Nick Perry, DE, USC
- Solid height and overall size
- Solid array of pass rushing moves
- Great hand use, able to disengage from blockers
- Great natural strength
- Able to dip his shoulder and get the corner
- Good natural athleticism
- Plays with good leverage
- Stiff athlete
- Not very good in space, mediocre change of direction skills
- Needs to develop a counter move
- Raw technique
- Gets upfield/out of position often, breaking contain
NFL Comparison: Trent Cole
Nick Perry was a two year starter that led USC in sacks every year he was there, including as a freshman where he was a third-down specialist. Perry is a good pass rusher that has a variety of pass rushing moves to keep the OT off balance. Perry has a great first step and explosion that allows him to get off fast. He can beat the tackle with speed, power, or both. He’s very strong at the point of attack and plays with good leverage but he’s still stuck in the third down pass-rusher mentality as he goes hard after the QB on every play, limiting his effectiveness against the run. He is still a bit raw with his technique as well. Perry doesn’t show well in space and I’m not sold on his ability to play outside linebacker in the 3-4. His combine showed more of the same, with his poor short shuttle and 3-Cone drills. At the end of the day, I think his best fit is at defensive end in a 4-3 scheme. Some teams that makes sense would be Cleveland, Jacksonville, and Detroit.
Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina
- Great athlete and great speed
- Very physical
- Good tackler with a knack to lay the wood
- Good ball skills
- Great size and length
- Good blitzer
- Scheme versatile, played in off-man/zone but has skillset to make transition to man
- Big-time upside
- Experience as a return man
- Still a bit raw
- Poor technique and footwork
- A bit stiff, not the most fluid
- Can play too high at times, particularly coming out of transition
NFL Comparison: Carlos Rogers
Stephon Gilmore is a talented cornerback that certainly has all the tools you like but will need to put them all together to be successful at the next level. Gilmore has marginally improved on his overall technique and footwork each year while at USC but he still leaves much to be desired in those areas. In college, he got by on his athleticism far too often and he will need a good DB coach to fix his mechanical issues to be successful in the NFL. That being said, if he can get those fixed, he should be an All-Pro at the next level. At the combine he showed very good signs of improvement and while he was still too choppy with his footwork, you can tell he’s really working hard at improving. Gilmore is a smart kid that has all the intangibles you like in a player. He’s been durable and has stayed out of trouble both on and off the field. Gilmore has solid ball skills and instincts and rarely gets beat for the big play. Gilmore played primarily off-man and zone in college but I believe his physicality and relative rawness is enough that he could learn to play man and excel in that type of scheme as well. Overall, his potential is enough to give him a shot at being the third CB taken in this draft and he should hear his name anywhere in the back half of the first through the first half of the second. Teams like Cincinnati, Detroit, and St. Louis are all teams that would be good fits.
Chaz Powell, CB, Penn State
- Great athlete and great speed
- Great kick returner
- Very good size
- Lots of untapped potential
- Lots of special teams experience playing gunner on punts and covering kicks
- High football IQ, good instincts
- Great hands and leaping ability with a nose for the ball
- Great closing speed
- Willing and able tackler
- Limited experience at corner, only played 18 games at the position
- No experience in man coverage
- Really raw
- Technique is lacking and will need to be coached up
- May lack a true position
NFL Comparison: Corey Graham
Chaz Powell is somewhat of an unknown quantity among the common fan but he’s a player that scouts are well aware of and is highly regarded. Powell was a productive player whenever he was on the field for Penn State. Powell came in as a safety recruit and redshirted in 2007 learning the position. Penn State was very deep at safety though so he played wide receiver and returned kicks as a freshman and sophomore. Powell was slated to finally move back over to the defensive side of the ball as a junior but a few injuries and graduations at wide receiver saw him stay on offense for the first half of the season. Following the injured players’ return to health, Powell finally moved to cornerback for good mid-way through his junior season and started the final five games. He then went on to start all 13 games as a senior. Powell has shown to be a playmaker when he gets the ball in his hands, sporting a very solid kick return average and returning a pair for touchdowns in his career. Powell also has tons of experience on special teams coverage units as he was the gunner on punts for pretty much his entire career and played on the kick coverage unit. As a defender, Powell is very raw. Penn State really only played zone concepts in the secondary so he only has experience in zone and some off man. Powell’s overall technique improved every game over his 18 game starting career but it still has plenty of room for improvement. Powell is a smooth athlete that has fluid hips and can run with anyone but his footwork needs cleaning up for him to be more effective in transition. Powell rarely gets beat deep between the off coverage and his great speed. He’s a physical player that’s not afraid to mix it up in the run game but he’s got no experience in bump and run and will need further development to make the transition to that type of scheme. That being said, Powell’s skillset projects well to any scheme and even projects well to multiple positions as an NFL team could move him back to WR with his great ball skills, keep him at corner, or even move him to free safety where he was originally recruited to play. Powell is already a great special teamer and he’s the kind of high upside player that teams love to target late in drafts that can come in and be a special teams stud from day one and has the upside to develop into a starter a few years down the road.
|Year||Games||Tackles||INTs||Passes Defensed||Receptions||Yards||Touchdown||Kick Returns||KR Average||TD|
- Cornerback – The Raiders lost Nnamdi Asomugha last year and cut Stanford Routt already this offseason. Lito Sheppard is also a free agent. There are hopes that Chimdi Chekwa and Demarcus Van Dyke from last year’s draft can step up and be starters but that’s two mid-round picks that will be in their second year. I expect them to target someone in free agency to be a starter.
- Interior Line – Starting center Samson Satele is a free agent. Starting left guard Stefen Wisniewski was drafted to play center but pushed over to guard due to lack of strength there. Expect The Raiders to let Satele walk and bring in a guard to Wis can play his more natural center position.
- Safety – Starting SS Tyvon Branch is a free agent and FS Michael Huff is a potential cap cut so the Raiders could be looking for two new starters.
- Defensive end/outside linebacker – There are rumors that the Raiders are looking to get pieces to move to a 3-4 defense. Kamerion Wimbley has experience playing outside in that scheme but they lack another player that can definitely make that transition and be a starter.
- Nose Tackle – Similar to outside linebacker, the Raiders don’t have a great fit for the nose tackle position either so this is another position they could look to address.
Other Needs: Linebacker depth, offensive tackle depth, Perhaps another wide receiver
- Running back – The Broncos got surprising production out of Willis McGahee this year but he’s on the wrong side of 30 and backup Knowshon Moreno will undoubtedly be released this offseason. Look for the Broncos to target a running back in the first two rounds to come in and rotate with McGahee and be the long-term starter.
- Defensive Tackle – Both starting defensive tackles last year are free agents and Marcus Thomas is not expected to return. Brodrick Bunkley has to be their top free agent priority as he played exceptionally well last year but even if he returns, they’ll need a running mate next to him. Defensive tackle is pretty deep in this class but they would be well-pressed to grab one of Devon Still, Dontari Poe, Michael Brockers, or Fletcher Cox should one of them make it to their pick.
- Quarterback – Tim Tebow isn’t going anywhere anytime soon but backup Brady Quinn is a free agent and they released Kyle Orton mid-way through last season so they will need someone behind him. I expect Elway to target two QBs this offseason, one being a traditional quarterback, another being an option type QB. I wouldn’t be surprised if Darron Thomas of Oregon finds his way to Denver in the late rounds while they either sign a veteran and go with someone like Brandon Weeden or Kirk Cousins in the early/mid rounds.
- Secondary – Brian Dawkins’ contract got reworked such that he should be hitting free agency this year and is likely to retire. Starting corner Andre Goodman could be a cap casualty and a few depth guys are free agents. They like young safeties Raheem Moore and Quinton Carter as the starting safeties but they’ll need to add a starting cornerback as well as improved depth as Champ Bailey is nearing the end of his career.
- Interior offensive line – Starting guards Chris Kuper and Zane Beadles were both mediocre this season and top backup Russ Hochstein is a free agent. Starting center JD Walton was also one of the worst starting centers in the league last year. Walton and Beadles were rookies so they probably won’t want to give up on them but they would be wise to bring in some real competition that can push for the starting job.
Other needs: Tight end, Wide Receiver, Linebacker
San Diego Chargers
- Offensive line – Marcus McNeill is likely to be released and starting right tackle Jeromey Clary desperately needs to be upgraded. In addition, Jared Gaither is a free agent that could look to cash-in as he had a strong finish to the season and is the top left tackle on the market. Inside, starting center Nick Hardwick is a free agent. The offensive line will undoubtedly be the top priority for the Chargers this offseason.
- Strong Safety – Eric Weddle has the free safety position locked down but they have been consistently looking for a competent starter on the strong side. Bob Sanders was the experiment this year and he, predictably, couldn’t stay healthy so they’ll be on the lookout yet again for a solution.
- Outside linebacker – Antwan Barnes, Shaun Phillips, and Travis LaBoy are the top three outside linebackers for the Chargers and all three of them are entering the final years of their respective contracts. Barnes had a breakout season last year and if he can perform similarly this year, he’ll likely be locked up longterm but Phillips and LaBoy are aging vets with declining skills who could be walking next year. Former first round pick Larry English has been a bust and the Chargers need to get a young player with starting upside in place.
- Tight End – Antonio Gates hasn’t stayed healthy for an entire season in years and top backup Randy McMichael is a free agent whose best days are well behind him. Its time for the Chargers to start looking for a competent, young backup for Gates that can be the heir apparent.
- Running back – Top backup Mike Tolbert is a free agent and they lost change of pace back Jordan Todman last year when they tried to sneak him through waivers to stash on the practice squad. If the Bolts lose Tolbert in free agency (which seems to be a trend when SD RBs hit the market, see Sproles/Turner), they will need to add two new RBs to the fold, preferably one via free agency and one in the mid/late rounds.
Other Needs: Inside linebacker, Wide receiver (particularly if they lose Vincent Jackson), Nose tackle, and defensive end
Kansas City Chiefs
- Offensive line – Right tackle Barry Richardson desperately needs upgraded, center Casey Wiegmann is a free agent that is likely to retire, and Ryan Lilja’s best playing days are behind him. The Chiefs need at least one starter via free agency or the draft, potentially two depending how they feel about Lilja and Rodney Hudson.
- Nose Tackle – Starting nose tackle Kelly Gregg is a free agent and sixth round pick Jerrell Powe only found himself in one game last season. The Chiefs have a ton of cap space and should make a run at Pro Bowler Paul Soliai.
- Quarterback – It remains to be seen how Romeo Crennel feels about his current stable of QBs but they should be on the lookout for at least one QB whether that’s re-signing Kyle Orton or drafting someone in the early rounds.
- Inside Linebacker – Jovan Belcher is an okay player but he’s a mediocre starter at best and the Chiefs would be wise to look for an upgrade at the position.
- Running back – Jamaal Charles is coming off an ACL injury and all the backup running backs are free agents in Jackie Battle, Thomas Jones, and fullback/running back hybrid LeRon McClain. Dexter McCluster is a WR/RB hybrid that I don’t think they trust as a full-time RB. I expect McClain to return but they will need to add one or two more RBs via free agency or the draft to provide better insurance in case Charles has another injury.
Other needs: Tight End, Outside linebacker depth, Dwayne Bowe and Brandon Carr are expected to return but if either leave via free agency, WR or CB could become big-time needs.
- Quarterback – Peyton Manning may never be able to play football again and after missing the entire season, its clear that the guys they had backing him up don’t belong as NFL starters. With the first overall pick in tow and the best QB prospect since Peyton Manning coming out of college, the Colts will be addressing this need with Stanford’s Andrew Luck.
- 3-4 Defense pieces – New head coach Chuck Pagano is a 34 guy and he’ll be looking to bring that defense to the Colts. Starting defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis both have the skillset to move to OLB in a 34 but Mathis is a free agent and Freeney is a potential cap cut that has expressed disinterest in making the move to OLB. First round bust Jerry Hughes is one player that could definitely benefit from this move as many thought he’d be a better fit as a 34 OLB. The Colts have some pieces that will translate to the 34 but for the most part, they’re going to need a major overhaul of the roster to make the switch. I expect them to run a hybrid that is more 43 at least for this year but expect them to start signing, trading, and drafting 34 pieces, with guys like Jarret Johnson, Kendall Langford, and Paul Soliai as logical free agent targets.
- Interior offensive line – The Colts like the two tackles they drafted last year in Anthony Castonzo and Ben Ijalana but they still have some major needs up front. Long-time starter Jeff Saturday is a free agent that could walk as is starting guard Ryan Diem and top backup Mike Pollak. New offensive coordinator Bruce Arians always had bigger, mauling type offensive linemen in Pittsburgh so a change in philosophy could be in play as the Colts look to add size and power to the offensive line.
- Wide Receiver – The top two WRs for the Colts are set to hit free agency in Pierre Garcon and Reggie Wayne. Garcon should be targeted to return but Reggie Wayne could follow Peyton to a new team and will likely be looking for more money than the Colts should be willing to dish out.
- Secondary – The Colts really only have one above average starter in the secondary and that’s Antoine Bethea. They should be looking for help at both corner and strong safety help.
Other Needs: Pretty much any defense would be helpful, Tight end as Dallas Clark could be departing
- Interior offensive line – Starting guard Jake Scott is set to hit free agency and starting center Eugene Amano is getting paid much more than he’s worth. Starting LG LeRoy Harris looks like a keeper at one spot but the weak play from the other spots was a large contributor towards Chris Johnson’s weak season. Look for Tennessee to try and find someone in free agency as well as the draft, with Wisconsin center Peter Konz being high on the list.
- Weakside linebacker – The Titans found starters in MLB Colin McCarthy and SLB Akeem Ayers in last year’s draft but the weakside spot leaves much to be desired as veteran Will Witherspoon simply isn’t a starting caliber player in the NFL anymore. There are a number of quality weakside backers in this class that Tennessee could look at in the second and third rounds with guys like Lavonte David, Travis Lewis, and Sean Spence topping the list.
- Secondary – Starting corner Cortland Finnegan and starting safeties Michael Griffin and Chris Hope are scheduled to hit free agency. Expect Finnegan to be a hot commodity that signs elsewhere and Hope lost playing time last year to Jordan Babineaux and Griffin is mediocre at best. Babineaux will probably be the starter on the strong side next year but the Titans could be on the lookout for a new free safety and a new number one corner.
- Defensive End – Starting defensive end Jason Jones was miscast this season as he’s much better suited inside. Derrick Morgan has been a solid overall player but the Titans lack a true pass rushing threat from the DE position and need to at least obtain a third down pass rushing specialist, probably a full-time starter.
- Wide Receiver – Kenny Britt has had off-field and injury troubles and while Damian Williams and Nate Washington played well in his absence, neither one is a true number one receiver. The Titans also have no depth behind those three and might look to grab a receiver early in this deep WR draft.
Other Needs: Nothing really jumps out at me, the Titans have solid depth at most positions and a good mix of experience and youth
- Wide Receiver – Kevin Walter and Jacoby Jones are both potential cap casualties due to their lack of production and the need to re-sign other players. Neither has really proven to be legit number two or number three receivers and Andre Johnson’s absence this season really exposed them. Houston would be wise to target one of the top WRs in this free agent class like Mario Manningham, Pierre Garcon, Reggie Wayne, or Stevie Johnson if they hit the market and have a backup plan of someone like Ted Ginn, Laurent Robinson, Robert Meachem, or Early Doucet. I think they should double up signing a veteran and drafting a receiver high as they need to find a number 2 and a number 3 receiever.
- Secondary – Part-time starter Jason Allen is a free agent that is expected to look for a deal elsewhere which leaves Kareem Jackson as a likely starter. In addition, while the team likes Glover Quin, I think its time they give up on him as a starter and look to replace him. They have a bunch of young players that they like so I’m not sure they will be looking to find someone who may be able to step in and start, they’d be best suited to find a definitive starting CB like Brent Grimes and allow the rest of them to battle it out for spots. Mark Barron is an option in the first round for the safety position.
- Nose Tackle – Veteran Shaun Cody held up much better than anyone expected and Earl Mitchell showed signs of potentially being a Jay Ratliff-type nose tackle. That being said, neither player really blew anyone away and it wouldn’t be surprising to anyone if they went out and drafted someone like Josh Chapman or Hebron Fangupo in the middle rounds.
- Outside Linebacker – The odds of Mario Williams returning seem slim to none, largely because his talents are wasted in a 34 defense and he’s probably out of the Texans price range. Starting duo Connor Barwin and Brooks Reed both played excellent and look to be a good starting duo for the foreseeable future but there is no depth behind them so the Texans will need to look to add some depth behind them. Signing a veteran depth guy in free agency that can contribute on special teams and drafting someone in the mid to late rounds would be wise.
- Interior offensive line – Starting center Chris Myers and guard Mike Brisiel are both free agents but the Texans may only be able to afford one of them. If either depart via free agency, finding another starter will move up on the needs list as backup Antoine Caldwell simply hasn’t shown starting ability when he’s played.
Other needs: Tight end depth as Joel Dreessen is likely going to find a more lucrative job elsewhere, inside linebacker depth, defensive end depth
- Defensive end – The Jaguars had solid overall production from starting defensive ends Matt Roth and Jeremy Mincey but both are free agents and Aaron Kampman’s playing days are likely beyond him. Even if they are both brought back, Roth didn’t generate very much pass rush and they need someone that can get after the QB. The Jags have tons of cap space so stealing Mario Williams could be a major get for them. I also think they will look to grab someone early in the draft with Quinton Coples potentially being a choice at 7 overall.
- Wide Receiver – General Manager Gene Smith wants Blaine Gabbert to succeed in the NFL and in order to do that, he needs to get him some weapons. I expect the Jaguars to go HARD after some WRs this year in both free agency and the draft. Harry Douglas from Atlanta is a name that makes sense given his familiarity with Mularkey. They would be smart to make a run at some of the bigger named free agents like Marques Colston or Stevie Johnson in addition to looking to draft someone as there isn’t really any receiver on the Jags roster that has a starting spot locked down.
- Secondary – Starting CB Rashean Mathis is a free agent and there isn’t really a whole lot else to discuss when talking Jaguars CBs. If Mathis walks, they need two starters at CB. Starting strong safety Dwight Lowery is also set to hit free agency and could be replaced.
- Offensive Line – Eben Britton suffered a potentially career ending injury so they at least need insurance for him in case he can’t play anymore. In addition, Brad Meester is rumored to be heading for retirement so they’ll need a new starter inside at center. I’d expect them to grab a swing OT in free agency that can hold down RT in case Britton can’t return. If Meester returns for another year, they can take a center late and groom him, if he retires, it becomes a higher need.
- Outside Linebacker – Paul Posluszny has the middle linebacker spot locked down and Daryl Smith is serviceable on the strongside but they could use an upgrade on the weakside.
Other needs: DT depth, tight end depth, Quarterback?
- Offensive Line – Ben Roethlisberger’s skillset makes the Steelers offensive line look better, and worse, than they actually are at times but there is a severe lack of talent at both tackle and guard. A number of players are due to be free agents and a few more are likely cap casualties as the Steelers are well over next year’s cap. They will need at least two new starters for next year, possibly three or even four and its about time they pony up and use a premium draft pick to give Pouncey some help up front. With the lack of cap space, they will need to find at least one starter in the draft and hope that they can maybe restructure or find a veteran on the cheap.
- Nose Tackle – Veteran backup Chris Hoke has already announced he’s retiring and start Casey Hampton has only played a full season once in the last five years. In addition to that, he’s got a huge cap number this year and is probably the most likely player to be cut. Pittsburgh would be a great fit for Paul Soliai, Sione Pouha, or Aubrayo Franklin if they can maneuver cap space to get one of them, otherwise they’ll have to grab one early in the draft with Dontari Poe, Alameda Ta’amu, and Josh Chapman as the top three in this class.
- Cornerback – The Steelers released top reserve Bryant McFadden already and starter William Gay and reserves Anthony Madison and Keenan Lewis are also free agents and the reality is, none of these guys were overly impressive this season despite having a good pass rush to protect them. There are a lot of good zone corners in this class and grabbing someone like Coryell Judie, Chase Minnifield, or Jayron Hosley on day two could go a long way.
- Inside Linebacker – James Farrior is no longer a three down player in the NFL and top reserve Larry Foote is another likely cap casualty so finding someone to replace Foote in the intermediate and Farrior in the long term has to be on the radar. Dont’a Hightower would be a good fit for the Steelers defense.
- Depth and youth – The Steelers have a large number of free agents set to hit the market this year and most of them should be allowed to leave as they have to work on upgrading the depth getting younger. Not having adequate depth really hurt them this year as injuries at a few spots really limited them in the playoff game. Some positions that fit this description: defensive end, quarterback, running back, outside linebacker, and wide receiver.
- Inside Linebacker – Starter Jameel McClain is a free agent, as are backups Dannell Ellerbe and Brendan Ayanbadejo. In addition, Ray Lewis missed some time this year for the first time since 2007 and despite what the pundits say, he’s definitely showing signs that age are starting to catch up to him. Ellerbe is a restricted free agent so he’ll likely be back and I think Ayanbadejo will return as well but he’s really a special teams ace. McClain could look to get big money similar to former Ravens Bart Scott and Adalius Thomas. Many believe the Ravens will select Vontaze Burfict in the first as they’ll remind them of a young Ray Lewis. I think Dont’a Hightower is also a real possibility.
- Offensive Line – Center Matt Birk is contemplating retirement and is also a free agent. Starting left guard Ben Grubbs is also a free agent and is believed to be out of the Ravens price range. Top backup at center and guard was Andre Gurode and he’s also a free agent and old. Michael Oher hasn’t shown signs of being able to be a high-caliber left tackle in the NFL and Bryant McKinnie was a middle of the road player last year. At worst, the Ravens will need to find one starter to replace Grubbs, they should also look to upgrade Birk at center or at least find a competent backup. Ben Jones from Georgia seems like the perfect fit in the second round. Philip Blake from Baylor is another guy I like for Baltimore.
- Safety – Ed Reed has contemplated retirement every year for the last few years and while he’s expected back, along with strong safety Bernard Pollard, top backups Haruki Nakamura and Tom Zbikowski are free agents and many believe its time to look to find Ed Reed’s long-term replacement with the roster spots opening up. This is a weak safety class but there are some draftable guys late that have lots of upside and could be starters down the road like Janzen Jackson and Philip Thomas.
- Outside Linebacker/pass rusher – Starting outside linebacker Jarret Johnson is a free agent and traditional the Ravens have allowed their starting strongside outside linebacker walk via free agency due to how much money they have locked up in T-Sizzle. Johnson isn’t a sack guy though so its possible he will be retainable at a reasonable rate but if he isn’t, the Ravens will need to find a starter as backup Sergio Kindle hasn’t shown anything since he was drafted. In addition, they have gotten little to no pass rush from this spot due to Johnson’s mediocre pass rush and Kindle’s inability to stay healthy. Some potential players they could look at in the mid rounds are Jonathan Massaquoi, Jake Bequette, and Brandon Lindsey, all of which seem like good fits for the Ravens defense.
- Running back – Ray Rice is a free agent and while he’ll undoubtedly get locked up long term or franchised, backup Ricky Williams retired which leaves just sixth round pick Anthony Allen behind Rice. I expect them to look for a backup via free agency, with Ronnie Brown or LaDainian Tomlinson being logical fits assuming they want to continue playing but if not, grabbing a change of pace back could make sense.
Other needs: Wide receiver that can naturally separate, Kicker?
- Secondary – After losing Jonathan Joseph last season, the Bengals got by this year using Nate Clements, Kelly Jennings, and Adam Jones at corner but Jennings and Jones are free agents and Clements was mediocre at best. In addition, starting free safety Reggie Nelson and top backup Gibril Wilson are scheduled to hit free agency and while they have the money to bring them back, Nelson could follow his old position coach to Miami. In addition, starting strong safety Chris Crocker is nothing special. Many believe the Bengals will use one of their two first round draft choices on either a corner or safety with Mark Barron, Alfonzo Dennard, and Janoris Jenkins the three guys most commonly linked.
- Running back – Starting running back Cedric Benson is a free agent that isn’t expected to be back as he’s got a lot of tread on the tires and is a middle of the road player. With running back being such an undervalued position in the NFL these days, its possible that top five talent Trent Richardson falls down boards and you have to think Cincy will be monitoring that closely looking to trade up and grab him. If not Richardson, this is a pretty deep class and they could expect one guy from the next tier of RBs to fall to them in the second, with guys like David Wilson, Chris Polk, and Lamar Miller being the top targets.
- Guard – Starting guard Bobbie Williams is set to hit free agency and being that he’s a 12 year veteran, the Bengals could be looking to get younger. There are a number of good free agents available like Carl Nicks, Ben Grubbs, and Evan Mathis and they have plenty of cap room so it would be wise for the Bengals to target one of them (although Mathis doesn’t seem likely given his history with the team). If they don’t get one of the big-time free agents, guard is a position with some good value in the first three rounds with guys like David DeCastro, Cordy Glenn, Kelechi Osemele, Kevin Zeitler, and Brandon Washington all possibilities.
- Defensive end – Carlos Dunlap has one starting spot locked down but the Bengals are looking for improved production opposite him. Frostee Rucker is due to hit free agency, Michael Johnson doesn’t seem like he’s ever going to maximize his potential, and Robert Geathers is a solid but unspectacular player. The DE class is pretty deep at the top this year and there should be some good ends into the third day that Cincinnati would be well pressed to target for depth, with guys like Malik Jackson, Jack Crawford, and Olivier Vernon being three guys I could see the Bengals targeting.
- Wide receiver – Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell are both heading for free agency and its unsure if either will be back as Simpson’s off-field troubles could see him walking and Caldwell has never had the production they expected.
Other needs: Kicker if they don’t bring Nugent back, defensive tackle, outside linebacker
- Wide receiver – The Browns like their wide receivers but it is full of number 2 and 3 receivers and really lacks a number one guy. Greg Little and Mohamed Massaquoi both look like a good number 2 receivers, Jordan Norwood is a perfect possession/slot guy, Carlton Mitchell is a good number four as a special teams/deep threat but there is no number one receiver and I don’t feel that any of those guys have the skills to become a number one. Drafting Justin Blackmon with the fourth pick has to be heavily considered, especially if the regime decides they still believe Colt McCoy can be the guy.
- Outside linebacker – The Browns have found above average starters at middle linebacker and strongside linebacker with D’Qwell Jackson (franchise tag candidate), and Chris Gocong but the weakside linebacker position needs to be significantly upgraded. Erin Henderson is a potential target in free agency but aside from him there isn’t a whole lot out there. There are, however a number of good weakside linebackers to be found in the draft with guys like Sean Spence, Travis Lewis, and Lavonte David as three guys that should go on day two that could be immediate starters.
- Defensive end – The Browns found a starter in Jabaal Sheard but Jayme Mitchell simply doesn’t belong being a starting defensive end in the NFL. The depth also leaves much to be desired. Finding a starter to replace Mitchell has to be high on the priority list. GM Tom Heckert likes undersized, fast defensive ends that are typically considered DE/OLB tweeners so guys like Bruce Irvin, Ronnell Lewis, Nick Perry, and Shea McClellin all seem like good fits.
- Cornerback – Joe Haden has clearly locked down one starting spot but Sheldon Brown is getting up in age and could be either a cap casualty or asked to move to safety and the depth behind him is nothing too exciting so they could be looking to add another starter opposite Haden. Corner is another deep position in this class but one guy that I think would be a particularly good fit is Josh Norman.
- Quarterback – Many would have the QB position much higher than fifth on the Browns need list but I’m of the mindset that they need to find a competent backup that can legitimately push McCoy but not necessarily be a definitive replacement. If RGIII falls to them, I think it would be hard to pass him but but I don’t think the Browns should try and trade up to get him. If the regime believes McCoy needs to be upgraded, free agent Matt Flynn seems like a very good fit for this offense. If it were me, I’d either go with a veteran that can push McCoy like maybe a Shaun Hill, Chad Henne, or Drew Stanton
Other needs: Middle linebacker if D’Qwell Jackson departs, safety, right tackle, and general depth
- Quarterback – Chad Henne is set to become a free agent, as is backup JP Losman. Neither are expected to return which leaves Miami with undrafted free agent Pat Devlin and incumbent starter Matt Moore heading into next season. The Dolphins definitely need to add a starting-caliber player as although Moore played decent this season, he’s not a long-term solution and probably a true developmental guy as Devlin hasn’t shown much. Expect Miami to heavily pursue Peyton Manning and Matt Flynn in free agency and it would be a shocker if they didn’t get one of them. If they get Peyton, I believe they should double up on a QB early in the draft like Brandon Weeden or Kirk Cousins on day 2 as they are a bit more NFL ready than guys like Osweiler and Foles and Peyton’s health is uncertain to say the least. If they get Flynn, he should be a more long-term solution and going with a late-round developmental guy like B.J. Coleman or Ryan Lindley makes sense in the 4th-6th round range. If they don’t get either of them, Ryan Tannehill at 8/9 becomes a real possibility given his college coach is Miami’s offensive coordinator.
- Pass rusher – Miami is supposedly switching to a hybrid 3-4/4-3 look but with Kevin Coyle’s experience all pretty much coming from a 4-3 defense, I expect them to be positioning themselves to make the full switch in that direction. Either way, with Jason Taylor’s retirement, Cameron Wake is the only legitimate pass rushing threat this team has. They need to add a combo DE/OLB type of player in order to take some double and triple teams off of Wake. One note is that Ireland has never signed or drafted a DE/OLB shorter than 6’3″. That means guys like Melvin Ingram and Courtney Upshaw won’t even be in the discussion for them. With Miami likely sinking their money into a free agent QB, its doubtful they’ll be able to afford a top pass rusher via free agency like Cliff Avril or Mario Williams. It seems much more likely they draft someone in the first few rounds with Quinton Coples, Andre Branch, and Chandler Jones being three guys that seem like good fits.
- Right side of the offensive line – Starting right tackle Marc Colombo was downright awful last year and should be allowed to walk via free agency. Vernon Carey is also a free agent but Sparano and his staff never seemed overly high on him and I suspect he’ll be walking as well. Miami likes Nate Garner, John Jerry, and Lydon Murtha and all of them have played well in stretches. I think they will look to add one definite starter at either RT, RG, or LG (current LG Richie Incognito has experience playing RG and many believe he’s actually a more natural fit there) and allow Garner, Jerry, and Murtha to battle it out for the other starting job. One option could be drafting one of the top OTs in this draft at 8/9 as all of Reiff, Martin, and Adams could be quality RTs and provide injury protection for Jake Long. There are a number of quality offensive lineman in the free agent market as well this season and they could look to acquire a starter there as well.
- Safety – Starting strong safety Yeremiah Bell had another solid season but many believe that he will be a cap casualty as he enters the last year of his deal. If he is released, Miami will be left with three safeties that have all had enough playing time to claim a starting job and none of them showed enough to justify being the long-term solution. To be fair, Chris Clemons, Rashad Jones, and Tyrone Culver are probably all better suited to play strong safety than free safety so its possible one of them could emerge as a long-term solution on the strongside if Bell was released but that still leaves a hole at free safety. One player that makes sense is Reggie Nelson who spent last season with the Bengals and had now Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle as his position coach. Nelson had, by far, the best season of his career and could be looking to play for his old coach again.
- Offensive playmaker – Brandon Marshall isn’t going anywhere and his Pro Bowl performance has many in Miami giddy to see him next season but the fact is, he’s never played anywhere near that well in Miami (granted he’s never played a meaningless game where they aren’t playing defense either). That being said, Anthony Fasano, Charles Clay, Davone Bess, and Brian Hartline are nice players but none of them strike fear into opposing defenses. Miami needs to add someone that can stretch defenses to open things up underneath for Bush/Thomas in the screen game and all those aforementioned players to run their short/intermediate routes, which is what they are best at. Hartline has some ability to get deep, Miami was hoping Clyde Gates could add that element to the offense but he’s proven very raw and needs a lot more development. Adding someone like Kendall Wright at 8/9 could be a huge lift for this offense. If not him, grabbing a Coby Fleener in the second round would bring a new dimension to the TE position that Miami hasn’t had since Randy McMichael’s early career.Other needs: Nickel corner, perhaps a DT/DE if Langford and Soliai leave via free agency, linebacker depth, a blocking fullback if Sherman’s offense calls for one, and RB depth as Bush is entering his contract year and the other backups are free agents.
Other needs: Nickel corner, perhaps a DT/DE if Langford and Soliai leave via free agency, linebacker depth, a blocking fullback if Sherman’s offense calls for one, and RB depth as Bush is entering his contract year and the other backups are free agents.
New England Patriots
- Pass rusher – New England played a lot of base 4-3 last year and it remains to be seen if they stick with that going forward or move back to their traditional 3-4 but either way, they need to add a pass rusher or two. Andre Carter and Mark Anderson both managed to get double digit sacks for them but neither player was really overly dominant and both are free agents that may try to cash in elsewhere. Belichick is another guy that seems to have size requirements on his DEs as he likes tall, long DE/OLB types. I wouldn’t be surprised if they tried to retain Anderson but with Carter coming off an injury, I doubt they bring him back. Looking to the draft, there are a number of players that seem to fit their mold that could be available in that tail end of the first like Andre Branch, Nick Perry, and Whitney Mercilus. There is also value in the second and third round at the position with guys like Chandler Jones, Cam Johnson and Jake Bequette. New England is also a team that you can never rule out pulling a surprise and Mario Williams is a name I’d keep in mind as they have the cap space to make a move for him.
- Wide Receiver – Wes Welker, Matt Slater, and Deion Branch are free agents. I expect them to tag Welker if they can’t lock him up long-term but the rest of their WR corps needs to be evaluated and upgraded. Gronk and Hernandez were super productive, yes, but a large reason they were relied on so heavily is because of how weak the WR corps is. Their Super Bowl drops are well documented by this point and New England needs to add some youth and talent. One guy that I consistently find myself pointing to is Joe Adams from Arkansas who I think is a perfect fit for the Patriots system.
- Secondary – New England has spent many high draft picks on the corner and safety positions lately and they still haven’t found many answers. Devin McCourty had a major sophomore slump and outside of Pat Chung, there isn’t really a player that deserves a guaranteed starting position. Chung will lock down one of the S spots but he’s best suited to play SS so New England would be smart to add a starting free safety via free agency or the draft. They could also probably stand to use yet another high pick on a CB and hope that two guys can emerge and be legitimate NFL starters.
- Interior line – New England has their bookend tackles in Sebastian Vollmer and Nate Solder. They also really like Marcus Cannon who may be able to kick inside to OG but starting center Dan Koppen missed the season and is a free agent, Logan Mankins had a down year by his standards, playing particularly poor in the playoffs/Super Bowl, and Brian Waters started out good but was really nothing special so adding a versatile interior lineman that can play all three spots like Ben Jones, Kevin Zeitler, or Peter Konz should be high on the priority list.
- Versatile defensive lineman – New England needs to add a combo 3-4 DE/4-3 DT type of player to the defensive line in addition to the exterior pass rusher listed above. Since trading Richard Seymour they’ve lacked that second presence on the DL to pair with Wilfork. Shaun Ellis was solid in that role this season but he’s a free agent and isn’t getting any younger. A mid/late day two guy like local Kendall Reyes or Billy Winn could make sense.
Other Needs: Kick returner if Slater departs, number three TE, LB depth
New York Jets
- Pass rusher – The Jets’ leading sacker last season was Aaron Maybin with six sacks. Maybin appears to be turning his career around but he’s still no better than a third down specialist. Starter Bryan Thomas is a free agent that many don’t expect to be back due to age. Calvin Pace is coming off a down year and is entering the final year of his deal. Grabbing a pass rusher with their first pick has to be on their mind and if Courtney Upshaw falls to them, they should pull the trigger. I also like Bruce Irvin as a good fit for the Jets on day two.
- Wide Receiver – Derrick Mason didn’t work out and Plaxico Burress is probably going to look for a job elsewhere. The Jets are married to Santonio Holmes but they will need to find someone to replace him on the other side. Given how much the lack of character blew up in their face this year, they may pass up on Michael Floyd in the first round but he’s a great fit for Plax’s replacement. Vincent Jackson is a free agent that would also be a nice fit.
- Right tackle – Wayne Hunter was the worst starting RT in the league last year and Vlad Ducasse has shown nothing to prove he can be a starter in the NFL. Look for the Jets to scour the free agent market for a potential starting RT with guys like Kareem McKenzie (former Jet) and Marc Colombo (Sparano favorite) available in free agency.
- Safety – Starting safeties Brodney Pool and Jim Leonhard are both free agents and both are coming off injury-plagued and ineffective campaigns overall. I’d expect Leonhard to be back because he’s on of Rex Ryan’s guys but I expect them to be on the lookout for a new starting FS.
- Quarterback – I know the Jets aren’t going to just give up on Sanchez but he’s shown little to prove that he’s really deserving of another season without at least being pushed for the starting job. Backups Kevin O’Connell and Mark Brunell are free agents and Brunell should retire and O’Connell has really done nothing to prove he’s even a worthy backup anymore. They like Greg McElroy who they drafted last year but they should look to acquire a veteran backup that could actually give Sanchez a run for his money as the starter. One guy that wouldn’t shock me is Chad Henne as his former coach Tony Sparano is now their offensive coordinator.
Other needs: If Sione Pouha leaves via free agency NT becomes a major need, RB could be a major need depending on if this season has soured them on some of their guys, Rumors of Bart Scott maybe being cut could make ILB a need, Kicker Nick Folk is also a free agent so he will either need to be retained or replaced.
- Pass Rusher – Just like all the other AFC East teams, the Bills desperately need a pass rusher. The Bills are reportedly moving back to a 4-3 defense with Dave Wannstedt taking over as defensive coordinator. They have a bunch of nice players that will fit his scheme well inside but Chris Kelsay is the only guy they have as a good fit to start at DE. Merriman would be a good fit but his injuries seem to be continually piling up and he can’t be counted on. Andre Carter and Mark Anderson are actually both great fits from New England and they could pursue those two. Some guys early in the draft that make sense are Whitney Mercilus, Andre Branch, and Bruce Irvin.
- Wide receiver – Stevie Johnson and Roscoe Parrish are free agents and even if Johnson returns, they still need an upgrade at the starting spot opposite him where David Nelson and the depth are all nice players but none of them are really number two receivers.
- Offensive line – Starting left tackle Demetrius Bell is a free agent and if he leaves, they’ll need a replacement. Even if he returns, the Bills have five serviceable starters but none of them really jump out at you as stars and they could use a stud lineman that would be the leader of the line.
- Tight End – Scott Chandler had a breakout year but he’s a free agent and there is no depth behind him.
- Cornerback – Aaron Williams had a promising rookie season but Leodis McKelvin has found himself playing purely special teams, Drayton Florence is a career backup/nickel/dime back, and Terrence McGee doesn’t look like he has much of anything left in the tank.
Other needs: They just gave Fitz a huge contract but the end of the season has to at least provide some doubts as to whether he can be the long-term solution at QB so a developmental guy could make sense