Eve of the Draft: NFC Needs

| 5 years ago

Eve of the Draft: NFC Needs

Draft week continues at PFF and so does our look at the top needs for each team as we march ever closer to the start of the draft. This time we’re looking at the NFC, having already cast our eye over the AFC.

Once again PFF Analyst Sam Monson runs the rule over each team in turn to tell you what their biggest need is heading into the draft, and PFF member and Draft Hub founder, Steve Palazzolo, suggests both an early and late round way for the team to fill that need.

So take a look through the NFC at who needs what, and see if you agree on the best way to fill that need.




NFC East


Dallas Cowboys

Need that must be filled: Guard/Center

As we’ve said before when looking at the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC article, teams often draft a center but play him at guard for the first year before expecting a rookie to deal with the line calls. Dallas has issues at both center and guard, so this kind of move would make sense, even if they didn’t throw the rookie to the Lions right away at center. Dallas still has faith in Tony Romo, and at times he was excellent last season, so improving the line for him can only help. The Cowboys could also go with safety help, or even at inside linebacker to partner Sean Lee.

Early Round Fit: Ben Jones (3rd)

Late Round Fit:  Lucas Nix (4th)


New York Giants

Need that must be filled: Left Tackle

The Giants won the Super Bowl, but don’t let that fool you into the belief that they have a complete roster; they do in fact have several glaring holes. None is more apparent than the need at left tackle. David Diehl was forced to man the position last season when injuries struck, and playing with a broken hand, he was well out of his depth. The Giants gave Diehl more help in the final few games than I can remember seeing, and while it worked, it’s not something they want to have to do long-term because it put a huge amount of pressure on the right side of the line. Right tackle could also be a candidate for an upgrade, as the play of McKenzie fell off a cliff last season.

Early Round Fit: Jonathan Martin (1st)

Late Round Fit:  Nate Potter (4th)


Philadelphia Eagles

Need that must be filled: Linebacker

Jim Washburn gets a lot of credit (rightly so) for the work of his defensive line, and the term “Wide-9″ has made its way into the football lexicon, but that alignment puts enormous pressure on the linebackers behind to clean up what makes it through the gaps. The Eagles last season didn’t have the players that could deal with the added traffic coming at them, and it hurt. They need to find some more players that can deal with those bodies coming at them and still make plays close to the line of scrimmage.

Early Round Fit: Mychal Kendricks (2nd)

Late Round Fit:  Keenan Robinson (4th)


Washington Redskins

Need that must be filled: Quarterback

The Redskins have been searching for a viable quarterback for years now. If you assume they were never fully happy with Jason Campbell, you might have to back 25 years to the last time they had a legitimate franchise quarterback, but they’re banking on Robert Griffin III to change all that. Washington traded a lot in order to move up to the No.2  overall pick in the draft this offseason, and they did so because they have fallen in love with RGIII, who might be the most athletic quarterback the league has ever seen … in addition to being a pretty good passer. The prospect of him in a Mike Shanahan offense has been bringing back memories of Elway and Plummer in the same system, and might finally put the Redskins on track.

Will be filled by: Robert Griffin III



NFC North


Chicago Bears

Need that must be filled: Left Tackle

Chicago can’t keep losing its quarterback to injury every season and expect to remain competitive. Jay Cutler is taking a beating behind one of the league’s worst offensive lines, and while you may not need an elite left tackle to win in today’s NFL, you have to have a viable one. Chicago could stand an upgrade almost at any spot on the O-line, but we’ll start with the most important one, the guy protecting the blind side. The NFC North has its share of elite pass rushers, and Chicago needs to come up with a better answer than they’ve had so far.

Early Round Fit: Mitchell Schwartz (3rd)

Late Round Fit:  Matt Reynolds (5th-6th)


Detroit Lions

Need that must be filled: Cornerback

Believe it or not, Chris Houston wasn’t a bad player for the Lions last season, and he’s a capable starter, but the Lions don’t really have any viable option to start on the other side. Losing Eric Wright may end up being addition by subtraction in the long run, as the talented player never really lived up to his ability, but Detroit needs to find his replacement in the draft. Whoever they take is likely to be seeing significant time covering Greg Jennings, Brandon Marshall, and Percy Harvin, so they need to get it right. The Lions could also do with finding a replacement for Jeff Backus, who is not getting any younger.

Early Round Fit: Stephon Gilmore (1st)

Late Round Fit: Coty Sensabaugh (5th-6th)


Green Bay Packers

Need that must be filled: Outside Linebacker

As good as Clay Matthews has been for Green Bay, imagine how good he could be if they had someone else coming from the other side that teams had to worry about? As it is, the Packers have been unable to come up with a viable complement for the opposite side, and none of the three players they platooned there last season earned a positive grade. Matthews notched 18 more total pressures on his own last season than the rest of the Packers’ OLBs combined. The Packers need to take the focus off and give him some help, and may be nicely placed to do so.

Early Round Fit: Andre Branch (1st)

Late Round Fit: Adrian Hamilton (6th-7th)


Minnesota Vikings

Need that must be filled: Safety

This could easily be quarterback, as I haven’t seen much to suggest that Christian Ponder can be the guy going forward, but the Vikings are convinced, so they’re not going to go that route. Many people are saying corner is their biggest need, but with Chris Cook and Antoine Winfield back, and Chris Carr added to the group, that isn’t a bad trio of players if they all stay on the field. Safety, on the other hand, is a disaster, with no real player amongst them. There isn’t a safety worth the No. 3 pick in the draft, so the Vikings will be filling their need at left tackle, CB, or WR there, but they will be ideally situated to pick up a safety with their second pick.

Early Round Fit: Markelle Martin (3rd)

Late Round Fit: Kelcie McCray (5th-6th)



NFC South


Atlanta Falcons

Need that must be filled: Left Tackle

It’s time we called an end to the Sam Baker experiment, and while Will Svitek filled in admirably initially, he was exposed as the season went on, so the Falcons need another option to protect Matt Ryan’s blind side. Ryan has always graded better for PFF than many like to give him credit for, but he is a quarterback that needs protection to be at his best. He is well capable of taking the Falcons to a Super Bowl, but he won’t do it with the offensive line that Eli Manning had to deal with this season. The Falcons need to find a guy who can shut down the pressure coming from his blind side and allow him to concentrate on finding receivers down field.

Early Round Fit: Bobby Massie (2nd)

Late Round Fit: Matt Reynolds (5th-6th)


Carolina Panthers

Need that must be filled: Defensive Tackle

Last offseason the Panthers elected to start a pair of rookies in the middle of the defensive line and unfortunately for them, neither looked capable of getting it done. They still need to find someone to put in the middle that can be a force and at the very least take some of the focus away from whoever else ends up starting at DT for them. There are plenty of defensive linemen considered impressive prospects this season, but all seem to come with an element of risk attached, which may give the Panthers flashbacks to last season, but it’s a move they likely have to make anyway, because teams were able to gash them too easily in 2011.

Early Round Fit: Jerel Worthy (2nd)

Late Round Fit: Marcus Forston (4th)


New Orleans Saints

Need that must be filled: Safety

For years the Saints have had a major issue at linebacker, but they seem to have decided to fix that with one free agency, adding three players who could all end up starting. Safety is probably their biggest remaining need, with some other positions needing depth or rotational players. Roman Harper is a liability in coverage and that makes Malcolm Jenkins’ job tougher as the single-high coverage man. If the Saints can add a legitimate second safety to the mix, they will be in much better shape against the pass–something they face a lot given how quickly their offense can put teams in a hole.

Early Round Fit: Harrison Smith (2nd)

Late Round Fit: Antonio Allen (4th)


Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Need that must be filled: Cornerback

In truth, the Bucs could stand to upgrade most of their defense, but corner looks a particular trouble spot. Aqib Talib is extremely talented but facing serious off-the-field legal troubles and the Bucs may be shopping him for whatever they can get. Ronde Barber has decided to return after a season that should have ensured he didn’t, and Eric Wright, the big free agent spend, has been at best unfulfilled potential so far in the NFL. Tampa needs to add a legitimate starter that can be relied upon at corner, or at safety, where they are equally threadbare.

Early Round Fit: Morris Claiborne (1st)

Late Round Fit: Donnie Fletcher (5th-6th)



NFC West


Arizona Cardinals

Need that must be filled: Offensive Tackle

It would be easy to just say left tackle, but it’s worth making the point that Levi Brown needs to be replaced whichever side of the line he is playing. He was able to put together a seven-game stretch of pretty good play to end the season, but that’s really the only stretch of his career where he has looked passable, and it earned him a new contract from the Cardinals. They need to set their sights higher, and start to add some legitimate talent to the offensive line, because they no longer have a Kurt Warner under center, who can compensate for the poor blocking ahead of him.

Early Round Fit: Mitchell Schwartz (2nd-3rd)

Late Round Fit: Tony Bergstrom (5th)


San Francisco 49ers

Need that must be filled: Right Tackle/Guard

Is it time to move on from Anthony Davis already? In two seasons he has yet to grade better than a -17.1 over the year, and though he did improve from Year 1 to 2, he still has a long way to go before he looks capable. The 49ers let go of both Adam Snyder and Chilo Rachal in the offseason, and while neither distinguished themselves at RG, that leaves the team with that hole to patch. If the 49ers could find a right guard who has the ability to kick out to tackle, they might be able to cover both spots with one pick. They could then give Davis one more chance to improve, and if not, start looking for a new right guard, moving the rookie out to RT.

Early Round Fit: Brandon Washington (3rd)

Late Round Fit: Tom Compton (5th-6th)


Seattle Seahawks

Need that must be filled: Guard

Only one member of the Seahawks offensive line, center Max Unger, grade positively last season (+3.3), the rest combined for an astounding -99.0 grade. They have some young players at the position, but in truth nobody that is slated to start at guard has looked capable of getting the job done, and if the Seahawks find themselves in a position to grab a good one in the draft, they have to take it. They are a team that will go as far as Matt Flynn and the running game will take them, and both are helped out significantly by improved offensive line play.

Early Round Fit: Amini Silatolu (2nd-3rd)

Late Round Fit: Brandon Brooks (5th)


St. Louis Rams

Need that must be filled: Wide Receiver

Despite adding roughly 78 receivers in the past twelve months or so, the Rams still find themselves with a roster of complement guys and no real game-changer. Perhaps more importantly, they have no real go-to guy for Sam Bradford, who regressed badly in his second season under admittedly unfavorable conditions. The Rams have holes at outside linebacker as well, but if they can find one legit playmaker at receiver it would make the entire group look much more formidable as secondary weapons.

Early Round Fit: Justin Blackmon (1st)

Late Round Fit: B.J. Cunningham (5th)



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| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN.

  • heftylefty

    Giants need a LT? Forget that starter Will Beatty missed the season with a detached retina, total fluke injury? RT is a much bigger concern