Obviously every team in the NFL has needs in the draft. Sure, coaches and team executives will feed the media the line about taking the best player available. But make no mistake, teams will be looking to fill holes on the roster.
Leading up to the draft, a team's biggest area of need is often identified, and then, lazily, a mock draft is done based on those top needs. As teams do try to adhere to the best player available philosophy, they may wait a round or two to fill their biggest need. Below is a look at how that's possible for all 32 teams.
For this exercise, quarterback has been removed as a top need for teams. There are a handful of teams that need to figure out their starting quarterback situation, and obviously that takes precedent over every other position. But no one should feel the burden of having a quarterback who's not Marcus Mariota or Jameis Winston forecast to them.
Buffalo Bills: Tight end
Despite signing Charles Clay, the Bills have talked about using multiple tight ends next season. MarQueis Gray is mostly an H-back type of player and Chris Gragg has exactly 12 catches in his career.
Early: Maxx Williams (Minnesota) -- Williams is the draft’s top tight end, but could slide to No. 50. He’s a "good but not great at everything" type of prospect.
Late: Wes Saxton (South Alabama) -- Saxton is under the radar because South Alabama changed offenses last season and his numbers dropped. He’s a good athlete for a tight end and really excels at catching bad passes (which is a necessity in Buffalo).
Miami Dolphins: Running back
Lamar Miller had a solid but unspectacular 2014 season. Miami could upgrade from him to help an offense that’s boosted the passing game this offseason.
Early: Todd Gurley (Georgia), Melvin Gordon (Wisconsin) -- Expect to see these two names often in this dream scenario.
Late: Duke Johnson (Miami), Mike Davis (South Carolina) -- The Dolphins could get a running back like Johnson or Davis in the fourth round and find an upgrade over Miller.
New England Patriots: Cornerback
The Patriots lost starting cornerbacks Brandon Browner and Darrelle Revis in free agency, leaving them with very little in the way of starting-caliber talent at the position.
Early: Marcus Peters (Washington), Byron Jones (Connecticut) -- If there’s one coach who probably thinks he can handle Peters’ outbursts, it’s Bill Belichick. He could stop a possible Peters slide in the draft. Jones is loaded with athleticism and potential. He’s the type of player who could be molded into a star at the position.
Late: Bobby McCain (Memphis) -- There is some late buzz bubbling up about McCain in the media. He’s a quick-footed corner who started 43 games, registering 12 interceptions.
New York Jets: Pass rusher
At outside linebacker, 34-year-old Calvin Pace is entering the final year of his contract and this is the year to go after someone who can rush the passer.
Early: Whoever is left at pick No. 6 out of Dante Fowler, Vic Beasley and Bud Dupree (assuming Marcus Mariota is gone) should be the choice.
Late: Nate Orchard (Utah) -- Orchard would be the ideal pick for the Jets at pick No. 70. He’s comfortable in space and is relentless.
Baltimore Ravens: Wide receiver
The Ravens lost Torrey Smith and Steve Smith’s career is winding down. The need to upgrade is obvious.
Early: Jaelen Strong (Arizona State), Breshad Perriman (Central Florida) -- Both of these players should be available at No. 26. If they’re not, they’ve been picked too early.
Late: Vince Mayle (Washington State), Tre McBride (William & Mary) -- Mayle and McBride aren’t finished products coming out of college, and because of that there is perceived upside. If that’s true and they develop, they could be a good No. 2 or fringe No. 1 receiver for a team.
Cincinnati Bengals: Pass rusher
Cincinnati has one of the worst pass rushes in the NFL. Sure, it moderately improved by bringing back Michael Johnson, but there is still need for improvement.
Early: Randy Gregory (Nebraska) -- It's not totally out of the realm of possibility that Gregory is available for the Bengals in the first round. He needs to get stronger, but has quickness, length and solid technique.
Late: Corey Crawford (Clemson), Ryan Russell (Purdue) -- Neither player is a speedy edge rusher, but that's often the case with middle of the draft defensive ends. They're solid players who have the size Cincinnati often likes in ends.
Cleveland Browns: Wide receiver
Even though the Browns signed Dwayne Bowe and Brian Hartline this offseason, neither veteran is a long-term difference-maker for the team.
Early: DeVante Parker (Louisville), Breshad Perriman (Central Florida) -- Either one of these two players could develop into the No. 1 wideout the Browns need.
Late: Devante Davis (UNLV), Chris Conley (Georgia) -- Davis may not be a burner, but he does everything else well. He has good hands, is hard to tackle after the catch and tracks the ball nicely. Conley has suspect hands at times, but he does everything else pretty well.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Cornerback
The choice of cornerback should come as no surprise, even with the Steelers needing help a few places on defense.
Early: Trae Waynes (Michigan State) -- Waynes is regarded by some as the draft's top cornerback. He's a press coverage specialist who could step into a starting role straight away.
Late: Steven Nelson (Oregon State), Charles Gaines (Louisville) -- Nelson and Gaines are players the Steelers have shown some interest in during the pre-draft process. They both started for much of their college careers and play with good instincts.
Houston Texans: Inside linebacker
Brian Cushing's health seems to always be a concern, fair or not. He's clearly lost a step and Houston would be smart to get a more athletic linebacker to put next to him.
Early: Eric Kendricks (UCLA) -- Kendricks is the draft's top inside linebacker. He's rangy and has shown the ability to cover receivers, whether it's tight ends, running backs out of the backfield and, at times, a slot receiver in zone.
Late: Hayes Pullard (USC), Zach Vigil (Utah State) -- Both Pullard and Vigil show the skills to be good coverage linebackers, but enough thump against the run. Pullard is especially proficient in coverage.
Indianapolis Colts: Right tackle
This could be safety, but right tackle is just as important with Gosder Cherilus still having a starting spot. General manager Ryan Grigson can spend all the free agent money he wants, but if Andrew Luck isn't being protected, it's useless.
Early: T.J. Clemmings (Pittsburgh), Ereck Flowers (Miami) -- Clemmings is a natural right tackle and would give the Colts' offense an athletic blocker up front. Flowers is more of a power player who could move from the left to right side.
Late: Andrew Donnal (Iowa), Corey Robinson (South Carolina) -- Donnal got overlooked on Iowa's offensive line but was a dependable starter. Robinson has some issues with his game – namely, he can't handle speed rushers that well – but he is as physical of a blocker as you could want.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Leo
The Jaguars are still looking for that big-time pass rusher to fit in Gus Bradley's defense. If they can find a good one this year, that defense could take off.
Early: Vic Beasley (Clemson), Dante Fowler (Florida) -- If Leo is the pick for the Jags, is it down to these two in the first round? If so, they couldn't go wrong.
Late: Davis Tull (UT-Chattanooga), Shaquille Riddick (West Virginia) -- If the Jaguars are looking for a taller pass rusher with a little burst, there is some intrigue with Riddick. Tull is an ultra-athletic college defensive end who will likely make the move to linebacker in the NFL.
Tennessee Titans: Right tackle
There are myriad directions the Titans need to go in the draft, but right tackle is particularly pressing after the departure of Michael Oher (not that he was really good, though).
Early: Donovan Smith (Penn State), Ereck Flowers (Miami) -- Obviously, this would be a second-round pick with both college left tackles moving to the right.
Late: Rob Havenstein (Wisconsin) -- He may not always look good doing it, but Havenstein gets the job done. He could have an impact similar to Ricky Wagner in Baltimore. He won’t get a lot of plaudits, but he will provide solid play.
Denver Broncos: Right tackle
Should the Broncos move Manny Ramirez back inside to guard, they'll need to find an offensive tackle who will fit head coach Gary Kubiak's zone-blocking scheme.
Early: T.J. Clemmings (Pittsburgh) -- Clemmings is a good athlete for a right tackle. On a zone team, his technical flaws with his handwork can be somewhat masked.
Late: Chaz Green (Florida), Mitch Morse (Missouri) -- Both of these players have quick feet and can get out on the move, if needed. Morse could even have a future inside, if needed.
Kansas City Chiefs: Offensive line
The Chiefs need to figure out their offensive line. Is Eric Fisher good enough to stick at left tackle? Is Donald Stephenson good enough to start? Should Jeff Allen move to tackle? Who plays center?
Early: Cameron Erving (Florida State) -- The No. 18 pick, to me, is a little early for Erving. But it seems like his draft range is in the first round, and his versatility could be valued by the Chiefs. He played well for Florida State in a few games at center last season and looked good at times at left tackle.
Late: Mitch Morse (Missouri), Shaq Mason (Georgia Tech) -- Morse has been projected to every spot on the offensive line while Mason could play either guard or center in the NFL.
Oakland Raiders: Wide receiver
The Raiders have veterans Michael Crabtree and James Jones, along with some developmental players behind them. Needless to say, the team’s status at wide receiver is grim.
Early: Amari Cooper (Alabama), Kevin White (West Virginia) -- Both players make sense with the No. 4 pick to be the future lead target for second-year quarterback Derek Carr.
Late: Josh Harper (Fresno State) -- Adding Derek Carr’s college wide receiver would be fun. In 2013, the pair connected on 13 touchdowns, along with 79 receptions and 1,011 yards.
San Diego Chargers: Running back
Branden Oliver intends to be San Diego’s starting running back, and he showed some flashes last season. But if the Chargers have an opportunity to upgrade, they should.
Early: Todd Gurley (Georgia), Melvin Gordon (Wisconsin) -- If either is available when San Diego picks in the first round, it's an easy choice.
Late: Jeremy Langford (Michigan State), Cameron Artis-Payne (Auburn) -- These players should be under consideration in the fifth and sixth rounds by a team needing a workhorse back. They both have solid playing speed, elusiveness and vision.
Dallas Cowboys: Running back
After losing DeMarco Murray in free agency, the Cowboys signed Darren McFadden. While he may be a good fit, he's never lived up to his hype in the NFL.
Early: Todd Gurley (Georgia), Melvin Gordon (Wisconsin) -- See San Diego.
Late: Thomas Rawls (Central Michigan), Malcolm Brown (Texas) -- Neither is a speed merchant, but they both have quick feet and can get it done between the tackles with their size and power.
New York Giants: Offensive line
The Giants are one piece away from having a complete, and pretty impressive, offensive line. They could go for a tackle or guard, but a player who can play both may hold more value.
Early: Brandon Scherff (Iowa), La'el Collins (LSU) -- Both of these players were power tackles in college who could stick on the outside or move to guard.
Late: Darrian Miller (Kentucky), Robert Myers (Tennessee State) -- These are two more college offensive tackles with positional versatility.
Philadelphia Eagles: Safety
Nate Allen exited this offseason, leaving the Eagles with career backups to fill his spot.
Early: Landon Collins (Alabama) -- Collins is the only safety worth a first-round pick in this year's draft. He's not an elite coverage safety, but he's complete otherwise.
Late: Ibraheim Campbell (Northwestern), Adrian Amos (Penn State) -- If Campbell had played for a team with a higher profile, he might be getting a little more pre-draft buzz. He's good in coverage and willing to come down and play the run. Amos is a safety who displays good coverage range, but needs to come up more aggressively versus the run.
Washington: Right offensive line
Washington took Morgan Moses in the third round last season and he was up and down as a rookie. Competition for him could be brought in with the loser moving to right guard.
Early: La’el Collins (LSU), Brandon Scherff (Iowa) -- As mentioned above, these two should be versatile as well as NFL-ready immediately.
Late: Jamon Brown (Louisville) -- Brown is a severely underrated blocker with a powerful playing style and a nasty demeanor on the field. He has experience on the right side and could be an asset guard.
Chicago Bears: Defensive line
Other than 33-year-old Jeremiah Ratliff, who has experience at the position, the Bears really don’t have a viable nose tackle.
Early: Danny Shelton (Washington) -- Shelton is the sort of player you can plug into Chicago and he should be able to solidify the front line.
Late: Darius Kilgo (Maryland) -- Kilgo, an expected Day 3 pick in the draft, played over the nose at Maryland but has some experience at three- and five-technique.
Detroit Lions: Defensive tackle
Replacing Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley with Haloti Ngata and Tyrunn Walker were decent moves, but the Lions could still look for a high-impact defensive tackle this draft.
Early: Eddie Goldman (Florida State), Carl Davis (Iowa) -- The Lions will have a few options in the first round, if they choose to use their first pick on the defensive line.
Late: Ellis McCarthy (UCLA), Gabe Wright (Auburn) -- McCarthy is a player I probably like more than most. He's a physically gifted defensive lineman who was used in a rotation at UCLA. The key with him is consistency and effort. Wright is a gap-shooting interior defender who has flashes of playmaking ability.
Green Bay Packers: Cornerback
Middle linebacker could be viewed as a bigger need for the Packers, but they did lose Tramon Williams and Davon House this offseason.
Early: Jalen Collins (LSU), Byron Jones (Connecticut) -- Collins and Jones are both bigger corners the Packers prefer. Jones is a little further along in his development, but Collins possesses the greater upside.
Late: Ladarius Gunter (Miami), Nick Marshall (Auburn) -- To a degree, both of these are developmental players, especially Marshall. But House was a project when he came out of college, and he turned into a solid player. That could be the mindset for GM Ted Thompson late in the draft.
Minnesota Vikings: Cornerback
Sure, the Vikings have a high-end No. 1 in Xavier Rhodes, but Captain Munnerlyn is at his best in the slot and Terence Newman is almost 37. A defensive-minded head coach like Mike Zimmer could put an emphasis on having two good outside corners.
Early: Trae Waynes (Michigan State) -- The Spartans' man specialist is the exact right fit opposite Rhodes. He would give the Vikings a great pair for years to come. In a division with Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford, that's almost a necessity.
Late: Darryl Roberts (Marshall) -- If Roberts can improve his instincts and awareness, he could be a really solid player in the NFL. Roberts has size, will be physical and has good speed.
Atlanta Falcons: Pass rusher
This is as overwhelming of a need as you’ll find in the league.
Early: The Falcons have been associated with every top pass rusher, so go with whomever general manager Thomas Dimitroff grades highest out of Vic Beasley, Bud Dupree, Dante Fowler or Randy Gregory.
Late: Kyle Emanuel (North Dakota State) -- Playing end, Emanuel was highly productive for the Bison. He’s athletic enough – and has enough edge speed – to play the Leo spot for Atlanta.
Carolina Panthers: Offensive tackle
The Panthers have the worst offensive tackles in the NFL.
Early: Ereck Flowers (Miami), D.J. Humphries (Miami) -- It’s easy: Both players would be starters immediately for the Panthers.
Late: Chaz Green (Florida), Jeremiah Poutasi (Utah) -- Green is a solid player but had some injury issues at Florida. Still, he’s a solid athlete who could stick at left tackle. Poutasi is more of a right tackle who gets by with his power and physical playing style.
New Orleans Saints: Pass rusher
Beyond Junior Galette – whose future in New Orleans is up in the air – the Saints have little in the way of a pass rush from the outside.
Early: Vic Beasley (Clemson) -- With two first-round picks, the Saints should make a play for the dynamic Beasley in the first round.
Late: Zack Hodges (Harvard) -- Hodges has gotten dinged in the offseason process because he’s been injured. But when healthy last season, he showed the athleticism to get around the edge and is solid versus the run.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Right tackle
If we assume Jameis Winston is the choice at No. 1, the attention should turn to the offensive line.
Early: T.J. Clemmings (Pittsburgh), D.J. Humphries (Florida) -- If either of these first-round offensive tackles falls to the second round, the Buccaneers should pounce.
Late: Ty Sambrailo (Colorado State) -- The opinion on Sambrailo has dropped some during the offseason process, but he was a highly regarded player during the season. He needs to get stronger, but he’s smart and has good footwork.
Arizona Cardinals: Pass rusher
Sure, running back should be in consideration as the Cardinals’ top need, but they’ve needed a true pass rusher for some time. Alex Okafor is good, but not exactly the type that strikes fear in opposing offenses.
Early: Owamagbe Odighizuwa (UCLA) -- Odighizuwa was picked specifically because he is strong and can play end, something the Cardinals seem to want in a pass rusher.
Late: Geneo Grissom (Oklahoma) -- Grissom moved to linebacker last season and played decently. Grissom has a good burst off the snap and straight-line speed, but his instincts aren’t quite there yet.
San Francisco 49ers: Cornerback
Perrish Cox and Chris Culliver are both gone, and after Jimmie Ward the talent at cornerback for San Francisco is average at best.
Early: Marcus Peters (Washington) -- If it weren’t for some issues with Washington’s coaching staff, Peters would be regarded as a top-10 player. He’s the top cornerback in the draft and a true No. 1 corner.
Late: Doran Grant (Ohio State) -- Late in his career at Ohio State, Grant really put things together and played at a high level for the Buckeyes. While he may not be a lockdown guy against top receivers, he should be a solid-to-good starter in the NFL.
Seattle Seahawks: Cornerback
Although Seattle added veteran Cary Williams, he's not a straight replacement for Byron Maxwell. You also have to factor in Jeremy Lane tearing his ACL in the Super Bowl.
Early: Alex Carter (Stanford) -- The best cornerbacks will likely be gone when the Seahawks finally have their first pick at No. 63. Carter may be there, though. He's a physical and long cornerback who could develop into a high-end player quickly.
Late: Tye Smith (Towson), Cam Thomas (Western Kentucky) -- Both players fit the mold of long cornerbacks. Of the two, Thomas is the more physical player but Smith is the better athlete.
St. Louis Rams: Offensive line
After drafting left tackle Greg Robinson No. 2 overall last year, the Rams need to continue overhauling the offensive line.
Early: La’el Collins (LSU), Brandon Scherff (Iowa) -- If you’ve been reading this whole thing, you know the drill on these two.
Late: Jamil Douglas (Arizona State) -- Douglas has experience playing guard and tackle and really gets by on his athleticism. He has value in the fourth and fifth rounds of the draft.