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Dissecting the Draft: NFC 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 NFC teams in this year's NFL Draft, which will take place from April 28-30.

NFC EAST

Dallas (6-10)


Top Needs: S, OT, CB, DE

First Three Picks: No. 27, No. 59, No. 90

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

Jerry Jones usually isn't very poker-faced about players that strike his fancy, and there appear to be two members -- LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson and Southern Cal offensive tackle Tyron Smith -- of this draft class that the boisterous Cowboys owner is particularly fond of. The fast-rising Smith should be available when Dallas makes its selection at No. 9 overall, and the young lineman makes a lot of sense for a team that's old and not especially deep up front. The Cowboys would probably have to trade up to land the supremely- talented Peterson, but last year's deal to nab standout wide receiver Dez Bryant in the first round is further proof Jones is willing to do whatever it takes to get his man. Peterson would presumably take over for veteran Terence Newman, Dallas' most recent top 10 choice (2003) who's a potential roster casualty due to a high salary and declining play. The Cowboys may also have to replace both of last year's starting safeties, though that may come through free agency, while the defensive line could possibly lose three of its top four ends once the market finally opens up.

N.Y. Giants (10-6)

Top Needs
: OL, OLB, CB

First Three Picks: No. 19, No. 52, No. 83

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

The Giants are getting rather long in the tooth on the offensive line, and it's beginning to show. Two starters up front missed significant time with injuries last season, while left guard Rich Seubert underwent surgery to repair a dislocated kneecap in January. With center Shaun O'Hara also a health risk, New York will be sure to add some young blood to the interior at some point in the draft, perhaps with its first-round choice (No. 19 overall). An early pick may also be earmarked for a strong-side linebacker to replace aging veteran Keith Bulluck, who's unlikely to be re-signed, and look for general manager Jerry Reese to bring in at least one cornerback in preparation for the possible future departures of Terrell Thomas and Aaron Ross, both of whom enter the final year of their deals. Though the Giants appear deep at both running back and wide receiver, the injury histories of Ahmad Bradshaw and Steve Smith may have Reese looking to replenish those spots as well.

Philadelphia (10-6)

Top Needs
: CB, OL, OLB

First Three Picks: No. 23, No. 54, No. 85

Number of Selections: 10 (1, 2, 3, 4, 4, 5, 5, 7, 7, 7)

The Eagles placed their primary attention in the 2010 draft towards adding pieces on defense, and that could be the case for a second consecutive year following the unit's somewhat disappointing performance last season. The biggest hole is at cornerback, where the team currently lacks a suitable starter to line up opposite ball-hawk Asante Samuel, and there's a sizeable void at weakside linebacker as well following the offseason decision to let 2010 regular Ernie Sims walk. Philadelphia also has pressing needs along the offensive line, an area that's been surprisingly neglected in past drafts, and would be thrilled if it can come out of this draft with both an upgrade at right guard and insurance for right tackle Winston Justice, who underwent knee surgery in February. The Eagles made a league-high 13 selections in last year's draft and should be busy again this time around, holding extra picks in the fourth (from the Donovan McNabb trade) and fifth rounds and 10 overall choices at the moment. That could provide the team ammunition to trade up in the first round, a tactic Philly's utilized in each of the past two years.

Washington (6-10)

Top Needs
: QB, OLB, WR, DL

First Three Picks: No. 10, No. 41, No. 144

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

The Donovan McNabb fiasco of last season was a sobering indication that the Redskins have to acquire and develop a young and athletic quarterback that will spearhead the franchise's latest rebuilding effort. However, that's far from the only glaring need on a roster littered with overpriced and over-the- hill veterans and that housed one of the NFL's most submissive defense in year one of the Mike Shanahan era. Washington will enter the draft with eight picks, a notable improvement over recent years, but doesn't have a third or fourth-rounder after last offseason's trades for McNabb and offensive tackle Jammal Brown. Therefore, the Redskins' best-case scenario may be to find a taker for their 10th overall selection and move down into the bottom half of the first round, which would enable the team to recoup those discarded choices while remaining in position to snare one of the prized quarterback prospects (Jake Locker, Christian Ponder, Colin Kaepernick, Andy Dalton). If Washington stays put, obtaining an outside linebacker with a similar skill set to pass- rushing terror Brian Orakpo or a frontline wide receiver could be the way to go. The middle rounds could see the Redskins taking steps to improve the offensive and defensive lines, both of which could use an infusion of youth and talent.

NFC SOUTH

Atlanta (13-3)

Top Needs
: DE, CB, WR

First Three Picks: No. 27, No. 59, No. 91

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

An otherwise terrific 2010 season for the Falcons came to an early end because of the team's inability to slow down Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay's passing attack in the playoffs, therefore it's likely an emphasis will be placed on fortifying the trouble spots on the defense in this draft. Defensive end figures to be a high priority with top pass rusher John Abraham in the final year of his contract and no true successor behind him, and there isn't a proven nickel cornerback on the current roster either. Atlanta would also like to come out of the draft with some added playmakers on offense, particularly a speedy No. 2 receiver to prevent opponents from focusing on All-Pro Roddy White and a heir apparent to the 35-year-old tight end Tony Gonzalez. Three starters on the offensive line are set to become free agents of some sort, so the Falcons may need to bring in some bodies there during the later rounds, while depth is lacking at outside linebacker as well.

Carolina (2-14)

Top Needs
: DT, QB, DE, WR

First Three Picks: No. 1, No. 65, No. 97

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

As is usually the case for a team that managed a measly two victories the previous season, the Panthers have an abundance of needs and plenty of directions they could go with the draft's No. 1 overall pick. The new coaching staff doesn't seem sold on second-year signal-caller Jimmy Clausen, so landing a potential franchise quarterback with the top choice is a distinct possibility, and Carolina has spent a good portion of the offseason evaluating reigning Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton. The Panthers also had arguably the worst pair of defensive tackles in the league last year, so Alabama's Marcell Dareus and Newton's Auburn teammate, Nick Fairley, have drawn consideration as well. Carolina may also look to trade out of the No. 1 spot, a sensible decision for a team with so many holes to fill and which dealt this year's second-round selection to New England last April to move up and take project wide receiver Armanti Edwards. The Panthers do have an extra third-rounder as compensation for losing All-Pro defensive end Julius Peppers to free agency during the 2010 offseason.

New Orleans (11-5)

Top Needs
: OLB, DE, DT

First Three Picks: No. 24, No. 56, No. 72

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

Expect the Saints to focus on addressing the defensive side of the ball early on in the draft, with the primary objective to restore the unit back to its turnover-causing ways that helped fuel 2009's championship run. Finding a pass-rushing complement to veteran end Will Smith should be near the top of the team's to-do list, and with 2010 starters Scott Shanle and Danny Clark both over 30 and headed to free agency, outside linebacker is another area that could use an infusion of youth and skill. New Orleans owns four of the first 88 picks in this year's draft, having obtained Washington's third- rounder for offensive tackle Jammal Brown last June, and one of those slots could also be earmarked for bolstering a running back corps that was ravaged by injuries last season. The Saints often value talent over need, however, as evidenced by recent first-round selections of cornerback Patrick Robinson (2010) and wideout Robert Meachem (2007) that added to already-deep positions.

Tampa Bay (10-6)

Top Needs
: DE, OL, MLB

First Three Picks: No. 20, No. 51, No. 84

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

The Buccaneers' 26 sacks were tied for the second-fewest in the NFL last season, and the team got particularly scant production out of the defensive end position. Fortunately, this is a draft loaded with premium pass-rushing prospects, and Tampa Bay could be in good position to snag one with the 20th overall selection. Cornerback is an area that may need to be addressed early on as well, with Aqib Talib facing possible disciplinary action after a recent felony arrest and opposite-side starter Ronde Barber now 36 years old, while the later rounds could be used to add reinforcements to an offensive line that was hit hard by injuries during last year's breakout campaign and had a lack of quality depth exposed. Middle linebacker Barrett Ruud and third-down back Cadillac Williams are unrestricted free agents that are uncertain to return, so the Bucs may look to the draft to find their replacements.

NFC NORTH

Chicago (11-5)

Top Needs
: OT, DT, WR

First Three Picks: No. 29, No. 62, No. 93

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

The Bears will be picking in the first round (No. 29) for the first time since grabbing offensive tackle Chris Williams 14th overall in 2008, and with Williams floundering as both a left tackle and guard as part of a troublesome front line, the team could very well be headed in that same direction when it makes its initial choice this year. There's also work to be done on a defensive line that sorely needs a disruptive presence at tackle, the role the since-released Tommie Harris used to provide before his play dropped off in recent years, and an heir apparent to declining center Olin Kreutz must be found as well. The Bears could also stand to get younger at linebacker, with perennial Pro Bowlers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs both on the wrong side of 30 and precious little depth behind them. The wide receiver corps has shown to be serviceable, but adding a big, sure-handed target for Jay Cutler would give the offense a bit of a boost.

Detroit (6-10)

Top Needs
: OLB, CB, WR

First Three Picks: No. 13, No. 44, No. 75

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

The Lions have put together two strong drafts under the tandem of head coach Jim Schwartz and general manager Martin Mayhew, but this year's edition may be a more challenging one for the duo. After selecting near the top of rounds in both 2009 and 2010, Detroit will choose near the midway point following last year's four-win improvement, and presently only has six selections after trading away a sixth-rounder to Seattle for reserve defensive end Lawrence Jackson in August. Cornerback and offensive tackle figure to be positions the Lions will focus on in the first round, as the team lacks a bona fide shutdown cover man and has age and injury issues on the offensive line, with left tackle Jeff Backus entering his 11th season and right-side starter Gosder Cherilus' health a question mark after microfracture knee surgery. Look for Detroit to target outside linebackers, where two starters are needed, on the second day and search later on for a running back to rotate with 2010 first- rounder Jahvid Best. Even with the heavy investments the Lions have made in wide receivers in recent years, adding a No. 3 wideout with speed would serve an up-and-coming offense well.

Green Bay (10-6)

Top Needs
: OLB, WR, OL

First Three Picks: No. 32, No. 64, No. 96

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

The lockout has likely done little to alter the draft strategy of the Packers, as this is a team that is traditionally inactive in free agency and prefers to build from within. The defending Super Bowl champs aren't without a few chinks in the armor, with the most glaring absence an outside linebacker with the pass-rush skills to form a dangerous tandem with sack-master Clay Matthews. A popular prediction for Green Bay's No. 32 overall pick has been converted Arizona end Brooks Reed, whose long blond hair and relentless style has drawn him plenty of comparisons to the Packers All-Pro. With Donald Driver getting up in years and the organization seemingly ready to move on from the inconsistent James Jones, wide receiver is another position Green Bay will look to restock in this draft, while an offensive line that could lose potential free-agent guard Daryn Colledge and has 35-year-old Chad Clifton at left tackle may benefit from some added depth. The Packers haven't drafted strictly on need under general manager Ted Thompson, so expect some of the club's nine choices to be made with an eye to the future.

Minnesota (6-10)

Top Needs
: QB, S, CB

First Three Picks: No. 12, No. 43, No. 106

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

Now that the eventful Brett Favre era has finally reached its end, determining a quarterback for both 2011 and beyond becomes the Vikings' most important personnel decision. Though the team may go the veteran route to start, obtaining a young signal-caller it can build around is a must in this year's draft, and it would be shocking if Minnesota didn't spend one of its top two choices (No. 12, No. 43) on a quarterback. If the Vikes feel there isn't one worth taking at their current spot in the first round, that pick may instead go towards landing one of the several highly-touted defensive end prospects, as there's a need at that position if left-side starter Ray Edwards can't be locked up long-term. Minnesota gave up its third-rounder in the ill-fated Randy Moss trade but has additional picks in the fifth, sixth and seventh, which could be used to fill holes in the secondary (safety has been a longstanding sore spot) and outside linebacker and supply necessary depth to the offensive line.

NFC WEST

Arizona (5-11)

Top Needs
: OLB, QB, OG, TE

First Three Picks: No. 5, No. 38, No. 69

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

A flurry of offseason player defections led to a troubling five-win 2010 campaign for an Arizona squad that was just two years removed from a Super Bowl appearance, but no departure had as much impact as the retirement of quarterback Kurt Warner. As a result, the Cardinals' No. 1 goal this spring will be to land a new offensive triggerman, and the team would likely take a hard look at Blaine Gabbert if the Missouri junior is still on the board when it picks fifth overall. It's hardly a given that Arizona would draft a quarterback that high, however, considering there are a few other positions of immediate need and the club remains high on 2010 rookie John Skelton. A defense that was one of the NFL's worst a year ago is devoid of outside linebackers that can effectively pressure the quarterback, so Texas A&M pass rusher Von Miller would garner strong consideration if he's available at No. 5. Four of last year's five offensive line starters are headed to free agency, therefore the Cards may have to turn to the draft to find possible replacements.

San Francisco (6-10)

Top Needs
: QB, CB, WR, DL

First Three Picks: No. 7, No. 45, No. 76

Number of Selections: 12 (1, 2, 3, 4, 4, 5, 6, 6, 7, 7, 7, 7)

Expected to undergo a massive makeover under new head coach Jim Harbaugh, the 49ers appear to have the means to begin their overhaul by holding a league- high 12 selections in this year's draft. Count on one of those choices being used on an intended quarterback of the future, as former No. 1 overall pick Alex Smith is a free agent and is no longer viewed as a long-term answer even if he's brought back. The Niners have been linked to such prospective field generals as Florida State's Christian Ponder, TCU's Andy Dalton, Nevada's Colin Kaepernick and Arkansas' Ryan Mallett, and could very well land one of that group with either their second-round pick (No. 45) or by trading up into the late half of the first. San Francisco also intends to retool the defensive side and is in the market for a shutdown cornerback, with LSU physical marvel Patrick Peterson and Nebraska standout Prince Amukamara potential candidates for the team's first selection at No. 7 overall. The 49ers would also like to come away with a pass-rushing outside linebacker and additional depth at both wide receiver and the defensive line, especially if nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin isn't re-signed.

Seattle (7-9)

Top Needs
: OL, CB, QB

First Three Picks: No. 25, No. 57, No. 99

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

Winning the weak NFC West has put the Seahawks in a tough spot in regards to the draft, as a team that still possesses substantial needs will now be forced to pick in the latter portion of rounds. Seattle is also without a third-round choice as part of last year's questionable acquisition of backup quarterback Charlie Whitehurst, though it does have extra selections in the fifth and seventh. With Matt Hasselbeck a free agent and uncertain to return, there's plenty of speculation that the Seahawks may take a signal-caller with their first-round pick (No. 25), with TCU's Andy Dalton and hometown hero Jake Locker (Washington) viewed as potential fits. Seattle also must bring in some talent for an offensive line that has two starters due to hit unrestricted free agency and at cornerback, which should help the club improve on its No. 27 overall ranking in pass defense. A young pass-rushing end would also be a welcome addition, as would a receiver that could ease the burden on 2010 comeback story Mike Williams.

St. Louis (6-10)

Top Needs
: DT, S, WR

First Three Picks: No. 14, No. 47, No. 78

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

The Rams won't have one of the first two picks in the draft for the first time since 2007, but last year's improvement still doesn't mean the team has sufficiently fixed all its problem areas. St. Louis should be able to plug one of those holes when it chooses in the uncustomary position of the middle of the first round, and could go in several different directions with the 14th overall selection. Though there are a few decent options (Mark Clayton, Donnie Avery, Danario Alexander) on the current roster, the Rams are still searching for a true top-tier pass-catching target for 2010 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Sam Bradford and may look to snare one early on, with Alabama specimen Julio Jones a preferred prediction in many mocks. More parts are also needed for head coach Steve Spagnuolo to operate his pressure-heavy defense at full throttle, with penetrating interior linemen and a replacement for departed safety Oshiomoghio Atogwe near the top of the wish list, and the club will be on the lookout for a complementary running back to workhorse Steven Jackson.

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

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