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 team needs.
The biggest needs are a pass-rusher and some depth at cornerback. But the organization believes help in the secondary won't be as necessary if the pass rush improves. That puts the priority on getting a top-notch pass-rusher. Veteran John Abraham showed signs of age last year and that took a toll on the entire defense. Keep a close eye on whether the Falcons re-sign cornerback Brian Williams. If he’s back, the Falcons won’t feel a huge need to make any big moves at cornerback. Getting some depth on the offensive line also is a priority.
At the moment, the Panthers don’t have a first-round draft pick (that was traded to San Francisco last year) and they’ve got plenty of needs. The biggest might be at quarterback where the Panthers at the very least need someone to compete with Matt Moore. But that probably won’t come through the draft unless the Panthers somehow end up with a first-round pick. The Panthers are very much in the market for a wide receiver to play across from Steve Smith and they would like a receiver with good size. Getting some more depth at defensive tackle also is a priority after last year’s loss of Maake Kemoeatu showed how thin the team was at this position.
The good news is the Saints don’t have a lot of big needs and with the 32nd overall pick, they won’t be locked in on any one position. They’ve got several ways they could go early in the draft. A defensive tackle to play next to Sedrick Ellis would be nice. But the Saints also could look to get a pass-rushing defensive end to push or take over for Charles Grant. Some eventual replacements for linebackers Scott Fujita and Scott Shanle also would be nice, but the Saints aren’t desperate yet.
The Bucs have 10 picks overall and five in the first 99 selections. That makes the draft hugely important for a franchise that is deeply into a rebuilding project. There are lots of needs, but none is bigger than on the defensive line, where the Bucs could use a stud tackle or a pass-rushing end. They also could use a cornerback to eventually replace veteran Ronde Barber. Offensively, the Bucs are in desperate need of upgrades at wide receiver.