New York Giants
A replacement must be found for departed veteran right tackle Mike Remmers—ideally someone who is comfortable playing either side. That player would start out at right tackle but could possibly move to left should the Giants decide that they’d rather eat $6.5 million in dead money than carry Nate Solder’s $20.5 million cap number in 2021. Or, maybe that rookie tackle could become a right guard, since it’s possible New York next year will take the $12 million in cap savings to cut Kevin Zeitler.
On top of finding men who can protect Daniel Jones, the Giants could use another who can catch his passes. 2019 fifth-rounder Darius Slayton has intriguing speed, perimeter quickness and (at times) ball skills, showing that he can (maybe) be a quality No. 3. But at 6′ 1″, 190 he is by far New York’s biggest contributing wide receiver. 6′ 1″, 190 is too small for a “biggest receiver.”
Defensively, on paper, edge rusher remains a need, especially with Markus Golden not being re-signed. Recently acquired ex-Packer Kyler Fackrell can be a noisy pass rusher from time to time, but more so with effort than talent. The tricky part is that quality edge rushers require high draft capital, and it remains to be seen if new defensive coordinator Patrick Graham’s scheme justifies that sort of investment. Graham has spent most of his coaching career in New England, where expensive edge players are eschewed in favor of meaty interior D-linemen and man-to-man cornerbacks. The Giants are mostly set at these spots already, with Dexter Lawrence, Dalvin Tomlinson, B.J. Hill and franchise-tagged Leonard Williams up front, and with recently signed James Bradberry joining last year’s first-round pick Deandre Baker in the secondary. (Bradberry played in a zone-heavy scheme with the Panthers but was often left with de facto man coverage responsibilities outside; Baker is coming off a wildly up-and-down rookie season, but his “ups” were intriguing and many of his “downs” came in zone coverage.) One could also argue that recent third-round edge players Lorenzo Carter (2018) and Oshane Ximines (2019) deserve more time to develop.
And so it’s possible the Giants won’t deem “edge” a major need. Considering that they’re loaded along the interior D-line, potentially much improved in the secondary and just spent $30.8 million over three years on free agent linebacker Blake Martinez, this defense, which ranked 30th in points allowed in 2019, is in that unusual position of still needing to get better but not having any gaping holes to fill. Which means GM Dave Gettleman can go the “best player available” route.
Top-100 Targets (Giants own picks 4, 36 and 99): It would be awfully tough to pass on Clemson OLB/S/slot CB/EDGE/pretty much whatever you want him to do Isaiah Simmons here, and surely Graham learned to value versatility during his time in New England. If they do go offensive line (Have you heard? Dave Gettleman loves hog mollies . . . ), Alabama’s Jedrick Wills certainly fits the bill on the right side, and you’d think Louisville’s Mekhi Becton could play either side of the line. Same goes for Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs, maybe a bit more of a risk/reward pick, and Georgia’s Andrew Thomas, more of a classic left tackle. If Gettleman waits until Round 2 to address the O-line, they could be looking at Boise State’s Ezra Cleveland, a high-ceiling developmental guy like Georgia’s Isaiah Wilson or Auburn’s Prince Tega Wanogho, wide-bodied “right tackle” Lucas Niang of TCU or finesse “left tackle” Austin Jackson from USC.
At first blush, one probably sees “linebacker” as Philadelphia’s biggest need. But the players slated for these positions are better than their pedigrees suggest. Fourth-year pro Nathan Gerry can be a swift playmaker in pass defense, and he improved steadily in his overall play recognition last season. Undrafted second-year middle linebacker T.J. Edwards has flashed as a thumper taking on blocks. And he won’t be needed on passing downs with the arrival of ex-Chargers cover linebacker Jatavis Brown. Is it a great linebacking unit? No. And true, more depth is needed. But don’t be surprised if Philadelphia waits until the middle rounds to address it.
The need for speed on offense is much more significant. When DeSean Jackson went down last season, so did Philadelphia’s vertical passing game. The 33-year-old veteran is back in 2020 and there’s no reason to think he can’t still run. But given the concerns about Jackson’s durability, the myriad questions swirling around expensive veteran Alshon Jeffery (including how will he recover from last December’s Lisfranc foot injury?) and 2019 second-rounder J.J. Arcega-Whiteside’s disappointing rookie season, finding another downfield weapon is paramount. Most likely, that weapon will have to contribute as a starting outside receiver on Day One, given that 2019’s late-season breakout player, Greg Ward, is almost strictly a slot guy. When Philly’s offense is clicking, it’s one of the best at stressing defenses—especially zone defenses—with combination routes. And so it reasons that improvements at wide receiver could have a dramatic trickledown effect for the rest of this offense.
Top-100 Targets (Philadelphia owns picks 21, 53, 85 and 103): Philly will cross its collective fingers and hope that Alabama speedster Henry Ruggs III makes it to 21. Otherwise, they might be looking at the likes of Penn State’s KJ Hamler or Baylor’s Denzel Mims in the second, and they might need a little more development time than the Eagles are comfortable with. If they’re looking for a linebacker late on Day 2, Texas Tech’s Jordan Brooks are scheme fits, as is the undersized Akeem Davis-Gaither of Appalachian State.
This defense is not riddled with the glaring needs that people might think. The secondary was enhanced by the signing of Kendall Fuller, who has experience at all three major DB positions: outside corner, slot and safety. Ex-Steeler Sean Davis injects additional athleticism at the free safety spot. Last year’s big free agent pickup Landon Collins might be expensive, but he’s an upper-echelon strong safety. The only concern is that incumbent starting right corner Quinton Dunbar wanted out, and was traded to the Seahawks on Monday. That’s a deceptively big loss. Dunbar, with his keen route recognition, is perhaps the NFL’s most underrated corner. Even if Washington hadn’t traded Dunbar, they could still have used one more corner to challenge Fabian Moreau for the No. 3 job.
Defensive line is Washington’s least needed area defensively, though that should not preclude them from drafting a possible generational talent in Ohio State defensive end Chase Young. That would give them a potentially dominant front four, with Jonathan Allen, Da’Ron Payne and Matt Ioannidis (arguably Washington’s most effective D-lineman in 2019) rotating inside and Ryan Kerrigan, Montez Sweat and Young rotating on the edges. In fact, it’s a potentially good enough front and decent enough secondary that one could even see Washington waiting until the middle rounds to address the resoundingly average linebacking unit that sits between them.
That would allow Washington to find pass-catchers in the early rounds. They desperately need one at tight end. In fact, with the oft-concussed Jordan Reed gone and Vernon Davis retired, they need two. Same goes for wide receiver. Fine-tuned route runner Terry McLaurin is a star in the marking, and the 6′ 2″, 215-pound Kelvin Harmon shows potential as an X-receiver. But from there it drops off.
This is all assuming, of course, that Trent Williams returns. If the 31-year-old left tackle still refuses to play for Washington even after this offseason’s front office and coaching staff changes, his position becomes a major priority. Because though Washington is (wisely) letting the world think the team might draft a QB at No. 2, it’s very unlikely that Dwayne Haskins won’t be the starter come Opening Day. Haskins right now—and maybe forever—is the type of classic pocket-passing QB who requires sound pass protection.
Top-100 Targets (Washington owns picks 2 and 66): Ohio State’s Chase Young will almost surely be the pick here, unless Washington can trade out. If they don’t trade out, they’ll wait 64 picks to select again (and 44 picks after that). With that 66th selection, Washington’s Hunter Bryant has a lot of similarities to Jordan Reed, which, unfortunately, includes a lengthy injury history. Florida Atlantic’s Harrison Bryant is another dynamic receiving threat. If they’re willing to be patient, Notre Dame’s Chase Claypool or Liberty’s Antonio Gandy-Golden could become perfect complements to McLaurin. At corner, Ohio State’s Damon Arnette would give them another flexible piece on the back end, or Louisiana Tech’s Amik Robertson would provide a pure slot guy.
GM Ryan Pace may want to dip into this draft’s uncommonly deep wide receiver pool and jolt his offense with a dynamic target opposite Allen Robinson, but it will be hard for Pace not to address the defensive backfield with his first two picks (No. 43 and No. 50). The departures of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Prince Amukamara leave gaping holes at safety and right corner. And defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano’s scheme, which at its best is heavy on matchup coverage concepts as part of zone disguises and pressure designs, demands talent at these two spots. And even if the Bears believe they have quality starters in recently signed ex-Steelers corner Artie Burns and fifth-year backup safety Deon Bush (which is unlikely), both are slated for free agency in 2021 and might have to be replaced anyway.
As for that wide receiver scenario, considering that Matt Nagy’s system asks receivers to align in myriad spots, and considering that the Bears have a quality plus-sized perimeter weapon in Robinson and a fairly movable chess piece in third-year pro Anthony Miller, they can afford to take the most talented prospect regardless of his style of play. And the addition of tight end Jimmy Graham means they are not so desperate for a wide receiver that they have to reach; a two-receiver package with Graham, fellow tight end Trey Burton and scatback Tarik Cohen presents a respectable array of receiving dimension.
Top-100 Targets (Chicago owns picks 43 and 50): It’s not just that the Bears don’t have a first-round pick, but they also don’t select until 140 after they make their two second-round choices. If they stay put, they’ll have their choice of interesting if risky options for the defensive backfield. They’d likely be thrilled if Minnesota safety Antoine Winfield Jr. fell to them, as his versatility and athleticism would pair well with Eddie Jackson. LSU’s Grant Delpit could slip out of the top 40 after a shaky junior season—was his inconsistent tackling a result of playing through injury?—and while Kyle Dugger out of Lenoir-Rhyne would fit great alongside Jackson, can a team built to win now take a chance on a Division II prospect? The Day 2 corners are also interesting; LSU’s Kristian Fulton is an SEC-tested man corner who could slip, while undersized Javaris Davis of Auburn could be a scheme fit if the Bears feel he can hold up on the outside.
When Darius Slay was shipped to Philadelphia, many penciled in Ohio State’s Jeff Okudah to the Lions at pick No. 3. And that’s probably valid. No defense plays more man coverage than Detroit and for that to work, you must have three quality corners. The Lions, right now, have two: Justin Coleman (who plays the slot in nickel) and Desmond Trufant (who is a downgrade from Slay).
Up front the Lions also lost NT Damon Harrison, DT A’Shawn Robinson and EDGE Devon Kennard. However, replacements for all three exist already, with ex-Patriot Danny Shelton now at nose tackle; deceptively deft-moving 320-pounder John Atkins ready to break out; and either recently acquired ex-Patriot Jamie Collins or last year’s second-round pick, Jahlani Tavai, primed to assume the EDGE duties, which, in this system, demands that the defender take on blockers and anchor in the outer lane. And so besides maybe additional depth at corner, the Lions don’t have as many pressing defensive needs as you’d guess for a team that just went 3-12-1. Some might argue they need a pass rusher—and indeed, a lethargic pass rush was often to blame for the big plays that Detroit’s 32nd-ranked pass defense surrendered in 2019. But Patricia, like his longtime boss Bill Belichick, seems to believe that a pass rush can be manufactured as long as you have fundamentally sound players to fill a five-man rush, and corners who can hold up in man-to-man behind them. Jamie Collins and Jarrad Davis can both prosper in a highly schemed rush, as can Trey Flowers and (granted, to a lesser degree) Romeo Okwara. That’s only four pass rushers—so yes, maybe the Lions could use one more (though Patricia, much more than Belichick, is often willing to rush only three). But most likely Patricia and GM Bob Quinn will find it more pertinent to use their early-to-mid-round picks on offense.
Departed right guard Graham Glasgow needs to be replaced. At wide receiver, vertical threats Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones are both in the final year of their contracts. Assuming Golladay is the priority, it could be difficult to re-sign Jones. Slot man Danny Amendola is also playing on a one-year deal. Last season Matthew Stafford threw deep on a greater percentage of his passes than any other QB. If the Lions want to continue this approach, they’ll need a wideout with the size and speed or stride length to consistently win downfield.
Top-100 Targets (Detroit owns picks 3, 35 and 67): Ohio State CB Jeff Okudah seems like a highly logical fit with the third pick. The 35th should present a number of solid options on the interior. Michigan’s Cesar Ruiz can play any of the interior spots, as can LSU’s Lloyd Cushenberry; Ruiz is the higher-ceiling option while Cushenberry brings the kind of football character this front office seems to prioritize. Clemson’s John Simpson has a chance to be plug-ang-play. Louisiana’s Robert Hunt, who some teams see as a tackle prospect, could be a fit as well. If they’re looking for a mid-Day 3 deep threat for the receiving corps, South Carolina’s Bryan Edwards and UCF’s Gabriel Davis would fit the bill.
Green Bay Packers
None of Green Bay’s needs are urgent or dire, which is probably to be expected of a team coming off a 13-win season and NFC championship appearance. It’d be nice to find another pass-catching weapon, be it at wide receiver (the Packers could use either a speedster or big-bodied target opposite Davante Adams) or tight end to replace Jimmy Graham. But we can also believe Green Bay’s brass if they claim to like their in-house replacements here. Wide receiver Allen Lazard is a favorite of Aaron Rodgers. Jake Kumerow has shown glimpses of route running acumen, fine-tuned body control and contested catch ability. And at tight end, some scouts believe that last year’s third-round pick, Jace Sternberger, has the potential to be a high-quality flex receiving weapon.
A running back could also be in store, given that Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams are both playing on expiring rookie deals and teams are as reluctant as ever to award second contracts at this position.
Defensively, the Packers play enough dime personnel (6 DBs, 1 LB) that linebacker cannot be considered any sort of priority position, but even after signing underrated and athletic ex-Brown Christian Kirksey it still might behoove Green Bay to find a classic run-thumper to fill the void of departed free agent B.J. Goodson. This season the Packers have seven games against teams that are capable of riding a smashmouth ground game: the Vikings (twice), Jaguars, Panthers, 49ers, Titans and Colts.
Still, a run-thumping linebacker will play no more than 30 snaps in those games and as little as five or fewer in other games. A nickel slot corner, on the other hand, is liable to get 45-50 snaps a game. Last season that role was filled by Tramon Williams, who recently turned 37 and is currently unsigned. Even if Williams is brought back later this spring or sometime this summer, Green Bay still needs to groom an heir apparent (with the understanding that said heir apparent might have to play down the stretch this season). Chandon Sullivan has gotten some reps here but is better suited to be a utility dime DB, capable of aligning at safety or linebacker. Same goes for 2018 second-rounder Josh Jackson.
Top-100 Targets (Green Bay owns picks 30, 62 and 94): They’ll have their pick of quality receivers at the end of the first round, where a gadget weapon like Colorado’s Laviska Shenault, TCU’s Jalen Reagor or Arizona State’s Brandon Aiyuk would all upgrade the offense. Clemson’s Tee Higgins and Baylor’s Denzel Mims are possibilities as well. (Or maybe they wait for Day 2 and try to recapture the old Randall Cobb magic with Kentucky QB-turned-wideout Lynn Bowden.) There will be some quality slot corners available on Day 2, including undersized Amik Robertson of Louisiana Tech, Josiah Scott of Michigan State and Javaris Davis of Auburn, or bigger, versatile options that might appeal to DC Mike Pettine, like Ohio State’s Damon Arnette and Penn State’s John Reid. That thumping linebacker could wait until Day 3. California’s Evan Weaver and Purdue’s Markus Bailey have limited ceilings but could probably contribute early in Pettine’s complex defense.
The implication of QB Kirk Cousins’s two-year contract extension is the Vikings believe their championship window is still open. But as it stands, this team has three gaping holes in its starting lineup on both sides of the ball.
Offensively, it starts at wide receiver, following the Stefon Diggs trade. In-house replacement options Olabisi Johnson and Chad Beebe can be serviceable contributors off the bench, but a veritable No. 2 target must be found. Otherwise, Adam Thielen will encounter every form of double-team coverage imaginable in 2020. The other two holes are at guard. On the right side, veteran Josh Kline was cut. On the left side, an upgrade is needed, as 2017 third-rounder Pat Elflein has struggled mentally and physically. Minnesota is fully committed to its foundational outside zone blocking scheme, so whoever the Vikings draft here must be nimble and quick.
Defensively, Xavier Rhodes’s decline and release, and Trae Waynes’s and slot man Mackensie Alexander’s defections to Cincinnati leave the Vikings without their top three corners from past years. 2018 first-round pick Mike Hughes can comfortably take one of the starting spots, and maybe—MAYBE—fellow third-year pro, undrafted man Holton Hill, can take the other. Still, the Vikings would in the very least need a third guy, and probably a fourth, if not fifth, given Mike Zimmer’s penchant for rotating at this position. Hughes’s ability to play inside or outside at least gives Minnesota some flexibility in who they take.
The last need is at defensive end, where the departures of Everson Griffen and top backup Stephen Weatherly leave a void on the right side. 2017 seventh-rounder Ifeadi Odenigbo is ready for a bigger role, but ideally that’d be as a nickel defensive tackle. Even if the Vikings are comfortable with Odenigbo outside, they need to spell him with someone more dynamic than ex-Bill Eddie Yarbrough.
Top-100 Targets (Minnesota owns picks 22, 25, 58, 89 and 105): They could certainly fill two of those needs late in the first round. Among the receivers, LSU’s Tee Higgins would give them a big catch radius target opposite Thielen, while LSU’s Justin Jefferson would provide a wily possession target who could move around the formation. But with such great depth at receiver, it might make more sense to wait until that 58th pick to address the need, when they could pick up a pro-ready option like USC’s Michael Pittman Jr. or Florida’s Van Jefferson. It isn’t a great interior O-line class, but Michigan’s Cesar Ruiz is an ideal fit in their scheme and would be worth what some would consider a minor reach in the top 25. If they go cornerback with one of those first-round picks, Utah’s Jaylon Johnson would be able to step in as an immediate starter and potential future shutdown corner, while TCU’s Jeff Gladney is undersized but ultra-competitive, likely able to play the boundary as well as the slot. Virginia’s Bryce Hall is also polished and can handle Mike Zimmer’s scheme, even if his lack of long speed is not ideal. If they wait, among the NFL-ready corners potentially available mid-Day 2 are slot guys Amik Robertson of Louisiana Tech, Auburn’s Javaris Davis and Josiah Scott of Michigan State.
Much has been made about Atlanta’s offense being comprised entirely of former first-round picks. Impressive indeed, but still it’s not an offense without flaws. Though Russell Gage is respectable, Atlanta lacks a major slot weapon. At center, 34-year-old stalwart Alex Mack did not flash on film as much last season and is now in the final year of his contract. He’ll soon need to be replaced. And at running back, recently acquired ex-Ram Todd Gurley is a total tossup and, like his colleague, Brian Hill, will be a free agent in 2021. The Falcons may want to consider drafting another zone runner to pair long-term with Ito Smith.
But before that, urgent needs on defense must be address. The dismissal of cornerback Desmond Trufant leaves 2019 fourth-rounder Kendall Sheffield and 2018 second-rounder Isaiah Oliver as the starters outside. The speedy Sheffield became a full-time player by October of his rookie season, and the Falcons appear comfortable playing him either inside or outside, which was Trufant’s role years ago. Oliver is more of a wild card. In some games he has traveled with physical No. 1 receivers, but in others he has been kept out the base 4-3 lineup and demoted to just playing in nickel. As insurance here, and to provide another layer of depth so that slot corner Damontae Kazee can continue to moonlight at safety when need be, the Falcons must find a sturdy corner who has the long arms and ball-tracking ability that head coach Dan Quinn’s old Seahawks style Cover 3 scheme demands.
That scheme is also dependent on having a quality four-man rush. Inconsistency here is a big reason why the Falcons had just seven wins each of the last two years. Even if they are confident that 2017 first-rounder Takk McKinley can finally break out in Year 3 (and if they were, they probably would have exercised his fifth-year option already), they could use another edge bender to play opposite free agent pickup Dante Fowler. That’s a need they must address early, as is linebacker, where the depth behind Foyesade Oluokun and Deion Jones is nonexistent. Because the scheme calls for linebackers to sink back fairly deep in coverage, it’s imperative that whoever Atlanta gets here have the speed to eat up ground quickly when pursuing tackles after the catch.
Top-100 Targets (Atlanta owns picks 16, 47 and 78): The Falcons might have their choice of the non-Chase Young edge players and non-Jeff Okudah corners. LSU EDGE K’Lavon Chaisson, a pure burner (and, at this point, only a burner), would seem to fit better than Penn State’s Yetur Gross-Matos or Iowa’s A.J. Epenesa. Among the Round 1 corners, Florida’s C.J. Henderson and Utah’s Jaylon Johnson should both be considered if they’re available (and at least one of them should make it to 16). Alabama’s Trevon Diggs might be something of a reach in the top 20, but he has the physical profile (6′ 1″, 32 ¾-inch arms) to go along with enormous upside. If they hold off until Round 2, Clemson’s A.J. Terrell and Virginia’s Bryce Hall are a couple of long corners who could fall out of the top 40. As far as finding an heir apparent to Mack, Temple’s Matt Hennessy could make it to Pick 78. Day 2 slot receiver options would include dynamic-but-risky picks like Kentucky’s Lynn Bowden and Texas’s Devin Duvernay, or more polished guys like Vanderbilt’s Kajila Lipscomb and Ohio State’s K.J. Hill.
A full-scale rebuild is in order even though the Panthers just shelled out $33 million guaranteed for veteran QB Teddy Bridgewater. That move, most likely, was a function of GM Marty Hurney and new head coach Matt Rhule understanding that in order to rebuild most efficiently and effectively, it’s important to have at least a serviceable QB who can execute the designs that you’re trying to make foundational. Drafting seventh overall, behind QB-needy teams like the Bengals, Dolphins and Chargers, the Panthers understand they’d have to fork over too much long-term capital to get one of this draft’s marquee QBs. And so they’ll go with a Bridge(water) QB for now.
As for what this team needs around that QB…offensively, it had been more juice at wide receiver, until the signing of former Jet Robby Anderson. So now the focus can go to finding livelier interior offensive linemen who will afford Rhule and OC Joe Brady the schematic options in the ground game that they’re expected to lean on. A high-level tight end would also help both the run and pass game. With Greg Olsen’s release, Carolina’s current top tight end is 2018 fourth-rounder Ian Thomas, who can align almost anywhere in the formation but does not quite have the explosive traits to be a true No. 1.
On defense, 64-year-old coordinator Phil Snow has spent almost his entire career in college football (save for a four-year stint with the Lions from 2005-08, where he was part of a Tampa-2 zone-based scheme under head coach Rod Marinelli and defensive coordinator Joe Barry). No one outside the Panthers building can be completely sure right now what type of scheme, exactly, Snow will run.
Whatever he runs, he’s facing a tall order. His D-line needs more depth, both outside and especially inside. In Shaq Thompson and Tahir Whitehead he’ll at least have fast linebackers, but that doesn’t mean the sudden absence of Luke Kuechly won’t be felt. The secondary has just one clear-cut starting corner: boom or bust 2018 second-rounder Donte Jackson, who can cover faster receivers but also found himself on the bench for the last two weeks of 2019. At safety, free agent signing Juston Burris is worthy of a starting look (which his two-year, $8 million contract suggests he’ll get) but there are no proven options behind him and Tre Boston.
And so in short, the Panthers really can’t go wrong if they just take the best defensive player available throughout this draft.
Top-100 Targets (Carolina owns picks 7, 38 and 69): If Tua Tagovailoa or Justin Herbert make it to 7 the Panthers would have a decision on their hands. If they don’t, the seventh pick will likely come down to whomever falls between Clemson LB Isaiah Simmons, Ohio State CB Jeff Okudah and Auburn DT Derrick Brown. They could get a big corner to complement Jackson with the 38th pick—Clemson’s A.J. Terrell and Virginia’s Bryce Hall could both be available. Despite signing Matt Paradis last offseason, you wonder if Temple center Matt Hennessy, recruited by Rhule, could be an option in the third. Baylor DL James Lynch is another Day 2 prospect with direct ties to Rhule, having won Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year while playing for Rhule last season.
New Orleans Saints
This is the NFC’s most complete offense, affording New Orleans the luxury of drafting for the long-term. The notable contributors who are not under contract after this season are running back Alvin Kamara (whom the Saints will not let get away), flex man Taysom Hill (another likely “won’t let get away” guy), tight end Jared Cook and right guard Larry Warford. Drafting eventual replacements here would be prudent.
The defense is in equally great shape for 2020, with no major weak spots and athleticism at all three levels. Next year, All-Pro linebacker Demario Davis and the next top three guys in his unit are due for new contracts. So is free safety Marcus Williams, who is in the last year of his rookie deal. Williams will be a priority re-sign option, but it’s not clear if he’s worth franchise tagging. The Saints are already committed to Malcolm Jenkins at safety and, by this time next season, they’ll likely view budding star Chauncey Gardner-Johnson as a cornerstone player. Gardner-Johnson is on his rookie deal so perhaps there is still room to pay Williams, but drafting a versatile DB with centerfielding potential would give the Saints options and leverage here.
There are also expiring contracts for pass rushing defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins and backup defensive end Trey Hendrickson. It’s hard to go wrong with adding defensive line depth. Overall, the draft plan is clear: Get the best developmental defensive projects available. With just five picks in their holster, including no second-rounder, don’t be surprised if the Saints trade back to increase pick volume.
Top-100 Targets (New Orleans owns picks 24 and 88): Being short on draft capital is nothing new for the Saints. Michigan OL Cesar Ruiz would be a high-ceiling developmental prospect on the interior, or Notre Dame TE Cole Kmet could come in as Cook’s heir apparent. If they go with a deep safety to complement Gardner-Johnson longterm, LSU’s Grant Delpit is the right fit, as is raw-but-rangy Ashtyn Davis of Cal. Local OL product Lloyd Cushenberry of LSU would fit as a developmental prospect who can play anywhere on the interior, and would make a lot of sense if he falls to Round 3.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
You probably heard that the Bucs addressed their need at quarterback. Now their draft strategy should focus on finding ready-made players who can contribute right away. Part of the reason Tom Brady is here is the Bucs don’t have as many needs as a typical 7-9 team. Their top five picks last season were all spent on defense, and all five wound up playing meaningful roles as rookies, as the Bucs embraced the potholes one encounters when trudging down a whole new schematic path. That path’s destination is Blitzville, as coordinator Todd Bowles’s idea of a good day is one spent attacking quarterbacks. If the Bucs find that an athletic safety or man-to-man corner has unexpectedly fallen to them, they could pounce, but the priority for their picks is on offense—specifically, up front.
Starting right tackle Demar Dotson is gone. Former Colt Joe Haeg is a nice utility backup lineman but can’t be the answer for protecting Brady from edge rushers. One of the most interesting story lines in 2020 is whether Bruce Arians will alter his aggressive, deep-dropback passing game to help get the ball out of Brady’s hand quickly (and safely). Even if the 67-year-old coach makes this change, it’d still be wise to draft big here. (Think of it as taking out a premium insurance policy.)
After that, the need becomes wide receiver; the Bucs are great atop the depth chart (Mike Evans and Chris Godwin) but lacking high-pedigreed options beyond that.
Top-100 Targets (Tampa Bay owns picks 14, 45 and 76): In an ideal scenario, a tackle like Alabama’s Jedrick Wills or Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs falls to 14. If that doesn’t play out, they can address the secondary with Florida’s C.J. Henderson (if the scars of drafting fellow Gator Vernon Hargreaves aren’t too fresh) or Utah’s Jaylon Johnson. If they wait until Round 2 for O-line help, they can choose from the likes of TCU’s Lucas Niang or Connecticut’s Matt Peart. It’s a class that’s rich in the kind of Swiss army knife safeties Bowles loves. If they pass on Alabama’s Xavier McKinney and Minnesota’s Antoine Winfield Jr. early, Utah’s Terrell Burgess would be a nice addition on Day 2.
Last season head coach Kliff Kingsbury, who loves to play with four wide receivers, learned that in the NFL, you need at least one, and preferably two, quality tight ends. In Arizona’s case, those quality options must factor as run-blockers, too, since the ground game was largely why Kingsbury eventually eschewed some of his four-receiver sets in favor of more traditional personnel packages. And considering that DeAndre Hopkins and especially Larry Fitzgerald so often operate near the middle of the field, the Cardinals don’t necessarily need a versatile stud tight end. A serviceable receiver with sharp blocking tools (like what the Ravens have in Nick Boyle, for example) could do the trick. Incumbent tight end Maxx Williams is really more of a No. 2.
More important than rounding out the offense is improving a defense that last season gave up the most yards in the league. The quickest fix for a defense is almost always to add pass rushers. The Cardinals already have a great one in Chandler Jones, and they added a good one in free agent defensive tackle Jordan Phillips. But after that, things drop off. Getting the right pass rusher will require an early-round pick, but one route the Cards may want to consider is drafting a mid-round linebacker and moving incumbent backup linebacker Haason Reddick into a full-time pass-rushing role. Reddick played off the edge at Temple and has struggled with play recognition as an NFL linebacker, especially against the run.
Another fast way to improve the defense is to add either a versatile safety or a pure man-to-man corner. Both methods create more options for coverage disguises and blitz packages. Arizona has space available here, too, as Jalen Thompson should be challenged for his starting job, as should nickel corner Robert Alford, who showed hints of decline in 2018 with the Falcons and missed all of 2019 with a fractured tibia.
Top-100 Targets (Arizona owns picks 8 and 72): If there’s a scenario where Ohio State CB Jeff Okudah or Clemson’s Isaiah Simmons falls to 8 (due to three QBs and three OTs going in the top seven), that would be ideal. Otherwise they’ll likely have to reach for a speed rusher like LSU’s K’Lavon Chaisson (who might be a force down the line but enters the league quite raw). When they come up again in Round 3, the defensive backs should be enticing. One of the Utah safeties—raw but rangy Julian Blackmon and polished, versatile Terrell Burgess—could upgrade the secondary. Undersized CB Javaris Davis of Auburn, who can play inside and possibly the boundary, could be on the board. If they prefer a big corner to complement Byron Murphy long-term, Cameron Dantzler of Mississippi State and Florida State’s Stanford Samuels would fit.
Los Angeles Rams
The Rams’ approach to roster-building is very NBA-like. They allocate huge dollars for superstars at the top and then fill in the rest. It has mostly worked out well, but the challenge with the model is it’s difficult to keep second-level stars like linebacker Cory Littleton, defensive lineman Michael Brockers, edge man Dante Fowler and slot corner Nickell Robey-Coleman—all of whom got away in free agency. (Update: Actually Brockers is back.) The Rams also said goodbye to veterans Eric Weddle (retired) and Clay Matthews (released). And poof, just like that, most of their defense has changed.
Free agent signings A’Shawn Robinson and Leonard Floyd can at least fill the gaps of Brockers and Fowler. Littleton’s replacement is also, theoretically, on the roster (athletic ex-Raven Kenny Young, acquired in last season’s Marcus Peters trade), but considering Young didn’t get on the field defensively for the 2019 Rams, GM Les Snead will certainly want to find more options at this position. Linebackers are critical in new defensive coordinator Brandon Staley’s scheme, which is built on subtly disguised matchup zone concepts. Safety is another important position, which is why it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Rams snag one early and stay committed to playing with three safeties and one linebacker like they did under Wade Phillips. Last year’s second-round pick, safety Taylor Rapp, showed very encouraging flashes when aligned as a dime linebacker. If the Rams do go safety, ideally it’d be a rangy centerfielder since strong safety John Johnson is at his best when used as a versatile piece near the box.
It’s almost a given that L.A.’s draft capital will be spent predominantly on defense. It’ll be interesting to see how much (if any) goes into the offense. The team’s biggest problem last season was the inconsistency along the interior O-line. However, the Rams added left guard Austin Corbett midseason and might have reason for optimism in center Brian Allen, who was starting to turn a corner before tearing his MCL in Week 10. And with right tackle Rob Havenstein back, the Rams now have a utility piece in 2019 third-rounder Bobby Evans, who had some bright moments filling in. Given that the Rams can be optimistic about their O-line bouncing back, and given that most of their skill position players are set, it’s possible they could spend all of their draft picks this year on defense. The only thing that could prevent that is wide receiver Cooper Kupp is scheduled for free agency in 2021. Knowing they likely can’t afford him, Robert Woods AND Brandin Cooks, the Rams may want to tap into this year’s deep receiver draft class.
Top-100 Targets (Rams own picks 52, 84 and 104): Sitting outside the top 50, they’ll have trouble finding surefire contributors for 2020. Oregon’s Troy Dye and Colorado’s Davion Taylor are the best coverage linebackers among the second tier at that position, but both have shortcomings as run defenders. The safety class is interesting; California’s Ashtyn Davis and Utah’s Julian Blackmon are both rangy and have potential as centerfielders, but can you trust either on the back end as a rookie? (And will Davis even escape the top 50?)
San Francisco 49ers
When you reach the Super Bowl, your “needs” are usually more about handling logistics than correcting prior weaknesses. For example, the Niners need a guard because their 2019 starter, Mike Person, was released. Tom Compton was signed to fill that void but a more talented prospect to challenge for the job—or at least develop behind Compton—would be appropriate. They also need a wide receiver since successful rental starter Emmanuel Sanders is now in New Orleans. (Recent pickup Travis Benjamin is a “20 snaps a game” speed specialist type.) Kyle Shanahan values wideouts who have the change-of-direction quickness to run routes precisely and to separate.
On defense, the loss of defensive tackle DeForest Buckner is obviously significant, and Buckner’s dark horse replacement candidate, 2018 seventh-round pick Jullian Taylor, is coming off a late December ACL tear. Even if Taylor is back by September, it’s unreasonable to assume he will automatically play with the same outstanding leverage and short-area quickness that he showed in 2019. With unheralded nose shade tackle D.J. Jones also in a contract year, the Niners might invest multiple picks at defensive tackle.
Other players in contract years include cornerbacks Richard Sherman, Ahkello Witherspoon, K’Waun Williams and Emmanuel Moseley (RFA in 2021), as well as strong safety Jaquiski Tartt. Or, to put it more succinctly: the secondary. Re-signing versatile DB Jimmie Ward was very wise; the next move is finding young guys for Ward to play with in the coming years. San Francisco’s secondary aligns in a lot of subtly blurry looks, but once the ball is snapped, the scheme is pretty straightforward. That’s because the Niners want to play fast. Whoever they draft in the early rounds will almost certainly have above average speed.
Top-100 Targets (San Francisco owns picks 13 and 31): Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy is a perfect schematic fit, though they can’t go wrong with Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb at 13, with LSU’s Justin Jefferson a solid option if the top two are gone. They’re a prime candidate to trade down with one of their first-round picks considering they have no selections between 31 and 156. If they stay at 31, they’ll have a good shot at a disruptive DT (TCU’s Ross Blacklock or Texas A&M’s Justin Madubuike), or a long, fast cornerback (Alabama’s Trevon Diggs, Clemson’s A.J. Terrell or LSU’s Kristian Fulton).
Seattle’s offense has become steadier since Pete Carroll and coordinator Brian Schottenheimer firmly committed to the ground game two years ago. A run-first approach better lends itself to the downfield deep shots that Russell Wilson throws so well, and it still leaves room for Wilson to go into sandlot mode, where he’s most magical. A strong offensive line is critical for keeping this intact. Ex-Jet Brandon Shell is a decent option at right tackle but would be a No. 3 tackle on many teams. And the same sort of mantra applies to ex-Steelers guard B.J. Finney, whom the Seahawks signed for two years, $8 million ($4.5 million guaranteed). Finney will compete with 2017 second-rounder Ethan Pocic for playing time, but if the Seahawks came across a prospect they love, they should pounce—especially given that they’ve put six offensive linemen on the field more than any team in each of the last two years.
Before that, though, more firepower must be added to a pass rush that bordered on anemic at times last season. Defensive coordinator Ken Norton did a nice job camouflaging this with select pressure packages, but Seattle’s preferred style is still to play fundamentally sound zone coverage, which only works if edge rushers can disrupt the quarterback. Bruce Irvin is back after four years in Oakland/Atlanta/Carolina, but ideally you want him in a situational role. Opposite Irvin, last year’s first-round pick, L.J. Collier, is somewhat of a mystery after injuries stunted his initial development as a rookie.
Seattle must also search for a cornerback, preferably one who can play the slot, which would bring back the nickel sub-package that Norton and Carroll often eschewed in favor of playing in base 4-3 personnel. Keeping three linebackers on the field when the offense goes with three receivers all but compels a defense to play zone coverage. Zone coverage is the Seahawks’ foundation, yes, but this D in recent years has been at its best when it steadily mixes in snaps of man-to-man.
Top-100 Targets (Seattle owns picks 27, 59, 64 and 101): John Schneider, of course, trades down every year, but if they stay at 27 there’s a good chance one of the edge rushers, Penn State’s Yetur Gross-Matos or Iowa’s A.J. Epenesa, will be on the board. Neither is a true edge burner, but Gross-Matos is excellent on twists and stunts and Epenesa can reduce inside on passing downs. The “Seattle-style” long corners available late Day 1 and early Day 2 are Alabama’s Trevon Diggs and Virginia’s Bryce Hall (and Auburn’s Noah Igbinoghene is close, with arms that fall a quarter-inch short of the 32-inch barrier). The late second round will have zone-blocking options for the offensive line, when prospects like Louisiana’s Robert Hunt, LSU’s Saahdiq Charles and Temple’s Matt Hennessy should be available.
With the trade for Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs having addressed Buffalo’s only notable need on offense, GM Brandon Beane and head coach Sean McDermott can shift their focus to their defense, which last season played like the single best-coached unit in football. That unit, however, lost arguably its best defensive lineman (certainly best interior lineman, at least) when free agent defensive tackle Jordan Phillips signed with Arizona. This puts the Bills in play for a defensive tackle should they come across one they absolutely love, but considering that they’ve added deceptively versatile ex-Seahawk Quinton Jefferson and former Panthers first-round pick Vernon Butler, it’s unlikely Beane and McDermott will reach for anyone at this position. An upgrade specifically at nose tackle could be in order, except pricey incumbent veteran Star Lotulelei cannot be dismissed cheaply for another two years.
And so the target becomes defensive end. Come Week 1, top edge rushers Mario Addison and Jerry Hughes will be 33 and 32 respectively; investing multiple picks at their position would make sense. The Bills will also look closely at cornerbacks. Levi Wallace has overachieved in Buffalo’s zone scheme, but not enough to fully stabilize the No. 2 corner spot. Perhaps recently signed ex-Panther Josh Norman can fill the role, but even so, the 32-year-old is coming off a lackluster 2019 season in Washington and is under contract for just this season.
Top-100 Targets (Buffalo owns picks 54 and 86): It’s a thin class of edge players, meaning guys who might slip to Round 2 some years (Iowa’s A.J. Epenesa, Penn State’s Yetur Gross-Matos) will likely be gone by the time Buffalo is on the clock. Auburn’s Marlon Davidson is rock solid and fits the culture in Buffalo, while Syracuse’s Alton Robinson is a little more risk/reward but could be dynamic rushing the passer. Among the Day 2 corners, Virginia’s Bryce Hall seems like a perfect fit schematically, or maybe they wait and catch one of the big corners who disappointed in workouts (not unlike Norman): Mississippi State’s Cam Dantzler or Oklahoma State’s A.J. Green.
We can debate whether QB Josh Rosen has truly had a fair shake so far in his NFL career, but what’s clear is the Dolphins do not feel he is The Guy. And because 37-year-old journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick is also not The Guy (at least not long-term), quarterback becomes Miami’s top need. But let’s say, for the sake of discussion, that Fitzpatrick is the starter in 2020. How does the roster around him look?
Offensively, the additions of left guard Ereck Flowers and center Ted Karras should at least allow the Dolphins to get out from under some of the flimsy screen passes that shoddy O-line play often compelled them to rely on last year. But for this offense to feel completely comfortable with its entire playbook, upgrades must also occur at offensive tackle; projected starters Julién Davenport and Jesse Davis are both better suited for utility backup roles.
A quick skill position player or two would also behoove Miami. As it stands, aside from Albert Wilson, none of these skill players are capable of consistently creating their own space. The games of receivers DeVante Parker, Preston Williams and tight end Mike Gesicki are more predicated on size. Same goes for bruising ex-Bear/Eagle tailback Jordan Howard. And No. 2 back Kalen Ballage? None of his 74 carries last season gained more than 8 yards, as he became the first player in the modern era to rush 60-plus times and average under 2.0 yards per carry. This offense needs a quick, shifty running back or wide receiver.
Defensively, underappreciated ex-Patriot Kyle Van Noy buttresses a Dolphins pass rush that, at times last season, bordered on pathetic. Van Noy will never be mistaken for Von Miller, but he’s more bendable off the edge than people realize. Plus, he is great at all the little things that don’t show up on paper but make a difference. Still, the Dolphins need a true pass rusher opposite Van Noy. Free agent pickup Shaq Lawson had 6.5 sacks and 13 TFLs for Buffalo last season, but an absurdly high percentage of those were circumstantial plays that fell into his lap.
Dolphins head coach Brian Flores is trying to implement a Patriots-style scheme. That approach is uniquely unbeholden to great pass rushers, but just because your pass rushers don’t need high ceilings doesn’t mean they can have low floors.
Flores could look to fortify the pass rush by finding more Van Noy-like hybrid linebackers who can serve as standup interior rushers. (Like what Dont’a Hightower has become for the Patriots.) Intelligent players capable of executing complex blitzes will be key. With the Dolphins making ex-Cowboy Byron Jones the NFL’s highest paid cornerback just 10 months after signing Xavien Howard to a deal worth $39 million guaranteed, it’s clear they’re intent on playing as much iso-man coverage as possible, which suggests their pressure concepts will be aggressive and multiple.
Top-100 Targets (Miami owns picks 5, 18, 26, 39, 56 and 70): The Dolphins have enough draft capital to get pretty much anywhere they want in Round 1—the trouble is that they might have to jump up a few spots to get their desired QB target (presumably Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa, though it wouldn’t be a shock if they targeted Oregon’s Justin Herbert), but outstanding crop of offensive line talent will likely be gone by the time Pick 18 comes around. That leaves them looking at second-tier prospects like Georgia’s Isaiah Wilson (this is a staff of New England expats, and in New England they love massive right tackles and UGa products) and Boise State’s Ezra Cleveland. As far as pass-rush help, Wisconsin’s Zack Baun and Alabama’s Terrell Lewis fit the bill as versatile, savvy edge players.
New England Patriots
It’s hard to believe that “quarterback” is being discussed in a Patriots “team needs” blurb, but here we are. If the Patriots go with Jarrett Stidham, you’ll hear dozens of anecdotes this summer about how the second-year pro is the diamond in the rough that Bill Belichick found in Round 4. And maybe he is; few coaches have a better track record of finding quality mid- and late-round quarterbacks. But veteran Brian Hoyer will get a legitimate crack at the starting job, given that Belichick would likely prefer a QB with a higher floor instead of gambling on a young guy. Either way, the Patriots are likely in the market to draft a high-caliber QB at some point in the near future.
But it might not matter who plays QB if this offense is hamstrung by a slapdash receiving corps like it was in 2019. Even if last year’s first-round pick N’Keal Harry takes a quantum leap in Year Two, there’s still a glaring lack of vertical speed across the board. Opposing free safeties might as well play 12 yards off the ball. No offense has been better at adjusting its system around its receivers’ skill sets than New England. Obviously, some of that was the Tom Brady factor, but if you’re building the roster, you’d be wise to assume that this trend of schematic flexibility will continue under offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. And so the Patriots can ignore “style of play” and simply take the best wide receiver and tight end on the board at some point in the early rounds and shape their offense from there.
Of course, it might be hard to stockpile receiving talent considering that the defensive front is now minus stout linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins, as well as nose tackle Danny Shelton. But the beauty of New England’s defensive scheme is, up front, it values brains and brawn over speed and quickness. Brains and brawn can usually be found in the middle rounds.
Top-100 Targets (New England owns picks 23, 87, 98 and 100): If it’s about deep speed, Alabama’s Henry Ruggs III would be a gift at 23, though he might not be on the board. New England might sit back until Round 3 where someone is likely to fall, though they might be looking at a Year 1 redshirt with guys like Notre Dame’s Chase Claypool or Baylor’s Denzel Mims. Notre Dame’s Cole Kmet is the most complete tight end available and, while late-first might be a reach, he won’t make it to Round 3. Ohio State’s Malik Harrison seems like a Patriots-style linebacker. At quarterback, don’t be surprised if they pass on a developmental guy like Utah State’s Jordan Love and instead go with Georgia’s Jake Fromm, who won’t wow anyone with physical talent but can handle an expansive playbook early, comes from a Belichick-approved program, and has overachieved before.
New York Jets
Gregg Williams does two things about as frequently as any defensive coordinator: blitz, and play Cover 2. And at times last season he did both simultaneously. (It was an extremely unique combination that involved rushing cornerbacks from both edges.) The beauty of Cover 2 is it gives your corners help over the top. That’s important when one of your nickel outside corners is either 2019 sixth-rounder Bless Austin or undrafted fourth-year man Arthur Maulet. But Williams’s variegated Cover 2 concept asks cornerbacks to sometimes rush the passer or roll back to safety. And when Williams is just blitzing straight up, his corners are inherently counted on to play iso-man outside. That makes the cornerback job too significant to leave in the hands of low-round and undrafted players. The Jets addressed one corner spot by signing ex-Colt Pierre Desir, an accomplished press defender who was available because of a bad finish to the 2019 season.
That said, New York’s need at wide receiver might still be bigger. Even if free agent Robby Anderson is retained, the Jets still need a Z-receiver who can flex around the formation and win at the intermediate levels. And considering the team can save $10.5 million in cap space next offseason by cutting Jamison Crowder, they might keep an eye out for a long-term slot option. Plus, if Anderson is not retained, then the Jets are relying on ex-Redskin Josh Doctson or backup Vyncint Smith to fill the all-important X-receiver duties. In short, the Jets can go after any type of receiver imaginable.
Top-100 Targets (Jets own picks 11, 48, 68 and 79): Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb might make it to 11, and he fits the bill as a potential No. 1 receiver. Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy does too, albeit as a different style of receiver than Lamb, an undersized, absurdly quick route-running maestro. (If they wait until Day 2 to address receiver, could they take Florida’s Van Jefferson, son of receivers coach Shawn Jefferson?) The Jets can probably wait until Day 2 and take their pick of second-tier corners. There’s a chance Clemson’s A.J. Terrell or LSU’s Kristian Fulton could fall into the middle of the second. As could Virginia’s Bryce Hall, though stylistically he might be too similar to Desir. If they’re patient, Auburn’s Noah Igbinoghene, a converted receiver, could end up a Day 2 find.
None of Baltimore’s needs are dire, but all are definite. Start with the defense. If the season began today, Baltimore would trot out at linebacker ex-Steeler L.J. Fort, who is competitive and quick but not a true three-down player, and undrafted third-year pro Chris Board, who was prone to mental mistakes in the few snaps he got last season.
Defensive back is also a consideration. The recent re-signings of cornerback Jimmy Smith and safety Anthony Levine make Baltimore once again deep enough here, but it’s imperative to always be cultivating talent here because, even with Matt Judon being franchise-tagged and veteran superstar Calais Campbell coming aboard, the Ravens are not rich in natural pass rushers. Thus, they must generate pressure schematically, which requires defensive backs who are smart enough to disguise looks and talented enough to cover without help.
It’d be a mid-round corner because the early round picks are likely to be spent offensively. Lamar Jackson needs a true No. 1 wide receiver, preferably a big-bodied perimeter specialist, allowing diminutive speedster Hollywood Brown to play a DeSean Jackson-type No. 2 role. For most teams, tight ends like Mark Andrews (a premier receiver) and Nick Boyle (a highly versatile run-blocker) would be enough, but Baltimore’s uniquely diverse ground game requires three good bodies here. And so a replacement is needed for Hayden Hurst, who was recently dealt to Atlanta. A replacement also must be found for right guard Marshal Yanda, who retired despite coming off another outstanding season in 2019. Ben Powers was drafted in the fourth round a year ago but lost out on a starting job last training camp to 2018 sixth-rounder Bradley Bozeman. Bozeman has blossomed into a quality on-the-move run-blocker but doesn’t possess the most dynamic traits. Given this, and that Baltimore’s diverse ground game asks a lot in terms of movement at right guard, a failure to replace Yanda could really hinder this offense.
Top-100 Targets (Baltimore owns picks 28, 55, 60, 92 and 106): It’s not a great linebacker class, but there’s a chance one of the top two will make it to the end of Round 1. LSU’s Patrick Queen was just scratching the surface of his immense potential last year and could be a three-down stud, while Oklahoma’s Kenneth Murray is a run-and-chase athlete but can be slow to process. The best of the second-tier LBs, Ohio State’s Malik Harrison and Wyoming’s Logan Wilson, have limitations in coverage. A theme in this draft is the depth at wide receiver, so even if Baltimore passes on someone like Clemson’s Tee Higgins in Round 1, on Day 2 they could have their choice of big receivers like Notre Dame’s Chase Claypool (a better version of 2019 third-round pick Miles Boykin, also out of Notre Dame), South Carolina’s Bryan Edwards or Liberty’s Antonio Gandy-Golden. The draft is short on athletic interior linemen—if neither linebacker is available late in the first, maybe Michigan’s Cesar Ruiz is the pick. On Day 2, the possibilities include Clemson’s John Simpson, powerful but not a great fit in Baltimore, LSU’s Lloyd Cushenberry, or perhaps they see Louisiana’s Robert Hunt as a guard rather than a tackle.
Despite some of the drama surrounding it, let’s consider the Joe Burrow pick to be in the books. What do the Bengals need around Burrow? A better offensive line, for one. At times last season, limitations up front prevented Cincy’s outside-zone-based offense from even functioning. Getting 2019 first-rounder Jonah Williams healthy at left tackle should help. And one figures that 2019 fourth-round guard Michael Jordan will be better in Year Two. But that’s not a given, and the Bengals are still also rolling the dice at center (Trey Hopkins), right guard (Xavier Su’a-Filo) and right tackle (Bobby Hart). Individually, these guys have all played well for notable stretches in their careers, but mostly in fill-in starter type roles. Fill-in starters don’t look so good when they’re surrounded by other fill-in starters and asked to play full-time. The Bengals wouldn’t be wrong to simply draft the best offensive lineman on the board once or twice early on.
But before that, they may feel compelled to snatch a linebacker. This was perhaps the one position that was weaker than the O-line in 2019, which is why starters Nick Vigil and Preston Brown are now gone. (Brown was released late last season, in fact.) Last year’s third-round pick, Germaine Pratt, figures to fill one of the spots. He was touted for his coverage prowess coming out of North Carolina State, though it’s somewhat disconcerting that he didn’t garner a more significant role earlier last season when the desperation for linebacker help was first apparent. Pratt got notable action in the second half of the season and his performance drew mixed reviews. Of course, this season, Pratt will have the benefit of playing behind ex-Texans nose tackle D.J. Reader, who was signed to a four-year, $53 million free agent deal. Reader’s presence can help Pratt—and whoever is alongside him—immensely in run defense.
Top-100 Targets (Cincinnati owns picks 1, 33 and 65): They’ll almost certainly take Joe Burrow with the top pick. Moving on to Day 2, Michigan OL Cesar Ruiz is an outside-zone prospect who would probably be an immediate upgrade at any of the interior spots, though addressing the tackle spot opposite Jonah Williams might be the higher priority. Houston’s Josh Jones and Georgia’s Isaiah Wilson are high-ceiling developmental guys who could both end up available with the first pick of the second round, as could Boise State’s Ezra Cleveland. Finesse left tackle Austin Jackson and impressive-but-raw Prince Tega Wanogho and LSU’s Saahdiq Charles would fit the mold. LSU interior lineman Lloyd Cushenberry becomes an option with the first pick of Round 3. If they turn to the linebackers there (assuming neither LSU’s Patrick Queen nor Oklahoma’s Kenneth Murray make it to the 33rd pick), Ohio State’s Malik Harrison makes sense as a thumper to complement Pratt.
It might be tempting for the Browns to play mega free agent signee Jack Conklin at left tackle, where the departure of unreliable veteran Greg Robinson has exacerbated the need for help at that position. But moving the career-long right tackle Conklin to the left side would be a mistake. Because Conklin played so well last year, it’s easy to forget his enormous inconsistency as a pass-blocker in Years 1-3 of his career. That inconsistency is why the Browns were even able to sign Conklin in the first place; if the 2016 first-round pick had played anywhere near his 2019 level in prior years, the Titans would have exercised his fifth-year option. Conklin redefined himself last season by altering his mechanics, including his stance. Moving him to the left side would offset some of the tremendous growth he achieved in 2019. And remember, in today’s NFL, the difference between right tackle and left tackle is negligible. It’d be unwise to move an expensive player under the notion that left tackle is a more important position than right tackle.
This draft is top-heavy at offensive tackle. Tapping into that would not only fortify both edges of the offensive line, giving Baker Mayfield his best chance at recapturing some of the magic he teased as a rookie, it would also enable Chris Hubbard, one of the NFL’s smallest offensive tackles, to compete with Wyatt Teller for the starting job at right guard. With stalwarts like center J.C. Tretter and left guard Joel Bitonio already in place, the Browns’ O-line could suddenly jump from the bottom to top shelf. Imagine that with skill weapons like Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry, Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt.
Defensively, there are fewer needs than you’d guess for a unit that ranked 20th in points allowed last year. Safety would be one. Newcomers Andrew Sendejo and Karl Joseph play with the downhill aggression that new defensive coordinator Joe Woods and his pass D coordinator Jeff Howard will demand, but both are signed for just one year and have recent history with injuries. Getting a third option here—preferably a three-down starter—would add valuable security.
Staying in the middle of the defense but one level lower, at linebacker, you find Cleveland’s other area of need following the departure of Joe Schobert. 2019 fifth-round pick Mack Wilson’s surprising improvements in coverage last season have taken the edge off this need, but are the Browns comfortable with 2019 third-rounder Sione Takitaki assuming a three-down role? If they’re not, then finding a quality pass coverage linebacker becomes critical, as the Browns’ the potential lack of depth at safety means in pass situations they’ll have to play nickel (two linebackers) instead of dime (just one linebacker).
Top-100 Targets (Cleveland owns picks 10, 41, 74 and 97): If Conklin is indeed staying on the right side, the two top OT prospects with experience on the left side are Louisville’s Mekhi Becton (massive and nimble) and Georgia’s Andrew Thomas (exceedingly nimble). Alabama’s Jedrick Wills and Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs both played the right side in college. The safety position gets interesting on Day 2, where Minnesota’s Antoine Winfield Jr. is a versatile piece to enter the league as a third safety, while dynamic-but-raw centerfielder Ashtyn Davis and Senior Bowl and combine star Kyle Dugger out of Division II Lenoir-Rhyne would make outstanding developmental picks. Or could LSU’s Grant Delpit, thought to be a surefire first-rounder before a junior year marked by injuries and shaky tackling, fall out of the top 40? Similarly, rangy but raw linebackers Troy Dye of Oregon (needs to prove he can handle NFL physicality) and Davion Taylor of Colorado (undersized track star who came to the sport late in life) are Round 3 possibilities in a thin position group but might be a year away from contributing.
Ben Roethlisberger’s return fulfills Part A of improving this passing attack. Getting him a reliable weapon opposite JuJu Smith-Schuster would be Part B. The Steelers can be (mostly) pleased with receiver Diontae Johnson’s growth as a rookie and they shouldn’t give up on 2018 speedster James Washington quite yet, but this team’s Super Bowl window is now, while Roethlisberger is still here, the defense is loaded and the O-line is stable. The blunt truth is Pittsburgh can’t put those hopes in the hands of an incumbent receiving corps that far too often last season could not compete against press-man coverage.
GM Kevin Colbert must also get out in front in maintaining that “stable” offensive line. A replacement is needed for retired veteran Ramon Foster. Stefen Wisniewski, who is slated to start there now, is a fallback option. It would be prudent to find a new offensive tackle, too, since starters Alejandro Villanueva and Matt Feiler are in contract years and coming off hot-and-cold seasons in pass protection. Feiler got a few snaps at left guard in 2019, so a quality rookie right tackle could perhaps kick him inside, killing two birds with one stone.
As for that loaded defense, it is minus one outstanding nose tackle in Javon Hargrave, who recently signed a big free agent deal in Philadelphia
. The trade for Baltimore’s Chris Wormley fills some of the void, but Wormley doesn’t have the athleticism to execute designer run stunts and pass rushing twists like Hargrave could.
At cornerback, the Steelers are set for 2020 with Joe Haden on the left and Steven Nelson on the right. But in 2021, Nelson is slated to cost $14.4 million against the cap. Nelson has improved, particularly against deep balls, since his days with the Chiefs, but it’s hard to justify that kind of cap number for someone who is no more than a No. 2 corner. The Steelers could shave more than $8 million off that cap hit by cutting Nelson in 2021.
Top-100 Targets (Pittsburgh owns picks 49 and 102): They have no first-rounder due to the Minkah Fitzpatrick trade, which they’re surely fine with, especially because there are receivers to be had on Day 2. Among the most pro-ready are USC’s Michael Pittman Jr., though his skillset might be too similar to Smith-Schuster’s. South Carolina’s Bryan Edwards and Florida’s Van Jefferson are also potential early-impact wideouts. Replacing Javon Hargrave is a tall order, but late on Day 2 Ohio State’s Davon Hamilton could help as a rotational player, or they could try to mold someone like Arkansas’s McTelvin Agim, who played end early in his career before moving inside. As far as developmental boundary corners go on Day 2, Auburn’s Noah Igbinoghene, a converted receiver with track star athleticism (and bloodlines), Notre Dame’s Troy Pride and Florida State’s Stanford Samuels come to mind.
Assuming left tackle Laremy Tunsil gets signed long-term sometime in the near future, every notable player on Houston’s offense is locked up through at least the next two years…except for wide receivers Kenny Stills and Will Fuller. Neither is likely to be outlandishly expensive to re-sign, but Fuller fits the profile of a player who gets away in free agency; he’s not quite good enough to franchise tag but will garner inflated money on the open market because all it takes is one team to be gaga over his speed. The Texans would be wise to draft some wide receiver insurance, preferably an immediate contributor given DeAndre Hopkins’s departure and Fuller’s history with injuries. With this being such a rich wide receiver draft class, head coach/GM Bill O’Brien can wait until the middle rounds.
The more immediate task is restocking the defensive front. Losing nose tackle D.J. Reader hurts, especially for a team whose best linebacker (Zach Cunningham) is the type of lithe run-and-chase tackler who must be kept clean. Brandon Dunn can be a serviceable replacement for Reader, but it would still behoove the Texans to find one more guy. Whoever it is must be nimble. The Texans run a 3-4 on paper, but like most 3-4 defenses today, once the ball is snapped they actually employ a lot of the one-gap principles of a 4-3. A nimble defensive lineman is important, but because he’ll be needed on first and second downs—where Reader did his best work—he must also be big. “Nimble and big” is a rare combination, which could be difficult for the Texans to find given that their first pick is not until No. 40.
Perhaps just as important: The Texans need another pass rusher. When J.J. Watt was out last year, quarterbacks had all day to throw against this D. Houston currently features a 3-2 dime package that often has linebacker Benardrick McKinney serve as a fourth stand-up rusher. McKinney is a sturdy player but that’s not his natural role.
Top-100 Targets (Houston owns picks 40, 57 and 90): It’s a strong interior D-line class (as it seems to be every year), and there’s a good chance someone like Missouri’s Jordan Elliott, who could likely help fill the void left by Reader, will be on the board at 40. They’d also likely consider developmental guys Justin Madubuike of Texas A&M and Neville Gallimore of Oklahoma, though they are more one-gap penetrators. If they’re looking for immediate help at receiver, USC’s Michael Pittman Jr. and Minnesota’s Tyler Johnson both have contested-catch ability. For help off the edge on Day 2, they can roll the dice on a high-ceiling prospect with durability concerns, like Alabama’s Terrell Lewis or Notre Dame’s Julian Okwara. Syracuse’s Alton Robinson and Florida’s Jonathan Greenard could also provide good value on the second day.
Neither Philip Rivers nor Jacoby Brissett is under contract after this season, which puts “quarterback” on Indianapolis’s list of needs. But Rivers is here because the Colts are going all-in in 2020. One must figure that will influence how GM Chris Ballard uses his first few draft picks. That first pick—13th overall—was already spent in the trade for 49ers defensive tackle DeForest Buckner. That was a wise move, even if the Colts also had to make Buckner the highest-paid defensive tackle not named Aaron Donald. Buckner can make defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus more comfortable with calling the four-man rush concepts that he desires.
That four-man rush could use a little more juice off the edges. Indy’s second-best pass rusher is either Justin Houston or 2018 second-rounder Kemoko Turay, depending on your outlook. Both are sound, but neither is quite a pure speed-bender. Of course, since the Colts also invested a second-round pick in their D-line in 2018 (Tyquan Lewis) and 2019 (Ben Banogu), it’s possible they’ll prioritize finding a corner, especially after releasing veteran Pierre Desir, who had a bad finish to the 2019 season. Eberflus runs a predominantly zone-based scheme, even when he blitzes (which is more often than you’d think). But because unheralded star Kenny Moore has the slot defender duties locked up for the next several years, whoever Indy drafts at corner will play outside, which means he must be sound in his man coverage technique. Something to keep in mind: Almost all of Indy’s cornerbacks have at least 32-inch arms.
Shifting back to offense, one thing the Colts need and don’t have is a receiving tight end. (They let Eric Ebron walk in free agency.) Their top two tight ends, Jack Doyle and Mo Alie-Cox, are both quality all-around players, but head coach Frank Reich does a lot with three-tight end packages.
Top-100 Targets (Indianapolis owns picks 34, 44 and 75): Alabama’s Trevon Diggs, Virginia’s Bryce Hall, Clemson’s A.J. Terrell and Auburn’s Noah Igbinoghene are what Indy looks for in corners and each has a chance to fall to Round 2. Athletic tight ends will be available on the second day, including Washington’s Hunter Bryant and Florida Atlantic’s Harrison Bryant. And if they’re looking for juice in the pass rush, Syracuse’s Alton Robinson and the Florida’s Jonathan Greenard have the potential to become dynamic edge burners.
The Jags still have an NFL-quality roster, but with salary cap woes forcing them into a significant rebuilding effort, it’d be quicker to state the needs they don’t have: offensive line and linebacker.
Everything else is in play. It’ll be interesting to see the types of players Jacksonville picks. Head coach Doug Marrone is back but is automatically on the hot seat for the simple reason that the hot seat is where every coach goes who has suffered back-to-back double-digit-loss seasons. If Marrone is discharged, most of his staff will be too, and Jacksonville could be looking at new schemes on both sides of the ball. Knowing that they almost made a coaching change last season, does Jacksonville’s front office just draft the most talented prospects possible, hoping they can fit in any system? Or, do they plan for the best and go about things as if Marrone is sticking around long-term, in which case their draft decisions would take “scheme fit” into consideration? (Every team says they ignore scheme fit and only consider taking the best player on the board, but that’s mostly just lip-service. Scheme fit matters.)
If the Jags are drafting for Marrone’s system, which is coordinated by Jay Gruden on offense and Todd Wash on defense, then they need receivers and tight ends with reliable route running acumen (Gruden’s designs can take it from there) and defenders with the speed and quickness to fill out a mostly straightforward zone scheme that’s predicated on out-executing opponents. If there are a few defenders the Jags admire equally, the nod goes to whichever one most amplifies the four-man pass rush, as that’s what ultimately determines a 4-3 zone scheme’s efficacy.
Top-100 Targets (Jacksonville owns picks 9, 20, 42 and 73): Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy is a fit in Gruden’s offense and a fine complement for D.J. Chark. They might also be able to get LSU’s Justin Jefferson if they hold off on a receiver until Pick 20. If they address the pass rush in Round 1, Penn State’s Yetur Gross-Matos fits with that 20th pick; if they wait until Day 2, Syracuse’s Alton Robinson and Florida’s Jonathan Greenard make sense. Alabama’s Trevon Diggs and Utah’s Jaylon Johnson are both fits in Wash’s version of the Cover-3, as is Virginia’s Bryce Hall if they wait until Round 2.
The closest thing the Titans have to a glaring need on offense is at right tackle, where a replacement must be found for departed free agent Jack Conklin. Veteran Dennis Kelly is slated for that job right now, and he’s serviceable enough that you can run your full offense when he’s in. But ideally, Kelly is your swing tackle and your starter is someone with the high-level quickness and agility to accentuate the outside zone run-blocking that offensive coordinator Arthur Smith’s system is built on.
One other “need” that could be sitting in the tall grass is running back. Yes, Derrick Henry is back on a franchise tag deal, and yes, his punishing downhill running was a huge reason why the Titans reached the AFC championship last year. But Henry will be 27 years old when the 2021 season kicks off. By that point he’ll have run the ball well over 1,000 times in the NFL, after having run it over 600 times in college. And with such a bruising running style, 1,600 runs for Derrick Henry is probably equivalent to about 2,000 runs for someone else. So, knowing this, and knowing what happened with Todd Gurley in L.A. and David Johnson in Arizona, will the Titans really be willing to invest huge long-term money here?
Defensively, one of the biggest losses in free agency that no one is talking about is slot corner Logan Ryan. (Who, incredibly¸ remains unsigned.) Ryan was an integral part of Tennessee’s nickel and dime pressure packages, as well as many of the zone coverage disguises that define this defense. There’s probably not a rookie corner in this draft who has anything close to Ryan’s football IQ—at least not right away. But for this to remain a complex defense, it must have a studin the slot. What might prevent the Titans from picking a corner is their need for additional D-line depth now that they’ve said goodbye to Jurrell Casey, Austin Johnson and Brent Urban.
Top-100 Targets (Tennessee owns picks 29, 61 and 93): Boise State’s Ezra Cleveland would be an ideal replacement for Conklin at the end of Round 1, with TCU’s Lucas Niang a potential consolation prize. If they go with a corner in Round 1, TCU’s Jeff Gladney could play the slot or potentially hold up on the boundary. There should be some corners with slot potential available on Day 2, including Ohio State’s Damon Arnette. If they’re lining up a 2021 replacement for Henry, 245-pound A.J. Dillon, who ran behind Mike Vrabel’s son Tyler at Boston College, brings similar size and style.
Many were encouraged by the promise and short-term growth that Drew Lock showed in five starts as a rookie last season in Denver. Now the mission is to put better resources around him. The offensive line, which struggled, has new starters in three spots: right guard (Elijah Wilkinson, moving inside from tackle), right tackle (Ja’Wuan James, who arrived last year but missed 13 games) and center (Graham Glasgow, a free agent signing). Most likely the Broncos will not consider offensive line closely in the early rounds of this draft, but it’d be hard to criticize GM John Elway for pouncing if a talented blocker falls.
Before that, though, Elway will have hopefully found some targets for Lock. If Courtland Sutton is not already a true No. 1 receiver, he’s on the precipice. However, he’s the only true starting quality wideout on the roster. Finding a flexible Z-receiver who can move around the formation would do wonders. The Broncos could also use a second tight end to challenge free agent pickup Nick Vannett. Last year’s first-round pick, Noah Fant, is looking a little better as a blocker than many expected, so it’s not all bad if that No. 2 tight end is predominantly receiver. But if choosing between multiple prospects, expect Elway to tab whichever one is most multidimensional.
Defensively, the addition of cornerback A.J. Bouye rectifies most of the damage done from losing Chris Harris to the Chargers, and the (hopeful) return to health for last year’s free agent pickup Bryce Callahan can greatly improve Denver’s slot coverage (which is a critical, complex duty in this matchup-zone-based scheme). But after those two, the cornerback room is full of question marks. The projected No. 2 starter, Isaac Yiadom, played better down the stretch than early in the season but still has much to prove. A highly-touted rookie could challenge him for playing time.
Keep in mind, however, that Broncos head coach and defensive play-caller Vic Fangio has rarely had premium corners in his career. And so, over the years, his scheme has been tweaked continuously to help that position. Thus, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if Denver invested its early defensive picks in the front seven, even though it has no obvious weak spots to correct.
Top-100 Targets (Denver owns picks 15, 46, 77, 83 and 95): Of the top receivers, Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy would be a perfect complement to Sutton, and LSU’s Justin Jefferson isn’t far behind (though if Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb falls, or they opt for pure burner Henry Ruggs III of Alabama, you couldn’t blame them). They can find some Fangio-style corners on Day 2, like Auburn’s Javaris Davis if they want inside/outside flexibility, or Mississippi State’s Cameron Dantzler if they are looking for strictly a boundary option. A right guard prospect with outside-zone ability to match the rest of the front five would make sense with one of their first five picks: Louisiana’s Robert Hunt and LSU’s Saahdiq Charles are tackles on some boards but would likely fit as guards in Pat Shurmur’s offense. Clemson’s John Simpson and Oregon’s Shane Lemieux are primarily power guys, but move well enough to slide in at right guard in this offense.
Kansas City Chiefs
For this team to pick up where it left off, head coach Andy Reid and GM Brett Veach must fill in some cracks. The biggest is in the secondary, where starting left corner Bashaud Breeland and unheralded utility DB Kendall Fuller are both gone. Breeland’s job can be filled by a traditional corner; Fuller’s is a different story. Late last season he became Tyrann Mathieu Lite for KC, operating at both safety spots and in the slot. His versatility made the actual Tyrann Mathieu even more valuable.
In front of the secondary, it would be nice to draft another edge rusher to go with Frank Clark (unless the Chiefs bring back Terrell Suggs, who is still very viable playing 20-25 snaps a game). But if the Chiefs have a linebacker they love, they should go there first. Kansas City’s incumbent linebacking unit—Anthony Hitchens, Damien Wilson and Ben Niemann—played much more efficiently as they grew more comfortable in coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s scheme, but it’s still not a particularly fast group. Plus, Wilson and Niemann are in contract years.
On offense, it’s just a matter of touching up some details: a backup to tight end Travis Kelce is needed (Blake Bell filled this role admirably in 2019 but recently signed with Dallas); a replacement must be found for free agent Demarcus Robinson, who was the No. 3 or 4 receiver (depending on the package); and a multidimensional running back to pair with the seemingly unbenchable Damien Williams wouldn’t hurt. (Williams is also due for free agency in 2021.)
Something to remember: When you have superstars like Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill and Kelce, the players around them are automatically boosted. So if the Chiefs ignore any of these “needs” on offense and simply promote some of the fringe players from last year’s preseason roster or practice squad, Chiefs fans need not cry out.
Top-100 Targets (Kansas City owns picks 32, 63 and 96): They’ll be able to find back-seven help at the end of the first round. If they want that versatile piece to replace Fuller, they should probably look to the safety group. Alabama’s Xavier McKinney would be an ideal fit if he makes it to the end of Round 1, as does LSU’s Grant Delpit (though his inconsistencies as a tackler might be too much to overlook). If they wait until Day 2, Utah’s Terrell Burgess can fill a lot of different roles. Both LSU’s Patrick Queen and Oklahoma’s Kenneth Murray would bring needed athleticism to the linebacking corps if they’re available late in the first; that position group is thin though, and K.C. might have to pounce if one of them makes it to 32. While he’s not exactly filling a need, LSU RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire would be electric in this offense should he make it to the end of Round 2.
Las Vegas Raiders
After adding 4-5 new defensive starters in free agency (LBs Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski, defensive tackle Maliek Collins, cornerback Eli Apple and strong safety Jeff Heath), the Raiders, who became unexpected playoff contenders in 2019, are just a couple pieces away from having a full-fledged playoff-caliber roster. The main thing that’s still needed is an edge rusher. Last year’s fourth overall pick, Clelin Ferrell, improved over the course of his rookie season but is best equipped to rush the passer from inside. Ferrell’s fellow 2019 rookie, fourth-rounder Maxx Crosby, has looked like a draft steal, but he accounts for just one edge spot. Free agent pickup Carl Nassib can maybe come off the other edge, but his best work comes on first and second down. A true speed-rushing bender would give defensive play-caller Paul Guenther the pass rush that his predominant two-deep zone scheme demands.
On offense, the Raiders still haven’t filled the cataclysmic void left by the Antonio Brown nightmare. Ex-Eagle Nelson Agholor can push 2019 midseason pickup Zay Jones for the No. 2 job, but a rookie with even above average speed could almost immediately jump those two in the pecking order. It would behoove Las Vegas to invest big here since top incumbent wideout Tyrell Williams is more of a really good No. 2 than a true No. 1. The Raiders may have found a hidden slot gem in 2019 fifth-rounder Hunter Renfrow, so whichever rookie receiver comes in best be equipped to play on the perimeter. QB Derek Carr is most comfortable getting the ball out quickly. It’ll be interesting to see if the Raiders prioritize finding a receiver who fits this approach, or if they just take the best prospect available. For what it’s worth, their current best receiver, Williams, is more ideal for a deeper dropback passing game.
Top-100 Targets (Las Vegas owns picks 12, 19, 80, 81 and 91): In a draft that lacks depth on the edges, LSU’s K’Lavon Chaisson might be too much to pass up with the 12th pick. He’s raw and might be better standing up, but he’s a burner who can make an impact as a pass-rush specialist early in his career. However, it might be tough to pass on Oklahoma WR CeeDee Lamb if he’s there at 12; he can make plays downfield or in the quick-game that Carr prefers. If they wait until 19 to address receiver, that would leave them potentially looking at Alabama’s Henry Ruggs III, who brings the kind of speed they need but is more of a pure downfield threat who might not mesh with Carr, or perhaps unpolished YAC monster Brandon Aiyuk of Arizona State (think Deebo Samuel) becomes an option. If they wait until the third round to draft a speed rusher, Syracuse’s Alton Robinson and Florida’s Jonathan Greenard become possibilities.
Los Angeles Chargers
If any coach would be willing to make Tyrod Taylor his starter, it’s Anthony Lynn, who values mobility at quarterback, including for how it can enhance a rushing attack (which is Lynn’s area of expertise). Most likely, though, the Chargers will draft their QB of the future—and he will have a good chance at immediately becoming the QB of the present. The rest of the roster is pretty well rounded out…for now. But the list of players who are slated for free agency in 2021 is staggering:
DE Joey Bosa
DE Melvin Ingram
CB Desmond King
WR Keenan Allen
WR Mike Williams (Chargers still have a fifth-year option decision to make here)
TE Hunter Henry
C Mike Pouncey
These are seven of L.A.’s 10 biggest stars (the other three stars: S Derwin James, CB Casey Hayward and either new CB Chris Harris or RB Austin Ekeler). Having a QB on a rookie deal will make re-signing these guys more manageable, but even then, it’s likely that at least a few will get out the door.
There’s no chance Joey Bosa will, and there’s little to no chance Keenan Allen will. After that, it could be a function of how this draft goes. Given the enormous gap between the cost of rookie contracts and the cost of re-signing marquee veterans, GM Tom Telesco might just draft the best player available, regardless of position, and let that dictate the team’s 2021 investment decisions.
Or…Telesco might REALLY gamble and go all-in on a Super Bowl run in 2020. That could seem crazy for a team coming off a 5-11 season and having just said goodbye to longtime franchise QB Philip Rivers. But the Chargers know that their 2019 woes were dictated largely by a rash of extremely costly turnovers (some due to uncharacteristic mistakes by Rivers) and by injuries here and there (most notably to Derwin James, their most dynamic back seven defender). Look at the team’s free agent signings so far: nose tackle Linval Joseph (turns 32 in October), cornerback Chris Harris (31 in June) and right tackle Bryan Bulaga (31). All three have over $11 million cap hits in 2021 and would cost around at least $4 million to cut.
If the Chargers are drafting for right now, their biggest needs, in order, are: quarterback, left tackle and linebacker.
Top-100 Targets (Chargers own picks 6, 37 and 71): Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa and Oregon’s Justin Herbert both make sense at 6 (or, in Tua’s case, a trade up to 2 or 3), and if they’re in win-now mode, Tagovailoa, if healthy, makes more sense than Herbert. But it wouldn’t be a shock if they stayed put and selected Louisville OT Mekhi Becton or Georgia OT Andrew Thomas to plus in at left tackle immediately, keeping Bulaga on the right side. They can cross their fingers that either LSU’s Patrick Queen or Oklahoma’s Kenneth Murray falls to Round 2, but otherwise they’re looking at limited early-down linebackers like Ohio State’s Malik Harrison or Texas Tech’s Jordan Brooks, or raw coverage LBs in Oregon’s Troy Dye and Colorado’s Davion Taylor, in Round 3.