NFL Draft Watch: Top 3 needs for every non-playoff team
The new year brings hope and promise for change in 2015.
For the teams not in the postseason — and the ones not currently searching for head coaches and general managers — draft preparation is heating up, with teams identifying their primary needs and the players who might fill those voids.
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Here’s a look at the 20 non-playoff teams, the current draft order and what those teams’ most pressing needs are right now, prior to free agency:
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-14)
Top needs: QB, OT, edge rusher
Skinny: Lovie Smith acknowledged that the team needs better play from its quarterback position, and the team is highly likely to address that with the first overall pick in the draft. The possible debate of Marcus Mariota vs. Jameis Winston could set the tone for the rest of the first round. The Bucs also must get better in the trenches, especially on an offensive line that ranked as one of the league’s worst.
2. Tennessee Titans (2-14)
Top needs: DL, QB, CB
Skinny: Do they trust Zach Mettenberger? He might be a good player, but the Titans likely don’t have enough evidence at this point following his injury-shortened first season. If they pass on a quarterback in Round 1, it could be a decision that comes back to haunt them. The defense also needs pass rushers and cover men to execute coordinator Ray Horton’s pressure scheme.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-13)
Top needs: OT, RB, TE
Skinny: Do their biggest needs fit who might be available at No. 3? Likely not, so the team should go against need if they feel there’s an elite defender on the board with their first pick. But the league’s worst scoring offense needs boosts at several spots on that side of the ball in order to give Blake Bortles — under the watch of a new coordinator next season — all the help he needs.
4. Oakland Raiders (3-13)
Top needs: WR, DE, CB
Skinny: There are choice building blocks in Derek Carr and Khalil Mack on either side of the ball, but the talent is fairly barren. They could use help at a number of spots and shouldn’t be locked into one or two positions; like the Jaguars, the best-player-available approach might be the wise way to go at No. 4. If that player happens to be an ace wideout for Carr to throw to, or a top-shelf defensive lineman to help Mack, so be it.
5. Washington Redskins (4-12)
Top needs: OL, S, pass rusher/DL
Skinny: The Redskins need cleaner pockets on offense and better pressure and coverage on defense. They came into this past season with those same issues and never really were able to address them fully. Jay Gruden would prefer more of a mashing unit up front on the offensive line, but that caliber of lineman might not be worth taking this high in Round 1.
6. New York Jets (4-12)
Top needs: QB, CB, OL
Skinny: The Jets need a quarterback. Geno Smith might be salvageable, but it’s far from a guarantee, and his days in New York might be numbered. In addition, the line needs some major sprucing, with Nick Mangold entering the back nine of his career, D’Brickawshaw Fergson trending downward and other spots sticking out like sore thumbs. The Jets were down to spare parts at cornerback, too.
7. Chicago Bears (5-11)
Top needs: LB, S, DE
Skinny: The defense is most pressing, with Charles Tillman, Lance Briggs and Chris Conte all possibly heading elsewhere next season. The defensive line additions, save for Willie Young, didn’t pan out as expected, and the linebacking group needs a talent boost. Safety has been a sore spot for a few years now. These needs could change based on what happens with QB Jay Cutler.
8. Atlanta Falcons (6-10)
Top needs: Edge rusher, S, OL
Skinny: The Falcons roundly ignored their pass-rush weakness a year ago, and it cost them. They spent money and draft picks on hold-the-front defensive linemen, and first-round offensive tackle Jake Matthews had a somewhat shaky rookie season. Both trenches need help, but a pass rusher is most pressing.
9. New York Giants (6-10)
Top needs: DE, OL, LB
Skinny: The defense and the offensive line are the two units that held this team back in 2014, and with better blocking and more plays on defense, the Giants could bounce back in 2015. They struggled to stop even average offenses, and the free-agent status of Jason Pierre-Paul makes finding a top-of-the-line edge player a priority.
10. St. Louis Rams (6-10)
Top needs: QB, WR, OT
Skinny: The Rams want Sam Bradford back (at a significantly reduced salary) and would love to give him some competition. Shaun Hill is steadier than Austin Davis, but another young quarterback should be added. In addition, another offensive tackle, a wide receiver and safety help could aid this team that could be dangerous one day.
11. Minnesota Vikings (7-9)
Top needs: RB, OG, WR
Skinny: Adrian Peterson’s uncertain future with the team opens a big hole at running back, even with Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata showing a few flashes. The offensive line has a few holes, and adding another playmaking receiver — with Greg Jenning aging and Cordarrelle Patterson disappointing — is key for Teddy Bridgewater’s development.
12. Cleveland Browns (7-9)
Top needs: WR, LB, TE
Skinny: Josh Gordon might not be back, and the team has no reliable pass catchers if tight end Jordan Cameron leaves via free agency, so look for them to add at least one at wideout and tight end. The front seven on defense also could use some reinforcements for Mike Pettine’s team. A tone-setting three-down linebacker would be nice.
13. New Orleans Saints (7-9)
Top needs: CB, DL, LB
Skinny: Do the Saints need a QB? That’s an interesting debate, but it would be a surprise to see the team take one very high in the draft. Instead, they are more likely to focus on helping out a defense that crumbled this season. Cutting several veterans on that side of the ball — to pay for Jairus Byrd and Jimmy Graham — hurt, and the team might have to do the same thing again this season with more looming cap troubles.
14. Miami Dolphins (8-8)
Top needs: LB, OG, TE
Skinny: The Dolphins might have to make some tough cuts at linebacker (and other positions), so what’s not a glaring weakness now might loom as one by the time the draft rolls around. The offensive line was improved, but more reinforcements are needed. If free agent Charles Clay doesn’t return, a new tight end will be needed.
15. San Francisco 49ers (8-8)
Top needs: WR, OL, CB
Skinny: If Michael Crabtree leaves as a free agent, more receiving help will be needed with Colin Kaepernick’s development at a critical juncture. Anquan Boldin can’t thrive forever, and Stevie Johnson didn’t produce as hoped. Both lines of scrimmage could use help, and the secondary struggled overall in 2014.
16. Houston Texans (9-7)
Top needs: QB, WR, OT
Skinny: It’s amazing how competitive the Texans were without consistent quarterback play, but Bill O’Brien knows he must find a more permanent option under center. He also must find a running mate for DeAndre Hopkins at wideout, with Andre Johnson entering the twilight of his career. The team also needs another top-shelf offensive tackle.
17. San Diego Chargers (9-7)
Top needs: WR, NT, CB
Skinny: Philip Rivers is heading into the final year of his contract, barring an extension, and he needs more help. Keenan Allen is a good receiver, but another speed option would help immensely. Both lines of scrimmage need to be bolstered, as does the secondary, with Brandon Flowers set for free agency.
18. Kansas City Chiefs (9-7)
Top needs: WR, OT, CB
Skinny: They went an entire season without a touchdown pass from a wide receiver. Collectively, the Chiefs’ wideouts had fewer receiving yards than the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Antonio Brown. That should tell you all you need to know about the situation here. The offensive line also is talent-deficient. The Chiefs favor bigger corners, and they’ll seek more in this draft.
19. Buffalo Bills (9-7) — first-round pick owned by Cleveland Browns
Top needs: QB, S, LB
Skinny: The Bills traded their first-round pick this year in last year’s Draft Day trade for Sammy Watkins, and it hurts given their number of needs — none bigger than at quarterback. Kyle Orton retired, EJ Manuel is a work in progress and the next head coach will need someone to push Manuel for the starting job. Linebacker and safety also loom as positions that should be upgraded soon.
20. Philadelphia Eagles (10-6)
Top needs: CB, pass rusher, S
Skinny: Did you watch their pass defense? Then you know they need pass-rush and secondary help — badly. In the 3-4 scheme, that pass rusher likely would be an outside linebacker, but they drafted Marcus Smith in Round 1 a year ago and almost certainly would favor a corner or a safety first.
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Eric Edholm is a writer for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Eric_Edholm