I won’t even try to “mock” the top ten, given all the draft-day, literally last-minute trades that happened last season. One top-ten pick was even dealt TWICE.
Go prognosticate THAT one, eh?
None of that changes the grocery lists teams have going into the NFL draft this coming Thursday, however. Here they are as I see them:
needs: TE2, RT, CB, DE, LB
The Falcons let veteran DE, and their only pass rushing threat, John Abraham walk in free agency and opted to sign the slightly younger ex-New York Giant Osi Umenyiora instead. With Abraham still on the market, look for the Falcons to try to re-sign him after the NFL draft at a reduced rate. Yes, they have one proven pass-rusher but NFL teams these days need at least two (look at 2012 and Von Miller/Elvis Dumervil in Denver) unless you’re the Houston Texans with J.J. Watt.
The Falcons could go for the top TE in the draft, Tyler Eifert, to learn behind future HOF TE Tony Gonzalez in order to make the transition more smoothly for when Gonzalez retires for real.
A more serious need right now is at corner as they cut Dunta Robinson and lost Brent Grimes in free agency. The draft is stacked with good corners, however, and the Falcons could find at least one in the second round and beyond. They also need someone to replace Tyson Clabo, but could have him already on the roster in the form of their third-round pick in 2012, OT Lamar Holmes from Southern Mississippi, but these days it’s not a bad idea to have 3 tackles that can play the all-important position to block the blazing-fast edge-rushers in today’s NFL.
The Falcons were pretty soft against the run, although they forced opponents into catch-up passing mode quite often. Two wins they should have lost – both against the heavily-talented Carolina Panthers backfield – exposed their difficulties in defending a determined running opponent. They could use someone with good speed and instincts, even if not a great pass rusher, to help handle Cam Newton…the Falcons’ defense had no answer for him in either meeting in 2012.
needs: OT, OG, WR, TE2, DT, S, OLB
Those Panthers’ fans who watched the games last year saw an offensive line that played very inconsistently and struggled at times to run the football. The lack of depth on the interior offensive line was splayed wide open when starting RG, Geoff Hangartner, was forced to play center when All-Pro center Ryan Kalil went down due to injury and they had no answer to plug in at the RG spot. The RG and RT (Byron Bell) spots are the two biggest holes to fill on the entire offense. They also have nobody that looks like they can step in and become a #1 WR to replace aging star Steve Smith, so there are several places for an offensive player to make their mark and start as a rookie.
The line also suffered from the lack of a solid blocking TE once Jeremy Shockey wasn’t re-signed after 2011. It showed, as starting TE Greg Olson may be a top-ten receiving TE, but his blocking leaves a lot to be desired. Any blocking TE that can catch at all would be welcome, and probably available at any point in the draft. Just don’t look for a star here.
Anyone who watched the games against the same Atlanta Falcons knows Haruki Nakamura isn’t the best pass defender around. I call him “He of the Three Inch Vertical Leap,” and time after time he got burned on deep balls that he simply couldn’t get to and was turned around flailing on a number of occasions. He should be the last safety off the bench, and the Panthers could really use a playmaker on the back end to better help take advantage of their good group of pass-rushing defensive ends.
They also could use depth at OLB after releasing SLB James Anderson. If Jon Beason and Thomas Davis can remain healthy, they’ll have a top-ten group of linebackers but that’s a difficult situation with their history of injuries. Still, even after 3 major knee reconstructions, Davis had over 100 tackles for the second time in his career, and good for him. It also means the Panthers may be satisfied enough here and with Jordan Senn and others in depth that they will ignore this need and go take care of more obvious ones – like the offensive line, DT, and safety…depending on how ready Ron Rivera feels that D.J. Campbell is to take over the role full-time as a safety.
New Orleans Saints
needs: CB, OLB, S, OT, DE
The Saints mean Drew Brees and Drew Brees means 40+ pass attempts per game. The team lost LT Jermon Bushrod to free agency. They signed Jason Smith, which tells me they desperately need help at the position and if Brees’ blind side can’t be protected, the offense is in some serious trouble. They could be a bit of a surprise player in the LT gambit, but could also wait for one of the second-tier guys. Don’t forget they still are paying for “Bountygate” in the form of a forfeited 2nd round pick.
Otherwise, they pretty much need help anywhere on the defensive side of the football as they supplanted the New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers as the worst defense in NFL history last year. That, and the firing of first-year defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo (previously fired as the Head Coach of the St. Louis Rams when Jeff Fisher took over), should say it all. The switch from the 4-3 to 3-4 means they need to re-vamp their defense anyway and there’s no time like when it is a horrible mess. Look for them to get at least one edge-rusher.
It’s irrelevant anyway. Sean Payton and his breesy offense is always trouble.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
needs: DT, DE, TE, CB
Odd team to figure draft needs because they had the best rush defense and worst pass defense in the NFL last season. So much for investing heavily in 4 early-round defensive linemen, but Gerald McCoy is still better than average when he’s healthy. Oddly enough, the Bucs probably have the best offensive line in the NFC South, so they can concentrate on improving their pass defense. They have weapons at WR and RB. Muscle Hamsters and such…but could use a good TE threat.
Since they gave up their #13 overall pick to the New York Jets by adding the NFL’s best cover corner, Darrelle Revis, they can scratch that need off their list. They could use another corner as Eric Wright didn’t play well at all in 2012. Their earlier trade for San Francisco 49’ers safety Dashon Goldson solidified the position opposite rising second-year pro from Alabama, Mark Barron, so they’ve already helped their pass defense. Most of the pieces are there except maybe an off-corner in the defensive backfield to pair up with Revis.