NFL Draft: AFC division-by-division team needs


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


Buffalo Bills

1. Outside linebacker: Buffalo's 28th-ranked defense is aching for a stud playmaker, and signing former Pro Bowl player but often-injured Shawne Merriman to a long-term deal doesn't count. Texas A&M's versatile Von Miller could be the pick at No. 3 if he follows up a strong Senior Bowl with a great combine week.

2. Defensive line: Buffalo allowed almost 170 yards per game rushing and has to get bigger and stronger up front. The upgrading process began with the release of veteran Marcus Stroud, 32, who became less productive as an end in a 3-4. DT Kyle Williams made the Pro Bowl and second-round pick Torell Troup showed progress. Adding Auburn DT Nick Fairley, Alabama DT Marcell Dareus, or Clemson DE Da'Quan Bowers would be prudent.

3. Quarterback: The Bills are content with Ryan Fitzpatrick as their starter but need to keep shopping the aisles for an upgrade or someone who can develop into a long-term answer under center. Depending on what Carolina does at No. 1 and Denver does at No. 2, Buffalo could have Missouri's Blaine Gabbert or Auburn's Cam Newton to pick from. The question then becomes -- are they feeling lucky?

4. Offensive line: The Bills need to stop their revolving door at right tackle where four different players made starts in 2010. The jury is still out on Demetrius Bell as a left tackle as well. He started all 16 games on a surgically repaired knee but didn't dominate. The team may wait and see what he can do when fully healthy.

5. Tight end: Buffalo is among the few teams in the NFL that doesn't get meaningful production from its tight ends to move the chains. Last year, the position accounted for 23 catches and one touchdown. The team has to strike gold somewhere in the later rounds and find a useful tight end. Nebraska's Mike McNeill or Virginia Tech's Andre Smith are candidates.

Miami Dolphins

1. Running back: With both Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams free agents, a disappointing rushing attack could be in need of a serious talent infusion. Alabama's Mark Ingram has been mentioned as a possible target with the 15th overall pick, but the Dolphins might prefer to grab a new feature back in the third round or lower.

2. Quarterback: Chad Henne ended the year with his status murky after going 13-14 as the starter the past two seasons. With Tyler Thigpen and Chad Pennington both free agents, the Dolphins are expected to sign or draft at least one quarterback to come in and compete for the starting job.

3. Wide receiver: Brandon Marshall needs a speedy mate across the way to help free him up from the constant double teams he faced in his first Dolphins season. Brian Hartline and Davone Bess are productive, but neither was able to get opposing safeties away from Marshall, who saw his numbers drop across the board.

4. Center: Journeyman Joe Berger was disappointing after big-ticket free agent Jake Grove got cut loose after just one season in Miami. Richie Incognito looked good in his one late-season start at center, but he's a free agent and may be looking to sign elsewhere.

New England Patriots

1. Outside linebacker: The Patriots have been looking for help on the edge, and a consistent pass rush, for the better part of three years. It remains by far the biggest need heading into 2011, and a key if the defense is to progress moving forward. Though 2010 second-round pick Jermaine Cunningham (one sack) may have a solid future, heading into next season with him and Tully Banta-Cain (five sacks) as the foundation of the pass rush is a less-than-ideal scenario.

2. Offensive line: Pro Bowl picks left guard Logan Mankins and left tackle Matt Light are both set to be free agents and oft-injured and aging right guard Stephen Neal landed on injured reserve yet again. Center Dan Koppen isn't getting any younger. Second-year, second-team All-Pro right tackle Sebastian Vollmer is the only sure thing on the line, with few projected starters coming up the ranks.

3. Running back: BenJarvus Green-Ellis is a restricted free agent who should be back after his 1,000-yard effort, as will free-agent find Danny Woodhead. But with Kevin Faulk (coming off an ACL injury), Fred Taylor and Sammy Morris all set to hit free agency, New England's committee backfield could use both a draft pick and veteran addition to restock the running game.

4. Wide receiver: Beyond Wes Welker and Deion Branch, New England doesn't have much certainty at receiver. Brandon Tate's struggling to develop and 2010 third-round pick Taylor Price didn't play until the season finale. In the post-Randy Moss era, there's a big need for a big-play receiver to stretch the field and take some pressure off the undersized underneath targets.

5. Defensive line: Vince Wilfork is the centerpiece an otherwise uncertain line will be built around. Ty Warren returns from hip surgery, but Gerard Warren is a free agent. There is some youthful depth from recent drafts, but a higher-end prospect or additional experienced veteran could supplement a spot that got a bit thin late in the season.

New York Jets

1. Outside linebacker: The Jets must find a pure pass rusher who scares opposing offenses, or else they will have to continue blitzing to generate pressure. They need somebody opposing teams must specifically game-plan for. Georgia's Justin Houston, who had 10 sacks in 2010 as a junior, could be a late first-round possibility.

2. Defensive end: On the day after the season ended, DE Shaun Ellis' locker had been cleaned out before reporters arrived. That may be quite telling, as the 11-year veteran wasn't offered a contract extension before or during the 2010 season.

3. Cornerback: The Jets need a solid nickel back or else they will continue to be victimized by opposing slot receivers and tight ends. Rookie Kyle Wilson was a disappointment in 2010. They could address this need with somebody such as North Carolina's Kendric Burney in a later round.

4. Offensive tackle: Right tackle Damien Woody has begun to break down physically, and it's unclear if 2010 second-round pick Vladimir Ducasse is the answer. So they may ask offensive line coach Bill Callahan to work his magic with a tackle from the later rounds, such as Florida's Marcus Gilbert or Clemson's Chris Hairston.


Baltimore Ravens

1. Outside linebacker: The Ravens need a pass rusher to line up on the opposite side of Terrell Suggs. Baltimore thought it upgraded its pass rush by drafting Sergio Kindle but he might never play in the NFL because of a head injury suffered in an offseason accident.

2. Offensive tackle: Jared Gaither isn't expected to be re-signed in free agency, and Marshal Yanda is better suited as a guard. The Ravens need to find another starting offensive tackle, perhaps one who can play on the left side and move Michael Oher back to right tackle.

3. Wide receiver: The Ravens' top two wide receivers (Anquan Boldin and Derrick Mason) are possession types. Baltimore needs its own version of Mike Wallace to stretch defenses.

4. Cornerback: Baltimore needs to add size to a secondary that is fast but small. A strong cornerback can be physical at the line and throw off the timing of routes.

5. Fullback: There is a chance Le'Ron McClain can go elsewhere in free agency. The Ravens have found their past two starting fullbacks (McClain and Ovie Mughelli) in the draft.

Cincinnati Bengals

1. Wide receiver: Only one receiver is signed for 2012 and they haven't addressed the need for a future No. 1 receiver. Georgia's A.J. Green would be a good fit with the fourth pick.

2. Offensive line: Lewis has singled them out as one unit where they will be looking to add via veterans or the draft. Four of the five starters are either restricted free agents or entering the final year of their contract and Andre Smith has not panned out as well as hoped.

3. Quarterback: Carson Palmer has requested to be traded, and the franchise has not addressed finding a capable backup. The past two times a franchise quarterback has entered his ninth season, they have selected one in the first round.

4. Defensive line: Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson continue to make strides, but Antwan Odom and Robert Geathers remain disappointments. It wasn't until the second half of the season that they did a better job of getting a pass rush. There will be a lot of pass-rushers available with the fourth pick.

5. Safety: Both starters are 30 or over and Roy Williams is an unrestricted free agent. They have excelled against the run but have been wracked by injuries the past two seasons.

Cleveland Browns

1. Wide receiver: Colt McCoy is going to need a target in the West Coast offense. A.J. Green from Georgia is a big one at 6-4, 215 pounds. The Browns pick sixth. The Bengals also need wide receivers and pick two slots ahead of the Browns. The Bengals could snatch Green before the Browns get the chance. Last year the Browns scored 13 touchdowns through the air.

2. Defensive end: Robert Quinn from North Carolina could be the pick for the Browns if they don't get Green. Quinn is 6-5, 270 pounds. The Browns have to find a way to get to quarterbacks better than in 2010 when they sacked quarterbacks only 29 times.

3. Right tackle: The right side of the offensive line was in constant flux last year. The Browns tried fixing right tackle by signing Tony Pashos in free agency, but he missed most of the season on injured reserve with a severe ankle injury. By the end of the year he was out of a walking boot. Right tackle was a priority even before John St. Clair was released.

4. Cornerback: The Browns used their first pick last year on cornerback Joe Haden. They won't spend the sixth pick on another corner, but Sheldon Brown is a year older and a year slower, and Eric Wright's contract is up, so somewhere they have to come up with help.

Pittsburgh Steelers

1. Cornerback: Ike Taylor can become a UFA, but even if they re-sign him, they need at least one more good corner because they do not have another good corner and the good passing teams exploited that the past season, including Green Bay in the Super Bowl.

2. Offensive tackle: Their two starters both were hurt and had surgeries -- Max Starks (neck) and Willie Colon (ruptured Achilles). If both return in good health, the need eases, but there is no guarantee they will, and Colon will be a UFA. Flozell Adams will turn 36 and he's due a $5 million salary. The others are not deemed competent full-time starters.

3. Defensive line: Ziggy Hood, drafted in 2009, played well for injured Aaron Smith but the Steelers need to find another starter-in-waiting either for NT Casey Hampton, who will be 34 before the start of next season, or DE Brett Keisel, who will be 33.

4. Linebacker: LaMarr Woodley may leave as a UFA, which would leave his spot to rookie second-round pick Jason Worilds, but they have no backups on the outside and James Harrison will be 33 in May. It's time to get another linebacker-in-waiting.


Houston Texans

1. Cornerback: The secondary allowed 33 touchdown passes. With the exception of Jason Allen, this is still a young position. Glover Quin, who started in his first two seasons, is better suited for free safety. Because Patrick Peterson will be gone before they pick 11th in the first round, they might have a chance on Prince Amukamara. If they use free agency, they could sign Champ Bailey, Stanford Routt, Johnathan Joseph or Carlos Rogers.

2. Outside linebacker: The Texans need an outside linebacker in their new 3-4 to play opposite Connor Barwin. Von Miller would be ideal, but they'll have to trade up to get him. They need a player at this position who can put pressure on the quarterback.

3. Free safety: Eugene Wilson didn't play well enough to return as a starter. Quin could move from corner to replace him. They also could look for this position in free agency or the draft.

4. Nose tackle: Wade Phillips says he likes Earl Mitchell and Shaun Cody for this key position in his 3-4, but expect them to look for another one to compete for the starting job. Phillips' nose plays one gap rather than two gaps, which means he's looking for a smaller, quicker player for this position than the typical nose tackle.

5. Wide receiver: This isn't a priority position, but the coaches would like another big, fast receiver who can stretch the defense and make plays down the field. Getting one in the bottom part of the draft is the most likely avenue they'll pursue.

Indianapolis Colts

1. Offensive tackle: Two names that keep cropping up as Indy prepares to make the 22nd pick in the first round are Boston College tackle Anthony Costanzo and Colorado tackle Nate Soldier. Finding a starting left tackle is one area of need heading into next season.

2. Wide receiver: With Anthony Gonzalez and Austin Collie both going down with injuries this past season, adding quality depth at receiver could be key. Finding a physical player who could provide big-play capability downfield to stretch the defense would be helpful.

3. Defensive back: Injuries also took a big toll on the Colts secondary in 2010. Both starting cornerbacks went down as well as the team's top three strong safeties. Quality depth in important.

4. Kick returner: Indianapolis tried to fix its kick and punt return issues in last year's draft and rookie free agency. Nobody, other than wide receiver Blair White, stood out. The Colts are expected to try again in this year's draft.

Jacksonville Jaguars

1. Linebacker: The Jaguars have only one proven linebacker -- Daryl Smith. They would like to find an outside linebacker to replace Justin Durant and could use an upgrade in the middle over Kirk Morrison.

2. Safety: The Jaguars were victimized by the pass all season, mainly because they were so vulnerable at safety. They used five combinations in the first seven games before settling on Courtney Greene and Don Carey. But they need to upgrade.

3. Defensive end: Once Aaron Kampman went down, Jeremy Mincey and Austen Lane were the starters. But even if Kampman returns, they need a good young pass rusher.

4. Quarterback: David Garrard is the veteran starter, but he's not in the elite class and they need to draft and develop a young quarterback.

5. Cornerback: Rashean Mathis has lost a step and they need to groom a young cornerback who can either replace him or enable him to move to safety.

Tennessee Titans

1. Quarterback: No Vince Young, perhaps no Kerry Collins. The Titans will probably add a stop-gap type quarterback and then draft a QB of the future like Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert or Christian Ponder. They hold the eighth pick, but might use that to fill another need and go quarterback in the second or third round.

2. Defensive tackle: The draft is strong at D-tackle, and the Titans might find too much value to pass up. Tony Brown has had troublesome knees and might be on the downside of his career. The Titans need a big body along the lines of Albert Haynesworth (sans attitude) to make their 4-3 system work as it should.

3. Linebacker: New coach Mike Munchak hinted that he would like to have a hybrid defense that can play the 3-4 as well as the 4-3. That means the Titans have to get more athletic at linebacker, something they need no matter what the system. A player like Von Miller would be a nice upgrade.

4. Defensive end: A lot of the needs there are mainly questions about the current group of players. First-round pick Derrick Morgan is coming off a torn ACL, while Jacob Ford, Dave Ball and Jason Babin are all free agents, and not all of them are likely to be back.

5. Safety: There were plenty of cries to replace Chris Hope last year, but the reality is the Titans had no one ready to plug in the hole, so Hope continued to play. So finding a ball-hawking safety to eventually pair with Michael Griffin could help matters.


Denver Broncos

1. Defensive tackle: The Broncos have tried a long line of patchwork fixes in the middle of the front four for years. Now is time to get serious about rebuilding from within. If Auburn's Nick Fairley doesn't go to Carolina at No. 1 in the draft, he'd have to be considered near the top of the team's list.

2. Safety: Denver has gone the free-agent route several times since 2000 and few have lasted for the long haul. Brian Dawkins remains a top-notch leader but doesn't have the speed-athleticism combination new coordinator Dennis Allen is looking to infuse in the defense. Free safety Renaldo Hill is a heady player but doesn't consistently make big plays and is limited in coverage.

3. Middle linebacker: D.J. Williams has moved around from strong to weak to middle linebacker and back again over the past five years. But in a base 4-3 alignment, he lacks the desired thump to build a defense around.

Kansas City Chiefs

1. Wide receiver: The breakthrough Pro Bowl season of Dwayne Bowe helped lift this position. But Bowe will be in the final year of his rookie contract in 2011 and there's no solid No. 2 or even No. 3 threat to help push the passing game.

2. Defensive tackle: Starting NT Ron Edwards has done a good job, but he's not the type of bulky run stopper needed on the nose in the 3-4 scheme. Behind Edwards there is no depth and no nose tackle of the future.

3. Offensive tackle: Like most NFL teams, the Chiefs are seeking a pair of solid tackles on offense. Branden Albert did a good job at left tackle, while Barry Richardson got his first taste of action at right tackle and was average at best. There's also no tackle depth on the roster.

4. Inside linebacker: Starters Derrick Johnson and Jovan Belcher were improvements last season on the play the Chiefs got inside in 2009. Belcher was the weaker of the two links and to continue to push forward defensive improvement that spot must improve.

5. Defensive end: Starters Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson are both first-round draft choices who have struggled at times. Dorsey is playing out of position in the 3-4, but he's shown progress. Jackson has been a major disappointment over two years. Backup Wallace Gilberry is largely a pass-rusher; they need a big, stout run-stopper on the edge.

Oakland Raiders

1. Offensive line: Could be a guard, center or tackle. The Raiders will continue a transition to a power blocking team, with only second-year tackle Jared Veldheer an absolute lock to start.

2. Cornerback: Asomugha and Stanford Routt are both scheduled for unrestricted free agency and both are starters. Might the Raiders look hard at Denver's Champ Bailey in free agency?

3. Tight end: Hue Jackson likes to use packages with more than one tight end, and after Zach Miller, who may or may not be an unrestricted free agent, only Brandon Myers was on the roster.

San Diego Chargers

1. Outside linebacker: The Chargers had that top defense but there weren't many difference-makers on the unit -- hence, few turnovers. If the Chargers don't think Larry English can provide a boost off the edge -- he has yet to do so in two years -- the Chargers might look for another pass rusher.

2. Defensive end: The Chargers' starting pair, Luis Castillo and Jacques Cesaire, are decent. But is that good enough? The Chargers don't think so and could be looking to upgrade here. There are also depth concerns; look for the Chargers to beef up this spot.

3. Inside linebacker: Two key players are free agents, Stephen Cooper and Kevin Burnett, and it's not clear if both -- or either -- will be brought back. Cooper could be showing the wear and tear; Burnett might ask for too much cash.

4. Right tackle: Jeromey Clary has been a whipping post of sorts for Chargers fans, as they see every one of his errors but don't notice when he plays well. Clary is a free agent, but figures not to be too high-priced. But if he is, the Chargers can look in another direction for an upgrade.


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