Kiper: Draft needs of AFC teams

Kiper: Draft notebook

Kiper: First-round draft projection, March 5

Kiper: Sizing up defensive free agents

Kiper: Sizing up offensive free agents

Mel Kiper's story archive

Wednesday, April 4

Major draft needs of NFC teams

What teams have done (or not done) in the free-agent market will affect the selections they make in the NFL draft. Some teams are still looking to deal, and that would change their outlook even further. But as things stand today, this is what the NFC squads need most heading into April's draft.

New York Giants
Cornerback -- Their biggest priority entering the draft. The addition of Titan DE Kenny Holmes helped bolster the front four. The next order of business is to solidify the secondary by finding a starter to work opposite Jason Sehorn. Incumbent Dave Thomas has the size teams covet but not the cover skills.

Tight end -- Howard Cross excels at moving defenders off the line of scrimmage but provides little in the way of a pass-receiving threat (just four receptions last season). Finding such a player is their top priority on offense.

Philadelphia Eagles
Wide receiver -- Upgraded the position with the free-agent signing of James Thrash, but he's not a feature wideout, nor is returning starter Charles Johnson. Last year's second-round pick, Todd Pinkston, displays big-play ability (averaged 18 yards per catch), but had just 10 receptions.

Running back -- Fourth-year pro Duce Staley is returning from a season-ending foot injury. Reports are that he's making good progress in rehab, but no one can be sure what form No. 22 will return to. If there are any lingering effects, the Eagles don't have a replacement who's capable of picking up the slack.

Defensive end -- They have one of the game's premier pass rushers in right DE Hugh Douglas (15 sacks). Former Redskin Ndukwe Kalu was brought in to challenge Brandon Whiting and Mike Mamula for playing time on the left side. Kalu is a good situational pass rusher, but he's not the answer as a full-time starter. For that matter, neither are the other two.

Washington Redskins
Wide receiver -- One look at the current roster and it's not hard to figure out where the Redskins need help the most. The only wideout of consequence currently under contract is Michael Westbrook, and he's coming off a knee injury that limited him to just two games this past season.

Middle Linebacker -- Derek Smith is a free agent and his return is very questionable. If he's not re-signed, finding a replacement becomes their top priority on this side of the ball.

Offensive Guard -- A team strength heading into the 2000 season, the 'Skins have released starters Keith Sims and Tre' Johnson, and top backup Jay Leeuwenburg is a free agent.

Dallas Cowboys
Quarterback -- With future Hall of Famer Troy Aikman no longer in the picture, the Cowboys are left scrambling at this position.

Defensive Tackle -- Neither of the projected starters (Michael Myers or Brandon Noble) do much to excite. Depth at this position is nonexistent. With concerns at middle linebacker as well, the Cowboys need to shore up the interior of the defense.

Arizona Cardinals
Defensive Tackle -- The release of Tony McCoy, combined with the free agent loss of Mark Smith, has the Cardinals in need of two starters. Rashod Swinger is coming off a knee injury; Russell Davis is strictly backup material, and Mao Tosi, a fifth-round pick in last year's draft, is still finding his way.

Defensive end -- Oft-injured restricted free agent Andre Wadsworth is on one side, and no one worth mentioning on the other. This past season's starter at right DE, Simeon Rice, is a free agent and currently shopping his wares around the league.

Cornerback -- There's uncertainty as you read due to the fact that Aeneas Williams is contemplating retirement. With Tom Knight continuing to struggle at the other starting spot, the Cardinals -- even if Williams returns -- could use another corner.

Minnesota Vikings
Cornerback -- When converted wide-out Robert Tate is your best cover corner, that pretty much says it all. What's even more troublesome is the situation at the other corner, where Wasswa Serwanga and Kenny Wright reside.

Defensive end -- Talance Sawyer (second on the team with 6.5 sacks) has developed into a decent starter. On the other side, however, you're looking at last year's second-round pick, Michael Boireau. I thought he was a reach on draft day, so it goes without saying that I'm not sold on him as a starter.

Offensive Tackle -- As if the Vikings didn't have enough problems, one more arose in mid-March, when LT Todd Steussie became a cap casualty. Right now, the plan is to have Brad Badger take over the vacated spot. When given the opportunity to make a name for himself at LT with the Redskins, Badger failed to do so.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Offensive Tackle -- As of this writing, the Bucs are without a quality starter at either tackle spot. Their main focus is obviously finding someone who can adequately protect the blind side of Brad Johnson. Especially when you take into consideration his durability concerns.

Cornerback -- In the event that Ronde Barber signs elsewhere, the Bucs have former second-round pick Brian Kelly on hand. What they don't have is someone who's a good fit in the nickel.

Detroit Lions
Cornerback -- The Lions have to be concerned about the situation here. Starting CB Bryant Westbrook is coming off a ruptured Achilles tendon, and there's little in the way of depth behind him.

Defensive end -- Overall, the front four is in good shape. The one question mark is at right DE, where Tracy Scroggins remains unsigned. Without a suitable replacement -- if Scroggins doesn't return -- the Lions will need to find someone off the edge who can make plays other than Robert Porcher.

Offensive Line -- The interior of the line is starting to take shape. To help compensate for the loss of RG Jeff Hartings, they signed Brenden Stai. In the pivot, they recently matched an offer sheet given to restricted free agent Eric Beverly. Provided they feel good about having him as a starter, the focus then shifts to LG. Note: Depth is a concern everywhere along the line.

Green Bay Packers
Defensive Tackle -- Their biggest need along the front four is at DT, with both starter Santana Dotson and backup Steve Warren coming off serious injuries. The Packers lone healthy player of consequence is Russell Maryland, and he lacks any semblance of big-play ability.

Wide receiver -- Antonio Freeman has noticeably regressed the past two seasons. Working opposite him is Bill Schroeder. Despite being productive in that role (65 receptions for a 15.4 yard average), Schroeder remains best suited to be a No. 3 wideout.

Defensive end -- They have a solid performer in Vonnie Holliday, but could use an upgrade at the other spot. Incumbent John Thierry finished third on the team with 5.5 sacks, but better pass rushers are available.

Chicago Bears
Defensive Line -- The Bears addressed the D-line last season by signing Seattle's Phillip Daniels. They need to do so again. The front four produced just 13.5 sacks.

Wide receiver -- Eddie Kennison is expected to be lost in free agency. Their top wideout, Marcus Robinson, saw his season cut short by a back injury, and their leading receiver in 1999, Bobby Engram, is coming off a knee injury.

Cornerback -- After spending a lot of money last offseason to ink Buffalo's Thomas Smith, the Bears aren't likely to do the same to re-sign their other starter, Walt Harris. They like the potential displayed by Jerry Azumah, but asking this converted running back to hold his own as a starter is a bit much. Behind him, you have former first-round bust R.W. McQuarters.

New Orleans Saints
Free Safety -- In terms of a starting spot on either side of the ball, this is their biggest area of need. The Saints have a solid performer in SS Sammy Knight, but at free safety both Darren Perry and Rob Kelly are free agents, and neither is the answer as a starter.

Linebacker -- Despite the fact that they sent two players to the Pro Bowl this past season (weakside LB Mark Fields and strongside LB Keith Mitchell), it's a position that could turn out to be problematic. Fields may end up being a cap casualty, and top backup Darrin Smith is a free agent. Also worth mentioning, MLB Charlie Clemons missed the entire 2000 campaign due to a calf injury.

St. Louis Rams
Defensive Tackle -- The first order of business in improving a defense that was nothing short of dreadful this past season is to shore up the interior of the D-line. Both starters (D'Marco Farr and Ray Agnew) have been released.

Outside Linebacker -- It was just a year ago that Mike Jones was making a game-saving tackle in the Super Bowl to help preserve a victory for the Rams. Now, he's unsigned and will not be back in a starting capacity. At strongside LB, Todd Collins is very replaceable.

Cornerback -- The Rams are in need of a corner to work opposite fourth-year pro Dexter McCleon. Incumbent Todd Lyght suffered through a sub-par year and will not be back. No. 3 CB Dre Bly hasn't shown to this point that he's capable of handling the job.

Carolina Panthers
Offensive Line -- In need of a major overhaul, the Panthers addressed this need twice in free agency, with the signings of Baltimore C Jeff Mitchell and Miami G Kevin Donnalley. There are better alternatives than RG Jamar Nesbit, but the more pressing need is at tackle.

Quarterback -- With Steve Beuerlein no longer a part of their future, the starting job has been turned over to Jeff Lewis. Once a promising prospect in the Broncos organization, he's done little to excite since joining the Panthers.

Running back -- None of the Panther ball carriers averaged more than 3.6 yards per carry last season. Obviously a big part of the problem can be attributed to the O-line, but you also have to wonder if they have a true feature back. Former first-round pick Tim Biakabutuka has yet to show that he's capable of withstanding the pounding that goes along with the job.

San Francisco 49ers
Running back -- Despite the fact that Charlie Garner has enjoyed two very productive years with the Niners, the front office has seemingly little interest in re-signing him due to cap problems. There's been talk of a Garrison Heart comeback, but with Hearst two years removed from playing, it's not a viable option.

Defensive end -- Combine the total number of sacks by John Engelberger, Chike Okeafor and John Milem, and you have a grand total of five!

Atlanta Falcons
Wide receiver -- Ever since the departure of Tony Martin, the Falcons have lacked a consistent big-play, wideout. Last offseason, they brought in former Patriot Shawn Jefferson. He had a productive year but wasn't the vertical threat they so desperately needed.

Offensive Line -- The Falcons have a Pro Bowl-caliber performer in LT Bob Whitfield. The only other position that appears to be safe is RT, with restricted free agent Ephraim Salaam and Michael Thompson as the backup.

Defensive end -- Their top three players at the position (Patrick Kerney, Brady Smith and Chuck Wiley) combined for only 8.5 sacks. Like at wide receiver, the Falcons need more big plays at this position. Management could sorely use a prolific edge pass rusher, the likes of former Falcon Chuck Smith.

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