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2016 NFL Draft: Needs and Targets for Teams After 1st Week of Free Agency

Justis MosquedaFeatured ColumnistMarch 17, 2016

2016 NFL Draft: Needs and Targets for Teams After 1st Week of Free Agency

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    In terms of pure personnel impact, the first few days of free agency are up there with draft weekend in the NFL. With the draft coming months after franchises attempt to sign players, teams first get a chance to fill spaces on their roster with veterans before trying to pigeonhole their premier picks to depth-chart weaknesses on draft day.

    Team needs can drastically change over the course of just a few days. The Houston Texans no longer need a quarterback after signing Brock Osweiler. The Miami Dolphins had a need at defensive end with Olivier Vernon already one foot out of the door, but after they signed Mario Williams, they were able to quickly end the talk of drafting a pass-rusher in the first round.

    "Best player available" is a term thrown around often, but at some point, you're building a football team, not just collecting talent. We'll go over every franchise's biggest need as it stands today, including explaining why positions are needs and pinpointing who the top four to five prospects are at those positions.

Arizona Cardinals: Cornerback

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Even though head coach Bruce Arians said the Arizona Cardinals don't have a positional need, that's not necessarily true. They recently traded for former New England Patriots pass-rusher Chandler Jones, who came at the cost of their guard Jonathan Cooper and a second-round pick, per ESPN.com. They then signed former Denver Broncos guard Evan Mathis to fill that hole.

    Still, they could use help at cornerback. Patrick Peterson has one spot locked up, and Tyrann Mathieu plays everywhere, but they need a true second starting outside cornerback heading into the 2016 season.

    Luckily, this class has some great cover talent, as long as franchises are willing to get over a length disadvantage. Based on the Cardinals' drafting history, they are for the right player.

    Potential targets:

    • Jalen Ramsey, Florida State
    • Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida
    • Mackensie Alexander, Clemson
    • Eli Apple, Ohio State
    • William Jackson, Houston

Atlanta Falcons: Middle Linebacker

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    As much as the Paul Worrilow story will touch the heart of the working man, he's not qualified to be the long-term starting middle linebacker in Atlanta. Sure, he was an undrafted free agent who worked his way into the starting role, but he was a free agent for a reason. Sure, he was a team captain, but that's the role of a middle linebacker.

    Shea McClellin, considered to be a first-round bust, moved to linebacker for the Chicago Bears last season and was a captain for them, too. He's not currently on a roster, as the first, second and potentially even third wave of free agency has passed us. (Editor's Note: McClellin is signing a three-year deal with the Patriots, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.)

    Worrilow makes a lot of tackles, 364 in his three-year career to be exact, but the reason he's making tackles is because running backs view his run-fit responsibilities as the path of least resistance. It's not like he's making those tackles in the backfield. He's making those plays four or five yards past the line of scrimmage, which is a win for the offense.

    Potential targets:

    • Myles Jack, UCLA
    • Reggie Ragland, Alabama
    • Kentrell Brothers, Missouri
    • Antonio Morrison, Florida

Baltimore Ravens: Offensive Line

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    Gail Burton/Associated Press

    For what it took to bring in Eugene Monroe from the Jacksonville Jaguars, he hasn't been a bad pickup, but he's missed 20 games over the last three years with the Baltimore Ravens. At left tackle, you want to see consistency above anything else, and Monroe hasn't delivered that.

    At guard, the team just lost Kelechi Osemele, who is now the highest-paid guard in NFL history, to the Oakland Raiders. Marshal Yanda still leads the interior line, but there were a lot of factors as to why the team ended up with the sixth overall pick in this draft.

    The easiest way for the franchise to get back into a Super Bowl groove, other than avoiding catastrophic injuries in 2016, is to invest in the men who block for Joe Flacco.

    Potential targets:

    • Laremy Tunsil, Mississippi
    • Ronnie Stanley, Notre Dame
    • Taylor Decker, Ohio State
    • Joshua Garnett, Stanford
    • Cody Whitehair, Kansas State

Buffalo Bills: Pass-Rushing 4-3 Defensive End

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    Michael Perez/Associated Press

    Mario Williams was just cut by Rex Ryan, and that left a starting role up for grabs in Buffalo. Ryan, the Bills' head coach, isn't always a fan of sending the traditional four defensive linemen to go after a quarterback on the majority of plays, which makes him devalue pass-rushing positions as a whole.

    While he was in New York, though, he did take Quinton Coples in the first round as a 3-4 outside linebacker. Jerry Hughes has one of the defensive end holes filled in Buffalo, but no one on the roster is really equipped to be a 16-game starter opposite of him.

    Even if it's not a position typically valued by Ryan as it is by the rest of the league, the need for even an average starter opposite of Hughes, on the line with Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams, is great enough to warrant an early draft choice.

    Potential targets:

    • Joey Bosa, Ohio State
    • Shaq Lawson, Clemson
    • Noah Spence, Eastern Kentucky
    • Leonard Floyd, Georgia
    • Emmanuel Ogbah, Oklahoma State

Carolina Panthers: Offensive Tackle

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    Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    If you watched any part of Von Miller's Super Bowl 50 destruction of the Carolina Panthers' bookends, you know how badly the duo they have matches up against speed-rushers. At times, you can live with below-average athletes on the edge, but when faced with speed-rushers who have inside countermoves, like Miller and DeMarcus Ware, those tackles will turn into giant liabilities.

    Michael Oher is the team's left tackle. He's best known for being the subject of The Blind Side. Even though he's the most popular offensive lineman in the country, that doesn't mean he's a long-term solution as an actual blindside pass protector.

    Carolina brought back the right tackle, Mike Remmers, for another season on a one-year deal, coming via a tender, worth $2.5 million. The franchise has a 12-month buffer before it's time for it to move on. If the Panthers want to take a project tackle at the end of the first round, it will need to happen this year, not next.

    Potential targets:

    • Laremy Tunsil, Mississippi
    • Ronnie Stanley, Notre Dame
    • Taylor Decker, Ohio State
    • Jason Spriggs, Indiana
    • Le'Raven Clark, Texas Tech

Chicago Bears: Left Tackle

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    Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

    The John Fox-era Chicago Bears started with one of the worst rosters in the league. At one point, they had the lead in Vegas odds to finish with the first overall pick in the draft. Playing above expectations in 2015, with young players no less, the Bears have a nice future to look forward to.

    With that being said, not every hole on their roster is filled yet. The addition of Bobby Massie means that Kyle Long, who was the team's right tackle, will move back to guard, where he was a young Pro Bowler. At left tackle, though, it would be foolish to assume that Charles Leno, the team's 2015 seventh-round pick from Boise State, is going to be the long-term answer.

    History would suggest that Day 3 left tackles are stopgap players more often than not. In this class, Chicago should have a shot to nab a bookend with high potential in the first round. Having that piece ready to go for whenever it eventually moves on from Jay Cutler at quarterback will be crucial for the development of a franchise passer.

    Potential targets:

    • Laremy Tunsil, Mississippi
    • Ronnie Stanley, Notre Dame
    • Jason Spriggs, Indiana
    • Le'Raven Clark, Texas Tech

Cincinnati Bengals: Nose Tackle

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    Gary Landers/Associated Press

    The Cincinnati Bengals do a solid job of keeping everything in house and avoiding future needs by bringing in someone a year early. At nose tackle, they have longtime starter Domata Peko and the recently re-signed Pat Sims. The issue? They're both aging rapidly at 31 years old and 30 years old, respectively.

    The team could also use some linebacker help, as A.J. Hawk is 32 and Vontaze Burfict has the tendency to be a headache. Those positions and receiver are the only real "needs" the Bengals have this offseason. You can find receivers and linebackers in later rounds, though, while light-on-their-feet 300-pounders are more difficult to find.

    Potential targets:

    • Andrew Billings, Baylor
    • Jarran Reed, Alabama
    • Vernon Butler, Louisiana Tech
    • Kenny Clark, UCLA
    • Austin Johnson, Penn State

Cleveland Browns: Quarterback

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    Ron Schwane/Associated Press

    Josh McCown is going to be 37 before the season starts. It's safe to say that we know who he is at this point. The Cleveland Browns drafted a quarterback in the first round of the 2014 draft because they needed a long-term option. Unfortunately, they drafted Johnny Manziel, who tends to make short-term decisions.

    Manziel has been released after two years with the team, which is virtually unheard of for a young quarterback or a first-round pick at any position. Behind McCown in the depth chart are Austin Davis, who had a 66.2 quarterback rating last season; Connor Shaw, a 2014 undrafted player with a 55.2 quarterback rating and Pat Devlin, who has played for four NFL franchises and two college programs. Devlin, who entered the league in 2011, has still yet to throw a pass in the league.

    The team needs a quarterback. Period. With some, such as Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com, linking the team to Colin Kaepernick, it at least seems like the new front office is trying to bring in competition. If the Browns can't find a passer by late April, they will have to draft one.

    Potential targets:

    • Carson Wentz, North Dakota State
    • Jared Goff, California
    • Paxton Lynch, Memphis
    • Connor Cook, Michigan State

Dallas Cowboys: Pass-Rushing 4-3 Defensive End

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Rod Marinelli is one of the best positional coaches that the football world has ever seen. If you bring him a piece of clay to mold, he'll make you a statue. The problem is, Dallas' pieces of clay keep finding themselves out of Marinelli's hands.

    Defensive end Greg Hardy, a former star in Carolina, was suspended by the NFL due to a domestic abuse allegation, as the football world already had all eyes fixated on the issue due to the Ray Rice incident. The Cowboys put their neck on the line for Hardy, who was semi-productive with the team but is now free agent. It doesn't appear that Dallas wants to continuously be labeled as "that team."

    Last year, the franchise took Randy Gregory in the second round out of Nebraska. He failed a drug test at the combine, which started his plummet from a top-five pick to a non-first-rounder. He's a pass-rushing specialist, but he won't see the field for at least the first four games of his sophomore season, as he's suspended for substance abuse by the league.

    The team has DeMarcus Lawrence, who is a decent, not great, defensive end. Dallas signed Cedric Thornton, who may be able to give the team some run down reps on the edge but isn't a pass-rusher by any means. The only high-upside player in the unit, other than Gregory, is David Irvin, who is also off-field concern and was an undrafted rookie last season. The Cowboys need to find someone to bother the opposing quarterback if they want to strike for a Super Bowl while the iron is hot.

    Potential targets:

    • Joey Bosa, Ohio State
    • Shaq Lawson, Clemson
    • Noah Spence, Eastern Kentucky
    • Leonard Floyd, Georgia
    • Emmanuel Ogbah, Oklahoma State

Denver Broncos: Quarterback

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Do I even have to explain this one? Brock Osweiler left Denver for the Houston Texans, Peyton Manning retired, and John Elway just traded for Mark Sanchez, who was the third-string quarterback in Philadelphia. The quarterback position will have the same role as a substitute teacher for the 2016 Broncos, just keeping on the keeping on, but a long-term investment is needed for when these Denver defenders hit free agency or age out of their worth.

    Rumors of the Broncos trading for Colin Kaepernick, the former star 49ers passer, are floating around. Michael Silver of NFL Network even stated the team told San Francisco it would give up fourth-round value for the quarterback.

    The Broncos know they need a quarterback. We know they need a quarterback.

    Potential targets:

    • Carson Wentz, North Dakota State
    • Jared Goff, California
    • Paxton Lynch, Memphis
    • Connor Cook, Michigan State

Detroit Lions: Pass-Rushing 4-3 Defensive End

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    Jonathan Bachman/Associated Press

    The 2013 draft class looks bad in retrospect, but the Detroit Lions hit a home run by drafting Ziggy Ansah. Coming out of BYU, he was labeled as "just an athlete," but he has transcended the box that some originally put him in. Taking Ansah into account, the team still needs more than just one pass-rusher.

    The only other 4-3 defensive end currently on the roster is Devin Taylor, who is 6'7" and 267 pounds. They're both power rushers, hardly complementary of each other. To give offenses a change of pace, it would be a good idea for the Lions to find an edge-bending 4-3 defensive end to kick that defense up a level.

    Potential targets:

    • Joey Bosa, Ohio State
    • Shaq Lawson, Clemson
    • Noah Spence, Eastern Kentucky
    • Leonard Floyd, Georgia

Green Bay Packers: Defensive Line

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    While inside linebacker and tight end have been weaknesses of the Green Bay Packers roster for years, there are at least functional bodies at those positions. If worst comes to worst, Clay Matthews can hang as an off-the-ball linebacker for another year, while Julius Peppers and Nick Perry, both in contract seasons, can start as 3-4 outside linebackers. Richard Rodgers hasn't been a stellar pass-catching tight end, but he's not the Achilles' heel of the team, either.

    On the defensive line, Mike Daniels has locked up the 3-technique role. At nose tackle, the Packers re-signed Letroy Guion but lost former first-round pick B.J. Raji to semi-retirement. At 5-technique defensive end, the team has Mike Pennel—a 2014 undrafted player who spent time at three different colleges and will be suspended for the first four games of the year due to violating the NFL's substance-abuse programand Josh Boyd, a 2013 fifth-round pick who ended his 2015 season with a broken ankle.

    The defensive line is the most heavily rotated position in the sport, and when players are hurt, suspended and retiring, it makes it hard for a franchise to stay afloat in that unit. Green Bay didn't help itself by avoiding free agency or moving of Datone Jones from 3-technique to outside linebacker. The team needs more big bodies on the defensive line.

    Potential targets:

    • A'Shawn Robinson, Alabama
    • Andrew Billings, Baylor
    • Jarran Reed, Alabama
    • Vernon Butler, Louisiana Tech
    • Kenny Clark, UCLA

Houston Texans: Center

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Oddly enough, the Houston Texans may have had the most impactful free agency in terms of switching around their team needs. They added a quarterback in Brock Osweiler and a running back in Lamar Miller, along with guard Jeff Allen. They did lose their center Ben Jones to their in-division rival Tennessee Titans, though.

    Fortunately for the Texans, this is one of the deepest center classes in recent memory. Even looking at the Senior Bowl's slate of centers, every single one may develop into a future starter. That doesn't even include someone like Cody Whitehair of Kansas State, who can transition over to the position.

    Right now, the center depth of the Texans looks like it's Tony Bergstrom, who recently signed with the team, Greg Mancz, an undrafted free agent from 2015, and Dalton Freeman, a 25-year-old who has bounced around the league. You wouldn't want to go on the field with the combination of them for 16 games, let alone trust one to take the reins of a starting job.

    Potential targets:

    • Cody Whitehair, Kansas State
    • Ryan Kelly, Alabama
    • Nick Martin, Notre Dame
    • Christian Westerman, Arizona State

Indianapolis Colts: 3-4 Outside Linebacker

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    The best player in Indianapolis' front seven is likely the worst one heading his unit in the NFL. The Colts somehow are barely scraping by with average-at-best players on the defensive side of the ball.

    In 2013, Bjoern Werner was drafted to be the team's future star pass-rusher. During his rookie year, he posted 2.5 sacks and one start. He took over as a full-time player in 2014 but totaled just four sacks. In his third year in the league, he didn't record a single start or sack. He's now a free agent.

    The team thought it found a gem in Jonathan Newsome, who was a fifth-round pick in 2014. In his rookie season, he recorded 6.5 sacks. This past February, he was arrested for marijuana possession, leading to his release from the team. Now, the team is fronted by the vanilla 30-year-old Erik Walden, the 33-year-old Trent Cole and the 35-year-old Robert Mathis.

    A little youth and hope couldn't hurt.

    Potential targets:

    • Shaq Lawson, Clemson
    • Noah Spence, Eastern Kentucky
    • Leonard Floyd, Georgia
    • Kamalei Correa, Boise State
    • Yannick Ngakoue, Maryland

Jacksonville Jaguars: Pass-Rushing 4-3 Defensive End

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    Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

    The Jacksonville Jaguars just drafted Dante Fowler Jr. out of Florida with the third overall pick last season, but let's assume his impact as a 10-sack pass-rusher is far-fetched at the moment. Fowler missed his rookie year with a torn ACL, which is going to make his NFL journey an uphill battle in the first place, but he only had 14.5 sacks in his three-year college career with the Gators.

    For reference, Penn State's Carl Nassib had 15.5 sacks in his senior season alone. Two potential 2016 first-round picks, Oklahoma State's Emmanuel Ogbah and Clemson's Shaq Lawson, would have been breathing down Fowler's career totals with single seasons of 13 and 12.5 sacks, respectively.

    On top of that, it should be noted that three of Fowler's 8.5 sacks as a junior, his final year of college ball, came against East Carolina in a bowl game. Had he not broken out in that final effort, we would have been discussing how the Gator never even had more than 5.5 sacks in a single college season. Fowler isn't a true pass-rusher; he's a jack of all trades.

    Jacksonville has loaded up on 3-technique defensive tackles, but the starter opposite of Fowler is still up in the air. Can Jared Odrick be that guy, despite weighing 300-plus pounds? Will the team put the onus on three-down pass-rushing on Ryan Davis or Chris Smith? In what feels like a must-win season, the team can't skimp on pressuring the quarterback, the most important unit on the defensive side of the ball.

    Potential targets:

    • Joey Bosa, Ohio State
    • Shaq Lawson, Clemson
    • Noah Spence, Eastern Kentucky
    • Leonard Floyd, Georgia

Kansas City Chiefs: Cornerback

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    This offseason, the Kansas City Chiefs lost Sean Smith to the Oakland Raiders. He had been a starting cornerback in Kansas City since 2013, when he came over from the Miami Dolphins. Phillip Gaines, a 2014 third-round pick from Rice, is a lengthy cornerback with potential, but he's far from locking up a starting outside cornerback job.

    Last year, the Chiefs drafted Marcus Peters, a high-upside corner who was in the doghouse at the University of Washington. At this point, he seems to be hitting the expectations of a young Charles Woodson. Kansas City has one starting cornerback in a three-cornerback league. It would be in the team's best interest to swoop one up early in a class that is deep at the position but relatively weak outside of the interior lines.

    Potential targets:

    • Jalen Ramsey, Florida State
    • Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida
    • Mackensie Alexander, Clemson
    • Eli Apple, Ohio State
    • William Jackson, Houston

Los Angeles Rams: Quarterback

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    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    Case Keenum received a first-round tender from the recently relocated Los Angeles Rams. Projecting today, you'd assume that the 28-year-old quarterback with 15 touchdowns to his name would be the starter heading into 2016.

    The top backup would be Nick Foles, who is desperately trying to replicate his success with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2013, when he earned a Pro Bowl nod with a ratio of 27 touchdowns to interceptions. In 2015, he threw only seven touchdowns, along with 10 interceptions. L.A. drafted Sean Mannion in the third round last season, but he even struggled at Oregon State once Brandin Cooks, a 2014 first-round pick, left Corvallis.

    Head coach Jeff Fisher needs to make a move for a quarterback soon, unless he somehow thinks he caught lightning in a bottle with Keenum.

    Potential targets:

    • Carson Wentz, North Dakota State
    • Jared Goff, California
    • Paxton Lynch, Memphis
    • Connor Cook, Michigan State

Miami Dolphins: Running Back

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    Bill Wippert/Associated Press

    As it stands today, Jay Ajayi, a 2015 fifth-round pick, is the starting tailback in Miami's offense. The issue is, he is an injury liability, which is why he was around on Day 3 of the draft. At Boise State, he suffered a knee injury that damaged his cartilage, which wasn't known until combine health evaluations brought it to light.

    Ajayi may not be around to see a second contract, considering that injury at that position. Lamar Miller, who has been everyone's sleeper fantasy football pick for years, left town for the Houston Texans. The Dolphins made a run for C.J. Anderson, but the Denver Broncos matched his offer sheet.

    Miami lost its top back, tried to make a run at another team's starter and failed. It's hard to make the case that it's content with Ajayi, especially when you take into account of what we know about his health. The team's only "star" offensively is a slot receiver who averages fewer than 10 yards per reception. Jarvis Landry's career average would have ranked 111th in the NFL last season in terms of yards per catch.

    The team needs to find skill talent, and Miami needs to find it quickly. DeVante Parker was brought on as "the guy" last season, but injury held back the receiver, and running backs have more rookie contract impact in the NFL.

    Potential targets:

    • Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State
    • Derrick Henry, Alabama
    • Alex Collins, Arkansas
    • Paul Perkins, UCLA

Minnesota Vikings: Wide Receiver

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    Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press

    Mike Wallace just left Minnesota but not before taking a parting blow at Teddy Bridgewater, the Vikings' now third-year quarterback. The receiver failed to meet expectations in Minneapolis, as did Greg Jennings, who left the team in 2014.

    The Vikings hoped they could bank on 2013 first-round pick Cordarrelle Patterson to hit, but after his rookie season, he's been a virtual non-factor. The only "names" left on the depth chart are Charles Johnson, an undrafted player from the 2013 with 40 career receptions on three teams, and Stefon Diggs, who was a breakout player as a fifth-round rookie last season.

    The team can't cross its fingers and hope that the 22-year-old from Maryland can take over the passing game by himself. If Minnesota wants to take that next step, vaulting it from playoff attendee to playoff contender, it will need to add at least one more quality pass-catcher to the offense.

     Potential targets:

    • Laquon Treadwell, Mississippi
    • Josh Doctson, TCU
    • Corey Coleman, Baylor
    • Will Fuller, Notre Dame
    • Michael Thomas, Ohio State

New England Patriots: Wide Receiver

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    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    Every year we say the New England Patriots need to invest in an outside receiver, and every year they avoid our chatter. It's been the way ever since Randy Moss' time in Massachusetts. They've failed on early draft picks like Aaron Dobson and Chad Jackson during Bill Belichick's tenure as a head coach, but maybe this is the year that they turn their luck around.

    This class may not be heavy at the top with quality receiver prospects, which is sort of fortunate for a team that doesn't possess a first-round pick. The Pats lost that selection due to Deflategate, but they brought in an extra second-round choice by trading Chandler Jones to Arizona earlier this week. There may only be one first-round talent at receiver this year, but the Patriots are armed with enough draft value to trade into the early second round to potentially take the second pass-catcher off the board.

    Potential targets:

    • Josh Doctson, TCU
    • Corey Coleman, Baylor
    • Will Fuller, Notre Dame
    • Michael Thomas, Ohio State

New Orleans Saints: Defensive Line

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    Beggars can't be choosers. After failing in free agency, not drafting in the first two rounds of the 2012 draft and putting themselves in cap hell, the New Orleans Saints have little talent defensively. They added young linebackers in Stephone Anthony and Hau'oli Kikaha last draft, and it may be time to double-dip on the defensive line this year.

    The only long-term starter on the current defensive line is Cameron Jordan, the 4-3 defensive end who transitioned from 3-4 defensive end with ease. The Saints could add a pass-rusher opposite of Jordan or a defensive tackle at either the under tackle or nose tackle positions. Their draft should be pretty open-ended with a "best defensive player available" approach.

    Potential targets:

    • Joey Bosa, Ohio State
    • Sheldon Rankins, Louisville
    • Shaq Lawson, Clemson
    • Noah Spence, Eastern Kentucky
    • Andrew Billings, Baylor

New York Giants: Left Tackle

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    Giants fans don't want to hear about another unsexy first-round offensive lineman, but the team needs it. Will Beatty is a free agent. Marshall Newhouse has proven over the course of multiple seasons for multiple franchises that he's not a starting-caliber tackle, and Ereck Flowers is too inconsistent to be considered a left tackle.

    Flowers did deal with an ankle injury as a rookie, but his weak anchor and poor-timed hands were also factors in his college days, when 230-pound pass-rushers bull-rushed him into his quarterback. He has a big frame and great length, but the 2015 top-10 pick just can't be trusted as a blindside bookend at this point.

    Putting his boom-bust potential on the right side of the line while bringing in a consistent player to entrench at left tackle will be crucial toward keeping Eli Manning healthy enough to possibly quarterback New York to a third Super Bowl.

    Potential targets:

    • Laremy Tunsil, Mississippi
    • Ronnie Stanley, Notre Dame
    • Jason Spriggs, Indiana
    • Le'Raven Clark, Texas Tech

New York Jets: 3-4 Outside Linebacker

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    Al Bello/Getty Images

    Rex Ryan doesn't value pass-rushers. It's one reason for frustration with the talented defensive line he has with the Buffalo Bills. When Ryan was the head coach of the New York Jets, a title that was stripped from him only a year ago, the only big play he ever made for a pass-rusher was drafting first-rounder Quinton Coples, who has been released by both the Jets and their in-division rival Miami Dolphins since late November.

    Defensive mastermind Todd Bowles, who replaced Ryan, moved Sheldon Richardson to 3-4 outside linebacker, which is virtually unheard of for a 290-pounder. With Muhammad Wilkerson and sixth overall pick Leonard Williams at defensive end, though, there wasn't much room for Richardson in the team's long-term plan on the defensive line, plus the Jets desperately needed help there.

    The issue is, you're never going to mistake Richardson as an edge-bender like Von Miller. For the most part, he's playing out of position due to personnel and necessity. He can hang as a jumbo strong-side linebacker like Julius Peppers and Co. in Green Bay, a team that last season moved its first-round 3-4 defensive end Datone Jones to outside linebacker, too. There's still a hole at the weak-side edge defender position on the Jets, though, the premier pass-rushing position in the NFL.

    Quarterback is a hole on the roster, but Ryan Fitzpatrick is still on the market.

    Potential targets:

    • Shaq Lawson, Clemson
    • Noah Spence, Eastern Kentucky
    • Leonard Floyd, Georgia
    • Kamalei Correa, Boise State
    • Yannick Ngakoue, Maryland

Oakland Raiders: Running Back

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    Reed Hoffmann/Associated Press

    The Oakland Raiders are looking like the new Dallas Cowboys offensively. They have their Dez Bryant in Amari Cooper, their mobile passer in Derek Carr and an elite offensive line.

    At left tackle, the squad re-signed Donald Penn. At the guard positions, there are Kelechi Oseleme, who recently became the highest-paid guard in the history of the league when he joined as a free agent via Baltimore, and Gabe Jackson, the team's 2014 third-round pick. At center, there's Rodney Hudson, who signed a big deal in 2015 when he left the in-division Kansas City Chiefs. At right tackle, Austin Howard holds down the position.

    Now, all the team needs is its version of DeMarco Murray, so it can attempt to replicate the back's 1,800-yard season in 2014, when Murray was still a member of the Cowboys. As we learned last season with Darren McFadden in the Dallas backfield, tailback talent still matters in the ground game. It's not all offensive line play.

    The team's top back is Latavius Murray, who has no relation to DeMarco. He's a fourth-year runner who is athletic but just can't seem to piece together a season where he looks like a dominant No. 1 running back. There are some options at the top of the draft that can push the Raiders from a franchise with a quality line to a franchise with a quality offense.

    Potential targets:

    • Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State
    • Derrick Henry, Alabama
    • Alex Collins, Arkansas
    • Paul Perkins, UCLA

Philadelphia Eagles: Running Back

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    Michael Perez/Associated Press

    Last offseason, we were mere moments away from the Philadelphia Eagles bringing in DeMarco Murray, Ryan Mathews and Frank Gore in one broad stroke. Gore eventually went to Indianapolis to take the starting tailback role for the Colts, while Philly just traded Murray to the Tennessee Titans for a flip of fourth-round picks. It's unlikely that Mathews, who has started just 12 games over his past two seasons with two different teams, could head a backfield by himself.

    New Philadelphia Eagles general manager Howie Roseman didn't just trade Murray, but he also flipped cornerback Byron Maxwell, who was just given a megadeal last offseason, and linebacker Kiko Alonso, who was brought in via the LeSean McCoy trade, to the Miami Dolphins. The purpose of this trade? To move from the 13th overall pick up to the eighth overall pick.

    The team must have seen a player that it liked enough to turn in three assets for one. Could it be Ezekiel Elliott, the premier running back from Ohio State? The rest of the league seems to be dismissing the value of running backs. It's possible that Roseman believes he will be around for the eighth overall pick, which led to the move. If Elliott is gone, there are still plenty of options after Day 1.

    Potential targets:

    • Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State
    • Derrick Henry, Alabama
    • Alex Collins, Arkansas
    • Paul Perkins, UCLA

Pittsburgh Steelers: Nose Tackle

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    The Pittsburgh Steelers are one of the few teams in the NFL that run a mostly two-gapping defense. That means their starting defensive linemen have to be good enough in the run game to play both sides of a man. When Steve McLendon left for the New York Jets, he opened up a hole in the center of that defensive line.

    Daniel McCullers is a giant nose tackle at 6'7", 353 pounds, but his talent doesn't match his size. This late into free agency, the Steelers need to be looking at the draft for a plug-and-play starter. To nab one of those players, they'll likely have to take him in the first round.

     Potential targets:

    • Andrew Billings, Baylor
    • Jarran Reed, Alabama
    • Vernon Butler, Louisiana Tech
    • Kenny Clark, UCLA
    • Austin Johnson, Penn State

San Diego Chargers: 5-Technique Defensive End

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    The San Diego Chargers are one of the few teams who play significant snaps in a true 3-4 defense, which means that all three of their down linemen are lined up over an offensive lineman instead of a gap. Instead of penetrating into the backfield for sacks and tackles for losses, they "two-gap," slow-playing on the defensive line, with the goal being to make the lives of their inside linebackers easier. 

    The team is set with Corey Liuget as one of the defensive ends, while Brandon Mebane just signed on as a nose tackle. The other defensive end position is up for grabs, though. Kendall Reyes, who started 46 games for the team as a defensive end over the last three years, left San Diego for a one-year deal with the Washington Redskins this spring. The former second-round pick is only 26 years old but struggled with the Chargers, resulting in the mutual decision to move on.

    The two traits you look for in a 5-technique defensive end are length and strength. Think of Calais Campbell and Muhammad Wilkerson. Those are traditional 3-4 defensive ends, which San Diego needs to be in the market for.

    Potential targets:

    • DeForest Buckner, Oregon
    • Emmanuel Ogbah, Oklahoma State
    • Kevin Dodd, Clemson
    • Jihad Ward, Illinois
    • Bronson Kaufusi, BYU

San Francisco 49ers: Quarterback

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    Tony Avelar/Associated Press

    The San Francisco 49ers may have an answer for their offensive woes already on their roster, but they don't seem to value him much. Colin Kaepernick was five yards away from being a Super Bowl-winning quarterback, but February 2013 feels like decades ago now. According to Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee on March 11, the team reportedly has agreed to send Kaepernick over to the Cleveland Browns for a third-round pick, but the two sides are waiting for a restructure of his contract to pull the trigger.

    You don't trade your quarterback if you think he's your starter at the most important position in sports. You really don't trade him for a third-round pick. Even if he does stay under Chip Kelly's wing, it's hard to imagine him being "the guy" if the team is only going to value him as the 65th pick in the draft. 

    In the past three years, the quarterbacks immediately drafted after the 65th selection have been Garrett Grayson, Logan Thomas and Mike Glennon. They weren't expected to make a splash at the next level. Blaine Gabbert's five-year career hasn't been up to par with a top-10 pick's potential, either. Though he's only 26 years old, that ship has seemed to have sailed, too.

    Potential targets:

    • Carson Wentz, North Dakota State
    • Jared Goff, California
    • Paxton Lynch, Memphis
    • Connor Cook, Michigan State

Seattle Seahawks: Left Tackle

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    The Seattle Seahawks seem a bit big-headed about offensive linemen. They just drop random pieces into the lap of Tom Cable, their current line coach who used to be the head man in Oakland. Slowly but surely, though, those pieces are leaving. J.R. Sweezy, a defensive tackle convert, just signed with Tampa Bay Buccaneers, while their left tackle since 2010, Russell Okung, is a free agent.

    The team's current offensive tackles are Bradley Sowell, Garry Gilliam, Terry Poole and possibly J'Marcus Webb, who has played both tackle and guard in his career. None of those players would be much more than a swing tackle for most NFL franchises. If the Seahawks field two of them as starters next season, Russell Wilson may think about transitioning to baseball.

    The team could have at least banked on its second-round pick from 2014, Justin Britt, had he not failed at right tackle to the point that the team moved him to guard after just one regular season. The team needs help, and there aren't many tackles left on the free-agency market. Unless they do something very Seahawks-ish, like trade for Joe Thomas, then they'll have to turn to the draft.

    Potential targets:

    • Laremy Tunsil, Mississippi
    • Ronnie Stanley, Notre Dame
    • Jason Spriggs, Indiana
    • Le'Raven Clark, Texas Tech

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Pass-Rushing 4-3 Defensive End

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Last year, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers may have had the worst pass-rushing combination in the league on their defensive edges. They added Robert Ayers, who came via the New York Giants, but he's far from a top pass-rusher in the league. He ended his 2015 season on a hot streak, earning 7.5 sacks in his last five games of the year.

    With that being said, 2015 was the only season in the 30-year-old's career where he passed the 5.5-sack mark. Was last year an outlier or his new self? At his age, is he going to rapidly decline? When he's the only starting-caliber pass-rusher on your team, you need to worry.

    You can't have a worrisome secondary and a worrisome pass rush. The Buccaneers need to pick one or the other to work on early in the draft, and cornerbacks are easier to find in the later rounds than a defensive end is. Jacquies Smith was a fun speed-rusher last season, but he's only going to be able to exploit bad right tackles.

    Potential targets:

    • Joey Bosa, Ohio State
    • Shaq Lawson, Clemson
    • Noah Spence, Eastern Kentucky
    • Leonard Floyd, Georgia
    • Emmanuel Ogbah, Oklahoma State

Tennessee Titans: Right Tackle

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    David Richard/Associated Press

    Marcus Mariota had two flaws coming out of Oregon: He fumbled when he was sacked, and he often miscalculated the deep ball. The Tennessee Titans still took him second overall, and he had a solid rookie year. If they want to play to his strengths, though, they're going to need to front a strong offensive line so he can calmly develop his deep passing ability.

    Sack-fumbles haunted his rookie year, but Tennessee didn't put together a cohesive offensive line. Byron Bell, who was signed in late August, started 16 games for the team, while rookie Jeremiah Poutasi, a 21-year-old guard prospect, started at right tackle.

    The line has evened out with Taylor Lewan (a 2014 first-rounder) at left tackle, Chance Warmack (a 2013 first-rounder) and Poutasi set to start at guard and a recently signed Ben Jones projected to play center. There's still a hole at right tackle, though. If Titans want to avoid their car-crash performance of 2015, they need to fill the hole early.

    Potential targets:

    • Laremy Tunsil, Mississippi
    • Ronnie Stanley, Notre Dame
    • Taylor Decker, Ohio State
    • Jason Spriggs, Indiana

Washington Redskins: Inside Linebacker

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    Mark Tenally/Associated Press

    Last draft, Scot McCloughan proved that he wasn't scared to take a safe pick at a non-premier position if he was the best player on the board. The Washington Redskins general manager took a guard, Brandon Scherff, with a top-five pick, which is virtually unheard of. This year, his biggest position of need is also a non-premier position: inside linebacker.

    Mason Foster, Will Compton, Riley Perry and a slew of other below-average inside linebackers fill out the team's depth chart. It's not out of the question that the team brings in an off-the-ball linebacker in just the first round but double-dips at the position early on in the draft. The unit may as well have a big "help wanted" sign plastered in front of the film room.

    Potential targets:

    • Myles Jack, UCLA
    • Darron Lee, Ohio State
    • Reggie Ragland, Alabama
    • Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame

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