Vito Stellino's team-byteam needs

THE BALTIMORE SUN

AFC East

New England Patriots

1996 record: 11-5 (won division, lost in Super Bowl)

Picks: 9

First round: No. 29

Analysis: The Patriots made the Super Bowl even though their defense ranked 19th overall and 28th against the pass. That's why personnel chief Bobby Grier is likely to stress defense in the draft. Oddly enough, coach Bill Parcells left in part because he wanted to to draft defense last year. But now he's gone and Grier has the two extra draft picks that the Patriots got from the Jets for the Parcells signing.

Buffalo Bills

1996 record: 10-6 (wild-card berth)

Picks: 6

First round: No. 23

Analysis: Times are changing in Buffalo. The wide-open, no-huddle offense is gone along with Jim Kelly, and the Bills will switch to the Joe Gibbs one-back offense now that one of Gibbs' former aides, Dan Henning, is the new offensive coordinator. That's why the top priority for the Bills in this draft is to find a big back who can take the pounding in the one-back offense.

Indianapolis Colts

1996 record: 9-7 (wild-card berth)

Picks: 7

First round: No. 19

Analysis: The Colts, who made the playoffs despite being ranked 25th on offense and 22nd on defense, need help on both sides of the ball. But their top priority is to find a left tackle to replace Troy Auzenne and Jason Mathews, who were ineffective at that position last year. Jim Harbaugh took a battering and needs more protection.

Miami Dolphins

1996 record: 8-8

Picks: 10

First round: No. 15

Analysis: Jimmy Johnson got three third-round compensatory picks and even though he's not allowed to trade those, they give him the flexibility to do a lot of maneuvering. If he can't trade up to get a player he wants, he'll probably trade down for extra picks. His top priority is an outside linebacker and he may trade up to get one. He also wants to upgrade both lines and wants a wide receiver.

New York Jets

1996 record: 1-15

Picks: 9

First round: No. 6

Analysis: Bill Parcells continued the trend of teams bailing out of the top of the first round because they didn't think the highest-rated players in this draft are worth the contracts they're going to demand. By dropping to the sixth spot, though, Parcells risked the possibility that the top four defensive players will go in the top five picks. Regardless of how it turns out, it's Parcells' call this year.

AFC Central

Pittsburgh Steelers

1996 record: 10-6 (won division)

Picks: 9

First round: No. 24

Analysis: The Steelers are one of the few teams that act as if the league really does have a hard salary cap. They keep losing players (Chad Brown, Ray Seals, Willie Williams and Deon Figures were among this year's examples), but they keep reloading in the draft. That's why the draft is so important to the Steelers if they're to remain a contender. They'll stress defense this year, starting with a cornerback on the first round.

Jacksonville Jaguars

1996 record: 9-7 (wild-card berth)

Picks: 7

First round: No. 21

Analysis: It's easy to forget the Jaguars were 4-7 before they put on a late run. They had the No. 2 offense in the league last year and their only need in that department is a tight end. But they've got to bolster their defense because they can't keep living on Mark Brunell pulling out games late. They'll be looking for a defensive tackle, a cornerback and a safety so they don't keep falling behind.

Cincinnati Bengals

1996 record: 8-8

Picks: 7

First round: No. 14

Analysis: With new defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau switching the 3-4 that he used in Pittsburgh, the Bengals' main priority will be to find a 3-4 outside linebacker opposite James Francis. They also want to get a running back later in the draft because they lost Garrison Hearst and Ki-Jana Carter showed up at minicamp overweight and out of shape.

Houston Oilers

1996 record: 8-8

Picks: 8

First round: No. 13

Analysis: What the Oilers need most is a home. They still don't know if they're going to play in Houston or Memphis this fall although coach Jeff Fisher has done a remarkable job of keeping the team together in a chaotic situation. The Oilers are one of the many teams that would like to trade down and get extra picks. Their top two needs are a cornerback and wide receiver.

Ravens

1996 record: 4-12

Picks: 12

First round: No. 4

Analysis: Since the Ravens gave up more yards than any other team last year, it's no surprise they'll concentrate on defense with most of their 12 picks. They've tried to trade down to get extra picks, but they could be better off staying in the fourth position and picking Peter Boulware if he is available. They'll have to play Boulware at linebacker after signing Michael McCrary, but he can fit in.

AFC West

Denver Broncos

1996 record: 13-3 (won division)

Picks: 5

First round: 28

Analysis: The Broncos made a move to improve their offensive line and give John Elway more protection by trading a second-round pick to the Ravens for Tony Jones. Now they want to upgrade their defense, which was ranked 20th in the league last year and was exposed by Mark Brunell in the playoffs. Their major goal will be to improve their secondary and they figure to take a defensive back in the first round.

Kansas City Chiefs

1996 record: 9-7

Picks: 8

First round: No. 18

Analysis: Coach Marty Schottenheimer, who is now calling the shots in the Chiefs' draft room, should have an easy task on the first round this year. They're one of the few teams that aren't talking trade. They want a tight end and there are two good ones, Tony Gonzalez and David LeFleur, in this draft and both may be available when the Chiefs select. He's also looking for a wide receiver and an offensive tackle.

San Diego Chargers

1996 record: 8-8

Picks: 6

First round: None

Analysis: It's no surprise that Bobby Beathard traded his first-round choice during last year's draft and it'll be no surprise if he trades his 1998 first-round choice somewhere in this draft. The player he took last year when he made the deal, wide receiver Bryan Still, did little, but Beathard trusts his instincts and is likely to continue to do it. His priority this year is likely to be a running back because the team was 29th in the league in rushing last year.

Oakland Raiders

1996 record: 7-9

Picks: 8

First round: No. 2

Analysis: Al Davis traded up to the second spot in the draft to get Orlando Pace, gambling that Bill Parcells would take Darrell Russell with the first pick. But that move blew up on Davis when Parcells traded down with the Rams, who figure to take Pace. Davis will now try to trade down with Detroit to the fifth spot to take Walter Jones. If he can't pull that off, he'll probably take Russell even though it's not a need position.

Seattle Seahawks

1996 record: 7-9

Picks: 6

First round: Nos. 3 and 12

Analysis: Even though Paul Allen won't exercise his option to buy the team unless the city gets the funding for a new stadium, his signature is already on the team for such bold moves as the Chad Brown signing and the decision to trade up to the No. 3 spot to get Shawn Springs. The Seahawks would like to trade down from the 12th spot to get picks for help at linebacker, on the offensive line and at wide receiver.

NFC East

Dallas Cowboys

1996 record: 10-6 (won division)

Picks: 9

First round: No. 25

Analysis: The Cowboys, who may sign Alvin Harper after he's released by Tampa Bay, want to upgrade their wide receiving and tight end corps. This gave owner Jerry Jones an idea to get quarterback Troy Aikman, who's made it obvious he doesn't like coach Barry Switzer's laid-back style, more involved by throwing to four of the prospects they're likely to take. No word if Aikman gets to make the pick.

Philadelphia Eagles

1996 record: 10-6 (wild-card berth)

Picks: 8

First round: No. 22

Analysis: The Eagles took a major hit when veteran defensive end William Fuller signed with the Chargers. That means getting defensive end in the draft will be their major priority, but it isn't easy finding one late in the first round so the Eagles might be willing to move up. They were in the market for a defensive tackle even before they lost Fuller so they'll concentrate on defensive linemen.

Washington Redskins

1996 record: 9-7

Picks: 9

First round: No. 17

Analysis: The Redskins gave up more rushing yardage than any other team in the league last year and Sean Gilbert, who's likely to hold out if he doesn't get a new contract, is their only blue-chip defensive lineman so they'll probably put a lot of emphasis on defensive linemen in this draft. The Redskins might trade down on the first round to stockpile more picks. In the Norv Turner regime, they've yet to hit it big on a first-rounder, so this could be a critical draft.

Arizona Cardinals

1996 record: 7-9

Picks: 7

First round: No. 9

Analysis: The Cardinals want to upgrade a defense that was 21st in the league last year. Their top need is a cornerback, but if the top ones are gone in the first round, they'll try to trade down or switch to the best defensive player on the board. They also have an apparent need for a quarterback, but they seem to think they can win with Kent Graham even though he's yet to prove it, and they don't have a proven backup.

New York Giants

1996 record: 6-10

Picks: 8

First round: No. 7

Analysis: This is an important draft for general manager George Young, who has misfired in recent years and bypassed Terry Glenn last year for Cedric Jones. Because he bypassed Glenn, the Giants still need a wide receiver to boost a passing offense that was the worst in the league. But now that the Rams have traded up to the top spot, Walter Jones is likely to fall to Young, who has a habit of taking offensive linemen.

NFC Central

Green Bay Packers

1996 record: 13-3 (won division and Super Bowl)

Picks: 8

First round: No. 30

Analysis: The last five Super Bowl champions traded their first-round pick, but general manager Ron Wolf is likely to stay put. The Packers will look for defense, depth in the offensive line and a tight end to replace Keith Jackson. Wolf's last pick in the draft will get a lot of attention because he'll be Mr. Irrelevant.

Minnesota Vikings

1996 record: 9-7 (wild-card berth)

Picks: 8

First round: No. 20

Analysis: Before the Vikings re-signed Robert Smith, they were considering gambling on Corey Dillon, who has had considerable off-the-field problems. Now that Smith is back in the fold, the Vikings are likely to switch to a cornerback or an offensive lineman on the first round because they need to upgrade both positions.

Chicago Bears

1996 record: 7-9

Picks: 9

First round: None

Analysis: Coach Dave Wannstedt took a major gamble by trading away the 11th pick on the first round for Rick Mirer, even though the former Notre Dame standout washed out in Seattle, which should have lowered his value. That leaves the Bears with only one of the first 68 picks and makes it unlikely that the Bears will fill their needs at tight end, wide receiver, linebacker and on the defensive line. If Mirer doesn't make it big, Wannstedt's job could be in jeopardy.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

1996 record: 6-10

Picks: 10

First round: Nos. 8 and 16

Analysis: If this were last year, the Bucs would have made the trade with the Ravens for Peter Boulware, a player that coach Tony Dungy thinks can be an impact player. But the Bucs took jTC two defensive linemen in the first round last year and have to go for offense this year. They figure to take a wide receiver and a running back with their two first-round picks because they want to upgrade an offense that ranked 28th last year.

Detroit Lions

1996 record: 5-11

Picks: 11

First round: No. 5

Analysis: Bobby Ross was brought in to take over an underachieving team that was ranked 20th on offense and defense last year under Wayne Fontes. With a total of 11 picks, Ross should be able to add a lot of depth. He hopes to take cornerback Bryant Westbrook with the fifth pick, but will have to decide whether to swing a deal with the Raiders for the second pick to take Shawn Springs.

NFC West

Carolina Panthers

1996 record: 12-4 (won division)

Picks: 6

First round: No. 27

Analysis: The Panthers may have built expectations to a unrealistic level with their surprising second season. Coach Dom Capers did an amazing job of melding together a lot of aging veterans into a solid defensive unit. But those players aren't getting any younger, so the Panthers are expected to try to find young prospects on defense in this draft who will be ready to step in when the older players retire.

San Francisco 49ers

1996 record: 12-4 (wild-card berth)

Picks: 6

First round: No. 26

Analysis: Only the 49ers push out a coach after a 12-4 season, so now it's Steve Mariucci's turn to try to live up to great expectations. He'd like to get an offensive tackle so Steve Young doesn't take the beating he took last year. The 49ers also need a tight end because Brent Jones is 34, and could use help in the secondary. They're also likely to take a quarterback because they've got to start grooming a successor to Young now that Elvis Grbac has departed.

St. Louis Rams

1996 record: 6-10

Picks: 7

First round: No. 1

Analysis: New coach Dick Vermeil needs a lot of help on both sides of the ball as he takes over a team that was 27th on offense and 26th on defense. But he decided to sacrifice depth and give up three picks to move up to the No. 1 spot to draft Orlando Pace. Once the Jets dropped their demand for a second-round pick, Vermeil figured it was a good move for the price even if it hurts his depth.

Atlanta Falcons

1996 record: 3-13

Picks: 8

First round: No. 11

Analysis: Coach Dan Reeves finally gets a chance to call his own shots in the draft room after spending the last four years complaining about George Young's picks with the Giants. But if his track record in Denver is an indication, drafting may not be Reeves' forte. His top priority in this draft is improving a defense that ranked 29th last year, but he also has to start grooming a quarterback for the future.

New Orleans Saints

1996 record: 3-13

Picks: 6

First round: No. 10

Analysis: The Saints have already traded down from the No. 2 spot to No. 10 and could trade down again because they want to stockpile picks for Mike Ditka's rebuilding program after giving up a fifth-rounder this year to the Redskins for Heath Shuler. They want to stress offense in this draft because they were 29th last year in that department but could go defense on the first round if a good player falls to them.

Note: Teams listed in order of 1996 finish

Pub Date: 4/18/97

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