2014 NFL draft needs: Breaking down what each AFC team is looking for
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: 9, 41, 73, 109, 149, 224
Needs: Offensive tackle, defensive end, tight end
Feel free to add safety to the "needs" mix, too, with Jairus Byrd exiting stage left in free agency. The O-line is in pretty good shape, aside from projecting the overmatched Erik Pears as a starter at RT. Likewise, the Bills could survive with Scott Chandler as their top tight end, but obviously an upgrade would be welcome. Though Jerry Hughes was a revelation in the pass rush last year, Buffalo's still thin there overall.
The choice at No. 9 likely will come down to one of the top three tackles (odds are, Taylor Lewan) and TE Eric Ebron, assuming no team trades up above Buffalo for either player. Whichever way the Bills lean, expect them to hit the other position in Round 2.
Current picks: 19, 50, 81, 116, 155, 190, 234
Needs: Offensive tackle, guard, safety
Signing Branden Albert definitely improved Miami's brutal line situation, but they remain a starter or two shy of being truly competitive on the right side. Safety is not a desperate need, with Louis Delmas joining Reshad Jones -- except the oft-injured Delmas is on a one-year deal.
Do the Dolphins hit on need or roll with the best player available early? The No. 19 pick puts them in limbo in regard to the offensive line, below where the top three tackles are likely to go, but ahead of where they might find value. An impact defender might be the call instead.
New England Patriots
Current picks: 29, 62, 93, 130, 140, 198, 206, 244
Needs: Pass rusher, tight end, safety
The Patriots appear to have their starting 22 locked into place, depending on where they land with safety Duron Harmon. Depth is the goal here, be it off the edge (likely with a DE in the Rob Ninkovich/Chandler Jones mold) or at tight end behind Rob Gronkowski. The secondary is strong, if somewhat thin.
While an Aaron Hernandez replacement may be the obvious path, the board may dictate that New England nabs an impact pass rusher first. A versatile interior D-lineman, a la Ra'Shede Hageman, also could be a play.
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.
Current picks: 17, 48, 79, 99, 134, 138, 175, 194
Needs: Offensive tackle, safety, defensive end/tackle
Trading for Eugene Monroe moved the Ravens offensive line from a debacle to merely underachieving in 2013. The clear remaining gap is at RT, where Ricky Wagner is penciled in as a starter. Someone to pair with Matt Elam at safety, and a movable part up front in the 3-4 also will be on the draft docket.
Baltimore picks two spots above Miami, at No. 17, but faces a similar problem to the aforementioned one awaiting the Dolphins: Jake Matthews, Greg Robinson and Taylor Lewan all figure to be off the board by the time its pick rolls around. As such, the Ravens could head any number of directions early, then circle back for a right tackle in Round 2 or later.
Current picks: 24, 55, 88, 123, 164, 199, 212, 239, 252
Needs: Defensive end, cornerback, quarterback
How many more shots does Andy Dalton have to get Cincinnati over the top? The answer may determine some of the Bengals' draft approach. The loss of Michael Johnson via free agency dealt a blow to the pass rush (though they tried to prepare by drafting Margus Hunt in Round 2 last year). CBs Terence Newman, Adam Jones and unlucky-in-injury Leon Hall are all 29 years old and up.
The Bengals have drafted exceptionally well of late, so there's limited desperation across the roster. A cornerback probably should be the top priority -- Hall's battle back from his second Achilles tear puts more of an onus on that position.
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.
Current picks: 15, 46, 97, 118, 157, 173, 192, 215, 230
Needs: Defensive end/tackle, cornerback, wide receiver
A front three of Cameron Heyward, Cam Thomas and [insert player here] won't do much to incite terror in opponents. The secondary has not really recovered from losing Keenan Lewis prior to 2013, either -- Ike Taylor's rapid regression did nothing to help there. Emmanuel Sanders' and Jerricho Cotchery's departures via free agency left Antonio Brown without a clear sidekick at receiver.
The buzz leading up to the draft points to Pittsburgh eyeing a receiver early, before rounding out its defense in the later rounds. Because of how decimated the Steelers have been by salary-cap issues over the past couple of offseasons, they cannot afford many misfires.
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.
Current picks: 27, 90, 166, 203, 232
Needs: Center, safety, pass rusher
Indianapolis is without a draft pick until deep in the second round, so finding any clear-cut starters will be a challenge. Antoine Bethea's presence will be missed at safety, where LaRon Landry now needs a running mate. The development of 2013 first-round OLB Bjoern Werner might dictate when they try to nab another edge threat.
Center and safety are increasingly vital positions in the modern NFL, so the Colts almost have to use their second-round selection on one of those spots. From there, it likely will be a best-player-available plan, with the possibility that Indianapolis taps into the draft's deep receiver group.
Current picks: 3, 39, 70, 105, 114, 144, 150, 159, 179, 205, 222
Needs: Quarterback, wide receiver, defensive end/Leo
Gus Bradley put that Leo edge rusher position to good use while the defensive coordinator in Seattle. He's lacking that type of player with the Jaguars, either at OLB or DE. Chad Henne needs company in the quarterback race, now that Blaine Gabbert's time in Jacksonville has, mercifully, come to an end. It's also time to stop counting on a career turnaround from WR Justin Blackmon.
At least four of Sammy Watkins, Jadeveon Clowney, Khalil Mack, Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater will be available when Jacksonville picks at No. 3. Passing on either Clowney or Mack would be tough, meaning that the Jaguars may delay on plucking a quarterback.
Current picks: 11, 42, 112, 151, 186, 228
Needs: Outside linebacker, cornerback, running back
Count the Titans as a wild card to nab a falling QB -- they're clearly not sold on Jake Locker as the franchise answer there. Ex-Bronco Shaun Phillips adds some pass-rushing punch, something the Titans need even more of as they move to a 3-4 defense. CB Alterraun Verner signed with Tampa Bay, leaving a starting spot open in the secondary. Oh, and Chris Johnson's out, which means plenty of carries are there for the taking.
Getting to choose between the likes of Anthony Barr, Justin Gilbert and one of Bortles/Bridgewater/Manziel would be quite a scenario for the Titans at No. 11 overall. Round 2 could be the spot for a running back, mainly because everyone at that position could still be on the board when Tennessee's second shot comes up.
Current picks: 31, 63, 95, 131, 171, 207, 246
Needs: Guard, inside linebacker, cornerback
A starter at guard opposite 2013 free-agent signing Louis Vasquez is one of the few potential trouble spots on the Broncos roster. The middle linebacker position could be another one, after Wesley Woodyard left to sign with the Titans. The Aqib Talib-for-Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie swap may work out to Denver's benefit, but the issues at CB were not exactly singular.
Should UCLA's Xavier Su'a-Filo make it all the way to No. 31, the Broncos might sprint to the podium for the plug-and-play starter at guard. If not, their decision becomes a little trickier -- and it may involve trading down for an extra pick, in lieu of reaching on a cornerback or linebacker.
Kansas City Chiefs
Current picks: 23, 87, 124, 163, 193, 200
Needs: Wide receiver, guard, free safety
LT Branden Albert and guards Geoff Schwartz and Jon Asamoah all bolted, forcing some reshuffling up front. Even if the Eric Fisher-Donald Stephenson duo works at tackle, guard's not in great shape and center Rodney Hudson is an impending 2015 free agent. Dwayne Bowe and Donnie Avery are the leading returning receivers, with fewer than 100 catches combined in 2013; Dexter McCluster, with another 53 grabs, signed in Tennessee.
Again, the receiver talent runs deep and varied throughout this draft, so finding one or two guys to step in to help there should be no trouble. Guard may be a little trickier, depending on how highly the Chiefs value those prospects. A safety falling to them in Round 1 would not be an unwelcome development.
Current picks: 5, 36, 67, 107, 219, 235, 247
Needs: Quarterback, defensive end, wide receiver
The QB job is Matt Schaub's to lose at this moment -- a statement that helps hammer home how much the Raiders need to find someone to really push Schaub. The Raiders did scoop up both LaMarr Woodley and Justin Tuck in free agency, but those moves provide only a short-term plan. Quite frankly, Oakland could use more young talent across the board, including at receiver where a true No. 1 remains elusive despite James Jones' arrival.
Quarterback will be tempting at No. 5 overall, assuming there isn't a QB run in the top four. Plus, Sammy Watkins or Mike Evans (or both) could be there for the taking, thereby offering a clear solution to the WR conundrum. Even an offensive tackle will be in the discussion, with some uncertainty on the right side. The Raiders are low on picks late, so they should swing for the fences early.
San Diego Chargers
Current picks: 25, 57, 89, 125, 165, 201, 240
Needs: Cornerback, nose tackle, wide receiver
The Chargers cornerbacks were shredded last season and they failed to upgrade there in free agency. It doesn't take an NFL GM to figure out that position will be in the spotlight at the draft. Former NT Cam Thomas now plays in Pittsburgh, with underwhelming options Sean Lissemore and Kwame Geathers left behind. And how about a little help for Keenan Allen?