2012 NFL Draft: 1 Under-the-Radar Need for Every Team
Unexpected and unconsidered Draft needs on your football team can lead to Draft weekend surprises.
Awkward moments have a way of sticking in your memory.
In 1998, tailback Jamal Anderson had an utterly fantastic season, running the football 410 times for 1846 yards and 14 touchdowns, to go along with 27 catches for 319 yards and an additional two receiving touchdowns. He piled on another 80 touches for 335 yards and three touchdowns in a playoff run that ended with a Super Bowl defeat at the hands of John Elway's Denver Broncos.
Anderson was a true workhorse back, a dominant force in the league, an All-Pro. But the following year, he spent almost the whole season recovering from an ACL tear in his right knee. He managed to play in 2000, but only gained 1024 yards on 3.6 yards per carry. Then three games into the following 2001 season, he tore the ACL in his left knee, to complete the set.
What many may not remember is that Anderson agreed to a restructured deal prior to entering free agency in 2002, in order to stick with the team. When free agency rolled around, Jamal watched as the team signed former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Warrick Dunn to a large contract that dwarfed his own restructured deal.
Anderson tried to hide his frustration, but naturally wondered how this was going to work, since the Falcons told the press they planned to get Warrick about 20 touches per game. He planned to show up on owner Arthur Anderson's door step to have a little chat about the division of work load.
One way or another, the man nick named 'Jam' seemed to get on board with the idea of a "Thunder and Lightning" attack featuring himself and the speedy Dunn.
On draft weekend, Anderson functioned as a special player liaison meant to provide ESPN with color analysis of the Atlanta Falcons' draft picks. When the Falcons' pick No. 18 in the 1st round rolled around, the card they turned in had the name of tailback T.J. Duckett of Michigan State written on it.
Care to comment, Jam?
The pick was an absolute shock to most of the draft community, as well as Atlanta fans who had grown used to the idea of a dual-attack role featuring Dunn and Anderson. Though most tried to spin the pick as giving Duckett great role models to learn from and "taking the pressure off" him to contribute immediately, the writing was on the wall. The Falcons released 'Jam' on June 2nd that year, and his career essentially ended as he never took another carry.
Hidden needs have a way of surprising you when draft weekend rolls around.
From the Atlanta Falcons' point of view, some time between the signing of Warrick Dunn and the drafting of T.J. Duckett, they had decided that Jamal Anderson was not going to make it back from the ACL tears on both knees. They decided that where everyone else saw a tailback position that was full-up, there was really a need there.
Let's take a look at what may be some hidden needs on all 32 NFL teams:
Flirting with Peyton Manning was a sign of buyer's remorse on Kevin Kolb in Arizona.
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When the Arizona Cardinals began flirting heavily with free agent Peyton Manning less than one year after trading a young, Pro Bowl corner as well as a 2nd round pick for Philadelphia Eagles backup quarterback Kevin Kolb, that said it all.
The Cardinals paid an absolute ransom for Kolb, especially when you take his six-year, $63 million contract into consideration. This was not the Seattle Seahawks signing Matt Flynn to essentially a three-year, $19 million deal with an extra $5 million in incentives, in order to compete with Tarvaris Jackson for the starting job.
This was the kind of price you pay only when you are sure that you are getting your franchise quarterback.
Yet, a year later, the Cardinals were ready to ditch Kolb in lieu of paying him an additional $7 million option bonus, if only Peyton Manning had agreed to throw passes for Larry Fitzgerald.
There are destined to be many in and around the organization, as well as in the fan base, that are in complete denial about what has happened, the reason for it, and what it signals in the future. But the fact of the matter is, the Arizona Cardinals are as quarterback-less today as they were one year ago.
They should have seen it coming. I watched most of Kolb's games in Philadelphia, carefully scrutinizing whether this player truly would be the next great thing. I saw nothing that interested me, whatsoever. I saw a myopic player who did not see the field very far beyond the line of scrimmage, and missed wide open receiving options, choosing to check down to the short areas of the field. I saw a player that was late on his throws, and showed a tendency to fumble while trying to act like the runner that everyone could easily see he was not.
I saw a guy that could make a staggering number of terrible decisions in a single game.
As we sit here today, John Skelton may be the better quarterback on that roster, and that is not saying much.
The problem is, in the wake of losing out on Peyton, the Cardinals went ahead and paid the $7 million option bonus to Kevin Kolb. However, if I were in charge, that wouldn't phase me. They've already wasted a boatload of resources traveling down this wrong road, what's another $7 million?
If Ryan Tannehill or even Brandon Weeden were to make it to pick No. 13 in the 1st round, I'd pull the trigger on behalf of the Arizona Cardinals. The team can't afford to keep piling more bad decisions on top of previous bad decisions.
Michael Turner has been a tremendous free agent pickup for the Atlanta Falcons, but how long will it last?
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You know the train is going to stop, eventually. But you don't know when.
Tailback Michael Turner carried a Jamal Anderson-like load in 2008 for the Atlanta Falcons, ending the season with 390 carries, including the playoffs. This created an immediate sense of fear in the fan base, because tailbacks that carry the football that much in a season are not supposed to ever fully recover from it.
Sure enough, Turner spent much of the 2009 season banged up. He had less than 900 rushing yards. Lucky for Falcons fans, Turner did not go gently into that good night. He ran 344 times for 1409 yards in 2010, as well as 316 times for 1393 yards in 2011.
Yet, with Turner celebrating his dreaded 30th birthday in February, one is left wondering how long this will last, and when will be the appropriate time to start trying out some eventual replacements.
This is not a Jamal Anderson situation. The Atlanta Falcons do not even have a 1st round pick after trading it away for Julio Jones a year ago. They do not necessarily need to draft a tailback high. However, they do need to keep sifting through a position well known for being able to find diamonds in the rough, in order to try and guarantee a smooth transition when Turner's legs start to give out.
The lilliputian Jacquizz Rodgers is not that guy. He will never be that guy. Nor will Jason Snelling. But, every year it seems like some former undrafted free agent or low round pick at the tailback position turns out to be a lot better than everyone imagined, and the Falcons would do well to consider continuing to sift through those types of players to try and hit on an insurance policy.
Matt Birk recently signed a 3-year deal, but will the Baltimore Ravens end up honoring its entirety?
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Though the soon-to-be 36-year-old center Matt Birk recently signed a 3-year deal in order to remain with the Baltimore Ravens, one is left wondering how much time he truly has left.
Will the Ravens honor the entire deal?
The center position carries with it a fairly long learning curve. Young players cannot always be trusted to make the protection calls, and they often struggle with leverage, especially going up against large nose tackles.
It therefore makes sense that you do not necessarily wait until your need at the position is immediate and pressing before you start looking for players in the draft.
The Ravens could address this need one of two ways. The first and most obvious would be to draft a player in the mid-to-late rounds in order to have a guy groomed to take over when Birk is too long in the tooth to cut it anymore. Pro Bowl centers often come from very humble draft backgrounds, so finding a guy in the 6th or 7th rounds that ends up being worthy of development is not in any way unusual.
However, there is another way to address the need. Having lost left guard Ben Grubbs in free agency, the Ravens could draft a more highly rated center prospect, even one as highly rated as Peter Konz of Wisconsin, and have him begin his career at left guard until the time comes to move him over to replace Birk. As a starter at left guard, Konz would have a view of the same things Birk sees, and would be able to hear all of Birk's protection calls.
This could give Konz a big leg up for the time when he has to make those calls himself.
Ryan Fitzpatrick can have spurts of superb play, but consistency continues to elude him.
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The quarterback position continues to be the most important position in the sport. The Buffalo Bills may have just recently given quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick a 5-year, $36 million contract, but that does not mean they should remain satisfied that they have the position taken care of for the present and future.
You get what you pay for, and the contract Fitzpatrick and the Bills signed carries with it an average annual salary ($7.2 million) of a guy that is barely a starter. Newly signed Seattle Seahawk Matt Flynn's average annual pay is $6.3 million (without incentives), and the Seahawks have not made him the declared starter. He will have to compete with Tarvaris Jackson for that right. Fitzpatrick's contract may be fresh, but the pay grade suggests that he's barely good enough to not have to earn his starting job in training camp.
Would it really be a crime for the Bills to draft a significant quarterback that has a chance at taking the job away from Matt Flynn?
If Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden miraculously made it to the Bills' No. 40 overall pick, would it really be so shocking for them to take him? What about a player like Brock Osweiler of Arizona State?
This position is so taboo that fans generally look for excuses to forget about it. Consistency always has, and continues to elude Ryan Fitzpatrick as a starting quarterback. He can be devastating for stretches of games, and yet can finish the season with an overall average run. This is a need that the Bills should not ignore.
The Panthers may have a solid corner in Chris Gamble, but do they have enough talent to defend today's pass heavy offenses?
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Given the strong play of Chris Gamble, it may at times be easy to pass over the corner position and start trying to address more significant needs.
However, would that be wise in today's pass-heavy league?
According to Pro Football Focus, Captain Munnerlyn allowed over 600 yards receiving this year, as well as four touchdowns with no interceptions. Teams averaged nearly 10 yards every time they threw in Munnerlyn's direction. This is the second of three seasons in the league he has had no interceptions.
Fans may not see it coming, but if a talent like Morris Claiborne of LSU somehow drops down to the No. 9 overall pick in the draft, based on his recently announced wrist injury (which will require surgery), the Panthers really ought to consider turning his card in on draft day. They are not "fine" at this position.
Israel Idonije may have re-signed with the Bears, but are they done at the position?
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The Bears recently re-signed Israel Idonije to play defensive end opposite Julius Peppers. Believe it or not, Idonije took the most snaps of any defensive lineman in 2011.
But did he really deserve all those snaps? I do not think so. He did not put a lot of pressure on the quarterback relative to the number of at-bats he had in pass rush.
Idonije is purely a run stopper, and the Bears' needs at the position are as strong now as they were before they re-signed him.
The Cincinnati Bengals may have signed BenJarvus Green-Ellis away from the Patriots, but they should not be done with the position.
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The Cincinnati Bengals may have just signed tailback BenJarvus Green-Ellis away from the New England Patriots, but this does not adequately address the team's needs at the position.
There is a reason Bill Belichick drafted two tailbacks in the 2nd and 3rd rounds of the 2011 NFL Draft. There is a reason he subsequently has chosen to let Green-Ellis escape through free agency.
Green-Ellis' best trait is that he does not fumble the ball. He is trustworthy. In a pass-heavy attack like the Patriots where you can rely on Tom Brady to threaten defenses and keep the ground game open, Green-Ellis was able to be productive.
However, the number of missed tackles he creates per rush attempt ranks in the lowest third at the position amongst starters and role players. When he came out of Mississippi State in 2008, he had highly uninteresting athleticism at 5'11" and 219 pounds.
Meanwhile, despite my high expectations for him coming out of the draft, Bernard Scott continues to disappoint me with how he looks on the football field. The Bengals need another back to actually inject some electricity and danger into their ground attack. Though many have likely scratched the position off their lists, I would not be surprised if they used a significant pick on this position.
Browns standout Ahtyba Rubin played well in 2011, but was on the field far too often.
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A draft need that is probably running far under the radar for Cleveland Browns fans is the defensive tackle position.
The team took Phil Taylor in the 1st round of the 2011 NFL Draft, and Ahtyba Rubin has turned into an excellent player.
However, the simple fact of the matter is the Browns did not have a very good rotation at the position in 2011. Brian Schaefering and Scott Paxson were usually liabilities when they stepped on the field in place of Rubin and Taylor, and so the Browns' solution was just to not have them be on the field very often.
For a defensive tackle like Ahtyba Rubin to end up taking nearly a thousand regular season snaps boggles my mind. I cannot see how he was able to stay fresh while taking almost every snap on the field.
The Browns would be wise to draft some help at the position so that they can engage a more healthy rotation for Rubin and Taylor that could see them being all the more dangerous on the plays they play.
With Martellus Bennett gone as a free agent, Jason Witten is all alone at tight end.
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Even before allowing tight end Martellus Bennett to leave via free agency, the Dallas Cowboys had a need at this position. The fact of the matter is Bennett never lived up to expectations.
However, despite the productive season, I saw little of the same explosion we had all grown accustomed to from Jason Witten over the years. Witten will turn 30 years old in about six weeks, and he may be showing signs of deterioration in his game.
His yardage per pass snap went from 1.94 in 2008, to 1.88 in 2009, to 1.81 in 2010, and was at 1.62 in 2011. Not only has it continued its decline, that gradual decline has started to become not-so-gradual.
Could the Dallas Cowboys be the team to draft Coby Fleener in the 1st round?
It is not out of the realm of possibility. Witten is fading, and he's also all alone. With Fleener, the Cowboys could move to more standard two-tight end sets in their offense, which would benefit Tony Romo and open up the perimeters for Dez Bryant and Miles Austin.
Willis McGahee enjoyed a nice late-career renaissance in 2011, but how long will it last?
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Tailback Willis McGahee enjoyed a nice late-career renaissance in 2011. Despite age and the perception that he was already wearing down, he gained 1340 yards (playoffs included) at 4.7 yards per carry.
However, how much of that could be attributed to the sudden insertion of Tim Tebow, and the re-introduction of option offense at the NFL level?
During the first four games of the season in which Tebow did not play significantly, McGahee averaged only 3.7 yards per carry. With Peyton Manning joining the team, McGahee could be stuck with another pocket passer that does not freeze the linebackers with the threat of his mobility.
All of that does not even consider McGahee's advanced age or nearly 2,000 touches worth of tread on the tires. At this point, the team may be willing to close the book on Knowshon Moreno, and grab an insurance policy for McGahee.
Is Kyle Vanden Bosch pulling his own weight in Detroit's defensive line?
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Despite the hype you hear about the Detroit Lions' defensive line, led by the dominant Ndamukong Suh and the effective Cliff Avril, I do not think the team is done tinkering with the front.
Kyle Vanden Bosch is often touted right along side the likes of Suh and Avril, along with the unproven Nick Fairley, as a front-and-center reason the Lions maintain the best defensive line in the league.
I don't buy it. Lost in the hype is the simple fact that in 2011, Kyle Vanden Bosch, who will be 34 years old this year, was not pulling his own weight. He was a mediocre pass rusher and bad defending the run. Guys like Lawrence Jackson and Willie Young showed more promise, but I do not believe either is ultimately the answer here.
Green Bay Packers
The Packers got production out of tailbacks James Starks and Ryan Grant, but was it enough?
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This may not be a need that is completely under the radar at this point. The Packers need to get better at the tailback position.
The duo of James Starks and Ryan Grant may have combined for 1200-plus yards at 4.3 yards per carry, but considering the total domination of Aaron Rodgers and the passing game, as well as the quality level of most of the offensive line, those two should have been able to make more explosive plays happen.
I know the team likes Alex Green, the second year tailback out of Hawaii that rode the bench for most of 2011, however I think there is an opportunity to add a player that could put up dominant production, considering how scared defenses are of Aaron Rodgers and the passing attack.
The Houston receivers unit outside of Andre Johnson needs a serious face lift.
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No team was in three-tight end formations more than the Houston Texans in 2011.
Andre Johnson missed much of the year and the guys charged with complementing him could not necessarily get the job done. With Johnson losing some of his superman luster due to an inability to stay healthy throughout the 2011 season, the Houston Texans may want to take a hard look at who they really have at that position aside from Andre.
I would not be shocked if this was the direction the team went in the 1st round of the 2012 NFL Draft.
Jerraud Powers is a decent corner in Indianapolis' old defensive scheme, but will he fit the new one?
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Hardly any need of the Indianapolis Colts can be said to be truly 'under the radar,' just because everyone acknowledges that the team is full of holes and has needs everywhere.
However, a rather un-sexy position of need that may be addressed very early in free agency is at the corner position.
Chuck Pagano has a background as a secondary coach. The way he did things in Baltimore was not the same as the Colts did things under Tony Dungy and David Caldwell. Even a guy that looked solid, like Jerraud Powers, could be unsuited for the new style of play.
A lot of people are tempted to say that because Pagano is so good with secondary players he should be able to make it work with the pieces they have. I do not think it works like that. His being a secondary specialist means he will likely want to overhaul the entire unit and re-make it with the kinds of players he wants back there. You could see a lot of attention paid to this position in the draft, despite a plethora of other needs.
Despite starting nearly the entire year as a rookie, Will Rackley did not play well enough to consider himself secure.
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Despite Eben Britton's return to health in 2012, the Jaguars' offensive line is and should continue to be in trouble. Specific need positions range from Britton's right tackle spot where he has struggled to make a name for himself, to left guard, where rookie Will Rackley played very poorly for a full-year starter.
The team needs to aggressively go after offensive linemen to help keep Blaine Gabbert calm in the pocket, though that may be an impossible task.
Kansas City Chiefs
Wallace Gilberry's role on the Chiefs' defense shows that they have a need at the position.
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A need that flies under the radar for the Kansas City Chiefs is along the defensive line. Though the line generally played very well in stopping the run in 2011, none of them can pass rush well enough to keep things easy for guys like Tamba Hali and Justin Houston.
What the Chiefs need is a defensive lineman that can be dynamic on pass downs and get into the backfield. The Chiefs currently have that role reserved for Wallace Gilberry, who is too small for the position they often play him in. This is a situation that needs rectification.
The Miami Dolphins continue to have needs at cornerback.
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Like some other teams out there, the Miami Dolphins' list of needs is so expansive and obvious that it would be difficult to find a truly "under the radar" need.
However, one that may qualify would be the corner position.
The Dolphins plan to continue with Sean Smith and Vontae Davis for another year. They signed Richard Marshall away from the Arizona Cardinals and, though they told Marshall they do not yet know which position he will play, some in the front office have hinted that they envision him being a slot corner.
I do not agree with that. I think that by the time they get through training camp, Marshall may win the free safety position. His skills are best suited for it.
Do the Dolphins have a player like Will Allen hidden up their sleeves, that can man the slot and be trusted? I don't think they do. Therefore, to me, the corner position remains one of the holes unfilled by General Manager Jeff Ireland (yet).
Despite being the team's leading tackler, Chad Greenway was a liability in coverage.
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As a linebacker, when you allow over 700 receiving yards and five receiving touchdowns to players that you are covering, that is a problem.
Chad Greenway has the pedigree, and he was the team's leading tackler as well as the defensive snaps leader. However, he just could not cut it this year in coverage.
The team may have to start looking at linebackers in the draft that can be relied on to come onto the field and cover on nickel downs. They may start to have trouble justifying Greenway being a 1,000-plus snaps player.
New England Patriots
Brandon Spikes is a good two-down linebacker, but the Patriots had issues with linebacker coverage in 2011.
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Brandon Spikes is a fantastic football player on 1st and 2nd down. However, his lack of athleticism forces you to take him off the field on 3rd down and in other nickel situations.
This becomes a problem, because your typical low-round backup players sitting behind him like Dane Fletcher and Gary Guyton are not typically going to be some of your best players.
The Patriots had coverage issues at every level of the defense, and the linebacker coverage was among the problems. Jerod Mayo is an overrated player against the pass, and neither Guyton nor Fletcher were impressive in coverage.
It's good to remember that no matter how impressive Brandon Spikes is on 1st and 2nd down, as long as he has to leave in coverage situations, he is only half a starter, and you need a significant investment in the guy that you are going to tab to function as Spikes' other half.
New Orleans Saints
The New Orleans Saints are bracing for the impact of individual player suspensions in the wake of 'Bountygate'.
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The commissioner came down hard and heavy on the New Orleans Saints organization as a punishment for knowingly running a bounty program that paid defensive players for injuring offensive players. Head Coach Sean Payton is suspended for an entire year. The team loses two 2nd round draft choices. The owner will pay a hefty fine, and both the general manager and assistant head coach will serve in-season suspensions.
The Saints deserved every bit of it. That kind of malicious behavior is borderline criminal and has no part in the game of football. Roger Goodell had to send a very strong message in order to stave off Congress, who already want to have a hearing on the issue.
Yet, the other shoe has not dropped. The next round of punishments will be for individual players, and Jonathan Vilma is front and center among the most visible (and possibly the most guilty) for taking part in 'Bountygate'.
The Saints are going to have needs everywhere on the defense before all is said and done. However, the most significant could be Vilma.
New York Giants
The Giants have two great receivers in Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz, however it was Mario Manningham that made the most critical play of Super Bowl XLVI.
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The critical play Mario Manningham made against the Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI just serves as a reminder of how important depth can be at any position.
Mario Manningham is leaving the New York Giants and while it is easy to dismiss the potential need due to the presence of Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks, keep in mind that the Giants' tight ends unit is not exactly filled with a bunch of athletic stars.
This team is not just missing a No. 3 wide receiver, they are missing a No. 3 receiving target, period. Signing Martellus Bennett at tight end does not give you that.
The team should well know by now that guys like Ramses Barden and Domenik Hixon are not destined to be that kind of player. The hope they have is for 3rd round pick Jerrel Jernigan to turn out to be a valuable third pass catcher, however I would not be shocked if he disappoints. I was not a big fan of his coming out of college.
New York Jets
The Jets are still no closer to their franchise quarterback than they were before they drafted Mark Sanchez.
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When the New York Jets were rejected by Peyton Manning, they immediately signed Mark Sanchez to a contract extension.
The rest of the NFL laughed.
Mark Sanchez may turn things around. Heck, he would not even be the only quarterback in that city to struggle an unusually long time before finally becoming the player for whom everyone hoped.
However, I do not think the odds are with him at this point. The Jets need to worry about the long term future of the position, and Tim Tebow does not figure into that equation.
Rolando McClain's off field issues and inability to cover may see the Raiders bumping the linebacker position up the priority list more than you would think. (Decatur Daily)
When Rolando McClain came out of Alabama, I had a tough time seeing him play well in coverage. I didn't see the agility or wherewithal needed in that capacity.
Fast forward to today, and he's still a guy that would probably be better served playing two down football.
The unfortunate aspect of all this is that McClain is working off a very large contract, since he was drafted prior to the rookie wage scale. The team will tend toward maximizing his role in the defense, even after he was caught shoving a gun in the face of a person in Alabama.
However, do not be surprised if the Raiders look at some developmental options to start hedging their bet.
Jason Kelce played every snap of 2011 at center despite his being a 6th round rookie, but did he play well?
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I have a difficult time believing that rookie Jason Kelce is the long term answer at the center position for the Philadelphia Eagles.
There have been plenty of 6th round centers that have become tremendous professional football players, so this is not outside the realm of possibility. However, I did not see a very good player in 2011.
The Eagles' list of team needs seems to be dwindling. The team signed DeSean Jackson to a long term deal. They traded for Houston's Demeco Ryans at linebacker. They got tremendous defensive and offensive line play in 2011. LeSean McCoy is as dangerous as ever. Michael Vick is as dangerous (when healthy) as ever.
Would it be totally outside the realm of possibility to see Peter Konz drafted at the Eagles' pick in the 1st round? No, I do not think so.
Heath Miller has become more of a blocking tight end and is not being helped by the rest of his unit.
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With the tight end position becoming more and more en vogue these days, I think it is important to note that the Pittsburgh Steelers are essentially working with one tight. Heath Miller is at this stage more of a blocker than a pass catcher.
With Hines Ward retiring and Mike Wallace's fortunes hanging in the air, the Steelers could use a renewal of the tight end position, which would make things a little easier for Ben Roethlisberger.
Not too long ago I had Coby Fleener going to the Steelers at their pick in the 1st round. I have since been of the mindset that Fleener will go too high for that, however if he does fall to that pick then I expect the Steelers to think long and hard about taking him.
St. Louis Rams
Fred Robbins and other defensive tackles played well in 2011, but they are all very old.
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The St. Louis Rams are another team that has so many acknowledged holes all over the roster that you have a tough time picking out one that flies 'under the radar'.
The Rams actually got good production out of their defensive tackles in 2011. However, Fred Robbins will turn 35 years old in two days, Justin Bannan will turn 33 years old before the draft, and Gary Gibson is a 30-year-old, 285 pound 'tweener'.
This is a position of need that, being one among many, may end up glossed over a little. But I expect Jeff Fisher will want to address interior defensive line issues as a top priority.
San Diego Chargers
Antwan Barnes had a career year in 2011, but will it last?
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It has always been obvious on tape that Antwan Barnes could rush the passer. An off season ago, I singled him out as one of the best low-cost signings any team could make.
However, speaking from an off-field standpoint, there is a reason he is on his third team since joining the NFL. There is a reason his current deal with the Chargers sees him making less than $2 million a year.
The reasons I have heard are significant, though they ultimately would not have stopped me signing him to the kind of cheap deal he got in San Diego last off season. How long can you count on him?
Additionally, Shaun Phillips is 31 years old this year and has a lot of tread on the tires. I believe the Chargers would be wise to start grooming backup plans.
San Francisco 49ers
Do the 49ers truly have their quarterback of the future?
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Woe be it for me to question the quarterback wisdom of a Jim Harbaugh. However, I am still not comfortable with the position he has put together.
Alex Smith was not an entirely different quarterback in 2011 than he was in previous years. Looking at things like completion percentage, yards per attempt, touchdown percentage and interception percentage, one finds that the only one that was far improved in 2011 was the interception percentage. However, that can be a really jerky statistic, as a few dropped interceptions can put you from a 90-plus passer rating to the kind of passer rating we are more used to from Alex Smith.
He still carried the same limitations. What Jim Harbaugh was able to do for him was put him in favorable situations more often, which led to fewer interceptions. However, a certain amount of luck played into that.
Do the 49ers have their quarterback of the future on the roster in Colin Kaepernick? Kaepernick's agent, whom I converse with every now and then, certainly thinks so. I am not so sure. I was not a buyer of Colin's coming out, though I acknowledge he has an interesting combination of physical and mental faculties.
What is concerning is now the 49ers have signed former Harbaugh pupil Josh Johnson to play behind Alex Smith, bumping Kaepernick another rung down the ladder.
I can't emphasize enough how this position can be a ticking time bomb. Rex Ryan's stock as a head coach was once flying high for all to see, but ultimately picking Mark Sanchez at the top of the 2009 NFL Draft was bound to catch up with him eventually, and if the season goes as it looks based on the off season, Ryan could be in for a giant crash.
Could the same happen to Harbaugh, if suddenly the magic from 2011 is gone and Alex Smith turns back into Alex smith, and Josh Johnson continues being Josh Johnson, while Colin Kaepernick still struggles to try and deal with the speed of the game?
Sidney Rice had an unspectacular year in 2011.
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I am a huge fan of a healthy Sidney Rice. However, is that what the Seattle Seahawks have right now?
After heading into free agency with some pretty bad health problems, Sidney missed the beginning and end of the 2011 season. Considering Tarvaris Jackson was his quarterback, he was productive at 1.69 yards per-pass snap. However, health continues to be a going concern.
I was not a huge fan of Golden Tate coming out of North Carolina. I thought he was a body catcher that showed some bad attitude at times on the field, and didn't run on the field as fast as he ended up timing at the combine.
The player who really caught my attention in 2011 was Doug Baldwin of Stanford. However, as an undrafted free agent, was that just a fluke year for him?
Either way I get the feeling that Baldwin and Rice are the only worthwhile receivers on the entire unit, and of the two, Rice's health seems to always be a going concern.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Is Brian Price panning out at defensive tackle for the Buccaneers?
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I went to great lengths when Brian Price was coming out of UCLA and into the draft to explain what I called Brian's "Price tag". The man played a gap penetrating position where he would shoot the softest part of the gap off the ball with great quickness. However, he would often pay for it by being knocked to the ground continuously. Everything was boom-or-bust. He either made huge plays in the backfield, or got knocked to the ground.
Account me unsurprised that he is still not quite panning out for the Buccaneers.
I think this is a position of sneaky need and importance in Greg Schiano's defense. The team already has Gerald McCoy and could use that as an excuse to shut the entire position down early in the draft, but the Bucs defense was so dominant with Warren Sapp and Booger McFarland in the middle, you wonder if they should keep a high priority on this position.
I could envision the Buccaneers taking Dontari Poe very high in the draft and pairing him with Gerald McCoy.
Cortland Finnegan's leaving the Titans leaves a sizable hole in the secondary.
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With Cortland Finnegan having left Tennessee for greener pastures, this may not really be a position of 'under the radar' need.
Then again, if you look, the reason the Titans were willing to lose Finnegan was because of Alterraun Verner. Many could find themselves pointing to Verner's presence and minimizing the need at the position.
Even so, I cannot help but wonder, who is now their nickel corner? There is not another corner on the roster that got significant playing time in 2011. The nickel corner spot is now a starting position on any team defense.
Has Jammal Brown lived up to expectations?
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The Washington Redskins are not short on positions of need. However, one that people may be refusing to add onto the list for sanity's sake is probably the right tackle position manned by Jammal Brown.
Jammal came to the Redskins with a reputation as a great tackle that was disgruntled about his contract. He has not lived up to that since playing for the Redskins.
Especially given the salary crunch that the team is going through thanks to punishment from Roger Goodell, the team may be forced to give up on this failed experiment and try to go in a different direction.