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 AFC East below.
Top priority: Linebacker
Listen up, everybody: The Bills are getting close. They did well (we think) selecting EJ Manuel and Kiko Alonso in last year's draft. Cordy Glenn was a solid pick in 2012. Ditto for Marcell Dareus in 2011. C.J. Spiller, the team's first-round pick in 2010, has panned out, even if he's not Joe Cribbs. The club is acquiring pieces. And I'm telling you right now: If the organization obtains a top-level linebacker to team with Alonso (who is moving from the middle to the Will spot) and newcomer Brandon Spikes, this defense can be something special. Right now, Keith Rivers slots in at the other linebacker spot. I'd thought Manny Lawson would start there, but Bills general manager Doug Whaley has indicated Lawson will be more of a hybrid end. Regardless, neither is the answer, so linebacker is still a need. A kid could come in and learn; he'd be given the requisite time and reps to start making plays. (Though we should note that Alonso, runner-up for Defensive Rookie of the Year honors in 2013, required no such time or patience.) There are other needs on this football team, especially with one of the top playmakers in the league at safety having left Buffalo for New Orleans as a free agent. Jairus Byrd's departure definitely will be felt in 2014. The club could use an upgrade at right tackle, as well. That said, if Manuel and the young wideouts grow up together, this squad might threaten for a wild-card spot.
Other areas of interest: Safety, offensive tackle, tight end.
Top priority: Offensive tackle
1) Properly evaluate Ryan Tannehill.
2) Determine what kind of return on investment Mike Wallace can bring.
3) Give Lamar Miller a chance to show he's better than mediocre.
4) Get the most out of the Knowshon Moreno signing..
5) Help put an unseemly public issue at this position group behind the entire organization.
6) Make Dolphins fans stop yearning for Richmond Webb and Keith Sims.
Other areas of interest: Offensive guard, safety, wide receiver.
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New England Patriots
Top priority: Defensive tackle
This might be the easiest team need to figure across the board. The Patriots are desperately lacking interior defensive linemen. Vince Wilfork (32 years old) is coming off a season in which he played in four games. Well, at least Tommy Kelly (33) logged five! Both of these guys can still perform at a relatively high level, but they need to be on the field, not on injured reserve. The smart thing to do, at the very least, would be limiting each of their snaps to between 20 and 25 per game. New England plausibly could draft two defensive tackles. Either way, run defense was the Achilles' heel of this football team last season, as the Patriots allowed opponents to rack up 2,145 yards on the ground, 30th in the NFL. Yes, injuries played a role in the Pats' struggles to stop the run -- and a sure-fire way to clean it up is to get some fresh new DTs.
Other areas of interest: Safety, tight end, wide receiver.
New York Jets
Top priority: Wide receiver
Not only has Eric Decker arrived -- he's already making commercials in Jets gear he hasn't even worn for real yet. I'll give him this: He plays a good nerd in navy plaid. Is he the answer at wide receiver? Whether he can be a WR1 who takes over a game, a la Reggie Wayne or Andre Johnson in their prime -- or Josh Gordon right now -- remains to be seen. Decker has not yet proven to be a Larry Fitzgerald-type in that regard. Stephen Hill, meanwhile, hasn't been much of anything to this point, other than a mild bust. Hill has had problems staying on the field and he's caught 45 balls in 23 games. The Jets need more from their 2012 second-round pick. Jeremy Kerley has shown flashes, at times serving as the most reliable option in the passing game. But he's a slot guy. New York needs a receiver with some playmaking ability on the outside and enough size to be formidable in the red zone, especially considering where the Jets stand at the tight end position ... which, by the way, could be another draft priority for this organization. Oh well -- at least the club signed CJK.
Possible fit:Marqise Lee has adequate speed (4.52 40) and size (6-foot) to contribute, should Hill never come through. At 6-5, Kelvin Benjamin would be a definite red-zone target. If general manager John Idzik would rather go for more speed, Brandin Cooks (4.33 40) likely will be there when the Jets pick at No. 18.
Other areas of interest: Cornerback, linebacker, tight end.