2013 NFL Draft: Breaking Down Every Team's 3 Biggest Needs
Ultimately, each of the NFL’s 32 teams will be hoping to come away with the best players possible from the 2013 NFL draft. There is no denying, however, that every team (some more than others) will have needs on their roster that they must fill this April.
As the 2012 NFL regular season nears its end, each team has started to figure out at this point where the biggest holes on their roster are.
For some teams, those holes have led to enough losses that will keep them from moving forward to the postseason. Even as other teams are making runs to the postseason, there are areas where they must get better to remain competitive in the 2013 NFL season.
Read through the following slides for the areas most important that each team to address looking forward to next season.
All teams are listed alphabetically by city.
1. Offensive Tackle
Calling the Arizona Cardinals’ offensive line bad would be an understatement: Their line is the worst in the NFL. The Cardinals have allowed a league-high 51 sacks this season, in large part due to the horrible play of their offensive tackles.
While the Cardinals could seriously use upgrades across the entire offensive line with the lone exception of left guard Daryn Colledge, what they need most of all is a franchise left tackle. If the Cardinals have the chance to draft one of the class’ top two left tackles in Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel or Michigan’s Taylor Lewan, they should not pass up the opportunity.
Offensive tackle Levi Brown, who has missed the entire 2012 season due to a torn triceps, is a five-year starter for the Cardinals and is expected back next season, but he is better suited to play right tackle. The Cardinals need to improve considerably at the position, and they should address it early come April.
Since Kevin Kolb went down with a rib injury in Week 6, the Cardinals’ quarterback play has also been arguably the league’s worst. John Skelton and Ryan Lindley have been been absolutely atrocious in relief of Kolb, who has not shown what he needs to be their franchise quarterback going forward anyways.
The Cardinals cannot proceed with Skelton or Lindley in 2013. The two have combined to throw two touchdowns and 14 interceptions while completing just 52 percent of their passing attempts.
With Kolb being owed a $2 million roster bonus next season, it would come as no surprise if the Cardinals move on from him as he has failed to live up to expectations. That would leave the Cardinals with no decent option at all going forward.
Therefore, it could easily be said that quarterback is the Cardinals’ No. 1 need. But in order for any quarterback to be successful in Arizona, they must be able to protect him.
Patrick Peterson is a very talented young defensive back who has continued to make strides as a cover corner in his second season, but outside of him the cornerback position is a major weakness of the Cardinals’ defense.
2012 third-round pick Jamell Fleming has been unimpressive as a rookie, while veterans William Gay and Greg Toler simply are not starting-caliber cornerbacks. For the Cardinals’ deep passing defense to get better, they need to find a legitimate No. 2 cornerback to start across from Peterson.
1. Tight End
Legendary tight end Tony Gonzalez plans to retire at the end of the 2012 season, which would leave the Falcons with very little going forward at the tight end position. If they lose Gonzalez, the Falcons should look to draft at least one tight end who can be a potential playmaker to fill the void.
2. Defensive Tackle
Jonathan Babineaux is a very disruptive defensive tackle, but they have not found a solid starter next to him. Neither 2009 first-round pick Peria Jerry nor 2010 third-round pick Corey Peters has been the answer, and it is an answer the Falcons need to find to improve their defensive front.
Having released Ray Edwards earlier this season, a rotational defensive end is also needed, but with two solid starters at that position in John Abraham and Kroy Biermann, the bigger need on the line is inside.
3. Running Back
Michael Turner is only a couple years removed from being one of the NFL’s elite backs, but the pounding of an NFL career has begun to catch up with them. Turner has lacked speed and explosion, and it appears his best years are behind him.
Jacquizz Rodgers is a quick, speedy third-down/complementary back, but the Falcons should be in the market for a more complete back to take the place of Turner.
1. Inside Linebacker
Legendary star inside linebacker Ray Lewis is expected to return soon from a torn triceps, but at 37 years old, his best years are behind him. With Lewis out of the lineup, the Ravens have been subpar at the position, with two below-average starters in Dannell Ellerbe and Jameel McClain.
The Ravens need to find another playmaker at the position to eventually take Lewis’ place, and start alongside Lewis until he is no longer starting in Baltimore.
It seems to be an annual saga for safety Ed Reed to publicly question whether he should retire, and with his contract coming to an end following this season, this could be the year that the superstar safety follows through on retirement. But even if he does not, the Ravens lack depth at safety and should be looking for an eventual replacement for Reed at free safety.
Strong safety Bernard Pollard is a solid starter, but the only other safety on the Ravens’ roster signed past the end of this season is Christian Thompson.
The Ravens have one superstar cornerback in Lardarius Webb, but have been very shaky at the position this season since Webb went down with a season-ending torn ACL in Week 6. Cary Williams, Jimmy Smith and Corey Graham are all young players with some talent, but the Ravens should look for another playmaker at the position with the potential to start across from Webb.
The Buffalo Bills’ linebackers have seriously underperformed this season. The Bills have the league’s 28th-ranked rushing defense with 134.5 yards allowed per game, and the biggest reason for that has been subpar play at the linebacker position.
The Bills have some decent personnel at the position: Nick Barnett has led the corps with a solid season, while Kelvin Sheppard and Nigel Bradham are young linebackers with upside to fulfill. What the unit lacks, however, is a consistent playmaker, and the Bills need to find one to improve their defense.
The Buffalo Bills still have considerable money tied into starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick through 2017, but if they are serious about becoming a contender, it is time for them to look for a new quarterback.
The Bills have had one of the league’s least productive passing offenses this year, in large part due to the lack of progression from their signal-caller. Fitzpatrick continues to struggle with mistakes, and has struggled to put together much of a downfield passing game this season.
Fitzpatrick is not terrible, but he simply is not a franchise quarterback, and for the Bills to take the next step to the postseason, they need to find one.
3. Wide Receiver
Another reason for the Bills’ lack of downfield passing offense is a lack of playmakers. Outside of Steve Johnson, the Bills don’t have any dynamic downfield receiving weapons.
Donald Jones, T.J. Graham and David Nelson are talented young wideouts, but all are better suited to play inside in slot receiver roles. The Bills should be looking to find another receiver who can make plays deep downfield and draw coverages off of Johnson as a No. 2 wideout.
1. Defensive Tackle
The Carolina Panthers are very weak on the interior defensive line. Dwan Edwards is a solid starting defensive tackle, but he is not a difference-maker. Without any other starting-caliber players at the position, the Panthers need to find a disruptive presence to play next to Edwards.
The Panthers have one star cornerback in Chris Gamble, but are very shaky at the position behind him, and should be looking to find another starting-caliber cornerback in 2013 to play across from him.
2012 fifth-round pick Josh Norman has shown potential as a rookie, but he may be better suited to play inside. Captain Munnerlyn is a playmaker who has returned two interceptions for touchdowns this season, but he is also a very inconsistent cover corner whose play is too unreliable to be a long-term starter, and he could be let go as an unrestricted free agent this offseason.
3. Offensive Tackle
Jordan Gross has been an anchor at left tackle for 10 seasons, but as he is now 32 years old, the Panthers may want to start grooming his replacement for when his contract expires in 2014. The more pressing issue for the Panthers now, however, is to make a major upgrade at the right tackle position.
2008 first-round pick Jeff Otah proved to be a bust at right tackle, and the Panthers traded him before the season, leaving them with Byron Bell as the starter. Bell has played like a fill-in, and the Panthers need to upgrade by finding a truly starting-caliber right tackle.
1. Offensive Tackle
The Chicago Bears have had serious issues keeping pressure off their quarterback this season. The Bears have allowed 37 sacks this season. They could truly use upgrades at every position on the offensive line.
The most pressing area of need on the line, however, is at offensive tackle. Specifically, the Bears seriously need an upgrade at right tackle over Gabe Carimi, who has been a complete bust since he was a 2011 first-round pick, and has had no success at withholding pressure on that side of the line this year.
The best bet for the Bears would likely be to find a franchise left tackle, then move J’Marcus Webb, who also struggles on that side of the line, over to right tackle. Either way, the Bears need to get better at right tackle, and on the offensive line as a whole.
2. Middle Linebacker
Brian Urlacher has been one of the NFL’s great middle linebackers over the past 13 seasons, but it appears the 34-year-old’s career could be approaching its end.
Urlacher’s play has been in decline this season, his contract expires at the end of the season, and according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, retirement is a possibility.
It is time for the Bears to find a new stalwart at middle linebacker to replace Urlacher, whose best years are behind him.
3. Tight End
For a number of years, the Chicago Bears did not utilize tight ends much as pass receivers, but that has changed under offensive coordinator and former NFL tight end Mike Tice. Unfortunately for the Bears, they do not have the receiver at the position to consistently utilize tight ends as receivers.
Kellen Davis and Matt Spaeth are good blockers, but they lack the athleticism or receiving ability to be downfield weapons at the position. The Bears should be looking for a more athletic receiving talent to play tight end in April.
The Cincinnati Bengals may have found a gem in undrafted free agent Vontaze Burfict this season, but linebacker remains the weakest position on the team. Rey Maualuga and Manny Lawson have both underperformed this season, and the team could move on from them as unrestricted free agents this offseason.
Whether it be at middle linebacker or outside linebacker, the Bengals need to find playmakers at the position for next season.
Reggie Nelson is a very talented free safety, but the Bengals have had a revolving door of poor play at the strong safety position this season. The Bengals are in serious need of a strong safety both effective in coverage and in run support to shore up the back end of their defense.
Cornerback could also be considered a need, but the Bengals used a first-round pick last year on Alabama’s Dre Kirkpatrick. One possibility for the Bengals could be to move Kirkpatrick to safety. He has yet to play much but has good size and athleticism. Then, the Bengals can focus on drafting another starting cornerback.
Assuming the Bengals can retain right tackle Andre Smith from unrestricted free agency, they are very solid at both tackle spots and both guard spots, but they have had a revolving door at the center position this year. Neither Trevor Robinson nor Kyle Cook is a long-term starting center, so the Bengals should be looking for an upgrade in the middle of their line.
1. Defensive End
The Cleveland Browns’ defense has made significant strides this season, but one area of relative weakness is their pass-rush.
The Browns have had some issues with giving up passing plays this season, but that could be helped considerably by finding a premier pass-rusher at the defensive end position.
2. Free Safety
Strong safety T.J. Ward may be the NFL’s best run-support safety, but he can be a liability in pass coverage. Meanwhile, the Browns could really use an upgrade over Usama Young at free safety, so they should be looking for another starting safety, with an emphasis on deep pass coverage ability, to start next to Ward in the middle of their secondary.
Joe Haden is one of the NFL’s top cornerbacks, but the Browns’ other starter, Sheldon Brown, is 33 years old and an unrestricted free agent. Buster Skrine has not shown the skills to be a starting cornerback in the league, so the Browns would be smart to look for another young cornerback to pair as a No. 2 starter across from Haden.
1. Interior Offensive Line
The Dallas Cowboys’ offensive line is a complete mess, especially on the interior offensive line. Left guard Nate Livings has been steady, but the Dallas Cowboys have massive needs at the center and right guard spots.
This year’s starters, center Ryan Cook and right guard Mackenzy Bernadeau, have struggled mightily to fend off interior penetration. Meanwhile, young players like David Arkin and Kevin Kowalski have not shown the potential to fill those positions going forward.
The Cowboys should be looking to improve their interior offensive line early in the 2013 NFL draft, with only one solid starter among three spots.
2. Right Tackle
The left side of the Cowboys’ offensive line has not been bad, with athletic left tackle Tyron Smith holding his own on the blindside. The right side, however, has been a complete mess, as Doug Free is making a great case for being the NFL’s most overpaid offensive tackle.
Free still has two more years and more than $23 million remaining on his contract after this season, but he has been a liability for the Cowboys this season. He was even benched for part of Sunday’s win over the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Cowboys have to accept cutting their losses on Free and make a change at this position.
3. Strong Safety
Gerald Sensabaugh is a playmaker at free safety, but the Cowboys have not been able to find a solid strong safety to line up next to him in the secondary. The Cowboys’ secondary has had some rough games this season, and the biggest reason for that has been poor play at strong safety.
1. Defensive Tackle
Defensive tackle has been the weak point of the Denver Broncos’ defense for a few years running, and even as the defense has solidified considerably this season, it is still an area of weakness going forward.
Justin Bannan and Kevin Vickerson are decent starters, but neither brings much in terms of interior pass-rush ability. Making matters worse, neither is under contract for next season, and neither are their backups, Sealver Siliga and Mitch Unrein.
The Broncos will likely resign two or three of them, but even so, they need to upgrade and find a truly disruptive difference-maker at the position.
Champ Bailey remains one of the NFL’s top cornerbacks, and Chris Harris has emerged as a solid starter across from him. Bailey, however, is 34 years old, so the Broncos would be smart to start grooming another young cornerback.
The Broncos drafted Omar Bolden in the fourth round last year, but their two other backup cornerbacks, Tracy Porter and Tony Carter, are both signed for only this season. Even if Porter and/or Carter are brought back, the Broncos should start developing more young depth at the position.
3. Defensive End
One player who could be a difference-maker for the Broncos at defensive tackle is Derek Wolfe, who has been used as a defensive end in the base package but as a defensive tackle in pass-rush situations as a rookie.
The Broncos will likely continue to use him in that fashion next season, for he is a good run stopper at the end position, but need to find some depth at pass-rushing defensive end behind Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller, an outside linebacker who often moves to end on pass-rushing downs.
1. Defensive End
After being unable to re-sign Cliff Avril last offseason, the Detroit Lions placed him on a franchise tag for the 2012 season, but are facing a likelihood of losing Avril next season.
With the potential to lose Avril, as well as rotational defensive ends Lawrence Jackson and Willie Young who are also free agents, the Lions should be in the market for another pass-rushing defensive end in the 2013 draft. The Lions’ other starting defensive end, Kyle Vanden Bosch, is 34 years old and far from the player he once was, especially as a pass-rusher.
Chris Houston is a very skilled and athletic cornerback, but he is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, and there are no other proven commodities at the position on the roster. Young cornerbacks Bill Bentley and Jonte Green have shown potential, but if the Lions lose Houston, they will need to add another cornerback this offseason.
3. Right Guard
The right side of the Detroit Lions’ offensive line has been the weak side this season, with the weak link being veteran right guard Stephen Peterman. The 30-year-old is entering the final season of his contract next year, and the Lions could very well look for an upgrade.
The Lions could also look to upgrade over Gosder Cherilus, an unrestricted free agent, at right tackle. It is most likely, however, that the Lions will move Jeff Backus over to right tackle, with Riley Reiff taking over on the left side, if Cherilus is let leave.
Green Bay Packers
1. Left Tackle
The Green Bay Packers have really struggled against the pass-rush this year, and have allowed the second-most sacks in the league with 42. The biggest reason for their struggles in pass protection has been the subpar play of their left tackle, Marshall Newhouse.
The Packers have a solid right tackle in Bryan Bulaga, who is down for the season with an injury, but they need to find a franchise left tackle. Newhouse is not that guy, and the Packers must do a better job of protecting quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
2. Running Back
The Green Bay Packers have not found any reliable, consistent source of rushing yardage at the running back position this year, and haven’t had an explosive difference-maker at running back in years.
The Packers should try to change that in the 2013 NFL draft, by trying to find a feature back or at least a complementary back with the elusiveness and speed element that they currently lack on their roster.
Jeff Saturday is a solid center, but he is a temporary option whose two-year contract will end after next season. The Packers should draft an heir apparent at the position in April who they can groom to take over the starting role in 2014.
1. Right Tackle
The Texans’ surprising release of Eric Winston last offseason left the Texans with a void at right tackle. Second-year player Derek Newton has been a disappointment, and the Texans could really benefit by finding a right tackle who can be a long-term bookend across from left tackle Duane Brown.
Rashad Butler was an option at this position before going down for the season with a torn triceps, but he is not the long-term option either.
The Texans have also had a significant drop-off at right guard after losing Mike Brisiel last offseason, but with two rookies at that position in Ben Jones and Brandon Brooks still developing, they likely won’t look to address that position in the 2013 draft.
The Houston Texans have some talented players in their defensive backfield, but over the past four weeks, it has become clear that they need to make improvements to their secondary. Even with possibly the league’s best pass-rusher in defensive end J.J. Watt, the Texans’ pass defense has been exposed too often this season, and has given up too many deep passing plays.
The Texans need more depth and talent in the secondary, especially with cornerbacks Brice McCain and Alan Ball and starting free safety Glover Quin all slated to become unrestricted free agent. All of those players have struggled in pass coverage recently, so the Texans’ best move may be to find new, young talent to rebuild the secondary, while letting those players move on.
3. Wide Receiver
The Houston Texans have arguably the NFL’s second-best wide receiver in Andre Johnson, but could make Johnson even more effective by finding a true No. 2 option at the position who can stretch the field and draw double coverages away from Johnson.
Kevin Walter is a decent player, but he is not a game-changing playmaker who opposing defenses take seriously enough to turn focus away from Johnson. The Texans would be best suited by finding an outside playmaker at the position, then moving Walter inside.
1. Interior Offensive Line
The Indianapolis Colts could absolutely use upgrades at all three interior line spots over left guard Joe Reitz, center Samson Satele and right guard Mike McGlynn. Much of the pressure that has come against Colts quarterback Andrew Luck this season has come on inside rushes beating their interior line.
The Colts should be using multiple picks in the 2013 NFL draft in an effort to rebuild their weak interior offensive line.
The Indianapolis Colts have a decent pair of cornerbacks under contract in Jerraud Powers and Vontae Davis, but injuries to each of them this season has exposed the Colts’ lack of depth at the position. The Colts need to find a better cover corner to take on the nickel slot cornerback role, while adding depth to make up for when injuries at the position do occur.
3. Right Tackle
With the exception of left tackle Anthony Castonzo, the entire Colts offensive line has been a point of weakness this season. Right tackle Winston Justice is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, and the Colts would be smart to replace him rather than make a big push to re-sign him, for he is not quite starting-caliber.
The Jacksonville Jaguars drafted Blaine Gabbert with the No. 10 overall pick in 2011 to be their franchise quarterback, but a franchise quarterback he has not become. Before a torn labrum ended his sophomore season early, Gabbert had only completed 58.3 percent of his passes for 166.2 yards per game and nine touchdowns compared to just six interceptions.
After throwing for 354 yards in his first game in relief of Gabbert, Chad Henne has not done any better since. Gabbert has not made enough improvement over two seasons to give much hope that he will develop into a franchise quarterback, and if the Jaguars are going to move away from being among the NFL’s bottom-feeders, they must get better at the position.
The Jaguars may not use their first-round draft pick on another quarterback this year, but whether it be via the draft or a possibly more temporary fit via free agency or trade, they should be looking for a new signal-caller to lead their offense next season.
Aside from left tackle Eugene Monroe, the entire Jaguars offensive line has been a mess this season. As a result, the Jaguars have allowed 40 sacks this season, and must get better up front.
The Jaguars have been especially poor on the interior offensive line. All three spots could be considered needs, but one reason the Jaguars have had considerable trouble at the guard position is the injuries that cost Will Rackley and Jason Spitz their entire seasons.
Their biggest need is at center, where 35-year-old Brad Meester has really struggled this season, and as he is an unrestricted free agent this offseason, the Jaguars should move on from the aging veteran. Rookie Mike Brewester has also struggled mightily at left guard, so he doesn’t look to be the answer at center either.
The Jaguars have two solid starting linebackers returning under contract next season in middle linebacker Paul Posluszny and outside linebacker Russell Allen, but what they lack in that unit is a playmaker. The Jaguars are thin on playmakers at every level of their defense, but they need one most at linebackers, where they lack both talent and depth.
Kansas City Chiefs
There is not one team need in the NFL more obvious than the Kansas City Chiefs needing a quarterback. Matt Cassel never came close in four seasons with the Chiefs to being the franchise quarterback he looked to be in one season with the New England Patriots, while Brady Quinn is nothing more than a temporary stop-gap at the position.
The Chiefs may very well end up with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft. If so, they should be focused on finding the franchise quarterback they have lacked for many years.
2. Defensive End
Glenn Dorsey has likely played his last game as a Kansas City Chief. He is currently on injured reserve, and as an unrestricted free agent following the season, it is unlikely either side will pursue an extension.
That leaves Tyson Jackson, who himself has not lived up to the billing as a No. 3 overall draft pick in 2009, as the only starting-caliber defensive end on the roster. The Chiefs’ entire defensive line is a weakness, in large part due to underwhelming draft selections, but they have to try to get better by finding an impactful 5-technique end.
3. Inside Linebacker
Drafting an inside linebacker to potentially start next to Derrick Johnson in the 3-4 base defense already would have made sense, but the Jovan Belcher tragedy truly made it a need. Johnson is one of the NFL’s best inside linebackers, but they have no good option to start next to him.
1. Wide Receiver
The Miami Dolphins drafted their franchise quarterback last season in Ryan Tannehill, but now they need to find him a go-to wide receiver. Brian Hartline and Davone Bess are solid possession receivers, but the Dolphins lack a downfield playmaker at the position, while Hartline is no guarantee to return as an unrestricted free agent.
The Dolphins traded Vontae Davis prior to the start of the season, which left them with a weakness at cornerback across from Sean Smith. The Dolphins should seek to re-sign Smith, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent, but they need to upgrade over Nolan Carroll at the right cornerback spot.
3. Offensive Tackle
Left tackle Jake Long is an unrestricted free agent this season, and after an injury-shortened season in which his play dropped off from previous seasons, the Dolphins may let him leave as a free agent and make a change at the position.
The Dolphins drafted Jonathan Martin in the second round of the 2012 draft, but he has been shaky as both a right and left tackle as a rookie. The Dolphins will still look for him to be a long-term starter at one of the tackle spots, but if they lose Long, they need to find a new starter.
1. Wide Receiver
Percy Harvin is one of the NFL’s most dynamic playmakers, but the Vikings have a complete lack of playmakers at the wide receiver position outside of him. While Harvin can exploit defenses with his size and shiftiness, the Vikings need to add some bigger receivers with legitimate downfield playmaking ability that quarterback Christian Ponder can rely on.
2. Defensive Tackle
The Minnesota Vikings’ run defense has not been the same since the departure of Pat Williams broke up the “Williams Wall.” Kevin Williams is still a good defensive tackle, but not the player he once was at age 32, and the Vikings have no other difference-makers at the position.
The Vikings need to try to bring back their former dominance at the defensive tackle position by adding another disruptive force on the interior line.
3. Middle Linebacker
Outside of strongside linebacker Chad Greenway, the Minnesota Vikings are very thin at the linebacker position. They are especially weak at middle linebacker, where Jasper Brinkley is not the starting-caliber man in the middle they needed to replace E.J. Henderson.
The Vikings should be looking for a new playmaker to take that role and team up with Greenway to lead the defense.
New England Patriots
1. Wide Receiver
With Wes Welker and Julian Edelman slated to become unrestricted free agents, Brandon Lloyd is the only true wide receiver on the roster under contract for next season.
After franchise tagging Welker for the 2012 season, the Patriots are at serious risk of losing him via unrestricted free agency this offseason, and if they do, they will have a desperate need to replace him. Even if the Patriots can re-sign Welker and/or Edelman, they will still be in need of depth at this position.
The Patriots have a very talented trio of starting linebackers in Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes and Dont’a Hightower, but the depth behind that trio is nonexistent. The Patriots need to add multiple linebackers who can provide adequate insurance should one of the starters suffer an injury.
Through the first half of the Patriots’ season, it appeared that the secondary was easily their No. 1 need going forward to next season, but the defensive backfield has solidified in recent weeks.
That said, recently acquired cornerback Aqib Talib is only signed through the end of the season, and if they lose him, they will need to find a new starter to start across from Alfonzo Dennard. Even if the Patriots end up re-signing Talib, there is still a lack of depth at the position.
New Orleans Saints
Outside of Patrick Robinson, the New Orleans Saints are horribly weak at the cornerback position, the biggest reason why they have had one of the league’s worst pass defenses this season. The Saints desperately need to find better cover corners to make up for the far too many blown coverages they have had this season.
2. Outside Linebacker
The Saints have also allowed the most rushing yards in the league this year with 152.4 yards allowed per game, and the biggest reason for that has been the poor play of their linebackers. Part of the problem is that the Saints effectively have three middle linebackers as starters, and need to find tacklers with more athleticism and range than David Hawthorne and Jonathan Vilma to play on the outside.
3. Defensive End
The Saints have a solid pair of starting defensive ends in Cameron Jordan and Will Smith, but as a team, the Saints have not generated enough pass-rush this season, and the best way to fix that would be to find a premier pass-rusher at end to add to the rotation.
New York Giants
With the exception of weakside linebacker Michael Boley, the New York Giants are very weak at the linebacker position, and could seriously use a new influx of playmakers to that unit. The biggest need is at middle linebacker, where neither Chase Blackburn nor Mark Herzlich should be a long-term starter at the position.
Even with the consistent efforts to improve the cornerback position, it continues to be an issue for the Giants.
Prince Amukamara has been a big disappointment since the Giants drafted him with their 2011 first-round pick, Corey Webster really is not good enough to be a No. 1 cornerback and Terrell Thomas has two consecutive seasons due to knee injuries. As a result, the Giants continue to be shaky in pass coverage, and still have a need for playmakers at the position.
3. Offensive Tackle
Both of the Giants’ starting offensive tackles, Will Beatty and Sean Locklear, are unrestricted free agents at the end of the season. Beatty has finally established as a quality starter at left tackle and should be brought back, but the Giants could use an upgrade over the Locklear/David Diehl tandem at right tackle.
New York Jets
The New York Jets signed veteran safeties Yeremiah Bell and LaRon Landry last offseason to start this year, but neither is a long-term option at the position. The Jets really need some stability at the back end of their defense, and should be looking to bring some young potential starters at safety.
2. Outside Linebacker
The New York Jets have been one of the NFL’s worst pass-rushing teams this season, with only 22 sacks this season through 13 games. This is because they have no productive pass-rushers at the outside linebacker position. Generating pass-rush consistently from linebackers is pivotal to the success of a 3-4 defense, but the Jets do not have any outside linebacker on their roster who can do that.
Unfortunately for the New York Jets, they could be years away from handling their need away at the quarterback position. That is because they completely mishandled their personnel at the position this past offseason, first by ridiculously overpaying incumbent starter Mark Sanchez to a long-term contract extension, then trading for enigmatic quarterback Tim Tebow.
With the money the Jets have tied up in Sanchez while also having Tebow on the roster, making a big investment in another quarterback will be difficult for 2013, but it certainly does not appear that the Jets the quarterback on their roster that they need to contend.
Sanchez’s lack of progression has turned to regression this season, while the Jets have not put any faith in Tebow to lead the offense. It is unlikely that either will be the quarterback they need in 2013, while Greg McElroy is a solid backup but little more.
When the Oakland Raiders signed Ron Bartell and Shawntae Spencer before the season to be their starting cornerbacks, the outlook was already bleak. The Raiders’ best cornerback is Michael Huff, a converted safety, a sign that they are seriously weak at the position.
The Raiders need a brand new set of starting cornerbacks for next season, making this their greatest of many needs on their roster.
2. Defensive End
The Oakland Raiders have been one of the NFL’s worst pass-rushing teams this season, with just 17 sacks — 2.5 less than 49ers outside linebacker Aldon Smith has on his own — through 13 games. The Raiders desperately need to add a defensive end with the pass-rushing ability to bring pressure against opposing quarterbacks on a consistent basis, because they don’t have any efficient pass-rushers on their roster currently.
3. Middle Linebacker
Rolando McClain is still on the Oakland Raiders a few weeks after he told the world that he had been released via social media, but with a combination of subpar play and a horrendous attitude, it is unlikely McClain is part of the Raiders’ plans for much of their future.
That leaves the Raiders in need of a new middle linebacker going forward, to bolster that a unit that is weak across the board and lacks any significant playmakers.
When the Philadelphia Eagles signed Nnamdi Asomugha and traded for Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie prior to the 2011 season, they were supposed to one of the league’s elite cornerback units. Instead, both players have completely failed to play up to their abilities in Philadelphia, and the Eagles have had one of the NFL’s worst pass defenses.
While the Eagles would certainly like for Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie to turn it around from a financial standpoint, the situation has only been getting worse. The Eagles need to improve their secondary, and it starts at the cornerback position.
Safety is also a need, as starters Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman have both had issues in pass coverage this season, but the cornerback play has been the bigger issue.
2. Weakside Linebacker
The Eagles made some big steps to improve at the linebacker position last offseason by trading for middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans and drafting Mychal Kendricks, but the Eagles still have a weak spot in the lineup at weakside linebacker. The Eagles had to rebuild their linebacker corps after a dismal 2011 season for that group, but they have to finish rebuilding it in 2013.
3. Offensive Line
The Eagles’ offensive line has been a mess in 2012, allowing the third-most sacks in the league with 41 through 13 games while they have also struggled in run blocking. Injuries to three starters, offensive tackles Jason Peters and Todd Herremans along with center Jason Kelce, has been a factor in that, but the Eagles need to rebuild the line nonetheless.
Left guard Evan Mathis has been the only solid cog of the line this season, while 2011 first-round pick Danny Watkins looks like a complete bust at right guard. That leaves right guard as the line’s biggest need, but with Peters’ future being in question after suffering two ruptures to his Achilles, an offensive tackle would also be a smart investment.
1. Running Back
Rashard Mendenhall is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, and following an unproductive season, it is highly unlikely the Pittsburgh Steelers will bring him back. Between Jonathan Dwyer, Isaac Redman and Chris Rainey, the Steelers do not have a feature back, and need to find a player with the skill set to spark their rushing offense.
2. Inside Linebacker
The Pittsburgh Steelers parted ways with longtime starting inside linebacker James Farrior following last season, and his replacement Larry Foote has been the weak link of the Steelers’ defense this season. Foote is an unrestricted free agent, and the Steelers should look for an upgrade rather than re-sign him.
3. Offensive Tackle
The Steelers brought back Max Starks for one year to be a temporary fix at left tackle, but even though the Steelers have tried year after year to fix their offensive line, the offensive tackle position still looks like an issue going forward.
Neither Marcus Gilbert nor Mike Adams has shown enough potential to be trusted as the franchise left tackle, and the Steelers’ plan will be to proceed without Starks next season, considering they did not bring him back until July when they were desperate. Gilbert or Adams may be fine to start at right tackle, but the Steelers are seeking for a player they can trust to protect quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s blindside.
San Diego Chargers
1. Offensive Tackle
The San Diego Chargers have really struggled in pass protection on the outside this year, and need a new pair of starting offensive tackles.
This is especially true at left tackle, where the Mike Harris experiment has been a disaster. The Chargers could certainly use an upgrade over Jeromey Clary at right tackle too, but their top priority should be finding at least a left tackle who can protect their quarterback more effectively.
San Diego’s starting cornerback tandem of Quentin Jammer and Antoine Cason have been subpar this season, and both have expiring contracts at the end of the year. The combination of these factors opens the window to change at the position this year, where the Chargers should be looking for new playmakers to improve the back end of their pass defense.
The Chargers’ interior offensive line is more steady than their offensive tackles are, but starting guards Tyronne Green and Louis Vazquez are both free agents following the season. While the Chargers could likely bring either of them back, there is certainly room for upgrade at either spot. This could prompt the Chargers to take a look at guards early in the 2013 NFL draft.
San Francisco 49ers
1. Nose Tackle
The San Francisco 49ers have arguably the NFL’s best defensive front seven, but one thing they lack is an anchoring nose tackle for their three-man front in their base 3-4 defense. The 49ers could be even more dominant against the run if they can find a massive, disruptive gap filler to line up in the middle of their base defensive front.
2. Free Safety
Dashon Goldson is one of the NFL’s best free safeties, but after playing the 2012 season on a franchise tag, the 49ers are at significant risk of losing him to another team going forward. If the 49ers are unable to re-sign Goldson, they will have a major need to replace him.
3. Offensive Tackle
The 49ers have a very solid pair of starters at offensive tackle in Joe Staley and Anthony Davis, but have no true backup offensive tackle on the roster. The 49ers have a need to add a third tackle for depth and insurance purposes.
1. Right Tackle
The Seattle Seahawks have some holes on their offensive line, the biggest of which is at right tackle. Breno Giacomini is not a starting-caliber offensive tackle, yet he is the best option the Seahawks have had at that position. They need an upgrade.
Guard is also a problem area on the Seattle Seahawks’ offensive line. 2011 draft picks James Carpenter and John Moffitt have been disappointments so far, and Paul McQuistan is not good enough to be a long-term option at the position. The Seahawks may be hesitant to use more early draft picks to upgrade at guard, but it is an area where they need to get better.
3. Wide Receiver
Aside from Sidney Rice, the Seattle Seahawks do not have much in terms of playmakers at the wide receiver position. The Seahawks need to find another downfield threat who can start opposite Rice, give quarterback Russell Wilson another weapon to work with and allow them to play Golden Tate in his more natural role as a slot receiver.
St. Louis Rams
1. Offensive Tackle
The St. Louis Rams have a solid left tackle in Rodger Saffold, but have a serious weakness at right tackle. The Rams could look for an upgrade at left tackle then move Saffold to right tackle, or simply look to find an improvement at right tackle, but replacing the revolving door of Barry Richardson and Wayne Hunter on the right side is a major need.
The Rams rebuilt themselves at the cornerback position by signing Cortland Finnegan and drafting Janoris Jenkins last offseason, but need to complete the restructuring of the secondary by finding safeties with better coverage ability than Quintin Mikell and Craig Dahl.
3. Outside Linebacker
Outside of middle linebacker James Laurinaitis, the St. Louis Rams are very thin at linebacker. The Rams have done a good job of adding talent to their defensive front seven over the past couple seasons, but need to complete that process by adding a playmaker at outside linebacker.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers traded away their top cornerback Aqib Talib earlier this season, and although Eric Wright was signed to a five-year, $37.5 million contract last offseason, his contract is no longer guaranteed after this season due to a suspension, which could prompt the Buccaneers to cut the underperforming cornerback.
That leaves the Buccaneers, Wright or no Wright, in need of upgrading at cornerback. E.J. Biggers is a decent player but he is an unrestricted free agent, and rookie Leonard Johnson is promising but not the No. 1 cornerback they need going forward.
The Buccaneers have one of the NFL’s worst passing defenses this season, and poor cornerback play has been the main reason why.
2. Defensive Tackle
Gerald McCoy has finally overcome the injury bug to emerge as an elite defensive tackle in his third NFL season, but fellow starter Roy Miller has performed underwhelmingly and is an unrestricted free agent following the season. The Buccaneers can make McCoy even better by putting another disruptive playmaker at defensive tackle alongside him.
3. Free Safety
Ronde Barber has played well in his first season since converting to free safety from cornerback, but at 37 years old, his future for 2013 and beyond is very much up in the air. The Buccaneers should certainly welcome Barber back with open arms if he chooses to play again in 2013, but that should not stop them from drafting and grooming his eventual replacement, one year after drafting a potential star in strong safety Mark Barron.
Before both of their seasons were injury-shortened, guards Steve Hutchinson and Leroy Harris were both weak links of the Tennessee Titans offensive line this year. The Titans need to get better guards, which in turn can make both their struggling passing and rushing offenses better.
Center is also a potential need on the offensive line if Fernando Velasco leaves as an unrestricted free agent.
The Titans have had some issues with making plays in the secondary this year. The bulk of those issues have been missed plays from safeties Michael Griffin and Jordan Babineaux. The Titans could really use another big playmaker in the back end of their defense, and the safety position is the right place to make that upgrade.
3. Running Back
The Titans have a fast, quick and explosive starting running back in Chris Johnson, but the NFL is a multi-back league now. The Titans have not utilized any other running backs this season, but could make their rushing offense (and Johnson himself) much more effective by adding a physical, between-the-tackles runner to split carries with Johnson.
Did anyone other than the Redskins themselves actually think that Madieu Williams and Brandon Meriweather would be the answers at safety?
Neither is a starting-caliber safety, nor is any other safety on the Redskins’ roster. The Redskins need to find upgrades at both safety spots going forward to next season.
2. Right Tackle
Jammal Brown has battled hip issues for years, and after missing the entire 2012 season, it stands to wonder whether Brown will ever play again. Tyler Polumbus, meanwhile, has struggled in his place this season, and is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. The Redskins should be in the market for a new starter to bookend with Trent Williams at tackle.
The Washington Redskins have one of the league’s worst pass defenses, and while safety has been their biggest position of weakness, cornerback has not been great either.
DeAngelo Hall is a playmaker with great ball skills, but he is better suited to be a No. 2 cornerback, while current starting right cornerback is better suited to play as a nickel slot cornerback. The Redskins need to find a true No. 1 cornerback to bolster the back end of their defense.
Dan Hope is an NFL draft Featured Columnist and the New England Patriots game day correspondent for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @Dan_Hope.
*All free agency statuses found according to Spotrac.