By Sean Tyler @seantyleruk
Due to the coronavirus outbreak, the big live NFL Draft event planned in Las Vegas has been shelved and, rather than sitting together in physical “war rooms”, team representatives are now preparing to dial in remotely from home. Obviously, all 32 teams could do with a successful haul come close of business on 25 April but if they can master Zoom or Skype, which teams really need to nail this first-ever virtual draft?
(7 picks: #1, #33, #65, #107, #147, #180, #215)
The league’s worst team last year obviously need as good a draft as any but it’s not quite as crucial as usual. In Cincy terms at least, they had an active free agency and filled a few holes, especially in defence. That said, with Andy Dalton still under contract, and Dre Kirkpatrick and Cordy Glenn released, Cincinnati’s best chances of acquiring extra picks didn’t come to fruition so they’ll just have to make the seven they do have count.
Trades notwithstanding, the Bengals are due to pick first in every round, giving them the next 10 days or so to decide what to do with the first overall pick (as if we didn’t know) and several hours each evening to consider any trade offers they receive before starting Days 2 and 3. They shouldn’t mess this up but you only have to go back 12 months to see how a draft can be a total washout. With injuries (Jonah Williams) and underperformance (Drew Sample, Ryan Finley) in abundance, only LB Germaine Pratt came out of the class of 2019 with any credit.
After, we assume, Ohio native Joe Burrow becomes their new franchise quarterback, the Bengals should get a couple of skill-position weapons for him to work with (as AJ Green and John Ross both hit free agency next season), at least another offensive lineman for protection and probably another linebacker.
(7 picks: #2, #66, #108, #142, #162, #216, #229)
Picking second after a terrible 2019, it should be no surprise to anyone that Washington also feature in this article. They have a sackful of needs, even after a busy free agency, just the standard seven picks with which to address them and a new Head Coach in Ron Rivera who’s going to want to make progress PDQ. So this draft matters.
Almost everyone has the ‘Skins taking Ohio State edge rusher Chase Young at #2 overall and while the defensive line isn’t their most pressing need, it would be hard to pass on a player widely regarded as a “generational talent”. Then again, they may trade the second spot away to someone like Miami, and grab one or two other first round picks. After that, the Redskins don’t pick again until #66, so they’re not going to get the pick of the bunch. They’ll need a tight end or two after Jordan’s Reed’s departure and Vernon Davis’ retirement, and a WR mate for Terry McLaurin: Chase Claypool or Antonio Gandy-Golden maybe?
If Trent Williams decides he’s washed his hands of the franchise after sitting out last year, left tackle will suddenly become a pressing need too.
(14 picks: #5, #18, #26, #39, #56, #70, #141,
#153, #154, #173, #185, #227, #246, #251)
The Dolphins opted for a total reboot last year, trading away the likes of Kenyan Drake and Minkah Fitzpatrick in exchange for a million draft picks (OK then, just 14, including three in Round 1 alone). Having acquired all this capital in exchange for bombing last year out, the Dolphins can’t afford to waste any of it now they have so many holes to plug.
With Josh Rosen probably not the guy and Fitzmagic a stop-gap at best, the Fins will probably take Tua Tagovailoa or Justin Herbert, and have the ammo to move up from #5 if they need to. Their woeful pass rush has been bolstered in free agency with LB Kyle Van Noy and defensive end Shaq Lawson, and they now have the highest-paid corner in the business in Byron Jones, so that leaves their O-line as the other main priority. Picking at #18 may mean they miss out on the top-tier OL talent and have to wait for someone in the second wave, like Isiah Wilson or Ezra Cleveland, or they may double-dip on Days 1 and 2.
Los Angeles Chargers
(7 picks: #6, #37, #71, #112, #151, #186, #220)
On paper, the Chargers don’t look in bad shape so suggesting they need a blinding draft might seem to be over-stating it. But many of their best players –DEs Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, TE Hunter Henry and centre Mike Pouncey among them – are entering the final year of their contracts. It’s time to put some successors in place now, as they won’t be able to keep them all.
In Philip Rivers’ wake, Tyrod Taylor is the bridge QB for now but LA are touted to pick their playcaller of the future at #6; whether that’s Tua, Herbert or Love remains to be seen.
Free agency signings such as corner Chris Harris and right tackle Bryan Bulaga suggest the Chargers might be going all out this year. Another lineman or two are on the cards too, so expect a tackle in Round 2 – a Josh Jones or a Lucas Niang maybe. Later rounds will give the Chargers the chance to fill out the wide receiver room and beef up the secondary.
(8 picks: #7, #38, #69, #113, #148, #152, #184, #221)
Having shelled out $33 million for Teddy Bridgewater, a full-scale rebuild seems to be on the cards in Carolina under new HC Matt Rhule.
Jets WR Robby Anderson joined during free agency, so their offensive focus can probably be directed towards O-line help to support the running game of Christian McCaffrey, and a TE to replace Greg Olsen. That said, they’re more likely to look at their immediate defensive needs. With Luke Kuechly’s retirement, only one starting cornerback of note and the D-line needing help, just picking the best defensive player available for several rounds might not be a bad tactic.
They have more than enough picks to haul in a strong draft class this year. They’re out of the gate at #7, behind three QB-needy teams so they’ll be spoilt for choice when their time comes: at least one of LB Isiah Simmons, CB Jeff Okudah and DT Derrick Brown should be there for the taking.
(12 picks: #9, #20, #42, #73, #116, #137, #140, #157, #165, #189, #206, #223)
You could argue that the salary-cap-strapped Jags need help pretty much everywhere and anywhere. HC Doug Marrone is in one of hottest hot seats in the NFL and needs his 12 picks to pay off if he’s to avoid another losing season.
Jacksonville’s defence has more holes than a block of Emmental, having lost Jalen Ramsey, AJ Bouye and Calais Campbell, so they’ll need to use some of their extensive draft capital early on. With picks #9 and #20, they could start at corner and on the edge. If Okudah falls to them, they’ll snap him up and Yetur Gross-Matos would be a solid pick at 20. Gardner Minshew may yet get some competition on Day 2 if the Jags consider Jacob Eason at #42.
Las Vegas Raiders
(7 picks: #12, #19, #80, #81, #91, #121, #159)
Las Vegas made some decent FA pick-ups, including LBs Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski and safety Jeff Heath, so a few more shrewd selections could propel them from also-ran to playoff contender.
Now that the draft is online rather than at a massive public event, there’s slightly less need for the former hosts to make a big splash in their new home. Nonetheless, the Silver and Black have two first round selections with which to make some Day 1 headlines, with wide receivers like Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III and CeeDee Lamb being widely mocked to the Raiders. If they go that route, their selection would probably leapfrog Nelson Agholor and Zay Jones in the pecking order.
Cornerback could be the other likely first-round target while Days 2 and 3 will likely see them hone grab a defensive tackle and added depth at safety and linebacker.
(12 picks: #22, #25, #58, #89, #105, #132, #155, #201, #205, #219, #249, #253)
A contract extension for QB Kirk Cousins can only mean one thing: the Vikes are in “win-now” mode. But if they are going to go a step or two further than last year, they’ll have to address several areas, on both sides of the ball, with their dozen 2020 picks.
Offensively, the Stefon Diggs trade to the Bills means a viable #2 wideout to support Adam Thielen is vital. The WR class is deep this year but I suspect pick #22 or #25 could well be used on someone like Tee Higgins or Laviska Shenault.
A guard or two might be wise, having released Josh Kline, but addressing the defence is arguably as pressing. They could do with two or three corners to fill the vacancies left by Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander (both Bengals now) and Xavier Rhodes, now with the Colts. There’s also no depth at safety and with Eversen Griffen also off to pastures new, a defensive end like Iowa’s AJ Epenesa is also on Minnesota’s shopping list.
New England Patriots
(12 picks: #23, #87, #98, #100, #125, #172, #195, #204, #212, #213, #230, #241)
There was a time, not that long ago, when suggesting the Pats really need to nail this draft would’ve been considered heresy, or even the first signs of madness. But for a change, they need a lot of their 12 picks to hit the target.
With the untested Jarrett Stidham and veteran Brian Hoyer their only choices at QB, Bill Belichick suddenly has much to ponder in the post-TB12 era. Are they happy with their options or will they be in the market for someone like Jordan Love at #23 or even Jalen Hurts in a later round?
Both are possible, but their offense could really benefit from a track star who can take the top off a defence. If they go WR in Round 1, Henry Ruggs could be available, or they might wait for Denzel Mimms or Chase Claypool. Post-Gronk, there’s also been a noticeable TE-shaped hole in the Patriots’ ranks so the top dog here, Cole Kmet, might even be the first selection.
In later rounds, New England really need some of those compensatory picks to find viable replacements in their defence, having lost linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins, and defensive tackle Danny Shelton, during free agency. And they don’t have a kicker on their roster, so a top prospect like Tyler Bass may well be Boston-bound.
(7 picks: #43, #50, #163, #196, #200, #226, #233)
In complete contrast to the Dolphins, the Bears don’t pick till midway through Round 2. Having had limited cap space to play the free agency field, Chicago are going to have to play a canny game to make the picks they do have count.
Having already acquired Nick Foles to give the troubled Mitchell Trubisky some competition, they’re not likely to consider anything but a late-round ‘project’ at QB. Therefore, expect the gaps in the backfield left by departing safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and corner Prince Amukamara to be the ones the Bears fill at #43 and #50. Could Grant Delpit fall that far, for example, or maybe Antoine Winfield Jr?
It won’t be until staggering 113(!) picks later that Chicago will get the chance to do anything else, like find a wideout to complement Allen Robinson or add a piece to their O-line, but they’ll probably need to do both with their Day 3 choices.