Every Non-Playoff Team's Biggest Need in the 2018 NFL Draft
As the season's end gets closer, every NFL front office is preparing for free agency and the NFL draft with meetings and crunch-time scouting sessions. What comes from these meetings isn't just a list of the best players available this offseason but also the self-scouting that is so important to team building. On every general manager's mind is how to fill the team's biggest need.
Some teams need to replace aging players, like Eli Manning (36) and Philip Rivers (36). Others must replace players who haven't lived up to expectations, like Ereck Flowers and Kevin White.
Below is each team's biggest need heading into the offseason. Some of these needs may be filled when teams re-sign their own players, but until that's done each spot is still considered a need. Let's get into it.
Cleveland Browns: Quarterback
This should surprise no one. The Cleveland Browns have been looking for a franchise quarterback since Bernie Kosar. For many of you reading this, the Browns have never had a franchise quarterback in your lifetime. The last regime—led by Sashi Brown—was fired because of its inability to properly evaluate the position and traded out of Carson Wentz and Deshaun Watson. The No. 1 priority this offseason will, once again, be quarterback.
The new Browns, led by John Dorsey, might check this box by paying a starter in free agency (Tyrod Taylor, Alex Smith, Kirk Cousins) or using the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NFL draft on a passer. Or maybe both. However they do it, they must find a quarterback.
New York Giants: Offensive Tackle
The New York Giants drafted Ereck Flowers out of Miami with the No. 9 pick of the 2015 draft with the idea he'd be the left tackle for the next decade and keep Eli Manning clean in the pocket. That pick is now looked at as one of the reasons general manager Jerry Reese was fired.
Flowers has improved this season, but he's still not an above-average pro starter nor should he be looked at as the long-term answer at left tackle. And for those thinking you can just slide him to right tackle, I don't see Flowers' technique helping him out on that side either.
The Giants will likely pass on left tackle in Round 1 this year based on the talent available and their pick being so early in the round, but this has to be the focus of the next general manager through free agency and the draft.
Indianapolis Colts: Offensive Line
No matter who is playing quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts next season, general manager Chris Ballard has to build a better offensive line. In his second offseason as GM, Ballard has a big job on his hands.
Center Ryan Kelly is a good player and should be a building block for Ballard, but the rest of the offensive line is either not good or unproven. Joe Haeg and Jack Mewhort were well-regarded coming out of college but neither fill the all-important position of left tackle. That's where Ballard must identify an upgrade. With what's projected to be a top-five pick in Round 1, the Colts could draft to fill the need or spend in free agency.
There are many needs on this roster, and Ballard isn't the type of GM to reach for need. That means it wouldn't be a surprise to see the Colts go edge-rusher in Round 1 and tackle in Round 2.
San Francisco 49ers: Offensive Line
Imagine the smile on the faces of San Francisco 49ers fans when that didn't say quarterback?
John Lynch got a steal when he traded a second-rounder for Jimmy Garoppolo. With No. 10 looking great in Kyle Shanahan's offense, there is excitement in San Francisco. Now Lynch has to finish the job of building a winning roster. The 49ers have needs at running back, wide receiver, linebacker and in the secondary, but the biggest need by far is the offensive line.
Joe Staley is a keeper, and there is still hope for 2016 first-rounder Joshua Garnett, but this is a unit that's scary bad at times. Trent Brown, at right tackle, can be great but is currently hurt. Both guard spots and the starting center job should be up for grabs.
San Francisco's draft position will have a major impact on when Lynch can fill the needs at guard. The Niners should also have more than $100 million in cap space to use if they decide to buy a line.
Houston Texans: Offensive Line
With no picks in the first two rounds, the Houston Texans will have to be creative in filling needs this offseason. The biggest, most obvious need on the roster is the offensive line. Nick Martin and Jeff Allen are keepers, but both tackle spots could use a major upgrade unless rookie Julien Davenport can make a big jump this offseason.
The good news is the Texans have money to spend with an estimated $60 million available under the 2018 salary cap. As is usually the case when you have money to burn, there might not be anything worth buying at tackle in this upcoming class. Unless there are surprise cuts that put starters on the street, the Texans will be better off using the draft to find starters and shoring up the defense in free agency.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Defensive End
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are in a weird spot with a head coach who is likely to be fired and a general manager who could also be on the way out. Quarterback Jameis Winston has nice targets at wide receiver and tight end but hasn't yet taken the next step in his own game. Defensively, there is speed across the board, but leaders Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David are aging, and the whole unit needs work.
The first need on the list has to be defensive end. Noah Spence has promise, but the Bucs need a premier pass-rusher to take the group over the top. That could—and should—come in Round 1 of the draft if Bradley Chubb is on the board. Free agency is an option, but GM Jason Licht doesn't have a ton of cap space to work with.
Chicago Bears: Wide Receiver
It was tempting to put head coach, but I know that's not what you guys are here for. And John Fox likely won't have a job in Chicago much longer.
So what are the needs of the Chicago Bears? First is wide receiver. Even if Cameron Meredith is back to his former self next year. Even if Kevin White is finally healthy. The Bears finally have a franchise quarterback to build around in Mitchell Trubisky, and the front office needs to give him weapons.
Because of where the Bears are projected to pick in the first round—right now, it's pick No. 7 overall—it would be a surprise if they drafted a receiver. Instead, going after a defender or lineman in the first and looking for a few receivers in subsequent rounds should be the play.
Cincinnati Bengals: Offensive Line
An overall rebuild is coming in Cincinnati, but it should start on the offensive line.
After losing Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler in free agency, the Cincinnati Bengals offensive line is among the worst in the NFL. Youngsters Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher might still work out after being selected in the first and second rounds, respectively, of the 2015 draft, but right now they're struggling. That could open the door for a tackle in Round 1 such as Connor Williams. The need at guard could also make Notre Dame's Quenton Nelson a possibility.
The Bengals do have some money but have to be smart with the salary cap due to previous paydays for A.J. Green, Geno Atkins and Andy Dalton; it's unlikely they'll be buying a left tackle. The draft is the best way to fix this problem.
Denver Broncos: Quarterback
The Denver Broncos have a number of quarterbacks on the roster with starting experience, but that doesn't mean they have a starting quarterback. Paxton Lynch, Brock Osweiler and Trevor Siemian have all started games this year, and still general manager John Elway has to be looking to upgrade the position.
The Broncos are projected to have a top-10 pick, which should give Elway a shot at Josh Allen or Baker Mayfield. There were also plenty of rumors that Eli Manning would follow in his older brother's footsteps and go to Denver if he were released by the Giants. The free-agent route makes more sense if Elway doesn't want to draft another first-rounder this year after selecting Lynch in the first round of the 2016 draft.
New York Jets: Quarterback
Believe it or not, the New York Jets aren't that far away from being a winning football team. The defense is proving to be one of the league's toughest young units, and the moves made by this front office to rebuild the wide receiver corps and offensive line have paid off. The moves that haven't paid off? Drafting Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg. That's why quarterback is the No. 1 need in New York.
The Jets haven't lost enough games to be in on Sam Darnold or Josh Rosen but could still land Josh Allen or Baker Mayfield in the first round. What's more likely is the team uses its projected $85 million in cap space to sign Kirk Cousins if he becomes available. Cousins, with the weapons already in place plus three picks in the first two rounds, would make the Jets one hell of a competitive team in the AFC.
Oakland Raiders: Offensive Tackle
Offensive tackle for the Raiders? Hear me out.
Left tackle Donald Penn is 34 years old and injured. Right tackle Marshall Newhouse is serviceable. To win the AFC West, the Raiders need the offensive line to keep Derek Carr clean. And while the unit might be able to do that in 2018, there's no way it'll be able to in 2019. The offseason is about loading up for the future, and the Raiders can do that in Round 1.
Fans will be screaming for additions on defense, and those are needed, but the priority of the offseason should be the long-term health of the offensive tackle position. Connor Williams (Texas), Mike McGlinchey (Notre Dame) or Orlando Brown (Oklahoma) wouldn't be the sexiest pick, but each would be smart.
Arizona Cardinals: Quarterback
We can safely say the Arizona Cardinals need a quarterback of the future. Carson Palmer turns 38 years old this week. He might retire after this season. Blaine Gabbert and Drew Stanton are good backups. General manager Steve Keim has to hit the road to evaluate the 2018 quarterback class and find himself a long-term answer.
The first question Keim has to answer is who his head coach will be. There has been rampant speculation that Bruce Arians might retire. If he's out, Keim's checklist for a quarterback could look much different. While Wyoming's Josh Allen would be a fit with Arians, the next coach might like Baker Mayfield or Lamar Jackson.
There are many unknowns when it comes to the Cardinals' future, but who their quarterback will be is tops among them.
Miami Dolphins: Quarterback
The Miami Dolphins will enter the 2018 offseason with a long list of needs. Tops on that list is quarterback.
Quarterback? Yes, quarterback. Even if Ryan Tannehill comes back strong from injury, it's not a guarantee he'll be on the team given his bloated contract has an out clause this offseason. Given that Tannehill wasn't picked by the current regime, it wouldn't be a shock if it went in another direction.
Tannehill could be back, but the team should be aggressive in finding a backup who can compete with him for the job if he's retained. So, Miami could draft a quarterback in the first round no matter what.
Kirk Cousins might be back in Washington next season, but right now—with a contract that expires after the season—it's impossible to feel comfortable about the team's quarterback situation. It could remain Washington's biggest need, or the franchise might be able to bury the hatchet with Cousins and work out a long-term deal. I should add I'm doubtful that will happen since he still doesn't have a long-term deal.
If the front office decides to use a first-rounder on a quarterback, Washington could be the perfect landing spot for Baker Mayfield, who's projected to come off the board around pick No. 15. If Cousins leaves, Mayfield is the type of quarterback who could make fans forget.
Los Angeles Chargers: Offensive Tackle
The Los Angeles Chargers wisely loaded up on offensive guards in the 2017 NFL draft, grabbing Forrest Lamp and Dan Feeney in moves that could turn the interior offensive line into a strength. Their job isn't done yet, though. The front office must again address the offensive line by looking at tackles early in the draft.
The middle of the first round might be the sweet spot for an offensive tackle. Texas' Connor Williams is in my top 10 players, but there are critics who believe he's a little short-armed and a little light on technique to be drafted so early. If Los Angeles buys in on his athleticism and mean streak, he could be the guy to solidify what would then be a very promising young line.
Green Bay Packers: Wide Receiver
Watching the Green Bay Packers, you might not think wide receiver is the team's biggest need. Trust me—it is.
Randall Cobb has slowed down and might be cut in a salary cap move. Jordy Nelson, despite what Aaron Rodgers says, has lost some juice. And even Davante Adams will be a free agent. The top three wide receivers on the team are, in some form or fashion, question marks. As much as Rodgers needs a good offensive line, he really needs people to throw to.
Fans should take solace in the great haul brought in by the Packers in the 2017 draft. If that's a sign of things to come—a deep draft providing great value and filling plenty of needs—then this could be the year to grab a Christian Kirk (Texas A&M) in Round 1 or Anthony Miller (Memphis) in Round 3.
Dallas Cowboys: Wide Receiver
The end is coming for Dez Bryant and Jason Witten. They might still be major names in the NFL, and they might be Dallas Cowboys legends, but you could make the argument they're both starting to hold the offense back because of a lack of explosive ability. Jerry Jones and Co. need to look at the wide receiver corps and attack it like they did the offensive line a few years back—commit to a quick overhaul.
The Cowboys don't have the money under the cap (unless some key players get cut) to be aggressive in signing a WR1, and fans will correctly point out parts of the defense (interior DL) need to be upgraded. Dallas probably can't fill every need in this one offseason, which is why prioritizing and adding a wide receiver (or two) will be key. The future of the Cowboys is the offense. Jones and his staff need to give Dak Prescott the weapons to turn this team into the high-scoring machine it can be.
Buffalo Bills: Quarterback
Count me in the group of people who don't understand why the Buffalo Bills seem so determined to move on from Tyrod Taylor. They do, though, and with two first-round picks in this year's draft and around $40 million to spend in cap space, this is the time to get a passer if they want one.
The Bills have likely played their way out of one of the top four quarterbacks in the draft. If the front office likes Lamar Jackson or Mason Rudolph, it's in good position to get one of them, but everything I've heard from scouts in Buffalo is that the team loves Sam Darnold. Well, he's a top-five pick, so they'd either have to trade up to get him or move on.
This is one of the more fascinating situations to watch. The Bills are a good football team, and head coach Sean McDermott has done a lot with a little since they traded away many assets to rebuild the roster.
Seattle Seahawks: Offensive Line
The Seattle Seahawks could look completely different in 2018 as the roster gets older, more expensive and starts to tear itself apart with on-field fights and Twitter feuds. General manager John Schneider and his staff must identify the parts they can rebuild around. The No. 1 part should be Russell Wilson. And they need to protect him.
You can blame Schneider, Pete Carroll, offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell or line coach Tom Cable (or all of them), but someone needs to be blamed for the offensive line in Seattle. Duane Brown has regressed weekly. Draft picks like Justin Britt and Germain Ifedi haven't panned out to match where they were selected. Firing Cable might solve some of the problem, but better players are needed.
The trouble is the Seahawks can't just draft linemen. The defense needs a makeover, and that'll have to come through the draft unless there's cap relief in the form of retirements (Kam Chancellor, Cliff Avril), trades (Richard Sherman) or cuts (Michael Bennett).
Detroit Lions: Defensive End
General manager Bob Quinn has done a nice job in Detroit since coming from New England, but now he has to look at a roster that's close and find ways to get it over the top. The offense is moving along just fine outside of running back, so look for the defense to get the bulk of Quinn's attention.
Ezekiel Ansah hasn't been the same player in quite some time, and the rest of the roster is made up of solid rotational ends but no premier pass-rusher. In the first round, given the talent and depth of this defensive end class, the Lions should be all about drafting a right-side pass-rusher who can consistently line up and get pressures. Clemson's Clelin Ferrell is a perfect fit for the defense if he is available when Detroit comes up on the clock.
Projected 2018 salary-cap space via Spotrac.