At PFF we’re not big on telling you things we don’t know about first hand, so saying who a team should draft is not something you’ll see here. However, giving you our view on areas of need, is another matter. With free agency essentially in the books, we thought this might be a good opportunity to give you a pre-draft look at the areas they should look to address either via the draft or otherwise .
You know how much we like colour-coding everything and this set of articles (one for each division) is no exception. Before you dig in we’d highly recommend you check out the legend – these are not player grades as in our projected line-ups series, we are grading need. Obviously, to some degree, they are related but not always. Let’s be clear, the fact that in the AFC East Review we have the Patriots QB situation as a slightly higher need than that of the Jets does not mean we are saying Geno Smith is a better QB than Tom Brady; just that Smith has shown enough to say he deserves a decent shot and with Michael Vick backing him up there is no immediate need to draft another QB while in New England it may be time for them to consider a successor to the great man particularly given Ryan Mallett is a free agent next year and shown very little in recent preseasons.
In some of the grades we are also considering the depth behind the player listed so, for example, with Buffalo’s slot corner position the fact they have Nickell Robey as well as Corey Graham ensures this is a straight dark green. However, where this is the case, I’ll mention it in the text below relating to each team.
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How the Cardinals will perform this year is a lot trickier to predict than what they’ll do in the draft – and that’s not easy. To me, getting Jared Veldheer in free agency (particularly in preference to Brandon Albert) was the second-best move in free agency (I’m still partial to the Lions grabbing Golden Tate) and addressed the biggest area of need with a superior player. They still need help on the offensive line (particularly at right guard) but the need to get outside pass rush surely trumps that. Few teams were as effective on blitzes as the Cardinals but sometimes you just want to rush four and how much longer can John Abraham sustain his remarkable level of play?
Is this the year to call time on Sam Bradford? Probably, but many still think the lack of quality receiving options is holding him back. Color us not swayed. In the better receivers vs. new quarterback debate we’ll go QB because even when he’s healthy (less often than you’d want) he’s been a below average (and streaky) passer. That said, there are other needs which turn on Jake Long’s injury (he was good when not hurt) and their view on whether Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson’s obvious ability will metamorphose into regular production.
The 49ers still have a Top-5 roster but that position is looking a lot more tenuous after the 2013 season than before it. Some of that is quarterback driven with Colin Kaepernick not delivering on his first-year promise (in the starting job that is) but a few players also showed signs of age or decline. Nothing disastrous, you understand, but it does look like both the defensive ends and, more urgently, the cornerbacks need more support. Justin Smith, while still good, was not the force of nature he was in previous years and Ray McDonald started to decline as well. On the other hand, Anquan Boldin looks ageless but getting separation isn’t his strong suit and Kaepernick is a quarterback that appears to need it.
It’s only when you perform exercises like this that you realise the full extent of what the Seahawks have achieved. Outside the offensive line you are genuinely struggling to find weaknesses or areas where even the back-ups don’t look better than many teams’ starters. Sure their guards are poor and need to be addressed, but who’s to say they won’t do that in, say, the fifth round. If you are looking to pick holes I guess Cliff Avril only has one year left on his contract and Percy Harvin is an injury risk, but that’s pedantry. They can pretty much do what they want, but I for one would like to see just how good they could be with two good guards.
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