Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: Biggest needs revisited.
Since the Cowboys haven't made a single move in free agency, nothing has changed. They certainly didn't feel a sense of urgency to outbid the Giants for safety Antrel Rolle or the Eagles for free safety Marlin Jackson. But it wouldn't surprise me if the Cowboys addressed their need at safety with a veteran such as the Rams' O.J. Atogwe. At the No. 27 spot in the draft, you might have a shot at either South Florida's Nate Allen or USC's Taylor Mays. But I don't think the Cowboys will go either direction.
In conversations with folks at Valley Ranch, the offensive line is what gets mentioned the most. If the Cowboys can identify a talented offensive tackle or guard late in the first round, that's the direction they'll go. There's also the possibility they'll try to trade down because this appears to be a relatively deep draft. Obviously, place-kicker continues to be a glaring need. But after that, it's still offensive line, safety, inside linebacker and then probably wide receiver. With the rise of Miles Austin and the intrigue of Kevin Ogletree, I could see the Cowboys waiting until later in the draft to grab a wide receiver. After all, both Austin and Ogletree were undrafted players.
The Giants addressed a major need with the signing of Rolle, although I'm not sure he's worth $15 million guaranteed. Now they can focus on shoring up their linebacker situation. Second-year player Clint Sintim is expected to start at strongside linebacker, but there's a gaping hole at middle linebacker with the release of Antonio Pierce. It doesn't look like Jonathan Goff is quite ready to fill the position from within, so the Giants will be hoping that Alabama's Rolando McClain slips to them at No. 15. Outside of the defensive tackles from Oklahoma and Nebraska, I think McClain may have been the best defensive player in the country. He's incredibly smart and has tremendous size and athleticism. This just seems like a Jerry Reese pick to me.
The Giants also need to figure out their situation at defensive tackle. You have to think Chris Canty will have an easier time after battling injuries in '09 and perhaps Rocky Bernard will finally show up. But you can't simply depend on those things. The Giants probably will take a defensive tackle in the draft and then they'll look at some offensive linemen. It's probably the end of the road for Kareem McKenzie at right tackle. The Giants need to continue drafting and developing young offensive linemen and I think that will be a priority for Reese. At running back, you have to wonder how Andre Brown will look returning from a ruptured Achilles tendon. It's hard to find a lot of running backs who've made successful comebacks from that particular injury.
The Eagles have a potential solution at safety with Marlin Jackson, but it's still a position of need. You can't depend on Jackson being able to recover from his second ACL surgery in as many years. But I don't expect the Eagles to take a safety at No. 24 because Allen and Mays aren't blowing anyone away. I wouldn't be surprised at all to see the Eagles select a cornerback in the first round. It's a huge position of need with Sheldon Brown starting to break down a little bit and Joselio Hanson taking a step back after his suspension. This secondary had no chance against Tony Romo and the Cowboys late in the season, and that has to be fixed.
The Eagles also need more help in the pass rush. I know they traded for Darryl Tapp on Tuesday, but he put up pedestrian numbers for the Seahawks. If a pass-rushing defensive end starts slipping next month, the Eagles will be ready to pounce. The Eagles also need to think about a long-term solution at center with Jamaal Jackson coming back from a torn ACL. I know that Baylor center J.D. Walton is projected to go in the second round and he's the type of athletic player Andy Reid likes. I also know that the Eagles think a lot of versatile guard/center Nick Cole, who filled in nicely at right guard last season.
And don't be surprised if the Eagles go after a running back in the later rounds. Mike Bell is a young player, but the Eagles could still use more juice at the position.
After a slow start to free agency, the Redskins are now sifting through a list of former stars -- and signing some of them. Larry Johnson was one of the best running backs in the league -- four years ago. He's an odd "complement" to Clinton Portis because both players sort of bang around between the tackles. There's simply not much change of pace. That's why I feel like running back is still a position of need in the draft.
A lot of Redskins believe that quarterback is the biggest position of need, but I tend to think left tackle should be the bigger priority. Washington didn't really give Jason Campbell any chance last season, but he still put up decent numbers. With Chris Samuels retiring, it's time to find a long-term solution at left tackle. I think you take Russell Okung at No. 4 and never look back. But Mike Shanahan will be tempted by Jimmy Clausen. He knows he played in a pro-style offense and he won't get caught up in all this talk about Clausen coming off as cocky during the combine. Don't you want your quarterbacks to have a little swagger?
The signing of nose tackle Maake Kemoeatu might be one of the most underrated signings of the offseason. If he can return to his form of '08 (pre Achilles tendon injury), then new defensive coordinator Jim Haslett can be more creative with Albert Haynesworth. You also have needs at linebacker, safety and cornerback. London Fletcher is an excellent player, but he wasn't made for the 3-4. He'll be eventually be phased out of the defense -- and it might happen sooner than some of you think. General manager Bruce Allen and Shanahan will be looking for bigger players at inside linebacker. I think Rocky McIntosh will be fine, but Fletcher will have a tough time taking on some of the enormous centers and guards in the NFC East.