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The Downside of Best Available: NFL Teams That Still Have Glaring Post-Draft Needs

We’re all a little confused, T.Y.

With the Colts’ veteran back in Indy for offseason workouts this week, T.Y. Hilton was asked for his feelings about his team’s first-round pickm Phillip Dorsett — the 5-foot-10, 185-pound receiver who looks and moves a lot like, well, T.Y. Hilton. “There’s nothing I can do about that,” Hilton told the Indy Star’s Zak Keefer yesterday. “That’s who they picked. That’s cool with me.”

It’s reportedly not quite as cool with some of the Colts’ other veterans, which is understandable. Most of general manager Ryan Grigson’s moves this offseason had the feeling of a team and an executive going all in. Andre Johnson, Frank Gore, Todd Herremans, Mike Adams, and Trent Cole are all over-30 players the Colts either signed or re-signed as part of a final push toward the Super Bowl. Adding another body, in the first round, to an already stacked group of wide receivers doesn’t quite add up with that line of thinking.

There are differing opinions on how much need should matter when drafting. Some GMs are staunchly in favor of taking the best player available, no matter what their roster might be lacking. Hilton will be a free agent at season’s end. Johnson is 33. The attrition rate in the NFL is high, very high, and needs shift every day. That line of thinking is clearly what prompted the Colts to select Dorsett. It’s also the type of thinking that can leave massive gaps on your roster, and in the Colts’ case, that gap can be filled only by a massive man.

The Colts are less than four months removed from having the Patriots ram the ball down their throats for the second straight year in the playoffs. Let’s save the deflation talk for another time. As Brandon Browner said after the game, LeGarrette Blount could have been carrying a beach ball and it wouldn’t have mattered. Indy was clearly in need of some bulk up front, bulk that was available when they were picking 29th in the first round. But they bypassed options like Malcom Brown (who went to New England, fittingly) and Eddie Goldman in favor of Dorsett.

Indianapolis wasn’t the only team to pass over some of its apparent needs in favor of players it liked better. It happened plenty in this year’s draft, and in the wake of last weekend, some of the more glaring needs that were talked about back in April are still around.1

Carolina Panthers


1.

Just a note: The needs discussed here are for teams that don’t have them all over their roster. Sure, the Jags, Raiders, and Bucs didn’t shore up every spot. There are only so many draft picks. The exception is the Browns, because that gives us 10 teams to talk about, including the Colts, and 10 is a nice, round number.

Super Bowl XLVII - Baltimore Ravens v San Francisco 49ersBruce Bennett/Getty Images

Left Tackle
Prospective Starter: Michael Oher

When Carolina spent a chunk of its offseason collecting highly drafted, castoff tackles, the idea was that guys like Michael Oher and Jonathan Martin would provide bench depth, at best, before the Panthers spent an early pick on their Jordan Gross replacement. Then seven rounds of the draft went by.

Left tackle is similar to quarterback in that you don’t need many fingers to count the quality players at that position who have gone after the first round (Andrew Whitworth, David Bakhtiari, King Dunlap, end of list). So it made sense that Dave Gettleman might try to target one late in the first round. There’s a chance that he was, and that guys like Cedric Ogbuehi and D.J. Humphries — two of the four picks in front of Carolina’s — were potential targets. Instead, Gettleman — who’s slowly becoming the patron saint of Best Player Available — went with Shaq Thompson, who plays the same position as the two best players on Carolina’s defense.

Fewer options would have been available in the second round, but rather than wait it out, Carolina traded third- and sixth-round picks to move up and take Devin Funchess, a wide receiver who looks a lot like the one they drafted last season. Cam Newton now has a pair of Ents on the outside, but he might not need all of that catch radius if he weren’t constantly running for his life.

Cleveland Browns

Baltimore Ravens v Miami DolphinsChris Trotman/Getty Images

Wide Receiver
Prospective Starter: Brian Hartline

If Jeremy Maclin has a respectable campaign with Alex Smith, and Dwayne Bowe continues his slow descent in Cleveland, it should provide some answers about what exactly was going on with Kansas City’s receiver group. I have a feeling, though, that Bowe still has some left in the tank. But in terms of help, he’ll have his work cut out for him.

I’m an early member of the Andrew Hawkins fan club — and I’m looking forward to him catching 126 passes in New England two years from now — but the combination of Brian Hartline and Travis Benjamin slated to play on the outside across from Bowe doesn’t quite do it for me. That pairing, no Jordan Cameron, no Kyle Shanahan, and Josh McCown under center have me a little worried about this offense. But hey, maybe they’ll run it 50 times a game behind that line. Or maybe Cam Erving can play wide receiver. You never know.

New Orleans Saints

Pass-Catcher, of Any Kind
Prospective Starter: Nick Toon/Josh Hill

As part of its demolition project this offseason, New Orleans dealt both Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills and replaced them with … well, no one. With the 13th pick, the Saints took a right tackle who’s never played right tackle, and followed it up with a bunch of defense and a backup quarterback. New Orleans needed more help as part of its defensive makeover — and there’s a chance that Stephone Anthony and Hau’oli Kikaha provide a significant boost right away — but this is a perfect example of not being able to have it all after an initial plan goes awry.

The Saints are doing a significant retooling on the fly, and with all the money and picks they’ve had to throw into their defense, their passing game has suffered a bit. This year looks like it’s going to involve a lot of running, a lot of Brandin Cooks, and a lot of Josh Hill, which to hear Sean Payton tell it, isn’t a bad thing.

Dallas Cowboys

Running Back
Prospective Starter: Darren McFadden

It’s easy to trace the Cowboys’ line of thinking here. They spent a healthy amount of resources to build the best offensive line in football. Rolling with a clearance-bin Darren McFadden and a combination of Lance Dunbar and Joseph Randle is a way of trusting that plan. It’s actually very well thought out! I can’t believe I’m saying this about the Cowboys, but in a way, it’s almost too methodical.

Envisioning McFadden in the Dallas offense isn’t too much of a stretch. He’ll be just 28 in August, has a similar upright style to DeMarco Murray’s, and as a run-blocking group, the Cowboys are a far cry from what he ran behind in Oakland. Still, McFadden has played 16 games exactly once in his career — last season, when he averaged fewer than 3.5 yards per carry for the third straight year. Watching what the Cowboys have up front makes me weirdly happy, but they’re putting that strategy to the test with this crop of runners.

Seattle Seahawks

Center
Prospective Starter: Lemuel Jeanpierre

One spot where the Saints are pretty set is center, because they managed to snag Seattle’s in the Jimmy Graham deal. The offensive line in general has been a question for the Seahawks at times over the past couple of seasons, but during stretches last year, they managed to piece together a pretty respectable one. The Okung-Carpenter-Unger-Sweezy-Britt grouping was their best five, and now, two of those guys need replacing, with James Carpenter off to the Jets and Unger in New Orleans.

It’s hard to say just how Seattle’s line is going to shake out. John Schneider picked up a pair of interior linemen in the fourth round with San Diego State’s Terry Poole and West Virginia’s Mark Glowinski, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see one of them end up at center with the other at left guard. Jeanpierre’s advantage is that he has some experience in Seattle’s offense. He took over for Unger for three weeks near the end of last season. During that stretch, Seattle ranked 19th in average yards before contact, compared with fifth for the entire season. In dealing Unger away, the Seahawks are taking pretty much the opposite approach to the one in Dallas. This is an “OK, Marshawn, it’s all yours” sort of arrangement.

New England Patriots

Cornerback
Prospective Starter: Bradley Fletcher

I have a sinking feeling that New England’s draft — which included a bunch of names everyone seemed to love going later than expected — is going to go depressingly well. But one area the Patriots didn’t address until their 10th pick is who the hell is going to replace Darrelle Revis.

We know by now that Bill Belichick tailors his defense to the talent he has on hand, so there’s no way we will see the same man-heavy approach this fall that we did when Revis was around. Still, the last memory a lot of people have of former Eagle Bradley Fletcher was during his nationally televised barbecuing at the hands of Dez Bryant. Belichick might be forced to cobble together most of a secondary around Devin McCourty. It wouldn’t be the first time. However it shakes out will be a considerable departure from what New England rode to the Super Bowl.

Philadelphia Eagles

Philadelphia Eagles v Arizona CardinalsChristian Petersen/Getty Images

Safety
Prospective Starter: Earl Wolff

Based on the criteria established at the beginning of this post, the Eagles aren’t technically supposed to apply here. They addressed needs early in the draft and simply ran out of picks to fill them. I’m making an exception, though, because instead of addressing their other corner spot, or not creating a need at wide receiver by letting Jeremy Maclin walk, they spent a small nation’s GDP on running backs in free agency. This was a fate of their own making.

Based on what the Eagles have said, second-round pick Eric Rowe — who spent his first three seasons at Utah playing safety before moving to corner — will play corner in Philadelphia, which seems to fit. At 6-foot-1, Rowe has the length Bill Davis wants on the outside. That still leaves the question of who’s going to line up next to Malcolm Jenkins at safety. Nate Allen is gone, off to Oakland on a deal heavy with “please, I know we’re the Raiders” tax. On paper, the most logical replacement looks like third-year safety Earl Wolff, whose seven starts have been a mixed bag. The Eagles should once again have a defense with a ton of talent up front, but with even after bringing in Byron Maxwell, the secondary is where the most questions still need answering.

Miami Dolphins

Cornerback
Prospective Starter: Will Davis

As much as I love that Miami drafting Bobby McCain means that there are now two B. McCains in the Dolphins secondary, I’m still not sold on this cornerback arrangement. It’s easy to make sense of Miami’s first three picks. The Dolphins need competition at guard, Jordan Phillips fits nicely next to Ndamukong Suh, and if DeVante Parker turns into a star, Miami’s receiving corps — Parker, Jarvis Landry, Kenny Stills, Greg Jennings, and Jordan Cameron … seriously, look at that — could be pretty damn good. That still doesn’t make me feel any better about Will Davis, with his 200 career snaps, manning the spot opposite Brent Grimes.

San Diego Chargers

NFL DraftJonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Right Guard
Prospective Starter: Johnnie Troutman

Well, I guess we know what the Chargers’ plan was coming into the draft. San Diego gave up two picks to move up just two spots to ensure it would get Melvin Gordon. Many — including me — think Gordon has a chance to be a great back in the NFL, and having an option like him should take a significant load off Philip Rivers’s back. But giving up those two picks meant losing the chance to provide some depth and/or competition on the interior of the offensive line.

The Chargers gave Orlando Franklin a healthy amount of money to come in and play left guard, but even if 2014 third-round pick Chris Watt steps in for Nick Hardwick at center, that leaves only a combination of former undrafted free agent Kenny Wiggins and 2012 fifth-round pick Johnnie Troutman to battle it out at right guard. There was some speculation at season’s end that San Diego might consider sliding the powerful D.J. Fluker inside to guard, but that doesn’t seem like a viable option either, with who’s currently behind Fluker at right tackle. This may seem like nitpicking — it is, by the way, and the Chargers’ running game should be notably better this year with the changes they’ve made — but for a team that has a shot at the playoffs, the nits will be picked. I also can’t be the only one who remembers what happened last year when the interior of the Chargers’ line started to crumble with injuries. It left Rivers looking like Ser Barristan Selmy in that alley on Sunday night. And nobody wants that.