One Mistake Each NFL Team Must Avoid Making in the 2018 NFL Draft
The NFL draft isn't the only aspect of franchise-building, but it's perhaps the most vital. Teams often put themselves over the top with the right free-agent signings, but roster foundations—like franchise quarterbacks—are added on draft weekend.
Top-tier teams don't nail every draft. However, the league's perennial bottom-dwellers are usually the same teams who screw up early picks and strategies.
While it is important to hit the occasional home run in the draft, it's more important to not make big mistakes. A team can get a ton of value by selecting a seven-year starter in the first round, even if he's never a Pro Bowler. Grabbing a player who only makes a handful of starts over the course of his rookie contract, on the other hand, can set a franchise back in a big way.
If you're thinking of the Cleveland Browns and first-round mistakes like Johnny Manziel, Justin Gilbert and Cameron Erving, there's a reason the Browns have won just four games over the last three seasons.
With this in mind, we're going to eschew the normal predraft exercise of picking the right selections for each team. Instead, we'll examine the one mistake each franchise cannot afford to make—be it a selection, move, non-move or draft strategy.
Arizona Cardinals: Panicking over the Fourth or Fifth QB
There are two types of teams in the NFL—those with a franchise quarterback and those without. Since having a franchise signal-caller makes it easier for a team to be competitive, and because almost all franchise quarterbacks are found in the draft, we'll be talking a lot about quarterbacks.
While they gave Sam Bradford a one-year, $20 million deal this offseason, the Arizona Cardinals find themselves without a franchise QB. The Cardinals may be able to win with Bradford, but his injury history and age (30) mean he's far from a long-term lock.
Could the Cardinals find their long-term answer in this year's draft? It won't be easy as Arizona doesn't pick until 15th overall.
There are six quarterbacks—Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, Josh Rosen, Baker Mayfield, Lamar Jackson and Mason Rudolph—who could go in the first round of the draft. Odds are not all of them will pan out, and the majority could be gone by the time the Cardinals pick.
The Browns, New York Giants and New York Jets own the first three selections, so three quarterbacks could kick off Round 1. After the Browns pick again at No. 4, the Denver Broncos select fifth overall, so four QBs could be off the board within the first five selections.
The Buffalo Bills have already traded up ahead of the Cardinals (to 12th overall), so an early run on quarterbacks could cause Arizona to panic. This would be a mistake. Arizona cannot waste draft capital to move up for its fourth choice at quarterback or even pull the trigger on its fifth or sixth choice. This is how guys like Christian Ponder get drafted in the first half of Round 1.
If one of Arizona's top couple of choices makes it past the Jets or the Broncos, then moving up would be a smart move—think of the Kansas City Chiefs' trade up for Patrick Mahomes last year. Going gonzo over a fourth or fifth option, however, could set the franchise back more than a couple of years.
Atlanta Falcons: Bypassing a Pass-Catcher
The Atlanta Falcons have one of the league's top wide receivers in Julio Jones. They also have one of the NFL's best No. 2 receivers in Mohamed Sanu. Wide receiver doesn't stand out as a need, but it's a position the Falcons cannot afford to ignore.
Taylor Gabriel was Atlanta's No. 3 receiver over the last two seasons, but he joined the Chicago Bears this offseason. This leaves the Falcons without a high-end receiver to fill the role.
Justin Hardy would likely be Atlanta's No. 3 receiver. He's shown promise, but he's also never caught more than 21 passes in a season. He had 20 catches for 221 yards and three touchdowns last season.
The Falcons don't have to use their first-round pick (26th overall) on a wide receiver, though if they want one of the draft's top pass-catchers—like Alabama's Calvin Ridley or SMU's Courtland Sutton—they may have to.
Atlanta has bigger needs. It could use help on the interior defensive line and at safety. Adding a premier guard prospect would also be a smart move. If the Falcons want to regain the offensive explosiveness they enjoyed under Kyle Shanahan, however, adding a quality replacement for Gabriel would be wise.
Baltimore Ravens: Not Landing a Pass-Catcher Early
Adding a pass-catcher needs to be a priority for the Baltimore Ravens. Four of Baltimore's top five receivers from last season—Ben Watson, Mike Wallace, Jeremy Maclin and Danny Woodhead—are gone. While the Ravens added Michael Crabtree and John Brown this offseason, the team's receiving corps won't keep defensive coordinators up at night.
Unfortunately, this draft class isn't heavy on top-end receiving talent.
"This class has a few specialists, from slot receivers to big red zone threats, so it's a draft to find No. 2 receivers or role players more than it is a draft to find a game-changing No. 1 option," Pro Football Focus' Steve Palazzolo recently wrote.
Baltimore shouldn't shrug its shoulders and ignore the receiver position, though. Adding a high-end slot receiver could strengthen its rebuilding passing attack.
Adding a quality pass-catching tight end like Penn State's Mike Gesicki could also help the Ravens. Tight ends Nick Boyle and Maxx Williams combined for just 289 receiving yards last season.
The Ravens averaged 189.4 yards passing per game in 2017. The offseason additions they've already made should help some, but if they want to see dramatic improvement, they can't pass on adding a pass-catcher early.
Buffalo Bills: Not Making a Move for a QB
The Bills traded away former starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor at the start of free agency, meaning they'll be searching for a new signal-caller to build around. Even after adding AJ McCarron, Buffalo will likely look for a franchise quarterback in this year's draft.
Due to the demand at the position, Buffalo may be forced to trade up to secure one of the top four or five signal-callers. The Bills have already made one move by sending tackle Cordy Glenn to the Cincinnati Bengals and swapping first-round picks. They now select 12th overall.
But the Jets have traded up to the third overall pick, virtually guaranteeing that two quarterbacks will be gone by that selection—the Browns virtually have to take one at No. 1 now. With the Broncos still ahead of Buffalo and the Cardinals a threat to trade above them, the Bills must make another move to get one of their top targets.
The Browns' second first-round pick, No. 4 overall, may be an enticing target. According to sportscaster Dan Patrick (h/t Daryl Ruiter of 92.3 The Fan), Buffalo has called about getting the No. 1 pick from the Browns.
Since the Bills have already made moves to be able to trade up for a quarterback, they need to complete the task. That may require doing business with the Giants at No. 2 to get ahead of the Jets, especially if the Browns take one of Buffalo's top two guys at No. 1.
If the Giants decide to grab a signal-caller at No. 2, then the Bills will need to reevaluate their strategy because going all-in on a fourth or fifth choice at QB would be foolish. However, Buffalo should do everything it can to get its franchise signal-caller.
Carolina Panthers: Not Grabbing a Future No. 1 Corner
The Carolina Panthers have lacked a top-end No. 1 cornerback since letting Josh Norman leave in free agency. That needs to change if Carolina wants to get back to the top of the pass-heavy NFC South.
Carolina's pass defense wasn't a disaster in 2017—it ranked 18th, allowing 229.1 yards per game—but this was largely due to a vicious pass rush that logged 50 sacks during the regular season. Cornerbacks like James Bradberry and Captain Munnerlyn were serviceable but far from elite.
The Panthers tried to add Bashaud Breeland in free agency but nullified his contract due to a failed physical.
The good news is that there are some attractive cornerback prospects in this year's class. While the draft's top two prospects—Ohio State's Denzel Ward and Iowa's Josh Jackson—may both be off the board by Carolina's 24th overall pick, the Panthers should still be able to snag a quality corner. Colorado's Isaiah Oliver could be a prime target.
If the Panthers do bypass a cornerback in the first round, they'd be wise to target one with future No. 1 potential in Round 2.
The Panthers face elite wideouts Julio Jones, Michael Thomas and Mike Evans in their division. It would be a mistake not to target the kind of corner who could match up with them one-on-one.
Chicago Bears: Trading Out of Range for an Elite Prospect
There aren't always can't-miss prospects in an NFL draft, but there are a few perceived as such this year. They include Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson, Penn State running back Saquon Barkley, Alabama safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and NC State pass-rusher Bradley Chubb.
Because of a possible run on quarterbacks at the top of Round 1, the Chicago Bears may be in position to grab one of these elite prospects with the eighth overall pick.
Chicago may be tempted to trade that pick to a team that wants a quarterback or one of these elite prospects. There are a few needs on the roster, so accumulating more picks wouldn't be the worst strategy. However, the Bears shouldn't pass on an elite prospect either.
Chicago might not need a running back, but if it can land Nelson, Fitzpatrick or Chubb, it should do so. Moving up a spot or two might even make sense to secure a player with perennial All-Pro potential.
If one of the aforementioned prospects isn't available, the Bears might consider a corner like Ward or Jackson to pair with Kyle Fuller.
Adding more picks is nice, but drafting one of these elite prospects could help give the Bears a dominant defense or offensive line to partner with Mitchell Trubisky and Chicago's new-look receiving corps. If Chicago can trade down a couple of spots and still land one, great. But passing on them altogether would be a mistake.
Cincinnati Bengals: Ignoring the Offensive Line
The Cincinnati Bengals allowed guard Kevin Zeitler and tackle Andrew Whitworth to leave in free agency last offseason. That proved to be a disaster.
Cincinnati's new-look offensive line was one of the worst in the NFL in 2017, if not the very worst. It allowed 40 sacks and helped produce just 85.4 yards rushing per game, second-fewest in the NFL. Considering the Bengals had talented backs like Giovani Bernard and Joe Mixon on the roster, that rushing number is disappointing.
If Cincinnati wants to get back into the postseason hunt in 2018, it cannot ignore the offensive line in the draft. Yes, the Bengals traded for Cordy Glenn, but they still need an influx of talent on the interior.
Now that the Bengals are sitting at pick No. 21, they won't have a shot at Quenton Nelson. However, they may be able to land a player like Ohio State center Billy Price or Georgia guard Isaiah Wynn. Depending on how the Bengals feel about Jake Fisher's development, they may also want to consider Texas' Connor Williams at right tackle.
If Cincinnati wants a can't-miss prospect at another position at No. 21, it'll have to come back to the line sooner than later. It cannot ignore the line early.
Cleveland Browns: Passing on Their QB at No. 1
The Browns have been searching for a franchise quarterback since returning to the league as an expansion team in 1999. The closest Cleveland has come to finding one was in the 1999 draft when it selected Kentucky's Tim Couch with the first overall selection.
One can argue the Browns would have been better off selecting Syracuse's Donovan McNabb, who went No. 2 overall. While McNabb definitely had the better career, Couch had potential. If not for injuries and an offensive line that let him get sacked 166 times in five seasons, he might have panned out.
The Browns have not selected the first quarterback in any draft since 1999. Instead, they've scooped up second-tier options like Johnny Manziel, Brandon Weeden and DeShone Kizer. What's worse, the Browns have passed on chances to get the first or second quarterbacks in the draft over the past couple of years and missed potential superstars like Carson Wentz and Deshaun Watson.
We're not going to criticize Cleveland for grabbing Myles Garrett instead of a quarterback with the first pick last year, as he has the makings of a generational talent at perhaps the game's second-most important position. However, the Browns cannot afford to pass on a signal-caller No. 1 overall this year.
Whichever quarterback is highest on Cleveland's draft board has to be the selection. The Browns could still make the wrong decision at No. 1, but that would be better than settling for their second or third choice at No. 4.
Couch lasted five seasons in Cleveland and helped deliver a playoff berth. That's a legendary career compared to the Manziels and Weedens of the world. Trading down or taking a different position at No. 1 could be tempting, but the Browns need to identify their QB and not let him get away.
Dallas Cowboys: Ignoring the Future
Dallas Cowboy owner Jerry Jones loves to make a splash. His stadium is hosting the 2018 draft. It's easy to imagine he'll be tempted to use the 19th overall pick to excite the fanbase.
Adding a receiver like Calvin Ridley or Courtland Sutton to pair with Dez Bryant and Allen Hurns could produce some applause. Grabbing an edge-rusher like Boston College's Harold Landry to pair with Demarcus Lawrence might do the same. It's going to be hard for Jones to not look for a player who can immediately contribute.
However, the Cowboys have a couple of aging impact players, and they need to prepare for their eventual departures.
Grabbing a run-stopping linebacker like Alabama's Rashaan Evans could give the Cowboys a succession plan for Sean Lee. Adding a tight end like Mike Gesicki could do the same for Jason Witten, who recently received a restructured contract.
Even if Dallas doesn't go after heirs for Witten and Lee in Round 1, it should target them sooner than later.
Valuing players who won't make a big impact in Year 1 isn't going to excite the Cowboys fanbase. However, Lee and Witten aren't going to play forever. With young pieces like Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott to lead the team, Dallas should hope to contend long after they're gone.
Denver Broncos: Forcing a QB Selection
The Broncos added quarterback Case Keenum in free agency, and they have 2016 first-round pick Paxton Lynch on the roster. However, they could still target a potential franchise signal-caller in this year's draft. While Keenum is making $18 million per year in Denver—which is starting money—his two-year deal makes it easy for the Broncos to move on.
What the Broncos cannot do is force a quarterback pick with the fifth overall selection.
If a quarterback general manager John Elway loves is sitting there at No. 5, they should grab their guy. However, there are too many blue-chip prospects the Broncos could land instead, especially if two or three quarterbacks are drafted at the very top.
"I think the Broncos will be thrilled to land Mayfield if he falls to them, but I'm not sure they'll make a move to get No. 4 and lock him in," Jon Ledyard of NDT Scouting recently wrote. "He'd be a great fit in Denver, but if the Bills jump ahead of the Broncos and the Giants take a quarterback, John Elway will happily take the best player in the draft in Nelson to complete Denver's offensive line rebuild."
Adding Nelson or even Barkley would help remake Denver's offensive identity. If Keenum plays well and the defense can continue performing at a playoff level, this could be enough to get the Broncos back into the Super Bowl picture.
The Broncos need to find their quarterback of the future at some point, but they can't force the pick if their first choice isn't available. There's too much talent to pass up.
Detroit Lions: Passing on a Premier Offensive Prospect
The Detroit Lions have an elite quarterback in Matthew Stafford. They also have quality offensive weapons in Marvin Jones, Golden Tate and Kenny Golladay. Therefore, Detroit might not be looking at offensive skill players early in the draft.
The Lions could use depth along the offensive and defensive lines, but if the right skill player falls to them in the first (20th overall) or second round (51st), it would be a mistake to pass on him.
Even though the Lions have Ameer Abdullah, Theo Riddick and now LeGarrette Blount on the roster, it could make sense to add a running back like LSU's Derrius Guice or Georgia's Sony Michel. Abdullah has been a disappointment, Riddick is more of a receiving back and Blount is 31 years old.
Stafford has never had the benefit of a franchise running back. If Detroit can get him one, it should.
The Lions also need a primary pass-catching tight end now that Darren Fells and Eric Ebron are gone. The Lions did add Luke Willson, but it would benefit the offense to draft a tight end like Gesicki or South Dakota State's Dallas Goedert.
The Lions have a strong passing attack. New head coach Matt Patricia is a defensive head coach. However, neither fact should be reason enough to bypass offensive talent early in the draft.
Green Bay Packers: Not Focusing on a More Balanced Team
For too long, the Green Bay Packers have relied on Aaron Rodgers to carry them. If that wasn't apparent before Rodgers was injured last season, it should have been after. The Packers have to focus on becoming a more balanced team.
Step one should be improving a pass defense that ranked 23rd in the NFL (236.8 yards per game) last year. Rodgers is often exposed to injury because Green Bay finds itself in shootouts too often. Grabbing a corner like Denzel Ward or Josh Jackson would be an easy decision if either is available at 14th overall.
Improving a pass rush that logged just 37 sacks in 2017 would also improve the defense. Outside of Chubb, there isn't a blue-chip pass-rusher in the draft, but Green Bay could likely trade down in the first or pick in the second and land a starting-caliber edge-rusher. LSU's Arden Key would be a risk because of some off-field issues and a lack of recent production, but if the Packers can snag him in the right range and he can return to his 2016 form, he could be worth it.
It would also help to improve the interior of the offensive line. A guard like Isaiah Wynn or UTEP's Will Hernandez could strengthen the Packers' 17th-ranked rushing offense (107.8 yards per game) and help keep Rodgers upright.
Even though the Packers added tight end Jimmy Graham in free agency, it could be tempting to add more targets for Rodgers—especially with Jordy Nelson out. Green Bay needs to take some pressure off Rodgers' shoulders instead.
Houston Texans: Being Afraid to Package Picks
The Houston Texans are without picks in the first and second rounds because of last year's trade up for Watson. However, they do have eight total picks, including three in the third round and one in the fourth. They could package some picks and move into the second round, and they shouldn't be afraid to.
The Texans need an influx of talent along the offensive line, which allowed 54 sacks last season, while Watson is trying to come back from a torn ACL (suffered in practice).
Houston will do its homework on Day 2 linemen because it's unlikely to trade into Round 1. As head coach Bill O'Brien said at the NFL combine (via the team website):
"I think once you get into the middle of the second round all the way through the third, fourth and down the road there, you really have to put your due diligence into the tape, the school visit, bringing them on campus, the combine interview, how much football does he know, if there were some character questions in the past or some medical questions, you get them answered here or things like that."
If the Texans fall in love with a second-round prospect like Ohio State tackle Jamarco Jones or UCLA tackle Kolton Miller, they can't be afraid to package picks to go get him.
Indianapolis Colts: Not Building Around Andrew Luck
The Indianapolis Colts were a legitimate playoff contender back when quarterback Andrew Luck was fully healthy. However, Luck has missed time each of the last three seasons, and the Colts haven't made the playoffs in any of them.
Hopefully, Indianapolis will have its quarterback under center when the 2018 season opens and for long beyond.
"We feel optimistic that he's turned the corner and has a full decade ahead of him of excellence," owner Jim Irsay recently told reporters of Luck.
If Indianapolis hopes to keep Luck healthy for the foreseeable future, it needs to build around him. Upgrading the offensive line should be the top priority, as Luck has been sacked 156 times in five seasons. Adding a top-tier running back to take pressure off Luck should come next.
Should the Colts be able to land either Barkley or Nelson with the sixth overall pick, it shouldn't hesitate to turn in the draft card. If both are available, Nelson may get priority because the Colts could still target a back like Michel or Guice at the top of Round 2.
Indianapolis also needs pass-rushing help, so it wouldn't be a disaster if Bradley Chubb is the pick at No. 6. If that's the move, then the Colts should consider using all three of their second-round picks to upgrade the offensive line and backfield.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Being Afraid to Draft a Quarterback
The Jacksonville Jaguars didn't bring in competition for Blake Bortles in free agency. Instead, they inked Bortles to a new three-year, $54 million deal. They acquired Cody Kessler but also watched Chad Henne sign elsewhere. Henne has filled the backup role since Bortles was drafted, so his departure shouldn't be overlooked.
Bortles' deal doesn't ensure he will be starting longer than a season or two. The Jaguars could release him after the 2019 season with only a $5 million cap hit. If another quarterback on the roster is able to steal the starting job by then, Jacksonville can afford to allow him to take it.
The Jaguars only have two quarterbacks on the roster, though, and they can't be afraid to draft another. Jacksonville doesn't have to use the 29th overall pick on a signal-caller or even target one on Day 2, but it should pounce if the right quarterback is available.
Jacksonville must secure a backup who can be developed for the future. If Bortles plays poorly or gets injured, the Jaguars will need an answer. The Philadelphia Eagles showed the importance of a solid backup.
Kansas City Chiefs: Being Afraid to Trade Up
Due to the trade for quarterback Patrick Mahomes, the Kansas City Chiefs are without a first-round pick this year and won't select until 54th overall. The Chiefs could still get a starter with the picks they have—remember, Kareem Hunt was a third-rounder—but if they want to increase their chances of adding an elite defender, they shouldn't be afraid to trade up.
Defense is where Kansas City needs the most work. The team totaled just 31 sacks in 2017 and allowed 365.1 yards per game, fifth-most in the NFL.
The Chiefs aren't likely to move into range for a top corner like Ward or Jackson or a top linebacker like Boise State's Leighton Vander Esch or Virginia Tech's Tremaine Edmunds. However, the Chiefs are armed with two third-round picks after trading Alex Smith. They also got an extra fourth-round pick and a 2019 second-round pick by dealing cornerback Marcus Peters.
The Chiefs should be able to package some of these picks and move to the top of Round 2—or even into Round 1 with some additional pieces—to land a defensive playmaker. Kansas City could snag an edge-rusher like Arden Key or a cornerback like Isaiah Oliver in this range.
The Chiefs traded up to get Mahomes. They shouldn't be afraid to move up for the second year in a row if it means nabbing a player who can get Kansas City further into the postseason.
Los Angeles Chargers: Not Addressing the Run Defense
The Los Angeles Chargers weren't far from being a playoff team in 2017. They've already addressed a couple of needs in free agency, adding center Mike Pouncey and kicker Caleb Sturgis. Their biggest remaining need is improved run defense.
The Chargers had the league's second-worst run defense last season, allowing 131.1 yards per game. Head coach Anthony Lynn has made it clear this is something the team hopes to change through the draft.
"I'd like to see the front seven get better for us against the run," Lynn told reporters. "And for us to have a great defense, that's going to have to improve."
Adding a run-stopping defensive lineman like Washington's Vita Vea or Alabama's Da'Ron Payne with the 17th overall pick could be an option. So could grabbing a rangy linebacker like Vander Esch.
The Chargers should be able to move around in the first round and still land a capable run-stopper. Even if they decide to go with another position in Round 1 (perhaps an heir to Philip Rivers), addressing the run defense has to be of high priority.
Los Angeles Rams: Not Continuing to Address the Run Defense
Like the Chargers, the Los Angeles Rams had issues in run defense last season. They ranked 28th against the run, allowing 122.3 yards per game. This was the biggest weakness on defense and perhaps the biggest deficiency overall.
The Rams took some steps to address their run defense in free agency, adding standout defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and linebacker Ramik Wilson. However, this shouldn't be the only steps L.A. takes to fix its run defense this offseason.
Adding a sideline-to-sideline linebacker like Edmunds, Vander Esch or Rashaan Evans would ensure it isn't so easy for other teams to establish the run.
Improving the run defense would serve two purposes for the Rams. It would make it harder to control the clock and keep Todd Gurley, Jared Goff and the L.A. offense off the field. It would also increase pressure on opponents to test Marcus Peters, Aqib Talib and the new-look Rams secondary.
The Rams are going to have options with the 23rd overall pick, including targeting a pass-catcher to replace Sammy Watkins. However, continuing to upgrade the run defense would get L.A. closer to being a complete team and a legitimate Super Bowl contender.
Miami Dolphins: Not Bringing in Competition for Ryan Tannehill
The Miami Dolphins spent a first-round pick on quarterback Ryan Tannehill in 2012. The Texas A&M product has played well enough to earn a second contract, but he hasn't established himself as a franchise quarterback.
It didn't help that a torn ACL and MCL cost Tannehill his 2017 campaign.
It would behoove Miami to bring in competition for Tannehill through this draft. They have Brock Osweiler and David Fales right now, but neither is likely to unseat Tannehill as the future at the position.
The Dolphins don't have to use the 11th overall pick on a quarterback. They could pick up a signal-caller on Day 2 and give him time behind Tannehill. If, however, a guy like Lamar Jackson or Baker Mayfield is available at No. 11, it would be dumb to not consider calling his name.
Dolphins head coach Adam Gase seems interested in this year's quarterbacks.
"That whole group of guys, it's rare that you're talking about this many guys at the top of a draft," Gase told reporters. "Whoever's getting who, you're getting good players across the board. You're getting guys that are confident, you're getting guys with a lot of talent."
Tannehill has talent, but he hasn't proved himself reliable in terms of health, leadership ability or consistency. The Dolphins should find a quarterback who can.
Minnesota Vikings: Ignoring the Offensive Line
The Minnesota Vikings came close to reaching the Super Bowl in 2017, and they've added a couple of big pieces this offseason. They upgraded at quarterback with Kirk Cousins at quarterback and added Sheldon Richardson to the defensive line.
There aren't a lot of needs for Minnesota, but upgrading the offensive line should be a priority.
The Vikings line wasn't terrible in 2017. It paved the way for the league's seventh-ranked rushing attack (122.3 yards per game) and allowed just 27 sacks in the regular season. However, it was a liability in the NFC title game. Case Keenum was sacked once but was under pressure throughout the contest.
Then starting guard Joe Berger announced his retirement this offseason.
Adding a guard with the 30th overall pick, perhaps Isaiah Wynn, would be a smart move. Alternatively, the Vikings could try to kick Mike Remmers inside to guard and target a new right tackle, such as Notre Dame's Mike McGlinchey.
The Viking shouldn't force an offensive line pick at No. 30 if the top prospects are gone. Trading down or going best player available should remain an option. However, it would behoove Minnesota to draft for both talent and depth along the offensive line early.
New England Patriots: Not Grabbing a Developmental QB
The New England Patriots don't need a starting quarterback. They don't even need a backup after signing Brian Hoyer to a three-year, $4.4 million deal. What the Patriots need is a young quarterback to develop for the future.
New England traded away both Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett last season.
Tom Brady seems intent on playing for a couple more years at least. Still, an injury or sudden decline could bring about his end sooner than he anticipates (see Manning, Peyton). The Patriots cannot be caught flat-footed. Hoyer isn't a future franchise QB, and the Patriots need to target a young quarterback who might be.
"Obviously, at some point, we have to [draft a quarterback]," Patriots owner Robert Kraft told reporters. "Not just that, but think what happened in '08 in the first quarter against Kansas City, Tom goes out [with a torn ACL]. How many people would have said that Matt Cassel would have led us to an 11-5 season?"
New England drafted Garoppolo in Round 2 and Brissett in Round 3. While neither ended up being Brady's heir, the potential was there. Don't be surprised if the Patriots target a guy like Washington State's Luke Falk or Western Kentucky's Mike White on Day 2.
It would be a mistake if they didn't.
New Orleans Saints: Ignoring the Pass Rush
The New Orleans Saints had a good defense in 2017—ranked 10th in scoring, allowing 20.4 points per game—but not a great one. The Saints pass rush, likewise, was good but not great. While it did amass 42 sacks in the regular season, it only produced six in two postseason games and one against the Vikings in the divisional round.
Perhaps if the Saints had gotten better pressure against Keenum, the Miracle in Minneapolis would never have happened.
New Orleans needs a consistent pass-rusher across from Cameron Jordan. Jordan finished the regular season with 13.0 sacks. No one else on the team had more than 4.5.
The Saints should be thinking edge-rusher in the first round as they don't possess a second-round pick. They're not going to land Bradley Chubb with the 27th overall pick, but they may be able to grab a guy like Arden Key or Texas-San Antonio's Marcus Davenport.
Edge-rusher might not seem like New Orleans' biggest need, but adding one who can come close to double-digit sacks as a rookie could do wonders for the defense and get the Saints closer to the Super Bowl.
New York Giants: Letting Darnold Slip Away
The last time the New York Giants picked in the top five of the draft, they ended up with two-time Super Bowl winner Eli Manning. They haven't been in position to guarantee themselves their top quarterback in the draft since, though that hasn't been an issue because of Manning.
Now that Manning is 37 years old and nearing the end of his career, landing a new franchise quarterback has to be a priority.
Armed with the No. 2 pick in this year's draft, the Giants could find their man now, and they should. But the Browns pick first overall and may well steal New York's top choice.
According to ESPN's Jordan Raanan, the Giants' top choice may be their only choice.
"Been saying for months Darnold is the only QB they'd take unless [general manager Dave] Gettleman disregards his scouts," Raanan said on Twitter.
If Darnold is the only quarterback the Giants are interested in and they're convinced he's Manning's heir apparent, they have to do everything they can to get him.
On a recent episode of The Dan Patrick Show, Patrick said sources have indicated the Browns really want Josh Allen and are trying to bait the Giants into moving up to No. 1 for Darnold.
The Giants may be able to call Cleveland's bluff and still get Darnold at No. 2. However, there's always the possibility Cleveland isn't bluffing or could trade the right to pick Darnold to another team. If the Giants need to move up a spot to get their man, they'd better. Otherwise, they may spend the next several years wishing they had.
New York Jets: Not Taking a QB at No. 3
We've already discussed the quarterbacks in this year's draft at length and how not all of them are sure to be stars. For some teams, forcing a third or fourth choice at the position doesn't make sense. For Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan and head coach Todd Bowles, though, it's the only move.
"Put simply: April 26 will be one of the most important and impactful days in recent franchise history...for better or worse," Dan Hanzus of NFL.com recently wrote. "Maccagnan, whose last quarterback pick left him with a scarlet letter 'H' on his lapel, won't survive another miscalculation. Same for Todd Bowles, the rare coach who gets a fourth year on the job without a playoff appearance to his name."
The Jets missed out on Cousins in free agency, so Maccagnan traded three second-round picks to move up from the sixth overall pick to pick No. 3. This ensures the Jets can get, at the very worst, their third choice at quarterback. Even with Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater (plus Christian Hackenberg) on the roster, the Jets need to draft a quarterback.
Presumably, the Jets view at least three quarterbacks as equals or close to equals. Otherwise, they probably wouldn't have made the trade with so much time before the draft. They might even be able to get their top guy at No. 3, but the fact remains they have to take a quarterback.
The Jets have been searching for a franchise quarterback since Joe Namath, and the potential of finally finding one is going to be huge. It might even be enough to save the jobs of Maccagnan and Bowles after another disappointing season.
What won't save their jobs is trading away three Round 2 selections for a running back or a guard, no matter how special Saquon Barkley and Quenton Nelson may be. Passing on a signal-caller at No. 3 may cost a lot of people their jobs, and it may cause long-suffering Jets fans to riot.
Oakland Raiders: Overvaluing the Offense
Oakland Raiders head coach Jon Gruden is an offensive coach. There's little doubt he'd love to return Derek Carr and the Raiders offense to their 2016 form. Some of the bigger moves Oakland has made this offseason, like adding Jordy Nelson and Doug Martin, have been offense-focused. But the Raiders have also added linebacker Tahir Whitehead and safety Marcus Gilchrist to bolster the defense.
The Raiders ranked 26th in pass defense (241.1 yards per game allowed), 23rd in total defense (350.1 yards per game) and 20th in scoring defense (23.3 points per game). They have three selections in the first 75 picks, including No. 10 overall, and defense should be the primary focus.
Now, if Nelson or Barkley falls to No. 10, the Raiders should rush to turn in their card. If that doesn't happen, the Raiders should be happy to scoop up whichever top-end defensive back is available. A linebacker like Tremaine Edmunds would also have value there. The Raiders definitely shouldn't overvalue a different running back or a wide receiver in the top 10.
It would make sense to go after some offensive line depth on Day 2, but it would make just as much sense to target a sideline-to-sideline linebacker or a versatile defensive lineman.
The more balanced the Raiders can become through the draft, the less likely Carr and the offense will have to play heroes like they did in 2016.
Philadelphia Eagles: Budging on Nick Foles' Asking Price
The Eagles trusted in backup quarterback Nick Foles after Carson Wentz went down with a torn ACL. It proved to be a prudent move, as Foles played well enough to deliver a Lombardi Trophy and earn Super Bowl MVP honors.
It would be equally prudent for Philadelphia to stick to its guns as it pertains to possibly trading Foles.
“We know what we have," Eagles executive vice president Howie Roseman told reporters. "And that allows us the ability to feel very good about the most important position in sports. For us to get rid of something like that, that's going to be a high price tag.”
The Eagles don't sound like they plan to move Foles, but people do silly things in the NFL on draft day. If there's a player Philadelphia really wants—say in the middle of the first round—and an offer comes in that could make it happen, Roseman may be tempted to budge.
For starters, Wentz is coming off a serious knee injury. There's no way of knowing if he'll be ready for the start of the regular season. There's also no telling how long it will take for him to get back to 100 percent. Ask the Colts how misleading recovery timetables can be.
The Eagles know they can win with Foles, at least for a stretch. If they want to maximize their chances of a Super Bowl repeat, they need to have him on the roster.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Not Being Open to a Bell Trade
Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell is one of the most explosive offensive players in the league. He would have been one of the top players available in free agency had the Steelers not valued him enough to give him the franchise tag.
However, Pittsburgh hasn't yet been able to parlay that tag into a long-term deal and doesn't appear interested in making the move a priority.
"Once you make the tag, you move on to other business that's more pertinent at this point. ... Then we'll address it at the appropriate time," general manager Kevin Colbert told Steve Wyche of NFL.com.
Heading into the draft, the Steelers need to be open to moving Bell. That would require a trade partner that will give Bell a long-term contract because he would need a reason to sign his franchise tender to facilitate the trade.
If the right deal comes along, Pittsburgh should listen.
Yes, Bell is a great running back, but he's also expensive, has 1,229 regular-season carries under his belt, has dealt with some injuries and could bring the Steelers something valuable in return. The Steelers won't have quarterback Ben Roethlisberger forever, and an extra first-round pick could help prepare for his departure.
Moving Bell might even put Pittsburgh in position to draft Roethlisberger's replacement, and there are plenty of enticing running back options in this draft class. The Steelers likely can't land Barkley, but adding a guy like Guice or Michel would give them a serviceable backfield.
The Steelers don't need to seek a trade but shouldn't close their ears to draft-day offers either.
San Francisco 49ers: Trading Out of the Top 10
San Francisco 49ers general manager John Lynch has done a tremendous job since taking over. He's landed a potential franchise quarterback in Jimmy Garoppolo, has added quality support pieces like cornerback Richard Sherman and center Weston Richburg, and has the 49ers positioned to grab a premier player in this year's draft.
San Francisco is armed with the ninth overall selection, and with several teams potentially set to trade up for a quarterback, the options are numerous.
"This one could maneuver so many different ways," Lynch told reporters. "It's really intriguing with these quarterbacks. Everyone's got a different favorite quarterback. There are so many different possibilities. Fortunately for us, there are a lot of good football players."
It would be a mistake to trade down in the first round for the second consecutive year, though. If at least four quarterbacks are taken in the first eight selections, one of the top-tier prospects could be sitting there at No. 9.
It doesn't matter if that prospect is Saquon Barkley, Quenton Nelson, Bradley Chubb, Minkah Fitzpatrick or Denzel Ward—he'll be a player the 49ers can use.
No prospect is a sure thing, but the 49ers can increase their chances of getting a player who won't wash out by staying put at ninth overall. They could be tempted by a team that wants to grab a quarterback, but trading more than a spot down—and San Francisco would still have to be certain the ninth pick would be a QB—would be a mistake.
Seattle Seahawks: Failing to Get Russell Wilson Help
The Seattle Seahawks are similar to the Packers in the sense they've asked their quarterback to carry the team for far too long. Russell Wilson has been sacked a whopping 248 times in six seasons. If the Seahawks hope to have Wilson as their franchise quarterback for the long term, they need to put a stop to his punishment.
That said, having Wilson gives the Seahawks a lot of freedom in the draft. They own the 18th overall pick and could go any number of ways with it.
The offensive line has to be a high priority. Tackle Duane Brown and center Justin Britt are above-average players. Upgrading either guard position would be smart, though.
If Seattle believes it can find a top-tier workhorse running back, it shouldn't hesitate to grab him. The combination of C.J. Prosise, Chris Carson and Mike Davis may be serviceable, but it isn't likely to get the Seahawks back to the smashmouth days of Marshawn Lynch.
The Seahawks may also want to grab Wilson some new targets after watching Paul Richardson go to the Redskins, Luke Willson to the Lions and Jimmy Graham to the Packers. They could target tight ends Dallas Goedert or Mike Gesicki with their first-round pick.
Seattle doesn't own picks in the second or third round, so trading down or out of the first round and gaining more selections would be a smart strategy. Still, getting Wilson help should be priority No. 1.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Not Targeting the Secondary Early and Often
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had a few weaknesses in 2017, but pass defense was chief among them. The Buccaneers ranked dead last in the NFL with 22 sacks and last in pass defense, allowing 260.6 yards per game.
Tampa took some steps to upgrade its pass rush in free agency, signing Vinny Curry and trading for Jason Pierre-Paul. Aside from cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, however, the secondary still lacks talent.
The Buccaneers need to target the secondary early and often in April. They are armed with the seventh overall pick, so grabbing one of the top guys, like Minkah Fitzpatrick, Josh Jackson or Denzel Ward, is a real possibility. However, there is enough need on the back end of the defense that Tampa should use more than one pick on secondary players.
It would be hard to fault the Buccaneers for scooping up Quenton Nelson, Saquon Barkley or Bradley Chubb if one falls to No. 7, as all three are elite prospects. However, Tampa needs to make the secondary its biggest priority.
Tennessee Titans: Undervaluing Pass-Catchers
New Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Vrabel has an immediate goal: He wants to get the most out of quarterback Marcus Mariota.
"The vision is that we're going to do things that are going to help him," Vrabel said in a press conference. "We're going to get guys around him that are going to help him."
Getting Mariota more quality targets would be a great way to help the Oregon product continue to develop as a passer. Unfortunately, the Titans didn't add a top-tier player like Jarvis Landry, Allen Robinson or Sammy Watkins this offseason.
Tennessee cannot afford to undervalue pass-catchers in the draft. Yes, the Titans spent a first-round pick on Corey Davis last offseason. Yes, they have a premier tight end in Delanie Walker. However, Walker will be 34 at the start of the season, and Davis is unproven. The Western Michigan product appeared in 11 games as a rookie and caught just 34 passes for 375 yards.
The Titans should consider receivers like Courtland Sutton and Calvin Ridley if either is available with the 25th overall pick, as well as tight ends like Goedert and Gesicki if the wideouts are not. At the very least, Tennessee needs to consider the wideout and tight end positions on Day 2.
The Titans cannot undervalue pass-catchers in this draft if they hope to give Mariota the help he needs to thrive.
Washington Redskins: Ignoring the Trenches
The Redskins traded for quarterback Alex Smith and inked him to a four-year, $94 million extension. Washington should be set at the game's most important position for the near future.
It may be tempting to use early draft picks—including No. 13 overall—to surround the team's new investment with talent. A shiny new running back or pass-catcher would look good playing next to Smith. However, it would be more beneficial for the Redskins to address the offensive and defensive lines.
Washington had trouble controlling the line of scrimmage defensively last season with a league-worst run defense that allowed a whopping 134.1 yards per game. Adding a defensive lineman like Da'Ron Payne or Vita Vea could help turn things around.
Things in the trenches were nearly as bad on offense. The Redskins averaged just 90.5 yards rushing per game and allowed 41 sacks. Adding a lineman like Connor Williams or Billy Price would bolster the interior of the line.
It's unlikely Quenton Nelson will be available at No. 13, but if he should slide, it would be wise for Washington to consider moving up for him.
Adding an offensive lineman or non-rushing defensive lineman isn't the kind of move that gets a fanbase excited. However, for the Redskins, it would be the right move. The franchise is looking to get back to the postseason after a two-year absence. Establishing the run, stopping the run and protecting the quarterback will go a long way toward reaching that goal.
All contract information via Spotrac.com.