One Roster Hole Each NFL Team Can Easily Patch in This Year's Draft
With the initial wave of free agency now complete, all focus on the NFL has shifted on to next week's draft—where teams really begin to lay the foundation of what their rosters will look like next season and beyond.
While signing veterans is essential for organizations to field a complete team, the draft is the fundamental building block in which franchises are constructed. Making the right decisions—especially in the first three rounds—goes a long way towards creating a winning atmosphere.
Though one team will always emerge as the league's best at season's end, it is each organization's primary agenda to keep improving.
Here is one hole that each NFL team can improve in this year's draft.
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The Arizona Cardinals will have a much different look on the field in 2013—having brought in Bruce Arians to replace Ken Whisenhunt, Carson Palmer to run the show under center and Rashard Mendenhall to hopefully add stability out of the backfield.
Though quarterback play was certainly an issue last season—only 3,005 passing yards and 11 touchdowns to 21 interceptions—the root of the problem was a porous offensive line that yielded a league-high 58 sacks.
With the seventh pick in this year's draft, the Cardinals should be able to find an impact starter to help protect Palmer and establish a much more consistent rushing attack (they finished last in the NFL with just 75.3 yards per game).
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Coming off an NFC-best 13-3 season, the Atlanta Falcons are definitely a team headed in the right direction. Failing to maintain a big lead on the San Francisco 49ers in the conference title game, however, doesn't sit too well.
Though Atlanta's strength on offense is allowing Matt Ryan to find weapons such as Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez in the passing game, the team's inability to run the football effectively ultimately cost the Falcons a shot at the Super Bowl.
Michael Turner is no longer on the roster and Steven Jackson was brought in on a three-year deal, so the Falcons did upgrade their backfield. Adding a young running back in this year's draft, however, would do Atlanta well—assuming he will have Jackson to learn from for the next couple of seasons.
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Coming off a victory over the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII, one would think the Baltimore Ravens would be in a great position prior to the 2013 season. With a multitude of new players in town, however, this team will have to try to repeat without some familiar faces—specifically on defense.
With Ray Lewis retired, Ed Reed signing with the Houston Texans and up-and-coming linebackers Paul Kruger (Cleveland Browns) and Dannell Ellerbe (Miami Dolphins) bolting for greener pastures, the Ravens were forced to scour the free-agent market a lot more closely than usual.
There are still holes to fill, however, and general manager Ozzie Newsome will have to continue his draft genius to assure that Baltimore does not suffer too much of a fallback.
Reed's absence at the safety position might be the Ravens' biggest challenge to replace; his leadership is second-to-none and his performance on the field will be missed. But Baltimore must begin now in finding someone capable of filling his shoes.
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With Kevin Kolb now under center for the Buffalo Bills, the team's top priority should be surrounding the quarterback with as many viable targets as possible.
Though Stevie Johnson has shown flashes, he is far from consistent and the Bills feature no other wideout currently on the roster that had more than 31 catches last season.
With the eighth-overall selection, the Bills should have their pick at the top talent at wide receiver in the draft. There is still plenty of depth for Buffalo to add here later on if they decide to pass on the position in the first round.
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Outside of Steve Smith and Greg Olsen, the Carolina Panthers' offense features little to brag about in the passing game. Cam Newton is at a pivotal point in his career and needs to put his sophomore swoons behind him—though he did play much better as the 2012 season progressed.
Bringing in another viable target for Newton will also help patch a rushing attack that, without Newton, was average at best last season.
Smith is not getting any younger either, making it imperative that the Panthers begin to usher in a new wide receiver for Newton to build a rapport with.
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Though the Chicago Bears signed tight end Martellus Bennett to a long-term deal this offseason, this team could look to add another playmaker at the position at this year's draft.
The Bears feature one of the league's best wide receivers in Brandon Marshall and, when healthy, one of the league's better running backs in Matt Forte. Surrounding quarterback Jay Cutler with as many viable targets as possible would help take the pressure off of everyone in the offense.
With very few picks, the Bears could opt to look elsewhere. But with Tyler Eifert and Zach Ertz lurking around when Chicago's pick (20th overall) rolls around in the first round, the idea could be too attractive to pass on.
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The biggest hole on the Cincinnati Bengals' roster right now is at right tackle, with the future of Andre Smith still up in the air. Assuming he is unsigned when the draft roles around, this team could opt to fill the void as early as the first round.
Though the top guys might be off the board by the time the Bengals pick at 21, Cincinnati could get aggressive with plenty of selections to move in a trade.
Protecting Andy Dalton is top priority for the Bengals because it allows the quarterback more time to connect with wide receiver A.J. Green in the offense. If Cincinnati ultimately moves on from Smith, this year's draft is a perfect spot to find his replacement.
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Though this year's draft does not feature top-end talent at the quarterback position, there certainly is no shortage of names to choose from.
The Cleveland Browns will enter the 2013 season with Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell as there top two options on the depth chart. Bringing in more competition will either result in a diamond in the rough or the kick in the pants that Weeden needs to prove he was worthy of his first-round nod last year.
The Browns have bigger holes along their roster, but expending a mid-round pick on a quarterback should definitely be explored.
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Whether giving Tony Romo enough time to run the offense or providing their running backs with room to rush the football, the Dallas Cowboys must address their offensive line during this year's draft. Luckily for this team, there will be no shortage of options.
The Cowboys essentially return the same unit as least season, but could opt to move certain players around to find better fits. The issue is that continuity is lost in that process.
Finding an anchor—whether at tackle or on the interior—across the offensive line will go a long way towards helping Romo prove he is indeed worthy of his lofty price tag.
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In one of the more surprising moves this offseason, Elvis Dumervil will no longer be lining up opposite of Von Miller for the Denver Broncos. Instead, this team will be in search of his replacement—and the draft will more than likely be the source.
Though there are still some viable names on the free-agent market at defensive end, Denver would do well to utilize the draft to add more of a youthful exuberance on the roster.
This team is full of veterans who can help usher in younger players, so looking towards the future is something that could prove beneficial here.
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With the fifth-overall pick, the Detroit Lions will certainly have their options in the first round. Improving on their 14th-ranked pass defense from a year ago could be top priority.
The Lions could opt to upgrade a pass-rush that only tallied 34 sacks last season, or they could choose to snag a cornerback to help bolster their defense once the ball is in the air.
Either way, Detroit is in position to add a much-needed playmaker on the defensive side of the ball—something that is imperative to keep up with Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush on offense.
Green Bay Packers
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Though he only played in nine games in 2012, the absence of strong safety Charles Woodson will be felt on the Green Bay Packers defense moving forward.
Much like Ed Reed's impact with the Baltimore Ravens, Woodson was the unequivocal leader in Green Bay. Replacing that type of presence will not be easy—though the depth in this year's draft will help make that transition a lot smoother.
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The Houston Texans have a lot of their roster already in place in advance of the 2013 season, headlined by J.J. Watt, Brian Cushing and Ed Reed on defense and Matt Schaub, Arian Foster and Andre Johnson on offense.
This team's biggest need, however, is adding a complement to Johnson in the passing game. This year's draft features plenty of viable options to choose from—even as late as Houston's 27th pick in the first round.
The Texans have long been a popular choice to get over the hump to win a title in this league. Alleviating most of the pressure off Johnson would go a long way for Houston to finally do so.
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As the Andrew Luck era begins year two in Indianapolis, the Colts must do a better job of protecting their quarterback if they want to improve on last season's 11-5 record and wild-card round loss to the Baltimore Ravens. They allowed 41 sacks in 2012.
Though picking later in the first round will prevent the Colts from obtaining one of the top options at tackle, there will still be plenty to choose from when their pick rolls around at 24.
Indianapolis did a fantastic job during the draft last year, bringing in Luck, Vick Ballard, Dwayne Allen, Coby Fleener and T.Y. Hilton. Repeating that performance—starting with the offensive line—will result in a smoother transition moving forward.
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The Jacksonville Jaguars are in a perfect position in this year's draft, sitting behind the Kansas City Chiefs with the No. 2 overall pick.
The Chiefs were one of the more active teams in free agency and positioned themselves to be very specific with who they will target with the top pick. The Jaguars can go in any direction, though quarterback could be the pick here.
If Jacksonville is timid and does not want to commit such a high pick on Geno Smith—largely considered the draft's top quarterback—the team can still bring in another signal-caller later in the draft. More competition for Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne can't hurt.
Kansas City Chiefs
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After signing Eric Winston to a five-year deal last offseason to play right tackle, and having Branden Albert anchoring the left side, the Kansas City Chiefs seemed set here in advance of the 2013 season.
The team has since released Winston and Albert's future in Kansas City is up in the air, though he did sign his franchise tender.
Regardless if Albert is on the roster next season or not, the Chiefs will still need to find a long-term answer either on the left or right side of the offensive line. Having the No. 1 overall pick assures they will indeed have first crack if they choose to go this direction.
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The biggest question for the Miami Dolphins heading in to the 2013 season will be finding Jake Long's replacement at left tackle, who signed a long-term contract with the St. Louis Rams this offseason.
Whether the Dolphins consider second-year tackle Jonathan Martin a viable option on the left side, Miami will need to patch the impending hole regardless.
With the 12th-overall pick, the Dolphins could have the option of either moving up for one of the top tackle prospects or they could hold out and snag one of the second-tier options later in the draft. Protecting Ryan Tannehill is something Miami should focus most of its attention on here.
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The Minnesota Vikings technically replaced wide receiver Percy Harvin with Greg Jennings this offseason. Though Jennings' presence will certainly be welcomed, this team must add more playmakers on offense.
Taking pressure off Adrian Peterson in the running game will open up the offense, while also not leaving quarterback Christian Ponder out to dry in the Vikings' passing game.
With two first-round picks, Minnesota would do well to use one on a wideout.
New England Patriots
Under Bill Belichick, the New England Patriots have only drafted 10 wide receivers. After losing both Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd, and whiffing on Emmanuel Sanders (the Pittsburgh Steelers matched their offer sheet), this team should be looking at the position at this year's draft.
Though the Patriots were able to bring in Danny Amendola from the St. Louis Rams, his injury history forces New England to tread cautiously when continuing to surround Tom Brady with viable targets in the passing game.
With few other holes on the roster, the Patriots can gamble a bit with their draft picks. One of those selections should be a wide receiver.
New Orleans Saints
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The New Orleans Saints will be adjusting to their new 3-4 defensive scheme in 2013, so their biggest holes will be finding players to fit the model. Adding pass-rushers at outside linebacker might be the most imperative move for this team.
With no second-round pick, as a result of Bounty-Gate, New Orleans will be placing a heightened importance on the 15th-overall pick. Locating playmakers at the most important position on the field—as it relates to the 3-4 defense—is top priority.
New York Giants
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The New York Giants should look to add depth and get younger across the offensive line at this year's draft. Though picking at 19th-overall guarantees the top guys will be gone, there is still plenty of depth here.
The Giants allowed a league-best 20 sacks last year, which is crucial for allowing Eli Manning to find Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks and others in the passing game. That will not change in 2013 or anytime in the near future.
New York Jets
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With their quarterback situation in flux, the New York Jets will more than likely be looking that way during the draft.
The Jets can afford to go in another direction with the ninth-overall pick, but will have plenty of signal-callers to choose from beyond the first round. Even if not as a starter right away, adding depth at the position is imperative for this team.
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With Richard Seymour, Desmond Bryant and Tommy Kelly all departed from last year's roster, the Oakland Raiders must find an anchor across their defensive line at this year's draft. With the third-overall pick, they will definitely have their options here.
Though Oakland has other holes to fill—including depth in key spots—improving on last year's defense wins out here. Improving at the point of attack would do well for the Raiders in preparation for the 2013 season.
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The Philadelphia Eagles will enter the 2013 with a much different look, having replaced head coach Andy Reid with Chip Kelly and enduring one of the most active offseasons of any team in the league.
The Eagles focused a lot of their attention on the defensive side of the ball during free agency and have a lot of pieces in place on offense. But question marks across the offensive line should be the focal point during this year's draft.
This team allowed 48 sacks last year and was bitten hard by the injury bug. Whether simply adding depth or finding a long-term replacement at tackle or guard, Philadelphia will have its options here.
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Protecting Ben Roethlisberger is the Pittsburgh Steelers' top priority, even over revamping a defense that lost key contributors from recent seasons.
Though the top tackle prospects will more than likely be off the board by the time the Steelers pick at 17, the second-tier offensive line prospects have the potential to be pretty special as well. This makes Pittsburgh's decision a little less complicated, as other positions can be looked at later in the draft.
St. Louis Rams
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Though often injured, losing wide receiver Danny Amendola leaves a huge void in the St. Louis Rams offense. Having two first-round picks, however, allows this team to address this need rather quickly.
The Rams signed Jared Cook at tight end to provide Sam Bradford with a viable, veteran receiving target to mix in with their young group of wideouts.
Cook's presence will undoubtedly be crucial to the team's offensive success in 2013. But a lack of playmakers at all levels of the passing game would prevent Bradford from taking the next step as a quarterback in this league.
San Diego Chargers
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It will be interesting to see if any of the top offensive tackle prospects are available when the San Diego Chargers pick at No. 11 in this year's draft. If not, there are still options in that spot if the team chooses to wait until a later round to address the need.
Protecting Philip Rivers is a must if new head coach Mike McCoy wants to start his tenure out on a positive note. While the quarterback is not as highly regarded as he once was, he is still capable of picking apart defenses when given time in the pocket.
San Francisco 49ers
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The San Francisco 49ers possess arguably the league's best defense, but safety Dashon Goldson's departure this offseason will certainly be felt.
The 49ers will need to find Goldson's long-term replacement after not doing so during free agency. Fortunately for this team, the safety position is rather deep in this year's draft.
Though San Francisco signed Craig Dahl this offseason, his presence will be one of adding depth rather than providing stability as a starter.
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The Seattle Seahawks had one of the better offseasons in the NFL, adding playmakers on the defensive side of the ball and by trading for wide receiver Percy Harvin.
After not losing too much off their own roster, depth will be their focal point at this year's draft. Seattle has no first-round pick, giving a wide range in the direction they will approach things here.
Coming off an 11-5 season in which they were able to win a playoff game on the road against the Washington Redskins, the Seahawks will enter 2013 as one of the top teams in the NFL.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
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Signing Tom Crabtree will help, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would do well to add a playmaker at the tight end position at this year's draft.
Tampa Bay is returning just 19 catches for 183 yards and two touchdowns worth of production from tight ends from last year's roster. Providing quarterback Josh Freeman with a viable target in the middle of the field to complement Vincent Jackson will keep the Buccaneers respectable on offense.
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Though the Tennessee Titans added guard Andy Levitre this offseason, further strengthening the offense helps this team in many ways.
Chris Johnson is one of the more explosive running backs in the league, so the Titans would do well to continue adding pieces to accentuate his abilities out of the backfield.
Jake Locker is to the point in his career when he needs to prove that he can be a viable quarterback in this league. The more protection Tennessee provides for him, the better his ability will be gauged.
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After finishing the 2012 season with the league's third-worst passing defense, the Washington Redskins will be looking to upgrade a secondary that was picked apart last year.
Fortunately for this team, this year's draft is particularly deep in the defensive backfield; so when Washington's first pick rolls around in the second round (No. 51 overall) there should be plenty of options still available—assuming the Redskins don't try to trade up.