NFC draft analysis By Charean Williams Teams talk about drafting the "best athlete available," but in a perfect world that “best athlete available” would match their biggest need. Here is what NFC teams need most heading into the NFL Draft on April 25-26: NFC EAST Dallas Cowboys Needs: S, NT, ILB First choice: No. 51 Comment: The Cowboys filled their starting needs — at least in the short term — in free agency when they signed strong safety Gerald Sensabaugh and inside linebacker Keith Brooking. Dallas released strong safety Roy Williams, and although they signed Sensabaugh, they gave him only a one-year contract. Inside linebackers Zach Thomas and Kevin Burnett left in free agency, leaving Brooking, Bradie James and Bobby Carpenter as their inside linebackers. NY Giants Needs: WR, LB, OL First choice: No. 29 Comment: The Giants were a different team after receiver Plaxico Burress was suspended. “We’ve always counted on other people being able to step up and helps us make plays,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. “That still is there. But to say that player of that caliber is not out there and things are going to be the same, that’s not logical.” The Giants were 10-1 before losing Burress. They lost four of their last six games, including a 23-11 loss to the Eagles in the playoffs. The Giants could try to trade for Braylon Edwards or Anquan Boldin. Philadelphia Eagles Needs: OT, RB, TE First choice: No. 21 Comment: The Eagles lost left tackle Tra Thomas in free agency and right tackle Jon Runyan had microfracture surgery on his right knee and is a free agent. The Eagles signed right tackle Stacy Andrews in free agency, but he is coming off knee surgery. Todd Herremans and Winston Justice are in-house candidates to replace Thomas, but Donovan McNabb wouldn’t feel safe with either of them protecting his backside. Tight end L.J. Smith is gone, and running back Brian Westbrook turns 30 in September. Washington Redskins Needs: DE, SLB, RT First choice: No. 13 Comment: The Redskins signed defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, but they need help at end. Phillip Daniels and Renaldo Wynn signed one-year deals, but Daniels is 36 and Wynn turns 35 in September. Washington needs a replacement for Marcus Washington at strongside linebacker, where they have no starter at the moment. NFC NORTH Chicago Bears Needs: WR, DE, FS First choice: No. 49 Comment: Welcome to Chicago, Jay Cutler. It won’t be long before he figures out that he no longer has Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal. The Bears’ leading receiver was running back Matt Forte, who had 63 catches. Tight end Greg Olsen was second with 54 catches. Chicago needs a No. 1 receiver, and Devin Hester, who had 51 receptions for 665 yards and three touchdowns, might be better suited as the No. 3. On defense, no player had more than six sacks last season. Their starting ends, Adewale Ogunleye and Alex Brown, combined for 11. Detroit Lions Needs: QB, OG, MLB First choice: No. 1 Comment: The Lions played five quarterbacks last season with similar results. Daunte Culpepper is back after completing 56.1 percent of his passes with eight touchdowns and eight interceptions. The Lions are in the mess they’re in because, in 2002, they used the No. 3 overall pick on Joey Harrington. He has 79 touchdowns and 85 interceptions in his career. If Detroit isn’t sold on Matthew Stafford, it could draft Baylor offensive tackle Jason Smith and move Jeff Backus to left guard. Detroit had hoped to land Derrick Dockery, but instead signed former Texas Tech product Daniel Loper and re-signed Damion Cook. Green Bay Packers Needs: DE, OT, OLB First choice: No. 9 Comment: The Packers are revamping their defense, having hired Dom Capers to turn them from a 4-3 team to a 3-4. The NFC North hasn’t had a 3-4 defensive team since 1994, and only two other NFC teams currently run the scheme. Aaron Kampman, who had 9.5 sacks last season, is moving from defensive end to outside linebacker. That leaves converted tackle Johnny Jolly and Cullen Jenkins, who went on injured reserve on Oct. 1 with a torn pectoral muscle, at defensive end. On the offensive side, left tackle Chad Clifton will be 33 at the start of the season and is in the last year of his contract; right tackle Mark Tauscher, who will be 32 at the start of the season, is a free agent and coming off a torn ACL in his right knee. Minnesota Vikings Needs: RT, WR, C First choice: No. 22 Comment: John Sullivan, a sixth-round choice in 2008, likely will replace center Matt Birk, who signed with Baltimore. But the Vikings would love to get a replacement for Ryan Cook at right tackle. The Vikings made a run at receiver T.J. Houshmandzedah, who eventually signed with Seattle. They still have not found a replacement for Randy Moss, who left after the 2004 season. Bobby Wade was their leading receiver last season with 53 catches for 645 yards and two touchdowns, though Bernard Berrian proved a downfield threat with a 20.1 yards per catch average and seven touchdowns. NFC SOUTH Atlanta Falcons Needs: CB, TE, SS First choice: No. 24 Comment: The Falcons’ best cornerback last season was Domonique Foxworth, and he now is in Baltimore. Chris Houston could stand to be replaced on the other side. Atlanta didn’t have anybody to replace tight end Alge Crumpler last season after they released him. Ben Hartsock, known for his blocking, went on injured reserve with a toe injury after making three catches in 11 games. The Falcons’ tight ends combined for 19 catches, 211 yards and two touchdowns last season. Atlanta could swing a trade for Chiefs tight end Tony Gonzalez. Carolina Panthers Needs: DE, DT, OL First choice: No. 59 Comment: Defensive end Julius Peppers had 14.5 sacks last season, prompting the Panthers to franchise him. But he wants a trade, and Carolina seems willing to oblige. The Panthers’ other three defensive ends combined for 11.5 sacks. Carolina is satisfied with its defensive tackle starters — Damione Lewis and Maake Kemoeatu — but it has no depth at the position. New Orleans Saints Needs: RB, CB, FS First choice: No. 14 Comment: Deuce McAllister is gone, leaving the Saints in need of someone to pair with Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas. Bush has a career 3.7 yards per carry average and is not a feature back. The Saints cut cornerback Mike McKenzie after he ended the past two seasons on injured reserve with knee injuries, and free safety Josh Bullocks signed with the Bears in free agency. The Saints signed Darren Sharper to replace Bullocks, but Sharper turns 34 during the season. Cornerback Jabari Greer was signed from Buffalo, but the Saints still could seek help at corner. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Needs: DT, QB, WR First choice: No. 19 Comment: Defensive tackle Jovan Haye, who had no sacks last season, signed with the Titans, and nose tackle Chris Hovan turns 31 next month. The Bucs haven’t had a solid under tackle since Warren Sapp left after the 2003 season. The Bucs signed Byron Leftwich to be their quarterback of the present, but they could use a young quarterback to develop. They also need a receiver to pair with Antonio Bryant. Michael Clayton had 80 catches for 1,193 yards and seven touchdowns as a rookie in 2004. In the four years since, he has caught 125 passes for 1,513 yards and two touchdowns. NFC WEST Arizona Cardinals Needs: RB, OLB, TE First choice: No. 31 Comment: The Cardinals got to the Super Bowl despite having the league’s worst running game. They passed on Adrian Peterson two seasons ago and took Tim Hightower in the fifth round last year. Hightower scored 10 touchdowns but averaged 2.8 yards per carry. Edgerrin James, who turns 31 before the start of the season, is on the downside of his career and wants out of Arizona. On the defensive side, the Cardinals need to get younger and better at outside linebacker. Chike Okeafor, 33, and Bertrand Berry, who turns 34 this summer, are past their prime, and Travis LaBoy can’t stay healthy. St. Louis Rams Needs: LT, WR, MLB First choice: No. 2 Comment: The Rams released left tackle Orlando Pace. Their other starting tackle, Alex Barron, is in the final year of his contract. Barron will move from right tackle to left, where he played in college and for 15 games in 2007 when Pace went on injured reserve. The Rams are expected to use the No. 2 overall pick on a tackle, possibly Baylor’s Jason Smith. St. Louis released receivers Torry Holt and Drew Bennett, and although they did trade for Laurent Robinson, they could use another weapon there. San Francisco 49ers Needs: OLB, QB, WR First choice: No. 10 Comment: Outside linebacker Manny Lawson, a first-round choice in 2006, had only three sacks last season after coming back from major knee surgery. Outside linebacker Parys Haralson, a fifth-round choice in 2006, had a team-leading eight sacks last season. The 49ers have not had a player with double-digit sacks since 2002, and they had only 30 as a team last season. Shaun Hill and former No. 1 overall pick Alex Smith will battle for the starting quarterback job, but San Francisco might be tempted to use their first choice on USC’s Mark Sanchez if he is there. Seattle Seahawks Needs: LT, RB, S First choice: No. 4 Comment: Left tackle Walter Jones is 35 and on his last legs, attempting a comeback from microfracture knee surgery. Running backs Julius Jones and T.J. Duckett combined for 870 yards and 10 touchdowns, but they averaged just under 4.0 yards per carry. Deon Grant and Brian Russell are the starting safeties, but the Seahawks would like to get a player who makes more big plays than either of them does.