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Extra Points: Dissecting the Draft: NFC team strategies

<p>A capsule look of the major needs and a possible course of action for the NFC teams in the 2014 NFL Draft, which will take place at New York's Radio City Music Hall from May 8-10.</p>

(SportsNetwork.com) - A capsule look of the major needs and a possible course of action for the NFC teams in the 2014 NFL Draft, which will take place at New York's Radio City Music Hall from May 8-10.

NFC EAST

Dallas (8-8)

Top Needs: S, DT, QB

First Three Picks: No. 16, No. 47, No. 78

Number of Selections: 11 (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 7, 7. 7, 7, 7)

Death, taxes and the Cowboys at 8-8 may seem like the three certainties of life these days but playing .500 football is no birthright for Dallas in 2014.

The poor stewardship of Jerry Jones has been whittling away at the talent on the Cowboys' roster for years and the often brilliant play of quarterback Tony Romo has masked quite a few deficiencies.

Romo, who just turned 34, suffered a back injury at the end of the 2013 season, however, and was forced to undergo surgery, his second procedure on the back inside of a calendar year.

Former Dallas QB Troy Aikman, who had back surgery himself during his Hall of Fame career, recently told the Cowboys' website that a signal caller never really knows if his back is strong enough to withstand the punishment of an NFL season until the real bullets start firing.

"Two back surgeries in less than a year at his age, I would be a bit concerned," Aikman said. "I'm hopeful that he's able to come back -- everybody is. This team won't be the same if he's not able to."

The Cowboys currently have quite a few holes to patch and adding a potential problem at the game's most important position, unless you are buying the fact that Brandon Weeden could resuscitate his flailing career in north Texas, isn't going to help.

The concerns start on the defensive side of the ball where the team was historically bad last season and must replace DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher on the line while addressing a safety position devoid of competent options.

Jones probably doesn't even know what the Cowboys are going to run defensively this season, but if they stick with a Monte Kiffin-Rod Marinelli Tampa-2 amalgamation, getting a potential impact player at the three-technique and a solid run-stuffer at the zero-spot is important.

The 'Boys think they filled the hole at under tackle by signing former Chicago star Henry Melton, who is coming off a serious injury. Notre Dame nose Louis Nix could be the load in the middle the Cowboys need and the prototypical zero technique.

If safety is the choice, Calvin Pryor of Louisville is more likely to be available at No. 16 than Alabama's Ha Ha Clinto-Dix. Meanwhile, if in-state star Johnny Manziel, drops on draft day, it will be impossible for the ill- prepared Jones to ignore his potential starpower.

N.Y. Giants (7-9)

Top Needs: OL, LB, TE, WR

First Three Picks: No. 12, No. 43, No. 74

Number of Selections: 7 (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 5, 6)

The Giants were one of the busiest teams in free agency but there is still plenty of work to be done in Gotham as the 2014 NFL Draft approaches.

Big Blue still looks awfully weak on the offensive line as well as at linebacker and tight end.

Eli Manning's poor 2013 season probably makes offense the top priority at No. 12 overall. Whether that ends up being an offensive tackle (think Michigan's Taylor Lewan or Notre Dame's Zack Martin), or a tight end like North Carolina's Eric Ebron is up for debate.

The fly in the ointment could be if Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald happened to fall, a scenario which would almost make general manager Jerry Reese obligated to pounce.

Linebackers C.J. Mosely of Alabama and Anthony Barr of UCLA are also good fits on paper because the only given at that position for the Giants is the aging and oft-injured Jon Beason.

Philadelphia (10-6)

Top Needs: WR, OLB, S, PK

First Three Picks: No. 22, No. 54, No. 86

Number of Selections: 6 (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7)

Going defense in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft looked like a foregone conclusion for the Philadelphia Eagles, that is until they surprisingly released big-play receiver DeSean Jackson back in March.

Now finding a potential replacement for the explosive Jackson, who now calls Washington D.C. his home, is just as important as getting the edge pass rusher or snaring a complement at safety for the newly-signed Malcolm Jenkins. In fact, considering Chip Kelly's offensive mindset, it might be the far more likely scenario for the Eagles now.

Behind the scenes, the Eagles' spin is that while dynamic, Jackson is limited as a receiver because of size and concussion issues. Philly also thinks its cheaper options at the position like Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin are more than capable, and that they could draft a suitable replacement like Oregon State speedster Brandin Cooks.

That said Kelly is also fond of saying big people beat up little people and that could mean the 6-foot-5 Kelvin Benjamin would be his answer, a monster target who commands a double-team in the middle of the field instead of the one Jackson created over the top.

Others in the mix should include LSU's Odell Beckham Jr. and Indiana's Cody Latimer.

"I think Kelvin Benjamin, who's a little bit of a polarizing player out of Florida State, that to me would be a name I would keep an eye on," NFL Network draft analyst Charles Davis said when discussing Philadelphia's draft prospects. "(When you think about) Chip Kelly at Oregon, everybody focuses on the pace and the tempo, and they kind of assume that he likes little, small, fast players, but on the outside they always have big, physical receivers.

"I would think adding more size, if you add Kelvin Benjamin, now you've got Riley Cooper and then you throw Jeremy Maclin in the mix, now they're going to be able to move the ball in between the 20s, but you get down in the red zone you've got two guys you can throw the ball up to. That Kelvin Benjamin to the Eagles to me is one I keep an eye on."

Washington (3-13)

Top Needs: S, LB, OL

First Three Picks: No. 34, No. 66, No. 102

Number of Selections: 7 (2, 3, 4, 5, 5, 6, 7)

Mortgaging the farm for Robert Griffin III looked like a prudent decision after the quarterback's freshman season inside the Beltway.

It's not nearly as clear cut now after his poor sophomore campaign, however.

The Redskins will be without a first-round pick for the second straight season after moving up to get RG3 in the 2012 draft but this time around, it hurts a little more because Washington's pick would have been the No. 2 overall selection after a dismal 3-13 campaign.

Griffin's health remains the main story line in D.C. because he never looked right last season after tearing his ACL and LCL during the playoffs the year prior.

The Redskins' first choice is scheduled to be No. 34 overall and they could try to help the franchise player by augmenting the offensive line, perhaps Nevada's Joel Bitonio or Virginia's Morgan Moses.

Beefing up the back seven on defense, which was a disaster in 2013, should also be a high priority.

NFC NORTH

Chicago (8-8)

Top Needs: S, DT, CB

First Three Picks: No. 14, No. 51, No. 82

Number of Selections: 7 (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 6)

The Bears rebooted things before last season, firing veteran defensive-minded head coach Lovie Smith and bringing in an offensive guy, Marc Trestman, to build a 21st century scoring unit around talented but enigmatic signal-caller Jay Cutler.

It worked and it didn't work. Trestman did build a tremendous offense which succeeded whether Cutler or veteran backup Josh McCown, who is now in Tampa Bay, was on the field thanks in large part to the dynamic receiving duo of Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall, along with a rebuilt offensive line.

The defense, however, tanked without Smith and veteran middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, turning on a dime from the most opportunistic group in the league to a unit incapable of stopping just about anyone.

This time around rebuilding the defensive side of things is paramount in the Windy City and additions at all three levels make sense.

The Bears would love to see the ultra-talented Donald fall to them at No. 14 overall but that likelihood grows dimmer and dimmer by the day so keep a sharp eye on Alabama's Clinton-Dix, the best safety in the draft who has the range and ball skills to be a playmaker early in his career.

"When you look at the Bears, I start at the safety position," NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said. "I think when you watched them play last year, that stood out to me on the defensive side of the ball. There was a lot of issues, but the safety position, both in the run, guys taking poor angles to the alley, missing tackles, and then lack of instinct in the back end, the ball sailing over their heads.

"I think you start with the safety position, and where they're picking, I think they'll have shot at one of those top two guys, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix from Alabama and Calvin Pryor from Louisville."

Detroit (7-9)

Top Needs: CB, WR, S, OL

First Three Picks: No. 10, No. 45, No. 76

Number of Selections: 8 (1, 2, 3, 4, 4, 4, 6, 7)

A slight improvement on the field wasn't enough for Jim Schwartz to keep his job in the Motor City largely because his team remained undisciplined, win or lose.

Former Indianapolis Colts coach Jim Caldwell is the new sheriff in town, handed the task of not only cleaning up the now trademarked boneheaded play but also the mechanics to talented but underachieving quarterback Matthew Stafford.

If you really can't teach an old dog new tricks, the clock is ticking on Stafford. Four years into his NFL career, the book on the former No. 1 overall pick hasn't changed. He's an elite talent with mechanical issues, relying on his plus-arm strength to make up for shoddy footwork, poor arm angles and questionable decision-making.

Schwartz made a lot of mistakes in Detroit, but perhaps the most perplexing of all was enabling Stafford's distorted view of his own fundamentals. Caldwell has a history with both Peyton Manning and Joe Flacco so perhaps he has enough cachet to tell Stafford he needs fixing.

Adding a receiving option opposite Calvin Johnson could only help Stafford as would beefing up the offensive line.

That said, the secondary, specifically the cornerback position shapes up as the most-needy right now for the Lions and with the 10th overall pick, Detroit could conceivably have its choice between the two top options, Oklahoma State product Justin Gilbert and former Michigan State press-coverage standout Darqueze Dennard.

The Lions also won't be picking up the fifth-year option on defensive tackle Nick Fairley while Ndamukong Suh is the poster child of the team's undisciplined play and quite possible on the trading block. Donald is the best and most athletically gifted three-technique tackle in the draft and could also be in play.

"You look at Detroit at 10, depending how this draft falls, remember they did not extend Nick Fairley inside," NFL Network draft analyst Charles Davis said in a recent conference call. "They told him he's going to have to play for it before they give him a contract extension. (Aaron) Donald could be a guy that they could make a move on him right then and there."

Green Bay (8-7-1)

Top Needs: S, TE, WR, DT

First Three Picks: No. 21, No. 53, No. 85

Number of Selections: 9 (1, 2, 3, 3, 4, 5, 5, 6, 7)

The Green Bay Packers saw what life was like without Aaron Rodgers for an extended period of time last year and the results were hardly pretty.

A broken collarbone sidelined the superstar for seven straight weeks as the Pack floundered before A-Rod returned with his Superman cape to lead Green Bay to a season-ending victory over the Chicago Bears to secure the team's third straight division title despite a pedestrian 8-7-1 record in the downtrodden NFC North.

Rodgers has been helping cover up a deeply-flawed roster in Titletown for about three years now, dating back to the time highly-regarded general manger Ted Thompson began missing more often than not on his high-profile picks.

The chickens have started coming home to roost and it's time for Thompson to reverse course and become the guy he was in the mid-2000s, especially boosting what has been a dismal front seven save for Clay Matthews while also addressing needs at safety, tight end and the offensive line.

The Packers brought in Julius Peppers to play opposite Matthews, but expecting a player in his mid-30s who has always played with his hand in the dirt to excel in space is the very definition of pounding the square peg in the round hole.

UCLA's Barr has been falling in recent mock drafts and would be a much better fit as an edge defender in the 3-4, and although the former running back is raw, Barr has the ceiling of a top-five prospect.

If Barr is off the board, focus on Louisville's Pryor or even former Northern Illinois star Jimmie Ward at safety.

Minnesota (5-10-1)

Top Needs: QB, LB, DE, CB

First Three Picks: No. 8, No. 40, No. 72

Number of Selections: 8 (1, 2, 3, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7)

The Vikings clearly need a franchise quarterback, but after trading for the underwhelming A.J. Feeley while in Miami and swinging and missing badly by reaching for Christian Ponder back in 2011 draft, general manager Rick Spielman probably doesn't have the political capital to roll the dice on any signal caller with the eighth overall pick.

Add in the fact the aggressive Mike Zimmer is the new coach in Minneapolis and defense should be the obvious direction for the Vikings.

Minnesota has already addressed the front four (re-signing promising pass rusher Everson Griffen and inking ascending nose tackle Linval Joseph along with underrated swingman Corey Wootton), as well as cornerback (snaring slot star Captain Munnerlyn and the lengthy Derek Cox) in free agency, but the Vikings have been quiet on the linebacker front, save for bringing back the limited Jasper Brinkley on a make-good deal.

The prudent strategy for the Vikings might be moving down a few spots and taking former Alabama Mosley, who turned a few people off at the NFL Combine by not running the 40-yard dash and refusing to address the media. If Mosley checks out medically, however, he could be the type of seek-and-destroy player who could be a terror in a Zimmer scheme. UCLA edge-standout Barr is another option.

"C.J. Mosley is somebody I think that doesn't get talked enough about," NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said in a recent conference call. "When you watch him on tape, in scouting we talk about guys being clean players on tape. I don't have a lot of negatives when I watch him."

The only QB who could make Spielman bite at No. 8 is UCF's Blake Bortles but it remains unlikely that Bortles falls that far. Second-round options at the position figure to include LSU's Zach Mettenberger, Pitt's Tom Savage, Alabama's A.J. McCarron and possibly the plummeting Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville.

NFC SOUTH

Atlanta (4-12)

Top Needs: DE, OT, TE,

First Three Picks: No. 6, No. 37, No. 68

Number of Selections: 10 (1, 2, 3, 4, 4, 5, 6, 7, 7, 7)

With quarterback Matt Ryan in the prime of his career, the Atlanta Falcons believe they can pull off a worst-to-first-type of scenario in 2014 as long as they fix the problems up front on both sides of the ball.

First and foremost, general manager Thomas Dimitroff was intent on getting bigger and more physical, and he took some significant strides in that direction during free agency, bringing in run-stuffer Paul Soliai from Miami and big, five-technique defensive end Tyson Jackson on the defensive side. Jackson's teammate from Kansas City, guard Jon Asamoah, was snared to help the offensive line.

Now Atlanta needs the big-time edge pass rusher and there is only one in this draft, South Carolina stud Jadeveon Clowney, the best pure talent in this class with an upside that is off the charts.

The Falcons will obviously have to trade up to get Clowney and they seem willing to do so. If forced to stand pat at No. 6, however, Atlanta will likely be content to take the best offensive tackle left on the board whether it is Auburn star Greg Robinson or NFL-ready Texas A&M legacy Jake Matthews.

The Falcons currently have 2008 first-round pick Sam Baker, who played just four games last year due to knee issues, penciled in at left tackle, but would like to flip him over to the right side and get a more athletic option to protect Ryan's blind side.

Carolina (12-4)

Top Needs: WR, OL, DB

First Three Picks: No. 28, No. 60, No. 92

Number of Selections: 7 (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7)

The Carolina Panthers are coming off a brilliant 12-4 season, spearheaded by the playmaking ability of quarterback Cam Newton as well as an impressive front seven on defense led by all-world middle linebacker Luke Kuechly.

There are clouds on the horizon, though, with definitive holes in the Tar Heel State. The most notable problems are at wide receiver after the departures of veterans Steve Smith and Ted Ginn, and along the offensive line after the retirement of longtime left tackle Jordan Gross. On the other side of the ball, the defensive backfield needs help after the Panthers lost underrated free safety Mike Mitchell and playmaking slot cornerback Captain Munnerlyn.

The receiving corps wasn't exactly dynamic with Smith and Ginn and is now headlined by the pedestrian pair of Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant so you can bet Newton will be in second-year GM David Gettleman's ear to get him some help outside the numbers.

That's the most likely scenario because Carolina's first pick is deep in the draft at No. 28 overall and the WR position is among the beefiest in this year's process. You have to figure in a group which includes players like Beckham, Cooks as well as Benjamin and USC standout Marqise Lee, one might fall to the Panthers.

If not keep an eye on fast-rising Virginia offensive tackle Moses as well as cornerbacks like TCU's Jason Verrett and Virginia Tech's Kyle Fuller.

New Orleans (11-5)

Top Needs: CB, LB, OT

First Three Picks: No. 27, No. 58, No. 91

Number of Selections: 7 (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 5, 6)

The marquee free-agent addition of star safety Jairus Byrd teamed with last year's first-round pick in New Orleans, Kenny Vaccaro, gives Sean Payton and the Saints one of the best safety tandems in the league.

The next step on defense should be upgrading a cornerback group headlined by Keenan Lewis and descending future Hall of Famer Champ Bailey, who came over in the offseason from Denver.

Offensively, NOLA needs to fortify the line, especially the tackle position and find a replacement for the underappreciated Lance Moore, who fled to Pittsburgh in free agency.

The Saints' first chance is at No. 27 overall and most of the corners worthy of that pick figure to be off the board, so shifting toward the draft's deepest position -- wide receiver -- makes sense.

Southern Cal's Lee projects as the best route runner in this year's draft and could give Drew Brees yet another solid option rather quickly. Other targets may be Oregon State speedster Cooks or edge pass rusher Dee Ford of Auburn a possible complement to pass-rushing star Cameron Jordan.

Tampa Bay (4-12)

Top Needs: QB, DE, LB, TE

First Three Picks: No. 7, No. 38, No. 69

Number of Selections: 6 (1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7)

The professionalism is back in the Tampa Bay organization after veteran coach Lovie Smith was brought in to replace the train wreck that was Greg Schiano.

And so is the intrigue.

Smith, a defensive-minded guy, and new general manager Jason Licht need to rebuild the offensive line and add depth at all three levels on defense, especially cornerback after trading away star Darrelle Revis.

The new Bucs regime also signed veteran quarterback Josh McCown in free agency and has made it very clear by its actions that they don't have all that much confidence in second-year signal-caller Mike Glennon as a long-term answer

All of that means a number of positions could be in play when Tampa selects at No. 7 overall. Keep an eye on Bortles, who could stay in the Sunshine State if he's still on the board.

If he's gone the Bucs might shift to receiver after moving on from the troubled Mike Williams in the offseason. The lengthy Mike Evans of Texas A&M could team with Vincent Jackson to give McCown a similar set-up to what he had in Chicago last season (Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery).

NFC WEST

Arizona (10-6)

Top Needs: S, RB, QB, TE

First Three Picks: No. 20, No. 52, No. 84

Number of Selections: 6 (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)

Not a lot of people have noticed but the Arizona Cardinals have quickly turned into one of the more talented teams in all of football.

Perhaps the best club not to make the playoffs in 2013, the Cards are hoping to tweak the roster a bit to get over the hump under second-year coach Bruce Arians.

Their biggest weakness -- the offensive line -- was addressed in free agency when the team brought former Raider Jared Veldheer in to play left tackle. That move, along with the return of immensely talented guard Jonathan Cooper (last year's first-round pick) from a broken left fibula should solidify things in front of quarterback Carson Palmer, who will turn 35 late next season.

Palmer helped Arizona double its win total from 2012 but at his age, it's prudent that the Cardinals start thinking about the heir apparent.

Other areas of need include safety and running back. In the defensive backfield, 2013 rookie Tyrann Mathieu proved to be a playmaker but tore both his ACL and LCL in a victory over the St. Louis Rams in December. Meanwhile, fellow freshman Andre Ellington proved to be a big-play threat in his inaugural NFL campaign but may not have the size and physicality to be an every down bell cow at running back.

San Francisco (12-4)

Top Needs: CB, WR, DL

First Three Picks: No. 30, No. 56, No. 61

Number of Selections: 11 (1, 2, 2, 3, 3, 3, 4, 5, 7, 7, 7)

San Francisco remains one of the more talented teams in the NFL from one through 53 but there are holes to be filled, namely outside the numbers on both offense and defense.

The 49ers need a legitimate speed threat on offense who can pop the top off opposing defenses. In turn, they need corners who can hold up in man coverage on the edge. Depth along the defensive front and a center with upside to challenge the pedestrian Daniel Kilgore are less pressing needs.

This is one of the deepest drafts in recent memory so San Francisco should be able to get a solid contributor with the 30th overall pick. Fast-rising Indiana receiver Cody Latimer is looking like a glove-like fit but Oregon State's Cooks also might be an option, especially if the Niners want a pure speed demon.

At corner TCU's Verrett is undersized at 5-foot-9 but shapes up as a Munnerlyn-type, a player who battles enough to compete on the outside during early downs before moving into the slot and becoming a difference maker on obvious passing downs.

Ohio State's Bradley Roby could also be in play due to some off-the-field issues that could result in him falling a bit.

Seattle (13-3)

Top Needs: OG, DE, TE

First Three Picks: No. 32, No. 64, No. 132

Number of Selections: 6 (1, 2, 4, 5, 5, 6)

Everywhere you look the reigning Super Bowl champs are loaded with talent save for one notable exception, the offensive line.

The one real weakness in Seattle is with the big uglies, and that was before the team lost Breno Giacomini and Paul McQuistan in free agency.

The looming problem is that all of the offensive linemen worthy of a first- round grade, should be gone by the time the Seahawks get around to picking at No. 32 overall, although if UCLA guard Xavier Su'a-Filo or Alabama tackle Cyrus Kouandjio fall expect general manager John Schneider to pounce.

If all the O-linemen are indeed gone, however, adding another pass rusher like Auburn's Dee Ford to replace the departed Chris Clemons might be a nice fallback option.

"I think (the offensive line is) a place where you say, okay, there's a need," NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said. "You can upgrade there. But outside of that, this team has so much depth and so much talent. Everybody gives lip service to they're a team that selects the best available player, but the advantage in the NFL is when you have a great roster, that's easy to do. You don't have to force things."

St. Louis (7-9)

Top Needs: OT, WR, S

First Three Picks: No. 2, No. 13, No. 44

Number of Selections: 12 (1, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 6, 7, 7, 7)

St. Louis has two first-round picks for the second consecutive season and would probably like to trade down from No. 2 overall to build on the windfall it got in the Robert Griffin III trade.

If forced to stay put, however, it would be a prudent idea to get the best offensive tackle on the board because Jake Long coming off a torn ACL and Rodger Saffold has proven to be injury-prone.

Clowney remains the best pure prospect in this draft, but the Rams already have what he projects to be (Robert Quinn), along with another solid end in Chris Long.

At tackle Matthews is the safer choice, but Robinson's ceiling is much higher and he blew up at the combine, clocking 4.92 seconds in the 40-yard dash at 332 pounds, putting up 32 reps on the bench press and excelling in both the 3- cone drill and the short shuttle.

"I'm not at full potential right now. I still have a lot to go," Robinson said. "I started last year (and that) was my first season starting. Like the guys they have ahead of me like Jake Matthews, he started since he was a freshman. That's just something I feel I need to prove."

With their second pick at No. 13 overall adding playmaking ability with a bigger receiver opposite one of their top picks from a year ago, Tavon Austin, makes a lot of sense, especially if the Rams are really intent on moving forward with Sam Bradford at quarterback.

That said the two top receivers -- Clemson's Watkins and Evans of Texas A&M -- figure to be long gone. That could turn the Rams' mindset to the other side of the ball and the defensive backfield where a safety like Clinton-Dix or a cornerback like Dennard would be options.

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