All 32  

 

2016 NFL Draft guide: One burning question for each AFC team

Print

Every organization has a burning question heading into the great college marketplace.

No matter how successful the free agency period or how bright the future, there is not a Belichick ... er ... team in the league that doesn't have serious issues to solve. One of the cooler aspects of the run-up to the NFL draft is that every team's problems are unique. Well, except for the fact that just about everybody needs dudes who can cover Antonio Brown. Yet, these "burning" questions are not solely limited to draft needs like finding a corner. Like anything else in life, nothing is ever that Simple Simon. For example ...

» We know the Browns need a quarterback, but what is the right approach to getting one?
» The Titans hold the ace of spades, and have many needs -- what are their viable options?
» How do the Patriots, Seahawks and Packers get to Super Bowl LI? (That's 51, by the way.)

There are other question marks in the league besides who will play quarterback for Denver (Mike Glennon? Tommy Maddox???) or whether or not Chip Kelly likes Colin Kaepernick. We know the Chiefs, Cowboys, Eagles and everybody else will be drafting players, filling holes and getting excited, but will these steps solve their biggest obstacles to getting back to football solvency?

So consider the below an All-32 look at the league featuring the pressing matters each team must solve this offseason -- via the draft, trades during the draft or the readjustment period afterward -- to be a contender in 2016. As always, your take on any of these question marks is welcome: @HarrisonNFL is the place. I will try to readjust my ego if your view runs counter to mine.

Alright, let's get this thing started!

AFC EAST

Buffalo Bills: Can the defense meet expectations in 2016?

2016 NFL DRAFT

Draft coverage:

Rex Ryan hired his brother, Rob, to help out on defense. Get excited. This is still Rex's baby, no matter how you look at it. Dennis Thurman remains the nominal defensive coordinator, but we know who's running the show. (It was the same deal with Mike Pettine back in Rex's Jet days.) Still, there is simply no getting around the fact that this side of the ball played much worse in 2015 than the Bills group led by Jim Schwartz in 2014. Sacks were down. Points were up. Honestly, this team would've finished below .500 if not for the improvement on offense. Mario Williams, a malcontent under Ryan last season, is gone. So is getting a pass rusher in the draft the answer? Sure, but how about more push from the inside? Kyle Williams has been brilliant over his career, but he's no spring daisy. Getting a rotation player who can be a force inside sounds like the right move at No. 19. If there is one thing quarterbacks hate -- especially Tom Brady -- it's pressure up the middle.

Miami Dolphins: How does Adam Gase help Ryan Tannehill take the next step?

There are many aspects to Tannehill morphing into an upper-echelon quarterback. That said, some support would be nice. The offensive line must be addressed, and any quarterback at Tannehill's stage would benefit greatly from a stout running game, which the Dolphins do not currently have. Well, unless Jay Ajayi becomes a big-time player. Miami did sign Daniel Thomas and Isaiah Pead this past week. Yay. Now, many mock drafts reflect the need for a corner in the first round (No. 13 overall). No qualms with that notion here. Yet, unless Gase = Gandalf, Tannehill needs help on offense.

New England Patriots: Where will this team find a running game? (Does Bill Belichick even care?)

Dion Lewis and James White are nice receivers out of the backfield, but who's going to pound the rock in 2016? Those two guys rushed for 290 yards combined in 2015. Sure, the Patriots have Tom Brady and use the short passing game in lieu of the run to more-than-moderate degrees of success. But New England's ground attack was nonexistent in the AFC Championship Game, causing a suspect offensive line to struggle mightily against pass rushers who weren't paying any mind to potential handoffs. Remolding the offensive front began with the acquisition of Jonathan Cooper. Picking up a big tackle with one of their two second-round picks wouldn't be the worst idea. The Martellus Bennett addition should help. Maybe journeyman RB Donald Brown will, too.

New York Jets: What are they going to do for a starting quarterback?

Whether Ryan Fitzpatrick wants Sam Bradford money or a suitor arises from elsewhere, the Jets are going to start having to make plans. If Carson Wentz or Jared Goff tumbles out of the top 10, would New York be interested in taking one of them? I'd sure think so. That scenario seems unlikely, but stranger things have happened on draft day -- like Aaron Rodgers plummeting to the 24th spot in 2005. The shame of it all is that the nucleus in New York -- minus D'Brickashaw Ferguson -- is ready to contend now. Brandon Marshall, Matt Forte and Darrelle Revis aren't getting younger. Nor is division rival Tom Brady, who could hit the wall any year. As it stands right now, if Bryce Petty isn't ready, hopes for 2016 ride on Geno Smith. Yikes.

AFC NORTH

Baltimore Ravens: How does Ozzie Newsome's staff have the top defensive prospects ranked?

Think about it: Picking sixth overall, the Ravens should have a shot at either Myles Jack, Joey Bosa or DeForest Buckner. It's doubtful that Jalen Ramsey will fall to sixth, but if he does, John Harbaugh could certainly use him. Ditto Vernon Hargreaves, whose addition in the secondary could make Baltimore more viable in a division that features the Steelers' arcade offense and the Andy Dalton-A.J. Green connection. However, if Carson Wentz were to fall, or a team wanted to leapfrog the 49ers at seventh overall to get Jared Goff, guess who the best trade partner would be? Ozzie and the boys. So can the Ravens trade down and still get a premium defender on the level of Buckner, Bosa and Hargreaves? I think they can.

Cincinnati Bengals: Will Cincy pick a wide receiver at No. 24?

There are a couple of ways to look at this. The first is the most obvious: The Bengals have a glaring need at wideout following the departures of Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu. Another way to view Cincinnati's first-round options is to recognize that this club has done a nice job in recent years taking the best player available, like Sanu in the third round in 2012 (Jones went in the fifth round that same year), or quarterback AJ McCarron in the fifth round two years ago. One thing about the Bengals is they have struck gold at wide receiver more often than other teams in the first and second rounds: A.J. Green (first round, 2011), Chad Johnson (second, 2001), Carl Pickens (second, 1992), Eddie Brown (first, 1985), Cris Collinsworth (second, 1981) and Isaac Curtis (first, 1973). How about Corey Coleman from Baylor this year?

Cleveland Browns: Can this franchise afford to pass on Carson Wentz at No. 2?

Most draftniks have Wentz as the top quarterback on the board. That doesn't mean the Browns do. And if they were to pass on Wentz, who looked extremely polished at the Senior Bowl and the NFL Scouting Combine, will they go with Jared Goff? The scary part for Cleveland fans is the idea that the organization could pass on a quarterback with that initial pick altogether. What must be remembered here is that the Browns also own the 32nd pick, which they could use in a deal to leapfrog someone like the QB-hungry Broncos at 31 (if Denver doesn't acquire Colin Kaepernick). Also worth remembering: The Vikings picked up Teddy Bridgewater by trading back into the first round two years ago. The odd Donte Whitner release made one thing clear: Jonah Hill is running the team, er, rather, "moneyball" is in full effect. Hey, maybe it will translate to pro football.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Is there any way they don't take a corner in the first round?

PATH TO THE DRAFT
(Weekdays at 6 p.m. ET on NFL Network)

"Path to the Draft" previews the 2016 NFL Draft by providing in-depth expert analysis of the top prospects and each teams' needs.

If you take a spin around the Internet -- most especially, a sexy little website known as "NFL.com" -- you'll see that every mock draft implores the Steelers to draft a cornerback. Apparently, everyone feels this was the team's biggest weakness in 2015. Actually, health was what derailed last season's Steelers, so maybe the club should draft the best college training staff. Still, it's interesting that all of my colleagues have Pittsburgh going with a corner (maybe Artie Burns, William Jackson III, Mackensie Alexander or Eli Apple) at No. 25. In truth, I do, too. Although it should be mentioned that the team got nothing from 2015 second-round pick Senquez Golson, who missed his entire rookie season due to injury. This team has other needs, as well, like adding another player to the D-line rotation. Given how the draft dominoes should fall, I think the Steelers are in perfect position to lay back, pop open a Mountain Dew and go BCA (best corner available).

AFC SOUTH

Houston Texans: Who is the WR2 opposite DeAndre Hopkins this season?

Yep, we know Brock Osweiler is in town. We know Lamar Miller was signed to rejuvenate the ground game. But perhaps the best wide receiver this side of Antonio Brown could use some of the same high-caliber football friends AB has in Pittsburgh. There are no Martavis Bryants in Houston. Or Markus Wheatons. Even tight end is an area that could use help. If general manager Rick Smith snags Corey Coleman or Will Fuller at the 22 spot, the Texans could take pressure off Hopkins while supplementing the club's $72 million investment in Osweiler.

Indianapolis Colts: Can GM Ryan Grigson and Co. get their first-round pick right?

There has been much banter among Colts fans that Grigson has not drafted well, and that the blame for the team's recent failure was (erroneously) being laid at coach Chuck Pagano's feet. Well, Pagano was retained, but it doesn't change the fact that many fans were disgruntled with the curious selection of Phillip Dorsett in the first round last April. The wideout wasn't able to contribute much last season. And the last first-round choice prior to Dorsett, Bjoern Werner, didn't work out. On that front, Indianapolis has barely acquired any defensive playmakers in either the draft or free agency lately. Serviceable players? Sure. But the Colts allowed a whopping 408 points last season. They need impact guys. Now. Beyond that, look for the offensive line to get a boost. We hope.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Is this the breakthrough season?

Team brass made bold moves to get better in free agency. Signing Malik Jackson and Tashaun Gipson should improve the defense. Ditto Chris Ivory, in that a strong running game burns clock and provides the defense with a break. But the real offseason storyline in Jacksonville is what the Jaguars do at No. 5 overall. If they can strike gold on an impact player there, the Jags will be the favorites in the division. Coach Gus Bradley still has needs to fill at all three levels of the defense, and with the Titans potentially taking a tackle and the Browns a quarterback, Jacksonville will have the opportunity to take a top-tier D-lineman, linebacker or defensive back. Let's hope the scouting department's big board is on point.

Tennessee Titans: Are they seriously considering trading out of the top spot?

My guess is yes. MMQB's Peter King speculated last week that the chances are 50-50. The reason they could be quite serious is logical: Tennessee could trade down to say, the seventh overall spot (where the 49ers are currently slotted to pick) and still get a top prospect on their board. Will left tackle Laremy Tunsil still be there? Probably not. But if the two quarterbacks (Carson Wentz and Jared Goff) were to go 1-2, Tennessee could always select one of the top defensive players in this draft. If they went even further down, I would look for them to grab one of the wide receivers, perhaps Corey Coleman. All this trading-down jazz will come down to compensation.

AFC WEST

Denver Broncos: Captain Obvious -- So, uh, who is starting at quarterback this season?

We've heard enough Colin Kaepernick talk to last a lifetime, or at least roughly half an offseason. Mark Sanchez is currently No. 1 on the depth chart. Then there's Trevor Siemian, whom few are giving any chance at all. The general perception surrounding the Broncos seems to be, 'Hey, this team won the Super Bowl with mediocre quarterback play, so Kaepernick would make a repeat possible! Maybe, but for all his interceptions, Peyton Manning had his moments. The Sunday nighter vs. Green Bay comes to mind. So does the playoff run. Brock Osweiler performed well at times, too. Also, why do some fans think Kaepernick will reprise his role as the quarterback who took the 49ers to the Super Bowl? Have they watched him the last two years? Thinking the season will be on the defense (again).

Kansas City Chiefs: Add Justin Houston insurance to the pass rush or retool the secondary?

The news regarding Justin Houston's knee surgery surprised more than a few folks, as it could mean the star pass rusher is not ready for the regular season. While the Chiefs did go on an impressive run in the back half of last season, the majority of their 11 straight wins came against losing teams. They need Houston, who's just a season removed from 22 sacks. Most of our NFL.com draft analysts see the club grabbing a corner at 28th overall. Maybe so. Yet, Dee Ford hasn't arrived yet and Tamba Hali is not getting any younger. Enter Noah Spence, who might be sitting there when Kansas City is on the clock. This should be an interesting dilemma.

Oakland Raiders: Protect the young passer or stop the other team's passer?

The Raiders could go in any direction in the first round, partly due to where they pick. Oakland's selection will be largely contingent on who the other hungry hippos grab before No. 14 comes up. That said, even though the Raiders need a defensive tackle, that position group is deep enough to wait on. The offensive weapons seem to be set (although I wonder if GM Reggie McKenzie could pass on Ezekiel Elliott if he were to fall). In order to get the football to said weapons, Derek Carr must remain upright. So tackle is a key spot. However, this secondary wasn't great with Charles Woodson, much less without. Signing Sean Smith and Reggie Nelson? Helpful. Enough? Doubtful.

San Diego Chargers: Who do the Bolts deem the best defensive prospect in the country?

If the Titans stay put and the Browns take a quarterback, could the Chargers trade down from No. 3? Sure. If another team wants Carson Wentz or Jared Goff (whichever one the Browns don't take), they might find a willing trade partner in San Diego. The percentages, however, are on the Chargers staying put. Following that line of thinking ... If the Titans retain the top overall pick, they most likely will take Laremy Tunsil. Cleveland will select a quarterback. That allows San Diego to take its pick of the defensive litter, which begs the question: Who is the top defender on the Bolts' board? Jalen Ramsey is a good bet. Imagine Ramsey with Jason Verrett and Casey Hayward.

CLICK HERE TO ACCESS NFC TEAM QUESTIONS.

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.

Print

Headlines

The previous element was an advertisement.

NFL Shop