Every organization has a burning question heading into the great college marketplace.
No matter how successful the free agency period or how bright the future, there is not a Belichick ... er ... team in the league that doesn't have serious issues to solve. One of the cooler aspects of the run-up to the NFL draft is that every team's problems are unique. Well, except for the fact that just about everybody needs dudes who can cover Antonio Brown. Yet, these "burning" questions are not solely limited to draft needs like finding a corner. As with anything else in life, nothing is ever that Simple Simon. For example ...
There are other question marks in the league besides who will play quarterback for Denver (Mike Glennon? Tommy Maddox???) or whether or not Chip Kelly likes Colin Kaepernick. We know the Chiefs, Cowboys, Eagles and everybody else will be drafting players, filling holes and getting excited, but will these steps solve their biggest obstacles to getting back to football solvency?
So consider the below an All-32 look at the league featuring the pressing matters each team must solve this offseason -- via the draft, trades during the draft or the readjustment period afterward -- to be a contender in 2016. As always, your take on any of these question marks is welcome: @HarrisonNFL is the place. I will try to readjust my ego if your view runs counter to mine.
Alright, let's get this thing started!
Gil Brandt, who knows a thing or two (million) about Cowboys football, says Jerry Jones told him Dallas "will unequivocally not take a quarterback at No. 4." No Carson Wentz, no Jared Goff, no Paul Blake at the cleanup spot in the draft. But can they risk not taking advantage of this high draft slot by targeting a QB? At the least, the 'Boys probably need to spend a Day 2 pick on the position -- otherwise, they might as well look to Kellen Moore as both Romo insurance and, perhaps, the future. Sure, you can circle the 2017 or 2018 drafts, but this Cowboys team is likely too strong to get a top-five pick again -- and that, of course, is where the best QB talent lives.
I say yes. My buddy Chad Reuter has the Giants snatching up Ole Miss' Laquon Treadwell in the 10 spot, and I tend to agree with that pick. Big Blue needs a wideout to take the heat off Odell Beckham Jr. It's not coming from the tight end spot, and the running game is not dominant enough to create play-action opportunities. Enter Treadwell, who can be a possession receiver and overall solid football player. Basically, forget the "slow" 40 time.
The Eagles have several areas to fix -- yet, after watching their defense in contests like the home games vs. the Bucsand Redskins, there is no question this team must get better versus the pass. The No. 8 pick could come down to, say, Shaq Lawson or Vernon Hargreaves. After taking a Pete Incaviglia swing-and-a-huge-miss on free agents like Nnamdi Asomugha (a few years back) and Byron Maxwell (last year), drafting a promising cover man like Hargreaves sure makes sense.
A lot of mock drafts are going to have the Redskins addressing the passing game -- either via someone to catch the football (Josh Doctson?) or someone to cover (Mackensie Alexander?). The issue here is that, with defensive coordinators having a season full of tape to watch all offseason on quarterback Kirk Cousins, getting running back help early sure would be nice. Matt Jones can be a solid part of the ground attack, but who likes the idea of Alabama's Derrick Henry trucking dudes in the NFC East?
There seems to be a prevailing assumption out there that Langford is simply going to walk right into the starting lineup and produce like departed veteran running back Matt Forte, based on a few good games last season. I'm not sure fans or analysts realize how productive Forte has been. First off, the man has averaged over 20 touches per game through eight seasons. Secondly, Forte was an outstanding receiver in Chicago. Remember Langford's big drop late in the home loss to the Vikings? Clearly the team was thinking something similar, or else John Fox would not have gone after his former running back (C.J. Anderson) in free agency.
When it comes to creating a balanced offensive attack, it sure is nice to have a running game and a solid No. 2 wide receiver. Assuming Golden Tate sees the most targets (he racked up 270 over his first two years in Detroit), it's imperative that Abdullah carries the ball 15 times a game and Jones is more than merely an occasional threat. The latter's 816 yards last year would suffice, but that came with a balanced Bengals offense, Andy Dalton outperforming recent-vintage Matthew Stafford and A.J. Green drawing the bulk of the defensive attention. What happens in Motown?
Much has been made of Lacy's weight ... and P90X workouts ... and "Fitness Made Simple" vids. (OK, maybe not the last part.) But the question is, will Lacy's progress in conditioning (there has been promising news on this front) translate to putting Green Bay back in the NFC Championship Game? It could. Randall Cobb suffered through injuries and the absence of Jordy Nelson last season. The passing game sorely needed the ground game to impose its will. Other than spotty performances, like the big win in Minnesota, the run was more like a bar crawl for the Cheeseheads' offense. Remember, Lacy rushed for 1,178 and 1,139 yards his first two years. Green Bay needs that guy back in 2016. I don't see Ted Thompson taking an RB early in the draft, especially when the defensive front seven has legit needs.
Stefon Diggs, Jarius Wright and Charles Johnson all carry their pluses and minuses, with Diggs having the most upside. Consider, though, that Vikings brass has publicly encouraged Bridgewater to not be so careful with the football and let fly. Head coach Mike Zimmer wants him to take charge. Doing the latter will be easier given that this will be Year 3 for Bridgewater. On the taking-more-chances-downfield front, is this receiving corps cagey enough to fight for balls, win 50-50 battles and the like? Essentially, can those wideouts make their quarterback look better? This is a team that should take a WR1 in Round 1.
While Dan Quinn's defensive pedigree and potential to turn that side of the ball into a top-10 unit will continue to remain a topic of discussion in Atlanta, the reality is that the inconsistent offense lost games in 2015 (SEE: back-to-back home defeats to the Coltsand Vikings). Quarterback Matt Ryan hasn't progressed the last couple of seasons. Perhaps center Alex Mack will help matters greatly. But TE is a hole, and Sanu wasn't even the WR2 in Cincy. Still see the Falcons hitting the defense in Round 1, though.
Not to suggest that the Panthers aren't talented enough on Luke Kuechly's side of the ball, but the offense is unlikely to score 500 points again. Mike Shula (play calling) and Cam Newton (improvising) were in the zone last year -- the offensive attack caught five-alarm fire and did not let up until the Super Bowl. Truth is, Carolina's defense was not asked to hold the fort as much as other teams. Josh Norman still hasn't signed the franchise-tag tender, while the team lost a situational pass rusher in Jared Allen. We know GM Dave Gettleman will hit defense in the draft, but the Panthers need DB help, pass-rush help and an eventual replacement for Thomas Davis. I could see two or five draft picks going this direction.
Marques Colston is gone. The team's most reliable pass catcher last season, tight end Ben Watson, now plays in Baltimore. The offensive line could use some upgrades. While signing Coby Fleener might help, the best way to get Brees back in the tournament -- and make this team a threat -- is to fully invest in the defense later this month. Make it so Brees isn't trotting out on the field having to equal the 45 touchdowns the defense just gave up. The club acquired center Max Unger last offseason, while also re-upping running back Mark Ingram. Run the rock. Averaging more than 93.2 yards per game will lift weight off Brees while giving the hopefully revamped defense a blow.
Many fans think the most pressing question for this organization is whether or not Jameis Winston can take a step forward in Year 2 (à la Derek Carr for the Raiders last season). Not so. Why? Because we aren't going to find out anything about Winston's anticipation and progressions in coach Dirk Koetter's offense now, before the draft. The big deal right now is finding that impact player at No. 9 overall who can boost a defense that allowed 417 points last season. And you can indeed find that guy on defense in this draft slot. That's where Anthony Barr (2014), Luke Kuechly (2012) and B.J. Raji (2009) were drafted. That is recent and reason enough.
Alright, so the two are kind of the same in the sense that both involve that second level, the linebackers. What we mean is, will the Cardinals invest in coverage from both an LB and DB standpoint in the draft, or will they look for an edge-rushing OLB along with more muscle up front? What a boon, acquiring Chandler Jones to team with Markus Golden. So with Deone Bucannon used so much in run support (more than 100 tackles last year), and given how poorly the secondary fared sans Honey Badger, coverage would seem to be the answer. Just not sure GM Steve Keim would pass on more talent up front. That goes for the offensive line, too, which could gobble up that No. 29 pick.
Haven't heard as much speculation on this matter as you'd think -- given that Case Keenum is the penciled-in starter right now -- but the Rams can move up from their 15th spot to get a signal caller. Sure, it will take firepower, but not the kind of king's ransom it'd take to fly up the board from the depths of the 20s. Getting a somewhat local guy in Cal product Jared Goff would create juice for a franchise that could painfully use it. The defense still has talent. The offense needs a complement to the Todd Gurley-fueled run game. If not a QB, how about WR Laquon Treadwell from Ole Miss? Pairing Treadwell with the speedy Tavon Austin sounds fun.
The organization is stuck in neutral here. Kelly says he's looking forward to coaching Kap, knowing full well that GM Trent Baalke is ready to deal or possibly take a QB in the draft. It's impossible to know in mid-April what will come of Kaepernick, especially with draft-day trading potentially on the horizon. So here is what we do know:
» Kelly does not make personnel decisions in San Francisco. The front office does. And you can bet he has intimated that to Kaepernick in their conversations.
» Kaepernick's agent can request a trade all he wants, but barring a shocking development, like, say, Baalke dealing him to the Rams (in his own division), there aren't many trade partners out there. Try one: John Elway. Dollars and sense are the obstacles with Elway. (Yes, I meant to type it that way, reader editors.)
» Jared Goff could be sitting there at seventh overall. The Titans have Marcus Mariota. I think the Browns will take Carson Wentz. The Chargers need an impact player on defense or the offensive line. The Cowboys might take Wentz if he slips, because they saw plenty of him at the Senior Bowl -- otherwise, I think they go defense. The Jaguars and Ravens don't need Goff. That leaves youknowwho.
Is it providing a backfield complement to Thomas Rawls? The surprising undrafted free-agent signee out of Central Michigan looked pretty dandy last season, but that was in a half-season. Is he the solution to Marshawn Lynch's departure? How about offensive line, which not only lost J.R. Sweezy and Russell Okung but has had health concerns over the last few seasons? I see GM John Schneider going BPA in the first round, but I think DT must be hit sometime on Day 1 or Day 2, preferably within the first two rounds. Although I do like colleague Chad Reuter's projection of the team taking Eli Apple, a long corner who would fit.