NFC Team NeedsWednesday, April 11, 2012
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The 2012 NFL draft is under two weeks away. Here's a look at the top three need positions for each team in the National Football Conference:
Outside linebacker: Dallas placed the franchise tag on Anthony Spencer, but he's underwhelmed as a pass rusher and is only under control through 2012. The Cowboys need to start thinking about an upgrade. They've met with Courtney Upshaw (Alabama) and Ronnell Lewis (Oklahoma).
Offensive line: The Cowboys signed Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau as projected starting guards, but Bernadeau couldn't get on the field for Carolina last year and Livings has long been a replacement-level blocker. Creating competition for error-prone center Phil Costa is another must.
Running back: DeMarco Murray and Felix Jones form a good-looking two-deep on paper, but Murray hasn't stayed out of the trainers room since high school and Jones isn't exactly durable himself. A big, versatile back with pass-protection skills would be a welcomed addition in Dallas.
New York Giants
Running back: D.J. Ware can pick up the blitz and 2011 seventh-round pick Da'Rel Scott flashed playmaking ability last preseason, but the Giants can't feel comfortable with their backfield behind Ahmad Bradshaw. Look for New York to invest an early- to mid-round pick on a power runner.
Tight end: Incumbents Jake Ballard and Travis Beckum likely won't be ready for the start of the season after tearing ACLs in Super Bowl XLVI. Signed to a one-year deal in March, Martellus Bennett has been primarily a blocker in the NFL and may be no more than a short-term fix.
Inside linebacker: The Giants haven't re-signed Jonathan Goff and Chase Blackburn, suggesting they'll target middle linebackers on draft weekend. Luke Kuechly of Boston College would be the apple of their eye. After the Keith Rivers trade, another option would be kicking Michael Boley inside.
Outside linebacker: The Eagles shored up middle linebacker in the DeMeco Ryans trade, but they still lack outside 'backers with quality range and sure-tackling ability. Philly doesn't traditionally place marquee value on linebackers, so it may wait for the middle rounds to draft one.
Defensive back: Asante Samuel will be traded or cut before the draft. The Eagles used a second-round pick on safety Jaiquawn Jarrett last year, but he struggled mightily. Philadelphia may use multiple picks on defensive backs, targeting press-man corners and physical strong-safety types.
Offensive line: Left tackle Jason Peters (Achilles') won't be playing ball in 2012, and Demetress Bell's "five-year, $35 million contract" is really only for one season and $3.25 million. The Eagles have a nice core group on the interior, but tackle is a big long-term concern in Philadelphia.
Quarterback: Rex Grossman, John Beck, and Jonathan Crompton are Washington's only QBs under contract for 2012. They'll use the second pick in the draft on Baylor's Robert Griffin III.
Inside linebacker: The Redskins still figure to re-sign London Fletcher at some point, but their lack of urgency to do so suggests he's not part of the organization's long-term plans. Realistically, Fletcher can't be going on age 37. Washington has no depth at inside linebacker.
Offensive line: Left guard Kory Lichtensteiger is coming off multiple torn knee ligaments. Right tackle Jammal Brown has chronic hip and groin problems. Left tackle Trent Williams was suspended last season. Talent infusion is absolutely critical for the Redskins' offensive line.
Defensive end: The Bears reluctantly re-signed Israel Idonije, who they view as more of a two-down run defender with special teams value. An explosive bookend for Julius Peppers would make Chicago's defense much more dangerous. They've flirted with West Virginia's Bruce Irvin.
Wide receiver: Brandon Marshall gives Chicago the No. 1 receiver it has lacked for decades, but Marshall is more of a physical, possession threat than vertical game changer. While Earl Bennett is solid in the slot, the Bears could use a field stretcher who creates separation downfield.
Offensive line: Chicago seems to be much higher on the talent in its front five than recent on-field production indicates. No team has allowed more sacks over the past two seasons. At the very least, the Bears need to use late-round picks on tackle and guard prospects with upside.
Cornerback: The Lions' lone surefire starter is Chris Houston, whose shoulder injuries have become chronic and is only signed through 2012. Aaron Berry and Alphonso Smith would be sub-package corners in a good defense. Detroit will address this position early in the draft.
Offensive tackle: The Lions should consider themselves lucky to have gotten so many years out of left tackle Jeff Backus, whose body is breaking down going on age 35. Right tackle Gosder Cherilus is a below-average starter in a contract year. It's past time to find new blood.
Running back: It's a pain in the neck that this remains a problem area after the Lions used first- and second-round picks on Jahvid Best and Mikel Leshoure. But it is. Detroit's top three backs, Kevin Smith included, have major health concerns, and Leshoure is an off-field disaster.
Green Bay Packers
Outside linebacker: Clay Matthews' 2011 production slipped because opponents zeroed in on stopping him. Often double teamed by blockers, Matthews posted career lows in tackles (50) and sacks (6). The Packers need a better rusher opposite him to distract offensive attention.
Defensive end: 2010 second-round pick Mike Neal is fast headed for bust status, while Jarius Wynn and C.J. Wilson are "just guys." Newly signed Anthony Hargrove is more of a nickel-down interior pass rusher. The Packers still haven't found a viable replacement for Cullen Jenkins.
Running back: Green Bay could add a new dimension to its offense with an explosive youngster like David Wilson or Lamar Miller in the second round. James Starks is a versatile big back, but plays at a pedestrian speed. The Packers have made no attempt to keep free agent Ryan Grant.
Offensive tackle: The Vikes trotted out perhaps the league's poorest blind-side protection last season, and Christian Ponder unsurprisingly got happy feet late in the year. Minnesota should have to be blown away with a trade offer to pass up the opportunity to select USC's Matt Kalil.
Wide receiver: Percy Harvin is a playmaker in the slot, but Minnesota lacks perimeter field stretchers capable of opening up the middle of the field. Devin Aromashodu and Michael Jenkins are not answers. The Vikings are lucky that receiver is the deepest position in this class.
Defensive back: Cornerback and safety are both weaknesses in Minnesota's defense. Jamarca Sanford and Mistral Raymond, each special teamers at their finest, would be the Vikings' starting safeties if the season began today. At corner, Antoine Winfield is 35 with recurring neck injuries. Chris Cook is a major off-field risk, and Asher Allen is far from an NFL starter.