1. BUCCANEERS (2-14)
LAST SEASON: A major disappointment in first year under coach Lovie Smith and rookie General Manager Jason Licht, who spent generously in free agency to try to bring in a new quarterback, upgrade a porous offensive line and bolster one of the NFL’s weakest defenses. Most of the moves proved fruitless. The Bucs struggled from the start and finished with their worst record in 28 years, missing the playoffs for the seventh straight season and earning the first overall pick in the draft for the first time since 1987, when the pick was Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Vinny Testaverde. Smith and Licht conceded their personnel mistakes, releasing three high-priced players signed in free agency — quarterback Josh McCown, defensive end Michael Johnson and offensive tackle Anthony Collins — after just one season.
THEY NEED: Quarterback, offensive line, running back, defensive end, wide receiver.
THEY DON’T NEED: Defensive tackle, linebacker.
POSSIBLE FIRST PICK: Quarterback Jameis Winston or quarterback Marcus Mariota.
OUTLOOK: Licht has called this the biggest draft in franchise history. The Bucs not only need to get the first pick — likely a quarterback — right, they’ve got to upgrade the talent level on the offensive line, at running back and wide receiver to give that quarterback a chance to be successful. The club took a much more conservative approach to free agency this year, targeting players who have either played for Smith or been in systems similar to Tampa Bay’s Cover 2 scheme to fill in holes on defense with the signings of linebacker Bruce Carter, safety Chris Conte, defensive tackle Henry Melton and cornerback Sterling Moore; and a trade for defensive end George Johnson.
8. FALCONS (6-10)
LAST SEASON: Despite a losing record, the Falcons were in the weak NFC South race into the final week. A season-ending 34-3 loss to Carolina capped their second straight losing season and cost coach Mike Smith his job. Injuries on the offensive line were costly for a second straight year. A strong season by wide receiver Julio Jones, quarterback Matt Ryan’s top target, could not overcome the poor defense. Atlanta allowed the most total yards and yards passing in the league and finished second to last in sacks.
THEY NEED: Defensive end, running back, outside linebacker, tight end, offensive tackle, offensive guard.
THEY DON’T NEED: Quarterback, cornerback, kicker, wide receiver, middle linebacker.
POSSIBLE FIRST PICK: Missouri outside linebacker Shane Ray, Clemson outside linebacker Vic Beasley. If an early run on edge rushers takes Ray, Beasley and Florida’s Dante Fowler Jr. off the board, the Falcons could pick Kentucky outside linebacker Bud Dupree or trade down and select Georgia running back Todd Gurley. It seems unlikely first-year coach Dan Quinn would gamble on Nebraska outside linebacker Randy Gregory for the first pick.
OUTLOOK: The roster makeover began through free agency. Veteran running backs Steven Jackson and Jacquizz Rodgers, linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, defensive tackle Corey Peters, wide receiver Harry Douglas and offensive guard Justin Blalock are gone. The team signed free-agent linebackers Brooks Reed, Justin Durant and O’Brien Schofield; tight ends Jacob Tamme and Tony Moeaki; defensive end Adrian Clayborn and wide receiver Leonard Hankerson. The defense still needs the elite pass rusher it has lacked since John Abraham wasn’t re-signed after the 2012 season.
13, 31. SAINTS (7-9)
LAST SEASON: The Saints as usual fielded one of NFL’s best offenses but struggled on defense and with closing out games. They lost four games by field goal or less, with two losses in overtime. Close losses cost the Saints a playoff berth, even in the weak NFC South.
THEY NEED: Pass-rushing defensive end or outside linebacker, tight end, offensive linemen, wide receiver, nickel cornerback.
THEY DON’T NEED: Quarterback, running back, safety, inside linebacker.
POSSIBLE FIRST PICK: Kentucky outside linebacker Alvin “Bud” Dupree, Clemson outside linebacker Vic Beasley, LSU left tackle La’el Collins.
OUTLOOK: The Saints’ priority is to improve their four-man pass rush; opposing quarterbacks are delivering passes quicker, and the Saints want to keep their defensive backs in coverage. However, protecting quarterback Drew Brees is another priority, as is replacing deep threat wide receiver Kenny Stills, traded to Miami for inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe. The Saints could go with a top-rated offensive lineman or wide receiver. They have nine total picks — five in first three rounds — enhancing their possibilities to trade up.
25 PANTHERS (7-8-1)
LAST SEASON: The Panthers won the NFC South with losing record, then beat Arizona at home in the wild-card round before falling to the Seattle in the divisional playoffs.
THEY NEED: Offensive tackle, wide receiver, running back, defensive end, cornerback.
THEY DON’T NEED: Quarterback, fullback, tight end, defensive tackle, linebacker, safety.
POSSIBLE FIRST PICK: Offensive tackle D.J. Humphries, Florida. The Panthers have to invest a high draft pick in an offensive tackle at some point. However, if Georgia running back Todd Gurley or a talented receiver slips, don’t be shocked if they go in that direction.
OUTLOOK: The Panthers parted ways with left tackle Byron Bell and signed offensive tackles Michael Oher and Jonathan Martin as potential stopgaps. However, both have struggled in pass protection. Carolina still wants to find a long-term left tackle to protect quarterback Cam Newton. They Panthers would also like to find a No. 2 wide receiver opposite Kelvin Benjamin. Don’t rule out a replacement for defensive end Greg Hardy, who was not re-signed after a domestic-abuse case. The Panthers released all-time leading rusher DeAngelo Williams, too.