it’s underachiever Quinten Rollins and recycled veterans Davon House and Tramon Williams.

Hidden Need: Wide Receiver
With Jordy Nelson gone, someone must play outside opposite Davante Adams in the foundational three-receiver package. Geronimo Allison can be that guy, but ideally you’d find someone to push him.

Houston Texans

Biggest Need: Offensive Line
The purest talent up front is third-year center Nick Martin, who is coming off a December ankle injury. Ex-Chiefs Jeff Allen and Zach Fulton, along with ex-Saints utility backup Senio Kelemete provide a more stable guard situation than past years, but none will ever be mistaken for Alan Faneca. Given that, and the concerns at tackle—2017 fourth-rounder Julie’n Davenport is a project at best, and ex-Bill Seantrel Henderson is what you fear your projects becoming—the Texans must find surer protection for Deshaun Watson.

Hidden Need: Offensive Line
With decent skill position weapons and a talented defense (if healthy—which, granted, can be a big if with top D-lineman J.J. Watt, top safety Tyrann Mathieu and top corner Kevin Johnson), here’s another case for why the Texans should stock up on rookie O-linemen: the running game. Finding players to protect Watson is crucial, but so is finding players to enhance him. Watson appears to be much more than just a mobile QB, but head coach Bill O’Brien will still build around his mobility. The better your ground game, the more dynamic your mobile QB becomes, especially if your offense is counterbalanced by a destructive defense. Look at the Seahawks with Russell Wilson in the Marshawn Lynch and Legion of Boom years. Or how Colin Kaepernick did with the 49ers in 2012 when they had Frank Gore and that dominant Patrick Willis/NaVorro Bowman/Aldon Smith/Ahmad Brooks/Justin Smith defense. The Texans don’t just need solid offensive linemen, they need outstanding ones.

• NFL DRAFT, PODCAST-STYLE: Get the four-part mock draft preview series now, and the deep dive draft recap blowout first thing Monday morning, from Andy Benoit, Gary Gramling and the 10 Things Podcast.

Indianapolis Colts

Biggest Need: Defense
Take the best player available. Then do it again. And again. And again. And again. The only true three-down players on this defense are safety Malik Hooker and corner Quincy Wilson—and both have played just half a rookie season in the NFL. Every other player, save for maybe edge men Jabaal Sheard and John Simon if we’re being generous, is a situational piece. And with most of the lineup built for Chuck Pagano’s scheme, not new coordinator Matt Eberflus’s, it’s hard to envision many situations where those guys would work.

Hidden Need: Defense… Still
Sorry, can’t sacrifice smart analysis for the format of this piece. Defense is too great of a need in Indy. Take the best defensive player available again and again and again and again and again….

….and again and again and again.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Biggest Need: Tight End
A run-first team’s passing game must derive from its ground game, especially when the quarterback has flaws but can be effective on play-action. The Jaguars don’t have great receiving tight ends (newcomer Austin Seferian-Jenkins is way too inconsistent to be The Guy), and the departure of 12-year veteran Marcedes Lewis leaves them bereft of a true blocking tight end.

Hidden Need: Slot Cornerback
The need itself is not hidden. Aaron Colvin left in free agency, and his “replacement,” ex-Lions/Raiders CB D.J. Hayden, is not a refined No. 3 or true slot guy. What’s hidden is the need’s significance, which is more substantial than “No. 3 corner” suggests. (And “No. 3 corner” itself is not insignificant. Nearly 60% of NFL snaps last year had three wide receivers on the field.) A slot corner is crucial to your nickel run defense and man coverage flexibility. Yes, the Jags are a zone D, but each game even the “zoniest” of zone Ds must play at least half-a-dozen crucial snaps of man.

Kansas City Chiefs

Biggest Need: Cornerback
The people who didn’t like Washington’s trade for Alex Smith really didn’t like it. In denouncing the trade, they couldn’t help but overrate third-year cornerback Kendall Fuller, who was shipped to K.C. as part of it. The gripe went something like, Not only did Washington trade for a lesser QB than Cousins, but they gave up one of the game’s best young corners to do so! Not really. Fuller was a No. 3 corner in a so-so secondary last year. He played behind the up-and-down Bashaud Breeland, who remains unsigned in free agency after failing a physical in Carolina. Yes, Fuller has upside, and he provides a solid answer in the slot, which surprisingly few NFL teams have. But he’s nowhere near the caliber of Marcus Peters, arguably the NFL’s best playmaking defensive back, who was traded to the Rams. And Kansas City’s cornerbacking depth overall remains in question.

Hidden Need: Defensive Line
Kansas City’s front seven has been stunningly poor against the run in recent years. One reason is because defensive coordinator Bob Sutton prefers to play a light 4-2 dime package with a safety as one of its two linebackers. Teams have overpowered that by running the ball out of three-receiver sets. If Sutton is to continue employing this—and it’s a package that has some pluses—he needs defensive linemen who can consistently control the trenches.

Los Angeles Chargers

Biggest Need: Run Defense
Be it at linebacker or interior defensive line. Last season Los Angeles’s nickel run D struggled to the point that edge stars Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram had to take a more conservative pass rushing approach, diminishing the defense’s greatest strength. The Chargers need someone who can clog the middle.

Hidden Need: Free Safety
Four-year backup Adrian Phillips is lanky and physical; if he winds up in departed free agent Tre Boston’s centerfield spot, this defense can still prosper. But Phillips is more ideal for a No. 3 hybrid safety job. Coordinator Gus Bradley learned in Seattle with Earl Thomas how valuable a feared Cover 3 deep safety can be. Unless the Chargers are super high on last year’s fourth-rounder Rayshawn Jenkins, this position could be in play.

Los Angeles Rams

Biggest Need: Inside Linebacker
The surprising trade of Alec Ogletree to the Giants left L.A. with just one clear-cut starting caliber linebacker (Mark Barron). Simple as that.

Hidden Need: Edge rusher
Everyone is giddy about the Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh pairing, but who will rush off the edge? Robert Quinn did last year, but not well enough, which is why he was dealt to Miami. Matt Longacre was an underrated backup to Quinn but hasn’t been tested as an everydown player. Same goes for last year’s fourth-rounder, Samson Ebukam. With Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib at corner, it’s imperative L.A.’s pass rush be dominant across the board. Having two risk-taking playmakers outside can only work if quarterbacks are forced to throw on the defense’s schedule.

Miami Dolphins

Biggest Need: Tight End
If head coach Adam Gase could, he’d play every snap in a 3x1 formation with the tight end as that “1” alone on the weak side. That formation renders the defense predictable and sets up complex route combinations on the three-receiver side. Last year Gase tried to recreate the prosperity he had with this in Denver by trading for Julius Thomas, but it didn’t take. Now Thomas is gone and Miami needs someone who can split out wide. MarQueis Gray, A.J. Derby and Gavin Escobar are all backup line-of-scrimmage tight ends.

Hidden Need: Offensive Tackle
Miami needs a guard… but they already have one of the league’s best in Laremy Tunsil. He dominated there as a rookie in 2016 before struggling at his “natural” left tackle position in 2017. Drafting a tackle could kick Tunsil back inside, upgrading two positions. Or, the new tackle could be a replacement for right tackle Ja’Wuan James, whom the Dolphins optioned-in for a fifth year but don’t seem keen on extending long-term.

• NFL DRAFT, PODCAST-STYLE: Get the four-part mock draft preview series now, and the deep dive draft recap blowout first thing Monday morning, from Andy Benoit, Gary Gramling and the 10 Things Podcast.

Minnesota Vikings

Biggest Need: Right Guard
Joe Berger retired. The options now are: (1) Replace him with journeyman backup Tom Compton; (2) Replace him with right tackle Mike Remmers, creating a vacancy at right tackle for either Rashod Hill or a rookie to fill; (3) Try your hand with last year’s fifth-round pick Danny Isidora; or (4) Draft a guard early on. Considering the Vikings just guaranteed Kirk Cousins $87 million because they believe they’re Super Bowl ready, drafting a true guard feels like the wisest move. That would keep Remmers at his more natural right tackle position and Hill in a backup role. The Vikings learned down the stretch last year how valuable Hill’s depth can be.

Hidden Need: Defensive End
Danielle Hunter and Anthony Barr are in contract years, plus there is a moderately expensive fifth-year option to decide on with cornerback Trae Waynes. And, not to get too far ahead, but Andrew Sendejo’s contract is up in two years, and the Vikings may want to re-sign him sooner given how steadily his value has risen. NFL economics suggest one of these men won’t be retained. Hunter would be the most immediately expensive of the bunch. Given that, plus the looming departure of Brian Robison (he’s 35 and in the final year of his deal), defensive end could be addressed in this draft.

New England Patriots

Biggest Need: Left Tackle
Nate Solder is gone and last year’s third-round pick, Antonio Garcia, missed his rookie season with blood clots. Making him the guardian of Tom Brady’s blind side is risky. But here’s the question: If the Patriots are returning to a quick-strike, horizontal passing game—and trading Brandin Cooks suggests they are—do they really need to spend a first-round pick on a left tackle? The nature of the scheme will protect the QB just as much as a blocker would. But having two first-rounders and two second-rounders makes this an easier trigger to pull.

Hidden Need: Cornerback
People are charmed by newly signed cornerback Jason McCourty joining his twin brother for the first time since they were at Rutgers in 2008. But let’s remember: Jason was available because he’d been up-and-down in Cleveland and, prior to that, in his last year at Tennessee. An up-and-down No. 2 corner could hinder the man coverage packages New England likes. Plus, stylistically, Jason can’t match up to quicker receivers the way predecessor Malcolm Butler could.

• PETER KING’S MOCK DRAFT: The latest first-round projection.

New Orleans Saints

Biggest Need: Defense
In the past, the Saints have needed players who can get them beyond 7-9. But after taking big strides last season, the Saints have no major defensive holes—they need another star or two to get them past 11-5. The only spots that are untouchable are cornerback Marshon Lattimore’s, defensive end Cameron Jordan’s, maybe D-lineman Sheldon Rankins’ and, despite how his otherwise stellar rookie season ended, free safety Marcus Williams’.

Hidden Need: Flex Tight End
There’s a reason the Saints pursued Jimmy Graham in free agency. Imagine what a mismatch-creating piece like that would do shifting around in the same formation as Alvin Kamara. What’s more, the Saints are thin at tight end anyway. Coby Fleener is too unreliable as a receiver to offset his shoddy blocking. Josh Hill, Ben Watson and Michael Hoomanawanui are free agents in 2019.

New York Giants

Biggest Need: Run Game Help
That’d be either in the form of a dominant offensive lineman (every position except new left tackle Nate Solder’s could use an upgrade) or in the form of a once-in-a-generation type talent like Saquon Barkley. New head coach Pat Shurmur did a great job in Minnesota marrying his running game and passing game. That’s potentially even more potent if Barkley is The Guy and a sagacious veteran like Eli Manning is running the show. And to the people who say the Giants should take edge rusher Bradley Chubb: no argument here. Consider that Biggest Need Part II.

Hidden Need: Cornerback
Two years ago, this team went 11-5 on the strength of its corners. Now, an aging Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is gone, and Eli Apple is an enigma. Even if Apple fulfills his potential (and that’s entirely possible, he is a very smooth mirror defender), there’s still a need in the slot. Experienced fringe backups like William Gay and B.W. Webb are not the answer. Notably, new defensive coordinator James Bettcher plays a lot of matchup coverages.

New York Jets

Biggest Need: Tight End (Immediate), Quarterback (Long-Term)
It’s obvious the Jets will go quarterback at No. 3. We could debate which quarterback, but there’s a chance two of the big four will be off the board. If they have to settle on their third choice—and we won’t know if they do, since they’ll swear that guy topped their board all along—they might wish they still had some of those second-rounders they shipped to Indy, since whoever is under center will need more than just underachieving ex-Raider Clive Walford and blocking specialist Eric Tomlinson at tight end. A flexible tight end adds invaluable schematic flexibility, which helps a young QB.

Hidden Need: Wide Receiver
Every significant wideout on the roster except last year’s third-round pick ArDarius Stewart and 2016 seventh-rounder Charone Peake is nearing the end of his contract. The type of wideouts the Jets take will significantly impact the type of passing game they build around their new quarterback.

• SO, ARE ANY OF THESE QUARTERBACKS GOOD?: Jenny Vrentas on the most pressing and persistent question surrounding this draft class.

Oakland Raiders

Biggest need: Cornerback
New defensive coordinator Paul Guenther runs a zone-based scheme, often with two safeties back deep. This approach doesn’t usually demand top-caliber corners. And yet, when Guenther was with the Bengals, they drafted first-round corners Dre Kirkpatrick in 2012, Darqueze Dennard in ’14 and William Jackson in ’16. The Raiders have a first-round corner of their own, Gareon Conley, but very little else. The only reason they wouldn’t go cornerback early on is if they take an inside linebacker, which is another big need.

Hidden need: Wide Receiver
Amari Cooper’s fifth-year option was picked up, and rightfully so. When he’s right, Cooper is one of the game’s premiere route runners. That said, if Cooper struggles against press coverage in 2018 the way he did in ’16 and ’17, GM Reggie McKenzie and head coach Jon Gruden will have a tough decision to make on him in 2019. Behind Cooper, Jordy Nelson could be washed up (tacitly, the Packers said he was) and Seth Roberts is strictly a No. 3 (if that).

Philadelphia Eagles

Biggest Need: Wide Receiver
Not just any wide receiver, a precise route runner on the perimeter. That’s one of the few things Philly doesn’t have. Alshon Jeffery is a big target who wins with his body and ball-tracking. Mike Wallace is just a speedster. Last year’s fourth-round pick Mack Hollins has upside but might be another version of Jeffery. Nelson Agholor is strictly a slot guy.

Hidden Need: Inside Linebacker
Despite re-signing Nigel Bradham, an excellent three-down player in coordinator Jim Schwartz’s scheme, the Eagles have been looking closely at potential first-rounders here, which suggests they might not be overly optimistic about Jordan Hicks recovering from last year’s Achilles injury. Hicks has had several major injuries before and is also in a contract year. Mychal Kendricks won’t be a free agent until 2020, but the team might not trust his discipline in pass D enough to pay him the $8.6 million that his contract calls for in 2019. His deal can be voided for just $1.6 million in dead money.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Biggest Need: Inside Linebacker
Ryan Shazier was their most dynamic player, and this team’s storied 3-4 scheme puts a lot of stress on his position. Teams feasted on Pittsburgh’s backup linebackers down the stretch last year, particularly the Jaguars in their 45-point performance at Heinz Field in the divisional playoffs.

Hidden Need: Edge Rusher
Bud Dupree just had his fifth-year option picked up, but if he flounders in 2018 he could be cut. He has progressed, just not quite as much you’d like. Too much of his production comes on second effort—a testament to his tenacity but also an indictment of his technique. If Dupree continues to improve and sticks around (very possible), this wouldn’t be a wasted pick. You can never have too many edge rushers.

• NFL DRAFT, PODCAST-STYLE: Get the four-part mock draft preview series now, and the deep dive draft recap blowout first thing Monday morning, from Andy Benoit, Gary Gramling and the 10 Things Podcast.

San Francisco 49ers

Biggest Need: Skill Position Players
The Niners might be better at wideout than it appears, given how well Marquise Goodwin played once Jimmy Garoppolo took over, how sturdy Pierre Garcon is on intermediate routes and how shifty Trent Taylor can be underneath. Still, if a difference-maker can be found, GM John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan should pounce. Shanahan’s difference-makers, however, tend to be running backs and tight ends, since his scheme is so crafty in shifting and motioning those players before the snap. The signing of former Vikings running back Jerick McKinnon makes tight end the slightly more urgent of those two needs.

Hidden Need: Linebacker
We don’t know what will happen with Reuben Foster, who has been charged with three felonies in a domestic incident. Even if he returns and picks up where his at-times-scintillating rookie season left off, it wouldn’t hurt to have another quality linebacker. The best Cover 3-based defenses have usually had two: Seattle with K.J. Wright and Bobby Wagner; Jacksonville with Telvin Smith and Myles Jack; and Atlanta with De’Vondre Campbell and Deion Jones. San Francisco’s second linebacker, Malcolm Smith, is, at best, good-not-great.

Seattle Seahawks

Biggest Need: Cornerback
With Richard Sherman gone, the Seahawks need a press corner opposite intriguing second-year stud Shaquill Griffin. Without one, they’ll struggle in the Cover 3 zone scheme that defensive coordinator Ken Norton was hired to restore.

Hidden Need: Edge Rusher
The beauty of favoring long, strong corners as opposed to quick, athletic ones is those long, strong corners can be found in the middle rounds. That leaves the early rounds open for acquiring D-line talent, which is what Seattle has always done. With Cliff Avril’s neck injury, the spot opposite Frank Clark needs filling. The Seahawks are hoping to catch lightning from their trio of former first-round busts—Barkevious Mingo, Dion Jordan and Marcus Smith—but in the (likely) event that doesn’t work out, finding their own original first-round defensive end could prevent looming problems. You also must consider that having an effective pass rush can help a rebuilding secondary.

• DRAFT NEEDS FOR NEW DEFENSIVE BOSSES: The right fits—for need and style—for five new defensive coordinators.

Tampa Bay Bucs

Biggest Need: Safety
A few months ago, the Bucs needed pass rushing help more than any team needed help anywhere else. So, they traded for Jason Pierre-Paul and, more importantly, signed ex-Eagle Vinny Curry. Plus, Noah Spence is back from the shoulder injury that wiped out his season last October. And so now the need shifts to safety, where someone must supplant the nine-lived Chris Conte. Hopefully, Conte’s is the only starting spot available; last year’s second-round pick Justin Evans gave up too many big play as a rookie, but he flashed star potential. He should play every down in 2018.

Hidden Need: Defensive Line
They upgraded this overwhelming weakness by trading for Jason Pierre-Paul and signing Vinny Curry. Still, pass rushing depth could be added. Don’t be shocked if it’s added early in the draft, considering GM Jason Licht and head coach Dirk Koetter are probably still in shock from the ineptitude of last year’s pass rush.

Tennessee Titans

Biggest Need: Inside Linebacker
Three-down ’backer Avery Williamson joined the Jets in free agency. Wesley Woodyard is still around, but having just one solid linebacker is not ideal. Technically, free agent pickups Nate Palmer and Will Compton can take Williamson’s place on early downs, and 2017 fifth-round cover ’backer Jayon Brown can take his place on third down. But it would be nicer—and safer—to just find another Williamson.

Hidden Need: Safety
If another Williamson can’t be found, then Tennessee should consider going safety. Yes, they have a great one in Kevin Byard and a solid one in Jonathan Cyprien, but a third could make them a “big dime” defense. That means playing with three safeties and one linebacker, which more teams are doing. Having a third safety makes your coverage and pressure concepts uniquely disguisable, which the Titans will take advantage of given how schematically diverse new head coach Mike Vrabel likes to be. Expect creative complexity with Vrabel, given that he has three corners who can handle top receivers one-on-one: Logan Ryan, Adoree' Jackson and Malcolm Butler. The more one-on-one matchups you can live with, the more options you have in how to use your linebackers and safeties.


Biggest Need: Cornerback
They’ve been searching for an edge rusher opposite Ryan Kerrigan since Brian Orakpo left in 2015. Since their second-rounder that year, Preston Smith, hasn’t blossomed into a consistent bender, they took another second-rounder, Alabama’s Ryan Anderson, last year. Anderson’s anticipated maturation, plus the occasional flashes they can hope to get from free agent pickup Pernell McPhee, are enough to shift the focus to cornerback. Undrafted fourth-year pro Quinton Dunbar deserves a long look at left corner. Even if he ascends to that starting job, there are questions in the slot. 2017 third-rounder Fabian Moreau has played limited snaps as a rookie while coming back from a torn pectoral suffered during his pro day workout, and ex-Cowboy Orlando Scandrick’s career might be in the bottom of the ninth. Overall, every corner not named Josh Norman comes with questions.

Hidden Need: Center
Spencer Long was quietly a tremendous athletic fit in Washington’s outside zone running game and screen-heavy passing game. His defection to the Jets hurts. If second-year man Chase Roullier were a surefire replacement for Long, he would have been drafted earlier than the sixth round.

• Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.

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