"Draft need" articles are boring.
I would list the reasons why they are boring, but the reasons are boring, too. Two quick ones: most draft need articles assume that no second-year player in history has ever developed ("last year's third-round pick is listed as a starter? That's automatically a problem") and they reduce roster development into a shopping list, instead of an integrated plan to achieve and sustain success.
So let's come at this from the other direction. Here are the non-needs for all 32 teams. We'll list each team's primary and secondary assets, then approach draft strategy from a big-picture standpoint: does the team need to win now, change direction, set a tone for a new coaching staff or (yes) just fix one massive roster problem? The assets and needs may get a little meta at times, but after weeks of finicky scouting report scrutiny, it's a good time to stop taking bark samples and look at the whole forest instead.
Primary Assets: The Bills have three-quarters of a great front four and the building blocks of an outstanding front seven. Kyle Williams, Mario Williams, Marcell Dareus, Kiko Alonso and newcomer Brandon Spikes make a worthy playoff nucleus.
Secondary Assets: The Bills have offensive speed to burn and exciting youngsters littering all units. The roster appears to be about 30-deep in decent wide receivers. Head coach Doug Marrone is an off-brand Chip Kelly whose ideas look like they should yield results.
Big-Picture Needs: The Bills never quite get the traction they need to climb from their sub-.500 culvert. Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine's departure (and the subsequent defensive philosophy shift) is the kind of thing that has derailed other talented young Bills teams in the last decade. They need to fill gaps (Chris Williams is not an NFL starting lineman, folks) but they need to press their pass rush and speed advantages as well, because the moment any Bills team thinks it has solved a problem is the moment it collapses to 6-10.
Primary Assets: The Dolphins are not great at any one position but are roughly playoff-caliber -- or can be playoff-caliber if some youngsters develop a smidge -- on every unit but the offensive line.
Secondary Assets: Free agency brought skilled veterans at key positions like tackle (Branden Albert), cornerback (Cortland Finnegan) and running back (Knowshon Moreno). The Dolphins filled needs without busting the budget or opening up other holes, a sign that the new front office can see further than the tip of its nose. Albert and some others improve the line from "DC Universe Crisis" to "below average," and Ryan Tannehill stands to enjoy a vast third-year improvement now that his so-called protectors are not drowning in vitriol and tears.
Big-Picture Needs: The offensive line still needs stabilization, so that comes first. The 2014 draft then becomes a referendum on Mike Wallace and Dion Jordan, two fashion-statement splurges of the past regime. Both players can still be very useful, but multiple trade rumors suggest that the Dolphins are looking for a direction shift that goes beyond eradicating the Degrassi High offensive line capers. The Dolphins are one lineman away from being able to cut bait on Wallace, send Jordan to an actual 3-4 team where he belongs and still challenge the Patriots. Or they can just draft six offensive linemen. That will work, too.
New York Jets
Primary Assets: Rex Ryan has the type of front seven he wants, thanks to Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson, Quinton Coples, veteran David Harris and a deep bench of prospects and role players. Coples proved that Ryan still knows what he is doing when he slowly brings a defender along, which is good news for Dee Milliner, who has been promoted from third cornerback to first.
Secondary Assets: The Jets offensive line has always been too good for the skill position bumblers who played behind it. Eric Decker and Chris Johnson give those skill positions a boost toward NFL average. You can laugh at CJ2K if you want, but a CJ2K/Chris Ivory/Bilal Powell committee provides an intriguing power-speed-balance mix.
Big-Picture Needs: As usual, it is a lot easier to see the Jets coming unglued than coming together in 2014. The seeds of downfall are sown everywhere: Geno Smith's bust potential is at least as high as his boom, Michael Vick could rescue him for five plays and then get injured, CJ2K could become another grousing would-be playmaker and the secondary now lacks both "Revis Island" and "Cromartie Junction." Ryan and John Idzik can tighten the secondary in the draft, but if the Jets don't make some bold moves on offense as well, this team may look too much like the 2012-13 team. "Bold moves" could mean anything from quarterback insurance to a receiver that helps the passing game achieve Geno-sink-or-swim critical mass.
New England Patriots
Primary Assets: A Hall of Fame quarterback. The greatest coach of his generation, with perhaps the most adaptive scheme and staff in NFL history. A mercenary All-Pro cornerback.
Secondary Assets: A 13-year stranglehold on the AFC East now pays unexpected dividends. The Jets and Dolphins have noticeably spent years chasing the Patriots instead of trying to build great teams; many of their loopier decisions and collapses of the last half-decade can be interpreted as desperate, futile attempts to defeat a giant. The Patriots manage to surround Tom Brady with session musicians and keep winning partially because the other three AFC East teams have spent the last decade struggling even to define themselves.
Big-Picture Needs: Win now. The Patriots know this, which is why they signed Darrelle Revis. Many Patriots fans don't like to hear this because the team's careful cap-and-roster management model has morphed into a theology over the years. But the Patriots cannot noodle their way through the draft, trading down to select kids who might develop into stars by the time Brady retires to San Simeon, Calif. Immediate-impact defenders, solutions to the tight end dilemma and pass-protection depth will all be available in the spots where the Patriots draft, and future picks are expendable if the team chooses to move up. The Patriots need these things more than lacrosse players or a Rutgers alumni team.
Primary Assets: Ozzie Newsome and John Harbaugh are like the proprietors of some ancient distillery in the Scottish Highlands. They do not cut corners or follow trends. If they tell you that Ricky Wagner or Brandon Williams have been sealed in oaken barrels and will mellow into Glenfiddich 18 when properly seasoned, you believe it, because that Paul Kruger- Corey Graham 2012 taste is still in your mouth.
Secondary Assets: The roster is chuck full of players who made major contributions to the Super Bowl run, including Joe Flacco, Haloti Ngata, Terrell Suggs, Dennis Pitta and Lardarius Webb (hurt most of that season, but still an important veteran). Recent arrivals like Steve Smith, Elvis Dumervil, Daryl Smith and Eugene Monroe sealed most of the cracks that developed just after the trophy presentation.
Big-Picture Needs: The Ravens need to spot weld at positions like running back, nickelback and right tackle, though prospects like Wagner and Bernard Pierce could step up. The Ravens have acquired pieces that fit Gary Kubiak's offensive puzzle, and the bench at most positions contains just the right mix of prospects and affordable veterans. The Ravens could afford to be about 15 percent better at just about every position, but it is easy to imagine Newsome backfilling the roster with long-term projects and watching Harbaugh lead the team to 10 more wins and another anything-can-happen playoff surge. Doing something more drastic might upset the delicate balance of Ravens football.
Primary Assets: The Bengals have the best skill position talent in the NFL, when you factor in depth and breadth at receiver, running back and tight end.
Secondary Assets: Every Bengals unit is playoff caliber, though a few appear to be "reach the playoffs and keel over" caliber.
Big Picture Needs: The Bengals are stuck searching for marginal gains, the little edges that take a team from 11 wins to a deep playoff run. Those gains are hard to find: it is easier to get twice as good at a bad position than get 10 percent better at a good one. And no, they cannot find a quarterback in the draft who will outplay Andy Dalton in 2014, though a plan for the future may be wise. There is room to tweak the quality sliders in the secondary, at the edge rush positions and along the line, and the Bengals must explore ways to get a sudden boost in one of those areas. Just grabbing solid players -- the strategy that got them here -- will no longer work.
Primary Assets: With an excellent deep threat and tight end (Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron) and two bookend tackles surrounding an experienced, dependable center (Joe Thomas, Mitchell Schwartz, Alex Mack), the Browns have the tools to be the ideal quarterback development factory.
Secondary Assets: High-end talent is scattered all over the defensive depth chart, and new coach Mike Pettine is a mix-and-match guy who can turn disparate parts into a useful whole.
Big Picture Needs: The Browns need to stop being the Browns. That starts with eradicating organizational infighting; since everyone got fired recently, let's give them the benefit of the doubt that there is no one left to power struggle. Quarterback acquisition and development needs to be a holistic, logical plan: if they enter the season with "Brian Hoyer and Tom Savage will compete, with Vince Young ready for Week 17," get ready for more sadness. Three blue chips in the first two rounds can make this team a factor in the AFC North, and the Browns can't go wrong at most positions … unless they have once again gone wrong at coach, coordinator and general manager.
Primary Assets: Ben Roethlisberger. Antonio Brown. Maurkice Pouncey. Troy Polamalu.
Secondary Assets: Brown, Heath Miller, Le'Veon Bell, Lance Moore and some youngsters/ newcomers give Big Ben a strong skill position core. Lots of familiar faces still populate the defense, though that blessing grows more mixed every year.
Big Picture Needs: The Steelers are starting to sound like the Cowboys, aren't they? HERE ARE OUR FOUR PRO BOWL SUPERSTARS TRY TO STOP US BUT DON'T ASK WHO IS ON THE SUPPORTING CAST. The Steelers are asking more and more of their 2011 to 2013 draftees, and the results have been disappointing for two seasons. The fossilized secondary and never-ending crisis on the offensive line are two immediate trouble spots, and the Steelers should not overthink their solutions. Draft tackles and cornerbacks, guys, and provide Big Ben and Troy with a supporting cast that actually supports.
Primary Assets: The best defensive lineman in the NFL. Two outstanding wide receivers.
Secondary Assets: The overall talent on both sides of the ball is solid enough to allow the Texans to get good again in a hurry. The offense, in particular, is a headless horseman right now that will start galloping once someone screws a decent quarterback onto its neck.
Big Picture Needs: The Texans survey their realm right now and see: 1) The best pure defensive talent of the last decade waiting for them on the draft board; 2) A quarterback class in which the guy available at No. 33 may be only 15 percent less talented (but less risky and perhaps a better fit) than the guy available at No. 1; and 3) a division that gift-wraps nine wins for any team that plays competently. So the temptation is great to pair Jadeveon Clowney with J.J. Watt, let Jimmy Garoppolo and Ryan Fitzpatrick take turns handing off to Arian Foster and throwing to Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins, scoot immediately to at least .500, then reappraise. That may be a temptation to resist: great everywhere else and good enough at quarterback was their 2011 and 2012 strategy, and the organization now has loftier goals. The Texans could also rebuild effectively around a Johnny Manziel or a Blake Bortles; frankly, just sucking out last year's poison should triple their win total. This will not be the draft that defines the Bill O'Brien Texans. They will experience some success; the trick will come when they have to build upon it.
Primary Assets: The best young quarterback in the NFL, Russell Wilson included.
Secondary Assets: The acquisition of Hakeem Nicks and return of Reggie Wayne and Dwayne Allen give Andrew Luck the receiving corps he needs. The defense has enough of a mix of top veterans and prospects to look Super Bowl worthy if you squint and ignore three-quarters of what you saw in the postseason.
Big Picture Needs: When the Colts replaced offensive coordinator Bruce Arians with Stanford's Pep Hamilton, they appeared to be committing to a ball control-and-defense philosophy, with a budding superstar quarterback under center to help the medicine go down. Then, the Colts bungled their effort to create a power running game and got distracted in the middle of building a competitive defense. The Colts want to be stout up the middle on both sides of the ball and they can do that without a first-round pick: power rushers, inside linebackers, 3-4 linemen and reinforcements at center and guard all come pretty cheap. The 2013 season wavered between pleasant surprise and squandered opportunity, depending on whether the Colts were clobbering the Seahawks or getting pummeled by the Rams. This year, there will be no bonus points for degree-of-difficulty wins, so they must somehow find consistency in the draft.
Primary Assets. Ummm …
Well, the Jaguars don't have any baggage. Blaine Gabbert is gone, Maurice Jones-Drew is gone and most of the links to the Gene Smith debacle have been severed. The Jaguars are truly free to start over, which counts for something.
Secondary Assets: The front seven, a mix of Seahawks dumpster dives and fairly-talented holdovers, should be pretty good under Gus Bradley's direction. The skill position talent is weak but not disastrous. The Jaguars bottomed out in the first two months of 2013, then rebounded from historically bad to ordinarily bad in the final two months. It looked more like improvement than a dead-cat bounce, though that may be incurable optimism.
Big Picture Needs: The Jaguars need an offensive direction. That almost certainly starts with a new quarterback, but running back, center and depth at receiver and tight end all need an upgrade. What's remarkable is that the Jaguars spent three years putting off this wholesale overhaul: since 2011, they have been grafting disparate parts onto Gabbert and MJD, crossing their fingers and hoping that touchdowns resulted. We cannot tell for sure if the Jaguars are terrible at fixing their offense until they show us one good attempt. Last season was a salvage operation. This year, Bradley and his staff must set sail.
Primary Assets: Jurrell Casey, one of the NFL's best defensive tackles.
Secondary Assets: Kendall Wright leads an underrated group of receivers who spend too much of their time watching passes fly over their heads or behind them. The offensive line has a fine mix of veterans (Michael Roos, Andy Levitre) and developing sophomores (Chance Warmack, Brian Schwenke).
Big Picture Needs: The Titans are the most anonymous team in the NFL. Besides Jake Locker, who needs to be replaced, their most famous player may be newcomer Michael Oher. You don't win games with big names, but Ken Whisenhunt needs to make the Titans truly good at something so we at least know who to pay attention to. He may tinker with Locker another year (it's a Whisenhunt kind of thing to do) while throttling up at other positions, or he may start the Next QB Era while fixing the secondary and other trouble spots with later picks. Either way, the Titans need to declare their 2014 intentions, both to their fans and to themselves.
Primary Assets: Peyton Manning and his gang. Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware.
Secondary Assets: Just about every roster position is set with a serviceable-to-great player and most units boast experienced depth.
Big-Picture Needs: Like the Patriots, the Broncos are in win-now, no-margin-for-error mode. The Broncos have a better roster but face a much tougher division. The Broncos can muddle through the draft patching the offensive line, restoring skill position depth and setting the stage for 12 more wins. But if a go-for-broke chance to trade four picks for Sammy Watkins or Khalil Mack somehow materializes, they must remember that there is no tomorrow.
Kansas City Chiefs
Primary Assets: Excellent all-around defensive talent, custom-tailored to Bob Sutton's scheme. Jamaal Charles.
Secondary Assets: Andy Reid's calm, deliberate, development-oriented coaching style prevents gaping holes from opening up, even on talent-poor units. The offensive line to the right of Eric Fisher looks bad on paper, but Reid tends to get good results from middling prospects like Eric Kush and Donald Stephenson.
Big Picture Needs: Get faster on offense. That's an easy one. The Chiefs cannot do much defensively about the fact that Peyton Manning plays them twice per year, but they can get in better position to force some shootouts and do more offensively than run Charles-Alex Smith Reid-options and pretend that Dwayne Bowe is still fast. Mix a burner at wideout with better overall offensive depth, and the Chiefs can insert themselves into the Patriots-Broncos conversation.
Primary Assets: Iconic uniforms, a can-do spirit, rock-bottom expectations.
Secondary Assets: The Raiders free agent class consists of late 2000s Pro Bowlers with an estimated average of 0.75 productive years left. Their prospect crop is largely cornerbacks with health issues and linemen from the UK. Also, Marcel Reece.
Big Picture Needs: The Raiders need to get out of their own way. They managed to get older and less talented this offseason, which is a neat trick for a 4-12 team that had $500 gazillion in cap space. The Raiders even go into this draft with no fifth-round pick thanks to the Matt Flynn trade last year. If they come out of the draft with two true blue chips, the Schaub-and-Tuck brigade could help the Raiders creep toward .500 and the progress might attract some 2015 free agents while allowing the D.J. Hayden-types to develop properly. It's a modest goal, but that's the only type of goal the Raiders have a chance to achieve.
San Diego Chargers
Primary Assets: The Chargers have running backs. Lots of them. They look like Oklahoma State in the 1980s. Philip Rivers found a Lazarus Pit and looks rejuvenated.
Secondary Assets: A young nucleus is forming, with Keenan Allen at the center. There are a lot of unproven D.J. Fluker, Ladarius Green, Shareece Wright, Manti Te'o and Melvin Ingram types floating in that protoplasm, so don't project the Chargers into Next Best Thing territory just yet.
Big Picture Needs: Stuck between stealth contender and rebuilding team that is still turning the corner, the Chargers have troublesome crash potential. Rivers could backslide without Ken Whisenhunt; other old soldiers like Antonio Gates, Jarrett Johnson, Dwight Freeney and Nick Hardwick are close to the end; and of the youngsters mentioned in the last paragraph, only Allen has shown true Pro Bowl potential. They need reinforcements in the secondary and on just about every other unit but running back, and a quarterback of the future would be nice late on Friday or early on Saturday. It's a heck of a shopping list to fill when selecting 25th in every round.
Primary Assets: "What are we doing tomorrow night, Jerry?" "Same thing we do every night, Pinky Garrett: try to take over the world with Tony Romo, Jason Witten, Dez Bryant, Sean Lee and a bunch of guys I don't really care about!"
Secondary Assets: The Cowboys' ancillary players this year are less ancillary than they were in past years. Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick anchor a promising line, George Selvie-Henry Melton-Nick Hayden-Anthony Spencer form a capable front four and the receiver and cornerback corps are deeper than they appear at first glance.
Big-Picture Needs: DeMarcus Ware is gone, Romo and Witten are aging and financial nuclear winter cannot be staved off much longer. It's nearly impossible to imagine this team challenging for the Super Bowl after years of 8-8 entropy, but it is also impossible to imagine Jerry Jones committing to, and actually pulling off, the wholesale rebuilding that will soon be inevitable. Sigh. I would draft a quarterback and the "best available athlete" in every round and prepare for Romo Capageddon. But the Cowboys will draft a guard and some safeties and linebackers in a desperate attempt to reach ten wins before the repo man arrives.
New York Giants
Primary Assets: Victor Cruz. Eli Manning. A coaching staff with enough old timers to bring credibility and stability, but enough youth to bring a fresh transfusion of offensive ideas.
Secondary Assets: The Giants appear talent poor at first glance but have .500-caliber players on most units. An active-by-their-standards free agency period -- they actually signed someone -- bulwarked a roster that unraveled as 2013 unfolded.
Big-Picture Needs: Second-tier free agent acquisitions like lineman Geoff Schwartz, running back Rashad Jennings and linebacker Jameel McClain -- plus bigger name Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and returnee Jon Beason -- filled immediate needs at positions the Giants habitually filled in the past with rookie free agents and their platoon of lifelong super-subs. It's a welcome change -- what worked well in 2011 was clearly yielding diminishing returns in 2013 -- and with lots of role players on hand, the Giants can reach for blue chips in the draft. Fresh skill-position weapons should be a top priority: coordinator Ben McAdoo must be the one who pilots the team's new course, and he and Eli need playmakers to shake the Giants out of the doldrums.
Primary Assets: Chip Kelly, Bill Davis and their boundless imaginations. LeSean McCoy and his dead-on "bigger Barry Sanders" impression. Jason Peters and an experienced offensive line.
Secondary Assets: The Eagles are loaded with guys who suddenly looked better last year than we expected them to look, starting with quarterback Nick Foles but extending to Riley Cooper and a bunch of defenders. Did they make Kelly and Davis look better? Did Chip 'n' Billy coach 'em up? Or were novel new strategies fooling everyone?
Big-Picture Needs: Are you completely sold on Foles? Cooper? Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher and the slightly rebuilt safety corps? You are not, and it is now easy to look back and see how a new system, the Redskins collapse and some timely coincidences (Packers and Cowboys backup quarterbacks, the Lions in a snowstorm) can push ordinary talent to a 10-6 record. To their credit, Kelly, Davis and GM Howie Roseman did not appear sold at most positions either, and the Eagles sound like they are aggressively seeking blue chips instead of plugging holes and shifting into maintenance mode. Replacing DeSean Jackson seems like an obvious need, but speedsters will come cheap in this draft class, and there are upgradable spots all across the defense. And yes, Kelly will look long and hard at the developmental quarterbacks, because Foles' interception rate is not sustainable, and his playoff performance showed that there is work to be done.
Primary Assets: Remember that young quarterback no one could stop fawning over nine months ago? He is still here. And this offseason, he can practice and stuff.
Secondary Assets: This year's free agent spree was more measured than Dan Snyder's past "48 hours of shore leave in Singapore" endeavors. Jason Hatcher, DeSean Jackson and Andre Roberts can all help substantially, and incumbents Brian Orakpo, Ryan Kerrigan, Pierre Garçon and Trent Williams pepper the roster with quality talent.
Big-Picture Needs: Jay Gruden is in a great position to build a bridge over the chasm of 2013 from 2012 to 2014. The talent is ample, the schedule is forgiving and a few of the greatest crises have been curtailed: The Shanahan-Griffin telenovela is over, and role players like Adam Hayward will keep the special teams from going haywire. With no first round pick, the Redskins will have a quiet draft weekend. Quiet is good in Washington. The interior line, inside linebacker and the secondary are all legitimate need areas, and all three can be adequately addressed on Friday or Saturday.
Primary Assets: Jay Cutler-to-Brandon Marshall after a play-fake to Matt Forté. Newcomer Lamarr Houston. Professor Marc Trestman and the College of Offensive Knowledge.
Secondary Assets: Last year's offensive overhaul brought a rebuilt offensive line and found a worthy No. 2 receiver in Alshon Jeffery. There's an Expendables quality to much of the defense, but Lance Briggs, Peanut Tillman, Jay Ratliff, Tim Jennings and new arrival Jared Allen can all still play when healthy.
Big Picture Needs: Everybody got hurt at once last season, and the resulting implosion made the Bears defense look utterly ridiculous at times. That's not supposed to happen in Chicago, and while Houston and Allen upgrade the line and Jon Bostic is ready for a bigger role at linebacker, all those graybeards on defense present a real danger of a repeat performance. A whole post-Urlacher core must be built, and there are not many long-term blocks in place besides Houston, Bostic and one or two others. GM Phil Emery could spend three days drafting defenders and it would not be excessive.
Primary Assets: Calvin Johnson, Ndamukong Suh and Matthew Stafford: three characters in search of an author.
Secondary Assets: The Lions have a supporting cast as vexing as their stars: Reggie Bush, Nick Fairley, Brandon Pettigrew, Dominic Raiola and some young hopefuls like Joseph Fauria, Larry Warford, Ziggy Ansah and Darius Slay. New head coach Jim Caldwell and defensive coordinator Teryl Austin bring winches and ramps to help the franchise climb from its rut.
Big Picture Needs: The Lions looked like the third or fourth-best team in the NFC as recently as last October, and Caldwell/Austin have the talent for a quick turnaround. A pick or two at tackle or in the secondary will go a long way toward making the Lions sudden contenders. Taking a longer view, the Lions must kick butt in the middle-to-late rounds. They face a future cap crunch of near-Cowboys proportions, and keeping their core intact will require major contributions from affordable youngsters in the next few years. Of course, the core has not done much to merit remaining intact over the last two seasons, but perhaps fresh ideas and leadership are the solutions.
Green Bay Packers
Primary Assets: Clay Matthews, Aaron Rodgers, defensive and offensive schemes tailored to their gifts.
Secondary Assets: Up-and-comers like Eddie Lacy, Mike Daniels and David Bakhtiari. A.J. Hawk, who gets better every year and may finally live up to his collegiate hype by the time he turns 40.
Big Picture Needs: Ted Thompson's fascination with square pegs, along with Mike McCarthy's talent for pounding them into circular holes, has been a mixed Packers blessing since the Super Bowl run. Last year, they finally stopped noodling and drafted running backs, with positive results. Despite that rediscovery of the obvious (perhaps acquisitions should sometimes match needs!), the Packers are fiddling with a converted tight end at center and a cast of unknowns at receiver and tight end, where they prefer to be five deep. This is a team that forgot to grab a backup quarterback on the way out of training camp last year, so nothing can be put past them. Grab a center, a tight end, help in the secondary and receiver depth, Professor Ted. You are welcome.
Primary Assets: Adrian Peterson.
Secondary Assets: The roster is full of fun young prospects: Harrison Smith, Matt Kalil, last year's three first-round amigos (Cordarrelle Patterson, Sharrif Floyd and Xavier Rhodes) and others.
Big Picture Needs: Step One: Get a quarterback. Step Two: Get serious about developing and properly using said quarterback. Norv Turner will help Mike Zimmer with Step Two, but Norv is like a kindergarten teacher, so it will be important to transition to a better coordinator lest Turner skip the advanced algebra lessons for more fundamentals of shoe tying. Step Three: hammer on the secondary and defensive line so Floyd, Smith and Rhodes have more help. The Vikings have the young talent to be exciting as soon as they find a quarterback who is exciting. Finding that quarterback in their draft position, however, may be a chore.
Primary Assets: Matt Ryan to Julio Jones and Roddy White.
Secondary Assets: About 300 rookies who saw playing time as last season droned on. Some of them are probably pretty good.
Big Picture Needs: This is what it looks like when a multi-year success cycle crashes to a halt. The Falcons have needs just about everywhere but quarterback and receiver, and everyone who follows the draft knows that Thomas Dimitroff wants to make some deals, most likely parlaying that sixth pick into multiple selections once some quarterback-starved team sees a Manziel or Bortles slips through the first five cracks. Dimitroff should consummate some sweet, sweet tradin' with the Vikings or Titans as soon as one of them ponies up, then take the Gatling gun approach to giving Ryan his second supporting cast. This draft is deep on the lines, at running back and in other places where a mid-round pick could make an immediate contribution to the once-mighty Falcons.
Primary Assets: Cam Newton and his triple-headed backfield. Luke Kuechly and one of the best front sevens in the NFL.
Secondary Assets: The offensive line is sound. Ron Rivera now understands that it is legal to go for it on fourth down now and then.
Big Picture Needs: Receivers, receivers, receivers! And defensive backs! But mostly receivers! No sane organization would enter a season with Jason Avant and Jerricho Cotchery as their starting wide receivers, unless they planned to run the wishbone option full time, which is admittedly tempting given the Panthers personnel. The current secondary would have a hard time making the Seahawks second string. The Panthers chose to willfully gut these two units after the organization's best season in a decade. Perhaps the team saw the deepest receiver crop in 20 years and decided they could get better, younger and cheaper. Perhaps they secretly hate Newton, despite picking up his fifth-year option (they could have negotiated a new deal, after all). We will know the truth by the end of the day on Friday.
New Orleans Saints
Primary Assets: Drew Brees and an offensive nucleus that won a Super Bowl … albeit a few years ago.
Secondary Assets: Rob Ryan and a defense that has finally been built, for better or worse, in his image. Cameron Jordan, Kenny Vaccaro, Junior Galette and newcomer Jairus Byrd give the Saints a new core of stars to rally around, which (shhh) is something the offense will soon need.
Big Picture Needs: The Saints are the Patriots or Broncos of the NFC. Brees' clock is ticking, his top lieutenants are falling by the wayside, and the Saints quietly picked up Champ Bailey in acknowledgement that winning now may be their last, best hope. That has not stopped them from playing chicken with Jimmy Graham, and while there are still holes in Ryan's defense, Sean Payton's offense is suddenly short on fifth receivers, third-down backs and the other luxury items that makes it so unpredictably deadly. The NFC South is winnable, and the Saints should be seeking over-the-top players, not spackle.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Primary Assets: Who knows? The Bucs made so many moves this offseason than not even Lovie Smith is certain who is on the roster.
Secondary Assets: Seriously, though: the Buccaneers are fairly wide and deep with talent, especially by rebuilding-team standards. Their greatest strength is up-the-middle defense, which matches Lovie's area of expertise.
Big Picture Needs: The Buccaneers' top need is determining what they need. Quarterback might not be a major problem area; Mike Glennon could respond to Jeff Tedford like Nick Foles to Chip Kelly, for example. If Carl Nicks keeps having health problems, the interior line leaps close to the top of the problem queue. No one is sure who the No. 2 receiver is, and Brandon Myers is the tight end to sign when you want someone to catch six passes in a 41-23 loss. Lovie and Tedford will get a two-win bump just by treating players like human beings and perhaps another win from all the postseason juggling. The draft will inform us, and may dictate to them, how they plan to find the wins that will push them into contention.
Primary Assets: Larry Fitzgerald. Some "wow factor" defensive talent.
Secondary Assets: There's an old guard of Fitzgerald, Carson Palmer, Darnell Dockett and John Abraham and a rising force of Tyrann Mathieu, Michael Floyd, Andre Ellington and Jonathan Cooper, with Patrick Peterson somewhere in between. Free agent signees Jared Veldheer and Antonio Cromartie make the Cardinals good enough to contend in every division except the one they play in.
Big Picture Needs: What happens if the Palmer-Abraham-Dockett training wheels have to suddenly come off the Cardinals? That's a problem the team must soon deal with, because let's face it: this team could win the AFC South but is no match for the Niners and Seahawks, and won't be as long as the geezers are doing most of the heavy lifting. The Cardinals are prime candidates to draft a surprise faller at quarterback: if Teddy Bridgewater really is sinking like a sack of buckshot, the Cardinals should pounce on him: he could be the quarterback who leads them to a deep playoff run in 2015.
St. Louis Rams
Primary Assets: The most exciting young defensive line in the NFL.
Secondary Assets: Very good linebackers, a promising secondary and gobs of young talent at the skill positions.
Big Picture Needs: Last week's Mandatory Monday spent 10 million words itemizing the faults of Sam Bradford and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. Jeff Fisher needs to prove that he really understands that it is no longer 1999, the AFC Central no longer exists and that even if his punt-and-pin-forever strategies could still work in other circumstances, they will fail in a division where two teams do it better. Bradford and the offensive line need reimagining, as does the whole offensive concept of going sideways to go forward.
San Francisco 49ers
Primary Assets: Pretty much everything except depth at wide receiver and cornerback.
Secondary Assets: Really, it's the depth that gets you. Wouldn't it be great to have Adam Snyder as your swing guard, Jonathan Martin battling two prospects to be the No. 3 tackle, Tank Carradine listed as a third-string tackle, Marcus Lattimore waiting to climb out of the pool and up the depth chart at running back, and dudes like Dan Skuta and Corey Lemonier playing special teams and waiting their turns at outside linebacker? That's what the 49ers have, entering the draft.
Big Picture Needs: The 49ers also have 11 draft choices, including two second-rounders and three third-rounders. There are not 11 serious need positions on the team's third string, so the 49ers are prime candidates to do something aggressive in their effort to pass the Seahawks. How much will it take to move up and draft their top choice at wide receiver, or some cornerback who slips through the first round cracks? The price will be high -- the Patriots and Broncos will also be in "one missing piece" mode, but the 49ers have extra second and third round picks to burn when moving up. Unlike the Patriots or Broncos, they do not have to worry about mortgaging their future, because their depth chart is already full of future.
Primary Assets: The best secondary in the NFL. One of the best front sevens. Russell Wilson. Marshawn Lynch.
Secondary Assets: General manager John Schneider and Pete Carroll work hand-in-glove to make the Seahawks the smoothest running operation in pro sports. Little things like Earl Thomas' new contract (and the ongoing negotiations with Richard Sherman) suggest that Schneider has a cap management strategy in place to prevent the Seahawks core from becoming too expensive to retain.
Big Picture Needs: Part of that plan is certainly to draft worthy replacements for whoever is replaceable. Offensive line is the Seahawks' need area, but once a reinforcement or two is in place, Schneider will keep restocking positions like running back and the front seven, even though (like the Niners) there are all sorts of Christine Michael- and Jordan Hill-types already in the wings. Schneider wants to be able to pay for wise long-term investments (Wilson, Sherman), while being able to move on from players likely to age or regress suddenly (Lynch). It's a delicate balance of short and long-term goals, but the Seahawks look like the team with all of the answers right now.