Nice fits: Defensive end Michael Brockers, linebacker Ronnell Lewis, tackle/guard Amini Silatolu.
The Cowboys have five targets in their cross hairs at 14th in the first round: defensive linemen Fletcher Cox, Dontari Poe and Michael Brockers, safety Mark Barron and guard David DeCastro. They expect Cox to be gone. They did enough in the offseason to pass on the DeCastro, a guard. This will come down to Brockers vs. Barron. Barron is the sure thing. He is a plug and play guy who will start from day 1. Brockers is a potential beast but needs work. He can play end or tackle and has a huge upside as a redshirt sophomore. He is also huge and could give them much needed size in the middle. It must be noted that Brockers was their last national pre-draft visit on Tuesday. Could last be first?
The Cowboys have no interest in trading up but they could trade down because they have so many options who could potentially still be on the board when they pick.
"I don't think it's probably in the cards this time that we move up," owner Jerry Jones said. "But if the right guy is not there for the value, we've got to be prepared to move down."
Defensive end/Defensive tackle: The Cowboys need more size and bulk up front not to mention playmaking ability. Undersized nose tackle Jay Ratliff is the only playmaker on the defensive line and he is getting worn down. Drafting a lineman who could play end and tackle would allow Ratliff to play outside and move around on occasion if not full time. It's also a fact that the Cowboys are not sold on current defensive ends Marcus Spears and Kenyon Coleman. Neither makes many plays if any at all. That's why Brocker or Dontari Poe or Fletcher Cox are guys the Cowboys are looking at closely for the No. 14 overall pick.
Safety: The Cowboys signed free safety Brodney Pool in free agency but he is more of a stopgap answer with a one-year deal than a fulltime answer at the position. There has been a lot of talk about the Cowboys' problems at cornerback but their inability to make plays at the safety position is one reason they have given more passing yards the past two years than any other time in team history. They need a quarterback and playmaker in the secondary which is why safety Mark Barron is a huge option for the Cowboys in the first round.
Linebacker: The Cowboys need pass-rush help opposite DeMarcus Ware. They hope to get it from Anthony Spencer who will get $8.8 million in what could be his final season with the Cowboys. He has no more than six sacks in a season in his career. They still need more help. The Cowboys learned from the Giants last year that you can never have enough pass rushers. Add in the fact that Spencer could be lost in free agency next season means they need to draft his possible replacement.
NEW YORK GIANTS
Nice fits: Defensive end chandler Jones, wide receiver Mohamed Sanu, running back Ronnie Hillman.
Once again, the Giants find themselves in a position where they're really not looking at any glaring holes on their roster that need to be filled. Instead, general manager Jerry Reese, whose team will draft last in each round thanks to its Super Bowl championship, will be looking to add depth to the existing ranks, a strategy that has been a staple of Reese's tenure as general manager.
To that end, Reese approached the offseason acquisition of free agents in a curious, yet revealing manner. He signed several experienced veterans, such as linebacker Chase Blackburn, cornerback Antwaun Molden, tight end Martellus Bennett, and safeties Chris Horton and Stevie Brown, to one-year minimum deals - "prove it" contracts.
This approach will not only allow the team to evaluate the veteran talent, it also affords the coaching staff the luxury of time in grooming the younger players for expanded roles as the season grinds on.
Running back: The Giants said goodbye to Brandon Jacobs, starter Ahmad Bradshaw will likely miss the entire spring as he continues to heal from what's thus far been an annual foot issue; and Andre Brown is facing a four-game, league-imposed suspension. That leaves the Giants with D.J. Ware and last year's second round pick Da'Rel Scott, so they're likely to add an additional prospect to the position to boost the unit's healthy depth.
Wide receiver: The current candidates for the Giants' third receiver spot include second-year man Jerrel Jernigan, who has minimal experience in an NFL offense; Ramses Barden, who last year was passed over on game days for Jernigan after spending the first six weeks of the season on physically unable to perform; and Domenik Hixon, who is coming off his second ACL surgery in as many years. Look for New York to add another high draft pick to the mix who could also potentially serve as the punt returner, in order to intensify the training camp competition.
Defensive End: Osi Umenyiora and Mathias Kiwanuka, the latter a linebacker-defensive end, will both be unrestricted free agents after this season, with little chance that both will be re-signed. Look for the Giants to add another young rusher to their front four perhaps early in the draft, as the defense is based on the pass rush.
Tight End: Despite adding Martellus Bennett on a one-year "prove it" deal, the Giants are at a crossroads with this position. Last year's starter, Jake Ballard, could potentially miss the entire season as he recovers from microfracture surgery, while Travis Beckum, who's recovering from surgery to repair a torn ACL, is entering the final year of his contract.
Offensive Tackle: The Giants signed unrestricted free agent Sean Locklear, who will compete for the right tackle spot, but the team could instead look to move David Diehl over there if Mitch Petrus is ready for full-time duty at left guard. If Diehl moves to right tackle, Locklear likely becomes the first off the bench, while second-year man James Brewer continues his development. The Giants then might want to add another young prospect to begin grooming for a competition with Brewer for the right tackle spot after Diehl.
Nice fits: Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, quarterback Kirk Cousins, safety Harrison Smith.
Every team says they are going to take the best player available. In actuality, most teams wind up taking the best player available at a position of need. The Eagles, who often have drafted for need, insist they will try to stick to the best-player-available philosophy this year. They have no crying needs that absolutely have to be addressed, so that will make it easier to adhere to that.
If they stay at 15 in the first round, that best player available could be a defensive tackle like Fletcher Cox or Michael Brockers, or a cornerback/safety like Stephon Gilmore or Dre Kirkpatrick. At some point in the draft, perhaps as early as the second round where they have two picks, the Eagles will select a quarterback. Michael Vick is going to be 32 in June and the Eagles aren't financially committed to him after this season. So they need to start looking for his replacement. Two players that interest them: Big 10 studs Kirk Cousins (Michigan State) and Russell Wilson (Wisconsin).
Outside linebacker: The Eagles addressed their greatest need - middle linebacker - in free agency when they traded for DeMeco Ryans. But the two outside spots still are shaky. Rookie Brian Rolle did a decent job at WILL last year, but he's just 5-91/2. Jamar Chaney, who struggled in the middle last year, likely will move to SAM with the addition of Ryans. But they really need a bigger, better point-of-attack player at SAM.
Safety: It remains to be seen whether the Eagles think this is an area of need. Two years removed from a ruptured patellar tendon, Nate Allen should be better this season. But the other safety spot is a concern. Kurt Coleman started 13 games there last year, but he's an undersized guy who is better suited to be a backup and core special-teamer. They drafted Jaiquawn Jarrett in the second round last year, but he had trouble getting on the field.
Running back: LeSean McCoy is one of the league's top running backs. But if he goes down, the Eagles have problems. Dion Lewis had just 23 carries as a rookie last year and isn't very reliable in pass protection. The Eagles need to find somebody who can lighten McCoy's load a little and also pick up blitzes.
Offensive tackle: The Eagles reacted quickly after All-Pro left tackle Jason Peters ruptured his Achilles tendon earlier this month, signing free agent Demetress Bell. But there isn't much depth behind Bell and the Eagles' other starting tackle, Todd Herremans. The Eagles need to pick up a tackle fairly early in this draft
Defensive tackle: Cullen Jenkins and Mike Patterson are a solid tackle tandem. But Jenkins is 31 and Patterson is coming off brain surgery that will keep him out of the team's spring camps and OTAs. Defensive line coach Jim Washburn likes to use a four-man rotation inside, and has two reliable backups in Derek Landri and big-body Antonio Dixon. But they could use a guy with the versatility to play inside and outside in different packages.
Nice fits: Quarterback Robert Griffin III, tackle Zebrie Sanders), center Ben Jones.
The Redskins have already traded their first-round selection this year (sixth overall) and their first-rounders in 2013 and 2014 plus their second-rounder this year (39th overall) to St. Louis for the Rams' first-rounder this year (second overall). Unless Indianapolis shockingly takes the more athletic Griffin over pocket passer Andrew Luck of Stanford first overall, Washington will pick Griffin. If not, Luck will be a Redskin. Coach Mike Shanahan loves Griffin's quickness, speed, arm strength, leadership and smarts. Redskins owner Dan Snyder loves Griffin's smile, personality and surefire ability to sell tickets at a stadium from which more than 12,000 seats have been removed over the last two offseasons.
With Pro Bowl inside linebacker London Fletcher having re-signed and Tanard Jackson having come aboard as yet another possible starting safety, the Redskins should continue to focus on offense after choosing Griffin. While drafting a cornerback in the third round is a possibility, offensive tackle is more of a priority as is interior offensive line depth.
Washington has an extra fourth-round choice thanks to the 2010 trade that sent quarterback Jason Campbell to Oakland and an extra sixth-rounder thanks to last summer's trade that sent quarterback Donovan McNabb to Minnesota. The six choices in the final four rounds should allow the Redskins to add a tight end, fullback (there's no depth behind Darrel Young) and inside linebacker (jack-of-all-trades Lorenzo Alexander is the only current backup).
Quarterback: Rex Grossman was his usual turnover-ridden self in 13 starts last year. John Beck extended his career record to 0-7 in losing his three starts. Washington hasn't had a franchise quarterback since Joe Theismann's career ended in 1985 and hasn't drafted one since Sammy Baugh in 1937. The Redskins haven't chosen a quarterback with a top-20 selection since Heath Shuler was a bust as the third overall pick in 1994. They will finally do so again this year, almost certainly on Baylor's Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III.
Offensive tackle: Jammal Brown hasn't come close to the Pro Bowl form he displayed before needing hip surgery in New Orleans in 2009 and will be 31 next month. With left tackle Trent Williams, the fourth overall selection in the 2010 draft, one failed drug test from a one-year suspension, the Redskins need to use an early-round draft pick on a swing tackle. Washington's current third tackle is Willie Smith, a rookie free agent in 2011. The limited options in free agency means this need might have to be filled with the Redskins' third-round draft choice. The recent signing of James Lee, Tampa Bay's regular right tackle in 2010, doesn't reduce the need at this spot.
Center/guard: While rookie Maurice Hurt was credible at left guard after Kory Lichtensteiger's season-ending torn ACL and the latter should rejoin right guard Chris Chester in the starting lineup again this fall, Erik Cook flunked his trial at center when usual starter Will Montgomery was filling in for Lichtensteiger so Washington could certainly use a third-day draft pick on an interior lineman.
Nice fits: Defensive end Whitney Mercilus, tackle Jonathan Martin, wide receiver Marvin McNutt.
With his signings of unrestricted free agents and the re-signing of Bears who could have left, new general manager Phil Emery seems to be positioning himself so that he isn't desperate for help at any particular position. He can take the best player available, within reason, and he doesn't have to reach to take a player higher than he's graded in order to fill a gaping hole on the roster.
Before free agency began, the greatest need was at wide receiver, so Brandon Marshall was acquired via trade. Offensive line was another concern, and guard Chilo Rachal was brought aboard. Help was needed at cornerback, and Kelvin Hayden and Jonathan Wilhite were signed. Running back was a concern because of Matt Forte's unhappiness as the franchise player, so big, powerful Michael Bush was signed.
The Bears still need a better offensive left tackle than J'Marcus Webb, but with last year's No. 1 pick, right tackle Gabe Carimi, expected for a full season after playing in just two games last season, the line is better. Better but still not very good. But possibly good enough that Emery doesn't have to reach in the first round for a left tackle. The only one talented enough to go at 19 is Matt Kalil, and he'll be long gone. Anyone else is a reach.
A pass rusher is still a serious need, possibly serious enough to be addressed with the 19th overall draft pick.
The Bears also need to start looking at understudies for and eventual successors to Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs, who have 15 Pro Bowl seasons between them but might not have many more left.
A similar situation exists at cornerback, where Charles Tillman made the Pro Bowl last season but is 31. The other cornerback spot could use an upgrade.
Pass-rushing defensive end: Free agent Israel Idonije was re-signed, and he is a solid run defender, but he had just five sacks playing across from right end Julius Peppers. The defense is based on getting pass-rush pressure from the linemen, but they did not get that consistently last season from anyone other than Peppers. An undersized, situational rusher would make sense, since the Bears like Idonije - at least on the first two downs.
Offensive line: Every position on the line could be upgraded with the exception of right tackle, which should be in good hands, as long as last year's No. 1 pick Gabe Carimi is fully recovered from a dislocated kneecap that sidelined him after two games. Improvement is especially needed at left tackle, given the lack of pass protection provided by J'Marcus Webb last season. Guard is better with the addition of Chilo Rachal, but the 2008 second-round draft choice was relegated to a backup last season with the 49ers.
Wide receiver: With the addition of Brandon Marshall, the Bears have their long-awaited No. 1 receiver. But, the most productive member of last year's group, Johnny Knox, is slowly rehabbing from a devastating hit late last season that necessitated back surgery. There is no timetable for his return, and he could miss at least part of the season. Bounce-back seasons from Earl Bennett and Devin Hester are certainly possible but should not be assumed.
Nice fits: Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, tackle Bobby Massie, running back Chris Polk.
In a perfect world, one of the top two or three cornerbacks on the Lions' board will be available when the 23rd pick rolls around. The Lions would be thrilled to land South Carolina's Stephon Gilmore or Alabama's Dre Kirkpatrick.
However, he presence of talented but troubled cornerback Janoris Jenkins will give him pause. The North Alabama corner has plummeted off most first round draft boards because of his myriad off-field issues. Based solely on talent, though, he's the second-best cover corner in the draft.
We don't know how Mayhew's interviews with Jenkins went. We don't know what cornerback coach Tim Walton and defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham might see when they try to peer into this kid's soul. We do know they both have great conviction in their ability to judge character and coach talent, and we know they love reclamation projects.
Another option at 23, of course, would be an offensive lineman. It seems likely that a quality left tackle could be available, someone like Stanford's Jonathan Martin or Ohio State's Mike Adams.
However, it is doubtful that those players would be higher on the Mayhew's board than a pass rusher like Illinois' Whitney Mercilus or Syracuse's Chandler Jones - two players projected to be on the board late in the first round.
If it came down to a choice between the third or fourth best corner on his board, the top one or two left tackles and the top one or two pass rushers, bet on Mayhew to take the pass rusher.
Later in the draft the Lions are expected to take a running back, receiver and possibly a linebacker.
Cornerback: The Lions gave up 90 points in their last two games. They gave up an average of 31.6 per game in the final eight games of the season. They gave up 32.6 in five games against playoff teams (including two against the Packers).
There isn't a cornerback under contract beyond 2012. There are only five on the roster -- Chris Houston, Jacob Lacey, Aaron Berry, Alphonso Smith and Don Carey - and Smith is reportedly on the trade block and Carey is a special teams player.
Offensive line: Three of the five starters are over 30 - center Dominic Raiola, 33; left tackle Jeff Backus, 35 in September and right guard Stephen Peterman, 30. Backus is coming off a year that was bracketed by surgery - torn pectoral before the season and torn biceps in the playoff loss to the Saints.
The top two reserves - tackle Corey Hilliard and guard-center Dylan Gandy - are 27 and 30 respectively and on the final year of their contracts.
Running back: They will draft a running back, you can almost bet on that. With so much uncertainty around starters Jahvid Best (concussions) and Mikel Leshoure (Achilles, two marijuana arrests) and all the injuries that have plagued the Lions at this position the last two seasons, they don't feel they can have enough depth.
Defensive end: You would think they are well-stocked here with Kyle Vanden Bosch, Cliff Avril, Lawrence Jackson, Willie Young and Everette Brown, but look again.
Vanden Bosch is 34. Avril is balking at signing his $10.6 million franchise tender. Jackson and Young are in the last year of their deals.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
Nice fits: Linebacker Shea McClellin, running back Chris Polk, safety Markelle Martin.
General manager Ted Thompson goes into his favorite time of the year with the best of both worlds. He has few holes to fill on a team that went 15-1 in the 2011 regular season and has 12 draft picks at his disposal to augment the roster.
"We think we have a pretty solid team," Thompson said. "(But) obviously, we'd like to get better."
Other than losing Pro Bowl center Scott Wells (St. Louis Rams) and possibly veteran running back Ryan Grant (unsigned) in free agency, the Packers' explosive offense is unchanged and won't require much attention in the draft room.
The defense is a different story. The stunning 37-20 home loss to the New York Giants in the divisional round of the playoffs was a microcosm of the frequency of defensive shortcomings for much of the season.
The Packers too often allowed a big play, caused in part by having a pass rush that had the third-fewest sacks (29) in the league.
That puts the onus on Thompson to go on the offensive early in the draft and get a dynamic player to hunt the opposing quarterback, not unlike 2009. The ultraconservative Thompson, who had taken nose tackle B.J. Raji with the ninth overall pick, pounced late in the first round by trading up to take USC linebacker Clay Matthews at No. 26.
"We thought it was an opportunity to get a pretty special player," Thompson recalled.
Green Bay selects 28th in Round 1 this year, and the abundance of picks (only four can't be traded as compensatory choices) gives Thompson some flexibility to land another playmaker to pair with Matthews.
Defensive end/outside linebacker: The Packers fell hard and fast from having an elite defense in their Super Bowl-winning season in 2010 to being the league's worst on that side of the football last season. A deficient pass rush precipitated numerous coverage breakdowns, which finally came back to bite the Packers in their abrupt exit from the playoffs. Giving All-Pro outside linebacker Clay Matthews help on the other side is a must.
Safety: Nick Collins remains hopeful of making a comeback from a severe neck injury he sustained last September. Green Bay's decision-makers aren't as optimistic, expressing doubts about seeing the Pro Bowl free safety on the field again. Collins' uncertain future makes investing a high-round pick in a safeguard for the key position a strong possibility.
Running back: Free agent Ryan Grant still sits on the open market and apparently won't be returning to Green Bay. Take away the veteran influence of Grant, and the Packers are left with injury-prone James Starks and fellow young prospects Alex Green (returning from ACL injury) and Brandon Saine at halfback.
Cornerback: Not necessarily the position of strength it once was for the Packers. Charles Woodson will be 36 in October, and Green Bay endured a drop-off in play from fellow starter Tramon Williams and nickel back Sam Shields last season.
Quarterback: Aaron Rodgers is without a capable backup after starter-in-waiting Matt Flynn signed with the Seattle Seahawks in free agency. Flynn (seventh round, 2008) incidentally was the last quarterback drafted by the Packers.
Nice fits: Left tackle Matt Kalil, wide receiver Stephen Hill, cornerback Chase Minnifield.
The Vikings also need a No. 1 receiver and a shutdown cornerback, but the No. 3 overall pick isn't the place to overthink. Kalil is the best non-quarterback prospect available and the Vikings also have a big need at left tackle.
Hill is a risk because he had only 28 catches in a Georgia Tech offense that ran the ball 77 percent of the time last year. But he's also 6-4, 215, shown good ball skills and ran a 4.36 40-yard dash. If he's still around at No. 35, the Vikings will be interested.
Although the Vikings added free agents Zach Bowman and Chris Carr, they still need a quality young corner to keep pace in the NFC North. The 66th pick overall might be the spot to land one. Minnifield can play press or zone, has long arms and has run a sub 4.5.
The Vikings have 10 draft picks, including seven of the top 138, but they want more. They want to trade the No. 3 pick, move down and acquire more picks they feel can turn into starters. Ideally, the Vikings would like to trade with Miami, which they believe covets quarterback Ryan Tannehill. That would move the Vikings to No. 8 and still give them a blue-chip pick such as offensive tackle Riley Reiff, inside linebacker Luke Kuechly, receiver Michael Floyd or even receiver Justin Blackmon if he falls that far.
The team hopes to come out of the draft with at least three new starters with picks 3, 35 and 66. Vikings general manager Rick Spielman also has a good track record in the fourth round, so the hope is they'll be able to find at least one or possibly two eventual starters with the three picks they have in that round.
Wide receiver: The Vikings don't have anything close to resembling a No. 1 receiver. They have Percy Harvin, who is an electrifying athlete and playmaker. But Harvin is small and he's a slot receiver. He's not going to line up wide and just beat a good corner with height, speed and long arms. The Vikings need that kind of receiver to maximize the skills of Harvin and clear some running room for Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart. The only other receivers on the roster are No. 3-type receivers.
Cornerback: The Vikings have added bodies here in free agency, but Bowman and Carr aren't going to solve the team's problem at cornerback in a division that faces Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford and Jay Cutler a combined six times a year. It helps that Antoine Winfield is healthy again and that Chris Cook's legal problems are behind him. But a premier young corner is still a need.
Left tackle: This team's future depends on the development of second-year quarterback Christian Ponder. Ponder needs the confidence that his blind side is secure. Left tackle Charlie Johnson wasn't horrible last year, but he's a stopgap starter who's built like a guard. If the Vikings land Kalil or Reiff, they could move Johnson inside to guard and further strengthen a line that was a major weakness on the team last year.
Nice fits: Tackle Mitchell Schwartz, guard Amini Silatolu, tackle Kelechi Osemele.
The Falcons made a mega deal - a 5-for-1 trade with Cleveland - to move up 21 spots to select wide receiver Julio Jones last April.
Because they don't have picks in the first and fourth rounds of the 2012 draft, they must be prudent in order to fulfill some of their needs.
Their first pick will be the 55th pick overall in the second round and they will look to add either a versatile offensive lineman or a defensive end to help with their anemic pass rush.
They are looking for a tackle that can play both sides or either a tackle with the potential to swing inside to guard. The Falcons believe that quarterback Matt Ryan was under too much duress and took too many hits last season.
"The key to acquiring offensive linemen in today's world is versatility," Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said. "Versatility, versatility, versatility, if you can get a tackle that can play both tackles and possibly swing to guard it is a very, very important thing."
The Falcons are intrigued by Silatolu, who played at Division II Midwestern State.
"You also go into a situation where you discuss if a player is from a lower level of competition, i.e. I-AA or mid-major or even Division II and in this draft there are players like that," Dimitroff said. "In the past seasons there have been players along the offensive line, in this case, who have competed at lower levels or Division II ball that have all the skills in the world, athletically, with power and strength."
Left tackle: The Falcons must improve their pass protection in order to successfully implement new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter's vertical passing attack. They want to run the ball more efficiently in short-yardage situations. They will likely take a tackle in case Sam Baker (back, elbow) does not return to good health. The rookie could provide depth and eventually compete for playing time with Baker and Will Svitek. California left tackle Mitchell Schwartz has been heavily scouted by the Falcons. Also, small-school guard Amini Silatolu from Midwestern State is a possibility.
Defensive end: The Falcons re-signed defensive ends John Abraham and Kroy Biermann in free agency. Abraham turns 34 on May 6 and Biermann has just 5.5 sacks over the past two seasons after getting five in 2009. Ray Edwards had 3.5 sacks last season, his lowest output since his rookie season in 2006. The Falcons could take a defensive end in the second round and they've been looking at some heftier nose tackles as they'll likely play more three-man fronts under new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan.
Backup quarterback: The Falcons re-signed Chris Redman to serve as Matt Ryan's backup. Redman turns 35 in July and John Parker Wilson did not play well during the last exhibition season. The Falcons could take a quarterback in the seventh round to come in to challenge Wilson and be in line to replace Redman down the road. Tennessee-Chattanooga's B.J. Coleman and Southern Mississippi's Austin Davis are prospective late-round candidates.
Tight end: With future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez nearing the end of his career, the Falcons have heavily scouted the tight ends. They are intrigued with Louisiana-Lafayette's Ladarius Green and Cincinnati's Adrien Robinson.
Nice fits: Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, linebacker Luke Kuechly, defensive end Chandler Jones.
The Panthers have needs all across the defense, and could realistically draft to nearly any position without complaint of duplication. They were 25th in the league in yards allowed.
Adding some pass rush from the front four is likely the biggest priority, and there's a decent argument to be made whether that's from inside or out. They could use another tackle to go with veteran Ron Edwards and 2010 third-rounders Terrell McClain and Sione Fua, or they could use a starting-caliber end to pair with Charles Johnson.
At linebacker, they have their two best players coming off major injuries (Jon Beason's Achilles tear and Thomas Davis's third ACL tear), so adding another starter there such as Luke Kuechly could be justified.
Likewise, cornerback is a spot that needs fortifying, and plugging a player such as Stephon Gilmore would give them another top-shelf athlete to pair with Chris Gamble.
Of course, this is a firm "best player available" franchise, and if they can trade down a few spots from ninth and add a pick (after trading their third for tight end Greg Olsen last year), that's likely their preference. There's a broad range of players who could help shore up their defense, so moving down a few spots won't change much.
Because they're also a team that prefers not to roll the dice in the first round, they could easily draft an offensive player early. Wherever they end up picking, they could easily go for an offensive lineman such as David DeCastro or a receiver such as Kendall Wright, and it shouldn't be a surprise.
Defensive tackle: They were 25th in the league in run defense last year for a reason. Injuries and the rookie wall left a revolving door of castoffs in the middle. They're hoping veteran Ron Edwards recovers from a torn triceps and young players develop, but a penetrating player here would fix many problems.
Defensive end: They still think Charles Johnson is worth the big money they gave him last year, but they didn't get more than 4.0 sacks from any of the rest of their ends. Another pass-rusher who could play three downs would be a major plus.
Cornerback: Chris Gamble played at a Pro Bowl level, but the Panthers' other corners last year were an odd collection of the undersized, overdrafted and unwanted, so putting another playmaker on the back side makes sense.
Linebacker: If you count on everyone returning to full health, they're fine. That may not be a gamble they're willing to make, however. Last year was spent playing special teamers on defense, and the results were predictable. The coaches love Kuechly, and he'd allow Beason to play outside if Davis wasn't able to return to his old form.
Offensive line: It's a solid group, but there are questions at both guard and tackle. If they could count on right tackle Jeff Otah playing more than the four games he combined for the last two years, they'd be fine. But his uncertainty makes them shaky at several spots.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
Nice fits: Defensive tackle Mike Martin, guard Josh LeRibeus, tight end Deangelo Peterson.
The Saints are going to have their hands tied in this year's draft with just five selections, including one on the first two days.
They traded their first-round pick away last April to get back into the draft and select running back Mark Ingram, who also cost them their second-round pick last spring.
Even though they got something out of that deal, essentially getting their 2012 first-round pick a year early, the Saints took a bigger hit when NFL commissioner Roger Goodell ordered them to forfeit their second-round selection this year and next because of the bounty scandal.
With their first pick coming in the third round, the Saints will have a lot of time to reset their draft board and think about which way they're going to go by the time the 89th overall selection comes around Friday night.
While they addressed pressing needs with the addition of defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley and linebackers Curtis Lofton and David Hawthorne, the Saints will probably try to upgrade that side of the ball with the few picks they do have.
Getting more help in the middle of the defensive line and possibly the perimeter, they could be looking to add some depth at cornerback, too, after losing Tracy Porter and Leigh Torrence in free agency.
Defensive tackle: Even though the Saints added Brodrick Bunkley in free agency, this area could be targeted because free-agent pickups Shaun Rogers and Aubrayo Franklin were rather ineffective last year. Starter Sedrick Ellis is smallish and hasn't been very productive the last two seasons, so they could make another addition here as well.
Offensive line: The Saints had no depth here a year ago and must look at building it back up. While the starting unit is set with Ben Grubbs moving in at left guard for Carl Nicks, center/guard Matt Tennant and tackle Charles Brown, who ended the 2011 season on injured reserve with a hip injury, haven't exactly distinguished themselves when given a chance.
Linebacker: This area was addressed in free agency with the signing of Curtis Lofton, David Hawthorne and Chris Chamberlain, but the Saints still may look for a mid- to later-round find to groom for the future after losing Jo-Lonn Dunbar in free agency. They may also be looking for depth in case they lose Jonathan Vilma to a suspension as a result of the bounty scandal.
Tight end: While they have a good one in Pro Bowler Jimmy Graham, the Saints didn't have a lot of depth at this position in 2011 -- especially after David Thomas suffered two concussions early last season, with the second one sidelining him for the rest of the year. With Graham being the main receiving target, the Saints may look for a capable blocker.
Wide receiver: The Saints lost Robert Meachem in free agency and Devery Henderson has one year remaining on his contract. Even though Marques Colston and Lance Moore are locked up with long-term deals, they may begin to look for a future contributor on the third day of the draft.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Nice fits: Cornerback Morris Claiborne, running back Doug martin, linebacker Demario Davis.
Bucs general manager Mark Dominik took over the job of picking talent for the team in 2009 and only one player - quarterback Josh Freeman - developed into a starter. Two others are no longer with the franchise and two are backups.
"I think it's a fair question for me," Dominik said. "You have to go back and look at your draft classes. And you've got to look. Our fourth-round pick was Kyle Moore. He's in the league, still. He was on a practice squad last year, so he's still playing. But you would want more.
"I mean, let's just be honest. Xavier Fulton didn't make it for us. So you've got to step back and look at that."
The Bucs have a new coach in Greg Schiano, who brought in some new talent evaluators of his own, such as former North Carolina head coach Butch Davis, who is Tampa Bay's special assistant to the head coach.
Because Schiano and Davis are coming from the college ranks, they have a familiarity level with many of the players in the 2012 draft class. That could be an advantage.
At No. 5, the Bucs know a good player will fall to them. They're hoping both Alabama running back Trent Richardson and LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne are there. Richardson would probably be the pick but he's likely to be gone. If Southern Cal tackle Matt Kalil gets pushed down, the Bucs could have a decision to make between him and Claiborne.
Cornerback: The Bucs allowed a franchise record 494 points last season and gave up 30 touchdown passes. Ronde Barber is moving to safety, Aqib Talib stands trial for assault with a deadly weapon June 25 and could be suspended. That leaves Lions free agent Eric Wright, who can play either side. Schiano would likely prefer Richardson over Claiborne because he wants a bell cow ball carrier who can play on every down and take the heat off Freeman. But Richardson is likely to be gone before the No. 5 overall pick.
Running back: The Bucs have only three on the roster, including LeGarrette Blount, who is one-dimensional. Schiano wants a physical running game to set up play-action passes. Unable to likely land Richardson, the Bucs need someone to complement Blount. Doug Martin has 4.45 speed, can turn the corner and makes lots of yards after contact. He would give the Bucs a functional tandem in the backfield. His most success at Rutgers came on the shoulders of running back Ray Rice.
Linebacker: Tampa Bay did not address the position in free agency. Geno Hayes signed with the Bears, middle linebacker Mason Foster could move to the weak side. But numbers are a problem. The Bucs will likely address this position in the first three rounds. Foster struggled as a rookie at middle linebacker. The 6-2, 239-pound Davis ran a 4.56 in the 40-yard dash and jumped 38.5 inches in the vertical.
Nice fits: Tackle Riley Reiff, wide receiver Michael Floyd, linebacker Lavonte David.
Without a second-round pick - sent to the Eagles in the trade for Kevin Kolb - the Cardinals likely would be open to move down to pick up, say an extra third or fourth. The hunch, however, is they stay at 13 because they think they can get a very good player here. Supposedly, Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill is moving up boards into the top 10, meaning a quality player is going to slide.
If a quality offensive lineman is there, say Reiff from Iowa or guard David DeCastro from Stanford, the Cardinals probably would stay put and take one of them.
It's doubtful the team is interested in moving up in the early rounds. They already lack a second-round pick. They have two sixth-rounders but that's not enough to make any major move up the board.
As for Reiff, the Cardinals haven't drafted an offensive lineman since 2009. They haven't taken one above the fifth round since selecting Levi Brown fifth overall in 2007. While the team has added free-agent guards Daryn Colledge and Adam Snyder over the past two years, tackle is a position that still needs to be addressed. Reiff would seem to fit perfectly. He comes from Iowa, which has a reputation for turning out good offensive linemen. He's tenacious and a good pass blocker. The Cardinals have the option of using him on either side.
In the case of Floyd, fans and Arizona media seem to think the team needs a second receiver much more than Cardinals coaches and management does. Coaches like Andre Roberts as the No. 2 receiver, and think the reason he didn't get the ball enough last year was because of the quarterback. Early Doucet, the third receiver, had a breakout year, finishing second on the team in receptions. But dynamic playmakers are hard to pass up when available at No. 13, and Floyd appears to be that. Lining him up opposite of Larry Fitzgerald is awful alluring. At 6-3 and 221 pounds, Floyd is built a lot like Fitzgerald, and like Fitzgerald, he's from Minnesota. Adding him to the receiving corps could make an average quarterback look better.
The Cardinals don't have a second-round pick and would have to seriously consider David should he fall this far. He's not big, 6-0, 233 pounds, but all he did at Nebraska was made big plays. The Cardinals need more young outside linebackers, and David has speed to make up for his lack of size.
Offensive tackle: Since taking Levi Brown fifth overall in 2007, the Cardinals have tried to get by with lower round picks and moderately priced free agents. It hasn't worked that well. It's time to take a tackle high in the draft.
Outside linebacker: Starters Sam Acho and O'Brien Schofield have great potential but they are young. There isn't much depth, and in the 3-4 Steelers scheme coordinator Ray Horton uses, a team can't have too many outside linebacker prospects in the developmental stages.
Defensive end: The starters, Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell, form one of the best duos in the NFL. But there isn't much behind them. Last year it was Vonnie Holliday, who hasn't re-signed, and Nick Eason, a solid rotational player. The Cardinals need to begin developing a youngster.
ST. LOUIS RAMS
Nice Fits: Wide receiver Justin Blackmon, defensive tackle Devon Still, cornerback Chase Minnifield
Getting a handle on how the Rams will approach the draft, at least in the first round, is as unpredictable as the usual smokescreens that are sent up every year by NFL teams.
After moving down to the sixth slot in the opening round following their March deal with the Redskins, the Rams also own the first and seventh picks in the second round.
But the first-round choice is what has everyone's attention. Will the Rams move up with Cleveland to get the fourth choice in the round? Unlikely, considering that they would likely have to give up some of the extra ammunition they acquired from the Redskins.
Will they move down again, especially if running back Trent Richardson is still on the board? Possible, because stockpiling more picks would be a good result. That could result in the Rams going for the best receiver, defensive tackle or cornerback still available.
The biggest looming question is whether the Rams would select Richardson if he is available, given the presence of Steven Jackson on a roster that has numerous needs.
Picks three through six could fall in many different orders, leaving the Rams with what might be a difficult decision.
Wide receiver: The Rams are looking for talent outside the numbers that can support quarterback Sam Bradford. Brandon Lloyd was an unrestricted free agent the Rams say they were interested in bringing back, but Lloyd followed offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels to New England. Danario Alexander has shown the ability to make plays down the field, but injuries have kept him off the field. Steve Smith was signed as a free agent, but there remain questions about his surgical knee, although Smith said he felt good at the team's minicamp.
Defensive tackle: This is a strong year for the position in the draft, and the Rams could be tempted, especially if they trade out of the sixth overall pick in the first round. Fred Robbins and Justin Bannan were released. The other main players in the rotation last season were Gary Gibson and Darell Scott and Gibson is an unsigned free agent. The Rams did sign Kendall Langford and Trevor Laws as free agents, but they are still shopping.
Cornerback: Injury questions muddle the evaluation of this position going forward. Ron Bartell was cleared to play late in the season after suffering a broken bone in his neck in the first game but was released. Bradley Fletcher suffered a torn ACL in October during the team's bye, and it's unknown when he will be cleared to play although he said he expects to be ready for training camp. Jerome Murphy missed the entire season with a broken ankle suffered early in training camp. Cortland Finnegan was signed, but more help is needed.
Running back: Steven Jackson will be 29 in July, and even though it is believed there's a lot of life left in his legs, a quality backup to him remains a priority.
Safety: There are currently only three under contact on the roster - Quintin Mikell, Darian Stewart and Craig Dahl - so depth is obviously needed. Cornerback Brian Jackson can play some safety, but depth is still a necessity.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
Nice fits: Wide receiver Stephen Hill, guard Amini Silatolu, running back Robert Turbin.
The 49ers have the luxury of drafting for depth. With their offseason moves and their ability to re-sign their own players, the team could afford to not only take chances, but take players they could develop. With that in mind, a perfect choice for the team would be Hill, who displayed big-play potential, but only caught 28 passes last year.
The 49ers also have some guidelines that they don't like to break. They like cornerbacks over 5-10, and they like running backs that weigh over 220 pounds, particularly if they are chosen in the middle or late rounds. They also are looking for size at guard, because they feature a downhill running attack rather than a zone blocking strategy with smaller guards that can cut block. With that being said, they will break those rules for the right player.
Guard: The team's only true need is at right guard. All the other positions are spoken for. Silatolu could come in and possibly start. The 49ers installed two rookies on their offensive line two years ago with right tackle Anthony Davis and left guard Mike Iupati. Silatolu will have a more difficult time because he's coming from a small school (Midwestern State in Wichita).
Wide receiver: Sure, the team signed Randy Moss, Mario Manningham and re-signed Ted Ginn Jr. - all of whom are deep-threat, outside-the-numbers wide receivers. However, they don't have a young prospect they could develop to become a future no. 1 option. The team doesn't know what it will get from Moss, Manningham is a nice piece for their offense but not a top receiver, and Ginn Jr. struggles with consistency.
Running back: The 49ers have a full stable of backs with starter Frank Gore, and backups Kendall Hunter, Brandon Jacobs, and Anthony Dixon. What they don't have is a clear replacement for Gore in any of the aforementioned players. Turbin has all the ingredients to become a 49ers running back. He's a local kid, he's 222 pounds and he has home-run ability (three runs of over 80 yards last year). He also can catch passes. He's a little raw and needs to work on his pass protection.
Defensive line: Starters Justin Smith, Isaac Sopoaga and Ray McDonald logged some big-time minutes last season. Ricky Jean Francois is a versatile and able backup, but behind him the 49ers have Ian Williams and Demarcus Dobbs, both rookie free agents who made the team in training camp last year. This draft is plentiful with defensive linemen and Clemson's Brandon Thompson could be available with the 30th overall pick.
Cornerback: The team has developing players Chris Culliver and Tramaine Brock backing up starters Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers. A seventh-rounder from last year, Curtis Holcomb is also coming off a knee injury suffered in training camp. Nevertheless, in a pass-first league, corner could be an option in the middle to late rounds. The 49ers have chosen late-round cornerbacks from small schools in each of the last two years, and Northeastern State's Jeremy Lane could the late-round choice this year.
Nice fits: Defensive end Quinton Coples, linebacker Mychal Kendricks, quarterback Brock Osweiler.
Seahawks general manager John Schneider and head coach Pete Carroll cleaned house the first two years in Seattle, totally revamping the roster. Only 10 players remain from the initial roster the two inherited when they took over the team in January 2009.
The duo transformed the Seahawks from one of the oldest to one of the youngest rosters in the league, as Schneider leaned on his experience in Green Bay and focused on rebuilding Seattle's roster through the draft.
But now in their third season, the Seahawks focused more on keeping their own players and keeping the team's foundation intact in free agency, re-signing impact players like running back Marshawn Lynch, defensive end Red Bryant, right tackle Breno Giacomini and fullback Michael Robinson.
With a belief that this team is ready to contend with San Francisco for an NFC West title, Carroll and Schneider will look to add explosive playmakers on both sides of the ball through the draft that help Seattle reach that goal in 2012.
Linebacker: Seattle lost the team's leading tackler the last three seasons when linebacker David Hawthorne accepted a five-year, $19 million deal to join New Orleans in free agency. The Seahawks signed veteran Barrett Ruud as a potential replacement, but likely will look to add the team's middle linebacker of the future through the draft. The Seahawks also would like to get faster at outside linebacker, although the team brought back starting weak-side outside linebacker Leroy Hill on a one-year deal to add a veteran presence to the position group.
Defensive end: Chris Clemons led Seattle with 11 sacks last season, but the Georgia product is in a contract year and will turn 31 in October. Hill was second on the team in sacks with only four, and the Seahawks finished tied for 19th in the league in total sacks with 33 in 2011. So Seattle would like to add an explosive pass rusher to pair with Clemons on third down. Seattle's other defensive end Red Bryant is great against the run, but only finished with one sack last year.
Quarterback: The Seahawks appeared to solve their quarterback issue by signing Matt Flynn in free agency to compete for the starting job with Tarvaris Jackson. Yet head coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider attended Ryan Tannehill and Brock Osweiler's pro day, so don't be surprised if Seattle selects a developmental quarterback somewhere in the draft. Carroll has not drafted a quarterback since taking over as head coach in Seattle.
Running back: The Seahawks signed Marshawn Lynch to a four-year, $32 million deal as the team's bell-cow back for at least the next two seasons. However, they have little depth behind Lynch, and are depending on free agent signees Kregg Lumpkin or Tyrell Sutton to provide a similar physical presence in the run game to spell Lynch, with Leon Washington serving as the third-down back. So Seattle could look to add another talented back to the competition through the draft. Lynch had a career-high 285 carries last year, and Seattle would like to keep his carries down.
Nice fits: Offensive tackle Cordy Glenn, linebacker Lavonte David, cornerback Jamell Fleming.
After the signing of big-ticket free-agent defensive ends Mario Williams and Mark Anderson, the Bills enter the draft with the luxury of truly eyeing the best player available on their board. Pass rush was their No. 1 weakness and on paper that has been resolved.
After 21/2 offseasons of work, general manager Buddy Nix and his staff feel they've gotten to a level where they can address depth and not worry so much about starters. They feel their team, despite a late-season swoon that left it with a 6-10 record, is ready to make a big and permanent step forward.
"It's time for us to take a step and be relative all the way through," Nix said.
Given where they sit, the Bills could use the No. 10 pick in the draft on a left tackle, wide receiver, linebacker or cornerback and not face too much criticism, although on paper tackle is their thinnest position after losing Demetress Bell to the Eagles. Nix feels this is a very good overall draft and that there isn't much drop in talent between the No. 10 and 20 spots, which puts a lot of names into play for Buffalo.
Offensive tackle: If Buffalo would quit losing starting left tackles to the Philadelphia Eagles (Jason Peters, Demetrees Bell), maybe it could plug this important hole once and for all. The team's top prospect here is second-year pro Chris Hairston, who logged seven starts a year ago but seems more suited as a straight-away smasher than nimble bodyguard. Landing a blue-chipper here in the draft would go a long way toward stopping Chan Gailey's graying process and allow quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who battled a hidden rib injury last season, to sleep better at night. The Bills like Georgia's Cordy Glenn and Stanford's Jonathan Martin over the more highly ranked Riley Reiff of Iowa.
Linebacker: The Bills switch to a 4-3 means there is one less body needed here in their base defense. Veteran Nick Barnett (130 tackles in 2011) and last year's top rookie Kelvin Sheppard will man two of the spots and former Chargers Pro Bowler Shawne Merriman will give overcoming years of injury one more try. But the Bills need depth and were they to spend the 10th pick on a top playmaker Boston College tackle machine Luke Kuechly, it could be the final piece to the puzzle of what is now a very improved defense on paper.
Wide receiver: Retaining free agent Stevie Johnson eliminated the need of finding a new No. 1 receiver. But No. 2 is up for grabs and the Bills are also interested in adding some deep speed to the mix to take some pressure off Johnson. Oft-injured Marcus Easley and newcomer David Clowney will get their shots. Taking Notre Dame's Michael Floyd in the first round would sell tickets. A better bet is someone like Georgia Tech's Stephen Hill or Illinois' A.J. Jenkins in the second.
Cornerback: The likely starters are Drayton Florence and second-year pro Aaron Williams, but depth is an issue given Terrence McGee's injury history and Leodis McKelvin's free-agent status in 2013. When you play in Tom Brady's division, a team can never have enough top-shelf corners. Taking Alabama's Dre Kirkpatrick or South Carolina's Stephon Gilmore in the first round would not be a shock.
Nice fits: Quarterback Ryan Tannehill, Defensive end Andre Branch, wide receiver Tommy Streeter.
The Dolphins have three pressing holes to fill. Miami must find a young quarterback to develop. Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill, Arizona State's Brock Osweiler and Michigan State's Kirk Cousins fit the west coast offense. The team must add a pass rusher to put on the opposite side of Cameron Wake. And the Dolphins must also find a receiver who has the speed to stretch the field because that's the one missing ingredients to this wide out unit.
Pressure players: Even though Jamaal Westerman and Gary Guyton were signed as free agents, Cameron Wake is the only proven, polished pass rusher on the roster. The Dolphins prefer pass rushers with more than one year of production at a major university. And they need to be big and physical enough to set the edge, but athletic enough to turn the corner on a blitz. Players like North Carolina's Quinton Coples, South Carolina's Melvin Ingram, USC's Nick Perry, Illinois' Whitney Mercilus, Syracuse's Chandler Jones, Marshall's Vinny Curry and University of Miami's Olivier Vernon are the best young quarterback hunters available.
Quarterback: David Garrard has had a productive 10-year NFL career. But considering his age (34) and injury history, Garrard is not a long-term solution for the Dolphins. Hard to imagine Matt Moore is either despite his productive season in 2011, where he produced a 87.1 passer rating, and finished the season with a 6-3 record. Moore's also entering the final year of his deal. The Dolphins will likely use an early draft pick to add someone worth developing as the future of Miami's new west coast offense. Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill (great feet), Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden (quick release, but old), Michigan State's Kirk Cousins (intangibles off the chart) and Arizona State's Brock Osweiler (super tall and deceptively athletic) are the best of this draft's second-tier options.
Wide receiver: After the Brandon Marshall trade, all that's left is a bunch of solid, but not sexy receivers like Brian Hartline, Davone Bess, Clyde Gates and Legedu Naanee. It would be ideal if the Dolphins added playmakers with some size and speed. Green Bay's Jordy Nelson is the blueprint of the type of receiver Joe Philbin needs for his offense, and players like LSU's Reuben Randle, Wisconsin's Nick Toon, Rutgers' Mohamed Sanu, Iowa's Marvin McNutt, Miami's Tommy Streeter, Wake Forest's Chris Givens, and Arkansas' Joe Adams fit the mold.
Offensive line: The Dolphins are fortified on the left side with Jake Long, Richie Incognito and center Mike Pouncey, but the right side is vacant of proven, polished starters. Lydon Murtha, Nate Garner, John Jerry and Artis Hicks, who was signed this offseason, are solid options as viable starters on the right side. But the Dolphins are looking for leaner, more athletic offensive linemen than the past regime. Miami of Ohio guard Brandon Brooks, Miami guard Brandon Washington, Southern Mississippi's Lamar Holmes, Boise State's Nate Potter and Pittsburgh's Lucas Nix, Ole Miss' Bobby Massie and Troy offensive tackle James Brown should be there in the middle of the draft.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
Nice fits: Defensive tackle Kendall Reyes, defensive end Chandler Jones, defensive tackle Devon Still.
It's never easy predicting the Patriots' draft strategy, but one thing is certain: if there's a potential trade on the table that can add value now and in the future, the Patriots will be in the mix.
The benefit they have is the multitude of early-round draft picks, starting with three in the top 50 (Nos. 27, 31 and 48). This gives them the flexibility to work with teams that want to either trade up or down in the pecking order, and, likewise, would be willing to deal NFL-ready talent or future picks in order to do so.
What they do depends on a) the value they see in this year's draft and b) the value they see in next year's class. There have been times in the past when they've stockpiled picks in future drafts either because they didn't like what was on the table at the time, or because they felt the proposed trade presented more value than utilizing the pick on a player.
Cornerback: Some would argue that improving the pass rush is a greater priority, but if the Patriots had consistently strong one-on-one coverage against elite receivers and accountability in the secondary among their safeties and nickel backs, they'd be able to get away with shoddy pressure now and then. Devin McCourty regressed horribly last season, so now the team must find an elite cover corner who can hang with the league's top receivers. There's still uncertainty as to whether or not Kyle Arrington is the real deal, so the Patriots are tinkering with aging veterans such as Will Allen in hopes of catching lightning in a bottle. Looking toward the draft would be a more reasonable option.
Defensive end: Even if having dependable cornerbacks is more important right now for New England, the team can't afford to overlook its weak pass rush either. Injuries sapped them of most of their strength this year, but the switch from 3-4 to 4-3 really didn't yield exceptional results, outside of career years from Mark Anderson and Andre Carter. The problem now is Anderson left for Buffalo and Carter, who missed the end of the year due to injury, is an unrestricted free agent, so two players who combined for 20 sacks could both be playing elsewhere next season. This puts a strong emphasis on drafting a linebacker/defensive lineman hybrid with versatility to play both with a hand on the ground or standing up in coverage.
Running back: The Patriots lost a big piece of their offensive puzzle when BenJarvus Green-Ellis left to sign with Cincinnati. Green-Ellis doesn't put up eye-popping numbers or make too many highlight-reel plays, but he's dependable; he's yet to fumble in his NFL career and is as reliable as it gets in short-yardage situations. The onus is on second-year players Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley to fill that void. Both showed some flashes last year, but it's way too early to tell whether or not they can develop into every-down backs, which is somewhat of a problem since the Patriots have a window of opportunity that will continue to close each year they don't win a Super Bowl.
NEW YORK JETS
Nice fits: Tackle Cordy Glenn, running back David Wilson, safety George Iloka.
With just four starters acquired via the draft the last three years, the Jets are in the challenging position of drafting for need as well as depth.
Coach Rex Ryan will be looking for players who can help the Jets return to the ground-and-pound, defense-first approach that catapulted the green and white to consecutive AFC championship games in his first two years at the helm. Offensive line help is a necessity after quarterback Mark Sanchez was sacked 39 times last season, which makes tackles Cordy Glenn, Riley Reiff and Jonathan Martin a trio of potentially interesting first-round targets.
The additional offensive line help will also be necessary to allow the Jets to re-emphasize the running game after falling to 22nd in the league in rushing last year, down from fourth in 2010 and first in 2009. A running back with big-play capabilities, both as a rusher and a receiver, would be an ideal 1A to grind-it-out starter Shonn Greene, and there should be ample opportunity to draft that player on the second day.
Finding immediate help at safety is also essential for the Jets, who are very thin behind question-mark starters LaRon Landry and Eric Smith. Linebacker and wide receiver are less glaring short-term needs for the Jets, though they'd be thrilled to land the eventual replacements for the likes of Calvin Pace and/or Bart Scott and find someone who could push Santonio Holmes as the No. 1 receiver.
The idea of the Jets trading up or down to land the player(s) they want can't be discounted. General manager Mike Tannenbaum made the biggest deals of the 2009 draft when he traded two picks and three players to the Browns in exchange for the No. 6 overall pick, which he used on Sanchez, and later dealt three picks to the Lions to move up and grab Greene in the third round.
Offensive line: Not only were Sanchez' 39 sacks just 14 fewer than he absorbed in his first two seasons combined, but the Jets need to enhance their personnel in the trenches in order to dominate with the ground game.
Safety: Jim Leonhard has suffered serious, season-ending leg injuries each of the last two seasons and the Jets' current starters are injury-prone LaRon Landry and the aging Eric Smith.
Running back: Shonn Greene is solid if unspectacular, but if the Jets are to return to their ground-heavy ways, they'll need a big-play complement to Greene who is more reliable than the inconsistent Joe McKnight and the barely tested Bilal Powell.
Linebacker: The Jets may have found a big-time player in Aaron Maybin, the one-time Bills bust who had six sacks in a situational role last year and is still just 24, but Calvin Pace and Bart Scott are each on the wrong side of 30 and showing the wear and tear of a combined 21 NFL seasons.
Wide receiver: Santonio Holmes is being paid as a true no. 1 receiver, but he sure didn't play or act like it last season. There is little depth behind Holmes and second-year player Jeremy Kerley, the latter of whom has plenty of upside.
Nice fits: Center Peter Konz, linebacker Dont'a Hightower, guard Kevin Zeitler.
The Ravens are looking to upgrade their offensive line and should have the opportunity to do so given how the first round may unfold.
The Ravens are in need of a strong presence at left offensive guard having lost Pro Bowl blocker Ben Grubbs to the New Orleans Saints during free agency via a $36 million contract.
Plus, six-time Pro Bowl center Matt Birk is 35 years old and contemplated retirement before signing a three-year, $8.52 million contract.
The Ravens want to bolster their offensive line and could do so immediately with either Konz or Zeitler.
If the Ravens wind up with Konz, he could play left guard as a rookie while learning the ropes from Birk and eventually replacing him at center.
Other offensive linemen of interest to Baltimore: guards Amini Silatolu and Brandon Brooks.
The Ravens can't be ruled out as a potential landing spot for Alabama inside linebacker Dont'a Hightower or Boise State hybrid edge rusher Shea McClellin and Georgia Tech wide receiver Stephen Hill.
The Ravens are known to covet the talent of all three of those players.
Because of the depth of this draft and similarity in value, the Ravens would be amenable to a trade-back scenario.
Offensive line: The Ravens are currently going with unproven former tackle Jah Reid at left guard. They could also use some help at offensive tackle down the road since Bryant McKinnie had a rough season last year. Michael Oher is a solid right offensive tackle, but hasn't completely fulfilled the potential Baltimore identified in him as a first-round draft pick.
Pass rush: The Ravens are always looking to bolster their pass rush and lost Jarret Johnson in free agency to the San Diego Chargers. Terrell Suggs is the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, but Baltimore could use someone to work in tandem with him. Baltimore is hoping to maintain its edge in the black-and-blue AFC North division by continuing to apply heat to opposing quarterbacks.
While the Ravens have Suggs and Paul Kruger and second-year defensive end Pernell McPhee, there isn't a proven fourth pass rushing threat currently on the roster.
Wide receiver: The Ravens could use a big downfield target to complement Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith. They lack an imposing red-zone threat. Boldin is having trouble separating from cornerbacks, and Smith displayed inconsistent hands during an overall positive rookie season. The Ravens were disappointed last season in the lack of health and productivity of Lee Evans, who was cut after dropping a potential game-winning touchdown pass in the AFC Championship Game.
Safety: The Ravens lost backup safeties Haruki Nakamura and Tom Zbikowski during free agency and could use some depth. Plus, starters Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard are entering the final year of their respective contracts. While Alabama safety Mark Barron isn't expected to be available for the Ravens' first-round draft pick, Notre Dame's Harrison Smith could be an intriguing option if they're able to retreat from the 29th overall pick.
Inside linebacker: Middle linebacker Ray Lewis is up in years and dealt with a toe injury that robbed him of his speed in pursuit last season. The Ravens could use a future successor to the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year. If the Ravens are unable to land Dont'a Hightower in the first round, Mychal Kendricks, Bobby Wagner and Lavonte David could be good second-round possibilities for Baltimore.
Nice fits: Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, wide receiver Mohamed Sanu, running back Isaiah Pead.
Last year, the Bengals had to select a wide receiver and quarterback with their first two picks as coach Marvin Lewis' reboot project was just beginning. Behind A.J. Green and Andy Dalton, who was the first rookie-quarterback receiver duo to make the Pro Bowl, the Bengals finished 9-7 and made the playoffs.
As they approach this year's draft, the board is wide open, especially with two first-round picks for the first time since 1998. Lewis said recently that this draft reminds him of 2005, where almost all of the starting lineup was set and there was an eye toward the future. Hopefully it won't turn out like that one. In that draft, the Bengals took linebackers David Pollack and Odell Thurman along with wide receiver Chris Henry. Pollack's career ended in his second year due to a neck injury while Thurman and Henry had numerous off-field incidents.
This time, the Bengals will approach the draft with an eye towards the present and future. There are still depth issues on the offensive and defensive lines as well as the secondary and receiver.
With nine draft picks, the Bengals are also in an unusual position where they can maneuver up and down the draft board with some trades. Since the lockout ended last July, they have made five.
Wide receiver: Finding someone to line up opposite A.J. Green has been a work in progress. Jerome Simpson is a free agent but he showed last season that he wasn't a consistent or dependable No. 2. Green can stretch the field but they need a receiver who can take the pressure off him with clutch catches on short to intermediate routes. If Michael Floyd dropped to them in the first round, that would be perfect but the more realistic options would be Rutgers Mohamed Sanu or Illinois' A.J. Jenkins.
Guard: The Bengals have never taken one in the first round. They signed Travelle Wharton and Jacob Bell in free agency but right guard, where Bobbie Williams is a free agent, remains a concern. Stanford's David DeCastro is well-versed in West Coast schemes and would make an appropriate selection.
Cornerback: They are still looking for someone to replace Johnathan Joseph, who left for Houston via free agency when the lockout ended. Considering that Jason Allen is on a two-year deal and Adam Jones and Terence Newman are on one-year contracts, there aren't many young options to line up opposite Leon Hall, who is coming back from an Achilles injury. Alabama's Dre Kirkpatrick and South Carolina's Stephon Gilmore would be two at the top of the list.
Running back: The Bengals signed BenJarvus Green-Ellis and are moving on from Cedric Benson, who had three straight 1,000-yard seasons. Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden wants a backfield by committee but there are some doubts about how much of an increased role Bernard Scott could take on. There is plenty of value in rounds 2-4, which means that Miami's Lamar Miller or Cincinnati's Isaiah Pead could be in the mix. Pead would also bring the added dimension as a punt returner, considering the inconsistency that Brandon Tate had last season.
Nice fits: Running back Trent Richardson, wide receiver Stephen Hill, quarterback Brandon Weeden.
The Browns started planning for this draft on the first day of the 2011 draft when they traded the sixth pick last year to Atlanta for a bundle of picks that included the Falcons' first-round and fourth-round picks this year. That turned out to be the 22nd and 118th picks, part of the 13 total picks the Browns own this year.
Projecting what players will be available at 22 will influence what the Browns do with the fourth pick. If they pass on Trent Richardson they can be almost guaranteed they can get the second running back on their draft board when their turn comes around for the 22nd pick. If they do take Richardson, the top three or four wide receivers could go in the next 17 picks.
The Browns have to come out of this draft with a starting right tackle. They cut last year's starter, Tony Pashos, after Pashos underwent tendon surgery on his right foot. Pashos' backup, Oniel Cousins, is not worthy of being a regular starter.
At some point, the Browns will draft a quarterback. The question is where. The answer will dictate their true thoughts about Colt McCoy. If they take Brandon Weeden with the 22nd or 37th pick, or especially if they take Ryan Tannehill with the fourth pick, it means McCoy's days as a starter are probably history. But if they wait until the fourth round or later it means they are prepared to go with McCoy for at least one more year.
General manager Tom Heckert will not ignore the defensive side of the ball. The Browns like second-year cornerback Buster Skrine, but he is still raw. For now, the starting right cornerback remains Sheldon Brown. Brown could be moved to safety, a position of need after losing Mike Adams in free agency.
Running back: The Browns are hopeful Montario Hardesty is over his injury problems (right ACL in 2010, calf tear in 2011) and Brandon Jackson is ready after missing all of 2011 with a toe injury. That's a lot of hoping. The Browns scored a league-low four rushing touchdowns last season. Peyton Hillis scored three of them, and now he plays for the Chiefs. Trent Richardson from Alabama would be an immediate starter. David Wilson from Virginia Tech is another possibility.
Wide receiver: The Browns waited until the 59th pick to take wide receiver Greg Little last year. It would be a shock if they do not take one with one of their first three picks this year - 4, 22 or 37. Little led the Browns with 61 catches. He needs a running mate. Mohamed Massaquoi has proven in three years that he is not a No. 1 or even a No. 2 receiver. Kendall Wright is a possibility.
Right tackle: In terms of priorities, right tackle tops the list because the Browns just don't have a legitimate starter on the roster. They can find a starter in the third or fourth round, but might not want to wait that long. Two names to keep in mind are Jonathan Martin from Stanford and Bobbie Massie from Mississippi.
Nice fits: Inside linebacker Dont'a Hightower, guard Amini Silatolu, nose tackle Josh Chapman.
Pittsburgh won't change much in its long-held strategy to take the highest-rated players on the board in the early rounds. It's served the Steelers well, especially in this century in which they've not had a bust in the first round. They will not draft a quarterback in the first round, general manager Kevin Colbert stated, but all other positions are in play, although they won't draft a pure center either unless he can play guard. Since they have little depth in the offensive line, at nose tackle, at linebacker and in the secondary, they could go just about anywhere else.
Guard: Their two starting guards, Doug Legursky and Ramon Foster, were both undrafted and both in and out of the lineup. They have little behind them. They've been going through guards faster than anything since Alan Faneca left in 2008. Chris Kemoeatu was released because he just wasn't effective and had too many dumb penalties. They did re-sign Trai Essex, a versatile backup who has never been able to hold down a starting job.
Tackle: The projected starters are Marcus Gilbert, trying to make the transition from right to left tackle in his second season, and Willie Colon, who has played in only one game the past two seasons because of injuries. There's also little depth here. Jonathan Scott, their opening-day starter in 2011 at left tackle, could not hold down the job and is the only experienced backup. It was so bad they recalled Max Starks, whom they cut before training camp, after the fourth game and he started the rest of the way. Starks, a free agent, had ACL surgery in January and they will look at him again in June to possibly sign again unless they find a stud in the draft.
Nose tackle: Casey Hampton, 34, took a big pay cut in his final contractual season and had January ACL surgery. They expect him to play in 2012 but this could be it. Backup Chris Hoke retired. There's been talk of them moving end Ziggy Hood, their No. 1 pick in 2009, to nose tackle. Steve McLendon played there a little for them last season. They'd really like to find their next Hampton, who became their starter as a rookie in 2001.
Linebacker: Inside and out, there is no depth, and James Harrison, 34, and Larry Foote, 32, are not getting any younger. Starting inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons has been their No. 1 backup on the outside and they'd like to change that, to keep him on the inside. They do have Jason Worilds, a No. 2 pick in 2010, and 2011 No. 5 pick Chris Carter on the outside. What they'd really like to do is find their next James Farrior, perhaps Dont'a Hightower.
Running back: Rashard Mendenhall is recovering from ACL surgery and the rest have little experience after Isaac Redman. Mendenhall is in the final year of his contract. Redman is the projected starter and he's performed well when given the chance. Young backs Jonathan Dwyer, John Clay and Barron Batch also are in the mix.
Nice fits: Guard Cordy Glenn, outside linebacker Bruce Irvin, wide receiver Greg Childs.
Most mock drafts have the Texans taking a wide receiver. But a rookie wideout would be fourth on the depth chart behind starters Andre Johnson and Kevin Walter and backup Jacoby Jones, who's been a part-time starter. With Johnson, tight end Owen Daniels and running back Arian Foster figuring prominently in the passing game, there wouldn't be a lot of opportunities for a rookie.
Eight of their last nine first-round picks have been on defense. They haven't selected a skill position player in the first round since Johnson in 2003. In the first round, expect the Texans to draft an offensive lineman if one they want - like Georgia's guard/tackle Cordy Glenn -- slips to the 26th spot. Or an outside linebacker who can rush the passer like Nick Perry or Andre Branch. They're expected to draft a receiver in the third round. They like Greg Childs, A.J. Jenkins and Nick Toon. General manager Rick Smith isn't likely to trade up, but dealing down is a possibility. He's not shy about making trades during the draft.
Guard: Antoine Caldwell, the new starter on the right side, has a history of nagging injuries. He's made 13 starts in three seasons. Left guard Wade Smith is solid but turns 31. They have no other guard on the roster who has started a game.
Wide receiver: Starters Andre Johnson and Kevin Walter turn 31 before the season. They want to add a young, talented receiver who works hard and is patient. As a rookie, the new receiver would play in four-receiver sets, which they don't use much. One thing their best receivers have in common: Johnson and Walter are 6-3. Not counting Trindon Holliday, who was a sixth-round pick in 2010 selected to return kickoffs and punts, the Texans haven't drafted a legitimate receiver since Jacoby Jones in 2007.
Outside linebacker: Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips says a 3-4 scheme never has enough outside linebackers to rush the passer. Last season was a perfect example. After recording five sacks in the first five games, Mario Williams suffered a season-ending injury. With Williams gone, they need a third one to rotate with starters Connor Barwin and Brooks Reed. They found Reed in the second round, and he had a terrific rookie season with six sacks in 10 starts and 3.5 in two playoff games.
Offensive tackle: Left tackle Duane Brown is coming off an outstanding season and enters the last year of his contract. Right tackle Rashad Butler, who has replaced Eric Winston, has four career starts. They have no backup tackles who have started a game. Derek Newton, a seventh-round pick last year, saw action at tackle in the last game of last season when a lot of starters were rested for the playoffs.
Center: Starter Chris Myers is coming off a Pro Bowl season, but they have no backup. If he had been injured last season, right guard Mike Brisiel would have been forced to play center. Brisiel signed with Oakland. Backup guard Thomas Austin, who has no starts, played center in the second half of the last game against Tennessee and had some bad snaps.
Nice fits: Quarterback Andrew Luck, tight end Coby Fleener, nose tackle Alameda Te'amu.
The names and personalities may be different, but general manager Ryan Grigson and former Colts vice chairman Bill Polian share similar views on how to conduct the draft.
"Get football players who love to play the game. Guys you don't have to worry about when you're not watching them. Guys that have talent. It's really a blend," Grigson said.
"You're dealing with human beings. You can't just pick one type of player. You have to sprinkle different types in all over the place. At the end of the day they all need to love to play the game and have some level of talent that will help you win eventually."
And don't worry about specific positional needs. Take the best player available at the time of the pick.
"You never want to pass on a really good football player. Somebody that was easy for you to do when you went in to watch the film the first time, the second time, the third time, the 10th time," he said. "You usually know the guys you like pretty quickly. You want guys who know how to play the game first and foremost.
"It doesn't do you any good to draft a guy that's just a guy, when you compare him to someone else at another position where you maybe have a little depth that's just markedly better talent-wise. It's tough sometimes, but you have to be disciplined. The teams that draft really well I think are disciplined in following their board and not reaching due to need."
Grigson added that he is his own man when it comes to his draft style.
"I'm doing my own deal and I'm not following any template from the past or recent past. Every day is a new day and I believe in what I'm doing," he said.
Wide receiver: Veterans Reggie Wayne and Austin Collie are the only returning starters for the Colts. Indianapolis released Blair White after he failed a physical. The team added former Rams and Titans receiver Donnie Avery last month. Indianapolis needs an heir apparent to Wayne, a big physical big-play receiver.
Tight end: The Colts released veteran Dallas Clark and opted not to re-sign Clark's primary backup, Jacob Tamme. Tamme signed with Denver. Indianapolis would like to add a receiving tight end to fill the void created by the dual losses of Clark and Tamme.
Nose tackle: With Indianapolis transitioning to a hybrid 3-4 defensive system, finding a true 3-4 nose tackle is paramount. The Colts added free agent Brandon McKinney, who has played with San Diego and Baltimore. Returning veteran Anthony Johnson can also play there, but is probably not the long-term answer.
Cornerback: Injuries have decimated the cornerback position the last two seasons. The Colts did not re-sign former starter Jacob Lacey. Jerraud Powers is the lone returning starter but he has missed extensive playing time the last two seasons due to health issues. Indianapolis needs more quality depth and more competition at the position.
Nice fits: Defensive end Melvin Ingram, wide receiver A.J. Jenkins, cornerback Dwight Bentley.
With the No. 7 pick in the draft, Jacksonville would like to hear from another club looking to move up in the draft. The Jaguars would jump at the opportunity. There's no doubt they have a strong liking for South Carolina defensive end Melvin Ingram who would easily fill a team need at that position. But the opportunity to gain extra picks in the draft by moving down would be too tempting for general manager Gene Smith to let pass. Smith has said in recent weeks that the Jaguars would be informing other clubs they would be open for such a move.
The carrot that the Jaguars might be able to dangle to others is Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill, a projected first-round pick who could be available at the No. 7 spot to a team drafting in the bottom half of the first round.
If the Jaguars can't find a suitable trading partner, they'll likely jump at one of two possibilities. First would be Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon. If he's gone, which is likely, the team will go to the other side of the ball and take Ingram. That's a bigger need for the Jaguars, but Blackmon is too talented to pass up if he's available.
Should Jacksonville opt for Ingram, their choice in the second round goes back to wide receiver. They have their eyes on two in particular who should be available with their pick at the No. 38 spot - speedster A.J. Jenkins from Illinois who grew up in Jacksonville, or a much taller Stephen Hill (6-4) from Georgia Tech. End spots on both sides of the ball are the team's top two priorities and will be addressed within the team's first three picks.
Wide receiver: Don't be misled by the team signing veteran free agents Laurent Robinson and Lee Evans - the Jaguars still could use a talented young receiver from this year's draft. Robinson has never been a No. 1 receiver which is what he's been tabbed with the Jaguars. Evans is 31, has a one-year contract and isn't a lock to even make the 53-man roster. Thus the need to find one, preferably two, receivers in the draft who can help the group from last year, of which only one receiver (Mike Thomas) is certain to be with the Jaguars this year.
Defensive end: The Jaguars were able to sign their best defensive end from last year in Jeremy Mincey who tested free agency. But of the next three best ends, Matt Roth has been encouraged to look elsewhere, Leger Douzable signed with Tennessee and Aaron Kampman's status for 2012 is filled with question marks after playing in just three games a year ago. Thus a need exists for a quality pass rusher.
Defensive tackle: This is a position that appeared secure with returning starters Tyson Alualu and Terrance Knighton. But Alualu is coming back from offseason knee surgery and Knighton just underwent emergency eye surgery a few weeks ago. The latter's status is uncertain for training camp, which is why the Jaguars will have to invest in a tackle at some point in the draft.
Nice fits: Defensive end Whitney Mercilus, center Peter Konz, cornerback Casey Heyward.
The Titans always say they follow their draft board regardless of need. And that is true to an extent. But the Titans usually seem to find a way to address their major needs in the draft with the highest player rated at the respective position in the first round.
Ruston Webster steps into the general manager's role after being director of player personnel for the previous two years. Mike Reinfeldt moved from general manager to CEO, heading all the team's Nashville operations.
The transition from Reinfeldt to Webster should be fairly seamless anyway, as Reinfeldt is a delegator by nature and often sought the input of Webster, a respected personnel man in every stop of his career. Webster and coach Mike Munchak had their fingerprints all over much of Tennessee's solid 2011 draft class, so Webster's move into being a general manager should be an easy switch.
It has been the case for the past few years with Jake Locker being picked last year as the quarterback of the future; Derrick Morgan, selected in 2010, was supposed to solve the pass rush problem, but injuries have kept that from happening. In 2009, Kenny Britt gave the Titans the explosive outside threat they had long needed, but again, injuries have limited him as well.
This year, the Titans have so many needs on the defensive side of the ball that even if they adhere to their draft board completely, they can probably fill a need. They probably can't go wrong if they go with a cornerback like Stephon Gilmore of South Carolina or Dre' Kirkpatrick of Alabama. The same thing can probably be said at defensive end, if Whitney Mercilus of Illinois is on the board at No. 20.
Cornerback: With the defection of Cortland Finnegan, the Titans profess confidence in Jason McCourty and Alterraun Verner, and that's fine; both have been solid players. But with as much nickel as teams are forced to play in the NFL, two solid cornerbacks isn't enough to cut it anymore, and that's not even factoring in potential injuries. A pick like Gilmore or Kirkpatrick could solve the matter early. However, the Titans seem to have more luck with defensive backs in the middle and late rounds where a player like Casey Heyward might be a decent fit.
Defensive end: This isn't as much of a need from a sheer numbers standpoint anymore, given the acquisition of Kamerion Wimbley and the re-signing of Dave Ball. Leger Douzable adds another body to the mix, but another impact pass rusher couldn't hurt. If Melvin Ingram were to slip to No. 20, he would be hard to pass up. Mercilus might be another intriguing prospect to consider.
Center: The Titans have veteran Eugene Amano, but they sure have spent a good part of the offseason shopping around for some competition for him. Five centers have visited Tennessee with four signing elsewhere and Jeff Faine waiting until after the draft to find out if the Titans want him. In the meantime, the issue could be addressed in the draft as well.
Nice fits: Defensive tackle Jerel Worthy, quarterback Brock Osweiler, running back Robert Turbin.
Years of mediocre drafts filled with reaches, questionable decisions and poor return on high-round investments left the Broncos with a roster bereft of home-grown talent when John Elway and John Fox took the Broncos' reins in January 2011. They vowed to rebuild the team via the draft, and their first haul was promising, yielding three immediate starters, led by defensive rookie of the year Von Miller.
Fifteen months later, the foundation of their long-term efforts remains draft-centric, even though they made the biggest splash in March by signing ex-Colts quarterback Peyton Manning. Manning was the perfect addition to preserve the Broncos' draft-centric strategy; he easily fit under the salary cap, and as a street free agent, didn't cost the Broncos a pick.
But to maximize the 36-year-old Manning's limited time, they need immediate production from early-round picks. Defensive tackle appears to be the biggest need -- as it was last year -- but the Broncos completely bypassed the position in the 2011 draft and will do so again if they don't like the quality and value presented when they select. The need for immediate production could spur the Broncos to deal a future first-rounder in order to trade up from the 25th pick.
Defensive tackle: Bringing back Justin Bannan after a year with the Rams means that the Broncos have enough tackles to get through a game, but current first-teamers Ty Warren and Kevin Vickerson finished 2011 on injured reserve, and Warren hasn't played a regular-season down since 2009. Bannan is 33, Warren is 31 and the journeyman Vickerson is 29, leaving the Broncos in dire need of young talent here.
Running back: Willis McGahee had a renaissance last year, but is 30 and showed signs of wear late in 2011. Knowshon Moreno struggled even before he tore his anterior cruciate ligament last Nov. 13 at Kansas City; he has not proven he can be the kind of power runner that John Fox prefers.
Cornerback: The Broncos know what they have in perennial Pro Bowler Champ Bailey, free-agent pickup Tracy Porter and second-year nickel back Chris Harris, whose unexpected emergence helped make Andre' Goodman expendable. But Porter is on a one-year contract and Bailey enters his 14th season and will be 34 in June.
Quarterback: Backup Caleb Hanie might get the Broncos through a game or two, but a four-week stint as Chicago's starter last year showed his limitations. Even if Manning's neck holds up well enough for him to play multiple years, the Broncos need to groom an eventual replacement -- who, if needed, could play well enough to keep the team from completely imploding if Manning is hurt, as the Colts did in 2011.
Wide receiver: Third-year receiver Eric Decker appears poised to become Manning's most frequent target, and 2010 first-rounder Demaryius Thomas could have a breakout season. But various injuries sidelined Thomas for 11 games the last two years. The depth behind them isn't spectacular, consisting of free-agent pickups Andre' Caldwell and Brandon Stokley, February signee Jason Hill and Matt Willis, who could fit more as a returner than a receiver.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
Nice fits: Guard David DeCastro, nose tackle Alameda Ta'amu, defensive end Jake Bequette.
The Chiefs have pieced together their offensive line over the last three seasons by retaining left tackle Branden Albert, moving last year's second-round choice Rodney Hudson to center, inserting 2010 third-round choice Jon Asamoah at right guard and this year in free agency they signed right tackle Eric Winston. A long-term answer is needed at left guard, where Ryan Lilja is the starter. Albert is 27 years old, Lilja is 30, Hudson is 22, Asamoah is 23 and Winston is 28. A nose tackle is something the 3-4 defense has not had in the previous three seasons with the Chiefs and overall defense line depth is a concern. DeCastro, Ta'amu and Bequette all fill holes and all carry the intangibles the Chiefs are looking for in the draft.
General manager Scott Pioli figures to be focused on the line of scrimmage when it comes to the money picks in the 2012 NFL Draft. Whether it's run stoppers, pass rushers or blockers, the Chiefs can use help on both offense and defense. What remains in question is how serious Pioli is about drafting a quarterback in the 2012 selection meeting. They've spent a lot of time with Ryan Tannehill, but they will likely have to move up to get him and that's not likely. The Chiefs are far more likely to deal out of the No. 11 spot in hopes of picking up an extra choice.
Nose tackle: The Chiefs enter their fourth season with the 3-4 defense and they've yet to have a solid talent at the key position in the scheme. In the last three years, they've run bodies like Ron Edwards, Shaun Smith, Kelly Gregg and Amon Gordon. They drafted big man Jerrell Powe in the sixth round last year, but never got him on the field. A major space eater is a must especially after allowing 132 rushing yards per game in 2011.
Left guard: Lilja moved into the left guard spot last year and turned in a solid performance. But he's reaching the end of his career and has battled some nagging injuries over the last couple of seasons. There is no successor on the squad right now, as last year's second-round choice Rodney Hudson is penciled in for the starting job at center.
Defensive end: The 2012 season is a contract year for Glenn Dorsey, as the former first-round draft choice continues to adapt to playing out of position at the 3-4 defensive end. He's made gradual improvement, but it's doubtful Pioli will pay big money to keep him, especially since Dorsey's salary is already inflated by his first-round pedigree.
Safety: Eric Berry (knee) and Kendrick Lewis (shoulder) are coming off injuries and surgery from last season. From the time that Berry was injured in last season's opener, the Chiefs scrambled to replace him and had four different players start games. Whether it comes as a safety or a young cornerback, they need depth here.
Wide receiver: Dwayne Bowe has the franchise designation and he joins Steve Breaston in the starting lineup. Jonathan Baldwin had a very disappointing rookie season and the No. 4 wide receiver spot is very empty and in need of speed and special teams ability.
Nice fits: Defensive tackle Alameda Ta'amu, quarterback Russell Wilson, tackle Tony Bergstrom.
Three compensatory selections based on the loss of free agents Nnamdi Asomugha, Zach Miller and Robert Gallery boosted the Raiders' draft lineup from two picks to five, but the fact is they're not scheduled for to make their first pick until the last selection of the third round, No. 95 overall.
Other picks for Oakland come in the fourth (No. 129), fifth (Nos. 148 and 168) and sixth (No. 189) rounds. General manager Reggie McKenzie will be limited in terms of dealing picks to move up or down because only the No. 148 and No. 189 picks can be traded. Compensatory picks cannot be traded.
So while it's possible the Raiders will deal an existing player along with one of those picks to move up, the more likely scenario is McKenzie and coach Dennis Allen will stand pat with their current picks, although dealing a player for another mid-level pick is possibility.
While McKenzie and the Raiders are secretive about who they're looking at, he makes it clear he sees the draft as an opportunity to add depth across the board. He's a big believer in taking the best available player, even if it's at a position of perceived strength.
Oakland is not deep enough at any position to rule anyone out, so that philosophy fits nicely this season.
While McKenzie shares some of the late Al Davis' philosophies in terms of speed and size, he is a firm believer in production and character as well. Davis only needed to see a flash of ability in college and left it up to the coaches to coax maximum effort and production from the player.
Defensive tackle: Oakland is set with starters Tommy Kelly and Richard Seymour, but the fact is both are best suited to play a three-technique, with Kelly more often than not the one who plays closer to over center in the 4-3 defense. Coach Dennis Allen has been coy about whether Oakland will mix in some 3-4 defense -- it seems unlikely they would make that their base -- but the Raiders definitely are in the market for a stout interior player who could play over the nose in a 3-4 and tie up blockers in a 4-3. Oakland gave up five yards per carry to opposing rushers last season and getting a defensive tackle who specializes in run defense is a priority.
Quarterback: Terrelle Pryor arrived in the supplemental draft in the previous regime, and Allen and offensive coordinator Greg Knapp will take a long look to see if he fits into Oakland's new offense which utilizes a lot of bootlegs and timing passes designed to get their speedy receivers the ball in the open field. If not, Oakland currently has only Rhett Bomar on the roster, so any injury situation that involves starter Carson Palmer could doom a season. McKenzie was part of a Green Bay scouting staff that found Matt Flynn in the seventh round and he'd love to do it again.
Cornerback: The additions of free agents Ron Bartell and Shawntae Spencer help replace departed former starters Stanford Routt and Chris Johnson, but the jury is out on second-year players DeMarcus Van Dyke and Chmidi Chekwa. Finding late-round gems at cornerback was always a Packers specialty when McKenzie was in the personnel department.
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS
Nice fits: Outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus, cornerback Kevin Zeitler, safety Brandon Taylor.
This time last April the Chargers were downright smug. Sure they had missed the playoffs for the first time since the 2009 season, but general manager A.J. Smith was clutching three of the first 61 picks.
We know how that turned out with those three picks having little impact, and the team missed the playoffs again.
Fast forward to this year and Smith owns two of the first 49 picks. Chargers fans are hoping the man with the one-time Midas touch on draft days gets his stuff together once more.
Smith needs to aid a defense that was dreadful last year on passing downs. It finished with the worst third-down ranking in the NFL as it consistently allowed teams to get a fresh set of downs while the defense wore down.
So look for Smith to zero in on that side of the ball, and in particular, pass rushers.
Among those on the Chargers' radar are Alabama's Courtney Upshaw, South Carolina's Melvin Ingram, Illinois' Whitney Mercilus and USC's Nick Perry.
Or the team could turn to a safety, with Alabama's Mark Barron a potential pick.
"We've invested so much offensively in pro free agents, and I think there's a commitment within the building to address the defense," said Jimmy Raye, the Chargers' director of player personnel. "Will that be with the first two picks? I don't know. Things change. At the same time, we understand that we need to supplement the elements we have better here and add more talent on that side of the ball. That's been well documented during this offseason."
Outside linebacker: One player had more than four sacks for the Chargers last year - no wonder they had the NFL's worst third-down defense. The team's first pick needs to be a pass rusher, someone to help a gassed defense to get off the field. It's imperative the first words that come out of Smith's mouth on draft day is him announcing the name of a player that can put heat on the quarterback.
Strong Safety: Some day, no really, the Chargers will find a replacement for Rodney Harrison. They brought in Atari Bigby, but really he is just like last year's starter, Steve Gregory, with a cooler name. Finding someone to thump and run would be a great addition for the Chargers' shaky defense.
Cornerback: Antoine Cason hasn't been the consistent player the Chargers hoped for when picking him first in 2008. And Quentin Jammer had a tough time backpedalling away from Father Time last year. Neither is special; neither is a true shutdown corner.
Defensive end: Somewhat pleased with what first-round pick Corey Liuget did last season, that doesn't mean this position is locked down. The team did bring back Luis Castillo after a broken leg cost him last season; Vaughn Martin has progressed from project to productive. Neither Castillo nor Martin are difference-makers, something that the Chargers seek.
Running back: The Chargers have what they hope is an elite back in Ryan Mathews; he is coming off a 1,000-yard rushing season and gained 1,546 yards from scrimmage. But Mathews still has durability issues and it's imperative the Chargers find someone to spell him.