NFL draft 2020: How contenders can address glaring needs with top prospects

With free agency having reached a near standstill after two weeks, it's becoming easier to see what's missing from the NFL's contending class — as well as the teams hoping to make the jump into that tier.

For some, losing a key veteran or missing out on a marquee signing can portend a void somewhere on the roster that could become problematic if unaddressed. The NFL draft, however, offers teams several opportunities for remedies in the short run while also providing a framework for long-term growth.

Here's our breakdown of the most glaring need for 16 potential contenders and the draft options that could be available to them:

San Francisco 49ers

Glaring need: WR

First pick: No. 13

John Lynch created plenty of intrigue in sending away Pro Bowl defensive tackle DeForest Buckner for the Colts' top pick, which is situated at the expected beginning of a run on the draft's top wide receivers. After Emmanuel Sanders' departure, the defending NFC champs' passing game might hinge on finding a suitable replacement. Second-year standout Deebo Samuel is best served in a complementary role in which he can work the middle of the field, and giving Jimmy Garoppolo a surehanded target who can easily create separation might help get the quarterback back on track. Alabama's Jerry Jeudy sizes up as the best fit given his well-rounded skill set, but Crimson Tide teammate Henry Ruggs III and Oklahoma's CeeDee Lamb are also prime candidates at No. 13. San Francisco, however, could use this pick to address another position and wait to capitalize on a deep class of receivers with its other first-round selection (No. 31). 

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Glaring need: RT

First pick: No. 14

Maybe the contender label is premature for Tom Brady's new outfit, but there are promising indicators beyond the three-time MVP's arrival. Some offensive changes will be required, however, to meld the quarterback's quick-trigger style with Bruce Arians' "no risk it, no biscuit" philosophy, and right tackle might be a good place to start. Former Colts starter Joe Haeg can handle the first-string job in a pinch, but Alabama's Jedrick Wills Jr., Georgia's Andrew Thomas and Iowa's Tristan Wirfs would be athletically superior options should any be available at No. 14.

Dallas Cowboys

Glaring need: DE

First pick: No. 17

Cornerback undoubtedly will be a focal point for Dallas after Byron Jones' defection to the Dolphins. But given the current in-house candidates to replace departed starters, the outlook at defensive end is more worrisome. After remaking the interior of their line by bringing on Gerald McCoy and Dontari Poe, the Cowboys should have serious pause about handing Robert Quinn's role to Dorance Armstrong, a 2018 fourth-round pick whose glimpses of promise as a pass rusher aren't enough to warrant a starting gig. If LSU's K'Lavon Chaisson is off the board at No. 17, however, Dallas might be better off taking a cornerback in the first round and looking at Notre Dame's Julian Okwara or Boise State's Curtis Weaver in the second.

Philadelphia Eagles

Glaring need: WR

First pick: No. 21

In backing Alshon Jeffery, DeSean Jackon and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, executive vice president Howie Roseman has drawn a sharp contrast with the alarmism that has typically followed Philadelphia's receiving corps. But don't mistake the ever-aggressive Eagles architect's endorsement for complacency. After Carson Wentz ranked 26th in the NFL with just 6.7 yards per attempt in 2019, the Eagles look poised to make some kind of upgrade to their crew of pass catchers. Ruggs, the field-stretching speedster from Alabama, is the clear-cut top option, though he might be out of reach at No. 21. Baylor's Denzel Mims, LSU's Justin Jefferson or Clemson's Tee Higgins could make fine consolation prizes. 

Minnesota Vikings

Glaring need: CB

First pick: No. 22

For a team seemingly in win-now mode with Kirk Cousins, the Vikings have left themselves vulnerable at several key positions. The configuration at cornerback is most dire, with their top three players from last year (Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, Mackensie Alexander) all gone. Using one of their two first-round picks — No. 22 was acquired in the trade that sent Stefon Diggs to the Bills — to find an immediate starter is a near necessity. LSU's Kristian Fulton and Alabama's Trevon Diggs both make sense, though adding the latter might make for an awkward dynamic given the organization's break-up with his brother. 

New England Patriots

Glaring need: QB

First pick: No. 23

Bill Belichick might be reticent to entrust the title of Brady's successor to a rookie, especially with the likelihood of an abridged offseason program amid the coronavirus pandemic. Still, New England has to evaluate its possibilities beyond Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer. Oregon's Justin Herbert would be enticing should he endure a significant slide, but it seems unlikely he'd fall within striking range of the Patriots. Jordan Love of Utah State, meanwhile, might be too turnover-prone for Belichick's liking after throwing 17 interceptions last year. Washington's Jacob Eason and Georgia's Jake Fromm could be in play on Day 2, but the most intriguing option is Oklahoma's Jalen Hurts, a dynamic playmaker who would bring a new dimension to the offense.

New Orleans Saints

Glaring need: LB

First pick: No. 24

With one of the league's most well-rounded rosters, New Orleans might not have a deficiency that truly qualifies as "glaring." The middle of the defense, however, could use some reinforcements as Kiko Alonso returns from the third anterior cruciate ligament tear of his career. Patrick Queen of LSU or Kenneth Murray of Oklahoma would both fit the bill of a rangy tackler who could aid an already talented unit.

Seattle Seahawks

Glaring need: DE

First pick: No. 27

Even if Jadeveon Clowney re-ups with Seattle, more should be demanded of the pass rush after the defense netted just 28 sacks last year. Bruce Irvin's return should help, but barring a significant leap by 2019 first-round pick L.J. Collier, who struggled to crack the lineup as a rookie, a new presence will be required to rejuvenate the group. Penn State's Yetur Gross-Matos has the speed and strength to draw Pete Carroll and John Schneider's eye late in the first round.

Baltimore Ravens

Glaring need: LB

First pick: No. 28

With Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe joining Brandon Williams on the defensive line, Baltimore now has one of the league's most formidable starting fronts to go along with a deep and talented secondary. The massive hole at inside linebacker, however, expanded with the departures of Josh Bynes and Patrick Onwuasor. Queen and Murray both stand out as desired Day 1 starters, though the Ravens might have to move up to secure either one.

Tennessee Titans

Glaring need: DT

First pick: No. 29

Trading Jurrell Casey to the Broncos freed up some money, but how will the Titans replace the five-time Pro Bowler's disruptive ability? Emerging 2019 first-round pick Jeffery Simmons will benefit from taking over the three-technique role, but Tennessee's late-season surge was fueled in large part by the defensive line's performance. Iowa's A.J. Epenesa or Auburn's Marlon Davidson could be the versatile piece that Mike Vrabel seeks. 

Green Bay Packers

Glaring need: ILB

First pick: No. 30

A dismantling at the hands of the 49ers in the NFC championship game should have served as sufficient evidence that the second level of Green Bay's defense wasn't up to par. The Packers, however, were content to replace the outgoing Blake Martinez and B.J. Goodson with Browns castoff Christian Kirksey. Martinez, who signed with the Giants, said this week he was used primarily as a "clean-up crew guy." But given Kirksey's recent injury history and the lack of a proven backup, Green Bay would be wise to invest in an off-ball linebacker early in the draft — if not Queen or Murray in the first round, then perhaps Ohio State's Malik Harrison, Oregon's Troy Dye or Mississippi State's Willie Gay Jr. on Day 2 —to prevent a mess. 

Kansas City Chiefs

Glaring need: CB

First pick: No. 32

In an otherwise uneventful offseason, the defending champions lost Kendall Fuller to the Redskins and have not re-signed Bashaud Breeland. Restocking the secondary would help ensure the defense doesn't slip back to the 2018 form that hindered Patrick Mahomes and his explosive attack. Clemson's A.J. Terrell, TCU's Jeff Gladney and Auburn's Noah Igbinoghene all could be attractive options for Kansas City opposite Charvarius Ward.

Indianapolis Colts

Glaring need: WR

First pick: No. 34

Straying from his typically restrained approach, GM Chris Ballard has made big swings to lift up Indianapolis' roster by signing quarterback Philip Rivers and trading for Buckner. Next up: some assistance for T.Y. Hilton in the passing game. Mims and Higgins would offer enticing value if they slide out of the first round, but Colorado's Laviska Shenault Jr. or USC's Michael Pittman might be more suitable as the aggressive, physical targets missing from this attack.

Houston Texans

Glaring need: WR

First pick: No. 40

Replacing DeAndre Hopkins with a rookie is almost sure to yield unfavorable results, yet Bill O'Brien and the Texans are under pressure to reload their receiving corps after offloading the three-time all-pro receiver. And given that Will Fuller and Kenny Stills are set to become free agents next year and operate better as complementary pieces, Houston has to prioritize a search for a primary target for Deshaun Watson. Mims and Shenault would be compelling solutions if available, as would TCU's Jalen Reagor.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Glaring need: WR

First pick: No. 49

Entrusting Ben Roethlisberger's return to resolve all of the offense's shortcomings would be a foolhardy move, as last season revealed the receiving corps wasn't up to par. As Pittsburgh leans on JuJu Smith-Schuster and monitors the development of Diontae Johnson and James Washington, the team would be wise to take stock of what could be added via the draft. Florida's Van Jefferson is fast, reliable and polished, making him a promising candidate for an accelerated adjustment period.

Buffalo Bills

Glaring need: DE

First pick: No. 54

Diggs' arrival ends the search for a go-to target for Josh Allen. Now waiting until Day 2 to make its first pick, Buffalo should keep an eye out for young pass rushers to put behind Mario Addison (who will turn 33 in September) and Jerry Hughes (32 in August). Okwara, Weaver and Alabama's Terrell Lewis all could be under consideration in the second round.

Follow Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz on Twitter @MikeMSchwartz.

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