Draft season is typically devoted to diagnosing how the worst teams can reinforce their rosters, but it’s also a time for fringe playoff teams to chase that final piece. Here are five franchises that can get even closer to completing their roster puzzles at this week’s draft:
Green Bay Packers: Inside Linebacker
Another offseason, another year in which the Packers are scrambling for answers at linebacker. The Band-Aid last season involved Clay Matthews shifting inside, but Mike McCarthy said in January that Green Bay has no intention of going that route again.
Most of Matthews’s value stems from rushing the passer, and with him, Julius Peppers, and Mike Daniels terrorizing quarterbacks, Green Bay’s front can ruin an offensive line’s day. The challenge is finding the guy who allows DC Dom Capers to move Matthews back outside. The prospect of the Packers getting Alabama’s Reggie Ragland at 27 keeps me (and most other Bears fans) up at night.
Houston Texans: Wide Receiver
After spending big for Brock Osweiler, Houston GM Rick Smith has to do what he can to get the most out of his quarterback. Signing running back Lamar Miller was a good start, but even with star wideout DeAndre Hopkins, who’s from another planet, the Texans still desperately need some speed in their receiving corps.
Houston needs a receiver who can rip the top off a defense, and there should be some burners available at 22 in the form of Baylor’s Corey Coleman or Notre Dame’s Will Fuller. If Houston addresses that need, suddenly a team with a totally revamped group of skill players and a defense that finished eighth in DVOA last season will look like a great bet to be back in the playoffs.
Minnesota Vikings: Offensive Line
Poor Teddy Bridgewater. I have no idea how his bones aren’t a pile of dust. The Vikings had the fourth-worst sack rate in the league last season, and only the Titans’ quarterbacks were sacked more often.
Finding a complement to receiver Stefon Diggs should be a priority, but the real key to unlocking the Vikings’ passing game will be keeping their quarterback from getting disassembled every week. Minnesota could give Andre Smith a shot at left tackle if Matt Kalil keeps declining, but still needs a boost at guard.
Oakland Raiders: Inside Linebacker
It still takes some getting used to, but the Raiders are a real live football team. Their offensive line is the stuff of my dreams, and Amari Cooper is everything we hoped he’d be. They need a boost at running back, though, and if Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott falls to 14, the allure will be very real. (Just thinking about him behind that line makes me feel like I should go lie down.)
But Oakland’s most pressing need runs through the middle of its defense. Reggie Nelson is a considerable upgrade at safety over last year’s options, but inside linebacker remains a serious problem. With a quality draftee there coupled with the haul from GM Reggie McKenzie’s free-agent spree, this could be a top-10 defense.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Cornerback
Pittsburgh’s listed starting right cornerback is someone named Ross Cockrell. Until now, none of you knew who Ross Cockrell was, and there’s no shame in that.
The Steelers have had a rough go of it with corners lately. Cortez Allen signed a four-year extension worth $24.6 million less than two years ago, and this season, they’re paying him $4.05 million to not play for them.
Finding reliable cornerback options for the insane, blitz-happy defense Keith Butler runs isn’t easy, but Pittsburgh can take only so many trips to the William Gay well. The Steelers’ front seven is on the verge of being downright nasty. That unit deserves a secondary to match.
This piece originally appeared in the April 25, 2016, edition of the Ringer newsletter.