Eve of the Draft: AFC Needs

| April 25, 2012

Draft week is well underway at Pro Football Focus and now we’re going to take a look at some team needs in the lead up to the draft.  Our analyst Sam Monson takes us on a run down of the top need for each team in the NFL, and we have enlisted the help of Steve Palazzolo, a member of the PFF crew and founder of Draft Hub, to suggest a possible avenue for each team to fill those needs.

Steve has given both an early and a late round suggestion for each need, based on the likely draft position and fit for each team.

So get yourself ready for the draft as we tell you what each team in the AFC is in need of the most.

 

AFC East

 

Buffalo Bills

Need that must be filled: Wide Receiver

The Bills have an excellent receiver in the shape of Stevie Johnson, but in a division where Darrelle Revis will shadow Johnson twice each season, the Bills need another place to go with the football–and at the moment they don’t really have one. They are expected to run with Donald Jones and David Nelson as the next two receivers after Johnson, with multiple other bit-part players on the depth chart that will contribute, but they need a legitimate second weapon, if just to help out Johnson and take some of the attention away from him. Johnson is one of the few receivers that actually took the game to Revis last season, and beat the Jets’ stud as badly as anybody has over the past few seasons, but the Bills’ offense relies on timing and open receivers, so they need a better second option.

Early Round Fit: Michael Floyd (1st)

Late Round Fit:  Lance Lewis (4th-5th)

 

Miami Dolphins

Need that must be filled: Wide Receiver

It’s easy to say that the Dolphins need a quarterback, and they do need a long-term answer at the position, since neither Matt Moore nor David Garrard will be confused with Dan Marino any time soon, but both have shown they can get the job done and win games. Miami traded away Brandon Marshall, but now they need to replace him, as Brian Hartline (who was a marginal player when Marshall was in town) is now arguably their top remaining target. The Dolphins have the same issue Buffalo does in terms of facing Darrelle Revis twice a season, and they no longer have a receiver that can threaten him. It wouldn’t shock me to see Miami go hard after Ryan Tannehill to try and fix the quarterback spot long-term once and for all, but if they don’t, they need to give their current players someone to throw to.

Early Round Fit: Justin Blackmon (1st),

Late Round Fit:  Marvin McNutt (4th)

 

New England Patriots

Need that must be filled: Safety

The Patriots aren’t short on needs, especially on defense, but safety is probably the biggest problem on the roster. Last season things got so bad that bit players, cornerbacks, and even special-teamer and wide-out Matthew Slater saw snaps at safety for them, explaining in large part why the Patriots surrendered such a massive amount of passing yards. Sometimes you get the feeling that Bill Belichick likes to goof around with personnel on defense just to show that he can, but in an ever more passing league, New England simply can’t afford to be so cavalier about their secondary. It hurt them last season, even if they were able to overcome it and make it to the Super Bowl.

Early Round Fit: George Iloka (3rd)

Late Round Fit: Brandon Taylor (4th)

 

New York Jets

Need that must be filled: Right Tackle

Mark Sanchez has shown good and extremely bad in his time with the Jets, but they’re in no real position to chase after his replacement in this draft, and the impact that Wayne Hunter had on his season last year was profound. While blind side pressure gets all the headlines, for a QB like Sanchez, open side pressure may be far more devastating, because he sees it developing and takes his eyes off his receivers to react. The Jets went from one of the best right tackles in the NFL to one of the worst overnight, and it speaks volumes about the ability of Vlad Ducasse that he wasn’t seen as a better option. If the Jets are running with Sanchez again, they need to help him out and batten down the open side better.

Early Round Fit: Bobby Massie (2nd)

Late Round Fit: Markus Zusevics (4th)

 

 

AFC North

 

Baltimore Ravens

Need that must be filled: Center/Guard

I’m combining the need for center and guard not just because the Ravens could do with both, but because often teams will draft a center of the future, but play him at guard for a season or two before making the switch to the middle of the line (and, usually, the complexities of the line calls). The Ravens have the perfect opportunity to do exactly that, with an immediate hole at LG with the departure of Ben Grubbs, and the inevitable retirement of Matt Birk at center in a year or two. Baltimore doesn’t have a high-octane offense, and they rely on a solid foundation up front to get things done. Things aren’t in dire straits quite yet, but this is an opportunity to patch things before they fall apart that should not be overlooked.

Early Round Fit: Peter Konz (1st)

Late Round Fit: Lucas Nix (4th)

 

Cincinnati Bengals

Need that must be filled: Guard

It’s never a good thing when both of your starting guards leave in one offseason, and that’s the position the Bengals find themselves in heading into the draft. Signing Jacob Bell is little more than emergency cover and nobody currently on the roster looked like they were capable of locking down a spot last season. It’s certainly true that the Bengals could do with another receiving option, but they need to make sure their offensive line doesn’t come apart at the seams, especially with a young quarterback to protect and a running back in the shape of BenJarvus Green-Ellis who doesn’t make much happen himself.

Early Round Fit: Cordy Glenn (1st)

Late Round Fit: Jaymes Brooks (6th)

 

Cleveland Browns

Need that must be filled: Running back

The Browns have holes all over the roster. In reality, I could list pretty much every position except left tackle and left corner for them, but if they have any hope of sticking with the teams in their division, they need to be able to control the clock and limit the task for their quarterback. The best way of doing that is to get a legitimate workhorse running back, a long-term version of the Peyton Hillis they had in 2010. They are ideally situated to be able to get that guy at the top of the draft, and Trent Richardson is being touted by some as the best running back prospect since Adrian Peterson–a guy they could load up and ride all game long.

Early Round Fit: Trent Richardson


Pittsburgh Steelers

Need that must be filled: Guard

The Steelers need to solidify things on both sides of the trenches, and in truth they could look to any position along both the offensive and defensive lines and not be making a wrong move, but guard is probably the biggest issue. Neither of last season’s starters were able to get it done, and they need to surround Maurkice Pouncey with better players if he is to stand a chance of living up to the hype that surrounds him. Pouncey is by no means a bad player, but he likely won’t play much better than average unless he gets some help either side of him. There’s also the small matter of protecting Ben Roethlisberger, because without him for more than a few games the Steelers have some major issues.

Early Round Fit: Kevin Zeitler (1st)

Late Round Fit: Brandon Brooks (5th)

 

 

AFC south

 

Houston Texans

Need that must be filled: Wide Receiver

The Texans are not a side with that many holes in the roster, as you might expect for a team that was so dominant for much of last season. Andre Johnson is still amongst the best receivers in the NFL, but they have been consistently unable to find a legitimate complement for him, and doing so would make everything on that offense better overall. This is a good year to be in search of wide out help, and the Texans will likely have multiple options in the draft, even with their relatively lowly draft position. They are in good position near the end of the first round to target one of a few receivers that are being touted at that level.

Early Round Fit: Stephen Hill (1st)

Late Round Fit: Juron Criner (4th)

 

Indianapolis Colts

Need that must be filled: Quarterback

The Colts said goodbye to Peyton Manning–face of the franchise since 1998, and one of the greatest passers in league history–and they did so because they were comfortable with picking Andrew Luck at the top of the draft this season and starting over as if it were ’98 once more. Luck was initially talked about as a once-in-a-generation talent and the best prospect since the man he will replace, but recently that kind of talk has cooled and there are more than a few who believe he isn’t even the best prospect in this draft. Either way, the Colts are hitching the wagon to the Stanford prospect, and now must get on with overhauling the rest of the roster.

Will be filled by: Andrew Luck

 

Jacksonville Jaguars

Need that must be filled: Wide Receiver

Jacksonville’s receiver situation last season was disastrous, and while they have gone some way to mending that in the offseason, they have signed players that have either been AWOL for years (Lee Evans), or have a very troubling injury history and only really a single season of production (Laurent Robinson), so they still need cover at the position. They could also stand to add help at defensive end or along the interior of the offensive line, but in a good year for receivers, this makes the most sense.

Early Round Fit: Michael Floyd (1st)

Late Round Fit: Chris Givens (4th-5th)

 

Tennessee Titans

Need that must be filled: Center

Chris Johnson’s struggles were well documented, and there’s no doubt that he was far from the force he was when he topped 2,000 yards, but what was interesting to see was what that did to the offensive line, which looked much weaker when blocking for a non super-human running back. Nowhere was this weakness more apparent than at center, where Eugene Amano was our second-worst graded run blocker last year with a grade of -17.4. Amano’s pass-protection grade was OK, but no linemen benefit more from their offense than the Titans, with the ball out of the quarterback’s hands significantly faster than in most other teams. The Titans need to upgrade in the middle of the line.

Early Round Fit: Peter Konz (1st)

Late Round Fit: Quenton Saulsberry (4th-5th)

 

 

AFC West

 

Denver Broncos

Need that must be filled: Defensive Tackle

The Broncos allowed Brodrick Bunkley to walk in the offseason, and in doing so lost easily their best run defender last season. When Denver was forced into nickel defense last year, they were visibly less sturdy up the middle because Bunkley was on the sideline, and in order to get the best out of Von Miller, they need to stop the run and to force teams into passing situations. Denver is also extremely in need of an upgrade on the other side of the ball where Zane Beadles at LG and J.D. Walton at C have shown no indication that they can play at an NFL level long-term, and in truth any of those spots would be a draft pick well spent.

Early Round Fit: Alameda Ta’amu (2nd)

Late Round Fit: Jaye Howard (5th)

 

Kansas City Chiefs

Need that must be filled: Nose Tackle

The Chiefs’ roster is actually in pretty good shape, and for the most part they will be drafting for depth alone, but they could certainly do with a viable nose tackle for their 3-4. Their scheme is a far more traditional 3-4 than most in the league, and they rely on three big down-linemen to stuff the run and tie up blockers for their linebackers. Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson have grown into that role pretty well, but Kelly Gregg was only ever a stopgap measure in the middle. If the Chiefs can find a nose tackle in the draft, then they’ll have the pieces in place. If they can find one that can also bring some pressure in sub-packages, then they’ll have hit the jackpot.

Early Round Fit: Josh Chapman (2nd-3rd)

Late Round Fit: Hebron Fangupo (5th -6th)

 

Oakland Raiders

Need that must be filled: Cornerback

The Raiders are in an unusual spot coming into the draft without a pick before the compensatory picks at the tail end of the third round, but they have more than enough holes in need of filling. Probably the biggest is at cornerback, where the departure of Stanford Routt and Chris Johnson has left them with very little. In reality, the Raiders probably need to spend more than one of their five draft picks on corners, and at least one of them is likely to end up starting come opening day.

Early Round Fit: Alfonzo Dennard (3rd)

Late Round Fit: Leonard Johnson (4th-5th)

 

San Diego Chargers

Need that must be filled: Defensive End

For the past few seasons, the Chargers have had one of the league’s better rosters, but were consistently underachieving when it came to their performance on the field. For the first time in several years, that roster is beginning to look threadbare at a few spots. Their secondary needs help outside of star safety Eric Weddle, and Antoine Cason, who has quietly improved his play. Right tackle is a major issue, with Jeromey Clary coughing up seven sacks last season and not run blocking well either, but defensive end remains probably their biggest problem, despite the pick last offseason of Corey Liuget, who never seemed at home in the scheme. Both starting defensive ends need to be replaced, at least until Liuget can adjust to life in the 3-4.

Early Round Fit: Devon Still (1st)

Late Round Fit: Kheeston Randall (4th-5th)

 

 

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  • roguepatriot

    If I’m in Trent’s shoes, I’d tell the Browns not to draft me. I would rather sit out 2012 than play RB for the Browns.

  • jojomellon

    In what way does that make sense for him to do? He loses a year of an already short RB shelf life, and turns down 15-20 guaranteed million dollars. I hope you aren’t Trent’s agent.

    Is this supposed to be the obligatory ‘Browns suck’ post? Even if that were true, should a great player not believe in his own abilities enough to turn his team around? A marginal talent like Hillis was able to make the Madden cover running behind a future HOF LT in Joe Thomas and a very good C in Alex Mack, imagine what Richardson could do. even in this passing oriented era, a special RB can overcome poor QB play and lead his team to the playoffs, as Adrian Peterson and CJ2K have proven.

    • roguepatriot

      The Browns do suck and they made sure that they will continue to suck for a long time. They screwed up by hiring Holmgren to run the team. He was a disaster in Seattle and was relieved of his GM duties while remaining head coach. Not stepping up and getting RG3, who IMHO, will be better than Luck, Holmgren committed franchise suicide. Without a QB, a team has no chance of reaching a SB. Now onto my OP…

      For RBs it’s all about the second contract. If Trent plays for Cleveland, he’ll be surrounded by inferior skill players. If you’re an opposing DC, how will you game plan against the Browns offense? Trent will be a marked man on every play. Compounding the problem is that since the rest of the offense is terrible, Trent is all but guaranteed a heavy workload. Another problem is the division the Browns play in. Keeping my argumentative points in mind, Trent will be facing the Steelers and Ravens 4 times a year! All of these points jeopardize the potential payday of a second contract. These signs also point to a rocky road for Trent if drafted by the Browns. Any money Trent will lose from a one year holdout would be made up in a lucrative 2nd deal. OTOH, the Browns would suffer if they had nothing to show from having the #5 overall pick. So, Trent sitting out 2012 would likely not happen. Hey, it worked for John Elway when he refused to play for the Baltimore Colts in 1983. Now my refute of your arguments…

      A RB or even worse, a WR, is the LAST thing a team, with more holes than Swiss cheese, needs. RBs get nicked. Moreover, today’s NFL is a PASSING league. If you don’t pass well and can’t defend against the pass, you will suck. Hillis was not a marginal talent. He was a latent talent. But even he couldn’t turn the Browns around, and struggled with injury/attitude in 2011. He looks to be a one year wonder. Chris Johnson fell off after a lengthy holdout. He too was focused on the 2nd contract. The Titans also have QB problems and a RB doesn’t turn your team around. AP played for a team with better surrounding talent for most of his career. Yet, the Vikings are spinning their wheels.

      Dude, I feel for you. I wanted the Browns to get RG3. I wanted them to turn it around and succeed. I would love to see a revival of NFL football in one of the most historic cities of the game. I am truly pissed at the Browns for failing to get likely franchise QB. Lerner is one of the very worst owners in the league.

      I wish I didn’t have to post this rant about the Browns.