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: The Falcons had one of the worst defenses in recent NFL history in 2013, finishing last in numberFire’s metrics. The pass defense was particularly bad, and nothing done this offseason has made any huge improvements in that area. The offense was down, but that was largely due to the injury to Julio Jones. The Falcons do need to add a tight end and some linemen, however, as Matt Ryan has proven to be at least partially dependent on the talent around him.
How they can get it: The first pick of the draft for the Falcons should be adding a playmaker to the defense, such as Khalil Mack of Buffalo or Jadeveon Clowney of South Carolina. Both would add pass rush and disruption sorely lacking on defense in Atlanta. Later on in the draft, picking up a safety like Tre Boston of North Carolina could add some competition to a weak defensive backfield.
What they need: The Panthers had a very good defense in 2013, but to maintain their top-five pass defense, they’ll need to replace the departed Captain Munnerlyn at cornerback. The offense finished in the top half of the league last season as well, but will literally only go as far as Cam Newton takes them. The offensive line, running back, and wide receiver positions all need upgrades to make sure Cam isn’t doing it all on his own.
How they can get it: A corner or a wide receiver seem like likely options in the first round, which means Kyle Fuller of Virginia Tech or Jordan Matthews of Vanderbilt make a lot of sense at the end of the first. Later on in the draft, picking up a lineman like Michael Schofield from Michigan or Billy Turner of North Dakota State could help rebuild an aging front five.
New Orleans Saints
What they need: The second-best offense in the NFL wouldn’t seem to have many needs, but adding another weapon for Drew Brees would help, as Jimmy Graham’s contract situation is on the rocks and Marques Colston isn’t getting any younger. Defensively, the Saints were pretty good, but the rushing defense was on the wrong side of average, and adding some run stoppers to the front seven could certainly help.
How they can get it: A pass rushing outside linebacker like Jeremiah Attaochu of Georgia Tech makes sense at the top of the draft for the Saints, while a wide receiver like Paul Richardson of Colorado or Robert Herron of Wyoming could fill the void left by Lance Moore.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
What they need: Their biggest offseason need was already filled, as the team moved on from head coach Greg Schiano and hired a respectable veteran coach in Lovie Smith. But the Bucs had a bottom-five offense last year, and Smith isn’t exactly an offensive guru. Adding a weapon at wide receiver is a must, as is helping pave the way for a running game that was inconsistent in 2013. Bobby Rainey, largely by no fault of his own, had the third-worst Rushing Success Rate (percentage of Rushing NEP successes versus total attempts, to measure how often a player is gaining Expected Points for his team) among runners with 100 or more carries last year.
How they can get it: Adding a playmaker on offense like Clemson’s Sammy Watkins in the first or John Brown of Pittsburg State in the seventh would help an anemic offense, adding both would bring speed for days to a team that currently lacks in athleticism. To bolster the offensive line, Tampa Bay may consider adding Gabe Jackson of Mississippi State in the second or third rounds to play right guard and pave the way for the returning Doug Martin.
What they need: NFL teams can be judged in four main phases of the game: rushing offense, rushing defense, passing offense, and passing defense. The Texans were in the bottom six in three of these four categories. In other words, they have needs everywhere. Arian Foster couldn’t get things going, finishing outside the top-20 among runners with 75 or more carries last year, and Ben Tate (who wasn’t that impressive) has moved on. Case Keenum was no better than Matt Schaub on a per-play basis, and apart from J.J. Watt, the defense is sorely lacking in talent.
How they can get it: Holding the first pick means the Texans can add the best player in the draft, which in my opinion is Jadeveon Clowney of South Carolina. But apart from Clowney, the Texans could use a quarterback like Fresno State’s Derek Carr, or a middle linebacker like Chris Borland of Wisconsin to fill other needs, who could be available in the second and third round, respectively.
What they need: The run defense in Indianapolis was among the 10 worst in the NFL in 2013, leading to a below average unit overall. The running game was inconsistent, but mainly due to the disparity in ability between the efficient Donald Brown and the woeful Trent Richardson. However, adding some beef up front will help both of these players in the long run, as would adding a more dynamic, do-it-all back that can do what Richardson was supposed to do.
How they can get it: Running backs Bishop Sankey of Washington or De’Anthony Thomas of Oregon make sense to add a spark to the backfield, and bringing in a guard like Trai Turner of LSU could open up holes for those backs. Defensively, a versatile linebacker like Trevor Reilly of Utah could serve in multiple roles in a weak linebacking corps.
What they need: While the offense in Jacksonville did improve once the historically bad Blaine Gabbert was sidelined, it still wasn’t good, and finished last in the NFL. There’s no running game to speak of in Jacksonville, and outside of Cecil Shorts, there aren’t many options at receiver either. The defense is a mess, and needs to add pass rushers and capable cover men to compete on a regular basis.
How they can get it: The Jaguars’ first pick of the draft should be a defensive player, as Chad Henne is good enough to play “band-aid” quarterback for a year as the Jaguars continue to rebuild. That means Khalil Mack of Buffalo could bring a dynamic edge player to Gus Bradley’s creative defense. Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins of Washington or wide receiver Jared Abbrederis of Wisconsin could help add talent to the offense in the second or third round of the draft.
What they need: The Titans were 19th against the run in 2013 on defense and had no consistent pass rush, yet still managed a fairly average defensive ranking using numberFire’s data. Similarly on offense, the Titans lacked playmakers but managed a mediocre offensive performance. That doesn’t mean there aren’t holes, as the Titans could use a running back (quarterbacks accounted for the team’s strong finish in rushing metrics, and one of them (Ryan Fitzpatrick) is gone. Shonn Greene was outside of the top 20 among rushers with 75 or more attempts in 2013, meaning the team needs help in the backfield.
How they can get it: The mediocre defense could be brought to life by adding a playmaking linebacker like Alabama’s C.J. Mosley in the first round. Fixing the offense means adding a quarterback, and Aaron Murray of Georgia could fit the bill in the middle rounds. A running back is almost certainly heading to Nashville during the draft, and it could be Storm Johnson of UCF as a late-round pickup.