Biggest draft need for every NFC team, entering the combine
We haven’t even gotten to free agency yet, so every NFL team’s personnel needs have the potential to change in a significant way between now and the 2016 NFL draft. But that doesn’t mean we still can’t identify what each team’s biggest need looks like right now.
Here is the single biggest positional need for each of the 32 NFL teams, entering this week’s scouting combine. Which position groups should you be watching extra closely?
[Editor’s note: See the biggest draft needs for every AFC team here.]
Dallas Cowboys: Cornerback
The Cowboys need to get better against the run, but cornerback is arguably a bigger need. The only positive coverage grades produced out of the secondary last season where slot corner Terrance Mitchell (in limited action) and 2015 first-rounder Byron Jones, who played something of a hybrid safety-slot-corner role. If they don’t take a QB at No. 4 overall, a defensive back is a logical option.
New York Giants: Defensive end
The Giants graded out as the fifth-worst overall defense in 2015, and could lose one or both of their top two performers – defensive ends Jason Pierre-Paul and Robert Ayers – in free agency. Safety is also an obvious need, but getting a standout edge defender with the No. 10 overall pick – ideally one who can both rush the passer and defend the run better than either JPP or Ayers did last season – would do more for this defense.
Philadelphia Eagles: Wide receiver
The Eagles had the worst receiving grade in the NFL last season, nearly twice as bad as 31st-ranked St. Louis. Sam Bradford’s quietly impressive campaign was in part negated by the 42 passes he had dropped – the third-most in the NFL. Jordan Matthews dropped off significantly in his shift to the No. 1 receiver role, and 2015 first-rounder Nelson Agholor graded out very poorly. If they don’t find one at No. 13 overall, they should look for a high-upside prospect in the Day 2 range who could take some pressure off of both players.
Washington Redskins: Defensive back
The only major contributor in Washington’s secondary to earn a positive grade last season was Bashaud Breeland, and even he ranked outside the top 20 of PFF’s cornerback rankings. The Redskins’ run defense also needs to improve, but they should pounce on a top corner talent if they find one waiting for them with the No. 21 overall pick.
Chicago Bears: Cornerback
Chicago’s pass-coverage grade was one of the worst in the NFL last season, with cornerback Kyle Fuller serving as the lone bright spot – and it’s not as though Fuller emerged as a star performer, either. The Bears need to find a corner to place opposite him, with general improvements on defense appearing to be more important than those on the offensive side of the ball.
Detroit Lions: Offensive line
Replacing Calvin Johnson is obviously going to be a tall order, even with Golden Tate still on the roster, but offensive line stands out as a slightly bigger need. The PFF grades of Detroit’s O-linemen were ugly in 2015, with only center Manuel Ramirez grading positively in pass protection. Matthew Stafford’s passer rating dropped by nearly 40 points this season when faced with pressure – his improvement next season could very well be tied to whether Detroit gets better up front.
Green Bay Packers: Inside linebacker
Green Bay’s biggest weakness in 2015 was its receiving corps, but that should be solved by the return from injury of Jordy Nelson, PFF’s No. 2-ranked wide receiver in 2015. Clay Matthews being moved back to outside linebacker, where he graded out as one of the league’s better pass-rushers in previous seasons, should improve the team’s edge-rushing presence (another need area to watch for the draft), but it exacerbates the need at inside linebacker. The Packers desperately need to improve at that spot both against the run and in coverage,
Minnesota Vikings: Offensive line
There’s a case for wide receiver here, as there is little to get excited about beyond surprising breakout rookie Stefon Diggs. But Minnesota’s pass protection this season was a more glaring issue, with Teddy Bridgewater under pressure on a higher rate of his dropbacks (47 percent) than any quarterback in the NFL. Left tackle Matt Kalil, left guard Brandon Fusco and right tackle T.J. Clemmings all graded out as liabilities in our pass-blocking grades this season.
Atlanta Falcons: Pass-catcher
The Falcons have one of the best wide receivers in football in Julio Jones, who led the NFL in yards per route run average and ranked second in our wide receiver grades and deep-ball catch rate. But the pass-catching options behind him are grim, with Roddy White no longer playing like his old self and Leonard Hankerson grading poorly in limited action this season. Moreoever, the tight end position has been a problem. Whether it’s a receiver or a tight end, Atlanta could really use another weapon to pair with Jones.
Carolina Panthers: Wide receiver
Carolina actually produced one of the best receiving grades in the NFL this season, but that was heavily boosted by Greg Olsen, the league’s top-graded receiving tight end. Top 2014 target Kelvin Benjamin will return, and 2015 second-rounder Devin Funchess could improve upon his rookie season so long as he can fix his 20.5 percent drop rate (second-worst in the league), but adding another talent here for Cam Newton would really strengthen this unit.
New Orleans Saints: Cornerback
Delvin Breaux performed well at cornerback this season, but it was downright ugly on the other side, with Brandon Browner earning the lowest grade of any NFL corner. If the Saints can find a standout with the No. 12 overall pick, it could do wonders for a team that really struggled in pass coverage last season.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Defensive end
The Bucs need to get better all over the defensive side of the ball, but we’ll ID their top need as a defensive end who can make an impact versus the run and as a pass-rusher. William Gholston fared well in run defense but was just average at getting after thee quarterback, while Jacquies Smith earned poor grades in both areas. Whether it’s a pass-rusher or defensive back, the Bucs really need to land an impact defender with the No. 9 overall pick.
Arizona Cardinals: Edge rusher
Pass protection was also an issue for the Cardinals, but this jumps out as more pressing given that they earned the fourth-worst pass-rush grade in the NFL this season. Markus Golden surprised as a rookie and Dwight Freeney was productive, but Arizona would do well to capitalize on a deep group of edge rushers and find one in the early rounds.
Los Angeles Rams: Quarterback
The Rams are a mess at nearly every offensive position other than running back, where Todd Gurley flashed his elite potential as a rookie. But it’s hard to look past the quarterback position, after Nick Foles graded out as the sixth-worst passer in the NFL this season. Can they find one they like with the No. 15 overall pick?
San Francisco 49ers: Wide receiver
There aren’t many positions you couldn’t go with here for the Niners, and their awful rankings in run-blocking and pass-rushing (both third-worst in the NFL) are screaming out for help. But after big-money free-agent signing Torrey Smith earned a negative grade in his first season with the Niners, the only positively graded wideout was free agent Anquan Boldin, who will turn 36 this season. San Francisco could look at taking a receiver with the No. 7 overall pick.
Seattle Seahawks: Offensive line
This was one of the worst lines in the league this season both in pass protection and run blocking, and two of Seattle’s five starters are eligible for free agency in left tackle Russell Okung and right guard J.R. Sweezy. Neither of those players warrant a big contract based on their play this season, with Okung the only one close to average on a line that featured all five starters with negative grades. There isn’t a position on the line at which the Seahawks couldn’t stand to improve.