AFC top-three team needs

As NFL teams around the country put the final touches on their free-agent strategy, we examine the top three needs for each of the teams, according to the beat writers that cover those teams. Today, we start with the AFC, arranged by division.


1. Pass rusher: The Cardinals did a decent job with pressuring QBs this year, but they lack an elite rusher that could help close out games.

2. Inside linebacker: Karlos Dansby is likely to leave via free agency, and the team needs a playmaker at that position.

3. Quarterback: Matt Leinart is the only QB under contract. The club needs to draft a quarterback to prepare for the future.


1. Wide receiver: The returning group has a bunch of complementary receivers, but no proven standout. The Rams have to find a way to score points and take the defensive pressure away from running back Steven Jackson.

2. Quarterback: Will Bulger return? Will the first few rounds bring another young quarterback to develop? Those questions will dominate the offseason leading up to the draft.

3. Defensive lineman: There is a need for both a presence inside and on the edge where the futures of Leonard Little and James Hall are unknown. A consistent pass rush from both spots is needed.


1. Offensive tackle: The 49ers did not get consistently solid play from right tackle Adam Snyder, so that spot will be the top priority to fill in the draft. The 49ers should be able to accomplish that with one of their two first-round draft picks.

2. Return specialist: The 49ers struggled to find a player who could simply catch a punt. Their lack of production, and turnovers, in the return game were big factors in losses at Houston and Seattle. The club might look to land a dynamic return man within the first three rounds.

3. Cornerback: The club needs to add more speed to the secondary, and getting a young cornerback will give them the versatility to mix up their coverages on third downs.


1. Running back: New offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates said Justin Forsett and Julius Jones are good fits for the team's zone blocking scheme. However, the Seahawks could still use a dynamic playmaker at the running back position.

2. Defensive end: With Patrick Kerney likely not coming back this year and the Seahawks struggling to generate a consistent pass rush the past two seasons, the team could use an elite pass rusher coming off the edge.

3. Offensive tackle: With Walter Jones likely retiring and Sean Locklear struggling to stay healthy, Seattle needs an upgrade at the left tackle position.


1. Outside linebacker: The Bills not only finished 30th against the run, they also received just one sack from an outside linebacker in 2009 (from backup Chris Draft). In addition, starters Kawika Mitchell (knee) and Keith Ellison (quad) are coming off season-ending injuries.

2. Left tackle: Bills quarterbacks were sacked 46 times, fourth most in the league, as the team cobbled together nine different line combinations. Four different players played left tackle. Still think trading Pro Bowler Jason Peters to Philly was a good idea?

3. Quarterback: The Bills haven't had a 300-yard passer in 54 games. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Trent Edwards and Brian Brohm are now Chan Gailey's problem. Or maybe not.


1. Nose tackle: With Jason Ferguson injured, 35 and a free agent, the Dolphins need to address one of the most critical positions of a 3-4 defense, especially after they slipped from 10th to 18th ranked while allowing 456 yards in the final three games.

2. Wide receiver: Instead of evolving into a big-play receiver worthy of his first-round status Ted Ginn Jr. regressed as the Dolphins' wideouts combined to catch just six touchdown passes, including three by rookie Brian Hartline.

3. Free safety: Gibril Wilson was a huge free-agent bust and was mostly responsible for Miami allowing 23 touchdown passes and 40 pass completions that were 25 yards or more. Whether second-year free safety Chris Clemons is the answer is too soon to say.


1. Defensive end/outside linebacker: Whether it's in the four-man fronts that the team ran a bit more often in 2009 or in New England's traditional 3-4 sets, the Patriots must find a legitimate pass rusher. An inability to get to the quarterback, save for Tully Banta-Cain's overachieving and misleading 10 sacks, has been the major flaw in the New England defense for the last two seasons.

2. Wide receiver: Randy Moss isn't getting any younger or more productive. Wes Welker is recovering from reconstructive knee surgery and is likely to open 2010 on the unable-to-perform list. And New England never found a No. 3 option behind those productive vets last fall. The Patriots must find at least two legitimate receiving options to work with Moss and developing youngster Julian Edelman.

3. Inside linebacker: Jerod Mayo battled a knee injury for a somewhat disappointing sophomore season. Former undrafted second-year player Gary Guyton was miscast on the inside in 3-4 fronts. And beyond those two young players, New England has little talent or depth at inside linebacker. That's a problem, even playing behind one of the best nose tackles in the game in Vince Wilfork.


1 Outside linebacker: The Jets desperately need a pass rusher for whom opponents must specifically game plan, because QBs such as Peyton Manning can carve up blitzing teams.

2 Cornerback: Lito Sheppard wasn't the answer as the Jets continue to try to find a corner they can pair with All-World CB Darrelle Revis.

3 Backup quarterback: The Jets need to find a veteran who can mentor Mark Sanchez and also step in if Sanchez gets nicked-up or is having a horrific game. The organization has lost confidence in Kellen Clemens.


1. Wide receiver: The Ravens can't take advantage of Joe Flacco's big arm because they lack a big playmaker on the outside. Derrick Mason is a possession receiver and Mark Clayton is too inconsistent.

2. Tight end: Todd Heap bounced back to become an effective weapon in the red zone. But Heap is on the downside of his career, and the Ravens don't have any heir apparent. The Ravens were looking at Brandon Pettigrew in the first round last year before the Detroit Lions drafted him.

3. Defensive tackle: The Ravens ranked No. 1 in the NFL in fewest rushing yards allowed per carry, but they are showing some age in the interior. Kelly Gregg has been slowed by injuries the past two seasons, and Justin Bannan is an unrestricted free agent. This could be the time to pair another young tackle with Haloti Ngata.


1. Wide receiver: The Bengals need to find a deep threat that can stretch the field, something they were sorely lacking during the second half of last season when Chris Henry was lost for the year with a broken arm. With Henry's death, they are also lacking quality depth at the position as Maurice Purify and Quan Cosby tried to fill the role of the fourth receiver to no avail.

2. Tight end: With the receivers and passing game struggling during the second half, the Bengals did not have a dependable pass-catching tight end to give Carson Palmer another option.

3. Safety: With a season-ending injury to Roy Williams and Chris Crocker bothered by a sore ankle the last month of the season, the Bengals had a lack of depth and quality in the area. Tom Nelson is nice as a backup, but he was beaten handily in coverage.


1. Quarterback: The fact team president Mike Holmgren has yet to endorse Brady Quinn or Derek Anderson is a clear indication he wants to go in a different direction. That does not mean the Browns have to use a first-round pick on a quarterback; Matt Hasselbeck was drafted by Green Bay in the sixth round in 1998 when Holmgren was coaching the Packers.

2. Cornerback: The Browns pick seventh, and the stars are aligned for them to draft CB Joe Haden from Florida to play right cornerback. The position was shaky last year with Brandon McDonald as the starter for the majority of the season.

3. Running back: Jerome Harrison came on strong at the end of 2009, but he is a free agent and there is no guarantee he will be back. Even if he is, the Browns need another back because James Davis and Chris Jennings did not play enough to be relied upon and Jamal Lewis might retire.


1. Offensive line: One reason the Steelers cannot run when they want is the blocking. They get no push from their front line. They have to develop a tackle at the very least and need to find their future centers.

2. Defensive line: They addressed this last year with DE Ziggy Hood in the first round, but they need to restock a line that has grown old. Another end and nose tackle are a must.

3. Defensive backs: With FS Ryan Clark likely leaving as a free agent, they have no one to replace him. Their CBs are below average as well.


1. Running back: They ranked 30th, and the coaches want Matt Schaub to throw less than the league-high 583 times for a league-high 4,770 yards. Coach Gary Kubiak wants more balance between the run and pass.

2. Defensive tackle: Starters Amobi Okoye and Shaun Cody played the run well. They also played good team defense, doing the necessary things like grabbing and holding to allow the linebackers to make the tackles. But they combined for two sacks. The coaches would like to get an inside player who can rush the passer.

3. Cornerback: If they allow Dunta Robinson to leave, this becomes a priority position. If Robinson stays, they can draft a free safety or an interior offensive lineman.


1. Left offensive tackle: Tony Ugoh hasn't panned out as expected. Charlie Johnson did a nice job of taking over the job this season, but he isn't a prototypical NFL left offensive tackle. The Colts need to find a long-term replacement for former Pro Bowl tackle Tarik Glenn, who retired after the 2006 season.

2. Middle linebacker: This area needs help even if starter Gary Brackett doesn't leave for free agency. Brackett is an unrestricted free agent who wants to remain with the Colts if the monetary issues can be worked out. Should Brackett come back in 2010, the team could use additional quality depth at middle linebacker.

3. Wide receiver: Yes, the Colts have Reggie Wayne, Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie. And Anthony Gonzalez is expected back after missing the entire 2009 season with a knee injury. But you can never have too many weapons for QB Peyton Manning to use. He needs someone who can gain some separation downfield from a defensive back, a big-play Marvin Harrison type of receiver. Garcon is the only one of the Colts' receivers who can do that, but he was inconsistent at times and had some big drops in the postseason.


1. Pass rushers: The Jaguars are desperate to add pass rushers because they were last in the league in sacks with 14 and sacks per pass play. They desperately need to improve their pass rush.

2. Linebackers: They have a solid linebacker in Daryl Smith, but the other two spots are wide open. Incumbents Justin Durant and Clint Ingram need to step up their game if they're to keep their jobs.

3. Safeties: Reggie Nelson lost his job late last season and needs to look good in camp just to keep a roster spot. Gerald Alexander and Anthony Smith ended the season as the starters, but they're stopgap players.


1. Defensive end: Kyle Vanden Bosch and Jevon Kearse are both unrestricted free agents, and Dave Ball will likely be a restricted. The Titans need a pass rusher to pair with emerging William Hayes on the left side. Kearse won't return, and Vanden Bosch could come back in a lesser role.

2. Linebacker: Before his ACL injury, Keith Bulluck looked like a goner in free agency, as he and the Titans could not seem to agree on his worth. With Bulluck out, along with the injury to David Thornton, the Titans got a taste of life without Bulluck, and it could not have been encouraging. Bulluck could return with a make-good deal, but look for the Titans to address this spot regardless.

3. Cornerback: Cortland Finnegan wants to become a man-to-man cornerback who follows opposing receivers all over, a la Darrelle Revis. Whether that happens or not, Nick Harper is 35 and a free agent. He probably won't be back. Rod Hood, who filled in for him, was good as a stopgap, but might not be a long-term answer. Rookies Ryan Mouton and Jason McCourty were not ready when called upon. A must-need area to fix this off-season.


1. Receiver: If Brandon Marshall returns, this position might not top the list, but either way the Broncos could use some help here. The Broncos don't have many receivers that can stretch the field, which hurt the offense in 2009.

2. Defensive line: The Broncos could use depth at nose tackle and at both end positions. The starters were solid, but there may not be a future Pro Bowl player in the group. Denver should look long and hard at investing in the line this offseason.

3. Guard/center: The Broncos are moving away from the zone-blocking scheme, which means they need to get bigger up front. The team is set at tackle with Ryan Clady and Ryan Harris, but there will be some tinkering with the three interior line spots.


1. Offensive line: While the rise of Jamaal Charles helped the offensive line in the second half of the season, they still allowed far too many sacks and it took far too long for the running game to come into shape. The key spots where the team needs help is on the right side, at both guard and tackle.

2. Inside Linebacker: The Chiefs' defense struggled against the run last season and while starters Corey Mays and Demorrio Williams were productive, they are not the type of top-line backers needed to plug the gaps.

3. Wide Receiver: Matt Cassel needs weapons to help the offense, specifically at wide receiver, where Dwayne Bowe can't always be counted on and veteran Chris Chambers is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent.


1. Offensive tackle: Right tackle Cornell Green needs to be replaced, and left tackle Mario Henderson faded in 2009.

2. Linebacker: With improved play at safety and plenty of talent up front, the Raiders could use a hard-nosed linebacker who could stop the run. Alabama's Rolando McClain could look good at No. 8 overall.

3. Wide receiver: Incumbents Chaz Schilens, Louis Murphy and Darrius Heyward-Bey need a veteran presence for both guidance and additional first downs.


1. Running back: With LaDainian Tomlinson not expected to return and Darren Sproles not being an every-down back, the Chargers need to shore up this position.

2. Defensive tackle: Jamal Williams missed all but one game last year injured; the Chargers have to face the fact he is returning for his 13th season this year. A replacement here is needed.

3. Cornerback: If the Chargers go a different direction in regard to starter Antonio Cromartie, a replacement needs to be found. He may not be on the roster, and that includes former first-round pick Antoine Cason.

Viking Update Top Stories