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Midseason NFL draft preview
If every NFL team could draft a player tomorrow, how would it line up?
Originally Published: November 5, 2012
By Mel Kiper Jr. | ESPN Insider
Sunday Night Football represented essentially the halfway point of the NFL season. And at this stage, personnel folks for NFL teams are quite aware of where the biggest voids on the roster exist. They've seen plenty of reps against good and bad competition, and injuries have allowed them to go deeper into the roster for help. So while the scouting process is a perpetual one, at this point you can start to get a better sense of what you'll need to look at in the offseason.
So let's take a first look, as if the NFL draft were being held tomorrow. The draft portion of this is mostly for fun -- all juniors mentioned here aren't even guaranteed of being in the draft -- but we'll put a name in for each team just to get you more familiar with some of the top prospects in my rankings.
The ever-important parameters:
• Having spoken to folks from a number of teams and evaluated the teams, I'll take a look at some emerging needs.
• I'll suggest a prospect who could fill a void if the draft were held tomorrow -- these are not based on value or draft position, just a good fit.
• Because "picks" are more about need, a few top prospects are passed over.
Again, the draft element here is just for an introduction to prospects, because for all teams, the draft board is a long, long way from complete -- just like mine. But here's to getting way ahead of ourselves …
BAL | BUF | CIN | CLE | DEN | HOU | IND | JAC | KC | MIA | NE | NYJ | OAK | PIT | SD | TEN
ARI | ATL | CAR | CHI | DAL | DET | GB | MIN | NO | NYG | PHI | SEA | SF | STL | TB | WAS
Top emerging needs: WR, QB, DL
Analysis: It's been a disappointing start for the Bills after what I considered a good draft that followed an exciting acquisition of Mario Williams in free agency. Two areas really stand out in terms of struggles: The Bills have one of the most inefficient passing attacks in the NFL, and teams run on them consistently. That's a bad combination, where teams can grind them and remain multiple on offense, and the Bills are ineffective playing catch-up. They need another weapon in the passing game -- an actual matchup problem -- and I'm certainly not sold on the ceiling of Ryan Fitzpatrick, who is far too mistake-prone. Remember, Fitzpatrick will be 30 this month. They have to consider his long-term prospects sooner rather than later.
Drafting tomorrow: Terrance Williams, WR, Baylor
Top emerging needs: WR, S
Analysis: The development of QB Ryan Tannehill could not be going better. If you take into account the loss of Brandon Marshall, and the total lack of what I'd consider an option in the passing game that defenses truly fear, Tannehill has been superb in terms of maximizing his surroundings. The familiarity with Mike Sherman's system has made the transition a smooth one. The Miami defense is above average on every level, so you could imagine the Dolphins being really specific in targeting a need, or just looking for the best value. This roster, led by Tannehill, now has a ton of promise.
Drafting tomorrow: Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee
New England Patriots
Top emerging needs: CB, WR, DT
Analysis: New England at 5-3 is probably unlucky to not be either 6-2 or 7-1. The offense is still capable of taking apart even the best defenses, and they're quietly among the most efficient running teams in the NFL even as the passing attack remains almost impossible to hold in check for any sustained period. The addition of Brandon Lloyd hasn't been a bad one, but he isn't a young player, and many expect this to be Wes Welker's final season with the Patriots -- though it's hard to imagine another team will see value in him the way New England has, given how he's used. But upgrading talent in the secondary continues to be the biggest need for me. New England isn't bad in this area, but the Patriots could upgrade.
Drafting tomorrow: Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida St.
New York Jets
Top emerging needs: WR, OLB
Analysis: A disappointing start is wrapped up in the passing game. Even when Santonio Holmes is 100 percent, the Jets still have perhaps the least intimidating group of pass-catchers in the league. Mark Sanchez hasn't been good, but you really don't get the sense the franchise is ready to go in another direction, at least if it means bringing in a rookie to compete for the role. Obviously, that could change as the second half plays out. Perhaps equally a problem is the pass rush. The Jets simply don't get to opposing QBs without scheming their way into sacks, and they lack pass-rushing talent. They need a player who can create matchup problems in the pass rush.
Drafting tomorrow: Barkevious Mingo, DE, LSU
Top emerging needs: LB, DL
Analysis: The Ravens drafted Courtney Upshaw to help make up for the loss of Jarret Johnson, and a very good secondary even with the loss of Lardarius Webb keeps the defense respectable. But Terrell Suggs may never be what he used to be, meaning the pass rush will need help, and minus Ray Lewis the Ravens now start a trio of undrafted free agents at linebacker. Questions will remain about Joe Flacco's ceiling, but they know they can win with him and should get a deal done to bring him back. Defense will be the priority.
Drafting tomorrow: Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia
Top emerging needs: DE, LB, S, WR, RB
Analysis: The Bengals are on the edge of taking that next step after reaching the playoffs in 2011, but lack consistency week to week. The team currently has a lot of areas where it could use an upgrade, but no single glaring weakness. The Bengals are middle of the road in a number of areas, and will be looking for the best fits to help them immediately. They could certainly use another pass-rusher, help at linebacker (where I'm not sure they really like what they have currently), at safety, or at skill positions on offense outside of A.J. Green. They could go just about anywhere.
Drafting tomorrow: Matt Elam, S, Florida
Top emerging needs: G, DE, OLB, WR
Analysis: The Browns are relying on a lot of young players, counting the unusual case of Brandon Weeden as "young" based on his NFL experience. Some of the areas where they statistically could use an upgrade are ones they can't just target the draft to help. For instance, they drop balls at a ridiculous rate in the passing game, but Josh Gordon is young, and they still need to see if Greg Little can take the next step and be consistent enough to match his talent level. I think pass rush and the interior of the offensive line are areas they need to address. They could use another sack artist, and they need to maximize the opportunity to turn Trent Richardson into a star.
Drafting tomorrow: Chance Warmack, G, Alabama
Top emerging needs: CB, S, DL, WR
Analysis: The Steelers have done what they always do, and overcome injuries and personnel headaches to remain a Super Bowl contender. On defense, they could use an upgrade at cornerback, and Troy Polamalu's now consistent injury concerns mean they'll be looking for a safety who can both cover and support the run defense. Getting defensive linemen who can fit the Dick LeBeau scheme is always a necessity, and I think the situation with Mike Wallace and his contract could have them looking for value at wide receiver, an area they've drafted brilliantly in recent years.
Drafting tomorrow: John Jenkins, DT, Georgia
Top emerging needs: WR, RT, TE
Analysis: Houston is among the best teams in the NFL because everywhere you look, the Texans find players who match the scheme. The makeover on defense under Wade Phillips has been nothing short of exceptional, and they've proven they know what they're looking for -- the loss of Mario Williams, for instance, was one they were comfortable with and prepared for. Scheme comes first. I think offense could be a big factor (you don't draft for special teams early, after all) and finding a threat to complement Andre Johnson in the passing game will be a goal. You also can't have enough good tight ends in this scheme.
Drafting tomorrow: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Top emerging needs: OL, NT, G, WR
Analysis: After they devoted so much of the 2011 draft to offense, adding a pair of tight ends and a wideout after drafting Andrew Luck, I think even the Colts are ahead of pace based on where they thought they might be at the midway point of 2012. So, the focus still has to be on Luck. This is already proving to be the once-in-a-generation talent I believed he'd be when they drafted him, and I think while finding the right fit on defense is important, Indy should look up front first, making sure the offensive line is as good as it can be. The defensive line, and the best possible fits for Chuck Pagano's system will be important, but for me the wall they build in front of No. 12 comes first.
Drafting tomorrow: Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan
Top emerging needs: DE, CB, WR, RB
Analysis: The record doesn't show it, but the Jags have actually made some small strides on offense this year, with Blaine Gabbert proving he at least has a chance to become the long-term answer at QB. His lack of weapons is still a limiting factor, but youth and inexperience are also problems, particularly at wide receiver. I've had defensive end as a major need for the Jags for the past few years entering the draft and at this point I think it'll still be a major need in 2013. They desperately need to find another difference-maker on the defensive side of the ball. The second half, hopefully, will see the passing game continue to improve so that becomes less of a priority.
Drafting tomorrow: Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia
Top emerging needs: DE, CB, RB
Analysis: The most frustrating thing for the Titans, aside from their overall record, is that they're no closer now to knowing whether Jake Locker is the long-term solution at QB than they were on opening day. Now injured, his performance before that was erratic, with flashes of the talent he's always had mixed with inconsistent decision-making and the lack of consistent ball-placement that have always defined his play, as well. But there's no question they still have the goal of Locker taking the job and running with it, which means I think they'll be looking to upgrade a bad defense first. The pass rush could really use help, and they also need more talent in pass coverage. One or the other is a good place to start.
Drafting tomorrow: Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M
Top emerging needs: G, CB, DT
Analysis: Just as I saw it on draft day in 2012, you look at the Broncos and don't see one area to be called a glaring deficiency. On offense, Peyton Manning covers up so much. You might think you lack talent at wide receiver, but everybody he throws the ball to produces. You could question the offensive line in spots, but Manning gets the ball out so quickly -- he's rarely being touched by pass-rushers -- and checks into the right run calls so consistently, the run game produces. On defense, they could use a true run-stuffer at defensive tackle, and I think guard play on offense could improve. As well, how long will the ageless Champ Bailey stay ageless? They could go a few different ways if they drafted tomorrow.
Drafting tomorrow: Sylvester Williams, DT, North Carolina
Kansas City Chiefs
Top emerging needs: QB, WR, DL, CB
Analysis: The Chiefs are a year too late. If they'd had one of the top two picks in 2012, a place they're headed for in 2013, the long-range questions at QB would be no more. Instead, they head into a draft class where QB play has been a problem at the top. Matt Barkley has had some struggles when the competition has been better, and Geno Smith is having a great season but at this point hasn't proven he's the kind of talent worthy of a No. 1 pick. If you were looking for a QB, it might be a better year to not have the No. 1 pick. The Chiefs also need help at several spots on defense. Brandon Carr's absence has created a huge void, and we don't know if Glenn Dorsey will be with the team in 2013. On offense, the same can be said for Dwayne Bowe, the subject of plenty of trade rumors this season. The Chiefs have needs in several places, but it starts at QB.
Drafting tomorrow: Matt Barkley, QB, USC
Top emerging needs: WR, DE, LB, CB
Analysis: The Raiders and head coach Dennis Allen deserve a mulligan for 2012, and they may deserve one for 2013. The new front office walked into salary-cap hell, and the team lost useful talent because of it. As well, they've missed out on top talent in the draft due to trades. It's a brutal combination, and I think they've been pretty competitive in spite of it. Carson Palmer has played pretty well in 2012 considering how inconsistent Raiders pass-catchers are. Darrius Heyward-Bey is no bust, but he's not a star; Denarius Moore is talented but has inconsistent hands; and Derek Hagan was picked up for nothing to help fill the void when Jacoby Ford got hurt. The Raiders also really need a pass-rusher, and help at cornerback. Another linebacker to help the promising Miles Burris is also a must. They need the best player they can land at one of those crucial spots.
Drafting tomorrow: Manti Te'o, LB, Notre Dame
San Diego Chargers
Top emerging needs: CB, WR, TE
Analysis: So far, 2012 is yet another season where the team seems capable of more. The problem is that while coaching is always in the glare, the results could be better if the guy who is supposed to be the steady answer for the franchise played to the level he's capable. Philip Rivers has carried many of the problems of 2011 into this season, and it has cost the team several times, with the recent implosion against Denver as a perfect example. I think Rivers could use more help at wide receiver, and the team clearly needs to consider the possibility of life without Antonio Gates, or at least another tight end given how well Rivers has shown he can use the great one he has. The pass rush should get better as guys like Melvin Ingram gain experience, but cornerback is a problem area and could use more help.
Drafting tomorrow: Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame
Top emerging needs: G/C, S, OLB
Analysis: Tony Romo has been off far too often this season, but the Cowboys are right to shoot down any idea they should replace him. His track record shows he's capable of playing at an elite level, and you hang onto that kind of player. Romo's biggest problems are right in front of him, where the Cowboys have not been good enough on the offensive line. Tyron Smith is going to work out, but Doug Free is a problem and the interior needs help, as well. Elsewhere, the upgrades at cornerback need to continue at safety, and if Anthony Spencer isn't back, outside linebacker is a target.
Drafting tomorrow: Dallas Thomas, OT/G, Tennessee
New York Giants
Top emerging needs: CB, DE, LB, OL, TE
Analysis: Over the past couple of years, I've had the offensive line as a need for the Giants, but the sum of the parts has always been better than the individual talent, and the coaching staff has demonstrated again and again they can get the line to work. That's happened again in 2012, for the most part. The offense remains among the NFL's best, and Eli Manning's stretch of good health remains intact. So this time I'll say they should look elsewhere, and if the draft were tomorrow, I'd say help at corner and another pass-rusher or linebacker would be good. Teams simply throw too easily on the Giants' corners, and we can't presume Osi Umenyiora will be back. So that's where I'll start.
Drafting tomorrow: Dion Jordan, DE, Oregon
Top emerging needs: OL, QB, CB
Analysis: It's hard to call any single area a glaring problem without taking injuries into the equation for Philly. For instance, no team allows pressure at a higher rate, but that's in part due to a series of injuries across the offensive line, and because Michael Vick simply holds onto the ball so long that any O-line can look porous in front of him. If Andy Reid had a QB who got the ball out quickly, would we consider it such a problem? I don't expect Vick to be back in 2013 (will Reid?), but we can't just assume Nick Foles will be handed the keys because the roster has enough talent to win. The Eagles could find a QB to develop, but could they swing a trade for one, as well? Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie could be elsewhere and Nnamdi Asomugha is getting older, so corner will also need a look.
Drafting tomorrow: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Top emerging needs: OL, DB, S, TE
Analysis: As was the case when I looked at the Colts, with Washington I think it all starts with making sure your QB of the future is well-protected and around to enjoy it. The Redskins will be limited in the draft in the near future, but they need to always be looking for value on the offensive line. Cornerback is also a need, where DeAngelo Hall giveth, but taketh away more. The Skins have really been hurt by injuries in the front seven and should be better next year as they get some talent back. Like Indy, I think it still has to be about RG3 first, and patching up other problems after.
Drafting tomorrow: Jonathan Cooper, OT/G, North Carolina
Top emerging needs: OL, CB, LB, TE
Analysis: The Bears have done a pretty good job as a run-blocking unit so far in 2012, but the O-line can't be trusted to consistently pass block. When Jay Cutler gets consistent time, it usually means the line got help on the edges with a tight end or back. I think Chicago must look there first. That said, the Bears will be tempted to start building more young depth in the secondary and at linebacker, where Charles Tillman, Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs all remain very good, but are an injury away from creating a pretty significant void. It'll be interesting to see how we view the Bears' personnel eight weeks from now, because the schedule is about to really pick up.
Drafting tomorrow: David Amerson, CB, NC State
Top emerging needs: CB, OT, S, DE
Analysis: The Lions might be a bit better than their record shows, and health at cornerback is the culprit. They've actually schemed pretty well around the deficiency, but this is a unit that at one point was starting three players who had been cut by teams in August. I think corner or safety will be the top priority. They might also want to add another young tackle, with ironman Jeff Backus probably within a year or two of retirement. The loss of Jahvid Best this season has been mitigated by good play from Mikel Leshoure after a lost rookie season, as well as former Division II star Joique Bell. Finally, the interior of the defensive line is in good shape, but the Lions could use another pass-rusher, with no guarantee that Cliff Avril will be back.
Drafting tomorrow: Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
Green Bay Packers
Top emerging needs: OT, C, RB, WR
Analysis: The Packers have effectively improved their pass rush from the disaster that it was at the close of the 2012 season, both through the draft and just with better play from guys already on the roster. That unit should continue to be a strength, particularly as long as Clay Matthews is healthy and can't be the only major pass-blocking focus for opposing offenses. Aaron Rodgers masks it really well, but the offensive line has been a problem again in 2012. If Rodgers wasn't so intuitive with his mobility and a master at dealing with pocket conflict, the Packers would be in trouble. They also lack any dynamic player in the run game, and could use a home run hitter in the way Randall Cobb can be in the passing game. If this team really buttoned up its protection, it'd be almost impossible to stop. Hopefully injuries at wide receiver aren't still an issue come April. Still, I'll consider a wild card if we drafted tomorrow.
Drafting tomorrow: Kenjon Barner, RB, Oregon
Top emerging needs: WR, CB, DT/DE
Analysis: The Vikings have been successful at turning their early draft picks in 2012 into immediate production. Offensive tackle and safety are no longer the big issues with Matt Kalil and Harrison Smith on the field. Wide receiver now comes into focus for me. Jerome Simpson is a good player, but nowhere near an elite one, and Percy Harvin is still best catching the passes closer to the line of scrimmage, where his elusiveness is a major weapon. They need to find Christian Ponder another consistent target. Elsewhere, they need another good cornerback (or two), and have to acknowledge the age of their best defensive lineman.
Drafting tomorrow: Keenan Allen, WR, Cal
NFC SouthAtlanta Falcons
Top emerging needs: DE, TE, OL
Analysis: The Falcons are one of the most complete teams in football, as evidenced by their undefeated record. If they have an area to improve immediately, for me it's on the offensive line where they remain vulnerable against good pass rushes and are good but not dominant in run-blocking. The pass rush is better than I thought it would be, but John Abraham is now 34, so they should be looking at his replacement. Tony Gonzalez looks as dependable as he ever has, but if he's dead set on making this his final season, that becomes a massive void Atlanta will need to address given how many targets he still gets.
Drafting tomorrow: Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida St.
Top emerging needs: DT, WR
Analysis: The Panthers are among the worst run-stopping teams in the NFL, and it starts in the middle of the defensive line. They don't get a lot of penetration there, and also don't consistently keep blockers from getting to the second level. I think that has to be one of the first areas new decision-makers in the front office look at with an early pick. As well, Cam Newton has struggled this season, but he needs more help at wide receiver. Steve Smith still makes plays, but the drop-off from him to the rest of the personnel is a significant one. Given how the money has been spent recently in Carolina, the draft will need to be a place where the Panthers can create immediate solutions.
Drafting tomorrow: Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
New Orleans Saints
Top emerging needs: DE, CB
Analysis: The problems for the Saints on defense go hand in hand. The pass rush is the worst in the NFL, and because of that, New Orleans can't conceal its weak secondary. What you end up with is a team almost anybody can throw on, and when the Saints are forced to bring an extra man to create more of a pass rush, they can be gashed in the run game. The offense probably could use another wide receiver, but Drew Brees has plenty to work with, and the blocking isn't a big problem area, either. The focus should be on defense, defense and more defense. Find a pass-rusher, and then work your way back.
Drafting tomorrow: Sam Montgomery, DE, LSU
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Top emerging needs: CB, DE, WR
Analysis: The Bucs did a phenomenal job of drafting for need and finding impact in April. Mark Barron has become a force at safety; Doug Martin is on his way to stardom; and Lavonte David was one of my favorite value picks in the entire draft and quietly leads the team in tackles. The Bucs are now among the teams with the most young talent in the league. I think they'll now look to upgrade what is still a below-average pass rush. Gerald McCoy has come on, but they could use another 4-3 defensive end who can become a headache for offensive coordinators. Help at corner is also a must, where if not for Ronde Barber the Bucs might have a major issue. I'm also not opposed to the addition of a shifty wide receiver to work underneath as Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams occupy coverage on the edges.
Drafting tomorrow: Cornellius Carradine, DE, Florida St.
Top emerging needs: OL, QB, CB
Analysis: The Cardinals' offensive line has looked like the JV squad scrimmaging the varsity in pretty much every game this year. They have moments, but generally look overmatched, and are allowing more sacks than any team in the NFL. Bobby Massie has the chance to get a lot better given his tools, but wasn't ready to be handed a starting job. That D'Anthony Batiste is getting regular starts at left tackle is a little scary. The problem here is you can't even properly assess where you stand with the now-injured Kevin Kolb because you can't let him get even remotely comfortable. The Cardinals have some other needs -- and QB could be one of them -- but attention will first be up front.
Drafting tomorrow: Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
St. Louis Rams
Top emerging needs: WR, OT, RB
Analysis: The Rams have made considerable progress this season, and have a very bright future given not just all the young talent, particularly on defense, but what they'll be capable of adding over the next two years because of the added first-rounders coming from the trade with Washington. While the team has hopes for Brian Quick, whom they drafted at wide receiver in Round 2 in April, they still need to find another pass-catching threat. I think they also must work to button up pass-blocking that leaves Sam Bradford constantly vulnerable to big hits. The situation at tackle isn't very good. Another value at running back will also come into play.
Drafting tomorrow: DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson
San Francisco 49ers
Top emerging needs: DL, TE, S
Analysis: The 49ers may have fewer immediate needs than any team in the NFL. They get good play at every level on defense, block in the run game as well as any team in the NFL and consistently give Alex Smith time to throw. Wide receiver is no longer a major concern for me. And with Smith's improvement, they're out of the rut of always wondering if they need to look for a promise at QB, or hope Colin Kaepernick is nearly ready. I'd target the defensive interior, where Justin Smith is still very good, but is entering his mid-30s. As well, they might have a hole at safety if they can't afford to keep Dashon Goldson. Tight end could also be an area to look at. Vernon Davis is excellent, but they could complement him -- I liked the idea of taking Coby Fleener instead of A.J. Jenkins, for instance.
Drafting tomorrow: Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri
Top emerging needs: WR, RT, OLB
Analysis: The Seahawks should be thrilled with the early returns from their 2012 draft. Bruce Irvin, Bobby Wagner and Russell Wilson are all successes so far, and while I had questions on value, the Seahawks saw guys who fit specific roles and have done well. The defense can be great against the pass -- the secondary is so good it makes the pass rush look a little better than it probably is, and only the run defense looks like an occasional question. If they drafted tomorrow, I think the focus would be on pass-catchers and the offensive line. Wilson could use another receiver capable of separating and creating space, and the line needs to be able to provide more time consistently -- Wilson is often on the run. Given how much they like to go two TE, another good one could also help.
Drafting tomorrow: Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia