The 2014 NFL Draft is approaching rapidly, and teams are in the home stretch by finalizing their draft boards and determining which positions they place a higher value on due to need.
Using numberFire's data, we too can place a value on particular needs, and point out some of the biggest areas of weakness with NFL franchises.
I'll be using numberFire's Net Expected Points (NEP) metric to determine team needs. If you want to learn more about NEP, you can head to our glossary by clicking here. And unless otherwise noted, team data is derived from Adjusted NEP per play, which factors in strength of opponent when calculating team efficiency on offense or defense.
What they need: The Cowboys finished with one of the 10 worst rush defenses in 2014, which brought down their “not as bad as you think” D in the per-play NEP data. Bolstering the front line as they continue their transition to a 4-3 team will be key.
The offense was surprisingly good, especially on the ground, as DeMarco Murray was the second-best receiving back (in terms of Total NEP, which factors in receiving) and the third-best back on the ground (among backs with more than 200 carries). They could still use more targets in the passing game, however, as Dez Bryant and Jason Witten carried most of the load there.
How they can get it: The first round will hold plenty of options to bolster the front line, with Pittsburgh “tackle for loss machine” Aaron Donald representing a strong possibility with the 16th pick. Later on in the draft, the Cowboys could snag a wide receiver like Wyoming’s Robert Herron to provide a quick receiver to play the short game and allow Dez Bryant to work deeper down the field.
What they need: The pass defense was the main issue for the Eagles, as they had a top offense and a pretty good run defense. They finished 11th overall in per-play NEP on defense, so there’s not a lot to complain about.
The offense doesn’t really have many glaring holes, although providing some backup for LeSean McCoy would be nice. Among the top 10 running backs in rushing NEP, McCoy was the only to top 300 carries, something that will quickly wear down the talented back.
How they can get it: The 22nd pick in the first round belongs to the Eagles, who could select any number of defensive backs to help out their defense. Louisville’s safety Calvin Pryor, or a cornerback such as Kyle Fuller of Virginia Tech could be options with that first pick. Later on in the draft, the Eagles could (and likely will) add the versatile De’Anthony Thomas to reunite him with college coach Chip Kelly.
New York Giants
What they need: The offense in New York was awful last season, and not enough attention was paid to just how bad the Giants were on that side of the ball as the Jets got most of the attention for their poor play with the football. The Giants had the 31st-ranked offense according to the adjusted NEP data, including a 31st-ranked passing offense and the worst rushing offense.
Things were better on defense, as New York managed to finish in the top-10 on a per-play basis in every category.
How they can get it: The Giants had only one runner with a positive rushing NEP, and that was Brandon Jacobs. Adding a running back to supplement free agent signee Rashad Jennings is a must, and Bishop Sankey from Washington or Terrance West of Towson could be smart options to do just that. As for the passing game, the Giants have to hope for a rebound from Eli Manning while providing him some new targets to throw to, such as adding a tight end like Austin Seferian-Jenkins from Washington in the second round.
What they need: On defense, the Redskins were very much like their NFC East counterparts, the Eagles. They had a surprisingly good defense that doesn’t have obvious flaws, but could stand to use some improvement in the defensive backfield.
The offense in Washington is a different story. The unit finished in the bottom 10, and lacked in playmakers. Only Jordan Reed and Pierre Garcon finished with a double-digit Target NEP as receivers, while the running game finished in the middle of the pack and couldn’t carry the struggling Robert Griffin III.
How they can get it: Bulking up the pass defense wouldn’t be a bad idea, and adding a safety like NIU’s Jimmie Ward in the second round makes a lot of sense in Washington. But they’ll have to balance this with their needs on offense, and their lack of a first-round pick thanks to the RGIII trade. Luckily this is a deep draft at wide receiver, and a talented athlete like Donte Moncrief from Ole Miss could be available to give Pierre Garcon some help at receiver in the second or third round.
What they need: Buffalo finished in the bottom three in Passing NEP, but a decent running game saved them from having a historically bad offense. Fred Jackson helped keep that running game going, as he was the more efficient of the two backs in Buffalo (the other being C.J. Spiller).
The defense was among the 10 best in the league, with a very strong pass defense. However, they’re without safety Jairus Byrd and will need to make some moves to ensure they’re as good on that side of the ball this season as they were last season.
How they can get it: Keeping the running game going will be key, and that means bolstering the front lines on offense. Adding a right tackle like Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews in the first round would round out the Buffalo line in spectacular fashion. Retooling the defense to ensure there is no drop off will be important as well, so a free safety like Terrence Brooks of FSU makes sense in the second or third round.
What they need: The fourth-worst rush defense in the league held back a defense that, led by Brent Grimes, was actually pretty good against the pass. They do still need another corner, as Grimes is old and slot corner Cortland Finnegan isn’t going to step into a major role and succeed for the long haul either.
On offense, the Dolphins need to add talent in the running game. They featured two running backs, and neither played well in 2013. Daniel Thomas was more efficient than Lamar Miller, but neither had much room to work behind a porous offensive line.
How they can get it: Adding an offensive lineman early in the draft makes a ton of sense for Miami, and Zack Martin from Notre Dame is good enough and versatile enough to play in multiple positions along the line from day one for the Fins. Staying in-state and picking up a corner like Jaylen Watkins or Marcus Roberson of Florida would also make a ton of sense in the later rounds.
New York Jets
What they need: A bottom five offense led by the worst quarterback in the league using total Passing NEP data (Geno Smith) needs a ton of help, as Jeremy Kerley was the only Jet to post respectable numbers in the passing game.
The defense wasn’t up to Rex Ryan’s usual standard, but still finished well against the run. The pass defense was an issue for the Jets, who lost aging corner Antonio Cromartie to free agency this offseason.
How they can get it: A corner should be an easy enough addition in the first round, and while they’re no Revis, Justin Gilbert of Oklahoma State or Darqueze Dennard from Michigan State could help retool the Jets’ pass defense. Adding a dynamic tight end like Jace Amaro of Texas Tech in the second round could help provide another option in the passing game, while any of the numerous receivers available later in the draft could likely step onto the field and start for New York during Week 1.
New England Patriots
What they need: Bill Belichick’s run defense was actually fifth-worst using NEP data, and there will almost certainly be moves made to address this during the draft. The pass defense was pretty good, and only gets better by replacing Aqib Talib with All-World corner Darrelle Revis.
The offense now lacks LeGarrette Blount, who helped carry the Patriots to an average ground game in 2013. Tom Brady is getting older, but still orchestrated a very strong air attack last season, but he needs more weapons as his skills decline due to age.
How they can get it: A tight end seems like an obvious option for the Pats, who could use a “move” tight end to replace Aaron Hernandez. The previously mentioned Amaro makes sense, as does late-round choice Richard Rodgers from California. A run-stopper and long-term replacement for Vince Wilfork could be obtained in the first round, as Louis Nix of Norte Dame seems like the right fit to step in for the big man.