As a part of the pre-draft process, the NFL Scouting Combine is important to everyone. But some teams are facing more pressure to get it right than others.
Below, I’ve listed the six teams with the most riding on the combine, along with some players each might want to be sure to take look at in Indy. Note that the players mentioned do not represent the totality of prospects these squads should be examining, nor do they necessarily represent the most important or talented prospects; these are simply players to keep an eye on.
Draft picks: No. 1, No. 12 in Round 1; 11 total.
This is a very important draft for Cleveland, which must continue to build and fill roster holes in Year 2 of the Hue Jackson regime. The Browns have done a good job evaluating and know which system they want to use. Now, of course, it’s crucial to hit on as many of their picks — and they notably have five within the first 65 — as possible.
As you evaluate prospects, you might find some bunching together. The combine is a great place to break any ties between prospects and provide additional clarity to your draft strategy. Cleveland’s choice at No. 1 seems clear to me — I think the Browns should snag the no-doubt best player in the draft, Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett, who has great character and skills and projects as a face-of-the-organization type pass rusher. But there are plenty of decisions to make the rest of the way.
The Browns could take a quarterback at No. 12 or make some trades (either moving down or moving back into the bottom of the first round) and try to grab a signal-caller around the 25th overall pick or so. As to who that quarterback might be, Jackson could make a slightly surprising pick by going with someone he sees something special in, maybe someone like Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes. This is a very deep cornerback class, and I think adding a couple of corners could really help Cleveland. Teez Tabor (Florida), Howard Wilson (Houston), Tre’Davious White (LSU) and Quincy Wilson (Florida) are possibilities. The position is deep enough that the Browns could also focus on other positions early and add someone like Colorado’s Ahkello Witherspoon — who can cover really well, though he’s not especially physical — in Round 4. Running backs Wayne Gallman (Clemson) and Alvin Kamara (Tennessee) should potentially be on Cleveland’s radar to take in the second round. The Browns could look for offensive line help on Day 2 (someone like USC’s Damien Mama or LSU’s Ethan Pocic).
Draft picks: No. 2 in Round 1; 10 total.
The Niners have new faces across the board — a new coach (Kyle Shanahan), a new general manager (John Lynch), a new vice president of player personnel (Adam Peters) — and they need help at a variety of positions. What the Niners see at the combine could help them decide whether to trade down for some extra selections — which seems to make sense to me, especially if it’s possible to then trade back into the bottom of the first round — or keep the second overall pick. For example, if they see several players at a position of need of similar quality, and they feel confident in their chances at landing one of them with a later pick, they’d be more likely to move down.
In addition to the quarterback position — I continue to like DeShone Kizer (Notre Dame) as a fit for San Francisco, as I did last week — the Niners could use help at defensive back. They should keep an eye on Marshon Lattimore (Ohio State), Jamal Adams (LSU), Marlon Humphrey(Alabama) and Brendan Langley(Lamar), a potential second-round pick. Defensive end Jonathan Allen (Alabama) could still work, though the addition of veteran free agent Earl Mitchell eases the need on the defensive line somewhat. The bottom line is, the Niners are pointed in the right direction. I think Lynch will do a great job, although success might not come instantly. (GM is a difficult position in this league.)
Draft picks: No. 5, No. 18 in Round 1; 8 total.
Based on recent history, the Titans will draft well under GM Jon Robinson. They could also decide to trade down for extra picks, given that they have two selections within the first 18. Either way, this is a golden opportunity for a Tennessee team that nearly made the playoffs in 2016. The Titans are in position to grab the best player available, though I think a defensive back or receiver, or potentially even a linebacker, would help them the most.
In terms of receivers, I’d look at Mike Williams (Clemson), Corey Davis (Western Michigan) or John Ross(Washington), who could be available toward the end of the first round. They could also think about someone like Dede Westbrook (Oklahoma), who could provide a lot of value in Round 2. In terms of defensive backs, Marshon Lattimore would make sense, as would many of the other top players mentioned above.
Draft picks: No. 4 in Round 1; 7 total.
What Jacksonville does in its first draft since Tom Coughlin rejoined the organization will be interesting. The team has become pretty good overall. The big question is, is Blake Bortles the guy to take them to the promised land? Doug Marrone backed Bortles as his starter for 2017 on Wednesday, but it might still behoove the Jaguars to give the quarterback class a look, with the thought of potentially drafting one a bit later than fourth overall (maybe via a trade). In terms of fit, I think the best match for them is Deshaun Watson(Clemson). He’s just a winner. Some worry about his deep accuracy, but I think that’s sometimes overplayed in terms of how important it is to success as a quarterback — short- and mid-range accuracy is far more important.
Jacksonville could think about offensive or defensive line help, though not early. The Jags could also take the best player available, perhaps a defensive back — like Malik Hooker (Ohio State), say — to potentially replace Johnathan Cyprien, should he move on in free agency, although defense is not an especially glaring need at this point.
Draft picks: No. 10 in Round 1; 6 total.
The Bills only have six picks, which makes it extremely important that they get as many right as they can. You can survive a botched pick when you have eight or nine, but when you have six, it can really set you back.
It wouldn’t completely shock me if the Bills drafted a quarterback, depending on what happens with Tyrod Taylor. Watson and Kizer would work for Buffalo, though I’d also take a look at North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky. If they lose Stephon Gilmore to free agency, they could look for a corner like Lattimore. Sammy Watkins’ injury history makes receiver (Zay Jones of East Carolina or maybe Davis) a potential option, as well.
Draft picks: No. 11 in Round 1; 6 total.
Like the Bills, New Orleans only has six picks and must maximize this draft. The Saints have solid assets on offense, but they could definitely use a step-in-and-play type of player to boost a lackluster defense. Linebacker Jarrad Davis (Florida) would really help, as would Hooker.