Ranking the needs: Tight ends

With the NFL draft approaching, I’m going to kick off a series in which I rank the team needs at each position group. We’ll start with the tight ends.

The earlier the ranking, the greater the need.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: If the season started today, they’d be in big trouble at tight end. Dallas Clark, last year’s starter, remains an unsigned free agent. Luke Stocker isn’t suddenly going to turn into a stud. I think there’s a very good chance Tampa Bay tries to get a tight end fairly early in the draft. If that doesn’t happen, the Bucs might have to bring back Clark or find some other veteran.

Atlanta Falcons: Tony Gonzalez is back for one more year (at least). There’s a school of thought that the Falcons should draft a tight end early and use this year to groom him. That might not be a bad idea. But I think the Falcons have more pressing needs. They’re in a win-now mode and they’ll probably be in a similar situation next season. It’s not an absolute necessity for them to get a tight end now.

Carolina Panthers: There’s no need for the Panthers to consider drafting a tight end early because Greg Olsen is firmly entrenched as the starter. Carolina could look for some depth to go with Ben Hartsock and Richie Brockel later in the draft.

New Orleans Saints: I can’t see the Saints drafting a tight end because it’s one of their strongest positions with Jimmy Graham and Benjamin Watson in place.