AFC East team needs
By John Murphy, Yahoo Sports
April 2, 2007
ILB: The free-agent defection of middle linebacker London Fletcher cost them more than just a starting linebacker. He was the heart and soul of their front seven. The Bills have been evaluating a number of options in terms of replacing him, which include putting outside linebacker Angelo Crowell into that spot. However, after dealing Takeo Spikes to the Eagles, they would be upsetting the chemistry of the entire linebacker corps by making that move, so expect them to go after Mississippi linebacker Patrick Willis with the same vigor they did Donte' Whitner a year ago.
RB: Trading Willis McGahee leaves them with veteran Anthony Thomas as the feature back and former NFL Europe graduate Fred Jackson looking to challenge for playing time. It seems unlikely that general manager Marv Levy will make a deal for a veteran running back before the draft, unless something breaks with San Diego Chargers' restricted free agent Michael Turner. Expect them to target someone such as Kenny Irons or Antonio Pittman in the second round.
CB: Nate Clements' free-agency departure was a huge blow to a defensive unit that played fairly well at times. However, the Bills' staff thinks that second-year defender Ashton Youboty could be a solid playmaker on the outside, while veteran Kiwaukee Thomas has provided steady leadership. Their use of a Cover 2 scheme means that they should still be able to find a solid complementary defender between rounds 2-4.
WR: Don't be surprised if they target a receiver with some size and the potential to get deep as late as the fourth round. They have a smaller receiver corps and guys like Sam Aiken or Josh Reed have failed to produce as expected.
QB: The trade of Kelly Holcomb to the Philadelphia Eagles opens a spot for a young QB behind starter J.P. Losman and newly installed backup Craig Nall. They could likely wait until the back end of the draft and bring someone aboard such as Jordan Palmer, Lester Ricard or Tyler Palko. Additional interest in Palko could be sparked by the fact he's an alumnus of Pittsburgh like assistant coach and former backup Alex Van Pelt.
DT: They could transition from playing strictly a 4-3 base to using more of a hybrid scheme that will allow defensive coordinator Dom Capers to put Jason Taylor and Joey Porter on the outside, while featuring veteran Vonnie Holliday at one of the DE spots. But they lack an up-field, wide-based interior defender to play that style or scheme, which could lead them in the direction of defensive tackle Amobi Okoye. In time and with some maturity in the weight room, the 19-year-old, 305-pound lineman could eventually thrive as a 320-pound defender.
DB: Under former coach Nick Saban, they addressed this area twice in the past two drafts, but have failed to produce an ideal starting defender. Last year's top-choice, Jason Allen, lacked ideal instincts and was a high reps guy that failed to learn the team's defense fast enough to contribute on the field. Meanwhile, cornerback Travis Daniels has been an inconsistent cover guy, so finding someone who could start off as a nickel back and maybe challenge him for playing time would be ideal.
OL: It seems very likely that they will add a few fresh faces again through the draft, although there is some hope that Joe Toledo might provide some steady play at guard if he recovers from a rookie knee injury. It is certainly not out of the question that they will select offensive tackle Levi Brown at No. 9 overall. However, even if they select Brown, they need to come back in the third or fourth round and secure two possible starters out of this draft.
LB: This is another area where the team is getting old and lacks ideal depth behind their current starters. A transition toward using the 3-4 scheme would create a need to find future replacements for Taylor and Porter, while also finding an inside guy to pair with Channing Crowder down the road. Stewart Bradley, Desmond Bishop, Justin Warren and Dallas Sartz are some names to remember.
WR: The loss of Wes Welker, their most reliable return man and possession receiver, has created a hole. Marty Booker showed signs of being a reliable No. 2 receiver next to Chris Chambers, but 2006 rookie Derek Hagan is still a work in progress. As a result, expect the Dolphins to go after a combo guy (WR/RT) like David Clowney or Steve Breaston possibly in round 3-4 or wait for Ryne Robinson. They could also look at a pass-catching tight end like Michael Allan, Jonny Harline or Braden Jones in the later rounds.
New England Patriots
LB: Age is creeping up on this position as Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel and Rosevelt Colvin are moving past their prime years. All of them still seem to have a fair amount of gas left in the tank, but it's time to think about the long-term future here. The player that seems to impress the Patriots the most is versatile Miami (Fla.) linebacker Jon Beason, who would have to sneak past a few teams if he is to land in Foxborough, Mass.
S: If you look at the team's defensive core up the middle, the guys are all over 30 years old so now is the time to act before you get caught with two-three players on the field who are too slow to make a play. If the Patriots keep both of their first-round picks, it is likely they will consider someone like Brandon Meriweather. If they deal back into the second or early third round, they could focus on a versatile safety such as Kevin Payne or John Wendling.
RB: Rookie running back Laurence Maroney was worthy of being taken in the first round last year, but he wore down at times and has had offseason shoulder surgery that could limit him to around 250 carries next season. It would be a wild-card choice, but Rutgers running back/fullback Brian Leonard would be an excellent acquisition at No. 28 or later if they opted to drop back a few choices. If not, keep an eye on Darius Walker in the third-fourth round area or UAB's Corey White, who could split downs at both running back and fullback.
OL: The Patriots have done a great job of locating offensive linemen that fit into their system while also being able to draft them accordingly. If they hold onto both first-round choices, they could use one of them on a player like offensive tackle Joe Staley as he fits the mold of what they desire. More than likely, they will wait and pull from a pool of guys in the third-fourth round range like James Marten, Marshal Yanda, Allen Barbre or Julius Wilson. Also, look for them to add a late-round guard/center type as well.
CB: If there is a position the Patriots have done a better job of evaluating than offensive line in recent years, it would be cornerback. Asante Samuel, Ellis Hobbs and Randall Gay, signed as an undrafted free agent, were solid finds. As for now, they need to find someone that can do a better job of manning up against the slot receiver or motion tight end. The type of players they seem to like most would be defenders such as Michael Coe, C.J. Wilson, Fred Bennett or they could even take a flyer on DeAndre Jackson, who would have been a solid second-round pick had he not injured his knee during the season.
New York Jets
OLB/DE: The Jets have tried to address this position through free agency. However, David Bowens has been used primarily as a situational pass rusher and the last time former first-round pick Andre Wadsworth played in the NFL, most of this year's draft eligible prospects were in junior high school. They need to find an edge rusher who can provide the type of pressure and havoc created by John Abraham. Adding Kenyon Coleman gives them a younger defender to challenge Kimo von Oelhoffen, but a playmaker in the front seven is what could put this defense in position to making another playoff run.
CB: This is the other pressing need as they have not found an adequate replacement since letting go of veteran Ty Law leave via free agency a year ago. Ideally, the Jets are searching for someone like Eric Mangini's former pupil Asante Samuel, a defender with sound technique, good football instincts and the ability to learn and retain information quickly. The Jets could find themselves in position to take someone like Daymeion Hughes, Michael Coe or Josh Wilson with one of their two, second round picks.
TE: Many felt the Jets would address this need in last year's draft. Instead, they waited until day two and picked more of a blocker, a move that failed to drastically improve the offense. Greg Olsen is likely to be off the board before the Jets select at No. 25 and Zach Miller does not fit the profile. A name to keep a close eye on is Ben Patrick, the former Delaware/Duke prospect who has very good hands, good speed and the intangibles that the Jets' staff desires. He could be a surprise pick late in the second round.
OL: The Jets pulled off a daily double last year by adding a franchise tackle and future All-Pro center. This year, they should find some good role players in the mid-to-late rounds to help support the talented blockers from the '06 draft. A possible challenger for the left guard spot and a swingman type that could back up at guard and right tackle would promote excellent competition this summer.
DT: What the Jets are looking for here is a space-eater type that has a good enough motor to provide rest for starter Dewayne Robertson. They are unlikely to spend a high choice on this position, but several second-day prospects could give them some much needed push up the middle off the bench. Keep an eye on Walter Thomas, Kelly Talavou, Ola Dagunduro or Louis Leonard.
John Murphy is Yahoo! Sports' NFL personnel and college prospect evaluator. Murphy's seventh annual NFL Draft Bible package for the upcoming 2008 NFL Draft coverage is now available. Learn more at www.nfldraftbible.blogspot.com.
Updated on Monday, Apr 2, 2007 9:24 pm, EDT