It's never too early to start looking ahead to next year's draft.
OK, this statement may not necessarily hold true, especially for those teams that still have a stake in this season's playoff race.
With three weeks to go in the 2013 regular season, however, we feel pretty confident that now is an appropriate time to begin analyzing the 2014 draft.
More specifically, it is time to start assessing the needs of each team heading into next year's draft.
The following assessments are based on each team's current makeup (prior to free agency) and using traditional NFL wisdom (for example, running back as a need, though teams may not consider the position a priority on draft day).
All set? Get your personal draft board ready (comments are always encouraged), and let's dig in.
*All team, player statistics via NFL.com.
**All positional rankings via Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
***All contract information via RotoWorld.com.
It has become relatively apparent that the Matt Schaub era in Houston has come to an end. Now, the Texans must decide if former undrafted free agent Case Keenum is the quarterback of the future.
Keenum has played extremely well at times this season (1,592 yards passing, 83.7 passer rating). However, he has yet to produce a win for the 2-11 Texans and is currently ranked just 23rd overall among quarterbacks.
Keenum will likely have three more games to complete his audition for owner Bob McNair. Even if he plays well, though, the firing of coach Gary Kubiak means that a new coach is coming into the organization. New head coaches typically want to bring in their own quarterback.
The Ed Reed experiment didn't work out for Houston, and the Texans now face the prospect of filling the void on the back end of their defense.
Current starter Shiloh Keo has filled in admirably, making 50 tackles with an interception in 13 appearances and eight starts. However, he ranks just 73rd overall among safeties. If the Texans can find an upgrade in the draft, they should not hesitate to pull the trigger.
Current starter Wade Smith will become a free agent after the season. But the Texans would be smart to consider upgrading the position even if he were not.
Smith currently ranks 65th overall among offensive guards. Even worse, he ranks 68th among guards in run-blocking.
Considering the Texans will likely look to reestablish their identity as a running team when Arian Foster returns next season, it makes sense for the team to target a physical interior lineman in the draft.
Will London Fletcher ever retire? If the 16-year veteran does, or if he is allowed to reach free agency, the Washington Redskins will have to find a way to replace him.
Doing so will not be easy. Fletcher is the epitome of reliability (he has never missed a game in his career) and is as seasoned and as savvy as a veteran can be.
Considering the woeful state of the Redskins defense (32nd in the league, allowing 31.3 points per game), it would be a wise move to ensure that the team has an intelligent and capable linebacker in the middle of the unit moving forward.
If the Redskins really want quarterback Robert Griffin to succeed as a passer, they need to provide him with more top-tier targets.
The team has failed to produce a suitable complement for wideout Pierre Garcon and should look to add one in the draft.
Tight end Jordan Reed (45 receptions, 499 yards) had been Washington's second-most productive pass-catcher this season. The team would do well to add another legitimate threat on the outside.
This may actually be Washington's most glaring need by the time the draft rolls around.
The team's two starting corners, DeAngelo Hall and Josh Wilson, are both scheduled to hit free agent after the season ends.
The Redskins may able to bring one of the two back into the fold, but they will likely have to turn to the pool of incoming rookies to fill out the secondary.
The Atlanta Falcons' rushing attack ranks 30th in the league (81.2 yards per game on the ground), which is largely a result of an early-season injury to starter Steven Jackson.
While Jackson has two years remaining on his current contract, he does not appear to be the same runner he was earlier in his career (his 3.7 yards-per-carry average is a career low).
Atlanta has plenty of firepower to fuel its passing game, and adding a talented top prospect at the running back position could help round out the offense as a whole.
Coincidentally, the Falcons also rank 30th in run defense (133.6 yards allowed on the ground). This is very much a reflection of the state of the defensive line.
The Falcons are currently in the running for the first overall pick in 2014, which may prompt them to consider boom-or-bust prospect Jadeveon Clowney at defensive end.
However, three of the team's defensive tackles—Corey Peters, Jonathan Babineaux and Peria Jerry—are headed toward free agency, making the tackle position the biggest need along Atlanta's defensive front.
Atlanta is set to lose all-universe tight end Tony Gonzalez to retirement. His importance to the offense cannot be understated.
Replacing him will be incredibly difficult, but the Falcons will have to try. Their best chance to add a premier talent at the tight end position will come in the draft.
The Minnesota Vikings roster features one of the best running backs to ever play the game in Adrian Peterson. What the team needs is a competent quarterback to take advantage of the attention Peterson garners.
Former first-round pick Christian Ponder (career passer rating of 77.3) does not appear to be the answer, and the answer does not appear to currently be on the roster.
Minnesota briefly toyed with the idea of using former Tampa Bay Buccaneers first-round pick Josh Freeman, but that experiment lasted only one mistake-filled, wince-inducing game.
For the past six seasons, the Vikings defense has benefited from the presence of premier pass-rusher Jared Allen (124 career sacks). However, Minnesota now faces the very real possibility of losing Allen in free agency as the team's rebuilding effort becomes concentrated on other areas.
This would not only leave the Vikings without their best pass-rusher, but it would leave the defense without its fiery leader at defensive end.
Fellow defensive end Everson Griffen is also slated to become a free agent.
No, the Vikings are not looking to replace Peterson. However, backup running back Toby Gerhart is slated to hit the free-agent market.
Gerhart, who has averaged 7.9 yards per carry this season, is likely to seek out a starting job with another team, leaving the Vikings with a massive hole behind Peterson.
Pass Rush Specialist
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a solid defense (ranked 12th with 342.1 yards per game allowed) with premier players at several positions.
However, they don't have a premier edge-rusher, which is part of the reason the team ranks just 18th in sacks with 31.
Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (7.0 sacks this season) is the currently the team's best pass-rusher. Adding a top-end threat on the outside would increase the overall effectiveness of the Buccaneers' pass rush and of the defense as a unit.
Former third-round draft pick Mike Glennon has shown promise this season (15 touchdowns, seven interceptions and an 86.4 passer rating). But he is far from a sure thing, and the Buccaneers would be wise to at least bring in competition at the position.
When you also add the fact that backup Dan Orlovsky is a pending free agent, it only makes sense for the Buccaneers to add another signal-caller at some point in the draft.
Whether the Buccaneers decide to go with Glennon or someone else at quarterback, the team will need to focus on protecting its signal-caller for the future. This is why it needs to consider targeting a top left tackle prospect in the draft.
Current starter Donald Penn has two years remaining on his contract, but he does not appear to be a franchise-caliber player. Peen ranks just 79th among offensive tackles in pass protection, which is not indicative of a premier left tackle.
While the Buccaneers have been playing well as of late, the team is still likely to end up with a pick near the top of the draft, which puts it in prime position to grab a franchise left tackle to anchor the offensive line for years to come.
10-year veteran Tony Pashos currently mans the right tackle position for the Oakland Raiders. However, he hasn't exactly been doing a stellar job of it. He is ranked 43rd overall among offensive tackles and has been credited with surrendering five sacks and 14 quarterback hurries on the season.
While these are not overly awful numbers, the Raiders could certainly do with an upgrade at the position. Pashos will be a free agent after the season, anyway. Oakland should have the opportunity and the flexibility to find a replacement on draft day.
Pass Rush Specialist
The Raiders are currently tied for 16th in the league with 32 sacks this season. This is fine if Oakland is content being a middle-of-the-pack team defensively.
Inside linebacker Nick Roach currently leads the team with 5.5 sacks. Oakland would ideally like to add an elite edge-rusher to play from the defensive end position.
Lamarr Houston has 5.0 sacks from the end spot, but that's hardly elite production. Oakland can and should target an athletic, relentless edge-rusher early in the draft.
Running Back Darren McFadden will hit the free-agent market following the season, and it will be interesting to see if the Raiders really want him back given his injury history (he has missed 28 games in his six-year career).
Rashad Jennings (4.7 yards-per-carry average this season) looks to be a better long-term investment, but he too will be a free agent.
The Jacksonville Jaguars are as talent-starved as any team in the league, but they have managed to rally around head coach Gus Bradley and journeyman quarterback Chad Henne.
Henne is far from the answer, though. While Jacksonville has managed to win four of its last five games, Henne has thrown more interceptions (10) than touchdowns (eight). His career passer rating of 74.9 does not inspire much confidence either.
The Jaguars have plenty of holes to fill, but they need to target a legitimate franchise quarterback early in the draft and then begin surrounding him with the talent needed to succeed.
Running back Maurice Jones-Drew has been a mainstay of the Jaguars offense for nearly eight full seasons. However, he has begun to show signs of slowing down (he had a career-worst 3.5 yards-per-carry average this season) and will be a free agent after the season.
A young quarterback can be helped immensely by a strong running game, and Jacksonville doesn't have a lot of viable options behind Jones-Drew.
Justin Forsett leads the team with a 5.2 yards-per-carry average, but he was recently placed on injured reserve.
Protecting its new quarterback will also be critical for Jacksonville.
The left tackle position should be in good hands when former first-round pick Luke Joeckel returns from his ankle injury next season. But the other side of the line will be in question.
Current starter Austin Pasztor will be an exclusive rights free agent next season, which means he cannot sign with another team. However, he currently ranks 55th overall among offensive tackles and the Jaguars may not want him back in a starting role.
In today's NFL, you either have a franchise quarterback or you don't. The Cleveland Browns do not. That's part of the reason (in addition to injuries) the team has started three different signal-callers over the course of the season.
Former first-round pick Brandon Weeden (career passer rating of 71.8) does not appear to be the answer, and the combination of journeyman Jason Campbell and career backup Brian Hoyer does not inspire much long-term confidence.
Richardson logged just 31 rushing attempts before he was traded to the Indianapolis Colts, a move that appears wise in hindsight.
He is currently averaging just 2.9 yards per carry in Indianapolis, which is still 0.2 yards per carry more than Cleveland's leading rusher, 11-year veteran Willis McGahee.
The Browns need a young, talented back and will likely look for one in the draft.
The Browns have one emerging star in Joe Haden who consistently faces the task of shadowing the opposing team's top receiver.
He does not have a consistent running mate. Buster Skrine ranks a lowly 82nd in coverage among cornerbacks.
An upgrade at the No. 2 position would allow Skrine to step into the nickle role, where his quickness and agility would be an asset against opposing slot receivers.
The Buffalo Bills currently field one of the league's better run offenses (ranked fifth at 133.6 yards per game). However, the unit could potentially be even better with a premier run-blocker manning the left guard position.
Current starter Doug Legursky currently ranks 48th overall among offensive guards and a disappointing 62nd at his position in run blocking.
Just imagine how dangerous C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson could be with a premier talent paving the way on inside runs.
Jairus Byrd has made it known that he is open to returning to Buffalo after playing under the franchise tag in 2013. However, the Bills must consider drafting his replacement, as Byrd is likely in store for a hefty free-agent contract. He is currently ranked seventh overall among safeties, and his potential departure will not be easy to offset.
If Byrd cannot be re-signed, the Bills will likely have to target his heir at the top end of the draft.
If the Bills hope to develop EJ Manuel as their quarterback of the future, they will need to surround him with talent.
Guys like Stevie Johnson (593 yards this season), Scott Chandler (515) and Robert Woods (408) have all flashed talent. But Buffalo does not have a receiver on its roster that currently grades as a top-40 player at the position.
Adding a top-flight wideout to the current group of pass-catchers would likely put Buffalo's offense over the top and would help ensure that Manuel has the necessary assets to succeed.
Fourth-year player Ropati Pitoitua has performed relatively well in his first season as a Tennessee Titan, amassing 31 tackles and four sacks in 10 starts. But he ranks just 30th overall among 4-3 defensive ends, eight spots behind teammate Derrick Morgan. Pitoitua will also be a free agent at the end of the season.
Tennessee could desperately use a premier pass-rusher at the defensive end position and should target one early in the draft.
Cornerback Alterraun Verner has emerged as one of the NFL's most consistent cornerbacks and currently ranks 10th overall at the position.
However, he's set to hit free agency following the 2013 season and, at just 24 years of age, is likely to command plenty of attention from outside suitors.
Tennessee will need to decide if it wants to invest in Verner as a long-term building block or go in a different direction. But even if the Titans want Verner back and can meet his asking price, it never hurts to add talent to the secondary.
The writing appears to be on the wall concerning Kenny Britt, who is in the final year of his contract and doesn't seem to be in the team's future plans.
The tandem of Nate Washington and Kendall Wright is certainly a serviceable one, and Justin Hunter (6'4", 203 pounds) is also a nice big-bodied complement. But it makes sense for the Titans to add another receiver to take Britt's place who can be groomed as part of the team's future.
Sam Bradford has not lived up to expectations as a former first overall draft selection, which leaves the St. Louis Rams with a tough decision to make.
Bradford has two years and roughly $27 million remaining on his contract. Unfortunately, his pedestrian play (79.3 career passer rating) and injury history (he is currently on injured reserve and missed six games two seasons ago) may force the Rams to consider a quarterback in the draft.
At the very least, St. Louis should target a backup signal-caller to groom for the immediate future, as the team's current options are Brady Quinn and pending free agent Kellen Clemens.
Starting right tackle Rodger Saffold is scheduled to become a free agent following the 2013 season, which will leave a void on that side of the offensive line.
With two first-round draft picks, the Rams should have an opportunity to add the best right tackle prospect available in the entire draft and still grab a flashier pick in the first round.
St. Louis faces the probability of entering 2014 without its current starter at left guard.
Chris Williams is set to become a free agent, and the Rams may wind up paying a lot of attention to their offensive line on draft day.
Going after a big and physical guard may allow them to fill the void and help improve the team's 18th-ranked (112.8 yards per game) rushing attack in the process.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger isn't getting any younger, and it is as important for the Pittsburgh Steelers to protect him now as it has ever been. Former second-round pick Mike Adams has not worked out as Pittsburgh had hoped, and current starter Kelvin Beachum is not likely to be the long-term answer either.
Beachum ranks just 46th overall among offensive tackles and 35th in pass protection. He is a solid utility player and is certainly worth keeping on the roster, but it's time for Pittsburgh to invest in a franchise-caliber pass protector.
Pittsburgh currently has one of the league's hottest emerging starts on its roster in fourth-year wideout Antonio Brown (1,241 yards, seven touchdowns this season).
However, the Steelers are set to lose two of his complementary targets via free agency following the season. Emmanuel Sanders, who was nearly signed away as a restricted free agent last offseason, and Jerricho Cotchery are both headed for the open market.
While Pittsburgh may choose to re-sign one of the two, it may be cheaper and more sensible for the team to look for other options in the draft.
Like Adams, rookie linebacker Jarvis Jones has not quite lived up to expectations.
A first-round pick out of Georgia, Jones was supposed to become the Steelers' new pass-rushing presence. However, he has logged just one sack in 12 appearances with one start.
This does not mean that Jones is incapable of developing into a player the Steelers can utilize, but it does mean they should consider bringing in a young prospect who can help push Jones or take over the role of pass-rusher altogether.
The New York Giants' backfield has been in a state of flux for the majority of the 2013 season.
Due to injuries, the Giants have been forced to turn to the likes of Peyton Hillis and Da'Rel Scott to carry the load at times.
Andre Brown appears to be the best bet to carry the ball heading into next season, as David Wilson continues to disappoint (3.3 yards-per-carry average this season, two lost fumbles).
The team can help to avoid a similar situation in the future by adding a capable runner on draft day.
New York's receiving corps appears to be relatively settled for the foreseeable future. Victor Cruz (973 yards, four touchdowns this season) and Rueben Randle (571 yards, six scores) look to be the team's top two threats next season.
Still, one-time star Hakeem Nicks (789 yards this season) may be headed to another team via free agency after the season and the Giants would do well to find a new outside threat in the draft.
Brandon Myers (38 receptions, 423 yards) has emerged as one of the league's better receiving tight ends, but he will also become a free agent following the season.
His backup, Bear Pascoe, is also set to hit the open market in the offseason.
This means that even if Myers returns, the Giants will still probably have a slot to fill at the position in the draft. If he does not, the tight end position will become a priority.
Rookie wideout Keenan Allen (902 yards receiving, five touchdowns) has been a pleasant surprise this season and looks to be big part of the San Diego Chargers' future.
Nonetheless, San Diego should still consider adding a big-bodied possession receiver top help quarterback Philip Rivers move the chains.
Rivers' current top two targets are tight end Antonio Gates (68 receptions) and running back Danny Woodhead (61). While both of these players are excellent receiving options, it would be nice to see Rivers get the ball into the hands of his receivers downfield more often.
The right tackle position looks to remain in the capable hands of D.J. Fluker for the foreseeable future. However, the left tackle position could be in need of an upgrade as soon as next spring.
Starter King Dunlap has player relatively well (ranked 20th overall among offensive tackles) when healthy this season. But he has only been healthy for eight games.
The sixth-year player has a year remaining on his contract, but it is not too soon for San Diego to add a premier pass protector in the draft if possible.
The Chargers rank just 28th in pass defense (266.7 yards per game allowed). A big part of the problem is the team's lack of an elite pass defender on the outside.
None of the Chargers cornerbacks currently rank within the top 80 at the position in pass coverage, and the team's currently projected starters, Derek Cox and Shareece Wright, rank just 107th and 108th, respectively.
Like Buffalo, the New York Jets are hoping that their rookie quarterback can become their franchise signal-caller. Also like Buffalo, the Jets need to surround that quarterback with offensive talent.
The Bills at least appear to have some building blocks.
Quarterback Geno Smith's top target this season has been Jeremy Kerley, a former fifth-round pick who has amassed a whopping 388 yards on the year.
Smith needs a dependable go-to guy. That target is not likely to be found among the likes of Josh Cribbs, Stephen Hill and an aging Santonio Holmes.
Wait. Didn't the Jets just spend a first-round pick on cornerback Dee Milliner? Don't they have still have Antonio Cromartie on the roster? Their secondary has to be solid, right?
Yes, yes and not at all.
Milliner, who has been benched multiple times this season, ranks 104th among cornerbacks in coverage. Cromartie ranks 110th.
In fact, New York's entire pass defense (ranked 24th, allowing 254.9 yards per game) could use a little retooling. Finding a corner who can stay in the starting rotation and out of the headlines would be a good place to start.
Eight-year veteran Willie Colon hasn't been awful this season (he ranks 39th overall among offensive guards), but he hasn't exactly been stellar either and he will be a free agent after the season.
While the Jets may choose to re-sign him for continuity purposes, finding an upgrade is far from a bad idea. If Colon is allowed to walk, the right guard position will be near the top of the priority list.
Even if tight end Jermichael Finley was not a pending free agent, the Green Bay Packers would probably face the future without him.
Finley is currently on injured reserve with a serious neck injury that has left his football future in question.
The Packers appear set at wide receiver and at running back, meaning their biggest need at an offensive skill position will come at tight end. Adding an above-average receiving threat to the position will ensure that Green Bay's explosive offense doesn't miss a beat, moving forward.
The Packers 3-4 defense thrives on its ability to mix and match defensive fronts. Defensive tackles B.J. Raji and Johnny Jolly can often be found at nose tackle, defensive tackle and at the defensive end position, depending on the look.
Unfortunately, both of these players are scheduled to become free agents after the 2013 season, which will leave a pair of giant holes (literally) at the front end of the Packers defense.
Green Bay should have an opportunity to re-sign at least one of the two, but it may be forced to turn to the draft to fill the other void.
Former Ohio State star A.J. Hawk has had a mixed career in Green Bay.
He has never quite lived up to his status as a former fifth overall draft selection, but he has had some memorable moments on the field.
However, that doesn't mean the Packers should hesitate to upgrade the position in the draft if possible. Hawk currently ranks 49th overall among inside linebackers, 29 spots below fellow inside linebacker Brad Jones.
12-year veteran Bryant McKinnie has had a noteworthy career. However, he is quickly approaching the back end of that career and the Miami Dolphins need to consider upgrading now.
While McKinnie does have a year remaining on his current deal, Miami needs to realize that he's part of an offensive line that has surrendered 48 sacks through 13 games this season.
If quarterback Ryan Tannehill is going to stay healthy enough to become the Dolphins' franchise quarterback, Miami needs to provide him with the protection of an above-average offensive line.
Allowing Jake Long to walk in free agency might not have been the biggest of mistakes, but it may take a high draft pick to rectify it.
Miami currently has one of the league's best cornerbacks in Brent Grimes, who ranks fourth overall at his position.
However, the Dolphins only signed Grimes to a one-year deal as a free agent coming off a serious Achilles injury last offseason.
The team must start preparing for the very real possibility that Grimes could leave town after the season for greener (of the financial and the other-side-of-the-fence variety) pastures.
The Dolphins currently rank ninth in scoring defense (21.2 points per game), thanks in large part to their stout defensive front.
That front is anchored by defensive tackles Randy Starks and Paul Soliai, who have combined for an impressive 65 tackles, five sacks and two forced fumbles this season. Unfortunately, both players are slated to become free agents at the end of the calender year.
Defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle runs a pressure-oriented scheme that starts up front and in the middle. Miami is likely to have a difficult time re-signing both Starks and Soliai, making the position a priority on draft day.
The Detroit Lions have Calvin Johnson, who is widely regarded as the best receiver playing today. But it is time for Detroit to get him some help on the outside.
After Johnson, quarterback Matthew Stafford's top three targets have been running backs Reggie Bush and Joique Bell and tight end Brandon Pettigrew.
After watching the success the rival Chicago Bears have had by pairing Brandon Marshall with Alshon Jeffery, it might just be time for the Lions to once again draft a wideout early.
The Lions should be set for some time at left tackle with Riley Reiff. However, the right tackle position is a different story.
Current starter Jason Fox is scheduled to become a free agent in 2014, but he hasn't exactly been an elite talent at the position anyway (ranked 90th among offensive tackles in pass protection).
Corey Hilliard has fared better at the position (ranked 76 in pass protection) and has one year remaining on his current deal. But that shouldn't stop the Lions from finding a way to upgrade the position, especially since keeping Stafford upright is key to the team's prolonged success.
Yes, teams still target kicker in the draft. Detroit may be one team to do so in 2014.
Current kicker David Akers has missed 15 out of 20 field-goal attempts this season (along with an extra point attempt) and does not handle kickoff duties.
The Lions held a kicker competition prior to the 2013 season, settling on Akers. To avoid a similar situation next year, the team may want to draft a guy who can hold down the position for the next several years.
Considering the state of the Dallas Cowboys defense (ranked 32nd, allowing 426.8 yards per game) it would not be surprising to see the Cowboys draft exclusively on the defensive side of the football.
Dallas' 4-3 scheme starts up front and in the middle, where Jason Hatcher and Nick Hayden man the interior of the defensive line. This is a problem.
Hayden currently ranks last (142nd) among defensive tackles, which certainly calls for an upgrade. With Hatcher set to hit the open market, the Cowboys will be forced to consider adding to the position early in the draft.
With front-line defenders missing tackles at an alarming rate, the Cowboys may also want to invest heavily in the back end of their defense. Free safety Barry Church (ranked 31st overall among safeties) and strong safety J.J. Wilcox (ranked 55th) are far from elite defenders.
Dallas has been forced to deal with a number of injuries at the linebacker position this season. However, no one has performer particularly well at the position (Kyle Wilber, usually a defensive end, is the highest-ranked outside linebacker on the team, ranked 16th overall).
If the Cowboys cannot add an elite defensive tackle early in the draft, the team may turn to linebacker as it's top priority.
This is all assuming that the Cowboys continue to run a defense similar to the one currently utilized by Monte Kiffin, who may not return next season.
Jay Cutler is scheduled to become a free agent after the 2013 season, and there is no telling if the Chicago Bears are willing to outspend the competition to bring him back.
General manager Phil Emery has made it known that he will not use the franchise tag on the eight-year veteran.
While Cutler has been sidelined with an injury, the Bears have gone 3-2 with journeyman Josh McCown as the team's starter. This seems to indicate that Chicago has the talent to succeed without Cutler, who may price himself out of Chicago next offseason.
Chicago fields the league's worst run defense (157 yards per game allowed on the ground), which indicates a need to strengthen the interior of the defensive line.
Current starters Corey Wootton and Stephen Paea rank 54th and 53rd among defensive tackles against the run, respectively. Toss in the fact that Wootton is a free agent after the season, and it is easy to see why the Bears need to consider adding an interior defensive lineman early in the draft.
Chicago is much more effective defending the pass (ranked 10th, allowing 224,5 yards per game through the air). However, the team still faces a problem at the cornerback position.
Both of the team's current starters, Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman, are scheduled to hit the open market next offseason. Chicago will likely work to re-sign at least one of the two, but the other will likely need to be replaced at some point during the draft.
The Baltimore Ravens have one promising tight end in Dennis Pitta, who recently returned from a hip injury to help the Ravens defeat the Minnesota Vikings in a wild one on Sunday.
But Pitta will become a free agent after the 2013 season.
Even more problematic is the fact that fellow tight ends Ed Dickson and Dallas Clark are also set to hit the open market, which would leave Baltimore depleted at the position. Even if the Ravens find a way to re-sign Pitta, it still makes sense to add a talented young tight end to the mix.
Do you remember when Ray Rice was one of the brightest young stars in the entire league? It wasn't that long ago.
However, Rice has been far from bright this season. He is currently averaging just 3.0 yards per carry and is ranked 55th overall among running backs (14 spots below backfield mate Bernard Pierce).
It appears that he's already on the decline at just 26 years of age, and it makes sense for the Ravens to bring in a midround selection to add to the position.
Baltimore finds itself in a unique position, as both starting tackles are headed for free agency following the 2013 season.
Left tackle Eugene Monroe, who was acquired from the Jaguars earlier this season, and right tackle Michel Oher are both in the final year of their current deals.
Keeping one of the two seems likely and the Ravens will probably consider Monroe, who ranks 10th overall among offensive tackles, first. This still leaves the team with a hole to fill, and it will likely fill it on draft day.
The Philadelphia Eagles may be set at quarterback with Nick Foles, so we will assume that head coach Chip Kelly will forgo the position early in the draft.
If so, Kelly will likely look to surround Foles with as much talent as possible.
Starting safety Nate Allen is also in line to become a free agent after the season. The Eagles may or may not want him back.
Allen currently ranks just 46th overall among safeties and has allowed an alarming 71.8 percent of passes thrown against him to result in completions.
Philadelphia has a few holes to fill on defense, but adding a premier safety to the mix is certainly an enticing option.
The Eagles currently rank 31st in pass defense (285.5 yards per game allowed), so safety is far from the team's only concern on defense.
Starting cornerback Cary Williams (ranked 99th in pass coverage) appears to be one liability, and the Eagles could certainly use an upgrade at the position in general.
Adding a top-flight pass defender to the mix would do wonders for the Philadelphia defense as a whole, and that should be one priority on draft day.
Second-year quarterback Andrew Luck had benefited from having one of the game's all-time greats, Reggie Wayne, on the receiving end of his passes. However, Wayne, who is currently on injured reserve, isn't getting any younger.
Current No. 2 wideout Darrius Heyward-Bey will be a free agent, so the Colts will need to find a complementary receiver to partner with Wayne and T.Y. Hilton next season. If they decide to target one early in the draft, they could do so with the thought of eventually replacing Wayne.
Fourth-year linebacker Pat Angerer has provided mixed results in 2013. He has amassed 63 tackles and an interception, but he ranks just 43rd overall among inside linebackers.
The Colts would likely want to upgrade the position even if Angerer wasn't a pending free agent, which he is.
Despite trading away a first-round pick for running back Trent Richardson and benefiting from a resurgent Donald Brown, the Colts still rank just 22nd in rushing offense (105.8 yards per game).
This is a reflection on the play from the Indianapolis offensive line, specifically along the interior.
The Colts do not have a guard on the roster who ranks in the top 40 among offensive guard in run blocking. If Indianapolis wants to upgrade its rushing attack with Richardson and/or Brown (who is a free agent after the season), it will need to upgrade the interior of the line.
Quarterback Carson Palmer has played well enough (85.6 passer rating) to help transform the Arizona Cardinals into a potential playoff team this season. But that shouldn't prevent Arizona from taking a look at quarterbacks, especially if the right opportunity presents itself.
If the right signal-caller was available, the Cardinals would have the freedom to allow him to sit and learn from Palmer over the next year. Since 2015 is a voidable year in Palmer's contract, Arizona would not really risk much financially by adding a quarterback now.
Arizona could use an upgrade along the offensive line, especially if the team decides to invest in a new quarterback (though buying time for the statuesque Palmer isn't a bad idea).
Current starter Bradley Sowell currently ranks a disappointing 78th in pass protection among all offensive tackles.
The Cardinals have received outstanding play from 14-year veteran John Abraham (11 sacks, four forced fumbles) this season. The fact remains, though, that he is 35 years old and is at the back end of his career.
While Abraham does have one year remaining in his contract, the Cardinals would be wise to start looking at younger options now, especially if an elite prospect happened to fall into their proverbial lap on draft day.
The San Francisco 49ers have enough weapons to fuel the passing game. Michael Crabtree is an emerging talent, and Anquan Boldin is one of the best possession receivers in the game.
However, neither player is an absolute burner, and Boldin is 33 and aging.
It is also worth noting that the 49ers used a first-round pick on wide receiver A.J. Jenkins only a year ago. Considering how the selection worked out (it didn't), it wouldn't be all to surprising to see San Francisco take a crack at another playmaker early in next year's draft.
San Francisco has a number of cornerbacks on its roster that are set to become free agents after the 2013 season. Eric Wright and Tarell Brown are among those set to hit the open market when free agency begins next offseason.
The 49ers will certainly have an opportunity to bring one or more of these players back at a reasonable price, but that shouldn't prevent the team from examining the position in depth leading up to the draft.
You can never have too many good defensive backs in the NFL, and head coach Jim Harbaugh seems to be on a constant quest to stockpile them.
The 49ers appear to have complete faith in Aldon Smith, who is one of the league's top pass-rushers when he is on the field. However, Smith's future is still in question, and it's not like having two premier pass-rushers is exactly a bad thing.
San Francisco may want to target a defensive end capable of getting to the quarterback and setting the edge on defense. 13-year veteran Justin Smith has shown an ability to do both extremely well. But he is 34 years old and nearing the back end of his career.
Giovani Bernard is clearly the future of the Cincinnati Bengals backfield. Still, the Bengals would be wise to grab him a complementary runner in next year's draft.
Six-year veteran BenJarvus Green-Ellis appears to be on the back end of his career. He has averaged a pedestrian 3.4 yards per carry this season (compared to Bernard's average of 4.7) and is ranked just 48th overall among running backs.
While, he has one year remaining on his contract, it makes sense for the Bengals to start looking ahead to the future with a younger back to play behind Bernard.
Current starter Rey Maualuga has had an up-and-down career in Cincinnati, with 2013 being one of the more disappointing seasons.
While he has managed to rack up 63 tackles, he has battled injuries and has been outplayed by backup Vincent Rey, who is ranked 14th overall among inside linebackers (Maualuga is ranked 42nd).
Unfortunately, Rey will be a restricted free agent following the season and may have worked himself into a position to draw the attention of other teams (32 tackles, three sacks and an interceptions during his three starts).
The Bengals do not utilize a tradition fullback often, but that could change with an elite lead-blocker on the roster.
Tight end Orson Charles has filled the fullback role for Cincinnati, though he has seen just 25 snaps on the year. He has not registered a carry or a reception to this point in the season.
A multi-talented fullback (think Mike Tolbert or John Kuhn) would give Cincinnati a ton of versatility in the backfield and would prevent the team from carrying an extra tight end on the roster in order to fill the role.
Quarterback Cam Newton continues to progress as an NFL quarterback, and the Carolina Panthers should do everything in their power to ensure he can succeed.
Newton will benefit from having Steve Smith around for at least two more seasons (2016 is an option year), but he is likely to see several of his other targets leave town in 2014.
Brandon LaFell, Domenik Hixon and Ted Ginn are all pending free agents, and it is extremely unlikely that the Panthers will be able to re-sign all of them. This makes it a priority to add a wideout in the draft, preferably early.
Starting corner Captain Munnerlyn is also set to become a free agent after this season, which means the Panthers need to start thinking about adding his replacement.
Munnerlyn currently ranks 22nd overall among cornerbacks and is likely to command plenty of attention on the open market.
The Panthers may attempt to re-sign him, but they may decide to draft a cornerback anyway. Munnerlyn's former partner, Melvin White, ranks just 79th overall at the position.
The potential departure of Ginn leaves a hole on Carolina's special teams unit as well as on offense. He has been outstanding this season, averaging 13.2 yards per punt return and 23.4 yards per kick return. He currently ranks third overall among return specialists.
Carolina may choose to target a payer who can fill both of the roles that Ginn has held this season, which would likely require the use of an early draft pick.
The New Orleans Saints can take their pick at to which side of the offensive line they solidify first, as both of their starting tackles are scheduled to become free agents following the season.
Charles Brown and Zach Stief currently hold down the left and right tackle positions, respectively.
A desire to maintain continuity with quarterback Drew Brees may prompt the Saints to re-sign at least one of the pending free agents, but it would not at all be surprising to see the team try to fill both positions on draft day.
New Orleans also faces the prospect of losing several of its outside linebackers—including Parys Haralson, Keyunta Dawson and Jonathan Vilma—in free agency next offseason.
Reloading at the position, and potentially adding an elite talent in the process, will likely be a priority on draft day.
The Saints have been surprisingly effective on defense this season, thank in part to the 3-4 system employed by new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.
Ryan's schemes do not necessarily depend on superb play form the interior of the defensive line, but the nose tackle position does happen to be one of the few weaknesses on the defense.
Starter John Jenkins ranks just 45th overall among defensive tackles, which leaves the position ripe for an overhaul.
This season, Tom Brady has reminded everyone why he is one of the best to ever play the quarterback position. He doesn't require big-name pass-catchers to be successful.
Brady's top target this season has been Julian Edelman, a former Kent State quarterback and seventh-round draft selection. Edelman, who will be a free agent following this season, has hauled in 76 passes for 775 yards and five touchdowns.
However, it never hurts to have an upper-echelon receiver (Brady hooked up with Randy Moss for 23 scores in 2007). With star tight end Rob Gronkowski's future in question following his latest injury, it wouldn't be a surprise for the New England Patriots to go all-in for a top-flight receiver who can help Brady finish his career in style.
With Gronkowski injured yet again, it is time for the Patriots to begin considering adding another athletic weapon at the position. This is especially true if head coach Bill Belichick wants to return to the double-tight end offense.
The role of return specialist is often overlooked in the NFL, except for in New England.
Edelman remains one of the league's better punt returners, averaging a very respectable 11.1 yards per return attempt. He's a free agent after the season, though, and New England is likely to seek out a new player who can fill multiple roles.
There aren't a lot of glaring holes on the Kansas City Chiefs roster, but there are a few positions that could stand to be upgraded, including tight end.
First-year player Sean McGrath has been the Chiefs' top receiving tight end this season with 23 receptions, 277 yards and a touchdown. Those would have been respectable numbers for a tight end a decade ago, but not in 2013.
A dynamic and athletic tight end would help quarterback Alex Smith continue to shine in Kansas City.
The Chiefs have Dwayne Bowe at wide receiver and then everybody else. Donnie Avery (35 receptions, 531 yards) has been a nice complement, but he isn't the playmaking receiver the Chiefs need to prevent double-teams on Bowe on a regular basis.
Dexter McCluster is a solid utility player, especially out of the slot. But he will become a free agent following the seasonm and it is time for Kansas City to start looking for a replacement.
As with the rest of the roster, there are few real weaknesses on the Kansas City defense. However, one of the team's strengths, defensive end Tyson Jackson, is headed toward the free-agent market.
Jackson currently ranks 15th overall among 3-4 defensive ends, and it will be interesting to see what kind of attention he draws on the open market.
If the Chiefs cannot or do not find a way to re-sign him, the team would do well to seek out a suitable replacement in the draft.
The Seattle Seahawks have dealt with issues at wide receiver this season, as Percy Harvin and Sidney Rice have both missed time due to injury.
Next season may present other issues at the position, as wideouts Doug Balwdin (restricted free agent) and Golden Tate may find themselves targeted by potential outside employers.
There is also no telling how Rice will respond to his ACL tear, which occurred at the end of October.
As long as Harvin and Rice stay on track to start in 2014, this is not the team's most pressing need. However, there are far worse ways for the Seahwaks to spend their draft picks.
The looming suspension of cornerback Brandon Browner must force the Seahawks to consider the cornerback position leading up to the draft.
Even if Browner finds some way to win his appeal, it is difficult to envision him returning to the Seahawks next season.
If Seattle can land a top target to pair with Richard Sherman in the draft, it should pounce on the opportunity.
Seattle should also jump on the opportunity to add a dynamic pass-catching tight end if the opportunity should present itself on draft day.
Quarterback Russell Wilson has the ability to extend plays and make plays with his legs, but a big-bodied outlet receiver would still be a tremendous asset.
Zach Miller is an excellent all-around tight end (ranked 10th overall at the position). However, he is not the type of tight end who will consistently create mismatches against the secondary (just 28 receptions this season).
Miller is under contract for two more season, meaning the Seahawks can afford to take a flier on a developmental receiving prospect to pair with him.
Realistically, the Denver Broncos do not need to worry about adding to the quarterback position so long as Peyton Manning remains healthy and on the roster. Still, Manning is 37 years old, and there will come a time when he does not or cannot suit up for this team. It is never too early for Denver to start hatching a backup plan.
First, the team will need to decide if Brock Osweiler or Zac Dysert can take over long-term when Manning finally decides to call it quits. If neither Osweiler nor Dysert appears to be the future, the Broncos will have the luxury of targeting a top prospect and giving him the Aaron Rodgers treatment for the duration of Manning's career.
That is, of course, if Manning doesn't take home a Lombardi Trophy this season and decide to call it a career.
It has been one heck of a career for cornerback Champ Bailey, but that career appears to be nearing the end. Bailey has only appeared in three games this season due to injury and has not performed particularly well when available (ranked 138th overall among cornerbacks).
It is time for Denver to start looking for Bailey's replacement and help stabilize the secondary in the process.
Pass Rush Specialist
Yes, the Broncos still have Von Miller. However, the Denver defense has not been quite as intimidating since it lost Elvis Dumervil in the Faxgate debacle.
Denver ranks 15th in the league in sacks with 34. Defensive end Shaun Phillips has nine of them, and he will be a free agent following the 2013 season.
As long as Miller remains available, this is more of a luxury pick, but the Broncos are a team that can afford to make it.