The NFL regular season is a game away from being complete, but a little less than 65 percent of the 2011 draft order is written in stone.
The playoffs, in addition to Sunday night's game between St. Louis and Seattle, will go a long way in determining which teams lay claim to the draft's final 12 spots.
Here's how the 2011 NFL Draft order shakes out as of Sunday evening.
[Note: Winners of ties are determined by strength of schedule, or lack thereof. Much of what you'll read in regards to team needs, projected picks, free agents, etc. remains the same from my last draft order update.]
1. Carolina Panthers (2-14)
It’s uncertain whether the Panthers will retain the first overall pick or deal it for a stockpile of draft choices, but no matter the route, Carolina must work diligently and intelligently to plug a number of holes, including voids at quarterback and receiver.
2. Denver Broncos (4-12)
The Broncos are currently in the market for a head coach, and when he arrives, the first order of business will be figuring out how to juggle patching together some semblance of a defense and determining whether Tim Tebow deserves a shot as the franchise’s starting quarterback.
3. Buffalo Bills (4-12)
The Bills, with a loss to the Jets on Sunday, clinched the third overall pick by finishing between Denver and Arizona in a battle of strength of schedule. Presented with a world of possibilities, Buffalo could effectively address issues on either side of the ball. Andrew Luck would be the ideal pick, but since he’s not likely to slip through the fingers of the Panthers, Marcell Dareus, Patrick Peterson, or any first-round-caliber defensive stalwart would fit nicely.
4. Cincinnati Bengals (4-12)
The Bengals have done a respectable job of keeping Carson Palmer upright this season, ranked 22nd with 28 sacks allowed, but some help along the interior and on the edge would be welcomed should Cincy opt not to side with Da’Quan Bowers to provide some defensive support.
5. Arizona Cardinals (5-11)
Derek Anderson has been a disaster, and neither Max Hall nor John Skelton has been particularly inspiring. Other areas on the field are just as to blame for Arizona’s woeful season, but the Cardinals must come to a conclusion whether their quarterback of the future is on the current roster or awaits selection in April.
6. Cleveland Browns (5-11)
The Browns have something going in that backfield with Colt McCoy and Peyton Hillis. Now all they need to do is find an impact wide receiver, a bill that could be amply fit by Georgia’s A.J. Green or possibly Julio Jones from Alabama.
7. San Francisco 49ers (6-10)
Alex Smith. Troy Smith. Alex Smith. Troy Smith. The merry-go-round at quarterback never stopped under Mike Singletary, which is why he is now unemployed. His replacement needs to either settle on one of the two or find himself a rookie capable of erasing all doubt—and do so quickly.
8. Tennessee Titans (6-10)
Kerry Collins is a free agent this offseason, and you never know what frame of mind Vince Young is going to be in, leaving uncertainty as to who the clear-cut starter will be in 2011. Among Tennessee’s other concerns: tight end, inside linebacker, and corner.
9. Dallas Cowboys (6-10)
The ‘Boys could use some youth up front, especially along the interior, where the average age among the centers and guards is a geriatric 32 years. But the 3-4 could use another pass-rushing threat to complement DeMarcus Ware, which is where Bowers would fit in if he were to fall this far.
10. Washington Redskins (6-10)
Mike Shanahan’s first was a season to forget in Washington. Perhaps by April, the wailing moaning will have died down and the head coach will have an idea of how he wants to construct his roster through the draft. Areas of focus, particularly in the first round, will be quarterback and offensive tackle.
11. Houston Texans (6-10)
Where to start with the Texans, who are on the verge of finishing the season with the worst pass defense the league has ever seen. Ever. If I’m in that Houston war room come draft day, I’m suggesting Patrick Peterson is the first of three selections spent on corners and safeties.
12. Minnesota Vikings (6-10)
The Vikings’ draft plans will largely depend on who the head coach is. If Leslie Frazier trades in his interim tag for a more permanent one, it will be interesting to see if he chooses to forgo addressing the quarterback position in the first few rounds, which would imply that he has seen enough of Tarvaris Jackson and Joe Webb to stick with the duo.
13. Detroit Lions (6-10)
The Lions drafted the anchor of their defense last year with Ndamukong Suh. In 2011, Detroit could address more pressing needs on offense or choose to shore up the real estate behind Suh by selecting Prince Amukamara from Nebraska or Akeem Ayers, the outside linebacker from UCLA.
14. Seattle Seahawks (6-9)*
Free agency could hit Seattle’s offensive line hard, so adequately replenishing the front five will be key in the draft, as will possibly finding a mid-round quarterback capable of pushing, if not overcoming, Charlie Whitehurst for the starting job at quarterback.
Sunday night’s season finale will prove crucial to Seattle draft position. Lose and the Seahawks could plummet to inside the top 10; win and the pick becomes no better than No. 21.
15. Miami Dolphins (7-9)
Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams are both at or near the age when running backs begin to slow down, so finding depth behind them should be a priority. Mark Ingram has proven to be a reliable, workhorse-style back, and he would fit Tony Sparano’s scheme well, including an ability to take an occasional snap in the Wildcat.
16. Jacksonville Jaguars (8-8)
Aaron Kampman, the Jags prized free-agency acquisition, now has torn the ACL in both knees, leading to serious durability concerns. Jacksonville needs to get younger across the board on defense, but Purdue’s Ryan Kerrigan would be a good selection midway through the opening round.
17. Oakland Raiders (8-8) (Pick traded to New England)
Turnover at the linebacker position may be forthcoming in Oakland, where three members of the corps are up for free agency. Needs at quarterback and receiver jump out more, but no matter which direction the Raiders want to go in, they’ll have to wait until after the first round.
Oakland surrendered this pick when they received Richard Seymour in a trade with New England.
18. San Diego Chargers (9-7)
The ongoing fiasco with Vincent Jackson may strip Philip Rivers of his best receiver. Then again, the offense seemed to operate just fine without him this season, so maybe holes at inside linebacker and in the secondary will be plugged first.
19. New York Giants (10-6)
Assuming he’s still around for 2011, Tom Coughlin may search for a defensive tackle in the first few rounds, seeing that Barry Cofield is up for free agency. Same goes for defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka, who missed most of the season with a herniated disk in his neck, in which case the Giants could consider Drake Nevis from LSU or Texas A&M’s Von Miller as a hybrid linebacker/stand-up defensive end.
20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-6)
There could be some use for another impact player at wide receiver to complement the backfield of Josh Freeman and back LeGarrette Blount, who has the look of an emerging star, but the Bucs drafted four wideouts in 2010. That said, much of this year’s draft should be devoted to what has been a feeble pass rush and sub-par run defense.
21. St. Louis Rams (7-8)*
The Rams need to upgrade at defensive tackle, outside linebacker, and safety, but a lack of playmaking ability at wide receiver is glaring. Oklahoma State’s Justin Blackmon is as physically gifted as any receiver in the draft, but St. Louis would have to feel extremely lucky if he were to fall this far.
Like the Seahawks, the Rams can improve their draft order with a loss in the season finale. A loss would drop the Rams to the No. 15 or 16 range, while a win would assure St. Louis of a pick no better than No. 21.
22. Indianapolis Colts (10-6)
Needs include bolstering the run defense and acquiring depth at offensive tackle, where the potential departure of free agent Charlie Johnson would leave a void. But sooner or later, the Colts are going to have to decide whether retaining Bob Sanders has become too much of a risk, given his injury history. If not, UCLA’s Rahim Moore would be a likely selection.
23. Green Bay Packers (10-6)
The Packers trudged to a playoff berth amid numerous high-profile injuries, specifically along the back end of the defense. Charles Woodson is aging, so a replacement for him may be forthcoming, as may one for 35-year-old Donald Driver, whose contract is not up for another couple seasons but may not be worth retaining at this point.
24. Kansas City Chiefs (10-6)
A wonderful draft in 2010 was one of the biggest driving forces behind the Chiefs’ resurgence this season. Now the idea is stocking the roster with depth at key positions, such as defensive end, tight end, offensive line, and linebacker.
25. Philadelphia Eagles (10-6)
Needless to say, Michael Vick appears to have played his way into the quarterback role for the long-term, which means Andy Reid will have to weigh the short-term fate of backup Kevin Kolb, who could walk as soon as 2012. If Reid elects to trade Kolb in exchange for draft picks, the Eagles may look at possible candidates to challenge Mike Kafka for the No. 2 role, after addressing needs at linebacker, offensive line, and corner in the early rounds.
26. New York Jets (11-5)
Injured defensive tackle Kris Jenkins recently contemplated retirement before opting to return for 2011, but who will he line up with along the interior? Defensive end Vernon Gholston hasn’t lived up to the hype, and Shaun Ellis will turn 34 prior to next season. Look for the Jets to go defense in the first round, unless they feel incapable of re-signing the trio of Braylon Edwards, Brad Smith, and Santonio Holmes, all of whom are free agents after the season.
27. New Orleans Saints (11-5)
Defense is where the troubles lie in New Orleans. The Saints could go in any number of ways in the first round, including defensive end or tackle, outside linebacker, or safety. Alabama’s Marcell Dareus is an intriguing prospect, but his availability this late in the first round is predicated upon whether teams see him as an end in a 3-4 scheme or a true 4-3 defensive tackle.
28. Chicago Bears (11-5)
Though better lately, the Bears’ offensive line has been atrocious this season, allowing a league-high 50 sacks in 15 games. Boston College’s Anthony Castonzo may be the best tackle in the draft and could solidify either edge for years to come. Olin Kreutz is 33, so Chicago could shop for value at center in the later rounds, maybe Stefen Wisniewski from Penn State or USC’s Kris O’Dowd.
29. Baltimore Ravens (12-4)
Depending upon the Ravens’ desire to re-sign Donté Stallworth and/or T.J. Houshmanzadeh, both of whom will be free agents soon, Baltimore could go after a receiver early. If the veterans both receive new deals, head coach John Harbaugh and his staff could elect to upgrade all throughout the secondary in the first few rounds.
30. Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4)
The Steelers have struggled in pass protection this season. Ben Roethlisberger has been sacked 41 times this season, but injuries and some minor reshuffling are partly to blame. Still, Pittsburgh could use some depth, particularly at tackle, and the defense needs to look toward replacing the defensive end duo of Brett Keisel and Aaron Smith, who are 32 and 34, respectively.
31. Atlanta Falcons (13-3)
The Falcons have played liked the best team in the NFC for most of the season, but the defense could use some tweaking in certain areas to help match the effectiveness of the offense. Corner and safety could use some added speed and athleticism, quality depth at linebacker is needed, and John Abraham, who has registered 13 sacks at age 32, won’t be able to provide Kroy Biermann with a serviceable pass rush partner at defensive end for the foreseeable future.
32. New England Patriots (14-2)
A young Patriots defense has struggled in 2010, allowing 20.6 points per game, which are the most of any New England team in the last five seasons. As such, filing holes at defensive end and linebacker are top priorities, as are evaluating reserves along the offensive line in the event Matt Light and Logan Mankins are lost to free agency.
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