NFC Team NeedsWednesday, April 11, 2012
Offensive line: Atlanta still hasn't recovered from reaching for Sam Baker in the first round of the 2008 draft. He hasn't panned out at left tackle, and right guard was another trouble spot all last season. The Falcons are aware of their offensive line deficiencies. Although neither player was signed, the team scheduled free agent visits with Demetress Bell and Marcus McNeill.
Defensive end: The Falcons are bringing back all of the same ends that combined to rank 22nd in the league in sacks. Atlanta must get more pressure off the edge. Perhaps another year in the system will kickstart left end Ray Edwards, but he should face competition for his job.
Running back: Tailback is rarely thought of as a weakness in Atlanta based on Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers' big-name appeal. Rodgers is just a scatback, though, and Turner's on-field performance is eroding rapidly at age 30. He limits the offense with an inability to play on passing downs. Atlanta has shown interest in Virginia Tech's David Wilson as a second-round possibility.
Cornerback: Chris Gamble enjoyed a bounce-back season in Sean McDermott's defense last year, but Captain Munnerlyn and Darius Butler represent significant drop-offs on the other side. Don't be shocked if the Panthers reach for or trade down to draft local product Stephon Gilmore.
Defensive end: Charles Johnson has one end spot on lockdown, but the Panthers can't count on Greg Hardy's mental fragility, and there is little to no depth behind them. North Carolina's Quinton Coples and South Carolina's Melvin Ingram would both be appealing options with the No. 9 pick.
Defensive tackle: The Panthers spent two third-round picks on defensive tackles last year, but Terrell McClain and Sione Fua did little to suggest they're long-term answers at the position. Coples or Ingram could help here because they rush from the interior on passing downs.
New Orleans Saints
Defensive end: Outgoing defensive boss Gregg Williams blitzed more than any coach in the league last season, but it resulted in only 37 sacks in 18 games, including the playoffs. The Saints need a pressure player to complement and spell weak-side defensive end Will Smith.
Cornerback: Jabari Greer and Patrick Robinson are quality starters for new coordinator Steve Spagnuolo's defense, but New Orleans took a depth blow when Tracy Porter bolted to Denver in free agency. The Saints won't hand the nickel back job to untested Johnny Patrick.
Center: Brian De La Puente proved an upgrade after Olin Kreutz's in-season retirement a year ago, but that wasn't saying much. De La Puente is undersized, lacks pop as a run blocker, and would ideally be a backup. The Saints will likely use a late-round pick on a developmental center.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Running back: LeGarrette Blount's inability to play in passing situations held the Bucs' offense hostage for much of last season, and they need a more versatile back to push Blount into a situational early-down thumper role. Trent Richardson would be the ideal pick at No. 5 overall.
Defensive tackle: The Bucs are unable to stop the run, and Greg Schiano will take that more seriously than former coach Raheem Morris. Gerald McCoy is solidly a part of Schiano's long-term plans, but Brian Price and Roy Miller should consider themselves on notice.
Linebacker: Corner and safety are also positions that could use upgrades in Tampa, but a sure-tackling linebacker is needed to replace old weak-side starter Geno Hayes, who remains unsigned. Nebraska's Lavonte David could fix that problem at the price of a second-round pick.
Offensive line: Kevin Kolb's skittish pocket presence mixes poorly with a line that can't protect him. The Cards think highly of Stanford right guard David DeCastro. If DeCastro goes off the board before the 13th pick, versatile Cordy Glenn of Georgia would be a fine fallback target.
Wide receiver: Larry Fitzgerald is a true No. 1 and Early Doucet has a physical presence in the slot, but Arizona lacks an outside receiver capable of capitalizing on man coverage. Recent buzz has the Cardinals perhaps considering Notre Dame's Michael Floyd if he makes it to No. 13.
Outside linebacker: O'Brien Schofield, 25, and Sam Acho, 23, are promising young pass rushers, but the Cardinals have practice-squad types behind them on the depth chart. Arizona will almost certainly add talent at outside 'backer, even if it's in the middle to later rounds of the draft.
San Francisco 49ers
Guard: Chilo Rachal began last year as the Niners' starting right guard, but was quickly benched for Adam Snyder. Snyder is gone to the division-rival Cardinals, and Rachal remains unsigned in free agency. San Francisco runs a power-blocking scheme and is in the market for a mauler.
Wide receiver: The receiver depth chart is thick for 2012, but Ted Ginn and Randy Moss are working on one-year deals. Mario Manningham and Michael Crabtree are signed only through the following season. If he sees good draft-day value at wideout, GM Trent Baalke will pounce.
Defensive line: The 49ers return all three D-Line starters, but nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga and right end Justin Smith are both on the wrong side of 30. Improved up-front depth couldn't hurt a team that prides itself on winning in the trenches. San Francisco figures to address it in the late rounds.
Linebacker: The Seahawks wouldn't overpay to retain middle linebacker David Hawthorne. Barrett Ruud is no more than a short-term fix, and a weak one at that. With Leroy Hill still toiling in free agency, Seattle has room to add two starting linebackers through the draft.
Defensive end: Seattle's only legit edge rusher is Chris Clemons, and he's entering a contract year at age 31. Left end Red Bryant comes off the field on most passing downs. It would be nice for the Seahawks to be able to replace him in those situations with a pressure-causing rusher.
Cornerback: Brandon Browner flashed big-play ability after the Seahawks signed him away from the CFL, but he's prone to blown coverages and was the NFC's most penalized cornerback. He may not be long for a starting job. Don't be shocked if Seattle drafts a corner with the 12th pick.
St. Louis Rams
Wide receiver: The Rams haven't had a mainstay receiver with downfield separation skills since Torry Holt's knees gave out following the 2008 season. St. Louis is also pursuing run-after-catch ability in its next go-to target. Most mock drafts have them selecting Justin Blackmon at No. 6.
Offensive line: Right tackle Jason Smith has been a colossal bust as the former second pick in the draft, and left tackle Rodger Saffold is coming off a miserable season. Left guard is wide open. The Rams have five picks in the top 100. Expect two to be used on offensive linemen.
Linebacker: The Rams have James Laurinaitis in the middle, and then a cast of no-names on the outside. Jo-Lonn Dunbar signed a small deal in free agency, but is better suited as a special teamer. On a bad Rams roster, outside corner and safety help would additionally be welcomed.