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2009 Team Needs
Prior to free agency and the draft
By Jay Goldberg

 

AFC NORTH

BAL


Major need
     Need     Upgrade possible     Depth/possible need     Not a need

   
QB Flacco had a very good rookie year and is the real deal.  He will get better and be a game-changer at quarterback throwing the deep ball.  At backup, Boller and Bouman are UFAs and Smith is untested.  Look for the Ravens to add an experienced quarterback to their roster.
RB In my opinion, McGahee is a bit overrated and McClain is best served as a backup who can run out the clock, and get tough yards in third and short and around the goal line.  Rice, on the other hand, is the real deal and should be given the reins as the Ravens' lead back.  I also like the potential of Parmalee, who the Ravens stole off the Dolphins practice squad.  For this unit to be optimal, McGahee should be cut lose in the offseason.  Oh yeah, and they have one of the best blocking fullbacks in the league in Neal but he is an UFA.
WR This unit needs a consistent, reliable deep threat.  Mason is still a solid receiver.  Clayton hasn't developed as hoped, and may be best served as the team's third receiver.  I always liked Williams but he hasn't been able to stay on the field.  The Ravens need to address this position in the offseason.  With Flacco's arm, receivers that can stretch the field and catch the ball would open up the offense.
TE Heap has fallen from a top option in the offense to an afterthought.  His backup Wilcox is an UFA.  If the ravens want a block-first tight end, they would be best served drafting a new starter and moving Heap while they can still get some decent value for him.
OL This unit played surprising well, especially Gaither at left tackle replacing Ogden.  Center Brown is an UFA and he will either have to be brought back or a replacement will have to be found for him.  This is a good draft for centers.
DL The Ravens line is a strength for the team.  Ngata is tough to handle and has become one of the better defensive players in the league.  Pryce is still solid at end, and Bannan filled in very well for Gregg on the nose.  All this team needs is some bodies to compete for backup spots at end.
LB Suggs, Lewis and Scott, the teams three top linebackers are all UFAs.  Johnson remains, but he didn't take the step forward the team hoped for.  He is solid, but not the player Thomas was when he manned that spot before leaving for New England.
DB This is a deep and talented unit.  At corner Rolle and Washington are a top starting duo, and the team can expect a bounce back year from McAllister in 2009.  At safety Reed is as good as it gets, and Leonhard played himself into a starting job for 2009, and with Landry, Zbikowski and Nakamura all talented players on hand, Leonhard keeping ascending to key starter says a lot about how well he player.  All this team could look to add in the offseason in their secondary is a young developmental cornerback.
ST Long time kicker Stover is a free agent and the team will have to decide whether to bring him back or draft one of the talented kickers available in this year's draft.  Koch is a good punter, Leonhard and Zbikowski acceptable return men.  However, it's time for Figurs to step up and be the consistent, explosive return man he should be, or be cut.

CIN

Major need     Need     Upgrade possible     Depth/possible need     Not a need
   

QB Assuming Palmer comes back strong from injury, this is a strong unit for the Bengals.  Even if UFA Fitzpatrick leaves in free agency, Rowe, a player I like is sitting in the wings to take his place as Palmer's backup.  I am not as high on Carson's kid brother Jordan.
RB This has to be one of the worst running back situations in the NFL.  Perry hasn't and doesn't look like he'll ever cut it as a starter.  Watson is a solid backup/emergency starter, but no more.  This situation is so dire that they have made resigning UFA Benson, a priority.  Benson had some good games, but isn't a runner to build your team around.
WR Houshmandzadeh is an UFA an may be hard to resign.  Ocho Cinco fell off the map, but could re-emerge when Palmer gets back.  Henry is talented but with his off the filed troubles is not a player you can rely on.  As far as their two rookies go, I like Caldwell a lot and expect him to take a big step next year, but I have some doubts Simpson.  Look for the Bengals to bring in a veteran receiver to push to start and hopefully (if Caldwell comes thru) be their third wideout.
TE Last year the team signed Utecht in free agency.  Injuries caused him to miss much of the season but he could be a good receiving tight end.  Kelly is more blocker than receiver, but his blocking fell off a bit last year.  Upgrades all around could be looked at in the offfseason.
OL The Bengals have some good pieces and some questions along their offensive line.  Cutting to the chase, a center and a tackle could be secured during the draft.
DL The Bengals have given out some long term contracts to linemen recently but the only one who I would have signed to the contract he got was defensive tackle Peko.  The Bengals other starting tackle, Thornton is an UFA and will probably not be resigned.  Jason Shirley is a young player waiting in the wings who I like.  At end Odom and Geathers have nice contracts, get hurt too often, and get too few sacks.  In a 4-3 you need at least one defensive ends who has to be doubled every play, and still gets double-digit sacks.  That's not Odom.  That's not Geathers.
LB I like this unit, although adding a young middle linebacker is advisable.  However, Rivers, Jeanty, Johnson and even Blackstock and Henderson give the team quality and depth on the outside.  Jones, a solid old pro mans the middle.
DB This is another good young unit.  Hall and Joseph are a good young tandem of cornerbacks, and Jones played well as the third corner.  Ndukwe is a keeper at stong safety, and White showed promise at free safety.  Look for the Bengals to bring in competition for White.
ST Graham is an UFA so a kicker will need to be secured in the offseason.  Larsen is a steady and Caldwell is a good kick return man but an upgrade at punt returner could be looked for this offseason.

CLE

Major need     Need     Upgrade possible     Depth/possible need     Not a need
   

QB The Browns need to decide between Anderson and Quinn and stick with the player they choose and deal the other.  The the team needs to secure a good backup.
RB I'm not sure Lewis has much left in his tank.  Harrison is a player I liked in the draft, has shown big-play ability when given a chance, but hasn't been used enough.  Look for that to change this year.  Wright is an UFA.  The Browns need a between the tackle-type to pair with Harrison and cut Lewis.  Lewis is a player you need to feed the ball a lot so he can be effective in the fourth quarter.  I'd rather use a player who can be spotted with Harrison and still be effective in the fourth quarter.
WR Edwards has mad skills but drops too many balls.  Stallworth has mad speed but is too often on the sideline with injuries or playing with injuries negating his speed.  Jurevicius is a tough kid, gets injured, vows to play the following year, but then too often gets injured again.  Of their backups, Cribbs is a good gadget guy and return man and Hubbard is an intriguing prospect.  Still the Browns need a more reliable and productive receiving corps.
TE Winslow is a good player despite his fall off in production last year.  However, he now wants more money and is quickly becoming one of those players who may be more trouble than he's worth.  Rucker was a nice college player who I does not have the speed to be anything more than a very average tight end (at best) in the NFL. 
OL This line is better than they showed in 2008.  The pieces are there, and with the other needs on this team, I would roll the dice that they can improve on their 2008 play.
DL Outside of Rogers this unit is very pedestrian.  Williams did not adapt to the 3-4 as hoped and S. Smith took a step back.  Hopefully R. Smith will come back from injury and help the problem at end some.  I like Rubin's potential at nose, and Thomas and Leonard held their own when called upon at end.  
LB McGinest and Davis are UFA's and I'll be very surprised if either is starting for the Browns next year.  Williams is on hand to step in for Davis and play along side Jackson, who is a very good player.  Wimbley has been a disappointment.  He was suppose to be getting close to double-digit sacks annually by now but hasn't come close the last two years.  This team needs a backup inside linebacker and at least one new starter outside.
DB McDonald and Wright are two young corners who have showed promise but also looked bad at times.  The jury is still out.  Holly is sneaky good at nickel but is an UFA, as is starting strong safety Jones.  Free safety Pool is another player who has had his ups and downs but may be ready to put it all together.  Lawson is a young player to keep an eye on.  He made the tem as a college street free agent and is a player who was on my list of underrated prospect. 
ST Special teams are the strength of this team. Dawson, Zastudil and Cribbs are a solid trio.

PIT

Major need     Need     Upgrade possible     Depth/possible need     Not a need
   

QB If I was a GM and could choose any quarterback in the NFL for now and the future, Big Ben is the player I would select.  Bothe Batch and Leftwich are UFAs and with Dixon not ready to be the primary backup, the Steelers will have to resign one of their own free agents or find another one.
RB Parker, Mendenhall, and Moore are a terrific threesome at running back.  McHugh and Davis are solid at fullback.
WR Ward, Holmes and Washington are a very solid one, two, three.  Sweed had a rough rookie campaign but that was not a surprise since rookie receivers often have trouble adjusting to the NFL and Sweed was coming off an injury.  He will improve.
TE Miller is a good blocker and very good receiver.  Spaeth is a solid number two tight end who had a nice game when he had to fill in for Miller.
OL Starks and Smith are UFAs.  If both leave a left tackle will be needed.  Right tackle Colon would be better at guard.  The Steelers will look at tackles in free agency and in the draft.
DL End Smith and Nose tackle Hampton are top-drawer.  Keisel and Kirschke are dependable but not exceptional at end.  The Steelers could add an end who could push to start and a backup nose in the offseason.
LB This is one of the best linebacking units in the NFL.  Outside Harrison and Woodley are terrors.  Inside Farrior is still a force, but is an UFA and Foote played well.  Timmons is on hand should Farrior not resign with the team.
DB Deep and talented describes the Steelers' secondary.  Even with McFadden an UFA, the team still has Taylor, Gay, Townsend and Madison at corner.  Polamalu and Clark are a top safety tandem and Carter is a solid backup.
ST Reed and Sepulveda are fine kickers.  Holmes has some big moments in the punt return game but it may be time for him to concentrate solely on wide receiver.  Russell is solid as a kick returned but not a game breaker.  An upgrade in the return game could be addressed in the offseason.

NFC NORTH 

CHI

Major need
     Need     Upgrade possible     Depth/possible need     Not a need

   

QB Orton played okay, but it is still questionable if he is the long term answer in Chicago.  Grossman is an UFA so look for the Bears to bring in a veteran to compete with Orton.  They could also add a rookie in the draft to at worst, compete with Hanie for the number three role, at best be an alternative to Orton down the line.
RB Forte was a player who was on my list of players who will have a better NFL career than many drafted higher than them.  He got off to a great start and should be a top back in the league for years.  Jones and Peterson are reliable backups but Jones is an UFA who may look for a team where he could get more playing time.  Look for the Bears to bring in a young player to compete to be Forte's primary backup.
WR Time to tear it down and start again.  Hester played well in spots and could develop further,  but is best served as a #3 and return man.  He was a better punt returner when he played less on offense.  Lloyd is an UFA who may be out of chances to compete for serious playing time with any team.  Booker is past his prime.  As I noted in my report card, Bennett was an okay pick, but I liked Hawkins and Caldwell better.  I don't see Bennett as long term top starter in the league.  Davis should also be a role player, not a starter. 
TE It 's be time for Olsen to be the full time starter.  Clark is still effective but is an UFA and could land in a better spot for himself than Chicago.  Davis is a big target and better receiving tight end than blocker.  Look for the team to add a blocking tight end.
OL The teams line should be strong on the left side, fine at center, and adequate on the right side.  If the Bears' line is the same as last year they'll be okay, but an upgrade is possible at right guard and right tackle.
DL This is a solid unit than can play great play from time to time when Harris is motivated and healthy.  Still, the team could use a dominate pass rusher to replace Brown.  
LB Briggs is a great player.  Urlacher is now just good.  A young middle linebacker could be added in the draft.  Roach is okay at SAM, but an upgrade is possible.
DB The Bears secondary is a mixed bag.  Tillman is a solid and sometimes unappreciated corner.  Graham played well but Chicago will most likely bring in a corner to challenge him, with the loser taking over the nickel from Manning who will probably be best served moving back to free safety.  However, he'll have to beat out Steltz.  Speaking of free safeties, Brown is a solid pro but gets injured too often and it may be time for the team to move on from him permanently.  Payne, a keeper, is an emerging talent at strong safety. 
ST The Bears special teams are in good hands.  There should be few complaints with Gould, Maynard, Hester and Manning

DET

Major need     Need     Upgrade possible     Depth/possible need     Not a need
   

QB The one thing that has me head-scratching with the Lions is that with their poor on the field performance and lack of a top tier quarterback, Drew Stanton hasn't sniffed the role of future starting quarterback.  Culpepper and Kitna are the veterans on the Lions roster.  Neither will be the quarterback when (if?) the Lions change their losing ways.  Orlovsky is an UFA.
RB Smith came on as the year progressed but I still have doubts that he will ever grow into a feared starting running back.  Johnson is an UFA and looks old.  Calhoun has never developed into the change-of-pace back the Lions hoped he'd become.  Best case, the Lions need a back to share the load with Smith.  worst case they need a back to be their starter. 
WR The Lions' receiving corps is a one-man show, Calvin Johnson.  The best after Johnson are McDonald, an UFA and Furrey.  The Lions need to add two or three receivers in the offseason.
TE Campbell, who was injured last year, is the best of a mediocre lot.  This is another position that could use an upgrade in the offseason.
OL Most of the Lions' line is in the okay but replaceable category.  Cherilus is a building block on the right side, Backus had some good moments on the left but needs to cut down on penalties.  Raiola and McCollum are decent centers.  The team needs to upgrade its guards.
DL Avril showed flashes of pass rush ability late in the season and could have a bigger role in 2009.  White is okay, and worst case is a good #3 defensive end.  The Lions need to address the defensive tackle position.
LB Outside of Sims and Lewis (for the bench) the Lions linebackers are all replaceable.  That includes UFA Lenon, Nece and Dizon.  The Lions need to address linebacker in a big way.
DB Bodden should rebound and give the Lions one solid starting corner.  Bullocks had his moments, but needs to be moved to strong safety where his speed and hitting ability can be better utilized, especially since he is not adept at getting turnovers.  Wilson, Pearson, and Alexander are young players who are worth looking at in camp.  Fisher is another useful player, although he should be a backup not a starter.
ST Hansen still has it, but is an UFA.  Harris is a good punter.  This team badly needs a return man with game-breaking ability.

GB

Major need     Need     Upgrade possible     Depth/possible need     Not a need
   

QB Despite their record, the Packers made the correct decision in letting Favre go and turning the team over to Rodgers.  The team's decline was not his fault.  Rodgers will be one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL for a long time.  Youngsters Flynn and Brohm back him up.
RB Grant held out, started slowly, but came on strong as the season progressed.  Jackson and Wynn are talented backups, but Wynn gets hurt too often.
WR This is a very strong and very deep unit.  Jennings is a star in the making.  I like him coming out of college and he's proven me right.  Driver still has gas in his tank.  Nelson had a good rookie year and looks like he will be a good NFL wideout.  Jones and Martin are also good receivers who can make plays when called upon.
TE Lee is an adequate but replaceable starter.  The Packers like Finley more than I do so time will tell.  Humphreys had some good moments.
OL Tauscher was injured last year and is an UFA.  He is a solid right tackle but may not be ready for camp no matter what team he plays for.  Inside Colledge, Spitz and Wells are solid, and if Barbre, a very athletic lineman comes on, Coilledge could kick out to right tackle.  Left tackle Clifton is aging and a replacement for the coming year is a possibility.
DL The Packers are moving to a 3-4 defense.  Pickett, Jolly and Jenkins may find roles in the new alignment but Green Bay needs to add more talent to this spot in the offseason. 
LB In the Packers' new 3-4 Kampman is an outside linebacker.  Kampman has talent and plays hard so that could work.  Barnett will line up inside in that alignment probably alongside Hawk, although Hawk could kick outside.  In any event, the Packers need at least one starting linebacker, preferably an outside rush linebacker and an experienced backup inside as Hawk-insurance.
DB While the Packers' defense fell apart last year, their secondary remained a strength.  Woodson, Harris and Williams are a good trio of corners and Collins, Rouse and Bigby are a good trio of safeties.
ST The players are in place they just need to perform better.  Crosby did not have as good a year as he did last year.  Kapinos was an improvement down the stretch as a punter.  Blackman and Nelson have talent as return men but need to produce more consistently. 

MIN

Major need     Need     Upgrade possible     Depth/possible need     Not a need
   

QB Jackson was over-drafted and throw to the wolves way to soon.  If he becomes a productive starter it may have to be after he leaves the Vikings.  Frerotte is a journey man who Minnesota needs to improve upon as a starter.  Booty is not ready.  This team needs to find a quarterback.
RB Peterson and Taylor are a great one-two punch.  Hicks is okay as a #3, but the Vikings could bring in a young player who can double as a return man.  The team could also look to add a fullback.  There are a couple of good ones in the draft.
WR Berrian got the big bucks but is more of a big-play #2 receiver than a clutch number one.  Wade starts should be the team's #3.  Rice hasn't developed and may not get any better than he is right now.  I still have hopes for Allison, but his hiogh mark is also as a big-play #2.  The Vikings need a #1 receiver.
TE Shiancoe is one for two.  He disappointed his first year with Minnesota, but had a nice second year.  Kleinsasser is an UFA.  The Vikings need depth here.
OL The Vikings' line is talented.  While they could return their line in tact, they could look to upgrade Cook at right tackle.  Also starting center Birk is an UFA.
DL This unit is very talented and deep.  Allen, Edwards and Robison are the ends, and Williams, Williams and Evans are the tackles.  They also have useful players beyond these six.
LB The return of Henderson will give the Vikings an excellent starting trio.  Greenway has lived up to his draft status and Leber has blossomed into a solid player and team leader.  The team may look to bring in depth, but they have some skilled backups on hand.
DB Williams and Griffin are a solid pair of corners.  Gordon is coming back from injury and was starting to develop into a reliable nickel.  McCauley is a young player who will get a chance to compete for playing time.  At safety Sharper is an UFA, but Johnson is on hand to take his place.  Williams was hurt early, but played as expected when he returned.  Drafting a safety to compete for a prime backup spot is a possibility.
ST Longwell and Kluwe are solid.  The Vikings will look to add a returner who will allow them to remove Berrian from punt returns and be an upgrade in the kick return game.