We still have the Super Bowl to look forward to, but it is never too early to start looking towards the NFL Draft, especially for those of us whose teams were eliminated long ago.
Predicting the NFL Draft is a crapshoot. Without the insights and knowledge available through a plethora of sources inside NFL organizations, it becomes near impossible to anticipate what a certain NFL team will do with a given pick. Even with those sources, it remains a daunting task. Throw in the possibility of trades and trying to predict the draft starts to look like the plotline of a Nicolas Cage movie. Despite that, it hardly stops us from trying to discern the chaos.
In order to avoid those same pitfalls, however, let’s take a look at each team and evaluate the position they are in as a team, i.e. what holes do they have on the roster or where do they already have elite talent. From there, we can look at the players most likely to be available when that team is on the clock and observe the possible selections for each team or if that team would benefit from trading out of their slot entirely.
Based off of NFL prospect rankings from cbssports.com
For a full wrap-up of the first round, visit utahstatesman.com
- Cleveland Browns
For the Browns, several questions need answering before this pick. First, is it more important to have a franchise quarterback to build a solid team around or is it more important to have a solid team before finding a franchise quarterback. The second question is closely associated with the first. Is there a franchise quarterback in this draft class? If the Browns fall in love with a quarterback like Mitch Trubisky out of North Carolina or DeShaun Watson out of Clemson, then selecting either one here would be a defendable selection, though they could arguably trade down and still pick either of the two. If Cleveland doesn’t believe there’s a quarterback worth taking number one overall, then the choice falls largely to one of two choices: Myles Garrett from Texas A&M or Jonathan Allen from Alabama. Both are pass-rushing specialists that could anchor the defensive line for years to come. The Browns also hold the No. 12 pick courtesy of their trade with Philadelphia last year, so even if the Browns pass on a quarterback here, they could still select one in the first round.
- San Francisco 49ers
Like Cleveland, the 49ers are devoid of talent at most positions on their roster. Therefore, many of the same situations that applied to the Browns also apply here. If the organization believes either Trubisky or Watson can become a franchise quarterback, they would be hard-pressed to pass up on the opportunity to select them. If not, then whoever is left of Allen or Garrett after the Browns’ selection (or both, should the Browns choose to select a QB) is a tremendous option. The path the 49ers choose, however, relies heavily on who will ultimately fill the vacant positions of head coach and general manager. Should Kyle Shanahan, the Falcons’ offensive coordinator this season, elect to accept the head coaching position, he may want to select his own quarterback to groom into a franchise cornerstone.
- Chicago Bears
What happens to Jay Cutler will be a great precursor to what the Bears decide to do here. If the Bears decide to move on, and there are many indications that they desire to, then the Bears will be in the market for a quarterback. Unlike Cleveland and San Francisco, however, the Bears are not bereft of talent. Jordan Howard finished third in the league in rushing yardage while rookie Leonard Floyd finished with seven sacks on the year. What I’m trying to say here is that the Bears could be a possible destination for someone like Tony Romo. The question there is whether Chicago wants to move from Jay Cutler to Romo, who holds a massive injury history and will be 37 by the start of next season. Outside of a blockbuster trade, though, the Bears may look to improve on a defense that finished 26th in DVOA. The draft’s top safeties, Malik Hooker out of Ohio State and Jamal Adams from LSU, could come off the board here.
- Jacksonville Jaguars
The Blake Bortles experiment has failed. The new coaching staff may want a year to evaluate the team before selecting their new quarterback of the future, but I find it hard to see Bortles remaining in Jacksonville beyond next season. The Jaguars may end up selecting their quarterback here, or they could continue to build a solid team around the quarterback. The Jaguars have quietly built a playoff-caliber team outside of the quarterback position. The Jaguars finished the season 14th in defensive DVOA and, despite Bortles’ struggles, were 23rd in offensive DVOA. Once this team finds a decent quarterback, watch out. Selecting a defensive lineman like Stanford’s Solomon Thomas or a linebacker like Reuben Foster from Alabama would further bolster a defense that could become one of the best in the NFL a few years down the road. Either Hooker or Adams could also better the secondary, joining with CB Jalen Ramsey to form one of the better young defensive backfields in the NFL. Alternatively, the Jags could focus on offense and select OT Cam Robinson out of Alabama to strengthen an offensive line that’s struggled over the past few years.
- Tennessee Titans
The Titans barely missed out on the playoffs this year, due largely in part to QB Marcus Mariota suffering a broken leg late in the season. Now they have two first round picks (and two second round picks) to propel themselves into the postseason. Tennessee finished this year eighth in the league in weighted DVOA, but the majority of that ranking can be attributed to their offense. Bringing the defense up to speed could turn the Titans into a dominant force in the weak AFC South. Playing four games per year against either DeAndre Hopkins or Andrew Luck requires Tennessee to improve their pass defense to make that a reality. A cornerback like Teez Tabor from Florida or Alabama’s Marlon Humphrey would make sense here. The Titans could also give Mariota some offensive firepower by selecting WR Mike Williams from Clemson.
- New York Jets
For the Jets, this year felt like the doctor coming out of the operating room only to say “we’ve done all we can do”. It is hard to imagine that only six years ago, the Jets came within one possession of reaching the Super Bowl. It’s also hard to imagine that having Mark Sanchez then was a better quarterback situation than what they have now. The Jets have no solid option under center and with the roster crumbling apart, a trade for one is hard to fathom. Even with someone like Romo under center, can you really see this team challenging for a wildcard berth in the AFC? If they fail to sign a quarterback in free agency, Jets fans will be wailing if this isn’t a quarterback, which will always raise the possibility that the organization will do so to appease the fan base. The Jets lack talent at quite a few positions, though, and they need a lot help on defense. Darelle Revis is no longer a shutdown corner. The team finished 29th in the NFL in total sacks. The Jets can go a number of routes here. Tabor or Humphrey could fill a corner position. Tim Williams out of Alabama would be a reach at this spot, but a justifiable reach, as he would take over at outside linebacker.
- San Diego Chargers
Philip Rivers is 35 years old. The Chargers are several years away from legitimately contending for a Super Bowl, but even that timeline depends on Rivers still being able to play at a high level. The best way for San Diego to help ensure that is to invest in the offensive line. Naturally, that would make this a good fit for Alabama’s Cam Robinson, widely regarded as the top offensive lineman in this draft. Robinson’s spot amongst the elite prospects in this draft is somewhat split, however, meaning the Chargers could decide to go elsewhere. Keenan Allen is a tremendous talent at wide receiver, but his injury issues should worry the team. Clemson’s Mike Williams would be a flashy new toy for Rivers and Co. The defense finished eighth in defensive DVOA, but could still use a replacement for Eric Weddle, who left in free agency one year ago. Hooker and Adams may be gone at this point, but Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers could start coming into play here.
- Carolina Panthers
Put the Panthers at the head of the list of people hoping the Chargers do not select Cam Robinson. His status as a top-10 prospect might mean very little to Carolina, who are still in need of an offensive tackle to help protect Cam Newton. Even if Robinson is gone, the Panthers reaching for Wisconsin’s Ryan Ramczyk is still a possibility. If the Panthers decide the value isn’t high enough for either lineman, however, there are several options. Jonathan Stewart comes with a high cap hit this year, and the team could select one of Fournette or Cook to replace him at a lower cost. DE Charles Johnson is both a free agent and 30 years old, so the Panthers could elect to replace him with someone like Tennessee’s Derek Barnett. After last season’s mess at the corner position, no one would fault them with taking one of the many corners available.
- Cincinnati Bengals
One of the biggest differences between last year’s Bengals that went 6-9-1 and 2015’s version that went 12-4 was the receiving corps. Losing Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu to free agency was too much for the offense to overcome (losing offensive coordinator Hue Jackson also played a major factor). The Bengals could choose to roll with last year’s second round pick, Tyler Boyd, or they could bring in Williams, if he’s on the board, or Western Michigan’s Corey Davis. The defensive front-seven could also use an influx of talent, making Tennessee’s Barnett or Alabama’s Williams a possibility here, as well.
- Buffalo Bills
Tyrod Taylor seems to be on his way out of Buffalo, and it would make sense for the Bills to have some plan already for a replacement. If that plan is the draft, then anyone of Trubisky, Watson, or even Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer could come off the board here. With so much uncertainty regarding quarterbacks, however, the Bills may not even receive that chance. In that case, the Bills could look to add some receiving talent to go along with Sammy Watkins. Clemson’s Williams makes the most sense, though Western Michigan’s Davis would also fit alongside Watkins. The Bills could also focus on rebuilding their once formidable defense that finished the year ranked 26th in defensive DVOA. Safety or defensive back would make the most sense, with names like Peppers, Humphrey, or Ohio State’s Marshon Lattimore mixing into the conversation.
- New Orleans Saints
The Saints were sixth in offensive DVOA this season, but a measly 30th on defense. Simply put, this pick needs to be defensive. After selecting DT Sheldon Rankins in the first round last year, every other defensive position is available to draft. If Barnett falls this far, the Saints should pounce. Safety Jabrill Peppers could become the defensive playmaker the Saints desperately need. Whoever is left of the Tabor, Humphrey, and Lattimore group of cornerbacks also deserves a look.
- Cleveland Browns
As alluded to earlier, the Browns could select their franchise-QB-to-be here, though that is all dependent on how picks 2-11 go down. Trubisky is from Ohio and, as astounding as it may sound, grew up a Browns fan. Additionally, rumors have it that the Browns are quite enamored with him. If Trubisky’s still on the board, he very well could come off here. The other theory is that the Browns could select one of the draft’s premier running backs to help rejuvenate an offense that finished 28th in DVOA. As a friendly reminder, though, remember that outside of Joe Thomas and perhaps Joe Haden, the Browns have no surefire NFL starters signed on their roster right now. They could literally pick anyone with either of their picks and they would be filling a hole.
- Arizona Cardinals
What the Cardinals do here depends imperatively on whether they view Carson Palmer’s 2016 season as an anomaly or as an indication that his career is on the downhill. Palmer could still be a viable quarterback for another few years, but drafting a QB here and have them learn and develop behind Palmer could be a smart move. Remember, Aaron Rodgers sat behind Brett Favre for three years before taking the reins. The Cardinals’ offensive line was below average in pass protection, so selecting someone like Wisconsin’s Ramczyk could help to further Palmer’s career. Defensively, the Cardinals remained stalwarts, but could use an influx of talent to remain so. There’s no guarantee that CB Tyrann Mathieu returns from his ACL tear to be the same player he was before, so perhaps a cornerback like Humphrey or Washington’s Sidney Jones could be in play here.
- Philadelphia Eagles
Count me among the people who are still shocked the Eagles received a first round pick for Sam Bradford. Count Carson Wentz among the people most grateful for it. The Eagles desperately need receiving help, and the middle of the first round would be an ideal place to seize it. Williams will probably be off the board here, but the Eagles could have their choice of either Corey Davis or Washington’s John Ross. Either would be a godsend for Wentz. As always, several other options are also open for the Eagles. If Fournette or Cook is available at this point, then perhaps the Eagles finally replace LeSean McCoy. If the Eagles want to splurge on defense, they could make an already great unit possibly elite by taking a defensive back, either a safety or cornerback.
- Indianapolis Colts
Andrew Luck is screaming out for an offensive line like that one girl from every horror movie ever. Unfortunately, the first round is lacking in offensive line talent. If both Robinson and Ramczyk are off the board, the Colts will have to look to free agency to protect Luck. If that scenario plays out, the Colts will hope for either one of Alabama’s linebackers, Reuben Foster and Tim Williams. If Indy wants some more playmaking ability, Jabrill Peppers could entice the front office.
- Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens’ offseason is off to a poor start. They already lost their second leading receiver when Steve Smith retired, but now the injury-induced retirement of Zachary Orr robs the Ravens of their leading tackler, as well. GM Ozzie Newsome loves his Alabama alums, so either Williams or Foster would earn a long look from the Ravens should they be available here. Corey Davis and John Ross could also receive consideration here. Jabrill Peppers could further shore up a secondary still in need of playmaking. After missing out on Ezekiel Elliott last year, the Ravens would also be intrigued by the opportunity of selecting either Fournette or Cook should they drop this far. In short, Baltimore could go many routes here.
- Washington Redskins
Washington’s reasons for not making the playoffs lies entirely with their defense. The offense has become a fearsome unit, but the defense has fallen behind. At this point of the draft, it becomes increasingly blurry as to who will and who will not be available. For the Redskins, seeing any of Tim Williams, Marlon Humphrey, Marshon Lattimore, or Jabrill Peppers would be a dream. If those options fail, Sidney Jones of Washington or Zach Cunningham from Vanderbilt would be fantastic consolation prizes.
- Tennessee Titans
The Titans need some dynamic wide receiver threats, and relative the No. 5 pick, this is a much better situation to acquire it. One of Corey Davis or John Ross should be primed for the taking here. They could also double down on their defense, too. Any of the previously listed cornerbacks could be involved here. Clemson’s CB Cordrea Tankersley starts coming into range here, as well.
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers
One of the surprises of the season was the Bucs’ defense actually finishing with a higher DVOA rating than their offense. Especially over the latter half of the year, the defense really began to come into its own. Adding more talent would help to ensure that those stats were more than a mirage. Michigan DE Taco Charlton or Missouri DE Charles Harris could draw the attention of Tampa Bay here. Picking a wide receiver like Washington’s Ross or even USC’s JuJu Smith-Schuster to pair with standout Mike Evans would give opposing defenses nightmares. At the very least, the Bucs should not draft a kicker here.
- Denver Broncos
The Broncos will be hoping for Ramczyk to fall to them, but given the lack of offensive linemen in this draft, that seems unlikely. Reaching for Utah’s Garett Bolles or Indiana’s Dan Feeney could happen, but either would be quite a reach to make at this point of the first round. Drafting OJ Howard out of Alabama to play tight end, however, would make a lot of sense. If the goal is the rebuild the defense, Michigan State’s DT Malik McDowell could fill the gap left by Malik Jackson, and not just his first name.
- Detroit Lions
Detroit is a golden-plated football team. They made the playoffs, yes, but their 9-4 record in one-possession games hides many of their shortcomings. The team finished 28th in weighted DVOA with the defense finishing dead last in defensive DVOA. That defense needs to be addressed with this selection. Darius Slay is an excellent cornerback, but apart from that, any position is free game for this selection. Tim Williams, Zach Cunningham, Sidney Jones, Cordrea Tankersley, Taco Charlton, Charles Harris, UCLA’s Takkarist McKinley. Anyone of that group that remains available when the Lions go on the clock should be at the forefront of the Lions’ minds.
- Miami Dolphins
The offense seems to be gaining speed under Adam Gase, but the defense still needs to elevate their game for the Dolphins to challenge the Patriots in the AFC East. Any defensive end available here, most likely Charles Harris or Taco Charlton, will be viewed as a possible replacement for Mario Williams, who looks to be a cap casualty this offseason. Miami could also choose to strengthen their offensive line with a prospect such as Utah’s Garett Bolles or Indiana’s Dan Feeney.
- New York Giants
The Giants’ defense was shredded by Aaron Rodgers in the playoffs, so the Giants may aim to further load up on talent on that side of the ball. Takkarist McKinley and Zach Cunningham may end up on New York’s radar, as well as another defensive tackle like Malik McDowell if available. The Giants also need to find a consistent running game, so adding a running back like Christian McCaffrey or D’Onta Foreman can’t be ruled out here.
- Oakland Raiders
The Raiders may opt for the ‘best player available’ philosophy, at least when it comes to defensive players. Outside of perhaps tailback, there are no glaring holes on offense. Cornerback, middle linebacker, and defensive tackle are arguably the most needed positions, but the Raiders will take any defensive help they can get.
- Houston Texans
It may be too early to call of the Brock Osweiler experiment, especially when you factor in the size of his contract. The Texans could then choose to surround Osweiler with the best talent possible and give him the best chance to succeed. Offensive line would be a position to look for in that case. Dan Feeney and Garett Bolles should get a long look here.
- Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks desperately need offensive line help. Their problem lies, however, in being this late the first round. A lot of teams ahead of them need that same help and there is not going to be enough linemen to go around. If one of Feeney or Bolles is still available, the Seahawks will take it. If not, expect either a defensive lineman or, depending on how serious Earl Thomas is about retirement, another defensive back.
- Kansas City Chiefs
Drafting a quarterback here that can sit behind Alex Smith for several seasons could be a legitimate possibility here, or the Chiefs could veer towards maintaining their stellar defense. Kansas City could use reinforcements at every level on defense, making another ‘best player available’ situation. Sidney Jones or Iowa’s Desmond King could become the next shutdown corner on Kansas City’s roster.
- Dallas Cowboys
After their loss to Green Bay, the glaring need is on defense at both cornerback and defensive end. The Cowboys need a consistent pass rush, and counting on Randy Gregory to provide that is fool-hardy. Charlton and Harris are options, and Auburn’s Carl Lawson comes into play here at the end of the first round, as well. Both Jones and King could also be looked at to bolster the Dallas secondary.
- Green Bay Packers
Injuries decimated the Packers’ defense this season, but even with full health, the defense is still shaky. Sam Shields is their best corner, and he turns 30 next season. Relying on Clay Matthews to consistently deliver a good pass rush is starting the fail. And linebacker play was far from stellar. The Packers would be happy with anyone from Cunningham to Charlton to McDowell. The bigger question is who will be left when the Packers come on the clock.
30. Pittsburgh Steelers
James Harrison is bound to slow down eventually, meaning the Steelers will need an outside linebacker to replace him soon. Cunningham and Takkarist would need to fall past several teams to make it here or the team could reach for Temple’s Haason Reddick. Despite last year’s focus on cornerbacks, the position is still in need of help, making Desmond King another possibility. If the Steelers want to cause some chaos, drafting another playmaker on offense like McCaffrey for when Le’Veon Bell is injured would be somewhat prudent given his injury history.
- Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons broke records on offense, but they still finished 23rd in adjusted sack rate. Bolles and Feeney should be gone by now, though, due to the demand of offensive lineman. The next man up would be Pittsburgh’s Dorian Johnson, but that would be a major reach for a first round pick. The more likely choice is to shore up a position on the defensive side of the ball. Another pass rusher opposite of Vic Beasley would provide a solid base for the rest of the defense. Holes are open at both cornerback and safety as well should a prospect fall to them.
- New England Patriots
If you’ve seen any mock draft yet, you should already be scared of the possibility Christian McCaffrey ends up on the Patriots. Versatility is a mainstay in Belichik’s offense, and McCaffrey is arguably the most versatile prospect in this class not named Jabrill Peppers. The Patriots also will be looking for replacements for both Jaime Collins, whom they traded midseason to the Browns, and Chandler Jones, whom they traded to the Cardinals last offseason. If one of the defensive end or middle linebacker prospects falls, expect New England to reap the benefits.