1. Offensive Line
While the Arizona Cardinals obviously need a quarterback, it would be foolish to bring anyone in before the offensive line is fixed. Former 1st-round pick Levi Brown returns from injury, but he has been playing out of position at left tackle for years. 2012 4th-round pick Bobby Massie is coming off a season in which he led the league with 13 sacks allowed and may be better suited to play guard. Brown may be the only lineman whose job is relatively safe.
The Cardinals could be competitive with Kevin Kolb if the offensive talent, especially the line, were upgraded around him. But it has become clear that the quarterback of the future is not on the roster. Arizona may consider a quarterback in the first round, but the safer route would be wait until the second or third round and bring in a developmental prospect such as Ryan Nassib or Tyler Wilson.
Daryl Washington has emerged as one of the league’s premier inside linebackers, but there should be a competition for the other three linebacker positions in training camp. Paris Lenon is an unrestricted free agent, and the Cardinals don’t have an adequate replacement on the roster. Bruce Arians and Todd Bowles’ decision about sticking with the 3-4 or shifting to a 4-3 scheme will have a significant impact on how the front office approaches the linebacker position this offseason.
New Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton has yet to commit running a 3-4 or 4-3 defense, but regardless of the system he runs he’ll need another guy who can get to the quarterback. Jabaal Sheard is the Browns only legitimate pass-rush threat. A versatile prospect such as Dion Jordan or Jarvis Jones would make sense with the sixth pick.
2. Offensive Guard
Shaun Lauvao is about as bad as it gets for a starting guard in this league. Since coming into the league, Lauvao leads all guards in penalties and sacks allowed – in other words, it’s time to move on. The Browns may consider Chance Warmack in the first round due to his ability to improve their pass protection and open things up in the power running game for Trent Richardson.
The Browns may re-sign Sheldon Brown, which would solve this issue in the short term. But if Brown leaves, cornerback is a significant issue. Buster Skrine filled in briefly for Brown this year and was victimized consistently. He clearly isn’t anything more than a middle-of-the-road nickel corner. Dee Milliner could be an option with the sixth pick if they wish to create an elite tandem at corner between him and Joe Haden.
1. Defensive End
If the Detroit Lions re-sign Cliff Avril, this becomes slightly less of a need. But regardless of Avril’s future with the team, they need to find a replacement for veteran Kyle Vanden Bosch who is well past his prime and was a liability this past season. Bjoern Werner, Damontre Moore and Dion Jordan should all be near the top of the Lions draft board.
The Lions best corner, Chris Houston, is an unrestricted free agent and the depth behind him is severely lacking. They could potentially bring in two or three players this offseason who emerge as impact players in the secondary. Dee Milliner is an option in the first round if they address the defensive line through free agency.
3. Offensive Line
If Gosder Cherilus is not re-signed, this need may jump up on the list of needs. Jeff Backus remains under contract but is coming off another disappointing season. Riley Reiff was selected in the first round in 2012 as his replacement, but may be forced into action on the right side if Cherilus does not return. The Lions may also be interested in bringing in a young center behind 34-year-old Dominic Raiola.
The Philadelphia Eagles are expected to end the Michael Vick era this offseason. And while Nick Foles may be worth developing, he isn’t an immediate answer to their issues at quarterback. If they’re interested in keeping Foles, then signing a veteran makes the most sense. But if the new regime isn’t interested in Foles, Geno Smith may be a first-round option.
2. Offensive Line
By season’s end, the Eagles had arguably the worst offensive line in the league. But a major reason for their struggles was the injury bug that bit Jason Peterson, Todd Herremans and others. Simply by getting everyone healthy the Eagles line will improve, but some changes are likely coming. Luke Joeckel and Eric Fisher are strong possibilities in the first round.
Nnamdi Asomugha has been a huge disappointment and will only return to Philly if he restructures his contract. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is also an unrestricted free agent and is unlikely to return after a few sub-par seasons with the Eagles. Dee Milliner could be an option in the first round, but the depth at the cornerback position could cause them to wait until the second round to address the need.
The Oakland Raiders could survive another year or two with Carson Palmer if they upgrade the talent around him. But it is definitely time to begin the search for his replacement. And no, Terrelle Pryor is not the answer. Geno Smith may be an option with the third pick, but they are more likely to hold off and take a developmental prospect in the second or third round.
2. Defensive Line
Unrestricted free agent Richard Seymour will be too expensive to bring back. Desmond Bryant, who emerged as a quality starter this season, is also set to hit the market. The Raiders will likely try to bring Bryant back, but some big changes are definitely coming on the defensive line. This will likely be a position they address in the first round with Damontre Moore, Bjoern Werner or Star Lotulelei.
Michael Huff ‘s transition to cornerback worked better than expected, but he’ll be 30 in March and isn’t a long-term answer at the position. To make matters worse, nickleback Joselio Hanson is also set to become an unrestricted free agent. The Raiders could potentially take Dee Milliner with the No. 3 pick to address this need.
1. Defensive End
The Jacksonville Jaguars sent eight different defensive ends onto the field in 2012 in an effort to find someone who could get to the quarterback. All eight men failed, which means significant changes are coming this offseason. This will likely be the position the address with the No. 2 overall pick, potentially targeting Bjoern Werner or Damontre Moore.
2. Offensive Line
Eugene Monroe has developed into a strong left tackle, but he can’t keep Blaine Gabbert on his feet by himself. Cameron Bradfield and Guy Whimper tried, and failed, to win the right tackle job this season and a new face will likely be added to the mix this offseason. The could also be looking for a new center if 35-year-old Brad Meester is not re-signed.
3. Wide Receiver
Justin Blackmon will be expected to take the next step in his sophomore year, but more help is needed. Cecil Shorts has shown some promise, but he is better suited to play in the slot. If the Jaguars could add another flanker to pair with Blackmon on the outside, their receiving corps would start to look promising.
Note: I intentionally left quarterback off this list. Yes, Blaine Gabbert has struggled but we have to remember that he entered after his junior year when no one believed he was actually ready. The Jaguars mishandled him as a rookie which likely stunted his development. He deserves another year before being labeled a bust.
The Kansas City Chiefs could certainly survive another season with Matt Cassel if necessary. He’s proven to be capable of managing the game when surrounded with talent. But the Chiefs should still enter this offseason with the goal of finding their future franchise quarterback. Geno Smith is the early favorite to go No. 1 overall and will likely become Andy Reid’s long-term project at quarterback.
2. Defensive End
The Chiefs had one of the most ineffective defensive lines in the all of football last year. Former first-round picks Tyson Jackson and Glenn Dorsey could each be gone by the time the draft rolls around. Dorsey is an unrestricted free agent and is unlikely to be re-signed. Jackson is coming off a disappointing season and is due to earn over $14 million in 2013, making him a prime candidate to be released.
3. Wide Receiver
Whether it’s Matt Cassel or Geno Smith at quarterback, the Chiefs have to find some more weapons for their signal caller. Dwayne Bowe is an unrestricted free agent and is unlikely to re-sign. Former first-round pick Jonathan Baldwin has been disappointing through his first two seasons and needs a breakout year to avoid the bust label.
1. Kansas City Chiefs – Geno Smith – QB – West Virginia – Scouting Report
I feel bad for Chiefs fans, because this is a recipe for disaster. Geno Smith definitely has potential, but he won’t be surrounded by the type of supporting cast he needs to develop. I don’t subscribe to the theory that when you need a quarterback you simply settle for the best one available. But under the new CBA, that seems to be the mindset of many GMs these days.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars – Bjoern Werner – DE – Florida State – Scouting Report
Blaine Gabbert has yet to impress and the new regime has no reason to give him the benefit of the doubt. But he’s still young and has yet to be surrounded by the support a young, developing quarterback deserves. Given the Jaguars glaring hole at defensive end, Werner, Moore or Jordan would be a safe alternative to reaching for a quarterback.
3. Oakland Raiders - Star Lotulelei – DT – Utah - Scouting Report
With Richard Seymour set to become a free agent and unlikely to return to Oakland, the Raiders most glaring need is the defensive line. In addition to Seymour, Matt Shaughnessy, Andre Carter and Desmond Bryant are also set to hit the open market. Lotulelei is the best available player in this scenario and would fit well into Seymoyr’s spot on the line.
4. Philadelphia Eagles – Luke Joeckel – OT – Texas A&M - Scouting Report
Unless the Eagles want to reach for a quarterback (unlikely considering Chip Kelly’s offense and the talent on the board) they’re hoping someone else does to allow Luke Joeckel to fall to them. Dee Milliner is also an attractive option since Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is not expected to be re-signed. After a dominant Senior Bowl performance Eric Fisher is also in the mix.
5. Detroit Lions – Dion Jordan – DE – Oregon – Scouting Report
Damontre Moore is the consensus best available player on the board in this scenario, but I have hunch Jordan will be high on the Lions board. They are likely losing Cliff Avril to free agency and need an immediate impact pass-rusher. Moore is definitely more well rounded, but Jordan could be an terror as a pass-rush specialist early in his career.
Alabama Crimson Tide offensive lineman D.J. Fluker may have answered the question about his ability to remain at tackle at the next level during Monday’s weigh-in at the Senior Bowl.
Fluker was measured at 6’5″, 355 pounds and reportedly carried the weight well. But the key number for Fluker was his arm length (36 3/8 inches) which gave him the longest wingspan at the Senior Bowl.
Due to his size and limited mobility there are questions concerning Fluker’s ability to play tackle in the pros. But his long arms may give him the edge he needs in pass protection to make up for his lack of quickness. And if nothing else, it will ease the concerns of some scouts who may have been on the fence about his future position.
Fluker reminds me of Vikings right tackle Phil Loadholt who entered the 2009 draft with similar concerns but has developed into a solid starting lineman in the league.