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With the NFL draft only a few days away, here are my best guesses on the positions each NFC team will look to address in the NFL’s spotlight event of the spring (the AFC breakdown ran last week).
Positions needed: WR, TE, OT, C, DE, DT, SLB, S
Analysis: With Dak Prescott nearing his eventual big payday, expect the Cowboys to focus on surrounding their franchise quarterback with talent in a concerted effort to help that decision pay off. Despite the free-agent signing of Randall Cobb and return of team icon Jason Witten, long-term answers at slot receiver and tight end would go a long way toward ensuring Prescott’s success. So would reinforcements at center and tackle, since Travis Frederick missed all of last season with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, Tyron Smith is getting a little older and La’el Collins is entering a contract season. Defensively, the Cowboys could stand to draft starting-caliber players at safety, outside linebacker and defensive tackle, with defensive end being a long-term need as well.
Positions needed: QB, WR, RT, DT, EDGE, ILB, CB, S
Analysis: It’s time for the Giants to draft Eli Manning’s successor (obviously), but since Manning will be around a little while longer, the Giants have a serious need for a classic “X” (or an outside possession receiver) after trading away the great Odell Beckham Jr. The addition of guard Kevin Zeitler in the trade will buoy one of the league’s worst offensive lines, but it’s safe to assume Giants GM Dave Gettleman — who believes “big men allow you to compete” — will also look for a starting-caliber player at right tackle. Defensively, the Giants have to improve the league’s 30th-ranked pass rush, which means reinforcements will come at defensive tackle and edge rush. Cornerback is also a primary need, and some safety depth would be nice, too.
Positions needed: WR, OG, DT, LB, CB, S
Analysis: The Eagles have one of the league’s better rosters, which means for the most part they’ll be seeking depth more than starting-caliber players, though upgrades at left guard, middle linebacker (even with the signing of L.J. Fort) and strongside linebacker would be welcome (especially if said players have cover skills). Injuries hurt the Eagles’ secondary last season so reinforcements at corner and safety would be helpful. Also keep an eye on defensive tackle, a critical position in defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s system. Current starters Malik Jackson and Fletcher Cox will form an outstanding duo, but there’s little depth.
Positions needed: QB, WR, OL, EDGE, ILB, S
Analysis: The devastating leg injury to Alex Smith last November opened Washington up to the possibility of drafting a young quarterback this year, despite the recent addition of veteran Case Keenum. Whoever is at quarterback needs more weapons in the passing game, as there’s no established No. 1 wideout on the roster. More offensive line depth across all positions is also needed. Count inside linebacker as a primary need — someone more complete than Mason Foster could be tempting early on in the draft — along with safety, where Landon Collins’ running mate has yet to be decided.
Positions needed: RB, TE, G, EDGE, CB, K
Analysis: The fruits of general manager Ryan Pace’s hard work has shown, as the Bears really don’t have a ton of needs. One obvious one is running back, a position the Bears have entrusted to Tarik Cohen and Mike Davis following the Jordan Howard trade, but they could still be in the market for a rugged workhorse with starting potential. Depth at tight end (Trey Burton is solid but Adam Shaheen has struggled to stay healthy), guard (Kyle Long is entering a contract year) and swing tackle are also necessities. A situational pass rusher on the edge to complement Khalil Mack could make an immediate impact, and so could an outside corner in case a starter gets hurt. And after the way last season ended, Chicago will of course be debuting a new kicker in the fall.
Positions needed: WR, TE, C, RG, DT, OLB, CB
Analysis: The Lions’ never-ending quest to surround quarterback Matthew Stafford with enough talent to make a dent in the NFC hierarchy continues, as long-term starting options at slot and outside receiver are a mid-round necessity. Depth at tight end would be nice, but the Lions better reinforce their interior O-line, as center Graham Glasgow is in a contract year and there’s no clear-cut option at right guard currently on the roster. The Lions’ starting D-line is undeniably solid, but they could use some depth on the interior with A’Shawn Robinson entering a contract year and Damon Harrison turning 31 in November. Beyond that, expect Detroit to be in the market for starting-caliber options at outside linebacker and outside corner, with the latter being a major need as Teez Tabor enters a make-or-break year.
Positions needed: QB (developmental), RB, WR, TE, OG, ILB, S
Analysis: Aaron Rodgers turns 36 this year and DeShone Kizer hasn’t shown much, so a high-end receiving talent should be an early priority (whether it’s at wideout or tight end) to maximize Rodgers’ window. A talented running back or road-grading guard would also help in that regard. Defensively, the Packers are solid up front and on the edge following a rare free-agency spending spree, but a starting-caliber inside linebacker would be tempting early in the draft, and so would a safety in case 2017 second-round pick Josh Jones fails to take the next step.
Positions needed: WR, OT, OG, C, DT, CB
Analysis: After handing Kirk Cousins $84 million guaranteed, the Vikings will do all they can to maximize their return on that investment. To that end, a young (and cheap) receiver to team with the great (and expensive) duo of Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen will go a long way, and so would a plug-and-play center or guard that could fortify an interior that didn’t always get the job done in 2018. An early round offensive tackle would work too and allow Minnesota to move starting left tackle Riley Reiff to guard. The Vikings’ defense was undeniably strong last season, but they need a talented three-technique defensive tackle to pair with Linval Joseph following the free-agency departure of Sheldon Richardson. The combination of injuries, uneven play and potential free-agent defections also make cornerback a possibility.
Positions needed: RB, RT, OG, DT, EDGE, CB
Analysis: The Falcons addressed guard with the signing of free agents James Carpenter and Jamon Brown, but neither should be considered a long-term fix. Additionally, the Falcons should add another body at running back (given Devonta Freeman’s recent injury history) and might be able to upgrade at right tackle (despite Ty Sambrailo’s recent three-year extension). Don’t sleep on the defensive front, where the Falcons should be able to add an instant starter at defensive tackle (alongside stud Grady Jarrett) or edge rush (in place of Takk McKinley or Vic Beasley Jr.) with their first-round pick. Cornerback is also a significant primary need; the Falcons don’t have a viable third corner on the roster.
Positions needed: RB, WR, LG, DT, EDGE, WLB, CB, S
Analysis: The Panthers let Devin Funchess go this offseason, so there’s a need for a big, possession-type target to complement their various speedsters at the skill positions. A burly complement to running back Christian McCaffrey would be nice, and there’s also room for a plug-and-play left guard and an edge rusher and/or defensive tackle with starting potential, since the youngest starter up front is Dontari Poe, at 28 years old. A weak-side outside linebacker could be in the cards, and there’s also a real need for a starting nickel corner and depth at safety.
Positions needed: WR, C, DT, EDGE, S
Analysis: The Saints came only a few plays away from the Super Bowl last season, but there’s still a little work to do. Start with the surprise retirement of center Max Unger, which hurts one of the league’s best offensive lines. Look for the Saints to address the position early so the unit doesn’t skip a beat. New Orleans could definitely use another wideout to take attention away from the magnificent Michael Thomas. Also keep an eye at tight end and defensive tackle, where stud Sheldon Rankins could be out for a while after injuring his Achilles in the playoffs and David Onyemata could be facing a suspension to start the year. The starters are set at safety but one of them, Vonn Bell, is slated to be a free agent after the season.
Positions needed: WR, OT, C, DT, EDGE, ILB, CB, S
Analysis: There are holes all over for the Bucs, starting with middle linebacker (thanks to the offseason departure of Kwon Alexander). And while Tampa Bay added Shaq Barrett in free agency, that might stop it from adding an impact edge rusher early. There’s pressure to win now, but the Bucs might also be tempted to nab a high-end replacement for Gerald McCoy, whose solid play still didn’t match his $14.9 million price tag for 2018. The Bucs also need a nickel corner and a young safety with upside. Offensively, Tampa Bay racked up a ton of yards last season but lost their slot receiver (Adam Humphries) and top downfield threat (DeSean Jackson) in free agency, which isn’t an ideal setup for quarterback Jameis Winston’s make-or-break season. They could use some developmental talents at center and swing tackle.
Positions needed: QB, WR, TE, OG, DL, EDGE, LB, CB
Analysis: Quarterback will obviously be addressed if the Cardinals can’t pass on Kyler Murray No. 1 overall in the draft, but one thing incumbent starter Josh Rosen has going for him is that the league’s worst roster also needs plenty of help on both sides of the ball. The addition of J.R. Sweezy should help the O-line, but there isn’t enough high-upside youth there. Same goes for receiver and tight end, for that matter. Defensively, Arizona tied for fifth in the league in sacks but still surrendered a ton of points per game, so it should be no surprise there’s an opportunity for a rookie to come in and start at interior defensive line, outside linebacker and cornerback.
Positions needed: RB, OT/OG, DT, LB, CB,
Analysis: The 2018 season’s runners-up have one of the league’s best rosters, but there’s a little bit they can do to push this franchise over the top. Start at guard, where an early round draftee could push for immediate playing time, while a tackle who could eventually take over for Andrew Whitworth would be a boon (unless they hand the position to 2018 third-rounder Joe Noteboom). Meanwhile, the departure of Ndamukong Suh creates an opportunity for playing time at defensive tackle, while the linebacking corps could use a solid run stopper. Also keep an eye on outside cornerback, where Marcus Peters is entering a contract year after an uneven 2018.
Positions needed: WR, OG, DL, EDGE, CB, S
Analysis: The 49ers finished with the NFL’s second-worst record, but a big reason for that was the season-ending Jimmy Garoppolo injury. This is a team that figures to bounce back in a big way if they nail the draft, and the 49ers are well-positioned to add the impact pass rusher they need, either at defensive tackle or edge rush, to form a devastating pass rush. From there, the 49ers should also be able to pair Richard Sherman with a starting-caliber corner, while also adding a center or guard who could start immediately on an interior front that often struggled. San Francisco could also use some depth at safety and receiver, due to injury concerns among their projected starters.
Positions needed: WR, TE, OT, OG, DT, EDGE, CB
Analysis: Seattle surprised many by making the playoffs last season, and with Russell Wilson locked up for the long-term, it would make sense to continue improving a passing attack that must improve for the Seahawks to take the next step. A big possession receiver to complement Tyler Lockett and Doug Baldwin might help Seattle open up the passing attack, while drafting a developmental guard would also be wise. Edge rush is already a pressing need, but it will become a red-hot one if they trade 25-year-old stud Frank Clark (in lieu of paying him the big contract he seeks). Cornerback also figures to be addressed early, since the Seahawks haven’t invested much draft capital in the position early.
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