One Question Every NFL Team Must Answer for the 2014 Draft
Now that free agency is about two weeks old and the teams that had money to spend did the spending, it’s time for a quick peak ahead to May 8-10.
Those are the days that the National Football League will conduct the 79th Annual Selection Meeting.
It is also known as the 2014 NFL draft.
So what could teams be looking for in terms of a specific position, hence a question to answer when it comes to helping their rosters?
We will do our best to answer. Please note this is not a first-round mock draft. It is simply a suggestion that each team comes out of May’s draft with a player or players at the listed position that will be pivotal to the team’s fortunes in 2014…and perhaps beyond. It also means that we are not necessarily saying that the team uses its first-round pick (if they have one) on filling that need.
Also submitted for your convenience are the latest team depth charts courtesy of Ourlads, while NFL.com’s Draft Tracker has each club’s 2014 draft picks of the moment. And all financial terms come courtesy of Spotrac.
Arizona Cardinals: Linebacker
This past season, the Arizona Cardinals stunned many by finishing 10-6 and just missing out on a playoff berth.
It may also surprise some others that Bruce Arians’ team was not only sixth in the NFL in total defense but gave up the fewest rushing yards in the league in 2013.
However, duplicating those feats could be easier said than done due to the fact that veteran inside linebacker Karlos Dansby is now a member of the Cleveland Browns. The veteran defender totaled 122 stops, 6.5 sacks, four interceptions and knocked down 19 passes defensed in 2013.
Kevin Minter, a second-round pick last April, is slated to take over for Dansby and team with Daryl Washington, who looks to rebound following a suspension-shortened campaign.
Outside linebackers Lorenzo Alexander, John Abraham (entering his 15th NFL season) and Matt Shaughnessy return and 2013 rookies Sam Acho and Alex Okafor are on the roster. But a versatile performer who could play both inside and outside would be a nice addition.
Atlanta Falcons: Tackle
The mess that was the Atlanta Falcons’ 2013 season was epitomized by the play of the team’s offensive front.
Is it at all surprising that the team finished dead last in the league in rushing, averaging only 77.9 yards per game on the ground, while Mike Smith’s team also surrendered 44 sacks?
Veteran Sam Baker started just four games at left tackle this past season and struggled mightily in the process. Two-year pro Lamar Holmes started a dozen games in Baker’s place and three more at right tackle as well.
How’s this for a depressing note: Pro Football Focus (subscription required) rated 128 offensive tackles in 2013 and the Falcons’ five different starters at the two spots were all ranked 93rd or lower.
It remains to be see if general manager Thomas Dimitroff will further address the position before the draft (the Falcons did sign one-time Chicago Bears’ first-rounder Gabe Carimi this offseason). But a young tackle prospect would be an ideal selection.
Baltimore Ravens: Wide Receiver
For the first time under head coach John Harbaugh, the Baltimore Ravens missed the playoffs in 2013.
It’s not a feeling the team or the coach wants to get acclimated to.
The reasons were numerous. After a terrific 2012 postseason, Super Bowl XLVII MVP Joe Flacco was far from super in 2013. With a ground game that slumped to 30th in the league, the strong-armed signal-caller threw 22 interceptions in 16 games.
Of course, not having veteran wideout Anquan Boldin (traded to the San Francisco 49ers) and missing reliable tight end Dennis Pitta for the first 12 games certainly hurt. Torrey Smith had a productive 2013 and Jacoby Jones totaled 37 receptions. Add in rookie Marlon Brown and the trio totaled a combined 151 receptions but just 13 scores.
The team did add veteran wide receiver Steve Smith this offseason, but this offense produced just 26 touchdowns in 2013 and more punch is needed.
Buffalo Bills: Tight End
The good news for Buffalo Bills quarterback EJ Manuel, who is in the midst of getting ready for his second NFL season, is the fact that his pass-catching corps from a season ago is basically intact.
That also may be some of the bad news as well.
Doug Marrone’s team was led in receptions this past season by veteran tight end Scott Chandler, who the team just recently re-signed. The seasoned performer totaled 53 catches for a team-high 655 yards but scored only two touchdowns. In fact, the Buffalo passing attack managed only 16 touchdowns this past season and no player caught more than three scoring passes.
Three of the team’s top pass-catchers for the Bills were tight ends and running backs, meaning that the team is willing to utilize the underneath passing game in a big way. The addition of a downfield target from the tight end spot for Manuel would be a welcome addition.
Carolina Panthers: Wide Receiver
Call it the NFL’s version of offseason Looney Tunes.
Apparently, Tweety Bird gave Sylvester a call about the Road Runner (or was it Speedy Gonzalez?).
Enough cartoon references. As documented by Joseph Perston of the Charlotte Observer, the play-making-rich Philadelphia Eagles recently reached out to the Carolina Panthers, looking to rebuild its wide receiving corps.
This past season, Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell, Ted Ginn Jr. and Domenik Hixon combined for 156 catches, 15 of those for scores. All four performers are now with other teams.
The Panthers recently added wideouts Jerricho Cotchery and Tiquan Underwood, who spent 2013 with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, respectively.
It’s pretty safe to say that the club isn’t finished when it comes to giving quarterback Cam Newton some more weapons via the draft.
Chicago Bears: Defensive Tackle
It proved to be a rough 2013 for the usually-heralded defense of the Chicago Bears.
The “Monsters of the Midway” were closer to being “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” No team in the league gave up more yards rushing and only the divisional-rival Minnesota Vikings surrendered more points.
This offseason, general manager Phil Emery added defensive ends Lamarr Houston, Willie Young and Israel Idonije (a one-time Bears’ starter) to assist a pass rush that finished tied for last in the NFL with 31 sacks. However, that aforementioned run defense allowed 161.4 yards per game in 2013, including an astonishing 197.1 yards per contest in its final 10 outings.
Hence, fortifying the interior of the defensive front figures to be a priority in the draft for both Emery and head coach Marc Trestman. Chicago lost both Henry Melton (who missed the final 13 games in 2013) and Corey Wootton in free agency and needs to find some adequate replacements sooner rather than later.
Cincinnati Bengals: Cornerback
Last season, the Cincinnati Bengals reached the playoffs for the third straight season, the first time that feat has been accomplished in the team’s 46-year history.
Making it four years in a row doesn’t figure to be easy considering the changes this offseason for Marvin Lewis’ team.
Gone are both coordinators in offensive mind Jay Gruden and defensive leader Mike Zimmer, now the head coaches of the Washington Redskins and Minnesota Vikings, respectively.
Also, suddenly of concern is depth at cornerback. Brandon Ghee left for the San Diego Chargers via free agency while former Pro Bowler and starter Leon Hall is coming off an injury-shortened season. Finally, veteran Terence Newman is entering his 12th NFL season. Two-year pro Dre Kirkpatrick and veteran Adam Jones are the main reserves.
The league’s third-ranked defense this past season allowed just 28 offensive touchdowns during the regular season. However, 22 of those scores came through the air. A little fortification at the cornerback spot may be in order for the defending AFC North champions.
Cleveland Browns: Running Back
Only four teams in the league managed fewer rushing yards than the Cleveland Browns in 2013. It marked the fourth consecutive season that the team was ranked 20th or lower in the NFL in this area.
Hence, general manager Ray Farmer went out and did something about that this offseason. The Browns signed former Houston Texans running back Ben Tate to a two-year contract, hoping he could be a consistent force out of the backfield.
This past season, the power runner totaled a career-high 181 carries and led the Texans with 771 yards rushing, to go along with four touchdowns in 14 games. Tate also totaled a career-high 34 receptions.
The Browns have a pair of selections on Day 1 of the 2014 draft, one of those courtesy of trading 2012 first-round running back Trent Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts.
Given the talent pool available at the position in this draft (astutely analyzed by Bleacher Report colleague Alessandro Miglio), it certainly appears unlikely that they would use one of those choices on bolstering the backfield. That doesn’t mean Farmer won’t address the area in May.
Dallas Cowboys: Defensive End
The “D” in the Dallas Cowboys in 2013 stood for disastrous.
Yes, the team finished 8-8 and squandered a chance to win the NFC East in the league’s final regular-season contest for the third straight season. However, we are talking defense here…or the lack of it.
No team in the NFL gave up more yards than Jason Garrett’s club this past season. The Cowboys allowed 432 points despite the fact that they forced 28 turnovers, a big upgrade from 2012 when they totaled 16 takeaways.
A wave of injuries on the defensive front was one reason for the free fall. Dallas totaled only 21 sacks in its last 13 games after dropping opposing quarterbacks 13 times in the first three weeks of the season.
Now gone is longtime Pro Bowl defender DeMarcus Ware, cut by the Cowboys and signed by the Denver Broncos. Former Pro Bowler Anthony Spencer basically missed all of 2013 but is an unrestricted free agent. Jason Hatcher, who could play anywhere on the defensive front and led the team with 11 sacks this past season, is now a member of the Washington Redskins.
The Cowboys added defensive tackle Henry Melton via free agency, as well as defensive end Jeremy Mincey. As for the incumbents, defensive end George Selvie returns after finishing second on the team with seven sacks in 2013.
The “Help Wanted” sign is certainly hanging in Dallas when it comes to this department.
Denver Broncos: Guard
When we last saw the Denver Broncos, they did not last very long.
The defending AFC champions looked defenseless against the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII. Pete Carroll’s entire team had its way with the Men from Mile High in all three areas of the game. Denver’s ground game managed 27 yards on 14 carries in the lopsided 43-8 loss.
If quarterback Peyton Manning and his teammates are to make an appearance in Arizona in Super Bowl XLIX, the defense must be much better. To date, free agency has brought defensive end DeMarcus Ware, cornerback Aqib Talib and strong safety T.J. Ward.
However, more offensive balance is required by the club that scored an NFL-record 606 points this past season. The Broncos ranked a respectable 15th in the league in rushing yards (117.1 yards per game). However, John Fox’s club totaled just 461 running plays compared to 695 pass plays.
More significantly, there’s a void at left guard with the free-agent departure of Zane Beadles. Veteran guard Chris Kuper announced his retirement this offseason. Logic says that the team addresses this need within the early rounds of the draft.
Detroit Lions: Free Safety
In recent seasons, talent does not appear to be the major problem for the Detroit Lions.
This past season, the club dropped six of their final seven games to finish 7-9 after a 6-3 start. A year earlier, the Lions opened 4-4 only to lose their final eight games.
Even during the team’s lone playoff season in the last 14 years, the club finished 5-6 in its last 11 contests following a 5-0 start.
Now it is Jim Caldwell’s turn as head coach, although he probably couldn’t unravel that finishing thing. He was the leader of the 2009 Indianapolis Colts, who opened 14-0 and wound up losing Super Bowl XLIV. He was also on the staff of the 2012 Baltimore Ravens, who dropped four of their last five regular-season games and went onto win Super Bowl XLVII.
Besides that ability to close, the Lions are missing a free safety these days. Oft-injured Louis Delmas was let go by the team this offseason and signed with the Miami Dolphins.
On Monday evening, March 24, safety James Ihedigbo agreed to a deal with the Lions.
Green Bay Packers: Center
Four different starting quarterbacks eventually added up to eight wins, just enough for the 8-7-1 Green Bay Packers to hold off the 8-8 Chicago Bears for the NFC North title in 2013.
Now Mike McCarthy’s team must address the loss of the performer that provided those aforementioned signal-callers with the football…literally.
Veteran Evan Dietrich-Smith, a former undrafted free agent who started all 16 games at center for the Packers in 2013, has traded in his Green for Tampa in terms of bays. The 6’2”, 297-pound center signed with the Buccaneers this offseason.
Center is not usually a position that is traditionally addressed in the first round and that’s not the suggestion here. It is worth noting that dating back to 2000, 71 offensive linemen have been drafted in the first round and only nine were selected as centers.
Still, look for general manager Ted Thompson to address this area as well as others on the offensive front as well.
Houston Texans: Quarterback
Now that new Houston Texans head coach Bill O’Brien and the franchise have done their due diligence in terms of the team’s quarterback situation, it seems like we are starting to get a little clarity on where the club may be headed with the first overall pick on May 8.
On Friday, the franchise dealt former starter Matt Schaub to the Oakland Raiders for a reported sixth-round draft choice, according to Jim Corbett of USA Today Sports.
“On behalf of the Houston Texans organization, I'd like to thank Matt Schaub for the contributions he has made to this franchise on and off the field.” said in a statement by Rick Smith, the Texans general manager and executive vice president of football operations.
Now Smith and O’Brien turn their attention toward the draft. Last week, Houston said hello to journeyman quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who they signed after he was released by the Tennessee Titans. The team still has Case Keenum and three-year pro T.J. Yates on the roster as well.
Will the Texans indeed use that first pick on a quarterback? Or does Smith have something in mind that will enable them to address other needs and address the position later in the draft?
Let the guessing game begin.
Indianapolis Colts: Nose Tackle
As of this moment, the first time we will be hearing from the Indianapolis Colts in the 2014 draft is sometime Friday evening.
The Colts are one of two teams in the league (as of this writing) that don’t own a first-round draft choice. The team’s first selection in this year’s draft is 59th overall.
Speaking of overall, the Indianapolis defense didn’t have an overall good year in 2013. Head coach Chuck Pagano saw his team finish 26th in the league in rushing defense and was mauled on the ground in the playoffs by both the Kansas City Chiefs (150 yards) and the New England Patriots (234 yards). Veteran Aubrayo Franklin (currently unsigned), as well as Josh Chapman, didn't appear to be the answer at nose tackle.
The Colts were also ranked 20th overall in total defense this past season.
General manager Ryan Grigson has certainly addressed the front seven in free agency. The additions of inside linebacker D’Qwell Jackson and defensive end Arthur Jones should be big pluses. But finding a big-play catalyst in the middle of the line would be a major plus.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Wide Receiver
Here is some simple math.
Over the past three seasons combined, the Jacksonville Jaguars’ passing attack has produced 48 touchdowns.
That’s one per game.
The team’s issues at quarterback have been well-documented and the short-lived Blaine Gabbert era with the franchise is over as well. The former first-round pick was traded to the San Francisco 49ers earlier this month.
This past season, veteran signal-caller Chad Henne threw nine touchdown passes and just five interceptions during the team’s final five games. Only four of those nine scores went to wide receivers. All told, Jaguars’ wideouts caught only eight touchdown passes in 16 games in 2013.
With Cecil Shorts and Ace Sanders as holdovers and Justin Blackmon’s future in limbo due to his suspension, Gus Bradley’s club, which scored the fewest points in the league this past season, needs all the help it can get.
Kansas City Chiefs: Defensive End
There was no doubt a lot of helmet scratching going on last November when the Kansas City Chiefs were the league’s lone perfect team with a 9-0 record.
There may have been even more questions after Andy Reid’s club dropped five of its final seven games in 2013, then squandered a 28-point lead in a 45-44 playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts.
After a great start, the Kansas City defense proved to be less than mediocre by season’s end. Bob Sutton’s unit finished 24th in the NFL in total yards allowed, including 22nd versus the run.
Nose tackle Dontari Poe enjoyed a Pro Bowl year but his line mate, defensive end Tyson Jackson, took the money and ran to the Atlanta Falcons this offseason. This is a team that must address that loss and add some depth to this unit as well.
Miami Dolphins: Offensive Line
Faster than you can say sacked, the Miami Dolphins addressed their offensive line issues during free agency.
But has the team with last season’s most talked-about blocking unit in the league done enough to fix what ails it?
Miami ranked 26th in the NFL in rushing in 2013 while quarterback Ryan Tannehill was sacked a league-high 58 times this past season. Four times Joe Philbin’s team was limited to fewer than 25 yards on the ground while the Dolphins allowed three or more sacks in 11 of their 16 outings.
Help has arrived in the form of Pro Bowler Branden Albert, from the Kansas City Chiefs, who takes over at left tackle. The Dolphins also added guard Shelley Smith via free agency. The team does have Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey at its disposal.
It seems like an afterthought that new general manager Dennis Hickey will address this early in May’s draft. Would it be a shock to see the Dolphins spend a pair of early-round picks on this crucial area?
Minnesota Vikings: Quarterback
The Minnesota Vikings went through three different starting quarterbacks this past season. It was part of the reason that the club won only five games and finished last in the NFC North.
The team also went through their head coach as Leslie Frazier was replaced by former Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer.
While one-game starter Josh Freeman won’t be back, the club did re-sign veteran Matt Cassel to once again compete with Christian Ponder, who struggled mightily in 2013. The former first-round pick threw seven touchdown passes compared to nine interceptions while losing four of his seven fumbles. Ponder was also sacked 27 times in just nine games.
While the hiring of offensive coordinator Norv Turner could be a positive for both quarterbacks, the addition of a third young signal-caller in May could be on the cards for this franchise.
New England Patriots: Defensive Tackle
All looked good for the New England Patriots before the start of 2013, especially when it came to the defensive side of the football.
The addition of free-agent defensive tackle Tommy Kelly seemed like a solid addition to pair with veteran Vince Wilfork. Unfortunately, both players ended this past season on injured reserve. And the latter could be on the outside looking in when it comes to the franchise, as documented by Patriots Insider Tom Curran of CSSNE.com.
More importantly, both Kelly and Wilfork have 10 years under their belts in this league. When called upon, reserve defensive tackles Joe Vellano and Chris Jones had their struggles.
An infusion of youth at the position would appear to be a priority. Some fresh faces to pair with Kelly and Wilfork (if he’s around) would be a solid complement to the Patriots’ new-look secondary featuring cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and (eventually) Brandon Browner.
New Orleans Saints: Wide Receiver
Anyone who watches the New Orleans Saints execute on offense knows that this club can move the ball downfield without consistently throwing it deep.
For the third straight season, quarterback Drew Brees topped the 5,000-yard passing mark. He also threw 39 touchdown passes in 2013, 16 of those to Pro Bowl tight end Jimmy Graham. All told, 24 of Brees’ 39 scores through the air were courtesy of tight ends and running backs.
That’s not to say that the team doesn’t have talent at wide receiver. Veteran Marques Colston is one of the steadiest players in the league at his position and Kenny Stills is coming off a solid rookie campaign. The tandem each caught five touchdown passes this past season.
The team released wide receiver Lance Moore this offseason and he subsequently signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers. It wouldn’t be surprising if the club replaced the veteran in the early rounds of this year’s draft.
New York Giants: Defensive Tackle
They are breaking up that old gang known as the New York Giants’ defensive front.
Following the team’s 17-14 upset of the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, veteran defensive end Michael Strahan retired. More on him later this August as he takes his place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
A year ago, defensive end Osi Umenyiora signed with the Atlanta Falcons. This offseason, veteran defensive end Justin Tuck joined the Oakland Raiders and emerging defensive tackle Linval Joseph got big bucks to join the Purple Gang with the Minnesota Vikings.
Former first-round picks Jason Pierre-Paul and Mathias Kiwanuka are still around and 10-year pro Cullen Jenkins had five sacks in his first season with the club in 2013. And no pun intended, the team hopes to see more from defensive end Damontre Moore this season.
The Giants have spent a lot of time bolstering their secondary in free agency via the additions of cornerbacks Dominique-Rodgers Cromartie and Walter Thurmond and safety Quintin Demps. General manager Jerry Reese could take a similar approach via the draft when it comes to the defensive front.
New York Jets: Wide Receiver
The addition of wide receiver Eric Decker to the New York Jets is certainly a positive move.
In 2013, the former Denver Broncos wide receiver totaled 87 catches for 1,288 yards and 11 touchdowns. This past season, the Jets were led by wideout Jeremy Kerley with 43 receptions. All told, Rex Ryan’s offense combined for 13 scores through the air.
While the focus in recent days has been the Green and White’s signing of veteran quarterback Michael Vick, the club still has some work to do when it comes to getting either him or young Geno Smith some more targets.
The return of emerging tight end Jeff Cumberland, who re-signed a few weeks ago, is a big plus. But the Jets have now moved on from wide receiver Santonio Holmes. It would also help Smith and/or Vick if the third-year proved to be the charm for wideout Stephen Hill.
The addition of a big-play performer can only help a club that scored only 290 points and managed just 25 offensive touchdowns in 2013.
Oakland Raiders: Running Back
This past season, running back Rashad Jennings led the Oakland Raiders with 773 yards rushing, more than twice as many yards than teammate Darren McFadden (379) did in 2013.
That’s former teammate Rashad Jennings, who is now a member of the New York Giants.
Meanwhile, McFadden returns for a seventh season with the Silver and Black via a one-year contract. The fourth overall pick in the 2008 NFL draft, as has been well-documented, has yet to play a complete season. McFadden was limited to 10 games in 2013 and finished third on the team in rushing behind not only Jennings but quarterback Terrelle Pryor (576 yards).
Of course, the big headline in Oakland the last few days has been the addition of quarterback Matt Schaub, acquired via trade from the Houston Texans on Friday. “He was our No. 1 target from day one,” said Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson via NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport on NFL.com. “And it was just a matter of getting the deal done.”
Now the Raiders need to close the deal when it comes to fortifying the running back position.
Philadelphia Eagles: Cornerback
When you finish dead last in the league in passing yards allowed, it appears the needs are obvious.
It should be noted that the Philadelphia Eagles have been addressing their secondary via free agency. This past season, no team gave up more yards through the air than Chip Kelly’s club. And while the Birds totaled 19 interceptions in 2013, the team also gave up 25 touchdown passes.
One-time New Orleans Saints starter Malcolm Jenkins takes over for Patrick Chung at free safety. Meanwhile, cornerback Nolan Carroll, a free-agent pickup from the Miami Dolphins, looks to challenge starters Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams.
Look for the Eagles to address the secondary more than once in May’s draft, with an emphasis on the cornerback position. The more the merrier approach may provide Kelly and Co. with some needed depth in this area.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Defensive Line
It wasn’t that long ago that the Pittsburgh Steelers’ three-man front of ends Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel and nose tackle Casey Hampton was one of the best defensive lines in the league. The trio was also the table setters for the remainder of Dick LeBeau’s fabled defenses.
Unfortunately for the Black and Gold, those days are gone. Long gone.
In 2013, the Steelers finished 21st in the NFL in rushing defense, quite the fall considering that the team was ranked in the top three in the league in that department in eight of the previous nine seasons dating back to 2004.
Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette breaks down this unit. Free agency brings Cam Thomas, from the San Diego Chargers, to perhaps team with starters Cameron Heyward and Steve McClendon. Dulac also reports that Steelers’ general manager Kevin Colbert says that Thomas was signed to play defensive end.
If Colbert and the team can’t rebuild this area sooner rather than later, it could be curtains for the rest of this defense in 2014.
St. Louis Rams: Offensive Line
For the second time in as many seasons under head coach Jeff Fisher, the St. Louis Rams won seven games.
That would have been good enough to win the NFC West back in 2010. That victory total gets you third or fourth place in the division these days.
With quarterback Sam Bradford expected back after missing a big chunk of 2013, the team needs to address an offensive line short on manpower these days.
Left tackle Jake Long is still recovering from a knee injury sustained last December. Veteran guard Harvey Dahl was released by the team this offseason and veteran blockers Chris Williams and Shelley Smith left St. Louis via free agency.
On the other hand, versatile guard/tackle Rodger Saffold, who appeared to be on his way to Oakland before a deal with the Raiders went sideways, is back in St. Louis.
The bottom line is simple. Jeff Fisher’s team is in need of big and talented bodies up front. And it would not be a surprise to see the club address this area numerous times during the three days of May’s draft.
San Diego Chargers: Nose Tackle
Only three teams in the league gave up more passing yards than the San Diego Chargers in 2013.
So why is nose tackle and not cornerback the question that needs to be answered in the upcoming draft?
Pro Football Focus (subscription required) was not kind when it came to cornerbacks Richard Marshall and Shareece Wright, both ranked near the bottom of the cornerback rankings this past season.
Hence, the key may be better play up front. When the team opened in a 3-4 defense this past season, Cam Thomas was the main man up the middle while Sean Lissemore also started at the position as well. Thomas is now a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers via free agency.
Can the Bolts find someone who can consistently clog the middle and free up their pass-rushers to make plays? San Diego defenders managed a respectable 35 sacks but only the Houston Texans (11) and New York Jets (15) managed fewer takeaways than the Chargers (17) in 2013.
Add in the fact that Mike McCoy’s club was a so-so 12th in the NFL in rushing defense this past season and the need is obvious.
San Francisco 49ers: Cornerback
Only the Seattle Seahawks and Carolina Panthers gave up fewer points than the San Francisco 49ers in 2013.
Jim Harbaugh’s club only allowed 19 touchdown passes during the regular season, although six of those came in the final three games.
Still, the Niners’ secondary will have a different look in 2014. Cornerbacks Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown are no longer with the team. The former was released by the franchise while Brown signed with the Oakland Raiders.
We already know that Antoine Bethea takes over at strong safety for Donte Whitner, who inked a deal with the Cleveland Browns.
With the 30th overall pick in May’s draft, along with a pair of selections in both the second- and third-rounds, Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke could make the secondary a first priority.
Seattle Seahawks: Defensive Tackle
The best defense in the NFL in 2013 did not always look the part this past season.
The defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks finished tied for seventh in the league in rushing defense, allowing 101.6 yards per game on the ground. While Pete Carroll’s defenders limited seven regular-season foes to fewer than 70 yards rushing, they also surrendered an equal amount of opponents to run for at least 130 yards.
The decision to part ways with defensive end Red Bryant, one of the better run-stopping players at his position, as well as the free-agent defection of defensive tackle Clinton McDonald, has to sting a bit.
Certainly defensive coordinator Dan Quinn wouldn’t mind if the team added a little beef up the middle to supplement starters Tony McDaniel and Brandon Mebane.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Wide Receiver
There were already concerns regarding the wide receiver corps of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in terms of depth.
On Sunday, those concerns took a little bit of a different turn.
Behind standout starters Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams (who missed the majority of 2013 with a hamstring injury), there are not a lot of proven performers when it comes to head coach Lovie Smith and his new team.
To make matters worse, Williams was hospitalized following an incident at his home on Sunday afternoon, as reported by Bobby Lewis of WTSP.com. Roy Cummings of The Tampa Tribune has the latest on the story, which had Williams released from the hospital Sunday evening.
The off-the-field matters aside, wide receiver figures to be an area that general manager Jason Licht will address, perhaps early and often. With the Bucs being one of the busier teams during the unrestricted free-agency period, it should be noted that they did not add to this position in the last two weeks.
Tennessee Titans: Outside Linebacker
The more, the merrier?
That’s the idea when it comes to the 3-4 defense and linebackers. You better have plenty of them and depth to boot.
New Tennessee Titans head coach Ken Whisenhunt has new defensive coordinator Ray Horton at his disposal. The pair have some good history together back with the Pittsburgh Steelers as well as the Arizona Cardinals.
A season ago, the Titans were ranked 14th in the NFL in total defense and were a disappointing 20th in the league against the run.
The additions of inside linebacker Wesley Woodyard (Denver Broncos) and defensive end Al Woods (Pittsburgh Steelers) via free agency certainly help. But are outside linebackers Akeem Ayers and Zach Brown suited for Horton’s scheme. We shall find out sooner rather than later should the Titans address the position early in the draft.
Washington Redskins: Center
Who exactly will be snapping the ball to quarterback Robert Griffin III when it comes to the Washington Redskins?
This offseason, veteran Will Montgomery was released. So there appears to be a huge void right smack in the center of new head coach Jay Gruden’s offensive front.
Is there a solution already on the roster? J.P. Finlay of CSNWashington.com suggests that veteran guard Kory Lichtensteiger could move over to the pivot if necessary.
One thing we do know. Barring a trade, the team won’t be addressing this or any other position in the first round as the franchise continues to pay off the St. Louis Rams for moving up in the draft in 2012 to select Griffin.