Our offseason Four Downs series ends with a look at the NFC West's biggest remaining holes and their most notable UDFA signings. The Rams and 49ers have to kick-start their passing games, Arizona's offense lacks a big dimension, and the Seahawks continue to rely on Russell Wilson's magic tricks.
09 May 2011
by Sean McCormick
Part of the pain of missing on a first-round draft choice is that teams generally don't think about a Plan B. The Bills drafted Aaron Maybin 11th overall in 2009 with the idea that he would develop into a premiere edge rusher, and they haven't drafted a pass rusher since. Unfortunately, Maybin has been a non-entity. Three years later, the only alternatives on the roster are Shawne Merriman and Chris Kelsay, two big names who are only a shadow of their former selves. Most observers expected the Bills to take Texas A&M's Von Miller with the third pick overall, but the Broncos threw a monkey wrench in that plan when they unexpectedly nabbed the former Aggies pass rusher.
Ryan Fitzpatrick was a nice story last season, but it was surprising that the Bills did not use the draft to add a quarterback with starting potential. It was probably a wise decision to go best available player and select Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus at the top of the draft, but it was surprising to see Buffalo ignore quarterbacks like TCU's Andy Dalton, as well as Nevada's Colin Kaepernick and Arkansas' Ryan Mallett in the second round. If the journeyman Fitzpatrick returns to earth this season, there won't be a developmental prospect to step in.
For a 7-9 team, Miami did a commendable job of filling holes with its six selections. Need a center? Plug in someone named "Pouncey." Two running backs about to leave in free agency? Add Daniel Thomas, who bulldozed his way through the Big 12. Receiver help? Check. Tight end? Check. But the Draft rarely works like a grocery list, and when a team doesn't have many picks to work with, a single miss can wreak havoc. As a result, the Dolphins will look to add more of everything once free agency begins. They could look at a free-agent guard to put alongside Mike Pouncey, perhaps Justin Blalock or Harvey Dahl of Atlanta. They need to sign at least one more free-agent running back, whether that's an elite talent like DeAngelo Williams or a familiar face like Ronnie Brown.
It seems likely that there was some fire with all of that smoke about the team's interest in Ryan Mallett, and with the latest (and likely final) injury to Chad Pennington, expect the Dolphins to take a hard look at the free-agent crop of quarterbacks. With starter Chad Henne on a short leash, a reclamation project like Vince Young could come in and win the job with a strong camp performance.
No team in recent memory has done as good a job of perpetuating their talent-purchasing power as New England, who ensured they would be major players in the 2012 Draft by acquiring extra first- and second-round selections. But when the Patriots opted to use their first-round pick to protect Tom Brady -- never a bad idea, mind you -- they passed up an opportunity to add a sorely needed playmaker to the front seven.
Colorado offensive tackle Nate Solder supplies insurance against losing Matt Light in free agency and should provide a bookend for Sebastian Vollmer, but the Patriots took Solder with Cal defensive end Cameron Jordan still on the board. Jordan's scouting report reads like a young Richard Seymour, and he stood out as the only five-technique prospect who doubled as a legitimate pass-rushing threat in the draft.
Bill Belichick also showed scant interest in the 3-4 outside linebacker group, preferring to use his second- and third-round picks to shore up the secondary and add depth at running back. There are some pass-rushing free agents out there, including Jason Babin and Mathias Kiwanuka, and it is certainly possible that New England will make a push for a big-dollar veteran edge rusher.
The league caught up to Rex Ryan's exotic blitz packages last year, so much so that the Jets ended up as the worst third-down defense in football, according to DVOA. Things were so bad that Ryan finally called off the dogs in the playoffs, relying on coverage rather than pressure to keep Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger in check. Ideally, the Jets would find an edge rusher who could generate a rush and force the offense to account for him, freeing up blitzers to overwhelm the protection scheme.
The Jets expressed interest in outside linebackers like UCLA's Akeem Ayers, Georgia's Justin Houston and Arizona's Brooks Reed, but were hamstrung by their lack of a second-round pick. Most of the team's 2011 player budget figures will go toward re-signing their own players, but it's possible that general manager Mike Tannenbaum will try to strike gold with a second-tier free agent like Matt Roth or Kamerion Wimbley. If not, Ryan will have to develop a situational rusher from within.
On offense there are holes to fill at receiver and along the offensive line. With Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards and Brad Smith all set to hit the free agent market -- it is likely the Jets can only re-sign one of them -- there is room on the roster for a big receiver who can step in and play quickly. Fifth-round pick Jeremy Kerley is a dynamic athlete, but he played in a run-heavy offense at TCU and likely is destined for the slot. Meanwhile, if Damien Woody does not return, Vladimir Ducasse will begin training camp as the starting right tackle. Ducasse only played in three games his rookie season and was a healthy scratch during the playoffs.
A version of this article previously appeared on ESPN Insider.
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