The draft will be held Thursday, Friday and Saturday in New York. Times NFL writer Sam Farmer examines the needs for each team by division. Today, the South divisions:
Stanford’s Andrew Luck might not telegraph his passes, but the Colts do. They informed him a week before the draft that he’ll be the No. 1 overall pick. New Coach Chuck Pagano wants to install a defense similar to the one he ran in Baltimore, and that means Indianapolis will seek at least one disruptive defensive tackle and some capable corners.
With the seventh pick, the Jaguars are in position to get a pass rusher, a top-shelf receiver, or potentially trade down for more picks. They would like a defensive end who could match the production of Jeremy Mincey, whose eight sacks last season more than doubled any teammate’s total. To truly judge second-year quarterback Blaine Gabbert, Jacksonville needs to get some targets. Jarett Dillard and Mike Thomas combined for only 73 catches last season.
If the Titans want to turn up the heat on the young quarterbacks in this division, they need to ratchet up the rush on the edges. Their top three ends accounted for a combined 91/2 sacks last season. Of course, having cornerbacks who can cover is essential to bumping up those sacks. In the first round, the Titans should be able to land one of the better receivers, someone who can complement injury-prone Kenny Britt.
Even though they won the AFC South and reached the playoffs for the first time, the Texans would have been more formidable if quarterback Matt Schaub was not sidelined (foot injury in Game 10). The most conspicuous change on defense is the loss of DE Mario Williams, who signed with Buffalo. The Texans still have good outside backers in Connor Barwin and Brooks Reed, but look for them to add depth there.
No matter what Cleveland does with the fourth pick, the Buccaneers are in a great spot at No. 5. They will likely be in position to grab LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne or Alabama running back Trent Richardson. Corner is key because of the uncertain future of Aqib Talib, whom the team reportedly is shopping, and Tampa Bay needs a running back who can take the burden off (or replace) the one-dimensional and fumble-prone LeGarrette Blount.
If the Panthers can nearly duplicate last year’s draft success, they’ll be happy. They used the top pick on Cam Newton, the league’s offensive rookie of the year. With the ninth pick, they will mull over a run-stopping defensive tackle, considering the Panthers were trampled last season. Another receiver for Newton would be a plus, although they could fill that need later.
The Falcons can sit on their hands for the first round. Unless they trade, their first of six picks is the 23rd selection of Round 2. The Julio Jones trade a year ago left the cupboard bare, although that receiver panned out in a big way. Atlanta will probably pick up some help for its offensive line since it allowed 84 quarterback hits last season, seventh-most behind six non-playoff teams.
Good thing for the Saints their roster is solid, because they have only five picks, the first coming in Round 3. As part of the bounty punishment, they lost second-round selections in 2012 and 2013. They are likely to look for help along the offensive and defensive lines, and they should be in position to find some.
* NEXT: NORTH DIVISIONS