NFL Football Column: Offseason Low Down
Team Needs & Roster Rankings
The 2012-2013 NFL season is officially in the books, and the Scouting Combine is less than a month away. Free agency opens on March 12. With coaching staffs settled, impending free agents identified, and salary cap situations beginning to clarify, here is a look at the four most glaring positional needs for every club entering the 2013 offseason.
Teams are ranked in order of roster quality.
1. San Francisco 49ers
K: You're in pretty good shape when your most glaring offseason need is a kicker. David Akers is likely to be released after turning in a league-worst season with a $3 million non-guaranteed salary. The draft's top placekicker is expected to be Dustin Hopkins out of Florida State.
WR: The Niners will expect bigger things from 2012 first-rounder A.J. Jenkins, but only he and Michael Crabtree return as probable 2013 receiver contributors. Randy Moss is a free agent, and Mario Manningham figures to be a cap casualty owed $3.95 million coming off two torn knee ligaments. To maximize Colin Kaepernick's cannon arm, the 49ers need another field stretcher.
LB: This isn't quite a pressing need -- Parys Haralson's return should add depth behind starters Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks -- but even great teams know they can never have too many pass rushers. San Francisco's 2012 pass rush was exposed as a bit one-dimensional down the stretch when Smith wasn't harassing quarterbacks. This year's draft is rich at the position.
DT: Starting nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga's contract is up and he's going on age 32. Top reserve Ricky Jean-Francois is undersized and best suited for a utility role. This is a position on which San Francisco may very well spend its top draft pick. Alabama's Jesse Williams, Georgia's John Jenkins, and Missouri Southern's Brandon Williams could be late first-round options for the 49ers.
2. Denver Broncos
DT: Mitch Unrein, Malik Jackson, and Sealver Siliga are Denver's only defensive tackles signed for 2013. Justin Bannan, Kevin Vickerson, and Ty Warren are all free agents. The Broncos defended the run surprisingly well in 2012 despite fielding a rag-tag group on the interior, but they could really use a difference-making, building-block type. Expect this to be a focus in the draft.
LB: While Wesley Woodyard and Von Miller are obviously entrenched on the outside, middle linebacker is a question mark for Denver's 2013 defense. Injured Joe Mays could be a salary cap casualty after losing his starting job to Keith Brooking, the latter of whom is a free agent. The top in-house candidate to take over would be Nate Irving, who's been a special teamer to this point.
OG: Left tackle Ryan Clady will likely return on the franchise tag, and right tackle Orlando Franklin is signed through 2014. Center J.D. Walton returns from an ankle fracture. Left guard Zane Beadles is a stud, but right guard Chris Kuper is owed a $4.5 million base salary after two major ankle surgeries in as many years. The Broncos need to start contemplating Kuper's heir apparent.
WR: This isn't a position of pressing need, but it could be soon with Brandon Stokley headed for free agency and Eric Decker entering a contract year. No. 4 wideout Andre Caldwell is more of a special teamer. The Broncos will probably address wide receiver in the late rounds of April's draft.
3. Green Bay Packers
RB: DuJuan Harris, James Starks, and Alex Green are role-player backs. All have been given opportunities to run with Green Bay's feature back job, but only Harris has somewhat consistently produced and he is viewed internally as a scatback. It's time for GM Ted Thompson to take this position seriously. Thompson is a longtime admirer of Steven Jackson, who may hit free agency.
OT: Bryan Bulaga's return should fortify right tackle for Green Bay, but maddeningly inconsistent left tackle Marshall Newhouse needs to be on the hotseat. While 2011 first-round pick Derek Sherrod is due back from a broken leg, he projected to right tackle or guard before the injury. The Packers are on the verge of committing a boatload of money to quarterback Aaron Rodgers. In order to make good on that investment, they'll need improved blind-side protection.
S: Charles Woodson is owed $10 million in 2013 and will likely be a cap casualty. Free safety Morgan Burnett enters the final year of his rookie deal. While M.D. Jennings and Jerron McMillian both flashed promise in 2012, it's unclear if Thompson views either as a candidate to start.
QB: The Packers luckily made it through 2012 without an injury to Rodgers, despite the pass-protection woes. Had Rodgers been hurt, incumbent backup Graham Harrell may have torpedoed Green Bay's season. Thompson needs to prioritize a competent No. 2 signal caller this spring.
4. New England Patriots
WR: The Pats risk losing Wes Welker and Julian Edelman to free agency, leaving Brandon Lloyd and special teamer Matt Slater as New England's only remaining receivers to have caught an NFL pass. Welker's subtraction can be minimized if Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez stay healthy, but another explosive outside receiver would add a new dimension to Josh McDaniels' attack. I have a gut feeling McDaniels and Bill Belichick are going to love Tennessee’s Cordarrelle Patterson.
CB: The Patriots gambled by sending the Buccaneers a fourth-round pick for Aqib Talib before the trade deadline without a contract extension in place. So he could conceivably be one-and-done in Foxboro. While New England did well to unearth seventh-round gem Alfonzo Dennard, Talib and slot guy Kyle Arrington's free agency leave the depth chart dangerously thin at cornerback.
OT: Talib and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer are the Pats' two prime franchise tag candidates. Retaining Vollmer would turn tackle back from a potential weakness into a strength. The franchise number for offensive linemen is $9.66 million. The cornerback franchise number is $10.67 million.
S: Devin McCourty is shaping up as New England's long-term answer at free safety, flourishing there after an early-season conversion from cornerback. Strong safety is more up in the air after impending free agent Pat Chung fell out of favor in 2012. Steve Gregory would ideally be a third safety and special teamer. Last year's second-rounder Tavon Wilson was an obvious draft reach.
5. Seattle Seahawks
DE: Coach Pete Carroll has pinpointed defensive end as Seattle's biggest offseason need, which especially makes sense after Chris Clemons' ACL and meniscus tears. 2012 first-rounder Bruce Irvin is an explosive nickel rusher, not a viable starter. Red Bryant will return as the Seahawks' run-stopping left end, but he isn't a pocket pusher and Seattle covets another one of those.
WR: While Sidney Rice, Golden Tate, and Doug Baldwin make up a formidable three-receiver set, the latter two are entering contract seasons and depth is a concern. If the Seahawks are going to open up the passing game in Russell Wilson's second season, they'll need a true vertical weapon.
OT: Russell Okung has panned out as a top-ten left tackle, but the right side could use an influx of competition after Breno Giacomini's poor year. While Giacomini holds his own as a run blocker, he struggles mightily with speed off the edge. The Seahawks have settled on 2011 first-rounder James Carpenter as a long-term guard. Line coach Tom Cable's zone-blocking scheme should allow Seattle to address right tackle affordably in free agency or in the middle rounds of the draft.
LB: The Seahawks need to move on from weak-side 'backer Leroy Hill following his latest off-field incident. Hill is a free agent and likely facing a multi-game suspension. Seattle is strong at middle linebacker (Bobby Wagner) and on the strong side (K.J. Wright), but thin on the weak side.
6. New York Giants
OL: Left and right tackles Will Beatty and Sean Locklear are free agents. 32-year-old David Diehl's effectiveness has evaporated and he's a surefire cap casualty on a $4.475 million base salary. Center David Baas is entering his age-32 season, right guard Chris Snee is coming off hip surgery, and left guard Kevin Boothe's contract is up. GM Jerry Reese has compiled intriguing young front-five depth in the draft, but there will likely be major changes on an aging Giants line.
CB: Sagging pass rush contributed to the 2012 secondary deficiencies, but cornerback was still a huge weakness. Oft-burned supposed top corner Corey Webster is a release candidate on a $7 million salary. Rookie slot man Jayron Hosley was up and down in his first season. Likely to cut Webster, the G-Men need to find at least one starting cornerback via free agency or the draft.
LB: Strong-side maven Mathias Kiwanuka is the Giants' only surefire linebacker starter for 2013. Weak-side incumbent Michael Boley is expected to be cut, and pedestrian middle man Chase Blackburn has run his course. In-house options include Mark Herzlich and Jacquian Williams.
TE: Reese is high on 2012 fourth-round pick Adrien Robinson, but he was drafted as a height-weight-speed project and played three snaps as a rookie. The Giants can feel good at tight end if they keep free agent Martellus Bennett and use 2013 as another development year for Robinson.
7. Houston Texans
WR: Much like the Panthers with Steve Smith, the Texans should feel lucky Andre Johnson is still going strong. They've done literally nothing to help him in terms of complementary wideouts. Kevin Walter is an offseason release candidate, and 2012 third-rounder DeVier Posey tore his Achilles' in the playoffs. Lestar Jean has starred in preseason, then vanished in real games.
OT: Duane Brown remains among the league's elite left tackles, but the Texans put too much faith in their scheme in 2012 after releasing stalwart right tackle Eric Winston. Derek Newton was an abject failure in the role, getting knocked around in the run game and racking up penalties. If Houston doesn't find a wide receiver it deems worthy of the 27th overall pick, a tackle should do.
S: Stud free safety Danieal Manning is signed through 2014, but underrated strong safety Glover Quin's contract has run out. The Texans do not have a viable in-house alternative. Quin is a top-notch run-support safety and often matches up with opposing tight ends. He'd be tough to replace.
NT: Incumbent starter Shaun Cody is entering free agency, and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has never felt comfortable playing undersized Earl Mitchell full time despite annual glowing offseason reports. If the Cowboys release Jay Ratliff, he'd make sense in a reunion with Phillips. In addition to safety and nose, the Texans' defensive is needy at inside linebacker next to Brian Cushing.
8. Atlanta Falcons
OT: Atlanta is solid at right tackle with steady veteran Tyson Clabo, but left tackle Sam Baker and top reserve Will Svitek are both free agents. The Falcons have become a pass-first team under second-year offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, so protecting quarterback Matt Ryan is critical. Atlanta is also expected to break the bank on a contract extension for Ryan this offseason.
DE: John Abraham probably has one year left as an impact pass rusher and Kroy Biermann was an important movable chess piece in defensive coordinator Mike Nolan's first season. Abraham is going on 35, however, and he’s still Atlanta's only legitimate down-to-down sack threat. If the Falcons can come up with enough salary cap space, Cliff Avril would look awfully good in Red and Black.
RB: Owed an impractical $6.9 million base salary, declining 31-year-old feature back Michael Turner is likely to be an offseason cap casualty. Diminutive scatback Jacquizz Rodgers averages under 4.0 yards per carry and isn't the answer for Atlanta's run game woes. The Falcons have the 30th overall pick and should seriously consider Alabama's Eddy Lacy if he's still on the board.
TE: GM Thomas Dimitroff and Roddy White are lobbying Tony Gonzalez to opt against retirement, but the future Hall of Famer's mind seemed made up late in the year. Chase Coffman, Michael Palmer, and Tommy Gallarda round out the depth chart. The Falcons field arguably the NFL's premier wideout duo in White and Julio Jones, but replacing Gonzo's production underneath would be an almost impossible task.
9. Baltimore Ravens
OT: Baltimore got a major late-season boost when an in-shape Bryant McKinnie emerged as the team's starting left tackle. 33-year-old McKinnie is headed for free agency, however, and may not be in GM Ozzie Newsome's plans. It's clear by now that Michael Oher's best position is right tackle. Finding a long-term blind-side protector for Joe Flacco should be Newsome's top priority.
LB: Ray Lewis' Last Ride is over, and every-down inside 'backer Dannell Ellerbe's contract is up. Jameel McClain's healthy return should give this unit some credibility, but it could quickly turn from a strength into a weakness. The cap-strapped Ravens also may not be able to afford free agent rush linebacker Paul Kruger. At least they can turn to 2012 second-rounder Courtney Upshaw.
WR: Salary cap woes may force Newsome to part with Anquan Boldin ($6 million salary) and Jacoby Jones ($4 million in salary and bonus), depleting a receiver depth chart that would be down to Torrey Smith, Tandon Doss, and developmental project Tommy Streeter. In the Ravens' vertical-oriented pass offense, wideouts who can create separation are an absolute must.
S: Lardarius Webb's return will shore up Baltimore's cornerback position, but stalwart free safety Ed Reed is expected to leave in free agency. Unless they know something we don't about 2012 fourth-round pick Christian Thompson, the Ravens are devoid of in-house replacement options.
10. Pittsburgh Steelers
RB: Top returning backs Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman are restricted free agents. Longtime feature runner Rashard Mendenhall is an unrestricted free agent and not expected to return. In his season-ending press conference, GM Kevin Colbert conceded that Pittsburgh's talent level at running back has not been up to par. The Steelers figure to add multiple new faces this offseason.
TE: Pro Bowl-caliber starter Heath Miller shredded his right knee in late December, tearing the ACL, PCL, and MCL. He's a candidate to open next season on PUP. The Steelers feel good internally about 2012 seventh-round pick David Paulson, but he'd be a big downgrade from Miller.
DL: Franchise staple Casey Hampton will walk in free agency, leaving a 330-plus-pound hole at nose tackle. Perhaps Pittsburgh can paper over the position with Steve McLendon, Ziggy Hood, and Alameda Ta'amu, but none of the three looks like a long-term solution. The nose is a critical component of coordinator Dick LeBeau's 3-4 defense, which has long been stout versus the run.
WR: The Steelers have turned the page on deep threat Mike Wallace, leaving Antonio Brown, restricted free agent Emmanuel Sanders, and pedestrian veteran Jerricho Cotchery as their top three receivers. Sans Wallace, there isn't a vertical playmaker remaining in the group. Pittsburgh is apparently set to downgrade from a top-five pass-catching corps into the depths of mediocrity.
11. Washington Redskins
OL: Left tackle Trent Williams, center Will Montgomery, and right guard Chris Chester are all signed long term and make up the core of Washington's zone-blocking offensive line. The unit's two 2012 weak links -- left guard Kory Lichtensteiger and right tackle Tyler Polumbus -- are both headed for free agency. Last year's third-rounder Josh LeRibeus might be able to handle left guard moving forward, but Washington does not have a viable in-house right tackle replacement.
CB: DeAngelo Hall's openness to a contract restructure helps matters, but there is next to no depth behind him and fellow starter Josh Wilson. Nickel back Cedric Griffin's contract is up, and seventh-rounder Richard Crawford was the only other Washington corner to play significant 2012 snaps. The Redskins shouldn't feel truly comfortable at any of their four defensive back positions.
LB: Brian Orakpo's return helps this unit on paper, but it's fair to wonder if he's become unreliable physically. Orakpo has twice torn his left pectoral muscle and didn't recover fully the first time. Ryan Kerrigan remains a stud bookend, but 2012 Orakpo replacement Rob Jackson's contract is up and there is no remaining depth. Washington needs to continue to prioritize pass rushers.
TE: The Redskins can make this position better if free agent Fred Davis is re-signed and recovers smoothly from Achilles' surgery, but it's a concern at the moment. Logan Paulsen is a high-effort player short on skill. Converted wide receiver Niles Paul is a situational tight end only. Chris Cooley is a free agent, and he may begin his broadcasting career as soon as this offseason.
12. Chicago Bears
OL: The Bears don't just need a tackle, guard, or center. They need help at every line position. 2011 first-round pick Gabe Carimi is looking like a bust at right tackle, and J'Marcus Webb has been inconsistent at best on the left side. Guards Lance Louis, Chris Spencer, and Chilo Rachal are all free agents. 34-year-old center Roberto Garza has fallen off a cliff. It's time for an overhaul.
LB: New Bears coach Marc Trestman doesn't seem inclined to bring back free agent middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, not that he should. Going on 35 with bad knees, Urlacher is a shell of his old self. Strong-side starter Nick Roach's contract is also up, giving Chicago two spots to fill.
TE: Perhaps the worst move of GM Phil Emery's tenure so far was to re-sign Kellen Davis last offseason. Davis flopped as the Bears' starting tight end and will likely be released. 2012 fourth-rounder Evan Rodriguez is an intriguing prospect, but doesn't profile as an every-down tight end.
DT: This position can remain a strength if the Bears re-sign free agent Henry Melton. After back-to-back productive seasons at "three technique," however, he won't be cheap. Stephen Paea is a solid run stuffer and Nate Collins is a quality reserve, but Chicago needs a pocket pusher inside.
13. Dallas Cowboys
DT: The Cowboys are switching from a 3-4 to 4-3 defense under new coordinator Monte Kiffin, meaning the complexion of their front seven will change. Nose tackle Jay Ratliff is in danger of being released, which would add yet another question mark to Dallas' defensive line. Jason Hatcher is a probable starter, but two quality interior linemen are required in the four-man front.
DE: DeMarcus Ware should transition smoothly from linebacker to weak-side end, and the Cowboys want to re-sign Anthony Spencer to continue manning the position across from him. Spencer wants big money and is uncertain to return. 2012 third-rounder Tyrone Crawford may be an option at left defensive end, although Crawford wasn't a big-time pass rusher at Boise State.
OG: The Cowboys seem to believe they have several viable guard options in Nate Livings, Ronald Leary, and Mackenzy Bernadeau, but of them only left guard Livings was a capable 2012 starter. Center Phil Costa is a restricted free agent coming off foot surgery. Even if Dallas appears to have numbers at guard and center, its interior run blocking was a huge problem area last season.
RB: Starter DeMarco Murray has missed nine games through two seasons, and top backup Felix Jones is headed to free agency. Lance Dunbar and Phillip Tanner are borderline NFL players. The Cowboys could use a durable backup for Murray who would also function in a change-of-pace role off the bench. Expect Dallas to target this position in the middle rounds of April's draft.
14. Minnesota Vikings
WR: The fact that Minnesota has never given Christian Ponder a legitimate outside receiver makes his early-career performance a blurry evaluation. Percy Harvin is a beast in the slot, but Jerome Simpson, Michael Jenkins, and Devin Aromashodu have served to hold back the offense rather than further it. The Vikings need to be in the market for a field stretcher like Mike Wallace to ease the burden on Harvin and Adrian Peterson, who operate around the line of scrimmage.
S: Vikings 2012 first-round pick Harrison Smith paid immediate dividends with playmaking ability and coverage skills in the deep half. Running mate Mistral Raymond, however, was a liability across from him. Raymond would stick to special teams in an ideal world, and the Vikings would pair Smith with a safety offering better talent. Pat Chung would be an interesting free-agent target.
LB: The Vikings enter 2013 feeling good about only one of their linebacker positions. Strong-side starter Chad Greenway is a Pro Bowl-caliber performer, but middle man Jasper Brinkley and weak-side 'backer Erin Henderson are both free agents. Brinkley is the guy they need to replace.
QB: The jury remains out on Ponder after two NFL seasons. In 2012, he went through long stretches looking like a top-12 draft bust, and Ponder has also been prone to injury. Joe Webb clearly isn't a viable competitor, so the Vikings may tap the free-agent market for an upgrade at backup quarterback. Veteran Matt Moore would probably be GM Rick Spielman's best target.
15. New Orleans Saints
LB: Back from suspension, coach Sean Payton is hellbent on turning his defense into a 3-4. Perhaps the most critical 3-4 component is outside-edge rushers capable of harassing the quarterback from a two-point stance. Junior Galette and Martez Wilson are in-house options, but neither has experience at the position. Look for the Saints to draft two rush 'backers in April. The Saints should be fine at inside linebacker with thumpers Curtis Lofton and David Hawthorne back.
DT: Cameron Jordan and Akiem Hicks are ready-made 3-4 defensive ends; they both spent time there in college. At 6-foot-2, 306, incumbent 4-3 nose tackle Brodrick Bunkley is undersized to play the position in a 3-4. New Orleans got kicked in the mouth in the running game in 2012, so acquiring a lane clogger might be GM Mickey Loomis' top priority from a pure need standpoint.
OT: This wouldn't be a need if left tackle Jermon Bushrod were under contract for 2013. Bushrod is indeed a free agent, however, and Loomis is unlikely to break the bank to retain him. Charles Brown might be an in-house replacement if he could stay healthy. So far in his career, he can't.
DB: While the lack of pass rush made the entire unit appear worse than it really is, the Saints' defensive backfield didn't hold up its end of the 2012 bargain. Patrick Robinson was a frequent burn victim, and safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper turned in career-worst years. The Saints need to add competition in the secondary. These guys seem to be getting complacent.
16. Cincinnati Bengals
RB: Plodding early-down pounder BenJarvus Green-Ellis and 2012 practice squad member Dan Herron are Cincinnati's only two backs under contract for 2013. The Bengals need more "juice" at this position. UNC's Giovani Bernard -- profiled here -- would be a sensible target in the draft's second round.
DE: Both of the Bengals' 2012 starters at defensive end have expiring contracts. Carlos Dunlap can take left end Robert Geathers' place, but Cincinnati may have to use the franchise tag to retain right end Michael Johnson. Even if Johnson returns, an explosive nickel rusher would be a welcomed addition to coordinator Mike Zimmer's defense. Depth is a concern either way.
S: Zimmer played musical chairs at the safety spot opposite Reggie Nelson last season. When Nelson missed two games with a hamstring injury, the position turned into a disaster. Perhaps 2012 fifth-round pick George Iloka will get a longer look in training camp, but he won't be handed first-team snaps. Incumbent free safeties Nate Clements and Chris Crocker's contracts are up. The Bengals could also afford to address outside linebacker with Vontaze Burfict moving from weak side to the middle.
QB: After back-to-back late-season collapses, there should be questions within the organization about whether Andy Dalton is the long-term answer. He didn't get better in his second year. At the very least, Cincinnati will be on the lookout for a backup upgrade on free agent Bruce Gradkowski.
17. Detroit Lions
CB: Cornerback has seemingly been a trouble spot in Detroit forever. Top corner Chris Houston is a free agent and the Lions were torched opposite him for most of last season. 2012 draft picks Bill Bentley, Jonte Green, and Chris Greenwood are all talented prospects, but it's unclear if any of them is ready to start in 2013. Alabama's Dee Milliner is already a popular mock pick at No. 5.
DE: Left end Cliff Avril's contract is up and right end Kyle Vanden Bosch's career is nearing its end. What was recently one of the league's most loaded defensive end depth charts has fast become among the thinnest. Only KVB, Willie Young, and Ronnell Lewis are signed for 2013.
WR: Safety, interior offensive line, and linebacker are also needy positions for the Lions, but wide receiver is most pressing for the NFL's pass-heaviest team. Only Calvin Johnson can be counted on for 2013 production. Nate Burleson would have to accept a salary slash to return, and Ryan Broyles is coming off a second ACL tear. Titus Young has practically begged for his release.
RB: While Mikel Leshoure and Joique Bell didn't embarrass themselves as a 2012 tandem attack, the Lions are looking to replace the homerun-hitting ability Jahvid Best left behind. Reggie Bush would be a sensible target in free agency, assuming he's willing to sign at an affordable rate.
18. Carolina Panthers
CB: Salary cap problems will likely force the Panthers to release top cornerback Chris Gamble, and fellow starter Captain Munnerlyn is a free agent. Forced to start as a rookie, 2012 fifth-round pick Josh Norman was burned relentlessly in coverage. This is easily Carolina's weakest position.
OT: Ryan Kalil's return will fortify center, while left tackle Jordan Gross, left guard Amini Silatolu, and right guard Garry Williams figure to return as Carolina's other three offensive line starters. Byron Bell has been a major liability at right tackle, however, and must be replaced. The Panthers haven't had effective right-tackle play since Jeff Otah stopped trying. That happened back in 2009.
WR: The Panthers are lucky to have gotten as many quality seasons out of Steve Smith as they have. He's still going strong, but turns 34 in May and is Carolina's only dangerous wideout. Brandon LaFell disappointed in his 2012 opportunity to start, and once-promising David Gettis was a non-factor. The Panthers need to consider drafting a receiver in the first or second round.
DT: Carolina doesn't have a single effective defensive tackle signed for 2013. Dwan Edwards is a free agent, and Ron Edwards is a likely cap casualty after getting pushed around in the run game last season. Blowing up this position to start from scratch wouldn't be a bad idea for the Panthers.
19. Indianapolis Colts
OL: Right tackle and both guard positions could use offseason upgrades after the Colts overcame the AFC's worst line play to win 11 games. Despite elite pocket awareness and mobility, Andrew Luck absorbed 41 sacks -- the NFL's fourth highest total. New playcaller Pep Hamilton is a smash-mouth offensive mind, so look for Indianapolis to pursue maulers in the running game.
CB: GM Ryan Grigson's trade for Vontae Davis paid dividends down the stretch, but the Colts were sorely lacking at slot and left corner. Jerraud Powers was benched for Darius Butler, and both of them are offseason free agents. Grigson is a lock to address cornerback in April's draft.
LB: The Colts go three deep at inside linebacker with Pat Angerer behind Jerrell Freeman and Kavell Conner, but outside linebacker is a different story. While Robert Mathis can still get after the quarterback, he's 32 and battled back injuries in 2012. Dwight Freeney is a free agent, and Jerry Hughes is a mediocre situational player. Indianapolis needs a new franchise pass rusher.
DE: Ends in Chuck Pagano's 3-4 scheme are supposed to be immovable gap pluggers. 32-year-old Cory Redding struggled to duplicate his Baltimore success last season, and Ricardo Mathews would be a wave player on a good defense. The Colts have been gashed by the run for far too long. Grigson should target five-technique defensive ends in the draft's early to middle rounds.
20. Miami Dolphins
WR: Despite impressive individual play by rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill, the Dolphins' 2012 offense was held hostage by their receivers' inability to separate. The Fins lacked playmakers out wide. Leading receiver Brian Hartline is now entering free agency, and Miami is left paper thin. The Dolphins have a ton of cap space and could pursue Greg Jennings, Mike Wallace, and/or Dwayne Bowe.
OT: The Dolphins are not expected to re-sign free agent left tackle Jake Long because his salary demands are too rich for their taste. 2012 second-rounder Jonathan Martin got blown up in pass protection as a rookie, so he'd be difficult to justify as a viable alternative. Miami must acquire at least one starting offensive tackle. Martin's year-one performance suggests they may need two.
CB: GM Jeff Ireland's 2012 trade of top cornerback Vontae Davis looks foolish in hindsight. Sean Smith took over as Miami's answer for No. 1 receivers and held up well, but is now a free agent. Offseason pickup Richard Marshall struggled in coverage before rupturing two discs in his back. Ireland's tendency to trade solid starters without a long-term replacement plan is head scratching. See also, Brandon Marshall.
S: Strong safety Reshad Jones has quietly emerged as one of the league's premier players at his position, but free safety Chris Clemons is a free agent and backup Jonathon Amaya strictly plays on special teams. The Dolphins could also afford to add talent at running back and defensive end.
21. San Diego Chargers
OT: Want a quick explanation for San Diego's 2012 offensive collapse? (The Chargers led the NFL in total offense as recently as 2010.) It all starts up front. $25 million left tackle Jared Gaither refused to play through pain, and when he wasn't in the lineup starting tackles Mike Harris and Jeromey Clary were turnstiles in pass protection. Philip Rivers began seeing ghosts in the pocket, sensing pass rush that wasn't there. San Diego needs to clean house at this position.
CB: Starters Quentin Jammer and Antoine Cason's contracts have both expired, leaving San Diego with only Marcus Gilchrist, Shareece Wright, and practice squad-type Greg Gatson under contract at corner. The Chargers need speed in the secondary after Jammer and Cason were all too often exposed deep. New coach Mike McCoy has ties to likely Panthers cap casualty Chris Gamble, while assistant Ken Whisenhunt knows free agent Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie well.
RB: Perhaps McCoy and Whisenhunt will feel differently, but outgoing coach Norv Turner had decided that 2010 first-round pick Ryan Mathews was not the solution as a foundation back. Mathews proceeded to justify Turner's opinion in 2012, fracturing his collarbone twice and running tentatively when healthy. Backups Ronnie Brown and Jackie Battle are both free agents, which means the Bolts will at the very least pursue a No. 2 back and possibly Mathews' replacement.
QB: While Rivers gets something of a pass because ex-GM A.J. Smith did such an abominable job of compiling receivers and offensive linemen, it's fair to wonder how many quality years -- if any -- San Diego's quarterback has left. Going on 32, Rivers' arm strength has eroded and he's become increasingly turnover prone. A developmental prospect capable of at least pushing underwhelming backup Charlie Whitehurst would be a nice addition for Whisenhunt to groom.
22. Philadelphia Eagles
QB: Owed a $15.5 million salary, Michael Vick is tentatively expected to be released sometime in March. 2012 third-round pick Nick Foles possesses some intriguing tools, but lacks the athleticism rookie coach Chip Kelly typically seeks in a signal caller. The Eagles are expected to sign Ravens practice squad quarterback Dennis Dixon in the coming days, but Dixon probably isn't a viable candidate to start. Kelly would likely love to get his hands on West Virginia's Geno Smith.
CB: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is a free agent, and the Eagles will likely part with declining running mate Nnamdi Asomugha. Of Philadelphia's top three 2012 corners, only slot guy Brandon Boykin's roster spot is assured. Curtis Marsh and Brandon Hughes each have some potential, but lack starting experience. The Eagles need to add competition at both outside cornerback spots.
DT: Kelly is installing a 3-4 scheme, a major departure from Philly's defenses of seasons past. While Trent Cole and Brandon Graham should hold their own as stand-up rush 'backers, the Eagles lack a double team-commanding nose tackle to anchor. The Eagles should feel okay at end (Cullen Jenkins, Fletcher Cox) and inside linebacker (DeMeco Ryans, Mychal Kendricks).
S: Kurt Coleman would be covering punts on a team with a good secondary, and Nate Allen hasn't been the same since rupturing his patellar tendon in 2010. At the very least, the Eagles need one new starting safety. Kenny Phillips and Louis Delmas would be attractive free agent additions.
23. Buffalo Bills
QB: Incumbent starter Ryan Fitzpatrick will be released before his $3 million roster bonus comes due on March 13. New coach Doug Marrone subscribes to a run-first philosophy, which should theoretically allow Buffalo to ease in a rookie signal caller. The obvious pre-draft connection is Ryan Nassib, whom Marrone and first-year coordinator Nathaniel Hackett developed at Syracuse.
WR: "We want a guy who can go up and snatch the ball, that he’s open when he’s covered,” GM Buddy Nix explained after the season. “Go up and high point the ball and get it." The Bills envision $36 million receiver Stevie Johnson's future in the slot, and were involved in the Vincent Jackson bidding even after re-signing Johnson last offseason. Nix would probably love a Dwayne Bowe.
OG: The Bills could solidify this position for the long term by re-signing guard Andy Levitre, but he won't come cheap and intends to shop his wares. Top reserve Chad Rinehart is also a free agent. With Cordy Glenn and Chris Hairston at tackle, Eric Wood at center, and Kraig Urbik locked in at right guard, Levitre's left guard position is Buffalo's only real question mark on the line.
LB: GM Nix wants "a guy who can run and cover and can match up against a slot or a tight end" to play between Nick Barnett and Nigel Bradham. Buffalo has soured on 2011 third-rounder Kelvin Sheppard and is in the market for a middle linebacker. Free agency is bone dry at this position.
24. Cleveland Browns
LB: Phil Taylor, Billy Winn, Ahtyba Rubin, and John Hughes give new defensive coordinator Ray Horton intriguing options on the line. D'Qwell Jackson and James-Michael Johnson could be a formidable inside linebacker duo. Outside rush 'backers are essential in Horton's 3-4, however, and would-be defensive end convert Jabaal Sheard is the Browns' only realistic option there.
CB: Joe Haden is among the league's best cover guys at left corner, but 34-year-old right corner Sheldon Brown is a free agent and isn't expected back. The depth chart is rounded out by Buster Skrine, Trevin Wade, and Johnson Bademosi, none of whose performances will endear themselves to the new-look Browns on 2012 game tape. Horton likes big, physical press corners.
QB: By now, it's no secret that new Browns personnel boss Mike Lombardi is not a fan of 2012 first-round pick Brandon Weeden. Coming off a 14-touchdown, 17-pick rookie season, Weeden didn't do enough to enter camp locked in as the starter. Lombardi has long been a fan of Patriots backup Ryan Mallett, who is expected to be available for offseason trade. Perhaps Lombardi will dangle this year's 68th overall pick and a future second-rounder to acquire big-armed Mallett.
TE: It remains to be seen how new coach Rob Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner view Jordan Cameron. Ben Watson and Alex Smith are free agents, leaving athletic specimen Cameron -- an ex-basketball player -- atop Cleveland's tight end depth chart. Tight ends have consistently been an integral part of both Chudzinski and Turner's offenses through the years.
25. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
DE: Top defensive end Michael Bennett is scheduled for free agency, and would-be bookend Adrian Clayborn is coming off a torn ACL. 2011 second-round pick Da'Quan Bowers has yet to establish himself as a capable starter. The Bucs finished the season last in the NFC in sacks, exacerbating deficiencies in the back end. They must find a core pass rusher this offseason.
CB: A combination of no pass rush and utter lack of reliable cover men can quickly torpedo any pass defense. So it isn't surprising that the Bucs surrendered the most passing yards in the league in 2012. Top corner E.J. Biggers is up for free agency, and Eric Wright is expected to be released. Tampa Bay currently does not have a cornerback it can count on to be a 2013 starter.
QB: After a 2012 season that wasn't nearly as good as his stats suggest, Josh Freeman will enter a contract year without any plans from the Bucs to give him an extension. Freeman still struggles with accuracy and when surrounded by bodies, even if his vertical-passing arm is among the league's elite. GM Mark Dominik plans to upgrade the backup quarterback spot on Dan Orlovsky.
DT: Gerald McCoy is a difference-making three-technique tackle, but nose guard Roy Miller is an unrestricted free agent and defensive tackle already had depth concerns. Even if Miller re-signs, the Bucs could use a third interior lineman to bolster the rotation and provide productive snaps.
26. St. Louis Rams
OL: St. Louis fielded the most rag-tag offensive line in football last season and remains desperate for reliable, effective blockers. There isn't a position on the front five that couldn't use an upgrade. Only right guard Harvey Dahl and left tackle Rodger Saffold can be considered quality starters, and the latter is entering a contract year. Pricey center Scott Wells' right knee may be shot.
S: The Rams will need two new starting safeties if they release Quintin Mikell, which is expected. They'll happily let free agent free safety Craig Dahl walk. St. Louis has built one of the NFL's more promising cornerback depth charts, but the secondary has a ways to go before it's solidified.
LB: Middle man James Laurinaitis is St. Louis' only worthwhile every-down linebacker. Weak-side starter Jo-Lonn Dunbar was exposed as a 2012 pass defender, and strong-side 'backer Rocky McIntosh's contract has run out. Both outside positions should be open to competition in 2013.
WR: Seemingly an annual offseason need for the Rams, receiver is slowly getting better but not quite there yet. While 2012 fourth-round pick Chris Givens flashed big-play ability and separation skills, fellow rookie Brian Quick was slow to develop. Top receiver Danny Amendola is a free agent. If the Rams re-sign Amendola, it's still possible that they'll continue to build this position from within. They've certainly not yet soured on Quick, who was last year's 33rd overall pick.
27. Tennessee Titans
OL: Tennessee's tackle spots remain strong with Michael Roos on the left side and David Stewart on the right, but all three interior line positions have question marks. 35-year-old left guard Steve Hutchinson is a retirement candidate after knee surgery. Center Fernando Velasco is a restricted free agent, and right guard involved musical chairs in 2012 with Deuce Lutui and Leroy Harris both noticeably struggling. Interior penetration by defenses was a problem throughout the year.
S: The Titans' safety play was among the league's poorest last season. Free safety Michael Griffin's five-year, $35 million deal is looking regrettable in hindsight, and strong safety was a revolving door of Jordan Babineaux, Robert Johnson, and Al Afalava. Tennessee must fortify the latter position in particular, allowing Griffin to focus on covering centerfield. He is an awful tackler.
QB: It's fair to wonder if Jake Locker is the long-term quarterback answer in Nashville after he made no noticeable 2012 strides. If anything, Locker may have taken a step back. His accuracy hasn't improved since the University of Washington, and Locker will miss a chunk of offseason work while recovering from left (non-throwing) shoulder surgery. Backup Matt Hasselbeck, going on 38, has nothing left in his arm and probably will be cut due to a prohibitive $5.5 million salary.
RB: Chris Johnson is expected to return despite a whopping $10 million base salary, but the Titans have zero depth behind him. Javon Ringer is a free agent, and Jamie Harper is an upright plodder. Ideally, Tennessee would find a power back to complement finesse runner Johnson.
28. Kansas City Chiefs
QB: Matt Cassel won't see a penny of his $7.5 million salary. He'll likely be cut in February. Since the end of the regular season, a number of signs have pointed to Alex Smith being atop new coach Andy Reid's wish list. Smith -- or Kevin Kolb, if released by Arizona -- could serve as the Chiefs' band-aid quarterback as Reid develops a younger player with franchise-caliber potential.
CB: The Chiefs knew quickly that 2012 free-agent signing Stanford Routt was a bust. They cut him in early November, and usual slot corner Javier Arenas was stretched as Routt's replacement in the starting lineup. Top cornerback Brandon Flowers is signed through 2016, but Kansas City must find a capable starter opposite him. Jalil Brown is an underwhelming in-house candidate.
DE: Reid is keeping the 3-4 in place, but he'll have to renovate Kansas City's defensive line. Right end Glenn Dorsey is a free agent, and left end Tyson Jackson is a likely cap casualty due to a massive $14.72 million base salary. The Chiefs were consistently moved in the run game in 2012.
WR: The Chiefs can solidify receiver by re-signing Dwayne Bowe. Left tackle is another need area, but can be fortified if free agent Branden Albert returns healthy. Albert battled chronic back injuries last season. If those two players leave, tackle and wideout suddenly move near the top of Kansas City's team needs. 2011 first-round receiver Jon Baldwin has been a bust thus far, and there isn't another viable starting wideout on the roster. Likewise, there is no Albert replacement.
29. Arizona Cardinals
QB: A misfit for new coach Bruce Arians' vertical attack, Kevin Kolb figures to be cut ahead of his $2 million March 15 roster bonus. John Skelton isn't getting better, and Ryan Lindley is a long-term project. Among draft-eligible quarterbacks, big-armed Mike Glennon of N.C. State would best fit Arians' system. The Cardinals still must upgrade their line before installing a rookie QB.
OT: The Cards can get by with Lyle Sendlein, Daryn Colledge, and Nate Potter on the interior, but tackle is a major issue. Bobby Massie wasn't remotely ready to play as a rookie, and Levi Brown -- back from injury -- belongs at right tackle or guard. If Arizona doesn't deem a quarterback worthy of the No. 7 overall pick, Central Michigan's Eric Fisher would be quite nice as a fallback plan.
LB: New Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles' background is in the 4-3. Arizona currently has 3-4 personnel. If Bowles plans on changing the scheme, the Cards will need a weak-side end to rush opposite Calais Campbell, and at least one 4-3 outside 'backer. For the 4-3, Bowles might consider keeping Stewart Bradley to man the middle, with Daryl Washington on the weak side.
CB: With only right cornerback Patrick Peterson entrenched as a starter, Arizona has holes at left and slot corner. Incumbent starter William Gay is a prime release candidate, Michael Adams and Greg Toler are free agents, and 2012 third-rounder Jamell Fleming didn't show much as a rookie.
30. Jacksonville Jaguars
QB: The Jags finally have a pair of competent receivers in Cecil Shorts and Justin Blackmon, but they lack someone capable of consistently getting them the ball. Blaine Gabbert is a bust. Chad Henne is a career backup. Jacksonville will draft second overall in late April, and West Virginia's Geno Smith would be an awfully nice fit for new coordinator Jedd Fisch's West Coast offense.
CB: The Jaguars are headed for a makeover in the backend. Top corner Derek Cox and nickel back Rashean Mathis are both free agents, while Aaron Ross is a candidate to be released. New Jags coach Gus Bradley has a history of success with big, physical press-man cornerbacks who don't necessarily cost a lot of money or high picks. Bradley's corners need to be route disruptors.
LB: Jacksonville's defense got rag-dolled in the run game last season. Many of the failures can be attributed to poor play up front, but there are more holes to fill at linebacker. Stalwart strong-side 'backer Daryl Smith is a free agent after an injury-ruined season. Weak-side starter Russell Allen fared better in a utilityman role. The Jaguars need to find at least one new starting linebacker.
RB: Maurice Jones-Drew suffered a Lisfranc fracture early in the 2012 season. Backup Rashad Jennings flopped in the feature back role, before getting injured himself. Jennings is now a free agent and unlikely to be retained. Jones-Drew has a ton of wear on his tires and is coming off a serious injury. Jacksonville needs to begin thinking about MJD's long-term replacement.
31. New York Jets
QB: Where to begin. The Jets' roster disintegrated under since-fired GM Mike Tannenbaum to the point that it's arguably the worst collection of talent in football. Although Mark Sanchez is certain to return because Tannenbaum guaranteed his $8.25 million salary, the Jets would be better off never putting Sanchez on the field again. Due to cap concerns, New York will likely have to go cheap on a quarterback competitor, drafting one or scooping up a veteran off the scrap heap.
RB: Impending free agent Shonn Greene head-scratchingly set a career high for carries in 2012 despite rushing for a career-worst yards per attempt. He's not expected back, leaving fellow plodder Bilal Powell atop the depth chart. The Jets are desperate for an injection of burst and explosion in the backfield. They've twiddled their thumbs with faux "power backs" for far too long.
TE: Free agent Dustin Keller has all but begged out of New York and will likely depart for greener pastures. Backup Jeff Cumberland is a stiff-moving, upright tight end lacking field-stretching ability. The Jets need an athletic tight end and another wide receiver for their next quarterback.
OL: While center Nick Mangold, left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson, and right guard Brandon Moore are still going strong, right tackle and left guard are needy positions on the line. We didn't even get to defense, where New York is desperate for an edge rusher. Calvin Pace will almost certainly be cut. Safety is yet another problem area as starters LaRon Landry and Yeremiah Bell head to free agency. As alluded to previously, this Jets roster is a complete and utter mess.
32. Oakland Raiders
OL: Khalif Barnes and Willie Smith are turnstiles at right tackle. Right guard Mike Brisiel was signed for ex-offensive coordinator Greg Knapp's zone-blocking scheme, which has since been scrapped. Left guard Cooper Carlisle is going on age 36 and entering free agency. After the Raiders couldn't clear a running lane without a holding penalty in 2012, left tackle Jared Veldheer and center Stefen Wisniewski may be the only salvageable parts on this putrid offensive line.
CB: The Raiders got so desperate last year that they converted safety Michael Huff to cornerback during the season. Huff is moving back to safety, and Oakland doesn't have a single solid starting corner left on the roster. They’ll have to address this position in both free agency and the draft.
DE: Three Oakland defensive ends -- Lamarr Houston, Matt Shaughnessy, and Andre Carter -- played 300 or more snaps in 2012. The first is entering a contract year, and the latter two are offseason free agents. Lacking talent both at pass rusher and cornerback, the Raiders' pass defense is headed for another very long year. GM Reggie McKenzie will have to get creative.
LB: Strong-side linebacker Philip Wheeler was the Raiders' only quality starter at this position a year ago. Rolando McClain will be cut, while Miles Burris and Kaelin Burnett are projects. Oakland also needs an influx of talent at quarterback, tight end, and defensive tackle. This is the worst roster in the league.
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