Evan Silva

Offseason Low Down

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AFC Team Needs

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


The 2012 NFL draft is just 15 days away. Here's a look at the top three need positions for each team in the American Football Conference:

AFC East

Buffalo Bills

Offensive tackle: Buffalo has one of the league's poorest tackle situations with 2011 fourth-round pick Chris Hairston currently ticketed for Ryan Fitzpatrick's blind side, and journeyman Erik Pears on the right. Riley Reiff of Iowa would be a no-brainer pick for Buffalo if he fell to No. 10 overall.

Quarterback: The Bills aren't ready to turn the page despite back-to-back maddeningly slow finishes by Fitzpatrick, but they do need to start thinking about long-term stability at the most important position in sports. Fitzpatrick is owed $7.25 million in salary and bonuses next year.

Wide receiver: Re-signing Stevie Johnson was the Bills' first offseason priority, and they executed with a reasonable five-year, $36 million deal a week before the start of free agency. The Bills still need a field stretcher capable of taking the top off a defense and opening things up underneath.

Miami Dolphins

Quarterback: Matt Moore and David Garrard are passable backup types, but the Fins have lacked a franchise-caliber signal caller since Dan Marino retired. As the fan base becomes increasingly restless, GM Jeff Ireland must deliver a quality quarterback. His job may hang in the balance.

Defensive end: Transitioning from a 3-4 to 4-3 defense under new coordinator Kevin Coyle, the Dolphins need an edge rusher to book end Cameron Wake. If Miami can't get or doesn't want Ryan Tannehill at No. 8, North Carolina's Quinton Coples would be a logical fallback option.

Wide receiver: Brian Hartline, Davone Bess, and Clyde Gates would be the Dolphins' top three receivers if the season began today. Wideout-rich free agency has dried up, leaving Miami with only the draft and a tenuous trade market to upgrade the AFC's poorest pass-catching corps.

New England Patriots

Defensive end: Over the last 16 seasons, the Patriots have had just four defenders tally double-digit sacks. Andre Carter (2011) is a free agent, Mark Anderson (2011) has moved on to Buffalo, Tully Banta-Cain (2009) is out of the league, and Mike Vrabel (2007) is now a college coach.

Safety: New England signed Steve Gregory to a three-year, $7 million deal early in free agency, but he's always been best suited for a nickel safety and special teams role. A playmaking centerfield type would be a welcomed addition across from natural strong safety Pat Chung.

Running back: BenJarvus Green-Ellis wasn't a back-breaking loss after the Pats used second- and third-round picks on Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley in last year's draft. Vereen struggled to get on the field as a rookie, however, and Ridley's ball-security woes are a stumbling block. The Patriots will add competition to the backfield, possibly via trade or in the draft's middle rounds.

New York Jets

Running back: The Jets plan to be among the league's run-heaviest teams under new offensive coordinator Tony Sparano, but they don't have a back capable of reaching the perimeter. Shonn Greene is an ordinary talent, showing last year that he's far from the "bellcow" the club envisioned.

Outside linebacker: Calvin Pace is a solid starter, and Aaron Maybin flashed in nickel packages last season. But Rex Ryan lacks a Terrell Suggs-type, every-down edge rusher that would solidify his defense. Don't be surprised if New York trades up to draft South Carolina's Melvin Ingram.

Wide receiver: The Jets would feel a lot better about this position had Santonio Holmes not played poorly last season before throwing his quarterback under the bus. Chaz Schilens was signed in free agency, but has a checkered injury history and can't be relied upon as a starting NFL wideout.

AFC North

Baltimore Ravens

Wide receiver: Baltimore believes it found a long-term keeper in 2011 second-round pick Torrey Smith, but Anquan Boldin is entering his age-32 season and there is little to no depth behind the starters. LSU's Rueben Randle would be an intriguing possibility with the 29th overall selection.

Guard: The Ravens lost left guard Ben Grubbs in free agency, and they can't be comfortable with leading in-house candidate Jah Reid, a college tackle who stands 6-foot-7. With center Matt Birk going on age 36, Baltimore will almost certainly use an early-round pick on an interior lineman.

Running back: Ray Rice is sporting an unsigned franchise tag, and the Ravens could create leverage in contract talks by adding a middle-round rookie back. At the very least, Baltimore must find insurance at the position. Rice already has 1,345 career touches, including playoff workloads.

Cincinnati Bengals

Defensive back: Cornerback was already a position of need in Cincy, and strong safety became one when the Bengals released Chris Crocker last week. Expect at least one, if not both of the Bengals' first-round picks to be used on secondary help. Corner is the slightly bigger priority.

Wide receiver: Jordan Shipley is returning from a torn ACL, but he's a slot receiver only and the Bengals need another perimeter player to attract defensive attention away from A.J. Green's side. Baylor's Kendall Wright could be awfully tempting if he slips to the Bengals' choice at 21st overall.

Guard: The Bengals' right guard spot is vacant as incumbent Bobby Williams remains unsigned in free agency. Clint Boling is an in-house option, but was benched quickly last season after starting Week 1. Some pre-draft buzz has connected Cincinnati to Stanford's David DeCastro.

Cleveland Browns

Quarterback: Colt McCoy has impressive intangibles, but his physical skill set falls well short of starting-caliber. Because they play home games outdoors in northern Ohio, the Browns' quarterback must possess above-average arm power. Look for Cleveland to use either the 22nd or 37th selection on a signal caller. Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden is a strong possibility.

Running back: The Browns made little or no attempt to re-sign Peyton Hillis, and 2010 second-rounder Montario Hardesty may not be long for the league. Alabama running back Trent Richardson has emerged as the heavy favorite to be Cleveland's selection at No. 4 overall.

Wide receiver: Greg Little showed some flashes in the slot during his rookie year, but the Browns lack outside receivers capable of drawing double teams and making plays downfield. The needs in Cleveland don't end here. They need a right tackle and another pass rusher, as well.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Offensive line: Ben Roethlisberger tends to mask many deficiencies, but it's no secret that the Steelers' front five struggles in pass protection. Ideally, Pittsburgh would land a long-term left tackle in the draft, allowing Marcus Gilbert to stay at right tackle and Willie Colon to play guard.

Defensive tackle: Pro Bowl nose tackle Casey Hampton is entering the last year of his contract at age 35 while returning from a torn ACL. He's no lock to avoid the PUP list. The Steelers prefer immovable run pluggers on the nose as opposed to gap shooters, and those don't grow on trees.

Running back: The Steelers aren't counting on Rashard Mendenhall (torn ACL) to be ready for Week 1, and Isaac Redman is only a stopgap solution. At the very least, Pittsburgh must find a complementary back in the draft. They've shown interest in Cincinnati speedster Isaiah Pead.


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Evan Silva is a senior football editor for Rotoworld.com. He can be found on Twitter .
Email :Evan Silva



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