2014 NFL Draft Day Needs: AFC and NFC North
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, which factors in strength of opponent when calculating team efficiency on offense or defense.
What they need: There’s a common theme among NFC North teams, and the Lions are the perfect example of the prototype - good offenses in need of help on the other side of the ball. No wideout had a better total Reception NEP than Calvin Johnson, and the Lions are stacked at running back. But they had the eighth-worst pass defense in using Adjusted Defensive NEP, and struggled to create turnovers.
How they can get it: Adding a cornerback early in the draft, like Justin Gilbert of Oklahoma State, makes a ton of sense. And adding another outside pass rusher to help capitalize on the inside pressure caused by their dominant tackles would make sense, so look for Detroit to spend a mid-round pick on a player like Marcus Smith of Louisville to play defensive end.
What they need: The offense is really set in Chicago, with two huge weapons at receiver, a good tight end, and a quarterback they might not love, but who gets the job done in Jay Cutler. The defense is where the trouble lies, as the Bears finished with the worst run defense in the league using Adjusted NEP, and only a middling pass defense. They need to add playmakers all over the front seven on defense, and refresh an aging cornerback situation.
How they can get it: Pittsburgh’s Aaron Donald or Minnesota’s RaShede Hageman could be a huge help as interior defenders who can stop the run and the pass, and could both be available when the Bears pick in the first round. And a middle linebacker like Shane Skov of Stanford or Christian Jones of FSU makes sense later on in the draft to help fill the gaps behind a hopefully improved defensive line.
What they need: The third worst defense in the NFL made its home in Minnesota - according to our adjusted metrics - so like the other NFC North teams, defense will be key for the Vikings. However, unlike the other teams, there are also needs on offense in Minny. Particularly under center, where the Vikings lack a quarterback good enough to generate an efficient passing game.
How they can get it: A quarterback has to be an option with the seventh pick, as you don’t need numbers to know that the Vikings need help at the position. And while they may miss out on the passer they want in the first round, Derek Carr and Zach Mettenberger could be options in the second or third round. Bolstering the second worst pass defense will also be key, so cornerback Bradley Roby of Ohio State might be in play with a second round pick as well.
Green Bay Packers
What they need: The Packers went from having a solid rushing defense in Week 10, with a -4.26 Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP at that point in the season, to surging up to 25.68 Defensive Rushing NEP by Week 17. Keep in mind that, on defense, higher NEPs are bad, as they signal a defense allowing an efficient offense. This collapse on defense didn’t help the Packers, as they stumbled into the playoffs, and they could use a linebacker and a safety to help ensure that the unit doesn’t suffer like that again in 2014.
How they can get it: Alabama’s C.J. Mosley might not be available by the time the Packers pick, but if he is, he makes sense as a sideline-to-sideline presence on defense. Stepping back into the secondary, Ed Reynolds of Stanford would be a wise choice in the mid rounds as a free safety who can get his hands on the football but also chip in against the run.
What they need: Losing Jerricho Cotchery, who was third among all 50-plus target wideouts in Reception NEP per target, will hurt what is already a thin receiving corps behind Antonio Brown. And the Pittsburgh defense seems to be held together by nothing but mystique and good coaching, as every level of defense needs help, but the front seven must particularly rebound from a bottom-10 effort against the run last year.
How they can get it: Louis Nix of Notre Dame makes sense as a run stuffer and playmaker on the defensive line who can play within the Steelers’ scheme, and will likely be available in the first round. A wide receiver will likely be a late-round choice for Pittsburgh, so they could be looking at Jeff Janis of Saginaw Valley State as a lightning rod to add some speed to the offense.
What they need: The defense in Cincy is just fine, as they had the second-best pass defense and will get Geno Atkins back in 2014. A middle linebacker wouldn’t be an awful idea, but they’re otherwise alright on that side of the ball. On offense, the Bengals need a change-of-pace for Gio Bernard, as BenJarvus Green-Ellis was among the 10 worst in Rushing NEP among backs with more than 100 carries. There are also doubts about Andy Dalton’s future, as he’s on the cusp of being a top-10 quarterback, but doesn’t seem to have room to grow.
How they can get it: A later-round, developmental quarterback like Brett Smith of Wyoming makes perfect sense for the Bengals. Adding a running back with some workhorse qualities, like Jeremy Hill of LSU or Carlos Hyde of Ohio State, would help keep Bernard fresh and hopefully improve over the inefficient Green-Ellis.
What they need: A quarterback. This one is easy.
The Browns could also use general help for an offense which finished eighth-worst on a per play basis, including replacing the departed Trent Richardson and adding linemen to pave the way for a new runner and Ben Tate. Mike Pettine, the new head coach, will also want to add talent to the defense, as he’ll be bringing his aggressive “Rex Ryan” style to the midwest.
How they can get it: While they may choose to pass on one, taking a passer with the fourth pick should be an automatic for the Browns. Following up that pick with a top guard like Gabe Jackson of Mississippi State or Xavier Su’a-Filo of UCLA in the late first or second round would help Ben Tate and others find room to run in what should be an improved offense.
What they need: The defense in Baltimore wasn’t good enough to carry a poor offense in 2012, but the offense was good enough to get them to the Super Bowl. Fast forward to 2013, and the offense fell off the face of the Earth, leaving the Ravens with a very mediocre product on the field. Joe Flacco was a bottom-10 passer using our metrics, and Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce were the two worst running backs in the entire league using NEP data.
How they can get it: The offensive line needed an overhaul, and while they’ve already taken steps in the right direction, adding an offensive lineman with some versatility like the now injured Brandon Thomas of Clemson makes sense later in the draft. Adding weapons to the offense would also be wise for Baltimore, who should look hard at Marqise Lee of USC in the first round.