I recently wrote about each NFC team’s biggest draft needs to address this year. Now it is time for the AFC edition. I found the AFC a bit more interesting because I noticed that there were more teams with numerous deficiencies. I had to look at these teams from multiple angles to decide what was more pressing, and that made it more difficult. I was questioning my decision a few times, and actually changed my answer on a couple during my final editing. So feel free to disagree. I already am starting to disagree on a couple myself.
Baltimore Ravens – Linebacker
Ray Lewis retired, Dannell Ellerbe left for Miami, and Courtney Upshaw is still unproven. That leaves few spots very vacant. Add in the cumulative loss of Ed Reed and Paul Kruger, and this defense needs to start a youth movement on that side of the ball. That doesn’t even take into account the loss of leadership those veterans used to bring. Linebacker is the usual leadership role on the defense, so Baltimore would be wise to at least attempt to bring in some fresh blood.
Cincinnati Bengals- Safety
While the Bengals offense continues to improve with the likes of AJ Green and Andy Dalton leading them, the defense hasn’t seen the same improvement. I considered listing linebacker as the biggest need, but the emergence of Vontaze Burfict and retention of Rey Maualuga makes it a secondary need. Speaking of secondary, last year’s pick Dre Kirkpatrick missed most of the year due to injury, but the safety was the larger issue. Reggie Nelson is not a bad player, but Taylor Mays is better suited as a backup and special teamer. Adding a starting caliber safety would do wonders for this defense.
Cleveland Browns- Defensive Back
With a new regime in place, there are many positions that seem to need upgrades. However, it has become obvious that outside of Joe Haden, there is no depth to the Browns defensive backfield. It does not necessarily warrant a first round selection, but with Cleveland lacking a second round pick, getting an impact player at the position becomes far more difficult. New Head Coach Rod Chudzinski has a quandary on his hands.
Pittsburgh Steelers- Linebacker
James Harrison is gone. And Larry Foote is aging rapidly. The Steelers need a new impact linebacker and pass rusher. A team that was once a defensive powerhouse is aging rapidly and fading from the limelight. While having some up and coming talent on offense, they certainly could use some younger defensive stars. Picking right in the middle of the first round would allow Pittsburgh the opportunity to fix almost any area, but linebacker should be top priority. Teams don’t win without a pass rush, and Pittsburgh is losing that edge.
Houston Texans – Wide Receiver
Andre Johnson has been among the best receivers since he entered the NFL. Sadly though, we are beginning to see the wear and tear take its toll. He has missed many games over the past two seasons, and the Texans’ offense has struggled to find a suitable number two guy behind him. Last year’s selection DeVier Posey shows promise, but promise isn’t enough for a team in Super Bowl contention. It may be time to bring in both a number two guy and the heir to Johnson’s throne. This class appears pretty deep in suitable players for Houston, so a first round selection is not a sure thing, but if a guy falls, expect the Texans to pounce.
Indianapolis Colts – Defensive Line
Last season the Colts waiting until the 5th round to select a defensive player. That was a bit of a risk seeing as the team was switching to a 3-4 defense under new coach Chuck Pagano, but it obviously worked out well as the team made the playoffs. However, I don’t see them waiting nearly as long in this years draft. The defensive line of a 3-4 often gets overlooked (unless your name is J.J. Watt) but it is imperative to the success of the defense. They are the run stoppers, the block hoarders, and can be a complementary (again, unless you are Watt) pass rusher. Getting some new anchors would make this a very scary team indeed.
Jacksonville Jaguars – Defensive End
Jacksonville has numerous problems that need to be addressed before they will be able to compete in the surprisingly strong AFC South. However, given the state of the other teams’ offenses, getting an elite pass rusher has to be a top concern. The Jaguars need to find a defensive end that can generate pressure and make the life of the other defensive lineman easier. Now Jacksonville doesn’t need to use the second overall pick on one if management isn’t comfortable with any of the available players there because the team does have the 33rd overall pick. At least one rusher should be joining the Jags early in the draft though, if not more.
Tennessee Titans – Offensive Line
Some people had pegged the Titans as a potential dark horse team to emerge out of the AFC last season. That clearly did not happen. And while the entire defense appeared to be in shambles all last year, Tennessee’s top priority still needs to be the protection of Jake Locker. The signing of Andy Levitre is a solid start, but his surrounding cast could use some work. It could also help Chris Johnson make good on his outlandish statement…But that still won’t happen.
Buffalo Bills – Offensive Line
The loss of Andy Levitre is a huge blow to a team that already needed some help on the line. He is a talented guard. Replacing him, as well as adding some competition on the right side of the line is imperative for a team based around strong offensive play. I wouldn’t be surprised if the first or second pick was used on a quarterback, but the other selection needs to be offensive line. The Bills need to catch two teams now, with Miami taking great strides last season. Getting those two areas fixed could make this offense a serious contender for this division.
Miami Dolphins – Offensive Tackle
The performance of Jonathan Martin might help alleviate the loss of Jake Long somewhat, but Miami needs to find Martin’s counterpart soon if they don’t want Ryan Tannehill throwing from his back all next season. Miami could compete in a weak AFC East this year if the new additions contribute the way they are expected to, but that won’t happen without a solid offensive line to lead it. The Dolphins do have 12th pick and would be able to address the issue right away. I think that would be smart, but if Miami can’t get one of the elite tackles, or has an eye for somebody else, the second round had been kind for offensive tackles in the past, and this year should be no different.
New England Patriots – Defensive Tackle
The offense is still strong, despite losing Wes Welker, so I think the Patriots continue to try to make the defense stronger. Last year the New England added a defensive end and a linebacker in the first round, as well as trading for a quality cornerback. So I think it is time to get a young defensive tackle. Luckily, the signing of Tommy Kelly and presence of Vince Wilfork will allow the Patriots to groom whoever is drafted into the role. The team has picks in the first, second, third, and seventh rounds, so I assume a defensive tackle will go in the first three to the Patriots. If New England is able to get a winner, the defense could be strong for years to come.
New York Jets – Quarterback
Do I really need to explain this one? Fine. Butt fumble. That ought to do it. To be serious though, The new Jets regime need to move on from Mark Sanchez. It is that simple. I believe that they should get somebody right away to try to leave the past few seasons behind them. A new signal caller is clearly in the mix in New York, but if the Jets decide to wait until after the Rex Ryan era is over, they will only alienate an already upset fanbase further. And a team that has another team in the same city cannot afford to do that.
Denver Broncos – Defensive End
Denver’s offense seems even more stout with the addition of Wes Welker, so I think the team is going to go defense with this draft. The defensive backs are aging, but the addition of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie will allow Denver to wait in that area. So I believe the Broncos will add a replacement for Elvis Dumervil. Getting a young, competent pass rusher opposite Von Miller will make that pass rush a nightmare for years to come. However, with the roster being as stout as it is, there is no need to reach for players if there is no prospect management likes at the 28th pick. Don’t be surprised if there is a trade up either. Denver has options this draft.
Kansas City Chiefs – Offensive Line
The addition of Alex Smith makes is great news for Chiefs fans, but now it is time to protect him. Kansas City signed guard Geoff Schwartz, and franchised Brandon Albert as well. Neither of these moves are great though, as Schwartz was a backup all last season and Albert appears to be disgruntled by the lack of communication. So with the first pick, expect the Chiefs to go tackle, especially because the team no longer has a second round pick. A trade down wouldn’t be out of the question, but I don’t know if there will be any takers, as the draft lacks the clear number one prospect.
Oakland Raiders – Defensive Tackle
Oakland has many needs to fill, and not enough picks to fill them all. However, one of the largest needs the team has is replacing Desmond Bryant who signed with Cleveland. A player that generates pressure up the middle makes the rest of the line better. There are many thoughts on where the Raiders could go with the 3rd selection, and honestly any of them would be fine. However, with no second round selection due to the incredibly one sided Carson Palmer trade, not fixing defensive tackle in the first means that Oakland isn’t likely to fix it this season. I don’t know if the Raiders should take that risk.
San Diego Chargers – Wide Receiver
This appears to be Philip Rivers’ last chance to be the Chargers’ starter. Even if the team is planning on moving on from Rivers, getting a new receiving option would be very wise, as the loss of Vincent Jackson was extremely apparent last year. Getting somebody who can learn the offense and get up to speed this year would be smart, as he would be able to help the new signal caller much more. Luckily, the Chargers don’t need to force this pick, as picking at 11 gives the team options. I think San Diego actually will wait until later to get a receiver though, as it is a deeper receiver class than at other positions of need. I don’t envision a trade in store for the Chargers though, as I don’t see any prospect that they will be desperate enough to get to move up.