1. Outside Linebacker
The New Orleans Saints are in the process of transitioning to a 3-4 defense under the guidance of Rob Ryan. And it could be a difficult switch of they can’t add the necessary puzzle pieces this offseason. Will Smith could potentially play with his hand off the ground, but he’s a candidate to be a cap casualty. If Smith is cut loose, the Saints may need two new starting outside linebackers.
2. Defensive Line
Akiem Hicks may be able to play nose tackle, but it’s a role in which he has limited experience – and none in a 3-4 system. If Sedrick Ellis is not re-signed, they’ll also need a defensive end.
Roman Harper and Malcolm Jenkins are both coming off disappointing seasons and probably aren’t in the Saints long-term plans. Harper is due to earn over $11 million combined over the next two seasons, making him a candidate for release.
Eric Fisher OT Central Michigan #79
Size/Athleticism: Prototypical height and overall build. A very good all-around athlete. Extremely quick off the snap. Very fluid footwork when dropping back into pass protection. Athletic enough to get to the second level and also moves well when pulling.
Pass Protection: Consistent in his all-around fundamentals. Does a nice job consistently keeping his hands inside and avoiding unnecessary holding penalties. Impressive quickness off the snap. Displays consistent footwork when sliding in pass protection. Can slide outside and slow down edge rushers without losing his balance or needing to lunge. When he gets his hands into a speed rusher it’s over; he has the strength to toss smaller edge-rushers aside. Uses an immediate cut block a few times per game with mixed results; he’ll occasionally whiff against more athletic edge rushers and would probably be better off limiting his use of this technique. Has the strength to re-anchor when he loses off the snap against the bull rush against most ends. Will lose some battles against stronger bull rushers and could improve in this area by improving his lower-body strength.
Run Blocking: Has the strength to drive his man back off the line. Athletic enough to pull, but sometimes struggles to locate his assignment. Does a nice job staying low to gain leverage, which can be difficult for some guys with his height. Spends a little too much time on the ground. Misses some opportunities to pick up a second block downfield.
Intangibles: Has experience at both tackle positions and some experience at guard. Limited experience against elite competition, but appeared to answer those questions with a strong showing at the Senior Bowl.
Durability: Missed final two games of 2011 season with a knee injury.
Comments: Fisher has the elite athleticism that teams look for in left tackle prospects. His size/athleticism combination makes him a rare commodity which all but ensures he will land within the top 10 picks of the draft. He needs to iron out some minor issues in his game, but he proved at the Senior Bowl that he is capable of jumping from the MAC into a starting role in the NFL.
Despite Jarvis Jones’ performance over the past two seasons at Georgia, his NFL draft stock was in question due to a near-career-ending injury suffered while playing for USC in 2010.
But those questions should be resolved thanks to a report from NFL.com’s Gil Brandt
Each team will still want to learn more about the injury and its potential long-term impact on Jones’ ability to play. But this is clearly a step in the right direction.
Jones was obviously cleared to play by the medical staff at Georgia and, according to Brandt, has been cleared by more doctors.
Presumably Jones will go through more medical testing at the combine along with everyone else, so teams will have multiple reports to lean on if they’re concerned about his health.
In the end, Jones’ health will likely be a non-issue.
Tyler Wilson QB Arkansas #8
Size/Athleticism: Adequate height. Well built, can stand in the pocket and take a hit. Decent athleticism. Not an elite threat with his legs, but can take off running and pick up some yards. Has proven to be a tough competitor and is willing to stand in the pocket and take hits.
Arm strength/Accuracy: Arm strength is very average. He can put adequate speed behind the ball when he has time to step into it, but he lacks the natural arm strength to consistently make the same throws when under pressure or on the run. Doesn’t have the strength to fire the ball into tight spots beyond 15-20 yards. He can get the ball downfield, but he tends to put more air under the throw than you’d like to see. Accuracy is adequate at the short and intermediate range, but gets shaky on his deeper throws.
Footwork/Release: Has a slightly awkward delivery. Takes a long windup and frequently takes an exaggerated step forward which alters his release angle. Footwork is shaky in the pocket. Pressure definitely gets to him and affects his delivery. He can move outside the pocket, but he struggles to keep his eyes down the field while moving within a closing pocket.
Decision making: Typically goes through his progressions methodically and remains patient in the pocket. Will get flustered by pressure at times, especially when his offensive line is struggling to protect him. Does his best to find a man downfield, but knows when to check down.
Intangibles: Developed into a team leader during his two years as the starter. Has plenty of experience against elite competition and played through adversity at Arkansas as a senior.
Durability: Missed time with a head injury as a senior.
Comments: Wilson has enough tools to be consider a potential future starter, but he’s very average across the board. He deserves credit for the toughness he showed at Arkansas and the shaky situation with his coaching staff during his senior year needs to be taken into consideration. However, it’s also worth noting that he played with four NFL-caliber receivers as a junior (Cobi Hamilton, Jarius Wright, Joe Adams and Greg Childs) which may have skewed the public perception of him during the 2011 season. With only Hamilton returning in 2012, Wilson’s progress stalled. The most concerning aspect of Wilson’s game is his limited arm strength. He masks it well by winding up and putting his whole body into the throw when given time, but he’ll be under pressure more frequently at the next level and he lacks the natural arm strength to make the necessary throws into tight windows. He may emerge as an average starter at some point during his career, but his upside is limited and he should not be drafted as a future franchise quarterback.
1. Defensive Tackle
The Carolina Panthers selected Sione Fua and Terrell McClain in the third round of the 2011 draft to solidify their interior line. McClain is now gone and Fua is coming off another disappointing year. The Panthers top priority this offseason needs to be to solve their issues up front on defense.
2. Wide Receiver
Steve Smith is still playing at a high level and Brandon LaFell was a solid contributor this year. But Cam Newton needs another weapon to help continue his development as a passer. In the second or third round the Panthers should consider bringing another receiver aboard.
3. Offensive line
Jordan Gross and Ryan Kalil are still locked in to starting roles. And left guard Amini Silatolu will be given at least one more year to develop. But the right side of the line is a liability. Veteran guard Geoff Hangartner and right tackle Byron Bell could both be replaced this offseason.