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 Broncos were good enough to make a deep run in the playoffs, but there are still needs that must be filled to avoid heartbreak at the end of the season once again. The passing defense ranked 21st in the league, and could use some help. The offense is losing Eric Decker, who was top 12 among receivers in Reception NEP over the past two seasons. He’ll be replaced by Emmanuel Sanders, who was half as efficient as Decker on a per target basis. The Broncos also lost Knowshon Moreno, who was their less reliable but more productive back last year.
How they can get it: Montee Ball remains at running back, but he’s slow, plodding, and reliable for but a few yards per carry. Adding a dynamic player like Dri Archer of Kent State would bring a spark to Peyton Manning’s offense and a nice compliment to Ball’s running style. Replacing Decker’s production won’t be a one man job, so spending a mid-round pick on a player like Robert Herron of Wyoming would also make sense for the Broncos.
What they need: Darren McFadden was the least consistent running back in the NFL last year using our Success Rate metric (which measures how often a player gains positive NEP on a touch) among runners with 100 or more touches. Maurice Jones-Drew was bottom-10 within the same metric among the same group. Neither back is terribly consistent anymore, and they don’t have a great line in front of them, either. The Raiders also had zero receivers in the top 30 in NEP last season, and had one of the worst pass defenses in the league.
How they can get it: A versatile lineman like Joel Bitonio of Nevada would be a wise choice in the second round, which might help pave the way for the running game. Adding a receiver like Sammy Watkins from Clemson at the top of the draft will bring a spark to the offense, and might open up more holes for the running game by keeping defenses honest.
Kansas City Chiefs
What they need: The passing game in Kansas City was 21st in the NFL using our metrics, thanks to a below-average quarterback in Alex Smith and lacking weapons at wide receiver led by 43rd-ranked Dwayne Bowe. The offensive line could use a guard or two as well, as the team seeks to keep up a rushing attack which carried the offense to the playoffs last season.
How they can get it: Adding a quarterback at some point in the draft wouldn’t be an awful idea, and Brett Smith of Wyoming might be a mid- to late-round option for KC. Giving whoever lines up under center more options to throw to would be huge, so a wideout like Brandin Cooks of Oregon State would bring speed and quickness to the offense as a first round pick. And later on in the draft, the Chiefs could stash injured Clemson guard/tackle Brandon Thomas and plug him in on the offensive line once he’s healthy again.
San Diego Chargers
What they need: The defense in San Diego was awful last season, ranking second-to-last against the run and 26th against the pass according to our Net Expected Points data. Pretty much every spot on defense can be upgraded outside of Eric Weddle, who will hold down one of the safety spots for the Chargers. Keenan Allen was a huge surprise for the Chargers in 2013, but adding some more help on offense wouldn’t hurt, either.
How they can get it: A cornerback like Justin Gilbert of Oklahoma State could step in from Day 1 and help the Chargers’ pass defense, while a Kyle Van Noy of BYU would be a good linebacker option in the second round. And in this deep class of wide receivers, bringing in a playmaker like Kevin Norwood of Alabama in the late rounds could help take some pressure off of Keenan Allen.
San Francisco 49ers
What they need: As my colleague, Jim Sannes, pointed out in this article, the 49ers’ biggest issue is that they trail the Seahawks in every one of our “big four” team metrics (passing and rushing offense and defense). The one area where the Niners lagged behind the most was pass defense, where the Seahawks outpaced San Fran by around a touchdown’s worth of NEP per game. The 49ers also have no efficient runners outside of Colin Kaepernick, and only had one receiver (Anquan Boldin) in the top 100 in Reception NEP last year.
How they can get it: Bolstering the pass defense for San Francisco means adding a corner, and Jaylen Watkins of Florida or his teammate Marcus Roberson could be second-day options for the Niners. The offense could use a receiver like Odell Beckham Jr. of LSU or Jordan Matthews of Vanderbilt in the first two rounds, as well.
What they need: It’s tough to find many needs for the Seahawks, but there are certainly things they could do to improve. Adding a tight end (the team had no one at the position in the top 20) could help Russell Wilson even more, and the running game finished outside the top 10 in terms of NEP as well. This could mean adding a new back, but given the youth behind Marshawn Lynch, it probably means building depth along the line to pave the way for the backs they already have.
How they can get it: The aforementioned Bitonio and Thomas make a ton of sense for Seattle, and Washington’s own Austin Seferian-Jenkins could be an impact player at tight end for the Hawks. Replacing Golden Tate with Bruce Ellington of South Carolina would also be a nice transition for the seemingly dynasty-bound Seahawks.
St. Louis Rams
What they need: With two picks at the top of the draft, the Rams are in an ideal position to fill holes on their roster and draft star players. This could come in the form of a receiver, as St. Louis had no wideouts in the top 60 of our NEP rankings. The offense could also use some help up front to block for the quarterback and Zac Stacy, who showed flashes of ability but wound up below expectation in NEP and Success Rate last year. The defense struggled against the pass, and cornerback is definitely a need for the Rams.
How they can get it: Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans could both give the Rams a number-one option in the passing game from day one, while Zack Martin of Notre Dame could step in to play tackle or guard right away. Ricardo Allen of Purdue represents an attractive late-round option at cornerback.
What they need: Carson Palmer isn’t getting any younger, and he finished outside the top half of quarterbacks in the NFL in Passing NEP a year ago. The running game was awful, mainly due to the inefficiency of the now retired Rashard Mendenhall. The defense in Arizona is solid, but the defensive backfield could use another playmaker to go with Tyrann Mathieu and Patrick Peterson.
How they can get it: Quarterbacks Teddy Bridgewater and Derek Carr will be attractive for the Cardinals in the first round, as will running backs like Andre Williams of Boston College and Terrance West of Towson in the mid-rounds. Walt Aikens of Liberty is a sleeper candidate at corner who can provide depth behind the Pro Bowler Peterson.