Even the Super Bowl champs have holes to fill. (Goodbye, Darrelle Revis.) Here's where your team ought to start
April 20, 2015
The playoffs are in sight, but neither EJ Manuel nor Matt Cassel will be the starter if these Bills ever reach the Super Bowl. It will be hard, however, to find a franchise QB with pick No. 50, Buffalo's first. Also a tricky find: the type of interior lineman who can put some jolt into the NFL's No. 25 rushing attack.
Ndamukong Suh fortifies the D-line. Now it's time to do the same for the O-line: Miami had the second-worst pass-blocking unit in '14. With Mike Wallace sold for pennies on the dollar, a field-stretching WR would also help.
[New England Patriots]
It's not the Patriot Way to use an early pick on an O-lineman or a WR, but those spots are where Tom Brady needs the most help. A CB to fill in for Darrelle Revis should also be on the docket.
[New York Jets]
Geno Smith, it seems, is not the Jets' guy. Ryan Fitzpatrick is not their guy. New York still needs a QB—and while past regimes could be counted on to draft the wrong one, there's hope under a new front office that already improved WR and CB depth in free agency. (It should do the same for both guard spots and the backfield.)
Torrey Smith is gone and Steve Smith turns 36 next month; a playmaking early-round WR is needed. And while the Ravens expect Jimmy Smith (foot) to return healthy, their secondary was atrocious in '14. Expect renovations.
All three of the Bengals' early selections ought to go toward improving their line—on both sides of the ball. Pro Football Focus ranked Domata Peko as the NFL's worst DT in '14 (minimum: 600 snaps), so a space-clogger to flank Geno Atkins could be target number 1.
Do they draft another franchise-hopeful QB, or rely wholly on journeyman Josh McCown? Will Josh Gordon play in Cleveland again, or should it dip into the deep WR draft pool? The NFL's worst rush D needs an overhaul too; a game-changing NT would be the fastest fix.
The Steelers' once-vaunted D was not so vaunted in '14. To start, they need to improve at CB and find a consistent edge-rusher at OLB. James Harrison's return from retirement is a stopgap; time to look to the future.
Chris Myers didn't miss a start over the past eight years—then the Texans cut their center to save $8 million. Someone has to snap the ball to new QB Brian Hoyer, who also needs a big target to replace Andre Johnson.
Andrew Luck's plummeting sack numbers (41 to 32 to 27 over his first three years) say more about his improving pocket presence than the Colts' linemen, only one of whom was rated positively in pass blocking in '14 by Pro Football Focus. Center Jonotthan Harrison, at the very least, needs replacing.
Blake Bortles showed glimmers of promise at the end of '14. If the Jags are to turn around, they need to improve his line, which in '14 allowed 71 sacks, third most this century. They also need to accept that Toby Gerhart is not an RB1.
The Titans filled their LB holes through free agency; a pass-rushing DE is the obvious defensive choice with pick No. 2. There's also a glaring need at safety; George Wilson and Michael Griffin ranked in the league's bottom six at the position.
The Broncos need to protect their quadragenarian-to-be QB; look for them to draft an OT with pick No. 28 and take a mid-round flier on a prospect to learn under Peyton Manning. The NFL's No. 2 run-stopping D lost Terrance Knighton to free agency. They'll look for a hole-plugging NT.
[Kansas City Chiefs]
Even with Derrick Johnson returning from an Achilles tear, the Chiefs need to bolster their ILB corps, which was among the worst in the NFL. Free agent Jeremy Maclin was only the start of a needed WR revamp; this team got zero TDs from wideouts in '14.
The jury is still out on second-year QB Derek Carr; the Raiders can help him by getting some WR weapons. A pass-rushing specialist is also a must. Oakland had just 22 sacks in '14, second worst in the NFL.
[San Diego Chargers]
Philip Rivers is used to having a dependable RB behind him, but Ryan Mathews is gone. Don't be shocked if the Chargers take the first RB off the board at No. 17 and then help the rookie with an O-line overhaul. San Diego ranked 31st in run blocking last year.
The Cowboys had the fifth-ranked scoring offense each of the last two seasons; it's time to improve on the other side of the ball. Expect the D-line to be targeted first, then secondary depth. Taking a flier RB wouldn't be a bad idea either. Darren McFadden is, well, Darren McFadden.
[New York Giants]
The Giants need to shore up the O-line; they could take a RT at No. 9 and move Justin Pugh inside. The franchise has been missing a playmaker since LB Antonio Pierce retired in 2010. With the loss of SS Antrell Rolle, they need one in the secondary too.
Defense is the key word for Chip Kelly. The Eagles filled in CB holes through free agency but still need a safety and edge-rushing LBs. Don't be surprised if Kelly picks up a QB early. The over/under for games played by Sam Bradford? Try eight.
The Skins' D allowed the most receiving TDs last season, 35, so a completely new secondary would be ideal. If RG3 is to get a fair chance to reclaim his rookie glory, his blockers need to keep him upright. RT is the biggest concern.
Alshon Jeffrey is a stud, but the WR needs help after the Bears traded away Brandon Marshall. Don't be surprised if they take a QB prospect early; do be surprised if Jay Cutler's facial expression changes one iota in response.
An offense predicated on Matt Stafford's throwing deep to Calvin Johnson needs a line that can provide time for those plays to develop—but the Lions don't have that. Also, with Reggie Bush gone, Detroit needs someone to spell RB Joique Bell.
[Green Bay Packers]
Clay Matthews proved he can dominate from inside, but Green Bay requires a first-round-caliber ILB so Matthews can move back to his normal OLB spot. The Pack lost two of their top three CBs in free agency; they'll be looking for someone to pair with Sam Shields.
Protecting a maturing Teddy Bridgewater is imperative. They re-signed RG Joe Berger; now they need to address LG, where Charlie Johnson was abysmal last year. Minnesota struggled against the run in '14; a wide-bodied DT or a run-stopping MLB could ameliorate that.
All positions are in play on a D that allowed the most yards per game and had the second-fewest sacks in '14. It'd be smart (though difficult) to get Matt Ryan a Tony Gonzalez replacement at TE.
Please get QB Cam Newton some help. Please. The Panthers' O-line was terrible in '14. And while rookie WR Kelvin Benjamin impressed, Newton needs someone to turn to when his WR1 is doubled. A RB to complement (or replace) Jonathan Stewart would help.
[New Orleans Saints]
The Saints already added FA Brandon Browner, but Rob Ryan's D couldn't cover anyone in '14; another CB would help. The best way to conceal a shoddy secondary is with QB pressure—but New Orleans stunk at that too. They'll look for a pass rusher, likely a 4-3 OLB.
[Tampa Bay Buccaneers]
If Jameis Winston or Mariota is the No. 1 pick, the Bucs need to help him with a right guard and (if Demar Dotson moves full time to LT) a right tackle. On D, a playmaking safety ought to be on the list to fill out the secondary.
Free-agent OLB LaMarr Woodley fills a desperate need in the Cards' pass rush, but he's five years removed from a double-digit sack season. A pass-covering ILB would be a nice complement, as Larry Foote was miserable at this task in '14.
[San Francisco 49ers]
If the 49ers aren't targeting a QB—recent trade rumors suggest they are—then a WR for Colin Kaepernick to throw to makes sense. A rash of recent retirements turned ILB from a position of strength into one of need, so they'll look for one in the draft too.
Top need: a new goal line strategy—or the type of No. 1 WR the Seahawks might have dialed up in the final minute of SBXLIX. With Byron Maxwell gone, a CB to play alongside Richard Sherman is needed. Tharold Simon is not that guy.
[St. Louis Rams]
Scott Wells was the worst-rated center in the NFL in '14 according to Pro Football Focus, and LT Jake Long was an injury-prone train wreck. Both are gone. Considering that 2014 No. 2 pick Greg Robinson was terrible in relief of Long, almost every position on the Rams' line is due for an upgrade.