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TEAM NEEDS: Running back, outside linebacker, tight end, interior offensive line.
RB -- Coaches don't think Edgerrin James is an elite running back and he likely will be released. That leaves Tim Hightower as the No. 1 back and Jason Wright as the third-down back. Hightower probably isn't ready to assume the No. 1 role and the Cardinals would like to get someone who provides a contrast in styles. Hightower is a powerful, one-cut runner but he doesn't have great speed. The Cardinals would like to draft someone who brings an added dimension as a runner and receiver. If they don't that player in the draft, there's a remote possibility James could return.
OLB -- The team has four solid veterans at the two outside linebacker spots, but it needs to get younger. On the weak side, starter Travis LaBoy dealt with injuries all last season. Backup Bertrand Berry will be 34. On the strong side, starter Chike Okeafor and backup Clark Haggans are both over 30 and have dealt with injuries in recent years. The Cardinals are moving to more of a 3-4 look, and the outside linebacker spot is a difficult one to play in that scheme. It can take a few years to learn the intricate defense, and the club has no younger players in the pipeline. The Cardinals could take multiple linebackers in this draft.
TE -- The Cardinals have been searching for a solid tight end for the better part of the past two decades. Starter Leonard Pope has been banged up the past two years and nuances of the offense sometimes escape him. Backup Ben Patrick has some ability but can't get past nagging injuries. Stephen Spach signed last October and became the team's No.1 tight end, an indication of just how weak the position has been. But Spach suffered a torn ACL in the playoffs and might not be ready when the season starts. In the Cardinals' offense, the tight end needs to be able to block, and that's been a struggle for the Cardinals youngsters.
C/OG -- Ken Whisenhunt believes you can never have enough offensive linemen, and the Cardinals could use some depth on the interior line. Center Lyle Sendlein played better as last year progressed, but coaches would like to have some to push him. The same can be said of right guard Deuce Lutui. The Cardinals have a couple of young tackles in Levi Brown and Brandon Keith, whom they think will develop into solid players. The focus will be the interior offensive line spots.
San Francisco 49ers
TEAM NEEDS: Outside linebacker, offensive tackle, wide receiver, quarterback, running back.
OLB -- Parys Haralson signed a four-year contract extension, but it's not that side that the 49ers needed the pass-rush upgrade. The 49ers got almost no production from the other side last season. They want to give Manny Lawson more of a chance to rush the passer this season. However, the 49ers must draft a player who has a legitimate shot at getting on the field as a third-down pass rusher. There figure to be a lot of options for the team within the first three rounds of the draft.
OT -- Currently, there is a starter at every spot on the line after the 49ers signed veteran Marvel Smith to a low-risk two-year contract. But Smith's health is a concern. He missed 15 games the past two seasons with back problems. The 49ers already have Joe Staley at one tackle spot. If they can draft another tackle, such as Andre Smith or Michael Oher, they could be set for a long time.
WR -- Veteran Isaac Bruce is coming back for another season. The 49ers also signed free agent Brandon Jones from the Tennessee Titans. The club has some depth at this position, but they still lack a true No. 1 receiver. Josh Morgan enters his second season with high hopes. He showed flashes of potential as a rookie but had a difficult time remaining healthy. If the 49ers can get a player like Michael Crabtree in the first round, he would be expected to provide an immediate impact.
QB -- The 49ers were interested in acquiring Kurt Warner and Jay Cutler this offseason because they believe those players would've provided an immediate upgrade over Shaun Hill or Alex Smith. While it's questionable whether the 49ers could draft a quarterback who would become an immediate starter, the club will definitely keep an open mind about selecting a quarterback at some point in this draft. It might be with the No. 10 overall pick or it could be as late as the fifth round.
RB -- Frank Gore has been the 49ers' workhorse for three seasons. The club believes more rest would benefit Gore and the rest of the offense. Gore will continue to be the featured, every-down back. But the 49ers want to add a young player, preferably a bigger back, to take some of the wear and tear off Gore. The 49ers say their goal is to play in the postseason, so they want Gore to be able to hold up physically over the course of 19 games, not just 16 games. The 49ers should have plenty of options at landing a back as early as the second round.
TEAM NEEDS: Offensive line, linebacker, quarterback, running back.
OL -- All five projected starters finished the season on IR, including the team's stalwart at left tackle, Walter Jones. A perennial Pro Bowler, Jones, 35, had season-ending microfracture knee surgery and did not participate in the team's pre-draft minicamp in April. However, Jones said he hopes to be ready for the beginning of training camp in July.
"It's doing good," Jones said about his surgically repaired knee. "I'm doing the things I'm supposed to be doing right now, so hopefully when it's time to go I'm ready."
LB -- The Seahawks traded Pro Bowl linebacker Julian Peterson to Detroit in exchange for defensive lineman Cory Redding and a fifth-round pick in this year's draft. Seattle designated 26-year-old linebacker Leroy Hill as the team's franchise player, but Hill has yet to sign the $8.3 million, one-year tender.
If he signs, Hill likely will move to the strong side to replace the departed Peterson, but the Seahawks still need someone to play on the weak side. D.D. Lewis and Will Herring are potential candidates, but the Seahawks could also draft a player like Curry to compete for the vacant spot.
QB -- Hasselbeck is 33 years old and coming off a back injury that forced him to miss nine games last year. Hasselbeck says he's healthy, and looked good during the team's pre-draft camp in April.
However, this year's draft could be the team's best opportunity to get a franchise quarterback to groom as Hasselbeck's eventual replacement. Hasselbeck is coming off a year where he finished with a career-worst 57.8 completion percentage, totaling 1,216 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions.
RB -- With Seattle's switch to a zone-blocking scheme, the Seahawks will emphasis running backs making one cut and getting through the first wave of defenders quickly to the second and third level of the defense.
Currently, Julius Jones and T.J. Duckett are set to serve as the running back tandem. Duckett is familiar with the system, having played for offensive coordinator Greg Knapp when he served in the same capacity in Atlanta. And Jones' downhill running style should also fit the scheme. However, Seattle could still use a big-play back with top-end speed that could give them a home-run hitter in the backfield, and might look for a back with elite speed to select in the second day of the draft.
St. Louis Rams
TEAM NEEDS: Offensive tackle, middle linebacker, wide receiver, defensive line.
OT -- With left tackle Orlando Pace having been released and Barron entering the final year of his contract, a revamping of the position is possible. It could be argued that the Rams need two tackles. In the short term, the Rams plan to move Barron from right tackle to left tackle, the position he played in college and for 15 games in 2007 when Pace was injured. That still leaves a void on the right side, where Goldberg worked in the team's recent minicamp.
MLB -- Will Witherspoon is moving from the middle to the outside where it is believed he will be able to excel. For now, Chris Draft is the starter, but he is not a long-term answer. The Rams have been looking for excellence in the middle ever since London Fletcher left after the 2001 season.
WR -- With Torry Holt and Drew Bennett released, there is no real veteran presence at the position. Donnie Avery and Keenan Burton return for their second season, and it's possible the Rams could add a receiver in free agency while still going for another young player in the draft. They did add third-year pro Laurent Robinson in a trade with Atlanta.
DL: There is very little depth behind tackles Adam Carriker and Clifton Ryan. At end, Chris Long was selected with the second overall choice last year, but Leonard Little and James Hall are aging. Victor Adeyanju is solid against the run, so a young speed rusher would be a welcome addition.
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