NFL Teams Already in Contention for 2019 No. 1 Overall Draft Pick
Draftniks never rest.
For now, we don't know which college football players will emerge and who will see their stock fall in 2018. Oh, and we also don't know who will be on the clock come January 2019.
Eight months out, here are your top five candidates to land the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NFL draft.
The team that earned the No. 1 overall pick in back-to-back years while winning just one game over those two seasons is inevitably going to be a prime candidate to finish with the NFL's worst record once again.
That said, the Cleveland Browns will eventually find their way out of the basement. If nothing else, don't bet the farm on them going 0-16 again.
The Browns have accumulated so much talent in recent drafts that they're going to start accidentally winning games, especially now that they have a pair of capable quarterbacks in Tyrod Taylor and Baker Mayfield. The former helped the Buffalo Bills end their 17-year playoff drought last season, while the latter was the top pick in April's draft.
The Browns have drafted 25 players in the first three rounds of the last five drafts, and they've started to support those talented youngsters with high-quality veterans (Taylor, Jarvis Landry, Carlos Hyde, Kevin Zeitler, JC Tretter, Jamie Collins, T.J. Carrie, E.J. Gaines). It might only be a matter of time before they start to put up a real fight on a weekly basis.
But until that starts to happen, they'll be the favorite to pick first overall for a third consecutive year.
New York Jets
Four teams had worse records than the New York Jets in 2017, but the Jets overachieved at 5-11 after seemingly tanking the previous offseason.
They managed to win a handful of games in part because they were one of the 10 healthiest teams in the league, according to Football Outsiders. Three of their five wins came in the first five weeks of the season, while they lost nine of their last 11.
There's a lot of excitement surrounding top pick Sam Darnold, but the turnover-prone 20-year-old might do more harm than good at first if (when?) the Jets cave and give him the starting quarterback job. Plus, it isn't as though Darnold or veteran quarterback Josh McCown will have oodles of support.
Newcomer Isaiah Crowell might help a mediocre running game somewhat, Spencer Long could give a small boost to a bad offensive line and Trumaine Johnson might make a so-so secondary slightly better, but the Jets also lost Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Demario Davis and Muhammad Wilkerson.
They know they aren't likely to compete in 2018, so the goal should be to position themselves for a breakout 2019 season. With few other teams clearly out of contention at this stage, that makes the Jets a strong candidate to wind up with the top pick next spring.
The Jets might not even be the worst team in their own division, because the Miami Dolphins are coming off a six-win season and an offseason in which they lost two of their best players.
Per Pro Football Reference's approximate value metric, Ndamukong Suh and Jarvis Landry were two of Miami's three most valuable players over the last two years. But Suh was a cap casualty, and the Dolphins traded Landry to the Browns. That means Miami could struggle in 2018 regardless of whether it gets quarterback Ryan Tannehill back on track.
Even that is a big question mark, though, because Tannehill has missed Miami's last 20 regular-season and playoff games due to a balky left knee. While the Dolphins considered trading up to draft a quarterback in the first round, they also assured Tannehill he would remain the starter in 2018 regardless, according to NFL Network's Tom Pelissero.
The Dolphins lost eight of their last 10 games in 2017 and look worse on paper entering 2018. If Tannehill struggles, they might not win more than a few games this season.
A lot would have to go wrong for the Arizona Cardinals to wind up with the top pick in the 2018 draft. After all, they won eight games last season despite posting the lowest team passer rating in the NFC, and they could be better off under center with Sam Bradford and first-round pick Josh Rosen on board.
Still, the Cardinals are trending in a bad direction after a second consecutive choppy offseason. Star safety Tyrann Mathieu is gone, as are Tramon Williams, Jaron Brown, John Brown and Kareem Martin.
Beyond that, can Bradford stay healthy? What about David Johnson? How much gas does Larry Fitzgerald have left in the tank? Chandler Jones and Patrick Peterson are stars, but if Bradford or Rosen and Johnson and Fitzgerald don't come through, that won't matter.
The Cards have a relatively high ceiling but a dangerously low floor, especially in the toughest division within the tougher of the two conferences. Their schedule is football nightmare fuel, and the Cards may not be able to pull out of a tailspin if things go south.
This only has a chance to happen if the Indianapolis Colts once again encounter the worst-case scenario at quarterback.
That was the case when Andrew Luck missed the entire 2017 season while recovering from shoulder surgery, so we can't rule anything out for now. However, there have been plenty of promising reports regarding Luck's recovery this offseason.
With first-year head coach Frank Reich bringing new energy to a team that appears to be doing everything in its power to bolster its bad defense and better protect Luck, the Colts should be competitive with Luck under center in 2018.
But if Luck isn't there—after all, he still hasn't thrown an NFL football in well over a year—this team will once again struggle to reach the five-win plateau. Anything below that mark, and you're a candidate to finish with the worst record in the league.
Out of Contention for Now
A handful of other teams struggled badly in 2017 but aren't prime candidates for the top pick at the moment. For example:
New York Giants: A three-win 2017 season was rock bottom for a team with too much talent to do that again. The Giants were ravaged by injuries last year, but with Odell Beckham Jr. back and joined by Saquon Barkley, Nate Solder and Will Hernandez, quarterback Eli Manning should have a chance to do a lot more with that offense. It'd be surprising if they didn't win enough games in 2018 to remove themselves from the NFC's basement.
Denver Broncos: Only the Browns had a lower team passer rating than the five-win Broncos in 2017, but Denver should be in better shape with Case Keenum under center. Keenum was the league's seventh-highest-rated passer in 2017, and he'll be well-supported in an offense that added Courtland Sutton and Royce Freeman in the draft. Oh, Denver also snagged Bradley Chubb to support Von Miller up front. Yeah, this team isn't losing more than 10 or 11 games.
Chicago Bears: With Mitchell Trubisky entering his second season with far more support thanks to the additions of Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and Trey Burton, a Bears team that added a potential Defensive Player of the Year candidate in Roquan Smith near the top of the draft appears primed for a breakout 2018 season under new head coach Matt Nagy. Look for Chicago to build on a five-win 2017 campaign.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: This five-win team should have won closer to seven games last year, according to Football Outsiders' Pythagorean wins formula (which is based on points scored and allowed). Then the Bucs went out and added several impact players on defense, which should take some pressure off a talented offense. That offense should only be better, too, as Jameis Winston, Mike Evans, O.J. Howard and Chris Godwin continue to improve.
Houston Texans: So long as Deshaun Watson and J.J. Watt are healthy, the Texans will be playoff contenders. And even if Houston has terrible injury luck again, this team is likely to improve on its 4-12 record from last season.