The 2014 NFL Draft represents a prime opportunity for teams to shore up positions of need with an injection of fresh, young talent. As Day 1 in Radio City Music Hall draws closer, Elliot Harrison will be taking a division-by-division look at the draft priorities of all 32 teams in the league, continuing with the NFC East below.
See things differently? Be sure to share your take @HarrisonNFL.
Top priority: Safety
Oh, how the Cowboys need safety help in this year's draft. The triumvirate of Barry Church, J.J. Wilcox and Jeff Heath played like The Three Suckateers last year. In fairness, it was Church's first year back from Achilles surgery (and prior to the season-ending injury in 2012, he had looked like an ascending player). Wilcox and Heath are young, but the latter routinely looked overmatched in the big leagues. Now, the Cowboys obviously lacked much of a pass rush last season, and many analysts spotlight this to exonerate the safeties. I see things differently here. If opposing pass catchers are running around freely, like kids at the public pool, edge rushers can only do so much. Too often last season, the ball was out before anyone could force a bad throw. Dallas allowed the third-most passing yards in the NFL in 2013, and contrary to what some believe, you can't just simply blame lackluster production (and injuries) up front.
Possible fit: If, by the grace of the football gods, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix slides past Detroit at No. 10, St. Louis at 13, Chicago at 14 AND Pittsburgh at 15 -- which, oh by the way, won't happen -- Jerry Jones has to pull the trigger. If not, better hope Calvin Pryor's still in the green room.
Other areas of interest: Offensive guard, wide receiver, outside linebacker.
New York Giants
Top priority: Tight End
How geeked up would Giants fans be if the club found itself another Mark Bavaro or Jeremy Shockey? Heck, at this point, Big Blue could use Howard Cross. Eli Manning needs a target with size, to make that third-and-6 catch over the middle. You know, a guy like Martellus Bennett. (Oh wait, he's a former Giant, too. Is Zeke Mowatt available?) Continually relying on Victor Cruz to convert third downs -- on slants over the middle -- is a fast track to landing the team's best receiver on IR. And this offense absolutely cannot afford to lose its salsa dancer. Rueben Randle isn't the answer in the possession game. A big target who stresses the defense near the hash marks and up the seam is where it's at for New York. Sure, the offensive line and backfield are other spots of bother on this side of the ball, but nothing's as glaring a need as tight end. Not to mention (but we'll mention), Eli easily led the NFL with 27 interceptions last fall. How can the Giants reduce that number? By lowering the quarterback's reliance on dangerous throws outside the numbers and deep over the middle. Rx=TE1.
Other areas of interest: Defensive tackle, linebacker, offensive line.
Top priority: Wide Receiver
Don't look at this as a knee-jerk reaction to DeSean Jackson's release; look at this as a necessary reaction to DeSean Jackson's release. Well, that and Jason Avant's relocation to Carolina (where receivers go to stud). Right now, Chip Kelly's relying on Riley Cooper -- who has never proven to be a No. 1 option -- and the coming-off-serious-injury Jeremy Maclin. The Eagles did just lead the NFL in rushing, but not in a conventional manner. This isn't a team that lines up a tailback behind a fullback and pounds the ball over and over. Kelly keeps defenses guessing by incorporating a high tempo, the threat of the deep ball and two tight ends. So who will provide that second element -- the deep-ball part -- now that Jackson is gone? Furthermore, while Avant wasn't a star, he certainly made some big catches for this franchise over the years. Make no mistake: There's a void in the receiving corps that must be filled.
Other areas of interest: Defensive back, outside linebacker, defensive end.
Top priority: Safety
There was a time when Ryan Clark was one of the most underrated safeties in pro football. Love the guy, but he'll turn 35 in October. In football terms, that's getting up there. Brandon Meriweather, the Redskins' other projected starter, thankfully doesn't have quite as much wear on the tires. Problem is, he's never been a Clark-quality player. And he's had a knack for committing stupid penalties at inopportune times. Now, lest you think I'm just a Negative Nancy, allow me to point out that the Redskins actually have a much stronger overall depth chart than most people realize. Losing team leader London Fletcher to retirement is huge, but with a few deft touches, Bruce Allen and company will have this team back in NFC East contention. Looking at the D, I propose draft-weekend investments at safety, inside linebacker and nose tackle. Washington needs cornerback David Amerson to develop and Brian Orakpo to stay healthy. If that happens, and the draft bears fruit, the Redskins will field the best defense in the NFC East by a pretty wide margin.
Possible fit: Washington, of course, doesn't have a first-round pick in this draft, having sent it to St. Louis a couple years back in the Robert Griffin III trade. (Yes, said pick is now No. 2 overall; no, Redskins fans don't need this reminder.) On the positive side, quality safeties can be found beyond Round 1. Terrence Brooks is a name that's been tossed around, but I think he'd be a bit of a reach at the Redskins' opening pick (No. 34 overall). Jimmie Ward could be there in Round 3. Like the Colts, who also lack a first-round pick, I see Washington going best player available with the initial selection. If defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan falls, the Redskins should pounce. Offensive tackle Morgan Moses would also be a fine option.
Other areas of interest: Inside linebacker, offensive line, nose tackle.
Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.