— By Frank Cooney, The Sports Xchange —
As teams gear up for the NFL Draft and the Indianapolis Combine that precedes it, they are taking stock of what they have and what they need to improve for the 2018 season.
The draft is headquartered in Arlington, Texas, April 26-28 this year and teams already are deep into their homework and looking forward to the February 27-March 5 combine, where some 336 prospects are put through physical and mental tests.
The goal is for the team to understand its needs and plan accordingly for the draft and the free agency frenzy that begins March 14.
For its own good, each team must calculate this year’s supply and demand of player personnel to maximize its opportunities in the draft and free agency.
Some teams started early. The San Francisco 49ers, in dire need of a quarterback, acquired Jimmy Garoppolo from the New England Patriots on October 30 for a second-round pick in this year’s draft. So the 49ers are not among those NFL teams who admit quarterback is a key need going into the draft and free agency.
The Sports Xchange polled its network of insiders who cover each NFL team to get an idea what the shopping lists look like at this point of the always-evolving personnel situation.
Turns out that the 49ers did well, which they admitted last week by signing Garoppolo to a five-year contract worth up to $137.5 million. Turns out quarterbacks are the most highly sought position with eight teams listing it as a need, including five as a primary need — the most of any position.
We look at that against the quantity and quality of quarterbacks in this year’s draft, per ratings by NFLDraftScout.com. There is the usual disagreement on the when or where quarterbacks will be drafted, but there are three rated in the top 12 right now and five within the top 22. NFLDraftScout.com lists USC’s Sam Darnold as the No. 1 pick, which is worth a healthy debate these days.
The five teams with quarterbacks as a primary need are Arizona, Buffalo, New York Jets, Denver and Cleveland. The Browns hope to get one long before that No. 22 pick, which has been an unlucky spot for them this century.
The highest demand overall was for wide receivers and cornerbacks, with 12 clubs seeking the former and 11 the latter. That tracks well in a draft that has 12 of each position rated in the top 100.
Here’s a look at the NFL’s demand for personnel to match against NFLDraftScout.com’s ratings at each position and calculate chances of filling needs. This doesn’t count free agency, which could get wild with several quarterbacks on the open market. But it’s still early and this window-shopping exercise begins to set the stage.
Here are the top three needs for each team, and why, as reported by The Sports Xchange pro football network of reporters:
–WIDE RECEIVER. Dez Bryant is declining and may be gone. The team needs a No. 1-caliber receiver to bring juice to the attack.
–LINEBACKER. Sean Lee will always miss games and Anthony Hitchens could be lost in free agency. Linebacker help and depth are badly needed.
–TACKLE. Left tackle Tyron Smith has missed games in each of the past two seasons. The Cowboys must find a capable swing tackle to allow the offense to function when he is not on the field.
NEW YORK GIANTS
–OFFENSIVE TACKLE. The Giants need to upgrade their starting offensive tackles and add depth at the position.
–CORNERBACK. With Eli Apple likely to be jettisoned and a Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie potential salary-cap cut, the Giants are facing a revamp of this unit.
–LINEBACKER. The Giants desperately need to remake this group with players offering sideline-to-sideline speed and durability.
–OFFENSIVE TACKLE. Jason Peters just turned 36 and is coming off an ACL tear. Lane Johnson will move to the left side when Peters leaves, but competition is needed for the other tackle job.
–WIDE RECEIVER. Alshon Jeffery signed an extension, but Torrey Smith probably won’t be back. Mack Hollins has promise, but you can never have too many weapons for Carson Wentz.
–LINEBACKER. Middle linebacker Jordan Hicks is coming off an Achilles injury and Nigel Bradham will be a free agent.
–INSIDE LINEBACKER. The Redskins could lose three free agents at the position (Zach Brown, Mason Foster, Will Compton). They need to upgrade with young talent here.
–WIDE RECEIVER. Terrelle Pryor is expected to leave via free agency, and two others are free agents (Ryan Grant, Brian Quick). The Redskins need an impact receiver to go with Josh Doctson and Jamison Crowder.
–QUARTERBACK. Even with the acquisition of Alex Smith, there is no true developmental quarterback on the roster behind backup Colt McCoy.
–WIDE RECEIVER. More than one would be a help. Mitchell Trubisky needs bigger, faster targets that can get open and make a play on the ball.
–CORNERBACK. Signing free agents Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara would drop this from a primary need, but the Bears would still need a quality corner to develop.
–OFFENSIVE TACKLE. The old offense stressed pass blocking by guards and the center. It’s a good bet the new offense will require better blockers on the edge.
–DEFENSIVE END. Getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks was problematic last season, and solid pass rusher Ziggy Ansah is an unrestricted free agent.
–RUNNING BACK. General manager Bob Quinn said the Lions will add competition to their backfield after they finished last in the league in rushing at 76.3 yards per game.
–DEFENSIVE TACKLE. The Lions got pushed around up front in the second half of the season, and the injured Haloti Ngata could opt to retire.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
–OUTSIDE LINEBACKER. Clay Matthews is nearing the end and Nick Perry has never played a full 16-game season. The Packers passed on Steelers standout T.J. Watt last year and can’t make a similar mistake again.
–WIDE RECEIVER. Jordy Nelson turns 33 this offseason, while Randall Cobb has slowed down. Green Bay needs a huge helping of speed.
–CORNERBACK. The Packers used their first two picks on corners in 2015, but that failed to pan out. This group needs a bona fide No. 1 corner.
–OFFENSIVE TACKLE. With guard Joe Berger leaning toward retirement and Mike Remmers looking more comfortable at guard, it’s time to replenish the tackle position.
–DEFENSIVE TACKLE. Tom Johnson had an excellent year, but he’s 33 and a pending free agent. The team also needs more depth to bolster its strongest unit.
–CORNERBACK. It’s unlikely Terence Newman, who turns 40 in September, will return. His role already had been reduced, but his departure would leave the Vikings short-handed.
–GUARD. The Falcons need to add some pop back to their outside zone-blocking scheme and protect the interior of the passing pocket.
–WIDE RECEIVER. A speedy receiver that can take the top off of defenses is needed to play in the slot or opposite Julio Jones.
–DEFENSIVE TACKLE. The defensive line rotation could use some beef up front, especially if Dontari Poe is allowed to leave in free agency.
–WIDE RECEIVER. This group requires consistency and depth. Devin Funchess needs help as he might not be best-suited as the go-to receiver.
–DEFENSIVE END. Julius Peppers won’t be around forever (or maybe not in 2018). Either way, the Panthers need their pass rush to remain a strength.
–SAFETY. Kurt Coleman might have lost a step. It’s time to groom someone to go along with a pair of cornerbacks who will be in their third seasons.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
–DEFENSIVE END. Alex Okafor provided a much-needed boost to the pass rush, but he’s coming off Achilles surgery and is a free agent, necessitating a significant addition.
–TIGHT END. The Saints love to utilize the tight end in the passing game but haven’t had a top-flight receiving threat there since trading Jimmy Graham three years ago.
–DEFENSIVE TACKLE. Nick Fairley likely won’t play again because of a heart condition, and he was released after the Super Bowl. That creates a need for another playmaker to join Sheldon Rankins and Tyeler Davison inside.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
–DEFENSIVE END. The Bucs can’t rely on Noah Spence returning healthy. Robert Ayers is a free agent. They had a league-worst 22 sacks.
–CORNERBACK. Brent Grimes is 35, a free agent and may retire. Vernon Hargreaves took a step back in 2017 and lost his starting job. The Bucs need their coverage and pass rush to work together.
–RUNNING BACK. The Bucs likely will have only one left on the roster — Peyton Barber. He averaged 4.0 yards per attempt. The Bucs need balance back in the offense.
–QUARTERBACK. Nothing is as important as finding a successor to Carson Palmer, who retired at the age of 38. Expect the Cardinals to make a splash here.
–WIDE RECEIVER. Facing the exodus of possibly three receivers to free agency, plus the possibility of Larry Fitzgerald retiring, this is the No. 2 concern.
–OFFENSIVE LINEMAN. There could be needs at the guard and tackle spots depending on what Arizona does with some veterans. A high pick here would help.
LOS ANGELES RAMS
–OUTSIDE LINEBACKER. Connor Barwin is a free agent and Robert Quinn is getting up in age. The Rams need a young, dynamic pass rusher to create pressure off the edge.
–TIGHT END. Gerald Everett and Tyler Higbee have flashed in their young careers, but a dynamic force is needed.
–CORNERBACK. Trumaine Johnson is a free agent and Kayvon Webster was lost late in the season with an Achilles injury. An early draft pick is likely.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
–CORNERBACK. Help is needed at this position, not only as a potential starter but also for depth. Even third corners play as much as 60 percent of the snaps.
–WIDE RECEIVER. We’ve seen what a Kyle Shanahan offense can do with scrap-heap wideouts, and we’ve seen what it can do with a guy like Julio Jones.
–MIDDLE LINEBACKER. Some would go with an edge rusher here, but it’s time to let who they have develop and shore up the middle of the defense.
–SAFETY. With uncertainty around the futures of Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas, the Seahawks will need to find additional safety help in the offseason.
–DEFENSIVE END. With Cliff Avril likely to retire (although he claims he wants to play) and Michael Bennett potentially out, the Seahawks will need to add to their pass rushing group.
–TIGHT END. Both Jimmy Graham and Luke Willson are free agents and Seattle needs additional help at the position.
–QUARTERBACK. It appears the Bills will move on from Tyrod Taylor; with two first-round picks, they could try to package a deal to move up.
–DEFENSIVE TACKLE. If Kyle Williams retires, the Bills have a gaping hole in the middle of their line. After the Marcell Dareus trade, no one stepped up.
–CORNERBACK. Tre’Davious White looks like a star, but E.J. Gaines, Shareece Wright and Leonard Johnson are scheduled for free agency.
–LINEBACKER. The Dolphins had few impact plays, which is strange considering veterans Kiko Alonso and Lawrence Timmons are two of the three starters. Miami needs to find playmakers.
–TIGHT END. Julius Thomas is under contract, but he was a non-factor, and Anthony Fasano is considering retiring. This is a major concern.
–RUNNING BACK. Kenyan Drake needs a backfield mate, and ideally it’s a well-rounded veteran. If Miami drafts one it would probably be a late-round pick.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
–DEFENSIVE END. Even with two picks a year ago, the edge remains the Patriots’ biggest need. Adding a top prospect to set the edge and rush the passer would be ideal.
–CORNERBACK. With Malcolm Butler’s expected departure and Cyrus Jones’ future uncertain, a developmental cornerback might be worth the investment.
–QUARTERBACK. Following the Jimmy Garoppolo trade, finding a quarterback in the early rounds to develop as Tom Brady’s potential replacement has to be a major consideration.
NEW YORK JETS
–QUARTERBACK. Josh McCown had a fine season, but he will turn 39 this summer. The Jets need a long-term solution.
–OFFENSIVE LINE. The Jets allowed 47 sacks, tied for seventh worst in the league, and the interior is the most in need of help.
–DEFENSIVE END/OUTSIDE LINEBACKER. With Muhammad Wilkerson likely on his way out, the Jets need to bolster a pass rush that had only 28 sacks last season, fifth worst in the league.
–WIDE RECEIVER. The Ravens lack talent that can provide explosive plays downfield. Their best receiver, Mike Wallace, is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent.
–TIGHT END. Injuries have hampered this position over the past three seasons. Baltimore needs a sure-handed pass-catcher to move the chains.
–QUARTERBACK. The sometimes-struggling Joe Flacco is on the back end of his career. The Ravens need to find his eventual replacement.
–OFFENSIVE LINE. The Bengals aren’t happy with the production they have gotten from recent picks. Center Russell Bodine is an unrestricted free agent.
–QUARTERBACK. Andy Dalton isn’t going anywhere, but the Bengals need to prepare for the departure of backup AJ McCarron, who, if he’s granted unrestricted free-agent status, will seek work elsewhere.
–TIGHT END. Tyler Eifert’s career has been hampered by injury and he’s an unrestricted free agent. Tyler Kroft has played well, but the Bengals need depth.
–QUARTERBACK. With the first and fourth picks in the first round and money to spend in free agency, the Browns want a better quarterback than DeShone Kizer.
–CORNERBACK. The Browns need to draft or sign a shutdown corner after giving up 28 touchdown passes and intercepting only seven in 2017.
–LEFT TACKLE. Joe Thomas, 33, is considering retirement. Even if he plays one more year, it’s time to look for his replacement.
–INSIDE LINEBACKER. Ryan Shazier is unlikely to play again due to a spinal cord injury. The Steelers need a replacement who can run sideline to sideline.
–SAFETY. Mike Mitchell is entering the final year of a five-year deal and has an $8.1 million cap hit. He was the oldest player on the defense and played like it.
–DEFENSIVE LINE. The Steelers had trouble stopping the run, especially against physical teams such as the Jaguars. A physical presence is needed in the middle.
–OFFENSIVE LINE. The Texans give up way too much pressure and don’t run-block particularly well. The only real keeper is center Nick Martin.
–SECONDARY. The Texans don’t cover very well and are in need of new blood with Johnathan Joseph now 33 and heading to free agency and Kevin Johnson struggling.
–TIGHT END. The Texans need some healthier tight ends with C.J. Fiedorowicz and Ryan Griffin both dealing with serious concussion issues.
–RUSH LINEBACKER. This continues to be a major issue for the defense. Veteran Jabaal Sheard had a team-high 5.5 sacks and rookie Tarell Basham showed promise.
–INSIDE LINEBACKER. The Colts need to find some additional playmakers at inside linebacker. Especially some mobile inside linebackers who can improve the pass defense.
–RUNNING BACK. Indianapolis wants to add an Edgerrin James type to the mix. Frank Gore may not be back and rookie Marlon Mack is still developing.
–TIGHT END. Marcedes Lewis has been an elite blocker for 12 years, but the Jaguars desperately need a pass-catcher. This could be a first-round draft selection.
–LINEBACKER. Unless Paul Posluszny restructures his contract, he’s likely gone. Blair Brown looks ready to step in, but free agency could be used to fill this spot.
–GUARD. A free agent/high draft pick is a necessity, and then let Patrick Omameh and A.J. Cann battle for the other spot and backup berth.
–GUARD. The line took a step backward in 2017, and much of the blame was placed on the guards. Josh Kline is a free agent and probably will be replaced.
–WIDE RECEIVER. Corey Davis and Taywan Taylor need to be more polished, and the Titans could still use another productive player here.
–LINEBACKER. Age is catching up with the team’s linebackers and 2016 second-round pick Kevin Dodd hasn’t panned out. Inside linebacker Avery Williamson is headed to free agency.
–QUARTERBACK. Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler and Paxton Lynch struggled, and while at least one could be back as a backup, the 2018 starter is likely not on the roster.
–RIGHT TACKLE. Four players started here in 2017, and the Broncos need to find consistency that has been lacking in recent years.
–WIDE RECEIVER. Demaryius Thomas is still productive, but the accumulation of hits has taken a toll, and Emmanuel Sanders played through an ankle injury in 2017. Both are going into their ninth year in 2018.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
–DEFENSIVE TACKLE. The Chiefs lack a pure defensive tackle under contract for next season. The team needs a more reliable run stuffer at the point of attack.
–CORNERBACK. Marcus Peters needs a reliable running mate on the opposite side. Returning Darrelle Revis remains an option, even after he was released, but the Chiefs won’t overpay.
–TIGHT END. The Chiefs rely on Travis Kelce a great deal and need a more consistent backup behind him.
LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
–DEFENSIVE LINE. The Chargers had the worst run defense in the league because blockers got to the unit’s second level without much trouble.
–LINEBACKERS. The Chargers continually had trouble filling gaps and when they did, the tackling was below par. If the team is confident Denzel Perryman can stay healthy, that helps.
–KICKER. The Chargers had three more losses (seven) than they did kickers (four). It’s clear this area needs to be addressed.
–CORNERBACK. The Raiders had only five interceptions all season and the only ones from a cornerback were two from Sean Smith. And he may be cut.
–WIDE RECEIVER. Plagued by drops the past two seasons, there is a need for someone to get open and actually hold on to the ball.
–DEFENSIVE TACKLE. The Raiders have been looking for an interior pass rusher for the past three years, someone to push the pocket from the middle.