Only four teams remain in the hunt for the Super Bowl, which means 28 franchises are focused on the future.
While players and fans can wallow in self pity after a disappointing end to the year, front offices are already considering ways to improve for next season. Free agency and trades provide an opportunity to add new players, but the most exciting source of talent is the draft and especially the first round.
There are several players in this group capable of upgrading a team in an instant, with those on the defensive side arguably the safest in the class. Here are a look at some elite prospects to keep an eye on in the coming months.
NFL Mock Draft 1st Round
1. Cleveland Browns: Sam Darnold, QB, USC
2. New York Giants: Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
3. Indianapolis Colts: Bradley Chubb, DE, North Carolina State
4. Cleveland Browns (via Texans): Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama
5. Denver Broncos: Quenton Nelson, OG, Notre Dame
6. New York Jets: Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Derwin James, S, Florida State
8. Chicago Bears: Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
9.* Oakland Raiders: Roquan Smith, ILB, Georgia
10.* San Francisco 49ers: Orlando Brown, OT, Oklahoma
11. Miami Dolphins: Harold Landry, DE, Boston College
12. Cincinnati Bengals: Connor Williams, OT, Texas
13. Washington Redskins: Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
14. Green Bay Packers: Arden Key, DE, LSU
15. Arizona Cardinals: Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming
16. Baltimore Ravens: Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU
17. Los Angeles Chargers: Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame
18. Seattle Seahawks: Derrius Guice, RB, LSU
19. Dallas Cowboys: Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan
20. Detroit Lions: Bryce Love, RB, Stanford
21. Buffalo Bills: Vita Vea, DT, Washington
22. Buffalo Bills (via Chiefs): Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
23. Los Angeles Rams: Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa
24. Carolina Panthers: James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State
25. Tennessee Titans: Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, DE, Oklahoma
26. Atlanta Falcons: Christian Wilkins, DT, Clemson
27. New Orleans Saints: Mark Andrews, TE, Oklahoma
28. Pittsburgh Steelers: Rashaan Evans, ILB, Alabama
29. Jacksonville Jaguars: Chukwuma Okorafor, OT, Western Michigan
30. Minnesota Vikings: Kolton Miller, OT, UCLA
31. Philadelphia Eagles: Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State
32. New England Patriots: Tremaine Edmunds, OLB, Virginia Tech
*Order pending coin flip. Final four picks subject to change following the completion of the playoffs.
Top Defensive Players to Watch
Bradley Chubb, DE, North Carolina State
It's fun to debate the top quarterbacks in the class, and Saquon Barkley will be a fan favorite based on his highlights, but Bradley Chubb might be the top player in the entire draft.
Chris Trapasso of CBS Sports lists him as No. 1 on his big board, saying he "checks all the boxes" for an elite pass-rusher.
Few players in college football did a better job of getting into the backfield over the past two years than Chubb. He had an incredible 44 tackles for loss over the last two seasons, with 20 total sacks in this stretch.
His 72 tackles overall shows the defensive end knows how to make plays all over the field and is a threat against both the run and the pass.
This could be a major boost for the Indianapolis Colts, which ranked 30th in total defense during a 4-12 season. The squad only had 25 sacks all year, second fewest in the NFL, with Jabaal Sheard leading the team with 5.5 sacks.
Chubb won't solve all the problems, but he would be an instant upgrade over everyone else at the position.
Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama
Perhaps the only question about Minkah Fitzpatrick as he moves onto the next level is where he will line up in the secondary. The Alabama star can play either safety or cornerback, and he has the coverage skills necessary to excel at both spots.
The Thorpe Award winner stepped up when the team needed him, allowing just 10 yards on 33 snaps against Georgia in the national championship game, per Pro Football Focus. Of course, this was right in line with what he did all year long.
His versatility was also on display with eight tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks this year.
Bleacher Report's Matt Miller had high praise for Fitzpatrick during the title game:
Matt Miller @nfldraftscout
29 for Alabama, Minkah Fitzpatrick, is the best defender in the draft class. Elite athlete, elite IQ, elite person2018-1-9 01:22:17
While the Cleveland Browns should finally find their quarterback with the No. 1 overall pick, they have an opportunity to add more talent with the No. 4 selection.
The front-seven performed well last year, but the defense still needs help after giving up the second-most points in the NFL in 2017. Adding Fitzpatrick and moving him to cornerback can help get the team in the right direction, similar to the impact Jalen Ramsey made with the Jaguars.
Derwin James, S, Florida State
While Fitzpatrick excels in pass coverage, Derwin James is at his best when he is close to the line of scrimmage.
He finished with 84 tackles this year, one off the team lead, also adding 5.5 tackles for loss. At 6'3", 211 pounds, he can stand in the box like a linebacker and be an elite run-stopper.
Meanwhile, he is also valuable against the pass, whether he is blitzing or dropping back in coverage.
Brendan Sonnone of 247Sports provided a breakdown of James' performance this season:
Brendan Sonnone @BSonnone
Derwin James was the country's top safety in 2017, and was arguably the most versatile defender in the nation: --85.0 Run Grade (Top 15) --16 Stops (led NCAA) vs. Pass --Passer rating of 91.25 allowed when targeted. --Pressure on 27.9% of blitzes. https://t.co/50VMNuAk7k https://t.co/gDXgtJCrTS2018-1-2 15:30:01
The safety missed almost all of 2016 with a knee injury, but he appears back to 100 percent and is once again one of the best overall athletes in the class.
After the Buccaneers allowed the most passing yards (and total yards) in the NFL this year, they need a player like James to help turn around their fortunes.
Roquan Smith, ILB, Georgia
Inside linebackers are often devalued in the draft, even with top players. It would be a mistake for Roquan Smith to stay on the board for too long.
The talented player won the Dick Butkus award as the top linebacker in the country after finishing with 137 tackles, which led the SEC and was seventh in the NCAA. This included 14 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks.
His play was also enough to win SEC Defensive Player of the Year and finish 10th in voting for the Heisman Trophy.
Beyond his college production, Smith is suited for the next level thanks to his athleticism and instincts. He has great speed to cover from sideline to sideline and always seems to be in the right position to make a play.
The Raiders got a nice boost from NaVorro Bowman this year, but they need more long-term help in the middle of the defense. Smith could be a trustworthy option who leads the unit for many years.
Note: Statistics courtesy of Sports Reference.