Breaking Down Teams That Should Take Quarterbacks in the 1st Round
Here's the most important objective for any NFL team: Find your franchise quarterback. Sure, we hear that defense wins championships, but a prolific passer can puncture the stingiest units.
The player under center can significantly limit or elevate an offense—just look at Patrick Mahomes. In one year, the Kansas City Chiefs went from seventh to third in passing yards per game and from No. 10 to No. 1 in touchdowns through the air. By the way, Mahomes was the 10th overall pick in the 2017 draft.
Teams that may select a quarterback in the first round of April's draft in Nashville, Tennessee, don't have to start their signal-callers right away. In fact, two of the clubs listed below should sit their rookie passers, if they take them, for at least a year because of their roster makeups. In other cases, the teams have nothing to lose and much to gain in terms of experience and development.
All five quarterback-needy teams have draft picks within the top 15—three are within the top 10. Unless there's a strong pull toward one prospect, front offices won't necessarily need to trade up and sacrifice Day 2 picks. Remember, it's not an overly impressive group. However, selecting a quarterback has intriguing upside for the following clubs.
New York Giants
First-Round Draft Position: No. 6 overall
It's unlikely the New York Giants will unseat quarterback Eli Manning with a veteran acquisition. According to SNY's Ralph Vacchiano, Big Blue seem comfortable with him and potentially a rookie understudy.
"The Giants are not expected to be looking for a replacement via trade or free agency," he wrote. "Much more likely, they'll seek his heir in the draft."
A two-time Super Bowl champion with 242 starts over the last 15 years between the regular season and playoffs for a franchise with high expectations, Manning profiles as an ideal veteran to serve as an example for the next man up. If the Giants select a signal-caller in the first round, the rookie would benefit from watching the 38-year-old as a professional.
We can view the Giants' prospective situation similar to the Chiefs' transition between Alex Smith and Mahomes—with one notable difference. New York wouldn't have to trade Manning at the end of the 2019 season. He can walk into the sunset after his deal expires, which opens an opportunity for a young passer to usher this franchise into a new era.
This is an old-school approach, which goes against the norm. Rookie passers often take the field in their first years. Don't dismiss the idea, though, especially if there's a feeling none of the incoming quarterbacks has the collegiate experience and tools to start Week 1.
A team source close to Vacchiano doesn't see the 5'10" Kyler Murray as an option.
"They are still early in their evaluation process and obviously haven't seen Murray at the combine or his pro day yet, but in general, a team source said he's 'probably a little too small' for them," he wrote.
Secondly, head coach Pat Shurmur said he preferred tall quarterbacks, per Paul Schwartz of the New York Post. Based on the buzz, we can focus on Ohio State's Dwayne Haskins (6'3"), Missouri's Drew Lock (6'4") and Duke's Daniel Jones (6'5") as first-round targets.
The Giants selected Kyle Lauletta (6'2") in the fourth round of last year's draft, but it doesn't hurt to have multiple options competing to take over for their franchise cornerstone.
First-Round Draft Position: No. 7 overall
The rumor mill connects the Jacksonville Jaguars to quarterback Nick Foles, per NFL Network's Mike Garafolo. The Philadelphia Eagles declined to pick up his $20 million option, which makes sense for the backup to Carson Wentz. Philadelphia can still franchise-tag Foles before the March 5 deadline and then trade him, though.
For now, the Jaguars have a void under center. Jacksonville is expected to move on from Blake Bortles, whom the team benched for Cody Kessler during the 2018 term. Neither player projects as a long-term asset. Based on that premise, the Jaguars must do their homework on incoming prospects.
Perhaps the Jaguars would have interest in Murray. The Oklahoma product is a dynamic quarterback capable of moving the chains with his arm and his legs.
This is overlooked, but Bortles ran for 1,775 yards and eight touchdowns in 75 contests. The 2018 Heisman Trophy winner is a stronger threat as a ball-carrier with an accurate arm, and he rushed for 1,001 yards and 12 touchdowns while completing 69 percent of his passes in his one year as the Sooners' primary starter.
If Murray isn't available and they miss out on Foles, the Jaguars would likely take someone else in the draft. The team has the type of scenario that would be ideal for a first-year signal-caller, who would be able to lean on running backs Leonard Fournette and Carlos Hyde and Jacksonville's strong defense to win games.
But perhaps lingering issues between Fournette and the organization will lead to a split.
The team waived the guaranteed money on the remaining years of his deal after executive vice president of football operations Tom Coughlin expressed displeasure in the running back's behavior in the season finale. The two sides patched up their differences, but a turn toward disharmony would place more pressure on the quarterback's arm.
Murray would still have premier players on the defensive side who can limit opponents' scoring opportunities and keep scores close while the offense progresses.
Cornerbacks Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye along with pass-rushers Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue give this team a chance to compete with just a competent offensive attack. It doesn't have to be Foles-or-bust; a high-potential prospect at No. 7 could put the Jaguars back in contention for the AFC South title.
First-Round Draft Position: No. 10 overall
President of football operations and general manager John Elway made the first major (unofficial) offseason splash. The Denver Broncos sent a fourth-round pick to the Baltimore Ravens for quarterback Joe Flacco. The transaction will be complete March 13, the first day of the new league year.
The Broncos' move doesn't close the books on their quarterback situation, however. The 34-year-old Flacco, like Case Keenum, isn't a long-term hold. When healthy for nine games last season, he didn't light up the field. The strong-armed signal-caller recorded 12 touchdowns and six interceptions while completing 61.2 percent of his passing attempts.
Flacco worked with a revamped pass-catching group during his final year with the Ravens. The front office signed wideouts Michael Crabtree, John Brown and Willie Snead IV and selected two tight ends (Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews) in the last draft. Chemistry could've been the cause of Baltimore's mediocre passing performances in the first half of the 2018 campaign.
Flacco is on the books until the 2022 term, but the Broncos can release him at any time and not incur any dead cash, per Spotrac. In other words, if the acquisition doesn't work out, Denver could cut ties and avoid future cap charges. In the worst-case scenario, it's best to have a Plan B.
Instead of pushing all his chips to the middle of the table on Flacco, Elway can target a quarterback with the No. 10 overall pick. There's chirping that he's fond of Drew Lock, per Mark Kiszla of the Denver Post. If true, why shouldn't Denver take a swing and potentially stumble upon its future franchise centerpiece?
After acquiring Peyton Manning in 2012, Elway doesn't have a strong track record with quarterbacks. Brock Osweiler, Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch and Keenum haven't panned out, but the front office has to continue its search until it finds its long-term starter.
At his age, Flacco isn't the answer; one of the top 2019 prospects may end an underwhelming search.
First-Round Draft Position: No. 13 overall
In January, the Miami Herald's Armando Salguero shot down Foles and Teddy Bridgewater as quarterback options for the Miami Dolphins. He also dismissed Ryan Tannehill as the team's starter in 2019.
"The Dolphins aren’t planning on letting Ryan Tannehill remain as the starter in 2019, either, by the way," Salguero wrote. "After seven years with the club, the people who run the organization, including owner Stephen Ross, are agreed they are moving on from Tannehill."
If this holds, general manager Chris Grier and head coach Brian Flores will remodel the offense with a brand-new vision—presumably with a rookie.
There's no rush to tab a franchise player. In the summer, the Dolphins could open an intense competition with inexperienced passers and take a long look at the winner. If that signal-caller falls flat, Miami can embrace a lost season, a full rebuild and land a top-five pick for the 2020 draft.
Before looking 14 months ahead, the Dolphins could attach their future to a quarterback in April. The front office can use the No. 13 overall pick to move up if it has a preference for a passer projected to come off the board in the top 10.
Someone has to take snaps under center. Osweiler and David Fales will become unrestricted free agents in March. Assuming Salguero is right and the Dolphins don't pursue the top veteran signal-callers on the free-agent market, it's unlikely Grier will go into the upcoming campaign with 2018 sixth-rounder Luke Falk as the starter.
Miami could shake up the draft order with a strong move for a quarterback prospect. Don't rule out a move to the top spot. If not, Drew Lock may be available with the 13th pick if the Broncos pass on him at No. 10.
First-Round Draft Position: No. 15 overall
Smith's unfortunate situation puts the Washington Redskins on this list. He suffered a compound leg fracture, and the team doesn't expect him to play in 2019, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. The organization can't leave the offense in limbo while its starting quarterback is dealing with a career-threatening injury.
The Redskins have put together back-to-back 7-9 seasons under head coach Jay Gruden. The team hasn't won more than nine games or a playoff contest during his five-year tenure. Washington's lead skipper should be pounding the desk to select a passer with the No. 15 pick. That could extend his expiration date.
If an incoming quarterback fares well, the projected development is enough reason to keep Gruden around even after a losing season. Furthermore, a positive outlook would give this organization hope to compete in the short term without Smith, who has $71 million guaranteed in his four-year deal.
The money tied to Smith's contract hinders the Redskins from splurging on a player at the position. Keenum had one strong season with the Minnesota Vikings and no Pro Bowl years but signed a two-year, $36 million deal with Denver last offseason.
Imagine what Foles, the Super Bowl LII MVP, will cost? There may be a bidding contest for Bridgewater if the New Orleans Saints want to keep him as the heir to 40-year-old Drew Brees. The Jaguars may have interest in the 26-year-old as well.
Washington isn't a lock to select a quarterback in the first round, but the front office shouldn't hesitate to choose its guy at No. 15 or trade up to acquire him in order to move along its 28th-ranked passing offense in 2019. If Dwayne Haskins emerges as the top prospect at the position, watch out for him as a target in a trade scenario at No. 1 overall.
Player contract details provided by Spotrac.com.