While i'm here, I figured I'd post this as well (although I do not agree with Patriots "biggest need"...I think we have bigger needs on the OL).NFC EAST | NFC WEST | NFC SOUTH | NFC NORTH
Buffalo Bills: Offensive tackle, wide receiver
For the most part, the Bills did a superlative job of improving their team this offseason. The defensive line got the biggest overhaul with the signing of defensive ends Mario Williams and Mark Anderson, but general manager Buddy Nix also retained key offensive contributors like wide receiver Steve Johnson and unheralded-but-effective starting tight end Scott Chandler. The biggest holes heading into the draft were at left tackle and wide receiver, and the Bills addressed both spots on Day 2 of the draft.
There are still concerns, however.
Buffalo spent a third-round pick on NC State's T.J. Graham, a receiver whom many draft analysts saw as a late-round pick. Todd McShay called Graham one of the more underrated receivers in the draft, but said he didn't expect the Wolfpack receiver to come off the board until the fifth or sixth round. Graham may yet prove his doubters wrong, but it would be premature to simply pencil him in opposite Johnson and assume he will produce right away. More likely, Graham will be spoon-fed the offense, and Chan Gailey will mostly use Graham's blazing speed in spread packages to try and get more space for Johnson, Donald Jones and David Nelson to work with. Graham also figures to contribute right out of the gate as a punt returner.
The Bills never really acted as if they were interested in re-signing left tackle Demetress Bell, despite him anchoring a line that gave up only 23 sacks and led the league in adjusted sack rate. Some of that indifference can be attributed to the belief that Gailey's scheme and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick's quick trigger were more responsible for the low sack numbers than anything Bell did.
Chris Hairston, a 2011 fourth-rounder, held up well in limited action, but it seemed obvious that the team would select some competition for Hairston. The Bills netted one of the big steals of the draft when it plucked Georgia's Cordy Glenn off the board in the second round. Problem solved? Not necessarily. Glenn played all over the line in college, and there is real concern that he doesn't have the foot speed to be an upper-tier blindside protector at the NFL level. Nix considers Glenn to be very similar to former Chargers standout Marcus McNeill, though, and obviously the team would be thrilled if that comparison holds up.
While there is something to be said for subtracting good players now and then for the sake of team chemistry, there is even more to be said for not putting your remaining talent in a position to fail. The Dolphins do have some decent pieces to work with, but their skill position talent leaves something to be desired.
Brian Hartline wasn't good last season, but he was very efficient in 2010, boasting a 21.9 percent DVOA and providing a vertical dimension to the offense. (DVOA is Football Outsiders' defense-adjusted value over average metric, explained here.) Davone Bess is a natural slot receiver who, according to Football Outsiders similarity scores, compares favorably over the past three seasons to the early years of Ricky Proehl, Brian Blades and Wayne Chrebet. When paired up with a legitimate No. 1 receiver, both Hartline and Bess can be part of an efficient, if unspectacular, passing attack.
But by trading away Brandon Marshall for pennies on the dollar and not reeling in a top receiver prospect in the draft, general manager Jeff Ireland and head coach Joe Philbin could well be invoking the Peter Principle, pushing both receivers into roles in which they can't succeed. Maybe Clyde Gates will provide enough room with his speed to let Hartline and Bess operate, but that's asking a lot from a guy who did very little as a rookie.
What makes all of this worse is that Miami just drafted Ryan Tannehill, and there will be pressure from both the owner and the fans to get their shiny new toy on the field as soon as possible. Two issues there: Tannehill is a raw prospect and would benefit from time on the bench, as well the security of, say, a Brandon Marshall to throw to when he does get on the field. Instead, Miami is setting itself up for a potential repeat of the Blaine Gabbert show that ran further up I-95 last year, throwing out an unprepared rookie and teaming him with overmatched skill position personnel.
Traditionally, Bill Belichick defenses have taken away what an offense does best, forcing quarterbacks and offensive coordinators out of their comfort zones and making role players have to step up. That all went out the window last year, as New England's pass defense DVOA against No. 1 receivers was an eye-popping 43.9 percent, easily the worst mark in the league. In the first two weeks alone, Patriots corners surrendered 17 receptions for 311 yards and two touchdowns to the combination of Marshall and Vincent Jackson, and things never got much better. New England didn't pursue any of the top-tier cornerbacks in free agency, opting instead to upgrade the nickel and dime packages by signing veteran Will Allen and Jets castoff Marquice Cole to one-year deals.
When the draft rolled around, New England focused on improving the front seven, betting on a better pass rush to help the secondary, while waiting until the seventh round to add a corner in Nebraska's Alfonzo Dennard. Dennard was a highly touted player who plummeted in the draft due to the always-toxic combination of a bad Senior Bowl and a felony arrest for assaulting a police officer. He's the same kind of low-risk, high-reward move that the Pats have been making for a long time. Those gambles produced Corey Dillon and Randy Moss … but lately they've also yielded Chad Ochocinco and Albert Haynesworth.
If there is to be improvement, it's going to have to come from within. Both Devin McCourty and Ras-I Dowling have the potential to be effective players in the Belichick system. McCourty was terrific as a rookie in 2010, but struggled mightily last year when asked to play more press coverage. By the end of the season he was playing free safety, though all indications are that McCourty will return to man one of the starting cornerback spots. Ideally, Dowling will be starting on the other side. That will require him to stay healthy, something that Dowling has been almost comically inept at. The former Virginia standout has suffered through knee injuries, ankle injuries, hamstring injuries and hip injuries in the last two years. Any blueprint that requires Dowling to be a major contributor needs a Plan B in place.
One of the biggest individual winners over the draft weekend was Wayne Hunter, New York's embattled right tackle, who watched seven rounds come and go without the Jets adding his successor. Hunter was among the worst starting linemen in football in 2011, surrendering 8.5 sacks and committing 11 penalties in his first year as a full-time replacement for the retired Damien Woody. Neither head coach Rex Ryan nor new offensive coordinator Tony Sparano has been any more than lukewarm in their endorsements, with Ryan suggesting that Hunter was the right tackle "for now," while Sparano has indicated there will be an open competition. Thanks to the team's inaction during free agency and on draft day, there aren't really any other viable choices.
Ideally, former second-round pick Vladimir Ducasse would step up and take the job, but there is absolutely no reason to expect him to do so. Ducasse has been non-competitive in training camp for two years running, and has failed when pressed into service as a reserve. The fact that the Jets opted to guarantee Hunter's base salary in 2012 rather than simply releasing him speaks volumes as to their lack of confidence in Ducasse. The only other options on the roster are Austin Howard and Dennis Landolt. Howard was signed off the Ravens' practice squad; he started one game with the Eagles during his rookie season and played in three others. That's more game experience than Landolt, who has done stints on the practice squad with four different teams but has yet to be promoted to an active roster.
The other potential sore spot is at safety. Eric Smith was exposed in his first season as a starting player, while Jim Leonhard finished the season on IR for the second year in a row. The Jets did sign LaRon Landry to a one-year, $3.5 million deal, but given both his injury history and his current condition -- several teams passed on Landry in free agency after checking out his Achilles tendon -- and you have a very iffy solution. Even if Landry holds up for all 16 games, he's more of a box player than a coverage guy, and what Ryan needs more than anything is someone who can help limit Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez twice a year. Leonhard remains unsigned and might return, depending on how quickly he heals from his torn right patellar tendon and how much competition there is for his services.
The Jets added a pair of safeties on Day 3 of the draft, selecting Wake Forest's Josh Bush and South Carolina's Antonio Allen, either of whom could push for playing time with a strong performance in training camp.