When you ask general managers about a decision to take a player, you'll typically hear them respond by saying they "took the best player available" at that draft slot. This would make the concept of "draft needs" seem like a secondary concern. But, as teams build their draft boards, they do so with clear personnel needs in mind. So yes, they often do get the best player available based on how they lined up their board, but every board is unique not just based on evaluations of players but based on self-evaluation of the current roster.
An example: When Dallas took center Travis Frederick late in Round 1 in 2013, he might have been the best player available according to their board, but their board obviously reflected a need at center -- thus Frederick almost certainly was rated higher by the Cowboys than by many other teams. Maximizing your roster talent is the top priority, but that will always be balanced against how useful a player is, and usefulness reflects needs.
Here are what I consider the top 2014 draft needs for every team. Some have more than others, but:
• I've capped it at four per team, with a few that go to five.
• The order of teams is based on the draft order.
Let's take a look:
Quarterback: The need here certainly doesn't dictate they take a QB at No. 1 overall, but a depth chart of Case Keenum, Ryan Fitzpatrick and T.J. Yates is probably the worst in the NFL in terms of ceiling. The sample size on Keenum is still relatively small, but his mostly mixed results as the starter fell in lockstep with the projection of a backup.
Outside linebacker: Brooks Reed and Whitney Mercilus simply weren't very good in 2013. It goes without saying that, if Jadeveon Clowney is drafted and asked to stand up as an edge rusher, he'd be the best one on this team.
Defensive end: J.J. Watt is the best defensive player in the world, but the talent drop-off after him is significant, and, were Watt to miss any time, it would totally change the look of this defense.
Safety: A healthy T.J. McDonald can be a pretty good strong safety if he reaches his potential, but free safety is a problem area right now, as Rodney McLeod is the current incumbent. I wouldn't put that out of the question with their pick at No. 13.