Ten glaring holes that need to be filled by teams in 2011 NFL Draft
Ravens' overrated offensive line could use help at left tackle
Contrary to popular belief, Colts should concentrate on D-line, not O-line
The Patriots' consistent lack of a pass rush is becoming a huge problem
What are the biggest needs in the draft? The Quality Stats we use at Cold, Hard Football Facts tell some pretty compelling stories that highlight, in no uncertain terms, the biggest needs for each and every team.
Below are 10 headline needs we've identified for some the league's marquee teams or those clubs that offered the most compelling statistical storylines of 2010.
Some are obvious. Newsflash: Arizona needs a quarterback! But others run counter to the conventional wisdom that causes so many teams to make bad decisions on draft day.
Immediate need: quarterback
If you ever doubted Kurt Warner's Hall of Fame credentials, just take a look at the instant disintegration of the Arizona passing attack in the wake of his retirement before the 2010 season.
The Cardinals fielded an incredible passing attack from 2007-09, including one that nearly carried the team to a Super Bowl victory in 2008.
But Arizona's air game deflated right before our very eyes in 2010, in almost unbelievable fashion. The Cardinals finished 31st in Passing Yards Per Attempt (4.76 YPA), 31st in Offensive Passer Rating (60.49), 31st in Passer Rating Differential (-23.06) and dead last in our new Real Quarterback Rating (64.47), which takes into account sacks, fumbles and rushing yards, as well as the traditional passing indicators used to rate quarterbacks.
Given those dreadful numbers, it's a miracle Arizona won five games.
The former quarterback of the future, Matt Leinart, was jettisoned before the start of the season and deservedly so based upon past performances. But four different quarterbacks tried to fill the void left by Warner and Leinart, and each failed worse than the next.
The team's best passer, Derek Anderson, started nine games, threw seven TD passes (the team totaled 10 for the year) and posted a team-best 65.9 passer rating -- which would have been a nice number for Charlie Trippi and the 1947 NFL champion Cardinals.
And remember, Arizona still had the great Larry Fitzgerald in the lineup. He caught 90 passes for 1,137 yards and six of the team's 10 receiving TDs.
But the NFL is not a receiver's league. It's a quarterback's league. The 2010 Cardinals provided plenty of proof that receivers have little impact on their own. To return to Super Bowl form, they must find a legit NFL quarterback.
Immediate need: a blind-side tackle
The Ravens have a rep as a tough, grind-it-out offense, with Ray Rice pounding away at defenses, while Joe Flacco punctures opponents across the middle with Todd Heap and occasionally over the top with Anquan Boldin.
The truth, though, is the running game lacked explosiveness and was the team's greatest liability in 2010. Baltimore gave it the old college try: only five teams ran the ball more often than the Ravens (487 attempts). But 27 teams posted a higher average per attempt (3.76). Look at it this way: Indy took plenty of grief for its moribund ground game, but the Colts (with 3.77 YPA) actually ran the ball a hair better than the Ravens.
Meanwhile, Michael Oher is an inspiring story, and played well on the right side of the line as a rookie. But he didn't protect Joe Flacco's blind side very well when moved to LT in 2010. He allowed seven sacks and was whistled for 10 penalties -- not good numbers for your top tackle.
Baltimore, so solid in so many areas, was merely average at protecting Flacco, allowing a Negative Pass Play on 9.42 percent of dropbacks (18th league-wide). And they finished No. 22 on our Offensive Hog Index in 2010. The performance of the OL was easily the statistical weak link of the otherwise rock-solid Ravens.
Immediate need: studs on the offensive line
It could be worse for Baltimore. They could have fielded Chicago's offensive line, which was the worst in football in 2010.
How do you get the NFL's worst OL? You more or less ignore the position in the draft for years on end.
The Bears took OT Marc Colombo with the No. 1 pick way back in 2002. In the eight drafts since then -- a total of 69 picks -- they've grabbed a total of nine offensive linemen, but only one higher than the fourth round (OT Chris Williams, No. 1, 2008).
So the team's neglected its offensive line, while Williams (like Colombo before him) hasn't exactly lived up to the expectations of a No. 14 overall pick. It's resulted in a very glaring weak link in Chicago: the Bears ranked dead last in 2010 on our Offensive Hog Index.
They struggled to run the ball (3.89 YPA), they were the worst unit in the NFL at protecting the passer (a Negative Pass Play on a 14.6 percent of drop backs) and they struggled to convert third downs (32.8% success), especially in short-yardage situations.
So the team needs a complete overhaul of the position. And that process begins with finding a legit anchor at left tackle (Williams was moved to guard by the end of 2010) to protect Jay Cutler, who was the most-sacked QB in the NFL last year (52).
It's actually a miracle that Lovie Smith's team was a play or two away from heading to the Super Bowl with third-stringer Caleb Hanie at quarterback behind the NFL's worst offensive line. We can only wonder what the team might do with a legit front five up front giving Cutler a chance to live up to his promise.
Immediate need: pass defenders
The conventional wisdom is that Dallas boasts a talented defense that needs to live up to the hype. The Cold, Hard Football Facts say this so-called talent is vastly overrated and the team needs to go hit pass defenders hard and heavy on draft day -- as they have so many times in recent years.
The Cowboys have devoted an incredible amount of draft-day resources over the past decade to cornerbacks, safeties, linebackers and pass-rush specialists, including first-round picks Roy Williams (2002), Terence Newman (2003), DeMarcus Ware (2005), Marcus Spears (2005), Bobby Carpenter (2006), Anthony Spencer (2007) and Mike Jenkins (2008).
They have nothing to show for it.
Dallas has fielded just two units since 2000 that ranked in the Top 12 in scoring defense. They actually boasted the league's No. 2 scoring defense in 2009 and then just fell apart at the seams during the disastrous 2010 season, dropping all the way to No. 31 in scoring defense (27.2 PPG).
It was the worst defense in Dallas since Tom Landry's fledgling club surrendered 28.7 PPG in 1962.
When a team gives up too many points, the culprit is always the same: pass defense.
The 2010 Cowboys were no exception : they ranked 28th in Defensive Passing Yards Per Attempt, allowing opposing passers to rip them for 6.76 yards every time they dropped back to pass; 29th in Defensive Passer Rating (92.75); and tied with Houston for dead last in TD passes allowed (33).
The consistent struggles stand in sharp contrast to the resources spent in the draft. So maybe the bigger issue is the way the team evaluates defensive talent both in the draft and then on the field.
A lot of those high picks were still key contributors last year -- including Newman, Ware, Spencer and Jenkins. But those contributions added up to one of the worst defenses in football.
Time to go back to the drawing board.
Immediate need: center or guard
What do you get the team that has almost everything? How about a ferocious earth mover in the middle of the OL, in the mold of an Alan Faneca or Logan Mankins?
Center and guard are the least-drafted early-round positions in football: just 14 total in the first round over the past decade. But if ever a team should grab an interior lineman early, it's the Packers.
They appeared to have landed their franchise left tackle with last year's top pick, Bryan Bulaga. He started most of the season, made most all-rookie teams and became the youngest Super Bowl winner in history -- he was just 21 when the Packers hoisted the Lombardi Trophy in Dallas (he turned 22 in March).
But Bulaga could use a little help up front, especially there in the soft underbelly of the OL, the team's lone weak link.
The Packers were a statistically dominant juggernaut in 2010, even as they struggled to a 10-6 record and barely squeaked into the playoffs, before proving their potential in the postseason.
They fielded playmakers on both sides of the ball and their statistical dominance was evident by the fact they ranked No. 1 in the NFL in average performance across the board in all of our Quality Stats -- including No. 1 in Bendability (our measure of defensive efficiency), Defensive Passer Rating and Passer Rating Differential. They were in the top five in Passing Yards Per Attempt, Defensive Passing Yards Per Attempt, Quarterback Rating (our new indicator that measures all aspects of QB production), Defensive Quarterback Rating and Offensive Passer Rating.
This was one sick statistical team.
The only relative weakness was on the offensive line, where the Packers ranked a humble No. 16 league-wide in our Offensive Hog Index. The Pack ran the ball poorly (3.81 YPA) and struggled to protect Aaron Rodgers -- who was sacked at least once in every game since Week 8, including all four playoff games.
Put some beef up front, and this team will be well stocked for another Super Bowl run in 2011.
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