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Dissecting the Draft: AFC team strategies
By Scott Garbarini, NFL Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Here's a brief look of the major needs and a possible course of action for the AFC teams in this year's NFL Draft, which will take place from April 28-30.

AFC EAST

Buffalo (4-12)

Top Needs: OT, OLB, QB, ILB

First Three Picks: No. 3, No. 34, No. 68

Number of Selections: 9 (1, 2, 3, 4, 4, 5, 6, 7, 7)

The Bills haven't had a franchise quarterback ever since Jim Kelly retired in the mid-1990's, so it's a good bet that the team will spend one of its early-round selections in this draft on the future field general for Chan Gailey's offense. Buffalo may not get a shot at reigning Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton with the third overall pick, but Missouri triggerman Blaine Gabbert could be an option if the Bills decide to take a signal-caller that high. It's possible Buffalo may wait until later on to take a quarterback, however, and instead focus on repairing the deficiencies that exist on a defense that was the NFL's worst against the run in 2010. Shawne Merriman's injury history and 2009 first-rounder Aaron Maybin's slow development make finding a reliable pass-rushing outside linebacker a critical need, therefore it's no surprise that Texas A&M talent Von Miller is a trendy choice for the Bills in the mock- draft world. Upgrading the current situation at offensive tackle and adding bulk to the front seven also figure to be integral parts of Buffalo's draft blueprint.

Miami (7-9)

Top Needs: RB, OL, QB

First Three Picks: No. 15, No. 79, No. 111

Number of Selections: 8 (1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 7, 7)

The Dolphins fielded a stout defense but too often struggled to score points in 2010, so count on the team using the majority of its draft resources towards bolstering the offensive side of the ball. With Ronnie Brown and the aging Ricky Williams both free agents, the first order of business may be to bring in a young running back capable of playing every down, and Miami has been heavily linked to ex-Alabama star Mark Ingram during this draft season. The offensive line is another area that could receive some reinforcements early on, as the Dolphins aren't overly comfortable with the current options and center and left guard, and the club will also likely be in the market for a quarterback to push Chad Henne following an inconsistent season from the 2008 second-round pick. Having dealt away this year's second-rounder for top wide receiver Brandon Marshall, Miami could also be exploring opportunities to trade down from its present position at No. 15 overall.

New England (14-2)

Top Needs: DE, OL, OLB

First Three Picks: No. 17, No. 28, No. 33

Number of Selections: 9 (1, 1, 2, 2, 3, 3, 4, 5, 6)

The Patriots will once again be well armed come draft day, having garnered extra choices in the first (from Oakland), second (from Carolina) and third (from Minnesota) through various trades and presently owning three of the first 33 overall picks. Though it's likely New England will trade out of some of those spots, the opportunity presents itself for the Pats to fortify their two greatest areas of uncertainty -- the offensive and defensive lines. Injuries exposed a troubling lack of depth at defensive end last season, while sturdy right guard Stephen Neal has retired and veteran left tackle Matt Light is a free agent whom the team may be hesitant to sign long-term. And don't forget the Patriots still haven't been able to reach a multi-year agreement with All-Pro left guard Logan Mankins. Mounting a consistent pass rush was another continued problem last year, so Bill Belichick and his staff will also be on the lookout for players who can make an impact as outside linebackers in New England's 3-4 scheme.

N.Y. Jets (11-5)

Top Needs: WR, OT, OLB

First Three Picks: No. 30, No. 94, No. 126

Number of Selections: 6 (1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7)

The Jets enter this draft holding the 30th pick of the opening round following a second straight AFC Championship Game appearance, but that doesn't necessarily mean they'll stay at that spot. New York has been one of the most aggressive teams in recent years, having acquired such core pieces as Mark Sanchez (2009), Dustin Keller (2008), Darrelle Revis (2007) and David Harris (2007) by trading up, and won't hesitate to do so again for a player it covets. The Jets may have to mortgage the future to move up this time, however, as they lack a second-round pick from last year's trade with San Diego that brought in cornerback Antonio Cromartie. Wherever it selects, New York will be surveying the available crop of outside linebackers to help improve a pedestrian pass rush, as well as the offensive tackle group to obtain a successor for released veteran Damien Woody. Wide receiver and defensive end could be high priorities as well if free agents Braylon Edwards and Shaun Ellis aren't re-signed.

AFC SOUTH

Houston (6-10)

Top Needs: CB, OLB, S

First Three Picks: No. 11, No. 42, No. 73

Number of Selections: 8 (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 7)

The main culprit for the Texans' underachievement in 2010 was a defense that was routinely shredded on a weekly basis and especially powerless against the pass, so expect the majority of the team's eight selections to go towards rebuilding a new-look unit that will be overseen by ex-Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips. Houston has already began modifying a porous secondary by cutting loose safeties Bernard Pollard and Eugene Wilson during the offseason, and with starting corner Glover Quin expected to move into one of those slots, finding a counterpart to 2010 first-rounder Kareem Jackson early in the draft is essential. The Texans also lack outside linebackers suited for Phillips' 3-4 system and could use a true nose tackle with some bulk as well. There are far fewer holes to fill on the offensive side, though a wide receiver with return skills and a developmental quarterback would make sense in the later rounds.

Indianapolis (10-6)

Top Needs: OT, DT, WR

First Three Picks: No. 22, No. 53, No. 87

Number of Selections: 6 (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)

The Colts' success is predicated on keeping Peyton Manning upright and giving him time to throw, and it's astounding that the legendary quarterback continues to put up prolific passing totals even though the team hasn't had an above-average left tackle protecting him since Tarik Glenn retired in 2007. Since this class is quite deep at that position, Indianapolis could be in position to snare a long-term blind-side bodyguard for Manning with the 22nd overall selection in the first round, with Colorado's Nate Solder and Mississippi State's Derek Sherrod possible fits. The Colts still have problems stopping the run on defense, partly due to an undersized and limited group of tackles, so finding a long-needed interior anchor should also be among the club's main goals. With Reggie Wayne entering the final year of his contract and running mates Austin Collie and Anthony Gonzalez having been very brittle over their brief careers, wide receiver could be another spot that's addressed on either the first or second day.

Jacksonville (8-8)

Top Needs: S, LB, DE

First Three Picks: No. 16, No. 49, No. 80

Number of Selections: 7 (1, 2, 3, 4, 4, 5, 6)

Defense will be the Jaguars' primary focus for a second consecutive draft, with the two tackle spots the unit's lone area that presently stands in good shape. There's a good chance that general manager Gene Smith uses Jacksonville's first-round pick (No. 16) on a pass rusher, especially with this year's class deep in defensive ends, with Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan, Missouri's Aldon Smith and Cal's Cameron Jordan all viable candidates to be wearing the teal and black. A player like Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara would also be awfully tempting to a team that's seeking to bolster that position if he slides to the middle of Round 1. Middle linebacker, where 2010 starter Kirk Morrison is a free agent, and safety are other spots in need of an upgrade that Smith may address on the second day, and the count the Jags among the teams looking for a quarterback of the future, though their problems on the defensive side may take precedent.

Tennessee (6-10)

Top Needs: QB, DE, S, OG

First Three Picks: No. 8, No. 39, No. 77

Number of Selections: 9 (1, 2, 3, 4, 4, 5, 6, 7, 7)

Barring a sudden about-face from their public stance, the Titans' expected decision to part ways with mercurial quarterback Vince Young makes that position the team's unquestioned focal point of this draft. Tennessee wouldn't waste any time taking Blaine Gabbert if the Missouri gunslinger's available with its pick at No. 8, or it could wait until the second round (No. 39) or trade up from that slot to land a player such as Washington's Jake Locker or Nevada's Colin Kaepernick. The possibility of several free-agent defections, most notably sack leader Jason Babin, at defensive end make that spot a huge area of concern as well, and nabbing a safety at some point may be a good idea with starters Chris Hope and Michael Griffin in the final year of their contracts. Though defensive tackle isn't a major need, Tennessee may find Auburn's Nick Fairley too good to pass up if he's there at No. 8, having brought his former college position coach (Tracy Rocker) on staff in February. The Titans will have an extra selection at the end of the fourth round as compensation for losing free agents Kyle Vanden Bosch and Alge Crumpler last season.

AFC NORTH

Baltimore (12-4)

Top Needs: OT, WR, DE

First Three Picks: No. 26, No. 58, No. 90

Number of Selections: 9 (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 5, 6, 6, 7)

The Ravens enter the 2011 draft with two main goals: to become more physical on offense and younger on defense. The tackle spots on the offensive line were a nagging issue last season, as projected starter Jared Gaither missed the entire year with a back injury and 2009 first-rounder Michael Oher struggled with a move to the left side. The team may be ready to move on from Gaither and look for a replacement in the first round, with Mississippi State's Derek Sherrod and Wisconsin mauler Gabe Carimi possible fits at the No. 26 overall pick. There are also medical concerns about outside linebacker Sergio Kindle, a 2010 second-round choice who sat out his rookie season with a skull fracture, meaning Baltimore could have designs on securing the pass-rushing complement to All-Pro Terrell Suggs he was intended to be on the first or second day. The Ravens would also like to come away with a speedy wide receiver who can stretch the field and additional depth for the defensive line, while a new understudy to running back Ray Rice would be necessary if the team decides to cut ties with high-priced veteran Willis McGahee.

Cincinnati (4-12)

Top Needs: QB, DE, WR, CB

First Three Picks: No. 4, No. 35, No. 66

Number of Selections: 8 (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 7)

With an unhappy Carson Palmer having made it clear he's played his last down in a Bengals' uniform, it's an absolute must that Cincinnati comes out of this draft with a potential successor at quarterback. Though the team doesn't seem inclined to spend its first-round pick (No. 4 overall) on a signal-caller, TCU's Andy Dalton and Florida State's Christian Ponder are two players the Bengals have shown heavy interest in and would strongly consider with their second-round choice (No. 35). Since it's no secret of the organization's desire to rid itself of the toxic tandem of Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens, the popular belief is that Cincinnati has its eye on either Alabama's Julio Jones or Georgia's A.J. Green -- the top two wide receivers in this year's class -- at No. 4. The main defensive needs are a pass-rushing end and a cornerback, as standout cover man Jonathan Joseph isn't under contract and counterpart Leon Hall's deal expires next season. Running back becomes a priority as well if the Bengals decide not to bring back free agent Cedric Benson.

Cleveland (5-11)

Top Needs: DE, WR, DT, OT

First Three Picks: No. 6, No. 37, No. 70

Number of Selections: 8 (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 6, 7)

As usual, the Browns enter this year's draft with several holes to fill. The team is switching to a 4-3 defense and currently has just one player -- tackle Ahtyba Rubin -- that's viewed as starting material on the front line, so finding bodies for both the ends and the interior is essential. There's also a glaring paucity of weapons for young quarterback Colt McCoy on the present roster, and Cleveland looks to be in good position to land either of the two premium wide receiver prospects (Georgia's A.J. Green, Alabama's Julio Jones) with the sixth overall selection if it chooses to go that route. The Browns appear pretty well set at running back, linebacker and cornerback, but could use the middle rounds to bolster other need areas such as safety and a right- side offensive tackle, as well as supply necessary depth across both lines. Cleveland does have an extra sixth-round pick as part of last year's trade of disappointing quarterback Brady Quinn to the Broncos.

Pittsburgh (12-4)

Top Needs: CB, OL, DL

First Three Picks: No. 31, No. 63, No. 95

Number of Selections: 7 (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7)

Age is an issue for the defending AFC champions across both lines, as all three regulars on Pittsburgh's three-man front will be 33 or older in September and right offensive tackle Flozell Adams turns 36 in May, so count on the Steelers investing heavily in young alternatives in this draft. One player the team would surely look hard at if available at its initial pick (No. 31 overall) is Florida center/guard Mike Pouncey, since Pittsburgh hit big on his twin brother, Maurkice, in last year's first round. The most pressing need for the Black and Gold, however, may be at cornerback, with top cover man Ike Taylor an unrestricted free agent and few quality options behind him. With difference-making safety Troy Polamalu plagued by injuries the last two years, an insurance policy could be targeted in the later rounds.

AFC WEST

Denver (4-12)

Top Needs: DT, OT, TE, OLB

First Three Picks: No. 2, No. 36, No. 46

Number of Selections: 7 (1, 2, 2, 3, 6, 6, 7)

The first order of business for the Broncos will be to repair a porous defense that allowed the most points in the NFL in 2010 and is converting to a 4-3 alignment under new head coach John Fox. The offseason releases of veteran tackles Jamal Williams and Justin Bannan has made the interior line the most pressing deficiency, and it's widely believed the team will attempt to shore up that position by taking Alabama standout Marcell Dareus with the No. 2 overall pick. There are also holes that need to be filled at linebacker and in an aging secondary, and tight end Daniel Graham's release and the expected departure of incumbent right offensive tackle Ryan Harris leaves gaping voids at those spots as well. The Broncos do have an extra second-round choice as a result of last year's trade of wideout Brandon Marshall to Miami, but are presently without picks in the fourth and fifth. Considering the rebuilding task that lies ahead, it wouldn't be surprising to see the club trade down on the second day to grab some additional selections.

Kansas City (10-6)

Top Needs: WR, OT, NT

First Three Picks: No. 21, No. 55, No. 86

Number of Selections: 8 (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 5, 6, 7)

The Chiefs had their greatest weaknesses exposed in a pair of blowout losses at home to end last season, so it's likely the defending AFC West champs will turn to the draft to find difference-makers for an offense that mustered an anemic 139 net passing yards combined over those two defeats. It's imperative that the team lands an impact wide receiver that can draw coverage away from Pro Bowl honoree Dwayne Bowe, while tackles Branden Albert and Barry Richardson struggled at times to protect quarterback Matt Cassel, making those spots on the line candidates for an upgrade in the early rounds. Kansas City has fewer concerns on an up-and-coming defense that sports plenty of quality young talent, but the nose tackle situation must be addressed with key cogs Ron Edwards and Shaun Smith both headed to free agency. Landing a quality edge rusher to pair with quarterback terror Tamba Hali could also be among general manager Scott Pioli's main objectives.

Oakland (8-8)

Top Needs: OG, QB, CB

First Three Picks: No. 48, No. 81, No. 113

Number of Selections: 7 (2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 7)

The Raiders are slated to be the last team to be making a selection in this draft, having dealt their first-round pick to New England prior to the 2009 season in exchange for defensive lineman Richard Seymour. Barring a trade up, Oakland's initial choice will be at No. 48 overall, where the Silver and Black could use that spot to land a hopeful substitute for shutdown cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, who's expected to sign elsewhere once free agency commences. The Raiders also have concerns along the interior offensive line, with left guard Robert Gallery headed to free agency as well and declining right-side starter Cooper Carlisle a candidate for release, and don't discount Oakland using one of its second-day picks on a quarterback with Jason Campbell entering the final year of his contract. It's a well-known fact that Al Davis craves speed and athleticism, so expect players who tested well at the combine to be on the Raiders' radar.

San Diego (9-7)

Top Needs: DE, WR, ILB

First Three Picks: No. 18, No. 50, No. 61

Number of Selections: 8 (1, 2, 2, 3, 3, 6, 6, 7)

A.J. Smith loves to wheel and deal on draft day, and with five selections in the first three rounds, the Chargers' general manager appears to have the flexibility to maneuver and land the player of his choice. Those extra picks -- the Jets' second-rounder (for Antonio Cromartie) and a third from Seattle (for Charlie Whitehurst) -- may be worth holding on to as well, however, as San Diego has a few more areas to bolster than in recent years. Near the top of the list will be obtaining a defensive end with the requisite size and strength for the Bolts' 3-4 scheme, and the team should have some solid options with its first-round choice (No. 18 overall) in a class that's well stocked at that position. The Chargers have also been surveying this year's wide receiver crop, as neither Vincent Jackson nor fellow starter Malcom Floyd are signed long-term, and the club's depth at inside linebacker could be threatened by free agency as well. With Shawne Merriman gone and expected replacement Larry English slow to develop, Smith may be on the lookout for a pass-rushing outside linebacker at some point.

Sacks or scores, contact Scott Garbarini at
sgarbarini@sportsnetwork.com.

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