Free Agency or Draft: How Should Each NFL Team Attack Its Biggest Needs?
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Every organization in the NFL has its own culture and ways it handles business. The front offices of these clubs all have their own philosophies of how a team should be built as well. Each team believes its ideas will bring a Super Bowl contender.
Some teams will constantly build through the NFL draft like the Green Bay Packers. Other clubs have no problem adding pieces to the team via free agency. Though many people believe the New England Patriots are a draft-built team, in actuality, the Patriots are one of the most active in trading players and signing free agents.
Some NFL teams have more holes than others. Each team has at least four positions that will need to be addressed by the start of the 2013 NFL season. Some teams will address the issues by signing a free agent. Other teams will wait to get that spot filled in the April draft.
Here are the top two needs in my opinion for each NFL squad and how I think they should fix them. Suffice to say, the Kansas City Chiefs took their No. 1 need off the board by trading for Alex Smith.
Will other teams be as aggressive? (If you pay attention, my mock draft is included as well.)
ProFootballFocus.com is a subscription site and sourced in this article. All starting lineups were sourced from Ourlads.com.
Kansas City Chiefs
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Needs: DE, WR
Former first-round selection defensive end Glenn Dorsey is a pending free agent. Another former first-rounder, defensive end Tyson Jackson, is owed $14.72 million this season. He will need to take a pay cut, or else he will be released.
The defensive line needs a major upgrade, and with the No. 1 overall selection in the 2013 NFL draft, look for the Chiefs to select Florida defensive lineman Sharrif Floyd. He'll become an instant starter from Day 1.
After franchise wide receiver Dwayne Bowe, the other top receivers for Kansas City are Jonathan Baldwin and Dexter McCluster. One more threat would help Alex Smith a lot.
New general manager John Dorsey will stay the draft route here and can pick up a quality player in the top of the third round. A player like Steadman Bailey from West Virginia or Kenny Stills from Oklahoma would be a solid fit.
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Needs: QB, DE
Blaine Gabbert needs to be pushed to see whether he will step up and be the franchise quarterback. Former general manager Gene Smith thought he would be when he drafted Gabbert in the first round, and that decision ultimately led to Smith’s firing.
The Jaguars need to sign quarterback Matt Cassel once he is released from the Kansas City Chiefs. Then the Jaguars need to draft a young signal-caller like Zac Dysert of Miami (Ohio) in the fourth round to groom.
At defensive end, Jason Babin and Jeremy Mincey are listed as the starters. The Jaguars need to use the No. 2 overall selection in the 2013 NFL draft to select Florida State star Bjoern Werner.
He is a solid player, similar to the St. Louis Rams' Chris Long, and will bring consistent play to a Jaguars defense had the fewest sacks in the league in 2012.
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Needs: DT, CB
General manager Reggie McKenzie is not the type of personnel man to chase too many players in free agency. Look for the Raiders to do all they can to lock up one of their own, Desmond Bryant, before free agency hits.
But they still need another interior defensive player, and former Packer and Eagles defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins would fit nicely. McKenzie helped get Jenkins into the NFL.
With the defensive line taken care of, McKenzie can use the No. 3 selection on the cornerback position and take Xavier Rhodes out of Florida State. Most pundits have Alabama’s Dee Milliner as the top cornerback, but Rhodes' size and speed fit the system that head coach Dennis Allen is building in Oakland.
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Needs: NT, CB
The Eagles recently parted ways with former starters on the defensive line, Cullen Jenkins and Mike Patterson. The Eagles have three defensive tackles on the roster. General manager Howie Roseman will not be aggressive at this position in free agency and will wait to get his starter next to last year’s first rounder, Fletcher Cox. If he checks out medically, Utah’s Star Lotulelei is the man.
Roseman will get a starter in free agency at cornerback. New head coach Chip Kelly likes “long players,” so look for Philadelphia to pursue Miami’s Sean Smith hard in free agency. Smith is outstanding in press coverage.
The Eagles will add another taller corner in the draft or free agency, which will allow the young, up-and-coming Brandon Boykin to play in the slot.
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Needs: DE, S
When a team only lists two defensive ends on the roster, that team is struggling. The Lions have Willie Young and Ronnell Lewis as those two guys.
The Lions have to get the best available player at the position in free agency, and that is the Bengals’ Michael Johnson. Do not be surprised if they sign a mid-tier free agent like the Raiders defensive end Matt Shaughnessy as well.
Don Carey and Amari Spievey are the Lions' starting safeties right now. That will need to change. The Lions will sign a veteran like Houston’s Glover Quin. The former Texan is a former cornerback who is a very good tackler.
This will allow the Lions to use the No. 5 pick in the NFL draft on an offensive tackle such as Eric Fisher.
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Needs: QB, OLB
Brandon Weeden has only been the starter for a year, and already fans and media alike are calling for his removal. It does not help that the new head of personnel, Mike Lombardi, called out Weeden before and after the 2012 NFL draft.
Look for the Browns to address the need by taking USC’s Matt Barkley with the No. 6 selection in the 2013 NFL draft. The Browns have not had a face of the franchise at the position since Bernie Kosar, and Barkley brings talent and instant credibility to a town craving a winner.
The Browns will pay big in free agency for outside linebackers. Look for Lombardi to sign two players.
The Ravens’ Paul Kruger and Texans’ Connor Barwin would instantly upgrade the defense, which is already solid. New defensive coordinator Ray Horton would get to utilize two versatile players who can rush, play the run and cover down field.
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Needs: QB, OT
The quarterback situation in Arizona is a mess, and new head coach Bruce Arians is known as a quarterback guru. He did wonders for rookie quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger and Andrew Luck.
The Cardinals hold the seventh overall selection in the 2013 NFL draft and need to use that pick on West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith. The rookie is the future in Arizona and is better than any player the Cardinals can sign in free agency.
The three tackles on the roster are Levi Brown, Nate Potter and Bobby Massie. Brown was injured last year, and the other two were rookies. Arizona general manager Steve Keim needs to open up his checkbook and pay to score a free-agent offensive tackle.
Of the solid group available, look for Miami’s Jake Long to be pursued heavy in the desert. A quieter signing but still solid would be to reunite Arians with Colts offensive tackle Winston Justice. The Cardinals need more than one offensive tackle.
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Needs: QB, WR
New head coach Doug Marrone is the former head coach of the Syracuse Orange. He will convince the Bills front-office brass that the answer to the recent quarterback woes is drafting quarterback Ryan Nassib.
The rookie walks in the door ahead of any player on the Bills roster currently in terms of the terminology of the new offense. That fact alone makes him a solid selection.
Stevie Johnson is a good player but is better suited as a No. 2 receiver. The Bills will not have a lot of cap room to chase a top-flight receiver in free agency if they sign their own two top free agents, offensive guard Andy Levitre and safety Jairus Byrd.
Look for general manager Buddy Nix to bring in a mid-tier veteran like Jerome Simpson and draft a wide receiver in the second round. DeAndre Hopkins from Clemson would be great fit and would complement Nassib for years to come.
New York Jets
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Needs: OT, OLB
The Jets will be aggressive in free agency and will chase the best available free-agent right tackle on the market, Andre Smith of the Bengals. The Jets need to do a better job of protecting the quarterback. With Smith and D’Brickashaw Ferguson holding the edges, quarterback Mark Sanchez will not be so skittish in the pocket.
At outside linebacker, the Jets will sign a free agent like the Chargers’ Antwan Barnes. Then they can use their No. 9 selection in the NFL draft on Dion Jordan from Oregon.
Jordan has length, speed and versatility to line up anywhere in new defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman’s defense.
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Needs: S, OG
Like Detroit, Tennessee has a lot of holes to fill, and though its quarterback play deserves attention, the play of the safeties was not good in 2012. The Titans will address this position in the 2013 NFL draft by selecting Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro with the No. 10 pick. Vaccaro is better than both Michael Griffin and Jordan Babineaux.
If the Titans cannot get Buffalo free-agent offensive guard Andy Levitre, they will sign a solid but inexpensive player like Kevin Boothe of the New York Giants.
Then they can draft a player like Arkansas’ Alvin Bailey in the third round to groom as the starter later in the year.
San Diego Chargers
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Needs: OT, OG
The San Diego Chargers are in the best position in the 2013 NFL draft (if this mock comes to fruition). They will select the top offensive tackle on the draft board, and in this case that's Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel.
The former Aggie will step in from Day 1 and protect quarterback Philip Rivers’ blindside for the near future.
At offensive guard, Louis Vasquez is a must to re-sign. At the 45th selection, the Chargers should be able to grab their other starter in Kentucky’s Larry Warford.
New general manager Tom Telesco knows how to build a team, and his first order of business is to protect Rivers.
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Needs: WR, OT
The Dolphins will sign two free-agent wide receivers. Mike Wallace of the Pittsburgh Steelers is choice No. 1.
The Packers' Greg Jennings would be a solid consolation prize. But re-signing Brian Hartline and paying big money for Wallace are the best options for general manager Jeff Ireland.
The Dolphins seem content to let left tackle Jake Long walk as a free agent. That could prove to be a wise decision for Ireland.
He will not have to overpay for an oft-injured player and can use the No. 12 selection in the 2013 NFL draft to pick Long’s replacement, Oklahoma’s Lane Johnson. The former Sooner will become second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s best friend for the near future.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
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Needs: CB, TE
The Buccaneers were aggressive last year in free agency. General manager Mark Dominik signed wide receiver Vincent Jackson, offensive guard Carl Nicks and cornerback Eric Wright.
Jackson and Nicks were great signings. Wright was not. He will not be back in 2013, so the Buccaneers will start over at the cornerback position.
Look for them to make a run at the Falcons' Brent Grimes, Eagles' Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie or Steelers' Keenan Lewis. With one of these players starting on one side, the Buccaneers can use the No. 13 selection in the 2013 NFL draft to take Alabama’s Dee Milliner. The former Crimson Tide player can reunite with his old teammate, Mark Barron, in Tampa Bay’s secondary.
The Buccaneers will also address the tight end position in free agency. The Titans' Jared Cook or the Jets' Dustin Keller makes great sense as a middle-of-the-field threat and safety valve for quarterback Josh Freeman. Adding either one forces the opponents’ safeties to play inside the hashes, which will open up the outside for Jackson.
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Needs: DT, CB
The Panthers' new general manager Dave Gettleman has flown under the radar since his hire in January. After a very successful run in the New York Giants front office, Gettleman is tasked with turning around the Panthers. Gettleman will do this through the draft.
Carolina will use the No. 14 selection in the 2013 NFL draft to pick up Alabama’s Jesse Williams. Williams will eat up blockers and allow Carolina's athletic linebackers Luke Kuechly and Jon Beason to run free.
While signing a player like cornerback Aqib Talib would help a marginal secondary, look for Gettleman to use the second pick to grab a player like Jordan Poyer from Oregon State or Logan Ryan from Rutgers. Both players would walk in the door as starters and instantly upgrade the Panthers secondary.
New Orleans Saints
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Needs: OLB, S
Outside linebacker Anthony Spencer cures a lot of woes for the defense in the NFL. The Saints are switching to the 3-4, and new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan helped make Spencer a Pro Bowler. He will be their top target in free agency.
Roman Harper really struggled in 2012, and an upgrade will come with the No. 15 pick in the 2013 NFL draft. Eric Reid gets to stay close to his college of LSU as he will be the starting safety for the Saints in 2013.
Reid will bring energy and playmaking ability that the Saints haven’t had since Darren Sharper.
St. Louis Rams
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Needs: OT, S
Head coach Jeff Fisher has always liked road graders for his offensive linemen. Working side by side with general manager Les Snead, they will begin to build a wall of protection for quarterback Sam Bradford in the draft.
With the No. 16 selection overall, the Rams will select Alabama’s D.J. Fluker, who will become Bradford’s right side protector. This will allow the Rams some flexibility with their next first round selection at No. 22.
With that pick from the Redskins, the Rams will take another offensive linemen but one with tons of versatility. Offensive lineman Terron Armstead from Arkansas-Pine Bluff can be used at left tackle, offensive guard and possibility even center. This allows head coach Jeff Fisher some flexibility on what to do with offensive lineman Rodger Saffold.
What will make this possible is the signing of William Moore, the safety from Atlanta. Snead was a part of the front office that drafted Moore out of Missouri and would love nothing more than to bring the up-and-coming player back to his hometown.
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Needs: OLB, WR
The Steelers have gotten old on defense and need to upgrade quite a few positions. But none more so than at outside linebacker. James Harrison has been injured too often, and LaMarr Woodley is not a consistent player.
The Steelers do not have much cap space to pay top dollar for a front-line guy, so they will select Georgia’s Jarvis Jones with the No. 17 selection in the draft.
With wide receiver Mike Wallace likely gone via free agency, the Steelers need another wide receiver. With plenty of options in the second round, look for the Steelers to add a player like Markus Wheaton from Oregon State or Ryan Swope from Texas A&M.
The Steelers need a great draft to replenish their depth.
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Needs: OC, S
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has always been an out-of-the-box thinker and is willing to make moves other NFL teams will not. While the Cowboys have restructured multiple contracts in recent days to free up cap space (via The Dallas Morning News), Jones will get his starting center in the draft by selecting the best guard available.
North Carolina’s Jonathan Cooper has started at center in his college career and is one of the best athletes in the 2013 draft.
If the Bills do not sign safety Jairus Byrd, look for Jones to throw big dollars at the former Oregon star. But if Byrd is not available, the Cowboys will work to sign a player who is a winner and can add leadership to the Dallas secondary.
Look for the 49ers' Dashon Goldson or Ed Reed of the Ravens to suit up for Dallas.
Something about Reed with a star on his helmet seems right.
New York Giants
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Needs: OT, LB
General manager Jerry Reese made his job a whole lot easier this offseason by locking up free-agent offensive tackle William Beatty to a long-term deal. But right tackle David Diehl needs to be replaced, and Reese can find that player with the No. 19 selection in the NFL draft.
Menelik Watson from Florida State will slide in as the starting right tackle, making quarterback Eli Manning’s life a whole lot safer.
The Giants need linebacker depth, and with their second-round pick, they will be able to get a quality inside or outside linebacker. Due to some character issues that will cause him to slide, Georgia’s Alec Ogletree would be a steal for the Giants on Day 2.
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Needs: OT, OG
The Bears will address their offensive tackle woes in free agency and handle their guard problems in the draft. Chicago will land either New England Patriots' Sebastian Vollmer or New Orleans Saints' Jermon Bushrod in free agency.
Without a lot of cap space left if they are forced to place the franchise tag on defensive tackle Henry Melton, the Bears can still get better at offensive guard when they select Alabama’s Chance Warmack. The former Crimson Tide All-American will take the Bears offensive line from one of the worst in 2012 to one of the best in 2013.
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Needs: RB, OLB
The Bengals will get a running back in free agency. The two best players for them to sign are former Rams Pro Bowler Steven Jackson or the Dolphins' Reggie Bush.
The Bengals have a good offensive line, one of the best wide receivers in the NFL and a great young quarterback. Adding a veteran runner with gas left in the tank is all the Bengals need to make a run at the AFC North.
The Bengals need outside linebacker help in the worst way and will end up with one of the best athletes in the 2013 NFL draft when they select BYU’s Ziggy Ansah with the No. 21 pick. Ansah will be a matchup nightmare in defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer’s defense. Zimmer will stay up late many nights working on ways to use the pure athletic ability of Ansah.
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Needs: S, TE
Without a first-round selection in 2013, the Redskins will use their second-round pick, No. 51, to grab safety help. Brandon Meriweather cannot stay healthy, and Reed Doughty is a better special teams player.
In the second round, general manager Bruce Allen can strike gold with a player like Jonathan Cyprien from Florida International. Cyprien is an instant upgrade in defensive coordinator Jim Haslett’s defense.
Logan Paulsen is listed as the starter at tight end. The Redskins will be able to find a quality starter in free agency by staying in the NFC East.
Look for Martellus Bennett to play for his third NFC East team after he leaves the New York Giants for the Redskins. The former Dallas Cowboy would love nothing more than to make a Pro Bowl playing against his former teams twice each season.
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Needs: WR, LB
While much is being made of a Greg Jennings and Joe Philbin reunion in Miami, a better spot for Jennings is with the Minnesota Vikings. The former Packer will benefit from having Adrian Peterson in the back field, which will force defenses to crowd the line of scrimmage.
Jennings knows the division, and in his last three games in Minnesota as a Packer, he had 419 total receiving yards.
Look for the Vikings to make a strong push to lock him up.
With the wide receiver position handled in free agency, general manager Rick Spielman can focus using his No. 23 draft pick on a linebacker. Barkevious Mingo from LSU is already used to wearing purple and yellow.
One of the more dynamic players in the 2013 draft, Mingo gives the Vikings a player who can cover and rush the passer.
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Needs: OT, CB
The starting right tackle as of right now is former college free agent Bradley Sowell. The Colts need to draft one, and Oregon’s Kyle Long is a perfect fit.
Long is a great athlete with good feet to mirror the rusher. The Colts may add a veteran later on but will build the offensive line through the draft.
The cornerback opposite Vontae Davis will come in free agency. According to ProFootballFocus.com, Chris Houston of the Detroit Lions is the best available cornerback on the free-agency market. Head coach Chuck Pagano is a former secondary coach and knows value when he sees it.
Snatching Houston in free agency and then drafting a cornerback later in the draft will help the Colts become better in 2013.
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Needs: DT, WR
The Seahawks do not have many holes and can afford to be patient when signing players in free agency. But general manager John Schneider is a gambler and is always looking and willing to make a bold move. Look for the Seahawks to add wide receiver Wes Welker if the Patriots let him walk.
If New England locks up Welker, the Rams' Danny Amendola would be great fit as a slot receiver for quarterback Russell Wilson.
At defensive tackle, the Seahawks need a high-motor interior pass-rusher. At No. 25 in the draft, head coach Pete Carroll and Schneider can find that player in Missouri’s Sheldon Richardson. Richardson can rush the passer and will be pushed by the veteran leadership on the Seahawks defense.
Green Bay Packers
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Needs: OC, RB
Ted Thompson, the general manager of the Packers, rarely takes part in free agency, so Green Bay will attempt to get better through the draft.
With the No. 26 pick, Thompson will fall into a star like he did when quarterback Aaron Rodgers fell to him in the 2005 NFL draft. The Packers get their running back for the future in Alabama’s Eddie Lacy. His running style is perfect for Lambeau Field and will finally give the Packers a legitimate rushing attack.
One spot that needs an instant upgrade in Green Bay is the center position. Jeff Saturday, who retired, was a throw-in Pro Bowler after he was benched due to injury. Thompson is not afraid to wheel and deal on draft day with picks and will find a way to move up in the second round to get his starting center.
Many in Wisconsin will clamor for the Packers to draft the Badgers' Travis Frederick. But he is not athletic enough for the Packers offense, so look for Rodgers to get his snaps in 2013 from fellow Cal alum Brian Schwenke.
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Needs: WR, ILB
The Texans have been built very nicely by general manager Rick Smith and do not have many positions of weakness. Andre Johnson is still one of the best players at the wide receiver position in the NFL, but he needs someone more dynamic across the field from him than Kevin Walter.
With the No. 26 selection, the Texans get the best receiver in the 2013 draft, Tennessee’s Cordarrelle Patterson. Built similar to Johnson, Patterson becomes the Julio Jones to Johnson’s Roddy White.
At inside linebacker later in the second round, the Texans will be able to pick up a player like LSU’s Kevin Minter or Kansas State’s Arthur Brown. Both are upgrades over Bradie James, Darryl Sharpton and Tim Dobbins.
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Needs: DT, LB
The Broncos do not have many holes on offense, but on the defensive side they have issues that need attention. Most of those spots will be handled through the draft.
While John Elway may add a veteran defensive lineman like Glenn Dorsey, look for the No. 28 pick in the draft to be the future starter. Johnathan Hankins of Ohio State will be a stout block-eater in the interior of the Broncos line for years to come.
Look for the Broncos to protect against the return of middle linebacker Joe Mays' injury. In the second round, the Broncos can get versatile linebacker Sio Moore out of UConn. Moore is a solid special teams player, and his high-quality character will fit well in the Broncos locker room.
New England Patriots
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Needs: WR, DT
Even if Wes Welker re-signs, the cupboard is quite bare in the receiving corps for the Patriots. While Bill Belichick is not afraid to chase top-tier free-agent wide receivers (Randy Moss, Brandon Lloyd), the best available player at the position is in the NFL draft.
With the No. 29 pick, the Patriots will select Keenan Allen from Cal. A big-bodied player to complement the inside routes of Welker will help the Patriots offense to be more explosive.
At defensive tackle, look for Belichick to move up in the second round to get Kawann Short from Purdue. If the Patriots can come out of the first two days with a young stud receiver and defensive tackle, they will have hit a home run.
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Needs: DE, RB
To create salary cap space, Atlanta cut Michael Turner, John Abraham and Dunta Robinson on Friday, according to Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
With Abraham gone, the Falcons will make a bold move in free agency and sign Michael Bennett out from under their NFC South foe, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Bennett had 15 sacks in 2012. His addition strengthens the Falcons and weakens a divisional opponent. The Falcons will not stop there in making their pass rush better.
With the No. 30 selection, general manager Thomas Dimitroff will gamble on one of the best players no one is talking about in the draft: Florida State's Cornellius “Tank” Carradine. The Seminoles star suffered a knee injury in November, but if healthy, he would have been a top-10 pick.
The Falcons will add a running back via free agency to soften the workload of future starter Jacquizz Rodgers. Look for Atlanta to add a player like Ahmad Bradshaw from the New York Giants or Shonn Greene from the New York Jets.
San Francisco 49ers
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Needs: DT, K
Unlike the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens, the runner-up 49ers are hardly losing any players via free agency. Isaac Sopoaga, the starting nose tackle, is a free agent and will be allowed to test the market. Safety Dashon Goldson may be allowed to as well. Both can be replaced in the 2013 NFL draft.
The heart of the 49ers defense is in the middle with linebackers NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis. But these Pro Bowlers need a big body in front of them to keep them clean to run and make plays.
With the No. 31 selection in the draft, the 49ers will take John Jenkins out of Georgia. The 336-pound nose tackle will be a force in the middle in one of the best defenses in the NFL.
With the success of all the rookie kickers in 2012, the 49ers will draft one in 2013. Maybe not until the fourth or fifth round, but Dustin Hopkins from Florida State is the best one available and would help the 49ers faithful get over the tough year David Akers had.
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Needs: ILB, S
The Ravens will re-sign inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe. Without much cap room to be too aggressive in free agency, general manager Ozzie Newsome will use the draft like he has for so many years to reload the Ravens.
A perfect player to start next to Ellerbe is Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o. Take away his off-the-field questions and Te’o is a productive player. The Ravens locker room may be one of the only places that can make Te’o feel at home.
Ed Reed looks to be gone, so the Ravens will need to get younger at the position. A perfect fit if he is still available in the second round would be Florida’s Matt Elam.
If not, another sure-fire starter is Oklahoma’s Tony Jefferson. Both would fit greaet next to Bernard Pollard.