New Orleans Saints 7--9
This is an article from the Feb. 15, 2016 issue
TOP PRIORITY: DEFENSE
Pick almost any spot on D. Penalty magnet Brandon Browner is washed up at cornerback (and expected to be released). Free safety Jairus Byrd deserves to be cut, but that would cost $11.4 million in dead money this off-season; either way, a replacement must be groomed soon. Then there's the most vexing problem: the line. A staggering six rookies were in last year's rotation, none picked higher than the fifth round, few of whom overachieved. Last year's second-rounder, Hau'oli Kikaha, is just a hard-working rotational piece, so the Saints need two, and probably three, pass rushers to complement Cameron Jordan.
ALSO: TIGHT END. Ben Watson had a nice year but is 35 with an expired contract.
ATLANTA FALCONS 8--8
TOP PRIORITY: RECEIVER
Cue Boyz II Men's "End of the Road" for 34-year-old Roddy White. Very nice career. White may stay for one more season because cutting him means a $3.8 million salary-cap hit. But if he's back, he probably won't start opposite Julio Jones. Some newcomer will have to, because Justin Hardy and Devin Hester are third receivers at best. The Falcons do a lot with rollouts and play action; they need someone who can separate on post routes, slants and crossers. If this someone is a tight end, that's fine; they need to draft the best pass catcher available.
ALSO: SAFETY. It's been a trouble spot for years in various zone schemes, including current coach Dan Quinn's.
CAROLINA PANTHERS 15--1
TOP PRIORITY: CORNERBACK
All-Pro Josh Norman will undoubtedly be franchise-tagged or re-signed to a long-term deal. But opposite Norman, 34-year-old Charles Tillman tore his right ACL in December and could be done—his contract already is—and Bene Benwikere is best suited for the slot and coming off a broken left leg. The Panthers need a solid outside nickel corner. They run a simple zone scheme, so they don't have to use a high choice or shell out a lot of money to get one who can be effective, which is good since they'll already be spending beyond their unofficial cornerbacking budget to keep Norman.
ALSO: WIDE RECEIVER. With Kelvin Benjamin healthy after missing '15 with a torn left ACL, the pass-catching corps will be better. But a speedster who could supplant the unreliable Ted Ginn would be a huge plus.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS 6--10
TOP PRIORITY: INTERIOR OFFENSIVE LINE
Jameis Winston is a classic pocket passer with an elongated front step in his throwing motion. New coach Dirk Koetter has the league's most vertical aerial attack, regularly calling for five-and seven-step drop-backs. If ever a team needed to be sturdy up the middle of the O-line, this is it. The Bucs drafted RG Ali Marpet in round 2 last year; his future is bright. Now it's time to address left guard, where 33-year-old Logan Mankins has continued to decline. An even more pressing need is at center; incumbents Evan Smith and Joe Hawley are no better than backups.
ALSO: DEFENSIVE BACK. Tampa Bay's secondary mixed and matched in '15. That's what you do as a last resort.