The first round of the NFL draft can make or break a franchise. With so much riding on making the right decision, NFL general managers and scouts spend months preparing for some difficult decisions.
While several teams are in need of a franchise quarterback or playmaking wide receiver, there is only so much talent at each position to justify passing on value at other areas of need.
This year’s defensive class is one of the best in years, and it presents teams with an opportunity to build on the defensive side of the football by infusing young, talented playmakers. With so little depth at offensive skill positions at the top of the draft, this year could mark one of the most defense-heavy first rounds in recent years.
We’ll take a look at teams most in need of defensive playmakers, as well as which players those teams may target in the first round this April.
The Jaguars took a risk on Blaine Gabbert two years ago, and they will likely stick with him going forward. With Justin Blackmon and Cecil Shorts emerging as quality receiving threats for Gabbert, Jacksonville should seriously consider drafting defense in the first round this year.
Jacksonville finished the season No. 30 in total defense, due in large part to an inability to stop the run or get pressure on opposing quarterbacks. With such a talented crop of defensive players available this year, the Jaguars would be wise to take the best player available with the No. 2 selection.
Bjoern Werner and Star Lotulelei should both be available at No.2, and the Jaguars would be wise to select one of them. Werner would instantly upgrade a pass rush that was dead last in the league in 2012, and Lotulelei would add a run-stuffing element to the middle of Jacksonville’s defensive line.
Oakland has needs on both sides of the football, but none may be more pressing than its need for a young pass-rushing element.
The Raiders notched just 25 sacks last season (No. 31 in the NFL), and simply lack the type of edge rusher so many 4-3 defenses feature at the defensive end position. Fortunately for Oakland, this year’s class boasts some exceptional defensive ends.
If Werner is still available with the No. 3 selection, the Raiders will have found a cornerstone defensive end. If he is off the board, Damontre Moore would be an excellent consolation prize.
Moore is the most polished defensive end in this draft, and he’s also an extremely skilled pass-rusher. He doesn’t stand out in any one particular area, but Moore’s overall ability and pro-readiness make him the perfect fit for a team really lacking defensive stars.
When you think “playmaker,” defensive tackles don’t often come to mind. But in a 3-4 defense, everything is dependent on quality defensive line play.
The Colts are lacking beef up front, and they don’t have any quality pieces anchoring the middle of their defensive line. With so many talented nose tackle candidates in this year’s class, honing in one on of them may be a wise decision.
Indianapolis may also consider selecting a cornerback with this selection as well. The Colts defense intercepted just 12 passes last year and desperately needs defensive backs who can play tight coverage and make big plays in pass defense.
The Colts will have plenty of options to fill their areas of need, including defensive tackles John Jenkins and Johnathan Hankins and cornerback Xavier Rhodes, if they are available.
With Dick Jauron out and Ray Horton in as their new defensive coordinator, the Browns will likely switch back to a 3-4 base defense like Horton ran in Arizona. If Cleveland is to make yet another defensive switch this offseason, it will need to address some needs in the draft.
Cleveland is an enigmatic team. The Browns have some positions of need on both sides of the football, but none are overly glaring concerns. What the Browns need more is an edge rusher who can pressure opposing quarterbacks.
If the Browns switch back to a 3-4, defensive end Jabaal Sheard is a likely candidate to move to outside linebacker. He’s a quality edge rusher, but the Browns still need more on the other side.
The Browns would be wise to consider Barkevious Mingo or Jarvis Jones with the No. 6 selection, or scoop up Moore or Werner should they be available. That quintet of pass-rushers represents the best available in the draft and would immediately add a new element to Cleveland’s defense.
Detroit has so much talent on its roster but so little to show for it. Last season was a disappointment for the Lions and several additions need to be made to their defense.
The Lions need to address holes at linebacker and cornerback, as well as both defensive end positions. Free agency will determine how much needs to be done in the draft, but no team can patch up its vulnerabilities with just one year of free agency.
With the No. 5 pick this year, the Lions are in a position to draft based on both need and value. There are plenty of good defensive end and linebacker candidates this year, as well as one exceptionally talented cornerback.
Alabama’s Dee Milliner should be the first defensive back selected this April—and for good reason. Milliner has versatility, athleticism and playmaking ability that translate perfectly to the NFL. He can play both man and zone coverage, and would fill a glaring hole in Detroit’s secondary.