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NFL Draft: NFC division-by-division team needs


A look at each NFC team's most pressing personnel issues with an eye on the 2011 NFL Draft:


Dallas Cowboys

1. Cornerback: The Cowboys could easily take a cornerback at the top of the draft with LSU's Patrick Peterson and Nebraska's Prince Amukamara at the top of the wish list when they pick ninth. Mike Jenkins had a bad season but he is young and still has a bright future. Terence Newman is aging and will be gone next season if not this one. The Cowboys see Orlando Scandrick as a third corner, not a starter.

2. Tackle: The Cowboys might have made a mistake letting Flozell Adams go; he would have been better at right tackle than Marc Colombo. The team must address the position by either moving Doug Free back to right tackle and drafting a left tackle or signing a right tackle to replace Colombo. Age and injuries have rendered him ineffective.

3. Safety: The Cowboys made an ill-advised leap of faith trusting Alan Ball at free safety. He made few plays on the ball and was a liability in run support. The team has several low-round rookies who have promise but can no longer gamble that they have someone who will develop as a full-time starter. They must find a productive player at the position either in free agency or in the first few rounds of the draft.

New York Giants

1. Linebacker: The Giants didn't get much in terms of production from the trio of Michael Boley, Jonathan Goff and Keith Bulluck, though it should be noted that they played their three-safety package more than initially anticipated, which usually removed Bulluck from the field. Still, considering the number of snaps Boley and Goff logged, the two of them finished fifth and sixth in total tackles and had two sacks and zero interceptions between them. With Bulluck one of several veterans at the position -- the others are backups Gerris Wilkinson and Chase Blackburn -- in need of a new contract, it would be surprising if the Giants don't look for a talent upgrade on a unit that came up short in the big-play department.

2. Cornerback: While the Giants appear set with starters Corey Webster and Terrell Thomas, third corner Aaron Ross had a subpar year, a foot ailment apparently robbing him of his speed and quickness. When healthy, Ross is a serviceable corner, but two straight injury-filled years to his legs have started to catch up with him. Since the Giants place such a high premium on corners and since Reese expressed his unhappiness with the number of big plays given up on the back end of the defense, this position seems destined to be addressed.

3. Offensive tackle: Shawn Andrews showed some encouraging signs when he lined up at left tackle. However, his back problems, which flared up again and resulted in a hospital stay, coupled with the fact that he's due a $3 million base salary and a $3.5 million roster bonus due on the 30th day of the league year might make him too big of a risk to carry if the salary cap returns. The Giants have not abandoned hope that Will Beatty might be able to earn a starting spot at left tackle, which if it happens, would see David Diehl moving inside to guard. With Kareem McKenzie on the other side -- he's entering the final year of his contact -- the Giants' depth at the position right now is virtually non-existent.

4. Running back: The Giants probably won't be able to keep both Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw, as with Bradshaw in line for a new contract, it's highly unlikely that he'd accept less than Jacobs' scheduled non-guaranteed $3.65 million base salary if he's going to be the starter. DJ Ware showed some flashes in limited opportunities, and the Giants added a couple of free agents last month, Charles Scott and Martell Mallett, but it remains to be seen how well each does with handling the blitz pickup and with navigating through traffic.

Philadelphia Eagles

1. Cornerback: The Eagles need another top cornerback on the right side to pair with Pro-Bowl left corner Asante Samuel. Ellis Hobbs isn't expected back after suffering a second career-threatening neck injury. Dimitri Patterson, who replaced him, is better suited for a backup role. Rookie Trevard Lindley showed some promise but didn't get on the field much.

2. Defensive end: The Eagles' pass rush petered out in the second half of the season as Trent Cole and Juqua Parker ran out of gas. Rookie Brandon Graham tore his ACL in December and probably won't be ready for the start of next season.

3. Offensive tackle: The right side of the line was a big problem last year. If injured center Jamaal Jackson comes back from his triceps injury, his replacement, Mike McGlynn, could move over to guard. But right tackle Winston Justice just isn't strong enough to handle the bull rushes of the league's top left ends.

4. Safety: Strong safety Quintin Mikell is 30 and a free agent. Rookie free safety Nate Allen is coming off a patellar tendon injury. Rookie seventh-rounder Kurt Coleman stepped in and did a decent job as Allen's replacement. But at the very least, they need to add depth here.

Washington Redskins

1. Quarterback: Donovan McNabb had the worst season of his 11 as a starter during his Washington debut and won't be back. Rex Grossman is a caretaker until a likely first-round draft pick is ready to play.

2. Nose tackle: Coordinator Jim Haslett said the nose is the key to his 3-4 defense. After Albert Haynesworth refused to play the position, Ma'ake Kemoeatu was a bust coming off an Achilles injury and doesn't figure to return. Late-season starter Anthony Bryant might get a shot, but Washington needs a force at this spot.

3. Pass rusher: Brian Orakpo was better as a rookie when he had Andre Carter drawing blockers on the opposite side. Carter's failed transition to outside linebacker left Lorenzo Alexander, who's not a pass rusher, as the starter and Orakpo was double-teamed all season.

4. Guard/center: Neither left guard Kory Lichtensteiger nor right guard Will Montgomery, each a first-year starter in 2010, figures to be a long-term answer. Center Casey Rabach, who'll be 34 in September, is nearing the end.

5. Kicker/punter: In his first full season, Graham Gano was the NFL's least accurate kicker of 2010. The Redskins also ranked last in punting. Sam Paulescu finished the season with the job.


Chicago Bears

1. Offensive line: Center Olin Kreutz and right guard Roberto Garza can't go on forever. There is some youth, but left guard Chris Williams and right tackle J'Marcus Webb are already starting, and no one else is proven. Left tackle Frank Omiyale got better over the course of the season, but there is still room for improvement.

2. Defensive tackle: Anthony Adams is unrestricted and Tommie Harris hasn't played well enough to earn another roster bonus due in March, but the Bears have already paid him the majority of his bonus money so he has a chance to be back. Marcus Harrison has been a career underachiever, but solid, blue-collar worker Matt Toeaina was given a contract extension.

3. Wide receiver: There is some big-play ability here, especially with Johnny Knox and Devin Hester, and Earl Bennett is a solid and reliable possession guy, but there is a crying need for a big, physical player who can win jump balls.

4. Running back: A young backup for Matt Forte is needed. Chester Taylor, 31, got old in a hurry, and there would be a big dropoff to Garrett Wolfe and Kahlil Bell.

Detroit Lions

1. Outside linebacker: It was one of two units that was never stabilized last season. The Lions used six different starters. They also used five different starters at middle linebacker because of Levy's lingering injuries.

2. Cornerback: The Lions have put a priority on re-signing Chris Houston. They also have a stable of corners who have, for varying reasons, never quite lived up to their potential. Alphonso Smith will be given every opportunity to win a starting spot. Others like Aaron Berry, Brandon McDonald, Tye Hill and Prince Miller are also in the mix.

3. Wide receiver: The cupboard gets bare in a hurry after Calvin Johnson and Nate Burleson. Bryant Johnson, who has one year and $3 million left on his contract, was frustratingly unproductive this season. His three receptions in the finale probably weren't enough to change the Lions' thinking on this. Former third-round pick Derrick Williams was also a bust.

4. Offensive linemen: Do not be surprised if the Lions use their 13th overall pick to take an offensive lineman; early projections show the best available player at the spot might be one. And even though the Lions will return their line intact, players like LT Jeff Backus and C Dominic Raiola are approaching the end of their careers.

Green Bay Packers

1. Kick returner: This was the weak link of the Super Bowl champions, who rolled through four players on kickoffs with subpar results. The Packers last had a kickoff return for a touchdown in 2000. What's more, Tramon Williams wasn't dynamic on punt returns and is too valuable as a top cornerback to pull double duty.

2. Defensive end: The team could have a big void in the starting lineup if effective pass rusher Cullen Jenkins leaves as a prospective free agent. Aging Ryan Pickett is the other starting end. So, the Packers, for now, are banking on talented Mike Neal, a second-round draft pick last year, and possibly Justin Harrell, the disappointing first-round choice in 2007, to return from season-ending injuries.

3. Offensive tackle: Green Bay identified a successor to left tackle Chad Clifton when it took Bryan Bulaga in the first round last year. Bulaga, though, settled in at right tackle after replacing injured Mark Tauscher early in the season. Clifton probably is good for one more season, but the Packers must zero in on having their right tackle of the future once the time comes to move Bulaga to his natural spot.

4. Running back: The late-season emergence of rookie James Starks, who rushed for 315 yards in the playoffs, sets up an intriguing battle with incumbent Ryan Grant for the starting role. The unknown is whether Grant, 28, will be back to his old form as a productive runner after suffering a season-ending ankle injury on opening day. Also, dependable backup Brandon Jackson is a prospective free agent.

Minnesota Vikings

1. Quarterback: Brett Favre is gone and although Joe Webb finished the season as the starter, the original plan was for him to be moved to wide receiver in the NFL. This spot will be the primary focus during the offseason.

2. Safety: Madieu Williams hasn't lived up to expectations since signing a big free-agent contract in 2008. Husain Abdullah beat out 2008 second-round pick Tyrell Johnson and 2009 seventh-round pick Jamarca Sanford for the other starting job last season. There could be a definite move to upgrade here.

3. Cornerback: Antoine Winfield isn't getting any younger and Cedric Griffin has torn the ACL in both knees the past two years. Asher Allen, a third-round pick in 2009, saw plenty of time last season and 2010 second-round pick Chris Cook battled injuries as a rookie. The Vikings have some depth here but found you can never have enough.

4. Wide receiver: Sidney Rice's potential departure as a free agent and the chance that Bernard Berrian will be released means the Vikings could be in the market for help at this spot. Percy Harvin is best suited to play the slot, so getting some assistance on the outside might become a priority.

5. Center: John Sullivan was the starter for a second consecutive year and was backed up by Jon Cooper, signed as an undrafted free agent out of Oklahoma in 2009. It wouldn't be a surprise to see the Vikings attempt to get bigger at this spot.


Atlanta Falcons

1. Defensive end: John Abraham registered 13 sacks, while Kroy Biermann, Jamaal Anderson and Chauncey Davis combined for just six. Abraham also turns 33 this offseason and is entering the final year of his contract.

2. Linebacker: The Falcons could lose Stephen Nicholas in free agency and Mike Peterson turns 35. The Falcons are set in the middle with Curtis Lofton and on the strong side with second-year man Sean Weatherspoon.

3. Wide receiver: Mike Jenkins and Harry Douglas did not get enough plays opposite of Roddy White. When left in single coverage, they need to win more battles. Maryland's Torrey Smith is an interesting prospect who could be available in the first round.

4. Cornerback: While Brent Grimes has developed into a Pro Bowl cornerback, the Falcons' nickel back spot was exposed in the playoffs. Christopher Owens has more work to do and Dominique Franks has potential.

5. Tight end: Tony Gonzalez is coming back to play the final year of his contract. His heir apparent is clearly not on the roster. The Falcons would like to get someone in to train under him for at least a year.

Carolina Panthers

1. Quarterback: Even general manager Marty Hurney admits finding stability at the quarterback position is the team's most pressing need. Jimmy Clausen was 1-9 as a starter last season and had just three touchdown passes in those games. The Panthers planned to take Andrew Luck of Stanford with the No. 1 pick in the draft, but he decided to stay in school. Auburn's Cam Newton is a possibility for the Panthers, but might be a stretch at No. 1 given his raw skills. He's more of an option if the team were to trade down. Look for the Panthers to solidify this position either in the free-agent market or via trade.

2. Defensive tackle: The Panthers finished up with Derek Landri and Nick Hayden as their starting defensive tackles last season and former defensive line coach Brian Baker admitted the team desperately needs to upgrade here. Auburn's Nick Fairley seems to be the likely pick for the Panthers at No. 1 if everything checks out.

3. Tight end: In switching to an offense similar to that of the San Diego Chargers, the Panthers have made it pretty clear they need to upgrade at tight end. The Chargers have Antonio Gates, while the Panthers have Dante Rosario, Jeff King and Gary Barnidge. Each of those three have skills, but the Panthers want a guy who can do it all. Look for them to find that guy in free agency or via trade.

4. Cornerback: The Panthers could lose Richard Marshall in free agency -- he has said the team informed his agent he won't be asked to come back -- which means cornerback is a major issue. Marshall started last year alongside Chris Gamble before Gamble was benched for walking out of a team meeting. Captain Munnerlyn is a solid nickel back but not someone you want to count on as an every-down starter. LSU's Patrick Peterson is an option at No. 1, but the Panthers may look for veteran help here.

5. Right guard: The Panthers took a step back last season on the line largely because they couldn't find a suitable right guard. The injury to Jeff Otah forced Geoff Schwartz to move to right tackle and forced Mackenzy Bernadeau to start. Eventually Bernadeau was benched and Schwartz moved inside to guard and Garry Williams started at right tackle. If Otah can come back healthy maybe Schwartz can be the regular starter, but it wouldn't hurt for the Panthers to find a midlevel guard in free agency on the cheap.

New Orleans Saints

1. Linebacker: The Saints could be all right here if they re-sign weak-side LB Scott Shanle because they have Jonathan Casillas coming back from a foot injury, but they still lack depth. Adding a young impact player to the mix wouldn't be a bad idea.

2. Defensive end: While right end Will Smith is their best perimeter pass rusher and is scheduled to return, he didn't have a great year with just 5.5 sacks. The Saints need a stronger outside rush and getting someone to pair with Smith might be an option in the draft if not free agency.

3. Defensive tackle: Sedrick Ellis, who is strong and quick and had his best season as a pro with a team-leading six sacks, but nose tackle Remi Ayodele could be a free agent. Even if they get him back, they could still use another run-stuffer for the rotation.

4. Running back: This depends on whether the Saints bring back Reggie Bush and/or re-sign Pierre Thomas, who could be a free agent. Both have been plagued by injuries the past couple of seasons, so they could use a back who is strong and fast -- depending on the developments with Bush.

5. Safety: Malcolm Jenkins (free) and Roman Harper (strong) are solid starters in the back end, but Harper could be a free agent and there is no quality depth behind them. Darren Sharper could return, but a younger backup would be a better option.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

1. Defensive end: The Bucs focused on defensive tackle in 2010, selecting Gerald McCoy with the third overall pick and Brian Price in the second round. But the Bucs need to improve their play at defensive end, where Stylez White led the team with 4.5 sacks. Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan is on their radar.

2. Linebacker: Ruud is expected to be an unrestricted free agent. The Bucs would like a more physical player at the middle linebacker position and also could lose starter Quincy Black to free agency.

3. Offensive line: Joseph is an unrestricted free agent. Only LT Donald Penn started all 16 games last season. Protecting QB Josh Freeman is a huge priority.

4. Tight end: Outside of Kellen Winslow, the Bucs have little depth at this position. John Gilmore is a free agent but doesn't give the team much as a pass-catcher. Ryan Purvis played sparingly as a rookie.


Arizona Cardinals

1. Quarterback: The Cardinals need a replacement for Derek Anderson and believe John Skelton, a rookie last year, is not quite ready. But it's not likely they will use the fifth overall pick on a quarterback.

2. Outside linebacker: Starters Joey Porter and Clark Haggans will be 34 when next season starts, and there are few young players on the roster. Texas A&M's Von Miller would be hard to pass up at No. 5.

3. Offensive tackle: Levi Brown, the fifth overall pick in 2007, has been a disappointment and plays better on the right side than the left.

St. Louis Rams

1. Wide receiver: The arrival of Josh McDaniels as offensive coordinator makes it likely that more playmakers would be added. Complicating the situation are injury issues facing Donnie Avery, who missed the entire 2010 season with a knee injury, and Danario Alexander, who had had five surgeries on his left knee. McDaniels has been successful in the past without what would be considered elite pass-catchers.

2. Strong safety: James Butler has been a disappointment in his two seasons with the team, and Craig Dahl is a solid backup, but shouldn't be a starter. What's needed at the position is an all-around player that can be a tough run-stopper and defends the pass.

3. Running back: The search continues for a viable and productive back behind Steven Jackson. The ideal would be a complement to Jackson, who could keep defenses honest with the ability to get to the edges consistently.

4. Defensive end: Chris Long and James Hall were very good in 2010, but the heir apparent to Hall might not be on the roster. The coaches do like the potential of George Selvie, who was a rookie last season.

5. Weak-side linebacker: Several players filled that role during the 2010 season, so the question is whether one can step up and be a 16-game starter, or whether the answer is a consistent veteran or someone in the draft.

San Francisco 49ers

1. Quarterback: The team must restock this position and officials have said they will look at every means at their disposal -- the draft, free agency and trades. Their first chance to add a quarterback may be in the April draft, where an accurate passer like Florida State's Christian Ponder may be appealing in the middle rounds.

2. Outside linebacker: The 49ers received only 6.5 sacks from starting outside linebackers Parys Haralson and Manny Lawson and must get more ferocity from their pass rush. There should be some options at pick No. 7, including Texas A&M's Von Miller and North Carolina's Robert Quinn.

3. Cornerback: Nate Clements is due to earn more than $15 million in base salary and incentives in 2011 and will either have to restructure his contract or find work elsewhere. If it's the latter, the 49ers may target one of the big-name cornerbacks in the draft, such as LSU's Patrick Peterson, or wait until the second or third round for someone like Virginia's Ras-I Dowling.

4. Running back: Frank Gore only has one year remaining on his contract. Anthony Dixon, a rookie in 2010, showed plenty of promise but also enough inconsistency to make the 49ers think that they need more options at the position.

Seattle Seahawks

1. Quarterback: Matt Hasselbeck threw for 12 touchdowns and 17 interceptions during the regular season, and his inconsistency could lead to the Seahawks seeking a younger alternative. Charlie Whitehurst also is in the fold for at least another season, but the team may be willing to go in a different direction if someone like Washington's Jake Locker falls into their lap with the No. 25 overall pick.

2. Offensive line: The Seahawks used 10 different starting offensive line combinations last year, which contributed to the team's inability to run the ball. Seattle has a good cornerstone offensive tackle in Russell Okung; now they need to continue to add pieces up front by bringing in a good, run-blocking guard with a nasty streak.

3. Cornerback: The Seahawks gave up 31 touchdowns through the air last season, third-worst in the league. Veteran cornerback Marcus Trufant is scheduled to make $5.9 million in base salary in 2011 but struggled to stay healthy and make plays on a consistent basis in the back end. The Seahawks might ask the 30-year-old to restructure his contract, and could be looking for a No. 1 corner in the draft.

4. Defensive line: Seattle's defensive line suffered a drop in production when defensive end Red Bryant and defensive tackles Brandon Mebane and Colin Cole went down with injuries during the 2010 season, so the Seahawks are looking to add quality depth here. They also would like to add another quality pass rusher to pair with veteran Chris Clemons.

5. Wide receiver: Starting receivers Mike Williams and Ben Obomanu have been signed to three-year extensions, but the Seahawks could still use a dynamic playmaker to stretch the field and create explosive plays. However, the team has selected receivers in the second round the past two seasons in Deon Butler and Golden Tate, and with so many other holes to fill, the team could look to continue to develop those young players currently on the roster.


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