- Steve Muench, Scouts Inc.
New head coaches means likely changes in the kind of player respective teams will target, the deadline for underclassmen to declare for the draft is Jan. 15 and we are three-plus months away from the start of free agency.
Still, it's never too early to start examining teams' potential needs and possible fits for the 2014 draft. Adjustments can always be made along the way.
Here's an early look at the AFC South, where Houston picks first and Jacksonville picks third. There are three needs for each team and a list of three players worth keeping an eye on at each of those positions. Per usual, all draft-eligible non-seniors are denoted with an asterisk.
Draft position: No. 1 overall
Needs: Quarterback, offensive tackle, safety
QB Matt Schaub lost his starting job and once-promising backup T.J. Yates wasn't the one to win it. Undrafted in 2012, Case Keenum stepped in and failed to lead the Texans to a win in eight starts. In fairness, there were plenty of close games but he's not the long-term answer and it would be a surprise if Houston didn't take a quarterback first overall with one notable stipulation.
Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater and Central Florida's Blake Bortles are the top two quarterbacks on our board and neither underclassman has declared for the draft. If they stay in school, Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel is a possibility if he declares for the draft as expected. It would be a substantial reach, though. Filling another need with a better value by taking Manziel's college teammate, offensive tackle Jake Matthews, makes more sense. The Texans could then target a quarterback like Alabama's AJ McCarron with the 33rd overall pick.
Finally, while this is a need-based blog, it's worth noting that the Texans could take the best player, which would be South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney or UCLA outside linebacker Anthony Barr, who each have a grade of 96 on our board.
Draft position: 2014 first-round pick traded to Cleveland
Needs: Guard, cornerback, inside linebacker
It's been a rocky rookie season for third-round pick Hugh Thornton, an offensive guard who broke into the starting lineup after Donald Thomas sustained a season-ending injury. Thornton seemed overwhelmed at times. Jeffrey Linkenbach has had problems staying healthy and Mike McGlynn struggled at the opposite guard spot. Both are unrestricted free agents. Offensive tackle Xavier Nixon can kick inside but the Colts still need a guard capable of competing for a starting job.
At corner, Vontae Davis is as inconsistent as he is talented and Greg Toler, who missed the 2011 season with a knee injury, hasn't played in all 16 games of a season since Arizona drafted him in 2009. Plus Davis and Cassius Vaughn will be free agents. As far as linebacker is concerned, they need a thumper to help bolster the run defense.
Receiver may seem conspicuous in its absence from the top three and it would not surprise me if the Colts pulled the trigger if a playmaker like Oregon State's Brandin Cooks is there in the second round. However, they have a collection of young talent and it's too early to write off Reggie Wayne coming off a knee injury.
Indianapolis is one of the two teams that don't have a first-round pick, thanks to the Trent Richardson trade, so none of the players listed under the Colts' needs currently project as first-round picks.
OGs: Mississippi State's Gabe Jackson; Stanford's David Yankey*; Notre Dame's Chris Watt
CBs: Florida's Loucheiz Purifoy*; Ohio State's Bradley Roby*; Oklahoma's Aaron Colvin
ILBs: Alabama's Trey DePriest*; Cincinnati's Greg Blair; Western Kentucky's Andrew Jackson
Draft position: No. 3 overall
Needs: Quarterback, defensive end, offensive tackle
Head coach Gus Bradley inherited 2011 first-round pick Blaine Gabbert when he took the job last January and there's little reason to believe he won't make a change after Gabbert started just three games this year. Unrestricted free agent Chad Henne threw more picks than touchdowns in 13 starts this year. Again, a lot will depend on the availability of Bridgewater or Bortles, and again Manziel is worth mentioning especially considering Bradley was Seattle's defensive coordinator when the Seahawks drafted the shortest quarterback in the league in Russell Wilson. However, they got Wilson in the third round. Taking Manziel with the third overall pick is far riskier and it will be interesting to see if he can wow teams like Wilson did during the interview process.
If the Jaguars don't take a quarterback, they need to improve their pass rush and add an offensive tackle who can start opposite 2013 second-overall pick Luke Joeckel so they would do well to land Clowney, Barr or Matthews. Like Houston, the Jaguars could then target a quarterback like UCLA's Brett Hundley in the second round.
Draft position: No. 11 overall
Needs: Offensive tackle, defensive end, inside linebacker
The argument for quarterback making Tennessee's top three needs can be made considering Jake Locker has started just 18 games over the past two seasons. The argument for sticking with Locker for at least one more year is stronger. He's made strides in his first three seasons and he has tremendous tools. In addition, four quarterbacks get drafted in the top six picks in Todd McShay's initial mock draft and the early projection suggests that it's unlikely they get an upgrade over Locker at No. 11.
Right offensive tackle is a greater need. David Stewart will be 32 years old at the start of the 2014 season and he's struggled with injuries. Throw in his contract and there's a good chance the Titans cut him.
They also need an edge rusher who can push for the starting job opposite Derrick Morgan and an inside linebacker to help bolster their run defense but it's important to monitor the Chris Johnson situation. If he gets cut, running back becomes a top-three need.
OTs: Michigan's Taylor Lewan; Alabama's Cyrus Kouandjio*; Virginia's Morgan Moses
DEs: Oregon State's Scott Crichton*; Texas' Jackson Jeffcoat; UNC's Kareem Martin
ILBs: Michigan State's Max Bullough; Wisconsin's Chris Borland; Louisville's Preston Brown
New head coaches means likely changes in the kind of player respective teams will target, the deadline for underclassmen to declare for the draft is Jan.