Every NFL Team's Biggest Draft Need Coming Out of Free Agency

Nick Kostos@@thekostosContributor IMarch 27, 2014

Every NFL Team's Biggest Draft Need Coming Out of Free Agency

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    The first major wave of free agency has passed with a thunderous flourish, and it's now time to assess every NFL team's biggest draft need coming out of it.

    While every NFL franchise has made additions in free agency, it isn't the be-all, end-all of roster construction. Finding success in the draft is far more critical for a team's long-term success.

    And with the vast majority of the top free agents having signed, there's now a clear picture as to where each team should look to upgrade in the draft.

    The primary need for each team was chosen via a series of criteria, including its depth chart at that position, spot in the draft order, offensive or defensive philosophy and the strengths of the division it plays in.

    For example, the Cleveland Browns are in obvious need of a quarterback, as one look at the depth chart would indicate. A team like the New England Patriots probably places more value on the tight end position than most teams, which fits its offensive philosophy. The Detroit Lions play in a division with quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler, so fortifying the secondary becomes a no-brainer.

    Some of these needs can be filled with a first-round pick, while others are extrapolated across the later rounds. Those distinctions are made in each slide.

    Without further ado, here is every NFL team's biggest draft need coming out of free agency.

Arizona Cardinals: Cornerback

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    Coming into the offseason, the Arizona Cardinals' biggest need was at left tackle. They addressed that with the signing of Jared Veldheer on Day 1 of free agency.

    That leaves cornerback as the team's biggest draft need.

    Yes, the Cardinals did sign former Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie, but he was terrible last season, finishing 2013 ranked as Pro Football Focus' (subscription required) 103rd-best corner. Outside of All-Pro Patrick Peterson, the team doesn't have a ton of talent at the position.

    The need becomes amplified when you consider the pass-happy nature of today's NFL, especially considering the number of outstanding quarterbacks and passing attacks in the NFC.

    Bleacher Report's Andrew Garda wrote that TCU cornerback Jason Verrett should be the Cardinals' top draft target.

Atlanta Falcons: Pass-Rusher

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    The wheels came completely off the 2013 Atlanta Falcons, as the team followed its NFC Championship Game appearance in 2012 with a grotesque 4-12 campaign.

    And while the blame could be pointed in myriad directions, one stands chief among the rest: the lack of a viable pass rush. The Falcons only managed 32 sacks last season, tied for 29th in the league.

    It's fair to assume that quarterback Matt Ryan and the rest of the offense will bounce back next season, especially with a healthy Julio Jones at receiver. 

    But in order for the defense to take the next step, it must apply more pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

    University of Buffalo pass-rushing demon Khalil Mack (pictured above) would be a great addition by general manager Thomas Dimitroff with the sixth overall pick in May's draft.

Baltimore Ravens: Offensive Tackle

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    Last season, the Baltimore Ravens went 8-8 and missed the postseason for the first time in the coach John Harbaugh-quarterback Joe Flacco era (beginning in 2008).

    The primary culprit for the disappointing season was the lack of a run game. The Ravens averaged a league-low 3.1 yards per carry, and the poor play of the offensive line had a lot to do with it.

    Baltimore might have addressed its left tackle position by re-signing Eugene Monroe, but it lost right tackle Michael Oher to the Titans. 

    Wide receiver had been an issue, but the signing of Steve Smith and re-signing of Jacoby Jones leaves right tackle as Baltimore's biggest need.

Buffalo Bills: Offensive Tackle

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    Last season, the Buffalo Bills allowed 48 sacks, tied for fourth-most in the NFL. 

    The offensive line simply must improve if quarterback EJ Manuel is to have a chance in Year 2 under center.

    The Bills are solid at one tackle spot (left) with Cordy Glenn but could use an upgrade at right tackle.

    If Auburn's Greg Robinson or Texas A&M's Jake Matthews were to fall to the Bills at ninth overall, general manager Doug Whaley would likely race to the podium to get the pick in. 

Carolina Panthers: Wide Receiver

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    It's never a good thing when Jerricho Cotchery is the No. 1 receiver on your depth chart, and that's the current dilemma currently faced by the Carolina Panthers and their general manager, Dave Gettleman.

    There's no question that wide receiver is the Panthers' biggest need entering the draft, especially considering the team lost Steve Smith and Ted Ginn during the free-agent period.

    A top-four receiving corps of Cotchery, Tiquan Underwood, Tavarres King and Marvin McNutt isn't going to get the job done. Gettleman must add an impact receiver in the early rounds of May's draft.

    LSU's Odell Beckham Jr. looms as a name to watch when the Panthers hit the clock with the 28th overall pick in May's draft.

Chicago Bears: Secondary

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    Last season, the Chicago Bears defense was the albatross that ultimately held them out of the postseason.

    The unit finished 30th overall in total defense and allowed a preposterous 5.3 yards per carry on the ground.

    But a spate of signings by general manager Phil Emery has turned the defensive line, once an extreme weakness, into a position of strength.

    Emery followed up deals with ends Lamarr Houston and Willie Young by signing former Vikings defensive end Jared Allen to a four-year, $32 million deal with $15.5 million guaranteed, per ESPN's Adam Schefter. 

    With the defensive line having been addressed, that leaves the secondary as a major area of need. Look for Emery to target both safety and cornerback in the early rounds of May's draft.

Cincinnati Bengals: Defensive End

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    The Cincinnati Bengals lost two quality players in free agency: defensive end Michael Johnson and offensive tackle Anthony Collins (both to the Buccaneers). 

    Out of the two positions, the Bengals are deeper at offensive tackle, with two starting-caliber players in Andrew Whitworth and Andre Smith.

    That means defensive end is the need that the Bengals must fill in the draft.

    NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah recently wrote that Auburn defensive end Dee Ford would be a nice fit in the Queen City.

Cleveland Browns: Quarterback

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    The Cleveland Browns are a franchise quarterback away from being a perennial playoff contender in the AFC.


    The team is chock-full of talented young players on both sides of the ball. All that's left is a quarterback to emerge as a leader and help win football games.

    Brian Hoyer is the only remaining viable quarterback on the roster from 2013, and he played well last year, winning all three of his starts before being lost for the season with a torn ACL. But there's no way that new coach Mike Pettine and general manager Ray Farmer can hand Hoyer the keys to the franchise without supplying him with a rookie competitor.

    Cleveland holds the fourth and 26th picks in the first round of May's draft. Expect it to draft a quarterback with one of those two selections.

    Central Florida's Blake Bortles, Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater, Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel and Fresno State's Derek Carr all loom as potential options.

Dallas Cowboys: Safety

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    The defense of the 2013 Dallas Cowboys had more holes than a moldy piece of Swiss cheese, as the unit finished the year ranked dead-last in the NFL.

    There are a number of directions that the Cowboys could go to improve the defense, but none is as important as bringing in an impact, playmaking safety.

    Last year, the Cowboys trotted out Barry Church, J.J. Wilcox and Jeff Heath at the position. Those three aren't exactly Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas.

    Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones should take a long, hard look at Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (pictured above) with the 16th overall pick in May's draft.

Denver Broncos: Cornerback

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    Denver Broncos general manager John Elway has made a triumvirate of tremendous signings this free-agent period, inking cornerback Aqib Talib, safety T.J. Ward and pass-rushing demon DeMarcus Ware.

    But the defense still needs reinforcements if the team is to contend with the likes of the Seahawks and 49ers. When it comes to the Broncos, it's not about winning the AFC, but rather giving the team the best chance to win the Super Bowl while Peyton Manning remains under center.

    While Talib slots in as the team's top cornerback, the Broncos don't have tremendous depth at the position. Elway would be wise to fortify it this coming May, perhaps with someone like Ohio State's Bradley Roby. Bleacher Report's Matt Miller has Roby ranked as his fourth-best cornerback.

Detroit Lions: Cornerback

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    The Detroit Lions finally added a playmaking receiver to pair with All-Pro Calvin Johnson when they signed former Seahawk Golden Tate.

    That transaction leaves cornerback as the club's biggest area of need heading into the draft.

    The Lions did not receive exemplary play at the cornerback position last year, and it's feasible that general manager Martin Mayhew could add several players there in this draft.

    Look for Mayhew to use the 10th overall pick in May's draft on a cornerback, with Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert (pictured above) being a distinct possibility.

Green Bay Packers: Safety

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    With quarterback Aaron Rodgers running the show, the Green Bay Packers will once again field an explosive offense in 2014.

    It's the defense that needs work, as the unit finished the season ranked 25th overall in the NFL.

    General manager Ted Thompson has already fortified the defensive line by signing former Bears defensive end Julius Peppers and re-signing defensive tackle B.J. Raji. He also extended the contract of cornerback Sam Shields.

    That leaves safety as an area that demands improvement, especially considering M.D. Jennings signed with the Bears.

    The Packers could use a playmaking safety, and Louisville's Calvin Pryor (pictured above) would be a nice fit in Dom Capers' defense.

Houston Texans: Quarterback

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    The Houston Texans hold the No. 1 overall pick in May's draft, and they have a gaping hole at the most important position in all of football: quarterback.

    There's no doubt that adding a franchise-caliber signal-caller is the Texans' biggest need entering the draft, and they should waste no time in drafting one with the first overall selection.

    Yes, the Texans signed quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, but there's no way that coach Bill O'Brien wants him starting all 16 games. Houston will bring in a quarterback early in the draft.

    After completing a stellar pro day (and impressing O'Brien in the process), Central Florida's Blake Bortles (pictured above) could be the next franchise quarterback in Houston.

Indianapolis Colts: Safety

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    The Indianapolis Colts don't own a first-round pick by virtue of the deal that brought in running back Trent Richardson, so general manager Ryan Grigson will have to wait until the second round to fill the team's biggest need: safety.

    The Colts lost safety Antoine Bethea (pictured above) to the 49ers and need reinforcements at the position.

    Bleacher Report's Andrew Garda believes the Colts should select Florida State's Lamarcus Joyner with the 60th overall pick, as he has the ability to play both corner and safety.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Quarterback

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    The Jacksonville Jaguars might have re-signed quarterback Chad Henne, but that doesn't change the fact that signal-caller is their most pressing need entering the draft.

    It's possible that the team will eschew taking a quarterback with the third overall selection, but general manager David Caldwell and coach Gus Bradley won't wait much longer than that.

    If the Jaguars decide to go quarterback with the third overall pick, the top three options will be in play: Central Florida's Blake Bortles, Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater and Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel.

    If they wait until the top of the second round, Eastern Illinois' Jimmy Garoppolo could be the selection.

Kansas City Chiefs: Offensive Line

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    There's no doubt that the Kansas City Chiefs need to help quarterback Alex Smith by adding more weapons at wide receiver. That fact is incontrovertible.

    But the team's most pressing need is along the offensive line.

    Last season, the Chiefs went 11-5 and nearly advanced to the divisional round of the postseason with a meager receiving corps. So while it would be nice to add a receiver or two (and coach Andy Reid and general manager John Dorsey certainly will in the draft), bringing aboard offensive linemen is more important.

    That's because the team lost both of its starting guards in free agency, with Jon Asamoah signing with Atlanta and Geoff Schwartz joining the Giants. Left tackle Branden Albert also departed, inking a big-money deal with the Dolphins.

    The Chiefs must improve the offensive line in the draft if they're to make a return trip to the postseason.

Miami Dolphins: Offensive Line

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    Last season, the Miami Dolphins couldn't protect quarterback Ryan Tannehill, allowing a league-high 58 sacks. 

    And that was in addition to the bullying scandal that rocked the NFL world and left the team without three of its starting five linemen from a year ago (John Jerry, Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin).

    This is an easy one, as new Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey must add pieces along the offensive line if his team is to compete with New England in the AFC East.

    The signing of left tackle Branden Albert and guard Shelley Smith in free agency was a nice start, but the club has more work to do. 

    In his most recent scouting notebook, Bleacher Report's Matt Miller has the Dolphins selecting Notre Dame offensive tackle Zack Martin with the 19th overall pick.

Minnesota Vikings: Quarterback

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    The Minnesota Vikings trotted out a three-headed monster at the quarterback position last season, and damn, what an ugly monster it was.

    The trio of Matt Cassel, Christian Ponder and Josh Freeman failed to dazzle, and as a result, the Vikings' biggest need heading into the draft is at quarterback.

    Like the Jaguars, it's possible that the Vikings will wait until Round 2 to secure their quarterback of the future, but the smart money is on them using the eighth overall pick on the top signal-caller available.

New England Patriots: Tight End

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    The New England Patriots once possessed the best one-two combination at tight end in the NFL with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.

    But with Hernandez behind bars and Gronkowski recovering from a torn ACL, coach Bill Belichick needs to add a talented tight end to help quarterback Tom Brady and the passing attack.

    Patriots fans will point to defensive tackle as another need, and they wouldn't be wrong, especially with Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald reporting that Vince Wilfork cleaned out his locker after asking for a trade. But the Patriots made the AFC Championship Game last season despite only having Wilfork for the first four games of last season.

    Tight end is the most important need, and Texas Tech's Jace Amaro could fit the bill when the Patriots are on the clock with the 29th overall pick in May's draft.

New Orleans Saints: Cornerback

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    The New Orleans Saints addressed the safety position on Day 1 of free agency when they signed Jairus Byrd to a big-money deal. Byrd will join Kenny Vaccaro to form the best safety tandem in the NFL outside of the Pacific Northwest.

    That leaves cornerback as the team's biggest need entering the draft, as Keenan Lewis is the team's only established starter at the position. With so many excellent quarterbacks in the NFC, you can never have too many quality cornerbacks.

    Katherine Terrell of The Times-Picayune recently mocked TCU cornerback Jason Verrett to the Saints with the 27th overall pick in May's draft.

New York Giants: Pass-Rusher

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    New York Giants general manager Jerry Reese has done an outstanding job of filling roster holes in the free-agent period.

    He's signed running back Rashad Jennings, guard Geoff Schwartz and center J.D. Walton along the offensive line, cornerbacks Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Walter Thurmond, and linebackers Jon Beason and Jameel McClain, among others.

    That leaves two primary areas of need: tight end and pass-rushers.

    And while having a pass-catching tight end is critical in new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo's system, the Giants are a team that lives or dies by the pass rush, and it wasn't good enough in 2013, as the defense only accumulated 34 sacks.

    The Giants must add pass-rushing talent in the draft, especially considering defensive end Justin Tuck signed with the Raiders.

New York Jets: Wide Receiver

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    The New York Jets made a free-agent splash with the signing of former Broncos receiver Eric Decker, but the team still needs more weapons at the position.

    Regardless of whether Geno Smith or new signing Michael Vick is under center this season, the Jets cannot enter the campaign with their current lot of receivers.

    General manager John Idzik might not take a receiver in the first round, as this draft class is loaded at the position, but it's quite possible that he'll take more than one when it's all said and done.

Oakland Raiders: Best Player Available

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    Last season, the Oakland Raiders possessed arguably the worst 53-man roster in the NFL.

    In a related story, they finished 4-12.

    While general manager Reggie McKenzie has made a cavalcade of signings in free agency, the team still desperately needs an infusion of talent, so when draft day comes, he really can't go wrong as long as he selects the best player available.

    Could the Raiders draft a tackle, like Auburn's Greg Robinson (pictured above)? Sure. Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins would be a great fit too. And if South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney dropped to the fifth overall selection, McKenzie would likely do cartwheels in the team's war room.

    One direction that the Raiders shouldn't go is quarterback. Matt Schaub, recently acquired in a trade with the Texans, is good enough to hold down the fort this season. Oakland has so many other holes that it needs to address. Taking a quarterback early would be foolish.

Philadelphia Eagles: Safety

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    The Philadelphia Eagles are positively loaded on offense, especially with the acquisition of former Saints running back Darren Sproles.

    Now coach Chip Kelly and general manager Howie Roseman can turn their attention to the defense in the early rounds of the draft, and the position most in need of fortification is safety.

    The team signed former Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins but still needs to add another playmaker alongside him in the defensive backfield. If the season opened today, Earl Wolff would be the starting strong safety, and he finished 2013 ranked as Pro Football Focus' 54th-best safety.

    Look for the Eagles to upgrade at safety in the early rounds of the draft. Northern Illinois' Jimmie Ward could be a solid fit in Round 2.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Cornerback

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    The Pittsburgh Steelers addressed the safety position during free agency with the signing of former Panther Mike Mitchell, but they still need help at cornerback.

    Ike Taylor will return, but he's not the player he once was, having finished 2013 ranked as Pro Football Focus' 97th-best cornerback.

    Dick LeBeau's defense would greatly benefit from a talented young cornerback, and someone like Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard would slot in nicely.

San Diego Chargers: Cornerback

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    The San Diego Chargers have a pretty damn good quarterback in Philip Rivers but play in a division with Peyton Manning (Denver), Alex Smith (Kansas City) and Matt Schaub (Oakland). There's no doubt that they could use more cornerbacks.

    Right now, their top two players at the position would be Shareece Wright and the recently re-signed Richard Marshall, and they finished 2013 ranked as Pro Football Focus' 101st- and 102nd-best cornerbacks, respectively. 

    The Chargers must get better in the defensive backfield, so adding a talented young cornerback is a must.

    Bleacher Report's Andrew Garda likes the fit of Virginia Tech's Kyle Fuller in the Bolts' defensive backfield.

San Francisco 49ers: Wide Receiver

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    The San Francisco 49ers have two talented receivers in Michael Crabtree and the recently re-signed Anquan Boldin, and an excellent tight end in Vernon Davis.

    But Crabtree and Boldin aren't speed demons, and what the offense needs is a lightning-fast receiver to stretch the field and catch deep balls from quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

    Oregon State's Brandin Cooks has blazing speed and would fit the bill in coach Jim Harbaugh's offense.

Seattle Seahawks: Tight End

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    The Seattle Seahawks might have lost out on free-agent defensive end Jared Allen, but they re-signed defensive end Michael Bennett at the start of the free-agent period.

    And yeah, receiver Golden Tate left the Pacific Northwest for Motown, signing a deal with the Lions. But the Seahawks will presumably have receiver Percy Harvin healthy for an entire season, and he flashed a brilliant form in limited action last season, including a kickoff return for a touchdown in the Super Bowl.

    This leaves tight end as the team's biggest need heading into the draft.

    Starting tight end Zach Miller did take a pay cut to remain in Seattle, but he only caught 33 passes last season. At this point in his career, he's more of a blocking tight end.

    Imagine what the Seahawks offense would look like with a talented pass-catching tight end paired with Miller and the other weapons in the passing attack. Quarterback Russell Wilson would have a field day.

    North Carolina's Eric Ebron is the best tight end in the draft, and while it's unlikely he ends up falling to the 32nd overall pick, crazier things have happened.

    The Seahawks could take a local product in Round 2 or 3 with the University of Washington's Austin Seferian-Jenkins as well.

St. Louis Rams: Wide Receiver

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    Take a look at the man in the above picture.

    That man is Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins.

    And he's a bad, bad man.

    The Rams have other needs, but wide receiver is the biggest one, even with the drafting of Tavon Austin last year in the first round. Quarterback Sam Bradford has never had a legitimate No. 1 receiver in his four seasons in St. Louis.

    The Rams own the second overall pick in May's draft, and they shouldn't hesitate to draft Watkins, the best receiver on the board.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Wide Receiver

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    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been extremely active in free agency under new coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jason Licht, making a significant splash with player acquisitions. 

    Recently signed players include defensive end Michael Johnson, cornerback Alterraun Verner, tackle Anthony Collins and quarterback Josh McCown.

    But where the Buccaneers really need help in the draft is at the receiver position, where there's stud Vincent Jackson and not much else. Presumed No. 2 receiver Mike Williams has been involved in several off-field incidents this offseason, and that can't make Smith or Licht feel confident in his ability to contribute.

    It's unlikely that Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins will be around when the Bucs hit the clock at seventh overall, but if he is, the team will likely snatch him up. If he's not, they could select Texas A&M's Mike Evans with that pick.

Tennessee Titans: Quarterback

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    Don't be surprised in the slightest if the Tennessee Titans select a quarterback with the 11th overall pick in May's draft despite already having Jake Locker on the roster.


    Locker has shown a major inability to stay healthy, having missed 14 games over the past two seasons. Plus, the team downgraded at backup quarterback with the loss of Ryan Fitzpatrick and the signing of Charlie Whitehurst.

    New coach Ken Whisenhunt might want to put his stamp on the franchise with a quarterback of his choosing, and Locker's injury history might leave the team no choice. There's no way that the Titans can risk having Whitehurst start a number of games next season.

    The Titans are a dark-horse candidate to select a quarterback in the first round.

Washington Redskins: Linebacker

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    The Washington Redskins are once again without a first-round pick by virtue of the trade that brought Robert Griffin III to our nation's capital, so the team won't have a selection until 34th overall.

    It's there that coach Jay Gruden and general manager Bruce Allen should look to fortify the linebacker position.

    The club signed defensive tackle Jason Hatcher, cornerback Tracy Porter and re-signed cornerback DeAngelo Hall. That leaves linebacker as the main need to be addressed, even with the application of the franchise tag to pass-rushing demon Brian Orakpo.

    Rotoworld's Josh Norris mentioned Louisville's Marcus Smith as a potential candidate for the Redskins in the second round and Kentucky's Avery Williamson in the third.


    Nick Kostos is a featured NFL columnist for Bleacher Report and an executive producer for SiriusXM's Mad Dog Sports Radio. You can follow him on Twitter here.