2018 NFL Draft: Every Team's Biggest Need
The 2018 NFL draft is almost upon us, and the anticipation is palpable. Things kick off Thursday in Arlington, Texas, and over the following three days, teams could change their directions and prospects will see their NFL dreams begin.
This, of course, is a big part of the excitement. However, the draft's unpredictability is equally exhilarating. Analysts and experts have spent months examining prospects, gathering information and pumping out mock drafts.
For as much as we like to believe we know what will happen, however, there's no telling how the event will unfold.
What we can nail down ahead of the first pick, however, is the holes teams need to address. We'll examine last year's performances, offseason moves and current rosters to determine each franchise's biggest draft need. This should give us an idea of where teams will lean early in the draft, though it's worth noting that finding the right intersection of need and value isn't always possible.
Arizona Cardinals: Quarterback
The Arizona Cardinals need a quarterback following Carson Palmer's retirement. They also need someone who can be the face of the franchise whenever wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald retires.
This is why it's important for Arizona to land a signal-caller early in the draft. Waiting until Round 2 or 3 for a quarterback could reduce the chances that he'll be true franchise material. Plus, it's hard to envision the fanbase's excitement over the likes of Luke Falk or Mike White.
This isn't to say guys such as Falk and White can't develop into good NFL starters, only that fans will be clamoring for a star.
The Cardinals are armed with the 15th overall pick, which means grabbing one of the draft's top prospects without making a trade will be difficult. If Arizona wants Wyoming's Josh Allen, UCLA's Josh Rosen or USC's Sam Darnold, it may have to move up into the top five. It might require a swap to get Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield or Louisville's Lamar Jackson as well.
Staying put and grabbing Oklahoma State's Mason Rudolph may be possible, as he is regarded as a second-tier prospect.
The good news is the Cardinals have Sam Bradford and Mike Glennon. Neither is a long-term answer, but their presence will give Arizona time to develop its next signal-caller.
Atlanta Falcons: Defensive Tackle
The Atlanta Falcons don't have a ton of glaring weaknesses. They're two years removed from a near-Super Bowl win and narrowly lost to last year's eventual champions, the Philadelphia Eagles, in the divisional round.
Atlanta could use talent in the trenches, however, as general manager Thomas Dimitroff recently acknowledged.
"We're going to look at both fronts as we always do every year, and that's important to continue to build," Dimitroff said, per Kelsey Conway of the team's official website.
Adding free-agent guard Brandon Fusco helped address the offensive line, but the loss of defensive tackle Dontari Poe to the Carolina Panthers weakened that front. Which makes defensive tackle Atlanta's biggest need.
The Falcons have a strong rotation of edge-rushers and one standout tackle in Grady Jarrett. Adding a top-tier player at the other defensive tackle spot would complete Atlanta's front and help players such as Jarrett, Brooks Reed and Takkarist McKinley improve.
Adding Alabama's Da'Ron Payne or Florida's Taven Bryan at pick No. 26 would make Atlanta more ferocious almost immediately.
Baltimore Ravens: Pass-Catcher
There was a time when many wondered if Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco was elite. Well, no one has posed that question over the last couple of years, as injuries and inconsistencies have dropped his numbers significantly. He hasn't posted a passer rating higher than 83.5 over the past three seasons.
All of the blame can't fall on Flacco's shoulders, though, as the Ravens have surrounded him with subpar talent. Tight end Benjamin Watson led the team with 61 receptions last year, while receiver Mike Wallace led it with a mere 748 yards. No other player logged more than 46 catches or 440 yards in 2017.
Oh, and both Wallace and Watson left in free agency.
Still, the Ravens are without a true No. 1 receiver or a dominant playmaking tight end. If Baltimore hopes to see Flacco get back to the level that helped deliver a Lombardi Trophy in February 2013, this needs to change.
Adding a receiver such as Alabama's Calvin Ridley or a tight end like South Carolina's Hayden Hurst would go a long way toward improving Baltimore's offense.
Buffalo Bills: Quarterback
Like the Cardinals, the Buffalo Bills need a franchise quarterback. Unlike the Cardinals, though, Buffalo has a playoff-caliber roster and little need to generate immediate excitement with a draft selection.
Heck, Buffalo may find that AJ McCarron—likely only brought in as a bridge option—is good enough to hold down the position for the foreseeable future. However, there are a couple of reasons it's clear the Bills are looking to draft a long-term answer.
For one, Buffalo had a Pro Bowl quarterback in Tyrod Taylor who helped deliver a playoff berth last year. The Bills still pushed him out the door in exchange for a mere third-round pick in March. Second, Buffalo traded with the Cincinnati Bengals to move up to pick No. 12. This could be the first step up the draft to grab a signal-caller.
Unless Buffalo sees McCarron as a massive upgrade over Taylor, it needs to draft a quarterback who is. Considering the Alabama product has only made three NFL starts in four years and never threatened Andy Dalton in Cincinnati, it's imperative Buffalo does so.
Carolina Panthers: Defensive Back
The Carolina Panthers could go with a wide receiver in the first round, as legitimate downfield pass-catchers don't exactly litter their roster. However, defensive back is an even bigger need. The team has lacked a No. 1 cornerback since parting with Josh Norman in 2016 and ranked 18th in pass defense (229.1 yards per game allowed) last season.
Carolina tried to address the position in free agency, but Bashaud Breeland failed his physical.
The Panthers could also use a playmaking safety. While there are some serviceable safeties on the roster, such as Mike Adams and Da'Norris Searcy, there isn't a difference-maker.
The fact that Carolina needs both cornerback and safety talent provides some draft flexibility, though. The Panthers could go after a cornerback such as Louisville's Jaire Alexander or Ohio State's Denzel Ward. They could also take a safety such as Alabama's Minkah Fitzpatrick or Florida State's Derwin James. Realistically, Carolina will be able to scoop the best defensive back who falls to it—the Panthers cannot afford to force a pick.
"We would love to keep adding parts to the secondary, as well as other positions," Panthers general manager Marty Hurney explained, per Stephen Igoe of 247Sports. "It's going to depend on how the draft falls. We're not going to reach for somebody because he's a safety."
Chicago Bears: Cornerback
The Chicago Bears addressed their biggest need in free agency by adding pass-catchers Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and Trey Burton. With strong offensive and defensive lines, quality linebackers and a pair of talented running backs, this leaves secondary as Chicago's biggest need.
More specifically, the Bears have a hole at cornerback. The safety tandem of Eddie Jackson and Adrian Amos is solid. Yes, they just signed Kyle Fuller to a four-year, $56 million deal and have Prince Amukamara, but there is little depth at the position.
Adding a cornerback such as Ward, Iowa's Josh Jackson or Central Florida's Mike Hughes would put the Bears in position to improve their defense for both the short and long term.
Amukamara has been a good-but-not-great corner. He'll be 30 in two years, and the team will be able to get out of his contract with $1 million remaining in guaranteed money. It would behoove the Bears to identify an upgrade opposite Fuller.
That could and should come in the form of an early 2018 draft pick. While said selection is learning, he could lock down the nickelback job. This would give Chicago a secondary with few obvious holes.
Cincinnati Bengals: Offensive Line
The Cincinnati Bengals have spent high draft picks on offensive linemen recently. They used a second-rounder on Jake Fisher and a first-rounder on Cedric Ogbuehi in 2015. However, neither has emerged as a reliable starter.
In addition, Cincinnati parted ways with both guard Kevin Zeitler and tackle Andrew Whitworth last offseason.
This has left it with a disaster of an offensive line. Opening holes in the running game and protecting quarterback Andy Dalton proved difficult last season. Cincinnati ranked 31st in rushing (85.4 yards per game) and watched as Dalton was sacked 39 times.
Now, the Bengals did swing a trade for Bills tackle Cordy Glenn this offseason, but that move alone won't fix all of the line's issues. The good news is the O-line is so bad, Cincinnati could afford to take a left tackle, a right tackle, a guard or even a center in Round 1 and come out ahead.
The trade with Buffalo left Cincinnati with the 21st overall pick, so top-rated guard Quenton Nelson is likely out of the question. However, if a tackle like Notre Dame's Mike McGlinchey or a guard like UTEP's Will Hernandez falls to No. 21, the Bengals shouldn't hesitate to grab him.
Cleveland Browns: Quarterback
This one should be obvious. The Cleveland Browns have been searching for a franchise quarterback since returning to the league in 1999. Of course, that was the last time they drafted a QB in the top 10, taking Tim Couch first overall.
The Browns have the Nos. 1 and 4 picks, but leaving their guy sitting at No. 1 could end in disaster. Cleveland has passed on the chance to take Carson Wentz and Deshaun Watson—both of whom appear to be franchise signal-callers—over the last two years. The Browns' best bet is to settle on one quarterback and pull the trigger as soon as their clock starts.
If Cleveland can put a steady presence under center, it should be able to climb out of the NFL's basement.
Of course, the big question is whether the Browns can pick the right guy. If they select first overall and whiff on a quarterback, they won't be any better. The good news is that acquiring Taylor means Cleveland won't have to rush its new quarterback onto the field.
Dallas Cowboys: Pass-Catcher
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott took a step back in his sophomore NFL campaign, and there were a couple of reasons for it. One, he didn't have star running back Ezekiel Elliott for six games. He also didn't have a large cadre of playmaking pass-catchers.
Dez Bryant was inconsistent, but he was Dallas' best receiver in 2017 and the only player to top 600 yards receiving. Of course, the Cowboys let him go this offseason.
Cole Beasley and Terrance Williams are solid receivers, but neither is a No. 1 option. Tight end Jason Witten is still a threat, but he'll soon be 36 years old and isn't a downfield weapon anymore. Dallas did add Allen Hurns in free agency, but he is not a No. 1 wideout.
This is why the Cowboys need to prioritize pass-catchers in the draft. Adding a wide receiver such as Ridley or Maryland's D.J. Moore would help stretch the field. This would prevent teams from focusing solely on Elliott, help open up the run game and take pressure off Prescott.
If there is an early run on wide receivers and there isn't one Dallas likes at No. 19, it could still scoop a tight end such as Hurst or Penn State's Mike Gesicki. Adding a playmaking tight end would give the Cowboys another weapon and a succession plan for when Witten retires.
Denver Broncos: Offensive Line
Denver's defense is still a playoff-caliber unit. Unfortunately, the Broncos have struggled to take advantage of it over the last couple of seasons because of poor offensive performance. Subpar quarterback play and turnovers have been especially troublesome.
The Broncos spent $36 million to bring in quarterback Case Keenum for the next two years. If they want their investment to pay off, however, they'll have to protect him.
Things start with the offensive line. Last season, the line was average in run blocking and was terrible in pass protection. As a team, Denver averaged 115.8 yards per game on the ground (12th) and 4.1 yards per carry (tied for 14th). Broncos quarterbacks were sacked a whopping 52 times.
Upgrading the offensive line has to be a priority. Denver could use help at tackle and guard and will be in position to take the best offensive lineman available when it is on the clock.
If the Broncos stay put at No. 5, they shouldn't hesitate to grab Nelson, who has perennial All-Pro potential. If they trade down and acquire additional picks from a quarterback-needy team, a guy like McGlinchey, Hernandez or Georgia's Isaiah Wynn would make for a home run pick.
Detroit Lions: Edge-Rusher
The Detroit Lions have a couple of needs they could address, such as running back and cornerback. However, the addition of a top-tier edge-rusher to pair with Ezekiel Ansah would improve Detroit in a hurry.
Ansah led the Lions with 12 sacks last season, which is why they franchise tagged him. The rest of the team, however, combined for just 23 sacks. No other player logged more than 6.5.
Adding to the pass rush is important because Detroit is in a division with Aaron Rodgers, Kirk Cousins and Mitchell Trubisky. Though Trubisky is still developing, there isn't a quarterback in the NFC North the Lions can afford to give time to.
The best way to derail a good QB is to pressure him.
Unfortunately, Detroit has no chance at landing NC State's Bradley Chubb, widely regarded as the draft's best pass-rusher. He's expected to be a top-10 selection, and the Lions own the 20th overall pick. However, adding Texas-San Antonio's Marcus Davenport or LSU's Arden Key would help boost Detroit's pass rush and likely make new head coach and defensive guru Matt Patricia happy.
Green Bay Packers: Cornerback
As is the case with the Lions, the Green Bay Packers reside in a division with quality quarterbacks and loads of pass-catching talent. The Packers get to face Cousins, Trubisky and Matthew Stafford twice each, along with receivers Robinson, Stefon Diggs and Marvin Jones.
Also like Detroit, the Packers could use pass-rush help. However, Green Bay has a bigger need at cornerback.
The Packers have lacked a true shutdown corner for years. With such good receivers in the division, that's an issue. The Packers have also struggled to cover in general and to force turnovers in the secondary.
Green Bay allowed 236.8 yards per game through the air last season, 23rd in the NFL. The Packers also posted a mere 11 interceptions. Four of those came from cornerback Damarious Randall, who was traded to Cleveland in this offseason.
Jackson, Hughes, Ward or Alexander would help improve Green Bay's defense almost immediately.
Houston Texans: Offensive Lineman
The Houston Texans are in a poor draft situation for a couple of reasons. They don't hold a pick until the third round. They're also in dire need of fresh talent along the line of scrimmage.
Adding a starting-caliber offensive tackle in Round 3 or later doesn't happen often. With the guard position now being valued nearly as much as tackle, the Texans may struggle to find a starting interior lineman as well.
Houston should consider packaging picks and moving into Round 2 if there's a lineman it loves there.
It's important for the Texans to strengthen their offensive line, because their franchise quarterback is coming off a torn ACL. Deshaun Watson appears to be the answer the Texans have been looking for, but if Houston can't keep him upright and healthy, it can't take advantage of his skills.
Now, poor offensive line play wasn't responsible for his injury—he was hurt in practice—but it was a liability. Texans quarterbacks were sacked a combined 54 times.
Indianapolis Colts: Running Back
Since they drafted him in 2012, the Indianapolis Colts have relied on quarterback Andrew Luck to carry them. That they ignored other positions such as the offensive line and running back left Luck having to make plays and left him open to physical punishment.
He took 156 sacks in under five full seasons. This led to a shoulder injury that didn't heal properly the first time, required additional surgery and caused the Stanford product to miss all of last year.
Supporting Luck needs to be top priority for the Colts. It has to start in this draft, too, especially since Indianapolis holds the sixth overall pick.
Adding either a lineman such as Nelson or a running back like Penn State's Saquon Barkley would help protect Luck. Barkley could easily be gone by then, though, and while it would still be smart to snag Nelson, adding a runner has to be part of the plan.
If Indianapolis can't get Barkley, it may still have a shot at a starting-caliber back such as LSU's Derrius Guice or Georgia's Sony Michel at the top of the second round. Trading back into the late first should also be a consideration.
The more the Colts can lean on the run, the less pressure Luck will see when he returns. Indianapolis averaged just 3.7 yards per attempt last season, and that was with Frank Gore, who's with the Miami Dolphins, still on the roster.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Linebacker
The Jacksonville Jaguars have one of the league's top rosters. They could use a nickel corner to help replace Aaron Colvin, who signed with Houston, but they have enough talent elsewhere in the secondary that this isn't a pressing need.
Not that Jacksonville has any pressing needs, but linebacker has the most room for improvement. Veteran Paul Posluszny retired this offseason, and it won't be easy to replace him.
Even in his 11th season, Posluszny was an effective middle linebacker. He played in all 16 games, made 11 starts, racked up 61 tackles and totaled 1.5 sacks.
Grabbing a linebacker such as Virginia Tech's Tremaine Edmunds, Alabama's Rashaan Evans or Boise State's Leighton Vander Esch would help Jacksonville replace Posluszny. It would also give the defense another sideline-to-sideline playmaker at the second level next to Myles Jack.
Adding one of these top-tier prospects in the first round would ensure the defense stays championship-caliber and could even help it improve over time.
Kansas City Chiefs: Cornerback
The Kansas City Chiefs made a handful of big offseason transactions—some expected, some not so much. Moving quarterback Alex Smith wasn't surprising with Patrick Mahomes waiting in the wings. Trading star cornerback Marcus Peters was more shocking.
Dealing Peters also left the Chiefs with a big hole. Yes, they added Kendall Fuller and David Amerson this offseason. However, Amerson has dealt with consistency issues, and even if Fuller picks up where Peters left off, there will still be holes in the secondary.
Kansas City ranked 29th in pass defense last season, allowing 247.0 yards per game.
However, the Chiefs don't have a first-round pick because of last year's draft trade for Mahomes. This means that grabbing a guy such as Ward, Alexander, Hughes or Jackson may require another swap up. Of course, the Chiefs don't sound opposed to being aggressive.
"That's just kind of who I am," Chiefs general manager Brett Veach explained, per Dave Skretta of the Denver Post. "I have a group of guys up there who are worried that I'm going to be too aggressive."
If Kansas City isn't willing to move up, a cornerback such as Colorado's Isaiah Oliver could be a Round 2 target.
Los Angeles Chargers: Offensive Tackle
The Los Angeles Chargers could draft Philip Rivers' successor. However, quarterback isn't an immediate need because Rivers is still playing at a Pro Bowl level. There is a hole, though, at tackle.
The Chargers have done a good job of building up their offensive line's interior. Forrest Lamp, 24, and Dan Feeney, 23, are good young guards, and L.A. added Mike Pouncey to solidify center. Things aren't as rosy on the outside, though. Russell Okung was great last season, but he's on the wrong side of 30. Joe Barksdale, 29, has been inconsistent and dealt with various injuries.
It would make a ton of sense to grab an offensive tackle such as McGlinchey or UCLA's Kolton Miller with the 17th overall pick.
While there might not be a tackle who's ready to protect the blind side immediately, L.A. wouldn't have to force one there. The Chargers could play a rookie on the right side and move him over as Okung's replacement in 2019. The veteran has three years left on his contract, but the Chargers could release him after next season with $5 million remaining in guaranteed cash.
They need to make sure they grab a tackle who can boost the running game, as the team averaged a mere 3.8 yards per carry last season.
Los Angeles Rams: Linebacker
The Los Angeles Rams have a solid roster, and they bolstered it through a series of offseason trades. They acquired Peters from the Chiefs, cornerback Aqib Talib from the Denver Broncos and wide receiver Brandin Cooks from the New England Patriots. Of course, L.A.'s trades mean it won't select until the third round (87th overall).
The good news is the Rams don't have a ton of holes. The bad news is there's a sizable one at linebacker.
Los Angeles had one of the league's most fearsome defensive lines last season—featuring Aaron Donald, Robert Quinn and Michael Brockers. Yet, the defense still ranked 28th against the run (122.3 yards allowed per game). Backs who made it to the second level often found room to continue rumbling.
In addition, the Rams traded linebacker Alec Ogletree to the New York Giants this offseason.
It will be difficult for them to find a superstar in the third round. However, they could land a strong run-supporting linebacker such as Texas' Malik Jefferson. Los Angeles needs to make the position a priority, even if it doesn't pick until late on Day 2.
Miami Dolphins: Defensive Lineman
The Miami Dolphins may target a quarterback early, as Ryan Tannehill hasn't lived up to expectations since they drafted him in 2012—he's also struggled to stay healthy. However, if he's at full strength after a torn ACL, he'll be a serviceable starter, and quarterback isn't a major need.
An interior anchor for the 4-3 defensive front is a need, though. The team got good play from tackle Davon Godchaux last season and acquired Quinn from the Rams this offseason. However, the Dolphins also parted with Ndamukong Suh, who signed with the Rams.
Much of what Miami likes to do defensively starts with line's interior, so finding a capable replacement for Suh will be a priority. Fortunately, it picks 11th and may have its choice of interior defensive linemen there.
The hard part will be figuring out which tackle best suits defensive coordinator Matt Burke's system. Washington's Vita Vea (6'4", 347 lbs) has the size and ability to fill Suh's vacancy. However, tackles Payne and Bryan could also be in the discussion. If Miami takes a quarterback, targeting a defensive tackle such as USC's Rasheem Green in Round 2 would make sense.
Minnesota Vikings: Offensive Lineman
The Minnesota Vikings gave Cousins $84 million in guaranteed money. Their next investment better be in the guy blocking for him.
Now, the Vikings didn't have the league's worst offensive line last year, but it did allow Keenum to be pressured in the postseason. Plus, the team watched starting guard Joe Berger retire in March. Adding a tackle to help in pass protection or a guard to help in run support has to be a priority, even if Minnesota is unwilling to admit it.
"I know everybody in the mock world and experts out there, it's offensive line, offensive line, offensive line," general manager Rick Spielman said, per Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press. "But when you look at your roster, you have to look at 'OK, where are some other holes that you are going to have to fill?'"
The reality, whether Speilman wants to be transparent about it, is Minnesota doesn't have any other glaring holes.
The Vikings are in a spot at 30th overall where they have a slim chance of landing their first choice at either tackle or guard. They'll need to decide if they want to move up or if there are enough solid linemen in the draft to stay put. But either way, offensive lineman has to be in consideration in Round 1.
New England Patriots: Edge-Rusher
The Patriots are armed with the 23rd and the 30th overall picks. They would be wise to use one of them on a pass-rush specialist.
New England also needs help at offensive tackle and cornerback after it lost Nate Solder and Malcolm Butler in the offseason. However, the Patriots still have a lot of talent along the offensive line and in the secondary. Adding a premier sack artist would bring more immediate impact.
Even with Butler and Stephon Gilmore locking down the cornerback spots last season, the Patriots ranked 30th in pass defense (251.2 yards per game allowed). A big reason for that is New England often had to bring extra rushers to pressure the quarterback.
It did amass 42 sacks in 2017, but it didn't have a dominant pass-rusher. Trey Flowers led the team in sacks with just 6.5.
Adding a pass-rusher such as Davenport or Boston College's Harold Landry in the first round would give New England an edge-rusher opposing offenses would have to worry about. This would allow the Patriots to drop linebackers into coverage more regularly and, hopefully, boost a sagging pass defense.
New Orleans Saints: Pass-Catcher
The New Orleans Saints bolstered their running attack last season, built a balanced offense and came within a play of reaching the NFC title game. But they didn't have a lot of playmaking receivers.
Drew Brees is a first-ballot Hall of Famer and is still performing at a Pro Bowl level. He amassed 4,334 yards passing in spite of the lack of depth in his supporting cast.
Michael Thomas has developed into a tremendous receiver, and he led the team with 1,245 yards. Running back Alvin Kamara was next on the team with 826 yards, and no other receiver topped the 800-yard mark.
The Saints could use a dynamic wide receiver to play opposite Thomas, though. Ted Ginn is a decent downfield threat, and New Orleans added Cameron Meredith, but a rookie such as Ridley or Maryland's Moore would take the Saints' passing game up a notch.
They could also use a pass-catching tight end, which the team has lacked since trading Jimmy Graham in March 2015. New Orleans brought back Benjamin Watson, but a rookie like Hurst or Gesicki would add both youth and talent to the position.
New York Giants: Interior Offensive Line
The New York Giants will probably consider drafting an heir to quarterback Eli Manning with the second overall pick. They'll also give serious thought to Barkley, especially given his talent and the allure of adding a dynamic skill-position player.
However, New York shouldn't rule out Nelson, who like Barkley, may carry Hall of Fame potential.
Strengthening the offensive line's interior has to be a big priority for the Giants because it will affect the offense as a whole.
Last year's line was a major weakness. It allowed Manning to be sacked 31 times and paved the way for a rushing attack that averaged 3.9 yards per carry. New York addressed the tackle position by inking Nate Solder to a four-year, $62 million deal. However, guard and center are still in need of upgrades.
If the Giants pass on Nelson in favor of a quarterback or Barkley (few would blame them), then they should target a guard or center at 34th overall.
New York Jets: Quarterback
Like the Browns and Bills, the New York Jets have been searching for a franchise quarterback for what seems like forever. After trading with the Colts to acquire the third overall pick, they're in position to grab one.
Moving up to No. 3 was a risk, of course. If the Giants take a quarterback at No. 2, the Jets could be staring down their third choice at the position. If Big Blue goes for a guy such as Barkley, Nelson or Chubb, however, the Jets could get their second or even first choice.
The good news is they have both Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater, so they won't be forced to rush a rookie into action. The bad news is general manager Mike Maccagnan and coach Todd Bowles may be inclined to do so anyway. Their jobs may depend on it.
"I think our focus is ideally to find the quarterback—or player—that we feel is the best one in terms of the short- and long-term," Maccagnan said, per Rich Cimini of ESPN.com.
The tricky part for New York will be identifying the guy who best balances short-term production and long-term stability. Hopefully, the Jets don't watch Cleveland take their guy at No. 1.
Oakland Raiders: Defensive Back
There are a few ways the Oakland Raiders could go with the 10th pick. They could look for an upgrade along the offensive line, they could add a playmaking linebacker or they could target a running back to replace the aging Marshawn Lynch, 32, and Doug Martin, 29.
The Raiders can't go wrong, however, by drafting a defensive back.
Oakland ranked 26th in the NFL in pass defense last season, allowing 241.1 yards per game. While the Raiders drafted cornerback Gareon Conley in the first round in 2017, they could still use an upgrade opposite him and in the nickel. Shareece Wright was brought in during the offseason, but he isn't a high-end starter.
The Raiders could also use a young playmaker at free safety. Reggie Nelson has the spot locked down, but he'll turn 35 shortly after the start of the season and won't play forever.
Fitzpatrick may be the perfect choice for Oakland if he's available. He could play either slot corner or on the outside as a rookie and then move to safety when Nelson's time is up. Even if Fitzpatrick is off the board, the Raiders need to be thinking defensive back.
Philadelphia Eagles: Linebacker
The Philadelphia Eagles are the defending Super Bowl champions largely because they have as complete a roster as there is. There isn't a glaring weakness—not even at backup quarterback.
If there's a position the Eagles should address, however, it's linebacker. No, the team isn't especially weak at the spot, but a hole could emerge there. Jordan Hicks has dealt with injuries recently, including a ruptured Achilles. And according to Jimmy Kempski of PhillyVoice.com, the Eagles have explored dealing Mychal Kendricks.
It would make a ton of sense to draft a linebacker such as Edmunds or Vander Esch at the bottom of Round 1. This would provide injury insurance, potentially upgrade the defense and allow the Eagles to part with Kendricks' salary.
Now, the Eagles could also trade out of Round 1 and try to scoop Day 2 picks—the team owns none—but having the fifth-year option that comes with a first-round selection could make it worth drafting at No. 32.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Linebacker
The Pittsburgh Steelers would be wise to target a linebacker at the bottom of Round 1. They have a hole at the position because of the unfortunate injury Ryan Shazier suffered last season.
Replacing him won't be easy, as he was the glue bridging Pittsburgh's defensive front with its secondary. He was a true sideline-to-sideline difference-maker.
"Football has changed. It's more horizontal than it is vertical," Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert explained, per Tim Benz of TribLive.com. "When we drafted Ryan Shazier, we talked about that."
The Steelers should target a linebacker such as Vander Esch, Edmunds, Evans or Georgia's Roquan Smith in the first round. Landing one of them at No. 28 could prove difficult, of course, so a trade may be necessary. However, an early run on quarterbacks may push a linebacker the Steelers love down toward the bottom of the first round.
There's no guarantee a rookie prospect will be able to replace Shazier, but they need to try to find one who might.
San Francisco 49ers: Edge-Rusher
The San Francisco 49ers have landed a few franchise cornerstones over the past 12 months. They added an anchor defensive lineman in Solomon Thomas in last year's draft, traded for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo during the season and picked up cornerback Richard Sherman this offseason.
But they don't have a franchise edge-rusher.
Last year, San Francisco logged a mere 30 sacks. No one produced more than 6.5. If the 49ers are going to combat the likes of Russell Wilson and Jared Goff in the NFC West, they need a legitimate sack artist—and they can get one at No. 9.
There's a slim chance the 49ers could land Chubb there. If a couple of teams trade into the top five—and if the Colts value Nelson over Chubb and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Bears both target defensive backs—Chubb could be there.
Even if San Francisco misses a chance to grab Chubb, it could still scoop an edge-rusher such as Landry or Davenport. Drafting one of them would go a long way toward improving the defense.
Seattle Seahawks: Offensive Line
There are a few positions the Seattle Seahawks could address with the 18th pick. They could begin rebuilding their secondary, they could try finding a workhorse running back or they could seek a replacement for wideout Paul Richardson, who left in free agency. However, the biggest need is on the offensive line.
They should target a tackle or guard in the first round. Right tackle Germain Ifedi has been a disappointment, and either guard position could use an upgrade. The Seahawks can grab their highest-rated lineman at No. 18 and walk away happy.
The team has been relying on quarterback Russell Wilson to carry the offense for far too long without giving him the proper support up front. Though Wilson hasn't missed a game in his six seasons, he's been sacked an alarming 248 times. That number doesn't reflect the times he's been hit after releasing the ball or the tackles he's taken after being forced to scramble.
Seattle's line has also done a poor job of run blocking. The Seahawks averaged just 4.0 yards per carry last year.
If they want to improve their ground game, protect Wilson and get back to playoff football, they have to address their line.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Cornerback
It's no secret the Tampa Bay Buccaneers need to improve their defense, particularly against the pass. Tampa produced a league-low 22 sacks last season and allowed more passing yards (260.6 per game) than any other team.
The good news is the Buccaneers addressed their pass rush by adding Jason Pierre-Paul and Vinny Curry. The bad news is that virtually every position in the secondary could use an upgrade. Cornerback is particularly worrisome, as former first-round pick Vernon Hargreaves has been inconsistent and Brent Grimes is nearing 35 years of age.
This is why the Buccaneers should target a cornerback such as Denzel Ward with the seventh pick. Fitzpatrick would make sense there, too, if Tampa views him as a cornerback.
The Buccaneers should have their first or second choice of defensive backs when their clock starts. They shouldn't hesitate to pull the trigger unless they're sold on Nelson or Chubb or if they receive an enticing trade offer. The beauty of the quarterback demand is that Tampa may be able to move down a handful of spots and still get a high-end cornerback.
Tennessee Titans: Linebacker
New Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Vrabel has a vision for his defense, and it includes the ability to exercise creative freedom.
"I have a philosophy defensively that we're going to have coverage consistency and we're going to have front multiplicity," Vrabel explained, per the team's official website.
There's no time like this week to find a young, versatile linebacker who can play the run and cover pass-catchers. The Titans can and should target such a player—be it Evans, Smith, Edmunds, Vander Esch or someone else—with the 25th pick.
Drafting a linebacker wouldn't only be about adding pieces for Vrabel's defense, though. It would also add much-needed youth at the second level. Brian Orakpo, 31, and Wesley Woodard, 31, are both on the wrong side of 30, and Derrick Morgan will be there next year.
Adding a young linebacker would help Tennessee plan for the future, and it should assist the Titans in improving a pass defense that ranked 25th in the NFL last season (239.2 yards allowed per game).
Washington Redskins: Defensive Lineman
There are a couple of directions in which the Washington Redskins could go in the draft. They could afford to add an offensive lineman, and like just about every team, they could use a quality cover corner or a playmaking safety. However, Washington's biggest issue last season was its run defense, which is why addressing the line makes the most sense.
No team allowed more yards on the ground than Washington's 134.1 per game.
The good news is the Redskins can afford to add either a run-stuffing defensive tackle or an edge-setting end and still come out on top—though they've made it clear they won't force a draft pick.
"It's always going to be the best player available," Redskins executive Doug Williams said, per Diane Chesebrough of Redskins Wire.
Washington needs to think "best defensive lineman available." Whether it's a tackle like Vea or Payne or an end like Clemson's Dexter Lawrence to play opposite Jonathan Allen, Washington should grab whichever defensive lineman is highest on its board and sitting at No. 13. Doing so will give the defense a bigger push up front and will help free up linebackers Ryan Kerrigan and Preston Smith to make plays.
*All contract information via Spotrac.