1. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (2-14)
LAST SEASON: Major disappointment in first year under coach Lovie Smith and rookie general manager Jason Licht, who spent generously in free agency to try to bring in a new quarterback, upgrade a porous offensive line and bolster one of the NFL's weakest defenses. Most of the moves proved fruitless, the Bucs struggled from the start and finished with their worst record in 28 years, missing the playoffs for the seventh straight season and earning the first overall pick in the draft for the first time since 1987, when the pick was Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Vinny Testaverde. Smith and Licht conceded their personnel mistakes, releasing three high-priced players signed in free agency — QB Josh McCown, DE Michael Johnson and OT Anthony Collins — after just one season.
THEY NEED: QB, OL, RB, DE, WR
THEY DON'T NEED: DT, LB
POSSIBLE FIRST PICK: QB Jameis Winston or QB Marcus Mariota
OUTLOOK: Licht has called this the biggest draft in franchise history. The Bucs not only need to get the first pick — likely a quarterback — right, but they've got to upgrade the talent level on the offensive line, at running back and wide receiver to give that QB a chance to be successful. The club took a much more conservative approach to free agency this year, targeting players who have either played for Smith or been in systems similar to Tampa Bay's Cover 2 scheme to fill in holes on defense with the signings of LB Bruce Carter, S Chris Conte, DT Henry Melton and CB Sterling Moore and a trade for DE George Johnson.
8. ATLANTA FALCONS (6-10)
LAST SEASON: Despite losing record, Falcons were in weak NFC South race into final week. Season-ending 34-3 loss to Carolina capped second-straight losing season and cost coach Mike Smith his job. Injuries on offensive line were costly for second straight year. Strong season by WR Julio Jones, QB Matt Ryan's top target, could not overcome poor defense. Atlanta allowed most total yards and yards passing in league and finished second to last in sacks.
THEY NEED: DE, RB, OLB, TE, OT, OG.
THEY DON'T NEED: QB, CB, K, WR, MLB.
POSSIBLE FIRST PICK: Missouri OLB Shane Ray, Clemson OLB Vic Beasley. If early run on edge rushers takes Ray, Beasley and Florida's Dante Fowler Jr. off board, could pick Kentucky OLB Bud Dupree or trade down and select Georgia RB Todd Gurley. Seems unlikely first-year coach Dan Quinn would gamble on Nebraska OLB Randy Gregory for first pick.
OUTLOOK: Roster makeover began through free agency. Veterans RB Steven Jackson, LB Sean Weatherspoon, RB Jacquizz Rodgers, DT Corey Peters, WR Harry Douglas and OG Justin Blalock are gone. Team signed free-agent LBs Brooks Reed, Justin Durant and O'Brien Schofield, TEs Jacob Tamme and Tony Moeaki, DE Adrian Clayborn and WR Leonard Hankerson. Defense still needs elite pass rusher it has lacked since John Abraham wasn't re-signed following 2012 season.
13. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (7-9)
LAST SEASON: Saints as usual fielded one of NFL's best offenses, but struggled on defense and with closing out games. Lost four games by field goal or less, with two losses in overtime. Close losses cost Saints playoff berth, even in weak NFC South.
THEY NEED: Pass-rushing DE or OLB, TE, OL, WR, nickel CB.
THEY DON'T NEED: QB, RB, S, ILB.
POSSIBLE FIRST PICK: Kentucky OLB Alvin "Bud" Dupree, Clemson OLB Vic Beasley, LSU LT La'el Collins.
OUTLOOK: Saints' priority is to improve four-man pass rush because opposing QBs are delivering passes quicker and they want to keep DBs in coverage. However, protecting QB Drew Brees is another priority, as is replacing deep threat WR Kenny Stills, traded to Miami for ILB Dannell Ellerbe. Saints could go with top-rated OL or WR. They have nine total picks — five in first three rounds, enhancing possibilities to trade up.
No. 25 CAROLINA PANTHERS (7-8-1)
LAST SEASON: Panthers won NFC South with losing record, then beat Arizona at home in wild-card round before falling to the Seattle in divisional playoffs.
THEY NEED: OT, WR, RB, DE, CB.
THEY DON'T NEED: QB, FB, TE, DT, LB, S.
POSSIBLE FIRST PICK: OT D.J. Humphries, Florida. Panthers have to invest a high draft pick in an offensive tackle at some point. However, if Georgia RB Todd Gurley or a talented receiver slips, don't be shocked if they go in that direction.
OUTLOOK: Panthers parted ways with LT Byron Bell and have signed OTs Michael Oher and Jonathan Martin as potential stopgaps. However, both have struggled in pass protection. Team still wants to find long-term LT to protect Cam Newton. They'd also like to find No. 2 WR opposite Kelvin Benjamin. Don't rule out replacement for DE Greg Hardy, not re-signed after domestic abuse case. The Panthers released all-time leading rusher DeAngelo Williams, too.
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Posted on Fri, April 24, 2015
by The Associated Press