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AFC draft breakdown: Team by team
NFL franchises always proclaim happiness with their incoming rookie class.
No team, though, can truthfully say they’ve checked off every box on the list of pre-draft needs.
Even as clubs celebrate the arrival of new blood, they will still be looking to address positions lacking in depth or talent before the start of the regular season. Here is a look at what all 32 squads accomplished in last week’s draft and what’s next as the offseason unfolds.
What was addressed: The Bills are giving new defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt the pieces he needs to effectively run his trademark 4-3 scheme. After adding pass-rushing ends Mario Williams and Mark Anderson in free agency, Buffalo believes it secured a press cornerback with shutdown ability in South Carolina’s Stephon Gilmore with the No. 10 overall pick. Louisiana State cornerback Rom Brooks (fifth round) will have the chance to earn playing time in nickel and dime packages. Bills general manager Buddy Nix admittedly spread misinformation about Georgia’s Cordy Glenn being a guard prospect. In truth, Buffalo has Glenn pegged to start at left tackle after taking him in the second round. North Carolina State’s T.J. Graham (third) needs a much-needed speed element to the wide receiver corps.
What wasn’t addressed: The Bills entertained quarterbacks on pre-draft visits but eschewed taking one as future competition for starter Ryan Fitzpatrick. Current backup Tyler Thigpen may be breathing easier now.
What’s next: Working to get Fitzpatrick back on track. Fitzpatrick’s play slumped markedly in the final nine games last season after he signed a six-year, $59 million contract extension. A midseason rib injury and other ailments that sidelined some offensive teammates could be the reason for the decline, but improvement is needed regardless if Fitzpatrick is going to solidify his spot as Buffalo’s franchise quarterback.
What was addressed: The Dolphins, having selected a position other than quarterback with every first-round pick since taking Dan Marino in 1983, finally took the plunge with Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill. Miami’s next two picks — Stanford right tackle Jonathan Martin (second) and University of Miami defensive end Olivier Vernon (third) — have the chance for immediate playing time.
What wasn’t addressed: General manager Jeff Ireland has done such a lousy job filling holes this offseason that one draft class wasn’t going to fix everything. After trading Brandon Marshall to Chicago in March, the Dolphins don’t have a bona fide No. 1 wide receiver. And Miami didn’t take a receiver until rounds six (Michigan State’s B.J. Cunningham) and seven (Nevada's Rishard Matthews).
What’s next: Determining whether Tannehill can immediately compete with journeymen Matt Moore and David Garrard to start at quarterback or whether he needs more time to develop after starting only 19 games in college.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
What was addressed: The NFL’s 31st-ranked defense in 2011. After relying on free-agent pickups the past few years to provide the pass rush, the Patriots traded up in the first round to select Syracuse DE Chandler Jones. New England’s next five picks were all used on defensive players as well, highlighted by inside linebacker Dont’a Hightower (first round) and cornerback/free safety Tavon Wilson (second).
What wasn’t addressed: The offense, but it’s not like the Patriots were hurting on that side of the football. Northwestern wide receiver Jeremy Ebert (seventh) was the only offensive player tabbed. Knowing the Patriots, Ebert may someday get a look at playing defensive back as well a la Julian Edelman.
What’s next: Recovering from the sting of losing to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLVI. There is a psychological toll that comes with making it so far only to come up short. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick must help his players wipe the slate clean as New England tries to become the first franchise since Buffalo in the mid-1990s to return to the Super Bowl the season after losing in the title game.
NEW YORK JETS
What was addressed: The Jets had to improve their pass rush and find a wide receiver to pair with Santonio Holmes. New York accomplished both by selecting North Carolina defensive end Quinton Coples (first round) and Georgia Tech wide receiver Stephen Hill (second).
What wasn’t addressed: Right tackle was a 2011 weakness, but the only offensive lineman the Jets drafted (Baylor’s Robert T. Griffin in the sixth round) is a guard. Vladimir Ducasse, Caleb Schlauderaff, Austin Howard and incumbent Wayne Hunter will compete for the spot.
What’s next: Creating an offense that can be effective with both Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow receiving snaps at quarterback. Improving locker-room harmony is also a must after last season’s internal bickering.
What was addressed: Courtney Upshaw, whose slide into the second round was a moderate surprise, could immediately replace the departed Jarret Johnson (San Diego) as the starting strong-side linebacker. A thin offensive line was bolstered by Iowa State tackle Kelechi Osemele and Delaware guard Gino Gradkowski. Temple running back Bernard Pierce (third round) has the chance to become Ray Rice’s top backup if Ricky Williams doesn’t return from his second NFL retirement.
What wasn’t addressed: The Ravens took four offensive and four defensive players, but depth on both sides still will be an issue. Baltimore lost nine players in free agency and added only three (cornerback Corey Graham, safety Sean Considine and quarterback Curtis Painter), all of whom are projected backups.
What’s next: Transitioning to the third defensive coordinator in three seasons. Dean Pees was promoted to replace Chuck Pagano, who is now Indianapolis’ head coach.
What was addressed: The Bengals needed a cornerback — especially with their top three veterans at the position set to become free agents in 2013 — and believe they have found one in Alabama’s Dre Kirkpatrick. Another first-round pick, Wisconsin’s Kevin Zeitler, will have the chance to immediately become the starting right guard. Third-round choice Mohamed Sanu of Rutgers also could play quickly with Cincinnati losing two backup receivers, Andre Caldwell (Denver) and Jerome Simpson (Minnesota), in the offseason.
What wasn’t addressed: The Bengals remain incredibly stubborn about not using high picks on safeties, which is a defensive trouble spot. Cincinnati hasn’t drafted one before the fourth round since 2004 and waited until the fifth this year before choosing Boise State’s George Iloka.
What’s next: Cincinnati has the most salary-cap space in the NFL, roughly $20.6 million. Look for the Bengals to potentially add a few veterans on modest one-year deals and work toward re-signing some of their own players to contract extensions.
What was addressed: A talent-starved offense. Cleveland’s first three picks were used on a running back (Alabama’s Trent Richardson), quarterback (Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden) and right tackle (California’s Mitchell Schwartz). Cleveland expects Richardson to fill the workhorse role that Adrian Peterson did in Minnesota under ex-Vikings head coach and new Browns offensive coordinator Brad Childress.
What wasn’t addressed: The Browns have yet to replace 2011 starting free safety Mike Adams, who signed with Denver in free agency.
What’s next: A quarterback competition between Weeden and incumbent Colt McCoy, whose days in Cleveland may be numbered despite having only one full season as a starter to prove himself.
What was addressed: After playing with a patchwork offensive line the past few seasons, the Steelers made a heavy investment by using first- and second-round picks on Stanford guard David DeCastro and Ohio State tackle Mike Adams, respectively. Rookie linebackers usually need an entire season to learn Dick LeBeau’s 3-4 defense, but Miami linebacker Sean Spence could vie for playing time. Washington nose tackle Alameda Ta’Amu could bump 34-year-old Casey Hampton off the roster in 2013.
What wasn’t addressed: Pittsburgh doesn’t have a shutdown cornerback and hasn’t fielded a Pro Bowl player at the position since Rod Woodson in 1997. The Steelers will once again rely upon the front seven to compensate after not addressing the position until the seventh round with Texas A&M’s Terrence Frederick.
What’s next: Trying to hammer out a contract extension with wide receiver Mike Wallace while still tight against the salary cap. The Steelers kept his rights for 2012 after no team signed him to a restricted free-agent offer sheet by the NFL’s mid-April deadline. However, Wallace doesn’t want to report unless he has a new deal.
What was addressed: The quest for a No. 2 wide receiver to complement Andre Johnson prompted Houston to select two, Ohio State’s DeVier Posey and Michigan State’s Keshawn Martin, in the first four rounds. The interior offensive line received a boost in Miami's Brandon Brooks (third round) and Georgia’s Ben Jones (fourth). And to further support the adage that a team never can have too many good pass rushers, Houston chose Illinois outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus in the first round even with the team already fielding young studs Brooks Reed and Connor Barwin.
What wasn’t addressed: The Texans remain without a true nose tackle in Wade Phillips’ 3-4 defense. Houston also didn’t draft a cornerback or sign a veteran replacement for nickel/spot starter Jason Allen, who signed with Cincinnati in free agency.
What’s next: The Houston Chronicle reported that wide receiver/returner Jacoby Jones was being shopped to teams on draft weekend. A trade or Jones’ release could happen later in the offseason. The Texans are expected to sign a veteran quarterback to compete with T.J. Yates for backup duties behind Matt Schaub, whose practice time will be limited in the offseason as he continues to recover from a major foot injury.
What was addressed: The Colts selected their heir apparent for quarterback Peyton Manning with the first overall pick. Andrew Luck then received some help with Indianapolis using its next three picks on skill-position players: tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen and wide receiver T.Y. Hilton. Much-needed bulk for the defensive line comes in the 316-pound form of Alabama nose tackle and fifth-round pick Josh Chapman.
What wasn’t addressed: Cornerback. First-year general manager Ryan Grigson told Colts media that one player the team had targeted was chosen just before Indianapolis was set to pick. “It was a very lean position,” Grigson said. “There are people that were getting drafted that weren’t even (college) starters (picked) in the sixth round.”
What’s next: By virtue of posting the NFL’s worst record in 2011, Indianapolis has dibs on the first waiver claim heading into the regular season. That should help accelerate the rebuilding process. Luck can’t participate in the offseason program until mid-June because of NFL graduation rules for colleges on the academic quarter system.
What was addressed: A team long lacking a big-play receiving threat now has one after trading up two slots in the first round to choose Oklahoma State’s Justin Blackmon at No. 5. Clemson defensive end Andre Branch (second round) will try to exorcise the ghosts of previous Jags pass-rush flops like Derrick Harvey and Quentin Groves.
What wasn’t addressed: The Jaguars had the NFL’s worst offense last season but didn’t select an offensive player besides Blackmon. That makes general manager Gene Smith’s third-round pick of punter Bryan Anger look even worse.
What’s next: Salvaging quarterback Blaine Gabbert after a rough rookie season. That responsibility falls to new head coach Mike Mularkey. Newcomer Chad Henne is the fallback option if Gabbert doesn’t prove worthy of starting during the preseason.
What was addressed: With Kenny Britt showing only flashes of being a franchise wide receiver because of injuries (not to mention his history of off-field problems), the Titans selected Baylor’s Kendall Wright at No. 20. The next three picks were used on defensive players (outside linebacker Zach Brown, defensive tackle Mike Martin and cornerback Coty Sensabaugh) as second-year coordinator Jerry Gray continues transitioning personnel from the system run under former Titans head coach Jeff Fisher.
What wasn’t addressed: The Titans kicked the tires on veteran centers during free agency, but failed to sign any. They also passed on selecting one of the top draft prospects like Wisconsin’s Peter Konz or Baylor’s Phillip Blake. After a potential trade with Philadelphia for Asante Samuel never materialized, Tennessee is counting on its own secondary depth to replace top cornerback Cortland Finnegan, who left via free agency to reunite with Fisher in St. Louis.
What was addressed: Denver using its first draft choice on a defensive tackle was anticipated. Doing it in the second round wasn’t. But that’s where the Broncos landed Cincinnati’s Derek Wolfe after acquiring extra fourth-round picks from New England and Tampa Bay in two trade-downs out of the first round. San Diego State running back Ronnie Hillman (third round) and Arizona State cornerback Omar Bolden (fourth) provide a necessary youth infusion at their respective positions. Arizona State quarterback Brock Osweiler (second) has the chance to eventually replace Peyton Manning.
What wasn’t addressed: The Broncos, who ranked 22nd last season in run defense, are still thin and undersized at defensive tackle even with the selections of Wolfe and Tennessee’s Malik Jackson (fifth).
What’s next: Manning must prove himself healthy from multiple neck surgeries and get his new teammates up to speed with the type of up-tempo offense he is expected to orchestrate. To this end, Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller said Manning arrives at team headquarters “at 7 o’clock in the morning and leaves at 7 o'clock at night." "He motivates all of us,” Miller recently told me and co-host Jim Miller on SiriusXM NFL Radio.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
What was addressed: The Chiefs wanted a big-body nose tackle to plug into Romeo Crennel’s 3-4 defense. At 6-foot-3 and 346 pounds, Memphis defensive tackle and combine workout warrior Dontari Poe fit the bill with the No. 11 overall pick. Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli said he expects two offensive linemen — Illinois’ Jeff Allen (second round) and Oklahoma’s Donald Stephenson (third) — to immediately push for starting spots at guard or tackle.
What wasn’t addressed: Secondary depth remains suspect, particularly at safety.
What’s next: Making sure that three key players injured early in the 2011 campaign (running back Jamaal Charles, safety Eric Berry and tight end Tony Moeaki) remain on track with their rehabilitation for full medical clearance by the start of training camp.
What was addressed: The Raiders didn’t have first- or second-round picks because of 2011 trades. That provided a challenge for new general manager Reggie McKenzie. Utah’s Tony Bergstrom (third) will have the chance to eventually supplant either right tackle Khalif Barnes or left guard Cooper Carlisle, both of whom are in their 30s.
What wasn’t addressed: Oakland still has arguably the NFL’s least-talented tight end crew. Kevin Boss was cut in March and not replaced in free agency.
What’s next: Finger-crossing. Without more roster cuts or contract restructuring, the Raiders aren’t in position to sign a comparable veteran replacement if a starter were to get injured during offseason drills. The outlook will brighten considerably for 2013 once McKenzie fully cleans up the mess that late Raiders owner Al Davis left behind.
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS
What was addressed: The Chargers are counting on South Carolina linebacker Melvin Ingram to develop into the kind of impact pass rusher that another first-round pick (Larry English in 2009) never became. San Diego couldn’t move up to score Alabama’s Mark Barron but added another strong safety, Louisiana State’s Brandon Taylor, in the third round. Louisiana-Lafayette tight end Ladarius Green is an intriguing fourth-round developmental project who eventually could replace Antonio Gates.
What’s next: Building team chemistry. Besides seven draft choices, San Diego also signed 11 veterans in free agency. Eddie Royal, Robert Meachem, Roscoe Parrish and Michael Spurlock are the new wide receivers who will be working to develop timing with quarterback Philip Rivers.
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